Halloween 2018: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 3
Much as you loathe to admit it, the smart move is to use someone who knows the terrain. You’re walking into a party on Halloween night, if you want to be sure what is supernatural and what is just good decorating, best to have a person who knows what normal looks like. Besides, deep down, he is still your brother. With supernatural shit afoot, he’s much safer around you. Well, okay, he’s safer around Victoria, but by proxy that includes being near you too.
“Let’s go find Thad.” You mutter the words only seconds before the elevator doors part to reveal, somehow, that you’ve arrived in the woods. A shockingly good facsimile of the woods, anyway. It looks like you’re walking into the alcove of a creepy forest, the scent of actual woods washes over all of you while ducking under very realistic branches. Flickering lights can be seen just ahead, luring you deeper in.
Right as you’re about to take a last step forward, shoving the foliage aside, a hand clamps down hard on your shoulder. Victoria has you in an iron grip as she shakes her head.
“I like a good will-o-the-wisp prank as much as the next gal, but I also know what comes next. Let Jim run in first, my guess is he’ll probably enjoy it more.”
You don’t have time to ask for clarification, as Jim bolts forward, immediately dropping out of sight. The only clue to his location is a splash, a grunt of confusion, and then a sound like a toilet struggling to flush a sponge, a noise you also know only thanks to living with Jim. His idea for a new method of wiping had “conceptual issues” out of the gate. That’s also how you learned plumbers have a blacklist.
Sticking your head through the curtain of foliage, you look down to find a steep padded slide leading into a large inflatable pool filled with beer. In the middle of it, Jim is hunched down on all fours, doing his damndest to drink the whole thing. There is no way the landing pool is sanitary, but honestly, given his lifestyle, Jim is probably worse for the beer than the beer is for him.
At your side, Victoria points to a small set of stairs near the edge, a more practical way down for the cautious folks who didn’t go sliding. You follow along, largely being led, because now you can’t stop looking around at this place. FratCo has pulled out all the stops, this might be the most elaborately staged Halloween party outside of the one Victoria’s family throws, and you’re not even sure that should count given how much of it is real. The entire floor appears to have been decorated and sectioned off in to different areas. One section houses a “Haunted Carnival” attraction, another is labeled “Hall of Haunted History” and the third, most popular area, has a makeshift bar and dance floor. That one is called the “Haunted Bar.” Okay, clearly they put more work into the decorations than looking up synonyms for “Haunted”, but it still looks pretty damn awesome.
Just as you’re about to suggest checking out the bar for Thad, you notice a small group has formed around Jim. While at first it looks like he’s started things off by getting you into trouble, you soon realized that the employees are cheering Jim on. Shouts of “Chug!” and “Holy shit!” ring out as Jim’s continuous drain goes on without pause. If they’re waiting for a break, they’d better find chairs. Years of practicing with the Infinite Beer Cup have keenly developed Jim’s ability to breathe through the nose while drinking through the mouth.
“Now that is how you do a chug!” As soon as the voice rings out, you know it. Deep, cheerful, and threaded with the intangible charm that forces one’s eyes to seek out the source. Apparently, word of Jim’s feat was substantial enough to start bringing more spectators. Including Thad, which despite being exactly what you wanted to happen, still causes you to wince slightly.
He’s tall, of course, and handsome, of course, and the chainmail shirt he’s wearing still shows off the muscles and definition that he has, admittedly, earned. Yet even there, it never feels like he has to try quite as hard as everyone else. The costume, at least, took some effort. Aside from the chainmail shirt, he’s wearing dark pants with a metal fauld, a shield on his back, and a helm/boots/gauntlet pairing that all clearly came as a matching set. Those bright, excited eyes scan the crowd, landing on you before there’s any time to try and rush for a place to hide.
With ease, he crossed the room, striding over and scooping you up into a crushing hug. “Lil Bro, you finally came! Didn’t think this was going to be the year, but I’m stoked you could make it.”
Gently, he sets you down, smoothing out the shoulders of your robe. “Grim Reaper costume, I love it, super classic. And that makeup! If whoever did that isn’t a pro, they should be.”
“Compliment appreciated, though such is not where my particular ambitions lie.” Victoria has an odd look in her eye as she assesses Thad, like she’s still puzzling him over. “Merlin, you had a standing invitation?”
“That I didn’t want to use until we decided for sure to interact with Thad,” you whisper back, trying, badly, to disguise it as a minor coughing fit before turning to your brother. “This is Victoria Dempsey. She’s a friend from, well, all over now, but originally high school.”
Instantly, recognition flashes in Thad’s expression, although hopefully Victoria doesn’t know him well enough to catch it. Embarrassing as it is, you had a pretty bad crush on Victoria in high school and early college, so of course you turned to your successful older brother for advice. He knows her name well, but not a word of that actually leaves his lips.
“So great to meet you, Victoria.” Thad gives her a firm handshake, taking note of her costume too. “Wow, your crew really doesn’t mess around with Halloween outfits. That fucking rules. Let me scoop Jim out of the pool and I can show you all around. We’ve got so much cool stuff going on this year. There’s an actual midway and fortune tellers in the carnival, that haunted hall of history is both a great time and an excellent education in FratCo’s legacy. Plus, the bar is Stacked with displays and some cool knick-knacks, along with tons of free booze. You two talk it over and let me know what sounds good.”
He’s off again in no time, leaning in to grab your roommate, who has, impressively, managed to noticeably lower the level of this beer pool. Victoria watches him go, before turning her attention to you. “I must confess, Merlin, from your description I expected someone more… dislikable.”
“Nope. That’s the worst part about Thad. He is relentlessly positive and optimistic. I sincerely don’t think he gets that life isn’t this easy for everyone else, but he’s doing his best to cheer us on. It gets draining, after a while. You can only take so much of someone believing you’re capable of anything once you realize that you aren’t.”
“Interesting. Ultimately irrelevant this evening, but I suppose it is fascinating to see the machinations of other families. Since Thad is currently lifting Jim from the pool, perhaps we should put our attention to the task at hand. Whatever magic is here, I cannot yet sense it. One choice is as good as the next, so I leave it to you.”
Thad is shake-drying Jim, better get that choice made. Which will it be?