Eddie rolled his eyes and left to talk to the others. Benjamin, alone, tried to distract himself by looking around the farm. There were buildings to repurpose as fortresses, fences to become force fields, and farm machinery to transform into massive enemies. One imposing tractor had, variously, been a dragon twice, a manticore, a chimera, and…well, an evil, possessed tractor.
The one place he didn’t want to look, but the one place his eyes kept flicking back to, was the door to the shower room.
If he was staring at the door when Andi walked out, it’d seem like he’d been looking there the whole time. And any inklings she had about Benjamin being a creep would be confirmed.
Hell, any inklings Benjamin had about himself being a creep would be confirmed.
But he didn’t know what to do. The other guys in the group had their share of girlfriends since starting Junior High, and seemed to balance…whatever having a girlfriend required…with school and gaming. But Benjamin had never even been on a date, and having a girl around, let alone one who was friendly toward him, let alone one he’d been harboring a painful crush on…
…and yes, let alone one who seemed as though she might know more about monsters and folklore than he did…
He couldn’t help but stare.
Cy wandered over, green-painted face contrasting against the dying grass of the farm and the grey sky above. “Hey, man.”
Benjamin looked at him, then felt a twinge of sudden memory. “Cookies. I forgot the cookies.”
Cy’s eyebrows went up. “Seeing me reminded you of that? What, I’m the cookie guy?”
“You do love cookies. There’s no denying it.”
Cy mulled this over. “I am a fan of their work, it’s true.” He looked back and forth from the shower outbuilding to Benjamin. “You’re not getting ready yet?”
“Just waiting for Andi to finish.”
“Hmm.” Cy stuck his hands in his pockets. “You need me to put her in a headlock when she comes out, make sure she doesn’t run in there and jump your bones while you’re getting dressed?”
Benjamin snorted with a humor he was surprised to feel. “Eat me.”
“Not a chance, man. If you were a cookie, you’d be something like a Pecan Sandy or Fig Newton.”
Benjamin turned to his friend, laughing. “Jeez. That’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Cy un-pocketed his hands and stretched. “Well, you know what they say about us quiet guys.”
“No, man, I was asking if you knew.” Cy peeked over Benjamin’s shoulder. “Oh, hey. Banshee, six o’clock.”
Benjamin turned so fast he almost overbalanced.
Andi swept out of the shower room in a frilly green dress, her hair up in twin tails, pancake makeup paling her already milky skin to a ghostlike pallor. She walked the few yards to Benjamin and Cy, and gave a twirl.
“Too much?” she asked. “Not enough?”
“Rock on,” said Cy, handily covering Benjamin’s stunned silence.
The other guys wandered over, offering compliments and an appreciative, guileless whistle or two. Andi grinned and basked in it, bowing and curtsying at the praise.
“So,” she said. “How do we get started?”
Eddie looked around, pointedly not focusing on Benjamin. “Well, normally we have someone who runs the game for us. Some kind of ‘Host’ who has the job of overseeing all the ‘Horror’…”
“Okay, okay,” Benjamin said. He ran, grabbed his own changing bag from the bike trailer, and headed for the showers. “Back in a sec!” he called to Andi.
“Hey, where are you going?” Eddie shouted after him. “I had a whole thing memorized!”
Inside the cool tile-and-concrete cube of the showers, Benjamin took deep breaths until his blush had subsided. He had to hurry. Under the glare of Eddie’s gibes, the weight of what he was doing dawned on him. He had to run the game while introducing a newcomer at the same time. Normally this wasn’t a problem: new players got tossed in the deep end, like a language immersion session. If they weathered it, they came back. If not, so be it.
Except this time, the new player was someone whose return Benjamin wanted to ensure.
He struggled into his suit, slapped powder on his face, slicked his hair back, and gave himself one last check in the fly-specked mirror.
The Host had arrived. And there was only one answer to his question of how to balance things for the veterans and the new player:
Do it the best he could.
He thought of the sheet-shrouded mannequin in the garage back home, and amended that thought.
Do the best he could, and do justice to the memory of the best Horror Host of them all.
He felt an odd surge of confidence, not something he was used to. Even in the games where only the innermost circle played, he always got a jolt of butterflies before getting started.
This time, he straightened his back, adjusted his black, skinny, undertaker’s tie, and stepped out into the brisk October morning.
Andi had just finished telling the guys a joke, and they erupted with laughter. Benjamin waited until the noise had died down, then clapped his hands, the sound echoing across the farm. Everyone turned to look at him. He drew a breath.
“All right, fiends and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. After the mighty leviathan returns to sleep, the energy fields around it shift and shimmer. The landscape itself distorts and wavers, and when you regain a sense of your location, you find it’s changed completely.” Benjamin looked around the group, pleased to see them hanging on his words. Even Eddie, normally his greatest critic, was nodding. And Andi, who had every right to ditch this bizarre world she’d been lured into, was smiling, bright-eyed and intrigued.
“You find yourself in a barren field with some dilapidated buildings and rusted machinery…a place you feel you’ve been to before. Materializing from the mists before you is a mysterious figure: a forbidding, scarlet-haired phantasm.”
He turned to Andi. “And she says to all of you…?”
Today’s Words: 1023
Total Words: 7558
Notes: Hard getting started tonight. But, gave the ultimate ending of the book some thought, so I have a more concrete goal to work toward.
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)