Cherries and Star Anise
A Nightmarish First Date Gone Good
“Not what you’d expect on a first date, huh?” asked Tobias, still somewhat shaken.
“No,” she breathed, “it’s much better.” Deborah giggled nervously, basking with Tobias in the light of the full moon. Her eyes lit up as she lifted her chin to meet his, leaving a small kiss on his lips to remember her by. “Do try to arrive earlier next time.”
“Next time?” he stammered. “There can be a next time?”
The merlot stain didn’t bother her any longer as she strolled toward her home with confidence, wearing it on her white satin shirt like a badge. She earned this stain. Plus, she was relieved it wasn’t blood. Not that either blotch would be easy to get out. Tobias watched from his car, making sure that she made it inside safely.
Deborah clanged past the silverware in her purse to find her keys. She was quite thankful they went to such a tasteful restaurant; those authentic silver utensils truly saved the evening. She couldn’t believe she had such an amazing first date since they’re just as rare as proof that monsters exist. Every other recent outing ended in disaster. Yet, here she was, at the end of a fantastic first date that truly should’ve been a nightmare.
Now resting on her couch, she was trying to remember how it all started. Deborah began to think the authorities would likely question her. Sitting up, focusing, she spoke to herself out loud, “How did it all happen?”
Tobias was running late. He and Deborah agreed that Tobias would pick her up at 7:30 for dinner, but it was now 7:35. Deborah found it irritating when others couldn’t manage to make being on time a priority. At 7:36, headlights hit the front of her home, and she strolled out to meet her mystery date after locking up. She was always careful, which is why her hand rested on the canister of mace in her purse after returning the keys.
“Hello, Tobias, right?” He looked like the picture a friend had shown her, aside from being a little more groomed.
“Hey! Yes. So nice to meet you, Deborah, right?” He stuck out his hand to shake hers. Deborah accepted his sweaty palm and shook it gently.
“Sorry,” he blurted, “I know my hand is crazy sweaty. I’m just nervous. You look really pretty.” Deborah gave a quick half-smile in response. “Sorry. Bleh, I don’t mean to apologize so much or say that I’m nervous simply because you’re pretty. I’m just really excited to meet you. My friend had so many great things to say, and I feel like we have so much in common. It’s awesome you’re such a big fan of Bad Company and Supernatural.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she reassured him, granting a full smile, releasing the mace and extracting her hand from her purse, as well as her other hand from his moist palm. Deborah quickly eased up. “Let’s have a fun night.” She wanted to remain positive.
“That sounds great,” replied Tobias, visibly easing up as his shoulders relaxed and his rigid posture came to a calm gait, leading to the car.
Everything changed once they both had a bit of liquid courage. At the restaurant, sitting across from one another, they held up glasses of merlot (Jetbird was the house recommendation) and clinked them together before indulging. Any remaining tension eased out of their spines and left smiles on their faces. Tobias was courteous and quite charming once he was no longer anxious. Deborah was witty, knowledgeable, and engaging in conversation, easing the night onward. She even understood the subtleties of flavor in the merlot, discerning the many notes of berries and spices, such as cherry and star anise.
It seemed like a perfect night – until they heard the slam of feet pouncing onto a table and the slashing of the chandelier overhead. The beautifully gargantuan light fixture came crashing down with a raucous explosion of glass bits and gold shards scattering throughout the restaurant. Everybody was shocked, not knowing how to react. The room wasn’t dark but glowing steadily with the wavering of candlelight on each table, flickering like the unsteady breathing of every astonished person there.
Heads spun, bringing their attention to the three figures at the epicenter. The slasher on the table stood with arms outstretched. The other two stood by his side, a slender woman with long flowing hair to his right and a squat fellow to his left. It was hard to feel out their intentions. That’s when the foreboding figure on the table bared his teeth. They seemed to elongate out his gums the further he pulled back his lips, fangs stacking over one another. Everyone now realized that the chandelier’s slashing had been done with the large claws extending out of his fingers. Panic ensued.
The two standing by their leader exposed the same attributes, snarling with their jagged maws and flicking out razor-sharp claws. People screamed and ran for the main doors, only to find them barricaded from the other side. Somehow, Tobias and Deborah remained seated but were no longer stunned. They looked at each other, then down to the silverware, then back at each other. Not wasting another moment, Tobias gripped the butter knife and the wooden-handled steak knife, one in each hand, while Deborah picked up a pair of forks. They both popped to their feet and dashed with a sense of duty. Over to the horrific figures, they sprinted, taking them by surprise.
Down went the steak knife buried into the pack leader’s right foot so hard that it stuck out the bottom of the table with a loud thunk. Tobias followed up with the butter knife into the slender woman’s left foot, planting her in place. They both screeched horribly and writhed in pain. Deborah was only a half-second behind, jabbing forks into the thighs of the thick fellow, just above his knees, causing him to double over reeling in pain. Deborah jumped backward reactively to avoid swinging arms as the heavy man came crashing down. The other patrons and employees could only observe, lacking the courage to get involved.
“Werewolves are real?!” shouted Tobias. He, too, stepped back to stand by Deborah as astonished, nervous laughter crept out of her.
“Right?!” she agreed, as they now both stood a safe distance away from the seemingly detained beasts.
They began to assess themselves, checking for any scrapes or cuts. Deborah looked down to see a slowly growing pool of red on her white satin shirt. “Oh no, he got you?!” cried Tobias, worried.
“No,” replied Deborah gathering her senses, “it’s just merlot.” She touched it to make sure she wasn’t numb due to endorphins. “It must’ve happened when I jumped up from the table.”
“Wow, that was close.”
“What do you mean close,” shouted their waitress. “They’re still right there!” The werewolves were wriggling in pain, trying to free the utensils only to yank their hands back, recoiling as though they were sticking them into boiling water.
“Silver actually works,” explained Deborah. “Look, they can’t even touch the forks or knives.”
“How’d they get in here if that door is blocked off?” queried Tobias.
“There’s a couple ways.” The manager spoke up from the back of the crowd since he was first to the door. “We have a delivery ramp out back that leads into the kitchen.”
“And the other way?” pressed Tobias.
“Through the wine cellar, it’s narrow and long but could get us out. No one knows about the door down there except me, the other managers, and the owner. I don’t think they could’ve come that way.” The manager was still making himself small behind the bodies of others in the crowd, inching his way forward to be better heard, realizing he would have to lead.
“Alright people,” Deborah raised her voice with authority, “arm yourselves with some silverware and follow that manager!” The people didn’t hesitate to run away from the werewolves. Deborah and Tobias took up the caravan’s caboose, moving with their back to the crowd, now forming a column to fit through the approaching door.
The monsters resorted to assisting one another, more capable of approaching the silver that wasn’t probing their flesh. The long-haired woman fought to grip the blade in their leader’s foot. As she got closer, her hand seared and cracked all through her forearm. Horrific burns formed by the time she was able to finally yank hard enough to prize the knife free and send it hurling backward in one swift motion. The leader helped her in return, and they both hobbled over to relieve their large friend, who’d curled up, unable to take the forks out.
Deborah and Tobias closed, bolted, and barred the heavy wooden door as soon as they crossed the threshold. Looking through the little grease-smeared windows at the top, they could see that the monsters were close behind. They both looked down to find their hands locked together, frozen in a moment.
All three werewolves pressed their faces against the windows, crudely sticking out their tongues, as they smashed their lower halves into the door. The old iron hinges and locks were sturdy but could hold up only so long under this stress. The couple realized that they should be moving by now and turned away, one after the other, running down the corridor to the extensive flight of steep spiral stairs, wrapping around a giant stone column.
Once in the basement, a hallway of wooden wine racks, worn with age, stretched out before them. It was a vast, bright cellar, neatly lined with LED lights strung along the ceiling. The people packed into the narrow space, densely walled by dusty wine bottles. Those who couldn’t see beyond the people in front demanded to know what was happening. Those in the front declared it was a dead-end, false hope.
“Please, trust me. Help me slide this wine rack to the side,” beckoned the manager. They hesitated, paralyzed by fear. That’s when the destruction of the old door above echoed throughout the basement, rumbling with a hell-shaking crash. The broken bits of wood tumbled down the staircase alongside the hobbling of suffering knees and slapping of wounded feet against the stone. The moaning and growling of the beasts grew closer as Deborah and Tobias fought their way to the front of the crowd. The manager directed them, and they all three shifted the heavy wine rack along the wall until it revealed a door in the corner. “See, they couldn’t have come in this way,” announced the manager, shoving open the door.
Everybody flooded out. The werewolves made it to the beginning of the long hallway when Tobias slammed the door shut again. Deborah threw her body hard against the door and partially Tobias, assisting to hold it in place. No one else stuck around to help. Even the manager took off, though, not before tossing a ring of keys at the couple and shouting good luck.
“We can still lock them in,” shouted Deborah hurriedly.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Tobias agreed. “Can you reach those keys? I’ll hold the door.”
“I can’t leave you holding it alone.”
“Hurry! I think we still have time.”
Deborah dashed over to the keys and barely stopped to snag them, spinning on the ball of her foot, sending dirt and debris sailing into the air, and dashing back in a breeze. Tobias jerked open the door to check. They were a couple of yards away. In a last-ditch effort, he grabbed a handful of silverware from his pocket and threw it hard. The beasts reared back, flinching, buying significant seconds. Tobias slammed the door shut again, and Deborah slammed against him, offering up the keyring. He quickly examined it and decided on the tarnished one. Tobias stuck the key into the lock, twisting and securing it.
SLAM! BANG! BOOM!
The door rattled as Deborah and Tobias ran off together, hand in hand.
About the Creator
Jesse Terrance Daniels
Jesse is the founder of Pied Raven Games, and his first card game, Hibernation, won Best Family Game in 2018. He currently has a book in the process about game design. The book, titled Make Your Own Board Game, will be available 08/2022.
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