Stan didn’t remember getting the invitation, which was strange, because the yellowing piece of paper was what he had restlessly been playing with on his way to the party. Where exactly? His body seemed to know, so he just let his feet take him, through alleyways and subways, and down staircases. He folded the invitation this way and that, between fingers which rarely kept still. Strong knuckles on clean hands. Neither could be said for his conscience or character. Stan had not lived a kind life. He liked to look out for himself, above all else. The invitation was pleasingly tactile to the touch, though he couldn’t place why. A slight shine, and a strangely soft feel to the paper. At least, he assumed it was paper. How could it be anything else?
His expensive shoes clacked on the pavement as he moved swiftly. He wasn’t sure how he felt about parties these days, or even how he’d ended up being invited to one after all this time. He was mostly too old and cynical for this crap. All the schmoozing and pretending to give a shit in order to secure yet another business ally. Another million pounds to add to his many others. He didn’t need it all, so why did he bother, he wondered? Many charities had approached him for donations over the years, and he had politely declined. Why should he give them HIS money? None of these issues affected him, and they weren’t his fault. So why should he pay?
Power was the reason. That was the only reason to have wealth, and the feeling that he liked, and craved above all else. The only emotion he ever gave credence to. He had tried to behave like a good human being; a loving husband, a decent father, and a supportive friend. However, ultimately, he had failed at achieving any of these. He wasn’t good at much, but he was very good at two things: making money and getting what he wanted in life.
The spiritual side of life could go fuck itself, because what did he care, really? He had screwed so many people over during the years, he was surprised that he had any friends left who would want him at their party. No doubt the invite was for a business thing. His secretary would have told him about it, booked it into his calendar. Shirley, with her neat hairdo and her ‘don’t fuck me’ shoes. Trust me, he had tried. She made all his plans, booked his flights, sent flowers to his girlfriends, and, of course, diverted their calls when he had got bored of their demands. He paid her well, and she ran his life, took a lot of stress off his shoulders. He never did have the energy or patience for the minutiae of life. He wanted the quick fix, the instant buzz, the smack between the eyes which triggered the reward centre of the brain.
Oh well, he would make the best of it. He was in his best suit, after all. He knew the drill by now, like a smoothly oiled machine. Smile and shake hands whilst working his way swiftly to the bar. Look busy and important so that people didn’t bother him too much. Sidestepping as many bores as possible, getting drunk on the finest whiskey. Bring an attractive woman home if possible. The icing on the luxury cake of course. And the younger, the better. The younger ones were the dirtiest, for sure. And the least likely to get attached. One time, he had gone to a colleague’s engagement do, which was to his mind, ridiculously extravagant. Stan had taken home the man’s fiancée, which was a surprising bonus, even for his dark heart. He wasn’t quite sure how he had managed that; she must have been having doubts about marrying a mediocre bore like Terry. Whereas Stan’s greying good looks, utter confidence and superficial charm had obviously won her over. For one night at least. How easily so-called ‘committed’ people could be won over. She’d been too drunk to be much cop in the sack of course, plus she was a bit older than he usually went for. However, even a bad lay was a notch on the bedpost. A release of tension, and a decreased risk of getting prostate cancer. He’d known a chap with that, who’d died. Very nasty business. He strained to think if he’d even bothered to attend the funeral…probably not.
Somewhere off in the distance he could begin to make out sounds of laughing, music, chattering, the thrum of many hundreds of people. Maybe this was his party. But where was it? He was weaving his way through more narrow streets lined with people who were all living their lives, entwined with others or speaking on phones, heading back home or heading off to spend time with friends and family.
He glanced at a young, dark-haired woman why was moving past him, clutching the hand of a small girl as they both chattered away with their heads low. He strained to hear but his ears didn’t seem to absorb the words completely. The woman was classically pretty, but with a certain fragility… he thought he recognised her, but couldn’t quite see her face, before she and the child disappeared up a side street. On a whim he followed them, feeling crazy. He needed to know suddenly. What the hell did he think he was doing? He was feeling a strange jolt in his belly; a twinge of curiosity perhaps? He dared to consider that it may even be the stirrings of remorse, the first ever sprinklings of sorrow in later life, for what might have been. He had no idea where the feeling had come from, but he had the feeling he had known the girl many moons ago.
More twisting and turning into darkening alleyways resembling labyrinths… more vaguely familiar faces passed him by, causing him to feel random and confusing emotions, and he tried to reach out to those people, to speak to them, to resolve the bad feelings, but the people seemed to vanish into the shadows like smoke into the air. They could not be reached; could not be touched. This passage was becoming torturous, with its never-ending turns and the increasing feeling of panic enfolding him. Stan could feel his throat constricting; the intense emotion of having unfinished business was getting too much. He clutched at his tie.
Where was this fucking party? He could take it no more, he felt as if he had been wandering for hours, following a map known only to him, yet he could not consciously recall the directions, and he stopped under an area of light beneath a crackling halogen light, and finally opened up the invitation to see where the hell he was headed.
“What the hell..?” The glossy, strangely soft paper revealed only six neatly scrawled words, written on two lines.
The first line read: Stan Westmore.
The second read: You are already here.
As he stood and looked around him at the grimy concrete walls and the maze of dark alleyways leading like tendrils into the murky, scary recesses of every mistake he had ever made in his life, every person he had mistreated, every sin he had committed, he felt his blood run cold. He knew where he was.
A figure stood before him, in the shadows, impossibly tall, and Stan began to quiver from the top of his body down to his feet. A hundred faces started to slowly move in towards him from all directions, blocking him in. Stan knew, but he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to face this. He knew where he was. He was already at his own wake, in hell, ready to celebrate for all eternity, with the wronged people he had rejected, ignored, murdered, stamped on, betrayed.
He thought back to this morning when he had got up. He found he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t REMEMBER. All he could remember was finding the invitation in his hand, being in his best suit. The tall, terrifying Judge rose even taller to condemn Stan for a life badly lived, and to instruct him of his incarceration in hell, which would involve endless years of torment and anguish spent around the people he had hurt during his selfish lifetime. The extra touch being that Stan’s feelings of remorse were being experienced just a little too late to take any action to free himself from his prison of regret.
As Stan’s weary eyes closed in resignation of his fate, he couldn’t help but wonder if his life, and therefore his death, would be different if he hadn’t abandoned sweet, dark-haired Melissa, and their unborn child. The child he would never get to know. The child who would now torment him forever in hell.
As he sank to his knees and began to weep, the crowds around him closed in, laughing, jeering and chattering, all elongated eyes and teeth. The music began, a mocking, spiteful dirge designed to torture his nerves and amplify his suffering. He grit his teeth as a flute of black champagne was thrust into his hand, and the crowd urged as one, for him to “drink…drink… drink.”
Now the party could really start.
Based on an idea by Bethany Nicholass – thanks honey!