TEN o’ CLOCK
I found my wife standing at the corner of the ballroom when I returned. She was telling all sorts of stories from her youth. I had heard these before. She had champagne in her hand and I knew by which story she told just how much she had. Three. It was the tire swing story. She would soon lift up her arm and show her audience where it broke when she fell. She wasn’t drunk, though. And she wasn’t a lush.
“Mr. Hudson, I presume.” A short, dark-haired man with a polished complexion extended his hand.
“Why yes,” I replied. “Who might you be?”
“I am Herr Fischer. Pleased to meet you. Your wife’s told us so much about you.”
Herr Fischer introduced his wife.
“This is Frau Fischer.”
He looked over at the radiant beauty that stood beside him, whose eyes gleamed brightly, and whose long, black wavy hair danced wonderfully as she turned towards me.
“It is a privilege,” she said and extended her hand.
“It’s so wonderful to meet you two,” she added.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you two as well,” I replied.
“Your wife was just telling us the most amusing story about a tire swing she had when she was young,” Herr Fischer stated.
“Ah, yes. I have heard that one many times. It never does seem to get old, does it love?” I placed my arm around her.
“Not when there are new ears around,” she chuckled.
“How about yourself, Mr. Hudson, what stories have you about your youth? Anything quite as amusing as your dear wife’s,” Herr Fischer warmly inquired.
“Oh, not that I can think of at the moment. But when I do, I’ll let you know,” I replied.
“That sounds fair,” Herr Fischer agreed and smiled. “I look forward to it.”
The Maitre ‘D came around once again and offered champagne. I accepted and, once drink was in hand, we brought our glasses together.
Sometime after the toast, my wife excused herself from the conversation and requested that I, too, do the same.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
She looked nervous and a bit frightened. She didn’t answer, so I asked again.
I don’t know if it’s just me, or the champagne, or the fact that we’re miles away from home, but…“
“But what?” I persisted.
“Well, it’s just little things about the people here and the place.”
“The paintings in the hall. The people here. Some of them, parts of them, look like what’s in those frames.”
“The ones in the hallway. The paintings.”
“Are you sure,” I asked.
“Yes. I’m positive.”
“I haven’t seen anything strange about them so far, but on my way to the washroom I did come across some strange things in several rooms.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Well,” I replied. “There was a pile of clothing in a bedroom that smelled real bad. It smelled like a dog or a like animal of some strange sorts. Then there was a library I found myself in that had strange books of all sorts of subjects. There was also a strange lever behind a bookcase. I didn’t have time to see where it led to. And in the washroom, there were strange markings and an odd color on a door.”
“Well, what do you suppose it all means,” my wife asked.
“I’m not sure. But the last thing I want to do is to make a scene.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she agreed and nodded.
“Let’s just continue being social and try to enjoy the night.”
We walked back into the ballroom.
At this point I could not help but think of what my wife had said concerning how these other guests, and Mr. Fuchs too, I’m sure, resembled such hideous likenesses to the paintings we had seen upon our entry into this place. This planted itself within my mind and tempted me to now seek out these bestial imperfections. And I found them. Subtle at first, they soon slowly grew more irresistible to examination as my eye caught them.
A young couple in the corner of the room now aged in rapid transformation. This event happened right before my eyes, but not as quickly as the way a grain bows to the blowing wind. It was much more gradual; slow, determined and inevitable; like a sunset.
Their hair, too, grew like this. And in its progression it held its refined form. It didn’t clot, snag or lose its vitality. The couples’ skin was the same. It merely brought prestige to already notable character.
As we gradually met more and more couples, trends in appearance began to confirm my wife’s observations and concerns. Men’s formal wears now seemed tight and constricted the movement of their arms and legs, stretching and even minutely tearing the seams of their garments. As we shook hands fingernails were noticeably longer, sharper, and darker in color. Their hands were also relatively hairier and coarser. Not smooth like silk, but rather uncomfortable like sandpaper. Jewelry worn on their fingers appeared sunken into their flesh, causing it to bruise and, at times, bleed. It was as if the metal compositions themselves were shrinking, or their digits growing; swelling to an alarming size. And their faces… To look at them in the eyes, the nose, the mouths, and the ears was to believe the unbelievable and to surrender sanity to madness. As they spoke and smiled, they showed their teeth. Sharp, twisting elongations now replaced acceptable canines and incisors. They appeared monstrous, as if too long for the mouths that concealed them.
Their ears, as well, were elongated and pointed towards the sky, curving and dodging thick, wavy strands of hair. They widened and fanned outward from their roots in conical arrays. Their noses grew sideways as well as outwards. The tips, too, flattened and protruded upwards, giving the impression of an acute awareness.
The eyes, however, were something out of a fairy tale. As the night progressed and the conversations continued, the eyes were the only thing that changed with exponential speed. As my wife and I looked into them, as we sought to dowse our nerves and keep composure, their eyes challenged this in their monstrous transformations. Eyes that seemed to sink into the sockets, into some primitive abyss that sought light and brought it back in the growth of luminosity as wild as the western sun. It was in those eyes that anyone could be lost. And we would have been too, if it wasn’t for our attention having been broken by the great Grandfather clock chiming the arrival of eleven.