"Okay - let's have a little round table, since some of you are new here. How does that sound? Sounds good?"
A murmur of low approval went up around the room. It was a pretty tacky room, too. I wasn't sure why they'd settled on the dining room, but then again, it'd been hosted at Meatloaf's house, so what could you expect? The other rooms were too cluttered with faded merch to be suitable, and the table was big enough to seat everyone assembled, among other things.
The speaker - Paul, I reminded myself - stood up. The apple in his throat bobbed a mile a minute as he spoke, and I wondered if it was because of nerves on his part, or just because he was too gangly, and too eager to get started. "Hi, everybody. I'm Paul; you all know me, I kind of got this thing together. Now, I know you're all thinking that's because I'm trying to lead this thing; no, just like the rest of you, I'm pretty much just kind of curious, and wanted to crowdsource a project with the lowest possible risk."
Polite clapping from the older Gentleman, whom I hadn't met before. No one else clapped.
Sitting back down, Paul was displaced by Meatloaf. Meatloaf - actual name unknown, because he refused to use his actual name in order to avoid tainting the process, because he was a gigantic tool - had usually been flanked by a few aging groupies. He didn't speak much, and when he did speak it was in grunts. Long ago he'd probably been severely overweight; but years of only the training you could do in the comfort of your own basement had long since made him freakishly muscular, or at least given him the appearance of strength stretched over a beer-sated gullet.
Meatloaf didn't say much. Simply mentioned that he didn't want his house messed up, 'aight, and no blood on the band posters. Without thinking, I looked to the wall. A few of the posters were well-treated, but most had crumbled away to age and neglect. Faces half-rotten from air and humidity looked back at me. Meatloaf's tastes were actually pretty mainstream, if the popular bands pictured were an example. No one else looked; no one else seemed to care.
Slouching back into his chair with a growl, Meatloaf turned and clapped his hand on the guy to his right. This guy clearly just wanted to sprint out of here, but was held in place because he wanted to see the process through; he just hated everyone else around him. He got up, dusted his tie off (his tie was immaculate).
"It's a pleasure to work with you all. I hope this is the beginning of something mutually profitable for all of us."
Brief, concise. Nameless sits back down, stares right at me.
Next up is Gentleman. Gentleman doesn't care about anyone here either; but that's because they all look up to him. He doesn't have a degree, hasn't held a job in many years, isn't particularly successful in his personal life from the snippets of conversation I've heard - and yet something about him screams "Listen to me" and we do. He's been holding his hat at his side the entire time, as if we're in the presence of a higher authority. Maybe he's supposed to be the higher authority.
"Friends - We're taking a bold step here, and I am honored to have made the cut to work with all of you. Though I realize my arrival held the actual date back by a week, you have my assurance none could be more honored to be here than I. Thank you. Thank you..."
Meatloaf is tearing up. Everyone claps, Paul looks upstaged but too much of a coward to do anything about it. That leaves the guy with the sunglasses. He's been listening to his police radio the entire time, but there's no sense of worry; this is a big town, and these are little people. No one is quite successful enough to warrant attention, or unfortunate enough to automatically attract suspicion.
No one cares about what is about to happen.
My wrists itch against the hempen cloth and Meatloaf's crappy hardwood table.
Sunglasses takes his off, spits some gum into his hand, wads it under the table.
"I hate introductions. Let's just get this over with, right? How do we go about it?"
Paul smirks - a little smirk, the kind that suggests he wants to drag this moment out and show everyone how smart he is. But, being Paul, he messes even that up.
"Yeah, okay, so. I got this book from a... I guess you could say, a fair-weather friend of mine. Real lonely, didn't seem much to care what we used it for so long as I spent a day with 'em. Seemed disappointed in the end, but aren't they always?"
"Well, she also gave me this, and you know... It's important we use it."
The knife is boring, tiny, impossibly sharp. It isn't designed to kill a moving target, or scale a fish, or whittle. The tiny rivulets are there only to collect blood as it pools, sending it plunging into the stoppered-off salad collander they've gathered for use as an offering bowl.
"So, what I'm saying is that, uh, we've got to spill enough blood to get attention from the entity. So, that's why I brought her here, and that's why we're all gathered today. If we don't all do it, you know... Entities like this can get pretty fickle."
A pause, Paul loses his verbal footing, everyone looks nervous. I don't think Sunglasses is even a hundred percent sure this'll work, he just wants to kill something. But Gentleman laughs and the awkward silence is broken; everyone is friends again.
"Well then, what are we waiting for? I'm not getting any younger! Mortimer, why don't you do the honors and cut the cake?"
Meatloaf, I knew there was a reason I felt like his name should have an 'M' to it, gets up grumbling. He stops grumbling when he looks at me, though. I don't know if it's the gag or the fact we're staring each other dead in the eye, but I've long since stopped feeling like screaming. Just get on with it, I'm thinking. If a bunch of crazy people are going to kill me, get it over with.
But Mortimer can't at first; he starts to wuss out and then the rest of the little group starts cheering, and before long he's picked up the knife and rushing towards me and I can't bring myself to close my eyes - and the knife pierces my thigh and to my surprise it hurts, but even more I find myself angry. Angry that he couldn't even hit something important, angry at myself for being here, angry at everything.
Nameless is sharing a chuckle with Meatloaf, who is struggling to pull the knife out - to both of their surprise, it's stuck into my flesh.
And at that exact moment, it strikes me that no one in the room could properly tie a good knot.
With a strangled gasp of surprise, I fall to the floor just as the knife goes free; they've pulled too hard, and it slips into Nameless. He's lucky, it strikes under his throat and with a brief gurgle and a nasty expellation the color of rotting tomatoes he falls to the floor.
There is a moment that seems like an eternity where we eye each other up. I can tell the rest of them are weighing options; call the cops? "Hello officer, were just relaxing and I was off-duty when this middle-aged lady so rudely interrupted our human sacrifice?"
"As you well, officer?"
... They realize that's not going to fly, at least not today - and I've already lunged for Gentleman, since he needs a cane. Everything becomes a melee and I forget everything but the
cuts of the knife.
Flailing around and winded after the second blow, I don't think I manage to off more than Gentleman, who seems as happy to die as he was in the chance of killing me. Paul trips over the bile left by Nameless, Meatloaf strangles Sunglasses while yelling obscenities about the police - and in revenge or perhaps confusion Sunglasses empties most of a .38 clip into Meatloaf.
An unpleasant smell fills the air, and I'm cold and very suddenly alone. And I realize that no matter what I say, I'm just as doomed as when this started, all because I couldn't move my shopping cart fast enough. My heart began to beat incredibly fast, the anger wavering in between sheer terror -
Before I notice it, at the corner of the room.
The same color as the bile on the floor and on the blade, its flesh mottled and yet rippling with muscles on limbs that should not be combing out of it's stomach - Just watching, not judging or amused. Observing.
Finally, it speaks:
"Good afternoon. It seems I am at your beck and call, vicious summoner. I find myself pleased with your sacrifice, much more so than I thought I would be. Name whatever it is that your heart desires..."