“Do make sure to try the canapé,” the host says to me before leaving.

I am profoundly relieved that he is gone.

Alone, I make way way through the party; room by room. The beautiful guests in their formal evening wear swim in my vision like watercolors in the rain, but the rooms and their furnishings are distinct. Expensive, ancient, manor style speaks to the host’s seriousness and wealth. A tapestry beckons; rich colors begging to be touched. But I mustn’t. People might notice.

Noise now. Sound. There are noises floating around me. I realize their source is a woman who is speaking to me. Not just one. Another. And men too. It’s a conversation. Oh dear.

These people are no more substantial than vapor in a breeze, but the noises they make must be language. Their noises reach me like I’m trapped in a tank filled with foam. Distant and incomprehensible. I can’t do this.

They turn to me expectantly. Nowhere to run.

But what’s this? Another set of noises. The people laugh. A pretty young wisp laughs and laughs, reaching out to touch my hand. Those last noises were my voice! My language! Intangible and meaningless they might be for me, but to these specters that surround me, they are well received.

Well, now, this all seems to be working out just fine.

I quickly learn to direct the outer shell of myself that the people interact with. That outer me is popular and skilled. Is able to manipulate those I want. The gossamer people are blown about at my will.

Well, then, who is it going to be?

That first young woman. Yes, her. I swear I know her from somewhere. She’s so familiar.

Her laughs give way to breathy sighs and we work our way upstairs to a bedroom. She is pliant and does as she is told, but none of her moist comforts reach through my outer shell to a place of true feeling. Still, the idea of it is rather nice all the same.

Back downstairs afterwards we part ways. Many more people, more of the same. This is all getting rather dull, I’m afraid.

There is the host, across the room. He stands with his cocktail, chatting amiably with his guests. There is something wrong about him. I don’t know what it is, but there is definitely something not quite right about the host.

Sensing my attention, the host turns to me and raises his glass in a wordless toast. His eyes meet mine, and with a shock and a rising tide of dread, I realize what is wrong. He sees me. The inner me. In that moment I make a further realization that I can see him clearly. He is no gossamer specter like all of his guests.

The host bores his eyes into me and smiles; communicating his understanding of my realization. He knows everything. The dread crests. I have to get out of here.

Rooms blend into rooms. Where is the fucking exit? The vapor people impede now; their vacuous infatuation with my outer shell drawing them in too close. Grasping with conversation. Finally, I make my way through them and find the front door.

Where the host waits for me.

“Oh, I do hope you aren’t leaving so soon,” he says to me with a sadistic smile.

I understand him. He sees me and I understand him. Right from the very beginning. How could I have forgotten this?

“Before you go, I just have one little thing I want to show you. Please, right this way. I insist,” he says.

I try to protest, but I have no voice here. Just my vapor noises for my fellow guests. Only the host has a voice. Only he has meaning.

He takes me by the arm to guide me and he is strong. So strong. But he has no need of it; I cannot resist.

To a door: old and heavy, thick wood and iron, in the back of the house. He opens it and flicks on a light. Moist stone glistens; a staircase down with a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling by its naked wires. Darkness below.

“After you,” the host says politely.

I cannot resist.

At the bottom, I move out into the dark. Knowing this is the end, but powerless to do anything to change it.

Another click of a switch. The buzz and flicker of florescent bulbs. Brightness.

A room, not so big. Concrete walls and floor, with thick, enamel white paint. It is stained, streaked thick with grease and filth. A steel frame single bed with a naked, soiled mattress is in front of me. Some carpentry tools lie scattered about.

I turn around. The host stands facing me. There is no exit behind him; it has disappeared. We stand alone in this cube of concrete staring at each other. “Your room,” he says, and starts unbuttoning his jacket.

As he undresses his face begins changing. It gets white and puffy, like a bloated, drowned corpse. His thick, purple tongue coats his swollen lips with spit. His eyes become pure black.

I hope I can wake myself up before he touches me.

Oh, God, I hope this is just a dream.

But perhaps it is hell and we’ve only just begun.

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