Stranded

Adrian ran his fingers along the side of a 1936 Buick. The deep burgundy paint gleamed in the pale light of the full moon. He counted five classic cars gloriously lining the frosty gravel drive. Notes of music crackled from the house, mixed with titters of laughter and clinking dishes. He looked at Amber, shivering in her parka, hands shoved deep in her pockets. At least someone was awake at this late hour.

Adrian knocked on the door.The music stopped, and the door was thrown open wide, emitting a burst of warm air that enveloped Amber. She drew closer to the radiant heat.

“Good evening,” boomed the voice of a stout gentleman. “How can we help you folks this fine evening?”

Amber peered around him. Two women talked and laughed in the background. Their white satin gowns shimmered with the slightest movement, and their short hair bobbed as they laughed. Amber thought of an old Clark Gable movie she had seen as a child. They must be having a themed party. How quaint to find such a thing here, in the middle of nowhere. She shivered.

“Oh, James,” called a melodic voice from within. “Invite our guests in out of the cold.”

“Of course,” boomed James. “Won’t you come in?”

“Maybe just for a moment, just to warm up,” Adrian said. Amber nodded, grateful for the warmth.

“Not many people travel our road since the freeway went in. We don’t see many strangers these days,” James explained.

The two stepped over the threshold and into another world. Elegant couples peppered the room. Candlelight shimmered and flickered, reflected in polished silver.

“What brings you folks out at this hour,” James asked.

“Our car slid off the road up above,” Adrian explained. “We just wondered if you had a phone. We don’t get cell service out here.”

“Of course. I’ll get ’em on the horn,” James replied, entering an opulent study. “Please join us while you wait.”

Amber noticed two women watching her mysteriously, slipping each other glances. She pulled her jacket closer around her despite the heat. A man started playing a ragtime song on the piano. More people arrived, also dressed in strange, old clothing. Amber glanced at Adrian, who just shrugged.

A young maid looked around nervously as she came from the kitchen balancing trays piled with food, then quickly scampered back, avoiding all eye contact. Everyone gathered around the table, feasting on roast duck, vegetables and pumpkin soup. James walked to the cupboard and returned with a bottle and some small glasses. Eyebrows raised.

“Anyone ready for some moonshine?” he asked, smiling beguilingly.

There was a flurry of activity as guests claimed small glasses.

Adrian and Amber looked at each other. The moon must have descended over the frosty hill. Through the darkness the wispy tendrils of morning were probing the sky.

“We should go up and see about that tow truck,” Adrian said.

“Of course, of course,” said James, patting him on the back. “Must get to where you’re going, mustn’t you. Life doesn’t wait while we party.”

They shook hands and said their goodbyes, then trudged up the hill. They found the Prius hooked up to a tow truck and being pulled out of the ditch.

“Thank God for answering services, eh?” Adrian said to the mechanic.

The mechanic looked at him oddly.

“We called early this morning,” Adrian added.

“We didn’t get no call,” said the mechanic. “Trucker said there was an abandoned car out here, so I came to get it. Been sitting here for days.”

“That’s impossible,” Adrian said, baffled. “We just went off the road last night. No cell service, so we called from the house down there.”

As he pointed to the house, a chill went up his spine. Amber clenched his arm in a vice grip. The fingers of sunlight that were teasing over the hills revealed a dilapidated shack, the shiny Buick now a rusted heap.

The mechanic stared. “The old Shepard place? Ain’t no one lived there for over seventy-five years. Big party got outta hand one night. Old man Shepard killed his guests, then offed himself. Locals won’t go anywhere near.” He unhooked the Prius.

Adrian paid the man. As they took to the road, they passed by the old house. Looking at it, Amber let out a cry. Through a darkened kitchen window she could clearly see the face of the anxious maid, hand on the pane, wide eyes meeting hers.

Photo courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press

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