If he ever got out of this alive, Peter swore he'd never mistake a mausoleum for a pet shop again. He also swore he'd never huff paint behind the hardware store where he worked and then take a shortcut through the cemetery on his way home again. Finally he swore, bitterly and with much vehemence, at himself for getting into this situation in the first place. Clearly he was just in a swearing mood.
As he crouched behind a tombstone, he heard the moans and cries of his pursuers as they combed the graveyard looking for him.
"Fools! Idiots!" cried one in a thick Romanian accent. "How hard is it to find one frightened boy?"
Frightened? Boy? The words alone made Peter's blood boil. Okay, maybe he was a little scared, but he was no boy. Would a mere boy blunder his way into a night of terror involving the ranks of the undead, who were even now intent on making him one of them? Actually, yes, he would. But it would take a man to get him out of it.
While he waited for the creatures of the night to find his hiding place, Peter thought back to how he had gotten into his current predicament. Maybe if he examined the sequence of events in detail, he would know what not to do if he ever found himself in a similar situation. The trouble had started, he decided, when he brazenly cut through the old graveyard instead of taking the long way around like he normally did. Chalk it up to his state of intoxication or a momentary fit of bravado, but somehow Peter overcame his usual uneasiness around the place and found a gap in the fence to squeeze through.
Once inside, Peter wound his way through the tombs and grave markers until he heard what sounded liked scratching and whining coming from inside one of the larger mausoleums. The sound reminded him of the pet store in the mall, where he liked to go on weekends to look at the puppies in the window. Clearly not thinking straight, Peter pushed open the heavy metal door, expecting a cute puppy to come bounding out and jump into his waiting arms. Instead he found himself face to face with a man who... Well, maybe at one time he was a man. Now he looked liked something considerably more feral and primitive. His face and hands were covered with brown fur and he had sharp fangs and claws. He was also wearing a Members Only jacket, which might have struck Peter as odd if he hadn't been so busy screaming his head off.
The scream startled the wolf-man, who let out a howl, pushed his way past Peter and took off though the graveyard. Peter watched him bound over the headstones until the creature was lost in the darkness. He then turned back to look inside the mausoleum, which he somehow still thought would be full of barking dogs and mewling kittens. What he didn't expect was to be confronted with a veritable monster tableau: there was a vampire, a mummy, a zombie and some kind of swamp creature. The unnerving thing was they were all staring straight at him. It was just like the time when he was six and surprised his parents in the act -- only with monsters.
His fight-or-flight instinct short-circuited, Peter stood there dumbfounded, apparently waiting for one of them to make the first move. In the end it was the vampire who broke the ice when he said, "Good evening."
"Uhh, hi," Peter replied, giving a little wave.
"Would you like to come in?" the vampire asked.
"Sure, I guess." Peter took a half step forward, then hesitated.
"Don't be frightened," the vampire assured him. "Nobody here will harm you."
Peter scanned the room. None of the occupants seemed eager to jump out at him. They were all seated at a long table -- although on closer inspection he saw that it was somebody's tomb. The vampire was seated at the center, clearly the leader of the group, with the zombie and swamp creature to one side and the mummy on the other. The chair on the end was vacant, but whether it had recently been vacated by the wolf-man or not, he couldn't say. One thing was sure: he wasn't about to sit in it without asking first.
As Peter stepped inside, the vampire beckoned him forward with one of his long fingernails.
"There, that's right. Come on in. We're all friends here." The vampire turned his head slightly. "Igor, please bring a chair for our guest."
Peter followed the vampire's line of sight and saw the hunchbacked manservant standing just inside the doorway. Clearly if the monsters had wanted to take him, he could have easily been subdued by now. Realizing this, Peter relaxed and accepted the chair that was offered to him. He couldn't help but notice that he was seated directly across from the vampire.
"Would you like something to drink?" the vampire asked.
The hunchback placed an empty goblet in front of Peter, who shook his head. "No, thank you. I'm not thirsty."
The vampire waved his hand and the hunchback withdrew the goblet. Peter noticed that there was one in front of everyone else present -- including the empty chair to his right.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he said.
"Don't worry about it..."
"Thank you. Peter. This is just our little group's monthly gathering. Speaking of which, Igor, please go and fetch Mr. Walker before he's able to do himself or anyone else a mischief."
"Yes, master," said the hunchback as he loped out, closing the mausoleum door behind him.
"I'm terribly sorry about letting him out," Peter started. "If I had known--"
"Please, do not trouble yourself about it, Peter. Igor will take care of Mr. Walker. He's always been the... gregarious type."
"I see. So... What brings you to this neck of the woods?" Peter asked, blanching when he realized he had just used the word "neck" in the presence of a vampire.
"That is simple," said the vampire, who purposely maintained eye contact with Peter. "We change our meeting place on a regular basis and your charming little hamlet suited our needs perfectly. There's a good international airport close by for Mr. Ho-Tep and myself, an excellent sewer system, plenty of loose soil around and so on."
"Well, I'm glad we could accommodate you all," Peter said with unexpected civic pride, then leaned in conspiratorially. "Say, I'm not hallucinating all this, am I?"
"Does it feel like a hallucination?"
"Frankly, yes. No offense."
"So, what do you guys do when you get together?" Peter gave the swamp creature a sideways glance. "You are all guys, right?"
The vampire chuckled. "Yes, Peter. I guess this is something of a boy's club. And our gatherings are largely social."
"Okay, and where's Frankenstein's monster? Couldn't get away from the lab this month?"
"Please, get serious, Peter. That's just a story."
"Right, of course." Peter looked up and down the table. "Say, are you the only one who talks?"
"Why do you say that?" said a lightly English-accented voice to his right.
Peter looked, but somehow doubted it had been the mummy. "Who said that?"
"That was Mr. Griffin," said the vampire. "He's an invisible man."
"Ah, so that empty seat on the end--"
"Isn't really empty," said the invisible man with a haughtiness that didn't seem warranted.
"Where does Mr. Walker sit, then? When he's here, that is."
"When he's changed, the floor usually suffices," said the invisible man in such a way that made Peter imagine he was turning up his invisible nose. "You know, you are quite the inquisitive young man. Usually when we meet your kind, you're a lot less... verbal. Do you have any other questions?"
"No, I guess not. Well, maybe there is one. Why haven't you tried to kill me or even scare me a little?"
"And why would we want to do that?" asked the vampire.
"Well... Because you're monsters."
The others seemed affronted by this, but the vampire remained unfazed. After a few tense seconds, he even started laughing and before long the others had joined him, which was a great relief to Peter.
"Why, Peter," the vampire began once the laughter had died down, "we have no more interest in scaring you than we have in turning you into a creature of darkness like one of us."
This set off a second wave of laughter, even louder than the first, which Peter also joined in on. As it crested, the hunchback returned to the mausoleum -- without the escaped wolf-man in tow.
"Master, I have some terrible news," the hunchback said.
The vampire raised his hand, instantly silencing the others, although Peter was a half-second slow to stop laughing.
"What's happened to Mr. Walker?" the vampire asked.
"I'm afraid he ran out into the road and was struck by a car."
"Oh, my. Is he dead?"
"I'm afraid so, master."
"Dear, oh dear. Looks like we'll have to find ourselves another wolf-man."
As he said this, the vampire's gaze fell on Peter, which chilled his blood and prompted him to make his own bid for escape. He tried doubling back, but was unable to find the gap in the fence where he had come in. Sticking close to the edge of the property, he gave the mausoleum a wide berth, but it wasn't long before the monsters were on his trail. If the wolf-man had been with them, he probably would have been found right away, but as it was Peter was able to elude capture for several hours. During that time he had fully sobered up, but was no closer to finding a way out of the mess he was in. And beyond the obvious lessons -- don't huff paint after work, don't take shortcuts through cemeteries, don't open mausoleums that don't belong to you -- he was pretty much coming up short on that front as well.
"I'm pretty much screwed, aren't I?" he muttered under his breath.
"Maybe, maybe not," said a cultured voice right by his ear. It, of course, belonged to the invisible man, the one person he couldn't see coming. Instinctively, Peter's hand shot out in the voice's direction and came in contact with something soft and fleshy.
"Oh, my. You're... naked, aren't you?"
"Why, of course I am. I never found a formula for making clothing invisible. You can take your hand away anytime you want to, by the way."
"Thank you," Peter said as he pulled it back and, after a moment's consideration, wiped it on his jeans. "Are you going to turn me in to the others?"
"That's entirely up to you, dear boy."
"In what way?"
"How much money do you have on you?"
"I don't know. Twenty bucks, maybe."
"I'll take it."
"Would you rather haggle about it?"
Peter listened. The other monsters seemed to be closing in.
"Okay, okay," he relented. As he pulled out his wallet, though, it was snatched out of his hand and he watched, incredulous, as it bobbed and weaved its way between the headstones in the moonlight, seemingly of its own volition.
"Hey!" he cried, unthinkingly giving away his position as he stood up to give chase. He immediately realized his tactical blunder for he quickly found himself surrounded by all of the other monsters. Well, all of them except for the vampire, who chose to swoop down from his vantage point on top of the mausoleum in a dramatic fashion. Peter gulped as the vampire landed right next to him and placed a firm hand on his shoulder.
"There. You've given us quite a chase, Mr..."
This time Peter was not eager to complete the vampire's sentence for him.
"Well, no matter. Good work, Mr. Griffin!" the vampire called out over his shoulder.
"No problem!" replied the invisible man, who sounded far away and didn't appear to be coming back anytime soon.
"Now, Peter," said the vampire, turning back to him, "as I was saying, we appear to be down one wolf-man. You wouldn't happen to know of any in the area that you could recommend for our group, would you?"
The vampire gave Peter a hard stare and then released him.
"That's too bad. Well, thank you for your company, Peter. It's been... enlightening. Have a good night."
With that, he -- and all the other monsters -- withdrew. Peter slumped back against a nearby grave marker as a wave of relief washed over him. It was followed immediately by outrage, though, when he absently felt his pockets.
"Hey, what about my wallet?"