“Old Friends” by Rector, Ben from Best of 2018, The Mix
“So you grew up with these kids?” she asked as she snapped the tablecloth up and down until it finally settled, more or less, on the length of the kitchen island.
He shrugged, “I knew them when I was kid, yeah. I haven’t seen them since I left Michigan though.”
She smoothed out the wrinkles and began to place empty serving bowls in an arrangement she hoped would prove both aesthetically pleasing and space efficient. She sighed unconsciously as she took a step back.
“Are you ok?” he asked, fingers alighting on her collar bone, then her shoulder as he crossed her path. He pulled the curtains closed with a quick tug, then moved to the living room and did the same.
She blushed in reply. She still was not good about hiding her anxiety from him, even when she tried.
“I just,” she began, “I just thought I had already met everyone you were still friends with from before I knew you.”
He nodded. As he laid out a series of candles all over the room, he explained, “These are very old friends, but we didn’t exactly keep in touch. They’re kinda…technophobes, I guess. But they were really important to me so when I finally get back in touch with them a few months ago it just felt totally normal right away. So I guess you could say they were old friends of mine and now they’re going to be new friends of us.”
“They didn’t come to our wedding. You never even mentioned them.”
My parents weren’t big fans of these friends. Plus we had a church wedding and you know how some people are about religious services.”
He smiled warmly to her. She felt the tension dissipate and her shoulders drop away from her ears. The timer on the oven dinged. He kept lighting candles and she liberated the pesto puffs from the oven, laying them out on a serving tray the couple had not used since they got it for their wedding.
“And they’re cool?” she wondered aloud.
“They’re wild,” he promised her, “Totally different than any of my other friends, but they’re so inclusive, trust me.”
She continued to arrange the snacks. He whispered a prayer in several corners of the room and then set out water.
“The salt?” he asked, opening the cabinets.
“Next one over, third shelf,” she said without glancing over. He always looked in the wrong cabinet to start.
“Ah! There it is!”
She smirked. He always managed to sound like he had discovered it, not like she had told me exactly where to find it.
“Don’t forget the necklace I got you,” he directed as he filled his hand with salt.
She pulled on the gold chain until the jeweled amulet at the end came out of its hiding spot and bounced against her shirt.
“Perfect,” he declared, “Plus it gives me an excuse to keep glancing at your cleavage.”
She mock slapped him, “Like you’ve ever needed an excuse before.
He smirked that, “I’m such a cad,” smirk of his and donned a necklace of his own. He never wore jewelry save for the wedding ring but he told her this was back in the day and his friends were liable to act out if he wasn’t wearing it when they showed up. She supposed everyone is sentimental about something.
Her nose filled with the scent of incense. Suddenly, on the street, a scream. Then another. Then several. Louder. Closer. A chorus of shrieks and howls. Terror and pain comingling in the voices. She ran to the window and peeked out the curtain.
“Oh God,” she whispered.
“Hey they’re here!” he said behind her, his voice practically bubbling with excitement.
“They’re…they’re…unholy abominations!” she hissed.
He took a step back. “Oh baby, are you mad?”
“Yes!” she yelled at him, “You did not tell me your “old friends” were a collection of the shambling undead, demons, and what appears to be an Elder God!”
“Oh jeez,” he said, glancing away with embarrassment, “I thought you’d like the surprise.”
“Like it?” she replied, staring daggers at him, “I can’t believe you!”
She paused, almost vibrating with anger.
Then, “I mean, there’s no way those horrors eat the kind of food I prepared.”
There was a horrible ripping sound from just outside the home at that moment. The couple glanced back through the shades. The friends were carrying a mishmash of human body parts now. He noted that one of them had Mr. Greene’s head. Good riddance. That guy always waiting too long to mow his lawn.
“See,” he reassured her, “Nothing to worry about. They always bring their own food.”
She visibly a moment later. “Oh of course. How silly of me.”
And then the couple shared a small kiss and a laugh.
There really was nothing like old friends.