Aside from Wes intermittently yelling, "FREE BIIIIIRD!" the first set really hadn't gone bad at all. People were having fun, loosening up, starting to dance--probably encouraged by the sight of Piggy strutting his stuff (quite well, actually) on the dance floor. Nobody wants to admit they've been outboogied by a Gamorrean.
The only snag we really hit was when we closed the last song of the set--you know, the kind of rock-posturing finish where you milk those last chords and crashes for all they're worth -- and just after we hit that big, final whomp we heard someone yell, "AN'ARIE! What are you doing?" I don't know who said it, I don't know what provoked it. Best not to know, really. But Syd and I glanced at each other and something passed between us, an unspoken agreement that this was not the last thing people needed to remember before we went on break. So I gave a quick two-three-four count and we charged right into a cover of "Rockaway Beach." We keep that one on the side for moments like this; it's catchier than Krytos and a lot more fun. Plus it's short, so it doesn't wear out its welcome.
Short was good for another reason, too. We were both just plain ready for a rest. Syd's makeup was starting to streak under rivulets of sweat, and I knew that my teased hair had wilted like day-old lettuce. Syd finally did her little "We're gonna take a short break and be back soon" spiel, and we both ran for the drinks.
"I thought you were crazy when you suggested we drive out all this way just to play a party," she said, handing me a cup of cider. "I thought you were doubly crazy when you said we'd be playing to alien fighter pilots."
"And now?" I took a grateful gulp. Funny, it had a bit more kick to it than before.
"I still think you're crazy. But the insanity is catching."
Gavin sidled up to us, looking none-too-sure of himself. "Hi."
"Hey, Gavin. Having fun?"
"Oh, yeah! I've never been to a costume party before." He was so earnest, it was painful to watch. "What are you two supposed to be?"
"We're Magenta and Columbia!" Syd said. "You know. What's your favorite color? Where do you get your pot?"
Gavin looked utterly clueless.
"Haven't you seen Rocky Horror?"
He shook his head, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Syd smirk. Oh boy. Somebody would be playing Corrupt-the-Virgin tonight. I'd better warn her that he was underage.
"So this is your first costume party?" I asked, hoping to get us back to safer territory.
"Yeah. My first Halloween party, too. What's Halloween about, anyway?"
Sydney's mouth dropped open. "Why Gavin, you mean nobody explained it to you? It's the night the Great Pumpkin flies across the sky, bringing presents to all the good little boys and girls."
I suppressed a laugh only by stuffing my face with a couple of brownies.
Now, here was an interesting situation. Wedge Antilles, hero of my late-night fantasies, stood before me live and in the flesh--and in green tights. I've had a Robin Hood fetish ever since first grade, when I developed a crush on the little fox in that Disney version. If you want to talk about two great tastes that taste great together, this was better than even chocolate and peanut butter.
And I couldn't speak to him for fear of spewing partially-chewed brownie all over the place.
"Hmmhmm," I buzzed, trying to smile even as I gestured to my stuffed cheeks, knowing I probably looked like some kind of mute Goth chipmunk.
"Sorry," he grinned. "I just wanted to say hello and thank you for coming."
"Mmm! Hmm hmmmd mm mm hmm." (That was supposed to be "Oh! I'm glad to be here.")
"Is Wes bothering you? Because I can get him to stop."
I shook my head frantically. "Mmm mmm! Hmmm mmm hmmhmm mm mmmm." ("No, no! He's no trouble at all.") I chewed frantically, trying to swallow as much brownie as I could, and overheard Syd tell Gavin, "If the rain lets up, maybe you'd like to go out in the field with me and wait for the Great Pumpkin to rise up out of the patch."
That did it. The most I can say for myself is that I turned my head at the last moment. And then I ran, leaving Syd and Gavin and Wedge--and Wedge's "Are you okay?"--behind in the dust.
I found a hallway leading away from the ballroom and the center of the party excitement. It was cooler and quieter, although it was still reasonably well-lit, decorated by a suit of armor and some richly-colored tapestries.
Although the party was going strong in the next room, I felt separated from the action. Pleasantly so. Just enough so that I had breathing space, but not enough so that I felt remote. I could just imagine, though, that there were some places in the castle that could make you feel pretty remote indeed...remote, and creepy. I heard the rumble of thunder outside the castle--felt it, too, because the stones vibrated at the sound. Well, being at ground zero for most of the music, I hadn't really noticed when the storm started. But it was pretty obvious now that Hobbie's weather prediction was right. Maybe we'd have to crash at the castle. I hated driving in rain, and Syd wasn't too fond of it either.
With my attention divided between the unicorn tapestry in front of me and dark memories of our last rainswept roadtrip, I didn't think about the metallic squeak behind me until an armored hand clamped down on my shoulder--not painfully, but firmly. In the breath before I screamed, I spun around to come face-to-visor with the now-animated suit of armor.
Continued in the Intermission