by Mark Allan Gunnells
“You about ready, Tony?” Joseph asked, adjusting his rubber pig’s nose. Together with the white lab coat and toy stethoscope around his neck, he thought he looked pretty damn good.
His husband walked out from the bedroom, looking rather ridiculous but also strangely adorable in his full-body outfit. It had been a werewolf costume, but they’d trimmed the hair short and cut out the snout. “You sure this is right? I thought the creature on the plane wing looked more like an alien and less like a life-size Care Bear.”
“You’re thinking of the movie with Lithgow, not the show with Shatner. The invitation is very clear.”
Joseph took the invitation from the coffee table and handed it to Tony. They had received it two days ago. On the cover it said, “Submitted for Your Approval,” and inside the message read, “You are invited to a Halloween party at 1630 Ravello Drive on All Hallows Eve, 8 p.m. Come dressed as your favorite character from the classic 1950s series The Twilight Zone. There will be drinks, dancing, and delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared from everyone’s favorite cookbook, To Serve Man.”
“You don’t think this is a weird way for someone to introduce himself to the neighborhood?” Tony asked.
“Maybe, but it’ll be nice to have another gay person in the neighborhood.”
“What makes you think he’s gay?”
“A single guy restores that big old Victorian and then announces himself to his new neighbors with a Halloween costume party … how could he not be gay?”
The night was cool, the breeze which sent brittle leaves scratch-scratching along the pavement carrying the first hint of winter on its breath. Joseph imagined his husband must be nice and cozy inside his makeshift gremlin suit.
1630, the last house on the left at the end of the cul-de-sac, had been empty for the five years Joseph and Tony had lived on the street. Earlier in the year when SOLD was slapped across the faded FOR SALE sign and construction crews started work on the house, the entire neighborhood began buzzing with curiosity and speculation. Then last week the moving vans showed up, but as far as Joseph knew, no one had yet met the new arrival. There had been glimpses of him, a thin middle-aged man with dark hair and severe features seen in the side yard or through the windows. Ravello Drive had become a neighborhood full of Gladys Kravitzes this past week.
Then the invitations came, delivered into every mailbox, promising satiation to the curiosity.
And as they approached the house, the noise from inside suggested Joseph and Tony were the last to arrive. They started up the walk and then Joseph spotted the new neighbor waiting on the porch, just at the top of the steps. He wore a simple black suit with a white shirt, hands clasped casually in front of him. A cigarette dangled between two fingers, the smoke drifting up to create an amorphous curtain in front of his face.
“Jesus Christ,” Joseph said with a laugh. “He’s the spitting image of Serling.”
Joseph bounded up the steps and offered his hand. “Hey, I’m Joseph and this is my husband, Tony.”
The new neighbor shook but did not offer his own name. In fact, with a half-smile that bordered on a smirk, the man stepped across the porch and opened the front door. In an impeccable imitation of Serling’s distinctive voice, he said, “You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone.”
Tony took his husband’s hand. “Guy certainly stays in character, doesn’t he?”
“Must be method,” Joseph said then led Tony into the house. A small foyer with white and black checkered tiles opened onto an expansive living room. All the décor was done in shades of black and white. A monochrome dream. The furniture seemed antique from the 50s, the TV even a big boxy floor deal instead of a mounted flat screen. Light, jazzy music played from recessed speakers. The room was full of their neighbors, all dressed as various characters. Mr. Horace wore a dusty suit and broken glasses, carrying around a tattered book. Janice Thomas wore a baby doll dress and a puffy blonde wig with ribbons. There were people dressed as mannequins, as aliens, even a few familiar figures like Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln who had appeared in episodes. A group of five had obviously coordinated their outfits, dressed as an army major, a ballerina, a clown, a bagpiper, and a hobo.
“Is this a riot or what?” Joseph said.
“I think there’s something off about our new neighbor,” Tony said, and Jacob detected genuine unease in his husband’s voice. “I mean, we don’t know his name. What if he – ”
Tony stopped talking when the man in question entered the room. He walked to the TV and stood next to it, at first not speaking but taking a few drags on his cigarette. His skin seemed so pale, quite in contrast to the deep black of his hair and suit. When he finally opened his mouth, he continued with the Serling persona.
“Picture a Halloween party where everyone is having a good time but no one knows who invited them. They all naturally assumed the stranger who greeted them at the door was their host, but they were wrong. They came seeking a little adventure, a break from their routine humdrum lives. They were about to get even more than they bargained for.”
Then the faux-Serling reached over and flipped on the TV. Immediately the distinctive opening music from the show filled the room, drowning out the jazz.
Tony clutched at Joseph’s arm. “I want to go. This is creeping me out.”
“Just all part of the act, I’m sure,” Joseph said, but he glanced back toward the foyer.
Only to find it gone. Where the archway had been was now just solid wall. A quick glance around the room revealed no windows, no other doors. Even more strangely, the monochromatic color scheme seemed to be seeping into the people until everyone resembled characters on an old black-and-white sitcom. Looking down at his own body, he saw he was not immune to this phenomenon.
Joseph turned toward the TV to demand an explanation, but the Serling was no longer there. He seemed to have simply vanished now that his narration was over.
Everyone in the room seemed to find their voices all at once, a loud nervous chatter as people noticed their decoloring, and the fact that they all were now trapped in this room. People began to rush to the walls, feeling along, pounding on them. The music from the TV got louder, while the glowing screen showed only a spinning pinwheel, a vortex that seemed to actually create its own suction, a wind that seemed to be blowing into the television.
“It’s a hallucinogen,” Janice said with a shrill laugh. “He put something in the food and drinks, and we’re all hallucinating.”
Good theory, Joseph thought, but he and Tony had yet to partake in any of the food or drinks.
The suction got stronger, and when Mr. Horace passed too close to the TV, he cried out, pinwheeled his arms, then fell over. Right into the television, right through the screen.
He felt Tony tugging at his arm, saying something about finding a way out, but Joseph was numb, frozen to the spot. Only when the ballerina and hobo got sucked into the TV together did his paralysis break.
“We need to find something to hold onto,” Joseph shouted into his husband’s ear and began pulling him toward a sofa with alternating black and white cushions. He didn’t know if the furniture was bolted down, but it seemed immune to the pull from the TV. He had just reached the sofa when the suction caught him and lifted him off his feet. He heard Tony cry out and grab hold of his leg.
Joseph clutched the back of the sofa with all his might while around him his neighbors and friends screamed and were dragged into the TV. He looked back at his husband, but at that moment Tony lost his grip. He screamed Joseph’s name, eyes wide with terror, as he too tumbled through the air and through the screen.
Realizing he was the last partygoer left, Joseph began to cry and tried to pull himself forward and over the sofa, but he hadn’t been working out much and the muscles in his arms were weak.
In the end, it wasn’t clear if he lost his grip or he gave up his grip, but the result was the same. He went to join his husband.
Immediately the wind subsided and the TV played static for a few moments before turning itself off.