Michael was sketching.
It was lunchtime, and he was in his usual spot in the corner of the library, near the back window. He bobbed his head to the beat pumping through his headphones, oblivious to the world at large. When someone tapped his shoulder in an effort to get his attention, he almost fell out of his chair.
“What the- oh. Sean.” He took off his headphones. “What’s up?”
Sean smiled nervously and held out an envelope. “H-h-here,” he said. “I-i-it-i-it’s an in-i-inv-”
“Invitation,” said Michael pityingly. “What’s it for?”
“Birthday?” He took the envelope, making sure not to touch Sean. He knew how much Sean disliked being touched.
Sean looked equal parts relieved and embarrassed. Michael knew he hated it when people finished his sentences for him, but at the same time hated taking forever to get anything across.
“Is all the info in here?”
Sean nodded. “I-it's t-tom-morr-row. Will y-y-“
“I’ll come." He held up a hand. "Promise."
Sean grinned. He looked like he was about to say something, but just then his phone started to beep. He took it out of his pocket and flipped it open.
Michael waited patiently for him to say 'Gotta go" and watched him leave for his next class. Once Sean was gone, he started checking out the invitation.
The envelope was one of the plain, cream kind. It didn't even have his name on it. The card was thick and had a picture of a cartoon dog and a birthday cake on the front, as well as the words "You're invited!" Beneath that was an address and time, and beneath that was a scribbled "See you there!!!!", complete with extra exclamation marks.
Oh boy, thought Michael. What have I gotten into?
He didn't want to go. It wasn't because he had anything else planned or anything, but simply because he didn't want to. If he'd let himself admit it, he'd know it was because something about Sean scared the heck out of him.
That's not fair, said something he presumed to be his conscience.
Sean was okay, really. He was just a bit weird. It wasn’t the stutter (though that was big part of it). It was the way he acted. The way he walked. The way he always looked Michael in the eye, even when he was trying to avoid him. There was something a little off about him. He hadn’t even introduced himself normally. He had just walked up to Michael during lunch one day and started chatting, and Michael had been too bewildered to do anything but go along. They didn't even share any classes, Sean would just show up and talk. It had become a sort of ritual.
Michael privately thought that Sean might be autistic, but didn't have the courage to ask. Whenever he tried asking anyone else, he'd get odd looks and replies along the lines of "Who's Sean?"
He wondered briefly who else would be there, since as far as he knew Sean didn’t really talk to anyone else.
Maybe I can ditch, he thought. Say I have an appointment. Couldn't call him. He's the one who didn't put a number down, after all. . .
But no. Mike knew he was an ass, but he didn't think he was that much of an ass.
Oh well, he thought while he read the card, flipping the corner distractedly. I guess it won’t be too bad.
* * * * *
The next day found Michael busing to an unfamiliar neighborhood where Sean lived. Carrying the wrapped DvD set like some sort of shield, he walked up to a rather picturesque, mostly brick house whose address matched that on the card. He went up the steps and rang the doorbell, then waited a few moments more before ringing it again.
A good five minutes later, there was still nobody there.
He debated ringing the doorbell again or just leaving. This would be the perfect excuse.
What if they're out back or something? he thought. I can't just ditch because they didn't hear me.
On an impulse, he moved to knock on the door, just so he had all the options covered before peeking through the side yard's fence. The door creaked open of its own accord before he'd even touched it.
Oh. . . kay.
“Hello? Sean? Mrs.-“ it occurred to Michael that he had never learned Sean’s last name. “Sean's mom?” he said lamely. “Hello?”
What if they’re all dead? Like, some crazy guy went in and got them all, and now I’m about to find the bodies. Like those people at the beginning of CSI.
Taking a deep breath and going against all logic, Michael stepped into the house. “I’m coming in now,” he said to the darkness inside. “And boy, am I tired from all those karate exercises we did today.” He doubted any murderer worth his salt would believe him, but it couldn’t hurt.
Tiptoeing gingerly through the house, he called for his -for lack of a better word- friend. “Hello? Sean?”
The entire home filled with Victorian style decor under a layer of dust several inches thick. His foot falls raised up small clouds and left behind little trenches as he walked.
They aren’t here. They haven’t been here in a while.
Michael scowled and kicked at the carpet, raising more dust. It was one thing for him not to go to someone’s party, it was quite a different matter for someone else to play a prank on him like this. He really hadn’t believed Sean was the type of person to do this sort of thing.
He turned to go when an arm shot out of seemingly nowhere and grabbed at him. He flailed wildly, but the arm wrapped around his head. A smelly cloth was shoved into his face, and he tried desperately to hold his breath. Someone hit him in the stomach, hard.
He gasped. The world went dark very quickly.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Ohhhnnngg,” said Michael.
His head lolled to the side, and someone put a glass of water to his lips. He drank gratefully. In the background, he could hear people talking.
"P-please, mom? P-pr-pr-pretty p-p-pl-"
Sean, thought Michael fuzzily.
“I don’t know,” said an unfamiliar female voice. “It seems like a lot of responsibility for someone your age.”
“Whazz goin’ ‘n?” said Michael as best he could.
“S-s-see?” said Sean triumphantly. “H-he’s aw-aw-“
“Awake,” said Michael automatically.
“Y-yeah! N-now we g-g-g-ot to keep him!”
Michael lifted his head enough to see that he was sitting in a chair. He had figured as much already, so tried to focus on anything else that might explain what was happening. The chair was seated at a long table. On the table was a brightly colored and utterly childish tablecloth depicting dancing bears across a yellow background. There was a cake set out on the table, along with a stack of paper plates and couple presents.
“I still don’t know, honey. It may be better to just shell him and move on.”
“It would be simpler,” said a male voice from somewhere behind him. “And lord knows we could use another meat puppet.”
“Awww, d-dad! Y-y-you can't sh-shell him.” Someone, presumably Sean, stamped his foot. “It's m-my b-b-b-b-“
“Birthday,” said Michael, trying to focus on where the voices were coming from. For some reason, all he could see were weird, dark green paint splotches on the walls.
Stupid brain, you're supposed to help me with this kind of stuff.
One of the paint splotches moved, and Michael realized that what he had taken for giant, ugly paint splotches were in fact giant, ugly monsters. He blinked and tried to get his mind working properly so it could make sense of this. It was more qualified at this sort of thing than he was.
The smaller of the monsters stood beside Michael and patted his shoulder. Michael noticed dully that there was an extra digit on the hand sprouting from the tentacle, and that the fingers were webbed.
“D-don’t worry, M-M-Michael. Th-They wont hurt y-you on my b-b-b-"
“Birthday. Hey, Sean?”
“Have you always been all . . . tentacle-y? And scaly? And green?”
“Oh. Alright then.”
Sean’s parents were whispering heatedly to each other. Sean and Michael watched quietly for a moment until Sean’s mother seemed to win.
“Alright,” she said.
Ahh, thought Michael. She’s the one with the tail.
“Sean, you can keep him for today only. But you have to let him go once you’re done playing with him. You understand me?”
“Well alright then. You two have fun. Your father and I will be upstairs fixing the transdimensional hopper.”
Mr. Scaly Monster joined his wife upstairs. “Darn thing’s always on the fritz these days, hon.”
Michael waited until the footsteps had made it all the way up the stairs before he spoke.
“Hey, Sean? What was that shelling stuff about?”
“Oh. T-that’s how we p-power stuff. We s-suck out the minds a-a-and use th-the husks to work s-stuff.”
“Zombie slave labor,” said Michael, almost giddy now. “Got it. And you're an alien? A ‘transdimensional’ alien? Right. So. What’s next?”
Sean plodded over to the paper plates.
“Well, d'you want s-s-some cake?”
Michael thought long and hard about what he would say next. It could very well mean his life and mind if he were to mess up anything.
“What kind is it?”
“Yes please. I’ll have one of the bits with a flower on it.”
Well, it was a birthday, of sorts. Just not what he'd been expecting.