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#152

The Eight Lives of Two Parties



            When Wes was eighteen, he’d gone on a long road trip with his grandparents in their RV. His parents hadn’t been able to afford to take time off of work for a family vacation, and his younger sister Genevieve, who was only eight at the time, had been invited on the RV road trip too, but she had declined because she had a part in a play that the Multioak Community Theater was putting on in the park, and besides that, she preferred playing with her friends to the prospect of driving across the country with her grandparents and older brother. But Wes had nothing better to do, had nothing else going on at all, actually. He was all too free to spend three weeks in an RV with his grandparents.

                The first week had been boring. Less boring than being stuck at home with his parents and sister, but still pretty boring. But then, one day into week two, after a routine stop at a gas station so Wes’s grandma could get trail mix, Wes’s grandpa had said, “Hey, Wes, we’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere here, traffic’s pretty light, you wanna try driving the RV?” And from that moment on, Wes drove every single bit of the rest of the road trip right up until the moment that he pulled the RV into his parents’ driveway and finally, sadly surrendered the driver’s seat back into his grandpa’s care. And as he watched his grandparents drive away in their RV without him, he noticed several subtle ways in which his grandpa was a worse RV-driver than he was, little things that only a practiced expert would notice, and Wes was melancholy when he thought about how it would probably be a full year before he would be given another chance to drive the RV, that he would have to wait all the way until next summer before he could work on refining his RV-driving techniques. But of course, it never occurred to him that his grandparents wouldn’t invite him along on their road trip the next summer, that they would invite his aunt and his little cousins instead, and that his little cousins would be so noisy and rambunctious that Wes’s grandpa would have a custom-made partition with a little door in it installed in the RV to separate the cab from the living area in order to muffle the racket as much as possible and thereby mitigate its potential to drive him to such distraction that he would accidentally drive into oncoming traffic or over a cliff and kill everyone.

                And then Wes had thought, well, maybe his grandparents were just alternating years between his aunt’s family and his family. Maybe the next summer would be his family’s turn to be invited again, and of course no one would want to go except for him, and then he’d be back in the RV’s driver’s seat where he belonged. Except what actually happened was that his grandparents invited his aunt and his little cousins again. Wes wondered if it was because his grandpa had paid so much to install the custom partition and he wanted to get his money’s worth. There had certainly been no need for a sound-dampening partition when it had just been Wes and his grandparents in the RV, that was for sure.

                But then the next year, Wes’s grandparents didn’t invite anyone on their RV road trip, they just went by themselves for six whole weeks, and Wes resigned himself to the belief that his grandparents had either forgotten how good he was at driving them around the country in their own RV, or else they mistakenly thought he must be too busy with a summer job and pressing social engagements, which could not have been further from the truth.

                And then they never invited Wes on another summer road trip again, no matter how many times he reminisced with them at family get-togethers about their one trip together, no matter how wistfully he sighed, no matter how strongly he hinted that he would definitely be up for another one if his grandparents were at all interested, or even if just one of them was interested, maybe even just for a short trip, maybe up to Heavenburg, or anywhere, really, anywhere that one could drive an RV, he was willing to drive their RV there, all they had to do was say the word.

                They never said the word.

                And then Genevieve entered the second semester of her senior year of high school and the time came, as it always did in late January, for Multioak High School’s annual Dance of Resolve.

                And Wes, at age 28, had still only driven an RV for one blessed two-week period of his life.

 

                Genevieve didn’t want to go to the Dance of Resolve. Wes both got where she was coming from and also didn’t get where she was coming from. He had certainly never wanted to go to any dances when he was in school, but he had wanted to want to. That is, he had wanted to be the kind of person who would want to go to school dances, the kind of person who could reasonably expect to have a good time at a school dance, and his sister Genevieve was definitely that kind of person. She wasn’t self-conscious and she had a lot of friends who were also not self-conscious, a high school dance seemed like a perfect place for them to all be not self-conscious together.

                But Genevieve didn’t want to go to the Dance of Resolve. And while Wes would usually have been slightly irritated at his sister’s flippant rejection of the benefits that came with her excellent social standing, in this case, he was not, because Genevieve had decided that instead of going to the Dance of Resolve, what she wanted to do was have a mobile dance party in her grandparents’ RV, albeit with less emphasis on actual dancing considering the obvious space limitations. And while the sound-dampening partition would have made it theoretically possible for Wes’s grandpa to be the driver of this mobile dance party, the fact that he insisted on going to bed at 9 every night eliminated him from consideration as a candidate, which meant that only one candidate remained, and that candidate was Wes, and he was finally going to be back behind the wheel. And not only that, but for the first time since his 11th birthday party, Wes was going to be an integral element of a party, although how integral he actually ended up being for his 11th birthday party could certainly be debated.

 

                Wes’s grandparents dropped the RV off on the morning of the Dance of Resolve. Genevieve skipped school so she could prepare the RV for her party. Wes, with the keys to the RV burning a hole in his pocket, wanted to take the RV out for a test drive before the mobile dance party actually got under way, but Genevieve insisted that there wasn’t time, that she had far too much to do to get everything ready, so Wes spent his day playing video games in the basement, as per usual, and tried his best not to feel the extent to which the passage of time had slowed. But as slow as it was moving, time never stopped, and eventually it was time for Wes to put on his gray suit, which had been his own idea, put on his overcoat, put on his driving cap and driving gloves, and emerge from the house into the cold and the gently falling snow. That Wes’s grandpa had issued no exhortations to be careful despite the snow in the forecast was a testament to how well Wes had driven the RV those ten years ago; Wes’s grandpa knew Wes could handle it, knew that he would handle it, and knew that he didn’t need to be told to handle it.

                Wes entered the RV through the side door, stepping up into the living area. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but considering how much time Genevieve had spent on the RV, he’d certainly expected the interior to look at least a little different than it had before. Instead, the RV looked pretty much as it always did except for Genevieve’s makeshift sound system. Her laptop was on the table with cords running up into the cabinets directly above it. The cabinet doors were gone and the cabinets were now housing two speakers which fit so perfectly as to appear miraculous.

                “Nice,” said Wes, pointing at the two speakers with two fingers, one finger for each speaker. “Where did you get those?”

                “I’ve had those,” said Genevieve. She wore a salmon-colored party dress. Although actually it may have just been a salmon-colored dress and maybe Wes only thought it was a party dress because she was wearing it to a party.

                Wes made his way between the table on his left and the inward-facing couch on his right and pulled open the small door in the sound-dampening partition. Then he ducked down into the cab and slid into the driver’s seat. Wes dug the keys out of his pocket with his gloved hand and started the RV, which chugged to life in the most satisfying possible way. Wes turned on the headlights and turned on the windshield wipers, which issued not even the tiniest squeaks as they whispered back and forth, wiping the powdery snow from the windshield, nailing every facet of their job description. Then Wes turned on the GPS affixed to the dashboard, the one addition to the cab since the last time he’d driven the RV. “All right,” said Wes, turning to look back at his sister through the open partition door. “Where to first?” He removed his gloves and set them on his lap.

                “Tracy and Lana are at Tracy’s house,” said Genevieve.

                “What’s the address?” asked Wes, his fingers hovering an inch away from the GPS’s glowing touchscreen controls.

                Genevieve told him the address and Wes punched it in. “Ah,” said Wes, nodding at the GPS’s choice of route. “Only three short miles away.”

                “Yeah,” said Genevieve. She sat down in one of the booth seats at the table, directly behind Wes. “I don’t really need all the extra commentary.”

                Wes had to lean way out to his right so he could look out the partition door to see his sister. “Here we go,” he said with a smile, and then he put his gloves back on, shifted the RV into reverse, and backed out of the driveway. There was not yet any dancing, there was no party yet, but they were now officially mobile.

 

                Genevieve had turned on the music right before Tracy and Lana burst into the RV on a tide of laughter and, let’s be honest, screaming. The speakers were capable of impressive volume, Wes had to admit. The music was loud enough that Wes couldn’t hear what the girls were actually saying to each other, he only knew that they were saying it very loudly out of necessity.

                “Hey,” said Wes, looking back through the open partition door. “What’s the name of this song?” None of the girls responded. No one had told Wes where to drive next so the RV was still idling in Tracy’s driveway. “Hey,” said Wes, a little louder. None of the girls looked at him. Sitting with his body twisted so he could see the party was starting to hurt Wes’s back. But he didn’t want to be too insistent on nailing down the next stop because that seemed like the kind of uptight behavior that Genevieve and her guests and every other natural party-goer in the world would find irritating. Finally, Tracy and Lana went to the refrigerator for drinks and Genevieve, either singing or lip-syncing along with the music, half-walked and half-danced up to the front of the RV so she could shout the next address to Wes. It took him a few tries to get the address correctly entered into the GPS, but before long, the dance party, which was now beginning to earn its full title, was once again mobile.

                As Wes maneuvered the huge RV through Multioak’s wintry neighborhood streets, he couldn’t see the party happening behind him, but he could hear it and feel it. In fact, it may have been his ideal way to experience a party: he had a specific job to do that was vital to the party’s success, but it was something he was already good at and it required enough of his attention that he couldn’t be expected to contribute anything to the party that he wasn’t good at.

                The house at the address Genevieve had given Wes was dark. The driveway looked pretty narrow and there was a basketball hoop Wes wasn’t sure how he’d avoid, so he parked the RV along the curb. Then he waited. No lights came on in the house and Wes didn’t see anybody coming from the house toward the RV. He twisted in his seat to look back at Genevieve and ask her what he should do, but she was already coming toward him.

                “I don’t think anyone’s home,” shouted Wes.

                “You know what?” Genevieve shouted back. “I think maybe we should shut the partition so the noise doesn’t distract you from driving.”

                “What?” said Wes. “No, it’s fine, the noise doesn’t bother me.”

                “That’s what you say now,” said Genevieve. “But I’m responsible for all my friends and I don’t want anyone getting hurt because we’re distracting you.” Behind her, Tracy and Lana were dancing more or less in place and drinking beer out of ornately designed cans. “It’s just going to get louder as we get more people, Wes, I just think we should close the partition to be on the safe side.”

                “But how will I know what addresses to drive to?” asked Wes.

                “I’ll text them to you,” said Genevieve.

                “But the noise really won’t bother me, I promise,” said Wes.

                “Let’s just try it out,” said Genevieve. “For a little bit.” And then she closed the sound-dampening partition door and it really was amazing how much it dampened the sound.

                Wes got his phone out of his pocket and texted his sister. I don’t think anyone’s coming from this house. Are we done here?

                A full minute passed before he got a response. Just wait. As soon as I send you the next address, we can go.

                OK, texted Wes. But I really don’t think the door needs to be closed.

                Five minutes passed before Wes’s sister responded with another address. Wes decided she must have gotten tired of waiting for whoever lived at this dark house to come home or wake up or whatever. Or else he just hadn’t heard him or her or them get into the RV. The sound-dampening partition was very effective, after all. Wes punched the next address into the GPS, shifted the RV into drive, and drove on with the sounds of muffled music and happy, muffled shouting arriving at his ears in a heavily-dampened state. And strangely enough, it sounded to Wes as if some of that happy, muffled shouting was coming from boys.

 

                Two stops later, having swung by an apartment complex and picked up someone who, judging by the sound of it, must have really kicked the party into high gear,  Wes pulled the RV up in front of an address on the outskirts of Multioak, on the fraying edges of town. The house at the address was a tall A-frame with a light on in the triangular window just beneath the peak of the roof. Wes parked the RV along the curb again, having enjoyed not having to back out of the driveway two stops prior, and he watched the house’s front door with interest, hoping to catch sight of who the next addition or additions to the party would be. But just as the front door to the house swung open and a silhouette appeared on the porch, Wes’s attention was diverted by mysterious sounds coming from the other side of the partition. In fact, something was banging against the partition itself. Wes was concerned. What was going on in there? He tried to open the partition door to investigate, but it was stuck fast, he could not push it open, not even a little bit. Was that what the sound had been? Had someone been barricading the door or sealing it shut somehow? If so, why?

                Wes’s phone vibrated in his lap and he saw that he’d gotten another text from Genevieve, but there was no explanation for what was going on with the partition door, only another address.

                Wes texted back, What’s going on? Why won’t the partition door open? He waited one minute for a response, and when none came, Wes got out of the car and walked around the side of the RV where he noticed that the windows, other than those in the cab, were now blocked off with cardboard or wood or something. Wes walked all the way around the RV and sure enough, every living area window was blocked, although he could still hear the blasting music and the loud, indistinct voices. Wes approached the side door leading up into the RV’s living area and tried the handle, but it was locked. He knocked on the door, then pounded with his fist, but no one answered. The key to the door was on the keychain Wes’s grandpa had given him, but Wes had left the RV running, so the key he needed was back in the cab, dangling from the ignition. Was it worth it to go get the key just so he could let himself into the party in order to, what, lecture his sister in front of her friends about excluding him from the party? He knew who would come out of that exchange looking worse.

Wes took his phone out of his pocket and texted his sister again. Why are the windows blocked? I’m knocking on the side door and no one is answering. Then he waited as nondescript snowflakes landed on his phone’s illuminated touchscreen and did not melt. And then another text arrived from his sister. It was the address again, the same as the last message she’d sent him, with no further explanation, no answers to his questions, just the address again, nothing else, only that. Wes sighed, looked at the A-frame house, and realized that whoever he’d seen emerging from it had probably crossed the yard and entered the RV while he was focused on the partition, was probably inside the RV now, dancing and partying away. Wes shuffled back around to the driver’s side door and pulled himself back into the RV’s cab, arranging himself in the driver’s seat and pulling the door closed with a hollow slam. He didn’t want to punch the new address into the GPS, but he didn’t know what else to do. Genevieve wasn’t answering his questions and he couldn’t get into the RV’s living area to demand some consideration, an explanation, a simple acknowledgement of his concerns without seeming like a loser.

The new address was not in Multioak, it was out in the country between Multioak and Dalcette where the county roads would certainly be worse, but Wes had no doubt that he’d be able to manage the RV despite the less-than-ideal driving conditions, so he shifted it into gear and drove the mobile dance party out of town and into a colder, darker, emptier world, unless you count wildlife.

 

Wes drove the RV down the middle of the road. On the left was a snow-covered field, on the right was a farmhouse surrounded by a flock of outbuildings of all shapes and sizes. The road looked slick in the RV’s headlights, gleaming in a way that dry asphalt does not, but the RV was very heavy, the perfect antidote to icy driving surfaces, and Wes was keeping it under 50 miles per hour even though there were almost no other vehicles out traversing the county roadways. The GPS marked the RV’s progress to the next address with a creeping blue arrow.

And Wes finally admitted to himself that he was not at the party, not in the party. He was facilitating the party, but he was not a party-goer, he was not in attendance, in no way could he be said to be partying. The party was happening behind him, without him. Wes was shut out, partitioned out, but he was still letting the party dictate his actions, letting it direct him via cold text messages while the combined noise of the music and the voices bled through the sound-dampening partition and into the cab with him, a mocking copilot. And Wes didn’t care how bad the roads were, he didn’t need a copilot.

Several turns and several long, straight stretches later, the GPS told Wes that he had successfully driven his way to the next address. But Wes didn’t see a house, just a battered mailbox and a barely-visible, snowed-over driveway snaking off into a thick stand of trees. Wes guessed the house must be among those trees. He pulled the RV into the driveway and stopped as soon as the back end was out of the road. Then he texted his sister. I’m not driving any farther on this driveway without knowing if there’s somewhere I can turn around. He didn’t expect a response so he was surprised when his phone buzzed mere seconds after he sent his text. The response read, Stay in the RV.

Wes wasn’t in the mood to argue, but he resented his sister’s tone, the way she just assumed compliance. He was ten years older than her, and he was doing this as a favor to her. Well, actually, he was doing it because he’d been waiting for another chance to drive the RV for a decade, but Genevieve didn’t know that. But, fine, he’d stay in the RV. It’s not like getting out had been at all productive last time, just cold and frustrating. And now that everyone had abandoned all pretense of Wes being part of the party, he was ready to re-embrace his familiar anti-party stance. He wasn’t a part of the party and he didn’t want to be. In fact, he’d allowed the allure of the party distract him from fully experiencing the joy of driving the RV well, and that had been a mistake, so for the rest of the night, all he would care about would be driving the RV well, a pure and simple joy, but no less deep for its purity and simplicity, in fact, more deep for its purity and simplicity, a much deeper joy than the more conflicted, more complicated joy of partying.

Wes’s phone buzzed in his lap and he picked it up, expecting a text message directing him to another address, but there was no text message, he was receiving a call from a number that he didn’t recognize. Wes answered. “Hello?”

“Wes?” The voice sounded shaky and distant and almost familiar.

“Yeah,” said Wes. “This is Wes. Who is this?”

“It’s Genevieve, Wes, you have to get out of the RV as soon as you can, you have to park it and leave it and get away from it.”

                “Whose phone are you calling from?” asked Wes. “Where are you?”

                “I jumped out,” said Genevieve. “I was so confused and groggy, but I knew something was wrong, so when I felt the RV slowing down, I opened the door and jumped out and landed in a ditch, and you weren’t stopping, you were just slowing down for a turn, so it hurt pretty bad, but I think I’m OK. No one in the RV even tried to stop me. And then I was walking down the road and I was freezing and I saw a car coming so I waved it down and a lady’s giving me a ride, this is her phone, but if you stop the RV and get out, we can come pick you up too, Wes, just look on the GPS and tell us where you are and which way you’ll be running and we’ll come get you, we can’t be very far, this lady promised to help, Wes, she can tell how worried I am for you.”

                “I don’t understand,” said Wes. “Were you drugged? Did someone put something in your drink?”

                “No, no,” said Genevieve. “It’s not like that.”

                The phone buzzed in Wes’s hand, startling him. He pulled it away from his ear and saw that he’d just received another text message from his sister’s phone. It was another address.

                “Genevieve? I just got another address from your phone.”

                “Don’t go to it!” said Genevieve. “Lana has my phone, every time you stop at one of those addresses it gets…it gets worse.”

                “How many people were back there, last you knew?” asked Wes. “Do they have any, like, guns or weapons or anything?”

                “Wes, don’t try to do anything, just leave the party in the RV and get away. Then we can call, I don’t know who. The police, I guess, I don’t know.”

                “Who were we picking up at those stops?” asked Wes. He could still hear the same music and the same exuberant voices through the partition behind him, but it all sounded menacing now, the noise of noisy neighbors who you feel in the pit of your stomach will react badly to even the humblest request to keep the noise down.

                “I didn’t know them, Wes! Lana is Tracy’s friend, I hardly know her, but she was the one who made me get all those supplies, the stuff for the windows and stuff, and she told me that first address, she said she knew someone who makes every party fun, and then he and his friend got in and then Lana gave the address to the next place, we picked up another guy, the party got even more fun, and we were all having fun, those guys made it so much fun, we blocked off all the windows and we blocked the partition door, the party was really going strong, but then we got to the next place, that A-shaped house, and another girl I didn’t know got in, and that’s when it changed. Lana took my phone from me, and, I don’t know, it all started to feel really weird, I couldn’t think straight and Tracy said she wanted to lie down on the couch and the fun guy’s other guy friend was just sitting at the table with his head down on the table, and the two fun guys and this new girl were so out of it, they just sort of collapsed, and…”

                The phone buzzed in Wes’s hand again. The text message, still from his sister’s number, was the most polite text of the evening. It was the same address as the previous text message, but with an additional “please hurry” on the end.

                And that condescending dab of politeness, that “please,” that was more than Wes could take. It was one thing to be taken advantage of and manipulated by his sister, but Wes would not be manipulated by people his sister didn’t even know, by people his sister had been so scared of that she’d jumped out of a moving RV and into a ditch in the middle of winter just to get away from them.

                Wes heard his sister’s voice coming from the phone and he realized he was still glaring at the text message. He put the phone back to his ear and said, “Don’t worry, Genevieve, I’ll handle this.”

                “Wes, just leave! Please!”

                “I’m not leaving Grandpa and Grandma’s RV alone with these people!” said Wes. “I’m delivering it back to them exactly as it was when they entrusted it to me! I’m already worried about whatever you guys used to block off the windows and Grandpa’s going to be furious if you broke the partition door.”

                “Wes, there are so much worse-”

                Wes hung up on his sister, turned the RV off, took the keys out of the ignition, and got out of the cab. His phone started vibrating in his pocket again, so he took it out long enough to switch it from “vibrate” to “silent” and then shoved it back into his pocket. Then he walked around to the side door of the RV, put the key in the lock, and turned it, hearing the lock click open. But when he tried to open the door, it wouldn’t budge. It was as if someone had installed a deadbolt on the door, which Wes decided was possible, even probable, considering the state of the windows and the partition door. Wes took his phone from his pocket again and saw that in addition to two missed calls from the number his sister had called him from, he also had another text message from her cell phone. It didn’t have an address this time. It just said, Stop trying to get in. You’ll weaken the party.

                So Wes walked around to the other side of the RV, used another key on the ring to open the storage compartment along the bottom of the RV’s body, and rummaged among his grandpa’s tools until he found the crowbar. Then he returned to the bolted side door, whispered an apology to his grandpa, added a whispered promise to pay for the damage himself, added a whispered addendum to that promise wherein he assured his grandpa that he’d actually make sure Genevieve helped him pay for the damage too, and then set about prying open the door with a fair amount of grunting, swearing, and anti-party muttering.

                It didn’t take long. RV doors aren’t made of the sturdiest materials and deadbolts aren’t best installed while on the move and in the midst of a party. When the door finally popped open with an anticlimactic little cracking sound, the party noise surged out and around Wes, staggering him for a moment before he mounted the steps up into the living area, still wielding the crowbar.

                Young people in party clothes lay on the couch and sat at the table slumped against each other, and two more lay on the floor between the couch and table. Everyone was unconscious and Genevieve’s laptop, still connected to the speakers in the cabinet, was turned off, but Wes still heard music and loud voices coming from all around him, the volume was deafening, although something about it had changed even since he’d opened the door. Wes detected a sort of hissing static beneath the party noise, but rising rapidly. He turned and looked toward the back of the RV and saw that the door to the back bedroom was closed. Gripping the crowbar tighter, Wes made his way through the kitchen area, past the refrigerator, through the narrow passage between the shower and the door to the toilet, and all the while, the static in the sounds of the party increased in both volume and pitch. Then Wes tried the knob to the bedroom door and found it locked, of course, but from inside the bedroom, a female voice yelled, “Stop! You’re killing it!” And then Wes kicked the bedroom door in and, in the span of a few seconds, saw a naked, hermaphroditic humanoid convulsing on the bed, heard the static completely overwhelm the music and the voices, saw the humanoid shrivel violently, if such a thing is possible, until it was nothing, until it was not there, and the hissing stopped, everything was silent but for the ringing in Wes’s ears, and then he noticed a young woman in a short, navy blue dress standing to the right of the bed, a look of anguish on her face, which was both pimply and pretty. Wes realized the young woman was Lana as she turned to him and, with tears in her eyes, asked, “Who are you?”

                “I’m Genevieve’s brother,” said Wes. “I’m the driver. But what was that? What just happened?”

                “That was the party,” said Lana. “And you killed it. You killed it just by walking in the door.”

                “But that was a thing,” said Wes. “That was a…a creature or something. Or a person?”

                “That was the party,” said Lana. “The living party, the reason I made all of this happen, it was right here. And you killed it! Just by showing up! Who are you?”

                Wes was a little insulted by this line of thinking. “Listen, it’s true that I don’t like parties, but I have every right to be here. My grandparents entrusted me with their RV and whatever you were doing back here got so weird that my sister jumped out the door while we were moving. Now I’m seeing what she was so freaked out about. Why is everyone else asleep? What did you do to them?”

                “Nothing,” said Lana. “I just made sure they got invited to the party. Well, the important ones. Some of the others were just tagging along.”

                Wes turned and looked toward the front of the RV where he saw several of the sleeping teenagers beginning to stir. Then he heard a sob and turned back to see Lana sitting on the edge of the bed and facing the wall with her head in her hands.

                “I don’t understand,” said Wes.

                “Of course you don’t,” said Lana. “You kill a party just by arriving. And not just any party, a party so full of life that it had not only taken on a life of its own, but taken physical form. I went to all this trouble to save my sister, I compiled a list of all the most potent ‘life of the party’ type people in the area, I got them all in one confined space. They were all in the same party. And it worked! You saw it!”

                “What did I see?” asked Wes. “What worked?”

                “Most parties have one person, at most, who can truly be considered ‘the life of the party.’ There are lots of people who think they are, but they aren’t, they’re just channeling the life provided by the true life of the party. There are only a select few who are actually the sources of life for a party. If you get one life of the party at a party, the party is fun. If you get two lives of the party at a party, the party takes on a life of its own, but in an abstract way. Three lives of the party at one party and the party becomes a conscious entity, but still immaterial, and it begins to draw on the lives of the party to sustain itself, which of course affects everyone else who is tapped into that life, everyone who was, you know, really having a good time and just partying, leaving them disoriented. Four lives of the party at one party, at the right party, and you get what we have…what we had here: the party becomes a physical being intent on making itself stronger by using the lives of the party to feed itself, wringing them dry until they and everyone else tapped into that life fall into some sort of deep trance or coma or something.”

                “So why weren’t you unconscious?” asked Wes. His hand actually hurt from gripping the crowbar so hard, but he couldn’t stop.

                “Because I wasn’t partying,” said Lana. She was still facing the wall, so Wes had forgotten she was crying until she sobbed again. “I wasn’t having a good time. I was trying to save my sister, I didn’t know what else to do.”

                “But where’s your sister?” asked Wes. “How would any of this save your sister?”

                “I was a bad influence,” said Lana. “I’m 21, she’s 19. She got into partying because I liked partying. But eight months ago, she went to a party and didn’t come back. She hadn’t spoken to my parents in over a year anyway, so they didn’t notice anything different, but she and I were close, and…and she didn’t come back because there were four lives of the party at the party she went to and now that party is a physical being and my sister has been unconscious in that house for eight months. I don’t know how she’s still alive, or even if she’s still alive, technically. But I know that parties are competitive. I thought maybe I could fight fire with fire. I thought that maybe if I brought a party as strong or stronger than the one that has my sister right to its door, that maybe the one I made would defeat the one that has her, somehow, and she would be free, she would wake up and she would be OK.”

                “But even if that worked,” said Wes. “And I’m not saying I understand or believe any of this, but even if that worked, which, I mean, it sounds like a total shot in the dark, but even if that worked…wouldn’t all these people here have been trapped by the party you made just like your sister was trapped by that other one?”

                “Yes,” said Lana. “But none of these people are my sister.”

                “That’s true,” said Wes. “I guess that’s nice of you, in a way.”

                Lana’s shoulders started shaking and Wes realized she was weeping silently.

                “Hey, listen,” said Wes. “Was that last address you texted me the address where your sister is?”

                “Yes,” Lana managed to say. “But it doesn’t matter now.”

                “Well, we can still go there,” said Wes. “I can put it in the GPS and we can drive over there.”

                “But why?” asked Lana, finally turning to face Wes, her face ugly with grief.

                “Well, I mean,” said Wes, “I say this only on the condition that you agree to pay for all the damage done to this RV tonight, but…I already killed one party just by showing up, right?”

               

                The house was south of Riveryard, set way back from the road and surrounded by a marsh on three sides. Wes never would have been able to find it without the precision of the GPS’s instructions. There were lots of cars in the driveway, so Wes had to park the RV a long way from the house. The party-goers in the RV were beginning to get their wits about them and Lana was telling elaborate lies to explain to them why they’d all been asleep and had such similar bizarre dreams and why the RV wasn’t heading back toward Multioak just yet. Or, that’s what had been going on in the RV’s living area when Wes decided to close the partition door again so he could call his sister back at the number she’d called him from and tell her that everything was going to be fine, which she happily believed because now that she was becoming less disoriented, she was starting to think her hysteria from earlier had just been drunken paranoia. Wes didn’t open the partition door again after the phone call. He liked the solitude in the cab when the partition door was closed. It was just him and the RV, driving well and being driven well.

                Wes was not nervous as he got out of the RV, crowbar in hand, and walked toward the house. The lights were on and the curtains were open, but Wes didn’t see anyone moving around inside. The noise, though. Such loud music, so many voices. It sounded like quite a party indeed. Wes mounted the front steps and rang the doorbell. He didn’t expect an answer, but still, he didn’t want to use the crowbar to get inside unless he had to. He gave the doorbell one more ring and when no one answered, he wedged the flat tip of the crowbar in the crack between the door and its frame and began to pry. And as he did, beneath the thumping party music and the spirited party chatter, Wes heard the staticky hiss of the party’s rising panic. 




Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever ruined a fun event with your mere presence? Did it make you feel you feel sad and ashamed? Or did it make you feel powerful?



  • Is there any mundane task or mild form of entertainment that isn’t exponentially improved by doing it in a moving RV on the open road while ten years old?



  • Do you often consider yourself “the life of the party?” Even when you’re at a limp, lifeless party? Even when you’re not at a party? Even when you’re at a solemn event or the site of a fatal accident?



  • Do you think it was a mistake to represent the physical manifestation of a party as hermaphroditic? If so, is it possible to please you?



  • Do you think a better man would have named this story “The Ultimate Party Foul?” Do you consider my decision to not use that title a party foul in itself? Do you feverishly search for any opportunity among the ruins of your life to utter the words “party foul?”



  • What would the features of your dream custom-made partition be and where would you install it? Remember, this is your DREAM custom-made partition, no custom-made partition feature is too “out there.”