Five hirsute men stood in the living room in various degrees of nudity, piecing together costumes from remains of old fancy dress and the blood-stained clothing of past victims. Stu, in a colourful tuxedo, and Anton, in a smart but inexpensive suit, supervised the proceedings, alternately offering sensible advice and boisterous jibes.
Deacon surveyed the scene from the entrance hall and walked on to one of the smaller rooms nearby. They were all friends now, ostensibly, but the thought of having to sit in the same room and endure that werewolf whiff for however long it took them to sort out their costumes made him a little nauseous. As he wandered over to Viago’s red velvet sofa, he idly looked down at his outfit. With just a little creative sewing, the old Russian cavalry uniform he’d nicked back in 1918 was back to its former glory, and he was sure he’d be best dressed at the Masquerade. He plopped down onto the couch with a self-satisfied smile, only to promptly slide off and fall on his arse.
Right. Yes. Viago had spent the better part of last night covering every upholstered seat in the house with clear plastic sheeting, just in case any of the werewolves wanted to take a load off. Just to try and keep that smell out of the furniture. Deacon ran his fingers over the sterile coating. He appreciated Viago’s forethought, but it did rather make him wish his jodhpurs were made of a less slippery material.
Just as Deacon floated up for a second crack at this tricky sitting business, Nick purposefully strode into the room. He wore boots with silver spurs, dark jeans, a red tartan shirt over a bloody white vest, and a black leather jacket emblazoned with several shiny metal badges.
‘Hey, D. Saw you walk past. Nice threads. Check this.’ Nick spun on one foot and shot the other vampire a look over the frames of his sunglasses. ‘What d’you reckon?’
‘I reckon you’d better start getting dressed if you don’t want to make us all late.’
Nick blinked, then gestured toward himself. ‘No, I mean, this is my costume.’
‘Oh, of course. Now I see it. You are going as an idiot. Ha ha!’
‘Mate. Severen.’ He pushed his shades up the bridge of his nose, pulled a prop pistol from his belt, and adopted a terrible American accent. ‘”Finger-lickin’ good!” Yeah?’
Deacon eyed him up and down. ‘Severen?’
‘From Near Dark?’
‘Pffft.’ Deacon waved his hand dismissively. ‘You don’t look anything like him. You do not have the…’ He clenched his fist. ‘…attitude.’
‘I do have the attitude.’ Nick put his fists against his hips, miffed. ‘I have a lot of attitude, actually.’
Deacon clicked his tongue, crossed his legs, and smirked. ‘Yes, the attitude of a little girl. Severen survives in the daylight for several minutes, and knows how to fight. He is a real man. Not some… cuckold, like they say on the Reddit.’
‘Okay, first, it’s just Reddit, not the Reddit,’ Nick said, sliding the gun back into place, ‘and second, the insult is cuck, not “cuckold.” Maybe learn your slang better if you’re gonna burn me.’
Deacon bristled. ‘Well, perhaps burn is just what you should do! Why don’t you go play in the sun, hm?’
Nick rolled his eyes. ‘Yeah, good comeback. You pick that up on a message board too? You know, you were only meant to join knitting and like, belly dancing sites, not turn into a weird troll.’
Deacon stared at him, brow furrowed in genuine puzzlement. ‘You do not turn into a troll, Nick, you are born one. And anyway, we haven’t had trolls in New Zealand since the Ruckus of 1964.’
Nick opened his mouth to respond, only to be cut off by a friendly, ‘Hey guys!’
Viago sauntered up to them, sporting a pair of maroon cat ears and a fluffy fur coat. His skin was covered in white pancake makeup, supplemented by carefully rendered angry cat features, the effect somewhat marred by his wide, toothy smile. ‘Oh, Nick, cool Severen costume!’
‘Thanks,’ Nick replied, glancing smugly at Deacon, ‘I thought it looked pretty good. What are you supposed to be?’
‘Well…’ Viago did a quick twirl, and they noticed that he’d sewn a tail fashioned out of scrap furry fabric to the back of his coat. ‘I am the angry internet cat!’
‘The what?’ said Nick.
‘Oh, you know, ah…’ Viago deliberately voided his face of expression, then put on an exaggerated frown and sulkily crossed his arms. ‘I went to a party once. It was terrible.’
‘Ah, the Grumpy Cat!’ Deacon exclaimed.
‘Yes, yes, the Grumpy Cat! Did you get the little pictures I sent you?’
‘Yeah,’ Nick said, flashing back to the fifty-two separate emails he’d received over the past two days with the subject line “CUTE AND FUNNY CAT.” ‘You know you can attach more than one file per message, right?’
‘I think Stu explained it to me, but I didn’t really…’ Viago abstractly waved his fingers in the air, to which Deacon gave a sensible nod. ‘I’m not sure the other guests will understand my outfit – they are a little “out of the loop,”’ he said with finger quotes, ‘but I find those images with the texts so adorable.’
‘You’ll be fine,’ said Deacon. ‘Vampires love cats.’
‘Vampires love cats?’ Nick asked.
‘Yes. They sleep all day, they are graceful, they have fangs, they stalk their prey, they love being petted… they are relatable. Almost more than bats.’
‘That’s right.’ Viago nodded, making his cat ears flip back and forth. ‘They are so charming. And if there’s a dry spell, like a holiday or a plague or something, they’re pretty tasty too.’
‘Oi oi, what’s this about cats?’ Anton all but yelled, clapping a hand firmly on Nick’s shoulder. He’d wandered over from the neighbouring room and now stood amongst the group, sizing up the assembled vampires. ‘Nice outfit, Viago, but provocative. You’ll have the whole pack biting at your heels all night if you’re not careful!’ He laughed, loudly, trying to get the others to join in. His macho teasing had recently stopped being annoying and drifted into slightly pathetic. The werewolves had started following Stu in earnest now, and it was getting painfully obvious that poor Anton didn’t know what to do about it.
Viago chuckled uneasily, warily glancing at his friends.
‘I’ll have to watch out!’ he raised his hands in mock-defence, feebly fending off invisible rabid dogs. ‘I like your suit, Anton. You look very dashing.’
‘For a werewolf!’ Deacon piped up.
‘Hey, you,’ Anton said sternly, before turning his attention back to Viago. ‘Thanks, yeah. Me ‘n Stu figured we’d better set an example, you know? Show the pups how to make a good impression and all that.’
‘We appreciate the effort,’ said Viago.
‘And we appreciate the invite. Your lot and us haven’t always been on great terms, but the Hataitai Werewolves Group’s wanted in on the Unholy Masquerade for years now. I know we wouldn’t’ve gotten the chance to come if you hadn’t put the word in for us. The boys and I are chuffed.’ Anton smiled and gave Nick’s shoulder a quick squeeze before letting go.
‘It’s alright, mate,’ Nick said. ‘No trouble.’
‘I mean, maybe a little trouble,’ Viago said. ‘It was pretty hard to patch things up with the rest of the undead community after Stu killed that guy.’
‘So we had to agree to be liable for any possible damages before the organising committee agreed to even consider letting werewolves in this year,’ Deacon commented.
‘So we’ll be banished from the Masquerade indefinitely if anything goes wrong,’ Viago finished.
‘But, like, other than that,’ said Nick, ‘no trouble.’
‘Well, don’t worry about a thing, lads!’ Anton slipped his hands into his pockets, chest proudly puffed out, ‘they’ll regret not having us around sooner. Werewolves know how to party. We’ll make it the time of their afterlives!’
Deacon snickered. ‘You will have some stiff competition. Remember when Vladislav mass-hypnotised that entire village into coming to the Masquerade in ’57?’ He sighed wistfully. ‘Best catered event I’ve ever been to.’
‘Oh, yes, it was such a treat,’ Viago gushed. ‘I think that was the last time Vladislav managed such a big entrancement. It was right before that fight with Pauline…’ He raised his eyebrows meaningfully, lips pressed tightly together. Deacon grimaced. Nick looked around.
‘Where is he, anyway?’ he asked.
‘Come on, Vlad,’ Deacon said, knocking on the wooden door a third time. ‘You know you’ll regret not coming.’
‘I am otherwise engaged,’ came the booming reply. A short pause followed. ‘In sex.’
Deacon rolled his eyes, while Nick and Anton simply stood by awkwardly. Viago stepped forward and rapped the wood lightly with his knuckle.
‘Yep, yes, we got that,’ he said, ‘but you love the Masquerade. Can’t you and Pauline carry on after–‘
The door slammed open and a rush of freezing wind swept over the group outside, almost knocking Viago’s cat ears clean off. Vladislav stood in the doorway, glaring furiously, clad in a short silk robe that left nothing to the imagination.
‘Oh, Jesus,’ Anton muttered, shielding his eyes.
‘Do not mention the Beast’s name in my presence!’ Vladislav bellowed, his voice sending a tremor throughout the whole house. Behind him, his room seemed to stretch out into a gothic chamber so large it could not possibly physically fit into the house. Two busty female vampires in strappy leather outfits hung upside down, attached to the ceiling by heavy metal chains. Their twin succubus smiles showed how much they were enjoying the impromptu exhibitionism. Anton parted his fingers slightly to get a better look.
Viago blinked, readjusted his ears, and sighed.
‘Did you have another fight?’ he asked, in a motherly tone.
For a second, Vladislav’s expression turned to real sorrow, but he quickly regained his fearful appearance.
‘Any conflict between myself and the Beast is for us to know.’
Viago put his hands on his hips, frowned, and cocked his head.
Vladislav dithered, then continued in a less self-assured tone. ‘She- it… said I was boring, now.’ He raised his pitch in a crude, shrill imitation of Pauline, though everyone knew he was capable of perfect mimicry when he wanted to. ‘“Where is my great, magnificent Vladislav? Where is the man who spread terror throughout Europe and bathed me in virgin blood?” On and on. And then we…’
‘… had the fight?’ Viago suggested.
Vladislav nodded, lips pressed tightly together.
‘Yeah. Had the fight. And then she pushed me into the iron maiden and slammed it shut.’ He nodded towards the unnerving metal sarcophagus stood against the far wall of his room. Its hollow eyes stared back at the group through the open door.
Nick whistled. ‘Harsh.’
‘Do you know how hard it is to heal yourself of all those little holes?’ Vladislav growled.
Deacon winced sympathetically. He’d found himself trapped in one of those more than once, particularly during the post-war vampire trials. He did, in fact, know how hard it was. Viago patted Vladislav’s arm, fixing a kindly gaze on him.
‘Do you want a hug?’ he asked.
‘No.’ He paused. ‘Actually, yes.’
Viago opened his arms wide and gripped Vladislav in a manly bear hug, propping his chin on his friend’s shoulder. The two girls hanging from the ceiling cooed simultaneous ‘awwws,’ which only increased in pitch and volume when, after a few moments, Deacon wandered over and affixed himself to his friends’ sides, embracing them both.
Anton discreetly elbowed Nick in the ribs. ‘Is that a thing vampires do? Multihugging? Or is it just them?’
‘Hey, it’s not cool to judge,’ Nick replied. ‘I know you all like to sleep in a puppy pile after a full moon. Stu told me. This isn’t that weird.’
‘I’m not judging!’ Anton protested. ‘I’m just trying to learn. Anyway, we do that for warmth. Our clothes get ripped up.’
‘And it promotes a sense of community,’ Stu added quietly, making Nick and Anton jump by coming out of nowhere to stand to their right. ‘It helps the pack build mutual trust, which is important in a marginalised group. Right, Anton?’
‘Uh, yeah. Yes, of course. Who’s being insensitive now, Nick?’
Nick gave him a look, then turned to Stu. ‘Everything all right downstairs?’
‘Well…’ he faced the vampires disengaging from their hug. ‘Some of the boys aren’t sure about their costumes, and they want to hear what the undead think. To avoid offending anyone.’
‘Great.’ Deacon started down the corridor, towards the stairs. ‘What, did they bring plastic fangs? Devil horns? Something else typically ignorant?’
‘It’s just a costume, isn’t it?’ Nick said, following him. Deacon scoffed with obvious disdain.
‘Quiet, newbie,’ he replied, ‘before you embarrass yourself even more.’
‘How am I embarrassing myself?’
‘Have you looked in a mirror?’
Their bickering continued as they made their way back to the living room.
Viago smoothed down the fur of his coat that had gotten mussed during the cuddle. ‘We’ll see you downstairs in a bit, right, Vlad?’
Vladislav nodded and closed the door, through which the others could hear bizarre noises as he finished up his session with the buxom girls inside.
‘Was it a good idea to leave the… the pack unsupervised?’ Viago asked Stu, who was immediately cut off by Anton.
‘Unsupervised? They’re not little kids!’
‘I know, I know, but they’re very excita-‘ Viago was interrupted by loud hissing, coming from downstairs.
They rushed to the living room to find Nick and Deacon scrambling against the wall, faces contorted in pain, with a few panicked werewolves milling around them.
‘What’s going on?’ Anton yelled, startling a few of the men into turning around only to reveal matching black priest costumes, with crucifixes hung around their necks. Viago collapsed to the ground with a yelp, gesturing towards the nearest priest.
‘The cross!’ he croaked out, frantically clawing at the ground. ‘Get it away!’
While Anton blinked, processing the information, Stu loped towards the offending articles, ripped them off his packmates’ necks, and tossed them out of an open window. Instantly, the vampires stopped squirming and collapsed where they lay, groaning and grumbling softly, and breathing heavily though they didn’t need the oxygen. Human reflexes died hard.
After a few moments, Deacon gingerly stood up, baring his fangs.
‘You fools!’ he spat. ‘You could have killed us!’
‘Too right,’ Nick said, getting to his feet. ‘Buncha bloody drongos.’
‘Well, we didn’t know you were allergic to plastic crucifixes too!’ one of the werewolves in priest attire – Deacon vaguely remembered his name was Mark – complained. ‘It’s hard to remember all your weaknesses!’
‘All our weaknesses?’ Deacon exclaimed, ‘all our weaknesses? The man who’d die from a single bullet like some human is complaining about “all” the weaknesses vampires have! Show some respect!’
‘I think it’s much more reasonable to die from a gunshot than from sunshine or a garlic clove, actually,’ said the other wolf priest. Brent? Something like that.
‘We don’t die from garlic.’ Deacon was beyond exasperated, floating in mid-air to gain the advantage of height over the others. ‘Did you do any research when you were invited to an event of the undead community?’
‘Well – ‘
‘Clearly not!’ Deacon flew over the assembled werewolves, pointing at each offending costume in turn. ‘You look like a cheap Universal Horror vampire, your outfit is an insult to every zombie out there, and as for you…‘ He gestured towards the guys in priest costumes. ‘What was your angle with those clothes, if not to mock us?’
‘We’re Ted and Dougal,’ Brent said defensively, ‘from, from Father Ted.’
Deacon’s eyes narrowed. ‘Who is this… Father Ted?’
‘It’s a sitcom. About priests. On an island. It’s a classic, very funny stuff.’
Deacon glanced at Nick, who was busy dusting himself off. ‘Is this true?’
‘Yeah, it’s a good show,’ said Nick.
Deacon considered this for a moment, levitating down a little. ‘Well. Didn’t you think it would be inappropriate, considering the event?’
‘We wanted to make a good impression!’ Brent said. A ripple of concordant murmurs ran through the other werewolves. ‘Like, for me and Mark,’ he gestured towards the other priest, ‘we figured… everyone likes Father Ted. So the costumes will be a hit.’
‘Oh, everyone likes it?’ Deacon seized on the word and assumed a combative stance again. ‘You’re saying all the undead think alike, hm? Next, you’ll ask if we all know each other!’
‘Mate, it’s New Zealand, we do all know each other!’ Nick exclaimed.
‘And I’ve heard you say all vampires love Denzel Washington and Evanescence and stuff,’ said Mark, ‘so you generalise too.’
‘Don’t you know that it’s rude to eavesdrop?’ Deacon growled, glaring daggers at Nick before redirecting his attention to the men littering the living room. ‘Typical mongrels.’
‘Whoa, you can’t say that!’ Brent shouted.
‘Yeah, mate, that’s way out of line,’ said Anton, stepping further into the room and pointing accusingly at Deacon. ‘You’ve gotta apologise.’
‘Yeah, bloody fanger!’ someone in the crowd yelled.
‘Hey!’ Anton whipped around. ‘Knock off the slurs, lads. Don’t go down to his level.’
‘The only ones down there are you, mutts,’ Deacon taunted, flitting about near the ceiling.
Suddenly, a werewolf dressed in a full body fursuit jumped and grabbed hold of his leg, pulling him down with enough momentum to throw him against a plastic-coated sofa, which skidded back on the dusty wooden floor and hit the wall hard, knocking trinkets off their shelves and propelling Deacon into the ground face-first.
The room was silently shocked, the air heavy with tension as Deacon raised himself up onto his elbows and looked at the men all around him. His nose was twisted at an unnatural angle, the tip almost touching his cheek. He palpated his face, feeling the broken bone.
‘Damn,’ a voice crowed from somewhere in the back, ‘he got fucked up.’
Anton shushed him. Deacon calmly found the fracture point, firmly grabbed the bridge, and popped it back into place with a sickening crunch. He wrinkled his nose to make sure it was back where it should be, expressing no discomfort, and finished standing up. He grinned, and within seconds, he was on the fursuited man, straddling his chest and pinning him to the floor with supernatural strength. He gripped the man’s arms and began pulling them outwards, but the werewolf recovered just in time to push Deacon and keep him at arm’s length, far enough to frustrate his efforts.
‘I’ll rip your arms out of their sockets!’ Deacon snarled, hissing at the bewildered werewolves encircling them. The man in the suit desperately shoved him away, kicking his legs in vain.
‘No, not the suit!’ the man said in a panicky voice. ‘It cost me like five thousand dollars! I didn’t think you’d go down so easy, I just got ticked off!’
‘You are not endearing yourself,’ Deacon muttered, tugging harder. The sounds of tearing stitches could be heard and the werewolf inside the suit struggled more.
‘Why aren’t you guys helping me?!’ the guy yelped.
Deacon paused and relaxed his grip, giving the man just enough time to dodge out of his grasp and scoot away. Why weren’t the others helping him? He sat up straight and looked around.
And that’s when he saw it.
Viago was on the floor, in a corner of the room. In his arms, he held the shattered remains of a vase. His expression finally matched the character he was meant to portray, and even his cat ears seemed droopier. The werewolves watched in silence. Mindless violence was one thing, but the destruction of prized personal property was a whole other ballgame.
Deacon shifted his gaze around the room. ‘Shit. Who did this?’ He was met with blank stares and shrugs.
Nick, standing near Viago, shook his head.
‘Nobody? Well. You? Maybe Declan?’
‘Me? What do you mean, me?’
‘When Declan made you hit the wall.’
‘Oh.’ Deacon remembered hearing porcelain and glass breaking when his nasal bone had splintered, but he’d failed to ascribe it any significance. The whole situation had suddenly become extremely awkward. He stood up and dusted off his outfit, readjusting his medals as he thought of something to say. ‘Okay. It’ll give you a chance to redecorate. You can go shopping. You like shopping, yes?’
Viago sighed and picked up one of the broken pieces, turning it over in his hand. ‘It’s not really about me. This was a gift from Katherine. She’ll be upset when she sees what’s happened.’
The cartoon weight pressing down on Deacon’s conscience got a couple of tons heavier. Stu, who had been silently tapping on his phone at the edge of the group, cleared his throat. Every werewolf’s head swivelled in his direction, and Deacon couldn’t help noticing that Anton looked a little dejected.
‘I found the same vase on TradeMe,’ Stu said, placing the phone back in his inside pocket. ‘It should be here by Monday.’
The information took a moment to process, but Viago’s face soon lit up with a beaming smile. He dropped the pieces of pottery on the floor and enveloped his friend in a righteous manhug, accompanied by a happy cry of: ‘Stu!’
‘What,’ asked Anton, ‘the same one?’
‘Yep,’ said Stu, peering over Viago’s shoulder and patting his back, ‘I posted on Reddit and someone found it for three dollars plus shipping.’
‘The Reddit!’ Deacon exclaimed. He cast a satisfied glance in Nick’s direction. ‘You see? It is a force for good in this world.’
‘Three bucks?’ The disbelief was evident in Anton’s voice. ‘I would’ve figured it’d be more expensive than that. Like a limited edition or summin’.’
‘Oh, it was a common model when I joined Katherine here in Wellington,’ Viago said, stepping out of the hug. ‘What mattered was that she gave it to me, as a housewarming gift, before she told me she’d gotten married. It was bittersweet, but I always kept it in her memory.’
‘I think you should tell her that the next time she comes around,’ Stu remarked. ‘The story’ll make the new vase more special, and you’ll be able to explain how the first one broke without upsetting her.’
Viago nodded. ‘Good communication truly is the cornerstone of a successful relationship. Thanks, Stu.’
‘All good. Let’s get a dustpan and brush.’
The two of them exited the room, chatting about the importance of mutual respect in any healthy rapport. This left Deacon and Nick alone with a room full of bewildered lycanthropes.
Anton stepped forward and cleared his throat.
‘Listen, we’re sorry. About the crosses, and the zombie outfit, and all the rest of it. Right, fellas?’ There was a murmur of assent, and he continued. ‘Everyone’s really excited about the Masquerade, and I guess it’s been hard to think critically, eh? I mean, up till now, the Hataitai Werewolves Group’s dos have just been barbecues in Dylan’s garden with some pastries and homebrew courtesy of Tony’s wife. Pretty big difference between this fancy party and a piss-up. No offence, guys.’
‘None taken,’ Dylan said, sounding offended.
‘Yeah, you’re on point,’ said Tony.
‘We want the shifters of Wellington to have good links with the undead,’ Anton concluded, ‘and we should’ve been more careful.’
‘Appreciate it, mate,’ Nick smiled and sat in a plastic-covered armchair, somehow not instantly sliding off it.
Deacon hesitated, but turned to Declan.
‘I am sorry I tried to rip your arms off your body, and almost put you out of five thousand dollars by nearly destroying your strange outfit. I can fix the broken stitches before we leave. I’m good at that.’
Declan carefully popped the head off his suit, revealing blonde, sweaty hair sticking up in various places, a red face, and a timid smile. ‘Sounds good, yeah,’ he said, starting to remove the rest of his outfit, ‘cheers. Sorry I lost my temper and threw you against the wall.’
Deacon grinned. ‘You have a good arm! But you would not have gotten me if I hadn’t had my guard down.’
‘Oi, don’t push your luck, eh?’ said Anton, smiling broadly. He clapped his hands together, prompting his packmates to pay attention, and pointedly looked at his watch. ‘Do we want to get to that party, then, or do we want to go back to Dylan’s shed? Those with the non-offensive costumes, help your clueless pals put together something better. Let’s go!’
The men scurried back to their abandoned props and discarded apparel, and the room was soon buzzing with excitement and raucous talking. Deacon made his way over to his sewing basket, with Declan’s costume in his hands. Nick lifted his phone and angled it to capture both his face and Deacon sitting on the floor in the background, baring his fangs with the embarrassing exhibitionism of the recently deceased. He took the photo and lowered his device to tap out a caption.
‘Are you posting that on Snapsnap?’ Deacon asked, finding the right colour of thread for his project.
‘No, but I am posting it on Snapchat,’ Nick replied without bothering to look up.
Viago and Stu came back to clear off the debris from earlier. Vladislav followed soon after, dressed in a white suit embroidered with a pearly floral pattern, a golden cravat, and a white and gold cape with a furry trim. The vampire girls from earlier hung off his arms, clad in matching leather and fishnet outfits that somehow seemed to show off more skin than if they’d been naked.
‘We didn’t have time to make special outfits, so we just threw something on,’ Vladislav said when he noticed Anton staring.
‘It’s okay, I’m just glad you’re coming after all!’ Viago exclaimed cheerily, brushing the broken pottery into a neat pile.
The girls planted a kiss on either side of Vladislav’s face and went to take a seat next to Nick while they waited for everyone else to get ready.
‘Your guests are coming too?’ Viago asked.
Vladislav grinned wickedly. ‘If the Beast wants to see interesting, we’ll give her interesting. Isn’t that right, ladies?’
The women flashed their fangs in response, then giggled and settled themselves on the couch more comfortably to have a chat. The werewolves’ eyes were glued to their long legs, and they stayed mostly motionless until Anton pointedly cleared his throat and motioned for them to keep getting dressed. Nick raised his eyebrows at Deacon.
‘Looks like Vlad’s new pals are really help people come together,’ he mumbled.
Deacon snorted, threaded his needle, and sewed the first stitch.