“Welcome to the party of the year,” Cole said.
Brett sat down at the second control panel and looked out the window that overlooked the large hall, which was packed with students. Newly built and not too far from the college, the building provided an ideal location for large parties and other major functions.
“I wouldn’t’ve missed this for anything. I’ve never known one of Peter’s parties to be a dud, so I can’t believe his dad built this place just because Peter asked.”
“Yeah, I know. Some people have too much money, if you ask me. It looks like Peter’s gone all out to make the first party here a smash. I think some of the decorations are outrageous, but hey, it’s Halloween.
“What are you dressed as, anyway?”
Brett looked down at his costume before looking back at Cole. “The Green Goblin, of course! What about you? You’re just wearing a suit. A real surprise, I have to admit, but not particularly appropriate to the season.”
Cole smirked. “I’m that real horror, the one that even vampires wish they could be.” He paused to let Brett’s curiosity build, and then added, “I’m a lawyer.”
Brett’s mouth twitched but he managed to avoid smiling. “Hmmm… I suppose that’s better than some of the costumes. One couple I saw when I arrived were wearing Saddam Hussein and Condoleezza Rice masks — not a pretty sight.”
He glanced out the window and frowned as he stared up at the ceiling. “What’s all that stuff up there? None of it was there when Peter ran me through how everything works.”
“Some sort of midnight surprise is all I was told when I asked the same question. Hey, what kept you? I was wondering if I was going to be running this show by myself.”
“Sorry about that. I had to get some people to… uh… kidnap my roommate. He didn’t want to come to the party.”
Cole laughed. “What sort of lame brain turns down an invitation to a party?”
Brett shot his friend a warning glare. “Don’t you dare say that about Nick. If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve failed at least two subjects last year and I wouldn’t be here now. He’s quiet and shy, but I owe him a lot. I decided getting him out of the room for a night would be good for him.”
“I’d think that setting him up with a girl for the party would make it better.”
Brett’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “He told me he’s not interested in girls.”
“He’s gay? Okay, there should be some eligible guys around the campus, though I wouldn’t know how to find one.”
Brett laughed as he ran a hand through his green hair. “I asked him once if he’s gay. He just looked me up and down, said I’m not his type, and turned away. I took the hint and I haven’t asked since.”
“Maybe he’s one of those asexuals that I read about the other month — you know, not interested in sex at all.”
“Could be. Anyway, I’ve got some people keeping an eye on him with strict instructions he’s not to leave the party before midnight. He’s not happy with me, but I think it’s for his own good.”
“If you’ve had him kidnapped, what’s he got as a costume?”
Brett laughed. “A set of prison overalls. Steve’s dressed up as a prison guard, just to complete the picture.”
Brett logged into the computer screen in front of him and brought up the control software. “What’s the plan? It looks like everything’s been set up ahead of time and we only need to make sure it all goes to plan, and put in whatever adlibbing we think necessary,” he said.
“That’s about it. One of us has to be here at all times and both of us need to be ready when Peter’s got special events planned, but otherwise it’s easy street.”
“Ten pm, midnight and two am — is that right?”
“Yeah. No change from what we were told last week.”
As Brett scanned the playlist that was displayed, he frowned. “I thought Melissa was going to pick most of the music.”
“You noticed, huh? She got sick, and Peter had to do it, so over half the stuff is techno — what he likes best.”
“Hey, lots of people like techno — just not all of us. In that case, I’m glad I’m up here.”
* * *
Brett stretched to loosen the muscles in his back. He’d been crouched over the controls while Peter had introduced the first part of the celebration. Brett had had to override the computer when one of the laser-generated ghosts had started to wander off track, but otherwise it had all gone smoothly.
The music had restarted and a semi-random wave of color from the overhead lights was dancing over the crowd. A moody mist was creeping across the floor from fog machines around the edges.
“Well, I think it’s time to go and say hello to a certain young lady,” Cole said as he rose to his feet. “I promised her some dances.”
Brett chuckled. “Okay, say hello to Helen for me, too. What did she pick as her costume?”
Cole chuckled. “With her figure, Helen of Troy, of course.”
Cole had just reached the door when all the lights in the hall went off and the music died. After a moment, a set of faint blue lights illuminated the crowd.
“What the fuck!” Brett said as he scanned the computer screen.
Cole headed back to his seat. “Did the software crash?”
“Not that I can see… wait… something’s happening.”
A new playlist replaced the old one as Brett watched. He recognised the opening chords as he read the name: the title song from The Phantom of the Opera.
“Look at that!” Cole said, pointing out the window.
Brett glanced out and saw a caped figure striding across the dance floor, illuminated by a bright spotlight. He’d just passed a pair of mummies, when a second spotlight turned on and revealed a classic Phantom of the Opera mask on the guy’s face.
“Someone’s decided to make one cool entrance!” Cole said, slowly shaking his head in admiration.
“I wonder who he is and why Peter didn’t tell us,” Brett commented.
“Probably didn’t want to spoil the surprise. You have to admit that everyone’s watching the guy. Twenty bucks says it’s a friend of Peter’s and some girl is about to dragged onto the floor.”
“No bet. You’re probably right.”
As they watched, Brett stiffened when a third spotlight shone on the phantom’s target.
“Hey, that’s a guy!” Cole said.
“That’s not just any guy, that’s my roommate, Nick!”
The phantom held out a hand to Nick, who took it and allowed himself to be lead to the middle of the hall.
Brett and Cole were still watching when the door to the control room flew open and an angry Count Dracula stormed in.
“What the fuck is going on in here? I’m paying you guys to stick to the program, not to make up your own rubbish!”
“Chill, Peter. We didn’t do anything — the system did it all itself,” Cole said.
“Well, fix it! Get rid of that fucking music first, and put something decent on.”
Cole started typing away while Peter glared out of the window.
“Hey, that’s two guys out there. Get those spotlights off them! I’m not having my party ruined by a pair of faggots! Why haven’t you fixed it already?”
Brett frowned at Peter’s comment as he turned to the other console to access the lighting controls. He didn’t appreciate the abusive tone, and especially didn’t like having it directed at his roommate.
“The system isn’t responding. It won’t let me override the music,” Cole said.
“Argh! You can’t be doing it right. Get out of the way and let me do it,” Peter yelled at Cole.
Brett found the same thing as Cole — he was unable to shift the spotlights away from Nick and the phantom. After a moment’s thought, he accessed the controls and tried to change the color of the lights to blue, and was surprised when it worked. His forehead wrinkled as he tried to work out what that meant.
Peter pushed the keyboard away in disgust. “Damn computer!”
“I can alter things, but I can’t remove anything that’s programmed in,” Brett said.
“We’ll have to reboot the system,” Peter said as he reached over and snatched the mouse. Moments later he grabbed the keyboard and started typing. “The fucking thing won’t respond! We’re going to have to power it off.”
Peter got down and started to crawl under the desk. Brett looked out the window and watched his roommate dance. The music switched to a rumba and other couples started dancing. The spotlight on Nick faded as the flashing lights switched back on.
“You know, Peter, I don’t think anyone minds. If we can’t get your stuff going again, why don’t we just let it run as it is?”
Peter’s voice came up from under the control panels.
“You’ve got be joking if you think I’m going to let some freakin’ fag take over my party. I don’t know how he hacked into the system, but I’m not going to let him get away with it.”
There was a bright spark and Peter started swearing. “The fucking thing’s alive! I can’t turn it off.”
“Why don’t you let us worry about it, Peter?” Brett suggested. “You go off and enjoy yourself.”
Peter slid out from under the desk, blowing on and shaking one hand. “Okay, but you’d better have it all fixed by midnight. I’m going to get security to make sure they catch those guys on the cameras so I can find out who’s ruining my party,” Peter said as he scrambled to his feet. He threw Brett and Cole a warning glare. “Remember, midnight.”
Once the door closed behind Peter, Cole drew a hand theatrically across his forehead. “Phew. I’m glad that’s over. Come on, let’s start trying to work out what’s going on.”
Brett shook his head. “Don’t bother. It’s not causing any problems and everyone’s enjoying themselves. It’s only Peter that’s upset.”
“But what happens at midnight, then?”
“We wait and see. Whoever set this up seems to want Nick to have a good time, and I’m with them. If that means Peter gets pissed off, then that’s a price I’m happy to pay. After his comments about faggots, I don’t care much about what he thinks.”
Cole looked uncertain, but he stopped trying to alter the computer programming. “Okay, I suppose… at least the music selection is a lot better.”
“You go out and see Helen. I’ll look after things here.”
Cole rose to his feet. “If you’re sure…”
Brett grinned. “Go! Have some fun.”
Cole left and headed down the stairs to join the crowd. Brett watched him meet up with his girlfriend, and then returned his attention to Nick and the phantom. While they weren’t being highlighted, Brett noticed that a low light was always shining on the pair, making it easy for him to spot them. He tried to track down how that was being done, but the computer system wouldn’t let him view the controlling script.
It wasn’t long before Brett saw Count Dracula heading towards Nick. Brett frowned while he tried to work out what he could do, as he didn’t think Peter was just going to say hello. He configured a strobe light to flash in Peter’s face, but that delayed Peter for only a few seconds.
Peter tripped over something just before he reached the two guys. A roman gladiator and his catwoman partner fell over the prone figure, and then a mini-pile of bodies formed. A pair of security guards appeared and helped straighten out the mess while the party continued. Brett was surprised to see the guards carrying Peter off to the first-aid room.
“I hope he’s okay, but it looks like that problem’s solved for the moment,” Brett muttered to himself.
After a call to learn that Peter had been kicked in the head and was groggy but otherwise fine, Brett settled back to watch and enjoy the party. Whoever had reprogrammed the computer system had done a great job in keeping everyone entertained.
Cole rejoined him after about thirty minutes and offered to look after things while Brett went and had some fun, but Brett turned him down. He wanted to keep an eye on his roommate and the control room was the best place for doing that.
Just before midnight, everything changed again. As a song ended, all the lights dimmed and the playlist disappeared from the computer screen.
“What’s going on now?” Cole asked.
“It doesn’t look like a crash, so maybe the hacked program has ended. Why don’t you check if you can bring up the original again,” Brett suggested.
Cole typed for a few seconds. “Nope, I’m still blocked out.”
A new playlist appeared and music started playing. A swirl of soft pink and blue lights played across the hall while a gentle white light illuminated Nick and the phantom.
“What’s that playing? How can anyone dance to it?” Brett asked.
“It says it’s the love theme from Romeo and Juliet. It’s not often you hear three-four time, anymore,” Cole said.
Brett looked out. “Nick and that guy are waltzing. Weird!”
Cole glanced over the dance floor and grinned. “They aren’t the only ones, but they’re one of the better couples. Whoever picked the music has to be a romantic — why else would they pick that particular piece?”
The two guys were still watching when a countdown clock appeared on the display. Brett glanced at his watch.
“It’s counting down to midnight,” he said.
“I wonder if Peter’s surprise is still going to happen. According to the playlist, the music will finish about fifteen seconds before midnight. Are you ready, Brett?”
“Ready, but I have no idea what’s going to happen.”
The music ended as the spotlight on Nick and the phantom started to intensify. The two guys were in a passionate embrace.
“… eleven… ten… nine…” Cole muttered.
The light became dazzlingly bright.
“… eight… seven…”
A bright flash illuminated the entire hall. Brett flung an arm across his eyes and then everything went black. When he lowered his arm, he could see only the emergency lights and the glow from the computer screen.
“… six… five…”
A red glow appeared at the end of the hall. It was hard for Brett to make out through the spots before his eyes from the previous flash, but it appeared that a disembodied head about the size of a small bus was floating in the air. A maniacal chuckle echoed through the hall.
“… four… three…”
“It’s time to go…” a deep, inhuman voice rumbled.
“Your soul is mine!” The bass rumble sent a shiver through Brett.
Everything went black.
Screams rang out across the darkened hall.
* * *
Brett sat on the edge of his bed, staring across at the comatose figure of his roommate. When Nick rolled over and opened his eyes, Brett smiled at him.
“Hi, Nick. How are you feeling?”
“Wh… what happened?”
“You and your friend danced nonstop for almost two hours, and then when midnight came, you collapsed and your friend disappeared. I brought you home. You should’ve been drinking, Nick. The nurse said you were dehydrated.”
Nick struggled to an upright position. Brett poured a glass of water and passed it over. While Nick sipped, Brett kept on talking.
“You probably don’t remember it, but midnight was the highlight of the party. When the lights went off, all these boxes on the ceiling opened, and hordes of fake spiders on bungee cords dropped down onto the crowd. I think the screams lifted the roof by at least a foot.” Brett chuckled at the memory. “I heard tons of people telling Peter it was the best Halloween party they’d ever been to.”
Nick shook his head. “Nah, I can’t remember.”
Brett waited a moment. “Do you remember anything?”
A smile appeared as Nick’s eyes lost focus. “Dancing a dream.”
“You know you outed yourself to everyone there,” Brett said as gently as he could.
Nick shrugged. “No big deal. It’s not like I intend to go out dating.”
“Didn’t you tell me when we first started rooming together that you’re single?”
Brett’s forehead wrinkled. “Then who was that guy you were dancing with last night?”
“My boyfriend.” Nick sighed and looked out the window.
“But if you’ve got a boyfriend, that means you’re not single.”
“It’s kinda hard to explain. We only see each other five times a year: my birthday, his birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of our first date, and Halloween.”
“Okay… I still don’t think you can have a boyfriend and call yourself single, but I’ll let that pass. I can understand those first four dates, but what’s so special about Halloween that it’s on the list?”
Nick turned back to Brett. A trail of tears ran down his cheeks to the edges of his sad smile.
“Because that’s when he died.”
Brett felt faint. “Died?” he whispered.
“He died at the stroke of midnight on Halloween, four years ago. He’s been coming back to visit me ever since. That’s why I didn’t want to go to the party — I thought he’d be coming here. I’m glad, though, because that was the best time I’ve had with him since the accident. Thanks, Brett.”
Nick nodded at Brett, lay back down on his bed and then rolled over.
Brett stood up and waited for a few seconds before he staggered out of the room. His legs didn’t seem to want to support him.
He was sitting in the coffee shop when his phone rang.
“Brett, that phantom guy, whoever he is, is an absolute genius!”
“Hi, Cole. What do you mean?”
“I’ve just run into Peter. He said the guy managed to hack into the security videos and erase his image off every single one! All they show is your roommate dancing by himself!”
“Somehow, Cole, that doesn’t surprise me.”
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.
This story first appeared as part of the Gay Authors’ 2006 Fall Anthology.