Scott almost picked a wineglass but instead chose a red, plastic cup. He filled it with Marietta cabernet, 2008.

“Don’t you think that’s a little nice for a plastic cup?” Josie asked.

“Was 2008 a good year?” Scott asked, sipping.

“I’m presuming,” she said, sipping a white wine from a wide-rimmed glass. “All the others are 2010.”

Scott didn’t know much about wines, and besides, the plastic cup was a better match for a flannel button-up and old jeans. He was wearing boots, for God’s sake, so why would he care about drinking wine from plastic.

Josie, on the other hand. Sure, she was wearing jeans, too, but they appeared to be designer jeans. Her brown top was heavy with sequence. Her blonde hair was smooth and shiny, meticulous. She should be drinking from a glass, and honestly, should not be drinking something from 2010.

Jim was wired, pacing from room to room, placing dishes, juking and shuffling between and around people as they conversed and popped appetizers into their mouths. He was looking for bowls, had explored the cabinets for bowls, Scott noticed, and was scanning faces, looking for his wife, Deb.

“Have you guys seen Deb?” he asked Scott and Josie.

“Upstairs, maybe?” Josie said.

“Maybe.” Jim started to move away, toward the stairs, then stopped and turned back toward Scott and Josie.

“I think she’s 10 minutes away,” Jim said. “Just got a text from her.”

“Great!” Josie said, taking another sip.

“So, she’ll come in, and she’ll see all the food and everything, but she’ll probably just think it’s dinner,” Jim explained. “She can see the dining room from the front door, but also the living room, so we won’t have people in those rooms. So, you guys are good in the kitchen. Just maybe move away from the doorway, since she could see a little into the kitchen. Over near the sink. Just not in front of the window.”

“Gotcha,” Scott said, and Jim went upstairs.

“He’s very organized,” Josie said.

“Yeah,” Scott laughed.

“So, how do you know Hillary?” she asked.

“We work together.” He sipped again.

“At the theater?”

“Yep.” He sipped. “How about you?”

“We went to college together,” she said. “She’ll be so surprised.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Drove here today from a little place inOhio–Aurora. Kind of on the way toCleveland.”

“Wow,” he said. “Kind of a long drive.”

“Not too bad.”

Deb interrupted. “You guys seen Jim?” She was carrying scissors. “He’s looking for these.”

“Upstairs,” Josie said. “He was looking for you. And bowls.”

“Bowls?” Deb said dryly. “Awesome.” She marched upstairs.

Someone bumped Scott from behind. “Oops,” the guy said, reaching toward a bowl of chips, part of a smaller selection on a smaller table. The main spread was in the dining room. “Just gettin’ chip. Excuse me.” A Mumford & Sons song vibrated from the stereo.

“No prob,” Scott said, turning back to Josie. She was gazing toward the living room entryway, mindlessly caressing her own chin. Scott thought she might be observing someone, maybe someone she’d met once. An old boyfriend?

“You should try the chips,” he said, wincing some at the suggestion.

“Oh, yeah?” Her attention returned.

“Kettle chips,” he remarked. “Good stuff.”

She laughed. “Yeah, kettle chips. Good stuff.”

Jim was galloping down the steps, which descended to the dining room, which connected to the kitchen, which connected to basement steps and to the living room, which connected to the front corridor, which led to the dining room. It was an old, rustic house, but it carried refurbished charm. The walls were painted, and the floors were hardwood.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Jim stammered as he descended. He stopped at the bottom and announced, “Okay! She’s probably close now. She must’ve sent that text a while ago, because she’s here. Everyone to the kitchen or to the rear of the living room! Quiet!”

The front door opened. “Dammit!” Jim yelled.

“It’s just Bobby,” someone said from another part of the house. Bobby closed the door behind him and urgently explained, “She’s jogging up the sidewalk, but I don’t think she saw me.” Someone asked why she was running, but Scott didn’t hear an answer.

At least a dozen people gathered in the kitchen, forcing Scott and Josie to stand near the window. “I don’t think it matters now,” she whispered. “She’s probably past the window.”

Jim flipped off random lights. Scott thought his actions were random. These are the things people do at a surprise party, he said to himself. They bunch together in the dark.

“Let’s move closer,” he whispered to Josie. He took her hand and led. They crouched near the doorway. Hillary wouldn’t see them when she entered.

An underlying hum of whispering and muffled laughs drifted through the house. Jim and Deb waited in the dining room. One of them would have to answer the doorbell.

They heard hard footfalls on the walkway. The front door swung open. It smashed against the wall. Something fell.

“Jim! Deb!” Hillary screamed.

Scott jumped to the entryway.

“Sur…” he started, as the shotgun blast hit his chest, propelling him back into the kitchen. His body slid across the polished floor. Blood splattered on the fridge. Josie screamed. Other screams followed.

Another blast removed Deb’s left arm at the elbow.

“Hillary!” Jim screamed. “No! Stop!”

Hillary was hysterical, sobbing. She shook, aiming the gun at Jim.

“They’re coming!” she cried. Her green jacket was tattered, and her black hair was matted with sweat.

Jim was tending to Deb, who sat against the wall in shock, a red pool spreading around her body.

Some rushed out the front door, but only a moment later, one, a guy in a black t-shirt and flat-billed hat, returned. “Oh my God!” he yelled. A girl tried to follow, but a bloody hand grabbed her shoulder from behind and pulled her back outside as she shrieked.

Hillary spun toward the door. The house remained mostly dark, save for a lamp in the living room and a pair of candles in the dining room. A figure appeared in the doorway, its skin frayed, its eyes white. It moaned and lunged. Hillary pulled the trigger, but only a click followed. The thing pulled her toward its gaping mouth. It bit her neck and pulled away flesh. An arterial spray doused Josie and a few others. Screams resumed.

More creatures filed in through the front. Jim stabbed one in the throat with scissors before three others overtook him. Another pair dove toward Deb, feasting on the blood pool and her body.

Terrified guests moved from the living room to the kitchen. They trampled one who fell. Bobby’s hands shook as he tried to unlatch the back door, which led to the back porch.

“Get the hell back!” a girl shouted, pulling Bobby by the shoulder away from the door. He stumbled, and others moved him away, too, until he tripped and fell to the kitchen floor. One of the creatures was standing above him. He screamed as it descended to his body. Its teeth ripped flesh from his face.

Dozens of zombies were inside. One toppled the dining room table, and the pack trampled the food. Another through a smaller table through the living room window, as gifts and cards spilled to the floor and hit the walls. Rotting hands grabbed the guests one by one, hauling them in for the grotesque feast. They ate from Scott’s lifeless form.

The girl yanked open the backdoor, and more of the horde spilled in. One ghoul, the bottom of half of its jaw hanging by a thread of grey skin, clawed at her eyes. Another, a quarter of its skull missing, lunged at Josie, knocking her backward. She fell, and it was on top of her, biting and drooling. She struggled to push it away, but two more zombies piled on top, their teeth finally finding her body.

One creature smashed the stereo, and as the screaming died, as lamps and candles fell, darkness and calm filled the house. The last guest to die fought to the stairway and started up. But a hand grabbed her ankle and pulled her back to the carnage.

Creatures gradually finished, their attention drifting. They slowly exited the house and moved on, searching for another party, another surprise, another buffet.

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