The scariest thing about Halloween currently was how little I cared for it. As a younger gay man, I’d have planned my costume for months, figuring out the sexiest way to be a zombie, a vampire or any of the other popular standards, and I’d have attended at least three parties to try to get laid. Now I was too old and jaded to care about any of that.
But it was a week until Halloween, and I had no excuses. I’d told Duke I’d be at the local gay leather bar for the annual party. He was scheduled to bartend that night and I’d foolishly committed to being there, at least for part of the evening.
I hated Halloween.
I’d loved it as a child, and as a teen and young adult, it had been an excuse to get smashed and flirt with people I’d be too intimidated by otherwise. But now, as an adult? Halloween seemed like a waste of time. I definitely had better things to do.
Or did I?
It was true that I hadn’t socialized a lot recently, because my job was exhausting, even though it fulfilled me. As an anthropology professor at the local college, I had classes to teach most days and students to support during office hours. Then there was the prep time and marking… I’d managed to fit my life into an organized and workable routine, but I was a busy man.
I had promised Duke I’d try to have some fun, simply to get him off my back and stop him from calling me ‘old before my time’—although the annual Halloween Ball at Sonny’s wasn’t exactly my idea of a great time.
For one thing, I didn’t have a costume. For another thing, I didn’t want to wear one.
But costumes were compulsory for this event, so I had to make at least a minimal effort. I had a T-shirt, somewhere, with glow-in-the-dark bones on it. If I could find it, I’d wear that and say I was a skeleton. Yeah, that was pretty dumb, but the guys who worked the door knew me, and I was pretty sure they’d let me in. It paid to be friends with the bartender, even though he pressured me to be more social.
I liked Duke a lot. He was a bear of a man but the sweetest guy anyone would ever meet. I’d gotten to know him when he’d taken one of my anthropology courses. He’d invited me for dinner once the semester had ended, and he and his cute-as-hell boyfriend Julius had cooked me the most amazing spaghetti Bolognese I’d ever eaten. It was a fast friendship with them both after that. Julius worked in IT and made good money, so Duke could bartend a few nights a week and spend the rest of his time making small sculptures out of reclaimed ‘junk’ and taking occasional classes of interest to him.
I didn’t have many close friends, and I considered Duke and Julius to be an important part of my life, especially as I hadn’t been able to find a partner to join me on this questionable journey. I’d had the occasional boyfriend, but the long-term bond had never become anything significant before either I or the other guy decided things weren’t working. I wondered if I had the temperament for a permanent relationship.
Some people were meant to be single and maybe I was one of them.
I dug through three drawers before I found my skeleton shirt scrunched in the corner. Great, it will be wrinkled as well as dumb. Ah well, there was nothing to do about it. I wasn’t gonna fucking iron it. I didn’t even think I owned an iron. Ironing seemed like the most useless and annoying chore on this planet, and I wasn’t going to be a part of it.
I slid the shirt over my head and stepped in front of the mirror. It fit a little tight, but that was okay. That just showed off my slim build to my advantage and made some of the wrinkles disappear. The sleeves were plenty long and the fabric gathered slightly at my wrists. I pulled down on the bottom edge of the shirt. It wasn’t too bad but would probably show skin if I had to reach my arms up. I wasn’t planning to do that, so it should be fine.
The bones glowed in the dimness of the room, even though the shirt had been in my drawer. I’d wear it around the house so it could absorb more light. I’d have to be careful not to spill anything on it while doing the dishes, but the more I wore it, the quicker the rest of the wrinkles would come out.
Luckily, I was able to load the dishes and wipe the counter without incident, and when I checked myself again, I was pleased with my half-assed attempt at participation. It would have to do, and at least I looked sexy. I’d put on my brown faux-leather pants that hugged my hips and showed off my long, slim legs. I was of average height and my black hair had begun to streak with gray, but I was fit and strong and didn’t look half bad tonight, if I was honest. Maybe the visit to the popular club would be worth it and I’d be able to bring someone home for the evening. It had been a while since I’d seen any action. I didn’t want to contemplate how long.
I went to the bathroom and used some gel to muss my hair into an artfully untidy style. At the last minute, I applied some black eyeliner that I saved for special occasions when I was feeling it. Even though my enthusiasm for the Halloween party was negligible, my interest in seducing a warm body for a few hours began to rise.
* * * *
The club was only a fifteen-minute drive from where I lived. I’d thrown my leather jacket over my outfit and hoped I’d be able to ditch it once I arrived. There was usually a coat check for these types of events.
The temperature outside was lower than it had seemed from inside. I blasted the heat in the car and used my seat warmers. I’d invested in a car with a few luxuries, now that my career was established and I could afford to.
It didn’t take me long to find a parking spot on the street near the club. I flipped up the neck of my jacket for the short walk, and when I drew near to the familiar building, I heard my name.
“Scott? Is that you?” The bouncer waved me over to the front of the modest line of costumed people waiting to get in.
“Hey, Shorty. Who put you on the door tonight?” I asked.
The burly bald man laughed. “I volunteered. Don’t need to put on a costume to do this job.”
He eyed me critically. “Speaking of which… I’m not supposed to let anyone in who isn’t wearing a—”
I spread my leather jacket open so he could see the glowing bones on my black shirt.
“Jesus, that’s pitiful…even for you.”
My cheeks flushed. “It counts. I’m a skeleton.”
Shorty laughed and waved me inside. “Fine. Next time, I want to see more effort.”
I gave him the finger as I stepped inside the club to his guffaws.
The small space was filled with costumed partyers. Sonny’s didn’t compare to the massive dance clubs downtown, but nights like this were popular, and it didn’t take as many people to crowd the club. It had once been a vintage Victorian townhome with three levels and a basement, and the first floor was always the most crowded and attracted the mainstream clientele. It was strange, really, that the higher up someone went in this place, the more alternative the patrons became. Usually, it was the other way around.
I only stayed long enough to have my coat checked and nod to Duke’s friend, Marcus, who was manning the bar. Duke would be on the second level, so I headed up there after scanning the crowd for an original costume and coming up empty.
Oh, there were guys who were trying, but nothing popped out at me as anything more than the standard, boring outfits on display every Halloween. In the days of my youth, when I’d gone trick-or-treating, Halloween had meant tasteless jabs at other cultures and graphic shock-inducing pokes at controversial subjects. It was a good thing times had changed and people were more respectful, but it had led to a lack of originality. Surely it was possible to come up with a unique, yet culturally respectful idea?
Normally, the half-dressed young men in deliberately provocative costumes would have garnered some interest from me—but not this year. Had I finally become so jaded that I couldn’t appreciate a kid covered in gold glitter and wearing a pair of angel wings? Now I felt skeezy, lusting after men half my age. Must be my British conservatism shining through. I was first-generation Canadian, and my parents were from London. I’d been raised in that stifling, stiff-upper-lip tradition.
I climbed the narrow stairs to the next level, which was darker, moodier and less crowded. When I made my way to the bar, Duke glanced up from the pint of Stella he was pulling and smiled.
“Hey, Scott! Glad you made it.” He scanned me from head to foot and raised his eyebrows. “Great costume! You must have spent months planning that out.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fuck off, Duke. I’m a skeleton.”
“You’re a corpse. Can’t believe I’m seeing you among the living.”
I narrowed my eyes and sat on a stool, leaning my elbows on the bar as Duke handed the frothy pint off to a vampire.
“Very funny. I need a beer.”
Duke sighed and nodded. “You need a lot more than that, Scott, and you know it.”
I made a face.
“When was the last time you got laid?”
Wow. Cut to the chase. Okay…
There was no point lying. I lied anyway. “I don’t know.”
“Yeah, you do. You’re a gay man. Well, pan, you said?”
I nodded, pleased he’d remembered.
“You know the date and time of your last hookup. Tell me I’m wrong.”
I stared at Duke with deliberate intensity, because the fucker was absolutely right.
“Goddammit,” I said.
“When was that, Scott? Last week? Last month? Last year?”
I licked my lips and took the bottle of Moosehead Lager Duke handed me. He knew what I liked…in entirely too many contexts.
“June fourteenth. Ten p.m. Grindr.”
“Uh-huh. How was it?”
I shrugged. “Fine.”
“You’re bored,” he said, leaning against the back counter and nodding sagely.
“Took you this long to figure that out?”
“Nah. Just confirming. Here you are in a club full of desperate, horny queers, and you look as if your dog just died.”
I couldn’t help laughing at that. “Is it that bad?”
“Oh yeah. It’s that bad.”
“Great.” I took a long swallow of my favorite lager and sighed. “I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Well, coming out tonight was a start.”
“I guess…maybe. I don’t know.” I gestured vaguely around us. “This Halloween bullshit doesn’t do it for me anymore.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yeah. It just seems like everybody’s trying too hard. Y’know?”
Duke nodded. “Sure.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. I’m old and jaded.”
“You’re only thirty-eight, Scott,” he said, with a shake of his head.
“Two more years and I’ll be forty.” I leaned toward him and whispered it like a shameful secret. “Forty!”
Duke gave me a withering look. “I’m forty-two. Thanks.”
I spat out the beer in my mouth. “What? No! How did I not know that?”
Duke gave me a big smile. “Because I don’t act like I’m eighty.”
“Wow. So, life doesn’t end at the big 4-0?”
“It does if you let it.” Duke picked up a cloth and wiped the bar where my mouthful of beer had landed.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No worries. That’s the most exciting thing to come out of your mouth in ages. Now you just need something fun to go in it.” He regarded me contemplatively. “You should go upstairs.”
I blinked. That was not what I’d expected him to say. “It’ll only be more of the same. I might as well hang out here with you.”
He tilted his head and continued to assess me silently.
“What’s upstairs?” I said, finally.
“Why don’t you go check it out?”
I sat up straighter, my curiosity getting the better of me. “I thought the Halloween party was for the whole place?”
“It was supposed to be. But a group had reserved the top floor months ago. We were originally going to have the Halloween party next weekend, on the actual thirty-first of October, but that didn’t pan out, so we had to do it a week early. They’d already booked the upstairs space.”
I narrowed my eyes at Duke. “What group?”
He nodded at the stairs. “Go on. Do something interesting for a change.” He leaned toward me. “I dare you.”
I lifted my beer and stood. “Fine. I’ll go. But if it’s just as boring up there, I’m coming back down and pissing you off all night.”
“Deal. Now go. And leave your preconceptions at the bottom of the stairs.”
“Nothing. See ya.”