The laughter was guttural and grating. Not human. I hesitated. There could be any number of things on the other side of that door. Any predator or evil force could be behind it, the laughter signs of their celebrations about some form of victory or another. They could be in the midst of plotting their next works of evil and talking about stealing hearts of good men.
No good could come of it.
And yet something pushed me to reach out for the doorbell and ring it. Some wizard, I was. This was just looking for trouble. But it couldn't be helped. I was already in too far to back out. So, I waited til someone answered the door and pasted a big smile on my face.
Convincing? Probably not. But it would disguise me well enough to pass as one of these… people… for awhile at least.
The lady, tall blonde and with ruby lips, led me down the hallway and in through a door. There gathered the rest of the cultish group. About thirteen of them sat in chairs, on couches and on the floor on pillows, all focused on one of their members.
Piles of offerings, some ripped open and others left untouched, told me how far things had gone. They were nearing the end. I smiled at the women, trying not to look at any of them for too long to keep free of suspicion, but being the only male in the room that was most difficult. I tried to slink away to head for the exit, but…
"Dresden," the woman in the centre said. She smiled widely and I felt my stomach drop out.
Oh, no. No. She'd seen me. My time in the shadows, as fleeting as it had been, was no more. I tried to sink back into them but to no avail.
She had her victim in mind and soon she would sink her claws into me. "Harry," she said, carefully climbing to her feet and moving across the room to me. The rest of the women watched eagerly; a few murmurs went between them. "You're early."
"Yeah," I said. "I am. You know how it is. I was in the neighbourhood."
"Well you can wait then. We're not done here yet."
I sighed. Of course not. I had hoped – and convinced myself on the trip back – that on seeing me return, she would cut things short and we could all go our separate ways. The excitement of the day must have gotten to her though.
"Alice was kind enough to hold this event, so the least I can do to show my appreciation is to stay the whole way through."
She had a point, but I preferred my point. "I'm bored."
"Grow up," she said. There was equal amusement and annoyance in her voice. "You're going to be a father soon."
"I know," I said, smiling some more. This time it wasn't faked. I gently placed a hand over her stomach. A series of murmurs and squeals behind us made me freeze. I remembered we weren't alone. Danger still surrounded us.
"You've got to be more patient," she said.
"You're telling me you're actually having fun here?" I asked, picking up on an off look in her eyes.
She nodded quickly. "Yes."
"I don't believe you," I said calmly. "Which is why I think you'll say yes to this. Come with me now. Leave, and we'll go and get the most expensive meal we can find. Or you can stay here with… your cult of cooing mothers."
"Harry," she protested against my insult. She didn't protest very hard or for very long. "I suppose I'm feeling a bit like some rest."
"Great," I said. "I'll meet you in the car."
I hurried outside before she could change her mind, pausing only momentarily by the door to check she was in fact sticking to the plan. I heard her apologise to Alice and claim she was feeling tired. A number of "awws" and other endearments followed.
My stomach flipped again and I wondered if she would succumb to their sad little calls. But then someone told her to go and not to worry about it. She should rest.
Relief filled me. Of all the things I had faced, this baby shower and the prospects of getting out alive had been that which was most pressing on my mind.
Alas, we had been saved. The beasts had not been as savage as I had imagined.