Tom was giddy. Here was his chance to prove himself capable to his friends! As a new homeowner, he had not only a place to host parties, but also an above ground pool and deck. Rather than be late to everything, he could take credit for organizing everything. His best friends, Jack and Stephen, were somewhat skeptical.
"You haven't even unpacked, and already you want to host a party?" Stephen scoffed.
"You've heard of a housewarming party!" Tom insisted.
"Tom," Jack interjected, "you don't throw those for yourself. That's telling people to get you gifts."
"Fine," Tom said. "We'll call it a cookout, backyard barbecue, whatever. Pool party."
"Do you even know how to operate a pool?" quizzed Stephen.
"How hard can it be?" laughed Tom. "Fill it up with water, and all the pool stuff's in the garage."
"Give him a break," Jack told Stephen. "He's got a point. How hard can it be?"
Stephen avoided eye contact but relented.
Saturday, Tom was almost ready. He had ribs to barbecue, napkins, the good paper plates, and enough sunscreen for a small country. He obsessively vacuumed the house and worried about everything he could think of that could go wrong. No one would come to the right house. No one would come on time. No one would come at all. With his free hand, he rubbed the back of his head to feel if he was balding. He was sure he was balding even though everyone else assured him it was too soon to tell. There was this one spot that felt awfully thin to his fingertips.
The doorbell rang, distracting Tom from his worries. He jumped and stumbled over the vacuum. Jack and Stephen were at the door, their arms full of hamburgers and hot dogs.
"You have buns, right? Stephen asked Tom.
"Um, no? squeaked Tom. "I just bought ribs. And napkins and the good paper plates!" he added proudly.
Stephen shot Jack a sour look.
"Well, we have a dozen people," reasoned Jack. "Surely someone will fill the void. Tom, why don't you go change while we set up outside?"
Tom nodded and put away the vacuum. Then he went back to the bedroom to put on a Hawaiian shirt, board shorts, and a quart of sunscreen. Stephen and Jack headed in the opposite direction for the deck.
"This is really nice," Stephen said, his attitude softening for the first time.
"Yeah, cut Tom some slack. This place is perfect, and he picked it out," Jack reminded him.
"Even the grill is really nice," Stephen beamed. "There's a mini-fridge to keep the hamburgers and hot dogs cool."
"Hey!" came a voice from below deck.
"Ben?" Jack called out.
"The one and only," Ben affirmed as he galloped up the stairs. "Got anywhere I can put down these steaks?"
Stephen rolled his eyes, but Jack just smiled as he let Ben in and pointed out the mini-fridge.
"Boy howdy!" Ben hollered, "I sure hope somebody brings chips, or watermelon, or basically anything else." He forced the steaks in one by one alongside the beef patties and franks.
"Anything I can do to help set up?" Ben inquired.
"I think we've got it covered over here," Stephen answered. "Why don't you go in and ask Tom?"
Tom was ten minutes into applying sunscreen. Which meant his arms so far.
"Hey, buddy!" shouted Ben. "Anything I can do before the rest of the gang gets here?"
"Hmm," muttered Tom, only halfway paying attention.
Before Ben could walk away, Tom had an idea. "Why don't you look in the garage and get some chlorine to put in the pool?"
Ben wrinkled his brow. "You mean you haven't done that yet?"
Tom wrinkled his brow back. "No, why?"
Ben sighed. "Because four of us are already here? Never mind. I'm going."
Tom waved him off and began to apply sunscreen to his neck for the next ten minutes.
Back on deck, Jack went to admit two more guests.
"We're not late, are we?" Heather fretted.
"No, you're right on time," Jack assured her.
"Whew!" exhaled Heather. "I told you I had time to wax my legs."
Diane appeared right behind her in a hot pink bathing suit. "They looked fine."
Heather flashed a perfect smile. "Now they look finer."
Diane ignored her. "Where do we put these?"
Stephen's eyes grew wide. "What have we here?" he asked, accepting large bundles from them.
"Sherry," gushed Heather. "We figured Tom wouldn't have much of a bar yet."
"Tom doesn't drink," reminded Jack.
"Well, I guess we better not let this go to waste!" Heather chortled, and Diane tried to ignore her again.
"We also brought pork chops," Diane added.
"You'll have to put those inside," Stephen instructed. "We're a little overstocked on meat."
Diane and Heather followed Stephen into the kitchen and loaded the wine bottles and pork chops methodically into the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, in the garage, Ben was ducking so as not to hit his head on the rafters, yet tiptoeing so as not to trip over a push lawnmower. Behind it, he saw two large yellow plastic pails.
"What luck!" he said, reaching for the closer pail. Both were covered in dust, but this one was not also covered in cobwebs. Not to mention, the cobwebs still had spiders in them. "Good thing there's two, or I'd have to go back for reinforcements."
Fatefully, rather than grab the pail marked "Chlorine," he grabbed the one marked "Curse of the Werewolf." Ben hummed a Foo Fighters song to himself as he strutted back from the garage toward the pool with the heavy pail. "In we go!" he announced as he emptied its contents into the pool.
"What's that stuff?" asked Patrick.
"When'd you get here?" answered Ben, "and haven't you ever seen chlorine before?"
"Not the stuff inside," Patrick teased. "That gray fur on top. The last time somebody here dusted must've been 1961."
"Nathaniel and Patrick just got here," Jack announced. "Guess what they brought! Beer and brats."
"Great!" Ben replied, paying more attention to the pool than to Jack. For good measure, he stuck his arm in the water to stir it.
"Are you nuts?" shouted Stephen. "You don't stir in chlorine with your bare hands. That stuff'll burn your skin!"
"Whatever," Ben dismissed. "It feels warm, but I can take it." Then for good measure, he splashed Stephen and Jack in the face as he lifted his arm out.
"What did I do?" Jack demanded, but breaking into a smile.
Heather and Diane returned to the patio with Frank and Carmen, who had come to the front door. "I hope you're hungry!" Frank told everyone there. "To ensure plenty of choice, I brought both chicken and fish."
Jack and Stephen groaned audibly, then grinned wide enough to overcompensate. Frank never noticed because Heather ran up to him and gave him a hug. In the commotion, Carmen threw off a light jacket and jumped straight into the pool.
Frank gave Heather a peck on the cheek but broke away. "Where's Tom?" he asked Jack.
Jack laughed. "In back, getting ready."
"How long's he need to get ready? It's his house. Oh, is he still vacuuming?"
"Nah, applying sunscreen."
"Guess I'll go ahead and get comfy, then."
A couple of hoots came from below deck.
"Anybody up there?" Dave wondered rhetorically.
"No!" cawed Nathaniel and Patrick. Dave and Jason ignored them and stepped up to the gate.
"Please tell me you didn't bring meat," Jack begged, and Frank turned around, confused.
"Nope," said Dave, "just good old beer," and Jason displayed a case on ice.
Frank continued inside to change. "Tom, you all right in there?"
Tom muttered "Uh-huh," so Frank went into the bathroom just long enough to hang up his shirt and get a towel. He already had on trunks and a pair of sunglasses around his neck.
"Sheesh, did everybody else bring meat?" asked Dave.
"I brought sherry!" bragged Heather.
"We brought wine," Diane corrected her.
"Everybody brought meat or booze," Jack bemoaned. "But everybody made it, and we still have almost an hour's sunlight, so let's not worry about it."
"Works for me," Dave agreed. "Jason and I better get started grilling, I guess."
Rather than protest, Jason took out the beef patties and began arranging them on the grill.
Frank brought out his towel and a tray of glasses for the sherry. "Tom sure is absorbed in his ritual in there," he observed to Jack, and Stephen nodded in agreement.
Heather noticed Frank with the glasses and squealed in delight. "I guess now we can get this party started!" she exclaimed, and Diane went to open one of the wine bottles.
"Do you want some, Ben?" she asked Dave.
"Nah, thanks. Carmen's trying to see how long she can hold her breath, and she wants me to time her."
"Ew, wash your hands first," advised Diane. "Your fingernails are all dirty."
"Whoa," Ben remarked. "Dunno what it is, but it's not coming off."
"Well, a good soak in the pool should get it off," Diane assured him. "It's just the one hand anyway."
While Dave and Jason fired up the grill, Diane and Heather sat and sipped sherry with Frank on the steps leading into the shallow end. Ben waded over to the deep end, where Carmen already was seeing how long she could hold her breath.
Carmen lifted her head above water. "You look nice, Ben!" she yelled.
"You, um, hi!" Ben stammered. Carmen had looked better. "Shall we get started?" he asked, anxious.
"Sure!" she said, not noticing his discomfort, and pushed to the bottom of the pool. This was easy: Ben only had to look at the stopwatch, not Carmen.
"Cannonball!" shouted Nathaniel, one second before he splattered water all over everyone within a twelve-foot radius.
"You're worse than Ben," Jack chided him.
"Encore!" shouted Patrick, curled into a ball and splashing everyone again. Jack, who was distracted, swallowed about a pint of pool water.
Diane refilled her glass halfway, then walked over to Jack. "Don't be such a wet blanket," she advised him and gently massaged his shoulders. "The point of a pool party is to get wet, right? Into the pool already," she coaxed him. "And by the way, nice moustache!"
Diane giggled and dove into the pool, and Jack couldn't tell if she was serious or not. He followed and purposely fell in alongside her.
"Is anybody hungry yet?" Jason inquired, incredulous. Dave had abandoned him at the grill when Diane got up. There were a few murmurs from the pool in response, but Dave overshadowed them.
"No swimming for an hour after we eat, remember? There'll be plenty of time to eat after we do laps around the pool and work up an appetite. Besides, daylight's fading fast."
Jason sighed and looked up at the beautiful pink sunset. He took a swig of beer, then removed his glasses, ran across the deck, and jumped into the pool, clumsily but without as big a splash as some of the others.
"Is Tom still inside?" Heather asked no one in particular. Tom was still in his bedroom at the far end of the house, having worked his way down to his knees so far with the sunscreen. At this rate, he'd be lucky to get outside before the last hamburger was gone. It didn't matter that the sun was going down; he'd looked a half-hour through moving boxes for his sunscreen, and he wasn't taking any risks, right?
Carmen was making progress with how long she could hold her breath underwater; Ben was still timing her without a lot of enthusiasm. There was no one to talk to over there, except when she surfaced to ask if she had set a new record yet.
"Tsk tsk," Heather whispered to Stephen, who gave her a blank look. "Poor Carmen," explained Heather. "I never noticed before, but some of those Mediterranean girls are cursed with an inordinate amount of body hair. You can shave your legs, but not really your arms."
"Oh, wow!" Stephen marveled when Carmen resurfaced. "Maybe you could take her to a spa for her birthday?"
Then Patrick did another cannonball, a flash of green trunks followed by a blinding spray of lukewarm water.
"Man, those burgers are sounding better and better," mused Frank, licking his lips.
"You said it, dude!" Dave agreed.
"But you were the one who wanted to wait!" Jason protested. Dave shushed him, but Jason was too distracted by Frank drooling into the pool to notice.
"Frank, uh, it's all right if you want to get out, and go ahead and fix your plate, or something," Jason suggested.
Frank just shot him a big grin and stayed put.
"Know what's weird?" Diane called out to Ben, and he met her halfway. "I can smell all sorts of things out here: flowers, the hamburgers, even people's sweat. But even though I saw you stir it in, I can't smell the chlorine to save my life."
Ben moved in and planted a big kiss on her mouth, and Diane stared back at him. "Did you even hear what I said?" she asked, and when he didn't answer, shrugged and started kissing him back.
"Look at those two!" Heather exclaimed, and almost everyone did.
"What a couple of lovebirds," Frank observed, and Dave recommended they get a room. Frank got out of the pool long enough to go inside and retrieve the chicken and fish he had brought.
Dave took the opportunity to draw closer to Heather. "Dave, when did Ben—" Jason began, and Dave turned around with a snarl. "Never mind, Dave," Jason whimpered.
Jack waded over to Jason. "You know," Jack told him, "I was worried this party would never get off the ground. But I can't remember the last time I felt this good. Yow!"
Jason stared at Jack and everyone else and tried to figure out what was off about his friends. But his head was heavy, from fatigue or hunger or however much beer he had consumed, and he closed his eyes and fell into a comfortable float. Jack laughed and gave him a friendly, if rough, slap on the shoulder.
Frank came back from the kitchen with the chicken and fish. He gnawed at a drumstick as he approached the grill and set everything else down. Before returning to the pool, he snapped off another drumstick and started on it.
"Wouldn't that be better cooked?" Stephen asked.
"Oh," Frank answered absent-mindedly, still chewing on it as he approached Heather and Dave.
Stephen frowned and surveyed the deck. Nathaniel and Patrick sat on the side, their legs dangling in the water. Dave was ogling Heather, and Jason looked half-asleep as he floated aimlessly across the pool.
"Nathaniel! Patrick! Would you mind taking over the grill from Dave and Jason?"
Nathaniel and Patrick bounded over to the barbecue area and balanced against the grill. They put the fish and remaining chicken on the grill, but rather than restore heat, they started sampling the fish.
Diane and Ben were by the diving board, still kissing and oblivious to everyone else. Heather was at the opposite end, still on the steps with Dave pawing at her. Heather moved out of reach when Frank returned and sat down at an awkward angle.
Heather's attention back on Frank, Dave shook himself dry and ran on all fours onto the diving board and off again. The splash not only completely soaked everyone in the pool, but also, it distracted Frank long enough for Dave to rejoin them. Before long, Frank and Dave were serenading Heather very badly. Several neighborhood cats screeched back at them from a considerable distance.
Jason drifted backward until he bumped into Carmen, or what he thought was Carmen. No, that couldn't be Carmen. Did Tom have a dog? Whatever it was, it tossed Jason a beach ball, which he caught and tossed back. He stood in the water, and the two played catch this way for ten minutes, and Jason's sense of dread set with the sun.
No one noticed Nathaniel and Patrick abandon the grill. Having had their fill of fish, they charged at Heather, who screamed. Barking laughter, they chased her around the pool. Undeterred, Frank and Dave continued their competition for her affection, each attempting to howl louder than the other.
Stephen stood beside Jack in the middle of the pool, letting his guard down at last and laughing along with Nathaniel and Patrick.
"This isn't normal," Stephen mused to Jack.
"No," confirmed Jack, "it's awesome."
"Finally!" Tom exclaimed as he wiped the tips of his ears of excess sunscreen. He took one last look in the mirror, smiled, and squatted just long enough to wipe a globule of sunscreen off his big toe. He looked out the window and frowned as the sun slipped beneath the darkening horizon. He shrugged, then grabbed a towel and walked across his new house toward the den and its attractively curtained sliding glass door.
Tom threw aside the door and burst out onto the deck, short of breath and long on excuses. "Sorry I'm late, guys, I couldn't risk a repeat of those third-degree burns… I got… last… time."
In the pool were six werewolves, ranging in color from blond to sepia. At the edge of the pool were five more werewolves, four in trunks and one in a purple bikini. All eleven werewolves stopped what they were doing to direct their gaze at Tom.
"Who are you?" Tom stammered, his voice an octave higher than usual. "This is a gag, right?" he asked as the werewolves all drew a step nearer, then another. "I'll have you know this is my house!" he threatened, and all eleven werewolves proceeded to advance as a pack.
His eyes scanning for any avenue of escape, Tom eventually bolted for the sliding glass door. Nathaniel and Patrick had the advantage of being the closest to him and were at his heels right away. Tom made a beeline for the bedroom, but Patrick tripped him, and Nathaniel raised himself onto his hind legs to tower over Tom.
"Whatever you are, don't eat me!" Tom sobbed. "What did you do to my friends? You'd better not be my friends! Oh, why did I offer to host this party? I could've gone to Disney World! I could've gone to McDonald's!"
Nathaniel ignored him and hoisted him as if Frankenstein's monster. Strictly business now, he carried Tom, struggling, back onto the deck where the other werewolves lay in wait. Patrick followed on all fours, tongue hanging out and tail wagging vigorously.
Frank and Dave had resumed their howling at Heather, but they stopped again at the sight of Nathaniel restraining Tom. "Let me go, you animal!" Tom sputtered. "I taste terrible! I'm high in cholesterol! I'm a coward! Whatever you do, don't eat me!"
Patrick and the other werewolves formed a huddle by the steps, as Nathaniel held Tom with his front legs like some monster baseball pitcher. Tom's eyes met twenty yellow ones before the steps. Terrified, Tom shut them as Nathaniel reared back, and Tom felt himself fly over the slavering werewolves. He waited for the slice of sharp teeth across his flesh and was surprised when he hit the water instead. He looked up to see werewolves in Jack and Stephen's swimwear, still standing upright in the water.
They leered at him, then pulled him under. He pushed back up to the surface, but as soon as he would protest, they would pull him under again. This happened too many times to count, Tom screaming for help, and eventually realizing either they were playing with him before eating him, or in fact not interested in eating him. After all, he tasted terrible and was high in cholesterol. The werewolves were good listeners.
Tom was so happy not to get eaten, he didn't mind so much when his hands and feet reshaped awkwardly, and his legs, arms, and chest became hairier than is socially acceptable. He didn't even mind when his Hawaiian shirt ripped at the seams; it was getting too tight anyway. "Must be something in the water," he reasoned, "either acid rain or phosphates or that old container of Curse of the Werewolf I meant to throw out."
The pool party went on all night, and almost no one could remember a better time. The only exception was a neighbor who made a noise complaint to the police that a dozen werewolves in brightly colored bathing suits were making a nuisance of themselves.
"What kind of idiot would believe that?" grumbled Chief O'Hara, crumpling up the report and throwing it away.