Christine grabbed his arm and pulled his head down. She whispered urgently in his ear. “Dad, I can’t find Goliath!”
Even in the black lighting, Mike could see his little girl’s ‘something-is-really-wrong-and-I’m-trying-really-hard-to-be-cool-about-it’ face. Dark curls framed his daughter’s cherubic countenance—which presently wore a too-brittle smile plastered in place. Her big round blue eyes gleamed too brightly.
“What?” Surely the twelve-year-old hadn’t just said what he thought he’d heard.
“Dad!” The midget Jedi Master tugged again. He leaned even closer, mindful of not hitting her with the Hawkman wings strapped to his back, and of not smacking her in the face with the small wings on his half mask.
Conversations competed with the background soundtrack of Halloween songs. Another CD played random spooky sounds including doors slamming, wolves howling, chains rattling, cats screeching, humans screaming, and evil maniacs cackling. He strained to hear over the cacophony of sound.
Her small hands clamped on his arm as tightly as a tourniquet.”I can’t find Goliath!”
He straightened with a jerk, scanning the Halloween party swirling around him. Sixty people, his and his wife’s friends and colleagues from the university. His Hawkman wings just missed a spiderweb-covered lamp on a table. He frowned, trying unsuccessfully to smooth the ridges from his forehead, not that anyone could see them under his mask. “Where’s your mother?”
If any of the guests discovered their daughter’s furry friend first, the party would become legend, no doubt. One of epic proportions.
Christine shrugged, also looking all around their living room. “Dunno. Bathroom? Kitchen?”
At least with the cold October weather and all the doors closed tight, Goliath couldn’t get outside, thank heavens. But that also meant she was inside the house somewhere with sixty unsuspecting partygoers.
For the briefest instant, hysteria bubbled up in him and he considered announcing a scavenger hunt, with a prize for the first person to locate the missing pet.
“Everything all right, Mike?” Evidently, the president of the university hadn’t missed his reaction.
Normally a stately woman with snow-white hair and flawless taste in business suits, Jan Kagen’s swarthy skin was now gray and mud-streaked, her hair in disarray and mussed with dirt, and her jeans and sweatshirt—a formerly blue and white university sweatshirt—torn and stained with grime and ‘blood’.
He forced a smile and kept his voice as steady as he could. “Kid crisis. Sorry. Excuse me just a moment, please.”
He liked the president but considered her a friendly coworker/boss’s boss rather than an actual friend. He didn’t know her all that well, and he didn’t know how she felt about animals. For the safety and comfort of their guests—and equally, for the safety and comfort of all the non-humans—none of the animals had the run of the house at the moment like they otherwise would.
He guided his daughter out to the relative quiet of the hallway parallel to the living room, dining room, and the kitchen. “Go upstairs and make sure she’s not in Meg’s room. Look again,” he cut her off when she opened her mouth, the word “but–” on her lips. He didn’t want Goliath crawling in with their sleeping two-year old. “Then search the whole upstairs again. Start with all her favorite places, but search everywhere. Make sure no one else gets out.”
He took her by the shoulders and turned her around, giving her a nudge to the stairway running alongside the inside wall of the hall. He watched until she turned the corner at the top, disappearing to where it opened out onto a landing overlooking the living room, dining room and kitchen. Five doors led to three bedrooms, a bathroom, and the master suite.
He jogged down the hall, avoiding the lifesized animatronic mummy guarding the door to the bathroom. It groaned and stretched out its arms as Mike’s proximity activated the motion sensor. They had two dozen animatronics of all sizes—mummies, bats, witches, black cats, vampires, and a dancing blue whale singing “Under the Sea”—all around the first floor.
In the sprawling kitchen, he found Hawkwoman and a Union general. His wife Miranda and a fellow professor from the veterinary medicine department stood on either side of the island. They were sticking licorice spider legs into the black-iced cupcakes sitting beside the black cat cutout cookies and marshmallow ghosts.
Thank heavens it was a fellow vet. Mike didn’t need to worry about alarming him when he told his wife, “Hon, Goliath got out.”
Miranda dropped her cupcake which splatted upside down on the tray. Not even righting it, she thrust the tray into General Al’s hands. “Take this out, would you please, then look around out there and make sure you don’t see her.”
Smirking, he accepted the food. “This should be interesting.”
Al cut through the dining room, where the long oval table already held a plethora of food, and circulated with the cupcakes all while looking around.
Miranda picked up what looked like a heavily used litter box complete with scoop. In fact, it held a concoction of crumbled white cake and tootsie rolls. She handed it to her husband, and picked up the second one and some plates and forks. “I’ll put mine in the dining room and look there.”
“I’ll take this to the family room.” They didn’t have much food in the slightly smaller room on the other side of the living room. With less traffic, Goliath could easily have slipped in there and hidden among the tombstones.
“Thriller” concluded and “Monster Mash” started as he put the litter box on a wide tombstone and set the plates and forks on another beside it. At the moment, no one besides him occupied the room. He quickly shut the door. Disregarding the ambiance, he flipped the switch for the overhead light.
The fake body slumped over the desk looked undisturbed, but Mike checked just to ensure Goliath wasn’t curled up under it. Nor did he see her under the desk or on any of the bookshelves. Nor did she lurk among any of the dozen tombstones.
One room clear. He pulled the door shut again behind him and locked it as he left. Hopefully he could reopen it before anyone even realized. At a loss, he stood and surveyed the living room. Talking and laughter continued unabated—as did plenty of eating and munching.
Al had set down his tray and was trying—almost successfully—to search the room without looking like he was hunting for something.
One of the guests—Dumbledore—gave a hearty laugh and exclaimed, “What a great tarantula! Looks so real!”
Mike, Miranda and Al all froze for a split second then made beelines toward the voice.
Dumbledore stood with his back to everyone else, looking at Goliath who, for her part, reared up with the front half of her eight-inch torso and hissed, baring her half-inch fangs and waving her hairy forelegs. When she sprawled out, the spider easily exceeded the width of a twelve-inch dinner plate.
Al got there first. “It does, doesn’t it?”
No arachnologist like Miranda, Al still liked spiders—even a collosal goliath bird-eater from South America— and had handled Goliath before. And, luckily for him, he wore formal white dinner gloves with his uniform.
At once swift and gentle, he reached out while Goliath focused wholly on Dumbledore and scooped her up—avoiding fangs and flailing legs—and whirled toward the stairs in one smooth motion, saying, “It needs a new battery.”
Dumbledore looked wide-eyed, dubious and faintly ill, but most of the guests hadn’t noticed anything at all. Patting his shoulder and moving away before he could ask, Mike quickly unlocked the door to the ‘cemetery’ and Miranda loudly encouraged everyone to enjoy the feast.
The Halloween spooks and spirits had favored them that time.
Mike took a deep breath and allowed himself to relax.
Then he chuckled and shook his head, spotting a second interloper. At some point, their coal black cat Jitters had also managed to join the party. He lay sound asleep atop the corner hutch in the dining room.
At first, Mike thought of leaving him there. Then he decided, better safe than sorry.
Even as he moved in that direction, he saw President Kagen glance up and spy the feline above her head. Automatically, she reached up to pet him. . .
. . .startling him out of a sound sleep. Jitters let out a yowl that evoked an equally startled shriek from Kagen and launched himself sideways, going in an impossibly horizontal line until he landed on the buffet table.
Kagen jerked back and got entangled with another guest who dropped his plate full of food in an unsuccessful attempt to free his hands and catch her. Flailing, they both landed on the floor in a heap.
Jitters darted back and forth across the table and in all the food as several people attempted to corral him or screamed and attempted to stay out of his way. Dishes clattered to the floor, food spattered everywhere and on everyone, until Jitters sprang up and over Julius Caesar—claws shredding his bare shoulder—and raced for dear life through the living room. People leapt out of the way of the insane shadow creature. Guests knocked over just as much food and decorations as the cat did before he streaked up the stairs.
In under a minute, their home looked like a tornado had just roared through.
Mike fought back laughter and tears. Standing side by side, wings crowding each other, he and Miranda met each other’s eyes through their masks.
“Gee, thank heavens we found Goliath,” she said wryly.
Of epic proportions.