's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Going Orange

Submitted by Claude Turner (email)

As I stepped out of the car and waited for my companions to exit, I could not help but consider that the large, stately building in front of me looked very unlike any restaurant I had ever seen. Located on the edges of the old town, bordering the country, it looked nothing else but like a mansion of the sort that was never popular in this part of the world, with no immediate neighbors besides it's own dark bulk situated on top of a great hill, and obscured by fog.

Patiently, I turned to my companions, frowning; it took the a few moments to notice, but Charles laughed when he saw my face.

"It used to be a community center or something, man, don't blame me for this." he said, nose red and whitish-blond hair falling on his face like thin strands.

"It was probably a mansion." Noah said flatly, looking at her boyfriend with mild annoyance.

"Wikipedia said it was both." Simon replied, glaring at the two as if being wrong annoyed him, "The old owners sold it to the state, it got converted into a couple of things, and it got bought. Now it's Vitello, open three days a month."

There was a general pause, possibly caused by Simon's light dramatics, which was soon followed by us shuffling off towards our destination. I looked at our surroundings; a little over a dozen cars were present in front of the alleged restaurant, with more likely obscured by the fog and the slope of the hill. Light music was playing from inside the building, although the lights only appeared to be lit on the first floor.

Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by a cheerful-looking young man wearing a standard waitstaff suit that was likely in vogue during the fifties who was present behind a hardwood countertop with vaguely greco-roman decor behind it; the room was quite small, almost as if it was once a patio of some sort, the lighting was dim, the walls and floor were wooden and dark, and it overwhelmingly smelled like apples. It was pleasantly warm, the the distant sound of chatter was heard, but the nearest hallway was hidden by a black curtain as opposed to a door; I found that curious, but not extraordinarily so.

"Williams, party of four?" said the man behind the counter, smiling cheerfully at our overly clothed selves. The host had fine cheekbones, a mop of fluffy brown hair, bright green eyes, and small brown beard with flecks of red. He looked like a grad-student, and, given the location, he might have been.

"Yes, that's correct." Charles said, removing his scarf before he spoke and producing a small card from his pocket and handing it off to the young host, who gave it a brief look before placing it on the table. The young man lifted a tablet device from under a small stack of papers, along with a stylus, and paused.

"Have any of you been here before?" he asked.

"No." Noah said, her previous annoyance gone from her face, instead sounding almost apologetic.

The host smiled, and nodded. He lifted the tablet with a slender hand, and motioned towards the black cloth separating us from the rest of the restaurant.

"Welcome to Vitello; the unique three-course dining experience you are about to participate in is unique to this location and this single day of the year; due to the special nature of this dining experience, no cellphones or cameras are allowed inside. If y'all could hand me your recording devices and sign off here..."

I, somewhat used to artsy affairs, handed over my cellphone smoothly; Noah had some reservations, but Simon and Charles both gave over their singular connections to the outside world, and she soon did so as well. After a few moments and a some quick signatures on the electronic dotted lines, the process was done, and the host seemed quite pleased.

"Excellent. Now if you could follow me, we can start immediately."

The host immediately raised himself from the chair; he was of middling height and moved swiftly, brushing past the dark curtain and ushering us past it with sudden haste. I, along with my friends, quickly found myself standing in the middle of a narrow hallway consisting of more black drapes, all hung from the ceiling; the only light being produced came from a singular lamp on a marble pedestal positioned roughly at the 'end', which seemed to lead to more cloth-lined corridors. The sound of faint chatter was immediately apparent, although it was unclear where it came from; perhaps from behind the curtains, or even from a recording device? Regardless, it was aggressively strange and I briefly considered if I was in a horror-movie like scenario. Turning to my companions, however, it was clear that I was not the only one unnerved, with Charles's tanned face wearing a slight frown and Noah outright stunned. Simon, however, just looked bored, although I suppose, given his profession, he would have seen stranger works of performance art than this.

We quickly walked down the hallway, single-file, and turned left at the end of the hall; the host brushed away the curtains, which revealed a hallway similar to the one we just walked down, and continued to move at a brisk pace until he stopped at the end and moved the curtain to the right, revealing a dimly-lit curved wooden booth nestled in a corner.

We quickly sat ourselves; the cushions were comfortable and there was a clear sense of atmosphere. The host took our drinks orders (wine for Simon and Noah, whisky for myself, and expensive whisky for Charles) and quickly left, leaving us in a position where we had quickly gone from a surrealistic environment to something more or less mundane, if luxurious, rather suddenly. After some slight murmurs, a conversation started; the sound of other conversations was barely audible now.

"So, Charles, did we get the Twin Peaks package or something?" Simon asked, his face slightly pale and scrunched up, as if he was sucking on a lemon.

"No, man, this place is great. It's European-Asian fusion cuisine, or something like that." Charles said, his baby blues wide and sparkling, giving the sullen artist the same innocent he gave to the single mothers at the gym classes he led near the university.

Simon made a noise of mild disgust.

"That doesn't mean anything." Noah said, eyes narrowed slightly at Charles; the image was overwhelmingly akin to a cat glaring at a big golden retriever, "What are we getting, fish antipasto with some pasta with raw scallops in't?"

"Hey," Charles replied, raising his hands and speaking in a playful manner, "This place is legit. If this place wasn't, it wouldn't be open, would it? No, this place has a seasonal menu and they have specials on all the major holidays like this. A buddy of mine went last year on Easter, and they had a whole rabbit baked in chocolate sauce. It's like getting a medieval feast."

"That sounds wonderful." Simon replied, sounding bored.

As my companions began to bicker about the exact nature of the establishment we were in, I opted to look at our environment; a small lamp above us produced all the light available, and the greyish light it produced was muffled by the darkness of the walls and the black curtains. The single large patch of available wall space had a simple picturesque woodland scene, depicting a unfrozen lake during the middle of winter in some dark, cold hinterland. I was searching if there were any hidden details around when our first course arrived, vi cart.

A large silver platter, along with four small plates, were positioned on the cart; the cart itself was being pushed by an round-faced blond girl who smiled broadly at us as she entered. Silently, she poured drinks for each of us, and stopped only when she was finished.

"The first course is the house variant on steak tartare." she said, her voice having some vague, unidentifiable accent to it. I had little time to analyze it, for she lifted the plate.

The plate had twenty or so long pieces of toasted dark bread, visibly warm in the ambient cold, situated around a lump of raw chopped meat roughly the size of a toddler's head. A salad of sorts surrounded the generous lump of meat topped with red onion and capers, and yellow egg yolks were positioned between each of the toast points in a manner that made it resemble a sort of exotic flower.

The waiter waited for a few moments, and exited the room while still smiling and pulling the cart through the same spot she came out of. There was a pause in the room.

Simon moved first, cutting a small sliver of the mound, along with a generous portion of egg, deftly spread it on the toast, and took a small bit from it. His eyebrows raised until they were obscured by his hair. He chewed on his mouthful for a few moments, and then took a sip of wine.

"That's not beef or horse." he said, sounding baffled.

Noah looked aghast at the mention of horses, while Charles chuckled and removed a generous portune for himself, along with some toast. The rest of us moved accordingly, taking our own slices of the serving with our forks.

I had to admit, it certainly did not taste like beef; I didn't know what horse tasted like, but it likely wasn't that, either. It was quite good, however; the flavors were perfectly balanced and the egg added to the texture instead of ruining it.

Noah, grudgingly glancing at her plate of raw meat, looked at Simon with mild annoyance. "Horse isn't legal in this county, jackass."

"Well, what do you suppose it is, deer?" Simon replied, taking another sip of his drink, possibly to fortify himself in his role as the conversational antagonist.

Noah was silent until the next serving, which occurred fifteen minutes later, with the tartare mostly vanished and roughly equally distributed.

The same girl appeared, this time carting around four separate plates; she refilled our glasses before continuing, and replaced our plates before sitting our new ones down. The waiter left without a single word, although she didn't seemed hurried to any extent.

The next course was simple enough; Beef Wellington paired with roasted potatoes.

Perfectly cooked, if I had to judge by sight, although Simon seemed to have some reservations regarding the meal.

I took a moment's pause; Charles was talking about recent politics with Noah, while Simon and I simply spoke about the recent activities of what counted as theater in our city. The meal went by quickly; it was quite possible that I had too much to drink, or perhaps too little, for I seemed to have finished my generous meal before the others.

A flurry of different courses graced the table before the end, all served by the same silent young woman; a single long blood sausage on dark bread; sticky pig-cheek meat on crackers with cranberry sauce; skewers of flame-touched red meat with a accompanying mug of dark beer with chocolate notes as if we were in some sort of ancient diner; a fruit plate stacked with ripe peaches, cured figs, and sliced apples, all sprinkled with cinnamon; a rack of lamb stylized as if they were part of a singular ribcage, connected with twine and covered with a sweet sauce similar to what was used for the ; all were present, and all were, to be frank, delicious. We were all quite thoroughly intoxicated, or at least tipsy, by the end; I even stopped observing our curious location and simply tried to appreciate this fine meal Charles had arranged before the waitress returned, this time bearing nothing but her smile. She leaned in slightly before she spoke, hands behind her back and eyes wide.

"Excuse me, but the manager would wish to invite you for further merriment in this establishment's main hall." she said chipperly, "We have a tradition here at Vitello where, at the end of the season, our seasonal stock are used to provide for a chef's party, with guests such as yourself allowed by invitation. Given that tonight is Halloween, this party starts at midnight and will last until dawn. Would you wish to join us?"

A gave a look towards Charles, who was giving Noah a shit-eating grin. Simon glared at the blond with annoyance, which I quickly reproduced. Asshole knew.

"Of course." Charles said, smiling at the the waitress, "It would be our pleasure, right gang?"

"Yeah Fred, whatever." Simon grumbled, although looking as if his interest was suddenly regained. He slowly stumbled out from his booth, the wine effecting him somewhat, but not horribly so.

Noah simply sniffled and nodded, standing up with the practiced grace of a recent sorority girl.

I shrugged.

The waitress clasped her hands in front of her with exaggerated glee (in my opinion) and quickly turned towards the curtains.

I then promptly noticed that I couldn't hear a single distant voice, but the distinct sound of woodwind instruments was audible.

The curtains around us then raised quite suddenly, and the entire room suddenly consisted of a vast darkness instead of a artificially enclosed one, a vast space that could have contained a hundred souls, or ourselves and that flute-player.

Quite quickly, I blacked out. It's possible the beer had mandrax in it.

I awoke with the slightest amount of nausea; curiously, I was also quite hungry, which was aggravating, due to the hangover I was experiencing. There was light and noise; if there wasn't, I would assume I had died, or had been transported into some sort of hell, regardless. I laid still on my stomach for a few minutes, taking my time to readjust myself; I heard a multitude of voices, I was on a rather large pillow positioned near a stone wall on a stone floor, and I could feel the faint vibrations of several dozen bodies walking around at once. Besides having no recollection of being transported, I felt quite fine and physically intact.

I took a moment to assess my situation; when I regretted doing so, I raised myself and looked forward. I blinked.

The room, to my pleasant surprise, had no immediate atrocities occurring. It resembled, if anything, a good-natured party, with what I would estimate to be roughly fifty or so individuals present in what was likely a cleared-out cellar of some sort; most in costume, with only a few lacking any festive outfit. Many were wearing simple formal black suits and dresses paired with green-grey makeup and yellow cat-eye contacts, and several held serving trays bearing cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

The rest of the room was more erratic, although no less entertaining; I spotted a trio of hags near a prop cauldron, each festering pustule on their faces shiny and moist in the dim light; there was a tall man with incredibly subtle backwards hands in a monk's robe chatting with a man wearing a extraordinarily convincing mask that made him resemble the current President of the United States; it was so convincingly lifelike, albeit with a obvious fleshy 'zipper'near the neck,  that I had to avert my gaze to softer sights. There was a moderate classical theme to the room, as well; carved pillars were arrayed around the walls and were decorated with fake moss and ivy, and there were several scantily clad nymphs paired with shaggy-faced green men wearing small deer horns; I patiently considered that said 'softer sights'were likely escorts, or at least entertainment, given that I could consider legitimately no reason as to why anyone would wander around a cold basement in what amounted to well-placed leaves on bare feet.

To my immediate left, there were a few tables, where a few seated individuals were chatting amiably, drinks usually in hand; I spotted a party of faux-devils, ranging from a brown-haired girl in a rather unconvincing outfit of wings and a horn to the professional-looking red devil sporting both hooves and horns and a muscled chest that could not possibly have been the result of any makeup magic. In the center of the room was a stone dais of considerable size; no one was upon it, and it was obscured from where I was standing, due to the crowd. To my immediate right, however, was the elaborate spread of food; I could not help but stare.

Three whole lambs, each with crispy brown skin and standing in a practical meadow of herbs, were somehow kept on all fours on a large plate and were paired with small tongs to pull off choice strips of flesh from between the ribs and near the face; a soup trough filled with some green-blue mixture with eyes floating at the top dominated a side of the table, near several large goblets filled with what could have passed as yogurty white pus with flecks of red and green; several dozen long fingers arranged around a bowl filled with some green snotty-looking dipping sauce, each with a different elegant design on the long 'nail'; a bucket of brown 'teeth'with pink gummy ends near a pile of chopped organs and hunks of yellow fat.

The most decadent presentation, however, was the sushi platter; on top of a massive flatfish resting in a trough of pinkish ice water away from the main presentation was what appeared to be a nude young woman, the skin on her back appearing to have been stripped off cleanly, leaving a bone spine and shoulder blades and strands of bright-red musculature exposed to the air. Little pieces of skin and meat and gelatinous fat stretched over lumps of rice and seaweed and were lined up against the spine until the rough area of the buttox, where large pieces of yellowish sashimi were present.

As I stared, I was taken by surprise by a nearby cough. I turned, startled slightly, towards the hostess from before, in full getup.

Her skin was a pale greenish-grey bruise color and her eyes and hair were the same shade of dark brown; her fingers were now blunt claws.Her outfit was quite leafy and small and resembled something that would have been appropriate from a arboreally themed club night; it went well with the array of red and pink flowers in her hair.The look on her face was somewhere between amusement and mild interest, and reddish smear around her left dimple didn't ruin the impressively subtle grey makeup she had.  I suddenly smelled cinnamon and fresh steak, and I realized that she had likely just ate.

While I was rather taller than her, I felt intimidated when she smiled; her canines were slightly larger than what I was familiar with.

"Want to come with?" she said, her voice a soft purr. She then proceeded to wiggle her eyebrows.

I blinked, and shook my head.

She blinked in response, and made a pumping motion with her scaly left hand.

After a hot flash of embarrassment, I shook my head again; this caused the hostess to frown slightly, but she quickly stepped away, leaving myself with a relatively wide berth in the chaotic room.

I took a moment to reconstitute myself, and began to look for a suitable exit to the room, which I quickly found, albeit very near some more individuals in bloody costumes, including what appeared to be a person made up to resemble a mobile man-shaped organ pile. Deciding that it was good for me to rest and take my time, I opted to stumble towards the closest empty table and sit down, suddenly feeling a wave of disorientation once again.

I believe I sat for ten minutes or so before the dancing began. At some point, a helpful waiter placed a seltzer water near me, which I sipped at as I nursed my head.

I briefly considered if I had wandered onto the set of some BBC show for a few moments, because the music that began to play consisted of light fluting noises seemingly produced by a few shaggy-legged satyrs standing on the dias nearby and the vast majority of the crowd seemed content to begin dancing in a manner that I could only describe as professional-looking. I was never one for dancing, but I knew I could appreciate fine dancing; every twisting jump and strained torso and raised arm held the sort of elegance that I would normally associate with a professional dancer or ballerina, and it was all done with casual ease, and in heavy costumes.

I briefly considered if I had wandered into some sort of underground fetish party for fans of White Wolf products before I noticed the two individuals seated near me. Too dazed to make a suitable reaction, I just turned my head in a manner that I imagine was similar to that performed by a individual at the very end of every pub in the country.

The host was dressed up as a satyr; goat horns emerged from his curly brown hair and his iris's were hourglass-shaped, bare of any clothing above the waist. His was built like a swimmer and leaned back in the chair with both hairy arms placed on the table, around a bottle of something opaquely whitish with oily bubbles floating in it.

Besides him was a rather striking woman; black nails like tiny knives graced pale white hands, and her hair was long and thick and black and went past her shoulders. Her dress was simple and black; she wore it on her thin frame like a tree wears frost. Her horns were a foot away from touching the ceiling and were thin and sharp and had something erratic hanging off each individual finger-long prong; a ribbon wrapped around one, a teddy bear impaled between two, a few pairs of shoes, strings of raw-looking antler velvet, the occasional leaf and bird feather and clump of animal hair; all gracing a pale mask with simple eye-slits and no mouth.

I took a moment to have a sip of seltzer, and looked out at the crowd again.

"Are you enjoying the party?" said a cool, cold voice next to me; I did not turn to look at the woman, and, finding that the dancing in front of me was beginning to blur into impossible motions and odd acts, I closed my eyes.

"I don't dance or do casual sex."

The woman hummed, and then let out a small amount of laughter. It hurt to hear; it was like a knife was taken to my brain and began to carve it like a pumpkin. I could not possibly blame this situation on a hangover, at this rate.

"At Vitello, we try to provide," the woman said, pausing to snicker, "a unique experience. For everyone involved, in fact. We've been watching you, Thomas; your friends don't know about your foreign excursions like we do, but it's on the inside that counts. Someone like you comes only rarely, even to us; we find individuals like you wonderful."

The room, quite suddenly, resembled a crowd of lean figures with big eyes and hungry faces. If I squinted, some looked human; most did not, however. I considered the situation, and I sipped at the whisky in front of me that I didn't remember asking for. In the very back of the room, I saw two figures seated in chairs sucking from rubbery tubes that seemed to emerge from the neck of the prone bound body laying between them. One of them took a pull at the tube with half-lidded eyes with the same pleasure an elderly executive would at a oxygen mask.

"It's rather convenient you have arrived tonight; within a week's time, the vast majority of the drones here will be elsewhere, in the new colonies. We expect to be a hundred thousand strong by this time next year, with the new brooding chambers under what you would call Beijing to be in full production by spring. Opening up the old paths here will be it's own reward, however; you apes never made it here during our golden age, and while you have ruined much of the land, we can still work with it."

I looked back at the party, which had ceased. The thing in the presidential mask was starting to grab at the fleshy knob at the back of his neck; when it popped with a wet burst, he stuck two fingers in the wound and pulled upwards in a hooking motion until the mask flopped forward simply pooled on the floor like a lump of afterbirth, dead boneless flesh. The thing smiled at me afterwards. I attempted to ignore it.

As the woman continued to talk, two of the grey things in formalwear went on all fours and tried to grab at the rubbery flesh-mask on the floor. This was met with quiet merriment from the partygoers, and the mask was pulled at and torn by the two hungry things.

"Human, I offer you a great honor that your companions refused; an ambassadorship." the creature said smugly, "My kind has always appreciated actors and good theater; our highest lords were flattered when they were named in the Shake-Spear's plays. The art of a good lie is something considerably more of value to your kind than a truthful word, is it not? What I require of you is to tell obvious lies and convince others of their truthfulness; this, I believe, is the great advantage of apes over us, and as a learned and lettered human, you could distribute our promises and bounty across the earth. The Unseelie would have you butchered and slaughtered on the old stones and gorge on your young, but we would have you humans raised to glory and bounty unseen elsewhere. You will live in peace and prosperity, in exchange for your freedom. You do have a choice in all this; a pound of flesh, or all of you."

There was a sudden ripping noise; one of the two creatures had one the fight, and was busy ripping out the loser's throat. Bluish blood spattered on the floor and quickly hardened, like liquid crystal, and the winner began to eat away at the loser's stomach like a jackal. The piping noise began to grow louder, and out of the corner of my eye I saw that the goatish man near me was smiling in a way that, in other days, I would describe as demonic.

After a few moments pause, I gave my answer.

The woman laughed, and clapped once; one of the creature's, grey body entirely smooth of any sextual markers and bearing a small covered platter, walked over the table and produced a knife and fork for my use, and quickly returned to the crowd watching the cannibalism taking place, which had since been joined by several others, including the thing with the mask, which was busy fighting three of the smaller creatures like a bear against wolves.

I slowly raised the lid off the plate; I considered my options, and indulged myself.

Charles and Noah were quite a fine couple, but Noah and Simon's unborn daughter, with the blue wine that was later provided to accompany the flavor? A finer coupling.