by James Woodruff
James Woodruff is an author from Northeastern Ohio. He has published stories in Nth Degree, Short-Story.Me and 96th of October.
Only Frederick showed up bareheaded. Everyone else wore a hat, and not just any old hat (which he could understand), but the most outrageous assortment of chapeaus ever imagined, many looking as though they had come from a fleapit variety show.
He glanced around at people he had known for years, many for most of his life. Miss Haverly balanced what appeared to be a bowl of tropical fruit upon her lovely golden tresses; the financier Arnold Switzer sported a ghastly ten gallon hat of a hurtful hue; Jonathon Beltram, his old friend, wore, good gravy!, something that resembled a high-heeled shoe with a bunch of moldy-looking feathers sticking out of it! Holy moly, Frederick thought in despair, I don’t feel so good, maybe I ought to leave.
As he turned to do just that the crowd parted; he found himself staring into a mirror placed against the far wall. Except for their outrageous hats, the guests wore no clothing, not a stitch!
“Zounds!” he proclaimed. His was the only attired body in the place. Even the butler, usually smartly dressed in black and white tails, wore nothing but an obnoxious soiled beanie. Feeling faint, Frederick collapsed onto the nearest chair.
Upon glancing down he saw he too was naked a jaybird! But he had worn his best suit, he was positive; he recalled putting it on, having the usual difficulty with the cuff link on his right wrist. Snatching a teacup and saucer from the tray of the passing butler (while trying not to stare at the man’s pasty flesh) he hastily covered his privates and looked about with growing alarm and apprehension.
His gaze wandered to the large mirror a second time. He was wearing a red fez, as red as a fire engine, tassel dangling in a jaunty fashion.
Frederick stood up, nerving himself to take the necessary steps to escape this madhouse when a high-pitched voice cheerily yodeled: “Yoo-hoo, Mr. Johansen, so good of you to drop in at our little gathering!”
Frederick did not want to appear ungrateful, so he flashed a stiff smile while holding the saucer over his groin. His hand shook and the teacup rattled on its saucer.
“How do you do, Mrs. Renaldo? So pleased to see you.” And so on and so forth. These pleasantries seemed absurd given the circumstances, but Frederick did his best to prop them up and fly the standard even in these trying times. Propriety must be maintained, after all.
Another guest drifted over to join the throng assembling about him, making it even harder for him to effect an exit in an unobtrusive manner.
The new arrival was extremely hairy, and Frederick began to sweat profusely although the temperature was not particularly warm.
“What do you think of my request everyone wear a hat?” inquired Mrs. Renaldo of the hairy man.
“Very novel indeed!” that hirsute gentleman exclaimed, lifting his Tyrolean and giving Frederick an overt wink through his monocle.
The matronly woman turned to Frederick. “And how about you, Mr. Johansen?”
“Um, ah.” Frederick was staring at a beautiful young woman wearing a Mexican sombrero and nothing else. “Delightful,” he finally managed, sweat trickling down both cheeks.
“Good, good, but you are lacking a libation. Evans, get this gentleman a beverage! Take the usual? Very well then.”
His host, after making sure Frederick’s needs had been met, departed with the hairy man to the other side of the drawing room. He felt instant relief.
Then someone suggested the party be relocated en masse to the outdoor patio. Frederick wanted to do no such thing, yet the fervor generated by this suggestion became so great he found himself lifted to his feet and dragged outside amidst much jiggling, wiggling, gyrating flesh, and a gaggle of obscene lids. The ice cubes in his glass rattled merrily as he was jostled back and forth like a cue ball on a billiard table.
He came to his senses, finally, on a patio chair. A few naked servants were putting the finishing touches on a buffet table and the guests were swarming around it like honey bees about a stand of wildflowers.
Frederick felt quite ill.
He stared at the apparently endless parade of bare thighs and naked buttocks and came to a decision. Carefully setting down his drink (from which he had not taken a sip), he then jumped up from his chair, crossed the veranda with purpose to the iron railing and, without a second thought, leaped over, promptly landing in his host’s prize rose bushes.
His screams were heard above the commotion at the buffet table. Guests turned to look. Some saw Mr. Johansen running across the manicured lawn covered in a road map of red scratches from the thorns; they shrugged collectively and turned back to the plates of mouth-watering appetizers.
The hairy man turned to Mrs. Renaldo. “Now, then. What was that all about?”
The old woman shrugged as she reached for a finger sandwich. “Maybe he’s in training for a marathon. He is an athletic sort.”
When Frederick reached the sidewalk he slowed, grateful to be away from such a madding crowd, relief flooding through him as the resumption of bland normality resumed about him.
A naked man—wearing a towering Keystone cop helmet—rushed towards him along the sidewalk brandishing a billy club.
“And where is your hat, my good man?”
Frederick howled and charged into traffic without once looking in either direction. There was a fusillade of car horns, a screech of brakes, and a sickening thud.
Frederick had left his fez in the rose bushes.