Loretta Martin lives in a Chicago, Illinois, suburb with her artist husband Phil. To the best of her recollection, neither she nor Phil has ever consumed human flesh.
Amber removed her key and shut the front door. She left her car in the driveway in case Dorian wanted to grab dinner out. The welcome scent of charcoal suggested otherwise. Relieved, she smiled. Dorian had the grill going.
“Honey, I’m home,” she called, tossing briefcase, purse and keys onto the entry table. Her day had been hellish, spent putting out one corporate brushfire after another. She hadn’t had time for lunch or time to read Dorian’s texts.
She kicked off her Jimmy Choos and padded down the marble hallway toward the kitchen. She couldn’t wait to go upstairs and shed the corporate uniform, as she thought of her designer suits. In a perfect world, she mused again, clothing would be outlawed.
“We’re out here . . .,” he yelled from the back yard, his sing-song ending with the silly giggle he affected when drinking. Other voices—two, sharp and raucous—competed with each other in what sounded like an angry debate, but she couldn’t make out words.
Her smile disappeared. They were having guests for dinner. An artist famous for his life-size metal sculptures, Dorian was the socializer whose expansive, yang-like temperament was a people magnet. Amber, however, preferred quiet evenings at home. Despite their differences, seven harmonious years posed no doubt that they were life mates.
Stopping to pour herself a glass of wine from the open bottle on the kitchen island, she put on her best hostess face and passed through the patio doors. Dorian had set the patio table, complete with candles and a centerpiece of sedums and mums from their garden. The chimenea in the corner was set, and another bottle of their favorite Malbec was breathing.
Unmindful of the lawn’s coolness underfoot, Amber padded toward the noise coming from the outdoor kitchen behind the patio. She thought the voices familiar but couldn’t be sure because they were suddenly dampened by Euro disco starting to burst from outdoor speakers. Dorian strode toward her, his muscled arms outstretched.
“Hey Babe,” he shouted over the clamor, “the Abrams are here, and we’re almost ready. Hope you’re hungry!” Dorian-the-giggler nuzzled her nose and gave her a wine-infused kiss.
Amber knew that, because of her petite five-three build and drill sergeant manner, office colleagues called her “the pint-size bomb” behind her back. They didn’t know how readily she melted into Dorian’s six-foot, gym-toned frame. Despite a few silver strands in an unruly, leonine mane, he looked more like a 30-something body builder than the Ivy League grad who’d be celebrating his 48th birthday next month.
More shouts brought her back. Their guests were squawking like a pair of crows. Although the music had segued into a softer segment, their words were still lost.
Glen and Megan Abrams had recently moved into the Tudor down the road. Last week, Dorian persuaded Amber to go on an unannounced welcome visit. They took wine and a bouquet from their garden. Glen was an engineer and Megan, a freelance photographer, knew Dorian’s work. The visit was short, but they promised to have the newcomers for dinner soon
Their neighborhood was one of the older ones in the quaint New England village they’d called home for the past three years. Most of the older residents had either died or relocated to nursing homes, so it was a treat when fresh blood moved in. Like Amber and Dorian, new arrivals were career couples with no children or pets. A key selling point had been the large lots and privacy they afforded. Their property came with a dilapidated carriage house Dorian converted into his studio. Amber’s human resources career was demanding; she kept her laptop busy during the 45-minute commute but still put in late hours at home. She appreciated the seclusion and absence of screaming kids and barking dogs.
She loved their home, especially the outdoor kitchen Dorian designed and built practically singlehandedly. Their property was surrounded by a high fence lined with dense shrubbery, stately evergreens that provided a wind break, and eight-foot native grasses that sported spectacular wintertime seed heads. Dorian also built the huge fire pit and ventilated grill, using stones from a local quarry. The backyard was their private paradise, where freedom to romp au naturel was an added bonus they shared with only a choice few.
“There you are,” she said. The Abrams simultaneously halted their cacophony, awkwardly turning toward her. Dorian towered next to her, massive and comical in only an apron and chef’s hat. He brandished the oversize utensils forged in his studio—tongs, skewers, an ornate baster.
“Honey, glad you’re home. It’s a perfect evening to make good our promise to have the Abrams for dinner.” He spoke as if he were unveiling a new creation.
She took in the tableau. Glen and Megan were naked, trussed and hoisted over the fire, which was stoked and ready. Their eyes bulged, lashes and brows practically gone. Amber imagined the moment when their drugged brains finally comprehended what their blistered tongues and lips could not articulate; after all, proper speech had deserted them altogether. They were cinched with special silicone cooking bands Dorian modified for heavy meat cuts.
Amber’s mouth watered. Their main course would char to a crisp sweetness and pair nicely with the Malbec. She eyed their dinner, now renewing its fire dance. The music swelled to a climax that drowned out their screams. She watched in anticipation as her giggly, giddy husband tinkered with the lowering mechanism. Before popping from the heat, the apple stuffed in each mouth was further evidence of Dorian’s artistry. Amber flashed on the image of a cherry atop a flesh-pink cupcake.
She had the single regret she always felt, albeit briefly: Their dinner treats would never know they were slathered in Dorian’s special marinade recipe he called his “man sauce.”