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Xerxes’ Dinner

Xerxes is one weird guy. He lives in a house in an empty dimension, with some very eccentric characters like his sentient walls and his courier, Prescient Pigeon. Read the preceding stories here if you want: 1. Xerxes’ House 2. Xerxes’ Neighbors


Xerxes’ Dinner

Xerxes was about to go out to a social occasion for the first time since he had moved to the empty dimension where his house was. He had moved there to be alone, but the real estate agency had moved other houses into the dimension and now he was about to go to a neighboring house for dinner. He didn’t particularly want to, but his ex-girlfriend Penelope, who was now his laundry room wall, was dating the dining room wall of the other house and Xerxes wanted to investigate.

At six o’clock, the neighbors’ Obsequious Otter appeared at the front door. “Wonderful ensemble, sir,” it gasped. “I see you are truly ready for this evening.” Xerxes was wearing chain mail, with a bathrobe wrapped around it. “If you would, follow me.”

Xerxes had been curious how this was going to work. He had not been out of the house in the year since he had come to this dimension. Of course, it was an empty dimension, which meant that there wasn’t supposed to be anything in the whole universe except his house. That was the point. The animals, like his Prescient Pigeon or Obsequious Otter, could come and go but they were animals and he didn’t know or care how they did it.

He took a step out his door and immediately stepped onto another porch. For a moment, he had a horrible feeling the two houses were connected, but that wasn’t right. He’d looked out his door before and seen only grey nothingness.

The door opened and a man in a green sweater opened the door. “Mr. Xerxes!” he said. “My name is Ralph Henderson. Welcome to our home.”

“Dr. Xerxes,” Xerxes said. Xerxes wasn’t his last name and he wasn’t a doctor, but he still considered this his dimension and here he made the rules.

“Ah, I’m so sorry. Medical doctor?”

“Occasionally,” Xerxes said, still determined to be as hard to get along with as possible. He stepped inside, took off his bathrobe and hung it on the hat stand.

“Ah . . . can I get you something to drink?” Ralph Henderson asked, his etiquette compass wobbling slightly off true north.

“Do you have mead?”

Ralph frowned. “I do believe we do, in fact.”

“Okay, anything but that. Where’s your dining room?”

“Um, it’s in here, although my wife Heidi hasn’t quite finished with the meal—”

“That’s fine, I just want to talk to the wall.”

“You mean Bumble? How do you know him?”

“He’s dating my ex-girlfriend,” Xerxes said and walked into the dining room. Heidi Henderson was there, setting the table.

“Ah, you must be Mr. Xerxes—”

“Doctor, actually,” Xerxes said, not looking at her and giving a sort of half-wave. He faced the wall. “You Bumble?”

“Um, uh, well, if by that do you mean is Bumble my name, then, then yes. Yes it is,” the wall said. A tremor went through the china hutch pushed up against it.

“I hear you’re seeing my wall Penelope.”

“Yes, she is your mezzanine wall, is . . . is that right?”

“Laundry room, actually. Two industrial washing machines pushed up against her; big old shelves with detergent and fabric softener on them. That’s her.”

“Ah . . ah, I see,” Bumble said. Another tremor shook the china hutch, almost knocking over a decorative plate.

Why am I doing this? Xerxes thought. It wasn’t even that he was jealous. He sure didn’t want to get back together with Penelope, so why was he trying to sabotage things for her? I think I’m just a terrible person, he thought.

Xerxes turned to see the Hendersons standing in the doorway, apparently unsure what to do next. “It’ll still be a few minutes before dinner,” Ralph said. “Do you play chess?”

“No, I only play one game. Do you know strip Russian roulette?”

“Strip Russian roulette…”

“Yeah, it’s just like normal Russian roulette, but when you lose, you take off a piece of clothing. If you don’t have a gun, I could go get mine.”

The two Hendersons were looking at him as if he were a maniac. The problem was that Xerxes said everything in such a serious way, that no one ever knew if he was serious or not. Even Xerxes wasn’t sure sometimes, which was why he preferred to be alone. That way, if he wasn’t joking about something, it was only Xerxes that found out.

“Let’s just watch some TV,” Ralph said. Xerxes nodded and followed him out to the living room, his chain mail clinking slightly.

During dinner, Xerxes tried to keep as quiet as possible. He had a vague feeling he was doing everything wrong and while he didn’t care, he had another vague feeling he should care, for some reason. So, he was just trying to get through the meal and go home. At least the roast beef was really good. Everything would have been fine, but the Hendersons kept insisting on talking.

“So, Dr. Xerxes, how long have you been in this dimension?” Heidi asked, refilling his wine glass.

“Since the beginning,” Xerxes said. “It’s mine.”

“Ah, well we appreciate you sharing it with us,” she said. “We really like it here, so peaceful and serene.”

“I didn’t agree to share it. I think you’re invading my space.” There was an awkward silence. Xerxes helped himself to some more roast beef.

“I know this used to be an exclusive dimension,” Ralph said gently. “But the government ruled that exclusive dimensions weren’t allowed. A waste of the multiverse or something.”

“Well, I don’t want any company. I just want to be by myself,” Xerxes said.

“Then why did you accept our invitation to dinner?”

“I wanted to see your wall Bumble, to annoy my ex-girlfriend.” The atmosphere had gotten almost frosty. Maybe I shouldn’t be so honest, Xerxes thought. That was another reason he hated social situations. Sometimes he had to tell the truth, sometimes he had to lie and he couldn’t keep track of which was which. He could see the Hendersons looking at him with an expression close to disgust and for a split second, he didn’t like himself.

“I’m going to go now,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’ll take the rest of the roast beef home though. It’s very good.” He picked up the plate and walked out the front door. It wasn’t until he got home that he realized he’d forgotten his bathrobe.

To be continued…

Xerxes’ Neighbors

Do you remember Xerxes? Back on June 28, 2013, I wrote a story about a strange man living in a strange house in a dimension all by himself (he thought), called Xerxes’ House. It was clearly not a complete story and I always meant to continue, and now I finally have, almost eight months later. Go read the first one if you’d like (it’s good, I swear, and it has a ShyPhone 4 in it), but read this one too.

Xerxes’ Neighbors

Xerxes viewed isolation like a bee views honey: he liked it—a lot—and if it wasn’t available, he made his own. It was the whole reason he had bought a house in Dimension XZG-33332, or as the real estate listing said, “a house of unpredictable eccentricity, floating in an abyss of viscous ether. Total isolation guaranteed.” Weird and alone, just the way he liked it.

Then one day, he found a sock in his hall as he was wandering in to grab some lunch. It was a yellow sock and it definitely wasn’t his. He looked up, way up into the infinite void that stretched up above his hall. He hadn’t bought a ceiling for his hall, because he had thought he was the only person in this dimension but now it looked like there were going to be problems.

He strode the kitchen window and immediately Prescient Pigeon fluttered down. “Good morning,” it said, although it was almost five in the afternoon (in a empty dimension, it is very hard to keep track of time). “You want me to find out if there are any houses in this dimension. There are eighteen, one very close.”

At that moment, a small animal climbed up on the window sill next to the pigeon. It stood up on its hind legs and gave Xerxes a look of rapture. “Oh wow, I am so enthralled to meet you, sir. Your least command is my joy and delight.”

“Who are you, Hyperbolic Ferret?” Xerxes asked.

“Obsequious Otter,” the animal said. “I belong to the Henderson family next door. They requested I come here and invite you to a dinner party tomorrow night.”

"Oh my gosh, that's such a great plan. Way to go!" -Obsequious Otter

“Oh my gosh, that’s such a great plan. Way to go!” -Obsequious Otter

“I’m not going,” Xerxes said. “Here, take this sock back to them if it’s theirs.” He tossed the yellow sock at the otter.

“I will bear this token to them as proof of your acceptance,” Obsequious Otter said.

“No, I said I wasn’t going.”

“Ah, I’m sure you’re being polite now. You probably feel it necessary to refuse four times before grudgingly accepting.”

“No, I told you I don’t want to go!” Xerxes shouted. “I’m here to be alone.”

“That’s three,” the otter said.

“Just go away.”

“I’ll take that as four,” the otter said and then looked hard at Xerxes. When he did not say anything, it continued, “Ah, I guess in your culture, some time needs to pass for everything to be polite. That is such a wonderful custom you have. I will be back in an hour.” It took the sock and scampered out of sight.

“I’m sorry, I can’t kill him,” Prescient Pigeon said, before Xerxes could ask. “It’s not in my job description. I could order you an Assassin Alligator, but I can’t have it here for two weeks.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Xerxes said.

He went into the laundry room and sat down. The laundry room walls contained the spirit of his ex-girlfriend, Penelope. She wasn’t dead, just inhabiting his walls against her will. It was part of the unique architecture of the building. They had never officially broken up, but considering that she hated his guts now, he had added the ex- part himself.

“What are you doing here?” she asked with a sneer.

“I’m having a bad day,” he said.

“And you expect me to make it all better?”

“No, I just like to remind myself that no matter how bad things can be, they can always get worse.” He sat there and endured the stream of abuse she leveled at him. Yeah, this was a lot worse. It made him feel better.

Finally, she got tired and ran out of swearwords. “So what’s wrong?” she asked.

“The next door neighbors invited me to dinner,” he said. “I came out here to be alone and to get away from people inviting me to stuff.”

“Good, don’t go over there,” she said quickly.

He looked up, intrigued. “Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“Hmm, maybe I will now . . .”

“No, don’t,” she said. “I’ve been seeing the dining room wall from over there. His name’s Bumble. I don’t want you to mess anything up for me.”

“I think I’ll go,” Xerxes said. “I do need to be more social, right?” He sat there, smiling, as Penelope invented five minutes of new insults for him on the spot.

Obsequious Otter showed up an hour later and Xerxes said he would go. It clapped its little paws rapturously. “Oh, good decision, sir. Good decision! I knew that there were all sorts of social protocols to be followed. I will come here tomorrow at 6 to guide you to the house. Until then.”

Xerxes had not seen another actual human in over a year and he was not quite sure what to wear. His main motivation for going was to see this wall Bumble and to annoy Penelope, but he wanted to make a statement too. Finally, he picked out a set of chain mail and wrapped a purple bathroom around it, and put a tie on, the other way around so that it went down his back. Yes, he was going to try to have a good time.

To be continued (in the very near future)…

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