(They thought that the skeleton was just one of those plastic ones, brought along by one of the party guests... who knew that he'd invited himself to the party!)
"Penny! My darling... good to see you again!" Greg declared extravagantly, as she opened the door to him.
"Hello Greg -- I'm so glad that you could make it!" She smiled up sweetly at him, as she braced herself for his bone crushing hug, and he didn't even notice her lack of sincerity.
"Am I the last one to arrive?" he asked hopefully as he scooped her up and looked over the top of her head at the mass of people coming and going through her house.
"Pretty much." She mumbled into his chest, as she fought to breath.
"Sorry about that pet." He grinned a little smugly as his arms tightened around her a little more.
Penny stood it for as long as she could, but in the end the need to breath became her biggest goal, and so she began to struggle.
Greg's body pushed against her just that little bit more, and for a panic stricken moment she thought that he wasn't going to let her go.
Penny lifted a foot and kicked him sharply in the shin, and Greg gave a little grunt of pain and then stepped away from her.
"Sorry about that Greg, I didn't realise that your leg was so close to me!" she smiled falsely from a slightly flushed face.
Greg's blue eyes were shining a little brighter; and she realised with a sense of revulsion that he'd 'got off' from forcing her to squirm against him, as she fought to breath.
"Come inside Greg," she invited in her best hostess voice, even though it was a little more stilted that usual. "Help yourself to food and drinks, and I'm sure that you'll soon find someone that you know around here."
"Oh I'm certain that I will!" he grinned confidently.
'Don't be quite SO sure of yourself!' she muttered under her breath, knowing how most people who knew Greg did their best to avoid him!
"I say; what a terrific Halloween gimmick!" someone shouted suddenly, and Penny looked curiously to where they were pointing.
Right in the corner, almost totally hidden by the masses of coats that were piled there, was what looked like a long metal coat stand thing... with a human skeleton hanging from it!"
"Well I wonder where he came from!" Penny exclaimed as she rolled the coat stand out on its wheels, so that she could get a better look.
"What? He's not yours? And how do you know he's a man?"
"I did anatomy in biology... once... way back when..." she mumbled as she eyed up her gate crasher.
Rachel, her work mate and very good friend came up behind her, and slung an arm across her shoulders. "Who's the dish?" she slurred with a grin.
"Gees Rache!" someone exclaimed. "Shouldn't you at least go for a guy with skin?"
Penny laughed. "Oh I don't know... he was certainly a hunk... you can tell that even without the skin. She reached up to stroke along the smooth, white bones of his shoulder. "I mean look how wide those shoulders are... and that chest! And how long his legs are.... He must have been well over six foot in height..."
"Big feet too!" Rachel slurred approvingly.
There was a chorus of laughter, and Penny stepped back to look around questioningly.
"Okay guys it's time to 'fess up', who brought him?"
There was a general looking around enquiringly and everyone shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders blankly. "Sorry Penn I've no idea?" was the overall response.
Penny looked up speculatively at the gaping cavities that were eye sockets. "Oh well," she sighed. "I've got a party to host!"
The Halloween party was in full swing, and everyone had donned their scary masks, which had been the theme; 'dress casually but find a mask to terrify!'
Penny circulated, mixed, and chatted, and laughed with her guests, and had a merry old time of it... except for that skeleton.
She didn't know who thought they were being clever, but every time she turned around, that skeleton was loitering by the wall, or lurking in a corner, or just near a door; but always he seemed to be looking towards her, as though he was following her around and watching her.
In the end it began to give her the 'willies'.
"Oh I've so had enough of him!" she snapped impatiently, as she marched over to him and grabbed a dangling wrist. "Come on you!" she muttered as she pulled him along with her.
She dragged him down her hallway and opened the door that led to the little cupboard under her stairs.
"In there with you!" she snapped as she swivelled him around and began to roll him into the little space.
There was just enough room for him and his coat stand, and Penny dropped his wrist so that it swung back, with a rattle and clink.
She moved back to close the door just as the arm swung back up and the wrist seemed to flick up at the last minute.
"Oh!" Penny cried out in surprise as she felt the sharp jagged bones, catch her arm and scratch the skin.
The arm dropped down again and she slammed the door too.
"Everything alright Penn?" someone asked from behind her.
She turned around putting her hand to her injured arm.
"Oh it's you Mark... Yes I'm fine thanks... just a little scratch.
Mark frowned at her arm. "You probably want to get a plaster or something on it though, to help stop the bleeding."
"I suppose that your right!" she smiled as she headed for the kitchen and her little first aid box.
Luckily for her there were several fully trained and qualified first aiders in the kitchen, all eager to show off their expertise; and so in no time at all her arm had been bathed with antiseptic ointment, and a brightly coloured patch now covered her wound, which only seemed to throb once in a while.
The party carried on, with the local 'trick or treaters' coming to the door, at very regular intervals; and before long Penny's goody bowl was empty, and she had to resort to giving cash -- begged, borrowed, or pinched from any of her party goers, who happened to be on hand at the time.
The evening grew late, and her guests began to leave...
"A great party as usual Penn old girl," Greg the last to arrive and one of the last to leave, reached out to hug her, and Penny who had had enough by then stepped back.
"Thank you for coming Greg... I'll not keep you since the hour is late."
He looked disappointed but he accepted her rejection easily enough.
"I'll see you next week at work then."
Rachel and a couple of the other girls, who she worked with; were the last to leave; and they were just shrugging into their coats, as she walked back into her home.
"Thanks for a great party Penny!" Rachel grinned at her. "We've tried to tidy up a little bit for you!"
Penny reached out to hug her. "Thanks Rache, but you didn't have to; I'll sort it in the morning, with a couple of large black bin bags!"
"That is the beauty of using disposable crockery and cups and stuff, it sure does cut down on the washing up!"
She saw them out to her gate, and was tiredly waving them off when Rachel turned suddenly when she was only half way down the road.
"What ever happened to our hunky friend?" she called out.
"What?" Penny called back confused.
"The skeleton darling -- the skeleton!" Rachel laughed.
"Oh! I put him under the stairs!"
"Oh! You sneaky thing you! Trying to keep him all for yourself! Still you did throw a good bash -- so I guess I can't begrudge you!"
"Night Rachel!" Penny laughed back at her.
"Night night love... sweet dreams."
Penny was still smiling when she entered her home and began the business of making sure everything was locked up for the night.
Despite having said she would leave the clearing up until morning, she found her roll of bin bags and walked around scooping things up and dropping them into the sack.
It was a fairly straightforward process, and so it didn't take her too long to finish.
She opened her back door and switched on the outside light, and dumped her bulging sack into one of her bins.
"Brrrr!" she shivered as she came back inside and locked the back door. "Time for bed I think." She yawned as she switched off the kitchen light.
She was just about to walk up the stairs when a slight movement caught the corner of her eye, and she spun around in alarm.
The door under her stairs had swung open, and it was that which had caught her eye.
"Oh don't you start that again!" she snapped as she marched over and pulled the door the rest of the way open.
The skeleton was still hanging from his coat stand, exactly as she had left him; but where his bones had been bleached white before, now there seemed to be a faintly pink cast to them.
Penny peered sleepily behind the skeleton to the bright red blanket hanging up behind him.
"Must be that reflecting on you!" she yawned.
She looked up at the gaping holes of his eye sockets again and on a silly, half drunk, totally sleepy impulse, she reached up and kissed him on his cheek.
"Night night -- you handsome devil -- you!"
She pushed the door closed in his face and turned for the stairs.
She had actually made it to the first step when the creak of the door froze her.
She looked back over her shoulder, to see the door swing open, to reveal the light red skeleton rattling in the door way.
"Oh god!" Penny gasped in terror as she fell up a couple of the stairs to land heavily on her bottom.
As she watched in horror the skeleton's colour seemed to deepen, and the wheels on the coat stand slowly began to roll forward... to roll towards Penny sitting frozen on the stairs.
Slowly and almost laboriously the coat-stand complete with skeleton inched its way towards her.
Penny looked with horror as the sheen of the bones, seemed to glow darker and darker red, and tiny droplets of water ran down the bones, and glittered under her lights.
Inches closer, and she could see what looked like globules of raw meat, and string, forming and growing even as she watched.
Inches more and it had almost reached her, Penny looked up in terror into the black holes, that were the eye sockets... only they were not black holes anymore, they had filled in with a bright white tissue like substance, which seemed to glow brighter and brighter.
The raw meat chunks had grown and joined together taking in the stringy material, and Penny gave a terrified sob as she realised that it had formed and grown muscles, and veins, the whole thing now covering the dry white bones, looking red and slimy, and angry, and terribly painful.
Closer it came - almost upon her, and the wetness began to dry out, and skin began to form... Penny looked up at the glowing eyes, to see two bright green orbs looking desperately at her, the mouth fell open even as the lips formed and a deep rasping hollow sound came from somewhere deep inside it.
"Hh..." it gasped, as the eyelids grew down over the green eyes, and lashes spiked down to fan the now solid skin.
The thing, reached the bottom of the stairs, and hit the front of the first step.
"Hhhh..." it gasped again as the coat rack bashed the step and began to topple forward.
The skeleton thing jerked free of the rack to crash forward towards Penny.
"Hhhheeelllppp meeeee!" the newly formed man fell onto the stair just below her and his upper torso landed heavily against her lap and shoulders.
"Please Help Me!" he heaved again, and Penny looked down in terror and wonder as her hand went helplessly to rest on his thick dark hair.
How long she sat there, in shock with the stranger lying across her lap, Penny could not have said later.
Finally though she knew that she had to move.
"What are you?" she whispered softly, and the man moved a little, trying to pull himself up, but seeming to find it a tremendous struggle.
She tried to help by pushing against his shoulders, but he was such a big man, and almost a dead weight.
She just wasn't big or strong enough, and in the end she stopped pushing and he fell back again heavily.
"What can I do?" Penny whispered desperately. "You asked me to help you... but how?"
He moved a little again and his head tilted so that he could look up at her tiredly.
It was the first time she had a proper look at him, and she couldn't help but gasp in surprise.
His jet black hair and bright green eyes made a striking combination, but he was incredibly handsome, with a long straight nose, and high wide cheekbones, and a good square jaw line.
His face was grey - with fatigue -- she guessed, and his forehead was damp with perspiration.
He shivered with cold, and Penny registered the fact that he was naked.
"Can you move at all... just a little so that I can get by and find something to cover you with?"
He gave a little grunt of acknowledgement; and tried to push himself to the side of her.
Penny gave him a big shove, and suddenly his weight shifted... not much but enough so that she could slip past him.
She ran down the three stairs and seeing her cupboard door still open and that red blanket, she snatched it and spun around to run lightly back.
The man was lying on the stairs tiredly, and watching her anxiously.
Penny gave him a quick reassuring smile and threw the blanket over him.
He closed those amazing eyes for a moment and sighed as the warmth enveloped him.
"Thank you," he whispered gruffly.
Penny sank down on the step below him.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" she asked uncertainly.
His eyes blinked down at her and he seemed about to say something, but then he sighed tiredly.
"No, but if I can just rest here for a few moments..."
"Who are you?"
He closed his eyes again and rested his head on his arms on the higher stair.
"My name is William Cooper..." he murmured without opening his eyes.
"And what are you?"
He squinted down at her briefly.
"I am a man -- like any other."
"Huh!" she scoffed. "You were a lifeless skeleton an hour ago!"
He shook his head tiredly. "No, never lifeless, always aware... for so long now... so many years... trapped! Doomed to just watch; as people lived their lives out around me.
"So you heard and saw everything that happened tonight?"
"How did you get here -- I mean someone must have brought you?"
"No... I... I saw you yesterday in that old shop... you looked so happy..."
She smiled gently. "I was getting ready for a party, that always makes me happy, but...?"
"I've been able -- if I want it bad enough to get that thing..." he pointed wearily to the toppled over coat stand, "to move, but it's very hard and takes a lot of concentration... but I was so drawn to you!"
Penny looked at him in surprise. "At just under five feet in height she was tiny, and with mousey blond hair and pale blue eyes, she was ordinarily pleasant to look at.
Penny was a nice easy going young woman, who everyone liked, but no one loved. She had never been one to set a man's world on fire, or incite mindless lust or passion.
But the way William kept looking at her, and the way he spoke to her.
She felt her heart beat racing, partly with fear, but mostly with excitement.
"You asked for my help?" she whispered again.
"I was cursed," he told her quietly. "I rejected a woman, who turned out to be a witch... she cast a spell that tore the flesh from my bones... but she wouldn't let me die."
He closed his eyes again wearily and Penny stood up quickly. "I'll just get you a drink," she whispered.
She found a half bottle of brandy on her kitchen table, and grabbed it and two tumblers. She was in need of sustenance herself!
She sat down on the stair and poured out two measures, then held one up to him.
"Thank you," he murmured huskily.
He took a little sip and coughed a couple of times, but Penny was pleased to see the colour come into his cheeks.
She sipped at her own drink for a moment.
"So what happened after she had cursed you?" she asked curiously.
He looked faintly embarrassed.
"I was just a pile of bones, with no nerves or muscles to move me, but I was aware of everything that happened to me, that went on around me... She took me with her; to her home in the middle of a deserted forest... she used to use me... to do things with me..." he broke of clearly embarrassed and Penny felt the colour come to her own cheeks.
"So what happened; to the witch?"
"She grew old, and eventually she died," he said with a hint of malice.
"She lay for days in her bed too ill to move, or help herself; but not ill enough to die. She used to shout at me to help her, but I couldn't even move... She used to hang me from that coat stand, when she wasn't using me. She bonded me to it... she cast one last spell... so that I could move it, so that I could help her."
"Did you? Did you stay and help her?"
He sighed as he took another sip of his drink.
"There still wasn't much that I could do, but I could touch her, and that seemed to be enough for her, some human contact. As she lay dying, with her last breaths she reworked my curse, so that one day I could be free."
He had finished his drink, and Penny held the bottle up offering more.
He held his glass out and she refilled it, and as he smiled in gratitude she thought that he looked stronger.
"You're feeling better? You are cured now -- free of the curse?" she asked.
He sipped at the drink, looking a little uncomfortable again.
"Your blood set up the process..." he began cautiously. "Your kiss ignited the process..."
Penny blushed apologetically. "I'm sorry; I don't know what came over me!"
He smiled again and his eyes shone brightly, though whether it was from the drink or some silent thoughts, Penny had no idea.
"So it's over, you ARE free now?"
"I need your help... I need your love."
"What?" she sat back startled.
William sat up suddenly, looking strong, and powerful; and determined.
"I need you to commit yourself to me... to promise yourself to me... to make love with me... I need YOU!"
He moved slowly down the stairs until they were squashed together on the bottom one.
He reached out a hand to slowly stroke her cheek, and smiled gently into her eyes.
"I can please you in so many ways Penny... Let me show you?"
It was the first time he'd said her name, and Penny felt a bolt of excitement rush through her.
He was so very handsome, and he looked so very kind... he'd been through so very much...
As her eyes softened and her smile widened, he tilted her chin and gently claimed her lips.
As kisses went - it was one to die for.
Penny had not shared many kisses with men; just the odd quick and usually hard meeting of lips and then it was over.
For her, his gentle lips massaging hers, his warm breath, and the touch of his tongue... it was all unreal, surreal and incredibly intoxicating.
For William though, who had not felt the touch of another human for decades, who had not even enjoyed the contact of his own flesh... he felt such a rush of emotion for this woman.
He'd felt it the first time he'd seen her, when she stepped into that shop, her pale blue eyes, so kind and gentle looking, were lit up with plans and excitement as she gathered together bits of junk, 'for the setting for her party' he'd heard her say at one point.
He had been hidden away in a dark corner of the shop, watching the comings and goings of the people.
He'd been there for so many years; he'd almost forgotten how to move.
He watched as she stepped outside lugging her junk with her.
He did not even need to think about it, he just found his wheels moving, and slowly and steadily he followed her from the shop.
He always felt so conspicuous when he moved, but it was as though part of the curse made him invisible to those around him, people didn't seem to notice him until he'd been in one place for a while.
And that was how it had been this time.
He had followed Penny home yesterday, and had pulled himself into that corner, and then waited as he watched her moving around her home, and setting everything up.
He supposed that that was when he had fallen in love with her, seeing her put so much care and attention into everything.
Watching how everyone treated her, with such affection and respect, but also with a little bit of indifference; and yet still, she worked hard to make it as good a party as she could for everyone else to enjoy.
Yes he loved her, and now he had to encourage her to love him; he could not -- would not force anything from her, but he would do everything in his power to make her love him.
With a softly voiced oath he suddenly pulled himself to his feet, and then with an ease that surprised them both since he'd been so weak only moments before...
He swept her up and carried her up the stairs.
"I want to make love to you," he whispered looking down into her slightly bewildered blue eyes.
Penny swallowed nervously. He was so handsome... so gentle and kind... he had been through so much...
"Yes!" She nodded.
He paused long enough to pull her up and kiss her tenderly on the lips.
"I love you," he murmured with such heartfelt passion that she could only believe him.
He carried her quickly up to her bedroom and lay her gently on the bed.
He slowly began to remove her clothing, and as each garment was removed he would spend time stroking, kissing and admiring the flesh he was so gradually revealing.
He seemed to get so much from the simple act of touching her; that Penny endured the sweet torture for as long as she could.
In the end though the passion he stirred in her needed to be fulfilled.
"Please!" she begged huskily. "I need you... oh William please!"
The blanket had been lost somewhere on the stairs, and so he could lie next to her on her bed, with their flesh against flesh and lips against lips.
"I've waited so very long for you my love!" he whispered shakily.
He braced himself on his arms, and slowly began to slip into her.
Penny groaned as she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.
She pulled his head down to kiss him passionately even as she drew him deeper into her velvety warmth, and as they locked together, something inside William seemed to click into place.
He smiled in wonder at the woman he was now bound to. "My dearest, you have freed me from the curse... I am yours now for all eternity.
Penny smiled up at him with a dreamy contentment. "My love... welcome home!"
They lived a good life together; just the two of them for a while, but when Penny discovered she was carrying his child, William thought he would burst he was so full of joy.
Their family slowly but steadily grew... first a son, Billy, then a year later Penelope their daughter joined them, and to cap it off they welcomed twins into their little unit three years later.
William had been cursed to sit idly by as the world moved on around him.
But now that he was free of it, he valued the simple little things so much more than everyone else.
The simple act of holding his wife, of being able to feel her touch, it was the one thing he could never get enough of.
Penny realised and appreciated the fact that she was such a lucky girl; to know that she was the centre of her husband's world, that he existed merely to make her happy.
And she loved him equally as much. He could so easily have turned his back on that old witch, but in the end he'd shown her kindness and sympathy, and that simple act was the thing she remembered the most whenever she grew annoyed or frustrated with her husband.
He was such a good man, he deserved only the best, and she made sure that he had it... the best wife that she could be, the best children she could gift him with, and the best home to cover his head, and shelter from the world when he needed it.
Yes they had a good life the two of them, long and happy and fulfilled.
May 14, 2018 in romance