It was an eerie party that night. Two women and two men were invited to a posh gathering of some sort, promised a laugh they would never forget. Indeed it could prove to be something they would always remember, if only…
"So, we have gathered here to celebrate I don't know what," said an elderly bald man sporting a white moustache, dressed in a brown tuxedo. "Can anyone clarify? I admit I haven't read the letter thoroughly."
"Our host didn't mention that in the letter," a woman was swift to answer. She had a flamboyant blue dress with exotic ornaments all over it. Her hair was an exact opposite of that elegant image, because it looked like a messy birds' nest, but even birds would likely be ashamed of living in such an untidy jungle of hair. Her face was old and wrinkly, lumps of skin were hanging down as if they were about to fall. As a matter of fact, she looked like a bulldog.
"You must admit that the food is good," the other woman, a rather casually dressed one, joined the discussion from the comfort of her chequered armchair. She was sitting next to a line of tables, each of which had a large portion of various snacks and toasts on it. As her hand reached out for a mouthful of crisps, she continued: "And the house is lovely, too. Just look at those extravagant curtains. They must have been very expensive. Those bluebird patterns over a silky material. Breathtaking. Oh, and what about the rugs and carpets. They feel so soft – like a newborn's skin. And the furniture. It is the peak of luxury. I must admit especially this comfy chair makes me feel at home. I wish I had one."
"Stop that, Margaret," the youngest of them, a man in his fifties, angrily said. Although he was dressed in informal clothes – a blue sweater and jeans –, it would be a mistake to think he was the most lively and open-minded person of all four. In fact, the opposite was true. He was prudent, morose and unfriendly. "We all know your fondness of expensive things. For the only hour we have been here, you have been telling us about nothing else than your… your carpets, your dresses, your puddles, your teatimes, your cursed everything! I believe we all are tired of listening to this. Am I right?"
"You sour-ball," the woman in the armchair commented.
"I think you are exaggerating, Phil," the old man in the tuxedo defended Margaret. "Our host has invited us, four people who have never before met each other, to have a merry time. I think that in order to socialize and have fun, we need to listen to and get to know one another."
"Nonsense!" Phil rebelled. "This… this is revolting! Do you realize who I am? I own a multinational company! What do you do, huh? What do you do? You riff-raff!"
"You grumpy old fart!" the extravagantly dressed woman, named Beatrice, couldn't control her anger.
"Calm down, people," Jeffrey tried to settle the matter. "There is no need to shout at each other, right? We are friends!"
Beatrice opened her mouth to say something, her lungs filling with air and her head rising high with pride, but after a moment, as if she had reconsidered, only dryly remarked: "I'll fetch some more wine."
"Good idea," Jeffrey hastily said so as to prevent the possibility of the quarrel continuing and even escalating.
Phil was extremely irritated, his face was so red it was a wonder it didn't explode. In fact, everyone was watching him as a moment of silence had ensued, awaiting the eruption that was expected to come.
But instead of a hurl of insults, a cough followed.
"You've got cold?" Margaret asked, amused by the apparent fact.
"I… I do," Phil managed to say before he coughed once more.
"That's a funny coincidence," Jeffrey interjected. "I do, too."
"As a matter of fact, I haven't been feeling well for the past few days either," Margaret nodded, took out a napkin and proceeded to blow her nose.
"So, I guess that's a bond," Beatrice laughed. "My nose and cheeks are red and only thanks to some serious medication have I been able to hold those horrible symptoms of cold at bay. It's important to stay fit at our age, you see, for a small, timid little nothing of an illness could sweep us off our feet for good."
"Good point," Jeffrey said and walked towards her as she drank from her glass. "Is the wine that delicious?"
"It is, I encourage you to taste it," Beatrice cheerfully replied and watched Jeffrey to fill his glass.
"It's extraordinarily delicious," Jeffrey wondered as he drank.
"Where is that damned butler," Phil finally broke free from the coughing spree. "This underground place isn't doing me any good."
"A very hideous person, that servant is," Margaret commented. "I was afraid when I saw him at first, thinking he was a ruffian."
"Really?" Jeffrey joined the discussion. "I found him to be a very friendly and outgoing person."
"Indeed he is," Margaret replied, "but the looks… he was scary."
As the two talked, Phil started coughing madly without stopping, heading for the door and disappearing behind it soon afterwards.
"I hope he will be okay, even if he is such a rude man," Beatrice noted as she nibbled on a sandwich.
"Yes, we all do," Jeffrey agreed.
"It's strange," Margaret started elaborating, but paused to sneeze, "excuse me. It's somewhat bizarre that there are curtains and windows here. Being some hundreds of meters below the surface, is that really necessary? No, I think it's a breathtaking sight to see all the fish swimming in the clean-blue waters behind the glass, but it feels… chilly. It is as if… as if…"
"Somebody called us in to… dispose of us?" Jeffrey wondered.
"Exactly," Margaret nodded.
"One crack in the glass and we could drown," Jeffrey conspired. "I believe it can't be hard to lock us up here and make us die of thirst or starvation once the food runs out."
"Scary," Margaret said in a grave voice, taking it as a great fun, but before anyone could continue expressing their grim scenarios, a loud groan of Phil's could be heard.
"What was that?" Jeffrey spitted out instinctively.
"I'll check what's happening," Beatrice volunteered to find out before anyone else could recover from the shock of Phil's inhuman grunt.
And so she disappeared as well and silence ensued.
The remaining two were unable to raise their voice in an unknown fear of an ill fate, dragging their feet restlessly, hoping that the other two would return unharmed.
But the calmness didn't last long. At first, it was a distant hum, but with each passing second it grew in strength gradually until it was a horrifying rumble.
Margaret shrieked in panic and swiftly jumped behind the armchair she was sitting on, curling herself to make her so small to go unnoticed by the possible harm coming her way.
The door burst open. Both Margaret and Jeffrey turned their heads instinctively, watching the perpetrator enter. It was Phil, who was coughing heavily. It looked as if he was suffocating, but he managed to pause for a deep breath.
"Why are you two gazing at me like I was a blood-crazed butcher?" Phil managed to squeeze words between the periods of an endless cough.
"We thought something…" Jeffrey explained as he sneezed, "…evil might have befallen you."
"You crazy boggler," Phil exclaimed.
"How do you explain the devilish grunt we heard minutes ago?" Margaret spoke while leaving her hiding spot, once again taking comfort in the armchair as she found no danger was threatening her.
"Devilish grunt, you say?" Phil laughed, but his joy turned into an uncontrollable fit of cough. After a minute of it, he finally managed to stop it and continued speaking: "I tripped over a doorstep and hurt my head. I was angry so I cursed a lot. Aloud, I imagine."
"Feels unnerving now," Jeffrey sighed in relief.
"I see, but if I don't stop coughing, my head will explode," Phil complained.
Though the sense of danger waned, the precaution persisted, leaving everyone apart from Phil in grave silence. Despite distinctive personalities were the most expected reasons, it was the incident concerning Phil that ruined the entire party. Nobody was interested in friendly talks anymore, only sour looks and awkward silence. But even that didn't last forever.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but I need to visit the toilet," Margaret said with a slight amusement in her voice. "Have fun without me."
And so Jeffrey was left with a permanently coughing Phil, who was getting increasingly annoyed.
"I wonder why in the blue hell I agreed on coming here," he berated. "Of course, my wife. She always insists that I partake in such crazy flamboyancies so as to socialize and enjoy. Thousand curses go her way! I always get… get…" His eyes were glowing with hate as he wanted to say something very rude, but his health prevented him from doing so.
"You know what," Jeffrey grinned falsely, "I'll go find Beatrice."
"Fine," Phil grunted and watched Jeffrey disappear.
Minutes went by and then – a frightened scream belonging to Jeffrey could be heard. Within a moment, both Phil and Margaret were standing beside him, looking at the same thing that shocked Jeffrey so deeply.
It was the body of Beatrice, lying face down in a pool of blood.
"She is dead," Jeffrey said in a grave tone.
"I can see that," Phil laconically noted before resuming back to coughing.
"We have a murderer among us," Margaret exclaimed.
"Don't look at me, I just found her," Jeffrey said without moving.
"Yes… you had all the necessary time to kill her and…" Margaret was thinking aloud. "Many facts stem from this. Are you the shadowy host? And are you intending to kill us all?"
"Are you insane? Check her cheeks, they are getting colder. If I had killed her, it couldn't have happened when I was searching for Beatrice. And besides, the blood has already soaked into the carpet! I'm innocent!"
"But then who…" Margaret thought.
"What about you?" Jeffrey took the initiative. "You said you would go to the toilet, but was it true? I reckon you were able to kill her, whatever be the reason."
"That's not… not true!" Margaret defended herself. "Consider Phil! He was the original purpose of this! He could have lured her out and killed her! He is full of hate and animosity, he could simply do that out of his anger!"
"I swear I'll cut out your vile tongue for your insolence," Phil yelled. "Who do you take me for?"
"A killer, that's who!" Margaret replied.
"Hush you two. There may be a murderer among us…"
"But?" Margaret said with expectations.
"But we just can't single out somebody because of our fears and silly intuitions," Phil reasoned.
"Speak all you can, but I'm not spending even an extra second in here," Phil said. "Shame that I didn't take my cell and all the phones are cut."
"Wait, how do you know that?" Margaret wondered.
"I noticed that when we rushed to Jeffrey and as you can see, there was no time to tell anyone."
"Okay, let's leave this horror show and call the police once we get outside. I don't have a cell-phone either."
"Nor do I," Jeffrey laughed.
"You're so morbid, why do you grin?" Margaret asked.
"Well, I just find it funny that we all forgot to take phones with us. I've even searched Beatrice's body for one, but you can guess what I found. Or didn't, more precisely."
"Whatever, let's leave this disgusting place," Margaret reaffirmed.
And so they made their way to the large elevator door, the means to get to the surface, only to find it was barred from the other side.
"Damn!" Phil grunted and coughed at the same time.
"Try breaking it," Jeffrey suggested and grabbed a brass statue that was located on a nearby pedestal. Phil followed his example and soon they were battering the door with all their strength.
They hammered the door heavily, but after minutes, they found it was to no avail. They were trapped, condemned to die by some madman's twisted desires of death.
"What, you aren't stopping, are you? You lazy men! Come on and break the door! We want to escape!"
"Sorry, madam, but this door can't be broken by any means available to us," Jeffrey stated.
"Nonsense. I'll show you." Margaret snatched the statue from Jeffrey and bashed it against the door, but as she soon found out, it was very exhausting and didn't yield any results.
"We are doomed," she managed to say as she sagged to the ground, tired and sweated.
"We have to stick together," Jeffrey replied.
"Are you crazy?" Margaret objected. "One of us is the murderer and you want us to stay close? I don't know if it's either you or Phil, but I'm not going to wait until one decides to do away with us both!"
"We have no other choice," Jeffrey defended his idea. "Besides, you haven't considered the possibility that somebody else could be the murderer. The butler, for instance. Or somebody yet unseen. What about the host?"
"Whatever. This place is not that large, we can search the rooms and if we don't find anybody then it will only confirm what I already know – one of you two is the murderer."
"Fine, so let's count," Jeffrey thought. "We have the spacious living room with the aquarium, the hall surrounding it and leading to the exit, then there are the restrooms and the bathroom. What else? The bedroom, the kitchen, did I leave something out?"
"You forgot the dining hall, the study and the guest room," Margaret added.
"Okay," Jeffrey said. "So we will check the rooms one at a time. One of us will stay at its entrance looking out, the other will look in and the last will check the second entrance provided there is any."
And so the three did. They searched the entire house, but after a long and tiresome process, they could only agree on Margaret's version of the situation.
"What have I said?" she stated in triumph, sitting back in her cosy armchair.
"Fine. But what will we do now?" Phil paused coughing.
"Wait," Jeffrey shook his left hand in the air to gain attention while his right hand picked up a paper from the table full of food, leaving Phil's question unanswered.
"Welcome, my dear friends, to the house of your death. Take comfort, for it will be the last thing you will see before I slowly overpower you, killing you one by one. Signed by Vuri."
"Vuri?" Margaret wondered. "Who is that?"
"I don't know. But whoever that friend of ours is, he or she has a very morbid sense of humour. A very playful one as well! It sounds like you, Margaret!"
"Are you accusing me?" she stood up frowning.
"Who else? Phil is a grumpy old man. I am… not the murderer, so that leaves you!"
"I have to inform you, mister detective, that I am not the killer either! Phil could as well be just hiding his true intentions!"
Phil only coughed, but his constantly red face was gushing with anger expressing discontent with what Margaret had said. He hastily rushed out of the room, but nobody followed him. They both knew he went out to calm down.
"It's my turn to go to the toilet," Jeffrey said with hints of disdain in his voice. Gone was his friendly attitude.
"Whatever," Margaret said just as grumpily.
And so the three were separated once again. As expected, trouble followed soon thereafter. With sound noises, clapping, banging and blowing, something horrid happened. Few seconds flew by and both Margaret and Jeffrey were standing next to the motionless body of the murderer's second victim – Phil. It looked like a furious fight had taken place before his demise, for the tapestry was torn, stools were broken, statues reduced to pieces and paintings irreversibly destroyed. Phil's mouth was wide open and his eyes were expressing the deepest shock man had ever seen.
"I knew it from the start," Margaret said, slowly stepping backwards. "It was you all the time. Vuri. Do you like that nickname? Vuri? What does it mean?"
"You are mad," Jeffrey replied.
"Who are you, Vuri?" she laughed.
"What have you done?"
"I? Done? You have murdered Beatrice, then Phil and now you are about to kill me, right? Is it going according to your plan? Is it great to be a murderer?"
"I don't know what you are talking about!"
"Kill me then!"
"You kill me!"
"Why should I? I'm not the murderer!"
"Neither am I!"
"You're the liar."
"I'm not! Kill me already!"
"You psychopath! You madman!"
"What? A killer stands before me and I am supposed to calm down?"
"Have you always behaved like that when you murdered them?"
"I didn't do it! You did!"
"It wasn't me!"
They continued shouting at each other heatedly until Margaret's steps led her behind the corner, letting silence ensue.
The two didn't even search for each other, they just retreated somewhere within the depths of the spacious house and were not to be seen by the other ever since.
Later that day, the elevator door finally opened and two men entered the house. It was the butler and his master, lord Cardigan. At first they were shocked to find all four guests dead, for the lord was a very outgoing person, inviting people from all ends of the world to his parties, but well, he anticipated something bad would happen on one of them sooner or later.
As an orderly citizen, he called the police, who promptly investigated the scene and returned to lord Cardigan with an explanation.
Beatrice's death, an unfortunate event, had been caused mainly by her medication against cold that had induced a feeling of fainting in her, making her fall over a doorstep. She had unwittingly impaled herself on one of the sharp needles that held her flamboyant dress together.
Phil, on the other hand, had died of suffocation, being unable to breathe yet still lively enough to cause carnage everywhere around him as he grasped everything to keep him on his feet, but inevitably succumbing to the lack of oxygen.
Jeffrey, a person with the most ill health, was the third person to pass out, sneezing so strongly it had caused a heart attack.
The last but not least, Margaret's death had been the result of a severe exhaustion her body had been exposed to due to the factors of stress and illness.
And the letter signed by the mysterious Vuri? It was VURI, an acronym standing for Viral Upper Respiratory Infection – the common cold. It had been written by Beatrice, who had sported a twisted sense of humour, and furtively placed on the table as she left to look for Phil. Had she known she would, ironically, have been right…
Nevertheless, life moved on and lord Cardigan, not having been put off by the deaths of his guests, continues in his extravagant ventures and the parties still take place to this very day.