Marek Merckl's Million Dollar Surprise

Tucker Christine is a caterer, the leader of the instrumental band Pleated Gazelle and curator of the Dracula bibliography He lives in Bensalem, PA with his wife and two ... [+]

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As the guests were transitioning from dinner to dessert the gracious host approached the bandstand, took the microphone, and dismissed the band. "Let's hear it for Carl and the Clean Scene, greatest party band in the country!" he said. The crowd politely applauded as the musicians shyly exited the room. "And how about this fabulous staff from Fresh Event Catering, aren't they wonderful? I hope you're all enjoying the food and having a good time." The staff smiled and nodded. He smiled back and waved them out of the room as well. They closed the doors for privacy.

The host paused. There was a wave of confused murmur throughout the room. Most of the guests hadn't seen Marek in a long while and this figure on the stage now barely resembled the man they remembered. Gone were the long hair and scruff he wore all through high school and college. He was now clean shaven, head and face, bordering on gaunt when he previously approached chubby. He easily appeared twenty years beyond his actual thirty-five.

He pulled a stack of cards out of his jacket pocket. "I was going to try this without these," he said, "but that doesn't seem as doable now that I'm up here." He looked down to the floor, adjusted his tie, wiped sweat from his brow and swallowed a lump before continuing, 

"I know you're probably all curious why we're here." This was true; the invitation was cryptic at best. 

"As you all know I've worked very hard for a very long time, often to the detriment of any semblance of a personal life." There were chortles and snorts in acknowledgement. He had alienated many, if not all, of these people at some point throughout the years.

"Those of you who have known me the longest know that as a child I had a single dream. I never wanted to be an actor, or an astronaut, or the president like most kids. My only ambition was to have a million dollars. I didn't care about what that money could buy. I never dreamed of owning things, I just wanted one million dollars." There was a slight excitement building as the crowd saw where this was headed. "I know it sounds infantile and shallow, especially out loud, but that little boy dream is what drove me deep down."

He raised his head. "This party is partly to celebrate the fact that as of last month I officially achieved my dream.

"When my accountant – where are you, pal?" As he scanned the room a well-dressed rodent-looking man stood from the back and waved. Bob was the only one in the building who thought he had an inkling as to the purpose of this affair. "There you are. When Bob told me that my liquid assets were approaching a million, I knew I wanted to do something big and elaborate, and I knew I wanted all of you to celebrate with me. All of you have helped me get here in one way or another. And I thank you." He smiled and raised his champagne in toast and the crowd did the same.

"Now there's an old adage that the first million is the hardest, and that leads us to the second reason for tonight. You see, my first million will sadly also be my last." His smile was gone. He put his champagne down. He was no longer looking at the cards. His heart was now speaking.

"Around the same time that Bob was making my dreams come true, I also learned that I have cancer." There was a collective gasp. "It's in my lungs, my stomach, my brain..." He trailed off for a moment. His mother yelled and would have fallen over if not for her husband steadying her. Bob the accountant was now as in the dark as everyone else. Marek hung his head. A tear fell. "It's not...," he choked up. "It's not good." 

He paused for another second to collect himself. His parents were now approaching him with tears in their eyes and arms wide open. He faced them with tears of his own, but he held up his hand and silently asked them to give him another minute.

"I've elected to forego treatment. The doctors say it could gain me a couple months, but not comfortable months. There's no point." He shook his head. There was complete silence in the room. Nobody was prepared for this.

"Now, there's another old saying, ‘You can't take it with you,'" he continued, "which is why I've spent almost everything on this evening." He smiled tentatively. "The whole thing. This was all to show you how much you mean to me." Earlier everyone had been in awe of what they were enjoying. From the red-carpet entrance into the castle ballroom to the twenty foot ice sculptures to the world class cuisine, no expense was spared and now they knew why.

"I do, however, intend to take all of you with me." Had anyone been listening to Marek they would have found that line odd; had anyone been listening to anything other than Marek they would have heard the doors clicking locked behind them. As it was, the partygoers were stunned and not necessarily hearing anything. "The food we've all just enjoyed, from the appetizers right through to dessert, has been poisoned. We'll all be gone within the hour. Thank you. And enjoy the rest of the evening."

The crowd sat in silence as he left the stage to comfort his parents. Nervous laughter broke out sporadically as some suspected a tasteless joke, but panic set in as soon as the first person vomited. Chaos ensued as some people got sick and passed out while others pushed and trampled each other scrambling toward the exits. Marek laid on the floor slowly and peacefully dying and watched as his friends and family furiously banged and shook the doors, but the trauma scene clean-up crew had been paid handsomely to keep them locked in until they were silent.


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