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Matrimony

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Estimated reading time — 12 minutes

When Matt originally proposed the idea, I thought he was joking. Crash a wedding? Like in the movies? Pull a Vince Vaughn? I loved the idea, but the thought of actually sneaking into a random wedding to pick up chicks, well… it just wasn’t possible. Someone would realize we didn’t belong there. Brides and grooms pour over their invite lists for months. An odd dude – let alone two – would be noticed. I don’t care how big the wedding is! Life’s not a movie.

“Someone will know. Someone will catch us,” my words to Matt.

Matt kept insisting, “We can pull this off! Live out our dream of the ultimate pick-up! And, hell, even if we get caught, what’s the big deal? It’s not like it’s a felony. Right?”

Matt went on like this for weeks. Eventually, I decided to humor him. I gave in. I said yes. I let him do the planning. Handle all the finer details. He picked the wedding. Told me what suit to wear. He even booked two hotel rooms near the reception site, these, in the event that we would actually get lucky. The man had done his homework.

It started to feel… real. So real it made my head float. The thought of it. The thought of actually following through on this, well, seemed like something to joke about but never act upon — like dropping acid or free soloing El Capitan.

I was single at the time. Covid was just beginning to spread around the country. Around the world. Maybe, just maybe, a part of me saw this as one last hurrah before things got grim. Really grim.

Our target wedding was in sight. Wedding and reception were both being held at a Knights of Columbus Hall far outside the city. We’d take the train to Yonkers, then Uber out the rest of the way. Like in the movie, Matt had found an affluent family hosting a reception with upwards of three hundred guests. “The richer people won’t notice us as much,” Matt mused. “Worst case, they’ll think we’re the help. We just have to act like we belong there. Can’t act like we’re trying to get away with something.”

Matt ran through our caper again and again the entire train-ride north. He even shortened the plot-line along the way. “We went to college with the groom.” Boom. Done. Matt knew I was nervous. I wasn’t as big a risk-taker as he, nor was I as suave.

True to our fictive backstory, Matt and I had been, in fact, college buddies. He’d always been the instigator who dared to push boundaries. I was the follower, constantly in need of coaxing. We probably shouldn’t have even been friends but had bonded over similar childhoods, having had overbearing, religiously zealous parents. My Catholic upbringing had imbued me with a lifelong sense of shame and a fear of punishment. I lived my life in perpetual fear of the other shoe dropping. Matt had shed that fire and brimstone baggage early on in life, ending up relatively carefree and uninhibited. Never seemed to worry about his party-filled, dissolute life, nor was he bothered about using the sacrament of matrimony as a tool to get laid.

It was a terrible day for a wedding. The sky pissed down rain all morning. Our suits were soaked as we barreled from the station into our Uber. Matt was giddy as hell, though. I was nervous. My hands were clammy. My voice started taking on a thin, reedy quality as we drove up the long forested driveway. I could see dozens of cars parked or in the act of parking up ahead. People in suits and dresses were sprinting from their vehicles into a large faceless stone building. My God, we were really doing this! I had thoughts of bailing, staying in the Uber, heading to our hotel. Matt opened his door, looked my way. He must have read my anxiety because he grabbed my forearm, frowned and, nearly as one, we bolted the car and ran towards the building.

Once inside the lobby, we were greeted by an usher in a penguin suit. He instructed us to surrender our phones at the front table. The bride and groom had a strict no photography/no phones policy. They wanted everyone to be “in the moment” for their wedding. Devices could be retrieved on the way out. We reluctantly forked them over, then, resolute, pushed our way through the double doors into the main wedding hall.

I remember thinking that for a wealthy family, this was one hell of a drearily dank establishment. The building was old. The main hall was windowless and dimly lit. It felt like one of those small town VFW’s where old-timers get drunk nightly, the atmosphere filled with human exhaust from dozens of Camel non-filters.

Not a place for some rich family’s wedding.

And where were the people? Three hundred invited? More like seventy-five here, in reality. Those present were gathered in what seemed to us a pre-wedding cocktail hour grouping. At the far end of the hall, folding chairs sat empty in preparation for the ceremony. We bee-lined to the bar for some liquid reinforcement only to discover that this was to be a dry wedding… no booze, not now, not even after the ceremony! Apparently, the bride and groom didn’t drink, so they didn’t want anyone else to partake, either. The damn nerve! Not a great start to our foray into wedding crashing. “Don’t worry,” Matt whispered, “the girls will still be horny – it’s a wedding, after all. It’ll be just like the movie. All we have to do is strike at the right moment and then lay on the charm.”

Easy for him to say. As we stood at the bar taking stock of our prospects, I began to get even more antsy. There weren’t many single ladies in the house. In fact, many of the people were older… in their late 50’s and up. Wedding Crashers AARP, for Chrissakes!

Matt said we needed to circulate. We were looking too conspicuous, standing at the bar. We needed to mingle on our own. We’d have more luck that way. “Fair enough,” I told him. I wound about the floorspace, casually, feeling slightly more comfortable as the minutes went by. I spotted a woman, moderately attractive, standing off to the side. Alone. Here we go, I thought.

“Hi there! Kind of a nasty day for a wedding, don’t you think?”

The woman answered in another language. Russian? Czech? Had an Eastern European vibe. I smiled awkwardly, nodded, bowed slightly and moved on. I orbited the room, eavesdropping other conversations, realizing that no one here was speaking English. Goddamnit, Matt… how are we supposed to crash a foreign wedding? With subtitles? What a friggin’ bust!

I sought out my friend, finding Matt engaged with a dark-haired hottie, communicating, or at least attempting to, in his own charismatic way. The dude spoke Italian, so maybe his basic grasp of the Romance languages was helping him eke out a conversation….

God, I needed a beer! Instead, I spent the next hour in a fractured conversation with an oafish bald man owning a moon-sized face. Speaking in broken English, he punctuated each line by wiping his sweaty brow with his kerchief. Each time he asked me who I was, I repeated the same rote line: “I went to college with the groom.” And after each reply, he’d give me this wry smirk. Did he know I was full of shit? Who cared. I was over it by this point. Throw me out! You’ll be doing me a favor!

As the crowd began to move towards the empty seats, I realized my salvation from Mr. Moon Face’s mind-numbing chit-chat was at hand! The lights dimmed. Several tall candles were lit. The ceremony was about to begin!

I snagged a chair near the back of the hall but still found a good vantage point to view the ceremony. Matt was, of course, sitting with his newfound lady-friend on the other side of the aisle. Lucky guy! Moon Face plopped down beside me. It seemed I had, unfortunately, made a new friend, too. The organ began playing a dissonant tune that sounded only vaguely like “Here Comes the Bride”. All stood. Weird, I thought… Where is the groom? Shouldn’t he be at the spot where the altar should be, awaiting his bride by now?

A door opened from a room behind us. The bride’s party began to walk down the makeshift aisle towards us. Everyone was smiling as the Flower Girl approached. There was something strikingly odd about the scene, though. The child wasn’t tossing any flower pedals. Instead, she was being escorted by an older man, her father maybe, who was clenching her hand tightly. He seemed to be almost dragging her. Come to think of it, I had never seen a flower girl wearing such an intricate dress of such formal design. The train was long and endless. A thin white veil barely concealed her face, a face that had been overdrawn with make-up and lipstick. Her hair had been coiffured elegantly, as well.

She looked like a mini-bride.

The thought then crossed my mind that maybe she was a little person but I quickly shook off that notion upon seeing her childish features. This was definitely a girl barely seven years of age. I stood there awaiting more people to follow. There was no further procession. No more to the bridal party.

The music stopped.

“Where’s the bride?” I mumbled in confusion. I watched now as the dad led his little girl up to what I noticed was a large red circle drawn on the floor… a makeshift altar? He kissed her forehead and left her there.

It was at this point when it started to become abundantly clear that something wasn’t right. Matt and I exchanged glances from across the room. What the hell was going on here? Moon Face smiled at me and whispered in his broken English, “Doesn’t she look beautiful?” And that’s when I started to feel an unshakably queasy sensation. This little girl – who wasn’t a day over seven – was the bride. JESUS EFFING CHRIST! Our dream of living out a hilarious RomCom from our youth was instantly shattered.

I nearly threw-up in my mouth. I had heard about this sort of thing before. Were we crashing some illegal child-bride wedding? Was some creepy renegade old school Mormon tying the knot with this poor, sweet, innocent little girl? Was she about to be added to some disgusting and reprehensible seraglio of child slave-wives? Matt and I had to get out of there. We needed to call the police or Child Protective Services. ASAP.

More organ music and clapping from the crowd could now be heard. I looked around. At this point Moon Face nudged me, “Here comes your old friend from college! The groom!”

Matt and I shared another troubled look from afar. Everyone turned to face the doorway again. I craned my neck for a better angle. What I saw made even less sense to me than the child bride had. Because, entering the room, there were four men carrying a large plush mattress from each corner, almost like they were attendants to Cleopatra. Or like pallbearers at a funeral. The room fell under a hushed silence, some in the crowd even bowing their heads as the party drew closer. Who were these men carrying this thing?

“Oh my God,” I said to myself, almost unconsciously. My eyes racked with utter bewilderment. It wasn’t a man, or even a little boy on that mattress. It was a fucking goat!

A large black goat with a wispy white beard, the cruelest dark eyes and the longest bending horns I’ve ever seen. He sat quietly on the mattress, seemingly staring ahead. Dignified, almost. I couldn’t help but snicker at the absurdity of what was happening. They carried the goat up to the altar beside its “blushing child-bride”. The creature stepped off, hoofs clapping loudly against the marble floor.

The oafish man turned to me with his big face, eyes now welling with moisture, “Such a beautiful couple.”

I tried to play dumb, to laugh it off, maybe this was all some weird joke, a joke I wasn’t in on. Some odd Eastern European family tradition that went back generations. I couldn’t see the humor nor the sense in any of it. I kept looking around for the real bride and groom to make their appearance… but they never came.

Moon Face whispered, “His Excellency will be so happy with her.” My skin instantly crawled. As if from the ether, up front, a hooded priest appeared in flowing black robes. He stepped forward to the altar and began chanting in that same foreign tongue. I could only assume he was reciting some macabre litany, joining the child and the goat in the unholiest of unions. I stood there, frozen in shock and terror, bearing witness to this most ridiculous and vile of matrimonies, waiting for someone… anyone… to stop this abomination, waiting for someone to cry out that this wasn’t right.

No one came forward. Nothing was done to stop this unearthly machination. In contrast, the women in the audience smiled, wiping joyous tears from their eyes. The men simpered. All of this seemingly so normal to them. The poor child looked about, scared and confused. Even in her youthful years, she had to have known this wasn’t natural. That this was utterly wrong. She kept looking to her father for help.

The father just stood there, a beseeching look describing his expression. A face that said his daughter needed to behave — or else.

The priest began shouting incantations, this giving way to a stirring call and response from the crowd. I recoiled at the sound of their shrill voices. I began trying to desperately signal Matt that it was time to go! He was watching the events unfold at the altar with rapt attention. He couldn’t take his eyes from the scene.

The girl suddenly shrieked. I could see the priest was grabbing her wrist tightly, digging a knife out from under his cloak. What the hell was he going to do? The girl wriggled and screamed. The priest lowered the blade into the soft fleshy palm of her right hand. He drew blood and with his thumb began applying it to her forehead… a pentagram was formed.

I could not bear this anymore. I bolted! I didn’t even look back to see if Moon Face had noticed my departure… I hustled to the double doors at the entrance. When I tried the push-bars, they wouldn’t open. They were locked from the other side! Barred shut! Please God, this isn’t happening! I thought. I tried pushing and pulling the doors, all to no avail. I was frantic. I didn’t realize how loud I was becoming until everything else in the room became pindrop quiet. I feared looking back. I knew all their eyes were upon me. Well, who could blame them? I had interrupted their Satanic wedding service, after all…

Footsteps approached. I threw a quick glance over my shoulder. It was Matt.

“Dude, we gotta find another way out, these doors are locked,” I whispered. But when I looked at Matt, something didn’t feel right. His expression didn’t match my intensity. My sense of urgency.

“Stop, man. You’re causing a scene,” he said.

“Are you seeing what’s happening here? We have to get the hell out!”

He placed his hand on my shoulder in a comforting manner. “We can’t leave yet. The service isn’t over. My family wants to meet you.”

A sudden chill ran down my spine. “What… family?” I croaked out, looking at all the faces in the crowd. “You mean, you’re…?”

He nodded, a smile forming on his lips. A second hand clasped my other shoulder. Moon Face. My heart sank.

I tried to run, but the two held me in place. They then proceeded to drag me, kicking and screaming, down the aisle. I did everything I could to break free, hurling all of my hate and anger at Matt. I was overpowered. They were dragging me ever closer to that horrible altar where the priest, the little girl and the goat were awaiting. “Get your hands off me, you bastards! What kind of monsters are you? What do you want?”

No one did anything. The onlookers, the demonic congregation, just smiled and watched.

Finally, Matt and Moon Face corralled me into the center of the pentagram, dropping me right beside the black goat. I tried to catch my breath, recharge my strength. I looked to the little girl. Judging from her expression, I must have appeared terrified. She’d probably never seen a grown man look this frightened within her short life. I turned to Matt, making a final attempt to appeal to him… “Please, Matt, just let me go…we’re friends, aren’t we?”

“We’re best friends, man,” Matt replied with genuine sincerity.

My eyes widened now because the priest was drawing that knife again. It was much bigger up close. And much sharper.

“Don’t kill me, please…,” I begged. The priest raised the knife. I closed my eyes. This was it. At the age of 28, I was to be sacrificed for some horrible pagan ritual.

THWACK!

I shuddered. Opened my eyes. Looked about. I was still alive. The priest was standing next to me, carving deep into the goat’s furry throat. Blood poured onto the floor. The demonic incantation resumed. “Azazel… Azazel…!”

The goat plopped lifelessly beside me. I blinked. Something was rising up out from within him. A mass. A black configuration. A shape.

“Azazel!” The wedding-goers were chanting now in unison.

The indefinable shape undulated in the air, began twisting in my direction… I wriggled to break free, but Matt’s hands pinned me down. The black shape advanced towards me, spiraling, warping. I screamed. In hindsight, that wasn’t the smartest thing to have done because, whatever that shadowy entity may have been, it entered through my mouth, wending its way into my being, becoming a part of me.

With this shadow, this entity, now relocated, Matt helped me to my feet. I swayed heavily, knees buckling. A full rush of blood surged to my head. The feeling was like downing ten shots of bourbon at once.

My thoughts slipped away into ethereal quicksand. Every word became swallowed up by a new and foreign thought, this thought that was more like a mental block. It was as if I had been signed out from all of my accounts, that I no longer had the right password or access code to get into my own mind. I stared ahead dumbly, gradually losing control, as the very “me” in me began to feel so much smaller… distant… with something else inside me starting now to take control.

I looked over at Matt who flashed that same vintage smile of his. “I knew I’d be your best man someday, buddy,” he said. He raised up a small velvet box which he popped open before me. In it, were two gold rings. For some reason I took a ring. I didn’t want to, you must understand, but something made me do it. Something unstoppable. Unknowable. I turned to the little girl and slid the ring onto her trembling finger.

Before the strange being inside me eclipsed my mind forever, a funny last thought occurred to me: apparently, I had crashed my own wedding. And then, a dark and enormous weight filled my soul, crushing down, devouring me entirely. Imparting to me the knowledge that the other shoe had, indeed, dropped.

Credit : Zach Donohue

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