Tiny glasses filled with sweet cordials were arranged in a perfect circle on an ornate silver tray, a rainbow of liquid calamity. There was one flute for each dinner guest.
Their host had chosen the digestifs especially for their cloying taste, an antithesis to the evening’s savory meal. Most guests only took minuscule sips, not wanting to offend their host by rejecting his offering, but also not wanting to upset already overindulged stomachs.
As guests milled around the study, engaging in small talk or continuing conversations begun over dinner, house staff, dressed in stiffly starched uniforms, passed among them carrying empty trays. Their faces expressionless as they eavesdropped on the gossip.
From his chair in the corner of the room, their host, Mr. Stiles, observed the drama unfolding, the unintended cosplay of chimerical characters. Each in their own costume, pretending to be businessmen and housewives, teachers and civil servants, performing roles scripted by parents and spouses, bosses and co-workers, friends and strangers.
Mr. Stiles tipped back his glass of Disaronno, dark and slightly bitter with a hint of almonds on the back of his tongue. Raising his nearly empty glass up to the light, he watched as the legs slid slowly down the sides. Fascinated by the distorted vision of the room he saw through the glass, Mr. Stiles wondered if this perception of his guests wasn’t more accurate – slightly warped and dreamlike.
His entertainment for the night coming to its finale, Mr. Stiles gestured for his staff to collect the other empty glasses. As the last of the flutes were collected, the guests gathered around their host’s chair in anticipation of his benediction.
Looking out over the anxious faces, Mr. Stiles waited for the room to grow still.
“Well, Stiles,” said one of the bloated businessmen at the back of the room. “Why are we all here?”
Mr. Stiles considered the questioner, tilting his head to one side.
“Mr. Vernon.” Mr. Stiles swept one hand out, gesturing to the entire crowd. “I invited you all here to make a once-in-a-lifetime offer.”
Vernon flipped the tail of his suit jacket behind him and shoved his hands in his pants pockets. Mr. Stiles expected him to paw at the ground with one foot and snort.
“Each of you has the opportunity to make a wish, one wish, whatever your deepest heart’s desire, and I will grant it,” Mr. Stiles said, ignoring Vernon’s bravado. “Or, you can continue in the life you have now, unchanged.”
“What’s the catch?” Vernon shouldered his way to the front of the crowd.
“Only two requisites, ” Mr. Stiles said. “First, you must make your choice tonight, and second… “
“Here it comes!” Vernon nodded to the others, a knowing smirk plastered on his ruddy face.
“Second,” Mr. Stiles continued. “If you choose to make a wish, you can’t change your mind. You can’t undo your wish. You have to live with the consequences of your choice.”
“If I wish for ten million dollars every year for the rest of my life?” Vernon said.
“Then you’ll get it, but,” Mr. Stiles said, “you also face all that comes with it.”
“You know what happens to someone who gets what he has always wanted?” Vernon popped the collar of his jacket, looking around at the other guests. “He might live happily ever after.”
“Just be careful what you ask for, Mr. Vernon,” Mr. Stiles said. “You’re not Charlie Bucket, and I’m certainly not Willy Wonka.”