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Drink to Forget

I looked around the table and smiled. 

I had a lot to be grateful for. A beautiful wife of 25 years, two perfect daughters, the remnants of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, and last but not least, Merlot.

I poured myself another glass while the girls chatted away. My wife turned to me, “I think they’re ready,” she said.

“For wine?” my youngest daughter said, excitedly.

“No, goofball,” Sandy said, clearing her throat. “Thanksgiving is a tough holiday for your father. You girls know that. I think you’re old enough to know why.”

The girls sat up.

“If you’re ready, of course,” she whispered to me.

I nodded, then downed half my glass. After half a minute in silence, I began the story.

“I was eight years old when I lost my brother, my dad, three uncles, four aunts, and two cousins. We were celebrating Thanksgiving at Uncle Chase’s house—the one he grew up in. The adults were making food and the kids were decorating the ping pong table in the basement—the only table big enough to fit us all.

“While the other cousins carefully arranged the table, Chase and I went digging through the storage room for something funny we could use as a gag table decoration. At the bottom of an old dusty bin, we found the holy grail: A strobe-light fog machine. We filled it up with old bottles of fog liquid and hid it under a blanket near the stairs.”

I took another drink of Merlot.

“After an hour of patiently waiting, everyone was finally gathered around the ping pong table, eager to eat. When Uncle Phil proposed we say grace, Chase and I quietly moved to the staircase. Before anyone realized we had left, I whipped the blanket off the machine and turned the lights off. Chase cranked the fog machine to high and clicked on the strobe. The foul-smelling fog billowed into the basement, accompanied by the jarring flash of the strobe lights. I still remember that haunting smell. ‘WELCOME TO THANKSGIVING!’ Chase yelled. We waited for laughter that never came. 

“There were a few harsh coughs, a scream, a thud, then crashing dishes. Our family members were being poisoned to death but were too disoriented from the incessant strobe lights against the dark, cloudy, windowless basement to escape.

“Since Chase and I were standing next to the stairs, and the fog was blowing away from us, it didn’t affect us as quickly. The lit candles started reacting to the rancid fog, spouting clouds of fire in all directions, igniting the rest of the table decorations.

“In the light of the fire, I saw my dad on the ground motioning for me to get out, mouthing the word ‘run.’ Chase and I ran up the stairs and called 911 while the rest of my family suffocated in the basement below.”

I poured more Merlot and the four of us stared at the unlit candles in the middle of the table in silence.

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