I stare into the mulled wine, trying to see to the bottom of the glass. Six hours ago, in the previous year, I had poured two bottles of cheap red wine of questionable quality into a slow cooker. Next went the orange and lemon slices and a cheesecloth full of what I assumed were spices, prepared by a friend; a self-proclaimed kitchen witch.
The peacock leaned in, blinking its beady eyes. “Do you intend to take the Vow of the Peacock and uphold the laws of chivalry?”
Yep. I’m drunk.
“Yeah. I think I can handle that.” I keep blinking, half expecting the bird to disappear as quickly as it had appeared.
“I was talking to him,” it says, nodding to the guy passed out in the recliner still clutching his last beer bottle.
You’re kidding, right? That dude’s blacked out.”
The peacock tuts, readjusting its skirt of feathers draped over the back of the other chair. “Well then, I’ll just have to move onto the next candidate.”
“Um…hello? Potential, not-yet-blacked-out candidate sitting right here.” I wave at it, suddenly more annoyed by being passed over than hallucinating.
“You?” the peacock peers closer, scrutinizing my lap.
“Uh, yeah.” I place many hand over my crotch. “Women can be chivalrous too.”
The peacock rears back and laughs, a cringe-worthy scream. “I know that, but women cannot take the Vow of the Peacock.”
“Because we don’t have cocks?”
It hits me with a stern look meant to melt my face. “Because you take things to heart. Chivalry comes more naturally to you women. The Vow is for men.”
“What about the Vow of the Peahen.” I take a renewed interest in my wine to avoid the slashing glare. “Alrighty then, Mr. Peacock. How does one take the Vow?”
It adjusts its brilliant plumage. “By vowing to be chivalrous.”
“And feasting on my flesh.”
I shower the coffee table with wine as it attempts to crawl into my lungs. I’m coughing, wine spilling from my glass onto my black velvet dress. Something white is waving in my face; a tissue, the peacock offers in his beak. “They have to eat you?”
It bristles, feathers on his bust flaring. “You are quite offensive when you’re ladled with wine.”
“I’m sorry.” I wipe my mouth, smearing off dark berry lipstick. No one wants to kiss a girl with plum lips on New Years. Miss Goth Lips. I shake my head. “But you get eaten. I mean, well, you know…”
It raises its wing and the smell of roasted meat wafts over me. Its side is featherless and golden brown, juices dripping down to the upholstery of the chair. Against my will my mouth begins to water.
The blacked out guy stirs, as if the smell is bringing him around, but he slouches further into the chair, empty bottle slipping from his fingers and thudding on the carpet.
The peacock adjusts its wing. “It doesn’t hurt, if you were wondering. I carry a knife and tongs with me for convenience. Dull knives are the worst.”
“Then what happens?” I ask.
“He’s left with one of my feathers on his chest as a reminder of his vow.”
“Okay.” I’m weirded out and I smear lipstick onto my hand to make sure I have it all off. “That’s all there is to it?”
Its staring and I realize that we’re the only ones (conscious) left in the living room. There are voices out on the balcony and in the kitchen, but no one seems to have picked up on the enormous peacock in their midst.
“Yes. If he is chivalrous for the year, to the last stroke of midnight.”
“And if he’s not?” I think of the flood of news reports and the parade of men being fired from their jobs. It was a rough year for chivalry.
The peacock ruffles his feathers and preens himself before answer. “I have to eat too, you know.”
I laugh. It just bursts out of me – a sharp bark – quick to finish. “I am so drunk right now,” I tell myself. “So eff’d up.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“I’m on my third glass of wine and pregamed earlier with three shots of tequila and, wait for it, I’m talking to a carnivorous peacock. You could get me to believe anything right now.”
The peacock sweeps its tail up behind it and it fans open in a majestic unfurling of emerald greens and sapphire blues, midnight blacks and glittering golds. I find myself unable to catch my breath.
“Beautiful,” but I’m not sure if I said it out loud.
The black eyes of each feather suddenly seem to turn on me, hundreds of eyes all glaring until they weren’t eyes at all.
They were mouths.
Faces of men, elongated on each feather in blues and greens. All locked in a permanent scream, eyes bulging or screwed shut. They appear silent but I swore I could hear their screams.
The peacock sweeps his tail down and flutters from the back of the chair to the floor. Without another word, he disappears into the kitchen, leaving a trail of loose feathers that evaporate into the air.
A/N: This story was inspired from a writing prompt I found on the Writer’s Digest: Vow of the Peacock. I originally wrote it on 1/7/18. I cleaned it up a bit because I figured it would make a pretty good V post. So, what do you think?
Edit, 7/2/18: The story continues in X is for Xander.