Dragon Pox

Greg's working the holiday rush when he comes down with a swelling case of dragon pox. Mature.

There were only two hours left in the Christmas Eve shift, but Greg was fading fast. Every sniffle he made was thick and glorpy, and he could feel the pressure sloshing around in his sinuses, squeezed against his forehead. If he'd felt like this when he woke up, he would have just called in sick. Now he was dreaming of collapsing on the couch with a big cup of hot cocoa as soon as he got home.

Between customers, he ducked beneath the register, rummaging for another tissue, but the box was empty. When he stood back up, his head throbbed from the sudden change of altitude. He leaned against the counter and glanced around behind the lanes. No sign of his shift manager.

Greg sniffed. His nose tickled. He screwed up his face, trying to hold the sneeze at bay. He sucked in a small breath, then a deeper one, then even deeper, twisting aside at the last moment to keep himself from sneezing directly on the conveyor belt.

"Ah-choo!"

With a great sproing a long yellow horn popped from his forehead. It snapped out straight and narrow then bounced back, curling its tip and spreading out thick at the base. The horn was about as long as his forearm and encircled along its length with small ridges. With the weight of his head suddenly canted to one side, he staggered to the left, bumped up against the divider behind him. Another sneeze was brewing, too quickly to do anything to stifle it.

"Aah-choo!"

A horn sprung from the other side of his head and smacked against his skull as it rebounded. Greg let out an unsteady groan and rubbed his hand across his forehead, massaging the broad bases of his horns where they'd pushed the skin aside, and his swollen brow, bulging thick and protruding from all of the pent-up pressure. The weight of his horns was just one more source of dull throbbing for his head.

"Bless you," a woman said, setting her things out on the conveyor belt. Greg just wanted to go home, but he smiled politely and said, "Thanks," then began to scan her things. Two sweaters, a bottle of sparkling cider, cheddar cheese, club crackers, salami. Grab the receipt, stick it in the bag. "Happy holidays." Try not to sniffle in front of the customer.


The Party

Five short stories filled with Halloween-y costume transformation. Mature.

The setting sun lit the tops of the trees like Halloween lights against the purple sky. The old house poked its third story up above the leaves, looking down at the town below, where trick-or-treating was in full swing. The weather had relented just in time, making the evening crisp, but not cold. Cars already lined the narrow road leading up from the highway, parked off the shoulder wherever space could be found.

The path to the house was strung with small lanterns, but Mitch lingered by the side of the road, pacing while trying to look like he wasn't pacing. He picked his head up every time he heard another car rolling by, and occasionally reached back to make sure the duct tape holding his tail on wasn't peeling off. His fox costume was a last-minute affair: a headband with red ears, a costume tail taped to the seat of his pants, and a scribble of black marker on top of his nose, with a few whiskers drawn along his cheeks.

When she saw Mitch, Leah called out, "Hey!" Then she remembered her mask and pushed it up on top of her head. "Hey, Mitch!" she called again, jogging up to meet him.

Leah was dressed as a lion, in a costume that could have come from a stage production: a tawny bodysuit, big furry gloves and boots for paws, a fake mane with rounded ears poking from the top, and a rubber mask, which had been painted over to match the rest of the costume. A wire in her tail kept it curled in the air and made it swing behind her when she walked.

Mitch turned and smiled, relieved to see someone he knew. "Oh, hey!" he said, then nudged his glasses up his nose and took a closer look at Leah. "Where'd you get that? It looks good."

"My parents' attic. I had to kinda sneak it out of their house, but it was pretty dusty, so I don't think they're going to miss it for one night," Leah said, turning sideways to show off the tasseled tail.

"By the way, thanks for inviting me," Mitch said. "If you hadn't, I'd probably just wind up sitting in my dorm all night."

The two of them joked about tearing themselves away from video games until Allison arrived, dressed in a tank top in defiance of the fact that it was almost November, and with her arms folded tight against her chest. She looked from Mitch's bargain-bin fox costume to Leah's full, theatrical lion outfit. With a hesitant frown she asked, "Uh, is...everyone going to be dressed up?"

"There's probably going to be some people not in costume," Leah said. She lifted the lion mask from her forehead and offered it to Allie. "But you can borrow this if you want."

"Thanks," Allie breathed. She slipped the mask on over her face, then ruffled her hair to hide the elastic strap and tugged at the eye holes until they lined up with her eyes. The well-rendered snarl and wrinkled snout went a long way toward making up the fact that it was just a mask. "I don't want to look lame if Tory's going to be here," she said, wrapping her arms around herself again. "Now can we go inside?"

"We're still waiting for Erin and Chris. Let's give them another minute or two," Leah said.

It was hard to miss Chris. As he walked up, he announced himself with a dramatic growl of, "Greetings, puny humans!" He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt patterned with red scales, a pair of tattered pants he'd used to be everything from a pirate to a peasant, red body paint to cover his hands and legs and face, a small rubber dragon's snout on top of his nose, and a stuffed red tail bouncing against the back of his calves.

Erin showed up just after Chris, wearing a jacket and jeans and canvas trainers. The only thing of hers that was even remotely a costume was the shock of red dye she'd put her hair the week before, and she had insisted that was just because she was tired of purple. "I heard you all the way down the road," she told Chris, giving him a mild glare. He didn't take it personally. Mild glaring was Erin's default state.

"You know this is a costume party, right?" Allie asked Erin.

Chris added, "I've got some horns and extra body paint back in my car. You could make a pretty good devil."

Erin rolled her eyes and sighed through her teeth. "Thanks, but I'm fine. I don't want a costume, I'm just here for the party."

And so the five of them filed up along the path toward the house: Leah in most of a lion costume, Chris already in character as a dragon, Allie wearing Leah's lion mask, Erin resolutely refusing to be anything but herself, and Mitch as a makeshift fox, bringing up the rear and gazing up at the old house rising from among the trees. The night was already settling in, rolling up the last rays of sunlight and drawing the sky darker. The warmth of music and voices rose as they crossed the lawn, eager to join...

 

The Party

 


The Laidly Wyrm

Did you know there's an English folk song about a knight kissing a dragon? Mature.

The black granite walls of the seaside keep couldn't keep him at bay. Sir Roderick, youngest knight of the Order of the Green Hen, had come to fight the dragon. The dragon's crimes were only those of scaring coastal farmers and carrying off several head of cattle, but to Roderick, this was an opportunity to distinguish himself.

Getting inside the keep was a challenge all its own, but high walls couldn't stop him. A rope tied to his sword, thrown like a spear through a small window, let him scramble up into the guard tower. From there, he picked his way through the wide corridors of the keep. His footsteps echoed against the steady roar of the waves as he sought a path to the courtyard.

Eventually, he found a set of double doors, bolted with a thick iron bar. Sunlight glared through the cracks from the other side. He took a moment to ready himself. He tucked his blonde hair back, slipped his helmet onto his head, and then placed one hand on the hilt of his sword. With the other, he threw back the bolt and pushed open the doors.

In the courtyard, the high walls cast shadows against the thick flagstones. In one corner, the floor had crumbled away entirely, leaving a hole straight down to the rolling sea below. And in the middle of the courtyard was the dragon.

Its powerful, sinuous body stretched out along the stones. It sat like a great regal cat, with its forelegs tucked under its chest and back legs extended. Its scales glistened in the sun; they were a shade of blue richer than a nobleman's coat. A pair of smooth horns curled from its forehead, first sweeping back, then arching forward again in a lazy, serpentine curve. Its yellow eyes fixed on Roderick. Lean muscle rolled beneath its scales as it rose to its feet.

The dragon's voice reverberated through the stone. "At last!" it rumbled. Roderick watched its teeth. They were not like daggers. Daggers were thin and meant for slicing. The dragon's teeth were stout and jagged and meant for tearing meat from limb and armor from knight.

Roderick had practised what he would say the whole way from the nearest town. "Remember the name Sir Roderick, dragon," he said. The tip of his sword traced a line straight to the dragon's head. "Because it's he who'll slay you."

"Wait," the dragon said. It held out a taloned claw as big as Roderick's rib cage. "You're here to slay me? You mean you don't know?"


The Dragons Womb

An adventurer becomes host to a parasitic worm that turns her into an egg-laying dragon-insect hybrid. Explicit.

Talia walked through the ribcage of a dragon. Ten feet above her, its spine jutted from the rock ceiling. Its ribs were like curled pillars embedded in the rock walls. A tiny stream ran down the middle of the floor, fed by the trickle of water dripping over the ancient bones. With one eye on the floor and another ahead of her, she followed the slow incline of the tunnel. Up. Up to the mines, and then up out of the Dragons' Tomb.

A bag of drake scales rustled inside her pack. She'd plucked them fresh off a centipede drake's hide: her prize for braving the Tomb. Eline had said it wasn't worth the risk, but a suit of scale armor was a precious thing to have. Talia had found enough scales to make gloves for her roguish friend, too.

Her torch cast a flickering light over the damp. It lit her body: her banded steel armor, her short, dark hair, her young but stern face, and the muddy grit smeared on her cheeks. The centipede drake was still fresh in her mind; wet chittering, hundreds of scuttling claws, and a head that bulged with far too many eyes. She had only nearly bested it.

A flicker of movement caught her eye, shifting in the shadow beyond her torch. Her heart quickened. She gripped her mace. Torch low, she advanced step by step.


Tales of the Strange presents: You Are What You Eat

Some bat investigates an abandoned candy factory and falls victim to its horrors. Guest starring Agouti-Rex's (murrypurry.com) characters.

Rule one of investigating the abandoned candy factory was that no one should know why Mercedes was there. Mrs. McGolly was really insistent on that point. If anyone asked, she was doing a project for school, and had never heard of Mrs. McGolly or her candy corporation. She certainly wasn't getting paid fifty dollars to take pictures of a rival company's abandoned factory.

Rule two was easy, take lots of pictures. Mercedes had a camera, done.

Rule three was weird. "While you're in there," McGolly said, poking a hoof right into Mercedes' face, "don't say 'candy'."

"Uh, why?" Mercedes asked.

"Don't worry about it, just don't say 'candy'. It's my business, not yours." McGolly slapped a ten-dollar bill into Mercedes's hand and swept the bat right out of her office. "Remember—you weren't here," she said, and then ended the conversation by closing the door.

Later that day, Mercedes stood outside the run-down factory, with a camera in one hand and nothing else. She'd been trying to think of alibis for taking pictures, and she had hit on a good one by accident: She was doing a paper on, like, why McGolly's company had opened a brand-new candy factory, when Failtown already had an abandoned candy factory just sitting around.

Actually asking McGolly a question like that would lose her that fifty bucks, though.


Subject #39-01-4

A parasite slowly converts a feline test subject into a gooey, draconian form as he tries to escape. Mature.

AFTER ACTION REPORT

SUBJECT #39-01-4

DOCTOR ???????

NARRATIVE:

The subject was received from the retrieval team operating in ?????????, ?????? on March 30, 20??. The subject was unconscious as per protocol, identified as biologically male, feline (domestic cat), age approximately eighteen to twenty-one. All identifying documents had been properly removed by the retrieval team. Doctors Allbright and Kim were on hand to transport the subject.

Specimen Room A3 was reserved for the initial procedure. Upon entering, we learned that during processing #39-01-1, the previous team of Doctors Lee, Mayers and Reyes had neglected to properly clean all equipment. At this point, Allbright and Kim finished the work left undone by the previous team, where I filed a disciplinary report which has yet to be processed at the time of this writing, but can most likely be found by accessing my record.