Four horror-style stories from a haunted-style mansion: "The Portrait," "The Trophy," "The Conservatory," and "The Stables." General.
1 – The Portrait
At the front of the hall hung a portrait painted in oils: a woman in a gown and corset, with dark lips and darker hair. Its eyes didn't follow the viewer so much as pierce through them. Though its mouth curled down into the slightest scowl, the light and shadow across its cheeks made it seem, if you caught it in the corner of your eyes, as though it was smiling.
Paintings lined the hall, but it was the portrait that Jason's flashlight lingered on. He stuffed a fist into the pocket of his puffy jacket and hunched his shoulders to fend off a shiver. Did it count as creepy? It was working on him, but he'd have to convince the rest of his friends if he wanted to win their contest. Setting his flashlight down on a nearby table, he dragged his phone out of his jeans pocket.
While he framed the portrait in his phone's camera, his fingers grew cold. He clenched his hand into a fist, then blew on his knuckles, then patted his cheeks, but they remained cold and oddly pale. Hurry up and get the shot, he told himself.
With a ruby-nailed finger, he tapped the screen, then lowered it to peer at the finished picture. The zipper on the front of his jacket twitched before sliding downward, slowly baring the front of his shirt.
No good. The picture had come out blurry. Jason took a few steps forward. His sleeves thinned out while he rubbed his hands together to warm them up—slender fingers, slim wrists, goose- bumps along his soft skin. He swept a lock of darkening hair behind his ear, out of the way of a red teardrop earring.
The portrait's hands, folded in its lap, now looked large and plain in comparison, and its ears were conspicuously unadorned.
Lifting his phone again, he held it as still as possible. His pursed lips were overtaken by red lipstick. The collar of his shirt stretched lower across his chest and his copper-red hair tickled his slender shoulders. He tipped his head back, held his breath, and snapped another picture. This time, the shot was clearer, but the photo itself seemed wrong. Instead of eerie scornful beauty, there was a confused, almost shocked look in the portrait's eyes.
October 31, 2019
For two office workers, an elevator ride becomes a growing, swelling, sloshing experience as they're turned into a big goofy toon wolf and gator. Mature.
On one side of the elevator stood Andrew. On his way back from a late lunch, he hadn't expected to run into anyone he knew. Okay, 'knew' was a bit of a stretch, since he didn't even know her name, but he knew she worked in Legal up on the fifty-second floor, that he was intimidated by how good she looked in a pantsuit, and that he wouldn't be able to say a word to her without stumbling over his own tongue.
On the other side of the elevator was Breana. She'd just gotten out of a meeting with one of their clients. She couldn't help feeling a little jealous of Andrew, who didn't have to haul out a stuffy suit jacket or wear heels every time he had to meet someone new. She didn't know his name either, but she recognized him from the couple of times she'd been down to Finance on the forty-third floor. They'd never had the chance to talk before.
"So," she said, breaking the silence as they waited for the doors to close. "You like Dopey Ditties?"
Andrew was caught completely off guard. "Um, what?"
"You have a, uh, B.B. Wolf mug on your desk." Great idea, she thought, kicking off a conversation with old cartoons. Not weird at all. "I always liked Al A. Gator."
"Oh. He's pretty cool," Andrew said, for lack of anything better to say.
The doors swung shut on the lobby and, mercifully giving Breana an excuse to go quiet again, the elevator chimed, "Going up."
The two of them were about to get know each other real well.
September 28, 2019
A certain someone gets sucked into one of those dragon platformer games. No, not that one. Mature.
As the black of the screen stretches into a swirling void and you're pulled flailing through the frame of the TV, you can't help but wonder whether the note that said, "Here's that dragon game I thought you'd really get into," was supposed to be a pun.
At first it feels like being hurled forward, then like falling into the formless dark. With no more force than if you rolled off the edge of a couch, you land on a polished stone floor. A spotlight falls across you, lighting up an area a little wider than the span of your arms. You look up, but the light's not coming from anywhere. It's just there.
Ugh. Always this sort of thing on your birthday. You sit up, then get to your feet. Maybe the screen's still somewhere in the dark up above you. If you can get up to it, maybe you can climb back out.
But before you take two steps, a broad black pane blurts open in front of you, blocking your way. Letters appear inside of it, in time with a warbling sound that's not quite like a voice.
Uh, yeah, no thanks. You're not bothering with this; you need to find a way out. As you turn to the side, you're confronted by a text box with a blinking cursor. You turn around, but it whirls about to keep itself in front of you. You reach out to push it away, but it's solid, like a floating wall. When you touch it, the first blank spot switches to an A.
You sigh. Maybe it'll let you go if you play along. By tapping on the text box you start spelling out, letter-by-letter, B-L-A...but before you can follow that with C, the cursor leaps two spaces forward, spelling out 'BLAZE' instead.
September 19, 2019
An amorphous furry monster grows by turning hapless victims into new parts of its body. Explicit.
Tom opened the door onto a completely dark apartment. Usually at least one of his roommates would have been around at this hour, using the TV in the living room or cooking in the kitchen, but all the lights were out. It was quiet. Slipping off his pack, he set it down by the front table, then grasped for the switch on the lamp.
When it clicked on, he was confronted with a total mess. One of the floor lamps had been knocked to the ground, the living room table was on its side, and the couch cushions had been tossed in all directions. It looked like someone had ransacked the apartment, but everything valuable was left in place. Leaving the front door ajar in case he needed to run for it, he picked his way around the strewn cushions and called out, "Hello? Guys?"
As he rounded the back of the couch, a heavy thump brought his attention to the floor. He froze in place, staring down at a big, purple, furry...something. It was long and oblong and lumpy. His eyes couldn't make sense of what they saw. That mass looked a bit like shoulders, that protrusion could have been a thigh, but the whole thing was too big and too jumbled-up to be a body. All that was clear was that the entire thing was covered in thick, almost silky, magenta fur.
Then it moved. The fur flowed across its surface as two of the closest lumps lurched outward and swiped at his ankles.
Tom yelped and stumbled back. His feet caught the corner of a pillow; he kicked it, spinning, off into the living room. The huge furry mass lumbered towards him, bulging and rolling like a body writhing beneath tar. Tom turned to run for his bedroom. The thing swatted at his ankle, knocking his feet from under him, sending him tumbling toward the ground.
Then everything smelled like pain and went black.
Tom woke to find his cheek against the floor and his nose swollen and tender. His thoughts were sluggish and groggy. He pushed himself up on one arm, bent a leg underneath him, and felt a weight tugging the base of his spine back down. With a grunt, he slumped against the floor. He groped behind his back, and his hand met thick fur.
August 28, 2019
Hello My Name Is...
A customer at Katie's diner is messing with words, and Katie—or whatever her name is now—has got to stop it. Mature.
Katie kept her name tag pinned above the left breast of her pink button-down blouse. It was part of the outfit she had to wear: the blouse, the matching skirt, and the apron she kept her pen and order pad stuffed into. At the start of every shift, she dug her name tag out of the bowl in the back next to the shift schedule, and pinned it to her chest. It was the one part of the dumb, outdated outfit that she had no problem with.
At least, not until today.
Two other name tags were missing from the bowl when Katie clocked in. The first belonged to Liz, who was making herself busy in the late-afternoon lull by tidying up around the register. Her shift would be over in an hour and change, and Katie knew she was just counting down the minutes, because that's what she did herself when she had the eleven o'clock shift.
The other was Benny's. He was just the busboy, but he was six-foot-something and had once tackled someone who'd tried to leave without paying. Katie had never talked to him much, but she gathered he'd played football while he was in school. She was jealous of him, because he didn't have to wear pink.
As far as Katie could tell, it was a normal, slow day at the diner. She'd gone around to each booth and pulled down the blinds, so the sun wouldn't be glaring in through the windows, and had checked to make sure the table of college-aged guys didn't need anything. They were no one she knew, thankfully.
June 27, 2019
A woman gets swallowed up by her new scaly skin and turned into a cobra. (Contains biting.) Explicit.
Emily stepped barefoot across the tiled floor. A sliver of the North African breeze rustled the hem of her nightgown as she paused in the doorway, looking back at her fiancée slumbering amidst the sheets. With a small smile she swung the door closed, leaving only a crack open.
Filling the basin of the sink from the tap, Emily scooped up two handfuls of water and stroked them across her face. It had taken weeks of negotiating for Simon to agree to bring her on one of his 'expeditions', so she wouldn't let him see a hint of regret, even if the sun singed her nose pink and the dry air left her skin feeling like parchment.
Hands on the edge of the sink, Emily lifted her face and let the water drip off her chin. The cool air brushed against the edges of her cheeks. She chased an itch on the back of her palm with her fingers, then sunk her hands into the water and rubbed them together. Leaning over the water, she splashed several more handfuls across her face, too, in an attempt to soothe the itch running down her forehead and across her nose. After a thorough scrubbing, she groped for the washcloth and dried herself off.
The water hadn't helped. She scratched above her temple, along her cheekbone, across her jaw. Her nails left red tracks across her skin. She dug her fingers underneath her gown and scratched at her neck.
With a small breath of frustration, she lifted her nightgown from her shoulders, pulled it off over her head, and laid it out beside her while she retrieved a bottle of oil from her bag. She set aside the glass stopper, then poured a splash of the oil into her hand and spread it across her bare shoulders and onto her neck and cheeks.
As she rubbed the oil into the nape of her neck, Emily felt a tug around her midsection, like the grip of a corset, or more likely the tautness of dry skin. She turned toward the mirror. What looked like a translucent, silky sash had wrapped around her stomach, from her waist up to just below her ribs.
It wasn't silk. It was patterned, textured, scaled; it was snake skin. And it wasn't staying still. It slid outward along her skin, like a sheet pulled by an invisible hand. It was swallowing her up.