Birthday Blaze

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.


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 It was the one part of the dumb, outdated outfit that she had no problem with.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.


Friday

A latex outfit grows out of some guy's body as his apartment changes around him. Mature.

One Friday, entirely by accident, George found he had kicked up the corner of the rug of reality.

Before then, it had been the sort of day that left him desperate for the weekend. A late shift at work bled into the bus ride home into the rain washing down as he walked to his apartment building. Cold and damp, George started climbing the stairs to his floor. As soon as he got in, he was going to peel off his clothes, dunk himself in the shower, and then crawl into bed until tomorrow afternoon.

When he stepped onto his floor, he spotted a woman leaned back against the wall opposite his front door. What caught his eye wasn't her posture or the way she was casually checking her phone or her unfamiliar face, but the fact that from her diamond- studded collar down to the tips of her toes, every inch of her was wrapped up in a pink latex catsuit. Her lips and her hair were so brightly pink they could have been made of candy. Next to all that, her plain black jacket looked out of place.

She didn't look up as George walked to his front door. Still, he knew she'd noticed him and was politely pretending to ignore him. He pulled his keys from his pocket. He could feel her attention boring into his back, but if he looked and she wasn't staring at him, he'd be the weird one. Something about him was interesting, but he didn't want to be interesting. He wanted to be warm, and dry, and asleep.

With the door swung shut behind him, standing in his kitchen-slash-living room, he felt comfortable again. What was someone dressed like that doing hanging around here? A neighbor he hadn't seen before, maybe, or someone's girlfriend. It was enough of an answer to put his mind to rest.


Squash and Stretch

Kotep doesn't let getting turned into a big dumb cartoon jackal get in the way of turning their friend into a big dumb cartoon wolf. Mature.

Surprise is an important part of being a jackal trickster god. Why just visit a friend when you can pop down to his apartment unannounced, fill it with magical traps ready to be sprung, and wait for him to stumble in and kick off the fun? The only problem was he didn't have the courtesy to show up on schedule. I'd been waiting for him for twenty minutes now, tipped back in his chair with my feet up on his table. I was bored of debating what to turn him into (maybe a cow, hadn't done that in a while) and had resorted to fiddling with my armbands by the time I decided to get up and get a drink. All this sitting around in the mortal realm was making me thirsty.

I slipped into the kitchen with my ears perked and swiveled toward the door, just in case he barged in while I wasn't looking. I didn't even have to hunt for a glass; a water bottle sat invitingly out on the counter. Nice of him to leave a drink out for me, especially since he had no clue I was coming. I tipped my snout up and downed the whole thing, then left it by the sink and headed back to my post at the table.

Something lingered in my mouth, like that syrupy feeling after drinking cheap soda. I ran my tongue along the roof of my palate and gulped. The feeling didn't go away; it was thick and gooey and clung to my teeth. I lapped along the backs of my fangs and swallowed again. I didn't want to be sloshing over my words whenever that friend of mine decided to show up.

No sooner had I gulped all that slick, viscous fluid down than my mouth began to fill up again. It clung to my tongue, making it feel blunt and slippery and too large for my mouth. My tongue squashed up against my own incisors, struggling to stay squeezed inside my jaw, curling and twisting and folding up against itself. At first I clenched my teeth and furrowed my brow, but soon the growing pressure was too much and I relented. My tongue flopped free and hung from the side of my muzzle, fat and round and inflated, pinkish-red with a glossy shine. A heavy bead of drool rolled from the tip like sticky sugar glaze.


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