The Island

Part wish fulfillment and part Weird Tales, a party led by a ship's captain explores the strange island they landed on, only to find one of their number turning into a sheep-maid. General.

Today, the island took the first of our crew. I would say it is the fifteenth of September, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-six, but I am no longer sure. Since we put in to land five days ago, not once has the fog which shrouds the shores lifted.

In that time, no two parties sent into the interior of the island could agree on what they had found or where. One claimed it was a ring of land around a wide lagoon, another an impassable jungle thick with vines. Irritated by this, Captain Clarke this morning formed a party of the 'most sensible and scientifically-minded' men among the crew, the least given to flights of fancy or tall tales. They were the captain himself, the ship's cook and navigator Sloan, myself as naturalist and unofficial doctor, and a sailor named Simon who was the oldest and most seasoned of the ships's men. We would determine at last the nature of this strange place.

We set out from our encampment in the shadow of our ship, climbing up the seaward slopes of the hills. The fog descended over us until the tents along the sand had vanished and we could hear nothing but our own footsteps and breathing. Sloan and the captain walked ahead together, leaving me to keep my company with the sailor.

Simon did not speak much. The lines dug into the corners of his eyes made it seem as though he was always peering at some far-off memory, and the flecks of white in his black beard could almost have been sea-salt. I knew little about him save that he was from Connaught and that the captain regarded him highly.


Twisted Wish-ters

Kotep poofs two of their friends into a couple of useless stoner genies. Mature.

Above a sea of lotus columns, an impossible number of stars swirled in the purple of the night sky. Below the columns, Rush and Tama followed close at Kotep’s heels. They both guessed that getting lost in the jackal-god’s home was an invitation to get hit by some ironic curse or another.

"This is the hypostyle hall," Kotep said with a sweep of their hand, looking back over their shoulder. "It's where I do festivals, parties, strip clubsthat kind of thing."

Tama was only sort-of listening, but she nodded along. "Sick."

"So how do you fit all this into one pyramid?" asked Rush.

Kotep did their best not to sigh out loud. "This is a temple, not a pyramid. Pyramids are for dead people."

"Wait," Tama said, "You're not dead? I thought you were a mummy or something."

"I'm a god."

Rush asked, "Aren't mummies kinda gods though?"

Kotep didn't bother answering that. Instead, they led their two guests onward, past braziers filled with golden flame spilling light across the open hall, and into a smaller, cozier room, lit by oil lamps that filled the air with fragrance. Several couches surrounded a table spread with grapes and candied dates, roast vegetables and morsels of meat stuck through with ankh-shaped skewers, and sitting in the middle of it all, a tall silver hookah.


The Mansion

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.


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.


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