Playing Dress-Up
rating: +21+x

October 9th
The Witch's Hut

"This is getting weird."

Edward Valentine loaded another box of masks out of the storeroom. "Last night, I went in there, the room was empty. Thought we would have to close for the season. And now…" Robert pulled out a very convincing-looking werewolf mask. "I saw this demoed at Granbury Paranormal. They don't release this until next year."

"Mm-hmm." Laura shut her laptop, having finished another story. She let her hair flip, and Edward couldn't help but stare; Laura was never an unattractive girl, and he was never one to care about looks, but lately, there was something to her; a bounce to her hair, a shine to her eyes, a twinkle to her smile. "Sorry, just had to post something."

Ed stood slack-jawed for several seconds, before coughing. "This is beyond town weird, Laura. This is actively dangerous weird. We need to call the Plastics People."

"I tried," Laura sighed. "They've got more pressing concerns than a magically-restocking Halloween store. Like the fact that the Williams kids got stuck sliding downhill in a loop on the edge of town. I swear I heard a sonic boom last night…"

Edward shook his head. "I'm gonna go get coffee. The Dunkin' Donuts shouldn't be rationing yet."

Laura leaned across the counter and smooched him on the lips. "Love ya, hon! But if you get almond milk again, I will kill you."

Edward kissed her back, and headed out the door, the bell chiming on the way out.

Laura opened her laptop and looked at the story she had just posted. Already at ten upvotes. She sat back and watched the numbers climb.

"Hello."

Laura jolted. Standing above her was a woman, twenties or thirties, wearing a T-Shirt with the words "No 4th Productions" on it. She was flanked by two men who looked… intimidating. Laura didn't know how else to describe them. "W-we're not open yet."

"For me, you are." She extended her hand, but not for Laura to shake it— instead, a check was in it. "Imogen Folivora."

Laura glanced at the check and saw her name in the "Pay to the order of" line. She took it from the woman's hand, and counted the zeroes. "How in the…"

"Royalties!" Imogen beamed. "For letting us use your stories as the basis for our film The Rise of the Pit Sloth."

"I— I just started writing them in—"

"In July, I know. Found your first one online, fell in love immediately."

"No, I— " Laura pulled up her first story written, and looked at the posting date. July 1st, 2018. "What the… how did—"

"I wouldn't question it." Imogen smiled at her. "Your works have lit a spark of inspiration underneath me. Believe me when I say this film is going to be powerful. Romance, action, horror… oh yes, the horror."

Laura looked at the check, and hid it in her wallet, as if she were hiding candy in her pockets in front of her father. "I don't know what to say… I mean, not like I can spend it anywhere, really. The town's cut off from the rest of the world—" she blinked. "…how did you get in?"

"Pardon?"

"You don't live here. Everyone knows everyone here. And the town— it's cut off. So how—"

There are questions you must not ask.

Mask-maker, please, you know your task.

All questions were erased from Laura's mind. She knew it had happened, but she didn't care. She looked up and saw an absence of the three people that were just there. The absence of the woman said, "Come to the premiere? On Halloween night? Nobody buys their costumes the day of, after all."

"Okay."

"If you've any more questions, we'll be staying at a house on the corner of Elm and Maple."

Laura sat back down and opened up a new document to begin writing. She felt ten claws on her back, five on each shoulder. She looked up, and the people who weren't there were gone.


The Hidebehind is one of the most elusive creatures within Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin. It seems to actively fear— or else actively hate— being seen. It is said that gazing upon it will cause you to claw your own eyes out, or be struck blind by the sheer wrongness of it. It can hide anywhere people can't see— the infamous Gurnsey Expedition in 1953 attempted to catalog the Hidebehind using a complex array of mirrors and six participants, standing back-to-back.

What they failed to realize was that the Hidebehind was capable of hiding in the one place no person can see— behind their own eyes.


Robert Tofflemire frowned at this passage in the the 2018 Sloth's Pit Tourist Guide. He gazed into his half-full coffee cup, eyes clouded by tiredness. Around him, researchers were talking about the loop, and debating whether or not airlifts could get through the bubble. Others were just looking at their reflections in the window, haunted by what had transpired in the theater. Three had asked for amnestics and transfers to other sites as soon as possible.

They had managed to re-attach most of Ewell's fingers. They couldn't save part of his left pinkie, which, if you had to lose any fingers, Robert figured that would probably be the best to lose. He sipped at his coffee, and frowned as a manila folder was laid underneath where he was going to set it.

Robert looked up questioningly at Tristan Bailey and Claude Mattings. Mattings was the one who had put down the file. "What is this?"

"Ewell's medical report." Tristan sat down at the table, while Claude remained standing. "I… was pretty close to Ewell when we all woke up. Wanted to make sure it wasn't my bite marks on his fingers."

Claude leaned on the table. "They're not human bitemarks at all."

"What?" Robert opened up the file, wincing at the photographs that were taken of Nick's fingers before they were reattached.

"Bite radius is too large," Claude explained. "I'm awaiting confirmation from Dr. Plumber— internet's not the best in his part of Saskatchewan— but I swear to god this bite was inflicted by a Megatherium, or—"

"Giant ground sloth." Robert flipped through the file, finding some of Mattings's own notes on the attack, including a diagram comparing the bite radius to the jawbones of a Megatherium. "What the hell made you think of that?"

"Giant sloth-like entity, large bite radius… I had a hunch." Claude scratched the back of his head. "Good news is that none of us bit it off…"

"Bad news is that watching that film somehow managed to result in something manifesting that ate Nick's fingers." Tristan rubbed his face. "We need a break."

Claude tilted his head. "We do still need to make good on that bet." He looked at Robert. "We're off to the Witch's Hut, along with Reynolds. Do you want to come along?"

Robert abandoned his coffee and took up the file, placing it under his arm. "Let me run by my quarters and stow this. What are you goin' costume shopping for?"

"Long story involving my Pathfinder campaign," Mattings admitted with a sigh. "I'll call Montgomery."

Robert nodded, excusing himself to take the file back to the barracks. He flipped to the picture of the Megatherium skull and the bite marks, and turned the piece of paper over. His eyebrow raised, and he pocketed the diagram.


"…so, in short, Cassandra's character was able to…" Mattings sighed as the car turned into the parking lot of the Witch's Hut. "Seduce the dragon, and end the campaign without an ounce of blood spilled by her."

"Best damn bard I ever played with," Tristan admitted, sitting up a little higher in his seat. "Of course, that meant we lost the bet."

"Which in turn means that Cassandra, Claire and Katherine are choosing the costumes for Mattings, Bailey and myself, respectively." Reynolds had a somewhat pleased smile on his face, despite being a losing party. "I'm being 'forced' to wear a black cat costume of my own design, Mattings is dressing up in a couples costume featuring… what was it?"

Claude groaned as he put the car into park. "I'd really rather not say—"

"Harley Quinn and the Joker." Tristan had a shit-eating grin on his face. "He's playing Harley. Skirt and all."

"What about you, Bailey?" Robert tilted his head.

Bailey had started getting out as Robert asked the question. "Dunno. Claire's not told me yet." He picked at his teeth. "I'm just browsing at the moment."

Robert frowned. There was something off about Bailey— the researcher wasn't meeting his eyes as he spoke, and had his hand in his pocket awkwardly. Not the look of an honest man.

The four of them entered through the facade of the Witch's Hut. The front of the store bore a large image of a woman on a broomstick flying in front of the moon, a black cat perched on the handle. The store within was packed— not surprising, considering this was the only accessible costume shop outside of Wal-Mart. At the front of the store, the ever-harried owner Laura Ashbrooke was on her phone, no doubt filling out a custom costume order.

Mattings went off to one side with Robert, while Tristan and Reynolds went down an aisle with a sign overhead proclaiming "Animal Costumes". Mattings sighed as he made his way down an aisle of pop culture costumes.

"Didn't know you did Pathfinder," Robert admitted, inspecting a plastic pistol, the front of its barrel a bright orange. "Would've taken you for a 5e guy."

"Fifth Edition is a travesty. Over four years old, and there are less than half a dozen options for the sorcerer." Mattings took an officially licensed Harley Quinn costume off of the rack and held it in front of him. He was a skinny enough person that he could probably fit into it without any adjustments. "Whaddya think, Mistah J?"

Robert stiffened and shuddered. The no-nonsense, stiff-upper-lip, stick-up-his-ass Claude Mattings had just done a near-perfect impersonation of Arleen Sorkin. "Don't ever talk like that again. Please."

Claude chuckled, replacing the costume. "Cassandra's been trying to get me to come out of my shell more. It's been enjoyable."

Robert nodded, standing by Mattings and taking the note out of his pocket, presenting it to him. "Care to explain?"

The note read, simply:

Pieces of tissue matching Ewell's skin found on ground in Theater. Bailey's saliva on them.

Mattings looked around. "I didn't want to say anything aloud. I'd hoped you'd find the note. Tristan's been tailing me for days, barely letting me have any time to myself. There's something wrong here."

"Wrong how?"

Mattings swallowed, and leaned in, muttering to Robert. "I got on the phone with his brother Trevor a few days back, to tell him what happened in the theater. He was… really confused."

"Why?"

"Because Tristan was in the same room as him, helping to oversee the reconstruction of the Transit Array at Site 19."

Robert's heart sank into his stomach. He remembered, now— Tristan had written a note on the door of his office September 29th, threatening anyone who came in while he was gone with foam-dart deathtraps. The note had disappeared on October 5th.

"How did I forget he was gone?" Robert tugged at his hair.

"I don't know. I couldn't get any more details— that thing came up to me as soon as Trevor said that, and he's been tailing me since."

"And we just left him alone with Reynolds." Robert dashed out of the aisle, and began looking around the crowded store. He quickly picked out the portly form of the alchemical consultant, comparing the price of two sets of cat ears. Agent Tofflemire ran up to him, Mattings close behind. "Monty, when did Bailey come back into town?"

Reynolds looked at him oddly. "I doubt Tristan's coming back from 19 anytime soon, what with the spatial—" He looked down at the headbands, then at the side of him, where the thing that looked like Tristan Bailey smirked at him.

"Was hoping it'd take you a little longer," the not-Bailey admitted. "It was weak, I'll admit, but nobody was really paying attention. You all overlooked it."

Robert put his hand on the butt of his pistol, ready to draw it. "What are you?"

"A Contradiction. The truth is that Tristan Bailey is somewhere in… where's that stupid site this week? Nevada? Illinois? Well, he's not here, is the point." He stroked his chin. "The lie is that Tristan Bailey is standing before you right now, and you are about to shoot him in cold blood over an asinine dispute or paranoid urge. A phone call would disprove it, but that's going to be impossible." He pulled out his phone, which displayed zero bars. "A freak lightning strike just took out the internet and phone service in town. It'll be five days before they can fix it."

"Good story," Robert said. "But now that you've said it, I'm just not gonna shoot you." He handed the gun off to Mattings.

"And we'll back him up on this," Mattings said, "Phone or no phone."

By this time, Montgomery had pulled out an amulet of iron, and held it before the not-Tristan. The pendant was glowing white-hot. "No good villain monologues."

"All stories have a grain of truth in them, especially the lies, the contradictions. You don't need a gun to kill someone— just the idea of one." He looked down at Robert's hand. "Watch where you're pointing at. You'll take someone's eye out."

Robert looked down at his hand, startled to see his gun in it. He fumbled for the safety, but his hand twitched, the trigger was squeezed, and not-Tristan's face exploded into a shower of gore far beyond what .22 was capable of.

Screams rang out as a crush started. Robert dropped the gun, and heard the crunch of plastic beneath him as the orange-barreled gun he had shot not-Bailey with shattered beneath him.

The crush separated the three of them, and carried them from the store in a wave. Mattings and Reynolds found themselves by their car as the police pulled up. The two of them looked around, stunned. Mattings bent over and retched; he knew it wasn't the real Bailey, but the real Bailey was still his friend, and his friend's face was painting his jacket.

It took them several minutes before they realized something.

"Where's Tofflemire?"


"I can't close!" Laura Ashbrooke protested as the police took pictures of the body in the center of her store. "This is peak business for me!"

"It's an active crime scene, miss." The detective in charge, Angeline Carson, wrote down on her notepad. "I can appreciate the situation you're in, but it'll be at least another week before you can open."

"Who was he?" Laura asked.

"Someone who worked at the Plastics building. That's all we can say right now." Detective Carson shook her head. "Apparently one of his co-workers shot him. God knows why."

Laura leaned on the countertop next to the register, looking into the back room. "Can I at least get some stuff from back there? I've got orders I need to finish before the 31st."

"Go ahead," Carson nodded. "After that, you have to clear out."

"Okay. I'm gonna call my boyfriend so he can come—"

"Phones are out."

"Right." Laura frowned. She made her way into the back room and started gathering up the costumes that were closest to being done. She was looking at the wonky-eyed werewolf mask, when someone else in the room spoke.

"Bad luck, murder on your property."

"Jesus!" Laura dropped the mask on the counter, spinning to face the form of Imogen Folivora. "How did you get in here?"

"Is that really important?"

Laura felt a the claws on each shoulder, massaging her back. "Guess not."

"Well, now that your schedule's opened up, I'm willing to have you come work on the picture some."

"But…" Laura tilted her head. "It's already been filmed, hasn't it?"

"Yes, but film making's a never-ending process. One of our actors recently said he wanted out of the film entirely, and we need to re-write some scenes that were meant for him." Imogen produced a checkbook. "I'm willing to give you lead writer credit, and that pays handsomely."

Laura looked at the masks, and began loading them into boxes. "Let me get these home. I'll think about it."

"Of course." Imogen made her way to the back door. "We'll be at the house on the corner of Elm and Maple."

Laura hefted the boxes, and carried them from the front of the store. She felt the ten claws massage her shoulders all the way out.

"Something's wrong here." She muttered to herself as she opened up the car. She felt the claws squeeze into her shoulder and shivered. She decided not to question it— not now.

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