Costumes

An Urban Fantasy story by Clark Roberts

Costumes

by Clark Roberts
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Jim sipped his coffee and from behind the safety of the front window searched the hedges for the Komodo dragon—his daughter.  He thought he saw it, but within the hedges its skin color was a natural camouflage.  Jim squinted.

Yes, there it was, holding stock-still as if awaiting some prey to unwittingly wander into its path, and here came Peanut, the neighbor’s little yapper dog that they’d trained to do its business in Jim’s lawn each morning.  The dog sniffed at the ground, unsuspectingly turned, and squatted less than ten feet away from the dragon.  There was no hesitation for Peanut to finish relieving herself; the dragon shot forward with alarming speed, hardly disturbing the shrubbery.  In less than half a second Peanut’s life was crushed out by the dragon’s jaws.  The dragon swallowed.  It turned and appeared to look straight at the window behind which Jim stood.  A slender and forked tongue slipped out of its mouth.

Jim stepped away from the window shaking his head in disbelief.  He unequivocally knew he and Jenny had made a terrible mistake when they’d agreed to let their daughter wear her Halloween costume to bed the previous night.  After trick-or-treating Casey had danced and raced around the house in her costume with the kind of conviction and cuteness only a three-year-old can exude.  

Casey, it’s time to put the candy up.

I’m not Casey; I’m Dragon!

Casey, brush your teeth.

I’m not Casey; I’m Dragon!

Casey, it’s time for bed.

I’m not Casey; I’m Dragon!

They’d shrugged their shoulders and let Casey sleep in the cheaply made yet expensively purchased costume.  The costume itself was a play on Casey’s favorite cartoon character of a girl who valiantly protected her town from the bad guys each night with the strength and agility of a Komodo dragon.  It consisted of a full body suit, a pullover mask concealing all but the eyes and mouth, and even a detachable tail.

In the morning they’d discovered an actual reptile in Casey’s bed.

Jim had panicked and started calling out Casey’s name.

Stop acting so crazy,” Jenny had said.  She’d sat at the edge of the bed and calmly patted the reptile’s head.  “Are you blind?  She’s right here; she’s right here.”

***

Jenny and Carson arrived home from shopping.

What is that thing?” Jim asked indicating the metal contraption Carson carried.

It’s a live trap,” Carson said.  He stared up proudly at his father.  “Mom said I could help out by catching Casey’s dinner.”

I’m not sure that’s such a good…”

You have a better idea?  Because these rabbits weren’t cheap.” Jenny stepped through the front door, set a box down in front of Jim, and opened it.  Three rabbits stared up, and about a dozen white mice scurried around the confines of the box.  “I know what you’re thinking, but I’m putting them in the basement.”

This has to be some kind of joke,” Jim said.

Not at all,” replied Jenny, “Casey has to eat.”

Dad!” Carson called, already heading out the back door, “can you help me set up the trap?”

By mid-afternoon Carson had captured two squirrels and turned them loose in the basement with the rabbits and mice.

    ***

That night Jim was unable to sleep.  He wasn’t sure if this sudden bout of insomnia was from worry of what had become of his daughter, or if it was over his wife’s lack of concern and instead casual acceptance of it.  Earlier in the evening there’d been a point of contention over where the dragon would sleep for the night.  Jenny had wanted to tuck it to bed beneath Casey’s covers, but Jim had put his foot down on this one.  There’d been harsh words, even some tears, but Jenny had acquiesced and carried blankets down to the basement to be used as bedding.  She’d put a leash on the dragon—Jim couldn’t bring himself to think of the creature as Casey—and had walked it down the stairs for the night.  She gave Jim the silent treatment the rest of the evening until she turned in early to bed.  

Now it was after midnight, and Jim was wide awake next to his sleeping wife.  A light from the hallway flicked on and shone beneath the crack of the bedroom door.  Jim rose from the bed.

He found his son trying to tiptoe through the house.  

Where do you think you’re going?” Jim asked.    

Carson, his eyes wide, wheeled at the sound of Jim’s voice.  He stammered, “I’m not doing anyth—using the bathroom.”

You’re past the bathroom,” Jim stated.

I wanted to use the one by the basement.”

Tell the truth, Carson.”

Carson seemed to deflate before Jim’s eyes.  “I just wanted to check on Casey.”

No, back to bed.  I’m not even sure—and don’t tell your mother this—but I don’t think that thing in the basement is in any way your sister.”

But Mom says…”

Carson!  Back.  To.  Bed.”

Carson slumped by, and Jim listened for his son’s bedroom door to shut.  Jim went to the basement.  

He knew this whole damn situation was wrong on an emotional level for both he and Jenny.  They should have been in mourning, and if not that then they should have been desperately pleading with universities to send over the best and brightest scientists to provide some answers.  Instead, here he was going down to find answers on his own.  He’d be lucky if he didn’t lose an arm in the process.

There was the undeniable sound of scurrying claws on concrete when he hit the light switch.  It was cold in the basement, and Jim’s skin prickled.  He looked all over in the main room, but Jenny had put the blankets down in the farthest back room where there was no overhead light.  Jim grabbed a flashlight from the nearest shelf.

Stepping into the back room, he leveled the flashlight and found the dragon in the corner.  Still as a statue, it faced the doorway.  Jim slowly approached and felt its stare.  He squatted, cautiously stroked the dragon’s back.  Cold to the touch.  He ran his hand in the opposite direction.  Against the grain, he felt the coarseness of armor-like scales.  

Casey had been soft, nearly delicate.  

He shined the beam of light on the reptilian eye.  It stared back unflinching.  Jim studied the eye— hardly any white to it, a brown iris flecked with gold, an oversized pupil as black as sin.  Was Casey’s soul trapped behind that darkness?  

The eye seemed too cold, too marble-looking, to be any part human.

Still, it felt appropriate to say something.  Again, he gently stroked a hand down the dragon’s side feeling the body expand and deflate with a breath.  “If you’re in there, Casey, just know I love you.”

The creature’s muscles bunched, and in a burst of power the dragon bolted forward.  Jim jumped back, and the flashlight clattered to the cement floor.  Light bounced off the walls.  There was a high-pitched death squall just as Jim was able to pick up the flashlight and turn it back on the dragon.  The back haunches of a squirrel, the legs scrabbling air, hung from the giant lizard’s mouth.  The dragon’s head jerked up, and the bushy tail disappeared.  The forked tongue slid out and tasted the air.

No way, Jim thought, no way that’s my Casey.

He clicked the flashlight off and retreated backwards.

***

Jim flew out for a three-day business trip the next morning.  Normally he dreaded leaving on a flight for work, but this time he was relieved to be getting out of the house.  He didn’t bother calling home after getting situated in his hotel, but instead got right down to business and made calls to the associates he’d be meeting with over the next couple days.  On the second day and after the meetings were completed, the co-workers who’d also been assigned this trip had agreed to gather for happy hour.  Jim declined, instead deciding to hide out in his hotel room.  He knew without a doubt that Janice would be drinking, and whenever Janice drank she tried flirting with him.  It was always harmless, and he easily batted the woman’s advancements away each time, but goddamn if he hadn’t always thought the woman’s face held a reptilian quality.  The last thing he wanted on this evening was to be stuck looking at that face.

He ordered room service, a club sandwich and fries.  When the young worker who delivered the food turned to leave Jim spotted his ponytail.  Involuntarily, Jim recalled the squirrel’s tail being gulped down the dragon’s, his daughter’s—no, that thing can’t possibly be Casey—gullet.  Each time Jim tried to sit down and eat his brain would conjure the image of the squirrel’s demise.  He threw the meal in the trash and again dialed room service.  He ordered a liter of soda and a bottle of whiskey.  

A couple of drinks took the edge off, and exhausted from all that had occurred within the past thirty-six hours Jim let his head hit the pillow.

From the side table his cell phone chirped.

You haven’t called,” Jenny stated.  The tone she was using told Jim she was annoyed.  “Aren’t you concerned how your family is holding up while you’re gone?”

I was planning to call tonight.”   

Sure you were.”  There was a long pause before Jenny again spoke.  “I’m letting Casey sleep in her bed tonight.  Maybe I’ll put her back in the basement when you get home, but I don’t see what it can hurt when you’re not even here.”

Jim shut his eyes, kept them shut and rubbed his temples.  “So Casey—she’s still, uhhh—”

She’s still what?”

Nothing.”

Another long pause, “You won’t like this either, but Carson asked if he could sleep in his Halloween costume tonight.”

Jim’s eyes popped open.  They’d ordered Carson’s costume from the same website as Casey’s.  Carson had been a pirate of all things.

Jenny continued, “I’m going to let…”

Jenny, be reasonable.”

I knew you’d say that, but he’s been such a help with Casey today.”

He was a damned pirate!  For Christ’s sake, he had a hook for a hand and an eye patch!  Is that what you want our son to become?”

I recall you telling the children you’d love them no matter what they did with their lives.  What of that?”

Please, Jenny, listen to reason.”

From her end, the call disconnected.   

***

The following evening Jim parked in his drive and sat in the car with a bowed head and closed eye trying to prepare for whatever madness awaited him.  He opened his eyes and adjusted the rearview mirror.  His skin was pallor.

You can’t run from this,” he whispered.  

From outside the house was silent, but Jim felt unease when he noticed the living room drapes had been pulled tightly shut.  Jenny never closed the drapes until she went to bed.  Shaking, he walked up the front steps, held a breath, and opened the door.

Smack dab in the center of the living room, Jenny was tied to a chair.  There was rope around her ankles, rope securing her wrists behind her back, even rope wrapping her hair pulled her head back and forced her to stare at the ceiling.  She was sweating, and the veins in her neck stood out from exertion.

Jim ran to her and pulled the gag from her mouth.  “What happened?”

Shhhh!” Jenny gasped for breath, “be quiet.  Don’t let him know you’re here.”  

Who?”

The pirate—Carson!” Jenny was whispering, but her voice shook.  “I shouldn’t have let him sleep in that costume.”  

Jim started frantically working on the knot that tied her hair.

There’s no time for that,” Jenny said.  “If he comes out and sees you he’ll kill us both!”

Where is he?”

In our bedroom.  He’s looting my jewelry.”

Jim ran to the bedroom, stopped in the open doorway.

The room was ransacked.  Clothes had been tossed all over the floor.  The drawers from their dresser had been yanked out.  Jenny’s vanity desk had been overturned and the mirror was smashed.  

The four-foot pirate was on the bed.  He was on his knees and ripping the mattress with his hook-hand.    

Stop!” Jim yelled.  The grimacing face that looked up no longer resembled his son.  It was bearded and hardened and cruel.  An eye patch wrapped around the skull.  The pirate spat out the kitchen knife he’d been biting sideways in his mouth.

Where’s the rest?” the pirate asked, his voice filled with gravel.  With the hand that wasn’t a hook he held up a handful of jewelry.  “I’ll cut the wench’s teets off if ye don’t tell me where the rest of her treasure is.”

Put your mother’s jewelry down.”

I have no mother.”

Jim glanced sideways at the bedside table.  The pistol safe was there, but he’d never have time to punch in the four-digit code to unlock it.

Picking up on Jim’s glance, the pirate dropped the jewelry and grabbed the knife.  He rushed forward and bellowed, “Ne’er a chance, ye Scallywag!” He leaped from the bed while slashing with both the knife and his hook-hand.

The knife’s blade crossed in a slant down Jim’s face, and blood sprayed.  The pirate bashed into him.  They toppled and rolled coming to a stop only after they struck the hallway wall.  Jim had both hands wrapped around the pirate’s wrist holding the knife.  Jim pried at the dirty and stubby fingers grasping the handle.  A burst of pain at his side and the pirate’s hot breath at his ear growled, “Die, ye scoundrel, die!”  Jim knew the hook had buried into his flesh and wanted to quit the fight.

He thought of Jenny tied to the chair—he’ll kill us both!  He wrestled for the knife and finally gained its possession.  He turned it over and plunged the blade straight into the pirate’s throat.  The fight went out of the pirate, and he rolled off Jim.

Jim went back to the bedroom and punched the gun safe’s code.  

Back in the hall the pirate was gasping like a fish.  He’d managed to free the knife from his neck, but that had only left the wound open; blood was spouting.  Jim pointed the gun, turned his head, and fired.

He looked down afraid fate had pulled a cruel joke on him and the dead face staring back would be his son’s.  It was still the pirate.  Smoke coiled from the hole just off-center and above the eye patch.  Jim crouched and peeled back the eye patch revealing skin that had grown star-shaped around a wound.  The transformation had been complete.  He let the patch snap back into place.

From the living room, Jenny hollered.  He stuffed the gun into his waistband and went to untie her.

***

Don’t do this,” Jenny pleaded through tears.  “I understand you had no choice with Carson, but Casey isn’t hurting us.”

That wasn’t Carson,” Jim stated.  They were in the back room of the basement with the dragon.  “This isn’t Casey.  It has to be done.”

He pointed the pistol, steadied it.

No!” Jenny screamed and pounded his chest.  She pointed back at the dragon.  “Look!  Look at the shoulder!”

Jim lowered the gun and stepped around his wife.  He couldn’t believe it.  A patch of white flaky skin had curled up.  It’s molting, Jim thought, the damned thing is shedding its skin.  He approached to scrutinize it.  The skin beneath was light colored.  Jim reached out; it was soft to the touch and smooth.

It was human skin.

Maybe you’re right,” he said

***

The scream woke them up.  They both ran to the basement.

In the back room, Casey was naked and bawling and curled into the fetal position.  Beside her was a pile of dead skin.  Jim carried her upstairs, and Jenny dressed her into pajamas.  They tucked Casey in between them in their bed.

Before any of them could fall asleep, Casey’s voice spoke, “I want to see brother.”

Not just now,” Jenny’s soothing voice.  “You need sleep.”

Jim stared up into the darkness.  He’d put the pirate’s body in the tub not knowing what he would do with it in the morning.  

Had he killed his son?  Jenny must have been wondering something very close to that as well, because not long after their daughter’s breathing had slowed to a rhythm of sleep, Jenny said something that would keep him awake through dawn.

Don’t worry, Jim.  I have a plan that will make everything better for us.”

***

Jim took a sick day from work.  Jenny called her sister Julie. Julie was more than happy to take her niece off their hands for the afternoon.  They told Julie that Carson was spending the day at a friend’s house.

Alone in the house, Jenny held up a plastic package.

This is your plan?” Jim asked.

This is my plan,” Jenny said and handed him the package. “I ordered it from the same website.”

Jim turned it over.  The picture on the front displayed a suggestively dressed woman in all black.  The bold lettering at the top said it all—BLACK WIDOW.  

He wasn’t nervous.  He saw where this was headed and felt some relief.  After all, he was partially responsible for his son’s death.  He said, “This will take care of me, but what about you?”

I don’t think the police will hesitate to gun down a hundred and forty-pound spider.”

And what about Casey?”

Julie will make a great mother-figure.  Of course I’ll have to tie you down so you don’t run off while I sleep.”

Put it on.”  Jim passed the costume back to his wife.  “I’ll get the rope.”

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