|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
The corner of 17th and Jefferson was not exactly a place Sean expected to see a minotaur. He blinked and slowed down suddenly, ignoring the angry horn which erupted behind him. Despite the fact he had never seen one before, he had no trouble identifying the huge, black monster which looked like a bull walking on its hind legs. What he couldn't understand was what a supposedly imaginary creature was doing standing on a busy city street corner. Or why nobody else seemed to notice.
The driver behind him sounded the horn again, and shouted some vague obscenities. Fortunately, there was a parking space up on the next block which Sean whipped into. The other driver blasted by him, blowing his horn and giving him a one-finger salute.
"Jerk." Sean returned the gesture, and then twisted around to get another look at the strange creature. The corner was empty. He scanned up and down the street, knowing that anything that size couldn't vanish. Shit. Was he seeing things? No, wait. There was a shaggy form in the window of the corner store. He climbed out and walked towards the building.
Like most of the other shops along this street, the windows were streaked and cracked, with a sign warning off trespassers taped across the front. However, the other stores were empty and abandoned. This window was crammed with plastic faces which stared through the dusty glass with empty eyes.
Costumes. The faded sign above the door read "Peabody's Drug Store." Obviously a previous business. Sean tried the handle, and the door swung open with the faint jingle of brass bells. It was a little dark inside, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Either the power was off, or the owner had a fondness for oil lamps and candles. And incense.
He blinked at the heavy odor which hung in the air. It was not exactly unpleasant. The strongest smell was flowery, but it couldn't quite mask an underlying presence of animal musk, sweat, and urine. Much like entering a stable or barn and spraying lots of air freshener. It was an odd combination, especially in the heart of the city.
Once his eyes adjusted, he gave the contents of the shop a quick glance. Most of the shelves were gray with dust, with only a few displaying masks. A battered metal rack held some costumes, all looking rather limp and threadbare. There was nothing to indicate anything even remotely interesting was available, much less a costume as exotic as the one he had seen. Or thought he had seen. He shrugged, and turned to leave.
"May I help you, young man?" Sean was startled by a sultry voice, and spun around to see a stunning woman smiling at him. But he'd just been looking that way, and there was no door or opening behind the counter where she stood. He pushed aside his confusion, and gave a slight shrug.
"Sorry. I thought I saw something... interesting. I've never been in here before."
The woman cocked her head to one side. "Something interesting? I have many interesting things here. Perhaps you would like to see some of my costumes?"
Sean flushed, a little embarrassed. All she had here was junk, yet he really didn't want to say that. "Uh, these are really, uh, nice. But I don't need a costume."
She laughed, a rich sound that filled him with warmth. "Oh, not these! I keep these in the shop for passers-by. My real costumes are kept in the back. And you look like someone who would appreciate them. Come." She walked towards an opening draped with heavy curtains, and motioned for him to follow. Sean hesitated for a moment, but then stepped through.
And stared in amazement. The room was large, well-lit, and filled with the most incredible costumes he had ever seen. Monsters, animals, strange creatures of all shapes and sizes hung from the ceiling. The woman swept one hand around in a grand gesture. "This is my menagerie. See anything you like?"
Anything? He loved everything! A one-eyed Ogre glared from one corner, and a werewolf stood in another, frozen in mid-snarl. There was a suit of polished silver armor and even a life-sized cow complete with udders. They were all beautifully made, looking almost real. Any one of them would win the Fantasy Convention costume contest hands down.
Sean felt a bit guilty at the thought. He had been to several of the events, and marveled at the work people put into recreating uniforms from old TV series and movies, even dressing up as monsters or aliens. He lacked the skill and creativity to make anything like that. But these.. these were unlike anything he had ever seen, short of movies. If he could use one for the next convention...
He cleared his throat nervously. "How much do they rent for?"
The woman laughed again. "Rent? I do not rent my creations, young man. There is too much invested in these to allow anyone to parade around just for a night. No, when you take one of these, you take it for good."
Sean's shoulders sagged. His limited income barely allowed him to pay bills. And it was obvious that these fabulous costumes would command an equally fabulous price. "Oh. Well, ah, thank you anyway. These are really great."
"Won't you at least try one on?" She smiled. "It is obvious that you appreciate my work, and it would give me pleasure to have you for a customer. Don't worry about the money. I am always able to work something out."
Temptation was too great to resist. It wasn't like he was gonna steal anything. It was more like a free sample. Sean nodded his head, aware that he was grinning like an idiot. "Uh, sure! I'd love to try one."
The woman went over to the Ogre. "This, I think. For the first time." The costume was in two parts, split at the waist. She lifted the top easily and stood to one side. "Take off your shoes and jacket, and I'll help you slip it on. "
Sean complied eagerly, and took great care stepping into the huge legs. There were lifts built into the mottled feet, and when she helped pull the upper half over his head and arms, he found that he could see through the huge crystal eye. The costume was very light, and he found that movement was not too difficult. The woman took his hand and led him over to a huge, full-length mirror.
A seven-foot tall Ogre looked back at him. The effect was incredible. Perhaps it was the animation of limbs, or the way it fit. Even the yellowed fangs looked real, pushing past thick, twisted lips. The woman stood behind him, adjusting the crude loincloth and tugging a bit to straighten the shoulders. "Very nice. But not quite the right one for you, I think."
Her words mirrored Sean's thoughts, but he was still reluctant to remove the outfit. She helped him slide out of it, and then held up his shoes and jacket. "That is enough for now, young man. Why don't you come back. Perhaps tomorrow?"
Sean started to protest, but realized that he did have other things to do. Like getting ready for tonight's class. It was hard to tear himself away just to study accounting 101, but there was a test tonight. Besides, the shop owner seemed ready to close. He grabbed his things and started pulling on his shoes. "Uh, thanks a lot. I'll come back. For sure. And I'll tell my friends."
The woman smiled. "Certainly. I look forward to seeing you again, Sean."
He was almost out the door when he suddenly realized she had called him by his name. "How did you.. ?" He turned to address her, but the woman was gone. Sean wrinkled his brow, and then shrugged. Maybe he'd ask her tomorrow.
Accounting class was a blur, and he spent a restless night full of strange dreams. Most of them involved the odd costume shop and its lovely owner, with a few that must have come from old fantasy books or games. When he woke up, the one thing that was clear in his mind was the desire to go back.
For the first time in his short working life, he called in sick. Not that there was any big deal about that. No one would miss a stock clerk. Hell, half the mailroom played hooky when the weather was really nice. It was just that his reasons were sorta embarrassing. He couldn't wait to go back to the costume shop.
It was way to early. He cursed himself for his stupidity even as he drove over. Most stores wouldn't open for at least another hour, and the costume shop might be even later than that. Still, he couldn't stop that excited tingling in his chest. It was like being a kid again, waiting for Santa Claus.
There were plenty of parking spots at this time of the morning, and he walked over to the shop door to wait. He'd actually been there for several minutes before he realized that the door was partly open. Surprised, he pushed it the rest of the way, and stuck his head in. "Hello? Are you open?"
The heavy curtain parted, and the woman stepped out and smiled. "Of course, Sean. Come in." She did not seem surprised to see him. "Would you like to try something else?"
He swallowed hard and nodded. "Uh, yes. Please." She gestured towards the back room, and he followed. This time, she went past the first group of costumes, into a second storeroom. Sean gasped. The incredible outfits he had marveled at yesterday were suddenly potato sacks and cardboard masks in comparison.
Although there were not as many choices here, each costume looked absolutely real. And they were not hanging from the ceiling, but displayed on forms or mannequins. A crouching tiger displayed cruel teeth, seeming to chase a great moose posed in mid-jump before it. A heavily muscled barbarian held his sword high in the air, with a scaly green and purple monster poised to attack. Beyond that, a small satyr posed in some sort of dance step, holding reed pipes to his lips.
Sean's mouth hung open. "These are all costumes?" It seemed impossible. No person could maneuver the slender legs of the moose, and through the barbarian and the monster were probably big enough, the proportions of the tiger didn't seem as if they would fit a human body. "They look real."
The woman gave a curt bow. "Thank you. I put much effort into my creations. I am glad that you appreciate that effort." She gestured towards the costumes. "Which one would you like to try? I'll let you pick, this time."
He gave a wistful gaze towards the satyr, and dismissed it as being far too small. The creature didn't stand more than 5 feet. Turning towards the other displays, he tried to figure how the moose costume would fit. Or the tiger.
There was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned to see the woman holding out the satyr. "You like this one best, don't you?"
Sean gave her a puzzled look. "Do you have it in a larger size?
She shook her head. "Oh, no. There is never more than one of each type here. But I assure you it is fine for you. What is the expression? One size fits all?"
He stared at the costume dubiously. The upper body appeared to be that of a boy no more than 12 or 13, with small horns and pointed ears. And from the waist down, dark curly fur covered goat's hindquarters. Even if the upper body somehow stretched, it seemed impossible for the animal jacklegs to fit over his feet and legs.
Still, if she said it would fit, there was no harm in trying. He nodded. "If you are sure. I mean, I'd hate to rip it or anything."
Her delicate laughter warmed him. "That is not a worry. Let us get you fitted, and see how good a satyr you'd make."
Sean pulled off his jacket and kicked off his shoes. The woman grinned and shook her head. I'm afraid it is going to be a tighter fit than the Ogre costume. You'll have to remove everything but your undershorts."
He clutched at his jacket, taken aback by the statement. "Uh, strip? Here? Don't you have a dressing room somewhere?"
She frowned and shook her head. "I have no room for such silliness. Besides, I must help you into the costume." She waited a moment, and then spoke in obvious annoyance. "I have seen thousands of bodies -- boys, young men, and ancients. And your underpants are no worse than a bathing suit at the beach. If you are not interested enough to overcome such silliness, then perhaps you should leave."
"No!" Sean pulled off his shirt with suddenness that surprised even him, tossing it to the floor as he fumbled with his belt. He had to try the costume. It was a craving, a need that he had to satisfy. Some small corner of his mind kept screaming that the whole thing was ludicrous, even as he stepped out of his jeans and pulled off his socks.
The concrete floor was cold, and he shivered a moment under the woman's even gaze. Her fingers searched under the hair covering the satyr's neck, and pulled down. Sean gaped. The back split open from the top of the head to the stubby tail, although there had been no seam visible. She spread the sides apart and held it low in front of him. "Step into the legs, and I'll help you pull on the rest."
He lifted on leg, and allowed her to guide his foot into the costume. The costume was lined with some soft, warm substance which slid easily over his skin. When his toes hit bottom, she held out one hand to steady him as he inserted the other leg. It was hard to balance on the tiny hooves, and the costume seemed to pull his legs in odd ways. He tried to look down, but the woman was already sliding the upper portion over his arms and head.
There was a moment of dizziness as the satyr's head was pulled over his own, and he staggered against the woman as she made a few final adjustments, and then reached around his back to pull the zipper back up.
Sean shivered again as the seam closed, this time in pleasure. The costume fit him like a second skin, snug, yet so perfect that he could hardly feel it. The only exception was the area below his waist, where his underpants felt like diapers under the coarse fur.
The woman helped him stumble over to a huge, ornate mirror and stood back as he stared in awe. She was a master of illusion. The mirror showed no sign of odd proportion or distorted form. A satyr grinned back at him, boy's face and boy's body balanced on animal legs. He reached up and tugged gently at one of the horns. It felt like part of his skull. And he could wiggle the pointed ears! The woman came up behind him, crouching down to look into his eyes. "A very fine satyr. Let's see if this is the one."
Sean struggled to clear his head. Something was wrong here, but the incredible image before him kept pushing away doubt and fear. The glass seemed to ripple, and the reflection of shelves and costumes behind him swirled and shifted to become a forest glade.
Startled, he spun around to see that the reflection was correct. The concrete floor had become moss-covered dirt, and he was surrounded by thick woods. And when he turned back, the mirror was gone as well.
Shock finally cleared his thoughts, and he staggered backwards in fear. "Wh-where am I? What happened?" Even his voice was strange, harsh and guttural. There was no answer save the sound of insects and birds. Then a loud roar sounded behind him, and he screamed and ran in terror.
It took a while for him to realize that nothing was following. He stopped, panting, and rubbed sore legs. His fingers reported strange shapes, and he looked closely at the fur-covered limbs. A cold hand closed around his stomach, and he felt dizzy again. The goat's legs were no illusion, no trick of fabric and foam. He could feel the bones under the curly hair, and no human knee could bend in such a way.
Panic began to set in. Had he gone mad? There was a soft giggle behind him, and he turned to see a small, green-skinned girl smiling at him. Green-skinned? Yes, with tiny leaves in her hair, and pale green eyes. And the most sensuous, inviting body he had ever seen.
Fear forgotten, he stared open-mouthed as she approached slowly, and crouched in front of him. She smelled of pine trees and flowers. And she wanted him. A Wood Nymph. That made sense. If he was a satyr, there would be a nymph. Yet as beautiful as she was, he felt no desire. The nymph slipped her hand between his legs, only to frown and then give a squeal of horror. Sean glanced down and saw the reason for her reaction. The area between the goat's legs was covered by unbroken fur. Whatever had made him a satyr had forgotten some very important parts.
The underpants! Sean realized he could still feel them around his buttocks, though the rest of him felt naked. Standing, he searched the back of his head frantically for the zipper. At first, he could find nothing. Then his fingers found a clump of hair that moved. He gripped it firmly and pulled down.
And was standing in the storeroom again. "Not quite right. But I think I know the perfect choice now." Dazed, Sean turned to see the woman behind him. She reached out and helped him remove the satyr costume. Shaking it out, she replaced it on the stand and moved to the door. "Perhaps tomorrow?" Then she left him alone to get dressed.
Sean stared at the curtains for a moment before scrambling into his clothes. God, what had happened to him? The experience seemed so real, yet he knew it was just some sort of dream or hallucination. "Miss? Ma'm?" There was no answer. Wide eyed, he stumbled to the front of the store. The rooms were empty.
Fear took over, and he backed out of the store. Rushing to his car, he sped away and returned to the safety his apartment. Even there, it was a long time before he could stop shaking.
Sean woke and turned to look at the clock. Three in the morning. He groaned and tried to go back to sleep, but found that he was wide awake. After a while, he got up and wandered around the apartment. Nothing on TV but test patterns and talk shows. Restless, he got dressed and went outside for a walk. Perhaps the brisk night air would clear his head of the ridiculous images that haunted his sleep.
He walked for a long time, making an effort not to think about what had happened at the costume shop. Yet he wasn't surprised when he found himself standing in front of that very place. Cold fear filled his heart, yet he moved to the door. It was ridiculous to think the shop would be open at this time of the morning, but the handle turned easily in his hand.
The candles and lamps were still burning on the counter, though there was no sign of the woman. He walked through he heavy drapes. The first storeroom was empty even of the costumes. Despite growing terror, he was somehow disappointed somehow. That same small corner of his mind screamed at him to run, to leave this place and never return. And again he could not obey.
The second room was also bare, no sign of even the ornate mirror. He stared for a moment towards the spot where the satyr costume had stood. The dust was unbroken on the floor, save for his own footprints.
However, another opening lay ahead. There were drapes here as well, but they had been pulled back to reveal a smaller room lit by flickering candles. The woman was waiting there for him, standing in front of a large, dark shape.
"Come in, Sean. It is time." She took his hand and drew him close, her scent warm and sweet. He trembled, unable to resist. Worse, he knew it was no spell or enchantment, but his own desire that held him captive.
The woman cupped his face in her hands and stared deep into his eyes. "My turn to choose, Sean. If you don't like my choice, you can leave. But you may never return."
He shivered again, but he did not know if it was fear of her, or fear of being banished from her. He was filled with need, yet he could not identify what the need was for. Some unnamed drug had invaded his mind, addicting him so that no price was too great, no risk too high.
She stepped aside and motioned towards the dark shape. Sean moved closer, trying to identify it. The headless body of a horse. A large, dark stallion, probably black. Looking at it, he could sense the power and mass of that form. But why headless?
He was almost unaware of her hands helping him unfasten his belt, pulling off his shirt, slipping all of his clothing off. Oddly, he felt no shame at his nakedness. It was natural, somehow.
The woman went to the corner and returned with an ancient-looking clay jar. She scooped some thick, dark salve from it and approached Sean. "Do you accept my choice? Are you ready to take possession? For this is not a sample. This is the one you keep."
It was hard to find his voice. "I don't even know what you offer, yet I want it. But I have no money to pay you."
She laughed and reached up to spread a thin coat of the salve on his nose. "I have no need of money, silly boy." She coated his cheeks, and then moved behind him to trace a line down the center of his neck and back. "Your payment is accepting my creation, and thereby becoming my creature. You will help me rebuild my culture, lost so long ago on this world."
The paste was warm, and tingled slightly. He stiffened slightly as her hand slid over his buttocks, spreading the warmth down the back of his legs and ankles. Then she moved to the front, starting with the bottoms of his feet, and working back up to his waist. Even when she handled his privates, he could not pull away or resist.
Sean's face felt oddly swollen and distorted, and the streak down his back began to itch. At his waist, the pleasant warmth started to sink deeper into his muscles.
"Come now, Sean." The woman led him to a stepladder next to the animal's open neck. "Step into it." He blinked in confusion. The stallion's body seemed to be filled with dark liquid, perhaps the same paste as that which now covered his lower body. Still, he climbed up onto the ladder and then lowered himself into the opening. As he did, the growing warmth in his legs flared into raging fire, and he screamed.
Strong hands grabbed him suddenly and pulled him around to face forward. The pain seemed to ripple down impossible far, and rose up his chest and neck to explode out of his face. He screamed again, this time hearing the whinny of a stallion. And then there was sunlight.
The pain was gone. Sean blinked and looked around. The shop, the woman, everything had vanished. He was in a large field surrounded by forest. What was wrong with his eyes? Vision was distorted, like looking through a bottle bottom. And colors seemed very muted. Not quite black and white, but not far from it.
But the smells and sounds! Sean flared his nostrils, drinking in the rich scents of earth, grass, and the musky odor of his own body. He twisted around suddenly, remembering the headless horse. That stallion's body now stood below him. And he was also aware of the dark mass splitting his vision, the muzzle of a horse.
The head and body of a stallion, but not a stallion. Arms responded to his thoughts, and fingers traced his skull and jaw to report fully bestial features. He was a centaur, a creature of Greek mythology like the minotaur that had first attracted him to the shop.
Yet he was different, too. The Greek centaurs had retained fully human heads, at least on all of the artwork he had seen. Although he could not tell for sure, it seemed that he had a fully equine head perched atop his human torso. Why? Perhaps there was some advantage to this bestial alteration. It seemed unimportant now. Everything was unimportant. This body felt natural.
As he pondered this, he became aware of a small figure standing behind him. It was the woman, holding some sort of odd-looking sack. He turned and snorted, finding himself unable to speak as a man.
"This is the form for you, Sean. I can feel your essence. It is right." She reached up and patted his chest. "A new world awaits you here."
Questions filled his mind, but he could not voice them. The woman seemed to understand. "This is an ancient world, one which has little connection with the one you have left. Our brief contacts have been the stuff of legends, not just Greek and Roman, but for countless cultures and races throughout history.
She smiled. "The costume shop, and all that lies within, is invisible to any but those who dream of our world. I am the gatekeeper, helping those who don't know what they want, only that something is missing from their lives." Her hand traced the solid muscle of his equine shoulders. "This is what you were missing."
The woman moved back and held up the odd bag. With a snort of surprise, Sean recognized the empty skin of his former body. It was now a costume, as the satyr and the Ogre, and even the form he now wore. He nosed it, recognizing the odors of his cologne, the locker-room stench of a human.
"You can still return, Sean. Now." She stared up at him. "The choice is yours. It was always yours. But once you make this choice, you must live with it for the rest of your life."
Sean stared at the baggy remains of his former life. A costume. Perhaps that was all it ever was. This body felt no less real, no less normal than the human one which had been his for 30 years. Was there any real difference?
He thought of the life which lay behind him. Nothing remarkable, nothing terrible. He would probably live a long life in relative comfort. Here, he faced unknown dangers, strange lands, and even a new body. The choice was easy.
Sean turned from the woman and moved towards the forest. He caught the sound of bleating laughter drifting from the trees. Satyrs. And there would be nymphs as well, along with minotaurs. And other centaurs. Unless he was the first. Somehow, he doubted that. There was a vague impression of welcoming, a sense of belonging that he had never felt before in his life. He was home.
Please address comments or questions to Bob Stein at email@example.com.
Costumes copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
|<< The Centaur Theater||The Devil Went Down to Georgia >>|