Don't Forget Your Costume
The crone hobbled out onto the veranda, leaning heavily on her gnarled grey walking stick. Her robes of a rich, satin black seemed somehow too new and perfect when contrasted with her sallow, wrinkled skin, long hooked nose, eyes almost invisible in the depths of their sockets, and long, pointed chin that seemed almost sharp enough to hurt. A pointed hat, perfectly matched to her robes sat upon her head. The wisps of hair poking from beneath her hat, as sable as her clothes, contrasted starkly with her pale face. A warty dark brown toad sat still as a statue upon her shoulder, the illusion belied only by the twitching of its eyes as it looked around.
"Young Lady," she said in a gravelly voice, "where is your costume?"
I lowered my book and looked along the pool to see her walking stick raised and pointed at me, a scowl making her hideous features even less attractive, the lines in her face looking almost deep enough to make tubes under the folds of skin.
"I don't need a costume," I replied, "since I'm just going to stay here and read my book while I have a quiet night."
"Quiet night or not, you don't want the spirits to find you," she said. "And they will find you if you don't put on a decent costume, mark my words."
"Spirits? Humbug." I raised my book to get back to it.
"They always have to learn the hard way," a new voice spoke sadly in a melodious tenor. By the end of the night, I would know what he meant, but I had been lulled into complacency by the similarities between this world and the one I had come from.
"What is it with you two and your spirits?" I groused. "Be off with you to your party and leave me in peace."
The end of a stick landed on the pages of my book. I looked up to see the face of the crone, a face not improved in the least by nearness.
"Tonight is All Hallows Eve," she said in that slow, gravelly voice, "and tonight the spirits have the chance to enter this world to go after those who they think wronged them in life."
Somehow her eyes held me and I couldn't look away as she continued.
"Even if you don't have any of those spirits to fear, there are enough who find amusement in stirring up trouble you'd rather not get involved in that the prudent don a costume even to lie in bed." Her speech slowed as she finished, "You ignore them at your peril."
Finally I could look away. I sighed wearily, and after a moment said, "That's a myth, Jen. I don't have any interest in your party or any other. There isn't any reason for me to have a costume. You enjoy your evening and leave me my quiet."
Now she sighed, loudly, "You will regret forgetting your costume. Remember that if you can get to the brook you will be protected."
Without another word she turned and hobbled off, followed by her manservant dressed in an elegant purple suit and top hat. Before he left he turned and said, "If you reach the brook you can follow it upstream into the house, and you will get a costume, however, you would be far better off hurrying into a costume now. The costume you will get that way cannot just be doffed when the night is over."
I waved absently, my head buried in my book, as he turned away again and the two of them made their way to the car. As I heard the engine start I took a moment to watch the last sliver of sun disappear behind the low ridge in the distance. A moment later I was again buried in my book, a mistake that would cost me more than I could then have imagined.
Some time later I startled when a frog jumped in my lap. With my heart pounding I looked down to see the creature, with its smooth, green skin and large protruding eyes staring up at me. It croaked loudly, and even though I saw it coming, I was off-balance enough that I jumped again. Then came the cackling laughter from several voices around me.
I looked up again to see the pale form hovering near the roof between me and one of the lights. Its clothes hung in tatters from its body, bordering on indecency, and I could just make out the evil grin it wore. Most unsettling of all was that the light shone through its chest and spread throughout it, illuminating it with a pale glow that didn't quite make its details clearly visible against the light behind it. It leered at me as it started to move closer.
Turning, I saw three other various forms, all with the same glow, although with two of them I couldn't be sure they had the same transparency against the faintly glowing late twilight sky. All were just as grotesque as the first, and all put the crone's costume to shame for ugliness.
Somehow, even through my terror, I remembered that the brook was supposed to be a safe place. With a scream caught in my throat I rolled from the reclining chair, dislodging both the frog and my book, and blindly ran for the brook behind me. Just a few feet from the brook I managed to look enough to spot yet another of the figures right in front of me, too close to avoid at my headlong pace. In the fleeting moment before I barrelled into it, meeting no resistance, I noted that it was about a foot shorter than my own near six feet. My guts churned as my foot encountered the empty air past the bank of the brook, coming to land heavily on the sandy bottom a few feet below where my foot had expected to meet land, the rest of my body tumbling over into the chill water, the shock of it taking my breath. My clothes were soaked through to the skin by the time I hit the shallow bottom.
I rolled over and raised my head above the water. The grotesque figures ranged along the brook, leering malevolently. At the sight of them I squeaked, and slipped under the water again. On surfacing again I found them still floating along the bank, but no closer than the one I had encountered a pace away from the bank. Watching them I saw that they would test getting closer, but each time pulled back as if burned.
At least it seemed safe for the moment, but now that I wasn't quite scared witless I was feeling the chill of the mountain brook. No way could I stay here for long without freezing, but the spirits didn't seem to be going anywhere. If anything, there seemed to be more gathering.
I looked around and saw the house which reminded me of what George had said about the brook leading into the house. Hopefully it couldn't be worse than the situation I got in, and at least they seemed to have been trying to help me. Trying that seemed better than either alternative, since otherwise I'd either have to face the spirits or freeze, neither of which seemed like a good idea. With a nervous look above, I stood up, but thankfully the protection of the brook seemed to extend up high enough that I couldn't see any above me.
With the quiet sound of water dripping off me barely audible above the gurgling of the brook I worked my way upstream towards the house. My pants clinging cold and wet hindered progress, and my shirt, while it didn't hamper travel, it was if anything colder than my pants. Sure enough, as I got close I saw an opening with a waterfall obscuring all past it and faintly illuminated by a green tinged glow. I hesitated a moment, but the spirits still prowled the bank, and I was loosing feeling in my fingers and toes. With nothing useful behind me and the sides closed off I took a deep breath of the cool evening air and forced one foot in front of the other through the curtain of water into the unknown.
I emerged into what might almost have been another world. The brook cascaded down a switchback channel that made one side of an angled shaft I figured must lead up under the house. It appeared the light came from the top, obscured and filtered to a green color by the plants running riot through the shaft to the point where I could see only a few feet over my head. Though I might have liked to stay and look, as cold as I already was that wasn't a good idea when I didn't know how long it would be before I could get warmed up.
I turned back for a moment and, to my great relief, saw no sign of the spirits that had driven me here.
The cascade that allowed the water to flow almost silently down such a steep slope as the shaft I was in looked like it could be used as a ladder. I grabbed hold of the edge of the lowest trough-like rock and pulled experimentally. My numb fingers weren't as sensitive as I would have liked, but it felt solid, so I hung on and walked up the wall underneath. Somewhat inelegantly I managed to get crouched on the trough and looked up at the dense plants just above my head.
Most of the plants looked like familiar ones I could name, but somehow they looked changed. Leaf vein patterns that seemed different, proportions just a little off, or colors just not quite right. Somehow the effect still became a harmonious whole, rather than an eerie cacophony.
Much though I might have liked to spend time studying the plants, doing so while halfway to hypothermia and hanging on with hands growing colder and stiffer was not a good idea. With a half sigh, half grunt of effort I stood and pushed into the greenery.
Cold as I was, the water droplets on the plants were still like drops of liquid ice as I brushed against them, but I met with less resistance than I expected. I wondered if the plants were moving aside for me to pass, but then laughed at my silliness.
My head emerged into an open space between layers of plants scarcely more than half my height and somewhat wider than tall. A lamp behind me illuminated the space quite brightly. On the lower level of plants grew a few crocuses amidst mixed greenery, while clematis grew across the ceiling of plants.
I ought to come here again, and with a drysuit so I can take my time to enjoy this… Ah, well, onward and upward.
I lifted my foot onto the trough running just at the level of the greenery and pushed into the ceiling of greenery above me. Just before I closed my eyes to push through I caught a fleeting glimpse of what seemed to be my left foot plunged into otherwise undisturbed plants. Like the first layer of plants I'd pushed through, there seemed to be much less resistance than I would have expected for the apparent density of plants, and in a moment I was blinking droplets of water from my eyes to find myself in plants up to my chin.
This space was much like the first, except here I found tulips rather than crocuses, and a trailer of bindweed gracing the ceiling.
Still wondering at what I thought I had seen, I worked my way into a crouching position entirely within the space on this level and looked down. Somehow the plants I had just pushed through looked like they had been growing undisturbed for months. It also seemed noticeably warmer than it had moments ago, and the stone no longer felt quite so chill beneath my fingers. Afraid of how cold this meant I was getting, I pressed upward again.
I passed through one more layer graced with jasmine and daylilies before I found myself staring at water flowing out of a hole in the rock wall inches from my face into the seemingly warm stone trough I was hanging on to. At this level there were pink anthuriums growing around me. Above my head was a stone ceiling broken by an iron-bound wood plank trapdoor with a large iron latch set into it. The trapdoor was large enough that it might have been more accurate to say that the door was the ceiling with stonework on the edges to hold the door. Hoya grew out of the water flow and clung to the edges of the ceiling.
I reached straight over my head to slide the latch and pushed experimentally on the door. With a touch it silently pulled away from my hand to swing open on well-oiled, perfectly counter-weighted hinges. Turning my head to follow the door, I heard the quiet click of the latch to hold the door open engaging when the door had swung just past 90 degrees. After staring in surprise for a few seconds I scrambled into the unlit room above.
It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the limited light spilling from the tunnel I had just climbed. Thankfully, I still saw no sign of the spirits as I looked around while my eyes adjusted. Some distance in front of me I could just make out a panel door with a light switch beside it.
As I made my way carefully across the shadowed floor I wondered about the costume I would supposedly get if I took this route into the house. I couldn't feel anything different, so I half shrugged to myself and closed my eyes as I flipped the switch. Despite the light in the shaft, the glare of the lights coming on in the room was strong enough that it took me a few seconds to open my eyes.
The room revealed by the light was an curious spartan opulence. Each of the lighter toned, wood panelled walls seemed almost to have been cut whole from one enormous tree. The ceiling, of a lighter wood, had a perfectly matched seam running down the center from over the door and looked as though it had been made from two pieces cut from its own tree. The trapdoor through which I had entered was about ten feet away, set into the center of the darker and somewhat greyer hardwood floor. Here I could readily see the perfect joints by virtue of the differing grain patterns on either side.
I moved five paces across the barren floor to close the trapdoor, wincing inside at the drips my sodden dress and ballooned diaper were leaving on the beautiful floor. After a moment of looking I found the lever to release the catch on the edge of the door. It swung down with only a light touch to overcome the counterweight and settled into place with the whisper of a perfect joint and quiet click of the latch.
In a floor of lesser workmanship the lines of the trapdoor might have gone almost unnoticed, but here, despite all the care that had been put into hiding the door, it was still fairly easy to spot. The entire floor was so perfect that no gap to allow for movement, however small, could be missed, and despite the door having been designed with staggered flooring ends to break up the straight lines of the hinge and strike, the two short lines of closely spaced joints were still apparent.
I turned from the trapdoor and made my way back to the door leading into the house. Opening it, I found myself looking into the library from behind what I had thought for seven years was a solid wall of bookshelves. Somehow it seemed I wasn't nearly as cold as I was before, but I still needed to get clean and dry. I left the door open so I would be able to get back in to dry the floor and walked out of the library and up the winding stone stairway to my room.
I paused a moment on the landing before opening the door to my room, only to feel liquid dripping down my leg from my diaper. At least the stone would be easy to clean, and take no harm. With a sigh at the annoyance of a diaper full of stream-water I opened the door to my room and walked in.
For a moment I could just see the night sky through the windows lining the outside of my room before I turned on the light. These modern conveniences really did make things easier, though I knew of the time before only from stories.
The light showed the room, a level of the tower ringing the staircase I had climbed. In front of me was the open area of my room with a desk somewhat to the right against the windows. To my left was my private bathroom, a pie shape taking up a quarter of the circle, and behind me where I couldn't see it from this vantage was my bed. The walls were panel-ed in maple with nice large curtain-covered windows giving a full view of the gardens surrounding the house during the day. The floor was oak laid in a sun-ray pattern around the room.
I turned into the bathroom and stripped off my sodden long-sleeved flower-print sundress and swollen diaper. The bath was tempting, but the room behind the library needed cleaning promptly to keep the water from marring the floor, so I tied a towel around myself like a loincloth to keep from making any more mess to clean up.
With just a little water to deal with in most places, the floors were soon clean, and I was pleased to see that the hardwood floor had taken no damage from the water. Thus satisfied, I walked out of the trapdoor room and started to close the door when I thought that figuring out how the latch worked would be a good idea. After a few minutes I was able to find the hidden catch to open it from the library, so I closed the door and returned to my room.
Back in my bathroom, I started the water running, took off my temporary diaper, and stepped into the tub to wash the stream-water from my hair. A few minutes later, properly clean, I started the tub filling, and stepped out to go rummage through my wardrobe, pausing a moment to add some neroli-scented bubbles to the bath first.
Exiting through the door by my bed I turned left into my wardrobe that occupied the space next to the staircase. In a moment of inspiration to dress up, I selected a long pink long-sleeved dress that would just brush the floor and laid it and the accompanying petticoats out for myself. Even if no one would see me, it was, after all, All Hallow's Eve, and night one should always wear a costume.
Returning to the bathroom I found that the tub was full enough to start enjoying, so I stripped the now damp towel from my waist, glad I had put it on, and tossed it into the basket. With a smile, I stepped into the steaming tub, laid back into the bubbles that came to my neck, and closed my eyes, listening to the gurgle of the water and luxuriating in the rising water and bubbles. Soon I had to stir for a moment to turn off the water and then I laid back again resting my arms on the rails now a little below the surface of the water, the bubbles tickling my chin, and the water underneath warming my shoulders. Basking in the warmth I let myself drift off.
I came to again to find the water gone tepid and the bubbles down to numerous patches floating about the surface of the water like miniature icebergs. The effect was quite lovely to see, though I had yet to figure out how the bubble solution seemed to be able to hold itself together like that. I sighed and for a moment considered running more water to heat the bath up again and freshen the bubbles, but then thought I needed to get out of the bath and take care of other things.
Slowly I started moving and worked my way up and out of the tub, and wrapped myself in the big fluffy towel to dry off. As I did so I looked at the dress I had laid out and considered the incongruity of the elegant clothing and my fingers, shrivelled as they were by my time in the bath. A far cry from the perfectly smooth lily-white hands of tale. Well, the former would remain elegant, and a little time would take care of the latter.
Suitably dried off, I walked over to my changing table, set out a diaper, and hopped up. In short order I had myself properly diapered and set about working my way into my dress. Help would have made the task easier, but I was lithe and dexterous enough to manage alone. A few minutes later I turned to the mirror to admire myself. The dress was everything I wanted it to be, but my hair needed work.
In front of my looking glass with combs again in hand I started working on my hair and considering the possibilities as I did so. In the end I decided on a French braid wound into a bun with the small end in the center and set at the nape of my neck. This done I looked through my jewellery and considered several pieces before deciding on a flawless cabochon cut rose quartz pendant set in a pale yellow gold filigree. It settled perfectly into the hollow of the scooped neck that almost looked like a slight V, dangling from the thin wheat chain.
Turning to the looking glass I stood admiring myself for a while. My fair hair braided back was a far cry from the simple braid starting at the nape of my neck and hanging over one shoulder that I usually wore. Hazel eyes sparkled from under my eyebrows in the light. A pleasant nose, large enough to be a proper nose, yet suitably sized to fit my face. A full, cheerful mouth and round chin completed the lower picture, while my ears stuck from my head ready to catch sounds and bring them in to hear. Below, the neckline of the dress looked perfect for a princess, and the pendant just above held all the grandeur one could ask.
To complete the princess as I thought she should be, I needed only a crown and sceptre. While I had the jewellery, the last two items were not to be found in my collection.
With a faint frown I turned away and walked down to the library, too busy thinking about what I might do to complete my costume to carry myself with the grace a princess should. At the library I paused with my hand on the door, remembering the costumes stored off the sitting room where small performances could be held. It wouldn't be the proper quality for a princess, but I thought there might be something there that would serve my purposes.
With purpose, I walked past the library to a small, unassuming door, my slippers making scarcely a sound on the polished black floor. Inside was an array of costumes and instruments neatly stored. The things I needed were set neatly on a shelf. The crown was a little gaudy, better suited to the crowned king than a princess, but it would work. The scepter, however, was just the right sort of delicate piece I was hoping for. The polished ebony shaft, as long as my forearm and of a size to fit perfectly comfortably in my hand, was capped on the bottom in gold, or far more likely, false gold, and topped with a tiny lotus in the same metal, the outer petals of which overhung the ebony only slightly.
A few minutes of looking around showed that the crown would have to do, but at least the scepter was perfect. I opened the case and carefully lifted the crown to my head. As I expected, it was a little too large for my head, but it would work. The scepter, when I took it up, felt like it had been made for my hand.
Affecting the proper bearing for a royal princess I made my stately way back to the library, then passing it by in favor of returning to the looking glass in my chamber to inspect my costume.
The view in the glass matched what I had seen before: the crown, with its five metal-lattice points studded with too-large glass gems might have been appropriate for a king or queen, but was a little garish for a princess. Still, it would suffice, and finding the scepter was worth all the effort of the costume.
I looked down at the scepter cradled in my arm, and raised it to inspect more closely. If the rod itself wasn't ebony it was a remarkable fake, right down to the faint hint of very dark brown streaking on the edge. Looking again while considering this and how perfectly it fit me, I had to wonder if the metal was, in fact, real gold. If it wasn't fake, or wasn't by the end of the night, it would surely become my newest wand, and if not, would find itself presented as a template for a wand sooner or later.
Raising my eyes to the looking glass again, I held the scepter upright before me and considered the whole picture before me. The crown, resting a little above my eyes still bothered me, but if I pictured a more decorous crown better sized for my head with three shorter, slightly rounded points and a few tasteful jewels I could consider the rest properly. The dress was as elegant as it was before, and the pendant could even be a keystone.
I lifted the crown from my head and placed it on the my lowboy. Without the crown I looked every inch the young sorceress ready for a ball, with perhaps a few tasteful hair decorations. For this night, however, that was a little too close to the truth. A little disappointed, I placed the crown back my head. Now properly armoured for the night I returned to the library.
I paused with my hand resting on the handle of the library door, every sense telling me not to enter. This seemed a little strange, but you either learn to heed those warnings or you won't live to become a sorceress. Somewhat reluctantly, I turned from the library. The call pulled me down the hallway and out onto the veranda before it finally left me.
Secure in my costume, I watched the spirits still wandering the Earthly plane milling about. For this one night a year, they were visible and, to a limited degree, able to act on the Earthly plane. While watching their visible antics I adjusted my vision to also show the energy patterns swirling around them.
For a moment I just followed the patterns, and then I frowned in concentration. It looked like someone had tangled with one of the spirits. Not a good thing for the person in most cases, as they very often stole things or left hooks leeching from the person.
As I studied further it became more clear what had happened. Whoever it was had been running for the brook, and only been in contact with the spirit for a very brief moment before reaching it, which was a good thing, as the more time the spirit had the more they took, and getting to the water that quickly should have kept any hooks from taking hold.
Curious as to what might have happened, I walked over to see more closely. The spirit had apparently taken them fully right at the bank of the brook, but it seemed they had been running flat out, so the spirit wouldn't have had the chance to take them over before momentum carried them into the brook where the spirit could not go. If they were smart, they would then have followed the brook. I looked downstream, then upstream towards the house, but any trail they left had been washed away by the brook. An expert tracker might have been able to see the physical traces left, but that was beyond my skills at any time, much less in this light. With nothing to be certain of there, I turned and followed the trail of footprints faintly glowing in my energy sight. They ended in a slightly brighter glow on one of the chairs at the edge of the pool. Beside the chair was a book dropped half open with some of the pages folded underneath.
With an inward wince at the damage to the book I reached down and picked it up.
Touching the book unlocked the memory that had been hidden from me. For a moment I stood there in shock, and then as I recovered I started consider what had happened, and what it meant.
Just a couple of hours ago, I had come to this world a scant week before as a young adult, a transplant from another world as unknown here as this world was in mine. I'd been told I had the power of a sorceress, but hadn't believed it or seriously attempted to use it.
Now, I was a girl not a day older than five, and a sorceress well in training with power already in my hand of some significance. In addition to losing my years I had lost my continence. In reminder, the diaper bulged between my legs, bothering me now that I remembered not needing them.
The question now at hand was how much of this was the journey into the house, how much was my encounter with the spirit, and what I could do about it.
The place I now stood was usually a good place for such magic, but on this night the attempt to find what I was looking for would put me more at risk from the wandering spirits than was wise. I closed my eyes and held the thought of what I needed, letting my power free to show me the right spot. Blind to everything but the call I followed, I soon opened my eyes to find myself standing on the very trapdoor through which I had entered the house after being chased into the brook by the spirits.
I drew a circle around me, more out of prudent habit than that it was needed for what I planned. This done, I sat cross-legged on the door in a fluid motion, my skirts forming a puffy ring around me.
Even as my skirts settled slowly to the floor I tuned out the world around me and set to finding answers.
I returned to the present from my answer search, and slowly worked my way up from the floor, carefully stretching muscles gone stiff from holding one position for hours. My diaper squished noticeably as I did so, and I thought to go change. Once up, I returned to the library, and found by the grandfather clock there that it was but a half hour until midnight.
The spirit had managed to leave a hook in me, and I must act soon to remove it, or I might come be a wraith like him. Despite my now quite wet diaper, horribly unpleasant to the side of me unused to them, I determinedly tried to ignore it and set to figuring out how to be rid of the hook left by the spirit. This night, moon dark and a day of power combined was a likely night to perform the task.
The spell I needed was one I had seen in a book as the young sorceress in training. Thankfully, it was in recent memory, and I was soon able to find the book, and in it, the spell.
It was, thankfully, a short spell and easily learned, but it must be cast at midnight on the new moon. This meant I must cast the spell tonight, for I dared not give the spirit a month to leach from me. While I might have managed to deal with it had I been unlucky enough for this night to be just past the new moon, failing to cast the spell at the earliest opportunity was not worth considering.
I now stand beside the brook. The nearly leafless trees are scarce discernible under the starlight. My circles are drawn around me, and the hour comes to a close. The spell, or rather two spells are fixed in my mind. Both will free me. The first will return what can be to the way it was before I encountered the spirit. The second, differing only by the final word, will set in place what I am now. Whatever my choice, there is no return.
For all my search, I have no way of knowing what was taken by the spirit, and what is the changes wrought by my journey. The former is lost, while the latter I can recover now if I so choose.
If I remain as I am, I keep also my memories from before. That would be a mixed blessing, for while I will keep what I was before, I will be a young girl with memories of the ways and pleasures of man and maid, but years before it is appropriate to partake of those games. Just considering it, I feel the desires of the woman warring with the young girl who is repulsed by it.
If, on the other hand, I return, I lose all of the young sorceress but for what I remember from this night, and even recollections of what I do not have the knowledge to place will dissipate with time, leaving only the actions I took with no context. In time, I will learn to be a sorceress, and will take the knowing that magic exists with me from tonight, breaking the barrier of disbelief that has held me back this past week. If the spirit has taken either my years or my continence, I will remain without that even if I return, without the compensating gain in the bone-deep understanding of magic that comes of learning from the cradle.
The time comes nigh, and the village bell tolls the hour in the distance. I begin to chant, and in a moment I will speak that one word to cast my choice.
Even now, I know not whether I will choose the woman or the girl.