After a brief moment of consideration, you decide that since you’re pretty much stumbling around anyway, it might not be so bad to have another mind in the mix. Especially since Jim’s mind doesn’t qualify as fully-functional.
“I guess we can work together,” you agree. “As long as you’re serious about knocking mine out first.”
“A deal is a deal,” the old woman replies. “You may call me Circe, for this evening.”
“Weird name,” you comment.
“It’s from the Odyssey,” she informs you. “Given all the magic being tossed about, it seems prudent not to use our real names. Wizard and Bowser should work fine for speaking with you two.”
“Why does it matter if we use our names?”
Circe rolls her eyes at you. “Did you pick that costume at random, or don’t you know anything about magical lore? Names have power in the wrong hands, and with this many different supernatural costumed beings in one space, at least one set of hands is bound to be wrong.”
“Okay, okay. Code names it is,” you agree.
“Glad you’re on board. Now, moving on, what price came with your costume?”
“Dream fulfilled or dream forsaken,” you tell her. “So, I’m obviously trying to make one of my dreams come true before sunrise.”
“Not too bad,” Circe says. “Lots of wiggle room in that one. Should certainly be doable. Which dream are you currently aiming for?”
You spin around and point across the dance floor, where Victoria is still dancing with the steady stream of admiring gentlemen. “I’m trying to get a date, or something, with Victoria Dempsey. We went to school together and I’ve admired her for as long as I can remember. Seemed like a good dream to try and make headway on.”
Circe looks from you, to the girl, and back to you. It’s difficult to read her expression, mostly because staring at her face for too long is an unenjoyable prospect. All you know is that her eyes turn heavenward and she makes a few gestures into the sky. Not magical gestures, more like someone cursing another person out would make. When she finally speaks, her words are far easier to decode than her face.
“I suppose this is my own fault,” she mutters. “I knew I was throwing in with a fool when I made the offer. I’ll honor the bargain we struck and give you aid in reaching your goal, but here me well on this: another human being is not a dream. Dreams are things which revolve around what you can accomplish, what can be achieved despite all odds. People don’t fall into that category, because they independent entities, not achievements.”
“With all due respect, I’ll dream the way I see fit,” you snap back, a bit surprised at your own tenacity.
“I assumed that would be your answer,” she says. “Fine, if you want to catch the girl’s eye then you’ll need to be dazzling, without appearing as if you’re trying to approach her.”
“I can’t approach her?”
“She is actively dancing with four men while constantly inviting others to join,” Circe points out. “Thus, it is likely she enjoys the attention, to at least a certain extent. Go over there now and you become another suitor, pitted in a battle of charm and ego against those entrenched, as well as all new-comers. Are your social skills adept enough to handle that?”
“Well, no,” you admit. If they were, you likely would have tried to at least strike up a conversation long before now. “But I’ve got magic.”
“And they almost certainly have some costume powers as well,” Circe replies. “The choice of a battleground is almost as important as the battle itself. You need one where you can win.”
“Fine, I don’t approach,” you agree. “So what then?”
“You stand-out on your own, garner your own attention. Then you can approach her as an equal, not as one of her admirers.”
“Don’t suppose you have any suggest-”
“Attention, attendees of the Halloween Haunstravaganza!” This voice booms through the room, filling the ears of every attendee yet someone seeming to have spoken from right behind one’s ear. Immediately the music stops and the lights cease their rapid strobing. “Please welcome tonight’s host, Doctor Willowbrook.” With that, a single spotlight appears at the northern edge of the room, illuminating a platform you’re certain wasn’t there a few moments ago.
Atop the platform stands a tall man, wearing a long-tailed coat and a top hat. Despite the proper attire, he seems to be a cheery fellow. A wide grin runs between two rosy cheeks, and his eyes twinkle each time the light strikes them. He rubs his hands together in unabashed excitement, then begins to speak.
“My, my, so many guests at my party this year, and all with such wonderful costumes. I feel truly honored that you all came to my humble home for this celebration. In honor of the efforts you’ve put forth with creating your ensembles, I’ve decided to add an additional event to the night’s festivities.”
Another beam of light appears, this time shining right into the center of the dance floor. Somehow, in the time he’s been speaking, every person standing there has been shuffled about, so the perfect circle of light is falling only on empty space.
“I intend to throw a costume contest,” Doctor Willowbrook announces. “The likes of which I’m certain hasn’t been seen for centuries. I’ve even got a very special prize for the winner. Now, if you want to enter, all you have to do is step into the circle of light. Once we have our contestants, everyone is welcome to come to the fourth floor and watch.”
Not-Superman immediately leaps into the circle, as does Victoria’s karate-style admirer and the knight you spilled beer on. Victoria herself joins the spotlight only a few moments later. Several others begin filing in too, though significantly less than you’d expect for a simple costume contest. Then again, when you look at the light, an inexplicable sense of dread rises in your gut. This isn’t as straightforward as it seems, and a part of you already knows that.
You feel a sharp prod in your back, and turn to find Circe sticking you with her elbow.
“Go,” she urges. “You need a place to stick out, so go already. And make a statement when you get in there, you want all eyes on you.”
Reluctantly you plod forward, pausing only when Jim hands you the infinite cup. You accept, taking a few swigs as you go, to calm your nerves. The crowd parts instinctually as you draw closer, knowing it would be an unforgivable sin in this house to keep someone from competing. At last you arrive at the circle’s edge, staring at the multitude of other people you’ll be competing against. You step forward, drawing in a large breath before you do.
You decide to go with the awesome choice