“And I’m all out of bubblegum!” You yell this with ample gusto as you step into the circle, a far cry from the delivery given by the great thespian Rowdy Roddy Piper, but respectable all the same. Several of you competitors chuckle at your outburst, and a few even thrown you knowing nods. Victoria is not one of them.
With the entire group assembled, Doctor Willowbrook leaps down from his platform and crosses the room to your circle. How he moved so quickly through such a crowd is a mystery, even though you saw him do it. He arrives at the edge of the spotlight and stops, leaving his face cast in a strange confluence of shadows.
“The observers will meet you upstairs,” Doctor Willowbrook informs you. “As participants, you’ll be sequestered until then. Now, if we could just bring the lights up a bit…”
At his words, the spotlight brightens, flooding you in a world of fluorescence. Within moments it’s all you can see, everything outside the circle is too dark to make out. Even the sounds have faded away, like the light is overwhelming vibrations through the air. For a moment, one terrifying moment that seems to stretch out past infinity, it feels as though your group exists alone in this island of light and all the rest of the world has been unmade. Then, as suddenly as it hit, that moment is over and you can hear voices. A lot of voices, actually. More than you can account for having been around you earlier.
The light begins to fade and you can see past your circle once more. The sight that greets your eyes tells you that you are no longer in the dance hall. Now your group is on a raised platform, at least four feet off the ground. It’s wider than the fading spotlight, taking up a huge portion of this massive room. At the ground level are hundreds of costumed guests, all packed around the stage with looks of anticipation. As you’re peering about, you spot two pairs of arms waving frantically. One pair is scaly and ends in claws, while the other is withered and ancient. Recognizing Circe and Jim, you plod over to edge where they’ve managed to claw out a spot.
“Hey guys,” you say, greeting them with more casualness than you’re actually feeling. The experience of teleporting has left you a touch unsettled.
“Five hours,” Circe yells at you as soon as you get near her.
“Five hours, Wizard. You’ve been gone for five hours,” she explains.
“No, we… we just came right here,” you protest.
“Witchy woman is right,” Jim confirms. "You all got vanished away, then Willowbrook said that the contest would be the night’s closing festivities."
“You’ve got to be shitting me. What have you been doing all this time?”
“Trying to drink away my worry,” Jim informs you, holding up a half-empty cocktail. “Which was harder, since you took the cup.”
“That’s what he’s been doing,” Circe corrects. “I’ve been trying to wrangle up everything I can to help you. Unfortunately, that wasn’t highly successful.”
“Did you get anything?” Your beginning to feel a bit desperate now, by your estimation sunrise is probably about an hour away.
Circe nods and throws you something. You catch it deftly, reflexes trained from years of snagging shit Jim has drunkenly knocked off counters. Your hand uncurls to reveal a small Bluetooth device, with a few stars drawn on.
“What the hell is this?”
“An earpiece,” Circe tells you. “It should let us at least give you advice.”
“Why the stars?”
“I did some experimenting while Bowser tried to drink his weight in vodka,” she begins to explain.
“Tried, my ass,” Jim interrupts.
“Anyway, the costumes are sort of finicky. If something is added that doesn’t fit, it won’t stay on. But if it goes with the theme then it gets transformed like the original outfit did. The stars are because it’s a ‘magic’ transmission device.”
“Fuck it,” you say out loud, sliding the earpiece in place. This makes as much sense as everything else, so why not. There’s a strange tingle, a wave of heat, and then you can feel something hovering just beside your ear. You begin to thank her, however Doctor Willowbrook’s voice echoes through the room, interrupting you.
“Thank you all, for coming to the Haunstravaganza costume contest,” he announces. “In fifteen minutes, we will begin judging whose costume is the best. This will be done by applause, which is the only fair way to decide anything. In the fifteen minutes before voting, you are encouraged to show off your talents, flaunt your stuff, and shamelessly garner votes in any way you see fit.”
A sense of both worry and relief fills you. This is something you might actually be good at, but only if you can come up with the right spell to win votes. Still, it’s better than it could have been.
“There are three other things each contestant should be aware of,” Doctor Willowbrook continued. “First, there was a bit of time slip in your transport here, and sunrise is currently less than forty minutes away. Second, only costumes still intact at the beginning of the judging are eligible to win the prize. And third, the prize, which is quite a doozy. The winner of this costume contest shall have the price of their costume paid in full. So, good luck everyone. Remember, do whatever you like for the next fifteen minutes.”
“Ohhh shit.” You can hear Jim’s voice in your ear, and as you look over you see he’s holding a phone up between he and Circe. “They’re going to break the balls out each other’s costumes.”
It seems like he’s right, already people are edging away from one another and sizing up their fellow opponents. It’s only a matter of time before the first attacks are thrown.
“What do I do,” you whisper to yourself. You’re a bit surprised when you get a reply, then realize the entire point of headsets is that they allow two-way communication.
“Hide like the wind,” Jim advises. “Use some magic spell to vanish.”
“No, you already drew too much attention for that,” Circe disagrees. “You need to run, stay mobile and take your shots when a good chance presents itself.”
“Or I can barge in and sling some magic all around.”
“You’re not the only one with powers,” Circe reminds you. “But you are the one on that stage, so whatever it is, do something.”
You decide it's blasting time