"Trick or treat?" asked the witch in a raspy voice.
"One sec." Brian ducked behind the door for the candy bowl, but came back empty-handed. "Sorry, we're out. I had a bunch of candy, but it looks like someone else already took the last of it."
"It'll have to be a trick, then, sonny. Don't say I didn't warn you."
Brian eyed the witch cautiously. Her costume was impressive: she looked exactly like the evil witch from the Disney movie of Snow White, right down to the hooked nose with a giant wart.
"Apple?" she offered.
"Umm. I'm good, thanks."
"Not for long," Cackling, she turned and hobbled away.
Brian blinked at the retreating figure. That was weird. He shut the door, went into the kitchen, and started mixing another batch of drinks.
Brian's dorm room was decked out with jack-o'-lanterns and fake cobwebs and full of costumed undergraduates. It wasn't every year that Hallowe'en fell on a weekend, and they were making the most of it. Mandy and Diane, best friends since middle school, had taken advantage of the noise level to talk privately in one corner of the kitchen.
"So, I know I don't know Aaron very well, but he's just so cute," Mandy admitted, blushing through the space between her scarf and her ski goggles.
"I knew you liked him!" Diane said, and giggled, her neon plastic earrings rattling. Her outfit was straight from the 80's. "Made a move yet?"
"No! Of course not! I don't even know what kind of move I should make!"
"It's too bad your costume isn't cuter," Diane sighed. "What's the point of coming to a costume party in that if you want a guy to notice you? You might as well wear a burkha. Oh well."
Mandy looked discouraged.
"Aww, I'm sorry, hon," Diane said soothingly. "Don't listen to me. Just go talk to him! Maybe he likes snowboarding, too."
"OK, I'll try."
Mandy's ski pants rustled as she crossed the living room to the couch where Aaron was sitting with Becky and Chuck. Aaron saw her coming, and smiled, but instead of smiling back, Mandy froze, then sat down awkwardly on a nearby chair. Crud, she thought. That was a great start. Now he probably thinks I'm shunning him or something.
Before she could say anything, Kelly interrupted. "Hey guys! Brian made margaritas!" She squeezed onto the couch next to Chuck, who was staring appreciatively at her Playboy bunny outfit. "Want to get one with me?" she asked, grabbing his bicep through his academic robe. "Ooh! Chuck! Have you been working out?"
They left. Mandy sighed. Well, I guess Kelly doesn't freak out whenever a guy looks at her. As usual when she was nervous, she wanted something to hold and fidget with.
"Where did I put my snowboard?" she asked, looking around.
Aaron put down his plate and turned to reach it from behind the couch. "Here you go," he said. As he passed Mandy the board, one end caught the plate on his lap; it flipped, spilling salsa across his apron.
"Oh no, your costume!" Mandy exclaimed. "Do you want a towel or anything?"
"Meh, it'll be fine," he shrugged, cleaning it up with his napkin. "This is actually my old uniform from the butcher's, so it's been through worse. Does it still count as a costume?"
"Sure, why not?" Mandy said. "Yeah, I kind of did the same thing. I don't go out much anymore, but I used to snowboard all the time. Mostly I just wanted to wear something warm in case we go trick-or-treating later."
"You are so smart," said Becky. "I'm pretty sure last Halloween was about forty degrees warmer than this. If I get frostbite, I will not be happy." Dressed in a Flintstones-esque cavewoman outfit, complete with a giant club, she was already shivering.
"Yeah, I tried to tell John the same thing, but he really wanted to come as a boxer," Aaron said.
"Seriously? With the teeny little shorts? Ha."
"With the shorts. See?" Aaron pointed to the far corner of the room, where John was throwing inexpert punches at the air. "If we go out later, you can wear my coat," he offered.
"Oh, thanks!" Becky said, then jumped up in excitement. "Alice!" she exclaimed. "Your costume is genius!"
Alice was wearing a blue Alice in Wonderland dress, and had dressed her dachshund, Gavin, in a Cheshire Cat costume.
"Hey Gavin," Mandy said to the dog. "Is your mom embarrassing you?"
"How late am I?" Alice asked, filling in the empty spot on the couch.
"Not much," said Aaron. "Although, you did miss the creepiest trick-or-treater of all time who was here a minute ago. Who was that, anyway, Brian?"
Brian was coming towards them now, swishing his red and black cape. "I didn't recognize her," he said. "Too much old-lady makeup. She was dressed like the witch from Snow White, though." He noticed Alice, and brightened. "Oh, hey!"
"Hey stranger!" Alice jumped up and hugged him. "Um. Who are you?"
"Jafar. From Aladdin? Now fetch me the genie's lamp from the Cave of Wonders!"
"Oh, of course," she said. "You even have the weird puffy turban crown thingy. Can I poke it?"
"I'm pretty sure Jafar was the creepiest Disney villain," Becky said. "I mean, he turns into a giant snake. That's pretty serious scariness when you're a kid."
"That movie is probably the reason I hate snakes," Alice agreed. "They're so gross. Gavin, what are you eating? Get out from under there."
"Aaron, would you give me a hand with something?" Brian asked. They headed back towards the kitchen.
Mandy breathed a sigh of relief. No more cute boy to worry about. She turned to Alice. "So, how--"
With a crackle, the lights went out. Gavin bolted under the couch.
"Hey everyone, it's ok," Brian called. "We probably just flipped a breaker or something."
"Do you have any candles?" Diane asked.
"Uh, let me look." He opened a couple of cupboards. "Well, I don't know whose it is, but we have an oil lamp." He lit the wick, then turned it up and down to adjust the flame. The lamp threw eerie shadows across the room.
"Is it just the weird light, or is he wearing eyeliner?" Becky muttered to Mandy.
"I didn't notice before, but you're totally right."
"His goatee is pretty epic, too," Becky continued. "It has to be fake. He couldn't have grown that without us noticing."
"Oh, I totally would have noticed. We have labs together three times a week," Mandy agreed.
"Ugh," said Alice. "Guys, could we move the couch so I can get Gavin? He won't come out, and I think he's still eating stuff." They dragged it aside. "Hey, honey," she said soothingly, then shrieked. "Gavin!"
"His--his costume feels weird."
Mandy felt it. "It feels like fur. Didn't you make it out of a sweatshirt or something?"
"Is he... smiling?" Mandy asked.
"Of course," Alice said, her voice eerily calm. "Watch."
Gavin smiled wider and wider, his tail twitching contentedly up and down as he lay in Alice's arms. Then, as the three girls watched, his tail started to disappear. "I'm sure you've seen a cat without a grin before," Alice said as the hind legs of the cat-that-had-been-Gavin melted into thin air. "But have you ever seen a grin without a cat?"
A second later, the grin was all that was left. Then that vanished too. Alice laughed. "He always does that," she said matter-of-factly. "He'll be back later. Or maybe sooner. You never know."
"Huh," Becky grunted.
Mandy raised an eyebrow. "Gavin just turned into a cat and disappeared, and all you have to say is 'Huh'?"
"Huh," she grunted again.
"Whatever. That was strange."
"We're all strange here," Alice said distantly. "Excuse me, I have a rabbit to find." She peered across the dim room. Mandy looked with her, at a loss for words.
Chuck was polishing off another drink. "All graduated means no classes tomorrow for me!" Next to him, Kelly, angled herself to give him the best possible view of her bunny-tailed backside.
"Look! The rabbit!" Alice exclaimed, starting towards them.
"Um, no, honey, I don't think it's the same one," said Mandy. Alice sat down again.
"Huh." Becky swung her club at the corner of the coffee table.
"Okay, then," said Mandy.
"I found a drink!" Alice said. "See? The bottle says 'Drink Me' on it." She pulled out the cork and took a swallow, then another. "That's really good. Want some?"
As Mandy watched, Alice shrank until she was only a few inches tall.
"Not again," she moaned.
"Here." Mandy unzipped one of the numerous pockets of her ski coat and lifted Alice into it. "Doing all right?"
"Yes, thank you," Alice shouted back in her tiny voice.
I need to find someone sane in this mess, Mandy thought. Chuck and Kelly were already mostly drunk; Brian was brandishing the oil lamp and cackling fiendishly. Wow, talk about method acting. Then she spotted Diane. Diane will know what to do! She had just gone over to talk to John; Mandy followed her.
"So, I totally forgot your name," Diane was saying.
"Oh, no worries. It's John."
"Your name is John?" she shrieked. "John Cusack?!"
"No, my last name's Berkley. We took Lit 212 together?"
"Oh, it's OK, I know who you are! It's so wonderful to actually meet you! I just saw Say Anything in the theatre for the seventh time. I think I'm in love with you. My name's even Diane! Don't you think that's a sign, John?"
"A sign?" John said uncomfortably. "No, I don't."
"We were meant to be together! Oh! Oh! If I give you my boom box, will you hold it up and sing for me?"
John stared for a second, then turned and ran. Diane looked crestfallen.
So much for Diane. And John.
"Well, that was creepy," Aaron said, coming up behind her.
"Tell me about it. Did you see what happened to Alice?"
"I'm right here listening to you talk about me," Alice shouted.
"I'm in Mandy's front pocket."
"Oh, pardon us. "What happened to you, then?"
"I found a bottle that said 'Drink Me,' so I drank it, of course. And this happened."
"And Becky's not talking at all," Mandy added.
"Of course not," said Aaron. "She's a cavewoman. Don't you see? It's like... our costumes are taking over."
"So why am I not going crazy?"
"Well," Alice shouted up, "Neither of you are wearing costumes. It's perfectly obvious."
Aaron and Mandy looked at each other. "Makes sense," he said.
Behind Aaron, a giant snake reared its head.
"Hello, friendsss," Brian's voice hissed. "Prepare to sssee the wrath of Jafar."
"What the?" said Aaron. "How did he--oh."
On the counter behind the snake was the oil lamp, still burning dimly.
"Don't tell me. He found a magic lamp and used its power to become the world's greatest sorcerer?" said Mandy. "Crap."
"Yeah, I don't see this going anywhere good."
Jafar's flared cobra neck and head swayed above sleek black cobra body. He looked big enough to eat Gavin in one bite.
"What do we do?" said Mandy nervously.
"Shrink him!" shouted Alice.
"Get him to talk again," said Aaron.
"Brian! Jafar! Whoever you are! Over here!" Mandy yelled, as Aaron surreptitiously picked up Alice's bottle. "I've got to say, that hat thing? I don't know how much you spent on it, but it looked ridiculous."
"Keep going," Alice shouted.
"What did Becky call it, again? A puffy turban thingy? Yeah. Real cute."
Jafar hissed furiously. "How dare you mock my crown?" he shrieked, and at that moment, Aaron threw the open bottle of 'Drink Me' potion into his wide-stretched mouth. It stuck in his throat, but Jafar gulped and crunched the glass.
"You're trying to choke me? Foolsss," he hissed. But as with Alice, the potion had already begun to work. Jafar was shrinking. Now only a few inches long, he wriggled angrily, stuck in the deep pile of the shag carpet.
"I know what," Aaron said. "Becky!"
"Hit the snake!"
Becky smiled broadly, and thumped the tiny snake with her club. Then she swung again. This time, her club caught the magic lamp, and it smashed to the floor.
"Get the fire extinguisher!" Mandy screamed. But there was no fire.
The lights came back on.
"Mandy?" Alice shouted.
"I think you should put me down."
Mandy scooped Alice out of her pocket and set her on the table. She was getting steadily taller.
"Guys? Did I just kill Brian?" Becky asked.
"You're talking!" Mandy squeaked.
"No, he's breathing. I think you just knocked him out," John said. Brian, still prone, was coming back to his normal size and shape. "Snakes are pretty tough."
"Oh, thank goodness."
All around them, Brian's other guests were going back to their normal personalities, and the hum of conversation started again.
"I need to find Gavin," Alice said. "He'd better not still be a cat."
"Mandy?" Aaron asked, pulling her aside.
"Look, I've been thinking. I really like you. Could I buy you a drink sometime?"
Mandy smiled, her blush coming back. "Sure."
"Good," he said, and grinned. "Oh, look! Brian's awake."
"Brian! Are you ok?" Mandy asked. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Three. Yeah, I'm fine," he said, and grimaced as he sat up. "Next Hallowe'en, let's make sure we don't run out of candy. These trick-or-treaters are getting serious."