ricozanderas@yahoo.com

There were a lot of ideas overall what this story could be, but even sparing any of that it follows my typical hawkthornean archetypes as far as story structure and tropes go. The lost wanderer, transfixed and transformed by their journey in metaphysical and often visually illustrious ways. I’d like to give thanks to all the people who helped build off and contribute to this piece, it’s been about 6-7 slumped years in the making with only recent interest bringing it back from the depths of obscurity. May any readers out there enjoy it thoroughly as I have writing it. Thanks!
~Brandygang

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1. Puella Aeterna

Puella Aeterna

                This is the tale of the storyteller. Like all stories, her tales are based on some whispering truth. Whenever she spoke her anecdote of a single person getting cursed or afflicted, the very same curse would happen to anyone who ill-fated enough to listen or even worse may be so enveloped into the story as that they will become encapsulated as a part of it. That's why her story might as well become your story too.

The story begins like this.

        Once upon a time, in a small town outside no major cities there lived an elderly old woman in a small house in the center of town. That women might as well me my mother, or creator if one wished to be obtuse, more or less. Consider my truths her own. Many people believed her to be a witch since no one ever saw her leave her house and ceaseless records have shown that an elderly woman has always lived there. One day a group of kids young of age, just about your age, yes you, wondered out and dared each other to go in and listen to one of the old lady’s stories one at a time. Most would leave quickly or be forgotten, but if at least one stayed to bring about the tale its meaning would be complete. She told them to sit quietly and fold their laps neatly, and take caution and yet kindly be entertained by her tale. One of those kids would grow up proud to retell that story in her footsteps.

Because that very child would become a part of it.

                For you see, when she was a frail virgin flower at the age of 16, she got lost in the woods one afternoon, which extended from what would start as a day's eve, from fore nights into millenniums. In the dark of the night and howls and hysterics of the banshees and spirits she would occupy and consul with her until she found a trail from their wails stranger than any she had any heard. They spoke of her fate in rhymes and in terrified sorrowing tearful yelps, but that wasn't the strangest part. Despite sympathizing with their anguish, the young maiden could not truly understand the extent of their pleas until she encountered the figure of legend revealed and bemoaned within their story. An eye for an eye, a quick encounter, a pale and lithe wraith from not of this world, more beautiful and strange and strange than anything the forest spirits had to offer or could express in any form of poetry stood before her. A herald of a greater becoming was all it took for her to see that there. That spirit passed on its tale to her as I shall to you, and connect our vital adolescent effluence along the way.

The day she met eyes with you was the first true day of your life.

As was the last of hers. Poetically speaking.

Her succession into this role would ensure anybody who encountered her that day would have a brush in with death (as I did), and if they overcame that and overwhelmed the challenges brought on by her nefarious omens, than they too would have their fate intertwined with her own, as it would be for me. I certainly cannot say the ravenous teaching of dark arts and witchcraft would be available for me as they would for her, but that's a different story entirely. Let us try to fathom our own first.

From what I've suffered together of her, tale from willows and wraiths and banshees and the single encounter of her enchanting, I'll try to explain it in the humblest of terms as I can imagine, so be not distraught if I make any errors or miss any details. The fauna and deer of the woods can probably tell it better than I, and my mother certainly did it better. But never mind that, her tale begins about half a century ago. And so does yours. Let’s change convention here, perhaps you’re understand it better if I simply refer ‘her’ as the listener, or whatever manner is preferable for a bit if only to help you conceptualize the blight that you’ll share upon hearing these verses.

Her tale begins like this. Your tale starts here.

You cannot help but notice the passing of location, the shifting of plane, the changing of reality as you hear this tale. It's almost as if your form and presence has shifted itself to match its setting, and before long you find yourself the very character within its borderless narrative. A ceaseless canvas of a myriad of potential where you find the form of your physical reality and very perceptions warped to the words and spoken utterances of this legend.

As I tell this, you drift off listening to my sweet voice, lost in the tides of time ashore on the course to life, separated from what is natural, what progresses wholly and successfully, adrift from time, given off from everything you are and were. Just as her tale was passed on from a mother's love to the orphanage that would become the forbearer of my Coven, passed on to her treasured maternal figure from word of mouth and screams to finally a fated encounter eye to eye with her trial's in sight, so too shall death become you as you sire her tale. Destiny itself has chosen you to be its heir, and by hearing it from her line of contributor's you too shall see it from the very beginning. Let's wind the clock back where it our current storyteller intended.

The sky is clear, if a little ambiguously gray. The air crisp and space around you vacant, you have some brief room to ignore my words in the background as they trail out as background noise, perhaps simply a passing note beneath your subliminal notice, and instead examine your surroundings. A few of the buildings and the general layout of the streets look familiar, but most of the modern buildings have gone. The cars are all models of the 50s or before, and the people all wear 50's era fashions too. Looking in an electrical store, you see record players but no CD players, small screen TV sets but no DVD players, Valve Radios but no Computers and Cameras but no digital ones. A slight blur and weird color tones the area, almost like a blanket of sepia has clouded your vision. The whole world has regressed, almost gone back in time without moving forward. It’s quite strange to see yourself in this aged time, although you haven’t moved forward or changed with the setting at least. You’re form has resisted the shape of the world’s progression and instead stuck as it was.

Trying to forget the complications and worries of modern living, or the confusion of the byzantine relation between yourself, the main character you’re supposed to be hearing about and the storyteller, you decide to take a walk. After you walk for a while you decide to go down a street that catches your sight. The childlike playground and pastel colors of this park astounds you, it even has rubbery plastic fences with leave lathered green trees towering out. Surprisingly enough you find what seems to be parts of the old park surrounded by a tall stone wall. The wall has some strange inscriptions on it in Latin that you can barely read out as "Ergo Cognito Sum.” As you pass by the moss-covered stones you wonder why it would contain such a strange inscription. You know that the park has to have been there for a long while because the trees look to be fairly well-grown. It seems like a nice shady place full of trees, perfect for the children in your neighborhood to play in. However, you don't hear any sounds of people coming from the park. You walk in back of the ordinate steel gates and slip inside. A thick blockade of trees covers the landscape ahead casing the horizon. 

On the other side of the park is a thick bushel of forest coating the surrounding area. Interestingly enough you’re able to get a look at the very back of that same slab stone part of the wall, and it reads “Puella Aeterna” in brazen letters carved into it. The rock slowly breaks down as it extends out before being replaced by the colorful fence alongside it, but above the inscription you now notice are two pillars standing wide, like some sort of poles or weird sort of monolith. What an odd sight you think briefly, as you turn your attention back to the woods. Pushing your way through the bark and fauna a bit, you manage to delve deeper inside.

Closing your eyes and concentrating until a direction comes, unbidden to your mind, you open your eyes and veer left of the woods. As you are walking, the forest becomes increasingly dense. Moss and ferns cover the ground and there are often large trees that fell many years ago and are in various states of decay. The silence is nearly deafening and even your feet make very little noise when you walk, that's why when you hear noises around you, your ears prick up and start to tingle gently. You look around and fail to see anything. Though the forest is still and silent, the tingling sensation continues in your ears. You clutch your arms around your stomach and as the pain becomes unbearable, you fall to your knees.

The pain is strange, not like anything in this realm of fiction or the next you’ve ever experienced. It’s not like a physical pain or sickness of the carnal, an incorporeal sort of wringing embodiment stings in your chest and pangs throughout your body with a strange very real and felt numbness, but also peculiar pleasure. Pleasure? You might say so, like your form is being soothed over, mending from whatever it was before to an unidentifiable shape to match that of the story’s, unidentifiable in that it feels description-less, barren of meaning or context save the strange euphoria that comes with having your body altered to something you cannot even identify, but feel like it could be filled in with any number potential qualifies in the future if this strange storyteller fills your substance with a presence better fitting of your travels. For the time being, the idea of the storyteller fills your mind and instead you replace your guise with that of the crone walking through the forest like in her tale. You’d also imagine her mother or the wondering girl in her story before her, but you don’t know what they look like. Once your ominous change and transformation into a less specified individual is complete, the pain and contorting stops and you can move again. Quickly forgetting your pain, you’re able to travel through the coppices and thick shrubbery. Looking fleetingly over your body, you cannot find anything strange or out of place with it, it feels natural enough so that it’s of no chagrin or thought to you.

You arrive a few miles, time passing by dully and ceaselessly. Finally you give in to your fatigue and sit by the lake. Bending over it, you cup your hands and get a handful of cold water and sip at it carefully. Well, if there's anything wrong with it, it's not something you can taste. In fact, it's about the best water you've ever tasted, you take several more handfuls before bending over the lake and sucking it up with your face submerged. The water is invigorating and you feel like you could walk for another 24 hours without getting tired.

You take off your clothes and start to dip in, and soon find yourself entrenched.

Staring down at your reflection in the shimmering lake, you see yourself, perhaps a little tired, but it's yourself. Suddenly, your reflection shimmers and changes, and you find yourself looking at the reflection of a young girl, a splitting image of the storyteller you remind yourself, perhaps in the prime of their adolescence. Then, as quickly as she appeared, the image disappears and you see yourself again. Whoever ‘you’ are and what it is you see. That was a bit weird, but then again you are tired and the light is waning. Dusk will be upon the skyline soon. 

 

True to your instinct as if recognizing it, the sun starts to disappear behind the trees, and you know you have to be on your way. You regretfully pull yourself out of the water and shake off as much of it as you can. You feel very refreshed, surprisingly so. Even your skin feels somehow better for having been immersed in the water. After you get as much water off as possible, you put your clothes back on. Although they quickly become damp, you think you'll be able to make the trek back home, or civilization where ever it may be is just fine. It's not yet chilly, there's no wind, and it's not due to rain until tomorrow afternoon. Strangely enough, there hasn’t been any wind at all since you got here, it’s been completely calm. The forest is virtually sterile. The atmosphere is strangely composed for a sky so sullen and dull as it appears. It’s almost serene. As you walk back the way you came, you try to remember the path so you can return here in the future. 

You slowly walk through the dim forest for what feels like hours. It’s getting dark and the air is getting cool. It doesn’t take you long to realize that you are lost. You walk a bit more, hoping to get lucky and find your way out. As you walk down the forest path, you notice that the noises of the forest begin to get quieter. You continue walking for quite some time and finally notice that the noises around you have stopped completely. Looking around, you find that you've wandered completely off the trail and are surrounded by a spacious forest consisting of many tall trees. The space around you is more manageable, the density leveling and making it easy to navigate. However what you gain in maneuverability, you lose in guidance as the sky is virtually blocked out now by the taller, thinner trees, the only downside. The moon and stars are lost to you, you’ve only your constitutions to guide you. You take a moment to ponder what you want to do. Considering your alternatives, you’re senses are quickly distracted by a faint smell in the air. Following it, a dim light ahead shines and you walk through to investigate.

In the distance you smell what now seems to be a campfire. You walk in the direction of the smell until you can see the glow of the fire. As you approach the fire, you can hear people sitting by it and talking. You duck down behind a bush out of fear that they will see you. You have no idea who these people are and want to be cautious.

After a few minutes of crawling behind the bush, you are close enough to see whom the people are. You gently and quietly open a small hole in the bush to look through it. You see something you never expected to see. Sitting on a log in front of the fire is 2 of the biggest raccoons you have even seen in your life. They are human sized and seem to be moving about in an almost human way. Elegant and graceful, they seem very beautifully composed warming by their fire as they chit-chat in a language you cannot understand, and lounge around in supple smooth-flowing robes, like something out of an Eastern fairytale perhaps.

The one on the right seems to have heard you as his ears perk up. He stands up, effeminate and poised, turns around, and puts down a pipe letting out wispy trails of smoke which breeze in your direction. He walks towards the bushes asking who’s there. That is when you get another surprise, this raccoon is walking on 2 feet as easily as a human can. In your exhaustion earlier you were struggling to even walk straight, but this animal has no difficulty doing so. You don’t know if you should panic or embrace the animal. Even if you could get away, you are still lost and it is getting cold. You really could use the heat from the fire to warm up.

You slowly approach the fire from behind and to the two animal's surprise, start to warm yourself up by the fire. They look at each other in a confused fashion, but then understand immediately and put a blanket over you. You sit down on one of the logs and one of them pulls out a ukulele and starts strumming its string lightly, humming off a tune as the other one provides the lyrics. These words you cannot quite make out, but they soothe and comfort you in a way nothing else has. Make you feel same, uniformly welcomed, loved even. Before you entered the forest you were afraid and fearful of its presence, but now that two of its residence have accepted you it might as well be a peaceful stay.

As they sing you feel slower and softer, feeling the pangs of sleep and inclination to rest overcome you. Your eyes sense heaviness. And so you do as your body suggest and lie down on the log underneath you. You close your eyes and get comfy, and soon you’re fast asleep.

Here you have strange dreams.

                You have dreams of a person in another life. This person appears to be the storyteller, but from what you recall they might also be the protagonist that person spoke of, the one that told them the story before them. Or they might be you, with your sudden loss of identity and grasp on your self-image earlier you cannot really tell, but they seem to have a sophisticated and yet strangle meek life. You dream of this person wearing dresses, and gorgeous gowns and formal clothes, while prancing dignified and yet morose as well, living the life of a gentlefolk yet entrapped by their role as if casted upon by the spellbinders curse. They struggle to walk at first, but once they learn they struggle to walk well, gracefully as they should. They live a life drinking tea and reading books, practicing demure poses and phrases in a mirror that only taunts them back. They fight with imaginary authority figures and yell a caretakers who aren’t there. They seem to host balls attended by no one, and friendly meetings joined only by barely existing shadows, which seem to fade out over time. As the dream goes on, strings appear on this characters body and despite their struggles, they are made to dance in tune to a melody sung by an unseen puppeteer. Without seeing a sight of them, you know the puppeteer is ogling and eyeing up its victim, playing with it as if a child might uncaring or respective to their wishes or pain. The victim here doesn’t resist, too caught up in the dance to think to do so. The expression on the trapped person never changes, the only adjustment to their sad face is the shiny waxing and change in its physique, and before long it looks no different than a doll or picturesque marionette. Eventually the controller gets bore, the strings drop and the figurine goes stiff and lifeless. The person had forgot how to walk or move altogether, crying across a dark scene, which slowly fades out as you regain consciousness from these surreal dreams.

Your eyes are awakened to the sight of an empty campfire. The flame itself has long been put out, and only a few signs give any indication that there were host here to comfort you last night. No raccoons in pretty robes anymore, no one to help or care for you, just you.

Then you discover that you are all alone. You're not a naked person, just a sad one. Not a dejected one, not a broken one, not a belittled one, not a weak one, not a fragmented one, nor a pitiful one, but a lost one. That doesn't really matter, though, you think? Those thoughts occur to you as quite strange, and bring you back for a moment to the scene of your dream. Could it have meant something more for your endeavors, something you’re supposed to be reaching for? Something you’re not getting perhaps? You don’t have time to analyze them however, you have to get going if you want to find your way back to civilization, if you still can. Maybe find this girl or person the storyteller spoke of, was the one you’re supposed to be searching about? You keep that in mind as you fold up the blanket, give the absent forest creatures one last thank you before getting on with your merry way.

Before long you’re on the prowl searching through the forest routes again. Luckily you find another soil path before too long. While the path behind certainly didn't yield very much, how lost can a person get by following a vacant path in a forest? Laid out by nature itself, it had to be favorable, and you decide that today is your day to be adventurous and stride forward to see what you can see. The path beneath your feet is hard-packed soil so it seems that others have come this way before. However, as you go, you find the foliage around you becomes darker and more overgrown. In fact, the path itself gradually becomes littered with dried leaves and fallen branches ... much of it looking as if it had fallen in years gone by, like time immigrated ahead of you and settled in comfortably by the time you caught up. Just last night the forest was lively enough to have been spring, even if calm and quiet, but you couldn’t have wondered that far in, how could the scene of these woods change so dramatically? Even the same bottleneck trees reach out into the sky, letting only shimmering rays of sunlight peak in. You follow that light on a good note and head towards the sun. Hopefully you’re not going backwards or in circles, one of the more pressing of your foresting anxieties. Still, the path you're on has only twisted from side to side a couple times. You are still generally going in the same direction.

How deep could these woods be?

A sudden crash catches your attention from behind and you turn rapidly to see a large branch has fallen across the path behind you. The silence of the wood becomes oppressive and you begin to feel that your jaunt into this forest was a bit foolish. After all, you've never been here before and people do get lost, now and then... A low creaking echoes from out of the tightly knit branches overhead and the dim, shadowed light of the forest around you makes the sounds seem all the more threatening.

Even though you squint your eyes, you can't be certain of what's up there, if anything. Whatever is making the noise, whether some animal climbing on the branches or just years of wood-rot finally gnawing through the twigs, it’s clear that standing underneath the canopy just there is probably not healthy nor safe. You don’t have time to find out what it is.

Slowly, you back up and turn to continue on your way, contemplating where to go and if the path behind is as dangerous as you think it might be. 

More rustling is behind you. You start to run quicker, weary what the forest may offer and whether or not you’re ready to accept it. However as you tread the woods so quickly you trip yourself and stumble down a small hill. You’re rolling on the dank and slanted curve for about 20 seconds before you reach the bottom, stopped by a heavy brick sprout in the ground. It forms a hollow circle walled up a few feet. The well is about 2-3 meters in radius, a horse might get trapped but a human could easily fit through.

“A well? What’s a well doing here in a place like this, in the middle of an abandon forest?” You ask yourself, finding something awfully peculiar about it. There’s no top or pail, but putting your head close in you can hear drips of water and a creaking flow streaming underneath, perhaps hundreds of meters down barely echoing up through the surface. With a quick scan around, there’s a clearing in the forest at the bottom of the mound, but still obviously no buildings, roads, or signs there would be any human activity nearby. “Even if it was made by one of the raccoon creatures or anybody, why build it in such an abandon area?” You give the Well a firm knock.

 However as much as it astounds you, you don’t have time to be going about it. It’s already noon and you doubt you’re going to find another random campfire as easily tonight if you don’t get going. Not bothering to walk back the hill from whence you rolled, you exit the slight clearing and enter back into more woods again. The unusually tall and lanky trees entice you well enough, thin enough to allow sunlight in and more wilted than before. A shadow crosses through each one swiftly and you can just barely feel it swipe a single hair before flying off and back again.

You try to focus your eyes, and soon you’re able to sight the hair rogue. Its shadow comes to light atop a tall tree as it descends upon a single branch. From what you can make out its ears and snout are majestic and body strong and lean, but it's humanoid features blend somewhat less opaquely. With paw-like hands tingling dainty nails and limber arms, a series of tails fluff out from its back and reach up past its waist. It's wearing oriental robes neck to toe and large beads around its neck, just like the raccoon-people you saw last night, and its eyes are strangely slanted, sharp enough to cut through the forest ember or slice deep into your soul, which it practically does when they open fixed at you.

"Humans shouldn't trend too far into this forest you know. It's bad for provision." The couth fox-esque creature tells you, in a rather haughty and sly accent like something from a posh club or oration. You walk closer to the creature and it descends to the lowermost branch, dangling its legs out playfully.

You don't respond, for reasons be it fear or awe you’re not quite sure what to say.

"What? Cannot you talk? I thought I put it rather clearly." The creature pouts. You try to get out a rebuttal but you hesitate and it takes advantage. "B-bu. bubububub what human? I know you must be quite a simpleton, but even the simplest and dullest of creatures know when to take heed." It pulls out a short curved candy-cane shaped stick out of its sleeve and with a swift movement raises and releases it as an umbrella overtop its head. The cane reaches out atop with its flappy shady covering to spare, and the creature gently sooths his petite arms along the grip playfully. You’re kind of fearful it could stab someone with that thing at any time if it wanted to, but you put that thought aside and scoff, "What did you mean by 'Provisions' Mr.Fox?" As you question the strange individual confronting you, some stray leaves fall out of your hair, but you have to pluck one stuck in your roots.

"Well 'Mr. Human' or miss human, whichever you are, I cannot really tell your kind part. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Certainly even a crass and disgustingly uncivilized creature as you has heard of the golden rule, correct? An eye for an eye, all things come to order in the balance of fairness and what is right. Surely even a buffoon such as yourself can understand that?"  

You stare back at it as it stretches its arm and neck, pointing out its tongue and eyeing you from the corner of those slits as it raises its head up, menacingly looking down on you. You try to get out the words but it scarcely comes, some strange sense of suspension has taken hold of you.

“T..the golden rule? Of cou..of course! Equal treatment, r..right?”

You stammer, swallowing your gullet not really sure what to anticipate from this thing challenging you with stupid and trying questions. Eye for an eye, the golden rule, do onto others as you would for yourself, of course you knew that! Why would it bother bringing it up? It grunts, and starts to turn around before eyeing you again.

“Everything has its place, each rain drop its song and each song it’s rhyme. For little girls and boys wandering off into the forest, they best hope they return in good time. Joyful journeying and simple bliss, these things lead one off the pathway when followed by disorder and guidance gone amiss. So take in your head before your heart, breathe slowly and take simple paces. Don’t get too tangled up in your books and frock, your sailboat and toys and pettycoat laces.”

Its strange verses are told in a simple and soothing series of words straightforward to your ears, but despite listening to them a certain impatience cast them off. You want to get going, get home, get somewhere and you don’t have time to be taught Sunday school lessons from sly little foxes in the forest. Taking a deep breath, you smudge your forehead and ask “What?”

It doesn’t look back at you too favorably.

“Ugh, forget it. A simpleton and thoughtless human like yourself cannot understand simple proverbs. I have not another second to waste, be weary and be off than. “

The anthropomorphic fox tells you before facing the canopy of the tree tops and leaping off elsewhere. You don’t even get another word in before it’s out of sight. With a fickle sigh, you follow the rays of light still trailing the sky and start to wander the forested paths once again, curving and navigating until your legs are sore and tired. But refusing to rest nevertheless.

Before long you find yourself on a shady path with sunlight gently falling from the boughs of the trees to form roundish little shapes that blanket the ground like autumn leaves. The sound of wind chimes can be heard in the distance, the sound cascading through the park like the light through the trees illuminating the forested breeze. Which still strikes you as strangely absent, if still present in some sense conceptually. You walk along a path for a while and come to what seems to be a divergence of pathways. You ponder for a moment and choose a path to follow. 

               

                Suddenly another jolt strikes your heard, you flinch instantly as you feel a presence entering your mental sphere. You cannot comprehend it at first, not in words or a language you can understand, but somewhere in your subconscious your mind catches on and follows accordingly. The path, a path, many paths lead across many roads and fates, but one fate calls to you and to answer that call you have but a single path to take. Your eyes fade slightly glassy and you start trending forward, almost as if lead by trance or a strange instinct, you make turns and passes only to stop and choose others, leading to where ever this dazed spell marks for your intuitive determination, arriving from an unseen force of some kind. You don’t question or resist it, as you realize you’re not going to escape this forest by just wandering endlessly, so if this uncertain premonition leads you somewhere rather than nowhere, well’s just naturally preferable, right? Besides you told yourself you’d be rather adventurous today. Soon enough the rush and driving haze fades over, and returning to normalcy you look ahead.

As you look down many paths, one in particular finally catches your eye, the path with sign reading "No Trespassing". Was this what your instinct was snooping towards, what you were brought towards? It matters less now, you have a decision to make, but not a very difficult one. You start to carefully go forward, noticing the pathway around you no longer bare or dirt coated but heavily grassy like a plain, it’s full of gentle hairs springing up from the ground and tickling your legs against the lawn. Being anything but a rule abiding person, you take the path just to spite the people who put it up, human or otherwise. After about a few minutes or so of walking on the grassy frontier, you reach a lavish looking house with a beautiful garden maze filled with beautiful statues and hedge art. It looks a bit suspicious, but on the other hand you are tired and lost, maybe the people who live in the house can be of some assistance. However something about this house feels off, you cannot quite place it but your sight can hardly deceive what your gut is telling you.

                You followed your instinct to arrive here, why would it suddenly have second thoughts? No, there nothing else out here distinctive other than animal people and more trees and you have little interest to spare in anything else. Just like the well from earlier, of course it’s strange that there’s suddenly a large villa in the middle of the woods, but what choice do you have really? Nightfall will arrive in a few short hours, and you’ll never make it back to civilization in reasonable time before then. You’ve yet to find this central person or heard their story, or the things the storyteller foretold that you should be seeking out. Only doting raccoons and snooty foxes. Right ahead of you is a large lush garden and pathway, with a hefty mansion ahead, and only endless trees lie behind you, so which would you honestly rather choose? Even though the mansion’s existence is cryptic and in any story or tale you’ve heard of with strange buildings like these, they always turn out to be haunted or malicious to some extent, this is reasonable doubt. But reason isn’t you’re mistress, as you square that off and immediately nothing else crosses your mind but the sense of jovial discovery and childlike curiosity about what’s inside this building. Who inhabits it exactly? How big of an opportunity you’d be missing if you sufficed yourself to sleep out in the cold woods searching aimlessly when a trace of grandeur and sumptuous wonder greets you right here. No, you won’t turn around, you won’t heed your primal call, but rather you brace yourself for whatever’s ahead. The first steps you take past the garden don’t even register, as you’re already at the front door.

Having decided to ignore the beautiful garden, you knock on the door try to ask about this place. Maybe you can find out about a way home as well, more justifications for why the decision you made to come here was a correct one. As you step back from the door, it eerily opens by itself, and you skeptically shrug it off as being a new automatic door (despite the house seeming rather anteceded) or something similar and continue into the house. The halls are filled with paintings that start to creep you out, in a morbid fascinating way. Horrified people quailing and distorted fill the canvasses, and as you walk down the hall, you see one with a young girl that you could swear was the girl you saw in the lake earlier, and beside it one that is blank except for a wooded background, with only the full moon shining through. You are hypnotized and are drawn in, tracing your fingers around the frame and feeling the texture of the paint. It’s so shiny, its reflection cast your face upon it and you see a splitting image of yourself among the rows at this very last painting. Then, a sound of a door opening brakes you from your trance. 

Shrugging and suddenly ignoring both the odd noise and the paintings, you wander off to get a look at the rest of the house. You soon find yourself in what seems to be one of the central hallways of the house, with numerous doors leading off of it. There is also a large door at the end of the hallway. 

As it is getting dark outside with dusk’s fated arrival, you choose to explore the upstairs first, and explore outside tomorrow when it is lighter out. You walk farther up a winding staircase that opens into a hall with a mirror at the end. Several different rooms present themselves to you along the hallway. One has an ornate, antique door. Another has a plain, rough-hewn wooden door, with what almost looks like claw marks dug into it. Still another has no door, a bead curtain serving as the entryway. At the end of the hall, of course, is the immense, austere looking silver mirror. So many choices present themselves, and you will certainly need a room to stay in for the night.

You run your fingers through your hair and adjust yourself nervously. Comfort should be your first priority for the night. While this may not be your house, the actual owner doesn't seem to be offering up any complaint nor compliments, and you might as well spend tonight in a nice place where you'll get a good sleep. You just hope the room with the ornate, antique door isn't locked. That room must be cozy indeed.

Your hand clasps the wrought brass knob and twists. To your delight, it turns cleanly, and the door opens. What greets your eyes looks like something out of a faerie tale, posh and sparkling beyond belief. It is lavishly furnished with a vanity, a bath, and a stately canopy bed. You could just melt here and sleep until daybreak, without a worry in the world.

The strange thing, though, is it looks like it was even recently cleaned and prepared. It could be someone else's room, you realize. Also, and you shiver as you think this, it could be whoever owns this house expected you and set this up. Your eyes dart about, wondering if you are being watched. 

 

Your need for rest forces you to put those kind of paranoid worries aside for the moment. The bathtub is looking very attractive right now. You've been walking for quite a while in the dirty filthy woods and your aroma is less than pleasant. As long as the owner doesn't kick you out, you might as well take advantage of the accouterments here.

One by one, you remove your shoes, socks, shirt, with the rest of your garments and set them in a pile on a cushioned wooden chair next to the bed. You pull the vanity between the bathtub and the rest of the room and turn on the water. You find soap in a small dish in the wall, and several towels hang on a rack nearby. You briefly wonder if there's a nightly rate for this room and if you have enough money in your pocket to pay for it. Unlikely, you smirk, seeing as you only have a few five-dollar bills. Who would have expected to need money on a nature walk?

The water heats up and you step under the shower's spray. It feels quite good on your tired muscles. As you soap yourself up, all you're able to think about is getting into bed and sleeping off the walk. The longer you remain under the soothing water, the better you feel. Never has a shower made you feel this relaxed before. Casually rubbing the area around your privates gently for a moment, you stop when you remember your fear of someone watching. Deciding that the peeping tom, if there was one, had gotten enough of a show already, you shut off the water and towel yourself off.

You wrap your wet hair in the towel to dry and head for the bed. The soreness of your muscles is mostly gone and your skin feels soft and more perfect than ever. Exhaustion takes precedent over these thoughts, however, and soon your head is resting on the pillow as you lie under the smooth sheets, quickly drifting off to sleep. 

Once you hit the pillow, you're out like a light. But you're also oblivious to what is happening to your body. At first your waist slims and your hips widen. Your legs slim and so do your arms as your undergarments compress before disappearing completely. Your feet shrink and your fingers lengthen a bit. Your nails grow. Your shoulders lessen and you shrink a couple inches. Your moderately androgynous facial features become increasingly feminine, your eyelashes grow, your lips swell, your cheekbones shrink. Your eyes change to a grey-blue. Your hair becomes a dark shade of reddish-brown and grows to about shoulder length.

 

After a very pleasant night's sleep you wake up to the faint light coming in from the curtains. You wish you could have slept forever, but as you come back to consciousness you begin to feel much more energetic than before. You sit up in bed and realize your muscles don't ache at all, not even your legs. Usually you're sore the day after taking a walk, but today your body is completely revitalized.

You find that the towel had slipped off your head during the night, but that your hair had dried anyway. You pull the sheets off of you and pause. Something about your body looked different. Younger, perhaps. But that's impossible.

You wake up in the morning only to gasp in your newly feminine voice at your newfound features.

Quickly rising to your feet, you notice a full-length mirror set in a lavish metal frame with a vine pattern on the wall next to the closet door. The hardwood floor is cold on your bare feet, and you shiver at the morning air. As you get closer to the mirror your suspicions confirm themselves. You're younger. Your body has leaned up a bit. You've lost a few inches in height and your hair has shortened up to your mid-back. Your chest more pert and perky than ever, even compared to when you were a teenager. Your face is full of energy and not a single wrinkle. You guessed you had aged to your mid thirty’s to early forties.

The overall effect would be adorable on anyone else, but you find it less "cute" and more "terrifying" when you consider that the creature in the mirror, a well-adjusted femme figure in the throes of adulthood, reflecting in the mirror before is none other than yourself.

This place sure was strange, but was it possible something here was making you younger? The soap, maybe, or the water? Or the bed? Or just being here? Your mind floods with questions and not a single answer.

You shiver again. No matter what's happened to you, you're going to need clothes. You turn toward the bed, but gasp when you see that the chair you had put your clothes on is now empty. You search the entire room, drawers, cupboards, under the bed, but there aren't any clothes in sight. You give the bath towels a glance, but you know those aren't going to cut it.

There's only one place left to look. The closet. You march toward it, hoping that maybe a maid had come in and stowed your things in there. You open the door swiftly and an almost bare closet meets your eyes. Your outfit isn't there, but something else is. 

Your eyes gaze upon the strange costume. You raise an eyebrow at the black and white gothic attire. There is a black sleeveless dress with puffy shoulders and white frills at the armholes, a low-cut, lace-up bodice section and a fluffy knee-length skirt with a white frilly layer that sticks out below the black outer fabric.

Draped over a hangar next to this is a pair of black-and-white-striped leggings and a matching pair of arm-hugging gloves. A third hangar contains a black fabric collar lined at the top and bottom by small white frills and a thin black tie cord. On the floor sits a pair of very tall platform boots. The rest of the closet is empty, and its loneliness suggests it was placed there specifically for you, or at least anyone who stayed in this room.

"What have I gotten myself into?" You think. Normally you'd never even consider wearing this kind of outfit, but it's chilly and you have no other choice. You take the garments over to the bed, laying them all out. You're a little annoyed that whoever decided to supply you with these clothes neglected to include briefs, a thong or any kind of underwear. You may not need the support anymore, but your privates could definitely use some cover.

Hoping you'll be able to find another outfit, or even your original one, as you continue exploring the house, you sit on the bed and slip on the socks. The fabric is surprisingly comfortable and it fits tightly without itching. The black-and-white-striped leggings reach over halfway up your thighs and provide surprisingly effective insulation.

You lift up the dress and examine how to get into it. There's no opening of any kind in the back. The skirt portion is sewn to the bottom of the bodice, which is untied. Hopefully that will offer enough slack to get yourself into it. Despite it being elegant feminine and observably pretty, it’s ostensibly elastic and designed unisex, so regardless you can fit into it without much trouble, but stranger still is its size seems to be made almost perfectly for you. You slip the entire thing over your head, running your arms through the puffy shoulders. They fall just right onto your shoulders, supporting the weight until you can tie the bodice. The shoulders act as the left and right boundaries of the wide-open "collar" space that exposes most of your collarbone and half of your chest.

At least you're less exposed than you were, you think as you lace up the front of the bodice. The black cord slips through the tiny holes easily, and once laced, you pull it taut to tie a large-looped knot at the top. Your chest is clearly visible and unpleasantly exposed through the gaping opening at the front of the bodice, and is much more pronounced now that you've tied it tightly. The upper third of your mid-adult aged chest presses out from the top slightly. While it provided excellent support, the bodice was obviously designed to go over an undershirt, which would have done the job of covering your chest properly. You're reminded of the fact that you were also denied access to undies by the mysterious, and probably lecherous, forces at work in this house. Turning your attention to the gloves, which fit, quite literally, like gloves. You pull the striped arm stockings all the way up as far as they can go, which is actually right up to your shoulders. Their elastic hems secure their positions right underneath the shoulders of the dress, so no skin is visible at all. The black palms of the gloves are open-fingered starting at the second knuckle, which should aid you if you needed a firm grip on something in the future.

You eye the black boots suspiciously. They are very high-riding, high-heeled platforms. You understand these are the only footwear available to you right now, so you sigh and sit down on the bed. You slip your left foot into the leather boot and it rides halfway up your calf. Again, it seems a perfect match to your current foot size. You doubt you'd be able to wear your old clothes this well, having regressed in age slightly. There are four silver buckles, one at the ankle, one at the top, and two evenly-spaced between them. You start at the bottom and buckle them in sequence, then you put on the right boot. Once they're on, you stand up.

You waver for a moment, not used to balancing on platforms. At least not ones this tall. The seven-inch platforms, combined with their high-heeled orientation, have made up for the height you lost when you became younger and then some. You're sure you stand over six feet tall with them on. With your vantage point higher than ever, you uneasily walk to the mirror to examine your reflection.

 Of who wanted to see you in this outfit, one couldn’t say, but you can't help but admire your appearance. The dress is a surprisingly perfect fit. You strangely feel like if an assumed physique or category was assigned to you arbitrarily one way another, by mere preposition alone wouldn’t account for how fabulous and beautiful you suddenly look in this sudden outfit, regardless of whether that original grouping would allow for that or not. The waist hugs you tightly, accenting your younger curves. There is enough body in the skirt to allow it to fall from your waist at a forty-degree angle, the white frills at the end circling your knees. Small white lines accent the edges of the bodice and the black outer layer of the skirt. The outfit may look a bit theatrical, but it certainly looks good on you. The dress, the striped arm gloves and leggings, and the oversized boots all make you look downright cute.

Something sees missing, though. You purposefully left off the collar, but now your neck just seemed so...bare without it. Shuffling back to the bed, you pick up the black collar with the lacy white trim and string it around your neck. You tie it in the back tightly so it won't slip. You look back at the mirror. Finally, your outfit is complete. You look somewhat ridiculous, particularly with the bodice allowing the tops of your top half to be noticeable, but at least you're clothed.

A slight draft picks up and cold air blows against your exposed privates. You shiver, arms automatically pressing the dress against your legs. Annoyed not only at this inconvenience, but at the prospect that someone might be playing an elaborate joke on you, you turn toward the door and prepare to continue searching the house. 

Back in the hallway, you find it is still pretty dark for late morning. Not much light seems to be getting in through the windows on either side of the mirror at the end. Feeling a little spooked out, you head down the stairs to the second floor. It's a little brighter here, and the doors don't have any frightening claw marks embedded in them. You pass two rooms with silhouettes of a generic man and a generic woman, like the signs on a restroom. You tug your collar, and after a breathy sigh of relief turn towards the restroom appropriate for yourself.

You realize how long it's been since you've gone to the bathroom, and enter the room. It appears to be a normally-furnished bathroom for a house built near the dawn of plumbing. There is a dated shower, but the clean-looking toilet and sink are all you need. You pull a chain drooping from the ceiling to turn on a lone light bulb and shut the door.

Rather than go through the trouble of taking your entire dress off, you hike up the frilly skirt and deal with the inconvenience. You're about to bring an arm down to pull off your panties when you remember that you still don't have any. You sigh, taking extra care not to get your dress dirty, as it's probably the only thing you're going to be wearing for a while.

After you've finished, you take off your long gloves so you can wash your hands in the sink. You're pleased to see a bar of soap in a dish to the left, and you rub it on your hands. You decide to splash a little water onto your face as well, and with your soapy hands you wash your face.

Feeling a bit more refreshed, you grab a towel from the hook and pat down your face. Then, as you rub your hands on the towel, you notice a smudge on it. You look at your reflection in the mirror to see if you got any of it on you, and are surprised to see something gray has rubbed onto parts of your face. You take a clean towel from the rack and wipe your entire face and hands. When you check your reflection, you realize it's even worse now. Your skin has paled significantly, as if you haven't seen sunlight in months, and you appear to have makeup on. Your eyelashes are thicker, your eyelids are covered in dark blue eye shadow and your lips have turned black. Somehow your cheeks actually look rosier in contrast to the pale skin. When you look at the towel again, you realize that it is now smudged in your own skin color. The towel wasn't rubbing off on you, you were rubbing off on the towel!

 Just to make sure, you take a clean part of the towel and vigorously rub your lips against it. What little bit of red that was left has been transferred to the towel, and your lips now feel quite chapped. You lick them to relieve the sensation, expecting to taste lipstick, but the now-glossy black lips taste just like normal. The eye shadow and rosy cheeks aren't rubbing off, either, and as you continue to watch, the rest of your skin is turning paler as well. It starts with your neck, and soon your chest has been almost completely drained of color. You look at your arms and find they, too, have paled. You're certain your entire body has changed pigmentation by now.

Your dark eyes narrow and your black lips pout. At least you haven't become completely pale. Then you'd look like an overdressed mime. But the reduced color is certainly evident, and depressing.

You stubbornly tug your striped gloves back up your arms, making sure to tuck them into the dress' shoulders. The less you see of your skin now the better. Giving one last annoyed look at your new face, you turn off the light and leave the bathroom. 

 

You emerge back into the second-floor hall. You're not sure where to go next, as most of the doors look the same, so you pick one at random. The knob turns easily and the door creaks softly as it reveals the room within.

Mirrors line all three walls. You can't be sure with the mirrors confusing you, but you think this room is just as small as the bathroom. This time, though, there is nothing to get in the way and make the space more cramped. You find a light similar to the one in the bathroom and pull the chain. It works, so you close the door. On the inside of the door you see numerous hair accessories dangling from hooks and little baskets.

You turn to the mirrors and see yourself from all angles. Again, you admire the fancy and cute dress. Again, you frown at your pale complexion. Then a new thought comes to mind. So far this house has not been what it seems. Every room has a way of changing you in some way. Did this one pose a similar threat?

You decide not to wait any longer to find out, and start to turn back to the door. Just then you freeze. Your eyes look back at the mirror opposite the door, and you blink to make sure you're not hallucinating.

You're not. Your reflection didn't turn with you. You turn back to face it, then look at the two side wall mirrors. Those are behaving just fine. Meanwhile your reflection in front of you hasn't rotated. Hasn't moved. It just stares at you with the worried expression you had on your face when you decided to leave the room alone. You walk a bit closer, reaching out a hand to verify that it's a mirror and not some kind of projection.

Suddenly, your reflection in the mirror blinks and straightens up. You jump back in surprise, almost falling over. You're still not used to moving around in those platforms. You brace one arm against the right mirror and slowly approach the center one. Your reflection waves and smiles with graceful little black lips. You nervously raise a hand in response. Then the reflections gloved hand points behind. You take a look at the door and, seeing nothing is different, look back at it. The duplicate in the mirror’s head shakes, then reaches behind her to grab some of your, their hair. Gently pulling the hair to the front, with a smile the other you tugs and points to it, stabbing it repeatedly with a finger so you'll understand.

 

"My hair?" Your voice echoes harshly in the small room. You glance at the left mirror, turning your back to it and twisting your neck. It's waist-length and dark brown, just like it always was. Wait, was it? You shake your head, a little confused. Something about that thought was confusing, off-putting in a way you couldn’t recognize until now, but another part of your mind dismissed and accepts it as correct. You briefly are reminded of the strange pain and numbness back in the forest rupturing throughout your mind. With your head sore and cloudy, you try to think back and remember to than, or before now at least. What was it about your hair now or than that was so strange?

Wait a minute. Wasn't it shorter after you had gotten younger? It was redder to you think, or was it always red? You take another look and realize that it's slowly getting longer and darker. You turn back to the reflection in the mirror, whose smile is even broader now that you've made the discovery.

How can I stop it?" You ask anxiously. The you in the mirror moves her mouth, but you can't hear what other you is saying. A quick glance at another mirror shows your hair has gained another few inches, and if you're not mistaken, it's getting much darker too.

"I can't hear you," you respond. "What do I do?"

Your reflection keeps repeating a few select syllables, making a visible effort to help you reading lips. "Ahh waaaah?" "Saheee weeen?" you try to vocalize the words by mimicking. In the mirror you can see your reflection's hair creeping past the back of their own skirt. If you don't stop it soon, you're going to need a pair of scissors, and considering your track record, if you found any in this house they'd probably come with a curse of their own.

The individual in the mirror waves her arms frantically, moving their mouth very slowly now. Then it dawns on you.

"WHEN!" you shout.

 Your voice echoes loudly, and you wince. For a few seconds there is a dull ringing in your ears. When you open your eyes, your reflection is back to normal. The mirror is a real mirror again. Or atleast a dormant one.

You check your hair. True to the command, it has stopped growing. But now it's quite long. In fact, if it weren't for the platforms, it'd be touching the floor by now. The strands are no longer s pretty red or dark brown. They're jet black, with a hint of shine. The voluminous locks spread across your backside, falling down to within inches of the floor and scraping the tall heels of your platforms.

It seems you're always caught in a room gazing at your reflection today. As you survey the addition to your increasingly lovely frame, you realize how much your new hair compliments the other changes made. You're definitely looking like some sort of archaic Goth now. But how was this happening, and more importantly, is there a way to get back to your old appearance? Any thoughts in your mind about running off or getting home are far from your mind now, there simply has to be some way to restore yourself first.

You turn to exit the room, wishing you had never entered. Your hair sways around and slaps your legs. It feels very distracting. Fortunately, now you have an arsenal of hair ties and other accessories to deal with it. You scan the various objects strung up on the door, trying to decide which to use to tie back your hair. 

On second thought, you'd better not risk using one of those accessories. You're much more willing to deal with your very long hair at it is than suffer another potential change.

Entering the hallway once again, you hear a deep rumble. It scares you at first, until you realize it's your own stomach. You haven't had anything to eat in almost a day since you started your walk that brought you here. You gulped at the prospect of eating food that was as magical as these rooms, or even worse, poisoned. But you had to eat.

Your platform heels clopped on the wide wooden staircase as you descended into the large entrance hall with the same horrid rows of portraits hanging aside. Seeing the front doors again made you suddenly determined to leave this bizarre place before anything else happened to you. Once you were in the real world again you'd find something to eat. Maybe get makeup to cover your pale skin. Get a haircut. Wait until you grew up again.

            Just thinking about how much your life was changed now made your stomach sink even lower. Hunger combined with the depression brought on by these uncontrollable changes to your body made you feel violated and humiliated. You angrily thrust open the double-doors and squinted at the mid-day sunlight. You cross those doubts you had earlier about escaping. You were getting out of here, no matter how young you were or how different you looked.

You marched forward off the patio and down the path. Your eyes still hadn't adjusted to the bright light yet, but you could see a tree line or something like it up ahead. All you had to do was take the path back the way you came and this house would be just a memory. A very hard to forget memory, but at least it wasn't going to screw around with you anymore.

Your vision finally dims, and the world comes back into focus. You stop in your tracks. Twenty feet in front of you is a large hedge wall. The path you're on leads to the only opening in the wall. You're positive this wasn't here yesterday. You look around, seeing the familiar garden where it was yesterday, but the maze next to it had expanded. Hedges now encircled the entire house.

"No," you groan. "No, this isn't possible."

 

You walk quickly toward the hedge opening and find yourself in a narrow corridor that went left and right as far as the eye could see. You can make out openings along the walls leading deeper into the maze. "This is insane!" you shout loudly so that the house and its twisted magical forces can hear you. "What the hell do you want from me?!"

No answer comes. The house sits there, basking in the glow of the pure sunlight above. Birds chirp from within the maze and the statue garden. A fly buzzes above the hedge wall. But the house is silent. It almost seems to be mocking you. You feel as if it's staring at you from every dark window.

The pit in your stomach worsens, and you put a hand to it. Shouting wasn't going to do anything. You had to get some food before you completely lost it. Rather than taking your chances in the maze with the threat of starving to death, you head back to the house, defeated. You don't go in through the front door, however. Houses like this usually had a separate entrance into the kitchen, probably in the back, and if there was you'd find food a lot faster than by searching inside. Then you think about the garden. It was possible there was fresh food growing there. As you circled the house you could see an apple tree near one wall of the hedge maze, surrounded by bushes that looked like they were growing raspberries or something similar. Would the garden's produce be less risky than whatever was inside that dreadful house? 

You approach the apple tree in the corner of the courtyard that now formed the property surrounding the house. You fully intend to take on the hedge maze once you've regained your strength.

                A quick thought occurs to your head before you resume however, you try to recall some stories or similar circumstances that vaguely buzz in your head about this little run of luck. Apples, fruit, products of fortune appearing right as soon as you’ve gone through a series of changes and alterations in a strange scene. Now isn’t this just like out of a storybook? You think to yourself as you put it together. Stories of little girls lost in the woods or houses, strange suspicious places, eating magic foods and drinking potions or something along those lines. If you ate that apple, wouldn’t you change further, or maybe you’d summon an invisible cat or rather?

This annoys you. You’re hungry, you don’t have the energy to work this through. Up and at’em.

Several apples were within reach thanks to your platforms. You easily pick one off and sniff it. It seems like an ordinary apple. You rub it on your arm warmer and bite into it. It's delicious to your starved taste buds and you proceed to wolf it down. You pluck another apple and eat that one as well. You chuck the apple cores over the hedge maze wall and sit on a marble bench to allow your stomach to digest its first meal in a day. You close your eyes and tilt your head up at the sun, a smile coming to your face. It feels warm and comforting. At least in a place as bizarre as this, there was still a sun.

You sit and listen to the birds and the gentle wind for a while. Finally, the marble is too hard for your butt to tolerate and you stand up. A strong gust of wind kicks up your dresses skirt and your hair. Once again you feel a rush through your slit and gasp at the sensation. As a flurry of black hair is flying around you, you feel a weird tingling across your body, and your face suddenly feels stiff and dry, as if rough plastic was being pressed against it.

Ugh why did you have to eat that apple? Why were you so hungry? Why did it have to taste so good?!? Your memory is jogged again, and your mental stroll trips and falls in ignominy as you imagine Alice herself there standing across the garden, shaking her head disappointingly. You run back into the house to see what your misdeeds have wrought this time.

Concerned, you locate the first floor bathroom, which looks the same as the one on the second floor except it's a little larger and has one extra sink. You remove your gloves and turn on the tap. As you rub the soap on your palms, you glance up at the mirror.

You raise an eyebrow at a white streak that has appeared in your hair. Its dead center, about three inches wide, and when you turn around you realize that it runs straight down all the way to the tips.

You rinse your hands off and dry them, wanting to inspect it closer. Once dry, you grab your floor-length locks and shift them around to fall down your front. You stare at the pure white streak for a minute. It looks a little scary, like the Bride of Frankenstein, but you have to admit, it matches your black-and-white Goth attire.

As you look into the mirror you notice that your hair is growing again. “Oh for the love of-“You cry out in anger and terror as you realize that at this rate it will sweep behind you onto the floor within minutes. But what is worse is that the long black and white mess that flows behind you starts to thicken. More and more the hair grows outward, soon its locks hang as wide as your shoulders. You realize that if you don't do something, it will engulf your head. As your mind races, you remember the room with the hair accessories.

It takes you longer to reach the room, as your growing hair gets in your way as you run tangling your arms and legs. It has now reached down below your knees and is twice as thick. When you’re not standing perfectly upright or running forward it casually back brushes against the floor. You finally manage to reach the mirror and shout the magic word to stop it in its tracks. Now you need something to tie it back with. 

 

You reach for a long black ribbon and begin to try and bind your growing hair. However it begins growing again once you look into the mirror. You reach for more accessories, but soon your less than happy somewhat to find you need another ribbon and grab the white one lying nearby. And so begins a tiresome struggle with you growing hair. It seems to resist and every time you get it gathered to tie more seems to grow, and once you shout to stop it you end up looking back into the accursed mirror once again to check its progress, restarting its growth. Soon you manage to bind the mess together and you tie the ribbons in a simple bow. You reach up to smooth out you hair only to find to your horror you only managed to bind the Left side of your hair. It is neatly bound toward the top left of your head just slightly towards the back.

You quickly look down to see a pair of shiny black ribbons exactly like the first lying in the same spot. You quickly begin binding the hair on the right side of you head. Having experience with the left you achieve the desired effect faster.

You close one eye and with the other look in the full length mirror and are shocked at what you see. The ribbons which you had tied into simple knots are now tied fancily at the base of each of your new pigtails. Worse still is the actual hair. Your massive black and white hair now bound is now bound into two pigtails. Each is about as thick as you hair originally was this morning and hangs down to just barely touch the floor despite the incredible height you possess due to the boots. The pigtails each have a three inch thick streak of white that hangs down to their tips. Where the pigtails mount to your head the white cuts to a V-shape that cuts down to the bangs above your eyes. You turn slightly and are sure that it does likewise in the back.

Taking a towel on the side and walking backwards, carefully you reach the mirror and throw it overtop covering your reflection. You say the magic word a dozen more times just to be safe. A part of you feels like breaking it just to be sure but you’re uneasy about what kind of curses or unsatisfying side affects you could unleash by doing so.

After taking a moment to catch your breath, you realize with some horror that you look even more gothic than before. However some part of your mind doesn't seemed as bothered by your appearance as it should be. That part makes you a little worried. Slowly you turn and leave the room leaving the sound of your heels clopping on the floor. You start skipping slightly and waving your tied curls back and forth, but once you catch yourself you stop. 

No. You can't let this get the better of you. Don't enjoy it. This house...this place is doing something to you and you're going to resist. You reassure yourself as a gentle breeze swims in through the window and blows down your bottom. Finally the wind dies down, and you attempt to quell the feelings in your privates.

You really need to find a pair of panties.

Remembering something you noticed while the wind was whipping your hair around, you glance behind you. You grab your long tresses in one arm and bring it around to the front. It's not as straight as it was before. It has a distinct wave to it now. While it's lovely to look at, your hopes that food growing outside the house wouldn't affect you have been dashed. As you hold your dark waterfall of hair you also notice your fingernails have turned as black as your lips, and you suddenly remember you grabbed that rag again to cover the mirror. You don't even bother checking to see if it's just thinly applied fingernail polish, knowing full well it was a permanent discoloration. You grit your teeth and dash outside again.

 

You look around at the hedge walls and think of a battle plan. If you looked out one of the higher windows you could draw yourself a map so you could find your way easier.

Re-entering through the main doors, you close them behind you, and rush up the staircase. Your recklessness costs you. You fail to raise your left platform high enough on one step and it catches, sending you toppling forward into the staircase. Fortunately your stockings take the brunt of it. At worst you have a bruise on your right leg below the knee, where it hurts you the most. This minor setback makes you even more determined to get away from this house as soon as possible.

Finally you make it back upstairs and enter the room you slept in last night. Ignoring the fact that the bed is now made and the towels dried and hung back on the rack, you rush to the window and thrust apart the curtains.

That pit in your stomach returns when you fail to find the hedge maze. Beyond the property is a plain forest, just like the one you walked through yesterday. You dart back into the hallway and run to the windows at the far end. There's the hedge maze, exactly as you saw it earlier, confined to only a portion of the property near the statue garden. The path there, back to normal, leading deep into the forest you emerged from yesterday.

You rush back outside, praying that it wasn't just an illusion. You stop on the patio, which is as far as you need to go to see that the hedge maze is back, blocking the property all the way around. Running back in forth in the front of the house, it goes in all directions back and forth wherever you go, even a full lap around the building ends in futility.

 

"That's not fair," you pout. "That's just not fair!"

 

You've been sulking in the garden for over an hour. No amount of circling the building or examining the hedge maze leads to any new discoveries, other than that you’re clearly trapped here until you can navigate it out. The sun is in its afternoon decline. It’s already way past noon and soon it’ll be dark again. You're no longer looking up at it, however. You're staring at the grass with an empty expression. The dark dress, arm warmers and stockings have been soaking up the sun's rays, making you feel uncomfortably hot. Your leg's bruise throbs. You pay these little attention. You can't get your mind off the discouraging hedge maze and a house insistent on turning you into a frilly Goth stereotype.

You realize that brooding is doing little to help your situation. You've got to stop fearing for your situation and act. You can still map out the maze, you'll just have to do it from the inside. All you needed was paper and a pencil. You've got all the time in the world, and the food available in the garden could easily last for a week or more.

Rising from the bench, your pale face is on fire with determination. One way or another, you're going to escape. 

 

Back inside the house, you begin to explore the rooms leading off from the entrance hall. The first room you try is a lavishly furnished, quite cozy looking living room with a couple couches, bear skin rug, large fireplace, a high ceiling, and more. Nothing in here can help you, so you close the doors and try the next room.

Jackpot.

The high study walls are lined with books. A desk and chair sit in the center of the room. An interesting-looking telescope is set up at the bay windows on the opposite end of the room. You open one of the oak drawers of the desk and find a stack of blank paper. In another drawer you find pencils. You grab one of each and head out to the maze.

After an hour and a half of zig zagging through the shrubbery, you become hungry again. Shadows fall inside the maze as the sun dips out of sight among the tall hedges. You'd better turn back now while you can still read your crudely drawn map. While you hadn't run across anything interesting, you're satisfied you could at least do something constructive.

You round a corner, keeping your focus intently on your position within the jumble of lines you've drawn on the paper. You plan to transcribe the map in better quality later. You're so fixated on the map, however, that you don't notice the stray root sticking up out of the ground in front of you. Your platform heels catch on it and you tumble forward onto your chest. Cool, wet dirt meets your cheek and hands.

"Ick," you say to yourself as you pick yourself off the ground. Bits of mud and dirt cover your dress, your stockings, and pretty much everything. You don't even want to think about what your hair's picked up. "Stupid boots," you grumble. Why couldn't the house have given you something more suited to the outdoors? You answer your own question as you think "All the better to keep me here." You pick up the crumpled map and find your position, continuing on as the last remains of dusk end and the sun slowly sets.

Taking your muddy platforms off at the door, you begin to walk on the wooden floors in your striped stocking feet. Each laborious step you take is filled with exhaustion and hunger. After everything you’ve been through, you're in no mood for any more tricks, so you stick to the rooms you're familiar with. Unfortunately, this means the only place you can clean yourself up is the room you stayed in last night. "It's fine," you tell yourself. "The shower or the soap or the bed or whatever it was has already made me younger. Maybe it's done with me." Hopelessly wishful thinking on your part, you admit, but you're so tired you don't even care.

You yank at the knot in the front of your bodice and it slips apart. You slowly pull the dress over your head and then strip off the arm warmers and leggings. The collar is the last to go. You toss everything into the closet in a dirty, crumpled heap. "Here's your dress back. I hope you choke on It." you say to the closet before slamming the door.

                Naked, you sit down on the bed and reach for one of the two apples you plucked from the tree on your way back. You're starving, and you can't sleep on an empty stomach. Once both apples are chewed to the core, you find a small trash basket next to a large dresser and toss them in. Out of curiosity, you double-check the drawers (they were empty this morning when you searched for your clothes) and confirm they still had nothing to offer.

You stand in front of the bedroom mirror for a moment. Your face and hands are smudged with dirt, but the rest of you looks as gorgeous as ever. You don't remember looking this good when you were younger. Although your skin was a bit paler now, despite having spent half the day in the sun, you still couldn't say you looked bad. You also note your hair's waves are more pronounced than before, no doubt an effect of the apples you just ate. Without the platforms on its trailing on the ground by about three inches, and you can tell it's taken its fair amount of dirt from your fall. You decide you need to go clean up, after the day’s events a nice bath would suit you comfortably.

After drawing the bathwater you slowly slip yourself into it. It feels great to your aching body, especially your feet, having been cramped in those boots all day. You reach for a scrubber, conveniently provided on a nearby shelf along with soap and shampoo, and start soaking your long hair.

You stay in the bath for quite some time, trying to get the dirt out of your hair and to get your muscles to stop aching. You let the water drain, taking with it the filth from today's excursion, and set the shower spraying. You make a final sweep of your body with the soap and then start shampooing your hair. This takes more time than you anticipated, but you find the experience very enjoyable. “How many girls could claim their hair was this long and this gorgeous?” You think self-satisfied at the very least, despite your predicament.

Finally finished, you towel yourself off. Even when damp your hair retains a bit of its new waviness. You wrap it in another dry towel and head on into bed. The sheets have somehow been cleaned and prepared for you, as you noted earlier, and feel even more comfortable than last night. You have no trouble at all falling into a deep, restful sleep.

Morning comes gently. You take your time waking up, not wanting to have to face another day in this house. You had just had a dream of your old life, going to work and chatting with friends. Those days feel like a million years ago. What are your friends doing now, you wonder? Have they realized you're missing yet? Are they searching for you? Will they find this place? You rather hoped they wouldn't. It would probably trap them just as easily as it trapped you, and not even on your worst enemy would you wish this kind of existence.

You pull yourself out of bed, feeling refreshed just like the day before. No sore muscles, no aches, and even the bruise from your trip on the staircase was gone.

You glance around the room and see it exactly the same as ever. Seeing nothing different, you remove the towel from your hair, letting it fall in waves and pile up on the bed. A chilly draft blows briefly and you sigh. You know what's coming next. You open the closet door, hoping that this house will grant you some dignity, some leniency. Your eyes fall upon the same familiar dress. It is now completely cleaned up and back on its hangar, exactly as it was yesterday. Although...not quite. It takes you a minute, but you figure out what's different. It looks a little smaller, and the skirt portion is much longer. An extra layer of ruffled black see-through lace has been added to the outside as well. Maybe it's not the same dress, but it might as well be. You're stuck for another day wearing this gothic getup you never wished for.

But why was it smaller? Did the house accidentally shrink it in the wash? You pull it off the hangar and hold it up to your body. Oddly, it looks like it'll fit you just as well as yesterday. Then you come to a realization. You look down at your chest and see not the supple body of a matured adult, but the modest appearance of an even younger figure. When you walk up to the wall mirror, you can see that you've regressed in age once again. Now you appear to be somewhere around thirty years old, maybe even late twenties. You're a few inches shorter, and your figure is a little less curvy. Your hair's magnificent waves had shortened along with your body, and are no longer dragging on the ground. Now they're tickling your ankles. And your facial features and less bulky limbs as you’ve noticed, are increasingly feminine.

 

You tried to ignore the depression welling inside you once again. The changes well annoying, wouldn’t make you any less effective. You still had a lot of work to do if you were going to get out of this house and through that maze, no matter what form you took. You threw the dress on the bed and gathered the other accessories from the closet. When you pick up the boots, you notice they feel heavier than before, which was saying a lot considering how much of a drag those big heels were on your feet yesterday.

You slip on the stockings and arm warmers, then the dress. The bodice tightens more firmly around your smaller chest now, and actually covers your top-half completely. Your black lips form a grimace as you lament the loss of your chest. The skirt definitely got longer overnight. Its frills were dangling just above your ankles. Because of its longer length, it puffed out more toward the bottom as well.

After putting on the collar, you pause to make sure you didn't just miss any underwear in the closet. Your exposed private parts hadn't stopped feeling strange since yesterday, and you were really starting to despise that small corner of your brain that continuously sent you signals of pleasure from the titillated region.

You slip your feet into the platform boots and buckle all eight buckles. When you stand up you can tell they're definitely different today. They were taller, they had to be. Walking on them was even more difficult now.

You make tracks to the study, where you find a ruler in a drawer of the desk. Sure enough, your platforms are ten inches in the heel. That should make up for all the height you lost when you regressed overnight, keeping your stance at around six feet. But was it worth it, you wonder, if you could barely keep your balance?

You decide you've had your fill of apples, and locate the kitchen. It is just off the rear of the entrance hall, and filled with all sorts of cookware. Cupboards are lined with spices and the pantry is stocked with just about everything you can think of. Your stomach is sending you strong cravings for some real food, and you can no longer stave off its desperation. 

 

You prepare a large bowl of oatmeal and a glass or orange juice. As you scarf down the food, you remember the days in elementary school when your mother would insist that you eat your oatmeal to become big and strong. Well, here's hoping it will do just that. You've lost quite a few years and there must be something in this house to help you gain them back.

When you're finished eating, you retire to the study and begin transcribing your map onto a clean piece of paper, clarifying your chicken scratch handwriting and straightening the lines to be more proportional. As you work, you realize you have to reach farther and farther to write on the paper. A feeling in your gut tells you the oatmeal has caused another change...and it doesn't seem like a good one.

 

As you stand up out of the chair, your clothes start to wrap around your body, feeling looser in some areas and tighter in others. It’s clear they no longer fit you though, as much as your body fat and nearly all of your muscle has melted away now leaving your physique curvier and younger than ever. The desk is a bit higher than it used to be, some inches more coming to the bottom of your waist now. (Platform boots included.) You step out of the boots and feel your arm warmers loosen and slip off. Your stockings follow, and soon you're naked once again.

You run up to the bathroom on the second floor. In the mirror you can see a young face peering back at you with the same pale complexion, oddly rosy cheeks and dark blue eyeshadow as you've grown accustomed to. Your body has regressed to that of one just exiting young adolescence, perhaps standing around their early twenties. However with your youthful and beautiful looks you could possibly pass for an aged teenager if you tried.

Strangely enough, your hair is still quite long. It's looking thicker than ever. The waves it had been steadily developing look something closer to curls now, especially at the bottom where the pull is less extreme than the top. This curling brought your hairline up from your ankles, where it had been just previously, up to your calves.

You exit the bathroom, a five-foot-two young adult with an unmistakably feminine lithe appearance, with an insane amount of black wavy hair and a gothy pale skin tone. As you make your way back to the study to continue working, your mind seems to wander. Now a part of you doesn't want to spend the entire day mapping out the hedge maze. Why couldn't you find something fun to do around the house? Surely there were plenty of rooms you hadn't been in that offered a world of new experiences.

 

You shake your head as you reach the first floor. You have to stay on task so you can get out of this house with your life.

In the study, you see the pile of clothes you left behind was gone. On the desk chair, however, was a slightly different outfit. The black-and-white-striped leggings and arm warmers were there, as usual, but the dress was frillier. It didn't have such a tightly-shaped bodice or wide-open collar. White fabric was sewn into the upper chest area up to the neck. You slipped it over your head once again, finding it a different fit than the old dress. You see a thick white ribbon on the chair and tie it around your waist, securing the dress. You make a large bow in the back of the waist, then you fasten the new, smaller black-and-white laced collar. The skirt of the dress is even wider than the one previously, though it still reaches your ankles. Now there are five layers to it, not three. There is a white frilly layer, a thin black layer, another white frilly layer, another thin black layer, and finally the black see-through lace layer. A fancy white curved line is sewn in a wave close to the bottom edge of the black dress, encircling it. These dresses seemed to be getting more elaborate the younger you got, though at least it covered you up a little more in the top.

You also notice, with absolute delight, that a pair of girl's panties is lying on the chair. You pick them up gingerly, hardly believing them to be real. How far this house has made you come. Here you are, simply happy just to be able to wear underwear again. Apparently the house wasn't that much of a pedophile and finally decided to let you dress properly. Or so you hope.

The leggings and arm warmers came on next, finalizing your outfit. It didn't feel much different, really, until you came to the shoes. These new platforms didn't go up your legs quite as high as the old ones, but they were a whopping twelve inches in the heel. At least this time they were flat-footed instead of high-heeled, but an entire foot of sole was ridiculous!

You glanced around the room, realizing that maybe getting a foot of height back probably wasn't a bad idea. You jump into the chair and pull them on. These have only two buckles, and they fasten tightly. You slowly stand up, bracing yourself with the desk. You're back to a little over five feet in the height department. Not bad, although you seriously wondered how well you'd be able to walk around on the uneven dirt paths inside the hedge maze. You certainly didn't want to fall and have to wash up again, lest you regress to become a baby.

 

It's been two and a half hours, at least. The sun is directly overhead as you plod through the maze. Two and a half hours of turning left and right, finding dead ends, backtracking, looking for anything that can be considered a landmark. You've already listed the root that tripped you yesterday as one, and so far the only other extraordinary thing was a thick branch twisted in the shape of a question mark.

You've practically filled your paper to the edges, which means you'll need to head back soon for more pages, and a brief rest. You try to control your frustration at the foot-high platforms you've been forced to wear. If it weren't for them you would have gotten this far in only half the time. Now you're reduced to careful steps, struggling to keep your balance in a body much weaker, much shorter, and much slower when it comes to reflexes. Who would have thought youth would come with these sort of drawbacks? Or was it just the boots maybe?

Okay, you admit, you weren't forced to wear these boots. But they were all you had. You definitely didn't want to walk barefoot on the worm-infested grass and with roots sprouting up to prick your feet. You'd probably be just as slow making sure you didn't injure yourself each time you took a step.

 

Finally, you reach another dead-end and decide to take a mid-day break. You're getting a little hungry, as all this walking has taken a lot out of your young body, and your stomach is still upset at you for eating almost nothing yesterday. It takes you another half-hour to make your way back to the courtyard, by which time you are famished, hot, and exhausted. The sun beats down unsympathetically as you shuffle up to the apple tree and reach for an apple. You take all three of the apples within reach, actually thankful for once for your platforms.

Once inside the house you wipe off your heels and plop down in the plush study chair. As you bite into the first one, you take out a fresh sheet of paper and begin transcribing your latest map to make it cleaner, and to match up with yesterdays.

After your snack you go to the second-floor bathroom. As you wash your hands, you notice how young they look. So small and delicate. Your youthful face appears innocent, and yet sad and humiliated. You look as pale as ever, except for your increasingly lush cheeks. It's looking fairly silly now, almost like white paint has been applied to your skin. But your dark eyes reflect the depression you've been trying so hard to fend off. You don't care that your hair's curls are getting even more pronounced. They truly can be called curls now, and their gathering shortens your hair up above your knees. As it bunches up it's beginning to expand outward, becoming almost as wide as your dress.

Where will it stop? When will you stop getting younger? When will your skin stop paling? When will you be free of this accursed existence?

As soon as you beat the maze.

 

Three more hours under the warm sun and your skin doesn't tan. You're not even getting sunburned. The two pieces of paper you carry with you are nearly full of twists and turns. How big is this maze, you wonder? Is there even an end? Your feet ache and your legs throb. You wipe sweat from your brow and your arm warmers soak it up just like they've been soaking up the sweat from your arms. You peel them off and throw them angrily on the ground, but the relief is only momentary as your pale arms soak up the sun's rays directly and continue to sweat.

After another hour you start making your way back to the house. You're pretty sure you've walked some of these corridors before, on one of your two previous excursions, and when you get back to the house you'll be able to compare the maps. You reach the point where you marked the arm warmers you unceremoniously discarded and are not surprised to see they've disappeared. They're probably waiting for you, cleaned and dried, back in the third floor bedroom closet.

 

You reach the house just as the sun's rays remove themselves from the very top of the mansion's roof. The sky is a dark blue and the birds have stopped chirping. Inside, you toss the maps on the desk and proceed to the kitchen for dinner. An incredible smell greets your nose. You follow it to the oven, and upon opening it you find a roasted turkey, fully prepared and still warm from baking.

You don't care what it was going to do to you. You were starving, and so far nothing this house has done to you was totally preventing you from escaping through the maze. You remember your vow to get out, no matter what form you had, and you gingerly remove the turkey with pot holders you see on the counter next to the stove.

You cart the heavy foul to the table across the kitchen. It seems everything has been prepared for you this time. A plate, silverware, glass of water and side dishes are waiting for you to sit down and eat. A folded piece of paper stands like a tent on the empty plate. You put down the turkey and open the note.

 

"For All Your Hard Work."

 

You look around, not expecting to see anyone or anything out of the ordinary, but still hoping you could at least talk to somebody. Was there really a person or persons living here, staying out of your way, treating you like an experiment? Was the house doing it all by itself? How did it know English? Was it lonely?

You don't know how your thoughts landed on that question, but now that you had asked it, you begin to seriously wonder about the motivations a magical mansion would have to turn you into a strange twenty-old something Goth It's a mystery you continue to ponder as you wolf down the delicious meal.

Afterward you're feeling very full, and very satisfied. You hadn't been able to finish the whole turkey, of course, but you put a sizable dent in its roasted corpse. You're quite tired now, and decide to put off transcribing the maps in the study until tomorrow morning.

You decide not to take a bath and not to sleep in the third floor bedroom. They're just so far away, and you barely have the energy to walk in a straight line, much less up two flights of stairs. You shuffle in your platforms across the hardwood floors of the main hall. You lean into the living room door as you push it open and your eyes gaze wearily on one of the large couches. You undo your belt ribbon and boot buckles, stripping naked except for your panties, and lie down on the soft cushions. Your small body fits quite well on the couch as if it were a twin mattress, and before you know it you've slipped once more into the realm of dreams.

 

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