In a dim, moon-lit corridor, Maggie Lynn tiptoed towards her older brother’s bedroom with determination and purpose, and only a little bit of a tremble. This was not the normal, natural nervousness of a little sister approaching her big brother’s room, but something much more sinister. Because somehow (and Maggie thought it best not to ask quite how) Tom had managed to get himself mixed up in something quite otherworldly.
Maggie was still pretty fuzzy on the details, but what Tom had told her, once she’d finally believed that this wasn’t all some horrible joke, was that someone was going to take him away at midnight, unless Maggie held onto him.
“I don’t know what’ll happen, Mags,” he had said, his voice unnaturally serious. “But please, promise you’ll keep hold of me.”
So she had promised.
She pushed open Tom’s bedroom door, and there he stood, in the middle of the room, ready. He looked nervous.
“Ready Mags?” he asked, attempting a smile and failing.
Maggie didn’t get chance to answer, because at that very moment, the clock struck twelve.
Leaping across the room, Maggie collided with Tom with a thump of impact, wrapping her short, pudgy arms around him as far as they would go, holding tightly, tightly, tightly and screwing her eyes shut. Barely coming up to Tom’s chin, she pressed her face into his t-shirt and felt his arms around her. For a moment, she felt like she was the one being protected.
But Tom had said the reaction would be instant and angry.
He was right.
Maggie heard a shriek of blood-curdling fury and clutched Tom tighter. She felt cold suddenly snap at her bare arms and screwed-up nose and a sudden wind swirling around them, whipping her hair around her head, so fierce she forgot they were inside at all.
Within seconds, the warm, solid torso of Tom, and his sinewy, strong arms around her, were changing.
Maggie whimpered with awful apprehension as Tom’s soft, fleshy outside became harder, the chest her face pressed against turning colder and colder. His body extended, upwards and outwards until he filled the room and stretched Maggie’s hands almost beyond her shoulders’ limit. And all the while he changed. Within seconds he was a huge, metallic Tom, extra limbs of machinery, clamps and iron claws bursting from his body at every angle. Steam poured forth in a vicious shriek from a vent, suddenly beside Maggie’s face and she screamed at the heat and the force of it. Her feet were lifted off the ground as Tom – no longer Tom, but an enormous round machine – continued growing further and further upwards, whirring and spitting and whining.
“Tom!” Maggie tried to shout above the noise of the machine. “Come back!”
For a wonderful heartbeat, Maggie thought she had won. Immediately, the machine started to become softer, squishier, more flesh-like and the cold, dark grey iron lightened, gradually approaching a colour that was almost human…
But it was never going to be that easy.
The colour kept changing, going past pinkish white to yellow, to green as the machine’s skin took on a wet sliminess and the place where Tom’s head had been grew, bloated and bulbous, into a fat, potato-shaped skull. What were once Tom’s eyes shrank to piggy little pinpricks of swamp-coloured darkness, his ears extended out comically, stupidly and his hands – that was what frightened Maggie the most. She could feel the strength in those meaty, enormous hands as they moved to grip her arms – with barely a flicker, this awful, ogre-ish version of Tom could not only pull her clean off him, but break her arm in the process.
Feeling the tears start to flood out of her eyes, Maggie looked up, craning her neck as far as she could until her eyes met the tiny, angry little pupils of ogre-Tom.
“Please…” she whispered, her arms shaking as they continued to hold, loosely now, the monster’s belly.
But suddenly, her arms were not stretched to breaking point. Suddenly she was not surrounded and diminished by this huge hunk of flesh, because suddenly it was not there. Maggie fell forwards with the surprise disappearance of the weight she’d been pressing into, and very nearly dropped…
A tiny, six-inch high version of Tom.
He had nearly fallen straight out of her hand with the shock of the change – which, of course, had been exactly what She wanted to happen. But there he clung to the tip of her thumb as she scrabbled to support him with her other hand.
“Tom?” she said again, breathless.
It was hard to tell on a face so little, but Maggie could have sworn that the miniature Tom smiled at her. Automatically, she smiled back and – on realising in a flash of detachment that she was holding her big brother in the palm of her hand – couldn’t stop a giggle escaping.
It was a mistake.
Immediately, the miniature Tom began to grow again, red fur sprouting from his face, arms, legs and his nose growing longer and longer until it was not a nose but a snout.
Gasping, Maggie tried to cling to what was now a lithe, wriggling fox by drawing it into her chest. But no sooner had she done so than it began to change again.
The fur became longer, shaggier, less silky as the fox’s muscles transformed from sinewy and sleek to bulky and brutish. And all the while it grew.
It grew and grew and grew, until it was taller than Maggie, taller than Tom, taller than the bookcase, taller than the room. Within seconds a hulking great mass of fur with alien orange eyes stared down at Maggie as she clung, terrified, to its stomach. Two curved white horns surged from the top of its head, matched in sharpness and viciousness only by two long teeth, still growing upwards from the monster’s bottom jaw.
As Maggie gazed upwards, her whole body shaking with fear but knowing she must not let go, not now, not after all this…the thing opened its mouth. More and more yellowing teeth were revealed as the jaws opened wider, and wider, an enormous black tongue lolling sickeningly in a mouth surely big enough to swallow Maggie whole.
Sobbing, Maggie squeezed her eyes shut again and buried her face into the thing’s stomach, telling herself over and over again what Tom had told her, what he had promised her…
“You won’t hurt me!” she shouted blindly, her voice muffled by the depths of fur. “You can’t scare me!”
That, as it turned out, was not a clever thing to say.
Maggie could have sworn she heard a low, sinister cackle as the monstrous animal surrounding her began, once final time, to change.
What had once been Tom began to thin, his middle getting narrower and narrower so quickly Maggie was barely able to keep up, almost losing her grip on him twice in three seconds. But however slender the middle of Not-Tom became, it never seemed to get any shorter. The same thing was happening to its arms and legs, until Maggie felt like she was holding little more than a stick figure.
There’s nothing so scary about that, she thought.
And then she looked up.
The face was almost Tom’s face, but that only made it more frightening. Instead of soft, pink skin there was a cold, white, papery substance; instead of a wide, smiling mouth there was a row of broken stitches and, worst of all, instead of laughing blue eyes there were only two round, black buttons.
This thing both was and was not Tom, and that, somehow, made it the scariest of all.
Maggie’s heart stopped, her breath escaped in a gasp too horrified to scream and, instinctively, her arms almost – almost – dropped.
But they didn’t. She thought about how annoying Tom could be, how he teased and tortured her when she just wanted to be left alone. She thought about how kind Tom was, when he sometimes carried her in from the car when she was too sleepy to walk. And she thought about how scared he had looked, when she promised that she wouldn’t let go.
“Go away!” she shouted, with all her might, up at the Not-Tom.
Another hideous, stomach-flipping shriek filled the air and the wind blew around Maggie worse than ever, battering at her face, her arms, her back with astonishing force.
But then, all of a sudden it stopped. It was quiet. Calm. And around Maggie’s shoulders were not the unnaturally thin, too-cold arms of the puppet Tom, but the real, warm, heavy, freckled and pasty arms of the real Tom.
Not daring to let go quite yet, half-wondering if it was a trick, Maggie slowly raised her head one last time.
And there he was, beaming down at her with his lovely, real smile and his real blue eyes.
“Tom!” she dived properly into the embrace, squeezing her brother with all the force she could muster.
“Thank you, Mags,” Tom murmured into her hair, gripping her almost too tightly. “Thank you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hailing from the small and uninteresting town of Chesterfield, Becky Orwin began writing as a child to involve herself in more interesting people and places. Thus far she has stolen her humour from Jonathan Stroud, ideas from fourteen year old boys, is working on JK Rowling’s audience, and as a result is focusing on writing for children in her Creative Writing MA. Her other interests include hoarding comfy jumpers and useless film trivia. Her current project began whilst watching an episode of Merlin (seriously).