It’s 4:30 PM. The daylight is already fading, a chill wind rustling against your face as you emerge from the car. Tightly gripping your jacket, you dash towards one of the stores in the strip mall. It used to be a Blockbuster VIdeo, but no one has bothered to replace it on a permanent basis. But a seasonal one? For two months out of the year, someone decides to turn the lights back on, ones which you are glad as you step into the makeshift Halloween Emporium.
You can feel the Spirit of the place gripping you as the large orange signage covers the windows, photographs of unnamed models posing in fifty dollar costumes. Normally, you’d make a joke about the visual fidelity, pointing out how the confused man in a mummy outfit was blown up from a 250 x 180 public domain image from Google, but you didn’t have time for such comedy. It was October 31st, and you had no idea what you’d be dressed up for at the office party.
You hadn’t intended on going, to be fair. You thought you’d spend the night inside, watching black and white horror movies while eating the leftover candy from the lack of trick-or-treaters who would shout outside your front door. Instead, your boss texted you – mandatory attendance. Was this something they could do? You were responsible for bringing all the two-liters of soda, and you knew Marc from accounting would never stop complaining if you didn’t show up with the limited edition Mountain Dew Pitch Black.
So you enter. The chaos of the store matches that inside your head. The shelves are already picked over, costume bags open, their contents strewn upon the floor. You step over one particularly sad looking witch hat, its pointed top clearly not feeling the season. The shouts of parents at their children made you uncomfortable as you walk briskly to the back of the store, hiding in an aisle. You look at what is hanging there – an off brand Ninja Turtles costume, its skin blue. You sigh. Is this your only option?
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
The voice startles you. You look over at the person who addressed you, clearly an employee of this establishment. She smiles, plastic vampire fangs in her mouth. Clearly, they were not molded for her specifically, her words distorted.
“I don’t think there’s much you can do,” you say, gesturing at the madness outside the isle. A teenager chucks an apple they bobbed for earlier in the day, seeing if anyone will catch it. “At this point, I’ll buy anything that’ll fit. Too late to be picky.”
You grasp the Bootleg Turtles costume. “Is there any reason why this looks like Sonic the Hedgehog?”
“Sonic the Hedgehog? Oh, we don’t keep those costumes out front,” the employee repeated. “But you’re the first person to ask about them! Follow me.”
From behind her back, the employee pulls out a lighted torch. Well, not with fire. Clearly it was an LCD in a semi-transparent housing, but they were all in on trying to be spooky. Even if the fluorescent lights of the Blockbuster were the furthest thing from fright. You hesitate for a moment. Do you follow this person as they beckon you into a door marked “Employees Only?” Or do you just spend the $34.99 on a costume where the rubber weapons are sold separately?
The door slams shut behind you. “Sorry about that,” the employee assures you, “we’ve been meaning to get that door fixed for years.”
“Years? Aren’t you only here for two months?”
“Well. Yes. And no. I used to work here when we sold movies. And before that…” her words drift off as she scratches one of the pointed rubber teeth in her mouth. “Here we go!”
She pulls aside a curtain hanging on a shower rod. There, a secret aisle of Halloween costumes stare you down, the amount of blue almost blinding you.
“I don’t understand. How can there be so many versions?”
“Of Sonic?” she laughed. “Clearly you’re not familiar with the lore of Sonic the Hedgehog. That’s ok, not everyone can be. You did watch the film, right?”
You clear your throat. “Well, yes. It was the last thing everyone did before lockdown.”
“Unlike the Super Mario Bros. movie, I knew it’d be a hit! No one bought the Live Action Goomba costumes we had back in ’93, but I was sure these would sell like hotcakes!” Grabbing one of the bags on the rack, she handed it to me. A figure, clearly defined with some awkward quills.
“We also have the rubber mask to match.”
“That isn’t what Sonic looked like in the film.”
“Yeah, funny thing that. They made what little merchandise existed before the design change, so all the costumes look like that. But hey, Halloween is meant to be scary, right? Hell, they also made one for girls!”
“Is that officially licensed?”
“I don’t pay attention to that sort of thing. Product is product.” She ripped the costume from my hands, placing it back on the hidden commercial space. “Supposedly they’re making more for the sequel which would presumably look right, but I haven’t seen them yet. I think it’s just a way to trick me into buying more. Oh, you do want to see more, right?”
“I think I need to be heading out soon.” You check your watch. 5:15. How did that happen?
“Time is a human construct. The only way to truly understand it is to live on Little Planet. There, time means nothing.”
You are about to ask a question, but are afraid to hear what the answer would be. The employee pulls you along.
“We still have a number of Sonic Boom costumes! You do remember that show, right?”
“I can’t say I do.”
“It was great! Well, most of the time. But Rubie’s Costume Company licensed out all new outfits for the show. You could get a regular or deluxe version of Sonic! We happen to have both in stock.”
“Right, but they’re for kids.”
“So? Are you saying you’re too good for children’s media?!”
“No, I’m just saying I’m too tall to wear them.”
“Height is also a human construct. Look, if you’re saying you don’t want to be Boom Sonic, that’s ok. Because we also have Amy Rose and Sticks the Badger! This is the only Amy costume that’s ever been released. I wonder why her game costumes have never been sold.”
“I don’t have an answer for that. Look, my boss is going to kill me if I don’t get there soon.”
“Hah, sounds like your boss is a regular ol’ Eggman! Did you know Rubie’s once had an Eggman costume listed on their website, but it was silently taken down? Never had a picture of it.”
You can’t tell if these facts are true, or what importance they have to the moment at hand.
“Oh, I love this one! You can dress your dog as Sonic.”
“My boss is allergic to dogs.”
“So? Do you live with your boss?”
“No, but I need a costume for a costume party. I’m being forced to watch the punch bowl.”
The employee taps her rubber teeth with her fingernail, deep in thought. “Oh! I have the perfect costume for you. Have you ever heard of Sonic the Hedgehog?”
She begins throwing costumes at you, faster than you thought humanly possible. You try to catch them all, but you tumble to the ground, half obscured by the disposable packaging of each bag. Sonic after Sonic, all kids sizes. And one Knuckles.
“Some of these kids look happier than others.”
“If you want the Knuckles one, the gloves are sold separately.”
“I told you, I’m an adult, I can’t fit in any of the-wait a minute. Sold separately?!”
“That’s where we make our money. Same thing with snacks at the movie theater. You didn’t sneak in milk duds when you went to see Sonic on the big screen, did you?? Either way, we also have a number of costumes just for girls!”
Getting to your feet, you stare at them, baffled. “Why do they have a picture of the character on the waist?”
“So you know who you’re dressed up as.”
“That doesn’t make any sense! If the costume is good enough, you don’t need a picture to tell you what it is! If it’s barely recognizable, shouldn’t they just make a better version? Hell, why even differentiate between boy and girl costumes? Can’t anyone wear any version?”
“I don’t make them, I just read the words on the bag.”
Another sigh leaves your mouth.
“Oh! Look at that, we still have some vintage Sonic costumes hiding out way in the back! These are collectors items.”
The seasonal worker reaches deep into the darkness, pulling out a pair of costumes. The air around them crackles, clearly the way the air did back in 1993. A shiver runs down your spine.
“That one also says Sonic the Hedgehog on the chest! And is that second one even a costume?!”
“Look, there weren’t a lot of options back then.”
“I’ve had enough of this! I’ll just buy some hefty bags and pretend I’m a muddy ghost.”
“You run a hard bargain, sir. That’s why I’ve saved the best for last.”
She reaches into the darkness again, your eyes finally accustomed to the room you’re in. Another curtain hangs, images of a 90’s Sonic on it. Was this once a bedsheet? That didn’t matter. What mattered were the handful of Sonic costumes behind.
“One of these is licensed, an original Rubie. One of these is a counterfeit, originating somewhere in Russia. And the third…”
The third. You look at it closely. It seems real, it seems official. But the packaging’s image is strange. Hands open, a half-mask of Sonic staring back at you.
“The third is yours! On the house.”
The employee grins, her rubber teeth glowing in the dark. She grabs the bag, throwing it at you. Reflexively, you reach out to catch it, but something doesn’t feel right. Your hands do not catch the bag, instead it passes through you. The plastic wraps around your arms, the mask bursts out from the bag. It runs up your arm, merges on to your face. It forces your mouth to contort into a smile you’ve never had before.
You wake up. Looking up at the night sky, you see the full moon. What time is it? You go to check your watch, but it is missing. You yelp in fear, seeing a blue material on your arm, the sleeve to a costume. Reaching your gloved hand up to your face, you sigh in relief. There is no mask on you. Just a bit of dirt.
Oh no! You’re late for your employer’s Halloween party, and you haven’t even bought any soda! You curse to yourself, knowing this will somehow affect your Christmas bonus, assuming you’ll still have a job by that point. You start to run, immediately hitting your knee on a pillar of marble. Smooth to the touch, it still causes an immense streak of pain to shoot up your side. Screaming, you grab the marble, trying not to fall.
Looking upon the marble, you finally realize where you are. The etched name of a person long dead upon a gravestone, rows of these silent memorials as far as the eye can see. Your ears perk up as you hear the crunch of leaves, footsteps of a shadowy figure in the distance.
“Hey! Who’s there?!” you shout, realizing right afterwards that shouting at the silhouette of a figure in a graveyard on Halloween might not be the best idea in the world.
The figure steps closer. The shape becomes clear.
This is the end.