The Magician's Assistant's Costume
As Marley left the train, her reception committee, aunt Angela and her husband Gregor, were already waiting and a wide smile appeared on the girl's freckled face. The sixteen-year old bolted over the platform, doing her best to imitate a bouncy ball. "Auntie! Gregor!" she cried out, pony-tailed blond hair flying behind, and flung her arms around her aunt's neck.
"Easy, girl!" Angela, a quite attractive woman still short of forty, replied laughing, her husband grinning at the scene, but she returned her niece's powerful hug. "Do you want to kill me?"
Marley smiled. "Never!" she exclaimed, "You're my favorite aunt, after all. But I'm SO excited! That's going to be the best two weeks of my life, accompanying you on your tour!"
Her aunt chuckled. She and her husband Gregor worked as stage magicians, or rather, Gregor was the magician and Angela posed as his assistant. In the eyes of a teenager, such a work was totally electrifying and whenever Marley had attended one of Gregor's and Angela's performances, she'd silently wished to become part of a magical show as well.
And finally, an opportunity had been offered. Her parents had decided to spend a couple of weeks in Europe, touring through the Old World and reliving their honeymoon vacation from 20 years before. Marley had enthusiastically supported her parents' plans, after all, she'd need to be accommodated by someone for the time when her parents were gone. She'd quiet correctly predicted that they wouldn't leave a sixteen-year old in charge of their home for two weeks. Unobtrusive hints on her part (actually, it had been more of a constant whine) had prompted her mother to ask her sister whether she'd be able and willing to take care of Marley for the duration.
To Marley's delight, Angela had been more than happy, and to her absolute ecstasy, her aunt had informed her that most of the two weeks would be spent abroad, accompanying the two on one of their tours. So if Marley wouldn't mind... Marley, of course, hadn't minded.
So now she was fluttering on her aunt's car's backseat, dreaming of the glamorous life she'd live for the next two weeks. "I can't wait to see Mika again!" she exclaimed as the countryside rushed by and her aunt raised an eyebrow.
Mika, was another 'assistant' of Gregor, if one was using the term loosely. She was a female Bengal Tiger, 300 pounds and eight feet of brilliantly yellow-and black striped cat. Gregor often used the animal during his shows, to introduce an additional exotic element. After Marley had seen the cat the first time off-stage, she'd immediately took a liking to the regal animal. The big cat fascinated her immensely and was each time anew a beauty to behold.
"Funny that you ask." aunt Angela answered in a mysterious tone. "There's something we'd like you to ask, and it has to do with Mika."
Marley looked surprised. "Something you'd like to ask me? Regarding Mika?" her thoughts were racing, "You want me to help with the show?" she asked breathlessly. That would be too good to be true!
Gregor laughed. "You're on the right track. After all, we don't want to drag you around like some kind of ballast. When you're accompanying us on our tour, you should carry your own weight. Is that okay with you?"
The girl made a perfect O-mound. "That... that would be awesome!" she squealed delighted. Now she was all fired up. Does he want me to make another assistant? Perhaps to swap me out with Mika during the show? Ohhhh...
"So what do you want me to do?" she asked her aunt who giggled upon the question.
"Oh, don't worry. We'll tell you soon enough. At home."
Marley could barely hold her impatience in check. "Ohhh..." she wailed, "That's evil. First you make me curious and then you're not telling me."
"Patience is a virtue, my dear." Gregor philosophized and Marley pouted. But she didn't want to bust this awesome opportunity by annoying her caretakers and therefore forced herself to wait her aunt's explanation out.
Damn, why do they have built their house in the middle of nowhere? the teenager cursed inwardly, the suspension nearly killing her. From time to time her aunt shed an amused stare at the squirming girl on the backseat, but she didn't offer any more information.
In the end, it couldn't have taken more than twenty minutes until they had reached Gregor's and Angela's homestead. To Marley, it had seemed to have been more than twenty years. It wasn't the first time that she'd visited her aunt's place, and despite her impatience, she couldn't help but admire the wooden house with the accompanying garden, framed by the forest on all four sides. Actually, the next neighbor was only a couple of hundred yards away, but the dense wood gave the impression of being somewhere in the wilderness. Exactly the right location for a magician who was constantly devising new tricks to impress his audience.
"The guest room will be yours for the stay." Gregor interrupted Marley's thoughts. "After you've stored your stuff, you can come down in the garden. There you'll meet Mika as well."
Again, Marley couldn't help but ogle at her aunt's husband with wide eyes. "Mika's here?" she asked surprised and delighted. Normally, Mika didn't stay at Gregor's and Angela's home. When Marley had visited the place the first time, she'd been quite disappointed that the regal tiger hadn't been there. Her aunt had explained to her that, when they weren't on tour, a friend housed Mika. This was necessary because Gregor only had a large trailer for the cat which wasn't adequate to house such a large animal for extended periods. At his friend's place, there was a large enclosure which was far better suited for a fully grown tiger.
But if Mika was already here... without a second thought, Marley darted into the house and raced up the stairs, followed by her aunt's husband's amused laugh. In record time, she stored her stuff and leaped down again, reaching the garden behind the house where Angela and Gregor were already waiting.
"I'm back!" she exclaimed, then looked around and furrowed her brows. There was the garden, but no sign of the tiger. "Um, where's Mika?"
Angela laughed. "Don't worry, you'll see 'Mika' soon." she twinkled, and somehow she highlighted the animal's name in a strange manner. "In fact, there's something you don't know about Mika. She's not what she seems... and we'll show you the truth about her now."
Confused, Marley stared at her aunt. Not what she seems to be? What was Angela talking about? Her confusion only grew as her aunt started to rummage in a large box which was standing next to the door. The thing she was taking out was large and furry and yellow, just like...
"MIKA!" Marley's terrified squeal was accompanied by something very like a sob, tears dwelling in the girl's eyes as her aunt removed a large tiger skin, complete with head, from the box. A skin which looked suspiciously familiar. "She died?" Marley cried and Gregor furrowed his brows.
"What?" he asked puzzled. "No! She didn't... oh!" understanding dawned and quickly, he put Marley off. "Mika didn't die. She's always been like this."
Marley looked back in utter incomprehension. "But... Mika was a tiger. A LIVING one!" she wailed. Accusingly, she pointed at the tiger skin in Angela's hands. "That's a tiger skin. How can it be Mika? And when it's really Mika, how could you do this to her?"
Now the mysterious twinkle in Angela's eyes was back. "I think it's best to demonstrate..." she said and, to Marley's puzzlement started to disrobe.
"What...? Why...?" she asked while her aunt even shed her underwear. Gregor put an arm around Marley's shoulder and simply smiled encouragingly.
"Just watch." he offered and Marley nodded insecurely. She didn't have any idea what else to do, actually. Angela smiled back again and then, to Marley's astonishment, started to put the tiger skin on. In fact, it wasn't a skin but more of a... costume. With arms and legs. Quickly, Angela slipped into the costume, until her limbs disappeared in the tiger's legs and only her head and her belly were visible.
"Now don't be startled..." Angela warned her and then slipped the tiger costume's head on. Despite her aunt's warning, Marley was totally taken by surprise by what happened next. The girl yelped as the costume started to... shift on Angela's body. Formerly loose skin tightened, stiff sleeves softened, doddering fur ballooned out with mass below it. Angela in her costume fell over on all fours, only that it wasn't a costume anymore.
Instead, it had become a living being and the large tiger swished its tail, looking at Marley out of intelligent, yellow eyes. Marley wanted to step back from the animal, but Gregor's arm around her shoulder prevented this. She had seen Mika multiple times, but there'd always been the cage between them. She hadn't even dreamed of trying to pet the large cat through the steel, no matter how friendly Mika acted towards her. In the end, she still was a predator, and what would happen if she'd give her a playful bite in the arm didn't bore thinking upon.
And now she was suddenly facing the tiger without any protective shield. Mika was eyeing her with closed mouth, but Marley had seen her impressive fangs, one as long as her entire hand. A single bite by the cat would be enough to maul her. This alone made her tremble with fear, but the sheer impossibility of what she'd seen moved her anxiety into whole new dimensions.
That's impossible... her mind gibbered, taking in Mika's shape, Angela... became Mika, by putting on this tiger costume? But that's...
"Don't worry, dear." Gregor interrupted her racing thoughts with a smile, giving her shoulder an encouraging squeeze. "She won't hurt you."
With saucer-big eyes, Marley stared at her aunt's husband. "You mean, she's, Mika's really...?" she asked and Gregor laughed.
"Yeah, that's right. That's Angela right now." acknowledging, the tiger nodded its head and then went forwards, gracefully moving towards the two humans. Breathlessly, Marley took the large cat's shape in, nothing, least of all the cat-like grace it was moving with, betraying that there was really a human inside this body.
Marley had to firmly keep her flight-instincts in check as 'Mika' stopped directly in front of her, her massive head at her waist's height, the yellowish eyes firmly fixated on her. The girl swallowed. "Auntie... that's really you in there?" she managed to get out and the tiger nodded again, emitting a short growl.
"You look so... real... are you really... all tiger?" The tiger, Angela, yawned, displaying impressive ivories the size of small daggers and involuntarily, Marley flinched back.
"But..." she asked bewildered, "That's impossible. I mean... how? Why?"
Gregor grinned, putting a hand on his tiger-turned wife's head and starting to massage it. Angela responded with a delighted purr, her tail swishing back and forth. "It's simple, really." he explained while petting Angela, "Magic."
More out of reflex, Marley protested weakly. "Magic doesn't exist!"
Lazily, Angela looked at her and yawned again, Gregor chuckling at his wife's antics. "Oh yeah? Why don't you explain to Angela here that what she's done is impossible?"
Marley gulped. "Okay... good point." she conceded shaken. "But... then Mika's not real? But... whenever I've seen her, Angela was there as well! She can't be Mika!"
"Oh, don't worry, Mika's perfectly real." Gregor assured the teenager. "Angela's Mika right now, a female Bengal Tiger, and I'm pretty sure that every DNA sample of her would confirm this. It's just that there always needs to be a human 'inside' Mika. Since I need Angela to be my assistant, it's usually a friend or family member for the shows."
"That's... just... wow." Marley was feeling dazed. After all, her whole worldview had just been upturned. Magic is real! "So you're a real wizard?" she asked breathlessly, but ruefully, Gregor shook his head.
"Sadly not." he admitted. "I don't know magic, real magic, that is, and all the 'magic' I'm doing in my shows is only tricks and illusions. Mika's skin here is the only real magic item I possess. It's a heirloom from my grandfather. He wasn't a wizard either, but he had a friend who was. Mika was a gift by this friend. Apparently,-" Gregor chuckled, "-his wizard friend became so annoyed by my grandfather's constant whine that it's so much simpler for a real magician to work with animals, after all, he only needs a willing assistant to transform, that he gave him a magical tiger skin to turn one of his assistants into a beast whenever he needed one."
Marley nodded in understanding. Still, that her aunt had actually transformed into a tiger... before, fear had clouded her vision, and she'd only concentrated on the tiger's fangs and paws. Now though, she studied Angela's transformed shape with more attention, and she looked exactly like she had Mika, the Bengal Tiger, in her memory.
"Can I-" she started shyly but didn't finish since since Angela had seemed to anticipate the question. Marley yelped as the tiger rubbed her head against her trousers.
"Go on, touch her if you want." Gregor encouraged her. "I think that's what you wanted to ask, wasn't it? And Angela here doesn't seem to mind."
Marley nodded and then, slowly, moved her hands through Angela's fur. She had expected it to be silky and soft, but instead it was coarse. On the other hand, coarse hair was probably more useful for a tiger in the wild than silky one... but regardless of the composition, she could feel Angela's body's warmth, and below the yellow and black hairs, powerful muscles were moving.
"I just can't believe it!" she exclaimed wide-eyed. "I mean, it's... she's... so real! There's no sign of a human body below!"
Gregor chuckled again. "As I said, for all intents and purposes, she is a tiger. Therefore she should feel like one as well."
"And... how does she change back?" Marley inquired. Gregor grinned.
"That's the easy part." her aunt's husband reached into the box and conjured forth a large cucumber. "Be a nice kitten and open wide up!" he said and Angela growled amused, but nonetheless opened her impressive jaws. One bite and more than half of the cucumber was gone.
"A cucumber?" Marley asked incredulously while Gregor only smiled.
"Apparently, my grandfather's friend had a peculiar sense of humor. But it's the perfect trigger, really. Have you ever seen a tiger being fed vegetables?" Meanwhile, Angela had swallowed and suddenly, the tiger lost mass again. One moment, there was a tiger. The next moment, there was only a tiger costume, and a grinning woman peeled herself out of the loose skin.
"Phew." Angela exclaimed as she stepped out, reaching for her clothes. "It's always an experience to do this." Quite a bit incredulously, the reformed woman was eyed by her niece.
"That's... I mean... you were..." Marley stammered, still unable to fully come to grips with what she had just witnessed. It was simply too fantastic. "Wow." she added finally and Angela nodded.
"Yeah." she said cheerfully. "Wow's exactly the right word for this."
Marley shook her head in wonder. "So... whenever I've seen Mika, it was really a human, changed into a tiger?" she inquired.
Gregor nodded. "Exactly. As I said, mostly friends and relatives. But so far-" he continued, as he spotted Marley's unsaid question, "-only from my side of the family. Just in case. You're the first one of Angela's side of the family who's brought into the loop. Your aunt thought that you were... flexible enough to accept magic."
To that, Marley had to reply in a hoarse chuckle. "'Flexible'!" she snorted slightly amused, "Yeah, you're right. Mum and Dad and most of my other aunts, uncles and cousins are, what's the right term..."
"Down to earth?" Angela offered helpfully and Marley nodded.
"The very thing!" she shook her head in exasperation. "They are just so... connected to reality. Lots of engineers and scientists. They only believe what they can see and prove. I think I'm the only one who's reading fantasy. I think most of them would really react... poorly to the revelation of magic."
Angela gave her niece a sympathetic smile. "I know exactly what you mean. I mean, all my siblings are doctors, scientists, engineers... I'm the only one who's standing out, by doing something exotic, something... fantastic. Out of all my nephews and nieces, you have always been my favorite, because I knew that you were close to me in this regard." she cocked her head, giving a sly smile. "And I'd guess that you're feeling the same towards me, aren't you?"
Flushing a bit, Marley nodded. "Yeah." she acknowledged. "I mean, I love my family. But sometimes... they are just maddening earth-bound." the girl showed her aunt a dazzling smile. "That's why I always love to be around you. You're different. You're a bit detached from reality. You embrace the fantastic, instead of frowning at it." she laughed, pointing at the discarded tiger skin, "Hell, you're even using real magic!"
All three chuckled, but then Marley became serious again. "But..." she asked, furrowing her brows, "Why are you showing me your secret? It's a risk for you, isn't it? What if I spread your secret? Not that I'd do this, of course."
Her aunt simply smiled. "You're a bright cookie, Marley." she told her, "I'm sure you will figure it out."
Marley eyed Angela insecurely. I will figure it out? she asked herself, But I really have no clue. After all, I only came to- OH! suddenly, understanding dawned and the teenager's eyes went big again.
"You can't be serious!" she gasped. All right, she'd come to her aunt's place to live two exotic, exciting weeks. But this... was just a trifle too exotic. Or was it?
"Why not?" Gregor asked. "As I said before, we want you to carry your own weight. And you wanted to become a magician's assistant. Where's the problem?"
"I'd have stripes." Marley interjected, but her resistance was crumbling. "You really want me to become... Mika? For a whole couple of weeks? I mean, it sounds really fantastic and exciting, but... being an animal for two weeks straight? In a cage? I'm not sure I can do this."
Angela laughed. "Oh, no." she reassured her niece. "In the first week, we're doing the performances which are close to here. So we're only gone over the course of the day. For the second week, we'll be on the road for several days, but at night you'd change back. When nobody's looking, of course."
"Um, okay..." Marley murmured. But still, the thought of actually becoming the magnificent tiger she had always admired was so... disturbing. And exciting.
"Wanna try it out?" Gregor's question popped right into Marley's considerations and the girl had to choke in surprise.
"What? Now?" she blurted out. Angela shrugged.
"Sure, why not? Give it a try." Encouragingly, the woman scooped the tiger costume up and offered it her niece who took it with slightly trembling hands. "You only have to disrobe and put it on. The rest... happens automatically."
Do I really want to do this...? a voice Marley's mind whispered, only to be supplanted by a second one. Of course you do! You wanted to experience something fantastic, didn't you? Now what's more fantastic than transforming into a tiger?
"Uh, okay... then. I'll try it out." she said and gripped the costume tightly.
"Great!" Gregor exclaimed, waiting expectantly. Until Angela shot him a meaningful glance. "Oh, right." he chuckled. "I'll give you two girls privacy then..."
Marley waited until her aunt's husband had disappeared into the house before she slowly started to disrobe herself. She was still feeling embarrassed for undressing in front of her aunt, but both were women after all. And she really didn't want to do this alone.
"No need to be afraid." Angela told her soothingly. "It's really a great experience." Marley nodded and gingerly slipped into the costume. It was heavy and scrawny and uncomfortable, the inside scratchy and the arms and legs - or rather legs and legs - offering no real space for her fingers and toes. Clumsily, she reached for the head with her paws, the final piece.
If I do this, I'll become Mika! the girl thought, but at the same time, Angela gave her an encouraging nod. Therefore Marley took a deep breath and slipped the head on. Inside the tiger's head, it was stuffy and dark, but only for second. Then, from one moment to the other, it felt like a hot flash enveloped her body. It was incredibly intensive, but also incredibly short, and then the awkwardness of the costume was gone. Instead, standing itself felt awkward and Marley tumbled over, instinctively stretching her hands out. Only that these weren't hands anymore, but paws.
She found herself standing on all fours, which felt totally normal, and startled, Marley looked down, discovering a pair of striped paws were her arms, or now legs, were. Gingerly, she raised one of the paws, padding the bottom, and feeling the grass tickling below it proved that this indeed was her limb. Her senses were different as well, her hearing was more accurate and her vision was sharper, not to mention the multitude of new smells which suddenly assaulted her nose.
Marley felt something twitch behind her and looked back, discovering a flexible, striped tail behind a large, equally striped body. Her tail and her body. Wondrously, she moved her new limb back and forth as her new hearing picked up an amused giggle. Her ears moved almost on her own, locking on to the new sound and she turned, looking at her grinning aunt. Marley opened her mouth and wanted to reply to her, but to her own surprise, only a growl emerged.
Angela laughed again. "Hey, don't forget that you're a tiger now. Tigers can't speak, so don't try. How does it feel, being Mika?"
Wow... Marley thought amazed, She's right... I've really... changed...
For a moment, she just waited, taking in her different body. Above all, she was feeling powerful. And fearless. Then, she began taking a few tentative steps. It was weird, exactly because it felt totally normal walking on four legs. But after a few moments, she was immersed in her new body's power, sprinting and jumping all over the garden exuberantly.
This is... this feels totally awesome! overjoyed, Marley tested out her new reflexes. Being 300 pounds of apex predator simply felt great. She prowled through the garden, her paws moving her large body with a silent grace, sniffing for all the new scents and traces. There were human scents, her aunt's, Gregor's, of other humans, but also animals... prey.
"Hey, Marley, come back, dear!" a familiar voice interrupted the newly minted tiger from her exploration and she looked up out of yellowish eyes, spotting her widely grinning aunt with Gregor standing next to her. Apparently, her husband had joined her after he'd heard Marley's growl, indicating that she'd finished her change.
Obediently, Marley tiptoed back, taking rest on her hind legs and looking at both humans expectantly. Somehow, both looked way smaller than before.
"You seem to be having fun, don't you?" Gregor asked and stroked her head. It felt really good and Marley found herself purring in delight. "Yeah, brave kitty." the man grinned. "We just thought, maybe you want to see yourself? In the mirror?"
Vigorously, Marley nodded her massive head and Angela chuckled. "Then follow me." her aunt told her, smirking. "But be sure to keep your claws retracted. We don't want you to ruin the wooden floor."
Claws! She hadn't even thought of this new feature of her current body! Startled, Marley looked down at her front paws. A flick of previously unknown muscles, and sleek, needle-tipped claws emerged.
"Yeah, that's exactly how you SHOULDN'T walk in the house." Gregor said grinning while Marley admired her weapons. The tiger-turned girl gave him a look which she thought would be a tiger's pout and retracted the marvelous tools again. Then she followed her aunt.
Inside the house, she realized for the first time how big and silent her new body really was. While her aunt moved quite noisily through the rooms, at least to her new hearing, she herself was prowling over the surface without make a sound. But she had to wriggle herself through a lot of obstacles, since the interior decoration clearly wasn't designed for accommodating large cats.
Then aunt Angela opened the door to her bedroom and motioned Marley to enter. Tentatively, Marley moved through, looking at the mirror... where Mika was looking back at her. Eight feet of Bengal Tiger. Almost reverent, Marley walked closer, the tiger in the mirror image doing the same. Breathlessly, she viewed her changed body in the reflection, flicking her tail, turning her body.
She knew the tiger which looked back, she had seen her often enough. And now she was Mika. Just to see how it looked, she yawned, and almost flinched back as the mirror image, her mirror image, bared teeth the size of small daggers.
Wow... that's really me... Marley thought dazed. I've really become a tiger. Hm... I wonder...
She took a deep breath and then simply yelled. Of course it came out differently. As a massive, blood-curdling roar. And this time she did flinch back, as her mirror image displayed its jaw in a threatening gesture of power again.
From the door came choppy laughs and Marley turned, glowering at her snickering aunt. "That was really good!" Angela beamed, "But next time, please warn me. A tiger's roar indoors is a bit loud, you know..."
Marley growled acknowledging and gave her mirror image a last inspection. Then she turned, prowling towards the door again.
"Wanna play a bit in this body, do we?" here aunt teased and Marley growled an acknowledgement. Angela laughed.
"Wouldn't have thought otherwise. Then... have fun, but please don't leave the premises and come back before dawn."
The next few hours slid by in a blur. Marley simply stormed around in her body, marveling at her power, her grace, her new senses... the sheer feeling of difference.
Quite a bit disappointed at her suddenly 'dull' senses and 'weak' body, she peeled herself out of Mika's skin at the evening and put her clothes on again.
Wistfully, she looked at the motionless tiger costume in her hands, stroking the fur which had been her skin for the entire day.
"I know that stare." her aunt's voice yanked her out of her thoughts and Marley looked up at the woman. "Does this mean that you have decided whether you want to accompany our tour as Mika or not?"
Marley started to grin widely. "What do you think, auntie?" she asked excitedly, and her aunt chuckled.
The spectators' eyes became wide as they took in Marley's shape and the girl grinned toothily, knowing what was expected from her now. Therefore she started to prowl her cage restlessly, roaring at the crowd and sticking a leg through the iron bars, pawing for the seated humans.
Gregor, standing next to the cage, bowed deeply. "Ladies and Gentlemen!" he exclaimed, motioning at Marley, "My beautiful assistant Angela, now in stripes!"
To underscore Gregor's announcement, Marley followed up with the loudest roar she could manage, satisfied noting that quite a few of the spectators suddenly looked terrified by her impersonation of a beast.
But then, slowly, someone started to clap, with more people joining in, until even a Bengal Tiger's roars were deafened by thundering applause.
This... Marley contemplated dreamy while relishing in the loud praise, Will become the best two weeks of my life EVER!