We were promised an unforgettable evening. “Every sense altered” was the exact quote on the leather-bound invitation that had arrived at my home the night before. I could hardly believe my fortune, as my acceptance into the Mutatio Society was newfound, and the elders can be rather wary of fresh recruits. Still, having been recommended by an established fellow like my friend Harold Lydian surely impressed them.
My initiation was the sort that could cause grown men to stammer like children. To overload one’s senses by means of carefully applied methods in order to strip away all manner of learned civility is not an experience to be taken lightly. Yet I am not a fearful man, and having been rather envious of Lydian’s incredible success, I was determined to embark on the same journey he took.
“I am a changed man because of it,” he’d tell me, and then would always boast of the array of fortunes benefiting those who became Mutatio Society members. Unfettered access to information, influence, and riches. Any experience would certainly be worth such results. To refuse such an invitation to an ideal life would be unthinkable.
I arrived at the remote estate mentioned in the invitation in the early morning, just before the sun arose. Myself and others guests in my party were ushered into the estate, gathering in an opulent lobby. We were permitted to speak, and I spoke briefly with a few gentlemen I recognized from past business dealings. I was quite surprised to see that there were women among us, but I introduced myself nonetheless.
After a few minutes the lights began to dim, and eventually we were cloaked in utter darkness. Hands reached out to lead us to another room, where we were sat at a long dinner table and instructed to eat a bowl of soup. It was rather strongly spiced, but the lack of sight heightened my sense of taste enough to make it enjoyable.
Once finished, we were then taken to another room. A small orchestra played gentle tones that were quite soothing, and in the background, I heard a soft drip of water. Soon I was changed into a loose garment and was laid upon a cot, still enveloped in darkness. Careful hands began to massage my arms and legs, and the touches became more forceful, even painful. This was part of the ritual, I reasoned with myself, even as the pain became alarming and I had to bite my tongue to keep from protesting.
The music stopped. Gasps and cries of pain were the only sounds, mine included.
Mercifully the pinching and twisting ended, and the next sensation was of my garment being removed so that I could be guided into a bath that smelled of cloves. I let my weary body soak in the warmth, finally relaxing when I was pulled up, patted dry, and given back my garment.
The others awaited as I joined them. We were now in a dimly lit hallway that lead into darkness.
“This is not what I expected.” One of the men rubbed his shoulder and winced. “I confess I was thinking this would be more…lascivious, shall we say.”
“The evening has not fully transpired,” I noted. “I myself am quite looking forward to the next stage of our experience.”
The man eyed me curiously. “You are a strange sort of fellow.”
I bristled at the rude response, but then a pale gentleman arrived holding a box in his gloved hands.
“Sirs, ladies.” He held out the box. “If you would please put these on?”
The lid was lifted, and one brave young lady stepped close and peered in. She then gasped and blushed. “Why…they are blindfolds!”
“For Heaven’s sake.” The same man as before looked disgusted. “How much more of this foolishness must we partake in this evening?”
The pale gentleman smiled. “Mr. Randolph. Kindly step back and let the others enjoy their experience. We shall take you home.”
Quickly I stepped forward and slipped the blindfold on, the soft black silk obliterating any remaining sight. Randolph muttered to himself while footsteps approached, and his mutterings grew quieter, then silence.
“Now we may proceed. At the end of the hallway is a finish line. You are not permitted to run or walk faster than a casual gait. The winner is of course the one who reaches the finish line first, and will be considered tonight’s guest of honor.”
Intrigued rumblings began, but ceased when the gentleman spoke again.
“The benefit to being the guest of honor is that you will choose how you shall be forever altered in order to sustain yourself and the other guests. Randolph shall be joining us later – albeit in another form – but he will be joined by each of you. You will each partake, or you will share his fate.”
My skin began to prickle. Surely he did not mean…
“Begin. The finish line awaits.”
Walking with outstretched arms, I felt along the walls for the changes in direction, inevitably jostling with the others for space. My heart pounded as I walked.
The sobs of the other guests echoed around me as I walked forward, blind and terrified. I could not be made to partake in something as monstrous as what was suggested.
One more step, then another. Closer, closer, I was almost there. I heard gasping next to me. No, I could not lose. Closer…my hand closed upon a paper banner, and I hurried forward.
Soft laughter filled the room. “Why, we have a tie! Congratulations to Mr. Edmund Finnegan, and Miss Rose Reilly!”
“Please,” a young lady next to me whispered. “If I’ve won, let me go, please…”
“Now, now, madam. Do not remove your blindfold, as we shall take it to mean that we are to devour your eyes.”
Cries of horror filled the hallway, and I tried to turn, but was roughly shoved against a wall. “The meat is very tender,” a voice hissed in my ear. “Do not spoil it by struggling.”
Suddenly I thought of my friend, and how he used a cane to aid his walking. He’d told me half of his foot was lost in a hunting accident.
“We shall settle this honorably,” another voice stated. “Your struggles demean both of you. Having crossed the finish line at the same time allows privilege. We shall allow you to choose a small part of yourself for all of us to devour – including yourself, of course. For the rest of you, your contributions will be chosen. Refusal or attempts to escape will result in your complete consumption.”
“I recommend you choose quickly,” the voice next to my ear murmured. I was frozen in horror as I felt something soft at my neck – a tongue. “You might not like what we choose to take.”
Ultimately, I chose my left hand. I do miss it from time to time, and the taste of flesh, including my own, occasionally haunts me. But I am a successful man, with many riches, therefore I do not dwell on regrets.
I am indeed a changed man.
Christina Wilder was born in Santiago, Chile, and grew up in New Jersey and Florida. She is an avid horror fan, and lives in Tacoma, WA with her husband and cat Bellatrix.