By John C. Adams

Brett Flint parked up in front of Whiteacre Hall and adjusted his white bow tie in the Land Rover’s rear-view mirror. He smoothed back his brown hair and sighed at the thought of how awful this evening would be. Usually nothing would’ve induced him to accept an invitation to a formal event that included dancing. He hated company. He loathed uncomfortable clothing. He detested making small talk with his county neighbours. He certainly had no intention of getting drawn into the pointless business of wearing masks. Everyone always knew who you were anyway.

Brett scowled. That infernal garden party at Lady Slimeport’s last week had gone on forever. Sneaking out of the tent and getting lost amongst the rhododendrons with Rose Ffanshawe had been the highlight of the day.Brett got out of his vehicle and handed the keys to the parking attendant. Rose had hinted that she’d be up for taking their fun and games to the next level when they met again. He buttoned up his jacket and walked up the steps into the Hall. Tonight was the night. He’d been as randy as hell ever since he’d kissed Rose last week. He wasn’t waiting any longer.The family were greeting their guests in a formal receiving line. Brett moved along it shaking hands with Lord Arthur.

Alphonse winked at Brett and nudged his sister. Rose dimpled when she saw Brett and blushed. They shook hands. Brett felt the thrill of her touch course through him.“Happy nineteenth birthday!” Brett told Rose.“Radclyffe’s around somewhere. Please dance with her at least once,” Lord Arthur asked Brett.“My sister won’t have any partners otherwise,” Rose murmured. “Make sure you save every other dance for me.”Brett leant over and whispered in her ear. “I’d rather see you out in the rose garden.”Rose blushed and glanced across nervously at her father and brother. Alphonse was staring into the middle distance. Lord Arthur was already lecturing another young man about remembering to dance with his younger daughter. Rose nodded. She raised her white mask to her face.

“Take care! You might not recognise me,” she giggled.

Brett chuckled. He’d know those ample breasts and curvy hips anywhere. All he needed to do now was get his hands on them. He wandered into the ballroom and looked around for Radclyffe. Best to get the duty of dancing with her out of the way first. He spotted her on the other side of the room and went over. She was wearing a full-length black dress and she held a white mask in her hand. He nodded in appreciation at the low cut of the back of her dress. The material was silky and smooth.

Radclyffe was slimmer than her elder sister and her hair was brown to Rose’s blonde. One day she would be the more beautiful of the two, Brett thought, she just needed the passage of time to shift matters to her advantage.Brett held out his hand and Radclyffe took it. She was sixteen and just starting to blossom into a young woman. Brett put his arm around her waist and spun her into a waltz. She held her mask in her left hand.“Why’s everyone got one of those things?” Brett grumbled.“They turn you into whoever you want to be. Father thought the guests might find the intrigue amusing. Why haven’t you got one?”

“Perfectly happy being me, thanks all the same.”

Radclyffe stared over Brett’s shoulder. He felt her tense up. Her face became drawn and reserved. As they spun round the dance floor he noticed her glaring in envy at her older sister. He realised how stupid he’d been. Rose was far and away the most beautiful woman here. Brett enjoyed how ripe for the taking she was. She was nineteen. She’d be warm and comfortable. Soft and welcoming. She was artlessly bouncy and lusty. Even the talk of Rose’s serpent lover didn’t put him off. The thing was enormous and it was rumoured to be very possessive of her. He imagined Rose gave it the run around even so.

Brett caught a glimpse of Rose flirting with other men as he spun round the dance floor. He felt his randiness rising as he moved with Radclyffe in his arms. There were moments when he lost sight of the fact that it was Radclyffe he was dancing with and imagined it was Rose. Then he caught sight of Rose again and remembered he was with her younger sister. Radclyffe had become very quiet.

“Who will you wish to be when you put your mask on?”

Brett realised he’d blundered as soon as the question was out but Radclyffe was unabashed. “I’d like to be my sister. Then all the young men will want me instead of her.”The dance began to edge to a conclusion. Brett focused on enjoying having Radclyffe in his arms as the final bars of music reached their climax. Everyone else started clapping. Brett took Radclyffe’s hand and led her back towards the corner he’d found her in a few minutes earlier. Other young men were lining up to dance with her.“I think yer should be happy just being yersel.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Radclyffe replied. Her face had become red and blotchy. She’d clung to him during the dance and her breathing had become hurried and irregular. Brett recognised the unmistakeable signs of sexual arousal. She was old enough and it was perfectly natural. “You’re going to meet Rose in the garden, aren’t you?”

Brett nodded. He had nothing to hide. Radclyffe bit her lip. Tears had risen to her brown eyes. He felt such a fool for not realising how she felt earlier.“Be careful out there. Nothing in my sister’s garden is what it seems.”

Brett waited out on the veranda in the cool night air for Rose to leave her guests and come to him. When he saw her hurry down towards the garden he hurried after her. Her white tulle dress billowed out behind. She had pink roses plaited into her hair. As he followed Rose, Brett mulled over Radclyffe’s advice.

The roses in this garden were famous for their poison. Many had vicious thorns as well. He wasn’t afraid of anything he might find here tonight but it was good to be on his guard.Brett found Rose lolling on a white wooden bench in the middle of the garden. The perfume of the blooms was intoxicating.

He sat down next to her and slid his right arm around her waist. At twenty-three, he was almost constantly randy. Hours alone out in the moors or in the tractor didn’t help. He had altogether too much time free to linger on thoughts of taking Rose, here in the garden or upstairs in her bedroom. He’d never seen her room but he’d had plenty of spare time to imagine what it looked like.

Brett leant over towards Rose and kissed her. She returned the pressure of his lips, and slid her arms around him. He unbuttoned her dress and slipped his hands inside, caressing her breasts. Her nipples were already erect. He stroked them thoughtfully. She’d been playfully demure before but he’d been right about tonight. She was as hot for it as he was. Brett yanked Rose’s dress up past her knees and pushed her down onto the bench. She lay in front of him smiling.

He stared into her blue eyes but something unnerved him and he pulled away.“What is it?”Brett couldn’t answer. Rose had bright sapphire-blue eyes. They were usually ready to sparkle with enjoyment. But now her eyes looked dark and malevolent. They looked quite unlike those of a nineteen-year-old woman who has sexual needs and is about to have them satisfied by an energetic and experienced lover.Rose leant up and put her arms around Brett’s neck. She dragged him back down towards her. He lifted her dress, pulled down her knickers and stroked her. She threw her head back and gasped at his touch. He felt his erection harden. He was so ready for the warm release of being inside her.

Brett paused. Something in Rose’s tone hadn’t been right. She was tense, too, like a coil ready to spring. This Rose was observing him, watching the effect of her actions. The Rose he knew would’ve thrown herself into the fun with abandon. She’d have been down on her knees in front of him or better still ripping his trousers off and egging him on.Brett sat up and zipped up his fly. He folded his arms. Rose rolled her eyes.

“I know yer Radclyffe, wearing a damn mask. What yer doing trying to seduce me, pretending to be yer sister? If I’d known yer wanted me that much I’d have taken yer without this malarkey, girl. Yer beautiful, if yer would only realise it.”

Rose’s cackling laughter crescendoed until she was hissing at Brett. She stood up and towered over him. “Wrong again!” she said. “You stupid randy fool!”Brett backed away. Rose’s form grew until she was at least six feet tall. She became thinner but stronger. Her dress melted away until he saw the body of a giant serpent. Her face mutated until it was no longer placidly round and beautiful, but thin and pointed.

A forked tongue flicked out and caught Brett on the cheek. He put his hand up to his face and saw that it had drawn blood. Everything started to spin and he collapsed onto the ground. Darkness enveloped him but he struggled against it. This awful creature was Rose’s serpent lover. Under cover of the fun at the masked ball it had changed its shape and snuck out the garden. It must’ve watched him with Rose, here at the house, on all the occasions they’d flirted and laughed together. It had husbanded its jealousy until a moment came for it to act.Brett backed away and scrabbled away on the gravel path.

The serpent slid after him. It overtook him and blocked his way. It uncoiled itself and slid over to him. It gently wrapped itself around him and began to squeeze. Brett gasped for breath. He pulled at the snake’s head and yanked it away from his face. Its dark eyes were staring into his. He pushed his arms and legs outwards against the slithery touch and braced himself. He put all his mental and physical energy into resisting its embrace but the snake was the stronger of the two of them. He felt it overcoming him.

It began to squeeze around his torso and particularly around his groin. It squeezed very hard around his thighs until he cried out in agony.

The snake’s grey pointy face honed in on Brett’s. Its eyes were sly and artful. “When I’ve finished you’ll never be able to harass Rose again.”

Brett felt unconsciousness rise up to meet him. The snake smiled. Brett heard someone running along the gravel path. The snake turned to listen. Brett saw the shining shape of a spade swinging up towards him.

There was a sickening thud as it hit the snake full on the head. The snake fell to the ground unconscious. Brett felt the coils of its body loosen. He gasped for breath and wriggled out of its embrace.

Radclyffe stood over him with a shovel in her hand. She bent down and helped Brett clamber to his feet. He was unsteady and she put a firm arm around his waist and helped him over to the bench.

“I hadn’t seen you in ages. I came to, well,” Radclyffe blushed, “talk to you. I heard you shout.”

Brett closed his eyes. He put his arm around Radclyffe and gently kissed her forehead. “Thank you.”

“Did you mean it when you said I was beautiful?”

Brett bent his head and placed a kiss on Radclyffe’s lips by way of answer.

John C. Adams has published in The Horror Zine, Devolution Z, Schlock! and Farther Stars Than These. I have also had numerous short stories accepted for publication in anthologies from Sinister Saints Press, Erebus Press and Rogue Planet Press.