Max didn't even want to be there. His coworkers had invited him, and he hadn't had an excuse handy.
In truth, Max's coworkers didn't want him to be there, either. They had secretly hoped that he wouldn't come. Everyone else was going, though, so they felt bad not asking. Now they wished they hadn't
Here he was, though, sitting around a table in a seedy local pub, waiting for "The great Garbo: Magician and Hypnotist". Probably just another hack who was filling time between kiddy birthday parties. The show was supposed to have started ten minutes ago, but hadn't, and now Max was being forced to socialize with people who he spent a great deal of effort trying to avoid most of the time. It was ****, and he wasn't happy about it.
In truth, Max was very unhappy in general, but in a way that his brain was unable to put into concrete words. He'd been unhappy for so long, in fact, that he didn't even recognize that he was unhappy. He had just long ago come to the conclusion that the world was unpleasant, and he was the only person who understood that. Everyone else was a foolish prat who could barely keep from being distracted long enough by the next shiny toy to notice.
He regarded his mostly empty beer that he had been nursing. He heard his co-workers talking about some new superhero movie when the lights finally dimmed and a man walked onto the beer-stained stage and threw his cape (the **** had a cape!) dramatically over his shoulder. "Good evening, my fine ladies and gentlemen! I, the Great Garbo, welcome you. You may have seen so called 'magic' before, but I promise you that when you leave here tonight, you will be filled with awe and wonder!"
Max yawned, rather loudly, to glares from his co-workers, as Garbo continued his spiel. He looked lazily around the room, hoping to catch the eye of the waiter for another drink. If he was going to be forced to watch this swill, he was going to at least be liquored up.
By the time Max looked back towards the stage, Garbo had wrapped up, and was starting. He began with a number of standard tricks with rings and never-ending handkerchiefs. Each time, Max would mumble something under his breath.
"...Obviously had it up his sleeve"
"Trick ring, there's clearly some sort of mechanism there"
"...had that deck set up before"
Meanwhile, his co-workers shushed him as they attempted, in vain, to enjoy the show.
Soon, though, the magician got more creative, juggling a set of ***** that turned into doves, which then flew back into his hands as ***** again. Then he turned his entire coat from dingy black to a brilliant red with a wave of his hand. Max remained steadfast in his desire to remain unimpressed. Surely this was some sort of electronic trickery. He stifled another yawn, then decided to go to the restroom.
He got up, and tapped one of his co-workers on the shoulder. Was it Reed? Or James. His co-worker looked at him warily. "Hey James, I need to take a ****. Need to get through". He looked annoyed. Must've been Reed. "Can't you wait until the act is over?". Max rolled his eyes, and then mustered up as much sarcasm as he could (which was quite a lot). "I'm sure the 'Great Garbo' won't miss me. I'll just be a minute". Reed (yes, definitely Reed) sighed and got up to pull his chair back so Max could get out. Max picked his way through the surprisingly large crowd towards the bathrooms, not apologizing on the way, when he heard a voice. "You sir, you would like to volunteer, would you not?"
Max turned, and Garbo was looking at him expectantly. He hadn't heard what Garbo had been talking about. He recovered his wits and responded "Nah, I'm sure one of these simpletons would love to, though". From the crowd where he had left he heard someone yell "Oh come on, Max, maybe he can hypnotize you into having a sense of ******* humor". Max gave the finger in the general direction of the voice, earning him a few boos from the crowd. Garbo put his hand up to calm the crowd. "Come now...Max, is it? Surely you've been impressed with some of the show tonight?". Max scoffed. "I'm impressed that you're able to make a living off of parlor tricks", he said, before turning back towards the bathroom.
"Max, I think you need to come up here"
Max suddenly stopped. He felt like he had been going somewhere else...but that couldn't be the case, he was supposed to be going onto the stage. He turned and amiably made his way up the few stairs
"Now Max seems to be unimpressed with the show. Shall I show him some real magic?"
The crowd clapped
Max wondered how he'd gotten on stage. He had been going towards the bathroom....he needed to...
"Max, you seem unhappy to be here. I think I know what'll cheer you up, though."
Garbo reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small rubber ball.
Max suddenly came back to himself. "I don't know what drugs you gave me to convince me to get up here, but this show is over and I'm leaving. I'll be sure to let the police know that your show relies on your audience being high"
Garbo grinned a toothy grin as Max walked away, and then spoke right before Max got down the first step, dragging each word out carefully.
Max stopped and considered this. I mean...he certainly wasn't bad. There was certainly room for improvement, for sure, but he wasn't bad, so he must be good. He slowly turned and stared at Garbo, and was surprised as his mouth started moving.
Wait. What? Max's mind reeled and his eyes widened in fear, but he did not run. His legs didn't want to move. His eyes seemed to be locked onto the ball. That looked like a really nice ball. He wanted it.
Garbo took a step forward.
"Who's a good boy"
This time Max answered more confidently. "I am. I'm a good boy"
The crowd clapped and whistled, though they weren't sure what they were seeing.
Garbo moved the ball back and forth, and Max watched it intently.
He wished Garbo would throw the ball.
"Who's a good boy!"
"Me! I'm a good boy!"
"I am! I am! I'm a good boy!"
Max had fallen down on all fours at this point, though he barely noticed. Everything seemed to be growing in size.
"Who's a good boy!"
"Who's a good boy!"
"Do you want the ball?!"
(Yes! Yes, throw the ball!)
(Oh god, what's happening?!)
"Do you want it?!"
(Make it stop!)
(Yes! Throw it!)
Max could smell so many things, now. He smelled the beer, he smelled Reed's aftershave. He smelled the strangeness that Garbo reeked of. Garbo scared him, but Garbo also had a ball.
Garbo finally relented and threw the ball, and a yellow streak flashed by him as an excitable Golden Retriever ran to intercept it.
Max picked up the ball in his mouth and stood proudly. There was still something scratching at his brain, though, and he couldn't figure out what it w--what had happened? Everything was wrong. He couldn't stand up. Max wanted to yell for help, but to do that he would need to drop the...
...ball! He had the ball! The man who threw it was calling for him. He ran back towards the man, who pointed at the ball. The man wanted the ball, but Max didn't want to give it back. It was his ball. Suddenly, the man had a treat. Max dropped the ball and took the treat. He heard a loud sound and he turned to see...
..the crowd. The crowd was up on their feet cheering. His mind filled with fear again as he realized that something was terribly wrong. He felt wrong, everything looked and sounded and smelled wrong. He was a....
"Good boy, Max. Good boy!"
Max received a pat on the head, and the scratching at the back of his head faded a little. "Crate, Max", said the man, pointing to a small crate at the edge of the stage that several people in the audience could have sworn wasn't there at the start of the show. Max ran to the crate, where he found a bone and a squeak toy, which he bit into to hear the satisfying noise that it made. Laughter echoed from the outside of the crate as the man closed the door.
"Everyone, a round of applause for my assistant Max!"
Suddenly Max resurfaced. He was acutely aware now that he was in a cage. Fear gripped him. Surely his co-workers had noticed! He strained to look through the bars of the crate. He spotted them, and they were applauding excitedly. He saw, with trepidation, that his coat was no longer on the chair where he'd left it. He had been erased from their memories. A guttural terror crept up through his stomach which became a frightened whimper as the sound was forced through his new snout. No one seemed to hear him.
Max lost track of time, but eventually the show ended and everyone left. They wouldn't remember what happened, only that they were left with a feeling of awe and wonder upon leaving. They wouldn't remember Max. At this point, Max was curled up in the back corner of the crate, unwilling to move even as Garbo opened it, reached in, and started scratching his head.
Suddenly, as if the final structural support of a dam had been breached, the endorphins from the scratch overwhelmed what remained of Max. He was filled with the warmth of something he had been unable to feel his whole life. His tongue lolled out of his mouth and he started panting excitedly.
Max was happy.
This one popped into my head a few nights ago. I don't fashion myself a horror writer, but this one creeped me out as I was writing it, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.