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About This Game

Weirder Stuff is a Trinity Continuum game using an re-imagined version of our AWS setting. In Weirder Stuff (henceforth WS) you will play a teenage high school student caught up in the weird happenings and mysteries in the northern Montana town of Shelly. The characters will begin play as normal humans and will have the opportunity to develop into either Talents or Psions. This is primarily a Modern setting with Thriller, Sci Fi, and Supernatural components.

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Weirder Stuff is a Trinity Continuum game using an re-imagined version of our AWS setting. While we will be using the Trinity Continuum Rules (also called the Story Path System) we will be using none of the published setting. Any material I introduce from the published setting will be adapted to our setting and does not imply that the two universes co-exist. As far as we are concerned WS is a self contained Universe.

In Weirder Stuff (henceforth WS) you will play a teenage high school student caught up in the weird happenings and mysteries in the northern Montana town of Shelly. It is a modern setting which will run in a concurrent time line to our own reality i.e. the year is 2019, the president is Trump, Avengers End Game made a billion bucks in its first week, and so on. The game is loosely inspired by Netflix's Stranger Things, the teen dramas of the CW Network, and of course our own canceled Aberrant Weirder Stuff game.

**WARNING: While the game features teens it is an adult game with adult themes of horror, sci-fi, and high school. Consider it rated R to NC-17.**

The game is set in the small town of Shelly Montana. The town is a Fictionalized version of Shelby Montana which can be googled (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelby,_Montana   Map https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelby,_Montana  ). If you want to know something about Shelly, and I am not available, you can look it up and see it for the most part at the Shelby website. I will note in a setting post any concrete differences and changes I make. The general public are not aware of the strange things going on in this area of the state, although if your a nerd and google every weird thing in the world there are stories of... well weird stuff happening, some of which are true.

While the characters are human, this is a game using the Trinity Continuum rules and will feature both Talents and Psions. Talents ( The Inspired from classic Adventure RPG) have always been around and there is no special classification or even understanding that they are anything more than lucky or skilled persons. For all intents and purposes Talents are just people who are good at what they do, maybe even exceptional.

Psions on the other hand are an unknown. Knowledge and understanding of Psioncs in the world of WS is just like it is in our real world, an unproven pseudo-science which is more often ridiculed than taken seriously, a staple of science fiction stories, the subject of hoaxes and charlatans running money grabbing schemes. There are those who think it is real and those who don't and then there are those who want to make it real and to use it for their own purposes. To date in the world of WS there has never been a Documented, Verified instance of actual Psionic activity.

Characters while starting off as normal human can become either Talented or eventually Psionic. Psionic characters will use a some what modified version of the Psion rules found in Trinity Continuum Aeon the modifications to those rules will be detailed later.

I wish to be clear about something, while this game is obviously an iteration of the former AWS game, it is not a continuation of that game nor is it a remake per se. It takes what I had wanted that game to be and has re imagined it into what I hope will be a better and more satisfying experience for all of us. But let me be clear, WS is not AWS. Even though there will be and are similarities with AWS, they are not the same. Internally as far as WS is concerned AWS does not exist. It is not an alternate world, it is not a story written by one of the current characters, it is not a program Sean is working on for a game. As far as WS is concerned AWS isn't a thing.

Characters based on the Original AWS Characters are welcome as are new characters. Those based on the AWS characters may have to alter some of their background to better fit into the new setting but the changes required will not be drastic.

We will be using the new Trinity Continuum Core and the Trinity Continuum: Aeon books. No other published material will be used by you the players although I as Story Teller may use some material adapted from the 1st Edition of Trinity, Aberrant, or Adventure or other non Trinity resources. In some instances I may make these additional resources available to some or all of you as the story demands.


  1. What's new in this game
  2. Where It All Began July 16th, The Awakening… The apologies didn’t stop coming. Chet was, in one way or another consistently trying to get in contact with Marissa and try to repair the damage he had done. Perhaps it was in some vain attempt to win her back and not ruin his chance with her forever or just his conscience getting the best of him. Regardless of which, Devin was sorely running out of patience with him and pretending everything was okay around him was seriously straining his calm. He knew it was also Marissa’s fault, her addictions and blind stupidity were what opened the door for all of these problems to happen to begin with, and he hadn’t let her forget that. He also knew she was using again and her not seeming to learn from her past mistakes grated on his nerves daily. That’s why she wasn’t here at Bunee’s today with him and Tawny. Before they’d left he and Marissa had gotten into another shouting match about her poor life choices when Marissa came stomping down into the kitchen to yell about Chet sending her another Facebook message begging her to give him another chance. This wasn’t what he signed on for. This grand game they planned on playing with the teens of Shelly was supposed to be just that, a game. Now it seemed to be spiraling out of either of their control and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part of it anymore. He felt like everyday he was ripping himself to pieces in order to keep others, like his sister, whole. Now, to top it off, the girl that seemed to understand him and help to calm him down had been called home by her father instead of being allowed to sit with him for a quiet, chill lunch with no drama… Until Chet decided to be Chet and pick a fight with Lilly after harassing Clara. "Yeah? I'll show you harmless." He was over on the opposite side of the diner near a table where most of Shelly’s social rejects had retired to for lunch. Lilly had just told Chet he was harmless after Clara decided to insult him for inviting them to a party. Devin thought a simple ‘thank you, no’ would have sufficed, but she had to go and fling taunts. Of course Lilly swooped in to save Ever-The-Victim-Clara from what Devin considered a fight she started. "Dude, you can't even hit hard enough to make a girl quit. Though it's probably the only time you will ever on top of one." Lilly noted, shaking her head. "Yeah... well..." he said, thinking for a moment, "Good thing you're quarterback. Because you love handling balls." Chet said with a sneer, feeling proud of himself. Lilly nodded and shrugged. "Yeah. Maybe, but dude, you chase after them, all game, with all your might, just wanting to get your hands on them." Lilly countered, still smiling as she gave a 'wassup' nod to Clara, her morning jogging buddy, in the booth. All Devin could do was shake his head and keep sliding through his phone. Chet didn't get too much into matching wits with either of the women, although all of the inbred Montanans were being so loud that Devin could have easily been involved in all their conversations at once. He sighed, annoyed that he was still at Bunnee’s but hadn't quite built up a reason to leave yet. Alone at his booth he just tapped the screen on his smartphone browsing his favorite social media, trying to tune out the local mouth breathing drama sponges. "D," Chet held his arms out to Devin, looking at him like a comrade in arms against the teenagers of Shelly. "Bruh, you gonna let em' gang up on me like this? Help a brother out, man?" Devin had, at one point or another, abused, chastised, emotionally assaulted, sexually harassed, or was just cruel in general to about every person sitting in the restaurant at that current point in time, a few got a bit worried when Chet made a call for reinforcements. Sean knew the depths of Devin's emotional detachment when it came to making others feel terrible. Bannon knew that Devin would rather burn this whole city to the ground than spend one more minute there, Clara knew that while she had a Plan, Devin probably had a Manifesto. He hated Shelly and everyone in it and it was moments like this he cherished and salivated for. Moments where he could just bring their perfect little worlds crashing down around them and remind all the little people how weak and pathetic, they actually were... Several tensed for the abuse that was about to be visited upon the dining area... "Chet," Devin never took his eyes away from his phone. His tone was filled with boredom and lack of caring to an extreme, like a bored prince sitting on his throne when he'd rather be whoring. "Sit down. You're an idiot. You picked a fight you couldn't win, and your insults make about as much sense as Roid Rager over here," he thumbed to Lilly without acknowledging anyone. "I mean, 'you chase after them', really?" He still hadn't looked up from his phone. He was irritated about something; they could all tell. Devin never missed an opportunity to destroy any of them, yet here he was just passively blowing them off. "If you don't want to go to the party... just don't go. It's that simple. You don't even have to say anything, simply don't fucking show up. Look around Clara... no one. Will. Miss you. Put that on your suicide note, and we'll all still try to pretend to cry and act like we didn't see it coming. You're smart enough to know that if you talk to Chet, he'll talk back, it's what children do. Chet... you're a moron dude, sit down, drool, look stupid... that's it. That's your fucking job. Don't come over to the big brains and start shit, you know you're gonna lose. Because this is your future, bro. This town. Nothing more. Not a scholarship, not an 'A'... ever, and certainly not fucking my sister so quit hitting her up on Facebook, because she's lost her voice from all the dry heaving your broken English has induced. And for the record, Dick Snot, 'pretty' is spelled with a 'y', not two fucking 'e's..." It wasn't often Chet got it from all sides like this, and it was unprecedented for Devin to fire off both barrels on one of his own popular, jock clique friends. Something was certainly rotten in the state of Den... Montana. Chet had made a move for Devin's sister, and everyone knew that there were only a few taboos in Devin's world, one of them was trying to date his twin sister Marissa. Chet was on Devin's radar... that meant some people, like Sean, might be able to breathe easy for a week or so while Devin's rage was focused elsewhere. "Shit, Devin... uh, look bruh, I was-" Chet tried to stammer out but his babbling was cut short by a very loud snap of Devin's fingers. He still didn't look up from his phone. He just cut off Chet and with the same hand he snapped his fingers again and casually pointed at the bench opposite to him, inviting Chet to have a seat. Everyone knew what came next: the talk. The warning. The one and only time Devin would ever tell someone to stay away from his sister. They had no idea what had been going on over this past summer and couldn’t guess that this was Chet’s third time of getting on Devin’s bad side. There were rumors (and only rumors, mind) of what he'd done to those who didn't heed that warning. Some were never seen again, others he sold their organs on the internet, in one instance he punched their soul out of their body... you know how kids talk. Either way, no one wanted to be in Chet's shoes today… "As for your sister?” Chet turned to face Devin, walking forward a few steps with no intention of sitting down. He’d decided now, and here, of all times to get cocky. “Everyone hits on her, I just didn't get lucky." Devin looked up from his phone, his eyes angled in up in a serial killer glare that said while Chet currently held the high ground, he was seriously underestimating Devin's power. Like all teenagers Devin was now faced with a myriad of possible choices as to how he could handle the rather tense situation Chet had introduced. He could simply weather the slings and arrows of the big guys harsh words and resiliently allow them to not damage his calm. Or, with a few well-placed words of his own Devin could diffuse the situation with finesse and aplomb. There was also a third way but no well-adjusted person every really chose... Devin moved like a striking snake. Swift, lethal and deadly. He tossed his smartphone to Chet and as the large guy reflexively went to catch it, he let his guard down and caught a fist clean to the center of his face. Okay... so Devin chose the third option. Force. It was always force with him... anger, violence, conflict... these were his tools against a county, population and family life he couldn't stand anymore. On any given day, Chet probably could have taken Devin in a square one on one, but Devin wasn't playing fair. The first punch knocked Chet so far back he lost balance and fell backwards. Devin's phone slid wildly across the floor of Bunnee's and slammed into the side someone's foot at Sean's table. Chet didn't have time to recover before Devin was standing over him, pulling his shirt and bringing the big dumb guy towards him for two more heavy blows to the face... Chaos erupted all around them and the rest you all know.
  3. When We Two Parted Chet was still in the group, his punishment as of yet, undecided. The twins had kept the goings on a secret, not mentioning that Chet was involved in the blackmail, only Terry. It had been an awkward week or so, but Marisa did a fine job of ignoring him despite his numerous apologies. Devin, on the other hand, was quick to put the equivalent of a retraining order out on him. He wasn’t allowed to talk to, text, email, even write a letter to Marissa to the point where he was obsessively enforcing it. Still, Chet managed to sneak in a few words here or there. The others began to wonder what was going on, but it was summer and most drama swept away swiftly in order to free up time for the next available party. Chet on the other hand was nervous… there was always a price. Those were the rules. He’d went after the Jauntsens only to lose and so far, aside from Devin locking down on him talking to Marissa, they didn’t seem to have cared at all that it happened. That worried him more than anything. The swimming hole was packed and in full swing, Devin had almost goaded Jacob into a fight until the more mature and levelheaded teenager just walked away from him. Devin declared himself the winner. Through the masses Marissa made her way to the boundaries of the beach were to the shade of a tree where one of her fellow classmates was reading a book. She stopped in front of him, looking down at him as she waited for him to notice her. He didn’t. Jason Bannon wasn’t the sort of type that expected company. He was engrossed in the pages of a book he’d read numerous times. It had been committed to memory on the first read through, years ago, but despite his perfect memory there was just something about holding a book; the way it felt, its scent, the relaxion he felt as his eyes poured over the words on a page. At this moment those words were Lord Byron’s ‘She Walks In Beauty’, a poem that framed the perfect beauty and goodness of an idealized woman yet he made no attempt to give his subject any individuality, instead making her universal, so that any man in love can see his inamorata in the verses. She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies / And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes / Thus mellowed to that tender light / Which heaven to gaudy day denies... Serendipity, it seemed, was not without a sense of irony. She cleared her throat. “Do you not see me standing here?” “I do. But, caring that you’re there and knowing that you’re there are separate things.” He said, not looking up from his book. “You’re Jason Bannon, right?” Now he looked up from his pages, scanning his guest from the wedge heels on her feet to the cut off shorts to the black bikini top. Her hair was unbound and falling over her shoulders and he didn’t understand why she wore makeup to go swimming, but he did notice she’d returned to wearing her trademark maroon lip gloss. “What are you reading?” She bent over to glance at the title, offering him an enticing angle of her breasts. He was certain she did it on purpose. “Lord Byron? Interesting choice.” “I am.” He replied. He let the book close onto his thumb, keeping his page but giving her his attention. “Why is it an interesting choice?” “Because it’s the last sort of literature I’d expect to find in the hands of one of you bumpkins out here Nowhere, Montana,” she glanced around to make sure none were able to hear their conversation. “Look, I know you deal. No bullshit, I’m in the market and curious as to what you can offer.” “Grow my own, standard strains, plus a few I grew on my own.” He stood, letting the bumpkin comment go for now. Brushing himself off, he took in a different angle of her. He knew exactly who she was, who didn’t? She’d always been so beautiful to him, even in the ever-changing climate of high school where styles and people and fads changed daily, she always seemed to be the same measure of perfect beauty no matter how she changed it up. People never interested him much, accept her. She was interesting to him and before he knew it, he’d caught himself staring. “What?” She asked as his eyes paused for too long on her. “Nothing,” the simple word was delivered in its usual monotone. “Prices are fair and a small percentage under the going rates from a few others around here, plus, confidentiality. Usually, I only deal using dead drops, but for Marissa Jauntsen, I could work in person. Save you some time and money.” “Can you get oxy, hydro, addies, maybe?” It was back to business for her, but she didn’t let the way his eyes had locked onto her escape her. She didn’t know that Jason Bannon was unlike any other gentleman she’d encountered thus far in her illustrious introduction to ‘how to be a celebrity and hit rehab by nineteen’. He was wired differently than most, and his gaze being locked on her didn’t mean a door was opening for her to manipulate him like she did everyone else, it just simply meant what it implied: in this moment Marissa was the most attractive distraction he’d had so far today. “Oxies and hydro will kill you,” he shook his head. He knew she was a partier, but he didn’t know she was that dedicated. “I don’t deal death; I deal a good time. Addies? I can make my own and their moderately less addicting, so use responsibly. Easy recipe, lasts longer and, according to my positive Yelp reviews, the sex is amazing.” “Haven’t tested it yourself?” She flirted with a raised eyebrow and mischievous grin. “No,” he replied dryly. “Dealing 101. Don’t get high off your own supply. Now, they are more expensive, but they’ll keep you alert longer and keep those grades up. Trust me. Fifteen each.” “I’ll take three hundred dollars’ worth, when can I pick them up?” It wasn’t often Jason was taken by surprise, let alone put on his heels, even if temporarily, but her request left him completely off guard. He wasn’t even sure he had three hundred dollars worth made at the moment, generally he could get by with ten at a time or so, it kept production costs low and the product fresh. Shelly was a very small market, not really a big spender type of community. When he started dealing, he went in knowing that it was for side money, not to pay his way through college. Marissa though? This girl was on a whole new level. “Tomorrow,” when her expression turned sour, he explained. “Fresh batch, just for you. Let you test the product right from me to you. Nothing that’s been lying around. I don’t keep a phone, so you can’t text me or call me. You need something, you speak to me directly. Business is discreet and if you do something stupid like tell all your friends or get caught and my name comes up, we’re done. Period. If all that is okay with you, meet me here tomorrow. If not, then it was a nice to meet you in person, finally.” “I like you,” she cooed like she’d just found a new toy to play with. He was blunt, honest and the best part was he meant every word of it. He wasn’t afraid of her and that was new. “Smart, and you know how to do business. I can respect that.” “Not bad for a bumpkin. I know.” His tone was about as sarcastic as he could manage. She reached down, slipping the book from his grip and looking at its cover. It was well worn and showed that veteran status of being one he’d returned to a lot throughout the years. “He’s one of my favorites, you know.” She said, holding it almost lovingly. She seemed gentler with poetry than she was with people. “Is he now?” Jason asked, glancing to the book in her hand then back into her eyes. He wasn’t one to judge, but she didn’t seem the poetry type if he was being honest with himself. “When we two parted / In silence and tears,” she began, her voice soft and dangerously close to passionate. She stepped forward, tracing a sharp red fingernail down his chest to his abs where she stopped to meet his eyes. “Half broken-hearted / To sever for years / Pale grew thy cheek and cold / Colder thy kiss / Truly that hour foretold / Sorrow to this.” She recited by heart only the first verse, but the one she chose was one about the finality of a previous relationship, perhaps something secret and forbidden and Jason immediately made the correlation between it, and their dealings. Perhaps he has misjudged her, and suddenly had made her infinitely more interesting. She turned and walked away from him; his book still cradled gently in her hand. “My book.” He reminded her. She just kept walking, turning back only to smile flirtatiously at him. “See you tomorrow.” She was several steps away and he was still standing there, pondering the events, the poem, her thievery. Trying to understand the ‘peopling’ in it all. He lit up a hand rolled cigarette and looked at the Royal Suite where the ‘It’ crowd laughed and passed the time. Marissa sat on her towel, reading Lord Byron and completely uninterested in anything else. “The hell just happened?”
  4. The Bitch Came Back... Chet’s bedroom was dimly lit, and the sounds of Top 40 Hits played from Chet’s phone to his Bluetooth speaker as muted background noise. His parents were out tonight, spending time with friends in what Chet knew would be a late night of cards and drinking. He’d snuck Marissa in not shortly after they’d left. She bit her bottom lip and arched her hips. She let out a soft moan as her fingers ran through Chet’s short red hair. He suddenly stopped and looked up from between her thighs, his breath short and lips glazed with her arousal. “Did you?” He asked. She opened her now rolling eyes and sighed and her body relaxed lazily as she felt dryness creeping to her nethers. “No, Chet. I moaned. Just like the last time you asked me. You don’t have to stop every time I make a peep and ask if I’ve had my orgasm.” “Oh,” he looked like he was about to get back to it when she compressed her thighs together and barred any further activity. “You know what? This isn’t working for me.” She pushed herself up on his bed, fixing herself as she shimmied her skirt back down. “What? Come on, it was getting good,” he protested while standing up. “We haven’t done shit but kiss for the past month! Who hasn’t gone all the way after a month of dating in this town?” Men, Marissa had figured out, were not a highly intelligent bunch. They were easily distracted by provocative underwear, cleavage, and the occasional make out session. She needed Chet distracted tonight and knew kissing would just be old hat at this point, so she let them start out with some heavy petting and she slowly guided his hands to places she hadn’t before. Like a fish on a hook, he was baited and eating out of her… well, hand, so to speak. What she hadn’t planned on was him being so abysmally horrible at it. His observation, however, boiled her blood. She wanted to go off on him and remind him that he was a blackmailing prick, and she would never date him, but she needed him calm tonight. “It’s not you, it’s me.” The Devil on her shoulder rolled around with laughter while the Angel… well, there was no Angel. “I mean, come on, can you blame me? I need to be able to trust you.” “You can!” His reply was quick, just like she knew it would be. He was almost pleading, begging her with his statement and she was used that tone in a guy’s voice when he just really wanted to get what he wanted and was willing to say anything to get it. “Baby, you can trust me with anything.” She knelt on his bed and walked over to where he stood at the edge. Wrapping her arms around him she smiled a red lipped smiled just before she kissed him. Her tongue seductively traced his lips, seemingly uncaring that he’d not wiped his face clean of her dampness yet, and that only turned him on even more. After the passionate moment she pulled away and smacked him gently on his broad chest a few times. “We’ll try again in a bit, promise. Now, go wash your face.” She said playfully. His gullible smile was all she needed to see before he marched of to the bathroom to do as she asked. Now, all she needed was to disassociate herself from her brother tonight to make it look like she wasn’t aware of what was going on. “Hey, have you heard from my brother at all tonight? I text him earlier and he’s not replying,” she spoke loudly so he could hear her. “Yeah!” He yelled over the water running into the sink. “He’s out with Cody and Todd.” The water fell silent and he walked back into his room, wiping his face with a hand towel. “Rebecca, preachers’ daughter, Rebecca called up Devin. They’re partying tonight, said she’d bring friends, so Tee and Cee went with. Invited me too, but we had plans.” “Should’ve joined them,” she looked at him with mischief in her eyes. “Preacher’s daughter is a freak.” “And how would you know?” He laughed, approaching her and wrapping his arms around her, kissing her gently. She hated how handsy he was. He couldn’t go ten seconds without holding, touching or kissing her. He was possessive and insecure to the extreme, but as sick as it made her, it gave her something she could exploit. “Deej and I shared her a few times,” Chet leaned back and raised an eyebrow at her. She scoffed and playfully slapped his chest. “Not at the same time. This isn’t Game of Thrones.” Relieved he stepped back. “You and her uh… y’know, lately?” “Lately, no.” Her reply was honest enough and she stepped away from him to walk to his dresser mirror to fix her makeup and ruffled clothing. “I’ve been spending all my time with you. But we have partied a few times in the past.” “Hot. Get me video next time,” he laughed and plopped down onto his bed. “Sorry,” she fixed her hair and lip gloss, adding a bit of a teasing shimmy for him while she readjusted her panties from where he’d shifted them during their failed attempt at intimacy. “I’ve learned my lesson with videos. You’ll be lucky if I ever add an emote to a text I send you.” “C’mon, Mari,” his hands went up in sudden irritation and fell back to the bed. “Why do you always bring that up? Have I done anything with it? No. Look at us, we’re happy, I do make you happy, right?” “Of course, you do,” she lied. Turning to face Chet she leaned against his dresser, folding her arms. “But we’ve been over this a hundred times. As long as you have that video I’m not your lover or your girlfriend, I’m your prisoner.” “If I get rid of it, you’ll leave.” His brow straightened and his tone slipped into something that didn’t sound like him anymore. Chet had never been a bad guy, just a bit of an entitled bully, but when it came to Marissa, he always sounded possessive to the point of scary. “We’ve been through this.” “And I’m not rehashing it,” Marissa walked to the bed and leaned down to kiss him. Her hand gently traced over the fabric at the crotch of his shorts. “You want all of me, and I’ve told you how to get it. The rest is your choice.” “Or,” he mumbled out between kisses. “You leave me.” “No risk, no reward.” She giggled, kissing him passionately as he slid his hands under her shirt. Not wanting to be distracted by another make out session she tapped his chest again and pulled away. “I’m hungry.” “You’re always hungry,” he complained. “I know, right?” She back away from the bed offering him her hands so she could help him up. “Lately I am starving like, all the time. Be my hero and cook us up some burgers? I know you have those freezer ones.” She put on her cute face and pouty eyes. “Please?” Teasingly she looked down at the desire in his shorts and back up to him, biting her lip. She cooed seductively. “Make it worth your while.” “Seriously?” He grinned wide that stupid grin of his and lurched up from the bed, stepping around her like she wasn’t even there. She couldn’t recall him moving with such urgency in a long while, leaving his phone next to the Bluetooth speaker. “This better fucking work,” she whispered once he was gone, not looking forward to having to make do on that promise she just made to go down on a guy for a couple of cheeseburgers. Following Sean’s instructions, it was only a matter of seconds before she was screen sharing Chet’s phone off his Bluetooth connection. “Cassidy… you’re a fucking genius. I could fucking kiss you right now.” She went into the settings and turned off his phone lock. She could make changes to settings but not edit or delete his files or apps. Within the blink of an eye, she was in Chet’s bathroom sitting on the edge of the tub and deleting everything she could find. Texts, gallery, everything, although she took a moment to watch the video again if only to remind her of how stupid she’d been. Afterwards, she deleted all of his contacts out of spite. All that was left was to hope against hope he didn’t make any copies of the damn thing somewhere she couldn’t or didn’t already look. At this point, the plan was a Hail Mary against copies of the video. Chet was playing the drums with the countertop when his phone slammed onto the counter and slid to a halt. Surprised, he spun about to find Marissa standing in the doorway of the kitchen, her regal expression had returned and even Chet’s small mind was already doing the math. He looked to his phone then back to her. “Um, did you want the station changed?” he asked, referring to her not being able to access his phone to change it on her own. It was a stupid thing to say, but he needed a moment to collect and process what might be about to happen. “No,” she stepped forward, one leg crossing confidently in front of the other like she was on a runway. “I was just coming to tell you I’m leaving. And,” she reached up and draped the vibrant red panties she’d been wearing, and that he’d bought for her, over his shoulder. “To give you back those, since they represent the closest you will ever get to me from this day forward.” “What’re you talking about?” He looked back to his phone and quickly grabbed it, swiping it to unlock it but there was not code. His eyes widened as everything began making sense, there in his gallery: nothing. Everything was gone. His files? Gone. There was nothing left. She’d deleted every part of his life that he kept on his phone and to a teenager that tantamount to murder. “You bitch! The fuck did you do!?” He looked at her and took one angry step forward, but Marissa stood her ground. Unflinching, she stopped him in his tracks. “Do it.” Was all she said with her eyes locked on him. “Send me home with bruises, Chet. I fucking dare you. Your dad sells cars, mine is retaking his pistol qualification next week.” He’d called her everything there was a word for as she walked out of his house, but she was barely listening. If he had a copy of it he would have said something by now, she was sure of that. Anything to keep lording his power over her. Her car door closed and her eyes met the rearview mirror. She couldn’t help but smile devilishly at herself as the sensation of her old self was slowly returning. They’d won and got the better of Chet and that made her feel like the Queen of Shelly once again. She wiped her lips clean of the red and started her car. Leaning in Devin’s doorway later she smirked an evil maroon smirk. “Well, are we clear?” “Looks like it,” Devin stood from his bed, dropping the gaming controller at the foot. “Nice shade. I take it it’s done?” “It’s done.” She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. “Thank you.” He held her close, giving her the time she needed to recenter herself after all the drama. Softly he started to sing, “We’ve got all the ways to be…” It was the song from the Disney movie they had auditioned for and would have had the part, but their mother managed to annoy the producers to the point where they ended up getting recast. They didn’t get the starring roles, but they’d memorized every song. Marissa smiled from where she was tucked tightly in her brother’s arms and giggled as she sung the last of it, spelling the one word in all the world she enjoyed the most. “W-I-C-K-E-D.” She groaned and released him. She skipped down the stairs as he followed. “Ugh, we would have been so awesome in that movie. Notice how Dove Cameron’s Botox just got worse and worse in all the sequels? I’m hungry, feed me and tell me I’m pretty.” Devin laughed and skipped right behind her. “Botox or not, she’s still hot as fuck, and I’m not cooking, we’re doing pizza. Oh, did you hear Cam passed away?” “Whaaat? What happened? He was only, like, twenty, and such a sweetheart…” They sat at the island in their kitchen eating pizza and talking well past midnight. They didn’t do it often, but they sat, spent time together and laughed and talked and for just awhile they didn’t feel like the reigning royalty of a small town in Montana they tyrannically subjugated for their own sick amusement. They were normal. Two teenage siblings gossiping and goofing around like normal teens should have and for the first time in several weeks Marissa was able to get a sound night sleep.
  5. The Evil That Men Do Terry paced about in the darkness, the cherry from cigarette glowing brightly for a moment before it dimmed again when he exhaled a white cone of smoke for his lungs. He was across the street from his house where he usually stepped out to smoke. He had a habit of getting wrapped up in what was going on his phone and wandering off into the forested area just across the street from his house where he’d lean against one tree or another while one cigarette would become two or more as he replied to texts or fielded calls or just plain got lost on the internet in the warm summer air. The white light from his phone moved about as he paced, giving him away in the shadows of the late June evening. He smirked at the screen and pinched his cigarette between his lips and held up his phone to reply to whomever text him or whatever comment amused him. Devin’s stomach was tight and about to wrap itself in knots. Todd and Cody were on either side of him, kneeling in the shadows where Devin had spent the last couple of weeks staking out Terry and learning his patters and habits. He’d surmised that this, while he was smoking, was the best time to get him. His mind continued to chastise his rational brain, screaming that what he was doing was insane, criminal and borderline psychotic. He thought about confronting Terry alone but feared that it would only cause him to tell Chet and they might get uppity and upload that video and ruin Marissa’s future. The three of them, however, could put the fear of God into Terry and make him understand that actions have consequences. Actions have consequences. The though gave Devin pause as he watched Terry. If that were true, him and Marissa had one hell of a reckoning coming their way one day. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The experiment, the game, whatever they wanted to call it, wasn’t supposed to turn their ‘friends’ into devious, deceptive, violent people who reveled in the misery of others. Even Marissa, the longer it went on, got lost in the power and prestige that being the Queen of Shelly gave her. It was like something burrowed into their minds and souls and just made them… off. No one knew his sister better than he did and Devin knew that in the last few years, she’d changed so dramatically that he didn’t even recognize her on somedays. Not that he was one to talk. Here he was in the shadows with two of his goons ready to avenge his sister and the thought of hurting this fool Terry made him feel… good. He was looking forward to this. Did that make him just as messed up as everyone else? Devin stepped from the shadows and approached Terry. The crunching of the leaves on the wooded grounds should have given him away immediately but it took until Devin was almost on him for Terry to be disenchanted enough by the distraction of his phone for him to take notice. “Terry?” Devin asked, lazily pointing at him briefly before letting his hand drop to his side. “You’re Terry, right?” This stranger just stepped from the shadows and casually asked him his name. Everything about the sudden shift in Terry’s evening told him that things were about thirty seconds form taking a sharp decline. “Who’re you?” Terry asked a question with a question. That was one of Devin’s pet peeves. “Devin,” he said calmly. His stomach was on fire, he burned with hate for this guy and what he did to his sister. “Jauntsen. You know my sister, Marissa.” Terry’s eyes darted back and forth as if it suddenly dawned on him Marissa’s brother was in all dark clothing, and he was over a hundred yards from his house in an empty, heavily wooded lot in the middle of nowhere. He kicked rocks. Hardcore. He could tell Devin didn’t give chase as he bolted away from him. The leaves underfoot loudly shuffled like the waves roaring up onto a shoreline on a windy evening. Hearing was almost impossible, and he could barely see, he knew the path so well he usually just walked it absent mindedly. Now, however, he was in a state of panic. He wasn’t calm enough at the moment to consider where he was going or have the wherewithal to stop and turn on his phone’s flashlight. He never saw, and barely heard, Cody come up from his flank and even if he had, the shoulder check Shelly’s star football player leveled onto him sent him flying backward an impressive six to ten feet where he slammed into a tree at an uncomfortable angle and felt to the ground. “This the guy, dude?” Cody laughed as he approached the doubled over Great Falls dealer. He hoisted his victim up easily; Terry was still to dazed to put up much fight. Cody slammed Terry’s back into the tree, hard. With his other hand he pulled long piece of torn sheet out from his pocket and gagged Terry. When he struggled Todd stepped up and slugged him in the gut, the wincing reflexively jerked Terry’s arms back down to instinctively protect his exposed core. He was already in tears, but Cody sure as hell didn’t care. He began to wrap the full length of the sheet all the away around the small trunk of the tree and tied it tightly, binding Terry to the tree by gag. Todd punched him again and lent his own sheared length of sheet to bind Terry’s arms down and his body to the tree. Devin casually approached, hands in pockets like some mob boss. “Terry,” he smirked. “Terry, Terry, Terry… oh, Terry.” He taunted, letting the reality of the situation sink into the man who blackmailed his sister. Terry retaliated with mumbles and muffled screams and while his arms and head were bound to the tree, he valiantly flailed at Devin in fear and anger with his feet. He kicked out at Devin, who was intentionally just out of range, until he felt he was losing his balance and then he’d set that foot down and flail with his other. Laughing, Devin pointed to Terry and looked to Cody and Todd, who were standing behind Terry, on either side. “You seeing this? This guy fucking serious right now?” His goons laughed. “Terry, bro. M’dude. You know why I’m here, don’t you?” Terry mumbled through his gag, it was barely coherent, but he got the point across. “Go fuck yourself. Your sister’s a slut.” Devin inhaled and smirked while he released the breath. “Maybe. But I’m not here because my sister likes to fool around with dudes like you. This isn’t an overprotective brother house call. You know why I’m here, and if you don’t answer my questions, truthfully, then it’s going to be a bad night for you. In fact, it’s going to be a bad life for you, because I could easily hammer on a piece of shit like you for fun and, full disclosure, I don’t mind making this drive once in a while.” Terry looked into Devin’s eyes. While the bound man held no love for this guy, his sister, or his current situation, he could see how serious Devin was. He noticed Cody pick up a thick tree branch and felt him slide it between the sheet and the tree. After a few moments he felt the pressure on his bindings tighten and Cody turned the branch end over end. He winced in pain, trying to tighten his chest to fight back against his bindings but just didn’t have the strength to compete with the football player acting as torturer. “The video,” Devin asked, cupping Terrys chin and cheeks with his hand and turning his face to look at him. “Where is it?” A glance from Devin had Cody loosen the bindings slightly. “Ph…” He mumbled through his gag. In a defiant moment of courage, he giggled with a no small measure of madness in his eyes. He was planning on making this hard. “Fuck yourself…” “Phone?” Devin smirked. “That what you were going to say?” The phone in question was being delivered by Todd to Devin’s hand at that moment. It had fallen to the ground after Cody’s amazing shoulder check. Of course, Devin knew all this information. He’d already broken in and snooped around and knew that Terry, so far, hadn’t made any copies of it. Most people didn’t, not when their phone was a secure and portable form of media, Devin’s only real worry was that he’s uploaded it to sites like 4chan or Pornhub and had spent an interesting amount of time lately watching everything posted on those sites. In the last few weeks, he’d seen some shit. “This phone?” Terry tried to spit at Devin… but the gag. Devin gave him an off-color look that Terry was starting to read as his ‘seriously’ look. Devin swiped the screen and it asked for the four-digit unlock code. Devin showed him the screen and the request for the code. “What’s the code?” He asked. Terry laughed through squinted eyes, flipping Devin off with both fingers. “We can make this look like a bear attack, Terry.” Devin jested. “If that’s how you want it, but I’m still in a good mood, so let’s be civil, hm? I’m going to ask you the code, you tell me with your fingers, and if that doesn’t work, well, my buddies break one. ‘Nine’ is tricky with broken fingers, I hear, so the way I gather you get one shot to make your jokes and play tough guy, or at the very least hope ‘nine’ is nowhere in your code. Ball’s in your court. We’ll wait while you think it over.” Cody twisted the branch and squeezed Terry tighter to the tree to encourage him to think quickly. Within moments Terry was making gestures with his hands, 4-4-4-4. Cody let up and Devin tapped in the numbers, chuckling about how he hated it when it was something he probably could have guessed. He scoured the phone’s gallery, swiping back to the weekend when Marissa was getting her high on and decided that blowing her dealer would be a great idea, because it did wonders for Kim’s career. Sure enough, the video was there. He paced around and followed the directions he’d researched online for how to wipe someone’s Cloud-drive, just in case, then proceeded to scour his texts to see if he’d sent it to anyone besides Chet, then deleted all of those too. All that was left was the video itself, and he destroyed it with a sense of satisfaction but only after he sent it to himself, then deleted the call logs and all his contacts. The entire process took the better part of five to ten minutes and in the meantime Todd and Cody watched over Terry. When he was finished, he approached their captive. “You know why we came here,” Devin’s voice was an almost eerie tone of Batman calm. “You know what will happen if we ever have to come back. My sister? Off limits to you, forever. She says ‘hello’ you turn and run away as fast as you can. Taking videos and using them as blackmail just because my sister won’t sleep with you is damn near grounds for me to roll you down a cliff and break you on the rocks on one of the numerous riverbeds in this fucking state. If you made copies, I highly recommend you delete them, because if they ever surface, my sister might be on blast for it, but I’ll have nothing but rage, time and motive to dedicate my fucking life to ending yours.” He gripped Terry’s throat, slamming his head back into the tree. “Have I made myself clear?” Terry nodded.
  6. The Long Game June 2019. Shelly, Montana. Three weeks before the Awakening. The Jauntsen Twins were always in it for the long game. They were well into the last week of June and although everyone knew Marissa didn’t date, the local cliques couldn’t help but notice how much closer her and Chet had seemed to be getting the past couple months. Nearly all the school hung out at a private swimming hole that they assumed was super-secret and none of their parents knew about it or could find them there. Their very own private beach away from the world. What they didn’t know was that their parents used it when they were in school, and it was probably the least kept secret in all of Shelly. The only reason they didn’t all get busted there was because, as long as everyone was behaving themselves, it was an unspoken rule to allow the kids to believe they were getting away with something and had something they could all call their own. In truth it was one of the only places where nearly all the grades, who could be trusted to be out on their own, were represented in a single place, aside from the school itself, where they could all socialize and hang out. Bunees was an option too, but only so many school kids could fit in the small malt shoppe. So naturally the Jauntsen Twins had to show up and ruin it for everyone. One of the reasons the Jauntsen Twins were so popular, despite how horrible they were, was because they were exceptionally good looking. Devin was a gymnast with a sleek and toned physique that made him look like he belonged in some CW show targeted for older teens and young adults thirsty for drama. Whether they loved him or hated him, no one could deny that Devin was one hell of a good-looking guy and there weren’t many females in Shelly that didn’t swoon anytime he was around them. With his shirt off and shorts down enough to fully show off his tight abs he walked through the scene like he owned the place. Marissa worked just as hard as her brother at looking great, remaining flexible, lithe and toned year-round, and that went double for bikini season. Like her twin her body was toned and her curves were smooth and enticing from her bust to her hips. All of Shelly’s classmates knew Marissa by name, appearance and attitude. In fact, it was two of those things that made her so desirable and the last one that kept them looking instead of trying their luck at asking her out. Her vibrant red bikini matched her lipstick shade, and it was far more daring in its design than any of the other kids of Shelly High were comfortable wearing. Coming from a beach state, Marissa was relatively comfortable with her body (and being gorgeous helped, of course) and she strolled through the crowd alongside Devin, announcing their arrival by being beautiful and attracting stares as they passed people enjoying the sun and the water. “S’up, bro!” Devin offered a nod to a classmate. Lona Wilson, whose shaved head had earned her a nickname form Devin to remind her daily of how much she looked like a dude. She was sitting on the rocks with her sister(?), Clara Wright, looking out at everyone else having a good time while she sat around doing what she did best: brood. Lona replied to his gesture with a one of her own, a rigid middle finger that proudly said what everyone in Shelly was thinking. He looked to his sister. “Wow, rude.” Marissa smirked. “I think she wants you. Need me to wingman?” “Gross,” Devin chuckled. “Not if you paid me.” “So, what did you find out about Terry?” She asked as they walked to the ‘Royal Suite’ of the swimming hole, a series of high, flat rocks that overlooked the water and the small, but packed, beach below, by about ten feet or so. They were just large enough to accommodate Devin, Marissa, and all the other ‘it’ crowd of Shelly High. “Well, using what you told me I staked out his place. Broke in the other night and you were right, he didn’t have anything on his hard drive, and he didn’t have any thumbs lying around. Not a tech savvy dude, like you said.” “Wait,” she whispered. “You broke in!? Deej that was dangerously stupid!” He side-eyed her with a displeased expression. “You really wanna start comparing stupid mistakes?” “Fuck off.” They’d gotten on better terms in the last month, maybe because they hadn’t seen a whole lot of each other as Marissa was constantly with Chet as his new arm candy. She moved past his sarcasm with a briefing of her own findings. “Well, he’s obsessive. Classic personality. He’s possessive, needs to know where I am at all times, who I’m with and when I’m seeing him next. When we’re together he has to always be touching me, hand holding, my head on his shoulder, something.” “Are you trying to get this guy killed?” Devin asked while he seethed internally at the thought of Chet touching his sister. “Has he, uh… you know. Tried anything?” “Sexually?” She shrugged. “Not really. Which surprises me. I think he’s still trying to convince me to fall in love with him by not taking advantage of me by using the video. He always seems really conflicted on the matter… like he wants to, but then he just… I don’t know… doesn’t. Most we’ve done is make out and some heavy petting. FYI, he is a horrible kisser. He does that ‘swallow your face hole’ open mouthed kiss… ugh, it’s so gross. I have to re-do my eyeshadow every time we fool around because he’s licked it off.” They both laughed. “There is nothing on his PC and he has only two thumb drives. One for homework and one for porn, like you have.” She’s left out the man-handling and minor abuse she put up with. He was handsy and roughed her up for her attitude once in a while, but it was nothing that left a mark, not after she reminded him that she couldn’t rock her bikini if she was covered in bruises. It was the dumbest conversation she had to have with a guy, talking about showing off her body for him while she was thinking of caving in his skull with a football trophy. “Whaaat?” Devin sounded like he was offended at the notion that he was keeping porn on the thumb drive. “I have way more than one. What an amateur.” She snickered and continued. “He doesn’t need porn. He has me.” She boasted. “Gross.” He brother feigned hurling. “The problem is his phone; he changes his password all the time. It is only four numbers, but I never know what they are. I think he knows I’m looking at his finger presses when he unlocks it, or at least trying to. He doesn’t use cloud storage, so our best bet is that he believes his phone is the most secure place to keep it.” “Phone is covered.” Devin smirked. “Cassidy hooked me up. He said if Chet is using his blue tooth, you can slip into his phone that way, share networks with his phone from yours and you’ll have access to his gallery, including videos. He wrote down how to do it.” “How?” She asked, suddenly excited in anticipation of this nightmare to be over. They’d spent the last several weeks doing what they did best: manipulation. While Marissa was with Chet, all she was doing was analyzing his pattern-of-life. Where he kept media storage, what were his passwords, what was his sleeping schedule, how heavy or light of a sleeper he was. By now she was convinced that she knew more about Chet than he knew about himself. “Not here. Does it look like I’m carrying hacking instructions in my fucking swim trunks?” He gestured to his swimming trunks, black shorts with a knee length spandex liner. “Today, just play the part. Tonight, Cody, Todd and I are handling Terry. You’ll handle Chet, just remember, the video now, revenge later.” “Bet.” She said coldly, glaring at Chet who was sitting shirtless in the sun laughing with Tammy and Curtis up on the rocks. “How do you keep getting Cassidy to help us? Can we trust it?” “Symbiosis. Sure, Cassidy hates that I pick on him, but he also knows that without me, the bullying he’d receive from the others would be way more severe, like ICU severe. He’s a freak, sure, but, I mean, it’s not his fault. If I’m going to hate someone, I do it honestly. So, I keep face by picking on him, and do him a solid by keeping the real beatings at bay. So, he’s willing to hook me up from time to time. Won’t budge on removing that pixel mesh from all the Japanese porn I have though, fucker.” Marissa laughed. “God, we are so fucking good at this. They’re doing us favors while we’re treating them like shit. I swear, we have all the ways to be…” “W-I-C-K-E-D.” He spelled it out, so it rhymed with ‘be’. He laughed. “Ugh, I’m still so pissed we got recast for that movie.” He nudged her. “Okay, game face.” The two approached the Royal Suite and smiled their fake smiles as they greeted their ‘friends’ from school and spent the afternoon soaking in the sun. Tonight, with any luck, Marissa’s mistake would be erased, and Chet’s head would be on a platter. She made a note to herself to get Cassidy something nice as a thank you.
  7. It Worked For Kim “Are you fucking kidding me, Marissa?” Devin yelled at his sister as he stormed down the hall from his room into hers. His sock sheathed feet echoed hollow thumps with each angry step he took. “I don’t believe this. I don’t believe you!” He gestured to his twin who was in her room taking off the white mock turtleneck she’d worn that day to school. She spun swiftly about to face him, covering her black lace bra and chest with her crossed arms. “Dude, what the hell, get out!” Her foot caught the arch of one of her numerous heeled shoes and she flung it at him with a kick-like flick of her foot. Devin dodged the flagrant assault on his person as the shoe soared out the door bouncing off the wall and rattling around in the hallway. “Seriously? You swallow everything in a dealer’s sac and now your future is in jeopardy, but ‘oh no, my twin brother might see me in my underwear’ is gaining ground on your Top 5?! Your priorities are shit, Marissa.” “Eat me.” She grumbled and just kept on with getting changed for her visit with Chet. Devin nodded, making eye contact with his sister in the mirror as she pulled on a top with a plunging neckline in the hopes that the cleavage would distract Chet while they ‘negotiated’. “Mmm, yeah. That next on your list? You done sucked and fucked every dealer, junkie, alcoholic and frat boy in two counties, gonna get hopped up on ludes and throw a little incest into the mix?” “The fuck is your problem?” She yelled at him while sliding on a pair of jeans under the skirt she had worn to school. An unzip later let the skirt drop without her brother catching anything more than the black lace triangle of fabric that disappeared down into her jeans, not that it was awkward for either of them. The Jauntsens were a show business family and before they moved to Montana if a day went by where they weren’t changing in the car or in a small dressing room that shared with several others, then something was out of place. Still, strange as they were, they exercised as much modesty as they could... usually. “You’re my problem!” He yelled at her while she zipped up her boots. “What the hell is wrong with you? You told me you stopped all that shit and now you walk into my room and drop a bomb like that and walk off like this shit will be fixed in a day!” “I was done with it,” she said calmly, walking right past him like he was an unseen ghost. She skipped down the stairs and made a left into the kitchen, her heels echoing through the empty house as they met the tiled floors. She twisted the cap off a bottle of water and let the fridge door close on its own as she turned to her brother. “Then, I wasn’t.” The look of disgust on Devin’s face was one for the record books as she slid to halt in his socks on the polished floor. “’Then you weren’t’. Oh, what? One OD isn’t enough for you?” “Devin that was-“ “Stupid! Ignorant! Moronic! Irresponsible! I can go on.” He yelled, cutting her off. “I get it, Emjay, I do. Go out have a little fun, vent the frustrations of dealing with mom’s bullshit and dad… well, fuck let’s face the facts that dad has just checked the fuck out. I get it, I live here too I see it every day, just like you! But If you keep this up Em, you’re going to end up dead! That shit is going to kill you!” “Stop yelling at me!” She yelled back in a rare moment when she rose her voice, usually always at her brother. “I got high and got recorded giving a guy a blowjob, big fucking deal! This is bad, but it’s not the end of the fucking world, Deej! Kim Kardashian got a fucking TV show afterwards and it’s been on for like, ten years! She’s a fucking billionaire after her sex tape!” “Are you out of your fucking mind?! She wasn’t in the video snorting oxies before she had sober, consensual sex with her boyfriend. This is your fucking future, Marissa!” He frantically paced about, his anger making him agitated to the point where he needed to move. The only time was ever still was when he was sleeping, and even then, he tossed and turned. When this riled up, he almost seemed like he was dancing, his movements were so sporadic, and it was like he wanted to walk away but invisible hands kept yanking him back. “We’re not in Malibu anymore, Marissa! The police will ruin you; colleges will reject you! You’re self-destructing! Th-this is getting out of control. You are getting out of control! It was fun at first but this game… these people… it’s… it’s poisoning you.” “Drama queen.” She raised her eyebrow and smirked, mocking him as she took a drink of water. “We set out to run this place until we graduated, and we’re on top still. Chet just caught us off guard, we’ll fix him. It’ll just take time. These idiots are like puppets, Christ, get your shit together.” Her water bottle slipped from her hand and she screamed in shock as Devin swiped his arm across the island in the kitchen, launching the vertical paper towel holder and salt and pepper shakers off to collide with the vertical blinds that covered the sliding glass door that led out to the patio. “No, they’re not puppets, Marissa! Sure, they were idolizing us at first but familiarity breeds contempt! They’re evolving, trying to move past us, surpass us, run shit themselves. Cody blatantly offered to rape Sean’s sister today! He’s losing his fucking mind, getting more unpredictable. Todd said he was outside Bunee’s trying to smash racoons with bricks! We’re convincing them that this deviant, evil shit is okay. Emjay… we forgot to consider that everyone has their special brand of fucked up in their souls. They’re turning on us. We need to stop. We need to fix what we’ve done to these people, they’ll listen.” Glancing at the door and then back she groaned as she picked up her water bottle, casting it off into the sink. “The only one losing their mind is you, you fucking psycho! Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with you?! So he’s smashing raccoons, good, fuck them! Gross, disgusting little shits anyway. It’s a public service!” She stepped to the island and leaned against it, looking at her brother with equal parts compassion and frustration. “Devin, these people are too stupid to outsmart us. We’re fucking pros at this. So Chet-“ “Outsmarted you?” Her brother’s cocky observation didn’t do much to calm how pissed she was at him. “Got lucky.” She corrected. “So, Terry was his cousin. Small world, and I didn’t see that coming. Now, we improvise, adapt, and overcome. Divide and conquer like we always do.” “You’re not fucking listening to me, Emjay,” he rubbed his face, burying it in his hands. “For Christ’s sake will you stop trying to be in control all the damn time? If you would step outside the box you would see it’s shaping up to be a goddamned circle that looping around to bite us in the ass! We made them this way! We’ve been telling them for years that this sort of shit is okay… you just gotta be super popular to get away with it!” “I’m going to go talk to Chet,” she said calmly, once again completely ignoring everything her brother said. “You need to calm down. Invite Courtney over, fool around for a bit. You’ll feel better.” She left the kitchen. The echo of her heels clacking throughout the house as she collected her jacket and rattled her keys on her way out to her car. “Love you, bro!” She yelled as the front door closed and she was gone. All he could do was lean against the island seething in his rage. He heard her car pull out of the driveway and all Devin could do was just pick up what he scattered across the kitchen and go up to his room to get ready for his work out. Sweat and pain did wonders for his temper on days like these. It had been a couple of hours before Marissa returned home. Devin was finished with his workout, had showered, made dinner and left her plate in the microwave. Marissa didn’t cook. It was a Jauntsen family rule. He was in his room, reading (if one could believe it), when he saw her pass his door and walk down the hall to her room. She was limping slightly and that caused Devin to sit up from his bed and follow her a moment after she closed the door. Two taps let her know he was there as she sat on her bed and groaned while she lifted one leg up to unzip her boots. “It’s open.” “Hey,” her twin offered quietly. “You okay?” “Oh, yeah,” she chuckled. “Got a cramp in the car. Tightened up on me on my way up the stairs. That’s all. Skip yoga for a day, it cramps you for two.” She awkwardly laughed. “Uh, huh,” he dismissed her excuse. It was feasible, considering all the workout injuries that went on in the Jaunsen house, if they didn’t know how to treat their own sprains, twists and pulled muscles, they’d be broke from the medical bills alone. Still, he wasn’t buying it on solely on her word. IT had been a few hours and he’d had time to calm down. As was typical, the twins didn’t stay mad at each other for long. “So, uh, look…” “I know.” She interjected. “I know and I thought about it… what you said and, maybe you’re right.” Devin entered and knelt in front of her, helping her with her boots so she didn’t have to move anymore than necessary. “I love you. You’re my sister and I swear I would do anything to protect you, but sometimes, Em, sometimes we don’t have control of this. You’re going down roads I can’t protect you from. The drugs, the guys, the drinking… you know I don’t care if you have flings, that’s not the problem, but these dudes you play with, the shit they offer you… one of them is going to seriously hurt you one day and that scares the hell out of me.” “I know.” Quietly her voice cracked, stealing the last part of her words. “I just… I just don’t know how to cope like you do Devin.” Finally, she broke down and tears fell freely from her eyes while she collapsed into her brother’s arms. “This house. Mom. Dad. I hate it here and we’re never going to escape… and… I just want everything to go away, to feel good again, if only for a little while. I didn’t want this to happen.” She cried through her thoughts as they came out as best as she could allow them. Her makeup smeared and in moments Marissa Jauntsen, Queen od Shelly High was reduced to your average looking teenager with no walls to protect her from herself. “We’ll fix this.” He rubbed her back, holding her tight. “Get changed, shower and I’ll heat up dinner for you. We’re all we have, and we’ll figure this out, and get you help. Then, I’m breaking Chet’s legs.” She laughed on his shoulder as best she could. She was his rock to cling to all her life when life was overwhelming her and nothing good seemed to be in sight. As he let her go and stepped out, closing her door quietly she stripped down, sucking her teeth painfully as she slid her jeans down her legs. She approached her mirror and looked at the inside of her thigh where the yellow bruise was getting larger. Wincing through pursed lips she hoped a hot shower would dull the pain. Devin hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t wearing lipstick when she got home. She left with her usual, dark maroon lips, forgetting that Chet had mentioned wearing the color he got her for her birthday. She wasn’t sure if he’d done it to other women before, but he knew exactly where to squeeze that would make it difficult to see a bruise unless she was intimate with someone or willingly ratted him out. He was getting brazen with the video of her in his possession, hurting her was just the start and she knew it. He’d been clear that the next time he saw her she needed to be wearing what he’d bought her, if she was going to hate him, the very least she could do was respect the time and effort he put into making her happy. She’d never seen him like that before and it boiled her blood, but only after the fear in the pit of her stomach subsided. Marissa dried herself off. A pair of leggings and a sports bra later she was feeling like a human being again. Her leg hurt, but the heat from the shower had made it feel a little better. She set the lipstick he purchased for her on her birthday out on her vanity and looked into her own eyes reflected at her in its mirror. “You’re a dead man walking Chet Walker. You just don’t know it yet.”
  8. Shame of Thrones Shelly High’s six-hundred-pound gorilla was not named Grodd. He was named Chet. A massive specimen of ginger genes, cornfed Montana cooking, too much testosterone and a healthy dose sexual frustration that was all mixed together into a pot and set to boil until high school. In truth Chet was more like two hundred pounds, but it was solid. The boy was tall, well-built and, that’s right, on the football team. Chet’s real downfall was twofold: one, he was not particularly attractive. He wasn’t unattractive, he was just… meh. Ordinary, bland, vanilla, were some of the terms Marissa, the focus of his affections, had used to describe him. Second, Chet was unfortunately not gifted with likeability. He wasn’t particularly bright, cunning perhaps, from all those years of processing football plays, but he didn’t relate well with most people on an intellectual level. With his red hair and rather slow on the uptake demeanor, Devin had nick named him ‘Biff’, something Chet despised, especially once Marissa started using it too. Chet had been in love with Marissa Jauntsen for three years now. Ever since the first time he laid eyes on her in eighth grade his heart wanted no other. Since then, they had flirted and she’d shown interest and he even outright told her how he felt, but she proclaimed that she didn’t date. It wasn’t him; it was her and she didn’t want to overburden him with her drama. He was a great guy and deserved better than that. They agreed friendship was the best and most steady course, but his love for her never died… if anything it just grew as time went on and he couldn’t have her despite her being near him every day in school and after as they both hung out in the same circles. Today though he walked through the halls with a bit more confidence in his stride. He approached the ladies standing near Devin’s locker and offered them each a nod in greeting. He towered over them, his six-foot two, broad shouldered frame shadowing Tammy as he leaned up near where she was. She moved a bit, obscuring his angle of vision so he couldn’t read the rather steamy texts she was sending to Curtis, her boyfriend and one of Chet’s teammates. “Where’s Deej and the others?” He asked after a few moments. “Apparently handling ‘the Cassidy issue’,” Courtney offered, shrugging. Chet nodded. “Oh, right, that.” Courtney’s face melted into an expression of frustration mingled with confusion. “Seriously? Does everyone know about this except me?” “Pretty much.” The three of them replied in unison, never lifting their eyes up from their phone screens. Courtney fumed and rolled her eyes, sighing loudly and then resigned herself to ignore them. Within moments her own phone was at the ready and she was lost in the distraction it provided. “Hey, Marissa?” Chet finally said, looking around Tammy, which elicited her to swiftly cover her screen again, to the brunette he lusted after. “Mmhmm?” She lazily acknowledged, not bothering to look up from her phone. “You have a moment? Can we, uh, talk?” Tammy huffed, knowing that this could very well be another failed attempt to get under Marissa’s skirt. With a roll of her eyes, she shifted her position and sidestepped around Chet, changing places with him. She mumbled something but he didn’t quite catch what it was. “Bout’what?” Her reply was two words swiftly mingled into one. She swiped her screen, scrolling through what TikToks were trending. The world could be burning around her, and she wouldn’t have noticed. “Like… in private?” He added. She inhaled deeply and rolled her eyes with annoyance as she exhaled. “Fine, whatever.” Her phone disappeared into her small purse, and the two of them walked away from the others. “Tell Deej I’ll back in a second if he pops up.” The ladies nodded but didn’t bother looking up from their mobile devices. They rounded the corner from the lockers, dipping into the alcove that led into one of the bathrooms. She tended to take the lead, always managing all angles of every encounter and this was no different. Chet didn’t mind, he let the tapping of her heels and the way her skirt swayed with her hips keep him focused while he organized his thoughts. Eye on the prize, Chet. “Well?” She about faced on him, turning around fast enough that he thought her skirt might twirl up too far, but it seemed that she knew exactly what her attire could handle and still preserve what little modesty Marissa seemed to possess so close to the end of the school year. “What is it? Because if it’s about the party next week, I swear to god, Chet, I already told you-” “It’s not about that, Marissa.” Chet said firmly. Firm enough that it seemed oddly brave and out of character for the large ginger, so she allowed herself to calmly wait for him to continue. She crossed her arms, cocking her head the way she did when she was investigating someone, dissecting them mentally to find something, anything she could use for leverage during her conversations, either now or later. “Then what?” She leaned against the wall, crossing one leg over the other, remaining visibly bored and irritated with him… which was normal. “So, uh, you know Terry, right?” He asked. “Terry who?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. She knew a Terry, but there wasn’t one in Shelly she associated with. “Collins. He’s a senior at Great Falls?” “Maybe, why?” She pushed off the wall, suddenly interested in the dialogue that seemed to be leading Chet down a highway to Hell. “If I know a Terry or not, it’s not any business of yours.” She knew he had a slight obsession for her. Nothing too creepy-stalkerish, but just enough that a few select teases here and there and it left him eating out of her hand for a few days. She played a dangerous game with the guys of Shelly and Great Falls. She knew they were attracted to her and when a guy is attracted to a girl that girl can get away with some wild things. What Marissa hadn’t considered, was The Devil always comes to claim his due. “The hell do you care, anyway?” “Well, I started wondering why you spent some weekends in Great Falls,” he started. He noticed the way her eyes narrowed at his comment, solidly implying that she found his interest in where she spent her time and who with, a step in the direction of stalkerish. Chet swiped and opened his phone. As he spoke, he swiped the screen a few times. “So, I don’t think you knew this but, Terry is my cousin. And he started blowing my phone up last night, all of it about you.” Fuck. Marissa thought. She was hoping the drama Terry would stay a hundred miles away in Great Falls where it started. Terry being Chet’s cousin, however, was something she didn’t know and didn’t plan for. Her trip to Terry place was just supposed to be a bit of fun and a good time, but it escalated, and they got into a huge fight when she refused to sleep with him. She was so high, she didn’t remember anything else, just the argument and trying to drive home. Worry and concern began to erode her posture, but she hid the revelation of Terry and Chet talking well enough that he still couldn’t get a read on how she was taking the news. “So? Where I go and who and who I spend time with isn’t your business, even they’re your family.” “Yeah, I know,” Chet nodded. “But you know, it just pisses me off Marissa that you go and drive a hundred miles to give it up assholes like Terry when I’m right here. I treat you right, I’m always right there for you, I actually care for you, unlike that prick, but like always, you women just attach yourselves to assholes who treat you like shit.” “Again, Chet,” her hands tightened their grip on her biceps and she consciously moved her arms from casually beneath her bust line up to cover her chest, as she was extremely uncomfortable with how the football player was looking at her. “Not your fucking business. It was cute three years ago. We made out a few times, we fooled around when we were fifteen… let it go. Who I ‘give it up’ to,” she air quoted his words and her arms went back to being folded across her chest, her words lending confidence to her posture. “Is certainly not your business. Terry and I partied from time to time. He was fun and had a hurricane for a tongue. It’s not my fault the best you could ever manage with me was to sit around and watch sports. Now, fuck off.” With a huff of disgust, she walked past him, or at least, attempted to. With an iron grip on her arm Chet stopped her in her tracks and with one powerful motion had tossed her right back into the alcove where she was standing a moment ago, trapping her from leaving the conversation until he was ready to let her leave. “You think I haven’t watched you and your brother these last couple of years, Marissa? The way you two do as you please to whomever you please whenever you please and nothing ever happens to you? You two think you can shit on everyone and we’re supposed to sit there on our knees asking for more.” Fear. It was not a feeling she had grown accustomed to these last few years. Indeed, she and her brother had elevated themselves to practically invincible, but as she rubbed the elbow that hit the brick behind her, concern began to grow in her. “You’re a dead man,” she growled at him. “My brother-“ “Isn’t going to do a damn thing,” Chet held up his phone and let her see the video of her at Terry’s over the weekend, doing lines of crushed Oxycodone and shots of liquor right before the frames of Terry standing in front of the full-length door mirror in his room smiling and offering himself a thumbs up and devil horns with the back of Marissa’s head clearly visible as she went down on him. The leather pants and maroon satin blouse she wore completely gave it away that she was the girl in all those clips. “Don’t you have an internship with the mayor this summer? Something like this,” he flipped the screen around to look at it. “Well…” “What do you want?” Her tone was devoid of emotion, almost robotic. She was slipping into shock, unable to understand how this was suddenly happening to her. She was always so careful. She knew a stray picture, or a random video taken by someone could have disastrous effects, not only on her party life, but her whole future. She was so wasted this weekend that she honestly didn’t even remember who she gave head to, and she certainly didn’t think it was Terry. He’d been trying for awhile to sleep with her, promising her freebies if she did, but her brother was the only one who knew that Marissa was still a virgin and just really good at distracting guys with everything else on the table that wasn’t sex. All she remembered was him kicking her out when she refused to have sex with him. She was wearing a long sleeve shirt because her arms had scrapes from where he threw her out the door and she stumbled because she was so wasted. “Be careful with your next few words Chet. There are rules and we don’t do this to each other.” “Oh, right, your rules,” he silently chuckled and slid his phone in his pocket. “I remember ‘manipulating people is easy once you have leverage’. You’re just pissed because someone finally got you.” She inhaled and let it out slowly. There was still no emotion writ in her expression. She could not win this battle, not at the moment, but she still needed to wrest some manner of control back. “Only under the condition that those you are manipulating have something to lose or are willing to take a loss to mitigate the leverage.” His eyes shifted about as he processed that. It was obviously not what he was expecting. However, Marissa did have something to lose, and for now, she needed out of this conversation so she could focus on the damage control. “So, let’s deal, Chet. We both know I don’t want that getting out,” she found some measure of confidence in her tone as she focused on fixing this sudden shitstorm that had entered her life. “So, I’ll do for you, and in return you’ll delete that, and Terry will delete his too, all copies.” “Are you out of your fucking mind, Marissa?” Chet laughed. “As long as I have this, I have you. I have you both.” “But for how long?” Marissa managed an evil smirk. “Eventually you will erode my patience and I will simply take the hit, let the truth be exposed, live my life as the party-girl whore of Shelly and you and I will both have nothing. Except, I will have the satisfaction of watching you have your arms and legs broken, and every eight to twelve weeks from then, until I’m bored with hearing you scream in pain, I’ll see that they end up broken again. This is your life now, Chet. You want to play? So, let’s play. What do you want from me?” “You.” She could see some loss of his confidence after her revelation that now that video was the only thing keeping him alive. Chet was crafty, but never very smart. There were so many angles of blackmail he hadn’t considered… “I’ve always ever wanted you. Video or not, look, I just want my chance to treat you right, to show you that if you just gave me a chance, I’d be the one for you. I could make you happy, that you could… love me.” Again, not too bright. “Blackmailing me into being your lover so I will learn to love you?” She suddenly didn’t feel too worried as she massaged the bridge of her nose. “Christ, Biff.” “Don’t call me that,” snarled. He stepped up to her, blotting out the light as his shadow became her mantle. “We’ll hash out details later. I just wanted you to know where you stand with me.” “Fine,” the rage in his eyes sent fear coiling up her spine and it sunk its fangs in her voice. She knew he noticed her tremble slightly. “But Chet, I will not sleep with you. I don’t care what Terry told you, but I never slept with him, and same goes for you. And I will never, ever love you if you have that video. We are not dating, we will not date, ever, if you have that. You want an accessory, fine, but I will murder you in your fucking sleep before I ever tell you I love you.” The evil in his grin almost rivaled her on her best days. He leaned in almost close enough to kiss her. “I’m okay with that. Meet after school. And wear something lighter than this maroon shit, like that red I got you for your birthday.” She offered him a lazy smirk in sarcastic confirmation, and he pushed away from her and walked off to join the others at the lockers. She watched him go. Her chest was on fire and her stomach was tightened into knots. She was scared, offended, shocked and to some degree a bit impressed. She knew Terry was too stupid to post the video and ruin her, not when he, like Chet could use it for leverage plus he was complicit in doing and dealing drugs in those clips. She also knew his brain was baked to the point that backing it up probably wasn’t going to happen either. If she got Terry’s phone, she’d have his copy of the video. Chet was going to be another matter entirely. Her phone was in her hand and she was texting her brother and telling him they needed to chat after school, before Chet even rounded the corner to meet the girls by the lockers.
  9. The Cassidy Issue “How about you go and fuck yourself?” Laurie Cassidy’s eyes smoldered with rage as she glared at Devin Jauntsen. Her back was against the lockers, and she wasn’t in any position to make a break for it, what with Cody and Todd hovering on either side of her waiting for their master to tug their leashes. Still, she remained defiant to the end. “How about you help,” Devin smirked. “Dude, she’s not even a freshman.” Todd laughed. Cody reached out and touched her side. “Close enough. I’d hit it. You free Friday, Laurels?” She pushed Cody away a step or two, but he just laughed harder at her, more amused in her anguish then his infliction of it. “Don’t you touch me!” Evilly Devin just watched letting it all happen until he finally stepped in and Cody and Todd backed off. “See? Laurie, we both know I’m the only thing keeping this school from tearing your brother apart and I ask for so little. My homework done, tech support, and for him to be available when I need to talk with him.” His movement was swift and his speed a surprising shock that caused the younger redhead to squeak timidly as his fist slammed the locker, startling her. He leaned in, closer to her than any guy had ever been to her before. Gently two fingers toucher her chin and he moved her head so she would look at him. “I’m trying to be reasonable. Now. Where is your sister so I can talk with him? Or do I leave Sean to fend for himself against these two?” Her eyes moistened as her glare spat fire into his soul. She couldn’t believe that she actually had a crush on him. Despite how horrible of a person Devin was, she found him to be just, well, hot. Too bad that wasn’t enough to make her not want to collapse his skull with a shovel every time he opened his mouth. Love was complicated like that. “Computer lab. He’s printing flyers, or something.” “See? That so hard?” He smiled at her, his face was a blur as she held back the tears. He was close enough to kiss her and all she wanted to do was slap the spine of one of the books she was carrying up into his throat. “See you in a few months, Cassidy. Welcome to Shelly High.” Devin pushed her forehead, causing her head to slam into the lockers. She heard them laugh and high fiving themselves as they left her in the hallway to hide her swelling urge to cry. “Guys! Guys, no!” Sean Cassidy struggled as best he could against Todd and Cody, but it was a losing battle. His sneakers squeaked on the tiles of the bathroom floor as each of the boys roughly handled an arm and practically drug him as he struggled against their pull. Finally, they simply had enough and threw him up against the wall. Sean slid down it in pain and sat wincing on the floor. Devin casually entered in his customary villainous manner, now that the dirty work was handled, they could talk. “Guys, chill.” Devin motioned to Sean, pointing out to his thugs that he wasn’t pleased at the moment. “He can’t fix shit if he’s broken. Right Sean? Don’t wanna be broke, do ya?” All Sean could do was shake his head. Three on one, typical bully cowardice, he thought to himself. “I-I was going to talk to you in second period. Now… I know you’re pissed, but-“ For the briefest span of a thought Sean felt like he was Solo trying to negotiate with Jabba the Hutt. Imagining Devin speaking Huttese was the only making this whole thing not unbaearable. “Pissed?” Devin chuckled, cutting him off. “Duuuude… what makes you think I’m pissed?” He swiped a hand in Sean’s direction, motioning for Cody and Todd to do their thing again. Swiftly they sprang into action, each grabbing one of Sean’s legs this time instead of his arms. They wrestled for a moment, but it was only a matter of seconds before the local computer nerd found himself hovering over a toiled in the handicapped stall with each of Devin’s hench-douches holding one of his ankles. The intersexed boy struggled with his shirt to keep it from falling and exposing the bra he wore to his tormentors. “See, me? I’m not pissed, Sean. Todd and Cody, they are the one’s who’re pissed. I have the swimming pool, I have parents who are never home, I have liquor for drinking, three spare bedrooms for fucking, and since I’ll be spending June in summer school, Cassidy… that’s a whole lot of swimming, drinking and fucking these guys are not going to be able to do because you didn’t do what you were fucking told to do. I tried to talk them out of this, dude. I did. But you’ve messed up their summer bro, I’m barely keeping them from ripping you apart.” They feigned dropping him, letting him slip a bit towards the toilet before quickly tightening their grip. “Was going to play Mars Attacks with the back of Laurie’s throat,” Cody said while thrusting his pelvis a few times. “Now I gotta wait for July for that. It’s awfully selfish of you Tit-Boy… keeping her from me for another whole month… she like chocolate? I heard bitches love chocolate n’ shit like that.” Todd laughed along with Cody, but Devin silently scowled at the budding sociopath. They were supposed to be intimidating the Cassidy kid, not threatening to sexually assault his sister. There were rules to this game, and Cody generally didn’t follow any of them. “See?” Devin knelt, looking Sean in the eyes as the tortured teens face swiftly reddened. “They’re animals, dude. I’m doing all I can, but… well, we all know the sacred rule of high school, bro.” “Don’t fuck with our summer vacation!” Todd gave Sean a quick jab in the gut, causing Sean to wince. There wasn’t much power behind it and he was pretty sure that was only because Devin was present. Devin was a horrible human being, but he honestly believed that violence wasn’t necessary except as a last resort. Threats, taunts, manipulation, those were his weapons… violence came only after there were no other options. Provoking others to violence first meant he’d already won. “Todd, chill.” Devin held up a hand to calm his cohort down. “I have this. Thanks though, I appreciate the assist. Love the energy.” He turned his attention back to Sean. “So? Fix this. For Laurie’s sake.” As a brother himself, Devin wouldn’t allow anything to happen to Laurie. It was the threat that mattered, that fear needed to build up in Sean’s gut, that unknowing and gnawing ‘what if’ to take a black hold in his mind and cloud his rational judgment. That’s what gave the Jauntsen twins their power: not that they could actually do anything, but the fear of what if they did? It was bully psychology 101, they trapped the poor students in their own minds, prisons of their own makings and let the worries of ‘what if’ make them pliable to more abuse. “M-maybe I can hack the school’s summer school roster,” Sean offered, stammering through the pain in his gut and the reddening of blood rushing to his head. “Sounds reasonable. I like it.” Devin smiled, obviously pleased. He tapped Sean on his cheek Mafia style and nodded for the guys to let him down. The three waited while Sean composed himself and caught his breath. “You really need to get out more,” Devin chastised him. “Workout, do some laps, something…” “Your concern is noted,” Sean lied with obvious sarcasm. “So, do the hacking thing, and we’re squared Cassidy,” The Prince of Shelly folded his arms, glaring at the intersexed kid while he adjusted his bra. Cody mumbled something about him being a freak and Todd just took the opportunity to laugh at the poor kids’ misfortune. “What do you need from me? Money? Equipment?” Cody looked stunned, gesturing to Sean in a half shrug. “Fucking serious, dude? You’re gonna pay Tit-Boy? Fuck him, he works for us.” He slapped Sean on the back of the head. “Freak.” Sean cowered slightly. It was three on one and all he could do was make himself smaller in their presence. “It’s not that easy, Devin.” Cody tensed up to slap him again, but Devin stopped him, silently gesturing for Sean to say what he had to say. “The roster is in an un-editable registry,” he lied, knowing they knew nothing about computer lingo to call him on it. “Meaning that if there are supposed to be twelve summer school students, then there has to be twelve names. If not, they’ll know the registry was hacked and we all go down. Expulsion. No college prospects. If I take your name off, Devin, I need to replace it with someone else’s.” Sean’s eyes moved to his left, where Cody stood. The message was clear. While Devin knew that if he caught fire that instant Sean would watch him burn, there was a certain honor among thieves’ mentality to how the Prince of Shelly did business. Sean was safe from most beat downs because he handled Devin’s assignments, the more difficult ones, at least. That was the cost of his protection. Now, however, as one brother to another, Devin could see the fire in the young man’s eyes that told him he wanted nothing more than to beat Cody to death with the hand dryer on the wall for even hinting about going after his sister, Laurie. He could respect that. For the most part, Sean knew Laurie was safe from Devin… but his goons, well, sometimes he didn’t control them to well. There, in the span of the stare, the two men decided, shook on it, and acted without a single word. “Cody. Put his name on the list.” Devin pointed to his number one goon. “What?” Cody looked at Devin, anger filling his cheeks to the hue of crimson. “The fuck dude!” “Cody, relax.” Devin said, lowing his hands toward the floor like he was pushing down all the rage that was building over at Camp Cody. “Sometimes we need to take one for the team. Besides, it’s only for a few weeks. No big deal.” “Then you fucking do it!” Cody gestured angrily at his backstabbing ‘friend’. “It’s your dumb ass that got summer school to begin with. Fuck.” “I’m gonna let that slide, because I’m in a good mood,” sometimes all one needed to imply they were offended to wake others up to the possibility of things getting out of hand if the disrespect continued. “As I already said, I have the part pad, so I can’t be there letting you guys party if I’m in summer school. Look, to sweeten the deal, I’ll toss in the Heath twins. I’ll hook you up when you get out in July.” “Which one?” Cody narrowed his eyes, suspicious of the offer. “One, the other, shit, both, dude, if you want. I heard the blonde one’s a freak, you and Todd could prolly spit roast her.” Cody’s expression relaxed as he pondered Devin’s offer. Todd’s was twisted in thought as he tried to do the math on Devin’s words, considering both of the Heath sisters were blonde. His eyes rolled about like he was carrying the one to somewhere it didn’t want to go. “Yeah, fine…” he caved after a few long moments of weighing his options. “Fine, fuck it. But I’m serious, Jauntsen, you better hook me up. Both of them.” “Yeah, sure, fine, whatever,” Devin agreed dismissively mumbling his half of the agreement. He glared at Sean for a long moment. Then thumbed towards the door. “Go.” Sean weaseled his way past them and left as swiftly as he could. He knew his side was going to be bruised but at least he avoided getting dunked in the toilet.
  10. The Pride of Shelly May 2019. Shelly, Montana. Three months before the Awakening. It should have unfolded like a slow-motion scene from a 90s teen drama movie as the three young women walked down the hallway of Shelly High School with Marissa Jauntsen leading the Pride. The heels of her knee-length leather boots were dangerously close to being outside school regulations but that hardly mattered in comparison to the short, black pleated skirt that was showing far more skin than the timid administrators of the Shelly School Board were comfortable with. She completed her outfit with a white, long sleeve mock turtleneck that seemed glued to her body like a second skin. Her hair was bound up in tight topknot while her makeup was impeccable, displaying her signature maroon lipstick. Courtney Addams was dressed almost exactly like Marissa, save her skirt was plaid and her top a maroon like Marissa’s lips with her ginger hair pulled up in a tight topknot as well. Blonde Tammy Keller was in her cheerleading uniform, which gave her a pass in the short, pleated skirts department, but the fact that she didn’t wear shorts underneath it until game time when it was required, had earned her more than one talking to by the faculty. The ladies were certainly hitting the trifecta of ‘blonde, brunette and redhead’ as they were easily the three most attractive girls in the school. If one was into shallow, vapid, but hot. Marissa was the undisputed Queen of Shelly High School and everyone knew it. Shelly Montana had the elementary and high school in the same building and there were fourth graders who were already dying to be like her one day. Having moved from Malibu, California, her twin brother and she took Shelly by storm three years ago. It wasn’t that they were particularly special in anyway, save that they came from money, it was just that they were new, and were from a place so close to stars and celebrities that it seemed like they themselves were the same. They brought with them ideas and stories from a place that the mountain kids of rural Montana had only heard about on television or read on the internet. Almost overnight their strange, sorcerous ways seemed to pull in the younger crowd to them and it was a simple matter of charisma and leadership that shot them to the apex of legendary status among Shelly High. She led the Pride in looks, attitude and charisma (depending on who you asked), so her other two hangers-on followed behind her, forming a three-girl triangle that pushed their lesser to the walls like a wedge parting a sea of plebs, lest they make the mistake of attracting Marissa’s ire. The trio stopped where they usually did, in front of Devin’s locker. It was a daily routine to meet up there, share some conversation and then part ways before wreaking havoc upon the poor masses of Shelly High’s student body. Marissa leaned against her brother’s locker, her phone already in her hand as she swiped the screen and began browsing her social media feeds. Her sharp, claw-like acrylic nails made a hollow ‘plastic-on-glass’ tapping sound as she distracted herself. “The hell?” Tammy huffed, irritation in her voice as she folded her arms and stood to the right of Shelly’s queen. “It’s not like we don’t do this like, every god damn day. The hell are they?” Marissa raised a hand to quiet Tammy, who seemed to complain often just to hear her own voice. “Chill. They’ll be here soon; they’re handling the Cassidy issue.” “Oh,” Tammy nodded, suddenly relaxing as she remembered ‘the Cassidy issue’. “Right.” “What Cassidy issue?” Courtney asked, flipping her long top knot from off her shoulder, allowing it to cascade down her back. “If you needed to know, Courtney,” Marissa snapped at the redhead, never taking her eyes off her phone. “You’d fucking know, wouldn’t you? Christ. Would you two just shut up and wait?”
  11. Sean rode the Carousel, , sitting astride his favourite steed, the one with that looked like a nightmare with a unicorn horn, its mane, hooves, and eyes lacquered a fiery orange. Wistful melancholy etched his fine features as he held onto the pole with both hands, his eyes closed, letting the rollicking music washing over him as his mount reared up and down as the Carousel spun round and round. He had helped his dad, some, in refurbishing the Carousel several years back. Mostly just wiring the lighting and screwing in light bulbs. He knew he is dad once had expectations, aspirations that his son would join him in his contracting business. Once, Sean had wanted nothing more. He liked building things, putting things together to make something better, grander. But even before puberty had sent his development careening in different directions, Sean's dreams had going in different directions as well. He certainly still liked electrical work, but his interest in landscaping and house renovations waned in favour of software programming, computer assembly, and cobbling together gadgets and devices. His father had never faulted him his interests, and was even proud of his eccentric son and designing and programming a full, indie video game - two, in fact, though Jack Cassidy didn't know his son had completed his second with the tremendous help of his developing electokinetic prowess. Still, Sean could help but feel a bit of regret, a sense that he was abandoning his dad in a way. Both Teagan and Laurelei had help their father too, but Teagan had gone off, joining the army with the goal to become a Ranger, and while Laurie was still searching for what she wanted to do, it had always been clear she would be joining Jack in the contracting business, eventually to take it over. Sean's goals had been to make it big enough in the video game industry to let his parents retire early, with enough so they could enjoy their time, while not himself falling into the same miasma of greed and short-sightedness that the AAA game studios and publishers seemed stuck in. It seemed like that would be a long-shot now... When he caught the text from Marissa, Sean felt like Lilly had just kicked him in the sternum. He could hardly breathe while at the same time, the urge to vomit was almost overwhelming. One hand slipped from the pole, the back of his wrist going to his mouth, as though the physical motion itself could keep everything from coming up. He didn't even bother pulling out his phone to send his reply, barely restraining himself from yanking on the flow of electrons coursing through the Carousel to bring it to a sudden halt. Instead, he swung one leg up and over the carven saddle and timing it well, jumped off the nightmare unicorn when it rode low with an unexpected show of grace he would have been proud of if he hadn't been so distressed and scampered away from the Carousel. With a genetic sword of Damocles hanging over his head, potential doom weighing on him from Not-Cody, from storming Site B, from the idea that there wasn't actually a solution for him there, still in a way, it hadn't felt entirely real to him, it felt almost like one of his roleplaying games. Yeah, bad stuff had happened, but they had always pulled through. He hadn't been burned in a way, like Devin had been. Sean might have been forced to face his mortality like someone his age should never have to, but there wasn't a visceral immediacy to it. Not like finding out Charlie was dead and Sophie missing, and in all likelihood, it was Not-Cody's doing. If Charlie wasn't his best friend, he was still a good one. He had helped out Charlie, filling in for part in a play at the last minute when the girl dropped out. Charlie had been in the first D&D game he'd ever run, and been in practically every game and campaign he'd run since. The idea that he wouldn't be there anymore, was gone, seared deep. Other than his grandfather, Sean hadn't lost anyone that close to him, definitely not someone his own age. Sophie. She was missing, possibly dead, too. They had been friends once. She'd been the first girl he had ever asked out. He didn't think anyone besides the two of them knew. She'd turned him down. Hard. Cruelly, even. That had hurt. Bad. Bad enough that he hadn't even considered really asking another girl out. Not until Kat, anyway. He had hated her, too, for a while, if not to the degree he held for Courtney, but it had faded quickly, an emotional scar, instead of a psychic wound he kept picking at, and he had never wished her harm. Dead. but maybe not dead. Maybe a chance to save her from the monster Cody had become. Sean had started towards his sister and parents, to warn them, to send them home, to whatever safety home could offer, but redirected himself to the parking lot at a pace just short of a jog. He didn't know what the plan was now, if they were going to try to hunt Cody down now or not. With Devin able to blip around and take them along, they might be going as soon as they gathered and he wanted the go-bag he had stashed in his Grand Cherokee. <<<To: Laurie>>> [From: Sean] <Pack up. Get Mom and Dad and get home. Now.> Sean sent to his sister as his sneakers skidded on gravel, one arm over his chest as he hustled towards his SUV. <<<To: Sean>>> [From: Laurie] <What's going on?! I thought 'stuff' was happening when it was dark.> Even through text, Sean caught a hint of his sister's worry. <<<To: Laurie>>> [From: Sean] <Not-Cody hit us first. He - No, IT - got Charlie and Sophie.> Sean debated for only an instant to before telling his sister the truth, glad he had had the foresight to voodoo her phone. Okay, it hadn't really been foresight, she'd just wanted unlimited data, text, and phone, with a zero dollar phone bill. <Who knows who else it might go after. Tell the 'rents it's something like what happened at Marias.> <<<To: Sean>>> [From: Laurie] <Love you.> Short, trite, even, but the sentiment came through. <You guys stay safe. Okay, safe as you can while doing what you guys have to do. I'll look after our parents. You better come back, bro, or I'll kick your ass. And I can do it, shorty.> Laurie stared down at her phone, willing Sean and the rest of the Fellowship success in taking down the fucker who was working for the Dark, or was a part of now, or whatever. Then she shoved her phone in a pocket, squared her shoulders, then turned towards her parents, hands balled into fists and eyes hard with determination. Watch. Study. Analyze. Act now. Breakdown later. She looked over Champion's Field. Was the news out already? Were people rushing around, was there a subliminal panic growing the crowd. She saw the Sheriff, but he strode in the same brisk lope he always did. "Mom, Dad, we gotta go," Laurie said with a firmness she had never directed at her parents before. She waggled her fingers in a way suggesting something ephemeral and then started bagging stuff up, throwing other things in the cooler. Work economically. No need to rush. A few minutes now will save more later. "Some stuff, voodoo stuff, is happening. Stuff like at the hospital Sean told us about. You understand?" Jack's hand tightened on the tongs he was holding, his knuckles going white. Carolyn stared at her youngest child, who was an inch taller than she was now, and looked to have some growth left to her yet, then slowly nodded. "We don't like it, but we understand. Enough, at least, hon. What does Sean want us to do?"
  12. Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK Kat's breathing was heavy as the SUV's door slammed, the noise akin to a prison door. One of her friends was dead? Phone. Fuck. She took a deep breath. Closed her eyes, focusing on her other senses. Anyone with two brain cells would know that a car is supplied in energy by the engine. If you simply removed the supply, then... She frowned. Turning the whole fuel tank into water suddenly didn't seem like a good idea. Kat was familiar with her powers, now. As she had told Courtney the day before, manipulating matter felt hard, whereas manipulating energy was but child's play. And she would've kind of felt bad for breaking that car. If she wanted to be able to reason her Dad, she needed subtlety. Not to break the engine. I guess I just need to tell the engine to fuck off for a moment. And subtly, the car signaled to its driver, with an annoyed rattle, that it would not move any further until ordered to, coming to a smooth stop after a moment. "We're not headed towards the Project facility." Her voice was cold, void of any hesitation. "We need to talk." Kat's heart was palpitating, but for some reason unknown to her, she was calm. A limpid truth shone in her mind, bright as day: if she wanted to stay alive, she had to be with her friends. And her mind was dead set on doing that. What could guns do against an entity able to walk dimensions? Her dad looked askance out of the window, then at the driver in front of them as the SUV came to a rolling stop, but at her words and, more importantly, the tone, he refocused on his petite daughter. "Kat?" he asked in a studiously calm tone. "Is this you?" He gestured towards the front of the car, where the driver was cussing under his breath and trying to restart the engine, getting nothing but clicking noises. "Won't start, captain." he reported after a moment. The other soldier was looking around, eyes on the outside of the stalled black car. "Kat?" Josh repeated. The French girl sighed. "Yes. It's me. I can't just follow you to the Project facility. Especially not today." She paused for a brief moment. "Who..." Repressing the urge to cry, scream, or whatever her dysfunctional brains wanted her to do, she bit her lip, and kept going. "Did they tell you which one of my friends died? Because I saw almost all of-" She stopped, thinking back. She did scan her surroundings earlier. It could be, as far as she knew, one out of three of her friends. And one of them did not show up at Bannon's farm. She pressed tense fingers on her closed eyes, nervous. "Point is, I'll be safer with my friends, you should know why. And... there's something else I need to tell you." "Kat-!" Her dad stopped, pausing as he took in what she had said, then sighed softly. "Okay... Okay. What's the thing you need to tell me?" She took another deep breath. "I have an idea of which one of my friends was killed, and not by who, but by what. It wasn't someone, it was something." She opened her eyes and looked at her Dad. "Tonight, we're dealing with that thing. Not negotiable." Before he could object, she went on. "Two reasons. One, conventional weapons won't work on it, we're the only ones able to get the job done. Two..." She looked at the soldiers in the car, then back at her Dad. "... you guys can't travel through dimensions like that thing. We can. And I can't tell you who exactly, because it's not my story to tell. But, yeah, that thing? Totally hiding under your nose." Did I say too much? She thought. Time would tell. He studied her for a moment. "Was it like... whatever was sending those things into the Project that day, last week?" As she nodded wordlessly, he chewed at the corner of his lip. "Shit." he muttered as he stared into space, then looked at her again. "And I've got a pretty good idea of who, Katherine." he said in a dry tone. "I do have a clearance, I've been briefed." He fell silent then, regarding her somberly. "You're just kids." he stated quietly. "You know what you're asking me to do?" Her mask cracked for a moment, fear painted on her features as clearly as her brushes would have on a canvas. Tears started rolling down her cheeks, her voice silent compared to the world around her. "I know." She wiped her humid cheeks. "I have to. We have to. What if everyone in town ends up dead tomorrow, ha? That would totally suck." Irony replaced fear in her voice. She couldn't waver now, that would be the worse thing to happen. "I have to be with my friends. I couldn't just watch them die knowing I could've actually helped, right?" She was talking to herself as much as she was talking to her Dad. She didn't want to go, but knew she would hate herself for the rest of her life if she didn't go. The rest of her life. It wouldn't mean much anyway if they failed. "Shhh, honey, honey, c'mere..." Aware that the two soldiers in the front were still there and paying attention, Josh felt more than a little awkward thrust into the role of nurturing parent. But Kat was his little girl, and though she was putting on a brave face he could see the strain it was causing. He slid across the seat, wrapping an arm around her and patting her back as he stroked her coral-red hair, hugging her tight. When he spoke again, it was quietly. "I've not been around much. Guess I was still seeing you as a child." he mused aloud. "If you really believe you have to... to go do this?" He looked down at her, and Kat nodded in response despite her teary eyes, despite wanting to cling to him. Josh took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh. "Okay then..." He pulled her phone from his pocket and passed it to her, one arm still around her shoulders. "Just... is there anything I can do? The Project can do? To help I mean? Do you kids- guys need anything?" She sniffed, then grimaced. "I don't have a clue, to be honest with you." She paused, taking back the control of her voice, then: "First-aid kits for the after-party, maybe. Uh, yeah, no, scratch that. We got that part covered." She fell silent for a moment, considering the question more seriously. "I think it's best for the Project to not get involved right now. If I read the room correctly last time we talked about it, things are a bit... tense?" "Huh." Captain Williams grunted, looking at the other two Project personnel, both of whom were doing an admirable job of not appearing to pay attention. There were standing orders not to antagonise the bunch of superpowered kids. And his daughter was definitely one of them. He looked back at Kat. "Okay. I'll offer you a deal. I'm not going to have one of my men there tranq you, and I'm letting you go back to your 'Fellowship'. In exchange, you come back safe, and when you do, we sit and we talk about what you did, okay? A debrief." He forced a smile he didn't feel. "Over cocoa." She gave him a poor grin, and a clumsy hug. "Deal. Cocoa sounds great." She mentally sighed, glad of how it had turned out. She then checked her newly retrieved phone, her eyes narrowing at the messages she had missed, and swore under her breath, typing a short reply to the group chat. "I need to get back to the Carousel, fast." She wondered if she could run faster than a car. Probably faster than this one. Wait... She realized she was still holding a tight restraint on the engine's energy flow, and released it. "The engine should be able to start now." The driver tried the starter, the engine purred into life, and Josh nodded with some relief in his expression. He wasn't sure what Kat's powers entailed - it certainly wasn't as easily summed up as 'psychokinesis' or 'teleportation', but he was glad she hadn't permanently disabled a government vehicle. He was going to have a hard enough time explaining this snafu to Taggart as it was. Leaning past her, he opened the door. "We both better get going, pipsqueak." he told her, giving her hair a quick ruffle. "Be careful, and be smart, okay?" "Aye, aye, Captain." She replied with a smile, as she stepped out of the vehicle. She waved her hand in quick goodbyes, then closed the door and started running. Really fast. Her lungs quickly started burning, but it didn't really matter. Three hundred meters? That's nothing compared to my morning torture.
  13. Marissa was texting her brother as Cade spoke to his mother. Finally, she rolled her eyes and turned to Ms. Allister. “Seriously? Ms. Allister, it’s an emergency. The reasons are largely inconsequential, it’s for your safety and Haruka’s. We’re not sticking around either if it’s any consolation, now please, go.” “Christ,” Marissa fumed as the two drove away. “She’s that sort of woman who keeps asking ‘why’ in the middle of a crisis then gets eaten by the giant dinosaur with a look of surprise on her face while it happens.” “She’s just worried,” Cade offered as he tried to look calm amidst the tremors of emotions swirling like a maelstrom within him. They two made their way across the park as swiftly as they could, Marissa keeping a surprisingly spry pace considering her four-inch wedged footwear, until they reached her and Devin’s parents. They were in the middle of a conversation with a few families that they didn’t know, or care to know, and were almost thankful when Marissa approached and without explanation grabbed their arms and lead them away like children who’d just been caught doing something bad. “Marissa!” Misti attempted to correct her daughter’s actions but found Marissa’s grip to be akin to iron and she seemed to be effortlessly dragging them along as they tried to keep pace. Out of view of the rest of the park, she released them. The trees concealed and obscured them as a row overgrowth completed the natural curtain that she hoped would allow her to speak with her parents openly. “Ow,” Carl rubbed his arm. “Christ, Punk’in. The hell is going on?” Misti glared as Cade simply followed silently, his face still a pool of emotions that shifted from anger to worry then to concern to rage. She looked to Marissa then nervously to Carl. “Sweetheart, what is going on?” She managed a chuckle of concern as she awaited an answer. “Mom,” she looked to her mother then to her father. “Dad. You need to leave. Now. There’s been a murder and there is a chance that the killer might come after you to get to me and Devin.” Carl laughed. “Sweetie, you and your brother have pulled a few in the past, but going as far as a mur-“ “Dad!” Marissa raised her voice to cut him off. “For fucks sake! Listen for once!” Misti raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms defensively. Her posture took on the disapproving mother kind as she interjected. “Marissa Beatrice, I will not have you using that tone. Cade, dear, you can go. This is a family matter now, thank you.” “Nah.” Cade shrugged slightly. “Good where I am. She’s as much my family as my blood. We’re Fellowship.” “The fuck is Fellowship?” Carl fumed, now thoroughly pissed that his daughter was swearing at him. “Some cult? You run out and join a cult or something?” Marissa sighed and rolled her eyes. She held up her phone, the FaceTime on it showing Devin looking at his phone’s camera with a raised, yet confused eyebrow. “Are you hearing this Deej? I told you. Dense as fucking uranium. Do the thing.” “Stop with the langu-“ as Devin appeared, instantly on the scene in a flash of purple light, Misti’s words seemed caught in her throat. “S’up, bruddah.” He fist-bumped Cade who only offered him a silent nod and a fist. “So, now that we have your attention.” Marissa took a deep breath to center herself and pressed on, offering her brother a ‘thank you’ smile as she stepped forward. “Mom, Dad? Devin and I have super powers. The killer is not a who, it’s a what. Now, I know this is a lot to take in, but we’re the only ones who can stop it.” “Wh-what is it?” Carl managed to get out after giving his son a creepy once over, as if looking for the smoke and mirrors that made his son instantly appear. “It’s a god,” she replied. “A being of darkness, ancient and evil. We don’t expect you to believe to believe us-“ “Reassuring, because we don’t.” her mother said flatly. “How did you do that Devin, and these super abilities, what are yours?” Her eyes fell to Marissa. “I think, therefore I go.” Devin smirked. “We don’t have time to explain string theory to you two. Marissa is not lying. Not-Cody is on a warpath and we’re the only ones who can stop him. He’s not vulnerable to conventional weaponry.” “Okay, I’ll bite.” Carl said lazily. “What is he vulnerable to?” “Us.” Cade said stoically. “We’re hardly conventional.” Devin added. “And let me guess, you have powers to?” Mist threw a disbelieving gesture his way. “What are they?” “I look intimidating while using simple sentences to assert my dominance.” Cade offered as he crossed his arms. His tone told her she was barking up the wrong tree with him. “Mine’s putting up with your shit for the last sixteen years,” Marissa interrupted. “Look we don’t have time for this, you need to go home, lock the doors, stay safe and protect each other. Please.” “But… why? What is it and what does it want-“ “Mom! We’re going to fight this thing. We’re the only ones.” Devin’s voice rose above his mother’s. Marissa closed her eyes and looked away as the sound of her brother angry reminded her of harder times when he was the one always being bullied. Bullied because he was protecting his sister. “It’s done. No compromises, no talking us out of it. We’re telling you this because we love you. We love both. We might not come back.” “And we don’t want you living the rest of your days wondering where your children disappeared to one day.” Marissa’s voice was soft and caring as she looked at her parents. “You may not be perfect as parents go, but we both knew you deserved better than that. We didn’t plan on you finding out this way, but… well, Deej is right. This thing killed Charlie. We must do this, and we might not come back. We just wanted you to know that we love you. Both of you.” Devin shrugged; his lips not quite smirking. “She nailed it. I mean, this story is long and complicated, and to tell it to you, we need to survive tonight. I teleport. Marissa is like super hawt and mesmerizing. That’s our power. You wanna know more? We need to take down the Not-Cody first. For Charlie.” “I cannot believe what I’m hearing,” Misti chuckled in disbelief and she tossed up her hands and paced away from the children. “A-are you two high?” The twins both exhaled and simultaneously rubbed the bridge of their nose in frustration in a moment Cade had only seen a few times where the twins moved, thought, and acted the same. “That is without a doubt the single most loaded pile of bullshit I’ve heard in a long damn time,” Carl laughed. “Thank you.” Misti gestured to him in thanks for supporting her point of view. The twins’ faces sunk as neither of their parents seemed to believe a word of any of this. “So, you better come home,” he continued as he stepped forward and held both his children, each in one arm, and hugged them tight. “And tell me all of it.” “You believe us?” Devin asked, holding his father, the man he never got along with, like an actual son was supposed to. “No,” their father stated honestly. “I believe you just did something amazing; I’m processing that. But I also know that Cody kid is still missing, you said Charlie was murdered by him and I think you idiot kids are about to go and exercise of some backwoods justice.” The twins backed away and looked at their father then to each other. “You’re not going to stop us.” “We may not have been the best parents,” Carl motioned to himself and Misti. “Suppose we owe you an apology for that, but we raised you to look out for each other, and taught you that when the world pushes… you spit in its face and push right back. I know you’ll do the right thing.” “How do you know that?” Devin asked. A hint of defiance in his tone as he studied his con man of a father. “Because we wouldn’t.” He offered his son a slight grin that seemed almost fatherly. “Be safe and look out for each other.” “Dad, I-,“ Marissa wiped tears from her cheeks while searching for the right words. “Carl, you cannot seriously be buying into this. That Alister boy is obviously feeding them some cockamamie stories and luring them into some weird hazing.” Misti raged, glaring at Cade who only looked back at her with such a calm and composed expression that it could have brought a tear to Jase’s dried, unused tear ducts. The children turned to leave and walked away while Misti was in mid-rant. “Carl!” Their father turned and held his wife, possibly for the first time in months. “Mist. Mist. Shhh.” “I’m a horrible mom,” he could hear the tears welling up inside her as her children walked away. “They… they hate us…” “No, no, they don’t. They were talking and as usual we weren’t listening.” He met his lovely wife’s gaze and smiled that charming, hereditary smile. “Something strange is going on, we both know it, we both knew it. Our children. Ours, are at the middle of something big and they’re going to do great things. We’ve both made mistakes, Mist. Me especially… but look at them. Strong, independent, smart, and doing what is right. Don’t you see? By being us, we’ve taught them how not to be us, and… well, shit… I’m proud of them for that.” “We are a fucking mess, aren’t we?” Misti chuckled through tears. He traced a strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ears as he dabbed away her running makeup. “I knew what I was getting into. No regrets.” And there in the midst of all the chaos Misti and Carl met again for the first time…
  14. Cade didn't try to get close to her again. "Okay Marissa. We can either rush off to go meet the others, or go find our families, and get them to head home, then go meet the others. My mother and sister will listen, based on me saying this came from Dad. Will your parents do the same?" "Unless you think we should just go straight to the table and wait for the others." He knew his dad only told them because it was Charlie, one of their friends, who was "Special" like them, and because of concern for them, knowing a little of what they'd already been party to. He wasn't so inconsiderate to just ask her to help him wrangle his family alone, wanting to make sure her parents were safe too. "Whichever we do, I'm not going to leave you, I don't think any of us should be alone right now." He waited for her to state what she wanted to do, and text to both his mother and sister, finding out where they were. Cade seemed to be calm, almost inhumanly so, though that was only on the surface, and quickly gave way to anger. He was worried, scared, but mostly he was angry. A friend had died, someone that friend had cared for had been taken. The same waited for all of them, if they didn't act now. Like hell was he going to let that happen without a godamn fight. Like. Fucking. Hell. As the thought went through his mind, it was probably the first time Marissa really saw what he looked like when he was angry. It was a scowl that somehow made him look even more intense than before. Few people had ever seen this face, it was totally different than the normal, quiet Cade. Seeing that look Marissa nodded, her composure returning. They had things to do before, and despite what people thought of her, she didn't want to see people hurt. "Let's go then." She didn't take his hand, instead walking beside them as he went first to find his sister, with a trio of her friends. Their reaction to Cade and Marissa was one of awe, and Cade smiled thinly. "Sorry Girls, but I'm gonna need to borrow Haruka." they all looked at him, and Haruka looked at the two older teens, about to protest. Marissa of course saved the day, quietly convincing Haruka to come along. She followed them, wondering just what was going on, but neither of them would say anything, though she could tell her brother was worried about something. Miyakko was ensconced within a small group of other parents, not of the Fellowship, but from the track team. She smiled as they walked up, though it faded as she saw Haruka with them. She politely excused herself to come over to them, and Cade shook his head. "Dad's fine, and Haruka's not in trouble. It's okay. That said there has been an incident, and Dad wants you to head home, Mom, and take Haruka with you." "Cade, what's going on?" she asked. "Dad wants you to go home, and asked us to see to it that you do. Please, I'm sure he'll explain better once he gets home, but I really need you to just listen to me this once." Haruka, about to blow up on her brother, looked and saw the worry and fear in his eyes, she saw the fear in Marissa's eyes, and took her mother's hand gently. "Mom, let's just go. There's no way Dad would do this without a reason, nor would Cade." "Thanks Ruru." Marissa gave the younger girl a smile. "We'll make this up to you." With her daughter going along, and seeing the concern in her son's eyes, Miyakko nodded. "Alright we'll go, I know your father's got his reasons, as do you, but I want to know them too." Cade nodded, and saw them over to the parking lot, to his mother's car and looked to Marissa. "Now, on to the hard part." He didn't know her parents, but from what he'd heard, they'd not be anywhere close to as easy to motivate to leave. She'd helped him, and though he didn't know what help he'd be, now he'd return the favor.
  15. Frantically Marissa tapped out a text to the group as fear began to ride her nerves and shake her fingers anxiously. Dead? This was not happening. This could not be happening! With that simple concept now planted in her mind it swiftly sprouted into an all-too-possible reality. Something out there was playing for keeps now. It was hunting them and so far, it was winning. “Hey,” Cade tried to put his arm around her but she swiftly jerked away as the moisture in her eyes became the first tear of many that were going to fall. “Marissa everything-“ “No!” She stepped away from him and glared up at him. “Everything is not fine. It’s not going to be fine, Cade!” She stepped in realizing she was being louder than she intended. “We’re being hunted. It killed Charlie, it has Sophia… bait, Cade! It wants us to go after it. Why leave him and take her? We’re next. It’s going to find us and it’s going to kill us.” She backed away from him again, the panic rising in her mind while she paced, thinking it might calm her down. She was showing her crazy and she knew better, but, fuck, wasn’t there a being stalked by an extra-dimensional demon clause in there, somewhere? Should be. Her lover took a step towards her, but she held up her hand, blocking him from getting any closer. “Cade, I… I can’t okay. I just can’t right now. I don’t need hugs and kisses or a fucking fishing trip, I’m not some cardboard cut out of a girl. I’m angry, I’m scared, I’m freaking the fuck out… I need space. Room to breathe.” She looked down at her phone and read the message. “Delayed? Are you fucking serious? UGH!” She groaned at the sky, rolling her eyes, almost sure they were making a pit stop to sow their oats before the big night. “Those two, I fucking swear!” ---==={@}===--- “You’ll be safe with her,” Devin said calmly to Ellie. They were in the parking lot of Bunnies, a few miles away from the Carousel. Ellie’s mind was still trying to get a hold of how his travel worked and him taking her with him was as much a blessing as it was an honor. He had so much to learn about Teulu culture… “Her name is Annette Giles. She’s a friend.” Annette stood several yards from them, just outside her car at the driver’s side door. She couldn’t hear them but when Ellie saw her looked to Devin and cocked her head. “Have you coupled with her? She is extremely attractive.” “No,” he smirked, stifling a laugh. “At least, not yet. She is a friend and if something happens to me tonight, she can try to help get you home.” “Devin, I-,” she shrugged, not sure how to phrase her next words. “I do not trust her. I wanted it to be you.” “I know, Ellie, but we can’t work on that unless I make it home tonight,” he shrugged, trying not to look worried. “If I don’t, she will be there for you. If I do, we get to work on getting you home. Deal?” “Very well, if there is no other way, then I suppose we’ve little choice.” The blonde Teulu inhaled and exhaled slowly and steeled herself for meeting what was possibly the fifth, or sixth rival of the day? “Devin, I’m so glad you called,” Annette said as a greeting as they approached her. “You must be Ellie, I’m Annette Giles, a friend of Devin’s.” “Yes, the one he claims to have not coupled with… yet.” Ellie once again brought the crimson to the forefront of Devin’s cheeks. “Is that so?” Annette said in a dry tone. “Yes. Poor me, but I’m on the mend. Holistic diet, yoga, the target range. Anything to get him out of my head and bring peace to my loins.” Ellie nodded sagely. “Yes. That is best. Your age mingled with your lack proper respect for such a divine figure makes you an ill-suited mate.” Annette’s icy glare fell on Devin. “Well,” she exhaled. “Isn’t she a gem.” “Don’t look at me like that,” he said with a shrug. “I didn’t rub her lamp. I didn’t call her here. She just… showed up.” He slid the bracelet from his wrist and placed it in Ellie’s hand. “Here. Take this. You’ll need it to get home.” “You will be victorious.” The statement hung in the air with the confidence with which she spoke it. Devin had never really anyone speak with such with a measure of truth and confidence in their voice before, except maybe Marissa, but this really didn’t compare to getting guys to fall for her because of a plunging neckline. “I will get to know this Annette Giles and patiently await your ret-“ Devin looked down to his phone. His eyes narrowed and his expression took on a stern, serious tone. “Charlie is dead.” He said out loud as he looked up to Annette, who was also looking at her phone with a look of sorrow on her face. She nodded, confirming she got the same message. “Jesus, fuck…” Devin stepped away, sliding his hand through his hair in disbelief. “Jesus fuck… it killed Charlie, man. Fucking, Charlie! Dude just got a girlfriend! I mean… who the fuck…” he paced; a bit frantic as he collected his thoughts as the death of his ‘friend’ settled in. “I mean, she really liked him and she’s gone too. Because none of us were believing the cherry popped last year in drama club story. No fucking way. Right up there with I got a ‘girlfriend in Canada’.” “You have a girlfriend in Canada,” Annette pointed out. It was a low blow, sure, but Devin’s new girlfriend called her old and unworthy of him. Him! A snot nosed, loudmouthed, moronic sixteen-year-old… with perfect hair and a charming smile. God, she hated this job sometimes. “Not the point!” Devin pointed out, loudly. “We need to find her. Save her. Anette, I…” “Devin, I know,” she nodded, offering him a caring smile devoid of humor. “I want to talk all of you out if it, I do, but I know I can’t. Something gave these powers for a reason, maybe this is it. Ellie will be safe with me until you get home. Go save the world, hero.” “S'what we do,” he offered her a smile and looked to Ellie. “Be safe.” He turned and ran behind the building as a purplish flash faintly lit up the pavement in the summer sun.
  16. Monday 2nd September, 16:45 Across Shelly, away from the sunny Champions Field and the high school drama and family revelations, things were happening. The sheriff's department was called, Alister himself investigating. A tough man, he still felt his gorge rise at what he found at the foot of Hannah Fuhrman's stairs. He'd investigated maybe a murder or two - crimes of passion usually - and wild animal attacks, but the butchery of a boy his son's age, his son's friend at that, was enough to shake the stoic lawman. Charlie Cole had been ripped open, as if some one had reached into his torso and ripped it asunder extracting their hand. Hannah had already been taken down to the station, a doctor called to give her a sedative. The woman had gouged lines in her cheeks with her nails before neighbours had been able to stop her, and would be on suicide watch, a female deputy with her at all times. The first deputy to attend, after having thrown up on the dining room rug, had shakily taken down what passed for a statement from the hysterical mother of the dead boy. Pulling on some protective forensic gloves, he followed the bloody handprints on the rail and wall of the staircase, as though the killer had almost gleefully stroked blood and viscera over the family photos on his - or It's - way upstairs. The shower was still running, cold water now sluicing down the drain, and Ian Alister noted the splotchy red handprint on the frosted glass of the stall. Reaching inside he turned off the water, then looked around the shower for any clue as to what had happened, his brain and eyes operating on autopilot while he locked away the nagging, gibbering voice that said this had something to do with what Cade and his friends were into. An open bottle of shampoo lay on the floor of the shower as though dropped there - expensive woman's stuff, probably Hannah's. Charlie wouldn't have used it. The kid hadn't been alone. So... what? Was the female the killer, who'd cleaned up before leaving? Hmm-ing, the big lawman made his way to the bedroom, noting the state of the bed, noting the clothes on the floor - a girl's skirt and top on the right side, with a purse on the nightstand. He extracted the drivers license, and swore softly. Sophia Fingleman. She'd been the girl in the shower, and probably not the killer, given that she'd been cosy with Charlie on that day last week when everything went to hell. So now she was missing, perhaps for a day or two judging by the state of the Cole kid's body. Perhaps- His phone rang. With a curse, he answered, pocketing the license and the car keys. "Sheriff Alister here." "Sheriff, the doc says Hannah needs to be in a secure unit. She's almost catatonic right now, but he can't guarantee she won't self-harm. We're not going to get anything from her, Ian." the voice of Charlie, his right-hand man, came over the line, lowering slightly as he used his bosses name. "Hell, it'd be cruel t' even try right now." "Yeah." Alister sighed, rubbing his forehead under the hat-band. "Alright, get her moved to Marias and make sure there's friendly eyes on her at all times. We also want a coroner - get one of the deputies, not Fingleman." "Not Fingleman?" "His daughter was here, and there's no sign of her." "Shit, boss!" "Yeah, I'm headed to the Field now, I'll tell him myself. Alert State and the Feds too. Murder, with an obvious missing girl. She left her belongings here, so she probably won't be in plain sight. Have them keep an eye out for anything suspicious." Alister turned and went downstairs, his mind worrying at the mystery as he skirted the dead body and stepped outside. The nearby neighbours were having statements taken - so far nobody had seen or heard a damn thing before Hannah's screams. Parked across the street was the Fingleman girl's car - a brief check indicated nothing inside. The sheriff straightened, closing and locking the trunk, and sighed as he looked around at the scene. There was nothing left to do here, at least at this stage. No more reason to delay. With another muttered curse, he headed for his cruiser. * * * * * * Captain Josh Williams, U.S. Army, was having a good day off. He'd eaten a stack of ribs and chicken wings, had a beer, and was currently stretched out on a blanket with Tess, who was looking decidedly cute in a short white sundress and sandals and a big floppy hat, cradling his head in her lap as the two talked quietly. The Project, strange powers, and his own odd daughter were not issues for the day - Kat had wandered off to hang with her new friends, and while Josh was very much aware that the super-powered teens were, well, special in all sorts of ways both good and bad, he also figured that objectively, the same was true of Kat. She had come back after hanging out at the Bannon farm in a good, if pensive mood, and he knew from briefings that the teens met there to practice with their gifts. So evidently that had gone well, even if Kat hadn't been forthcoming about what, if anything, she'd learned. Which was sort of a problem, too. He knew his superiors would want him to try and glean anything he could about the capabilities of the kids, but one of those kids was his goddamn kid. He was considering going to Taggart and asking for reassignment if the Major wouldn't back down on that. It was unreasonable to expect a man to spy on his own child, but at the same time he personally wanted to know what was going on in his daughter's life, too. He wanted her to trust him, not worry about whether he was turning around and selling her secrets for a promotion. No doubt about it, compartmentalising his life was tougher than he'd first thought. Perhaps he could talk to Taggart and the Director lady... She seemed nice. "...so I was thinking perhaps we could throw Kat a 'Welcome to Shelly' party." Tessa was saying. Josh blinked, looking up at her face under the sun hat. "A party?" he echoed. "With who?" "Her friends, dumbass." Tess lightly tapped the top of his head. "Like I was saying - it seems she's made some good friends already, with Sean and those other kids she's hanging with. A party would be a cool way for her to have them round, and we could meet them, learn who she's friends with." Josh nodded, though the idea set soft alarm bells ringing. Most of the kids hadn't seemed bad sorts, but having seen the footage of the Site C raid and the aftermath of the Marias Incident, what there was of it, Josh was leary about letting them into his actual home. Tess cocked her head slightly. "You don't like the idea?" "No, it's not that." Josh protested, sitting up on his hands and looking out over the field. Kat wasn't with the Cassidy's anymore, he couldn't see her from here. She was probably circulating, taking in the sights and sounds, hanging with different people. "It's just that-" He was saved by his phone buzzing. Tessa made a soft exasperated sound, and he threw her an apologetic smile as he pulled it out. "Got to take this. Work." he said, and Tess nodded resignedly as Josh got to his feet and moved a few meters away. Answering the call, he put the phone to his ear. "Williams." "Papa-Papa-Echo Thirty-Three." The automated voice declared before hanging up with a click, and Williams found himself automatically sifting through the procedures in his brain for what it meant. He'd never heard this one actually used- Oh shit. 'Papa-Papa-Echo Thirty Three' was 'Project personnel and resources under threat.' Punching a call code into his phone, Williams lifted it to his ear once more. "Captain Williams, seeking clarification." he said tersely into the device, his eyes looking around now for threats rather than to take in the sights. "Captain, glad you called in, sir. I was about to call you. Major Taggart's orders: secure your little girl and bring her to the Project. Someone or something has killed one of the special kids. More details when you get here." "Understood." His hands feeling as though made of ice, Josh hung up and turned to Tessa, who was regarding him as she poured herself some lemonade. "Tess, I hate to do this: can you manage getting the stuff home?" he asked, trying not to sound too tense as he waved the hand holding the phone. "They're going nuts over some exercise or other." "Urgh." Tess made a frustrated noise, standing and smoothing down her dress. "You are lucky I find uniforms hot, mister." Forcing a smile for him, she shook her head and made a shooing motion before leaning in to kiss him. "Go on, get. I'll finish my book in the sun, then get Kat to help me pack up." "I'll call her to come and help you, explain myself." Josh replied, stepping away with a smile. He hated lying to her, hated that his work put that necessity on him. Was it important enough, he wondered, to warrant such deception? A question for another time, that, because right now his daughter might also be in danger. Turning on his heel, he headed into the crowd, eyes peeled for Kat's coral-hair. * * * * * * "So..." Tawny said, smiling up at Jacob, aware of their hands holding as they walked through the woods some distance from the Field. "So." Jacob smiled back. He had a nice smile, the blonde mused. Not as heart-catchingly roguish as Devin's - it didn't make her stomach flutter the same way - but it was a nice smile. Warm, reassuring, a little shy himself in that way that guys sometimes had. He'd asked her out to Homecoming, and she'd been surprised herself at having said yes. After all, she'd reasoned afterwards, if she waited for Devin to wise up she'd be an old maid with cobwebs in her panties - assuming he wised up before she was dead of old age. So while she was waiting, she was going to damn- darn well be a teenage girl. "Why'd you ask me out?" she asked suddenly, coming to a stop and leaning back against a tree, looking up at him, studying his handsome features. He was almost as big as Cade, though warmer in manner: where Cade seemed to walk very carefully so as not to break or offend anyone around him, Jacob seemed more relaxed, more comfortable in himself. "I mean, the whole school knows that you and Autumn had been a thing for, like, ever. So..." "I guess." Jacob sighed, leaning his shoulder against the trunk of the same tree, looking down at their entwined hands. "Thing is, I dunno if that was just because we're such old friends, and when we grew up it was like a natural thing that everyone expected. I never even asked her out, we didn't even really date - just hung out and, well, you know. And then we fell out, and we almost weren't friends no more, which I realised was worse than not being boyfriend and girlfriend." He sighed again, looking at Tawny. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that Autumn was a friend with girl parts, not a girlfriend, and maybe we got turned around on that because of being teenagers and dumb." He grinned self-deprecatingly, shaking his head. "So we've sorta hit the reset button on that, and are trying being just friends again." "I know what you mean." Tawny nodded, smiling up at him encouragingly. "I've been crushing on Devin for, like, ever." She held up her free hand to forestall objection. "I know: he's the Devil himself to most people, but he's always been sweet to me. Never took advantage even when I was throwing myself at him - he's not the dog people say he is. I don't think he's even as bad as he says he is." She gave him a sympathetic look. "I saw him with Lona, and that was tough - even though I was happy he was happy. Was it tough for you seeing Autumn with Jason?" "Kinda?" he replied, shifting his feet slightly. "Especially since the first I know of it was them kissing. I mean... He's Jason Bannon. Before today, all I knew about him was that he's some misanthrope crazy person who deals weed and once threatened football players with a sickle." "Hayhook" Tawny corrected with a shiver, thinking about the cold eyes of the boy who'd taught her the previous day and what Devin had warned her about him. He'd not acted at all hostilely to her, even been friendly and encouraging. But still. "But I guess, like with Devin, I didn't know the whole picture. He's definitely made Autumn real happy." Jacob admitted. "I talked to him some, when he sat with us earlier. He's odd, but he seems smart and maybe that's why he's odd... I dunno, really. Guess I'm tryin' to say he's not what I expected. I dunno what to think of him, right now." "Yeah." Tawny nodded. "People often ain't what you expect. The Lord made us all different, after all, and only He sees our hearts." She looked down, then peeked up at him through her lashes. "I'm glad you asked me, you know." "You are, huh?" Jacob felt heat rising to his face, but kept his cool. She was, as his grandma would say, lovely as a sunrise. "Yeah." Tawny twisted an end of one of her braids, something on her mind. Jacob just kept quiet, watching her. Finally she met his eyes again. "Would you... like... like to kiss me? Just a kiss, is all." she added hastily. She wondered how it would compare to Devin. She also wondered if Jacob was a good enough kisser to help her get over Devin. Probably not, but what if...? "Sure." Jacob said quietly, moistening his lips, a trifle hesitantly. Other than Autumn, he'd not really made out with anyone outside of the occasional game of spin the bottle, and that didn't count as everyone knew. He smiled, and leaned down, his lips coming into contact with Tawny's. The kiss was hesitant, and gentle, and sweet, Tawny half-closing her eyes as she let herself experience it. It was different from her passionate kiss with Devin, which had been all hunger and need as well as unrequited love, a desperate need to bridge the gap between their hearts. But there was some heat here, too, a comforting sensuality, the girl feeling it in her belly as she leaned up into Jacob, sighing a little. He was a good kisser, after all- Her eyes widened as a shape appeared behind the tall boy's shoulder, her squeak of alarm the only clue anything was amiss before he was torn from her and thrown aside like a doll. Tawny opened her mouth to scream, but the grinning, sharp-toothed, noseless horror of a face that filled her vision stifled her scream in her throat, her mind rebelling in terror and revulsion. "Hey, Tee." Something that had once been Cody's face leered at her from his towering height, his voice glottal and thick with triumph and worse as he mocked Devin's nickname for her. "Love your top..." Too late, Tawny found her voice, but a hand the size of a catcher's mitt clamped over her mouth, and then all was darkness. * * * * * * "Kat!" The petite redhead looked around as her dad materialised from the crowd. She'd been meaning to go and meet with Autumn, but had gotten distracted with... well, everything. "Hey, papa." she smiled chirpily, then sobered as she saw his face. "Hey, what-?" she started as he took her arm, not ungently, and started to lead her towards the parking lot. "No time." Josh Williams said, his voice tense and eyes scanning the crowd. "You're in danger, we're going somewhere safe." Kat protested, but her father was too strong and his grip too sure for her to break it easily as he almost bodily carried her. "At least let me-" she started, but they were at the parking lot, and a black SUV was pulling up and her father was yanking her up and into the back seat. "-phone my friends... DAD!" Her yell got his attention as the SUV's door slammed and they started away. "What's going on?!" Josh looked at the driver and passenger seats - two members of his team were in civvies, their eyes moving and weapons out of sight below the line of the windows, then he turned towards Kat. "All I know is that one of your friends is dead, and I've been given orders to secure you. That's it, so far." He leaned over and took her phone, pocketing it. "We're headed to the Project facility." he added, in a tone that implied that was final, young lady. * * * * * * The Fellowship had trickled by after Sean had left, Autumn fuming a little at the delays but managing a smile for Cassie as the blonde reporter had collected her bracelet. Kat still hadn't shown up by the time Marissa and Cade had arrived, the Bitch Queen of Shelly receiving her bracelet with a barely hidden air of being in a fine old snit, as Autumn's Grandpa would say. She didn't quite snatch it away from the offered box with a sneer - which was just as well because, given the text exchange, Autumn would have hauled off and slapped the taste out of her mouth. Right now, she was past the rapids of caring why Marissa was pissy and in the still, cool waters of not allowing it to be her problem. Fortunately, a pointed glare and a hair flip as she turned away, bracelet in hand, was all the acrimony apparently desired, Autumn meeting the first with a bland fuck-you smile and the second with an eye-roll. By comparison, Cade was at least decent enough to look somewhat abashed as he smiled at Autumn, brow furrowing as he considered which identical bracelet to take, then selecting one with a 'thank you' before turning away to where Marissa was waiting nearby. With a sigh, Autumn looked around to see if Kat was nearby, but her attention was immediately diverted by the lean shape propped comfortably up against the side of the family Jeep behind her, her lips curving in a smile as she shut the box and placed it back into the car for later. If Devin and Kat showed up at the town hall - which was likely - then they could pick out their bracelets then. Clambering back out of the Jeep, she closed it up and turned to her boyfriend with another smile. "All done?" Jase asked, moving closer, his eyes on her face with that intense expression that felt like it was going to drive the breath from her lungs. "Yeah..." she nodded, stepping to meet him, and taking his hand in hers. "Let's go for that 'walk'." "Everything okay?" Jason murmured as they exited the parking area and headed into the woods bordering the Field, Autumn not-quite pulling him along. "Peachy." the redhead said, her voice containing a slight edge. "I give everyone an hour and they take their sweet-ass time, plus Marissa being a... well, Marissa about the whole thing." "I saw." Was all he said. He considered telling her about the talk with Marissa earlier, but wasn't sure it would help anything right now. At best, it would simply cause deeper division in the Fellowship at the worst time. At worst, Autumn could decide to turn round and go confront Marissa directly. Who knew how that could end up? He knew Marissa was not his friend, by her actions and her words. He would watch and wait to see if she was Autumn's as she claimed to be, or if her pettiness would overcome that impulse. "And Kat didn't show up at all, despite texting she was on her way." Autumn continued, looking back at him over her shoulder. "So, right now, I want to spend time with you and forget the whole thing." "How did it go with Dana?" he asked as they headed into a thicker section of woods, Autumn glancing around as though looking for something before glancing back at him once more, smoldering darkness in her blue eyes and a smile on her lips. "Later, for all of that." she said, stopping and pulling him close to her, her arms going around him as she pressed her lithe body against his lean frame. Her lips were raised to his, her voice a breathy murmur. "I want you, here and now. So no more talking, oh Greatest of Calamities." She pushed him back against a tree, hard, her mouth finding his as her hands roamed down past the waistband of his jeans, her breathing taking on a whimper as she felt him stir against her, his kiss deepening, his hands coming up to bury themselves in her coppery curls and hold her mouth against his. This. Yes. was all she could form as coherent thought as she felt him respond, felt her own insides become molten. The drama, the terror ahead, all fell away as the fire rose in both of them. He tasted of tobacco and spice and root beer, his scent underlaid with that cologne he favored. And Jason was no less swept away, his senses overwhelmed with the taste and feel and scent and sight of her as he kissed open-eyed, delighting in the drowsy half-lidded expression of pleasure in her gaze. The sun shone through the trees, dappling them both with radiance, flashes of red-gold hair and green-gold eyes coruscating in the scattered light. Her hand wrapped around him, her other hand unfastening his jeans as she broke the kiss, gasping "...condom...". He reached into his back pocket, releasing her as she stepped away, beginning to tug her shorts down- "...help..." Both teens froze, looking in the direction the weak call had come. They had barely heard it over the thunder of their pulses, but heard it they had. Autumn tugged her shorts back up, extending her senses into the bushes as Jason rebuttoned his fly, his expression one of cold alertness. "One person, injured." Autumn murmured. Jase nodded, stepping forward, the air shimmering lightly about him as he formed a field of will-made-solid around his body. Stepping past the bushes, Autumn a few paces behind, both of them stopped as they saw who was there. "Jacob!" Autumn moved past Jason in a rush, dropping to one knee by her friend. His face was bloody, a welt over one eye and leaf and bark detritus in his hair and stuck to the blood on his face. His brown eyes were unfocused as they sought out the familiar voice. "Autumn... Somethin' hit me..." he murmured. "Tawny... Tawny gone." As they spoke, Jason moved past in the direction Jacob seemed to have stumbled from, searching the ground. "He was thrown against this tree-stump." he said quietly pale eyes coldly evaluating the area before he returned to the two of them. "No sign of anything else." * * * * * * "CADE!" Marissa and her boyfriend turned to see Sheriff Alister striding towards them, his face grim under the brim of his hat. Stopping before the two, he looked around before leaning closer. "Cade, I'm not officially telling you this, but it's your friend. Charlie." The sheriff hesitated, looking around again before lowering his voice. "He's gone, son. Foul play. I've no idea who - or what - but I figured you and your friends need to know." Marissa gasped, her face going pale before she recovered her composure some. She glanced at Cade, whose face seemed to be set in stone as he digested the news, then looked at her bae's dad. "Where?" "His home. Doesn't look like a burglary gone wrong or anything like that, either. Looks like... well, your sort of weird. Dark weird." Alister was stoic as a man could be, but his eyes were haunted by what he'd seen, his voice hushed. "And his girl is missing, too." "Oh god." Marissa brought a manicured hand to her mouth to stifle the outburst, or scream, she felt was building in the back of her throat. The sheriff gave them both a warning look. "Cade, before you and your superfriends do anything else, I want you to get your mom and sister home safe. And if you do decide to do something else, don't go blundering around at a crime scene for crying out loud. Kidnapping means the staties and the feds are going to be all over Shelly by nightfall." Sheriff Alister straightened up. "I didn't tell you kids any of this. If your mom asks whats up, just tell her I will explain and you're just doing what I asked." He sighed, straightening his hat. "And now I've got to go tell Coroner Fingleman his daughter is missing." With that, the tall sheriff strode off into the Field, the two lovers watching him go.
  17. Cade smiled inwardly, though he knew he'd taken a risk, saying what he did. Still, she had asked him to "date" her to protect her from Jason. This was just abit of a stretch on that. He'd talked about some of the other things he'd seen, the couples from the track team finally getting together. It was then he'd felt a buzzing in his pocket, and pulled out his phone. The group chat had sorta blown up, and he'd missed it. His phone was somehow on silent, and he'd found Marissa again, so he was understandably distracted. "I forgot all about this." He grinned at Marissa, and nodded. I was Enjoying your company too much." He shot off a quick message, and noticed that Marissa had already pulled her phone out to see it, and put her own message. He offered her his arm, and when she took it, they set off to meet with Autumn.
  18. Sean watched Kat's slight form disappear into the crowd, then stood up from the picnic and helped starting putting the leftover food away, in plastic wrap and plastic containers as he replied to Autumn's text with a thought. He bounced another back after her response then gave Laurie a nod. "I wrapped the food up, you get to haul it to the car, Laurie," he informed her with a smirk. "I'm getting ice cream." "Get me one?" the taller Cassidy pleaded. "The peach one?" "Who said I'd be coming right back?" Sean countered with a wave as he started sauntering over to the Wilcoxson booth. "It might be melting before I swing by again, then I'd have to eat the other one I paid for." Laurie blew a raspberry and Sean laughed as he turned around and headed off to get his ice cream and Autumn's tea. He slowed his pace as he was passing by the Finglemans - he recognized them, having been over to Sophia's place before when they used to be friends - when he caught sight of Devin there with who he presumed was 'Ellie.' He glanced at her covertly, wondering if he could see any similarities between her and Jase. From where he was, he couldn't really tell, other than she was tall. Of course! New girl in Shelly, likely an alien, and she's nearly six feet tall. There's a higher percentage of girls taller than average in town than there's red heads. Sean snorted to himself and continued on his way. It wasn't that being short for a guy - average for a girl - really bothered him that much. The ones who had teased him the most about his height were his sisters and friends. Puberty had given him other attributes to worry about and with the help of Dr. Cook, his therapist, and other specialists, he was finally starting to accept them, in his own way. It totally sucked they were killing him. Sean caught a text zipping by from Autumn's phone and idly read it though it wasn't meant for him. Then he tripped over nothing when he read the words. Scrambling back to his feet and brushing himself off, people would presume his pink cheeks were for embarrassment for his fall, not what he was reading. His flush deepened when replies continued bouncing back and forth between her and Jase and he couldn't prevent his curiosity from peeking. It wasn't like they were the worse texts he had peeked ever peeked on, not even close. Way more dick pics than he ever expected or was comfortable with. But they were between one of his best friends and his best friend's girlfriend, and that made feel it extra explicit. He stopped, he had to stop. And he did! Totally coincidental that when he stopped peeking, texts between Autumn and Jase also stopped. Sean got to the Wilcoxson Booth beside the Carousel, flush fading with his good fortune at finding only one person ahead of him. Wilcoxson had been making ice cream in Montana since 1912 and it was so good. Even better, the person ahead of him, a tallish, older fellow with a broad brimmed hat and a drawl from Texas didn't dither about his choice. "Miss," the fellow said politely, doffing his hat to Sean as he stepped aside. Sean just nodded back, keeping his face neutral as he refrained from correcting the guy. It was a battle rarely worth fighting, and even less now to him with the fight the Fellowship had ahead. He stepped up to the counter and ordered the Mountain Berry Ice Cream in a waffle cone he'd been yearning for and Autumn's blackberry ice tea. Matilda - horrible name for a pretty blonde in her early twenties, she'd crossed out the name on her name-tag with a sharpie and wrote 'Tilly' under it - handed him his order then nodded at him and gave him a wave. She'd been working at the Wilcoxson booth since he had spent some time with his dad fixing the place up a few years ago and had gotten ice cream pretty much every time he'd been there. "There you go, Sean. No charge." "What? Why?" Sean said, raising his head from taking a lick from his ice cream. Y'know, to make sure there wasn't anything wrong with it. Tilly nodded over his head. "Texan feller before you laid down a hundred dollar bill. Said I ain't have change for a hundred. Said he weren't expecting none, just to let it cover the next orders 'til it runs out. Now, don't go be telling every one, Sean, just let it go and be fair." "I won't," Sean assured her. Sean hustled off to the parking lot, giving the Texan a less neutral nod of acknowledgment in pass, who tipped his hat towards him, the crinkling about his eyes the only shift in his expression of laconic geniality. Sean's brisk pace made his scuffed red sneakers kick up loose gravel in the parking lot, as he looked down rows of parked cars until he caught sight of Autumn's red hair. Licking the ice cream - a delicious mix of blueberry, huckleberry, and bilberry - around the rim of the waffle cone, so any melt would take longer before getting to his fingers, he quirked a brow in surprise that no one else was there. The buxom boy silently held up the cardboard cup to the other redhead, multi-hued eyes wincing at the spine-tingly cold crawling down his throat from the bite of ice cream he had taken. "Coooold," he rasped, taking several deep breaths as the cold faded. "Blackberry ice tea, as requested." "Nice," Autumn nodded, smiling appreciatively as she took the cup. "Thanks. I owe ya." Swallowing a mouthful of the tart, slightly sweet beverage, the outdoorsy teen considered the rather more curvaceous tech-wizard thoughtfully. She knew of Sean - no one who'd lived in tiny, rural Shelly for very long could avoid hearing about him - but it wasn't as though they'd ever had a real conversation. There'd never, she realized, been a reason to before. "Did you see the smol one on the way here? I was expecting her first, honestly." The freckled redhead smiled a little and took another sip as she opened the rear passenger side door of the Jeep. "I thought she'd be here, or already here and gone too," Sean admitted, considering Autumn right back. Yeah, Jase had opened up, or at the very least, started asserting himself since the end of summer. But what was it about Autumn that had broken right through to him? He shrugged and hoped his face wasn't reddening again when he recalled their private texts. "She probably just got distracted by something shiny. Or someone. Also, er, 'shiny'." Fucking Courtney! He gave a contrite smile. "Okay, that might be a bit mean. I like her, but man, does her mind bounce around. She'll show up, I'm sure. Or you can pass me her bracelet and I'll make sure she gets it." "Sorry," Autumn grinned in an almost-apology, setting her drink on the ground to lean inside and grunting softly as she reached under the seat. "Limit of one per customer. She can get her own. Personal accountability, and all that." Her voice was muffled by the bench seat of the Jeep and the miscellaneous dog toys, cooler bags, and plaid flannel blankets scattered throughout. She hummed quietly, shimmying a little and all but crawling through to the back of the vehicle before pausing with a loud "Ha!" of triumph. Backing out, her cheeks flushed and hair dishevelled, the energetic young woman thrust an open metal lockbox in Sean's direction as she beamed at him. "Take your pick. You're the first, so it's only fair." There was a momentary pause, a trickle of berry-colored ice cream welling up at the rim of the crisp cone; Sean hadn't been there over the weekend. He probably didn't know what he was getting, or why he was getting them from her. The smile on her lips faded. "Did, ah, anyone tell you what these are, out of curiosity?" Sean hadn't been staring at Autumn's ass as she climbed half in the Jeep. But he had noted it with purely academic interest. He wanted to see what Jase saw in her, and as they hadn't ever hung out or anything, he couldn't help but notice the physical first. Sean collected the ice cream starting to run down the cone along with a bit of cone with a bite. He shook his head, then leaned forward to look in the box, fingering the bracelets with his free hand. There was a tingle to them, something reacting to his Shine, like the artifacts he had seen in Helena. "Jase gave me an update on the training session yesterday - along with a light excoriation for not being there - but didn't mention the bracelets," Sean admitted as pulled out one of the not-copper bands to give it a closer look. The swirling patterns on them were so faded to be almost indiscernible, felt more easily than seen. He arched a brow at Autumn. "These like the thing Devin got, er, on the 'Otherside'?" "Mmm." Autumn nodded, the box shifting slightly as she leaned over to retrieve the tea he'd brought her; the circular bands of oddly weathered metal chimed softly, the faintly musical sound muted by the cloth in which they'd been wrapped. "Probably? Honestly, I'm not sure," she admitted as another, clearer note sang out from her pocket like a bell of cool glass. Recognition flickered across her bronze-flecked features, eyes widening slightly as the smile that had vanished suddenly reappeared- along with a subtle brightening of the pink suffusing her cheeks. Without actually talking to her, or being able to read her expression or body language, would Jason know what she'd meant by the invitation to go for a walk, or would he just assume she meant an actual walk walk? Her fingers were practically twitching with the urge to just hand the lockbox over to Sean while she checked her phone, but... No. If she was going to do this, she'd have to take it seriously. Texts could wait for a second, even if they were from him. "They're supposed to be 'protections for warriors,' but we don't really know much about them. TLDR version: they're old, and we don't know who made them, or whether anyone else had them before, or how they're supposed to work. Cass has decided they bond to one person and lock everyone else out of using them, since Devin's nearly killed her, but..." She shrugged, a gesture that simultaneously suggested a lack of practical knowledge and a lack of confidence in the claim. "We don't know. We'll have to test that later, I guess." She paused for a moment, wondering how much Sean knew about the whole Teulu thing, and whether she should mention her grandfather... and then remembered the group text, copper brows knitting together. Probably better not to say anything else, just in case. Grandpa always said being smart didn't mean you had any sense. "Anyway, they seem to respond to Shine, so... maybe tuning, like to a person, activates it. Could also explain what happened with Devin's, if Cassie just tried using her powers or whatever." Nudging the lid carefully closed with her thumb, Autumn set the lockbox on the back seat as Sean turned the not-quite-copper band over in his hand, the worn etching catching the late afternoon sun. Sean focused on the band of metal in his hand, studiously avoiding the pulse coming from Autumn's phone that was practically begging him to look at the message it portended. Nope! Not now, not with Autumn standing right here. The band wasn't a machine, it didn't contain any ancient, super advanced tech he could fathom, not as he and his voodoo senses understood it. It just felt... alive in some fashion to his basic awareness of Shine. Was it brighter than it should be under the afternoon sun? "Maybe we should've swiped one of those psionically active arrowheads when we were at the Montana Historical Society Museum, after all," Sean admitted, glancing up from the band to flash Autumn a wry grin. "We might've figured out how to test things like this. Though a felony for convenience's sake could be asking a bit much." Sean's two-toned turquoise and jade eyes went back to the band. Then without further consideration and some finagling with his ice cream cone, he slipped the band over his slim wrist. He stared at it expectantly. Nothing. No pulse, vibration, mental or audible tone, anything to suggest it was 'activated.' Just warmed by the sun and the ambient temperature while in the metal lockbox. "Huh." He twisted his wrist one way, then other, eyeing the patterns on the band again. "That's it then. Would have been convenient if it had told me all about itself, or given me a pop menu with its stats at least." Sean closed his eyes for a moment, picturing his brief foray to the Historical Society Museum. "Wished I had paid more attention when we were at the Museum, but with some research we should be able to determine a rough estimate of how old they are. At least to tell if they are pre or post Clovis era." Autumn nodded in response, very deliberately not grabbing at her phone as she took a slow, appreciative drink from the cup Sean had brought. It seemed strange that she'd gone on a day-trip with him, spent at least as much time in his company recently as some of the others, and still knew painfully little about the petite young man. But... "Tomorrow, maybe." There was a wealth of subtext contained within that final pair of syllables despite the superficially casual tone: hope, fear, resignation, and uncertainty, and all of it was writ plain in the curve of her smile, the subtle shift of her feet in the dirt, and the squaring of her shoulders as the Girl Scout exhaled. Yeah. Tomorrow. "Thanks again for the tea, Sean. See you later?" "Yup. Later." Autumn could see all she was feeling mirrored in the other youth, in the sharpness of his nod, the tentativeness in returning her smile with his own, the tenseness of his shoulders. There was perhaps less hope and more determination in the tightness about his eyes. Sean tilted his ice cream cone towards the tea in Autumn's hand in a sort of salute. "And no problem 'bout the tea. Grab me a coffee sometime." Sean turned, intending to amble his way to the Carousel, licking at his cone and suddenly, it was like he was in slow motion. He made a noise, not a grunt of pain, a softer exhalation, as a... a sensation, akin to whacking your funny bone (Yes, Sean knows it's not actually a bone) hard, except it didn't hurt. And instead of going up from his elbow, it went down from his fingertips. His fingers twitched. He tried to stop it, tried to catch it, but only made it worse, and watched as he lost his grip on his ice cream cone. Maybe, if he had just let it fall, if he had been built like a boy rather than a very well developed girl, it would have landed on the ground. Instead, ice cream practically exploded across his chest, the white and black of his hoodie painted with pale lavender. His shoulders slumped as he stared down at himself. "Fuck me," he muttered, in disgusted resignation. Gingerly, he plucked the slider between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and unzipped his hoodie and shrugged out of it. Revealing he was wearing a femininely cut, dark grey shirt, the modest scoop neck offering up a discrete amount of cleavage. Autumn could see red blooming across Sean's face as spun the hoodie to roll it up in a ball, but his attention on was his left hand. The red didn't seem like embarrassment, but barely subdued fury, as though his hand had betrayed him. First the lemonade, then tripping over nothing. Now this! "What the fuck is happening?" "Whoa, hey. Hang on a sec." The decidedly less-developed redhead reached back, set her drink on the floorboard without glancing at it, and came up alongside him. "You okay?" Concern replaced conviction in her wide, clear eyes as they studied Sean's delicate, feminine features. Why do guys always get the prettiest eyelashes? she wondered distantly, a part of her grousing inwardly about the seeming unfairness of it all even as she scrutinized the angry scarlet flush burning beneath his skin. Was he just pissed he ruined the hoodie? Mad that he lost the ice cream? 'Cause that'd ruin anybody's day, honestly. All she had were guesses, though the shock and exasperation of his last question gave her pause. "C'mere." It wasn't quite mom-voice, and it wasn't quite Marissa's signature hauteur, either, but there was a firmness in Autumn's tone that brooked no argument and left no room to decline as a hand on his elbow turned him back toward the Jeep. "We always keep stuff for emergencies, because..." She gave him a little smile over her shoulder and waved a hand vaguely, expansively at the interior before climbing in. "Dogs. Paper towels, Tide pens, that kinda stuff." After a few moments of rummaging and muffled curses as she leaned over the back seat into the rear of the vehicle, Autumn re-emerged, napkins and stain-removing travel wipes in hand and with a slightly crumpled green flannel over her arm. "Here," she insisted, giving him a chance to clean up the worst of the purple smears on his jacket while she shook out the oversized button-down shirt. Although even if it did stain it wouldn't look terrible tie-dyed, she decided privately. Not really his aesthetic, though. "Just bring it back tonight, yeah?" "I will. Thanks for this," Sean said, dealing with the worse of the mess with the napkins and stain-removal wipes. He nodded at the flannel Autumn held in her hand. "And for that." He held up his hoodie, giving a grunt at the result, then folded it up and held it between his knees. He took the proffered shirt and slipped it on, rolling up the sleeves before buttoning it up. The colour in his cheeks softened to a diffuse pink as he noticed Autumn's gaze unconsciously drift downwards for an instant. With girls and women who know about him, about his condition, even if only in a general way, they usually treated him in one of two ways. As just another one of the girls, or as some perverted spy trying to sneak his way into sacred feminine spaces. The former was way better than the latter in his experience, but holy shit, girls could be so frank and explicit in what they talked about. "Just been clumsy all day. Getting all my ones outta way before tonight, yeah?" Sean explained, though not convincingly. Still, from the stubborn set of his jaw, Autumn knew Sean wasn't going to explain more. "'Til tonight." He gave her a nod, tucked his hoodie under his arm, then ran a hand through his red hair. "Think I'm gonna take a last ride on the Carousel. Later Autumn." His tone left the meaning of 'last' ambiguous, even to himself, as he turned around and ambled off towards his Grand Cherokee to drop off his hoodie. It could have meant that he wouldn't ever have a chance to ride the Carousel again, through death or injury. Or that it would be behind him at this transitioning point between adolescence and adulthood. Or a number of other inferences he wasn't introspective enough to dwell on. He could dwell on them on another day. Or not.
  19. Casssandra's phone rang with an electronic arrangement of 'Jessie's Girl,' informing her that Autumn had sent a text. She gave her mom a pat on the shoulder, tapping out of the full-nelson momhug she'd been caught in. "I'd better see this," she said. Her mother released her and looked down at the phone warily. "Is that about..." "I don't think so, but..." Cass swiped into the phone and tapped the notification. -----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:48----- <<<Group Text>>> [From: Autumn] Okay. You guys have about 15 to either come get these, or make arrangements to pick them up later. I'm not chasing you down. We've all got stuff to do today. "Oh! Shit, I mean, shoot that's right," she blurted. "The bracelets." Teresa's eyebrows drew together. "What?" "No, it's...it's normal. We're just supposed to meet up with Autumn, it's no big deal. I'd better go." Cassandra got to her feet, then gave her mom a quick one-armed hug around the shoulders. "See you soon, mom." She accepted the hug, but got one last zinger in before letting go. "You promise?" Her tone was light, but Cassie could see a steel-hard core of truth at the center of the words. "Yeah," Cass replied. "I promise. I'll see you soon." Then she was heading off again, texting back as she went, crossing over towards where the Keenes were making court, getting smaller and smaller until she was gone.
  20. "Then I will put you in touch with my brother," Marissa's lips curved into a sly grin as Cade kissed her knuckles. She flushed slightly at his charm but still careful to not to show to many of her cards all at once. He was certainly charming and sweet and treated her right, but he was a means to an end. She had to keep telling herself that. "Cadums, I can't give you advice, then it would look like I dressed you and, sweetie, we can't have that. If it got around that your 'girlfriend' was dressing you up for dates, it would damage your rep. Now, if my brother does it, well, then it just looks like bros hanging out and getting ready for their dates for Homecoming." "Think he'll help out?" Her date asked. "Sure," her shoulders popped up in a swift shrug. "He's helping out Jason, I'm sure he'll help you out too. I mean, it's either that or you ask one of the Cassidy sisters, I hear Laurie likes dressing up little boys, but I swear if you show up a French maid's outfit sporting heels higher than mine, it's over on the spot." "Your brother it is." Cade laughed. "It is really cool of you two to sort of spearhead the Homecoming thing for everyone in the Fellowship. Offering up your dresses and makeup advice and all that. I'm sure the girls really appreciate it." "I guess," she shrugged again, blowing off his comment with a lack of belief in her tone. Once again she led him along the trails between all the people and their families. "I really think they all just assume I'm trying to make little Marissa's out of all of them. I get that it's a little harder to trust me, considering what my brother and me did to them for the last three years, but I mean, come on, I can't do better if people don't let me reach out and actually do better. Trust has to go both ways. I'll admit, you Fellowship losers aren't that bad. A bit nerdy and tad on the psychotic side, but the conversations are okay, the food is good, the adventures are whacky and so far the sex had been mind blowing." She noticed the way the large teen holding her hand turned a few darker shades of red as she mentioned their intimate relations out loud. "Give them some time," he replied calmly, hoping to shift the conversation away talking about their sex life in public. "We're all really worked up about the going on of tonight. After we face this hurdle I think a lot of us will be more open minded about our thoughts on the future." "Pfft," she scoffed. "For those of us that come back. I've seen the movies. Super-hot rich white girls always die first. I'm skipping my shower tonight just so I don't get caught unaware, wrapped in a bath towel." "Hey," he stopped suddenly and turned to face her. "Don't talk like that." His thumb traced gently down her cheek as his eyes met hers, locking her attention in his stoically intense gaze. "I will be there for you. If I have to stand against everything the Dark has at its disposal, I will be there between them, and you. We're all coming home, even if I have to tear down another dimension to make it happen." He leaned in and kissed her lips gently, so gently in fact that she felt her eyes close and pang of want as he pulled away from her. Wow. Was about all her brain could muster as a thought to the words her valiant knight spoke while the rest of her body tried to keep up with the fact that were once again walking and he was saying something else... she just had no idea what. She'd not imagined Cade as so intense, so laser focused on being the Spartan who didn't care how many the enemy were, only where he could find them. It was exciting and sent a chill down her spine as she also realized... it was kind of hot.
  21. Just say it, her brain urged as Ian excused himself, the game on hold while he greeted Lucius Cole and some of the city council members that had been the subject of boring adult conversation earlier. Frowning, she tapped her cards against the table, condensing them into one neat stack that concealed their faces from casual perusal. It was literally that simple. She just had to say the words- uncomplicated, normal English words- and her family would be in on the big secret. Well, she considered, at least they’d be in on part of the big secret. The important part they needed to know in order to, hopefully, stay safe, and at least sort of informed. All the stuff about aliens and government conspiracies and shadowy extrajudicial prisons could wait, probably. But being simple didn't make something easy, did it? If she told them the truth, there was the definite possibility- no, the definite likelihood they'd freak out. Her mom, maybe not so much, since she'd at least grown up with some of the stories even if she didn't believe them. Plus, there was the conversation from last night, and the letters, and the talisman… Those might help, a little. Her dad, though? Ugh. He'd probably want a psych eval or a drug test, or both. And, honestly, she had to admit that none of that was irrational. Accepting the undeniable nightmarish realness of the Weird didn't make it any easier to deal with, even after being shoved into the water at the deep end with the expectation that she'd either learn to swim pretty fucking quick, or drown. If she didn't tell them, though, and something happened... An icy frisson, completely at odds with the warmth of the late summer afternoon, prickled the baby-fine curls at the nape of Autumn's neck as she remembered the tiny, forlorn shoe forgotten in the corner of a dark basement. No. Not an option, she decided, laying her cards on the table quietly. She couldn't- wouldn't do that to them. "Hey, mom?" Just fucking say it, Autumn. She swallowed, taking a sip of watered-down lemonade to moisten a throat that had gone suddenly dry. Dana glanced at her daughter quizzically, her hazel eyes still bright with laughter at something Nathan had said- something Autumn had missed completely in agonizing over telling her parents what no parents would ever want or expect to hear from their child. Just. Fucking. – She inhaled. "Grandpa wasn't crazy. There is an- an evil, in Shelly, a Darkness. An, um." She hesitated as the avuncular warden tipped back his bottle in a long, deliberate swig, his attention fully on the girl he’d helped raise. "An Enemy, he called it. And tonight we're going to try to stop it, and I wanted to tell you in case..." Her voice trailed off in something like a hiccup, choked by a rising wave of emotion that flooded her sea-colored eyes like an incoming tide. Pale, bronze-flecked fingers twined together in a Gordian knot of anxiety. Good. You’ve got this. Keep going. Breathe. Drawing in a slow, quavering breath, she tried again, this time meeting her mother's gaze with some trepidation. "In case I, um. Didn't come home." Her mom looked at her for a long moment, seconds ticking by like hours as both Keane ladies looked at one another, each wrestling with the paralysis that came from fear - not for oneself but for another. Not too far away, Autumn's dad was laughing and chatting with Lucius Cole and a couple of the town Aldermen. The sun was shining, the music of the Carousel coming as though from a greater distance to the little island of stillness that marked the Keane picnic table. A stillness that was broken by the sound of a bottle softly being set down. Both women looked at the bottle, and at the hand that still loosely gripped it, as anchor points for their whirling thoughts as Nathan watched Dana carefully. The slim older redhead took a slow, deliberate breath, only the faintest quavering betraying her inner turmoil as she looked back at her daughter. "So." she nodded slowly, her tone almost deliberately clinical. Her 'trying not to freak out' voice - which was better than her 'you're in so much trouble young lady' voice, at least. "By 'we' you mean-?" "Some friends... and people we know." Autumn hesitated, then "It has to be us, Mom. It's kind of a whole thing-" "You know about this?" Dana looked sharply at Nathan, who shrugged and nodded his head slowly. “Some. I knew Autumn was special. I knew there was an evil here - big 'E' evil. I knew she wasn't alone - she didn't name names when I talked to her about it, either." The man who was as her uncle looked at her sternly. "I didn't know they'd be rushing off on Labor Day to go and fight it, though." "Right." There was a whole discussion yet to be had contained within that word, but Dana forced herself to focus on the immediate, important matter at hand as she looked back at her daughter, noting the way Autumn wasn't shifting her gaze away, noting that though she was plainly scared and worried, she wasn't panicking. "You know, I tried to get Jase to tell me what was up with you, what was going on." Dana's lips quirked wryly. "It was like trying to squeeze a stone for water. So - why does it have to be you and 'some friends', Autumn? Why not the sheriff, or the state troopers, or hell, even the National Guard? If this Dark Enemy is real and you can prove it, why not just get a bunch of men with guns to deal with it?" "So..." Autumn hedged uncomfortably, shifting the plastic cup a little to reveal a damp crescent of condensation beneath. "I mean, saying 'it's complicated' is kind of an understatement. We didn't really pick Labor Day in advance, or anything, but going up to the rez, and some of the things that have happened lately... It kind of changed our minds a little." As she spoke, the restless teen half-consciously fidgeted with her drink, nudging it now and again to add to the vague flower shape she was creating in delicate lines of pooling water. "It seemed like a good idea to just, you know.” Her shoulders twitched upward in a half-hearted shrug. “Get it over with before things get worse. And honestly, if getting a bunch of dudes with guns was an option, the people who get to make those decisions would've already done it." She paused for a moment at that, recalling the situation at the hospital, and exhaled. Maybe? Hopefully? But Site B and Crossroads existed right alongside whatever this Aeon Society was, and Branch Nine, as well. They'd seemed capable of dealing, mostly, with the things that had crossed over, or through, or whatever, but that was a totally different thing from actually crossing the threshold of the Door that Cass had described. "Or at least I hope they would've." With a quiet huff, the energetic young woman swung her legs over the bench seat of the picnic table and got to her feet, fingertips already drumming against her thighs as she moved. "The problem is that it's not here for them to go after it. It's like-" Exhaling, Autumn took a few more steps, slowly pacing the length of the table. "Okay, I could be totally wrong about this, because a lot of the whole subquantum theory thing is over my head, but, the way I picture it, it's like you're in a house. And you know there are people in the room next to you, but there's a wall there. You can't see them, can't touch them, or vice-versa, but they're there. There is a Door, though, and sometimes it's open, and someone on the other side can get through, or you could go over to the other side of the wall." She paused, gauging the effect of her words. The men with guns can't get through the Door, but we can." Probably. "We think." "You think." Dana echoed. "Okay. I'm following you down the rabbit hole here because the alternative is to drag you to the medical center and demand a CAT scan." Nathan stirred as though he were about to say something and Dana lifted a hand. "No. Nothing about whether it's true or not right now. Let's just be happy I'm suspending disbelief, okay?" She fixed Autumn with a penetrating stare. "And once you open this door - what then? What's on the other side? Something bad, right? What are you and your friends going to do about that, Autumn Rae? What is my little girl going to do about this Dark Enemy she's talking about? You're not soldiers. You're not cops. Why you, is what I'm asking." Her reply was almost immediate, requiring no serious consideration or agonizing because she'd asked herself this same question more than once over the past week. Why me? Why any of us? The answer was simple, and for a moment there was no element of pleading or hesitation in Autumn's voice, just the quiet certainty of someone who, peering out a window, was commenting on the weather. "Because there isn't anybody else." Her words hung in the air for a long moment, faint trills of birdsong and distant laughter brushing against, but not quite breaking the uncomfortable silence as she swallowed again, hard, and regarded her mother with as much conviction as she could muster. "We're it, Mom. Some of us can do things that, honestly, I don't have any explanation for. It's-" She sighed, a short, sharp exhalation, and braced her hands atop her head, fingers lacing together amid the coppery strands that had been teased free of the imprisoning braid by the wind. "The Blackfeet call it the 'Dawning Light.' Some of us call it 'Shine,' because that's what it does, what it is, like a verb and a noun at the same time. I've gone through a couple of Grandpa's journals." Nodding at Nathan briefly, a tacit acknowledgement that he'd been right about what she'd find in the study, she continued. "And talked to Laughing Joe up at the reservation. There are lots of stories about the fact that people like us, who can do what we can do, would show up one day and... I guess, clear away the Darkness that's been growing here, cut out the tumor and let things heal. I'm not trying to sound dramatic, or anything, but we really are it." "Okay... Okay." Her mom was really trying, Autumn realised as she watched the veterinarian's slender fingers fidget with the cards in her hand. Really trying not to freak the hell out. Really trying not to stand up and demand to know what the damn hell was going on. Really trying not to ground Autumn for life for either telling her the greatest cruellest whopper in family history or to try and protect her daughter from the chance of death she'd felt was enough to warrant warning her mom over. Dana took a deep breath, closing her eyes and stilling the restless motion of her hands. "You, and 'some others', have powers. That's what you're saying. Weird mojo, God forgive me for even entertaining the thought." She opened her hazel eyes and regarded Autumn intensely. "I've got a pretty good guess who all you mean when you say 'we', 'some friends', and 'people we know', you know. It's not hard to put together." "Yeah, but it's also not all my secret to tell." Autumn admitted. "What you suspect isn't the same as me blabbing other people's business." "What's to stop me grounding you?" Dana asked bluntly. "Just locking you away in your room for the night? Jesus wept, Autumn, assuming I believe every particular of what you just told me, why should I let you go into that sort of danger?!" "She told you." Nathan interjected, calm, quiet, but with a certain element of forcefulness. "It's her and her friends, or nothing. Assuming she didn't just escape anyway, you'd be making things worse for the ones going. Dana, listen to me." He leaned forward slightly. "You recall that mess at the Marias Medical Center on Tuesday? Biological containment leak, it was called. And those fellas claiming to be from the CDC sure wrapped everything up neatly. But that doesn't gel up with some reports from people who saw strange things that day. I've been talking to folks. Monsters, and ice forming from nowhere, and people appearing and disappearing. And a couple of the sheriff's boys who I know say they can't rightly remember what happened that day. But Autumn here, and 'some other' kids, were right in the middle of it." There was a long, pregnant pause as Dana looked at Nathan, considering his words, then at Autumn. "Fine." she said at length. "But... if you come back - and you had better come back, Autumn Rae Keane-" The dreaded full name was invoked like a binding, a maternal geas. "-We're going to have a talk. I want to know everything. Beg, get permission from others to discuss it, whatever you need to do. Everything. That's my condition for not boarding you up in your room. Take it or leave it." "When I come back," Autumn repeated, nodding solemnly. She had a vague idea how much trust was being banked in that demand, what it meant for her mother to even consider taking her seriously at all; pointing out that if she really wanted to get out of being grounded, she would, didn't seem necessary. "And, Dad, too. He'll need to know, if he's staying." Frowning a little, tiny creases like arrows appearing between her brows, the red-haired teen reconsidered. "Maybe even if he isn't. But I also need you guys to do something for me. A couple of somethings. Just, I guess for my own peace of mind. Mom," she continued, most of the earlier nervousness gone as her hands slipped from the crown of her head back to her sides. It was a strange feeling, actually having the conversation she'd been dreading, the one that had gone a dozen different ways in her head. It started as all tension and nerves and feeling like she couldn't breathe, and then... Then it wasn't much of anything at all. Just plans being made, as if there was nothing extraordinary about the whole completely unbelievable situation. Huh. "You, and Dad, and, if they want, Uncle Nathan and Jay, need to stay at the house tonight. It doesn't matter what the excuse is. Just, once I leave," she added, her sea-colored eyes uncharacteristically grave as they studied the familiar perfection of her mother's features, "don't go out for anything. Unless the Crockers have a talisman, too, home is the safest place from the Dark, or as safe as any place can be. If the stories are true, it shouldn't be able to affect any of you there." "And on that note." The restive teen paced a few steps back the way she'd come, putting some real and metaphorical distance between herself and her audience. She could feel the softness of the earth beneath her heels, beneath the thin rubber soles of her well-worn sneakers, as she turned her attention to the warden. "Nathan. Thanks. For telling me about the journals, and the trip to the rez. For carrying around something that shouldn't have been your problem. You said you guys would support me, as the 'Kavanagh in the hot seat,' and maybe later on that'll mean something different than it does today, but just know I appreciate it." Cutting her eyes briefly in Dana's direction, Autumn took a deep breath. "If I'm not back by tomorrow morning,” she stated emphatically, “if something happens and we get stuck over there, or it takes longer than we thought, I need you to go to the Old Town Hall, and I need you to burn it down.” It wasn’t a normal request, to be sure, but this wasn’t a normal conversation, either, and the earnest young woman’s expression was rigid with the knowledge of what she was asking. “This is important." There was a soft silence broken only by Dana's intake of breath, then Nathan nodded slowly. "So that's the place, huh?" he asked, eyes narrowing in his weather-tanned features. "Okay. I'll see it done. And don't worry none about Jake and me and your folks. We'll stay over, keep the light in the window for you and your friends." "Yeah. Whatever happens, don't go exploring in the Town Hall with some half-assed idea of looking for us." Autumn fidgeted, trying not to let a tremor enter her voice as she thought of those she loved roaming that Dark place. "Just... burn it down." "And once you've beaten the Enemy, then what?" Dana asked softly, hope in her eyes. "Normal life resumes?" Autumn hesitated then, pondering the whole 'alien conspiracy', the secret organisations, the mysterious Site B, Jase being an actual alien rather than just acting like one... Was there such a thing as “normal life," anymore? She wasn't sure- which seemed especially strange when, not that long ago, she'd been completely certain that the answer was "yes." Now, though, even if she couldn't penetrate the full depths of the mystery she'd been caught up in (and, if she was totally honest with herself, wasn't sure she really wanted to just yet), there was no denying that it had been a comfortable lie. A veneer of normalcy painted over something deeper, and much darker and stranger, than she could ever have imagined. But... it wasn't all bad, was it? The feeling of Marissa Jauntsen, of all people, hugging her like an actual human person for just a few moments, sharing genuine feeling in the wake of a near-tragedy. The flames of the setting sun illuminating laughter in pale green eyes as she soared over Shelly in the arms of someone she really, really liked. The sensation of enormity, of connection and unfathomable hugeness, of knowing what it really meant to actually touch someone. The vague memory of a spiral, a circle, a twisting ring woven from life and death and everything in between, a pattern observed simultaneously as the weaver and as a single skein amid the tapestry's warp and weft. And her family, the people she loved, were a part of that, too- part of whatever was happening, even if they didn't see it, and even if she didn't have the words to explain it. "I think," she began slowly, carefully, "that's the hope. Or, at least as close to normal life as we can get. Just..." Autumn sighed, raking a hand back through the haphazard plait that seemed determined to unweave itself before the end of the day. "Things are already changing, and even if we go in there and save the day and all of that, and even if nothing else happens afterward, 'normal' is probably going to look different than it does right now, because we'll know more. We'll see the world differently, I guess. Does that make sense?" "It does." Not for the first time this week, Dana found herself looking at her daughter not as a little girl, or even a teenager, but as a young woman who was growing up and out, often in unpredictable ways, but undoubtedly as her own person. Was the terrible secret and mysterious powers she'd talked about responsible? Was it her new circle of friends, from the impenetrable boy she seemed head over heels for, to the perky Cassandra and the admittedly-not-as-bad-as-feared Devin Jauntsen? Was it just... growing up? All of the above, perhaps, she decided as she got up from the table and circled round it, beckoning her girl to her and giving her a fierce hug. "You've grown. Right under my nose. And here I thought I was ready for it." she murmured, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried not to cry. Taking a breath, she straightened up and moved them to sit together. "So... " she began, looking for a way to broach the topic. "What do you do? I mean, your special powers thing. What is it?" "My 'special powers thing'?" Autumn repeated, surprise and laughter registering in the sudden flash of a smile and the crinkling of her nose. Pressed close against her mother's side as they sat down again at the table, she could feel the tension in the slender vet's body echoed in her own. She's trying, the girl reminded herself as she took the older woman's hand, squeezing it softly in a gesture that was both comfort and comfort-seeking, simultaneously a response to the unasked-for reassurance that she was still Dana's little girl, and a tactile inquiry whether the reverse was still true. Even without the benefit of her Shine, the younger redhead could feel the faint rhythm of her mother's pulse through the light golden-ivory skin, the almost imperceptible twitch of the muscle at the base of her thumb. With it, there was so much more, information she could interpret intuitively but didn't yet understand well enough academically to really explain. "I'm not sure what to call it." She mulled it over for a moment, musing on both Jason and Devin's comments, considering once more how it all felt, how intrinsically her abilites seemed to be linked to emotion- to passion, Jase had said, like two sides of a coin. That it should be used as an extension of her will, and not feared. “It's just sort of... life, I guess. I can see it, feel it." Frowning thoughtfully, Autumn shifted a little in her seat, angling toward her mother rather than curling up against her like the child a part of her still wanted to be. "Change it, in some ways, I think. Heal living things. Improve them." Her voice dropped a little, and she glanced furtively in the direction her father had gone, checking he was still occupied. "Or... The, um, opposite. There's a lot I still don't know, but the more I do with it, it seems like the more I'm able to do. I can show you...? If you want," she added quickly. "I don't want to, y'know, freak you out or anything, but if it'll help..." Autumn's voice trailed off, eyes wide and expectant as she glanced from one grown-up to the other. "Maybe it would help, at that." Dana sighed after a moment’s consideration. "There's so much I'm taking on faith, and then there's your grandfather and his stories..." her voice trailed off, and Autumn could only imagine the lingering guilt her mom felt at not believing her father when he'd needed her to. The slim auburn-haired woman smiled at Autumn, a sad smile tinged with hope, and nodded. "Show me something, then?" She paused, flashing her daughter a wider smile. "Something non-gross, if you can." she added, throwing a wink at Nathan who was leaning closer, his own expression betraying an underlying excitement. After all the years and all the stories, the Warden was more than ready to see something wondrous, or so it seemed. “Non-gross” cut out a lot of the most obvious options, but also the ones that might- on reflection- have been just a little bit on the traumatic side. She was reminded, suddenly, of Charlie's physical transformations, and narrowly suppressed a shiver. They were, if she was being generous, impressive, but... Yeah, no. The whole point is to reassure them, not make this worse. Nothing crazy, Autumn. No, like... slicing your fucking hand open and then healing yourself, or whatever. Her abilities weren't, she thought, as visually disturbing as his- or as obvious as, say, Devin's or Kat's- but even if her mom was used to the sight of blood, that didn't mean she liked it. So, okay. That left her with the subtle approach. "Right. Non-gross." Nodding absently, Autumn got to her feet, Dana's fingers slipping from her grasp as she moved to the end of the table. "So, just to warn you, I haven't actually practiced this yet. Jas-" Fuck! "-someone," she continued in a rush, a bloom of crimson staining her cheeks as Dana's eyes rolled heavenward. "Suggested it yesterday, and it seemed like a good idea. So." Kneeling on the grass between the two adults, the red-haired vitakinetic gave herself a solid mental kick, swearing softly under her breath. Even if some things were probably super-obvious, and even if this was her mom and Nathan, both of whom were people she trusted, it wasn't like they'd all talked about who to tell, or not. In fact, she reflected guiltily as she reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, as a group they hadn't really agreed on much of anything at all, so far. Exhaling slowly as her mother and her "uncle" craned their heads curiously to watch, she ran her fingers lightly over the broken blades of grass, her vision shifting until the carpet of fading green differentiated itself into countless individual clusters of leaves, their entwined roots spreading out in a seemingly-infinite net just beneath the surface of the soil. The sounds of the afternoon grew dim, distant in Autumn's ears, and the breeze that lifted the hair from her brow was cool, but the sun on her face, her bare arms and legs, was warm, a suffusion of light and heat that sank into her skin and bones as the grass tickled her fingertips. It was only crushed, she knew, not dead, and though there was no pain, no real sense of injury, the plant's primitive repair system was... aware? Hmm. Yeah. That seemed like the right word. Aware, in some way, of the damage that had been done. It would have to be in order to function, she supposed, simultaneously curious about how that worked, exactly, and intrigued by the prospect of more focused exploration later. Setting that aside for the moment, she drew in another deep breath and reached out, feeling her Shine trace the ragged edges of the slender green leaves that had been trampled underfoot. The energy she felt was smaller, quieter than she'd sensed in flesh-and-blood beings, but no less vigorous or tenacious for all that. Without the distraction of perceived hurts or shared sensation, healing the "wounds" of that single plant was almost shockingly easy, and as her fingers stroked the torn blades of grass meditatively, they slowly straightened, brightening at the infusion of vitality in her touch until one small cluster of green was vibrant as midsummer. "Well, I'll be..." Nathan Crocker's oath trailed off as he watched the small miracle unfold. Dana just stared, eyes widening as the import of what she was seeing hit home, then she seemed to recover a little, looking at her daughter with fresh eyes. "And it works in reverse, too?" she stated rather than asked. As Autumn nodded a trifle uncomfortably, Dana reached out and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "The boy whose leg you broke in that fight?" Autumn nodded again, slowly. "That was sort of an accident." she admitted, remembering the fight, the heady red taste of her power as it had lashed out. "I mean, I wanted to hurt him - not too bad, just enough to stop him, to defend myself and Jason," she added hastily. "But I wasn't really thinking about how I was doing it. My... Shine just filled in the blanks. I kicked him, and it made the kick... worse, I guess." "Hmm." Dana's expression was thoughtful as she helped Autumn back up to sit next to her. "Normally my next question would be: 'Why couldn't Jase use his own Shine to defend himself?' - but we're pretending I don't know he's one of the other teenagers you're talking about, and like you said, it’s not your secret to tell. Yet." she added significantly, then looked at the verdant, lush patch of grass Autumn had coaxed into renewed life. "That's... well, that's pretty damn amazing." she said quietly, a tinge of awe entering her voice. "I wish..." Her voice trailed off then, and she simply hugged Autumn tightly with one arm. Autumn didn't need to ask what her mother's unspoken wish was. Of course Owen Kavanagh would have gotten a kick out of seeing this. And, of course, in one of the worst possible ironies, the same powers he'd have been thrilled to see with his own eyes could've told her something was wrong, could at least have made sure he got treatment if not actually saved his life directly, and of course they hadn't appeared until after he was gone. It wasn't the first time she'd thought about just how fucking unfair it was- but that's not what Dana meant, and Autumn knew it. And... Owen'd had a choice, hadn't he? As unfathomable as his decision seemed to the ones who loved him, he'd decided not to speak up. Not to sacrifice his stupid selfish pride. Not to pursue treatment. The feeling of grief was still there as she returned her mother's embrace, still rose up unbidden from some internal sea, but she was surprised at the fleeting nature of the emotion this time- it wasn’t a torrent or a violent upwelling, but a wave that rushed against the shore of her consciousness and then slowly, quietly withdrew. Maybe it had something to do with the ritual the night before, or maybe there was too much going on to really process any of it fully; either possibility seemed totally reasonable. After tonight, she promised herself silently, pressing her cheek against her mom's shoulder. After tonight, assuming there was an after, she was gonna go up into the treehouse and get so high she wouldn't need Jase to fly her anywhere. 9'12" high. Johnny Cash eating cake in a bush with his bare hands high. Elon Musk sending a Tesla into space high. Turn down the television because she couldn't taste the mac and cheese high. Absolutely fucking orbital. "Me, too." Focusing back on the present, Autumn glanced across the table at the warden. "Would've made a lot of this way easier. Nathan wouldn't have gotten stuck having to tell me, for starters." She smiled a little, the expression more apology than jest. "But the easy way wasn't how Grandpa did things, so I guess... The hard way, it is. It's just a whole lot.” She made a face, something like a grimace, but relented as something else occurred to her. “On the plus side, I don't have to deal with it completely by myself." "Right," Dana agreed, her brows knitting together as she glanced over her daughter's head toward the Carousel and the crowds there. "You have your friends, who I'm pretending for now not to know about." "For now." The younger redhead nodded, despite the urge to clarify that most of them weren’t actually friends at all. "But I'll get permission to tell you what I can, or have them tell you themselves." Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and, sighing at the thought of some other galaxy-brain-level comment in the group text she'd started earlier, Autumn fished it out and swiped at the screen. -----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:44----- [From: Kat] Hey, I'm omw to get one of your armbands That was reassuring, at least. Two down, eight to go. "Speaking of which, I need to go take care of something." The freckled teen leaned up and gave her mom a quick peck on the cheek as she swung her legs over the bench and got to her feet. "Just headed over to the car for a few, shouldn't take long. If Dad comes back, Uncle Nathan can finish my hand for me." Her mother’s worried frown gave her pause for a moment. “I just need to give out armbands for the party. I’ll explain later. It’s.. a whole story, more Grandpa stuff, but I’ll tell you. Promise.” As Dana sighed and reluctantly waved her on, Autumn flashed her a smile she hoped was reassuring and headed toward the Jeep, typing all the way.
  22. "Smart, gorgeous, plucky, but she's not a liar. What you hear won't be easy, but every word of it is the truth." Both of the Allens watched Devin make his exit, and then Teresa looked at her daughter with that narrow, pointed suspicion in her eyes again. Devin? those eyes asked her. Really? Cassie sighed. She just wasn't ready to try to explain any of that and what she'd actually come here to explain. She waved a hand as if trying to clear a cloud of smoke away. "These...abilities we have, they sort of pushed us into a very old and very weird, um, conflict. A fight that's been going on for a long time here in Shelly." "A fight," her mother replied flatly, immediately not liking the sound of that. "What kind of fight?" Cassandra felt herself wanting to deflect, but pressed down on herself. Tell the truth, or you'll never forgive yourself. "There's a kind of...parasitic force that operates in the town, and the area around it," she said. "It can influence people, it has powers a little like ours, but sort of...the opposite. It's a big reason why Shelly has so many disappearances and violent crime even though it's such a small town. It stirs people up, then kind of feeds on all the pain and anger and bad emotions that result. And when it gets strong enough, it sort of...takes people." Teresa could only repeat again, "Takes people?" "Yeah. The...the parasite itself isn't physically here. It's in a kind of, um, bubble, I guess? Like a tiny alternate dimension attached to our world. When it gets strong enough, it can reach across and into our world. When it does, it takes someone from here, over to there. And then the whole cycle repeats after a few years. It's been going on for centuries. Before the English settlers came, the natives who lived here knew about this place." "Okay...okay..." Cassie's mom put her hands to the sides of her head and just held them there, eyes closed for a moment. "Jesus, this sounds so..." She opened her eyes. "It sounds like a book, Cass. Like a direct to paperback book. This is real?" Doubt danced in her eyes, a desperate sort of doubt. A needful doubt. "It's real," Cassandra replied softly. "And we have to stop this...this parasite. Which means we're going to have to force our way into its messed-up dimension and confront it directly. And...I don't know how that's going to go, so I had to tell you. Just in case..." Teresa shook her head sharply and said, "Stop. Just stop. Stop right there. That's enough." She started to reach across the table, but Cassandra pulled her hands back. "I have to finish, Mom," she said. "Just...hear me out. No one else can do this. Okay? It has to be us." "You're children, Cassie," Teresa countered...somehow both trying to placate, but also starting to show veins of anger pulsing under the skin. "There must be other people with abilities like this. Adults. Trained..." "Trained in what? Interdimensional combat? Dark God hunting?" Cassandra shook her head. "Please just listen. For a second. It's on us. I know it's not...fair, and it's not right, but it is what IS. This parasite is only going to get stronger the longer we wait. It's infected one of our..." she paused. The word 'friend' didn't really describe Cody. "...schoolmates, and he's killing people. The police can't stop him. We can, but the creature, the real threat, it'll just keep making more. We have to stop it at the source. There's no other way." "No. I can't let you." Teresa took a deep breath and steadied herself. "I hear everything you're saying, but I would be a failure as a parent if I let you do any of this." "Mom, you know I'm going to be a reporter right? Not the kind that does...movie reviews or human interest stories. I'm going to be taking risks, sometimes putting my life on the line. That's going to happen." "This is different!" Teresa suddenly exploded. "You're not talking about taking risks here! You're talking about...about...a bunch of kids taking on some kind of..." She trailed off, unable to articulate what she was thinking without sounding like an idiot in her own ears. Finally she concluded with what she was feeling instead. "I can't lose you, Cass," she confessed, eyes tearing up. "You're all I have left." Cassandra took a deep breath. "...which brings us to the next piece of news." As her mother wiped her eyes and gave her a suspicious look, Cassandra took her cellphone out and called up the photo of her father. She held it out for Teresa to see. "What is this?" "It's dad. He's alive." Teresa grabbed the phone and brought it closer to her face with shaking hands. "He's at the prison right now...which I should probably let you know is currently being run by a...rogue scientist." Her mother's eyes flicked up from the phone to focus on Cassie. "What?" Cass sighed and shook her head. "Okay, there's a LOT going on, but I want to sort of focus on the immediate stuff. I will give you a full run-down as soon as I can, but the short version is that the government set up secret labs around the area to study the weird things going on, and one of the scientists went crazy and set up a secret lab in the prison and dad must have seen something he shouldn't have so they...faked his death and brainwashed him so he doesn't remember who he was." Teresa's face hadn't changed at all during the explanation. After a moment she repeated in a hard voice, "What?" "...moooom..." "No, I'm being serious. You knew this? How long have you known this?" "Not that long? And before you even go there, I didn't tell you before because you wouldn't believe me unless I did ALL of this, and...and...I didn't even know how to START. And we were busy training to go up against the Dark..." "The Dark?!" "...that's what we call the parasite." Teresa set the phone down and pushed it across the table back to Cassandra. "Well obviously we need to get in touch with the police. The FBI maybe. And Cassie, they might be able to handle this 'Dark' thing too! You don't..." "They CAN'T, mom!" "...KNOW!" Teresa finished over her. "Okay? You don't know! They might have a whole squad of...of...people like you and your friends, only professionals." Cassandra shook her head. "They don't! And I DO know. The things we can do, the powers we have...they're because of something happening in Shelly too. It's all happening HERE. All of it. The good and the bad. Even if the government knew, and it only kind of partly does, they don't have anyone who has powers working for them." With supreme effort, Teresa put that aside and persisted on another tack, "...all right, saying you're right about that for the moment, the situation with your father is different. No...dark parasites or strange abilities there. That's just kidnapping and assault and...I don't even know what brainwashing is, but I'm sure it's illegal." "Yeah, but the prison...the company, and this scientist...they know what they're doing. The police and FBI won't find anything. And then he'll know that WE know, and we'll probably never see dad again." Cassandra drew in a deep breath, and reached out across the table to her mom's hands. "I'm going to get him out. Me and my friends. We can hit them before they even know we're there. Once he's out of there, you and me...we can talk to him. We can break through what they did." Now her own eyes were watering. "We can have him back, mom. You just have to trust me." In a quick motion, Teresa grabbed her daughter's hands and squeezed. "I trust you, Cass...it's just...this is terrifying, okay?" She had to wipe her eyes. "You're not even out of high school, and...I can't even understand any of this. How am I supposed to feel?" "I'm scared too, mom," Cass agreed. "I just...couldn't do this without coming clean. Even though I knew it would be hard for you to hear. I don't think we're going to lose, but...I didn't want to just disappear and have you never know what happened. This thing we're doing, it's worth it...it's worth the risk, but it is a risk." "Oh baby," her mother sobbed, and suddenly pulled her hands away so she could walk around the table, sit down by Cassandra and enfold her in her arms. "My sweet little girl..." For what felt like a long time, Cassandra let herself be rocked slowly. Finally Teresa took a deep breath and looked down deep inside herself. She didn't know what to say, but she needed to say something. There was a lot of emotional anguish in the way, uncertainty and fear and loneliness seething...but under all that was something that had always been true. Saying it was harder than she ever expected it would be. "I...trust you," Teresa said at last. "If you say you have to do it...if you say you can do it...then I trust you." Cassandra felt something in herself start to give way, and she tightened her arms around her mother. "You think I can do it?" she asked, almost afraid to hear the answer. Teresa laughed through her tears. "Honey...when you were a little girl, you threw yourself at a huge corporate prison so hard, and so often, they had to threaten to sue to make you stop. And that was before you had...psychic powers or whatever you have. There is nothing you can't do, Cassie. Nothing. So...keep your eyes open, and you think things through, and you go save the world. And then save your dad." "It's just saving Shelly, I think," Cassie giggled into her mom's shoulder. "Well," replied mother comfortingly, "One thing at a time."
  23. Cade smiled, though he wanted to laugh too. A wise man doesn't laugh when their faux girlfriend invites them over for some ""before the fight with the eldritch horror" alone time."" He nodded "Always good to get a preview of what awaits after we get back safe and sound." It was his turn, and he lifted her hand and lightly kissed her knuckle. "Makes it all the more important that we make it back." His grin was so honest, like it just came easy to him to smile this way. "Later on, but sometime soon, just in case, I'm gonna need to pick your brain on fashion ideas." When she arched a perfect eyebrow at that, he shrugged. "I'm gonna need something good to wear when we go to Homecoming. Can't go with you looking like a hick in his Sunday best, right? I knew better than to suggest my normal suit, well I'd rather not earn your wrath quite like that. My options for people I know to ask about that sort of thing are my grandfathers, which would be pretty terrible, my Dad, who's probably worse, and Mr. Bancroft. He's a sort of wildcard, he's offered good advice before. But with this, I figure it's best to ask for help from the expert." Truth was, he hadn't wanted to ask Marissa, but in the end, he wanted her to be happy, to not regret saying yes, so he set aside that desire, and decided to ask. After all, she'd know what color dress she was going to wear, and he smiled.
  24. "...and that about covers the basics." Devin said as he and his impromptu 'date', Ellie, walked through all the various picnic settings of the other families who had gathered for the Carousel. She'd locked arms with him, keeping close and doing her utmost to absorb all the knowledge Devin was spilling her way. A crash course in 2019 teenage etiquette seemed far more complicated than her first training regiment. And she thought the Teulu had rules... "...what if violence is directed upon me without provocation on my part? Surely I'm permitted-" The dazzling blonde looked at him, her eyes narrowing in curiosity. "No." Devin chuckled. "You are not home, you are on Earth. We don't, or at least, the well adjusted don't just mete out death as a solution to our problems." "How has your species advanced this far?" She shook her head in confusion as she looked around at all the families laughing and playing away their day, oblivious to the fact that an alien from another realm walked among them. "It's like you have nothing to contribute to the other realms besides breeding stock." "Baby Yoda." Devin retorted with swiftly. "That's us. We invented Baby Yoda. Oh, and peanut butter, and French kissing. Pretty sure America invented too." "I'm not very familiar with your culture, but even I know that French things are the product of a place called 'France'." The athletic blonde squeezed his arm in warning that she knew he was trying to put one over on the tourist. "French-Americans." Devin shrugged. "Prolly immigrants, searching for a new life and really like licking the powdered sugar of their toast... and BAM, French toast, French kissing. A total two'fer." "The act you portray of the Fool, Devin, it does not fool me," she said calmly. Like Jase her eyes were never just still. They moved and scanned every person, every object, she was perceiving possible threats from all sides and assessing their surroundings with a trained, heightened awareness. "You are a god, as you put it. Yet you walk among insects. I do not understand you, but I will." "There's nothing wring with these people, they're good and you know, Xena, Warrior Teulu, a little love might do you some good." He fist bumped someone from school as they walked past another group of teenagers their age. They didn't take notice of the stares the the others teens were giving them as Ellie moved among them with fresh eyes drinking in her blonde hair, athletic frame and cheek bones that would give Marissa a run for her money. She didn't know it, but Ellie was swiftly becoming the talk among the male students and in less than the half hour since her arrival people were wondering where she'd transferred from. Small towns. Got to love them. "Not everything is a war you know, Ellie. You're safe here, more or less." "It's when you feel the safest," she said softly. "That you're not." "There you are!" Misti and Carl caught sight of their son as the couple were passing by the Fingleman's picnic area. Devin groaned an rolled his eyes as his mother waved him over. "Of course you know our son, Devin." Swiftly he was snatched up and with her arm around her son she presented him like a display. "I believe he has a few classes with your daughter." The nail digging into the back of his collar told him that was his cue. "Uh, yeah! Mr. and Mrs. Finger-uh ba-uh, man. Fingleman. Sophie's awesome. We get on great." He turned on his 'bullshit' smile as he rolled his shoulders, hinting for his mom to back off. "Well, have you heard from her recently? She hasn't answered her phone today." Mr. Fingleman asked. "Hmm? Oh, uh...," Charlie an Sophie, to Devin's knowledge, were consummating their new found relationship with lots of sex. Like, tons of it. Now, the last thing one did was rat out their homies, so Devin being Devin who was so smart and so slick, he thought up a lie and he thought it up quick. "Honestly, you probably won't answer it for awhile. See, her and Charlie are big time theatre nerds and ol' Chuck got his hands on a preemo rendition of Les Misérables. The whole thing performed live, Charles was going gaga over it. Last I heard they were making a day of checking it out, singing all the songs and taking a lot of notes. He trying to push it as a venue for this years school production. I wouldn't doubt if they had it cranked to eleven and were singing along. It's what los- lovers do. Of theatre. Lovers of theatre. We're all meeting up in a bit, if she's still ghosting you by then, I'll personally see to it she checks in." "We'd appreciate it," Mrs. Fingleman replied with a mother's concerned smile. The one that said she was worried still but she was glad her daughter such good friends. Neither of the Finglemans notice Carl, Devin's father, standing off to one side and slowly moving his finger through the universal hand sign for intercourse. Devin nodded swiftly, yet conspicuously. His father pursed his lips and made the 'I knew it' face. "Who's your friend, Devin?" Carl asked, intentionally putting his son on the spot again. He was overcome with a certain measure of pride that his son was in the company of such a beautiful young lady. Devin turned hi head to where Ellie was patiently waiting and observing the conversation. "Oh! Sorry, uh, everyone this is Ellie. She's um, new to Shelly. I'm showing her around." "New?" Misti narrowed her eyes in suspicion as she'd not heard of any new families moving to Shelly. "Where did you move from? I'd love to meet your parents." "I did not 'move' here," she said calmly. "I ventured through the Void and through a wayfarers portal I found myself here, where I was to begin my search for your son. Teir fa Thunn is where I call home, I seek to return there and Devin has agreed to assist me in getting back there." Had he the presence of mind to do so Devin may have bothered to count the number of blinks in the awkward silence to tally up just how screwed he might be. He didn't mind so much that it was his parents, but the Fingleman's were right there...
  25. "Baby, you're with me," she looked up at him while squeezing his arm tightly and pulling him closer to her. "Might at as well get used to it. I have to admit though," she crinkled her nose up at the few 'fans' that were either gawking, faking a smile in their direction, or snapping a pic to post up. "Since I've bothered to get to know you losers, it has started to dawn on me just how much damage my brother and I have managed to do to this town in a few short years." "The people in our class are so petty," he captured the hint of disgust in her voice but decided it best to let her vent. "I get it, I'm petty. But I come from privilege and money, I'm allowed to be. It's one of the bennies of having more than the poor people. I mean, when you don't have anything, you're really not in a position to be petty, take what you can get you bunch of dust slitherers. It's getting worse, though. Chet and his new regime, I think, are going to try and wrench the throne from Deej and me, the problem with that lies in the fact the Devin and I had a system. We thought meticulously about how and why we would manipulate people, every cruelty had a purpose and was part of our grand experiment." "Which was?" Cade chuckled and shaking his head at what he was hearing. She was casual about how evil she was and the cruelty she dished out that sometimes it was hard to believe she and the girl who smiled and giggled along with were truly the same person. "To take over the social hierarchy of the school, which we did. The problem came in where we started to hang out with you guys... and you all plummeted our popularity." She shrugged casually, spilling the facts, as she saw them, without any sort of filter. She stopped Cade and faced him. She looked up into his blue eyes and held his hands in hers. "I know you guys think my me and my brother are horrible, and in a way, we are, but what you guys don't get is that my brother and I were holding the leashes of evil far worse than us. They don't understand tact, planning, and subtlety. My brother and I were bullies, sure, but we never physically hurt anyone." "Marissa, you almost drove Stacey Williams to suicide, last year." Cade reminded her. "You literally embarrassed her to the point where she was home for three weeks and on suicide watch." Shyly his date looked away from him, smiling pridefully of her accomplishment while failing to meet his gaze. When she finally looked back at him she'd filtered the memory away. "Not entirely my fault. Courtney helped." She chuckled. "But even then, all part of the plan. She was a prime example of the 'one bad day' theory. We're all just one bad day away from snapping and going off the deep end." Cade's judgemental glare cast a wide shadow over her. "Anyway, Cadums, we're not talking about Stacey, stay focused. My point is, without my brother and me to keep the real bullies in check, it's going to be anarchy. What's trying to fill are shoes is a gaggle of violent hoodlums. Cade, if we survive this crap tonight, we're returning to a Hellmouth of a high school." She swayed her hands in his and looked up, offering him a seductive smirk that he knew by now was a precursor to her trying to manipulate him. "Although, speaking of tonight... I don't see any reason we should die without having a little time alone first. Want to, maybe, come over later before we all meet up and, you know..." she cooed with a wicked grin as she offered him a suggestive wink.

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