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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff - Rainbow In The Dark

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“Yeah, I’m okay, we’re at this cabin and it is weird--” Whatever else Clara said was drowned out by Devin and Lilly’s yelling, and Lona stepped closer to the path Lilly had indicated so she could hear. All she caught was, “--with Etienne and Jase.”

Shit. “Okay, I’m coming to get you,” Lona said.

“Wait, there was something weird here,” Clara replied. “I’m not sure you should--”

“Look, all I want right now is to make sure you’re safe. I don’t care if that cabin is the birthplace and inspiration for all the Creepy Cabin in a Wood movies even done. I don’t care if there’s a bear there. I’m coming to get you, okay?”

“Um, just watch out for saber tooth tigers, okay?” 

“I. Wait, I.” Lona shook her head. “I don’t know how to respond to that, but sure I’ll watch out for saber tooth tigers.” Hanging up, she looked around for Devin.

About that time, the others showed up, and for once, Lona was too distracted to have a nervous breakdown over her crush’s presence. “I’m going to get Clara,” she told them and dashed after Devin. Even if they lost the path, they could still find the cabin with his phone. 

She caught up to Tawny first, and together they found Devin. “Get away from me, Nerd Herd,” he growled at Lona.

She held her hands in truce. “All I want it to find Clara, and she’s with your sister. We want the same thing, Jauntsen. I’m not going to get in your way. Also, Clara said they’ve seen some weird shit too, so whatever is happening didn’t just happen to you and Cass Allen.”

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You're going in? Cassandra wanted to shout. We just ran OUT! Haven't you been listening?!

But no, they hadn't been. Because she sounded like a crazy person, and no one listened to a crazy person. She'd failed at her one job...communicating clearly.

"Lilly, wait a second," she urged. Then nodded as their little group was joined by still others. Yes, naturally, a bigger audience. Thank you God. That was...just great.

Then to Lilly, "Look. I know everything I said sounds crazy or stupid...and I was busy being terrified and it was dark, so...I don't know...maybe it wasn't what it looked like."

She went over and took hold of the athlete's arm. "But there is something dangerous out there. There was a guy who had that gun. And now he's not there anymore. Okay? And whatever did that is still out there."

Cass looked at the others again, the ones who hadn't heard the story.

"If they're at some cabin or something in the middle of those woods, we shouldn't leave them alone, but...we have to be careful okay?"

Something's going on. Something important. I missed the shot last time, but I'll be ready now. I'll prove this.

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"I know you were, or are, scared. I get it. I'm not discounting your fear, you know?" Lilly said to case, resting a hand on her shoulder. 

"And I am not calling you a liar. I can tell that you truly believe that you saw what you say you saw. I get that too. But a dumb prank can make somebody think they saw something and fill a person with real fear. And right now, that's what it really sounds like. Like, the gun was used to spike some fear or start it rising in you two, but the rest? Really? Truly think about your story for second. What is more likely? That what you think you saw really happened, or that you were pranked? 'Cause one is, well, impossible." she asked sincerely.

"And whoever did this prank had better hope and pray that I never find them, 'cause this was NOT funny." she said as she looked around, hoping to spot a couple of teens with an octopus costume snickering at them from behind some bushes.

"For the record, I was afraid too. Truly afraid. I was afraid that meth cookers or something came out from that trailer and started protecting their spot.. that somebody had been shot, or killed, and that others would soon follow. So I started running toward the gunshot, thinking I could help, I guess, on some level. Was it colossal stupid? Hell yes it was, but I was afraid too, not for myself, but for others, and not thinking. it just kinda... happened. Before I knew it I had found a way through the trees that we had all missed before and I was hauling ass toward the gunshot."

"Shit!" Lilly cursed, her eyes closed tight for a moment.

"And I left the others outside the 'rape/murder trailer-cabin' thing in the process." she explained, realizing more fully what she had done.

Lilly closed her eyes and shook her head as she thought about what she had done and the guilt from abandoned her friends welled up inside her.

"Really fucking brilliant, Lilly." she sighed to herself.

"Look. If there is something dangerous out there, then numbers are our friend. Just say close. I'm not gonna let anything happen to anybody." she said reassuringly.

"...or at the very least I'll be a speedbump for danger, buying you guys time to run." she said, trying her best to muster a joke to lighten the mood.

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Clara came back over the Marissa and Jason, giving the drug dealer a pleading look. "I can help out here, but Lona's insisting on coming to the trailer and my closest brush with being outdoorsy before now was getting lost on the fitness run with my recruiter this summer. If I work on this with her," she nodded towards the Mantis, "would you go make sure Lona gets here?"

Even as she asked, she was looking for the boxes she'd already leafed through and setting aside the ones that were newer. Her hands were clearly shaking from the adrenaline drop, but her eyes were clear and she wasn't falling apart. Her frank assessments of herself were all classic Clara, though the other teens had only really ever heard them by rumor or if they were part of one of her club teams - and they'd always been of someone else. She took a shaky breath, knowing that if Jase said no, there still wasn't really anything else helpful she could do. "Okay, so this is the 80's. That's when they seem to stop. I haven't found anything earlier than the mid-70's yet. Marissa?"

From just outside the trailer, Etienne offered, "I'll go with you, Jason. Horror movie rules, no?" He gave the younger teen a slight grin, but it didn't reach his eyes. He might be trying to lighten the mood, but he was serious about not having someone traipsing around the woods by themselves. 

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Cade heard it, and to his credit didn't just turn to Coarline.  It was super crowded, and now was not the time.  Then Sean lead everyone out of the Jeep, and heading for the others, leaving Cora and Cade alone.  He placed a hand on her arm softly, to have her wait just a moment.

He smiled.  "I wasn't meant to hear that, was I?"   he did look to her for a moment.  "The answer will be "Yes" when you ask."     He had no idea how it had come to this, having started the day just as friends, but looking at how she was dressed, the memory of actually hearing those words, of how the talk with his mother had made him feel afterwards, perhaps he'd just been blind all this time.    He wouldn't take the decision from her.

He sat there for a moment to hear her answer, knowing they'd have to go join the rest soon, but her response was important.    

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"Mhmm da a hmm. Mhmm da a hmmmm." It took a moment before everyone realized Charlie was humming the classic wedding song, a smile and gleaming still unfocused eyes. "Whaaat? I wish you two all the best."

Charlie frowned suddenly, eyes elsewhere and even more distance. "Better than Mari the Mantis and Clara. I sense a brewing cat-fight in the Force. Over Jason. A thousand lashes of jealousy and torn hair falling. Wow, Lucifer's Reserve is the stuff inspiration is made of."

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Coraline didn't meet anyone's gaze for minute, smoothing out her dress after the crowded dismount. This wasn't the moment she had planned it in her head this afternoon, the way she wanted to be feeling, the uncertain tang of potential death hanging over everything despite the surreal cheer of the party roaring full bore not thirty feet away. It would be oh so easy to dismiss it, use her grounding to avoid him until school started up or she stumbled over him on an errand with her parents. Plenty of time to bury the idea.

But... And this made her knuckles tighten bloodlessly especially as Charlie gave his distracted, confusing blessing... She didn't want to.

She unclenched her fists, driven forward by the memories of Chet tonight and the urge to spite them, looking up and brushing a lock of hair out her face, features half-lit by firelight. A tentative smile emerged on her lips. Spinning high on courage she didn't know she'd have in a another heartbeat, she nodded, "Sure. I mean, yes! If we don't die and my Dad lets me out of the house before my 18th birthday and I'm going to shut up now. Yes."

Cade gave one of those little smiles that made her heart go bumpty-bump, getting up off the ground. She laughed under her breath in a mixture of embarrassment and relief, hustling for the treeline with a look over her shoulder. Didn't want to be left behind even if she didn't feel like Final Girl material.

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Jason had settled in Indian-style on the floor, a several small piles of documents, sorted by date and location, around him to which he was adding as he and Marissa had been working.  Now and then Mari would take a pile over the table, sorting it yet further into the eight or nine piles of tighter organisation she had going there, reflecting that Jase would be a hell of a study buddy.  He scanned the first few pages of each file with blinding speed, could remember what was in each one without hesitation when she asked a question about them, and seemed utterly focused on the task at hand.  Apart from the occasional moment when he would look up as he stretched a kink out of his back, catch her eye, and smile that faint eye-crinkling smile of his before reaching for another musty file.  Straight C student my wholesomely rounded ass she mentally snorted, even as she smiled back.

Then Clara came over and ruined it all.  Jase looked as though he were considering her request, and Mari knew he might do it, too.  Most people would be all 'oh hell no' after such an ordeal, but the prospect of one of his friends in danger would probably, if her estimation of him was right, make Jason walk barefoot over superheated broken glass.

"Jesus, are you that cold?" Marissa's tone dripped with disdain as she stepped between Clara and Jason.  "What, you want him to go back out there with prettyboy so your BFF can join the party?  He's not just a disposable meatshield for teens too stupid to not blunder around the woods at night!  Call her back and tell her it's dangerous and to wait!"

"I never said he was disposable.  On the contrary, he's the one person here that knows what he's doing!" Clara didn't raise her voice much, but fear for Lona was a powerful accelerant for her emotional state.  "I figured he could find Lona crashing through the underbrush before she walks herself off a cliff or... or runs into another prehistoric killing machine.  We're only alive because he kept his cool - somehow.  And I tried to tell Lona to be careful but she didn't listen."

"Gee, of course she didn't.  Tell me, why would you want to stop her from walking off a cliff?"  Marissa's voice dripped acid.  "The girl is a train wreck. A dumpster fire. It'd be doing her, hell, all of us, a service.  Now she's putting Jase and-" she waved a hand dismissively at Etienne "-Eddie there in danger because she won't listen."  

"Lona might be a dumpster fire, but she's my dumpster fire, whereas you're a soul-sucking black hole with a rotten heart. You do nothing positive in this world."  Clara shot back, her own tone matching Marissa's somewhat, though it was hard to match the Queen Bee's sheer venomous experience at such infighting.  Marissa smirked like a shark scenting blood and prepared a killing stroke - but then the temperature in the cabin dropped suddenly, the warmth of the summer night in the trailer becoming, for a few moments, roughly the same welcoming balmy ambience as that of a walk-in meat freezer.  Both girls gasped at the brief hypothermic shock, their breath condensing into misty clouds and their limbs prickling with gooseflesh.

"Stop."  Jase said coldly as the sudden chill lifted, then his tone softened as he added. "Please."  He looked at them both from where he sat on the trailer's floor.  "Clara, if I go out there I might miss Lona entirely in the dark.  If she's hell bent on coming, turn on location sharing on your phone, then text her to home in on you.  Etienne, take the torch from Sara and stand near the edge of the clearing - it will help Lona to see the light when she gets closer.  Better yet, find some branches and make another torch or two."  He paused.  "Thanks for the offer of help, Clara, but right now Mari and I have a pretty good sorting system worked out.  We will need more hands later, but for now it's probably best you help Etienne as lighthouse keeper."

Mari smirked at Clara, but remained silent as she turned with just the right dismissive flip of her hair and went back over to the files, Jason bending his head over the one on his lap again as the last lingering remnants of that sudden chill dissipated.

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The two groups headed on, Team Devin, comprised of Tawny and Lona stayed a decent distance ahead of Team Lilly.  All three of them had their phone lights on and their white beams danced on the trail, or what passed for the trail at times, as they made their way to Marissa's location.

"Deej, what's going on?" Tawny asked.

Lona scoffed.  "I wouldn't... it's a touchy subject up for some debate at the moment."

"It's not up for debate," Devin said sternly with the weight like his statement was the beginning and the end of the conversation.  "Cass and I were alone in the woods-"

"You and Cass?"  Tawny asked.  Lona picked up the pang of jealous curiosity in her tone, but Devin, clueless to everything that wasn't part of his special version of reality, didn't really take much notice.

"-and we were attacked by a gunman.  A naked one.  He shot at us, then was eaten by a voracious cephalo-gina that emerged from a cloud of darkness and disappeared."  He knife handed every important detail to convince them and possibly to some extent himself.

A very confused Tawny looked back to Lona who just smiled and shrugged.  "Told ya," she chuckled.  "Blondie, I couldn't make this stuff if I tried, and I'm buzzing pretty good at the moment."

"I'm Tawny, by the way.  Tawny Richards, my dad-"

"Owns Richardson's horse ranch, yeah I know," Avalon smiled.  "I'd shake, but, you know...," she offered up a gesture to the nature that surrounded them.  "I've seen you around, we're not exactly in the same circles, but I've seen you.  Avalon Wilson, everyone calls me Lona."

"Well, it's a pleasure, shake or no."  Tawny's infectious smile reminded Lona, like it did most others, to consider what she could possibly see in Devin.

"Torches."  Devin pointed out.  "Looks like light, I think this is it."

"Clara!"  Lona shouted out.  Not loudly, just a bit over her normal voice to express that she was here and coming into the clearing.

Devin and Tawny slowly walked up behind her.  Tawny gave Devin a sideways glance as he turned the light off on his phone.  "Devin, have you been here before?"

"No," he looked at her like she was off.  "When am I ever on Res land?  Why?"

"Nothing it's just weird," she shrugged.  "If you didn't know the way, how come you didn't look at the map the whole time we were walking?"

Devin looked at his phone as the realization hit him that she was right.  He didn't know the way but he knew the way.  "I don't know right now, Tee.  I got enough to worry about with adding more onto it.  C'mon, let's get Marissa."

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As Clara and Eti-whatever, stepped outside to craft their torches, Marissa and Bannon returned to the slow process of organizing the paperwork.  She had a system, he had a system and for some strange reason they clicked and were able to begin some nominal sense of the reporting structure whomever camped here was using.  Jason scanned another page and raised it up where Mari could snatch it and find it's place.  They moved like machines.

"You're," Jason looked up at her, taking a moment to rest and refocus his eyes as they blurred on the pages.  "Pretty good at this."

"A good system shortens the road to the goal," Marissa smiled at him as she spun about to the table to file the most recent page.

"Ralph Waldo Emerson."  Jason nodded, smirking as he looked at her, a bit surprised she'd be quoting authors.

"Yeah," she laughed softly.  "One of my favorites.  The more organized things are, the less complications there are in life.  Lord knows my brother and I have enough of those."

"Yeah, between the money, the popularity," he offered her sarcasm.  "I can see the struggle unfolding clearly."

She offered him a lazy middle finger and a smile to show his sarcasm was well received.  "It's not my fault we we're better than everyone, Jason.  It's not like we asked for it, we just are," Jason turned his head to hide his smile, making it look like he was giving the papers in his lap more attention.  He had to.  Marissa wasn't being sarcastic in the slightest.  Her superiority complex was so ingrained into her personality that she believed every word she said.  "Our parents always ask for and expect the best from us, but it's never anything we want, it's what they want.  Neither of us wanted to do gymnastics or dancing.  They wanted us to.  Luckily, Devin fell in love gymnastics, and like dancing, I guess.  When we're popular it's like, I don't know, you're always entertaining others but never entertained.  Does that make sense?"

"I don't really know," he offered quietly.  "This really is not my usual thing."

"I know," he tapped his shoudler with her knee, giving him a push.  "Thanks for listening though."

They continued where they had left off and a few more minutes had passed before she spoke again.  "She likes you, you know.  Clara."  All he offered was a look backwards at her as he handed her a paper.  "I'm telling you, she does.  I know the signs, Jason.  The way she wanted you and me apart.  She's afraid we'll flirt and she'll be missing something."

"Pretty sure she has a boyfriend," he said lazily as he read, showing one hundred percent disinterest in the conversation.

"French guy?"  Marissa laughed quietly as to not gain the attention of the two standing outside.  "Please, that's a fling, at best.  The guy is a beta.  Clara is a Type A, she doesn't know it, but she needs way more that what that accent is doing for her.  A bite on the neck, a tug on her hair," she leaned down and sensually moaned into his ear.  "A smack on the ass."  When he snapped around to face her, surprised by her proximity, she drew away swiftly and laughed, plucking the page he was holding from his grip and spun about to file it.

"Just saying." She laughed.

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"Right."  Jason said, more as a placeholder while he collected his thoughts than for any other reason.  His experience of sensuality was perhaps only minimally better than his experience of affective empathy.  He had the usual hormonal needs, of course, and satisfied them as most teenage boys did, but it was a very mechanical process.  When confronted with a playful Marissa, who practically was sensuality incarnate, he wasn't sure how to process it.  And there were questions:  why was she talking to him about Clara?  What did she gain?  For despite the strange rapport she and he seemed to have built in the last hour, her dislike of Clara was obvious.  He sorted a few more pages, handing them off to Marissa without looking at her while his brain ticked over this new interpersonal territory on it's metaphorical backburner.

"I'm really out of my depth, with that sort of thing.." he said in a quiet, low tone as he finished that file and paused before reaching for another, his gaze on his dusty hands where they rested on his knees.  "I can hear the notes, and I know they are part of a complex composition, but I cannot hear the music."  He glanced at Marissa, his gaze penetrating as he offered a small smile.  "Most of the time."  He tugged another file box onto his lap.  "I don't have your insight, Marissa.  Shit, I barely have Chet's insight." he said derisively.  "Which is a sore point, believe me.  None of them know it, but I have to analyse and overthink everything when it comes to my interpersonal actions with my friends, because I am missing that instinct."  Part of him warned against being so frank, warned against the danger of exposure.  "And romantic stuff?"  His shrug expressed everything, and he was not in the least abashed at his admission of being clueless.  Marissa leaned against the table, dark eyes watching him.  She'd tried to provoke something, to see if Jason could be embarrassed or rattled the way other guys were so easy to rattle at his age, and instead her scratching the surface was drawing out something else.  He looked up and handed her a couple of sheets after scanning them.

"I read a lot about it."  he admitted frankly, then smiled slightly as he quoted.  "To win her, ask her: she only wants to be asked: give her the cause and the beginning of your longing."

"Ovid, street-rat?"  Marissa smiled warmly as she took another page from him, even though she was also mulling over the personal revelations he'd just shared.  She gave him a long speculative and challenging look.  "Bet you can't quote him in La-"

"Ut eam vincere, peteret, non solum vult interrogavit: initium et causam cur cuperes eam."  Jason intoned in a cadence, without hesitation and without looking up from shuffling a couple of pages into order, then smiled very faintly as he looked up and passed them to her.  Marissa couldn't help it, she laughed - a genuine laugh of good-humored delight.

"Oh, I bet that goes down great with the nerd herd."  she teased, whirling to place the pages in order, then turning back to him.

"They don't know about it."  he admitted, smiling.  "I... Don't like to advertise."  Marissa pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at that.

"I don't get it, Jason.  Why hide it?  I mean, just what I've seen tonight, you are definitely not the average C student you pretend to be.  You could win scholarships with that brain you're hiding."  She went down on one knee beside him, dark eyes examining his face.

"The same reason I hide my... disability.  Deformity.  Whatever you want to call it.  People expect certain things, good or bad."  he said calmly, meeting her gaze.  "Remember when you said I didn't have the eyes of a sociopath?  I kind of took that as a compliment, because I work very hard at that."

"You're not a sociopath." she snorted, unable to look away from his eyes.  He nodded agreement.

"Yes, I'm not a sociopath.  They are usually low-functioning, cruel, impulse-driven, and a result of traumatic life events or diseases of the brain.  They can be rehabilitated through therapy and sometimes drugs.  Sometimes just growing up and maturing levels them out.  They are also usually highly manipulative and dishonest, though not as clever as they think they are.  There is no treatment for me, only learning to cognitively work around the blank spots. I see lying as beneath me, and I don't see people as being for my benefit, though I admit I have a hard time seeing them as emotionally real and I don't experience emotions the same way as them."  He held her gaze with his own unblinking stare that somehow reminded her of the sabertooth as it padded after them in the woods, and a cold realisation ran down Marissa's spine as she put together all the pieces.  "It's curious, but tonight I actually felt connection with you when you took my arm.  You became very real to me."  He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little.

"Why are you telling me all this?"  Marissa murmured, not sure if she should  be frightened or not.  After all, he wasn't trying to scare her.  He was just letting her see him, the real him.

"I like you."  he shrugged, smiling.  "Always have, really.  I like the attitude you carry with you and project, the bravura of it."  He reached over and took her hand in his.  "And I am very tired of pretending badly all the time.  Tonight has made me realise that I was a hairs breadth from death with no-one really seeing me."  His predators gaze softened slightly as he felt her realness.  "It seemed right that I let you know me." he finished, simply.

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"Jase," Marissa said quietly as he held her hand.

"Hm?"

"You're being creepy."  She offered with a warm smirk.

That phrase roused him from his moment of clarity and he took a step back, letting go of her hand.  "I'm sorry, I didn't-"

She laughed, but it was more to deflect the awkwardness than to pick on him.  "Jason, it's okay.  Seriously.  You're not good with people and that's fine, it's something you can work on, we can," she paused and for a rare moment Marissa misspoke as she realized that her and her brother were not in their little circle.  "I-I mean, they can help you with that.  Let your friends help you, Jase.  A little trust goes a long way.  You are brilliant and... not so bad of a guy.  Why sit around hiding your greatness?  Every time you sit in a class and let the teachers load us up on some bullshit because they think they're right when you know it's wrong, you're just part of the problem at that point.  People will just keep perpetuating ignorance if intellectuals like yourself just sit about let it happen.  I would love for someone to put Mr. Moore in his place this year.  The guy's a jerk, and he has wandering eyes."  She folded her arms and cocked her head.  "Why hide what you are?  Revel in it.  I mean, don't go killing the neighbors cats and shoving them in mail boxes, or hay hooking Chet, but let your big brain out of the box and let the thing breathe for a change.  You don't see me wearing baggy clothes do you?  I'm like, super model hot, why would I waste my time trying to hide in the shadows or skulk in corners?  Be you.  It's all you can be.  Fuck what everyone else thinks."  She punctuated her rant with a scoff and a 'pfft'.

Marissa heard Lona scream for Clara and turned to look towards the door where she saw Devin and Tawny approaching into the clearing.  "Hey, they're here."

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Undisclosed Location

Shelly Montana

The weird power surges tripped alarms and reset computers, throwing the whole system into cascade crash, requiring a total shut down and reboot of the entire system.

The technicians on night watch had their hands full and so no one noticed the blinking light on the comm panel and with the total system reboot the notification light went dark, therefore no one read the message sent from their agent in the field.

 

The Trailer

Sara was obsessed with the trailer, she would never be able to explain why. She had crawled around underneath the ancient mobile home in the dark looking for clues. She had found few but she did discover that the sheet-metal lining was underneath as well as along the interior walls. Curious she climbed up onto the roof.

Meanwhile back inside Jase and Marissa had sorting a job they soon realized was going to take more than a few minutes or hours, more likely days. Then Marissa opened a box that was different. In other boxes they had found pictures cut from newspapers and even film and video but this box contained actual black and white photographs. The pictures appeared to be aerial photos taken from a plane at maybe two thousand feet. They were not professional or military rather they looked like something the owner of the boxes of junk maybe had taken himself. All of the photos were of terrain, mostly plains but some were of the hills and in a few a river could be seen. On the backs of each picture were a date a number and coordinates.

Jase jumped up and went into the living room and started looking at the maps until he found the number that matched and sure enough there was a circle drawn around a part of the map that corresponded with the coordinates on the picture.

Sara had finished her inspection of the roof and come back inside, ignoring Jase as he went from map to map. She went into the kitchen and turned on the water tape. Brackish tepid water came out in a steady but very low pressure flow. She went back into the bathroom next and everyone heard a flushing commode.

“Guys, you can use the toilet, but don't drink the water out of the tap. It's coming from a cistern on the roof, the filters are not good so the water is probably contaminated.

Clara and Etienne after their little exchange with Jase and Marissa had gone back outside where they had watched Sara with mild curiosity clamber about on the roof, but when she came down and went back inside they had stayed out to wait for Lona and the rest of the gang.

Etienne stayed close to Clara but felt a stiffness in her shoulders when he put his arm around her. “It will be alright, darling.”

Clara looked up at him, before he had been as near panic and crazy as the rest of them now alone with her he exuded calm and confidence, was he putting on an act? If so which one was real?

“We can't all be hallucinating the same thing can we,” she asked softly watching him closely.

He didn't look at her instead his eyes were searching the treeline with the help of his phone-light. “It is possible, but I don't think likely. We all saw the same thing, but what we each thought we saw may not be the same...eh... regardless the mobile home is real, what is inside is real. We will find an explanation.”

At that moment Devin led Cass and Lona into the clearing while at almost the same time Lilly with the rest of the gang arrived via the path.

 

 

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On seeing the trailer, Cassandra stopped short and winced. "That looks like a meth lab. I mean, I've never seen a meth lab, but somehow I know that's what one looks like."

She looked around, taking in the remote location, well away from any trail or footpath.

"That might explain the guy freaking out with the gun. Definitely does not explain the rest."

Cass then waved at the other kids hanging around and tried to sound light and nonchalant, "So...looks like the real party's out here?"

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Lilly led the others up to the others through the woods toward the trailer, letting Devin, Tawny and Lona walk ahead, though keeping lights of their phones easily in sight. She had walked the path just minutes before and knew where she was going, at least more so than any of the others, which made it a little easier to follow the trail. 

12 minutes ago, Cassandra Allen said:

On seeing the trailer, Cassandra stopped short and winced. "That looks like a meth lab. I mean, I've never seen a meth lab, but somehow I know that's what one looks like."

She looked around, taking in the remote location, well away from any trail or footpath.

"That might explain the guy freaking out with the gun. Definitely does not explain the rest."

Cass then waved at the other kids hanging around and tried to sound light and nonchalant, "So...looks like the real party's out here?"

"I know, right?" Lilly said with a grin. "Like I was saying.. meth cookers protecting their spot makes a heck of a lot more sense now, eh?"

Lilly moved past Clara and Lona for the moment. She was not going interrupt a moment like this between them when they just seemed to be starting to get along ago. Lilly was glad to see them at least talking again and had a sense for the likely fragility of their mending relationship. There would be time later.

Lilly walked into the trailer and saw Sara who she immediately walked up to and, with a faint smile of relief, gave her a tight hug. Surprised, Sara stood there for a moment, her arms stiff at her sides. 

"Uhh.. hey Pryor." Sara said, somewhat confused and uncomfortable at the unexpected hug.

"I'm glad you're okay. I shouldn't have run off." Lilly said with relief, which seemed to finally prompt Sara into returning the brief hug, and she had to admit that it did feel good to feel honest caring from somebody expressed in such a way.

"Uh yeah. We're.. we're good. Don't worry about it. Glad, uh, that you're okay too." Sara offered.

Lilly finally broke then hug and smiled before looking around the trailer and spotting Jase, who she moved over to, leaving a slightly confused Sara standing there, looking to Cass for some sort of explanation, who just mouthed the words 'feels bad' to Sara with a shrug.

Lilly walked over to Jase as he was comparing photos to the map-covered walls, taking a step back from them for a moment to get a wider view. She hugged him tightly, resting her chin on his shoulder and let out a small sigh of relief.

"I'm sorry for running off. It was stupid on so many levels. I never should have abandoned you guys and ran off alone. I just head the shot and was there before I knew it. I hope I did make you worry." she said with her eyes closed, hugging him tightly with sincere caring and relief.

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Even with the others around, the feeling this was a bad idea had gnawed at the back of her head, enough so that Coraline had picked up a stick lying at the side of the trail. Shit all useless against a gun, but better than nothing. The stress knotted up in her gut, the anticipation of a gunshot with every single footfall and passed tree. Hostage scenarios of all kinds played out in her head. One gunshot and nothing more? 

She was not expecting a dirty trailer and what amounted to a second party brewing out here in the dark. Cass's causal greeting and wave did it in.

"Okay. Ooookay. What the heck's going on?! What happened with the gunshot? Is everyone okay? Did you know about this trailer before? Seriously, what the heck's going on, guys?" she exhaled in exasperation. No one visible seemed particularly urgent or worried, so her fear for her friends was starting to thaw into worried anger at her friends. If this was all nothing, she'd... Well, she'd figure out exactly what when she got to it. For  now, answers would do. They'd do for a lot. 

 

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"I never should have abandoned you guys and ran off alone."  Marissa mocked Lilly in a high pitched childish tone.  "Jesus Christ girl, dramatic much?  Notice how none us got hugs Jason?  Previous conversation applies.  You have options, I'm just saying.  The rest of us are okay too, Pryor, thanks for asking."

Devin hopped up into the trailer with an egress in mind bounce in his step.  "Hey, Emjay, you alright?"

""Yeah, yeah," her attitude seemed to subside a bit at the sight of her brother.  She showed relief he was well and here now.  "Sara and the others... we sorta... made do, I guess.  No help from Pryor.  She bolted off, leaving us hanging."

"Yeah?  That's probably because she was chasing us through the forest with a loaded gun.  She says she was with you, and she says our version of the story is bullshit, so I'm just left with her having a loaded gun, powder residue on her clothing and the excuse of 'she found it just lying there'.  To be honest, I don't even know what to think anymore.  You will not believe the kinda stuff Cass and I saw..."

"Wait," Marissa shot daggers at Lilly.  "What?!?  Hold on, what the hell?"

It was right about then Cora had her outburst out front and everyone looked to the open trailer door and to the outside into the 'yard'.  Lilly was about to protest Devin and Devin was about to rebuttal when Marissa stepped in with her hands raised to shoosh them both.  "Stop!  Stop, I don't care, both of you, just stop or I swear I will catch a case."

"Whatever it is," she pointed to the door.  "We settle this out there.  Because we have this," she motioned to all the work Bannon and her had been doing.  "We have our own story.  You have yours Devin, Cass has hers... and we have Lilly's version.  So let's all go out there and resolve this, because this is the weirdest night I've ever had and I want some damn answers."  She shrugged in retrospect.  "And I kind of want to see Cora have a breakdown.

She swept her hands out from her sides in low arcs like she was sweeping everyone out the door.  "Go, go... I don't want this all messed when a fight breaks out."

Spoiler

If no one objects, let's move those inside the trailer to outside the trailer and someone kick off their story.

 

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Lona crossed the space to Clara and gave her a hug. She didn’t say anything else to her sister because they had so much more to say than could be said in this space. When she’d satisfied the lizard brain screaming about losing another loved one, she stepped back and said, “Okay, so what the hell is going on here?” 

It was about the same time as Cora’s outburst, and Lona shot her a side eye at her growing irritation. “Getting worked up isn’t going to help,” she said simply. “We need to stay calm and figure out what’s happening now.”

Marissa took over at that moment, which Lona was weirdly thankful for; at least someone was making sense. “Come on, take a look at this,” Clara said and showed her the pawprint. 

“Okay,” Lona said, peering at the inside of the trailer then looking at the other kids. “So like, are we getting the fuck out of here, or playing Scooby Gang for some reason? I mean, I assume that’s why we’re just milling around looking at things instead of GTFO. Bannon trying to suss out his competition?”

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3 hours ago, Lilly Pryor said:

"I'm sorry for running off. It was stupid on so many levels. I never should have abandoned you guys and ran off alone. I just head the shot and was there before I knew it. I hope I did make you worry." she said with her eyes closed, hugging him tightly with sincere caring and relief.

Deep in concentration, his crystalline precise mind slotting cross-referenced data into map references, correlating as much as he could in a fashion that would, if this were a movie, be filling the air around him with sliding numbers, map references and images, Jason was totally unaware of Lilly until her arms slipped around him and her chin was resting on his shoulder.  Suffice to say he was taken by surprise, blinking and trying to turn his head to look at her, but finding that hard with Lilly's cheek pressed against his.  She felt warm and vital and alive, her hair tickling his neck and her scent in his nostrils.  His mind filing away the sensations, he awkwardly returned the hug, his hands holding papers and photos.

"It's okay."  He said quietly.  "I would have followed, but that would have left the others alone.  And as it turns out, that would have been a bad thing."  His lips quirked in a faint wry smile.

2 hours ago, Marissa Jauntsen said:

"Jesus Christ girl, dramatic much?  Notice how none us got hugs Jason?  Previous conversation applies.  You have options, I'm just saying.  The rest of us are okay too, Pryor, thanks for asking."
...
"Whatever it is," she pointed to the door.  "We settle this out there.  Because we have this," she motioned to all the work Bannon and her had been doing.  "We have our own story.  You have yours Devin, Cass has hers... and we have Lilly's version.  So let's all go out there and resolve this, because this is the weirdest night I've ever had and I want some damn answers."  She shrugged in retrospect.  "And I kind of want to see Cora have a breakdown.

She swept her hands out from her sides in low arcs like she was sweeping everyone out the door.  "Go, go... I don't want this all messed when a fight breaks out."

He restrained a smile at Marissa's snark, which was rapidly becoming charming to him.  (And if that wasn't an indicator Jason Bannon was not at all normal, then what further hints would an observer need?)  He nodded, setting the documents in his hand to one side (and causing Mari to tut like a housewife and put them back in her sorting system), and gently extricated himself from Lilly's not-unwelcome hug.  It appeared he was more well-regarded than he had previously believed, though Lilly had always been warm and friendly, she had never hugged him before.  And apparently Clara had a 'thing' for him, if Marissa was to be believed.  And then there was Marissa herself.  After all, Jase was empathically-challenged, not an idiot.  She had pointed out patterns of behaviour for certain females, and it was not hard to extrapolate those patterns and apply them to others.  He added that to the pot simmering on his mental backburner and headed for the door.

2 hours ago, Avalon Wilson said:

"...Bannon trying to suss out his competition?”

"I have no competition."  Jase said calmly as he passed Lona, walking straight-backed rather than slouched, his gaze direct rather than reluctant he seemed a very different Bannon.  He gave her an amused grin.  "That implies there would be a contest."  It was unclear whether he was talking about drugs or was simply speaking more broadly.  "Come on, let's settle down out here for story time.  Because from what I just heard, we've all got something to say."

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"The tentacled ones are his competition." Charlie supplied as a matter of course, having found a place to sit back and scratch his head. He then whispered loudly, hand cupped as if trying to secretly impart a fact of great importance. "His artificial greatness surpasses their natural splendor. You make them feel bad about their bodies, Jason. That's meeean."

The obvious confusion, plus 'is he fucking crazy' looks from Devin and Marissa resulted, causing Lilly to groan. "Charlie's smoked an entire joint of your special product." A fact which Charlie confirmed by drawing in the dregs of the stump of a joint with a wide grin. "Like I said. Artificial greatness. Fortunately, they have a nudo-phobia. That's a fear of nudists. So they have to eat them."

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Spoiler

This Sean's post with edits

Growing less scared and more intrigued, Laurie looked around the clearing with the hobo-trailer with curious interest. Cora was getting worked up, but with so many school-mates around, Laurie was finding it hard to find this place actually dangerous. It just looked dangerous.

"Y'know, since you like Halloween so much, Sean, this place would be awesome for a haunted house slash Halloween party." Laurie commented dryly. "I mean, if the Breaking Bad Boys don't show up and dump our asses into vats of acid."

When Laurie saw Devin and heard his sister inside the suspect trailer, she scowled, eyes narrowing. Fucking Jauntsens, show up everywhere like a bad case of herpes.

"That's a TV show," Sean countered with exasperation, though he might have sounded more assured if this didn't look so much like a set from any number of horror movies and he didn't look so much like the first girl to die in one. He cocked his head to the side. "It would be pretty awesome for Halloween though. Wanna take a look inside?"

"Uh.. nooo... I'll stay right out here, thanks, where I can run instead of being trapped." When Clara exhorted Lona to come look at something on the ground, Laurie wondered over to see too. "What is it? Cougar tracks or something? Is that why there was a gunshot? Supposedly. Someone trying to scare it off."

From inside and outside the trailer came vehement denials. "It was no cougar!"

"Jeez, okay."

Walking pass, Sean thought it looked like a paw print from some sort of cat himself, though he was no wilderness expert. It looked awfully big though. He stepped inside, the short steps of the trailer creaking ominously. He could have done without that, as well as with Jase's and Marissa's eyes riveting on him, unusually bright under the dim lights of the trailer. He arched a brow in surprise, Jase was standing right infront of himlike he was going outside, “Hey Sean,” he said pasing as the smaller boy came inot the trailer. Sean looked around and saw all the maps on the walls.

Sean opened his mouth to say something but Marissa cut him off with a sharp chop of her hand. "I just said, if you want to hear all about it, go outside. I - we - don't need our work messed with."

"I wasn't going to mess with... whatever it is you're doing," Sean protested. He nodded at Bannon. "You okay, Jase?" A brief hesitation, then Sean added. "You too, Marissa?"

"Yeah," Jase replied laconically after a moment of consideration. Marissa's eyes narrowed dangerously, but at a shake of Bannon's head, she restrained her vicious rebuttal. "He can help." He nodded at the radio. "Can you go see what you can make of the radio while we explain what happened here, you can listen from there we'll be right outside.”

"Uh, sure." Sean slunk over to the radio, under Marissa's glare. "So, it isn't murder-hobos or meth cooks?"

"Isn't looking that way," Jase drawled then stepped outside. Marissa and Lilly followed.

Sean looked over the radio, leaned around to find it plugged into a socket. It looked like a regular, long-range radio. Sean had built a ham radio himself and played around with it. This didn't look much different. Outside the gang stated telling their various stories, since he didn't really have anything to tell, he just listened. He peered around and found what he assumed was the on switch. He pursed his lips, then flipped it on.

There was the soft crackling of an unclear channel. The lights of the radio barely illuminated and the dials were very stiff.

And the dim lights of the trailer dimmed even further, until little more than orange-red filaments in the bulbs could be discerned.

"Good job, Cassidy," Marissa snarled from outside when the lights from the trailer all but went out. "It's not like its not the middle of the night in the woods out here."

Sean muttered back. "It's not like I did this on purpose. How is this place even getting power?"

"Buried power line," came a voice he didn't place immediately. There was a creak further inside the trailer. It was dark, but Sean wasn't finding it that dark and he made out the burly figure of Sara Hutchins. "Come take a look at this. We'll have the lights back on in a minute," she raised her voice so those outside could hear.

Curious, Sean followed her deeper into the trailer. By the bathroom, right before what appeared to be the master bedroom - probably the only bedroom, really - there was a power box. Definitely not commercial, no breakers he could see. One lever pulled all the way down. All the dials save one were turned all the way to the left. The other one was turned all the way to the right. And of course, no labels on anything. The lever was probably a master control. The dials likely regulated power distribution.

If the supply from the main power supply was steady, he could probably figure this out.

"There's power to the refrigerator, if not much," Sara mentioned and Sean nodded.

"Okay, let's see if we can get some more power flowing, or at least flowing where we want it. Lights and radio."

They tried the obvious first and somewhat to their surprise it immediately showed results. The had moved the lever up and as soon as it moved the dials started to adjust themselves. The lights inside brightened even the hum from the refrigerator grew louder as the old compressor kicked to life. “Well that was easy enough,” he said and looked up at Hutchins, “Where is the power coming from again?”

She looked thoughtful for a few seconds, “I think there's a buried generator or something,” she said softly without elaborating. “Lets go see what going on outside, this stuff can wait.”

 

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Once everyone but Sara and Sean were outside the trailer, quiet descended on the group. "So," Clara said, "catch-up time?" She had Etienne on one side of her and Lona on the other and was feeling much bolder now. Also, Marissa was managing to tick her off just by existing, lending her a trickle of adrenaline to go over the crazy that had happened. While the others nodded, she organized her memories.

"Etienne and I had stepped away from the party to talk. We heard Jason and Sara moving through the woods with Marissa stumbling after them. Oh, and Lilly When we caught up with them, they said they were following a trail that had been clear before the party but that someone had tried to cover before tonight. This trailer was at the end of it. Once we got here, we heard the gunshot. Lilly took off by herself and Jason tried to lead the rest of us back to the party by a different path, but..." She hesitated, frowning, before pushing on, "We got attacked by a sabertooth tiger. Like what you see in museums, only snarling and terrifying. Jason made a torch and tried to get us back to the trailer before it decided we were an easy meal." She pointed to the paw print. "That's from it. It-It pounced on Jason. We thought-" She broke off, nerves and trauma finally really getting to her. Etienne put a hand on her back and murmured something soft to her. She shook her head, "No, I'm fine. It just disappeared. Kinda like..."

"Like in Endgame, sort of." Marissa offered; at the startled looks from the Nerd Herd, she gave them all a scathing roll of her eyes.  

Clara gave them a blank look and shrugged. "I...guess? Like it was candle smoke and someone blew out the candle." She shivered and semi changed topics. "And the trailer is just bizarre, but you guys can go look at it yourselves." She motioned towards Devin and Cass. "Your turn."

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"A saber-toothed tiger?"  Devin questioned Clara.  His tone though wasn't one that indicated he didn't believe her, but he was certainly skeptical.  He was skeptical of everything he had seen tonight and it was showing.

Marissa raised a finger up at him like she was about to scold him.  "Devin, I swear to god, don't.  Just don't.  We know what we saw and swear if you quip one damn time about it-"

He raised his hands.  "No, no... look I'm not saying I believe you," he seemed remarkably reserved for Devin.  He was probably thankful that him and Cass weren't the only one's bringing an impossible story to the table.  "I'm not sure what to believe right now.  Hell, I think Cass and I can do you one better... so Cass bumped into me in the woods, I was heading off to answer your text.  We barely got past showing mutual disgust for each other when this naked dude just kinda strolled out onto the path.  He had a gun and the gunshot you heard he fired at us.  Thankfully he missed because Cass was using me as a human shield," he looked to Cass and shot her a lazy bird.  "Thanks for that by the way."

"If it helps, you were very brave."  Cass said with a very apologetic expression on her face.  It wasn't until now that she realized that that was exactly what she did and it kind of made her feel bad.

"Anyway, so, dude was like a zombie.  Didn't look like one, just moved and moaned and didn't really seem, I dunno," he shrugged.  "Like 'up' was direction he could find while standing on the ground.  He mumbled, I didn't make it out, fired the shot I mentioned.  You would think he would have ran by then be we couldn't... we just..."

"Behind him," Cass took over for Devin while he searched for the words through the memory.  "There was this, we don't know what but we'll say cloud.  A vapor.  It was dark and... look anyways, something came out of the cloud a..."

"Cephalo-gina." Devin cut her off, snapping his fingers pointing at everyone else Brad Pitt in every movie he's ever done.

"We're not calling it that,"  she rolled her eyes.

Marissa shook her head while Clara face palmed.  "Wait, a what now?" Marissa asked.

"A cephalo-gina."  Devin put his hands together like he was going to hadoken, wriggling his finger he explained those there the tentacles and where his wrists met, in that ever so attractive visual was the 'gina'.  He flicked his tongue at the center to vulgarly demonstrate going down on it.  The review was mixed.  A few needed the laugh, others weren't really in the mood it.

"Anyone need a sibling?  I'm so fucking done with my idiot brother it's not even funny." Marissa rolled her eyes at his display.  "Could you draw it?"

Devin stopped and dropped his hands to his sides.  "If my hands would stop shaking, maybe."

Cass quikly defended Devin.  "He's not lying, that's exactly what it looked like it.  Only bigger.  It came from the cloud and," he grabbed at the air like she was palming a basketball.  "It got him and it pulled him into the cloud."

"That's when we ran."  Devin pointed to Cass, punctuating her story.  "He dropped the gun, Cass got a pic of it, but then Pryor shows up like 'hey, sorry, it just dawned on me that I wasn't all up in everyone's business, oh by the way I found a gun after hearing a gun shot, you're all fucking retarded and I deserve a medal because my dads in the military, whee!"

Devin sniffled.  "Kay, now I'm done.  Wait... no I'm not.  Charlie... we didn't tell this story until now."  He walked over to Charlie.  "What did you mean when you said," he air quoted.  "The tentacled ones don't like nudists?"

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Cade had been listening and idly he had Cora's hand in his, both as a way to help her calm down, and reassure her things were fine, at least for now.   Devin's story, and the one about the sabertooth cat, well that made him think of the tooth he'd found in his tire.

"Crazy as it sounds, I did have something actually run into my jeep and leave what looks like a pretty large tooth in the tire tread on my way out tonight.    I pulled it out and let Sean take a look at it to see if he might know what it was.   It didn't stay after the impact, so i never actually saw the creature, whatever it was."

Having listened to the tale of the Cephalo-gina from Devin, he was ready to call him crazy, then he approached Charlie, who he knew couldn't have been there for that.   

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"I mean what I say and say what I mean." Charlie replied sagely.

Devin rubbed the bridge of his nose in irritation, remembering he was dealing with a dweeb on drugs. "I mean, did you go into the woods and and see the cephalo-gina?"

"Nah, Lilly had the Bobs watching me." Charlie responded blithely, unaware of the implications of his statement to the others. In his state of connected-ness, how could anything be wrong?

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Sean and Sara were listening from the doorway, Sean dug into his pocket and produced the tooth and came the rest of the way down and held it up for everyone to see. Jase looked at it and remembered the monster leaping jaws ope and remembered what he saw. "It was missing one of it's lower fangs," said Jase and Sara at the same time.

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Cassandra held a hand out, trying to get things to stop or slow down as she processed all this.

"So...this sabretoothed tiger attacked Cade's car, then later it attacked Jason right here...and then it disappeared just before it killed him...and...you all just stuck around? Goddamn, you guys."

She scrubbed her fingers through her hair. "So...I mean...two disappearing things. Three, I guess, if you count the...the mouth-gina or whatever... But...wait, Clara you said something weird was in the trailer?"

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"We actually came across the cat on the way back to the main camp.  I figured that if there was a shooter, they'd be on or close to the path, so started leading people back via the scenic route."  Jason's voice was calm, his eyes slightly distant as he recalled every detail.  "We'd gotten maybe 100 yards when it came prowling out ahead of us - obviously with a toothache and hungry, since it immediately began to stalk us.  We kept cool-"

"Speak for yourself."  Etienne volunteered with a faint smile.  "Personally, mon ami, I wanted to grab Clara and run like hell."

"-and I got everyone moving slowly back to the trailer, here."  Jase went on with a small nod.  "It trailed along, keeping us in sight, and only decided to charge when we got to the clearing.  Which makes sense - less obstacles for us to duck behind or weave around."  he added clinically.  "I lit the torch and tried to hold it off while the others got into the trailer.  I screwed up and it had me cold, but then disappeared."  He smiled faintly, his eyes narrowing as he pondered.

"So yours-" he looked at Devin and Cass "-appeared from and disappeared into a cloud.  Makes sense - cephalopods like to strike from and cover their retreat with clouds of ink in the sea.  Maybe this was some otherdimensional or alien species related to our octopi or squids."

"Otherdimenwhat?"  Devin asked, blinking and looking around the circle.  Marissa rolled her eyes at him and he shot her the bird.  Sean shook his head slowly, red-gold hair tumbling around his delicate features and wide eyes.

"Aliens, now?" he asked his friend with skepticism dripping from the question.  Jase met Sean's gaze without any sign of doubt, and Sean shook his head harder.  "Dude, that shit is impossible."

"Either a dimensional anomaly or else a temporal anomaly.  Perhaps the smilodon came from the past and the... Cephalogina-"  he smiled at Devin slightly. "-from the future, as that doesn't appear in the fossil record.  And let's not throw around 'impossible' too easily, hmm?  If we accept that the tooth is real, the tracks are real, the smilodon was real and what Devin and Cassandra saw was real - what would your explanation be?  And besides, in the trailer-"

"Bullshit."  Lona snorted, pointing an accusing finger at Jase.  "This is all your weed.  What did you lace that shit with, huh?!"  She stepped towards him, fists balling as she approached.  Jase did not move, merely tilted his head to one side and watched her, his gaze bright.  Clara hastily took Lona's arm, restraining her gently.

"I never touched it, Lona." she said quietly.  "Nor did Etienne."

"Neither did I."  Devin piped up, echoed by Cass and his sister.

"And even leaving aside the fact that only a fucking idiot spikes weed he's selling to the whole Shelly youth underground."  Marissa snorted at Lona.  "If it was in the weed, the party would be a riot right now as everyone tripped balls.  How was it when you left, emo girl?"

"Calm."  Cade spoke up, shrugging as Coraline nodded beside him.  "Mellow, even.  No fights or even loud quarreling."

"-in the trailer are hundreds of reports, maps, statistics."  Jason went on as Cade's words sank in, as though Lona had never interrupted him.  "This was some kind of observation post.  I think an organisation was keeping tabs on this area, like they knew it was a place were weird stuff happens.  Please do not-"  his voice sank to subzero temperatures.  "-touch anything in there.  Marissa and I are working to sort the data into a coherent whole, like defragmenting a hard drive, and when we have I promise that anyone who wants to browse the discovery can do so.  However..."  He narrowed his eyes and swept the group, including Laurelei and Tawny, Laurie taking a half-step back at this first glimpse of a different Jase.

"We need to keep this quiet.  No gossip, no rumors.  Don't even discuss it where someone might hear you.  Best place to talk about it is here, if you must.  And for the love of all that is intelligent do not use your cellphones or the Internet to text, Instagram or discuss anything about this place.  When it comes to talking about this place, we're all going to have to be  'low tech mouth breathers'." he winked at Marissa, who smirked as she remembered.  "Or the best case is that it will be taken from us.  The worst case is that we and our families and anyone we might have told get disappeared, depending on who set this up and why.  Oh, and one final thing.  I'm reasonably sure someone is going to start up the refrain of 'but this isn't possible' or the other classic family fave 'we shouldn't be here'."  He said both phrases in an affected whiny child voice.  "To that person or persons, don't bother.  If your mind is that small, you're no use here so you might as well head back to the party."  He shrugged coldly, his eyes still holding that merciless predator stare.  "Anyone?"

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"Actually,"Sara began, "I think we should all go back to the party." she looked at her watch, "It's almost twelve, some of you have parents who are gonna be expecting you home soon. And we need to wrap the party up and get all those people off this ridge." Sara looks at Jase, "This place has been here forty or fifty years, I don't think it's going anywhere and whatever was going on here has been over for a long time."

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18 hours ago, Marissa Jauntsen said:

"I never should have abandoned you guys and ran off alone."  Marissa mocked Lilly in a high pitched childish tone.  "Jesus Christ girl, dramatic much?  Notice how none us got hugs Jason?  Previous conversation applies.  You have options, I'm just saying.  The rest of us are okay too, Pryor, thanks for asking."

Lilly broke her hug with Jase and turned to Mari.

"Wow. Marissa. Impatient much? Or is it more like 'Blind much'? Or maybe 'Jealous much'? Hmm..." Lilly said doing a exaggerated thinking expression.

"You have no idea who I hugged outside and I already hugged Sara in here before Jase. Just because you were not first in the queue doesn't meant you weren't in queue, not like you would actually accept a hug from me anyways, but I still would have offered because I can do something that you can't seem to do; admit when I was wrong and apologize, because I was wrong to leave you guys and I am sorry." Lilly said as they exited the trailer and moved outside.

 

12 hours ago, Bannon said:

Oh, and one final thing.  I'm reasonably sure someone is going to start up the refrain of 'but this isn't possible' or the other classic family fave 'we shouldn't be here'."  He said both phrases in an affected whiny child voice.  "To that person or persons, don't bother.  If your mind is that small, you're no use here so you might as well head back to the party."  He shrugged coldly, his eyes still holding that merciless predator stare.  "Anyone?"

Lilly listend the others, rolling her eyes when Devin spoke about her. Finally Jase spoke and ended with his statement about leaving if one were to try and inject reason into the discussion, He even used the same mocking, childlike voice that Mari had just used in the trailer. In just the minutes she was away from the others chasing after the gunshot in the darkness, certainly less than an hour, Mari had managed to sink her claws, fangs or whatever into Jase and began to influence him, and not in a positive way.

Lilly shook her head and sighed before taking a step forward and speaking,

"Zombie, tentecle monsters, sabertooth tigers, dimensional portals... That's D&D... A GAME." she said emphatically. 

"A bear and cougar-proof weather or research station in rural Montana and a couple of pranks, or even a prank and a big-ass cougar? That's reality. So if you don't want, you know, reason here to ruin your fantasy, then whatever. have fun playing, but I don't think Sean brought his dice and DM screen." Lilly said as turned to walk away, but paused for half a second and turned back.

"Oh, and Jase?" she said, making sure she had is attention, "Mari's fingerprints are all over you. And from one friend to another, it's not a good look." she said, looking him in the eyes with about as serious look has he had ever seen from her. Lilly hoped it would be enough for Jase to take a step back and look at himself, but with Mari and her manipulations, who knew.

Lilly then turned and began stalking off into the dark woods alone once again, and back to the party, not even trying to mask her irritation, to put it mildly.

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"Pryor, just wait a minute," shouted Sara at Lilly's retreating back, "going off alone isn't safe. If we are hallucinating, for whatever reason," she shoots a look at Bannon, then continues with Lilly, " that means the air force guy is still out there with the gun."

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28 minutes ago, Sara Hutchins said:

"Pryor, just wait a minute," shouted Sara at Lilly's retreating back, "going off alone isn't safe. If we are hallucinating, for whatever reason,"

Lilly stopped and turned around at Sara's calling after her, though she was only a few steps away She walked backwards slowly (so she didn't trip over anything) as she spoke,

"None of you seemed to care before." Lilly called back, uncharacteristically countering Sara's comment about leaving alone. It was a harsh thing for her to say, something that nobody who knew her would have ever expected her to say, in fact, which only made her 'irritation', if one could even still call it that, even more obvious.

"And besides, YOU guys I hallucinating. I ain't seen shit." she added with a shrug.

"I'm good. Have fun."

Lilly waved with her left hand and had started to turn back around to continue down the path and away from the others when she heard Sara again.

28 minutes ago, Sara Hutchins said:

she shoots a look at Bannon, " that means the air force guy is still out there with the gun."

She took a step or two as Sara's words sank in and then stopped in place, lifting her right hand, still holding the secured gun wrapped in her sweater, and cradled it in her left hand, looking down at the knitted ball. She had recognized back in the clearing where she found it as the new sidearm that the Air Force has just begin to issue. That gave her pause.

"Wait..." she said as she began walking back with intent.

"What?" she called back confused and drawing closer with each step.

"What 'air force guy with a gun'?" she asked.

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"We found an Air Force uniform folded up on the bed in there."  Jase answered calmly, his eyes on Lilly as he motioned towards the trailer.   "Everything there except the sidearm in the holster.  Name-tag of Cooper, not sure as to the rank."  He was not showing it, but he was hurt by Lilly's doubting him.  His harsh words had not been meant for her though on reflection he pondered that perhaps, as a skeptic of the whole affair, she would take them that way.  He mentally sighed.  People posed annoyingly complicated puzzles if you wanted to be friends with them.  Watch what you say... mind how you say it... and on and on.  Rules and guidelines and suggestions, and there was no apparent rhyme or reason as to their priority.

And what was that about Marissa's fingerprints?  Okay, certainly the lovely Queen of Shelly High had given him some cause for reevaluating how he approached the world, but he was not a puppet.  As he spun this new wrinkle around in his head, he wondered if Lilly was jealous, or merely hurt by her assumption of his scorn for her.  It didn't seem like Lilly was the jealous type, to be honest.  She was too generous of spirit- though anyone could potentially feel and display pettiness, especially if they had undeclared or unacknowledged feelings.  He mentally cursed now.  He didn't have time for this.  Why the hell was he worrying about the romantic yearnings of teenage girls which, if he were honest, were about as reliable and stable as the weather during tornado season in the Bible Belt?

He was also stung by Lilly's implication that he didn't care about her running off alone, and a number of retorts flashed through his mind with crackling speed.  He could dissect her actions, point out they were impulsive and that if the group had moved to follow at least one would have been left behind, the rest strung out along the course, potentially blundering into trees or spraining ankles...  He could acidly remark that at least one person had to keep their head rather than charging off in the direction of a gunshot like it was a starting pistol and she was a particularly suicidal greyhound.  He could say many things, and considered them all.

"Lilly."  he said quietly, getting her attention once more.  "I'm glad you are okay." he stated simply, then fell silent as he watched her.

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There was subtext here she wasn't privy to, Cassandra got that much, but what she focused on was something else entirely.

"So the guy with the gun was from here?"

Time to have a look. But maybe first...

Cass turned to look at Lilly. "Look, I get it. You don't know me, and what I'm saying sounds crazy. I don't blame you for not believing me. But these are your friends. You might want to actually listen to them."

Then she headed into the Conspiracy Cabin to get some photos, barely even noticing that Jase started to drift in behind her, curious about what she'd see in that mess. Or perhaps just to make sure she didn't screw up his and Marissa's work.

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Sara blocked the entrance to the trailer making Cass draw up shot. "No pictures," she shook her head looking Cass in the eye, "personally I'd rather no one go in, be cause it's not safe. But I won't stop anyone from going, but no pictures. We don't need this place showing up on Instagram and Facebook."

After making that statement she stepped away and let Cass and anyone else who wanted to go in past. She was giving Jase a disapproving look  and shrugged a question at him,  that he some how could read with one hundred percent surety as her saying 'are you going to do anything about this?'.

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Cassandra frowned and met Sara's gaze.

"No pictures? You guys...you have to know that this whole thing here..." she waves a hand at the trailer, "...it's probably going to go away, right? If we want to be sure we can look at any of this stuff again, we have to document it. All of it, now, while we can. Because I guarantee you, one of these days we'll come out here and this thing will just be gone. Without a trace."

She nods and adds, "Not to mention, I will not post ANY of this ANYWHERE. Even if I wanted to write a story on it, I wouldn't publicly share the raw information. It goes on my phone until I get home, then it goes on a thumbdrive and OFF my phone. Then we can look at it anytime we want, and it won't be anywhere online."

"Sound good?"

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"Sounds very good."  Bannon said after a moment's thought, nodding at Sara, then at Cass.  "Excellent points, well made, and I agree.  Who better to be our chronicler?  Make sure you snap the uniform, including all insignia and such so that we can try to ID the fellow who left it."  He added with a faint smile, studying the teen reporter.  Cass shot a surprised and grateful look at the lanky youth for his support, and began moving around, careful not to disturb anything as her phone camera beeped.  Jase raised an eyebrow at Sara's obviously unhappy expression, then added a little louder so all could hear.  "And once Cassandra has got her visual record, we might want to turn out the lights and head back to the party. We can come back tomorrow when it's light and really put in some spade-work.  Sara, any way we can re-secure the door?"

Sara shakes her head "We can put the lock back on it but it won't latch. It might fool someone if they don't look too close or try it."

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Lona said nothing, fuming silently at the way that a friend had just spoken to her and her other friends -- supposedly his friends. The fact that Lilly had almost walked away only seemed to point out that she wasn’t the only one offended, though Lilly had chosen the weirdest reason for being upset. While Bannon was sounding like the Jauntsens, to Lona he sounded far more like Jerail, Bannon’s alchemist in the game. Lona hated that fucker; he always talked down the rest of the party. His only redeeming grace was that he rarely spoke in character. 

With Bannon, Sara, Cass, and Lilly fucking around inside the trailer, Lona shook her head and dug out a cigarette -- not one of Bannon’s but a regular one. Despite the fact that she was now confident that his drugs weren’t the cause of tonight’s weirdness, she didn’t want to be high. Her lighter was low, and she shook it several times before flicking the wheel. Nothing but sparks, and she inhaled in irritation. C’mon, work! she demanded silently, then flicked the wheel again. A flare of fire blossomed in the night, and Lona gratefully lit her cigarette. After a deep inhale, she exhaled a plume of smoke into the thick night air. 

As Bannon asked his question to Sara, Lona interjected. “I have another question. Because locking up this door and everything is a great idea, and I’m down with helping out here and solving the mystery. But if we do, is Bannon going to talk down to us like we’re idiots all the time or just some of the time?”

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Jason turned to regard her, paused, then slowly nodded at Avalon, a concession of her point.  Whatever had happened behind that bright direct gaze that was studying her face, then moving to regard the others, it was welcome change from the acidic scorn he'd radiated earlier.

"I am sorry everyone."  he said quietly as he looked back at Lona, speaking also to the others.  "I will not say I did not mean to offend.  Because when I spoke the words, I did."  he offered without a flicker of embarrassment.  "I was irritated, and angry, and yes - a little shaken from the events of the night.  I do not like to be disbelieved, and I react poorly to it.  I also react poorly to insinuations that I lace my weed - which you were not alone in voicing, so I do not blame you."  he smiled slightly at Lona.  "I lashed out in stress - for the second time tonight, in fact - and I apologise for it.  You are my friends, and better friends than my behaviour likely warrants."

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"To be fair," Lona said with a smile, "I don't think it's your weed anymore, either. Enough people didn't have it but are affected by the weird to rule that idea out. So I'm sorry for the accusation. You're right, we are all wound tight." 
 
"We should all take pictures so that we have a lot of images from a lot of angles." Clara spoke up. "The sooner the better, because if that airman was here on active duty and has been eaten, then the Air Force is gonna come looking for him. We should take pictures of all the documents, too. And," she added with a bite of sarcasm, "not post them online, obviously."
 
Taking another drag on her cigarette, Lona said, "So, let's get some pictures and seal this place up and get out of here. When should we come back tomorrow?"
 

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