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[Interlude:] In Memoriam


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On 12/5/2021 at 11:42 PM, Cassandra Allen said:

"Okay. You want answers...and I want to give answers. So it's AMA time. Ask me anything. And trust me, don't ask me to just 'summarize it' because...it's a lot. I think I know you well enough to know there's something you're really interested in, out of all of this. Instead of me trying to guess, just ask what's on your mind. I'll tell you. Even if it's not the answer you expect or...probably want to hear."

 

"Alright."  Leila pressed her lips together in thought, staring at the drink in her hand for a moment as she organised her questions.  "Let's start with the obvious:  Charlie's death.  The serial killer that you and your friends supposedly faced off against, who doesn't seem to have a name or a description that my contact in the State Police can find.   Who killed Charlie and kidnapped Sophia and Tawny?  Was it the same person?"

Cassandra took a deep breath. This was going to happen. It was a big risk, not just to her and the Fellowship, but to Leila possibly. But...she had to know. She had to understand what would happen. What would the Project do? How far were they willing to go? Leila was not dangerous to them. Even if she believed Cass, no one would believe her. Hopefully being on good terms with Cassandra was more important to them from plugging a leak in a high school newsletter. If not, then she'd have to seriously consider her associations.

"Okay. Yes. It was Cody...but the story's deeper and stranger than just that. Cody wasn't in his right mind when he did it. He was being manipulated by someone else."

Here Cass glanced around, then leaned forward a little. "This whole thing gets seriously weird, and it has its roots in the history of the town. Trying to get the facts down in a way that seems even a little plausible has been driving me crazy."

Leila stared off into space for a moment as she digested this, absently chewing on the corner of her bottom lip, a gesture Cassandra was familiar with as an indicator that her snarky editor was having Serious Thoughts.  Despite their frenemy status, despite their clashing over bylines and presentation, Leila was as much a newshound for a good story as Cassie.

It was probably the only thing that made her tolerable to work with.

"Alright... Alright..."  she mused aloud, then focused on Cassandra's face.  "You said the word 'facts'.  So I'm guessing you've got some.  Sources? Research?  Eye-witness accounts of this weirdness you're talking about?  How weird does it get, exactly?  We talking folk tales?  Cults?  Ancient aliens?"

"I'll let you be the judge of that," Cassandra replies. "As for sources...eye witnesses, of which I am one. With some supporting documentation." She picks up her phone and wiggles it. "I went to the place that the victims were taken, got some shots of the 'psycho lair.' It was pretty fucking grim."

"...and believe me, part of me wants to just leave it at that. Teenage psychopath, brought down, everything's fine now. It's a good story. And it's true, but it's not the whole truth. The rest of the truth is where it gets harder to show my work."

"Cody was sort of...possessed. The place he took his victims had a door that led to another dimension." Cassie holds up a finger. "Yes, I have a picture. Inside, the ground was covered with skulls, and a giant tree was growing out of them. Near the tree was a throne, and that was where the thing controlling Cody was."

"...and now it's gone. The throne, the monster...and Cody. They were destroyed. I know who did it, but I don't have their permission to reveal who they are...and yeah I know that kind of fucks me over." Cassandra sighed and rubbed her forehead. "The whole thing fucks me over."

"Shit."  Leila stared hard at Cassie now.  "Shit, Cass."

"Yeah."

"Okay."  The snarky brunette paced a few steps away, then back as she thought.  "Let's assume I'm taking this at face value  The fact that you care about these 'other people' enough to sit on a story like this is a pretty good indicator as to the 'who' was involved.  Let's go back to what you said about the history of the town.  'Cause it sounds to me, putting the edges together, that Cody and this, uh, other dimension wasn't how it started.  It was how it ended.  Maybe we can... I dunno... tell the back-story?  Work up to the unbelievable shit?"  Leila sighed then.  "Who am I kidding?  This whole thing is going to sound like Crazy Earl's Bigfoot stories, isn't it?"

Cassandra nods glumly. "Believe me, I've worked that angle. Stories about this kind of thing go back to the natives. And Shelly's had weird disappearances and a sky high record of violence for a town its size ever since they started keeping records. All of that plugs into this, but that data looks unrelated at first...and some Indian folklore isn't going to make any of this sound more like news."

She sighs. "It's...a messy story. The start is simple, but by the time we get to the present day so many fingers are in so many pots that untangling what's going on is really hard. And explaining it in a way that makes sense is even harder. And even that's assuming that people are willing to believe the many things that aren't believable along the way."

After a brief, pensive pause, Cassie adds, "I've written it all out...mapped each thing that happened, and it reads like the outline of a science fiction novel."

"Huh."  Leila chewed her lower lip again, scowling at the sculpture hanging on the wall nearby.  "This sucks."  she said at length.

"I know."  Cassie replied.

"Really sucks, Cass."

"I know."

"So you're saying this isn't publishable as news?"  Leila asked rhetorically.

"Maaaaybe."  Cassandra shrugged.  "Perhaps there's a way to get the story out, but it's not school newspaper stuff."

"Alright.  Let's do this a step at a time.  Pick a day when we're both free, and we can meet up and you can walk me through it.  Even if it's not going in the paper, I want to see the bottom of this rabbit hole."  Leila gave Cassie a searching look.  "Deal?"

Cassie eyed Leila, wondering if there was another shoe about to drop. Then again, Leila wasn't risking anything by doing this, was she? If it all turned out to be Cassie going crazy, all Leila was out was a little time. And if it was more than that, well then...she was in on something that would turn out to be huge. Something she had no other way to get in on than this.

But Cassandra needed help as well. And the Fellowship...she trusted them, but none of them were normal. None of them could help her make this story work for normal people. They were too close to it all, too set apart.

With a certain sinking feeling, Cass realized that was true of herself as well. That was the real reason she needed Leila. This was all going to spill out, sooner or later. The Project's efforts to contain it would just mean that they wouldn't be able to control it when it did. How this story was framed, how it was told, could make all the difference in what happened to the Fellowship and other people like them.

She nodded. "Okay. I'm thinking...maybe Sunday, but I'll make sure there's nothing else going on first and text you."

"Deal."  Leila nodded, looking pleased with herself.  Cassie couldn't help but wonder if she'd still be so happy once she knew everything.  Well, the clairsentient amended to herself, everything that Cassie herself did.  Then that started a line of thought - how much to withhold?  What was going to be 'safe' information, what wasn't?  Was it even safe to hold stuff back, knowing that if it came to light, she'd have immediately alienated her ally in spinning the tale?  Urrrgh.

Oblivious to the internal dilemma, Leila gave Cassandra a nod to affirm they had an accord.  "I'll hang out and wait for your text, then.  If it comes."  she added, narrowing her eyes.

"I said it would."  Cassie retorted, noting how easily the two of them fell back into the editor/reporter dynamic and somewhat grateful for it.  Chill, easy to work with Leila would be creepy.

"Alright then."  Leila nodded once more then looked around.  "I'm gonna go before my mom comes looking for me.  This whole kidnapping thing has gotten the local parents jumpy."  She snorted.  "Like I'm in danger of anything more than dying of bad taste in this place.  Later, Allen."

That was true, Cassie thought, though not for the reasons Leila probably thought it was. And once she knew the story, would it still be true? That was food for thought as well. "Later," she said.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Cade stalked through the house like he was pissed and on a mission, but a chance glance at a mirror as he was doing so., Knowing his sister would sniff out his mood and then not leave him alone, he took a moment to compose himself, and in his own mind the turbulent waters that reflected his mental state, calmed.  Once again they it became like an undisturbed deep pool, as he centered himself, and then he continued on outside.

His sister was there, talking to some of the other younger children, and he nodded as he walked up, Towering over everyone othere.   "Haruka, it's time to go.   Mom's gotta work tonight."

The younger Allistair looked up at her brother, and could tell something was not right, despite his attempts to hide it, but with so many around, she didn't want to cause a scene here.  "Okay, Cade."

She bid her goodbyes to the people she'd been speaking to, and fell into step with Cade as he lead her back to their mother.  "Are you okay?  I know Charlie was a friend.."

"He was, and no I'm probably not okay, but I will be in time."   he was surprisingly honest with her.  "Mom mentioned you were gonna stay with Jolene tonight."  

"You're not the only one who's not okay." she replied quietly.  

Cade simply put an arm around her, hugging his little sister gently.  "We will get through this."

"Cade what if it had been you?"  She asked, her voice tiny, vulnerable.

"People would be sad, but as now, People would move on, going forward.  That's what I'd want at least."  He looked down at her, and his gaze seemed to soften.  "It'd be rough, but I know you would be fine Haruka.  I have faith in you."

Haruka just looked up at him.  "Ok Mr. Afterschool Special.."  She hugged him anyway   "just for today, I'm gonna let it go."

Cade chuckled, and eventually the two of them made it to Miyakko, who was getting ready to leave.  "Okay, you have a good time tonight Haruka."  then Cade looked to his mother.  "Try to have a good shift tonight, Mom."  Miyakko smiled at her kids, and nodded.  "You too.  Don't be reckless tonight."

Cade nodded.  "No, nothing too crazy."

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  • 1 month later...
On 12/17/2021 at 4:59 AM, Sean Cassidy said:

"Hey, Kat!" Sean said enthusiastically. "We were just talking about gaming. D&D? Did you play, back in France?"

Sean was honestly curious. Kat seemed interested in video games, it seemed like there was a good chance she was interested in role-players games too. But what he was really thinking about what was he should show her the sketches Devin had drawn of him in potential Homecoming Gear - Epic, maybe even Legendary - or if he should hold off and surprise her with it.

"Um, Sean," Garret said, tapping his upper lip, "You're bleeding."

"What?" Sean brushed a forefinger under his nose then looked at it, finding it stained with crimson. "Shit." He wiped at it with the cuff of his borrowed shirt, then tilted his head back. "Is it still bleeding?"

Kat nodded. Garret frowned. "I think you're suppose to tilt your head down, not back. You can choke or something."

"Right. I knew that," Sean claimed, tilting his head forward and pinching the bridge of his nose. He did, but with all these issues cropping up, worry was beginning to set it. He grunted when saw a drop of blood land on his shirt, then nodded his thanks when Kat handed him a napkin from the tray of a passing server. "Must be the dry air in here. I should probably head out."

"Are you okay?" She asked, following him as he made his way to the garden doors. "I know now's probably not the right time, but you should go and have Autumn check on you."

"It's just a nose-bleed, no big deal," Sean said blithely. He pulled the handle down, then shoved open one of the doors with a shoulder. "If it happens again, then I'll go bother Autumn about it."

He sounded unconcerned and reassuring, and with the thick napkin to his face, Kat couldn't make out his expression. But she could feel the hint of worry under the complete disregard radiating from him, that he wouldn't go see a doctor - or the psychic equivalent - for something so little as a nose-bleed. Wouldn't go unless he was near death or felt like it, really. A very stereotypically male attitude that belied his very feminine appearance.

Sean led Kat to his SUV. Turning away from her for a moment, he snorted into the napkin to clear his nose, then looked at it. It was a right mess, but his nose felt clear enough. He wiped his nose, then folded the napkin to hide the crimson stains, though they had leaked through some. He turned back to Kat, flashing her a grin.

"See? Practically stopped already." Feeling a dribble, he held the napkin up to his nostrils again. "Almost practically stopped, anyway." Sean nodded back at his car. "If you haven't gamed before, y'know, played D&D or Pathfinder, I can pick you up when I get Garret, if you'd like to see what it's like."

The petite French girl rubbed the back of her head, with a sorry smile. "I'm not much into DND... I guess there's no hurt in trying."

Her shoulders went up and down in a teenage fashion, then frowned. Nose-bleeds weren't big deals, Sean was right, but there also was something about him that didn't felt right. I'll keep an eye on him, she thought.

Sean's grin widened, pleased with Kat taking an interest in one of his favourite hobbies, not noticing her dubiousness or worry. "Cool. I'll aim for seven. If you have fun, maybe we can see about working a character of your own into my campaign."

Sean scampered around to the driver-side of his Grand Cherokee, and scrambled up behind the wheel. He leaned over and stretched, a bit awkward with the gearshift and certain protuberances in the way and opened the the passenger-side door, waving Kat inside. "Come in for a sec, I wanna show you something."

"Okay..." Kat agreed, slightly hesitant, feeling Sean's excitement, which was flavoured with both eagerness and trepidation.

As the slight, short French girl climbed up into the SUV which was lifted for off-roading, Sean twisted around to reach his satchel in the back seat. When Kat had settled in the passenger seat, Sean pulled out several sheets of paper from the satchel and handed them to her, his huge, multicoloured eyes of jade and turquoise bright and vulnerable. "Here, take a look."
 

Spoiler

Will finish post when able. Drid, you have what's on the papers in our PMs, the descriptions of the various outfits for Sean for Homecoming that Devin drew.

 

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Spoiler

Collaboration with Vivi.

The sheer Momness  of the statement was enough to make Autumn's nose crinkle a little in dismay, but despite the urge to remind them both enthusiastically that she was almost  seventeen and definitely not a little girl anymore, she didn't think it would help. They were having a Parental Moment, and, all cringing aside, she had to admit they'd kind of earned it. This was the day they'd buried Charlie, after all. Someone else's baby. Someone else's son. ...And, for all the ambiguity of her own feelings about him, it was hard to deny that Charlie Cole had been loved by many in the community.

"Speaking of babies," she broke in, leaning into her mom's one-armed embrace as she looked up at Gar, "are there any pictures of Jason when he was little? Before you guys moved here, I mean." It was hard to imagine Jase Bannon as an actual baby- she'd seen him as a ten-year old, and he'd been skinny then, too, with those too-old eyes in a childish face. As a for-real baby, though... She remembered how he'd looked at her photo album the day before, and felt a pang. Even knowing he had parents, and had probably been born in the usual way, it was still almost easier to imagine him stepping out of some secret lab as a fully-formed miniature human.

 He could probably calculate the last digit of pi as a toddler. 

Yeah, well, if there are pictures of him in some kind of crazy pod machine or something, we can always sell them to Cassie.

Gar blinked before nodding, giving Autumn a smile.  "We do have some pictures, yeah."  the older Bannon replied.  "Got some in my desk at home - haven't looked at them in forever, though."  he admitted then, rubbing the back of his neck.  "Most of them were taken by my parents, back when they were looking after Jason.  Not really enough for an album or anything, so I just keep them in a folder."  He paused as a thought hit him.  "Oh, and there's one I carry in my wallet of him as a baby."

"Okay, I have to see this."  Dana murmured, giving her daughter's shoulders another squeeze as she grinned.  "Though it'd be better if Jase was here to be embarrassed by how cute he was as a baby."

"It's Jason, mom."  Autumn rolled her eyes theatrically, smiling a little.  "He wouldn't care."

"Good point."  Gar chuckled as he fished his wallet out and extracted a Polaroid from it's folds, handing it over.  Dana took it and held it do that both Keane women could see.  Baby Jase looked... like a baby, at least at first glance.  Wearing a diaper, and there was a little shock of dark hair atop his head, and he had the chubby roundness of feature that marked any recently born person.  He was in someone's arms, staring at the camera, his expression calm and his bright pale eyes wide and almost considering, as though he were trying to work out the what and why of the observer behind the camera.

"That's definitely him," the younger of the two redheads agreed, stifling a somewhat awestruck laugh as she stared at the slightly worn image of the former terror-turned-boyfriend. And he was cute, as babies were supposed to be, but also... Her smile lingered for a moment, and faded by degrees. Also somehow not,  because the point of being cute, of being a helpless new creature, was to inspire protectiveness and look unthreatening, and it was hard not to imagine an adult intelligence behind that direct, un-babylike gaze peering out at her. 

Still, at least now they were even, right?

The corners of Dana's mouth curved upward bemusedly as she glanced from the photo to the elder Bannon, nodding. "It's a good picture, and he looks absolutely precious. Very much like Jase," she noted wryly, her smile widening, "but still, a very cute baby for all that. Remind me sometime to show you some of Autumn's," she teased, squeezing her daughter in another quick hug. 

Ugh.  The teen's nose crinkled again, unhappily, as she peered up at her mother. "Not fair. We've only seen one  of Jason's. And, besides," she added with a note of defiance, "Jase already saw  my baby pictures."

"Oh, really?" the arch of an auburn brow inquired silently in response, and Autumn nodded, unable to hide her grin of triumph. "Yep, he looked through my photo album yesterday while he was over."

"Well, that's a shame," Dana sighed dramatically, a flicker of mischief in her hazel eyes. "I was planning to use those as blackmail."

Gar chuckled, tucking away his wallet.  "You can always trot the album out when you guys next come over."  he suggested with a hint of matching mischief that, for a moment, reminded Autumn of the understated laughter in her boyfriend's eyes when he was flustering her.  Only, with Gar, the mischievous intent was all over his warmly expressive features, turning to curiousity as he considered what Autumn had said.  "I wonder what he thought - about your album I mean." he mused quietly.  "Did he-?"

"Gar.  I was hoping to catch you.  Hi Dana, hi Autumn."  Carolyn Cassidy, in her sober churchgoing dress and with a glass in one hand, approached the three of them with a smile on her kind features.  "It's only a quick thing - we're about to get going."  she explained semi-apologetically.  "I wasn't sure when I'd have another chance to speak with you, what with it coming up on Homecoming week and all."  She leaned in a little to the group confidentially.  "It's about Jase's birthday."

"His birthday?"  Gar nodded slowly.  "Right... Yeah."  He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully.  "What with everything else, I hadn't even had a chance to think about it."  He cast a slightly guilty glance at all three women.  "In, uh, previous years, Carolyn's kind of been the one to..."  He didn't finish that sentence, didn't really need to.  All three understood.

"I did nothing much.  Cake and a dinner at most."  She flapped a hand dismissively.  "Well, he's going to be seventeen next week, and now that you're - well, less overworked," Carolyn delicately stepped around saying 'out of the bottle'.  "I was wondering if you'd like to collaborate on some plans."  She gave Jase's dad a smile.  "Even with everything else, Jason's still like family for us, and it'd be lovely to have you there too, and of course now he has a girlfriend..."  she grinned at Autumn and Dana.  "Which means you're on the planning committee too if you want, Autumn."

Next week?!

"Wait, you mean, next week, next week? Homecoming week, next week?" Autumn blinked at Mrs. Cassidy, her eyes widening in surprise and dismay.  Sure, it's not like it'd come up in the couple of weeks she'd been actually talking to Jason or any of the people who also talked to him, for that matter, but he'd been in Shelly for six years. Six! Almost seven, her brain cheerfully corrected, and she groaned inwardly. Not helping! "I didn't know." There was a moment's pause, and the expressive young redhead felt her face growing warmer with that admission as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Obviously." She exhaled in a kind of self-conscious laugh, the corner of her mouth turning up a little as her eyebrows flicked briefly upward. Dana pulled her into another one-armed squeeze, pressing a quick kiss to the top of her daughter's tousled hair. 

"You've had plenty of other things to worry about," the elder Keane woman murmured, and Autumn nodded, sighing as she leaned against her mother's side for a moment. That was definitely true. They all had.

"So what do you need me to do?  So if this is supposed to be like a family thing..." 

Another pause, an eyeblink. She'd been involved, a little, in Jacob's birthdays for as long as she could remember, whether they were dating or not. It was normal, expected, natural. They were family, like the Cassidys and Jase were. The Bannons themselves, though, were still relative strangers to Autumn. And, she realized, in a sense Jason probably always would be, even if they knew each other for a hundred years. 

"I just don't wanna intrude, you know?" she added, glancing first at Gar, and then Carolyn, the soles of her dress flats scuffing unsatisfyingly against the floor as she shifted again.

"Honey, you wouldn't be intruding."  Carolyn seemed mildly astonished.  "You're his girlfriend."  Sean's mom was definitely Team Autumn/Jase, from the looks of it.  "He likes you - which makes you pretty special."  She gave Autumn a bright smile.

"She's got a point."  Gar admitted, rubbing the back of his neck again and giving Autumn a rueful grin.  "You guys got along, even before you were dating.  He trusts you and talks to you more than pretty much anyone."

Dana stayed quiet, giving Autumn's shoulders a reassuring squeeze as Carolyn went on.  "We'll still be handling the grunt work," she indicated Gar and herself "but if you have any ideas for something new to do it'd be great.  Usually it's just a cake and homecooked meal, but what with everything... all the changes... I figured maybe this year warranted something more."

Autumn just stared for a moment, a little taken aback at the unreserved positivity. Yeah, she and Jason were dating, but like all the "changes" Carolyn had mentioned, even their friendship was incredibly new and experimental, and the, um... the other part was... whew. Down, girl. Sometimes even thinking about it, about how much one conversation had changed things, like the course of a river shifting from its bed, seemed a little crazy- almost as crazy as nightmare hell-worlds and having weird powers. Was it okay to be included in a family celebration like that, even though she wasn't really part of the "family"? Or... was  she now, in their eyes? Kind of the way her family was trying, in their own way, to welcome in the latest wild creature she'd brought home.

"Thanks." She smiled, the uncertainty on her freckled features giving way to relief and gratitude as she nodded. "That sounds awesome. I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I'm low-key freaking out that it's next week and I have no idea what to do, but..." The warm curve of her mouth broadened in a brief, but genuine grin. "I'd love to help. And-" She hesitated, her expression shifting again, teeth catching at the inside of her lower lip as another thought occurred to her. "Maybe... I mean, I know you guys are doing all the planning, and you literally just asked me to help, but maybe the fact that so much has changed is a good reason to keep this more or less the same. Kind of... normal, I guess. You know?"

Sean's mom's expression went thoughtful at that, and she exchanged a look with Gar, who nodded slowly.  "That makes sense."  he said quietly, giving Autumn a faint smile.  Dana likewise nodded agreement.

"After all the upset and chaos and... well..."  Autumn's mom gestured wordlessly at their surroundings, as though to remind all four of them why they were here, at the Cole house.  "Some normal would be a good thing, even for those who've gone through such abnormal situations.  Maybe especially for them."

"So, friends and family get-together, dinner and cake."  Carolyn affirmed with a nod and a smile.  "Just with a few more guests, since Jase has more friends this time around?"  She looked at Gar questioningly, causing the older Bannon to rub his chin thoughtfully and nod once more.

"Yeah."  he said slowly.  "Sounds good.  And we can host it at the farm, too.  'Bout time I pulled my weight on this sort of thing."  he gave Carolyn a rueful smile, and glanced at Dana.  "You and Ian are welcome to come, too.  If the weather's good, we can set up grills and eat outdoors."

"Great!"  Carolyn beamed, then glanced at her watch.  "Okay, I've got to scoot.  I'll call you during the week to get things organised, Gar."  She gave Autumn a wide smile.  "It's a good plan - something wholesome, something normal to remind us all of what's important.  Good call!"  she enthused, leaning forward and giving the young redhead a quick, warm hug which, due to Autumn's proximity to her mom, also ended up enveloping Dana, who laughed.  "See you all later."  Mrs Cassidy said before breezing away.

"I think I'm going to make my goodbyes as well."  Gar said quietly, glancing around at the throng then at mother and daughter.  Giving them both a smile, he went on "I'm sure I'll see you both around - don't be strangers."

"I don't think there's much chance of that," Dana quipped with an answering smile, the warmth of her expression rendered rueful by the mixture of worry and regret in her hazel eyes. The talk of baby pictures and celebrations was a bright, brief moment of respite from the sober, undeniable reality of the day, and did nothing for the accompanying twinge of guilt that poor Hannah would likely find no joy in such things for a long time to come. Nodding a polite goodbye at Gar Bannon as Autumn pulled away- off to find Cassie, the younger of the Keane women half-explained, giving her boyfriend's dad a quick wave- the slim veterinarian sent up a silent prayer that they'd all have more birthdays to plan.

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