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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."


"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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