Tall Tales
A New Threat

Kraal’merx sat at the large, wooden desk, leaning back in a luxuriant, leather office chair. He was wearing a blue uniform, replete with the accolades earned over the lifetime career of Colonel Albert Miller. The office had been thoroughly cleaned and not an iota of evidence remained that would suggest anything untoward had happened in that room.

He held the phone’s receiver to his ear, a smile on his face.

“Yes, Janet, that’s good news. The awakened people of this world are likely the biggest threat we face.”

On the other end, a woman spoke.

“True, and our relocation efforts are providing dividends, however… if you’ll pardon me, I do not agree with your assessment.”

The middle-aged gentleman’s smile froze. He sat up straight, his next words rimed with ice.

“What do you mean?”

There was a nervous cough. “You recall what I told you of my arrival?” There was a pause as the woman waited for him to affirm that. He remained silent. “Yes, well,” she continued, “it appears that there was an incident down south. Our task force went to retrieve someone who had slipped through the dragnet. However, they were met with stiff resistance.”

“I fail to see how this is relevant. Of course, some will resist and if you underestimate them…” He let that hang.

“Yes, my Lord, but these weren’t… people!” she insisted. “They were bane! At least four of them.”

The man frowned. “Are you certain?”

“The Namtar are not given to telling tall tales.”

“Very well. We are nearing the end of this phase in any case. Identifying further threats is, of course, a priority. You are well situated to ferret them out and eliminate them. That is your task.”

“Yes, my Lord. One that I will relish.”

“Good. Do not fail.” He placed the receiver back in its cradle.

He had known there would be resistance and he had known there would be those who had the power to fight back. But four of them… in as sparsely a populated area as this? That hinted that there were more than the Ba’al had reckoned. It would be no matter, they had come in such force that their victory was a foregone conclusion.

But this thorn would have to be removed, even if they weren’t a threat to the outcome, they could be a threat to him, personally. And Kraal’merx was determined to stand at the finish with the victors, to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

Camping Trip
Who brought the s'mores?

Abby pulls up a block away from her house but does not see anything immediately out of the ordinary. Nodding to herself, she drives the rest of the way and she and Corb dismount so she can push the bike over to the side of the house and secure it Inside, she tells Corb to make himself at home and goes to check on her housemate, finding him enjoying himself in the new room. She goes to her room and takes a small briefcase from her closet before going down into the cellar, where she digs her coffee cans up, pulling the cash out and putting it in the briefcase. She shakes her head; this is the sum total of her cash and it is not very much if they are going into hiding for long.

She grabs some of her camping gear and begins hauling it upstairs. Corb comes and helps her with the rest of it and she goes into her room to pack some clothes, first changing out of Trish’s sweatshirt. She tosses some clothes into a backpack and asks Corb to help her bring the trailer out of the shed in the back. Once the trailer is hooked up, they start ferrying the camping gear out and storing it inside. The last bit is the snake’s traveling case that Abby has had built for him. She shows Corb how to fasten it to the top of the trailer and then makes sure that it is on tight before putting Sin inside and turning on the small covered heat lamps. Finally done, she looks at Corb. “Ready?”

He nods. “As ready as I can be, I guess. Are you sure about all of this? It seems scary as hell and it is probably going to get worse.”

Abby nods. “It probably will, but if we do not do this then who will? You can back out if you want and I can just drop you off at your place.”

Corb shakes his head. “No…no, I did not mean it that way. I’m in, just like I said at the truck, but……well…..”

His voice drops off and Abby nods and smiles. “Yeah, I know.”

The two move the bike out onto the street and drive off to Corb’s place to get some of his things.

The ride to Corb’s place does not take long and he does not spend too much time inside, emerging with a backpack and a carry bag of clothes. Abby helps him open the side of the trailer so he can store his things and they mount the bike once again. Abby stops at a gas station to fill her tank and use the bathroom, leaving Corb to watch the bike and trailer. She swaps with him when she is done then goes into the attached mini-mart to get several bags of jerky and a couple of sodas.

Once back outside, she opens one of the jerky bags and offers some to Corb, along with the second soda. They munch and drink a bit in silence, just looking at each other. For some reason, Corb has a bit of trouble getting the sight of her exposed breasts out of his mind but tries manfully, and vainly, to keep his eyes on her eyes as they stand there. Abby grins at her traveling companion. “So, what about all this shit? Believe it?”

Corb is caught off-guard, having been looking at Abby’s chest. He looks up at her and grins, knowing he was caught. He nods. “Yeah… maybe. At least part of it has to be true, right? I mean, we all do change into something else, some sort of creature or monster or something else in your case. Not really sure what that is, to be honest.”

“It is my Loa, my spirit partner. She is like a demi god and she is currently sharing my body with me, and I am thankful for her presence. It seems that I can ask her to take control of my body and then give it back, which is very cool. I am very impressed with what she is teaching me and look forward to learning a lot more. And her body is way more killer than my own.”

Corb blushes a bit and says with only a touch of awkwardness, “I think your own body is pretty killer as it is.”

Abby gives Corb a serious look. “You think so? Thanks for saying that. I show it off so much that sometimes I think people just say that to get me to strip.”

“What do you do?”

“Well, promise not to give me some sort of holier than thou look or speech?”

Corb nods. “It can’t be all that bad.”

Abby chuckles. “Some people think so. I work at a club as a stripper and also take escort work.”

Corb’s eyes widen a bit. “You mean you are… a prostitute?”

Abby nods. “Yep, that’s a word for it. Whore, slut, and skank are among others I have heard. The thing is that I am pretty good at it, and it certainly pays the bills and allows me to live my life. I expect that my looks will fade over time and am trying to save up for the day I get more laughs than tips and I quit.” She holds up her empty soda bottle and wiggles it. “You done?”

Corb nods and takes her bottle and tosses both in a trash can before climbing back on the bike behind Abby. He has to admit to himself, prostitute or not, it is starting to feel pretty nice to curl up behind her and put his arms around her. He does manage to resist allowing his hands to creep up her stomach to her breasts, but the temptation is pretty darn strong. Abby checks the scanner again, just to be sure it is working and there is still no mention of the police looking for them, although there is a news report of some kids joyriding and firing off guns in the vicinity of where Trish’s house is. She keys the intercom. “Looks like the cops got a hit on the activity at Trish’s house. Nothing about any dead bodies, so who knows what they are doing. Let’s get back to the others.”

She calls up Flo’s number and tells her that they are on the way back to the Lowe’s parking lot, but Flo directs them to an alternate site after hearing about the police interest in Trish’s house.

Abby and Corb arrive at the alternate meeting site, a dimly lit parking lot at one of the area night clubs. Flo had said in her message that she was a bit nervous about meeting under the bright lights of Lowe’s. The pair are the first to arrive and park off to the side, out of the direct line of sight of anyone entering or leaving the club. From time to time, the music coming through the walls gets louder as someone opens the door to the place. The night air is a bit crisp but not overly uncomfortable, although it does create a certain reaction from Abby that shows through her taut shirt. This reaction is made even more visible when she gets off the bike and stretches. She does not seem to notice, but Corb certainly does.

He is not quite certain how to take this young woman. Her definite sexuality is a clear draw and he cannot deny a certain attraction to her. He’s definitely not used to her apparent comfort level with nudity and sex, so is unsure of how he should react to her. His upbringing has left him somewhat leery of loose women who sell their bodies… oh, they are nice enough to look at, perhaps, but to have any sort of relationship, even just friendship? That is another issue and he can only wonder what his librarian mother would say about her. Still, the sight of her nipples poking against the fabric of the shirt she is wearing is having the normal and expected effect on him.

Thankfully, the truck carrying Flo and the others arrives before he can get truly embarrassed. Beside TJ, there are several backpacks in the bed of the truck, as well as a large Coleman cooler and a couple of shopping bags. Flo and the others climb out of the truck and exchange greetings. TJ gives Abby more than a once over and smiles brightly at her as he gives her a thumbs up. “Nice shirt, Abs.”

Abby looks down at her front and laughs. “A slight chilly out here, I guess. I can cover up if it bothers anyone.”

TJ shakes his head with a grin, “No, not at all.”

Flo rolls her eyes and smiles at Abby. “Doesn’t bother me any. I could wish for a chest like that and would flaunt it, too, if I did.” She motions to the truck. “OK, we stopped at the store and picked up some things after we hit the guys’ places for clothes and stuff. Say, nice trailer, Abby. And I see you were not kidding about the snake. I am thinking that we should lay low for a day or two and am glad that you suggested camping. Any ideas?”

Abby nods. “I have gone to Cheney State Park several times. It is about twenty miles from here and located on a lake. I would think there should be no trouble finding a place this time of year. It can be rustic, and my tent will only fit two at the most. If you don’t have tents in the truck there, we will have to stop somewhere and I do not know of any 24-hour stores for camping gear. I do have some extra blankets and there is usually some firewood for sale at the entrance and we could rough it for one night and go get some stuff when the stores open.”

Flo nods. “Good. I vote for that. I got nothing from Trish’s house and need some time to think about what to do next. All in favor of camping out for the weekend?”

After some discussion, the group decides that this is as good an idea as any.

Abby puts her bike jacket back on before she and Corb get back on the bike and lead off out of the parking lot, closely followed by Flo in her truck. The drive west to the state park is on fairly open road at this time of night and they make good time, pulling off at the entrance after a short drive. Abby and Flo walk over to the self-registration booth and check the map of the park for available locations, deciding on one within view of the lake before putting money into the deposit envelope and slipping it into the slot at the kiosk. The all-night convenience store is open and they walk over to pick up some things they had forgotten and to buy some of the firewood bundles for sale there. The man at the counter tells them that the ranger usually makes his rounds in the late morning and warns them that they should be courteous to their fellow campers and so no loud music.

Flo laughs and tells the man that they are going to set up the tent and go straight to bed. “I noticed that the sign at the kiosk says pets are allowed if kept on a leash. That true?”

The man nods. “Sure. Just watch the leash rule, though, unless you want to be ejected. Good luck out there, and don’t forget that fires are only allowed in the authorized fire sights.”

They thank the man and head back to the vehicles, where they find the guys stretching their legs and walking around. TJ is off a short way with his dog but then come back as soon as Abby and Flo return. They help Abby go pick up the bundles of wood and put them in the back of the truck before climbing in and heading off to the campsite. The small map from the kiosk is easy to follow and it helps that Abby has been here many times. They arrive at the assigned location and park the vehicles, unloading the trailer Abby was pulling behind her as that has the tent and sleeping bags. Abby and Corb get the tent set up while James and Tim get a fire started.

Abby takes the two sleeping bags into the tent and unrolls them before returning to remove Sin from his enclosure. She drapes him about her shoulders and introduces her friends to him. There is a bit of reticence at such a large snake, but it does not take long before everyone seems to accept his presence. Soon after everything is set up, Flo yawns and stretches, announcing it is time for her to go to bed. Abby stands as well and hands out blankets to the guys, who will be staying out by the fire while she, Flo, and Sin are in the tent.

Abby and Flo go into the tent and get ready for bed. Abby gives Flo the once over as they get undressed and shakes her head. “Girlfriend, I don’t know what you have to complain about. Your boobs are not as big as mine, but they fit your frame perfectly. Sometimes I think I might just have a bit too much up here. They are great right now and certainly help me get lots of good tips at work, but one day they will be sagging. You know, just like…”

Flo finishes the sentence. “Like Granny’s in the old Playboy jokes.”

Both women laugh and smile at each other. Abby strips out of her clothes and slips into a long T-shirt, as her only clothing. Flo notices that Abby shaves and asks her about it. The two talk girl stuff for a few minutes before settling down to go to sleep. Outside the tent, TJ has caught part of the conversation and raises his hand to shush Tim and James, who are still talking about the wisdom of being involved in all of this. The four go quiet and listen to the two girls talk.

“Hey. Not sure we should be listening to them,” Corb protested.

TJ motions dismissively with his hands and whispers back. “Then they should not be talking so loud. God! I wish I could be in there. Did you guys get an eyeful of those boobs on Abby?”

Tim adds his whisper. “That’s nothing. She might come off as some mechanic, but she works nights at a strip club and escorts, too. She took me to the club once and I saw everything. She doesn’t care about being naked and sex is just a thing. She is very hot, but that shit’s too much.”

TJ chuckles. “Too much? There’s no ‘too much’. But my dad would probably pull me aside later and talk to me without mom around and tell me to hit it, just not bring it home to meet the family. And make sure I didn’t catch anything from it. I’d have no problems with Abby if she were into me. I’m the last one to judge. So, yeah, I’d be happy in the tent and in her sleeping bag instead of out here wrapped in a blanket and sharing a fire with you guys, no offense intended.” He looks over to Tim. “So, what’s the name of this club?”

Corb waves his hand and interrupts Tim as he begins to speak. “Hey. Let’s be real here, guys, she is… well, part of the team and I think it is rude to be talking about her like this.”

TJ laughs. “Maybe on your team, Corb. But on mine, she is fair game. If she’s willing, I’m about it.”

James watches silently, letting them talk.

“And don’t be so sanctimonious,” TJ continued, “I saw you staring at her tits when she flashed us back at Lowe’s. Not gonna lie, a big part of why I decided to come along on this crazy… whatever it is? We are going to save the world? Come on, if those agent guys are any indication, the country and the world are in deep shit and no five people, especially wanna-be superheroes who don’t know jack about their talents and new abilities, are gonna stop them. No, I saw those hooters and man do I want a piece of that ass to score on. Maybe Flo, too. Her tits are smaller, but her ass is very sexy when she is walking away, almost as sexy as Abby. I wouldn’t toss either of them out of my bed if I could get them into it.”

James frowns at that.

Corb tosses his hands up and rises from the log he is sitting on. “Damn, TJ. That’s harsh. I thought you were in with us. Someone has to do something and we might be all there is.”

“Yeah, that’s enough, knock it off,” James added.

Corb gets up and turns to walk off into the darkness a short distance. Somewhat alone, he tries to gather his thoughts, muttering out loud to himself. Just why did I come along? I am not completely sure that I think any differently about this save the world mission than the others do, but maybe I do. Or is it that I really am attracted to Abby? He shakes his head. Fuck, I don’t know. How can Abby be so sure that Flo is onto something, especially when Flo herself does not seem to have a clue? But what if Flow and Abby are right and we ARE the ones that can do this? Damn and fuck.

Back at the fire, the other three guys go silent and listen to the girl talk coming from the tent, although Tim looks more and more like he does not really want to be there. He realizes that he is pretty young for all of this but then he remembers something Abby had told him that first night as she dropped him off at his place.

“Tim, whatever this is, it is something special. We have been given great talents and abilities that we are still learning about. Doesn’t matter how old we were or what we were doing on Dark Day morning, we are now something else and we need to accept that.” He is still not sure what she really meant, but she apparently believes it and maybe there is something to what Flo is saying.

James and Tim settle down after everyone tells some BS stories but TJ takes Ben for a short walk before returning to the fire, where he sees that Corb has returned as well and is sound asleep. He shakes his head as he looks at the now silent tent, wondering if he should try something, then decides that it is still too soon to do that and curls up in a blanket and calls Ben over before falling asleep himself.

Abby wakes and hears voices from outside the tent. She looks over and sees Flo still wrapped up in the sleeping bag and smiles to herself as she sits up and lets her own bag slip off her shoulders. The cool morning air makes her shiver a bit and brings on the sharp pang of a need to get to the outhouse. Cursing softly so as not to wake Flo, Abby slips her feet into her boots and unzips the tent, emerging to find the guys standing around the fire. Five sets of male eyes swivel to watch her as she bends over to zip the tent back up, her T-shirt creeping up to almost expose her ass. Abby stands and turns to see that a park ranger has joined the others and waves to all of them as she walks away from the fire to the road and the outhouse located a short distance away. “Got to use the bathroom, guys. Back soon.”

All five men watch her go. The way her body moves under the shirt and what they had almost seen when she bent over has left them with the near certain knowledge that Abby is wearing the shirt and nothing else. The Ranger looks at the others with an eyebrow raised. “You got that right, brother,” TJ said.

The Ranger shook his head. “I have seen her up here before a couple of times, but never quite like that. And she has always been flying solo before. Anyway, as I was saying, please keep your dog on its leash and the fire low and in the burn pit. Pick up your trash, because you don’t want the local wildlife to get too interested in you. It is a bit early in the season and I don’t expect too many other visitors out here, so I won’t mind terribly if the music gets a bit loud, but try to keep any parties manageable.” He looks off in the direction Abby had gone. “And let me know if you are going to have a party.”

TJ laughs. “Sure thing.”

Movement in the tent quiets them all down and they watch as Flo unzips the tent and crawls out. The woman has either slept in her clothes or put them back on, although her shirt is not tucked into her jeans like it had been last night. She stands and hops from one foot to the other. “Bathroom?”

All four point back to the road and Corb says, “Just down there and to the right. About a hundred feet or so. Can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.” Flo leaves at a quick walk and the guys watch her.

Tj looks at James. “So what about her? You’re into her?”

James shakes his head. “Are you kidding? I had just been through some real shit. That’s not really what’s on my mind. Or hers, I bet.”

TJ shrugs his shoulders. “Well, she seems a level-headed sort. Not really my type, I guess. But if Abby wants to get cozy with me—.”

Corb interrupts, “Will you let it rest?”

TJ holds up his hands. “Hey! I’m just talking about consenting adults here. You wouldn’t be against knocking off a piece if she offered, right?” Corb’s face must have revealed something because TJ nods. “Thought so. Besides, you heard Tim here; she is an escort, man. She knows what she’s doing and can make whatever choices she wants. I figure that my charm will get her out of her clothes and inviting me into the tent for some sleeping bag mamba. Besides, I’ve seen the way she looks at me.”

The women come back together and disappear into the tent to finish dressing. Flo emerges first and begins to go through the food packets that Abby has brought as well as the groceries that had been put in the truck. She organizes the men to help her and by the time Abby emerges from the tent she has a fairly good handle on breakfast. The air is a bit chilly so Abby leaves Sin inside the tent is his heated enclosure.

The morning is spent around the fire, although Flo and James go for more wood just before lunch as Abby and the others put some sandwiches together and break open a bag of chips. After lunch, the guys hike the short distance to the nearby lake while Abby and Flo relax. At least Abby relaxes and listens to the radio while Flo racks her brain for some sort of answer to what to do next.

Abby turns the bike on and activates the police scanner a couple of times during the day, but there seems to be no extensive manhunt for them and the gunfight at Trish’s house is not ever mentioned. Confused a bit by the lack of anything, they quickly concluded that the “agents” have clamped a lid on the incident. When the guys return, a powwow is held and the team decides to give it another night here and return to Wichita if there is nothing on the news about them by noon on Sunday.

All of them look at Flo and she puts her hands up. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. I am only trying to help by bringing you guys together. All my father’s old contacts seem to have disappeared. I suppose that they were either taken, killed, or in hiding. I am trying to think of something, but it is just not coming to me right away.”

Abby moves closer to the other woman and puts an arm around her shoulders. “No one is blaming you, Flo.” She looks up at TJ, who has made a snorting sound but doesn’t say anything to him as she turns back to Flo. “Something will come to you, or maybe to one of us. The important thing is to not give up. The Loas will not leave us wondering for long.”

She continued, “We need to stick together as a group or we will fail. Flo will figure out something. Look, maybe she just needs some more time. Like we said earlier, we go back to town if we do not hear something important by noon tomorrow. Or if Flo does not come up with something by then. We can keep in touch by phone and agree to meet in a week just to get together, even if nothing happens by then. OK?”

The rest of the group nods, but some of the nods lack a certain conviction. Flo and James take the truck to a store on the outskirts of the city to get some sleeping bags, and some more ice, returning just after three. They had decided not to get a tent, because the only ones they could find that would sleep four either cost too much or looked like four would be stretching it and a bigger tent was reaching a bit far.

TJ had waited for Corb to go to the outhouse and had motioned for Tim to accompany him so he could have some alone time with Abby. Abby had unpacked a small camp stool and is sitting near the fire drinking a cold Dr Pepper and listening to the radio when TJ comes up to her. “Hey, Abs, you really think Flo can figure something out?”

His voice trails off and Abby looks over to him. “This is all new shit to all of us. I suppose that I would be more leery of it all. And I would be, if Mama Lini had not prepared me for something like this when she was teaching me about voodoo and the Loas.”

TJ doesn’t respond immediately to that. He checks his breath and can’t help but looking at Abby’s hard nipples poking through the thin material of her shirt. Abby does not need to look down to know what is on his mind right then. He brings his eyes back to her face and continues. “Yeah, I get that she might have told you more and that you might be more ready, but do you really believe all that Flo is telling us? Or do you think that she knows more than she is saying?”

His eyes dip back to her chest as Abby shakes her head, sending her braless breasts moving in enticing ways. “No, TJ. I don’t. I am sure that Flo has told us everything she can right now and that she will tell us more as it comes to her. I am also sure that she is right about what is happening. This stuff is just too crazy for someone to make up. And those guys were very real and they killed Trish. And unless you have some sort of special vision from the change, you aren’t going to see my tits by staring at my shirt.”

TJ grins as he looks back up at Abby’s face. “Bingo. Caught red handed. OK, so I admit to liking what I saw yesterday. If you’re up for it, how about showing me some more. Maybe in the privacy of the tent. Tim and Corb won’t bother us, I’m sure.”

Abby shakes her head. “Not going to happen, TJ, sorry. First, I am not sure that having sex with you would be such a good idea. Even though I get paid a lot of money for sex, I’m not sharing myself with friends. But I’m not so sure that you and I are that close yet. Not saying it might not happen, but not on this camping trip.”

TJ’s grin doesn’t fail as he shrugs. “Sure, I can deal with that.”

He leaves her at the fire and walks over to Ben, taking the loop of the dog’s leash off the post he’d hitched it to and taking him for a walk. By the time he and Ben got back, James and Flo had returned, joining the others by the fire.

Abby and Flo work on dinner as the guys blow up the air mattresses and roll out the sleeping bags. Dinner is a quiet affair and the girls go to the tent after a last trip to the outhouse.

Sunday morning dawns a bit cool and there is a hint of rain in the air and the morning weather report on the radio warns of an incoming storm. There is still nothing on the news about the gunfight at Trish’s house and it is decided that the group can safely break camp and return to Wichita. The guys pack up the sleeping bags and air mattresses while Abby and Flo cook up some breakfast. After eating, Abby and Corb take down her tent and pack her stuff in her trailer. Not much is said and there is a general air of weariness among the group.

Flo looks at everyone after her truck is packed and ready to go. “I am sorry that I have not been much help so far. I will continue to look for some clue to help us out. Maybe there is something I missed at my dad’s place. We do have each other’s cell phone numbers and I will call if something comes up. Let’s try to at least stay in touch, OK?”

Everyone nods and soon it is only Abby and Corb remaining at the campsite as Flo’s truck pulls away. Abby makes a last walk through the site to make sure all of the trash has been picked up, then they get on the bike and head for their homes.

Abby finally arrives back at her place and takes Sin inside, releasing the snake into his room then bringing her things into the house. After all is inside, she sits in a chair and contemplates what has happened since Dark Day. She gets out of the chair and goes to the altar, kneeling to say prayers to the Loa for the soul of Mama Lini and Trish. She adds some prayers that the guys will be able to see that Flo is right.

Crossing Paths

There were a hundred narratives for that day that say the day started as normally as it did for Minnie. She always rose early and started with a thousand punches before finishing with 30 minutes of exercise. Then a shower and breakfast while she sorted the bill for the day and wrote out the checks for Baba to sign. She then stocked the stores shelves, dancing down the isles of the store to her music. When she finished, she headed to the door. She was just about to step outside when her phone rang. The caller ID told her it was Master Shu.

She answered in Mandarin.

“Hello, Master Shu.”

“Stay home today,” he said, without offering pleasantries. "I know you wont have had the news, so you don’t know. Turn it on. I have a bad feeling. You must stay home today!”

Min frowned. “But…”

“Don’t argue!” Master Shu rarely showed emotion and his agitated state was confusing. “Tell me you are staying home today!”

Minnie found herself nodding. “OK, but… what? Why? Master Shu, what’s wrong? Should I call the police? Can I help?”

“No! Stay home, don’t open the shop! Lock all doors, Tell me you are!”

“OK OK!” she responded.

“You’re a good student,” he chuckles, which worries Minnie even more. “Jackie would be proud, remember thousand punch front! I have to go now.”

Just before he hung up, she could have sworn she heard him say, “Now destiny waits.”

Scared, she put the TV on and flicked through channels until she found CNN Worldwide

-now the darkness and no comment from the White House-”

-darkness no sunrise in new York we go now to our-”

She hammered the remote, going from channel to channel.

-still no word from Paris or Berlin, in London the Queen and the Prime Minister have called for calm but we are getting word that the cobra committee-”

Euronews, bbc, RT, Al Jezzera.

She dropped the remote and sat down on the sofa, looking around as if there was a corner of the room that might be safer. She heard her father moving around, so she headed for the bathroom and met him coming out.

“Minnie! Why aren’t you at Shu’s — school? You need those grades!”

In her agitation, Minnie missed the slip. “Baba, somthing bad is happening. we can’t open the shop today. We can’t go outside!”

Baba started in on his normal complaining/placating as he tried to push past her.

BABA!” she pleaded. “It’s BAD! We can’t open the shop! We have to stay home. Something is going on. We have to stay safe, stay in the house. Please, help Mama while I check the doors down stairs.”

“But..!” he continued to try to push past her.

“Fine!” she huffed, exasperation mixing with her fear. “Come with me”

She marched him to the sitting room, turned the TV back on, and dialed up the Chinese language CBCWorldWide. They watched a moment and then her father muttered some very bad words as he flicked to several other channels.

Looking very old and scared, he turned to Minnie, “Lock up the shop downstairs, I’ll see to Mama. I’ll tell her you are sick, that we have to take care of you.”

Minnie nodded. That would hold her mother off for a bit, until they had a better idea of what to do.

Minnie went down the stairs and into the store. The building was set up with the storefront taking up the bulding space on the first floor and a staircase in the back led to their home above it. She checked all the doors and windows before heading back upstairs.

Minnie endured her mothers scolding and clucking about her being ill. It was easy to just hide behind her hair and skulk about the kitchen.

By 9 am, things were getting worse. Police sirens and the blare of fire trucks started. At 10:30, they could heard the rattle fo gunfire in the not-so-distance. Minnie went to her room and tried to hide in her music but the real world kept getting louder. She tried to center herself through her Kung-Fu, moving throug the slow cadence of Tai-chi. It helped her to remain calm and centred as she imagined herself as a cat walking along a fence.

Her eyes flew open. The thought had startleed her, but she wasn’t sure why. wait! what? She wrenched her head phones from her head and ambled to the kitchen for a drink of water. Outside, the noise continued, unabated. It was mid afternoon but it might as well have been midnight. She looked to the sitting room and found her mother asleep. Baba must have given her a sleeping pill. She went to find him in his chair to touch his head like she always did when she walked in the room but he wasn’t there. She frowned and rushed down the stairs.

The shutters were still down in the shop and most of the lights were off. She passed through the aisles and found him standing in the doorway, looking out into the street with a ciarette in his hand.

“Baba, what are you doing?” she asked, hoping she could convince him to come back inside.

He turned, looking down at the cigarette for a moment before holding it up with a grin. At that moment, he looked much younger than his years.

“Minnie, honoured daughter, I have much more to worry about than this today.”

Suddenly, she remembered the first words Baba had said to her that morning.

“Why did you ask me about Master Shu today?”

“Minnie,” he said, calmly. “We are Chinese. We chatter like birds on a phone line.”

He took a drag from the cigarette, still smiling. “I knew you wouldn’t make the grade for med school, but I was not going to call you a failure or let you think I had lost faith in you. I had to trust to the ancestors you’d find your own way.”
Minnie looked at the ground, uncertain what to say. He turned to her and placed he hand on her shoulders. “Mr. Shu told me about the thousand punch front? Impressive.” She looked up into his eyes.

He continued, “Did you know I met Jackie Chan once?”

Her eyes widened and for a moment, she forgot herself, “Really!?”

He chuckled at that, then shook his head. “No. But it was worth it to see you smile.” The lights flickered and he frowned then, “On a day like this it is the only light I have.”

A static hum filled the air and then the lights died completely. They both groaned in unison. Baba turned to toss his cigarette outside and close the door when someone pushed him inside. He cried out.

The lights flickered again, revealing four men. They were in jeans and t-shirts, one wearing a plaid flannel jacket. All of them carried guns, one holding a shotgun that had been sawed off on both ends.

“Sit the fuck down, you fucking slant!” the man with the shotgun bellowed, smashing the shortened stock of his gun across the side of her father’s head.

BABA!” she screamed, running to his side. She kneeled down and saw the blood running from his ear.

“Oh, shit, we got us a fine chink hoe!” One of the men made a grab for her. She sprang up like a coiled spring deflecting his blow and smashing her elbow into his nose. There was a sickening crunch and she could feel the cartilege tearing. He staggered backward with a scream, clawing at his face in agony and uttering a line of curses.

One of the other men shouted, “Get her!”

Minnie spun easily into a fighting stance, her weight shifted back and arms forward. Her fingers splayed into claws. Another of the men tried to move in and she easily sidestepped him, her arms circling around and then back, delivering two solid strikes to the back of his head. He tumbled forward with his moment into a shelf and knocked it over, stumbling down with it.

“Fuck this kung fu bitch.” She turned to look just as he raised his gun. She heard the shot but didn’t fell anything. Everthing just slowed down. They were yelling but she couldn’t understand their words. She fell to the ground as if pole axed, her body convulsing and tearing.

The men moved in, to kill her or worse. She remembered the faces staring in on her, sneering. Those expressions changed though, to confusion. Then to horror and fear. She would never remember exactly how it went down, but she would never forget those faces gibbering in terror, fear, and pain. Then she was running, but her balance was off, as if her body didn’t fit her feet. Every thing was wrong, she felt powerful but unbalanced.

“Oh, god, BABA” she cried out. She tried to get her phone from her pocket, but her clothes were ripped and shredded. Her phone was gone. She looked at her hands, confused. It was dark, her hands looked dark and… and then she caught sight of herself in an office window.

Staring back at her, in a pair of ripped linen pants and a shirt stretched tight, was something like a person but… the hair, the teeth, the piercing eyes with slitted pupils. “It’s…” Minnie stammered, “it’s… a cat… a black… black cat! What the in the name of… a cat! A CAT!!” The details etched into her memory as she stood rigid with horror, realization slowly trickling into her psyche. The cat in the window, a reflection… of herself. The blood around her mouth and the wicked claws… her claws. She turned then and bolted, running on and on as if she could out run herself. A horrible nightmare. When will I wake up? When will this end?

The dark world offered no answers. She remembered entering a construction site and flung herself under a pile of tarps in the space the workers had dug out for the basement. She huddled there, trying to stay awake, but sleep finally over took her.

It was the sun that woke her, the morning sun and the birds singing. She looked at her hands, her normal hands with their slender, clawless fingers. No claws, a dream! Then she looked around and her budding hope faltered into despair. She cralwed out of the tarps. Her clothes were shredded and barely offered any modesty. She padded around and found a box cutter. That and a synthetic rope were the tools she needed to fashion a poncho out of one of the tarps. Now suitably covered, out of the hole and stepped out of the construction area.

She ached both physically and emotionally. She knew she had to get home. Sirens still sounded and she could see smoke rising in various directions. It had been a bad day for the whole city, she realized. She took a few moments to work out where she was and then took a step in the direction of home. She avoided any thoughts besides one foot in front of the other.

Minnie got about a mile down the street when the police car wooped its siren at her. Her thoughts swiftly turned to the men she must have murdered the day before. The police couldn’t take her, she had to go home! Instinctively, she dropped into a fighting stance and the two officers drew their guns. The weight of it all finally crushing her down, she sank to her knees sobbing.

The confused officers determined that she had been confused and they managed to figure out where she needed to be and took her to the shop. She was shocked, she had killed men, they must be looking to arrest her, but they just dropped her off and left a card with a telephone number. They were looking for looters and other opportunistic criminals and didn’t have any more time for her.

She went inside and took a look around. The shop was intact. Upstairs, no one was home. She went back into the shop. There was blood and some of her clothing. No one else was there.

“Oh, Baba,” she whispered. “Baba…”

A shadow passed over her and she started.

“Hospital.” It was the old lady from across the street. “They took them to the hospital.”

She looked at the woman who stood as a dark silhouette, the rising sun behind her.

“What?” Minnie asked. “They… alive?”

“Well, they were when they put them in the police car. Looks like your dad put up a fight! Got one of them… oh! Are you ok, did they hurt you? You should put some more clothes on, eat something. Get clean, come on I’ll help.”

Minnie shook her head. “Shie shie, no it’s OK. I thank you. You are right but I can manage.”

The old ladies eyes welled up, “Well, I can’t get hold of my girl, my little Ellie, so… please let me help you like I wish I could help her…”

Minnie look at the old lady through her own tears.

“Fine pair we make,” the woman scoffed. “Come, I’ll put the coffee on while you shower.”

She nodded and they went inside.

At the hospital it was chaos plain and simple. Overstretched at the best of times, this was pure pandemonium. She fought her way to the desk as any semblance of lines seemed to have be abandoned. The stressed nurse couldn’t even hear Minnie over the cacophony. It took several moments and exchanges of words before she realised they were holding people by injury type.

Baba would be head injury. She sneaked though an open door and back to the patient rooms, easy enough in the chaos. She looked around but couldn’t figure out which way to go. Other patients and their loved ones were buffeting her as she moved through the halls.

She saw a nurse standing in a hallway junction with an exasperated look.

She lightly grabbed the woman’s forearm. “Excuse me?” she said. The nurse turned to her. “Head injures?”

“Oh, down that way, second floor,” the nurse waved in the diretion. “But if you’re headed that way with a free hand, take these to pediatric, they’re down the far end, next to the lift you’ll need, you’re a saint!” She shoved a stack of papers into Minnie’s hands then turned and hustled in a different direction.

Minnie got to pediatric and dropped off the paper only to get another stack to take to the pharmacy on the second floor.

PLEASE, we’re rammed here, thank you soo much you’re an angel.”

Despite her need to see Baba, the suffering and chaos were such that she couldn’t refuse to help. She wasn’t the only one suffering.

It was actually much later when she finally managed to find her own time and see to Baba. They were in a private room, her mother was asleep in the chair and her father was a mass of tubes and wires.

She just stood in the doorway, staring. She couldn’t even walk in to the room. It was too much.

She turned to the nurse station and borrowed a pen and jotted a quick note.

Mama, Baba, I’m home. I’m safe. – Quingmin

She gave the note to the desk nurse with instricutions to give it to her parents, then left the hospital, running to the bus stop.

She couldn’t figure out why she had done that? Why did she run? What was she running from?

Aas she stood in the line a car drove past and her blood ran cold. Her skin began to itch. She looked at the car and a passenger in the back turned, looking back at her intently. She felt like she could just… change again and run away but she fought the impulse. The arrival of the bus pulled her thoughts and she made her way back home.

She called Master Shu. When she told him her family was in the hospital, he offered to come by and make sure she was ok. She got the best crockery out and played the host, tea served with honey cake.

“What happened, Minnie?”

She looked up at him, guarded. “What do you mean?”

“My dear child, I have been teaching you for years now. I know you well. You have the walk of a warrior. A real warrior who has smelled the smoke and seen the elephant. He leaned close. “Please, you can tell me. We live in interesting times and you must have someone to whom you can tell the truth.”

She sat there quietly for several moments. Finally, Minnie drew a deep breath, “They said that Baba fought them off, but… Baba didn’t put up a fight. It was too quick for him to do anything. He didn’t fight them, I did. There were four of them and… and I think I killed them all.”

His expression never changed. “What makes you think that?”

Slowly, haltingly, she related her recollections from the night. After the story was done, they sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, he spoke again.

“So… a cat?” She nodded. He considered that for a few more seconds. “May I ask what colour?”

“Black,” she responded. “Would it matter?”

He shrugged. “It might. Black cats are wards against evil spirits.” He smiled.

She did not share his feeling. “So, I’m… I’m some sort of ward?”

“No,” he said, putting a reassuring hand on your shoulder. “I don’t know what has happened to you. But if you’re looking for that answer, of what you are, I am saying that you might be… I’m thinking something more than that, more than a simply a ward… but rather something like… a warrior.”

She looked at him then and they sat a moment, Master and Pupil. The silence held them for some time more. Then, she nodded. “OK.”

She released a deep breath, allowing the tension in her muscles to fade with it.




Karen jerked upright in the bed, already in motion before she realized that she was awake. She was out the door and on her bike so fast that she didn’t even have time to register that she was still in her pajamas and had no shoes on. All she knew was that her brain was screaming at her, “THEY’RE COMING!”

Karen had to get to a nexxus. If she didn’t she’d be dead. She didn’t know how she knew that. Neither did she question it. She’d simply pedaled as fast she could to the Stones and launched herself off the bike. She’d huddled in the center feeling the fear, the hunters, the pain, until she’d passed out. She awakened hours later.

And she knew the world had changed. And so had she. She could hear them all, babbling in her mind, feel their fear and uncertainty. Maddening. It would take work to shut out all the voices… and work to avoid those… ‘other’ things that her newly awakened senses had revealed to her.

Karen was exhausted. It had been nearly two weeks since Dark Day and she’d learned a lot. One, and this was the biggest, the world had changed. People knew it too. Knew where they kept their knowledge of ghosts and monsters and other things they’d rather not think about.

Then, there was the other biggest change: she’d changed. Now, she could read minds, now she could read aura’s, even her own and hers had a golden sparkle. She’d wondered if she could manipulate it. With practice and concentration one night, she learned that she could when she altered it to a darker, orange hue.

Of course, auras revealed yet another thing that had changed:

There were people out there with auras that weren’t like anyone else’s, weren’t like anything she’d ever read about. On the rare occasions that they had spotted her, she’d gotten a sort of odd… ‘spider-sense’… that they were dangerous and would kill her of they could. She’d never questioned the feeling, never tempted fate. She’d always high-tailed it out of any area where she had that feeling.

There was a close call, when she’d felt the danger while she was out biking and thought she was alone. She’d learned that they could track her by her aura. The tingling in he rmind that she now associated with incoming danger. She had stopped and calmed herself, then took a moment to open her sight and she found it, an odd… ‘in-human’ aura in the shadows in the wood-line. She still couldn’t see it with her normal sight, but the aura glowed.

She’d turned her bike around and high-tailed it back to the nearest crowd. It had followed her, however. Even in a crowd it seemed like it was making a bee-line towards her. Nearly frantic, she suddenly had an epiphany: it was tracking her the same way she was tracking it, through her aura! She’d darted around a building and seen a group of bikers out on a day trip and focused, changing her aura. She’d stood, scared stiff in the line with the other bikers and had watched as whatever that thing was had walked by, looking for all the world like a very pregnant young woman out for a hike.

She realized that if she was being actively hunted, she would have to explore her abilities, find out what else she could do. Mostly those things that she felt around the edges, now fully realized… ‘psychic’ abilities. Reading minds, seeing auras, feeling the emotions of others. Augury and divination. She had several abilities, but she also found she had no offensive or defensive capabilities.

Great, the only thing I can do is hide. And I won’t even be able to do that if they catch me first.


It had been two weeks now, and Maria was back at work. She had done the psychological evaluation and was cleared to work. But there were still some colleagues who were a bit reserved around her. The rumours had still not died down, even though nothing had happened in those two weeks.

In fact a lot had happened, just not at work. A couple of nights after what had become known as Dark Day, Maria had gone into her barn, put the car to the side and tried to change again. It had taken quite a bit of time before she figured it out and it had turned out to be quite painful to do, but she managed to change again. Luckily she had made some changes to the layout of the garage and she didn’t burn it down. The flames were quite spectacular, as were the wings. She would have to try to fly one day, but that was something she would do far away from the city. For the first time, she just ran around a bit on her wheels in the garage.

A week later she had indeed taken the bike out to the Cheney park camping and at night when everybody was asleep, she changed again. She had hoped it would be less painful after a few times, but apparently that was not to be. But here she could stretch her wings a bit. She had a couple of false starts and added a couple of bruises, although she had the feeling that in her new form she had a lot more stamina. It turned out that flying was more difficult than she had anticipated, but in the end she got the hang of it, sorta.

That night she had also discovered something else. She had just arrived back at the campsite after flying around a bit and she had screwed up her landing, crashing on her bike. She didn’t have much, but the bike had fallen and she immediately noticed some damage. It should still run, but she wouldn’t be able to start it. Annoyed that she would probably have to call John and try to come up with a good excuse why the bike was damaged, she cursed at it while lifting it back up and suddenly it started.

That was rather unexpected and she looked at it in surprise. Then it shut down again.
“Wait a minute,” she said to herself. She looked at the bike again and simply said “Start”. Of course nothing happened. Then she touched it and willed it to start and it did.
“Neat,” she remarked. She played around with it, finding out she could let the bike do just about anything it could normally do. It would be rather fun, although she probably couldn’t drive around looking like she did now. Well, she better get back to the city, now that the bike was still running. She changed back, packed everything up and drove back.

A fiery beginning
Prologue: a bad day

Feb 13th 2017, 20:12

“Wait a bit,” Maria said, “those are not yet done.”
“How long,” John asked.
“About ten minutes more,” she replied, “why don’t you go and check if they need more beer.”
John laughed and went back to the living room. Maria had done a couple of night shifts at the station and now she had two days off. She had invited some of her racing friends over and made some food. It would be quite fun and they loved her cooking. When they were out racing, she was always in charge of the food. She liked cooking and her food was simply better than what the others who tried it could make. This night she had opted for something simple. A catfish filet, grilled, with sweet potatoes, all in a mint-tomatoe sauce, the recipe of which she got from her foster mother.

Ten minutes later they were all at the table, enjoying a simple meal amongst friends.
“So, John,” Maria said, “will you be racing your new Nissan next week?”
“Probably not,” he replied, “I still need to install the NOS and I don’t have the tanks yet. DHL is late with its delivery.”
“I told you to get them from that other website,” Maria said with a grin.
“Well, I can still drive the Supra,” John said.
“I thought you sold that one,” Maria remarked.
“Not yet,” he replied, “the last buyer had trouble getting the money cleared, so for now it still is mine.”
“Good for you, but my Evo is faster,” she grinned.
“This stuff is good,” one of the others said, “I could eat here every day.”
“Sure, but then I’ll start charging you for it,” Maria remarked.
“You should start a restaurant,” a third said, “this is better than most restaurants serve.”
“Nah, I’ll stay a firefighter,” she said, “that way I can tinker on the trucks and follow courses in mechanics on company time.”
“They can’t teach you anything you don’t know already,” John said.
“There still is a lot to learn,” Maria simply said.

They continued eating and talking and it took until about 3am before they all went home. Maria didn’t mind all that much, as she had tomorrow off anyway.

Feb 14th 2017, 6:50

Maria awoke to an incessant beeping.
“Oh my god,” she groaned as she saw how late it was. The beeping continued and it took a while to register that it was her pager.
“What the …,” she groaned as she noticed the code for general alert. She pulled herself out of bed, got dressed in the dark and went outside to her motorcycle. She hoped she would get awake through the wind while driving to the station. Luckily it wasn’t all that far.

When she arrived there, she parked the bike next to the station and walked in, right into the chaos. None of the vehicles were inside, but there were several firefighters.
“What’s going on,” she asked the first other firefighter she saw.
“There’s some sort of global eclipse,” he replied, “there have been 911 calls all over the place.”
Maria looked outside and it was still dark, as it always was at this time, but there was also no moon or stars, which she had thought was due to clouds.
“Johnson,” the lieutenant in charge of the station called out, “we’re getting the 102 and a pick-up truck from the reserves. You’re probably fastest with your motorcycle. Get changed, take Reginald to drive the pick-up and get them back here ASAP.”
“Yes, sir,” Maria said, turning to the other firefighter, “come on, you can ride on the back.”

She quickly changed in her uniform and then went back to her bike with Reginald. As soon as he was behind her, she left the fire station 10, heading towards the main depot where the reserve vehicles were kept. She weaved the bike in between stopped cars, of which there were quite a few in this rush hour traffic. It was only a about five miles and they quickly arrived in yet another chaos. She drove immediately towards the reserve vehicle yard, but there she was stopped by a police officer.
“Where do you think you’re going,” he asked.
“We’re from station 10,” Maria said, “we’re here to pick up some reserve vehicles assigned to our station.”
“Everybody can say that,” the cop replied, “let’s show some id.”

Maria was about to explode, when a firefighting sergeant arrived with a clipboard.
“Johnson,” he said, “what are you doing here?”
“Picking up the 102 and a pick-up, sarge,” she replied, “our lieutenant told me and Reginald to come here as they were assigned to station 10.”
“That’s correct,” the sergeant said after looking on his clipboard, “you know the way?”
“Yep,” she replied, goosing up the engine on the bike, which made the cop jump out of the way before she accelerated into the yard. She quickly located the fire truck and pointed Reginald to the Ford F550 standing next to it.

“Help me get my bike in the back of the Ford,” she said. Together they got the bike in the back of the pick-up truck, before Reginald got in and quickly started the engine. She ran towards her truck, got in as well and quickly checked it out. As it was a reserve truck, it was older than the ones they currently used, but it was still serviced regularly and it should be good to go. She turned the key and the engine rumbled to life. She noticed that there was no water in the tank in the back, but that could be solved at the station. As Reginald moved out, she followed. The cop opened the barrier to let the two vehicles pass through. As she passed him, she put on the siren for a few seconds and then turned it off again.
“That’s Maria Johnson,” the sergeant on duty said to the cop, a smile on his face, “she’s the daughter of lieutenant Johnson. He got wounded in an accident in 2009. His daughter has the makings of a great firefighter, if she learns a bit more control.”

The two vehicles moved on and they used the sirens from time to time to get people to move out of their way, while Maria switched the station’s frequency on the radio to call ahead that they would need to fill up the water tank. The rest should be okay. Soon they pulled up at the station. A couple of hoses were already waiting and Maria parked the truck next to them so it could be filled up, while other firefighters opened the various compartments to make sure all equipment was there, while Maria parked her bike back next to the station. Soon the rest of the squad boarded the truck and they moved out.

Feb 14th 2017, 9:25

“102, this is dispatch, we have a 10-48 on the corner of east 21st and North Oliver. EMTs and police is on the way.”
“Copy dispatch,” the squad sergeant said in the radio, “we’re on our way.”
They had just finished at one accident and now they were called to another, although this time with a person injured. Without being told, Maria engaged the siren and lights and moved towards the indicated location. They weren’t all that far and five minutes later they arrived on scene. Maria parked the truck so that it blocked the accident from the rest of the crossing. This was both to stop rubberneckers from seeing it as well to protect the squad from another idiot hitting them. The cars were not on fire, so they wouldn’t need the hoses this time, but it was quickly clear that they would have to cut both open before they could get the drivers out.

Maria quickly attached the claw to the truck’s pressurised air system, while another firefighter moved towards the car with the cutting end. This was something they had done before and they moved quickly. By the time the ambulance arrived, they had the first driver out of the car and were working on the second one. A police car arrived not much later and quickly called for a tow truck to get the wrecks out of the way.
“Maria, come and help me with this,” one of the others called out. She rushed over and together they moved the second car’s roof out of the way. Now the EMTs could start on the second person. This person was still conscious and was shouting something about the end of the world. Maria paid her no heed, but she did find the darkness a bit depressing. It should be light by now, but for some reason it still wasn’t. But with her short night and all the work, she didn’t have much time to think about it. Besides, the fire trucks had enough lights to turn any night in bright daylight.

Feb 14th 2017, 13:12

“Code 3 in progress on South Topeka Street, River Walk apartments,” the lieutenant shouted to the squad. They had just pulled in the station for a short break, but apparently it wasn’t about to be.
“They need more trucks,” he added, “you guys are one of the few not occupied at the moment, so go. I’ll follow with the F550.”
They rushed to their truck and with the lights and sirens going, they quickly moved towards the location. It was not in their normal area, but now a big fire in an apartment always needed extra people. Luckily by now most people had heard that the government asked them to stay indoors and they seemed to be doing that for the most part, so progress was quick.

As they arrived they only saw one other truck and a pick-up. Clearly there was a big shortage of people, as normally the first response should be twice this. Well, there was no helping it. Maria parked the truck near the fire hydrant so they would have enough water and they all jumped out. While they were tired, they were well trained in the first tasks that needed to be done, so Maria quickly connected the truck to the hydrant while others in her squad hooked hoses to the truck and the sergeant ran to the squads already there to check with them. Quickly Maria had the ladder out so they could spray water from above.

While the squad was trying to put out the flames, or at least make sure they didn’t spread, Maria was at the truck checking to make sure everything continued to work on the older truck. Suddenly a woman ran up to her.
“My baby,” she shouted, “he’s still inside.”
“What,” Maria said. Normally the other crews should have checked that out.
“My baby,” the woman kept repeating.
“Where,” Maria asked as she opened the compartment in the truck where the breathing apparatus were kept.
“Second floor, left apartment,” the woman said, as Maria put on the air tank, the mask and with practice opened up the tank. Her uniform was designed to keep her safe, as was her helmet.

The sergeant saw what she was doing and came over.
“What’s going on,” he asked.
“There’s a child still in the building,” Maria said, “I’m going in.”
“Be careful,” the sergeant said, “I’m sending someone right behind you.”
Maria nodded, grabbed a fire-axe and ran towards the building. One of the guys saw her running and turned his spray so she got wet, giving an added measure of protection for a small amount of time.

She entered the building through the front door and quickly made her way up the stairs to the second floor.
“I’m in,” she said over the radio build into her mask, “there’s a lot of smoke, but so far nothing is blocked.”
“Be careful,” she heard the voice of the lieutenant, who had arrived in the meantime. She acknowledged and moved on. On the second floor, she was met by even more smoke and flames. But she moved on, using her agility to avoid the worst of the flames in order to continue to the apartment.

A couple of hits with the axe destroyed the lock on the door and Maria moved in. There were some flames against the wall, but mostly it was a lot of smoke. She looked around and heard some coughing and crying. Moving to the bedroom, she spotted a bed with a toddler in it.
“Maria, it’s gonna come down,” she heard over the comms.
She just grabbed the child when the groaning of the beams turned into a cracking sound. Instinctively she covered the child with her own body, hoping the air tank and the helmet would protect her from the falling beams.

Outside the fire fighters could only watch as the apartment came down in a shower of flame. They heard the scream of their colleague, while both the lieutenant and the sergeant wondered what they were going to say to her parents. After about fifteen seconds the screaming stopped and someone… something came out of the flames. The thing still wore the remains of a fire-fighter jacket, the mask and air tank, but it also had wings… And wheels instead of feet… And the things arms were glowing red. In its arms it carried a small bundle, which it put on the ground in front of the fire fighters, who moved back and held their hoses as if they were guns. Then it turned away and ran… drove off, at a speed no person could match. The fire fighters moved in and checked the bundle, seeing it was the child. It was quickly moved towards the waiting ambulance.

Feb 15th 2017, 8:15

Maria awoke, looking around her. She was in the barn where she kept her car, her bike and most of her tools to work on either. She was still wearing the remains of her fire fighter’s uniform and when she looked at her arms and legs, they looked slightly sunburned. One thing that only now registered was the sun coming through the open garage door. Thinking back about the day before, slowly the memories returned and she wondered what had happened with her. She had somehow survived the collapse of the building and transformed into something… some monster or other. Now she started to wonder what she was going to tell at the station.

First of all she went back to her house to take a shower and change clothes. As her bike was still at the station, she walked there, carrying the remains of her uniform in a backpack. As she arrived, she noted that most people avoided looking in her eyes. Stories had probably already done the rounds.

The lieutenant was still there.
“Johnson,” he said, “what happened to you?”
“I got out at the last moment,” Maria said, having thought about it, “but on the other side. An ambulance there brought me to the hospital for a check-up. Didn’t they tell you?”
“No, they didn’t,” the lieutenant said.
“They told me they had,” Maria said, “well, there was a lot of chaos that night. Probably a communications foul-up.”
“Probably,” the lieutenant said, not wanting to speak about the creature he had seen, “how are you?”
“I’m fine,” she replied, “just some minor burns. My helmet and tank took the brunt of the hits. My uniform is destroyed though. Do they already know what the issue was with the sun disappearing?”
“Not that I have heard,” he replied, “at least nothing solid. There are more than enough theories though.”
“I assumed as much,” she replied, “what now?”
“You go back home,” he said, “we’re back to regular shifts and I’ll leave you off for two days so you can recover fully. I’ll also ask the shrink at HQ to have a talk with you.”
“Do I really have to, sir,” she asked.
“Yes, you have to,” he said, “you’ve been in a collapsed burning building. A psych evaluation is mandatory. But it can wait until you’re back. I’ll have the appointment details in two days.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, not knowing what else to say.
“Now, off with you,” he said, “and we’ll see you back in two days.”
“Yes, sir,” she said again.

She left the building, took her bike and drove back home. She wasn’t sure what was to happen now.

Chapter One
First Fight, First Failure


It had been a clear day in Wichita on the 24th of February. Flo had already been in the circle of stones for some time, gathering up energy and preparing for the meeting. She spent much of her time sitting cross-legged in the center. James mostly kept an eye on things throughout the afternoon. Yet another in a string of afternoons lasting most of the week. Flo had been trying to find her father through her ‘magic’. He didn’t know if he believed in ‘magic’ but after Dark Day, he was willing to believe.

She’d found someone, she said, that could help. That was who she was going to pinpoint, tonight. She said she had found others to help them, they would be there around 8 that night. More panthers.

The sun went down and then, around 8pm, the first of the others appeared…

By Friday evening Corb was torn between anticipation and exhaustion. Work at Beech field had come to a halt for the moment, but he’d spent the rest of the week helping to put higher fences up at the Anderson’s feed lot. They’d had nothing strange happen on Dark Day, but all the same were worried about the security of their animals.
Was the whole world just being paranoid, or had more people had odd experiences or visions than wanted to share them?

And after work out at the farm, he’d catch a ride back to the Rockwell library branch to hit the books and free wifi for a while, then catch the bus down to the East Town Mall to use the wifi at the Starbucks there until 9pm, bus home to clean up and get some sleep and repeat.

The Starbucks at the Dillon’s had re-opened, and was closer, but he couldn’t bring himself to go there.

Today he’d skipped the after work research, so had managed to shower and get something resembling a proper meal into him. Then he’d missed the bus, thrown a small internal fit that the police still weren’t talking about releasing his truck. He was about to use Uber to get a ride, then remembered that so far he’d only replaced his lost smart phone with a dirt cheap prepaid flip-phone. Maybe the police would release his phone and his truck soon?

He hurried back to the rooming house where they still had a six year old phone book in the living room, looked up a taxi company, and called them. He couldn’t believe he was calling a freaking taxi, who did that anymore?

On the way to the park he finally sat back and thought. He should have arranged to meet up with TJ first. They’d talked on the phone a couple of times during the week, briefly, but he hadn’t thought of meeting up first. And he should have skipped some of his other research, and gone to the park another evening and scout it out some. In in the dark of the night he could even have flown there for a literal bird’s eye view.

Basically, he should have actually thought ahead, instead of avoiding thinking about that note and what it meant. Yeah, that would have been good. But too late now.

He normally thought of himself as reasonably intelligent and quite disciplined, but this week really hadn’t been his best.

He had the cab drop him off at Murdock and Waco, and from there jogged into the park and towards the meeting spot. Now he was a bit early without having to deal with the bus transfer downtown, and the baggy overalls flopped around a lot when jogging — that was something he’d have to think about how to fix — but at this point he was too impatient to walk. Something was finally happening, and he couldn’t wait any longer.

Almost as soon as he saw the stones, he knew that another like him was already there. He couldn’t make much out in the dark, at least not in this form, so as he approached he called out “TJ, that you?"

Abby had spent much of the week since Tuesday just like every other day. At the garage by 0800, leave the garage at 1700 , be at work at the club by 1900, and go off the clock at 2400. The insurance work authorization had come through and Abby is putting in most of her hours at the garage working on Tim’s poor car. As for Tim, he sort of just went his own way, apparently not interested in Abby at all. She had driven him home on Tuesday after closing out her shift at the club and he had called only once since then to inquire about the car. She had confirmed with him at that time that he would be going with her to the meeting and that she could pick him up at about 1900.

Beyond working on the car, Abby had spoken twice with Elizabeth and Stan and things seemed to be going great in that relationship. She had been a bit tense when the subject of her work came up, thinking that maybe they would require her to quit her job at the club and her outings as an escort. They had both been surprisingly ambivalent about her second job and told her that she was free to pursue her life. There had been some discussion about when Stan would come out again and it seemed that a month would be the earliest he would be able to get away and come back out to Wichita.

Lots of progress has been made on Sin’s habitat and it is actually looking like some sort of piece of the South American jungle that is home to this specific type of python. A small waterfall-fed stream meanders through part of the room, flowing into a pond and then being re-circulated. The humidity was set much higher in that room than for the rest of the house, with additional lights and heating elements used to simulate the jungle. Special plants and vines were brought in and some tree branches were set up so as to provide places where Sin could hide and strike at his prey. Mike has done a lot of work and is quite proud of the remodel. He has had sex with Abby three times to satisfy his urges and to allow her to work off some of the costs, but on Thursday he had told Abby that he would have to stop having sex with her because his wife was getting suspicious.

So now it is Friday evening and she motors the bike up to the park and secures it to a steel stanchion put there for that purpose. She nods to Tim. “You ready to see if this is someone like us? I am pretty jazzed, actually. Still, it is a bit mysterious and I think I might want to allow my Loa to come out for a bit. Remember that the ground is soft here and you might have problems if you transform.”

As she walks, she summons the Loa and lets her become the primary form for a while. One of the benefits of this form is the ability to see a good distance in the dark of night and she takes advantage of that now, scanning the ground around her as the pair walks to the standing stones. Approaching the meeting place, Abby sees three people already present. Two men are standing and a woman is sitting on the ground at the center of the stones. Something tugs at Abby and she recognizes the same feeling she had had when Tim had showed up at the garage. Then she frowns, only the men are like her; the woman does not give off the same vibe. After allowing Abby to observe the stones and the three people there, the Loa allows Abby’s other form to regain control of the body as she and Tim walk up to the stones.

“Hello, the stones. We were invited to a meeting here at eight. I think that we are just on time. My name is Abby Stern and I am excited to meet others like me. Tim, here, is another of us.”

Abby is dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and is wearing a biker jacket that is unzipped halfway down. She is carrying a motorcycle helmet in the crook of her left arm. She stands about 5’7" and has what many people would consider a very nice body. Her face is clearly an African American and Oriental mix and her dark hair fall in waves to just below the shoulders.

TJ arrives shortly behind Abby, apprehensive about the situation. He looks with interest on everyone that is already there, each for being recognized as ‘like him’ and then the woman who is not… an interesting development in its own right.

The woman sat quietly, her eyes closed. Abby took a moment to read her aura. It was… muted somehow. Abby still wasn’t sure how to read the aura’s, she had spent some time practicing. Excitement and arousal she could pinpoint in an instant, common states of being at the club.

Other, stronger emotions that were usually visible were easy to spot as well, she had made the connections and could see it in an aura even if the person was trying to hide it.

This, though, this wasn’t an emotion or expression she’d seen before. The woman’s aura wasn’t… dim. It was even, calm. Nothing registered.

Looking at the others, she could see the tint in their aura that she knew she shared.

The red-haired man spoke up, quietly, “I’m James. This is Flo.” He nods towards the woman sitting there. “She’s… in a trance or something.”

Each of them shared their names.

“She’s the one that left the note?” Tim asked.

James nods.

“Well, we’re here… I guess.”

After several awkward moments, Flo’s eyes open. Abby can see that her aura comes to life.

“Ah,” Flo says, looking to James with a smile, then back to the others. “The Panthers are all here.”

Abby nods at TJ, James, and Flo before turning to the other man, who has not introduced himself yet. Then, looking back at the woman, she says, “So, do you know what is happening and why we are different from what we were a few days ago? I do not understand the reference to panthers and that is certainly not the form that either Tim or myself are paired with. I will say that I am excited at the change and would dearly love to explore the new me more.”

“Panthers does not refer to your change, it is your tribe,” Flo says. “Of course, you don’t understand, but I will help, by telling you a story.”

“I am an Osage, trained to be a medicine woman. My father was a medicine man and he shared with me this tale. I thought it was just myth, until last week when the sky went out.

“When the world began, the Little Ones, spirits who would become man, live in the Above World. with the help of a great Eagle and a Great Elk, they made for themselves a place on the world. And they became three peoples: the Wah-zhá-zhi, the Hon´-ga, and the Tsi-zhu.

“Wandering the earth, they found the U-tah-non-dsi, who lived in the badlands. A dark place wth blood and excrement, filth and death. It took much bravery but the Chief of the Wah-zhá-zhi spoke with the U-tah-non-dsi and convinced many of them to go with the people from the badlands.

“Now, that was a time of myth and the people live scattered in America and the U-tah-non-dsi are forgotten… but those who staye din the badlands never forgot and one day they would come from the badlands to take their place in our lands.

“That’s what happened on Dark Day. The U-tah-non-dsi from the badlands have come to take our world. And the U-tah-non-dsi who came with the people, who joined the Puma Tribe, a Tribe of Warriors… they must stand and fight against the darkness.

“That’s why I call you Panthers. Dark Warriors of the Puma Tribe. what you become…” she shrugs.

She pauses to let that sink in.

Corb had been surprised briefly that the ‘like him’ presence he’d felt hadn’t been TJ but another — and then more had arrived. Briefly he’d wondered if there was going to a throng of them before long, but it seemed there was just five.

After the Flo had told her story, Corb burst out “Seriously? I’ve read every myth of the sun going out, dark worlds, and so on that I could find this week – and believe me, mythology experts have dug them all up and put them on the net, and that has to be one of the lamest explanations that I’ve heard.”

But he doesn’t stalk away, no matter how much he wants to. He looks at the others, the ‘like-him’ others. “Look lady, you obviously know something, to have gathered us here. And something strange happened, I’ll admit that. But ‘panthers’ and ‘Puma Tribe’ aren’t cutting it as an explanation. I mean, you just said that the other tribes, the Honkas and See-jews and Wah-whatchamacallits, they were people, even if they were called Puma.”

He hesitates before saying this next part aloud, but he’s pretty sure that these others will understand. “So I don’t get how this explains why I turned into a freaky-ass crow monster. A human-sized crow monster that can fly . Fly! Do you know how impossible that is? I looked it up on the internet, in theory I’d need wings over twenty feet long, and probably about forty pounds of chest muscles, maybe more. I didn’t understand all the science, but there is no way I should be able to fly, even if I accept turning into a crow monster.”

He pauses, nostrils flaring, and pleads “Telling me that I’m a panther, or puma, whatever you decide on — that still isn’t making sense out of this. I want to understand what is happening to me!”

Abby listens to the one named Corb talk and nods her head when he is done. “I agree with some of what Corb has said. What happened to me does not seem to fit with any Native American myths. On Dark Day, my body was occupied by a Voodoo Loa who has decided that she does not wish to leave just yet. Which thrills me, actually. I love the way she looks and she can cast some badass spells that I am learning. I think there is a lot more about her and her spells that she can share if she stays around, so I am hoping that she does. Sometimes she wants to be out and in control of our body and I let her but most of the time she stays inside because, well, most people would just freak out to see her.”

She turns to the woman. “So, Flo, are there more of us or are we it? It seems a bit much for five people with really very little knowledge of what we can do to be expected to save the world.”

Flo shrugs, “Used to non-natives rolling their eyes when presented with stories of the people. Guess magic man from the sky that’s executed by his own people makes a better story.”

“What ‘happened’ to you is going to fit whatever narrative you tell yourself to make you feel better, without anything to guide you otherwise. I am telling you that before this day came, we had our own stories. Of men and women who became fantastic beings, fused with the spirits, with the things of dreams and of their dark hearts.

“I am not telling you that you come from the ‘People’, but that you come from the U-tah-non-dsi, who dwelled in the darkness of the badlands and that some came with the people, crossed over to our world. They came with the people and were powerful warriors of darkness. Puma, Panther… this doesn’t mean you are cats. These are totems. The Pumas were warriors… what are Panthers but dark coated Pumas?”

She frowns.

“In any case, I do not know how many others there are. Certainly there must be… especially if the others have begun their war from the badlands.”

Corb snorted at the ‘magic man from the sky’ comment, and when Flo is done he adds “I haven’t had a lot of use for faith recently. Seen holes in the one I grew up in, don’t see as anyone else’s stories are any better. But I guess I have to admit there is stuff going on I don’t understand. I won’t say I believe you, but how about I accept your story as ‘better than anything else I’ve heard.’ But don’t think I’m drinking the kool-aid.”

He stands there for a moment, shoulders tense, hands balled into fists, then he visibly forces himself under better control. Once he has he continues in a less belligerent tone. “We were attacked, all of us by the sound of it. The ones that attacked me had shredded jeans, kind of like mine became after I changed. They looked human enough though. Does that mean they’d changed back and forth? Does that mean that these, these, You-taniski or whatever you called them, that they can pass for people, be anyone, then attack us?”

Abby shakes her head. “Not all of them changed. The two men that attacked me were my foster brothers several years ago. They took to raping me for fun while I was living there so I ran away. Twice. Somehow they found me again and they were going to try raping me…..again. That is when the Loa came to me and killed them. As for me and faith, I am a firm believer in the power of the Voodoo.gods and Loa.”

“I, too, am interested in what Corb asked. How do we tell the bad guys from the good guys?”

Corb frowns at the young woman ‘panther.’ What sort of flake believed in voodoo? Granted that weird shit was happening, but there had to be a more sensible explanation than that sort of mumbo-jumbo. Besides which she looked like the sort of pretty girl who knew she was pretty and knew how to use it to get her way. That sort of thing always rubbed him the wrong way. He knew it was probably mostly envy — looks were never going to get him ahead, and pretty things generally stayed well away from him unless they wanted something from him – but that didn’t change that life was generally better when he kept his distance from that sort.

Well, best way to deal with that was to not give her much attention, make it clear that he wasn’t going to be hanging on her every word just because she was pretty. He wanted an answer to her question too, but it could wait for a bit.

He turned from her and asked “What about you, TJ, what do you make of all of this?” While he was at it he might as well be inclusive, so he moved to include the two taller men, the one who had been here with Flo, who he’d mistaken for TJ at first just because of that sense of ‘like me’, and the one who had better be a football player or he’d missed out an opportunity. “What about you guys, you buying either the native story or the voodoo angle?”

James stands there listening to those who have came to the meeting. He is sure of what Flo has been saying and that those who have arrived are like him in some way but is still skeptical. James has always been a little skeptical of new people. He continues to size them up as they speak. Focusing on their thought patterns as they progress through a series of questions.

Tim shrugs, a movement that Abby is beginning to think defines his character. Noncommittal. “It all makes as much sense as any of it, doesn’t it?” he asks. “Which is to say that none of it makes sense. If Abby says it’s Voodoo, then that’s that. She’s got the heads to prove it. What I do know, is that last week, I wouldn’t have believed any of this and now here we are.”

TJ nods. “This woman, Flo, she found us somehow, without being what we are. So maybe we should hear her out?”

Flo nods. "It’s not a perfect story, it’s a myth… myths were made to explain the things we didn’t know or understand. Break it down. There are people and there are… whatever you are. You came from somewhere and have, obviously, been living alongside people all this time.

“Last week, something happened, and you were revealed to yourselves. Meanwhile, something else has been revealed. An enemy. They’ve taken my dad and most other shamans I know of have disappeared. It looks like anyone with true spirit power was targeted. I was targeted and if it weren’t for James, I wouldn’t be here as well.”

James remembers the hollow expressions and dark eyes of the men that had attacked her. They certainly weren’t normal.

Flo continues, “I think that’s the answer. ‘They’, whoever they are, are afraid of anyone with power. And when I say power… before Dark Day it was all theory, really. The idea of spiritual power and energy. But now…”

She closes her eyes and holds her left hand to her chest while extending her right hand to the sky. A moment later, a sudden clap of thunder reverberates throughout the park. The force of the thunder staggers the group, James flinches and nearly rolls for cover.

The thunder echoes away gradually and Flo brings her hands back to her side.

“You did that?” Tim demands. He looks up at the sky, still clear, no sign of lightning.

“It isn’t something that could have been done before Dark Day, that day, the energies rushed into lines of power. Right now, we stand at a nexus of two of those lines, small as they are.”

Abby is used to people making fun of her beliefs and she lets Corb’s comments roll off her back without saying anything. She is a bit uncertain when Tim comes to her defense as he had not seemed that interested in her, but she gives him a warm smile in thanks.

Abby is as surprised as anyone when Flo does her thunderclap spell, and might just be the first to recover. Her eyes glow with excitement and she leans forward just a bit. “That was amazing. Can you teach me how to do that? I have been learning how to read auras and I can cast a fear spell. My Loa counterpart can grab and hold people at a distance but I have not learned that yet. I am sure that there is much more to magic than I know and I would love to learn more.”

She calms down a bit than frowns. “But you have not answered our questions about identifying the bad people and how are the five of us and you supposed to save the world.”

Flo shrugs, “I don’t know how to ‘save the world.’”

She looks down. “I don’t know how to identify the bad people. Except through their actions. I know the myths, but really, this is all new to me, too.”

Silence settles over the group for a moment, then she takes a deep breath and speaks again. “But what we don’t do is sit around. We can act, and the first thing to do is to find the medicine men and women who have been taken. They are a source of strength that we need to have with us.”

“Well, how do we find them?” Tim asked.

“I have been searching for my father, but he is closed off to me, so I thought to seek out the other shamans I know. One of them is… someone I can find. She was a medicine women when she was younger but…”

Flo pauses for a moment, “She lost her way. So maybe her magic wasn’t detected by the kidnappers. Or maybe she doesn’t have the magic anymore. But, it’s a chance. She was a friend of my dad’s and maybe she knows more.”

Abby pauses then says, “Hey, I wonder if Mama Lini is one of those shaman types? Mama Lini is my mentor and mother figure. She saved my life after some… friends… had left me to die from a heroin overdose.” She makes a sign and touches her amulets. That was five years ago but she still remembers it.

“I have been clean for about five years now, thanks to her. She took me into her home after I got out of the hospital and rehab and taught me a lot about life and about her Voodoo magic. She was at her altar when I got home from work early in the morning of Dark Day and she told me that something bad was coming. She was still at it when I woke up after a few hours of sleep. I asked her if the evil was still coming and she said the oddest thing. Well, it was odd at the time but now, not so much, I guess.

“Anyway, she said that the evil was already here. I went into the kitchen to make coffee and her prayers stopped. When I went to look for her, she was gone. Just gone. Didn’t make a sound. No evidence of anything. I waited a couple of days then filed a missing person report, but the cops are way too busy trying to figure out all the crap that happened that day. I got the feeling that my report might see some action sometime in the next decade. Anyway, is it possible that Mama Lini is one of these shaman sorts and got taken?”

She pauses a bit to think of her spiritual mother. “I got nothing on my plate for tonight and the weekend is mine. I was going camping.” She looks at Tim, but he is looking just about anywhere else but at her. “Alone, I guess. So I am available all weekend. Especially if we can find out anything that will help me get Mama Lini back. So, what do we do first?”

“Hey, Flo, sorry for being so wound up earlier, I guess we are all trying to make sense out of all of this. At least you have some sort of plan for figuring stuff out, and know about some of the dangers, which is about 100% more than I had ten minutes ago. I’m willing to help track someone down, but a few things I should get out there, and probably everyone else needs to do the same – basically I’m guessing from the look of all us that none of us is Bruce frikking Wayne, so while maybe jobs are minor compared to getting killed or the world being taken over, we still have to eat.”

He rubs the back of his neck nervously, and dives into maybe the harder part “And look, on Dark Day, I guess I killed a couple of these, these whatever we call them, the bogey-men or whatever. It was that shooting at the Dillons. I bumped into one of them, next thing I know he pulls out a shotgun and almost hits me. That first shot missed and I got behind my truck, but then he and another guy open up on other people. I got in my truck and tried to get out of there to where it would be safe to call 911, but they shot out a tire and were coming after me. I pulled out my gopher gun for whatever that was worth, but the guy with the shotgun flanked me and hit me. I was dying. Then stuff got weird, and I don’t really remember what happened for about 24 hours. But they ended up dead, and I survived, so …” He shrugged.

“The thing is, it’s a crime scene, you know? The police found my truck, my gun, my frikking boots! And then I show up over 24 hours later with no good explanation for what happened – and I swear the boots are the hardest part to explain. So I’m a ‘person of interest’ in a mass shooting, and they’re still holding my truck, and the other stuff. So I want to help, but I really don’t want more police attention, and I’ve got no wheels, and I can’t afford to turn down much work. So if the plan is you do some spell, and I turn into a flock of crows and go watch some house until the rest of you get there tonight, hey that’s cool. If the plan is we take off on a cross-country road trip for however long, then I have problems. Not saying ‘no,’ just that I’d have problems to figure out.”

He looks around “What about the rest of you, any of you a millionaire playboy? Or playgirl, or whatever the right word for that is. And I guess none of you turn into a giant bat? That would actually be kind of cool, literally being a bat-man, you know? I guess a crow monster is still kind of radical, but I grew up with Batman, not Crowman.”

Abby chuckles than looks at Corb and nods. “Those are very good points, Corb. Thank you for bringing them up. As for myself, I have two jobs.” Abby looks around and continues, "I am usually working from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon Monday through Friday and then seven to midnight Monday through Thursday and a couple of Friday and Saturday night gigs a month. Dropping any of these would make it harder to pay the mortgage and utilities or buy groceries or go camping or drive my bike. I guess you get the meaning.”

She motions back to the parking lot. “I have a Harley that seats two. Tim has a car in the garage I work at that I am repairing for him, which is how we met, by the way. But there are still a few days of work to go on that. I can put my hands on a bit over six grand I have been saving and I know a couple of guys that can get us a decent used van for about that much. I could toss that into the pot if it helps. After all, based on what Flo is saying, I may not need it for that new roof any time soon. Oh, and I said van for a reason. I have a seven foot python at home and if I have to give up my house, Sin is coming with me.”

“I don’t know if you have to give up your house or anything,” Flo says. “I mean, if we can just get to her tonight, that would work. And if you can actually fly,” she looks to Corb, “that would be helpful, I can get the rest of us there in the truck. The bench in the cab is roomy enough.”

“We can get there in about two hours, I think, it’s down in Medicine Lodge… the town, southwest of here. Corb, was it? The address is 1881 Mill Road if you want to check it out.”

Corb chuckles, then explains “Any of you got a smart phone that can pull up a map, or do you have a state highway map in your truck? Far as I can tell, my phone fell out of my pockets somewhere on Dark Day, probably while I was flying. Cops didn’t find it at Dillons, it wasn’t in the field where I woke up the next day. Anyway, I’m just using a cheap flip-phone for now until I’ve made sure I’ve got the cash set aside for rent, food, my contributions to the mortgage on the farm, truck insurance … you know how it goes.”

“I’m a decent navigator, not perfect or anything but I’ve done some flying lessons and my first solos so I know what it is like looking down from the air, but I need to have a route and some landmarks to memorize first.”

While they pull up a map, Corb says “I’ll need somewhere hidden to change, and to give you some of my stuff first. I think I can keep the bib-overalls on and in OK shape, but this will be my first test of them. Pretty sure it will look so ridiculous that if any of these bogey-men show up they’ll die laughing. Forget scarecrows, I’ll be a laugh-crow. But at least if I have to go back to human I won’t look quite totally insane.” After a pause he adds “Unless I go into flock of crows form, then everything falls off, but hopefully I don’t have to do that one tonight. It is … kind of weird.”

In the end he just uses the cab of the truck, leaving his hoodie, wallet, and shoes there in his backpack. He takes off his thin t-shirt and wads it into one hip pocket, and puts his socks in the other one. In the bib pocket he sticks a twenty dollar bill, a few quarters, his flip-phone, and absolutely no ID. Finally he undoes the three buttons on each side and lengthens the straps a bit, steps out into the shadow of the truck.

He repeats the directions one more time “South the 400, follow it West, second town of any size once I’m out of the city is Pratt, turn south and pick up the 281 and follow it south and south-west and the first thing of any size it hits is Medicine Lodge. National Gypsum should stand out at night, Mill Road heads west along the south edge of the plant, follow that until there is a loop at the end, and there it is. There are some trees right near the track just to the west of it, I’ll come down in those. Man Google Earth is awesome and I’ve got to get a new smart phone!”

“Once I’m landed, I’ll text TJ to let you know I got there, find out where you are, and stuff. Text me if something happens before then.”

Without waiting to see reactions from the rest, he transforms and launches himself into the air and quickly beats hard to climb up above the city lights, then circles the park a few times to make sure that he’s going to be OK with the overalls. Then he heads for the bright lights of the expressway, trying not to caw with the sheer joy of flying on his own.

It is only a few minutes into the flight that he thinks about how this is going to be far longer of a flight than he’s done so far. He knows that he is in good shape, but he’s not sure how well the endurance from daily runs and the strength from physical labor will translate to flying endurance.

Corb’s change is shocking to everyone. It’s one thing to know that you can shift into something fearsome and powerful, it’s another to watch someone change before your eyes. The large birthmark on the side of his face darkens and sprouts feathers… from there, the mark spreads quickly to envelop his body, the feathers following the line as it expands. His chest is a bloody mass, remnants of the shotgun wound he sustained to trigger his first change.


The vision is horrific and the others are taken aback. They quickly recover as he flies into the air.

“That was… crazy,” TJ says. “I never actually saw that when we met.”

The rest quickly move out. Flo hops into the truck with James taking the front passenger seat. TJ hops in the back.

The two vehicles pull out and head south to 400 before heading west and taking the 235 to 42 south.

As the crow flies, it’s about 3/4s of the driving distance and Corb makes that in about the same time as the drivers. He gets there first and, with a thought, bursts into a murder of crows. The individual birds take roost in a nearby tree and watch the road for the arrival of the others.

The rest get there around 10pm. Flo stops the truck and heads to the door, knocking.

Abby follows the truck and pulls in behind it as Flo steps out. She locks the bike but there is no steel beam here to use the chain on so she leaves it in the rear cargo bin. She removes her phone from the dash and follows Flo, helmet in the crook of an arm. As she walks to the door behind the other woman, Abby looks around at the neighborhood.The town of Medicine lodge is northeast of the Medicine Lodge River, if you could call it a river. The house itself it outside of the town, to the west and just a hundred yards or so from the river to the south.

North of the house are open fields of grass and some relatively unkept roads. Between the house and river are trees, fed by the nutrients brought by the moving water and the moisture directly provided by the river.

The group had appraoched the house from the east after driving past some large industrial area, probably the source of the towns livelihood. The address was actually only half a mile after that. If anything happened out there, at this time of night… no one would be around to know.

Flo knocks on the door, “Trish?” she calls out. “Trish, are you home? It’s Flo. Flo Williams? Jack’s daughter?”

As Flo approaches the house, Corb settles himself around the eaves. At some level it feels wrong, almost dangerous, to be on something so solid rather than a branch, but at least this way he’s off the ground but able to watch all around the house.

At a different level it deeply, deeply, weird to be a flock of crows but to somehow still be him. He really can’t think about it, in fact it is hard to think of anything the way that he normally would, but somehow he still seems to be able to function rationally even if he isn’t fully aware of his thoughts … it all gets to be too much to think about and spills out in words.


Abby looks around as she waits on the sidewalk behind Flo as the other woman knocks on the door. “Crap-ass bunch of crows at this house, Flo. Anything we should be worried about? I think I will ask my Loa to come forward for a bit. She can see in the dark much better than I can.”

Abby asks the Loa to take over her body and practices with the quick change. The Loa appears but since she is wearing her jeans and biker’s jacket and gloves, the only real visible changes are the rotting heads that are swinging on chains from a belt at her waist and her face, which seems to be a continually shifting series of Day of the Dead skull forms, each with dead black eyes and fangs for teeth.

After changing, Abby looks about to see if she can spot anything hidden in the darkness then casts a spell to hopefully detect any magic in the area besides her new companions.

Flo starts as Abby changes. She shakes her head and exhales slowly. “It is hard to get used to this… please move away though. I do not know that Trish knows or will understand. At least not until I tell her.”

Abby backs away and then slips into the shadows. Her senses come alive with the power of the spell. The house itself seems to have a slight glow of power, not surprising if the woman inside had any magical talent at all. Flo was also pulsing with magical energy, as if she was surrounded by some manner of shield.

James walked up to the door and waited with Flo. A few moments later the door opens.

“Flo?” an older woman asks. Her hair is mostly grey with streaks of black and her skin is weather worn. She looks at least sixty years old and might be older. “You have visitors?”

“Can we come in, Trish?” Flo asks. “I am sure you felt the change since last week. We have to talk.”

Trish nods and invites the group in. Abby stays out, reveling in the darkness, feeling like she is part of it, unwilling for the moment to step back into the light. The crows watch her, but rather than being unnerving, she feels a sense of relief at their presence. No ordinary crows, she assumes they are related at least in some way to Corb.

She scans the forest and then across the open field. Nothing at the moment. Two sibilant voices begin to bicker with one another as she stalks the grounds.

One of the crows flaps over to stay nearer Abby, but then flies back to the roof. In that weird not-thinking that he does in flock form Corb realizes that it hurts when any part of him flies too far from the flock. He doesn’t want to think what it would be like to have a part pulled far away.

Abby looks down to the heads at her hips and picks one up in each hand, turning them so she can see the faces. The horrified expressions are still there, as if they could still not fathom what had happened to them in the final moments of their lives. The words they are saying are gibberish to Abby but she smiles at them anyway. “Ooooh, don’t the two of you make just the best conversation pieces. You and I are going to be friends for a long time. I don’t know about you two, but that just fascinates and thrills me to no end. Come on, let’s make a tour of this place.”

Abby lets the heads drop back down to her side and smiles. Yes, life is good.

The others step inside the house. Trish welcomes them into the living room where a worn couch and loveseat set are positioned advantageously near the television. A recliner sits opposite the loveseat.

James follows Flo in and then TJ and Tim enter.

“Sodas in the fridge,” Trish offers. TJ meanders to the kitchen and pulls a soda out, holding up a Coca-Cola can. Tim nods and TJ tosses it his way before grabbing another one.

“So, Trish, are you—”

Trish waves a hand dismissively. “Yes, Flo. Yes, yes. Well, part ways, at least. After ‘Dark Day’, what they call it on the news. I have have the medicine again. It’s not much, but I can feel it.”

Flo nods.

“So I figure you were coming to see about that.”

“Well,” Flo responds, “partly. I also came by because they got dad.”


“The U-tah-non-dsi.”

Trish’s face crinkles. “That’s just a myth,” she sits on the recliner.

“No, Trish, it’s not. These men here with me, and the woman outside, they are Panthers. They are from the U-tah-non-dsi that came with the people from the badlands.”

“Just legends, Flo!”

Flo sighs. “You have magic in your hands but can’t believe that the legends are true?” She turns to James. “Show her, James?”

James frowns a moment, then nods, rising from the spot on the loveseat he had taken for himself. He moves to the middle of the room.

“This is why I’m wearing shorts and a tank,” he mutters.

He lowers his chin to his chest, then rolls his head around.

The room is quiet for a moment and then he jerks back once… twice… blood begins to well up from under his shirt. His skin greys, his features becoming gaunt and his eyes film up.

His arms suddenly change, first to stumps, then to hooks, then plastic and rubber prosthetics. his legs seem to become wooden, then rubbery as well. Suddenly, metal and wires erupt from his limbs and spread.

The whole transformation takes fifteen seconds and in the end he has the appearance of a zombie with cyborg limbs. He looks over to Flo and then to Trish. The bleeding has lessened to oozing black dribbles.

Tim realizes he has backed himself up over the top of the couch. TJ had dropped his drink.

It’s a moment before they realize that Trish is screaming, having stumbled back and away onto the floor. Flo rushes to her side.

“It’s alright, Trish, he isn’t going to hurt you!”

“That,” remarks TJ, bending to pick up his drink before more of it spills, “is not right, man.”

James lifts his arm, there is a whirring of gears and servos.

Outside, Corb and Abby can hear the screams. Abby considers going in, when the crows begin to caw raucously.

She turns to see what has them agitated and notices faint lights coming down the road quickly.

Cars with their headlights off, moving far too fast for this old country road. There are four of them. Hell, in the dark, she normally wouldn’t have even seen them, but with her enhanced nightvision, they are as plain as day.

Abby looks up at the crows on the eaves and shakes her head, they are definitely not normal but seem to be friendly. “Thanks for the warning.”

She walks quickly to the front porch and knocks loudly as she calls out. “Everyone OK in there? We got company coming. Four dark cars and I don’t think they are tourists.”

After Abby seems to have picked up the warning, Corb gathers himself on the back part of the roof, out of sight of the approaching vehicles. He tries to ingather without too much noise or commotion, but he isn’t at all sure that all of him manages it especially well.

Once he’s together he changes back to Crow-Monster form. He gratefully thinks that it is good to be himself again, then after a couple of seconds he shudders as realizes what form he is in. But no time for worrying about that, he throws himself off the roof, flies back amongst the trees, then starts beating for altitude so that he can keep an eye on the approaching vehicles.

Flo looks to James, who nods.

“Tim,” James says. “Take Trish out back and keep her safe. TJ, you want to greet these folks coming in?”

“Uh… not really, no,” TJ replies.

“We have you covered,” James presses. “Just keep them busy long enough for the rest of us to position.”

“Position!?” TJ exclaims. “What are we about to do here?”

“We can’t let them have Trish,” Flo says.

“And they’ll take Flo, if they find her,” James adds.

“Fine. Fine I’ll go out and chat em up.”

Tim gathers up Trish and moves out the back door of the house and heads towards the wood line. A shuffle above and he sees a dark shape move from the roof to the woods. Hope that’s that Corb fellow, he thinks.

Abby hides against the side of the house as the door opens and TJ steps out.

The first of the vehicles rolls up. Doors open immediately and several men step out. They are dressed in suits and, even nearing midnight, wear sunglasses.

TJ lifts a joint to his lips and takes a draw. On the exhale, he coughs once, lightly, “Gentlemen, what can I do for you this evening?”

One of the men walks up to him and then gut punches him. TJ drops the joint and falls to his knees.

“Go inside and get the woman,” the man orders, then he grabs TJs hair and holds his head back. “Who are you?”

Abby steps around the corner of the house and into the light.

“Hello, boys. Are you here to play with me?”

If she wanted to have an effect on the men with her countenance, she was not disappointed. Several of them took a step back. A few raised their weapons, but none fired… they seemed… unsure.

Abby grinned and then exerted her will, pouring an aura of palpable fear into the area.

Corb had gained enough height to see the sunglasses-at-night man hit TJ. Abby apparently has magic, and Tim and James looked like they could take care of themselves well enough, but with multiple cars full to deal with it seemed like a good time to buy them some time.

It seemed to take forever compared to how fast some of the action was going below, but he banked wide around the house and behind the vehicles, before coming down for a hard landing behind a small shed on the north side of the loop around the house.

Then, hoping that it worked as well on these strange sunglasses men as it had the cows he’d tested it on, Corb let loose with loud cawwing, pouring all the energy he could into it.

The volume of sound that came out was shocking even to him — as was how draining it felt. He staggered into the shed wall as the world seemed to teeter beneath him briefly. As he straightened everything seemed shockingly quiet, and he wasn’t sure if he had deafened himself or just quieted everything else for the moment.

To the rest, it did not sound like a single creature emitted that horrid, horrifying sound. It was the sound of hundreds of crows, cawing in a raucous cacophony, disorienting and exceedingly frightening. The men stepping from their cars reeled in confusion.

The man standing in front of TJ turned to the sound and noticed Corb standing beside the shed, holding it. He raised his gun and pulled the trigger four times. The first bullet hits him in the arm, but the rest fly wide as Corb rolls out of the way. The fleshwound barely registers as Corb quickly decides his next move.

Behind the agent, TJ rises to his feet whilst simultaneously changing. He grows in height, his slender skin tinting green and then darkening. Thorns burst through his skin, seeping a dark saplike ooze, and several pods blossom across his body.

The door to the house flies open. The cat’s out of the bag, James thought to himself. No sense in holding back.

He barrels through the yard and the agent in front of TJ turns in time to see James about to barrel into him. James leaps at the last instant, driving his knee into the agents gut. The sound of a shotgun blast is heard and the agent staggers backward, a hole blown in his gut. The agent looks down and then back at James.

By all rights, the man should just be dead, nothing could stand up with it’s guts hanging out. Except that there were no guts hanging out. Just a black, gaping hole surrounded by the tattered suit…

Abby steps back at the furious cawing of the crows, but then the man on the porch fires at Corb and that just will not do. She is picking the spell to cast when James comes through the door all changed and she has to pause again. “Holy fuck! Just who are we?” The thought goes through her mind as she watches what Should be James dive to the man and she hears the roar of a shotgun blast at close range. That the man is still standing causes her to think. “And just who ARE these guys?”

Still, most of the men seem to be focused on James or Corb so she takes the opportunity to grasp the lead man in a telekinetic hold as she takes a step backwards to put herself at the corner of the house in case she needs to run or dodge her own fusillade of bullets.

All of the men near the vehicles are physically staggered by the intensity of Corb’s cawing. Though he is no longer emitting the noise, they stand, disoriented, shaking the cobwebs out.

The one man who had stepped away and hit TJ was now levitated inches from the ground, his limbs awkwardly posed as though some gargantuan fist held him in its grasp.

James clasped two hands together and swung them mightily, crushing the man’s head. Instead of blood and gore, the head simply crumbled in, as if made of clay. The body stopped struggling against the force holding it.

“What the fuck?” TJ uttered, in disbelief.

James shrugged. “Yeah, it’s like that.”

Corb takes a run at the man who had shot him, but the agent manages to roll aside at the last moment.

Then he reverses direction with a sharpness that he wished he could have matched in his days as a junior varsity punt returner, and heads back for the cars, looking to smash one of the agents standing near them. If he has to bring fists, knees, and wings to a gun fight, he at least wants to be near the opportunity for cover.

He charges at the man, but at the last minute extends his wings to catch him in the gut with momentum behind the blow The agent was surprised by the hit from the wing and failed to move with it.

Corb uses the blow to pivot around, lands his feet against the car, whips the other wing around to clock the still flat footed agent with a solid blow to the back of the head, then throws himself back over the car.

Abby steps back towards the steps so James and TJ can get a look at her. “Nice move there. You might want to cut the head off that thing of you have the ability on that body of yours. Maybe just fire a shotgun blast through its neck?” She focus her attention on one of the men near a car and crushes him in a telekinetic vise.

The man Abby grabbed jerks awkwardly, unable to recover from the shock of the sonic attack.

Corb ducks behind the car, not seeing what damage he has wrought, but the others can see the man’s arm hanging loosely at his side, hanging by threads of his cheap suit. The man wobbles unsteadily.

The others begin to recover while Abby drops the telekinetic stranglehold on the first man, the one who punched TJ and is now relatively headless. He slumps to the ground, unmoving.

James dashes forward to wade in amongst the remaining agents, smashing one against a car and then extending his arm and firing an extended burst from his hand. The sound of gunfire pierces the night and the man staggers back in that herky-jerky motion from action films before he staggers to the ground.

Abby grins as she notes that she was able to grab a new target while still holding the first. She does not want to stretch this too far, but apparently two targets is doable. She reaches out and exerts her will, enabling her talent and grabbing another of the shotgun wielding men, even as she wonders if it is possible to somehow use it in an area-effect manner and grab several at once. She will have to look into this when she has time. As it is, she has to be a bit careful as she has already cast one read aura, one fear, and now three grab spells tonight. Based on her experimentation earlier in the week, she will need to rest a bit to get the power back that she is expending.

Corb landed behind the car and stayed down for a moment to catch his breath, but the world didn’t wait for him, some of the agents were already shaking off their shock.

The agent that he’d smacked around didn’t follow Corb over the roof of the car, but instead calmly stepped around the trunk end. While Corb tried to close the distance the agent calmly fired at Corb from point-blank range.

“When did I start charging into bullets?” passes through Corb’s mind, to soon be replaced with “Ewww” as he followed some instinct to gouge the agent with his beak. He managed to tear away part of the agents face, but that still didn’t drop the creepy thing.

As the men recover from their shock and notice that the leader among them is down, they all take aim at various locations. If they are shocked at being attacked by a group of… well… *monsters*… they don’t show it.

“It’s about to get messy,” James announces as he wheels around a vehicle and stands back to back with Corb.

TJ lowers his head, his eyes forward as he gazes at the agents.

“They aren’t… people!” he yells out. “They’re something else…”

Two of the agents move towards him and he plants one foot behind him, bracing for their attack. Vines extend from his back like slender tentacles, waving in the air.

Abby takes a step back into the shadows cast by the house and stretches out her power to try to pick up a third man, while continuing to squeeze the others already in her grip. She is prepared to stop if it appears that her grip on the first two will be weakened.

The two men rushing TJ pull the triggers on their weapons. Unlike the others, TJ isn’t ready for a fight and as he turns to run from them, the bullets rip through his flesh.

Another one of the agents lines up his shotgun with Corb. Feeling brazen, he stands there as the slug rips through his flesh. He’s mindful of the sting, but his fear of bullets seems to be vanishing. This slug hurts far worse than the small caliber rounds from before and he briefly considers abandoning the ‘stand and take it’ tactic, at least for shotguns…

James is a slaughterhouse machine. A shotgun in his left knee and the assault rifle in his arm are in a fierce debate and another agent tumbles.

Meanwhile, three of the agents break off and run towards the corner of the house where Abby is hiding in the darkness.

Abby keeps hold of two of the shotgun guys near the cars and reaches out to grab two of the men running her way.

Two of the men stop dead in their tracks, held tight by Abby’s talent, but the third man begins shooting. Abby tries to duck behind the corner of the house, but the bullet hits her in the arm.

She stumbles at the shock of it and the agent fires twice more, each bullet careening into Abby, the third one knocking her back.

Meanwhile, two of the Agents break away from the group, looking to move around behind the house.

The agent with the shotgun chambers another round and levels it at Corb.

The Loa’s scream is more of a sibilant hiss than words as she stumbles back a couple of feet from the force of the blow. She has to let one of the two shotgun men near the car go but resets her grip on the other and shifts her second attack to the man who shot her, temporarily controlling all three of the men near her. After making the grab, she yells out. “Tim! Two men coming your way. It’s clobbering time.”

Hunkered down behind the house in a copse of trees, Tim is hiding with Trish. When he hears Abby call out, he raises his head to see out towards the house. Sure enough, two of the agents are fast approaching them.

“Oh, man,” he says, “this ain’t good.”

In the front of the house, Flo rushes out, holding a double barrel shotgun of her own. She stands next to TJ who has grabbed one of the men with his vines and places the shotgun to his chest and pulls the trigger fully, giving him both barrels.

Another of the agents raises his own gun and fires at her. There are sparks, flashes of light and it appears the bullets are deflected. She snarls and opens the breach, reaching for two more shells at the same time.

The men held by Abby twist and the one with the shotgun pulls free from her grasp. His face without expression he advances on her, pulling the trigger on the shotgun. She ducks back behind the house, watching as the corner of the building gets chewed up by the slug meant for her. The movement breaks her concentration.

James and Corbin work on the men near the cars. Their forms seem far better suited to battle than Abby and TJs and they are making short work of the men they face.

Corbin finds no guns blasting away at him for a moment, and he looks up to see that James has blasted away their nearest foes — and the battlefield seems short of the agents in general. He doesn’t know where they’ve all gone, but he’s pretty sure it isn’t to pick up burgers and fries for everyone.

He yells to James “I’m leaving these ones to you!” Ducking past another agent he accelerates for a few steps, leaps onto the trunk of one of the cars, keeps running up onto the roof, then throws himself into the air.

As he beats his wings hard for height and a view on where the missing agents have gone he thinks “I may have brought a beak to a James fight, but this I can do.” A moment later it occurs to him “Weren’t shotguns created for shooting ducks out of the sky?”

Abby gives a frustrated hiss and does what she hopes is the unexpected by stepping back around the corner and using her grab talent to take control of one of the shotguns and twisting it to point at one of the other men as it fires.

Corb takes to the air. In the darkness, he is near impossible to see from the ground and most of the agents appear busy in any case. He can see that a pair of agents are moving on… is that… Tim?

The man was big, but now he’s a behemoth, roughly chiseled from stone. A huge fist crushes one of the agents in the face, knocking him back several feet and to the ground.

The other agents fires, but it doesn’t seem as if the bullets connect with him.

Abby is having a difficult time with the three agents that are chasing her. She keeps maneuvering back, which unfortunately has the side effect of bringing those three behind the house and closer to the presumed target, Trish.

In the front, James seems to have things well in hand and Flo and TJ are handling a pair of agents as well.

Abby and her Loa are having a hard time controlling the action against all three of the men facing her. She takes another two steps back and realizes that she is inadvertently leading the men to the woman they are supposed to be protecting. She takes a deep breath and grabs at two of the men and stands her ground against the third. Her plan is to grab the third guy and regrab one of the others facing her next round then keep swapping out so as to keep all three tangled up until someone comes to help her or she runs out of power.

She calls out. “I could use some help here.”

Corb hears Abby’s cry, and banks towards her. Seeing the situation he targets one of the shotgun wielding enemies with a focused cawing; not as deafening as what he sent out earlier but still powerful — however it is not enough and the agent continues to advance on Abby.

In frustration Corb swoops down to strike the man with a wing, getting in a solid hit, and the agent fails to roll with the surprise blow, one shoulder slumping from the force of the attack.

One of the three men continues to advance on Abby, firing his pistol. She easily snaps back, simultaneously marveling that her previous bullet wounds are already healed, leaving no mark that she was even shot.

The man with the shotgun points it at Corb. The avian-hybrid figures that it’s best to avoid the large calibre and tries to side step, but the blast tears through him regardless.

The man with the pistol fires at Corb, but in his rage he simply accepts the bullet.

Tim has pounced on the man who fell, smashing him in the chest. Green goo splashes out. The man with the shotgun fires again and Tim realizes it’s not at him!

Abby grabs the guy with the shotgun and one of the pistol guys, which should give her control of all three of the gunmen near her.

The agent who had just blasted Corb with a shotgun apparently didn’t think that Corb’s response would be to charge and grab the gun. Or maybe these agents didn’t really think for themselves? Certainly smashing open their heads didn’t seem to stop them, which did raise the question of where their thinking happened.

Whatever the case, Corb was able to get to the side of the barrel, slap a wing against the agent’s face for leverage, grab the gun with his wing hands, and twist it away from his hapless foe. The agent immediately tried to slam a fist into Corb’s guts, but Corb was already spinning away, reducing the damage.

Corb stopped and reversed his spin with one foot and one wing, driving the butt of the gun back at the agent. The agent had started to throw itself backward — the blow still thumped into his chest, but the flesh seemed to almost absorb the blow in way that ribs simply don’t.

Realizing Abby’s abilities are hemming them up, the agents note the tell tale sign of her use of the talent and each of them quickly duck out of the way. That doesn’t save them from Corb’s attack and suddenly, one of them find themselves without a weapon.

Realizing he is defenseless, he turns and runs quickly away. The other two fire upon Corb, the obvious threat. Feeling as if they have the upper hand, Corb stands fast, the bullets striking him even as the wounds from the shotgun blast are closing up.

Abby is about to try again with a grab, when she hears Tim cry out, “Abby, help!!!”

She turns and sees the rough hewn form of Tim standing over a fallen form…

Abby yells out as she is turning. “HEY, anyone in the front! Trish is down! I need some medical support in the back!” She runs over to where Tim is, calling out as she goes. “Tim, help take care of the two with Corb. I will do my best here.” Abby puts herself between the men behind her and Trish and looks at the wound, seizing on the only thing she can think of as she reaches out to grab Trish around her wound and puts pressure on her to try to stem the bleeding.

Tim nods and rushes off to assist Corb, trying to barrel into the back of one of the remaining agents. The man simply sidesteps and Tim smashes into the house, nearly crashing inside. Corb pulls the trigger again on the shotgun and the agent tries to move out of the way. A grazing hit leaves the man whole. Corb snarls and swings out with his wing, the bladed limb catching the man fully across the chest.

James rushes over to Abby, who is desperately trying to staunch the bleeding, but with no real knowledge of how, besides an idea of what she’s seen on TV, she isn’t doing well. James shoves her out of the way with urgency, wiping away the blood to see where the wounds actually are. He grimaces and replaces his hands with a shake of his head.

“It’s real bad,” he says. “Flo got hit too, but Tim is doing… something… to her…”

Abby lets James in and releases her grip on Trish so he can examine her. “Is it all done out front then? I know almost nothing about first aid, but this looks a lot worse that anything first aid can take care of. We need some help. Try to keep her conscious and work on the bleeding and I will go try to get someone from out front to come back while Tim and Corb deal with the last of the guys here.”

Abby turns and runs for the front of the house, going wide past where Tim and Corb are fighting the agents at the side of the house.

People were hurt, people he could be helping — but running to their aid while leaving the agents behind wasn’t actually going to help them survive. They needed to finish this, but the darn things would just NOT go down easily.

Those thoughts ran through the back of his mind as he flung himself up and forward at the agent he was fighting, coming down to tear at it with his beak. The agent tried to leap out of the way but was too slow. Tearing into these things with his beak was gross, but it sure seemed to do some decent damage..

Missing one eye now, the agent still lined Corb up for a nice knee to the gut, catching Corb off guard enough that he didn’t roll with it.

Ignoring the punch, Corb went for another wing bash, but perhaps his balance was off from the shotgun he was still clutching, or maybe it was a slippery bit of footing from material torn from the agent, but whatever the cause he stumbled, not striking with any force.

As Corb regained his footing, Tim rushed in and grabbed each of the agents by their heads in his massive hands. With a yell, he smashed their heads together and they crumbled like pottery. There was no gore, no blood. The bodies dropped stiffly to the ground.

As Abby runs around the house, she sees TJ kneeling over the fallen form of Flo, amongst some of the agent bodies. She watches as TJ lays hands on her and then, he slumps over, unmoving.

She begins to move forward when she hears a car door slam. Looking to her left, she sees on of the agent vehicles pull forward and then around an obstacle, into the grass and then back on the dirt road, roaring away, tires kicking gravel behind them.

Realizing there is little she can do about that, she rushes to TJ and Flo. Flo is sitting up, rubbing her head, then clutching at her gut. Abby can easily see that her shirt is shredded there, and blood soaked… but her flesh is whole. Turing to TJ, he lays with his eyes closed, bleeding from a gaping hole in his belly.

Even as she watches, the hole begins to fill and heal.

“That was… weird,” Flo managed.

Abby watches in amazement. “That is fucking amazing. I sure hope that you can do it again. Two of the gunmen got past me and one shot Trish. She is hurt very bad and I think she is bleeding out. Can you come see if you can heal her, too?”

Flo blinks at Abby, then looks over at TJ. She shakes him, but he doesn’t move. “TJ?”

She looks back at Abby. “I didn’t do it, he did. The spirits protected me but not enough and I was shot…” Her fingers push through the holes in her shredded shirt. “I think I was dying and… TJ just reached down and then—” She points at the wounds TJ bears, quickly healing as he breathes slowly.

“I think he somehow took my wounds into himself.”

The two women hear shouting from behind the house, but can’t quite make out James’ words.

Hearing one of the cars take off, Corb yells to the others “I’m going to see how far I can track it from the air – probably can’t keep up with it, but I can cut a few corners, maybe see where it is headed.”

Turning to Tim he asks “Help me with a toss skyward?” The ensuing casual grab and toss shows an intimidating degree of strength, and Corb is grateful that the guy is on his side.

As he beats hard to get the height needs to see the car heading down the gravel road a thought occurs to him “Aside from these weird clay-like dudes, does the other side have monsters of their own, and how strong are they?”

Corb sails easily in the sky, following the car as it moves east towards the center of the town of Medicine Lodge.

Abby looks a bit worried. “Well I hope that he recovers soon. When he does send him around back of the house as quick as you can. I am going back to see what James needs.”

She nods at Flo and runs back around the house to where James and Trish are.

As Abby runs over, James looks over his shoulder, “She’s bleeding out fast.”

He continues to hold pressure down on her as he watches Abby approach.

Tim lumbers over as well, “Shit, anything we can do?” he rumbles.

James shakes his head. Trish shudders and gasps once, then her breath catches in short jerks.

“I’ve seen this before,” James murmurs, grimly. “There’s nothing we can do…”

Abby blanches at the sight of the wound and looks over her shoulder, hoping to see TJ and Flo running around the corner, but sees no one coming. She turns back to the stricken woman and tries to reach deep into the Loa’s consciousness, looking for any sort of healing spell that might help here, something the Loa was going to teach her in the future. She murmurs a prayer to the Loa to help her.

Unfortunately, there are no answers and the three of them watch as Trish dies. Flo rounds the corner of the house and then rushes towards them. "TJ won’t wake—

“Oh, no, Trish…”

The group stands quietly around her, everyone except Corb and TJ.

James gets up a few moments later “We can’t stay here. We need to go.”

Abby stands up and looks around at her companions, “James and Tim, you guys did a good job of dealing with these guys. I am sorry that I was not as much help and will try to get better. I think I have a good idea of my abilities now and am sad that it cost us Trish to find out. Do you think that you two can move TJ from the ground to Flo’s truck bed? I don’t think we have a lot of time as those guys that got away are probably calling in help and we could see more company out here, including real policemen that we do not want to hurt. Flo, while they are doing that, can you take a quick look around the house to see if there is anything that Trish had written down somewhere that might help us?”

“If we are leaving for somewhere, I have a few thousand dollars buried back at my house and a snake I am not leaving behind. I also have a good selection of camping gear we can pick up if we are leaving town. I can wait somewhere not too far away for Corb to come back. He will see we are not here and call us to find out where we are and we can guide him to my location and meet you guys somewhere else. You have my cell number. What do you guys think?”

Flo looks at Trish a moment longer, then nods and hustles back to the house.

James stands up. “That’ll work, Abby. Tim, let’s grab TJ. Abby, we’ll be at the Lowe’s parking lot. The one on South Ridge Road. We’ll meet you there.”

Abby nods as she looks down at Trish with a sense of loss. Even though she had never even met the woman, her death was tragic in that she would now never be able to share whatever she had known about what was happening. She crosses herself and sends a prayer to the LOAs to watch out for this soul and to care for it.

She looks back up at James and smiles grimly. “Lowes. South Ridge Road. I will wait a short distance from here, but not too close. See you guys there.” She notices when James looks at her and follows his eyes and swears as she notices that most of her torso, to include the entirety of her left breast, is now exposed through the rents in her shirt caused by the shotgun blasts. Whatever is left is badly stained with her blood, even though the wounds have closed. She tries to use the remains of her shirt to cover herself, but there is not enough of her material remaining to make that work. “Fuck, they shot some big-ass holes in my clothes, didn’t they? I guess that is another reason to stop at my place. I will see if Trish has anything that might fit me before leaving.”

Abby runs into the house and heads to Trish’s bedroom, rifling the closet for some sweatshirts. She notices that Trish must have been of a similar size and grabs a couple pairs of pants that she can change into later as hers are splattered with her blood. She grabs a couple of trash can liners from the kitchen before racing from the house. She bends over the couple of dead agents at the rear of the house and rifles their bodies for anything useful, such as money, ID, guns, bullet-proof vests, and anything like earbud communicators or cell phones and all goes into the bag before she runs to her bike and climbs on it, driving off to a convenient place to wait for Corb to return. Once in place, she changes out of her pants and the shot-up sweatshirt she had been wearing and puts on Trish’s clothes, placing hers in the other trash bag and stuffing it into one of her cargo bins. She thanks her Loa for the street contacts she has made as she flicks open the compartment at the side of her dash and activates the police scanner one of her black market contacts had put in for her. She again thanks her Loa for saving her life tonight then retakes control of her body and examines whatever she was able to find on the bodies as she waits for Corb.

Meanwhile, Corb sees the car pull into the Medicine Lodge police building, a small house with a signpost out front. He watches as the man gets out and goes inside, perhaps to call for reinforcements?

It did not appear that law enforcement would be pouring like ants out of the Medicine Lodge Police Station. They probably only had a dispatcher inside anyway, with one patrol out. Likely the agent was calling for reinforcements from elsewhere.

Corb decided to head back to the others.

Once he is well clear of sight range of the police station, Corb swoops down to land atop a shed, and fumbles for the cell phone he’d put in the bib of his overalls.

It is only then that it sinks in how much gunfire had hit him, yet here here he is. A few blood encrusted holes from pistol bullets, and the cloth was mostly just missing in a couple of areas where short range shotgun blasts had hit.

And the phone was destroyed. Second phone in just days! At least this had been just a cheap flip phone, but even so he couldn’t afford to keep replacing phones. Or clothes.

His curse came out as a caw, and in frustration he threw himself harshly off the shed roof, almost daring himself to crash into the ground. His wings did their job and he was soon circling over the recent battlefield, looking for signs of the others.

He widens his search twice before he notices the motorbike, and carefully swoops to a landing a little distance away, not wanting to startle the snake-witch-woman.

Abby’s look through the things she had collected from the two agents in the back is a bit disappointing. No wallets and no IDs; just a couple of guns and flip phones. She laughs to herself. “What sort of agents are these guys anyway? Everyone knows that the bodies of the bad guys are supposed to have some sort of clue as to who they are.” Chuckling about the sad differences between real life and TV, she opens the phones and scrolls through the received and sent calls files to see if there is any sort of information she can glean from them. She does not even touch the guns except to wipe her prints form them and put them back in the trash bag.

Abby stretches and takes a look around, alerted by the noise of Corb landing nearby. She misses the night vision the Loa has when she is in charge of the body, but it is probably for the best that her Abby form be in charge for now. She waves Corb over and hands him the passenger helmet. “The others are waiting for us at the Lowe’s parking lot. You are wireless for the intercom and the radio, so should be good to go. If you try to talk while I am talking, we will just get some loud noise, so it is best to use the word “over” when done talking and wait to hear that before starting. If you need to interrupt, you can touch me on the shoulder. I picked up some items from two of the agents, but all they had of interest was a phone. No wallets, no money, and no IDs. I was trying to see if they have any information in their call logs when you came up. Do we want to take them with us or risk them tracking us with them? I know that is possible on TV but I don’t know if they can do that is real life.”

Abby instructs Corb to put his arms around her and hold on. “Try to lean into the turns with me. I know it is counter-intuitive to do that, but it works, trust me. Hold me about the waist just like that and don’t squeeze too hard. Ready?”

Abby calls up the others and tells them that she has Corb. “Hey, on the way to Lowe’s now. Should be there shortly. I will still want to go by my place and get some things, including my snake.”

Abby and Corb get to the Lowe’s parking lot and almost immediately spot Flo’s truck parked off to one end. She drives up to it and sees that the others have all changed back and are standing about with TJ sitting up in the cargo bed. For a few moments all six of them look at each other, almost in disbelief of what has happened then Abby turns to look at Flo and breaks the silence. “Alright, I don’t think there is anyone here that doubts you any more. Were you able to find anything in Trish’s house that could be useful or are we back to wondering what the heck is happening and what is our part in all of this? I have been monitoring the police scanner since I got back to my bike and nothing so far. Corb says the agent’s car went to a police station but they did not apparently send anyone out to the house. So what is our next step?”

Flo looks at Abby and the rest and nods as she takes a deep breath. “Trish was just about the only person that I was pretty sure would be able to help us. I can’t think of anyone else…” She shudders.

Tim echoes her comments. “Those guys really creeped me out. Not too sure I can do too much more of this shit.” He holds his hands up as Flo turns to him. “I know, I know. You said it was save the world stuff and I believe you…..mostly, anyway. But I just don’t know if I am cut out to be a hero. Those guys were trying to kill us and I………………..”

His voice falls off and Abby steps up a little closer. “Yeah, they tried to kill us and fucking failed, didn’t they.” She reaches down and pulls her, well, Trish’s, sweatshirt up to expose her torso. She had had to get rid of the wreckage of her bra and Trish had definitely not been of a similar size in that department. Letting the guys get a good look, she then lowers the sweatshirt. “Any of you got any marks to even prove you were hurt? I took a couple of shotgun blasts to my chest but no marks, no scars, not even a trace of a wound. So no, we aren’t invulnerable and there may be weapons they can use that WILL hurt us, but this crap tonight? It was nothing but a thang, you know. We need to stick together. There may be others like us out there that can help us and are just so fucking lost that they do not understand anything that is happening. And there might just be someone who knows a lot about it and can really help us out. But we will not know unless we stay the course and keep going.”

James and Tim do not look totally convinced but TJ pipes up in support. “I agree with Flo and Abby; we need to keep going. What about you guys?”

Abby leans in and places a hand on the edge of the truck bed. “I’m in.”

TJ grins as he leans forward a bit from where he is sitting and puts a hand on top of Abby’s. “I’m in.”

Flo chuckles and adds a hand to the other two. “I am in.”

Corb hesitates just a second before stepping up and joining them. “Me, too. Let’s do this and kick some agent ass.”

Tim and James still hesitate and look at each other then the group with their hands stacked on top of each other on the edge of the truck, apparently still undecided.

TJ looks at James and Tim and motions to them with his free hand. “Come on, you two, how else are you gonna find out more about what happened to you. None of us were born to be heroes, but here we are. Only thing is, we have not done much that is heroic yet. We have to give Flo a chance to figure something out.”

Tim looks over at James and shrugs his shoulders. James nods and steps forward to place a hand on the pile. “OK, I am in. For now, at least. Mind is still not made up, though.”

Tim nods, too, and also steps in. “Me too.”

Everyone smiles at each other and then the moment is gone and everyone moves their hands. Flo has TJ hand her a backpack from the bed of the truck and she takes a small notebook from it. Holding it up, she says, “Right now, this is my best…..my only shot to finding someone to help us. Dad kept a few notes in here, but he used some sort of code that I am only partially familiar with. I need some time to try to figure out what he says here. I think that we need to find a place to lay low for a bit. My guess is that it might take those agent guys a couple of hours to start figuring out who we are and go looking for us. If you guys have anything at your houses that you want or need, now is the time to go there and get it.”

Abby nods. “And I know some people we might be able to hide among. I met some guys in a black market pipeline once. Rude and crude, but we might be able to work a deal to stay with them for a couple of days. I have some stuff at my house I need to go get. Do we meet back here in say three hours or so?”

Flo nods. “Right. I have nothing at my place but I can take a couple of people around to get stuff. Corb, you OK staying with Abby for now?”

Corb nods and smiles. “Yeah, it’s hard to wrap my arms around her and sit right behind her but I might be able to suffer through it. For the team, you know.”

Everyone laughs and the mood does lighten a bit now that they have decided on a course of action. Abby looks at Corb and grins. “OK, wise guy. My place first then yours? I hope that you like riding with a seven foot python.”

Corb blanches a bit then nods and moves off to the bike. TJ taps the side of the truck to get Abby’s attention and motions for her to come closer. When she does, he leans over to whisper, “Hey, those are some really nice boobs you got. Can I ask if they’re real?”

Abby laughs and nods. “One hundred percent me.” She shakes her head and walks over to the bike, still chuckling. When Corb asks what is so funny, she tells him and he shoots TJ a glance. The two mount the bike and Abby gets all set before Corb puts his arms around her and she drives off.


The past two weeks had been a hellish ride for Jonathan. He could not help but see that hellish thing that had murdered those men in Wichita. It might not have been so bad if it was just when he closed his eyes. He could tell himself it wasn’t real, then… but he’d seen it in waking life a few times.

And each time it was accompanied by death. The family in Derby. The woman in Mulvane. The farmhouse in Belle Plain. So it wasn’t his imagination. It was following him.

That wasn’t all, there were other things. His own change notwithstanding. What was going on? When he had awakened naked that morning he was confused. Now he wasn’t confused about why he had been naked, but he was confused about… the other thing.

The change. He had done it once more since that day. It was in Mulvane when he had stepped out of that convenience store into the early night. He swore someone was watching him. He couldn’t shake the feeling and as he walked from the store, he could sense them behind him. Then he heard their footsteps. He was about to confront whoever it was when he saw the nightmare creature, partially behind a dumpster and staring at him.

Then, it skittered across the street at a woman as she was unlocking the door to her car. Jonathan knew what was about to happen, but he couldn’t do anything, he was frozen in terror. The thing had just shrugged off his bullets before.

It ripped into the woman and she screamed. She screamed so loud. And all the while it stared at him, their eyes locked and Jonathan paralyzed.

That’s when someone grabbed him from behind.

The change came quickly. One moment he was Jonathan in Terror, held by an unknown assailant, the next he was crawling on the ground, all limbs and claws. A tail lashed out and connected, his attacker grunting in surprise. Then he dashed away, scuttling on eight furry, clawed feet. He could see easily in the dark. He sniffed the air, taking in the scents of the night through an elongated, whisker-laden snout. Then he dashed away, through a hole in a wooden fence and escaped.

That was last week. He’d had to find another set of clothes and then he left Mulvane, made it to Belle Plain, and now here he was in Wellington, getting closer to Oklahoma.

As he sat in the diner, using money he had panhandled at the off-ramp, he felt that feeling again. Before he could react, someone sat on the stool next to him.

“You’re a hard feller to track,” the man said.

Jonathan tensed up, preparing to run.

“Don’t bother, I got some friends waiting outside, you’ll just bump into em. Sit. Eat. Hear me out.” The waitress came by just then and the man ordered a serving of nachos. And a coke.

Jonathan just sat there, quiet, trying to find options.

“I know you’ve changed,” the man continued. “You’ve turned into something. A monster.” Jonathan looked at the man then. “I know because I can feel it in you, just like you can feel it in me.”

Jonathan’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“We’re alike, you and I, the same. We caught your trail in Mulvane, but you ran. Wasn’t our best moment, I have to say. You winged Henry pretty good,” the man chuckled. “He was mad for a minute, but he’ll get over it. First timers are always unpredictable. For good reason, I think. I was the same when it happened to me.”

“You… change too?” he asked. He could sense the man was telling the truth. That odd feeling he had sensed before and now? Easing the tension he could see that he was sensing that the man was indeed like him.

“Yes. And Henry outside Beatrice. Good people, I think you’ll like them. Probably need to get Henry a beer.”

“I don’t understand?”

“Well, come with us,” the man said. “We’ll tell you all about it. Help you out.”

Jonathan weighed his options. It could have been a trap from the family, but he truly felt a sense of camaraderie with the man. If they could tell him what was happening, that was worth the risk. If not, then he could always change and escape.

“Alright, where we going?”

“We’ll get in the car and head back to Wichita, we got a house we stay at there. You’ll be safe,” the man finishes his coke and stands up. “My name’s Rob, by the way.” He extended his hand.

Jonathan took it firmly. “Jon.”

“Right, Jon, let’s go.”

That Hunk of Junk
Where Tim meets Abby

Tim washed his face and looked in the mirror. Sometimes he had to just make sure he was still there, that he was still himself. It had been a week since the crash, and he had learned a little about himself since then. Mostly that he could ‘hulk out’ into a giant rock monster.

It didn’t feel good to do, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it… but there it was, just like that.

He straightened up from the sink and ran a towel over his face.

Had to head down to the auto shop where the tow-truck had dropped off the Impala off. Tim was a little mad about that. It was a classic and he had kept it in good condition. Now it was probably going to be written off as totaled. He could get it fixed and drive it as a salvage title, but that really hurt the value.

Still, insurance would cover most of the costs to fix it. He doubted he’d be able to recoup anything from the other guy. Turns out they found him near the car, smashed up pretty good. The cops wrote it off as a double accident, the guy must not have been wearing his seatbelt. They took it in stride that Tim had left the scene. Probably dazed and off his rocker for the moment. Understandable, the guys said.

They liked him and didn’t see a need to look too hard at something as simple as a double vehicle accident on ‘Dark Day’.

He got dressed and waited for the cab, which picked him up and took him to Mike’s Body Shop.


Abby had cried a little inside when she saw the car. It had obviously been taken care of and here it was, smashed up. It wasn’t going to be cheap to fix but it deserved to be made whole again.

That idiot Eddie had brought it in, said it was part of a two-car collision that had happened the morning of Dark Day. One person had died in the wreck. Not the owner of the Impala, though. He’d be in to talk about this options in a few days.

It was going to cost more than the insurance was going to cough up. Not a little bit, either, probably three or four thousand out of pocket for the guy. But maybe he was the kind of guy that could throw that sort of money around.

She was under the car, checking the front axle when she felt it. A sort of… deep body chill. The kind you get when someone runs a finger up your back. She felt a sense of… something… familiarity.

She looked down past her chest and saw a pair of athletic shoes. With a frown she rolled out and took note of a beefy young man, well built. He was staring down at her, confused.

And she knew. And she knew that he knew…

Abby looks up at the guy and stares at him for a moment, not sure if she should run and hide or what, exactly, she is supposed to do. Instead, she gets off the creeper and stands up, looking at the man At 5’7" and maybe 135 pounds, she is dwarfed by the man in front of her. His jacket and shirt do little to hide his physique and she immediately thinks football. Abby’s shoulder length black hair is tied back in a pony tail and covered with a greasy bandana scarf, but some of her hair seems to have escaped the scarf and curls about her face, which is streaked with grease and oil, partially concealing her light, milk chocolate skin. It is still easy to see her African American heritage while the almond eyes let him know that there is a bit of Asian in the family tree somewhere. She might actually be nice looking if she was cleaned up a bit.

Abby is wearing a T-shirt and grease-stained coveralls, which seem to add to the messy girl motif. She wipes her hands on a rag at the belt of her coveralls and holds one out to the man while motioning to the car behind her with the other. “Yours? I am Abby, by the way.” She draws her eyes from his face to her hand and sees that it is still greasy, She wipes it on her coveralls and looks at it ruefully. “Well, I would shake your hand if mine was clean. So, we sent the insurance claim stuff back yesterday, so you have to see Mike about that.”

She turns to the car then back. “Even in this state, I can tell that you put some care into her. Sorry for your loss.”

The man looks down at her, his mouth slightly open. After a moment he comes back to himself, giving his head a slight shake and blinking twice.

“Right, uh… Tim…”

He looks at the car, then back to her. “I’m sorry… have we met before?”

Abby shares the rather obvious nervousness the young man is experiencing. Her heart rate has certainly increased and she is momentarily at a loss for words. Falling back on something more natural, she turns to the car and says, “Tim, I am not sure what I can tell you about your car. I am not one of the insurance suits, but my guess is that they are going to total this out for you. At my estimate, it will cost you some bucks past whatever they pay you to get her back on the road. I can do it for you if you can pay the extra, but that is something you will need to talk to Mike about. Here, let me show you some of what I am talking about.”

As she walks with Tim, she gets more and more convinced that he is like her. She finds an opportunity to lean over and whisper to him, “Are you like me? I mean, can you change into something different, something wonderful?”

Tim takes a step back, “Wait— wut?” he scratches at his arm and looks around.

“What are you talking about?”

He looks confused, but also cautious.

Abby looks at Tim and grins. “Come on. I can see it and I know that you can, too. What do you change into? Can you do magic?” She looks around, her eyes focusing on the big clock mike has put up in the garage. “Listen, it’s a bit after four now. I think that we really need to talk. I get off at five. Do you want to come to my place after and we can talk while I get ready for my evening job? Hey, you should come to the club. The entertainment is good, if I say so myself, and the food isn’t bad, either.” Abby takes a quick look at Tim’s hands but does not see a ring…..still one never knows. “Unless you got a jealous wife or girlfriend?”

She stops pacing and steps up close to Tim. “Look, I think this is important. Don’t run away after just finding someone like you. I am probably as nervous as you are, but I just talk more to hide it. What do you say?”

She raises her voice so she can be overheard. “The waiting room is just over there. You can tell by the opulent furnishings, state of the art coffee machine, and up to the date magazines.”

From somewhere, Tim can hear a man shout out. “Yeah, what she said. All that opulence.”

Another voice from comes from somewhere under a car. “Don’t forget the fancy coffee machine.”

A largish man sticks his head out of the office and yells. “All right, you guys. All that stuff is expensive. Any time you jokers want to contribute to better stuff around here, just let me know. Until then shut up.” The man goes back into the office, serenaded by laughter and hoots from several places around the garage.

Abby looks back at Tim and smiles as she nods to where the large man had gone. “That is Mike, my boss. If you need to talk about the insurance, he is the one to talk to. So go knock on his door or go to the waiting room just over there and try to get comfy for the next thirty-five minutes or so and I will join you when I am ready to scram out of here.”

Tim goes into the waiting room for a bit. Magic? Change into? Was this girl a rock person, too?

Then the owner, Mike, calls him in to the office. It looked like it was going to cost about 2 and a half out of pocket.

That hurt and Tim rubbed his eyes. He needed a car to get to class and that wasn’t any more expensive than getting something new would be. Hell. This was going to wipe out his savings…

I could always rob a bank he thought with a chuckle. Being a lumpy rock monster could have its benefits…

He looked out of the office towards the woman in the coveralls and frowns.

“Well,” he says, slowly, “I need the car… so lets do it.”

Mike nods and pushes some paperwork in front of him, which he signs absently before going back to the waiting room.

Abby does some real work for the next half hour, then knocks off to go to the locker room, changing into her street clothes. Mike opens the door between his office and the waiting room and calls out to Tim. “Hey, your ride is getting ready to leave. Come on out”

He takes Tim out to the garage work area and Tim sees three mechanics gathered nonchalantly about a coffee table in what is probably a break area. Tim’s eye catches movement and a pretty girl in jeans and T-shirt walks near the break area and three sets of eyes follow her every step and every bounce of her very nice looking breasts. As she passes the men, she gives her ass a wiggle and all three shake their heads. Mike leans a bit closer to Tim. “And that is real magic, Tim. I am amazed every time I see it, which is nearly every day. She is one damned fine mechanic, but get her out of those coveralls and she is really something else.”

Abby waves to Tim and motions for him to join her as she steps up to a large Harley-Davidson motorcycle. She wheels it out to the garage yard and plugs her phone into its slot on the dash and hands her helmet to Tim. “Law says if I only have one helmet, the passenger has to wear it. I have two, but the other is at home as I usually do not go about expecting to pick up hunky guys. Ever been a passenger on one of these? I am not going to do any tricks and I tend to drive the speed limit, so this will be super easy for you. Just gt on behind me and hold on. Not too tight, but tight enough. Any questions?”

Tim shakes his head as he puts on the helmet and then climbs on behind Abby. He puts his hands on her waist and sits up straight. He imagined they must look a sight… he thinks he must be twice her size.

Abby climbs on the bike and shows Tim where to plug in the cable from the helmet. “Doesn’t let us talk any better because I am not connected in, but it keeps the cable from flopping about.”

Once Tim is on behind her, she says. “You can sit back against the rest if you like, but don’t be afraid to hold on to me. And we’re off.”

Abby drives carefully, knowing that the bike is balanced a bit differently than normal and she does not need to spill this guy. She wonders what his story is and if he really does not know or if he is just being coy about it for some reason. She pulls up at a rather normal looking wood frame house and has Tim dismount before her. Abby wheels the bike to the side before securing it to the steel beam and heading into the house. “Not much to look at, but it is home. I share with a woman, but she disappeared on Dark Day and has not come back.” As Abby switches on the lights in the living room, Tim sees a large python looking at him. The girl walks to the snake, which must be at least seven feet long and bends over to rub its head. The snake flicks a tongue out and coils partially around her lower arm. She looks up at TIm and says, “This is Sin. Sin, meet Tim.”

Abby stands and points to a door with a pet door in it. "That is Sin’s room. I can show you if you are interested and if we have time. For now I need to get ready. Come on in and we can talk. The snake follows her into a bedroom and she lifts it onto the bed. Turning to Tim, she slips her T-shirt over her head and reaches back to undo her bra hooks. Letting the bra slip to the bed, she massages her boobs and sighs. “That feels good. Gets a bit sweaty in those coveralls. SO tell me what you can change into and how did it happen and I will do the same.”

She opens her jeans and slips them and her sensible white cotton panties to the floor as she waits for Tim to say something.

Tim starts to follow Abby in and then spins around abruptly.

“Whoa,” he stammers. “I… uh…” His interest in the trim around the door spikes.

“Uh… so, when the crash happened… on Dark Day… the guy was actually trying to run me down.”

He steps out of the doorway back into the main part of the house. He raises his voice slightly to be heard.

“And I don’t know, I just… changed. Grew. Heavy and solid. And I sort of just smashed—”

He pauses. “Smashed my way out of the car.”

He kneels down at one of the smaller alters in the living room, examining the relics there.

Abby balances herself with one arm against the bed as she bends over to take her socks off, then she steps out into the main room and looks at Tim before walking over to where he is kneeling. “Hey, don’t be so shy and nervous. You act like you’ve never seen a naked girl before. What you ARE looking at to avoid seeing my boobs are our voodoo relics.” She kneels next to him. “If you are interested, I can tell you a lot about voodoo.” Motioning to the amulets that drape between her bare breasts, she adds. “These are protective amulets I am wearing, and these on my wrists are charms for luck and power. This one with the fingers is new and I wear it for protection against the dead.”

She stands up and says, “I am going to take a shower and if you are going to stay out here we won’t be able to talk much. Come on into the bathroom, or at least stand in the doorway. I promise not to bite…………unless you ask me to.”

She turns to walk to the bathroom, looking at Tim over her shoulder as she goes in. “You coming?” She will raise her voice a bit as she gets ready. “I was sort of similar. I was attacked by two guys who were going to rape me and beat me up, maybe even worse. Then I was possessed of a special Loa. Loa are the voodoo spirits and gods and some of them can possess another person. Just like people, some of the Loa are nice and some are not. One special Loa came to me that night and possessed my body. She still shares it and we both live together. Sounds crazy? Yeah, I would think so, too, but it is very real. I am able to tap into her consciousness and cast spells. I am still learning exactly what I can do through her, but I think it is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. And you should see her body. Holy fuck is she smoking hot. Way better looking than me. I will exchange places with her later so that you can see for yourself. Anyway, she killed those two guys and saved my ass, so you can be damned sure that I am doing everything I can to keep her happy in there.”

“I don’t… uh… need you to bite… I—” Tim stops himself. He realizes he sounds like an idiot, but this is sort of outside of his experience. He’s not afraid of women, but this one is far too forward for his comfort.

He doesn’t follow her immediately to the bathroom, but after she’s safely ensconced within, he gets up and walks over, leaning outside the door and raising his voice to be heard over the water.

“So not like… uh… a rock… thing?”

Abby stays under the hot water long enough to do her hair and clean the grease off. She steps out of the shower and dries off inside the bathroom before tying the towel around her torso to keep everything all neat and put away. As she prepares the toothbrush, she answers Tim. “Uh uh. No, sort of more like a snake. Well, a woman’s body but snake scales for skin. All very attractive, actually, and a killer body.”

She brushes her teeth and steps out of the bathroom, looking at Tim and making sure that the towel stays up. “Look, I am sorry that I made you uncomfortable. I did not mean to. I should have asked before I just stripped like that. I will go change in my room and you can stay outside the door, if you like, so we can still talk.”

“It’s alright," he responds, "I’m just not used to that… sort of thing, I guess.”

Abby walks to her room and takes the towel off when she is sure that Tim can’t see her as she starts to get dressed. “Can you do magic, too? I have access to some wonderful things but I am sure that there is more to learn about it. Actually, my talents are a bit meagre, but they are much better than what they were before my Loa came to share my body. Here, wait a mo and I will be right out.”

Tim shrugs. “Magic? No, I don’t think so… that sounds weird… but shit. Changing into a monster is weird too, so I guess magic… makes sense?”

She finishes dressing by putting a clean T-shirt then walks out to where Tim is waiting. “Ta da. All dressed. Again, sorry about that earlier. So, all ready to see who is sharing me? Here goes. She will not hurt you as long as you don’t try to hurt me, so don’t be scared.”

Abby allows the Loa to emerge and a few seconds later, the scaled beauty is standing in front of Tim, wearing Abby’s clothes. The big difference, aside from the scales, is that two decaying heads are hanging by chains from a belt that has appeared at her hips. The expression on each face is one of horror and the lips are moving, softly uttering gibberish for words.

When she changes, he stiffens slightly, but seems to take it in stride. “That’s… you are not like me… that’s for certain.”

He looks down at the two faces and frowns. “Ugh, where did you get those?”

Abby smiles. She revels in the way the serpent patterns seem to shift as she moves. “I am not sure if it makes any sense at all, but I am living it so I don’t really care if it does or not. This form is real and the magic I can use is real.” She turns profile-on to the full length mirror in the living room and presses her hands against the blouse to emphasize her curves. “And this body is just so perfect. The boobs, the butt, the waist……………all of it, just perfect.”

She turns back to Tim and takes her hands off her body to avoid embarrassing him further. “I had thought that maybe you did some sort of earth magic, you know, because you turn into stone. Maybe you just haven’t figured out how to use it yet.”

When he refers to the heads, she reaches down and turns them so that they are looking at her. “Aren’t they just the cutest? This is what is left of the two men who tried to rape and kill me on Dark Day. Well, these heads and the fingers on my necklace.” Her expression changes to something not very nice and her tone of voice changes. “No, they learned their lesson, and now they are going to be with me always. I guess the moral of the story is not to try to fuck with the voodoo priestess.”

Abby shakes her head as she puts the heads back down and changes back to her regular form. “Thank you for not running away. I don’t think yours is the normal response so I need to stay more in this form for a bit. Anyway, I have to leave soon for my job at the club. Would you like to come along? I have to tell you that it is a strip club and I take my clothes off on a stage in front of lots of people, although Tuesdays are usually pretty quiet. We could chat during my breaks. I would like you to come, if you want to. After all, you have already seen me naked. I just think that there is a reason that we are able to do what we do and it might be important. What do you think?”

“Well, you are a sight, that’s for sure,” Tim shoves his hands in his pockets. “And startling to behold. and those guys,” he physically points at the heads, “are unsettling as fuck…”

He looks around, and then shrugs.

“But I’m a fucking rock monster… like… the thing from Fantastic Four, maybe. So who am I to judge? As for going to work with you… sounds like they have a bar. Sure.”

Abby smiles at Tim. “Unsettling to you, perhaps, but their presence at my waist means that they will never rape another young girl ever again. They got at least part of what they deserved.”

She nods at his decision to come to the club. “Great. Let’s get ready to rock. I have a second helmet that I bought just in case I could get Mama Lini on the bike with me, but she was a bit scared of it. Let me get that and I will be ready to go.”

Abby walks back into her room and picks up the second helmet, returning to Tim and handing it too him. “We can hook this up so that we can talk while I drive. Come on..”

She leads the way back outside, where she locks the door and heads to the bike. Rolling it out to the street, she pugs her phone and the helmet jack into the dash and shows Tim where to plug his jack in on the flip down armrest. She climbs on and motions for Tim to do the same and tells him to hold onto her. “So, I guess I should have asked. You have a wife or girlfriend I should be worried about?”

“Ah… no, not really. Well, no.”

He puts his hands at her waist as she motors off.

“I’m up at Butler, working on my degree. Criminal Forensics. And playing ball. That and working at the PD. Janitor though, not a cop yet. No time for anything serious, I guess.”

Abby grins. “I am not an egg. You can hold on a bit tighter than that, if you want. So no girlfriends. I suppose strippers and prostitutes don’t rank high on your list of possible girlfriends? OK, hang on through this traffic."

After Abby weaves in and out of traffic for a bit, she chuckles. "College, eh? Good for you. I never finished high school, myself. Your parents must be very proud of you. And criminal forensics? That’s like CSI stuff, right? Like on the TV show? I used to like the original the best, but it got a bit stupid for a while. Miami was OK, but I liked the New York guy. Gary Sinise is hot.”

After a pause to make a sharp turn, she continues. “And football, too? I thought so when I first saw you. You look like a football guy. When do you start practice? Maybe I can come watch you.”

He doesn’t really hold any tighter around Abby’s waist. His hands nearly encircle all of it in any case.

“Yeah, CSI-type stuff, I guess. It’s not really like it is on TV.” Abby can feel him shrug. “Spring practice starts next month,” he says. “But I don’t know if I should play… what if I… ‘hulk out’ in the middle of a game?”

His silence on her first question doesn’t go unnoticed."

Abby chuckles. “Yeah, gotta be careful of that hulking out thing. Could sorta be unfair to the other team.” That he had not responded to her first statement is not lost on her.

She pulls into the parking lot and secures the bike, telling Tim to bring the helmet. When they get to the door, Abby has him show his ID to Al and pays Tim’s cover charge. The bouncer raises an eyebrow at Abby but lets them inside. Abby stops just inside and removes her biker jacket, revealing the python wrapped about her shoulders and arms. She lifts the head to her face and gives Sin a kiss then looks over at the stage, where one of the girls is already naked and working on the last part of her set. “Darn. You just missed April. She has a good act, too, you would have enjoyed it. Say, I forgot to ask if you were twenty-one. If not, you have to go sit over there and please don’t get me in trouble by asking for alcohol. Spider’s pretty serious about that shit.”

Abby motions to one of the scantily clad waitresses and the pretty girl comes over. “Tiff, this is Tim, a friend of mine. Please see that he is well taken care of while I get ready. Put his drinks on my tab, please.” She hands the girl something and gets a packet of money in exchange. Turning back to Tim, she offers him the cash. “Tim, this is Tiffany. She will get you seated and take a drink order. Here are forty ones that you can use to show appreciation for the girls on the stage. Try not to show too much appreciation to any one girl. Unless it’s me, of course. Bye for now. Sin and I need to get ready, but I will be out after my first set to see how you are doing.”

Abby leans over and gives Tim a kiss on the cheek and walks off with Sin. Tiffany gives Tim a good look. “You must be special if you caught her eye. Abs doesn’t usually bring guys in. In fact, I’m not sure she even has a guy. Well, you, obviously, but I meant a different guy, in the past. Not seen her in with one in the two years I been working here. Let’s get you seated and that you tell me what you want to drink and I will take good care of you. OK?”

Tiffany takes Tim to a seat and takes a drink order. Abby heads on back to the changing room and gets ready to go on stage. While changing, two of the other girls come in. “Hey, Abs, who’s the hunk?”

“Yeah, is he yours exclusively or can I try for him?”

Abby laughs at the good natured ribbing. The current group of girls is pretty much one big family and no one goes after an announced boyfriend………..not unless the girl is willing to share. “Girls, this one is mine for a bit. His name is Tim. I’m trying him on to see if he fits. But I am sure that he would not mind meeting everyone.” There is more laughter as the girls talk about Tim while they dress. When Abby has her costume on, she bends over and nuzzles Sin as she stretches him across her shoulders. “Wish me luck.”

She waits at the ready line and hands the DJ her song mix for the set. After the dancer in front of her comes down the hall, Abby goes to stand behind the curtain and nods. The DJ asks everyone to give it up for Abyssinia and Sin and Abby goes through the curtain to begin her routine. What she can do with the snake is sensual as hell and the crowd responds to her in the best possible way……………..by tossing money to the stage or pressing forward to stuff it down her clothes. She manages to keep Sin on her shoulders and arms as she strips her clothing off during the three songs of the set. It is a bit complicated how it all comes together, but the men in Perv Row eat it up.

After her set is completed, Abby stoops over to pick up the money on the stage, giving her admirers another opportunity to gaze at her body. She waves to the crowd as she disappears behind the curtain, bringing on some new cheers and a chorus of “I love you”. After giving the DJ his cut, she returns to the changing room and puts Sin in his box on the floor as she puts on something for the main room. Picking Sin back up, she drapes him again and kisses his head. “One set down, three to go.” She smiles at the girls rotating into the changing room and goes out to the main floor to find Tim. Abby motions for him to scoot over a bit in the booth and sits down. “Hey, it looks like Tiff did you all right. Not thinking of cheating on me with her, are you?” She laughs at the look on Tim’s face. “Just kidding. She wouldn’t try anything. So, what did you think of the routine. Any pointers to improve it?”

Tim shrugs. “I couldn’t say… it looked great, though… I mean… uh… well…” he trails off and shrugs a second time.

“Say, while you were on, there was a lady that came in, watched you pretty hard, then… which seemed… normal? I guess. Anyway, but then she started staring at me. It was weird. Asian lady, maybe. Denim jacket. She handed something to the bouncer and pointed at you, then left.”

Abby shakes her head and smiles at Tim. She has never met a guy before that wasn’t at least interested in looking at tits and ass, at least no straight ones, so he might be gay, of course.

“She gave something to Rob? Thanks. Well, now I am curious. Be right back.” Abby stands and walks over to the bouncer. “Hey, Rob, I was told that some woman was asking about me and might have left you something to give to me?”

“Yeah, weird note, here,” Rob hands it over to her.

  • I know.
  • Central Riverside Park at the Standing Stones
  • Friday 8pm

Abby frowns and shrugs her shoulders. “Hell, maybe it’s a date. I didn’t see her so I hope she’s cute.”

Rob chuckles. “Fuck, Abs, does it matter? If it pays, it plays, right?”

Abby laughs with him as she turns to leave. “Too right, Rob. Still, a good visual stimulation never hurts.” She walks over to Spider’s table, where he is watching the action on the floor and the stage. “Hey, Spider, got anything for me yet for Friday? If not, I might have something going.”

Spider smiles at Abby and the snake on her shoulders. “Hey, Abs. Nice job with that thing. I told you it would be popular. And no, not yet for Friday. Hey, you know the rules about outside work.”

Abby snorts. “Like hell you did. Now you like him because he brings in more customers.” She lifts Sin’s head up and kisses him. “Don’t pay any attention to the man, Sin. He’s just jealous that you get to sleep with me at night and he doesn’t.” Looking back at Spider, she nods her head. “Don’t worry. You’ll get your cut if I get paid anything. Anyway, it might not happen, but leave the weekend open, right? I was going camping anyway, remember? Starting Saturday.”

Spider’s look turns into almost a leer as he considers what Abby has said. “The snake, er, Sin, sleeps with you? Is that something we could put into your routine?”

Abby laughs. “Maybe. I will let you know. Would you like to see Sin crawling all over me?” She winks at Desire, who is sitting next to Spider at the table.

Desire gives her man a gentle elbow and is laughing when he turns to her. “She’s fucking got you on, Spider. For a smart guy, you can be so gullible sometimes.”

She and Abby share the laugh and Spider sputters. “Ha ha. Very funny. Just sayin’ that something like that could bring in the crowds. Hey, don’t forget that you have floor duty, too. That kid ain’t paying your wages here, and I’m not paying you to babysit.”

Abby is still chuckling as she returns to Tim and show him the note. “Odd note, this, don’t you think? Funny that she looked at you, too, though, yet no note for you. Did you get any sort of feeling about her, like you did with me?” At Tim’s shake of his head, she frowns and adds, “Maybe you have to be closer, or something. So, how do you feel about being my date on Friday evening. I already cleared it with my boss to not schedule me for an escort gig that night, so I am available. Say, other than that, I usually go camping one weekend a month and this is supposed to be it. Interested? I don’t go very far, but it’s a good way to get out and just be me without worrying who I am sleeping with, you know. It’ll be fun, so say yes.”

Abby stands up. “Think about it while I am away. I have to work the floor a bit and shill some drinks and lap dances for the boss. Then I have my second set on the stage.” She leans in close to him and he cannot help but see down the loose top she is wearing. “Listen, I am sorry if this shit bothers you. Let me know if you need to leave and I can front a cab for you. Back in a bit.”

Smiling, Abby walks down onto the floor and begins walking through the tables. She is stopped at the first one and after a bit of negotiating, some money changes hands and she begins giving the patron a very sexy lap dance.

Bacon at the Beacon
Corb meets TJ

Corb walked out of the main police department. He wasn’t sure what to think, but he didn’t like it. He was a ‘person of interest’ in the Dillon’s Massacre. Mostly because it took so long for him to surface after the event. It was just the next day, but apparently being frightened by a mass shooting and rabbiting is suspicious activity.

Still, he wasn’t charged with anything and he had been forthcoming. To a point. It had been a week or so since Dark Day and it had been an interesting time. Corb knew what happened, knew that he had… changed. It was crazy and scary… but at the same time exhilarating.

Apparently he had an affinity for crows because… he could become one. Well, disfigured, human sized one. And when he did, he could fly. Literally fly.

Of course, he’d only done it at night, because being shot out of the sky by panicked neighbors was something he’d really like to avoid.

So he left that out. The means he had used to escape. He should have been dead, and the wound he suffered reappeared every time he changed… not that it hurt… but it was some sort of reminder…

But he should have been dead and instead he not only escaped, but has put those two men down, hard. He had probably saved a handful of lives… but he hadn’t been a hero. The people screamed and he had flown off, afraid…

This wasn’t something he could just… show people. He hadn’t even talked to his mom about it yet.

Ugh he thought. I’m hungry… ah, there’s the Beacon…

He trudged up to the diner.

TJ pushed the plate over the counter from the kitchen to the bar and hammered the bell.


He didn’t even wait to see Beth grab the plate and take it away. There was a rhythm to the work and that helped, especially when his mind was somewhere else.

A week ago, everything had been normal, but since then, he felt like his world had turned upside down. whatever happened to him on Dark Day, he could make it happen again. Well, not the assaulted by strangers part… he hoped he didn’t have to deal with that…

But the change. When he wanted to, he could change. He became some manner of… tree? He had always had a green thumb and now it was apparent that his empathy with plants went deep.

Not only was there the change to contend with, but the thought of Janet… the woman at the car and the murder. Seeing someone brutally killed like that left a mark. When he watched the news later and realized, with a sinking feeling, that Janet was Janet Miller, the vice-mayor of Wichita and District Council member of his district in Old Town, he had nearly lost it.

It was almost too much and he had spent the next couple of days in a pot-induced stupor. Didn’t do much of anything but take Ben out, and only quickly.

But life went on, even if you had to contend with politicians that wanted you dead and turning into a bush…

So he had gone back to work. The routine was a blessing actually… he was humming while he cooked and he brought another plate to the counter…

And stopped. There was a man at the bar. Asian. He had a huge birthmark or something on his face. The man was looking right at him.

It was a moment that continued forever… he could feel it. This was someone who knew, someone who shared his struggles, somehow. There was a bond that he could not deny, though he had no idea where it came from.

He’d never seen the man in his life.

TJ walked around the coolers and caught Beth by the wait station. He gave her a playful squeeze and whispered in her ear, “Hey, see that guy who just sat down?” When she nodded he continued, “I don’t remember seeing him come in here before. You mind seeing if he is new to town, where he came from?”

Beth gave TJ a quizzical look but shrugged her shoulders and grabbed a tray of ice water. She walked over, putting glasses of water in front of folks at the counter but stopped in front of Corb. “Welcome to the Beacon. This your first time here?”

As Beth talked to Corb, TJ went back to the kitchen and continued his duties, keeping an eye on them them from a distance.

Corb had some good memories of the Beacon. If they were going to be in town early in the morning, his Mom had always insisted on stopping there for breakfast. It actually seemed weird to go in there for anything BUT breakfast … but they were open all day so they obviously did serve other foods.

He waited a bit at the entrance, the wait staff being busy or on break or something. His brain started spinning back over the craziness of the last few days: the shock of learning that the shooters were dead… apparently at his hands… that the police were ‘interested’ in him, that still nobody could explain how or why the sun had gone AWOL for a day, and his weird transformation …

It was more than he wanted to deal with right now, better to just get his late lunch and not think so much. At least he had money in his pocket so lunch out was not a totally stupid thing. Some people had stood by him since it had come out that he was ‘a person of interest’, so while he was temporarily suspended from his security guard job, Beach Field was have the grounds maintenance crew putting in extra hours to examine the entire complex after the Dark Day, and a number of farmers had called him up and offered him work or some sort. He wondered if he deserved their trust, after trying to run away and then mauling two men to death?

Gah, there his mind went again! He grabbed a menu and seated himself at the bar, skimming through the offerings. The Patty Melt, maybe? Ask what the soup was … he paused, sensing something. Almost against his will he looked up at the cook, visible as he hummed and moved around the kitchen.

He was another like him, somehow Corb could just tell. He pushed down a mix of excitement and fear. “I’m not alone!” fought with “Who is he and what is he doing here?”

With a great effort he forced his eyes back to the menu, while he tried to figure out what to do next

When the waitress asked him if this was his first time at the Beacon, he nearly jumped off his stool. He managed to force out an answer “First time in years, I used to come in with my parents for breakfast once in a while.”

Without even really paying attention to her response, he said “Patty Melt, fries, root beer please. Your cook, has he been here long? I feel like I know him somewhere, I wouldn’t mind trying to match up histories with him. When does he get off shift?”

Internally he chided himself ‘stupid-stupid-stupid — sounds like i’m hitting on him.’ So he added, “Might have been at a party, friend of mine lives in this part of town, I’ve been to a couple of her parties. You know Ashley? Tall, goth, bunch of piercings?”

Beth looked at Corb for a second, before shaking her head.

“Nope, don’t know no Ashley. But if you like to party you probably seen TJ around.”

She took Corb’s order down and turned back to the kitchen. As she pushed the ticket into the rail she said to TJ, “Guy seems to have a thing for you too, wants to meet you after your shift. Says you might know an Ashley . . . tats and body mod Ashley. I suppose he wants to make a buy, but be careful. He was hiding something. Might be the fuzz.”

TJ thought on this as he fried up the patty melt. Something had happened to him and this person seemed to be tied to it. In all the crazy events of the past few days one thing seemed certain. There was no longer any time to live it safe. As he pushed the plate up he caught Beth’s eye. She approached to take the order and TJ told her to tell the man that his shift was over at 1:00am.

With that he turned back to the stove where he had some beef bones browning. He was glad he put his hunting knife in his duffel this morning. Hope he wouldn’t need it.

Corb is taken back at first by the response, thinking “1am? Is there anything good that happens at 1am?” It isn’t that he hasn’t had to be up then, both the military and his currently on-hold security guard work had seemed to enjoy having him up in the small hours of the morning. He’d just never really thought of 1am as the time that he’d choose to do anything.

Except maybe fly. He still wasn’t used to that idea.

But if that is when this guy got off work, what could he do? Try to move the meeting to the next day, perhaps. But he was supposed to be out at Beech Field, inspecting hanger roofs and so forth, from 8 – 5. Corb thought that management was being overly paranoid, they’d already checked the boundary fences, walked the runways, grid-walked the grounds, and checked all the windows and doors of the various buildings. But it seemed that The Dark Day really had some people spooked still, and he wasn’t going to complain about the extra hours, and since he’d taken today off to deal with police crap he really didn’t want to skip tomorrow.

He nodded to the waitress and told her “OK, let him know I’ll be in sometime after midnight for coffee or whatever, he can let me know where he wants to talk after. And I apologize for being so brusk earlier, I got too deep in my own thoughts. Thank you for the service and for relaying this conversation. I almost feel like we should make like grade four and fold up notes to toss back and forth, but thanks to you I haven’t thrown anything into the deep fryer by accident, so you are doing us a real service.” He didn’t try to smile, a lot of people didn’t take to his smiles, but he hoped that she’d accept his joking words in the friendly way they’d been intended.

The patty melt had turned out to be entirely worth the money, although The Beacon turned out to serve a cheap brand of root beer. Overall though Corb left the diner feeling pretty happy; after most of a week of not having a clue what was going on or what was going to happen next, he finally had a whisp of a lead.

That thought stopped him mid-stride, and he had to jump to the side not to cause a pedestrian pile-up. The way this week was going, it probably wasn’t wise to assume that anything was going for the best. The police still held his knife along with his rifle, and going out to buy a weapon right now seemed like the sort of thing that could wind the cops up even more than they already were. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have something with him.

He turned around and enjoyed the fifteen minute walk up to The Yard on Central Ave. Another place he’d been in with his Father a few times while growing up, but he’d not thought of coming back here on his own before. And actually, while he was here and with some money coming in, there were a few things he should pick up …

Half an hour later he had a new canvas backpack loaded with a pack of bungee cords, a reel of light rope, a 10” long 5/8” wrench, a pair of loosely fitting overalls with zip pockets on the bib and hips, and a Snoopy lighter. Some had been impulse purchases, but most of it was at least vaguely useful for what he was dealing with these days.

An aggravating bus ride back to his rooming house reminded him of how much he wanted his truck back. All the more so since the bus stopped not long after sun down, so he’d be facing around an hour walk back to The Beacon in the middle of the night. Well, he could make it quicker by going brisker, although he wasn’t really planning on dressing for a run.

That night he made it back through the doors of The Beacon at 12:27, feeling somewhat invigorated by the hike through the night. When had he started enjoying that sort of thing?

The new waitress gave him a bit of a look, whether for his face or for his attire of overalls over a t-shirt, covered by a hoodie. He let that roll off him, claimed a stool at the counter, plonked his new backpack (containing his new wrench and some of the nylon rope, just in case) at his feet, and ordered a cup of coffee and a slice of pie.

And then he waited.

Of course the restaurant shut down before the staff were done for the night, so Corb found himself kicked to the curb. Well, technically waiting by the staff door, but the last thing he wanted right now was for a police patrol to roll by and stop him for suspicious loitering.

He strolled around the back of the restaurant, and saw that they had dumpsters right next to a small extension on the back of the building with a lower roof. Really, they were practically begging people to climb up onto their roof, and once Corb had made sure nobody was watching and scrambled up onto the roof, he was not surprised to find signs of painted over tagging. Graffiti wasn’t a big thing in Wichita from what he’d ever seen, but somebody hadn’t been able to resist.

He eased himself into as comfortable a position as he could behind one of the outcroppings on the roof, and relied on his ears to tell him when the door opened. At which point he approached the edge of the building and called out softly “I’m up here, I can meet you at the back, or it is an easy climb up here if you are up for it.”

After a few long seconds Corb heard the sound of someone climbing up on the dumpsters. A few loud (and ungraceful) crashes and he saw the head of the cook pop up above the roof.

The lights of the diner sign illuminated the rooftop and TJ was able to see the figure of the man sitting to the side of the roof by the low parapet. He paused for a moment. The man was looking at him, obviously his clumsy ascent did not go unnoticed. Why was this guy trying to get him to come up to the roof? To hurt him? Was he crazy like that lady on the road?

Ultimately he decided neither. He was something else, or he knew something else. Either way TJ was drawn to talk to him. As he climbed up the rest of the way he said to him. “You picked an awful strange place to make a deal. If that’s what your after”, as he tossed his canvas backpack to the roof with a thud.

“What is it your after?”

Corb walks a little bit closer, but not so close as to seem threatening, hopefully, nor to draw too much attention to his face. “Hey, I’m Corb. Well, ‘Corbin’ officially, but nobody ever bothers with the second syllable.”

He shrugs, fidgets with his backpack for a moment, then blurts out “Dark Day, did weird stuff happen to you? Say, something that might have been rough on your clothes?”

TJ takes a deep breath. He walks over near where Corb is standing and drops his backpack to the roof. They look at each other for a long moment and TJ sits. He digs through the front pouch of the pack until he pulls out a thick handrolled joint and a lighter. Leaning back against the parapet he lights the splif, taking a long drag before he finally speaks.

“That night was . . . well, crazy. Yeah. Something happened to me. Something I can’t explain. I. . . I changed. Thorns everywhere. Vines. Its like I am becoming a . . . tree. Well maybe not that, but something not . . . human.”

TJ takes another long drag, and gestures for Corb to sit down, offering him the joint.

“Here. Seems like you need to relax. Tell me, what has you so worked up?”

Corb was about to refuse, then shrugged, sat down and accepted the joint, taking at least a token drag before passing it back. “You’re probably right about me needing to relax. I’ve been pretty wound up since the Dark Day. I don’t remember a bunch of it very well, but I turned into a giant crow monster, which has me pretty freaked out.”

He gave TJ a sidelong look and joked “If you turn into a tree and I’m a crow, I promise not to roost in you.”

Serious again, he explains “Turning into some sort of nightmare creature is pretty cool, but pretty freaky, right there. But I was caught up in the shooting at Dillon’s, and I think I killed the shooters after I changed. The police know I was there — the attackers shot up my truck, I took a shot at one of them with my .22, I flew away after, I guess, leaving behind my gun, my truck, my knife, my boots ….”

He shrugs “Kind of hard to deny I was there, kind of hard to explain what happened, even if I remembered it better. Police don’t like it when you can’t explain, so they keep calling me in to go over things again and again.”

“But what really scares me, is that the one shooter I got a good look at, his jeans were all shredded, kind of like mine were after I turned into the crow monster. I think they might have been something similar, even if they weren’t changed when they attacked. Makes me worry, will my mind become a monster too? In a week or a month or a year, will gunning people down make sense to me?”

“For that matter, is it contagious? Did I get it from being near them? Could I be infecting more people?”

Corb shrugs. “I don’t expect you to have answers, although I’ll take any you have. But its good to be able to tell someone, you know?”

TJ thinks for a moment. He considers smoking some more but decides against it. Best to have his mind in some kind of semi-functional state. He pushes the joint out on the rooftop.

“I got even less than you do man. Woke up in the middle of the night on dark day. Just in time to see a woman bash in the head of her twin sister. Tried to stop her, call the cops, you know. . . be a good person. But then some biker looking dudes showed up. Black armor and skull masks. White fur mohawks. I don’t remember much after that. Just the. . . change. Then waking up covered in blood.”

TJ sits forward. “Tell you what. It seems unlikely that we are the only ones that had this happen to us. So much crazy shit was going on that night. I’m supposed to meet my buddy Mark at Kriby’s in about half an hour. Its open mic night and this late shit gets pretty hilarious. Lets kick back a beer or two, listen to some drunk crooning and see if anyone else has heard of fucked-up folk like us who change into monsters. Sound good?”

With that TJ gathers his things and stands. He extends a hand to Corb to help him up.

Corb accepts the hand and the offer to go hit the open mike night, adding “Sounds like both of us were attacked, and we killed the attackers. So maybe keep an ear out for any word on bodies that were found, unexplained attacks, missing persons, that sort of thing.”

He returns the favor of a helping-hand as they get down from the roof. Almost tripping over the wide leg of the overalls, he quips “My clothes might generate some hilarity on their own, at this club. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think that if I unbutton the sides of these overalls, oversized as they are on me, I can change without shredding them, and stay partially dressed. I’ll try it sometime when I won’t be seen and I have spare clothes nearby in case it doesn’t work out so well. T-shirt will get trashed of course, and hoodie if I don’t take it off first, but at least I’d have something, and pockets that I could trust too, you know? Aside from the embarrassment factor, I can’t afford to destroy too many clothes! But they look pretty goofy otherwise.”

As they approach the club he chats away nervously “Sorry about the roof thing, I didn’t want to stand around on the street and look dodgy in case police patrols went by, and I’ve always been a climber, so the roof seemed like a good idea to me. I might be a farm boy from Rose Hill and probably more apt to be victim of a mugging than the cause, but I look funny, different, and that seems to be enough to make police suspicious.” He shrugs, and after a moment adds “I never used to think it mattered much, but I’ve already seen how that plays out with the police here with the whole mess from the Dillon’s shootings. At the club if we can sit somewhere that puts my right side to most of the crowd, I’d appreciate it. Then they just see my ugly Korean face, and not the birth mark on the other side. It isn’t such a big deal once people are used to me, see me for me, but with strangers it seems to help a bit. And right now Wichita is still mostly strangers to me.”

“What about you, are you from in town? Which part do you live in? I’m staying in a rooming house out halfway to the East End Mall, near Central Ave. But I’ve only been there a few months, like I’m from a farm near Rose Hill, like half an hour out of the city. Well, I was born in Korea, so I guess I’m from there at first? But I was adopted by parents here before I could walk, so Kansas is the only home I know, no matter how I look.”

As they walk TJ tells Corb about his history in town. “I grew up in Lawrence. Parents were teachers at KU, had me all lined up to be some kind of model student. I wasn’t having any of that. So as soon as I could, I took off. Landed here about a year ago. Now I’m making the best of it, for the time being.”

“I’m looking to keep heading west. With these changes, I imagine Ill end up some place rural. Out of the way and alone.” When they get to the bar he holds the door open.

Entering the large room they see that it is packed, about three dozen patrons sitting around tables and at the bar. On stage is a woman who is singing Nobody Knows You When Your Down And Out. Not a terrible voice, and fitting in an uncomfortable way. Paul is behind the counter, he motions TJ and Corb over to a pair of empty stools when they walk in. The two of them walk over and grab the seats. Paul tells them, “Hope you gents are having a good night. First off, what can I get for you?”

TJ orders a round of Coors light and and tosses $10 on the bar. As Paul gets the beer he continues, “So Mark had to take off, asked me to tell you to hang here for a little bit, said he would be back.” He places the bottles on the counter, forgetting the napkins so they slowly slide to the right on the uneven bar. He palms the money as he continues, “So what yall think of that dark day? Round here its been pretty good for business. Whatever people are thinking they don’t seem to want to do it alone.”

Corb bites back his first thought, that of “I’ve sure wanted to be alone, to figure out what is happening to me!”, covering that with a pull from his beer. He puts together a non-committal answer, adapted from his usual conversational approaches. “At least it was nice enough to wait until after the football season was done. Before baseball started for that matter too. Guess it might have thrown off some hockey and basketball games, but whatever.” He takes another sip then allows “Well, if it had come a bit sooner and disrupted the super bowl so that the damn Patriots didn’t win, that might have been OK.”

He puts down his beer then gives a more serious answer. “Sure was mess in a lot of ways. At least we didn’t get the riots here that they had some places. Some killings though, that was plenty bad. Some people went awfully strange. Somehow I get the feeling that we haven’t heard everything that happened yet, government never likes to admit when they didn’t handle things well, so you have to figure they’ve hushed up some of the crap that went down.”

With a mental wince at the cost he pulls out a twenty and passes it over, saying “For the next pair of bullets.” and gives a nod to imply ‘keep the change.’ “I’m Corb, by the way. So, with all the people coming through here, heard any good dirt? What crazy stuff has the government and media been hiding?”

Twenty minutes and most of two beers later, Corb was feeling more relaxed. He wasn’t sure how much of that was the beer – they were light beer, but he also wasn’t very used to drinking. The late hour and the nature of the covers of some songs may have helped make day-to-day reality seem far away, and these people here like comrades.

Whatever the reason, he found it hard to stop his tongue from running on.

“So you are from Lawrence, right?” he asks TJ, but doesn’t wait for an answer. “I know most of the road there well. I’m in the air national guard reserves, with the air tanker squadron based near Topeka. So I have to go up that way once a month, and I had a year of training there.”

“I’ve only ever really been in Lawrence this one time, though. During my year of training, we had a weekend pass this one time, and one of the guys had a cousin who was a bar keeper in Lawrence who said he wouldn’t check our ID if we promised not to cause trouble and came in on Sunday evening. We managed to arrange rides there and back, and went for it, there was six of us. We were all pretty nervous because five of us were under age back then. So we drank our budget too fast, you know? And I guess we were getting a bit loud because the guy’s cousin, he told us it was time to leave. But our rides back to the base weren’t coming for a while, so we were kicking around, and it was a Sunday night so not much was going on.”

“So, we walked a bit and found a park to hang out in. And there was a water tower in this park, which is weird, you know? And at the same time, by then we all needed to take a piss, and there was no bathroom. I guess the sensible thing was find a tree, and a few of the guys did, but someone wondered ‘how far could you piss from the top of the water tower?’ And a couple of us had some training in security systems by then and it didn’t look like there was too much on the tower, so a few of us hopped the fence and climbed the tower, and took our piss from up there, seeing how far out we could piss.”

Paul was passing by, and asked “So how far?”

“No idea! It was dark, so we couldn’t tell — and the our buddies weren’t going to stand under the ‘rain’ to judge for us.”

Corb chuckles a his own story, then continues. “And of course then some college kids come into the park, and three of us were up the tower still, and we were worried that they’d call the police or something if they knew. We wanted our buddies to draw them away, but they just start talking and we can’t even make out what their saying, and we’re trying not to be visible, and we’re kind of freaking out. Then we see the whole bunch of them light up, and one of the guys up with me was all ‘the hell I’m missing this’ and starts going down, so what could we do? We climb down, jump the fence, and the college kids somehow don’t notice us at all. So we join the group, chip in our last few bucks and pass some stuff around and later got our ride back to base OK. Next morning wasn’t fun, but whatever.”

“I guess what I’m saying is sorry for pissing on your home town, and I’m glad those college kids weren’t too observant.”

“Oh, and one more thing I wanted to say. On Dark Day, we never got called up, the reserves that is. Not that an air-tanker squadron could have done much, but still. Even the regular state guard wasn’t called up. I don’t think the state government could figure out what they were doing, they should have done that stuff just to be ready, you know? And none of the media seem to be asking why they didn’t? There’s lots of stuff like that from that day that just doesn’t make much sense to me, and it is like they’re trying to sweep it all under the carpet.”

The two settle into a semi-comfortable rhythm, enjoying the company of someone who semi-understands what’s happened to the other. The night progresses and as they are about to leave, Paul comes up to them.

“Lady wanted to leave you a note,” he says as he lays it on the table.

  • I know.
  • Central Riverside Park at the Standing Stones
  • Friday at 8pm

“It’s a weird note, but not a bad looking lady.”

“Yah?" Corb asks, exchanging glances with TJ. "What’d she look like? Kind of strange to pass the note through you, would be nice to recognize her, if I decide to pay attention to this weird note.”

“Mexican, maybe,” Paul says.

A moment more and Corb adds “If she turns out that what she knows is that ‘Jesus Christ is our lord and saviour’ and wants to tell us about it, I’ll be kind of pissed at blowing off a Friday evening, you know?”

TJ nods. Both know that they are going to go. There are many questions to resist this bait.


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