Off the Road, Off the Rails
rating: +16+x

CW: Police violence

October 1st
Bray Road, Just outside of Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin

<…and with that, ladies and germs, it is officially October!> The late-night radio announcer on KDAL-FM out of Duluth sounded far more excited than he should have been. <I know this year has been tough, but small comfort to you folks in Wisconsin: nobody in Douglas County has cancelled Trick-or-Treating yet, so Halloween may still be a go! I've got a listener request here to take you to into the hour, after that we'll get back into our normal programming…>

Agent Seren Pryce reached into the cab of the wrecked truck and turned off the radio, careful not to disturb the body within. She'd seen a lot of gore in her day, so this barely registered on her radar— or it would have, if not for the lack of head.

"Looks like it may have been removed post-mortem." Malcolm Guillard, head of investigations at Site-87, frowned. "Small mercies, I guess."

The entire semi— a truck from a distribution center bound for the Wal-Mart in Sloth's Pit— had flipped over at least three times before coming to a stop about fifty meters away from the road. Evidence markers were planted all along the trail of wreckage, everything from boxes of Halloween costumes to pieces of tires to unidentified animal tracks. It now laid upside-down, with the arms of the body eerily clutching the steering wheel— rigor mortis had set in quickly.

"Not many things around here could have done this." Seren observed. She was briefly blinded by the headlamp of another operative, combing through the forest around them. "And literally on October 1st… fuck me, it's happening again."

"Looks that way." Guillard offered Seren some of his thermos of coffee. "But I've got reports that there's nothing keeping us in town this year, so we can evacuate if need be."

"'If'." Seren snorted, pulling down her mask to accept a glug of coffee, before quickly pulling it up— one of the only good things about having to wear it was that it covered up her scar. "Right. I remember when we used to evacuate the town for a zombie attack. Now we've got a contingent of dumb motherfuckers who would say that it's another 'fake virus' and shoot at us if we tried to remove them."

"Which is why we screen citizens," Guillard nodded. "So that we don't run into situations like that."

The joint where the trailer had once been creaked ominously, as a fire engine pulled up— as well-equipped as the Foundation was, fire engines were outside of their normal expenditure costs, and with the amount of spilled gasoline on the road, the possibility that they were needed grew with every second that was spent out here.

"This isn't the Bray Road, is it?" Seren asked. "Like, Beast of?"

"That one's down in southern Wisconsin." He pronounced it 'Wiscansin', with as much sarcasm as he could muster— one had to stay humorous during grim times, or else risk losing their mind. "But it is a full moon, isn't it?"

"Got another one due on Halloween," Pryce confirmed. She turned her gaze back to Bray Road itself, frowning. "Hold on. Isn't there supposed to be some kind of building out here? WisDOT office or something?"

"…you're right." Guillard frowned, talking into his radio. "All units, move to the west side of the road. We may have a Code… oh fuck codes, we may have a missing building."

"Can't believe I noticed it," Pryce crossed the road, scanning along it with her thermal scope, detached from the rifle. "Thing's been closed since March. I just remembered because I saw a patrol officer parked outside of it this morning— might have been doing a checkup?"

"Worth looking into," Guillard nodded, pulling up a map on his phone. "Okay. All units, the building was located approximately 700 meters into the Nexus zone, on the western side of the road."

"That puts it about where the truck started wrecking." Seren put the scope back on her rifle, keeping it aimed at the ground, finger off the trigger. "What do you think?"

"Can't be a coincidence."

The sight of an asphalt parking lot without any building to accompany it was unsettling. There were white lines where cars should be, and the lawn that surrounded it still looked well-maintained. But the two-storey brown building that had once been a WisDOT office was now gone.

"Creepy." Seren stopped to inspect the asphalt, putting her hand against it. The ground beneath her heaved and sank in a rhythmic fashion— too slow to be a pulse, so… "The ground's breathing."

"Fantastic." Guillard sighed, talking into his radio. "Can we get a containment unit to our locat—"

"Cancel that!" Seren hissed, looking at Guillard. "Think about it: a WisDOT office vanishes at the exact location a truck gets run off the road. You really want vehicles driving here?"

Guillard frowned, looking at the stretch of road before them. "WisDOT also has jurisdiction over littering by highways, yeah?"

"Yeah?"

Guillard reached into his pocket and took out an energy bar. He took a bite out of it, swallowed, and motioned for all agents to get to a safe distance. Then, when they had all retreated, he threw the bar at the road and ran for it.

His leg was broken by the impact as the ground erupted upwards from where he stood, throwing him in a spiraling motion to the ground. Emerging from it was a cthonian presence, all stone and brick and glass, slamming down onto the snack bar and throwing dirt and asphalt and god knows what else along with it. It didn't have limbs so much as tendrils, made of utility lines— the right side shot sparks from disconnected power cables, while the left spewed water and sewage.

"Contact, contact, contact! Retreat!" She picked up Guillard under one arm and started taking him away. He had a nasty gash above one eye, and his leg was bent at a bizarre angle; she had managed to pick him up so that there wasn't any weight on it, before hobbling away with him, yelling into her radio. "Site-87, this is Agent Pryce. We need an air strike at my location. Throwing a flare now."

Agents retreated in a disarray, in a dozen directions. Seren lit the flare and threw it up at the being, hoping it would find purchase somewhere as it lumbered, looking over the road— at least, that's what Seren thought it was doing. In place of eyes, it had the doors of the WisDOT office that it had once been.


Half a mile away, Robert Tofflemire and Alison Carol watched the carnage through binoculars.

"Jesus fucking Christ." Alice's eyes widened. "The town did that? That's a— what's it called, those monsters from the Godzilla movies?"

"Kaiju, yeah." Robert put down his binoculars. "C'mon, we should get further away. I don't think they're going to carpet-bomb this place, but you never know."

"There's a safe-house about another quarter of a mile into the woods. Can withstand a few megatons." Allison fumbled at her lapel-mounted flashlight, only to find it non-functional. "The hell? I just put new batteries in this."

"Maybe the town's trying to freak you out." Robert pulled out his phone, and played a song, singing along to it. "Boys and girls of ev'ry age, wouldn't you like to see something strange?"

Robert was given pause as his action— which was highly juvenile and likely to get a rise out of his partner— didn't cause Allison to react. "Sorry."

"Not you. Just… nervous about a lot of stuff." She climbed down a ridge, careful of one leg. Robert just jumped down it, landing in a pile of wet leaves.

"Gah!" Robert groaned. "I think I got a slug on me."

"Save if it you can. Dr. Grant's collecting samples, and he's got a bounty out for them."

The sound of a plane came from overhead, likely a Foundation jet, trying to get a fix on the entity. Behind them, gunshots rang out, as well as the odd scream. The sound of the plane was loud enough that Allison had to lean on a tree to steady herself, finding her hand coming away damp. "When did it last rain?"

"Uh. Like, a week ago?"

Allison sniffed at the fluid on her hand. By the moonlight, she could see an indentation in the tree that was covered with a black fluid, and at the base of the tree, a smooth, white stone, half-buried in the ground.

"Might have something. Cover me." She crouched in front of it, starting to dig out the stone with her bare hands.

Robert, from his pocket, produced a trowel and threw it to her. "Don't want you to ruin your manicure."

"Bite me," she shot back with a smirk.

After a few minutes, the stone was out of the ground. The shape was familiar, but she couldn't place it between the moonlight, the sounds, and the uneasiness of being in a dark forest at night. Then, a whooshing, whistling sound came— the airstrike.

Allison froze as the light of the explosion around her illuminated the stone in her hand, and she saw it for what it truly was. Her hand fumbled for her radio several times, and she stuttered, "M-Mal, Tofflemire and I-I-I found the head. O-over."

<Guillard's down.> Seren Pryce's voice came over comms. <So's the entity. We're closing in on your location. Any distinguishing features? Can you give a description?>

"I don't know." Allison swallowed. "I-it—"

<Is the head exhibiting anomalous properties? Is it antimemetic? Is—>

"IT DOESN'T HAVE A FUCKING FACE!"


When it got into the town proper, Bray Road ran into Main Street at a right angle. It was at the corner of these two where Agent Raymond February was having car trouble.

He'd been out of town on an errand when the call came in about the truck, and was on the way back to the site to get his gear, when his engine decided to quit. And, much like fire engines, towing services were not part of the Foundation's regular expenditures.

February tapped on his steering wheel, considering calling them again. A car from the SPPD drove by, slowly, on the other side of the road. February's heart jumped; seeing a police car by itself was enough to give him anxiety anymore, but then he saw that, above the rear left wheel, there was a bumper sticker of a heavily stylized skull. "Don't pull over, don't pull over…" He muttered.

The car came to the other side of the street and pulled behind him, its red and blue lights turning on. His self-imposed moratorium on swearing strained itself, and he reached into his glovebox, taking out his registration and proof of insurance. From his wallet, he withdrew his civilian license. "Don't have time for this," he grumbled. "Putting up with some hick cop who has a Punisher bumper sticker and a chip on his shoulder…"

The cop came to the window, his light blinding February. "You do know there's a curfew, right, son?" Said the cop in the same accent all cops in small American towns had.

"I'm on my way back home, officer." He handed the cop his license. "Just had to get out of town for some things."

"Hmm." The cop said. "This license isn't yours."

"What?" February blinked. "Yes it is."

"Raymond Isaac February?"

"Yes?"

"Born July 31st, 1983?"

"Yeah?"

"There ain't no July 31st. Out of the car."

"Yes there is!" February groaned and emerged from the car. "Look, officer, there's some misunderstanding here, I—"

There was a click of a safety as the cop drew his gun. The light still blinded February, who put his hands up. "What's—"

"You got a weapon on ya."

February blanched. He was wearing his service pistol in an underarm holster. It should have been concealed beneath his jacket, but it was open, and when he got out of the car, he must have brushed it aside.

"I'm registered to carry." February swallowed. "My concealed carry license is in my wallet. I am going to reach for it now to show it to you." He spoke clearly, calmly, trying not to shake.

"Son, relax, I ain't gonna kill ya." The cop chuckled, his tone reassuring. "I mean, with nobody recordin', who's gonna tell people about this?"

"What?"

It took February several seconds to register that he had been shot. Every time he'd been hit before, it had been on bulletproof armor. There was so much pain that he couldn't register the snapping of his collarbone. He bit his tongue, hissing. He had to restrain his hand from going to the service pistol, instead using it to stop the blood flow.

"Hell, even after you get shot, you don't cuss?" The cop laughed. "Let's see if breaking a few fingers does it."

February looked up at the cop's face, and saw that it was… wrong on his skull. It had once belonged to a much thinner man, but was stretched to accommodate the face of whatever was underneath it— and February was certain that that thing wasn't human.

"What are you?" February hissed.

"Whatever you don't want me to be," the cop responded, raising his foot.


Allison Carol and Robert Tofflemire stood outside the ICU bed where their friend was being kept. Site-87 had expanded their infirmary over the course of the last six months to fit dozens of new beds, just in case.

February was in a rough state. He would live, but as for recovery… if Dr. Pike could recover from a shattered femur and walk with only a slight limp, anything was possible. But his fingers had been dislocated individually, his nose had been crushed, and they still couldn't get the swelling to go down enough to get to his eye.

"It almost doesn't look like him in that bed." Tofflemire swallowed. "Like… I'm expecting him to walk in at any moment, sit by that bed, and maybe read the Bible and pray for h-his recovery." He laughed, though it was darker and more bitter than the strongest cup of coffee. "What the fuck, Alice? It doesn't look like him! I-it looks like some kind of bad mask!"

Allison toyed with a tortoiseshell hairpin in her hands, looking down. "Is it true a cop did it?"

Tofflemire shook his head. "I don't buy it. Every cop in Douglas County has our names, faces and license plates flagged as 'do not arrest'. I don't think a cop would be dumb enough to pull one of us over."

"Can't be a town thing, either. The Nexus is tetchy, but… it's never been this actively malicious."

Robert put his head in his hands. "Until it is. I…" Robert swallowed. "Weiss is going to be having a briefing, soon. I'm… not gonna show up, I don't think."

Allison put a hand on his shoulder. "I can stay here, if you want. Get the Cliffs Notes from Sera later."

"Why would someone do this?" Robert gasped, choking on his words. "Why would someone do this?"

The two agents stood there, watching their friend breathe through a tube, unable to answer their own question.

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