After-Action Reports: Incident 4683-Omega "The Apple Crisp Crisis"
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"State your name for the record, and we can begin."

"Really, Alice?" The man on the other side of the interview table shook his head. "You gotta be so formal?"

"We're already skating on thin ice, I'd rather not risk any further ire from the higher-ups."

The man sighed. "Agent Robert Tofflemire, Mobile Task Force Sigma-10, the Sloth's Arm. This statement is made regarding the events which occurred throughout Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin on Thanksgiving Day, 2018."

"Right. Where were you when this all started?"

"Waiting for the turkey to be accessible." Dr. Thomas Bailey played with the wrapper of an energy bar. "The Department of Gastronomy can put out a hell of a buffet spread, but there's not much room to actually… spread it in Sublevel 6."

"You're not usually in this neck of the woods," Allison observed. "Antarctica get a bit boring?"

"Oh, no, never. It's just that— well, Trev and I wanted to be here for when Tristan finally popped the question to Claire."

"You mean Dr. Hennessy."

"Yeah." Thomas scratched the back of his head. "Idiot was planning to put the ring in the turkey. Anyway, it was taking the line over fifteen minutes to let us get the main course, I figured I'd go ahead and look at the desserts first. Spoil my appetite a little."

"What first drew your attention?"

"The apple crisp." Montgomery Reynolds admitted. "The crop of Granny Smith hadn't come in this year, and gastronomy had tried some bizarre cooking process to try to make golden delicious apples taste like proper baking apples."

"Did it work?" Allison frowned. "Didn't try it myself. Had a weird vibe about it."

"Almost. Not crunchy enough for actual crisp. More apple mush." Reynolds cleared his throat. "Katherine— Dr. Sinclair— got some pumpkin pie instead. Can't stand the taste of it myself."

Allison resisted the urge to make a comment about him being a pastry philistine. "Anyway, when did you first notice the anomalies surrounding the apple crisp?"

"Hard to say." Cassandra Pike picked at her teeth. "Claude and I were already in a bit of a bad mood. Our car had broken down on the way to the site, and we had to walk all the way up the hill in the rain. So, we were soaked by the time we got there, and 'mildly irritated' is his default mood."

"So, you were saying an argument wouldn't have been unusual at the time?" Alison leaned again the wall of the interview room. Her stomach growled.

Pike rubbed her face. "We're… improving, but at any given moment, we're about three bad sentences away from an argument. As much as movies would love you to believe, marriage doesn't make shit easier."

"I can imagine." Allison nodded. "Anyway, this argument, what was it over?"

"Well, you know that Pathfinder game he runs? He had said he'd wanted to do a session on Black Friday, but was backing out of it at the last minute, and wouldn't say why." She clenched her fist. "And this was right as we were digging into the apple crisp."

"Then what happened?"

"Monty is a man who likes his cider, you have to understand that." Katherine Sinclair adjusted the ice pack on her head. "Other than mead and this one IPA from Iowa, it's the only alcohol he actually likes."

"The cider served wasn't alcoholic, though." Allison flipped through previous interviews on her tablet. "Unless the apples somehow whammied that, too."

"Wouldn't surprise me. Anyway, I had decided to bring a book with me to read while we had dinner— some dumb James Rollins novel. Tom Clancy for Creationists, they all blend together after a while. Monty kept on telling me to put it down so we could talk but… I didn't feel like it, for some reason. I felt like I was pissed at him for nothing, and should have been ignoring him. I don't know why." She squeezed the ice. "I'm going to pre-empt your reaction here: I don't mean it in that sense. After a few glasses of cider, Monty decided to take out his wand and start fiddling with—" Sinclair inadvertently snickered. "God dammit. Why does thaumatology have to involve so much phallic imagery?"

Allison turned her head to hide a smirk. "Since when does he have a wand?"

"We went on vacation to Universal Orlando last Christmas. Went to Harry Potterland, decided to, aheh, modify the $80 wands we got from Ollivander's. Papework's all filled out!" Sinclair said that last part far too quickly. "Anyway, he decided it would be nice if he levitated over some more turkey for us. We're not supposed to use magic outside of the lab without a special writ, but by the time I was telling him this—"

"You had been beaned in the head by a hot ladle. Then what happened?"

"I rushed to help Sinclair." Gwen Liao had her hands folded on the table before her. "Thankfully, her injuries were minor, just some first-degree burns. I've seen worse from standing in a hot shower for too long. But then I just started laying into Reynolds, saying he was acting really irresponsible."

"Did he seem drunk to you?" Allison raised her eyebrow.

"I can't imagine why or how, but yes." The nurse nodded. "He seemed stunned for a moment, and clutched his head, as if he were disoriented and trying to get his bearings. And at that point… well, chaos kind of started ensuing."

"How so? In your own words."

Dr. Margaret Reese sucked in air through her teeth. "Well, for one thing, the Bailey Brothers started yelling at each other. That's… unusual. They get to see each other maybe once every two years, and they start arguing over… pretty much nothing, as far as I can tell."

"Conflict for conflict's sake." Alison tilted her head upwards, deep in thought. "That seems to be a common theme here."

"Yeah. It took me a bit to realize it, but then John— that is, Dr. West, put his hand on my fork and snatched it away from me. We both realized at the same time that there was something in the food. I tried telling people to stop eating, but…"

"That only made things worse."

"It's been a while since we've had a site-wide panic." Agent Seren Pryce adjusted her arm in the sling. "It started on Sublevel 6, and just kind of…. spread upwards. I think someone removed food from the site."

"And in the process, whatever was in the food spread to the rest of the site… and the rest of the town. How's the arm?"

"Sprained. Doc says I should stay away from firearms for a while, which… y'know, kind of sucks." Pryce grimaced as she took a sip of the water in front of her. "Hopefully it'll get healed by New Year's."

"Any idea who took the food from the site, then?"

"I didn't know it was anomalous!" Christopher Hastings, the so-called 'Action Botanist' of Site-87, protested to the allegations. "I just— I had family in town, and we were going to meet at a restaurant to have Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to take a bit of apple crisp for dessert."

"So it's definitely the apple crisp. Did you notice anything strange as you drove along?"

"Yeah." Hastings yawned. "Behind my car, I saw… weird, weird things happening. Like, remember a few years ago when that time-travelling redneck decided to try to rob a Dunkin' Donuts with a few dozen time-displaced copies of himself?"

"God, don't remind me. Delta-T wouldn't get out of our hair for months." Allison groaned. "But… you're saying you saw temporal anomalies?"

"Yeah. Same redneck, except this time, he was riding a dinosaur."


"I know, right? There aren't even any dinosaur fossils in Wisconsin. Don't know where the hell they came from." Hastings sighed and squinted, nursing a headache. "Then… well, then I crashed my car into a six-foot-tall man-eating turkey."

"How did you know it was man-eating?"

"Well." Hastings chewed his lip. "The fact that it was in the process of mauling a citizen was a pretty good clue."

"Any idea what was happening back at the site, at that point?"

"Well, for one thing, I had started turning into a tree. Again." Dr. Partridge slammed his left branch against the table before him. "I'm sick of being a goddamn cosmic punchline in this town! Just sick of it!"

Partridge's rant continued for several minutes. Allison let him blow it off- this was the third time in five years it had happened, and she genuinely felt for him. The man was more than a punchline— she had read about what he did in Guatemala. Saved dozens of lives. The Foundation Star he'd gotten in 2017 had been his second one.

"Sorry." Partridge held his head with his functional hand. "Sorry. Just. Frustrated by all of this, you know?"

"Surprised you didn't go for the pumpkin pie."

"Don't trust them anymore." Partridge shook his head, the wood of his neck creaking. "Not since poor Jeff Hubble got turned into a vampire by one."

"Right." Allison chewed the inside of her cheek. "God, that sounded like it was weird."

"It was." Partridge tapped his half-wooden fingers against the table. "Anyway, uh. I didn't turn into one immediately. I was talking to Quentin Harrison, head of gastronomy. He said that he found the skins of some of the apples used in the crisp, and they looked… well, wrong. He showed me some of his stock, and I saw a bunch of golden apples. The apple crisp was halfway in my mouth before he had opened the door to the fridge, and I swallowed it in surprise. Idiot."

"Well, at least it's only partial this time. Maybe you're building up a resistance to it."

"I'm actually thinking of getting a genetic test, at this point. I'm Greek on my dad's side, and I can't help but wonder if there's some dryad in me." Dr. Partridge sneezed. Apple seeds came from his nose. "…fuck, I really feel for King, now."

"Anything else interesting happen, that you're aware of?"

"You know how hard it is to build a dark matter reactor?" Johnathan West opened his hands, before clenching his fingers tight around each other. "We've been working on it for over twenty years. Marshall, Carter & Dark are already rolling it out in some places. The fact that a stoned-out-of-his-mind high-school science teacher was able to make one after eating a magic apple is…" He shook his head. "It's not a good look."

"I can't imagine." By this point, it was late, and everyone involved was tired, but Allison had the patience of a saint from spending over three years in the company of Robert Tofflemire. "Thankfully, Wisconsin hasn't legalized marijuana, so he'll probably get a pretty hefty fine."

"Didn't take you for someone who's anti-drug, Agent Carol." West raised his eyebrow.

"I'm not, but the last thing this town needs is a legal dispensery within 50 miles."

"Fair enough." West put his head in his hand. "I used to loathe Halloween. Now I hold contempt for all holidays. No wonder our festology department decided to run for the hills. Something like this happens every year."

"Could be worse. Remember the turkey golems?" Allison's stomach rumbled at the thought of turkey. She hadn't eaten much today. "I only have two interviews left— one with Ewell, one with that guy from the Union."

"Good luck." West snorted. "I don't know what the recreational morgue is, and I don't want to know. Man was white as a sheet when he got out of that building." West stood up. "I take it you're coming downtown after you're done here?"

"Yeah, gonna drive Bob and Ewell. Hopefully it'll have stopped raining by then."

An hour later, Allison Carol was sitting on main street, in the Cracker Barrel across the street from the Select 8 Cinema. The restaurant was closed to the public— Site-87 had reserved the entire thing as an emergency backup for Thanksgiving dinner. She picked at her turkey, looking out the window, expecting something to happen.

"What is it?" Robert frowned as he smothered his mashed potatoes in gravy.

"I don't know." She shook her head. "I just… get a weird vibe from that place, now. Ever since the Pit Sloth. Ever since…"

"I died?"

"Yeah." Allison looked down at her hands. "Still trying to figure out what my deal is. You can pull plot devices from your pocket. I know I can do something, but I don't know what. Union guy kept on calling me a Narrator." She poured herself a glass of cider from the pitcher on the table. She was at least confident that that wasn't anomalous.

"You have family from Missouri, don't you?" Robert asked.

"They're not from Amityville, if that's what you're asking. And they're only in my family by marriage." Allison looked out towards the cinema. "I'm just… expecting things to go all tits-up. Maybe I should get out of town for a while. Not that I'm sure the nexus would let me."

"I went up to Superior last week. Kirk…" He shook his head. It was always hard to talk about his friend, taken by the Old Man. "Kirk's sister was in town. I try to talk to her whenever I can."

"She Foundation?"

"Yeah." He poured himself another glass of cider. "Maybe we can pop up to the Black Garden after this? Get some actual drinks and not this kiddie cider?"

"Maybe." Allison's attention kept on getting drawn back to the cinema. She didn't know why. The movie posters looked the same as they always did. Fantastic Beasts, The Nun, The Grinch, Plague City, The Girl in the Spider's Web— "Wait." She frowned.

Before her eyes, the poster for The Nun shifted into one for a film called "An Exciting Day in Boring, Oregon." Allison rose from the table, drawing an odd look from Robert. He then looked out the window and saw it too.

Soon, all of the personnel in the Cracker Barrel were outside the movie theater. The posters had been there before, back right after the Pit Sloth. Just a picture and a title, no actors listed, no studio, nothing.

Now, there was a studio. Its logo was the image of a pair of golden apples, with a map of a globe imprinted over them, one hemisphere per apple. The name of the studio was "Discordant Orchard Pictures".

"Well." Allison swallowed. "That… can't be good."

Dr. Partridge blinked nervously. "Jesus Christ. This isn't a horror film anymore, is it?"

Allison clenched her hand.

"It's an anthology."

The story continues this October in

Black Autumn III: Discordant Anthology

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