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rating: +100+x

October 19th

Halloween was almost upon the Midwestern United States. With it came the changing of leaves, the propping up of foam skeletons, the serving of pies of various flavors, and, in the small town of Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin…

"Scarecrows," Christopher Hastings exclaimed, exasperated. "Scarecrows! Popping up all over town! Twenty last night, another twenty the night before!" He groaned this as he hefted around a heavy-looking work bag.

He walked past a line of scarecrows that were in the process of being cataloged by members of Sigma-10. "Why Scarecrows? Why?!"

"Y'got me," Tristan Bailey shrugged, sipping at a paper cup of cocoa. This was nowhere near his department, but Hastings had asked him to tag along; the Bailey triplet couldn't help but wonder if it was just for the sake of keeping Hastings sane. This was technically the Department of Botany's wheelhouse, but only by a slim margin. "What, is this a sign of the apocalypse or somethin'?"

"It very well might be!" Dr. Hastings took out a notepad filled with sketches and scribbles of the scarecrows. "Look, the positions of the scarecrows throughout town seem to be forming the outline of a pentagram— an inverted five-pointed star. I tried talking to Dr. Sinclair, but she didn't believe me."

Tristan rubbed his forehead. "Chris, no offense, but every time something like this happens, you get riled up. You did it for the Christmas tree, you did it for the Thanksgivukkah turkey golems, you're doing it now."

"And I was right those first two times," Hastings frowned, crossing his arms. "It's like you all have very selective amnesia."

"I'm just saying, it might be a bit of Nexus Weirdness, nothing beyond that." He looked over the notepad. "Huh. The pattern is freaky, but I don't think it's a pentagram."

"What, then?" Chris asked.

"You're holding it at a weird angle." He snatched the notepad away from Hastings and rotated it a few times until he got a proper angle. "You're cherry-picking data points, Hastings. Probably why you're not a physicist."

"What is it, then?" Chris scowled.

"Hold on, let's see… these are both distinct segments… forming triangles… this is some kind of weird lightning-bolt thing— oh god." Tristan sighed. "Goddammit." He turned the notepad towards Chris.

The scarecrows were appearing in the shape of a Jack-O-Lantern's grinning visage.

The two of them went further into town, and came to a pause as they saw a scarecrow jutting horizontally out of the side of what was once the Vegan Buffet, now closed down due to "health and safety reasons"; serving human meat as vegan was certainly a health violation.

Chris whistled up at it. "Well, that's something new."

"How are ya gonna get that down?" Tristan asked. "It's a bit high for a ladder."

"Fire department's probably going to take care of it," Chris frowned. "Still, this supports Dr. Partridge's theory that these are some kind of plant; it could easily be a vine organism, taking root between gaps in the mortar."

"Maybe," Tristan said, looking up at it. "Hey, um. Any idea if Weiss is okay?"

"Sigma-10 lost an entire six-man squad on her call. Between that and what happened back in March…" Chris shook his head. "Weiss is a tough old bird, but I think everyone has their limits."

"Mmm," Tristan rubbed his face. "Claire's technically next in line for the job."

"So, you'll move from schlupping the head of Multi-U to the director of a site. Bit of a downgrade," Chris snarked.

Tristan smacked the back of his head. "Not funny."

"Sorry," Chris laughed and rubbed his crown. "Still, seriously. Everyone knows about it. Just fill out the goddamn relationship declaration forms."

"We do fill it out. We keep filling it out, and every time we fill it out, it mysteriously goes 'missing'." Tristan shook his head and tugged at his hair. "I think that someone in administration has it out for me. Probably still pissed about what Trevor did."

"That was… literally almost half a decade ago." Chris twisted his lip. "Who'd have it out for your family after that long?"

"Probably the people researching the Keter that Trev threw into a pocket universe. He should be an O5, not at a desk job." Tristan shook his head, and craned his neck up at the scarecrow. "Why am I here again?"

"Because I think that these things are popping up from extra-dimensional space." Chris walked further with Tristan. "One of them popped up at Rudy's, in the storeroom. It's isolated, so that's the one we're going to examine."

"Right, easy way to determine that. I have a way to do that on me. You just gotta look at it the right way."

They walked further down the road, reaching Rudy's Cafe, the best coffee shop in all of Sloth's Pit. Starbucks couldn't hold a candle to its hot brews, which were always bittersweet and brewed with coffee ground every twenty minutes. In the latter half of the year, the hot chocolate served warmed the hearts of all who frequented it, especially if one ordered it with a shot of bourbon mixed in.

Now, the place was vacant, due to the anomaly in the store room. All that was around it was a Police barricade, and in the store room, the scarecrow. Straw hat, straw skin, cotton clothes.

Hastings stood back while Tristan took out a camera and adjusted the lens. "You, uh, hear that Pike's finally getting hitched?"

"No foolin'?" Tristan asked, aiming his viewfinder at the scarecrow. "Her and Mattings? When's the wedding?"

"February 14th next year. Mattings doesn't want to forget the anniversary." Chris cracked his neck. "So, what's the method of detecting extradimensional activity?"

"Filter on this lens picks up exotic particles associated with objects crossing entropic barriers— anything that violates conservation of mass lights up like a Christmas tree." He handed the camera to Hastings and held his hand out in front of the lens; the digital display showed Tristan's entire hand looking like a giant, glowing yellow mass. "That includes people who work in Multi-U."

"Cool." Chris grinned, which faded quickly when he looked at the scarecrow through the display. The scarecrow had some luminescence on it, but nothing to the degree of Bailey. "Huh. What's that mean?"

"It's got some of the particles on it. Probably has some extradimensional weirdness." Tristan tapped his finger to his lips. "I'm gonna touch it."

"Don't," Chris said, pulling out a pair of gloves. "Put these on first, at least." He produced a pair of gas masks. "These too."

"…the hell were you keeping these?" Tristan asked, slipping on the gloves.

"I don't carry this bag around for fashion purposes," Chris hefted his shoulder bag, putting on his gas mask. "You never know what you're gonna run into."

"Hopefully this is enough protection." Tristan stepped forward, hand outstretched, frowning beneath his mask. "…Chris?"


Tristan pulled his hand back. "Who called in this thing here? Was it Rudy?"

"It was Cait, his daughter. She works morning shift." He pulled out a sample bag and a pair of tweezers. "Why?"

Tristan stepped back. "Has… anyone seen Rudy today?"

"I see where you're going with this," Chris stepped forward, swallowing and extending his tweezers, "And I hope you're wrong."

"So do I." Tristan made for the door. "If something happens… bolt."

"Right." Chris's hand outstretched towards the scarecrow, shaking, a dry gasp filling his mouth. He plucked one of the straws from its right arm.

Its entire hand fell off, revealing a human arm beneath the straw, which hung limp, hitting the side of the scarecrow's body with a wet, sickening slap sound. Chris bolted, sample in hand, along with Tristan. Before they cleared the door, the Bailey sibling caught a glimpse of the unmistakable ring on the finger: a Harvard class of '76 golden ring, one that was worn by Rudolf Dyer, owner of Rudy's Cafe.

Three hours later, Christopher Hastings sat across a table in one of Site-87's break rooms, opposite of Dr. Partridge and Tristan Bailey. Hastings had his head in his hands, and was wiping tears off his face from the news he had received. "Are you sure, Doctor?" He asked Doctor Partridge.

"Yes. All of them contained at least one cadaver." His voice was soft and grim. "Some had parts. Thankfully this…" he swallowed. "Is no longer a matter for either of our departments. Forensics and investigative agents are taking this over now, as are occult studies and… god." He rubbed his face.

"All of them?" Tristan asked. He was drained from what he had just heard. "Even— even the one hanging from the side of the old vegan place?" Tristan asked.

"That was Ted Mason, former owner of the buffet, who should be serving a goddamn life sentence in Columbia Correctional in Portage." Dr. Partridge sighed and took a drink from a flask on his belt. "Cover-ops is working their ass off on that matter. Saying he fell in his cell and broke his neck."

"Forty deaths…" Chris chewed his lip. "And might be more coming. How is the town not panicking?"

"They're not panicking because they're evacuating." Dr. Partridge stood. "As of an hour ago, Dr. Weiss gave an evacuation order to all non-essential civilians."

"Like that'll help!" Chris snapped. "Mason got snatched from a prison 300 miles away to have his corpse pinned on the side of his fucked-up vegan place!"

"Hastings, please. Calm down." Dr. Partridge sighed. "I'm just as shaken up about this as you are. This is the most deaths the town has had since—"

"1976," the three of them spoke simultaneously.

"You don't think…" Tristan began.

"They're looking into it." Dr. Partridge stood. "We're going to be having a vigil in front of the site for everyone in town that…"

"I'll be there," Chris assured him. "I just… need some time."

"We all do." Dr. Partridge stood and exited the room, rubbing his face. "Goddammit."

"Doc?" Chris asked.

"I transferred here because this place had one of— one of the lowest goddamn mortality rates among US Foundation sites. In 2009, I saw half a task force feed themselves to a pitcher plant, and then I studied how long it took them to be digested. I… needed a break after that." He looked up at the ceiling.

Tristan Bailey wished them a good night, and walked out of the room. On the way out, he took his rage out on a grinning plastic Jack-O-Lantern that had been pinned on the wall, tearing it down and letting out a curse.

Partridge's eyes widened, an idea entering his head. "Hastings? Meet me tonight. Bring as many people from the department as you can. I've… had an idea of what's going on. And I don't like it."

"Yes, sir," Chris nodded, walking around him out of the room. He gave the pumpkin a dejected kick.

Dr. Keith Partridge took a long swig of his flask, before heading out the room after them. The light wouldn't go on in the breakroom for the rest of the week.

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