Here Comes The Bogeyman

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October 20th

Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin was quiet. It wasn't right; with Halloween just over a week away, it should have been bustling with children running home after school to stare at the windows of the Witch's Hut costume shop, or telling stories about how they totally saw the Goatman outside the school, guys, and how it would totally chop off Mary Quinn's head if she didn't admit to stealing Jimmy Striker's cupcake at lunch last week.

The streets were barren, evacuated. Too much of a risk, with the events that had transpired the last two days. The only people out on the streets were either incredibly brave, incredibly well-paid, or incredibly curious.

Dr. Katherine Sinclair and Montgomery Reynolds were among the latter category. They were escorted through town by Raymond February of Sigma-10. All of them were wearing black jackets that bore the word "FEMA" in large, white letters on the back. It was the standard cover story for evacuated towns, despite the fact that it endlessly encouraged conspiracy theorists.

February kept whispering prayers under his breath, in front of the two mages. He couldn't help but wonder at the irony of this, saying prayers to a God who had decreed that the likes of them should not be suffered to live. They were good people, though, and Leviticus was, in his family, generally considered to be non-canonical, much like Dr. Sinclair's opinions on The Lion King.

Dr. Sinclair stopped in the middle of main street's curve in order to draw a square of chalk, which she and Montgomery were chanting over in hushed voices, like a soft wind stealing the last leaf off of a maple tree. The pavement between them glowed, and within the square, several thin, white strands of energy made themselves known.

Katherine reached into the square and plucked at one of the strings, hearing a soft twang as it reverberated. "Yeah, same as on Clark Avenue. The Leylines are… corrupt."

"Bit lower-pitched here," Montgomery frowned, crossing his legs. "It's… eerie. This much power…"

"I don't want to think about it," Katherine stood, scuffing the chalk square with her foot, a sharp crackle marking the spell's energy dispersing. "We're just here to collect readings to send back to Sigma-3."

"Right," he stood, looking at the page of a notepad he had been given. One of the researchers, Chris Hastings, had made a connection between the locations of the scarecrows and a pictogram of a Jack-O-Lantern's face. Now, they were comparing them to a town map, and checking each location that looked like it had some significance. "Next location is… in the middle of Baby Bone Wood."

"Great," Raymond sighed. "Goatman territory. I hate that place."

"Old Capricorn is harmless," Katherine stated, starting down Babylon Road, towards their destination. "He may even be cooperative, provided he knows what's going on."

"The spooks watch this town all the time, Katherine," Montgomery shifted his shoulders. "I feel sorry for them. '76 and the deaths at the camp left a psychic scar, imagine what this has done…"

A cold wind blew through the street. Dr. Sinclair shivered, and Montgomery put an arm around her. "Thanks," she smiled.

"Where in the woods do you need to go?" February asked.

"There's an old wishing well near where some of the lumberjack housing used to be in New Toronto. They say if you look into it, you can see something look back up at you."

"Let's… not put that to the test, okay?" Raymond grinned, nervous. "I'd rather get home with all my sanity intact."

They both nodded, and Sinclair started leading the way, comparing the map to the notepad page.

God dammit, Pryce, February thought. Why did I get occult detail this year?

Raymond February chewed his lip as he stood guard. He didn't know why he was so shaken; he'd been in the Choir Boys for three years, shot at immortal heart-stealers while yelling Hail Marys and hoping they'd die. People turning up as scarecrows was child's play.

Still, as the two magicians chanted next to the old, boarded-up well, he felt cold without a single breath of wind, and felt damp air without a drop of rain on his skin. And he heard the crunch of leaves without any footsteps to accompany them.

Surrounding the well were the ruins of four log cabins, worn away from over one-hundred years worth of Wisconsin summers and winters. Some small animals — the odd badger or coyote — had made their homes among the damp wood, burrowing for grubs and roots. But now, the forest had gone silent and grey; the lighting was wrong. Raymond had managed to see the eclipse, at totality, and the lighting seemed almost like that. Twilight on all sides. "…how much longer?" He asked.

"This'll be the last one today. I'm plenty wigged out too." Katherine plucked at some of the lines of energy, contemplating what she should be doing. In a perfect world, she would be sitting in her quarters with a hot glue gun and some synthetic fur, finishing up the mask for her Halloween costume. Instead, she was here, testing leylines.

Then, with a loud twang like a guitar from hell, one of the lines broke. "Uh-oh."

"Uh-oh?" Raymond asked.

"Broken Leyline." She stood up and quickly broke the spell.

"Is that bad?"

"If we were in New York, no," Montgomery said. "New York has so many redundant leylines in it that the Foundation has looked into using empty ones to transmit high-speed internet signals. But out here, in a nexus?" He took a deep breath. "Ever hear of Nexus-29?"

"Yeah," Raymond nodded. "The one in the southwest with that weird broadcast coming out of it. They sound like a buncha weirdos."

"Ever hear of the sandstorm down there?" Montgomery cracked his knuckles and rolled his shoulders, looking at the well. "That was the result of only a dozen leylines breaking, which set off a chain reaction of hundreds of others. It…" He hissed through his teeth. "It was not good."

"Breaking leylines, Class-5 hauntings, people turning up as scarecrows." Sinclair rubbed her head, and looked at the sky. "This… this lighting isn't right. We need to get out, now."

"Way fu- way ahead of you, doc," February began marching back to the town. His path was cut short by an axe flying in front of his face, thrown by some unknown force, and embedding itself in the oak before him. Its blade came so close to his nose that he reflexively sneezed.

The three of them spun their heads to face the source of the attack, spotting a seven-foot-tall man with the head of a goat standing among the trees, three sets of horns on its head, and its eyes red and hateful, with hourglass pupils. Its fur was matted and black, and it bore its teeth at the three of them, letting out a hellish bleat.

"It's just the Goatman," Sinclair groaned, letting out a laugh of relief. "Scared us there! Good one. Sorry, but we-we're not terribly in the mood for that kind of business!"

The axe by Raymond's head dematerialized, and reappeared in the Goatman's hand. It let out another bleat, and threw the axe again, which managed to weave its way between Sinclair and Reynolds, and chop off a lock of Sinclair's hair.

"Oh shit," she exclaimed. "Whatever got the town got it too."

"Katherine!" Monty pushed her to the ground as the axe came around like a boomerang, missing her neck by a fraction of a second. The Goatman caught its axe, and started towards them.

The doctor gasped, jolting up and starting to run back to town. The Goatman pursued, its hooves booming like cannonballs on the forest floor, with Montgomery and February running by Sinclair.

February, for his part, drew his sidearm and fired blindly behind him at the Goatman. The shot grazed its calf, and its black fur was spattered with blood. The Goatman flinched and clutched its head, before it let out a bellowing roar that shook the leaves from the trees, an impossible sound that seemed to turn the sky darker than it was already.

"Son of a-" Raymond caught himself from swearing, and just screamed. "What do we do?!"

"You run!," Sinclair yelled back. "I'm gonna stop him from catching us!" She bit down on her right pointer finger, breaking the skin with an audible snap, stopping in front of a tree and quickly scribbling a sigil into the bark.

"What are you doing, Katherine?!" Monty yelled.

"Buying time!" she called back, breathing some Will into the sigil. A shadow fell over her as the sign glowed a dark red, and she turned to see the Goatman bring its axe towards her. Time turned to molasses.

The Goatman brought down its axe at Katherine's head-level, and she ducked down, covering her head. The axe split the tree, the force cleaving through the sigil. The magic within fizzled, sparked, and exploded; what Sinclair had meant to be a stunning spell had instead turned into a magical flash-bang.

"No!" Reynolds yelled, twisting and running back to Katherine. From under his sleeve, he produced a leaf of paper. He unfolded it, and from the folds he drew a cavalry saber, its steel blade inscribed with runes, glowing with pure anti-thaumaturgial energy. Spellshatter, Katherine had called it. Hopefully this would be powerful enough to kill a thoughtform.

The Goatman got to its feet before the mage did, and shot a glare down at her. It showed an odd kind of mercy, extracting its axe from the tree. It threw the mage over his back, and bounded into the woods with the barely-conscious doctor over his shoulders.

"NO!" Montgomery yelled, slicing his arm with the blade and yelling out words of power, of fire, of hate, towards the beast. A white-hot beam of plasma came forth, forged from his blood, hot enough to vaporize brass and liquefy rock— but then, he realized, he would hit Katherine, as well as Goatman. Five feet from the creature, he let the spell fizzle, leaving only scorch marks on the ground in its wake. Reynolds fell to his knees, and looked at the retreating form of the Goatman.

Raymond took a medkit from off his belt and started bandaging Reynold's arm. "We need to get back to site. Get you medical attention, and get reinforcements."

"Hell with that," Reynolds grunted, trying to stand. Raymond forced him back down to his knees with a soft pinch of the shoulder, eliciting a gasp of pain from the older mage.

"Hold still! I'm trying to make sure you don't bleed out from your hoodoo voodoo bulls- bunk!"

"It's not voodoo, it's hermetic thaumaturgy." He growled at February. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Beg pardon?"

"I have literally, not once, ever heard you swear! No fucks, no shits, no goddamns, no cunts, no motherfuckers!"

February shrugged. "Swearing is just something that's never appealed to me."

"You say that as you hold back a bullshit," Montgomery winced as the bandages tightened. "Seriously, why?"

"Swearing just leads to more anger. And I couldn't afford to be angry when I was in the Choir Boys. Angry meant dead." He tied off the bandages. "You're a grown man, for god's sake. I'm going to call for backup. We wait for the cavalry to get here, and then raid Koch's Hovel to get her back."

"You call for backup." Montgomery stood, wincing and holding his saber in his good hand. "The woman I love is out there, in the woods, with a psychotic tulpa. I'm going to cut it to ribbons if it so much as touches her hair."

Raymond ignored him. "Sigma-10 Command, this is Agent February. We have a missing researcher, taken by a UAE."

«Copy, February. Squad Six is En Route. What took them?»

"…the Goatman." Raymond February swallowed a swear hard as he saw Montgomery Reynolds run off into the woods.

"KATHERINE!" Montgomery Reynolds yelled, leaping through the brush with more agility than his form would suggest. "KATHERINE!"

He had been running for half an hour. He was lost. Exhausted. He knew town was somewhere to the south, but in the eclipse-like twilight, he didn't know where south was. "God… dammit." He coughed, and stuck his saber into a tree. "KATHERINE!"

He rested against the blade, using it as a support. His body was made for sitting in front of a table and translating arcane texts, not running through the forest after a supernatural monster, like a knight or — god forbid — a video game character. Katherine was the woman of action, when the time called for it, banishing zombies or fighting minor deities. He was Dumbledore with a broken wand, while she was Morcant LeFay, burning bright with magical force. She should be on Sigma-3, not in this anomalous burg. Yet, she stayed.

Did she stay for him?

He stopped his contemplation and pulled his saber out. He plodded forward, looking at his bandages. He needed stitches, not this. He should have cauterized the wound, but the nerves in his arm would be shot. It took six months before Katherine was able to use a keyboard after she burned her hands with a fire spell.

'The woman I love…'. He had said it back there, to February. He was a grown man, almost a decade older than Katherine. She had seemingly ignored any attempt he made to show his affection towards her, but all the same, he—


Montgomery's attention fell on a gout of fire shooting from the ground some three-hundred meters away. Fire magic, and a woman's voice. Katherine had sworn off fire for the last four years.

"Oh god," Montgomery hustled towards her, wheezing and panting. "Katherine, I'm coming!"

"INFERNUS!" the voice came again. It wasn't ritual magic, no preparation. He doubted she even had time to carve a sigil. She was doing pure invocation. It would wear her out in minutes.

He came past a cluster of trees, and found Katherine standing before the Goatman, blood trickling from her mouth. A circle of fire twice the size of the Goatman enclosed it, and it stood in the middle, looking warily at the pair of them. Katherine was slumped against the wall of the small, stone hut where the Goatman resided- Koch's Hovel.

"Oh my god," Montgomery panted. "You're… You're…"

"…drained," she groaned, slumping against the wall. Her jacket was torn, the sleeves almost entirely incinerated by the fire she had called up. "Made a circle out of ash. I figure, it's a demon, and I figure that if I think it's a demon, it'll play by demon rules, so I figure I can bind it into a circle—"

Montgomery walked around the burning ring, and wrapped his arms around her. "I was terrified." He took off the jacket and put it around her shoulders. "Are you all right?"

"I'm one of the best mages the Foundation has outside of Sigma-3, Monty," she sighed, looking at her scarred forearms. 'Non Contenti Sumus', they read. Branded onto her skin by beings not pleased by her prior sacrifices. "I'll be okay. I just… need to incinerate about ten pounds of hamburger as penitence for borrowing some power."

The Goatman, behind them, roared and slashed through the circle of fire with its axe. The first blows glanced off of an invisible barrier as the two of them moved warily around the edge, away from the beast. Katherine stumbled, and the flames flickered. "I overdid it," she coughed. "Too much energy, too little sacrifice. Circle's gonna fail."

Monty looked at the failing circle, placing Katherine behind him and drawing his sword. "How long do we have?"

"Three…two… one…"

The Goatman leaped out of the circle, and its blade met Monty's saber. The clashing of the two weapons produced a spark of blue light, and the Goatman's eyes faded from red to yellow for a flicker of a second. It rubbed hits head and murmured a plea, before its eyes returned to their hellish, red state. Its blade came down once more.

Monty parried the attack, luring it away from Katherine. She started to call out something, but it was difficult to hear between the steel of blade against the flesh and wood of the Goatman's axe. "What are you saying?!" He asked.

"Y-You can't kill him!" Katherine panted. "He's a thoughtform! Something about his story's gone wrong!"

The Goatman trying to bring its axe down on his shoulder. Montgomery parried it, and drove his blade in between its ribs. The Goatman had power, but lacked grace, and fumbled once more when the Spellshatter drove itself into its side. "So, what?" He asked. "I have to tell a story at it?!"

"I-I don't know! I'm not an epistemologist!" She winced at the sight of Monty dodging an axe to the shoulder.

Monty had a realization. Everyone left in town was so scared shitless, and that fear had to go somewhere. It had all funneled into Sloth's Pit's personal bogeyman. The best way to get rid of any bogeyman was with five words:

"I'm not afraid of you," Montgomery growled. He forced himself to believe it. "I'm afraid of what's happened to this town, of what's going to happen. I'm afraid of what's going to happen to her if I don't get her medical attention. I'm afraid of what will happen if I never tell her that I love her. But I am not. Afraid. Of you."

The Goatman stumbled, stuttered, its form shimmering, before its axe hit the ground and vanished, and it stood before them with white fur, trimmed with red, one pair of horns and a face with yellow, hourglass eyes.

It collapsed to its knees and groaned, retching. Montgomery Reynolds wondered if Tulpa could vomit. "Oh my god," The Goatman slumped against a tree, tongue hanging out. "Now I know how Coyote feels. Damn that stings."

Katherine stood up, and stumbled, leaning against Monty to look him over. "…we could very well contain you, you know. Just… stop you, right here. Bring you back to the site."

"…you have worse to worry about than me," The Goatman stood up, rising gradually from the legs up, straightening its back, then its arms, then its neck to look at them. "This is bad. What happened in town is as bad as… what you did. To the camp."

"We're not responsible for this," Montgomery held up his hand in parley. "We can assure you of that."

"I know. This is something from before you came here. I barely remember it myself." The Goatman rubbed his face. "The Black Autumn. We all agreed to forget it. 1969." He laughed. "What did Linus used to wait for? I can't even remember," he clutched his head in his hands and kept laughing. "Why am I laughing? It was godawful. We all agreed to forget. And we did."

Katherine almost asked 'forget what', but then realized the utter idiocy of that question.

"All I can tell you is that the worst is yet to come." He shivered, and entered the stone hut, crouching down in the doorway. "You need to stay as far away from the woods as you can. All of you. We… we're glad you got the town out safe." He picked up a tin can from a pile in the corner of the hut and chewed it anxiously. "I'm not the only thing that's awake in the woods."

"Dr. Sinclair!" a voice called.

"Reynolds!" another shouted. Members of Sigma-10, come looking for them.

"Go," the Goatman said. "Tell them. The Black Autumn is coming again."

The pair of them nodded, and limped towards the group of lights flashing through their trees and calling their names. After a while, Katherine spoke up. "We're adults, Monty. You don't need to beat around the bush."

"I'm a decade older than you."

"Seven years," she mused. "My mother married a man a ten years her elder. And you're… well, you're not that great at hiding feelings." She shifted against him. "I've known for years. And… I wouldn't mind sharing some unprofessional time with you."

Reynold's lips quirked into something resembling a tired smile. "If you feel that way," he said, "We can find some relationship declaration forms. I haven't filled one out in six years, however."

"They updated it," she sighed. "You have to list any anomalous properties or conditions you possess now. I have one from two months ago in the lab."

Montgomery looked at the sunset. "Let's sign it over some mead, then? I still have some reserve from the Black Garden."

"Sounds nice," she smiled, resting up against him. "Thanks."

The two of them walked into the beams of the flashlights. They would get rest, get their injuries treated. Then, they would do what they had wanted to do for years.

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