From A Burning Screen
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rating: +52+x

October 5th

Alison Carol slept fitfully in the infirmary. A collar was around her neck to paralyze her vocal chords— even while unconscious, she was muttering the same phrase. "The Pit Sloth is real". It was a memeti-pata— cognit— some kind of hazard. One that the director pointedly wanted to ignore.

Robert Tofflemire sat by her bed, head in his hands. Dr. Merrick Palmer, the site's shrink, had told him that it wasn't his fault that this had happened to her, that there was nothing he could have done.

Palmer meant well, but Robert might as well have been the one to place her in this hospital bed.

"Agent Tofflemire?" Gwen Liao, one of the nurses, came into the room. "Visiting hours are over."

"All right." He stood up and rubbed his face. "See you tomorrow, Liao."

"See you."

Robert put his hands in his pockets and slumped from the infirmary.

Site-87 was still largely awake at this point in time. It was movie night, and they were screening things that were meant for the annual horror film festival. The screening was already halfway over, but he needed to take his mind off of things.

He stopped at a set of vending machines, grabbed a bag of pre-popped popcorn and a bottle of Coke, and made his way to the main auditorium where they were screening it.

Before he put his hands on the door, he could tell something was wrong.

From the other side, there was complete silence. No hum of the projector, no unwrapping of candy or muted conversations, no laughter at a bad scare. Even the film itself seemed silent. No music, no crack of leaves from a forest, no running of a co-ed through the hallways of an abandoned sorority building.

Robert got on his radio. "This is Sigma-10 agent Tofflemire calling all available personnel."

«Pryce here.»

«Ewell here.»

«Grey here.»

"Get your asses down to the theater. Something's wrong."

«Bad film?» Grey asked, a hint of snark in his voice.

"I don't know what the fuck it is. All I know is that— well, I'm not hearing any sounds from inside, and they're meant to be showing some films from the horror fest in there."

«I'm two levels above you with Grey. On the way down now. Ewell out.»

Robert checked the sodium content on his popcorn— it was high enough. He opened the bag, sampling one kernel, and then scattering the rest in front of the door. Not as good as a line of pure salt, but it would suffice. Thank god the doors opened inward.

The four agents carefully stepped over the line of popcorn, and into the amphitheater.

Fearing a biological agent, Grey has brought a set of respirators from the armory. All of them were on edge, their rifles out, sweeping the area in all directions.

In the seats, Site-87 personnel sat, slumped, eyes on the screen. Robert went forward to where Dr. Claude Mattings was sitting, arm-in-arm with his wife Cassandra, and pressed two fingers to his neck. "I got a pulse, but it's… like he's asleep."

Pryce put her thermal scope up to her eyes, scanning the room. "They're all alive, or at the very least, they're warm."

A soft whispering was carried over the speakers high above the theater. They trained their eyes up on the blank, white screen that was over the front of the room. The film was frozen on a scene of a dark forest, with a bottomless pit in the center of the screen.

"That's— that's the pit," Robert stuttered.

"The— The Pit? The bottomless pit?" Grey asked. "What the hell? Is this footage from you and Carol?"

"No. I've never seen it from this angle." Robert stepped closer to the flickering screen. It shouldn't have been doing that— they had digital projectors at this site, and only film flickered in that manner. It could have been an effect, but…

"I'm gonna try to disable the projector," Pryce said. "It'll give me a better vantage point."

"Good thinking," Ewell nodded. "Joe, go with her?"

"Right." Agent Grey adjusted his rifle and followed after Pryce into the projectionist's booth.

There was a silence throughout the room, except for the whispering from the speakers hanging from the ceiling. Robert could hear words in it, words he didn't want to hear.

The film isn't real, but you'll still have a good scare

The monster isn't real, but you'll still beware.

Eyes widening, Robert took fire at all of the speakers, shooting them one by one. They died in a shower of sparks and metal.

Ewell jumped. "Christ, Tofflemire! What the hell?!"

"I— there was something piping through them. Couldn't you hear it?"

«The hell was that?» Pryce called over comms. «Do you have contact?»

"Negative," Ewell sighed, "Bob just shot out the speakers."

«He does know they're non-functional, right? The ones that work are installed in the seats.»

Robert groaned and leaned against the theater's stage. He was hearing things, then.

«We're in the booth.» Grey came through on the comms. «It's empty. Just the projector and a laptop hooked up to it, playing the film.»

"Which film is this?" Ewell asked. "Doesn't look like anything on the festival's lineup."

Grey's comms rang with the sound of clacking keys. «Fuck me sideways.»

"What?" Robert asked.

«The film is called Black Autumn II.»

The screen flickered, and the film resumed playing. "Did you touch something?" Ewell asked.

«That's a negative. It started up on its—» Pryce cut off with a scream. «There's something in the booth! It's coming out of the laptop!»

Robert looked up at the screen. From the pit, a pair of claws connected to a long, furry arm emerged, climbing out of the bottomless aperture. Then, with a tearing of the screen, the arm started breaking the fourth wall, and coming into reality.

There was gunfire from the other side of the comms. «The projector— it's like it's bulletproof!»

«I can't shut down the laptop!» Grey called. «What is that?!»

The other arm began climbing from the pit. A low growl issued forth from the speakers, a command of sorts.

From their seats, every member of Site-87 personnel who was watching the film stood, and started to shamble their way towards Tofflemire and Ewell.

Robert drew his sidearm and fired into the air. They didn't stop coming, not even a pause. Any intelligence that had been in the eyes of these men and women had vanished. "Christ on a bike."

"Shoot to wound!" Ewell yelled. "Shut this movie down!"

«I'm trying!» Pryce protested. There was a gunshot, and a yelp of pain.

"Pryce?" Ewell kept his rifle trained on the mass approaching them. "Grey? Report!"

«Tried shooting the laptop, and it ricocheted off the screen!» Pryce's voice came through, pained. «Fuck— I'm hit!»

The head of the thing emerging from the bottomless pit began to crest over its edge. By this point, Robert and Ewell weren't able to see it clearly— Ewell only caught a glance of it before their colleagues began chanting in unison.

"The script isn't real, but you feel fear,

"The cold isn't real, but I draw ever near.

"The hole is real, the darkness is too,

With a snarl, they all yelled, before lunging forward,


Robert fled— it was already too late for Ewell. He was subsumed under the mass of rabid Foundation personnel with a scream and a gunshot.

«NICK!» Grey called. «Holy shit, is he—.»

"Don't know!" Robert yelled.

The claws of the beast were grazing the stage. Robert started climbing the curtains around it— he only had one shot.

"Pryce, do you have your dragon rounds?"

«My incendiaries? Yeah, but—»

"Shoot the screen!"

«Understood.» There were grunts and groans of pain from the other end, and the clacking of gunmetal against plastic— she was setting up her rifle on the projector. «What the fuck is—»

"Don't look at it too long!" Robert pleaded. "Just shoot it!"

Seren Pryce was one of the deadliest markswomen in the world. Three times, she had shot a pilot through the window of their cockpit from the ground. She had managed to shoot wires off of a suicide bomber's vest in Podlogistan, rendering his bomb inert. Shooting a target the size of a semi's cab was trivial for her.

She loaded her rifle with incendiary rounds, and shot at the top of the screen, then at the middle, then at the bottom.

The effect was immediate— the screen burned from the fold along the center. With it, the shape emerging from the pit was consumed by flames with a low bellow of pain. Its body burned, leaving behind scraps of flammable film cells in its wake. Then, the projector died.

Katherine Sinclair was climbing up the curtain behind Robert when her eyes turned back to normal. She blinked, looked up, and then down. "What just—"

"Climb down and I'll explain."

There was a scream from among the clump of researchers, and cries of "Get off of him!" "Where's his finger?!" and "Medic!"

The bloodied form of Nicholas Ewell, sans six of his fingers, laid on the ground underneath all of the researchers. On each hand, only his index finger and thumb remained. Near him, Tristan Bailey turned away and vomited.

Robert fell to his knees once he reached the ground. There was a swirl of motion around him, as various doctors collected what parts of Ewell they could find, bandaged him up, and rushed him to the infirmary.

"One-hundred and fifty-six."

"What?" Robert looked up from his seat. He had a blanket wrapped around him, and was sitting in Director Weiss's office.

"Your team saved one-hundred and fifty-six Foundation personnel tonight, Agent Tofflemire." Weiss had her hands folded. "Ewell's among them. I've been informed he's going to pull through."

He shook his head. "I didn't save them. They saw the… thing coming off the screen? It came out of the pit, I'm sure of it. It's what dragged me and Alison under."

"Hmm." Weiss pursed her lips and put her hands together. "Agent, you've got an allergy to amnestics, don't you?"

"Yeah. Some compound in Class-A's makes me swell up. That's… that's why I remember. Oh god." He put his head in his hands. "Alice, Nick… they're hurt because I can remember it."

"Agent…" Weiss sighed. "I can assure you that this isn't your fault. This film has existed for months." Weiss turned her computer screen to face him. On the monitor was the title card for the movie that had nearly killed Ewell.

"Black Autumn II: Rise of the Pit Sloth? Holy shit."

"We've been cautious about watching it. We're seeing if we can get an NLP modified to view it without any ill effects."

"How'd it even get into the site?"

"We don't know."

"Who made it?"

"…we don't know." Weiss sighed. "You've got the most experience with this… entity. I think it'd be pertinent if I let you in on a project that we've been working on for the past several months, since before you discovered 4040."

"What project?"

"How familiar are you with the Goatman?"

Across town, a room was filled with applause.

"That was one hell of a ride!" Jack Rollins, head of the selection committee for the Sloth's Pit Horror Film Fest, shuddered as the credits started rolling and the lights came up. "Like, wow!"

"Ingenious!" Edgar Allwood agreed, stepping forward to shake the director's hand. "We're going to make this the centerpiece of the festival. Uh, sorry for asking, but… what was your name again?"

The woman smiled and shook the hand in return, a bright grin across her face. Her hair was a bright blonde, and her shirt advertised her film company, No 4th Productions. A new studio, one she had clawed out of the ground to build. "Imogen," She introduced herself. "Imogen Folivora."

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