Pictures of Plastic People
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rating: +83+x

October 21st

Isaiah Howard Pickman dragged himself out of the archives for the first time in twenty hours. The man was no more than forty, but years of working in the dark, retrieving this and that for Researcher A or Agent B had taken its toll, nevermind the hassle it was to digitize the collection that Site-87 had. But, after several long, drawn-out hours, he had made his way out of the archives with what he needed.

Dr. Sinclair was likely still asleep after the predicament yesterday. In a perfect world, he'd just drop off the data and get set up to watch the World Series in a couple of days—

Instead, he ran into somebody who, in Pickman's opinion, was rather unpleasant. Before him was a tall, young man with salt-and-pepper hair that defied his age. He was lanky, borderline skeletal, and wore a pair of glasses so thick it made it look like his eyes were masked by shadow. The man looked down at Pickman with just the slightest amount of animosity. "Isaiah."

"Claude," he retorted, shoving past him. "Move it. I have documentation I need to deliver to Dr. Sinclair."

"She's resting," Dr. Mattings intoned. "She has three IV drips connected to her, and Reynolds is still getting stitches. Dumbshit opened up his arm to shoot fire."

Isaiah wondered, like many other people who worked at S & C Plastics, what Dr. Pike saw in Mattings. Cassandra Pike was (past tense being the operative term here), by all accounts, a trainwreck of a human being. Between being whammied by 3773 so hard she had to take a quarter of a year off to a very large, very nasty fight between her and Dr. Mattings, she should have been fired a dozen times over. Yet, every time, Dr. Mattings vouched for her, and his word meant a lot; he was, currently, the deputy director of biological studies at Site-87, and parazoology fell under that purview. If he said Pike was invaluable, then by god, she was.

Still, Pike had gotten better. Medication and therapy had seemed to help her out. Mattings was anything but mellow; his face screamed "sarcastic", and that was the general tone of his conversation as well, sometimes hurtfully so.

Isaiah pushed past him. "Yes, well, they both asked me to look up something for them."

"Autumn of 1969," Mattings walked with him. "Miracle Mets win the World Series, Wal-Mart is established as a company, and the whole country is still reeling from the fact that Apollo happened." He crossed his arms. "The… Unclassed Anomalous Entity, they said that this was worse than the Great Fuck-Up of '76?"

"You're hearing it thirdhand," Pickman shrugged. "But according to them, yes." He opened the file he was carrying. "From what I can gather, a few things happened in Sloth's Pit in 1969. Biggest is the Douglas County Fair."

"Just that?"

"Couple of other things; local kid's author puts out a new book, 'Uncle Zadok', doesn't sound very pleasant. The mayor resigned, which was unexpected." He leafed through the papers. "Finally, a fire gutted Berry's Restaurant. Should have stayed gone, if you ask me."

"Their food would probably taste better as ash shoveled into your mouth," Claude admitted, leaning against the wall. "The fair in Sloth's Pit? Really?"

"Yeah, they moved it to Superior the next year. A few newspaper clippings I've found talk about just… typical fair stuff." He leafed through the folder. "Candy apple booth being shut down because of high demand and low supply, reviews of the horse show, interviews with some of the animal keepers, and a Chevy truck being stolen at the fairgrounds." He pointed to a particular piece. "Check this out."

"'New Girl Scout Cookies a Hit in Sloth Spit'. Good to know they made that mistake even back then." Mattings read further, brow quirking. "Wait, seriously? They tested Samoas here?"

"I'm as surprised as you are." He closed the folder, only for a photograph to fall out of it. "Shit, grab that!"

Mattings grabbed at the photo; it was a Polaroid, black and white. He peered at the picture, his eyes going wide. "I think you got a photo from the wrong section."

"Why?" Pickman doubled back and looked at the photo. "No, see, written on the bottom, 10/31/69."

"This photo doesn't make sense," Claude swallowed. The photograph showed a fire engulfing the front of the fairgrounds, and within it, one could almost make out a hellish, screaming face. Fire trucks were around it, dousing the blaze, but there was also a van among them, with a man next to it holding a camera towards the fire. "Look."

The lights in the hall flickered, and Pickman's eyes widened. "What the hell?" He snatched the photo back and stuffed it in the folder. "I-I need to get to Weiss's office. We need to figure out what the hell this means." He ran off down the hall.

Claude Mattings ran after him, practically skidding around the corner, turning the hall into where the elevator should be— only to find reality significantly altered from its previous state.

Before him and the archivist lay a collection of tents and barns and stalls, with the sound of screaming children playing in the background; screams of excitement, not of terror, like they were on a roller coaster as opposed to having their skin flayed off. There was a night sky above the fairground, and the stars of autumn shone overhead, somehow visible through the thousands of lights from the carnival. Signs advertising funnel cakes and elephant ears and candied apples and kettle corn and cotton candy lined what had once been the walls of the site, and on top of everything else, there was the smell of animals; horses, poultry, cattle, all of this mixed together in the background of the fair.

When the two of them turned around again, they saw that this phenomenon had extended behind them. "Holy shit," Pickman swore "Holy shit, what the hell?"

"Were the Fairgrounds on Site-87's land?" Mattings asked, backing away and bumping up against a food stand.

"No. They were way up at the north end of town." Pickman held his folder snug against him. "What do we do now?"

"We follow Grimm Countenance protocols. Refuse any food or drink from here, don't question the native's motives, and try to find the exit as soon as possible." He walked down the row of food stands.

"Mattings?" Pickman followed behind him.


"There are no natives. This place is abandoned." He looked in each of the food stalls. All of them were empty.

"Hmm." Mattings peered into the funnel cake and pretzel stand's window. "Signs of recent habitation, though. Fryer's on, and the batter for the cakes was being prepared."

"And there's that," Pickman pointed at the air, as the sound of a rumbling ride and excited screams filled the space of the park once again. "So, something's here, or else we're being fucked with." He pulled away from the booth, and began walking. "I'm willing to bet it's the la—"

Suddenly, Pickman tripped over a cable on the ground, and fell flat on his face, hands flailing to catch himself, eliciting a gasp of pain as his nose hit the dirt.

"What is this?" Mattings stepped forward, looking at the thing on the ground. It was connected to a generator, rumbling away, powering all of the stands, but it wasn't any plastic cord; it appeared to be a vine. He took out a pocket knife and cut out a slice of the vine, placing it in a sample bag retrieved from his pocket.

"Mmph," Pickman stood up, rubbing his head. He noticed a candied apple booth before him, which had a slightly rotten sign reading 'Sorry, Closed'. "Yeah. This is… some kind of version of the fairgrounds. No idea how to get out, though." He chewed his lip, and looked around. "If I had to guess, the exit is somewhere…" He started down the rows of food stands. "This way."

"…huh." Mattings pushed his glasses higher on his face, and strode after Pickman. "Well, lead on, MacDuff."

The two of them wound through the labyrinth of food carts, and the stars seemed to start to flicker out overhead.

The smell of animals grew stronger the further on they went. The hoofprints on the ground and the large piles of scat by the side told Mattings that they were near the horse stables. From here, he could hear the sounds of horses nickering and cows letting out mooing sounds. Even so, the carnival music grew louder.

"So," Pickman coughed. "You and Pike?"

"Wedding's in February," Claude nodded. "Took us months to get the forms. We're probably just going to do it at the courthouse in Superior, honestly. She doesn't much care for silk or finery, and her family couldn't give less shits about me."

Silk and finery? Pickman frowned. Who talks like that?

"Ever been married?"

"I was, once." Isaiah rubbed his hand. "Right out of college. She was beautiful, blond hair, brown eyes, a smile that could blind a man. But… it didn't last for more than a year."


"She got pregnant." He rubbed his beard. "I realize how that sounds, believe me. But I had some tests done the previous year and… well, found out I was sterile." He sucked air through his teeth. "I sued for divorce as soon as I found out. Still had to pay alimony."

"Hmm," Claude thumbed his nose. "Well, Cassandra and I aren't intending on having children anytime soon. Or at all. I hate kids—"

These last words elicited a response of silence. All of the animals stopped braying and knickering and clucking as they came into view of the various barns on the fairground. Sitting in front was the first sure sign of human habitation they had seen: a red pickup truck, parked in front of the horse barn. Pickman walked towards it.

"What are you doing?" Claude asked.

"It's an old Chevy. Dad had one of these." He approached it, cautiously. "I realize Grimm Countenance applies, but if this is here, maybe we can drive it out."

"Good thinking," Mattings admitted, walking alongside him. As he approached, the smell of animals gave way to a putrid scent of rotting meat, like someone had left a steak in the sun for weeks. "Oh god, what the hell?"

Pickman stopped, and bent over, retching. "Fucking hell. Smells like a roadkill enthusiast convention."

"No, Sloth's Pit had one of those once," Claude commented, pulling up his shirt over his nose so he could breathe. "This is worse."

The archivist approached the truck, frowning. "…I've seen this before." He looked up. "This is the exact truck that was stolen. From the fairgrounds, I mean, in '69. They never found it. Guess it ended up here somehow." He looked in the truck bed and turned away, gagging. "Holy shit."


"Explains the smell, at least," He gagged, stepping away. "Human remains in the back. Covered by some plant matter— looked like pumpkin vines?"

"Well, we sure as hell aren't driving that," Mattings frowned. He reached into his pocket, and took out a flashlight, shining it towards one of the barns. Within, he saw the head of a horse, sticking out of one of the stables. His light began to flicker, before fading out. "There's a live animal in there."

"Really? Where?"

"A horse, it—" Mattings performed some percussive maintenance on his flashlight. When it blinked back on, a horse's head was on the ground from the neck up. A form cloaked in black crouched over it, and looked up at Mattings, showing its teeth the color of rotten leaves, and eyes that shone with the last light of summer. "Oh shit run!"

"Wha—" He spotted the thing sitting over the horse, and shouted, "Oh SHIT!" The pair of them ran into the night, towards the quickly-fading lights of the rides. In their haste, they failed to notice the bed of the truck was suddenly unoccupied.

Some time later, the pair of them had come to rest in the moonlit shadow of a dilapidated Ferris wheel. Any sounds of fair rides had come to a grinding halt, and they were left in the ruins of merry-go-rounds and other fair rides.

Mattings spoke up first, panting. "So. What triggered this?" Claude asked, looking behind him. This was the edge of the fairground, flanked by a tall, cement wall.

Pickman took out the photograph, and looked it over. "Time paradox in a photograph? Or some kind of Foundation countermeasure so that we never find out that they were lying to us?" He brandished the photograph. "The Foundation wasn't in Sloth's Pit, it didn't even know about Sloth's Pit, until 1976. What the hell is a van that says S & C Plastics doing at an anomalous-looking fire in 1969?!"

Claude wavered. "Is this even real?"

"Has to be, on some scale," Pickman reasoned. "The Foundation did a ton of tests with Polaroids and cognitohazards back in the Omega-7 days, so they could control 105. None of them worked. Even on photos that had nothing to do with it—"

"Her," Claude mumbled.

"—implanted cognitohazards wouldn't take." He pulled at his thinning hair. "We're by the rides."

"That we are," Claude swallowed.

"Have you never been to a fair before, Mattings? They always put the rides at the front of county fairs. Easiest way to get kids inside." He took out his phone. "If there's a way out, our phones will pick up a signal."

Mattings took out his own phone, the signal showing zero bars. He followed Pickman, who followed the wall. "Despite everything," he said, "I love her."

"Hmm?" Pickman asked.

"Cassandra. We've had our disagreements, our fights. But…" Mattings sniffed. "I'll be damned if her smile isn't what gets me up in the morning. She's got snaggleteeth, you know? Her canines look like vampire fangs. It's so cute, though." He went forward, holding out his phone. "If I survive this, I'm not having a courthouse wedding."

"That's the spirit," Pickman smiled. "These last few days have been hell, but—"

Claude's phone suddenly chimed to life. The message "Fifteen Missed Calls" showed up on the screen; he had signal. He looked up, and saw the unmistakable shade of fluorescent light of a Foundation site from beyond the ticket booth of the fairgrounds. "There!" he gesticulated. "There! Through there!"

"I see it," Pickman grinned, running forward.

There was an aperture by the exit of the fairgrounds, and sure enough, it seemed to lead back onto the archival sublevel. Pickman almost reached it, but Mattings put his arm in front of him. "What is it?"

Mattings frowned. "Something doesn't feel right." He looked down at his feet, at the rustling leaves by his ankles. "Step carefully, Pickman."

The archivist swallowed, walking towards the exit. Claude stepped in front of him, and he felt something catch his leg and squeeze, starting to grow up his calf. He tried calling for help, but he felt something take root down his throat.

The archivist felt cold as something constricted his arm hard enough that he felt the bones shatter. He let out a gasp of pain, but all that came out was air. His other hand still clutched the folder with the information he had gathered. And the photograph…

He threw his folder through the portal. His hand froze before his fingers could make a fist to crumple the photograph and throw it after him. "Matt…ings…" he called.

There was a great, awful sound, followed by a great, awful silence. Dr. Mattings turned back to face the fairgrounds, only to find an empty hallway behind him, devoid of any opening, any archivist, any entity.

Dr. Mattings looked at the ground where the aperture had been, and saw a blood-stained folder with a single, dead leaf on it. The leaf crunched and fell apart as if it had been stepped on, and footprints sounded down the corridor.

Claude Mattings ran to the nearest security alarm, away from the phantom footsteps.

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