Holes Shaped Like People

rating: +52+x

"It's your own damn fault, Jasper."

Robert awoke under the cool of night, with cloth beneath him. He realized by the light of a fire that it was an old beach towel, bleached almost white by several summers of laying in the sun. It still smelled of salt, however slightly.

He looked up at the fire, where he saw the figure of the Goatman muttering to himself. The Goatman was in a form that was unfamiliar to Robert— almost ten feet tall, turning over the logs in the fire with a large stick. He had wings growing from his back, and pentagram on his back, burning red against black fur. He wasn't speaking— a woman was, in a voice that sounded distant, and had a dense Irish brogue.

"This is what you get for being overly dramatic for the sake of it. Should have explained it to him before, but noooooo, you had to say 'it's the hidebehind' and vanish into the mists."

"I know, Jessica," the Goatman grunted to woman. "Bright side, it wasn't actually a Plastics Person who died."

"I'm not even sure it is dead. Can you kill something that's not even alive?"

"Sure," Robert sat up. "Will Smith killed his career as a rapper."

The Goatman looked at him, sitting back with a thud. Beyond him, he could see a woman in a veil and black gown, blood dripping down the front, seemingly flowing from her mouth.

"What is it with you people and quipping?" The woman shook her head. "Do you ever not have a witty remark ready?"

"The ability to make a half-decent quip is part of standard agent training. Helps keep morale up when shit hits the fan." Robert Tofflemire, for once in his life, was not being sarcastic about his training. "So, what's with the wings?"

"Satanist convention in Superior," The Goatman explained, throwing Robert a bag of marshmallows. "They believe in it so earnestly that it's affecting my appearance from miles away."

"And what am I doing here?" Robert took one of the marshmallows from the bag and impaled it on a pointed stick that was sitting by the Goatman's leg.

"You're a wanted man." The woman threw him a newspaper. It was dated October 10th, and read "DEADLY SHOOTING AT COSTUME SHOP".

"Shit." Robert read through the article, sticking his stick in the ground firmly so that the marshmallow still roasted while he perused the paper. "'Robert Tofflemire, age 29, is considered the prime suspect in the murder of Tristan Bailey, age… 35?" He snorted. "If any of the Baileys are in their thirties, then I'm Newt Gingrich."

"Take this seriously!" The woman hissed, and Robert felt his skin turn cold— frost had formed over the hairs on his arm. "You're wanted for murder, and there are probably more of those things still out there."

"Okay, but…" Robert frowned. "What… was that?"

"A Lie. To be more precise, a Contradiction." The Goatman looked up at the trees around them. "Tell me, if a tree falls in the forest, and nothing is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

"That's such a cliche philosophical question." Robert frowned.

"Here's a different one: what would happen if the tree only make the sound if nobody is around to hear it?"

Robert squinted at the Goatman. "That… would be impossible to know."

"Exactly." The Goatman nodded. "Some things only exist when you don't look at them, don't think about them. The Hidebehind is one of these things." The Goatman tapped the ground behind him. "It only exists as long as nobody can see it. If someone were to look directly at it, it would cease to exist."

"But at the same time, if it ceases to exist, then nobody is looking at it, so it just comes back again." The woman pulled back her veil, revealing her mouth to be dripping blood, and her left eye to be missing. Robert shuddered at the sight. "You've created a Contradiction like that. You've deliberately ignored something so that it doesn't become real, but the act of ignoring it means that you acknowledge its existence."

Bob's head started to hurt. "But where does the fake Tristan come into this?"

"He's a Contradiction formed by the Pit Sloth making… well, a pit, in the shape of a person. You and a bunch of others looked at that pit and decided 'oh, this must be Tristan'." Jessica, the woman in the veil, licked blood from her lips. "You all knew that he was away from the city, but that just made you more sure of the fact it was him."

"Jesus," Robert groaned. "Talk about living in—"

"If you say anything about a 'post-truth era', I'm going to bite off your arm." Jessie clearly had no patience for his antics.

Robert held up his hands. "All right, I'll behave."

The Goatman rubbed his face. "Jessie… well, she happened to be in the shop at the time, and she absconded with you. We figure it's best if we let the heat die down."

"You're talking about me like I'm a criminal." Robert stood, trying to figure out a way out of the woods. "Monty and Claude'll back me up on this. That wasn't the real Tristan I shot."

"I… I don't know if that's him."

Claude Mattings and Montgomery Reynolds stood behind the observation glass of Site-87's morgue, watching Claire Hennessy inspect the bloody, nearly-faceless body of "Tristan Bailey". They both knew it was a fake, but Claude discouraged Montgomery from speaking up.

"If say it's not the real Bailey," the biologist reasoned, "We're going to start paranoia, and then a panic. That's going to lead to the deaths of actual researchers."

Reynolds didn't like it. Claude was many things— sarcastic, bitter, easy to anger— but he had a streak of caring through him. Yet he was still standing by, watching Claire, Tristan's long-time partner, struggle to find any identifying marks on the body of the fake Bailey.

The door from the hallway outside to the observation room opened. In stepped Cassandra Pike, still going by her maiden name despite being Claude's wife. She nodded to her husband and came up next to him. "Hi, hon."

"Hello," he nodded. "News travels fast."

"Ewell texted me. Still can't believe this happened… Robert seemed like such a good guy."

"Yes, well, people do things for irrational reasons." Claude pushed his glasses up his face.

"We're going to have a memorial at the Vegan Buffet tonight. Want to come along?"

"Indeed." Claude chewed his lip. "Tristan was a good man. I can't imagine how his brothers will react. We'll just… have to wait for the phones to come back up."

"Mmm-hm." Cassandra looked at Claude, and leaned against him a bit harder, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Reynolds was frowning at Cassandra. Just as Claude was never this cold, she was never this openly affectionate. He knew that they were affectionate, but it was usually reserved for the far corners of a room during a Christmas party.

"I can't watch this." Claude shied away from his wife as Claire began crying over the body. "I'll see you at the Buffet."

"All right." Cassandra waved him out of the room, and then turned to look at Reynolds. "Where's the nearest armory?"

"What?" Reynolds asked, eyes wide with alarm. "Why do you need—"

"You need to get a gun, because that thing wasn't my husband." She scowled, and pulled out her phone. "Service may be out, but the beacon I stuck into his pocket should still be traceable."

"That wasn't—" Reynold's face faulted. "God dammit. I knew there was something wrong with him."

"The Vegan Buffet tipped me off." She strode from the room with a purpose in her step. "Place that literally serves human meat as vegan for two years isn't in the same country as Claude's culinary tastes." She stopped, and rubbed her head. "Aaaand I'm talking like him."

"And… Ewell's still getting his fingers reattached. How would he have been able to text you?" Reynolds rubbed his chin. "Weeding him out through contradictions. Clever."

"And then there's the fact that Claude was literally in the elevator with me as I came down here." She looked back at Reynolds. "This is why I win at poker. I'm good at bullshitting, and spotting bullshit."

Reynolds followed her around the corner. "To answer your question, the nearest armory is two levels up. Don't you have a firearm pass?"

Cassandra shook her head. "I'm not allowed access to a firearm, Foundation-issued or not." She tapped her right temple. "Policy about meds."

Monty nodded, an understanding look passing over his face. He made his way to the elevator. "Whereabout is this… simulacrum of your husband?"

"Right now, he's…" Cassandra's eyes widened. "He's on the residential sublevel. He's heading towards… mine and Claude's quarters…"

Reynolds blanched, and ran towards the elevator, which opened and disgorged a few task force members. The two barged past, Pike hammering the button for the residential level. The doors shut, and the elevator slowly ground upwards.

The alchemical consultant took out his keys and scratched a series of runes into the elevator's wall. "Maintenance is going to want my head."

Pike held onto the sides of the car, recognizing what Reynolds was doing without him having to say anything. The man slammed his hand over the runes, putting power into the spell as the elevator shot upwards at speeds usually reserved for a skyscraper, the cables grinding as all other call signals were ignored.

Cassandra barely let the doors open before she sprinted out onto the residential hallway. Reynolds followed, and they ended at the quarters of the Mattings-Pike family, where the sterile steel door was ajar.

"Get security," Cassandra whispered.

"And leave you here alone?" Reynolds reached into his shirt pocket, retrieving and unfolding a sheet of paper within. From it, a steel cavalry sabre unfolded, its blade inscribed with runes. "It's been a while since I've used this."

Cassandra put her hand on the door, and pushed it inwards. The lights were off, and as she fumbled for the switch, she felt two pairs of claws grab her hand.

The biologist was dragged into the room, with no time to scream. Reynolds charged in after, turning around in time to see the door to the hallway slam shut.

The alchemical consultant felt something climb onto his back.

At their apartment, Edward Valentine looked over the table at his girlfriend, arms folded. His eyes occasionally glanced down towards the check Laura had been given the other day.

"That's a lot of zeroes."

"We don't have to worry about money for a while. Could probably buy a proper house— that one on League Street is up for sale, isn't it?"

"Laura, this… this is weird." Ed stood up. "I'm sorry, but… this is too much. A story you wrote not even a week ago is being turned into a film by some random woman who just happened to come into town while we're locked in some kind of loop, and… and then someone up and gets murdered in the middle of the store…"

Laura frowned at him. "Hon, look on the bright side for once." She stood and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "Yeah, the store's gonna be shut down, but we've got enough money that it won't matter for a while. And my name's going to be up on a big screen." She rested her head against his shoulders. "Don't you trust me, Ed?"

"I do, but…" He tried pulling away, but found Laura's hands on the small of his back suddenly. "This is just too damn weird. I've lived here all my life, I know this town isn't normal, but this… this is even going beyond last Halloween."

Laura looked up at him. "Don't you want me to be happy?"

"I do." Edward frowned, deep in thought, before he pulled away. "I'm going back to my folks' place. I need to do a bit of thinking. I'm sorry, hon."

"…okay." Laura sat back down at the table, looking at the check. "I can… get rid of it, if you want."

"No, I— I'll call you in the morning, okay? Keep the check." Ed made his way to the door, grabbed his coat and keys, and made his way down three flights of stairs. Outside, in the cold October air, he found his white Ford sedan waiting. He climbed into the driver's seat, and when the thing in the backseat wrapped its claws around his neck, he didn't even have time to scream in fright.

Edward Valentine's car drove from the parking lot. Edward Valentine was not driving it.

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