Small Town Problems
rating: +64+x

Agent Denton flipped the slightly filmy paper up and over the end of the packet held tight by the steel jacket. "So you think this thing is some kind of vampire?" the obvious implication lingered in the air.

"I'm not sure I'd use the word 'Vampire'," Agent McDowell's growing second chin waggled with each bump in the road as the unmarked pick-up truck sped down the highway. The two Foundation agents had been dispatched to the ass-end of Nowhere, Kansas, population fuck-all. "All we've got is reports of some kind of humanoid eating people. It could just be a run of the mill cannibal."

"You know, it's kind of fucked up that in our line of work the words 'run of the mill' and 'cannibal' can be so comfy in one sentence." Denton flipped several more pages, and looked up and out the windshield. The scenery going by was about as riveting as drying paint. Corn. Corn. More corn. Scarecrow. Corn. Farm house. Cows. People who look like cows. Corn. Corn. Denton rubbed his eyes, sighing heavily. "How much longer 'till we're there?"

"We should be coming up on the town soon. I'm not sure exactly what we're looking for though, what's the report say?" McDowell's eyes slid over the stack of papers in Denton's hands.

"Eyes on the road, Jim. Not much. A few bodies with 'parts missing' and a local sherrif who won't say much. Probably nothing, but obviously the skipnet picked up enough flags to send out the best of the best." Denton reached forward to the cup holder, lifting his lukewarm soda to his lips, and taking a sip. The gold ring on his left hand shone a little too bright, as it caught the sun. The little circle of gold and several other more esoteric materials assisted Denton and McDowell in their role as two of the Foundations more prominent thaumic investigators.

"Oh yes, best of the best. When was the last time either of us were on combat duty?" They had worked together for the better part of two decades, and Denton could feel the shit-eating grin without even looking over.

"Fuck off and drive, that's when."

McDowell turned the pick-up in to the parking lot of the tiny police station, pulling in to the only free spot, the others taken up by similar trucks, or police cruisers. "That's a hell of a police presence for a town this size."

Denton grunted, "You'd be shocked what kind of budget police departments can get post 9/11. Come on." He flipped the lever, and opened his door, his feet hitting solid ground for the first time in a few hours. A groan passed his lips, as his feet ached, and his arches expressed their displeasure.

"Copy that, Sam. My back is gonna give out one of these days. Too many years of chasing after C'thulu's little brothers, I think." McDowell put his hands on his lower back and leaned backwards, a faint crack coming from the vertebrae stressed by too many years of abuse, and too many pounds of bad food.

"Enough with that stuff, we're still Agents. Let's go." He walked forward, McDowell taking stride next to him, as they opened the door to the tiny police station. They were greeted by a young man in a brown sheriff uniform, who was serving as both receptionist and dispatcher.

"Uhh, can I help you?" The young man's eyes darted between the two agents, resting for a moment on the shoulder rigs they both wore. His eyes went wide, and he fumbled at the desk for something.

Denton lifted his hands, and presented the false credentials they'd been issued, DHS this week. "Department of Homeland Security. Relax son. Special Agents Nora and Floyd," he smiled as he gestured to himself and McDowell, slipping in to the false identities as easy as breathing.

"I uhh…sorry, I'm not really…"

McDowell lifted a hand, "No worries son, could you tell the Sheriff we're here?"

Down the hall, a head poked out of an office door, and a man in his mid forties grunted down at them, "You the boys from DHS?"

Denton nodded down the hall, and the sheriff waved them back, "Come on then, let's have it." The two agents walked down the hall in to an office festooned with various ribbons, awards, and placques. Apparently this man was very involved in his local community. A prominent picture of the sheriff standing amongst a dozen young children was on his desk. They were holding a sign up that said "Community Brigade." Beside this was a picture of the man, with a young boy, which Denton filed away as most likely family. The nametag on his chest said 'David Perkins'.

"Special agents Nora and Floyd, thanks for having us." McDowell smiled good-naturedly, and tried to put on his best 'You can trust me, I am also law enforcement' face.

"Skip the bullshit. We've got sixteen bodies in the last two months, and the usual body count for this county is four. Per decade. So why are you boys out here, and how can you help me catch this son of a bitch?"

"David, I'll be hon—" Sheriff Perkins held his hand up.

"Perkins, or Sheriff." He fixed them both with a granite hard stare. They both picked up the obvious subtext.

"Right. Sheriff. We're here because we received a call from the district FBI office. As part of an ongoing inter-departmental joint-task force, we were asked to come and assist, as our office is significantly closer." Denton gave his best 'I'm sorry that we're stepping on your toes' smile, and leaned back in his chair.

"I see. We don't have much in the way of forensics for these cases. Our coroner has been on vacation and one of his techs has been taking over. All we know is that there's been," Perkins moved his mouth in a vaguely disgusted gesture, "parts missing."

"I see. If you can provide us with a full copy of the case file, we'd be happy to provide whatever assistance we can." McDowell's smile was genuine, and he meant it.

"See McVey on the way out, he'll get you a copy of whatever you need. Let's try and keep out of each other's way and we'll catch the bastard, yeah? Four of the victims have been kids."

Denton opened the door to the truck, followed shortly by McDowell. "So, you get the same reading I did?"

McDowell nodded, lifting his left hand, the gold band on his ring finger vibrating slightly. "Yep. The report is obviously doctored. Two months is a hell of a vacation. Probably one of the early victims. Either way, I'm thinking sarkic?"

Denton frowned, "I freakin' hope not. Last time we dealt with them, I had to burn the suit. So where are we off to?"

McDowell pulled in to the finest coffee establishment known to Kansas, a beat to hell Dunkin', and set the brake.

Inside of the shrine to the holy bean brew, Denton and McDowell had spread the case file out across a couple of pushed together tables. The bored teenagers behind the counter tapped away at smartphones, while the two agents poured over the scant information. It was a five hour slog through a very dense, and yet nearly useless set of autopsy reports and 'eyewitness' statements.

"Okay, so according to this…'report' is a very kind word here, there's been sixteen victims in two months. All of them have been mutilated somehow, and four of them are children. I don't see any commonality to them." McDowell frowned, looking left and right over the pages.

"I think that's exactly it. There's no connection to them. So we've got 12 victims, all dead from gunshot wounds, and missing some bits. Then we've got four kids, who are presumed dead, with no bodies found. I'm kinda surprised they even marked them victims." Denton lifted the last of the coffee to his thirsty maw, and smacked it down. "Be right back, need another."

McDowell waved his hand, and continued reading.

Denton approached the counter, and smiled, holding up his phone to pay for another coffee. "Hey there, can I get another Extra Large, Milk, Three Sweet and Low, light pumpkin swirl?"

The teenage girl behind the counter looked at the agent as if he was a canid anomaly who'd just shit on her shoes. "You've had like…four, and we're trying to close. You sure?"

Denton frowned down at her. "It's 7 pm. You guys don't close until…ever, actually, this is a 24 hour location." Denton leaned in closer, and narrowed his eyes. "And if you don't give me coffee, I'm going to start throwing furniture until coffee appears. Capiche?"

She rolled her eyes, unimpressed by the threats of the older agent. About four hundred times slower than necessary, coffee appeared, was paid for, and began its journey towards Denton's stomach.

As he sat down, McDowell looked up, raising an eyebrow, "You've got a caffeine addiction mightier than an O5's sphincter."

Denton took another sip, and sniffed diffidently, "I have good taste, nothing more."

McDowell looked down at the cup, "You're drinking pumpkin coffee. Good taste is definitely not among our assets here."

Denton smiled as they slipped in to the easy familiarity they'd shared for years. "So what do you think?"

McDowell frowned, and cocked his head to one side, poking at the sandwich he'd barely touched. Breakfast wasn't his thing. "I don't know. My gut says the adults are just…cover, for the kids. No bodies, mysterious circumstances. I'm almost sure there's at least a 17th vic though, the coroner."

Denton nodded, "That, or he decided that boca was the best place on earth and moved. Either way, I think you're right. So, the question is, is this anomalous?"

McDowell narrowed his eyes down at the case files. "I dunno, honestly. Half of me thinks it's a 'nom, the other half thinks this is a vanilla serial killer. I mean, if it's someone in local law, especially someone high up, there's no way they'd get caught. Not in a town like this."

Denton nodded, and took another sip of his coffee. "So. Perkins?"

McDowell nodded back, "Perkins. "

Back in the truck, Denton pressed his thumb against his own Thaumic ring, and a look of concern crossed his face. "Ever wonder what the side effect of these jobbies are?"

McDowell lifted the lever in the bottom of his seat, sliding it back all the way to the back of the cab. He reached down, and pressed his palm to the concealed safe under the chair, which slid back without a whisper. "According to the tech's not much. Why?"

Denton slid his chair back as well, mirroring the same motions. He drew a heavier caliber pistol, and a web belt festooned with various bits of havoc-causing equipment. "I dunno. I'm getting a bad feeling, and I think it's like…a premonition or something."

McDowell looked at Denton, his face set with concern, "Should we call in an MTF? I'm not tussling with something that's gonna turn us in to paste without some of ye olde goon squad behind us."

Denton shook his head, "No, but I'm gonna radio in either way. If the site higher-ups think they should send someone, I'm not gonna say no."

Several hours, and no goon squad back up later, Denton and McDowell prowled around the property of Sheriff Perkins, pistols drawn. The comfortable weight of years and food didn't hinder either of them, as they stalked up to the house.

Denton's finger started to vibrate as the thaumic ring detected signs of something off. "Yours going nuts too?"

McDowell nodded, and raised his fingers to his eyes, pointing behind the house, to a small storm cellar. Denton nodded, and stalked over to the entrance, placing a hand on the metal, making sure to keep the ring off the surface.

A faint heat suffused the ring on his hand, and he looked up at McDowell, nodding. They eased open the doors, as quietly as they could, peering down in to the darkness. A faint red light could be seen at the bottom of the stairs.

Denton took the lead, his gun held out before him, creeping down in to the gloom, red lightbulbs the only illumination. The cellar looked clear, and he held his gun down the line of sight as he waved McDowell down.

They cleared the small cellar, finding nothing. McDowell straightened up, and his gun slipped back in to his holster. "Nothing. Were we wrong?"

Denton's eyes alighted on a large storage trunk in the corner, and the faint light coming out the far side. "Not likely. Check it." He carefully slipped open the trunk, which revealed a set of stairs deeper underground. The faint smell of blood was unmistakable.

The two agents cleared the entryway and descended down in to the earth, rough concrete giving way to jagged earth. The walls of this tunnel had been crudely broken out with a pickaxe and hammer, and Denton swallowed hard. "I don't like this."

"Me either. Do we go for backup?" McDowell looked at Denton with hesitancy written all over his face. He was looking for an out.

Denton didn't even have to hesitate, "The lights in the house weren't on. He's in here somewhere. And four of the victims were kids, Jim."

McDowell nodded, breaking out in a sweat as he stalked forward, taking the lead. They moved together, Denton covering McDowell as they stalked forward.

The red light had turned sullen, and the source had disappeared. There were no lightbulbs down here. The hellish light suffused everything with an even glow. A faint sound came from up ahead.

Denton craned his neck and concentrated, recognizing it as crying. It sounded like a child, and he put a hand on McDowell's shoulder. "I think it's a kid up ahead. We've gotta do something."

McDowell's eyes took on a flat cast, and he nodded, stalking down the tunnel faster. They came to a roughly circular chamber. Overhead, red light flooded in from some…thing above them. The rings on both agents' fingers were practically buzzing.

In the middle of the room was a steel chair, with a young boy duct taped to the frame. His arms, legs, and torso were all strapped to the high-backed steel. His head had been craned back, with duct tape over his forehead, mouth, and ears. His eyes were exposed.

From a side tunnel, Denton heard the telltale sound of a knife on a sharpening steel. Fuck. This is so fucking wrong.

McDowell growled slightly under his breath, and stalked forward, reaching back to the pocket knife he kept on his belt. He covered about half the distance between him and the chair, before holding out a hand to reassure the boy, "Alright, we're gonna get you out of here ki—"

The dust at McDowell's feet snapped out like a viper. Denton's eyes darted to the ground, taking in a series of what looked like pink snakes rushing across the floor. They rapidly expanded, and moved up at the forward agent, faster than the blink of an eye.

McDowell's voice froze in his throat, looking down at tendrils of steel-hard flesh, which had slammed through his body. He couldn't even process the amount of pain he was in, as invading flesh occupied what had once been his comfortably aging body.

"Hrr…ngg…ahh… ," McDowell managed to struggle out before the tendrils retracted in an arc, leaving several chunks of what had been Denton's partner on the floor.

"Oh fuck!" Denton swept his gun up as quickly as he could, but a hand clamped down on his wrist. How did he get behind me? The hand squeezed, snapping the delicate bones there. Denton screamed as the gun dropped out of his hand.

"Now now, Special Agent I don't give a fuck, we can't have you damaging the sacrifice." Another hand hit Denton in the spine. His legs instantly went numb.

Denton barely had time to choke out a gasp of pain, and panic at the prospect of being permanently paralyzed, before the "sheriff" slammed him back against the wall, another set of tendrils snaking out from Perkins' pant legs.

Denton set a new personal best for pain, as they constricted harder than an anaconda, crushing his arms and legs, and holding him fast against the wall. His screams echoed around the chamber, as the fleshy tendrils buried themselves in his blood vessels, worming their way in to his body. The tendrils writhed visibly, his arms a ruin of shredded flesh. Denton didn't have words to put to the fulminous pain shooting up his nerves to his brain.

The young boy in the center of the room started sobbing under the duct tape, as Perkins circled around, the tendrils from his legs playing out like some kind of disgusting rope from a spool. He placed his hands almost delicately on the boy's head, and looked up at Denton.

Denton's pain-hazed eyes could barely focus, as Perkins slowly lowered his head to the boy's face, opening his mouth. His eyes snapped open wide, in both horror and panic as Perkins' teeth slid over the boy's left eye, snapping shut with a too-loud impact of teeth against vitrious material.

The boy squealed and tried to struggle away, his face a mess of blood, as Perkins, still never breaking eye contact with Denton leaned over, and snapped his jaws like a viper over the boy's right eye. The sickening sounds of squelching and chewing escaped Perkins' lips as he chewed with an open mouth, swallowing with a final sigh of satisfaction.

The boy squealed for several more seconds, as Denton vomitted all over himself, and down on the floor. Tears flowed from his eyes, "You…fuck you, you fucking…fuck I swear to god, I'm…fuck…FUCK YOU!"

The boy made a whining sound, for several seconds, as Perkins yanked the duct tape off of his mouth. The boy's words whispered out, too quiet for the butchery perpetrated on him. "Owie…owie…daddy it hurts…owie… ," Denton threw up again, the last of the coffee that McDowell had shared with him ending up on the floor.

Some combination of the boy's complete lack of understanding how he could be in this much pain, his own agony, and the completely incomprehensible strength of Perkins started to chew at Denton's rapidly cracking psyche.

Perkins leaned down, running his tongue in the now-empty sockets, before sealing his lips around the orifice, slurping out the last of the liquefied humor, straightening as he smacked his lips. He placed a hand on the boy's forehead, and murmured a word. It quieted instantly.

It sat up ramrod straight, as Perkins cut the tape. "Be a darling, and head back to work with the others."

The eyeless, mutilated child turned its empty sockets to face its father, a rictus of joy and agony spread across its face. "Yes, daddy." It turned, and tottled off down another tunnel, trailing a stream of blood from its ruined sockets.

Denton's ring was knocking against the spongy flesh of his restraints, as he felt consciousness slipping away. Perkins took a few steps toward him, and smiled. "Don't worry Agent. You go away, eventually. They all do." The last sight Denton saw was the row of perfectly triangular teeth at the back of Perkins' throat as he closed his teeth down on Denton's left eye.

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