The Contingent

Wishing Well
Whim and Taz search for common ground

The old well was a mossy, crumbling pile of fieldstones left over from the halcyon days of the Rourke estate, now taking up a small corner on the edge of the Hill Valley artist’s enclave with the encroaching forest just started to enfold it, with vines and saplings weaving their tendrils through the nooks and crannies. Taz always liked to hang out there, peering into the shadowed well to catch a glimmer of the light reflecting on the water below. The nearby artists would frequently lug their easels and canvases, or sketch pads and charcoals, or wood blocks, or chunks of clay, or whatever their preferred medium was, in an attempt to capture its eerie peacefulness that somehow seemed to still speak of potentialities, mysteries, adventures to be had in the world. If Taz was hanging out there, they’d include her in the work: a strange, thin, tumbleweed of a woman who breathed and looked about as though she wasn’t quite sure which world she was in at any given moment. The well and Taz seemed to get along.

It was to that well that Taz went before her first mission to New Orleans, flipping a coin into its depths and quietly calling out Whim’s name. “I need to leave for a while, but will you be here when I return? Please, Whim. It’s important.” She had waited, and, failing to hear the coin hit the water, she nodded her thanks and headed to the bayou and the horrors that awaited there.

Now back in Hill Valley and no longer screaming in her sleep from the visions of thousands of people carefully, lovingly sewing themselves into a tower of flesh and madness, a vision that held shreds of the memory of her own temptation to join them, to finally find her perfect spot in the world in that beautiful tower, Taz made her way back to the well. She gazed at it with eyes that were a little more weary and thoughtful, picking out a good spot to…there it is. Her crafter’s eye found the safest place to rest and that’s where she went, straddling the green grass on one side and the foreboding, enticing plunge to the well’s depths on the other. Another coin, another silence. Taz closed her eyes and began speaking.

“Hey Whim. Thanks for coming. I’m…well, things are getting pretty heavy. Guessing I don’t have to tell you what’s been going on, from what I can remember you probably knew way more before any of us. Thing is, I’m not even sure how involved I’ve been in any of this. Something is telling me that it’s more than I’d like to know, but a holy man recently told me that if I can figure that out, I can stop things from getting worse, at least. He talked about atonement, and being free from guilt. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and to be honest, it doesn’t much matter. What matters are people, all people. This world and the good it tries to strive for in spite of all the shit. Maybe the Patrons are right and we’re all under some other thing’s control. But assaulting and exploiting millions of people, tearing apart the land, driving innocents to madness and suffering, committing mass murder…no. You don’t win freedom for people by slaughtering and using them like sheep, no matter how you call yourselves liberators. You win control. And anyone willing to do what they’ve done just to get there…

“I need your help. That door the Patrons opened. We need to close it, and soon. We’re going to try to protect the earth with anchor points of the collective consciousness: all the hopes and prayers of the world shielding it from the onslaught of afterlife. And we’re trying to use the resonance, the rhythm of the world to close that door. It’s crazy, and idealistic, I know. But they hurt us so badly by using our own traits against us, and we were so short-sighted and foolish. I’m going to guess something. I’m going to guess that you don’t necessarily want that door closed, right? Because a bokor in Louisiana explained something to us about the old magic that’s been coming back into the world through it, waking up that magic in folks around the world. Doing what you were willing to risk people’s lives and sanity for, to give people the opportunity to live up to their potential, right?”

Eyes still shut, Taz reached down and took something out of the pack nestled by her feet. A strange, dull metal contraption, covered with odd ridges and switches, appeared in her hands and she blindly began making adjustments, fingers roaming over its surface with practiced ease. A low hum filled the air, and the object – a cube? A globe? – glowed softly, its light almost unnoticeable in the late afternoon sun.

“I love creating things. No joy in the world quite compares to that moment when you’ve built something that solves the problem in just the right way, or hell, doesn’t even solve any problems but somehow adds to the world just in its sheer interestingness, you know? At least, I used to think that. Nothing could compare to the moment of realizing your potential. It felt right. Just as right as that fucking tower. Thing is, we all have potential. What happens when we decide to realize that without any care toward anyone else? Anything else? Because we’re so wrapped up in our own selves that we can justify anything, rationalize any damage because doing what we feel we were made to do just feels so damn right, so how can it be bad? I think the Patrons are kind of like that. They want what they want, they’re convinced they’re right, and they’re willing to kill and destroy and manipulate and hurt…everyone.

“I remember when I saw the place they took you, you and the other kidnapped children, out in Minnesota. That old sewer with the locked rooms, the drawing on the walls, the cells. What they did to you is unforgivable. They turned you into a mage, but do you really think what they did was the way to do it? Deep down? Do you really want to allow people in power to hurt and experiment on others like that again? Whim, magic is back. The door did that much, and there are people all over the world trying to grasp at an understanding of something inside them that maybe they never knew they had, or were missing. If that door stays open, a whole lot of ugly is going to hit us, too, and those people are going to die screaming, maybe insane, maybe taken and used. And this wide green world is going to crack under the weight of that pain.”

Taz released the gadget from her hands and it hung in the air, methodically scanning the area.

“It’s searching for those nanites created by the Patrons. I finally got enough info to at least try to detect them before they infect others. Too late for a lot of people, including myself, but hopefully it’ll benefit others.”

“Help us close that door. There’s so much potential already unlocked, and we can work together to help develop it in a better way. We can bring back the mage school, but not as one place that can be targeted, or even overly controlled, but a network of mentors and apprentices all over the world, supported and protected. I talked with Dr. Skaar and The Empire Foundation is willing to do this with you. You know their transparency and what they’re fighting for, so no back deals or backstabbing. What you can do, nobody else can. You can help people find their way in a world that has become something frighteningly new. And you can help us close that door before it destroys all the potential inside us.”

A soft rustle of downed leaves, a nearly silent outtake of breath. Taz opened her eyes and turned toward her companion. They stood quietly, searching each other’s eyes for understanding. Whim took out a familiar coin and flipped it in the air, catching it neatly and slapping it on the back of her other hand. She glanced at its face. Then she reached out and took Taz’s hand, pulling her up from the edge of the well.

“I have a few ideas. Let’s take a walk.”


As they turned toward the forest, the odd gray scanner floating behind them cast its beam over Taz’s back and began to beep urgently, its warning light still barely noticeable in that late afternoon sun.

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Riots and Government Control

Frogs chirp outside a small ranch house as the rain patters down on the roof shingles. Inside, a family sits in their living room, faces tense, staring at their TV as it fades from commercial back to the nightly news. The anchor’s somber voice cuts the silence.

“Good evening. We’re continuing our top story. As the Denver Riots are reaching day two, the federal government has issued mandatory curfews in several major cities, and is deploying the National Guard to attempt to take control of a scene being described as chaos. As many of you are aware, in the wake of the revelation that a group of werewolves were located somewhere in the Colorado region, thousands of protesters descended on Denver. One set of protesters, speaking out against the use of government forces against American citizens who were seemingly defending the local community, clashed with another group who saw the wolves as an abomination, carrying signs saying “man shall not lie with beast.” Nine people are dead and the violence still has no end in sight. When reached for a comment, the Governor of Colorado had this to say…”

The sound of the garbage bin outside being knocked over springs the family to their feet. Recently-installed floodlights blast their yard. After a long moment where nothing moved, the lights flick off. Unsettled, the family sits back down, occasionally glancing at the window.

“In other news, the FBI raided the Empire Foundation’s Manhattan office this morning, citing ethics violations and a threat to national security. Spontaneous demonstrations erupted that were dispersed with tear gas. Fourteen people were rushed to the hospital, but no one was seriously wounded. Dr. Adrian Skaar is wanted for questioning.

“Although the Empire Foundation’s tours of the supernatural have been shut down, you can still go to our website and watch the video where our very own Bruce Berman entered the labs. Berman will join us after the break to discuss what he saw”

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The Promise

Leanna stepped out of the supply closet of Granger’s Own and into the garage proper. The pleasant Colorado air gave way to the oppressive summer heat of South Carolina.

“Uuuuuugh. Summer. The worst.” she exaggeratedly muttered to herself as she closed the door.

She started sneaking towards the main office where Granger was probably fiddling with something or another. Maybe he was hanging with Mike? She liked Mike. He always had the nicest things to say about her and her cookies.

She crouched down as she approached the office window, gently set down her tin of baked goods, and slowly rose up to peer in. Granger was in there. Elbows on the desk and his forehead resting in his palms. His dirty blonde hair pulled between his closed fingers. He was trying to figure something out. Something important.

He looked up and sniffed the air. A smile spread across his face.

“Hey Lee. Come out come out wherever you are.”

She ran in and pounced him planting a big ole kiss on that smile. He kissed her back and then pulled away with a serious expression.

“Real talk. Before you get all Springy on me,” he said as he pushed her back gently.

She crossed her arms. Her eyes narrowed as she cocked her head. “Wait, are you breaking up with me?”

“What!? No! What?”

“What?” She unfolded her arms and backed away slightly embarrassed.

“Why would I do that?”

“Dude I dunno! You’re the one being all ‘Real talk’,” she said in a mocking deep voice.

“Jeeeesus, woman. No. The end of the world is waiting to smack us in the face, and I need to ask you something important before it does.”

“OH MY GOD are you proposing!?” Her eyes widened as she brought her hands up to her face covering her nose and mouth.

“Holy…what? Are you kidding me right now? Would you just let me talk?”

Leanna grumpily walked over to a chair and plunked down. “Fine. Talk, South Paw.”

“Ok. Wow. So. Remember how last winter you were telling me about dream magic? How you and other Folk can walk from dream to dream. Something about them being all connected. All dreams over all times.”

“Yeah dude. I remember. How do you though? You were so baked…”

“Oh I dunno? I guess being told there was this vast interconnected network of all of humanity’s dreams was the kind of thing that stuck with me. It’s kind of a big deal, Lee!”

“Point.”

“Any way. I’ve been thinking about the door that the Patrons unlocked. A door into the collective consciousness of humanity. We’re trying to shut it. Pushing it from this end. Taz has been working on some intense stuff but what if we helped by pulling it from the other end? What if the collective consciousness of humanity pulled the door shut while we pushed? A sort of fail safe.”

“Go on…”

“Is it possible, for you or anyone you know to help people dream of shutting that door? All the people. Ever. They’ve all been told by now the reality of their world. Its some heavy stuff. And they’re probably dreaming about it. It shouldn’t be that hard to focus those dreams, right? Ugh…I don’t…I don’t know anything about how this works…but…”

“Granger. Shut up. Listen to me. Let’s say you had the power to make deals, right? With like elements of reality. Like lets say you and Electricity made a deal. And you could summon it. Be protected from it. All that stuff.”

“Sounds pretty cool.”

“It is. But let’s say some dudes did a thing and made that power stronger. But the thing that person did would hurt everyone else in a bad way.”

“I’d find a way to stop them even if the power went away.”

“I know you would, man. And that’s why I love you. But not everyone would. Me and mine…we can jump around in dreams so much better right now. It’s like whatever the Patrons did with that door made all of us invincible in there. It used to be dangerous to go from dream to dream, but now we can run around like it’s an open field. We can shape things and make safe places. We can quell nightmares, man. Its insane. And amazing.”

“But everyone is going to die, Lee. There won’t be any new dreams to run around in.”

Leanna got up from her chair and walked over to Granger as she spoke.

“I know, man. I know. But what if there was a way to stop the Patrons but keep the door open? I mean the door being open isn’t bad. It’s just being used to do a super bad thing. Like woah bad.”

“Ok. Let’s follow that thought to conclusion then. We stop the Patrons’ plans somehow. The door stays open. You and the other Folk get free reign of the dreams and your powers are stronger forever. Can you promise me that that door won’t be used as a way to hurt humanity again? Can you promise me that someone running through that open field of dreams won’t do something evil? That humanity won’t be manipulated or damaged through their dreams?”

“Granger. Dude. Come on. There would be plenty of us who would defend that place from anyone who would try something like that. We’d keep it safe, just like you and the Contingent keep the real world safe.”

“These are people’s dreams though, Lee. Deeply personal things that, sure, can be nudged to inspire greatness. And that’s a great thing. A good thing. I can support that one hundred percent. But they can also be shattered just as easily. Hopes and dreams and aspirations torn asunder by some ass hole on a power trip. Or even worse, as collateral damage because you tried to save the world.”

Granger extended his prosthetic arm and squeezed Leanna’s hand with his.

“I know first hand the cost of war, Lee. I payed it. I made bystanders pay that cost too when I couldn’t disarm that bomb. I made that little girl pay that cost when I tried to teach her dad a lesson when I saw him beat her and her mom and I couldn’t stop him any other way. Do you want to play that kind of dangerous game with something as sacrosanct as dreams? What could ever be an acceptable loss when it comes to dreams, Lee? Could you pay that cost?”

“Alright. Alright. Damn. Good points all around. Now I just sound like a little girl who wants to keep playing with her new toy. That’s one way to end a high. Jeeze.”

Leanna bit at her bottom lip, bounced up and down nervously and then sighed as she came to a hard decision.

“Ok. Ok. I’ll help. And there’s lots more Folk that want to help I’m guessing. This is our world too, man. We fought tooth and nail and endured more than you can imagine to get back here. And we’ll help defend it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t dudes that’ll try to have their cake and eat it too. Or even fight you on this. If we’re going to do this I need you to Promise that you’re in this to the end and you and your people are going to do everything possible to set things right or I swear by my name there will be hell to pay.”

Granger paused as he was about to agree.

“Is this going to make it harder for you guys to hide? From…you know…”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, dude. One Earth shattering scenario at a time, please.”

“Ok, then. I promise, Lee. The Contingent and I are in this to the end…one way or another.”

“Good. Then so am I,” she said with a heavy sigh and sealed the Promise with a kiss.

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Can't Stop The Signal

The last time Tamara Oliver had wandered into the Tulgey Wood, it had been a stiflingly hot and oppressive place, filled with the sounds of unnatural beasts prowling the underbrush. Now, it was cool and dark, and dimly lit with the brightness of a swollen full moon peeking through the blue-leaved treetops overhead. Before she had felt only anger and what she had thought was righteousness but now realized in retrospect to be self-loathing, a side effect of the psyche-fracturing virus that the Patron of the Thorn had injected into ASI’s dream matrix. This time she felt confident, self-assured, aware of her inner self-righteousness—and determined never to let it get the best of her again.

But why am I here? she thought. This is more than a dream. It’s exactly like the woods in Ken’s matrix. Tamara didn’t dream often, and rarely remembered them when she did have them. Usually they were about high school, or being stuck in airports—boring stuff by most standards.

“Ah, good, you’re here,” said a smarmy voice from somewhere above Tamara. “You’re the last one to arrive, you know. The meeting is due to begin shortly. You’ll need to get there quickly.”

Tamara’s head snapped upward as she searched for the source of the voice—a long-haired panther-sized cat with white and silver tufts of fur and wide green-yellow eyes. “Who the fuck are you?” she asked.

The cat chuckled. “You humans are so crude nowadays. No manners anymore. I much preferred people in the Victorian era, you know. So prim—eager to bow and curtsy as they ought.”

Tamara pulled a pistol from her side, only half-wondering how it had gotten there, and cocked the hammer as she aimed at the cat. “What do you want with me? What’s this ‘meeting’ about?”

“Keeping our worlds from crashing together—if you can see your way to helping out with that, that is.” From the woods behind Tamara, a low-thundering series of footsteps accompanied by a bestial snuffle sounded, and a bandersnatch stepped out.

It licked her cheek rather adorably.

“There’s no saddle, but you’ll make do, I presume,” the cat continued in a laboriously blase tone, its body fading into the darkness before its eyes and mouth did. “Follow the path out of the woods and toward the door.”

“What door?” Tamara’s eyes narrowed; she’d read the internal communiques at both ASI and the NSA detailing what had happened in the Triangle.

“Oh, the one that everything else is running away from, I’d expect.”


The bandersnatch bounded over chessboard patches of grass sod toward the glowing nimbus on the horizon; trickles of momeraths scampered past them, some squelching under the beast’s paws. At one point, Tamara glimpsed a herd—a herd, really?!—of rabbits on the horizon and yanked the bandersnatch’s mane to keep it from trampling the terrified creatures.

It wasn’t until the rabbits had passed, and the dust left in their wake had settled, that she realized what they were running from. The landscape ahead was markedly different from the fantastical surroundings Tamara had ridden through to get here. It looked like a modular continent floating in empty ash-colored sky: pieces of twisted reality ripped asunder and thrown together haphazardly. Here, a desert littered with doll parts; there, a replica of St. Peter’s Square in blood-red marble dotted with statues of horribly-mutilated people; elsewhere, a swampy forest where dark shapes stalked the barren moss-draped trees. New areas were being constantly added to the horrid landscape, stretching out impossibly far toward the horizon—toward a massive glowing iron door.

The bandersnatch leapt from island to island across the network of sinister places, finally stopping on an island of grassy earth that seemed markedly out of place. Atop the island, Tamara could see a few dozen people standing, staring out into the gray toward the great door. She recognized a few people she’d worked with previously in some capacity or another at ASI: Lourdes Lopez, the dreamseer who’d gotten stuck in the dream matrix with her, and Karen Sugimoto, another psychic Tamara had shown around the ASI Washington headquarters. Many of those present whom she didn’t know personally she still recognized from reading their internal dossiers.

One in particular stood out, though. “I thought you were retired,” she snapped as she dismounted the bandersnatch next to a bearded, dark-haired man in jeans and a ‘King In The North’ t-shirt.

“So did I,” Aaron Mathias responded, kicking a rock with the toe of his Chuck Taylors absentmindedly. “Turns out you can resign from ASI and quit being a hunter, but being a dreamseer isn’t exactly a position with an exit interview.”

“I take it you’re the one who sent the cat. Did you call all these people here? Hell, for that matter, why the hell can I even see this?”

“Sombellatrol exposure,” Aaron explained. “Dr. Cunningham mentioned that it might have some side effects in people with extranormal cognitive talents, but we never saw any in the trials I participated in at ASI. Your reaction to the Usturanol was the first major incident Ken ever documented. Anyway, yeah—you can project into this world now, like us, although it’s…not as safe for you.”

Tamar frowned, resting her hand on her hip. “What’s your angle, Mathias? And how I do I get out of here?”

“Oh, you’ll wake up eventually. We all do. Well, we have so far anyway. Now, if that door opens, that may not be the case.” Aaron turned to face the door, squinting into the distance. “I can’t even keep the one the Fae implanted in my mind closed anymore. Not since the shit that went down in North Carolina a few weeks ago. And I end up standing near this thing every time I go to sleep now. All the dreamseers do. We’ve been discussing it for a few weeks…but it’s gotten worse. Other people are seeing it, too. Normal people—Eva Jimenez and a couple other hunters who worked with her in New Orleans have called me to ask about it. That’s what all these new islands of reality out here are: Nightmares, Tamara. The nightmares of all of humanity, and this door is using them like building blocks to construct a bridge through the Dreamlands.”

“So this thing is now projecting fully into the collective consciousness?” Tamara shuddered at the implications of that.

“Yep. What’s worse is, this reality can’t withstand the weight of it all. Eventually, it’s going to collapse into ours. And that’s not all. Sometimes, it—” The booming sound of a knock from the other side of the door stopped Aaron mid-sentence. The door shook on its hinges. Darkness and blood seeped out from beneath it; a flash of fire ringed the outline of the door in its frame for a split second before it settled back into position. As it did so, more islands popped into existence around them, bridging the gap in the gray between the nightmare realms and the door; the shadow and blood coalesced into tangible forms in the grey and leapt toward the islands, seeking cover on their surfaces like lurking beasts . “—does that.”

“Fuck me,” Tamara exclaimed. “Have you figured out a way to stop it?”

“Nope,” Aaron responded, “but we can sure as hell guard it. And we can kill anything that gets out. But we need your help, and the help of people like you—or folks like Miles Jaggens. Get Ken to dispense the rest of his Sombellatrol supply to them. If they all dose up, we can bring them here…and give humanity something new to believe in.”

“You’re talking about macroneural projection,” Tamara said, realizing what Aaron had in mind. “Every telepath we can find beaming a signal back into humanity to counteract the effect the door has on their collective psyche.”

“Exactly,” he said. “Adrian Skaar’s decision to go public, and Harry McCoy’s release of the Secret Frequency’s archives on E-GaDS, has informed people—they’ve revealed to the entire world a real idea of what we’re fighting against for the very first time. It’s also opened everyone’s minds to perceiving new layers of reality. The Patrons will exploit that. So we’ve gotta push back.”

“Alright,” Tamara said. “I’m in. But what sort of vision do you need me to project?”

“This.” Aaron glanced over her shoulder at Lourdes and Karen, and nodded, then closed his eyes and bowed his head, breathing in deeply. The air around them shimmered, and their forms contorted, their shapes drastically altering within the span of mere seconds.

All around Tamara, the gathered dreamseers began to change forms, their dream avatars forming a vanguard before the door—some animals or armored knights, others mythical beasts or clockwork war machines that nearly defied description. Where Karen had stood, there was now a golden heron as tall as a horse. Lourdes’ body coiled as it morphed, becoming a rainbow serpent with feathered wings. Aaron, too, changed.

His avatar had no eyes. A gaping hole peered from its humanoid face, its head haloed in gossamer webs of spidersilk and wreathed in barbed chains. A serene mouth smiled peacefully beneath the maw, contrasting in a beautifully terrifying fashion with the violent pose the winged figure struck. Shining metal plates lined its body, and it held a short blade of silver in both of its slender hands, each maybe eighteen inches long.

It turned to Tamara and spoke in a hollow tenor; Aaron’s voice echoed faintly behind it. “Gather the telepaths, Tamara, and bring them here, every night. Get them to tell the world our story. Give them all a dream to help beat back the nightmares.”

Then the winged figure raised its blades, and the dreamseers took flight, diving toward the islands to begin their hunt.

View
The Quadroon Girl
Storyteller: Justin

The Quadroon Girl

“Well, things are going to Hell in a handbasket, quick. After what we learned in the Triangle, we’re more aggressively following some persons of interest. One such person is a man named Edgar Rideau. He was associated with some of those folks at Six Flags and fled into the bayou last month. One of our own, Adah Épiphanie, has been following since then. Three weeks ago, word from her completely stopped. A week later, as quickly as it had stopped, it started again saying that everything was fine, she just needed some more time. We sent this on up to our Empire Foundation folks for analysis and they came back with one conclusion, ‘Compromised.’

“Adah is as loyal as they come, and for her to be compromised is some bad business. I need some experienced folks to get in here, rescue her, find out what the hell is going on, and take care of whatever business is brewing.“

-Chris McMillian

Hunters

Tazendra “Taz” Crow
Xander Court
Zak Zimmerman
Eva Jimenez
Fina Aquinas
John Miller

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The Detached
Storyteller: Cathy

The Detached

Whatever Stella let loose on the Bay Area appears to be escalating. Gina is reporting seeing lost souls all over the city. There has been a dramatic increase in the strength and frequency of earthquakes in the area. Empire Foundation scientists have been unable to find a natural cause for this spike in activity. The Union has had its handful trying to track Stella down. Our only lead is that her mute employee, Claudia, was seen coming and going into the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. According to the local news, a new room was recently discovered in the house after one of the recent quakes. This cannot be a coincidence. We need to get a team into that house and find out what Stella is doing there.

Hunters

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Sonnet—To Science
Storyteller: Johnathan

Sonnet—To Science

“Once the business in the Triangle came to light, me and the rest of the Union rolled pretty heavy on all of Jillian Mosaddegh’s haunts and hideouts just as quick as the phone could ring. A bunch of made-up shit, gas leaks, city planning, whatever. We never did catch her, she’s a slippery bitch.”

“Anyway, we found a real motherfucking mess out in Alexandria, right near where y’all grabbed that weird hooker last year. Listen, it’s not easy to explain, but the Contingent needs to send some people knowing about Dr. Von Hamner and they need to get here yesterday. There’s some messed up stuff down in the basement, and best Dr. Sandoval can figure out, it’s mixed up with Von Hamner’s past.”

- Bert Warner

Hunters

Doctor Mallory “Mal” Cunningham
Granger Simms
Virgil Half-Dollar
Darren Knox
Charles Powell

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Running Out of Time
Quintin Hollensworth

Quintin was running out of time. The portal back would be closing soon, the beetle bridges were starting to waken and writhe, and he only had one flare left.
He waited, hearing the clicks and screams of the Albino Skeletons as they followed the trail of flares leading to him.
He waited.
He watched as every step of the translucent skeletal guardians drained the soil of all color, filling the air with an acrid stench akin to burnt rubber. Beyond this terrible field was his oldest friend, somewhere within the tiered structure that the locals had called ‘The Temple of Outside’.
The temple began to shift and dance. His walkie crackled on “….r me? I said, I got it. Hope my path is clear!” A beam of rage shot from the temple’s peak, evaporating several Warbling Wraiths before disappearing into the sea above.
There! Cuthwright was visible for just a moment, falling through a fluid doorway then stumbling between feathered huts.
Quintin fired the flare.

Quintin now had a three-day hike through the mountain snow to return to base camp. Cuthwright’s final words crowded his thoughts, “This is how it was always going to be. Make sure that doctor of yours puts this horrible thing to good use!”
The ‘horrible thing’, held within a specially crafted capsule, lay on a sled pulled behind him. Even contained, its influence was still enough to turn the snow nearby into a kind of black rust. When the strange device, composed of bone and sinew, was collected it had jerked, momentarily brushing against Cuthwright’s leg. By the time Cuthwright had gotten back to the portal, his skin had become crystalline and begun to crack.
Quintin has never minded that most people never believe his stories, even within the Contingent. One of the few that has listened, has been Dr. Skaar. Skaar had taken to funding Quintin’s expeditions in search of artifacts. His only requirements being, the artifact for study, meticulous notes of everything encountered, and an in depth interview after each one. He had never considered, or cared, if these notes or interviews were made public.
Now though, he knew he needed to tell the other part of the stories, he needed to tell of those that had sacrificed so much, those he had lost.

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Steamed Milk

Freight Car Flo slowly braked the electric powered velocipede. She unwrapped the olive shemagh from her muscular face, and then pulled the vintage riding goggles to her forehead. Squinting to check the horizon away from the sea for railroad bulls and other interlopers just doing their job she addressed Virgil Half-Dollar and Happy Harry waiting by the blue pickup. “Virgil you old bum, nice to see you’re still standing on just two feet, what do you have for us”?

Virgil brow lifted and a smile crossed his face. The expression caused a twitch of pain moving the healing skin from the fire on the other side of the door at Chapel Hill. “Carrots mostly, but there is a good mix of needs and wants. Turkey too, make sure the eat that first. By the by good to see you too, I think you know Happy Harry. He’s still an angel, working out of Glad Tidings now.”

Harry also smiled at Flo and held his right hand up with the thumb pointing left. “Good to see you again, how are Abel and the boys? How’s the camp?”

Flo reached down, grazing the sidearm on her hip, gaining reassurance from its presence. “They’re scared, everybody is scared. Folks have a right to be, not everything you see on T.V. is a special effect. Camp is growing bigger too. That’s not a bad thing, it makes it easier to keep an eye on everyone with more folks in the jungle. The census is easier, and everyone gets a buddy. Attacks are up, things that used to be content hiding in the shadows are quickly changing their habits. We could use some extra hands shoring up shacks if you and your friends are done poking the bears.”

Harry nodded with understanding and empathy. “Roger that, its scary but the world has always been cutty. My take away is that there are people doing good and lookout for each other. The Contingent has saved lives, saved souls. They are making a difference by being brave. We can be brave too.” Harry looks at Virgil. “Whats the plan?”

Virgil pondered for a moment holding his trembling right hand to his face. “There’s a darkness crawling its way into all of us. I know I helped it crack the door just hair. If it wasn’t for the contingent, the world would’ve fallen into the sky on the spot or worse. Wheels are in motion”.

Virgil’s hand gets more steady. “Tell everyone when it comes, that’s a train we all need to hop on. Listen for the whistle, and when the call comes out to help, do your share. The plan is to get everyone to focus on the door, and get it closed. I say take it a step further. I’ve been thinking a lot about souls. The making of a hobo. Boogeymen are real. Angels and Demons are real and with that all gunk in between. The trespassing darkness is part of them. Closing the door isn’t enough. We need to make sure it never comes back by making the collective bindle of humanity uninhabitable by things that don’t belong there. Demons and Angels got no soul. Their existence is defined by their purpose to God, Gods, or the Line. They either accept or reject it but that’s all they can ever be. We define ourselves, what we could be. What we could be five minutes ago, doesn’t have to define what we can be five minutes from now. When the call comes hold on to what you love about the world. The people, the music, the food, funny critters, camp fires, moonshine, and ducks on the pond. When something nasty sticks its head out, take your shovel, or your wrench, or your tire iron and beat it down. If some dandy makes you think you were bargained. Make a fist as tight as you can, the way that feels is you belonging to you. If a black mountain rises up and eats the stars cast your eyes on the eastern sky and yell at the sun. I’ve got to much to love to to love today so rise up already rise up.” Virgil looked down feeling something wet and cold wash over his boots.

The yard was quickly becoming flooded with milk. Virgil and Harry both looked at a leaking milk car on the train parked a few feet away. Something had bored a hole making a source for the pasteurized waves.

Sharp claws ripped into Harry, who collapsed under the burning pain. Virgil grabbed a discarded e-clip setter, swinging it hard at the creature’s head. “Get off my friend”. The creature reared up, enraged by the blow. Virgil’s sanity tried to defend itself by compartmentalizing its features. “Looks kinda like a salamander, check, 8 feet tall but there a rules about salamanders. Claws like a tiger, still not a lamb, check. Horns coming from a diamond shaped mouth, that’s just weird?”

Chit Chit Boom! Plop, Splash.

Flo’s gun thundered once. The creature was now face down in a mix of blood and milk. She cocked the hammer of the revolver. “Harry, you okay?”

Harry winced and grabbed the next box off the truck. “Just fine Flo, now I remember why I don’t drink Bakersfield.”

Flo addressed Virgil. “Camp to camp, hostel to jungle we are waiting for the call. Tell the Contingent when they need help we are ready to answer the call.”

Virgil answered back “thank you”. They trio exchanged solemn glances.

Sirens began sounding in the distance.

Flo started up the steam pump on the velocipede and lowered her goggles. “Boys try not to die, we need help putting up shingles next week”.

Most of the supplies loaded the rail-car carted off.

Virgil lowered his hat. “Any ideas about what to say to the bulls?

Harry put his hand on his torn side, and replied “I find leading with I might not sue if, often gets the conversation to a happy place pretty quickly”.

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The Undying Frequency

Static briefly fills the airwaves. Radios go silent. Televisions blink. Computers lag. All at once, the silence stops as audio and video come to life, showing a young man dressed in a black t-shirt, grey jacket laid across his lap, and dark blue jeans, sitting on the edge of a couch, a glass of whiskey and ice sits on a coffee table, just at the edge of the frame.

He leans slightly forward and clasps his hands in front of himself loosely. Calmly, but firmly, he speaks

“Good morning. My name is Darren Knox. And this is the most important message you will hear, ever.

I am a member and a representative of a group that calls itself “The Contingent”. Some of you have heard of of us. Most of you have not. Those that have have likely been seen as conspiracy theorists. Well today is the day that you find out that it was no conspiracy. We are real. We are here. Today, you will all know us more than we ever intended or than you ever expected.

For those of you that have not heard of us before, I will give you a little background on the world you live in and then what we at the Contingent do to protect you from that world.

First, we humans are not alone in this world. As Adrian Skaar has made you all aware, you have shared a world with supernatural creatures for as long as humans have walked the earth. Most of them are willing to coexist with humanity. Many live their lives just like all of you. They may be your friends, neighbors, family. However, there are those that have been unwilling to coexist and have sought to do damage to humanity. They are the reason that groups like ours exist. It is our mission to protect humanity, as best we can, from these threats.

This was best done in secret. Until now.

Let me be perfectly clear. This is not a call to arms against them. Please do not take it as such. Your likelihood of being negatively impacted by these beings is no greater now than it was yesterday, or a year ago, or a decade ago. However, a threat has emerged that is stronger than all of your armies and it cannot be solved with a bullet. This threat does not seek to take your lives. It does not seek to take your freedom. It seeks to take your consciousness, your very existence. We will not let this happen."

Darren takes a brief pause, clearly trying to steel his emotions.

“My parents, Jeremy and Caroline Knox were part of this group as well. They gave their lives to protect humanity, to protect me, to protect you.”

His voice cracks before pausing again to collect himself.

“They never told me what they did, or who they worked with, or what they fought against. But now that I am a part of The Contingent, I know. I have seen the horrors that lie in wait. I have also seen the beauty of what can happen when we are of one mindset and one goal.”

Darren takes a deep breath before continuing.

“So again, this is not a call to arms. We do not ask for you to join us on the field of battle. We do not ask that you give your lives. We do not ask that you take on the burdens that we have taken on. We ask that you, all of you, as one collective consciousness, is to simply have hope. So take a moment to, from time to time, hope.”

His voice softens.,

“Hope for the good in the world to prevail. Pray. Pray for your loved ones. Meditate. Meditate on your mere existence and instill your belief in yourself and the world around you. Believe. Believe in your fellow man. Love, passionately. Whatever your method may be, we need you to focus that energy toward the things that are most important to you.”

“This is not a call to arms because we need everyone. We need every being to help us. If you can dream; if you can hope; if you can care, then you can help.” Darren pleads.

Darren clinches his hands tighter and closes his eyes for a moment, a look of concern on his face, before continuing in an almost rallying tone.

“We cannot ask you to fight. We will not ask you to fight. We will fight for you. We will fight for all of humanity. We will throw our bodies and minds, again and again, against the steel of the abyss. Some of us will die. Some of us will suffer far worse. But we will fight, and we will not stop until we have vanquished this threat.”

“I have seen what the hope of a small group, numbering maybe a hundred strong, who just want to make the world safe for humanity, can do. With you, we are seven billion strong. With you, we are the unstoppable force and the immovable object. With you, we are victorious.”

Darrens voice softens again.

“So today, tomorrow, and every day going forward, we need you to know that we are fighting for you.

Together, we can achieve unimaginable greatness.

Take care of yourselves, and we will do the same.

Thank you. Thank you so much."

Darren reaches forward and turns off the camera, the audio clicking back to silence. After a few moments, you are returned to your regularly scheduled programming.

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