Recuperating in the home office of Doctor James Long, a quiet and skilled associate of Tommy’s, the smell of fresh breakfast roused the tired investigators from deep sleep. Ismene and Seth joined Tommy in the kitchen, shortly thereafter by a weary-eyed Tammy, not having gotten as fulfilling a rest as her companions. Harry was nowhere to be seen, having slipped away on “urgent business” sometime during the night.
In return for his hospitality, Ismene offered the doctor an exclusive, behind-the-scenes scoop of the evening’s events, before the week’s episode of “Pandora’s Box.” She briefly covered the grainy security footage, the eerie encounter with the otherworldly creatures, and the revelation of the vagrant’s true form. The subsequent conflict was glossed over, particularly the more arcane details of Tammy’s apparent transformation, but a gleam in James’ eyes showed he may have already known about the evening’s true happenings.
“Tammy, perhaps you could help me with something?” the doctor asked, producing a thick tome covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs. “I have been unable to translate this work and believe its contents could help me with research. Would you be willing to help?”
Though the script was from a bit before Tammy’s time, she understood the script well enough to identify the book as a work all about the mind and spirit, the soul of man as it were. “I’d be happy to,” she said enigmatically, unsure whether aiding the doctor would be a net good for the world — many were after the secrets of the immortal form, and not all in the service of goodness.
Reviewing Ismene’s footage from the night before, all of the otherworldly monsters only appeared as ephemeral shadows, bursts of static, concealing the truth of their true forms. “They are very careful,” the doctor mused. “There is much to unpack here, for we follow the light into the darkness. Where are you going next in this mystery?”
“We may find more answers at the home of that … thing,” Ismene suggested, referring to the vagrant Tammy called “Bael’fagore.” Seth nodded enthusiastically, happy to go out on a new adventure. Tammy and Tommy agreed, that more understanding was required before a more long-term plan could be formulated. Tommy had gathered the man’s wallet before fleeing the scene the night before, which luckily contained an ID card with the name “Paul Vega” and an address near Gold River.
Saying their goodbyes and sharing their appreciation for the doctor’s hospitality, the four investigators piled into Tommy’s car and made their way to the address on the identification, the afternoon heat only broken by the occasional soft breeze flowing off of the area’s large rivers. “Paul” lived in a middle-class suburb, a far cry from the raggy and destitute condition in which he stumbled into the group the night prior. “Curious,” Tommy opined simply, pulling the car into an easy parking spot in front of the two story house.
Ismene leads the group to the front door, knocking lightly and expecting no response. Seth and Tammy share a look, acutely aware of how little their greaser and goth outfits, respectively, fit into the Sacramento afternoon family lifestyle, drawing questioning looks from the children riding bikes and playing basketball in the street. Ismene called out “Uncle Paul, where are you?” trying to create pretense for their motley appearance at the empty house.
“Is everything okay?” a curious neighbor asked, walking to the edge of the property line. “I don’t think anyone’s been home for a few days.”
Looking quickly between one another, Seth stepped up and announced “we’re here for Saturday brunch,” taking the lead. “What do you mean he’s not here?”
The middle-aged neighbor took a long look at the very assorted assemblage in front of the next door house and nodded slowly, unconvinced. “Sure thing, I guess I’ll leave you to it.” She backed away and entered her own home, keeping an eye on the strange group from the front window.
Grinning with the feeling that he solved the neighbor situation, Seth turned back to the group. “Let’s go inside,” Ismene said, hurredly. “I found the hide-a-key.”
Inside, the house was filled with newspapers, maps, and dot-matrix printouts, like the owner was half-hoarder and half-conspiracy theorist. Articles about the air force base, pinboards with string linking photographs and handwritten notes, boxes filled with legal documents, and more paperwork overflowed all available space on the ground floor. The kitchen garbage was overflowing with cheap take-out boxes, instant mashed potato packets, and ramen noodle tubs. “This is disgusting,” Tammy said, pulling a business card for “Big B’s Bone Machine” nightclub from the wall.
As the group progressed deeper into the house, patterns began to emerge, arcane symbols and notes written in indecipherable script, obviously penned with religious or spiritual intent. “This is so cool,” Seth whispered to himself, as he collated papers into discrete piles at Ismene’s direction. He enjoyed helping out, and he was getting very good at sorting. “Harry would love this.”
The garage had been converted to a low-budget video studio, with a number of cameras, VCRs, and monitors. “That tricksy minx,” Ismene swore, recognizing the puppet that was used for the initial video that sent them into the woods, fishing line and pulleys still attached. To all appearances Paul had created the video, but for what purpose?
Making even a general inventory of the house took several hours, so filled was every room with bizarre and strange clippings and papers, books and atlases. “Bad energy” seemed to emanate from Paul’s bedroom, threatening to turn Ismene and Tammy’s stomachs, to the point where Ismene couldn’t bear to open the door. They agreed between themselves to return to that room after they finished there rest of the house.
Ultimately it appeared that the creature known as Paul was focusing on three key topics of research: “Weak Points,” “The Crawling,” and “Limits of the Flesh,” each successive topic souring the group’s collective demeanor further and further. “I don’t think Harry would like this after all,” frowned Seth.
Steeling himself, Tommy approached the upstairs bedroom, squaring his shoulders before pushing through the wave of unease and disorientation that sought to bar his entry. The door closed behind him, his fellow investigators waited breathlessly for some confirmation of his survival, or at least continued health. A few moments later he walked out of the room, beads of sweat rolling down his temples. “This is a terrible place,” he began with his usual understatement, wiping his brow with a thick pocket kerchief.
“What did you discover?” asked Ismene, impressed that Tommy had the fortitude to withstand the foul energies centered in the bedroom.
“Paul was taken over by a creature, a demon, called Tynex. A vassal of Bael’fagore, he torments those who have no loyalty and represents the unity of the swarm. A truly foul creature that took over Paul’s mind and body in what it calls ‘the Crawling,’ it was planning an ‘experiment’ at the air force base.”
An involuntary shudder rippled through the party as they looked at the piles of newspapers and magazines, photographs and printouts that surrounded them. “This house needs to be cleaned,” Tammy suggested, and it was well-understood she didn’t mean physically. There was no disagreement.
As the sun began to dip below the horizon and the group made preparations to leave, none interested in staying inside the house overnight, a buzzing growl seemed to come from the back yard, angry and insistent. Drawing weapons, they turned toward the sliding backyard door when it burst inward, an impossibly large swarm of flying, crawling, and hissing insects flowing into the house, angrily charging at the investigators, an overpoweringly putrid stench entering with them.
Ismene, covering her mouth with her scarf, was struck with a sudden idea. “Seth,” she called out, still holding the video recorder, trying to capture the shot of the paranormal insects. “Find me some kind of spray and a lighter!” She kept the camera focused on the Tommy and Tammy, who had begun to march, warily, toward the backyard shed that seemed to be the source of the insect swarm. Sliding a bottle of Pam and a long lighter into Ismene’s pocket, Seth was coughing and gagging, affected more severely by the flying bugs than the rest.
“There’s something moving inside there,” Tammy calls out over her shoulder, readying herself for combat with whatever entity would emerge from the large shed, gripping the door handle.
Flinging wide the door, the two were horrified to see bones and body parts hanging inside the shed-turned-abattoir, poorly illuminated by Tommy’s pocket flashlight. Two dogs, largely decomposed but still very much animated, charged from the shed, attacking each of the investigators. Ismene and Seth watched, horrified, from the back door of the house, still attempting to bat away the swarming cloud of insects.
Stabbed with mystical kopesh and silvered dagger, one of the skeletal dogs falters and drops to the ground, its body quivering with an unholy vibration. The other hound, seeing the relatively non-threatening Ismene and Seth, races toward them, eyes glowing and teeth dripping with vile poison. Throwing himself in front of his boss, Seth took the brunt of the beast’s assault, vicious fangs ripping into his hip. With a cry of defiance, in defense of her trusty friend and employee, Ismene drew her cooking spray and lighter, ready to jump to his aid. “Duck!”
Trying to dodge the blast, Seth rolled in effort to make sure the dog was atop him as her Pam-fueled fireball light up the backyard. Shrieking in pain, the zombie hound released Seth, falling to the unkempt back yard grass, shaking and spasming as if something inside wanted out.
As Tammy and Tommy ran to help their companions, the dog seemed to explode, leaving behind a chitinous, spiked monster in its place. Freed from its prison of flesh, the hell hound roared, mandibles clicking threateningly in the bug-filled air. “Begone!” Tammy commanded, his hands tracing intricate patterns in the air, channeling his society’s mystic arts into his banishment.
Its howl turning from powerful show of force to pained whimpering, the creature seemed to sink, crumbling into the dirt on which it stood, unable to strike at the nosy group that had come stumbling into its home. The cloud of flying insects dispersed without the magical hounds present to control them, fading into the black night sky.
Carrying the most important boxes and papers back to Tommy’s car, they quickly made their exit, Seth lolling his head out of the window to help clear his mind of the terrible feeling in his veins, Ismene softly stroking his hair in appreciation of his sacrifice for her.
As the sedan arrived at Ismene’s studio, police lights lit up the neighborhood, with crime scene tape stretched across the road. “Move along,” a patrolman said, trying to wave off the car and its beleaguered passengers.
“This is — was — my business,” she exclaimed, pointing to the scorched walls and smoke-stained remains of her studio which had drawn all manner of emergency responders. “What happened here?”
Frowning, the officer looked to a nearby detective before leaning in and speaking softly, directly to Ismene. “I’m sorry ma’am but it looks like arson. I was a big fan of the show, too, sorry.” He tried to offer a conciliatory smile, but stopped when it became obvious there was little he could do to calm the cable show host in her time of crisis. “I’ll see what I can do to get the detective on scene over here to give you more information,” he finally offered.
The rest of her group parked nearby, largely covered in bloody wounds, desiccated viscera, and in no condition to speak with the police, Ismene attempted to work the detective by herself, using her natural charms and status as a minor press celebrity to direct the investigation away from the specific contents of her studio, and more to the potential identity of the perpetrator.
“Simply fantastic,” Ismene frowned, hoping she wouldn’t have to explain the now burned-out remnants of her post studio to her parents.