August, 1995 –

Friday night started like any other weekend, before it all started going sideways. People reported that McClellan had some active flights, which was unusual for a decommissioned airbase; the strange lights and sounds prompted some chatter in local conspiracy-theory groups. Obviously the military would release some cover story about “experimental aircraft” if the population got too suspicious, but those truly in the know understood the truth behind the lies.

An unmarked VHS tape had been pushed through the mail slot of Ismene’s paranormal wonders TV show PO box, label blank and case scuffed. Grainy, security camera footage showed a poorly-lit park with something billowing, moving against the night-time breeze, seemingly moving with intent, like a giant, floating amoeba hunting for food. “Flying pants?” Seth asked, his hair shiny with an overzealous application of pomade. He had been put in charge of pinning potential news items to be covered on the large cork-board against the North wall.

“Yes sweetie,” Ismene patronized the assistant-slash-bodyguard, her mind filled with ideas for the next episode of her public access show. Pandora’s Box was dedicated to pulling back the curtain of the paranormal for Joe America, and was one of the channel’s most popular weekly offerings. She tapped her chin, thinking. “Yesterday someone wrote in saying there were aliens walking through people’s grassy front yards. That video looked like something walking, didn’t it?”

“Walking ghost pants? Oh man, this is something wild!” Seth chirped, his almost endless enthusiasm at once infectious and irritating. “We have to find this thing!”

“Let me make some calls,” Ismene offered, looking to her other assistant Xavier to actually make good on the idea. “Seth, pack up the cameras just in case we’re headed out tonight.”

Two hours later the small film studio was filled with Pandora’s Box unofficial “ground crew,” ready to interview any witnesses to the amorphous, perhaps pants-shaped, apparition. Tommy, the sharply-dressed and stoic, corporate-looking enforcer stood impassively near the wall, adjusting his expensive wristwatch. Scrawling nonsense about 1940s secret Nazi false-flag experiments into cloaking technology on the blackboard, Harry was trying to share his conspiracy theories while everyone else attempted to ignore the bearded, rambling investigator. Seemingly engaged in the conversation but with attention drawn elsewhere, Tammy sipped coffee, idly holding a clove cigarette in long fingers, the smell of sweat and sandalwood wafting from her fashionable club clothes. Seth wore an excited grin, like a spaniel going on a car trip, pulling a comb through his carefully-coiffed greaser haircut. A revolver obtrusively sticking out of his waistband, he was always ready to explore whatever mysteries Ismene decided was worth their attention.

Harry was trying to convince the group that the video was proof of military inter-dimensional travel when Ismene’s wide web of street-level contacts called to report they had found where the tape was filmed, outside an abandoned house near the American River. “The video was time-stamped yesterday at midnight. We should definitely start there,” Ismene decided. As Harry tried to consult the best bus route to take to reach the site in time, Tommy offered to drive instead, noting that the bus wouldn’t arrive in time for them to properly secure the area; he was always tactically-minded like that, which Ismene appreciated.

Happenstance had brought them together over the previous year, investigating and sometimes defending against the weird and wild paranormal events which threatened Sacramento in pairs and trios. The tape’s appearance was the first real opportunity they had to work as a single cohesive group, bringing their unique skills and outlooks together to a common purpose. Some wanted to understand the phenomenon, some to protect local residents, some to prove that their ideas weren’t actually crazy, and at least one just happy to go on an adventure.

Arriving with time to spare, the group began setting up cameras, tape recorders, EM field meters, and other equipment useful for investigating the paranormal, hoping to obtain everything they needed to get to the truth of the matter. Anyone stumbling upon the scene would have a number of questions regarding the assemblage and their purpose, but luckily Friday night wasn’t a popular evening for roaming the dark, suburban Sacramento wilds. Movement downriver set everyone into tense apprehension, waiting for the mystery to appear.

In much sharper clarity than the security footage, two creatures approached, looking not altogether monstrous but instead alien, like there were something “wrong” about them. Each of the hidden investigators felt their skin crawl, all except Seth who found the creatures somehow familiar. Harry reflexively clicked on his heavy flashlight, illuminating the amorphous beings, turning the scene into a tense standoff.

Perhaps trying to break the ice, Seth stepped out of the bushes, waving to the creatures. “It’s cool everyone, they’re not so bad.” Everyone else’s face flickered between anxiety and outright fear, Tommy having the wherewithal to unzip the large utility bag he had hidden near his feet, searching for a weapon.

The creatures, beings seemingly beyond time and space, began to unfold, growing arm-like appendages, one of them almost reaching out to Seth, the only one who had stepped forward. A high-pitched keening fills the air, emanating from the strange beings. “They’re in my mind!” he shouted to the rest of the group, feeling more than hearing strange voices in his head. “I think I’m going to throw up!” Tommy frowned, readying himself for danger as Ismene crouched, speechless, holding her camera steady on the otherworldly encounter.

A piercing scream split the wooded field as the multi-dimensional, floating creatures turned their attention to a vagrant, accidentally stumbling into the scene. “No!” he yelled, clutching at his temples and falling to his knees, surprising everyone in the clearing. With blood pouring from his nose, eyes, and ears, the newcomer slumped over, his body shaking as if under incredible stress. Before the paranormal investigators could react, the homeless wanderer seemed to explode in a brilliant magnesium flash, leaving behind a pulsating, writhing mass of chitinous flesh, forming talons, wings, and fanged mouths as its true form was revealed to the world.

“Too far! The experiment has gone too far!” Harry bellowed, convinced the government was monitoring the situation, pleading to them to step in, before sprinting for the treeline. Tommy narrowed his eyes and withdrew a sawed-off shotgun from his bag, changing his focus to the new combatant in their midst. Seth stood confused, unable to parse the complexities of the scene playing out before him, his arm still raised in a limp wave. Ismene flicked on her camera’s high-powered spotlight, just in time to catch the creature swipe at Tommy with a spike-lined appendage.

Tammy, enraged at the being’s appearance and the attack of her friend, sprinted forward, drawing a blade from its sheath, the savage kopesh bursting into holy flame as she struck the writhing monster. An aura of power radiated off of her, and there was no doubt of something more than the simple club-goer she appeared to be. With savage fury she struck, raining blows on the writhing mass before her, dodging its attempts to gore her with vicious claws.

Severing each appendage with cold precision, she finally decapitated the vile creature, having suffered grievous wounds from claw and talon. “Be gone, Bael’fagore,” she demanded, spitting upon the ground as the body stilled, its various pieces collapsing into ash after the fiery barrage.

“It is done,” she panted, sheathing her sword and plunging the clearing into near-darkness. Looking at Ismene, her eyes bore a great weariness. “I believe I need medical assistance,” she declared, before collapsing heavily to the soft earth.