Once in a lifetime – Chapter 14

Dreams of study material, textbooks, and a hellish mess of notes came to an end with a knocking at the door.
Davis glanced at his phone, seeing a blurry image of 7:00AM.

He yawned, rolling out of bed. The knocking continued. He slipped on his black jacket, and answered.
As expected, it was Louise, all dressed for school.

“You hopefully didn’t forget about our daily jog, right?”
He shook his head. “Yeah…” He yawned. “But do we have to start this early? I could have gotten a few more minutes of sleep…”
She stared judgingly.
“First, you’re still wearing those old clothes from yesterday. At least change into something clean. Second, you haven’t had breakfast either, right?”
“I’ll be fine without-”
He flinched seeing Louise rear back her arm.
She burst into laughter. 

“Hey, I don’t have a sandwich on me! You gotta at least have cereal or waffles in there at least. Come on.”
He turned and walked to the kitchen, Louise following behind. She glanced around the living room as he poured himself a bowl of cereal.

“Hey, where’s Queen?”

His eyes widened. “She’s not on the couch? That’s where I saw her sleeping last.”
Louise felt the furniture, expecting to find the cryptid camouflaged.

“Nope. Did she flee?”
Davis’s brain became more and more active. Thoughts of study and the upcoming English test were now mixing with the paranoia of what could have happened to Queen.

He shook his head, taking a bite of cereal.
“Maybe she ran off to the burger place, I hope?”
Louise shrugged. “I mean kinda works out for us. I didn’t think she could come to school with us anyways.”
His mind still spun with possibilities. There was no noise last night, no mess or anything serious. If she was in trouble, she’d most likely have asked for help.

“Can’t worry about her right now, at least.” He muttered to himself. “Gotta do well on the tests…”

The school day went on by. No violent interruptions, no skinwalker stalkers, and to Davis’s delight, no interruptions during the test. 

Lunchtime after the test, he bought a sandwich and sat with Louise per usual. She was babbling on about theories about other monsters, while he scanned around the cafeteria. 

With the test clear from his mind, it was back to worrying about what happened to Queen. Not being interrupted in the middle of the test was good, but simultaneously worrying. After all the help she asked for, why did she vanish without a word? Maybe something did happen to her? There was also the upcoming history test tonight as well. Would she be back at his home when he returned tonight?
The noisy cafeteria combined with all the thoughts and Louise’s babbling began to overwhelm him.
Louise tapped his shoulder.

“You doing all right?”

“Oh uh…” He stared at his half-eaten sandwich, then back at his friend.
“Monster hunting is just stressful. I mean, alone it’s stressful. But then you combine it with school it just causes it all to dogpile and overload my brain.”

“You care a bit too much about school. It’s not gonna matter much if we don’t keep up our hunts.” 

“How many times do I need to remind you that I want a future after monster hunting too?”

She took a bite from her sandwich and looked into the crowd. “Related to that, I can’t wait till this test stuff is done. Really can’t wait to get back to hunting, especially with Queen along us.”
“You aren’t worried about her? What if she doesn’t return tonight?”
“I mean why should I? I really don’t think she’d attack us again unless she has a death wish. Either she fled because of that scarecrow thing she mentioned, or she’s still getting burgers or whatever. We don’t have much to worry about with her.”
He bit into his sandwich, thinking. He swallowed.

“You care a bit too much about school. It’s not gonna matter much if we don’t keep up our hunts.” 

“How many times do I need to remind you that I want a future after monster hunting too?”

She took a bite from her sandwich and looked into the crowd. “Related to that, I can’t wait till this test stuff is done. Really can’t wait to get back to hunting, especially with Queen along us.”
“You aren’t worried about her? What if she doesn’t return tonight?”
“I mean why should I? I really don’t think she’d attack us again unless she has a death wish. Either she fled because of that scarecrow thing she mentioned, or she’s still getting burgers or whatever. We don’t have much to worry about with her.”
He bit into his sandwich, thinking.

“You care a bit too much about school. It’s not gonna matter much if we don’t keep up our hunts.” 

“How many times do I need to remind you that I want a future after monster hunting too?”

She took a bite from her sandwich and looked into the crowd. “Related to that, I can’t wait till this test stuff is done. Really can’t wait to get back to hunting, especially with Queen along us.”
“You aren’t worried about her? What if she doesn’t return tonight?”
“I mean why should I? I really don’t think she’d attack us again unless she has a death wish. Either she fled because of that scarecrow thing she mentioned, or she’s still getting burgers or whatever. We don’t have much to worry about with her.”
He took another bite of his sandwich, thinking.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right… But still.” He vigorously shook his head. “No, not buts. She’s gonna be all right.”
Louise smiled. “See? Only time you should be worried about cryptids are when they’re charging right at ya!”
“Only thing left worrying me is the history test tomorrow. So we’re gonna stick around the library tonight till we’re all prepared for that.”
Louise’s smile melted away.

“Haven’t we studied enough?” 

“Are you sure you’ve studied enough to at least get a B?” 

She sucked in her mouth. “FFFFFine.”  

With school out, the duo grabbed a quick snack at the cafeteria before settling in the library. History books open and notebooks at the ready, they had to cover content related to the Cold War. They had to start from the very beginning of the era, and work their way through twenty years of history, dates, major events, key figures, and so much more.  

Every other paragraph, Louise’s mind started to wander about how the intrigue of the era could connect to more cryptids. Every time she glanced back at Davis diligently scribbling away notes, she redoubled her focus.

One hour into their session, Kirino entered with the twins Dom and Clarice. The sight of her rival caused Louise to drop her focus, shooting a challenging glare across the room. Kirino returned it only for a brief moment, before turning away, continuing across the room. Her group settled at a table far away from Louise. 

She felt a tug on her shoulder. 

“Please, focus. Kirino isn’t important right now, only acing this test.”

Seeing Kirino, however, reminded him of something. There was something important that pushed its way back into his memory.

To Louise’s surprise, he pushed away his history notebook, and fished around in his backpack. Pulling out a small black notebook, he flipped through several sketches, scribbles, and notes to a blank page. He folded the corner of it, and started writing. 

Dragontail Katana. Look more into it.

“Dragontail Kanata?” Louise inquired. “Also, what is that notebook?.”
“Oh… ummm…” He quickly closed it, and tossed it into his bag. “Just some sketches for gadgets and traps I wanna make. In the future. I don’t think I’m good enough to make them yet.”
Louise eyed the bag, then back to him. 

“And the Dragontail thing?”
“The red-haired girl, Clarice. She referred to Kirino’s katana as Dragontail back at the mines. With everything going on, it slipped my mind… Made me think, if she got her hands on an artifact, maybe there’s more we can find too? Maybe they can lead to more paranormal phenomena? I mean if she named it that herself, it wouldn’t help too much on finding leads, but it wouldn’t hurt to try…”

“Dragontail is such a cool name. No way she could have thought of that on her own. So, yeah, there’s gotta be something we can dig up online.” Her eyes lit up. “Speaking of names, you remind me of something else!”
She reached into her backpack, pulling out her fat notebook, “Cryptid Notes” written in marker on the front. She flipped open the cover, revealing a mess of scribbles, notes, diagrams, charts, and a whole lot of question marks. She flipped past several pages of these to the end, where there was a poor drawing of her gauntlets, alongside some notes. In big bold text above the drawing was “LIBERTY AEGIS”.

“I was thinking of a name for them since what’s an awesome weapon without a name? Cool, right?”
Davis squinted at her.

I mean it’s kind of cool, but just Latin? Really? Why not something like Cryptid’s Bane, or maybe Guardian Angel?

“I… like… I guess so?”
She nodded. “I’ve also been keeping track of what you can do with your powers too!”
He felt his gut sink. She flipped the page.

UMBRA FORCE was plastered over a shadowy human outline, alongside notes.
He looked away, wincing.

Louise stared concerningly.
“Uh, is something up?”
“That name… Is just generic and awful…” He didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but it was his ability. He should have had the rights to name it.

“Well, I don’t see you calling it anything special, mr. ghost boy.”

He raised his voice. “Look I just haven’t had time to think of the perfect cool name for it, okay? It’s really hard to think of something fitting!” Others in the library turned to stare at him. He covered his mouth, shirking back.
Louise held a grin on her face.

“Well until you do, I’m going to keep calling it Umb-”
“Please… I’ll just call it ghosting or phasing or whatever. It doesn’t need a name to be cool.”

He stared back at the table, remembering why they were there in the first place.
“Let’s… Also not try to get like, too distracted. We still have a lot of reading to do.”

Thirty minutes later, the boy Scott approached Kirino’s group. With his arrival, they all got up together and prepared to leave.. 

Louise caught the group from the corner of her eye and gave them another death-glare. Kirino didn’t even pay any attention.

Davis sighed. “Do you really want to fight her that bad right now or something?”
She turned back to her history textbook. “Maybe just to punch her in the face or something. She at least deserves that.”

“You really gotta stop worrying about her so much. Not like she’s actively going after you.”

“Yeah, but what do you think they’re scheming? You remember what happened at the mines, what if they’re going to plan exactly what we’re doing next? She could be planning how to ambush us when we let our guard down…”

“You all did very good work the past few days. I’m sure we all need a break, so if you are all free to relax at my home.”

Dom and Scott both stared at each other smiling, both going “Yessss!”
Clarice was staring back at the library. “Shouldn’t we continue our training? I want to be more prepared for that girl if we meet again…”

“Finding time for rest is just as important as training, especially when one has important tests to keep up with.” Kirino responded. 

“Why do you think Dom took it easy yesterday?” Scott piped up. “He got one heck of a workout saturday!”

“Honestly I’m still a little bit sore…” Dom spoke in a hushed voice. ”I wouldn’t mind the rest still. I just wanna relax and doodle a bit.”

“There’s a few anime I wanna catch up on.” Scott stretched out his arms, yawning. “Everything going on this week has had me too swamped. You wanna watch that together, Kirino?”
She nodded, smiling. “That sounds very nice. It’s been a while since I’ve relaxed with you all together.”

Clarice shook her head. “Well, we got school, college apps, now UMA hunting.” A fire lit in her eyes. “I’m still intent to keep working hard, to keep ahead of all of it!”

“I admire your energy Clarice. If you want to exercise, there is the home gym. All I ask is that you don’t overexert yourself. That is, unless you want to be sore throughout the school day.”

“Hey ummm…” Dom spoke somewhat louder. “Would it be all right if our parents carpooled us up? I know you like to, but I don’t want to hike all the way up that hill. I don’t think my legs could take it today.”
“I supposed it’s fine since it’s your break day today. But after, we’ll keep exercising until such a hike is a triviality!”




It was now 7pm.

The sun had set. The school library was nearing its closing hour of 8pm. Davis slammed the history book shut, finally committing to studying page to page of everything that could potentially be on the upcoming test.

Louise stretched out, yawning.
“My brain feels like mush… Did we really have to spend ALL that time?”

Davis was shuffling his notes and books into his backpack.
“It could have gone a lot faster if you just focused on class last week…”
“Hey, you weren’t paying attention either!”
“Well, I was being stalked! Can’t exactly ignore it when somebody is silently watching me!”
“Davis…” A voice spoke from behind them.

They turned, finding Queen standing there. Davis nearly leapt out of his seat.

“Q-Queen! Uh…”
“Hey Queen, where have you been?” Louise asked cheerfully.
“In this building with you. Before, close to this area.”
“W-were you in the classrooms with us too? That’s-”
“I was not. The adults in the rooms are very watchful.”
“So, why were you sticking around here? Something up?” Louise questioned.

She glanced around. There were only three other students in the library with them. “People are leaving here. There isn’t enough of a crowd. Scarecrow is pursuing me. I have been fleeing all night, and only found rest this morning. Do you know any places with crowds when it is dark?”
“I uh… Maybe night clubs?” He stared into space. “I’m not really sure if there’s any nearby. Or at all…”
Louise took Liberty Aegis out of her bag, equipping them.

“Unless somebody is throwing a house party nearby, I don’t think we can find anywhere crowded anytime soon. If we defeat Scarecrow, you won’t have to worry about this.”
Queen’s face turned tense. “That is too dangerous. Hiding is much safer.”
“I’m really not in a good position to fight too.” Davis chimed in. “Like, all my equipment and stuff is back at home… Except for my goggles.”

“Queen can’t run and hide forever. She’s gonna get split when she least knows it, and then it’s gonna be over. She should know that well, like you Davis.”

“Okay yeah, you have a point there, but-”
Suddenly, darkness.

The library lights cut out. The few students still around muttered to each other, lighting up the surroundings with their phone flashlights.

Louise wastes no time in turning hers on, illuminating Queen’s face.

She was staring towards the exit, sniffing. Her pupils constricted in fear, and she instinctively took a step back.

“He’s very near. How? I didn’t smell him. I don’t know how he got so close.”
She started to twitch, glancing all around the library.
“We need to run now. Find some other exit. Scarecrow is somewhere outside the front door. He’ll corner us.”
Louise shook her head.
“This might be good. School is home turf for the two of us. If we run out in the open, what’s stopping it from getting ahead and ambushing us? I say we lure it into the main building, and fight it there.”

Davis was breathing heavily, thoughts racing about what Scarecrow even was. If it was meant to hunt Queen down, perhaps it had overwhelming physical strength? Could it shapeshift too? Maybe it’s sneaky to get the jump on them?
“There’s too many variables, I don’t really know if we should.”
“Well, let’s figure those variables out then, and on our terms! Not like it’s going to wait and let us spy on it!”
Davis gulped. “O-okay. Let’s just hurry, before we get cornered.”

The trio left through the front of the library, crossing towards the main school building.

The school was connected by a central plaza, which split towards three different parts: The Cafeteria, the main building, and the library. It was at the plaza that Queen froze up, glancing off in the distance.

“I see it.”
Louise paused, shining her light in the direction. Davis had already put on his night vision goggles.
Walking across a patch grass and flowers was a shadowy figure.
It wasn’t just the lighting, but literally a figure surrounded in darkness. It was human in size and shape, the outline slightly bigger as if it were wearing thick clothing. Shadows trailed off its forearms like tassels. On its head it appeared to be wearing a thick headpiece of some kind as well.

It was several yards away, at first taking steps to make sure it made no noise.
Then, it looked up, a shadowy gaze meeting the group. In the moment it paused, Louise grabbed a baseball sized rock from the dirt, and chucked it straight at the figure.

Despite striking it square in the chest, it disappeared into its shadowy body. 

Then it broke into a sprint.

Louise took the lead in a full sprint, yelling.

“I don’t think physical attacks are gonna hurt it much!”
Louise and Queen neared the school’s side entrance, Davis slightly behind, and Scarecrow closing in. Pulling the handle, it didn’t budge.

“H-Hold on!” Davis yelped, “I-I can pick it or unlock it from the other side!”
He arrived, panting. Louise shook her head.
“I can’t wait for our jogs to start paying off!” She yelled as she gave the door a mighty kick. There was a snap as the force of the hit shattered the lock. 

She turned back, motioning for the others to run in first. As they barreled into the pitch-black building, she noticed that while Scarecrow was closing in, its speed wasn’t very impressive. At least, compared to the Wendigo or even Queen.
She slammed the door behind her. 

The power had been cut to the school as well. The utter lack of windows submerged the entire building in an even deeper darkness than the library. Only a few windowed classrooms let in what little light the night sky gave.
From there, they turned left down the hall, another left around the corner. Louise pushed the door to one of the classrooms. 

“Uh, Davis, you can lockpick fast, right?”
“Yeah, I…” He realized something comforting. It was pitch black. “I think I got a much faster method!”
He phased out, entering his world of shadows. Passing through the door, he phased back in, unlocking it from the other side. He shoved it open.

“Ok, we’re on home turf, in absolute darkness. Things are looking advantageous for us!”
He took a deep breath, feeling his previously pounding heart calm. 

The trio piled into the room, and he slammed the door shut, re-locking it. Louise began moving desks in front of the door, creating a barricade.
“Hopefully that should keep us safe.”
“But now we are easier to corner.” Queen mentioned. “What if it were to find a new way in?” 

“There’s a reason I led us to this classroom.” Louise shone her light around the room. It was thin, looking like an average classroom with rows of desks facing a whiteboard, and a flagpole. However, there were no windows.

“There’s only one way it can get in, and it’s through that door. If it finds some way through our barricade, Davis can help us out with Umbra Force-”
Davis cringed. “PLEASE.”
Louise snickered. “Right right. You know how he de-materializes? He can take other people with him too. So we got way more exits than Scarecrow has entrances.”
“Well, at least it’s just a thin wall… If we’re to do it, we’ll get a running start. I didn’t even think I could pull people through the shadows, and I’m not super confident to do two at once.”

“Well, we gotta use everything we got. Now, we need a plan of attack. Physical attacks it seems to ignore, but it could just be a case with rocks or projectiles. Next time we see it, I’m gonna try this.” She grabbed the metal flagpole, wielding it like a spear.
“Maybe if I drive something a bit tougher into it, that might have an effect.”
“I just wish there could be like, a neat secret place to stash some equipment… But I guess it was only recently I expected monsters to actually start coming after us during our normal lives…” He shook at the thought, imagining some monster attacking him in his sleep.

“Well, how crafty are you with making stuff fiery or boom-y? Because on the second floor, there’s the chemistry labs. We could make a pit-stop there, and you could whip up something fast. It could be vulnerable to fire.”
Davis put his hand on his chin. “Well, I can’t like, make gunpowder. But there’s flammable chemicals there. Maybe we can make a simple firebomb?”

Queen was silently observing the two continuing their discussion. 

“Queen, you still know nothing about Scarecrow, right?”
“All my instincts tell me about it is to run.”

“Do you know if it’s able to track you down somehow?”
“Well, now we know that. It also isn’t actually too fast. We put quite a bit of distance with our little wind sprint. Just keep these in mind, eventually we’ll crack how to beat him-”
Queen’s eyes widened, and she sprinted to the door. She shoved away desk after desk. 

“It is above us, and approaching! We have trapped ourselves!”
Louise ran over, grabbing ahold of her arm.

“What do you mean? Don’t tear apart our barricade!”
Davis was staring at the roof, wondering what she meant. Then, he saw the air vent. There was a very subtle, shadowy material spilling from it.
“It’s the vents! It’s in the air vents!”
Louise whipped around, shining a light at the roof. The air duct dissolved as the shadowy figure fell from the roof. It landed on its feet, beginning to approach. 

Taking one of the desks, Louise spun and tossed it towards the cryptid. As the desk made contact, it paused. Only a part of it was engulfed in its figure. It removed the object and pushed it out of the way, the wood and aluminum that made contact completely gone. The edges looked like they were violently chewed on.

Grabbing her flagpole, she took a step forward and shoved it inward. Maybe tougher materials did slow it down?
For a brief moment, she felt it click against something solid, but then she started falling forward. It was like she stabbed into absolutely nothing. And now she was tumbling face-first into the cryptid. 

Davis caught the back of her jacket, nearly stumbling forward from her weight as well. He strengthened his stance, and yanked back.

“Try to think your attacks through a little bit more! Come on!”
Huffing a sigh of relief, the trio slammed the door behind them, and ran once more.

“Follow me, and trust me on my path! It’s a little weird!”

Louise took the lead, taking a right. There was a stairway closer to the classroom they were, but in her mind, Scarecrow would be on their tail the entire way. If they put some distance between it, and then sent Queen in a different direction, they could give Davis enough time to make a firebomb.

They passed by the school’s main entrance, a small clearing with a receptionist’s desk, along with the entrance to the auditorium. Passing the clearing to continue down the hall, Queen sensed something. It was the same smell of flesh and metal powder, but far more faint. It smelled like it was coming from the lockers. She bounced backward, like a cat touching the edge of water. As Louise stepped into the hall, she heard a loud snap. 

To her right, a locker door violently swung open. A net flew out of there, like a lion pouncing on unsuspecting prey. It entangled the girl, and even sent her flying and colliding against the lockers on the opposite side. She struggled, but even with her strength, she was hopelessly entwined.

“Hey, I need some help! I’m stuck!” She yelped.
The rope was tough, made of some kind of fleshy material. It seemed more like an intestinal tract, but far more tough and dry. 

Queen ran forward, staring at the flesh-net. Behind her, she caught Davis, and further behind, Scarecrow. 

“I cannot free her without time.”
Davis stared ahead. There was only one classroom, and it had a pretty big window facing the hallway. It also had a window inside the classroom, letting in the slightest amount of moonlight.

“There’s a… A computer lab up ahead! That’s at least better than that classroom. Just drag her, and we can hide there long enough!”
“It’s got a big heavy door to it too!” Louise added. “Scarecrow clearly can’t break through barricades, so he’ll have to return to the vents!”

“Please show me where. Hurry!”

Grabbing an end of the trap, Queen dragged Louise across the floor.

Davis took a deep breath and continued his sprint. He stayed slightly behind Queen, and was constantly glancing at the lockers.

Right around the corner to the computer lab, Queen sniffed out another trap. Queen hoisted and tossed the entrapped Louise forward.
There was another snap, the locker door flying open and a net soaring through the air. It smacked against the side of the wall.

Louise grunted as she hit the floor. “Hey, give some warning before you just use me as bait like that!”

The computer lab door was left ajar. Trying not to overthink it, Davis pushed through, and Queen tugged Louise on through.

He slammed the door behind, and wasted no time making a new barricade.

Queen took her hand, and put all her fingers together. They fused together, and then started to flatten. Seconds later, her hand now resembled the blade of Davis’s knife.

She sawed away at the flesh net. Slicing through a few strands, Louise felt it loosen enough for her to finally break free. Shoving away and throwing off the meaty material, she got back to her feet.

“Okay, new note. He may be slow, but I guess to make up for that he sets up traps. Also, when you throw objects at him, it pauses him momentarily. There’s also something inside all that shadow, he’s not immaterial. You got all that?”
Queen stared blankly at her. “What is ‘immaterial’?”

“Just remember the word, ok? It means that he’s not invincible. Maybe if we get something through those shadows, we can hurt it.”
She stared at the metal door of the computer lab.

“I wonder why, despite literally destroying anything it touches, it doesn’t just walk through walls or doors… Maybe…”

Davis walked over to the two, but stared off into the lab.

She then realized something strange about the computer lab.

It was slightly lit.
Near the center of the lab were three students with laptops faintly lighting up their faces. They were staring at Louise, bewildered.

Queen hid her knife hand behind her back, slowly transforming it back to normal.

“Is…” One of them spoke up. “Is everything all right?”
Louise stared at them frozen. “I mean uh… Yeah I’m fine. Uh…”

“I… Uh…” Davis stammered. “There’s… Like… Uh a wild animal… In the school. Pl-please just… Just stay here. It’s.. Safe here.”
The students began muttering to each other, one of them starting to hyperventilate a bit.

Davis scratched the back of his head, wincing to himself. He edged back to the group.

“I uh… Let’s hurry to that lab. Like, right now. I don’t wanna lure Scarecrow to these-”

The vents above them rattled.

They heard audible panic from the students.

Shining her light around the roof of the lab, there were four air vents.

“Just come with us!” Davis screamed. “It’s going to get dangerous here!”

The rattling intensified, followed by a crash. From three vents, beartraps made of bone fell down, each one connected by a fleshy rope. The mouths of the traps all homed in on Queen. She leapt to the side, as the group hit the deck. One of the students was slow to drop, and the side of his shoulder was pierced by the trap, clamping down. He yelped in pain. The trap released the grip, continuing its pursuit of Queen.

The students scrambled under various desks, shielding their heads and hiding.

Louise shoved her phone into her pocket, the flashlight peeping out. She grabbed the tether to one of the traps, yanking it back. The trap stopped its pursuit and instead turned on her.
She held out her arms in front of her and caught it by the mouth.
The bones of the trap couldn’t pierce the strange metal of her gauntlets.
Using her strength, she stopped it from clamping down, and instead split it in half the other way. 

Queen, meanwhile, was leaping from desk to desk, knocking over keyboards and computer monitors to evade her assailants. She still caught sight of Louise’s maneuver. She changed her hands slowly, making them more callous and thick. After a few moments of dodging, She held out her hands, catching one of the traps.
The sharp bones slightly dug into her hand, but not all the way. It immediately started tugging away with a surprising amount of force.

She still gripped the mouth, prying away. It snapped in half. Another trap flew close to her, nearly clamping her on the back of the neck.
Louise grabbed its tether and yanked it back. It flew through the air, and she deftly grabbed it, breaking it in half over her knee.
There was more rattling from the vents. The same faint scent of rotting flesh and metal powder.

Davis had removed the barricade, and opened the door, only to be met with a surprise: Another flesh net flying towards him. The force of the flying net knocked him onto his back. He was completely bound by the strange material.

All he could see was Scarecrow, waiting outside of the door and walking forward. 

But thankfully, they were still in the darkness of the school.

Davis wasted no time or effort phasing out, and getting back on his feet. Working through the shadowy room, he checked his surroundings. The only way out was blocked by Scarecrow. Strangely, Scarecrow had a much thicker outline in this world, than any other object around. 

Should they stay in the room, it would only be a matter of time before they’d be cornered.
He phased back in, grouped with the other two.

“Well Louise.” He sucked in a bunch of air. “We’re gonna phase through that wall together.” He pointed to the wall opposite of the entrance. “Just hold onto me tightly, and we run!”
He held out his hand to the two, and both joined. Four more beartraps fell from the vents, homing in.
“On three! One, Two…”
They sprinted towards the wall, inches away from an embarrassing collision.

And then they vanished. 

Neither Queen nor Louise could see what happened for the one second they were in the strange shadowy world. Only an uneasy feeling in their stomachs.

Davis felt an agonizing amount of burning on his arms, along with the feeling that his lungs were being vacuumed. 

Re-materializing, they all crashed onto the floor in the auditorium, among the theater seats. 

Davis was heaving, coughing, sputtering for breath. He couldn’t feel anything in his arms except pins and needles. He was terribly nauseous and couldn’t see straight either.

Shaking off the disorientation, Queen and Louise were back to their feet in moments. They stared down at poor Davis. She smiled, rolling her eyes.

“Looks like I gotta do this again.”
She picked him up, bridal style. “You wouldn’t believe how many times he does this to himself.”
“Ish… Not that often.” Davis weakly spoke. 

“Well it’s a bit too often. But you’re lucky I’m here to back you up!”
Queen stared at the two. “Observing both of you help me understand humans. The reason they are dangerous, even able to outsmart my kind.”

The two stared at her, confused.

“Davis is weak physically. Louise is strong. But Davis also has his strange powers. Creatures alone can not be strong against everything. Together, they can assist where others are weak, and become strong against everything. Assisting others where they are weak, is that an important part of being human?”
“I mean… A lot of humans can trample over others for no good reason.” She thought back to Kirino. 

Shaking away the thought, she smiled. “But I know that’s something friends do! It’s an important part of friendship to support each other. Kinda like Davis and helping me with school stuff, too!”
Queen mimicked her smile. “Then friendship must be the key to help me overcome Scarecrow. I will help cover where you two are weaker.”

Exiting out the back stage, Louise motioned to where Queen had to go. The only sounds that could be heard through the school were the echoes of their footsteps. Every so often, A loud crash would break the relative silence, and sometimes a scream from a student.

Davis could only hope the traps would not terribly injure them, like the student in the lab.

Queen was quick, but more importantly, quick to identify traps. She was now getting used to the scent of them, and was pinpointing where, and what, they were. Through the hallway to one of the stairways, she cautiously maneuvered over tripwires, silently motioning to Louise where they were. They even had to carefully maneuver around every vent, as Queen caught the same scent directly waiting at the edges of air ducts. 

By the time they hit the stairway, Davis had regained feeling in his arms, and his head was mostly seeing straight. Louise let him down onto his feet, and they climbed up together.
Though, the only obstacle was a large fleshy webbing blocking the stairwell.

Using her knife-hand, Queen cut a hole through.

The chem lab was right in front of them.
“Now, I know it’s gonna be moments before Scarecrow will be on us again. So we need to buy Davis some time to get literally any sort of bomb ready. Queen, I need you to split up, just for a short while.”
She cocked her head. “But how can we practice friendship? We cannot support each other if we are distant.”
She waved her finger. “Only a short while! Plus, I won’t be too far away. I got another thing I really want to test out against Scarecrow. I just need a minute to prepare.”

Davis phased through the lab wall, unlocking the door from the other side. He peeked out.

“I’m gonna like, start looking around. Hopefully making any sort of firebomb shouldn’t be too hard…” His brain flashed him an image of the entire school ablaze. “I think…”

While Davis tinkered away in the chemistry lab, Louise and Queen went south down the hall. They passed by a large, windowless room near the inner wall: The workshop. A thick metal door that led to all sorts of building materials, saws, all one would need for simple engineering and construction courses. 

“All right, I’m gonna work here for a little bit too.”
Louise pointed to a turn in the hallway. 

“That area should be a good place to wait around. Remember, just lure and lead him on a little bit of a chase or something, but be careful.

Queen nodded, feeling her heart begin to beat faster.

“If you need any help, scream for me and I’ll hurry over to help. I’m not gonna be too far off, all right?”

Queen silently walked down the hall, sniffing the air and keeping her ears open for any sort of trap already set up. She continued until the workshop was decently far away. And then, she waited.

Despite the plethora of potential weapons in sawblades, hammers, and other sharp tools that were around the workshop, Louise knew they all would most likely be ineffective against Scarecrow as a whole. No, what she was more interested in was the door. It was thankfully left unlocked, so she didn’t have to cause any damage to bust it down. On the other side, using her Aegis-enhanced strength, she worked to wiggle and pull out each pin to the door hinge. It took her a good minute to pull out two, and she was on the last one, almost totally free. 

A noise echoed through the halls. It was the pattering of some four-legged creature. 

She walked out of the room, shining her light where the noise was coming from. 

It was an amalgamation of meat molded into the shape of a hound dog. It pounced towards her. 

She prepared to slam it out of the air, but before she could, the dog melted down into a dish of flesh, then expanded outward into a net. It entrapped the girl and knocked her over, tight as the previous trap that caught her. 

She grunted and muttered to herself as she struggled in the trap. It almost felt like the more effort she put into struggling, the tighter it became.

No use doing this, maybe it’s supposed to get me to use all my energy.

Instead, she called out.


From down the hall, Queen heard her friend’s cry for help. She froze for moments, running the possibilities in her brain. A trick from Scarecrow?

She stood frozen for moments more.

Perhaps Scarecrow understood their friendship, and was seeking to pick them off individually. If it was a trap, Queen would avoid death. If it wasn’t, she would lose her friend. She couldn’t survive without her.

She charged forward. 

Arriving at her entrapped friend, Queen wasted no time in shifting her hand into a knifeblade. Before she even started cutting, Louise felt it loosen around her. Queen caught her friend beginning to freely move only for a fraction of a second, as the net leapt from Louise, now entrapping Queen. She growled and snarled as she fought away the living trap, but it soon restrained her, knocking her onto the floor.

Louise leapt back to her feet, pulling on the fleshy ropes that were entwined around her friend. 

Queen’s eyes widened, and she started thrashing harder. 

“Scarecrow is approaching. Help me quick! FREE ME!” She screeched. 

Louise looked up.

From behind, Scarecrow of the intersection they stood near, the shadowy figure was quickly approaching.

She glanced back at her friend, and back at the workshop. 

“I just want to try this, if it doesn’t work I’ll try to drag you to safety!”
Running into the room, she yanked the last pin from the door. Taking it from the frame, she carried it in front of her like a riot shield. She charged forward with it in hand, towards the direction of the Cryptid. 

She felt it actually slam into something, not fizzling away like the flagpole. Her eyes widened. 

She let go of the door, and gave it a strong kick, pushing it back further. Scarecrow was behind it, and being shoved by her metal wall.
“All right, I found a way to slow it down!” Louise yelled back to Queen. She ran back to her friend.

After a few moments, it shoved the door off itself, letting it crash to the ground. The part of the door that made contact was badly shredded, with a human-shaped indent inside of it.

Queen, meanwhile, had grown her knife blade longer.

“Snap this blade from my hand.” She spoke. “It is weak at the base. Break it off. Use it to cut the net!”
Louise nodded, grabbing the blade and cracking it off with a swift motion. Queen let out a terrible scream in pain.

“I am fine, cut the net!”

With the bone-blade in hand she sliced away strand after strand of the net. Now loose enough, Queen wiggled free and climbed back to her feet.

She whirled around to stare at Scarecrow. It was picking up speed.

She prepared to turn and run with Louise, but then caught a sight behind the cryptid.

A flaming object flew through the air and made contact with the monster’s shadows. It dissolved, but the flames and liquid inside of it did not. Scarecrow stopped in its tracks as an object in the heart of its chest blazed away.

It was the skull of a buffalo, but distorted. It was cracked with age, but bleached a pure white. The wide horns instead were bent inwards, spiraling around from the eyes to the snout. The empty eyes, even among the flames, still were pitch-black.

Around the flaming cryptid ran Davis, with a flask in hand. The flask had a damp paper towel shoved inside, and was filled with liquid.

“I’m… Hoo…”

He crouched, hands on his knees. “I heard Louise yelling, and worked as fast as I could… I’m glad the fire seems to stop him…”
He turned, staring at the flaming monster. Still, it stood motionless.

“I’m not sure how long it’ll burn for, but what next? I made one extra bomb right here.”
Louise motioned for him to join. “Just follow me, let’s put a little bit of distance between us and it. I think I have a plan of attack.”

They fled the burning cryptid, past where Queen was waiting as bait, and around another corner. They were right outside general teachers’ offices, and sat up against the wall. Davis was heavily breathing, more from shock and adrenaline than exhaustion, and Queen was slowly re-growing her hand. Louise stood in front of the two, with a triumphant look in her eyes.

“So, from what I found out, we can actually hurt it physically, and that surface area is the trick. Whatever deleting it does with those shadows, seems to be monumentally less effective on large, sturdy surfaces. Hence, why he doesn’t just walk through walls to get us.”
She pointed to her heart. “That skull in the chest of it, 100% has to be the weak point. All I need is another heavy metal door. After that, we combine the weight and strength of the three of us, slam it against a wall, smash that skull, and HOPEFULLY call it victory.”

The two nodded silently.

“But like I said, I need another metal door. The only other ones I remember are on the first floor, and it’s still gonna take me a little while to pull it loose. Not only that, Scarecrow isn’t going to be afraid of using me as bait so I can’t go alone. Davis can break free if trapped at all, but I’m gonna be in real big trouble if I’m stuck.”
“It’s still too risky to yank you around with my power… I don’t wanna be incapacitated for a few minutes. It could spell doom for everything.”

Louise tossed him the sharp bone knife, which he scrambled to catch. “You can use this to cut me free. Now, back to what I was saying. So we’re gonna split into two groups: Davis and I will go get the door, and Queen, you need to be bait again.”
Queen recoiled. “It’s still too risky alone. Too many traps. Without either of you, ”
“Well, he’s setting up traps where he knows you’re going, right? There’s one place I’m sure you can fit that he hasn’t anticipated yet.”
She pointed up to an air duct. “The vents.”
Queen stared upwards. Perhaps one or two of the beartraps were lurking, but they were no issue on her own. She could thicken her hide preemptively, and ignore them.
“Crawl around the vents, lead Scarecrow on a chase, and then come back after… How well can you hear?”
“I can hear very well.”
“We’ll scream as loud as we can. Catch that noise, and you can scurry over to us as fast as possible-”

The fire alarm began blaring, and sprinklers spritzed water everywhere. Queen covered her ears, wincing at the noise.

A teacher ran past, stopping as he caught sight of the group.

“Hey, are you three okay? There’s a fire in the hallway over there, hurry up, we need to get outside!”
Louise and Davis both shot up. “Uh yeah, we were on our way downstairs too! Right Davis?”

Davis fidgeted. “I swear I didn’t start it or anything!”
Louise jabbed him in the side of the gut with her shoulder.

The teacher stared suspiciously for half a moment. “Well, come on, let’s get going! It’s too dangerous to be here.”

Louise still stared, smiling. “Uh, yeah we’ll be right behind you! Lead the way!”

Come on, just you go first, let Queen get into the vents!

From behind the teacher, a shadowy figure approached. Davis gasped.

“Behind you!”
He whirled around, shoulder brushing against the shadows. He screamed as his sleeve was ripped away, the surface of his shoulder covered in several scratches. The figure kept moving, the teacher falling to his knees, grasping his wound. 

Queen wasted no time in leaping up. She yanked away the vent cover and clambered in. Louise and Davis made a break for the nearest staircase.

Scarecrow walked to the vent, looking up slowly. From the center of his chest, he ejected a beartrap attached to a length of fleshy rope. He threw it up, the teeth snapping onto the roof of the vents. The rope pulled him up. Looking around at the maze of tunnels, it took only a while before he caught the scent of his prey.

The pursuit was on.

The vent’s space was fairly tight, so as Queen moved, she slowly shrunk herself down in size. At almost half her original height, she could maneuver herself through the ducts much easier. 

Louise’s assumption was thankfully correct: The second floor’s vents were completely empty. The noise from the fire alarm still echoed through, and it was impossible to make out anything else other than the blaring annoyance. 

Despite how lax this path was compared to the rest of the school, there was always a light tapping from behind. She couldn’t rest or slow down for a second. The closer Scarecrow got, the less time she could be a distraction. She continued to crawl through, making seemingly random turns to put distance between her and Scarecrow, and taking care not to take too many turns that would get her closer. 

Though after a minute of luring around the cryptid, she came across a path she formerly took.
There was now a solid grate of bone blocking one of her paths. 

Building strength and punching it, it cracked, but still stood firmly enough. She punched again and again, until it shattered.

Precious seconds were wasted.

She crawled through, but it wasn’t long until she encountered more of the grates. They were scattered seemingly randomly. In truth, Queen knew her ruse had been found out. Scarecrow was covering the paths she took, and any path she could potentially take.

Her instincts knew what would happen if she only followed the unblocked paths. If she wasted time busting down every gate, her assailant would reach her in no time.

Smelling the air, she caught a downward draft of where air was flowing unusually. These grates were only recently placed. Perhaps the lower floors lacked them. 

Punching through another grate, she hurried to one of the ducts that dropped down to the first floor.

Diving down and crashing onto the vent floor, her nose was overwhelmed with a dense smell of rotting flesh. She couldn’t even get a grip on where these traps could be, let alone how many there were. 

The vents all around were faintly vibrating. Noises of rattling, smacking, and thuds echoed in every direction around her. 

Her heart thumped against her chest, and she crawled for her life.

There was only one familiar scent among the horrid stench, and that was of Davis and Louise.

She could no longer keep this up alone, not on this floor. She had to reunite. 

Unconsciously, she was changing her form.
With every step, her fingers grew more claw-like, and were digging through the metal of the ducts, to get a better grip and propel her faster. Her arms grew stronger for the exact same reason. She shrunk herself slightly more, shedding weight to move faster. At the same time, she even added layers of protection to her skin, growing thicker. Despite being human in shape, she was slowly losing more and more details the more panicked she became. The rattling and echoes from the ducts continued to grow more and more intense. When she passed by an intersection, a beartrap launched out and latched onto her thigh. She continued to push through, despite it tugging in the opposite direction. She was slowed temporarily until she felt a part of her flesh rip off. More and more, beartraps were converging on her location, grabbing onto her. It was the almost the same result every time: A temporary slowdown, resulting in either surface level scratches, or them getting a good enough grip to rip out another part of her. The injuries didn’t mean much to her; The encroaching Scarecrow was far more horrifying. She continued to increase her muscle mass, strength, as much as she could in this human form. She wished she had the time to re-shape her entire body and skeleton, perhaps into a rodent-like shape to move faster. Or maybe even a durable beast such as a boar. 

Now there was the sound of snarling, alongside heavier pattering. Whatever these beasts were, Scarecrow had her cornered if it was going to be this obvious. She was finally over the computer room too. Her friends were right below her.

Right before one of the vents that led down, she saw a large flesh-hound charging at her, full speed.
With a monstrous roar, she tore a hole in the bottom of the vents. Using her accrued strength, she smashed through the roof, and leapt down.

Louise was getting the last pin free when they heard a roar and crash from overhead. Davis was watching the door, whirling around to see the monster-like Queen falling helplessly. She slammed into the floor, and scrambled back to her feet. She stared up, growing back to her normal size, preparing to strike at the descending hound. 

For Davis, time slowed down. The dog wasn’t the only thing that leapt down. From the other side, a shadowy figure was falling as well. 

The dog was a feint. 

He sprinted at full speed, time still moving slow in his eyes. He leapt forward, tackling Queen. The two soared through the air, about to crash into the wall.

Then, Davis phased out, Queen in tow.

The dog splattered against the floor from the drop, and Scarecrow landed on top of it, shredding the beast from existence. It stood up and ran out of the room without hesitation.

Louise, peeked from behind the door.

Wait, if it ignored me, then…

Phasing back in at the auditorium, Queen and Davis struck the ground. He was nearly hyperventilating, his chest with the same pins and needles feeling. 

A snap echoed from across the room. A net slung from the ground, hidden among the auditorium seats. It flattened the two against the auditorium. They were like insects trapped in a spiderweb.

Queen tried to shift her body around slightly, continuing to return to her human size to maybe maneuver herself free. However, the net seemed to shift with her, keeping her pinned by the wrists. She struggled, but barely found the energy to push against the net. She panted, and her body all over ached. The net itself felt like an immovable brick wall.

Davis could only feel the net around his legs and arms, and it was extremely tight. It was digging into his skin, and making it even harder to breathe. Still feeling numb, he didn’t want to risk phasing out. From how choked he already was, his instinct told him doing so might knock him out entirely.

He paced his breathing, trying to relax and hopefully regain just enough energy to free himself, then free Queen.

His breathing quickened when the main auditorium door opened. Scarecrow’s shadowy figure was approaching. It wasn’t running, but calmly walking towards Queen. She struggled more and more, trying to fight hopelessly against the taught net. 

It walked close until it was within arm’s reach of her. Davis closed his eyes. 

Just when I need my power the most, it flounders. Why now? It’s never done this before? I don’t want her to die!

There was a clunking noise in the distance..

It reached out, both shadowy hands closing on her neck.

Then, a brutal SMACK.

Scarecrow flew away, bouncing off of and shredding the backs of some auditorium seats.

Louise stood there, holding the door like a giant paddle. She ran up to Davis, reaching into both of his jacket pockets. Finding the bone knife, she sliced away a few parts of the net. It quickly loosened, and the two fell to the floor.

Scarecrow was back on his feet, and now approaching the group.

Queen smelled from behind, a stench of approaching flesh. It was anticipating them to flee again. She stared briefly at her friends.

Feeling enough in his arms, he pulled out the remaining fire flask. With a lighter, he lit the alcohol-soaked cloth.

“Louise, use this!” He yelled. “Arms are still sore!”
Louise quickly grabbed it, and chucked it. The fire engulfed the cryptid once more, igniting its skull-shaped heart. With the door, Louise maneuvered around it, lining down a clear path of seats towards the wall. She charged forward, shoving the cryptid along with her. She slammed into the wall, feeling it get slightly pushed in. She pulled the door back slightly, hoping to not shred it too much.

“Hey Queen, I need one last powerful shove. Help me out here!”
Queen sucked in her breath. She ran to the opposite side of the room. She braced her feet into the floor. She poured strength and muscle into it, pressing firmly against the floor. She could feel her feet cracking and sinking into the floor, and she launched forward. With every step, she pumped power into her legs. In just a few seconds, she cleared over half the width of the auditorium. Closing in, she bounded forward, extending out her strengthened legs.
All her weight collided with the metal door, causing it to crumple at the point of impact. It shoved forward, slightly embedding itself in the wall behind it.
A thunderous CRACK drowned out the noise of the impact. A wave of shadows emanated from the embedded door.
There was howling and whining resounding from the halls outside, screaming over the blaring fire alarm.
The leftover fragments of the flesh net on the floor shriveled away, now looking like dried dead plants.

Louise exhaled deeply.

“HOOOOOOOOO! I think that’s it! Good job everyone!”
Davis started moving his arms around, feeling finally returning to them. Queen slowly undid all the changes to her body, reverting to her normal human looks.
She crept over to the door. Louise came over as well, grabbing ahold of the side of it, and pulling. “Queen, can you help me here?”
Queen grabbed the door as well, and pulled.
Inside the indent they had created were the remains of the skull. Among the rubble were bright white fragments of bone.

“Well, I don’t think whoever your employer is can put that back together. You should be all fine now.”
Louise turned to her.

“Now as for your part of our deal.”
Queen nodded. “He may still be searching for me, but even so. Perhaps there is more to learn living with you and Davis. I will help you with your hunts, and perhaps you can help me attend school with you?”
Louise grimmaced. “Nah, school is really boring. I don’t think you’d enjoy it.”
“Then why do you go every day?”
“Out of obligation. Human society is just very… Boring. I can explain a bit later.”
“Hello? Yes, I’d like to report an emergency. Something happened, but people are hurt here at Tomahawk High.”
Louise whirled around to see Davis on his phone.

“Yes, please send an ambulance. Thank you.” He hung up.

“Davis, what were you doing?”
“Calling authorities. You saw the students and the teacher, they got hurt. They need medical attention.”
“Yeah, but what if they discover the cryptid stuff? Won’t that mean everything is all over?”
Queen stared. “What do you mean by that?”
“I can explain that later…”
“It’s hard to be heroes for the town if we don’t do what we can to help anyone caught in the crossfire…”
Louise sighed. “I guess. Fine. Let’s just hope this doesn’t backfire. Now let’s all go to my home, at least before any authorities arrive. I don’t want to be caught and questioned, or anything like that…”


once in a lifetime – Chapter 8

 To Louise’s delight, the detective wasn’t there to track her down for running away from that officer days ago. To Davis’s delight, the detective also offered to give them a ride home.

His car was a few decades old, but still decently kept. The body was still well painted, no obviously visible dents or scratches. The interior was pretty clean as well, still smelling fresh, courtesy of a tree-shaped car freshener. Davis was slumped over, fading away to sleep as Louise stared out the window, looking into the endless darkness of the passing fields.

“Is urban exploring really popular with kids nowadays?” Gold spoke back, still keeping his eyes on the road.

“Yup yup. Well, actually, I don’t know too well about others. But Davis and I like it a lot.”
Davis wheezed. “It takes way too much out of me…”
The detective chuckled. “At least your friend there was willing to carry you out! A little bit of

exercise every day never hurts for endurance.”

Davis shrank back into the seat as Louise rolled her eyes. “That’s what I’VE been telling him!”
“See, you got a good friend there kid. Anyways, back on topic, you sure others your age haven’t been goin out to places around there?”
“Nope, not that we’re aware of. Sometimes I see people online posting pictures of abandoned stuff, but no idea if they’re our age.”

The man sighed. “Well, if you do, tell them to at least not do it anymore. The same goes for you two.”
Louise clenched her fist, grimacing to herself. “We’re not doing anything illegal though!”
“Well, what you were doing is against the law, but there’s something a bit more to it. You wouldn’t know anybody who’s disappeared recently?”
Louise tensed up further. “No, not really?”
Davis nervously shifted in his seat, looking away.

“There’s been quite a few. An abnormal amount in the past few months. I’ve been hired by a few folks to see if I can find anything about their missing kids, and in my investigation, that opened up a whole can of worms to a plethora of missing person cases around her.”
Davis gulped. “H-how many people are gone?”
“The details don’t matter. The only consistent found between a few of them is that they were last seen wandering around the outskirts of town or the woods. So either there’s a serial kidnapper, a very stealthy mountain lion, or something else entirely. But as long as you stay at home and stay safe, you all should be fine.”
“Well, don’t worry about us! We’re a very capable team! Plus, I’m sure soon you’ll find some big break in your case!”
He raised an eyebrow, still focused on the road. “What do you mean by that exactly?”
“It’s just, hoping for the best.” Davis interjected. “I’m really worried for those people too.”

“With how things are looking for me, I guess a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt. I’m not gonna get paid until I find some lead to where those missing kids ended up.”

  Several minutes later, the detective’s car pulled up in front of Louise’s home. He put it into park, turning back to the two teens.
“All right then, here we are. You two just, take my advice, all right? I say this outta compassion: I really don’t want to add you two to my case file.”
Louise nodded vigorously. “We’re not gonna go anywhere anytime soon!”

He smiled. “All right, but I WILL be talking to the police again if I see you two out there again, all right?”

“We won’t, I promise.” Davis chimed in.

The two got out of the car, Louise waving as the detective drove off into the night. Davis stared at Louise’s home for a few moments, realizing he forgot to ask the detective for a lift to his place.

“Uh, shoot.” He glanced down the dark street, barely lit by streetlamps. His thoughts briefly went back to the monster that stalked them in the factory.
“I think I should walk home, I don’t want to be a bother-”
Louise grabbed him by the arm. “Are you seriously going to take such a huge risk going home alone?”
“N-no. It’s just that I don’t want to cause any problems-”
“Nah, don’t worry! My parents might be home, but they won’t mind! I think.”

“You think-”
Louise tugged him along to the front of her home, unlocking the door. Davis’s skin turned white as she slowly opened the door, peeking in.
“Hey, uh… anyone home? I’m back…”
There was nobody near the entrance, though a light was on in the living room.

“LOUISE!” A feminine voice cried out. Louise recoiled. She slowly walked in, head hung low. Davis still stood just outside the doorway, shaking and staring at her.
From the living room came Louise’s mother. She put her hands on her hips, staring down at the teen with a stern expression.

“Where have you been all night? Did you check your phone at all? I was worrying so much I’ve got more gray hairs!”
“Well… I was kinda…” She looked down at the floor.

Davis ran through the door. “We were doing some urban exploration and stuff, checking out abandoned buildings and… things. We’re safe, we didn’t get in trouble or anything, please don’t be mad!”

Her mother’s face suddenly changed to surprise with the appearance of Davis.
“Oh uh, I haven’t mentioned him yet. This is my friend, Davis.”
He sheepishly waved.

“His house is kinda far away, and it’s already pretty dark out. Is it okay if he stays for the night?”

Her mom sighed. “Honey, you could have at least called if you were going to drag along a friend. Now I have to get some place set up for him.”
She turned to Davis. “You can go and have whatever you want in the fridge, I’ll get an inflatable mattress ready for you. Hurry along, I need to have a quick word with Louise.”

Davis nodded and went to the kitchen. With only the two women left in the entrance, her mom focused on Louise with a hawkish gaze.
“First of all, if you’re going to be out this late, PLEASE at least send me a text or something. It’s happened too many times already, and every time I’m seriously worried for you.”
“Yes mom…”
“And second… You used protection, right?”
Louise’s eyes widened and face flushed straight red. “WHAT?”
“Come on, you can’t fool me. You meet a new boy without telling me about him, and not coming home until late at night over and over? Plus, urban exploration? Who even does that?”
She buried her flushed face in her hand. “Godddd why did you have to bring this upppp…”
“Really? Then why all the secrecy with him?” She grinned. “Are you afraid your mom is gonna embarrass you in front of your new boyfriend?”
“Mom PLEASE we’re just friends!”
She continued to grin. “Fine, fine, as long as you two aren’t doing anything illegal, or too dangerous. You’ve got tetanus shots and everything, but you still gotta watch for broken glass, pipes, rabid wildlife-”
“Trust me mom, we’ve been fine. If I get seriously hurt, I’ll let you know. I promise!”

She smiled compassionately. “That’s good to know then. Now come on, get something to eat. I wanna hear more about your ‘friend’.”

   It was a new, very early morning, the morning mist still present in the air. From the northeast of town, a river ran down from the foothills, pooling into a lake further down the line. There was a small rowing club set up at the shore, where both students and adults could take out a boat to row on the lake.

Every morning on the way to School, Kirino would refuse to be driven by her parents or housekeeper, and instead opted to walk all the way from her foothill home to the nearest bus stop. If only she could do the same when it meant traveling to the lake early in the morning..
The week had been harrowing, so taking time in the morning to row would at least help burn away some of the anxiety.

She went into the boathouse, changing into a unisuit and taking out one of the single sculls. She carried it down to the water, setting up her oars, and pushing off. She began rowing towards another one of the single sculls, occupied by an oranged haired boy. With a big grin on his face, he waved at the approaching girl.

“Yo Kirino!” He yelled across the quiet lake. She smiled slightly at him.

Despite all her discipline, even he was still on the water earlier than she was.

She lined up her boat next to his.

Scott Williams was a good friend of Kirino’s. She typically was a coxswain for a school rowing team, but she would constantly see him on the water, typically alone on a single scull. He approached her randomly one day, and the two became friends. Though for Kirino, there was one deciding factor that secured their friendship.

“So, how about some simple warmups for this morning? You ain’t lookin too good, so we should relax-”

“I’ve warmed up enough. I want to race.”
He shrugged, still keeping a smile on his face.
“All right. Let’s make it simple, first one to the end of the lake. Count down from three, aight?”
Kirino stared in front of her, focusing on the distance ahead. Her vision locked, tensing her muscles.
“One… Two…” She inhaled. “THREE.”
She started with a powerful stroke, pulling the oars back and accelerating the boat. In seconds, she could feel the air blowing against her face and hair.
She put every muscle into stroke after stroke; Arms pulling as hard as she could, legs shoving, and back leaning back as much as possible. She wanted to completely exhaust herself, and kept pushing herself harder and harder.
Even with her entire mind dedicated to rowing and winning a simple race, her failure from the night before still wormed its way between every stroke.
She grunted harder to herself, rowing harder and harder. The wind was blowing so hard in her eyes she began to squint.

“You’re never going to beat me with form like that!” She heard scream across the lakefront.

She broke out of her trance, finding that Scott was already waiting at the end. He was waving with that same goofy smile, barely looking even winded from the race. She huffed to herself, slowing her boat down to a stop. She looked down, staring into her reflection in the water.

“I’m just never gonna be able to outdo you, huh?”
He chuckled. “Not with that attitude. Even racing, it was easy to see what was up. Your form wasn’t exactly the best. You’re putting your all into every stroke, but not only were you rushing too hard, you were all out of balance.”
She looked up, listening to her friend.
“Like you’re pushing way too fast on the legs, a good amount of arm strength, but you were barely actually putting your back into it. I mean that literally. You were going too fast before you could get the most oomph out of it, you know?”
“I know that, I know the basics of rowing you know.” She snapped. “I’m no amateur when it comes to this.”
He sighed, cocking his head and still smiling. “Then you should be above these mistakes ya know. Come on, let’s just casually row up and down the lake together. I can help you with your form.”

The two had spent half an hour on the lake together, Scott keeping up and commenting on her rowing form. He constantly encouraged her, simply going “Come on, more to the back” or “Push your legs out more, you’ve almost got a good balance of everything!” and “Don’t forget, back, legs, then arms when rowing! You got this Kirino!”
She couldn’t help but feel like she was being patronized. Yet, every time she focused on him giving that dumb smile, all those thoughts washed away. He was simply better at her than him in rowing.

It was at least something she could afford being worse at.
After all that, the two docked their boats, carrying it back up to the house together.

“You really went crazy during that race, you know. This isn’t some movie or something where you can just grunt and power your way through everything.”
“Yes, I’m aware… Honestly, I just needed to relieve stress. There’s been some issues plaguing me as of late.”
“Really? What’s goin on?”
She thought to a few nights before. After a full debrief, her employer seemed understanding that it was inevitable that other supernatural elements would interfere. He even seemed intrigued in the artifact Louise wielded, and instructed her to steal it if at all possible.
To her, it was still a complete failure of her mission. The first one in several she had done.
“It’s… my job. I failed big time on an assignment.”
“You’re working a job too? Sheesh, how do you find any time to relax or anything?”
“I’m here rowing for a reason, no?”
“Fair point, fair point. But hey, you gotta chill out a bit. Mistakes happen and you can’t be perfect at everything.”
She clenched her fist. “This job isn’t something I can afford to make mistakes in. Especially since this screw up was- Nevermind.”
The two arrived at the boathouse, racking their sculls.
“Hey, come on. What exactly happened at your job?”
She thought similar thoughts from when she was with the twins. Scott was incredibly strong and talented, but even this job might be too much to get him involved.

“I can’t. This job needs to be my responsibility, and I need to work harder. I can’t afford to screw up here, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to do something historic.”
“What is your job even that’s so important? Isn’t college or that stuff more important?”
“I told you this problem should be something I need to handle alone. It might be too much for others-”
He held up his hand.
“You can’t just go like that, say this is something you need to handle alone and vent to me about it. You really need help with this work, don’t you?”
She stared at him, squinting her eyes. She inhaled, keeping a stern expression locked onto him.
“And you obviously want help from me, of all people?”
“You’re one of few I can talk to about this.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure I can help with your burden. It’s no fun seeing you all worked up like this. You’re gonna die at 45 or somethin from a heart attack if you keep stressing out.”
She stared at him, thinking. He continued.
“As a coxswain, you should really learn to accept others’ help sometimes. It’s like a rowing boat, you know? If we all row together, we all benefit. Kapeesh?”
She racked her brain. She thought about herself, her mission, the twins, her friend. She stood still for several moments as she let all the factors swirl around in her mind.

“Perhaps there is something you can do… If you truly want to help, get a lift from somebody after school today, and meet me at my home.”
She checked the surroundings around her. Nobody was nearby.
“We can discuss things further there. But what you’ll be getting into isn’t going to be any fun or games.”
Scott felt an eerie amount of pressure radiate from her, and his smile turned into a more focused expression.
“I do incredibly dangerous work, and your life will be at risk if you accept.”

He silently nodded, a grin sneaking its way back onto his face.
“If it’s really that dangerous, all the more reason to extend out an arm to help ya. A little bit of danger sounds like it’ll spice up life too”

“Take this with careful thought before you meet. That is the very least I will ask.”

  It was around 6AM when Davis was rudely shaken awake off the inflatable mattress. He cracked his eyes open to see Louise’s face. She was already dressed for school.
He turned to his phone, squinting at the clock.

“Don’t tell me you live an hour away from school…”
“Fifteen minutes away. Your home is fifteen minutes away in the opposite direction, however.”
He pulled the blankets tighter around him, turning away.
“Why do we need to go to my place…”
Louise tore the blanket off, revealing he had slept in the clothes he wore from yesterday.
“You kinda stink. The LEAST you could do is get a fresh set of clothes. Also, you need a uniform jacket too. ALSO, a place to put all your fireworks, unless you want to bring them to school. No, you can’t really put them here because I don’t really wanna risk my mom coming across them. She doesn’t have work today.”
He grumbled. “Fiiinee… just five more minutes?”
She opened the side of the inflatable mattress, letting out all the air. “Nope. Plus, when we get home we can make a quick report to the benefactor. I think we’ve done enough good that we can turn in our report.”

   To double up on Davis’s dismay, not only was he forced to get up earlier than ever before, but now Louise was going to stick the strange USB stick into HIS computer. He didn’t have a desktop like Louise, but had a laptop that he’d typically keep in the garage. He only really used it when he had trouble building stuff, or for the occasional school project.
He had booted it up, and Louise grabbed the drive.

“Are you sure we couldn’t, like, test this out on a library computer first or something? If this is a virus, you’re going to buy me a new laptop.”
“Come on, the benefactor already gave me the gauntlets. WHy shouldn’t we trust them?”
“I dunno, what’s this guy’s name even?”
Louise shrugged. “Benefactor I guess. Well, I mean also, if he lied about the USB stick, then we’re kinda screwed in saving the town too.”
“Here’s hopin for the best then.”
Louise popped in the drive.
His computer screen glitched out, before turning to static snow.
A familiar computerized voice spoke out.

“Louise Palarick, Davis Foster, please state your report.”
Davis spoke up. “Well for starters-”
“We got a lot of good work done the past week! We’re on a serious roll! First, we managed to kill off both a wendigo and a giant turtle looking hydra. They’re also entrapped in place nobody can easily find them!”
“Very good. Is that all?”
“There was also this factory owned by G. Brand in the outskirts of town. We broke in, and it had some weird… extradimensional? I think that’s a good word for it.”
“If you have the address for this location, inform me of it.”
“Wait, there’s more.” Davis butted in. “We didn’t really do anything to contain or stop it, we couldn’t really do anything about it. It was a massive labyrinth, that like… physically didn’t make any sense. Not to mention, there was a kinda monster in there that disguised itself as a mannequin, and attacked me.”
“And don’t forget the giant brain at the end.”
The voice crackled. “Elaborate more on the brain.”
Louise tapped her chin. “Well, we didn’t get a complete look at it, since we were running for our life when we came across it. It was like, this big brain-like thing, with all sorts of wires and computer stuff plugged into it.”
“Strange. I do not recall the previous agent encountering this.”
Louise’s eyes beamed. “HAH! I knew we were destined for this stuff!”

“I want to hear more. Continue on about the factory.”
The two both took turns explaining the entire endless night they spent at the factory. The weird machines, the trucks, the strange warped space, and how they managed to barely escape the monster.
“That will be all. You two have made very good progress with your work. I look forward to your next report.”
“HOLD ON!” Davis shouted. “About that monster, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about it? Like, anything related? I get this suspicion that it wouldn’t let us leave the factory so easily…”
“I am unable to disclose any information. Doing so would risk my position.”
“But you can talk to us and stuff? Come on, we’re in serious danger.”
“There is nothing more I can do, I can only receive information you give. I trust in your capabilities to see this problem on your own, however. Now, I must disconnect. Good luck.”
The computer screen flickered back to the desktop, and Davis sighed.
“This is really a one sided kinda deal, isn’t it?” Davis grumbled.

“You heard her, and you should be more confident now. A wendigo and hydra are nothin to us. What’s the worst that cryptid can do to us?”

That was indeed a very good question, Davis thought. What truly was the worst that monster could do to them?

I’m still alive

Well, figures that I might as well post a status update here at the very least.

It has been an incredibly stressful and busy past few years for me, trying to hop from job to job, to COVID having me unemployed for the greater half of the year, to finally returning to full time work, to even more things going on. I’ve been utterly jam packed with real life, it’s been really hard to sit down and just, find a good reason to right.

With everything going on and a plethora of self esteem and motivational issues involving my writing, the most I’ve gotten are various drafts for continuations to Congeria stories, and drafts for a brand new world and set of stories altogether. Yet I can never find the motivation to sit down and just write it out. Deep down, I do wanna hear feedback about what I write, if anyone is reading. The only thing more fun than writing to me, honestly, is watching people get invested and excited for a next chapter, or for what will happen next in a story.

With life starting to settle down, someday I might return to writing. The closest to a complete project is a bit of a sequel story to Congeria, sometime further down the line of Joy and Simon’s story. It’s just a matter of trying to convince myself I’m good enough and worth putting my work out there.

For those of you still subscribed to my site and reading, and anxiously awaiting any continuation, please do let me know if you’re there. It’s just nice to know that people want to read what I’m putting out.

Update once more

Happy 2020 everyone!

I’m sorry for my lack of writing as of late… I’ve hit some serious humps in almost every area when it comes to my own writing. I’m working a second job, I’m finding myself at a terrible loss of motivation, my depression is hitting hard, and much more going on. I barely have any time to think of what to write, let alone the motivation to continue.

I’ve still renewed the payment for the site so everyone can still browse it ad-free, but I’m not sure if I’ll put anything new up anytime soon. If any of you do want to see more, please do speak up! Feedback of any kind is too few and far between, and I do seriously appreciate any bit of vocal enjoyment of my work. It helps motivate me a lot

Take care, and hope you all have a good decade!

To new visitors!

I noticed a sudden influx in visitors today and decided to write a quick update post for yall!
Welcome, hope you enjoy the stories. As for updates, I’ve been pretty busy with real life. I’m working two part time jobs and attempting to keep up with classes. I’ve been pretty exhausted mentally and only find the energy to write once or twice a week as of late. Hopefully with a bit of luck, I can start writing more in the future!

An update on the state of writing

So it’s been almost a good few months of inactivity and I figured I SHOULD post some kind of update.
First, I’m still alive, and I’m not finished with writing. I’m simply MUCH much more busy than I anticipated. I’m working retail alongside night classes at school so it leaves me little time to even process ideas. With summer coming up, I should hopefully have more time to sit down and focus.

Regarding Congeria, I’ve been thinking on and off how to continue but can’t find any good idea that sticks just yet. So I might be writing a few short story ideas I had inbetween to try and take a SHORT break from Congeria writing. I’ll try and get on that bi-weekly schedule to write when I’m writing, I just need a lot more future planning for where to go with the story.

Hopefully that answers most of the questions I expect people to have, please comment if you have any other! I’ll be glad to respond. Hope y’all do well!

Update: Work and School

So figured I’d write a quick thing here

With the spring quarter starting up, my time to work has kinda drastically decreased. Some days I’ll be at both my job and school, resulting in me spending almost 12+ hours away from home for around half the week, with the other half dedicated to catching up on homework. I’ve been rather exhausted as of late from all the work, and hitting some serious motivational humps regarding my writing and hope for readers and such

The long story short is, I can’t really guarantee a proper schedule anymore given all these factors. I can only really upload stuff when I can. Just wanted to update all my followers here, and I hope you all won’t mind

Don’t worry, I’m still alive!

Hey everyone, sorry for the long absence of work on my site. As of late, I’ve been absolutely hunkered down with work and essays at school. I’ve been edging at the next chapter to Joy and Simon every now and then, but I’m barely finding time to work amidst everything else going on in life.

I don’t update much here, but I do have a twitter I’m active on, so do follow me there if you want to stay up to date with my stuff!
Here’s the link: https://twitter.com/BenFishLit

Hope you’re all having a good week!

Boosting reader interaction

So I was curious with the increase in viewership the last few days thanks to Sheepapp, I’ve been trying and hoping to interact more with my readerbase. Does anybody know of other good ideas? I mostly just hope they comment and respond, but I’m not getting any feedback or responses or whatnot to my writing at all