“Daddy!” the little voice rang through the dark. The young father shuffled down the hall and opened his sons bedroom door. The sound of sobbing punctuated by the gasps of breathing formed a kind of tragic symphony. The man flipped on the light and saw his son’s wide open eyes. The boy leapt from the bed and grabbed onto him. The boy howled and screamed as he clung to his leg. The man knelt down and cradled his son. He thought to himself God I need help.
The door bell sang out. The father sat his son on the bed and ran to the door. He opened it up and saw two young men standing on the step. They each had black trench coats on and a brimmed hat. They looked as though they had been drawn from a 1920s detective drama. Without speaking the two drew open their trench coats with their left hands and procured ID with their right. In sync they flipped open their badges.
“Hello sir.” One spoke, his voice deep but the sort of false deep that children use to sound like adults. “We are psychologists from the department of health.”
“Could we come in?” The other spoke almost sounding bored.
“Yes it would be ironic if health officials caught a death of cold.” The first grinned. The man let them into his house. They stepped in as one, almost a unit.
“Can you show us your son’s room?” The second asked impatiently.
“My son?” The man replied.
“Yes sir, you see our statisticians have developed a psychomathematical equation which allows us to predict the physiological and emotional crisis of the population based upon various demographics. Your number came up as likely needing our specific assistance so we were dispatched.” The first explained with a wave of his hand as though dispensing some common and obvious knowledge. The man nodded, he didn’t understand a word the young official had said but didn’t want to let on.
“Makes sense. My son is this way.” He led them down the hall to where his son sat in his room. The boy sniffled as they walked in. His eyes grew wide.
“Daddy.” He pointed, “who are they?”
“These men are…” He struggled to find the word to give his son.
“We’re here to find out if there are monsters in your house.” The first man said. He had squatted down to eye level with the boy and smiled. “The president sent us to come and make sure there are no monsters here.” He nodded. His voice was calm and gentle and oddly sincere. The sons eyes went wide in amazement.
“The president? Really?”
“Yes.” The agent produced a silver badge and placed it in the boy’s hand.
“Sir if you don’t mind we have some tests to run.” The tone implied an order for the man to leave and so he did.
The agent scanned the room and smiled as he saw the stacks of dinosaurs and spaceships. He saw an old story book and action figures of knights and Dragons.
“Lancelot. Check for gas and mold please.” The first agent said over his shoulder.
“Lancelot? Like Arthur’s best knight?” The boy asked.
“Exactly.” The agent looked around. Closet single door, no light switch. Bed, low down, dark. He ticked the two most common hiding spots.
“Daddy says there aren’t any Knights.” The boy said. “He said we don’t need them.” The other agent laughed a little.
“Of course we need knights! Who else would slay the dragons?” He shook his head. “Bedivere. No gas no mold.”
“Well then that means we have a beastie.” The agent winked at the child. “Now I need you to tell me. Where does the monster live?”
“The monsters?” The boy asked trembling. The first agent, Bedivere, drew a long silver flashlight from his coat. The end of the flashlight had two projections that made it seem like the guard of a sword.
“You know where they are right?” Bedivere asked. “Lance and I will protect you. Knights honor.” He brought his hand to his heart and Lancelot did the same.
“Presidents don’t have knights.” The boy said and looked at the closet.
“Quite right. Kings do.” Bedivere nodded. “But we do work for the president, at least he pays us. We are Knights of another King though.” He smiled. He flicked on the flashlight and a beam of silver light filled the air for about three feet. The boy gaped. Then he folded his arms.
“Daddy says there aren’t really monsters.”
“Your dad doesn’t see them the same. Most adults don’t. There are all kinds of different ways they look. Anything that can frighten you can be a monster. Which is why the king and president send us. Sometimes the monsters don’t leave.”
Bedivere took a defensive stance between the closet and the boy. Lancelot threw the door open and the lights flickered. The beast manifested from the door way. It was a mess of tentacles and skulls that stretched out of the door. A tentacle lanced out and Bedivere sliced it off. The tentacle dissolved as the light destroyed it. The agents blade left a shadow on the wall and the boy looked and saw a knight in armor silhouetted against the wall. Lancelot ignited his flashlight and sliced into the beast as well. Bedivere charged forward and stabbed his blade to the hilt in the beast. It writhed then dissolved to dust. The knights deactivated their blades and sheathed them.
“Well jobs done.” Bedivere announced. “He won’t be back. Well there are other monsters to slay. Don’t worry. If you ever need us we’ll be back.” The father stood in the door way absolutely aghast.
“Who are you?”
“You’ll forget, like a bad dream. So, call us Penumbra.” And with that the two agents walked out into the rain and disappeared.
Johnny grabbed the door knob and gave it a twist. He felt it click back angrily as he did so. He pressed against the door and heard his mother gasp and laugh. Locked out for the night again, he turned down the hall to walk back. He had learned that a locked door meant not to disturb his mom. He dragged his teddy bear back down the hall and down the stairs. The monsters were just too scary to stay in his own room.
The door bell sent shivers down his spine. The house sat silent. He heard what sounded like voices from upstairs.
This time Johnny was certain he heard voices. The man with his mom quieted her down.
Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong.
Shouts and mean words came at Johnny and the door as the man ran down the stairs with a towel round his waist. He snarled at Johnny when he saw him.
The man muttered something to himself before cracking the door open. Two men in long coats and hats stood at the door. Johnny couldn’t tell if they looked more like the good or bad guys in the shows his dad had loved.
“Hello sir. We hope we didn’t interrupt anything.” One of them said.
“Ah this may be the first time we’ve literally caught someone with their pants down.” Said the other.
“It would be advisable for you to go put some clothes on.” The first said. Johnny saw his mom come down the stairs in pajamas. The two officials tipped their hats.
“Leave.” Snarled the mean man at the two nice ones.
“Throwing in the towel so soon?” The second man snarked.
“Don’t please.” The other said. “Not in the door way at least.”
“What’s going on?” Johnny’s mom said.
“Department of psychological health ma’am” the first said. “May we come in?” The mean man tried to speak but Johnny’s mom nodded. The two men stepped past him. One of them tousled Johnny’s hair like his dad used to. He smiled and the man winked at him. “Well Johnny, can you tell me how long you’ve been having nightmares?”
“What’s the point of that?”
“Well that’s how we find the monsters of course.”
Johnny looked at the nice man. The monster was real? He began to shake.
“Johnny.” The first man spoke. “You’re safe here. We won’t let the monster harm you.” The man was serious. The same kind of serious his dad had been when he said the same things.
“I don’t know.” Johnny said. The man winked again, like there was some joke only the two of them would get.
“We’ll do a standard investigation. Certain environmental factors can cause a phenomena like this.”
“The environment of the home is fine for the kid!” The mean man shouted. “You don’t come into my house and accuse me of abuse.” The kind man mouthed “got him” to Johnny.
“A standard test is mold, gas, water… You suggested abuse not me.” The other man began running fingers down the walls searching for something. “Also, this isn’t your house Dick.” The way the man said it Johnny giggled.
“Richard.” The mean man said.
“Dick” the man at the wall said.
“Have either of you used any pesticedes in the house?” Johnny watched the mean man fidget. He tapped his foot and crossed his arms. His breathing was heavy and fast. Both the adults shook their heads. The nice men asked about if the water tasted like eggs, to which the reply was no. Then one asked Johnny if the eggs tasted like eggs, much to the frustration of the mean man. He paced and pulled at hair as he did so. Johnny hoped he pulled it all out. After a while the men seemed to have asked every question, they had asked about everything from water and air to plants and bugs. Finally the nicest man looked straight at Johnny.
“Now Johnny. What does the monster look like?” Johnny thought long and hard about the monsters that stalked his dreams. He formed the image and grasped for words. Then Johnny just pointed at the mean man.
The mean man blinked. He frowned and snarled. He raised his hand to hit Johnny. The hand swung in and the nice man caught it.
“Jig is up vampire.” The man put a fist in the other’s face. “Johnny sit tight.” He pulled a flashlight with two guards out.
“Vampire?” Johnny’s mom asked. The other man pulled a flashlight as well. They pushed buttons and a blade of light appeared.
“Yes ma’am.” The second said. “This one feeds on insecurity. It comes and provides itself as a source of comfort and then it drains you. Slowly making you more and more dependent as it creates and devours insecurity.”
“Do you boys believe you can slay me?” The vampire snickered. It’s face suddenly uglier. It’s eyes narrow yellow slits that darted side to side. Fangs hung out from his mouth. The nails now we’re long claws. “You don’t look like you even know how to use that sword!”
“I assure you the acting at the door was as unrepresentative of us, as it was for you.” The second replied planting himself between the monster and the mother.
“You’re through terrorizing this family, vampire.” The first snarled.
“She never loved you. It doesn’t matter how many of us you slay, it won’t bring her back. She could have stayed though, she kicked you out because she didn’t want you.” The vampire spat, looking side to side. “Who are you even to stand against me? Bedivere? Doctor Dogood? Mr. Lightson? What name do you wear today?”
“All and none. I am an agent of penumbra, I am the do good, the light’s son, the bold. Against you though? The name I bear is Peter!” The kind man declared.
“The one who denied thrice? A worthless name for a worthless fool!” The vampire shouted and dove toward Johnny. The kind man though stepped in between. His blade struck and threw him back. As the vampire dissolved the man spoke.
“The one who was thrice redeemed.” He looked at Johnny. “Next time. Never let a vampire in and if you do, the light beats them.” The men tipped their hats and left.
Johnny could tell the next morning that his mom didn’t remember anything. Then again, she seemed happier and brighter that morning and every after.Super Hero
The young mother fumbled through her bag to find her phone. She sighed as her son turned up the volume on his cartoons. She needed to call a baby sitter. He shouted up to her that he wanted to show her something. Her fingers grasped the plastic rectangle at the bottom of the bag.
The mother ran down the hall and grabbed the door. She opened up to a young man in a white collared shirt and black jeans. His eyes shone behind a pair of spectacles. She shook her head at him.
“Sorry ma’am” he smiled and pulled an ID out. She saw something about CPR certification but was too flustered to see much else. “Julia told me you needed a sitter?” Her son ran up and looked at the man. The sitter tilted his head to the side and listened. “You like the super hero cartoons too?” He said to her son. The boy smiled and nodded. The mother smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Timmy, this is…” She stopped.
“Clark.” He smiled. The boy’s mouth dropped.
“Clark Kent!” The boy shouted bouncing excitedly. Then he whispered. “Are you super man? Can you fly?” Clark just put a finger to his lips. The mother sighed.
“Thank you so much. He needs to be in bed by nine.” Clark nodded and when Timmy’s mom looked away he mouthed “ten” at him. “I ordered a pizza already.” Clark smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”
A few minutes later the mother had left. Clark and Timmy watched cartoons for a few hours until the sun had long set. Timmy liked the new sitter, he knew all the super heroes and all their secret identities. He could tell all the super powers any of them had. He even pretended to be the bad guy so that Timmy could pretend to be his favorite hero.
“Time for bed kiddo.” Clark said as the clock rang ten times.
“I don’t wanna.” Timmy shook his head. He yawned wide.
“Why not?” Clark asked. Timmy looked down ashamed. “Is it because of the monsters?”
Timmy looked at Clark. He wanted Clark to think he was brave. The monsters couldn’t scare him. Clark smiled and led him to bed.
“Want to know a secret?” Clark asked Timmy. Timmy nodded. “I’m a super hero.” Timmy’s eyes went wide and Clark nodded.
“Really? What’s your super power?” Timmy asked.
“When I say a certain set of words I become super strong and I fight monsters. I’m not going to leave you Timmy. No matter how many monsters come I’ll be right here.” He tucked Timmy in and turned out the lights.
It didn’t take long for Timmy to fall asleep, nor for him to wake up. He knew they were there without seeing them. All the monsters, crouching in the shadows ready to leap out and gobble him up. He breathed harder and grabbed his teddy bear tight. Suddenly he felt a hand on his head.
“Peace. I am with you.” Clark’s voice spoke. “Now remember what I said earlier?” Timmy didn’t say anything. What could he do against all the monsters? He felt Clark rise from the bed and stand up.
“LET THERE BE LIGHT!” He shouted. Suddenly a flash of light exploded in the room. A dozen monsters illuminated in an instant. Yet Timmy saw Clark. What had once been the kind but frail looking young man was replaced. There now stood a tall man who rippled with muscles. He had a cape on and his clothes were silver and white spandex. His hair was a gleaming white as well. When he turned to look at Timmy, he saw that on the hero’s chest a symbol of a candle was emblazoned on it. “I am the Night Light!” He shouted at the monsters. “And it would be better for you to tie a mill stone to your knock than try and harm this little one.” The monsters shifted uneasily. None seemed to want to assault the Night Light first. Then suddenly one charged forward. It looked like a shark with legs instead of fins, even on top. Where the tail was a scorpion’s tale curled behind. The Night Light raised his left hand as the snapping beast launched at him. With one motion he closed the beasts mouth in his left hand. “What did I tell you?” His right hand punched the land shark in the face reducing it to ash. A slew of monsters fell upon the Night Light. Silver beams shot from his eyes and reduced the whole group to dust. Even as he watched Timmy grew tired, is eyes heavy even as the monsters assaulted the Night Light. He slowly slipped into sweet dreams.
Sometime in the night he awoke and saw piles of ash to the ceiling. The Night Light looked side to side. “It is finished.” A flash emanated from him and Clark stood in the room again. He patted Timmy on the head and left the room quietly.
The rain came down heavy outside of the dojang. The last two members of the last class of the day. Instructor Julia and her pupil Red trained. The little yellow belt kicked and punched furiously at a weighted bag twice as tall as she was. Julia laughed at the little kid. Julia twirled a long bamboo staff around herself. Red’s parents had said twenty minutes late, or was it thirty? The wind howled just past the door and Red stiffened. Julia let the staff come to rest and looked over at the little girl.
“What was that?” Red said.
“It’s just the wind.” Julia replied. Red nodded shakily.
“It wasn’t a…” Red’s voice went quiet. Julia squatted down in front of her. “Monster” she whispered. Julia looked into the teary eyes of Red.
“No.” Julia almost left it at that until she remembered when she used to be that scared. She thought of what her mom would have said. “Even if it was.” She said confidently. “No one is going to hurt my students in my dojang.”
The door swung open with an evil clatter. Red shrieked loudly and pointed.
“Want to bet on that Shepherd?” Asked the voice of a monster.
The sound of heavy footfalls gave Julia a reason to turn to the beast. The beast could only be described as a wolf the size and shape of a man. It’s eyes were bright red and it’s fur was jet black. Saliva dripped from its mouth. Around its body hung a karate gi and a black belt bound his pants to his waist. It lumbered forward at them. It easily vaulted the half wall into the dojang’s main floor. A pink tongue slipped out of the beast’s mouth to lick the black lips.
“Oh little shepherd,” it spoke again growling. “They aren’t paying you enough to keep this tasty morsel from me. Be a good little hired hand and run.” He snapped at the last word. Red shrieked and the beast laughed. Julia almost ran. She almost bolted past the werewolf to the door. Then she heard Red’s weeping. Her muscles tightened and she rose.
“I won’t leave you.” She said gripping the staff. “I promised no harm on you.”
“What shepherd?” The beast barked a laugh. “I’ll kill you and her! You have one last chance to run!”
“Run Julia!” shouted red.
“No.” Julia said. Something about holding the staff gave her a reason. “A good shepherd will lay down her life for her sheep.” Jesus had said something like that Julia thought. She didn’t remember where or when, but she was sure it was Jesus. Clark could have said exactly where when and why Jesus had said that. Julia though was glad Clark wasn’t there. Clark seemed like he’d be pretty useless in a fight. She had five minutes until Red’s parents would show up.
The creature darted forward with a howl. Julia brought the staff into the beast’s eye. She dropped back and smashed it over the head. The stunned beast reeled before she side kicked it. The beast cackled and then shook it’s mane. It paced around and she raised the staff. She bounded on the balls of her feet. Four minutes left.
The beast charged again. This time it launched a round house kick at her. She blocked with the staff and swung at it with the other end. The crack of ribs filled the air. She smashed it again into the beast’s knee and made it kneel. She swung her staff over her head and brought it down with a shout. The bamboo splintered as she did so. The beast howled in pain and somersaulted backwards. Three minutes.
Julia gripped the shattered staff in one hand. The splintered end sharp in her hand. The beast this time charged arms wide. She dropped in and stabbed it into the beast’s side. The claws shredded the back of her uniform. She screamed before slamming a knee to drive the staff. She rolled out of the beast’s grasp before it could close tight. She smashed her heel in the beast’s eye and then elbowed it. The beast reeled away. It seemed bigger and uglier, matted with blood and gory fur. Two minutes.
The beast charged and time seemed to turn to syrup. A dozen kicks and punches seemed to flash. The adrenaline charged through Julia’s veins like a train. Her kicks struck and struck. But the beast swung back. She ducked in its blind spot, yet it still managed to strike her. Once in the chest with a punch. She felt the air leave her but the will stayed. A second and third blow had been kicks. She smashed him hard with both legs in a drop kick. The wolf backed up.
“This ends shepherd.” The beast howled at Julia. One minute.
The beast charged and Julia smashed her heel on it with an axe kick. She gripped the other part of the staff and stabbed the eye of the beast. She placed it in a strangle hold and drove the staff deeper. The beast kicked and then died. The door bell rang again and two sets of feet stepped through.
“Excellent work. We knew you’d kill it Miss shepherd.” The two men smiled and stepped over the corpse of the werewolf. Julia stood up, trying to wipe the sludge off herself. The hair and blood and guts covered her.
“Really have never seen a werewolf taken down with such nerve and finesse.” Said one.
“I expect nothing less of a Shepherd.” The second said.
“Who are you?” Julia said at the two men.
“Penumbra ma’am,” the first speaker, the one with dark skin, drew a silver badge from his coat. He placed it in her hand. The image on it was a silver candle on a black iron field. Above it read “Penumbra”. The bottom had a banner reading “Contra Noctes.”
“Your mother was one of us.” The other spoke. “Your skills would be a useful addition to our organization and cause.”
“Don’t worry.” The first spoke. “You’ll be much better equipped next time.” Julia looked from one to the next.
“You kill stuff like this?” She asked. “For whom? How?”
“I’m sure you have a hundred questions,” the first spoke.
“All of which can be answered.”
“All of which will be answered.” The first replied. “Suffice to say we act to defend the populace, children in particular, from the monsters in closets, under beds, etcetera. We are the last line against the darkest that night has to offer. We’d like you to join us.” The second man pulled a badge out and held it for her to take. She grabbed it and shook her head. If this was all a dream, then she’d laugh it off in the morning. “Welcome home Agent Shepherd.”
Penumbra: Initiation (part one)
It wasn’t Σ’s tires screeching above her head that awoke Agent Orange. Nor was it Clark’s loud welcome shouts. She had grown long used to those noises. What awoke Agent Orange was the smell of Cap’s breakfast cake baking.
A legendary layer cake of waffles, pancakes, French toast, and doughnuts all spaced with crispy bacon. Then Cap frosted it all with her own special frosting recipe. A monstrosity like that was reserved for the most special of occasions. Orange remembered it only twice being made. Once when she had first arrived, the crew had celebrated that. The second was when Σ had returned to active duty, that was no less deserving of cake, but a much more somber occurrence. Orange hoped it was a celebration this morning.
Orange leapt from bed and ran at the door. She flung it open wide and found Clark staring at the ceiling.
“I’m decent Clark, you loon.” Orange hit him playfully in the chest and felt the little twig stumble backwards a bit.
“We’re wanted to debrief.”
“I smell the good stuff.” Orange said sniffing the air.
“Debrief first.” Said Clark. Orange sighed and made a show of dragging her feet behind her.
To say that debrief was dull amounted to a monstrosity of an understatement. Not to mention that it was almost exclusively about Σ and Ε. By the end of it even Cap’s pronunciation of “Ipsilon” wasn’t funny. Nothing breakfast cake worthy.
“Tonight. By your admirable actions in the field,” Cap nodded at Clark, Σ, and Ε. “The town of Smallfield is safe, and the denizens remains unaware of the near constant peril. This morning though we celebrate something even better.” Orange perked up. “The arrival of a new soldier to the cause. My daughter has finally returned home. So today we celebrate the induction and homecoming of my daughter, Agent Julia shepherd.” Everyone clapped at the announcement. Orange just wanted cake. Penumbra: Initiation (part two)
Julia Shepherd chewed thoughtfully. Trying to absorb the thought of the monsters.
“Basically the ones we kill are pests.” Σ, the dark skinned one said. His partner, E, nodded along. “Usually they have too abundant a food source, and they keep eating and growing until they get dangerous.” “What we do is we step in and mirror what courage or source of hope there is.” E explained. “For example, say a kid loves stories of Knights and heroes. What would we do?”
“Pretend to be Knights?” Asked Julia.
“No.” E replied frustrated.
“Easy” Σ replied. “We become Knights. The shadow manifests like fluid, given form by the container, image of fear, so we do the same, except we take the image of hope.”
“Look, this is interesting.” The red head Agent orange yawned. “I’m sure though, she’s more interested in the weird names.”
“I think you,” Σ pointed at Orange. “Are harboring some fantasy that I have some super hero esque origin story.”
“Well do you?” Julia asked. “How’d you get a name like stigma?” Orange giggled at that.
“For the last time, it’s Sig-ma, it was my designation in the Academy.” He said. “I liked it, I kept it. Orange is just embarrassed her breath killed Cap’s bonsai tree, and that is how she got her name.”
“Hey!” Everyone laughed and Orange turned red.
“I think Σ, one letter, a part of something bigger is better than a color for a name.”
“You sure liked Green.” Orange muttered. The room went silent. Σ dropped his fork, it clattered loudly on the metal plate. Julia saw half a piece of cake left on his plate.
“It seems my appetite deserts me.” Σ grinned painfully. “Don’t let it go to waste.” No one moved at all. Clark cleared his throat to break the silence.
“Σ lets debrief.” Clark said rising from his seat.
“Your mission,” Σ said staring at his shoes, “or mine?”
“Yours.” Clark said forcefully. They rose from the table leaving what was left of their cake behind. They walked off solemnly.
“Good job Orange.” E snarled.
“I’m sorry. I forgot. It’s something I’ve said a hundred times. I didn’t think he’d take it that hard!” Orange nearly shouted reaching for Σ’s cake.
“Who’s Green?” Julia asked looking from one to the other, then grabbed Clark’s piece. This cake was better than anything else her mom made.
“We don’t talk about her.” E replied firmly before he went quiet. His arms crossed over his chest. The room went silent again as Orange stuffed her face avoiding E’s glare.
“Well there’s still the fun part of initiation left.” Orange said leaning back from her finished cake.
“We’re going to hunt a monster together.”Penumbra: Initiation (part three)
Julia examined the weapon again. It was basically a laser pistol, pull the trigger and a projectile of light came out. It hurt if you shot someone in the eye, but it was hardly lethal. At least not to a human. The more complicated part was that the weapon also discharged, what Orange said was “emotion like energy”. Anger, hope, joy, happiness, courage, and many others could be discharged from the weapon. All of this to kill whatever form the manifestations of fear took.
“Gee this would have been useful yesterday.” Julia said to Orange. Orange laughed as she checked a behemoth of a weapon. Where Julia’s weapon was a pistol, Agent Orange had opted for something more akin to an assault rifle.
“Remember the plan?” Orange asked for what felt like the millionth time.
“Bait. You’ll kill it. I bait it.” Orange had pulled seniority and claimed this was standard rookie hazing. Get close to the monster and attract it’s attention long enough for the other to kill it. Orange patted her on the shoulder before they left the armory for the tank where the beast was kept. The sound of footsteps filled the empty corridor. “Who was Green?” Julia asked again.
“You’re filling a vacancy.” Sighed Orange.
“Green’s?” Orange only nodded in response. They walked again in silence. “So your partner?”
“Partner, sister, friend.” Orange replied looking at her shoes. “We all felt it and it’s too soon for most to talk about and there’s nothing else I can say without getting chewed out by E or Clark.” Orange spat out in one breath. Julia opened her mouth to ask something before realizing she didn’t want to know whether Green had died or not. She wasn’t sure what answer would make her feel better or worse.
The beast swam just beneath the surface of a deep pool when Julia and Orange entered. Julia blinked in the blackness and caught sight of E, Σ, and Clark on some kind of raised platform to the side. The creature looked like a whale, at least, Julia thought it did. She caught sight of wrinkled black flesh. As she stepped near the beast dove down. Orange signaled silently for her to advance nearer and nearer the water. She felt her boot step into the water before the Dreadnought breached. Twenty feet of beast came out of the water throwing waves in every direction. It’s underbelly was a dark grey and long lines ran from jaw to tail. It’s fins ended in long razor sharp claws. The dreadnought flung tentacles out of its mouth and from a mass where its tail ought to have been. Perhaps Julia could have evaded if she’d known what was coming, instead she was snared by a tentacle and pulled into the pool.
The water bit into Shepherd’s flesh and chilled to the bone. The tentacle gripped around her, forcing her arms to her side. Her mouth filled with water and her mind raced.
They want you to die.
This is all some sick trick.
You can’t be one of them. You aren’t special.
If you don’t die here you’ll die somewhere else.
They don’t want you even! Σ and Orange want Green back! You think you can fill her shoes? What about the holes she left in their hearts?
“Take heart.” The command came clear through the water. Julia had no clue where it came from, but she took it. Her fingers grasped the gun and she managed to wriggle it free. She squeezed the trigger and a blast of light raced off. Her eyes open Julia turned her wrist. Bang. This shot let loose a green beam and severed the tentacle. The severed tentacle tightened and Julia almost gasped as her chest was squeezed tight. Then it disintegrated to a stream of oily black bubbles. Suddenly a blast of orange light blasted the water and pierced the leviathan. It let out a deep cry and turned to the same oily blackness. Julia began to sink when she felt an arm reach under her. A single jerk pulled her out of the water and heaved her to nearby ground. Captain Shepherd grabbed her daughter and hugged her tight.
“I’m so proud of you.” She said squeezing her. Shouts and congratulations filled the air. Julia looked around at her new family. Σ threw his right arm around her in a friendly hug. Clark and E gave high fives and then E launched himself into the now empty pool. Orange shook her hand excitedly. They threw her back in the water and all but the captain and Σ joined them. Captain Shepherd smiled and Σ crossed his two wet arms on his chest outside of the pool. Julia looked around. This could be home.Penumbra: Hider (part one)
The night was too quiet. The kind of eerie peaceful that sometimes falls on a place when things might be amiss. The same kind of silence when you call for someone who might be hiding, the kind that makes you question if there’s something lurking or if your paranoid. That kind of quiet hung on the house at the end of the road. It went unnoticed by all the occupants, all the occupants save one.
It wasn’t the parents. They had long gone to bed, long days of the stress of work had left them exhausted. They had tucked their daughter in hours ago as well. Yet as the hands on the clock pointed directly at the sliver of moon in the sky, she lay awake.
To the little girl at the end of the road, this was no ordinary silence. In fact it hardly seemed silent at all. Her heart hammered in her ears. Every so often her gasp for breath broke the silence. Curled up as small as possible, trying to be as silent as possible, the girl was as afraid as possible. This was no ordinary silence, and the girl knew she needed no ordinary help.
The tapping at the window was like a bomb in that silence. The girl gasped as though she had been struck in the gut. Her muscles tensed. Hide. Hide. Hide. The window was just across the room from her and she scrunched her eyes shut. The world seemed to stew in that awful silence again.
The sound came again. This time more welcome, less startling. The little girl peeked ever so slowly out of the blanket. The figure at the window had bright green eyes and a lock of orange hair exposed from a mask of black fabric. A hand came up and waved hello at the girl. Then it pointed at the window latches. That meant crossing the room. She couldn’t do that. The shadowy figure pressed her face to the glass and held up a hand. She scanned the room, nodded, then gave a thumbs up. The girl hesitated. If she didn’t help the figure in, the hider would find her. She had to risk it. In a single burst the girl ran to the window and pushed it open. Two figures slid through, clad in black with flashlights at their hips. The red head pulled away her mask and smiled.
“Thanks kiddo,” she whispered, “now let’s get that monster.”Penumbra: Hider (part two)
The two ninja began to look around the room for the monster. Under the bed? Nothing. In the closet? Clothing. One ninja even leapt atop the book shelf to look behind it. Nothing. The monster was nowhere to be found, but the little girl could feel it. She slowly turned around and saw nothing. The two ninja looked at her. She turned back around, still nothing. The two ninja looked at her.
“Where is it?” The girl asked.
“If you were looking for a bug that was bothering you, where’s the last and worst place it could be?” Asked the red head. The question fell on a stifling silence.
“On me,” whispered the girl. One of the ninjas flipped on the light. Each cast a single shadow. The two ninjas’ shadows bent away from the light. The little girl’s went behind her, towards the light. She looked towards the ninjas she shook from head to toe.
“Peace.” One of the ninja said. “We are not leaving you.” The shadow began to crawl over the girl.
“Neither is that thing though.” The other spoke. “You can beat it.” The girl turned and stared at the encroaching mass of darkness. She scrunched her face up and shouted at the top of her lungs.
“Bad shadow! Bad shadow! Bad shadow! You’re just a shadow you can’t hurt me!” Footsteps filled the hall as her parents rushed to the room. The little girl turned to introduce the ninja and found that they were gone. She gaped as her mom picked her up and deposited her back in bed. The shadow seemed to quake as she did. It wasn’t leaving, any time soon, but it was going to leave her be.
The next morning the girl climbed up to look at the top of her bookshelf. In the dust were a set of ninja footprints.Penumbra: Host (part one)
The playground was empty. The swings swung empty in the cold fall wind. Not a soul moved through the brightly colored playground. The first leaves of fall began to slip off of the trees and the last touch of sunset left the playground in shrouded twilight.
The bully, as he was known, shambled on to the playground. His cohorts followed, hunched over and quiet. The four, with the bully ahead staked out their nightly turf. The bully giggled gleefully when he encountered a beetle struggling in the dirt. He dropped down and plucked its wings off. He one by one pulled out its legs and placed it on it’s back. He looked over at his company and at their dull blank faces. Tough crowd. He rose and smashed the beetle.
The bully took his usual place in his evening throne room. The top of the jungle gym had the perfect shady place to hold court. The bully wondered if there would be a visitor tonight. The neighborhood had long learned that no one messed with the bully. The nights were his to rule. He chewed on a rotting apple and looked over his shadowed kingdom.
A voice in the bully’s head warned. The bully looked around for the threat. A single man walked down the street. He had large glasses on his face. His shoes shone in the streetlight and his outfit was clean. A white collared shirt and pressed black pants hung a little large on him.
He is coming.
The voices repeated to the bully. The man entered the court of the bully confidently. He looked at the three thugs and nodded. Then he looked at the bully. The bully stood up. Even then he slouched a good two feet shorter than the fully erect man. He looked up and felt delightful. The bully let his mouth open and let worms fall from it. The man looked down with an eyebrow raised.
“Cheap parlor trick.” He said unimpressed. For the scrawny little punk he was, the guy was cheeky. The bully crinkled his face and sent a millipede as wide as his thumbs out of one nostril. The creature snaked around his head and then went back in his other nostril. The man didn’t flinch. He nodded. The creature was nearly all the way up his other nostril before speaking. “Neat trick, now let me show you something.” The man reached up and snatched the end of the millipede. He whipped his arm back and tore it from the Bully’s nose. The legs shredded the inside of the nostril as it came out. With a flick of his wrist the man sent the bloody insect flying. “Good, now I’m here to deal with the monsters.”
The man looked at the bully. The bully reeled and grabbed at his nose. Blood dripped out and ran down his arm. He let out a seemingly inhuman groan at his accomplices. The man looked as them and smiled.
“I’ll ask nicely.” He spoke gently and joyfully. It seemed as though he was keeping back a laugh from the angry crowd. “Play nice or don’t play at all.” The bully screeched and the thugs reached for something in hoodie pockets. “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” Declared the man, and a flash burned on the eyes of all present. When the light dimmed the man was gone. The colossal form of a near seven foot tall muscled hero stood in his place. A golden candle insignia shone bright on his chest.
Should have run.
The voices in the bully’s head spoke again. The thugs launched into action. Each drew a hand gun and let loose a flurry of bullets. The hero didn’t flinch. When the smoke cleared the hero smiled. He slowly raised a clenched fist up and opened it. Out tumbled every last bullet.
“I’ll give you one last warning.” The hero spoke. “Those who live by the sword, die by it.” The thugs reloaded and raised their weapons. A fluke, or a trick, the bully thought. It wouldn’t happen again. The hero shrugged.
All three thugs heads exploded as bullets ripped into them. If they had been able to perceive something at the speed of light, then they would have noticed the hero point their guns at each other instead of at him. When they fired, they shot one another.
The bully called all the darkness he could muster. Worms fell from his mouth and all forms of moths came from his sleeves. He was calling on all the disgusting and gross forms he could. The hero stepped forward and seized the bully by the throat. He looked in the bully’s eyes.
“You can call on the darkness all you want.” The hero said holding the bully out over the playground wood chips. The fiend kicked and screeched at the behemoth. “Eventually though the dark consumes.” He let go. The bully fell. The bully looked up and snarled. He looked down at his hands and screamed. A hundred gold and silver beetles were crawling up his arm. The beetles bit and gnawed at him. The beetles ripped him apart until there was nothing left.
“It is finished.” A blast of light and the man reappeared. He nodded and walked away.
The sun began to sink just over the horizon as Jimmy prepared for war. He checked every lock on the house as his mother tapped her foot impatiently. Jimmy walked around the house a second time and checked them again. His mother sighed. He walked and checked a third time. His mother bit hard on her lip. The boy stood at the base of the stairs and checked the twin toy revolvers. He holstered them again and proceeded up the stairs. He checked every window on the second floor twice before checking his revolvers again. He holstered them. He walked down the stairs and hugged his mom. She exhaled and picked him up to hug him. She was way out of her league. She needed help. She would call tomorrow.
The mother nearly screamed. Her son dropped and scrambled behind a plant by the entry way. He clumsily pulled out his revolvers and lined up with the door. The little pistols shot toy bullets, but they were a nasty surprise. The mother walked over to the door. She opened it and looked at the two men at the door. Before she could get a good look at them a loud noise filled the air.
One of the men at the door smiled. He was much lighter in complexion than his partner. He had a hand up near his face and the mother wondered if her son had shot the man’s eye out. He moved his hand away. He dropped the little plastic projectile in front of him. Jimmy gasped.
“Howdy miss,” the other man said. He tipped a comedically large cowboy hat at them. The other did the same simultaneously. They opened their coats and flipped open ID cards. “Lucky my partner was waving or we’d need to reschedule.”
“Nice shooting Tex.” The light one said. “Ever shot a monster with one of those?” The boy looked at the two cowboys. They seemed extra polite, and had showed his mom badges. They acted just like sheriffs did, so he figured they couldn’t be too bad.
“We’d like to come in and observe his tendencies. Look over the house and see if there might be some toxin or pollutant causing this.” The dark one said.
“Come in, he’ll have to check all the doors again anyway now.” The mother sighed and ushered the men in.
“Alrighty kiddo we’re just here to help you hold down the fort. Mind showing us how it’s done. Jimmy nodded and walked around the house checking every window and door. Then he went and did it again. Then he checked a third time. He opened his revolvers. Eleven plastic bullets filled the guns. That wouldn’t do. Jimmy marched upstairs. He snagged another bullet from his neatly organized toy chest. He reloaded his weapon and holstered them. He went back downstairs and checked the windows and doors thrice over. Checked his revolvers for all twelve bullets. Then checked all the upstairs windows twice. He ran down the stairs and hugged his mom.
“Done Tex?” The light skinned man asked. Jimmy nodded and led his mom to his room. She tucked him in and smiled. “Mind if we stay in here Tex? Just in case?” Jimmy nodded and then fell gently asleep.
Less than an hour later everyone had fallen asleep. Everyone, but the two Penumbra agents. E looked over at Σ and whispered at him. The agent turned silently and raised an eyebrow.
“Glad you’re back.” E said.
“I wasn’t going to let something like that keep me down.” Σ replied.
“No. We all thought you’d leave Smallfield though. Go back to the islands, or the academy.”
“I thought about it.” Σ muttered. There was a pause before he continued. “I need the islands as an open option though, if I need to run. I can run there. But that only works once, if I go back I would probably never leave. The academy though, I could have gone there. I think though, Shepherd proves there is way more to this job than books.”
“What do you think of our newest member?”
“She’s green and not Green. I think she’s-” the sound of something rattling the windows woke jimmy. The agents reached into their coats. They draw flashlight like pistols from their coats. Σ stepped to the window and peered out.
A dozen figures in tattered black shawls crowded around the house. They moved slowly and checked every door. They had no flesh on their faces, only skulls with hollow black eye sockets. One of the group leapt up and smashed through the window. Jimmy was halfway to his revolvers when the two agents shredded it. Their flashlights fired bursts of silver light at the specter.
“Woah.” Jimmy whispered. The two agents saluted and smiled.
“There’s more.” The dark one spoke.
“This’ll be the last night you have to deal with them though.” Jimmy looked at the two men. Never worry about monsters again. How could that work?
“You can lock out the monsters and never ever face your fears,” the dark skinned one said. “If you do, then know that you lock out all the people that want to help you, love you, care for you.”
“We face our fears alongside friends,” the other spoke. “If you lock yourself in, then you die. But if you face those fears, you can live.”
The door swung inward. One of the skeleton bandits stepped in the empty door way. Jimmy froze, he couldn’t lock them out. It stepped forward. Jimmy had two choice, fight or die. Fight or die, Jimmy.
The revolver discharged a shot. The bandit collapsed to dust as the round struck it’s skull. Jimmy let out a holler before running out the door. The revolvers let round after round off and the bandits crumpled. His mother stepped out of her room and shrieked. A bandit turned to shoot her and Jimmy lined up.
The gun reported. No more bullets. Jimmy gaped. He fought, now it seemed he’d die. Something flew past him and Jimmy watched one of the men slide down the bannister. As he did so he blasted the bandits. Each erupted in a flash of blue light. He tackled the bandit aiming at the mother.
“Adios muchacho.” The other gun went off and vaporized the last bandit. Jimmy ran down the stairs and hugged the man. The two men smiled, tipped their hats, and left through the open door.
That next night Jimmy set his revolvers by his bed and to his mother’s surprise went straight to bed. No fuss, no ritual, just the gentle sleep and dreams of the two heroes.Memory Lane
The rain poured down in sheets scattering the truck’s high beams. The screeching of tires screeched out as the truck rounded the corner to descend into the parking garage. The two passengers sighed as the car engine shut down.
“Nice job rookie, you manned the scanner valiantly.” Σ said as he pocketed the keys.
“I thought not dying from your driving was the greater achievement,” Julia said with a long exhale of relief.
“That too.” Σ popped the door open.
“How did we even get here?” Julia asked shaking her head as if trying to clear it. “We go out and come in on different streets, yet it’s always the same garage.”
“Penumbra’s bases have physical locations outside the regular continuity of the world. Basically the base begins and ends in the same way a dream does, it’s outside time space and reality. You can sleep here eight hours and leave before you entered.”
“What?” Julia held her hands up. “I don’t get it.”
“When you dream where are you?”
“Is that a question rookie?” Σ said. “Physically yes, in bed. But you, where are you?”
“Nowhere?” Julia spoke.
“Confidence rookie. Sure you’re nowhere, everywhere, or somewhere in between.” He spoke with eyes closed. “Like the memory palaces and fortresses of solitude.”
“Don’t you have one?” Σ asked, and Julia shook her head. He slammed the door closed and threw the truck in reverse. “Here lemme show you! Guarantee you E and Orange can’t explain it as well.” The car shot from the garage and up out onto a long narrow road.
The truck went out past long rows of trees that towered high above them. Then little houses on each side of the road squatted like friendly gnomes. The car came up to a golden gate which swung open easily.
“Stick with me please.” Σ said as he jumped out of the now parked truck. “No saying what memories you might find if you don’t.”
They walked through the door and into a low ceiling room. Long wings of rooms stretched out in front and to each side. The room itself was open and airy, the scent and sound of the ocean rolling in perpetually. Σ let out a long sigh. He walked over to the fridge and began to look through it. They both froze as the sound of footsteps filled the room. Julia turned and found herself face to face with a woman she didn’t know.
The woman probably wasn’t much older than her, she was older than eighteen but no older than twenty one. She was tall and willowy with long legs and arms. Her hair was like fine spun gold, off set by her silver earrings. Around her neck a silver chain held up a ring with the silver candle of Penumbra on it. She wore a black v neck t shirt with the candle stitched over her heart. Her black sweat pants hung tight to her legs as she walked up to Julia. Julia’s brown eyes were fixed by the woman’s bright green eyes. The woman smiled.
“Hey!” She laughed. “Don’t think we’ve met, what’s your name agent?”
“Julia.” She stammered. “Julia Shepherd.”
“Hey honey I’m home.” Σ shouted.
“I know cig, I heard the car. I’m gonna go take her for a spin if you don’t mind.”
“Nah babe go for it.” He flung the keys over his shoulder. She caught them, walked over and kissed Σ. She walked out the door and let it shut behind her. Σ turned around and placed his pistol on the counter. “Sorry. Should have warned you, the mental forms of people I know show up here. The better I know them, the more life like, the closer they are to the real person. Even then, you could meet them from all sorts of times in the past. Any one and any when is fair game: E from the academy, Orange from when I first met her, The Captain from her glory days.”
“And that was?” Julia asked.
“One of my monsters.” The two sat in silence after that remark. Σ pulled a sandwich from the refrigerator and passed it to Julia, who had taken a seat at the kitchen island. Orange was constantly asking why she hung around Σ so often. He was a nice and helpful guy, and she needed help. So many things confused her about her job and the people around and Σ was always happy to explain. E was too easily frustrated to teach her much and usually gave up without even really trying. She couldn’t talk to Clark, she wanted him to think she was smarter than she was. She wanted him to think she was clever.
The woman returned as Σ tried to explain the memory palaces. She kissed him and left down one of the halls without a word.
“Who is she?”
“That’s my memories, given form and organization by the metaphysical plane.” Came the reply as Σ watched her walk away.
“Of whom?” Julia persisted.
“A Penumbra agent ought to figure that out easily.” He replied leaning on a back wall and looking at her.
“She’s someone special, someone who loves you, or loved you.” Julia said tentatively.
“That doesn’t answer the question. Why have your gun out if she loves you?”
“Any point in time remember.”
“So she betrayed you.” Julia saw the pain flash as his face twisted. She felt as though she had a knife in his chest and was twisting at it. He motioned for her to continue, it was a lesson he was teaching even as it hurt him. He took that betrayal hard, and her digging at it didn’t help. Then she remembered the candles. “Was that Green?” Σ nodded. Julia stuffed the sandwich in her mouth as an excuse to sit quietly and process. Made sense why Σ never talked about her leaving.
“Too slow rookie.” He said. “That kind of sluggishness can get your comrades killed. Every last second you aren’t drawing off the courage or identifying the fear is a second where the enemy is above you. That’s why we never ride solo.”
“Sorry.” Julia whispered.
“Complete sentence rookie.”
“Sorry for what happened to you. What happened with Green I mean.” She looked up and saw Σ leaned back with his eyes closed.
“I understood the risk rookie. If I thought I was invincible, it was my fault.” He smiled. “You can’t live life without facing fear, we know that better than anyone. Don’t let my story dissuade you.”
“Wait what?” Julia sat straight up turning bright red. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m not blind rookie. Even if you don’t get it yet. Come on, let’s bounce back to base.” He said patting her shoulder as he walked by. Julia gaped and watched him walk towards the door.
“This wasn’t about the memory palace at all, was it?” Σ chuckled.
“Too slow rookie.”
Of all the people she had met and worked with, Orange liked the rookie best. She was as willing as Orange was to spend her free hours training. They both went to school during the day and fought monsters all night, yet they both found mental space to train. The base could distort relative time so Orange didn’t know why more people didn’t do that.
Σ studied things way to complex for Orange to comprehend, sorcery and trans-quantum-continuum science mumbo jumbo. Clark read debriefs from other bases around the world. E did… Actually Orange had no clue what E did except it involved fish. They were all from the Academy; E, Σ, and Clark.
Maybe that was why she and Julia had bonded. Neither had a diploma from the academy and felt the need to prove their worth. At least Julia did. Orange had outgrown that in part. Orange trained to train.
They had gone at it since Julia had gotten back from a ride along with Σ. Today it felt like she needed to process something. They had fired guns and swung swords for what might have been hours. They had found themselves in a room full of heavy punching bags. Orange watched as Julia went to town on one. She slammed it with elbows, fists, palms, and karate chops. She sent a barrage of kicks at the bag, every part of her foot seemed to slam into the bag at some point. Julia slumped against the bag and Orange joined her.
“Rough day partner?”
“Yeah. Σ showed me his memories.”
“Ugh” Orange hated those memory things, her brain was good enough.
“I met Green.” They both paused. “Am I as good a partner as Green?”
“Better!” Orange shouted. “Green and I never did this! She never trained with me, she was always with Σ.” The training room door swung open. Σ and Clark stepped in.
“Howdy girls. Mind if we go at it?” Orange nodded and Julia mumbled something. The boys looked at one another and stepped into a ring in the middle of the room.
Clark looked like no match for Σ. They were both a little under six feet tall, but Σ had muscles on him. The two limbered up and Clark took off his glasses. They raised their arms and circled slowly round the ring. They traded jabs at each other. Then Clark charged forward to get in close, Σ planted a foot in his gut and pushed him back. They swung quickly and fruitlessly at one another.
“I’m done dancing Clark.” Σ declared before launching at him with a flurry of round house kicks.
“I can’t guarantee your safety if I change form now.” Clark said behind his guard. “With your injuries-” Σ back kicked him into the ropes of the ring. He jumped to hammer kick Clark. Julia gasped.
“LET THERE BE LIGHT!” A flash followed and the Night Light appeared. He pushed Σ back and the two looked at one another. Clark moved faster than anyone could see, he smashed his opponent to the ground. Σ screamed and Clark let go, he bent to examine him and apologize. Then, Σ grinned.
“Paradisio! Activate paladin armor!” Σ shouted. Long tendrils of silver metal covered him. They wove together and formed a suit of armor. His metal fist slammed up into Night Light, sending him into the ceiling. Julia gasped and Orange gaped. “You aren’t the only one who reads up Clark. Academy tech and magic with my own modifications, it’s tough enough to fight even you.” The knight rose. The two grappled. Night Light proved quicker, managing a hundred blows before Σ flinched. The armor though, well it hit harder. Σ landed a hit and slammed Clark down. Julia almost leapt up to see. The two were up and trading blows. A blur of light and sound filled the room. Fists smashed armor and gauntlets landed on exposed flesh. Clark seemed to have the upper hand. He hit a hundred times for every blow Σ landed, but Σ seemed in phased by each blow. Clark seemed to fly in and out of the suits range, but he was still hit. Each blow forced Clark back. His breath became ragged and Σ doubled down. He boxed Clark into the ropes and began beating him down. The two fought like that for what felt like a million years to Julia. Then all of a sudden Σ stopped, he laughed.
“I yield. I ran out of power on my suit.” The suit retracted and Σ lay down. He had a few bruises but no where near as bad as Clark. Clark transformed and stumbled over to where he’d lay his glasses. The wounds inflicted seemed much more brutal in that form, long gashes and welts covered him. Julia looked at Σ and shivered. He had meant that, every last stroke.Trap
Cap was pissed. Orange knew better than to get involved in something like this. She looked at Clark lying on the infirmary bed and at Julia sitting next to him. She was wrapping his wounds on his arm.
“What purpose does that suit have?” Cap asked to the three of them.
“It could, theoretically, bring down a class five nightmare.” Clark groaned.
“Class four is theoretical.” Cap waved her hand. She looked at the baffled Julia and smiled. “The dreadnought you fought, the whale with tentacles, was a class two nightmare. Those occur naturally when an entire household’s fears come together. A class four would be if all the fears of everyone in the state of California coalesced into a single nightmare beast. There are no natural bonding agents powerful enough for one of those to form.”
“Naturally? What about artificially?” Julia asked.
“As I said a class four is theoretical. Some artificial bonding agent or some global event acting as a catalyst could create something unlike anything we have seen before.” Cap looked at Orange. “Why didn’t Ipsilon say anything? How did he pull it past him?” Orange only shook her head.
“I’m the wrong person to ask Cap. If you asked me how strong or fast it was I could tell you.” Orange stood up straight and began to talk faster. “He was running at half, he seemed slow and bulky and he didn’t fight like he usually does.” Orange added excitedly, Clark groaned and she paused. Her speech slowed as she told the Captain: “I don’t think he meant to hurt Clark at all. But why he did it? I got nothin’ Cap. I still don’t know how Green got past me.” Cap just nodded. She tapped her foot impatiently. Her eyes closed and teeth clenched tight. A buzz came from her pocket and she pulled a cell phone out. She frowned at the message.
“Agent Orange and Agent Shepherd report to the hangar for deployment. I’ve received a potential alert level three on the south end of town, I’m sending Σ and Ipsilon as well. I’ll deal with this mess later.”
The old house creaked in the gentle autumn wind. The decrepit shutters clattered in the breeze as the silver truck pulled around the corner and up the street. The purr of the engine died as soon as the car rolled into the drive way. The four occupants stepped out of the car and shut the doors. They walked silently up to the door as their coats flapped in the wind. One of them gave the rotting door a push and it creaked inward. The four slipped silently in and the last one shut the door behind.
“Creepy.” Snickered Σ. The other three stood silently behind. He turned around to look at them. He sighed as he saw the disgust and shame in the girls’ eyes. “E what’s the plan?”
“We can find it quicker in pairs. Eyes out and eyes on your partner. Something is not right here, find the target and neutralize it.” E replied and the others nodded. “Orange with me. Σ I want the basement examined.” Σ saluted and went down one hall. Julia followed behind him.
Julia walked silently behind Σ. She watched as he ducked into each room and motioned for her to step behind. Part of her wanted to shoot him, right there, for what he’d done to Clark. After about a half dozen rooms later, Σ stopped and sighed.
“Don’t aim for the back of the head, or the heart.” Julia’s jaw dropped. Σ didn’t even turn. “The skull and ribs dissipate the light beam and protect the vitals. Go for the stomach or, if you’re less confident, the kidneys and liver are a good choice.” He turned to face her. “Well it won’t be the first time. Go ahead if you are going to do it. If not, stop lining me up.”
“Why’d you hurt Clark?” Julia asked pointing her pistol at Σ’s gut.
“Would you believe me if I said I didn’t mean to?”
“Should I?” Julia tightened her grip.
“Yes. I didn’t realize wounds would carry across forms. He’s never been hurt before.”
“So why now? Why build something that could hurt him?” Her hands shook as the image of Clark’s bloody body filled her mind.
“Would you be so upset if this had happened in reverse?” Σ asked flatly. “If I was the one beaten to a pulp?” Julia didn’t answer. “Or if it was E I had beaten?” No reply. “What about Orange?” No reply. “Point is your mad because it was Clark and you are afraid for him. If that fear is going to endanger the people of Smallfield, then kill me.” Julia looked in his eyes. She lowered the weapon.
“If he betrayed us, I could subdue him. Bring him back. I wouldn’t fail like last time.” Σ’s voice trailed off. He pushed a door open and found a long stair case. He brought a finger to his lips and drew his light. He rested his thumb over the switch as he stepped down the stairs.
As the two agents came to the base of the stairs Σ held a hand to stop. Julia froze gripping her blaster tightly. Voices came from around the corner of the stairs. Julia craned to hear them. One sounded like a young man who’s voice cracked occasionally. The other was deep and raspy like nails along a chalkboard.
“Baron Von Todersfurcht! Please I beg forgiveness!” The first voice screamed and his voice cracked. When he had recovered he shrieked. “It isn’t our fault! They proved stronger than us, more prepared, swifter…” The sound of the man’s throat closing with a squelch ended the sentence. Σ peeked around the corner and held up ten fingers.
“Nein!” Snarled the second voice. “The Führer is most displeased with your performance. Smallfield has yet to fall, even as weak as it’s defenders are. You are of no use to us.” The sound of bones breaking and a body hitting the floor followed. A gasp or two and Σ looked again. He showed nine fingers to Julia. “You there! You have been promoted. I sincerely hope you do better than your predecessor.” A voice babbled just around the corner as Σ drew a cell phone out of his coat. He whispered a single word into it “Todersfurcht” then replaced it. He signaled Julia with three fingers. Then he held up two. Then only one remained. Then he rushed around the corner. Julia raced forward from the stair well. As she did she caught sight of a couch and dove behind it.
“Congrats on the promotion.” Σ shouted as he smashed one of the figures to the ground. He smashed the man in the temple and she saw the man go limp. Julia popped up and took aim. The group consisted of teenagers, none older than high school age, all dressed the same. Black uniforms with gold and red trim. They wore shiny leather boots that came nearly to their knees. Then there was another. He stood almost seven feet tall, though upon his head was a helmet with a spike that scraped the ceiling. He bore a mantle the color of blood and trim with gold. Over one eye was a black patch with a gold skull on it.
“Penumbra. How ironic, you appear just too late to save the life of the former commanding officer.” The Baron rasped. “Now I will strike down Smallfield and bring the shadows across the world.” He raised his right hand in a nazi salute and black lightning arced down on Σ. The blast struck the light from Σ’s flashlight turning it bright blue. The energy blast deflected into the ceiling with a crash. Σ charged as the Baron drew a saber and swung at him. The two clashed and sparks flew. The blade of iron and light danced and sang with one another.
Julia peeked up and tried to aim at the Baron. Though he was much larger than Σ, Σ was dodging and dancing all around the Baron. One of the other soldiers went for their weapon. Julia didn’t hesitate, didn’t think, didn’t flinch. Center of mass, two shots, target down. The others moved for cover as Julia emptied the clip into the air. Julia reloaded and peeked over the couch to take another set of shots.
Todersfurcht and Σ swung at one another. Blue light and steel smashed into one another. Two soldiers charged the pair with a loud shout. Σ ducked below one and smashed him in the ribs. Julia shot the other one down with a single round. More shots flew towards her and she ducked behind cover. A bullet tore through the fabric right above her head. She peeked out of cover and fired again. Todersfurcht and Σ swung tirelessly at each other. The feeling like a fist smashing into her ribs threw Julia to the ground. She coughed and the world began to darken. Debts
Julia felt the pain before anything else returned. Every breath sent ripples of pain through her chest. She didn’t even know she was breathing, just the pain radiating from her chest. Slowly though other senses returned. The sound of muffled voices and a heart rate monitor. It felt like years that she lay there with the voices. Mom, orange, and E drifted in and out of the deafening pain. Then one voice brought her out.
“Rookie.” The voice was clear and warm. Her eyes opened and she caught sight of Σ. He looked at her from above. Her eyes snapped shut and she let out a groan. The sound of a dial turning was followed by a feeling of relaxing muscles in Julia. “Better Kiddo?” Julia didn’t speak and Σ took that as an affirmative. “Sorry Julia. I’d explain what I did but you’re too doped up to get it. You’re probably too angry to believe me either.” He sighed through his nose. “I saved your life Shepherd. I traded an instant and painless death for the pain you’re in. Sorry about that rookie. Sit tight, it will pass. I’ve gotta go, I’m supposed to be long gone.”
Captain Shepherd knew Σ. He had served under her long enough to be family. She knew how he fought. She knew how he thought. She knew what broke his heart and what mended it. So it was no surprise to her that after the encounter with Baron Von Todersfurcht, he would try to run. He didn’t seem surprised to see her sitting on his tailgate when he arrived. He didn’t try to lie. He simply walked up and sat down. She wrapped an arm around him and he looked off.
“How long will you need?” She asked him softly.
“I don’t know ma’am. I’m sorry. I let you down.” Σ spoke at the ground.
“Take two weeks. You haven’t had any leave in a year.” She looked at him. Σ opened his mouth to speak. “No that does not count, you were incapacitated.” Σ shut his mouth. “With all that has happened a little rest and a little time away will do you good. You are too close to the edge for comfort. I knew Mordred, I watched him teeter. I watched one of my best friends fall. I don’t want that for you.”
“Ma’am. Todersfurcht is at large. His men-” Captain Shepherd dismissed him.
“Two weeks. See your family. Get some rest. Face your monsters. Come back to us stronger Σ. That is an order.” Captain Shepherd rose and left the garage. She stopped to hear Σ’s tires scream out of the garage. As he left so too did some of her daughter’s debt. Some paid in magic and the other borne by Σ.CEO
The board room sat in darkness as Baron Von Todersfurcht limped through the door. He couldn’t tell whether most or even if any of the tall leather chairs were filled. The flash of lightning illuminated more than the dreary Seattle sky, it also brightened the board room slightly. Half of the chairs seemed occupied by his peers who gave him a wide array of reactions as he found his seat. The seat at the head of the table slowly turned as CEO looked away from the window.
“Gentlemen! Ladies! Other!” CEO declared gleefully. His smirk was utterly unchanging as he did so. “Good news friends! Sales are up!” His smirk never changed. The sound of various degrees of clapping followed issuing from what Todersfurcht knew were not all living human hands. The sculpted face held its perfect form as he spoke. The words had an unusual quality and the voice slightly tinny. Each word was held either too long or too short with unnatural pauses between. “Now friends. I know we have had a rough couple months but it is time for a check in.” CEO, with a slight nod as his eyes closed with a click, made a wave of his hand outwards. “Todersfurcht how goes things with you?”
“Mein Fuhrer.” Todersfurcht swallowed back the gripping pain of his broken shoulder. “There has been a delay. The invasion-”
“It’s alrighty T! No worries! A small set back is not the end of the world.” CEO paused here and a split second later there was the sound of chuckling and a thousand tormented souls crying out for help. The latter went on far too long for comfort. Todersfurcht hated when Deresfjugosh Defiler of Worlds came to meetings. That guy was a kiss ass. CEO snapped and nodded appreciatively at the eldritch abomination who gave him something of a thumbs up with a mass of tentacles. “Thanks D. Anyways, not the end of the world. Though our business kind of is the end of the world. Isn’t it? People lets… Not… Lose sight of our goals. We want the end of the world and we want to be the ones who keep people safe during it.” CEO rose. He laid a hand on Todersfurcht’s bad shoulder. “We’ve come a long way from mere fear mongers and terrorists. We are close to the kind of paranoia my father, and yours Baron, could only dream of. We are near to the end of days. The end of days when people walk their streets without a dozen layers of security. The end of days when people risk betrayal by friends and family. The end of days where people live with risk, with pesky dreams, with even ambition. The end of the days of Penumbra ruling the nights and making the world unsafe. The end of these days people, with better ones ahead. Ones where we will provide security and insurance for the safety of the populace. That is why we started.” Rousing applause followed. “Now that means, we must redouble our efforts to sweep away all the competition. Penumbra must fall globally. We already dominate markets in the Middle East and are well on our way in Europe. So Baron T, our new man Jim will help you with the Midwest.” CEO squeezed Todersfurcht’s shoulder and leaned down. The pain rippled across the Baron’s body as CEO whispered in his ear. “Don’t disappoint me.”