Way back in their Freshman year, Jackson Green went missing; while nothing has been reported on the news, it's a fair bet that he's gone, eaten by a chupacabra or something. Dr. Wells is gone, too; officially, still on sabbatical, but it's been a year, and no one has seen or heard from him. Monica Dragic, at least, seems to be busy; last heard, she was visiting various foreign countries... Russia was on the list, take that as you may.
After a few weeks getting into the normalcy of classes, a little research by Priya uncovered a strange forum. The site seems to be filled with a number of stories from various individuals - most of them crackpot stories of alien probings and, uh, erotic visits from vampires, but a few seem to be following the same theme: a single dream of terrible monsters and the destruction of the world. "April Dream of Monsters, did you see them too? Share your story here!" The accounts are spookily familiar. One seems to have some sort of call to arms; it's followed by a list of jumbled letters:
ifebzqps qggoifh ciss opwg jsprg if sbfhaigc oglpk bf kgjogqdgz ocgseom ocgfou ocgfou bfg po omg aec kil ombykpfv bfg bf cgko qpzkmpss po kil omizouWhile Priya and Will struggled through translating the cipher by hand, James got bored and started Googling ciphers, eventually finding the answer. It was a simple substitution cipher, resulting in the following messages:
dzifh kfprwk pfv p ezigfv
informal meeting will take place in longview texas on september twelfth twenty twenty one at the vfw six thousand one on west marshall at six thirty bring snacks and a friendThe VFW was an old brick building on the far west side of town, across from a car repair shop, and next to a church - and the date was only a couple days away. After gathering supplies (and arguing about whose car to bring), the group showed up about fifteen minutes early, just as the first person showed up and unlocked the door - a fellow in a decently nice suit, with well-trimmed facial hair. Five minutes later, a couple who looked to be in their 20s arrived and went in. A few minutes later, a pickup truck rumbled up; three obvious rednecks sat inside, listening to country music. At 6:30 on the dot, a middle-aged man in an ill-fitting suit arrived, and the three rednecks turned off the music and followed him inside. The group joined them. About five minutes after they entered, a scruffy fellow slipped in, and stayed off to one side.
Everyone snacked and mingled for a few minutes, talking about trucks, music, and demon-dreams, until at 6:45, the fellow who unlocked the door stepped forward, and directed everyone to the chairs he had set up. He was clearly nervous about something, but went ahead and introduced himself. "I'm, ah, wow, uh, there sure are a lot of you guys. Hi, Lester. When I put the message out... I didn't expect so many, heh. I'm Ed Cline; I guess you read my story already, and... well, you know. The dream. Last April. It's... it's coming, y'know? Anyway... I thought that meeting others... maybe we could piece something together."
He paused awkwardly, then nodded to the young couple.
"Uh hi, I'm, ah, Lester Hayes, and... this is my fiance, Sara. Sara Stibowitz. We, uh, we had the dream, too. It... scared me. I was so freaked out, I couldn't leave the house for a week. If Sara hadn't been there..."
He glanced at her, trailing off; she patted his leg, and took over talking. "Hi, yeah, I'm Sara. I'm just... we're here for answers. Or maybe just better questions? I honestly don't know. I mean... yeah, the dream was scary. Terrifying. But then... He had it too. And somehow, that made it worse."
She trailed off, and Ed nodded to the first of the three rednecks, who stands up, clutching the brim of his wadded-up trucker's cap.
"Hey, y'all, Ah'm Coop Tucker, an' this is muh brother, Garth. Naw, I di'n't dream like all y'all? But Garth, he did, an' from what he said... Y'all, I don' even KNOW, raht? Ahm jus'... Ahm here for muh brother."
He looked around abashedly, then sat down, giving a supporting nod to Garth, who nodded back silently. The third redneck stood up, scraping his chair noisily.
"Ahm Bobby Lee Staffer, an' ahm jus' here tuh bash monster heads." He pointed in the air with both hands, continuing, "Woo! 'Cause this is 'Murica! Y'all know y'cain't jus' walk in here or you're liable tah gichoe se'f shot! Ya'll'll be pryin' muh guns outta muh cold, dead fingers! Woo!"
After a few emphatically "Woo" sounds, he crashed back to his chair, crossing his arms and muttering to himself, the words "'Murica!", "guns", "monsters", and "damn ra't!" feature prominently.
Next was the man in the ill-fitting suit. He stood, nodded to the ladies, then hitched up his sagging pants. "Hi, I'm Jimmy Don, I work over at th' Shevver-lay? I, uh, I guess you could say, I had those... I dreamed that... with the monsters. An' it... I can't get it out of my head, y'all. Every night, like I'm being haunted. I just... I gotta get m'life together. An' this might just be the only way to do it."
He gazed around the room, then ducked his head and quietly seats himself.
Ed nodded at the group. "You don't have to share if you don't want to, but that's why we're here - to make sense of all this."
James took the floor, explaining what had happened to the group in the dream, and how they had made it to the meeting. Finally, Ed turned to the last man. "Come on, why don't you introduce yourself. We're all friends here."
The man, who has been leaning against a wall, stands straighter and takes a tiny step forward.
"Jordan. Jordan... uh..."
He looked around nervously, almost furtively. "Just Jordan. I, uh... I had that dream, too. It... I don't get out... much... but I heard..."
He glanced up, his eyes meeting Will's, and stopped. "You... You were there..."
He twitched again, violently, then backed up to the wall, crossing his arms, hunching his shoulders, and rocking back and forth.
Will, James, and Priya blinked in surprise, and took a closer look around the room, realizing that indeed, they recognized almost everyone there!
Leaving campus, they had seen a body wrapped in a dingy blanket; it must have been Jordan! Sara was the young woman in the house, and Lester the young man. Garth was the young man in the blue truck who they tried to help. Jimmy Don... well, Jimmy was dead - the overweight man in the street. He seemed to have lost a lot of weight since then. The only faces they couldn't recognize were Coop, Bobby Lee, and Ed Cline. Sara was the first to speak up, timidly: "I... I remember Garth. You were driving a green truck. You... just before I got to Lester's house, you ran over one of those... things. So I could make it."
Jimmy nodded. "Ah knew you looked familiar. Lester, was it? Y'all opened your door, an' waved me in."
He looked down at his feet. "Ah would'a made it if I wasn't so... big. I, uh, I've lost some weight since then, but... it doesn't feel like it's enough."
For a moment, everyone sat in silence, studying the faces around them with new interest. Suddenly, Priya felt a tingle warning her of danger, just as the door swung open. Three figures stepped into the room: two men and a woman, all wearing black suits. Priya stood quickly, side-stepping over to the wall, and heading for the door. The first man removed his hat, setting it carefully on a shelf near the door, then stepped forward into the room.
Will and James noted that Ed looked entirely freaked out by the sight of the newcomers, sweat beading on his face, and caught sight of Jordan bolting for the back door.
The man in black raised his arms. "Your attention please," he said, in an almost droning voice. The second man moved past him, towards the snack table. The woman remained by the door.
"What you experienced was nothing more than a nightmare, enhanced by a common experience. Our extensive testing shows that each one of you walked, drove, or lived near an area blanketed with sewage gasses known to cause hallucinations. Additionally, the films "Night of the Demons," "Night of the Demons II," and "Night of the Demons III" were playing back-to-back. In a drowsy state, affected by the hallucinogenic gas, your dreams directed by the movie playing nearby, you would all have what could be called a 'shared dreaming experience', of a sort."
The woman set a few items on the small table by the door - a cup of red liquid, a dead animal, and what appears to be several teeth, arranged in a triangle.
Ed stepped forward. "I... I'm sorry. I think you have the wrong place. Please... leave."
As the woman in black suddenly raised her voice in a chattering, chirping, almost mechanical sound, throwing her arms out... Priya upended her table, sending ingredients flying, and smacked the woman with her spear! For a split second, the lights in the room flickered, then whatever ritual the woman was using backfired, turning James into... a woman.
In the blink of an eye, the first man was holding a gun, and fired a single round into Ed, who toppled to the ground. James dashed for the other man as Will fired at the first. The woman screeched, then held out a beaded bracelet, using it to fire a tiny sphere of darkness, dripping black steam, at Priya.
James quickly bludgeoned the second man into a heap on the floor, and dashed to help Will with the first man. Coop, Garth, and Bobby Lee all dashed forward, raining blows down on the man. Between the study group and their new allies, they brought down the three strange people with little injury.
As the woman fell to the combined strength of James and Priya, the door suddenly slammed open! The light from outside framed a man, tall and thin, a large revolver in his hand. Seeing everything was under control, he quickly ushered everyone outside, as other men in suits entered the building... wearing full protective gear, and carrying flamethrowers.
Will recognized the man - Peregrine Cycle, who they met at the job fair! Peregrine offered James a syringe with a strange, thick, blue liquid in it. "This will help. I'm sorry I could not come sooner. I see you have made some new friends. Perhaps... it would be best if the events of this night do not haunt their memories?"
Sara nodded. "Uh... yeah. I... we really don't want to remember... all this."
Peregrine inclined his head, then motioned to yet another man in a dark suit. "Of course. Please step this way."
Peregrine looked at the VFW, flames spurting from inside. "Three... this is a loss they will not soon forget. Hmm... Have you met Amy Wilson? No? Perhaps you should look her up before this is through. Here is her address." He handed over a card, similar to the card at the job fair, with only two lines of information: "Amy Wilson, 2052 Leona St."
Looking off into the distance, he pulled a second card from his jacket's inner pocket. "You should return home. With this threat neutralized, there will be no further threat against you, at least from them. Return home, and get some rest."
He held his arm away from his body, and released the card. It fluttered to the ground. Still looking into the distance, he continued, "And by no means attempt to arm yourselves and do anything... rash. Even though they are weakened, there are yet more, more dangerous than these."
Turning back to the group as if nothing had happened, he bid them farewell. "Good evening; I hope it is rewarding one."
Priya grabbed the card from the ground. "Dr. Harrison Wells, 1021 E. State Hwy 31"
The rednecks stepped up. Coop cleared his throat. "Look, Ah'm gonna come clean, none 'a this makes any sense, but, uh, if y'all want some help? That's us."
After a short discussion, it was decided that they would visit this Amy Wilson first, then investigate the second card - they needed to bring all their weapons, for one thing.
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