Unknown Armies

2. Shadow of the Mothman

Yes, I shamelessly ripped off that Richard Gere movie.

After the events of the previous night, Martin and Walter sit at the lunch counter in the Railbird Cafe waiting on their breakfast and discussing what happened as the sun rises. The cook and proprietor, Dave Elmore, listens to their conversation, and as he delivers their food, he says, “You know, there have been a lot of people telling a lot of strange stories in here lately. In fact, I’ve got one of my own, if you’re interested.”

“It was the Friday night before last. I was taking a walk around the Greyhound Park across the highway, keeping it clear of vandals and vagrants. Trying to keep the property value up so maybe it can get sold…”

Walter interrupts, “You own the Greyhound Park, too?”

“No, but ever since it closed, business has been way down. I was doing really well before then, and had I known what was coming, I’d have put a little more money away. But if someone buys the place and reopens it, I’ll be okay, so I try to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate too much. I take a walk through a couple times a day. Anyway, I came around the back side of the kennels, and there’s a yellow Mustang, recent model, parked there. The kids sometimes park there to watch the sunset and neck. The sun had gone down already, so they were probably well into groping each other. I was going to go knock on their window, tell ‘em to move along, but I saw a figure crouched at the back of the car, looking through the rear driver’s side window. Well, some creepy pervert’s much worse than some kids having fun, so I thought I’d drive that guy off first. I started to raise my flashlight when he turned around, and I realized it wasn’t a guy at all. To be honest, I don’t know that I saw much of him, except for these two big, red, glowing eyes. I just froze in a panic there for a few seconds while it stared at me. I’m not too proud to say that I pissed myself a little, I was so scared. Then it just jumps straight up in the air and vanishes. I don’t know if it actually disappeared, or if it could fly, or what, but it was gone. Few seconds later, the Mustang starts up, and those kids tear out of there. Now, I was all ready to chalk it up to a hallucination or something, or maybe I’d dreamed it, but that Sunday, Diane Keeling over at the Register prints a story about how people all around town have been having the same hallucination, or maybe sighting. Lots of people have seen this thing, I guess, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine it.”

Walter and Martin, their interest piqued, decide to investigate the Greyhound Park on foot, leaving their cars at the Railbird. They find a large, sooty, ash mark on the metal siding of the kennel, but no evidence that there was any fire to put it there. The windows are all covered in dust and grime; they can’t see in. Walter jimmies the door open with a bit of metal they find lying around, and they enter. Just inside, they find a large pile of scrap fabric that looks as though something large has been nesting in it. A few minutes of investigation turns up little of interest, but they are momentarily startled by a raccoon that had hidden in one of the cabinets. They’re approaching a door that leads deeper into the building when they hear a car drive up across the gravel outside. Walter carefully and quietly cleans a little of the dirt off the corner of a window and looks out. A cop has arrived and is getting out of his car. The entry door is still standing open to let in the light, so they’re pretty certain that the cop will know someone’s been here, but they try to go quietly through the interior door in the hopes that he’ll just close things up and leave. Unfortunately, Martin lets go of the knob a little too early, and the latch clicks.

The cop calls out from just beyond the exterior door. “Archer PD here. Is someone in there? I need you to come on out.” Martin and Walter find themselves in a bare room. There is a table and a desk pushed into the corner, and some heavier doors that probably lead into the stadium. They move the table across the door they came in through, hoping that if the cop tries it and it doesn’t move that he’ll assume it’s bolted.

Walter goes through the desk drawers but finds little of interest: just an old allen wrench, some paperclips, and a couple of small keys. While the cop carefully moves past the raccoon, talking to it and apparently closing it into the cabinet, Walter tries to use a paperclip to pick the lock into the stadium, but without the proper tools, the lock is just too tough. Instead, he pulls a drawer out of the desk and prepares to use it as a weapon if needs be.

The cop tries the door and finds it blocked, but apparently he knows it doesn’t have a bolt, so he puts his shoulder into it and shoves the table back far enough that he can stick his head into the room, “What are you fellas doing in here? I expected to find some kids.”

Walter, thinking quickly but apparently not deeply, says, “We’re doing a science experiment.”

“Science experiment? Come on out here, please.” Walter and Martin comply. They precede the officer, who unlatches the cabinet with the raccoon in it as he passes, then locks up the exterior door. Once everyone is in the sunlight, he says, “I’m Officer Dusty Lane. I got a call about trespassers over here. Neighbor thinks there are drug dealers or something. He’s a little excitable. But I came by to check it out, anyway. So who are you and what are you doing here?”

Walter takes the lead, giving a fake name, Harry Truman, but his real job. The cop mentions having had a dream the previous night about the kennels and thought it was weird that he’d end up here the very next day. He also mentions a trespassing call he’d gotten from a high school drama teacher, Karen Webb, last night; he’d arrested a man who had broken into the school. Walter and Martin decide they should talk to this guy and ask if they can speak with him. Officer Lane says it won’t be a problem, so they get Martin’s car and head for the police station.

Since Lane didn’t have to walk back to the Railbird, he is waiting for them at the station. “Ah, Mister President! Follow me on back. I’ve got a few minutes left on his paperwork, but you can talk to him ’til then.”

Lane escorts them to the holding cells, where a short, wiry man with tribal tattoos on his arms is lying on a cot. Officer Lane introduces him, “Diulio! Got a couple of guests for you here. Enjoy.”

Walter introduces himself and explains that they’re hunting some kind of creature with glowing red eyes. Diulio seems skeptical at first, but when Walter says he’s an expert in metaphysics, Diulio goes on a rant about a being that stands outside of our universe and can see things that are hidden, even predict the future. He claims that he’s in town to find it and ask it a question.

Officer Lane returns and frees Diulio, telling him that no charges were going to be filed. Walter gives the man his phone number, although Diulio doesn’t seem to want it. Walter and Martin decide to try to tail him and see if they can learn anything else. They follow him back to a motel at the edge of town, where he knocks on a door, but they realize they weren’t very good at being covert when Diulio turns to look at them before going in. They approach the door and listen in on the conversation between Diulio and a woman. She says she wishes he hadn’t led them to her, but he counters that they’re not important enough to worry about—they don’t know anything. She says she wants him to talk to . The woman seems to know that Walter and Martin are listening in, and she opens the door.

Walter and Martin introduce themselves and explain what they’re doing. The woman tells them that her name is Aurora Popadopoulos, and the young man is Simon Diulio, her assistant. Walter manages to persuade Aurora to compare notes, so she tells him the story of the Mothman’s visit to Point Pleasant, including a warning that if the Mothman is in Archer, a disaster is bound to occur. There will be visions and omens, and the Mothman will prove its foresight by predicting disasters elsewhere in the world prior to giving warnings about what is about to happen locally. She then kicks them out of her motel room.

They next go to visit Karen Webb, the teacher who reported a visitation. She seems less credulous than some of the other people Martin and Walter have talked to so far, insisting that what she saw must have been a person, regardless of how it seemed to move. In fact, she sardonically suggests that they might also be interested in the crop circles out in the county. Walter shows interest in that topic, but then seems to realize that she was, perhaps, joking. She says she’s going over to the high school in the afternoon to finish the set painting and costumes for next week’s performance of “The Crucible.” They’re welcome to come with her to examine the damage for themselves if they’re so interested. They say they’ll meet her there and that she should expect to eventually be visited by a guy named Simon who will probably ask many of the same questions.

The duo hastens to the high school ahead of Karen to see if they can learn anything in advance of their “official” visit. The school is a fairly typical example of turn-of-the-millenium educational architecture, which is to say that it looks a bit like a penitentiary. Martin climbs to the roof and drops into the cafeteria through a skylight while Walter keeps a lookout. A yellow Mustang pulls up, driven by an adolescent girl. Walter watches her act like a typical teenager: She spends the next few minutes alternately talking on and texting with her phone.

Inside the school, Martin has located the auditorium and started exploring it. He finds the damaged set piece and takes a picture with his phone, but he doesn’t notice anything else untoward. Meanwhile, a few more students and Karen Webb have arrived in the parking lot. Walter stays out of sight until they have all gone inside, then he goes to the Mustang and, finding it unlocked, searches it. The only thing that stands out is a backpack that doesn’t seem girly enough to belong to her. A quick search of the bag turns up a love letter, apparently from the girl to someone named Jacob, who is presumably the owner of the backpack.

While Walter examines the car, Martin hears Karen and the students coming, finds a side door and exits the building. He rejoins Walter, and both of them enter through the same door that Karen has now unlocked.

Inside, Walter examines the ash markings, taking another picture of it. Karen shows him the catwalks and points out where the intruder must have gone after getting to it. She still insists it was a person, although now that she’s actually looking at the catwalk and ladder, she seems less certain about her story that the guy climbed up to it instead of jumping or flying.

The girl from the Mustang is in what appears to a slightly uncomfortable, although not entirely unwelcome conversation with a jock whose letterman’s jacket
identifies him “Standiford.” Walter and Martin approach and introduce themselves. This time Walter gives his real name. Standiford ducks the conversation, and the girl appears suspicious of the duo’s intentions. Her name is Hannah Kennedy, and she tells them about her encounter with the creature. She was making out with Jake Standiford (even though she’s actually dating someone else, and could they keep all this quiet, please), when Dave’s flashlight caught her attention. She looked in that direction and saw something with huge red eyes staring in through the back window. As soon as it saw her look at it, it spread its wings and leaped into the air. She didn’t see much detail, but it definitely had human-like legs. Jake didn’t see it; by the time he turned around, it was gone.

Since the creature seems to have some kind of interest in Hannah, having been seen in two places associated with her, Walter and Martin decide to surveil her. They tail her back to her home, a recent suburban subdivision, where they stick out like a sore thumb. A nosy neighbor challenges them, but they manage to smokescreen him by claiming they’re house hunting. The cover story gives them the idea to break into a nearby house for sale and watch the Kennedy residence from there.

They order a pizza and settle in for the stakeout. As the night drags on, Walter decides to get a nap in so he can take the late watch. Nothing happens at the Kennedys’ while he sleeps, but a couple of hours in, he awakens with a feeling of dread. Some kind of invisible force assaults him, leaving long claw marks on his arms. Since he thinks he’ll be unable to get any more sleep after that experience, he relieves Martin, who finds a different bedroom to sleep in.

Around 1 a.m., an old Impala pulls up in front of the Kennedy house, and a black-clad figure skulks around to a side window. Walter slips out of the house and approaches the car, taking care not to be seen. A quick search of the (again) unlocked vehicle turns up a hockey bag containing a Renaissance Faire costume, complete with a real, though unsharpened, broadsword. Walter nicks the sword, then quietly approaches the corner of the house, where he can spy on the driver. It turns out to be a gothy teenager named Matt, apparently Hannah’s real boyfriend, and he’s trying to get her to come down to talk to him.

Eventually she tells him to go and she’ll talk to him tomorrow. He walks right by Walter, who presses back into the shadows and is not spotted. Matt drives away, none the wiser, and Walter returns to the stakeout.

In the morning, the Kennedys all leave in one car for church. Martin follows them, leaving Walter to break into the house and search it for clues. During the drive, Martin has an experience that might have been an encounter, or a vision, or a hallucination. Something flies at his windshield, and in his panic, he rear-ends the Kennedys. Not wanting to tip off the girl that he’s been following her, he drives off before he can be identified.

Meanwhile, Walter breaks into the Kennedy house and hunts for any indication of weirdness. He doesn’t find any Satanic altars or stolen mothman eggs, but he does pilfer and electric knife sharpener to use on the sword. Every indication is that Hannah Kennedy is just a normal teenager.

Martin returns to pick Walter up, and they go back to the Railbird Cafe to trade Martin’s damaged car for Walter’s. Dave Elmore comes out to talk to them, reporting that he’s had another weird experience: A disembodied voice told him “A new god rides to Heaven on 333.”

They stash Martin’s car behind a stand of trees on a nearby farm, hoping it will escape notice until they’re done with their investigation, and return to town. They get to the church in time to reacquire the Kennedys and follow them to their after church lunch. Martin keeps an eye on the family at lunch while Walter makes for the office of the Mullen County Register to talk to the journalist who wrote last week’s article on the sightings. They agree to rendezvous back at the empty house before making their next move.

Diane Keeling is a middle-aged, friendly woman who is only too happy to talk about the story, but when Walter asks her if they can talk to one of her sources, she refuses. He eventually cajoles her into setting up a meeting with a woman whose 10-year-old saw the creature, but she insists that the meeting be in public and that she be present. She suggests they meet that afternoon at a farmer’s market, art show, and opening celebration for the town’s annual spring festival.

Martin observes that Matt is present at lunch, having traded his goth look for more typical Midwesterner church-kid attire. The relationship between Matt and Hannah seems strained. When the Kennedys leave the restaurant, Hannah agrees to meet Matt at the farmer’s market, where he apparently has a booth for the art show. They leave in separate cars. Martin gets an Uber back to the house.

On his way to meet Martin, Walter is nearly accosted by Jake Standiford and two truckloads of his football buddies. Walter doesn’t take any chances and jumps a curb with his car to evade them.

Back at the house, Martin has discovered that there is an open house today. He and Walter pretend to be prospective homebuyers and use the open house as an excuse to cover their tracks, ask some more questions about the strange events around town, and kill time until their meeting at the farmer’s market. While they are doing so, Walter gets a call on his cell phone. A weirdly distorted voice says, “Only one can be saved. The others are lost.” The voice is drowned out by a loud squealing sound that persists until Walter hangs up.

Eventually, the time comes, and they make their way downtown to the festival. The venue is the expansive parking lot of an office building, and it is packed—several hundred people have showed up, including almost everyone that they’ve talked to so far. Dave Elmore is browsing for produce; Officer Lane is working crowd control; Diane Keeling is taking photos for the Register, her young daughter in tow; and Karen Webb is perusing the art show. Hannah and Matt are at Matt’s booth, where he’s selling cheesy fantasy prints; they’re not bad technically, but they show little imagination. They’re arguing about something, and nearby, Jake is smirking at them. The only people who aren’t present are Aurora and Simon.

Diane introduces Walter to a young mother and her daughter. The child doesn’t really know anything they haven’t learned already, so the interview is short. As Walter wraps things up, there is a loud THUMP, and all the windows on the lower two floors of the office building blow out, showering the crowd with glass. Ominous creaks and cracking sounds are accompanied by cracks spider-webbing up the side of the building and across the parking lot.

Time seems to stop. There is no time to discuss the matter, but in an instant the two of them perceive everything that is happening around them: Diane takes a series of rapid-fire photos of the collapsing building, backing away as she does so. There is another loud CRACK, and the parking lot gives way, dropping her into a sinkhole as her daughter watches and cries nearby. A passing person grabs the girl and hauls her toward safety.

Hannah has turned her back on Matt angrily. The explosion knocks her off of her feet, right into the middle of an otherwise open avenue to safety. The crowd surges forward, trampling her.

A piece of rebar skewers Matt through the abdomen.

Jake grabs an old woman, slinging her over his shoulder and starts running for safety.

A large piece of concrete breaks away from the building, falling majestically toward Dave Elmore.

Dusty Lane pushes some kids out of the way of a collapsing wall and gets pinned under it for his trouble, breaking both his legs.

A secondary explosion launches a burning fax machine out of a third-story window. It’s trajectory will pass right through Karen Webb’s head.

Only one can be saved. The others are lost.

Walter dashes for Hannah, trying to get her out from under the stampeding crowd. Martin goes for Officer Lane, lending his prodigious strength to shifting the rubble. Fortune favors Martin’s efforts, and he manages to get Dusty out of the way before the rest of the building comes down. Walter isn’t so lucky. By the time he gets to Hannah, someone has stepped on her throat. She breathes her last just as he gets her clear of the danger. Moments after the two of them get to safety, the building comes crashing down.

38 people are killed by the falling building, and two dozen others are injured. Some of those others might have died if not for Officer Lane’s presence. In spite of his own injuries, he quickly organizes able-bodied survivors into rescue teams and coordinates triage until the ambulances start arriving.

While helping to organize the disaster’s aftermath, Walter happens across Matt’s Impala. He helps himself to several pieces of artwork that had been left in the trunk (hoping that the association with the tragedy will make them valuable) and makes a more thorough search of the hockey bag now that he can see it in daylight. In a side pocket, he finds a battered, leather-bound book filled with symbols that he recognizes as occultic. The book’s in medieval German, though, so he’ll need some help to translate it.

While Walter is searching Matt’s car, Officer Lane tells Martin that it’s probably just as well Jake died acting like a hero. A few hours earlier, he and his buddies apparently delivered a brutal beating to Simon Diulio. Apparently Jake thought Simon was threatening Hannah Kennedy, and he decided to do something about it. If he hadn’t died here today, Lane is pretty sure Diulio was planning to murder him. As tragic as his death was, better that he should go out this way.

Eventually, the two return to their regular lives. Martin is happy to have made a friend in law enforcement, even if he is only a local cop in a nothing town like Archer, and Walter is satisfied that he has at least a little tangible proof of something otherworldly, although his smart phone’s camera is woefully inadequate as a sensing device. He resolves to acquire something a little more flexible for future outings.

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