ALL IS LOST Part 1 of 2

“Wwhatt’ss hhappennedd to uuusss?” gurgled Marjorie. “Iiimmm a mmonnssterrr!”

“You’re lucky, Hayden. At least you’re still completely human,” moaned goatboy Jocko.

“Yeah. A weak, cold, naked, female human. My life just rocks,” I spat.

Arachne.jpg
ALL IS LOST
Part 1 of 2

by **Sigh**
Copyright © 2013 plaintive sigh
All Rights Reserved.

~o~O~o~

“Everyone in the break room in 5 minutes. Mandatory inservice.”

P. J. looked up in panic. “But-! I’ve finally got this vendor on the phone — after waiting on hold for …” he looked at his phone timer, “… a quarter hour!”

Crowzen shot back an annoyed look. “Terminate the conversation. Tell him it’s a work emergency. And get a cell number you can call back on so you won’t wait next time. Come on, Peej. I don’t have to tell you everything, do I?”

Wow. I’d never seen Mr. C. so ticked off. And believe you me, he was. Red face, glaring eyes, set jaw. I notice those things. Being observant of body language is a skill that has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Although it was useless to me just a few minutes ago.

Jocko — unwisely — opened his big mouth. “Hey, boss — what’s the deal? A surprise inser-“

“YES, Mr. Floydada. A ‘pop’ inservice. On sexual harassment. Anyone not attending gets a payroll penalty. And — you all now have 4 minutes.” He then strode quickly out of the common cubicle area.

Double wow. He just called Jocko by his last name. He is very, very peeved. And from the subject of the meeting, it’s about what just was happening here in the roobicle. He’s sticking up for me? I’m more impressed with my new boss everyday.

Except now, as I walk with the other 8 down to the break room — which also serves as the conference/naptime/whatever room — I’m more nervous than a redheaded nudist during a sunscreen shortage. Will this be a … discreet event, or will I be put on display? Will I be still known as Hayden Moss, or as ‘harassment victim alpha’, the guy who is so pathetic his boss had to do this to protect him fwom da biig, baad buwwies he works with?

It’s all in how he handles it. Come on, Mr. C. Don’t blow this. For either of us.

~o~O~o~

Well, crap. He ... tried, I guess. Started out talking generically about work environments, and how they should be free from any ridicule or oppression in regards to one's sexual preference, status, gender, desired gender, et cetera. How sexual talk is discouraged in the workplace; how, if directed specifically at one of your coworkers, it is absolutely not tolerated. Man, if he had just stopped there, that would have been perfect. But no.

He had to add, "Specifically, we should never ridicule someone who is a virgin." Cringe.

THEN, "Hayden has chosen to keep himself chaste, and that is a noble thing. Virgins are beautiful people, and special. They are to be celebrated. Hayden - I honor your decision to remain a virgin. If anyone gives you any more trouble about that, just come tell me." Triple cringe!

At that point, I was the color of Superman's cape. My cell vibrated - it was a stealth-text from Jocko…

“Say ‘yes, father dearest’. Brown-noser.”

So, you know what that means. I absolutely will be ridiculed even more. And will I report it? Hell no.

So, Mr. Crowzen. My evaluation of your third day as our new boss? E for effort, D minus for results.

~o~O~o~

"Hey there, Hay. You OK?" It was Leticia, one of the two women who worked here with me at Data Conversion Inc.

"I'll be fine, Tish. No worries." I gave her my best fake smile.

"You know what the shrinks say about 'fine'. It stands for fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional," she smirked. Yet her hand was on my shoulder. Good ol' Tish; she’s always good to try and cheer me up. "If you ever want to talk about it, I'll be there for you."

"Talk about being made fun of virtually every day, or about me being a ... v-word?" I was pretty pessimistic. Not about her caring, but about her ability to do anything to help me.

I should’ve paid more attention; Jocko had silently entered the room, and felt obliged to join the conversation. "V-word? As in vagina? You're a vag? So that's why you've never been laid - you're really a girl, just so ugly that you appear to be a dude!" He whispered in a low voice, keeping an eye out for Mr. C.

"Give it a rest, dickhead. Leave him alone."

All three of us turned to see who said that. It was the temp that had come to fill in for Stevens, our coder who called in sick today with a sudden tummy bug ("I'm puking up my toenails, sir" was what we heard him say over Crowzen's speakerphone). This temp, a little guy, was standing toe-to-toe (and face-to-chest) with big Jocko.

"This isn't your bee's-wax, new guy," the taller man snarled. "Butt out."

"I've whipped men twice as big and ten times as tough as you, ass. I will take your..." -he then began whispering so low, only they two could hear. As he did, Jock's face turned paler than a peeled potato. Then big J turned, and walked away without a further word.

The little dude turned to me with an outstretched hand. “Name’s Sheldon. Sorry for butting in, but bullying really torches my toast. I’m filling in for-“

“Our sick coder. Yeah, I know. Thanks for dealing with creepo Jocko. I’m Hayden, and this is Leticia.” We shook hands.

Sheldon the temp was shorter than anyone else in the office except for Tish. He had one of those pencil thin mustaches that stayed slim as it curled down around his chin, encircling his lower face with an oblong “O”. He couldn’t have been older than twenty five, yet the poor dude was already getting a bald patch on the crown of his head. He looked around the cubicle room — the “roobicle”, I like to call it — checking out the digs, then spoke. “How long ago did your boss, Mr. Crowzen, open up this business?”

Letty answered as she cleaned her glasses with one of those little lens wipes she kept in her purse. “He didn’t open it. He bought it. Another guy — Zack Perry - started us, eight months ago. Then last week all of a sudden Mr. C comes in and announces that he’s bought us out.”

“Yeah,” I cut in. “A lot of us here are Zack’s friends, so when we heard he was gone, we got ready to turn in our notices — until the new boss tells us he’ll give us each a 7K bonus to stay on for at least another month. Says he’s got huge plans for the company, and he’s gonna reveal them at the party tonight.”

Sheldon’s eyes popped open. “There’s a company party tonight? Halloween night?” Boy, all of a sudden he seemed real nervous.

“A mandatory party,” Tish sighed.

Sheldon’s jaw dropped. “Attendance at the party is mandatory for you guys?”

“Yeah. A Halloween costume party, held at Mr. C’s house. He’s got some huge mansion out in the Terrace Gardens district. Hey, buddy,” I say as I put my hand on Sheldon’s shivering shoulder, “what’s up? You look like you just saw a ghost or something.”

Our temp worker eyed the door. “I’ve gotten ill, suddenly. You guys need to call in a different temp — I’m sorry. I’ve got to go, now-“

“You’re not going anywhere, spy.”

That was Mr. C, walking towards us with an angry glare directed right at the little dude. “I called the temp agency. They say that there’s no ‘Sheldon’ who works for them. Furthermore, they just discovered that the actual temp they were sending here just called them from County Hospital Emergency. Seems he was suddenly struck with horrible nausea and vomiting, just like Stevens was.”

Crowzen grabbed Shel’s arm and got in his face. “What a coincidence. Your doing, I suspect. Who are you, and why are you spying on me?”

Suddenly Sheldon jerked his arm free, and made a bolt for the front door — running smack dab into the belly of a huge uniformed security guard. The guard wrapped his big ham hock of an arm around the neck of the imposter, and then grunted towards Crowzen.

“Take him away, as I’ve instructed,” snarled our boss.

Tish turned to me. “When the hell did our little firm hire a security force?”

I shrugged. This was as much excitement and confusion as I’ve seen since Y2K.

All of a sudden Crowzen was sweetness and light again. “Hayden, Leticia! I’m so excited about the party tonight. Please don’t be late! And remember, I’ll be providing all of the costumes, so wear clothes that you can change out of easily.”

Tish frowned. “Sir — my niece had been counting on me to take her trick or treating tonight. I can get a replacement, but it will be a huge disappointment for her. I might not be able to-“

Crowzen halted her speech by putting a finger to his lips in a shush gesture. He then whispered something in her ear. Her eyes lit up like a Jack-o-lantern’s. Mr. C. smiled, playfully tweaked her nose with his finger, and then walked off.

“Tish?” I said, as she stared past me with bewilderment.

She snapped out of it and looked at me — still bewildered, but smiling. “Sorry. I’ll definitely — definitely — be at the party tonight.”

~o~O~o~

I have got to get myself a GPS, ‘cause my tiny cell phone map just wasn’t cutting it. While trying to find Crowzen’s place, I made more wrong turns than Napoleon at Waterloo. It was 7:28 when I finally parked in the huge circle drive in front of the mansion where the big shindig was to commence. We had been told to be no later than 7:30, and everyone else’s cars were already here.

I ran up to the huge wooden doors and knocked furiously. It was exactly 7:30 now. The left door swung open revealing a smiling Alistair Crowzen. “Hayden! Gracious, man! You like to cut things close! Come in, come in!”

I walked into a huge receiving room. There was a staircase leading to the upper floors, a magnificent chandelier, but no other guests. “Where is everybody?” I wondered out loud.

“Some are still being outfitted into their costumes, but most are already dressed and in the grand ballroom. Come with me, to the den — that’s where we’ve set up the dressing areas. We need to get your costume on.”

“Er … what exactly is my costume, Sir?”

He smiled wryly at me as we briskly walked towards the den. “You’ll learn to arrive early next time. You’re getting the only one that’s left.”

Entering the next room, there were dividers set up blocking the room into segments, with curtains. Great — even at a party, I’m being put into a cubicle. All of them were drawn closed except the one to the far left, where there were two figures sitting on stools, twiddling their thumbs. They wore large robes with hoods over their heads, kind of like those medieval monks you see in the movies.

“Lars, Sven — our last straggler has arrived,” announced my boss.

The Hoods jumped to attention. “Ah! Our Lady Godiva — at last!”

“Your Whaty Whatmatta??” I choked.

~o~O~o~

Yes. I had heard correctly. My party costume was to be Lady Godiva. The nude chick riding on a horse. Technically, she was supposed to be a hero, that ride being done for a noble cause. I couldn’t care less. If I was to be Lady G, then (1) I’d be dressed up as a girl and/or (2) I wouldn’t be dressed at all! Like, how was that going to happen?

This is what I was thinking as I stood in my white briefs, my arms and legs being rapid-shaved by the Swedish goofballs. I assume they’re Swedish with names like Lars and Sven; I sure can’t see their faces in those oppressive hoods they have on.

They finished, then approached me with something that looked like a flesh tone padded wetsuit, except the arms and legs of it went only to the elbows and knees. “Step into it from the back,” said Len. I don’t know if it was Lars or Sven saying it, so I just combined ‘em into one name, and Len is easier to say than Svars.

I step into the thing, and put my arms into the sleeves as they zip me up in back. Okay, I see now. This is like a girl’s body, with hanging breasts, and a slit in the crotch. Thank God there’s a little room in the crotch, or else I’d be singing soprano. So now I kind of looked like my head is on a really curvy naked chick body. It’s so realistic I’d probably be turned on if I weren’t so embarrassed.

“So, I’m supposed to just walk around the party as a nude girl torso? Please tell me there’s some clothes I have to wear. Even a sheet. Just not in the buff, please.”

“Hang on, we’re not through,” Len says. Then the other one brings out this huge long blonde Rapunzel wig, and fits it on me. The hair hangs down to my calves; then with some type of adhesive they plaster my locks to certain parts of my front so that the strands strategically covet the nipples and the groin of the outfit. Body tape, they called the stickum.

“Done,” says the other one (Svars, I guess).

“Th — that’s it? No clothes? Please!”

“You’re Lady Godiva. You’re nude.”

“What about the butt? You didn’t cover it!”

“Don’t worry. The others are wearing extreme outfits too. You’ll blend right in,” Len and Svars say as they push me towards and through a side door …

Aaaand I’m in the ballroom.

~o~O~o~

Everyone is looking at me.

And I’m looking right back at all of them.

Extreme outfits? Len/Svars weren’t kidding. There is a guy in a wooly loincloth holding a club, wearing a mask that has one huge eye in the forehead area. I guess he’s supposed to be a Cyclops; the woodpecker tattoo on his wrist tells me that’s Skip, our accountant. Marjorie is wearing this thing attached to her waist and spreading behind her that makes it look like her girl’s upper body is attached to the thorax and abdomen of a giant spider.

And Jocko is a faun. Shirtless, with goat horns and furry legs, with shoes that look like giant hooves. He looks to be in a sour mood, until he gets a load of me. “Hayden! Or is it Haylee now? I don’t like my costume, but at least I’m male! Hahahahaha!”

“Bite me, goat boy,” I grumble.

PJ and Tom are over at the food bar — appropriate, for the two biggest guys in the room. PJ is wearing a horse head mask, with his legs acting as the front two legs of the horse, and the back of his suit is open. It’s pretty clear that Tom is the horse’s ass (totally inappropriate — he’s the nicest guy), wearing the other end of the suit.

“You better stop eating those mini burritos,” Tom says to PJ. “Remember, at nine, our halves are supposed to be joined together, and my face is gonna be near your butt.”

“No worries, buddy,” replies the horse head. “I took some Beano earlier, so I shouldn’t get any gas.”

I’m flabbergasted. Parties are supposed to be fun. I mean, the costumes are amazing in their detail, but the vibe here is just plain … weird.

“Hey there, Hay.”

I turn to see … Medusa. Yep, a snake-coiffured woman with a green face and special contacts that make her eyes look red. I smile at my friend. “Hi, Tish. Greeeeat party, eh?”

“Gee, you haven’t turned to stone. I guess my hair’s asleep. Wake up, snakies!” She half-laughs as she shakes her head, making her freaky wig dance like it almost really is alive.

“No need to try to turn me frozen. My costume is so embarrassing, it’s doing the job just fine.”

“You mean, they wouldn’t give you any clothes?”

“I’m Lady Godiva. And if I’m not mistaken, Tom and PJ are to be my horse. We’re supposed to stay until at least nine for the big announcement. I don’t think I can take being this way for another hour.”

“Didn’t Mr. C. tell you, Hay? There’s an extra 5k bonus, given as prepaid visa cards, if we wait it out. That’s the reason Jocko hasn’t left. That’s the only reason why I decided to definitely come to this freak show.”

“Another 5k! Why? … Okay, if he’s going to be fool enough to give it, then I’ll be a nude centerfold model for another hour. I’m not going to like it, though.”

“Just drink this.” She handed me a flute of champagne from one of the waiter’s trays. I slugged it down. “Now repeat five times. I guarantee you’ll feel less self conscious.”

“Yes, Dr. Tish,” I sighed as I grabbed another flute.

~o~O~o~

I’m on flute number four, and watching the clock. Five minutes ‘til nine. Then, finally, the boss joins the party.

He’s dressed funky too. I can’t really call it a costume, though; not like the ones the rest of us have on. He’s carrying a big staff or stick, and has a gold llame’ turban on his head. Big, flowy silken robes are draped around his neck and shoulders, cascading to the floor.

“Okay, everyone! Time for the big reveal! Gather ‘round, please,” he booms with his baritone voice.

“You all have played along with my eccentricities so well. I promise you, continue just a few minutes more. Then, you won’t care about what you’re wearing, because you will be amazed and excited at the future of our group here … not to mention the world.

“Margorie, Leticia, Jocko, Skip … look at the center of the room. See the circle there, with five red squares placed equidistant from each other on the circle’s perimeter? Each of you pick a square, and stand in it. Hayden, PJ, Tom — come to the center point of the circle, please.”

I don’t know why we all eagerly obeyed. Thinking about those visa cards, I guess.

“PJ, Tom — assemble your costume together to form one magnificent horse. Good, good — that’s perfect. Now, Hayden — our Lady Godiva — please get on the horse. Essentially, you’ll be on Tom’s back.”

“Dang, Tom, I hope I’m not too heavy for you,” I muttered as I mounted the “steed.” Tom just grunted as I sat in a side-saddle style on his broad back and shoulders. I turned to Mr. Crowzen and gave him a thumbs-up.

But Crowzen had a new look on his face — a maniacal grin with wild eyes. “Hold spell,” he screamed.

I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. The only thing that worked were my eyes, and as I looked around with my limited vision, I saw that Marjorie and Jocko and horse-head PJ were standing bolt still also. Their eyes were also darting about. I could tell we were all confused, panicked.

“Turn on the floor lights,” said Crowzen.

Suddenly, a pattern of light lit up the floor. And I saw I was not placed in the center of a circle, but rather a pentagram — with each of the five points ending in a red square where my coworkers were standing.

“Bring out our final puzzle piece,” Mr. C. cackled.

One of the hooded guys — there were about ten of them in the room, now — carried a small stiff body into the room. It was attired in a female pixie outfit, complete with minidress and wings. As the hood guy placed the body on the last remaining red square, the blonde pixie wig fell off, disclosing a head of black hair with a bald spot on the crown.

Sheldon.

He was alive, for when they affixed his body in a standing position, I could see his eyes moving, surveying the sight around him. Those eyes looked even more frightened than anyone else’s. The hoodster sloppily slammed the wig back on Shel’s head.

Mr. C. — Mr. Crazy, I’m calling him now — began screaming again.

“LET THE MASTER OF EVIL AND DEATH COME FORTH!”

All of a sudden, I heard a brrrrrraaaapppp sound come from behind my horse’s head. Oh god. PJ just — farted? At a time like this??

“LET ALL APPEARANCES BECOME REALITY!”

Thank god for bean miniburritos. Because the smell of the fart was too much for Tom, whose head was placed just near PJ’s butt in this horse costume.

“LET THE SEPARATION BETWEEN HELL AND EARTH BE NO MORE!”

The odor was so strong, somehow it broke the paralysis Tom was in. He pulled back, separating the horse head from the rear. He was holding his neck, coughing, gasping. “Dammit, Peej!” he choked. As he stood, I began to tilt off his back, falling to the floor, still unable to move myself.

Crowzen hadn’t noticed this development, as he held the staff up, howling the last part of his incantation.

“LET THE REIGN OF DARKNESS — BEGIN!”

Lightning bolts and flame erupted suddenly around the room, then were gone. I hit the floor hard. I still couldn’t move. I could still see.

Marjorie was no longer in a spider-girl costume. She … she actually was a half spider, half woman. Three new pairs of eyes had arisen on her forehead, giving her eight in all. She looked like a picture I’d seen of that fantasy gamer goddess, Arachne. Jocko actually did have goat legs now, with small hooves and the ungulate bend of legs that could not be a mere costume. And Sheldon was gone. No, there he — or she — or it, was. A tiny pixie, standing still on it’s square. I couldn’t turn my head to check on Tish or Skip.

I couldn’t see myself, but I could feel. I could feel my huge right female breast being pinched under my torso. I could feel my huge right hip touching the cold floor. And I was lying on top of the back part of an actual horse.

A horse that was dead and hemorrhaging, because it was in two separate parts, as if it had been sawed in two.

Somehow, our costumes … had become reality, just as Crowzen had chanted.

And Crowzen was bowing … bowing before a shadowy huge hulking mass. Just a big dark shadow, with no other features save it’s piercing red eyes.

“My Under-father,” Mr. Crazy said, “I have done as you have asked. Take your rightful place; bring about the hellchild, and reign.”

The mass replied with a horrible gurgling, hissing blast. “I … did NOT … ask for a dead animal … to sacrifice. It must be ALIVE … for I alone … shall draw it’s blood!”

Crazy looked my direction, and for the first time say the remains of what had been my friends PJ and Tom. “U-underfather … it was together when I started the chant! And I had them in your hold spell! I don’t understand…”

“I can … restore it, if it just happened … now,” shrieked the mass. And immediately, the two horse halves began to draw together, the blood on the floor sucking back into the open belly; then the two halves joined together, and the horse started to breathe! Although, it still appeared held in thrall.

“Well done, underfather! I am honored to serve at your right hand,” bowed Crazy.

“Only … excellence … will serve by me … not incompetence. Your performance … today … is worthy only … of death.”

Suddenly Crazy’s body was suspended in mid-air, and it appeared his limbs were being pulled in all different directions. He screamed in pain. “Underfather! No! After all I have sacrificed to this point — please, have pity!”

“You seek … mercy and forgiveness … you’re asking … the wrong father,” the mass cackled.

Crowzen’s body was being pulled apart; I could hear bones and joints popping, separating as he continued to roar in pain. Then, in a last gasp of defiance, he looked out at me, at us, his victims/employees, and yelled “CANCEL HOLD!” — just before his body broke apart into a hundred pieces.

Suddenly, I could move. I jumped to my feet, and my horse did the same. All the other transformees became mobile, too.

“RUN OUT THE SIDE DOOR!” It was Sheldon the pixie, shooting a trail of sparkly dust towards a portal on the far left of the room. As the dust hit the door, it seemed to dissolve it and a good portion of the wall around it, leaving an open hole to escape through.

The mass hissed. “Hol-“

“VOW OF SILENCE,” Sheldon squeaked, and the mass seemed to be unable to speak. The hooded guys all pulled out knives and tried to rush us, but Marjorie sprayed a web out of her tail — yuck! — and trapped three of them. She bit a fourth one — she had these big mandibles dripping with venom now — and the guy fell to the ground, shaking violently as if having a seizure. Skip now was an eight foot one eyed giant, and he quickly dispatched the other hoodies with his club.

TomPeej, the horse, snorted at me and pointed it’s nose towards it’s back. It didn’t have to ask me twice — I jumped on and held onto it’s neck as it raced towards the hole in the room. My steed and I leapt through the opening, which delivered us directly outside. The rest came flying/crawling/running through, and we ran out into the night.

~o~O~o~

We came to a clearing just beyond the main grounds of the huge estate. “Stay here,” Sheldon peeped. “I’ve got to somehow get a cell phone. We need help.”

“I left my personal cell phone in my car, under the driver’s seat. It’s a red Nissan Sentra, parked in the circle drive in the front,” I volunteered.

“Are we safe here? We’re barely two hundred yards from the death mansion,” worried Jocko the satyr.

“You’ll be fine; just stay hidden. Because we interrupted the ceremony, that evil thing is still confined to that ballroom. Just keep an eye out for those hooded henchmen; they could still come for us,” said Shel the pixie.

“Who died and made you leader?” Jocko sneered.

“Can you tell the rest of us what’s going on, what’s just happened?” Shel replied.

“Of course not!”

“EXACTLY, Jocko. Well, I can! And I will — but I need to call for help first! Wait here, unless you want to try your luck in the city. They’ll either shoot you, or put you in a zoo — or a lab. Now — I’ll be right back!” And with that, TinkerSheldon flew off.

“Wwhatt’ss hhappennedd to uuusss?” gurgled Marjorie. “Iiimmm a mmonnssterrr!”

“You’re lucky, Hayden. At least you’re still completely human,” moaned goatboy Jocko.

“Yeah. A weak, cold, naked, female human. My life just rocks,” I spat.

“Pretty. You pretty. Me like,” drawled the Cyclops.

“Uh … Skip … that is still you in there, isn’t it? Well, I’m still me — Hayden — a guy — in here,” I said pointing to my head, while simultaneously trying to cover my breasts and groin. When I changed, the ‘body tape’ didn’t stay with me, although all of this long golden hair was mine, now.

Suddenly TomPeej snorted and stomped the ground, looking back towards the mansion. Jocko peeped from behind a bush in that direction. “Oh god — it’s one of the hoodies!”

“Nnnooo. Theyy werrre all mennn. Thisss isss a womannn … I cannn sssmelll hherr,” sputtered ArachnoMarjorie.

Jocko stood up, now more emboldened. “Stop right there, lady! We’re taking you captive, so don’t try any funny stuff.”

“Guysss,” hissed the hoodie. “It’ssss me.”

“Tish?!” Oh my god. Tish! In all the confusion, I had forgotten to make sure she was with us! I jumped up and ran to hug her —

“Sssstay away,” she warned, pulling her hood down so her face was unseeable.

“Tish? What’s wrong? Why can’t we … oh. My god. You … you’re Medusa, right?”

“Yesss,” she hissed with a sob.

We found out that Tish can indeed turn men to stone; that’s how she got the hoodie robe, from an unfortunate hooded thug who turned solid when he tried to apprehend her back at the mansion. She took his garment and placed it on her as soon as she got outside. The good thing is, she’s gonna wear the hood constantly, so she was able to go behind a tree and take her decorative dress off from under the robe. Now I’ve got a bit of clothes to wear. Not enough clothes, but some.

Back came Sheldon, carrying my phone using pixie dust to do so. I hooked up facetime so she could have a visual talk, dialed the number (s)he told me to dial, and we all listened as (s)he spoke on speakerphone. Even though the video was rolling, Sheldon stayed out of it’s view, instead parking down by the mike on the phone.

The ring was answered, but the phone screed stayed black. “Presto cleaners, your premium dry cleaners. Please call back during our business hours of-“

“Sharon. This is operative XJS-9377-Tango. I need to speak with brother Cassius.”

“Uh … honey, little girl, this is a dry cleaners. Is your mommy there?”

“SHARON. I know I don’t sound like myself! Let me recite my clearance code.”

Silence. Then, “proceed at will.”

“Clearance code one three niner niner Romeo four three zero Whiskey Zulu five seven.”

“My, what a fun little spy game you’re playing, child. Let me speak to your father.”

“Luke; I am your father.”

“CLEARANCE ACCEPTED.”

TinkerSheldon let out a huge sigh.

A man’s face appeared on the phone screen. “Brother Ignatz? Is that you? Why is your voice like a little girl’s? Let me see you!”

Sheldon flew up in front of the screen so the man could see him/her. “Hello, sir. From my appearance, it should be obvious that we have situation red.”

The man on the screen looked aghast. “Oh … oh no. How far have they gotten with the ceremony?”

“Sir, there’s been no sacrifice or impregnation. I managed to get all of the transformed out of there. The portal zone is confined to a building-“

“CUT TO THE CHASE, IGNATZ! HAS HE … IT… APPEARED?”

“Sir … yes. The Evil One is here, in semi- physical form.”

There was no further reply, only silence. The man on the screen held his face in his hands in anguish.

“Sir — I need help, backup. I need to know how to stop him since he’s come this far. It’s not midnight yet. We can still — “

“Ignatz! It’s … it’s too late. He’s too powerful. We had to prevent him from coming; now, global transformation is virtually unpreventable.”

“Sir! No! He doesn’t have what he needs! I got them out of there — “

“IGNATZ! Listen to me. He has power over them that will grow by the minute. He’ll call them back, and they won’t be able to resist. You won’t, either.”

“S-sir … what about the virgin and the sacrifice? He cannot call them back, can he? They are not under his power — by the rite of the ceremony, they are to be undefiled! He can’t take over without them to use in the ceremony!”

“He has his hooded followers spread world wide, Sheldon. They are rounding up other sacrifices and virgins as we speak, as well as others to make monsters of. That was always their plan, just in case something like you interfered with the primaries. It’s over, boy. He’s won. We will institute plan Omega and transport a small surviving pod of humans to another dimension. It’s A.I.L. here. I recommend that you and your rescues kill yourselves to at least avoid the hell on earth that’s about to commence. Over and out, forever.”

The screen went black, as my little pixie friend erupted in wails of sorrow.

I didn’t understand it all, but it sounded bad, like the apocalypse or something. I especially wanted to know — “Sheldon. What does ‘it’s A.I.L. here’ mean?”

Sheldon continued to wail for a half minute, then choked back her tears as she looked at me. “It — it means … All Is Lost.”

~o~O~o~

TO BE CONTINUED IN ONE OR TWO DAYS

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