BHM Skeptical [BHM]

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Oct 23, 2019
United States
I had a couple different ideas on the docket for new stories, and then… swept up in Halloween and went in a totally different direction than any of them. It's gonna be a slowwwww burn, looks like. So here we are, inspired from all the great spooky pop culture we have access to this October! Enjoy!

by Ghostboo

Chapter One

The immaculate living room was quiet, except for the hum of voices talking in the kitchen nearby. All the walls, the furniture, and the accessories in sight were white, or various shades of beige. Except for the young woman with bright blue hair seated on a pristine couch, and the man dressed in black across from her on an overstuffed and only lightly tinted chair, it all went together.

**** it, thought Daron, reaching into the pocket of his dark jeans for a Snickers bar. The crinkle cut into the near silence as he opened it, and blue-haired Freddie grinned at him from her seat. Still, she didn’t speak up. The words from next door where their boss, Xander, and coworker Sarah were discussing the strange happenings in this house with its owner were mostly lost. But not all.

“I heard it,” rose a little hysterically out of the murmurs. That was the house’s owner, Monica. She had reached out to Xander’s team certain that her dead son was trying to contact her.

For many years, Xander, a charismatic and overwhelmingly kind man, had his own reality show. Psychic Adventures. Many people watched, for the handsome man was easy on the eyes while being likable and convincing. Some of the “adventures” were debunked on air, some were left as a question mark, but rarely did any customers leave dissatisfied.

Now, Xander had moved into true altruism. He believed in his work and abilities, and believed in using that to help people. The money he made from Psychic Adventures was not going to run out anytime soon, and with it, he paid his team to help him assist people. Julie, a nurse practitioner with experience in the medical and mental fields. Daron, the tech consultant. And most recently, Freddie, brought on at Daron’s request (re:demand) as the resident et al. scientist, with specific experience in microbiology and zoology.

“And the horror expert,” she’d often add with a crooked grin. At 25, the girl was at least 10 years younger than the rest of the group. Xander led them at a robust but surprising 44 years, Sarah at 40, and Daron at 35. She had met the rest of the team at her first job out of college - in the lab of the police department. She’d worked there, rather unhappily, for a couple of years before being allowed to assist in a case where the victim claimed aliens, but as it turns out, they were just suffering from a couple extraneous personalities. When she’d received a job offer after the case closed, she’d left the police department and never looked back.

It was coming up to about six months since she’d been hired. She’d proved an invaluable asset, even if her enthusiasm was sometimes overwhelming, Daron thought. He was the resident skeptic, and was grateful for the help in quickly and firmly squashing any idea that certain phenomenon were “supernatural”. She had ideas that didn’t even occur to him, sometimes. Still, the excitable girl was not a small personality by any means.

“Not going to share?” She spoke up finally, with a hint of mocking hurt to her voice. Daron studied his Snickers bar, with maybe one bite left, then looked back up at Freddie and popped it in his mouth.

“Sorry Winnifred,” he said as soon as he swallowed. “You know to bring your own candy.”

The glare from the opposing couch turned sharp and real.

“Don’t call me thaaaat,” she sang, running a hand through her hair. The top portion was a deep brown, running into a vibrant aqua color that brushed the top of her chest. It changed often, and could, on occasion, reflect her mood. Her outfit on this particular day, as it usually did, leaned vintage. A v-neck top, deeper blue than her hair, ruched into a white circle skirt. It flattered her decidedly curvy figure, small but still not the fashionably thin that went with many current clothing trends.

“Then don’t ask me to share my chocolate,” Daron shrugged back with a quick flash of a grin and his trademark snark. Freddie rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help smiling back. Daron caught himself tugging his black t-shirt away from his middle and pulled back, sucking in instead as he moved his gaze away from Freddie to the other areas of the room. He was antsy to get to check out the rest of the house, but Monica had been clear - and shrill - about how they were only to check for the normal environmental factors with her.

And that’s not suspicious or anything, Daron thought wryly as the discussion in the kitchen seemed to wind down. Footsteps approached, and then the door swung open to reveal the trio. Monica was a frighteningly thin woman who looked older than her 45 years. Especially compared to Xander, who could have passed for much younger, or frankly ageless. His smooth, dark skin was covered in a close-cropped black beard and, in turn, covered a pearly white, comforting smile. Julie was pretty but nondescript, in plain clothing, and with a carefully maintained pixie cut. She fit in the sterile room along with Monica, as much as one could.

Daron and Freddie were clearly the black sheep, left behind in the room for a reason, and Daron was fine with that. He wasn’t as much of a people person as Xander and Julie, who were fine with placating often clearly insane clientele. Appearance wise, his Armenian heritage allowed him very differently handsome features, with thick eyebrows, a slightly crooked nose, and perpetually tanned-looking skin. He was often pegged as Greek. Favoring darker colors on his clothing, Daron stuck to the more casual side of things. T-shirts. Flannels in winter.

He’d been consulting for a long time, and this job was the best he’d found, if a little on the stressful side. Which meant a few more beers at the end of a long day. A bigger celebratory pizza when the truth was finally uncovered. A few more candy pieces that grew to fully candy bars out on the road during a lengthy gig. And so Daron, who had always held a sturdy build, had been tilting more and more into the “soft” side of things since joining this team a few years ago. In particular, over the last few months. He’d been catching himself tugging out clinging t-shirts more and more lately, and he filed the knowledge away under the “I will start a diet - eventually” tab in his brain.

Freddie, meanwhile, was plenty personable, but also rather striking-looking and without much of a filter. She had blossomed outside of the police lab, changing her hair to match brightly colored outfits at will. So, especially for the more conservative clients, she was often relegated to checking the science side of things with Daron, while Xander and Julie spoke with the people involved.

“Can we check for asbestos now?” Daron asked the trio as they reappeared. Monica raised up to her full height, looking a little too much like the Other Mother in Coraline.

“I think I’d know if my home had asbestos,” she hissed. Julie, ever the calm in the storm, lay a hand on Monica’s shoulder and said something quietly in her ear.

“It was mostly a joke,” Daron muttered. “Asbestos” had become their catch-all term for an environmental cause. He caught Julie’s eye and raised a thick eyebrow, conveying clearly a so, is she just nuts? inquiry. Julie raised one shoulder in a half-shrug. Wasn’t sure. Huh. Interesting.
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Oct 23, 2019
United States
Chapter Two

“Can you run me through all the incidents, again?” Freddie asked kindly as the group ascended the stairs. Monica sighed, clearly impatient with the question.

“Footsteps when there is no one else in the house,” she replied hurriedly. “Bentley’s favorite items moving from their usual locations - and - and his voice.”

Freddie nodded, slowly. “And did you…?” she turned to Xander, clearly asking if he had gleaned anything of his own. Xander shook his head.

“It doesn’t always come, though,” Xander said. Their leader was a true believer, and no matter how off the wall their clients sounded, he always made them feel heard and trusted. Still, it was pretty clear to them all that Xander had accepted this job out of pity. After Bentley, Monica’s son, was killed in a car accident a few years before - where he had been driving, intoxicated - her husband had left her not long after. It seemed an easy write-up that Monica was harboring a delusion to make life more bearable as is, but Julie didn’t seem quite ready to sign off on that.

“I just want to talk to him,” Monica said, a little quieter, but still firmly. “Please keep trying.”

“I will,” Xander assured. Daron caught Freddie’s deep green eyes, and she drifted back to meet him.

“The footsteps could be in the attic,” he reminded in an undertone that the others wouldn’t hear.

“Sounds like it’s probably an animal,” Freddie replied quietly, confirming what he had been thinking as well. “Maybe a bat? Ohhhh, that’d be cute.”

“Okay Thornberry,” Daron said, sardonically. His nickname for her from the show where the titular Eliza would communicate with animals arose when she got strange about what most people would be frightened of. But honestly, it was one of her strengths on the team.

They ran through their usual checklist. Checked for copper in the pipes, mold in the corners, searched every inch of the attic for animals. All under the harsh eye of Monica. Nothing turned up. Freddie was clearly disappointed, and Daron found himself getting frustrated. He didn’t like the unexplained. Because that didn’t exist. Everything could be explained. And he wanted to know what it was sooner rather than later, because he didn’t like this woman or her creepy, all-bleached home. It was like a sanatorium already.

“We’ll be back, ma’am,” Xander assured Monica as the team made their way out the door. It was a bright, beautiful fall afternoon. They had made plans to return another night, when it was darker, and when (apparently) the noises were more active.

Monica shut the door after them, and the group walked down the path. They were silent, musing. Julie stopped at the sidewalk and turned, looking thoughtfully at the house.

“What?” Daron asked, and Freddie and Xander turned to look at Julie as well. Knowing their gazes were off him briefly, Daron gave a quick tug at his shirt, then began to button up his dark denim jacket against the cold fall air. It was a little snug specifically around his bellybutton. He sucked in a little harder, hands in his pockets, and waited for Julie’s answer. She finally replied:

“Has anyone talked to the ex-husband yet?”

“When would we have done that?” Daron retorted. But Xander looked at Julie curiously.

“Brad? Monica mentioned him working for T & K consulting firm, downtown. He should be there for a couple more hours, think we should try it?”

“I think that wouldn’t be a bad idea. There was...something...when she talked about him.”

“Daron?” Xander said, looking up from the conversation with Julie. “You and Freddie want to come? Or would you rather do some more research into other options?”

“I think a solid social media stalk is in order,” Freddie chimed in. Daron shrugged.

“Yeah, sounds fine to me. I’ve got my laptop in the car.”

So the group broke off, with Julie and Xander heading to discuss Monica and Bentley with Brad, and with Freddie riding with Daron. She didn’t own a car, and with Daron being just a few streets away, he often gave her a ride to the site visits.

“No!” They had just gotten into the truck, and Daron saw her reaching for the radio. He wasn’t able to swat her hand, as he was - crap - tugging at the tight portion of his buttoned denim jacket.

“Oh, come on, we listened to NPR on the way here -”

“You only listen to ska, Thornberry. It’s not happening. You know the rules.”

“Not only,” grumbled Freddie, but she sat back in her seat, defeated.

“Alibi Room?” Daron asked, a little more softly than his admonition, and Freddie nodded. Their favorite spot for research was a casual restaurant that slid not-so-gracefully from diner to nightclub after about 9pm. Any later than that, and they’d be getting a drink somewhere quieter, research put to the side for now. But as it was only 3pm, it was the perfect time for posting up with good food and hypothesis about why this person was seeing “ghosts”.

“It’s just so weird that we couldn’t find….anything,” Freddie mused, as Daron drove.

“Place was immaculate. My guess is she doesn’t do anything else,” Daron replied.

“Clearly. Think she’s just lying, maybe? Needs the attention?”

“Yeah, maybe. Jules and Xander will know that soon enough. If anyone would have insight on that, it’d be the ex.”

“Maybe I can beat them to that revelation by facebook stalking,” Freddie said dreamily. Daron snorted.

“Okay, good luck with that.”

“Well what are you going to look for, O Superior One?”

“Cheese fries, mostly,” Daron replied honestly. Their go-to from the Alibi Room. Freddie laughed, and Daron smirked a little. He didn’t smile or laugh as freely as Freddie, but sometimes her genuine exuberance brought it out of him.

Less than 15 minutes later, they found a parking spot and entered the hole-in-the-wall. Setting up at their favorite secluded spot in the corner, Daron began to click through on his laptop while Freddie pulled out a tablet and began rapidly typing her fingers on it.

They each got a coffee, and a large plate of cheesy steak fries to split. Freddie ordered a short stack of pancakes after Daron hesitated and left his order at that.

“You hungover?” He asked, familiar with her food pattern after a night out. The pale girl blushed, just a little, in response.

“I was pint night next door last night. And they had a new sour in...ohhh, it was so good! But, I mean, not really,” Freddie finished hurriedly. Daron snickered a little at her flustered response.

“Sounds fun, Thornberry,” he said, clicking through to the next slide about anywhere-close-to-local earthquakes near the dates Monica described footsteps. Nada. “You getting anything?” He nodded at her tablet. Freddie sighed in frustration.

“No...she’s either not got specific social medias, or they’re locked down. Want a pancake?”

Daron had to admit, he could eat. Even after half...well, ****, most….of the cheese fries. And the full sized Snickers bar. That wasn’t great.

“Maybe it’s an empty day,” he meant to think, but instead mused aloud as he helped himself to one of the thick, fluffy pancakes on Freddie’s plate. She looked at him in surprise.

“ can’t feel full? One of those?”

Daron shrugged.

“Winter is coming,” Freddie continued. “It makes sense we’d be hungrier right now.”

“Doesn’t help that these are so damn good,” Daron replied, pivoting to get the conversation away from his body and its strange needs. He nodded down at the pancake and the greasy potatoes.

“True that,” Freddie said, cheers-ing with her coffee mug. Before Daron could reply, his phone rang, and Xander’s name lit up on the screen.

“What’s up?” Daron answered. As he did, he glanced at his watch. A little over an hour since they had left Monica’s.

“Julie thinks she’s got something. Are you and Freddie free to check out the house again tomorrow night? Around 9?”

Daron lowered the phone to ask Freddie. She clapped a little.

“Yes! It’s time to solve a mysteryyyy!” She sang with a Scooby Doo inflection at the end. Daron returned the phone to his ear.

“Yeah, we’ll be there. Looking forward to seeing what you got.”
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Oct 23, 2019
United States
Chapter Three

The next day, the foursome all rode in Xander’s car to Monica’s. To Daron’s dismay, Xander gave Freddie control of the stereo. Gleefully, the girl put on the newest Taylor Swift. Not ska, but still not ideal. Daron sighed.

“Oh, my God. We can’t all listen to...what do you even listen to, Daron?” Freddie jabbed at Daron’s softening side to her left.

“Music, mostly,” he replied dryly, putting a protective hand on his burgeoning love handle.

“I think it’s nice, Daron,” Julie spoke up from the front seat, laughing a little. Freddie grinned, then hummed to herself along with the music.

At the end of the ride, when Monica answered the door, her long face was even paler than usual.

“It’s happened again,” she hissed. “He’s moved them.”

Motioning for the group to stay quiet, Julie led the way after Monica into the sitting room. Two small ceramic elephants sat on an end table. Freddie cocked her head, then caught Doran’s eye. Those hadn’t been there the day before.

“These don’t live here! They live in the dining room’s shelves. He brought them in here. Bentley did. To say something. Please, do you hear him now?”

Xander shook his head, obviously regretful.

“I wish I did.”

“Shhhh,” said Julie, and they all froze and listened. Nothing for a couple seconds, then an audible creak above their heads.

“There!” said Monica, quietly but triumphantly.

“Oh come on, the house is just settling,” Doran muttered to no one in particular. On this night, he had a deep navy hoodie zipped over a blue-and-green flannel. It made him feel big in the strong way, not in...well, the other way. Even if his flannel was not nearly as oversized as it used to be. Not on his arms or chest, but around the middle.

“I don’t know…” Freddie replied slowly, head cocking once again. “Listen.”

Another, slightly harder but quicker, creak.

“We’re going to need to search the house again, Monica,” Julie said, gently but firmly. “We need to do it quickly. We will be separating into groups. You can go with any or none of us. But we need to do it now.”

“But…” Monica’s thin lips clenched as she cut herself off. She wasn’t happy about it, but she nodded for them to proceed.

“Julie and I will take the master bedroom. Daron, Freddie, you two take the bedroom down the hall,” Xander instructed.

“We should search from the top down,” Daron pointed out. “We’ll knock out the attic first.”

Xander nodded, and the group moved one at a time up the stairs. Daron noticed his step was by far the heaviest, and tried his best to correct it. Xander had to weigh more than him - the man was nearly 6’4” to Daron’s 6’, and was more than decently muscular.

A little impending winter weight or no, I’m still not THAT heavy. I can move lighter. Daron told himself, pulling from Freddie’s remark the day before. Dutifully ignoring that he had been adding pounds for well back through summer.

Monica hurried into the master bedroom with Julie and Xander, unsurprisingly. Leaving Freddie and Daron unaccompanied as they tugged the ladder down into the attic.

“You’re crossing your fingers for a bat this time, huh Thornberry?” Daron said to his search partner quietly, trying to distract from a very slight nervous flutter in his chest.

“And my toes!” Freddie assured back, casting an eye up into the darkness then looking back at Daron with a slightly more forced smile. Flicking on the flashlight on his phone, Daron headed up the ladder after only a brief hesitation. Which wasn’t due to the fear of the unknown darkness above, so much as it was Freddie being able to watch his heavier body move up -

He stopped that thought in its tracks.

To her credit, Freddie waited until Daron’s upper half had entered the attic. He cast the flashlight into the space around him, then clambered the rest of the way in as he heard and felt Freddie begin her ascent.

It all looked the same as yesterday to him. All dark, with a multitude of boxes. Still, best to be sure. Freddie joined him shortly, her blue hair tied up in a twisted knot, her dress a matching blue with patterned black bees. Pulling out her own phone’s flashlight, the two took separate corners of the attic. Daron took care peering under every box and shadowy area. Despite the earlier creaks they’d heard, the attic was still and quiet. Almost...too much so?

Daron had barely had this thought when Freddie erupted in a scream. Whipping to face her, Daron’s light illuminated a tall, lanky figure in all black knocking Freddie out of the way to get to the attic’s trapdoor. Daron made a leap to grab at the intruder, instead landing on his soft front while his fingers futiley brushed at the figure’s coat.

“He’s coming,” Daron shouted down the attic trapdoor, hoping it was enough of a warning before scooting over to Freddie, who was breathing hard on the ground. “Hey, hey. Fred. You okay?” Freddie nodded hard.

“Yeah...yeah. ****, that scared me! I didn’t think it’d be a person. I just thought we were gonna catch Monica in a lie.”

Daron nodded slowly back, but saw her lightly cradling an arm.

“Can I see?” He asked, right as Xander called from below,

“Guys, we got him! Come down! You okay?”

“Yeah,” Freddie called in response, then hesitantly held out her arm towards Xander. “It’s nothing, he just...shoved right there to move me. I don’ being touched. Not when I don’t know them, or when I’m not expecting it.”

Daron studied her arm with his flashlight. He didn’t see any discoloration.

“Alright, Thornberry. Well, nice find,” he said as he got to his feet with a slight grunt and offered Freddie his hand. She took it, using his weight to help get herself up. “Let’s unmask the creep, huh?”

“Hooray, unmask,” Freddie said, with noticeably less enthusiasm than normal, but still with a grateful smile at Daron.

He went first down the ladder, and she followed. The rest of the group wasn’t on the second floor anywhere, so Daron led the way down the stairs to the sitting area. There, Julie and Xander stood on either side of Monica, who was glaring at the tall man in black, sitting in the same spot Freddie had been later.

“Guys, meet Brad,” Julie said in her usual quiet affectation, but with a noticeable tinge of victory to her voice. Freddie kept close to Daron as they entered the room and blinked at the sight.

“Brad as in your…” Daron started.

“Ex?” Freddie finished in disbelief. Xander and Julie nodded, Monica and Brad too fixed on each other with heated stares.

“ absolute lowlife. I can’t believe you would do this. Torture me. Make me think Bentley can still hear me!” Monica burst hysterically.

“Bentley is only dead because you spoiled him so goddamn much,” Brad said coldly. “You fucking *****.”

Monica let out a wail that even Daron admitted was pretty heartbreaking as Xander took a step forward. But despite his harsh words, Brad made no movement from the couch.

“But...his voice,” Monica said, her own voice cracking with pain. Brad snorted.

“Like I don’t have any voicemails saved from him. How fucking dumb can you be, exactly? I thought I’d find out.”

It wasn’t long before police sirens made themselves heard, and he was removed silently, but furiously, from the home.

Xander spoke to Monica in an undertone as she cried. Julie, Daron, and Freddie stood outside.

“When we discussed the dissolution of her marriage, something felt more than usually off,” Julie was explaining. “Not because she was angry, but - it’s difficult to explain if you haven’t been married.” (Julie had divorced the father of her two children a few years before.) “I just wanted to see what Brad’s take was, and there was anger there. It was...radiating off him. Like in waves. Xander felt it too. Didn’t take long before I figured it’d be well within the realm of possibility that he’d do this just to cause her pain. He tried to hide it, but I was right.”

“Well, you coulda warned us,” Daron said, slightly harsher than usual. “He got Freddie pretty good.”

“I agree, and I’m sorry Freddie,” Julie said, even as the younger coworker blushed and shook her head. But she realized quickly that she was still holding the touched arm, and shoved it into her coat pocket. “I was honestly trying to avoid embarrassment if I was wrong. I thought we may in all likelihood find something else. But next time I will be in full communication with all of you.”

“It’s all good, Julie, thanks,” Freddie said, even as she and Daron caught each other’s disbelieving eyes. Julie and Xander were a pretty firm unit, which was usually fine. Daron and Freddie had been left out of the loop as the black sheep before, and likely would again.

“Man, I hope she…” Freddie searched for the right word as Xander finally left the house, raising a final farewell hand to the teary-eyed but standing tall Monica. Freddie kicked at a frosty leaf near her boots. “I hope she heals.”

“Yeah,” Daron agreed, watching Monica shut the door before they all loaded back up into the car. Another job done.
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Oct 23, 2019
United States
Chapter Four

“Got our next case,” Xander told them a couple days later, his face serious. “A possible possession.”

The group didn’t so much have an “office” as a space in an offshoot of Xander’s enormous house - a garage? A “wing”? Daron wasn’t sure, but it was homey, with a few desks and chairs and wood paneling. Almost like a working cabin.

As Xander spoke, Daron looked at Freddie next to him. Across her collarbone lay the remnant of pink sparkly glitter, likely from the night before, some of which lay on her dresses’s slightly puffed navy sleeve. Daron pinched a bit, and caught Freddie’s attention as he sprinkled the glitter on the ground.

“Ooooo,” he mouthed at her, eyebrows raised teasingly.

“Shhhh,” Freddie mouthed back, blushing as she turned back to look at Xander. Daron smirked as he did the same, seeing Julie looking just as serious next to Xander.

“It’s a woman named Erika,” continued Xander. “23 years old.”

“Who called it in, boyfriend?” Julie asked.

“Husband, but...technically, they didn’t call us. The Baptist Temple did. Want to see if it’s worth them calling for an actual exorcism.”

“You want us to work for the Baptist Temple?” Daron spoke up, frowning at his boss.

“I want us to help a young woman in pain.”

“The Baptist Temple are really horrible,” Freddie chimed in agreement with Daron. The local megachurch was known for bigotry and money-grubbing, it was true. And Daron knew that Freddie had had at least one relationship with a woman, and wasn’t keen on any openly homophobic establishments.

“Then we can take their money and run once we know the girl’s okay,” Xander said patiently. “But that’s where her family goes. They didn’t know who else to call. And some higher ups at the Baptist Temple have known me since Psychic Adventures, so sometimes they outsource, just to be sure.”

“But you don’t believe...what they do, right?”

“I believe demonic possession is a possibility. I don’t believe same sex attraction or abortion makes you a horrible person. I just want to help someone in need, even if they go to an ignorant place of worship,” Xander replied to Freddie gently. Freddie crossed her arms across the small decorative buttons on her chest, but nodded.

“Possessions can be hard,” Julie spoke up.

“Oh, c’mon Julie,” Daron said, leaning back against a chair top. “You don’t actually believe in demon possession, do you?”

“I...believe that they believed they were possessed,” Julie said finally, looking between Xander and Daron only once. “Whatever the case, it can be difficult to see. They will act as if they are. They will look to cause pain.”

“Sounds like a party,” Daron said, mostly to Freddie next to him, who was looking more nervous by the second.

“It won’t be,” Julie said crisply.

“But we’ll have backup. Her husband and family, maybe a representative from the church. We can talk to her and check out the house, anywhere else she’s been recently. See if there’s another explanation,” Xander told them. “For now, take a look at the file on Erika and see if anything stands out to you. Our appointment with her is tomorrow.” With that, he handed out a red file folder to each of his employees.

Daron tugged at his t-shirt absentmindedy as he sat next to Freddie on a couch while Xander and Julie talked in undertones over a desk.

“So you’ve never been to one of these, either?” Freddie asked him.

“Nah. There’s been one or two since I’ve worked for Xander, but it was early on and I didn’t go. I was busy with other things, I think. ‘Possessions’ aren’t usually computer-based,” Daron said.

“There was that one in early Buffy,” Freddie was quick to point out.

“Ah, sure. Well if you’re ever being catfished by a guy named Malcolm online, I’ll be at the ready for saving you,” Davon replied easily. Freddie laughed out loud, causing Xander and Julie to look up briefly from their files.

“Oops,” she whispered. “Hey, I like your shirt today.” She pointed at his black t-shirt decorated with a design from a brewery over in England. Daron had actually grown up nearby - his family had moved to America when he was about 10, so his accent was only a lilting hint, but he had been back to visit the countryside a few times. The brewery had only so-so beer, but they did have an excellent design of several fish in human accessories swimming around a sun on a soft t-shirt, which he’d bought it a year or two earlier.

Without thinking about it, Daron tugged again at the now-tighter-than-intended shirt away from his belly, and Freddie pulled her finger back from pointing like she had been burned. Her eyes cast downward.

“Thanks,” Daron said. “Hopefully it gives me ‘finding the answer to a fake possession faster than you’ powers.” With that, he pulled open his copy of the file, fighting a smile as Freddie groaned and opened hers too.

There was the usual info - as much of Erika’s background as they could find. Got partway through an undergraduate degree, and married young. Had lived in a small town in New England her whole life. She and her husband had been trying for a baby, with no success in the last year.

“This just makes me sad though,” Freddie said under her breath. Daron playfully kicked at one of her Doc Martin clad feet.

“Shhh, I’m trying to learn,” he whispered back. Freddie kicked back half-heartedly, grinned, then returned to the contents of the file folder with a furrowed brow. Daron looked back to his own, trying to find the key to the story of why this young woman would start to be perceived as overtaken.
Oct 23, 2019
United States
Chapter Five

The next day, every member of their group arrived at Erika’s home a little staggered. Xander was there first, as always. Julie arrived a little while later, followed almost immediately by Daron. He had offered Freddie a ride, but she let him know that her workout class was going to run late, and she’d meet them all there. Their younger coworker was very open about how regular exercise helped keep her excitability and other emotions in check, and Daron never wanted to disrupt that. He didn’t get it, mind - outside work was for sitting, more sitting, and possibly competitive sleeping. But Freddie, on days where her workouts were cut short, was taut like a bow string. On edge and often cycling from intense ends of the feelings spectrum in the blink of an eye. It was best to be avoided by having a more flexible start time based on everyone’s needs, and Xander was an understanding boss for that.

In addition to morning workout classes, Freddie often spent her evenings dancing. Be that clubbing (as evidenced by the glitter the day before), classic swing dancing, or even full country line dancing. She often extended invitations and had gotten Xander out a couple times, but Daron had yet to give in to her pleas. Julie had her kids as an excuse, the lucky duck. Still, Daron could sometimes pivot Freddie to a quiet beer after work instead, occasionally as a full group or just the two of them. That could sometimes be nice for decompression after a long day. But Daron felt firmly too old - and, frankly, a bit too heavy on his feet these days - for clubbing anymore.

Erika’s home was a cute (if cookie-cutter) starter house near the Air Force base about 20 minutes out of town. When Daron knocked and entered, there were a handful of nervous white people milling around. All were fairly trim and dressed conservatively. A couple nodded at him in greeting. Despite the lack of black clothing, Daron got the distinct feeling he had arrived at a wake. But before he could ask about the rest of the team, he heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up to see a troubled Xander and Julie walking down towards him.

“What’s the status?” Daron asked.

“She comes in and out. We’re not sure what it is yet, but I have a dark feeling here,” replied Xander.

“Well yeah, even I’ve picked up on that,” replied Daron, casting another eye around at the scene. Xander, used to his employee’s ribbings about his “psychic” status, merely nodded.

“She’s still young enough to make burgeoning mental illness viable,” Julie added. They kept their voices low, to ensure the circling family members didn’t hear.

“Have you talked to her yet?” asked Daron.

“Just introductions. Mostly I spoke to her husband, Steven. Got some more background on them. And it’s...pretty lively here, as you can see.”

“So you haven’t gotten a chance to speak to her alone?” Daron picked up on the indication.

“Not yet.”

Before Daron could respond, a petite middle aged woman with tight brown curls approached Xander and began to ask him a question. Daron tuned out, glancing back at the front door to see if Freddie would burst in. She didn’t.

“Do you want to do the house first, or are you good to meet Erika?” Julie asked Daron as Xander spoke to the woman who had approached in his deep, comforting voice. The same assurances he never seemed to get tired of.

“Should probably meet Erika,” said Daron. “She the mom?” He nodded at the woman with the tight curls.

“No, mom’s upstairs,” Julie replied. “That’ aunt? A second cousin?” She shrugged a little helplessly. Daron crooked a half-smile. Julie wasn’t a huge jokester, but she could kill some innocently deadpan delivery with the best of them.

“You don’t want to try to psychoanalyze the sea of baptists, Jules?”

“Oh, I do. But I think I’ll have a better shot at getting to Erika’s real issues if we all go up together and can clear out the rest of the family. They stuck pretty close by with just Xander and me.”

As if by cue, a hurried knock came from the front door, and Freddie entered. Her blue hair was still slightly wet, causing it to fall in loosely frizzed waves.

“I’m here! Sorry I’m late,” Freddie said, removing her purple peacoat. Which, Daron noticed with a smirk, had an old pin of Dita Von Teese lounging scantily clad in a martini glass above a bright rainbow pin. She could claim an oversight or just forgetting that they were in a deeply religious home, but when Freddie saw Daron’s smile, she slipped him a wink as she hung up her coat on a free hook near the front door. To her credit, her outfit underneath was decently conservative - for Freddie. High-waisted black slacks, held up by attached suspender straps over a white and red floral button up blouse with mid-length, puffed sleeves.

“It’s no problem, Freddie,” Julie told her with a smile.

“Freddie! Welcome, this is Eileen,” Xander said, turning to his employee with a smile as he introduced the curly-haired woman he’d been speaking to. Eileen gave a tight smile and nod of her head, then excused herself from the group.

“Whoa,” Freddie said, taking it all in. “You weren’t kidding about backup.”

“I wasn’t expecting this much,” Xander admitted. “Her parents, sure, and her uncle is involved in administration with the church. But this is…”

“Creepy,” Daron filled in. He couldn’t help it. The atmosphere around the vaguely similar family members milling around the downstairs was still entirely too close to a funeral for his liking. Nobody leapt to disagree with him.

“Ready to go upstairs?” Xander asked after a beat. Daron nodded his head in affirmation, and so did Freddie, a little more hesitantly. Xander led the way up the stairs, followed by Julie, then Freddie, then Daron.

At the top of the steps was a very small landing, and three doors going off it. One to the left, one to the right, one straight ahead. All were closed. Xander approached the one straight ahead, knocked briefly, then opened it. He made a move like he was going to hold it open for his team, then thought better of it and went in first. The rest followed.

The room itself was a decently sized master, with a small door leading presumably off to a bathroom to the right. It was sparsely furnished, with a dresser against the left wall and a queen sized bed up against the middle of the far wall. Four people were in the room. A middle aged man and woman, standing nervously close together. A tall man in his mid-20s with swept brown hair in between the bed and the dresser. And on the bed, a young blonde woman. She looked like a cheerleader, Daron thought. He wouldn’t have questioned if he were told she was in high school. Her knees were pulled near to her chest, and her arms wrapped loosely around them. Her pink painted toes were wiggling slightly on the light orange and brown poofy comforter cover, perfect for fall.

“The rest of our team is here,” Xander said to the family, smiling his easy, comforting smile. It seemed to soften at least a little of the tension in the room. “Freddie, Daron, this is Erika, and her husband Steven, and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harkin.”

The small blonde on the bed offered a tight but not insincere smile. Her parents nodded at the group, and Steven offered an upward head tilt in greeting.

“We were hoping to get to speak to Erika alone now,” Julie spoke up gently.

“We’ll have plenty of backup, and you can stay right outside,” Xander added.

“If...that’s what you think is best, and Erika doesn’t mind,” Mrs. Harkin said slowly, after looking at her husband and then her daughter. Erika nodded in agreement, and the couple began to move past the group. After a brief hesitation, Steven started after them.

“No!” Erika spoke up for the first time that Daron had heard. She pulled her knees closer to her chest. “He has to stay. We’re married. Anything that happens...he…” she trailed off uncertainly, looking at her husband and then Xander with pleading eyes. The two men looked at each other, then Xander nodded.

“That’s fine, Erika,” he replied with a smile, moving to the left of the bed where her parents had been previously. “My team just wants to get a little more information, okay?”

“Can you tell us when this all started? When things changed?” Julie asked.

“ months ago?” Erika said hesitantly, looking at her husband for confirmation. He nodded.

“About that,” Steven said. “It’s hard to say for sure. It started kinda...slow.”

“Slow how?” Julie asked, moving a little closer to the foot of Erika’s bed. Freddie and Daron stayed back, closest to the door.

“It’d just or two things. I forgot what I did for lunch. Something was broken when I looked around and I had no idea how. I’d...I dunno...yell at Steven for something dumb. Something I didn’t even think I was mad about?”

“Sure, sure,” Julie murmured, with Xander nodding by the bed.

“But I remember…” Erika cut herself off, looked at her husband again, then took a deep breath and continued. “The dreams started about then. A little more than two months ago.”

“What dreams?”

“Um...I’m...on a beach. By the ocean. But the ocean is...blood. It’s blood. It’s horrible. But I feel okay? Even happy? Because I’m there with my friend.”

“Who is your friend?”

“She’s a girl,” Erika said quietly. “About, um, my age. I guess. She’s beautiful. Long dark hair, um…” she trailed off. The others waited to see if she’d continue. She didn’t.

“Erika,” Xander said. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“I don’t know,” Erika replied, but with a slight hesitation at the beginning. Daron wondered if he was being paranoid, but he glanced back at Freddie and caught her eye. She had noticed it too.

Erika was lying.
Oct 23, 2019
United States
Happy October 33nd, everyone! November isn't happening, we're getting another spooky season. I have decided.

Chapter 6

When Daron looked away from Freddie’s curious green eyes, he found Erika’s wide blue ones gazing at them in

terror? panic?

then her head snapped back with a speed Daron wasn’t expecting. He felt Freddie twitch in surprise next to him. Julie and Xander stayed steady. Steven looked upset, but not startled.

Daron saw that Erika was grinning as she slowly raised her head back. Until she heard Xander speak. Then her jaw twitched and her straight, white, cheerleader teeth vanished.

“What’s your name?” Xander asked, just as calm, but moving to firmly grasp one of the bed’s posts. Erika’s head snapped to look at him, again, much faster than Daron would have guessed possible. She cackled.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” she replied, all hints of the earlier uncertainty gone. Her voice was different. Daron wasn’t actually sure if it was lower or higher than Erika’s normal voice - both? Neither? But it was not the same. The response dripped with faux sweetness. Daron felt Freddie move almost imperceptibly closer to him.

“What do you want?” Julie asked. Erika sat up straighter, causing both Xander and Steven to grip at either side of the bedframe. But Erika didn’t move again, she only grinned much, much wider than Daron had seen before.

“What does anyone want, Juuuulie? Fun, of course. It’s different for everyone. I think for you, it’d be...your kids dying, yeah? Clear the way for whatever it is that you...y’know…actually want?” At this, Erika cocked her head to the left and winked exaggeratedly before casting a coy look at Xander right next to her. Julie, to her credit, didn’t react to the harsh words, but instead looked at Erika curiously.

“Are you projecting?” Julie said, more quietly than her first question. She seemed to be half musing on it.

“Oh, yeah,” cackled Erika. “Psychoanalyze me! Keep giving your life some meaning, Juuuulie!”

Sensing this little display was going to be almost entirely out of his area of expertise, Daron cast an eye around the room, looking for anything else they might be able to use - mold spores in the corner, or even a computer he could search through. Nothing stood out to him, and soon, an unsettling quiet blanketed the room.

“What are you-” Xander began to ask the girl on the bed, but she cut him off.


Daron realized that Erika, and subsequently all the rest of the people in the room, were staring at him. Her blue eyes seemed darker than he remembered, but he brushed that thought away. He wasn’t here to buy into fear-based illusions.

“What are you looking for, fat boy?” The girl asked conversationally in her not-quite-right voice. “Something that makes you feel relevant? Or, or, let me guess....more candy?”

Daron blinked as Erika began to convulse from cackle-laughing. He didn’t respond, though. He knew it would just be giving her more to play off of.

“I’m kidding, kidding! God! We all know you always bring more than enough. Just another thing that disappoints your dad, huh? It’s gotta be hard to be a gluttonous Jew. I mean, I understand it, fat boy - indulgence can be so delicious - but are you really going to be happy alone at every holiday for the rest of your life? And will your team roll you to every case, or leave your pathetic ass behind? And, AND-” Erika’s eyes were gleaming as she built steam.

Before he could think about how it looked, Daron turned and left, nearly smacking into Freddie on his way out. Rather than apologizing, he brushed past, avoiding her eyes. He couldn’t handle seeing pity in them right now.

“Erika, stop!” Steven cried, cutting off his wife’s hateful words. Daron heard an audible snap as Erika slammed her jaw shut.

“I’m not FUCKING ERIKA,” the girl on the bed shrieked. As Daron shut the door behind him, a fading: “You know, he’s never going to-” were the last words he caught as he thundered down the stairs. At the bottom were Mr. and Mrs. Harkin, looking at him with wide eyes.

“Water,” was all Daron could offer as an explanation as he swept past them. The house felt even more claustrophobic than before as he squeezed his way past several WASPs milling around the living room to get to the kitchen. Once he managed to procure a glass of water, he was relieved to find the bathroom door open and quickly locked himself inside.

After a couple gulps from his water glass, Daron ran the sink to tepid water and splashed some on his face. The mirror over the sink, like the ones in Daron’s home, only showed his neck and above. From here, he looked fine. Sturdy. Dark and handsome, even. But no young girl’s home would be complete without a few full-length mirrors, one of which was hanging onto the bathroom door. And so, biting the bullet, Daron turned to face himself from head to toe.
Now, Daron was a decently intelligent guy, and even without his own mirrors he could feel how his clothes fit. He was aware on some level how his body folded over in new, plushy areas as time went on. But he saw himself as chubby, at most. Pudgy, maybe. Plump even. But not really fat. Maybe compared to the rest of the team…

Still, it wasn’t a great start that he didn’t fit into the tall, narrow mirror’s view. Facing it head on, Daron saw that at least a couple inches of shoulder (that’s good at least) and lower belly were cut off from entering the frame. Today, Daron had dressed in a black undershirt that clung a little more snugly than he had wanted to see underneath an unbuttoned red checkered flannel shirt that read as appropriately autumnal. After a brief hesitation, Daron turned to the side and blushed as he realized the wide portion of his belly right around the belly button was all that didn’t fit into the frame. Sucking in experimentally, he found he could see all of himself - for a couple intense seconds at a time before he had to release his breath and his belly with a gasp.
Last edited:
Oct 23, 2019
United States
The embarrassment was starting to firmly settle in - not even over his appearance, but the fact that he had left his team in the face of being insulted by a crazed young girl. How was that going to look? Hell, Julie had stuck around after being accused of wanting to murder her own children. And he couldn't handle more than a few seconds of being called fat?

Groaning a little to himself, Daron pulled the door open and exited the bathroom, ignoring the stares of Erika’s family. On his way back, Daron noticed Freddie sitting on the couch near the stairs, with Julie standing next to her as they talked, heads furrowed closely together.

“Hey guys,” Daron said, trying to fight back the heat rising in his face as he approached them with thumbs casually placed in his jean’s pockets. They had been a purposefully baggy pair purchased in his late 20s, and now they were...well, not that. He took a seat next to Freddie, only partially being able to stifle an “oof” as his stomach compressed and rested onto his thighs. “Sorry I dipped. I needed -” Dammit, he had left his water on the sink. To cover, he finished, “to use the bathroom.”

“It’s no problem,” Julie assured him. “These sessions take a lot of emotional energy. Breaks are not only encouraged, but necessary.” Daron gave her a quick closed mouth smile, then turned his attention to Freddie. Her eyes were cast down as she played with a string in her hands.

“You okay, Fred?”

“Oh, yeah,” Freddie said quickly, looking up at her coworker next to her. “Sorry, she just - it was a little intense back there.”

“What’d she say to you?” Daron asked curiously. He could tell she wasn’t just this beaten down by him being insulted. Julie and Freddie exchanged a quick look that he couldn’t read, then Freddie answered.

“It was just...y’know, the bad stuff in my head I already tell myself, but out loud. I’m just not sure how she knew. You know?” The last couple sentences, Freddie trailed off as she nibbled on her bottom lip.

“I know what you mean,” Daron said. Both Freddie and Julie looked at him, and he uttered a slightly nervous throat-clearing cough and clarified. “Just because...I mean, my family are Ashkenazic Jews. I don’t exactly talk about that a whole lot.” The rest of it she could obviously just get from looking at me, Daron thought wryly, but didn’t say out loud.

“Interesting,” Julie mused, tapping a fading French manicured nail against her cheek. “I should get back to Xander and Steven, but are you two ready to do the house check? No need to come back unless you felt it was unfinished.”

“As long as you can double check their master bathroom for mold while you’re there, we’re fine,” Daron replied. He sounded as gruff as usual, but he meant to seem grateful. He offered Julie another smile, and she nodded.

“Of course. Come get us if you need anything.” Julie offered Freddie a shoulder squeeze as she turned and walked up the stairs.

“Before she came out to check on me…” Freddie began as she watched Julie ascend. “I saw a laptop in the spare bedroom.” She turned to Daron, most of the mischief he was used to returning to her green eyes in a sparkle. “Feel up to a little hacking?”

“It’s about damn time,” Daron muttered and Freddie grinned, bounding to her feet from the couch. Daron ignored her hand that she offered to help him up - the last thing I need right now it to pull her down and yet again prove “Erika” right - and shoved himself up with one hand on the couch’s arm and the other on the pillow behind him. It was tougher than he wanted to admit, and made him feel enormous and ancient. Before he could stop himself, he sighed.

“Sure you’re okay, Daron?” Freddie asked. “If you need a sec-”

Daron cut her off by fervently shaking his head.

“I’m good, I’m ready,” he assured her, unable to hear the sympathetic note in her voice for any longer. “Let’s…..solve a mystery.”

Freddie could never resist when Daron would begrudgingly join in on her Scooby Doo jokes.

“YES!” She pumped a fist up as she spun past a confused-looking blonde relative of Erika’s. “Let’s solve a mystery!”
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Apr 23, 2007
hmm intetesting story so far..
.. like a real sitcom...
ypu should make that into a first netflix series with weight gain :)

Clandy Caine

Aug 22, 2016
No pressure but I hope you continue this story at some point. I think it has a really fun, original premise (and I enjoy reading about Daron and his too tight t shirts).
Oct 23, 2019
United States
No pressure but I hope you continue this story at some point. I think it has a really fun, original premise (and I enjoy reading about Daron and his too tight t shirts).
Thanks Clandy! Yes, I definitely plan to. I have it all mapped out in my head, but 2020 keeps striking and getting in the way. I really hope to get new chapters out by 2021! Thanks for reading :)
Oct 23, 2019
United States
Goodness I JUST noticed that halfway through the FIRST CHAPTER “Sarah” became “Julie” MY BAD GUYS. I’m impressed anybody would bother to stick around to keep reading my stuff with this level of amateur hour, I appreciate your patience!!!! They definitely ARE the same character if it was throwing anybody off.

Chapter Seven

Splitting up to begin their due diligence downstairs, Daron ignored the concerned faces of the family as he took the usual scrapings from the inside of the kitchen’s pipes. Freddie checked the backyard and the sides of the house before re-entering through the back door as quietly and subtly as the girl with bright blue hair was able. Beckoning at Daron with a slight tilt of her head, Freddie moved out of the kitchen area and towards the stairs.

“Got all you need?” She asked quietly. Daron nodded, with a half-shrug accompanying it that admitted to his current distracted nature. He wasn’t as looking as hard as he should be, but honestly, he really doubted it was environmental.

If he was wrong, well...they could always return and do another sweep when it was less crowded, he thought as he sucked in his belly to squeeze between two groups of WASPs.

“Good, because I saw something upstairs,” Freddie continued, her voice even lower as they began to walk up the stairs, Freddie leading. Daron cocked his head in interest, holding onto the bannister as he followed. At the top of the steps, Freddie checked that the door to the master was closed before nodding at a partially open door to the left. A spare room, it looked like.

“Check the desk,” Freddie whispered as they moved towards the open door. He had to crane his neck a little, but inside the spare room that looked to have been partially turned into an office, a light-blue laptop sat on top of the desk. Almost certainly Erika’s.

“Oh, good catch, Thornberry,” Daron breathed. He let Freddie slip in first, before he had to push the door gently open just a bit more to accommodate his girth. Luckily, the door didn’t make much noise, and he quickly followed.

Once they were in the spare room, Daron resisted the urge to pull the king sized Snickers out of his pocket. He couldn’t help it, Erika’s words had unsettled him. Not even the surface insults, but bringing up his father. The patriarch of Daron’s family had always despised over-indulgence, more so than almost anything else besides blasphemy. And so, of course, from his rebellious childhood on, Daron had stashed candy wherever he could. Starting at little tootsie rolls or even individual Sweettarts, and working up from there. It helped him feel like he had some control over his life. Even in adulthood, it helped ground him. The freedom to pull out his sweet stash and indulge with no one to tell him boo. His metabolism had more or less kept up until after his 30th birthday...

Julie would have a fuckin’ field day with this, Daron thought with some wry dismay. That or be bored to death. Overeating because of daddy issues? How original.

Sitting in the cheaply made office chair that faced the laptop, Daron winced at the ominous creaking sound it made. Freddie stood behind him, saying nothing. When the password request popped up, Daron tapped a finger on the side of the desk until Freddie leaned over his shoulder and typed in 12052017. Her blue hair tickled his neck, and he resisted brushing her away. But just as quickly as she’d inserted into his space, she was gone, and the home screen had popped up.

“I double checked their wedding anniversary earlier,” Freddie said with a grin, clearly pleased.

“Nice,” Daron said, pulling a small but mighty hard drive out of his pocket and sticking it into the computer’s USB port. It took just about 30 seconds to download all the computer’s files and history. And not a moment too soon, either, for voices could be heard approaching the door to Erika’s bedroom. Xander and Julie’s soothing tones, Steven’s anxious one, and very quiet sobs - presumably from Erika.

Daron got out of the office chair as quickly as he could, sticking the flash drive in his pocket and switching it out for the Snickers bar. What they did wasn’t always strictly legal, but most people were grateful enough for answers that it was worth it. So if Daron ended up needing to do a little hacking in the meantime to connect the dots? It was hardly the end of the world to the team. As long as they didn't get caught in the meantime.

The Snickers bar crinkled in his hands as Daron reflected on this, and the noise made him look down. When had he grabbed the candy? On instinct? After everything Erika had said? He felt himself flush, slightly frozen, as the door to the young couple’s bedroom opened.

“Are you OK?” Freddie asked Daron quietly, the same time as the voices from the bedroom increased from the open door.

“Again, there isn’t a need to apologize,” Julie was saying.

“This is what we do,” Xander said smoothly.

“Yeah, I…” Daron tried to think of a good excuse besides the truth: that he was embarrassed. “I’m...not hungry, actually.” He shoved the candy bar back into his pocket forcefully. Freddie opened her mouth, and Daron could hear the retort word for word: not hungry? For once? Does that mean you might consider...I don’t know...actually sharing? But instead of saying any of that out loud, the girl closed her mouth silently. She would’ve said that if she didn’t feel bad for me. Daron’s heart hammered a little harder with frustration as he walked out of the spare bedroom to join up with Julie and Xander. Freddie followed.

“Still. It means a lot,” Steven said, his voice still quiet even in the entryway to the room.

“We’ll get back to you soon,” Xander promised. Julie looked over to the two team members who joined them.

“Erika needs some time. Can we help with the rest of the inspection? Master’s clear.”

“Yes, please,” Freddie chimed in. Julie smiled in acknowledgment, but she also had the thoughtful look behind her eyes she got when she had an idea of what was going on. Daron was curious, but the house had felt even more like it had ears (and not just the ones attached to the swarm of WASPs keeping a close eye on the eclectic group) so he stayed quiet as they finished up their typical sweep.

By the end, Daron was exhausted. They had spent about the same, if not less than, time at this house as they had at other gigs, but he still felt beat. He saw his feelings reflected in his coworker’s faces as they said their goodbyes to the family and exited out the front door.

“How’s everyone holding up?” Xander asked as they got settled in his truck and pulled away from the house. The response was brief silence, and a half-shrug by Freddie.

“I’ve got a hard drive to look over, unless you've cracked the case," Daron replied, pulling the device out of his pocket to show Xander and Julie. They glanced back and nodded in approval.

"Not quite. I have a few things to cross reference myself,” Julie said.

“Good work, Daron. Freddie, you want to go with him? Do some deep-diving?” Xander asked.

“Sounds good,” Freddie affirmed. Meanwhile, Julie and Xander turned to each other to discuss their plans while Daron felt the Snickers bar burning a hole in his pocket. It had been a few hours since he’d last eaten, and the hunger was real. Defiant to the mocking voices in his head, some his own, most his father, some Erika, Daron pulled it out of his pocket and unwrapped it, taking a bite. He noticed Freddie watching him out of the side of her eye.

“What?” He asked, his mouth half-full. He gave a vague cover with his hand to guard her eyes from any half-chewed chocolate.

“Nothing,” Freddie said quickly. “Looks good.”

“Freddie, a moment, please.” Xander motioned her over and Freddie hopped immediately to her boss's side. They spoke out of Daron’s earshot as they approached his car, where Xander got something out of the center console and handed it to her.

“You don’t mind continuing the work today?” Julie asked Daron, looking at him with kind eyes. He swallowed, knowing her real question: wondering how he was.

“No, I don’t mind,” Xander said. “I like getting stuff figured out. Hard to relax otherwise.”

“I certainly understand that,” Julie replied, as the other two team members rejoined them.

“Ready to go?” Freddie asked Daron, who nodded and gestured to where he had parked on the street. He finished his Snickers in two more bites before reaching the car. Julie and Xander left the other direction, with promises to regroup the next day.


Dimensions' loiterer
Staff member
Global Moderator
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Sep 29, 2005
The great white north, eh?
I always have a hard time keeping names straight, so I mostly have to re-learn them with each chapter by context. In other words, I noticed nothing amiss :p
Oct 23, 2019
United States
Chapter Eight

Freddie was quieter than usual on the drive back to Daron’s. She gazed out the window and didn’t try to reach for the aux cord (or otherwise start a fight with him) once.

“Holding up okay, Thornberry?”

“Yeah. That was just...a lot. Julie was right,” Freddie answered. Daron paused, then took a risk.

“What did she say to you, anyway? After I left the room?” Freddie stiffened, not looking away from the window. Daron plowed ahead. “I mean, you heard all that stuff she said about me, so…”

“Do you want to talk about what she said about you?” Freddie asked, finally turning to look at Daron. He felt himself begin to blush, creeping up from his collar.

“Not particularly.”

“Cool, me neither.”

“Fair ‘nuff,” Daron muttered, focusing on the road home. Bullet dodged. He was curious, but not curious enough to delve into his past home life and body image issues with his younger coworker to get the insight. Still, Freddie always seemed like such an open book. Almost to a fault. The strained feeling of knowing that she was keeping something specifically from him was new, and he didn’t much like it.

Daron’s home was a split level condo on a brick-lined side street, a bit further than kitty corner away from Freddie. The entry level contained his master bedroom and attached bath, living room, kitchen, and a three-quarter-bath. Stairs in the back corner would take you downstairs, to a mid-basement level and spacious open room. It could be a second bedroom, but Daron had it set up as his work space. Two monitors attached to a home built PC took up a good chunk of a corner, and he’d always had it in the back of his mind that the free space could hold a treadmill if he ever got serious about getting back in shape. Currently, a few weights were in another corner, not quite collecting dust but not exactly used to daily activity. A separate table near a recliner also held Daron’s gaming laptop, which he would lend to Freddie for dual research capability when she was over.

Due to some unexpected traffic back into town, it had taken them nearly a half hour to arrive. It was getting close to dinner time, and despite the Snickers bar, Daron heard his stomach rumbling as he unlocked the door. Cringing instinctually, he forced a grim smile and motioned Freddie in. She swept past him, clearly itching to move after being stuck in the car for so long.

“I’m starving,” she said dramatically, flopping backwards onto his couch that faced a large flat screen and several consoles. “What do you think about Thai? I would kill for some curry.”

Daron locked the door behind him and approached the back of the couch, seeing Freddie staring up at him with wide eyes. They had lost most of the seriousness that was there during the house inspection and car ride, luckily.

“Sure, Thai sounds fine,” he said. “I’m gonna get us set up downstairs.”

Freddie nodded in confirmation and Daron turned and headed down the stairs. His first instinct was to turn and head to the master bedroom and change into something more comfortable, without a restricting waistband. Why had he picked these old jeans this morning, anyway?...Because he hadn’t done laundry like he should have and his options were limited. Right. But he couldn’t change because he had a coworker and friend over, and while Freddie wasn’t exactly one to demand professionalism, he figured “not wearing pajamas” was a generally decent baseline.

Once in the sub-level, Daron got to work uploading the hard drive to his PC. It took a few minutes, and near the end, Freddie joined him downstairs. She twirled over to the mini-speaker by the weights and picked it up, pulling out her phone to Bluetooth connect them. She glanced over at Daron, who was too tired to fight with her about it, then tentatively pressed a button. "Thunder" by Imagine Dragons started up, and she looked back over at Daron. He said nothing.

“Whew! Not totally offensive, huh?” Freddie said hopefully.

“It’s...fine,” he sighed in reply.

“I knew it! Imagine Dragons are the great uniter. That’s why they’re played on every single kind of radio station.”

“Huh. Do you like Imagine Dragons?”

“I mean, sometimes.”

Daron couldn’t help but laugh at this. Freddie pushed with a grin, “And isn’t an ideal compromise where both people are just a little unhappy?”

“Sure, Thornberry.” Daron watched the files finish downloading to his computer, then switched the hard drive over to the laptop and left it in the USB port so Freddie could immediately start browsing when he handed it over.

“Think we’ll find anything good?” Freddie asked, flopping herself onto the recliner in another weird, sideways position. Daron shrugged.

“Hopefully something in here spells it all out,” he replied. “It’s just...weird.”

“It is,” Freddie agreed. At this, Daron gave the laptop to Freddie, who promptly opened up the hard drive’s file explorer and typed,

Reasons to Turn Completely Evil

Daron uttered a sharp laugh as the computer searched, then pinged back a “no items match your search.”

“Damn,” Freddie muttered. “I was really hoping that would do it and we could have a movie night instead.”

“It was a valiant effort, Freddie. Glad you’ve picked up some tricks after all these months,” Daron goaded. Freddie laughed.

“I haven’t, sorry. I actually haven’t paid attention to anything. Sidenote, who are you and where am I?”

Rolling his eyes at her, Daron returned to his desk chair and valiantly ignored the sharp digging from his jean’s waistband as he sat. They divvied up file locations to search, and got to work.
Oct 23, 2019
United States
After about 45 minutes of scrolling and occasional searches, Daron hadn’t found anything interesting on the hard drive. A brisk knock at the door above caused him to raise his head, but before he could say anything, Freddie put the laptop aside and leapt to her feet.

“Dinnertime! Yaaay,” she cheered as she skipped upstairs. Daron smirked a little as he made sure the table nearby was more or less cleared off, then waited. Freddie returned after a few minutes carrying two bags, one in each hand, and each holding three to-go containers. He raised his eyebrows, impressed. Freddie set the bags down on the table...then promptly skipped back upstairs. Confused but looking forward to food, Daron glanced inside the top of one of the bags and smelled the sweet but spicy scent of panang curry, a favorite of both him and Freddie. Moments later, Freddie appeared below with a *third* bag that was just as full, and Daron stared at her in disbelief.

“Okay, I am definitely going to need to put on sweatpants,” he said without thinking. Freddie laughed.

“Dude, I am already regretting wearing pants at all today. But Xander gave me a hundred dollars for dinner. I think he felt bad about today. Which means...even with all this food, and tipping both driver and host 20%...there’s still $20 left over!” Freddie brandished the bill in front of him. Daron blinked, half-smiling at her enthusiasm, then looking back down at the plate.

“If you want to swap to some pajama pants, I can probably scrounge up something,” he offered. Freddie did usually wear flared dresses of some kind, so he imagined she wasn’t as comfortable in her slacks. The girl nodded her head vigorously.

“Yes, please. I can get us dished up in the meantime - we got fried rice, we got pad thai, we got pad kra pao gai, we got panang of course, we have rangoon, we have spring rolls, fried rolls…”

“Look, you already know I’m gonna have some of everything,” Daron said, exaggerating his exasperatedness a bit. Freddie grinned at him.

“Comfy clothes, go!” She cheered as she began to pull to-go containers out of the bags. Daron headed up the stairs, moving slowly to avoid too much noticeable jiggle.

In his bedroom, Daron quickly swapped out his too-snug jeans (he knew there must be a mark on the underside of his stomach, but luckily, no mirrors in the bedroom meant he didn’t have to see it!) for a pair of tapered grey sweatpants. Letting out a couple breaths of relief, he left his long sleeved (and thankfully roomy) black tee shirt on as he squinted into his closet for an option for Freddie. He didn’t want to hand her anything that would just slide right off her hips. The girl was enough of a prominent hourglass that that would be especially embarrassing. Finally, he decided on a pair of dark blue gym shorts he’d had laying around since school. They had a drawstring, and were definitely something too tight for him to wear anywhere but around the house alone right now.

As he left his room, he heard the clatter of plates from the nearby kitchen. Freddie was setting them down as she pulled out utensils.

“Hey, got this for you,” Daron said, offering her the gym shorts from his hand as he approached.

“Cool, tradesies?” Freddie asked as she held out the plates and utensils. “Take these downstairs and I’ll change real quick.”

Daron nodded and took the eating instruments carefully down the steps. All the food had been unpackaged on the table below, and it smelled delicious. It was from a small family-owned place about 15 minutes away, which always took awhile but was cheap and authentic. Daron’s mouth watered as he began to load up.

Just a few moments later, Freddie hopped down the stairs. Her attire looked almost intentional, the floral pattern of her button-up matching nicely with the blue of the gym shorts.

“Any luck so far on your end?” Freddie asked as she picked up her plate and scooped a helping of fried rice.

“Nah,” Daron said. “Nothing yet.”

“Same here. It’s, TOO on the nose for this girl? I mean, she’s got folders of bible verses and all her search history is just white bread recipes and sensible yet attractive footwear. Where’s the dirt?”

“Huh,” Daron mused as he considered this point. Taking a seat back at his desk, he took a big bite of pad thai, then swiveled back towards Freddie. “You’re not wrong there. Let me try something…” He swiveled back, helped himself to a fried roll, and began to type. It took a little bit to parse out, and in the meantime Freddie finished filling out her plate and came to stand behind him, quietly watching and eating.

“Aha,” Daron murmured after a few more clicks. “There we go.” It wasn’t easy, but the screens in front of them filled with searches with a dark tint - Erika’s search history from while it was set to Private mode.
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