Ihp's Talebox 3

GoneBut Not Forgotten

Black Autumn 4

Haunted

Foundation Cross-Task Force Training Retreat
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

"C'mon, Brennan, keep up!"

"Fuck…" Jack Brennan, Lieutenant in Psi-7 and eternal pain-in-the-ass, coughed and hunched over, hands on his knees. "…you, Pryce. It is… really hard to… run with a mask on."

Seren Pryce rolled her eyes and turned to face him, ponytail bobbing behind her. "You've run up an endless staircase in combat gear with a respirator. Don't be a wuss."

Brennan came to his feet, and pointed at his fogged-up glasses. "I can see out of respirators!"

Seren shook her head, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a bottle of de-fogger spray. "Just watch your eyes. Researcher at 87 nearly went blind because he didn't apply it properly."

Jack took it gladly and started spraying de-fogger on his glasses. "God, these masks suck, though."

"At least we've got good ones. Can actually wear them without feeling like your ears are going to be cut off."

Jack finished applying the spray to his glasses, and the jog resumed. It was an early July morning, and several agents of the dozen task forces gathered in the forest had gotten up to exercise.

"This isn't even the worst part of this fucking end-of-the-world scenario," Seren groused. "Halloween is big in Sloth's Pit."

"Slo- oh, Nexus-18." Jack picked up his pace. "Think they're going to cancel trick-or-treating?"

"They have to at this point. Douglas County has over one-hunded cases, and the former mayor's still not off his ventilator." Seren fell behind, a half-decade-old injury in her leg starting to throb. "They haven't cancelled trick-or-treating in almost fifty years."

"Not even during 097's Neutralization?"

Seren shuddered, coming to a stop, hands on her knees. "Give me five."

Jack stopped, leaning against a tree. In the distance, he saw half a dozen people from Chi-12 run through the trees. "Bad memories?"

"I mean…" Seren stretched. The paper mask was itching. "What do you call it when an entire squad gets killed by an evil hotel room, forty people turn up stuffed inside scarecrows, and your friendly neighborhood tulpa tries to decapitate the only Type-Blue for forty miles within the space of a week? And poor Pickman, Christ…"

"At least he got his name on an 001 posthumously." Brennan reached into his sweatpants and pulled out two protein bars, throwing one to Seren.

She looked it over disapprovingly. "Jesus Christ, it's mid-July. Where the hell did you get a Pumpkin Spice protein bar?" She turned it over. "…fucking 80% of your daily value of sugar?! I might as well be hooked up to an IV full of Pepsi."

Unperturbed, Jack bit into his energy bar— only a single bite. "You were on the team that neutralized it, right?"

"Yeah. It took a bunch of kids from the town. Nobody was seriously hurt, thank god." Seren brought a bottle of water to her lips and took a swig before continuing, "Squad-29 and the Type-Blues at 87— Sinclair and Reynolds— stayed behind and blew it up after the rest of the task force evaced the kids. She gave a really hammy speech too." Seren shook her head.

"She?"

In an overly-dramatic voice, Seren intoned, "The Black Equinox, Mavra Isimeria, long may her stupid car-themed name be dead. Town had a cult in it back in the sixties that made sacrifices in exchange for eternal life."

"If I had a nickel," Jack chuckled. "How'd you do it, though?"

"Like I said, blew it up. Literally— Sinclair blew up the truck it was on." She stowed the bottle, and began her jog again. "Had to call a favor in from the local Tulpas, and they asked for one in return."

"Sloth's Pit has more than one? They call it in yet?"

"Not to my knowledge. I—"

Seren cringed as her left foot squelched in something that was brown, sticky, and unfortunately not a stick. She didn't even have to look down to realize what she'd stepped in— she could smell it. "Come on, really? Dog shit on the track?" She took another step, eyes widening as she realized the entire trail was covered in what could be described as organic canine-originating landmines.

"I see Lambda-12 walked their dogs out here today." Jack rubbed his face. "Fuck it, we got a good walk in."

"Pest Control could at least try to be creative with their pranks." Seren scraped her boot against a tree. "Smoke and Mirrors rigged an SRA to drive the Kant Counters on White Rabbits' equipment berserk. It was fucking hilarious."

"Still think a task force dedicated to stage magic should be called Tenn and Peller." Jack shook his head.

"Central command said no." Seren kept kicking at the tree. "I hear the retreat in Virginia has to deal with the freaks from Samsara. Poor fools."

"Bunch of Mary Sue Power Rangers, but they're all right when you get to know them. Got a cute dog."

Once she was certain her boot was clean, Seren started the jog back to camp.


"…and if we want to examine exactly why safety protocols regarding subterranian transport are effective," Dr. Abraham Reinhardt addressed the room full of semi-bored agents before him, his face slightly muffled by the mask. "We only need look at the case of one Researcher Christopher Hastings in Wisconsin."

Reinhardt advanced the slide to show an image of a man in his late twenties or early thirties being dragged into a hole. His face was contorted in pain, and he was in the process of removing his shirt, but it wasn't entirely off— instead, it was covering his mouth and nose. "Note how he doesn't attempt to reach out for help from others, because he knows that he's at risk of dragging them under. Instead, he attempts to claw at the dirt for purchase." He advanced the slide to show the man digging his fingers into the soil. "And note how he positions his shirt, covering his nose and mouth. Ideally, he would be covering his eyes as well, but given the circumstances, it's understandable why he didn't."

The slide advanced again, showing Hastings covering his chest with a pair of crossed arms, the wrists covering his heart. "Here, we see him protecting his core, where his heart and lungs are. Fingers clutching his shoulders, eyes shut, and as we can see from the way he's got his chest puffed up, he's taking a deep breath."

"Now, I understand that we have Mr. Hastings's significant other with us today?"

Agent Ruby Williams stood up sheepishly, waving a hand. All of the other agents in the room turned to face her, and Dr. Reinhardt nodded.

"Agent Williams, is it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Tell me, do you think he would be alive if he didn't follow these protocols properly?"

"No sir." Williams cleared her throat. "His following of protocol is what allowed us to start proper containment of the situation in Nexus-18. Due to him being able to maintain consciousness, he documented what our task force has termed the, uh…" She chewed her lip. "The Scarecrow Factory, a botanical anomaly facilitated by the corpse of the former mayor, and recovered an item that led to the discovery of a defunct cult within the Nexus zone that had once given sacrifices to SCP-097-D."

Dr. Reinhardt snapped his fingers at her. "What's Site-87's casualty rate, Agent Williams?"

"About… one in every… fifty, sir?"

"Would you describe your task force as competent?"

"No, sir. They're a bunch of utter chucklefucks."

The entire room broke out into snickers, with a protest of 'Hey!' coming from fellow members of Sigma-10.

"I'm kidding. We've got a bit of a more casual attitude, but due to the higher morale, we've… well, we've got plenty of reasons to not give up. Wanting to be with friends, family. Loved ones. We're willing to fight tooth and nail in situations where a lot of agents would give up."

"So, you don't lie down and accept your fate?"

"Never have, never will. Sigma-10 has a motto about us not giving up: 'Your story won't end here'."

Reinhardt grinned, visible even behind his paper mask. "The whole narrative motif that town has going on is absurd, but I like that. Now, let's move on to an example on the other end of the spectrum, in which Agent Perry Fisher survived a three-hour-long fall through a spatial anomaly by assuming proper crash positions…"


"Never Have I Ever? Are we twelve? Or sitcom characters?" Raymond February took off his glasses and wiped them down— he hardly ever got to use them anymore, but it was nice to take his contacts out for a change.

The young-but-experienced Jane Weiss of the Angle Grinders punched him in the shoulder. "My aunt wanted to know how I was doing, and this is your price for information. Besides, this probably the last chance we're going to get to have tequila for the next year."

"They're running low on it in Vegas." 'Unshakable' Gerald McCoy from Smoke and Mirrors fidgeted with a ring on his finger as he looked over the fixings at the bar. The Scotsman sighed as he considered attempting to smuggle a small bottle of the stuff home. "And I'm sick of paying twelve bucks a glass."

A woman calling herself 'Momoko' took a seat on the other side of February, scooting her seat over for proper social distancing. Despite the bar being fairly casual— as casual as a pop-up bar on a Foundation retreat could get— she was still decked out in her gear, including a tactical hood and part of a ghillie suit, worn as a cloak. He wasn't sure what task force she was part of, something under the Alpha designation. "I ain't had that stuff in almost thirty years."

The three of them looked at Momoko oddly. She didn't look a day over thirty-five, but there was something in her eyes, manic as they were, that showed a great amount of experience. She looked back at them and laughed. "Aight, slight exaggeration. Lost a taste for it about a decade ago, but I'm willing to try again."

Jane poured each of them a shot of tequila. "Here's a baseline one: never have I ever toppled a galactic empire."

Momoko's fingers twitched on her glass. Nobody noticed.

"Was hoping that would get a reaction out of you, February." McCoy frowned at him. "You come from Weirdsville, USA as I understand it."

"Sloth's Pit isn't that weird." February snorted. "You go, Ger."

"Aye. Never have I ever had to fight something while speaking in rhyme."

February knocked back his drink. Jane raised a brow. "Okay, Ray, I gotta know. What happened?"

"Halloween of 2018. This… entity came out of SCP-4040. Some kinda thoughtform. Talked in rhyme, and when I directly engaged it with some of my squad, we all started doing the same."

"This that Pit Sloth I've heard about?" Momoko asked.

"One and the freaking same. Ask Tofflemire or Carol about it, they know more than I do." He chewed his lip. "All right. Never have I ever accidentally imbibed truth serum."

Jane knocked back her shot sheepishly, and poured them each a fresh one. "In my defense, sodium pentathol looks a lot like water."

All of them shared a laugh. Momoko looked at February with a raised brow. "Never have I ever… fought a Keter."

February swallowed his shot, and poured himself another, and downed that. "4040 was upgraded to Keter during the whole Halloween crisis— the second one. Agents that initially encountered it— one of them was allergic to amnestics, so it couldn't be properly contained. It evolved into this whole thing—"

"Oh, with the spatial loop around Sloth Spit?" Jane smirked. "Auntie Nina told me about that over Christmas. You'll have to tell me more sometime."

"Wait, there was a first Halloween crisis?" Momoko frowned.

"Honestly? We need to start counting Halloweens where things don't go pear-shaped." February sighed. "Jane, your turn."

Jane Weiss chewed her lip. "Never have I ever had to face off with an evil clone of myself."

Momoko, February and McCoy all knocked back their shots. Jane's eyes widened at February. "Jesus Christ, what the hell is happening in that utter moon-logic town?"

"Language," February blinked his eyes and slapped his face. "And Halloween, again. Entity from 4040— the freakin' Pit Sloth— decided to make clones of everyone at Site-87. Shoved us in the barracks."

"Auntie left that part out," Jane frowned. "This was all on the same Halloween?"

"Yep."

McCoy chewed his lip. "I think I'd like to let the lady at the end of the bar go next. She's shaking with excitement for the next prompt."

Momoko put her hand behind her and pressed something against the stool that was making her cloak wiggle around. "Never have I ever quoted a bad movie in the face of danger."

All of them knocked a shot back on that. Jane laughed. "Really, McCoy? Even you?"

"I had to watch Harry Potter a dozen times with my grandkids! This damn fool was imitating Radcliffe, and I decided to say 'You ain't a wizard, 'arry' when I coldcocked him."

That drew a laugh from all of them as February poured the next round.


Agent Allison Carol was technically not allowed to leave the grounds of the retreat unsupervised. It wasn't her fault she had gone to use the restroom on the base, and ended up walking out of it into the Wal-Mart in Reno approximately two months later. Space-time anomaly, simple as that.

Not that she would report that— this was technically a meeting with her other employer. She made her way to the books section, and, per previous instructions, looked towards the customer service desk.

The returns line at the customer service desk had dozens of disappointed-looking adults in it, holding various costumes, decorations, and bags of candy— several of the latter had been taped back over to hide the holes. None of them were observing social distancing, naturally, but all of them wore masks.

Alison's mask itched as she frowned. She turned to her partner, pretending to look at the latest James Patterson novel in the books section. "Why did you want me here, exactly?"

The woman next to her, garbed in a grey dress suit and a cloche hat, shrugged. "To get a sneak peak of the coming attraction."

"We tried the film thing for the last two years. Didn't work out." Allison flipped through the book, mildly disgusted. "How many ghostwriters does this motherfucker have?"

"Pay attention." The woman— Allison referred to her as 'Sunshine'— snapped. "Look at their faces. Halloween is one of the premiere events in this country, even after the last four years. And they're despairing."

Allison looked up at them. She noticed a distinct lack of children in the line, but all of the adults were returning children's costumes. A woman with a Batman costume looked especially distraught— said suit looked like it was big enough for someone on the cusp of being a teenager. "Not the first time Trick-or-Treating has been cancelled, not the last."

"This is different, though. Psychologically. They're all wearing masks, but none of them want to." She adjusted her own mask, which was literally a long, flowing purple scarf that blew in an impossible breeze that smelled like old paper and fresh ink. "They just announced Trick-or-Treating was cancelled in Reno today. Think about Sloth's Pit—every other Holiday in the city has been cancelled or reduced. No pubs on St. Patrick's day, no Memorial Day Strawberry Festival, no Easter Egg hunt, and any day that would have been a free day of from school for the children is off by default, with the digital classes." She frowned. "I don't like it, and neither should you."

"I don't." She sighed. "But it's a necessary evil. We can't have people Trick-or-Treating while a deadly disease is going around."

"There's more too it than that that you're not getting." Sunshine picked up a copy of Martha Stewart Magazine. "The entire month of October is a Bacchanal for the United States, a time when you get to rip off your metaphorical masks. And you're being denied that in a time when you need it now more than ever. And Sloth's Pit being Sloth's Pit…"

Allison frowned. "You're saying that we're going to have another one."

"Certainly looks that way, Narrator."

Allison rolled her eyes. "How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?" She frowned. "What can I do, though?"

"As of right now, Sloth's Pit is like a bottle of soda that's been shaken in a centrifuge running at Mach 10, about to be put under a hydraulic press. Your job is to relieve the pressure in the bottle by any means necessary."

"Or what?"

The woman rubbed at her scarf. "Or you may never be able to take off any mask ever again, literal or metaphorical."

"Can't you give a straight answer?"

"Part of the office. It's hard to do." Sunshine shook her head, and produced a piece of paper from her pocket— a QR code. "Someplace to start."

Allison took out her phone and scanned the card, frowning at the address it turned up. "…Parawatch? You're kidding, right?"

"It's where the spooky people live nowadays." Sunshine looked past her shoulder. "Your partner's ready to make a joke about you falling in. I suggest you head on back."

Allison Carol stood up and exited the bathroom back at the base, glowering at Robert Tofflemire in as friendly of a manner as she could manage. "Bit of advice: avoid the chicken sandwiches."

"Noted." Robert grinned at her. "You bring that trick knife with you? Pryce wants to get revenge on Pest Control for that stunt they pulled with the dog shit."

"Couldn't get it on the plane." Allison shook her head. "But, the bar does have all the material here we need to make February's Famous Cherry Lemonade Fake Blood."

"Still creeps me out that an ex-vampire hunter made a recipe for that stuff." Robert chuckled. "Friend of mine from when I worked at 19 is guarding the paintball gear. Half to sabotage their balls, half for us to drink?"

"Sounds awesome."

Allison walked with her partner, feeling autumn start to grip the woods around her. This was going to be another long Halloween.