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The Nocturnals Arrive This Christmas

The nocturnals arrive this christmas


Estimated reading time — 44 minutes

Site 12, December 23rd, 2021

I walked through the Site Twelve Facility, which had been sparsely decorated with a bunch of Christmas-themed trinkets. It wasn’t much, a fake tree here and some lights there. But it’s damn sure more than you would’ve gotten under Ted Bowser’s management. The guy was like a real-life scrooge, he thought Christmas time always took away productivity in our operations. Go figure.

Nonetheless, I make it to the room I’m looking for. The office of the current Director of Operations. Jennifer Wight.

“You wanted to see me?” I asked, poking my head inside as Jennifer sat at her desk staring at piles of paperwork.

“I did, come on in, Ron.” She replies. Sounding a bit less cold than usual.

“Sounds like you’re feeling good, holiday season cheering you up?” I joke, prompting her to nod her head sarcastically.

“Maybe it would, if I wasn’t in here twelve hours a day… But anyway, I got something for you.” She proclaims, reaching under the desk and retrieving a black binder without any markings or labels on it. After opening it up, she turns it around, allowing me to see the contents within.

One of which was a picture I recognized, a picture that she had shown me months back after a data recovery mission to a certain bottomless lake (a long story for another time.)

The surrounding environment depicted in the photo was what looked to be a dark basement with rusted pipes running along the walls and ceiling. At the end of the room, were multiple dark, pitch-black, and shadowy human figures with pairs of glowing red dots where their eyes should have been.

The Nocturnals.

“You uh, showed me this one before.” I posit.

“I know, but it’s become relevant again. You see, there’s been more than seven reports of missing person cases lately.” She states matter of factly.

“Well, that seems pretty standard to hear about in this job.”

“Not when all of these said missing people, have all disappeared from one building in a matter of days.”

I raise an eyebrow, now genuinely curious about what she was referring to.

“The Landerson Mall, it closed down just a few days ago to avoid any more incidents. Only us and the federal government are aware of the true details. Even the local police are in the dark about the truth..” She pauses for a second. “Anyway, from what my superiors have shown me, The Nocturnals are the ones to blame.”

“What exactly did they show you?”

“I can’t share most of it with you, but there is a video that was posted to the internet by a friend of one of the missing people. We had the IT team scrub all traces of it from the web before it gained any notable traction, but I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere. I’m gonna have you help me present this in the pre-mission briefing.”

Jennifer then moves her mouse around as she stares at her monitor, clicking on a few things and then reaching over and turning the monitor so the screen is facing me. Which displayed an MP4 video file in the process of being opened.

After said file finishes loading, it expands into a video player display but the actual footage was in the center of the screen in a rectangular formation. Giving away the fact that it had been recorded on a smartphone.

Which is about what I expected. The location depicted in the footage was the parking lot of the mall, filled to the brim with cars, yet seemingly empty when it came to any actual people. The night sky left an ominous darkness over the area.

The person recording, who I deduced to be male. Was huffing intensely, like he just got done running a marathon. He gets to the end of the mall’s parking lot, with the camera now looking out onto the empty highway.

It then suddenly shifts a hundred and eighty degrees, now back to focusing on the mall and parking lot. In between some of the parked cars, were The Nocturnals, they stood there, staring at the camera ominously with their red glowing eyes.

“W- what are you people! What did you do to Katie?!” Shouts the supposed cameraman. But he gets nothing in response except the continuous and unsettling stares of The Nocturnals that were sizing him up.

The cameraman then begins to swear and curse frantically, the camera movements now becoming shaky and unstable as The Nocturnals begin to slowly move forward, right in the direction of the cameraman himself.

“This is not your hour Lenoard.” Came a supernaturally distorted mix of voices. All of them unifying to make one booming and echo-heavy speech.

The cameraman then shrieks, and the camera then shifts toward the highway once again as it suddenly starts to become larger in the frame. Indicating the cameraman moving toward it at high speed, this only lasted for a few seconds before the video abruptly cut off. Leaving the screen drenched in black.

“Alright, I’m gonna go ahead and take a wild guess that these things can’t be taken down with bullets or grenades,” I remarked, much to Jennifer’s annoyance.

“No, listen. I haven’t had to deal with these things before, last time this particular site did was under Ted. Now, if all the information from the mission report files is true, light-based weaponry will be effective in taking these things down. We tried contacting Isabella Davis for extra help as well, but it seems as if she’s gone rogue.”

“Who is that exactly?”

“It’s a bit hard to explain, in a way that sounds logical. But she was a former agent with us, and according to some old paperwork. There were some classified tests and experiments done on her during a time where The Nocturnals were a bit more of an issue for previous leadership. To keep a long story short, she became one of them, and inherited all of their abilities, while also retaining her human consciousness and thought process.”

I exhaled, letting all the information sink in for a few moments.

“Sounds like some pretty sensitive info, can I ask why you’re sharing it with me? This isn’t how our usual meetings go.”

Jennifer smirks, which again, is unlike her. But then she cups her hands together, placing them on her desk and taking a deep breath.

“Well, I’ve been authorized to give you a promotion, Ron. To Assistant Director Of Operations, but I will only do it on the basis that this mission is successful. You’ve proven yourself useful over all the years you’ve been with The Agency, and while you and I have only been personally working together for a short time. Your file is impressive, and plus, it’ll look good to my bosses as well, training and acquiring new leadership. It’s been a while since a site in this zone has had an Assistant D.O.”

I sat there in silence at first, unsure of how to take such a revelation. I had been so invested in my position as a mission supervisor that I hadn’t taken the time to consider anything higher. After everything from battling a ruthless Subject 16A in another universe to taking on creatures at a bottomless lake, any plans to climb my way up the ladder hadn’t been seriously pondered.

“If I go up, who replaces me?” I ask.

“That would be Agent Alex, he was only fifteen when he was first recruited over at Site Seven, he’s gonna be transferring here in a few months. But due to staffing shortages, he’s gonna be here for the next few days in order to help us out. He’s got a bit of an unusual past. But the less said on that for now, the better.”

I’ll be honest when I say those last two sentences peaked my curiosity, but I didn’t wanna push my luck with how good a mood Jennifer was in by probing her about it.

“Can I have some time to think it over after the mission?”

“Yes.” Jennifer retorts. “But I need an answer from you in writing within the next two weeks, otherwise my supervisors will force me to revoke the offer.”

“Fair enough,” I reply without much flair.

The rest of the day goes as usual, we gathered the team and prepared all the material needed for the briefing. Jennifer filled me in personally on a few more pieces of information that I was meant to keep under wraps and not reveal to the rest of the team.

I also went ahead and combed through all the files and paperwork that Jennifer authorized me to regarding The Nocturnals. And it was pretty much what I expected. They can control darkness, they convert regular humans into a Nocturnal if they catch them, yadda yadda yadda.

The next day, Jennifer and I led the briefing to Agents Alex, Carter, Melody, Terrance, and finally Garrett. Nothing occurred that was very different than a typical mission briefing. But afterward, we all loaded up supplies on the transport truck and headed out to the mall.

Even without them saying anything. There was an obvious disconnect between Carter, Garrett, and Alex. While Carter and Garrett were apparently childhood friends from what I heard, Alex was sort of the odd one out. On a personal level at least.

“If we can survive The Ground Grabber, we can survive some angry shadows.” Blurted Garrett, prompting a shared chuckle between him and Carter.

“The hell is a Ground Grabber?” Alex grilled, looking at the other two men with genuine confusion.

“Something we dealt with as kids, before we joined. Or were forced to anyway.” Carter replied.

“So… This Ground Grabber did what exactly? Just hid underneath floors or something? Snatched you up through your brand new wood tiles?” Alex rebuts sarcastically.

“What exactly got you in here Mr. Tough guy?” Garrett interrogated.

“Something that would make the both of you crap your pants and tuck your tails between your legs.”

“Hey!” I snap. Causing the three of them to go silent. “That’s enough, it’s almost Christmas, so let’s cool it with the arguing.”

In all honesty part of me was glad I had an excuse to end their juvenile bickering. But luckily there wasn’t anymore incidents on the way, as we arrived at the location just minutes later, it wasn’t far from Site Twelve at all.

We all made sure our gear was loaded up and ready to go. After exiting the transport truck, I and the rest of the team noticed the highway on which we had come down was eerily empty. Which was definitely alarming considering it was just before Christmas Eve.

“Not a car in sight.” Alex blurts as he grips his weapon, that being a specially designed, giant flashlight that weighed over fifteen pounds. We pretty much had to carry the things like they were miniguns. They were powerful enough to light up a football field and a half when you turned the adjustable knob all the way up, the brightness level was more than enough to blind a man and then some. A big change of pace from the typical firearms and weaponry we usually brought along on operations.

“Treat that thing like a gun when it comes to pointing it at people,” Melody informs Garrett. “Even on the lowest setting, it’s enough to cause temporary blindness for up to forty-eight hours if the beam makes direct contact with your eyes.”

“Noted.” Garrett rebuts. Seemingly unfazed by what she had just said.

“I’d take it seriously if I were you guys,” Terrance interjects. “We can’t afford one of you losing a vital sense on an operation like this. Because you know what that means.”

Carter and Garrett both roll their eyes. Prompting an unfriendly glance from Alex.

“I’ll make sure to be careful.” He says, giving Melody, Terrance, and I a nod of respectful acknowledgment. Earning him a look of confusion from both Garrett and Carter.

“Alright, let’s move forward, keep your lights off for now. Do NOT turn them on until I give the okay, understood?” I grilled.

Everyone gave me a nod in response. So I had us all form up, and begin moving into the parking lot of the mall.

It looked pretty much identical to how it did in the video footage, with a much more noticeable lack of vehicles present. Which made sense, seeing as it had been closed for days now to avoid any more potential incidents. I’m sure the place was already drowning in lawsuits, Jennifer had told me a few of the people who had gone missing inside the mall were kids, so it’s safe to say there were gonna be some upset parents.

It was eerily quiet in the parking lot, like the kind of quiet people warn you about when you’re in a forest, ya know. The whole, “if you’re in the woods and everything goes silent, it means there is a predator nearby” kind of thing.

But in a place like this? With a parking lot that was only a few dozen feet from a main highway? Something clearly didn’t add up. I knew we weren’t alone and that it was only a matter of WHEN The Nocturnals would reveal themselves. I figured that for now, it would be best to let Jennifer and company know we had arrived without incident.

“This is Agent Ron, we’ve made it to the location, so far no signs of any cryptid activity have been detected.”

“Got it. Just keep moving and keep us posted.” Jennifer replied as my radio crackled to life.

Usually on these missions, we possessed visor cameras that would allow whoever was back at the site to see what would we could see through a live video feed.

But Jennifer had informed me that we would have to go without them this time and stick with just radios, due to the fact that there had been too many instances of The Nocturnals manipulating and destroying visual equipment specifically. Thus, it was deemed as a loss risk, and those things weren’t exactly cheap to keep acquiring. I’m surprised the kid in the video even managed to get his footage online after he escaped.

About halfway through the parking lot, I froze. Noticing something that caught my eye off in the distance. I squinted and leaned forward, and it quickly became clear as to what it was.

Between the gap of a parked green sedan and a black SUV were two red, glowing circles about the size of golf balls that pierced through the darkness. And due to the source of said circles being right in front of a black object, they gave off the appearance like they were floating.

“Stop, all of you,” I whisper shouted to the rest of the team. Prompting them to seize movement as they laid eyes upon the same thing.

I kept my eyes focused on the dots while radioing to Jennifer.

“Activity spotted, one at least. There’s probably more in the area that we haven’t seen yet.”

“Be careful.” She replies. “There’s most likely more. Make sure the team stays on high alert.”

I grip my light, getting my finger ready on the brightness adjustment slider as I feel a tap on my shoulder. Only to turn around and find Carter kneeling there with a look of terror on his face.

“Hey uh, boss man. Might wanna take a look behind us.” He says, his tone urgent but hushed.

And I do exactly that. Turning around to find our group surrounded and being looked upon by several of The Nocturnals. With some being a few dozen feet behind us, and another handful being at each of our sides at about the same distance away.
They stared us all down, their glowing red eyes fixated on our every move, none of them inched forward to attack, not yet anyway. I turned my head to the rest of the team, all of them harboring expressions of extreme concern.

“Get your lights ready, but don’t turn them on just yet, we need to wait for the right moment. If we get too aggressive right off the bat, they’ll come at us all at once.” I whispered, signaling for everyone to calmly and quietly get into a circle formation, taking extra caution to make sure we didn’t set these things off.

They were intelligent, and powerful creatures. Their ability to work in unison and add their victims to their ranks was unlike anything I had encountered in the past beforehand. These beings were the first in a long time to truly terrify me, and I had only been in direct contact with them for a matter of minutes. But possessing the knowledge I did, didn’t help to comfort me.

I knew right off the bat that this mission would be a test of my leadership abilities.

After another several seconds of the standoff between us and The Nocturnals, three of them from behind began to levitate and float toward us. Their menacing shadow bodies cutting through the wind in a horrifically elegant way.

The person facing this particular group most directly was Melody, who raised her light with a forceful grunt and reached over to the adjustment slider, and dragged it forward, the light explosively bursting out and illuminating nearly everything in her field of view.

Her attackers, without an audible cry, moan, or any other verbal sign of agony, shutter and immediately retreat backward at the sudden extreme illumination. Demonstrating that the lights were just as effective as predicted.

All of us had shit-eating grins on our faces, as for once. We felt in control on one of these missions. It was a euphoria that was nice, but wouldn’t last for very long.

Suddenly, all the surrounding Nocturnals begin to close in on us, slowly levitating forward just as the other ones had, floating toward us in this chillingly relentless manner. Like they were just ghostly terminators.

“Alex, Carter, keep your lights off. Garrett, Terrance, and I will switch mine on.” I shouted, as there was no longer a reason to keep quiet.

“What, why?” Carter blurted, prompting me to give him a stern look.

“We can’t overdo it and risk hurting our own eyes!” I rebutted with a slight snarl.

Terrance, Garrett, Carter, and I all switched our lights on, the combined power of the brightness and light blue hue of it all drowning the parking lot, and by extension The Nocturnals, in this almost beautiful, ocean-like wave of light.

The Nocturnals that had come too close were simply disintegrated, it was like watching water evaporate, and there was nothing more of them when they went. Their form simply being erased, never to be seen again.

“Never had it this easy before!” Terrance cheers. A smirk formed on his face as he took one step forward with his light in hand.

“Easy!” I called out. “We gotta make sure we stay in formation!”

“We got this boss man, look!” Carter adds.

At this point, we had almost cleared the entire parking lot. With a few more good waves of our lights and simply standing our ground, we maintained control of the situation. The few remaining Nocturnals all staying put, not wanting to suffer the same fate as their shadowy comrades.

So in turn, Terrance was right. But it wasn’t like him to get cocky. And it worried me. Meanwhile, we still had to go inside and clear out the actual mall itself.

Jennifer had informed me that in order to get rid of a Nocturnal “Infestation” if you will, you need to either destroy the building they were residing in and near itself, or kill every single Nocturnal in the area. Which would seem nearly impossible, but with these things? It was much more realistic. But that wasn’t to say they weren’t still dangerous, they were, no matter how much firepower we had against them.

The few Nocturnals who had survived the initial encounter retreated into the darkness of the surrounding area, presumably heading back to the mall to regroup with all the other ones inside. Once I had assessed that the coast was clear, I turned my attention back to the team.

“Lights off guys,” I announce, prompting everyone who the command applied to, to reach down and adjust their sliders and switch their lights off, leaving the parking lot once again back in an eerie dim light, nothing but the few lights that were still on inside of the mall illuminating our path.

“Alright.” I began, “it seems like we’ve cleared them out for now but there will be plenty more, make sure you all keep your heads on straight and don’t get cocky. We still don’t know the full potential of what these things are capable of. So let’s move on and head inside.”

After my little announcement, I radioed back to Jennifer and informed her of what went down, she seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic. Going on a whole positive tangent about how all the money spent on upgrading the light weapons seemed to be paying off.

We all pressed forward as a group, I had the younger guys keep an eye on our surroundings, while Terrance, Melody, and I maintained a straight line of sight. Every single angle was worth watching when you were up against something like this.

Looking up toward the second-floor windows of the mall, I could see that they were suddenly drenched in darkness, darkness that was only alleviated by the glowing red eyes of The Nocturnals that stood on the other side, staring our group down with a malicious gaze.

I counted up all the pairs of eyes to see how many were just in the windows alone, it came out to just over a dozen when I was finished. Which wasn’t much more than we had taken out in the parking lot, difference is, we were in a much less confined space than we would be in there. One of us could easily get cornered or caught off guard if they weren’t paying attention.

We made it to the outside portion of the main entrance into the mall, I scanned the building now that I was up close, for the most part. It was in decent shape, other than some noticeable cracks and dents in the building material. Which was to be expected, it wasn’t a very old building, and it had only been neglected for a matter of a few days.

“Alright, this is where we really have to watch our backs, we’re going right into the nest, and if we don’t coordinate and follow orders, then it could end badly for all of us,” I say, getting the team’s attention on me as I radioed back to Jennifer.

“We can take these things, it’ll be a piece of cake,” Alex speaks up, attempting to boost morale. But his effort seemed to turn Garrett’s expression sour.

“Yeah, stroke your ego a little harder while you’re at it.” He mutters under his breath, prompting Alex to snap his head around.

“What’s your problem?” Alex grills, keeping calm as he proposed the question.

“Both of you, knock it off. I don’t wanna have to say it again.” I snarl, giving them a look that told them I was in no mood to deal with it any further.

But before another word could be uttered, a thunderous, metallic-sounding slam erupted from within the interior of the mall, prompting all of us to quickly refocus our attention to where it should have been in the first place.

The lights on this first level of the building were still on, but dimly so. Which struck me as odd, I thought about why The Nocturnals would allow them to remain in working condition like this… Unless it was a trap.

“Like I said, eyes up.” I asserted, just before beginning to lead the team inside.

We began at the food court area of the interior. All the vacant restaurants inside felt eerie and desolate, while the main area of the court itself gave off a similar, lifeless, and liminal vibe. It wasn’t dilapidated by any means, but that somehow made me more uneasy.

It was all clean and maintained enough to not look abandoned, but still unnervingly empty. It wasn’t usually a feeling I experienced on these operations, but regardless of this newfound kind of distress, I had to keep leading us forward, I wanted just one mission where we all make it out alive.

We scoped out the food court and each took a peak into some of the restaurants, seeing what had been left behind in the wake of the sudden shutdown. I hadn’t discovered anything notable, just a couple of phones, wallets, and other things that had been left behind or lost.

“Update me on your status.” Jennifer radios in suddenly.

“None of them in sight, we’re just scoping out the food court for now, gonna head up to the second floor to terminate the ones up there within the next ten minutes,” I reply, my tone softening as my attention gets grabbed by something else.

“Keep moving, we don’t have much time.” Jennifer retorts in a no-nonsense fashion.

I laid eyes on a notebook that was sitting on top of one of the restaurant’s counters, it looked rather worn down. Even from the distance I had been standing at, I could tell it had been used frequently, my first thought was to assume it was just used by the business as a method of record-keeping. But when I walked over, picked it up, and looked at the contents inside, I was given a very different answer.

As I said, it was a notebook. But one that was being used as a Journal, seemingly by one of the employees who had worked here.

Entry One, December 15th, 2021. 1:00pm

“Mike called me in today, not usually one for working on my days off but whatever. I’ll be getting Christmas off anyway. Was supposed to go to the gym this morning and I didn’t and now the regret is already setting in. I’m gonna get out of this job one day and finally get started on that novel. Like dad always said, it ain’t gonna write itself.

Gonna try and work up the courage to ask out Laura, everyone always says to never romantically engage with people you work with, but it’s not like this job is gonna be my career or anything. Plus, the worst thing she can do is say no.”

December 15th, 2021. 3:42pm

“Alright, first break of the night, things are relatively slow. Guess there must be a problem with the power in the back room. The lights keep flickering and it’s really weird, and I don’t know if I’m just losing my mind or whatever but it’s almost like there’s a pattern to it. Eh, whatever, probably just looking too deep into it.

Mike said he’s gonna have to stay to close down with us, had a couple of call-offs. He’s a decent boss at the end of the day, so I don’t really mind. But something seems like it’s been getting to him recently. I went into the office to let him know I showed up for my shift and the lights were off, and he got a little irritated when I turned them on. Says he can’t stand anything too bright at the moment, but he won’t tell anyone why.”

December 15th, 2021. 9:15pm

“Closing down wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but something had apparently spooked Laura real bad when she turned the lights off in the walk-in cooler. Told me she could’ve sworn something was watching her while she was in there. I just think she’s had a long day, plus. She’s always come off as a nervous person in all honesty, it’s kinda cute in a way… That came off a bit more creepy now that I reread it.”

December 15th, 2021. 11:22pm

“Alright… Now I’m a little on edge, just ended up getting a call from work… Which would obviously be fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that not only was the restaurant closed, but the entire mall. No one was inside the building to be able to make the call.

I didn’t pick it up, and just let it ring. I didn’t get a second call luckily, which I thought would make me feel better. But something just isn’t sitting right, gonna try and go to bed. Maybe a good night’s sleep will help me relax a bit.”

December 16th, 2021. 1:07am

“I could’ve sworn that I heard something downstairs, texted dad to check it out. Says he didn’t see anything wrong. Which just doesn’t make sense, I know what I heard, and I know that I’m not crazy or anything.

Every part of me is telling myself that there’s something wrong, but if nothing is truly there. Then what can I do? Maybe I really do just need to go to bed after all.”

December 16th, 2021. 4:22am

“It’s late, I’m exhausted. Can barely even keep my eyes open as I write this. But I need to write this down, what I saw in my nightmare… At least, I’m hoping that’s all it was. It felt so real, so vivid.

I was in the middle of a pine forest, it was nighttime. When I looked up at the sky, the moon appeared bright, but it didn’t help how dark it was immediately surrounding me. I could only see trees and dirt, trees and dirt that went on into a black void.

The idea of being utterly alone, especially in the woods always freaked me out, but this was something else. I couldn’t see anything, or at least dream me couldn’t anyway, but I was fully aware that no one was coming to help me. And that only made it much, much worse.

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I tried walking forward to get a bearing on my surroundings, but there wasn’t anything else other than what I had seen before, dirt, trees, and darkness. All I was doing was getting myself more lost. But I had to move, I had to do something, I couldn’t just stand there like a sitting duck.

Soon enough, whatever presence was with me made itself known. There wasn’t a rustling of bushes, or the snapping of branches, nothing like that. But I heard a voice project itself from behind me, a low, distorted one that just barely sounded human if you tried hard enough to hear that part.

“This is not your hour Julius.” It says, causing me to quickly snap around.

But when I finished my one-eighty, there wasn’t anything there. So I spun back around to the direction I was looking in to begin with, and I nearly fell over when I saw him, or whatever it was, all I knew is that it wasn’t no man, it couldn’t have been. Well, it maybe had the shape of one, but that’s where any normal human features about it stopped. It was like a man’s shadow had grown a mind of its own and separated from him. A shadow man with red eyes.

And oh those eyes, those red, piercing eyes. They were as bright as frickin traffic lights, staring me down like I was prey. Which in essence, I guess I was.

I spun my head around, and more of them appeared, they just came outta nowhere. All surrounding me and probably preparing to close in.

They repeated that same phrase, “this is not your hour Julius.” And all their voices combined together was horrible, a whole bunch of busted microphones all put together to make one horrific sounding call.

Then they suddenly started flying over in my direction. And I mean flying, I just stood there, doing nothing as they got close. Once they were within range to grab me, they did, and that’s when I woke up, my eyes were wide with terror and I almost yelped like a frightened puppy before quickly cutting myself off, who knows how pissed dad would’ve gotten at me for waking him up a second time in one night.”

December 16th, 2021. 12:45pm

“About to start my shift, just needed to relax a bit in the breakroom before I clock in. Still thinking about that dream last night, am I overthinking or freaking out too much? I don’t know, maybe I am just a wuss at the end of the day. Was hoping to talk to Laura to brighten up my shift a bit, but according to my coworkers, she no show-no-called today.

Gonna just try and focus on the tasks at hand tonight and not let myself get too in my own head.”

December 16th, 2021. 8:52pm

“I- I don’t know how to say this, but one of those things from my dream, it was here. I saw it, and I know that it was real, it was frickin real. I think it’s still inside the walk-in cooler. Told our acting manager to head inside there because I thought I saw some leakage, and he said there wasn’t anything wrong. I think these things might be hunting me.

Why are they coming after me? What did I do to deserve this? If you find this, whoever you are. Please, help me…”

And that was it, the end of the journal. Poor Julius. The ending made his fate pretty clear, he joined the ranks of The Nocturnals. Hell, he may have been one of the ones we encountered out in the parking lot.

“What’d you find?” Terrance asks, approaching me from behind.

I hesitate for a second, just before turning to look at him with a blank expression, trying to hide how disturbed I actually was. Figured it was better to keep that to myself just for the sake of morale.

“Just another piece of evidence, keep a hold of this and make sure we get it back to Jennifer. She’ll wanna take a look.”

“Will do, you okay? Seem a little dead. And more than usual” He jokes, seeing through my facade.

“I’ll be fine, let’s just keep going, get this done, and get the hell out of here.”

When we regrouped it appeared at first I was the only one who had found anything of true significance that was also of use. The next in line to me in that regard was Alex, who had seemingly discovered what looked to be a cracked disc with the words “Shadow Walkers” written on it in a black marker. Making it obvious what it most likely contained.

“Found this in the office of the Bright Burger over there, was stuck mid-way in the disc tray of the computer. Think it might give us something else to work off of.”
I take the disc from him as he hands it to me, looking at in close detail for a couple of seconds before sliding it underneath the strap in my utility belt.

“We’ll let Jennifer and the guys back at base have a look at it when we return,” I told him. “For now we need to start sweeping the areas we haven’t looked at yet, and-.”

My sentence was cut off by the sudden erupting sound of a dog’s bark. But it was a bark that didn’t sound very typical, not for any regular dog I knew anyway. This one was bassy, and reverberated as if it possessed its own internal echo. That wasn’t mentioning the slight distortion it had as well.

The lights in the food court suddenly began to flicker, and we all snapped to attention. Preparing to defend ourselves.

“Ron, behind you!” Terrance calls out, pointing his finger at whatever he was referring to.

I turn around, behind me was the hallway that converged on the food court and led into the large corridor where all the various shops and businesses resided. In the space that bordered both the food court and the corridor, was a thick shadow, a shadow in the shape of a medium-sized dog, and just like with its “human” Nocturnal counterparts. Its eyes glowed a bright red, they pierced through the on-and-off darkness as the lights continued to flicker.

“Not even the four-legged ones are safe from assimilation huh,” I announce uneventfully, unable to find words to accurately describe the bizarre nature of the encounter.

“Guess not, poor pup,” Melody adds.

The Nocturnal Canine then begins to slowly levitate in our direction, barking deep as the flickering of the lights intensifies. I raise my light weapon, pointing it at the creature as he approaches closer with every passing second.

“He ain’t a pup anymore,” Carter adds, eagerly lifting his light weapon in the air just as Alex had backed out of the path of his beam.

“Put it down, I’ve got it,” I tell him, reaching over to switch on my light. But instead of obeying, he recoils. Looking at me as if I had just challenged his intelligence.

“What, you don’t think I can handle one little ghost dog?” He grills, prompting me to lower my brows at him in frustration. “I’m not an idiot ya know!”

“Shut it.” I snarl in return.

The dog was now less than a dozen feet away, and I had to act. I put my finger on the light weapon slider and pushed it to the low setting, instantly bathing the canine in an ocean of light. Its loud, echoey bark converts to a shallow and reverberated whimper, signifying its wave of agony before annihilation.

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“You all start heading down, I’m gonna stay back and finish sweeping the court with Carter.” I posit. Causing Carter to shoot me a worried look.

“We’ll be on comms and let you know if we run into anything.” Melody nods.

“Perfect, we’ll catch up in a couple of minutes.”

Garrett, Melody, Terrance, and Alex all turn and head down the main aisle. I watch them turn cautiously turn the corner, and remind them once more to watch each other’s backs and to contact me if they get into trouble.

And speaking of, I turned my attention over to Carter, who stood just a few feet to my right. Judging by the expression that crept up on his face, he knew what he was in for. It wasn’t fear per say, but he looked guilty.

“I’m sorry.” He said calmly, prompting me to put a hand up.

“You know, I could sit here and chew you out, yell at you. Even used to do a few slaps across the mouth back when I first started… Anyway, just wanna let you know that when I say something, I need it done in that way. At that time. And as you can see, the stuff we do isn’t a nine-to-five in an air-conditioned office, if you screw up here, it ain’t gonna result in paperwork getting shoved in the wrong filing cabinet, people die on this job. Many have, and many will continue. We don’t have room for questioning your superiors, not on the field at least. Because hesitation means death when you do what we do.”

I said before pausing, as Carter had looked desperate to interject a thought of his own after I spoke my last sentence.

“It’s not like I chose to be here, a lot of us didn’t… Sir.” He punctuates last second. “Don’t tell Garrett I said that.”

And despite the mood I had been in for the past twenty minutes, I smiled. Finding his slight awkwardness charming in a strange way. But realized I still needed to address the issue at hand.

“You were a forced recruit? They told me they stopped doing that a long time ago.” I informed him, my face contorting into a frustrated expression.

“Yeah, I uh… Saw some stuff that I wasn’t supposed to see. They told me they couldn’t let me go back out into the public with the things I witnessed. Garrett and I were with each other when it happened, we were kids.” He says somberly. I couldn’t help but sympathize, perhaps I was just going soft.

“I’m sorry man, but as long as you throw my respect my way. I’ll throw it back, just next time make sure to trust my leadership in public. And ask me questions in private, alright?”

Carter only responds with a slow nod. And just as I was about to tell him we needed to go catch up with the others. Both of our radios suddenly crackle to life, the distorted and frantic voice of Melody coming through them. I snap to attention, going silent in order to listen with Carter.

“Ron we need you! They’re moving in on us!” She cries, the tone of urgency ever so present.

“Let’s go, now!” I bark, beginning to turn and break into a run. Or rather something resembling one, as I still had to carry my light weapon.

Carter takes up the rear, following close behind me as we dart forward. It was only a matter of seconds before we passed the area where the food court and shopping hall initially converged, and then made a hard left. All the ceiling lights flickering down the entire length of the corridor.

Towards the middle section of which, I spotted Terrance, Garrett, Alex, and Melody all standing in a circular formation with their light weapons aimed and ready at the dozens of Nocturnals that surrounded them. Fear and stress obvious in all their expressions.

“Hang on!” I call out. Waving Carter over to keep pace with me as we started to head in their direction. But our attempt to intervene would be halted before we could even get five steps in their direction.

The flickering of the lights greatly intensifies in a matter of seconds, all the way up to the point where they completely went out. Drenching the corridor in a more potent darkness. I told Carter to get next to me and prepare for a fight. And it would be coming soon enough.

I looked around, spotting several pairs of the Nocturnals eyes surrounding the both of us, but they didn’t move. Not yet anyway, they just surrounded us, as if to make sure there were no gaps for us to escape their clutches.

“Is everything okay over there? What’s going on?” Jennifer radios in, but I was in no position to make a reply.

“This is not your hour, Ron.” Boomed the voices of the Nocturnals all synchronizing as they said it. I could hear a mix of both men, women, and even what sounded like a young child. That last part being further confirmed by a pair of red eyes that sat far below the rest. Indicating a significant difference in height. A Nocturnal that had an outline resembling a young girl.

I go to quickly switch my weapon on, reaching for the slider just as Carter releases a bloodcurdling shriek. I turn around, watching as one of The Nocturnals yanked him further back into the darkness, causing him to drop his weapon and scream for his life as he vanished from my sight.

“No!” I hollered desperately. Frantic in my maneuvers to fight back.

“Ron! R-.” Carter cried out, I brought my weapon up and aimed it in the general direction he had been grabbed, this time wasting not a single moment turning it on, and to the highest level I had used up to this point. I couldn’t let him die.

The light exploded out, creating a beam that was so powerful I had to turn away as I waved the weapon from side to side.

The Nocturnals in the most immediate path of the beam were all almost instantly evaporated, having no chance to retreat or counterattack. They themselves also let out horrific cries of pain as the light made contact with their phantom anatomy. But I didn’t care for their pain, they were human once, people like you and me who lived full and complex lives, but not anymore. They were simply creatures bent on the extermination of anything that wasn’t themselves.

“Ahhh!” Came another hellish scream from further down the corridor, but this one hadn’t sounded like it was coming from The Nocturnals. No, it sounded much more human, and the reality of it being one of us registered with me quickly.

The ones who hadn’t been directly in the path of the light weapon’s beam when I had turned it on began to move in on me. So I immediately threw myself forward and then did a one-eighty, now shining the light at The Nocturnals who were previously behind me.

But this group was prepared, they all quickly dispersed, avoiding the direct path of the beam. All of them quickly levitating to either side of it just before I had finished turning around. But the brightness was far too powerful for that to completely shield them from its effects.

The few Nocturnals on each side all quickly dashed backward, screeching and crying out in agony as they attempted to retreat. But I backed up and kept the light pointed forward in front of me while turning my head to look for Carter.

“Where’d you go? Carter, are you okay?!” I shouted frantically. Only to feel my stomach sink once I received no response from him.

“Carter!” I called out again. “Tell me you’re alright!”

“H-here.” I heard him reply rather weakly from a distance, but my eyes were focused forward at the group of Nocturnals all attempting to flank around and ambush me at the sides. Hearing Carter’s voice brought me some relief. But not enough.

I turned, swinging my arms left and right letting the light blare on either side of me to keep them at bay. The ones at the very front of each group were quickly evaporated while the ones further back merely screeched and levitated backward into the darkness. Their eyes being the only remaining indicator of their presence.

I turned only my head and spotted Carter laying on the floor just a few feet behind me.

“Can you get up?” I ask. “Are you injured?”

“I- I don’t know.” He responds, his voice hoarse. I see him crawl forward and try to lift himself up in my peripheral vision.

Carter groans as I work on dispatching the remaining Nocturnals. First shining my light directly on the group to my right and evaporating them in the beam before I swing my body to terminate the ones on my left.

They were already prepared, dispersing as far apart as they could before I was able to get the beam directly on them.

I see a pair of eyes dart toward me, and before I could even react. My weapon was promptly yanked from my hands, getting thrown to the left, and sliding along the floor in a harsh skid. The beam lightly flickers once it comes to a stop, seemingly from internal damage as a result of the manhandling.

The Nocturnal responsible was now right in front of me. I could feel a cold, ice-like, and tight grip on my shoulder in the shape of a human hand. In a panic, I attempted to reach for my more traditional sidearm, but a second grip found its way around my arm. Stopping it dead in its tracks.

I looked up and to my left, unable to move. Now seeing two pairs of those glowing eyes staring right into my soul. And I thought all my years of experience would prepare me for my own demise, but no. I knew what was in store for me, and it was a fate far worse than death.

I didn’t think it would be possible for me to feel Terror like that anymore. But there I was, being proven horribly wrong.

The Nocturnals both continue their stare as I feel an icy chill run its way up my spine, and it wasn’t metaphorical. I legitimately felt like I was gonna freeze to death right then and there. It was a sensation cold that was unlike any other I had experienced up to that point.

“Assimilation..” Both of their voices combine to say, echoing and reverberating right in my ears.

And just as I thought it would be the end for me, that I was going to be transformed into a malicious red-eyed shadow man, a sudden burst of light erupts from the left. I immediately close my eyes as I hear the two Nocturnals let out their now recognizable shrieks and cries of pain before the grip on both my shoulder and arm suddenly loosens.

I drop to my knees with my eyes still closed as I shiver and my teeth chatter, it felt like I had just stepped out into the middle of Antarctica while being nude. Once I felt the brightness fade and knew it was safe to open my eyes again. I did just that, looking to my left and seeing Carter standing there, panting heavily with his light weapon in hand.

“Are… Are you okay?” He inquires, not looking a hundred percent himself either. I nod my head slowly to answer his question. He then walks over, reaching out his left hand and offering me to take it.

Which I do, thanking him for saving my life while my teeth still slightly chattered.

“Hello? Is everything okay?! Why haven’t I been getting comms?” Jennifer radios in once more, her tone was frantic. It was rare that she ever lost her cool, even in scenarios like this.

I reached up and got on my comms, quickly getting a reply out to calm Jennifer’s nerves.

“The current group has been terminated, still have to do a head count,” I say, trying to keep my tone calm despite what had just transpired.

I look over to the rest of the group, they all came running over to Carter and I while we were both in the midst of regaining ourselves. But hey, at least we can both say we survived a Nocturnal assimilation initiation. More than all these poor bastards could say.

When the rest of the team made it over, I was hoping to hear things like… Are you two okay? No one is hurt, we’re fine. But no, nothing could ever be that simple, and my rare feeling of optimism was quickly shot down by what Melody was soon to inform me of.

“We can’t find Terrance, Alex says he saw him get grabbed by one of those things when we were surrounded and in the struggle.”

My jaw dropped as I heard it. It took a minute to register in my head. After everything that we had survived and endured together, he would be taken out like that. As much as the more logistical side of me knew he was probably beyond saving. I still held out hope.

“Do you know if he was assimilated for sure?” I probed, desperate for the answer I wanted to hear.

Alex stepped up, the expression on his face telling me he wasn’t in any hurry to spill the beans.

“No… They were just all around us in every direction, we almost got overwhelmed. All I know is I saw him get thrown back into the darkness by a few of those things. I was held up by the ones that were immediately on my ass and I couldn’t shine my light over in time to help him.” He punctuates, looking at the floor while slowly shaking his head. “But if he’s nowhere to be found, I think we were too late.”

“So you’re saying you had a chance to help him, but saved your own skin instead?” Carter grilled in a snarly tone.

“Hey, I messed up alright! Get off my ass. If you both got grabbed by them and survived. I’m sure he could’ve too, maybe we just need to look harder.” Alex retorts.

“Yeah, you say that, yet instead of doing that. You decided to come over here and waste all this time talking about it!”

“Alright, shut it. Both of you.” I erupted. “I think… I think we gotta face the fact Terrance is gone. We have a mission to complete and we need to finish the rest of these things off. He… He was a smart man and a good agent. He knew the risks of this job. And we’ll make sure to avenge him. But we can’t stop now.”

My little pseudo-speech was met with mostly silence. With the exception of Melody who seemed to be taking it harder than anyone else. Or maybe that was me, and I just had an easier time hiding it.

“After everything, why did he have to go down like that?” She said softly, shaking her head left and right.

“We’re all gonna make sure it wasn’t in vain,” I said in the most reassuring tone I could muster.

After we all took a moment to regain ourselves from the encounter. I radioed to Jennifer and let her know that Terrance had more than likely been assimilated. Her reaction was what I mostly expected, although I could sense a slight bit of grief in the tone of her reply. But I didn’t push my luck by saying anything about it.

“Are the rest of you okay and able to fight?” She asks in a way that demanded a specific answer.

“Yeah, we should be fine,” I tell her before going on. “Was the recon team able to figure out any specific place or spot in the mall they’re most concentrated at? Saw a bunch on the second floor when we were coming in but they seem to be pretty spread out. Might be a while before we can fully take all these things down if we keep going at it like this. My weapon was destroyed as well, so I’ll be relying on the others for a bit.”

A few moments of silence ensue as I hear the sound of Jennifer typing away on a keyboard in the background. Presumably pulling up whatever data it is she needed.

“There’s a Sports-Kon store all the way at the back of the mall. It’s the biggest business in there. One of the recon agents said he saw a lot of them congregating there when he did a flyover with the team. But that might’ve changed in between the report updates.”

“We’re gonna head there and finish this then, before anyone else dies,” I posit rather firmly, which was pretty bold at the time considering how Terrance’s demise was technically my fault. Had I not told the team to head forward in order to stay behind and talk to Carter, then there’s a chance our extra firepower could have saved him.

But I had to live with the gravity of my mistake and move on. As I said earlier, I wasn’t gonna let what happened to Terrance be for nothing.

I gathered the team, and we all set out for the Sports Kon store. Which was gonna end up being around a ten-minute walk. So that gave us some time to talk and converse on the way there. Which wasn’t nearly as lively as it could have been, due to obvious circumstances.

“So, like what. You went into another dimension or something?” Garrett inquires while glancing over at Alex. Keeping pace with him as Alex prepared to answer.

“I call it The Expanse, got stuck there twice. Second time I got out, I ended up inside one of our facilities.” Alex replies. “They took me in, trained me, made me into a half-decent agent… And here I am.”

“So how does it work, you just find walls that look weird and you can pass through them? Like a ghost? Or do you have like special powers or something?”

“Walls, floors, ceilings, whatever. There’s a bit more to it than that. But yeah, you got the general idea down. It can happen to anyone, at any time. Just gotta be in the right place at the right time. Or wrong place and wrong time, depending on your perspective.”

There was a pause, as the two of them figured out what to say next. I almost felt proud that they were moving past their earlier hostility with one another. In the way a teacher is proud of their students.

“And you two… Got attacked by a giant dirt monster? Is that it?” Alex asked, breaking the palpable silence.

“Pretty much, can’t really think of any other way to describe it. It killed and transformed one of our friends, into… Something else. Happened when we all went trick-or-treating on Halloween. We were just kids…”

Alex’s eyes go wide in a way I hadn’t seen them do before. He actually seemed genuinely interested, and concerned, in what Carter was telling him.

“That same thing also killed my dad. Just swiped him aside like he was a stuffed animal, hit him with so hard he died on impact.” Garrett interjects.

“I’m sorry,” Alex replied, visibly unsure of how to respond beyond that.

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“He’s in a better place now, I’m glad he doesn’t have to see the rest of the terrible crap this world hides. But hey, at least now I know that when I’m on the field, fighting these things, these creatures, I can rest easy. Knowing I have nothing else to lose. Kinda helps me do the job a bit better in a weird way.”

I’ll be honest when I say that I was now actively listening to everything they had been talking about, this kind of comradery and dialogue wasn’t something you’d usually hear on these missions. But ever since the change in management, things had been a bit more relaxed, and I think that carried over to most of the agents over the years.

After hearing the tragic details of Garrett and Carter’s past, he looked eager in a “I wanna connect with you” sort of way to share more about his as well. And he did just that.

“You know how I talked about getting into The Expanse earlier, right?” He inquired, glancing at both Carter and Garrett.

“Yeah.” They both shot back simultaneously.

“Well, we had an ‘entrance’ in the basement of my parent’s house when I was a teenager. It was a wall, you could just… Pass right through. I told my parents about it, time and time again. And they never believed me, basically told me I was crazy. So one day I tried to get video proof of it, next thing you know I fell through it, and I was surrounded by yellow walls and getting chased by a giant centipede through a maze I had never seen before. And according to the things I found in that place, I was far from the first one to ever get trapped in there. But maybe one of the first to make it out.”

“You sure you just didn’t take any hallucinogens?” Melody cracked sarcastically. Prompting a lighthearted chuckle from each team member.

As we finish sharing our small bit of laughter, I spot the entrance of the Sports Kon Store. To the right of said entrance, was a large, twelve-foot display statue of Santa Claus. Its face was sculpted in a way that made it look a little uncanny, almost as if it was staring at us, and following our every movement with its eyes.

“Yeah, I’m sure children will just be dying to run up to that thing.” Melody blurts.

“You read my mind,” I added. Only Satan would wanna sit on that lap.

As we neared the entrance, I radioed Jennifer. Just to let her know that we had made it.

“When you complained earlier I sent out a second recon chopper to scan the building and see if you missed any. According to the imaging scan data they sent back to the site, the remaining lot of them should be inside that store. So all you have to do is take them out, and you’ll be okay to head back to the transport truck.” She informs me.

I stopped both myself and the team, relaying what Jennifer had just said. Prompting them all to look relieved that it would all be over soon enough.

“What are you gonna do without a light? Won’t it be too dangerous?” Asked Melody, genuine concern in her voice.

“I’m gonna do what I failed to do earlier, watch all of your backs, and make sure no one gets caught off guard. You guys got this, I’ll be fine.” I nod.

And as if on cue, the lights in the corridor begin to violently flicker once more. Prompting all of us to get into a back-to-back stance as we had done previously. But I wasn’t as fearful this time around, I actually felt confident, I had a team, a smart, capable team. And despite what we had lost up to this point, we were gonna make sure it served a purpose.

“Let’s show these things what we’re made of.” I snarled, trying to get Carter, Garrett, Alex, and Melody to share my current mindset.

The flickering of the lights intensifies, I keep an eye on the entrance to the store as we all anticipate seeing the shadows, the red eyes, and hearing the distorted voices that were all too familiar.

“If I die, I just wanna let you guys know that you’re not the morons I thought you were,” Carter announces.

“We’re gonna make it,” Alex growled in response, clearly not sharing Carter’s doubts.

“If we all keep our heads on straight, we’ll be okay,” Melody adds.

The flickering reaches a breaking point, and soon enough it felt like we were standing in the middle of a dance floor in some low-budget nightclub. The constant millisecond transitions between darkness and light became disorienting.

We all verbally complained and cursed, waiting for the shadowy adversaries to show themselves. And we got what we wished for soon enough.

Suddenly the flickering comes to a halt, and this particular corridor goes dark. The only sources of light being that from inside the stores on either side of where we stood. Looking back at the entrance to the Sports Kon store, I saw the pairs of red eyes begin to appear. Two at a time, they popped up within the pool of darkness right outside the door.

I counted forty pairs, all of them lined up with each other in a perfect single-file fashion… If you could call it that. They all focused on us, making not a single movement as we watched each other.

“Light is a plague.” Came the amalgamation of all sorts of their voices at once. The echos of such carrying its way down the corridor.

I ordered everyone to stand their ground, be alert. And prepare as we waited for them to initiate their attack, an attack that I was sure would leave us in great peril, this is the single biggest group we had faced inside the building yet. And we were down one light weapon.

But the moments went by and they never moved forward. It left me wondering what they were planning, and what strategy they had in mind to utilize against us, perhaps they were even smarter than previously assumed.

Just when I had thought it was going to turn into some long standoff, they were suddenly in motion once again. Not at us though, no. They all darted toward the giant statue of Santa Claus outside the store entrance.

“What the hell?” Melody questioned, flabbergasted in her tone.

And judging by everyone’s expressions, we all agreed with her. They all began to surround the statue, making a perfect circular formation around the structure. And after holding that position for only a few seconds, they levitated forward in a violently quick manner. All of their bodies visibly passing inside the statue itself.

We all then slowly backed up at my command, and I watched with the rest of the team in a combination of horror and awe as this strange, mind-bending event took place right in front of us.

Once all thirty of the Nocturnals had gone inside, the statue’s white, marble exterior slowly began to shift color, the marble appears to maintain its hardness as it transformed into a pitch-black shade. Of course, like that of a shadow.

Everything but the red hat, coat, and boots all turned black and took on the form of a shadow. And each of the statue’s creepy eyes disappeared behind two separate walls of glowing rose-red circular blobs.

I don’t know how, or if they had been able to do things like this the whole time. But I wasn’t gonna get much time to ponder on it anyway.

“Did they just…” Alex began.

“Yeah, they just went full-on Power Rangers,” Garrett said, finishing Alex’s sentence.

The Nocturnal statue then slowly moves forward, its right foot inching forward and hitting the floor with a hard bang. Prompting me to question if it was still truly solid despite the fact it had the form of Nocturnal, or at least. It did on the outside.

“Lights on! Now! Full power!” I shout, as the Nocturnal Santa then turns his head, looking down at us with nothing but malice and spite.

Melody, Garrett, Carter, and Alex all switch their light weapons on while also making sure they all stood shoulder to shoulder to avoid getting blinded.

The four of them all coordinated, concentrating their beams directly on Nocturnal Santa. But this has very minimal effects, as I stood back and watched the statue turn its now shadowy head and raise an arm to block the light out. It seemed to be doing nothing more than simply irritating the newly formed creature.

I immediately get myself on communications. As it was clear to me we simply did not possess the proper firepower to take this thing on. And we would die trying if we continued.

“Jennifer, I’m gonna need some backup out here, now!” I desperately plead, avoiding an incoming piece of debris that had been torn up from one of the statue’s footsteps.

With its arms still covering its eyes, the creature takes a step forward and lunges downward. Attempting to swat all of us away with its left arm. Luckily, this thing was slow enough for all of us to react in time and evade what would have been a fatal blow.

“What’s going on over there? Why do you need extra help?” Jennifer replied after my radio crackled to life.

“Not really any time to explain! Please just get another team out here immediately!”

Nocturnal Santa charges forward at me, the ground below cracking and shaking as he… or It. Moves at a much faster, and far more terrifying pace than previously. The statue raises one of its shadow arms and makes a fist, preparing to slam it down and crush me as if I was nothing more than an insect. But I maneuver just in time, falling backward and somersaulting out of the spot of the impact.

The marble floor is instantly smashed to pieces upon impact just mere feet in front of me. And with our light weapons being useless against this monstrosity, I knew that we weren’t gonna be able to fight this thing off. Not without backup.

So, I told the team to do the only thing we really could do.

Run.

“Let’s go, drop the weapons! All of you!” I shouted while still on my butt, but after quickly jumping back up to my feet, I waved them over to join me in what would end up being one of the most intense cardio exercises of our lives.

And I didn’t have to tell them twice, they all immediately dropped their light weapons and darted over to me. Alex led the pack, Melody wasn’t far behind, and Garrett and Carter took up the rear.

As they all caught up with me, and put distance between themselves and their weapons. The statue raised a foot high, held it for a second, and brought it down with devastating force, smashing all four of the lights as if they were made of nothing more than cheap cardboard.

The lights in the mall began to flicker more severely than ever as we ran down the corridor in a full sprint, with the statue not all that far behind us.

I held out hope we would survive. As I stated earlier, Site Twelve wasn’t very far away from the mall. And if we booked it, by the time the second team had finished gearing up and heading over in a helicopter, we’d be able to meet them at the front of the mall. But only if we didn’t stop.

“Back to the entrance, go!” I exclaim like a drill sergeant.

The lights continue flickering as I hear the thunderous footsteps of the statue behind us. The floor being cracked and smashed with every stride that thing took.

“You cannot stop the darkness.” Its voice boomed, and it sounded nothing like Santa, but just another group of Nocturnals all collaborating on their vocals.

We all began panting as we kept pumping our legs. I could feel the strain with every step, But I knew what stopping meant, for me and the rest of the team. Midway through the death-defying run, I thought of any possible way to slow this thing down, panicking as I failed to come up with anything that wouldn’t get me or one of them killed.

And it appeared Garrett had the same idea. He turned around and quickly pulled his sidearm from his belt, aiming it right at the statue as he prepared to take a shot. That is, until I dashed over and grabbed the pistol out of his hands before slapping his arm down.

“I can buy us time!” He blurted.

“No, you’re not playing hero. Let’s go!” I demanded with the fury of an angry father.

Garrett however, was quick to obey once he and I were nearly crushed by the slamming of the statue’s fist just before we took off running again. Both of us hollering as we jumped back just in the nick of time. We round the corner and finish making our way through the main shop corridor. Now merging into the food court area, with the entrance in our line of sight.

We dash into the food court, running right down the middle and evading the tables, chairs, and support beams while the statue just simply smashed and ran right through them. They did very little in the way of slowing this thing down.

“The second team’s chopper should be arriving any second, just hang on!” Came Jennifer once more through the radio. But it brought me no relief, not with how much adrenaline was pumping through my veins at the time.

And she was right, on the other side of the large pane-glass window just above the mall entrance doors, I spotted the chopper hovering around thirty feet off the ground, waiting for us to make it outside. I kept going, keeping pace with Melody, Carter, and Alex as I caught up with them. But Garrett had lagged significantly behind when I turned my head to look back, and the statue had its eyes on him.

All of us practically threw ourselves outside of the entrance. All of us except Garrett, who was still a couple dozen feet inside the mall. The look of horror on his face being contagious as we watched a piece of debris the statue had kicked forward hit him in the back and send him face-first right onto the floor.

“No!” Carter screamed. But his voice was drowned out by the sound of the whipping of the helicopter’s blades as it lowered itself to be more level with the entrance door. And by extension, the statue. The statue stops for just a matter of moments, and lifts its leg up and preparing to smush Garrett and turn him into a pile of human mush.

Carter then suddenly lunges forward, attempting to run back for his friend. And despite all the running he had just done, it was clear he still had plenty of adrenaline left in him to try and save Garrett.

“Carter no!” I exclaim, trying and failing to chase after him. He left me in the dust as I tried to stop him before he made it back to the entrance. I didn’t want to sit there and watch Garrett meet his demise either. But I couldn’t risk Carter potentially suffering the same fate.

But it didn’t matter, because as we neared the entrance, the chopper fired an explosive rocket into the building. I could barely even comprehend the trail of smoke and the rippling sound of the rocket as it propelled past us. But once the rocket hit its target, that being the statue. The resulting explosion sent both me and Carter flying back several feet.

I groaned and howled as I rolled across the ground before coming to a stop after a few seconds. Blood made its way down my forehead, and I could feel that my gear had suddenly felt much warmer around me due to the heat of the explosion. That wasn’t even mentioning the ringing in my ears.

Carter had gone unconscious, but according to Melody. He was still breathing. Alex had darted over to me as I looked back at the now desecrated entryway in a speechless expression. Waiting for all the Nocturnals that were previously inside the now destroyed statue to emerge and commence an attack in their separate forms. But they never came, which puzzled me. Considering how I had seen them function up to this point.

“You alright boss?” He asked, but I only knew because I read his lips, I didn’t verbally respond. I simply kept staring forward, knowing that the threat had been eliminated, but we still lost another team member. There was not a chance in hell Garrett had survived the blast, and the last thing I wanted to see was the various pieces of him that had probably been flung every which way.

It wasn’t long after that when the second team came down and assessed what had happened before taking us back to Site Twelve. And as it turns out, I suffered a fracture in my arm, wasn’t fun at all when the pain set in after the adrenaline wore off. The medical division did their thing, and I was gonna be in a cast for an uncertain period. But hey, at least that meant a break from field work for a bit.

Alex ended up going back to his Site until he was supposed to permanently transfer over here. And I had honestly looked forward to potentially working with him in the future.

Jennifer ended up allowing me a couple days of rest before we had a post-mission conference between the two of us. And I was ready to get chewed out, or worse. I took that time to do some very limited training with Melody as we talked about all the insane experiences we had with Terrance over the years. It wasn’t gonna ever be the same without him.

Carter was more than broken up by what had happened to Garrett. And I couldn’t blame him. That was a childhood friend of his after all, and after everything they had went through, he had been snuffed out. Just like that. Sometimes I wish a bit more mercy existed in the world.

I went out of my way to invite him to sit in on a few leadership meetings, of course making sure that I had been authorized to do so first. But soon enough, the final day came for me to give Jennifer my answer about the offer for Assistant Director Of Operations, and just like that. I found myself inside her office once again.

“Is there a reason, the missile was able to kill all the ones inside the statue without any light-based weapons being needed? Would’ve been nice to know if it was that simple the whole time.” I asked, doing my best to bite my tongue as I said it.

“I actually asked Doctor Garth and his team the same thing, as we had no records or documents of The Nocturnals ever doing something like that before. Garth said it’s most likely due to the fact that The Nocturnals can only fully assimilate a living, breathing creature made up of organic matter, and that because they attempted to assimilate an object, especially one that large. It didn’t turn out the same, they seemed to end up trapping themselves inside the statue, and when it was destroyed, they were as well. Due to some of its more solid properties transferring into theirs.”

I wasn’t even quite sure how that made any sense, but it’s like I always say. Nothing makes sense in this job. I didn’t have anything to say in response to her explanation, so she of course moved on. Not wanting to waste any time.

“So, I know you’re aware of what I need from you today. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of time to think it over. I need to know, Ron. Do you want this promotion?” Jennifer sighs, cupping her hands together on top of her desk.

I looked at my cast, and then at the floor, the room went so quiet that all you could hear was the blowing of the air conditioning. I had made my mind up about this matter as soon as the mission ended. I was just circulating through all the different ways to tell Jennifer in my head. But soon enough, it came to me. And it was the answer I should’ve given all along.

“No.”

Credit: mrmills45

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