• Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 12

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    There was no point in questioning himself now.

    He’d already decided on a plan of action: meet with Joanne now if he could and Antoine later. And as interesting as the option with the vampires were, it wasn’t compelling enough to risk lowering his chances of getting something useful from two people tonight. Besides, Joanne, at least, would probably have a personal stake in this. Some vampire definitely wouldn’t.

    And Antoine, too, was clearly invested in this in some way. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have kept answering Tam’s messages, or at least, wouldn’t have been so cagey about things. It was hard to say why this witch boy might have some investment in it, but even if he was Istem’s son, maybe he had some reason to act against her.

    Besides, Antoine was his only real link to what might have happened to Ash recently. Tam would be a real fool to give up on that chance just to try to harness some power.

    He replied at once to the email, not wanting to leave Jared waiting—especially if his contact was also waiting on it. No point in burning his bridges through carelessness. Jared, you’re incredible. Thank you. I can’t thank you enough! That said, I’m in the middle of chasing down a lead right now and I can’t risk letting it go. Tomorrow would be great if you can arrange it. Let me know what you need from me. Again, thanks just so, so much.

    After he’d fired it back off, he headed up the steps, pushing his way in through one of the theatre doors. He was surprised to find them unlocked, but he supposed enough crew might be coming and going to make it worthwhile.

    As the door swung shut behind him, he found himself briefly overcome by the presence of the place. The outside wasn’t much—the name of the theatre was outlined in bright lights over the glass doors, but it was set into the facade of what had once been an old apartment building and was otherwise unremarkable.

    Inside, he found himself in front of the ticket booth and bar, with steps leading both up and down. The ones going up lead to the lounge rooms that people could head to during intermissions. Downstairs, he knew, was a small black-painted stage that people gave talks and amateur performances on.

    But through the double doors straight ahead was the Theatre of Dreams itself, all gold gilt and red velvet. The doors were closed now, but Tam remembered it with a deep nostalgia. A huge painting in a neoclassical style filled the ceiling leading down to the proscenium stage, showing nymphs bestowing a smiling youth with gifts, his arms spread wide in beatific pleasure to receive them. When waiting here for shows to start, Tam would always gaze at it, wondering at the story behind it.

    A dryad scurried past and he snapped out of his momentary sense of awe, grabbing at her arm. She turned to glare at him, scowl etched into her green face, her flute clutched in one hand. A member of the orchestra, it seemed.

    “S-sorry,” he stammered. “I’m looking for Joanne Cooper? Something bad’s happened to a friend of hers, Ashton Lynes. Please, if she’s here, can you tell her his brother Tam needs to talk to her?”

    “Whatever,” the dryad snapped, but she changed direction as she hurried on, so he could only hope that she was going to find Joanne.

    He put a hand over his chest, waiting for his heart to slow. People had been so helpful recently that her reaction had made his anxiety flare up more in shock than anything else. Matthias had been friendly, Jared had been sympathetic, and Sahil had been incredible in pretty much every way. Tam had to admit that Sahil especially had taken a huge weight off by being willing to act as research man for him. He’s a real good guy. Tam hadn’t really talked to him too much before this, but he’d have to change that.

    The dryad came back a moment later, gesturing. “This way. Follow me.”

    She took off again before he could react, and he hurried after, trying not to fall behind as she lead him into a plain corridor, with several doors off it. She shoved a door open, gesturing him into a large props workshop.

    Joanne Cooper was shoulder deep in a prop wood stove that had apparently fallen apart. “So you’re Tam, huh. What happened to Ash?” she asked, tone rough.

    Tam swallowed, mouth gone dry; he’d barely had a chance to enter the room before she’d begun to question him, and he couldn’t bring himself to come closer, hovering by the door. He forced himself to recall Sahil’s warning: don’t take it personally.

    As quickly as he could—she didn’t seem like someone who wanted her time wasted—he stammered out an explanation.

    “I don’t know a thing about witches,” Joanne said when he was done. She sounded mollified by the explanation, and more than a bit unhappy. “Most of them keep our folk out.”

    “No, I… I know,” he said. “I’m… looking for strong allies. I want to get Ash back, and… I mean, I thought, Lithway is such a mythic figure in this town, and maybe, since you and the other crew here know Ash, maybe you could introduce me.”

    The door behind him slammed open, making a thunderous crack as it hit the wall. Tam jumped, whirling to face it, but a thick dark fog was filling it, rolling in ominously. He backed up, trying to escape it, but it encroached on him regardless, billowing up to engulf him—

    And then, abruptly, it changed shape, reforming in front of him into a humanoid figure made of shadow, tall and beautiful, arms open like the youth in the painting over the stage.

    “Who’s getting introduced to Lithway, then?” Lithway asked. Despite their bombastic entrance, their voice was the same as Tam remembered—a soft, yearning tone. “Well? Speak up, boy.”

    Tam stared, mind going blank. He hadn’t had time to get briefed, to be given any guide to how best to speak to Branwin Valley’s most well-known celebrity.

    Yet here they were, in the flesh—or, well, what they had instead of flesh.

    [Please suggest an action in the Comments.]

    [Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 11

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    “Hm?” Matthias prompted. He smile widened, showing the edge of sharp teeth against his lower lip. “Sounds like you’re considering it.”

    “No, I mean, I was just… wondering about the guy I’m meeting later,” Tam said. He tried to phrase it carefully to not ask for help but prompt for it anyway, afraid of ending up in some sort of implicit contract without his consent. “His name is Antoine… he said he was a regular?”

    “Oh, yes, I know Antoine,” Matthias said immediately. “Lovely man, good tipper. Really addicted to our scones. Always trying to get the recipe, but Kearney says we’re not allowed to give that out, you know how it is.” He began to draw the coffees, long fingers elegant and talon-tipped on the taps. “On the other hand, he is a witch, so one can understand why you’d be nervous. He’s a good sort, though. Nature and herbs and the natural flow of life and death, that sort of thing.”

    The reassurance didn’t do much to pull Tam’s stomach up from where it had dropped. “A witch,” he repeated. “What’s his full name?”

    As soon as he’d asked, he winced, waiting for a what’ll you give me for it, but it didn’t come. “I shouldn’t really give out customers’ names,” Matthias said apologetically instead, giving him a dazzling smile. “One does try to have a little discretion, no drink-and-tell, that sort of thing.”

    “Oh, of course,” Tam stammered hurriedly. “I didn’t think—I wasn’t thinking. It’s just that the situation was a little sketchy, so I was nervous, you know—”

    Matthias handed the tray of drinks over, the steam from their lids weaving in four distinct trails in front of his face, almost hypnotizing. “I should still be working tonight, so I can keep an eye on your table,” he said. “Would you like that? I’m sure we could work something out—”

    Of course it was tempting. Still—Tam didn’t know Matthias well enough to use him for backup, and certainly didn’t trust the idea of ‘working something out’ with him. “It’s fine,” he said. “Thanks though.”

    “Any time, sweetheart,” Matthias said. He leaned on the counter, resting his chin on one of those long-fingered hands and grinning up, heavy-lidded. “Anything else?”

    “No, uh, that’ll be everything,” Tam said, holding the tray a little tightly. “Thanks, have a good one.”

    “I’ll see you later.”

    Tam hurried back outside, keeping his head down as he headed back to the library.

    So Antoine was a witch. And he’d somehow been in contact with Ash. Neither of these things sounded good, and he couldn’t help but be suspicious that this Antoine might have been the guy who picked up Ash. It might seem odd for one witch to do another’s dirty work, but if it ran in the bloodline, he might have been her son, as his father had theorized. Or maybe even unrelated entirely and some kind of rival; all he’d had for proof was a picture, and that could be staged.

    Tam made it back to the library in record time, walking furiously uphill, the anger and fear fueling him. This time, when Sceana saw him enter, she didn’t wait for his approach, just darted off, presumably to get Sahil. He had to admit he was a little relieved; he didn’t like being afraid of snakes, but that didn’t make the fear go away.

    Sahil hurried up a few moments later, giving him a tense smile and taking the tray from Tam. “How goes it?”

    “A few possible leads,” Tam said. “When looking into witches, can you look up the name Antoine too?”

    “Antoine?”

    Right, he hadn’t got the name until he’d already parted from Sahil. “The texter gave his name as Antoine, and the barista down at Beanheadings mentioned he was a witch. Given the circumstances…”

    “Suspicious,” Sahil agreed. “I’ll toss it into the search. The barista didn’t know any more?”

    “I was afraid to ask,” Tam admitted. “He was a demon and I didn’t want to get into any kind of implicit contract…”

    “You’re probably safe as long as you clarify terms,” Sahil said. “Demons have a pretty strong need to keep their deals legitimate. Just asking for information won’t harm you unless he tells you there’ll be a price, and you can always back out and refuse to agree to whatever he says. I mean, it’s understandable to be worried, though! And there are some less reputable demons, but I don’t think Kearney Dillon would hire one. He’s too savvy a businessman.”

    “Got a good head on his shoulders?”

    Tam,” Sahil chided.

    Tam felt himself blush, ducking his head. “Sorry,” he said. “Just trying to keep my spirits up.”

    “That’s understandable,” Sahil said, more gently. “Sorry I don’t have more for you yet—we’re trying to get enough things together to be useful resources.”

    “No, jeez—” Tam stammered. He reached out and squeezed Sahil’s shoulder lightly. “It’s barely been an hour since I left, you can only do so much. I seriously appreciate it.”

    This time, Sahil was the one blushing. He turned away to put the tray of drinks down on the circulations counter, then muttered, “Still. Of course I’m worried too.”

    “Of course,” Tam said softly. “Ah—I’m going to head over to the theatre unless you think I’d be any use here. I don’t want to wait until everyone’s busy with dress rehearsal. I saw on Ash’s Facebook that he knows a Joanne Cooper, are you familiar?”

    “Oh, yes, Joanne comes here a lot,” Sahil said. “Most of the theatre folk do. Even Lithway comes in sometimes. She’s very loyal, so if they decided to add each other, she’ll probably help. Don’t take her too personally, she’s very brisk. Go on—I’ll email if there’s anything you need to see right away.”

    “Okay,” Tam said. “Thanks, Sahil. You’re a hero.”

    Sahil let out a squeak. “Not hardly!” he protested, then swept up the tray. “I’m going to get this to the others before it gets cold…!”

    As Tam showed himself out, his phone gave a buzz. It was a new email reply from Jared, and he opened it quickly as he walked down the street.

    What the hell, my dude? That is horrible! Jesus Christ, I gotta go hug my sister after this. I can’t even imagine what’d drive parents to do that. Listen, I can meet in about half an hour if you want to talk, and depending on what you want to do I can try to get you into the vamps as soon as tonight. But if you can’t meet me asap, we’ll have to aim for tomorrow instead, I checked with my go-between and she’s only free for a limited window tonight. LMK. – J

    Tam hesitated, frozen on the theatre steps. If he went to meet Jared in a half hour, he’d have to leave now, and probably wouldn’t get back in time to talk to Joanne before rehearsal and final checks, and he strongly suspected that if he tried to interrupt the theatre crew when they were actually busy, she’d be less inclined to help him. Lithway would definitely be in this evening, so if he went now, maybe Joanne could introduce them. He could still get in tomorrow to meet Lithway with his tickets, but if so, he’d be going in without help.

    On the other side of things, a vampire sounded like a more powerful ally than a famous actor, even if they were one of those strange shadowfolk. Except, of course, if he had to go after the witch during the day, when a vampire would be useless.

    Still, even outside the Valley, everyone knew how much sway the vampire lords had; that’s why Jared had done the interview in the first place. They were probably some of the most powerful monsters outside of the gate itself.

    But if he went, he’d be missing out on both Lithway and, quite possibly, depending on how late he had to go to meet the vampires, the chance to meet Antoine tonight.

    He stared up the steps as he tried to come to a decision.

    [Please suggest an action in the Comments.]

    [Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 10

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    “Number six!”

    Tam jerked his head up from where he’d been studying the layout of Valley streets, trying to make sense of the store labels and the scribbled captions and sidebar notes that had been added around them. He felt like he’d done a pretty good job of getting at least a rough idea of the main downtown core—and he’d have the map available on his phone if he needed it.

    Matthias was waiting at the coffee bar’s handoff counter, a mug of coffee and a plated sandwich sitting there. Tam hurried over as his stomach let out a plaintive growl. “Thanks,” he said, reaching for the tray.

    “Don’t mention it,” Matthais said cheerfully. He tossed his hair back over his shoulder—wasn’t that a health hazard? Then again, maybe demons didn’t shed any hair the way humans did—and gestured around behind the counter. “It’s pretty quiet right now, so let me know if you need anything else.”

    If he was going to push himself to keep going, he decided, he probably needed something to drink that wasn’t just anxiety in a mug. “Could I also have a glass of water?”

    “You got it, sweetheart. Thirsty, huh?”

    “Yeah, I—” That was a come-on. It was definitely a come-on. “Yeah,” Tam finished weakly.

    Mathias poured him a cup of ice water, and deposited that on the tray Tam was holding. As he did so, one of his nipples peeked out from behind his apron. Tam found himself making direct eye contact with it, and forced himself to look up at Matthias’s face instead.

    Not much better. He mumbled another thanks and quickly retreated. He had Matthias’s word that talking to a demon was safe in context with the demon doing his job, but that didn’t mean it’d be a good idea to get too chatty anyway.

    He sat back down and fell on his meal with gusto, more ravenously hungry than he’d realized. The sandwich was, as Matthias had promised, absolutely delicious, and he didn’t think it was just his hunger. He’d been here before, but only got the drinks—he’d clearly been missing out.

    Tam’s hands were too busy with the sandwich for him to spend more time on the computer, so he took the opportunity to memorize the Beanheadings layout. There was a door behind the coffee bar, presumably into the kitchen or food storage; around the corner, there was a corridor leading to the bathrooms and another door marked with an emergency exit sign. The main area was pretty much in view of the baristas and other customers at all times, so how safe it was would be dependent on how busy things were at ten pm. If it was really crowded, people might not notice something going on, and if it was too empty, something could happen without being seen if a barista had to go into the back for a moment.

    Why was the meeting going to be so late? It wasn’t the first time he’d wondered it. Was the mysterious texter Antoine also a vampire, or otherwise something else who could only come out at night? But he’d been super busy texting in the morning. Maybe he just had a job working the afternoon shift.

    With his sandwich finished, he picked up his coffee, turning back to his computer and checking listlessly to see if Jared had responded to his new email yet. No luck, but given that he’d only just sent it, he didn’t expect much. He found himself automatically opening Facebook again, then made a face at himself. It wasn’t going to change or get any better.

    He went to close it, then paused, considering. He’d been wondering if Ash was friends with anyone from the theatre, but wasn’t there a quick way to find out?

    Trying not to feel too emotional about the birthday wishes all over Ash’s page, Tam loaded up Ash’s friendslist. As he’d recalled, it wasn’t terribly big, and he was able to discount old highschool friends right away, along with library coworkers. For the names he didn’t recognize, he quickly opened them, skimming them for information and closing if it seemed unremarkable.

    Tam lucked out on his second-last person: Joanne Cooper, stagehand at the Theatre of Dreams. She looked fae, probably a brownie of some sort, judging by her round features, ruddy cheeks, and pointed ears. So Ash did know someone from the theatre, at least well enough to follow her online…

    It was maybe worth checking out, and pretty close to the library. On the one hand, since the show opened tomorrow, everyone would likely be there for rehearsal, making it easy to track her down. On the other hand, since it was the last night before opening, everyone there would be pretty busy and probably not in the mood to be interrupted. He wondered which would matter more. He should decide soon either way, so he wouldn’t interrupt dress rehearsal itself.

    Sahil’s first email came in then, and Tam loaded it up to a short description of the city’s local weredogs. Sahil had clarified in it that they didn’t consider themselves to be packs—-or at least, Sahil’s group and those he’d interacted with didn’t—but a group of friends, with a leader who arranged meetups and helped raise funds for events. The leader, Lena Williams, also helped handle legal matters for the group when necessary and deal with territorial disputes.

    Otherwise, it was the same as Tam was given to understand happened with werewolves—an involuntary change with the full moon and voluntary other times, the curse spread via a bite when in their transformed form. Sahil cautioned that there was no default type of weredog, but they appeared in all types of dog, from the smallest chihuahua to the biggest great dane. He didn’t specify what type he was, but did say that their main meeting area was the West Street Dog Park.

    Tam let out a little involuntary sound and covered his mouth. It was just as well Sahil had avoided talking about this in person; the details were just too cute.

    He wrote back, trying not to let his reaction show. Thanks so much for the info! Just wanted to confirm receipt & that I’m ready for more information whenever you guys have it together. Btw, just plain coffees?

    And then, after a moment’s consideration, he added, Just while checking, would church stuff be any good? Both for dealing with the witch & for any possible allies. Just trying to figure out what my options are to stay safe.

    He got a reply back almost immediately; Sahil probably hadn’t gotten back up to get back to work yet: Black pls, we can add cream & sugar here if anyone needs it. Church is good against more religious vampires & more generally against demons, probably not otherwise. With magic u want protective circles, sometimes salt, depends on the type of magic being used. Vampires & us, silver. Vampires, the running water thing is tru too but less relevant in a city.

    He supposed every little bit helped. He sent back a quick Thanks! and put his laptop away, heading back up to the coffee bar with his empty cups and plate.

    “Anything else I can get you?” Matthias asked with a wink.

    “Ah, yeah,” Tam said awkwardly. “Four large house blend black coffees, please. Um, if you’ve got one of those foam drink trays, that’d be good.”

    Matthias laughed, ringing it through. “You should come back more often instead of buying in bulk,” he said. “I’d love to see you around more.”

    “They’re for friends,” Tam said awkwardly. “I’ll, uh, be back later tonight, though, I’m meeting someone.”

    “Oh yeah?” Matthias grinned. “Not me? It could be me.”

    “No, um…” Tam hesitated, unsure of if he should ask more or not. On the one hand, if Antoine really was a regular, Matthias could be a good source of information, but on the other, interacting too much with a demon might be dangerous…

    [Please suggest an action in the Comments.]

    [Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 9

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    Tam stared at Sahil. “Uh, that’s kind of,” he began, before closing his mouth on blurting out his immediate thoughts.

    So Sahil was part of a secret organization and wouldn’t be available for the next few nights. Tam was pretty sure he had some idea what that could mean, though he didn’t exactly want to jump to conclusions. He turned over his phone and tried to check subtly; the news and weather app always listed the phase of the moon.

    Huh. Yup.

    “Your organization,” he said after a moment. “If they’d make okay allies, that means they’re well-known around here and have some kind of power, right…? I, uh, look, I don’t want to pry, just, if I’m going to make allies, you’re the one who suggested I know who I’m making alliances with, and you’re also the one doing research for me, and I trust you, I don’t really want to run around behind your back trying to guess, so, are they, maybe…”

    Sahil put his face in his hands. “Oh my god,” he muttered.

    “Sorry,” Tam yelped, immediately embarrassed. “It’s cool, seriously. I mean, I’ve always thought werewolves were neat, and—”

    “Dogs.”

    “What?”

    Sahil looked at Tam plaintively between his fingers. “Dogs,” he muttered again. “Weredogs. You don’t find a lot of wolves in the big city, but dogs are fucking everywhere, you know? And cats. And sometimes coyotes. We’ve had a problem with werecoyotes lately.”

    “Oh,” Tam said. “Okay. So weredogs.” He sought around for something to add, something that wasn’t I’ve always liked dogs. “Thanks. Seriously. See? That’s how little I know, so glad to have someone on my side who knows what’s up.”

    “Sure,” Sahil said. He sank back in his chair, dropping his hands with a sigh, then gave Tam a smile, halfway between embarrassment and relief. “I can talk to our leader if you want, but like I said…”

    “Right, yeah. I’ll follow up with Jared and see what seems better. If you can send me more info about, uh, your leader, that’d be cool to help,” Tam said. After a moment, he put a hand on Sahil’s again and squeezed. “Don’t worry about doing it while I’m here and making it weird, though.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind,” Sahil said.

    “I’m going to go to Beanheadings,” Tam said. “Do you want me to bring you guys back anything? Coffee or food?”

    “Coffee would be great,” Sahil said. “I’m not sure how many of us are going to be doing research? Probably around four of us so the others can keep handling library issues.” Tam opened his mouth. “Yes, I drink coffee, no, it’s not poisonous.”

    Tam closed his mouth.

    Sahil laughed, then rose, picking up his notepad. “I’ll start emailing you information as we get it pulled together,” he said. “I’ll start with that webpage. Take care of yourself, Tam. Ash wouldn’t want you to get hurt for him.”

    “Ash doesn’t get a say right now,” Tam said, but he smiled back.

    As Sahil went to catch the others up on the bad news and get started researching, Tam checked his phone, beginning to head down to Beanheadings.

    The texter had responded: Ask at the counter if Antoine is there. I’m a regular in the late evening & I usually sit at a table at the back if it’s free. I’ll keep your brother’s ringtone on, also, so you can text to find me.

    Ash’s ringtone was a stunning rendition of My Humps and one of the most annoying sounds in the world. Tam realized, abruptly, that the mystery texter was probably hearing it every time Tam messaged him, and couldn’t keep from laughing a little, albeit painfully.

    So that was one meeting arranged, though whether this mystery texter would be an ally or not, he still didn’t know. For the others… he took a mental tally.

    Tam had to wait until he heard more from Sahil to know about his leader. In the meantime, he’d email Jared back as soon as he got settled at Beanheadings. He’d explain things as honestly as he could—he couldn’t imagine Jared would be anything but sympathetic about the idea of a missing sibling. He’d ask more about Dupré specifically, as well as what it might cost him to even talk to the man. If Jared had talked to him personally, he had some idea of what was up.

    Then there was Lithway. Had Ash just lucked out in getting the first tickets sold, or did he know someone in the theatre? Tam was pretty sure that Ash couldn’t have known Lithway themself, not without telling Tam about it—unless he’d been specifically keeping that detail secret in order to surprise Tam with the tickets. Tam had to admit that if he’d known Ash and Lithway were friends, he’d definitely have harassed Ash for an introduction. And the Theatre of Dreams was just down the street from the library. It’d be more surprising than not if theatre workers didn’t stop in regularly to make copies of plays, do research, and just spend their breaks reading.

    What other options could he look into? Maybe he could find another powerful witch and get to know them, or even a demon. Though he’d been warned about demons nonstop growing up—school had PSA meetings about it, even—he knew that they were particularly easy to trade with. Maybe a last resort, though.

    Tam realized abruptly he’d arrived at Beanheadings and almost walked past it. He shook himself, grabbing the door handle and heading inside.

    The shop got its name due to the owner being a dullahan—a headless horseman, and one of the wild fae who lived in the area. As far as Tam knew, Kearney Dillon didn’t actually work in the coffee shop himself, just owned it. Still, the model head mounted over the menu board with a cup of coffee to his mouth was supposed to be an exact likeness of the man, freckled and with wild braids. Urban legend had it that Mr. Dillon had passed away long ago and had his head preserved as part of his legacy.  

    Tam, who had seen the owner arguing with a neighbor before on one of his and Ash’s rare visits here, doubted that. His head had been present, being waved around with fury.

    Heading up to the counter, Tam abruptly stopped short. The barista working today was an unfairly attractive incubus who had apparently taken advantage of a lax uniform policy to not wear a shirt under his apron. His nametag said he was Matthias, which probably wasn’t his real name. “Hey, what can I get you?” He smiled, jet-black hair tumbling over his shoulders as he leaned forward, the light glinting off his horns.

    It was like fate had realized his thoughts about demons to put one in his path. For a moment, Tam stopped breathing entirely.

    “It’s cool,” the barista said, as if reading his thoughts. “I work here, so ordering is just ordering, you’re not getting yourself into anything, sweetheart.”

    “Right,” Tam said, then cleared his throat when his voice broke. “I’ll have a caffè mocha, please.”

    “Anything else?” Matthias asked. He tapped the bakery case. “Our sandwiches are pretty good.”

    Abruptly, Tam realized he was starving. He hadn’t eaten breakfast, and it was well after lunchtime now. “Yes,” he said fervently. “That ham, fig, and brie one? Is it any good?”

    “It is fantastic,” Matthias promised him, eyes twinkling. Tam realized that the demon probably had been able to tell he was frantically hungry, even when Tam couldn’t. He rang Tam up, then held a card out to him. “You’re number 6! I’ll give you a call when your order’s up.”

    A little embarrassed, Tam took the number card and headed to a table. He sat down, pulling out his laptop and sending Jared the email before he could forget again.

    Then, a little masochistically, he loaded up facebook. Among the birthday wishes from friends were matching wishes for his brother, all unanswered. He loaded his brother’s page and saw messages from his parents among them: Love you, Ash. Be safe out there. And, Drop us a line when you can, baby.

    He didn’t know how he felt. He was angry, and he was sad, and he was hurt. He felt like they should be apologizing to Ash, or expressing something other than just concern when it was all their fault. He wondered how messed up they were over this, and if it was something he could have known about in advance. He felt like he should have known somehow, like he’d missed some sort of sign.

    Swallowing, he closed the tab and pulled up the website address that Sahil had sent him, waiting for The Urban Explorer’s Guide to Branwin Valley to load. If he had time to feel, he had time to memorize streets.

    [Please suggest an action in the Comments.]

    [Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 8

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    Grateful, Tam put a hand over Sahil’s on the contract, squeezing it briefly. As usual, Sahil seemed like he was running a fever, body too hot, and Tam didn’t hold it for long.

    “Thank you,” Tam said softly. “There are a few things I can use your help getting information on.”

    Sahil gave him another of those quick, nervous smiles. “Okay, shoot,” he said.

    “First up,” Tam said, “the contract. You said it was a legal one. Are you sure? She specified the night before his twenty-first birthday. Does that mean that it had to be before he was an adult and his own, well, property? She cut it pretty close, and the labor was pretty long since we were twins…”

    Waving a hand, Sahil said, “It’s possible that we could find a good lawyer who could help us out in general, but in terms of that argument? Anyone can promise another person if that person is their dependent at the time the promise was made. Since your mother was pregnant, I’d assume that super counts. That said, there still might be legal matters that could be followed up on. If nothing else we could try to delay things by tying her up in paperwork. I’ll try to track somebody down.” He made a note on a pad of paper that had been sitting on the table.

    It wasn’t the best news, but somehow it cheered Tam anyway.

    “Okay, great,” Tam said. He ticked that point off on his finger. “Anything about the witch, like you said. If you can dig her name up even in old newspapers or microfiche or whatever, that’s more than we had.”

    “No problem. I’ll make sure one of the librarians is digging through the archives.”

    It was, he decided, such a relief to not be handling everything himself. Even with so much left to do, he could feel tension leaving his shoulders. “Magic and its capabilities,” he said. “You explained the basics to me, and I know that teaching me more might… require some time, but if you can find any easy review audiotape or whatever for me to listen on the go?”

    Sahil pulled a bit of a face at that, but nodded again. “I think the problem is that it’s a pretty specialized field,” he said. “It’s like ‘Physics and its laws’, like, sure, but someone can study that for years and years. I can definitely dig you up some 101 stuff, though without knowing more about the witch, it may not be more useful than what I’ve already told you.”

    “Anything helps,” Tam said. “General area stuff. A guidebook or brochure or a map? I always relied on Ash for knowing about the Valley since I didn’t come down here too much myself and I’ve mostly stuck to the main streets when I did. This guy I’ve been chatting with said to meet at Beanheadings, and I’ve been there, but what if it was a place I hadn’t heard of? Or what if I have to go somewhere else next when I hear news about Ash? I’d better be ready.”

    “Anything I’ve got in the library isn’t likely to be in date,” Sahil warned, “because things change fast around here, both due to changing politics and magical alterations, but I can give you a website address? There are some urban explorers who chart out the changes, and it’s not perfect, but it’s fairly reliable.”

    “You are my hero,” Tam said fervently, earning a blush from Sahil. “Now, allies. Anybody you guys know?”

    Sahil seemed to pause at that, leaning back from the paper momentarily. “I would largely suggest that you want some of the more powerful people here on your side,” he said after a pause. “People with some sort of fame or reputation. Librarians are not usually among those. Essentially, it’ll help if you have any support from someone who can help put the weight on this Miss Istem, and make it harder for her to act in this Valley if they get in her way. There is a lot of politicking down here. A lot of allegiances.Who you know can matter an awful lot in what you can do and who you can influence.”

    “So…” Tam looked pleadingly at Sahil.

    “Famous monsters, powerful ones, dangerous ones, or ones who are more convenient to keep neutral than otherwise,” Sahil said. “I can dig up some names, certainly, but the problem is, what are you willing to offer them? And which ones are best?”

    “My friend Jared said that he might be able to get me in contact with the vampire Rainier Dupré,” Tam said. “I also… have tickets to meet with Lithway, but that’s just… after their show, just as a fan. So I at least have an in there.”

    “They’re both options,” Sahil agreed. “I don’t think those two have any beef with each other, either. I could maybe buy you a chance to meet the leader of an, er, organization I’m in? But she and Dupré don’t get along, so if you want to meet both you’d probably have to keep whatever you wanted from them separate so their paths didn’t cross.”

    “Give me a minute to think over who I should follow up on first,” Tam said. “…in the meantime, I was thinking of going to scope out Beanheadings, if you’re okay with doing the research yourself, so I can get the lay of the land before I meet this guy tonight. Actually—do you want to come with me? Tonight, I mean,” he clarified before Sahil could protest. He knew that right after this talk, Sahil would be busy breaking the news to the other librarians and getting them started on the research he’d requested.

    Sahil shook his head, staring down at his notepad. His cheeks had gone a little ruddy again. “I can’t go out tonight at all,” he said. “Sorry, it’s not something I can get out of. I should be free in the evenings again in… about three days and I’d happily help you then.”

    [Please suggest an action in the Comments.
    (Since there are a number of angles that Tam can follow up on, it might be
    best to focus on what he should be doing first/shortly, rather than overall plans)]

    [Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]