Where did I leave us? Ah yes, dad realizing that the devil’s literally at his door.

Julian convinced everyone to calm everyone down and gathered everyone, including the unwelcome boyfriend, into the sitting room.

“What do we do now?” Julian asked me from entrance and I made a face at him because clearly, CLEARLY I had no idea how to handle this. He laughed. “It’s okay, follow my lead.”

He went into the room. “Hello, everyone,” he began, and on god he sounded like a warm English professor you could come to with your personal problems. “My name is Julian Hawthorne, and this is my associate Shiloh.”

His associate 🥰

“We specialize in dealing with exactly this kind of issue,” Julian went on.

This was greeted by dumb, open-faced silence.

“What, like… cryptids?” Chelsea said, voice dripping with that get-under-your-skin blend of skepticism and disdain that only teenage girl can pull off. It filled me with equal parts rage and admiration.

“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty much.”

“We’re here to make sure that whatever that thing is, can’t hurt you,” Julian said.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” said Dad — and I have to describe this guy to you so you can really get an image of what we’re dealing with. Big, tall guy, with a big bushy mustache and a combover. During the day I imagine him in some boat shoes and khakis but right then he was wearing a big ass fuzzy robe with his semi-prestigious college crest embroidered on the lapel. I bet he skis. You know? Getting the picture here?

So he says, “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to go to the police and tell them that some freak in a mask is tormenting our daughter!”

Chelsea’s mom made a dry sobbing sound.

“You could do that,” Julian admitted. “You could. But I don’t think you will. I think you know, deep down, that this was the real deal.”

There was a moment of quiet as dad hesitated. He said, “I will!”

Julian took their landline off the wall and set it on the coffee table in front of him. They were the type of family to still have a home phone for goodness sake.

“Go ahead,” Julian said.

Dad scowled, bluff called.

“Jeffrey!” gasped Mom. (I don’t remember his name, but we’re gonna call him Jeffrey. Actually, lets call Mom Nancy cuz I don’t remember her name either)

“Well you didn’t see it, Nance,” Jeffrey said, and turned towards Julian. And me, too, I guess. “What do we do?”

“For now,” Julian said, “I recommend you leave town.”

“What?” Chelsea said, shrinking closer to Chris. “No. I can’t just leave town, I have —” she hesitated for a split second — “gymnastics.”

LOL. Get it Chelsea.

“Only for a few days,” Julian said. “While we sort things out.”

It took some doing, but we convinced them to leave that very night. We managed to get them out of there within the hour. We got lucky because they had a big garage and no cars on the street to give away that they’d left — and since Neal was still out there with the beast, we could be fairly certain that they were making a clean escape.

“Drive in a random direction, and don’t stop,” Julian said. “We’ll be in touch when it’s safe to come home, alright?”

When they were gone, Julian said, “The priority is always to keep everyone as safe as possible. If it’s an option to remove any potential victims from a situation, that’s what we should do. It’s not always possible, but in this case, I very much doubt this thing is going to be able to track and keep up with a car, so I think this will at the very least buy us some time to figure out what we’re doing.”

We were going around the outside of the house looking for any prints when Neal returned, looking windswept, but not particularly bothered.

“Nice night for a run,” he said. “Lost it though. Got a few pictures but I doubt they’ll help us.”

HA yeah no it was just basically blurry darkness.

“I was running!” Neal said. “You get them out of here?”

“Yeah,” Julian said. “You think that thing noticed?”

“Nope,” Neal said. “I mean it wasn’t much faster than me, and I chased it a long way.”

“It didn’t fight back?” Julian asked.

“Not at all,” Neal said. “Went into total flight mode.”

Which was apparently not all that uncommon.

“Think of a lion,” Neal said. “You’re hunting a lion and all of a sudden the hunt takes an unexpected turn. It doesn’t know what we’re capable of, of course it’s gonna run away. It’s not gonna stick around unless it’s fairly confident it can win, and that thing came here prepared to overpower a teenage girl.” He smiled breezily. “Calculated risks,” he said.

Julian rolled his eyes.

We spent the whole next day trying to formulate a plan that didn’t involve me in a long straight wig and Chelsea’s clothes.

But like. Obviously that was the best option, and we all knew it.

“Look, I’ll play by the rules,” I assured them. “I’ll do everything you say. I won’t be in any danger at all.”

The Hawthornes looked at each other.

Julian was looked less than convinced, but Neal, BELOVED NEAL, shrugged like fuck it, and I was in.

It took us all day to get the house nice and boobytrapped, and then it was show time. I dressed up in Chelsea’s clothes and a super cheap wig, and mostly I just sat in her bedroom with my blinds open, scrolling through my phone. It was strange. Pre-kidnapping, it’s not like my life was anything like hers. She had a Dua Lipa poster on her wall, and her mirror was mostly plastered with pictures of her and her friends, skiing, all dressed up for a school dance, lounging in little red bikinis around a steamy hot tub. There were remnants of a very feminine childhood all over the place, a little bit worse for wear.

It got late. We raided their fridge. We tapped our fingers and waited.

And then, at around 1 am, I got a text from Neal who was on lookout upstairs: movement in the lawn.

I froze.

This thing is approaching your window. Turn away from the window let him get comfortable

This is always the part where I get cold feet hahaha — right when it’s officially too late to turn back, and I’m stuck on the ride until the end.

I pretended I didn’t hear when the window scraped open. I waited until this creature had fully climbed into the room, until I could feel it breathing behind me, before I said, “Chris?” And rolled over, knowing full well that it wouldn’t be Chris, and yet still not at all prepared for what it would be.

I don’t know what I expected. Something truly horrifying, probably. Like the goat demon monster from Sabrina.

Instead it was just like… a vaguely humanoid goat creature? It didn’t have any of the usual grotesqueries of a Hollywood devil monster — he didn’t have slavering jowls or scabs or like torn skin or any of the typical ableist body-horror elements. He was just a creature. A strange creature, yes, but his fur looked soft.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t super there to kill me.

It also doesn’t mean that when it lifted it’s lips in a sort of grimace, it wasn’t super horrifying.

Luckily, we came prepared.

“Hi,” I said, and plugged in the electric fence that we’d laid out across the floor under the window.

Goat man let out a strangled yowl and collapsed, as Julian came in with a tranq gun and just like that — goat man down.

“Nice,” Neal said, skidding breathlessly down the stairs. “Yeesh. That’s a straight up goat man, huh?” He tapped the doorframe. “String ‘im up boys.”

“Am I boys?” I said, taking off my wig. “Am I boys now?”

To be very clear, I know that you guys don’t need our dumb banter to understand what happened, but I’m including it anyways because for the first time in our lives a case was going smoothly, and I really need you all to know that.

“What do we do with it now?” I asked, watching as Julian hauled the creature up and started dragging it out of the bedroom.

“Well,” Julian wheezed, “we need to figure out what kind of intellect we’re dealing with here. If it’s an animal, we need to call the emporium. If it’s sentient we’ve got a different kind of problem.”

So I asked, “how do we decide if it’s sentient?”

And Neal rolled his eyes, “Shi can we handle the difficult existential questions until we’ve put this down please?”

“Okay, but like, it did knock on the door last night, so…”

They both stopped, goat man slumped between them.

“That’s a good point,” Neal admitted. “We probably won’t be bringing this to the emporium.”

“Chair then?” Julian said.

Neal strained. “Yeah.”

Which was why we were half way through tying the goat guy to a chair when his fur started falling out.

“What the fuck,” Neal said, fist full of gingery fur in his hand. There was a clunk as one of his hooves fell off and, horribly, toes began to sprout out of the end of his goaty leg.

We all sorta recoiled as the goat man’s horns fell off and rattled across the floor, his big, teeth drooled out of his mouth and dribbled down his rapidly shedding chest.

Sitting there was a scruffy naked ginger dude.

“Weregoat,” Neal observed.

“Weregoat,” Julian and I agreed.

We all just stood there gaping at him.

“What to do we do now?” I asked.

Neal spilled into giggling.

We didn’t have much time to brainstorm though because goat man was starting to wake up. He gargled unpleasantly for a moment, made a gross slurping noise and finally jerked awake.

He yelped. “What the fuck?” He looked up at us, and he began to strain against his bonds. “Who are you? What are you doing?”

Neal frowned. “We were gonna ask you the same thing.”

The goat man was starting to panic. “Where am I?” He made a sad, drooly, sob sound. “I don’t have anything, I don’t know what you want.”

Neal and Julian exchanged a glance, but I was leaning in for a closer look at this guy because he was looking pretty familiar.

“Are you… the guy from the museum?” I said.

“What?” he gasped. “No. What? The museum? Do you mean Marcus? That’s my brother.”

Neal let out a breath of air.

“You don’t remember what you’re doing here?”

“What do you mean?” he blubbered.

“Just answer the question,” Julian said, in his warmest tone. “Do you remember why you came here? Take your time, don’t lie to us.”

The goat man took a second, breathing hard. He said, “I was hungry. I’ve been sleep eating lately.”

Julian glanced at Neal.

“Well you’re not lying about that,” Neal admitted. “Have you noticed anything else weird lately? Lots of hair lingering around unexpectedly? Inexplicably carnivorous fangs showing up in your sheets?”

“What?” he said, but even I could see in his face that this was striking a nerve.

“Have you been losing any time lately?” Julian asked, so, so kindly. “Any stains you can’t explain around your house or on your clothes?”

His expression of open horror was confirmation enough.

“Can you tell me the story of the Granite Falls Devil?” Neal said and just like that, all the horror and recognition evaporated. The goat man scoffed.

“Is that what this is about? The Granite Falls Devil?” He began looking around very dramatically, like a mime. “Marcus? Where are you Marcus, this has gone far enough, don’t you think?”

“Marcus isn’t here,” Julian said. “And he’s not involved with this at all. You’re here because you tried to attack a young girl named Chelsea tonight, and we stopped you.”

When Julian said Chelsea, I saw some flicker of something in his eyes, some recognition and something inside me turned over.

Evidently Neal saw it, too, because he leaned closer. “You know that name, don’t you?” he said. “You know the girl.”

“Only a little,” he said — clearly Neal’s bad cop (excuse the idiom, ACAB forever) routine was doing it’s job. “I was her youth pastor.”

But look I was standing right there, whatever went through his face when he recognized her name was not youth pastor appropriate.

“You came here tonight to kill her,” Neal said.

Goat man spluttered. “What? No! I’d never! I’d never hurt Chelsea!”

And the way he said her name my guts shriveled up.

“No,” Neal agreed. “You won’t.” And the violence must have been implied because goat man started spluttering again.

“Please, I’m not— I’m not a monster — I don’t mean to — I was just so hungry, I didn’t know — I didn’t know any of it was real, I thought —“

“Neal,” Julian warned.

Neal looked deeply unsatisfied as he said, “Yep.”

“Is he lying?”

Neal curled his lip. “No. Kind of. Not on purpose.”

“I’m not lying,” goat man wailed. “Please, my name is Greg, I’m just a normal guy, none of this is my fault.”

The Hawthornes exchanged looks. Finally Neal groaned. “Fine,” he said.

“We’re gonna help you, Greg,” Julian said. “But the first thing you have to do is understand something, can you do that?”

Goat man sobbed. “Anything.”

“You have killed three people in the last few months,” Julian said, and there was no kindness in his voice now. I’ll never get over how well he can turn it on and off, like literally one minute he’s the most lovable gentle giant you’ve ever met, you’re safe and loved and relaxed, and the next moment you’re staring into the depths of the coldest, emptiest realm of hell.

He leaned down, got right in goat man’s face. There is no badder cop than Julian (except like, all real cops — ACAB) and the goat man buckled instantly. “Do you understand what I’m telling you? The goat man who brutally murdered and ate those people — that was you. You’re a monster.”

Goat man whimpered piteously, and I’ll tell ya: I felt for the guy. Like yeah, I know that mere minutes before, when he thought I was Chelsea, he was going to tear me limb from limb, but this pathetic crying naked dude was just sorta… pathetic.

But that’s okay, because according to Julian, we’re here to help.

We’re at his place right now. We cleaned up Chelsea’s house, locked it up, and brought poor Greg home.

“No offense,” Neal said. “But we’re pretty much going to keep an eye on you for a bit, alright?”

That was Monday night. This is Wednesday night. Since then we’ve pretty much just been on monster watch.

Greg doesn’t love it. He still hasn’t totally grasped that he’s the monster. Like, consciously, he gets it. But he starts getting grouchy when he isn’t allowed to do anything he wants. Like no, Greg, you can’t go to work. You’re the Granite Falls Devil.

We weren’t sure how goat man’s change worked, so we did some studying. Apparently sometimes shape shifters can change at will, sometimes they change in response to external factors, and sometimes to internal ones. In this case, it appears our goat man changes back and forth when he falls asleep.

We found that out Tuesday morning, after we’d all settled down to get some sleep at his perfectly adequate little apartment. It was a pretty sad little space, with it’s wall art that looked like it was all purchased from Ikea, but it was reasonably clean at least. Or it was clean before goat man fell asleep as man and woke up literally not ten minutes later, full goat and on a rampage.

We’ve made real progress since then. We’re not sure what’s driving goat man to want to eat Chelsea specifically, but we’re hoping that working on curbing his need to eat anyone at all will help. So far we’ve managed to keep him distracted with lots of raw hamburger.

It’s ugly, but effective.

The only hitch so far, is that Greg’s brother Marcus, who runs the Goat Man museum, came over unannounced yesterday morning. He found Greg in full Goat, battling at the chains we had installed in Greg’s bedroom.

He took the whole thing surprisingly well. Honestly I think he’s just excited he has incontrovertible evidence that he’s been right this whole time.

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