Let me just paint you a word picture.
It’s a totally normal afternoon in a small, muddy town in February, and a creature called a bone snake has decided it’s time to devour the contents of the local middle school.
Not ideal, but we can work with it.
Our job is to find the bone snake before it can get to it’s devouring. Which is easier said than done, because it’s not like we knew off the bat that it had settled on the middle school, and as Julian explained, “bone snakes are very adaptable, so it could honestly be anywhere.”
So I asked, “So how do we find it?”
“They generally go places with lots of chaos,” Neal said. “Lots of scattered emotions means there are likely lots of people, and they’re likely pretty easily distractable. Gives them more opportunity to use their psychic push to bring in prey.”
Which explains why one of these things would pick a middle school. Still, how the fuck do we find it?
“You tell us,” Julian said with a smile. “What would you do?”
But I do actually sort of know the answer.
“Interview witnesses,” I said. “Check out relevant sites. Look at town maps for likely hiding spots.”
“Atta girl,” Neal said. “But don’t forget.” He tossed me his phone. “Police scanner app. Bone snakes are infamously not shy, and we’re getting to this case pretty late, so if we really want to find this thing, the cops are likely gonna be the first to know where he is, and we do NOT want them to be the ones to find it.”
We were half way through talking to our first witness — a man who’d seen it in the woods while walking his dog — when a middle school teacher called the police.
The Hawthornes were cosplaying (lol) forest service and I was in the car listening to the scanner, so it fell to me to get their attention. At first I wasn’t entirely certain that what I was hearing was the creature, because of all the noise (which probably should have been all the indication I needed come to think of it) but when I finally figured out that this poor dispatcher was trying to explain that there’s a feathery dragon flying around the school trying to eat people, I pretty much fell out of the car trying to get the boys’ attention.
Cut to ten minutes later and we’re pulling into the parking lot, tires screeching, leaving the car running in our haste to get into the school.
Chaos, absolute chaos. A flood of children running around, all screaming, teachers either terrified, or totally baffled, trying to direct traffic, and in the distance — yep, there were the gunshots. And then, over the gunshots, a SCREAM that absolutely ripped the air apart.
Everyone collapsed, including myself. Turns out when a semi-psychic creature screams, it screams inside your head, too.
I should probably mention that I had been briefed by this point, hahaha, like we didn’t run in there with our brains on a platter, but still, I promise, I PROMISE, you’re not prepared for a psychic attack until you’re actually under psychic attack.
Even Neal had to take a second to focus before he was able to help me.
“Look at me,” he said. “It’s in your head, what do you do?”
Great question, Neal.
Here’s the (theoretical) answer:
In an ideal world, I would have been practicing some level of order in my poor brain for the last ten years like Neal and Julian have, but I haven’t been lmfao, obviously, my brain is like a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic nightmare at any given time. But luckily there’s another solution.
And no, it’s not, imagine a brick wall in your head as hard as you can. Brick walls aren’t interesting enough for a human brain to focus on completely for any length of time. Like, try it right now. How long can you think EXCLUSIVELY about a brick wall. Like completely without distraction. For me its about 3 seconds before I’m bored, thinking about bashing my head into the brick wall, and bingo bongo, come on in spooky bone snake.
You know what CAN keep hold of your brain in an emergency?
For me, in this specific case, it was The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy, but any song will do.
“You got it?” Neal asked, reaching to check that my earbuds were good to go. “You’re okay?” I gave him the thumbs up and I listened to Thin Lizzy harder than any idiot has ever listened to Thin Lizzy in their life.
“Don’t think,” Neal shouted at me, which shouldn’t be a problem for me, and we booked it down the hall towards the screaming.
To be clear here: music is not a bullet proof method, but according to the Hawthornes, bone snakes aren’t particularly powerful psychics. They can scream in your head, they can suggest things, whisper abstract temptations, but they can’t like, take control of your brain. Mostly they just nudge your little mind, and if you don’t know to be careful, you might just do what they want.
Which was why I was able to listen to music and run through the school at the same time rather than having to literally sit there, pouring my whole soul and attention into this town that the boys are back in.
The bone snake was in a classroom. The children were cowering against a wall, the cops had collapsed on the floor and were wailing in pain and creature itself was dragging itself, partially on and partially falling off of the desks. It was big, probably 8 feet long, long and slender with four bird-ish legs and claws, a long sleek body covered in glossy black feathers, and a white bone face with no discernible eyes in the sockets, just pinpoints of green light.
It was bleeding from a bullet wound in it’s back flank.
“Shiloh keep focusing on that song,” Neal shouted at me over the music, because I could sort of feel that creature’s pain. I don’t know whether it was doing it on purpose, or if it just couldn’t help itself, but I could feel its agony as if through a fog.
Neal took a few steps forward, speaking softly. The bone snake snapped it’s white bony skull at him, but not close enough to actually crunch him.
Julian got to work shepherding the children, and then when they were on their way out into the hallway, the police as well, and everything might have gone just fine, except that at the last second a stray 6th grader suddenly got a funky look on his face, turned around on his heel and started walking straight back towards the beast and if it hadn’t been for Julian’s shouting, Neal might not have been able to intervene in time.
But he did intervene in time. He shoved that kid aside, flung his whole body weight on the creature and gripped its bony jaws shut, injected it with tranquilizer right behind it’s skull and held it still while the great thing struggled, wavered, got loopy, and finally collapsed on the desks, those bright green lights in the eye sockets of the skull going out.
So we still might have gotten out of there scott free, except who should come busting into the room, guns drawn, just in time to see Neal fling himself between the 12 year old and the gigantic bone-faced dragon?
Agents Steva and Mulligan.
Bet you forgot about them. I sorta did.
Yeah well, when they came in with guns I got REALLY freaked out and panic jumped between them, screaming at the top of my lungs — my music was really loud, remember — don’t shoot don’t shoot them.
Everything got reallllyyy still.
“We’re good,” Neal said. “He’s out.”
Julian knelt to help the terrified kid who almost got himself cronched, and Steva swung her gun towards him.
“Don’t touch the kid!” she shouted. Julian barely flinched.
“You go ahead and get out of here, alright,” he said to the 6th grader, and then louder to Steva: “you keep that pointed at me, alright, he’s gonna go ahead and get out of here.”
“Yeah lets try not to shoot the kids this time, shall we?” Neal said.
“Don’t move!” Mulligan barked.
Neal turned, leaned back against the snake, crossed his arms, and just sorta smirked at them, at which point I would have totally understood if they went ahead and shot him hahahaha.
“If you don’t let me work, this guy is going to bleed out, and I’d really prefer he didn’t,” and when neither of them moved or spoke, he added, “okay, I’m gonna go ahead and just do it. If you wanna shoot me, go ahead.”
“Don’t!” I screamed at them, chest heaving and maybe a little hysterical. We all know I have some lingering trauma where the FBI is concerned hahaha.
“Shiloh,” Julian said, slowly coming and putting his hands on my shoulders. “They’re not gonna shoot us. They saw us saving those kids. They’re certainly not going to shoot you a second time.”
“Step away from the girl,” Steva said. “Shiloh, you’re safe now, come on over here.”
“Last I checked, the only people in this room that have ever killed me are you,” I said, still breathless and standing like a starfish.
“That was an accident,” Mulligan said.
“Great,” Neal said. “Then put the guns away. Julian I’m gonna need help, he’s really bleeding.”
“Go on, Shiloh,” Julian said. So I turned back to help Neal shakily lift the bone snake so Neal could get a better look at it’s wounded side.
“What is that thing?” Mulligan asked, barely containing what was OBVIOUSLY breathless curiosity.
“We call them bone snakes,” Julian replied. “They’re moderately common, something we’ve handled once or twice before. On their own they’re nothing to scoff at, but handleable. They can become much more dangerous when they team up with a warlock, so we’re lucky we found this one so quickly.”
“Bullet went all the way through,” Neal said. “I think this is something we can handle ourselves for now.”
“For now?” Mulligan asked. He was breathless. “What will you do… for longer?” He was having a whole mind explode excited moment, but I didn’t have time for that because the bone snakes eye sockets were starting to glow.
“Uh, Neal?” I said.
“What’s up?” he asked, turning. Then he saw the lights and started cursing. “Shiloh music, Julian —” but that’s as far as he got before the snake lurched himself, still bleeding, off the table, and crashed through the window.
To their credit, the FBI didn’t start shooting for once in their god damned lives.
“What just happened?” Steva gasped.
“It woke up,” Neal snapped at her. “What the fuck do you think happened, jesus.”
“We can’t let you go,” Steva said.
Neal whirled on her, frustrated. “That thing is hurt and starving,” he snapped. “We need to lock him down now before he hurts anyone or himself. Anyone he hurts is on our consciouses, but by all means, we can explain everything now. Your call.”
“You’re… hunting creatures,” Mulligan realized.
“Oh no, he gets it,” Neal said, and then we followed the bone snake out the window.
“Wait!” Mulligan shouted, following us. “Is that what you’ve been doing all along?” And when none of us felt any need to dignify that with a response, he added, “What’s your relationship to a woman named Lana Sorley?”
“Strained at best,” Neal grumbled, kneeling to look at a splash of the bone snake’s blood. He squinted ahead, looking for the creature.
I happened to glance back at Mulligan in time to see the absolute astonishment all over his face. He seriously looked like we’d punched him in the stomach, but we didn’t have time for that. That poor bone snake was going to kill someone or die of blood loss if we didn’t find it, and we didn’t have time to handhold the FBI. We didn’t even have time to appropriately shoo them off.
The bone snake seemed to be heading out to the brushy little forest behind the school. I could hear what sounded like a creek out there. Birds suddenly rushed up from the underbrush in every direction.
“All of this is real,” Mulligan realized as the birds scattered. “I was right.”
“Hang on,” Steva said, to him, not to us. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Mulligan let out a groan of frustration. “What more evidence do you need? We saw the creature! With our own eyes!”
“We have no idea what that was,” Steva said.
“You have no idea what that thing was,” I corrected, sulkily.
“I have been studying unexplained occurrences with the FBI almost exclusively for years,” Mulligan said. “I have research that curled the FBIs toes, trying to prove that the paranormal exists, I have been laughed out of universities, and roadblocked by our government at every turn searching for proof of a — of a supernatural reality. The world deserves to know the truth.”
Which was just about enough out of Agent Mulligan as far as I was concerned.
“Okay Mr. Nobility,” I said. “And you’ve been chasing me all over the country, for what reason exactly? Public health?”
Agent Mulligan stumbled. “Something incredible happened to you,” he said. “And within 24 hours you disappeared. That couldn’t have been a coincidence. I was trying to save you.”
“Something incredible happened to me?” I repeated, and oooo folks, I was so mad. I was seeing absolute red. Some sleepy creature in my gut was opening it’s eyes and getting ready for war. “YOU SHOT ME IN THE FACE.”
“And you came back to life!” he cried. “And then you were taken by these lawless strangers — you needed our help!”
“What would you have done with her,” Julian said. “If we’d left her?”
Mulligan hesitated. “Nothing,” he said.
“But you’d have put the events in your report,” Neal said, squatting to test whether the wetness on a leaf was blood or rainwater. “Told the federal government that you shot a girl and she miraculously healed within moments.”
“Well —” Mulligan spluttered. “Of course. She was dead, and then she came back, totally healed. Of course… it’s a miracle, how could I not —”
“And what would have happened to me?” I demanded, an entire tempest of rage swirling inside me.
“We might have taken some samples,” Mulligan admitted. “But nothing too invasive, I would never let the government —”
“You are the government!” I said. “Nothing too invasive?? You’ve chased me across the country for an entire year! You told the whole world we were cannibals!”
Mulligan stood there blinking and spluttering. “No,” he said shaking his head. “The government is covering up real, solid knowledge of supernatural events, I’m just trying to find the truth.”
I was so mad. Fuck you Agent Mulligan and fuck your crusade.
“Fine,” I said. “You want the truth? You’re a murderer. You killed me, and that wasn’t enough for you. I spent this whole year, alone, isolated from my family, because I knew that if I called them you’d have used them to track me down. Wouldn’t you!”
Steva and Mulligan exchanged a glance, and I knew I was right, that we’d been right all along.
“Shiloh, we thought you’d been taken,” Steva said. “There is no concrete information about who these men are. We thought you needed our help.”
“So you told the whole world I was a cannibal?” I shrieked. “What do you think the US military would do with a girl who could get shot in the face and come out unscathed?”
They both stared at me, blinking and dumb.
“The truth is I’ve spent a full year tracking dangerous magical creatures all over the country, but the only monster that keeps me up at night is you.”
Which is for sure a dramatized version of events, like Mulligan is not the reason I’m having nightmares about that night hahahahaha but man — MAN in felt good hahahahaha.
“Shit,” Neal said, apparently entirely ignoring my entire mic-drop moment. “This is going to take some doing, I don’t know where he went. He’s probably using his juice to distract us.” He glanced at Julian. “You good?”
“I’m fine,” he said.
“Good,” Neal said, and for a second I thought he hadn’t been listening to me and was feeling a little betrayed. But then he turned on Agent Mulligan and I saw the d a n g e r on his face. “I’m going to spend the next several days trying to wrangle an injured, terrified, dangerous creature before it can hurt anyone else. Do you have anything to contribute?”
Agent Mulligan just stared at us, speechless.
“No,” Agent Steva said for him.
“Then I think Shiloh’s made our opinion of your crusade fairly clear Agent Mulligan. I believe you have a report to write.”
Ah, my little singing heart.
One thing I will say is nice though — with the FBI in town, we were able to pretty much tell the whole town to stay in their houses until this “wild animal” situation is resolved, so the only thing in any danger is the wounded bone snake.