Free Falling
rating: +17+x

October 22nd

record scratch

freeze frame

"Sooooooo, yeah, you're probably wondering how I got here, huh?"

Alison Carol awoke, in freefall, to the sight of Robert Tofflemire playing with his phone. Above her, a distinctly unamused Ryan Melbourne was also falling, and let out a beleaguered sigh.

"You know how I know this job has jaded me, agent?" Melbourne asked, flipping through the Sloth's Pit tourism guide for the fifth time in the last three hours.

"How?"

"We're falling down a bottomless pit and the most remarkable thing about this is the fact that your partner is in good spirits."

"What am I, chopped liver?" Above them, the Goatman floated, falling at the same rate as them. He had been chewing on a tin can, eating all of the glue from the label.

"Okay, yes, you're a bit odd."

"Thank you." The Goatman tumbled in midair, trying to keep itself amused.

Alison stared at Robert. "…does your phone's soundboard seriously have a sound effect that just says 'freeze frame'?"

"I'm just trying to protect myself from existential dread." Robert frowned at his phone. "No service. Just like last time. And my battery's dyin' fast."

Alison Carol looked up at the starry sky above. Her watch read 2:00 in the afternoon. "Well, here we are. Again."

"If it's anything like last time, we're probably not gonna die when we hit the bottom!" Robert beamed. "And I've got rations."

"So we can die while eating the modern-day equivalent of hardtack. Fantastic."

Alice adjusted her angle of falling to come up closer to Melbourne. "His definition of rations is normal Foundation rations… and s'mores ingredients."

The Goatman's ears perked at the sound of 's'mores', and he looked at Robert, spitting out the can. "Hershey's?"

"And Jet-Puffed Marshmallows."

The Goatman grabbed the can and chewed on it. "All right, you're not half-bad, Plastic Person."

Melbourne stared at this exchange. "He… was stationed at Site-19 before this, yes?"

"Yep."

"The Site-19 that's known for having insane researchers run around its halls."

"That's the one." She clicked her tongue.

"That… explains far too much, and yet so little."

The four of them continued to fall, contemplating what the hell had transpired…


Three Hours Ago

Katherine Sinclair waved her narrative detector over the mess of dead vines, stamping out what looked like a juvenile pumpkin bud. All around her, the Narrative readings were low— near zero. She grinned. "I was right. Narratively dead."

"Makes sense." Seren Pryce came up beside her. "I mean, we burned this thing to the ground last year. Story here ended with the Black Autumn."

Around them stood the charred ruins of the Douglas County Fairgrounds— what was once Zone-SCP-097. One year ago, Katherine Sinclair and all of Squad-25 had burned Mavra Isimeria, the Black Equinox, to death here. In the distance, she could see the remains of a truck that a massive pumpkin had once rested on. Now, all that was there was the smell of charred air, and some signs of plant life— pumpkin vines were hardy, here.

"Burn them," Sinclair ordered, looking at a mass of green vines. "We'll set up base in the animal barns."

Technically, both Sinclair and Melbourne were the same rank— acting directors of Site-87, now that the whole staff was missing. Ryan was helping the last transport from the Site load up.

"Soooo, let me get this straight." Raymond February came up next to Sinclair. "Because this place has no Narrative, you think the Pit Sloth can't come in here?"

"It's the best theory I have." Sinclair admitted. "87's been compromised to hell and back— there's no telling if those things are going to reappear in the site, or how angry they're going to be when they do."

"So if the Pit Sloth comes here, it'll either be unable to enter, or it won't exist at all because there's no Narrative here?" February rubbed his head. "I think? I don't get this sh— stuff at all."

"Yes, but this is only a temporary measure." Sinclair looked at the twitching needle on her detector. "Just by being here, we're increasing Narrative levels. Observation effect, like with electrons."

Near the entrance to the fairgrounds, a truck belonging to the Normal Trucking Company pulled up. Robert Tofflemire exited the cab, letting Alison Carol and Ryan Melbourne out of the back; the latter was bearing a backpack that looked far too heavy for his frame.

"What's he got in there?" Pryce looked over at the trio as Robert helped steady the backpack, and the two of them guided Melbourne into the former Foundation infrastructure of the zone, mostly crushed by a fallen Ferris wheel.


"I can't…" Carol panted, "Believe… you took an entire server!"

"It'd take a day to set up Wi-fi, and another week to interface with Site-87's servers remotely." Melbourne opened his laptop. "You should be more physically fit than this, agent."

"Keep in mind:" Alison pointed to herself. "Coma patient! For half a month!"

"And that's after the algae-bearing slow-ass mother scooped out some of her brain," Robert quipped.

"Erasing memories and scooping out brains isn't the same—"

"Well, your head sounds pretty hollow to me!" Tofflemire playfully knocked on Carol's skull with his knuckle. "Anyone home, McFly?"

Alice stifled a laugh and brushed his arm away. "Tofflemire, save the references movie night."

Ryan coughed and rolled his eyes. "If the children would leave the room…"

"Give us a break. It's been a long month." Tofflemire stretched. "This is the first time we've really been able to banter at each other."

Another roll of the eyes. Ryan clicked through files on the server. "How may are left manning the site, again?"

"Skeleton crew, about fifty. Enough to feed and contain the anomalies, and keep the power on."

"Hmm." Ryan opened a particular file, and turned it towards the two of them. "We're going here."

The agents' eyes widened as they read the name of the file. SCP-4040.

"The pit." Alice rubbed her face. "You want us to go to the pit? Why?"

"I read over the file a few months back— I'm technically part of the pataphysics department."

"You?" Robert's tone was incredulous.

"All of memetics is. Memetology formed the basis for early pataphsyics— reality is conveyed through the information we perceive, after all." He cracked his knuckles. "This thing dragged you down into the pit, and you're recorded as meeting an entity resembling town founder Jackson Sloth down there. I figure if we can find this being and talk to him, we can figure out a way to solve this crisis."

"No offense, but…" Alice scratched the back of her head. "Nobody has ever found the Pit twice. It doesn't seem to have a concrete location. I don't think we can help you find it."

Melbourne turned to look at Tofflremire. "From what I understand… Robert has access to a tour guide."

Alison looked incredulously at Robert, who rolled his shoulders with a sigh. "We have a meeting place," he admitted.


Baby Bone Wood was named for the Baby Bone Bridge, which stood over a long-dry riverbed; a small earthquake in the 1920s had diverted its flow about a mile south. Now, the bridge overlooked dead leaves, dry soil, and a series of iron nails sticking from the ground.

In the tourist books, it was described as a "Crybaby Bridge", as one could supposedly hear the crying of children emanating from it at night. But that was more likely a certain being who lived under it, one that Robert was trying to lure out using a stick, fishing wire, and a tin can.

"That's just juvenile," Ryan frowned.

"It's our signal. He suggested it, not me." Robert swung the can around. "Goats love this stuff."

"They eat the glue from the label." Alice adjusted her under-arm holster. "Not the tin itself."

"…isn't glue an animal product?" Ryan frowned. "Does that make goats carnivorous?"

"Yes," a voice boomed from behind Melbourne, "And you're lookin' mighty tasty right now."

"JesusfuckingChristeatingsoup!" Ryan jumped and nearly fell off the bridge, only for Alison to catch him and pull him back up.

"That's a new one." The chuckling, eight-foot-tall, winged form of the Goatman helped Melbourne to his feet. "Usually it's just a scream or an 'oh god no'."

Robert threw the Goatman the can. "We need to find the Pit."

"That's going to be complicated." The Goatman started eating the label from the can of peas. "You two have already found it once, and for people who are… well, who are real, it's supposed to be a one-and-done. A story you spread around, but something you can never find again."

"But you can find it." Alison crossed her arms. "You want this thing gone as badly as we do."

The Goatman stopped chewing. "Quiet. Do you hear that?"

All of them stood still. The hairs on Alice and Bob stood on end as they realized that there was a rhyme echoing through the woods.

The hole is real, and wider it grows
Autumn is real, and soon come the snows.
The story is real, it comes in the night…
The Pit Sloth is real, and he'll snuff out your light!

"Jesus," Melbourne swallowed. "That—"

"That's coming from the Pit," The Goatman confirmed. "It's been getting louder over the past few days. And the Pit… it's changing. It's gotten bigger."

"How much bigger?" Alison swallowed.

"Twenty, twenty-five feet. And… there's something else." The Goatman leaned in closer. "Screams. Hundreds of them. People calling for help. Like they're in pain."

"Hundreds…" Robert's eyes widened. "That… that may be where they took everyone."

"So the Pit's filled with Plastic People." The Goatman rubbed his snout. "Wonderful."

"Think about it this way," Melbourne offered. "If they're all in there, we can't ever find it again."

"Hmm." The Goatman frowned. "There… might be a way I can get you there. It involves a full moon and an old carriage path that's hidden beneath the undergrowth."

Robert took out his phone. A quick Google search later, he asked, "It's the very end of the Waxing Gibbous tonight. That full enough?"

"Worth a shot." The Goatman turned and beckoned with a pair of fingers, walking off. "Follow me."


They walked through the woods, and Robert looked overhead. Sharing the sky with the soon-to-be setting sun was Earth's sole natural satellite— a big grey hunk of rock that a dozen people had walked on.

"You know, I've seen it happen for years, but I'll never get used to it."

"What?" Alice looked at Robert oddly.

"The moon being in the sky during the day. You never read about it in books, see it on TV… it kind of makes you anxious."

"It's a contradiction." The Goatman stopped in the middle of what seemed to be an artificial clearing. Trees on either side were standing tall, but there was a void left where dozens, if not hundreds, should be, straight through the forest. "You can't see the sun during the night, so you think you shouldn't be able to see the moon during the day. But science has other plans." He pointed at the nearly-full moon hanging overhead. "Thankfully, it works for us."

"How so?" Ryan Melbourne had lagged behind, and had just caught up.

"This is the first road in Sloth's Pit. If you follow it under the light of a full moon after saying what your destination is, you'll end up there in ten minutes— provided it's somewhere in the county."

"What if I wanted to go to Milwaukee?" Robert asked.

Melbourne raised an eyebrow. "Why would you ever want to go to Milwaukee?"

"Good point." Robert stepped on the path. "Okay. Do I need to say an address, or…?"

"Just the place."

"Okay." Robert made a 'hoo' sound, and said, "The former location of Jackson Sloth's manor."

He expected a rush of wind, a soft tinkle of wind chimes, or even the sound of drums. Instead, there was a simple urge in his body: to walk. "I think it worked."

"Yeah, I'm feeling it too." Alice strode in front of him. "Come on."

"So, how's this work?" Melbourne asked as the Goatman began walking beside him. "Some kind of slow thaumic teleporter?"

"It just… works. Not everything has to have an explanation."

"'It just works' is an internet meme, not an actual scientific reason." Melbourne crossed his arms. "Why can't we ever get a straight answer from you lot?"

"You want to explain the whole universe." The Goatman shook his head. "Not everything has an explanation because not everything should be explained. Some things are best left as mysteries, because then, you can keep questioning them."

Ryan chewed on his thought as they kept moving. The sound of the rhyming grew louder the farther they walked.


They had been walking for nine and a half minutes when Robert realized three things: firstly, that the front doorstep of the bottomless pit was up ahead. Secondly, the sign he had written — "Bottomless Pit and toplessfree dancers" — was still there, much to his joy, and Alice's chagrin. Thirdly, the pit was silent, and the rhyme was originating from several hundred meters behind them.

The rest of them must have realized that last fact as well. They all turned, and all saw a massive pair of arms, with five claws on each, emerging from a bottomless pit that hung in mid-air. The claws seemed to be dragging the hole closer to them. Noise was coming from it— if it was a rhyme, then they couldn't figure out what it was saying.

Alice raised her pistol, but the Goatman put her hand down. "Do you really think that's going to work?"

"Kind of my best option here!" Alison shot six rounds at the beast— the range wasn't ideal, but she knew at least one of them hit.

The problem was, it circled back around and hit her. Alison felt the bullet impact in her back, and fell to to the ground, thankful she was wearing a vest.

"Alice!" Robert tried helping her to her feet, looking between it, and the pit. "Which is worse, falling into a bottomless pit, or getting eaten by that thing?"

"You can't be serious!" Melbourne gawped.

"It's not bottomless. Not entirely."

"And I managed to climb back out." The Goatman grabbed Melbourne. "Ever been sky-diving?"

"No!"

"Me neither, but same principle!"

Robert and Alice fell back into the pit together. Reluctantly, Ryan Melbourne was dragged in after.


Currently

Melbourne groaned. "I never thought falling down a bottomless pit to our deaths could be boring!"

"You're the one who didn't want to tell stories." Robert, by this point, had started eating some of his standard-issue rations. Alison threw him up some of her sauce, and Robert, in turn, passed a water bottle up to Ryan. "My phone's dead. Anyone got the time?"

Alison opened her phone, eyes wide. "…it's 9:30 AM. On October 23rd."

"What?" Robert looked up. "We've been falling for almost a day?"

"I don't even think we're falling at this point." The Goatman looked down. "We're just suspended in mid-air over—"

With a loud whump, the ground came up to meet them. It was earth, damp, and covered in leaves. Ryan was hit on the head by a falling water bottle, and Alice had to shield herself from falling crumbs. Robert just let out a groan of pain. "Anyone dead?"

"No," Ryan grunted, "But I feel like I got hit by a car."

Alice looked at her phone, turning off the stop watch app. "Okay, so… accounting for time being weird down here, we've been falling for… about ten hours. At terminal velocity, (53 meters-per-second), that mean's we've fallen…"

"Around 2000 kilometers? Math's not my thing."

"Thanks."

It took Alice several seconds to realize that none of those in the group had replied to her. She took out her flashlight, and scanned it around the room, her eyes widening as she met the gaze of a very thin, very harried-looking Christopher Hastings— aka the Action Botanist of Site-87. He was surrounded by several energy bar wrappers.

"Holy shit." She ran to him. "Hastings!"

"Damn." Robert ran towards the researcher, with Melbourne following after. "That really you?"

"I hope so." Hastings groaned. "Otherwise, I've been looting bodies for nothing."

"Whose bodies?" Melbourne asked.

Hastings pointed upwards, at the walls of the pit. Alice's flashlight pointed up, and she let out a gasp.

The walls of the pit were lined with the personnel of Site-87, seemingly woven into the wall by roots. She couldn't tell if they were breathing or not. Several of the lower cocoons were slashed open, revealing legs with ripped pockets.

"Partridge's emergency water bottles have been keeping me alive for the last week," Hastings explained, taking a sip from it. "Man never goes anywhere without them."

"Are they dead?" Robert asked.

"Don't know. They might be, if you try to take them down from that height."

Alice looked at Melbourne. "Anyone in memetics a rock climber?"

"Uh… I think that Dr. Reinhertz summitted Kilimanjaro once…"

"Help me find him." Alison removed her pack, and from it, several pitons and some rope. "This just became a rescue mission."

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