December 24th, 2015
Christmas in Sloth's Pit had always been chaotic, but this was something different. It was bound to happen eventually; the lunar cycles had aligned in such a way that the night of the Full Moon was going to be on Christmas. Well, Christmas Eve, but still.
Site-87 had closely monitored the werewolf population for years; in charge of this program was the head of the Department of Anomalous Diseases and Medicine, Virginia Bering. She should have been spending her morning getting coffee, or wrapping presents for her niece, or watching the Christmas Special marathon on ABC. But instead, she was driving herself around town, house-to-house, in order to monitor cases of lycanthropy.
"Who's first?" She asked, brushing some blonde hair out of her face. She was driving an armored sedan, and the person she was talking to was in the back seat, reading over a list of names.
Dr. Jason Hendricks of the cryptozoology department rubbed his trout-shaped birthmark and looked at the list. "Harold Albany, of 10 Maple. He's a lawyer, wife, kid, both of whom are aware of his condition. Careful with him; he's been somewhat negligent on medications."
"What class of lycanthropy?"
"Class… 3. Involuntary, semi-sapient. Knows enough not to eat anything close to him…"
"But the neighbor's dog is fair game. Could be worse," she said.
"Yeah, I don't think there's been a Class-5 in town since the 80's." He thumbed at the report. "I heard it was a shit show."
"That doesn't even begin to describe it," Bering snorted. "You ever wonder why Clark Avenue doesn't have any houses on it?"
He looked up from the tablet where the list was being shown. "…you're not telling me a werewolf tore down all the houses on Clark Avenue."
"I'm not saying any such thing. I'm saying that we had to tear down all the houses on Clark Avenue after it managed to spread its infection to every house on that block."
"…I thought only bites were infectious," Hendricks frowned.
"That's what they all think. Bites are infectious in Class 2s, 3s, and 4s; in a Class 5, any part of its body can carry the infection. Plus, you have to kill every single bit of a Class 5. Leave a single bit of fur, a single claw, anything un-destroyed, and it will grow back come the next full moon, and it will be angry." She looked back at him. "You're from Cleveland, right, Hendricks?"
"Yes," Hendricks licked his lips; it was dry in here. He needed water, or coffee, or something. "Started work at the Foundation at Site-99 in Chagrin Falls, actually. Why?"
"Cleveland had to deal with three Class-5s during the 1980s. It's a miracle half the city wasn't torn to pieces."
"Christ," he said, looking out the window as they turned onto Maple Street. "First I've heard of it."
"This is our stop," Bering said as the car pulled in front of a large, white house with a snow-covered front porch. On it, a man wearing a purple parka was in the process of clearing it off. Virginia killed the engine and stepped outside. "Mr. Albany?"
"Hmm?" the man looked up at Bering, who flinched backwards; there were the eyes of a beast peeking out from behind his glasses, yellow, wild, looking like it would snap. "Whaddaya want?"
"Mr. Albany, I'm Dr. Virginia Bering from S & C Plastics," she said. "I'm here to make sure everything's all right. The full moon is tonight, and—"
"Oh for god's sake," he said, exasperated. "Do you have to see me take my medication? Every month I get this talk. I forgot to take them once and now I have you bastards knocking on my door every month. Can't I live in peace?"
"Sir, as part of our agreement with the town's government, we're required to check on all citizens afflicted with anomalous diseases such as lycanthropy and Stevenson Syndrome-"
"Well I'm taking my gat-damn medication. I take it every night, and a double dose on the full fucking moon." He pulled aside his parka slightly, and revealed a metal collar around his neck; it was unobtrusive, close to the skin, but it helped to wear a turtleneck over it. "I've had this on since last night."
"Hmm," Bering mused, taking out her phone and coming up to the collar, running a sensor in her phone over it. "Suppression collar is working. That's good. Sorry for disturbing you."
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled. "And while you're out there, ask the county what the hell's up with the salt trucks."
"Salt trucks?" Virginia frowned, looking at the street; it was imperceptible in the car, which had state-of-the-art snow tires on it, but the street was icy. "That's weird. I'll have someone call the offices in Superior."
Mr. Albany went back to clearing off his porch, and Hendricks and Bering crawled back into the car. "Now that he mentions it," Hendricks frowned, "I haven't seen a salt truck all week."
"Maybe they ran out of salt?" she shrugged. "Plus, it's not exactly a priority at the moment; schools are closed for winter break, and most businesses are going to close for the holiday."
"They have to pass through Baby Bone Wood, yeah? Maybe the Goatman finally got sick of them waking him up?"
"I'll have someone at the site call the county seat and see about it. For now… we have work to finish."
"Two triple espresso hot chocolates, one with non-dairy whipped cream and cinnamon, the other with extra cream and chocolate snowflakes." The barista, a bald, broad man named Rudy, smiled as he handed the doctors their drinks. "Enjoy, guys."
"Thanks, Rudy," Hendricks nodded, before taking a sip at his drink. The two of them had elected to take a break after getting about halfway through the list. "We're making good time," he mused, wiping cinnamon off his face. "At this rate, we should be done by 5:00. Plenty of time for the party."
"I'm reluctant to break," Virginia replied, sipping at her own drink, "but damn if this isn't good. Who's next on the list?"
"Um," Hendricks looked down the list. "Let's see… Ah! Ian Kramer, lives in the Crystal Lake apartment complex. He's a highway worker, moonlights as a Santa for Christmas parties in town. He works as a… salt truck driver." He frowned, then put his face in his hands. "Oh fuck me no."
"…maybe it's coincidence this time?" Bering put on a forced hopeful smile. "I mean, there are plenty of salt truck drivers in town."
"With all due respect, Dr. Bering," Hendricks sighed, "You've been assigned to this town for half a decade longer than me. We both know that coincidences do not exist within city limits."
"Well, shit," she downed the rest of her drink, not caring that it was scalding her throat. She gasped, and with a hoarse voice, asked, "Does it say where his last known whereabouts were?"
"No, it doesn't list that. Guess we should check where he works, which is…" He tapped the listing on the tablet. "Which is the Highway office on Bray Road; it's at the north of town, around where you get on the road to Duluth. Come on." He stood up.
"…Killer Christmas trees one year, werewolf Santas the next," Virginia sighed. "God, at least 2016 can't be any worse."
They didn't even have to make it to the highway department before they saw the wreck.
The salt truck was barely visible from the road, but Hendricks managed to spot it, just a bit of red cresting over the snow-covered ditch. It looked like it had run off the road and into the frozen-over river; thankfully, it was downstream from the reservoir, and none of the salt seemed to have leaked.
Dr. Bering called in the crash, and came over to inspect the wreck. "All right, he's a registered lycanthrope," she frowned. "Why the hell was he driving the night before a full moon? He should know better than to operate machinery during then."
"Maybe he missed his medication?" Hendricks shrugged and started down into the ditch, thankful for his winter wear. "God knows monkshood isn't easy to find in America." He creeped towards the cabin of the vehicle, and cringed. "Yup."
"That's a body, all right. Looks like it's stuck between human and… well, y'know. Christ," he stood up and looked at Bering. "The steering column is through its chest. And… come down here."
"One second." Virginia carefully made her way down the slope, and met up with Hendricks; sure enough, inside the cabin was the crumpled, broken form of a werewolf, clad in a Santa hat, a fake beard, and a red coat. "Holy shit."
"He must've gotten onto work from his gig, poor guy," Hendricks sighed. "Man. Werewolf Santa. That'd be one for the archives."
"I'm sure Pickman will find some way to embellish this regardless. He have any next of kin?"
Hendricks looked through Mr. Kramer's details on his phone, finding the section on relations. "Um, no. He has an ex-wife, and that's it."
"All the better, I guess." She started back up the slope, digging her feet and and shifting her weight so that it was harder for her to fall down.
Hendricks backed away, and began following her. "Still, it'll be fascinating to dissect him. The transformation was stopped so suddenly that it didn't have time to switch back to a human upon death."
Dr. Bering's eyebrows met her hairline. "You know, Jason, it baffles me how you're terrified of insects, yet can stomach the thought of dissecting a werewolf."
"Werewolves can't crawl up your nose and suck out your brain."
Virginia thought about this statement, trying to think of a rebuttal, before deciding, "I… can't argue with that."
Within five minutes, Foundation containment forces had arrived with an industrial tow truck and ice breakers. Among them was one Agent Nicholas Ewell, who was wearing a Santa hat underneath his helmet, which was emblazoned with Σ10— The Sloths' Arm. The cuff of the hat was visible, and drew odd looks from both Hendricks and Bering. "What?" he asked. "Can't I have a bit of the holiday spirit, too?"
"Just wondering why you're wearing it under the helmet," Bering said. "Anyway. Think you can handle this? We still have to finish our rounds. Who's next, Hendricks?"
"Uh…" he looked at the document. "Jacob Loman. 20 Elm Street, Class-2. After that, there's six more."
"Huh," Virginia said as the crews started pulling the truck out of the ditch; she saw that there was a lot of blood coming from the cabin, and a long, hairy arm was hanging out of it. "Hell of a way to go."
"We'll put it through processing and have it in one of your labs by tonight, Dr. Bering." Ewell rolled his shoulders. "You doing anything for Christmas?"
"I'm probably going to be out of town visiting my niece," Bering replied. "Assuming nothing comes up, I'll be out of here in the morning."
"I'll be doing the usual myself," Ewell said. "Doing the whole Christmas Party thing, trying to make sure the site doesn't turn into a shit-show like last year; we're still finding mistletoe and myrrh in the air ducts. Pear Tree won't stop giving us grief about it."
"Are we still going to call poor Dr. Partridge that? It's been a year, for god's sake, and the man's sick." Hendricks crossed his arms. "He's still going to the infirmary because he pisses pear juice."
"Sorry," Ewell mumbled, holding up his hands. "It's just become automatic. Though, people don't call you Flyswatter anymore…"
Hendricks glowered at him, and stomped back to the sedan.
Ewell turned to look at Dr. Bering. "Still a sore spot?"
"Some anonymous asshole gave him a giant can of RAID for his birthday. So, yeah." She pursed her lips and made her way back to the car.
"That's all of them accounted for, finally," Hendricks said, eye twitching as he closed the list. "…Dr. Bering? Are Class-1s usually that… friendly… when they've shifted?"
"I don't know, and I don't want to know," she said, brushing fur off of her lap. "Why anyone would want to voluntarily become a werewolf, I don't know."
"Maybe you should ask Dr. Sinclair," Hendricks said as the car chugged in the cold weather against Virginia's attempts to start it. "She has a few books on the subject."
"What, dusty old spell books?"
"Licked by the Lupine Lover by Bram Stroker. Not Stoker. Stroker. She has it on the shelf in her office and keeps forgetting to hide it when people come in."
"…I wish that this site had easily-accessible amnestics," Dr. Bering gagged as she started up the car and headed towards the main S & C Plastics compound.
For all the world, S & C Plastics looked like a generic industrial building, four stories of brown stone and pragmatic corners, no embellishments of any kind. It had a light-up sign on the front in block format, with some generic slogan underneath that seemed to change every month; this month, it said "Leading the World in Plastic Technologies". They pulled into the main parking lot out front, and headed into the building, scanning their RFID badges as they entered.
At the front, the receptionist looked up at them. "Dr. Bering, there's a message for you from Agent Ewell."
"What is it?"
The receptionist held up a card and said, in a bland voice, "Where the hell are you, I've been trying to reach your phone for half an hour, the fucking body in the truck is gone, it looks like it walked away, call me."
Virginia's heart dropped to her feet, and she looked at Hendricks, before dashing towards the elevator. He followed suit. "The body's gone?" he asked, slamming the button for processing. "Walked away? Please tell me we're not dealing with a Zombie Werewolf Santa…"
"We're dealing with a Class-5."
"Thank god," Hendricks said. "Zombie Santa is bad enough."
"Hendricks, Class-5 is bad. It recovered from a steering column to the chest! Anything it touches could have a lycanthropic infection attached to it. This site needs to be locked down. Hazmat procedures need to be put into place. This entire site needs to be scoured with nutmeg—"
"Wait, nutmeg? Are you serious?" Hendricks frowned.
"Nutmeg is highly neurotoxic to canines, and it can neutralize secondary lycanthropy infection without damaging the human cells. It's not perfect, but it being the holidays, we have a lot on hand."
The elevator opened onto the processing level, and they were met with a somewhat gruesome sight. Researchers all over were collapsed, vomiting, scratching at their heads, mumbling and growling out of hunger. "Uh-oh."
"Where's the break room?" Virginia said.
"Um… two lefts and a right," Hendricks said, running past those who had collapsed. "Seriously though, nutmeg?"
"Oh shut up!" She said, running with him. They made it into the room, where they found an unfortunately familiar face collapsed over the sink, vomiting. The short, red hair and scarred forearms of Katherine Sinclair were visible leaning over the countertop, retching. "…holy shit this is bad."
"Sinclair," Bering said. "Listen to me. Where's the eggnog?"
She looked up at the doctor, her irises turning a slight yellow. "…egg…nog? …fridge? Second sh…" She retched into the sink again. "God, what the fuck's happening, Virginia?"
"You've been infected by a lycanthropic pathogen. If we act now, the nutmeg seasoning should cure it."
"Here," Hendricks said, diving out from the fridge. "Just take it straight from the carton."
Sinclair leaned on the countertop and had the eggnog poured into her mouth; as soon as it hit her stomach, the condition began to clear up, and she gasped, wiping her lips. "…right, nutmeg. Thanks, Bering, Hendricks."
"There's not enough cartons in here for the whole floor," Hendricks said. "Shit."
"There's some nutmeg in my lab on sublevel 5. It's behind— you know what, I'll just get it." She ran out of the breakroom, dodging the various ailed co-workers around her.
"Kind of a pity," Hendricks said. "Some of them would make amazing test cases."
"…and you wouldn't mind seeing Dr. Mattings grievously injured."
"Do you blame me? The guy's a cunt."
"Not important. Right now, we have to figure out where Kramer is going, and how the fuck we're going to stop him before he changes."
Hendricks tapped his skull, eyes going wide. "Uh-oh."
"…it's Christmas Eve. This guy moonlights as a Santa. Christ's sake, he had his costume on."
"He wouldn't put himself in a place where he would be a danger to others, though. Werewolves aren't inherently evil."
"All right, you're an actual, medical doctor. Tell me, even with the regenerative capabilities of that thing, what would the effects of a crash like that be?"
"Um…" Virginia walked around, gesticulating, wracking her brain. "He'd heal pretty quickly from any damage to the core, once any obstructions were removed… extremities might take a bit longer. Normally, a crash of that severity can lead to major concussions, resulting in memory loss, disorientation, brain swelling, and all sorts of other nastiness. A being with regenerative capabilities analogous to that of a Class-5 Lycanthrope can usually recover from brain damage of that severity within 24 hours, assuming blood could properly flow."
"And I'd say a steering column through the torso would inhibit that pretty badly." Hendricks looked up as the smell of nutmeg began to flow through the air ducts; Sinclair must have started distributing it. Already, the moaning from the hall was beginning to lessen. "Best case scenario, he's wandering around out there, completely disoriented, spreading his werewolf funk from any open wounds he might still have."
"Hell, you're right. Get Ewell, Pryce, February… anyone you can find from the task force and tell them to meet us out front, bring silver, and nutmeg. A lot of nutmeg. I hate having to do this, but worst comes to worst…"
"We're gonna have to kill him," Hendricks nodded. "I've got a bit of colloidal silver in my lab I can grab."
"Do it," Virginia said, starting for the elevator. On the way, they passed Dr. Sinclair. "Nice work with the nutmeg, Kat, we owe you!"
Katherine Sinclair just stood there, mystified; she had come down to tell them that she couldn't find the nutmeg, and not only was she being thanked for it, but the entire level smelled strongly of it.
The first reaction she had as she saw Dr. Bering and Dr. Hendricks enter the elevator was "Uh-oh."
"The sun set an hour ago," Ewell cursed as he drove the armored jeep along. "Christ, the moon's gonna come up soon, and we don't know where the fuck he is."
"Well, we better find him soon," grumbled Seren Pryce, checking her rifle for the tenth time since they had started. "Or else bad shit's gonna happen. It might almost be as bad as '08!"
"Nothing is as bad as '08," Raymond February snapped. "Are you sure there's no way to track him?"
"Our best hope, right now, is find it and pray," Bering said, looking at her own snubnosed pistol, loaded with silver slugs. "Besides, the moon won't fully rise until around 11:00. We're fine."
"I just hope we can take him out with minimal casualties," Raymond muttered, checking the sights on his rifle.
Seren just snorted and covered her mouth. "'Foundation' and 'minimal casualties' are never used in the same sentence. What about you, Bug Zapper?" She gave a shit-eating grin at Hendricks. "Anything on the scanner?"
Hendricks drilled holes in Pryce's armor with his glare, and turned to the police scanner app he had on his phone. "The usual; Christmas party got too out of control, ectoplasm being found in the school bathroom, another sighting or two of the Goatman—"
"What the hell's he doin'? Seren asked. "I thought Halloween was more his gig."
"…apparently going into the Black Garden to buy mead. Go figure." He looked at the walls, instinctively, expecting a window to be there. The scanner squawked, and he turned his attention back to it. "Wait, hold on, quiet."
«Units in the area of Gore Road, we, uh, we got reports of a man, mid 30s, walking around the vicinity. Subject is wearing a Santa Claus costume and is covered in blood, can someone confirm?»
"Hear that, Agent? Gore Road."
"I'm on it." Ewell turned on his sirens and gunned it down the streets of Sloth's Pit, barely missing a troupe of carolers. Not that anybody would have minded him hitting them.
Ewell nodded and looked out the driver's window as he turned onto Gore street. "Dammit, he's not here!"
"…any Christmas parties about?" Hendricks asked.
"Wh… yeah, there is. Wait, shit, I see him going in!" He slammed the car to a stop. "Gahfuckingdammit he's going to contaminate the whole place!"
"Move!" February said, readying his rifle. Pryce made her way across the street, where she sent up grapple onto the balcony of some unassuming two-story ranch house. She laid atop, waiting for the shot to be taken, if need be.
"…my god are you bleeding?"
That was never a good thing to hear from the inside of a Christmas party. Ewell, February, and the two doctors made their way to the front door, where they saw Ian Kramer, his chest and mouth covered in blood, his Santa outfit a complete mess, converse with a woman in her sixties, who they guess was the homeowner.
"N…no," Ian said. "It's just peppermint."
"You're covered in blood! Jesus Christ, Ian!" She backed away and threw up her hands. "I asked you to be a Santa and you come back with blood all over you. God dammit! I…" She coughed, clutching her throat. "I just want to have a normal, nice…" she coughed again, black powder emanating from her throat. "Christmas party for my grand…" She collapsed, twitching.
"Huh," he said, blankly. "Guess that means I can go IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIn." This was the approximate noise he made after February had snuck up behind him and applied a taser to his back. He caught him, and took a sip of a flask of eggnog to prevent infection.
Hendricks, for his part, placed a solution of water and nutmeg into the woman's mouth and tilted her head back; it had been February's idea, in case of egg allergies. As Pryce had put it: "Saving the town from goddamn werewolves and you're worried about the people dying from allergic reactions. Jesus Christ."
"Right," Ewell said, helping February lift him to a trailer behind the task force van, fitted for Hazmat containment. "Now, let's plunk his ass in containment, make sure we don't catch the wurrwulf, and exchange gifts."
"I'll call in that we're coming back," Hendricks said, climbing into the front seat. "Squad 25 en route back to site, we have a hazardous individual in need of containment, can you confirm, over?" Silence. "87, this is Sigma-10 squad 25, we have a dangerous anomalous individual inbound, can you read? Over." More silence. "…that's not a good sign."
"Maybe they stepped out to mingle?" Virginia's tone was of genuine hope.
"…I don't think so, guys," Pryce said over her ear piece. "For one… ever play Silent Hill?"
"Can't say I have."
"Two was the best," February affirmed. "Why?"
"Because there's this huge bank of fog on the hill where HQ is. I can't see anything through it. And… I can't tell, but I think it's red and green."
"Well," sighed Bering. "That's just wonderful. You know, you think this town would outlaw all holidays at this point, not just the 4th of July."
"Uncle Sam never stole the souls of those who didn't fly American Flags on Easter. Lady Liberty never trampled the apple orchard on Valentine's day. And George Washington never rode into town on a horse made of crystal looking to eat the brains of his opponents on Halloween." Ewell sighed and looked at Kramer as he was hauled into the Hazmat trailer. "…now what?"
Pryce had, by this point, descended from her perch. "…we take the van, go to the Black Garden, and wait for all this to blow over?"
"Wh-" Hendricks said. "With an unattended containment unit? Are you mad?!"
"I don't think we should get drunk on a job, either…" February pointed out.
"Yeah, now that I say it… but fuck me I'm hungry, and the party's no longer an option. Can't fight the horrors of the universe on an empty stomach."
"I agree with her there," Ewell climbed into the van. "C'mon. We'll plop this down at the auxiliary site, and I'll go pick up burgers."
The auxiliary site was more of a bunker; it could withstand a half-megaton blast from within, and it had the capability to seal from the outside. The only visible part of it was a concrete dome in the middle of the woods, half a mile away from the Kamp Krakkow memorial park. Nothing that was directly associated with the town's history much liked venturing here; Virginia had once heard Sinclair call it a "psychic scar".
They sat on top of the dome, in the cold, eating their respective meals. Pryce had finished long since, and was looking up at the site through binoculars. "Still no sign of it lifting," she sighed. "Fuck, half my squad's up there. What are they doing?!"
"Still can't get anybody on the phones or radio," Hendricks said, putting his phone away. "That is never a good sign. Last time 87 had a complete communications blackout was Christmas 2008."
"God, please don't be a recurring event," Virginia's whole body shook like it was in an earthquake. "I still have dreams about it. None of them good. I see the candy-cane fingers loom over me…"
At this point, Pryce came down from her perch in a nearby tree. "Well, if we are the sole survivors, then I guess we're going to technically be the de facto head staff of 87."
"Yeah, but it would also mean that everyone else is dead, so, that's a minus," February said, looking at her. "Hendricks, how about you try calling again?"
"All right. Thank god for unlimited minutes…" he picked the phone number of a random researcher— and to his surprise, it was picked up. "…hello?"
A droning Christmas carol was playing in the background. "Hendricks? What the fuck? Where are you?"
"Bailey!" He put the phone to speaker. "What's going on? The entire site has been surrounded by a great big fog—"
"Containment breach. Massive. Sigma-10 is trying to recontain, but we're not sure how long they'll hold."
"Fuck me!" Hendricks said. "What broke out?"
"It was—" There was giant thud from the other end. "Oh shit, get the tinsel get the tinsel GET THE TI-"
The line died with a cry of "HO, HO, HO."
"…did Santa Claus breach containment?" Virgina asked, stunned. "Do we even have him in containment? Or anything like him?"
"…you're asking the wrong people, Doc," Ewell swallowed, getting to the car. "The containment cell can hold Kramer. We're going to the site to get our buddies back."
"We're staying," Bering said, and Hendricks wished she had not spoken for him. "We can't leave it unattended."
"I'll stay here with them," Pryce said. "They're poorly armed, and just in case something freaky comes out of the night, I don't think a snub-nose is gonna stop it."
"We'll be in touch," February nodded, getting into the jeep. It sped off, sirens on.
Pryce took a knee and put on a set of lightweight night-vision goggles. "Don't worry. Nothing's gonna get past me, and when it blows over, they'll be back for us. The Pryce is Right."
Hendricks rubbed his face. "How… how long have you been waiting to say that?"
"…three years," she admitted. "Sounded cooler in my head."
Bering just shook her head, a motion interrupted by a sudden jostle underneath them. "Ah, shit. I think he's out."
"Moon's up," Pryce said, eyes going skyward, "So that's a safe bet." The metal in the concrete underneath buckled. "…should we be worried?"
"It can't breach the-"
Her speech was interrupted by Hendrick's hand. "Are you insane?! You know how this town works! The instant you say that it can't breach something, it will breach it!"
"He's got a point, doc," Seren said. "I suggest you disregard any further questions about the security of this bunker."
Virginia nodded, and sat down on the dome again. "…still, it can withstand half a mega-"
"SHUT UP!" they both screamed.
Beneath them, the metal groaned and creaked and buckled, but it held. The three of them stayed silent, fearing that their words would trigger some ironic action in the universe and let the thing out.
Unfortunately, the universe sometimes just takes its course.
Seren was the only one awake at the time, with Hendricks sleeping on her shoulder, probably karmic payback for the can of RAID she had given him this year. He and Bering were both awoken by a loud thud from beneath.
"…what was that?"
A dull droning sound rang out soon after. "…that… sounded like the containment alarm," Virginia said, blearily. "…oh FUCK."
She stood up, and looked around; they were in the middle of the woods, a good three kilometers from town, it was cold, dark, and they would soon have a werewolf chasing after them.
"Bail?" Bering asked.
"Bail," the both of them replied.
They ran down the slope of the concrete dome, and no sooner did they clear it than the dome exploded outward, revealing a massive, dark, lupine form, with a Santa hat melted onto its head and the fur on its face covered by a small, grey beard. What was left of its Santa jacket had torn open and the sleeves were in shreds on its arms. The less said about what happened to its pants, the better.
"…I don't think nutmeg's gonna work on this thing," Seren said, aiming her rifle upwards. The thing was at least five meters tall, and it looked like bullets might not even work, but… nothing ventured, nothing sprained.
The bullet tore through its flesh, but barely elicited a howl of pain from the thing; Virginia could see that there was still a wound in its chest. It had yet to completely heal from the car crash. That meant…
"Regenerative capabilities aren't yet at full," Bering said, starting to run. "We need to strike it in the same place again. It might cause total organ failure."
Nodding, Seren circled around a tree and fired at its chest; while the bullet impacted, it wasn't quite the immense force she was hoping for. "Ah, shit. Shoulda brought my 12-gauge."
"Keep firing! It might distract it!" Hendricks said, looking at Bering. "This is a crazy, crazy idea. But hear me out— there's something very nearby that is around the same circumference and volume as the steering wheel of a truck."
"What might that be? I'm open to ideas!"
A shot rang out, which missed horribly; all it did was chip off one of the wolf's claws, and a finger along with it, as they ran through the woods. Pryce darted behind cover as Hendricks led Bering towards the Kamp Krakkow Memorial.
The actual memorial itself was a large totem pole, mimicking the one the Foundation had contained so long ago. The actual one was hidden somewhere on the grounds, to prevent further anomalous occurrences. "Site of the Great Fuck-Up of 76," Hendricks said, "And it might just save our lives." He indicated the totem pole; while it was a fair bit higher, it seemed to have the same dimensions as a steering wheel.
"…Hendricks, that's brilliant."
"INCOMING!" Pryce said, darting up a tree with trained quickness. The thing barreled in through the entrance to the park, and knocked right into Hendricks, sending him sprawling in the snow. "NO!"
"Mmnrmg…" Hendricks mumbled; he was alive, for the moment.
"PRYCE!" exclaimed Bering. "You need to get it to jump onto the totem pole!"
"How the fuck am I meant to do that?!"
"Shoot it s-somewhere to make it jump! T-the small of the back causes a startle response, try grazing it!"
This was all she could say before the wolf grabbed at her, letting out a loud, eldritch howl as it made its way towards Hendricks. It loomed over the figure of the poor, unconscious doctor with a bleeding head, jaws gaping. It reached out towards him, and…
The werewolf turned to face the doctor. "Yeah, you! You're really going to take an easy, dying meal over some still-hot flesh?" (She then realized she could have phrased that far better). "Come and get it!"
She had attracted its attention now, and had begun, in the scientific parlance, skedaddling away from it. She maneuvered her way around the totem pole so that the wolf was on the other side, towering over it.
A shot rang out. It grazed the wolf's back, causing it to jump up, onto the totem pole.
To say it wasn't a pretty sight would have been an understatement, but, in the end, it was dead, and the Foundation now had another totem pole to replace. Virginia gagged as she saw the blood coat the pole. "…really wish it didn't come to that."
"Yeah…" Seren climbed down. "Killing a townie is never fun. This is only my third time doing so. I'll check on Hendricks."
"Mmm," replied Bering, checking its hand. "Agent Pryce?"
"Why is it missing a finger?"
Its at this point that Dr. Hendricks had become to come about, giggling softly. "…is Santa Dead?"
"He's concussed," Pryce said, lifting him up onto her back. "C'mon, we're going to have to walk back into town."
"The finger, Pryce! These things can regenerate from anything!"
"Ah, shit, I shot it off about 200 meters outside the perimeter. We can look for it in the sun."
"Santa… Claws," mumbled Hendricks, delirious.
"Yeah, that's right, Santa's dead, and he's left you the present of painkillers and a hospital visit. C'mon." She hefted him. "Christ, lay off on the Wendy's."
Hendricks was carried out of the park, with Virginia following after. About a quarter of the way back to town, Hendricks stumbled out of Pryce's arms, and rooted around in the foliage, before producing something long, with one sharp end.
"…is that…" Virginia looked it over.
Hendricks was holding the severed finger of the werewolf. "Yes, Virginia," he said, "There's Santa Claws."
Virginia wanted to laugh, but all she could do was scream impotently.
December 25th, 2015
The walk back to Site-87 was long, cold, and hard. Seren and Virginia eventually decided to take turns carrying Hendricks, but by the time they had gotten down Main Street, it seemed that the fog had finally lifted over the site.
Reaching the site's perimeter, they discovered that at least five different task forces from three other sites had been flown in to aid with the situation— Beta-8, Gamma-20 and -40, Rho-16, and Omicron-94. They were all sitting outside the site, baffled, surrounded by staff members. Some of them were covered in what could only be described as solidified candy cane goop. Others were having tinsel pulled from their mouths. Another was talking with Dr. Sinclair, trying to get a menorah removed from his body.
"…what the fuck happened here?" Bering frowned, looking up at all three floors of the proper S & C Plastics building.
"Something tells me we don't want to know, and will never know the full story. Just like 2008."
"This seems to have far fewer casualties, though…" Bering looked up at the building. "Didn't we used to have four floors visible from the surface?"
Pryce looked the building up and down, scowling. "…that's another problem for another day. I think our Christmas present should be not having to worry about this."
"Shit," Virginia cursed. "I was supposed to go fly to my sister's place for Christmas and I had a present for my niece in my room. It's probably flooded with cider at this point."
"Might this be it?" asked a small, chipper woman with red hair, green eyes, and a too-bright smile, wearing the ugliest Christmas sweater that either of them had ever seen underneath a lab coat. She was holding out a large, rectangular box, with snowman wrapping paper on it; a tag on the paper read:
From: Auntie Virginia
"Oh my god," she said, looking it over and taking it from the woman. "How did you get this out?"
"Trade secret," the woman winked and tapped her nose. "Everyone deserves a good Christmas, even the Foundation. Now, I have several others to make sure they've been preserved, excuse me, pardon me, Emma come along…"
She was followed by a bespectacled woman in more sensible wear, with coppery brown hair tied up in a bun and a monopoly on the local freckle market. She was holding a corgi in one hand and pulling a cart of presents with the other.
"Are they even employed here?" Pryce asked, looking at Bering.
"It's Christmas. I think we can give them the gift of not questioning it, for once. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to book a flight, apologize profusely to my sister and her niece, and pray I can get there before nightfall. Merry Christmas!" She yelled, running to her company car, placing the present in the backseat, and driving out of the gates.
Pryce, for her part, was tapped on the shoulder by the woman's assistant- Emma, was it? "You don't work here, do you?" asked Seren.
"Quite the contrary," she said. "Our company has a strong distaste for your organization. But Isabel was making her rounds, saw what was happening here, and decided to stop to help." Emma handed her a small, wrapped present. "We'd appreciate it if you kept this under wraps— no pun intended. Happy Christmas."
Once they were a good distance away, Seren opened the paper and found, within, a photograph, complete with frame. It was of a picture she knew for a fact was never taken, of her, Ewell, February, Hendricks and Bering sitting on that damn dome. The dome was decorated by Christmas lights, and instead of burgers, they were eating a Christmas dinner on a werewolf-skin rug. All of them were smiling at the camera, and a caption under the photograph read:
"Heh," Seren smirked, placing the photograph under her arms as she spotted some of her squadmates. She ran off to meet them, and to discuss just what the hell happened.