Office of Special Initiatives Case File: Yellow Jack

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Telekinetic, a Bureaucrat, a Psychic and a Nerd capture, catalogue, and conceal the supernatural in the Crescent City. First in a series.

Submitted: August 12, 2014

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Submitted: August 12, 2014

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The battered stage of the vacant New Orleans Municipal Auditorium reverberated with the angry shouts of tiny voices. Gracie gave Harold and uneasy glance.  Negotiations between the Rampart and Claiborne clans were starting to break down. She readied her hacky sack, just in case things got out of control. Harold adjusted his glasses and ran a hand through his greying hair. He cleared his throat and began to speak.

 

“Low Men, I see that there have been wrongs committed by both sides, and your anger is understandable, but this violence must stop.”

 

“Do not lecture us on wrongdoing Black Brobdingnagian.” squeaked the aged, six-inch tall man wearing an elaborate necklace of plastic lighters. His clutch of fur-covered warriors nodded in agreement. “It was the Rampart who snuck onto our lands, poached our rats, and attacked our hunters. There can be no peace until you revoke their bounty privileges.”

 

“We have lands yet where rats can be caught!” retorted the Rampart Headman, shaking his wooden-spoon staff. “Would you take all that is ours Claiborne Worm?” The old Claiborne leader stepped forward and pointed an accusatory finger at his counterpart.

 

“Do as you agreed and gather the Giant Folk’s refuse for your pay. Leave the hunting to the true Low Men.”

 

“You will die that insult Old Sore!” cried the son of the Rampart Headman. With deadly intent he lunged at the old Claiborne with a sharpened mini-pencil. Gracie tossed the hacky sack and punched the air, telekinetically propelling it at the aggressor. The soft projectile found its mark, knocking the tiny man onto his back.

 

“Treachery!” cried the old Claiborne as the rival clans squared off. Gracie stamped her foot and readied another hacky sack.

 

“Not another step fuzzballs.” she threatened. The clans reluctantly lowered their weapons.

 

“That’s enough!” yelled Harold, dropping any diplomatic pretense. “One more outburst and I will revoke both you’re contracts. Your petty conflict has distracted either of you from managing the rat population, the task I pay you to do. What’s more, you’ve risked discovery by Giant Folk, and I don’t need to tell you how devastating that would be for the both of you.” Harold paused to allow his words to sink in. He lowered his voice and turned to the Rampart Headman. “Ramparts, I know the renovations of the Saenger and Joy theaters took away most of your hunting grounds and that your warriors have been resistant to collecting trash for pay. I sympathize, I know the adjustment has been difficult, but you must work harder to stop the poaching on Claiborne lands.” Harold turned and pointed at the old Claiborne leader. “And you need to stop the unnecessary provocations. The Rampart’s misfortune is not your opportunity to muscle them out of rat control. We’ll reconvene here in one month, and in that time I expect the reprisals to stop and rat collection to return to normal.” The clans eyed each other before existing in opposite directions. Gracie and Harold watched the clans disappear into the wings of the aged New Deal stage. Gracie waited until the last tiny figure had vanished before turning to Harold.

 

“‘Black Brobdingnagian?’ Is that some sort of weird racial thing?” Harold shrugged.

 

“Low Men aren’t exactly known for sensitivity or subtly. Still, they almost never give names to humans, so it’s kind of an honor.” They walked across the stage and made their way towards the theater’s access door.

 

“What’s the deal with the whole rat thing?” asked Gracie.

 

“Back in the 40’s there was a real problem with Low Men breaking into homes to steal things, which created a major supernatural exposure issue. So to keep them away from the general population OSI started paying them with stuff they would have stolen to hunt rats. After Katrina they were catching rats like gangbusters, but the renovations Downtown have really cut into the rat population and increased tensions between the clans over hunting rights.”

 

“Why do they talk like that? They sound like the tiny production of Richard the Third.”

 

“If you were only half a foot tall you might also feel the need to be a little extra assertive.” They reached the exit and Gracie placed a pale, freckled hand against the metal door. With a clunk the door unlocked itself and the duo stepped out into the mid-morning sun.

 

“So what now?”

 

“I want to touch base with Catherine back at the Storehouse.” Gracie smiled at the mention of Catherine’s name.

 

“She’s back from visiting colleges out East?” Harold casually nodded, his nonchalance belying consternation.

 

“She had a premonition about something weird happening in the Upper 9th Ward and I’d like to see if she and Robert found anything.”

 

 

Gracie and Harold pulled into the hidden alley behind the Oliver, Sable & Isaacs Storehouse in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. The Storehouse was a building outside the flow of time: a beacon of industrial decay plying a turbulent sea of gentrification. They entered the back entrance and wandered their way past ancient, dusty pallets of bootlegger hooch and quack patent-remedies towards a nondescript metal door with an ID scanner. Harold swiped and opened the door, revealing the tall, vaulted Collections Hall beyond. They walked past rows of Victorian display cases packed with assorted boxes and specimen jars, some of which murmured as they passed. Harold motioned to the light peaking under the door labeled ARCHIVES on the second story catwalk. “Looks like Robert’s upstairs.” They ascended the spiral staircase and opened the door, only to be immediately assaulted by the Pirates of Penzance.

 

“HAAAAAAIL POETRYYY! Though HEEEAV’N BOOOARN MAAAAAID!” belted the lanky, nerd chic twenty-something archivist behind the door. He looked up, his arms laden with papers, and smiled self-consciously. “Oh! Hey guys. Sorry, I thought I was alone.” Harold and Gracie exchanged bemused glances. Harold sighed.

 

“Robert, could you finish up here and meet me in the conference room in five minutes? I’d like to review what you and Catherine found to see if it warrants any fieldwork. Grace, why don’t you give Robert a hand? I’ve got to call to the Board to update them on the Low Men situation.” Gracie watched as Harold exited the archives and started down the stairs.

 

“Fine.” she sighed. Robert set down his pile of papers on the cluttered table in the center of the room.

 

“You sound a little tired Tetsuo. Mediating trade disputes in the Munchkin Kingdom got you down?”

 

“Still beats listening to your singing Yeoman of the Gay.” She extended her hand, causing Robert’s stack to teeter. He yelped, clutching the pile with his arms.

 

“Hey! I spent all morning putting those in order!” Gracie dropped her hand, leaving the pile at rest.

 

“More critical research for your ‘Thesis?’” she asked, making air quotes. Robert patted the pile back in order.

 

“As a matter of fact, yes. And ‘Yeoman of the Gay?’ Really? What, was ‘H.M.S. Homo-fore’ too much of a stretch?” Gracie smirked.

 

“Well, I was going to just call you ‘Mikado’ but then I remembered you’re Vietnamese, not Japanese, and I refuse to perpetuate the stereotype that all Asians look the same.”

 

“Duly noted.” he said, collecting some errant papers. “Not racist, just homophobic. You’re so mature for a twenty-two year old.” he said sarcastically. Gracie stuck out her tongue before reaching down to gather a couple folders.

 

“I still don’t get why you would bother writing about the history of a secret organization. Who’s going to read it?”

 

“My successor for one. I mean OSI has existed in some form or another since the 1740’s, and it’s not like the city is getting any less weird. So it’s reasonable to assume someone will appreciate having a guide to its history.”

 

“So, you’re writing for a hypothetical audience of one.”

 

“Mass appeal says nothing about quality.” he replied. “Besides, Harold said he’d read it too. That’s two hypothetical readers Little Miss. Jedi. So nyeh.” He bit his thumb at her.

 

“Two readers! My word, you're just a regular Bob Woodward aren’t you?” Robert chuckled, and Gracie smiled back. She gathered the last folder and motioned towards the door. “Speaking of Harold-”

 

“Yeah, I suppose we should get down there.”

 

“What did you and Catherine find?”

 

“All I know is Catherine felt something was off around the Upper 9th Ward. According to the Times Pic some guy was attacked last night in a warehouse around there, and there has apparently been a rash of hospitalizations among the squatter community, but outside of that I’ve got no idea.”

 

“I hope it's vampires.” Gracie said wistfully.

 

“You always hope it's vampires. Why would you want immortal, blood sucking minions of the devil to descend on New Orleans?”

 

“Hey,” she said sternly, “there is nothing wrong with someone enjoying their work, so excuse me if the thought of engaging Christopher-fucking-Lee in psychic battle gets me a little excited.” They arrived at the door labeled CONFRENCE ROOM.

 

“Yeah,” Robert conceded, “that would be pretty cool.”

 

Inside the conference room was a large table covered with a detailed map of Orleans Parish dotted with small, round glass markers. On the other side of the table, facing away from the door, was a slight, black, teenage girl playing the violin. Her dark curly hair bobbed along as she bowed back and forth. “UPenn” she said.

 

“Huh?” said Gracie. The girl lowered her instrument, turned, and smiled brightly.

 

“UPenn. You were thinking about asking me which college I liked the most so I was just saving you the trouble.” Gracie pretended to scowl.

 

“You’re such a show-off Cat.” Catherine stowed her violin and walked to Gracie.

 

“Takes on to know one. I’ve missed you.” The hugged and Gracie gently patted Catherine’s back.

 

“It’s good to see you too Sweets. So, ok, you liked UPenn the best. How was the rest of the trip? Has your Dad recovered yet from all the driving?”

 

“Ugh. Since we got home he’s done nothing but tell everyone the ‘story’ of how we were almost sideswiped on the Jersey Turnpike. But I think he enjoyed the trip despite himself.”

 

“Is Tulane still in the running?” asked Robert. Catherine looked down uncomfortably.

 

“Yeah. It’s a great school too-” she trailed off.

 

“But you’d like to get away from home.” said Gracie, understandingly.

 

“Kinda.” Catherine frowned and slumped into a chair. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to ruin the family tradition y’know? The women in my family have been Seers since before the Civil War. I also think Harold would be really disappointed if I left. He didn’t even ask me about the trip.” Gracie looked at Catherine skeptically.

 

“You’re seventeen dude, wait until you can legally rent a car before you start to worry about family legacies okay? And don’t worry about Harold, he’s probably just got early onset Alzheimer’s or something.” Catherine covered her mouth, stifling a scandalized guffaw.

 

“Gracie! You shouldn’t say things like that!” As if on cue the door opened and Harold stepped through carrying a yellow notepad. The girls exchanged amused sisterly glances.

 

“Alright,” he began, “lets get started. Catherine, why don’t you tell us what you sensed?”

 

“Sure.” Catherine rose from her chair and approached the map. “So, for the past couple months something had felt kinda off around here.” She pointed to the rail yard that cut across the Upper 9th Ward. “Nothing concrete, just like, a kind of unease I guess. Then this morning while I was playing I got this flash. It was all violent and predatory but also like, cautious. Does that make sense?” They nodded and she continued. “I also got the feeling that whatever has been happening just escalated, like last night.” Robert picked up the narrative.

 

“After Catherine told me what she’d felt I did a little digging. Last night there was a pretty nasty assault near the Norfolk Southern rail yard: a squatter got his head based in with a rock. The other folks sleeping in the warehouse said they heard him scream but didn’t see the assailant escape. The article mentioned there has been a rash of squatters from the same area being hospitalized but didn’t have any other details.” Harold stroked his chin and considered the evidence.

 

“Catherine’s premonitions haven’t let us down yet, and taken together I think there’s enough here to warrant some investigation. Here’s what we’re going to do: Robert, you and Catherine are going to head over to Tulane’s ER to do a little research. Try to identify as many victims as you can and see if there’s anything else that ties them together.” Robert nodded.

 

“I’ll get the lab coat.” Harold turned to Gracie.

 

“Grace, you and I are going to head over to where the last victim was attacked and poke around. The cops have probably already collected everything from the scene, but maybe we’ll get lucky.” Harold paused and adjusted his tie. “Remember, discretion is the key word here folks, so lets keep it professional.”

 

“One more thing.” Catherine interjected before everyone left. “I don’t know how important this is. But whatever’s out there; it’s old. Like really old. It’s survived a very long time in the dark, so just be careful ok?”

 

 

Gracie hopped into Harold’s ancient Volvo station wagon, a car so dull and inconspicuous, she reflected, it practically screamed “clandestine activities.”  Still, the generous trunk space had proven useful on more than one occasion. They weaved their way out of the Warehouse District and headed downriver towards the Upper 9th Ward. After passing the CDB, French Quarter, and Tremé they merged onto St. Claude in the direction of the Industrial Canal. They cruised past the street’s weathered storefronts and shotgun homes until they reached Press St. and the Norfolk Southern rail yard. Harold turned off and parked on an overgrown gravel strip.

 

The duo crossed the tracks and turned up a narrow, shabby lane lined with decrepit industrial buildings and rusty shipping containers. After a few blocks they reached a tall, corrugated, pale green warehouse with caution tape across the entrance. Harold peeked inside, stepped around the tape and motioned for Gracie to follow. Inside it was dark, with only a few beams of light penetrating the sooty windows. Through the hazy dim Gracie could see the outlines of few fire barrels, some boxes, and an impressive collection of shabby roadside furniture, living conditions she remembered all too well. Something buzzed her ear, which she reflexively swatted. Harold motioned towards a couch in the back corner.

 

“Over there.” They approached the ragged couch and Harold produced a small flashlight. The deeply stained armrest bore quiet witness to the violence perpetrated the previous evening. They walked around the couch, scanning the ground when Harold glanced up. “That window’s broken.” he remarked. Gracie looked up at the shattered window just below the roofline. She looked back at Harold, unimpressed.

 

“It’s an abandoned building Harold. Some kids were probably throwing rocks.” Harold motioned towards the ground.

 

“From the inside? There’s no glass on the floor and I doubt anyone has been by to clean it up.” He squinted up. “Is there something stuck on the glass?” Gracie looked up and noticed a small object fluttering from one of the shards. She flicked her finger, telekinetically loosening the object, which floated gently to the floor. Harold scooped and examined it with the flashlight. “It’s a ripped piece of clothing.” he remarked. Gracie leaned in and examined the tattered brown scrap of fabric. “What do you think?” asked Harold. “Could a person use that window to escape?” Gracie took a couple steps back and looked up.

 

“Depends-” With a few quick strides Gracie telekinetically propelled herself to the top of a tall, ancient boiler at the back of the warehouse. From there she nimbly leapt to a pair of pipes that ran parallel with the broken window. She looked down at Harold. “For someone like me, it could be doable.” She arched her back and pushed off the wall, dropping headfirst. She reached down, arresting her descent before she made contact with the ground. Her arm bent and she pushed off the floor, flipping herself upright. “So unless there is another telekinetic running around New Orleans I’d put my money on something weird. Specifically, something weird that’s really into parkour. What do you think it could be?” Harold tucked the scrap of fabric into his pocket.

 

“No idea.” He looked to her and smiled. “Isn’t it exciting?”

 

 

Back at the Storehouse Harold and Gracie found Robert and Catherine in the Archives knee deep in OSI’s yearly Bestiary Journals.

 

“Did everything go alright at the Hospital?” Harold asked, taking a seat.

 

“Yep.” said Catherine. “Except for dummy over here calling himself ‘Dr. Rumack.’”

 

“Pfff haha!” laughed Gracie. Harold regarded Robert with resigned exasperation.

 

“Leslie Neilson’s character from ‘Airplane!’ is not an appropriate cover identity.” he said. Robert looked back defensively.

 

“Why does it matter? When Catherine controls someone’s mind they don’t remember anything afterwards. I could have told that nurse I was Dr. Who and it wouldn’t have made a difference.” Catherine looked over, annoyed.

 

“Yeah, but I need to focus when I’m syncing and that is really hard to do when you’re goofing around.” Harold shook his head with bitter resignation.

 

“Please tell me you at least found something useful Dr. Distraction.”

 

“Actually, yes.” answered Robert. He reached behind a stack of books and pulled out a clipped stack of printed medical records. “I was looking through these records to see if the squatters who were admitted over the past month had anything in common. Turns out they were all admitted with acute cases of anemia.” Harold raised his eyebrows.

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah. They’ve also been suffering from stuff like fevers, muscle aches, nausea and dizziness. Initially the hospital didn’t pick up on the pattern because these are all symptoms you might expect from people living on the street, but then two days ago one of the first patients contracted jaundice, and yesterday five others also came down with it. Turns out, they all have yellow fever.”

 

“Yellow Fever?” asked Harold with surprise.

 

“Yeah the tests they ran confirmed it. Which is weird, because yellow fever was basically eradicated in the US by the early 20th century and last outbreak in New Orleans was in 1905. That got me thinking: what if the appearance of this creature and outbreaks of yellow fever are linked? So Catherine and I pulled the yearly Bestiary Journals and starting looking for a connection. Turns out, the same creature was recorded in 1853, 1858, 1878 and 1905, all years with really bad outbreaks. The descriptions are vague, but all four journals describe a quick, dark figure in a coat with a straw hat. In the journals he’s called ‘The Ragged Man.”

 

“That would explain this.” Harold produced the scrap of fabric and set it on the table. “It was stuck in a window above where the last victim was attacked. Catherine, if we brought you closer to where the creature has been active, do you think you could use this to sense where he is?”

 

“If it belonged to him? Definitely.” she said. “The attack last night created a big ripple, so if he keeps acting out it should be pretty easy to sync with him, although I’ll need a buffer.”

 

“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Harold rose from his seat, the gears in his head spinning into overdrive. “Here’s what’s going to happen: Take the next few hours to prep and rest up.” He smiled. “Tonight, we’re doing some fieldwork.”

 

“Oh my god.” said Gracie with sudden elation.

 

“What?” demanded the others.

 

“An old predator with a long coat who stalks in the dark and drinks blood? Do you know what this means?”

 

“Oy vey.” said Harold, rubbing his eyes.

 

“Don’t say it.” added Robert.

 

“Vampires dude!” she yelled triumphantly. “For once, it’s Vampires!”

 

“It could be any number of things.” said Harold, his patience for Gracie’s vampire fixation wearing thin. “So be ready for anything.”

 

“Ok.” she said sarcastically. “Well, while you guys ‘rest up’ I’m going to be brainstorming quips for my epic Vampire Showdown.” Catherine tried to suppress her giggling while Harold and Robert rolled their eyes. “How does ‘Count Doucheula’ strike you guys?”

 

 

Catherine sat across from Robert in the trunk of Harold’s station wagon. They’d parked on a quiet industrial alley where they could work without drawing attention. She lit a small bundle of sage and placed it in a bowl to her right. She then reached into her bag for a map, which she laid out between them. “Are you ready?” she asked.

 

“I feel like we’re about to drop acid.” said Robert. Catherine stared at him, un-amused. “Sorry, there’s just something about this scenario that’s reminding me of college.”

 

“Do you have the piece of the Ragged Man’s coat?” she asked. He waved the scrap in the air.

 

“Yeah, right here.”

 

“Good.” Catherine reached into her bag and produced a small, round glass marker. “Hold the scrap with your left hand and take my left with your right. I’m going to use you as a buffer. If I used the scrap as a direct conduit to the Ragged Man there’s the chance I wouldn’t be able to come back.”

 

“Is this safe?” asked Robert with growing concern.

 

“Probably.” said Catherine. Robert looked back tautly. Catherine winked slyly. “Payback’s a bitch Dr. Funnyman.” She closed her eyes and straightened her back. “Now focus.” Robert swallowed and closed his eyes. Catherine held the glass marker over the map and began to trace broad circles. As she dialed in to her quarry the circles became progressively smaller, until she abruptly stopped. Her hand hovered momentarily before gently placing the marker on the map’s surface. Robert looked down and picked up the radio sitting next to him.

 

“Galvez and Feliciana.” he said. Harold, who had been leaning against the station wagon, spoke into his radio.

 

“You hear that Grace?”

 

“Got it.” Gracie answered into her earpiece. She looked out over low-slung skyline of the Upper 9th Ward from her perch atop the two-story St. Vincent de Paul mausoleum. With her eyes she followed the rusty rail yard to the Galvez St. Bridge near the intersection with Feliciana. She tightened her fingerless gloves and glanced to make sure her shoes where tied. Over her left shoulder the sun blinked out behind the horizon. “All right Nosferasstu. Lets dance.” Gracie leapt to the house across the street, landing softly on the roof. That quip was pretty weak, she thought as she propelled herself from one rooftop to the next. She frowned. I guess I can’t come up with anything better than ‘Count Douchueula.’ Below her the neighborhood’s streetlights gradually came on-line. ‘Le-shat?’ Nah, that one’s kind of a stretch.

 

A block before Galvez Gracie leapt into the disserted Norfolk Southern rail yard, setting down on top of a train car. She crouched and waited quietly.  Peering into the dark under the elevated roadway she detected movement. A black figure, with a long coat dangling from its back, was hanging from one of the horizontal girders like a sloth. Gracie crouched lower and watched as the figure pulled itself along the underside of the bridge before dropping onto a tanker car and then leaping onto the roof of a one-story warehouse.  “I found him right where you said he’d be.” she said quietly into her earpiece. “I’m gonna move in.”

 

“Ok, we’ll pack up and trail your pursuit.” Harold responded. “Keep me updated.”

 

Gracie skipped across three successive train cars, stopping just shy of the warehouse. This is it, she thought. Don’t forget your line. With that she flipped into the air, landing at the edge of the roof just across from the Ragged Man. The dark figure spun with lightning reflexes to face her. Its long, tattered coat and broad, straw hat obscured his features, save a pair of inky black hands with long, angular fingers.  They stood across from each other, motionless. Gracie took a deep breath.

 

“Hey, Count-” Before she could finish the Ragged Man made a dash for the edge of the roof and took off leaping through the rail yard. Gracie stamped her foot in frustration and took off after him. What ever happened to professionalism? she thought indignantly.

 

Gracie was barely able to keep up with the Ragged Man as he raced along the edge of the tracks, jumping nimbly from one roof to the next. As they approached Florida Ave. the available roofs grew further apart and the Ragged Man was forced to ground level. Gracie hit the ground behind him when the Ragged Man scooped a broken shard of concrete and whipped it at her. Holding out her hands she slowed the fragment, bending its trajectory around her body. With a flash of her hand she slung it back at the Ragged Man, knocking off his hat…and half his face.

 

The Ragged Man staggered into the light of the block’s only working lamppost where Gracie was finally able to make out its true form. Its face, what was left of it, was made up of innumerable tiny bumps, but was otherwise featureless. The damaged portion of its head appeared to be boiling over with thousands of minute, black globules.  She crept closer and peered into the wound, only to jump back in shock. “Holy shit.” she said.

 

Mosquitoes. The pulsating wound, the creature’s bumpy skin, and everything beneath was made of mosquitoes. Millions of jostling, buzzing, interlocked mosquitoes.

 

“I guess I was wrong about the whole ‘vampire’ thing.” she murmured, still processing what she’d just seen. The Ragged Man regained its composure and turned to face her. Its slender, insect fingers reached to undo the button on its jacket. The fabric fell away and a thick swarm poured from the exposed void. Gracie hurled an ineffectual gust of air at the center of the swarm. “Crap!” she cried, ducking down to protect her face as the deep, buzzing cloud raced over her. The noise dissipated and she looked up, only to find no trace of the Ragged Man.

 

 

“We’re screwed.” Gracie declared to the others. It was the next day and they were seated around the conference table. “Even if I could somehow fight a shape shifting, sentient swarm of mosquitoes, how could we possibly capture it when it can just dissolve into a billion pieces?” She leaned back, visibly frustrated. “I think this thing is too much for us.” They sat silently before Robert clasped his hands thoughtfully and leaned in.

 

“Gracie, after it attacked you, did you see the rest of Ragged Man dissolve?”

 

“What the hell do you think?” she snapped, immediately regretting her harsh tone. Robert looked at the floor, visibly wounded. “I’m sorry Robert, I’m just really pissed it got the best of me. Actually, now that you mention it, I guess I didn’t technically see the rest of him dissolve. I was too busy being dive-bombed by the Yellow Fever Luftwaffe.”

 

“Do you have a theory?” Harold asked Robert. Robert looked up, still a little upset.

 

“It’s super speculative.” he said quietly.

 

“We could use some speculation.” Harold said encouragingly. “Walk us through it.”

 

“Well, obviously this thing is weird and unprecedented. It could be, for lack of a better word, ‘magic.’ I mean, that stuff does occasionally crop up around here, but I don't think that's what's going on. Here is what we know as I see it: it’s compelled to feed, it clearly has a fight or flight instinct and Gracie, even though it got away, you definitely injured it last night. Add all this to the fact that it's a vector for disease and what I see isn’t magic, but biology. That’s my first assumption.” Harold nodded, following along.

 

“What’s your next one?”

 

“Assuming it’s biological, that means it must conform to some sort of logic. Ordinary mosquitoes couldn’t link and move as a single entity in the way Gracie described, which means these mosquitos are different. They work together. This is obviously a huge leap, but the first thing that jumped to my mind was the man ’o war. It looks like a jellyfish, but it’s actually a colony of specialized organisms. So if our Ragged Man is anything like a man ‘o war its component parts are interdependent, meaning it can’t just disassemble and re-form itself.” Gracie raised her eyebrows skeptically.

 

“What about the swarm? Even if I didn’t see the whole thing dissolve and fly away part of it still detached and came at me.”

 

“Maybe it was some sort of defense mechanism?” Robert offered. “Like a squid shooting ink.” Harold leaned back, considering Robert’s idea. He smiled.

 

“I love it. Colonial mosquitoes. That would be a great one for the archives.” Robert smiled sheepishly. Harold continued: “I agree it’s a leap, but if you’re right and it is biological, then capture is still a possibility. Plus if you’re wrong, we’re really no worse off for trying.”

 

“Ah, objection.” said Gracie, a little perturbed. “Even if it can’t just fly away how am I going to get close enough to restrain it without becoming squito-chow? It’s not like I can wear a HAZMAT suit, I’d be too slow.”

 

“You’re right.” said Harold mulling the problem. “How would you feel about a sheepdog maneuver?” Gracie considered the idea.

 

“Okay, I could see that working. Objection withdrawn.”

 

“When do you want do this?” asked Catherine. “You’ll need me to locate him and I’ve got school tomorrow.”

 

“We’re going back tonight.” Harold declared. “It didn’t feed last night and it’s injured, which means it’s weak and getting desperate. This may be our best chance to bring it in.”

 

 

Gracie looked down into the quiet supply yard from atop a tall pile of lumber. In the center was a bucket of cow’s blood, slowly warming on a hot plate. Classic Harold, she thought, ingenious and budget conscious. From the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of the Ragged Man balancing on the yard’s chain link fence. She ducked lower as the creature scanned for any threats. Satisfied, it dropped silently and approached the bait. Lustfully, it dipped its wide, attenuated hands into the bucket, which began to slowly drain. Gracie checked her gloves and shoelaces. You’re not escaping my quips this time. She quietly rose to her feet.

 

“Hey Mansquito!” she called. The Ragged Man jumped to face her. With the creature’s undivided attention Gracie let loose with the most devastating verbal salvo she could muster:

 

Eat Shit!

 

With that she taped her foot, telekinetically upsetting the bucket and spilling its contents into the porous gravel earth. The Ragged Man bristled with probable rage before springing back over the fence.

 

The pair catapulted through the night. With strategically placed telepathic strikes against the neighborhood’s aged, sagging roofs Gracie sent shingles and debris flying into the Ragged Man’s legs and torso, steering him towards the target zone. Panicked, the Ragged Man began to accelerate, forcing Gracie to pick up the pace. As she raced after him Gracie’s pursuit began to feel less controlled. She hurtled from one rooftop to the next, nearly overshooting more than once. After a few sharp turns she finally corralled the Ragged Man to within one block of the target. All that remained was to force him down the narrow alley to the left. The creature landed on top of the house immediately before the alley and lined up its next jump. With one forceful motion Gracie punched the air, ripping a splintered gash across the opposite roof. The creature scrambled to the left, darting down the alley.

 

The alley, which was actually a dead end, was surrounded on three sides by tall shear walls. At the back of the alley there was a strategically placed windowless trailer. Harold braced himself against the trailer’s open door, prepared to slam it shut the moment Gracie forced the Ragged Man inside. Gracie sprang across the alley and ricocheted wildly off the damaged roof, propelling herself towards the trailer and the Ragged Man.

 

“Toofasttoofasttoofast!” she cried with sudden panic. The trailer and Ragged Man were closer than she’d anticipated, and with no time to properly decelerate she overshot both, striking the back wall and knocking the wind out of her. Sputtering, she crumpled to the ground. The Ragged Man turned its attention away from Gracie and onto Harold, who stepped coolly between the creature and the alley’s exit. Panicked by the site of Harold facing off with the creature, Gracie attempted to stand, only to collapse into a fit of coughing. The Ragged Man prepared to strike when, in one furious motion, Harold delivered a standing drop kick to the creature’s center mass. The Ragged Man teetered back into the trailer, which Gracie slammed shut with a forceful wave of her arm. Harold staggered to his feet and secured the latch just as the Ragged Man slammed into the door. Gracie used the wall to pull herself up and, grasping her right arm, limped over to Harold, who was bent over with a pained expression. He looked up at Gracie.

 

“Are you ok?” he asked.

 

“Yea-(cough). Yes. I’m ok.” she wheezed. “You?” With some effort Harold straighten up.

 

“I’m fine. It’s just been awhile since I’m done anything like that.”

 

“Where did you learn to do that?” asked Gracie, breathing easier. Harold brushed off his pants and smiled at Gracie.

 

“Did you forget who was field agent before you showed up?” Gracie smirked and returned his smile.

 

“I’ve got to admit boss, that was pretty badass.” Harold pointed to Gracie’s arm with concern.

 

“Are you sure you’re ok?”

 

“Yeah.” she said, releasing her arm and rotating her shoulder. “It’s going to be sore, but everything seems to be working.” The Ragged Man renewed its assault against the trailer door. “Wow this guy’s making a lot of noise…”

 

“Yeah someone is definitely going to notice that, plus you kind of destroyed the roof of that abandoned house.” Gracie shrugged sheepishly. Harold fished around his pocket for the radio. “I’ll call Robert and tell him to bring the car around so we can hook this up and get back to the Storehouse.”

 

“We just captured a mosquito man.” said Gracie, not believing her own words.

 

“We just captured a mosquito man.” Harold affirmed, grinning. Gracie shook her head and chuckled to herself.

 

“This town is my kind of weird.”

 

“Mine too.” he agreed.

 

 

The next evening Gracie was sitting on the front porch of Harold’s Uptown shotgun house. The humid, early evening air was thick with the hum of insects and the smell of confederate jasmine. Harold stepped through the screen door and handed Gracie an Abita.

 

“Your wife’s not joining us?” asked Gracie.

 

“Olivia’s turning in a little early this evening.” he said. “She spent all of last week grading papers for her ‘Intro to Writing’ class and I think she’s mourning the death of the English language.” Gracie snorted.

 

“Fair enough.” She stared quietly at the perspiring bottle in her hand. “I’m sorry for what I said yesterday about how we couldn’t handle the case. Robert totally called it on the whole ‘colonial organism’ thing. He can be a pretty smart dude.” Harold nodded in agreement.

 

“Yes he can. He’s a goof, but he really came through on this one.” He took a swig off his bottle.

 

“I’m also sorry for leaving you out to dry like that.” she said, a little emotional. “I was just going so fast and I misjudged the jump-”

 

“Gracie,” Harold said gently. “You did just fine. I just provided a little assist.” He paused, considering his words carefully. “I know I ask a lot of you; you’re a uniquely talented and powerful individual. But what you’ve got to understand is that it’s not all on you. We’re a team. We rely on each other to get the job done. Take away any part of it and we couldn’t do what we do.” Gracie sat thoughtfully before breaking the silence.

 

“Catherine said you didn’t ask about her college trip.” Harold sighed.

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

“She’s pretty conflicted about the whole thing. She doesn’t want to let you down by leaving.”

 

“She wouldn’t be letting me down. She’s worked so hard to get where she is. She deserves to go off and do wherever she wants.”

 

“You need to tell her that, because she could miss the chance to become her own person if you don’t.” Harold shook his head sadly.

 

“I admit that part of me doesn’t want to let her go. It’s not just what she means to OSI. I’ve known that girl since she was in diapers. I can’t imagine not having her around.” Harold stared off into the lengthening shadows. Across the street the lamppost flickered to life and acquired a halo of darting insects. He took a final swing off his bottle and stood. “Well, I think I’m going to turn in a little early too. We’ve still got some paperwork to file and Robert’s going to need your help in the Archives, so I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.” Gracie rose to her feet.

 

“Maybe he’s finally done with G&S and will go back to singing Candide. I actually liked that show.” Harold chuckled quietly.

 

“Nothing wrong with a little optimism.” he agreed. “Goodnight Grace.”

 

“Night Harold.” Gracie started home when she felt a pinch on her arm. She looked down and saw a mosquito filling its abdomen. Instinctively she raised her hand to strike, but held back at he last moment. I guess there’s no getting rid of you, she reflected ruefully. The mosquito swelled with crimson life and Gracie wordlessly contemplated the ancient exchange of blood and anticoagulant playing out on her forearm. She raised her hand. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

 

(Slap)


© Copyright 2019 Chris Hillard. All rights reserved.

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