It was supposed to be a happy visit with the grandparents, but the crushing pressure of a twist ending had different ideas. Now, a trio of intrepid paranormal investigators have been tasked to figure out exactly what's wrong with Nana and Pop Pop.
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A not-so-distant scream curdled worse than milk that had been long-forgotten in a broken refrigerator.
The camera shook violently as the person holding it ran through a dense, brittle forest, shafts of moonlight the only illumination.
"Ohmygodohmygod--!" the girl holding the camera hissed. The camera dropped low to the ground as she crouched in hiding. "I think they got Tyler!"
The girl turned the camera around to show her blood-and-dirt-streaked face. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
The video glitched and then abruptly ended.
Jason pocketed his cell phone. Broad shoulders filled a leather jacket. Square jaw. Long black hair pulled into a tight ponytail because someone once told him that ponytails looked cool. Jason looked like a b-movie action hero and had a thirst for punching things to match.
He was riding shotgun in a 30-foot black RV with neon-green trim. The tricked-out, mobile headquarters for the trio of paranormal investigators turned onto an unpaved road that cut through that same dry, gray wooded area Jason saw in the video.
"My money is on aliens," Jason mused and then rattled off the facts: "Midnight abduction, lost in the woods in the middle of nowhere--definitely aliens."
The driver of the RV checked the large digital map on the console. They were getting close to their destination, conveniently isolated miles from any other living soul. "We just did aliens," Jordan said. "That'd be lazy writing."
The two brothers were the founding members of the Explorers of the Unknown. While Jason specialized in punching things--which was only partially fueled by his half-vampire biology--Jordan specialized in detection and really cool gadgets. He had a slender build, glasses, and almost always wore a buttoned dress vest that helped project an air of professionalism and uncontested leadership.
Jason would still contest the leadership.
"Okay," Jason replied slowly. He shrugged. "Witches, then. Midnight abduction, lost in the woods in the middle of nowhere--definitely witches."
He glanced over at Jordan, suddenly confused. "We haven't done witches before, have we?"
Leaning between the two front seats, the third member of the Explorers of the Unknown chimed in: "It's probably just a couple of crazy mental patients who escaped that hospital we passed a few miles back."
Jason scoffed. "C'mon, Chris. That's a dumb twist. Like, seriously, zero imagination."
Chris pursed his lips in passing frustration. It had always been difficult to find his footing between the two brothers. Fortunately, Chris was as flexible as he was lanky.
"No-no-no. Think about it," Chris insisted, laying out his case. "The escaped mental patients could have killed the real grandparents before the kids ever showed up. Since Becca and Tyler never met their grandparents before, they would have never seen it coming! It fits."
Jason shook his head dismissively. "That is a terrible idea. More importantly, this isn't an eighties horror flick--"
Chris was offended. "The hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Escaped mental patients are the tropiest of tropes," Jason said.
"Guys," Jordan interjected. "We're here."
The RV rolled to a stop in front of a two-story brick house. Jordan propped his elbows on the steering wheel as he assessed the location, scanning for any overt signs of paranormal activity. The front yard was covered in fresh, undisturbed snow. An old wooden swing hung from a nearby tree. Shadows from the surrounding woods crept towards the house like the grasping fingers of deranged spirits.
It was almost sundown.
But there were no hulking shadows lurking at the tree line. No obvious signs of UFO activity. No bodies (or traces of bodies) suggesting fatal, much less violent activity. A glance at the RV's console display confirmed a negative readout from the onboard ectoplasmic spectrometer.
The apparent lack of questionable paranormal activity was enough to raise the hairs on the back of Jordan's neck. This was going to be a strange visit.
"... hey, fellas?" Chris asked slowly as he stared blankly out the windshield.
"Yo," Jason said. He cracked his knuckles, ready for action.
"Um ..." Chris hesitated. "... when did it snow?"
Jordan's eyes went wide. The cold had come, but it hadn't snowed yet that season. Jordan and Jason turned slowly to look at Chris.
This was going to be a very strange visit indeed.
Jordan knocked on the front door.
"I don't like this," Jason said, tapping the tip of a slightly long canine tooth with his tongue. "My spider sense is tingling."
"You don't have a spider sense," Jordan responded, knocking again.
"I have heightened senses," Jason insisted, referring to his half-vampire biology which essentially gave him all of the powers of a vampire without any of those inconvenient weaknesses like allergies to garlic or sunlight.
The door to the house cracked open and Jason let out a violent sneeze.
His allergy to dogs came from the human side. As did his allergy to appropriate timing.
Jordan rolled his eyes and addressed the man in the doorway. He was elderly, tall and balding, sweater vest and slippers. A pair of readers hung on a chain around his neck.
"Bless you, friend," the man said, gray eyes bright with alertness. "What can I do for you, gentlemen?"
"Are you a weather wizard?" Chris asked pointedly.
The old man was confused. "Come again?"
Jordan attempted to assert control. "Sir, we're here on behalf of your daughter. We understand your grandchildren came to visit a few days ago--" Jordan referred to the case file on his tablet, "--Becca and Tyler? Their mother received a video message that she found troubling--"
The old man cracked a grin. "Those pint-sized hooligans are up to their usual hijinks again, I see. Tell me, why did my daughter send you and not just come herself? She could have just called, too." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Does she really mistrust her old man that much?"
Jordan's brow furrowed. "Sir, your daughter is on a cruise," he said slowly. "That's why your grandkids came to visit."
The old man blinked as he remembered. "Oh. Right. What I meant to say was--"
Jason sneezed again.
"Dude!" Chris hissed.
Jason gestured emphatically to the inside of the house. "I can't help it! They've got a dog in there!" Jason sniffed deeply, his spider sense tingling. "At least two, by the smell of it."
The old man chuckled. "Sorry, but no. No doggos here, not since the summer of ninety-two when the summer rains came--"
Something howled from inside the house.
It sounded big.
Jordan swallowed. "Sir--"
The old man's gray eyes seemed to have gone almost silver. They also appeared unnaturally wide. He grinned, but there was no warmth to it. "My, my," the old man said, scratching his fingernails against a cheek that was suspiciously more stubbly than it was moments earlier. "Sure is getting dark out here. You should probably be getting back to town soon."
"Sir, if we could just see Becca and Tyler--"
Jason sneezed again.
Chris threw his hands up in exasperation. "Alright, I'm calling it. Forget the weather wizard angle. This dude is a motherfuzzing werewolf!"
The old man stared silently at the Explorers of the Unknown for a long, awkward moment. Then he burst out in a stilted, painful laughter, which was decidedly more awkward than the preceding silence.
Jordan raised an index finger to excuse himself. "If you could just, um--just a minute, sir."
Jordan pivoted, turning his back to the old man and huddled with Jason and Chris. "I don't like this, fellas. Even if we are dealing with werewolves, that doesn't explain the snow."
Jason shrugged. "Who cares? Lemme smash this guy's face, we'll look for the kids, and then get the hell outta dodge."
Before Jordan could counter with a more sensible approach, one of the windows on the side of the house exploded outwards and a large, dark shadow darted across the lawn towards the tree line.
"Seems like a fine day for a costume party!" the old man said with a glazed, distant look in his eyes.
"Already on it!"
Jason took off after the fast-moving shadow, adrenaline racing and vampire-improved muscles turning each step into a bounding leap that covered more than a dozen feet at a time.
"You know ..." the old man said thoughtfully from the doorway.
Jordan and Chris turned slowly to face the creepy old man.
"Nana gets a little confused once the sun goes down ... " he trailed off.
Jordan nodded in what he hoped was a sympathetic manner. "That happens. Sometimes. We'd like to try and help--"
"But like my own Pop Pop always said--"
Chris grabbed Jordan's arm. It wasn't just the dropping temperature that was sending chills down their spines.
"--it's usually best to let sleeping dogs lie."
The old man--Pop Pop--doubled over as a convulsion raked his body. Jordan and Chris took a simultaneous and deliberate step backwards. Pop Pop craned his neck up and those wide, silver eyes bulged in the moonlight, straining out of their sockets as if they were being pushed out by his brain--
--and then they popped out completely.
"Ugh--gross!" Chris yelped. "What in the--!"
Pop Pop's eyeballs dangled from optic nerves as tremors continued to shake his body, causing the eyes to slap wetly against his cheeks.
Both Pop Pop and Chris gagged, but for different reasons.
Jordan watched in fascination as the old man jerked and twitched in front of him. Finger bones snapped. Clothes tore. Muscles rippled and shifted.
Hair sprouted everywhere.
Those dangling eyeballs sunk lower as the optic nerves seemed to slide further out of Pop Pop's skull. The connective tissue stiffened until it lifted the bulbous silver eyes above the old man's head in veiny, pink-and-black eyestalks.
This was Jordan's first clue that Pop Pop wasn't suffering a typical strain of the werewolf infection.
As Pop Pop's arms twisted, cracked, and expanded into lycanthropic appendages ending in ferocious paws the size of dinner plates, something ravaged the sides of the old man's torso. Razor-like black nails poked from underneath and then shredded through the sweater vest. A second set of beastly arms clawed out from underneath Pop Pop's original arms.
Anything more than the usual four appendages was another indication that this wasn't a typical werewolf case, Jordan noted.
When a massive, drooling snout lined with a particularly angry set of teeth exploded out of Pop Pop's rear-end--matching the full frontal lycanthropic transformation--the final piece of the puzzle clicked in Jordan's brain.
"Chris, keep him busy!" Jordan shouted as he took off for the RV.
"Wait--what?!" Chris called after him. "Why me--?!"
Pop Pop launched his entire body into the air and smashed into Chris.
"GAAH--!" Chris rolled backwards with his attacker. "Jordan! Oh for--you said it wasn't aliens!"
Chris flopped onto his back, twisted around, and sunk his fingers into the snow, digging down to grab hold of the earth. Pop Pop sunk his claws into Chris's legs and yanked him backwards.
"YOU SAID IT WAS LAZY WRITING!" Chris cried out to Jordan as Pop Pop descended on him.
As Jordan raced to the RV, he caught a glimpse of his brother dragging Nana by a leg from the woods. She looked only marginally smaller than Pop Pop, but she had the same gaping maws at both ends of her body--each of which were snapping viciously at Jason.
Jordan flung the RV door open and leaped inside. He smashed a button on the wall and a long cabinet lifted open, exposing an array of tools, gadgets, and weapons. Jordan reached for a bazooka-sized device, flipped the security locks, and pulled it free before racing back outside.
The fur was flying.
Jason was rolling in somersaults with Nana, every swipe of her claws shredding more of his leather jacket.
Chris--who bore a level of flexible dexterity not dissimilar to a rubber band--was effectively keeping Pop Pop busy. Every bite and gnash proved completely ineffective to his elasticity.
Jordan ran over to the old wood swing, crouched and lifted the cannon to his shoulder. He pressed a button and a digital display popped out.
Across the yard, Nana lifted her torso to the sky as she howled angrily at the moon. Jason was pinned under rear legs, a rear snout snapping angrily and dripping a thick mucous-like drool onto his face.
"Anytime now, buddy!" Jason cried between gags.
"Gimme a second!" Jordan yelled back. He twisted a series of dials, flipped a switch, and adjusted a setting on the display before aiming his shoulder-mounted thermal wave cannon at a spot of ground equidistant from Jason and Chris.
Jordan squeezed the trigger.
Over by the house, Chris's elastic arms and legs were wrapped around Pop Pop, attempting to restrain him as they rolled around in the snow.
"Dude!" Chris yelled. "Come on!"
"I'm working on it!"
Jordan fiddled with the controls of the thermal wave cannon, recalibrating the throughput of the molecular oxygenator. He swung the cannon around on his shoulder, aimed, and squeezed the trigger again.
A blast of thermal energy erupted from the cannon and streamed to the spot on the yard between Jason and Chris. Snow melted instantly and after a few seconds of intense energy from the cannon, the spot on the yard glowed as waves of heat radiated upwards.
Jordan lowered the cannon and yelled at his partners. "Get to the middle of the yard!"
With a grunt, Jason threw his shoulder into Nana's butt-snout and shoved her off him. They tumbled, fur flew, and he scored a solid blow against Nana's front-snout, sending a tooth flying.
At the other end of the yard, Chris twisted, tumbled, and flopped, pulling a gnashing Pop Pop to the spot of ground that Jordan melted.
As soon as the two geriatric alien werewolves hit the warm spot, their fight seemed to instantly melt away. Jordan signaled his partners and pulled the thermal wave cannon back onto his shoulder. Jason and Chris stumbled backwards, leaving the hulking monsters alone in the middle of the yard, dazed and confused by the sudden heat.
Jordan squeezed the trigger.
Jason groaned. "For the love of--"
"I got it!" Jordan shot back.
He flipped a switch and squeezed the trigger. Another blast of thermal energy exploded from the canon and struck Pop Pop and Nana in the middle of the yard. Jordan held the trigger down and slowly started advancing on the geriatric werewolves.
Purple waves of shimmering thermal energy slammed into the wayward grandparents, illuminating the horrific lycanthropic transformation, clawing appendages, and two-too-many mouths for a pair of Earth-based biological creatures. As the radiating heat fought back the cold, Pop Pop and Nana twisted and convulsed, transforming back into their normal, elderly selves.
After several long seconds, Jordan released the trigger.
Pop Pop and Nana--grandparents, senior citizens, and currently-not-werewolves--stood sweating through the remains of their tattered clothes. They looked at each other, very confused.
Jordan lowered the cannon.
Jason pulled his hair back, fixing his ponytail. "That was fun," he wheezed. "Let's never do it again."
There was a highly-specialized assisted living facility located inside a secret government base thirty miles south of the Greenville city limit. The intake specialist was finishing up with the family of the new residents, wrapping up a tour of the facility with a walkthrough of the community room where residents gathered to play board games, watch movies, and spend time with visitors.
Three paranormal investigators hung back as the family said their goodbyes to Pop Pop and Nana.
"Pretty convenient that the kids were safely upstairs the whole time," Chris said.
"I'd say it's convenient that despite Becca's video being staged," Jordan replied, "the danger was real. If we had shown up the next day, or even a few hours later ..."
"Dumb kids and their dumb YouTubes," Jason said.
Chris shook his head. "I still don't understand the connection between the snow and the werewolves."
Jordan handed Chris his tablet that displayed the final details of the case file. "Pop Pop and Nana were infected with a parasitic alien fungus. MRIs show that their brains are riddled with it. Aside from lycanthropy, the fungus also mimics some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's--sundowning, forgetfulness, confusion with time and place. The fungus is most active in lower temperatures--that explains the nighttime occurrences."
"But the snow?"
Jordan took the tablet back. "That's part of the alien equation. We traced the fungus to water in the well and found alien tech using ground-penetrating radar. It was a device that drew in moisture from the surface layer of earth to form a layer of snow across the entire plot of land."
"Snow falls up, Charlie Brown," Jason muttered.
"The whole area was a giant, icy incubator for the fungal infection," Jordan finished.
"Wait, are you suggesting that Pop Pop and Nana were targeted?" Chris asked.
Jordan nodded solemnly. "Seems that way."
Jason shrugged. "I have no idea why anyone would intentionally want to create geriatric alien werewolves ... but points for imagination."
"Certainly makes for an interesting family visit."
The three paranormal investigators started for the exit of the facility inside Area 52. As they rounded a corner, Jordan bumped into a 94-year-old zombie stumbling down the hallway.
"Oh, don't mind me," moaned Martin the chronically depressed zombie. "Sorry to have gotten in your way--my fault for living, I supposed. Or not living, I guess. I always get those things mixed up. Living. Dead. I don't even know. I'd say it's all a waste of breath, but I'm not even doing that. Breathing, that is." Martin heaved a long sad--albeit wholly unnecessary--sigh. "What's the point? Why even bother? Please let me die. Those are all things I said before this whole zombie thing happened. I lived a good life. Well, maybe not good, but it was a life. And it was long. Painfully so. One of those things that just kept going and going and going and going, you know? Some people aren't ready to die, but not me. In fact, I think that was one of the happiest moments in my life. Dying. Hmmm. Then they had to go and bungle the whole thing. Total waste of a good death. That was what, almost twenty years ago? Thirty? I've lost track. But then, what's the point? God, I hate my life."
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.