The Woman Who Wasn't There
rating: +13+x

Antigonish, Nova Scotia
November 2019

For some reason, Allison Carol expected Antigonish to be a port. Instead, the town reminded her of Sloth's Pit, in a lot of ways— it was about a quarter of the size population-wise, but it had a sort of rustic feel that you didn't get in a lot of places nowadays. There was a gothic element to it as well, however slightly; she sat in a café reading a newspaper called 'The Casket' while drinking some rather strong coffee.

She wasn't even sure what she was looking for; something had called her here, quite literally. She had received a dozen phone calls from a hotel in Antigonish. Check-in time there wasn't until 3:00, so until then, she was stuck waiting.

It was as she flipped to the sports section that she became aware of someone sitting across the table from her. She looked up and saw a man with an unseasonable bright orange Hawaiian shirt, clad in a fedora, looking at her. He was somewhat fat, with red hair and a bit of a goatee. She raised an eyebrow. "Can I help you?"

"Depends. Are you Allison Carol?"

"Depends on who's asking." Allison desperately wished that Canada had open carry laws.

"Nobody's asking. I'm very curious."

It took her a moment to process that sentence. Her eyes widened. "Hold on. Nobody's supposed to wear a trenchcoat, not… whatever the hell it is you're wearing."

The man in the orange shirt laughed. "You honestly think there's only one of us, Allison? Last I counted, we've got…" He tilted his head. "Thirty… yeah, thirty-five members."

"Site-497 in Halifax could probably contain that many."

"Trust me, I worked there for about two years. It really can't." He put twelve dollars on the table. "That should cover the coffee. Come with me."

"Give me one good reason why I should."

In response, he threw a golden apple at her. There was writing in Greek on the skin; she knew enough to read it. "'Kaneis'. Nobody." She looked up at him. "Did— did you commission those fucking apples?"

"Not me personally, no." He shook his head. "But I can tell you why we did it. I just need you to come with me."

She looked at her coffee. "I don't suppose you can make this Irish before I go?"

The man in the orange shirt chuckled, pulling a flask from his pocket and pouring a measure of whiskey in. "You can call me Tangerine, by the way."

"…why?"

"Well, because calling a Foundation operative 'Agent Orange' isn't a very good look!" With that, he pocketed the flask. "C'mon. Brave new world waiting for ya."

Allison knocked back the coffee and whiskey, put the cup back down on the table, and stood, walking alongside Nobody.


October 2020

Allison Carol and Robert Tofflemire stood in a room next to the slowly-cooling corpse of a good friend. Allison's hands were on the body of Dr. Katherine Sinclair, typing furiously on what could only be described as a keyboard made of flesh.

"I have no idea what this will look like," Allison admitted. "So hold on to whatever's most valuable to you— organs, heads, whatever."

Robert just placed his hand on Allison's shoulder. She shook her head. "You're a sap."

"And you're the eye of the storm." Robert looked around him— the storage unit that they had been in moments before had been replaced by a white void, with text covering every surface. "What are you going to do?"

"Well, firstly." Allison tapped on an arrow key several times while holding down SHIFT, highlighting several paragraphs of text. "I think I have a way out for her."

There was a sound like an electronic screeching as Allison scrolled her way up to a row of text from several hours ago. The white void remained, but now it was populated by a very-much alive Dr. Sinclair and her partner, Montgomery Reynolds. They were outside of their car, making small talk.

"Did we go back in time?"

Allison shook her head. "Back in the narrative. Basically, we just turned back a chapter. Listen carefully."

Robert held onto Allison's shoulder, the two of them walking closer to the car. Dr. Sinclair sat down in the passenger's seat, and a grimace grew on her face as metal clinked in her pocket. She adjusted herself, pulling out a set of handcuffs and throwing them in the glove compartment.

"Listen," Allison said. "Try not to get sucked into it."

"What do you—" And then a voice that sounded for all the world like a nasally twenty-something spoke.

Reynolds nodded, climbing into the car with her. He raised an eyebrow as he saw Sinclair put a set of handcuffs in the glovebox. "Dare I ask?"

"Been trying to do those escapology courses from Theta-44. You know, Smoke and Mirrors?" she explained. "Forgot they were in my pocket. I figure that it's useful in our line of work—"
"And you don't want a repeat of April?" Reynolds' face grew warm.

Robert shuddered. "Why the hell could I hear the narration? That… I shouldn't…" he wavered slightly. "I feel ill."

"Now you know how I've felt for the past year, listening to him whinge like that." Allison tapped the arrow key a few times. "You hear what she said, or do I need to play it again?"

"Escapology courses." Robert frowned. "She was handcuffed. Why didn't she break out? She's competent enough to do it."

"Aye, there's the rub." Allison tapped on the keyboard, and the white void returned to one containing Dr. Sinclair's body. "I'm… just so we're clear, I'm not going to bring her back from the dead. I'm going to make it so that she never actually died. And if there's one thing I know about Sloth's Pit, it's that this town loathes deus ex machinas. So I'm going to have to be careful about it…"


2019

The boarding house Allison and Nobody walked into smelled of warm wood and wet dust— a strange combination, but necessarily an unpleasant one. It was one of the older buildings in town, and Allison could tell that most of it was still original, from the creaking floorboards to the solid banister of the staircase to the void that waited at the second-floor landing.

"So you can see it?" Tangerine asked. "Just recite the password and it won't hurt you."

"What's the password?"

"You know it already." Tangerine stepped behind her. "After you."

Allison stepped on the stairs, and somehow, the void before her seemed to grow hungrier. She found herself drawn towards it, her feet impelled onwards by something that she felt was curiosity, but not her own. "W-what's the fucking password, Tangerine?"

"You know it already," he repeated. "Think about where you're standing."

Allison looked at her feet, trying to will them to not climb. There were ten steps left until she reached the top. Now nine. Eight. She held on to the banister, shaking. "What the hell is this thing? Where will it take me?"

"You'll have to find out for yourself." Tangerine waited. "You know the password, Carol. Say it already. What town are you in?"

"I…" Allison frowned, a passage from a poem she had once known growing fresh in her head. "I am a fucking idiot." She held onto the bannister, and spoke. "Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn't there!"

The void seemed to become disappointed at the loss of a meal, and coalesced into visible light. Curiosity drew her closer still, and she finished the first verse.

"He wasn't there again today, Oh how I wish he'd go away!" Then, the first verse of Mearns's best-known poem finished, she crossed into the void. She stopped and stared at the scene before her. "This is…"

The room beyond the void was somewhere between a museum and a ballroom. Thirty-four other men and women of various ages, sizes, and races milled around, drinking from champagne flutes, mostly in formal wear. All of them wore some kind of hat; fedoras were the most common variant, but she saw a cloche hat, a newsies cap, and one who looked like they were wearing their hair in a topknot in lieu of a hat. They were examining podiums bearing pieces of artwork ranging from Hellenic vases to what looked like a miniature Alexander Calder sculpture.

Tangerine stepped through the void after her, his attire clashing with the more formal atmosphere. "Welcome to Winchester."

"Sorry?" She frowned. "Like the rifle? Or is this some weird hotel?"

"The former. This is an extra-dimensional nexus connected to the Winchester House in California. We travel using staircases, so it's basically our airport."

"Right." Allison frowned, holding up the golden apple. "So, who the hell actually commissioned these damn things?"

The scene around them snapped into a different form— they now appeared to be in a fine-dining restaurant. In front of Allison was an apple fritter. Tangerine stood to the side in a waiter's outfit, and scowled in the same direction Allison was facing. "Really?"

"You delivered her to us, now you're no longer needed." A smooth voice spoke from across the table— Allison turned to face a woman in a grey business suit, wearing a cloche hat and a purple scarf. She was carving up a steak, and had a side of cheese fries by her. "I'm Nobody, too. We all are."

She looked at the apple fritter, and noticed the absence of the apple itself from her hand. "You commissioned those? Why?"

Nobody chewed on her steak. "That's going to take some explaining. I suggest you eat up."


2020

"And you were always insane." Sinclair rolled her neck; she'd braced for an impact that never came, and was sure she felt something pop from it. "You wanted to burn down our fucking college because you didn't want to do the work, plagiarized a paper, and got expelled."

"Not the whole college!" he pointed out. "Just the Dean. And the Student Union— but if that's where the Dean decided he was going to be, then too bad for him."

Sinclair spat at him. It didn't even reach the edge of the circle. "What the hell do you want?""

"Hold on." Allison looked at the section she highlighted. "This circle, it's cutting her off from her magic, yeah?"

"Yeah, why?"

"One second." Allison began typing.

Sinclair spat at him. It smeared the salt at the circle's edge. "What the hell do you want?""

The text on the walls twitched, and new sentences began to form underneath the one Allison had edited.

As the power of the circle faltered, Sinclair felt her power returning… only a trickle of it. Salt had a tendency to screw with magical forces, and she'd have to sweep away more of it to get at her power. Spitting too much would look suspicious, so for now, she kept biding her time.

Robert grinned, and then looked at Sinclair's body. She was still dead, but the ice pick was now in her other eye. "I think we changed something."

Allison scrolled further into the story.

"That's what I'm missing! That's what people are actually afraid of, in the end— not of death or insects or zombies or their insignificance. They're afraid of not being in control." He laughed a loud, bleating laugh. "I've been here for too long. And even I know not to leave witnesses after giving a monologue like that."

As he flicked his hand, Sinclair spat out a word of power, driving herself forward, beneath the ice pick that had been flying at her eye. The spell had enough force to drive her free of the circle. Her power flowed back in, but with her hands tied to the chair, she would have to redirect it with another conduit— she glared daggers at Carlisle, and began to speak—

Only for the ice pick that Carlisle held in his hand plunge into her eye. She gasped, her body jerking, nerves firing randomly. She coughed, gagged, and then her whole body went slack.

Within seconds, all that was left was a dead body in an empty room.

Allison gawped at the text that had appeared, different from her own. "W-what— I… what was that?"

Robert stuck his hand into his pocket, pulling out a Narrative Fluctuation Detector and holding it up to the red text. It screamed, smoked, shot sparks and died. "T-that's malignant narrative," he swallowed. "And a whole lot of it. This thing… it doesn't want Sinclair alive."

"Is it here now?" Robert put his hand on his pistol. "And if it is, can we kill it?"

"Not sure that would be a good idea." Allison scrolled back up in the story, looking for a way out.


2019

"Nexuses like Sloth's Pit are to anomalies what a drain is to water." The Nobody in the Cloche Hat slid the plate of cheese fries over to Allison. "Low points in reality. Anomalies are naturally drawn to them because they have a slightly lower level of…" She wrinkled her nose. "I hate the word 'Hume' but that's the only way I can describe them. A lower level of Humes than the rest of reality, but not so low as to make it unreality." She bit into her steak. "The apples were meant to… alter Hume levels."

"You mean decrease them further?" Allison reluctantly took up a fry, but didn't eat it; Grimm Countenance protocols stated that eating any otherworldly food, no matter how appetizing, was a bad idea.

Nobody shook her head. "They did have that effect in some places; Yumegemu in Japan was covered by fog that caused it to go crazy. Dozens of people stuck in death loops. On the other hand, you have Amityville, where reality asserted itself by biting the Foundation in the ass."

"Fascist motherfuckers," Allison agreed. "And before you say anything: we're totalitarian. Not fascist. There's a difference." She punctuated this point by stabbing the fry at her.

"Apparently the 'S' in 'SCP' stands for 'Semantics'." Nobody shook her head. "Regardless of my distaste for your organization, we needed Hume levels in Sloth's Pit to be lower than every other nexus in the world— we need water to go into this specific drain."

"What's the water in this metaphor, exactly?"

Instead of answering, Nobody put her hand on Allison's, grabbed her finger, and jerked it back. There was a gasp of pain from the agent as she felt it snap. "What the fuck?!" Tears formed in her eyes. "What was that for?"

"You have the power to undo it, Narrator. You have one hour to figure out how; if you succeed, you shall have your answer."

Allison looked at her finger, letting out an uncharacteristic whimper of pain, surprise, and confusion combined. "And if I don't?"

"Then Sloth's Pit is destroyed on October 31st, 2020."

Allison looked at her broken finger and whimpered.


2020

With her hands freed from the cuffs, Sinclair raised her hands towards Carlisle, snarling a word of power. His left arm disintegrated in a flare of green light as individual atoms separated. Sinclair fired another blast at his other arm—

But it was too late. An ice pick skewered her in the heart, and she fell to the ground. She gasped, her body jerking, nerves firing randomly. She coughed, gagged, and then her whole body went slack.

Within seconds, all that was left was a dead body in an empty room.

"We at least got the cuffs off of her that time." Robert looked away from Sinclair's body; it had changed again, but the pick was still in it, in her heart this time. "God dammit. Maybe we should try having her use a pick on him? Hoist them by their own petard and all that?"

Allison frowned. "I'm not sure there's anything I can do here. I…" She began typing again. "Dammit, I can't do this."

"Step away for a bit." Robert frowned. "Let me look it over, see if I can find a way out."

Allison nodded. "Just… don't look too closely. It can screw with your head."

"How much worse can I get?" Robert looked at the red-outlined text. "Maybe you could edit that bit?"

"How would it help? Changing the method of her death so that she looks more dignified?" She frowned. "…hey, Bob, come over here for a second."

"Why?"

Allison plucked the ice pick out of Sinclair's body. "I need to do some tests."

"You're joking, right?" Robert backed away from Allison. "I— what are you going to do, stab me?"

"Yes, but not before I do this." Allison cupped Robert's face with her hand. Her partner gave a yelp of pain as he felt his skin crack into what he was sure was a keyboard— Allison typed several words on it. Suddenly, Robert felt much more immortal and much less likely to feel pain. "…seriously?" he asked. "You— you can just do that? What the fuck are you?"

"It's a long story, my dude." Allison looked around his eye. "Okay, I think the immortality clause I put in covers regeneration, to, so… try not to flinch?"

With that, Allison drove the ice pick into Robert's eye. He winced, thought not in pain, as his eye was destroyed. "…I can feel it in my brain," he frowned.

"Okay, so that won't work." Allison pulled out the ice pick. "I'm going to wait for it to regrow and then try a little to the left…"


2019

"What do you mean it's destroyed?" Allison's finger was tender, her flesh bruised and limp as she tried to touch it. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"All will be revealed if you can fix your hand." Nobody sipped at a cappucino. "Try eating something."

"Grimm Countenance protocols dictate that—"

"Gods' sake." Nobody pinched the bridge of her nose, and touched her hat. "I swear by the power vested in me by Nobody that eating the food in this dimension will cause you no harm. Now have some damn cheese fries."

Allison felt a weight to her words that was reserved for… she didn't know for what, but it was a magnitude more powerful than anything she had seen in Sloth's Pit, or in the Foundation as a whole. She looked at the fries, and bit into it.

"Tell me how those were made."

Allison blinked. "What?"

"How were they made?"

"Uh." She inspected the fries. "I mean, they're defrosted once they arrive from a farm in Oregon and then fried up in hot oil. The cheese sauce was bought surplus from the same company that supplies Taco Bell how the fuck do I know all of this."

"Now tell me about the table we're sitting at. Focus on it."

Allison looked down at it. "Uh. C-construct, based on something a p-painter from the 1600s once did. Don't recognize the name— scratch that, he doesn't have a name."

"And myself?"

Allison stared at her. "…nothing. I'm not seeing anything from you."

"That's because I'm Nobody, and Nobodies don't have backstories. Not really." She shook her head. "You stumbled into this, honestly. If you hadn't succeeded on performing narrative necromancy on your best friend, we might never have noticed you."

Allison swallowed. "I… when I forced Bob to come back, last year. It… it changed me too, I know that much. But I don't know how."

"Robert Tofflemire is… well, he essentially can produce things as the situation calls for it. A bag of marshmallows, or a photograph, or a Kant counter if you really wanted to be a pretentious hack. But you… you rewrote reality by bringing him back from the dead. So, reality decided to give you admin privileges."

"…are you saying I'm a Type-Green?"

"To mangle a metaphor… reality benders are people who try to assemble houses of cards with wrecking balls. You're a grad student operating a 3D printer from the year 2500." She nodded. "You know how to read. Figure out how to write."

Allison frowned. She picked up her cheese fry, dipped it in sauce, and rolled up the sleeve of her arm. Then, she wrote on the inside using cheese sauce, "my finger is fixed."

There was a series of cracking, popping sounds, and the pain in Allison's hand subsided. She flexed her hand, finding all of her fingers functional. "…holy shit."

"I suggest you try to find a way to be less conspicuous about it. Maybe think about investing in a keyboard?" Nobody drank her cappuccino. "Now, I'm sure you have questions. I'll see if I can answer them."

And so, Allison began to ask.


2020

"Missed the brain completely that time," Robert reported. "But it still jacked up my eye."

"I can tell." Allison pulled the pick out and cleaned the gore off once again, before putting it back in Sinclair's heart, with a muttered 'sorry'. "Mark it."

"Uh." Robert drew a dot on the swiftly-closing hole with the marker. "Look, do we have to do it like this? Can't we save her eye?"

"Whatever this is… if it's controlling the narrative, then it has to think she's dead. And as far as I'm concerned, I think Reynolds would rather be in love with a pirate than lose Sinclair." She frowned. "I did like that last take of it, though. I'm going to see about editing it some."

With that, Robert and Allison took their positions by Sinclair's body once again. And Allison began to type, letting the Narrative take over after she had finished her edits.

"That's what I'm missing! That's what people are actually afraid of, in the end— not of death or insects or zombies or their insignificance. They're afraid of not being in control." He laughed a loud, bleating laugh. "I've been here for too long. And even I know not to leave witnesses after giving a monologue like that."

With a flick of his hand, the ice pick flew at Sinclair. The cuffs rattled on their chains as she brought up her hands in a shielding motion; though one thumb was dislocated, it was sufficient to block the pick.

"How the hell?" He snarled, before his eyes were drawn to a smear in the circle. "You actually spat your way out? Seriously?"

"Thank you for not going the low-brow route there." Sinclair stood from her chair, pointed objects falling out with each motion. "Now die."

"How?" Carlisle hissed. "Your chi should be totally blocked by the needles. Y— you're getting help, this isn't fair!"

"Don't know what you're talking about, don't care.' Sinclair raised her hand. "Infernus volcana, you son of a bitch!"

Carlisle was consumed by fire, screaming. The physical backlash popped Sinclair's thumb back into place, and when she saw that he was still alive, Sinclair raised her hands towards Carlisle, snarling a word of power. His left arm disintegrated in a flare of green light as individual atoms separated. Sinclair fired another blast at his other arm—

But it was too late. An ice pick skewered through her eye. She felt the surge of magic moments before it hit, and turned her head in an attempt to say a word of deflection— instead, the ice pick's tip went through her eye, through the socket, and out the side of her skull. She convulsed, choked, and collapsed, the pain and shock too much to bear.

Within seconds, all that was left was a n unconscious woman in an empty room.

The white, black, red and blue walls of the room faded into the storage unit. Sinclair laid on the floor, her head mercifully facing away from the two agents. She was stirring, and groaning in pain.

"Did it work?" Robert asked. He heard metal scraping against the floor, and drew his gun; he turned to see the metal tracking amulet, discarded by Allison at the entrance to the unit, drag itself across the floor towards Sinclair. "Holy shit. You— I—"

"Shut up and call an ambulance." Allison grabbed his arm, and within seconds, Robert felt significantly less immortal. "Now."

"Can't you just write one h—" He turned towards Allison, frowning. "S-sorry, but.. who are you?"

Allison looked down at the hand she had just used to rewrite Robert; a hat was in it, solid black, something that looked vaguely like a fedora, but with a far wider brim. She gasped and dropped it, watching as it faded into unreality.

"…what the hell was that?" Robert gawped. "Alice, what— why couldn't I remember who you were there?"

"That was my last free one," Allison frowned. "If I try that again… I don't think I can come back."

"From where?" Robert asked, phone out and keying in 9-1-1. "A-actually, tell me later. Just… let's talk about this."

"…I'll arrange a meeting," Allison nodded, keeping a finger on Sinclair's pulse, hoping that the thaumaturge would survive the night.

« The Taking of Dr. Sinclair| Black Autumn IV Hub | To Be Continued…»

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