Fool's Gold


aman_icon.gif chris_icon.gif faulkner_icon.gif tibby_icon.gif

Scene Title Fool's Gold
Synopsis The illusions aren't as sweet as the cookies made by one sweet old lady looking for companionship.
Date February 16, 2020

Park Slope

The old bed-and-breakfast was probably once charming. From the outside, corner brownstone worthy of any 1980s sitcom set in Brooklyn, though now years of neglect and a Civil War have left it worn and torn. The windows are all either boarded up or plastered with newspapers from within, so it's hard to see just what's happening on the inside. The rest of the street shows no signs of life — overgrown as most of Park Slope is, there's no hints to people living behind the closed doors of the intact buildings, no figures or shadows moving in those with broken windows or agape doors.

Whether this house is the answer to the question of a few missing Red Hook souls is most prevalent on the minds of those gathering together to investigate. The missing persons reports are sparse with information, and there don't seem to be any leads so there haven't been any updates. But then there were whispers — someone saw Annaliese in Park Slope, maybe, her wispy blond hair visible before she turned down this street. Then there are the whispers of this house — that the lady who used to run the BandB here still lives here, and sometimes one can hear music coming from the house if they walk by or hear laughter — though no one has ever seen anyone but the lady, Mrs. DeSantos, outside of the little B and B.

Amanvir Binepal narrows his eyes as he looks down the green-spattered range of street, both hands in his pockets. Chasing ghosts had sounded like a good idea back in the safety of his apartment, and even when he had texted Faulkner, and even when Faulkner had group in Tibby to the chat— but standing here in Park Slope was raising the hair on the back of his neck. This place tended to do that, with how it… maybe with how it both was and wasn't a part of the city any longer.

He shakes his head to himself. Someone had said they'd seen Annaliese out this way, though. It was worth looking into. Even worth suffering the slings and arrows of his coworkers' terrible jibes.

"Okay, maybe we should establish an 'oh shit' word for bailing out if we see anything weird out here," Aman suggests, glancing sidelong at a shadow that didn't look entirely like just a shadow until he eyed it a bit longer. "You know, just in case."

"Bloedige hel."

Comes the small voice of Tibby Naidu, she says it a bit too loudly and realizes the two might mean she's saying that should be the safe word. Instead of shaking her head no, the pale haired woman takes a long pull from her spliff, one hand on her black short short clad hip. Emerald green eyes track up and over the house, watching the windows and the door with a tilt of her head. Why was she here?

Faulkner was here.

Tibby knew the first way to get into someon- find her way to an intimate place with said person is to show a vested interest in what they are interested in!

She's working on looking vested. So far its resulted in very strained expressions.

"Language, Tibby," Faulkner retorts, sounding amused — he doesn't know what language Tibby was actually speaking, but he's at least 70 percent certain that was invective. Not that he minds.

In contrast to Aman's look of nervousness and Tibby's… indigestion?… Isaac Faulkner seems perfectly at home here — perhaps because Park Slope is, in fact, his home. For the moment, anyway.

"Though I suppose that works well enough for a safe word. If you hear someone swearing loudly, that is usually a good sign it's time to leave." He studies the building for a moment, then glances to the others. "We ready?"

Park Slope was not where Chris had wanted to spend any amount of time. Fucking Audrey Two-and-a-Half and her kink that nobody would ever want didn’t scare him or anything — it takes a lot more than the redrum version of VeggieTales to give him a fright — but like hell if he wanted to get more grass stains on his good jeans again without good reason. And finding Freddy didn’t seem like a good enough reason if you asked him. He's got all the good clothes on, the jeans without the stains or tears, shirt and jacket that aren't worn out at the elbows or cuffs. A trip to town requires the Sunday Best of barn clothes.

Still. No one asked what he thought about going into the jungle.

That’s why he’s staring at the dilapidated shell of a former bed and breakfast. At least it isn’t the Winchester House.

”Fucking fool’s errand,” he grouses to Jester. Send Christopher, he'll do it. He likes an adventure more than shopping. And maybe it does beat standing around the market all damn day and night while the good folk of Providence natter and quibble over trades and shit. Doesn't mean he wants to go traipsing around Bates Motel looking for him. The horse ignores the young man's complaints, opting to browse at overgrowth and pretend nothing else in the world exists. He side-eyes the horse, who has yet to acknowledge being spoken to, and makes a vague sound of annoyance. "Some help you are, meat bag."

Somewhere in the house there comes a hum of what sounds like a vacuum maybe, and a moment later, organ music begins to play. It would be fitting if it were Toccata in D Minor or the Phantom of the Opera's theme song, to fit with the foreboding mood of the place. The sky knows its role and submits to some pathetic fallacy, properly gray and gloomy. Of course it is February. Still, while it's late afternoon, it feels later than it is, given the short winter day and the overcast weather. But the music doesn't fit with the melancholy atmosphere — instead, it's some upbeat sounding hymn, the type that might inspire a Believer to clap their hands and sing along.

There is life inside, and apparently, there must be a generator somewhere, given the electrical hum they hear.

"Yeah, yeah," Aman cops a reply to both Isaac and Tibby both, a vaguely irritated look coming over him as he looks up at the abandoned BnB again. His hands slide from his pockets and—

He notices the horse and sassy child that belongs with it. He doubleblinks. "The hell is this?" he wonders to himself under his breath.

Then things get weirder still. And Aman's no hero. But then again, he's not easily intimidated, either.

He looks over his shoulder at Isaac with a frown before venturing a step toward the door to the establishment, skeptical look cast at it before he pushes it open. "Hey, hello?" he calls out loudly into the building. "Anybody home?"

He hopes. He assumes. After all, he's never heard of a phantom interested in housecleaning.

Tibby's eyes widen at Faulkner and she forces herself to give him a "pleasant" smile. She did have those chili fries earlier didn't she? The cuff of her oversized puffy white jacket doesn't make for the most discreet outfit but the short woman hardly cares. Even in the winter she hates her legs and those scars across them don't shine in the gloom.

There's a horse and some grouchy looking guy coming over their way. Maybe he's a friend of the building owner. Before she can think to ask him if he knows anything the fucking house starts making noises. When the house seems to awaken the green eyed woman blinks and takes another pull of the joint before tossing it to the ground and stomping it out with her combat boot.

A small hand goes to her back, reassuring herself of the weight she already had felt that. Tibby was always carrying, who wasn't nowadays? Eyebrows raised at the music choice, "Hm," Not the best time or place to ask Issac for a dance. Also he was seeing someone, how did Tibby know?

She stalked him after work once heh, nonetheless she was prepared for whatever weirdness the Safe Zone had in store for her. And her former neighborhood, the South African woman kept her back firm to the house she once dwelled in as she followed Aman inside.

Well. No point lurking out here. Isaac isn't sure what the rider's doing here — come to think of it, taht guy looks faintly familiar — but either he's here for the same reason they are, or he's not. Either way, they'll find out soon enough. For now, though… Isaac turns and steps in behind Tibby. "Hello?" he calls.

The music interrupts Chris' calculations of how much glue he could get out of the horse, and he turns a slow, very unimpressed look to the building. "What. The. Shit." Maybe this is the Winch — why the fuck are there people walking up to the fron — "My life is a terrible teen horror movie." Jester snorts, the timing of it would be comedic any other time. The young man drags a hand down his face and leaves the horse to do whatever the hell he's going to do. Probably eat, the nag.

Picking his way through the growth, Chris walks toward the front of the house. His eyes follow the trio. What kind of stupid fuck do you have to be to walk headlong into Hill House? He really doesn't have much room to talk, since he's following them. At least he's keeping a buffer of space around himself.

When the group enter the foyer, they see a stranger with headphones on vacuuming the carpeted hallway that intersects with the parlor. He glances at them but continues on, moving out of sight into the house. To the left is a little parlor that is almost Victorian in feel. Wine colored sofa and armchairs complement the ivy wallpaper. The candle-shaped lights in the chandelier looks almost like real candles, given their golden glow and a slight flicker caused by the generator. On the far end, a woman sits, playing the electric organ. Her wispy blond hair is a familiar sight to those who know Annaliese.

Before they can step that way, they are intercepted by a tiny old woman with gray hair and dark brown eyes a little clouded over by cataracts — but it's clear she can see them well enough.

"Hello! Did you want to rent a room?" she says, clasping her hands together in delight. "Do come in, do come in."

A flat look is thrown Aman's way, missing is it? She's just here somewhere hanging with those weird people from what Tibby could see. Her posture relaxes a slight bit and she rubs the back of her neck, "Oi… you got a Annalise living here?"

Straight to the point, especially because she came ready to potentially whop some ass and instead might be having to fend off grandma's cookies or something. If this was what being a do gooder was all about she was fine where she was now. Her curiosity for what exactly is going on here piques and she takes a shifty look around the place again.

Brow arching at the unexpected sight of people within— did businesses actually really function out here on generator power alone— Aman stands just inside the doorway with a guarded expression seeing what there is to see. His gaze goes past the help, makes its way just over to the organ…

But the little old woman, though.

He has to look down at her, but awkwardly he does. "Uh, hi," Aman says, vaguely attempting a polite air. "—No. I'm actually looking for a, uh, friend of mine…?" is as much as he gets out before he's looking past her and over to the woman playing the organ again. Because he could have sworn…

Once upon a time, in the middle of the woods, there was a house. It used to be an ordinary house, but now it's haunted like so many other buildings in the triffid-infested jungle. In this house there was a creepy old woman and two seemingly ordinary people. It's probably best to not trust the butler, too, but that's a story for another time. One Chris has little interest in finding out. He hangs back in the doorway in case shit hits the fan — he's going to be the first one out — watching Dame Grimhilde in case some horns or a second head begin to grow. He's totally fine with letting Mystery Incorporated take the lead on the questioning.

"Oh, no, no Annaliese. I'm Mrs. DeSantos, darling. Come to the dining room and have some tea and cookies, won't you?" she asks, reaching to touch first Aman lightly on the shoulders to guide him into the room on the right of the foyer. She reaches for Tibby and Faulkner next, though they're just out of reach. Chris, she bids him to come closer, from where he stands aloof.

At the touch of her hand, Aman feel an odd sense of wellbeing, followed by a whisper in his ear. The whisper is a tumble of words, unintelligible but somehow completely understood somewhere in the core of his being. This is the place he is safe. This is the place he belongs. So long as he stays, nothing can harm him here in this house, with Mrs. DeSantos. Along with the sense of wellbeing, he seems to be transplanted — the house is no longer worn down but vibrant and new. He is happy. He is with his family.

To the others, on the other hand, Aman suddenly seems to go slack. His face takes on a flat affect; any tension in his body lessens visibly. He follows Mrs. DeSantos into the dining room. Annaliese is left behind without a glance.

"No," Aman at first insists stubbornly when he's told there's no Annaliese here. "No, I see her right there." He starts to take a step forward. "Anna—!"

And then his eyes glaze at that gentle touch to his shoulder, head turning to listen to a voice only he can hear. He feels comforted. He even… wants to smile, but is left only with the feeling he wants to. The parlor takes on such a warmth, and he swears he smells the scent of home, in a way that makes both no and perfect sense.

"There's… I guess we have time for some cookies," he supposes in a flat, if vaguely eager tone of voice. Like it were the most natural segue in the world!

Aman's taken the lead on talking, with Tibby serving as foil and asking flat out. Good. Excellent, in fact. Isaac gives a small smile and watches in silence. Then she invites Aman in for cookies, and… suddenly Aman seems to zone out. Isaac frowns as he watches his co-worker shuffle off towards the dining room after the old lady.

Without even looking back at the rest of them. Or over at the organist. Or anywhere, come to that. It's… very not Aman. Creepy, even.

He glances over to Tibby and grimaces. "I'm gonna keep an eye on Aman. You wanna go chat up the organist over there? She looks a lot like Annaliese to me…" he murmurs.

The older woman is just so.. cheery and nice and the rest of the people are just so… not all the way there it would seem, she does not take the older woman's hand instead looking down over at it like it might bear the plague which after she touches Aman…. it just could be something horrific.


Tibs sighs and puts her face in her hands. "Can't be a drug binge in this town," It just has to be some Evolved shit, She feels insecure in that moment, incomplete. Something she can no longer access, it makes her bitter towards people like, well most of the people in the room with her. A look over to Faulkner, "See that? Toordery." Witchcraft. He'd have to be blind not to see it. "Ouma use to talk about a witch who would steal you from your home, lured with treats. Biscuits." Tibby had a feeling she didn't want anything to do with this woman's biscuits. She came to help a "friend" now she's lost the friend. She nods to Faulkner's decision to talk to the woman at the organ while he goes to check on Aman.

What would Ande say?

The fuck is that all about? First whoever the shit that is with the pretty boy from the triffid-interrupted rave seems to know is leading things just fine and now… “Pretty sure it isn’t cookies that Linda Blair’s looking to serve,” Chris calls from the doorway. He takes a step further inside — all the better to keep an eye on the woman in black. And also to keep an eye on the Boxcar Kids, especially Aman since he’s suddenly possessed. Or some other shit. And Tibby, since she’s going to try and talk to whoever the spook is at the organ.

Besides, it’s impolite to hover in doorways. Even if it’s risking a close encounter of the third kind.

“Hey, Jeeves.” Because maybe the butler can guess who’s done it. Chris leans slightly to get an accounting of where the lord of the vacuum has gone to. Is he really a butler? Or another apparition. “What’s the story here?”

Mrs. DeSantos smiles almost beatifically at Aman and Faulkner as they join her. “Such nice boys! We always like visitors here. The more the merrier, that’s what we always say,” she says warmly. Really, she’s the epitome of the perfect grandmother, and the smell of freshly-baked cookies does waft through the house. It may be a little old and decrepit, but the cookies smell fresh, at least.

“Come, this way,” she says, leading the way into the dining room.

The dining room is just as old school as the parlor, with high-backed chairs, ivory table linens, and a silver platter full of cookies. Seated there are Freddy, one of the produce sellers from Red Hook, and Gio, a bit of a street rat that’s well liked despite his pick-pocketing tendencies. When he’s not stealing, he’s a good courier or errand-runner, especially useful as he’s a speedster and usually faster than trying to get a good signal on the cell phone, at least before Yamagato started improving the infrastructure. A woman who looks a lot like a younger version of Mrs. DeSantos sits there, as well.

Strangely no one is looking at one another.

The trio all sit, a little awkwardly. Once in a while they’ll nod, smile, shake their head, but vaguely, almost imperceptibly.

“Cookies and tea! Darling, will you pour everyone a cup, though Gio there prefers milk with his cookies. He’s a growing boy, after all,” Mrs. DeSantos says, reaching to touch Faulkner’s hand.

In the parlor, Annaliese plays methodically. It’s a cheerful song and she plods along, technically capable, but there’s no real musicality to her playing. She stares straight forward though there is no sheet music, and gives no acknowledgement to Tibby coming up alongside her.

The hum of the vacuum cleaner continues from a room down the little hallway. If ‘Jeeves’ hears Chris, there is no reply. Peering that way, Chris sees the cord trailing down the hallway and into a room with an open door.

Aman, for all his usual wonderful skepticism, follows after Mrs. Desantos without so much as a side-eye for the others in the dining room. To him, it's like they're not there at all. "Right," he says, but even that is a faded thing, no strength in its conviction for all the pleasantness of his tone.

Despite his slack, he looks … happy. His posture droops in the lack of the high-strung tension he'd been wearing ever since they'd stepped off the grid into Park Slope, a marionette clipped of its strings and roaming free.

At least, until he gets to the table. His mouth opens like to say something, but it's as if he's been cut off. Whatever he hears brings him to laugh, a warm and unguarded thing. "Right, right," he replies to absolutely no one at all, the sound bright… and empty.

Aman pulls the chair from the table, and under his hand the wood feels like wicker, the air is as warm as a summer day, and the smell of his mother's cooking floats in from the kitchen, spices and freshness. He can hear his parents carrying on a conversation in unworried tones just out of sight. They, too, sound happy. He should relax … he should sit and take a load off. He starts to sink down into the chair.

Well, this scene isn't disturbing at all. Isaac recognizes a couple of those present at the table. Gio looking so completely placid is nearly as disturbing as zombie Aman having conversations with himself; it's nice that he's getting fed and all, but the kid also looks like he's on the wrong end of a twelve-hour Seinfeld marathon, and that's not a look that's good for anyone.

And none of them are even looking at each other. There's something about that that Faulkner finds really disturbing. Tibby had been talking about witchcraft; part of Isaac is skeptical, but then another part points out that Aman started looking like someone just slipped a little something extra into his drink right after Mrs. DeSantos grabbed him, and that Gio over there still hasn't exhibited even a trace of any kleptomaniacal tendencies despite new wallets having been in the room for more than thirty seconds now.

And now Granny Goodness is reaching for him. Nope, no thank you; Isaac is not a touchy-feely sort even at the best of times, but here and now? Double nope.

Luckily she has also given him an out, or something that could be taken as one; he's not super keen on being called darling, but whatever. "Sure," he says, amiably enough… and also, coincidentally, is already moving, slipping out of her reach as he goes to fetch the tea (and milk, for Gio).

He's a little sorry for what he's about to do to Aman; not sorry enough not to do it, though. Isaac uses his ability while freerunning; doing it while pouring drinks is not exactly a challenge. Aman is probably too blissed out to notice the slight change to the contour of his sleeves as the shadow between his clothes and his skin shifts, but right about the time he takes a sip of his tea, he's going to get a surprise.

Tibby waves her hand in front of the woman's face and stares hard to see if she's faking it, as the woman plays the organ the smaller of the two circles around and stands at Annaliese’s back. "Mental Manipulation," Her soft voice might be drowned out by the organ but she's seen compulsion at work before, "Nasty," Tibby's small hand goes to reach forward and place two fingers on Annaliese’s neck to feel for a pulse, how strong or weak it is.

A mental sleep? The possibilities these days were endless. Stil, if someone was unresponsive then the South African woman did have a way to make people react.

Her free hand goes to her pocket where the rolled up set of tools and her Talon are stored.

“Lovely. Thank you so much.” If Mrs. DeSantos is offended by Faulkner moving out of the way, she certainly doesn’t show it. She takes two cookies from the platter to put on a little dessert dish, sliding one in front of Aman with a smile for his amenable murmurings, then does the same for everyone in the room.

“Do you young people live nearby? I haven’t seen you in the neighborhood before. These days, everyone seems to keep to themselves. It’s such a tragedy,” she says with a wistful sigh, her blue-glazed dark eyes growing damp as she looks to the window. “It’s been at least several months since we’ve had a good block party. Isn’t that right, Marta? I think maybe Labor Day?”

Marta nods once, vaguely, before reaching for the cookie to take a bite. Even Gio, the skinny street kid who eats as voraciously as he thieves, seems to be in slow motion as he reaches for the cookie in front of him.

“It gets so lonely when the neighbors don’t talk to one another. Don’t you think, dear?” This time she addresses Faulkner, perhaps hoping to engage him in more conversation than her Stepford household.

Tibby’s touch on Annaliese’s neck finds a strong enough pulse, and the wispy-haired woman turns to look at the younger woman. Looking away from the organ, she makes a misstep in her fingering and hits the wrong key. The chord is discordant, jarring. And Annaliese’s blinks. For a small moment, that misty expression clears but then it falls back into place as she keeps playing.

After sitting, Aman sinks deep into the chair like he very well may never rise again from it. He just looks so comfortable. He reaches forward for the cookie, and a terrifying shadow creature peeks out from the end of his sleeve, can be felt against his skin… and he doesn't react at all to it.

Definitely not like how he had a month ago when discovering a spider in the bathroom at work. Not even a flinch now.

He doesn't even like this kind of cookie normally, but he looks ready to tuck in like the rest. The sound of the discordant note in the other room makes him take pause, a thoughtful look passing over him… but he takes a bite from the cookie. "This is excellent, Mrs. D." Any other day, it'd be accompanied by strain, but Aman is completely, eerily genuine.

"I live nearby, yes. Park Slope's seen better days, but… it's still got its own charm," Faulkner answers. Rural privacy with all the excitement of the big city just a few blocks away; that's a win-win situation, in his book. Admittedly, the lack of electricity is kind of a drag; he's working on scraping together enough for a generator, but hasn't got quite enough put back to buy and sustain one just yet. Not that he's about to admit that to Granny Goodness here, lest she invite him into her parlor permanently.

Still, her question about neighbors is met with a moment's consideration. Faulkner likes his solitude… but then, he's an active young man in good health with a job that keeps him venturing to all corners of the city, not an elderly lady with decidedly questionable eyesight holed up in a bed and breakfast that's probably not changed much since the eighties. "I suppose so," he concedes, lounging near the doorway. Pity she'd decided to make up the difference by building her own crew of zombies. Ugh. He doesn't let himself linger on that too long. "How long have you been set up here, anyway?" he asks, as much to change the subject of his thoughts as anything else.

Aaaaand looks like Aman is reaching for his cookie; time to spring his trap. Little spider legs, black as pitch, tickle along Aman's forearm, the creature itself emerging onto his wrist. Faulkner's proud of the construction — spider with a touch of true insect, combined with a heaping helping of late night science fiction horror movie, all wrapped up in an itty-bitty package. He waits —

— and nothing happens.

Nothing. Not a damn thing.

Faulkner's expression doesn't betray the pit that suddenly seems to have settled into the bottom of his stomach, but a certain stillness settles over his features for just a moment. He's seen how Aman reacts to spiders, and seeing something like that, on him, should've had him teleporting clear out of the damn house. The fact that Aman doesn't seem to notice is… bad. Very, very bad.

Luckily, whatever Tibby's doing to Annaliese out there is apparently somewhat less subtle than Faulkner's current stratagem; the discordant chord is enough to draw a grimace to his face… and maybe draw some of Mrs. DeSanto's attention as well. Maybe even long enough for Isaac to try and shake Aman out of whatever alternate reality his brain's currently wandering around in.

Tibby's eyes widen as she notices how the young woman reacts and how the misstep in music causes her to momentarily "awaken."

Instead of jamming her Talon into her side a more "peaceful" solution is found. "Apologies love," as she takes the covering for the keys and pulls it out and over the ivory keys of the organ. Tibby tries to move Annaliese’s hands.

“Oh, I’m so glad you like them.” Mrs. DeSantos’ eyes sparkle and she claps her hand together with delight. She looks through those vague eyes to Faulkner. “Young man, do come eat. You’re skin and bones, really,” she says, gesturing for him to come nearer, brittle-boned fingers reaching for him again, though she doesn’t go so far as to stand.

“Marta and her brother have been here all their lives, since 1970. I’m not sure where Jorge is just now. I think he’s out running my errands for me. He’s a good boy. Keeps our electricity working. I don’t know why the power company is so shoddy these days. We pay our bills! I bet the lights don’t go out in Manhattan, oh, no, that would never do, but over here in Brooklyn, nobody expects us to make a fuss. But we should, I say…” she prattles on, until that jarring chord sounds from the other room.

The others don’t react.

Annaliese stops playing as Tibby pulls the cover slowly over the keyboard, and her hands fall loosely into her lap. She glances at Tibby, then reaches for her hand before rises and ambling slowly toward the dining room, pulling Tibby’s hand to get the other woman to follow.

Maybe the vacuum cleaner is too noisy. Or those headphones are keeping the noise out and the music in. Whichever it is, the initial lack of answer has taken Chris around the corner. The cord acts like a trail of breadcrumbs, leads him right to where Jeeves is going on with his cleaning and ignoring fuck all else.

The young man watches for a beat.


He turns away. A frown darkens his expression, concern cuts a crease between his brows. Triffids aren't the only thing hiding in Park Slope, now there's fucking zombies too. A grumble of annoyance underscores the fall of his shoes against the floor as he backtracks to find the others who've gone off like…

“Hey Velma.” Chris calls after those meddling kids before he's even reached the kitchen. “Fred. For the sake of Shaggy, I'm calling out the elephant in the room. Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboards are bare but there's something strange growing in here. Jeeves is… fucking I don't know.” Night of the Living Dead, maybe?

"Oh, no thank you," Faulkner demurs politely. "I'm on a pretty strict diet. For my running." Which is mostly true, come to that. Luckily Mrs. DeSantos doesn't seem inclined to get up, so he continues to lounge in a corner at a safe distance, listening to Mrs. DeSantos as she speaks.

Marta is most likely the girl at the table. Jorge, though… if he's running errands, then he's probably clear-headed — or at least more clear-headed than anyone else in this place. But that in itself seems odd, given how indiscriminately Granny Goodness seems to be grabbing people.

Hmmm… yes, Aman had definitely been… bespelled? enthralled?… when Mrs. DeSantos had laid hands on him; that much is beyond dispute. But at the same time, listening to Mrs. DeSantos talk makes it abundantly clear that whatever sepia-toned retirement village version of reality Aman has been carried off to, she'd been living there first. Admittedly, she seems more animated than anyone else at this table — including Aman — but… now he's starting to wonder if things are really as simple as they'd seemed.

Maybe he's overthinking it. Maybe Granny Goodness is indeed brainwashing people for her little Stepford dollhouse life, and she's being very crafty about it to lure Faulkner into letting down his guard. That's possible. Not that he's about to let her lay hands on him, either way, but —

It takes him a moment to parse that 'Fred' might be referring to him. "Uh?" is all he gets out, sounding momentarily perplexed. It's only half an act.

The words that come from the old woman really should rile Aman. This talk of expectations of working electricity in this part of Brooklyn should be jarring. It's not been that way for years after all. He even sits up a little straighter… turns to look at her.

And looks past, at something only he can see before growing docile again. The remainder of the cookie barely stays upright in his limp hand. Very slowly, he makes his way back to facing forward, contemplating the snack before him. For all his apparent pensiveness, he's still one-and-a-half steps into the brainfog.

“Annaliese! You brought another guest,” Mrs. DeSantos says when the blond woman drags the other blond woman into the dining room. “Do come and sit and have some cookies. They’re fresh from the oven. Just snickerdoodles. Jorge said they were out of chocolate last time he went to the market for me. He did bring me back Gio, though. He was in need of a place to stay, and we always have room for someone in need. Isn’t that right, Gio?”

The teen nods vaguely to the question, his dark eyes trained on the wall across from him.

Chris’ reappearance makes Mrs. DeSantos smile brightly, though it fades off her lined face with his words. “I don’t know what you’re implying, young man. Do have some cookies and tea, and maybe it will sweeten you up a bit like your friend here.” She pats Aman’s shoulder lightly.

Outside the curtained windows, the rumble of a car engine can be heard pulling up to the curb.

“Jorge.” Marta speaks, just those two syllables, her face turning toward the entryway expectantly.

“Sorry, Granny,” Chris motions dismissively at the old woman. “I've heard this story before.” He points at Faulkner then jabs a thumb in the opposite direction. Get the fuck out of Dodge. “Grab Shaggy while you're at it, I think Velma’s found Daphne.” Which leaves the real Fred to be designated Scooby Doo, though the young man doesn't look like he plans on stepping a foot further into the kitchen to retrieve him.

Yeah, fuck that noise and the creepiness.

He half turns, entirely expecting the three — well, the two in their right-ish minds — to follow him. But then there's that car noise and Marta speaking a name. “What. The. Shit. Who the duck is Jorge?” Not that Chris really wants to know. He's firmly in Team GTFO.

Tibby allows herself to be led into the dining room with the others and she quietly takes a seat and looks around the room before settling on the older woman with a braised eyebrow. "Ma said not to ever take cookies from strange old women who trap people in her home in a stupor." It's the most consistent amount of words any of the guys have heard Tibby speak but she lays her hands on the table.

"You lonely? You can't take these people… they have a life." Like she once had a life. She can remember it.

The reappearance of familiar, even dear faces into the room doesn't draw Aman's attention the way it should. The sound of Annaliese's name brings him to turn his head in that direction, but no recognition shows on his face even as he looks to Tibby and the girl who leads her. His thumb presses a circular pattern into what's left of the cookie.

The sound of Tibby's addressing Mrs. DeSantos is something he can't quite shut out, so there he sits with a curious look on his face. He looks like he'd even like to say something about it, but he doesn't.

Jorge is the first word Marta's spoken the whole time Isaac has been here. For a moment, he frowns, regarding Marta; is she simply heralding her brother's arrival? Or is there, perhaps, a hidden intent there?

Marta's gaze doesn't exactly shed much light on the subject, but whether it was intended as a warning or not, Isaac chooses to take it that way. "Mrs. DeSantos was just talking about Jorge," he observes mildly. "He runs errands, keeps the electricity running — that sort of thing," he says brightly… though the look in his eyes is far more serious than his tone of voice would suggest. "And it sounds like he's out front right now." Out front, meaning that if they run out the door they're gonna run directly into him… and he's pretty sure both of them heard the bit about Jorge bringing Gio in.

Tibby's interjection takes Faulkner aback, surprise visible on his features for a minute… then, with a flicker of a smile visible on his lips, he offers her a slight nod. Tibby isn't exactly being diplomatic, but she's cut to the heart of things quite nicely.

"It might be a good idea to have a chat with him, come to that. If you'll excuse us, Mrs. DeSantos," he says, pushing off the wall he's been leaning against and starting for the doorway. "Tibby. Aman," he calls… and at that last word, he makes the shadow bug that he's still got up Aman's sleeve bite — not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough that he's going to have a hell of a bruise on his arm.

Time to find out what's what.

“You may call me Mrs. DeSantos, young man,” the elderly woman says sharply to Chris. “And you are free to go whenever you like. Everyone is.”

Those faded eyes rest on Tibby and she shakes her head in incomprehension. “We all have lives, dear,” she says, holding out the plate for Annaliese who takes it and a cookie, before bringing it to Tibby and taking a seat herself. She nibbles the cookie in the same absent-minded way she’d played the piano — perfunctorily, with no real pleasure, or any other emotion.

The cookies do look and smell great, though.

Mrs. DeSantos rises, moving toward Tibby and reaching for her shoulder. “Come, we’ll all say hello to Jorge,” she says, arthritic fingers making their way toward Tibby, as a door opens and closes in the entryway.

Aman lets out a hiss of pain when that bug bites him, cookie dropped to plate, coming to his feet to pull up his sleeve and look down at his arm. His brain says pain, but his eyes say everything's fine here when he examines it regardless of his actual closeness to the shadow bug. He looks shaken, wondering what the world is going on as he stands very, very still…

Until Mrs. DeSantos says they should go greet Jorge, whoever Jorge is. The confusion in him glazes over for something else, the air that everything's normal and this is home quickly returning to him. Hey, they've got company, everyone. His hands find their way into his pocket as he starts to slowly shuffle after the matron of the house. He only seems slightly more himself, still completely unaware that anything's wrong with what his eyes and brain are telling him about this place.

There is something about taking people where they don't want to go, changing them that makes the veins in Tibby's neck bulge outwardly. She feels an anger that's misplaced and selfish but oh so real. "Wha- what gives you the right?" She growls, "They are not property, they are not yours." She's speaking to her new employers though they are not there, she's speaking to her father though he is miles and miles away.

"You…" Tibby frowns and then glares as she watches Annaliese eat the cookies without any sort of working emotion on the surface. Maybe she's overreacting, maybe she's having a bad day. (When wasn't she.)

"Issac, be careful." Tibby stands as she hears the doorway in the entrance open and close. The thud felt final, like something had happened and the group had missed it, missed some signal.

It isn't until Aman hisses that Isaac realizes how worried he'd been that Aman wouldn't feel it.

It doesn't last long — which is interesting and troubling in its own right — but the fact that Aman came up for air at all is something, at least, even if he doesn't react to the flicker of black visible as the shadowbug skitters further up his sleeve.

Now Tibby seems to be having a Moment, though. He can definitely understand why she might do that… though he suspects that the entirety of her fury is not actually directed at the old lady in front of them. Carefully, he reaches over and lays a hand on her shoulder briefly, exerting the slightest of pressures to hopefully encourage her to step back, out of Mrs. DeSantos' path and, more importantly, away from her grasping hands.

He nods and gives a smirk for a moment at Tibby's advice, but then his hand falls away and his gaze shifts back to Mrs. DeSantos. "Lead the way, ma'am," he says politely.

Mrs. DeSantos. Fuck. Ms. Hoity-Toity and her… whatever she's about. Chris makes a sound, sort of a scoffing, indignant huff, and he folds his arms against his chest. “You know what I think.” He looks off in the direction of the front of the house, where the old woman and the puppets are going anyway.

Which is shit, because that's the way he'd wanted to go. But fine, whatever. It’s Mrs. DeSantos’ house.

“I think before you lecture anyone else on manners you should remember your own.” He follows, obviously, but keeps himself apart from the group as much as he can. “It's impolite to go touching people you don't even know. Have you even washed your hands before greeting any of us? Fucking offering food and tea with possibly dirty hands.” It's an assumption on his part, but it sure seems like the three who marched up to the door before he did don't know the psycho grandma either.

Chris scowls over their collective shoulders as he brings up the rear. “You ought to have washed your hands every time you offered something new.” Fuck all that cross contamination. “That's what I think.”

When Tibby doesn’t back away, Mrs. DeSantos crooked fingers come to rest on her shoulder. “What’s all this fuss, dear? Of course no one’s property, mija.”

She turns to look expectantly at the door, after a quick glance aside at Chris’ germaphobic diatribe. She apparently chooses to focus on the positive as she looks to her grown son, and doesn’t argue with the man young enough to be her grandson. “Jorge, come, we have guests!”

Jorge, carrying a box full of groceries, probably from Red Hook Market, stands frozen in the entryway, eyes a little wide as he sees the visitors. His expression is a muddy cocktail of fear, shame, regret….he sighs when he sees Aman and now Tibby’s glazed-over expressions.

“Shit, Ma…” he murmurs.

He turns to Faulkner, choosing him as the leader of the unlucky four. “Look, man, I’m sorry. She’s not right in the head. Thinks it’s 2010 and doesn’t know she’s doing this. “These two,” he gestures to Aman and Tibby, “it should wear off if you leave soon.”

As for Annaliese, Gio, Freddy, and Jeeves, he doesn’t say.

Shit. Tibby hadn't gotten away. But he can prod her some later, because now Jorge's here… and one look at that expression on his face goes a long way towards explaining things. Jorge's words fill in even more. "So that's what it is…" Faulkner murmurs, nodding slowly.

It makes sense. Granny Goodness, once upon a time, had been a nice old lady running a nice bed and breakfast, with a little something extra besides. Maybe back then her gift had been a subtler thing than the full-on braintaser it seems to have evolved into now; a touch could ease worries, dampen mental pain. Maybe she didn't even know she'd had it.

Then something had gotten to her — maybe dementia, maybe the horror of the Second Civil War, maybe simple old age. Maybe all of the above… and maybe, just maybe, she'd started using her power on herself, all the time, to make the world make sense. It's a lot of maybes, admittedly, with not a whole lot of evidence to string it together. He could definitely be wrong… but it sure seems to add up.

"We'll be leaving soon," he nods. "But what about Annaliese? And Gio?" he asks, regarding Jorge carefully. "Their absences have been noticed," he points out. And what about Marta?! Your sister?! emerges from the back of his mind with a completely unexpected level of vitriol — he manages to choke it down before it escapes his mouth, thankfully, but the intensity of it rattles him a bit.

Not having had much in the way of family of his own that he can remember, it seems Faulkner has feelings about the matter. How uncharacteristic of him; who'd have thought it?

The tension in the air, in Isaac, in Jorge— it all goes sailing right over Aman's head. He simply waves hello when Mrs. DeSantos announces him as a guest, waits out the seeming silence of the back-and-forth with a placid expression. He turns back as if he's heard something, a hint of a smile on his face. "Oh," he breathes, a realization to something charming only he sees and hears.

To the rest, including the shadows nesting under his sleeve, he remains peacefully oblivious.

“She thinks it’s…” Chris stares at Jorge like the other man had made some very rude sound. Disbelief briefly overpowers the normal semi scowl he wears. “Are you fucking kidding? You can't let her go around just… fucking collecting people because she thinks it's ten years ago.”


With a huff, Chris shoulders his way past Faulkner and his unfortunate friends, past Gio and Jorge. Mrs. DeSantos is given the barest of warning glances on his way out the door. At least he'd seen Freddy, he can bring that much back with him. And let the Safe Zone folk deal with it from there.

"Ah.. wow."

Tibby whispers softly and weirdly turns and goes to sit down at a nearby seat. The edges of her lips tug upwards and by god is she actually smiling? The small woman doesn't seem to notice the others anymore. Instead whatever she's experiencing has her curled up in the chair she sits in, arms wrapped around her knees.

An unmistakablehum escapes her, rumbling from her stomach. The tune would be pleasant and not as creepy and off putting if not for the current situation.

Jorge studies the ground as Faulkner speaks, his dark thick brows drawn together, one hand coming up to scratch at his stubble. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to get it undone. I tried to hide Marta once, back in the beginning. Stowed her in the basement, hoping it’d wear off, but it didn’t, not after like a month. And Ma was beside herself. So I just do the best I can to make sure everyone’s fed and taken care of, you know?”

His dark eyes well up with tears and he glances at the door, making no effort to stop Chris when he goes striding out. “You can take ’em all with you but they sometimes just wander back to her, like she’s some sort of homing beacon or something. Whatever’s in their heads, this place,” he gestures to the sad faded wallpaper, the boarded up windows, “must be pretty all right. That’s something isn’t it?”

The man’s mother stares at him, sullenly, like a child being called out for breaking a rule in a game. “Are you telling lies again, Jorge? You know you can leave any time you like.” She points a finger to the door, and he looks to it, wistfully, then back at Marta, and finally, to Faulkner.

“Maybe we need help,” he says in a small voice. “I didn’t mean for it to get this bad. I just… I was trying to protect her. She’s not right.”

Faulkner regards the smiling, dreamy Tibby in roughly the same way he might regard her if she suddenly started chanting in Aramaic and levitating, looking for a moment deeply taken aback. But at Jorge's comments, Faulkner's attention returns to him, his mouth drawing tight. Would he have done better in this situation? Could he have? Probably not, honestly.

Faulkner sighs. "I… know somebody who might be able to help," he offers. Technically this is true, for given values of help… but honestly it's Aman who probably knows the better choice here. Hopefully Aman's got his amazing telepath girlfriend's number in his phone. "I'll see if I can get them out here," he nods to Jorge.

He takes a step back, towards the door, his gaze slipping to the old woman. "Mrs. DeSantos, thank you for your hospitality," he says politely, nodding. "I'll drop by again sometime, but we've got to be leaving." His attention turns to his friends who are under the old woman's spell, raising his voice slightly. "Aman, buddy. Time to go; I need you to make some introductions for me. Tibby! Want to come over to my place? We can have some drinks before work tomorrow." Hopefully that's enough to rouse them.

Whatever is seen here, the false reality of it, must be deeply appealing. It's a far cry from the post-war landscape of reality, filled only with the bright comforts of home real and imagined. It's enough that when Isaac calls for Aman to follow, he doesn't move from his lean against the doorframe— like Isaac isn't there at all, he seems to stare right through him.

Except he must see him, must hear him, because he gives a ghost of a smile. "C'mon, bud. It's nice here." There's little energy to it, and an eerie sense of peace. Aman's words drag, a stale and distant warmth in them. "Let's … grab that drink here. I'll show you around."

"Drinks… Nice…" Tibby smiles a little more easily and looks at Faulkner but it's almost like she's looking through him just like Aman. "Here..? Yes.. The parlor?" That sounded like a sweet place to share a drink with friends.

Why would they want to leave?

"Heard the tour was amazing," Tibby being this light hearted was disturbing in the very least. Glassy eyes track across the room, "It smells lovely in here."

Dreamy sigh.

A whistle cuts through the air when Chris gets about halfway down the lane. Jester’s dumb ass is still picking at the ground in search of greens, but at least the horse tilts his ears to the sound. “Mule,” the young man complains to himself. Not that it does any good. It never does. So he looks back, half expecting, half hoping the others would've followed his lead. Of course, they're not.

“Ducking mules, all of them.” Still a muttered complaint.

He doesn't go so far as to turn back, but Chris does stop his departure and give the whole house such a withering look. Why the fuck would anyone want to B&B there anyway? With Granny-Gonna-Steal-Your-Soul thinking it's fucking ten years ago. “You need any help?” Thats to Isaac, since his two friends are out of their everloving minds. Literally.

“Oh, you don’t have to go. Jorge, you’ve made them feel bad,” Mrs. DeSantos says, reaching for Faulkner to try to keep him here. She doesn’t lunge, so it’s easy for Jorge to wrap her hand in his own, and nod to the others.

“Go on. If you want to take the others with you,” he says, glancing at Annaliese, Gio, Freddie Jeeves whose name is probably not Jeeves, and finally, with a frown at Marta. He sighs. “I won’t stop you. But they’ll try to come back here, if they aren’t brought out of it. And outside’s no place for them to be wandering around while having a cocktail party in their mind.”

He exhales, a small, rough form of a laugh. “Honestly doesn’t sound so bad, does it?” he asks Faulkner. “I sometimes envy them.”

“The parlor,” he says, in a voice of a tour guide, “is in need of cleaning just now. You go on now,” Jorge tells Tibby, with a little bow of his head to her. “It was nice having you.”

Mrs. DeSantos didn’t raise him to be impolite, after all.

“Ma, it’s time for a nap, okay?” he says, taking her by the shoulder to steer her away from the door, to let Faulkner usher out his friends. “Sorry again,” he says over his shoulder.

Well, that's just fucking great, Aman and Tibby have decided they wanted to stay in the circus and eat cotton candy forever, hooray.


Okay. He could grab Aman's phone and try to call that way, except it might be locked and then he'd be completely out of luck. He could try to drag Tibby and Aman out, except the odds on that are fucking terrible between Tibby's eleventy billion dollar robot kung-fu legs, Aman's side hustle, and Granny Goodness being able to turn brain matter into overcooked tapioca pudding with a touch.

He could stay here and keep an eye on his friends, trying to dodge Granny Goodness until someone else can arrive… except no, he actually can't do that, because even thinking about staying in this cage is enough to make his blood run cold, half-remembered fragments of memory skittering through his brain like a swarm of bats screeching out of some stygian abyss. A cage… needles… dark… masks.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope fuckity nope not going there.

Jorge prompting Tibby to get her moving — and clearing Mrs. DeSantos out of there — does wonders to drop his anxiety to a level that doesn't threaten cardiac arrest; he can't help but let out a heavy sigh of relief as he nods gratefully. Chris's offer of help prompts Faulkner to turn his way and nod, before he looks back to his friends.

"Well, you heard the man. They're going to have to do some cleaning, and Mrs. DeSantos has to take a nap; we should probably give them a little time," he says brightly, with a level of forced enthusiasm that would show just how rattled he is, if Tibby and Aman were coherent enough to notice it. "So, let's step outside for a bit! Sooner we're out of the way, the sooner they can start getting things cleaned up! And then we can come back later and take the full tour!"

He works on ushering Aman towards the exit, his gaze slipping towards Chris. "If you'd like to help me get everyone cleared out, it'd be appreciated. My place isn't far; if we can get them all there, I know someone who might be able to help."

It's with a look of confusion Aman accepts the news that they needed to go. It was inconvenient, them being here? That… didn't sound right at all, but here they were. And he didn't want to impose.

No, that would be uncomfortable, and that's something that should be avoided.

So reluctantly, he parts with his lean against the wall. Through the fog, he says, "We'll come back when …" you know. When it felt right. When it felt needed. Until then…

Aman wraps an arm around Isaac's shoulder. He's not himself, but at least he's responsive. "You better have the good stuff over there, buddy." He looks back to the tiniest of their cluster of coworkers. "C'mon, Tibs, you know he's not offering up free alcohol without a pretty girl being involved…"

Speaking of Aman's phone, this close, Isaac can hear it going off. Repeatedly.

Mrs. DeSantos and Jorge are given the same look Chris has probably given snakes he's discovered spooking the horses. Yeah, he'll take a shovel to either of them, too. Just make a move, give him an excuse. But they're moving off which is grounds enough for him to start forward again. And not without a plethora of choice commentary. He was so fucking close to getting away from that creep house, too. Give it a few extra and entirely unnecessary stairways and doors and the fucking thing would be in competition with the Winchester House for Spookiest Shit in the World. And he's such a nice guy too, going back to help Faulkner with his friends and this bullshit.

It's such a bum deal.

“Better fucking be good stuff,” he grouses, adding his support and opinion to Aman’s deluded state. Chris scowls at the collection of demented abductees. What if whatever loopydoo from Grandma SoulSucker is contagious? It's a chance he'll have to take, so… “Come on, get your collective zombie asses in gear so we can get some supper.”

"This place… immaculate." Tibby sees no mess here!!!

But she doesn't protest, she just slowly stands and allows herself to be led. Humming gently, lost in her mind. Perhaps she was somewhere with her father and everything was okay, drinking booze on the beach after a good haul. "Hm?" Turning her head to Faulkner and there's that bright smile that the South African woman would never give if she was in her right mind. "Can't take me, home. You're married," her look all but saying silly boy.

"Love… and marriage… love and marriage…" her childlike voice resonates as she sways and bumps into the men as they make their way out of there. "…go together like a… horse and carriage." Someone's mother was a fan of Frank Sinatra. Or that one American sitcom. None of this is like Tibby at all, but she continues to smile fondly.

The others, Annaliese, Freddie, Gio, Marta and Jeeves (does he have a name?) let themselves be ushered out, though they look a little confused as to why they’re leaving the brownstone. Still, there’s no fight in them — they’re like sheep, willing to follow. For now.

Perhaps inspired by Tibby’s sing-songing, Annaliese begins to hum the tune she was playing on the organ. Marta squints up at the sky, a befuddled look on her face, while Gio turns to try to make his way back up the steps to the brownstone.

It’s like herding very docile cats. But at least they’re free.

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