Part 1 - Lazy Writing Makes for a Strange Visit, Indeed

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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.

Heavy panting.

"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.

"Mom, please!"

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 nowheredefinitely 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 thingswhich was only partially fueled by his half-vampire biologyJordan 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 nowheredefinitely 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.

***

Continued in Part 2 - It's Nana & Pop Pop

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