Cheryl was annoyed. Granted, she was always annoyed, but now she was annoyed from the inside of a large sack she had not agreed to occupy. The last person to place her in a sack without asking was, as a direct consequence of that decision, no longer a person, and her present captor was in fact incredibly fortunate that their captive was simply feeling too stubborn and too lazy to get out of the sack on her own.

  For those among you wondering, this turn of events was a direct result of the suggestion that Cheryl alone should read the strange book, which had indeed been part of a trap, albeit not the kind of metaphysical zone-logic trap you were probably expecting, or for that matter as Cheryl had been expecting, and had been consequently more prepared to deal with.

  As she purposefully stewed in her own agitation (an old family recipe) she wondered which of many hypothetical enemies had even been insipid enough to pull such a banal routine. An ex? No, that was impossible, given that she had been the sole survivor (often, to her credit, unintentionally) of almost every intimate relationship since she first started seeing weirder things than her species is usually supposed to. An ex's vengeful spouse, children or pets, then? It wouldn't be the first time, not to mention everyone she still owed a substantial sum of money. Money or cigarettes. And what of those entities who may have suffered some fleeting, senseless outburst of verbal abuse simply because they had crossed paths with her on one of her bad days, also known as one of her normal days? That list could possibly populate a small town.

  Whoever or whatever it was, they were certainly in a hurry. They were also cold enough and damp enough that it could be felt through a sack, and they didn't seem to have any fingers. Whatever they moved around with made a slippery, sliding sound on the wooden floor, and another, similar sound trailed behind, accompanied by a raspy and also definitely very damp wheezing, until at last Cheryl was unceremoniously dumped out of the sack onto another rickety plank floor. She'd been saving up a pretty juicy party trick to show whoever was responsible, just a little something she picked up in her drifts through the metavermillion that would have made short and messy work of her nemeses, but she'd barely finished uncurling the appropriate vibrofunnels when her perfectly stewed agitation was broken by an unexpected bubble of sheer bewilderment.

  The things that had thrown a sack over her and dragged her here were unfamiliar members of an otherwise all too familiar species, but one that was not typically known as a "throw you in a sack and then let you back out" sort of species. More the sort of species that throws some of you in a sack, at least so its babies can have something to practice lighting on fire once they've run out of its other, weaker babies. And yet, these individuals were not only keeping a quiet and respectful distance from Cheryl, but she could tell, in one of those extrasensory perceptoid ways, that their awkward smiles were an honest to goodness effort to appear nonthreatening, and not, as was more expected of their kind, because they were trying to imagine which orifice is the funniest orifice for when you pull out the entire human skeleton in one piece. (Cheryl had her own opinions on this matter, but we'll leave it at that)

  Far more unexpected, though not totally unheard of, was the fact that at least one of the two beings went on to exhibit a recognizable, non-gruesome form of communication. "So, uh, you're dat FOARN broad, if I ain't mistaken?" is what it said, nasally, in the kind of accent people affect when they believe New York city has only one kind of accent. Its larger companion followed up the mistaken statement with a strangled sounding squawk of "...HORP!" which in this instance meant "Yeah! What he said!!!"

  Cheryl opened her mouth to say something, but had uncharacteristically forgotten to prepare any creative new vulgarities. Who the heck was "Foarn?" she thought. Wait...who had Willy or Wallace kept babbling about, again? He must have said it hundreds of times. Fern. That was it. Indeed, Fern, the same person Cheryl had encountered back at the Hospital, poorly impersonating a temp staffer. It was, come to think of it, a little peculiar that this individual had been hanging around so nonchalantly with both an unpiloted yet perfectly tame fleshazoid and the son of a K-class conceptual manifestation. Now, Cheryl had just been ambushed and kidnapped by the reject pile of the third deadliest biomorphs in the matter-based range solely because they had mistaken her for this other grey-zone woman. Was Fern really just another of those dumb, doomed randos falling in through the hospital's crumbling membranes? Or was she actually important to this latest brand of doomsday? For once, something had piqued Cheryl's interest before even the promise of money or cigarettes, and neither had been entirely ruled out yet.

  Cheryl's idea of a smile was almost as convincing as that of the present company. "It's Fern, stupid. Who wants to know?"


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