“Guys, look.” Adriana Priest dropped her bag on the chipped linoleum table that served at Team Mwerte’s strategic planning center, almost knocking over Kate’s open bottle of sparkling water. The entire team was present:
Catherine “Kate” Thea Torres. Records, Strategic Planning.
Charlie Tremble. Co-lead, Strategic Planning.
Claire Blackpool. Portals, Strategic Planning.
Lester Hoyle: Baiter.
Sadie “Sad” Sandoval: Research, Baiter.
And Adriana Priest. Co-lead, Baiter, Strategic Planning, Research.
While Kate grumbled and retrieved her drink, Claire quietly shifted the maps, notepads and newspaper clippings on the table out of harm’s way. Lester and Sadie approached the table and leaned in.
“My… God. Would you look at this bag,” Lester whispered through his thick brown beard.
“It is so tragic and beautiful,” Sadie sighed through the long black hair that nearly covered her face, Ring-like.
“Guys,” Adriana said.
“Sad, have you noticed the fittings, which are steel, but also coated in a revolutionary new impact-resistant ceramic resin?”
“I have, Lester Hoyle, but my attention is currently fixated on the bag’s integrated gris-gris pockets, patch wards, reactive white light splitters, and thrice-blessed amulets; more than enough spiritual protection for even the busiest Shriexer on the go.”
“I heard, Sad, that this bag is made of military-grade fabric with interwoven carbon and para… para-“
“Para-aramid,” Adriana offered.
“-para-aramid fibers, resulting in a rugged design that will stand up to even the most bloodthirsty tomb horror or flesh-craving crypt ghoul.”
“That’s pretty fucking sweet,” Sadie said.
“Guys. I’m not here to show off my awesome bag again. I think it’s haunted.”
Charlie Tremble sat up from the worn recliner where he was sorting gear for his pack. “Really.”
Kate said, “Hold on, let me get my scope and I’ll take a look.” She ran upstairs and came back a moment later with a device like a steampunk colonoscopy probe. “Unzip the top?”
Adriana opened the bag and Kate inserted the scope, then looked through the eyepiece. “Oh. Yes. There it – she is. Aw, she’s adorable!”
“I know, right?” Adriana beamed. “Everyone, take a look.”
“When did you first spot her?” Charlie asked. Kate offered him the scope and he peered inside the bag.
“She began acting up today at the diner, and I caught sight of her roaming just a few moments ago. She’s anchored to my bag, but she has a fairly decent range, about six meters, I’d guess.”
“Did you get a good visual?” Charlie squinted his left eye tight. “I’m just seeing a white blur, honestly.”
“Adjust the eyepiece, it’s set for Kate. Yeah, she looks like an oval blob, about the size of a large egg, draped in a small death shroud. She wears, like, this mask with a surprised expression and she has a small red bow on top of her… I don’t know, what would be a head if she wasn’t a blob. My guess is she’s an animate soul fragment.”
Lester looked next. “Nice.” He handed the scope to Claire Blackpool. “She is CUTE!” Claire squealed.
“Well, we know it’s positively charged, whatever it is. No other way it could anchor to your bag, not with all that protection.”
“She needs a name,” Claire said, handing the scope to Sadie.
“Team mascot,” Lester nodded.
“Chibi,” Sadie said, her eye pressed to the scope’s viewing apparatus.
“What’s that mean?” Adriana asked.
“Chibi. It’s Japanese slang meaning ‘small’ or ‘short.’ In anime and manga, it connotes kawaii. Cuteness culture. It’s the only possible name for something this insipidly adorable.”
“I like it,” Claire said. “Chibi it is, then!”
“Shouldn’t I get to name her?” Adriana said.
Lester snatched the bag from the table, Kate’s scope still trailing from the top, and held it up where it nearly brushed the ceiling. “And I dub this, the most epic and Excalibur of all field bags ever granted by a generous sponsor to a deserving young Shriexer to reward her can-do attitude, spirit, and moxie… Chibihome!”
“Oh, no,” Adriana said. “Please don’t.”
Later, Adriana put Chibihome in her room, in the corner near the rest of her things.
Team Mwerte was renting a second empire Victorian in central Michigan as their main base of operations for this first leg of the Shriexing season. It was to be their home for the next month. The rooms were small, so everyone had one. Adriana’s was in the corner tower, at the end of a winding stair, under the witch’s hat turret.
Adriana went back downstairs with the others, and the room was still.
After an hour, Chibihome twitched once, then twice. Chibi rose up, passing through the sturdy zipper like it was nothing. She glowed faintly in the darkness.
She made her way down the stairs, floating softly, corkscrewing around and around until she entered the sitting room. Here, the people had set up their electronic equipment. She recognized laptops, which had been new things in her time of life, but some of the rest of it she didn’t understand. It didn’t matter.
The people, including her person, were in the dining room, which was on the other side of the kitchen. On her way through, she paused by the table, and read the newspaper clippings spread out there. The lights were out, but she could see just fine. Camp Counselor Suspected in Savage Ax Murders, one of the headlines read.
She continued to the family room but did not enter, hovering instead by the shadows just outside the doorway.
Her person was talking. “So, don’t forget, on Sunday, Claire and I are going to meet up with Gina from Freak Runners. They have a couple newbies they want to break in, so we’re going to do the Scissor House.”
“Can’t they handle that on their own?” A man said this. “They have, like, twice our roster.”
“Claire hasn’t been through yet.”
“I haven’t been there yet.” This was a said by a woman who was not Chibi’s person. “I want to go, check it off my list.”
“Oh,” Chibi said, but her voice was like a tuft of air seeping from a crypt, and no on heard her.
She left her person, and the others, and returned to the room at the top of the tower.
There, she emptied her person’s bag until there was a pile of objects on the floor. All kinds of objects. Magickal amulets and bags of herbs, feminine hygiene products, a small leather bound black notebook, hair ties. There was a lot of clutter in the bag. Chibi was familiar with all of it because she lived amongst these things.
Methodically, she began arranging it all on the floor. To do so, she picked each object up with her mouth, which appeared to be part of a mask, but wasn’t. She could open her mouth very wide if she wanted, and when she did so sometimes tendrils of shadow would seep forth, like smoke from a Halloween fog machine.
After arranging the objects, Chibi descended back into Chibihome, and rested there.
When Adriana came back to her room, it was late, and the moon hung nearly full over the barren trees entombing the house. In the moonlight she was able to see that something was amiss, even before turning on the light.
On the floor, the contents of her bag had been arranged to form a single word.
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