Tale of the

Mothman’s Return

Prologue

Point Pleasant, West Virginia

December 15th

1967

The man in black stood at the top of the Silver Bridge, still as a statue, smiling.

He smiled because tonight, their work was done. His entire life led to this moment—all of theirs did. This was the night they came out of hiding. This was the night the world knelt at their feet.

A cold wind blew, but the man’s bowler hat remained fixed on his head. His black suit and tie didn’t so much as ruffle in the breeze. Invisible energy crackled in the air, like suppressed lightning—but this was no electricity. The storm brewing on that chilly winter night held more destructive force than anything this world had seen.

This was the eye of the storm.

The man in black spread his arms, smiling unnaturally wide. Here, at the highest point of the suspension bridge, he could see everything—not just the cars piling over the river, but his people waiting in position. This night had been planned for years. Every role was precisely memorized. Nothing could go wrong.

The man in black turned around, and saw the Seam.

Ordinary eyes would see nothing but empty space over the Ohio River. But beneath his dark sunglasses, this man’s eyes weren’t ordinary at all. He saw it. The reason black cars from another decade were parked throughout the town. The reason men who weren’t men at all came here, infiltrated Point Pleasant, and worked tirelessly on this bridge.

The Seam.

The space over the river rippled like waves in a pond, distorting the view of the city across the bridge. It was a weak spot, like the seam in fabric held together by stitches. Only here, it was the fabric of reality which was stitched in place.

Tonight, the Seam would open.

The man in black gave the signal, and his brothers—all in identical black suits, all smiling without humor—began the process. They had been working on this bridge for months, making secret additions that transformed it into a massive electromagnetic amplifier. At the base of the bridge on each side, these men powered on their machines, pumping specific frequencies of sound and electronic pulses into the metal.

The Silver Bridge vibrated like a tuning fork.

The man in black watched as the Seam responded. It was like dropping a stone into water; the gentle ebb and flow became a series of violent waves.

The stitches that held the world together were coming undone.

And the man in black smiled.

Traffic was at a standstill, car horns blaring impatiently. The drivers would surely feel the winds changing, the air filling up with energy from an alien world.

Then, something flew out of the Seam.

The man in black’s smile did not falter, but his eyes followed the dark, winged shape as it descended upon the bridge. This interruption came as no surprise, and the man in black knew exactly what to do with this intruder. He reached under his coat and withdrew a large revolver, as did his brothers below.

The winged shadow swept across the length of the bridge, then circled back towards the tower where the man in black watched. The revolver traced the shadow’s movement with eerie precision, waiting until it came close enough to strike.

Normal bullets couldn’t hurt a shadow, but these bullets were as normal as the man about to fire them. They were made of solid silver, and carried a destructive electromagnetic charge.

The winged shadow flew up the tower, and spread its wings. Huge, red eyes glared at the man in black, who continued to smile in return.

He pulled the trigger.

Once.

Twice.

And a third time, for luck.

The winged shadow staggered back, but remained airborne. All the bullets succeeded in doing was ruffling its feathers.

For the first time that night, the man in black’s smile faltered.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. The lab results were conclusive. Intangible beings should be utterly destroyed by bullets treated in such a way. It wasn’t possible to shrug off charged silver like that, not if you are made of etheric energy.

Which would mean… That shadow wasn’t what they expected.

The winged anomaly dove back to the lower levels of the bridge. The man in black watched as it flew right along the edges, practically touching the eyebars suspending the bridge as it went.

Then, the man in black heard something groan.

It wasn’t the shadow, nor some effect of the storm or the Seam. It was a far more mundane groan than that.

It was the bridge.

Everything began to rock back and forth, as the weight of dozens of cars pressed down on the bridge. This was impossible. The plan was flawless. And besides, it was almost complete—he glanced at the Seam and saw the ripples growing larger and deeper. At this point, that shadow would have to destroy the entire bridge to stop it, and there wasn’t enough time for that. The man in black worked on this bridge for months, and knew it intimately. He calculated how much it would take, given the current load of cars, to bring it down.

Realization dawned upon him, and his smile was replaced with a look of such intense rage it didn’t appear human.

All it would take was one eyebar in a suspension chain. One small mistake in the wrong place, and everything would crumble.

The Silver Bridge swayed, and one by one the suspensions snapped.

The man in black’s eyes bulged. The mistake was so simple, so stupid, in retrospect. But the flaw was always obvious after the fact.

The bridge collapsed, plunging cars into the icy waters below. The man in black, standing atop the tower, was knocked off his feet. He fell, cursing that winged menace with every inch he descended.

They tried to break through the fabric of reality by hitting its weakest point.

And, in turn, their plan was stopped by a single eyebar, an imperfection no more than a tenth of an inch.

Before plunging into his icy grave, the man in black saw where they went wrong.

And knew that next time, his brethren would succeed where he failed.


Chapter 1

Present Day

“I heard they have, like, six legs and eleven hands,” said Doug, waving the narrow beam of his flashlight across the treeline.

“If they have six legs, how many butts do they have?” Mike added with a snicker. This was followed by the sound of plastic hitting his skull. Judging by the light pointing to the sky, someone hit him with their flashlight. “Ow! Sorry, Hillary.”

“You better be,” said Hillary, adjusting her flashlight.

“I’m serious! And they eat faces for breakfast, then spit out the eyeballs like watermelon seeds.” Doug demonstrated by puckering up his face and making spitting noises at each of them. He was a tall, lanky black kid with an ever-growing afro.

From several steps ahead, Spencer turned and spoke from over his shoulder. “A face-eating alien wouldn’t spit eyeballs. Those are rich in nutrients, and are too soft to spit far.”

Mike gave a bellowing chuckle, pointing his flashlight at Doug’s horrified face. Mike was the same height as Doug but at least four times as wide—and had a voice that carried for miles. “Oh ho! Showed you up!”

“B—but, why would you even know that?” said Doug, gesturing frantically as this revelation sank in. “Seriously man, who knows things like that?!”

“Can any of you shut up for like, ten seconds?” Tasha sighed. “You’re scaring the aliens away.”

“Yeah Doug, the loudest moron is always the first to go.” Mike scrunched up his face, mouth wide open, and grabbed at him. “Braaaaaains!”

Hillary smacked him again with her flashlight. At five foot one, she had to stand on her tiptoes to reach Mike’s head. “Then how are you not Martian chow?”

From the back of the group, Tasha rolled her eyes.

It was well past midnight, and clouds blotted out the sky. Beyond the flimsy beams of five flashlights, the night was pitch-black. Tasha didn’t really want to be here, but everyone else was down. She had no intention of giving Mike something to razz her about, so she tagged along. Now, Tasha was beginning to think it would have been worth the jokes; this little trip was getting lamer by the minute.

Tasha scanned around them with her flashlight. She was in the back of the group, so if there was something on the ground to trip on she’d notice whoever face-planted and step around that spot. Until then, Tasha wanted to get an idea for the surroundings.

“Have any of you been here before?” Tasha asked.

“To the TNT Area?” Mike laughed. “Who hasn’t? It’s only the creepiest place in Point Pleasant.”

“I heard they keep real TNT out here,” Doug whispered.

“They used to,” came Spencer’s calm voice from the front. In the darkness, Tasha could hardly see him. Just his silhouette, five foot seven with an athletic build. “Long time ago they built these underground silos for storing explosives, then covered them with dirt. From the air it looks like a wildlife preserve. The explosives were all taken away long ago.”

“But the ghosts of those killed in the explosion are still here,” said Doug matter-of-factly.

“There weren’t any explosions.”

“I knew that. It’s the ghosts of the, er… TNT makers. Yeah, them ghosts.”

“You’re a moron, Doug.”

“So what is out here?” Tasha asked. Her flashlight revealed nothing but scattered woods and overgrown weeds.

“Ruins,” Mike said. “The silos are all empty, and so is the old factory. The wilderness swallowed them up. It’s all post-apocalyptic and stuff.”

“Sounds badass,” said Tasha.

Mike nodded. “Totally badass. Wait until you see it.”

Tasha continued to point her light every which way, but it all looked like someone’s unkempt backyard. The grass was long enough to reach her ankles, and the trees were thin and unimpressive. “Yeah, well, not sure if I can see anything. Why did we do this at night, again?”

“Because, that’s when the ‘Mothman’ goes on the hunt,” Mike narrated in his silliest dramatic voice.

“Right. Mothman.” Tasha shook her head, but smiled as she did it—Mike and her always gave each other crap. “Isn’t that the hick town version of Batman? Protecting the innocent from stray cows and boredom.”

“Shut up,” said Doug seriously. “Mothman is for real. My grand pops saw it.”

“Your grand pops also saw Elvis at the gas station,” Tasha pointed out.

“This was before he got all loopy.” Doug twirled a finger at his head, as if they didn’t know his grandpa walked on the fuzzy side of senility. “This was last time, when everybody saw Mothman in the sixties.”

“Oh yeah, I can picture your grand pops in the sixties,” said Tasha. She held her flashlight to her mouth, pretending it was a pipe and she was lighting it. “Much more reliable.”

Mike burst out laughing.

“You can decide for yourself,” Spencer called from the front. “We’re here.”

Everyone rushed next to Spencer, five beams of light criss-crossing on the sight ahead. It was an unnatural dome in the earth, like one of those native burial mounds. Tasha would have guessed that’s what it was, if it wasn’t for the metal door that cut into the side of the mound like a futuristic Hobbit hole.

“That’s a silo, huh?” Tasha whispered. “Creepy.”

They stood shoulder to shoulder, silently watching it.

“So, is it open, or what?” Hillary asked. There was a hint of impatience in her voice.

“Nah, they keep ’em locked,” said Mike.

Hillary elbowed him in the ribs. “Then what did we come out here for?”

“Ouch!” Mike rubbed his side. “Oh c’mon, like you don’t know. There have been so many sightings of weird shit out here lately, we had to get a piece of the action! It’s like, all of a sudden Point Pleasant is a magnet for UFO sightings. Not to mention Mothman.” He added that with a sarcastic grin.

“Whatever.” Hillary stuck her flashlight under her arm and took out a cellphone. She started idly flipping through social media apps.

“I’m telling you guys, it’s just like before,” said Doug. “My grand pops said everything started happening at once. UFOs, Mothman sightings, weird folks turning up in town… It’s happening again.”

“And once again, your grand pops is crazy,” Tasha pointed out. “I’ve lived here my whole life. We all have. And we all know that ‘Mothman’ freakout was a bunch of bullshit. Now people just keep it up for tourism.”

Mike faked a shocked expression. “You mean the ‘Mothman Museum’ isn’t for serious study?”

“Afraid not, big guy.”

“My life is a lie.”

Spencer also had his phone out, although Tasha thought it looked like a map instead of Facebook. “There should be something else up ahead. Come on.”

They all followed Spencer. Hillary let out an annoyed huff when she had to put her phone away.

After hiking another ten minutes into the wilderness, Tasha’s flashlight glinted off something metal.

“What’s that?” she gasped, sounding more afraid than she meant to.

The four other flashlight beams rushed to follow hers. They revealed a two-story metal frame overgrown with vegetation. And it wasn’t alone; a series of metal pillars went through the trees around them.

“The old TNT factory,” said Spencer.

“Okay, that’s super creepy,” Hillary said, her voice quiet.

“It’s like…” Tasha tried to find the words. “Like the skeleton of a building. All that’s left are metal bones.”

“Whoa, that’s deep,” said Doug. “You should like, be a poet or something.”

Tasha flipped him off.

“That’s about right, though,” Spencer said. He climbed over a patch of bushes to stand beneath the metal frame. “No walls, no people. Just the corpse of a factory, long abandoned out here.”

“Stop it,” Hillary squeaked. “You’re freaking me out.”

Spencer shrugged. “Just saying.”

Tasha slowly followed Spencer over the shrubs. Once she got past them, her feet landed on a metal floor. She pointed her flashlight up, moving it from arch to arch.

The rest of the crew followed. Doug’s foot caught on the bush, and he nearly fell over as he got inside the old factory. Straightening out, he said, “Whoa. This place is totally haunted. I can hear the ghosts chattering now.”

“Shut up,” Tasha said, although her voice was hushed. She hated to admit it, but she was spooked. Who could blame her? They were in the middle of a dead factory at midnight, searching for trouble where it was known to be found.

“So, what now?” asked Hillary.

Mike walked around, tapping on the frame. “Now we wait and watch. It’s stakeout time.”

“Sounds boring,” Hillary huffed. She took out her phone and leaned against a pillar. “Shout if aliens or ghosts or whatever show up.”

“Suit yourself,” said Mike. He slid off his backpack and rummaged through it, all smiles. “Who’s hungry? I got Doritos.”

Tasha’s ears perked up. “Cool Ranch?”

Mike grinned. “There any other kind?”

“Gimme.”

“Ah ha, what’s the password?”

Tasha pointed her flashlight at her own hand, so he could clearly see her give him the finger.

“Password accepted.” Mike tossed a small bag of chips to her. He turned to Spencer next. “Want some, vegan boy?”

Spencer’s eyes were fixed on his phone. “If you want to poison your body with chemicals, be my guest.”

Mike tore a bag open. “Don’t mind if I do!”

They set up camp inside the bleak metal remains of an explosives factory. Hillary and Spencer stayed on the sidelines, eyes on their phones. It wasn’t surprising; Hillary was always glued to that thing, and Spencer was a major technophile. They often joked that he’d marry his computer if it were legal. Not to his face, of course. Spencer hardly laughed, and kept his thoughts to himself more than not.

So that left Tasha, Mike, and Doug gathered in a circle on the stiff floor. They set their flashlights in a circle, ate chips, drank lukewarm cans of pop, and talked. It felt like gathering around a campfire, but with better snacks.

“You know,” Doug said. “I think maybe it is aliens. Them lights everyone is seeing.”

“Face-eating ones with six butts?” Mike snickered.

Doug waved him off, taking a swig of soda. “Nah man, real aliens. Little green men from outer space. You know I watched this thing on TV, and apparently there been aliens visiting us since like, Egypt and stuff.”

“Egypt is here today, genius,” said Tasha.

“I mean like, Egypt Egypt. You know, pyramids and kings and all that.” Doug nodded for emphasis. “Telling you, it’s some serious shit.”

“Pharaohs,” Spencer muttered from his spot a few feet away.

“Fair what?”

“Egypt didn’t have kings, it had pharaohs.” Spencer held his phone up to the sky. Tasha spotted some weird app on there, that moved when the phone changed direction. “I’m going to check something. BRB.”

“Bro, you can’t say ‘BRB’ in person,” said Mike. “It’s lame.”

Spencer glanced at him. “Yeah, well, so is coming all the way out here just to wait and hope something happens.”

Mike shook his head as Spencer walked further down the skeletal building. “That is one weird kid.”

“Well, he does have one thing right,” said Tasha, standing up and stretching. “This is lame. I’m going to see what he’s up to.”

“Whatever,” Mike said, shrugging. “But remember—you see anything freaky… Yell. I don’t want to miss that!”

That got a laugh out of Doug. Tasha ignored them and jogged to catch up with Spencer.

She found Spencer in a clearing outside the factory ruins, pointing his phone at the black sky. Tasha wandered over to him.

“Searching for a signal?” she said jokingly.

Missing her tone entirely, Spencer said, “I’ve got three bars. 4G internet. But the signal is a little clearer out here, I guess.”

“Okay…” Sometimes Tasha forgot Spencer’s lack of humor. “So, what are you doing out here?”

He looked at her—really looked—and Tasha was reminded of how intense those blue eyes could be. His face was lit up in the light from his phone. He was a contradiction; soft features and hard eyes, muscular but on the shorter side. His skin was surprisingly pale for being a pure-blooded Asian. Might have even been attractive, if he ever smiled. Spencer looked at her as if just realizing someone was there, taking an interest in what he was doing.

Then the moment was over, and his eyes softened.

“It’s a star map,” he explained. “Here, look.”

He held the phone up, and Tasha stood right behind him with her chin on his shoulder.

The phone had interconnected lines and dots all over. It really did move as he pointed it in a different direction, like staring through a camera instead of an app.

“It uses the GPS location and my phone’s built-in gyroscope to recreate the constellations that should be in the sky,” Spencer said. “If it wasn’t overcast, we could see the big dipper right about…” He turned on the spot until the familiar constellation showed up. “There.”

“You are such a dork,” Tasha said, but her eyes were wide with fascination. It really was a cool app. “I didn’t know you were an astrology buff.”

Astronomy is the study of celestial objects, not astrology. That’s the made-up zodiac stuff. And I’m not really into either of them. But we’re out here looking for aliens, so I figured taking notes on star and planetary alignment would be smart.”

Tasha took her chin off his shoulder and smiled. “So you really think there are aliens, huh?”

Spencer didn’t respond. His gaze was fixed in the distance, but he closed the star map without looking at it.

“Personally, I think this is all a load of bull. I mean, Mothman? Really? I’d rather be on my XBox right now blowing the heads off some zombies.”

Still Spencer didn’t say anything. He was motionless, except for his thumb changing apps. He had that intense stare going again, and Tasha wondered (not for the first time) what goes on in that head of his.

“Yo, Earth to Spencer, come in.” Tasha mimed answering a phone, then held the pretend unit up to his ear. “The world is dying to know; are we alone in the universe? Only Spencer Saito has the answer!”

“I think…” Spencer spoke slowly, holding his phone up again. Looked like he had the camera up. “That’s a UFO.”

The statement was so far out of left field, Tasha did a double-take. “Wh—what?” she asked. She followed his gaze across the horizon.

There it was. Tasha couldn’t believe her eyes—it couldn’t be what it looked like. Because what it looked like was impossible.

A series of three lights moved soundlessly over the treetops. At first Tasha thought they were all white, but they actually changed between white, green, blue, and yellow. It was… One hundred feet? More? Less? Hell, Tasha was terrible at judging distance. It wasn’t very far, though—and it was getting closer.

“What the hell?” Tasha muttered.

“Shh!” said Spencer.

At first Tasha thought they were three separate lights, but the longer she stared at them and how they moved… the more she thought they were all attached to a single object. Tasha grabbed Spencer’s arm and squeezed tight. Whatever it was, it was almost above them now.

“What do we do?” Tasha whispered. She could hardly hear her own words over the drumming of her heart.

Spencer—talkative as ever—said nothing. Instead he kept his camera fixed on the object as it glided right above them. If it was a one object, it was as large as a small house.

Then a fourth light appeared in the center of the other three.

It was directly above them.

Tasha held up a hand to shield her eyes. This light was impossibly bright, causing her to wince as if struck by it.

The bright light flashed in rapid succession. It pulsed in a rhythm of three flashes, followed by a few seconds of darkness.

Flash flash flash… Flash flash flash…

Tasha was overcome by dizziness, and within moments the world was a blur.


Chapter 2

Inglewood, California

That night

Natalie’s phone chimed in a rhythm of three quick chirps, accompanied by a buzzing vibration.

Mouth full of microwaved spaghetti and meatballs, Natalie rummaged through her pocket with one hand while the other spiraled another bite of food onto a fork. Somehow she managed to get her phone out and swipe the lock screen away, while simultaneously stuffing her face with saucy, spicy goodness—all without spilling a drop.

Natalie Elwin was a talented girl.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, when she saw who sent the email that triggered the ringtone, she managed to make an annoyed sigh at the same time as chew. When it came to multitasking, ol’ Nats was a pro. The clock was ticking, after all.

Only now, she’d love an excuse to stall.

Swallowing what she had in her mouth, Natalie opened the email and skimmed its contents.

From: Craig Weiss

Subject: URGENT! Mothman Deadline

Natalie, it’s Craig again—did you get my last two emails? This needs your attention ASAP!

I’ve got your plane tickets booked. We need you to leave in the morning, and get on top of this Mothman story before the other networks get all the scoop.

Call me AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS!

Regards,

Craig Weiss

Producer, Spear Studios

Natalie tossed her phone onto the table with more force than it deserved.

She did plan to call Craig back. Really, she did. She’d been planning on it for days, but things kept getting in the way before she could—things like, you know, anything else at all.

Her plane tickets were booked… for the morning. Damn, that sly weasel. Forcing her to act by booking without her permission. If she kept stonewalling him, the price of those tickets would come right off her paycheck.

Still, Natalie finished her spaghetti, threw away the plastic tray it came in, and meticulously washed her fork before finally returning his call.

Craig answered on the second ring. “I hardly believe my caller ID,” he said. “Natalie Elwin. You’ve been as hard to catch as those monsters you hunt.”

“But much better looking,” Natalie replied. She worked her charm out of force of habit—right now Natalie felt about as charming as a sasquatch with a stomach ache. “You wanted to talk with me, boss?”

“Talk with you? Good lord, I’m about ready to find a new host! Why haven’t you answered my emails?”

“Oh, you know… stuff. I’ve been really busy. The fan response to that chupacabra episode was overwhelming. I’ve had to, you know, respond to comments and all of that.”

“Respond to comments?”

“That’s right, sweetie.”

“For five days?

Natalie was grateful this conversation was over the phone. Her mouth hung open and her eyes darted around, trying frantically to think of a good excuse.

“Actually, I’ve been looking into a new monster,” Natalie lied. “It’s, um, a lake monster! Yeah, you won’t believe it. We have our own version of Nessie living in Lake Michigan. Viewers are going to eat it up.”

“Natalie…”

She bit her lip. “Yes, boss?”

“You have an episode lined up. You’re going to Point Pleasant, and you’re going to interview Mothman witnesses. Did you get my email? I’ve got plane tickets for tomorrow, and if you’re ass isn’t on that plane it’s going to be waiting in the unemployment line.”

Natalie dropped onto the couch, kicking a leg up on the arm rest. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Craig. Monsters of America is my baby. I am the show. You can’t fire me. The fans would revolt.”

There was an uncomfortable pause on the phone.

“We certainly can fire you, Natalie, and the fans would get over it,” said Craig calmly, although he was clearly ruffled. “Look, it’s out of both of our hands. Mr. Moneyman insisted we cover this story. I told him your reservations, but…”

“But what?” Natalie said, suddenly sitting upright. She didn’t like the tone he said it with.

Craig sighed. “He threatened to pull funding if we don’t do a Mothman story. Not just on your show, but on the entire studio.”

Natalie’s pulse did a tap dance. She struggled to sound relaxed. “Ah, he’s just blowing steam. Moneyman wouldn’t cut off the studio. He practically built it. Hell, he even renamed it! Trust me, this is all a—”

“Natalie,” he interrupted.

Gulping, Natalie said, “Yes, boss?”

“Your plane leaves in the morning. If you aren’t in Point Pleasant tomorrow, you are out. Done, finished. I know you started Monsters of America, and really, I’m impressed by the audience you made for it. But you know your contract as well as I do. We own it now. I’ve already talked to Phil, he’s willing to jump on and—”

“Phil?” Natalie stopped him there. “Phil Harmon? You are not thinking about replacing me with Phil freakin’ Harmon! That guy’s a loser!”

Craig groaned. “Just… get on that plane, Natalie. Do your job. Don’t put all of us in an awkward position. I’d love to keep you, but if we lose the Moneyman the whole studio could go under. There’s nothing to discuss. I’ll call you tomorrow night—and I sincerely hope that call goes to Point Pleasant.”

He hung up without waiting for a response.

Natalie stuck her tongue out at the phone, then tossed it onto the couch.

She stood up and paced her third floor studio apartment. It was cramped living—a tiny bedroom, bathroom, and one large room that functioned as a kitchen, dining, and living room—but that was all the space Natalie needed. Hey, at least the view was nice.

Natalie looked around the apartment. Mismatched furniture and clutter of all kinds. Books and open DVD cases and shoes and handbags all in seemingly random places. The table that housed her laptop, empty coffee mug, and yesterday’s newspaper.

She didn’t have many material things. More of her money went to where she lived as opposed to what she had—California was expensive, even for a cubicle-sized apartment like this. But Natalie loved Los Angeles, which was a short drive away. When you have the whole city waiting for you, who needs a fancy home?

All this could be gone tomorrow.

Natalie’s paycheck from Spear Studios was just enough for this lifestyle, but left nothing for savings. The fact was, everything she had came from that silly Monsters of America show, as well as the accompanied blog she posted to regularly. It all started with that blog, in fact; she grew such a following that it caught the attention of a TV studio a few years ago, and the paycheck had been rolling in since.

That check came at a price; ownership.

Natalie signed over the rights to the blog, the name, even her “professional image” as a cryptozoologist. That all belonged to Spear Studios now, although they gave her a lot of freedom. Technically she was an “independant freelancer,” which roughly translates to no health insurance and can be fired without warning. On the plus side, they pretty much let Natalie do as she pleased. She did all her own research, picked a handful of hot monster stories, and presented them to the studio. They had final say on what went on TV, but it was convenient for them to let Natalie do all the hard work.

Besides, she had a track record for success.

Natalie glanced at the pot of coffee, wondering if there was any left. The sun had been down for hours, but with a problem like this hanging over her head caffeine was a welcomed stimulant. She grabbed the pot, and found it unfortunately light. Great. She poured the last few drops into a mug, then buried it with cream and sugar. She took a sip, grimaced, then chugged the rest. It was sweet, bitter, and cold—much like her mood.

Putting the dirty mug in the sink, Natalie weighed her options.

Could she start over and build another successful blog? After all, she did it once. Who’s to say she couldn’t do it again?

The odds sucked. Her name was synonymous with monsters—Bigfoot, frogmen, all that crazy stuff. Rebranding herself as anything else would be an exercise in futility. She would always be “that reporter from Monsters of America.” And trying to make another cryptozoology blog? Forget it. She would be competing with herself, or at least with the show she created. The thought of taking on a normal, nine-to-five flashed before her eyes like a near-death experience. The thought made her shudder.

Natalie stood in front of her window, staring at the city lights. She saw her own troubled face reflected in the glass. Although pushing thirty, Natalie still had the youthful good looks that helped her through college—sleek body, long brown hair tied in a ponytail, smooth, tanned skin that hinted at being foreign and exotic. In truth, her nationality was the opposite of exotic; English on her mom’s side, Native American on her dad’s.

Only her eyes gave her age away. They were troubled, now more than usual.

Point Pleasant was the last place Natalie wanted to go, but it didn’t look like she had a choice. Money talks, usually a taunting little jingle of “It’s My Way or the Highway.”

Yeah, money talks, alright.

Mr. Moneyman—her and Craig’s little nickname for the private investor funding the studio—stuck his privileged nose in business from time to time. This wasn’t the first time he insisted on doing a certain show. The guy must be a closet Bigfoot hunter, because he always took special interest in Monsters of America.

Natalie reflected on the most recent episodes chosen by Mr. Moneyman, and shuddered.

Looking longingly at the empty coffee maker, Natalie considered brewing another pot. Chances were she’d be up all night, anyway. Because the Moneyman had a habit of picking places Natalie regretted going to.

Last year, she went to some hillbilly town in Wisconsin on his request. That turned into a nightmare; whatever was going on in Elkhorn was getting dangerous in a hurry. Natalie didn’t believe in werewolves, of course, but when that kid spoke to her, she felt something powerful boiling beneath the surface. The drama ended in a mass sighting at the county fair, but by then Natalie had hightailed it outta there.

Then he insisted she go to Minnesota, and spin some local murders into a vampire story. She thought it would take tons of creative liberties to make that believable… until she met a stranger in a dark alley. Natalie wouldn’t have taken the stranger’s veiled threats seriously, if it wasn’t for the ominous red glow in his eyes. She left that story half-finished, only one of the two scheduled episodes recorded. And boy, did Craig scold her for that.

Natalie slumped back into the couch, sinking her hands into her cheeks and sighing.

If Mr. Moneyman wanted her in Point Pleasant, that probably meant one thing; it was all kinds of crazy down there.

Natalie could deal with crazy. Really, she could. Her job was born from insanity to one degree or another. If it was a matter of that, Natalie would have put on her big girl pants and dealt with it, like always.

There was something else about Point Pleasant, however. Something that made Natalie drag her feet as much as possible.

Point Pleasant was the one place she promised never to go back to.

With another long, annoyed sigh, Natalie took the tie out of her hair and ran her fingers through it. The thought gave her a pounding headache. As much as she didn’t want to go there, Natalie couldn’t afford to lose her job.

She took her abused phone, and wrote a quick reply.

Yo Craig, tell Phil not to hold his breath—Natalie Elwin is on the job.

See you in West Virginia.

xoxo

Nats

She hit send, then shook her head.

“Watch out, Point Pleasant,” she mumbled. “Natalie’s coming home.”