"Remember when we dressed Butters like a girl, and hid in the bushes outside of that girl's house to watch?"

"Heidi Turner. Yeah." Kenny said.

"This is what that was like. Exactly. Except now we're sixteen and it's a lot creepier."

"If I remember, you were holding the binoculars."

"Kenny." Craig growled warningly.

"I mean, there's an overprotective dad," Kenny lowered his binoculars which were cracked in one lens, "But I'm not sure Butters has a fortune-telling device."

"Kenny." Craig snarled.

"This is totally different."

"When this is over," Craig said, crouching in a bush from across Butter's street, "I don't want to hear from you ever again."

A smile pulled at Kenny's mouth, "I'm wounded."

"I'm serious." Craig said through his nose.

Kenny resumed peering through his binoculars, "I know. We just need to know if the routines of the mysterious Butters Stotch bear any significance."

"This is so creepy." Craig groaned. "I don't understand why this matters."

"It probably doesn't." Kenny frowned, even though he continued to watch Butters through his open window. "I think he's significant."

Craig lay down in the brush, aware that if the owner of the house they were camped in front of cared to look out the window they would be easily seen. "How so? You still haven't told me why I should care."

Kenny smirked, "You're here because you don't care. Craig Tucker, overlord of Guinea Pigs and Not Giving a Fuck, doesn't care."

Craig sighed through his nose, not understanding at all, looking up with his head on his arms and feet on the stranger's house. "Keep Stripe the Fifth out of this." He said dryly.

"A friend of my friend is my friend."

"Don't threaten me or Stripe." Craig growled.

Kenny grinned.

Craig remained silent for several minutes, watching the stars emerge and almost dozing. He blinked back into full consciousness when he became aware of Kenny's body heat edging closer. He frowned sleepily. "But Butters?"

Kenny sighed and seemed to give up his endeavor on spying. He had never been good at subtleties. Puzzles, yes - subtleties, no. He lay his binoculars beside him and mimicked Craig's pose. "I haven't been totally honest with you." He said, looking at some clouds drifting over the darkening night.

Craig raised an eyebrow, "Duh."

"I can't die."

Craig's eyebrows seemed to be doing all the talking for him when they both raised doubtfully, but Craig remained unaffected. "Okay. And you think Butters has something to do with it?"

Kenny shook his head, and watched as the moon became more visible, "Not exactly. I think he's affected in a similar but different way. Maybe the way you are."

Craig frowned, and reached to scratch his leg. Laying in the dirt was making him itchy. "Why? Does any of this have to do with Stark's Pond?"

Kenny's eyes narrowed as he thought about his answer, "Yes. No. Kind of?" He sighed heavily, "Do you remember when you guys went leprechaun hunting?"

"Yeah." Craig rolled so he sat against the house, "The fab four disappeared for a while. Wait." Craig looked to the sky as he remembered, "You weren't there. It was just Butters. How did you know about the leprechauns? Where were you?" Craig looked at Kenny who was watching him. Craig stared back, "You hadn't been around for a while. Where did you go then?"

Kenny's smile was slow, pleased but bitter all the same. He waited.

Craig scowled, "You're not saying you were dead then?"

Kenny grinned, "Dead as your dreams of a boring life."

"Which are still kicking."

"More like a dying fish," Kenny quipped, "When the fish is still floating the right way up and reacting to being poked but it's pretty much dead."

"You're sick."

Kenny sat up and leaned into Craig's space. Craig reeled back, looking down his nose at the boy who was way too close. Kenny smirked, "You're still here." His voice was low.

Craig snorted and pushed Kenny away, "So why not just talk to Butters?"

Kenny exaggerated his fall backwards and landed on his back, "Yeah." But he seemed worried, and Craig didn't know how to deal with other people's emotions. Not that he cared.

It took Kenny a while to realize, but Butters was not as easy to find at school. Then he realized he had been a bad friend; He had lost track of Butters in the past few months. To be fair he had been busy. To be fair, Butters hadn't said anything.

So he called during lunch period.

The call was almost immediately dismissed and Kenny felt rejected. A quick text followed:

BS: im in the library no calls

Kenny pocketed his phone, dismissed himself from his table and dumped his free lunch in the trash bin.

Park County High's library was surprisingly new; the windows were tall and let inside plenty of light to stream past rows of books. Kenny quickly found Butters eating a yogurt cup from the cafeteria and reading in a dark corner of the library. Kenny slipped into the chair across from Butters and propped his chin on his hands like a girl waiting patiently. When Butters looked up Kenny batted his eyelashes.

"Hey stranger." Kenny said.

"Hi Ken." Butters' eyebrows raised, "Watcha doin'?"

"Well." Kenny lounged in his chair, rocking on the back legs. He looked up at the ceiling, "I guess I have some questions for ya."

"And what's that?" Butters closed his book and watched Kenny patiently. He was curious, and a little wary.

"Will you —" Kenny paused, "Okay, here's the thing." He plopped the chair upright and leaned forward on the table on his forearms, catching Butters' eyes, "I don't want to ask you here. That's totally lame. So, will you go on a date with me?"

If Butters could fluff in distress he would have. His face turned pink as he flustered, "Oh Ken. Kenny, I'm not gay."

Kenny grinned, "You're misunder-"

"I mean, I used to think you were cute when you dressed like a girl," Butters babbled, "But that was a long time ago, golly."

Kenny laughed quietly, "I could dress like that again, if that's your thing."

"Oh no. Please don't. You're still a boy and I'm not sure that's really..." Butters stopped and looked confused.

Kenny gave him a moment before pressing forward, "Not a real date." He amended, "I want to talk to you, and Marjorine."

Butters went from pink and flustered to pale and cold in seconds. He stared back at Kenny harshly, "Are you making fun of me mister? If you are—"

"No." Kenny said seriously. "I need to talk to you."

"Why Marjorine?" Butters folded his arms and leaned back. Kenny hoped Butters didn't close him off completely. "I could get in a lot trouble, you know—"

"It's important to me, and maybe you." Kenny edged his hands forward, as if to grab Butters' hands which were still folded, but Kenny didn't think it was the right gesture.

"..." Butters watched his hands like they were snakes, "I would have to change at your house, I can't just summon her. It's—"

"That's fine. Besides," Kenny smiled hesitantly, "I know you want to feel pretty sometimes. I remember what that was like. Wanted. And stuff." Kenny coughed and looked to the side.

The coldness in Butters' eyes flickered, but he remained silent.

"So," Kenny said. He leaned away and fidgeted, "We'll plan through text. I know you're busy. I wasn't planning anything fancy. Like, Denny's, or something."

"Sure." Butters relaxed, visibly relieved the conversation was over, "Kenny." He said, "Are you okay?"

Kenny was already pushing his chair away, ready to run. He paused, smile a little stiffer than before, "Yeah buddy, when am I not?"

Everything had been going fine, really, until Kenny died the day he was supposed to take Butters on their "date". The death was anticlimactic; Walking home with Damien in a comfortable silence. Crossing the street, Damien grabbed Kenny's arm and held him. Kenny had been paralyzed. He could see the truck coming at them.

Damien's eyes glowed red, "I'll meet you there." He said, and then everything was crushing bone and sinew, blasting horns and metal.

The waking was a little different than usual. He woke as if from a dream, propped in a chair, a magnificent feast spread before him. In his feverish dream haze, he wondered what portal brought him here.

He looked around, more confused than ever, looking for an answer.

Satan was chatting at the head of the table with a skeleton-like demon with wings and thin skin.

"Oh goddammit." Kenny groaned and readjusted himself in his chair.

Satan looked up and seemed pleased, "Oh, welcome back Kenny! I hope you're hungry."

"Can't you telegram like a normal person? RSVP? Give warning?" Kenny eyed the food warily.

"Death is unexpected." Satan said gravely, "You must accept the uncontrollable things in life."

"I had a date." Kenny moaned. He pushed his forehead into his hands, "He's gonna think I stood him up."

Satan was miffed at Kenny's less than enthusiastic response to being purposely killed and set up for a dinner in Hell, "Speaking of your friends." Satan said, "We should have a little chat about that. You have some points counting against you – Have you spoke to—"

A loud crack snapped through the room, and Damien appeared in smoke. Kenny coughed as Damien stepped out of his plume and dusted himself, "Good evening father. I apologize for my lateness."

"DAMIEN." Satan squealed, jumping to hug and fuss over his son.

Kenny watched grumpily, debating on throwing a tantrum until he was sent back. Alas – Satan had no control over how long he was gone. Sometimes it lasted months.

"Kenny!" Satan waved a huge red hand in front of Kenny's face. Kenny looked back at him, still hazy. Satan smiled kindly, "Wow that must have been a doozy of a death. I called you here because I wanted a status report."

Damien sat the table and started helping himself to some food, "Father likes to be involved." He said flatly.

Kenny felt the first prickles of rage. He reached for a dinner roll, and looked at it suspiciously, "Am I going to be doomed to stay here for eternity if I eat something?"

"Oh no dear," Satan said with an entire chicken hanging from his mouth, "That's demon-level stuff."

Kenny wasn't sure what the difference was, but trusted Satan. He took a bite, "Damien's doing fine. Any weirdness, people take for eccentricity."

Damien glanced at Kenny, mouth quirking into a slight smile, "That's a big word for a redneck."

Kenny paused as he was biting into something that looked like Shepherd's Pie. Damien didn't usually make jokes. He smiled, "Fuck you."

Satan beamed, "I'm so glad Damien's made friends! He'll be ready to take over the throne in no time."

"Not so father." Damien took a sip of water, "I have a millennial yet to learn."

Satan waved a hand dismissively, smiling, "Oh, don't worry about that. It'll come natural."

"Say Satan," Kenny asked around a chicken leg. Their surroundings were cavernous and in flames, "Damien might have helped summon Cthulhu. Know anything about that?"

"Hrmp." Damien grunted, "Most curious indeed."

Satan glanced to the side, reaching for a cluster of grapes, "You just get yourself in all sorts of trouble, don't you Kenny?" He mused. Kenny frowned but listened, focusing on the food in front of him. He vaguely wondered why they were eating in the first place. Satan continued, "Well, you know that Damien feeds off of negative energy, normally?"

Kenny nodded. Damien watched his father as they listened.

"If there were an opposite source of energy and the correct location, that may have been a trigger. It's a pretty simple concept."

Kenny's gears started turning. His brow knit as he thought, "What do you know about Kyle Broflovski?"

Satan glanced upward as he thought. The flames in the distance crackled. "Your little Jewish friend? Well, he'll be coming here since he doesn't believe in Hell or the right god. Other than that..." Satan frowned and shrugged, "Besides an abundance of existential crisis, he's rather normal."

Kenny was still holding a dinner roll, staring at the wooden table with a plethora of food. There were little mice in waistcoats running through the food, replenishing everything they ate. "Nothing about that energy thing you're talking about? What about Butters Stotch – er, Leopold Stotch. Satan." Kenny looked up pleadingly, meeting Satan's eyes. Satan was looking at him with a pitying expression. "What is wrong with our town?"

Satan set down his third chicken and sighed, "Nothing's wrong." He rubbed the back of his neck. "You're just caught up in it."

"Oh yes, I noticed." Damien neatly cut in a steak with a knife and fork, "I'm never hungry there. There's always a source of negativity."

That's when Kenny's brain came to a screeching halt.

Cthulhu is said to appear where there are great sources of negativity.

That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.

Kenny zeroed in on Satan, "And what about Butters?"

Satan coughed, "Oh my, I think it's time for you to make that date."

"But you can't control—"

Kenny woke in the too-small parka he always woke inside after his deaths. He wondered if he should try and buy a new one. He needed them for when there was no heating in the house in the winter. The money was there now, after all.

He didn't know what day it was. He died on a Saturday. Kenny struggled with the zipper of his coat, twisting his way out of the parka until he could throw it on the floor. Still laying on his back, he reached into his dresser drawer and fumbled for his weed. He needed to be high for what was coming next.

The sun was still out.

His phone was next to his lighter in the drawer. He wondered who put everything away so neatly. With a joint hanging from his mouth Kenny switched on the phone, immediately greeted that the battery was low.

A calendar notice flashed at him that he had a customer at two. Kenny smiled; He hadn't missed the date.

A single text alert followed when he dismissed the calendar. Butters.

BS: if u stand me up ill be very upset mister

KM: wouldn't dream of it

Kenny yawned and slipped out of bed to rummage for some clean clothes. He'd been able to afford the laundry mat lately, so most of his clothes were clean. After pulling on his shoes he started looking for his mother. Sure enough, on Saturdays she could be counted on to be watching television with a beer. Not drunk, just buzzing.

Kenny plopped onto the couch next to her. Carol turned her head and smiled sleepily. She seemed tired.

"Hey there sweetie." Carol croaked in her smoker's voice.

"Hey ma." Kenny flopped and lay his head in his mom's lap. Carol sipped her beer. "Will you cut my hair?" His blond shag was about to be ponytail length.

"Sure honey." Carol raised her eyebrows mild surprise. "When?"


Carol tossed her head, "Let me finish watching this and we'll set you up in the kitchen."

Kenny watched the rest of some Saturday fishing show. Normally Carol would be watching Maury, but really she would watch whatever was on the television. He thought about how Carol probably used to be pretty and wondered if she could have found a better life elsewhere.

Kenny found a metal folding chair and put it on the kitchen's cracking linoleum while Carol found some tape and scissors. She wasn't actually good at cutting his hair, but she was hurt when he let Wendy do it once and then Kenny knew his mom needed to feel wanted. He'd clip the stray ends later.

The whole process was therapeutic. He'd daze while his mother snipped away and itchy clumps of hair fell to his shoulders. He realized he shouldn't have put on a fresh shirt. Scrr-chip. Scrr-chip.


"Yes sweetie?"

"Do you ever regret having me?"

Carol's fingers stopped, "Oh hon." She stepped around him to kneel and grab his forearms. Kenny looked down at her and she seemed small for more reasons than being a small woman. "Don't you ever, ever think that." Carol implored with brown eyes. "Everyone one of you was wanted." Carol reached to gather him in her arms. Kenny returned the hug, feeling like he could crush her. She buried her face in his shoulder. "Except Kevin. He was a surprise."

Kenny laughed.

Carol released him and went back to cutting his hair. She was quiet for a few moments."The only thing I regret is falling in love with your dirtbag father."

Kenny sighed, "Where is he?"

"Randy." She said distastefully.

"Ah." Kenny risked turning his head a bit to look at Carol. "I got a date tonight."

"Oh?" Carol smiled and turned his head back. "Is she pretty?"

Kenny grinned, "Super."

"Well," Carol tore the tape off his hair and fluffed, "I always knew you'd get the pretty ones. Just make sure you wait before makin' me any gran-babies."

Kenny cringed at thought of children, then stood and shook out his shirt. "Thanks ma."

"Yer welcome." Carol beamed up at him and gave him another hug. Kenny returned the embrace, noticing his mom only came to his chest.

"Alright." Carol pat his shoulder and Kenny released her. "You go make yerself pretty for your date."

"I'll be powderin' mah nose." Kenny quirked two fingers at her and darted from the kitchen. Karen was sitting on the couch with Ruby Tucker, watching reruns of Terrance and Phillip.

Karen looked him and arched an eyebrow. "You got a bowl-cut."

Kenny frowned and ran his fingers through his hair. It was too choppy to be a bowl-cut. "You don't know style. Watch your shitty tv show." He started to leave.

"You love this show!" Karen yelled at him. He could hear Ruby giggling.

When Kenny shut the door to his room, he was greeted with Damien sitting on the second bed. Damien seemed to be thinking, which wasn't extremely strange.

"Hey Big D." Kenny threw himself on his own bed.

Damien wrinkled his nose. "Don't call me that. My father went through a phase."

Kenny laughed mildly and pulled out his phone for something to do with his hands.

"I have decided." Damien started He waited for Kenny to acknowledge him before continuing.

"Yeah?" Kenny grunted. He was playing Tetris on his phone.

"I will be assisting on your journey to discover your origins."

The corner of Kenny's mouth quirked. "Oh? Why's that?"

Damien sat primly on his bed, "As a thank you from my father. Also, I seem to be involved."

Kenny let his hand fall and his phone fall from his fingers. He stared at the ceiling. "Yeah." He said quietly as an affirmation. He rolled his head to look at Damien who was looking back evenly. "Not tonight though. I have some business." He frowned, "I thought you were busy being butt buddies with Ike, anyway."

Damien's eyebrows raised, "Butt buddies?" He shook his head, "With school in session we are on different schedules. Besides, his brother has become particularly antagonistic."

Kenny freshly remembered being decapitated in Liane Cartman's car. "Let's keep Kyle away until we have more information." He said reasonably.

And he couldn't face Stan right now. Not right now.

He was pretty sure Kyle would actually murder him if he ever figured anything out.

Damien gave him a puzzled look, "What happened? I am suddenly full of negative energy."

Kenny ran a hand over his face, "Do you know what Satan wanted to talk to me about my friends?"

Damien's eyes shied away, "Oh. Yes. Um."

Carol's voice screeched through the house. "KENNY." Kenny winced. "YER LITTLE FRIEND'S HERE."

Kenny groaned and sat up to greet Butters.

Carol's reception of Butters' exit from their house evaporated any warm feelings Kenny might have been harboring beforehand.

She scowled from the couch, beer still half-drank and stared Marjorine down, whose lower lip trembled as she tried to hold herself tall. "Don't tell me yer goin' on a date with a queer?"

Kenny sniffed and took Marjorine's arm in his. Marjorine clutched him like a life-saving anchor. "Don't you worry about that." Kenny responded. "At least least she's prettier than you'll ever be you hateful hag." He started dragging Marjorine to the door.

"Kenny!" Carol yelled, "Don't you talk to me that way! I JUST DON'T WANT YOU GOIN' TO HELL."

Marjorine ran outside before him while Kenny flipped her off as he slammed the door shut. He felt the door shake when something heavy hit the door behind him.

"Too late ma." Kenny mumbled. He looked up and saw Marjorine staring at him nervously.

"This was a bad idea." She fretted, pressing her knuckles together and sounding more like Butters by the second. "I'll grab my things through the window and we'll go out like normal. Why'd you tell her we're dating – that's not even true."

"I didn't say that." Kenny pushed himself from the door and started walking. He'd call a taxi. Marjorine followed, glancing around at the neighborhood which certainly wasn't at the standards of which she was accustomed. "I told her I'm going on a date tonight and she filled in the rest."

"You're a d-damn liar." Marjorine jogged to meet his step and they walked side by side. "Don't you dare use me to irritate your parents. Don't you dare."

Kenny felt a pang and looked down at his companion. Marjorine was glaring up at him, blue eyes sparkling with anger. She looked good with lip gloss. Kenny cleared his throat and looked away.

"I'm sorry." He said earnestly. He sighed heavily, shoving his hands in his pockets, "I've been using my friends a lot lately. I don't mean to use you like that."

Marjorine snorted and looked ahead, "But you mean to use me?"

Kenny's shoulders slumped, "Yeah."

"Why are you plying me with fucking Denny's then?"

Kenny watched the bus stop where they always stood as kids appear. Another block and they'd be at the King Soopers and their taxi would be there. "I don't want to be a scumbag. I wanted to do something nice at least."

Marjorine looked at him pityingly. A lot of people seemed to be doing that lately. "You could just ask me what you want to ask, ya know?"

"This is important."

"Yeah." Marjorine said with steel in her voice, "Everyone's problems are important to them."

The clink of dinnerware surrounded them as Kenny and Marjorine were seated in a booth by the kitchen. They both ordered Grand Slams.

"The other thing is, I wanted to run an experiment." Kenny said.

Marjorine looked up confused, carefully eating the whipped cream off her hot chocolate. "What? You lost me." She blinked, "You did that thing where you're thinking and say something in the middle of a conversation with yourself."

Kenny sipped his water, watching her carefully, "You know, no one's suspected a thing?" He gestured around them, "Everyone knows you. But they just kind of accepted that hey, that's Marjorine. Not Butters."

"Oh, well," Marjorine stirred her drink, "I wouldn't say that. Your mom didn't just accept it, did she? Or my dad." She added lowly.

Kenny rested his cheek in his hand, "Maybe you're just that good at makeup. I don't think so. I think it's more than that."

"Okay." Marjorine peered at him. Her lips pressed together in a half-frown, "So you don't think that it's because I've been practicing for a few years now?"

"No." Kenny leaned back in his booth, "You've missed details, if you look closely. You shouldn't be able to pull this off so perfectly. Not yet, I don't think."

Marjorine frowned, "What are you getting at?"

"Do you remember Imaginationland?"

Marjorine's eyes widened. She started turning and looking at the mug in her hand, "Y-yeah. That was a long time ago."

Kenny smiled thinly, "Everything you imagined came true, didn't it?"

"That was while we were in Imaginationland." Marjorine was starting to get irritated. "A-and." She looked at him uncertainly, uncomfortable with meeting Kenny's eyes, "That was a game we were playing as kids. Why are you bringing that up now?"

Kenny was glad she had missed the point Craig had made earlier. He grinned, "We experience a lot of things around here that we can't explain, right? If we talk about it we remember, but otherwise, BOOM."

Marjorine jumped when Kenny's voice raised. He made a jabbing motion with his index finger, "Reset button! Everything conveniently forgotten. Imaginationland was extremely real to you, wasn't it?"

Marjorine slumped in her chair, putting her mug to her lips, "I don't know." She mumbled. "I'm sure it was just a dream I made up and told you guys about."

"Maybe." Kenny nodded and crossed his arms, "Maybe you're just really good at playing pretend."

Marjorine glared at him sharply.

Kenny continued, "Maybe there's something else going on."

Marjorine barked a laugh and pushed her finished drink away. She immediately regretted it when she didn't have anything to occupy her hands. "Are you going to say it's aliens?"

Kenny hadn't actually considered the aliens, but he didn't think they were important. "Not quite." He leaned forward and caught Marjorine's eyes again. She fidgeted. "Craig and I have been investigating some things. And I need you keep an open mind about what I'm about to say."

Marjorine nodded.

"I have found some origin stories in Lovecraft's writings. Writings he explicitly said were false." Kenny was looking for something in Marjorine's reactions. "But they're real, they've all become real."

Marjorine stayed silent for a few moments, making sure that Kenny was done. "I've read some Lovecraft." She admitted, "The Call of Cthulhu?"

Kenny's face brightened, "Yeah. That one."

"Kenny." Marjorine started. "I'm really confused. I don't know what you're talking about anymore."

"The weird things that happen to me, like they've happened to you, have Lovecraft's stories as a base. At least the ones that happened to me." Kenny tried to explain. He was getting excited, "I think there's something creating a weird energy that attracts all the weirdness here. A portal maybe." He leaned forward a little too close over the table and Marjorine sat back, "I think your powers have something to do with my origins being possible."

Marjorine looked away from the table, "Our food is here."

Kenny sat back, disappointed. He realized he sounded insane. He waited for the waitress to leave their food and ask if they wanted anything else. Marjorine poked at her eggs.

Kenny looked at his pancakes sadly. Things weren't going quite the way he wanted, "I've freaked you out." He said, "I'm sorry. I guess I thought you might know something."

Marjorine sighed, "It's not that, Ken." She glanced around, "I can't have this conversation like I am now." She looked at him imploringly, "Will you give me a few days? You just threw a lot at me."

Kenny smiled bitterly, "I've acknowledged the elephant in the room, I guess."

Marjorine smiled softly, "Sort of. Can we talk about something else?"

"Yeah." Kenny grinned, "Tell me about cheerleading."

So she did.

Wednesday arrived and Butters had a feeling. He had a routine which he had dubbed "A Day In The Life" because it rarely changed. His routine was mandated and approved through the patriarchal system in his three-person family.

Dad would be drinking coffee and reading the paper while Mom did dishes. Butters always woke a little late so some eggs and toast would be waiting for him.

How are you today son. Good Dad, good. Looking forward to today. Thanks Mom for breakfast, gotta run. No problem sweetie, here give me a kiss.

Then Butters would take the bus to school. After a day of learning he would text his father that he was staying for a study session, then go to cheer practice.

During lunch that Wednesday, Butters was struck with a sick feeling independent of himself. He stopped and looked at Cartman who was eating with the rest of the football team - an ever-present anchor in relation to Butters' bad feelings.

He had forgotten something.

Sandy Finnegan stopped talking when she saw Butters go pale. "What's wrong?"

"I forgot my uniform." Butters said with a dead tone. The uniform was neatly folded in his closet, right where anyone who cared to lift a stack of comics could see.

Sandy tossed her head, "Oh don't worry. I'm sure you can borrow one of our sweatpants. Your hips are so narrow."

Maddie Blanche sighed with jealousy, "I have some pink ones if you don't mind. At least your butt won't stretch them out JESSICA."

Butters smiled shakily and looked at the table of girls chittering. His friends. They had no clue. "Thanks girls. I'll double-check anyway."

He tore his locker apart, books scattering and folders bending and spare clothes flying but he turned up empty. There was no uniform. Sitting on his knees in the hallway of his school, he put his hands together and prayed that the sick feeling had been the refried beans and not his intuition.

He texted his dad that he would be staying late to study. Stephen didn't text back his usual "k".

Butters slipped into the house around seven p.m. as usual, backpack over his shoulder and the scent of reheated pot roast in the air. His mother poked her head out of the kitchen.

"Evening sweetie." She said, "Your dad's in the study. He wants to speak to you."

"Thanks Mom." Butters' stomach bottomed.

He took twenty minutes to put his things away and another ten to pack an overnight bag. There was an umbrella stand by the front door - he tucked the bag behind it.

Butters stood in front of his father's study gathering himself. Somehow tonight would be different, he had to believe. He passed a hand through his hair - short on the sides and a little longer on top, a stylish kind of crew-cut that had long been father-approved. Butters noticed for the first time that he was getting taller. Not short anymore, anyway. He hadn't taken his height in a long time and he tended to slouch.

He knocked three times on the door and entered before granted permission.

Sure enough his father was smoking a pipe and Butters' uniform was neatly folded on his desk.

"Hi Dad." Butters said with a sort of finality.

Stephen turned his comfortable desk chair like a villain in a British film. "Son." Stephen greeted. He sighed sadly, "Son." He gestured to the uniform, "What is this?"

Butters gently shut the door and stood in an relaxed parade-rest position. He looked his father in the eye, "A male cheerleader uniform, sir." He said, putting the emphasis on male.

Stephen stared right back at him, "Why? Why would you deliberately antagonize me?"

"I didn't." Butters felt his eyes prickle , but no, he wouldn't cry tonight. "I like it."

Stephen's voice turned to acid and he lay a fist over the uniform, "You like being a fag?"

"No." Butters couldn't look at him anymore. He put his eyes on Stephen's pressed collar, "I like girls."

Stephen's voice was still low and even, "You're a fucking liar."

"YOU'RE the fucking liar." Butters shot back. His hands shook.

"Don't you dare swear at me." Stephen snarled.

"Don't call me a liar."

"You will not give me orders!"

Butters felt himself slouching. He made a point to pull his shoulders up, "At least I didn't drive someone to a murder suicide."

Stephen's face went pale but he glared angrily, "What are you even talking about? You're not making sense."

"You're gay Dad!" Butters' voice was rising. He could feel his face turning ugly. "You have a beautiful wife and y-you don't want to fuck her."

"BUTTERS." Stephen stood, face blank with rage, "Do not talk about your mother that way!"

"SHE ALMOST KILLED ME. DO YOU THINK I FORGOT?" Butters had moved his arms in front of him in case his dad decided to come at him. His voice was shaking and he was starting to cry. He gulped a huge breath, "Because you're gay. This is what this is abou-"

"You're going to hell." Stephen was looking at Butters' arms like he was also waiting for Butters to attack him, "It's my fault. I couldn't save you—"

Butters felt his cheeks become wet. "There's nothing to save me from. I like girls and I like dresses, there's nothing—"

"You're crazy." Stephen repeated. His voice lowered into something more placating. He held his hand out to Butters. His other hand was still clutching his pipe which had gone out, "We can still help you. Butters, I still love you."

Somewhere in Butters' head he understood that the love was conditional. Still, the empty part of him desperately looking for acceptance latched onto Stephen's attempt to reel him back. "I-I love you too Dad."

"Then do this for me." Stephen stepped forward. Butters didn't step back, but he flinched. "We'll have you committed and this will all go away and we'll be happy."

Butters' mind spun like the reel on a fishing pole, whirring and buzzing to the point that he couldn't catch the handle. "I—"

He wanted to say "okay." He wanted his dad to love him. Unconditionally.

Butters looked in his father's eyes and believed that Stephen thought he was doing what was best. Butters stepped away.

"I can't."

He turned and ran. His mother was staring up at the end of the staircase when he came flying down and nearly ran her over.

"Butters!" She yelped, clutching her hands to her chest, "Whats going on?"

Butters skid to a halt, eyes skimming over his mother but his head wasn't catching up. "I'm sorry Mom." He said. He lurched forward and hugged her sloppily. Linda Stotch didn't return the hug but kept still like a frightened animal. "I love you. I'm sorry you married Dad."

He ran out the door, not grabbing the bag he had packed.

Butters didn't know how long he ran, only that he ran until he couldn't breathe and had to sit on the sidewalk, wheezing for breath. Only when he could breathe did he let a fresh sob bubble in his throat. After that he couldn't stop sobbing – full blown tears and snot ran down his face as he released sorrow into the cement and his knees. He felt helpless. He couldn't stop.

He cried for a long time until his sobs died into sniffles. Occasionally he thought about the fight and would choke on another cry but he was drained.


Butters looked up and lo, there were Stan and Kyle holding plastic shopping bags filled with candy and energy drinks and looking at him with concern. He hadn't seen them in a while. Butters hunched into himself.

"Hey fellas." Butters croaked. His voice was wrecked.

Stan and Kyle exchanged glances in their silent BFF language they didn't know they had.

"You look like shit." Stan said. He glanced at Kyle who didn't return it this time. Stan was uncomfortable but moved to sit next to Butters on the sidewalk. Butters realized he had ran straight into their neighborhood, which was next to his. "What happened?"

Kyle stood back and shoved his hands in his pockets.

"Oh, nuthin'." Butters smiled shakily, "Ya know. Just outed my dad for being a queer."

Stan pressed his lips together, "Took long enough."

Kyle spoke sharply, "Stan."

Stan sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Butters was irritated by him. "So do you need a place to stay?"

Butters remembered his phone in his pocket and reached for it. He didn't think he wanted to intrude on Stan and Kyle's little self-absorbed world anyway. "Nah." He said. He was feeling emotionless after such a hard cry. "I'll call Eric."

Kyle spoke again, "We're going to Stan's for dinner. Stay with us until he can pick you up. It's still practice."

Barely an hour had passed. It was almost nine p.m.

"Okay." Butters conceded. He rubbed at his eyes.

"Mom's making Mac 'n Cheese from the box." Stan said. He started to stand, "I'll tell her to put another in for you."

"Thanks, fellas." Butters stood and was hit with a fresh wave of exhaustion. Kyle started to walk ahead of them. Butters realized he wanted Kenny's company right in that moment, but Kyle and Stan would have to do.

Cartman got Butters' text soon after Butters arrived at Stan's house. Cartman arrived sweaty and furious.

"I'll fucking kill him." Cartman announced in the Marsh's living room. "His dad's a piece of shit."

Stan hushed Cartman hurriedly, "Shut up. He's sleeping."

Butters had passed out on the couch. Kyle was dozing next to him while the television flickered.

Cartman puffed his chest, "Do you want me to take him?"

Stan glanced over his shoulder, "Nah. Mom said it's okay."

"Yeah, well." Cartman studied Butters from the door and Stan knew Cartman would never admit he was worried. "The little bitch usually runs to me."

"We found him." Stan said, sensing Cartman was jealous that Butters was currently in his possession. He leaned against the wall and shoved his hair out of his eyes, "He was crying ... I dunno." Stan sighed. "We'll put him in the basement or something. Leave him a bowl of water."

Kyle mumbled sleepily from the couch, "Don't be mean."

"If you're not going to keep him, send him to Kenny." Cartman said. "I'd stick him in my closet but Mom wouldn't have it. Anyway, poor people live in packs."

Stan rolled his eyes and walked away to sit on the floor in front of the couch next to Kyle. Kyle glanced at him. Cartman trailed after, not willing to be dismissed yet.

"Butters isn't poor." Stan said, leaning his head against the armrest wearily. "He needs friends."

"And here we are." Cartman heaved into Randy's leather armchair. Stan thought he was going to have to Febreeze the chair. "Summoned like Butters is some polarity to force us to him."

Kyle was still half asleep and smiled lazily, "That's a big word for you, fatass."


Stan hushed them, "Dude, be quiet." He glared at them.

Kyle glanced down at Stan again, still smiling sleepily and pat Stan's head like a puppy. Stan swatted at his hand. Kyle's hand hovered for a moment before he placed it on his lap and fell asleep.

Stan sighed again, "There's leftover Mac 'n Cheese on the stove if you want it."

Cartman grinned and stood from the chair with a creak, "I was waiting for you to ask."

Stan and Cartman stayed awake, talking about nothing at the Marsh's kitchen table, Cartman's bowl empty of Mac 'n Cheese and Stan's half-consumed and crusted over. Stan's phone vibrated with a text message around two a.m. He glanced at it.

"Kenny's here." He frowned.

"Go let him in then." Cartman grunted, tired but still not willing to sleep. "Before he climbs through the window like a creepy hobo. You won't keep him from the faggot."

Stan left to answer the door and they returned. Kenny had his hands in his hoodie pockets and hunched his shoulders.

"Hey guys." Kenny mumbled.

Cartman crossed his arms and slumped in the kitchen chair. Stan and Kenny sat.

"Now that we're all here. We're not going to school tomorrow, are we?" Cartman huffed.

"Hell no." Stan groaned and lay his head in his arms, "This is more important. You've got practice though."

"Eh, I'm just a second string."

Kenny stretched his legs underneath the table, glancing between Cartman and Stan, "This is weird. All of us here."

Stan's voice was cold, "Yeah. It is."

Cartman scowled, "What crawled up your asshole?"

Kenny looked away angrily, "Plenty, I suspect."

"Fuck you." Stan snapped.

"Whoa." Cartman looked between them, bewildered and getting angry, "Whatever's got you both on your periods can go fuck itself."

Stan sat and looked at his hands, visibly agitated, "I'm sorry."

Kenny still wouldn't look at Stan, "I am too." He said quietly.

Cartman rolled his eyes, "Okay. Whatever. I'm. Going into the living room and ... sitting. Or sleeping, something."

"Dude, take a fucking shower. You reek." Stan said.

"I don't have spare clothes."

"You can have my dad's Saturday pants. He's getting fat."

"Fine." Cartman stood, shoving the kitchen chair back with a loud scrape, "Then I'm sleeping in your Lazyboy. Fuck all of this."

Kenny pulled up his hood and tightened the strings, "Stan, I need to talk to you."

Stan glanced at Kenny as he was leaving the kitchen to find Cartman some clothes, "Okay. In a minute."

Kenny nodded and sighed, sitting straight in the chair. He reached for Stan's half-eaten bowl of food while he waited.

The piping upstairs started whining and a minute later Stan appeared in the kitchen looking even more tired. Kenny looked at the empty bowl sheepishly, "I ate your leftovers."

"That's fine." Stan pulled out a chair and sat with an arm thrown over the back. His eyes were dark, "What did you want?"

"Firstly," Kenny tugged his hood strings, "Is Butters okay?"

"No." Stan looked over his shoulder into the living room, where Kyle and Butters were still dead asleep, "I don't know what he needs. I think he stormed out of his house today. He didn't want to talk about it."

"Fuck." Kenny slouched and he looked at the table sadly, "It was coming."

"Yeah." Stan looked back at Kenny, still irritated and lips tight, "What did you want, Kenny?"

The strings to his hoodie were tangling around his fingers, "I didn't mean to run you off."

Stan looked away, "I don't want to talk about this."

Kenny pressed forward, "Do you think I took advantage of you?"

Stan's face started turning red. He fidgeted in his chair, uncomfortable with the position he was sitting and not willing to change, "God, that makes me sound so ..." Stan gave into the discomfort and turned to face Kenny. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration, "No. Yes. A little? Not really."

"I don't want you to hate me."

"I don't." Stan rested his forehead in his hands, too exhausted for this conversation, "Can we forget about it?"

"Yes." Kenny tugged his hood down and went back to playing with the strings, "As long as we actually forget about it. I never said anything to anyone..."

"Me neither." Stan looked past his palms, still hiding behind his hands, "Never happened?"

Kenny smiled tentatively and held out his hand, "And never again."

Stan returned the shaky smile and grabbed Kenny's hand for a firm shake. They relaxed and withdrew to either side of the table.

They fell silent for several moments, before Stan spoke, "Sleep?" He asked.

"Fuck yeah." Kenny stood, and Stan made some beds on the floor and all five slept for a very long time.

Butters woke sprawled on the Marsh's couch. His dreams had been filled with images possessed animals killing everyone, of his father attacking him, memories of his mother's breakdown and unrelenting loneliness. For several moments he couldn't remember where he was. Then he recognized the smell of the Marsh's house – familiar and unfamiliar all the same.

He looked up and Cartman was still sleeping in Randy's Lazyboy. Butters groaned and noticed the crick in his neck.

Kyle emerged from the kitchen wielding a spatula. He tugged his free hand through his hair. "Hey Butters, are you hungry?" Kyle seemed disgustingly functional, and annoyingly cautious.

Butters pulled himself out of the awkward sprawl he'd ended in and rubbed his neck. The smell of toasted bread was wafting at him, "A little." He admitted. He frowned, "Stan's parents let you cook?"

Kyle snorted and shook the spatula, "I'm better than Sharon. She likes the break."

Butters grabbed the edge of the couch, finally noticing Kenny on the floor and the remnants of a second floorbed, "It's Thursday, did you all...?"

"Fuck school." Kyle interrupted, "We need to figure out what's going on. We have Randy and Sharon's permission to camp here today."

Butters sighed and hunched over to bury his head in his knees. "I'm sorry."

Kyle grunted, "Shut up. Er, god." He sighed and rubbed the back of his head, moving to sit next to Butters with a heavy plop. Butters flinched away like a startled kitten. "Look," Kyle started, "I'm not good with, feelings." Kyle looked at Butters huddled on the Marsh's couch, "But if you need anything just ask. Your dad is a scumbag."

Butters turned his head just enough to see Kyle looking awkward and holding the spatula away from the couch while it threatened to drip grease everywhere. A smile threatened to show on Butters' face, "Are you making bacon?" he asked in a tiny voice.

Kyle smiled, "Yeah."

"Can you leave mine kind of floppy?"

"Sure, dude. There's coffee and toast."

Kenny grumbled from the floor, hunching in his sleeping bag, "Make mine black. The toast. Black toast."

Cartman snored heavily.

Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Butters waited for Stan to emerge from a shower before waking Cartman before feasting on coffee, toast, eggs and bacon. None of them spoke much; Kenny drank an obscene amount of black coffee, acting mildly hungover despite being perfectly sober, and Stan and Cartman didn't seem capable of communicating past a few grunts. By the end, they had all properly woke but weren't quite ready for the conversation.

Stan shuffled away to load the dishwasher while Kyle pre-rinsed.

Butters half-dozed while sipping a coffee half-made with milk and several teaspoons of sugar.

"So." Kenny said, still clutching a Christmas-themed mug. "What are you doing?"

Butters groaned and pulled his cup closer. Kyle and Stan were still making a bunch of noise with the dishes. "I don't know. I have to go back, don't I?"

Cartman grunted as he drank a glass of milk, "Fuck your parents. I'll make Mom open up the basement to you."

"I can't do that." Butters said, "I'd have to be able to pay for everything through high school and I don't think I can do cheerleading, and work at the same time."

"It's possible." Kenny said, "Working and school. South Park's curriculum isn't extremely hard."

Butters slumped, tearfully, "I don't want to. I want to be normal."

Kyle was drying off his hands, "That's your decision." He said pragmatically, "You can give into your dad's demands, or leave. But leaving will be harder."

Butters visibly shut down after that, his eyes clouding over as he stared at nothing.

Stan moved to sit at the table, "Not helping." He muttered at Kyle.

Kyle shrugged defensively and sat with the others. The dishwasher thrummed in the background. The kitchen was bright with morning sun – It wasn't quite 11 a.m. They all looked at Butters.

Butters sighed, coming back to himself, "I'll stay with Eric for a few days. Then I'll see if Dad has cooled off."

Cartman puffed, pleased, "Don't worry about food. Mom always makes too much."

Kyle looked around the table, "So what are we doing today? Since we're all sick."

Kenny grinned into his coffee, "Sick with hooky. Communicable. We have to be ill but together."

Cartman snorted and rolled his eyes, "Stop with your gross, faggy sentimentality."

Stan smiled faintly, linking his hands together, "Indiana Jones marathon?"

"What about Saw?" Cartman chimed, "I could see some tasteful gore."

They ended up having an Lord of the Indiana Saw marathon. Butters fell asleep partway through Lord of the Rings and they changed the movie to the first Saw for Cartman. The day felt like a Saturday until Sharon came home from work still dressed in scrubs.

She looked at the boys inhabiting her living room, "This doesn't look like an emergency situation." She said with bemusement, "Not enough to skip school."

Stan leaned his head back on the couch so he could see his mom at the front door. "Emergency Saturday." He grinned, "We needed movies, stat."

Sharon took off her shoes and walked over to kiss Stan's forehead, "I'm just glad to see you looking up." She said. She looked at Butters who was still watching the tv on the floor. "Are you doing okay, sweetie?" she asked.

Butters looked up at her. The answer was 'no.' "Yes Mrs. Marsh." He said, "It'll be okay."

Sharon shrugged her work bag off her shoulder, "I'll order pizza. You all have to go home after that."

"There's dishes in the washer." Kyle informed Sharon.


Dinner went quietly after a scuffle on what to get on the pizzas. Kenny wrapped a few slices to take back to Karen. Cartman started urging Butters to get ready to sneak into his room so he could grab some things to move into his house.

Randy and Sharon were concerned. "You should tell your parents where you are." Sharon said, "Even if you don't go back for a while. They can still make the police bring you back."

Plans were made. Everyone went home, except for Kyle who had been staying at Stan's for longer and longer periods anyway.

Kenny went home around midnight with slightly more cash in his pocket. He remembered the pizza when he saw Karen sleeping on the couch with the tv still flashing. He shook her awake.

"Sis." He hissed. She grumbled at him. "I have food."

Karen's eyes opened at that, "Oh shit." She mumbled. Her eyes lit when Kenny dropped the saran-wrapped pizza on her chest. "Thanks."

Kenny nodded and slipped off. He entered his bedroom, tired, and not entirely happy to see Damien awake and reading on the second bed.

Damien peered over his book, "Welcome back." He observed Kenny's tired wave. "What is the matter?"

Kenny threw himself onto his bed face-first, "Plenty." He mumbled into the mattress, "Plenty is the matter."

"That is unfortunate." Damien said neutrally, "I have some news from my father."

"Oh?" Kenny vaguely wondered how Satan communicated.

"I can't tell you." Damien said flippantly, "It pertains to you though."

Kenny groaned, not in the mood for riddles.

"The other news is that those points counting against you have been forgiven."

"Fantastic." Kenny said in a deadpan, "This means no more deaths? No more mystery?"

"Of course not." Damien looked back at his book.

Kenny's eyes narrowed, "What do you know?"

"Most things." Damien said lightly, "I am unable to speak them. I will help you the best I can."

Kenny growled.

Damien sighed, moving his lips to say something but no words emerged. Kenny's eyebrows raised. Damien nodded at him, "See? I physically cannot say."

"Fantastic." Kenny repeated. "But this will be finished soon?"

"Maybe." Damien said. "If I have my way."

Kenny was too tired to want more than some help, even if he couldn't bother Butters anymore without seeming like an asshole. He slept, grateful to have Damien in the room with him.

Kyle knew he was hovering. After the whole ordeal from the end of summer, Stan was temporarily sent to the psych ward of Hell's Pass to make sure nothing else was wrong and to get a doctor's opinion. An actual shrink had to diagnose him. Stan hadn't been pleased but realized his behavior was more than teenaged carelessness.

The week that Stan was gone was worse than the whole summer. Kyle didn't know what to expect; He hated seeing Stan treated like an invalid, dressed in hospital-issued scrubs and looking like he was in a coma. Stan wasn't being drugged, he was just emotionally blank.

That's what Stan said, anyway. He also said he sort of liked the cocoon the hospital provided – he didn't have to think, didn't have to worry, didn't even have to think about mealtimes.

Kyle couldn't abide by that mentality. Stan's parents worried that Stan wasn't ready for school so soon – Stan insisted that school wasn't the issue.

Kyle did his best to be around during school time without alienating either of them. Stan had seemed to give up on socializing for at least the beginning of Sophomore year. Really, no one noticed but the Goths, whom Kyle felt a special kind of antagonism toward. He knew they weren't really to blame, but he wanted a reason for Stan's meltdown – they were the easiest target.

There was no reason, just a lack of self-made endorphins. So stupid.

Wendy had been extraordinarily gracious during Kyle's worried hovering. He hadn't realized he hadn't spoke to her in two weeks until she approached him during passing period and announced, "Just so you know, I'm going on a date with James McFinny."

"Oh shit." Kyle shut his locker and looked down at Wendy Testaburger – wildfire and patience in one body. He cringed with guilt, "God, I've been ignoring you ... Stan..."

Wendy smiled and pushed her hair over her shoulder, shifting her books in her arms, "It's okay. You're distracted. I'm just not going to wait for you."

Kyle hesitated but reached for her waist and pulled her in to kiss her forehead. Wendy sighed and leaned into him. "We could have been awesome." She said.

Kyle stepped back, picking his book bag from the ground, "Maybe later. When things calm down." He replied. She smiled and turned heel, disappearing into the student body.

Stan had seen, apparently. Or heard. He had asked at the lunch table, while the others were creating a ruckus. "You broke up with Wendy?" He was picking at his fries. He didn't eat a lot lately.

"Yeah." Kyle said around a stale hamburger. He glanced up thoughtfully, "Well, she broke up with me. I've been distracted, she said."

Stan glanced at him, "Sorry. You should date her still if you—"

"Nah." Kyle tried to give Stan an encouraging smile, "I don't mind." He did mind.

Stan went quiet but was visibly cheered. Almost glowing, Kyle dared to say. If being important to someone was all that Stan needed to make him happy, Kyle didn't mind giving encouragement.

Stan still wore him out. Kyle had to take days away, and every time he did, Stan was sulking when he came back.

"This isn't healthy." Kyle said tiredly when he entered Stan's room.

Stan was never doing anything particularly alarming, but his disposition was noticeably dour. Kyle would pat the top of Stan's head in a psudo-noogie and everything would be okay again.

Kyle felt like he had to make sure Stan was still there – to remind Stan that he was there.

All in all, sophomore year was starting in a weird haze. Kyle continued going to Cartman's for video game night and Away From Stan Time. Not the Friday after the Butters ordeal, of course. Stan seemed strangely cheered afterward.

"It was good having friends over?" Kyle breached tentatively. "They still like having you around." They spent a lot of time playing video games and doing homework in Stan's room.

Stan nodded, "Being around people is too exhausting most of the time." He nodded but was focused on their game of Tekken.

"Except me?"

"Yeah dude." Stan frowned, "Like, you and my parents."

Kyle supposed it was good that Stan was being honest.

The idea occurred to Stan when he saw Craig wandering around school with his small hand held video camera, narrating the Theatre Club members' activities like a dry animal documentary.

("A camera?" Stan had asked when he first noticed the development, "Not a telescope?"

Craig looked genuinely upset for a moment. "Yeah. No matter what way you slice it, I'm sixteen, the Universe is damn near fourteen billion. And I've got no fucking power over my decisions, everything that will ever happen to me or that I will ever cause to happen has long since been decided, all the little things that have to happen to get me there just haven't happened yet. If it's what I'm meant to do, then it's fucking inevitable. All of which means that I have to do this, let's be real here I have no choice in the matter, and even if this takes up the rest of my life the Universe is still going to be there when I'm done, and if it's not then none of us will know about it." Then, he glared. "I hope you're fucking happy. Spaceman Craig is dead.")

Clyde seemed to be enjoying the attention, at least.

Stan watched as Craig fake-lurked around the corners of Clyde's locker.

"The rather common but easily frightened Clyde appears to be rummaging for homework." Craig said in a deadpan. Clyde rolled his eyes and kept searching his locker. "Clydes are known for being messy and disorganized —"

"You're retarded." Clyde said to the camera, but was smiling.

"Quiet there!" Craig gasped, "We've appeared to have caught its attention."

Stan peered over Craig's shoulder, "I see you found a hobby besides following Kenny around."

Craig swung the camera. "The elusive Stanley Marsh." He said, "A rare glimpse before he skitters into whatever hole whence he came."

Stan laughed, flipped off the camera and indeed skittered away.

He dug his dad's old video camera out of the garage (complete with boom mic and tripod for whatever reason) and put it on his desk for consideration.

He had worked himself into such a routine that any change required great thought and effort. The dusty camera seemed to want to have greater meaning but Stan couldn't quite figure why. He watched for Kyle's reaction when he saw the video camera.

He could practically see Kyle's thoughts:

'The camera is new.

It has been placed in view for me to notice.

He'll talk about it when he's ready.'

Stan wasn't sure if was annoyed or appreciative of Kyle's reluctance to push conversation past a comfort zone. He knew Kyle didn't handle sensitive subjects with ... sensitivity. Stan was annoyed with himself for being so touchy and unreasonable at times. If Kyle asked about the camera he would get defensive and aloof. But he wanted Kyle to ask.

There was no use in getting upset about the camera, he eventually decided. Stan waited until Halloween to broach what he had wanted to do with the device.

Cartman was having conflicting feelings.

On one hand, Butters was totally a flaming faggot. His father's paranoia was totally justified because, come on, what straight dude wears chick clothes (And Cartman would kindly tell you to fuck off if you reminded him of his stints in dresses. That was for comedic value, thank you. Butters genuinely liked wearing girls' clothes). If Butters wanted back home he would conform to his father's not-completely unreasonable demands (Reasonable on the surface if Stephen Stotch wasn't also a closet fag. Cartman understood the words "double" and "standards.")

On the other hand Cartman didn't like other people attacking his property and felt a weird kind of protectiveness. He almost would call the feeling "friendship" if he was sure friendship was a feeling and not a social construct.

Sociology wasn't really his thing.

Anyway, Butters was living in his basement and had been for several months – girl clothes and all. Cartman didn't appreciate his mother encouraging Butters' little hobby because it made him uncomfortable in a way he couldn't quite articulate. Butters seemed to sense as such but did little to keep himself under wraps, so-to-speak. Butters was perfectly capable of being aggressive (Or stupidly pig-headed when it was least convenient, Cartman thought was a better descriptor. He knew well there was no sense in challenging Butters' unrelenting willpower), or passive-aggressive.

But Butters had been wilting under the continuing neglect from his parents. The Stotch's hadn't called the police – or anything. Cartman speculated they were waiting for Butters to come crawling back. Butters refused.

Liane didn't mind having more people in the house. Cartman wondered if his mother was really that oblivious (Probably).

Cartman had been surprised when Butters stopped socializing as much. Butters would go to practices and games but come back exhausted and mostly unwilling to talk. Butters had been sad before but not depressed. Cartman's brain was running around with red flags like a gymnast with a ribbon, but he didn't know what to do.

He felt like he had his own personal Stan growing mushrooms in his basement.

A few weeks before Halloween is when Cartman took a moment to register that he hadn't actually seen Stan for several weeks until the boss mushroom himself suggested at lunch that they do something to celebrate the event.

"I didn't even know you still came to school." Cartman said to Stan from his spot next to the jocks. Not with the jocks, next to them. There was a very strict lunch table hierarchy. Stan rolled his eyes at him, which was more sass than Cartman had seen for months. "Where do you even eat?"

"Roof." Stan said. He shifted his backpack on his shoulder and smirked, "I decided to descend."

"Fag." Cartman sniffed. "The red-haired one gave you permission?"

"Please." Stan rolled his eyes again, "He's been trying to get me out."

"Out of what?" Cartman smirked widely. Stan's expression went sour. "Meds are working then?"

Stan hesitated like he hadn't thought of the possibility, "Maybe." He admitted.

Cartman thought Butters could do with some socializing outside of his prissy cheer-leader girls, so he invited him.

"Stan wants to do some Ghost Hunter shit." Cartman said when Butters came home. He found himself considering Butters as part of his home more and more. "Halloween."

"That sounds like fun." Butters replied listlessly. "You guys have fun."

"You're coming." Cartman said from the couch. The couch was where he could give orders. The couch was his throne.

"No, I'm good."

"I swear to god Butters." Cartman gave Butters an ugly look that made the smaller boy shrink. "You're coming because we need ghost bait. Also to stop talking your hoard of hens."

"Okay, Eric." Butters sighed wearily. He slinked toward the basement. "As long as I don't have a game."

"Are you sure?" Kyle asked, leaning over Stan's shoulder as they watched an episode of Ghost Hunters on Stan's laptop. "Just seems out of nowhere."

"I mean, yeah. Let's do something dumb for Halloween." Stan hunched, keeping his eyes on the screen. They sat on the floor, side by side but the laptop was turned to avoid a glare from the window and Kyle was forced to lean close. "Unless you don't want to come." Stan chewed the inside of his lip, "I know you hate reality television."

"No, sounds like fun." Kyle shrugged. He moved away to lean against Stan's bed, stretching out his legs. His feet stretched out much further than Stan's, and Stan was displeased with the development. Stan didn't seem to be having that growth spurt Kyle kept trying to insist he would have. "Maybe we can put Cartman in a dress and say he's the ghost of the fat lady."

Stan laughed and moved a little closer, somehow afraid Kyle would turn into a ghost if he moved too far away, and glad that his best friend was okay with his stupid ideas.

"One more time." Kenny said wearily. He, Craig and Damien were at Stark's Pond and the sun was setting. They'd been at this for two hours.

Craig sat cross-legged on the ground with sunglasses over his face, "This isn't going to work." He said through his nose.

Damien declined to comment, and patiently watched Kenny and Craig from the nearby tree he leaned against.

Kenny took a deep breath and extended his arms like a conductor in front of an orchestra. He forced out a smile, "Once more, with passion!" He gestured to Craig, "Glasses!"

Craig pulled off his sunglasses with the enthusiasm of a used sponge. He looked at Damien from the ground, directly in the eye and ...

Damien looked back. Nothing happened.

Kenny groaned and sat, burying his head in his hands. "I was sure." Kenny mumbled. "I was sure this was it. So sure..."

Damien looked at Kenny with some concern. "Perhaps Kyle must be present."

"Dammit." Kenny's voice was muffled in his hands, "I didn't want to drag him into this. Or Ike."

Craig leaned back onto his hands, letting some small rocks press into his palms, "I doubt mini-Broflovski had anything do with it."

Kenny looked up at Damien. "Did you notice anything with Ike?"

Damien leaned his head back against his tree, thinking, "No." He said to the leaves above him, "The only strangeness seemed to be his oddly efficient networking."

"That kid's smart." Craig offered, "Stupidly smart. Sis says he has no friends."

"I know he's smart." Kenny grumbled, "Little prick bullied a date out of me with my sister."

Craig's eyebrows raised, "What?"

Kenny scowled and pressed his forehead into the heel of his palm, "He said he'd distract Kyle from when we, ya know, summoned Cthulhu if he could get a date with my sister without threat of maiming."

"So what, you're your sister's keeper?" Craig drawled, unimpressed. He tapped his fingers in the dirt.

"Fucking right I am." Kenny huffed. He rocked back, looking at the darkening sky with his fists clutching his pants, "I'm not worried about Ike, really. In any capacity."

The three boys fell quiet, unsure of what to do next.

"Damien." Kenny said uncertainly. Damien grunted at him. "Is there any significance about Halloween?"

Damien looked at the sky, starting to blend with the deepening shadows, "There is a significant change in energies that allow the human plane to ... become more susceptible to the otherworld."

"Whoa whoa." Craig looked between Damien and Kenny from his spot on the ground. They looked back. "Is this some crazy Pagan shit?"

Damien smiled thinly, "In a sense. Pagans were once more prone to being in touch with such changes. The word Pagan is used in a general way now, but once a specific people. Now you mean anyone who isn't Christian and worships nature."

"And what," Craig turned his gaze to Kenny, "Does crazy Pagan shit have to do with Cthulhu?"

Kenny sighed like Craig was creating a great burden for him. He leaned his head to the side and crossed his arms, "If there's a significant change in energies, maybe Cthulhu will be easier to reach in R'lyeh."

"And why would you want to go back to R'lyeh?" Craig asked, face twisting in disbelief, "If it's as bad as you say?"

Kenny rubbed his eyes with his fingers, "I'm going to be really honest." He looked at Craig directly, "I have no idea what I'm doing."

Damien spoke from his tree, "If I may make a suggestion."

Craig and Kenny turned their attentions to Damien, who hadn't had much to say during his roll in their search, "You should let this rest for a while."

Kenny sounded a lot like Craig for a moment, "What." He said in a deadpan.

"As your cousin," Damien said pointedly, arching an eyebrow, "I suggest that while Halloween may have some significance, you have been over-thinking a lot and it may do you some good to just let things happen."

Craig's eyes narrowed, "Well if that's not some prophetic bullshi—" He stopped and gave them a cornered look, "Aw no."

Kenny turned to him, puzzled, "What?"

"Prophetic bullshit." Craig repeated, "It's last year all over again."

Kenny was lost, "You're going to TP the Stotch's house?"

"No!" Craig bristled defensively, "Can't you see it? This is some self-fulfilling bullshit. This was always gonna happen, there's nothing any of us can do about it and... you know what?" He stood and dusted his jeans, "You don't need me." He looked at Damien who was watching him with amusement, "If you need me I'm sure I'll be there. Right now, I'm leaving. I'll let you know if the chemical processes that make me be a fucking retard and join you so happen to occur."

Kenny watched helplessly as Craig took off into the dark but didn't attempt to follow. "Wait! Craig." He raised a hand as though he could bring Craig back with willpower. "Fuck." Kenny flopped backwards, lay spread-eagle on the ground. The trees partially hid his view of the sky. "Thanks, Damien."

Damien's voice was amused but he wasn't laughing, "You will trust me on this."

"I will?" Kenny groaned, regretting his decision to slam his head against a small rock, "I guess I don't have a choice."

"You do." Damien said in a way that was probably supposed to be soothing, "But I suggest that this is the best course of action."

"Suggest, huh?" Kenny snorted. He added more seriously, "I trust you."

Damien offered a sharp-toothed grin, "I know."

"This is the time." Wendy said to Bebe during lunch. They had managed to find a corner alone, and Bebe multitasked as she picked at a breadstick and read on of her textbooks simultaneously. Wendy glared at the remainder of her cardboard-like pizza and twisted a napkin between her hands, "I will prove that I have exceptional organization skills and will take over the student council by next year."

"Calm down Hillary." Bebe drawled with disinterest. She quirked an eyebrow and spared Wendy a glance, "What are you guys even doing right now?"

"Halloween decorations." Wendy might have been offended that Bebe wasn't quite listening but she was busy taking her aggression out on the flimsy paper in her clutches. "Or would be if Brent FUCKER would take that stick out of his ass."

"Brent Tucker?" Bebe turned a page, "Like Craig Tucker?"

"No relation." Wendy said flatly.


Both Wendy and Bebe looked to see Clyde jogging over and looking pleased with himself. He parked himself in front of the girls and rocked on his heels.

He grinned, "You're looking lovely today Wendy."

"Hi Clyde." Wendy leaned heavily into her palm, elbow on the lunch table. "How can I help you?"

"Okay, so get this." Clyde waved his hands in the air like he was visualizing a framed picture, "Live. Props."

Bebe watched the proceedings as she sucked on a boxed juice, "What are you talking about?" She asked.

Clyde held up a finger at Bebe, pretending to be serious, "Hush you. The big kids are talking." Bebe rolled her eyes and Clyde turned back to Wendy, "The Theatre Club was brainstorming and we thought we could set up scarecrows, for the decorations?"

Wendy nodded when Clyde paused to make sure she was following. He started moving his hands around as he described further, "But we thought we could have some of the actors also dressed as scarecrows," He said eagerly, "And on the Friday before Halloween, the actors could get out like, ten minutes early and be waiting in the halls during passing period..."

"Wait, wait." Wendy held up a hand. Clyde stopped mid-gesture, looking like he was sure Wendy would deny him. She smiled gently, "It's a good idea."

A loud sucking sound came from Bebe's juice carton, "I think you just want out of class." She said, unimpressed.

Clyde sighed dramatically and crossed his arms, "Well, there's that." He nodded, "But we wanted to do something cool, okay?"

Wendy tapped her fingers on the lunch table, "Why don't you present the idea to the student council when we have our meeting? We always have a time for ideas. No one ever comes."

Clyde perked, "Ya think?" He grinned, "Okay, I'll do it then. On behalf of the Theatre Club!"

He turned on his heel and nearly bounced away like a happy puppy. Wendy smiled fondly as she watched him leave.

Bebe arched an eyebrow, absently chewing her straw, "You shouldn't encourage him."

Wendy looked across the lunch table at her friend, "Why? It was a good idea."

"He's already planning costumes. I can see it."


"Unless you want an excess of scarecrows standing around the school." Bebe scoffed, and started rearranging the trash on her lunch tray so it wouldn't fall when she stood. She laughed through her nose, "He's such a dweeb."

"Dude." Stan stared at the hallways of Park High the week before Halloween. He looked at Wendy who had come inside with him off the bus, "That's a lot of scarecrows."

Wendy laughed sheepishly. Indeed there was a scarecrow on either side of the twelfth-grade hallways approximately every five feet. People awkwardly shuffled around the scarecrows as they tried to get to their lockers.

"I may have got Clyde's hopes up by accident." She admitted, "Brent shot him down but approved the scarecrows."

Stan watched as a few seniors were picking up the scarecrows and chasing each other with them. He shifted his book bag on his shoulder, "I feel like this is going to end badly."

Wendy scoffed and dove into the fray of early morning students, "Everything always ends badly here."


Before Stan could follow Wendy, Clyde appeared with bits of straw in his hair, appearing harried but grinning regardless. Stan turned to face him.

"'sup?" Stan asked.

"I have an idea." Clyde said excitedly.

"Oh no." Stan didn't bother hiding his doubtful expression, sure that he wouldn't like whatever scheme Clyde was hatching.

"Walk with me." Clyde threw an arm around Stan's shoulder and started dragging him along. The puffy sleeve from Clyde's letter jacket make Stan feel smaller than he was (the jacket was actually Clyde's father's but he had worn religiously since he was big enough to fit. People didn't get letters for theatre). Stan bristled and shrugged Clyde off but but walked with him as they dodged through the body of students.

"You have straw in your hair." Stan said unhappily.

"I know." Clyde dismissed, "So I hear you're doing some video prank next week?"

Stan stopped in front of his locker, "This is my locker."

"No, no, we're walking."

Stan's face twisted impatiently as he started on the combination lock, "Clyde."

Clyde smiled apologetically, "Sorry." He leaned against the locker next to Stan's, "So?"

"It's not a prank." Stan said, the press of social interaction with someone he didn't particularly care for making him tired. "We're just going into some abandoned areas with a camera."

"Oh." Clyde's face fell, "Well, I still want to come."

Stan knelt to pull some books out of his bag and shove them haphazardly with some bent folders, "Why? Not that I'd really care but you've been nosy lately."

A pencil rolled out of Stan's locker and Clyde reflexively grabbed the pencil, "So..." He tinged pink, "We have these extra scarecrows ..."

Still kneeling, Stan gave Clyde a searching, unimpressed expression.

"I thought it'd be funny to leave the extras around town. And in the abandoned areas." Clyde shrugged, twirling the pencil between his fingers. "So when people go back next year there's these creepy, rotten scarecrows."

Stan frowned, staring at his locker, finished but pretending to mess with the stuff inside. "So why not go on your own?"

"Um." Clyde looked away, "Craig said it was stupid, Token's going to some party, Tweek will only go with more people and it's lame if I do it alone."

"So, you and Tweek?"

Clyde nodded, brightening.

Stan thought seven people was too many to go ghost hunting because of the noise. There probably wouldn't be anything remotely scary anyway.

"Sure. Come along." Stan sighed. "But you have to carry your own shit, we're not helping."

"Sweet!" Clyde beamed and handed Stan his pencil, "I'll tell Craig to take that bit where he calls you a sniveling assmunch out of his documentary."

Stan blinked and watched Clyde turn and bolt for his first class, aware of the mostly empty school hallways. He looked at the ceiling, confused.

"Sniveling assmunch?"

"So uh." Kyle said over the cellphone a week later, "Wendy wants to come."

Stan groaned, pressing his head into his desk. "Why?" He mumbled into the cheap plywood. He looked at the camera at the edge of his desk, now cleaned and ready for the night. "I thought she had some party."

Kyle twirled in his desk chair, socked feet on the edge, "Some fallout with Mark Hutchenson, I dunno. She said it was to avoid conflict." Kyle frowned, "What's wrong? You like Wendy."

"It's not that." Stan said, staring at his room's window, "This started as five people, now we're at eight."

"So? You have friends." Kyle laughed, "It'll be an adventure. I think people are just excited that you're talking again."

"I didn't stop talking." Stan groused.

Kyle cleared his throat, "Are you ready?"

Stan tried to be cranky but smiled at his camcorder, "Yeah, after dinner."

"You sonovabitch."

Stan stared at the youngest Broflovski on his doorstep, who stood behind Kyle, waving cockily.

Kyle was displeased as well, with his hands shoved his hoodie pockets "Ma wouldn't have it." He scowled, "She demanded that I take Ike because they were staying in while we were seeing a movie."

"Shut up." Ike said with a bored lilt, "I'm carrying the flashlight." He showed Stan the flashlight like a peace offering.

"This is so stupid." Stan groaned. He leaned against his door frame. Ike made some snide comment about not being welcome but Kyle and Stan ignored him. Stan had found a small bag to put the camera in and had it slung over his chest like a messenger bag – he adjusted the strap across his chest. "Okay, let's go get Kenny."

Kenny wasn't home when they stopped to retrieve him and wasn't answering his phone. Kenny-less and confused, the three boys went to Cartman's, where Tweek, Clyde, Butters and Cartman were waiting on the lawn.

Tweek and Clyde had two scarecrows tied to their backs each, and Butters had been bullied into carrying one and appeared highly-displeased.

"Do you think Scarecrows work on ghosts?" Clyde asked in a disgustingly pleased voice, "I wouldn't want to ruin your thing."

Stan gripped the strap slung over his chest, "I think a clamoring, noisy," He glared at Kyle who shrugged sheepishly, "Group of people does. Where's Wendy?"


The boys looked down the sidewalk to see Wendy jogging along with Bebe trailing behind her. They were brimming with excitement.

Stan turned to Kyle, "Kyle."

Kyle held up his hands, "I didn't know Bebe was coming."

Wendy and Bebe skidded to a halt, breathing hard. They were both at least dressed for the excursion in buttoned jackets and dirty sneakers. Bebe had her hair pulled into a messy but artful bun and Wendy, hers in a ponytail. Wendy adjusted her collar, flushed from the bite of the air, "Kenny told us about this too ..." She looked around, "Where's Kenny?"

Absolutely no one had seen Kenny and after a few phone calls, everyone shrugged off his absence since he tended to float in and out anyway.

Everyone turned to Stan - he recoiled when he noticed. The day's light was dying and he had a group of people looking at him on a varying spectrum of expectation and boredom.

"So," Kyle prodded, sidling next to him, "What's the plan, fearless leader? This is your thing."

Stan looked up at Kyle, and a moment of anxiety struck him – he was sure he was going to fuck this up.

"We're going to the train station that shut down a few years ago." Stan said with as much confidence as he could muster. He glanced at Kyle for approval, and Kyle grinned at him encouragingly. The group of nine teenagers agreed amiably and they set off in a pack.

The feeling of Halloween was in the air – the dying leaves, the nippy air. They talked in a loud sort of murmur the way that teenagers do. Kyle hung back to chat with Wendy, Bebe was scolding Clyde over something, Tweek and Butters were talking quietly while they labored over their load of scarecrows and Ike and Cartman hung behind everyone.

They reached the train station, which was still receiving maintenance for selling purposes, but steadily showing signs of vandalism and overgrowth of vines. Stan had quietly accepted that this whole endeavor was probably lost. The line of kids stopped in front of the tracks, looking at the neglected mess of metal, wood and plants and the building itself which was still almost presentable.

The station had been built when the railroad at the base of the mountain near South Park was still being used for passenger trains. The building had long been torn and rebuilt since the 1860s. The road had been used for loading trains after it was apparent South Park wasn't going to be a boom town, then passenger trains again until years ago the line shut down and so did the station. The tracks were showing signs of neglect and age, and the building was faring little better.

Stan reached into his bag and pulled out a small pocket flashlight. He looked over his shoulder, rolling his eyes when he saw Cartman was trying to scare Tweek, who was unimpressed. Butters was complaining. "Did everyone bring a light?"

The group fell into a silence. Ike proudly held up his light. Clyde looked at Tweek, who reached into the shoulder of his scarecrow and presented two normal-sized flashlights.

"Four lights, nine people." Cartman said dryly. He unceremoniously took a light from Tweek who made an annoyed noise.

"Shut up, you didn't bring anything." Kyle scoffed and took the camping light from Ike to head the front of the group. Stan handed Bebe his light so the she could light the center of the group. Wendy took the second flashlight from Tweek so he had less to carry.

Clyde grinned and shuffled his scarecrow on his back, "Oh man I'm so glad I brought spray paint."

Stan started walking up the steps of the train station, prompting the others to follow. The deck surrounded the single main building in a circle, with a rail that looked like it needed treatment for threat of dry rot.

Bebe glared even as she scanned the floorboards for debris, "What is your obsession with vandalizing shit?"

"Life is short Miss Stevens." Clyde said gravely, wandering the deck as he searched for a place to set up his scarecrow, "We must live, we must destroy. The circle of life."

Cartman snorted as he looked into the dusty windows of the station. Butters hung around Cartman quietly, shifting his scarecrow and looking eager to leave. "You're full of shit." Cartman turned his head with a smug smile at the others who were wandering around the deck, "Who wants to break this window?"

Wendy rounded the corner. The station was small and old, with an old-fashioned box office for a ticket taker. Inside there was a waiting area but the whole building had been locked. "We're not going to break a window." Wendy said irately.

Tweek hadn't climbed onto the deck. He was starting to tremor the longer the other eight poked around. "I don't think this is a great idea."

Clyde walked next to Cartman and peered into the closed office, "I'll break the window." He said. Tweek made an upset noise.

Kyle rounded the corner with Stan, "This place isn't old enough for this shit." Kyle said warningly, he flashed the light at Cartman and Clyde. The area surrounding the building felt empty, but the teenagers were all aware of the lights from South Park shining not too far away. They wondered how visible their flashlights were to a distant onlooker. "There's probably still a working security system."

"Always a voice of reason." Wendy said. Bebe rolled her eyes from beside her friend.

"One way to find out." Clyde said, looking at the window with a meaningful glint.

Tweek called from the ground, "Don't do it!"

Stan looked around at the surrounding darkness, reaching for his camera, "Dude, me and Kyle were already arrested once."

Kyle dropped the flashlight's beam reflexively as he glared at Stan, "We weren't arrested!" He looked around, "Where's Ike?"

The group started looking around, but Ike's head popped up from outside the deck, "Here!" He said cheerily.

Kyle flashed his light at Ike angrily, "Stay in sight! What if you fall and break a leg and pass out and can't call for help but you're somewhere where we can't find you?"

Ike rolled his eyes, "Dude, shut up, I think I found a crawl space."

Cartman wrinkled his nose, "It's probably dripping with asbestos. And rats. Kenny's dead body."

"Is this place that old?" Bebe asked. Wendy followed her with her light as they edged toward Ike. Bebe paused, "You know what. Never mind. What kind of lock is on that door?"

Clyde, Cartman and Butters stepped aside as Bebe walked to the door, pulling something out her hair. A few strands of curly blonde hair fell around her face. She knelt and inspected the lock. "Cartman." She said curtly, "Light."

"Ey," Cartman grumbled, but turned the light to her, "Watch your tone."

Bebe jiggled the door handle, "Ey," She imitated mockingly, "I don't gotta take that from a second-stringer."

"Cheerleaders worship me!"

"Maybe the ugly ones." Bebe shot back. She slid a thin line of metal into the lock.

"You shouldn't call yourself names." Cartman sneered.

The boys and Wendy with the exception of Tweek were now crowding around Bebe to watch her work, all trying to point their lights helpfully.

"Why do you have a hat pin?" Butters asked over her shoulder.

"I ran out of bobby-pins." Bebe said, focusing on the metal handle. "Have you seen the mess on my head? I lose pins all the time."

Kyle mumbled from the back of the mass, "Hear that."

Ike had made his way toward the group and poked his head under Clyde's hunched shoulder to see, "Do you think this is gonna piss off a ghost?" Ike asked excitedly.

Stan drawled in annoyance, "If there's a ghost we're just gonna piss it off with how loud we are."

Clyde looked up and at the stairs of the train station, "Tweekers, you okay over there?"

From the dark came an unhappy, "Hnng!" But Clyde nodded and accepted the answer.

"Do you even know what you're doing?" Cartman complained after a several minutes of watching Bebe and starting to shiver from standing still.

"Hold on." Bebe gritted out, "Just gotta find the right..." The group held their breaths when they heard a loud CLICK. Bebe grinned, "Angle."

"Holy shit." Wendy said plainly, eyes wide and impressed.

Bebe turned the handle and the door swung open, heavy and creaking. Several of the group looked around wildly as if someone had been waiting for this moment to jump from the nearby trees to catch them. When the darkness remained silent, Stan stepped forward, video camera held up at the ready.

He braced himself with courage, "Let's go. Look out for security cameras."

There was another lull that had them getting antsy when it turned out the first room was indeed just a box office that struggled to fit three people. There was another door in the back of the room that Bebe took a while to unlock. Kyle and Stan waited inside with her, sitting on a desk-like shelf that was eye-level with the box-office-like window. The others mulled about the deck. When the door unlocked, everyone quickly gathered.

"How did you even learn that?" Clyde asked, impressed as he peered inside the ticket taker's box.

Bebe grinned and pinned her hair back again, crossing the hat pin between a bobby-pin, "I learned to pick locks to get into my mom's liquor cabinet. Her nice stuff, she'd just give me the cheap shit."

Wendy smiled faintly when Clyde looked at her, silently confirming that she had been a part of such adventures.

"This was the worst location for ghost hunting. If there's another door we're doing something else." Cartman complained.

Everyone heard Butters mutter not-too-quietly, "Oh thank god."

Everyone also saw the way Kyle put his hand on Stan's shoulder after he flinched Cartman's comment. No one commented on either.

After convincing Tweek to come onto the deck and stand watch for them by the box office. Wendy passed her flashlight back to Tweek and they all filtered into the next small and narrow room.

Behind the box office room was a room apparently used for storage. It was about three times larger and lined with metal shelving and a desk that looked like it had once housed a coffee maker and office equipment. Dust flew as soon as they entered the room. The remains of a business-grade printer stood in shambles. Someone had probably taken a baseball bat to it.

Clyde stalked in, grinning, "This is more like it."

Stan flicked on his camera and scanned the room, "Kyle, I need you to keep the light near me."

"'Kay." Kyle pointed the light the best he could with Stan's movements.

Wendy and Bebe started going through the cupboards of an old kitchen-area, giggling and flicking old powdered creamer packets at each other.

Clyde stood in front of the destroyed printer, "Oh sweet." He said excitedly. He reached into the shirt of his scarecrow on his back and pulled out a spray paint can. He started writing slurs on the printer.

Kyle looked over his shoulder, annoyed, "Are you twelve?"

Ike was walking ahead of Kyle and Stan, who were near the back of the room. "I take offense to that." He said dryly, he reached for the handle of the door at the back of the room. The door immediately swung open, lightweight and unused.

Inside was a space that couldn't be classified as a hallway. The space made a sharp turn into a downward staircase.

A giant penis had been drawn on the wall.

Clyde crowed, "Aw hell yes! Butters, leave your scarecrow there. We're totally going downstairs."

Kyle looked down at Stan as Butters propped his burden against the wall, exactly in everyone's way, "Is this more like it?" He asked tentatively.

Stan nodded, smiling shallowly but eyes bright and excited even in the dark, windowless cavern of the train station.

The excited chatter of the teens died as they edged toward the top of the basement. Stan and Kyle edged forward first, with Wendy, Bebe and Butters taking up the back. Clyde set down his scarecrows now that one had found a home to scare whomever dared to venture into the mostly-abandoned station.

Kyle pointed his flashlight down the stairs, illuminating floating dust particles. Stan pointed his camera accordingly.

"I can see a few boxes." Stan announced, "Doesn't look flooded or anything. There's a draft. The stairs are wood."

Cartman shuffled over to peer around Kyle, "They're not gonna be dry-rotted." He said huffily, "Just go down there."

"How about you go first?" Kyle snapped.

"Nuh uh, Stan is our fearless leader."

Stan shushed them both so sharply it came out as "Ch" rather than "Shh." He carefully put his foot on the first step, leaning to make sure it wouldn't collapse under his weight.

The group held their breaths as Stan gave the same treatment to the next step, and the next. He braced his hand against the cement wall as he descended down the steep stairs, sinking into darkness.

Ike pushed his way past Cartman and Kyle, "Can you see anything?" He asked. Stan wasn't very far away but the shadows made it feel like he was. Ike lowered his voice, "Can you feel anything?"

"N-no." Stan responded. He mostly kept his eyes on the stairs but tilted his head to look out into the basement, "The floor looks dirty, I think the basement is old? The walls are cement."

Clyde was trying to look past Cartman, Kyle and Ike but Kyle was too tall and Cartman too wide, "This is so fucked." He muttered. He stopped bouncing on his toes to look at Wendy and Bebe who were watching intently. Occasionally they muttered to each other, disturbed. Butters was leaning against the kitchen-area, watching and looking bored simultaneously.

"You okay?" Kyle called down the stairs.

"Yeah, come on down with the lights." Stan called back.

Despite being nervous, the only things in the basement were a few stray boxes and graffiti on the cement walls. Clyde gleefully added a dick and balls to the colorful slew of swears and "suck my dick"s, leaving a scarecrow in the back corner of the basement to keep the one Butters had left company. Butters stayed upstairs while the other seven snooped.

As they made their way back upstairs they were all laughing loudly and no longer afraid of the old but decidedly unhaunted train station. Stan sighed and flipped off the camcorder once they were outside.

Wendy pulled out her cellphone as they closed the doors. It was barely 10 p.m. "Well, now that we've committed vandalism," She said into her hand, "What's next?"

The kids leaned against the rails and sat on the damp floorboards. The darkness felt heavier than before, but everyone was excited and uplifted from a successful adventure.

Stan tapped his fingers against his camcorder, "There was one other place, unless you can think of something better."

Ike spoke, "There's those old coal mines outside of town."

Kyle frowned, "That's just asking to get trapped or lost."


Clyde carefully propped his scarecrow against the side of the building, "What is it? The abortion center? The basement of the church? Doctor Mephisto's old lab?"

"Ah, no." Stan looked around and accidentally caught Wendy's eye. She gave him a curious nod of her head. "The old pet store."

Cartman frowned, "On the old Indian ground that no one fixed? Where no one could keep that building running?"

Stan nodded, "I mean, if anywhere's haunted it's going to be that place."

Tweek shook violently beside Clyde, still weighed down by his scarecrows, "Hnng, look man! I don't think we should do this. Actually," He pulled his arms out of the straps that had been tied around him and the arms of the scarecrows, "Count me out! Everything we've done so far is illegal and I don't - hnng – any part of it."

Clyde was distressed as Tweek stalked off the deck, taking his flashlight with him. "Hey! Who's gonna help me carry these?"

When Tweek looked over his shoulder at the base of the stairs of the deck, his eyes were dark and tired. He held up a middle finger and kept walking.

Cartman snickered at the display. Bebe covered her mouth and the other exchanged uncomfortable glances. Clyde turned to them pleadingly, "Will one of you take these?"

Butters sighed wearily, "Eric, can I go home?"

Cartman leaned against the building dramatically, "No way, were having fun."

Stan and Kyle hung back, conversing amongst themselves. Stan finally looked up and Kyle appeared frustrated. "We're going on." Stan announced. "You know where to find us if you want to join."

Kyle looked at Ike who seemed bored with the whole mess, "C'mon. We're not leaving you."

Ike whined in his throat but followed.

Wendy and Bebe immediately came. Following a brief scuffle Clyde took an extra scarecrow, and with the promise of money managed to convince Butters to take the second. Cartman's laughter could be heard in the distance and silent of the night. Pictures were taken.

The walk to the old Indian burial grounds was not a short one but the feeling upon arrival was completely different from the train station. The grounds lay far from the outskirts of South Park in a location that would have been ideal of development had the very existence of the subsequent building and parking lot had not been sacrilegious and offensive. It had been overtaken in weedy overgrowth and the sparse moonlight made the shadows that much more ominous. The building that had once housed the pet store was dark and the roof sagged, threatening to fall. How the buildings' state had been overlooked by the county for so long was bizarre.

Ike unconsciously edged closer to Kyle as they all stopped at the bottom of the hill that led to the building, "This feels different." He said, "This feels familiar."

Bebe squinted up the hill, "Well, we should be able to just kick the door in, at least, I shouldn't have to pick any locks."

There was a loud shuffling from beside the group and everyone jumped. Kyle had raised his flashlight, prepared to brain whatever was coming at them. Clyde and Butters stumbled out of the brush, Clyde looking pleased and Butters sweaty and covered in straw.

Butters gave Cartman a harried, exasperated look, "He wanted to leave one in the grass." He said unhappily. Cartman looked away and was visibly trying not to smile in light of Butters' steadily growing rage.

Clyde would have been skipping if he was capable with his load, "Two left to go!" He said, obliviously starting up the hill ahead of the group. "Hey! I need a flashlight."

Kyle looked down at Stan for confirmation and they all started forward.

The climb up was steeper than immediately apparent at first glance. The eight kids were all out of breath by the time they reached the top. The moonlight reached the building a little better than in the shadow of the hill. Kyle flashed his camping light at the front door consisting of two miraculously unbroken glass panels. A sign warning that trespassers would be prosecuted had been nailed into the side-paneling around the door. A face sticking its tongue out had been spray-painted over the words of the sign.

Stan flicked the camera on and scanned the area, "I bet there's a broken window somewhere."

Bebe swore, "My flashlight died."

"Sorry." Stan called from the opposite end of the building, "I didn't bring extra batteries."

Wendy beckoned as she carefully walked around the building. "Cartman come over here with yours. We'll see if there's something open in the office next door."

Cartman snorted but came as beckoned, "Yeah, let's split up. This is a great idea."

Butters grumbled but trailed after Cartman. Clyde looked between the groups and went with Ike, Kyle and Stan who were quickly leaving everyone behind.

The building looked like it had been made with the intention of expanding into a strip mall. Three distinctive entrances existed on the front of the building, and what appeared to be loading docks were in the back. The building was simple and they couldn't lose each other on the outside.

They all quickly regathered in the front. Stan pointed his camera at the chained off front door. He glanced at Clyde, "I don't think anyone would care if we broke the window. This place hasn't been looked at for years."

"Mother fuckin' yeah." Clyde beamed and shrugged the scarecrows off his back.

Wendy, Bebe and Butters all exchanged glances. Cartman made a gleeful noise as he picked up a fallen brick that was wet and hiding a colony of worms and ants under it. He passed it to Clyde after brushing it off, "Here, break the window then reach in and unlock the door."

"Does that even work in real life?" Butters shivered and wrapped his arms around himself.

Clyde ignored him and heaved the brick with all his might at the glass entrance doors. Immediately they shattered, old and probably not plexiglass. The wind howled in the otherwise quiet night and the entire group flinched and looked around. Sound felt like it was traveling in these places not surrounded by other buildings.

Ike was shivering, much like Butters, and stayed close to Kyle. "I have a bad feeling." He said quietly to his brother, "This feels too familiar."

Kyle glanced down at Ike, "I'm not sure what you mean." He watched Clyde attempt to reach around the sign and feel the lock from inside, cutting himself in the progress.

Ike shivered as the wind cut more at the top of the hill. "It feels like ..." His brow furrowed as he tried to think of the right words, "It feels like Damien."

Stan was listening even as he pointed his camera at Clyde. He glanced at the brothers but remained silent.

Kyle frowned and kept to his light-shining duties, "Just. Off? Not quite right?"

Ike nodded. Clyde crowed in victory when the broken door clicked and creaked open. Ike stepped forward as the others started pushing the door inside, the sound of broken glass clinking and fallen wood behind shoved behind the door. They all filtered in, Kyle and Stan entering last.

The inside stank of stale animals, once having housed dogs, cats, birds, rodents, fish and reptiles. The group could vaguely remember the shop being occupied, open and clean. The building looked like it had been abandoned in a hurry with leftover products still stacked on the shelves. The main body of the old store had graffiti in any place that was reachable – the ceiling, the floor, the walls and the shelves themselves. There was a broken and open window near the back which explained how people had got inside despite the front door being intact.

Clyde grumbled as he dragged a single scarecrow in from the outside. He complained that this place had already been investigated to the point that it wasn't worth leaving anything.

Wendy had taken the flashlight from Cartman, displeased with his light-handling abilities and edged her way closer to the back. "There's some doors back here. I bet one goes into the buildings next door?" Her voice was too loud.

Butters continued to stay close to Bebe and Wendy as they broke into two groups again, Clyde, Stan, Ike and Kyle to the right, and Wendy, Bebe, Butters and Cartman to the left.

Cartman glanced over his shoulder as they traveled deeper into the building, the other group still audible but invisible in the dark. "Do you remember if this place had a basement?" He called out. The faintest tremor in his voice betrayed him.

Stan and Kyle stood in front of a door in the very back and right of the store as the others traveled down a short hallway. Stan looked up from his camcorder and stared at the door. "I don't think so." He called back. Kyle reached and tried the door handle. It was locked.

Clyde peered from behind them. "I could kick it in?"

Kyle's gut churned instinctively, "I uh. We don't know what's behind it."

Stan smirked up at him, face shadowed by the flickering lights and dusty surroundings, "You scared?"

"No." Kyle said defensively. He puffed his chest, "We just don't know what the floors are like."

The light from the other side of the store flashed and Wendy and Cartman could be heard bickering over something. Clyde looked at the source of the noise.

"I'm gonna go leave this at the end of the hallway." He announced. Stan and Kyle nodded absently, still staring at the door. Ike watched the exchange quietly, shivering and nearly invisible in the dark.

After a few moments Stan turned to follow after the others and Ike started to walk after, hesitating when Kyle was still staring at the door, his pointed flashlight a beacon at the old, rusted doorknob.

"Hey." Ike called out. Kyle turned his eyes dazedly. "Don't lose the others."

"Yeah." Kyle looked back at the door. "Just."

At that moment a number of things happened.

A shriek pierced the other side of the door, sounding a lot like one of the girls.

Kyle's hand grabbed the doorknob and it swung open, much like the door to the basement had earlier. When he heard the shriek he turned to find the source but was greeted by a flash of blue light, jolting him like it had last summer. His ears crackled and the feeling in his gut was like he had dropped. He was aware of the burning in his hand and that something was horribly, terribly wrong and that wrongness was that it was awake.

He was sure he was dreaming.

He was sure everything made sense.

He was sure of a million whispers in a million unpronounceable tongues coursed through him and he was sure they weren't meant for him.

He was sure of the piercing fear in his heart and of being small and limited.

Everything made sense but nothing was right. His fingers were cold, a city of monsters lay in the distance and he couldn't see them, couldn't appeal to them.

He had to remember who he was.

His being lay in his greatest fear.


Kyle opened his eyes and there was the city of monsters.

He couldn't move. Couldn't comprehend the green in the sky. He didn't know where he was.

Then there was warmth. A hand reaching to him from the dark. One he recognized but couldn't see. Fear gripped him in the flurry of the unknown but he closed his eyes and accepted what was reaching for him. Whatever it was had to be better than here.

For a moment he thought he could fall asleep, but at the moment he would have dropped away a pitch of anxiety stabbed his chest.

He had been here before.

Everything went white.


When Kyle came to he was sure that he could hear Kenny's voice. The confusion worsened with the rush of noise nearby and puffs of dust flying into his lungs. He couldn't see.

He took a moment to realize he couldn't see because he had dropped his flashlight. His named was being called. The ringing in his ears lessened when he finally sat and found Stan staring in panic where the door had been before everything went to hell.

There was no door. There was nothing but wall.

Kyle's stomach lurched.

Stan was calling for him in a quiet, searching way that had Kyle scrambling despite his equilibrium being completely thrown. He was vaguely aware of a nearby commotion but the foremost thing on his mind was snapping Stan from his shock; Stan didn't freeze like this when he panicked – something was wrong.

"Stan." Kyle had grabbed the lamp in his scramble and set is so he could see Stan's face. Stan didn't immediately register that Kyle was there. "Stan. I'm here. Stan."

Stan's eyes cleared and he was finally looking at Kyle. "You weren't there." He said with a deadly sort of calm that felt like weights in his mouth. "You weren't there and I was alone."

Somehow Kyle knew Stan didn't mean he had been alone in the building, but he had been alone wherever Kyle had been and that was much, much worse.

Their little bubble was violently popped when Kyle felt his shoulder being grabbed and for the second time in a year he was looking at Craig Tucker who had scratches and dirt on his face.

"ARE YOU FUCKING NUTS FUCKING RUN." Craig screamed at him and Kyle was dragging Stan along with them. A shiver of memory ran up his spine of something sliding to grab his leg, a slither from dark water. There was nothing there.

Kyle looked where the hallway had been and Clyde was heaving rubble at some indistinguishable, shuffling thing reaching from the dark while the others leaped for the door in impressive feats of acrobatics born of adrenaline and panic.

Stan was the last out and dragged the broken door shut. Kyle watched as the others flew down the hill on the path that led them between the overgrown grassy areas. He could see Tweek with the others, an extra body whom Kyle didn't recall and Craig was yelling at them again

They ran until they were almost where the dirt road met paved road, still within sight of the building. The shuffling thing didn't seem to be perusing them but leaving it out of sight seemed foolhardy.

The teens instinctively grouped together, all wheezing and sweating and checking each other for missing limbs. Kyle scanned the group to make sure all were accounted for – They had acquired Craig, Tweek, and Token. Clyde was too upset to be happy about his friends' arrival. Kyle breathed easier when he saw Ike was alongside them. Butters had sat on the ground, his head buried in his knees.

Stan was frantically looking between the group and up the hill. Wendy, Bebe and Cartman were accounted for, upset but otherwise okay.

"So." Cartman spoke first, red-faced but recovering faster than the others. "What the fuck was that?" He looked at Craig, "And what the fuck are you doing here?"

Kyle had the same question as all eyes turned to Craig, Token and Tweek. Kyle could smell alcohol radiating from Token, but he looked far from drunk.

The light from the town was dim but Kyle could see clearer than he could with the flashlights.

Craig pushed his hair off his forehead as he moved from hunched and gasping to upright. He glanced at Tweek, "He came for us." Craig said, jerking his head at Tweek. "He was going on about Clyde getting arrested and begged us to drag you back."

A low, annoyed murmur rippled through the group and they all looked at Clyde. He shrunk. "Sorry." He said in a small voice. His normally boisterous self seemed deflated. "This is my fault."

Kyle wondered how Clyde was at fault and found himself looking at Craig. Craig was unconsciously reminding them that he was taller than them all as he drew himself up in a mixture of defensiveness and all-knowing posture that implied that he knew exactly what was taking place. The scared crowd was looking for any kind of answer, and Kyle let his suspicions take root. Last summer's memories were returning like they had never been absent -Craig was refusing to look at him as he addressed the others.

Token sighed,"I had the car. And was drunk. Craig was going to pick Clyde up and take us back. How do we always get stuck in your guys' bullshit?"

Kyle watched as Wendy and Bebe were migrating away from the circle they had formed. Wendy had pulled out her phone and was tapping the screen while Bebe looked over her shoulder.

"Ladies." Kyle barked sharply. He kept his eyes on them as they flinched and turned to meet the gaze of the group. They couldn't risk wandering away from each other, "Anything to share?"

Wendy frowned defiantly, "We're trying to call Kenny."

Cartman stared at her with an almost comically disbelieving expression, "Kenny? What does he have to do with any of this?"

"Nothing." Wendy snapped, face illuminated by the light from her phone. "Absolutely nothing." Bebe stuck up her nose at Cartman.

From the corner of his eye Kyle could see Butters looking up from his knees at the girls, appearing like he wanted to comment but was holding back with a scowl.

"Did anyone," Kyle said loudly, tearing attention away from the eminent argument, "See that green shit?"

Craig's expression hardened, but the rest exchanged uncomfortable glances and shuffled in non-answer, which was all the answer Kyle needed.

Cartman cleared his throat, "It was more like a feeling, really."

"Like feeling like the most worthless, useless shit in the world." Bebe said from beside Wendy, turned to face them. Her eyes were clouded in memory, much like how Kyle had found Stan as he regained his senses.

A quiet voice spoke to them from the ground, pointed and irate, "R'lyeh." Said Butters, glaring at nothing. "It was R'lyeh."

Before anyone could respond to Butters' quiet statement, Token spoke from behind the group, "I'm not sure what you guys are talking about."

Tweek nodded in agreement, holding on to Token's arm.

Craig spoke, "I didn't experience it the way you guys did, but I saw something."

Kyle looked down when he felt a tug on his sleeve and Stan was studying his face, close enough to be almost eye-level. "You weren't there." Stan said with the same tone as Butters. The others could hear but Stan apparently didn't want them to acknowledge him, "I saw you fucking disappear as soon as Craig was in the building. Then there was nothing. I mean. Nothing."

Emptiness. That's how Stan experienced whatever had happened.

"Guys." Wendy was clutching her phone, determined and challenging anyone to argue with her, "I don't know what you guys are going to do but we need to find Kenny. There's some alive scarecrow thing up there and we need to address it."

"Wait." Kyle held up his hands and waved them like he was batting away such an idea, "Scarecrow?"

Craig turned to Kyle, "Did you not see it?" Craig pointed to his own face, covered with shallow but bright red scratches. "Did you not notice?"

Kyle pursed his lips together as he thought, "I saw something walking." He squinted at Craig's face in the dark, "I was preoccupied with Stan and ... whatever place we were in. Headspace. I don't know."

Craig stiffened and started to say something but was interrupted by Clyde, "What does my thing have to do with Kenny?" Clyde made a face, "Well. Thing. Scarecrow."

"Reasons." Wendy said vaguely.

"We can't." Ike said.

Everyone turned, having forgotten about the twelve-year-old. Ike was staring at the phone in his hand, calm and expressionless.

Ike raised his eyebrows, "He was arrested."

Cartman barked out laughter.

Wendy and Bebe flocked to Ike to look at his phone. "For what!?" Bebe nearly shrieked. Ike cringed and pocketed his phone, bombarded with questions from the older teens. "Damien just texted me." He yelled over them. "He didn't say, and I don't think he knows."

"Well ask!" Bebe asked hysterically.

It would occur to Kyle much later to ask why Bebe and Wendy were being so secretive, but he noticed Stan was turned away from the group, staring at the darkness they had just ran from. Stan backed toward the distracted mass that verbally assaulted Ike, and reached for the spray paint can that was in Clyde's back pocket.

Everyone heard the jiggle-clack of the spray can being shaken and saw the flicker of a lighter that Kyle hadn't known Stan still kept with him. When the paint lit with a roar and illuminated the pumpkin-like face of a five-foot tall, straw scarecrow, once silly and cheap and now looming and unknown before it lit in flames from the head down.

The scarecrow made no sound, but reached for Stan's steady, fire-billowing hand before ash filled the air and Clyde's scarecrow was incinerated and collapsing at the legs Stan expressionlessly blew fire at the ground until the spray can sputtered empty.

Stan dropped the lighter and can, stuck the side of his thumb in his mouth as he turned to see his friends pale and staring at the ground in shock.

He pulled his hand away and looked at Bebe and Wendy, "Why do we need Kenny?"

Before the girls could respond Clyde's voice spoke, hoarse and mortified, "There's like, fifty of these things in the school."

Everyone looked at Craig's face, scratched but not maimed, probably from the sharp ends of hard straw.

"Say," Kyle directed at Craig. Craig turned his eyes to Kyle, guarded. The others listened and watched. "Did you see this thing move before or after ... whatever. Happened."

Why weren't we transported during the thing with the lake? Kyle wondered. What grabbed me?

Craig spoke through his nose, "After."

"So." Kyle drew himself taller, a few inches shorter than Craig, but not lacking in height, "We're looking at each other now. What's the missing factor?"

Craig's mouth twisted as he searched Kyle's face.

"Guys." Clyde spoke up. Everyone's heads turned as he gestured irately toward town, "Evil murderous scarecrows. I uh." His shoulders slumped as he regarded everyone sheepishly, "It's my fault, but I'm not going to get them alone."

Wendy gestured aggressively at the pile of ash with her flashlight, "Stan took that one down pretty easily. I think we can too."

"My dad —" Tweek flinched when everyone looked at him. Token patted his back, "My dad has some ... explosives. We can – HNN – probably use those."

Token nodded at Craig, "Craig can take us to the coffee shop in my car. Clyde, come with us since they're your creation, or something."

Wendy stepped forward, "Bebe and I are coming."

Token frowned and gauged the size of the group, "I can only take five."

Wendy's expression was dark, "You'll take six." She nodded at Bebe who shrugged in resignation.

"What about the rest?" Token asked, miffed that Wendy was commandeering the use of his car.

"Actually," Craig said, "Can someone else drive? I need to sort out some things." He recoiled when Token shot daggers at him, "It's related." He said by way of explanation.

"I have a license." Cartman offered. He sniffed at Token's disbelieving expression. "What? You're drunk and Craig is bailing."

"Guys." Clyde said with a tinge of desperation, "We need to go."

Token grunted in resignation, "Okay. Everyone else, we'll meet you at the school."

Craig handed the keys over to Cartman, who paused before he started following Token and Tweek to the car which had been parked down the road. He looked at Butters, who was still sitting on the ground, no longer glaring into the distance but watching the proceedings blankly.

"What about you?" Cartman asked Butters.

Butters gripped his knees briefly before releasing a heavy breath. "I can't fit in the car. I'll stay with the others."

Cartman looked like he wanted to protest and shot Craig, Kyle, Stan and Ike an unsure glare, but nodded and jogged after Token's group.

The hill loomed behind them as Token's car rolled away. Though there were five of them, the separation of over half the group removed the air of a certain energy, reminding them that there was something big in the works.

Stan spoke first, eyes trained on the pile of ash that had aggrieved them."So? We're going to the school?"


Ike, Butters and Craig spoke simultaneously. They exchanged bewildered expressions. Kyle and Stan raised their eyebrows.

Craig cleared his throat, "Well, let's start walking toward town. You." He nodded at Ike, "Explain."

"Uh." Ike touched his cell phone nervously and looked at Butters, who was standing and dusting himself. "I'd like to hear from Butters, first."

Stan mumbled to himself as he moved to match pace with the slowly migrating group. "This is fucked."

Kyle grumbled in agreement and matched his pace with Stan, guiding their walk down the road with his camping light. Butters tried to trailed behind them but Ike didn't let Butters linger for long and dragged Butters to the front. The five boys found the pavement and the shadow of the hill seemed a little less ominous.

"What do you know?" Ike asked Butters.

Butters' gaze shied away as he tried to avoid the younger boy, "Not enough to not sound crazy."

"Try us." Craig said flatly.

Kyle scowled at the back of the three in front of him and Stan, three very unlikely people who seemed to have something in common. "What did you say earlier?"

Butters cringed and looked over his shoulder. "What do you mean?"

Kyle quickened his step and heard Stan match his beside him, "Earlier, you said something about the place we were in."

"Oh. That." Butters gave Craig an uncomfortable look, "Well, now that we've all calmed down it seems very silly."

"It always does, in retrospect. Doesn't it?" Craig was watching the trail ahead of them with steady coolness. "The weirdness around us."

Ike frowned and slowed so he was walking next to Kyle. He looked at his brother imploringly, "We need Damien. He's the other factor."

"Damien." Kyle repeated blandly. He looked at Stan who shrugged, out of his element amongst the four. Kyle frowned at Ike, "What does he have to do with this?"

Craig interrupted, "Not everything, I suspect. But you remember last summer now, don't you?"

Kyle nodded, even though Craig couldn't see him. He felt his temples twinge, and touched his forehead absently, "It's weird. I guess I filtered it out until now."

"Convenient." Craig said in a dead pan.

Stan took a step that almost made Kyle trip, veering too close. "What are you guys talking about? Did something happen?"

Kyle nodded. He could see a fork in the road, both leading to different parts of South Park. "It was when you weren't there."

He told the story of the lake race, being dragged under and Craig and Kenny appearing from nowhere. Stan listened, disbelief and doubt clouding his features as the story got more elaborate and odd.

"We weren't completely honest with you, I'm sure you figured out." Craig said at the end of Kyle's story. "You have been blessed by the great tentacle of Cthulhu, not weeds."

Butters jumped at Craig's last words. His voice came out weak and warbling as he attempted to push into the conversation, "You guys knew about Cthulhu then ...?"

Craig nodded and turned his searching gaze on Butters, "Kenny did, at least. He kept going on about breaking some cur-" Craig hesitated uncertainly as he considered the word 'curse'. It went against every rational fiber of his brain. But what else was he supposed to say? Interdimensional portals? Quantum entanglement? Rattle off some technobabble like he was Geordi LaFuckingForge? And then even if it made sense, how did he explain having lightning eyes? It sure as hell wasn't lupus. He sighed, resigned. "Some curse that I'm not sure many people are aware of. He's the only reason I'm involved."

"Same here." Butters agreed. He pressed his knuckles together. The fork in the road was closer.

"Guys." Ike spoke. "I don't really understand still, but I think we need to get Damien."

Craig frowned and turned to look at Ike. Their gaits slowed as they reached the fork in the road. A single street light stood at the junction of the split. The sprawl and housing lights of South Park were visible and tiny from their vantage point. "What do you think Damien knows?"

Ike threw his shoulders back at the verbal challenge. Kyle stood near him protectively. "I have a feeling."

Craig didn't scoff but pressed his lips together in thought. He took a moment to speak, "I think Kenny knows about this better than any of us."

Butters shook his head, "Kenny's in jail and I don't think Kenny knows any more about this than we do and ..." He looked down the left road, "I just want to help."

The five boys stared at each other.

"Kyle." Stan said quietly. Kyle immediately gave him his attention. Stan looked down the road that would lead closest to the school, "This is insanity."

Kyle sighed heavily and rubbed the back of his head. He shifted his weight, "And I get the feeling I'm expected to do something."

Craig shot him a pitying expression, "You seem to be in the middle of this, yes."

"Is that why you're not saying anything?" Stan asked.

Kyle shrugged, "There's zombie scarecrows, I was transported to another world, and I don't know what to make of any of it. There doesn't seem to be any logical explanation."

Stan looked at Butters, "Butters? What did you feel when everything went white?"

Butters shuffled and fidgeted with his hands, looking at the pavement. "When we went to R'lyeh? Ah." He shook his head, "Like every failure ever was my own. That I had failed to perform the most base actions and I would never be able to make it right."

"Hm." Stan nodded, expression unreadable. He took a step to the right branch of the fork. "I'm going to meet the others since I..." He looked at Kyle, "I don't know. I organized all this even though ..." He shrugged, "I probably have as much to do with the big picture as Clyde does. I should help anyway."

Kyle looked at Butters, Ike who were edging to the left road. Craig still stood in the center. He met Stan's gaze, "Good luck then." He saw the disappointment but walked to join Butters and Ike. "I think we're gonna have a chat with Damien."

Craig followed them in the end. Kyle found himself leading the march to Kenny's house where Ike said Damien was lurking. They ran in spurts, their sense of urgency dying the longer they had to travel.

Kyle bitterly mulled over how he felt like a helpless victim in the proceeds of everything happening, but from Craig's comments he had a feeling he wasn't alone. Having his brother in sight gave him strength in its own way, even if they were on their way to speak to someone he was pretty sure he loathed with almost no reason. His irritation at the whole absurdity of all things prickled.

By the time they reached Kenny's house Kyle was ready to go to bed and pretend nothing had ever happened.

They didn't bother with the front door since they could see the flicker of the television and no doubt they would be told of Kenny's absence. Kyle wondered if they knew their son was in lock down yet and guessed they didn't given the relative calm of the evening. The chilled atmosphere of the poor side of South Park was bizarre given where they were coming from, making the climb through the McCormick's junky backyard feel more devious. Kyle felt like they were contaminating something.

The window was open despite the chill in the air, the faint light of the single, weak lamp that resided in the corner of Kenny's room filtering outside.

Damien was laying in his bed with a book. He looked at the window as soon as Kyle stuck his head through.

"Kenny is occupied momentarily." Damien drawled.

"We know." Kyle grunted as he threw the flashlight inside before he scrambled through the window. He fell in an ungraceful heap, rolling out of the way when Ike's feet threatened to kick him. He sat up and glowered at Damien, "Ike seems to think you know something."

"Whatever do you mean?"

Kyle glared from his position on the floor and as the others climbed inside one-by-one. "You know exactly why we're here. Ike thinks you know something about the zombie scarecrows and I want you to fix it."

Damien's eyebrows raised and he shifted from his lounging position to sit and address his guests. "Zombie scarecrows?" He set his book aside, "Now that is certainly news."

Not entirely believing him, Kyle summarized their excursions to the old pet store and the similar feelings from the place Butters continued to call R'lyeh and whatever had reached for Kyle the previous summer. Damien listened with the attention of a doctor listen to ailments, grunting occasionally when Kyle said something he found significant.

When Kyle was finished, Damien assessed the group surrounding him, black eyes landing on Butters.

"I have but one question," He said to Kyle, but looked at Butters, "How real has this whole experience felt?"

Kyle tilted his head back against the wall, not expecting the question. His lips parted as he struggled to answer.

Craig found the word before Kyle could respond, "Surreal." He said to Damien. "Real and unreal at the same time."

"Hmp." Damien tapped his fingers on his lap. He glanced to Ike, who had sat beside him. "As it happens, I do know what needs to be done."

Kyle's eyes narrowed suspiciously, "How? How do you—"

"It doesn't matter." Damien interrupted. "If you want to resolve this quickly you'll listen to me. I will say this now." He paused to make sure everyone was listening, "The resolution to this is not ours to control. We can create the environment to create the resolution. Ike." He looked at Ike, "You are not needed and should stay here."

Ike's face started turning red as he protested, "But I-"

For the first time Kyle willingly agreed with Damien, "You'll stay here." Ike's face twisted into the beginnings of a snarl but Kyle was accustomed to anger. "If Damien says you're not needed then you'll just get in the way."

Ike sat ram-straight and grabbed at Damien's bedclothes angrily, "I'll follow you wherever you go!" He whined. He stopped when he thought of something, "Or I'll go help the others fight the zombie scarecrows. Then you'll wish I'd come."

Craig groaned, "We don't have time for this."

To everyone's surprise Butters spoke quietly, "Damien, can explain why Ike isn't needed? I think he's mistaken that he's not wanted."

A flash of understanding crossed Damien's face. He adopted an instructing tone, "There are energies at work tonight. Negative." He nodded at Craig. "And neutral," A nod toward Kyle. He folded his hands as he thought of his words, "The place called R'lyeh is affected by this world's shifting energies. As many people know, this time of year provides the opportunity for different planes of reality to ... thin. They are easier to pass through.

The one called Cthulhu is drawn to great sources of negativity, which normally happens near bodies of water or where a great many people reside. For ... reasons, South Park continues to be the exception to the rule." Damien regarded Ike, "I cannot explain explicitly yet, but we need him," He gestured to Butters, "As a sort of amplifier to carry our intentions."

Kyle spoke from his spot on the ground, "And what are our intentions?" Ike grunted in agreement, still pouting but mostly appeased.

Damien turned his eyes to Kyle coolly, "To dispense of these zombies, as you called them." He sniffed thoughtfully, "I believe when you unintentionally opened the portal the resulting negative energy animated these effigies. Likely someone had been bearing them a personal ill will."

Butters made a small upset sound, but otherwise remained silent.

Damien turned to Ike again, "Your presence is an uncontrolled variable. I'm unsure what would happen if you were there, but it would not be what we wanted, I am sure."

"What are we going to do?" Craig asked. His expression was pinched, absorbing all the information Damien was giving. "This isn't going to require a blood sacrifice is it? I know what I felt in that R'lyeh place, and it wasn't good."

"No." Damien responded. His lips twisted into a wry smile, "We're going to hold hands."

Leaving Ike to reside in Kenny's room, the exit from the McCormick's house brought a news report to their attention that the front lawn of the school was in flames. Too absorbed by watching the television which showed flashing cop lights and periodic bursts of fire, Stuart and Carol didn't comment as Damien led the others out the front door.

The sense of inappropriate calm hit them as soon as they were outside. Damien reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a set of keys. Parked in front of the McCormick's garage was a truck that had seen better days.

"We'll be taking Stuart McCormick's vehicle." Damien displayed the keyring on his finger, "We should all fit."

Butters easily fit in one of the bucket seats behind Damien. Kyle squeezed behind the passenger and Craig tried to give Kyle some room but the truck was small. Kyle resigned himself to being cramped with the flashlight on his lap. Damien announced that they would be returning to the old pet shop.

"There's something I don't understand." Craig asked as they drove through South Park. A dim, smokey glow plumed from the direction of the school. The pet shop was in the opposite direction. "How can Kyle and I have different energies?"

They all winced when Damien drove over a speed bump without slowing. He was a surprisingly good driver, but was speeding along in a hurry. The specks of cheap housing quickly turned into trees.

"Let me ask you a question." Damien responded to Craig. Craig grunted and nodded, eyes staying on the road ahead. "Who are your parents?"

Craig's eyebrows raised, and Butters and Kyle started paying more attention from the back. "Tom and Laura ...?"

Damien shot him a sideways glance, "Not what I meant."

Craig cleared his throat. "I'm adopted."

"Hrmp." Damien nodded. "I'm afraid that's all I can say about that right now. You're not actually from South Park and that effects how you react to things."

Kyle coughed, "... I'm technically not from South Park ...?"

Damien looked him through the rear-view mirror, "But you were born here?"

Kyle nodded his confirmation.

"Then that's all that matters."

The drive was much shorter than the walk. The light of the school in flames could be seen from the distance. They parked at the end of the hill and Kyle switched the light on, instinctively pointing the light where the scarecrow had sneaked up on them. The pile of ash was where they had left it, confirming its very real presence.

"There's still two scarecrows in the pet store." Butters said hesitantly. The other three turned to him as they stalled in their upward trudge.

Damien regarded Butters patiently, "If I may suggest ... and it will sound ridiculous I suspect."

Butters nodded, twisting his hands together.

"During our walk I would suggest that you focus on willing them away."

Craig made an outraged, choking noise and Kyle stared in disbelief. "This is getting stupid!" Craig accused. He jerked his head at the building, "How can we will something away that's very real?"

"Is it?" Damien responded cryptically and started walking without the guide of Kyle's light. Kyle shot Butters a curious look and shrugged, following after the strange boy.

Butters followed last, hands clutched together and he mumbled to himself during their progression in the dark in a sort of pleading prayer. His mutters grew less coherent and drifted away the close they got to the door. Kyle flashed his light at the broken door where they had left the scarecrows. There were no shadows.

Kyle eyeballed the looming, dilapidated building warily, "I didn't think to bring a lighter or... baseball bat. Something."

Craig rubbed the back of hand over a cheek where his scratches had coagulated. "I think we can take them." He said, "Stan took that one right out."

Damien shoved the door open with his shoulder without any appearance of nervousness. "As it happens I have fire should we need it." He gestured for Kyle to point his light inside.

Kyle stood behind Damien with the lamp lifted and slowly scanned the inside, the layout familiar and not simultaneously. Kyle gasped when he saw it – The scarecrow standing in the back where the locked, now non-existent door had been. It silently turned to shuffle toward them, straw bits falling from its shoulder.

Kyle jumped backward but Damien scoffed.

"This is it? What had you all panicking? Please all of you, look away."

"W-what?" Kyle kept his light trained on the shuffling scarecrow. Craig was backing away and Butters came running with a wet stick that looked like it would snap the moment it hit anything.

Damien waved a hand over his shoulder, "Please turn around. I can't have you witnessing this."

Kyle shared a bewildered glance with Craig but turned. When Butters hesitated Kyle grabbed his shoulder and forcefully turned him. Butters yelped.

As soon as Butters had turned, Kyle felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise – a feeling of dread and fear washing over him in a similar, but very different way than he had felt at the door. He heard Damien step away from them, their backs turned then felt a heat wave rush out of the store. He cringed, reflexively dropping to his knees with his hands over his head.

As soon as his back cooled, he whirled around to see if Damien had been reduced to ash.

The dim light shining from the ground revealed a form, shadowy, too nimble and tall to be a scarecrow maneuvering through the building's debris.

Kyle scrambled and grabbed the flashlight to follow after Damien. Craig slammed against his back when he stopped unexpectedly at the door.

Damien was looking at Kyle. His eyes were glowing red. He made a motion indicating for them to stop. "I will take care of the other one."

Butters peeked under Craig's arm, trying to see the damage on the inside.

Damien continued walking to the left side of the building, "You need to focus more." He said the moment he saw Butters peering with the other two. "You will be needed soon."

Butters, Kyle and Craig all pulled away from the door to the outside, unsure of what to make of the situation. The right side of the store had been reduced to ash – black soot smeared across the walls.

Kyle stared at Craig, eyes wide with confusion, "Did you see ...?"

Craig shook his head, equally baffled, "I say we don't ask questions."

Butters shook beside them, "His eyes were red."

Kyle felt like flashes of red and blue were significant but couldn't place why.

Damien emerged from the back of the story a few minutes later, ordering them inside. A path had been cleared so there was nothing to stumble over. Damien watched them enter then told them to close the door. Even though the glass of the door was broken, the old store felt more isolated than before.

Damien looked around the now ashy place, "Where was the portal?"

Kyle, Butters and Craig looked at each other. Craig spoke, "The what?" He asked flatly.

Damien huffed impatiently, "You all said you were briefly taken to R'lyeh. There should have been a physical portal for you to have been dragged through."

"The door." Kyle stated. The others looked at him. He stepped forward to where the door had been, now a blank wall with no more than a painting of soot. He drew an X in the filth on the wall. "It was here. The door is gone now but it was definitely here."

Damien pushed Kyle aside to study where he had drawn the X, eyeballing the space for a moment. He turned to Butters. "You." He reached for Butters' shoulders and Butters squeaked but allowed himself to be maneuvered. Damien bodily walked Butters to where he wanted him. Kyle followed them with his flashlight. "Stay there." He said, then proceeded to draw a circle in the dirt around Butters. When he was finished he looked at his work and gave Butters a critical stare. "Sit down." He ordered.

Butters looked around like Damien could be talking to someone else before meeting Damien's eyes, "W-why? I don't understand ..."

"Just do it." Damien barked. He nodded in satisfaction when Butters slowly sat in the circle, looking tearful and nervous as his jeans quickly blackened with dirt.

Damien knelt in front of Butters and made sure they had met each others' eyes. Butters listened nervously. "Now listen. I need you to imagine something for me." Butters stiffened. Damien nodded. "Yes I know." Damien said. "I want you to imagine those monsters you saw, asleep."

"Asleep?" Butters asked in a small voice.

"I need them in a death-like slumber, a sleep so permanent that they dream of release through death." Damien's mouth quirked in a half-smirk that was probably his attempt at a consoling smile but appeared more ghoulish for the light of the camping lamp, "You will be laying the path for me, and also Kenny. You want to help Kenny, yes?"

Butters frowned, blue eyes meeting black, "I don't really understand, but I guess. Those horrible monsters, asleep. Got it."

"Good. Starting focusing now. Don't pay attention to us, no matter what happens." Damien stood and turned to Kyle and Craig. They tensed as they readied for his instructions.

Instead of moving them like he had Butters, he walked around them and traced a circle with his shoe in front of the spot Kyle had indicated.

"Put your light in the circle so you can see." He said to Kyle.

Kyle, having the feeling that Damien could have navigated the dark without assistance, placed the lamp on it base so the beam pointed up in the parody of a campfire.

"Find a place on the circle." Damien instructed, "And we shall all take hands."

Craig laughed under his breath as they all found a place on the circle. "You weren't kidding."

"I wasn't." Damien agreed humorlessly. Kyle deigned to comment, having a deep suspicion of ritualistic-looking things. Damien looked at his two companions, then at Butters who had his eyes closed and was mumbling to himself again. He huffed. "Take each others' hands. I will have to say some words before we can begin."

"A chant." Kyle grumbled. He reached for Craig and Damien's hands and grasped them. Craig's hands were clammy, Damien's cold but solid.

Kyle frowned when nothing happened. This wasn't like the lake at all.

"Kyle." Damien said.

Kyle looked up from the flashlight.

"Whatever your doubts, I need you to set them aside and believe that this is for the best."

Kyle's brow scrunched as he tried to understand. Damien continued. "Kenny tells me that you unwaveringly try to do the right thing. I need you to draw on that strength. Craig."

Craig perked as he listened.

"I just need you to be here."

Damien's voice whispered over Butters' timid mumbles, deep, soft, and dangerous like venom. "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."

Kenny woke in pain and surrounded by steel, white and too many noises and people. The people around him started shouting in shock when he jolted upright, leaning to vomit and subsequently fall over with his loss of equilibrium, bringing his world down with a crash and echo.

Unceremoniously, he was looking at green. His mind whirled, everything happening too fast for him to process until movement seemed to stop and he recognized the city miles, years in the distance.

A great many creatures roamed and battled, some sleeping, others twitching, screaming, warring. Kenny closed his eyes and breathed heavily, his lungs heavy with the wracking awareness that blood was nearby.

This was much worse than Hell. At least in Hell he had an amiable host.

Then, he may be mistaken. Kenny sense something nearby, and looked around his mossy, dry surroundings. He blinked when Damien was behind him, staring evenly over his shoulder at the city.

Kenny smiled. He felt haggard and the air was stifling. "Great addition to an already shitty night."

The corner of Damien's mouth quirked. "Indeed." Damien turned his heel and started walking. "Come. We need to talk."

Kenny was hit with a resounding exhaustion. The heavy feeling on his shoulders lessened as they drew away from the city but was still encompassing. He found he didn't have the energy to argue with whatever Damien was up to.

Damien sighed. "So. 'Cousin'. You have a choice to make."

Kenny grunted and shoved his hands in his pockets. He decided green was not his favorite color.

"You can die."

"What?" Kenny looked up, his heart leaping to his throat with his hope. He tried to crush them before he could hear the catch.

Damien nodded. "With the help of your friends, we will be able to close the portal that is the partial source of your powers ... and strife."

"W-where?" Kenny looked around and saw nothing but long stretches of empty green, "Who is helping?"

"Kyle, Butters, Craig." Damien said. "And myself."

"Whu—" Kenny stopped walking, shaking and overwhelmed. "What's happening, Damien? Is there some kind of blood sacrifice or something? I know how this Cthulhu cult crap works and it's not without some gory catch. If you—"

"There was already a sacrifice to access the portal that was already open," Damien said over Kenny, "And depending on your decision, you will be the second to close it."

"Who?" Kenny demanded, "Who died?"

"No one died." Damien responded, "But you will, no matter what."

Kenny stared at Damien, slightly shorter, black hair, eyebrows that probably needed a talking down, stocky and he didn't seem to own any other shirts other than black. He was was giving Kenny the news he had waited a lifetime to hear. Kenny's heart sunk in understanding.

"That's the catch?" Kenny asked hoarsely, "I don't get to say goodbye?"

Damien's expression shifted to pity. "It wasn't intentional. It played out this way."

Kenny felt his knees go weak and slowly lowered himself to the ground of R'lyeh. He buried his fingers in his hair. "But this is it? This is my chance to stop suffering?" He asked, wide-eyed.

Damien moved to sit in front of Kenny, crossing his legs and watching Kenny's reactions. "I can't say this would be the last chance." Damien admitted, "But I can't guarantee there would be another."

Kenny closed his eyes and nodded. His fingers clenched against his scalp.

They sat in silence for a long time.

"Can you answer me one question?" Kenny asked eventually.

"What's that?" Damien responded. "I may not be able to answer."

"Why?" Kenny asked to the ground. "Why did this all happen to me? Why was I cursed with endless suffering, death, and gore? Why do all these horrible things happen to me?"

"Oh. Kenneth." Damien sighed, "There was never any reason."

Kenny's face scrunched as he took in the news.

"The cause," Damien amended quietly. "When your mother was pregnant, you were the sacrifice intended to summon Cthulhu. The summon failed, mostly. There was a presence there that wasn't supposed to be. He interfered unintentionally."

Kenny looked up, indicating he was listening. His eyes were red but he wasn't crying. His shoulders shook despite there being no breeze.

Damien continued, "Craig Tucker was intended for his own destiny in Peru. However, he ended up adopted by a family in South Park. When he was brought here fate rewrote itself and he became a blank slate. He absorbed the negative energy from summoning Cthulhu and the summons rebounded instead of accepting you as a sacrifice."

"You said the portal had already been opened. Is that why all this weird shit happens in South Park? Is that why Craig remembers but no one else?" Kenny asked.

"Essentially." Damien confirmed.

"And Kyle?" Kenny pressed on, "Why is he here? He never remembers anything."

"Honestly, it could have been any of your friends, even Butters. Especially Butters, probably. Even Cartman, since you possessed him once and there's inevitably a connection in having shared a body." Damien smirked when Kenny gave him a questioning look. "Yes, we keep track of whose soul is in whom. Yours is especially unique." He paused, frowned as he thought, "Why Kyle? I believe he has a resounding amount of energy – he gets himself involved."

"Kyle is just slightly more special than the rest of us?" Kenny sighed.

"I wouldn't say that." Damien corrected, "He's more noticeable."

"That doesn't make sense."

Damien shrugged, "It doesn't really have to. The matter now is that you have a decision to make. Butters is keeping us safe right now but he was having troubles earlier, and I'm afraid the effects of R'lyeh will distract him soon."

"Butters." Kenny smiled bitterly, running his fingers his hair, "Our meat shield as always." He cringed as he felt his gut sink with the weight of what was coming, "I can't say goodbye?"

Damien shook his head, "There's no time."

"Then I know." Kenny moved his legs to stand, dusting off his jeans. Damien stood with him. Kenny held his hands out for Damien's and smiled brilliantly. "Let's finish this."

And with strange aeons even death may die.

The first thing Kyle became aware of was the smell. Great and rancid, his nose and eyes burned with a rotting stench. He couldn't see, but he could feel. Fear tore at his stomach, the unknown near and unseen in the dark. He didn't know or understand where he was.

He could feel Craig's hand in his – warm and very alive. He had the feeling that he was the only one who could sense the things around us. Craig would not be able to hear him if he called out.

He squeezed the phantom hand in his. The hand squeezed back and that would have to be enough.

It took several moments for Kyle to distinguish between having his eyes open or closed, but once he did the light that filtered through illuminated a sickly green. His stomach lurched – in the dim nearly nothingness, a great hulking figure breathed, inert and asleep.

Bile threatened to crawl into his throat when he felt this thing was alive and dreaming, but not dreaming. It knew he was here and it spoke a language unpronounceable to Kyle or any human form on earth. In dreams, it wasn't even a language but a feeling. An angry, burning feeling that rotted the edges of a human soul. He shouldn't be here.

What are you?

Kyle shuddered and focused on the hand in his. Warmth. Humanity. He could taste death on his tongue, and strained his eyes to see.

Why do you wake my eternal slumber?

His own words caught on the edge of this throat, not so much a whisper as him mouthing the words with barely any air. 'Just passing through?'

The silence drummed in his ears. He could have waited a millennial for a response, or a second. He couldn't be sure in this disembodied nothingness.

You intend to close the portal that disturbs my sleep.

Kyle gagged. He thought the thing sighed. A wave of air swept over him, foul, dank, putrid. 'Yes.'

The day you can bring me death is the day I thank you. My shadow is only so lucky.

The thing went silent and let Kyle be. Unsure of what it could have meant, Kyle closed his eyes and prayed that everything would turn out okay, to a god of which he had never been sure.

Kyle woke in his bed, clean and wearing pajamas. His room was quiet, sunlight filtering under the curtains to reach toward his bed like a friendly, reaching hand. If he lay long enough his feet would be covered in light and warm. The quiet was comforting, peaceful and warm, not like the echoing loneliness of a nightmare.

He rolled his head so his cheek pressed against his pillow, straining to figure out if he could hear his mother downstairs. The house was quiet – it was too early for Sheila to be banging around.

On his bedside his table was his cellphone. Kyle didn't want to look, caught in the peaceful bubble of still being in a pleasant dream. He couldn't avoid this for very long – too much had happened last night.

He picked up his phone and unlocked the touch screen. 15% battery. 1 message. From Stan.

SM: school lawn on fire but crows collapsed??? what happened? u ok? We're okay please let me know

Please let me know. Something about that sentence made Kyle know he needed to see Stan in person. He slid out of bed, the floor cold but not unpleasant and set about dressing. He put on a windbreaker and on his way out, stopped in front of Ike's bedroom door. Worry flooded him as he remembered abandoning Ike at Kenny's house.

Feeling very much like his mother, he eased Ike's door open, risking the wrath of his twelve-year-old brother and poked his head in. Ike was huddled under his comforter, a black mop of hair sunk in his own pillow.

Kyle smiled, and jogged the block to Stan's house.

Traffic was picking up with the sun and Kyle narrowly dodged a slow-moving car. The Marsh house was as quiet as his own. Kyle opened the fence to the backyard, mud dragging on the fence posts. He knew the Marsh's backyard as well as his own. Randy never locked the shed in the back so Kyle quickly dug out an extension ladder and set it up under Stan's window.

He swore when Stan's blinds were down. He knocked hard on the glass. The ladder wobbled. He knocked again. Then again without stopped.

The loud, unhappy groan vibrated from Stan's room sent a relief into Kyle's chest that could have given him wings. He paused knocking to rub his knuckles before resuming with the tenacity of hungry woodpecker.

The blinds were jerked up and Stan was standing to the side holding a golf club, reading to swing. Kyle grinned and waved. The ladder wobbled violently.

The relief on Stan's face showed, and he quickly dropped the golf club and opened the window, leaning outside. "Jesus Christ dude." Stan reached out for Kyle's hand, "You scared the shit out of me."

Kyle responded by shoving his leg inside the window and hauling himself inside. The ladder gave a final precarious tip and fell over with a resounding crash. Kyle pulled himself inside with joyful laugh. Stan gave him an odd look, not saying anything about the mud being smeared on his carpet. As soon as Kyle was standing, he stepped forward and grabbed Stan in a powerful hug.

Stan stiffed but let Kyle have his moment, hesitating before he reached to pat Kyle's shoulders. After a moment Stan laughed awkwardly, "You're not going to hit me this time?"

Kyle shook his head buried in Stan's shoulder, giving him a final squeeze before releasing him. He stepped backwards and unceremoniously sat on the floor so fast Stan thought he was falling. Kyle leaned his head against the foot board with his eyes closed. Stan sat next to him and they were quiet for a long time.

Kyle finally spoke, "I've never been so scared in my entire goddamn life."

Stan snorted into the quiet of his room.

When Kyle finally took a good look at Stan, he could see Stan looked rough at best. He was still wearing his clothes from yesterday, dirty and torn. Stan's arms were scratched to hell. His eyes were dark and he needed to shave, the beginnings of a beard speckling his jaw.

Kyle shook his head, "What was even last night?" He gave Stan a curious look, "What happened after you left?"

"I." Stan chewed his lip and his eyes glossed over as he remembered. "I'm not sure. When I got to the school Wendy, Bebe, Cartman, Token, Tweek and Clyde had broken into the school and were trying to sort of ... burn them with a controlled fire? But the chemicals they'd stolen from Mr. Tweek were too volatile and were causing explosions. They were in the process of luring the scarecrows outside when I got there."

Stan smiled faintly as Kyle listened, "Wendy was leading us like some warlord from an apocalyptic movie. I think she was having fun setting shit on fire. She said she didn't want to damage the school inside and it may be easier to get them while they were filtering through the outside doors."

"So we were taking them out just like that, but we set the lawn on fire in the process. In a way it worked out. The scarecrows weren't smart and kept walking into the fires. When the cops and firetrucks got there it was chaos. No one knew what was happening, and we started fires while the firefighters put them out. Some of the chemicals were spreading, because water made it worse.

"Then. The scarecrows stopped moving. They collapsed. It was on camera and everything, so no one really questioned why we were freaking out."

Stan sighed, "So, when it was obvious nothing more was going to happen we got the fuck out of there. The cops kept trying to make sure we were alright. I guess no one suspected us of starting the fires. Clyde thought to run spray paint over the security camera as we went, because he's a fucking criminal."

Kyle laughed through his nose quietly and kept quiet in case Stan had anymore to say. When Stan didn't speak, Kyle didn't say anything anyway, content to sit in silence and the knowledge that they were okay. His prayers were answered.

Stan made Kyle scoot over so he could also sit with his back against the foot board. He wiggled into a comfortable position, "What happened to Butters, Craig and Ike?"

Kyle frowned, staring at the ceiling, "Not sure. But. I woke up in my bed." He turned to look at Stan's profile, shrugging, "I'm sure they're fine."

Stan stiffened as he remembered something. He sat away from the foot board, "What about Kenny?"

Kyle almost responded, 'What about Kenny?' before he remembered Ike's message. Kenny had been arrested.

Kyle knew exactly what for too, and didn't find himself too upset. He groaned and rubbed his forehead with the heel of his palm. "Do we go see him in the jail?"

"Dude." Stan relaxed when he realized Kyle wasn't panicking with him and leaned against the board again. "We can't talk shit."

"Oh but we can."

Stan laughed and shoved Kyle's shoulder with his own. After Googling visiting hours, they agreed to pass the Saturday morning with Loony Toons reruns and bowls of Lucky Charms. They didn't talk much until Randy came downstairs yelling about the fallen ladder. Kyle apologized and put the ladder away with Stan's help even though he didn't really need it. He didn't complain. He was happy Stan was there to help him.

Around 1 p.m. they walked to the police station and looked for Kenny in one of the rather archaic jail cells. A young deputy was doing paperwork when they walked in and greeted them in a friendly way.

"Can I help you boys?"

"Yeah." Kyle shifted uncomfortably, the memory of being in the station before not a pleasant one. "We're looking for Kenny McCormick."

The deputy frowned and tapped his pen against his desk, "McCormick? No McCormick pick ups lately but..." The young man's eyes widened, "Unless you're talking about the kid that got arrested while being rushed to the hospital last night?"

Stan and Kyle froze. The deputy read their body-language and softened his expression. "There was a drug-related shoot out last night, a few hours before the school caught fire. All of us have been running around like crazy." The deputy looked at the boys sadly, "I heard the kid was critical by the time the ambulance got there. This turned into a county issue, not local. I can't tell you anymore."

Stan spoke quickly, "You sure it wasn't Kevin? Or Stuart? Or —" There was no way Karen or Carol would get involved in something like that, and as far as they knew Kevin only had a reputation for brawling, not drug deals. He hadn't been in town for years.

"I'm sorry boys." The deputy said with regret, "Everyone involved was very young."

Kyle and Stan thanked the deputy and departed. The county police station was on its way back to Stan's house so they walked inside, both still too upset and shocked to believe the unsure words of the deputy. Surely Kenny had survived whatever fight had broken out.

When they entered the county station the phones were ringing off the hook and the entire workforce seemed to be in a tizzy. After nearly twenty minutes a detective stopped to help them.

"We're looking for Kenny McCormick." Stan said. Kyle was still speechless. "We think he was involved with something with the county police."

The young, brown-haired detective frowned impatiently, Hopkins."That's what we're so busy with, besides the arson last night." He said, "McCormick was taken to Hell's Pass last night and died of a critical bullet wound. We've already called his parents to identify the body."

Detective Hopkins then left them in lieu of being busy and having no time for a pair of teenaged boys. What followed was a whirlwind they could never quite recall several years in the future, but after leaving the county station, the procured a ride to Hell's Pass from Randy, explaining what had happened.

The nurses refused to share more than that Kenny McCormick had indeed been admitted last night, and yes his parents had visited already. A trip to the McCormicks' shack revealed Carol in a hysterical state and Stuart deadly quiet.

Karen answered the door when Kyle and Stan, monitored by Randy who stood outside his car nearby. Her eyes were dark and red.

"Did you hear?" She asked dully. She was fourteen and beautiful. Her hair was turning dark brown. "Kenny's dead."

Both hugged Karen – something she accepted without energy – and gave condolences. They left, silent in a way that was completely different from the morning.

By Monday the entire school had heard about the drug deal gone bad. The official police report was that Kenny's buyers tried to rob him and he put up a fight – The buyers freaked out, leaving him fatally wounded and with a block of weed no one knew where he got it from.

The more immediate evidence of the weekend was the destroyed front lawn of Park High. The corpses of the scarecrows were still being found – decapitated heads being thrown at each other. A few people made soot-angels in the burnt front lawn. The hallways had been scorched in a few places but Wendy's quick thinking had saved the school from the worst of the damage.

Rumors spread about dark magic summoning evil souls into the scarecrows but no one could quite explain what had happened. The rumors also spread that Wendy and Bebe were seen joyfully torching the scarecrows, something that they normally would be delighted to hear. The death of Kenny drained the victory of any joy. Wendy said they had been in the area and defended themselves before running away. Even Clyde and Cartman didn't try to elaborate on the story, having been overlooked in Bebe and Wendy's grandiose displays of violence.

A memorial service was held for Kenny. A lot of people liked him, even if he was killed being involved in illegal activities. None of his closest friends attended.

Weeks later, Craig approached the table that housed the now considerably quieter group of Butters, Cartman, Kyle and Stan. He was stone-faced and pale for his normally dark complexion.

"I'm sorry." He said flatly. No one had to ask to what he was referring.

When no one said anything he began to leave, but Kyle spoke.

"Hey." Kyle waited to make sure Craig was listening. Craig stopped, and Kyle offered a weak, tired smile. "Thanks for helping."

Craig hesitated, but nodded in acknowledgment and took his leave. That acknowledgment, to them, felt like the final string to cut to confirm that they had all experienced something significant together, even if they didn't quite remember or understand. Kenny was at peace.