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Wilford was idly clicking around his email when he was startled by a cardboard box being dropped next to him on his desk.

“I’m in,” Nichola said, stealing Kevin’s empty seat and sitting down.

Wilford looked at her, momentarily too tired to understand what she was talking about. And then he looked at the box, and slowly caught up.

“Oh? What’s changed your mind?” he asked.

“Because I know you’re up to something,” Nichola said. “And you’re going to be my ticket out of the script room.”

The script room, like the website room, was just another large, partitioned-off section on the same floor, where eager, young hopefuls had their spirits broken. Nichola was wasted in there. Wilford knew it the first time around, and it was no different this time. Only this time, he had the advantage, and was able to get her to join his sinister little team much sooner than before.

“I might be,” he said.

He started fingering through the box of notes, photographs, tapes, and everything else Nichola had managed to gather off the clock. She’d collected a lot of information; more than he remembered.

“Your place, or mine?” he asked, pushing the box closer to her.

Nichola shook her head. “No,” she said firmly. “If you think I’m going to-”

“We can’t do this here,” Wilford pointed out. “If shit-for-brains thinks I’m recruiting, the whole thing will go to someone else who’ll just fuck it up.”

Nichola still didn’t seem convinced. “I know what you’re like.”

“Oh? What am I like?” She wasn’t wrong. Or at least, she wouldn’t have been. Things were different this time, though not exactly by choice. The first thing Wilford had done after he reset was to block and delete about half a dozen numbers from his phone so he didn’t have to go through the hassle of ending everything like a goddamn adult.

She glowered at him, and finally picked up her box and stood. “My room mate goes to bed early. Your place.”

Wilford watched her walk off after that, surprised she’d agreed so readily.

Four hours later, he was surprised to see her waiting in the garage near his car. He was also surprised she hadn’t keyed it, though he wasn’t sure why that surprised him.

“I’ll follow you,” she said.

“Passenger door doesn’t open anyway,” Wilford said as he got his keys out. The driver’s side door also didn’t open correctly from the outside, forcing him to open the back door and snake around to open the front door from the inside. “And there are bees over on that side.” He hadn’t taken care of the bees yet, because he was pretty sure they’d become structurally integral by that point.

Nichola rolled her eyes at him as he made his way awkwardly into his car, and got into her own car, which was in far better condition than his. The way she waited, it was almost as if she expected him to take twenty minutes to get the engine going. But when it started right up, Wilford stuck his tongue out at her and backed out of his space to lead the way to his apartment. He led the way out of DC, trusting her to keep up on the freeway as they drove toward Fairfax. Evening traffic was about the same as it always was, causing Wilford to have to pull over at one point to let Nichola catch back up after someone decided to taxi a jet the wrong way down the freeway. She found him eventually, and soon they were able to get off the freeway and onto the surface streets, which were no less hectic. But the average speed was at least a lot slower, making it easier to stick together. In theory, anyway. After he’d lost her for the third time, Wilford began to think that he probably should have fought off a few bees for her to just ride with him. But this way, he wouldn’t have to deal with driving her back to the station to get her car.

They got to his building without being killed by one of the many maniacs out on the roads, and he even offered to take her box of information, but she refused, apparently still not exactly convinced this was the right thing to be doing. Instead, he led her up to the door and let her in, pointing at the stacks of his own notes he hadn’t bothered to organise or put away yet.

“This is where you live?” Nichola asked incredulously.

“What’s wrong with it?” Wilford asked.

He didn’t have much. A small TV in the corner, and an old sofa on the opposite wall, making the living room seem needlessly large, despite how small it was. A card table in the dining room was buried in mail he refused to look at. And that was about it.

“I expected more, I don’t know. Everything?”

“Thanks,” Wilford said flatly. He shut the door behind her, only locking the top two locks, instead of all five like he’d normally do. While Nichola found a place on the floor to start sorting out her own notes, Wilford kicked off his shoes at the door and went to the kitchen.

“I have Pißwasser, or… red something.” He picked up the pitcher, completely unable to remember what sort of drink he’d mixed up in it, or when. “Maybe not the red.”

“I’ll take a beer,” Nichola said.

Wilford grabbed two bottles and used his lighter to pop off the lids, letting them drop on the counter to be collected later. As he handed one to Nichola, he sat down to start nosing through what she’d brought. She had about a dozen micro-cassettes, and a few mini-CDs, which Wilford set aside to look through later.

“What’s this?” Nichola asked, picking up the tape he’d shot with Billy.

“We found him,” Wilford said, pointing to his TV, and the VCR on top of it.

“We?” She hesitantly got up and fed the tape into the VCR. It hadn’t been rewound since Wilford had used it as his get out of jail free card, but Nichola seemed almost hesitant to try. Finally, she rewound it just a few seconds before hitting play. Wilford and Billy were still bumbling about out in the woods, starting to give up on the night when something caused the film to go static-y. Wilford saw him first, but Billy was quick to spin around and get a glimpse of Slenderman on film. While Wilford shouted at the giant monster, Slenderman seemed poised to attack, but decided to beat a hasty retreat instead, leaving the two of them a little startled, but otherwise alive out in the dark.

“How in the fuck?” Nichola asked.

Wilford just gave her a big, fake smile. “Now you know how I got the story,” he said.

“No fucking kidding,” Nichola agreed. “I was ready to believe the rumours that you blew shit-for-brains.”

“Ew.” Not this time. Not the first time.

He got up to grab his laptop and tape player from the couch, and started with Nichola’s mini-CDs first. She had a few clips that might have had glimpses of long, black tentacles and a blank face, or might have just been weird lighting. The micro-cassettes were hasty interviews with people who didn’t want to talk to her, but she was persistent, and managed to get little snatches of information out here and there. While he sifted through her information, she did the same with what he’d managed to gather. Slowly, they began to actually organise it, grouping their notes together where information overlapped or sources were the same. Two hours in, Wilford called Billy and convinced him to come over, and bring some dinner for the three of them. It wasn’t until he mentioned Nichola being there that Billy agreed, but he did take his sweet time showing up.

By midnight, they’d got through half of the notes, all of Wilford’s beer, and the entire stack of McDonald’s junk Billy had brought over. None of them got any sleep that night, and while it was nothing new for Wilford, the other two seemed to regret this by the time they noticed the sun had started to peek over the trees outside.

“Oh, shit,” Nichola hissed, quickly getting to her feet. She looked over the organised chaos spread across Wilford’s floor like she wasn’t sure what to do with any of it.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Wilford told her.

She hesitated just a bit before nodding. She still didn’t trust him not to just steal it all, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to, and she’d know that soon enough.

“There’s some instant coffee. There,” Wilford said, pointing to the kitchen. “Cups are in the dish washer.” He only had two mugs, but that was fine. He could last until he got to the station. He usually did.

Nichola nodded again and went to the kitchen. A few seconds later, Billy got up to follow her. The two of them were silent as they microwaved their water and searched Wilford’s barren cupboards for the small jar of coffee. Wilford waited until it sounded like they were nearly done to start picking up beer bottles and food wrappers, taking them all to the trash. Billy and Nichola were both standing silently in the kitchen, staring at their coffee like they’d rather be crawling into bed.

“I thought this was over when I graduated,” Nichola said eventually.

Wilford shook his head and laughed. “Not if you want to get out of the script room, it’s not,” he said as he headed to his bedroom to find some clean clothes.
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The look on Billy’s face was pure surprise and relief. In fact, Wilford was even surprised they didn’t lose their jobs. But Wilford knew how to play his cards, and when to play them. He’d been sitting on the tape from that night out in the woods for weeks now, waiting for the right opportunity to use it. Defending a stolen news van, and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment was the right moment. The outrage quickly shifted from a van being stolen by thugs, to a van being stolen by employees.

Although technically Billy was salary, and therefore never truly off the clock, and was always in possession of the keys, so it wasn’t really stealing at all.

And anyway, that tape was pure gold. It took some convincing to get it queued up, but only five seconds to convince the world’s worst station master of its worth. Wilford knew it would work. Billy hadn’t been so sure, even after they were let out of the office with a warning to sign equipment out next time.

“How did you know that would work?” Billy asked once they were in the elevator back down to the ground floor.

Wilford flashed him the fakest of fake smiles. “I told you. I’m fucking awesome.”

Billy did not see convinced, but Wilford didn’t care.

“This story’s gonna be huge. Anybody who works on it will be able to go wherever they want,” Wilford told him. “Starting with away from here.”

Billy still seemed unconvinced, but Wilford left him to figure everything out for himself and returned to his desk

“I heard you got jacked. What happened?” Kevin asked before Wilford could even sit down.

Wilford paused just long enough to make sure Kevin understood how stupid he sounded. “We got jacked.”

“Oh.” It took him a second to apparently realise that his question had not been answered. “Yeah, but. I mean. How bad was it?”

“I’ll live.”

“Man, what kind of reporter are you, that you can’t share the details?” Kevin asked.

“What? And give you ideas?” Wilford watched Kevin twist himself in knots, trying to find yet another way to ask what happened without repeating himself. He thought he might have a shot at the record until they were both suddenly interrupted.

“You slimy son of a bitch!” someone hissed at him loudly enough to make him jump.

Wilford turned around to see another young reporter stepping into the shared cubicle. Like him, she’d been shoved aside and her talents squandered. Also like him, she’d planned on doing something about it. Nichola invaded every inch of Wilford’s space, pushing him uncomfortably up against his desk.

“Can I help you?” Wilford asked, not even having to pretend to be shocked at the sudden aggression. He’d forgotten that Nichola hadn’t just woken up one day and decided to hate everyone. She’d always hated everyone from the day she was born.

“I’ve been trying to convince him to run that story for months. How did you walk in there and have him just give it to you?” Nichola demanded.

“I got stabbed today. The pitty angle works great,” Wilford said.

Nichola moved her hand like she wished she had something else to stab him with. Or like she was trying to resist pulling something stabby out of her inventory.

“That was supposed to be mine,” she said through her teeth.

Wilford wondered if she did have something sharp in her inventory. A broadsword probably, knowing her. She seemed the sort to carry one of those around.

“You must know an awful lot about it, then,” he said. “Probably more than I do.”

“No. You don’t get to steal my story, and then steal my work on it as well,” Nichola said. Again, it seemed like she really wanted to stab him with something. Wilford tried to put a bit of distance between them, but his desk was very much in the way and not letting him move very far.

“No, I didn’t know it was yours,” Wilford lied. “You must have worked hard on it. Months, you say? And you’re sure you don’t want to work on the story with me?”

“Oh, you’ve got some nerve, pal.”

She moved like she was pulling something from her inventory. Wilford reacted quickly, guarding his sides against further abuse, but he didn’t act correctly. Rather than grabbing something, Nichola surprised him and slugged him in the jaw instead. A stunned silence hung over the area as Nichola stomped away, leaving Wilford holding his face like an idiot.

“I think she likes you,” Kevin said.

“Shut the fuck up,” Wilford said, turning back around so he didn’t have to look at Kevin.
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Given to all the children Wilford pays to take care of the dog. And Jim.

Do not over feed this dog. He’s too stupid to know when he’s not hungry and will puke if fed outside this schedule. If he pukes, he’s your responsibility. I will not be blamed.

Breakfast (pick two):

- 1 can or pack of fish - tuna or salmon or whatever
- 1 egg - boiled or raw - he likes the shell
- 3-4 slices of bacon - raw

Lunch/Dinner (pick one):

- Chicken
- Beef
- Pork
- Fish

About the amount that would normally come with a rice or noodle dish. Cooking is optional

You can feed him snacks, but be prepared for him to puke. If he pukes, he gets another meal, but no more snacks. He is a dog; not a celebrity chef. Don’t bother trying to impress him with sauce or seasoning. None of that dog food shit. Not unless you want to clean up dog mess everywhere. He likes trash. Don’t let him eat it. He gets soup bones sometimes. Absolutely no bones otherwise. You can throw a few noodles at him if you want to watch him be stupid. He gets minimal table scraps. Do not let anybody else feed him, no matter how much they complain about how skinny he is.
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Wilford probably should not have left the dog at the bar. But going through the hassle of finding a place to keep the dog, or trying to hide it in his tiny DC apartment would be more time, money, and hassle than it would probably be worth. But he still should not have left the dog at the bar. Thor had assured him that it would be fine, and that no harm would come to the useless animal, but assurances from a stranger meant exactly nothing, especially when Wilford knew the power of spite in someone who believes they’ve been wronged. He knew it from himself well enough to have been able to recognise it in Jim Moriarty.

Well. If that fucker wanted to cross that line, he’d get to find out first hand just how much Wilford dislikes people messing with his things. And lucky for Jim, he’d probably get the chance to experience that, because Wilford actually had work to do, and the bar was fickle about showing up for him these days. And that in and of itself was a problem, beyond the dog. But also a problem to deal with when it arose.

As it was, Wilford had some decisions to make that were easier this time around, but still not as easy as he’d expected them to be. He liked his mohawk, and his fuck-you fashion, and apparently hadn’t actually outgrown any of it as much as he thought he had. But the fuck-you fashion to match his attitude was past its sell-by date, and had to go if he was going to pull this plan of his off. It was time to be a proper adult again. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the spare cash to have someone professional take care of it, so it was down to himself, a pair of clippers, and the bathroom mirror. It took some time, and a bit of careful patience, but eventually he got everything trimmed down to an even fade that didn’t leave his head completely shaved down. It still had a bit of a boot camp vibe to it, but at least it would grow out to something a little more decent within a few weeks. Usually that was a problem, but just this once it was a blessing. Now, all he had to do was go back to work, playing the role of the eager young reporter, and wait for the right cue to act. He hadn’t been able to save any notes or information, but he knew what he was looking for, and that it was getting close. He just had to be patient and play the game. He hadn’t been good at it the first time round. Maybe he’d have got better at it by this time.

He hadn’t got better. That, or people were more obnoxious this time round. Things couldn’t have changed that much so soon, so maybe he had just erased every memory of shit-talk and teasing over his sudden decision to lose the mohawk. When he got his next paycheck, he put every spare penny of it into some decent shirts, so he wasn’t constantly cycling through the same two. He got a pack of proper undershirts, so band art and beer logos weren’t showing through the light-coloured ones. He found a few more neckties he’d hated the first time around – either because of who gave them to him, the colour scheme, or both – and found they suited his tastes quite nicely this time. He hadn’t realised just how much the colour pink as a general concept had grown on him. And back at the station, he ignored the teasing and the “good-natured” ribbing from people who noticed what he was doing, and couldn’t stand the thought of him getting out of the trenches. He had something planned for every last one of them.

He got a new assignment. Then another. And another. And none as good as his first, only because the first had been a fluke. Nobody expected Holby to be the centre of controversy when they sent him there in a bizarre hazing stunt. Nobody expected the kitten circus to be the centre of controversy either, but this time they were right. Another shelter having an adoption day. A puppy that fell down a storm drain. The mysterious case of a cat with six different homes. All the crap they showed during the last three minutes, after everyone had turned the channel because the sports scores and weather reports had already been read. Fluff pieces to fill the time before the network switched back over to national programming.

Maybe it was a good thing the dog was at the bar, and Wilford wasn’t, because his patience for things cute and furry was a negative number before the end of the week.

Not that things were all bad, though even the things that were ostensibly good had a way of being horrible. Wilford was typing up a piece for the website when his boss showed up beside his cube, with that stupid, clueless grin on his face.

“Good news, buddy,” he said, putting his hand down with a smack on Wilford’s shoulder. “Finally got you that replacement.”

Wilford wanted to point out that he wasn’t the one who needed the replacement. He wanted to point out that he should have been given a raise for all the extra work he’d been doing in lieu of an actual replacement. But he knew how those scenarios ended, so he flash a painfully fake smile up at his boss.

“Oh? Tell me more,” he said.

Kevin stepped around the cube partition, looking over the space that was meant to be shared by three people, but which Wilford currently had to himself. Wilford had almost forgotten how stupid Kevin looked, with his poorly-maintained dye job. Bright blue roots shone through the jet black dye, and his eyebrows were an absolute mess.

“You two have fun,” the idiot boss said, before walking off. And once upon a time, that guy wondered why Wilford had fucked his wife. To anyone with half a brain, it was clear as day.

That was also a lesson in how not to behave around other people, and one which Wilford got loud and clear. After a few repetitions.

“Your mascara’s running,” Wilford said as Kevin took a seat on the other side of the large cube.

“What? Shit.” Kevin quickly dove into the satchel he’d had with him, and pulled out a small mirror to check for himself.

“You could have at least touched up your roots. You look like a goddamn moron,” Wilford said. “Did you actually do your interview looking like that?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Kevin shot back as he tried to fix the mess his mascara was making on his face.

Wilford finally turned around properly from his computer to face Kevin. “Oh, fucking try me, bitch,” he said, arms crossed over his chest.

Kevin looked up and snorted in a way that completely gave away the fact that he was trying not to laugh and poked himself in the eye with his mascara wand, undermining whatever stance he was trying to make.

“Put that thing away and strip that shit out of your hair. You aren’t fooling anybody but yourself,” Wilford said.

Kevin did not put his makeup away, though he did stop to rub his eye, and smear what was already there even more. “Is that why you’re still in cube hell?”

It was Wilford’s turn to snort. “Didn’t you hear? You’re my replacement. I graduated to kitten circus hell.”

“What? No. I was told I was on the website team,” Kevin argued. “Who else is there?”

Wilford had an exaggerated think. “The webmaster’s actually off-site, but you knew that already, surely. And there’s… no, he quit last month. But there’s–uh. Oh. Just you. Congratulations.”

Kevin stared at him for a few long moments. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

“No, I’m fucking out of here.” Wilford quickly saved the article he was typing up to the network, and tossed the folder of notes across the cube to Kevin. “Which makes you head of the website department. Welcome to the worst fucking station in DC.”

Kevin stared down at the file where it landed on his keyboard. “Great,” he said flatly.

Wilford was not, in fact, out of anywhere, because he’d completely forgotten that he didn’t get moved to a different section along with his so-called promotion that still didn’t come with a pay raise. It meant he was stuck with Kevin, but at least this time around, he knew how to handle being in close proximity to him. Where harsh words didn’t work, a good kick to the knee did wonders. He also took great delight in sending Kevin off to someone else, to watch him irritate them right out of the building. If he’d known about that trick the first time around, it mightn’t have been so completely unbearable.

It took Kevin about two days before he came in with a brand new look, which also seemed to make things easier this time around. For some reason, people found it more difficult to tease him about his bright blue hair when it was out in the open, even if it had been bleached out and dyed a shade to closely match his natural colour. While Wilford did enjoy the teasing, it meant Kevin was less of a moody brat all the time, and a bit more like the irritating brat Kevin Wilford knew, and was able to predict.

And then he saw the little red flag he’d been waiting for. Kids disappeared all the time, but this was the one he remembered. This was the one with a witness nobody took seriously. According to the cops, the girl had run away. Case closed. Kids run away all the time. But Wilford knew that wasn’t true at all. He knew someone new had moved into the neighbourhood, and Wilford knew his signature.

He waited for the quiet lull between the lunch broadcast, and the 5pm broadcast to go find his new partner in crime, stuffing his face with a sandwich and playing with a portable video game.

“What time does it get dark?” Wilford asked him, leaning over the back of Billy’s chair to see what he was playing. There was a second half of the sandwich sitting in a Tupperware container, and Wilford helped himself to it.

“Uh. I don’t know. Six? Seven?” Billy said. “That was mine.”

“Great. I’ll see you then.”

Billy shook his head and grabbed Wilford’s sleeve to keep him from wandering off. “Hang on. See me for what?”

“Don’t tell me you went to school to film orphaned kittens your whole life,” Wilford said.

It brought a look of mild indignation to Billy’s face, but Wilford already knew why. Billy had gone to school hoping to be a war correspondent. But a civilian or not, he was a towering giant of a man, and made an embarrassingly easy target for anyone wanting to stir up trouble.

“No. I didn’t,” he said.

“Good. Because I have got one hell of a lead, and it’s going to get us the hell out of this sinking ship,” Wilford said.

Billy looked at him suspiciously. “Why me?” he asked.

Wilford shrugged. “Because you want to.”

He walked away after that, leaving Billy to consider the choice. Last time, he hadn’t had the advantage of knowing which buttons to press, and it had taken him all day to hound him into submission. This time, Wilford knew he had him. When he went down to the garage at dusk, he wasn’t in the least surprised to see Billy hanging around nervously.

“Care to tell me where we’re going?” he asked.

Wilford hopped into the van and grinned. “To catch ourselves a monster.”
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Someone kept resetting. He felt like he'd transcribed the same sentence eight hundred times – and he probably had. He just couldn't remember actually doing it. He'd only got back from lunch a half hour ago, according to the clock, but a niggling sensation at the back of his mind was telling him otherwise. His ears ached from the headphones crammed into them, not quite drowning out the sounds of everyone else in the other nearby cubes getting vocally angry with the persistent feeling of déjà vu. Just knowing that he’d been sitting there, practically unmoving for hours, made his back ache as if he had actually been sitting there all day.

And it was all made worse by the fact that he wasn't even supposed to be transcribing poorly-recorded scene interviews. It wasn't what he was hired to do, but apparently the words "junior reporter" meant something else entirely at AFC.

Minutes dragged on as hours as the entire building was stuck in the reset loop. Nobody could tell when it was starting, or when the reset kept happening, but everyone could feel it. Once or twice was normal. Everyone indulged from time to time, to keep that coffee from spilling on the keyboard, or to make it to that meeting on time. That wasn’t what resets were for, but nobody cared. What they absolutely were not for was endlessly starting over every time something didn't quite go exactly to plan. The more it happened, the more everyone else could feel it. The clocks may have all but stopped, but clocks didn't get tired and sore after sitting in the same chair for hours. They didn't get eye strain from looking at a flickering monitor while trying to listen to someone mumble underneath wind noise. They didn't feel the extra time of repeated resets. A person could literally grow old and die from resetting the same five minutes again and again.

"Warfstache," a stern voice barked from above as a folder fell on the keyboard.

Wilford jumped sharply and bit hard on his tongue to keep from saying anything he might want to reset from. He wondered if this had happened already, or if it was new, and the reset was finally over.

"Congratulations. Your first assignment," the senior editor said before walking away quickly.

Wilford moved quickly, not sure if the reset loop was actually over, or if this was just a cruel trick. He pulled off his headphones and threw open a drawer where he kept a couple of neckties just in case he actually, finally was given an assignment. He remembered getting the one on top, as some sort of mean-spirited joke. At the time, he hated it, which is why it wound up crammed in the drawer in the first place. Looking at it now — black, with pink racing stripes — he found he actually rather liked the look of it. Maybe this time around, he’d hold onto it. He snatched it out of the drawer and quickly rushed out of the room, hoping to get away from whoever had decided to put the entire station in a choke hold.

He wondered if he'd done this before as well.

The pool of camera operators hung out closer to the newsroom. They looked just as miserable down there as everyone upstairs had. That couldn’t have been a good sign. Wilford found the man he wanted playing some loud Flash game on a computer, and gave him a nudge.

“Come on. We got work to do.”

Billy looked up at him with confusion and relief quickly trading places across his face. “Thank god,” he said, quickly getting up to fetch his gear. “I haven’t seen you down here before. Are you new?”

“Not exactly.” Wilford didn’t waste any time in getting out of the building, and neither did Billy. They made quick tracks out to the garage and into a waiting van. As Billy tore out of the garage a little too quickly, Wilford put on his tie and used the visor mirror to try to flatten his hair to something a little more professional-looking than a mohawk.

It wasn't until they were a few blocks away, and Wilford was properly in his seat and not in danger of falling out onto the floor, that they finally resumed a semblance of calm after their mad dash for freedom. Clocks were moving again, and the air didn't feel stale and heavy, as it had inside. No longer within the sphere of influence of the unknown resetting bastard, everything was once again back to normal.

"So, where are we going?" Billy asked as he cut off a Prius.

Wilford finally opened the folder, already knowing exactly what was inside. "Let's find out, shall we?" he said slowly, reading over the brief sheet in front. "Holby Medical Centre," he read aloud. "To interview one Doctor Nigel Burke, and someone upstairs thinks they’re real fucking funny.”

"What do you mean?"

Wilford slammed the folder shut and tossed it into the foot-well. "Who have you pissed off lately? It seems someone at Holby is leaning on the reset button."

The drive from that point on was a quiet one, but it was far from peaceful. Billy drove like a maniac through busy streets, using the size of the news van to muscle into spaces he couldn’t fit into, while Wilford tried to think back to the first time he’d done this. People like to say that you don’t forget your first assignment, but you do. You forget everything about it, because it’s usually this sort of hazing bullshit meant to make you quit before they have to start giving you real stories. But Wilford couldn’t actually remember any of the real details. Anything he thought he remembered could have just been implanted from the brief he’d just read. He’d just have to wing it, like he did the first time. And he did remember the outcome, so winging it had worked.

As he worked through scenarios in the passenger seat of a speeding news van, Wilford became increasingly aware of the sideways glances he was getting from Billy. He was able to ignore it at first, but it soon became a needling sensation that bored straight through him.

"Keep it to yourself, Billy," Wilford warned.

"I–" The cameraman was suddenly focused intently on the road straight ahead of him. "My name's not Billy."

"Of course it is," Wilford said, reaching up to straighten his moustache. Not that it needed it with the amount of forming cream he used, but this was going to be his first impression to the people who made the real decisions. He had to look good.

As soon as they reached the hospital, Wilford left the van to pace around the parking lot for a few moments. He straightened his tie, and and made sure his glasses were clean, hoping he didn't look like he'd spent all day stuck in an endless reset loop. But the air felt heavy here, too. It was a hospital, after all, so the sphere of influence would be much bigger than some moron somewhere in a news building. If it were one of the doctors resetting, dozens of people would be directly affected every time. And that affect would ripple outward, like rings from a boulder being dropped into a very large lake. Eventually, they'd settle and fade, but not until they got far enough away.

Wilford turned around to make sure Billy hadn't just taken off and left him there. Even the smallest differences could change everything, making Wilford extra conscious of everything he did. Almost surprisingly, Billy had the camera on his shoulder and was ready to go, taking step after step backwards to try to get Wilford in frame.

“Knock it off, I’m not that short,” Wilford scolded. Eventually, cameras would get smaller and be mounted on gimbals, making Billy’s absurd height less of a problem. For now, there was the hood of the van. Wilford pointed at it and stepped in front of the van while Billy framed his shot. “You need to learn to shoot from the hip.”

“This thing weighs half a ton,” Billy argued as he set up the shot for the intro segment.

Wilford got through it quickly, ignoring the niggling feeling that he’d done it a dozen times before. As soon as he finished, Billy packed up the camera and they trudged across the parking lot like they were facing Everest, determined to make it inside before they were blipped back out to the van. The vague worry that it had already been happening hung on Wilford's mind, even as they walked through the entrance and up to the reception desk. The blue-haired woman who looked up to greet them did so with a cheer so false, it was clear she'd been there at least sixteen hours. Probably more.

"Are you who I think you are?" she asked in a squeaky voice.

Wilford unclipped his press pass from his belt and slid it across the counter with his index finger. "Wilford Warfstache," he confirmed, before cocking a thumb over his shoulder. "And my cameraman, Billy."

"My name's not Billy," Billy said again.

Wilford ignored him completely, and smiled the same falsely cheerful smile down at the receptionist.

"Doctor Burke should be out of surgery any minute now," she said flatly as she pointed down the hall on her left. "His office is down there. Take the elevator to the third floor. Follow the signs after that."

She slid Wilford's pass back across the counter to him, along with a clipboard. He took his pass, signed his name, and turned to find the man he was supposed to interview. As he and Billy made it to the elevator, Wilford began to wonder why it felt like he'd been on his feet all day. As he pressed the button to call the car down, he was hit with a sudden feeling of stupidity. If the hospital was Everest, Dr Burke's office was the summit. And it was going to take days to get there. Wilford looked over at Billy, and saw that he had come to the same conclusion. Then, he wondered how many times he'd come to the same conclusion. A quick glance to his watch told him that it was a perfectly reasonable hour in the middle of the afternoon, but every fibre of Wilford's being was telling him that it was well past midnight.

But instead of giving up and going home, like he suspected he was expected to, Wilford stepped onto the elevator as soon as the doors opened, and mashed the button for the third floor, powered by pure fuck-you determination to get this right. By the time they finally reached Burke's office, it felt like it had taken a week to get there. But amazingly, they needed only wait a few minutes before the completely unassuming man in blue scrubs walked cheerily up towards them. Wilford hated him immediately.

"Wilford Warfstache," he introduced with all the false candour he could muster, holding his hand out.

Dr Burke took his hand, shaking a little too vigorously. "Nigel. Come. Have a seat," he said, his accent implacable, other than stereotypically English.

As soon as Dr Burke turned to unlock his office door, Wilford turned round to look at Billy, mouthing the words 'Roll it'. Billy was just as fast and smooth as he’d always been. He reached up to turn on his camera, holding it nonchalantly on his shoulder as if to just carry its massive weight. By the time Dr Burke's office was unlocked and the three of them were inside, Wilford's false charm was plastered over his face, obvious to anyone who didn't have their head completely up their ass.

"Is this about the space station?" Burke asked as he sat down behind the huge desk.

Wilford hadn't got that far into the file, but he nodded all the same. "Of course," he said slowly. "It was your idea, wasn’t it?"

He played along, asking vague questions and letting Dr Burke ramble on about this new project. Slowly, Wilford transitioned the interview to more terrestrial topics, asking questions about the hospital itself.

“Just one more question, before we go,” Wilford said after a believable amount of time had passed.

Burke held his hands out, opening himself up in either complete ignorance, or utterly false innocence. "Go ahead," he said.

"Precisely how many times did you brutally murder your patient today?" Wilford asked.

Burke's entire demeanour changed. He sat up stiffly, gawping like a big mouth bass in blue scrubs. "I–I–I mean–"

"Because if I had to guess, going off of the rings around your otherwise lovely receptionist's eyes, not to mention the amount of time it took to make it up to the third floor, I'd say you've been going at it at least eighteen hours."

Burke shook his head frantically. "No, you don't understand–"

"And presumably, you've left someone else to close, so you could be here for your big interview about this alleged space station, am I right?" Wilford continued. "Eighteen hours is awfully long for something routine, especially when you're only halfway done. Wouldn't you agree?"

Burke continued to gawp and stutter, until he looked over at Billy. "Is that on? Is he recording?"

Burke lunged for the telephone on his desk, but before he could even dial the first number, Wilford was rushing Billy out the door and back down to the elevator. They zipped right past the dozing receptionist, breaking into a full run as soon as they were back outside. But instead of getting back into the van to make their escape, Wilford stopped, and made sure Billy had the lens trained on him.

"And there you have it, folks. Doctor Nigel Burke, world renowned surgeon here at Holby, isn't all he's cracked up to be. Unless you want to spend twenty hours on your next tonsillectomy, you might want to consider finding a new medial provider. This has been Wilford Warfstache–"

A banging and a chorus of shouts behind him cut him off abruptly. Turning, he saw a trio of security guards pouring out of the hospital's front doors. It took them only a moment to spot Wilford and Billy, but they had the advantage of their van. Before the security guards could get to them, Billy was already peeling out of the parking lot, once again leaving Wilford to hang on for his life as he tried to get settled in his seat.

Even as they took sharp corners back out onto the street, Wilford wondered why Burke had called security at all, instead of just resetting to avoid the meeting. Watching the security guards give up their chase through the wing mirror, Wilford realised exactly why.

"All that, and he didn't even remember to save when he was done," he said.

Billy laughed as he checked the mirrors for any remaining security guards, but they were all doubled over in breathless agony far behind them.

"If I'd spent all day fucking something up, saving would be the first thing I'd do," Billy said.

Wilford had to laugh at the whole thing. It had been absurd from start to finish, but he let himself relax into his seat as they made their way back to the station, knowing he'd be getting something out of pulling off the impossible.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
It was undeniably the same person. There had been a lot of resets during the Slender Man story, but there had also been a lot of déjà vu. Wilford had just ignored it at the time, because it was a difficult story, especially for someone with effectively zero field experience. For a long time, he’d assumed the reach was just farther than he’d originally realised.

But it wasn’t. It had just been him and Billy, the entire time. They didn’t have the crew they had now. They didn’t have help. But they did have competition. Wilford remembered that now – or at least, he thought he remembered that. All of the resets and going back and forth and chronic déjà vu had muddied everything about the story, but there was someone else. And Wilford knew he had reported on this man’s death. It should have been permanent, if that were the case. But something had happened. Someone had opened up an old save and undid everything.

But who?

It couldn’t have been the same guy who had broken into Freddy Fazbear’s. The other guy had already been the victim of an Event. And Events are unavoidable once they happen. That’s why they’re Events.

Unless someone opens up a save so old, it pre-dates everything leading up to it. Then anything’s fair game.

Save scumming is one of those things everybody knows about, but nobody ever encounters. There’s always a friend of a friend of a friend who knows somebody, but the farther back you trace that thread, the more distant the friend who knows somebody becomes. Nobody has ever been able to prove a single instance of save scumming. Ever. By its very nature, it’s completely untraceable. But it is noticeable. Do it too many times, or go back far enough, and you’ll begin to give yourself away. Just like this man had done.

Nobody said ‘swag’ back then. But why was that what stuck out so much in his mind? Swag. It stuck in his mind like a thorn. An odd anachronism that was the the key to unravelling the entire question.

Wilford knew the answer; he’d just been avoiding going down that path. He’d solved the puzzle, and he knew he was right. There wasn’t a shred of doubt about it in his mind. But there was a new challenge. Could he prove it? Could he be the first person to document a case of someone else save scumming?

That would sure be something, wouldn’t it?

There was only one way to prove it though. And Wilford was the only person on the planet with the means to do so. But it wasn’t going to be fun. In fact, it would be hell. And there would be no going back.

He looked up at the dog where it stood trying to lick a hole through the wall, in the same spot as always. Such a stupid, pointless creature. It would be gone. Wilford would never have to see it again. He watched the dog ruin the paint on the wall and slapped his laptop shut. There were some things he’d have to take care of before opening his save log and going through with this completely idiotic plan.

Déjà Vu

Mar. 2nd, 2017 10:21 am
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Apparently werewolves were going to be the height of entertainment for a while. And wasn’t that a shame, because werewolves weren’t even that fun. Even the fallout with Bigby hadn’t been as satisfying as Wilford had wanted it to be. AFN had a bit of a reshuffle up top after Bigby was dragged away in a muzzle, but it was nothing even worth following.

Not personally, anyway. The website room worked a bit of overtime, but the shelf life was barely more than a week after they broke it. Wilford shouldn’t have let his boredom get in his way. He should have drawn it out and had more fun with it, but he’d been getting itchy. He needed to hurt someone before he managed to hurt himself.

Next time. He’d do it right next time. Which meant finding a next target. Unfortunately, he was met with nothing but dead ends as he poked around databases and servers he wasn’t supposed to be poking around in. Either everyone was behaving, or more likely, everyone was getting better at hiding their bad behaviour with word getting out that someone would actually be looking.

As he bumbled around back doors and shoddy security, he found a few barely-hidden login databases, but that wasn’t the sort of thing he was interested in. Even manufacturing a story about millions of stolen passwords wouldn’t have a satisfying payoff, no matter how mad the scramble to fix the issue would be. It might be something to keep an eye on, but if Eyefind couldn’t be bothered to even occasionally check that all of their user information was out in the open, they probably wouldn’t be very bothered over it all being stolen.

He was almost glad when his phone started buzzing from a text message. It gave him an excuse to give up, at least for a while. At first, he thought Billy had somehow gained remote perception, since all he’d sent was a single link to a CashForDreams listing. As soon as he clicked on it, Wilford saw right through Billy’s game. It was a weak play, even for him.

“Seriously?” he asked as he read the missing dog post. He looked up at where Buster was making a determined effort to lick a hole through the wall, and then back down at the picture on his phone. He wasn’t even going to pretend it wasn’t the same ugly dog. Apparently the dog had always been skinny as hell, except now it was taller and had fewer teeth.

Billy had to have known Wilford wasn’t going to drive all the way out to Red County to give it back, reward or no. Because it still wasn’t about the money; it was about idiots thinking they could use him for their own amusement.

Also, anybody who called their dog Lord Pancake Butterworth didn’t deserve to have a dog.

“I’d have run away too,” he said, locking his phone and deliberately not responding to Billy.

Buster cared about none of this. He continued to lick the same spot on the wall, as he’d been doing for the last three hours.

At the studio the next morning, Wilford mentioned none of this to Billy. He watched Billy and Nichola share exasperated glances, being as obvious as two human beings could possibly be. It was sickening, and Wilford wanted to see none of it. With Buster at his heels, dragging the baseball bat that was apparently his now, he retreated to his dressing room to continue his search for a worthwhile story.

Wilford couldn’t help but feel like he’d done this before. In fact he knew he had. It was that persistent feeling of déjà vu that told him none of this was new. He’d find himself reaching for something before he knew he wanted it, or knowing answers to questions he shouldn’t have known when people barged in on him throughout the day.

He almost felt stupid when he finally realised what was going on. It was actually a novel feeling to be on this side of it for once.

But why here? Why now? That’s what he couldn’t figure out. By the end of the day, everybody else in the studio seemed just as off-centre as Wilford, so it wasn’t any of them. They weren’t that good at lying. It must have been someone in the neighbouring studio, but they were a daytime talk show. What reason did anyone over there have to keep save scumming?

Wilford looked up several seconds before his door opened and Billy stepped inside uninvited. Even though he knew it was coming, Wilford tried to convey through an angry glare that knocking was appreciated. Stopped in the doorway, Billy gave Wilford a wary glance before slowly bringing a folder to Wilford’s desk.

“Give me that,” Wilford said, snatching it away.

He didn’t know what to expect inside the folder, but he knew he already knew what it was. The grainy photographs he found somehow weren’t surprising at all. He’d seen them before. He’d seen that face before.

For some reason, he seemed to think the owner of that face was dead.

‘Hit by a bus’ and ‘swag’ sprang to the forefront of his thoughts. Why the hell would that association be made to these photographs.

Wilford was sick of Freddy Fazbear’s. He wanted to put that story on the shelf and forget about it until something big happened. He didn’t care about some ghost breaking in at night.

Why did Wilford think this man was dead?

“Who is this?” he asked finally.

Billy shrugged. “We don’t know. But Kevin thought since it’s from Fazbear’s, you might be interested.”

“I’m fucking done with Fazbear’s,” Wilford said.

But he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the photographs. He couldn’t have possibly cared less about Fazbear’s, but the dead man had all of his attention.

Wilford knew his name. He just couldn’t remember what it was, or why he knew it in the first place. Or, most importantly, why he wasn’t dead.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Wilford had expected this whole Uroboros thing to blow over, the way most of these stupid outbreaks do. Three days in, and it's obvious that isn't going to happen. Maybe if he hadn't taken the last of his sleeping pills, he could have at least avoided some of the endless nightmare that was a full-city lock down by sleeping through some of it, but nope. He got to be awake and conscious for every last minute of it.

When he finds the bar, he's glad for the change of scenery. He even lets the dog through, and shepherds it right outside again to let it run around while he goes to collapse by the fire. It's still being bored inside, but at least he's being bored inside somewhere else.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Wilford never bothered doing anything as lame as making sure they had police backup when they were about to break a case wide open. It was far more rewarding to go in pretending to have no idea what they were stepping into, relying on Wilford’s awkward phrasing to pull a confession out of the wrong-doer in the hot seat. And Bigby was no exception. He was so certain he was going to get away with everything, he let pour decades of ill deeds before he even knew what he was saying. And the look on his face when he realised it was priceless. It was second only to the look on his face when nobody gave a shit about his threats, and packed up and walked out without a shot being fired.

Wilford liked being in the future of journalism, where recordings may have been local, but everything was also wirelessly transmitted to a van parked elsewhere. Bigby could have killed them all, but to what ends? Someone would have reset, and had even more dirt on him the next time around. His only chance was to run for the fucking hills before all this ‘brand new information’ was released to the cops.

That was always the best part.

He returned to the studio for just long enough to see everything safely delivered to the editors and change into something a little more casual, and suited to a night out. As he fetched up the dog from whoever had decided he wasn’t feeding it enough this time, he considered dropping it off back at home. But the damn thing refused to grasp the basic concept of not shitting all over the carpet, making leaving it at home, alone, an uncomfortable concept. He still had the stupid pink leash from the bar, so Wilford clipped it to the dog’s collar and just took it to the track with him. It was the first time he’d been back to the track since the night he turned Jim’s face into hamburger. Some of the runners had shuffled out, making Wilford take the time to actually look at the numbers, instead of being able to make a good guess based on who tended to get cocky in the eighth and who was only there because they liked running in circles in a dumb costume. But in the end, he still won some money and got more than a little drunk. And it turned out that the dog was better company at these things than Jim would ever be, because it instantly decided whether or not it liked someone, and never stopped barking at them until a shotgun was introduced to their face. Wilford didn’t know what the dog knew, but it sure had a knack for picking out the loser.

Wilford had forgotten that Kevin also liked the races, and his mood darkened as soon as he spotted the blue-haired idiot making his way through the crowd with the new sound guy in tow. What was his name? Something with a B, Wilford thought.

He didn’t care.

At least, not until the dog stopped yapping at Chicken Little, and tried to lunge at the sound guy. Wilford held onto the leash, but did nothing to stop the dog from trying to attack, instead trying to figure out why.

“What did you do to my dog?” he demanded.

Kevin watched the dog, and then looked over at the sound guy.

“Ignoring the fact you’re still pretending it’s your dog, yeah,” he said, taking a step back before he got caught in the cross fire.

“I–I didn’t do anything,” the sound guy said, trying to get as far away as possible without actually running for it.

The dog ignored everything going on around them, focused only on tearing the sound guy to pieces. It would have been quite a sight, if Wilford let it happen. He wondered if the scrawny mutt could even bite hard enough to break the skin. And wasn’t that something right there? The dog didn’t like people. It made that very clear, and seemed to follow Wilford around only because he was stupid enough to have fed it in the first place. A few of the people around the studio had got the dog to warm up to them using the same tactics, but this guy? The dog wanted him dead.

Wilford looked around at the crowd that covered the parking lot. Hundreds of people shuffling about, and the dog didn’t care about any of them. Except for the ones he did care about, which he barked and snarled at until they went away or got unnerved enough to stumble and lose their race. Most of them were new runners, but the dog didn’t know that. The dog hadn’t seen any of these people before. But the only person the dog hated that Wilford even recognised was Chicken Little. Wilford liked Chicken Little, because he knew what made him stumble, and who he did well against. Wilford knew he did better some weeks than others, but always in a predictable cycle. This week, Wilford’s money was on him to win, because–

“You’re fucking fired,” Wilford said suddenly.

“What? What’d I do now?” Kevin asked.

“Not you. Him.” He pulled the dog a bit closer, glaring at the ex sound guy. “I don’t like having fucking liars on my team. You’re gone.”

Wilford turned, ignoring the stammering protests, and put the dog into the car before it managed to actually tear someone’s throat out. The guy had been nervous at first, but he’d been a trembling wreck ever since the interview with Bigby. Wilford couldn’t believe he didn’t see it sooner, but there was so much else going on, he hadn’t thought to look.

“Get him the fuck out of here before my dog has a stroke,” Wilford said to Kevin.

Kevin eyed the dog, still going nuts in the back seat of the car. “Yeah,” he said, taking another step back and reaching out to the ex sound guy. “Better do what he says.”

Wilford watched them go, waiting until they disappeared into the crowd and the dog settled down before getting into the front seat. As soon as he sat down, the dog poked his head between the front seats and sniffed at him as if it had completely forgotten about ever being upset.

Suddenly, the racetrack wasn’t fun anymore. Wilford started the car and jabbed the horn a few times to encourage minglers to get out of his way so he could head home to order some bad delivery and catch up on the actual news.

The only place that delivered so late was an abysmally cheap Italian place, but Wilford was drunk enough and tired enough by the time he got home that he didn’t care. He didn’t want to deal with the stove, so a pie tin full of nasty spaghetti was what he was in for, while he managed to talk them into sending a plate of cold cuts for the dog as well. While he waited for the delivery guy to show up, Wilford browsed the headlines, skimming over Jay Norris, street crime, Uroboros, and another sex scandal without really reading any of it. When his dinner finally arrived, Wilford put the dog’s share on the floor in the kitchen and swallowed the last handful of his cache of sleeping pills before eating as much of the soggy noodles in bad ketchup as he could stomach. By the time he collapsed into bed, the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. If he was lucky, he thought he might even be able to sleep until noon.

It turned out he was more than lucky. It was nearly three in the afternoon when he woke to the sensation of his head being licked. Maybe if the dog were licking a spot where he still had hair, he could have continued to sleep through it, but no. The dog liked the shaven side, where his hair was still so short, the dog was basically licking his scalp.


Wilford pushed the dog away and carefully rolled out of bed to get dressed. Under normal circumstances, he would have blown off going into the studio, but he needed to get the final word on the Bigby story. He cut his regular morning routine in half, skipping the shower and breakfast, and only barely bothering to get dressed, and taking a quick few minutes to hunt down anywhere the dog may have pissed overnight.

When he finally walked into the studio, he found it a confused mess. Everyone was scrambling about without getting any sort of work done, though they sounded like they were all working on the case of the century. The girls at the front desk were gone, with their computers shut down, leaving Wilford with nobody to watch after the dog while he investigated. The first place he tried was his own dressing room, and wasn’t at all surprised to find Billy behind his desk on the phone.

“Oh, thank god. There you are,” he said, hanging up.

Wilford looked out toward the hall, and all the commotion happening around them.

“Phone was off. I wanted to get some sleep,” he said, realising he never turned it back on again when he grabbed it out of its dock. “Mind cluing me in?”

Billy sighed and shrugged. “Uroboros outbreak,” he said. “Nine confirmed cases, which is nine too many.”

Wilford remembered seeing something about Uroboros the night before, but hadn’t actually read the article. But the scrambling chaos made sense.

“Fucking hell,” Wilford sighed. Uroboros wasn’t one of their required vaccinations, because of its rarity, but most of the field crew were kept up to date on it anyway. The office crew, not so much.

Billy finished shutting down everything at Wilford’s desk. “They’re trying to get everything shut down by six. The entire city. Might as well go back home.”

Wilford shook his head. “You’ve had your shots. Why aren’t we covering this?”

“Media blackout,” Billy said as he pushed past Wilford to get back out to the hall.

Those were two words that made Wilford’s blood run cold. It meant their unconfirmed cases greatly outnumbered the nine confirmed ones, and they were looking at a serious problem here.

“Go back home,” Billy said. “They’re gonna start shooting people at six.”

“I want everybody pointing a camera at something,” Wilford ordered. They weren’t going to waste this just because the National Guard had license to kill.

“I had a feeling you were going to say that,” Billy said wearily. He turned to rush down the hall, leaving Wilford with nothing else to do but go back home and dig out a camera to point at the street from his front window.
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Getting roped into bar tending had been a blessing in disguise. Not that Wilford would admit it, but it had given him a chance to get back to grips with reality. With that came the slowly dawning reality that Jim had been left unsupervised in the studio and god knew where else for who the hell knew how long, but that was a problem for another day. Wilford shoved it aside when he went back through the door to be confronted by the mess left over from the night before. Jesus Christ, what had even happened? He didn't want to know.

But he did need to know where his phone was within the mess, because it was ringing. He finally found it under a plastic bag, and almost declined the call when he didn’t recognise the number. In fact, he meant to, except he hit the wrong button and answered it anyway. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to find himself being summoned down to the veterinary clinic to retrieve the dog. In a way, it was a good excuse to get away from the mess and everyone in the studio. Maybe the fresh air would help anyway. Or not, because as soon as he stepped outside, he wanted to be back inside. He had at least had the foresight to find a clinic in Vinewood, so it was only a short drive along Spanish Ave before getting there. There was paperwork to sign, new medication to collect, and bills to pay before they even showed him the dog, still whacked out on something inside a large cage. Just looking at the dog made it clear that it wasn’t walking out under its own power. It didn’t even complain about being picked up, and didn’t even seem to notice that anyone else was in the room. That made it easier at least, but babysitting a stoned dog was the last thing Wilford wanted to be doing. But he didn’t exactly have a choice, so he took the dog out to his car and put it in the back to drool all over his seats.

Once he got behind the wheel, Wilford turned back to look at the dog. If dogs could turn green, that's the colour it would have been.

“Yeah, you and me both, pal,” he said.

He watched the dog grumble tiredly, and turned back around in his seat and pulled out his phone. Even that was a mess. He wasn't surprised. Ignoring all of it, he called Billy, and put the phone down on the dashboard.

“Oh, there you are,” Billy said.

“What are we doing today?” Wilford asked.

“Where’d you go? I was looking for you about ten minutes ago,” Billy said.

“Had to pick up the dog. What’s the schedule today?” Wilford didn’t want to deal with any of it. “I think we both want to go home and puke our guts out.”

“Uh,” Billy said in a way that wasn’t reassuring. “You’ve got ADR for a segment next week. There’s also a scheduled conference with the network at three.”

Wilford didn’t respond for a long moment. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “Fuck,” he said finally. He hung up with a sigh and started the car. The day already sucked, and it had barely begun. But going back to the studio meant another short drive, instead of having to drive back to Mirror Park with a returning headache that was threatening to blossom into a full-blown migraine. He carried the dog under one arm into his dressing room, pleasantly surprised to find it had been cleaned up while he was gone. He put the dog down on the floor, and immediately went to go lie down on the sofa. He barely had his glasses off when he was startled by something clawing at his legs. Something that turned out to be the dog struggling to climb up with him. It made it eventually, resting its bony weight awkwardly over both of Wilford’s legs, but he was too tired and sick to bother kicking it off. He didn’t expect to actually get any sleep, but maybe he could fight off the headache if he closed his eyes for a while.

It wasn’t a very long while until someone knocked on the door before letting themselves in. It looked like the new sound guy, but it was hard to tell from the distance.

“Uh, about the thing next—”

Suddenly, the dog had all the energy in the world. It sprung up and starting barking and growling, sending him taking a long step back into the hallway. Wilford was barely fast enough to sit up and grab the dog by the collar to keep it from ripping the guy’s face off.

“Take it somewhere else,” Wilford ordered, not sure what had just happened, and not too keen on finding out what would have happened if it continued.

As soon as the door was closed again, the dog’s energy disappeared, and it collapsed on the floor, panting heavily. It had pills somewhere. Wilford wondered if he should give it one. He grabbed his phone and sent off a quick text before lying back down again in the hopes that the entire world would just take a break for the day.

He didn’t do the ADR. His schedule was empty on Saturday, and there would still be enough time to mix the segment for broadcast even if he put it off until then. He just had to survive through the conference call, and then he could go home and die in peace. He was halfway through the world’s most pathetic lunch of delivery garlic bread and pasta with terrible canned sauce, when Nichola let herself into his dressing room.

“I would not have done this today if it were up to me,” she said, handing Wilford a printed email.

Wilford didn’t like that. He cautiously took the email and read over it. He wanted to get angry. He wanted to shout and run Nichola right out of the room, but he didn’t have the energy.

“I assume this is the point of the conference today,” he said, dropping the paper down onto the table.

“That’s my impression, yeah,” Nichola said.

He rubbed his face, careful not to knock his contacts out, and got to his feet. A quick glance at the dog showed that it hadn’t even touched the grilled chicken he’d ordered for it, which meant it hadn’t eaten the pill he hid in one of the pieces.

“Make sure he eats that. That’s your job,” Wilford said, making sure he had his keys and phone with him. “Conference is at three, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s a video conference,” Nichola said, looking down at the dog with confusion.

Wilford checked his watch. “I want to be there in person for this one.” He had about three hours, which he figured would be plenty of time.

He got to the CBN offices about twenty minutes late, and had to spend another ten just getting to the right floor and finding the right place. When he walked in on a bunch of stuffy programming execs arguing about demographics and ad revenue, the entire room went silent all at once, as all eyes were on him.

“What do you think you’re doing?” some asshole in an expensive suit asked.

Wilford shrugged. “You wanted me to do something about my demo. I’ve done it. Don’t fucking tell me what to do with my show again.”

“I don’t think…”

Nobody seemed to know what to say, and Wilford left them like that, drawing concerned and confused looks as he made his way back through the building and out to the garage. He actually felt pretty good after that. Having some cute young thing with her fingers in his hair for three hours had done wonders on his headache, and after walking in and seeing the looks on everyone’s faces, Wilford almost felt good. He felt like he’d won this battle, at the very least, and that counted for something. He returned to the studio just long enough to turn a few heads and gather up the dog. It still didn’t want to walk anywhere, but at least it had apparently eaten its pain pill, so that was something as well. But he was done with the studio. He was done with the network, and with people in general, and just wanted to go home. Even the dog seemed to agree, since it perked up a little bit once Wilford put it in the back of the car. It acted like it didn’t want to sit down, and tried to keep its back end laying down while getting its front end high enough to look out the window. All it managed to do was get drool and snot all over the glass, but there wasn’t much Wilford could do about that but roll his eyes. Even he had to admit that having one’s nuts cut off was going to be a miserable experience.

When he got back home, he was greeted by the sight of a banged up pickup full of lawn equipment parked on the street in front of his house. As he got the dog out of the car, Wilford turned to look at the pickup, and then around the yard. He couldn’t see the guy, forcing him to wrack his brain for a name. The only name he knew for sure that it wasn’t was Pedro, and that the landscaper got really annoyed when Wilford called him that.

“Hey, uh. Ben. You in the back?” he called out, pretty sure he got it right.

“Yep.” A few moments later, the landscaper opened the gate to the back yard. “What’s up?”

Wilford looked down at the dog under his arm, and then out at the open front yard. “You know how to install those underground fences?”

The dog was miserable right now, but Wilford had seen it vault over the back yard fence like it was nothing. The second he let it outside without a leash, it was going to disappear.

“Uh, yeah,” Ben said. “I don’t have my trencher with me, and I’d need about four or five hours. I can come by on Saturday, if you want.”

“Come by Saturday,” Wilford said.

Ben looked at the dog before heading back to finish what he was doing. “I also charge fifty bucks extra to clean up after dogs.”

Wilford rolled his eyes and went inside to go find out how much an electric dog fence was going to cost him.
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Tonight, the door opens to Wilford's dressing room. Wilford steps inside and drops the intern folders down on the coffee table.

The only gun he keeps in his dressing room is his sawed-off shotgun, but it'll do for now. He grabs it from one of the filing cabinets by his desk on the far end, which sits next to a shelf full of entirely unrelated items. Items which may be recognisable as a trophy collection, if one knows what to look for.

Unlike his house, Wilford's dressing room is actually decorated. Warm colours, comfortable furniture, framed posters from the classic era of film on blue-painted walls. Some of it was inherited from the previous occupant, but Wilford's made enough changes to the room to make it his own.

The dog has also apparently moved in, if the big metal bowl beside the desk is any indication.

Once he's got his gun and enough ammo to get the night started, Wilford checks his phone to see if anything good is happening nearby.
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The dog followed Wilford everywhere, constantly sniffing at his feet for the next dropped morsel. It was like he suddenly never had a moment alone, because something was always underfoot, making noises and licking at his ankles. But it was still preferable to leaving it alone, in his house, to piss all over everything.

The dog was not housebroken, and if it ever had been, it had forgotten how to be. There was something degrading and undignified about having to stop what he was doing to quickly drag the dog outside before it made a mess of the carpet. Unfortunately, someone had finally come to clean up the mess of folders that had been on the floor for weeks. It was a shame. He had almost started to get the dog trained to piss on them.

As Wilford took the dog back inside, the new sound guy passed them in the foyer. In an instant, the dog went from licking the carpet to hunched up with his hackles raised and his ears pressed back, growling pathetically.

“What the fuck did you do to my dog?” Wilford demanded.

The sound guy took a wide step away, inching toward the door. “I didn’t do anything.”

Wilford glared at him, while the dog growled, until he finally left. The dog still growled at the door for a few moments longer, until Wilford continued on his way to his dressing room. It only took a few seconds for the dog to realise it was being left alone, and follow after him again, sniffing at his heels and licking his ankles. This was a stupid wager, and he was stupid for letting himself get dragged into it like this, but it was too late to quit now. It wasn’t even about the money, even though he stood to gain a good amount when all this was finally over with. It was about showing a bunch of stupid people why they were stupid.

He detoured just enough to steal a glance at the wager board. Even though it was no secret that he’d caught on, it didn’t seem like the betting had slowed by much. A few people were still down for their original $200 buy-in, but most of the wagers were sitting at $400, and a few at $800. In a few hours, a good half of those $400 wagers, and most of the $200 wagers were going to double. Wilford would be out a couple hundred bucks by the end of the day, but it would be worth it. He hoped. Maybe he could even turn some of those $800 wagers into $1600, but he doubted that the sort of people who would be that stupid would actually have that sort of cash on hand. But maybe he’d get lucky enough to see the look on someone’s face when they realised they blew a collective three grand on a goddamn dog.

Wilford hung around the studio through lunch, even graciously accepting Kevin’s offer to bring something back from the sushi bar he liked to go to. Of course, Kevin took for fucking ever, like he did with everything, and finally made it back to the studio in time to meet Wilford in the parking lot.

“Where are you going?” Kevin asked as he handed over a paper bento box.

Wilford opened the back door and coaxed the dog into the hot car with his foot. “Vet appointment,” he said, enjoying every second of the crushing realisation that spread across Kevin’s face as he connected the dots.

“For what? He looks fine. He looks… great, actually. How’d you manage that?” Kevin asked.

“Magic,” Wilford said as he opened his own door.

Kevin rolled his eyes. “You’re a moron if you’re dealing with that crap. Why go to the vet at all?”

Wilford shrugged, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Gotta get his tags and get him fixed,” he said.

Kevin stared at him wordlessly as he slammed the door.

“You’re not really keeping it?” he shouted incredulously.

Wilford responded with a quick beep of his horn before starting up the engine, cranking the AC, and pulling out of the parking lot.

An hour later, after dropping leaving the dog with the vet, Wilford detoured back to the conference room to find a sea up updated wagers, with the popular money now siding with the only two $200 wagers left on the board. Except for Kevin, who had changed his wager with his most recent buy-in: Today.

Wilford dismissed that, like he dismissed everything else about Kevin and returned to his dressing room to go over copy for the next segment he had to film. Some boring crap about possessed children’s toys that he didn’t care about, but Mandy had spun it into a good panic piece, with a healthy helping of Buyer Beware. But if people wanted to bring something that fucking creepy into their houses, they deserved everything that came with it, poltergeist and all. They even had an interview for the segment, so Wilford at least looked forward to that part of it. Interviews were fun, at least. It still wasn’t Bigby, because his guys were playing hardball, but it would do until he finally caved.

The vet was supposed to phone back when the dog was ready to be picked up again. When his phone finally rang around five o’clock, Wilford was glad, because it gave him a reason to quit hanging around the studio. But the woman on the other line did not sound how Wilford expected her to sound, which made him nervous.

“We need to keep him overnight, for observation. There were some complications during the surgery,” she said.

“What do you mean, complications?” Wilford asked.

His mind went back to Kevin’s brand new wager on the board. What did he know that Wilford didn’t?

“He had a bad reaction to the anesthesia. It happens sometimes with sighthounds,” the woman said.

“Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Wilford asked, turning to his computer to Google what, exactly, a sighthound was supposed to be. (It was not exactly anything, it turned out. For some reason, this irritated him even more.)

She didn’t answer directly; instead offering a vague apology and reiterating that the dog had to be kept overnight now.

Wilford growled, and decided he was done with this conversation. “Your bedside manner sucks,” he said before hanging up the call.

He needed a few moments to calm down. It wasn’t just the idea of losing that pissed him off. He couldn’t even technically lose this wager. It was the knowledge that with damn near everybody in the company betting against him, it all almost came down to dumb fucking chance. Wilford looked down at his phone and pulled up his list of events apps. He needed to hit something, but there weren’t any fight clubs happening close enough at the moment. At least, none that had bothered to check in. The gym would have to do. Sparing just enough time to make sure he had his keys, Wilford got up and started to stomp out of his dressing room. He got as far as opening the door before Nichola stopped him, standing right on the other side with her arms full of folders. Before Wilford could ask what she wanted, she shoved the folders into his arms.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said before turning and walking away.

Dropping the folders right there on the ground, Wilford continued on his path to go find someone to beat up.


He walked into the studio early, having nowhere else worth going to. It was quiet at that hour in the morning, even with the one or two people who liked to do their jobs at night. There was almost always someone doing something in the studio. Wilford didn’t care what schedules anybody kept, as long as they made deadlines and didn’t fuck anything up. It usually meant that people came and left as they pleased, and sometimes never even showed up at all. Sometimes it meant having someone drive out to Little Seoul for him. And that lucky person today was a small, blonde woman working on a script.

“Take a break,” Wilford said, holding a folded $20 bill in her face. She slowly reached up to take it, making a face like she wasn’t sure what was going on. Once she had the bill in her hand, she finished typing out her sentence, and then looked down at the cash in her hand.

“Oh. Okay,” she said, already reaching for her purse at her feet.

Wilford turned to leave, finding his energy draining sharply by the time he got to his dressing room. This time, the folders had been cleaned up, and his door shut. Apparently leaving the mess in a walkway was what it took to make them go away. He stepped inside his dressing room, and took one look at his desk before heading to his sofa instead. He managed to take a short nap, waking up again at the sound of his door opening. There was a moment when he’d forgotten about sending someone out for breakfast, and nearly told her to fuck off before he saw the coffee cup in her hand.

“Here you are, sir,” she said, setting it down on the table, along with a brown paper box.

“Where’s my change?” Wilford asked.

The blonde held up the iced coffee in her hand and gave it a shake before leaving. He made a note to find out who she was as he pulled one of the Bungeoppang from the box. With that kind of brass, she’d probably do well in the field. Wilford filed that away for later and focused on trying to beat his hangover before it hit. But he barely got into the first bite when his door opened again. It was Nichola, and she was wearing her ‘done fucking around’ face. As soon as he registered that detail, he spotted the enormous handcanon in her hand. Making a noise of shock and protest, Wilford ducked away as he heard Nichola pull the trigger.
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Four o’clock in the morning was a terrible time of day to begin with. Nothing was open, all the games around town had pretty much all ended, and there was nothing even close to good on TV. Add to this a machine gun rampage outside, and 4am was absolute hateful. To this, add temperatures still sitting in the high 90s, and 4am was pure fucking hell.

Ten more hours. That was all the longer Wilford had to endure the dog’s company, before he could get rid of it. Ten long, painful hours, listening to it whine and compulsively try to lick a hole in the kitchen floor. Why did people ever let these creatures into their house? Did people really enjoy this sort of thing? Why?

As he tried to ignore the dog’s whining, Wilford made a point of looking away from it, and noticed a white paper bag on the sofa. Billy must have put it there when he dropped off the dog. Having literally nothing better to do with his time, Wilford got up to see what was in the bag. Maybe he’d get lucky, and find some sort of tranquillizer or something. But he was not lucky. There were two bottles of pills, a huge tube of some sort of paste, and a bag of dog treats, with a few sheets of paper instructing on the use for everything. One of the pill bottles was for pain, while the other was an anti-parasitic. Reading that word nearly made Wilford gag.

“Oh, fucking gross,” he said. Billy brought some nasty, parasite-ridden dog into his house. Amazing. Billy was going to die.

If nothing else, the dog was going to take the pill to get rid of whatever bugs were crawling around on or inside of it. Wilford could only hope it meant he’d be lucky enough that the bugs didn’t get on him. He had no idea how in the hell he was supposed to convince a dog to swallow a pill, so he took one from each bottle, stuffed both into one of the soft dog treats in the bag, and tossed the whole thing in the general direction of the dog.

He was going to burn the sofa. After he got rid of the dog, his day was going to be full with a to-do list of murder and arson, while trying to also fit filming a segment in somewhere.

As Wilford sat down again, he watched the dog as it slowly inched out from under the kitchen table. It came out just far enough to snatch up the treat with its tongue, only to hide against the wall again. The dog didn’t seem to move very often, but when it did, it moved slow and stiffly, which Wilford couldn’t exactly fault it for. Not if it had been hit by a car. He’d be slow and stiff and bitchy too, and he knew it.

“Enjoy it while it lasts. You’re back on the street tomorrow,” Wilford told the dog as he resumed flipping through channels.

At some point, Wilford managed to doze off for a little bit, once the noise out on the street calmed down. His nap lasted barely twenty minutes, but that was about how long they usually lasted, so there was no point in trying to force himself to go back to sleep. This was usually the point where he’d start getting ready to head to the studio, before taking an obscene detour into Little Seoul for breakfast. But he didn’t want the dog in his car for that long, so he figured he’d do something new and fix his own breakfast. He didn’t have a coffee pot, but there were a dozen coffee shops between his house and the studio he could stop at later. On his way into the kitchen, Wilford peered under the table to make sure the dog was still alive. He found it asleep, which was… a thing. Kevin would be out of the betting pool around 1pm, which meant Wilford only had to hold onto the dog for an hour or so after that. Whoever got the money after that, he didn’t care. But he did agree with Billy on one thing. Kevin didn’t get the cash.

Wilford almost never had breakfast at home, so he wasn’t really sure what to make from anything he had in his fridge. There were eggs, which was a start. Usually they were for soup, but he supposed he could make some sort of omelet or something. As he started pulling things from the fridge, Wilford heard a low whine from underneath the table. The dog had moved forward the smallest bit, and was watching everything Wilford did. Rolling his eyes, Wilford grabbed a small frying pan from inside the oven and put it on the stove to heat up, assuming the dog would eat a scrambled egg. Getting through both his and the dog’s breakfast quickly, Wilford quit putting off the inevitable. The dog was still wearing the collar the Bar had provided, so Wilford hooked the leash onto it and exhausted every ounce of his patience trying to get the dog back outside and into his car. His car, which cost more than his house. That hurt. It wasn’t like he ever used the back seat, but using it to carry some disgusting, mangy dog was still painful. At least the drive to the studio was quick. Not wanting to spend two hours commuting every day was the ultimate deciding factor for Mirror Park over somewhere up in the Hills, or out in Morningwood. But even Mirror Park was too far away with the dog in his back seat.

Once he got to the studio, he wordlessly left the dog at the front desk on his way to make-up. It was only a small segment they were filming, but he wanted to get it done with and out of the way. Billy was in early as well, and found him in the chair, ignoring the stylist complain about the lack of style to his hair.

“You want to do this now, or after?” Billy asked from the doorway.

Wilford glanced over at the stack of folders in Billy’s hands. “After,” he decided. “Tell me about Bigby.”

“We’re working on him. We should be able to get him in next week,” Billy said.

“Great.” Wilford was looking forward to putting Bigby in the hot seat.

“Nicola wants to know about the interns,” Billy said quickly, as if saying it fast enough would lessen the blow.

“Tell her they’re right where I left them.” He wished the cleaning staff would get a clue and throw them away, because he was getting sick of having to kick the stack of folders out of his way any time he wanted to lie down on the sofa.

“She’s also told me to mention the ratings. Consider them mentioned,” Billy said.

“And consider your mention ignored.” Wilford saw the stylist reach for some bright purple bottle of hair product, and slapped his hand away.

Billy watched this, silently, and conspicuously not bringing up the other elephant in the room. Wilford assumed he must have seen the dog at the front desk before coming back to bother him. He hung around for a few moments longer before going away to bother someone else.

Filming the segment took longer than Wilford had wanted it to. Constant sound and light issues were still plaguing the set, dragging everything out to a painful crawl. By the time the segment had been filmed, it was already getting on close to lunch, but it didn’t seem like many people felt like leaving the studio. It wasn’t difficult to guess why. Not with the amount of noise coming from the conference room. Against his better judgement, Wilford stepped inside and crashed their party. A few people were looking smug, while others were already sour over having lost the bet.

“What’s the buy-back on this one?” Kevin asked, looking at his watch.

“Double what you paid last time?” Billy said, giving Nichola a questioning glance. Nichola nodded.

“Yeah, that sounds fair,” she said.

The white board on the wall had a neatly-organised chart, listing everyone’s names and their bet on how long before the dog disappeared or turned up dead. Several names had already been hastily erased. Wilford wasn’t exactly surprised, even as dug into their wallets to buy back in with new predictions. What did surprise him was what he saw at the top of the chart. Nichola & Bill | Until he thinks we’ve forgotten.

“What the fuck is this?” he asked suddenly, finally drawing attention to himself. “Get back to work.”

“Ah, shit. Dad’s home,” Kevin said.

“You’re all fucking idiots,” Wilford said tiredly, as he turned to find somewhere else to be. Sometimes, he hated every living being on the planet. This was one of those times. But if they were going to play this game, he was going to play right back. On his way back to his dressing room, he stopped by the front desk to collect the dog, confusing everyone there in the process. Pointing out that he’d clearly intended to keep the dog, as it was wearing a collar, just made the confusion worse. He liked that.

As Wilford took the dog back to his dressing room, he looked down at the sorry state it was in. If he was going to keep it, he was going to need to do something about how gross it was.
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Wilford wasn’t surprised when Billy never made it into the studio. That was fine. Billy was on a mission Wilford hadn’t felt like dealing with. His own personal standards didn’t tend to be very high, but getting rid of stray dogs was beneath even him. He didn’t even care what Billy did with it. It was his job now, and that’s all that mattered.

He went over the morning reports by himself. Mandy had made good use of his few hours of unemployment and did some extra digging on Bigby. Kevin’s unemployment didn’t last nearly long enough, but a new lead on something else forced Wilford to call him back earlier than he’d planned. Such a shame. He didn’t want to be in the building when Kevin came back. On his way out the door to go find lunch somewhere, he passed by their new sound tech nervously handing in his medical clearance, while asking a thousand questions about “what now?” What now should have been obvious: get back to work. Letting someone else deal with it, Wilford left. As soon as he stepped outside, he regretted it. The wall of hot, sticky air hit him like a freight train. Wilford considered locking himself in his dressing room until much later, but only briefly. Going home was suddenly his priority. He’d have lunch there, in the air-conditioned comfort of his living room.

If the parking lot was hot, his car was literal hell — his own personal oven left broiling under the San Andreas sun. The air conditioner was quick to kick into gear, but not quick enough. The car didn’t even feel habitable until he hit Vinewood Blvd, but at least by then, it was a straight shot out to Mirror Park.

Once he was home, after battling lunch rush traffic, Wilford went straight for the control on the wall and dropped it to its absolute lowest setting. It was too hot too cook. It was too hot to even eat, so instead of finding something for lunch, Wilford collapsed into his chair and waited for a heatstroke death to take him. He stared up at the ceiling and listened to the air conditioner kick in, wondering how in the hell anyone lived in Los Santos. Human beings were not designed to survive these temperatures. It was impossible.

Wilford didn’t know how long he sat there, avoiding doing anything that might take even the smallest amount of energy. When his phone rang, he let it go until just before voice mail would pick up. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to see Billy’s name on his screen.

“What?” he said when he answered the call.

“Where’d you run off to? I came into the studio to find you, and they’re all saying you left,” Billy said. In the background, Wilford could hear a group of people laughing in the way people do when they’re trying not to laugh. He didn’t even want to know.

“Who’s asking?” he said.

“Well. Me, I thought,” Billy said.

Amongst the chatter in the background, Wilford could hear Nichola trying to be quiet, and failing.

“You fuckers better not be hot-boxing my dressing room again,” he warned.

That was all he needed, for his personal space to reek of weed for the next foreseeable future. Annoying fucking bastards, the lot of them.

“I’m at home. What do you need?” he asked with a sigh. At least if Billy was with him, he wouldn’t be stinking up the studio.

“I just needed to drop some stuff off with you,” Billy said.

More laughter in the background. Wilford rolled his eyes and hung up. Everybody was so hateful, and it was too damn hot to deal with any of it. He just wished the rest of the idiots at the studio felt the same.

Eventually, once the house started to feel like the inside of a refrigerator, Wilford remembered what he’d come home to do in the first place. He looked over to the kitchen, figuring he might as well actually get on the task of lunch. Before he even got to his feet though, he was suddenly distracted by the sound of a key opening his front door. Wilford didn’t bother getting up, but as soon as he stepped through the door with a red and white dog in his arms, Wilford was on his feet and ready to shove him right back out the door.

“What the fuck is that?” he demanded as Billy kicked the door shut and walked over to put the dog down on the sofa, but it didn’t stay there for very long. As soon as it was free, it jumped down and ran underneath the kitchen table, to hide against the wall. Great.

“You said to take care of it. You did mean take it to the vet, right?” Billy asked.

“Of course I didn’t mean take it to the fucking vet!” Wilford shouted. “I meant take it out to the fucking desert or something!”

He looked back at the dog where it cowered under the table. It looked like it had been chewed up and spit out by a combine harvester.

“What the fuck is wrong with its face?” he asked.

Billy bent down to look at the dog as well. “You mean the road rash, or the mange?” he asked. “The vet says it looks like he was hit by a car. It’s amazing he didn’t break anything.”

“I’m gonna break your fucking neck. Get it out of here,” Wilford demanded. He threw open the front door, letting the house heat right back up like an oven while he waited for Billy to go fetch the dog and leave. He did not fetch the dog, even if he did turn toward the door.

“Do me a favour and at least knock Kevin out of the pool,” he said. “He’s got two hundred on twenty four hours.”

Billy left him with that, laughing to himself as he closed the door behind himself. After that, Wilford just had to take a moment to himself, trying not to kick anything out of rage. He hadn’t listened to the bullshit that was going on behind Billy, but now he understood it. He understood it, and he hated it.

He wanted to shoot the dog, but that would mean having to deal with the mess. And throwing it outside wouldn’t solve a damn thing either. But, if nothing else, he could screw Kevin out of $200, and then just drop it off on the Boulevard outside the studio. Sighing, and not sure what else to do, Wilford tried to not implode from the rage at being used as a fucking pawn like this, and went to go see what he had in the kitchen.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting to eat too,” he grumbled as he pulled some chicken that really needed to be used from the bottom drawer of the fridge. The chicken was going to go bad anyway, so why the hell not? Wilford grabbed a knife from the block and diced up the chicken breast into small pieces, using the table as a giant work surface. He could hear the dog whimpering and licking at its wounds under the table, going out of his way to ignore it. With the chicken diced up, it went into a frying pan, while Wilford tried to figure out what to make with it. There was a pack of glass noodles in the cupboard, so stir fry it was. But he wasn’t going to waste everything else on the dog, so he portioned about half of the chicken out onto a plate, and put it down on the floor for the dog, while he went on preparing a proper meal for himself.

God, he hated animals. Now he was stuck with one in his house.
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In cases like this, policy was simple: in situations where close calls are made, all field crew have three days to get any post-exposure medical treatment taken care of before coming back to the studio, or they don’t come back at all. This was on top of a list of required vaccinations usually reserved for people travelling to the most remote areas of the planet. It was policy Wilford himself adhered to. Not out of some noble quest to lead by example, but for the simple fact that getting infected with some fucking lycanthropy virus would really screw up so many of his plans.

When he went to the clinic first thing the next morning, Wilford lied about his stitches, and said he got treated at some urgent care up in Blaine County. Four hours, a spinal tap, and a round of post-exposure vaccines later, Wilford was sent on his way with a mountain of antibiotics for the infection and a scolding about going out during the full moon. On his way out, he passed by Billy heading in, and hoped the rest of the crew were planning on taking advantage of their three-day window. He didn’t want to see any of them showing their face in the studio until he had a chance to calm down.

Wilford stopped by HR on his way to his dressing room, dropping off own medical clearance forms to be filed away. Still, he couldn’t help but notice the stricken looks he was getting from everyone in the studio that day. He put up with it for all of about twenty minutes before calling the day a wash and going back home.

The dog was back. The hole leading under the porch had been filled, but the dog had just dug another one. Wilford could hear it snuffling around under there, but he was too tired to do anything about it. Right up until his neighbour stepped outside to gaze upon the trail of trash leading straight into Wilford’s front yard.

“Your fucking dog got in my trash again, Warfstache.”

Wilford looked at the trail of trash, and found he didn’t have the energy to deal with that either.

“I don’t have a dog, numbnuts,” he called back, before quickly going inside to get away from everything and everyone.

He briefly considered taking about half of the pills Guppy had given him in an attempt to get some sleep, but it was a very brief moment of consideration. He didn’t like pain killers that much to begin with, and when he tried to take them as a means to fall asleep, he always regretted it. It wasn’t just the sick feeling of disorientation and the sensation of being completely disconnected from reality, although that was pretty bad in itself. It was the way he couldn’t get going again when he woke up. It was having to walk the line between not enough to actually get him to sleep, and skirting the OD line where he’d wake up finding he’d lost two days and had pissed himself. He’d save the codeine for the times when he actually needed it. Instead of doing anything stupid like that, he fell into his chair and grabbed his laptop to have something to stare at for the next few hours.

Wilford dozed off and on all day, but he still didn’t feel any better for it. He was still as tired as ever when he made his way back to the studio the next morning. He bypassed HR all together, intending to just hide away in his dressing room until he was needed for a sound check or something, but his plans were waylaid when he came across Kevin in the hallway. Without even stopping to think about anything, Wilford stepped up and slugged him in the side of the jaw. Kevin stumbled away, hunching over with his hand over the spot where Wilford had hit him.

“What?” he said breathlessly.

“Get out. You’re gone,” Wilford spat, before continuing on his way. He could hear the confused murmurs that built up behind him, but Kevin knew what he’d done, and it didn’t need explaining.

While he was at it, Wilford continued past his dressing room, and walked to the cube farm across from the set. Mandy was at his desk, furiously typing something up when Wilford approached.

“You’re gone. Go,” he said, pointing his thumb toward the door.

Mandy sighed. “Motherfucker,” he said, already saving his work so he could shut down his computer.

Wilford didn’t care what he took with him. He just wanted him gone. And with that taken care of, he made his way back to his dressing room before anyone else could get in his way and piss him off even more. He was no less tired behind his desk than he was at home, but at least here, he could pretend to get some work done. There was the huge backlog of emails to deal with, which he did so by deleting them all. If it was important, they’d get resent. He also needed to actually go through the footage from their hilariously failed excursion, and figure out just how much of it was actually usable. Eventually, he went to go get the CF card from the camera, and the SD cards from audio, all the while ignoring the sideways glances he got from everybody he passed by. Some of it was good. Really good. Kevin had managed to work his annoying brand of magic, and needled more than Wilford had expected from the drivers on the way up to the mountain. While Wilford went through the video footage, gritting his teeth through the nightmare that was native sound, Billy walked through the door with his usual stack of morning reports.

“Thanks for the assist, ass,” Wilford said, scrubbing back and forth over the part where he got tackled to the ground by a 250-pound werewolf.

“I figured you’d want me to keep rolling,” Billy said, dropping the folders in front of Wilford.

“You’re still an ass.”

Most of the folders were absolute junk. Preliminary feelers for stories too boring to even use as filler. But buried somewhere in the middle of it was everything Mandy had been working on over the last few days. If they’d had just a few extra days to prep this story, the outcome would have been entirely different. Mandy had figured it out on time, but it just didn’t get relayed out quickly enough.

“Get Mandy to follow up on some of this,” Wilford said, circling bits with his red pen.

“Right now?” Billy asked.

Wilford thought about this for a moment. “After lunch. Let him sweat a little longer.”

Billy laughed and took the folder back. “Such a kind, understanding man,” he said.

“You can be gone too, if you want,” Wilford warned as he moved on to the next folder.

“You wouldn’t survive the day.”

The annoying part was Billy was right.

The dog was gone. It was the first good thing to happen all week. No more snuffling, trash-eating dog under his porch. It was a goddamned miracle. Before heading inside, Wilford peeked over the fence around his back yard, and found the trash cans unmolested as well. Animal control must have finally decided to come do their damn jobs, then. It was about time. It meant Wilford could go inside and try to get some sleep without fear of his horrible neighbour banging on his door again. Halle-fucking-lujah.

But it was not to last. Because nothing nice ever lasted. Wilford had clearly angered some ancient deity, or some evil spirit, because life was just an unending series of misery lately. And this time when the dog came back, it let its presence be known with a constant high-pitched whine. As soon as it started at six in the morning, Wilford reached for his phone and called the police, and animal control, and even the local pound, but nobody cared about a stray dog. It wasn’t attacking anybody, so it wasn’t a priority. He called again at 7:00. And again at 8:00. Finally, knowing he was getting nowhere, he tried a different approach.

“Where are you?” he asked as soon as Billy answered the phone.

“I am in the drive-through line at Up-n-Atom,” Billy said. “Don’t ask me to get you anything. I’ve already ordered.”

“Just get over here,” Wilford said.

Billy sighed. “Fine.”

Wilford hung up and found a scrap piece of paper and a pen. He quickly wrote down the words ‘take care of it’, and after taping the paper to his front door, got into his car and left before Billy could show up and get angry.
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Mandy and Kevin’s story was starting to feel like another dead end. It was closing on three weeks since Kevin started hanging around the youth shelter in Little Seoul, hoping to get the wrong kind of attention from the right people. But it was starting to seem like Kevin either wasn’t what Bigby was looking for, or that someone had been wrong about Bigby in the first place. Something about the whole thing seemed wrong somehow, but Wilford had a thousand other things to deal with, and left the story to Mandy and Kevin to work out.

Still, it was the first brief he checked when Billy brought the morning round-up into his dressing room. Wilford read over the growing folder while stretched out on the sofa. The stack of intern applications still lay scattered on the floor in front of the sofa, where Wilford continued to ignore them until someone got the hint and made them go away.

“What’s this supposed to mean?” Wilford asked, looking at a hand-written note scribbled out on the yellow sheet of a stenopad. Mandy’s handwriting was terrible, and all Wilford was able to make out from it was something about a monthly pattern. Billy leaned forward to peer down over Wilford’s shoulder and shrugged.

“No idea,” Billy said after a few moments of trying (and failing) to read the note as well.

But while Kevin was failing to act as decent bait, Mandy had been uncovering something useful. He’d managed to track down a few kids who had come and gone from the various shelters Bigby had been funnelling money to, and after throwing enough money at them, got a few of them to talk. Mandy had several accounts of teens being offered money for going out to Mount Gordo to do some work for a night. They all said they refused, but saw other kids who took the offer. Even though the job was only supposed to be for one night, nobody ever saw anybody who was picked up in the black car come back. Of the kids Mandy had talked to, and from the descriptions of the kids who had disappeared, Bigby didn’t seem to have much of a preference. White kids, black kids, Hispanics, Asians. Boys, girls, somewhere in between. The only criteria Bigby seemed to be looking for was that the kids he picked up were staying at the shelters he was donating money to.

As Wilford read carefully through every account Mandy had included in his brief, both his and Billy’s phone sounded text message alerts at the same time. Wilford’s phone was across the room on his desk, but Billy had his on him, and checked it quickly.

“We’re in,” he said. “Kevin’s been offered a job out at Mount Gordo tonight. He’ll call in an hour with details.”

Wilford looked up at the clock on the wall. It would be almost 11am when Kevin called. Plenty of time to figure out how they were going to handle this.

“Get a crew together,” Wilford said, holding his hand up for the rest of the files. “Let’s break in that new sound guy. Get him on this.”

Billy handed him the rest of the folders with a nod and rushed off to assemble their ambush crew.

They took a four person crew in the Cavalcade, rather than trying to stealthily follow Kevin’s ride up the mountain in the van. The Cavalcade had been customised on the inside to suit these sort of things, though. The back seats had been taken out, replaced by two jump seats behind the wheel wells. It gave the skeleton crew more room for their equipment in the back, plus a spot for Billy’s camera behind his seat. With Billy’s phone mounted on the dash, they followed the signal from Kevin’s phone, keeping a few minutes behind the sedan they were trailing, using the naturally winding terrain to keep out of sight in the fading light. While Kevin focused on that, Wilford took the microphone and transmitter pack handed up to him and set everything up to start running their sound checks.

When Kevin’s dot finally stopped on the screen, Billy pulled off the narrow dirt road as far as he could. They’d walk for the rest of the way, approaching silently to better get the jump on whatever was happening out here. Kevin was wired to record audio, but audio alone was no good for television. Before he got out, Billy reached behind his seat to pull his camera from its bag. He didn’t bring the big, shoulder-mounted camera that was used to intimidate a twitchy interviewee. This was small and sleek, on a gyroscopically-stable gimbal.

“I don’t want anybody caught with their dicks out. Make sure you’re loaded,” Wilford said as he got out of the Cavalcade and straightened his bow tie in the wing mirror. He wasn’t expecting this to turn into a gun fight, but he was still prepared for that outcome. He’d brought his sawed-off shotgun, and took it from his inventory just long enough to check that both barrels were loaded. He only got two shots with this thing, but two was all he tended to need with it. While he checked his weapon, the other three did the same with theirs, having all brought a varied assortment of fire power.

“You two stay here and hold down the fort,” Billy instructed while he checked his pistol and his spare ammo. “Radio silence until we say otherwise.” Billy left his phone where it was mounted on the dash. Wilford took his own phone from his pocket and dropped it down onto his seat.

The new sound guy looked more than a little alarmed, but Jess had done this enough times that she barely seemed to even notice what Billy was saying. She had one ear in a pair of headphones, monitoring the sound Kevin was recording. So far, she hadn’t had anything to report, which Wilford had taken to mean that Kevin was, unfortunately, still alive.

“Sounds like they’ve met up with a third person. I think it’s Bigby,” she reported as Wilford and Billy started to set off.

“We should be there in about ten minutes. Keep recording all of it,” Billy said.

“You got it.”

Wilford and Billy left the techs in the SUV and walked the rest of the way along the dirt road. There were no buildings out here on this part of the mountain, and Jess hadn’t reported anything of note from Kevin during the entire drive up. They were going in blind, and Wilford didn’t like that. Anything could have been waiting for them up ahead.

They stopped when they could begin to hear voices coming from around a sharp bend. It gave them the perfect cover to sit and wait for anything relevant to happen. Wilford’s lav wasn’t going to pick it up, but they could see Kevin standing close enough to the other three men that his would. Angling his camera around the steep rock face they were crouched behind, Billy was able to get a look that stood at a small clearing where the road just ended, high on the mountain.

“That’s Bigby,” he said quietly. “I can’t hear what they’re saying.”

Billy watched the display on his camera, waiting for anything to happen as the sun dropped lower and lower into the sky. Wilford watched from beside Billy, trying to figure out what was going on. Nothing they’d expected to happen had in fact happened, giving Wilford the sinking feeling they’d got something terribly wrong.

Then, suddenly, the two guys who had driven Kevin up the mountain stepped away from the group and got back into the car. The camera was having trouble in the dimming light anyway, so Wilford and Billy both quickly backed as far from the edge of the rock wall as possible, expecting to hear the car engine start. Instead, they heard Kevin quite loudly exclaim, “What in the fuck?”

Wilford moved around Billy and carefully tried to look around the sharp bend to the clearing. He couldn’t see much. Just Kevin slowly starting to step away. He could see Bigby saying something, though they were still too far away to hear anything properly. Bigby was moving around to the far side of the car, where he was completely obscured from view, but Wilford was pretty sure the man had been unbuttoning his shirt as he moved.

Suddenly, Jess’ voice came over the radio into their ear pieces.

“Guys, get out of there. Mandeep’s been blowing up both your phones. We have to get off this mountain!”

Wilford and Billy both shared a confused look, and were quickly interrupted by Kevin running around the bend and speeding right past them.

“Run!” was all he said as he raced down the hill.

Wanting to know what they were running from, Wilford started to look around the bend again, but he didn’t need to. Before he even completely turned back around, the sounds of Bigby shrieking in pain echoed over the mountain, turning more guttural and animalistic with each breath.

“Motherfucker!” Wilford hissed as he and Billy both leapt to their feet. They followed Kevin down the hill toward the Cavalcade as every trace of humanity vanished from the screams behind them. By the time they caught back up with Kevin, they both had their guns out, but running was still the priority. They didn’t have enough ammo between them to stand a chance at killing that thing. There were times for running and times for fighting, and this was a time for running.

Werewolves, unfortunately, could run a lot faster than humans. They were almost to the SUV when it caught up with them, howling and snarling with teeth bared. Billy turned to shoot at the hulking black shadow behind it, giving them just a glimpse of the full horror in the pistol’s muzzle flash. Billy might as well have missed, for all the beast slowed down. Wilford fired one of the barrels from his gun at it, but even though it growled and flinched at the blast, it didn’t slow down at all. Instead, it leapt forward and knocked Kevin to the ground in the process of tackling Wilford. He blocked his face with his arm as he struggled to get his shotgun arm out from where it was pinned between himself and the werewolf. The wolf’s bite didn’t just hurt; it burned like a searing knife in his skin. Somewhere beside him, he could hear two more weapons being fired off, which distracted the wolf just long enough for Wilford to get the barrel of his shotgun against its neck, and pull the second trigger. The shot would have killed anything else. Wilford flinched away from the spray of blood as the creature released him and turned its attention to someone else. It gave Wilford just enough time to get up and get to the other side of the SUV. As he got inside, he could hear Jess rummaging through the electric cooler behind his seat. Inside, it stored bottled water and sodas, but there was a pouch on the outside that held an assortment of minor first aid materials.

“Here,” Jess said as she handed him a damp hand towel.

As Wilford took it, he leaned over and slammed on the horn. Kevin and the new guy were the next in the car, both of them cramming into the back with Jess and all of the equipment. Billy fired off a few more shots before getting in as well, slamming his door shut as the creature leapt at him. The force of its body against the door rocked the entire SUV. As it backed off to try again, Billy started the engine and tore out, spitting up dirt and gravel as he turned around on the narrow road.

With his shotgun resting across his knees, Wilford fished his phone out from under his thigh and looked at the screen. Mandy had called about ten times while they were out trying to figure out what they were seeing. Shaking his head, Wilford dropped his phone into his shirt’s front pocket and started trying to clean up the bite on his forearm, having nothing to say but a string of curses the entire trip back down the mountain.

It was a long drive back to Vinewood, and the ride was tense and silent. Aside from Wilford’s muttered, and occasionally shouted swearing, nobody said anything until Billy pulled into the studio’s parking lot.

“You guys have three days to take care of what you need to take care of,” he said tiredly as he killed the engine. “Don’t come back until you do.”

Wilford didn’t wait around for the inevitable arguing about how nobody else got bit, blah blah blah. He grabbed his shotgun and stormed inside, hoping to cross paths with Mandy on his way to his dressing room.
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The stack of applications was still on the floor where Wilford had dropped them days earlier, untouched and ingored by even the cleaning staff. The rocket launchers had been starting earlier and early every night, so it was on no sleep and 30oz of coffee that Wilford shuffled into his dressing room, hoping everyone would leave him alone. Worse, he was out of pills, and his doctor wasn’t returning his calls, which meant it was time to find somebody new again. But that was a task for when his brain was actually functioning. He spent the first hour of his morning just staring at his email, and not doing anything about it. He didn’t even know where to start with it, even though at the top was probably the logical place to start. Staring at it didn’t get anything done, so eventually he tried randomly clicking on things, which occupied another thirty minutes.

When the door opened, it took Wilford a few moments to realise what the sound was, and a few seconds longer to actually look up to see who had barged in on him. Usually, it was Billy, come to go over everybody’s progress and figure out where the show stood so far.

It was not Billy. It was Nichola, and she looked beyond pissed. Wilford hadn’t doubted for a second that she would make good on her threat, but he had expected she’d bring in some steak knife or something from her kitchen, and that he’d be a little more on top of his game. But it was not a steak knife she had in her hand. It was a goddamn wakizashi.

“Jesus Christ, woman!” Wilford shouted as he tried to get up and run away.

He couldn’t get up fast enough, and when Nichola raised her hand to swing the curved blade, Wilford ducked away and covered his face with his arm. As the blade cut into his forearm, Wilford fell backwards, chair and all. Wilford got to his feet in time to see Nichola turning to leave, shoving past Billy and a small crowd of onlookers who had gathered at the door.

“You okay?” Billy asked stupidly.

Wilford looked down at the slash on his arm, and then back up at Billy. “Of course I’m not fucking okay!” he shouted. It was enough to quickly disperse the crowd, and suddenly everyone remembered they had places to be.

Wilford picked up his chair again and sat down, pulling his shirt sleeve up past his elbow to get a better look at what the psychopath with the sword had done to him. Actually, now he could see it, the cut didn’t seem that bad. It was bleeding — a lot — but it wasn’t very deep. Just a three-inch slash, running diagonally across his forearm. He had a stack of napkins on his desk that he’d grabbed when he picked up breakfast on his way in, and used those to try to clean up the mess.

“Dare I ask?” Billy walked up to Wilford’s desk, holding back on dropping his own stack of folders down in front of him just yet.

“Fucking interns,” Wilford muttered.

“We don’t—oh. Just pick a few at random?”

“I’d rather not pick any at all,” Wilford grumbled. He pressed a wad of napkins against the cut, hoping to stop the bleeding so he could get on with his day. That was another shirt ruined because of something someone else did. It was starting to get old. “Tell me about Kevin. What’s he doing?”

“Uh.” Billy flipped through the folders in his hands and dug Kevin’s out from the stack. Rather than giving it to Wilford to bleed all over, he opened it and skimmed over it himself. “He’s been spending time at the Decker Park shelter. Nothing to report yet, though.”

“Hmm.” It had only been a few days, and they had no idea what kind of kids Bigby was looking for. All they knew was that he seemed to be taking kids from shelters, and making them disappear. “All right. Lay the rest on me.”

Billy put Kevin’s folder aside, and went through the rest in the order he held them.

The landscaper was parked on the street in front of Wilford’s house when he got home. He’d left the studio early again, because he couldn’t think straight enough to get anything done. Also, he was afraid Nichola might want to have a second round with her sword.

“You got a stray dog problem,” the landscaper shouted from the other side of the fence.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Wilford muttered.

“You should put locks on your cans. You don’t pay me to pick up garbage.”

“They make those?” Wilford had never been in a position where he needed to know these things. Until he left the east coast, he’d always lived in apartments, and let someone else deal with that sort of thing.

On his way up to the front door, he stamped his feet on the wooden porch. He wasn’t even a little bit surprised when the dog yelped and crawled out through a small gap between one of the planks and the ground.

“There’s a hole up here that needs to be filled in when you’re done back there. I pay you to do that!” he shouted before going inside to stare at his laptop for the next twelve hours.
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Wilford stood in the door to make-up, arms crossed over his chest as he watched as Kevin complained about hair dye.

“You know what the first thing this asshole ever said to me was?” Kevin asked, jerking his thumb at Wilford. “‘Stop dyeing your hair. You look like a pansy.’ Now he’s making me dye it. I don’t get it.”

“Teenage you was a pansy who dyed his hair,” Wilford pointed out.

Which wasn’t to say Wilford hadn’t gone through his own pansy phase at one point. But his was far less obvious, since all he had to do was shave his face. Kevin had blue hair from head to toe, and required much more drastic measures – like constant applications of black hair dye – to blend in at school. Meanwhile, other kids were dyeing their hair bright colours to stand out. It hadn’t taken Wilford very long at all to figure out that the hassle of making sure he got out of bed early enough to shave, and getting enough time in the middle of the day to go home to shave again for his night classes wasn’t worth the stress and ridicule from that one day he’d managed to fuck up and show up to class with pink stubble on his upper lip. Owning the hell out of it (and occasionally beating the shit out of anybody who did try to make a scene of it) was the best way to shut people up. By the time he’d started his internship, Wilford had already found a look that was guaranteed to draw commentary, while also having a reputation for not taking such commentary lightly. If it meant Wilford had joined a certain crowd which had begun to trade their mohawks and spikes for muttonchops and side-parts, so be it.

“Leave the roots, right?” the stylist asked, turning back to Wilford for approval. Wilford didn’t know his name, though he was sure he’d been told what it was several times.

Wilford nodded. “He needs to look like he’s been on the streets for a while. Leave the eyebrows too.”

“I look like such a fucking tool,” Kevin complained.

“Good. You should be used to that by now.”

The stylist snorted as he went back to giving Kevin a terrible dye job. “We’ll take it out early and give you a good wash to make it look like it’s fading,” he said.

“Is it too late to quit?” Kevin asked.

“You’re here for life, pal,” Wilford said as he turned to leave the two of them to their misery. On his way back to his dressing room, Wilford stopped by HR, to actually do part of his actual job, and get the information on the two new hires that had come in that week. The woman behind the desk (Wilford couldn’t remember her name, either) looked bored and tired, and was creating some sort of modern art sculpture out of a paper cup and every ballpoint pen in the building. The new hire folders had been on her desk all week, where Wilford had been ignoring them all week.

“When do these people start?” he asked, looking over the information. He hadn’t interviewed either of them, and had no idea what to expect when they got to the studio.

“Monday,” the bored HR woman said. “And the network’s called again. They’ve stopped asking and started demanding.”

“I don’t want to deal with no fucking interns,” Wilford snapped.

“They’re pulling your funding.”

Wilford dropped the new hire folders back onto her desk. “Then what the hell was the point of this?” he muttered, walking away. Two untrained, untested people on set was going to be bad enough. Now he had to deal with interns as well. Interns sucked. They hated being there, and nobody wanted them there, and it was just a terrible experience for everybody. Wilford would have rather kept getting by understaffed. It wasn’t like Billy ever complained about pulling triple duty as a camera operator and a showrunner/personal assistant.

Actually, he did. A lot. But Wilford chose to ignore it because he knew Billy wasn’t going anywhere else.

By the time Wilford got back to his dressing room, he’d decided he didn’t want to be at the studio anymore. There were no segments being filmed that day, and Billy could handle anything else that came up, so Wilford lingered in his dressing room just long enough to shut down his computer before leaving. Headway on Mandy’s story wasn’t going to be made until Kevin had been playing his role for a few weeks, and everything else that was going was all such small change, that the junior reporters could have handled them on their own. But the universe had other ideas. That, or Nichola was psychic, which Wilford was seriously starting to believe, because she barged into his dressing room seconds before he managed to slip out and escape.

“If you say the word ‘intern’ I’m out the window,” Wilford threatened.

“I’d like to see that, actually,” Nichola said as she closed the door and walked over to Wilford’s desk to drop a stack of folders on top of it. “I won’t mention the I-word, only because I have other things to talk about.”

Wilford wasn’t going to escape this, and he knew it. Rolling his eyes, he sat heavily on the sofa and dropped his feet onto the coffee table. “How come you never just come to visit anymore?”

“Because someone decided to make me his producer,” Nichola reminded him. “Which means when the network’s pissed off with you, they complain to me.”

Wilford suddenly knew what this was about. He was sick of hearing about this as well.

“You’d think a network that’s been around for seventy years would know that everybody’s ratings dip after the first six months,” he said. “They knew what they were getting when they signed us on. Did you tell them that?”

Nichola was not even remotely moved by his comments. “Oh, it’s not just the ratings anymore. It’s your demo as well.”

This was not a conversation Wilford wanted to be having. He threw his hands into the air in despair, and seriously thought about making a break for the door. Nichola was far enough away that she probably wouldn’t be able to catch him. But she could probably drive one of those two-inch heels into his ankle if she got close enough. It was best to not risk it.

“My fucking demo?” he said, incredulous. “We’re a goddamn news show. Nobody under 30 watches the news. Young people want to read five-word headlines on Twitter. That’s why we have a social media department.”

“We don’t even have a showing in the eighteen to twenty-five,” Nichola said, apparently taking the network’s side on this stupid, pointless argument that was going to go on forever.

Sighing, Wilford started checking his pockets and searching around the cushions of the sofa. “Where are they? I can’t find them,” he said. “I’ve lost all the fucks I ever had to give about this. Look at that; they’re gone.”

Nichola sighed right along with him. “Wil,” she said tiredly. “Just, for three seconds, could you try not to be an absolute ass? It was cute when you were just some punk kid in the website room, but you wanted your own show, and this is what comes with it.”

“That’s why I brought you with me; so you could take care of this crap, so I don’t have to deal with it,” Wilford said.

“I am taking care of it. And now I’m telling you, the executive producer, what needs to be done.” She turned back toward the desk and picked the stack of folders back up. For one glorious moment, Wilford thought she was going to take them with her. Instead, Nichola crushed all of his hopes and dreams by dropping the whole thing quite literally in his lap. “And if I get one more phone call about interns, I am coming after you with a knife.”

Leaving Wilford with that image in mind, Nichola turned and walked out of the room. Wilford took one look at the stack of applications and letters of recommendations he’d had dropped on him, and immediately dropped them all to the floor. He’d hoped everything would spill out and get so mixed up that going through them would be an impossible nightmare, but apparently after twelve years of working alongside one another, Nichola knew him too well, and had stapled everything together. Damn. Still not wanting to deal with it, Wilford left the mess where it fell and made a break for the door before anybody else could corner him with another boring, pointless argument he didn’t want to have.

The sun was still up when Wilford got home – something that was becoming a bit of a novelty lately. As he got out of his car and armed the alarm system, he seriously thought about taking advantage of his stolen extra hours and trying to get a few hours of sleep before the rocket launcher crew came in and took over the neighbourhood again, as was becoming a regular event. He wondered how many pills he still had left, and tried to count backwards from what he could remember having already taken. The best he could come up with was anywhere between four and twelve. He hoped it was closer to twelve, because four wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

Before heading back to his room, Wilford walked into the kitchen to grab a quick snack first. He didn’t even make it as far as the fridge. As soon as he stepped into the kitchen, he was distracted by the sight outside the window. Not only was trash spread everywhere across the back yard, but the creature responsible was still there. Some mangy, brown and grey dog was happily drinking out of the swimming pool, apparently oblivious to the chlorine and everything else in the water. Wilford slammed the back door open, sending the dog into such a panic that it fell into the water, which in turn caught Wilford off-guard. By the time the dog had splashed its way back onto dry land, Wilford thought to chase after it, but the dog was quick. Rather than running toward the road, the dog ran toward the back fence, and leapt over it without hesitation. Once Wilford got to the fence, he pulled himself up onto it so he could see where the dog had gone. It ran down the hill toward the concrete riverbed, stopping at the water as if not realising it was only three inches deep. After a moment, apparently already having forgotten what it was running from, the dog casually started trotting upstream. Not sure what else to do, Wilford shook his head and jumped down off of the fence and turned to clean up trash for the second time in a week.
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It didn’t take long for Wilford to forget all about the horrible, creepy elves that were taking over Milliways. There were other things that needed his attention, which were all far more interesting. Things that didn’t completely set Wilford’s teeth on edge. He listened to Billy’s morning updates while he flipped through messy and disorganised files. Out in the hall, people were shouting at one another and pounding on the walls. They were getting new neighbours in the only other studio in the building that week. Wilford’s guys were no doubt trying to the new boys a proper welcome. Best to let them know what they were in for early, rather than letting them find out two weeks after they got settled.

Wilford didn’t actually care what anyone got up to, as long as they also finished their jobs on time. He ran a messy and disorganised ship, but it worked. Stories were finished on time, segments were filmed on schedule, and the show continued to do well in the ratings even without touching on subjects like sex scandals or politics. The network heads weren’t happy with any of it, but Wilford could not have possibly cared less about what anybody at the network wanted.

As the fight out in the hallway turned into a brawl, Wilford realised his morning report was light. There was a file missing. Wilford quickly shuffled through all of them, trying to work out who hadn’t turned theirs in yet.

“Where the fuck is Kevin?” Wilford asked, checking again to make sure he hadn’t simply missed the file.

“He didn’t come in today. He’s mad at you,” Billy said. He picked up the files Wilford had already gone through and moved them to a shelf where they could sit out of the way.

“The hell’s he mad at me for?” Wilford asked.

“He says you shot him in the face.”

Wilford did not remember shooting Kevin in the face, but that wasn’t exactly proof that it hadn’t happened. Kevin was the single most irritating person Wilford had ever had the displeasure of knowing, and this wasn’t the first time he’d called off with a similar excuse. Wilford shrugged, accepted this account of events, and moved on.

“When he decides to show his face around here again, tell him he’s off the Bigfoot story,” Wilford said.

“Oh? You’re done being mad at him, then?” Billy asked.

“No. I just need him to get some real work done.”

The rest of the files were much of the same. Mostly little things Wilford had people looking into. They only ever had a few solid stories running at once, with most of the crew being sent out to sniff out new stories that would be worth reporting on. Most of them would end up in the bin by the end of the week, when nothing managed to materialise. But every now and then, something would catch Wilford’s attention. This time, it was the project he’d put Mandy on. Using the video Jim had provided, the social media team had been putting out short hoax videos. None of them had gone viral (which was good thing), but they were gaining traction. Other videos and anecdotes were starting to surface, and Mandy had been collecting all of them. Pocket dimensions and dimensional hopping weren’t exactly a big news thing, though. That was a thing that just happened sometimes. Sure, it usually sucked for the person getting caught up in it, but that was last-page filler. But Mandy had managed to find something interesting and tangential, and with just the right amount of spin, it could be made into something huge.

“Where’s Mandy? Get him in here,” Wilford said, handing the rest of the files back to Billy.

“I’ll see if he’s still here,” Billy said.

Mandy was still in the building, and ten minutes later he was taking Wilford through his convoluted trail of breadcrumbs that led a path across every social networking site on the planet.

“It was here. The garage,” Mandy said, bringing up the hoax video he’d manufactured from Jim’s footage. He hadn’t done much doctoring to it at all, but apparently, he hadn’t needed to. It got people talking anyway. “You were right. It found something.”

“Of course I was right. I’m always fucking right,” Wilford said as he hijacked the laptop to scroll through the endless sea of replies on Twitter.

“Yeah, sure.” Mandy rotated the laptop back towards himself so he could better reach the keyboard. “It was a lot of little things at first. Chop shops, smuggling. And then this guy.”

He turned the laptop back to Wilford, so he could read the posts Mandy had saved. By the time the hoax video had made its way to LifeInvader, something a bit bigger than hot cars and rhino horns had become the talk of the day. It was all entirely unsubstantiated speculation, but since when had that ever stopped anybody on Wilford’s team?

“You do any digging?” he asked.

“Some. He’s a big-time benefactor to several youth shelters across South San Andreas. One of those kids disappears, and nobody’s gonna notice. But it still helps to push a little cash to make sure it stays that way,” Mandy said.

Wilford picked up the laptop and leaned back in his seat to read. “Which shelters?” he asked.

Mandy’s folder was still sitting open on Wilford’s desk. Mandy picked it up and thumbed through the disorganised mess of it, eventually finding a hand-written list on the back of a fast food receipt. “These ones here.” He handed the receipt over to Wilford. “All private non-profits. Very little government involvement.”

Wilford spared a brief glance at the list of shelters. The names meant nothing to him, but he hadn’t expected them to.

“Kevin can pass for a high schooler, can’t he?” Wilford asked, returning his attention to another LifeInvader post.

“When he remembers to shave, yeah. You want to put him in there?” Mandy asked. Wilford could hear the hesitation in his voice.

“Better him than some kid we pick up off the street. Kevin at least almost knows how not to get killed,” Wilford reasoned.

“I fucking hate working with him,” Mandy protested.

“What? Like that makes you special?” Wilford closed the laptop and put it back on his desk. “He’s perfect for this. They’ll jump at the chance to get rid of him.”

Voicing his disagreement through quiet grumbles, Mandy stood and picked up his laptop. Ignoring him, Wilford checked the clock, wondering if he had enough time to sneak off before the interview that afternoon.

It was always a good interview when the guest got angry enough to take a swing. It usually meant something had been said that should have been kept quiet. Wilford could get people to admit to damn near anything he wanted to, but they only ever seemed to react with physical violence when the thing they admitted wasn’t complete bullshit.

By the time Wilford got home, it was dark, and the air still thick and hazy from wildfires to the north and east. As he got out of his car, he was greeted with something crashing to the ground in his back yard, followed immediately by something leaping right over the wooden fence keeping the neighbourhood brats out of his swimming pool. The thing sped right on past Wilford before he even had time to react.

“Jesus Christ!” he shouted, turning sharply to see what it was.

Under the street lamps, Wilford could just make out the shape of one of the spindly feral dogs that had moved into the neighbourhood. And wasn’t that just fantastic. Picking up trash from his back yard was exactly what Wilford wanted to be doing at ten o’clock at night.
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Wilford was actually a little surprised Jim delivered on his side of the deal. But this was Jim, so Wilford still didn’t actually trust the USB stick to actually contain what he asked for until he checked it over personally.

Even more surprising than Jim delivering was finding that the stick was clean, and didn’t just melt his hard drive as soon as he plugged it in. Wilford put nothing past that sneaky little snake. In fact, he didn’t trust the USB stick at all until he checked every last second of footage. There was no way he was going to show its contents to anyone else before knowing exactly what he was given. Wilford was not as big of an idiot as Jim seemed to like to believe. Not that Wilford was bothered all that much by Jim thinking he was an idiot of any sort. Letting people under-estimate him was one of his biggest weapons.

But Jim had come through on his end of the deal. There was almost a half hour of footage of the bar and the outside area that should not have been able to exist. The giant garage that really should not have been able to exist. A few glimpses of the door opening to a new room every time. It was enough to get Billy off his back for a while, and to give Mandy a good place to start on his assignment.

But it would all have to wait, because they had an interview to film.

Wilford hated him immediately. He was boring, and his story was stupid, and if he found out which producer was responsible, Wilford was going to do something they’d all regret. He listened to the boring man drone on and on about something Wilford had stopped paying attention to long ago, and looked out at the dark studio. It was huge, he realised suddenly. Huge, and they weren’t using it at all properly.

This interview was over. Wilford was done. He checked his notes, tried to force himself to pay attention long enough to hear at few words, and decided to just end it.

“And what about the allegations of misconduct within your organisation?” he asked suddenly, cutting the boring man off mid-sentence.

“I. What?” he asked.

“Do you, or do you not admit to having never funneled young girls to the Red Room?” Wilford asked.

“No. Of course not!” the boring man said.

Wilford waited just a few moments to let him realise his slip, before barreling forward.

“And where do you find these girls? From your ogranisation, I imagine?” Wilford asked.

“That’s absurd—”

“After all, when you’re dealing with homeless youth, it’s not exactly like anyone’s going to notice they’ve gone missing.”

The boring man was starting to get considerably less boring as he stumbled over his own words, trying to backtrack to correct his original stumble.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.

“Oh? Please, enlighten us,” Wilford said.

He wasn’t expecting the punch in the face. Or for the man to storm off the set. Wilford held his hand against his nose to keep from bleeding all over himself while the crew scrambled around, trying to figure out what to do next. Useless, the lot of them. Finally, Billy showed up from behind his camera with a wad of paper towels, and handed them to Wilford.

“That went well,” he said.

Wilford shrugged as he tried to clean himself up. The punch had landed harder than he realised, bending his already abused glasses even more, and possibly breaking his nose in the process.

“Find Mandy. Get him in my office,” Wilford said, with great difficulty.

Billy shook his head and rolled his eyes before going off to do as he’d been told.

Wilford stayed where he was until he’d mostly stopped bleeding everywhere. Once he was as cleaned up as he was going to get, he tried to fix his glasses, but they’d had enough of his bullshit, and broke right down the middle. Swearing to himself, Wilford got up and trudged to his office. He found Billy and Mandy both on the sofa, looking at their phones, but ignored them while he started searching for his contacts. His desk was a mess, stuffed full with everything he didn’t want cluttering up its surface; an endless black hole of junk that probably belonged in the trash.

“Top left,” Billy said absently.

Wilford glanced up at him, and then opened the top left drawer. He didn’t find his contacts, but there was a spare pair of glasses in a beat up old case. It was an old prescription, but they’d work for now.

“Get over here and look at this,” he said, sitting down and pulling up the file Jim had sent him.

“This is from that guy?” Billy asked. He grabbed the chair on the other side of the desk and dragged it over next to Wilford, leaving Mandy to hover over their shoulders.

“What guy?” Mandy asked.

Wilford started the video of the drone footage. “A man I know who can’t reset,” he said.

“Like. At all?” Mandy looked back and forth between Wilford and Billy, like he was waiting for the punchline.

“Look at this place,” Wilford said, pointing at the screen. The bar was moderately empty and quiet, with the universe on its repeating loop of collapse happening unnoticed out the window. “None of these fuckers do, except for one or two other guys I’ve run into.”

“That’s nuts. How are they still alive?”

Billy snorted. “They must spend their whole lives walking on eggshells.”

“A bunch of boring motherfuckers is what they are,” Wilford said.

The drone spent a few moments watching someone with orange hair, as he picked his nose by the fireplace. Nobody even mentioned the fish swimming around in the flames.

“That’s the only person who definitely resets,” Wilford said, jabbing his finger at the screen.

“Gross,” Billy said. “How does that work, though? They don’t reset, so what? Are they all tough as nails? They’d have to be, right?”

“Jim took one hit and went down like a sack of rocks.” It was disappointing, really. Jim not fighting back had been disappointing in its own right, but he was so damn fragile. Wilford wondered if one more hit would have killed him.

“I want to meet this guy,” Mandy said, watching the screen intently as the shot changed to an areal view of outside the garage.

“Good. He wants to come back,” Wilford said.
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