Categories > Movies > Monsters, Inc. > Homecoming

So Many Questions...

by Light-Rises 1 review

Devon makes good on her promise, and certainly doesn't come up empty. Of course -- and that's not even counting a plan she was never supposed to be a part of -- she's about to get much more than s...

Category: Monsters, Inc. - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama - Characters: Randall Boggs - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2005-06-10 - Updated: 2005-06-10 - 7893 words


Author's Note: ...And we're back to the normal length of things! w00t. And we see some plot-inducing action again! Double w00t.

So, um, yeah...not much else to say here this time. cough ^^;

Disclaimer: about this? Whenever an original character of significant importance is introduced, I'll mention him or her up here. Otherwise, you can safely presume (unless I've stated differently in a previous disclaimer) that just about everything else I'm using in this story is copyrighted to Disney/PIXAR. Okay? Good. ^^

Time: This segment takes place very early on Sunday, April 13, 2003.


Chapter 3 - So Many Questions...

Darkness again. A streetlight glowed yellow, shedding its dull radiance onto the sidewalk and on a chain link fence that enclosed the beginnings of a grassy field. Suddenly, the links jittered as something a short distance away from the light clung to the fence. Feeling the latticework of metal sway under her weight, Devon looked to the sidewalk below and behind her with a gulp before trying to scramble the rest of the way up and over. The fact that she was carrying a popcorn bag between her teeth wasn't helping much, either; rather, it focused her thoughts more on how ridiculous she must look than on why she'd come here in the first place.

The girl sighed through clenched teeth. Well, she wouldn't have had to be in this spot if it weren't for Edgewood Junior High's overly-cautious janitor. Usually, when the school itself was closed, its field was left open to folks who wanted to have picnics and games and other park-type junk, like on Friday afternoon. This time, though, Devon had found the gate to the field locked and bound shut by chain and padlock. Needless to say, being forced to climb the fence to get into school grounds made her feel more like a criminal than someone who was reasonably curious about something. But the real irony was in how she now had to enter -- forcibly! -- the one place she despised most in order to find out more regarding the one thing that, at least in her eyes, could change her luck for good.

At the top of the fence, Devon straddled a couple seconds before attempting to bring the other leg over. Her eyes squeezed shut at the thought of catching a pant leg on a wire, but the maneuver was completed without a hitch and she forced herself to relax a little. The other side -- only the descending left, the easy part! She had progressed downward several feet when one of the few, not-so-nice cats that had the run of the neighborhood drew close to her, watching from the grass below. Devon hadn't realized how awkward and on-edge she actually felt; so when the cat let out a hissing yowl, she freaked and let go with a small shriek. She slipped out of her footholds and fell the rest of the way down, spooking the cat into the shadows as her back hit the ground. After several motionless moments, she sat up sluggishly, placing a hand on her chest as she heaved for breath. Her winded state wasn't so much from the fall as from the actual effort of climbing; she may have been skinny as a rail, but she was out of shape to the same extreme.

Feh. Even more ironic/, she thought. /My luck goes down the toilet before it turns around. Devon hooked her fingers into the fence wire, pulling herself to her feet. Boy, it'd better turn around...

Her eyes caught something and she straightened. An old tree stood before Devon, moonlight highlighting the numerous initials gouged into its bark. The girl lowered her gaze to a worn spot at the tree's base -- where she'd spent many a lunch alone -- and she felt the need for a silent moment, as if this were a place of reverence that had to be recognized. When she looked up again, she scanned the section of school complex near the tree and stopped at a particular window. Scooping up the dropped popcorn bag, she hurried to it and realized what she'd seen: a slip of plastic wedged between window and windowsill.

Devon placed a hand on her hip. Huh. He must've switched windows since this morning. Delicately (or at least trying to be delicate), she shimmied out the plastic and held the loosened window open a crack as she examined the slip. To her amusement, it turned out to be one-half of a credit card that wasn't due to expire for three years.

I wonder if he got the joke, too? She managed a smile at the thought and tossed the half-card aside. Sucking in her lips, Devon pulled the window up and out with a moaning creak, then with less difficulty than she'd anticipated she slipped through the low opening into the building -- for once very much in debt to her thin figure.

Inside, she blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimness and she soon recognized what she'd stepped into as a classroom. And more than just that -- Mrs. Schwartz' biology room, with all the old posters, diagrams, and models Devon had once grown accustomed to seeing. She got caught up in the memories, her fingers skimming across desktops as she walked the first row. The reverie vanished, though, when she eyed several large, fluid-filled specimen jars on a counter by the door. The jars themselves didn't bug her, but rather the ideas he might've gotten about humans upon seeing these.

You think too much, Dev/, she chided herself. /Or maybe not enough, since you forgot to bring a STUPID FLASHLIGHT!

Well. There was no arguing that kind of logic, but it was too late now. Devon proceeded to pass through the open classroom door (the reason for its being open she was sure she knew) into a hallway lined with lockers. The gray-green of the metal was whitewashed by whatever light the old skylights above let in, and her footfalls, though soft, echoed too loudly for comfort as she started down the hall. Who knew such a place -- though dreadful by its own right during the day -- could be so spooky in the dark?

"This is crazy," she muttered aloud. "I'm an honest nutcase for even trying this." Unconsciously, she started chewing one of the fingernails of her free hand. Goodness knows how many laws I'm breaking right now...

Her other hand, with the popcorn bag, bumped against a hard lump as it hit a side pocket in her coveralls. Devon stopped and switched the bag to her free hand to dig inside the pocket, finding and pulling out a familiar, round object.

" did you get in there?" She eyed the pocket watch (a fairly modern one), smoothing her thumb over its outer shell as if to polish the metal. On a whim, she flipped the watch open and observed the time: 4:43. In the morning. An entire night's sleep lost to making sure Grandma Lita had turned in after watching all of her late night /telenovelas/. Then again, this entire operation would've been a "no go" anyway if Devon's parents hadn't decided to spend the rest of the weekend in Laughlin. Drowsiness taking hold, the girl motioned to yawn when her eyes fell on a small photo inside the watch's lid. The smiling portrait made her gulp and blink sorrowfully, keeping her stone still until thoughts of the face's owner -- and what he might've thought about her current situation -- warmed her enough to half-smile in return.

"You wouldn't've thought this was so crazy," she whispered. Lightly, her finger traced the outline of the picture's head. "You would've understood..."

THUNK, Thunk, thunk...

She looked up at the noise. Some yards in front of her, an empty toilet paper roll entered the hallway, rolling until it bumped against the opposite wall and shuddered to a stop. Devon hesitated, then snapping the pocket watch shut and putting it away, she started toward the faint moonlight emitting through an open door ahead, where the roll had come from. Trembling a little as she approached it, she peered inside to see the stalls, sinks, and linoleum tiles of a school restroom. She started to move inside by keeping to the stalls on her right...only to realize her mistake almost too late.

With a jolt, Devon sidestepped to the left as a stall door -- the one that would've swung her way -- was thrown open, violently slamming against another door and rebounding with a squeaky wobble. A second passed before the perpetrator materialized in the open stall, his green eyes wide and glaring with both surprise and sudden irritation.

"You!" he said, taking a step forward. "What do you think you're doing here?"

Devon didn't answer right away. Well, he remembered her; that was settled. But what held her speechless was his upright stance -- his weight only carried on the back fours -- which she hadn't seen before and which now unnerved her by how it made him seem more...human. If she looked intimidated, drawing back some as he'd stepped forward, it was only because she was rather overwhelmed by the sight.

"I..." She searched for the words -- What was she doing here? Getting some answers, she knew. But there seemed to be more to it, and that extra something was what formed into words first.

"I...wanted to see if you were okay," she said, glancing at him shyly. "From that fall, I mean."

The lizard-creature's eyes softened at this -- out of curiosity, if nothing else.

"Really?" he asked, drooping his eyelids and putting his topmost hands together. He'd said it rather skeptically.

"Yeah." Devon averted her eyes before going on. "A-and I brought you something," she told him, stammering a little as she held out the popcorn bag. "It's kettle corn. It's not much, I'm afraid, but it's all I could get in a pinch."

He regarded the girl a moment before taking the bag with his upper right hand, holding it out a short distance as he studied it. Devon observed in fascination as the upper left hand went to his lower jaw, as if to rub a nonexistent chin, while the pair of arms underneath folded across his underbelly.

The creature snorted. "Huh. Over a year in this world and this I've never seen..." Gingerly, he widened the opening at the top of the bag and took out a kernel, holding it between the round nubs of his fingertips before popping it into his mouth. He blinked in pleasant surprise. "Y'know, this isn't half bad," he commented.

Devon resisted the urge to ask him about his first statement; this whole meeting was coming along agreeably well, and she wasn't about to ruin it by rushing in with potentially touchy questions. She gave the creature a weak smile instead and he snorted lightly in return, seeming distracted as he walked toward the large handicap stall taking up the bathroom's rear, its door long ago torn off the hinges. Once inside, the creature rose to his hindmost feet and placed his back against the rear wall, adjusting his tail accordingly as he clung to the ceramic tile. Then in a fluid motion he slid/crawled down until he was in a more humanlike sitting position, upper back against the wall and lower back on the floor. He tucked up his four legs, crossing them over his lower underbelly as he started sampling more generous portions of the kettle corn.

Still standing where he'd left her, Devon tugged at the opening of one shirtsleeve. "You wouldn't mind me sitting with you for a little while, would you?" she asked suddenly.

The lizard-creature arched an eye ridge at her, and then shrugged indifferently. "Knock yourself out," he replied between mouthfuls.

With a slight nod, she walked into the stall and hunkered down next to him, sitting with her legs crossed and tucked towards her body. No sooner had she settled against the wall than the lizard-creature began crumpling the emptied popcorn bag. She watched as he casually pitched the paper ball into the wedge-shaped, metal wastebasket next to the toilet -- a pretty good distance to shoot from where he was "seated".

"Nice shot," she remarked.

He looked at her and drew back almost imperceptibly, as if he hadn't expected her to sit this close. "Thanks," he muttered, turning away with a brooding look.

Sensing it would be polite not to stare, Devon looked away too, focusing on some random spot on the floor. The two sat under the cold glow of moonlight, silent and separate.

For the moment, at least.

"How 'bout we make this productive?"

Devon turned to him with a quizzical expression. "Huh?"

The creature wasn't looking at her, but rather at the tail curled up in front of him. "I see it this way, kid," he said, idly fingering the tail's blue tip with a lower hand. "If you're gonna stick around, we might as well be productive while we're at it and make conversation. And the first thing I wanna touch on" -- he released the tip as he turned her way, eyes narrowed -- "is how you tracked me down here."

She suddenly grinned. "By dumb luck, mostly. I was just walking along the school this morning when I looked through the fence and noticed something sticking out of a window. I'd remembered seeing that before; our history teacher, Mr. Freedman, he was a loon when it came to fire drills and escape. And since the school windows always get jammed and he didn't wanna be breaking any of 'em in case of a real fire, he started slipping pieces of wood and plastic into the cracks to loosen 'em up. Weird looking, really -- but it worked. And since Mr. Freedman retired two years ago, I had to guess you'd made it work for yourself, too." Devon paused, realizing how much and quickly she'd spoken without a second thought, or even a stutter. "Now I wonder," she went on, falling more into her timid habits, "why didn't you just, well, pick a lock with your tail to get inside?"

"Urban myth," he replied flatly. "That only works on abnormally big locks, and you can guess how many of those I've come across." He eyed her, continuing with a sour inflection, "I'd bet your dad'd be real thrilled about this 'secret mission' of yours down here."

Devon crossed her arms. "He's actually very sorry for what happened the other night," she said, becoming defensive. "But what else was he supposed to think? I mean, it's not like most people meet up with intelligent lizard beast-things on a daily basis!"

The creature's face contorted in sudden fury. "You know, it's that kind of thing that kills me -- really irks me -- about you humans!" he snapped. "Talk's just about the only thing that convinces you of intelligence, and even that's amounted to nothing for me. And y'know why? Because no matter when or where or WHY I'm opening my mouth, it's almost never done me a lick of good! /Hardly a single lick/."

He stopped, visibly tense and riled up. Water dripped somewhere in the bathroom, echoing. The deep hurt that had crept into the creature's voice now permeated his emerald eyes.

His next words emerged softer, though no less critical. "Do you have any idea what that feels like?"

Devon grimaced in shame, remembering the tree outside -- her tree -- and how, in a strange way, her times there shared a familiar relationship with his present bitterness.

"I guess not well enough," she answered. Her voice was hushed, and she couldn't look at him anymore as she folded her legs against her chest, tightly wrapping her arms around them. She rested her chin on her knees and stared downward, at the cold floor near her feet.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. "We're all sorry. We should've known wasn't fair to you and we're really sorry for all the trouble." She sighed, halfheartedly blowing at the bangs in her eyes. "It was the stupidest thing in the world."

Upon hearing this, the lizard-creature dropped his accusing gaze, now puzzling over this awkward little human girl with that same expression of wonder, the one he'd made when she threw her dad's pocketknife into the pool...a look that still appeared to be as uncomprehending as it was grateful. He leaned toward her, continuing to study the girl with softened eyes before he placed a tentative upper hand on her shoulder.

Devon looked up at the touch, not expecting something like that at all.

"Actually, I can do you guys one worse in the 'stupid' category," he said, rather sedately.

She blinked at him. "How's that?"

"Hoo, boy..." He leaned back against the wall, his fronds faintly straightening as he became thoughtful. "Awhile back, I found myself in some crazy woman's trailer home in the Atchafalaya Basin," he began, lapsing into a Southern twang and then catching himself before continuing. "Ahem. Well, her equally dim-witted kid spotted me and mistook me for some gator, so the lady started whacking me over the head with a shovel -- of all things! -- 'til I dropped down senseless. She was jabbering something about 'startin' up the pot for jambalaya' as I blacked out..." He suddenly chuckled, very dryly. "I guess those yokels figured I was too rich for their blood, after all."

Devon gaped at him -- at this eight-limbed, purple and blue, green-eyed lizard-creature with pink-tipped fronds. "A 'gator'? They thought you were a gator?"

He nodded curtly. "Yep."

She turned away with a slightly disgusted look. "You're right: that is pretty stupid," she said, almost spitting out the words. Then she remembered something and looked back at him. "So, is it from the shovel you got the -- ?"

"What, this?" he asked, pointing to the slanting scar on his head. "Yeah. It took long enough to heal up, and every now and then it still bugs the heck outta me." He half-shrugged. "Kinda like a tension headache," he elaborated.

Devon nodded, her expression momentarily blank as another thing came to mind. "By the way, where is the Atcha-whatchumacallit Basin?"

He was very nonchalant: "Louisiana."

"LOUISIANA?!" She nearly stood up; it hadn't clicked with her until now that coming such a distance was what he'd been implying all along. "But how did you -- ?" she started.

The creature put up a stopping hand. "It's a long, sordid story -- not something you wanna hear about, believe me."

Devon sucked in her lips, then nodded in obedience. She'd sensed the warning tone in his voice and had understood, as she remembered his other scars, that she'd stepped into rather sensitive territory for him. So she tried to lighten the mood with a smile -- and a change in subject.

"...Y'know, I don't believe we've been properly introduced." Deliberating a moment, she extended a hand to him. "I'm Devon Vega. I can suppose you have a name too, right?"

The creature looked to her hand, then up at her, as if trying to determine whether the gesture was sincere. And then, with just a hint of a good-natured smirk, he took the human hand into his own three-fingered, upper right.

"Yeah, I do," he replied. "And that'd be Randall. Randall Boggs."

Devon looked him over in quiet awe as they shook hands. "Randall..." she repeated, softly. She wasn't quite expecting a name along those lines, but it suited him somehow.

Jonah...oh, you would've loved this! she thought yearningly, remembering the photo in her pocket watch. But he couldn't enjoy it, of course -- not now or ever. And there really was no one else (besides her father) that she'd want to have here, experiencing this wonder with her. No; too many people would see dollar signs or a reason to panic in this Randall Boggs -- all a natural default of being TOO different for the normal majority to swallow.

She released a mental sigh. Her father was right: this guy was better off getting away from people and potential attention as soon as possible. So there was no point in keeping him here any longer than advisable -- even if life in Edgewood was destined to become crummy and dreary again.

Abruptly, Devon stood up. "Well, I shouldn't be keeping you here, so it's best that I just, uh, shove off." She grinned at her pathetic, clumsy phrasing, then started toward the door.

Cocking an eye ridge, Randall promptly unfolded his legs. "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute," he said, motioning to roll onto his feet. "Who said I was going anywhere?"

That stopped Devon. Slowly, the girl turned to look at him. "I just thought...well, it's really not safe around here anymore -- for you, that is. At least that's what I figured."

Now standing, Randall sighed and half-rolled his eyes as he folded both pairs of arms. "Look kid, that's very noble and all, but I don't need the help," he said, a moody tenseness creeping into his voice. "I can watch out for myself just fine."

Devon shook her head. "You don't understand. Edgewood's not safe -- it wants things normal, more badly than most places. People here can't handle something like you without doing some awfully stupid stuff first -- "

"I don't understand that by now?" he interrupted, sudden fury emerging once more. "Of course this place is bad! I've crawled through dozens of lousy little Edgewoods in my time, and you're nuts if you think I'd stay here a day longer than I need to!"

Devon did a double take; there was something about the way he'd said than I need to that struck her as "off".

"What do you mean by that?" she asked him, faintly suspicious.

A brief, stunned look lighted on Randall's face. The moment passed though, and his fronds rose in agitation. "None of your business!" he snapped. "Didn't you say you were gonna 'shove off', anyway?"

"But you're stuck here," she realized, stepping toward him. "You can't go because you've got something to do, but what -- "

"I already told you: it's /none of your business/." He seemed more frustrated than angry now. "/Ugh/...look. Just trust that we'll both be happier if you don't get involved, okay? Now 'bye!" He started to help Devon out by literally pushing her toward the door.

"Hey, wait! Stop it!" she protested, digging her heels into the floor. "It's not fair -- I don't want out yet! Hey!"

Randall glowered at her. "What? So now you don't wanna leave? Fine." He backed off, putting on a sour expression as he turned his tail to her. "Pffft. Women."

Devon only answered by sticking out her tongue at his back. With a cross snort, she took off her askew glasses to wipe them clean, only to make things worse by leaving a smeary mess on the lenses. Sighing at more than just her handiwork, she turned her gaze back toward Randall.

"Look, I'm sorry if it feels like I'm prying," she said, temper considerably cooled. "And I'll back off if that's what you really want. Does that sound okay?"

No response. He simply stood stock-still, like he'd rather have nothing to do with her.

A scowl creased Devon's brows. "Sheesh, I told you I was sorry! What else do you want me -- ?"

She was cut off by Randall's shushing. "Shhh! No no, it's not that," he told her, keeping his voice low. "Something's wrong."

Staring at him for a moment, she replaced her glasses and came up to his side. "What is it?"

"I don't know," he whispered, shaking his head almost irritably. "Just listen."

Her ears strained for sound and picked up nothing out of the ordinary. But there obviously was /something/; a "nothing" wouldn't have prompted such an expression of deep focus on Randall's part, nor the present stiffness of his fronds. Then she heard it...a very faint, faraway droning of an engine, and the sharp screeching of tires as they pealed erratically across the pavement. It was drawing nearer, and seemed to be coming up the street alongside the school.

Devon's mouth fell open. "Wha...?" she started.

A weird, jangling crash of metal sounded, the droning closer than ever. Randall's concentration gave way to widened eyes, his pupils constricting to pinpricks.

"Randall, what -- ?"

"Hit the deck!"

In less than a heartbeat, Devon was on the floor and underneath Randall, with the world crashing all around them as plaster, porcelain, and ceramic crumbled and rained down in chunks and shards. She shut her eyes and tensed up convulsively, a scream caught in her throat as she covered her head. Just as quickly as it'd started, though, the chaos quieted to an uneasy silence. Slowly, Devon lifted her head to look, choking on dust and coughing into the cloudy air around her. A minute or so passed before the dust had settled enough to see past a few feet, and it was then that Devon ventured to get up.

/Well, nothing's broken/, she concluded, moving her limbs experimentally. She then started to take in the destruction around her. The restroom and most of an adjacent classroom were totaled, making for a rather large and gaping ground zero. There was the hole in the wall, and several curving skid marks trailed in by the vehicle as it'd swerved away from where she and Randall had dropped to the floor. And lodged into the classroom, of course, was the vehicle itself: a moving truck.

Wait...where is Randall? Devon brought powder-encrusted hands to her head in sudden panic. In all the confusion, she'd lost track of him.

"Randall?" she called out, stifling a cough. "Randall? Are you all right?"

Noises of crumbling plaster answered her. Nothing else.

"Randall?" she tried again. She started to move through the debris, squinting as she searched among the piles of rubble. "'s okay now; you don't have to disappear, if that's what you're doing. Rand -- "

She tripped over a heavy piece of plaster, giving a cry as she fell forward. But the impact never came: two strong hands caught her by the arms and pulled her back and onto her feet again. Devon smiled in relief, about to thank her assumed rescuer when she heard a very different voice than expected:

"Whoa, easy there! Careful! Oh, kid -- you poor thing. All in one piece, all right?"

Devon turned and saw a burly man, his "Eggman Movers" uniform dusted with plaster. His troubled blue eyes looked back intently, awaiting an answer.

"Yeah, I'm okay," she replied.

An expression of immense relief warmed his features. "Oh, thank goodness," he breathed. "It's just I was, this is all my fault! But what were the chances? A school at five 'o clock in the morning -- I mean, what were the chances? I guess I had it comin', though..."

Devon furrowed her brows at him. "What happened?"

The mover shook his head, avoiding eye contact. "The old story: I nodded off at the wheel -- not much I could do after that. It all just came so fast..." He twisted the cap on his head and then pulled it off, running a nervous hand through his dark hair. "I'd always said it'd never happen to me, and now look! I nearly ran you over." He let out a choked laugh that verged on sobbing. "Serves me right for that kinda thinking," he reckoned with stark realism.

As he finished this explanation, Devon felt a livid heat rise in her cheeks. She was very tempted to shout in his face, Of course it serves you right, you idiot! If Randall hadn't been here, you probably would/'ve run me over!/ But the thought of her missing companion, along with the man's distraught state and the fact that he truly seemed sorry, stayed her tongue.

Misinterpreting her silence, the mover's face fell. "You sure you're okay, kid?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Huh? Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she muttered. "Really." She hugged herself, distracted by new, clutching worry.

The man nodded, seeming satisfied. Then turning aside a little, he began patting his pockets in search of something and soon fished out a cell phone. His right hand shook as he clutched the cell and he stared at it with an utter sense of dread, almost cringing.

"All these early morning haul-jobs," he mumbled, more anxious than accusatory. "We'll be sued out of existence if they don't stop 'em before something like this happens again..." With pointed reservation, he dialed Emergency and held up the phone to his ear. "Then again, I could just lose my job," he continued. "Aw, I'm just screwed either way, aren't I...?"

Devon only half-listened to his ramblings. She'd started to wander away from him, crouching down at a possible hiding place nearby. "Randall?" she hissed under her breath. "Where are you?"

The mover took notice of her activity and lowered the cell. "Hey," he called. "Whadda you think you're doing?"

Devon stopped and slowly turned around, locking her eyes into his questioning gaze. "I..." she said, realizing she couldn't tell him the real reason. "I was...just looking around. Not every day you see this kind of thing, you know." She'd topped the half-truth off with a perky, innocent tone of voice. Not the most convincing act, but apparently enough to suit her present audience.

The mover shook his head vigorously. ", I can't let you do that," he said as he started to approach her. "It's dangerous here, like a war zone. No place for a young girl to explore; something's liable to fall on you, and then where'll we be?" He placed a hand on her back, trying to guide her toward the hole in the wall. "'s best that you just get on home -- stay out of trouble. Go on as if this never happened."

Devon started at this throwback to her dad's words on Friday night. She looked up to the mover's face. "But the police," she tried. "Won't they want to talk to me, too?"

He continued shaking his head. "Not good, not good to get you involved," he said. "No police reports, no evening news spots for you." He looked down at her, his eyes fretful. "I've put you through enough trouble as it is. You leaving will solve a lot of problems -- for both of us. Now /adiós/!"

"But -- " she protested, but was pushed through the hole and into the open. Suddenly cold, Devon rubbed her arms and noticed the mangled section of chain link fence a little away from her, then looked up to the predawn sky. /You don't understand/, she thought at the man, twisting her head around. But he'd already disappeared, back into the wreckage.

"That was weird," she commented, grimacing. /He didn't even hear me call for Randall just before he stopped me from tripping/. She tried to shake off the strangeness with a shrug, and then with tentative steps she moved into the more open part of the school's grassy field. Her eyes scanned the area and came up with nothing -- not even curious neighbors who surely should've been awakened by the crash.

"Randall?" Devon called, keeping her voice to a hush since anything louder might attract the mover's attention. "C'mon Randall, this isn't funny! I just wanna know if you're all right." She sighed away the annoyance in her tone. You'd better be all right...

The thought triggered an unconscious digging of one hand into her pocket, to feel the watch for comfort. When her fingers didn't come across it, however, Devon stopped dead in her tracks. Almost frantically, she turned both side pockets of her coveralls inside-out and patted all the others. Nothing. Which left only one possibility: she'd dropped the pocket watch during the crash. Well, that tore it -- mover or no mover, she was going back in, and she certainly wasn't stopping for anything or anyone. Not when it came to Jonah, at least.

Devon turned heel and quickly crawled back into the rubble, not having strayed very far from the site anyway. A pale pall still seemed to hang over the destruction, like a mist that wouldn't settle. This meant practically getting on hands and knees to search, along with enduring a series of coughs that tried to keep the invading dust out of her lungs. Then bingo: a dull glint partially buried under some powdery debris. She scrambled to it and lifted the watch, dusting it off as best she could while sitting back on her heels. Aside from the usual wear-and-tear, it looked to have come out unscathed. Devon tried to grin in triumph or at least in relief, but somehow couldn't find the heart to do so. Closing her eyes and sighing, she pocketed the watch and rose to her feet. The empty feeling settled in her chest as she started to make her way toward the hole...and toward home.

And it would've happened that way. That is, if she hadn't chanced a glance to her right just before exiting.

Devon slowed and stopped, her eyes widening in puzzlement. There was a deeper darkness toward the classroom end of the destruction than when she'd first seen the movers' truck wedged inside. Taking a step toward it, she discerned the reason: the truck's back door had been pulled up, revealing its hollow cargo hold.

"Funny," she thought aloud. "That wasn't open before."

With due caution, she approached the truck and halted a yard or two away to study it. It wasn't one of "Eggman Movers'" normal trucks -- more like the size and build of a small U-Haul. The opened back wasn't as dark this close-up, either, with the cargo hold's metal lining reflecting some of the ghostly glow outside. And from this angle, it looked empty. But something still nagged at Devon's brain as "wrong", so she shifted to get a head-on view of the cargo hold.

And this time there was something. Leaning against the far wall, a bit haphazard, was a door.

Even weirder/. Why on earth would someone pay a mover to carry a single door? Then again, who was /she to ask such a question? But she'd seen neither hide nor hair of the mover since he'd "escorted" her out of the rubble, and with nothing else making sense thus far, she felt the urge to just do SOMETHING.

So, perhaps against her better judgment, she crawled into the truck's cargo hold to have a look-see.

Her footfalls sent sharp, metallic echoes as she neared the hold's far end. When Devon drew up to the door itself, there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary about it except that it was still hinged to a thick, wooden frame. She snorted at it, putting a curled finger to her lips. The thing looked rather old and worthless; surely nothing she should be wasting her time puzzling over. Halfheartedly, she gave its knob a twist and turned to go.

The door creaked open behind her. Devon stopped -- not at the sound but at the sudden draft against her back. What...? The nape of her neck prickled, and more than just at the new sensation. A part of her was eager to turn around and look while the other, more reasonable part sensed a heaviness in this simple decision that, for her own safety, shouldn't have been there. She took in several shaky, openmouthed breaths, her eyes fluttering. Then with a gulp she turned toward the door.

It was there, partially open. But what little she saw through it dropped all pretenses of normality that might've been left.

There was another room behind that door.

"But..." she said aloud, then stopped herself. It couldn't be -- could it? This door wasn't even flat against the wall, so how could it possibly lead to anywhere except the other side of the same door? But what was there was there, and her eyes weren't playing tricks. Devon eyed the door then, a new curiosity compelling her, she took hold of the knob to open it further. If logic couldn't explain this, she'd just have to go and find out for herself.

She peeked her head inside and gripped her hands on the doorframe, then let go in surprise. The frame wasn't wood on the other side like she'd expected, but rather a cool, gray metal marked with scratches and signs of wear. Noting this, Devon turned her attention back to the space around her. It was a large, large room, stretching outward from either side of her door like a bowling alley. The ceiling was highest directly above her head, and it sloped downward under the support of long, imposing beams toward the opposite wall. A row of office desks ran parallel to that wall, their individual bulletin boards laden with notes and colorful flyers. A fairly industrial and no-nonsense place, all around -- at least from what she could see in the dark. The large windows above and behind her let in some moonlight, but not nearly enough to illuminate the entire room.

"Wow..." she breathed. Devon took a step inside, stumbling as the pull of gravity changed direction slightly due to the door's leaning position on the other side. She fell to her knees with a metallic /thump/, against a hazard strip lining the foot of the door on this side, her bracing hands only adding to the noise. Echoes boomed through the room's length and she winced, biting her lip. After all, there was no way of telling if whoever might still be in this place would take to her presence very kindly...

A quick, dark movement caught the corner of her eye as she started to get up. Stopping, Devon flicked her gaze about the room until it rested on the main entrance at the room's left end. There, along the entrance's top lip, clung a longish figure that, with a turn of its indistinguishable head, suddenly slithered to the right and out of the room. The tip of a thin tail trailed behind, briefly flickering into view before vanishing.

Devon's face brightened. "Randall...?" Then louder: "Hey!" She got up and broke into a sprint, making for the room's main entrance. There were very few things that would've given her pause then -- and, of course, that was precisely the next thing that came along.

"...Noise, noise, noise!" grumbled an unfamiliar male voice outside the room. "All of this hoopla after-hours -- a disgrace! Those crazy newbies'll be the death of us all, if I cannah whip 'em into shape."

Devon skidded to a stop and froze. Realizing the movement (since the sound couldn't be described as footsteps) in the hall outside was nearing, she did the first thing that came to mind: she hid under the closest desk, watching from underneath to see who would come in.

A new figure soon appeared at the entrance, too far off and too dim for her to make out his definite form. He brandished a flashlight, guiding its white beam around the room in search of the noisy perpetrators he obviously expected to find.

"Krull! Lloyd! Wippett!" the voice barked. "For cryin' out loud, stop this horsin' around! And I donnah care if it's too early in the night for infiltration! Now get off yer lazy bums and start makin' yourselves useful, eh?"

The flashlight's beam now fell along the desks, working its way toward Devon as it inspected each one, top and underside.

"What's with this hide-'n-go-seekin' business, eh?" the gruff voice continued. "Yer all actin' like there's a"

He'd lost coherence the moment his light fell upon Devon. Blinded, she brought up an arm to shield her eyes. What's with this guy? she thought. Can't he tell I'm just a kid?

But he babbled on. "Itsa, itsa...hah-hah-hah-hah-haahhh..." A pause. Then, after an appropriately large gasp:


The flashlight dropped to the floor. Devon lowered her arm and saw the hall lights flicker on, clarifying the figure's silhouette. His great mass quivered and he wildly flailed about his...his...


And all eight of 'em, too.

She screamed and scuttled from underneath her desk. Upon hearing this, the creature screamed anew and ran off, hollering for help like a madman. Devon paid him no heed and went straight for the door, which was still settled in its odd, bulky apparatus and seemed ready to go. But instead of running through it into the cargo hold of the movers' truck, she nearly slammed into the door -- a closed door. She wrung the life out of its knob, trying to make it give and turn but to no avail. She banged hard, desperate fists against the door. "Let me in!" she shrieked at it. "C'mon! Please, just let me in!"

Voices arose in the hall. Devon halted in her efforts and whipped around, listening. One voice she recognized as belonging to the creature with the flashlight, who was presently addressing the others. "It's in here, I tell ya!" he was saying. "In fifty years these seven eyes've never failed me, so I tell ya it's in there!"

Devon backed away from the door. Time was up. Now she had no choice but to run for it.

She took to the right, focused solely on finding another way out of this room. The paneled wall straight ahead offered nothing except a large opening near the ceiling -- and with no visible means to get up there, not even a built-in ladder. So she set her sights to the left and then found it: at the far corner, hidden by shadows until she'd approached this end of the room, was a corridor. The thought of simply hiding in the room she was in now until her pursuers left crossed her mind then, but they were too close and it was too late to change plans now. Doing so with more commitment than she felt, Devon shunted to the left and passed into the corridor.

Her feet banged on metal as if she were on a catwalk. In fact, that was pretty much all this corridor was: an enclosed catwalk with a red glow emitting through the narrow gaps on either side, the light coming from an unknown space or room below. As she barreled onward, she grabbed at the side rails and pulled along them, hoping this would help propel her forward. And she probably needed to; she was desperately running out of energy and at the point of stopping dead to recoup. But she pushed herself, gritting her teeth as she navigated through various sharp turns without slamming into a wall first, all the while repeating the thought, Please don't let them hear me, please don't let them hear me, please don't let them hear me!

At length, she came upon a section of catwalk that stretched to both sides of its enclosure, stabilizing the metal floor. Moonlight illumined this space instead of the red glow, through a small, dirty skylight not unlike the ones at Devon's old school. The girl slowed to a stop here, doubling over as her chest heaved for breath. With no other sounds (and, consequently, no other bodies) having followed her into here, it finally felt like the immediate danger had passed. So, craning her head back and closing her eyes, she slumped against the left wall and slid toward the floor as her knees buckled.

Very close to a sitting position, however, Devon felt the wall fall away from her back. Her attempts at grabbing hold of something came too late; she plunged headfirst into a narrow chute, sliding downward and letting out a startled, prolonged scream. Limbs smacked around throughout the drop, until the chute's slope leveled out and she shot out, tumbling, into a dark room.

She rolled to a stop. Moaning, Devon rose to her feet in aching sluggishness. The first thing she noticed were her breaths, which came out in shaky, red-hued plumes. The coldness down here was different -- slightly damp, slicing to one's very marrow. She hugged herself and drew her gaze to the network of pipes above, their various sizes snaking in, out, and around each other in multiple layers. There was a break in the network for a recessed, rectangular space where it seemed, at one point, that something else might've been stored up there. But any clues as to a potential/what/ had been patched over with metal sheets; an incidental slither between sheets allowed in a shaft of moonlight, and nothing else. The room's main source of light radiated from red bulbs, all encased in caged wire.

Devon's expression grew dark. "Great." She looked to the floor and saw a large, thick bolt near her foot. Fists clenching, she sucked in a hissing breath. "Just GREAT!"

She sent the bolt flying with a kick and watched where it landed. Her morose face suddenly fell away, her lips parting a little. The bolt lay, gleaming dully, under a cobwebbed and dusty mass of machinery she hadn't noticed before. Quirking an eyebrow, she moved toward it to investigate. One small section appeared to be the remains of a control panel, which had been crushed behind the bulk of a long, sleek apparatus. Devon bent over the latter, lightly running her fingers along the strange yellow canisters attached to its rear. She then brushed off some dust along the body of the machine itself, so she could smooth a hand over its surface. There was just something about this thing...almost a sad, reverential sense about it that she felt a connection to, but couldn't put her finger on for the life of her.

With a sigh, she dropped her hand away. Mysteries would have to be left for another time -- that is, if there would be another time.

Looks like I'm spending the night here. Giving the machine a final pat, Devon hunkered down and leaned her back against it; the dust and cobwebs wouldn't be that much of a bother, she decided. After several, silent moments like this, her hand wandered into a side pocket and brought out the watch. Even under the red light, it still had a ring of purity about it.

She flipped it open; not interested in the time, but in the warm, familiar face of Jonah on the adjacent side.

"Aw, man..." she moaned. She began kneading her forehead with the fingers of one hand. "What kinda stupid mess have I gotten myself into?"

The photo only looked back, silent.

She sighed. Snapping the watch shut, Devon curled up on the icy floor to make an attempt at sleep. But her eyes couldn't stop drinking in the alien surroundings, even as those surroundings seemed to threaten life as she knew it. Forever.

"Now what?" she muttered, flatly. A tear slid down her cheek and she wiped it off, holding back the rest with a sniff.

It was going to be a long, long night, under the glow of red lights.


A little extra note here, just so that there's no confusion: it's around 8:00 at night on the same day in Monstropolis (in other words, fifteen hours later than in California). That estimate is based on a time-difference theory that was developed during discussions at Boggs' Board (@, in case you're intrigued ;-) ).
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