The Path It Takes

February 7, 2008

Gary Mizer was used to seeing clues in the most meaningless things. He had, after all, been a secret agent for twenty-eight years – and when we say secret, it is an entirely legitimate use of the word. The agency he theoretically belonged to was one of the standard three-letter clubs, but Gary’s department was so hidden away and shrouded in decades of cloaking paperwork that it no longer had a name – they were simply referred to as “the boy’s downstairs.”

When – and if – they were referred to as anything at all.

You see, they studied non-standard cases. And non-standard is a dirty, dirty word in this business, largely because of “The X-files” and the way the show had brought such silliness into the public consciousness. To be fair, 99% of what Downstairs did was boring and menial work, dealing with farmers who had too much to drink or terrorists who happened to be slightly more clever than the rest of the criminals out there.

But every once in a while, they came across a case that was truly… non-standard.

And Gary finally had a lead on a case that he had been investigating for the better part of the last three decades.

Susan Maverick, an up-and-coming movie star with a hot career awaiting her in hollywood, had retired at the age of twenty-seven to become a school-teacher in a small town in Arizona. Gerald McKinley, an aging farmer in Colorado, suddenly decided to stop crime in the big city – and proceeded to personally lay the beatdown on one gang of thugs after another. In Texas, middle-aged sheriff John Smith suddenly comes up with a scheme to perpetuate mass fraud on every last member of his hometown.

Jane Newbury leaves her fancy corporate job and forces her family – at gunpoint – to relocate to Mexico. Juan Rodriguez stops smuggling goods across the border, and instead opens a chain of donut shops across Arkansas.

Dozens of individuals suddenly changing their lives on a whim – and more than that, as they leave families behind, start new ones, and alter their very personalities down to the very last drop.

And most importantly, if you plotted out when and where each one’s sudden moment of change came… you ended up with a very specific line of progression across America.

A trail, simply waiting to be followed.

A trail that Gary had been hunting since he joined The Boys Downstairs. He didn’t have a name for the creature, though he knew what it was – a sentient extraterrestrial disease, a mental illness that hopped from one person to the next, and left undeniable evidence of its passing. Sometimes it left them better, sometimes it left them worse – they didn’t understand the process itself as of yet.

All they knew is that it was dangerous, it was here for a reason, and it needed to be contained.

And Gary Mizer – who, three decades ago, had been a high-school drop-out who suddenly decided to embark upon a life as a hunter of mysteries – was going to be the one to do it.

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