Starling Pond Swarms

this is very long, so please don't feel required to write the same amount :3 also, this talks about bugs, but none from the handbook. can be set daytime or shortly after dark

Ashley was here looking for spiders.

She recognized this was a silly thing. But. Meeting Joseph at the party, hearing him say she'd... let her aura show, as she handled a silly bug at the party. It stuck with her, stayed in her thoughts when she woke up late and couldn't sleep. Once upon a time, she'd kept Agostina's cat in her room at night, and she would speak softly to him when she woke up cold or hot or uncomfortable.

Now, she woke alone, lately from... dreams about spiders. And then thought about them more as her eyes burned in the near blackness provided by a closed bedroom door. Today, when she had no healing to do and was feeling better than lethargic, she went out in search of them. Decided to drive further than usual for a change of scenery. Parked in a dirt lot by the pond.

She checked under benches, in tree branches, in spaces under raised trash cans. For the life of her, she was spiderless. Thunder rumbled when she was as far from her car as possible, but Ashley was determined. Neurotically so. She'd have a thousand more dreams of spiders until she just...

Found one, and held one. Or something. She didn't know, really. But it was an urge that nearly overwhelmed her, leaving her almost tearful as she poked around the park like a curious child. As the first fat raindrop fell, she knew she was in trouble. Ashley was not a runner. She decided to duck beneath a tree, hoping the dark clouds above would pass quickly with the breeze that rushed in with them.

They did not. Instead, they opened to a torrential downpour, soaking through her clothing in what felt like seconds. She cradled her phone against her chest, shoved it clumsily into her bra, hoping to keep it dry. At a clumsy run, she circled the pond, feeling like it was at least a mile to get there. (It wasn't, but she was no sprinter.) As she made it to the car, she flung the door open, threw herself in. Turned the key, blasted the heat, shivered, dripped. But her heater was always slow to start unless the car was moving, so she put it in reverse, glancing into the mirror as she sought to pull out of the lot.

A few inches, and then the car stalled. Her front tires spun, an unfamiliar and alarming sound. Ashley frowned, tried to drive the car forward, but the wheels ground and squealed. With a shivering huff, she pushed herself out of the car and dropped the keys in the seat, rain meeting the inside of the door immediately. Slamming it behind her, she circled to the front to find the wheels just... utterly dunked in muck. Cold and frustrated and desperate, she moved to the front grill of the car and just...

Pushed. Pushed, as if she could shove a car out of a mud puddle. It was foolish, and she knew it, but Ashley felt almost frenzied to accomplish something today. Thunder grumbled above her still, and naturally, the car didn't budge. But she turned to face away from it, pressing her lower back to it, feet sliding in wet earth. (Putting the vehicle in neutral would have helped; she didn't know any better.)

Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Ashley groaned in frustration, eyes screwing shut, fingers curling into fists. The rain was slowing to a drizzle, but it wouldn't get a car from the mud. She couldn't call for a tow. It was expensive, and she lived... so cheap. So on the edge of her budget. All of this for a spider she couldn't find.

Around her, and around the car, a low cloud formed. Sparse at first, but thickening, especially with the lessening precipitation. It was some fallen part of a storm. It was living, breathing. Alive. Mosquitoes by the hundreds, hovering at her sides. Pressing their bodies to the car, as if a thousand spindly limbs stuck to droplets could push it along. Instead, they squirmed and twisted as they stuck to the damp hood, to her wet jeans, to her arms.

She didn't feel them so much as a frantic inclination to get the car free. Making a scene, but not seeing it. She was drenched and red-irised, the now rain a mist, and her silhouette fuzzied by a thrumming shadow.
Sometimes, you had to do the shit job, it kept you humble or something something, Clara was out here feeling grumbly. She was driving through the torrential downpour, windshield wipers going a hundred miles a minute. There had been a call at a local neighborhood that’d been at the end of the day someone’s camera pointed towards the neighbor’s trashcan resulting in a panic as a giant local opposum had ransacked it the other night. It was the sort of thing they didn’t usually care about, filtered off to someone else if at all, but this one had got through. Maybe the Chief had felt the need to teach her something or simply have a laugh, Clara couldn’t tell. Now here she was, going five miles an hour as the car in front of her had its hazards on and was dedicated to a crawl. Lucky her.

Looking off to the side at a passing park, she leaned against an arm, fingers tapping the wheel to the tune hardly heard over the rain slapping against metal when a small huddled form against a car outside caught her attention.

That suckeddddd. They were probably soaked through the bone. Up front the car was still going at its own pace, illuminating the wet streets as its own personal marquee. Making a knee jerk decision, Clara pulled into the driveway to the parking lot as it came up, headlights illuminating the lot as dusk started to fall and the downpour continued to fade to something easily manageable.

Pulling up closer, she realized it was a woman and there was some kinda blur around her that was hard to tell. Rolling down the tinted window, she stopped, breaks squeaking as they slid wet. ”Need some help there,” she called, squinting with trying to figure out the black smudge. Couldn’t be her contacts could it? A finger came up to pull at the edge of an eye as if that might help clear it away.
Headlights flashing across her should have drawn her attention. On a better day, it would have, if mostly to feel the urge to crawl under her car in embarrassment. But her brain was so set on getting this car out, and just going home. And. She was the least qualified person to be doing this. Small, not physically strong, perpetually anemic, and too foolish to recognize that she had her car in park.

It was the creak of the brakes that caught her. She inhaled in surprise, felt something bounce softly against her lip in the process, nearly swallowing it as she turned to face whoever had spoken.

A police car. Someone speaking to her. Both of those were extremely important. But she'd just realized something else as well: Ashley was surrounded by insects. Her eyes bulged as horror, feeling very suddenly so many presences that she was nearly paralyzed by them.

"Hi," she answered dumbly in response, realizing she'd completely missed what had been said. The swarm shifted, looming behind her, hiding ineffectively at her back. Breathing, fuzzy edges. "Sorry?"
The girl turned around and Clara got a better look at her, color seemingly draining from her face at that moment while a greeting was said more or less on reflex back. Whoops, had she scared her?

Shifting the car into park so her foot could relax, the shadow smudge suddenly moved in a way that clocked her attention. Frowning with a pinch to her brows, Clara looked from a not quite clear edge that seemed to vibrant back to the girl’s face at the prompt. Just what was that exactly?

”I’m just wondering if you need any help. It looks like your car broke down?”
Please go away, bugs. Please please please go away. Pleaaaaase go away.

But they didn't, bouncing lightly against the backs of her arms, her neck, brushing her hair. It left her physically kind of twitch, her hands grasped in front of her. The buzzing by her ears was tremendous.

Focus, Ash. It's. A. Cop! It was also now that she realized she could taste blood. But. It didn't seem like a nose bleed situation yet? Which was... maybe... good?

"Um. It's stuck in the mud," she explained. Her sleeves were dripping. It was so hard to focus. UGH. "I tried to push it out, but- um. Obviously didn't work."

Here at least she got herself to smile, sheepish, and also with blood just the beginning of blood in her teeth.
Oh, the mud, now that was a better situation than she’d seen from the road, something she could help with even. She looked to the car in question and back to that girl’s soaked face. Turning the key so simply the battery was left running, Clara answered easy enough, ”I got a few tricks that might get you going in no time, if you don’t mind?”

If there weren’t any loud sounds of protest, she’d unbuckle and make her way out of the car, closing the door and around.
She felt her shoulders sink a little in relief just at the thought of not needing to pay a bunch of money toward a tow. Cops didn't charge money for helping... right? No. It was fine. She had to relax so that maybe this power would unclench. Pleaaaase unclench. Please.

"That would be amazing," she breathed, smearing wet hair away from her face. Ashley moved to open her car door, feeling the fluttering of wings at her side, hiding behind her in the process. Or trying to.

But as soon as the poor officer began her approach, the cloud of mosquitoes would be at her, moving as a shadowy blob with every intention of trying to blanket her. Exposed skin or clothing, it made little difference. No biting, merely swarming, though it was enough for Ashley to choke on her own spit in a panic.

Around the car she went, a smile on her face, determination to help and all but ready to start trying to solve this when the wilder thing ever happened. That weird blur? Yeah, it headed towards her. Clara reflexingly pedaled back with a sound of surprise escaping, the car’s hood hot under her palm as she used it to stabilize herself as the beats of a million wings could be heard buzzing around, tiny buffets of air felt. And then? It was like every inch of her skin was being lightly brushed against as tiny feet landed. Hair rising on the back of her neck, she sucked in a huge breath, heart pounding, taking damage control and trying to figure out what the hell was happening as everything felt so very wrong.

Why was she saying sorry?

Confusing apologies from the girl were the soundtrack to Clara really focusing on the shapes, especially when it came to the ones with a light backdrop. Mosquitos. They were mosquitoes! ”Ohhhh my god? Oh my god!” Immediately, she shivered and then burst into a jumping jog in place, hands going crazy trying to wipe the bugs off. ”Get in the car, there’s a swarm. Jesus!”
It was so. So. So horrible. Beyond horrible. Ashley just wanted to wail and scream in sheer despair over how thoroughly she had to be traumatizing a completely kind stranger. (Who! Was! Also! A! COP!)

Go away, she willed. Disperse. Go. Away. Fly to another place. Do normal mosquito things. She tried to sever her connection to them, but it wasn't something she'd ever tried to build in the first place.

A living nightmare. And as the woman tried to help her, Ashley spoke in a shrill, choked panic.

"They're mine!" she said, and just as quickly, the insects were hovering back to Ashley, sinking low toward the ground. Almost guilty, a shamed dog.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she pled, tearful and hating it. "It's a power, I can't- you should probably go in your car."

The swarm buzzed regretfully.
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