An original story by
Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.
The Ghoul. At first I loathed the name. Now, I simply don't care. The other cops in the precinct can think whatever they want of me. I have seen all too much proof that I am sane as I've worked my way through that oddity called my life. I know the demons are real.
I had a life, once, even a partner to help me keep vigil over the night-ridden city. Proud of our badges, we were just trying to be good cops. That phrase has spent the last eight years of my life taking on a whole new meaning.
Good cops… evil demons. Go figure.
I remember it, all of it, on those nights I wake up in a cold sweat, gun in hand and loaded with blessed ammo. I never used to have those nights. Then again, I never used to see demons, either.
This damnation, this curse, to see the minions of Hell in their truest forms, to notice every claw, fang, and brimstone-fueled glowing eye, this is my burden. This is my waking nightmare, my never-ending destiny in a world where I am nothing more than insane.
But I know I'm not insane. I remember it all…
"Check her out!" Officer Scott Shelley pointed off to his right, causing his partner no small amount of discomfort. The tall, blond officer was behind the wheel of their patrol vehicle, cruising down Eighth Street and displaying his notoriously bad taste in women. His uniform was just the right side of snug to pass muster, and his cap was perched jauntily on his head, as crooked as his grin.
"Just drive the car," said Officer Bruce Lipton, his hands clenched to the dash as he glared at Officer Shelley. They weren't going that fast, but traffic was pretty typical for this time of night, and they were surrounded by cabs. This was a situation that would surely result in disaster.
As he stopped, Officer Shelley eyed his partner. Lipton was nervously running his hand through his short dark hair, and the way his prominent chin was moving, he was grinding his teeth in frustration. He was about half a head shorter than Shelley, and much leaner. His intense eyes were fixed straight ahead, on the bumper of the cab in front of them.
"Chill out, Bruce. I'm just playing a little Scare the Cabbie," Shelley said.
"I prefer my life intact, thank you." Lipton risked a glance to the driver's seat. Royal-blue light from the streetlamps around them flashed in his eyes, causing him to squint for a moment.
"Whatever," Shelley replied flippantly. Abruptly, he changed the subject. "So, are you going to Nancy's party Thursday? I think it's her and Ted's anniversary or something."
"Yeah, Nancy pretty much begged me. She said it just wouldn't be a proper karaoke party without me massacring 'Sympathy for the Devil'."
Shelley laughed. "I don't know how you do it. Hottest chick in the precinct, married, and she's still got a crush on you."
"Just the old Lipton charm, I guess," he replied, leaning on the open window.
It was summer, a blazing hot nightmare for the NYPD, who saw more people during these tumid nights than during the rest of the year. Crime was usually up over the summer, the police force busier. Tonight was no exception, and the two officers soon found their next victim in the form of a red Trans Am that had blasted through its matching light.
Shelley immediately jumped, flipping on the light bar and exclaiming happily, "Time to bag another one!"
"If we get them, can I be bad cop this time?" Lipton asked.
"Bruce, to be bad cop, you have to have attitude," Shelley gestured with one hand to make his point, the other firmly on the wheel as they chased down the Trans Am. "You're just too nice for that."
"Aw, c'mon, please?"
"If you have to say please, you can't be bad cop."
The Trans Am pulled to the right, and Shelley pulled behind it. They approached it casually, one on either side. Both windows were rolled down, and each of them could see feminine hands with long, painted nails as they sidled up.
The driver was a blonde with an ample bosom, displayed richly by the skimpy white tank top she wore. Her miniskirt was so short it left very little to the imagination. Shelley was greeted with a pair of warm green eyes that sparkled brightly as she proffered a fetching smile.
The girl on Lipton's side, the passenger, was no less sexy, her long dark hair cascading over her brown skin. The streetlights seemed to outline her with an earthy orange tone to her complexion. Big brown doe eyes looked up at him that seemed almost unconscious of the effect the strategically torn tee-shirt and jean-skirt could have on a man. He gulped.
"G… Good evening, ma'am."
"License and registration," Shelley demanded from the other side.
The blonde put on a hurt look. "But, officer, what did I do?"
"Don't try to schmooze me, Blondie." Shelley crossed his arms, glaring.
"Look," Lipton added, speaking slowly more to prevent stuttering than to soothe. "Just do what my partner says, and we'll get through this quickly, all right?" He gulped again as the brunette looked him over, pausing for a moment just below his mid-section and cracking a Mona Lisa grin that made his Right Guard go left.
Still pouting, the blonde leaned over and fished her registration out of her glove box. She handed this and her wallet to Shelley. Lipton, in the meantime, grabbed his flashlight and shined it into the car, glancing around and acting very official. Really, he just wanted to get a better look at these two. It was a perk of the job.
Something flitted through his light's beam that made him pause for a moment. It had come from just below the brunette's long legs, a flash of brown that flitted by so quickly he wasn't even sure he'd seen it. He jumped back, quickly trying to catch his composure.
"Is something wrong, officer?" the brunette asked him.
Lipton took a second look. Just her long, shapely legs. He shook his head.
"Nope. Not a thing," he replied, feeling a bit dazed.
"I'm going to have to radio your license in," Shelley said quickly, with a glare at Lipton. With his head, he motioned that his partner should follow.
Shelley really did radio the license in, but as they waited for a response, he scolded, "And you wanted to be bad cop tonight."
"I'm sorry. I just thought I saw the strangest thing."
Shelley wrinkled his brow. "Like what?"
Lipton thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "It's nothing." To allay Shelley's dubious gaze, he added, "Hey, these two are hot, aren't they?"
Shelley wolf-whistled. "Hell, yes, they are!"
The radio squawked back a response. The driver's record was clean, the car in her name. Shelley grinned as he acknowledged the dispatcher.
"Well, back to work," he said.
As they came back to the Trans Am, Lipton's gaze was fixated to the spot where he'd seen that strange flash. Shelley was proceeding to explain to the blonde that he was letting her off with a warning — "this time" — but was letting his body language do most of the talking. Lipton paid this all no heed.
He didn't see it again, and the beautiful brunette disappeared out of his life forever, leaving him both fantasizing and perplexed. He was so distracted that when they got back to the car, Shelley asked, "Are you sure you're all right, man? You look sick."
"No, I'm fine. I probably just need to eat something."
But even food could not assuage the nagging feeling about what he thought he'd seen. It had looked like the brunette had had a spaded… tail?
From New York Newsday:
Lipton looked up from his newspaper at Shelley. His partner had walked over and poked him in the knee, the jolt causing some of his coffee to slurp onto his hand. Putting the Styrofoam cup on the desk next to him, he grabbed a wad of tissues and wiped at the mess. Around him, the station was noisy with telephones ringing, reports being filed, and interviews being conducted.
"What?" he demanded, casting a glare at Shelley.
"Sorry, man." Shelley grinned, then grabbed the paper. "Whatcha reading about?" He scanned it. "Oh. The Carver."
"Does everything morbid have to have a nickname?" Lipton rolled his eyes.
"I heard he cuts their stomachs and pulls out their entrails with his bare hands," Shelley said enthusiastically.
"That's pretty disgusting," Lipton agreed, tossing out the tissue and making a grab for his newspaper.
Pulling it out of reach, Shelley added, "And I also heard he carves shit into their foreheads."
Lipton stopped. "What kind of shit?" he asked, head cocked to one side.
"I've heard it's just a bunch of crap, chicken-scratch."
"Oh?" The desk's owner, a short and slightly portly fellow with dark hair, a jolly face, and glasses, sat down at the desk whose interview seat Lipton had been using. The chubby man sat down and leaned his head on his hand.
"I heard it was strange symbols," he added.
"So?" Shelley challenged. "What, you think it's aliens, Barnes?"
Randy Barnes scowled and turned away. Lipton stepped between them.
"Now, Scott, that wasn't necessary. Leave Randy alone," he said, his hands up in a gesture of placation.
"Besides, on Star Trek—" Barnes started, but Lipton shushed him with a rapid gesture.
"Whatever." Shelley rolled his eyes and started toward the back of the room. "I'm going to the briefing."
Lipton let Shelley get out of earshot before turning to Barnes.
"Hey, Randy, your theories are really good. I definitely admit there is a serious possibility of aliens studying us. But please don't talk about it all over the office."
"But, Bruce—" Randy started up excitedly, about to continue. Lipton cut him off, holding up his hand.
"No. You'll get a rep."
Sighing, Barnes asked, "What about Star Trek?"
"If these primates aren't cultured enough to watch Star Trek, then screw 'em," Lipton said, winking. "But alien encounters might be a bit much for them, yet."
Done with his good deed for the day, Lipton headed for the briefing room. He tried to slip in quietly, although it had not yet begun. This plan was immediately thwarted by Shelley, who called out from the back corner.
"Bruce! Over here!"
Sighing, Lipton realized there was no escape; Shelley would make smartass remarks all through the briefing and they'd get stuck with shit detail. He walked over and sat down.
The white-noise chatter of the room stopped when the detective in charge of the "Carver" case walked in and introduced himself. He was a tall, stocky man with a dark buzz-cut and stern, probing blue eyes. He looked over the room for a moment like a general scanning his front line before addressing the uniformed officers in the room.
He began to explain that he was going to need volunteers to work rotating double shifts in order to increase and expand patrols. The reason for this was a kidnapping that had taken place the previous night that was accompanied by a chilling note from The Carver.
"The kidnapping victim is Olivia Montgomery, daughter of Internet mogul Charles Montgomery and socialite Jane Kennedy-Montgomery. As you can see, there's a lot riding on finding this girl."
"Ouch," Lipton muttered. "Heat from Camelot."
The detective let Lipton's comment sink in before continuing. With an appreciative nod at the officer, he continued, "We found fibers from a generic Chevy, probably of older make, in the latest victim's hair. We're looking for a K-car."
"Oh, that's gonna be real easy to find!" Shelley exclaimed.
"And I'm sure you're going to lend us your eagle eyes and volunteer for this detail," the detective replied. His tone, however, said that volunteering was not voluntary.
"Thanks, Scott," Lipton muttered.
"Anytime, bro," Shelley quipped sullenly.
The detective droned on, but Lipton tuned him out, smoldering with anger at his partner. To his relief, they were dismissed soon after, and comfortably in their cruiser.
"You're an asshole," he told Shelley. "I've got better things to do than spend half my life on patrol."
"Like what, watch Star Trek with fat-and-geeky back there?"
"Oh, as opposed to spend several hours a night listening to you run your mouth?"
Shelley accelerated down the relatively empty street, and Lipton's hands gripped the dash.
"I'm not real happy about being stuck on patrol either, but I'm not whining about it."
"It was your smart mouth that got us put on to begin with!" Lipton exclaimed. "And slow the hell down!"
"All right! I'm sorry!" Shelley slowed down abruptly enough that Lipton's chin very nearly smashed into the dashboard with one hand on either side. "I'm sorry I got you put on detail. I'll watch my mouth from now on, okay?"
"I'll believe that when I see it." Lipton shook off the near-dash experience and crossed his arms, looking out his window.
Nervously, Shelley chuckled. "Besides, I've heard all the Carver's victims were virgins. What a horrible thing to waste, virgins. We'd be doing this city a civil service by rescuing one."
Lipton wrinkled his brow.
"Where did you hear that? About the virgins?"
"Around. Lot of the guys have worked crime scene detail with that Goldberg guy. They hear shit that gets said."
"Well, the CSI or coroner on the scene would be able to identify the victims as virgins, but how does the killer know?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, there's only one way the killer could know something like that," Lipton's mind raced. "He knows the victims."
"How? They're all from different parts of New York. That last chick was from New Hyde Park. Isn't that in Queens?"
"It's practically on Long Island," Lipton replied, perplexed. "What do they have in common…?" Glancing at his newspaper, he asked Shelley, "Have you ever heard of this Technotica place?"
"The club? Sure, it's a techno club, lots of ecstasy and kids with funny clothes. The 'club kid' crowd."
"How many of the vics were club kids?" Lipton wondered.
"Why are you playing detective all of a sudden?" Shelley queried.
Lipton shrugged. "Just troubleshooting."
"Well, I doubt we're going to be the big heroes, so stop worrying about it."
"Seriously, Scott. Let's go to the club. I'll bet that's the connection. It's nice and inconspicuous, and explains why there's no other connection between the victims."
"But only the one in Union Square was actually seen there," Shelley protested warily.
"That's all we know. The killer knows something we don't."
Lipton was frantic. They had to go to the club. He couldn't explain it, but he was sure this was the key, the one thing that connected all the dots. A surge of nervous energy flooded through him like high tide, wanting him to move to action.
"Don't you think the detectives thought of all this?" Shelley pleaded.
"Maybe," Lipton said, lost in thought. "Maybe not."
"All right," Shelley said dubiously.
He turned the car around, and within twenty minutes they were parked down the road from the club. It was set up in a basement near Greenwich Village, and cars lined both sides of the street. A crowd of people stood outside the door, shouting, laughing, and chasing each other about as they wait ed to get in.
For a few hours, only the people changed. Shelley spent the entire time getting restless in his seat, squirming and proffering muttered complaints. Lipton just stared at the club intently, his mind running through a thousand different scenarios.
Finally, Shelley asked, "Why do you want to chase after this guy, anyway? Why not just leave it to the detectives?"
"Just a hunch."
"I have not been sitting here for almost three hours for a hunch."
"I don't know what else to tell you. It's a hunch."
"That's it. I'm—"
Shelley started the car as he said this, and Lipton grabbed his arm. The driver winced in pain at the strength of his partner's grip.
"I don't know how to explain it! Something just… doesn't feel right!"
"Great, I'm — whoa." He stopped in mid-sentence, looking at the street ahead.
A black Chevy Impala was pulling out of a space ahead of them.
"Okay, never mind. It was a hunch," Shelley said, stunned.
Lipton was shocked speechless. It wasn't just that the car matched the description of the one they were looking for; there were a lot of K-cars on the road. But the car's blackness was almost secondary to the blackness that surrounded it. All the illumination from the street lamps, the signs of the buildings around them, all seemed to fade into this vehicle's massive shadow, as though it were a black hole.
After a moment, Lipton licked his lips. "Well, what are you waiting for, Scott?" he asked. "That may be our guy."
"How the fuck did you do that?" Shelley demanded as he gave chase.
"I swear, it was just a hunch!"
Lipton felt like he was in a daze. Just watching the Impala made his head spin, his stomach quiver nauseously. His hands were clenched to the dashboard so tightly they were leaving indentations. His teeth were gritted and his eyes were facing ever-forward as they raced down the street, sirens blaring, in hot pursuit.
To make things worse, the Impala didn't seem interested in stopping. He sped off, fishtailing abruptly to the right and introducing the contents of a metal trash bin to the street. The iron-grated can rolled into Shelley's path, and he swerved to avoid it as he duplicated the Impala's maneuver. Lipton's eyes remained fixed straight ahead as he nervously reached for the radio and called for backup.
"This is 622, headed east on ______ Boulevard! We're after a 19__ Chevy Impala, partial plate Charlie Echo Romeo dash seven! Send backup!"
The radio squawked back, "Car 622, confirm 19__ Chevy Impala, partial plate Charlie Echo Romeo dash seven. Headed east on _____ Boulevard. Backup is on its way."
The Chevy was pushed to the limit, running them as fast as it could, weaving its way southeast through the city. Fortunately, the hour was so late there were few people on the road, but a right turn the wrong way down a one-way street found all the people Lipton and Shelley were hoping to avoid. Ahead of them, the Impala foraged ahead like the brute squad, daring anyone coming down the road to hit him.
Shelley swerved, trying to keep on the black car's trail, but the cars swerving out of the perp's way were providing too many obstacles. He took advantage of a lull in traffic to execute a J-turn that landed them into the right lane. He franticly sped down this road and took the next right, a one-way street going in the correct direction. Ignoring the screeching of tires from his left, he kept on, literally flying over a dip in the road.
Lipton watched the side streets to his right. He could see the Impala briefly flash by on the parallel road, and cried out. Shelley took the next right and exploded out onto the Impala's road with a burst of speed that made Lipton's stomach start to heave as his death-grip increased on the dashboard. They screeched to a stop in the middle of the intersection. Lipton's heart leaped into his throat when he heard the screeching of brakes off to his left. He slammed his eyes shut and braced himself.
Moments later, there was still no impact, and he felt the cruiser being wildly turned around. When he opened his eyes, he saw they had turned off the road and back down the side street. The twin red points of the Impala's rear lights glared at them from the next block just before winking into another turn. Shelley cursed, jamming the gas pedal even harder and swinging around in a huge arc in time to see the Impala make a left from this road. A little further up the road, a pair of patrol vehicles had set up a blockade, and the Impala was getting desperate.
"Ha-ha! That'll teach ya, ya fuck!" Shelley cried out triumphantly as he skidded to the left. He had a huge grin on his face and a wild look in his eyes. Lipton just groaned, doubling over, never letting go of the dashboard, nor peeling his gaze from the Impala. A lump grew in his throat when he saw the Impala turn right several blocks ahead. Shelley cursed, punching the steering wheel, but continuing forward anyway. He estimated the street and took a calculated turn right.
There was nothing on the road ahead.
Lipton fell back into his seat, relieved that they were slowing down, but none too pleased that they'd lost the perp. He took stock of his surroundings as Shelley shined the search light down the back streets and alleys of his side of the street.
They were on a road in Alphabet City, a deserted road with derelict buildings bearing "No Trespassing" and "Condemned" signs. A lonely streetlight flickered on and off as they made their way down the road at barely jogging speed.
"We lost him, damn it!" Lipton growled in frustration.
"Hold the phones, we have a winner," Shelley replied, pulling over next to an alley between two especially broken-down buildings. Lipton looked up sharply. Sure enough, there was the Impala, lights on, trunk wide open.
Shelley barely pulled it into park before he jumped out of the car, weapons drawn. Lipton was slower, grabbing his Kevlar vest and starting after his partner. As an afterthought, he leaned back into the car and radioed an APB. In a few minutes, all the cops on duty would be swarming this place.
As he followed Shelley, he glanced at his vest before slipping it on. The day he'd graduated from the Academy and was given his gear, his best friend, a Jesuit priest, had insisted on blessing it all. Father Alphonse Lorenzo had done a lot of posturing as he'd said his prayers and sprinkled his holy water about, only newly a priest himself.
He slipped the vest on, hoping like hell that if there was a God, he'd been listening.
Shelley had paused to give the Impala a once-over, but Lipton couldn't bring himself to look at it. The darkness that had previously surrounded it was lingering, its remnants as dirty to breathe as smoke. He kept his eyes fixed on the ground, noticing a lady's shoe behind Shelley. It was sitting a few feet away from a stairway that led to a steel door with a barred window.
Down there, the blackness was so thick it seemed to snake out the narrow opening in tentacles. Lipton's eyes widened as he gazed at the shadowy darkness in horror. Its mere presence filled him with an inexplicable dread that tortured the back of his throat with the coppery taste of blood and bile. He took an involuntary step back, his alarm increasing as Shelley charged down the staircase.
Numbly, his body not following his mind's commands to stay put, he followed, gun drawn, back to the wall. Shelley turned and signaled his move, and Lipton's head acknowledged it, although his mind was shrieking a different answer. There was a smell in the air that he couldn't place, a putrid smell of things tainted, poisonous.
Shelley quickly moved to the other side of the door and threw it open, using it as a shield as he peered into the room. Pulling his flashlight from his belt and holding both it and his gun before him, he slowly stepped in.
Lipton closed his eyes for a moment. He was quivering, the tendrils of darkness seeming to caress his face. Although he couldn't actually feel anything, it seemed as though they left a trail of slimy residue. His hand flew up to his face, panicked, but there was nothing there. He closed his eyes again and sighed.
"Damn it, it's just a guy!" he told himself. Taking a few deep breaths, he added, "Besides, it's my turn to be bad cop."
He whipped into the doorway, but Shelley was standing in the middle of the room, shining his flashlight around, stunned. His gun was still at the ready, but he had relaxed his stance and was scanning the walls. Lipton followed his gaze.
The room was about twenty feet square, with two doorways leading from it. Once it had probably been a decent basement apartment, but decades of disrepair had worn the carpet and stained the ceilings. The wallpaper, however, was in a pile in a corner of the room.
The walls, every inch, were covered in a spidery script written in some kind of dark ink. Lipton stared at it as Shelley went around the entire room with his flashlight.
"Whoa. This guy is seriously fucked up. There's chicken-scratch all over the place!"
Lipton had pulled out his own flashlight and was taking a closer look at one of the walls, his mouth wide open in shock. He stood there, frozen, looking at the rows upon rows of scrawlings. They all seemed to blend together the more he gazed at them, and he narrowed his eyes to try to clear his vision.
…I AM SCOTH. I AM THE SCOURGE OF THE UNDERWORLD, DEVOURER OF SOULS. ALL SHALL BOW DOWN TO ME…
Lipton jumped back, shaking his head, a startled grunt forcing its way out of him. His head was spinning, and he barely heard Shelley's inquiry of concern. But he couldn't help it; he looked back at the wall, his light falling on another area.
…THEIR SCREAMS SHALL BE HEARD ACROSS HELL AS THEY ARE PASSED THROUGH THE BELLY OF SCOTH, THE GREAT BEAST…
As starkly as the first passage, the symbols blended together to become plain English, almost leaping from the wall to be read. Lipton's light flashed to another area.
…EVEN THE KNIGHTS OF MICHAEL WILL FALL TO MY WILL; THEIR STARS WILL DIM AS I FEAST UPON THEIR ENTRAILS…
"Ugh!" Lipton turned his face away from the wall, his flashlight pointing down. "No more!"
"Bruce, what is it?"
"You can't read it? You don't see what it says?"
For a long moment, Shelley stared at it. Lipton waited, breathing hard, his dread increasing ten-fold. He couldn't help but read the passage Shelley was studying, the spidery writing resolved into stark letters.
…MY WORD WILL BE WRITTEN WITH THE BLOOD OF THE SOULS I'VE DEVOURED, AND I SHALL START WITH THE PRETTY LITTLE VIRGINS…
"It just looks like gibberish to me," Shelley said, shrugging. "Sorry, bro." Turning to his partner, he added, "What's it say?"
"It says that this bastard is one fucked-up son of a bitch," Lipton replied, realizing the implication of the last passage he'd read.
"You mean, we got him? We're chasing The Carver?" Shelley asked in shock. "Bruce, how the hell did you know to go to the club?"
"Never mind that," Lipton said. "We need to wait for backup and get this guy. I don't think he's going to stop."
"Bruce, the trunk was open! He might have had the missing girl in it! We may not have time to wait for backup!"
In the ensuing silence, they listened intently for sounds of sirens, watched the door for the red and blue light-bars to flash. They heard nothing but the desolate emptiness around them.
"Come on, Bruce, we don't have time. We got him!"
Shelley headed for one of the doors, tried the knob. It turned, and the door swung open, revealing another room, bare of furniture. This one was wallpapered with scraps of light paper that flapped in the breeze from the sudden movement. A closer look revealed them to be clippings from the newspaper, tacked onto the wall with shiny silver thumbtacks.
"Trophies," Lipton said, causing Shelley to jump in fright. He stepped into the room, taking a look at the clippings for himself. There were obituaries, and crime reports, and headline stories, all neatly arranged in the walls, covering almost half the room.
"I've read about this," Lipton continued. "Serial killers like to have a reminder of the crime. They get off on committing it, and the trophy is a memento of the experience."
"How the hell do you know all this crap?" Shelley wondered.
"I did a report on it senior year," Lipton replied. Grinning weakly at Shelley, he added, "You didn't think I wanted to be a beat cop forever, did you?"
"Why this guy, though, Bruce?"
Lipton shook his head. "There's something about this perp that I just can't shake. A feeling, a reflex. Like we have to get him, or the alternative will be much worse."
"Then let's go," Shelley replied, leading the way back into the main room.
The last door led to a staircase that went on for three stories. Lipton looked up, ready to shield his sight from something he may not want to see, and yet searching for it at the same time. The blackness… whatever it was… if he could find it, the perp would be nearby.
And there it was, streaming down like a thick ooze from the landing of the floor above. Lipton shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Scott, let's wait for backup."
"We've got to get this guy, Bruce. You said so yourself." He started up the stairs, and Lipton cast his eyes downward, choking back the urge to vomit. Dread rose in the pit of his stomach like acid, eating away at him from within. Nevertheless, he followed Shelley up the stairs, gritting his teeth as they got closer and closer to the fetid black mist, and then into it.
Shelley walked onto the floor with his gun pointed straight ahead, his flashlight paralleling it to point forward at his prey. Lipton followed, in the same stance, frozen as his partner cried out, "NYPD! Put your hands up!"
The room was wide, sprawling out over this whole side of the first storey. Like the rooms downstairs, it was falling apart. Its pillars were dilapidated, some of them no longer standing, and its wallpaper was ripped and covered with so much dirt and grime its original color was indiscernible. The only lights illuminating the whole bare room were the flickering streetlight outside and the two policemen's flashlights.
Both of these were trained straight ahead, to the center of the room, whose hardwood floors had been indelibly stained with some viscous black substance. The stench of blood permeated, leaving no doubt what caused this stain, despite the fact some of the smell was very fresh.
In the very center of the room, in the center of the stain, a man of unapparent age knelt on all fours, looking at them, a huge grin on his blood-stained chops. From the officers' angle, he was a very thin man of medium height, and his hair was a dark brown that was short, wild, and badly in need of a cut. He wore a standard pair of black jeans and a black-hooded jacket, the hood having fallen as he looked up at the two intruders to his grotesque task.
Before him was the body of the late Olivia Montgomery, sprawled out with her blonde hair splayed around her head like a halo. Her face was tilted just enough toward them so they could see the panic in her eyes as she had died, the lips twisted into a cruel and silent scream. Her forehead bore a marking that looked like the spidery script from the first room. Her torso and stomach were torn open, her entrails lying bare, twisted.
Lipton leaned over and threw up. The marking on her forehead had solidified, and it had read: PRIME-CUT GRADE-A SOUL.
"Well, well, what have we, here?" The Carver said as he arose, chunks of his victim's innards dropping from his chin. "I think the police came out to play!"
"Step away from the girl," Shelley warned him. "And put your hands behind your head."
As The Carver obliged, Lipton looked up. The killer's eyes were glued to him, not Shelley. He had a leer on his face that chilled Lipton's spine. He wiped his mouth and started forward, keeping his gun trained on that evil glare. There was something wrong here.
Shelley pulled out a pair of handcuffs and carefully cuffed the perp, testing them to make sure they would hold the monster's arms. He then began to frisk him, getting more and more frantic as he could not find the murder weapon. Frustrated, he looked back at Lipton.
"I can't find shit!" he exclaimed, but froze at the expression of pure terror on Lipton's face.
The handcuffs fell to the floor with a clatter that echoed ominously throughout the room. The Carver's body seemed to distort, to blur with that pitch blackness that surrounded him. Lipton could only watch in shock and horror as the man's gut exploded out of his clothes, swelling to hang down in front of him. His arms developed rolls of fat that piled on top of each other in such profusion that his elbows couldn't be seen, his hands falling to the floor to assist his equally-corpulent legs in supporting the whole mass. Long, spiky claws jutted out from its fingers, and huge, sharp tusks erupted from the creature's jowls, which jiggled at the sides of its face.
The whole transformation happened almost instantly, which was barely enough time for Lipton to scream, "Scott! NO!"
Then, with one well-placed claw, the monster raked Shelley across the chest, four lines of blood welling and running down Shelley's body to form pools on the floor. Shelley's shriek of pain echoed through the room, the sound piercing to Lipton's ears as he matched it with a cry of his own.
He held his pistol and fired, twice, striking the creature in the face and in the belly. Angrily, it turned its attention to him and roared. Lipton was knocked back a few steps by a thick wave of foul breath, filled with things rotten, ancient, and dead. Then the beast reached forward and casually flicked him across the room, making a huge gash across the Lipton's waistline that he barely had time to register before hitting the wall and slumping to the floor. Everything went completely black for a moment, panicking him into thinking it was that thick darkness that surrounded the beast and summoning every survival instinct he had in an effort to remain conscious.
Shelley was moaning on the floor, now clutched in the free hand of this wildly strong perp. His eyes anxiously sought out the weapon that was being used to mutilate him, the weapon he had missed. And as the arm of the killer came down toward him, he also wished he had listened to his partner's suggestion and waited for backup after all. He looked into his executioner's leering eyes for just a moment longer before everything went black.
The monster looked around for a moment, narrowing its eyes to try and locate the other officer. He was on the floor across the room, and the monster grinned in satisfaction.
"ALL SOULS COME TO SCOTH, AND THEY WILL EACH BE DEVOURED IN TURN," he said to the two corpses, licking his chops and casting the officer aside in favor of the virgin.
Lipton's eyes flew open as he tried to determine how long he'd been out. He remained very still, mentally testing each limb, each muscle, to ascertain the damage he'd taken. Nothing seemed broken, but the dull ache through his stomach reminded him of the attack of that… thing.
It had to have been a nightmare of some sort. Nothing like that monster existed in real life. He was hallucinating.
In the dim and flickering light from outside, he took a moment to assess his wound. It was painful, and would probably need stitches, but it wasn't very deep at all. It ended at a gouge in his vest. He risked a glance out the window, but the backup he'd radioed for had not arrived. Silently, he cursed, wondering what was keeping them.
A sickening sound of slurping was coming from the center of the room, and Lipton froze in terror as he looked to see what was making it. The obese creature was leaning over the dead girl again, in very much the same position he and Shelley had found it in, when it had been a man.
It's not a man, Lipton thought, his stomach knotting.
Unable to tear his eyes away, he watched it as it ate, slurping up the girl's innards as though they were spaghetti. It was heedless of the blood that it was dripping on the floor or on its face.
It was also heedless of the girl's screams.
Lipton blinked, the screams going up and down his spine as though icicles grew there. He watched as what looked to be an image of the victim, superimposed over her corpse, struggled and cried out as the creature gnawed upon it. Her deep blue eyes locked with his for just a moment, and he couldn't tear his face away from the mask of fear that was her face.
"Help me!" she screamed. "Save my soul!"
Lipton gaped, for a moment too stunned for action. Then, the beast's arm moved, giving him a view of its most recent kill, waiting to be devoured.
Like the girl, an image of Shelley, trapped, like the body, beneath one of the monster's meaty legs, struggled and screamed for freedom. Lipton just stared at this image of his partner, writhing in pain to try and escape the fate that it was witnessing in the girl.
Somewhere, deep in the dark recesses of his mind, something within him shut down. All judgment of fantasy and reality, insane and sane, chaos and order, all of it just winked out, as though severed from his thought processes. The longer he gazed at this hideous sight, the more and more it dawned on him: this was really happening. And Lipton had two options: kill, or be the monster's dessert.
Saluting Shelley's struggling ghost — surely that's what it had to be, he decided — he said, "I guess I'm good cop and bad cop, now, buddy."
He rose, slowly, trying not to call the creature's attention until he was good and ready for it. He crept long the wall to his right, trying to blend in with the shadows, trying to move without being seen or heard over the shrieking of the victims. From his belt, he grabbed his nightstick, his only other protection besides his police-issued .38. Closer and closer he came, his eye on the hideous thing that was in the center of the room.
He ducked behind one of the pillars, about ten feet to the monster's left. Not even daring to breathe, he observed the creature for a moment, sparing a glance at the ghosts of the two victims. Shelley's spirit was looking at him, reaching one pleading hand to him.
Lipton nodded at him. "Attitude," he said, as though Shelley had spoken to him. "Right. I got it."
With one final sigh, he said to himself, "This is insane. I am about to die."
Then he emerged from behind the pillar, gun leveled right between the creature's eyes.
"Hey, Fatso," he called out, drawing the creature's attention long enough to pull the trigger. "You're not eating these two. Not on my watch."
The bullet was well-aimed, and planted itself firmly between the eyes of the creature. The creature emitted a grunt, and the foul stench of its breath hit the air again. Lipton wrinkled his nose in disgust.
"Haven't you ever heard of Colgate?" he added.
The creature, though, simply glared at him.
"SILLY MORTAL. I AM SCOTH. YOU CAN NOT HURT ME WITH THAT TOY."
Panic seized Lipton's mind, and he emptied his clip at the creature, making fresh holes in its face. When his ammo was gone, he looked at the creature with eyes widened with fright. Then he broke and ran, desperately trying to make it to the stairway and out the front door before the creature could kill him, as he was sure it would.
With a roar, Scoth leaped forward, smacking Lipton with a backhand that knocked him to the other side of the room. The monster's claws again raked Lipton's skin, breaking though the Kevlar vest and giving it a new seam. As the monster screeched, a high-pitched, ethereal sound, Lipton crashed into the wall, dizzy, but amazingly still conscious. He managed to turn around in time to see the creature nursing its wounded hand, which was still steaming from where it had been burned. He wrinkled his brow in confusion, then his eyes widened.
"Of course!" he said to himself, but as though talking to the monster. "You're a demon. And this vest is blessed…"
He didn't have much time to revel in this knowledge, though. Scoth charged, scrambling toward him on all fours, its shriek gone from pain to indignation. Its huge girth shook the floor, causing Lipton to fall and land on his back, the gashes across it flaring in pain. Frantically, he tried to pull his arms out of the vest before the creature could get too close, but he just couldn't seem to work his elbows out of the holes. He cried out in fear, sure he was going to die. The demon leaned over him, its maw gaping wide enough to swallow him whole as it drew back one arm to slash Lipton into ribbons…
With a mighty effort, Lipton ripped the last of the vest from his arm. Crying out in triumph, he threw it into the demon's open throat with all his might and scrambled away. He risked a look back, glad he'd moved as the demon's meaty hand crashed through the floor. Otherwise, it had frozen, its eyes bulging out, as though it were choking.
Then it began to emit a high-pitched squeal as its whole body began to quiver. Lipton curled up on the floor, in too much pain to move, covering his ears and screaming, hoping it would all block out the demon's death throes. A silver charge seemed to consume the demon, as though it were being electrocuted, and Lipton watched in awe as it grew brighter and brighter, illuminating the whole room. At its peak, the demon exploded, and Lipton covered his face to shield it from the shower of black sludge that resulted.
He laid there for several minutes, breathing heavily. Finally, he dared to risk a glance at the demon's remains. His eyes widened as he looked over the skinny form of the human Shelley had cuffed. He walked over to it, shocked. Looking down at the corpse, its blank face as human as his own, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. One last glance told him that he was looking at a human corpse. Frantically, he looked over to the bodies of the girl, and his partner. In his panic, he headed over there, almost running across the room to kneel between them.
Their ghosts — their souls, were lingering, glowing with a white light. Lipton watched, shocked, as they both smiled at him appreciatively, then turned and looked up. Sudden realization dawned on him, and he grabbed forward toward Shelley's ankle, his hand going right through it as Shelley ascended away from him.
"Scott! Don't go!" he cried out in agony, watching his partner disappear. He clutched at the last material remains of Scott Shelley, repeating his plea over and over again as he rocked back and forth.
Moments later, the other officers bursting onto the scene found him exactly like that.
Twin pools of evil, staring at him with a rigid glare…
And more screaming…
Every moment of every day, lived within the confines of that one room, over and over. And the darkness… the darkness was always absolute.
And then, there was light.
Bruce Lipton opened his eyes and immediately had to shield them from the bright golden glow that filled the room. Looking around, he could see the dark city beyond the closed shade, the curtain surrounding his bed, the long clear tube that had fed him during his long slumber. A hospital room, filled with a golden glow that could not have been caused by the institutional florescent lights above his head.
The room's other occupant coughed politely. Lipton's head swung around to face him, the officer's eyes adjusting more and more to the light with each moment. At first, all he could see was a figure standing over him, the bright golden light emanating from above its head, and white blurs hanging from its dark form. Lipton gasped and rubbed his eyes.
The little Hispanic man that stood at the side of his bed smiled at him kindly, the wrinkles around his eyes pulling together to accent the expression. He wore a long, sterile white coat, and his pen was poised over his clipboard, as though he'd been writing something when Lipton awoke. The badge on his coat claimed him to be Dr. Raphael Katakis. Above him, an examination light was turned on, its circular glow high in the air above the doctor's head.
"Well, welcome back to Earth, Officer Lipton," he said amiably, his accent making the words dance in the air. "How are you feeling?"
"What day is it?" Lipton wondered, trying to sit up. He felt weak, and his limbs felt stiff.
Lipton was shocked when he was given the date.
"A month? I've been out for a month?"
"Almost." Dr. Katakis relaxed his arms, his clipboard falling to his side. "You don't remember any of the last three weeks, Officer?"
Blood… the screaming of souls… Scott Shelley's pleading gaze as he reaches his hand out toward me…
"No," he answered.
"Your recovery has been remarkable. Those gashes Mitchell put in you healed very quickly. That vest saved your life. And the psychotherapy has been going well, too."
Now Lipton was confused, and his expression showed it.
"Who's Mitchell? And psychotherapy?"
"Robert Allen Mitchell, the serial killer known as — Scoth." Dr. Katakis whispered this last as though it were a dirty word. "You've been in intensive therapy with me for the past three weeks, and you've shown excellent progress."
"Therapy," Lipton echoed, stunned.
Dr. Katakis nodded. "You have shown an extreme amount of mental fortitude in our sessions. You seem to have dealt with the trauma you've experienced very well. Another week remembering how to walk, and you'll be fine." The doctor added this to the notes on his clipboard, and headed for the door.
"Doctor, how can you say that? I don't remember a damn thing about the last three weeks! The last thing I remember is—" Lipton stopped for a moment, sighing. "—is Scott."
"It'll come back to you, in time," Dr. Katakis replied with a wink.
Lipton was too stunned to ask the doctor any further questions. The image that he'd awoken to flared back in sparks of golden light. They flashed over a pair of wings that were as white and pure as his coat, and solidified into a circle of golden light over the doctor's head.
Then the man, and the impression, was gone. Lipton tried to follow him out into the hallway, but he was too unsteady on his feet to get very far, and the doctor had disappeared. During the week that followed, he tried asking about the doctor, but all anyone could really tell him about the mysterious man was, "Oh, he's such an angel!"
If they only knew.
I was promoted to detective shortly after that, in recognition of the connections I made with regard to the Carver case. The Montgomerys, parents of the Carver's last victim, hosted the banquet at which I was awarded my Medal of Honor. But things were never the same around the office after that night. It was my fellow officers, not the brass, who found me after I killed Scoth. News of my newfound belief in demons spread all over the office and became a reason for derision in their eyes, especially as I gained more and more recognition for my modest work on the Carver case.
In the Homicide division, though, I was given more freedom to pursue the freakish monsters that haunted my dreams. I chased after them so frequently that I wound up getting called in on all cases that were surreal or occult in nature. I've seen many demons since that first one, but they say you always remember your first.
Knowing that there are angels, as well as demons, makes me rest a bit easier at night. It means there are good guys, and that we're not all going to Hell. It means whether God gives a shit about us or not, someone out there is watching our backs and helping us fight the good fight.
The least I can do is lend them a hand.
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