My name is Katherine Mallory. I’m a police detective with the Chicago PD’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, the CIU. I usually handle your run-of-the-mill cases: Drug trafficking, black markets, and Kingpins of hidden syndicates; these were my jurisdiction. Admittedly, our networks haven’t been as stacked lately, crime was unusually low. That was good for my department by most metrics, but it yielded an expectation that was being challenged by unforeseen circumstances.
Keeping tabs on criminal activity was one thing, it was nearly black and white and clear in understanding with the methodologies we had. There were motives, paper trails, data… but what could be extrapolated of a series of scarily methodical disappearance of my colleagues?
I sipped coffee at my desk when I was approached by the Chicago PD Chief, Archer Bronson. He had focused black eyes when he entered my office, a clear indicator that the matter was serious. “Good evening, Katherine. Got a second?” he inquired. At the time, I was only sorting some minor detailing records regarding a drug trafficking ring; I was tasked with updating our Intel on it weekly. It was busy-work at best, so I nodded my head in confirmation.
“Of course, what do you need, sir?” I spoke formally. I could see dark circles beneath the Chief’s eyes, something I chalked up to him staying later than usual since it was close to 5:00 PM. This had meant he was there for over 10 hours already. The Chief approached my desk, sitting across from me. He was silent for a few moments, seeming bothered by what he was about to say.
“I won’t beat around the bush, but do understand that I am being 100% serious when I speak about this subject—” he rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration, “shits been chaotic regarding the disappearances of our officers. We’re beginning to piece together some infuriatingly-cryptic evidence. The strange thing being that it’s consistent, but we got no way to follow up on it at all. There’s a commonality among all of the alleged scenes and their last known locations. All of them had similar pretenses to them…”
I cocked an eyebrow; my curiosity was piqued regarding the infamous subject. We of course heard about it, we were all trying to piece things together between search parties and the like. The Chief pointed to the envelope he was holding. He set it down on my desk and slid it closer to me.
I unclenched my fingers and reached out, grasping and dragging it closer. The chief watched the envelope as if the contents in them prompted his undying attention. I couldn’t help but feel pressure creeping through the air, anxious to see if the reports and photos within the envelope would further designate the ominous situation he was hinting at.
I opened it carefully, sliding the photos out before lining up their corresponding reports beneath them. The chief stood, circling the desk to stand beside me as my eyes scanned over the contents.
My eyes scanned the pages. I frowned at what I read and saw. Photos of abandoned police cruisers and SUVs were on display in most of the pictures, usually with a door opened. Dried blood was present in some of the photos, indicating injuries. The most common detail was claw marks either on the squad cars or along the pavement. No bodies were found according to the individual reports. They also only occurred at night, but I knew that much already. The office small-talk couldn’t match the scope based on what I saw thus far. Maybe some kind of animal being used by a cunning perpetrator? I could only make initial guesses upon getting a summary, but I knew it was downright insidious to have happened over 9 times in the scope of just a few weeks.
“I… see why you haven’t gotten much sleep,” I admitted in a frustrated tone, knowing if I got involved with figuring this out, I’d likely be extending my shifts more than I already was. My daughters were going to be annoyed, but they understood the nature of my work. After all, these were my colleagues and my second family that was on the line.
“Glad that you understand the pertinence of the situation, Detective Mallory. I have Detective Stroth who’s been at the forefront of the investigations so far, fortunately. I’ve been debating adding you to it. He wouldn’t agree to help, insisted that it would convolute things. But he won’t have much of a choice soon. We owe the missing officer’s families a lot of answers —we can’t afford not expending all the resources we can to solve this.” The Chief fell silent, assumingly waiting for my response on the matter. I felt obligated to help; I owed it to my missing colleagues and their families. My heart wrenched imagining my daughters and how they’d feel if they were left in limbo pondering my fate if I went missing. I knew my husband would likely bug the crap out of the department non-stop until he knew I was safe.
“I don’t need any convincing, I want in. This isn’t ordinary by any means… the sooner I start, the better chance I have of finding something to work with,” I assured. My fingers raked against my desk, closing shut as I focused on the Chief. With a returned gaze, his dark eyes flickered with a sense of relief. He walked back over to the door leading out of the office, clearing his throat once he reached the doorway.
“I’ll make sure to forward all the relevant documents and transcripts. I’ll arrange for Detective Stroth and you to meet to discuss the information we have.” He left promptly, likely to finish the formal process of assigning me to the investigation. The underlying anxiety of the interaction didn’t sit well with me. Being the skeptic I am, that sense of urgency I detected likely stemmed from his desire to go home for a proper rest. I chose to go with that idea.
Days later, I found myself at the doors of Detective Stroth’s office. He was one of few who were granted such privileges other than myself.
I knocked on his door, only entering once he uttered permission for my entry. On any other day, I would be put off by the charm Stroth had. He was a handsome man by most conventions, but his light-gray eyes were overshadowed by his dragging-eyelids and the darkened circles beneath them. He was usually livelier and had a hint of arrogance to him… but this wasn’t that same man. His entire atmosphere was gloomier and more beaten down than anything.
“I’ve been informed by Chief Bronson that you’re joining this case,” Stroth spoke in a groggy voice.
“Yeah, I’ve gotten a decent overview of the situation,” I replied.
“Listen, forget conventional logic… taking that route won’t lead you anywhere— trust and believe me there. There’s nothing we have right now that can tie us to a perp, nor is there a trace that leads us to any clues of where these police officers are disappearing to,” Stroth declared immediately. I was already annoyed with just those two statements. Stroth was a great detective, but even he could miss something. That was why I was brought on, to help discover those unseen angles.
“You must be frustrated, your poker-face is slipping,” I stated snarkily, approaching his desk to take a seat across from him.
“My official advice to you is to not try and get yourself wrapped up in this. For all we know, there could be some kind of worm that’s keeping tabs on us,” he said.
“They’d be dumb to target us, we’re not the most readily available officials like night patrolmen. Speaking of which—”
“Don’t be so confident about that, you may just jinx us,” he interrupted. He knocked on wood following that statement, as if to make a point.
I took a deep breath to compose myself. We wouldn’t have a productive conversation at this rate if I didn’t. “I’m not negotiating with you, Julian,” I began, “As I was saying, Chief Bronson is implementing a temporary buddy system for the night time patrol officers. No solo patrols for the foreseeable future until we can figure this out.” I figured calling him by his first name would melt the formalities and show my headstrong decision to join the case. This made him perk his head up.
“What a way to empty the department quicker…” he muttered. I rose an eyebrow, but he shook his head, holding his hand up.
“Sorry, that was distasteful… I haven’t been having restful nights ever since beginning this case. I wonder if you’ll be in the same boat soon,” he spoke, hanging his head a bit before pressing his index and fingers to his eyelids and rotating them gently. “Let’s start from square one, what have you heard so far?” he began.
I explained over the next five minutes, having rehearsed my information the night prior just to ensure we could discuss more important information quicker. Stroth nodded along silently, sucking his lower lip in before spinning in his chair to snatch a folder that was set behind him. Flicking his wrist, the folder slid across the desk where I promptly pressed my palm to sandwich it. Flipping it open, I muttered along with one of the newer reports. I blinked in confusion; the reports were standard details of the night officers’ patrols. Stroth looked at me with amusement as I racked my brain for some kind of connection since nothing was eventful in any of the reports I read.
“Keep in mind, I took many of these photos myself. I went over those scenes with a fine-tooth comb. Notice anything funny? The reports have a common detail that isn’t explicitly written.” He bent forward, resting his elbows on the table, and placed his chin on top of his tangled fingers. “Around the hours of one to three in the morning, the details of their reports become distinctly generic and lacking finer details outside of specific calls and situation reports. It’s almost as if those hours were a blur. Could be just a coincidence, but…” He grabbed another folder he had sitting in front of his monitor, sliding it to me. When I grabbed them, I scanned the reports to see a list of the times the patrol vehicles were online and offline. It was easy to make out what he wanted me to look at since he highlighted the specific VIN-numbers.
“This is the kind of sloppy work a person who’s in a rush would write, I see it often enough with officers on the night shift or just day time officers who are covering nights” I declared. Detective Stroth snorted, shaking his head no.
“You’re not wrong, but it’s a bit more than that. I used to do night patrols myself… and it’s distinct. This is the report one would send out when nothing eventful happens and… they just want to go home. All of the officers of the night shift who haven’t gone missing, have a distinctly more creative report, albeit uneventful and not overly generic.” Stroth was succinct in his argument, trying to ensure he wasn’t being reckless with his words.
He shrugged before giving a long-winded sigh and returned to looking at his computer screen. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking of, but I silently collected the information he had given me to test.
“Let’s… assume they were all tired and wanted to go home, what does this suggest? It’s not like they were all drugged on the night of their disappearances either, and the ‘accounts’ we do have don’t come close to even suggesting that.” I posed to Stroth. The man’s eyes kept flicking back and forth, scanning his screen, but he was listening.
“That’s not all, Katherine. In congruence with that time slot I mentioned, their assigned vehicles were reported as offline. The dash cameras SD cards were missing at every scene of the crime… does that not ring a tad bit convenient for our would-be perp or perps?” he countered. I stared silently, knowing our more tangible pieces of evidence weren’t present, unlike many other cases I worked on.
I sighed, “Fine, but we still don’t have anything we can point to yet.”
His expression softened, and he nodded his head, “I’ll give you that… on another note, it seems like we’re all exhausted, call it icing on the cake. It’s very unnerving to work while our people are mysteriously disappearing,” he spoke yawning out the last part. It was a pessimistic thought to entertain, but whatever the next disappearance yielded could be what would help us understand this better.
I reviewed whatever bits of information I could, small minutia and details Stroth may have missed. It was just as Detective Stroth had mentioned. No matter how I arranged hypothesis and details, there was a cold trail we were following.
It was late at night; I had since left the station and came home. My husband had mentioned to me over text he would be out of town for the evening and tomorrow due to work. Thankfully, my two daughters were there to keep me company. Both were in their late teens; the youngest was named Kendall, and the oldest was named Kendra. It was their father’s homage to a show we both watched as kids, and a theme for “the precious ladies in his life.” He was an adorable dork to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kendra was in her room studying for her midterms, so I left her be for now. Kendall had been watching some videos on spiritualism in the kitchen, sitting at the island swinging her legs with one wireless earbud in.
“How’d your day go, Kenny? Did cross country go well?” I asked her.
“Huh?” she looked up from her phone, “oh, yeah, it did. Coach says I’m the star runner in the girl’s division,” she stated cheerily.
I nodded before walking to the cabinet to grab a wine glass, and then a bottle of rosé from the adjacent cabinet. The way I saw it, a long day called for some wine to settle into the night.
“Dad’s funny, he played a prank on Ken and me a little while before you came home,” Kendall suddenly mentioned. I cocked an eyebrow with interest, glancing toward her.
“How so?” I began. I poured some of the rosé into my glass, only filling it up halfway before setting the bottle on the countertop.
“It was harmless really; he rigged some kind of audio device somewhere and pretended to be at the door. Kendra opened it, but nobody was there. You said he did something like that before, so we figured he did it again, but… to us this time.” She spoke. While this would usually raise alarms in me, I knew my husband always tended to joke around with us. I snickered a bit, taking a long sip from my glass. The bitter-sweet remedy to my nerves tingled going down my throat as I set the glass down.
“Yeah, when Kendra was still a baby, he pulled something like that. Snuck up right behind me and gave me a good jump too. He’s a dork.” I was a bit less tense at the moment now, the fond memory and alcohol made me feel a bit less rigid from work.
“Mom, you’re a bit too old to be using the word ‘dork’ unironically,” Kendall said to me, winking in amusement.
I squinted my eyes, only giving a cheeky grin before responding, “And you’re a bit too old to unironically follow the whims of astrology. Since we’re pointing out personal choices. Your older sister tells me all this stuff about what you do right before bed to ‘keep the bad omens away’ as well.” I had little restraint in my comeback against the cheeky young girl, who was defiantly pouting at me in response.
She rolled her eyes and huffed, “Not the same. Neither of you would understand.” I smirked to myself, shaking my head before discarding the subject.
I walked to the front door, fully expecting to dig out some wires and a well-placed speaker from somewhere. The trim around the front door was clear, and I suspected it perhaps was rigged outside of it, and I simply didn’t see it due to my lack of awareness when I entered. My husband was an engineer, after all; he was distinguished in his ability to make a variety of contraptions and designs. I flipped the switches next to the door, causing the porch light to flicker on before I peeked outside. My eyes slowly danced along the wall’s surrounding the door. Given the location, the speaker had to be on the porch, otherwise, there were no spots that could sufficiently prove to achieve the effect described, the effect I witnessed almost two decades ago.
I never got to see the way he rigged it before, but I was positive he used a speaker, maybe with bass to it as well? After looking to no avail, I slumped my shoulders in defeat before I reentered the house. I returned to the table and grabbed my glass of wine, “I’m going to bed, Kenny. I have more work to review tomorrow, make sure you get to bed on time, hm?” This earned an endearing roll of her eyes.
“Got it,” she muttered back.
The next morning, I was anxious to get started on the case again. I got ready hastily and started my commute. While I drove, I opted to call my husband about what I assumed to be his prank the previous night. “Call Aaron,” I spoke to my console, which used my phone to call my husband. It rung for a few seconds
“Hey, Kat,” a semi-tired yet cheerful voice spoke over the car speaker system.
“Hey… quick question?” I began.
“Sure, what’s up?” he asked. I could hear him shuffling, and a part of me felt guilty since it seemed he was just waking up.
“That prank you played on the girls; how do I deactivate it? You spooked Kendra and Kendall with it.” Silence ensued for a few moments. “Hello?” I blurted out.
“Uh… I don’t know what you’re talking about babe,” he said, his tone riddled with confusion. I came to a stop at a light, a deep frown forming on my puzzled expression.
“You’re kidding… right? Look, I’m not upset or anything like that, I just want to know so I can take the speaker down or out of wherever you put it.”
“Katherine, I didn’t set anything up, I promise you that. I headed straight for my conference in Aurora yesterday afternoon. What happened anyway?”
This was weird for my husband; he wasn’t the best of liars. I didn’t know whether to believe him or guess if he suddenly developed a silver tongue. I was genuinely concerned now. Maybe my daughters had just assumed it was him when it was just a ding-dong ditcher? I shook my head and stepped on the gas when the light turned green.
“Forget about it. I guess Kendra and Kendall just got spooked and thought they heard you. Sorry I woke you up, Aaron.” My voice had urgency in it, not out of worry but out of guilt for having been impulsive.
“Don’t stress it, I’ll talk to you later if you’re not busy, k?” he spoke.
“Sure… sounds good.”
It was an uneventful day going forward, no new evidence or clues presented themselves relating to the culprit—or culprits for all I knew. Stroth hadn’t been bluffing about this case being tough, I was feeling about as tired as everybody else right about now. I pulled into my garage and made my way inside, having returned home earlier so I could get started with house chores and dinner. I knew my husband was returning that night as well, and I wanted to apologize by making him his favorite dish; chicken and dumplings.
I was interrupted mid-prep of the ingredients, a sharp knock at the door caused me to set the ball of dough down.
“Mom? I lost my keys, can you let me in?!” Kendall’s voice called through the door. I washed my hands hastily and dried them with my apron before approaching the door. My mind felt numb from the tiring day, it hadn’t even occurred to me to peak through the peep-hole when I heard my daughter’s voice. My fingers fiddled with the locks before I opened the door. I flinched when the cold air of the night blew into my face. It was a shock of cold, but I forced my eyes open, staring at the empty porch in front of me.
I must have looked bewildered; nobody was present despite the fact I heard Kendall. If this were any other situation, I’d have drawn my gun and investigated further. Irritation replaced my caution, prompting me to shut and lock the door immediately. I turned on my heel and ran to the kitchen to call Kendall, who I presumed to have been at her track practice. My frantic fingers danced on the screen of my phone until I tapped on Kendall’s number. In a few short seconds, the sound of laughter came through the phone. I heard Kendall’s voice clear as day, paced as if she were still catching her breath.
“Hey mom, on my way home already!” she chirped. A tinge of anxiety coursed through me, obviously concerned with that phantom voice I had heard at the door just seconds ago.
“Um… good to hear then. Dinner will be ready… just checking up on you.” I hung up the phone after that. While I could easily just dismiss it as me having imagined it, there was now a sense of fear welling in my chest. I was reminded of what Kendall described to me the other day. The knocking, voice, and nobody being present on the other side. It was bizarre, but I went about my night, albeit a bit shook.
I had a nightmare that night. I hardly remembered it when I woke. I recalled there was darkness, then red lights manifested around me. They were captivating and wrathful; yet, I only remembered the fear they instilled in me. Thankfully, it subsided when I got ready for work. I never put much thought into my nightmares; my father once said, “If you let your nightmares captivate your waking mind, your days will soon be spent with your eyes closed trying to make sense of it.” Whether that was true or not, I wasn’t qualified to say.
I started my shift at noon rather than early in the morning today. Despite having slept for eight hours, I was restless. It wasn’t uncommon, but that grogginess became my shadow for my coming shift. I was given an itinerary of incidents for me to investigate. They were primarily later in the day, which made it unnecessary to start earlier. When I arrived, I learned that the deputy police chief, Darrel Carver, was in charge in absence of Chief Bronson. Carver explained that something about the restlessness had gotten to him and that he couldn’t function today. I knew Chief Bronson for over a decade now, and he rarely ever called in sick, even for the most strenuous of colds or injuries. He would sooner show up in a wheelchair with a concussion than stay home.
For my first task, I drove to a young woman’s home to acquire testimony for a relatively minor investigation. While I navigated the streets, I received a call from the Chief. My confusion from the prior night resurrected; the Chief rarely called me outside of work. Nonetheless, I answered promptly, swallowing before unsteady words left my lips, “Everything ok, chief?” White noise followed for the first few moments,
“No luck resting, mind… throbbing like hell, can’t tell dream from reality,” his strained voice muttered out. He was barely audible, so I to turned the volume of the speakers up to hear him better. His coarse voice reminded me of a groggy dehydrated smoker.
“Um, don’t know what to say to that… is there a reason you’re calling?” I asked. He wasn’t the type to make idle chit-chat, so I assumed there was some purpose to the call.
“They trick you with mimicry, then take hold. Dark haze… is like a vignette, a clear indicator they’re nearby. Don’t let the smoke drag… you from consciousness. Resist as long as possible. They… want us gone, Katherine.” I noticed that he kept pausing between his words as if struggling to get them out. My hands gripped the steering wheel harder and began to scowl.
“Who wants us gone?! What the hell…” I spat. A phantom irritation grasped my mind, and I cynically assumed this was some kind of sick joke. Still… a part of me was freaked out, granted my nerves were sensitive at the moment. Silence fell, and a soft sound of breathing was all I could hear in the coming moments.
“Bronson!” I called out, pulling over my car to avoid driving in the course of an irritating phone call. I tried to call him two more times before I heard a strained yawn,
“Don’t… sleep when they’re near…” Bronson muttered. Silence. Despite my instigating for further answers, I only heard that tranquil breathing for the rest of the phone call. I realized the futility, so I hung up after a minute of trying to demand further explanation. Even if he had still been talking, I rationalized there was no more sense to be made of that phone call. His sentences were alien, I couldn’t make A or B out of it if I wanted to.
“Don’t sleep when they’re near”, repeated itself in my paranoid head. It was like I was in a bad horror film; except I was a high-strung detective instead of an oblivious damsel. I pushed it to the back of my mind for now; I had to focus on my current assignment.
The day passed me by. It was evening already, and while I should have been done with my work for the day, I was called out for one final assignment. I was one of the few “available” detectives at the time, so I was called out to interview witnesses. I was only given a summary. A few days ago, there was a poaching offense that escalated into a threat with a deadly weapon. I had to take a detailed report from the old couple who were threatened by the perpetrator. It took place near a forest area I was familiar with. I was thrilled to get away from the city for a bit. It was a longer drive than others, but I knew I’d be done afterward.
It was straightforward; I took down a detailed report of their account, no doubt to be used when the charges eventually reached court. It was a tranquil drive through the dark roads that led back to the city. Dark circles had manifested under my eyes, garnished with a glazed look as I stared at the dimly illuminated asphalt. It was peaceful, too peaceful. Insidious drowsiness washed over me; I must have blanked out for a few seconds. I was forcing my eyes open without remembering even closing them. The road was a long monotonous stretch, with gravel shoulders that extended into the surrounding forest area. It wasn’t wise of me to drive after catching myself drifting off, so I pulled over abruptly. My car came to a stop on the gravel. I put it in the park before leaning forward, my fingers pressing into my eyelids. It felt like I had a headache with how nauseating my fatigue was. I couldn’t drive home like this, but I wasn’t about to sleep in the middle of a forest either. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I knew I needed to wake myself up a bit to continue driving.
With the car still running, I opened the car door and stepped outside. The rush of cold air provided a shock, the howling wind making it all the more intense. I shivered a bit, closing my car door behind me as I began jogging in place. I thought increasing my heart-rate would break the spell of drowsiness.
My head snapped to the car, hearing the engine begin to slow down. The headlights dimmed and flickered. In conjunction, the engine stalled, then came to a complete stop. Within moments, everything was nearly pitch black around me now. Only the faint light from the obscured moon granted visibility. I opened the driver-side door immediately, grasping the key in the ignition to try starting it again. It was like the battery died, no lights or anything. The car wasn’t old enough to constitute it having such a major issue out of the blue. I wasn’t a car-person, so I couldn’t even begin to know how to diagnose it. I removed my phone from my pocket, fingers frantically trying to navigate it. The phone screen flickered at first, then gave out entirely. Despite my efforts, there was no response. My head whipped around as I heard twigs snapping. I couldn’t determine where until I heard it again. To my left. Across the road. I heard it once more. My eyes went wide, and I instinctively drew my concealed pistol, “Who’s there?!” I commanded. My mind raced, was this possibly what has been happening to the officers? No, I have to be imagining it. In the darkness, a faint glow revealed itself from the direction I was staring, I pointed my gun and tried to make out whatever it was.
I… couldn’t have seen it correctly. I stared; burning eyes stared back. It was lower to the ground, something inhuman. The eyes harbored a hunger I could discern despite the distance between us. The sound of its approach was more apparent, gravel crunched with each step it took toward me. Then, I heard it. A low snarl rattled my ears. It sounded like a large dog that stood in front of a fan, it sounded… demonic. I couldn’t see it properly, that was until embers began glowing around it. The surrounding darkness lit up with flames, and it bared its teeth.
I lowered my gun instinctively, eyes blinded by the brightness. My heart shrieked, throbbing irregularly in my chest; I had to act quickly. I turned from the light and sprinted with all of my being away from it. The only efficient means of seeing was the flaming hound that was chasing after me, as evident with my shadow I was chasing in tandem. It was fast, I could hear it gaining on me. I cried out, realizing I couldn’t beat it in a linear race. I made a hard break and turned left, dodging trees and bushes; I needed to make obstacles to lose it, I deduced that much. My adrenaline overshadowed my fatigue that had all but disappeared. The contrasting heat of the hound was still close, clashing against the cold of the night.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang. The sound of gunfire emitted through the empty forest, and the light that once represented the hound chasing me disappeared almost immediately. I was in the dark again, my breath filling the void of sound around me. My face stung with the cold, my hands quivering. I had a white-knuckled grip on my gun, afraid to let it go in case “It” appeared again.
There were no such sounds of scathing retribution from Hell, no growls or steps to be made out. I hadn’t paid attention to what happened to it. Uncertainty welled inside of me; I involuntarily sobbed, and at the same time, tried catching my breath. I couldn’t see anything now.
It took a few minutes, but I cobbled myself together. The good news was, my phone started working again, and I employed the flashlight to slowly navigate my way back to the car. In my brief trip through the flora, I debated with myself what I just witnessed, and what I should do. I couldn’t delve too deep into thought until I found safety again.
When I reached my car, it miraculously started working just fine. I used this opportunity to floor it down the road; I ignored the speed limit, funnily enough. I debated making some kind of report… but what the hell would I say? I couldn’t think straight, so I decided to get home and consider it again tomorrow.
The next morning, we were informed Chief Bronson was absent again and neglected to answer his phone. The department sent a unit to check out his home, but they found it empty with no definitive trace of where he went; just like the other cases. It was apparent to me that something was conspiring against us, something more sinister and cunning than most perpetrators. The department’s nerves were brittle. The fact Chief Bronson went missing was damnable. I was queasy, the memories of the previous night haunted me alongside the revelation of the Chief’s disappearance. A pervasive responsibility incubated in my mind; solve the case.
I used this time to sit down and explain the flaming hound incident to Detective Stroth. To my surprise, he didn’t stare at me like I was a lunatic. I assumed he was just calm in his assessment of my insanity. The following silence died when he cleared his throat, “I… have an interesting observation I made but felt crazy to even bring up without corroboration. Police… been receiving a few calls about prolonged sounds of ‘weird growls and snarling.’ Animal control has been getting a lot of calls about it as well. Easily could be dismissed as unruly neighbor dogs… but there seemed to be some parallels to your story. Remember those weird burnt tears on the vehicle in photo 12-A?” He… was dead serious. I was dumbfounded just listening to him drone on about this. He went through files and removed a photo that was unrelated to the case, then held it out to me. “Could… be related to whatever it is you just explained to me.”
My palms clammed up. I practically snatched the photo before comparing it to Photo 12-A. My fingers traced the spots where claw marks were. Right outside the fence of the home… were claw marks as well. They were eerily identical and incited faint familiarity looking at the reports. “They all look scorched…” I muttered. I was immediately reminded of the flames that were spilling from the hound that chased me.
“I can’t say I believe what happened to you, hell, I can barely believe the premise of the case itself. It’s calculated to a scary degree. You said your car and phone stopped working, right? Something like a small emp I can guess, then they started working again when that ‘flaming’ dog vanished for whatever reason.” He fell silent for a few moments, “What a mess, you need to be careful, Katherine. Don’t go talking about this with anybody else… even I think you’re crazy.” He turned around in his chair to grab another file from the cabinet, “But I am too” he finished. The phone on his desk began ringing, wrenching his attention away. Damn, and just before I had the chance to explain the phone call too. He held his finger up to me, “It’s one of my other cases, we’ll talk a bit later.” I nodded in understanding, a scowl was burned onto my face now and dissatisfaction welled inside me. Regardless, I left the room to leave him be for now.
I decided to speak with Carver shortly after. I stood in front of the door to his office for a few moments, debating if I should discern the phone call to him. I already appeared psychotic to Stroth, and now I would appear psychotic to the Deputy Chief too. I took a deep breath and knocked, entering when I was invited inside. I hesitated but brought up the fact I had received a bizarre phone call from the Chief the night prior. He seemed like he was expecting me to bring this up, the difference in his gaze suggested so.
“What’d he say to you?” the stringent man asked. He perked up, his wary eyes boring into me. I was quiet for a few second, mustering my thoughts to seem less incredulous when I spoke,
“It was incomprehensible, but to paraphrase: He had trouble sleeping, and he claimed something wanted us… gone,” I said. My scrunched-up posture reflected how unfond I was of recanting the conversation. Based on the look that developed on Carver’s face, I saw he was puzzled by this. He pinched the bridge of his nose,
“You do realize how ridiculous that sounds, right? I don’t distrust you, but this doesn’t sound like Bronson,” he huffed.
“I realize the ridiculousness of it, which is why I debated even reporting this. Things haven’t been not-ridiculous for a while. Stroth nor I can make sense of those damn disappearance cases and now we just added Bronson onto the roster? I wouldn’t fabricate this.” My teeth dug into my lower lip; my nerves stretched to near their limits. “Here,” I continued, showing him the call log on my phone; it was my final effort to convince him.
He shook his head and pushed my cellphone back toward me, “Unless that call was recorded, we can’t do anything with it other than markdown that it allegedly happened. I doubt it’s going to tell us much, based on your retelling of his statements. Could have been drunk at the time of the call for all I know.”
My eye twitched at the blatant dismissal of my claim; I knew Carver to be a “no bullshit” kind of man, but this was irrational. Any bit of evidence or a lead of his last known contact was important, I knew that as a detective. He had something to hide. I scoffed and clenched my phone tightly. I turned on my heel, preparing to leave the office since the conversation came to a burning stalemate. My head built to a vociferous throbbing. The room became cold; the goosebumps I developed were like needles of ice prodding my entire body. I swung my head around reflexively, not knowing what to expect.
Dazed eyes stared back at me, an unusual sight I wasn’t expecting. Carver’s head was nodding, dark circles developing beneath his eyes that weren’t present moments ago. I snapped my fingers, “Carver?” I gasped out. The air was dense with an indescribable matter. The light around me was shifting, and the air was distorted as if heat were present. There were ripples of burgundy light like stitches being undone. I was breathing quicker, hands trembling as I tried to shake Carver back to attention. He didn’t flinch or twitch at all.
I stood up quickly, turning on my heel to face the door. I grasped the handle and swung the door open, “Call an ambulance!” I shouted. My voice echoed in the ominous silence of the office. My panic was bolstered by what I saw; everybody was motionless. There were dark circles beneath their eyes just like the ones present on Carver.
The room seemed fuzzy, distorting even more by the pounding in my chest. Objects danced in the corner of my vision, prompting me to snap my attention to various corners of the room. Each time I looked in a new direction, my peripheral vision captured new movements of dark objects jittering. I gasped for air and backed against the door I just opened.
“Like a vignette…”
Bronson’s words rung in my head, commanding my inner anxiety and panic. This supernatural scene unfolded before me; the deliberate slowness seemed… intentional. The shadows stretched to the center of my vision like dark vines and diminished into a smoky haze that acted as a lens. My eyelids felt like sandbags, sagging downward to cloak my vision. I stumbled forward, trying to muster whatever movement I could to shock myself awake. My chest tightened with the feeling of a forming yawn, except it wouldn’t escape. For one of the few times in my life, I was scared.
A soft hiss sound breached the deathly quiet, darkness took shape in congruence with it. It looked like… a human silhouette; a disproportionate one. A lanky slender figure manifested and lurched toward me. I whimpered in response to the display, my limbs numb and unresponsive to my commands to move. There was a light tapping following each step it took. I glanced down, seeing the appearance of talons on its inhuman feet. It easily towered above the majority of humans; my face barely reached what I assumed to be its chest. The inky black appearance never displayed definition, because it was the color of the entity’s skin, as I deduced. The damning aspect that paralyzed me the most… were its eyes. Illuminating white, slanted with the shape of a crooked white half of the yin and yang symbol. The shadows danced around and throughout its petrifying gaze; it was like ink wriggling on top of a blank canvas.
A smile formed on its black face, a sickly distortion of the darkness it was composed of. Sharp white teeth bared, glowing amongst the void they existed within. The lack of definition granted my imagination boundless anxiety as to what those teeth were capable of.
The hostility was too intense to not feel in the air; in fact, it made it impossible to move. My breath slowed to a crawl, sluggish rasps escaping my lips. What would anybody do in this predicament?
“You… can see me. My prediction was correct, your connection is… abnormal,” a raspy whisper sounded from the entity, its “mouth” neglecting to move in conjunction with the words. The source of sound felt invasive like it was coming from inside my head. My heart skipped a beat, despite the mellow… almost soothing voice, it made me queasy. “You were lucky to have survived, Katherine. I’m not surprised now, given you are resisting the insomnia mist” it continued. It took another step toward me. Each time its talons drummed the wood, my heart dropped.
It raised its arm to reach out toward me, inhumanly long fingers stretching out. I was paralyzed, so I couldn’t move or evade it. Instead, I mustered all the strength I could to avert my eyes to the side; if I could at least avoid directly looking at it, I could mitigate the conflict it put on my nerves. Three sharp points touched my cheek, dragging harmlessly down to my chin. I must have hyperventilated; I could hardly breathe amongst my whimpering. It coaxed my jaw, nudging me to look at it. Despite the painful lethargy and sleepiness weighing on my mind, my fear kept me from letting myself fall asleep. Based upon the eyes I was forced to stare into, it knew this.
It stared at me, unspeaking for what seemed like an eternity of me staring in the fathomless haze of its eyes. “It would be a waste to have you perish like your colleagues. You would make a fine vessel… come Harvest. The mutt’s failure to take your life is… auspicious. Still, they’ve proven useful in killing the somnolent officers.” It was grinning widely, the smile stretching across its entire face. I could hardly process the words being said over my racing thoughts, this can’t be real.
“It is…” it responded abruptly. Did it… read my thoughts? If that were the case, I had no retreat, even in my head. Its gaze suggested its insight as well. The nerve-wracking stare violated dwindling composure. “Your eldest daughter, she too has been marked,” it continued.
That caught my attention. The mention of my daughter invoked my maternal instincts, overriding my fear and fatigue slightly. My eyes were wide, I hadn’t noticed just how agape my mouth was until I gritted my teeth together. The creature chuckled and stepped back, its fingers finally leaving my face.
I ran on pure instinct. My hand had already gripped the gun tucked into my concealed holster. I drew it, aiming it at the creature. Rage brewed inside of me; I would be damned if I let this monster lay a finger on Kendra. I placed my foot in front of me, my gun poised to load the shadowy creature with bullets.
But as abruptly as it appeared, it faded out of my view just as quickly. I was now aiming at the spot it was standing previously. The line of my fire was instead fixed on one of my sleeping colleagues, prompting me to lower my gun, but I didn’t dare let it go. My head was abuzz with all the information I was forced to process. What was that thing? It was after my colleagues, myself, and my daughter allegedly. It wanted to make me a “vessel”, whatever the hell that meant.
My attention was snatched by the sound of footsteps behind me. My vision was jagged; I couldn’t focus on anything for longer than a few seconds without feeling my eyelids scream. “Just… sleep. You’ll forget it all soon, I didn’t want things to come to these extremes, Katherine,” a voice sounded, a… familiar voice. I was too panicked to discern the identity. I staggered away from the source of it, denying the likely source of it. It has to be the thing taunting me. I stumbled to my office to escape the figure behind me, locking the door behind me, not considering if that would slow it down.
The overwhelming sense of fatigue returned this time, harder than before. I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist the call to slumber for much longer. I scrambled to think of something — anything I could do to keep from falling asleep. I had to protect my daughter at the very least. I wouldn’t know where to begin with fathoming a way to kill the creature, assuming it could be killed. Even if it meant relocating my daughters from the unsafe perimeters of this city, I would at least make sure I remembered that.
I thought of using my phone to type notes to myself, notes that would be impossible for me to not see. But it occurred to me that if this thing was behind the officers that went missing, then it must have also kept their radios from working in the final moments before they were disposed of. As I suspected, when I reached into my pocket and removed my phone, it was off and failed to power on. My hands quivered, causing me to drop it. I wasn’t thinking properly anymore, but I grabbed a pen, then the case file that was sitting on my desk. I wrote,
“Save Kendra, that’s all that matters. The shadow monster wants you and the others. You’ll forget this. Just believe it and don’t fall asle…”
My head slumped, and my wrist went limp, creating inane scribbles for the next few moments. My eyes were impossible to open no matter how I commanded them. Bliss captured my mind in the final moments, and my face pressed against the desk, the pen sliding from my grip.
My eyes opened. My head throbbed, making me give a low groan of discomfort. I rose my upper body from the desk and looked around in confusion, trying to remember where I was. That alien feeling when a person wakes up when they didn’t know they dozed off was a weird one, it commanded my recollection of how I got here. I glanced around, fluorescent lights bombarding my sensitive eyes and causing me to recoil my head.
My cheek felt tender since it had been pressed to the desk for who knows how long. I looked around, seeing the case file wasn’t on my desk, so I assumed I had already given it to Carver. I stood slowly, stretching my stiff legs out before I turned around. I instinctively reached for my pocket to grab my phone, but… it wasn’t there. Oh crap, I must have dropped it or something. How long had I been out? I raised my wrist, viewing my watch to see it was only noon. I last remembered the morning briefing… and then telling Carver about a bizarre phone call that somehow related to the missing police officers’ investigation. The memory was fuzzy.
I walked outside of my office to see the usual activities and duties of my colleagues being conducted. I walked over to Carver’s office, knocking three times. “Come in,” I heard through the door. I entered to see Carver sitting behind his desk, looking through the folder with the case details inside; there was a curious expression on his face as he was reading one of the reports I made on my findings, which admittedly wasn’t much. He looked up to me, giving a nod of acknowledgment, “hope you enjoyed your nap, I know you needed it” he insisted. I gave a puzzled look, still confused as to exactly how I fell asleep in my office, I couldn’t even recall what I was doing beforehand.
“Thank you, Chief Deputy… have you made any notable sense of my report?” I replied, remaining silent about my ongoing confusion. He raised his brows, eyes half-lidded as he rubbed the upper lids,
“If my irritation can be counted as sense, then plenty.”
“Cheeky…” I concurred. I yawned lightly, leaning against the frame of the ajar door. Carver reached into a drawer in his desk, removing my cellphone from it before holding it out to me. My head perked, and I stood straight,
“Found this a little earlier, knew it was yours.”
“Must be the sleepiness, thanks again.” I froze, I grabbed my phone and unlocked it. I saw a few missed calls from Aaron and figured he must be worried by now. This reminded me of the burned memory I struggled to recollect, which was what prompted me to come into his office initially. “I… I received a phone call last night… It may be important to the case.”
“Call from who?” he asked. His eyes narrowed in on me, almost suspiciously.
My finger tapped along my phone screen, navigating me to my call history. Nothing. I saw no call from that time frame, despite remembering some-what receiving the call that night. Nothing that jogged my hazy memory. It was on the tip of my tongue, the name of the person who had called me. Was it an officer? I realized shortly after that it was Chief Bronson. I couldn’t recall the conversation, but I knew it was brief and odd. I saw no evidence in my call log that we spoke, however. I was instilled with an indubitable sense of doubt and bewilderment. I sucked my lower lip in before shaking my head, “Um, no, never mind. I was thinking of a dream I had,” I lied. I couldn’t try making a more serious claim like that if I had no evidence or recollection of the details. I doubt it would have made much of a difference anyway.
He stared in disbelief for a moment. The look was almost insidious, but that dissipated when he started chuckling, shaking his head as he closed the file and slid it toward me, “Why don’t you go home for the rest of the day. You need rest, Detective Mallory. You’ve been working a lot on this and you’re out of it, so… take a good rest.”
I looked down at the file, putting my cellphone away before reaching out to grasp it. The front of the folder was only marked with the identifying label I had placed on it a few days ago. I couldn’t help but notice it felt crisper and newer than the previous folder. Odd. I tucked it under my arm and gave a reluctant nod, “Yeah, not feeling sharp today. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Things were quiet for the rest of the evening. I had a more suitable nap at home, which some-what alleviated my sluggish body. I couldn’t place the lingering feeling of forgetfulness I had earlier. The conversation with the Chief the other night… what was it about? I remembered the murmurs, and the bewilderment it brought me. However, the words wouldn’t surface in my head. I tried calling the chief again; as expected, it went straight to voicemail. I sighed, setting my phone on the table before I rose from the couch. I looked outside; the orange hue of the setting sun cast a golden glow outside of my house. I expected that Kendra and Kendall would be getting home soon.
The girls usually did stuff after school; Kendra had a part-time job and or soccer practice, and Kendall usually participated in her track meets. But today… Kendra wasn’t scheduled for work, and Kendall’s competition ended before school let out. I wonder how Kendall did. It was already 5 pm, so it was odd they weren’t home already. I gave Kendall a call; no answer. A knot formed in my stomach; my maternal instincts rung. Calm down, I reminded myself repeatedly that I had to curb my paranoia when it came to parenting. I called Kendra next and was sent straight to voicemail followed by a text from her phone. Whenever Kendra was riding her bike, calls automatically resulted in the automated text indicating she was “riding”. It was a feature akin to driving mode on smartphones. I breathed a sigh of relief and sent her a text.
“Is Kendall with you?” I texted to her, expecting she’d get to it at her next stop, or she would just talk to me whenever she arrived home.
The shadows of the day became more prevalent, and the day became night. I never received a response. They never came home.
Credit : Nemesis_Reaper
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