July 15th, 2017
Officer Jeremiah came out of the house holding his pants and trying to finish the belt around his waist. He was smiling. Nearly glowing and behind him you could see a young woman with her hair still messy from a supposed wild ten minutes that really were, just seven. Jeremiah was a thin man, and he still had those juvenile marks of youth, acne, a confident stride, an innocent smile. And here was Officer Heinz in the police car waiting for him, some old and saggy sack who melted into his seat. He would have been bitter at the comparison had it not been for the vicarious nature of their partnership. For no matter how much Officer Heinz complained, he could not help but feel a second wind of youth as he watched Jeremiah’s antics.
“You said you had something important to do. I thought it was a family emergency. A death, a fight, something like that.” Heinz started the car.
“It was a family emergency,” He put the seat belt around his heaving chest. “We were discussing our future.”
“Does she want kids?”
“And you want another girl.” Heinz pulled into the street. “This is the fourth one in the last two months. That’s not good.”
“This ones a keeper, I’m done screwing around.”
“All you do is screw around.” Heinz said. “You could at least make an effort to last longer.”
“Wasn’t it fifteen minutes? It felt like fifteen minutes.” Jeremiah began to laugh.
“You’re young. You’ll get better. Trust me.” Heinz said.
“How would you know? Does your c*** even work anymore?”
“Longer than yours.” Heinz smirked, Jeremiah laughed again. At fifty-two he was double Jeremiah’s age and it felt good to talk to a young man, he couldn’t deny that.
It was time to survey the landscape. And for the next five hours, they would have to drive. And they did. They drove and bantered and let the conversation die as they fell into the rhythm of the job. They were police officers, policing nothing. Driving corner to corner, for nothing. They began to collect things in their empty travels. Half a dozen coffee cups, burger wrappers strewn on the floor like carpet, so many plastic bags they could have polluted the whole western shoreline. That was the kind of job they had in the nice cut of town, where the fences were white and the lawns were trim and proper. Mundane, tiresome, but safe. It was such an anesthetic job that pacified them into a lull, so much so that they did not notice the rosy sky falling into the night or the night falling into pure blackness. And with the sun gone, so were all the people and the traffic and the noise. No one remained on the rolling sidewalks that steamed from the undercurrents of sewer grates. No one remained. At least, no one sane.
It was nearing the last hour of their shift and their yawning had become an epidemic.
“Want some coffee?” Jeremiah asked.
“Yeah, anything hot.” Heinz said. They pulled up to a sidewalk. Across from them was a shop, The Colonel Weiner and a construction site that was across from it. High above, on the left most of the construction site, you could the sulking crane and how it drew a line high across the sky, covering the moon and some stars. It looked rusted, lonely.
“It was supposed to be a mall. They had to stop work a few weeks back though,” Jeremiah said. “Someone killed himself from the third floor. Workers couldn’t work after that, too real for ’em.”
They stopped the engine.
“You just gonna depress me or are you going to go get some coffee?” Heinz asked. Jeremiah looked at the front of the Colonel Weiner where the window was occupied. A young man stood there, his hair spiked like a porcupine and shaved at the sides. He wore a denim jacket, ripped and punctured like it had been put through an iron maiden. There were pins all around him. Bands, musicians Jeremiah had never seen or heard of, words that made him giggle a bit, pictures that made him blush. He was what the music outlets referred to as, a punk, a dying breed at that. And he seemed to be flirting with the girl in the front of the window with more piercings on her face than fingers on her hands. Their phones were out and the flash of their screens highlighted the smiles they wore.
“What’s wrong? We can go somewhere else.” Heinz said.
“Oh, f*** off. Let ‘em flirt.”
“But he’s loitering. Flash your lights at him.” Jeremiah was beginning to turn in his seat.
“Oh, for f***’s sake. Leave ‘em alone.” Heinz groaned.
“If you won’t, I will.” Jeremiah rolled the window down and with his light began to pulse it towards the couple.
“It’s a little late, isn’t it?” He screamed from across the street. Heinz shook his head. “Why don’t you head home? Keep yourself safe.”
The two looked back. The boy processed the red and blue colors of the car and immediately, off of instinct, began to grow more feral. A kind of negative conditioning that caused him to tighten his face. His frown manifested, his teeth showed like fangs and at last, he rose his skinny middle finger up in the air.
“Why don’t you go f*** off, pigs?” The punk said.
“What the f*** did you say?”
“Oh, let it go, you started it.” Heinz started the car hoping the noise would interrupt them.
“He’s obstructing the law. Right?” Jeremiah said to Heinz. He brought his head out the window “Hey, you’re obstructing the law!”
It was an arrogance born out of boredom. A boredom born out of the hours of nothingness. Heinz only shook his head, he was young, he thought. Both of them were. That was why he was not surprised when the punk began to walk away, to protest in his own way. For the punk, to piss off the police, found a nice street and a nice dumpster to urinate upon. He extended his middle finger out, the whole time, as the stream of piss flowed down. When he was done, he ran.
“That’s illegal.” Jeremiah could not contain his smile and grating teeth. He gained scent of the crime, it smelled of ammonia.
“You love causing problems.” Heinz moaned.
“Me?” He slapped his chest. “The f*** did I do? He’s the one who defamed that dumpster.”
“You can’t defame a f****** dumpster, it’s already defamed. Damnit, Jeremy.” Heinz said.
“F***, kid.” He rolled the car up next to the alley. “I just wanted some f****** coffee.”
Both came out of the car to the bite of cold and whatever heat of the argument was fueling Jeremiah, it began to grow dimmer. They both found it hard to move.
“Middle of summer and it’s this cold.” Heinz said. “This is unnatural.”
Jeremiah touched his belt and tried to remind himself where everything was.
“Don’t even think about using your gun.” Heinz said.
“I’m not, man.” He responded. He flashed his light into Heinz face who put his hand against it and pushed the flashlight down.
“I know you’re new but here’s a good lesson to remember. We’re here to solve problems, not to cause them. Just for future f****** references.” He said. Jeremiah nodded and they both began walking loud through the muddled alley water. It seemed like a covert river, this black bough with its oppressive walls. It was Havenbrook’s urinary tract for all around were toxins and trash and the smell of grime, dead fish and rotting fruit, a sweetly sick smell. There were blue tarps, cut and ruined into ribbons where the homeless once sat and stained the floor. The fence to their rear was broken, leering over them. Trash upon trash, mattresses, littered diapers, used needles. They looked at the walls. Graffiti overlapped graffiti, in a kind of artisan warfare amongst the ghettos strongest painters. They saw a large eye in purple paint, a crown of yellow. They must have meant something to those who spoke the language but to the officers, they were hieroglyphics. The names, the style, it all confused them as if they had entered a foreign land, away from those white fences and trim lawns, and they were just now realizing it.
They were lost. They began to blame the gallery. A turn lead to another which lead to another and here they were, unsure whether they were inside the alley or the construction site or if they were even near the city at all. All they saw was the tarp and the torn fence link and they looked at each other.
“F*** it. We’re going back.” Heinz said.
“Coward must have run.”
“Don’t start again.”
“I’m talking about that attitude-”
The silence broke. There was a cry in the air. Man? Woman? It was too high to tell.
“What was that?” Jeremiah said. He firmed his grip on his flashlight.
“Let’s call it in.” Heinz began speaking into his shoulder radio. They muttered things to that broken processed voice who distinctly told them, ‘Stand By’.
“We’ll wait then.” Jeremiah said. They heard another scream. It sounded like something broke. Wood? Metal? Bone. The thump bounced off the narrow red-brick walls to the right of them, into their brain like a hammer strike. It sounded rhythmic. Like a beating, they thought. It was a noise that froze Jeremiah and that summoned Heinz who began climbing the fence.
“They told us to wait, man.” Jeremiah said. Heinz fell over the other side. He took out his gun and perhaps it was then that Jeremiah realized how terrible things were.
He looked around and saw his partner run off. Dumb and brash, he thought. With courage, he felt. He was alone then with nothing to him but a fading sanity. He heard a hiss. It drew him mad and he climbed. He fell. He ripped his jacket and started chasing after his partner who stood on the wooden ramp up. They were both sweating and adjusting to the obscurity of night.
It was strange to have so many tripods and lamps around them, and none of them of any use. All they had to them for a shield was that flashlight, and a shaking gun, for their sword.
The darkness was thick. They could not see past an inch ahead of themselves without the aid of their light and often Jeremiah had to hold onto the metal poles and concrete pillars as he followed the sound of his partner’s footsteps. A touch of tarp made him jump, the cold metal made him shriek. They were torture devices, they felt like it.
“Calm down.” His partner told him and grabbed his shoulder. “Don’t point your light where I’m pointing. We’re trying to get as much coverage as we can.”
Jeremiah shook. They heard sound. It was something wet. Something dripping. Something masticated.
“Let’s go back.” Jeremiah said. Heinz went forward. It was a floor above them, on the third, and Jeremiah was taking inches forward. They came up a bend and up the ramp, up, up, inch by inch they made their way to the open area that tapered at the end to an unfinished hall. There they saw the outline of something, hunched over, vesicular, decorated with terrible boils, running with venation all across its body. They could only see its back but it was enough. They did not think of procedure. Their brains were too afraid to see past anything but self-preservation.
Heinz readied his pistol forward. It clicked. So did Jeremiah’s and the sound seemed to attract the thing that looked up. It turned and they saw it.
Nothing had made them feel worse in their lives than the image of the creature.
It felt like a hook had grabbed their spines and torn them out. It was a nightmare. It looked at them. Bird eyed. They were large dark circles hued with a sickly yellow as if two dying lanterns were dragged and dissipated into a far-off caves, its eyes. It was moving. Not like anything normal, more like a frenzied schizophrenic four-legged hyena. Bath salts? Heinz tried reasoning. It would not suffice. The thing, its spasms, were not human.
Its face drew forward even more and all the courage in their hearts shattered into a thousand flaws. For from its mouth they could see two legs dangling, kicking away in the air, kicking from a beak that would not stop chewing. It was a rude eater.
In its belly, the thin membrane hung out like a womb. From inside the full stomach, they saw a figure form. A human hand pushing out from within the stomach.
They broke into bedlam then and there.
They shot. Shot. Shot. Shot. Shot at the light, shot at the dark. Pulled the trigger until they were out, pulled the trigger even when they were out. They were in the deafening buzz. Starbursts of light flashed on their eyes. Halos of light pulsed, they were frenzied. Jeremiah turned for a second to see his partner, to see if he could even see.
It took him a while, for his vision to come back. He saw someone to his adjacent left. No, he saw something. Not someone. For his partner (Heinz) was further behind, screaming, spitting, holding onto a stake that pinned him and stabbed through his bleeding stomach. Jeremiah heard the sound of falling blood, he heard the sound of drool. He looked up to see what stood beside him. And he ran.