Craig pressed the 'end' button on the cellular phone, ending the call to his wife. He turned and smiled at the beautiful Black woman in the passenger seat. She smiled back at him.
"Thanks for dinner," she said, " And for taking me home. Again."
"Oh, I think I had an ulterior motive," Craig reached over and caressed her thigh, then moved his hand upward, under the hem of the tight-fitting dress. Rachael spread her legs slightly, allowing his hand to travel further.
"Didn't get enough at the office?"
"I thought that was the whole point." Rachael lifted up out of the seat and pulled the bottom of the dress up over her ample hips. Craig still had her panties in his briefcase.
"Mmmm....What'd she say? Ohhh....fuck...." Rachael brought her thighs together around Craig's hand, trapping his probing fingers. She squeezed and rotated her hips.
"Does it matter? I told her I had to work late, and had to take somebody home. We got hours. Maybe all night."
"Ohhh yeah. Ohhh....I can't wait." She squeezed her legs together rythmically, and the musky smell of sex began to fill the vehicle. Craig licked his lips.
"You don't have to wait, I'm the one driving... What the fuck?"
Craig glanced into the rearview mirror and saw the patrol car pulling out onto the road behind him, blue lights flashing. He snatched his right hand out of his secretary's crotch as if it had scalded him. The siren howled twice, and Craig glanced down at the speedometer. It read 40, but he had absolutely no idea what the speed limit was down this street. He began to slow down.
"What's the speed down here?"
"Um, Forty-five," replied Rachael. She glanced nervously at the patrol car behind them.
"What's this guy pulling me over for?"
"Cops trip out here sometimes. Pull people over for no reason. Just be cool."
The last remark seemed to be directed more at herself than at him. Craig pulled off into a parking lot and was about to kill the engine.
"Pull up some. Into the light." said Rachael. Craig obliged, pulling up a few yards so that the car sat beneath a light post near the center of the lot. He killed the engine just as the patrol car pulled up behind him. Craig adjusted his tie and reached for the glove compartment.
"Don't." reached out and grabbed his arm.
"What? I'm just getting my..."
"They don't like that. Wait till he get's up here and asks for it."
"You get pulled over a lot?"
"No. I don't have a car, remember?"
"Well, then how do you know... hmm...." Craig looked into his rear view mirror and could see the interior of the patrol car. There were two officers in the car, both were sitting motionless, and seemed to be staring directly at him. Craig could clearly see the driver frowning back at him through the mirror, but the passenger was shadowed by some odd trick of the light, revealing only a dark outline. Something about that shape wasn't right; it seemed too bulky in some places.
The driver's door opened and the officer stepped out; the other stayed put. The cop walked slowly, almost as if injured. Not with a limp, but his moves were slow and deliberate, as if each footfall could cause him to loose his balance and topple over.
"Asshole. He's being slow. Trying to waste our time and punish me for speeding." There was no response. "Rachael?"
Racheal was a nervous wreck. She glanced at the officer approaching the car, and then back at the shadowy passenger. Then she scanned the parking lot and the nearby intersection, searching for more cops, or perhaps looking for a place to run. Her eyes travelled from one spot to the other in a frenzied cycle. Her body was visibly tense, muscles contracted into unsighlty knots underneath her chocolate skin. Her right hand grasped the doorknob, and her left was applying increasing pressure to Craigs's forearm.
"What's going on Rach? What's wrong with you?"
"This is wrong, this whole thing is wrong."
"You wasn't speeding. Why they pull you over in the middle of nowhere? Where is everybody on the street? What's wrong with homeboy in the car? And why is he walking so fucking slow?"
Rachael's nervousness was now spilling over onto Craig, but for an altogether different reason. He had never seen her act this way, and it reminded him of the fact the he really didn't know that much about her. They had met at work two months ago and had been having an intensely sexual relationship since then. About her sexual needs and desires he knew a great deal, but beyond that, he knew very little about Rachael. So, here he was with a strange Black woman driving through the most drug and gang infested part of the city just after dark. The police show up and she gets nervous. Not a good sign. Was she involved in something? Was it drugs? Could be arrested just for associating with her? The more Craig thought about it, the more he feared that this "routine traffic stop" would rapidly progress beyond his ability to lie convincingly to his wife. A traffic ticket was one thing, an arrest record was an entirely different matter.
Craig's heartbeat thumped loudly in his ears as the patrolman completed his maddeningly slow trek to the driver's side door. Craig pushed the button to lower the power windows, and Racheal's grip tightened. Craig's stomach clenched, partially from anticipation, but mostly from the stench of rotting garbage that rushed in through the opening window. So, this is what the ghetto smelled like. No wonder people were killing each other trying to get out.
"Hello officer," Craig spoke into the officer's stomach. The patrolman leaned down to look into the car, the rotten stench intensifying as he drew near. Craig realized that the smell was coming from the officer, as if he had been rummaging through the city dump before reporting to traffic duty.
"You know why I stopped you?" The officer's breath was horrendous.
"No, I can't say that I do." Craig studied the policeman's face. The man was sweating profusely, even though the February night was relatively cool. Beads of sweat coalessed and ran in small streams down his uncommonly smooth face. His collar was darkened with the runnoff. The face itself was almost featureless, with no moles, marks or any other kind of imperfections, like those airbrused and made-up models in the magazines. This eerie perfection gave the impression that the face wasn't natural at all, rather, it seemed to be some kind of mask. Even when the policeman spoke, the sweaty skin shifted oddly around the lips and jaws, not quite managing to mimick natural facial expressions. Craig attributed this to his own nervousness and the poor quality of the light from the streetlamp. Still, an uncomfortable feeling settled itself in the pit of his stomach when he glanced back at the patrol car and saw that the shadowy figure was no longer in the vehicle. He had gotten out sometime when Craig was distracted by Racheal's hysterics. There was no sign of him anywhere in Craig's field of vision, and he didn't want to arouse suspioscion by looking around for him.
"Liscense and registration, please." The cop's words nealy choked Craig. Racheal reached for the glove compartment, doing a superb job of looking suspicious. Still grasping the door handle, she continued to scan the parking lot and the street. She avoided looking at the cop standing by Craig's door, and she, too, seemed to be disturbed by the second cop's disappearance. Craig ignored her, retrieved the documents, and handed them to the officer.
"Doyle," said the officer as he studied the licsence. "Craig Doyle." Sweat dripped off of the officer's face and onto the papers with a thick 'klop.' Craig winced. "Not from around here, are you Mr. Doyle?" The was another 'klop,' and then a fainter sound. The 'plap' of something thick and unpleaseant hitting the pavement. The sweat on the officer's face had congealed into a thick mucous that was oozing off of his chin and forehead, dripping onto the ground. The cop seemed not to notice.
The cop looked up at Craig and smiled. More mucous dripped from his chin, another thick chunk began to slide its way down from his forhead.
"You come out here often, Mr. Doyle?" Plap!
"No. No sir."
"You sure?" Plap! Plap!
"Is there a problem, officer?"
The policeman leaned further toward the open window and studied Racheal as she squirmed in the passenger seat. Craig's stomach reeled. He tried to hold his breath against the stench that he knew was flooding into the car, but he sight of the obviously sick officer dripping on his upholstery was almost too much him, almost making him loose his expensive diner.
"Iss this your wife, Misster Doyle?" Plap! The cop's voice slowed and dropped into a hissing whisper as his smile perfect smile widened into frighteningly grotesque grin. Something was definately not right. Craig joined Racheal in her attempt to squirm away from the cop.
"Uh... No. No sir." Plap!
The cop seemed frozen, staring at Racheal. He now dripped an almost continuous stream of mucous down the side of the door. Thick clods of something fell throught the window and splashed onto Craig's pants.
"Are you alright, officer?"
"Ohh. Imm ffine noww..."
The attack came without warning. Before Craig's eyes could register movement, his small frame was forcefully yanked through the open car window and he was thrown face down onto the pavement. He heard Racheal scream, and then there was the sound of glass breaking. More screams. A growl? What was going on? Craig rose to his hands and knees, and shook his head, trying to clear the fuzziness. Pain flashed through his body as the cop kicked him in the side. He fell back to the ground. Craig rolled over and looked up, instantly wishing that he hadn't.
The first cop was standing over him smiling so broadly that his mouth could no longer fit onto his face. The cop's facial features were bisected by a pair of blackened, shriveled lips that curled almost completely around his head. As Craig watched in horror, the officer's face began to bubble and contort into a field of grotesque knots that moved around as if a dozen insects squirmed beneath his skin. His eyes pulsed outward, nearly leaping from their sockets, and then retreated back into his skull leaving two empty, oozing wounds. The mouth yawned, opening into a glistening abyss framed by several sets of tiny black needle-like spines. A blast of rancid air hit Craig full in the face, making his eyes water and his stomach lurch. He tried to turn away, but grotesque fascination kept his burning eyes locked on the horror that was unfolding, , before him. Patches of flesh, shoved aside by the opening lips, simply slid off onto the ground, revealing dark, spongy flesh underneath. What little skin was left simply crawled away. The lips withered away into nothingness, leaving a gaping jagged hole set into a writhing mass of darkness.
Craig screamed. The creature reached down, grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him painfully to his feet. Craig's head spun, partially from the jarring movement, but mostly from his own attempts to avoid gazing into the horror that held him. The thing, grunted with a sound that was a mixture of ferral growl, and porcine snort. There was an answering sound from the other side of the car. Craig looked and saw Racheal being held by a much larger version of the same creature that held him. She struggled relentlessly, and screamed into the thick spongy flesh of the creature's arm. The creature lowered his head and clamped his black maw down over her left shoulder. She screamed again. There was a sickening, wet snap, and then a crunch. Racheal went limp. The creature bit down harder, and Racheal's thin arm came away from her shoulder. The cop spat out the limb like a piece of offending gristle and looked up at Craig. Both creatures snorted and squealed at each other, almost as if in hysterical laughter.
Craig could feel the thing quaking as it grunted rapidly in unison with its partner. It's grip loosened ever so slightly, and without thought, Craig took the opportunity. Spinning, he swung his right arm and brought the ridge of his hand squarely onto the creature's throat. The move would have crushed an ordinarly man's windpipe, but Craig didn't wait around to see it's effects on this thing. He ran off toward the dark grocery store without looking back. Immediately, he sensed something behind him. Whether one or both creatures gave chase, he could not tell. He heard the sounds of pursuit, and their horrible nature made his legs move that much faster. Murderous grunts and snorts chased him into the darkness. The creatures' movements made a wet, slapping sound behind him, even thought the ground was dry. Against his better judgement, Craig ventured a look behind him.
The things were closer to him than he thought, and had given up all traces of humanity. They were hunched over, running almost on all fours, but their transformation was not yet complete. With each step, their flesh rippled and shifted, their bodies twisting, becomeing sleaker, faster. Legs became thicker, stronger, more defined; the head and torso more streamlined. Flesh that did not fit the new design was simply flung off in disgusting lumps that splatted against the concrete.
Craig stifled a scream, and channeled his energy into running faster. He rounded the corner that took him behind the store and into the dark alley behind. The corner slowed him down; the pursuers were gaining. He heard their sickening movements closer behind him. But they were already so close! Surely they could reach him now! Almost as if in answer to his thought, he felt something soft and wet flap against his right shoulder. This time, Craig did sceam. His lungs filled with air and let loose with a cry of pure terror that reverberated up and down the alley. He jerked his shoulder forward before the thing could find a grip, and ran even faster, faster than he thought humanly possible. The alley was open, he could see a street at the other end. He thought he saw movement near the dumpster halfway down the alley. Maybe a shadow. Maybe not. Was he sure that both cops were behind him, or was there only one? Had the other circled around? Had there been more than two cops in that car?
At this point, it doesn't matter, thought Craig. Whatever that was in front of him, if anything, was about to get run over. Just as Craig passed near the corner of the dumpster, the form reappeared from behind the far edge. It was a man, at least, it looked like one. Determined not to be stopped, Craig continued on full speed. At the last minute, the man stepped aside and thrust his leg out at Craig's knees. Craig tripped and flew several feet before hitting the ground, his arms and chest absorbing most of the impact. Dazed and out of breath, he tried to stand, but dizziness overwhelmed him and he sank down. The raw terror of only a few seconds ago wasn't enough to get him going. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he prepared himself for what he knew was coming. Then the shots came.
The stranger stood just in front of Craig, pointing a gun at the creatures. The first two shots had gone straight into the nearest creature's chest, having no effect other than to stop its progress. The stranger did not stop there, however. He put three more shots into the thing's skull. By this time, the second monster was moving around the falling body of it's companion. It's body warped and changed as it approached Craig and his unknown savior. Neither of them would see what the final shape would be. The gunman put six bullets into the creature and it went down.
The stranger moved over near the fallen creatures. Unbeleivably, the wounded things still hissed and tried to attack, lashing out with tentacles and claws. The man and pumped five more shots into the two creatures. The rubbery tentacles fell limply to the ground, where they continued to twitch. The flesh of both creatures heaved and bubbled, the bodies jerked desparately, like fish in the open air.
"Damn!" said the man. He ran up to where Craig still lay, and stood over him threateningly. "You just HAD to run over where I was hiding, didn't you! Get up, we got to go!" The man extended his hand and helped Craig to his feet. Craig stood slightly shorter than the thin black man. "Let's go!"
The man ran off, and Craig followed, barely keeping up. They ran frantically for several minutes, trying to distance themselves from the grocery store. Twice, Craig heard police sirens that sounded only a few blocks away, and both times the man he followed changed directions to take them away from the sounds. Craig wondered if the man knew where he was going, since they seemed to move at random. Eventually, they ended up in another alley that led behind a pawn shop. The pair stopped running, and crept into the darkness. When the stranger had figured they were sufficiently hidden, they stopped to rest.
Puffing and wheezing , Craig struggled to catch his breath. The adrenalin rush was wearing off, and pain was beginning to settle itself into Craigs' bruised limbs and chest. The stranger took this opportunity to pop another clip into his gun.
"What... What....What...." Criag panted between breaths.
"Shhhh!" hissed the stranger, a thin black man. "Quiet! They'll find us if you don't shut the fuck up!"
"Them! You saw, didn't you? Please tell me you saw!"
"God-DAMN! I knew I wasn't crazy."
"Damned if I know. Saw one a week ago...b een seeing 'em ever since. Everywhere. Fucking cops, man! All the cops are fucking...THINGS!"
"The cops... You killed them." Craig's breath was returning now, enabling him to speak more clearly, "You saved... You saved me."
"Those things look dead to you? Fuck no, man! I ran out of bullets before I could kill them."
"But how? What are they?"
"I told you, I don't know man. They... we was... a few days ago, right after the cops started going ballistic, me and some boys got pulled over. Shit, man, they... they ATE...aw fuck, man."
"Like hell it is! Aint' shit okay! I got away... The only one. But I can see 'em now! Nobody else can see 'em. They didn't believe me. But now I got you!"
"Me? I don't even know who you are..."
"...you've got to get me out of here."
"You ain't goin' nowhere 'til we warn people. People wouldn't fuck with me 'cause they thought I was crazy! Had to break into my own fuckin' house and steal my own gun! But now..now I got you ... now I got it figured out!"
"Wait. I gotta get out..."
"Them things... they let their guard down sometimes. They let it slip. If you can catch it, see it when it happens, then you can spot 'em later. They can't fool you no more!"
Both men fell silent when they heard a noise at the head of the small alley. Echo. Footsteps. Someone was approaching.
"Who's there?" a voice whispered from just out of sight.
"Ray, it's me!" cried Tyrone.
Ray stepped into the alley and froze when he spotted Craig.
"Who's that in there wit you?"
"Craig. My name's Craig Doy..."
"I don't know no Craig." Ray began to back away. "What's going on Ty?"
"He's wit me."
"The hell he is. What business you got in an alley with this cracker?"
"Your friend saved my life."
"Yeah," said Ray sarcastically. "Uh-huh."
"Get off the sidewalk, man. Those... cops, they'll see you!"
"Ain't no cops out here. They all took off down to the Homes."
"What? No! " cried Tyrone
"Newman Homes, fool. They took off down there. Jus' drivin around like they waitin' on somethin'"
"ALL of 'em. I saw 'em. Streets was crawlin' wit cops; then they just leave. Headin' down to Holmes."
"We gotta get down there. We gotta stop 'em. My family is down there."
"Nah, fuck that. Ain't nobody going down there with you. They got High street blocked off. Portside, too. You can't get in without them gettin' a good look at you, and you're hot, man. They after you from the other night."
Tyrone lifted his gun thoughtfully, and then lowered it, realizing the futility of an armed confrontation. At least with this puny weapon.
"We need... we need to get the brothers together. We gotta stop what's going on. You don't know, Ray. You don't know what I saw..."
"I know what you said you saw."
"It's true! He saw 'em too. Just now, out by the store! They did him just like they did me and Rob and Dre. Him and Racheal from Northside..."
"... he saw 'em change. Now he can see 'em, too. Tell him, man."
"Rachael? What happened to Rachael?"
"Aww, man... She... They..."
"They shot her?"
"Yes!" injected Craig. "In cold blood. They stopped us and made us get out. Then they shot her and I ran."
Tyrone gave Craig a dirty look. "What? That's not what happened." he whispered.
"Tyrone caught me. He helped me get away."
"What the fuck they shoot her for?" said Ray
"Yeah, that's what I'm trying to tell you man," Tyrone had caught on to Criag's plan. "They been cleanin' us off the block like trash, now they headed down to the Holmes. We gotta see what's going on. We gotta do something!"
"Fuck that. If shit is goin' down, I'm glad I ain't there. I ain't one of them militant motherfukers; I'm tryin' to stay alive. People stay cool, they'll be alright."
"That's what Racheal said."
There was an uncomfortable silence as all three men stared at each other nervously.
"You really think..." ventured Ray
"Yes!" answered Craig and Tyrone simultaneously.
"Aint' shit we can do about that, man. Just lay low till it's over."
"When it's over, everybody'll be dead! Dead, man. Like Rob, and Dre, and Rachael."
"Shit can't be like that, man. Fucked up, yeah, but not crazy like that. You sound like G."
"G? Jihad knows something?"
"G always talkin' crazy. Especially about cops. Then the other day he start talkin' like you. Talkin 'bout... wierd shit... 'bout the cops."
"They took Earl out the Homes the other night. Just bust in and snatched him up. Next day the police don't know nothing about it. He ain't locked up; Nobody's seen him. Just gone. But Jihad says he saw somthing the night they took him. He says they killed him. Then other folks started gettin snatched; some of them disappeared. G starts talkin' about stoppin 'em. Just like you are. That nigga tryin to go to war! He's got some 'a them hardheads gonna meet down at-"
"Where's Jihad now?"
"Don't know. Maybe Chubby's house, or Zeke's."
"Zeke has what we need. We're going there."
"Hey, wait a minute!" protested Craig.
"C'mon! Don't you see. Jihad's seen 'em too, and he's gonna do something about it. We need to get to Zeke's..."
"What does this Zeke have that we need?"
"Weapons, man! Weapons!"
"Ty, man, you..."
"Fuck you. I'm going to find Zeke and Jihad and stop this thing. And he's coming with me. You can do what you want."
Before Craig could protest, Tyrone had grabbed him by the arm and had drug him past Ray and out into the street. After a few moments, Ray followed.
Ezekiel Moore hadn't intended to fall asleep. There was way to much going on, and tonight promised to be a very long night. Not that he would be going anywhere. No, waiting, watching, and listening were the only nocturnal activities most people were involved in lately. No one went anywhere at night anymore. Not since the police crackdown. There was an unofficial police curfew that ran from sundown to sunup; anyone caught outside during the hours of darkness stood the chances of being arrested, harrassed, or of disappearing altogether. Several people in this neighborhood had been terrorized, beaten, or almost run over by speeding patrol cars. Of course, come daylight, no one downtown knew anything about it. 'No, sir, there weren't any arrests last night.' or 'We haven't had any police activities in that area for weeks, sir.' Yeah. Then where were the people being hauled off to? Where were they going?
There was talk of a community involvement, but Zeke didn't wan't to get involved. Not too deeply, anyway, he had a little girl to look after. Hell, the so-called community leaders were amoung the first ones to disappear. All except for Jihad, who was too crazy to be of much use to anyone. Unfortunately, he was all they had left. Jihad had called earlier today, wanting to know about weapons. Not too many people knew it, but in an fit of paranoia lasting most of his teenage years, Zeke had amassed an array of weapons that would raise more than a few eyebrows downtown if word got out. Handguns, shotguns, rifles, and the associated ammunition were all tucked away, secure, but readily accessable in an emergency. Recently, he had removed some of them from their hiding place and placed them close at hand, he sold the rest to Jihad. He worried about Keisha getting a hold of one of them, but, she wasn't the overly curious type, and, with what was going on lately, it was probably more dangerous not to have them.
Despite his best efforts, Zeke was beginning to doze. Diligent attention to every sound in the neighborhood was slowly usurped by fuzzy drone of his own thoughts. Flashes and images played across his mind's eye... The Anderson house being broken into... The Gerald boy almost being hit by a police car Sunday...dogs barking in the night... Keisha crying about monsters under the bed... Jihad going on and on about needing guns... strange growls and squeals from outside the bedroom window...Tyrone Bennet going crazy, spouting off about cops in monster masks... dogs barking...
He awoke with a start, the barking of dogs reverberating through the room. Butch, Zeus and Roman, his three Rottweillers, were barking savagely at something. It wasn't the sound they made when a neighbor got too close to the fence, no, this sound unmistakably announced an intruder. Zeke rolled off of his bed and hit the floor. He stayed low, crawling toward the box in the closet which held his .45. He was anxious to see what was going on, but he wasn't going to try to find out without a weapon in his hand.
The cry stopped him just as he reached the closet.
"Daddy, Daddy, DADDY!!!!" Keisha's desparate scream spurred Zeke into action. Disregarding the need for caution, he retrieved his gun and ran full speed down the hall, knowing without checking that his weapon was loaded.
Keisha was standing up in her bed, her covers draped about her like a shroud. Terrified, she screamed and pointed at the open window across the room from her bed.
"Daddy! Daddy! There's a man outside!!"
Zeke froze, watching the window and trying to figure out the best way to procede. He realized how good of a target he and his daughter were by standing in the middle of the room. Just as he was about to move, a large shadow passed in front of the window.
"Who's there!" he shouted. Against his better wishes, he figured he'd give whoever it was a fair warning rather than just unloading through the window. The shadow returned to the window. It was large, misshappen form, too grotesque to be natural. Zeke's shout was answered by a wet gurgle, and then a squeal.
"I'm warning you! I have a gun in here!"
"Po-leeeesss." hissed the thing outside.
"Naw..." Zeke's breath caught in his throat as the thing pushed it's head and uppper body into the room.
The uniform was definatly that of a cop, but the thing wearing it was by no mean human. Keisha screamed a loud, continuous wail that nearly drowned out the chaotic barking outside as Zeke fired
into the shape at the window. Four shots. Five. Six. The thing fell back out of the room.
"No, baby. Just a man in a mask." Still holding his gun, Zeke stepped over to the window. He couldn't hear anything over the dogs, who were barking even more furiously now than before. Zeke was sure that he had hit the masked man several times. He saw him fall out of the window. Even still, he figured he'd better get his daugter to safety before investigating further. He was still undecided about whether or not to call the cops. Obviously, the man in the mask wasn't a policeman, but still, the way cops have been acting lately...
He had just turned and stepped away from the window when there was a crash. Something hit him from behind and knocked him to the floor. A heavy weight settled painfully onto his back, and there was an accompanying smell of rotting garbage. Zeke rolled from side to side, trying to dislodge the thing. He threw his arms and elbows back frantically, trying to hit it. Despite his struggles, the thing pressed him into the floor, crushing the life out of him. He fought for each breath, and each gasp of air that he won from he creature on his back was smaller and smaller. Keisha was screaming, watching her father being crushed to death.
Zeke's mouth trembled silently, his lips trying to form a warning to his daughter, trying to tell her to run. But there was simply not enough air left in his lungs to form the words.
Suddenly the weight was gone. Zeke rose weakly to his hands and knees, gasping for air. Keisha screamed in abject terror and Zeke looked up. Some thing, clearly not a man, lurched it's way toward where his daughter stood. It was hunched over, like a thing that was not meant to walk upright. It had neither hair or fur of any kind, just wet, pale flesh that rippled and moved across its muscular back as if a hundred insects scurried beneath its surface. Torn remnants of the police uniform hung off of its body.
It reached Keisha and scooped her up into it arms. Zeke stood, his strength returning, but not fast enough. The room began to spin. He heard more screaming, and a hissing squeal. He forced his eyes to focus. His daughter. He had to do something.
"Let her go."
"Cummm gett herrrrr." The thing spat.
Zeke to a step toward the creature. The thing crouched down, and, with Keisha still held firmly in its arms, launched itself into the air. It blew towards Zeke, and them past him, out of the broken window.
"NOOOO!" He followed them without hesitation, stopping only to retrieve his gun. The thing was waiting for him outside. It stood holding Zeke's daughter in front of it like an offering. She was quiet now. Still. Catatonic with fear. Zeke lifted his gun. His mind was racing... could he hit the thing without hitting his daughter?
"Mine..." the creature spat. Zeke ignored the words. His mind was focused, shutting out everything but the gun, the creature, and his daughter, searching for his shot. He never saw the second creature appear from around the far corner of the house. It had been at the dog pen, teasing the frantically barking animals. Now, summoned by some unheard signal, it lurched forward to join its partner.
"Zeeeek.." hissed the first creature. "Waatch..." It held Keisha out with one hand, it fingers stretching until they completely encircled the little girl's body. The other hand slithered up to her head, its digits playing about her face, trying to find a firm grip. "Waaatch cloossssse...." The thing's hands began to twist in opposite directions.
The first shot traveled through the thing's head. It dropped the girl, but , instead of running, Keisha curled up into a little ball at the monster's feet. Now with a clear shot, Zeke emptied the gun into the foul thing. It fell back and hit the ground, but it was not dead. Zeke ran forward to grab his daughter, but the second creature was already there.
"NOOO!" Unfazed, Zeke threw himself onto the creature. Not thinking about the sheer size of the things, or about the first creature which was rapidly recovering nearby, Zeke attacked with a ferocity born of rage and desparation. His weight bore the thing down to the ground. He tightened his hand around the thing's neck and brought his fist down into it's distorted face. Instead of impacting with firm flesh and solid bone, his fist sank almost without resistance into the things head. Screaming, he ripped out a fistfull of the substance flung it aside. The creature struggled, it's arms encircling Zeke. Zeke barely felt the thing's claws as they began to rip at his ams and back. Anger had taken him over, and he was determined to destroy this thing with his bare hands. Each move that the creature made to dislodge Zeke only enraged him further. He punched and tore at the creature, wanting to rip it's body to pieces, wanting to kill it two or three times over for daring to attack his little girl.
Suddenly, something gripped him from behind and yanked him backwards. He flew away from the injured thing and into the tentacled arms of the first creature. The thing held him tightly, keeping Zeke's feet several inches off of the ground. Again, Zeke felt the life being crushed out of him. Blood ran from deep furrow in his back, and the world began to grow dim. Still, Zeke twisted and fought with every bit of his remaining strength. The creature tightned it's grip several times, not to crush Zeke, but to remain in control of the struggling man as he tried to break free.
"Killl you... Thennn killl gurrrrl. Nooo....gurll first...you watch!"
Zeke continued to fight as the second creature pulled its shattered body back together, its face and head reforming itself after Zekes savage attack. Slowly, the thing stood and advanced, stopping to scoop up the frightened little girl. Zeke saw his daughter and paused. There was an uncanny quiet as the creature approached. Its face continued to warp and shift, changing into something different than it was before. Something fanged and horrid. The silence was broken only by the wet gurgling of the two things, the dogs had ceased barking. Zeke smiled. Help was on the way.
No sooner than he could gather his strength in preparation, the dogs came. Snarling, the three dogs descended upon the creatures and began ripping them to shreds. Zeke watched as Butch and Roman tore into Keisha's captor. Caught by surprise, the thing staggered, dropping the girl and swatting at the dogs with clawed tentacles. Butch dodged the clumsy attack and caught one flailing appendage in his jaws. Roman had already attached himself the the thing's left leg, and together, the dogs brought the creature to the ground. The third dog, Zeus, was working to free his master. Zeke felt the thing's grip loosen as it prepared for the dog's attack. That was all it took. The rage built up within him and he burst free of the cop's grasp. He spun around and joined Zeus in his attack, ramming into the creature and pushing it to the ground. Man and dog fell upon the thing, fighting it with powerful jaws and rage-hardened fists. Zeke fought like a madman, egged on by the pained squeals of the creatures. He was as much an unthinking, clawing, biting thing as his opponants. And his allies. He revelled in the sensations of the vile flesh tearing and bursting beneath in his hands. He screamed into the creature's wounded body as if his voice were made of razors. Zeus snapped and chewed at the cop's arms and legs, keeping the dangerous weapons from even reaching Zeke. He'd bitten off several appendages, only to have more spring forth from the seeping wounds. These new tentacles were smaller and weaker, though. Slower, and more easlily dispatched. The creature was loosing too much flesh to his attachers; It was weakening.
A cry caught Zeke's attention. Keisha. She had regained some of her senses, was screaming amidst the carnage. Zeke broke off his attack and ran to her. He scooped her up and quickly ran toward the window, stopping briefly to pick up his gun. He had to get his daughter to safety, but this fight was far from over.
Once inside the house, he quickly hid the girl in a closet and quieted her.
"You be quiet, baby. I'll get 'em. You just be quiet and hide in here."
"Shhhh. Be quiet, now."
A pained yelp erupted from outside the house. One of the dogs had been hurt. There was an increased flurry of snarls and growls from the remaining animals, as well as more squeals from the other things. The fight was going on without him.
Zeke spun on his heals and ran to his bedroom closet. He quickly grabbed as many clips as his pockets would hold and hurried outside.
The streets were quiet. Craig had no idea what this part of town was like under normal conditions, but he suspected that they were never like this. Where were the homeless? It was much too late for the panhandlers to be out and about, but the homeless denizens of the projects should be camped out in doorways and cardboard boxes along the street. Where were they? He became more and more uneasy as he followed Tyrone through the maze of deserted streets. Why was he here? Why didn't he just go home to his wife and forget about this? The fact that Tyrone was definately armed and potentially crazy precluded him making a run. When an armed madman expresses his desire for you to follow him, you usually oblige. But was that the only reason?
The trio passed through several housing areas. People peered nervously out of their windows at them as they passed. Their faces showed a menagerie of expressions, from fear, to worry, to outright shock at seeing people on the streets at night. Whatever had happened here, was happening here, had clearly left its mark on the population. Craig, Tyrone and Ray made a turn between two buildings and into an alley that ended at a chain link fence. Ray and Tyrone both scaled the fence as if it were an everyday occurance, and, with only slight hesitation, Craig followed. He hesitated again when he was halfway over. The thought occured to him that he had just missed an opportunity to run. He could have bolted as Tyrone climbed, but the surreal voyage that had brought them to this point must have dulled his thoughts. He continued over the fence and joined the two black men on the other side. Together, they continued on, eventually coming to a residential area. The streets here were just as deserted. A few dogs barked at each other in the distance, and people continued to steal glances at them through tightly barred windows.
"Zeke don't live far," said Tyrone.
"Those his dogs?" asked Ray, " Sounds like something's up."
The men stopped to listen. Several large dogs snarled at each other, or at something, in the distance. There were several gunshots, and then a series of frighteningly familiar squeals that made Craig's stomach sink. Tyrone swallowed hard, and continued to listen. A man yelled something and a dog yelped in pain. More squeals.
"That's Zeke!" said Tyrone. "Let's move!"
"What? Nigga, they shootin' over there!" countered Ray
"Somebody needs help. Come on!" Tyrone didn't wait for a reply, he simply took off running. Much to both men's surprise, Ray and Craig followed immediately. They ducked between houses and lept over fences, making a straight path toward the commotion. No lights came on. No one came to investigate.
Suddenly, the noises they were following ceased. No more growling. No gunshots or squeals. Silence.
The trio cut through a hedge and emerged onto Zeke's front yard. The sight brought their running advance to sudden halt.
Craig's first thought was that someone had dumped several barrels of live fish onto the yard. The grass was littered with a multitude of shiny, white globs of various sizes. Most still flapped and wiggled, only a few lay still. Craig bent to pick one up, and stopped immediately. The things weren't fish, or any other kind of animal. Craig recognized the bloodless, spongy flesh immediately.
"They was here." whispered Tyrone to no one in particular.
"Oh,shit. Look, man..." Ray had wandered ahead of the other two, and was bent over looking at something on the ground. Craig and Tyrone joined him.
A huge dog lay disemboweled at their feet. Ropey entrails looped around the animal and trailed off into the grass.
"Aw, shit." Craig's stomach lurched as he turned away from the carcass.
"Roman." said Tyrone.
"Zeke's gonna be pissed."
"Zeke's probably dead. Look at all this shit in the yard. That ain't dog. Something went down..."
"Another one." interrupted Craig. "And something else."
The trio gathered around the second body, which lay several yards away. None of them was interested in the animal, they were more concerned with the strange thing that lay nearby. A large lump of
the spongy turgid matter lay nearby. Neither dog nor human, the fleshy mass was like nothing they had seen before. It had no overall discernable features to identify it as any one kind of animal, but several projections off of the main mass terminated in claws, talons and tentacles, and even a misshaped human hand. A shorter, thicker stalk that could have been a neck terminated in a jagged stump. Whatever had sprouted there had been violenty ripped off.
The thing was dead. None of the appendages pulsed or moved or showed any other visible signs of life. Even as the men stared, the twisted body seemed to be slowly disolving. The thing's flesh was turning a darker shade of grey, and the entire body was flattening out, slowly wilting away like a deflating balloon.
"What the fuck?"
"What do yo see, Ray?" asked Tyrone. Criag looked up, suddenly curious as to what the black man saw. Wondering about Tyrone's earlier therory about why he and Craig could see the things and no one else could.
"They killed it," said Craig. "The dogs. They killed it. Ripped it apart."
"They had help, though." Tyrone bent down and picked up a bullet casing. He held it up and began juggling it in the palm of his hand. It was still hot. "Where's Zeke?"
Tyrone scanned the yard, there was no sign of anything that could have been a body, human or otherwise.
"Shit ain't over," he said. "That dog was Butch, that other one was Roman, but Zeus ain't here. Neither is Zeke. And cops never go anywhere alone. This shit ain't over." Everyone was suddenly tense, glancing around them for any signs of...anything.
"Keisha," said Ray
"If shit went down out here, where's his daughter? Zeke got a little girl."
"Check the house, Ray." said Tyrone. "Wait, we should all go in and find some..."
The loud 'pop' of a handgun startled the group. Several shots were fired in rapid succession, followed a squeal and some more shots.
"Check the house, Ray!" Tyrone slapped Craig's arm. "Come on, man!" Gun in hand, he took off across the lawn without looking to see if his orders were being followed. Craig watched as Ray trotted up toward Zeke's front door. He moved cautiously, with is head held low. Every few steps, he glanced sideways, in the direction from which the shots had come.
Craig stood silently. No one seemed to care what he was doing. A perfect chance to escape from this maddness. Go back to his wife. It occured to him that he didn't have the slightest idea where he was, but that didn't matter. He was in a neighborhood. People were frightened, sure, but he could convince someone to let him in. He'd use the phone and hold up until daylight. Then he'd just walk away from this horror and let someone else deal with it. What would he tell his wife? The truth? All of it? It would all come out sooner or later; his car was still at a murder scene. There'd be an investigation. Police. He wondered if, by going home, he would be leading these things that pretended to be cops straight back to his house. His mind replayed the traffic stop that started this whole thing. The drive. The police car. The sweaty cop. That thing biting into Racheal's shoulder. No, not Racheal. This time it was Jesse, his wife. He pictured Jesse being torn apart by these things while he watched, helpless. All because he ran. He forced the images from his head and looked around. Tyrone had disappeard through the bushes, and Ray was climbing through a broken window into Zeke's house. One man creeping into the unknown to find a little girl, and another one boldly running off into the face of madness to help a friend. All while he just stood there, trying to find a way out. In that instant, all thoughts of escape drained out of Craig. He had thought that they couldn't fight these things, but that assumption had just been proven wrong by Zeke and his dogs. They could fight. They could kill the things. He was in this thing until the end, one way or the other.
"Shit ain't over." he whispered to himself.
Craig jogged off into the darkness after Tyrone.
Zeke had followed Zeus through the bushes after the remaing creature and immediately regretted it. His anger had began to subside, and his wounds were beginning to throb. Not only that, but, the thing had ran toward the back yard, away from the nearest houses and into the darkness. Between the night and the shrubbery slapping at his face, Zeke could see very little, he made his way by following the growling and rustling that Zeus made ahead of him. He still held his gun, although it would do him very little good if he didn't get to somewhere where he could see. That would be soon, the thought. They we headed in the general direction of Hendrix street, and would emerge right into the Searcy's back yard, or maybe Coleman's. Then maybe he could get a clear shot. He wondered if Keisha was safe. He'd told her to hide, but was she still safely stashed away? What if someone got her? What if the cop doubled back? No, Zeus was tracking the thing away from the house, and the other was certainly dead, ripped to pieces in the front yard. Zeke had put a few slugs into the larger pieces just to be sure. But what if there were more? What if reinforcements had come after he ran off? Zeke stopped short. Should he turned back and go home?
Zeus's pained yelp spun him around. He'd found the thing. Zeke dashed off through the underbrush and nearly stumbled over the dog's body as it lay just inside the Coleman's yard. Light from their porch illuminated the animal's body and a portion of the surrounding area. One, clean stroke had cut Zeus almost in half. But there had been no sounds of struggle. The dog must have been hit just as he emerged from the bushes. Ambushed. Zeke looked up just in time.
He sidestepped the whiplike tentacle as it swung towards him, but a pointed barb at the end caught his left arm and ripped it open. Zeke stumbled and fell as pain shot through his body, then he rolled over painfully rose to his feet. He turned to face the creature. The thing was advancing on him, its tentacles shortening and stiffening into heavily muscled arms that ended in sharp claws.
"Gott yyouu...." the thing hissed.
Zeke raised his gun and fired. The thing stumbled backwards as the first few shots hit it, but then it kept coming, its flesh oozing into bullet holes and filling them in. Zeke kept firing. This thing had to die. It HAD to. It was taking damage much faster than it could heal itself, something had to give soon. Zeke's gun emptied, his finger pumped the trigger with an empty 'click.'
That was what the creature had been waiting for. I had subjected itself to Zeke's rain of bullets so that it could be close when the ammunition ran out. The thing hunched down and lauched itself at Zeke hittiing him squarely, knocking him back down.
Zeke felt the thing's claws dig into his chest. His scream was cut short when his ribs snapped and blood fooded into one of his lungs. His body gave way; there would be no struggle this time. He looked into the thing's face. It was human again. A ghostly white face with an impossibly large mouth grinned back at him. The mouth was full of pointed needles.
"Hhurtzzs" spat the smiling thing.
Zeke didn't reply. He simply stared death in the face and waited. There was a loud 'pop', and the thing dislodged itself with a jerk. Zeke tried to sit up, but couldn't move. He turned his head to see what was happening. Someone was coming. A figure pushed through the bushes and came towards him Someone with a gun. More shots. Zeke couldn't see the creature from where he lay, but he heard its unearthly squeal as more bullets tore into it.
"Die, motherfucker!" said the stranger. The voice was familiar.
Another figure emerged from the bushes and almost ran into the first.
"Oh shit!" said Craig as he saw the thing. "Shoot it!"
"What the fuck you think I'm doing, man!" Tyrone shouted. "Go see 'bout Zeke!" Tyrone fired again.
Craig stepped over the bloody dog without even seeing it, he kept his eye on the creature as Tyrone fired. The thing had seemed almost human when he first saw it, but it was rapidly devolving into something else.
"h-help." whispered Zeke.
Carl looked down at the man's ruined chest. There was nothing he could do.
"I- I don't..."
Carl eyes followed Zeke's weak arm movement and found the gun. He bent down and reached for it, grabbing it at the same instant he heard the 'click' from Tyrone's gun. Carl brought the weapon up and pulled the trigger. Click.
Ray knocked loudly on the Chapman's front door. Again there was no answer.
"I know somebody's in there!" he yelled. "Mama Chap! Open up, It's Ray! We need some help out here! Zeke's in trouble an' I got Keisha out here!"
There was a rustling from inside, then silence.
"Damn." he looked down at the little girl standing next to him, her fists digging into his pants legs. He had found her stowed away in a closet in Zeke's house, silent, frozen solid with fear. He had had to pick up her up and carry her to the front door. He had put her down to open the door, and apparently she decided that she would rather walk. Still, she hadn't said a word. Questions about what had happened and about her physical condition were met with a stoney silence. Fear. The little girl was scared to death. Not of Ray, no, she knew him. He had been to the house many times. So often in fact, that the dogs rarely barked at him any more. No, Keisha had seen something tonight that had turned the normaly talkative and energetic girl into a walking catatonic. There was nothing he could do for her in the house, so he'd brought her next door to the Chapman's. The elderly Mrs. Chapman, Mama Chap, was grandmother to the whole neighborhood. She'd practically raised half the kids in the area, in addition to her own grandchildren. Surely she could do something for Keisha. If he could get her to come to the door.
"Hey, in there!" Ray knocked again.
"Who's there?" came a weak, frightened voice from inside. Ray brarely recognized it. Mama Chap was neither weak, nor easily frightened. Even after her eldest grandchild had gone off to college and left her alone with the youngsters, she was always strong and outspoken. Things must have really gotten bad.
"It's Ray. You know me, Mama Chap. I need help."
"I heard gunshots. And them dogs screamin.' What's goin' on out there?"
"I don't know. Somethin's happened to Zeke and I got Keisha."
There was a scratching sound at the door, and then the locks were released. Ray quickly checked to see if the gun he had stolen for Zeke's closet was safely hidden.
The final deadbolt was drawn back and the door opened a crack. The chain was still on. Ray wondered what the purpose of those chains were. They were so easily broken that it was ridiculous. Still, if they made people feel safe...
"Keisha?" Mama Chap saw the child and closed the door to release the chain. Then she reopened it and ushered the two in.
"Where's Drey and-"
"Hidin.' We heard them shots and I got everybody to hide. What's going on out there? What happened to Keisha?"
"I don't know. Me and Tyrone and this other guy, there was touble and we came and I found her in the closet. Zeke was gone. And the dogs was..." Zeke glanced down at the little girl, "they was... d-e-a-d."
The big woman knelt down to look into the little girl's face.
"Keisha, what happened."
"C'mon, Keisha, tell Mama Chap what happened."
Nothing. The woman stood.
"Somethin' happened to this child. What'd you do?"
"Nothin'. That's how I found her."
"What Tyrone doin' hangin' around with you? Who was this other guy? You tellin' me the truth about what happened?"
"Mama Chap, you know me and Zeke go way back. I wouldn't do nothin to hurt him and his."
"Yeah, but Tyrone's crazy. You might 'a caught it."
"You don't catch crazy Mama Chap."
"Tyrone caught it. Went out one night and came back slap crazy."
Ray couldn't argue. Tyrone didn't seem crazy, but the things he said...
"...And you. Ain't no tellin' what you'll do."
"Look, now ain't the time..."
"I remember you tried to breakin' in them folk's house that time."
"Mama, that was years ago!"
"If you'll lie, you'll steal. If you'll steal, you'll kill."
"Mama Chap, you don't really think I had something to do with this? Things been crazy for weeks out here. You know that ain't me. It's them cops."
"So, where' Zeke?"
"I don't know. They went out after... went lookin for 'im. Ty and that white man."
"White man? What white man?"
"Somebody Ty knew."
"I don't think so."
"No. Said he knew Racheal. Said the cops... uh...they was messin' with him and Racheal" Ray was reluctant to tell her what he knew of Racheal. It would only cast more suspicion on him and Tyrone
"They went to find Zeke, figured he was around here somewhere. I'm going after 'em."
"You go, then. I'll take care of Keisha. And I'll call the..."
"Never mind, just go."
"I'm out." Ray left, cutting back over into Zeke's yard.
He was trying to find where Tyrone had gone into the bushes when he heard the shots. The Searcy's yard? Ignoring his initial impulse to run in the opposite direction, Ray plowed through the hedges toward the noise. There were several more shots, accompanied by an odd squeal that he'd never heard before. Pigs? Who the hell would have pigs out here? A Dog? No. Something else.
The shooting continued, and it enabled Ray to home in on it's location. Not the Searcy's house, The Coleman's. Ray altered his course accordingly.
The creature paused and drew itself up to its full height, almost eight feet. Its muscles twisted and knotted themselves together. Sharp bones and spikes began to protrude through it's flesh at various places. The thing was forming itself into something particularly nasty just for them.
Tyrone joined Carl near Zeke. The creature watched him move.
"cli...clps..." said Zeke. Neither of his rescuers paid any attention. "poccts... pocket...clpss."
The creature squealed triumphantly, its transformation complete. Bladed pinchers snapped at the air as it approached.
"I don't think we can take him," said Tyrone.
"What'd he say?"
Suddenly Ray burst from the bushes. The first thing that Carl saw was the gun in his hand.
"Shoot!" yelled Carl
"What the fuck?" said Ray
"Shoot it!" yelled Carl. The creature turned to face Ray.
Ray stood dumfounded, the gun hung uselessly at his side. What was a cop doing here? Those gunshots...Was Tyrone out here shooting at cops?
"Okay, officer. I-I don't... This ain't my gun..." Ray slowly raised his hands ove his head.
"He sees a cop. Oh shit, he's standing there looking at a cop!"
"That ain't no cop, Ray." said Tyrone
"Shoot it, man!"
"Look officer, I'm gonna put the gun down-" Ray began to slowly squat, with his gun extended toward the ground
"NO! For God's sake, SHOOT IT!"
Ray placed the gun on the ground and stood up.
"I don't know what's going on out here, but--"
The creature was upon him in an instant. One giant claw closed around his waste, slicing him cleanly in two.
Ray's body hit the ground with two sickeningly distinct thuds. Carl couldn't look away; the pained and surprised look on Ray's face burned itself into Carl's memory. He was so numb with horror, that he didn't feel Zeke pulling on his leg at first. He looked down a moment later Zeke held a clip in his hand. He could see two more sliding out of the man's left pocket. Carl was kneling down to retreive it when Tyrone slapped his hand out of the way and grabbed the ammunition. He snatched the pistol out of Carl's hand, loaded it, and began to put bullets into the murderous thing's form.
"That's not going to work!" cried Carl.
"The hell it ain't!" He continued to fire. Every shot was a hit, but the thing backed off only slightly. It drew itself in, trying to present a smaller target, but it didn't run.
"Look at it! It's just standing there waiting for you to run out of ammo!"
"It's already hurt! I can kill it!"
"We've got to go! It's hurt, we can outrun it!"
"What about Zeke! We can't leave him!"
"He's gone, man!"
"We can't do anything for him! We've got to save ourselves. We have to warn people."
"No! I'm killin' this motherfucker!"
"What about your family, Ty! We've got to warn them!"
That got through.
"Grab some clips. When I say 'go', run past the house and across the street. Keep going straight."
Carl grabbed two clips and studied the creature. It couldn't keep up with the damage Tryone was inflicting on it. It backed off further and squealed. It was obviously injured, but still very much alive. Maybe Tyrone could kill it after all.
Both men took off. Tyrone outdistanced Carl immediately as they sped past the Coleman's house and out into the street. One of the ammo clips sliped out of Carl's hand and skittered away on the asphalt. He didn't even think about stopping to pick them up. There were no signs of pursuit, though neither of the men wanted to look back to be sure.
Behind them, the creature literally pulled itself back together. It was a slow and agonizing process, but it had fed well earlier, and would feed even better later on tonight when it joined the others. Flesh flowed and merged until a uniformed police officer stood amoungst the dead bodies in the Coleman's back yard. It stood over Zeke's body. The man was dead now. Pity. It glanced toward the house. Empty. It hadn't felt any fear eminating from the dwelling during the entire with the dark men and the pale one. Then it watched the two running figures as they disappeared into the night. It could follow, but decided against it. There was easier prey nearby. Very near. The Coleman house was empty, but a strong wafe of pure terror billowed out from the Searcy home. Children, and an adult, huddled in a closet, trembling in fear of stray bullets. The thing inspected itself, checking to make sure it's appearance was in order, and stalked off toward the back door of the house. It hoped no one had looked outside and seen it in any of it's other forms. That would make things difficult, but then again, the feeding would be that much sweeter. He knocked loudly on the door...
"POLICE! OPEN UP!"
The building was dark and had the look of abandonment, althougth Tyrone assured Craig that the old place was indeed inhabited. Somewhere on the street, a dog was barking. A big dog. Craig thought of Zeke and his animals. Maybe dogs could see them too. Maybe they could use that... somehow. Tyrone led Craig through the desolate hallway and down a flight of stairs to the basement. To Craig it was like entering another world.
A faint light could be seen from the bottom of the stairs, and the sound of conversation carried from that general direction. The light was shining from underneath a closed door. Tyrone opened it and stepped inside. As can be expected, all hell broke loose as soon as Craig entered the room.
"What the fuck?"
"Yo! Who's dis motherfucker?!"
Craig and Tyrone stood in a large, open room amoungst six or seven black men. Since there was no furniture in the basement, the men were all standing around the wall or squatting on the floor. Craig got the distinct impression that he had interrupted something.
"Yo, 'Rone, who is dis motherfucker?!" The speaker was a tall man, older than the rest. He was slim, yet muscular, as if someone had tried to cram muscle into as small an area as possible. He wore a oddly shaped brimless cap on his bald head, and he did not look pleased.
"I said who is this devil!"
"Calm down, Jihad," said Tyrone "He's with me. He's seen-"
"Fuck dat! What the fuck you bring a cracker in here for. You outta your fuckin' mind!? You know what the fuck-""
"C'mon, Jihad, lemme explain."
"No. Get him the fuck outta here. White devil bastard."
"Now you wait a minute!" shouted Craig
Mumbled cries of "awww shit" circulated around the room.
"Oh. So now you got somethin' to say?" Jihad reached down and grabbed the sawed off shotgun that leaned against the wall beside him. He pointed it at Craig. "Talk to 'dis, motherfucker. Now get the fuck out."
The room fell silent, save for the barking dog outside. Craig stared at the gun and the stern black face of the man that weilded it. Surprisingly, Craig wasn't afraid. After all he'd been through tonight, he simply had no fear left in him. His only thought was that he wished he'd had that shotgun earlier.
"Got any more of those?" asked Criag.
"You some kinda cop?"
"If I was, you'd all be dead now."
"What? What was that motherfucker?"
Tyrone stepped in front of Craig, shielding his friend from Jihad.
"Jihad, I'm tryin to tell you he's seen it!"
"The cops, man. He...they got Rachael and was after him too."
"See how they are! Now 'dey out there fuckin' wit their own kind!"
"I told you man, he SAW 'em. Like you and me! He SAW THEM."
Something in Tyrone's voice got through to Jihad. The youth lowered his gun, although it was clear that he was barely tolerateing Craig's presence.
"...tell him about Zeke, Tyrone."
"What about Zeke?"
"They got him." said Tyrone.
"Or whatever they are." answered Craig. "Fucking monsters."
"Fuck. What about Keisha?"
"Ray took her to Mama Chap's. Oh shit..."
"Ray." The night's events washed over Tyrone, almost overwhelming him. "They got Ray too."
"What do you mean 'got'?"
"They're dead. Ray. Zeke. Rachael. All dead."
"They're goin down to the Homes. Gonna clean the place out. It's happening just like you said it would, Jihad. Just like you said. They're goin' down there and there gonna kill everybody."
"We gotta stop 'em." said Craig. "We can kill 'em. They aren't expecting us to resist, we can take 'em by surprise. We need guns. Big ones. You got any more of those shotguns?"
Jihad eyed Craig suspisciously. Then began to shift his gaze from Tyrone to Craig and back.
"Naw..." Jihad raised his shotgun again.
"Give it a rest, man!" said Craig.
"Come on, Jihad, this is the real shit! I seen it. Just like you. You were right, man, they're comin' to get us all!"
"Help us, man."
"What do y'all think?" Jihad addressed the other men in the room, who had remained silent until
"I ain't seen shit!" said one of them.
"Cops been actin' strange lately. Maybe we should go and check it out."
"Check it out and do what?"
"What about weapons?" said Jihad, "Think I should start pullin' out my shit just 'cause this devil comes in here and says some shit's goin' down?"
"It is, Jihad! Zeke and Ray-"
"Could be right outside that door for all I know!"
"They're dead!" said Craig. "And a lot more people are gonna be dead if you don't help."
"The dog stopped barking."
The room fell silent once more. Perfectly silent. The incessant barking which had been in the background for the previous ten minutes had ceased. There was no sound at all.
"What?" said Jihad
A low rumbling sound began. It started out faint, almost inaudible, and then slowly gained force and volume, until it could be recognized as the wet growl of some enormous beast. The sound was coming from the other side of the basement door.
"What the fuck?"
"Who's there!" shouted Jihad. He had his shotgun trained on the door, and several of the other men produced their own handguns as well. The growling stopped. Silence.
"I said who's there!"
The door burst open with such violence that one of the hinges was ripped out of the wall. Tyrone and Craig both dove for the floor.
"Oh shit!" cried one of the men.
"Hey, we wasn't doin' nothin'!"
"DROP YOUR WEAPONS!!"
Three weapons hit the floor, Craig noticed that Jihad's shotgun wasn't one of them.
"What the fuck's goin on?" aksed another man.
Craig looked back and beheld the clawed, oozing thing in the police uniform.
"Shoot it!" he cried
"NOBODY MOVE! DROP THAT WEAPON!"
Everyone remained still. Including Jihad, who had his weapon trained on the cop. Craig knew what was happening. The creature hadn't revealed itself; he, Tyrone, and Jihad were the only ones who could see it for what it was. The creature stepped into the room. It held it's clawed hand out in front of it with it's forefinger extended and it's thumb pointing upward, like a gun. Everone else saw an armed police officer, but Craig saw an unarmed monster, which was infinitely more dangerous.
"NOBODY FUCKING MOVE!" The creature looked from face to fearful face. No doubt picking out its first victim. "Niggers is easier to kill when they don't ru-"
Jihad fired. The shotgun blast knocked the creature backwards, almost through the door and out of the room. Criag and Tyrone both grabbed one of the discarded weapons and scrambled to their feet. They started firing immediately.
The cop never had a chance. Although the damage from the handguns was minimal, it was enough
to keep it down while Jihad reloaded. It's spongy flesh simply could not withstand the punishment the shotgun inflicted upon it. Screaming, it tried to rise, but could not. Jihad kept firing.
"What the fuck is going on!" shouted one of the others. Craig caught sight of someone moving, but Tyrone spun and trained his gun on the approaching man.
"Back Up! We gotta kill this fuckin' thing!"
"It's a cop, man!"
"Nobody fucking move until this thing is dead!" Tyrone kept his gun trained on the others while Craig and Jihad continued to pump bullets into the thing. When Craig's pistol ran dry, he stooped to pick up another one and continued to fire. Jihad simply fired and reloaded, fired and reloaded, like a machine.
"FUCK." shouted Craig. He stopped shooting, and Jihad fired his last shell into the thing. The creature had stopped moving, it's body began to deflate and liquify.
"Die motherfucker," said Jihad.
"Man, you fuckin' killed that cop!"
Craig looked into the eyes of the others. They still saw the bleeding body of a dead cop. The creature had kept up the illusion even until the end; it allowed no one else to see its true form. To everyone else in the room, He and Jihad were cop killers.
"That wasn't a cop!" said Tyrone
"Jihad, man, we gotta get outta here. Oh shit, man!"
Jihad simply stared at the decomposing body.
"Ain't nobody goin' nowhere." Jihad said calmly.
"huh? But that cop-"
"Y'all think about it. Since when did cops bust into places by themselves? It always takes five, six, seven of 'em to pull some shit off, but he was by hisself. And what was up with that growlin' and shit?"
Craig nodded. Jihad had to make up some kind of reasonable explanation since the others didn't see what really happened. And it had to come from Jihad, not from Craig or Tyrone.
"Major shit is goin on, and I just saved all our asses. Either that wasn't no real cop, or shit is goin'
down just like Tyrone says. Either way, we got some work to do. Down at the Homes."
"Weapons," said Craig. "Shotguns. Pistols don't work as well."
"Got plenty for everybody plus some more. I been waitin' for this for a long time."
Jihad's cache of weapons was a like a shrine to paranoia. Upon demand, the man produced rifles, pistols of every conceivable caliber, shotguns both full length and sawed-off, and a near endless supply of ammunition. The man was prepared for war. The fact that one man possessed so many weapons disturbed Craig, but he seemed to be the only one who saw a problem with it. Besides, this one man's paranoia would probably end up saving lives tonight.
Eight men, including Craig, Tyrone and Jihad, were outfitted and ready to set out for the housing project known as Newman Homes. Jihad had a shotgun and a .45 calibre pistol, with extra ammunition for each. The man also carried a large machete. Tyrone had the same, minus the machete and with the subtitution of a .38 semi-automatic for the .45. Craig was given two .357 semi-automatics. He objected over his lack of a shotgun since everone else seemed to have one. Jihad responed by cursing him out and threatening to shoot him. Craig kept any further objections to himself.
Jihad gave his brief instructions while the men inspected their weapons.
"Stay together. In groups of two, just like we-" he flashed a sideways look at Craig, "just like we talked about. One watch the other's back while the other one reloads. Use the shotguns for up close, or when you got multiple targets. Shoot to kill a motherfucker, they ain't fuckin' around and neither are we."
A few of the men mumbled and nodded, as if they were hearing this for the hundredth time this week. Craig wondered who these men were and what they happened to be doing in the basement of this building... with all those weapons.
"The devil stays with me..." Jihad shot an acid glance at Craig. Craig nodded, understanding. He was neither liked nor trusted, and, if he got out of line, Jihad wanted the pleasue of dealing with him personally. "Think you can handle that?"
"Whatever," said Craig.
They travelled on foot, and had only gone a few blocks before they encountered the first signs of trouble. Several police cars passed them at high speeds. All headed towards the Homes; all driving without the benefit of flashing lights and sirens. Silent. Not one of the drivers resembled a human being. Not even remotely. The group ducked into an alley, but Craig doubted the cops would have stopped. They were on their was to bigger and better things.
"A few more blocks," whispered Jihad. "Almost there."
Indeed they were. Shouting and screaming could be heard from several blocks away. The small stike force broke into a run, and shortly arrived at the scene of the slaughter.
Newman Homes consisted of a maze of small, uniform buildings separated by streets and small grassy courts. Usually the courts and open areas were criss-crossed with clothesline and besieged by playing children. Tonight, however, they were the scene of mass carnage. The cops had arrived en masse, going from house to house and dragging unsuspecting tenents out into the yards. Women and children were beaten, and eventually slaughtered before the terrified eyes of their husbands and fathers. Despite the brutality, resistance was minimal. Those who had weapons were simply too slow, or the weapons too ineffective. Most, however, simply cowered in their homes, too terrified to make a move. They cowered, and waited for their town. Very few realized that they were not dealing with men, but with unearthly horrors that had come to feed upon their fear.
Jihad and his troops approached from the far side of one of the buildings. Everyone stopped, and stared in disbelief. Mere yards from their position, a young woman was being ripped apart by one of the creatures. Criag didn't know what the others were seeing, but he had a feeling that it didn't matter. The creatures may be able to conceal their true appearance, but they could not change the truth of their actions. Men and women were being brutalized by the police, and it was plainly visible to all who cared to look. Fifteen or sixteen officers were engaged in the atrocities, while another ten or eleven stood nearby, watching and dealing with any resistors who foolishly emerged from their homes.
Screaming, Jihad rushed into the fray. The nearest officer saw him, looking up into Jihad's eyes just as the man raised his shotgun and removed the officer's head. The creature flew backwards with such force that its claws made a bloody mess of its victim's throat as they ripped free. Craig continued to pump shots into the downed creature as Jihad turned to deal with another cop. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tyrone and another man running toward a far corner of the complex, firing as they went. The other pairs were doing likewise. All around, the creatures were caught by surprise. Jihad's troops dealt with them mechanically. Ruthlessly. Shotgun blasts tore through their flesh and knocked them to the ground, then small arms fire kept them from regenerating until two or three more blasts could finish them off. Craig still wondered what the men were seeing...
"Wake up, Whiteboy!"
Jihad's shout brought Craig around. Jihad had moved off to deal with another cop, but Craig had stayed behind, allowing them to become separated. Craig slapped a fresh clip into his weapon and dashed after him.
Tyrone and Blake had reached Tyrone's wife and child just as they were being dragged from their home. Without a thought, Tyrone fired his sawed-off into the center of the tentacled thing that was attacking his wife. The creature flew backwards. Blake elbowed his way past Tyrone, eager to finish off the wounded cop.
"Tyrone!" shouted Rebecca over Blake's gunfire, "What's going on!"
"Don't worry, baby. Just get back in the house. We got everything under contr-"
Something flew past Tyrone. Rebecca screamed. Tyrone turned to see the creature evicerating Blake's decapitated corpse. The thing hissed visciously.
"GET IN THE HOUSE!"
Tyrone put the creature down with his remaining shell. With no backup, he couldn't pause to reload, so he had to rely on his .38. He fired into the squirming thing until it stopped struggling. Then he reloaded his shotgun and put both barrels into its center of mass. Tyrone watched as the flesh began to dissolve.
He had defended his family; wife and child were safe now. Or were they? What if one of those things got into the house? He should stay behind and make sure... no. this was about more than just him and his family. There were others that needed help. Blake was dead, who knows how many of the others were too. He grabbed Blake's guns and reloaded his weapons.
"BACKTHEFUCKUP!" Jihad and Craig stood side by side, both firing into the winged bat-like thing that approached them. Jihad's final shotgun shell brought the thing to the ground just as it got within striking distance. "I SAID BACKTHEFUCKUP, BITCH!!!" Jihad switched to his pistol and began firing like a man possessed, revelling in the violence. .
Suddenly, a second cop rushed in from the side. Craig turned and fired at the insect-like thing that approached. His shots brought the creature to a halt, but were too weak to kill it.
"Behind You!" someone shouted. Craig turned in time to see the third creature, a werewolf in uniform, approaching from behind. They were being surrounded! He heard the click of Jihad's gun as it ran empty. He brought both handguns up at once and fired at the thing in front of him, keeping it away until help arrived. A shotgun blast from the right erased the side of the thing's head. Who?
"CATCH!" Tyrone flung Blake's double-barreled shotgun at Craig, who caught it and brought it around. The third cop was rebuilding itself fast. Craig, who had never fired a shotgun before, took aim and let the creature have both barrels.
Craig woke up several seconds later, laying on the ground with Tyrone standing over him. The black man was pumping shells into the insect creature that had approached earlier. He heard Jihad scream. The werewolf was dead, its body was deflating a few feet away. Where was Jihad? Craig rolled over, retrieved the shotgun and got to his feet. Then he saw Jihad.
The first creature was not dead, and Jihad, having emptied his guns and with no time to reload, had switched to the only weapon he had left.
"HAND TO HAND, BITCH!!" Jihad leapt at the pale man-shaped thing. It sidestepped his attack and shot a barbed tentacle straight for Jihad's head. Jihad whipped around and, machete in hand, sliced the attacking appendage in two.
"DON'T TRY TO SHOOT ME WIT' THAT SHIT!!" Jihad'
rushed in, wielding the machete like a sword, slicing at the cop's putrid flesh. He had the advantage for a few moments; the cop was shocked at audacity of this puny human who dared attack it with a knife. It pushed the man away, taking serioius damage to its arm in the process. It then launched a barrage of pointed tentacles. Most of them were cut away, but there were simply to many of them to defend against them all. It caught Jihad on the right arm and left leg, almost causing him to fall.
Jihad was hooked like a fish, hooked through his arm and leg. The pain made him drop the machete, his only weapon. He screamed as the cop reeled him in, but it was not a scream of pain or defeat. It was rage. Jihad had decided that he would NOT die this night. Instead of resisting the pull of the creature, Jihad rushed into it, leaping onto the huge thing. The cop caught him in a bear hug, and he only had one arm free. He didn't even need it. Jihad head-butted the thing, his forhead sinking into the cop's face. Then he brought his head forward and bit down into its exposed neck. Jihad tore repeatedly at the thing with his teeth, spitting out chunks of its flesh, and allowing some of it's oily blood to ooze down his throat. The thing dropped him, but Jihad would not relent. He attacked with teeth and hands, biting and scratching like a savage
"DIE MOTHERFUCKER! THAT ALL YOU GOT!?! COME ON BITCH!!!" Jihad rushed in to engage the thing again, but Craig fired two shots from his .357, barely missing Jihad. Jihad danced away; Craig hefted the shotgun, braced himself, and fired. One barrel at a time, this time; but the recoil still knocked him back a step. The cop fell, and Jihad was on top of it in a instant, tearing away handfulls of flesh. The shotgun had nearly finished it off, however, and the thing began to dissolve. Jihad stood and kicked at it's liquifying corpse until it was gone.
Meanwhile, Craig reloaded, and began looking something else to shoot. The sound of gunfire filled the night... far too much for the few weapons that Jihad's troops had carried. Had the cops started using weapons now? No. Others had joined the fray. The tenents of Newman Homes had been given enough time to gather their own weapons and join the fight. They grabbed whatever they had....Revolvers, rifles, shotguns, even baseball bats and fire extinguishers were brought into play. The weapons didn't matter. It was the heart that counted. The fear was gone, only rage remained. Cops or no cops, they wanted revenge for the atrocities commited upon them tonight, and for the fear in which they had been forced to live for the past weeks. Jihad and the others had turned the tide, given the people hope. Devoid of their sustanance, the cop-creatures became much easier to kill. There were still many casualties, some horrific, but the end was certain. The police were defeated. They were chased down and shot, beaten, kicked and attacked with bare hands. The Homes was littered with their rapidly decomposing corpses. Jihad fought on until the last was dead, even after Craig and Tyrone had fallen behind, exhausted. In the end, only the three of them remained from the group that Jihad had gathered. The rest had been taken down.
Tyrone came up to Craig just as he was crushing a glob of cop-flesh beneath his heel.
"We did it." said Craig. Tyrone nodded, too exhausted to speak.
"Seems like they got weaker after everyone got out and fought back."
"How many people died?"
"People? About twenty. Twentfy-five. Bodies everywhere."
"Could've been worse. A lot worse if we hadn't shown up.
"What's the matter? Your family?"
"Fine," sighed Tyrone. "Don't think anybody'll be sleeping anytime soon, though."
"I been thinkin' I was crazy for so long, I don't think I can get used to bein' right again."
"You weren't crazy."
"Yeah I was. This whole situation was fucked up. And it ain't even over yet."
"What do you mean?"
"Far as most people here are concerned, we shot up a housing project full of cops. What do you think happens now?"
"Some of them saw. I know they did."
"So what if they did? They'll either keep thier mouth shut or end up locked away somewhere. And do you think we even got 'em all? How many of them were there? Those things don't leave no bodies behind when they die, so how can we count to make sure?"
"FUCK YEAH!" shouted Jihad as he walked up behind Tyrone and slapped him on the back. "We kicked they Mutha. Fucking. Asses! Did you see that motherfucker tryin' to hit me with that tazer gun?!? I broke him OFF!! None of them motherfuckas got out!! We chased they asses DOWN!!"
"Looks like we made a pretty good team." Craig extended his hand. Jihad looked at it as if Craig were offering him a handfull of excrement. "What?"
"Go home, whiteboy."
"Oh, come on. After all th-"
"You heard me. Go back to where the fuck you came from."
"He's right, Craig," said Tyrone. "Whatever happens now ain't got shit to do with you. Go on back to your little car and go home to your family. I'm gonna do the same." Tyrone walked off.
"I don't believe this. After what we saw! I mean... we SAW them! those...those THINGS! We can't just pretend nothing happened. You'll need me to back you up when the cops get here... the real ones. We can come up with a way to explain-"
"Explain what? That we killed about twenty cops out here? Ain't no way to explain that shit. Cops don't like cop-killers, not that the ever liked us anyway. When they see all these bodies out here, it's gonna be open fuckin' season. We ain't got no time to move those cops, so I'm gettin' out of here and you need to do the same. "
"Move what cops?"
"The bodies man, what the fuck you think I'm talkin' about?"
"There aren't any bodies, Jihad."
"What the fuck?... Look, motherfucka-" Jihad pointed to several large greasy spots on the grass. "Cops. What the fuck's wrong wit you? You blind or some shit?"
"oh shit," Craig's head throbbed, and began to back away.
"Fuckin blue suits everywhere, and no time to move nothin.' Everybody who had anything to do with this is already gone, 'cept me and you and Tyrone. Tyrone has always had problems, so nobody gonna listen to what he says. And I just ain't gonna be here to say anything. And if you say my name to anybody I'll personally find you and-"
"You... you never saw them, did you?" Craig's mind swam with images... Jihad...the machete...cutting away...chopping off tentacles... arms and legs...
"I saw some shit goin' down. Cops came out here in the middle of the night to kick some ass, and I just wasn't havin' that shit. "
... Jihad ripping away at some creature with his bare hands...
"This is Ninteeen Ninety Fuckin Eight. We aint' havin that brutality shit no more!"
...snatching out chunks of flesh...
"I mean what the fuck do they think this is? The fuckin SIXTIES or some shit?"
...his teeth...Jihad tearing out that thing's throat with his TEETH....
"That shit is over... We kickin' ASS now! FUCK THAT!!"
...what did he see? What was Jihad seeing...?
"Oh God," moaned Craig. "Oh my God. You didn't see..."
"You and Tyrone saw some shit go down with the cops, and it turns out you was right. I knew this shit was comin, and I had my boys ready. We broke up some major shit tonight. They'll be back, though. Cops always come back." Jihad, threw his sawed-off over his shoulder and walked away.
"He never saw..." mumbled Craig. "None of them saw a thing..."
Copyright 1998 by Marc Washington