Read Chapter 1
Darkness breathes. Fills its lungs with sulfur and death. Stretches its ephemeral body to its fullest, reveling in its impending move to form. It could feel the strength of fear and hopelessness inflaming its seed, growing its power, birthing its spirit into nightmare’s flesh. It was only a matter of time before it would be at full power, able to devour and consume all that stands in its way.
Images of helpless beings fill its mind. It laughs. Their fire will be quenched. They will be devoured before ever knowing of their own powers. They will die weak and useless, just as they lived.
Flames rise around it, nourished by the thoughts of the soulless.
For the first time in eons, it feels the diminishing vibration of the worlds, creating a path for its destruction to be born. It would wait. It would grow. And then, it would feed.
She was still too strong. It still too weak. But it would gather strength in the fears of the weak.
And it would save her for last.
The stench of death was heavy in the air as Kian O’Riley made his way through the crowd of spectators, cops and reporters huddled in the dark alley. There wasn’t a large crowd at 4 a.m. Still, the less publicity this particular case received the better.
Kian towered over the crowd, his 6’6” frame held an authority he didn’t always feel, but at least it got people out of his way. He ran his hand through his thick brown hair in frustration. This morning he’d found a few grey hairs. At 25-years-old this job was already aging him.
He shivered, though it was a relatively warm August night. Warm for Washington that was. He zipped his leather jacket, running a hand over his S&W 40. Not that he’d need it. Just made him feel better knowing it was there.
“Detective, over here,” a young rookie cop waved. Kian couldn’t remember his name. He was forgetting a lot of stuff lately. He’d be worried, if he had time for that sort of thing. Fortunately, he didn’t.
“What’ve we got?” Kian asked, knowing the answer. The body was already covered. Didn’t matter. He could sense what happened. The pain and agony this victim had endured before death. He could sense it, he just couldn’t stop it.
What a crock! What’s the point of knowing things others didn’t if it didn’t make a damn bit of difference?
Usually his ‘instincts’ lead to a higher arrest and conviction rate, thus his unusually fast rise in the ranks. This case was the exception, and was quickly becoming the albatross around his neck, and a pain in the ass to boot. He was sure he could think of a few more overused figures of speech if pushed. Oh yeah, this case pushed all his buttons too. He almost grinned at his own stupid sense of humor, almost.
“Looks like the ‘Bar Hopper’ struck again,” the young cop said. Kian glanced at his uniform. ‘Kendell’ was his name. Now he remembered. John Kendell.
“Don’t call him that,” Kian snapped, narrowing his blue eyes at the cop. He hated that name. That’s the only connection any of the victims had. They had recently been to a bar. The press of course had jumped all over it.
“Sorry,” Kendell said as he walked away muttering under his breath.
Kian stopped him, his face hard and angry. The pounding music from the bar in the background was grating his nerves. Weren’t they supposed to be closed by now?
“Get that bar to shut off that damn music and hold everyone for questioning,” he barked before returning his attention to the girl, err…body, in front of him. Best not think of her as a person. He’d never sleep. Not that he did much of that anyways.
Kian knew he had a reputation for the weird, and that he seemed unapproachable by most. He didn’t care. He got the job done. Usually. He seemed to be amending a lot of his self-reflective statements lately. That probably had some meaning. He didn’t care.
Sighing, he prepared himself for what he knew was coming. The black tarp taunted him as he slowly pulled it up, revealing the body lying motionless underneath.
“Tell me what you’ve got so far,” Kian said to the Medical Examiner who had arrived before him.
“Female. Late 20s. Died somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m. No visual signs of attack. Won’t know more ‘til I get her on my table. But, you know as well as I do what I’m going to find,” Dr. Sheraton said bitterly. He was as frustrated by this as the rest of the department.
Kian nodded. He did indeed know. All organs would be healthy. No major health conditions, no trauma, no drugs, no obvious or even subtle signs of death. Just alcohol. But not enough to cause this. The victims, all five of them, now six, just stopped living. There was no explanation. At least none that medical science could propose. Kian had his suspicions, but knew he couldn’t voice them.
He looked at the victim. An average looking girl with dull brown hair and uneven features. No one who would stand out. Lying there she looked almost asleep. Except for the rigid stillness of her body, the utter paleness of her skin, and the scent. Oh yes, the scent. It’s the first thing they noticed.
The body had not decomposed. No time. But it smelled as if it had been left in the humid forest for weeks, decaying and rotting. Like death, which most people didn’t realize smelled like a combination of sweat, piss, shit and body odor. Sometimes decaying flesh.
It’s probably a good thing most people don’t know that.
And there was one other detail that had not been released to the press and was being treated as a closely guarded secret, mostly because the rest of the department had no logical explanation for what was happening and therefore didn’t want to talk about it. Whenever a victim was found, all the natural life form around the victim (plants, trees, flowers, grass) was dead. Not naturally dead, but withered instantly. Even the alleys in Washington had their share of nature.
Kian covered the latest victim, fighting the familiar headache this case inevitably brought him. A breeze raised the plastic, floating a sweet scent of perfume to his nose. He frowned and looked more closely at the body. Leaning down he inhaled deeply, preparing himself for the onslaught of stench he’d come to expect. He could see other cops looking at him quizzically. Let them think what they want.
Closing his eyes, he waited for the olfactory attack. None came. Just a sweet, light smell. A normal girl smell. That didn’t make sense. Why would the crime scene stink of death if the victim smelled so…so alive? He made a note to include this in his report. Not that it would make a difference. He was sure it wouldn’t. But it might help him figure out what was doing this.
His partner, Detective Sal Bruns, ambled over, his large belly hanging over his belt.
“Nice of you to join us,” Kian muttered with some disdain.
“Sure thing,” Bruns replied lightly, as if he was doing the department some huge favor by doing his freaking job.
Kian sighed and filled him in on what he knew.
“So, super cop, what ‘er yer extra senses tellin’ ya about this? Is it a monster? The boogeyman? Maybe a demon?”
Bruns’ wisecracks were so old that Kian didn’t even flinch. Though inside he was thinking through the possibilities. Was this a demon? Or some kind of otherworldly monster? He had some suspicions, but he hoped he was wrong. Because if he was right, these victims suffered more than even he realized. If he was right, they’d had their souls ripped right out of them. And if he was right, there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
As senior partner, he sent Bruns into the bar to conduct the interviews while he examined the parameters of the crime scene, looking for anything new that might give them a fighting chance against this monster.
After several minutes of searching, he was about to give up when something caught his eye. A large black feather stuck in a dead bush near the girl’s body. He searched his memory, trying to recall any other feathers found at the scene. He couldn’t remember, though he was sure none had been entered into evidence. He’d gone through those evidence boxes so many times he had it all memorized. Still, his gut told him this was significant, and he never ignored his gut.
Taking out an evidence bag and slipping a glove onto one of his hands he plucked the feather out of the brown, dead leaves and dropped it into the bag. He examined it, looking for any reasons this feather would stand out. Nothing visible presented itself, but he did feel something ‘off’ about it. On instinct, he sniffed the bag and nearly gagged. The scent of decay and death was stronger than ever. He knew the smell of death well, and this feather reeked of it.
Hmmm…this might finally be a clue I could use. Now to get it to the lab to determine what kind of bird it came from.
With the smallest seed of hope, Kian released the body to the ME’s office and headed back to the station to write up his report. He also needed to get to his computer to check on something. He had a thought building in the back of his mind but he needed to do some research before he could be sure. A ball of fear formed in his gut, confirming viscerally what his mind argued against. He would try to prove himself wrong. He had to. Kian would not accept defeat, and if he was right, that’s exactly what it would be.