Things That Go Bump In The Night
It never ceased to amaze him how hard concrete really was. The mixture of lime, some aggregate and a little water…but after the chemical reaction and the water evaporated, it became one of the easiest to work with but hardest building materials in the world. Although right now, that particular substance was wearing callouses in both of Detective Martin Deeks’ butt cheeks and no matter how many times he shifted, he couldn’t find a spot that didn’t hurt in some way. The scrounged cardboard boxes he had folded up to sit on added no level of comfort whatsoever and he promised himself that in the future, he would find some other form of padding.
The location for his current uncomfortable situation was nestled between two garbage dumpsters that had seen better days as something rancid was leaking onto the ground around them. It was the ideal spot to surveil the commercial building across the street, giving him an open field of view of the only employee entrance/exit along with the parking lot. Even though the air around him attracted more flies than honey on a pile of sugar, this was where he needed to be to observe the late shift’s comings and goings.
For the reason he was here…well, he really hated thinking about that at the moment; instead, he concentrated on tracking how many employees had already left and how many were still inside the building. But his mind could not stay away from the case his lieutenant had briefed him on just a few days ago. It was a murder in the parking lot that was not your typical “victim shot/stabbed/beaten” killing that made it unusual. No. It was more of the “victim has his throat completely ripped out” kind of murder.
The autopsy photos of the poor man named Phineas Stark had been brutal; the front of the man’s throat torn away, taking part of his trachea and opening his jugular veins. His death had been quick but horrific, and no one seemed able to come up with a plausible explanation as to what exactly had killed him. There were not any known wild animals in the greater Los Angeles area that could make such a wound and even the wildlife pathologists over at USC were stumped.
That left a human attacker but no weapon known could rend and tear a human body that way, not without leaving some trace behind. If it was made from some type of metal, no matter how hard the steel or sharp the blade, it would leave some residue and basic soft x-ray would pick it up. Plastics and polymers were a possibility but the amount of force exerted to tear away the flesh would be in the hundreds of pounds per square inch.
So without much to work on as far as forensics, it was back to pounding the pavement, tracking down witnesses, and, in the case of Detective Deeks, letting his butt go numb sitting for hours watching the parking lot of where the deceased worked as the time approached for the late shift to leave for the night. It wasn’t long before the exit door opened and people began to leave the building, heading toward their vehicles to go home.
Deeks watched each one with the small monocular that he would tuck into its hiding place next to his Beretta. He kept these items hidden away inside the rain downspout a few feet away in case some ruffians decided to roust the homeless dude with the dirty blonde hair; he could take a little beating but things would go from bad to worse if he was found with his weapon while trying to maintain an “invisible” presence. As the parking lot slowly emptied, the back door opened once more and a lone figure made his way along the back edge of the lot, headed toward an older model pickup truck sitting in one darkened corner.
Deeks was about one hundred yards away, but through his looking glass he could see that the man was one of the friends of the slain man. His name was James Strickland and while as helpful as he could be in giving his statement, there had been something about the man’s eyes that had sent cold shivers up Deeks’ spine. There had been a darkness behind the man’s hazel orbs and a steel coil in his sinewy muscles that hid a level of dangerous strength and power. The detective had known people like this and even had a persona named Max that carried himself in the same way. But in James’ case, it wasn’t a false front, it was uncannily natural…like he’d been born that way. If there was someone that might know what had happened, Deeks’ money was on the man making his way to his truck.
As Deeks watched from across the street, James walked past a car parked near the low wall that surrounded the parking lot, pulling his keys out of his pocket just as there was movement behind him. Before Deeks even had time to register what was happening, a blurry shape shot up onto the small retaining wall a few yards behind James, who spun as if he sensed or heard something. As he turned, the dark shape instantly leaped down behind the car…covering a distance of about twenty feet in the blink of an eye.
Whatever it was, it was inhumanely fast and Deeks was already rising to his feet, preparing to shout a warning. Just as he took a deep breath to give his voice as much volume as possible, the shape sprang from its hiding place to land directly on James’ chest, knocking him onto his back with a ‘thump’ that could be heard from across the lot.
By now, Deeks was sprinting toward the struggling man and whatever was pinning him to the ground. He was in such a hurry to lend aid and the attack had come so quickly, he’d forgotten his pistol and only had the knife tucked into the back of his waistband. He knew how to use it but was hoping that just his sudden appearance would send the attacker scrambling away. That hope was dashed when he heard a frantic yell from James that was suddenly cut off when the attacker lowered it head to his neck and ripped away most of his throat. There was a sickening sound that reminded Deeks of the pulling apart of a piece of chicken…snapping and breaking of sinews and ligaments along with flesh. James’ thrashing body went into death spasms as his life’s blood spurted out onto the asphalt in an ever-growing puddle.
“LAPD!” Deeks was crossing the street, wishing badly for the comfort of his trusty Beretta in his hand as he yelled out in his most commanding voice. “GET ON THE GROUND AND LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!” He didn’t know why he had said that, whatever had just attacked James had ripped his throat out with its teeth and Deeks suddenly wished he had a bazooka. As he cleared the sidewalk, the thing chewing on James’ throat looked up at him and he skidded to a stop.
It definitely wasn’t an animal…and it wasn’t exactly human either. Snarling up at the detective, the thing had a human shape but the face was slightly elongated, contorting the facial features into a grotesque mask that was somewhere between a man and a nightmare. Its teeth were long and shaped like daggers, coated in dark blood from the gaping hole where James’ throat should have been. The nails on the end of its misshaped fingers were black talons and a dark coating of hair covered most of the exposed skin. Deeks watched as it rocked back onto its muscled haunches, and he realized it was about to pounce in his direction.
A chill of cold ice ran down his back because he knew the thing about to leap on him was going to kill him the same way it had just dispatched poor James. With his life flashing before his eyes, Deeks let go and prepared for the coming impact but just as the thing flexed to leap, a bright spotlight lit up both the detective and whatever was about to attack him. Then came the loud CHIRP-CHIRP of a police siren that sent a wave of intense relief through Deeks’ shaking body.
“Hey, you two! FREEZE!” A stern voice boomed over a crackling PA system and Deeks turned to see a LAPD police cruiser slipping into the end of the lot, its roof mounted lights flicking blue flashes against the surrounding buildings.
Turning back to where James body lay under the “thing”, Deeks had just enough time to see it snarl at him once more before it whipped around and galloped like the wind on all fours toward the back of the lot which was bordered by a wall that was at least twenty feet high. Standing motionless in case the officers exiting their car decided to start shooting if he moved, Deeks watched in amazement as the whateveritwas ran straight at the barrier only to make a vertical leap that would have put any Olympic athlete to shame. It was impossible, but James’ killer cleared the wall with ease, landing gracefully on top to gaze back down at the stunned detective once more before disappearing over the other side.
The only sound was the purring of the police car and the blood thumping in Deeks’ ears until one of the officers mumbled out a soft, “What the hell was that?!”
Turning slowly with his hands clear for the officers to see, Deeks called out to them. “I’m Detective Martin Deeks, guys…badge number 8523…and as for whatever that was…” he flicked a thumb in the direction the thing had disappeared, “I have no freaking idea.”
The debriefing back at the precinct had gone about as well as Deeks expected…a complete disaster. After he had given his oral and written statements, the supervising detective had looked at him with that youhavegottobekiddingme expression that all cops get when they relate a case description that defies a rational explanation. He had even snickered at the “leapt to the top of a twenty foot wall” and the “snarled at Detective Deeks like an animal” in the essay section of his statement. From there, it was an easy descent into questions about the date of his last drug screen and scheduling a session with the department psychologist.
Even the collaborating account given by the officers who had stumbled onto the stakeout did not bring any relief. That had started theories about Deeks having something on them that he was using to force them to cover his ass for the murder of a potential witness while he was only a few yards away.
“I blinked my eyes and this…this thing…was on him like lightening. James was dead before I even realized he was in danger.”
Lieutenant Bates had just stared back at him like a cobra about to strike, and then he uttered the words that Deeks had been waiting for.
“Looks like you’re heading for a burnout, Detective…” Bates shuffled a stack of papers into an orderly stack then tucked them into a file folder that was going into the very back of his file cabinet. “…and I’m benching you for the time being. Go home. Take a long shower. Get sleep and for the love of all that is holy, don’t mention this to anyone outside of this office…and I mean anyone.”
Deeks knew that arguing was pointless…hell, it even sounded crazy to him and he had been there. Nodding in acceptance, he stood slowly to amble over to the door when he heard Bates speak from behind him.
“Don’t sweat it Deeks, we all have seen…things…that make no logical sense.” This was a little surprising coming from a man of Bates’ experience but he was tucking the file into the cabinet as he finished. “I once thought I saw Bigfoot while hunting elk in Colorado…but it must have been a bear…or something.”
Deeks paused at the door to give a mock salute. “Sure thing, boss.” Then he was marching through the office, ignoring the side glances and stares of some of his brothers and sisters in blue who had heard some scuttlebutt about the animal-thing that had made an appearance earlier that evening.
It wasn’t until he was unlocking the door to his pickup in the department parking lot that he began muttering to himself. “Yeah boss…Bigfoot…UFOs…a thing that looks like a cross between a man and some deranged wolf…nothing to worry about.”
“Oh, I think you have plenty to worry about, Detective.” The voice was behind him, and close.
Deeks whirled in an instant, his pistol already aimed at whoever was speaking. When his eyes caught up to his body’s movements, he saw that there was more than one person standing behind him but they were making no move toward him, remaining a few yards away. The two men and one woman moved their hands up slowly, showing that they were unarmed or, at least, they had no weapons in their hands.
With his gun pointed at the man in the middle, who seemed to be the spokesman, Deeks tried to keep his voice level and calm. “Just stay where you are and keep you hands where I can see them.” The trio nodded, but there was an aura of danger around them; nothing concrete, just that feeling that they could be trouble. “Now, who are you?”
The big one in the middle answered for them. “My name is Daniel, this is my cousin, Thomas…” He gestured to the tree trunk standing to his right, “…and my wife, Sarah.”
The dark haired woman nodded in greeting and Deeks noted how strikingly beautiful she was; deep Mediterranean tan, long dark hair, and deep brown eyes. Then he noticed that they all had the same basic physical traits, the men sharing Sarah’s dark features but while she appeared lithe and quick, they had imposing strength that was almost feral.
Deeks took a moment to size them up and seeing no immediate threat, lowered his weapon, but only slightly. “And what do you want?”
Daniel took a small step forward. “Detective, we came to warn you. You are in danger.”
“From whom?” He had almost asked from what? But he thought he would let them explain before thinking of crazed, monster killers.
This time, Thomas spoke up. “You had an…incident…earlier this evening and that encounter has put you in a bad spot.”
Deeks felt his chest tighten and he raised his weapon to point center mass of Daniel’s chest. “How do you know about that?”
“Will you listen to us first and then decide whether we are the danger or are trying to help you?” When Deeks made no move to lower his weapon or drop his guard, the big man spoke once more, but a little lower and dangerous. “Believe me, Detective…if we were here to kill you, you would already be dead.”
In the millisecond that it took for Deeks’ eyes to blink in disbelief, Sarah appeared at his side, one hand wrapped around the wrist of his gun arm, the other pressing a thumbnail against his throat right over his throbbing pulse.
Her breath was warm against his ear. “Just like that…Detective.”
In that instant, Deeks knew she could have killed him and he would not have even had time to think about reacting. He also knew that if they were going to do something, they would have already done it. Taking a deep breath, he let his tensed muscles relax and he was relieved when Sarah uncoiled herself as well.
She patted him gently on the cheek as she backed away. “Now, that’s a good boy.” Her smile and little snip brought a little levity to the standoff and they all relaxed a little more.
“Looks like she likes you…that’s good.” Daniel shot his wife a loving look before turning back to Deeks. “Sarah has a sense about who people truly are…if their hearts are good…or evil.”
Sarah nodded to the bewildered detective. “And you, have a good heart.”
“Thanks.” Deeks could not come up with any other way to answer that. “I’m Detective Martin Deeks…most people just call me Deeks.”
“Nice to meet you, Deeks…” Daniel took a small step forward, offering his hand that the cop shook tentatively, which was then repeated by Thomas and Sarah. “…wish it was under better circumstances.”
“I just want to know what the hell’s going on…I mean, that…that thing killed and then it jumped over a wall…” Deeks let his words die as Daniel held up his large hand.
“Catch your breath, Deeks…relax and just listen.”
Letting out a long sigh and knowing that whatever they told him, there was no way that this day could get any crazier.
Oh, how wrong he was.
A few hours later, Deeks found himself sitting on the tailgate of his pickup, watching the surf crash onto the sand at one of his favorite places to go to think when the world stopped making sense. He’d come here several times over the span of his life, from his first bout with PTSD after meeting a little boy named Dakota to the time he had taken his first slugs in his vest.
Tonight was topping all of them by a large margin.
He had leaned against the side of his truck as Daniel, Thomas and Sarah took turns explaining who…or what…they were and what exactly Deeks had encountered in that parking lot. Their story was as incredible as it was fantastic. A story about a lineage that went back to the ancient Vikings and the legend of the Berserkers, warriors with the strength and ferocity of wild animals who would go into battle naked biting through their own shields. The trait that would pass down through generation after generation, sometimes recessive but often coming to fruition during adolescence, locked away in the person’s DNA. It could be controlled by the use of Aconitum, or Wolf’s Bane, and the moderated consumption of blood, human or animal.
But if the trait, or the “gift” as Daniel, Thomas and Sarah referred to it, was allowed to fester without constraint and without control, then the hunger for blood would grow to the point of unrestrained hunger that would drive the sufferer to kill. Most of holders of the gift bound themselves into clans, made up of their family members that held the same trait or outsiders from other clans that were accepted by the Alpha, or lead male, of the group.
The gift brought with it heightened senses, supernatural speed and strength…brought on by their DNA’s similarity to that of the canus lupis, or wolf. A full moon triggered the enhanced abilities but the clan would temper it with Wolf’s Bane and the consumption of blood. In the case of Daniel’s clan, they would hunt deer or elk and sometimes work in a slaughterhouse, then use the blood to feed the mutation and calm the need to hunt and feed.
Daniel’s clan was made up of a few of his cousins…Thomas, Sigmund, Tyler, Marcus and Veronica. Then there were the ones that they had taken in, some of them as mates…Sarah, June, Natasha, Victor, Connor and Jordan. Their families included several children, from toddlers to teens who were in the throes of experiencing the ‘change’ for the first time.
There had been two other names mentioned that Deeks was familiar with: Phineas Stark and James Strickland…both had been part of Daniel’s clan and both had died in violent ways.
“Wait, so both Phineas and James were like you…’gifted’?” Deeks had asked when something else didn’t make sense. At Daniel’s nod of affirmation, the detective continued. “If they had all this enhanced everything, how did whatever get the jump on them? I mean, I blinked and Sarah moved so fast I almost wet myself…how could anything sneak up on one of your own kind?”
Daniel started to speak but his voice cracked at the mention of his friends’ names and Sarah spoke up as she ran a hand over her husband’s shoulder. “When we suppress the ‘gift’, it goes dormant for a time, leaving us slightly vulnerable.”
“But still fast as hell.” Deeks winked at the woman, causing her to chuckle at his humor.
“Yes, to a normal human…” Daniel nodded as he continued to explain. “…but to someone who has let the ‘gift’ take over and is operating at full strength…”
“They could kill you.” Deeks shuddered at the images of James and Phineas’ bodies, then another question popped into his head. “But why? You guys are pretty much family, who would attack you?”
Thomas the tree trunk waved a massive hand to get Deeks’ attention. “It could be an outsider, someone from another clan who is just protecting their territory…or…” His voice trailed off as he glanced over to Daniel.
Deeks bobbed his head when no one else spoke. “Orrrr…?”
The clan leader turned his dark eyes to the detective. “Or…it could be one of our own, weakening the Alpha so that they could take over.”
“Is that what you think is happening?” Daniel nodded. “Yes. Phineas was one of the oldest in the clan…years of experience and James was one of my lieutenants…would have one day started his own clan.” His words were sad, tied to the loss of his friends.
“Do you know who it could be?”
All three nodded at the same time but none spoke.
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
“Do you, at least, have some kind of plan?”
A mischievous grin broke across Sarah’s pretty face. “That’s why we’re talking to you.”
That had been a little over an hour ago and now Deeks found himself sitting in the back of his truck, trying to make sense of this new reality he found himself in. If not for the visual evidence that he had witnessed first hand, he would have walked away from Daniel and the others, thinking that they were all just a few cans short of a six-pack. But he’d seen it. He had been right there when James died and the whatever escaped.
The ocean was calming tonight, just like it always was for him and he fought to keep himself that way. With this new knowledge he would never be able to look at anyone the same way, but he would have to hide it away if he didn’t want others to think he was positively nuts. As his thoughts wandered to the incredible, a warm breeze picked up across the sand and Deeks turned his head to look across the empty beach. It was late…rather, it was early, closing in on two in the morning and being totally alone suddenly felt a bit disconcerting.
The moon was high and the stars bright enough to illuminate the parking lot as well as the surrounding area. It was peaceful…until Deeks thought he saw something move between the boardwalk and the closed hot dog shack at the edge of the grass. With all that had happened tonight, the blonde shook it off as nerves until there was suddenly something sitting at the edge of the lot that hadn’t been there a second before.
Letting his eyes relax, Deeks could now see that the object was moving across the grass toward him. Slowly, like it was stalking him. In a flash, the detective leapt off the back of the truck as he brought his pistol up to point it at…nothing. Whateveritwas was not where it had been a second ago.
Something growled from behind him, but a whirling Deeks found nothing there. Then it moved again, off to his right this time…but closer.
Taking a deep breath, Deeks tried to use another weapon that had gotten him out of bad jams before. His mouth.
“I know what you are!”
A rustling, like claws on asphalt, off on the left as something moving fast slid to a stop. Across the emptiness, a voice like broken glass mixed with gravel reached his ears. “You have no idea what I am…what I can do.”
A cold shiver of resignation ran up Deeks’ spine. “I’m a cop. Kill me and they will hunt you down.”
Laughter, or what could be called laughter, but it was more akin to a grinder skittering across blue steel, floated through the night. “I am the hunter, cop…you and yours are the prey.”
Circling around, Deeks tried to place his truck between him and the thing somewhere out there. “I know your clan…spoke to Daniel.”
Somehow, the thing’s horrible laugh was able to carry an edge of disdain. “Teh, Daniel…he’s weak, keeps us in line…makes us hunt animals when we are born for greater prey…one that walks on two legs. When I have taken down more of his family, I will take his clan and his woman…then I will be the Alpha…and my pack will be unstoppable.”
Something landed on the roof of the pickup, only a few feet away. When Deeks looked up, he was face-to-face with the horror from earlier. Fangs, hair, talons and all. It was right there.
Deeks’ pistol pointed to center mass but just as the thought to pull the trigger occurred in his brain, the thing was landing off to the right and at least twenty yards away.
“Go ahead, cop…shoot. I’ll have my teeth in your throat before the primer has fired.” Deeks spun to do just that when the thing launched itself directly at him.
Blinking, his eyes closed purely on reflex, Deeks felt something move through the air past him, the wind it created whipping his hair across his face. There was the sound of an impact then a brief struggle along with a wet tearing sound…then silence.
After releasing the breath that he had held until he was almost lightheaded, Deeks slowly opened his eyes to find an almost unrecognizable Daniel standing over a dead body at his feet. His body was even more muscled and deadly, the ‘gift’ having changed him into a more dangerous version of himself. The disfigured head on his shoulders pivoted to bring steel black eyes to lock with the detective’s blue ones.
“Sorry…I had to make sure he was focused completely on you before I could make my move.” Deeks could hear Daniel in the words, but the growled inflection was a little off-putting.
Out of the corner of his eye, Deeks caught more movement at the edge of the lot but was relieved to see that it was both Thomas and Sarah, in their enhanced states, approaching where he stood with Daniel. They had all been close, the trap set and the only problem had been convincing Deeks to be the bait. It had been Sarah’s warm promise that they would not allow anything to happen to their new friend that had finally convinced him to go along.
“So, you know him?”
Thomas’ voice was even more horrible than Daniel’s. “Yes…that’s Connor. He joined our clan a little over six months ago. Never really liked him.”
“Why not?” Deeks relaxed a little more as the three shapeshifters began to revert back to their human forms.
“He was always pushing for us to use the ‘gift’ for power and control.” Sarah eased up and wrapped her arms around Daniel’s waist.
Daniel kissed the top if her head. “He lost himself to the animal…forgot who we really are.”
“And what are you…really?”
Their smiles were still a little scary but their eyes were warm as Sarah answered. “Just people who have a gift that makes us different.”
Deeks nodded in understanding. “So, what happens now? You make me swear to never tell this to anyone?”
“We could threaten you…” Thomas patted him on the back with a hand the size of Ohio, his smirk a little freaky. “But do you think anyone would believe you?”
“Nope.” Deeks sighed. “But it would go over great on The Jerry Springer Show.”
The four of them chuckled until Daniel spoke up. “I like you Deeks…we may have to keep an eye on you.”
The blonde turned to face his new acquaintances. “Why?”
“One day, you might be in trouble and need friends like us.”
For some eerie reason, that actually made the cop feel a little better.