Colorado, United States
Detective Renard Beaufort watched me approach, umbrella in hand. He didn’t seem pleased about the fall rain. Officer Richards rolled down the window of his parked cruiser as I passed. “Took you long enough.”
“Huh? Yeah.” I checked the time. It took longer than I thought to get out here, a small farmhouse down a highway and a dirt road from our station in Brady.
“Victim’s name was David Doyle. His neighbor went to check on him when he didn’t show up to church. They found him a few days dead in the backyard,” Richards said. “I showed up and scouted it out. Looks like an animal attack, but I guess you can never be too thorough.”
“It’s that time of year.”
“Beaufort will fill you in on the rest.” He wiped his sleeve across the raindrops that had fallen on the inside of his door. “It’s too damn cold for this.”
I watched him roll up his window, start his car and drive off. The crackle of wet gravel under tires sounded a lot like my clattering teeth. He was right, it was too damn cold for this.
Renard was standing beside the farmhouse on the top of a hill, facing away from me now. From my vantage point at the end of the long driveway, he looked like a tiny figurine of himself, or maybe a shot of dark liquor with a martini umbrella. I licked my lips, even they were cold and wet.
“Animal attack, huh?” I said as I got close.
“Can’t imagine anything else.” Even with his umbrella, Renard’s tawny hair was slightly damp. He handed me a notebook filled out with everything he knew so far. “The only thing left to do is check out the body. I’m almost glad you’re always late, it helps me delay the inevitable.”
“I do my best, lead the way.”
He took me behind the house. My shoes sunk into the dark, wet earth. Why did it have to rain today? We only got this kind of downpour a few times a year. It’s a bitch to deal with, washing away evidence and making me miserable.
A particularly harsh breeze blew right through me, making me shudder. “Did you forget an umbrella?” Renard asked.
“Thought there was one in my car, thought wrong.” I shoved my hands into my coat pockets. The fabric was thinner than I liked.
“I’ll look around inside, he must’ve had somethin’.” Renard started around the front of the house.
It was one story, small, couldn’t have fit more than three rooms. A thin cement porch stuck out from the peeling painted wall, complete with a rusted steel door. I could see why Renard wanted to use the front entrance. The rain had washed almost everything away, but it would take more than that to hide the days-old blood stains on the concrete, on the walls, on the once-white banister. It had dried the same color as a squirrel’s pelt, brown and faded around the edges. Renard had already taken notes on this, on every splatter, spill, and smear, or at least what could be identified as such after the freezing drizzle. I looked away.
It smelled like rain and mud, country rain, country mud, the pure scent of petrichor and manure and dirt and everything else the water stirred up. But below that, just subtly, a scent I hoped I never found familiar, like a fridge days after your power goes out. The smell of spoiled milk and rotten meat, and something more, something your brain finds unbearably revolting but cannot quite describe. A human body decomposing.
Maybe 20 feet from the house, the corpse lay face up, half-sunk into the mud. I couldn’t shake the image of it drowning in its own blood. It was bald, bloated, tall and greenish. I heard footsteps behind me and turned around. Renard was back. I walked toward him.
“There’s only one person I know who hates rain more than I do.” He tossed an umbrella to me.
“I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched.” I opened the umbrella, thankful to stop dripping.
“Are you ready?” Renard asked. “You look like shit.”
“You know what I mean. You look tired, more than usual.”
“Hold my umbrella.”
He squinted, but instead of stopping me he just took the umbrella and held it out over my head. I took off my woolen mittens and replaced them with a pair of surgical gloves from my front pocket. This was always the hard part. I told him what to write down, trying to remind myself it was just meat. Just wet, cold, rotting meat.
“Male, mid-forties, approximately six-foot.
“White wifebeater, blue jeans.
“Evidence of animal predation, post-mortem, nonfatal.
“Claw marks on chest, face, legs, and arms. Paw no larger than six inches. Fatal.
“Bite marks on neck, face, and chest. Canines present. Jaw width no wider than seven inches. Fatal.
“Purge fluid present but unmeasurable.
“Face unidentifiable. DNA testing required.
“Decomposition consistent with two to three days in recent conditions.
I stood up and started to breathe again. My fingers were wet and clammy and shaking. The blue surgical gloves were stained black now with god-knows-what. “Is that all?”
“It’s good enough. We can leave the rest to processing,” Renard said. Thank god. I took off the gloves and placed them in a plastic ziplock bag he held out for me. “Thanks for doing that,” Renard said. “I think we should have a debrief, someplace where it’s not so wet.”
“Go home and take a nap. I’ll stop by tonight,” he called after me.
A full moon, houndstooth-white. Dead leaves underfoot, rattling when the wind blew. No matter where I found myself, I couldn’t hide that feeling. I wanted to destroy it all, to dismantle every single thing in this world that tied me down. I wanted to stand aside as every bill, every commitment, every person who questioned me or relied on me was dismantled. No, not dismantled, but mutilated, methodically torn piece from bloody piece until I couldn’t recognize it anymore. I wanted to destroy every assurance I ever lived by, all of those carefully constructed denials and excuses. I didn’t need them anymore, let me know the creature I truly am, buried in my visage, stuck in the mirror.
I think I woke up, then.
I tried to shake off the nightmare; I always had bad dreams after an autopsy. I stood in the kitchen, hungry. It was dark. Moonlight cast across the tile like a spotlight. Sleepwalking, I must have been sleepwalking.
I stumbled along the wall, trying to feel my way to a lightswitch while my eyes adjusted. I made it to the long hallway before the stairs. Moonlight shone through the window behind me, casting a long shadow across the carpet. It made my figure look stretched out and distorted, long legs and longer arms. What time was it? Renard would be coming over soon.
The thought filled me with something I didn’t know but deeply, instinctively understood. An anger, no, a drive.
I felt something against my hand, papery and sharp. Something was wrong. The wallpaper was shredded, torn by a huge angry claw. Like white blood dripping down dark flesh, the wallpaper had peeled, revealing the fragile bones of a house attacked and despoiled. The door to my bedroom was gone and the floor glittered with broken glass, taken from shattered picture frames. The carpet then, bright in the full moonlight--or was it? There was something else there, dark and familiar.
I could smell it then. I could taste it. Iron and life, or the lack thereof. Brackish and savory. A trail down the hallway, a darkness I followed, wet and almost warm underfoot.
Was I afraid? I believe I was. I already knew what was coming. Was I afraid to find out or was I afraid that I was right? Because then, I finally understood that feeling, that drive. Something hounding me to hunt, find, hurt, kill. A longing, an excitement, a hunger. Destroy it all. Mutilate. Let me know the creature I truly am. No one could ever hurt me again, could ever tell me I was in the wrong. What did it matter anyway, if no one could stop me?
The trail of blood culminated here, a figure at the end of the hallway, in the dark. It was slumped over, dripping blood that saturated the carpet and began to pool. Short, tawny hair was the only thing left that could betray its previous being. Everything else, every other distinguishing feature was shredded and lost in the warm, sticky, shining dark.
I licked my lips, gathering the thick dripping blood into my mouth and swallowed, hungry for more.
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