The evil without.

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There was no real warning, looking back on it. I kept casting my mind back to determine if there was anything at all that I could have used to foresee how things turned out. But nothing came to mind, even through my best efforts. The first warning or hint or omen was when... it happened. When the world went from making sense to hell in a heartbeat.

When the love of my life died in front of me.

…....

Work sucked so bad, and Mr. Radcliff was always a slave driver on Fridays. He seemed to love sucking the joy from the lives of employees. I couldn't wait until I was done with college, and able to kick this stupid menial place to the curb. Though it was probably best to wait until I'd been hired on as a game developer before quitting my stock-boy job. I'd try to stomach it that long, it was only a few more weeks after all, and Cassie didn't like slackers. She was far too in love with money for that.

She was pretty hot though.

I shook my head as I walked into the parking lot. Closing late always made her angry, and with Mr. Radcliff riding my ass the way he had, I was even later than usual. Chances were I would be on the couch tonight.

Sure enough, she was waiting in the car, tapping her manicured nails on the steering wheel and fidgeting. Had the radio on full blast too, and the doors locked. She had parked in our usual spot at least; sometimes the car was hard to find in the dark. The usual spot was clear in the back of the lot; after Mr. Radcliff threw a fit over his precious customers being forced to walk ten extra feet, all employees were supposed to park in the farthest spots. The only good to come from that was watching Mr. Radcliff himself make the walk at the start of the shift. He was not in the best of shape.

Cassie was however, believed all that 'my body is my temple' crap. I had to admit it looked good on her; she stood at five feet seven inches and weighed around 150 (she wouldn't tell me the exact number, and I knew better than to ask). Her dyed black hair was in a pixie cut that she had trimmed up every month, and her face was a beautiful, but bland. She was no mighty she hulk, but when we played around she was pretty scrappy. Heaven help you if you broke her nails or messed up her makeup, though.

By the looks of things, she had been waiting for an hour. Possibly even longer, sitting in the car under the eye-smarting halogens used in the lot with the heater on to ward off the chill. Mr. Radcliff insists that no one goes home until the work scheduled for the shift is done and the close up procedures are followed to the letter. He was an ass like that, and Cassie had probably been off shift before the clean up started. She usually was somehow.

Cassie was allergic to work because of the aforementioned nails and breakage thing. She was kinda hot, though. Unfortunately, she was also angry, and Mr. Radcliff wasn't out yet. I was a convenient target.

“About fucking time, Jesus.”

She opened the door and stepped out, making a show of planting her hands on her hips as I strode up. I decided to try and deflect anyway; I really didn't want to sleep alone tonight.

“You know how it goes, Cassie. Can't leave until closing; I can't wait to get a real job. College bills are a bitch.”

I hugged her and she didn't resist, so I dipped her as if we were dancing and planted a nice big one on her.

“Not here; it's too cold.”

She shoved me off to check her lipstick in the mirror. I didn't get it, I thought that stuff was smudge free? She wouldn't be cold if she picked jeans and a coat to wear over the skirt and top she had though I had to admit to myself the effect was undeniable.

I looked up as one of the halogen lights ringing the lot blew, noisily. Cheap things; Mr. Radcliff probably skimped on them and bought those cheap Chinese things again. Which meant, of course, I'd be replacing the thing tomorrow. I hated heights. There was still plenty of light to see by, at least here. It was kind of odd that no one else was out yet, come to think of it. Usually, Becky was out by now; she was almost as allergic to effort as Cassie was.

Cassie was already on the other side of the car, knocking on it impatiently; she had forgotten to unlock the passenger side and wanted me to drive, apparently. I could deal with that. The keys were still in the car, but she threw something at me as another light blew, this one right above Mr Radcliff's car. I had some hope that the showering glass had damaged the paint as I missed my grab. Whatever it was fell next to the car in question.

“Good grab there, butter fingers.”

“Thank you, Cassie.”

I took the required steps and bent down when something caught my eye. What was that? That shadow seemed to be moving, but I didn't see any animal or other cause for it. Nothing at all, and the shadow didn't twitch; great, now I was seeing shit. Clearly, I was tired.

Cassie had thrown my wallet. Oh well, it was old leather, it had survived worse. Evidently she had snagged it from my locker while I had been working. I checked; I still had money, so she probably just bought a coffee or something. Picking it up I wheeled just in time to flinch as the other lights around the car all burst at once.

….What.

There's cheap, and then there is weird. Cassie seemed to feel it too, as we both stood there gaping with only the car's dash lights to keep us company; the world seemed to feel even colder and the hair on my neck was standing on end. Well at least I didn't feel tired anymore. I watched the few remaining lights warily, but they all seemed too bright, too cheery, to blow. None of those remaining were closer to my car than a hundred feet.

I turned around, stuffing my wallet in my coat, and met Cassie's wild eyed gaze. She was looking around wildly, spooked by something.

“David, let's go, please. I want to go now.”

Even weirder; her voice was steady, but it was calm and polite. It lacked her usual confrontational fire. There was a... weird undertone to it. I needed to expand my vocabulary.

Whatever it was she felt, I felt it too. Something wasn't right here. I got in the car and clicked the unlock button. Cassie didn't open the door. I could see her hand briefly swing that direction then a scuffling sound; what was going...? I shot out of the car.

Cassie was being held by... something. A shadow, or something else, something that my mind skittered away from, was holding her off the ground by her arms and legs. One tendril of shadow was wrapped around her face and mouth, but I could still see her eyes. They were wide, and staring. Pleading with me. She was held there, an impossible moment.

Then I was showered in blood as her arms flew past me.

I was in the car, driving down the well-lit streets. I could feel the blood running down my face, and the back of my neck. The passenger side door was flopping open, and I had no idea why. Where was Cassie? My mind skittered away from the question and something (a memory of an arm with perfect nails sailing past my eyes) got shut down.

I needed to get some help for Cassie. Call the cops or something. The local precinct was just down the road. I was pointed right to it, in fact, and this wasn't my normal route to go home. Why would I go home? I wasn't tired, and I needed to get help for Cassie.

The police precinct was bright; very well lit, with no missing or broken lights. That was good. I drove up and parked in the bright lot, and ran in, shouldering past a cop that didn't really move fast enough. I knew you had to go through desk sergeants at a time like this... right? Or was that just a movie/TV show kind of thing? Whatever, it wasn't important. Cassie was important.

The cop at the first desk, an older man with a Santa Clause paunch and no hair took one look at me and dropped a hand to his gun. I held my hands out and still; he looked twitchy.

“Please, you've got to help Cassie!”

I... needed to get a hold of myself.

“Alright sir, calm down. You need to calm down so you can tell me what happened. Who is Cassie? Where is she?”

He made a gesture and I was surrounded by cops. This was a good thing, but I still felt hemmed in. It wasn't important; I had to focus.

“Cassie is my girlfriend. She's at our work, um, the Go Go Grocery on 9th and McCarthy.”

“And what happened to her?”

A loaded question. What did happen to her, exactly? I'd seen it, and I wasn't sure what happened.

“Something killed her, I think.”

I was shoved into the cop's desk and cuffed. Why were they arresting me?!!? This wouldn't help Cassie at all! For a moment I was speechless. They frisked me and emptied my pockets. Then the cops shoved me into a chair and started asking questions again, while taking pictures. I took another look; there were only seven policemen here. I really wanted there to be more. At least the lights were nice and bright.

“Something killed her? Don't you mean someone?”

The cop I'd come to first was thumbing through my wallet. I didn't even remember putting it back in my pocket.

“Who killed her? Who killed Cassie, David? Was it you?”

It wasn't me! It was something else! Not a someone at all!

“It wasn't me! It was the shadows, they came out of themselves and killed her!”

That sounded crazy. I was crazy, wasn't I? I had to be crazy, or dreaming this; but the bite of the cuffs and the pressure of hands on my shoulders felt real enough.

The blood spraying across my face had felt real enough. One of the cops held my hands out while the other took more photos. There was a cut there, he saw. A small one, on his right hand. He had no idea how it got there. Had he cut his hand on a box at work? One of the cops in the back spoke up.

“No patrols there, we're actually the closest. Want me to go?”

“Yeah, take Andrews with you, and take Mr. Newton with you; get him to show you where all this took place.”

They stood me up and re-cuffed me with my hands behind my back; it was painful. I was walked roughly to a squad car and placed in the back, thoughts swimming like piranha in a river. They thought I did it. I came in here to tell them, and they already thought that I did it!

I didn't want to go back there. Not at all; but what could I do? I'd missed my chance. I tried to explain, but the look Andrews gave me said it all. I would not be getting out of this. The other cop spoke:

“So you said the parking lot of the Go Go, right? What side?”

Deep breaths. I tried to take them while watching the shadows. They weren't moving, which was... good.

“Right in front of the street, right side. You'll know when you see it.”

They pulled in past the well-lit streets to the edge of what was the only darkened space in the lot. The darkness was... sticky there, as if it clung to the space within in clear defiance to all light. The cars headlights cut it, but I couldn't help but feel there had been some form of resistance. The cop flicked on the high beams, which also seemed to take an extra heartbeat to cut the gloom.

Had he seen?

Whether he had or not, the object at the far end of the light was easy to spot... if hard to decipher. I didn't want to figure (that's a torso, her torso) it out. The cop driving, whose name I didn't know, grabbed his flashlight and got out of the car.

“Keep an eye on him, Andrews.”

“Don't. Don't get out of the car. Don't walk into that!”

I hadn't realized I'd spoken until after I'd heard it; was that really my voice? Andrews opened his door and stepped out.

“Yeah, you're not leaving me alone with that. He's not going anywhere anyway.”

I could hear the worry in his voice. I wanted to tell him he was right to be so afraid, but I didn't want to make it worse. Maybe whatever it was had left? Moved on to greener pastures, and other girlfriends?

Even from here, inside the car, I heard the back door of the Go Go slam. I hadn't even noticed, but the other cars I'd have expected to be gone were still here. A look revealed a flushed Mr. Radcliff storming out to the officers. He took one angry look at me before he started bellowing.

“That's him, officers! That's the man that killed her!”

...what? What?!?

“I never touched her! Something else got her! It wasn't me! It wasn't me!”

Even to my fevered mind that sounded pure crazy. Becky followed Mr. Radcliff out the door with clear relief on her features. I could tell in an instant that she thought I had done it too.

“You the one that called, sir?”

“I am. That's David Nelson, the murderer. You have the right man.”

“Don't be stupid! There is no way I could have... done this! I didn't even have time.”

The other cop leaned over, flashing his light into my eyes painfully as he leaned back into the car.

“You have the right to remain silent, sir. I suggest you exercise it.”

He closed the door and I shut up. I was under arrest for Cassie. The cops weren't here to get to the truth, or find the real killer. They were here to railroad me, because Mr. Radcliff had called them and sold them some form of bullshit.

“Alright sir, what did you see, exactly?”

Andrews was asking Radcliff questions while the other cop, the asshole cop, was striding into the darkness towards Cassie. I wanted to tell him not to go, that it wasn't safe, but he had told me not to talk, and he was out of range anyway unless I yelled at the top of my lungs. Maybe not even then. I could barely hear the questions Andrews was asking, and they were right next to the car.

“I saw David speed off as I was coming out and found the body. Then I went back in and called you.”

So he hadn't seen me do anything. Did he really think I could... do that... to Cassie, and do it all and drive off in five minutes, or maybe even less than that? How? I'd need an ax or something, and a lot more time... I shut down that traitorous thought and looked, carefully. Had the darkness moved again? Twitched?

I flinched as the lot light between the patrol car and where my car had been parked blew in a shower of sparks.

“What? That was odd.”

“Very odd, I just replaced those last week.”

Mr. Radcliff, you liar. You had those replaced four months ago, by me. He was right about how odd it was, at least. I found myself yelling again, sounding like a crazy person. But wasn't I crazy, after all?

“Heeey! It's coming! We need to get out of here, now!”

I had no doubt that it was coming.

Another light blew out. The jerk cop was still shining his light at the ground, showing things I really didn't want to see, but he hadn't heard me. Officer Andrews wasn't paying any attention to me at all. Mr. Radcliff glanced my way, but ignored me. Crazy or not, I had to warn them; I started pounding on the window.

“Hey, I'm not kidding! We need to leave, right now! It's coming back!”

Another light blew out to punctuate my words, this one next to the car, on the drivers side. I edged as far away from that side as I could. Praying sounded like a wonderful idea right now. Officer Andrews finally took notice and finally got angry.

“Look sir, quiet down while I take statements and we will sort all this out back at the station.”

His hand was resting on something at his belt; a taser? I almost laughed at him; a taser would probably be a mercy right now. But this was too important to risk with laughter. Never was I more sure of anything in my life.

“No! We need to leave, now! Right now!”

The car headlights blew, leaving the first cop with only his flashlight to see by. The darkness was a smothering blanket, suffocating all it touched.

“What the fuck!”

It was too late, I knew it was; but I had to try again.

“We need to leave, now! Get me out of here! Let's go!”

“Sir calm down while I take this statement.”

Mr. Radcliff was still talking, but I wasn't paying attention anymore, and neither was officer Andrews. He reached for the handle and lifted it up at the same time the other cop's flashlight blew out. Even watching for it, expecting it, I was cold.

“Christ!”

The last full word the other cop spoke. The horrid... sounds began less than a second later, as the door swung open.

“We need to go, we need to go now!”

I wanted to run, head to the light without a look back, but officer Andrews had a firm hand on my shoulder; I could feel bones creak under the strain. Then he did the worst possible thing; he turned his own flashlight to the patch of darkness, aiming for where he'd last seen his partner.

“Ray?”

Ray was dead. There was no way Ray could be anything else. This fact was confirmed when Ray's head flew past me, eyes bulging, mouth open, tongue lolling and somehow still MOVING, trying to breathe or something.

Mr. Radcliff was dazed when an arm slammed into him, spasming around a flashlight. Officer Andrews fired his gun, a loud harsh sound. It wasn't aimed my direction. I couldn't just leave things well enough alone, it seemed.

“Come on, officer! We got to go!”

I dragged Mr. Radcliff into the pool of light past the car and got him moving. Then I took off; I wasn't sure how you could fight such a thing anyway. One look told you it wasn't human, it didn't move at all like one. It FLOWED places.

The parking lot lights started blowing again, slowly. Becky was at the back door, gaping. I got near and she squeaked like a stomped mouse and closed it. I hit it in a rush and tried to open it. It was locked; I didn't have a key, I never opened the store. I pounded with my shoulder.

“Becky, open the door!”

She didn't. Mr. Radcliff reached the door and shoved me out of the way as if I were weightless, a dark stain spreading on his pants and the smell of piss in the air. He fumbled for his own keys as I turned, doing my best to master myself so that I wouldn't cause him to take longer.

The parking lot lights closest to the back door were the only ones left. One of them blew as officer Andrews reached the door himself, firing blindly behind him until his gun clicked. Despite the clear panic, he sounded almost calm.

“Anytime now.”

Mr Radcliff got the key slotted as the light to our left blew out in a shower of sparks; some of them close enough to hit us. He rammed himself the door, and I was right behind him; I didn't want to give him the chance to shut it in my face. I shouldered him out of the way and held it open for the cop, who wasted as little time as I had.

Shutting and locking it left us in a very well lit hallway. I could see Becky wringing her hands, eyes only for me. The cop on the other hand, was already undoing my cuffs while talking into his radio.

“Dispatch, dispatch, come in.”

Only static answered, which was just perfect really. Par for the course. Rubbing my wrists I felt blood, but I could deal with that later; We needed a phone or something.

“Cell phone? Anyone?”

Mr. Radcliff pulled his out; it was soaked and dead, which was odd. It was a brand new model. I looked to Becky and she shook her head. The police had taken mine as evidence so that just left the land line and the payphone at the front of the store.

The front of the store was dark. I walked down the hall, Becky giving ground before me, and hit the light switches. I half expected no response, but the place lit up; my own sigh of relief was matched by officer Andrews; Mr. Radcliff was busy trying to get his phone to work, and Becky was still looking at me as if I had an ax in my pocket.

“Are you sure you want to let him go?”

Her finger pointed my way was shaking as I passed. I could afford to ignore her; she wasn't a threat. Not after... that.

“I'm sure. He's innocent; that much is obvious. Not sure what is guilty, exactly, but it isn't him.”

He had his little notebook out, and was writing in it. I wanted to ask what, but the front windows were a bit more interesting; they led to the still lit portions of the lot, and we would be able to see if whatever it was approached us. At least until those lights died too; I had no doubt they would.

The phones were down, of course. Both the line used by employees and the payphone. They had probably been down since before, with Mr. Radcliff calling the police on his cell. We needed something; either a way to communicate or a way to defend ourselves. Flashlights first, just in case.

“The phones are out? But that's impossible! They can't be out!”

Mr. Radcliff walked noisily into the office I'd just vacated, and I could hear him slam the phone down seconds later. Of course, it was possible for them to be out since they were out. Apparently all sorts of strange things were possible tonight. I could even see the wiring from where I was, and it looked intact, so there was no reason the phones shouldn't work; they just didn't. Like we were stuck in the plot of a bad horror movie.

That's what this was; a bad movie plot. Not even worth three stars when reviewed, because the phones being out was too contrived.

This was a general grocery; we had radios, cheap cell phones, batteries for both... and a small automotive section. All the crap sold here was cheap, but it didn't need to last us long. I pulled a prepaid down, half expecting to hear Mr. Radcliff object that I should pay for it, but he just watched. As I suspected, even though it was supposed to have a charge, it didn't even turn on. Neither did the next one.

The lights confirmed we still had power, so I snagged one of the cords for the phone and plugged it in; it shouldn't take long to have enough power to turn on at least, and maybe we could get a call out. I'd let officer Andrews make it; he seemed much more calm than I felt.

Plugging batteries in the flashlights made them work just fine, so I took one for myself and left the rest for others to take. We didn't need them... yet. In the automotive section, which was really just one aisle, we sold those small cheap auto emergency kits. The kind which contained foil blankets, matches and tire foam... and flares. Four of them, per bag. They were packed just beyond the collapsible cloth caution cones. There were four per bag, and four bags left on the shelf; I stripped them all. Again, Mr. Radcliff watched without saying anything.

What else? Candles were useless, we had them, but they were the small birthday cake kind. A stiff breeze or breath would blow them out. We could make torches, those might work, but we would need a base to use; rags and paper towels we had, but a stick? Maybe broom handles? I handed Mr. Radcliff four flares as I went by; he took them without a word. Four to the cop, and four left in front of Becky since she was still avoiding me.

At least they all had flashlights now. The cop was even carrying one in addition to his standard issue, which sounded like a great idea to me. I grabbed another and tested it, then put it in the same pocket the first one was in; the flares were in the other. It had been enough time to check; I tapped the power button on the phone while it was still plugged in. I didn't care about long term battery life, after all. It didn't turn on, but the battery was charging. Another five minutes then?

“What are you doing?”

Mr Radcliff finally broke his silence. I looked to officer Andrews, but he was watching the lot out of the picture windows. I wondered why, since it was still lit, but a look back revealed that he had barricaded the employees door with a chair, of all things. Since it was the only door there, it was the only exit at our backs. I wouldn't trust that door to hold two minutes, even braced, but it should give us enough warning.

“Setting up. That thing, whoever or whatever it is, uses the darkness. So now we have plenty of light sources and a phone charging for help. We can hole up here if we need to, at least until we come up with a plan.”

I was pretty sure if officer Andrews could have called in, he already would have. I did wonder if he had a phone though; everyone had a cell nowadays, right? Was his out of power too? Had that been what had happened to all the phones on the wall, and if so, how? I looked out at the dark hole in the lights: it was as if ink had been bled there. The patrol car was dark; all the cars were well within the darkness. I didn't think it was running either, and it had been when we ran. I certainly wasn't going to risk it.

“What sort of plan do we need? We need to get out of here before that... whatever it was comes back. If it's hanging out in our lot, we need to NOT BE HERE.”

Well at least other people were seeing it; I wasn't insane. Or at least, no more than usual, assuming I could use Mr. Radcliff and officer Andrews as good indicators for sanity.

“I agree, we do. And we need to head out front, where the lights are. But for some reason whatever it is seems to have a problem with light, so having as many sources of light at our disposal couldn't hurt.”

It really didn't. It seemed like a stupid idea; trusting our lives to something so flimsy. How had it even blown out the lights at all? I had no doubt that it had, the damage was too organized. And now I sounded so very sane. Of course, better to be crazy than be dead, so light sources it was, flimsy as the idea was. It hadn't actually attacked anyone in the light yet, as far as I knew.

“Fine, we got our light sources. So now we can go... and we need to go.”

What a stupid thing to say; just like his insistence that we always call him Mr. Radcliff. So petty, so stupid.

“I'm with you there Mr. Radcliff, but I also think we need to get the word out. We need some way to let people know we're in trouble and need help.”

A warning of sorts, and vindication: 'look out world, there is something new going on, and David Newton isn't a merciless killer after all'. Of course, having more people in the know would also increase our chances, but just having the cops or whoever else looking in the right direction would be a start. The first step to both would be having officer Andrews make the calls he needed to make. I made my way over to him slowly, making sure he saw me and my empty hands.

“No phone?”

He barely moved, and his eyes never left the lot.

“It's dead. Had a nearly full charge an hour ago, and now it's dead.”

So, not coincidence then. How did it do something like that, and how could we counter it? I didn't know. But we couldn't start with a list of what this thing couldn't do, that was for sure. I checked the phone plugged in again; it started right up, it's chime loud in the pregnant silence. It even had the holy grail of all cells; four bars. I kept it plugged in and handed it to officer Andrews.

“Do you know some sort of shortcut number to your precinct?”

He nodded and dialed carefully, still not taking his eyes from the scenery outside. I could sort of understand, the sporadic traffic on the road just beyond the lot was painfully close. They didn't have a care or a clue... not a real one, at any rate.

The call went through, but I could only hear one side of the conversation.

“Sir, we have a serious situation. We need SWAT immediately at the Go Go. Officer Simmons is down, and there is some sort of serial killer or killers here.”

A pause, and he glanced at me.

“No sir, Mr. Newton is not the perpetrator. Someone else is, and we are trapped in the grocery.”

Another pause.

“Myself, Mr. Newton, and two other employees of the grocery store. We need a full response, as soon as possible.”

Another pause.

“I understand sir.”

He hung up and put the phone down just as carefully as he'd dialed it.

“Communications are down at the precinct. He's sending a few officers, but the SWAT unit on standby has been deployed on another call. Orders are to sit tight and wait for backup. Is there a television or radio in the building? In the break room or something?”

“Not that I'm aware of. Maybe Mr. Radcliff has one, but the employees aren't allowed one.”

It probably wouldn't work anyway, if we had one. Officer Andrews just nodded and walked over to where Mr. Radcliff and Becky were huddling. I took over the watch. I didn't leave when they did, pulling the chair and cautiously heading back to the offices. The door leading out the back seemed to have held, anyway. It was metal and had huge deadbolts, so it was far more likely anything coming would come through the glass. Or maybe not, since the lights were still on out front.

The meeting in the back was still going on when the car pulled into the lot.

“Guys, we got company!”

I flashed my light when the car drove near. I had to keep them from pulling around the side and seeing the mess back there. They saw me and pulled up just as officer Andrews came back with Mr. Radcliff and Becky in tow. Mr. Radcliff wasted no time bracing the door again, while officer Andrews unlocked the front doors with Mr. Radcliff's keys.

My attention wasn't on the two cops as they got out; I noticed the vests and shotguns, and the spares they carried. My attention was on the lights around the far side of the lot. Specifically, the one that had just winked out.

“Andrews, what's going on? We're supposed to be looking for a killer or killers?”

He sounded nervous; a touch afraid. It would get worse for him soon.

“Yes, but I'd rather evacuate the civilians and then search, if we have to search at all. I don't know how many are out there, and I'd really rather wait for SWAT before trying to pin them down. As things stand, they could outnumber us.”

He was lying. He was looking right at me, a pointed glare, while he was doing it. He didn't want his fellow officers to know what was really going on. Was he afraid of being called crazy, like I had been? Of course he was, and from the way Mr. Radcliff was looking on he was too. Well I wasn't about to rock the boat. Not if we got out of here, and I wasn't called a murderer. So I kept silent while the two newcomers mulled it over. The other cop didn't even hesitate to step forward and put himself in Andrews' face. Andrews took advantage, pulling the vest out of the guy's hands as spittle flew.

“Things are pretty crazy out there, but I'm not sure we should give up on finding the perp just yet. He did kill one of our own after all, in addition to whoever else tonight.”

“We won't be able to do much with just the three of us. This is a big area to cover.”

Officer Andrews pointed out, calmly. I had to admit it, I was jealous of his calm; it seemed inhuman.

“We should at least secure the crime scene, something also hard to do with only three of us.”

The other cop wanted no part of this at all, and everyone could tell. The aggressive officer curled his lip in disgust. Officer Andrews, our cop, the one who knew, stood firm.

“If you want to. My cruiser was disabled. You two can stay here and secure the scene if you want; I'll be escorting the civilians out.”

The other cop wasn't backing down.

“Show us the scene, and we'll make the decision from there.”

I moved up to whisper to Andrews, appearances be damned.

“Go ahead, I'll keep lookout here.”

I didn't want to see… that again. I tapped his flashlights and moved off, taking my self appointed post over our only working transportation.

“Weren't you a suspect, earlier?”

He gave me the 'you are a loathsome bug waiting to be squashed' look but didn't allow me to respond.

Leshawn, you stay with this guy, I'll scope it out.”

Officer Leshawn did not appear to have any problem with that at all if his sigh of relief was any indication. He took a spot a good six feet away and started watching me as the others crept to the back door again. They were too loud for my liking. So he thought I would bolt with the car if left alone; I had to admit, now that the thought was in my head I found it hard to shake out.

I was even calculating the odds. I was reasonably sure that I could reach the car before officer Leshawn caught up to me, and reasonably sure that either the keys were in it, or there were spares. But the area was still lit, with most of the lights functioning just fine. The one that had winked out before now had a friend.

That did not bode at all well.

A quick glance confirmed that section as the only one having problems, so I focused on it. The others were staying on. I wonder when the second light had gone off? Timing it might have given me an idea on how long it took for the thing to do whatever it was doing… I needed to pay more attention.

“What are you looking at?”

Do I tell him? I should tell him.

“The lights. Just before the… murders, the lights in the area always blow out.”

“Ah, so that's why the flashlights and flares.”

He nodded to my pockets and pulled out his flashlight. He was a cop, of course he noticed. Then he proved that for all his skills, he didn't really know.

“So the perps smash all the lights before they go in? How do they do it, do you know? You caught any of them at it?”

“No… the lights just blow out. I did not see how it was done, or figure out how it was done, for that matter. They just break. And then when the lights are out, you get torn apart.”

“Torn apart?”

I had to say this. Had to relive it, in order to make him understand.

“Torn apart. Limbs and head separated from the torso, usually in a hurry.”

I swallowed bile, and he opened his mouth.

“And before you ask, no I don't know how. I really didn't stick around to find out; however it happens, it's fast.”

A lie, and I think he knows it. But I couldn't tell him that they seemed to be torn apart while hanging in midair, held by shadows. Either they would see it, or they wouldn't. If they stayed here, I had no doubt at all that they would see it; probably the second we left.

No further lights had burned out or broken before the other group came back. I heard them before I saw them; the one cop was all noise and swagger.

“We can secure the scene easily. No one is around, the field of view is perfect, and we're both heavily armed. We can hold here, and you can take the witnesses to the station; just send us some more backup when you can.”

His words rang hollow to me. I could hear the knowledge that he couldn't see to stop an attack behind them. I didn't have to focus hard to remember how thick, how syrupy, how cloying the darkness had been. He was probably betting on the 'killers' being gone. He didn't want to admit to his boss that his job was a lost cause at this point. Much like any of us not wanting to tell the whole truth and wind up in rubber rooms with long sleeved jackets of our very own. I was fine with letting him try if he wanted, though. If officer Andrews wanted to make the effort I was all for it, but I just wanted out of here.

The lights cut out.

All of them.

The aggressive cop, the one who didn't KNOW, flicked his flashlight on and played the light around the ceiling.

“What?!? Power outage?”

I shared a look with officer Andrews, we were both at the windows now. He motioned Mr. Radcliff to get the doors. We were leaving, now. Mr. Radcliff stepped up without so much as a peep, his own flashlight showing me how much he was sweating. Becky was right behind him, so close that when he stopped to open the main doors she ground her chest into him.

“You can stay if you want, but we're going. I highly suggest you go with us, regardless of any consequences. Tonight isn't...normal.”

I snagged a flare from my pocket, hoping I was wrong.

“You're probably right… we were having a lot of calls the last 30… a lot of people out, and dispatch beginning to click over to automation. Something big could be going on….”

He was finally seeing the light it seemed, but he was seconds too late. I popped the flare just in time to reveal the something that I'd survived before.

It was a shadow, but that much I'd known before. What I hadn't seen was that like a shadow, it had no real depth to it at all, like an inky black sheet of paper empowered by malevolent will. It had a large caricature of hands tipped in claws, and a mouth that had shard-like teeth. It screamed when the light from the flare hit it in the middle of lazily wafting to us, showing none of the speed I'd seen it move with before.

It was far too close.

Then with a screech like coffin nails against concrete, it wasn't close anymore. I stared at the flare in my hand; was it really just that simple? I wasn't going to waste the chance.

“Let's go, let's go!”

I was second out the door, behind Me. Radcliff. Officer Andrews was busy shoving his fellow cops, who were doing reasonable statue impressions. Becky was too, staring off at where the thing had left. We didn't have time for this! I grabbed Becky and pulled her along. Mr. Radcliff was already in the car, waiting in the back with the door shut. I wasn't about to put myself in there until the keys were produced and a driver was in the car, but I didn't tell either of them that.

“Get in, stupid, there's no time!”

“Come on you two, let's go! We can't stay here!”

Officer Andrews and I shared a moment of deja vu of some kind, a moment of clarity, noticing we were mirroring each other. We looked briefly into each other's souls and found the same thought, the same desire not to die, not to die here like this, before we broke the moment by mutual consent and worked on saving others again.

The pained but very present screech from somewhere just beyond the light cast by the bright flare helped. Mr. Radcliff was waving his flashlight wildly in the window farthest from the flare I'd dropped, hoping to keep the thing from coming to him. Becky was fumbling for her flashlight too, hopefully to help with that. The cops finally got moving, breaking out their own lights. No one else popped a flare; even though the one I used seemed to be working, I don't think anyone wanted to waste one. I know I didn't. None of us wanted to cross to the other side of the car, so the cops got in the passenger side, the aggressive guy first, crossing over the radio and other crap with the keys in one hand and light in the other, and Leshawn coming to rest in the front passenger side.

I got sandwiched between Becky and Officer Andrews, but I didn't care. Wonder of wonders, the car started and the jerk wasted no time throwing it in gear. He was smart enough to turn the lights on top of the car on as he did so. It couldn't hurt.

The real problem was where to go. Sure, we got out of the parking lot with the cop driving a good 40 miles per hour and almost rolling us on the turn to the street, but the lights were still out. It wasn't just the grocery store; it was all the lights, everywhere. Power was out over the whole city, it seemed.

“The precinct; it has back up power.”

Well it was closer than the hospital.

We managed the entire trip without unusual incident, only having to dodge a few cars that didn't want to yield for a cop car. They were studiously driving the speed limit when we passed, so it was obvious that they didn't know, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn't warn them. If they were lucky, they would never know how lucky they had needed to be.

The precinct was still there and still well lit, but the number of police cars left in their parking lot was down to two. A glance at officer Andrews confirmed how odd that was; they must have all hands on deck dealing with calls.

Which meant that whatever else was going on, there had to be more shadows or whatever they were out there, murdering other people in other places. Even if some of the calls were looting or normal crimes due to the power going out, at least some of those cops had to be responding to calls like Mr. Radcliffs.

Officer Andrews knew it too, and the other cops had to suspect.

Now the conversion process from unbeliever to believer had to start all over again. That was no longer my concern, though; mine was to figure out how I could get the police to let me stay. The precinct still had power courtesy of what had to be its own generator; that made it safer than just about anywhere else. I could always try the hospital, but the idea of potentially having to save wounded and sick people with flares did not appeal to me. Better to stay far away, so I didn't need to tempt my conscience.

We all piled into the empty lobby or whatever it was called. I didn't care, aside from noting that it was in fact empty this time. The desk sergeant’s desk really should be manned, if only to keep someone from wandering in and making off with the stationary or occasional mug. But instead there was no one. A quick glance at the clock on the wall showed that it had only been a bit over a half an hour since I'd been here last; could everything go to hell that quickly, truly?

The aggressive cop went straight through the room to the other side, and to a locked door, which he opened. Officer Leshawn went though the room to the right, and another door, this one closed but not locked. Officer Andrews wasted no time turning to us and point to chairs.

“Sit. I need to find my superiors and report in. You all need to stay until we take your statements. We won't stop you from calling anyone you need to, or checking up on family, but if you leave, I will find you. Got it?”

He didn't want to try explaining what he'd seen alone. I nodded and parked myself as close to dead center in the room as I could. I didn't have anyone to contact, but Becky and Mr. Radcliff did, because they wandered toward the payphone in the corner. Becky looked torn; as if she wanted to stay right next to Mr. Radcliff, but also wanted to give him privacy. I vaguely wondered why she had latched onto him, but it really didn't matter.

Maybe stuff like that would matter again, but it didn't right now.

The aggressive one came back; I wished I could remember his name. He was a walking armory, which must be where he just came from: a shotgun, one of those stubby machine guns, and no less than four pistols complete with ammunition hung from him as he strode back into view, large and in charge.

Whatever helped him feel better about things, I guess. I for one would stick to my flares.

The phones weren't ringing. I expected them to be ringing off the hook, given the busy message we had received from 911, but it was blissfully silent.

“Alright, where is Leshawn?”

The aggressive cop asked with a put-upon sigh. I pointed to the room he went into.

“Well, that's odd. The captain ain't here, so why would he still be in his office?”

He swaggered over, opened the door and walked right in. I heard sobbing before the door closed. Then angry voices raised, briefly, before both came out. Leshawn wouldn't look anyone in the eye, and I made it a point not to notice anything else.

The aggressive cop stopped right in front of me, grip on the gun in his holster tightening.

“So, statements. Follow me.”

I followed while Leshawn singled out Becky. Might as well get this over with. There seemed a very real possibility I could get shot if I tried to wait for Officer Andrews. He stopped in front of a desk and plopped down with a rattle. I pulled up a chair and waited.

“Alright, so what happened on the 27th?”

I looked. Technically it was now after midnight, so it was the 28th of October. Not even two hours ago. I looked at him, this cop; bored even now, and working very hard to convince himself that he hadn't seen what he had. Trying to rationalize with all that he was.

“What's your name, officer?”

He colored, embarrassed. What use was embarrassment now?

“Officer Tyran.”

No first name, he was trying to keep distance.

“Well officer Tyran, this… I really can't talk about this yet…”

He scowled before I could continue and I raised a hand.

“But I can write it out, and you can sign it as a witness. Will that work for you?”

He nodded and moved, waving me into the seat he vacated.

“Use the computer instead, that way we can be sure it'll be legible.”

We switched chairs. He was still watching me like a hawk, but it was at least a minor improvement. Telling the story this way I could hold the tears in. Officer Tyran didn't ask questions, just watched in silence and then hit print when it was obvious I was done. I had honestly expected more questions, but maybe they had gotten enough from my earlier rambling? I didn't know, I wasn't all that together the first time. Or maybe officer Tyran just didn't care. I know in his place, I wouldn't care.

What could I say that was useful anyway? He already knew the important things.

I looked up and officer Leshawn was interviewing Mr. Radliff now with Becky silent and pensive at his side. Officer Andrews was nowhere to be seen, however, and I really wanted to know where he had gone. I pointed to the door he went through.

“Officer Tyran. What is back that way?”

“The old holding cells. There are some drunk tanks back there, and some old store rooms.”

“But not enough to take a cop almost twenty minutes to tour.”

He looked at me, clearly startled.

“You're right. I take it you want to come?”

I nodded and he shifted a gun into my reach. I pulled a flare instead, and he nodded, taking point. Becky watched us go, but the others seemed to be too busy acting normal.

The hallway was as small as officer Tyran suggested, and rather plain doors led off from either side; one on the right, and three on the left. Back here, away from the showroom of sorts that was the lobby, one could see traces of rot and neglect. The floor tiles, an ugly yellow linoleum, cracked and peeling. The paint, dirty and faded. Even the ceiling tiles looked about ready to fall. Budget cuts, I guess.

Officer Tyran opened the one door on the right first, bypassing the first door on the left. It led to three old holding cells bolted into a concrete floor. There was a desk off to one side, facing the cells, with an old wooden chair under it. It all looked old but serviceable and was empty.

We backtracked to the first door on the left. It led into the call routing office for the precinct. It was well soundproofed, which was why we hadn't heard officer Andrews valiantly fighting a losing battle between the phone and radio calls. He wasn't alone however.

She was tiny, barely five and half feet if that, blonde and petite and rather plain, the kind of person you could see getting lost in a shuffle of some sort. She was moving between phone and radio with a ruffled calm, a sense of panic underneath that never quite bled fully into her voice as she told people to hold while trying to call her colleagues for status updates.

Even with help it was clear she was swamped, and many of her fellow cops weren't answering.

Officer Andrews looked up and noticed we were there. He crooked a finger and we backed out.

“Sally hasn't seen Sergeant Sims, who is supposed to be manning the desk, for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. Shortly after I left on to secure the crime scene the 911 service started getting inundated with calls, with the appropriate ones getting routed to us. Shorty after cops started calling in asking for back up.”

Sounded familiar, and I could see officer Tyran following along.

“Soon after my call Lieutenant Brown made a command decision and started sending every available unit to the site of previous calls; he went to one of the locations himself. Sergeant Sims and Sally were left as the only presence in the building as a result. A few minutes before we arrived Sally called the front desk to ask for help with all this and there was no answer. I was going to investigate, but Sally needed my help here.”

There was something wrong in all that, but I couldn't pin down what it was. Officer Tyran seemed to have a better handle on it though.

“What call did the lieutenant go on?”

“The one he sent Jenkins to. He might have just arrived on location now; that's what Sally was expecting.”

Left unsaid of course was the elephant in the corner of the dispatch room. Namely, what all those calls and lack of responses from their fellow cops actually meant. I was no better; I didn't want to mention it either though I was surprised by the lack of people here. I would have thought those people like myself, who were in the know, would have spotted this place and descended like locusts on a wheat field.

Officer Tyran took charge.

“Alright, well, you help Sally. Leshawn's got the front for now, and I'll go look for the Sarge.”

He looked at me and I nodded. As long as the lights stayed on, I had his back. I could do that much at least. Officer Andrews gave me a different look, then nodded himself.

“Be careful.”

Then he disappeared back inside.

We went on to the next door, officer Tyran with shotgun in hand and half raised, and myself with a flashlight and a flare. Wouldn't it be funny to have survived the shadow things, and die to some random serial killer in a cop shop? The thought was dark, but not enough to make me let go of my chosen weapons; failing anything else I could use the flashlight as an improvised club, for at least a few swings anyway.

The next door opened into a yawning black hole and I stepped back despite myself. Officer Tyran wasted no time flicking the light switch with a frown. into a typical office records room, with boxes stacked on metal shelves and a very old computer set on a desk in the corner. It wasn't that big a room, you could tell at a glance that it was empty, though officer Tyran entered to make sure anyway.

“That door should have been locked.”

Well that explained a little; like nothing at all.

Officer Tyran left the tiny room and closed the door. He left the light on. The next door I was ready, and my flashlight pierced the darkened gloom before officer Tyran found the light switch. This room was a typical office style broom closet. Brooms, mops, other cleaning supplies. One of those duster wands, which kind of surprised me. But no sergeant.

“Alright, one last place to check.”

I thought that was all there was to this place? A strip mall sort of building, put up in a matter of hours, with nothing on either side. What more was there… oh.

“Yeah, there is a small basement, where the generator and some backup stuff is stored. It's usually locked too, but the desk sergeant on duty has the keys. Those keys were not usually where he keeps them when we got in.”

Made sense.

“It's well lit too, though, right?”

I did not like how pitiful my voice sounded, the pathetic note of pleading something I couldn't exorcise. He just nodded.

“Yeah, it is. Mostly finished, but not entirely. Bare bulbs instead of fixtures, and some partitions. It was going to be a small lab, before the budget cuts.”

I didn't care about the budget cuts, but the noise was fine. Silence would have been intolerable. He led me back to the lobby. Officer Leshawn, Becky, and Mr. Radcliff were all still there, doing a whole lot of nothing.

Well that wasn't entirely true; they were staring through the glass door at the darkness outside. The power still wasn't on out there, and there still weren't any other people here. What was keeping them?

“Andrews and Sally are fine, back in the dispatch office. Been a lot of calls tonight. Sarge is somewhere; going to check the basement.”

The trio stayed silent. Officer Tyran led the way to the third door out of the lobby, in the back. The staircase down would not have been out of place in a house, and the light switch was on the right side. It was up, and the lights down at the bottom were on.

“Sarge?”

Just like in the hall, officer Tyran led the way and I readied my lights. It was a good thing I did, since after the light at the landing, the place was dark. I could hear a generator chugging merrily away off to my left, but couldn't see anything beyond the small patch of light. Officer Tyran bumped into me, recoiling from the pitch nothingness.

I popped a flare immediately.

Only after it was burning did I turn my flashlight on.

I panned it left and stepped out from behind him, my light immediately fell upon a body. I recognized it immediately as the cop who was at the desk my first time here. He was lying on his stomach and there was a small pond of blood on the floor. Directly above him was a broken light bulb in its socket; and I could see more of the same in every direction.

“Shit! Sarge!”

Officer Tyran didn't even hesitate. I covered him with the light as he moved. The darkness seemed to give way, but only after an eternal moment. The generator was pristine. The sergeant was not. All it took was his fellow officer to roll him over to expose his ribcage and guts. The good officer let him roll back into place. I hoped it was the one from the store; I didn't like the alternative.

“We need to figure out how it got in.”

He looked at me. I don't think he saw me.

“Wake up! We need to figure out how it got in. I don't know why, but it didn't hurt the generator. But if it does, this whole building goes dark. We really don't want that to happen.”

I walked past him to check the gas. Doing that with an open flare in my hand probably wasn't the brightest idea, but it was better than tossing it on the floor and praying whoever filled the machine was careful.

The gauge said the generator was half full. I hoped that meant it had hours in it yet, and would last until morning, but I couldn't take the chance. There were four large gas cans stored down here on a shelf, and checking them revealed one empty, the rest sloshing full happily.

“Mr. Radcliff, Becky! Come down here please.”

Best to do this calmly. We didn't have much time if it was just me and officer Tyran.

“Why are you calling them?”

“We need the flares they are carrying… just in case. Unless you have some.”

He shook his head.

“Nah, we normally have some road flares in the cars but we don't store any here.”

Heads silhouetted the doorway at the top of the stairs.

“Come down, we need your help.”

Mr. Radcliff sounded more scared than at the store as he answered.

“With what?”

“We need your flares down here; the lights are out.”

A few thunks and the flares rolled to a stop at officer Tyran's feet. We were both less than happy about that, but he was more vocal about it.

“You bastard! What if it had gone off, and set the place on fire? Are you stupid?!?”

I just gathered the flare that came my way up as the head disappeared into the lobby again. Officer Tyran managed to find the other two. A stray thought had me yell up to them again.

“We need light bulbs down here too! Check the supply closet please.”

Officer Tyran blinked. I probably should have just grabbed any light bulbs the first time I was there. Maybe I still would, if Mr. Radcliff didn't. I was pretty sure he had just ignored me.

“Alright, so, I'm not a fan of splitting up. So let's do this the smart way. Which way is the door outside?”

There had to be a door that led to outside. I refused to think the shadow thing could make it's own.

“It's this way.”

He led me to the left and through some bare unpainted walls. The door that led out was one of those cellar style doors that opened up at the end of a series of steps. Both doors were open wide and the night beyond was a shade that seemed even darker than what was in here. That didn't seem possible, and yet it did.

Of course, the flare chose that moment to burn itself out with a muted hiss. For a moment, a terrible moment, I just stared at it. It should have lasted at least 10 minutes longer than that. Was there a reaction? Had the darkness seen us, was it responding? Officer Tyran popped one of his and dropped it at our feet.

“Snap out of it. We need to get the doors closed.”

Ugh, he was right. That moment of hesitation could have easily killed us both. I pulled a flare of my own and threw it outside.

“Just in case, we are now covered both ways.”

He nodded and grabbed the right-hand door. I grabbed the left, and we pulled together. The slam was loud, but should it have been louder? Officer Tyran threw the bolt as soon as he could, and slammed the door with a fist, a casual and happy gesture.

Something else on the other side slammed back.

We both almost jumped out of the lighting. That would have been a critical mistake; I KNEW it. The pounding was not repeated, which made me feel more certain that the basement wasn't secure. Officer Tyran felt the same way; his look was clear. He now knew too.

“No splitting up. That's dumb shit for actors in badly written movies.”

I couldn't agree more.

“Same deal? I pick up the flare, you have your gun?”

He picked up the flare and gestured while pulling his pistol, keeping the shotgun slung.

“How about we both use them? I don't feel like taking chances.”

While I didn't like the idea of using our flares so quickly, especially since they seemed defective, I couldn't deny the logic. We needed to know for sure. So I popped my third and we started off through the half made halls.

We got about half way there when the background noise of the generator stopped.

In hindsight, I really should have left a flare or a light on it. We started back immediately. The generator was no longer pristine. Instead it was missing the obviously placed carburetor it used to have. I only had to glance at officer Tyran to know how screwed we were. I looked around, but didn't see it; it wasn't smashed, just flat removed from what had been a working motor. I couldn't even begin to guess how; there were no tools lying around.

It didn't matter, anyway. Even if we found the part, we didn't have the tools to replace it either. Maybe in the cars… but we wouldn't make it to the cars. I was positive of that.

“Are there emergency lights?”

“Yeah, and they'll kick on in a minute, just not down here. Too dim to do us any good though.”

He was probably right; I had noted the little boxes above all the doorways on the way in; they were the kind with the red light bulbs so dim a full moon was brighter. Since the moon hadn't stopped anything that was going on tonight, those boxes probably wouldn't either. The only thing they would do would be to allow us to see what was coming for us.

And on that happy note, officer Tyran's flare stuttered.

No sooner had his eyes widened than it went out. He had the other out as I began to move, but it was too late.

He was taken by the shadows at his back.

The first screams began before he was even fully out of the light from my flare. I rushed in regardless, as the shots started. They were spastic, jerking shots that were aimed my direction rather than the danger. One plucked at my shirt as I ran in.

I didn't see the shadow thing that took him, that vanished with a hiss like an overloading boiler before the might of my flare. From the light cast, officer Tyran looked fine. Well except for the unseeing eyes and all the blood. I checked for a pulse on still warm skin, and did not find it; I didn't want to move him to see what his back looked like. His hand still clutched his last flare in a death grip; I was surprised he hadn't done more than bend it.

“Hello down there! What happened?!?”

I carefully slid that flare free and lit it up. I couldn't trust them to last as long as they should, so I'd have to chain them, while I still had them. I looked up into the bright unsteady beams of flashlights, which gave me an idea.

“I'm coming up! Leave those flashlights at the door, and shining this way!”

They didn't, of course, but they did keep them shining the right direction. I wasn't sure if the things had to physically travel, but trying to cut them off if they did seem better than just doing nothing. I made it halfway up the steps before my old flare fizzled; by my own headcount that was seven minutes earlier than it should have lasted. It was getting worse.

Two flares left, not counting the ones upstairs. At most ten minutes of an actual sphere of light, rather than being limited to beams. Mere beams of light were no good.

The faces over the wavering beams of light were pale, drawn, and wild-eyed. My own vision was ruined from all the different sources; I couldn't see beyond them. But I could feel it – the oppression in the darkness; it closed around us from all sides. There was no escaping it.

“The generator is dead. Somehow the shadows got in and got it.”

None of them wanted to ask the inevitable, but Becky apparently felt compelled.

“The other policeman?”

I just shook my head as I shouldered past, taking my flashlights out.

“Shut the door.”

They shut it and I turned my flashlights on, wedging them in between two books on a desk in front of the now shut door, making sure they would stay put. They weren't police lights, so if the battery draining thing was really a side effect of what was going on and not just my own madness, we had maybe fifteen minutes before whatever these things were could walk through that door again. The light! He should have taken officer Tyran's flashlight. Well, he wasn't going back for it.

The emergency lights had kicked on, and they were every bit as crappy as promised. Officer Andrews and Sally pulled into view as I finished while Becky was still wringing her hands. Officer Andrews had used one of his flares to light the way… I wondered what took him so long to appear? The dispatch office wasn't that far away, and the generator had been out for at least three minutes by now. Mr Radcliff walked off rapidly, light bouncing wildly and careening off things with muttered curses.

What had I missed in my time down below?

“Officer Andrews, we need more lights. And car keys if you have them. It's not going to be safe here anymore.”

The good officer noted in an instant who was missing. I crooked my head at the basement door and he nodded.

“Well the only patrol car left is officer Tyrans, so I can't do much there.”

Idiot! You should have remembered the keys! I truly was a moron.

“I have a car. Or rather, a full-size pick-up truck. A ford extended cab.”

Sally jingled keys in front of us, her face stark and wan over her darkened uniform in the dim lighting. I could kiss her. We wouldn't even have to worry about room.

“Excellent! Let's go. Now.”

“But… we can't just….”

I'd forgotten. Sally knew, but she didn't KNOW. We didn't have time to handle this, my flare was down to perhaps two minutes. Officer Andrews stepped up.

“We have to. Even if you don't believe what's going on, what your fellow policemen were telling you, it's still just you and me and a bunch of untrained civilians in the dark against a murderer or bunch of murderers who followed us. Without communication we are going to have to travel to backup, not have backup travel to us. How did Tyran die?”

I knew what he was really asking.

“He never even saw what hit him. I didn't either. One moment he was there, the next he was just gone.”

I didn't think I needed to mention the screams; they had likely heard them, after all. Sally didn't really seem to need much convincing; she headed right for the door. Officer Andrews had to work to beat her to it, shotgun out. Mr. Radliff came back just in time to see us heading out and dropped the rope he'd gathered.

“What was that for?”

He kicked it aside on his way to meet us.

“To tie the door shut since it didn't lock.”

“Pick it up. Good rope is always useful.”

Failing anything else, we could burn it for more light. He looked at me, annoyed, but did it.

One minute before I could no longer trust my flare. Becky still had hers, and officer Andrews had his, but this was bad. Beyond merely bad in fact. The moment he unlocked the door officer Andrews popped a flare; I sighed, grateful. I had already resolved to pop my own, but maybe now I didn't need to.

When Becky lit off one of hers, I knew I didn't. I wanted to jump down her throat over it, but she was scared and it meant I could save mine. The parking lot still had it's same vehicles - one was the patrol car we had come in, the other was an older model mustang, which meant the lone truck was Sally's. It was a nice one, brand new. My flare chose this time to die, right on schedule so to speak, and I readied another one.

As we hit the doors I realized something.

“Where is officer Leshawn?”

No one even looked around for him; Officer Andrews was the only one that would look me in the eye. Huh; I wonder how...?

No. there was no time or point to asking that question. It didn't matter what had happened; what mattered is he was no longer here to help or worry about. The dark was too oppressive to worry about anything else right now.

And of course, because things had been going so well on our little trip, everything had to go to hell in an instant.

Sally was unlocking her driver's side door with officer Andrews right next to her, still holding onto the flare he'd popped when she was pulled under it. The screams began immediately, but no sooner had I popped a flare – my last – and hit the concrete than they stopped.

Two. She had managed two screams.

My eyes met those of officer Andrews on the other side; the writhing darkness between us flitting between us, hiding evidence of its carnage in turns and yowling like a cat with a freshly stomped tail. It was enough for me to focus on the single most important thing – the broken key still grasped in what was left of Sally's right hand.

Well we weren't getting out that way.

I turned back in time to see Mr. Radcliff and Becky… running hand in hand. With two flares between them. I wished them luck.

It was their right to try, but I didn't give them good odds.

I turned and officer Andrews was drawing his pistol; the darkness now felt like a weight settling with heavy chain around us. A crushing, hurtful weight that drove me down with every breath I took.

“So, what's the plan?”

“We go back inside, make torches from the rags and turpentine in the supply closet, and….”

The water came from everywhere at once, a complete torrent that knocked me from my feet and doused my flare. I stood there dumbly for a moment, before the arms of pure black wound their way around me in a delicate, sensual embrace.

I stared back at officer Andrews as he stared at me; beyond him I could see the things, the shadows, circling just beyond the painful light.

“I thought you… you said you didn't do this! You…!”

His face hardened and he raised his gun. Then the water hit him, snuffing his flare.

He got one scream. His hot blood sprayed me as he went down.

The shadow turned me around, embracing me.

“Lover.” it whispered.

I got one scream too.



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