Tim Arkham pushed his back against the tall oak for support. He could feel the bark stabbing into his back, his sweat streaming down in sheets over every part of his body. Everything felt so surreal; his mind just wasn’t able to cope, while his body lived every second of the terror in actuality, the urge to run for his life so intense it was almost all he could do to contain it. Stay calm, just stay calm…another bone broke behind the tree with a sickening snap, crushed by the creature’s great maw. Run! But he knew the moment he gave in to that most urgent bodily need his position would be given away, and just like every other man in his unit he would be eaten alive.
Two Weeks Prior
Arkham sat inside the car waiting for his partner to finish talking to the women. It was sad – she was a typical middle-aged housewife of the area, probably involved in her kid’s schools, prepared home-cooked meals for her family every night and had a calm happy life in her blue hued two story house – her son would most likely never return to that life. After three days of no sign from her son, she was finally reporting him as missing; they had gotten in a fight, the eighteen-year-old stomped out and had never returned. The women had assumed her son was staying with his best-friend at first- it had happened before- this time things had turned out differently.
Arkham let his new partner, Jack Layman, handle the case. The boy was young and eager for this type of “excitement” while Arkham was tired of it. There were too many missing cases in Maryland. After 20 years on the force he had moved from his barrack in the city to a calmer one in Harford County where almost all of the cases had a happy ending. Now four years later, this case was different, the ending would be anything but happy. Only one more year and then I can retire. Just one more year. The driver’s side door opened, once Layman had settled in the seat and buckled up he asked, “Should we report this to the Sergeant or The Detective Sergeant?”
“Doesn’t much matter, either way the ending will be the same.”
“You don’t know that! That boy is probably out there right now, lost in the woods or something, waiting for me to come rescue him.” Layman held up a picture of the boy he’d gotten from the mother, “It’s only been three days.”
Arkham could see the boys cold, lifeless body abandoned in a dumpster somewhere, the rats nibbling on a mixture of him and the garbage; he could see the limbs twisted unnaturally at the base of a cliff, the brains spread out over the rocks. “Three days too long.”
At four the next morning Arkham was woken from his sleep and directed to head over to Rock State Park near the rope swing. Stepping out of his car, Arkham knew the news wouldn’t be good. At least a dozen officers were present as well as Detective Sergeant Slavin.
“Mornin’ Detective Slavin,” said Arkham striding up to the mustached man who held a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Arkham,” Slavin said in a familiar greeting. He stared disappointed at his coffee for a time in rapt attention as if it were revealing to him the secrets of the universe. “It isn’t good.” Arkham waited for his friend to continue. “The boy was found at two am this morning by Trooper Layman. He had volunteered to search the woods for the boy…I didn’t think he’d actually find anything.” He paused to suck in a profound breathe. “Arkham, it looks as if the boy was eaten by something.”
“But we’re in Harford County; the scariest thing in these woods is a white-tailed deer.” Slavin didn’t look at Arkham as he said this; instead he continued to stare down at his coffee in silence. Arkham didn’t bother to go look at the body, he wasn’t a forensic scientist so it was meaningless to him except as a potential nightmare. Turning to look away from the dense forest at the blank road his mind was ripped from its thoughts. A young boy, possibly age twenty-two, was walking away from the crime scene unnoticed by anyone else. He had shoulder length hair the color of coal, pearlescent skin poked out of a leather jacket in the form of his hands. Without thinking Arkham ran toward the kid, “Hey!”
The young man turned his head, revealing a pair of green eyes that shone in the night like a cat’s; he frowned and started into a sprint. Before Arkham’s eyes the guy was gone as quickly as he’d appeared. Slowing to a halt his head swiveled back and forth, desperate for a glimpse of the boy. “Are you alright sir?” A trooper asked behind him, “We heard you yell.”
Turning mechanically to face the younger officer he asked, “Did you see him?”
Angrily he focused on the Trooper, “The boy!”
Another Trooper approached, “Sir the only boy here is the one in the body bag. This area has been taped off from citizens.”
Being the only trooper in the unit who had dealt with murder before, Arkham was forced onto the case. Standing in the morgue he tried to focus his thoughts on what the man was saying about the autopsy, instead he kept seeing that boy in his mind, the one with the dark hair. He knew that he hadn’t imagined the kid but there was no way a human could move like that. Disbelieving of the super-natural Arkham didn’t waste his time considering that load of superstitious bull. There was something to the boy though; he was somehow connected to the case, the most important lead.
An uneventful week past, the only knowledge about the case being from the autopsy, the coroner claimed the boy to have been gnawed by a wolf due to saliva found on the body, and from Arkham’s sighting of the strange boy. Neither option was proving useful to solve the case. Sitting on the computer, searching through files of unsolved cases, the phone jingled.
Detective Slavin replied, “Hey Arkham, I’ve got some news for you.” Pausing, the man waited for Arkham to show some interest, when he didn’t Slavin continued. “About a half hour ago two of our men were patrolling the park, like you ordered, when they were attacked. One’s still alive – badly injured and on his way to the ER – but alive. We haven’t found the other one yet.”
“I’m getting in the car now.”
It didn’t take long to find Detective Slavin and the Troopers with him. “We’ve cleared the park of all civilians and have some men searching already,” Slavin informed him. They split up and searched the rest of the night to no avail. Getting into his unmarked patrol car, Arkham slammed the door and dropped his head on the wheel; Layman sat silently beside him. Sitting up, Arkham kept his eyes shut, pinched the bridge of his nose to help hold his breath and counted to fifteen before breathing deeply and starting again. After doing this a couple of times he took his last yawning breath and opened his eyes. Walking out of the trees was the young boy again, this time Arkham noticed that along with his strange appearance he had a 3 foot katana strapped to his waist and a claymore slung across his back.
Jumping out of the car Arkham ran after the kid, this time resisting the urge to call out to him. Layman followed suit. When he was a foot away the adolescent turned to look him straight in the eye, looking like anything but a child. He didn’t run this time, he scarcely moved a muscle. “You!” Arkham yelled. The odd young man cocked an eyebrow at him then sized up Layman.
He looked pointedly at Arkham. “Tell your partner to go back to the car.” Knowing somehow that if he didn’t listen the man would run he waved Layman back to the car. Opening his mouth, Layman began to protest to which Arkham shot him a silencing look.
When they were alone Arkham asked, “Who are you?”
“Devin Kross.”Arkham took a discreet step forward. Devin looked down at his movement then back up with a wry smile. “Afraid cop?”
“Should I be?”
“Possibly. Why don’t you just go home, forget about this whole case and leave the hard stuff to me.” It wasn’t a suggestion but a command.
“I can’t do that, I owe…”
“’I owe it to the people of this county to protect them’ yada yada yada. Did I miss anything? Look, you have no idea what you’re getting into; this isn’t some serial murderer out enjoying himself some human fillets.”
“Why don’t you tell me more if I’m so clueless?” He stepped closer to Devin and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. “I’m sorry about these but they’re just necessary ‘til I know you’re not a threat. I’ll take them off once we get down to the station and then we’ll just talk. Just come quietly and nothing bad has to happen.”
Devin looked between the handcuffs and the cop with a mixture of bemusement and irritation. “Those really won’t do you any good.”
“None-the-less,” Arkham reached Devin and snapped one cuff tightly around his wrist. Devin held out his other compliantly, letting Arkham seal him tightly. Next he reached around for the swords.
“Don’t touch those.” Arkham hesitated then continued to reach for the katana. “Look old man,” he broke the handcuffs cleanly off in a single tug and grabbed Arkham by the shoulders, lifting him off the ground, “I’ve tried being nice, but this is a waste of my time ‘cause you’re too stupid to listen. You’re a good guy, so maybe this will get it through your thick head, stay out of this. Keep your men out of this or more will die.”
“Arkham!” he heard his partner yell in the distance.
“Please listen!” With a quick motion, Devin struck Arkham firmly in the neck and the world went dark.
Four days later Arkham woke up in a hospital bed. Layman sat beside him, snoring like a bull horn. After looking down at his body to make sure that all of his parts were intact, he leaned over and shook his partner awake. Excitedly, Layman recounted the scene fours day prior to Arkham, without the dialogue, which Arkham declined on sharing. Two hours later they left the hospital to return to their homes for the night. “Layman,” he called after the boy before they separated, “thanks.” The young cop nodded once to his old partner.
Instead of sleeping, the old cop sat up, replaying the conversation over and over in his head as he stared out at the bottomless night. Piercing the night, his phone erupted into shrill chimes, bouncing up and down on the coffee table. “Arkham.”
Everything was wrong, everything was out of control. The coroner was dead, witnesses on the street claimed a wolf-like creature had burst out of the morgue and fled. Four patrol cars were currently pursuing the beast that was headed toward the state park. Three additional teams were racing there to head it off. When Arkham pulled up there were seven abandoned police cars parked haphazardly to block the road. One more car sat idling. At the same time Arkham got out of his vehicle, Layman got out of the other and met him halfway. “Thought you shouldn’t be left to go in alone.”
“I’m not alone now. Let’s go.” Charging into the forest, guns out and raised to the sky, both men were alarmed at how suddenly their environment changed. The thick foliage above made everything twice as dark so that both men could see no more than a foot in front of them. Whispering wind whipped through the leaves like a whip, quelling all other sounds from reaching the ear. Moon light struggled to seep onto the underbrush providing only a glimmer of light every couple of feet.
“Augh!” Layman yelled, yanking his hand back in horror.
“Damn it Layman.” From behind the young trainee, an abomination shot out to collide with Arkham, sending him rolling down a small hill as it clutched into his side with sharp nails, trying with desperate and clumsy motions to rip into his neck. The teeth missed, sinking into his left shoulder, tearing through the muscle to touch the bone. Fueled by adrenaline, Arkham shoved his gun against the things rib cage and pulled the trigger again and again and again until the thing fell limply over him. Jumping to his feet he ran toward the sound of his partner screaming. Pushing against the branches, ignoring the burning pain in his side, the searing sting of his useless arm, and the throbbing headache that threatened to steal his consciousness, he pushed himself to run toward the agonized screams even after they had ceased.
Pushing through another hindering branch, Arkham froze at the sight before him briefly then threw his back against a tree for cover. He had to be having a nightmare, this couldn’t possibly be real, but even as he argued with himself he accepted the truth of his situation. Scattered all over the ground were chunks of the fourteen cops who had entered before he’d arrived and another mutated being like the one he’d just killed. Looming over the motionless corpse of Layman, an abnormally gigantic white wolf was devouring his stomach, apparently oblivious to Arkham’s presence. Steeling himself, Arkham swung around, gun aimed to shoot, only to see the animal surging toward him.
Just before it closed on him, a solid form slammed into Arkham, knocking him sideways. Devin Kross slashed down with a lightning strike, decapitating the beast. Blood frothing and bubbling at its neck, Arkham could see a new head beginning to emerge out of the stump. With inhuman speed, Devin drove his blade downward, through the cavity of its chest, into the wildly thumping core. The head finished emerging in time to fall back into death.
Devin supported Arkham as they made their way out of the trees, making several calls on the cell phone he’d “borrowed” from Arkham. Resting his body against a tire of one of the cars back on the road, Devin waited with the bleeding old man. “You should have listened…” he said after a time.
“I didn’t know if you were a good guy or a bad guy. You know my kind, we don’t listen to threats.”
The young man snorted, “Yeah.”
“Can I ask you something?” Devin consented with a nod. “What happened?”
“You don’t want to know all of it, but here’s what I’ll tell yah. There’s a world beyond the one you know, we call it The Life. There’s a lot of crazy shit that your story writers have right like werewolves, vampires, demons…too bad they didn’t get anything but the name right. But basically, you humans are their little play things. I’m kinda like a self-proclaimed police of these things cause I’m not your everyday person. So yeah, any more questions?”
“Yeah, but I also figure I really don’t wanna know the answer to them now then do I?”
“Probably not.” The sirens could be heard in the distance. “You’re gonna be alright. It’s over now, I promise.” He stood up to leave.
“Why didn’t you save the others instead of me?”
“I tried.” With that, the young man disappeared into the woods. Later Arkham heard that all that was found were the fifteen dead men, leaving behind what was to be another unsolved case.
Originally from Baltimore County, Maryland, Danielle K. Mayhew is currently completing her undergraduate degree in English–Secondary Education from Towson University. Writing Young Adult fiction has always been one of her great passions and she hopes to one day publish a novel starring her favorite creation Devin Kross.