I didn’t realize how nervous I was until I stepped out of my squad car. When my feet were on the ground and I actually began walking my first beat, the gravity of my situation fully dawned on me. I drew in a deep breath and exhaled. It was important that I stay focused tonight. I couldn’t rely on the experience of my training officer anymore; I was on my own. If someone needed help, I could be the only one in earshot that could do anything. I swallowed hard. Serve and protect.

I rounded the corner of a city block and briefly scanned the surrounding area. There were a few cars parked on the sides of the road, and one or two of the streetlamps had burned out, but besides that–nothing. Not a person in sight. Luckily for me, I had been assigned to patrol a relatively quiet and crime-free area of the city, but the silence did little to calm my anxiety. The echo of my footsteps on the sidewalk seemed like the only sound in the whole city, and it sent a chill up my spine. I let out another deep breath. I couldn’t be scared of my own footsteps if I was going to be of use to anyone out here. I needed to calm down.

As I continued walking down the sidewalk, I became aware of how nervous I would probably have looked to any passersby. I straightened my back and began to take more confident strides, trying not to appear like the rookie I was. I wanted to look as if I had walked this beat a thousand times, but I couldn’t stop myself from fiddling with the pepper spray on my belt. Nervous habit, but it gave me a little bit of comfort.

I crossed the intersection of 4th and Rose and looked both ways as I did. Nothing. I had the feeling I would be seeing a lot of nothing tonight, but this, again, did not deter my unease. Part of me wished I would see something, but this thought made my hair stand on end. I rubbed the back of my neck and drew in a deep breath, another attempt to calm myself, when something across the street caught my eye.

A man stumbled down the sidewalk, using signs and lampposts to hold himself up as he made his way. The man was of medium build and pretty poorly dressed. He was probably homeless and just had a bit too much to drink. I exhaled, and began crossing the street. I doubted that he was dangerous, but to err on the side of caution, I placed my hand on my gun as I approached.

“Sir?” The man continued to stagger along as if I wasn’t even there. He must’ve had a lot to drink.

“Sir, do you need any help?” As I got closer, I could smell the stench of alcohol on him.

I reached out to tap the man on the shoulder but realized that I was shaking. I withdrew my hand and froze for a moment, exhaling again. Serve and protect. I reached out once more, but before I could touch the man, he tripped and fell face first onto the sidewalk.

I knelt down beside him and tried to get his attention again. “Sir, are you okay?” The man lay motionless on the sidewalk, still not responding. I grabbed him by his shoulder and turned him to check for head injuries, but nearly recoiled when I saw his face. He had definitely broken his nose, and it looked like a couple of his teeth were cracked. I grabbed the radio on my lapel and held down the button.

“I’ve got an injured civilian on Rose Street between 4th and 5th, he has a broken nose and knocked some of his teeth out, and I think he’s been drinking. He might need an ambulance.”

I released the button on my radio and waited a moment. After a few seconds, the radio came to life and a grainy female voice responded, “What’s the address?”

I stood up and examined the buildings next to me. “We’re right in front of 443 Rose Street. It looks like an apartment building.”

“Okay,” she paused. “We’re sending someone over. Stay with him until the ambulance arrives.”

“All right, thanks.” Just as I got off the call with dispatch, the man on the sidewalk began to mumble under his breath. I knelt back down.

“Sir, you should rest. An ambulance is on its way.” He kept mumbling, and then began trying to sit up.

“Sir, just stay there on your side, the ambulan-” The man reached up and grabbed me by the collar. His pained eyes opened wide, begging me to pay attention to what he was about to say. I could feel my heart rate speed up.

“You have to…” he trailed off. His eyes began closing, but then his grip tightened on my shirt and his eyes opened even wider than before. “You have to… run.” He fell back onto the sidewalk and exhaled, eyes closed.

My heart was beating so fast that I could hardly hear my own thoughts. I placed my hand down on the sidewalk to steady myself but jerked it away when I felt something wet. I looked down and found my fingertips stained crimson. My eyes moved to the sidewalk. A thick pool of blood was forming around the man’s torso.

I opened the man’s jacket to check for any other wounds, and found the shirt under his jacket soaked with blood. I tried to swallow but couldn’t. He was torn to shreds. His shirt was ripped in large strokes across his stomach, aligned with deep, messy wounds in his flesh. It was as if someone had tried to tear him apart with their bare hands.

A wave of nausea came over me, but I forced myself to stay focused. I started reaching for my radio when a distant noise made me freeze. A scream. A distinctly desperate scream. I turned my head in the direction that I thought it came from. Everything in my head was telling me to stand up and run toward the noise, but it wasn’t until the scream rang out a second time that my body listened.

I sprinted toward 5th and Rose and stopped in the middle of the intersection. I spun in place, checking each of the roads and waiting for another clue as to the scream’s origin. A screech, lower in pitch than the previous two, echoed from the north side of 5th street. I pivoted and ran toward the noise.

As I crossed into the intersection of 5th and Temple, I glimpsed the source of the screams. A woman being dragged by her hair into an alleyway by a gaunt, shadowy figure. I didn’t get a good look at the figure before they disappeared into the alley, but the strength this person possessed made me pause. To drag a grown woman like that… Another scream snapped me back to attention.

“Stop, police!” I rushed to the mouth of the alley, drawing my gun as I ran. The alley was dark, but I could make out the figure and the woman about 100 feet down the corridor. They turned left down a side alley as I continued to run toward them. I was halfway to where I saw them turn when I was suddenly stopped by a tall chain link fence. I looked up at it, dumbfounded. How could they have gotten over this fence so quickly? I holstered my gun and jumped onto the fence, hoisting myself over it and landing hard on the other side.

I turned the corner, redrawing my gun, and crossed back into the bright lights of the street. There was no sign of the figure or the woman. No blood, no screaming pedestrians–nothing. Desperate not to lose them, I examined everything on the street: parked cars, storefront windows, manhole covers, rooftops. Rooftops. I looked back into the alley and saw a fire escape right next to the corner the figure and I had just rounded. The ladder was pulled down.

I crept back into the alley and grabbed the rungs of the ladder, climbing to the first set of steps on the fire escape. I then carefully made my way to the top floors of the building. As I got closer to the roof, I began to hear strange sounds. At first, they were indistinct, but they became clearer as I approached. Snapping, tearing, lips smacking. My footsteps grew more deliberate. My jaw tightened. I pulled my gun to my chest. Safety off. I was at the top.

My back pressed firmly against the wall of the top floor, I stood there listening to the sickening noises. My breaths were calm, but my mind raced. Images of who could be making those sounds materialized. What they would do if they got the better of me. Who they would hurt if I couldn’t stop them. I focused my eyes on the trigger of my gun. I had to stop them.

I peered over the edge of the rooftop. At first I didn’t see anything, but then I spotted the figure hunched over something behind a ventilation duct. The woman. I shuddered. They must’ve been ripping into her skin with their bare hands, just like they did the homeless man. You have to run. The man’s words echoed in my head. I swallowed hard as I walked up the last few steps. I pulled the flashlight from my belt.

I pointed my gun and flashlight at the figure. “Stop!” I flipped the switch, illuminating the figure. “Pol-” The figure turned to face me and stood, and for the first time, I got a really good look at them–or it. Unnaturally pale skin was stretched over bones too big for it. Lean, blood-stained arms and legs were attached to a hunched and deformed torso. The twisted grin on the thing’s face revealed the remnants of a fresh kill in its teeth. Its sunken eyes were locked on me.

I stared at the creature, every detail washing over me in a wave of immobilizing fear. I stared at its pallid, sickly veins as it vaulted over the duct it was behind. I stared at the sharp nails it had used to tear those two people apart as it stalked over to me. I stared at the trembling gun in my hand as the creature let out a low-pitched screech. I stared at its contracted pupils as it placed its bony hand around my throat, and I stared as they dilated after I squeezed the trigger of my gun.

The creature screamed and recoiled, throwing itself into the ventilation duct in a fit of rage. I looked down at my gun, smoke rising from the barrel. A ringing in my ears pushed the creature’s cries of anger into the background. I thought that I must be dreaming, but the pain in my neck from the creature’s grasp told me that this was no dream. The ringing faded out, and I came back to reality.

The creature managed to control its anger and turned its attention back to me. The gunshot wound on its chest barely bled. I fired again, this time hitting the creature in the stomach. It winced but continued its advance. Again. Again. The creature kept coming, barely flinching at each gunshot now. I backed up as I counted the rounds I had left. Eleven. Ten. Nine. Eight. It kept coming. Seven. Six. Five. I aimed for its head as it picked up its pace, moving more sporadically. Four. Miss. Three. Miss. Two. Miss. My back foot hit the trim of the roof.

I tried to fire again, but the creature swatted at the gun, knocking it out of my hands and to the other side of the roof. It grabbed me by the collar and lifted me up as if I was the weight of a child, then turned and slammed me onto the rooftop, knocking the air out of my lungs. I gasped for a breath as it reaffirmed its grip on my collar and threw me into a vent. As my side connected with the duct, there was a loud crack, followed by a radiating pain in my chest. I began to scream, but a sharp pang in my rib cage cut it short. I winced and let my head fall to my right, when something caught my attention on the other side of the vent. My gun.

I looked back to the creature, which was making its way toward me again. I would have to stall it to get my gun. Grabbing at my belt, I pulled out the first thing I got ahold of. I pointed the canister at the creature and pressed my thumb down on the nozzle, covering its face in pepper spray. The creature screamed even louder than before, desperately trying to wipe away the searing pain.

I forced myself over the vent and began crawling toward my gun as the creature continued to shriek. Every painful push forward was another knife twisting in my side, another bead of sweat forming on my forehead, another thought shouting at me to stop, but I somehow managed to make it to my gun. I picked it up in relief, then turned toward the creature–whom I just noticed had stopped screaming.

The creature had its arms outstretched and was searching around aimlessly, turning at the slightest noise it heard. I looked up at its face to find its eyes tightly closed. It couldn’t see. There was a brief glimmer of hope, but I still couldn’t get a shot on its head from here; it was moving too quickly. I needed to stand so I could get close enough. 

I placed my hands on the ground in front of me and tried to push myself to my feet. As I did, my vision flashed with a sharp pain, almost making me fall backward. I lowered myself to my knees and glanced at the creature. It whipped its head toward an adjacent roof and growled as a bird took flight. It still hadn’t heard me. Exhaling, I brought my right knee in front of me and forced myself to a crouch. I crept alongside the ventilation duct and made my way to the side of the roof that overlooked the street. When I got to the edge of the roof, a twinge shot up my side. I tried to stifle the scream, but a small noise slipped out. The creature stopped.

My side calmed to a dull ache when the creature turned its head in my direction. It took deliberate steps toward me, waiting for another sound so it could be sure of where to strike. I raised my gun and took aim at its head. Two shots left. I had to make them count. I drew in a breath, then pulled the trigger. My shot connected with the creature’s jaw, tearing through flesh and bone, exposing its jagged, blood-stained maw. The creature rushed madly in my direction, letting out a furious screech.

Before I could move, the creature was on me. I tried to pivot out of its way, but the sound of my steps told it exactly where I was. It pivoted with me, grabbing me by my shirt and holding me on the edge of the roof. I turned my head and looked to the street below; a fall from this height would definitely kill me. Reassuring its grip, the creature dug its claws into my skin and snarled. It knew it had me. Straining to open its eyes to look at its prey, it bared a confident grin. But instead of its defeated prey, the creature saw the barrel of my gun. The confident grin disappeared.

The sound of the shot pierced the air, and the bullet hit it right between the eyes. Everything was completely still for a moment, then the creature’s expression slackened. The hand on my shirt fell to its side and it staggered backward, teetering on the edge of the roof. All at once, the creature’s body went limp, and it tumbled off of the roof, and onto the sidewalk below. I stared down at its lifeless body, trying to catch my breath. A smile crept across my face. It was actually kind of funny how it looked from up here, almost like it was nothing more than a pile of bones. I let out a small chuckle, then collapsed onto the roof.


The sound of sirens jolted me awake. My eyes darted around the rooftop as my mental fog cleared, and I began to remember what had just happened. The creature’s face flashed in my vision, and I winced, recalling my run in with the ventilation duct. I rubbed my side as the pain crept back in. My head fell back in exhaustion, and I let the droning siren wash over me. I couldn’t believe that this creature was real, but there was the image plain as day in my mind.

I turned my head toward the sidewalk to look at the creature again. The sidewalk was stained with a crimson red where it landed. Dragging, bloodied footsteps crawled out from the stain and into the middle of the road, then unsteadily crept toward an open manhole cover and disappeared at its edge. I reached a shaky hand up to my radio and held down the button.