Harpur ran up the path as fast as he could. The darkness and fog forced him to slow down from a headlong dash to a more cautious jog. The woman's screaming ceased and he began to fear the worst. From her last utterance he judged her to be about twenty yards ahead. Now that the shrieking had stopped he could also hear a man's voice, much quieter and barely more than a whimpering moan.
"Leave us alone you unholy devil!" the voice wailed. It quivered with terror. "Why have you come back? Go back to Hell!"
In the foggy darkness ahead of Harpur shadows were silhouetted against the glow from the light at the other end of the lane. There were two bodies on the ground. Someone was crouching over one of them and another person was on his or her knees nearby. As he approached, Harpur’s foot kicked a gentleman's top hat and it sailed off into the the fog.
He cocked his pistol. He had hoped to come upon the incident unannounced so that surprise would be his advantage but behind him he heard approaching footsteps and the blowing of more police whistles.
"Up here lads! It's Harpur," he shouted over his shoulder.
The kneeling person looked up, spotted Harpur approaching and ran to him.
"Oh Sir, thank the Lord!" The man cried. "This fiend will kill us all!"
The second individual also turned to see who was approaching. Harpur could not make out any details in the darkness, but from the angle of their head he could tell the person was looking at him. He heard a strange, feral grunting noise.
"Belfast Borough Police," Harpur announced himself, though his uniform should have made that unnecessary. "What's going on here?"
"I'm Reverend James Wilson," the man approaching him cried. "This man attacked us. He's killed your colleague. My niece-"
Wilson was cut off by a loud grunt from the other person who suddenly sprang to his feet and stumbled towards them. Harpur had time to see a man dressed in little more than rags, slightly shorter than himself with wild, unkempt long hair and a pallid complexion. He stank like month old parsnips and dirt.
"Stop where you are or I'll shoot," Harpur said. The man kept coming. He was barely five yards away now and still making the frenzied grunting noise.
"I mean it," Harpur said.
The man did not stop.
Harpur pulled the trigger. The hammer fell. Briefly, the scene was illuminated by the muzzle flash from the pistol and Harpur's eye took in the dishevelled figure before him, his lips curled back in a fierce snarl, his greasy, lank hair flailing in all directions. His mouth and cheeks were smeared with a glistening, jelly-like substance that reflected the blaze of gunfire. At such a short distance Harpur could not miss. As the flash faded he saw the round hole punched in the man's forehead as the bullet struck just above his right eye.
The assailant's head snapped back from the impact, his eyes had already taken on the blank, expressionless emptiness of death. He spun backwards and dropped to the ground like a stone. He did not move again.
“Well that’s my career shafted,” Harpur commented to himself. As a supposedly unarmed police officer, he was going to have a hard time explaining to Inspector Boyd how he came to shoot a suspect dead.
For a couple of seconds there was silence except for Harpur's heavy breathing, then the clatter of boots announced the arrival of the other policemen. Their lanterns illuminated the scene.
"What's happening?" one of the policemen demanded. Harpur instantly recognised the thick-almost impenetrable-Glens of Antrim accent. It was Dermot O'Donnell, a stout, reliable colleague and just the sort of man you wanted around in a situation like this.
"Dermot. Good to see you." Harpur said. "I've just shot somebody. Give me your lantern will you?"
O'Donnell handed his light to Harpur who shone it around to get a better idea of the scene. The man he had shot lay face down and unmoving before him. A little way away he could see a woman, insensible and lying flat on her back. Beside her lay a policeman. The Reverend Wilson had sunk to his knees once more, his hands clasped together as he recited a prayer of thanks for his deliverance.
Harpur hurried over to the woman. O'Donnell and the other policeman followed him. The woman was young, her eyes were closed and a dark bruise was starting to form on her cheek. A trickle of blood ran from her right nostril. As Harpur knelt to examine her better, Reverend Wilson joined them, pushing the other policemen aside to get closer.
"Is she alright?" he said. "She's my niece, Emily. We were coming home from dinner at William Patterson's house. This officer saw us walking up Hill Hamilton's Avenue and offered to see us home safely."
Harpur noted that Emily was still breathing and her pulse was strong. "She's just unconscious," he announced, crossing to where his fallen colleague lay. "What happened?"
"We were walking up the lane and that…fiend attacked us out of the fog," the clergyman said. "He knocked Emily to the ground and attacked your colleague."
Harpur rolled the prone policeman over onto his back. All four of them gasped in horror at the sight of his injuries.
He was obviously dead. Bright crimson blood dribbled onto the lane from his destroyed face.
"What happened to his eyes?" O'Donnel growled.
"That creature…" The vicar winced at the thought. "He ate them!"
The Policemen gasped again.
"What sort of a madman-?" Harpur, his anger rising, swung the lantern round to have a good look at the body of the man he had shot in the head.
"Madman, constable? No," the reverend Wilson cried. "This is a fiend out of Hell!"
"Come now Reverend, you've had a nasty shock-" O'Donnel laid a calming hand on the shoulder of the almost hysterical minister. Harpur turned the light back towards the minister.
"You don't understand!" Reverend Wilson looked at them with a forlorn, wide-eyed gaze. "That man is Patrick McNally."
Both policemen stiffened, recognising the name.
"Now don't be ridiculous, Reverend," Harpur said.
"I know what I am talking about," Wilson cut him off. "I am rector of St. Ann’s but also parson to the Belfast House of Correction. Three weeks ago I gave that man the final sacrament and accompanied him to the scaffold. I witnessed him hanged by the neck until dead for his crimes. He should be rotting in his grave, not running around Belfast."
Harpur frowned and swung the lantern back towards the man he had shot.He was gone. The light illuminated nothing more than a little pool of thick black blood where the body had lain.