Franklyn Ward had seen some unspeakable things during his time investigating homicides in Arizona and New York, but nothing matched the scene before him now. The human detritus he had dedicated decades of his life to pursuing and locking away, until his early retirement at the age of forty-six, had intimidated him far less than his current plight; stood now as he was in a dark room, the back of his muscular frame dimly illuminated by a cheap, shade-less light bulb, his coarse facial features and thick beard highlighted by a streetlight that was muted as it shone through the hammering rain that clattered against the glass of the window in front of him. He stood, facing the window, looking down at what lie beneath it with a grimace on his face, the shadows occupying the furrows in his expression giving his face a ghoulish appearance, like a scoutmaster shining a torch upwards at himself as he tells ghost stories around a campfire. Wearing only a pair of faded stonewash denim jeans and a dirty white vest that exposed the muscular undulations of his shoulders and arms, accentuated by the pattern of shadow and light in the room, Frank grasped in his right hand a pair of pink rubber gloves. His knuckles were white where his fist was balled so tight around them, their colour distorting and fading to an incipient puce in his vice-like grip. The smell rising from the horror below the window was one of rot, thick and putrid as it swam upwards and infested his nostrils, warning him of the decay he was about to plunge into. Sighing, he slowly pulled on the gloves, the hem of each giving out a snap as he pulled them tight over his wrists before releasing them, and approached the basin; he couldn’t abide housework and had left plates, bowls and cutlery from many a recent meal to soak in a warm soapy brine, in lieu of actually cleaning up after himself. He had avoided washing the dishes for several weeks now, and the once warm water was now cold and greasy, with an oily brown film floating on top of it that left a circumferential stain on the metal of the sink to signify the level at which it once sat. Most of the water had slowly evaporated, receding toward the plughole and revealing more of its filthy cargo as it did so. Unidentifiable food matter floated in the layer of scum that lay over the water like a rancid blanket and, although Frank couldn’t actually recall what he’d been eating these last few weeks, each piece was a uniform black colour as if the remains of his meals were slowly amalgamating into an organism that would eventually climb out of its stainless steel penitentiary and hunt down the consumer of its fallen food comrades, just as Frank had hunted so many killer over the years.
After the events in Arizona, Frank had quit his job as a homicide detective and moved back to New York; the images of those murders still haunted him to this day, and the mutilated form of the supposed killer made him feel remarkably uncomfortable, like something inside him wanted to get as far away from what had happened as possible and dissociate from anything connecting him to that case. He always trusted this sixth sense that had served him so well in hunting the evil-natured, but he also had to pay the bills so still took on private cases – mostly rich families searching for their rebellious missing children – or occasionally consulted on for the NYPD homicide department. Frank now lived in a small, basement level apartment in Southside, Brooklyn. It was a dingy, ill-maintained property with noisy neighbours who played hip-hop music at all hours of the day and night – Frank sometimes wondered if they ever slept – and a tiny bedroom which had space enough only for a single bed and dressing table. The bedroom was situated on the left as you entered the apartment, facing the street so that you could see people’s shoes scurrying past through the stained, scratched glass of the small, street-level window, which itself was protected by thick black metal bars bolted onto the exterior wall. The irony of sleeping behind these bars didn’t escape Frank, but it didn’t bother him either; he’d much rather they were there than to be woken one night by a brick crashing into his bedroom. When it rained heavily, like it was tonight, the water would pool around the lower rim of the window, sometimes even rising gradually until it reached almost halfway, and the footsteps of passers-by splashing through puddles as they hurried past in search of shelter would give the impression that the view from the window was one of a port hole staring out into the middle of a tempestuous sea. Apart from the furniture the only other occupant of the bedroom was a stack of unsolved case files that Frank had accrued since returning to New York, the pile stood waist high and teetered on the verge of collapse, almost defying gravity. Straight ahead of the apartment’s front door, at the end of the hallway past the door to his bedroom, there was a tiled bathroom housing a toilet and basin, both originally glistening white but now stained with streaks of brown and piss-yellow, with a mouldy plastic curtain dividing the main bathroom and the claustrophobic shower cubicle. The tiles were pastel green and in relatively good condition; they still managed to gleam in the light from the socket in the ceiling, and only a few were cracked. The grout between each tile, though, was crumbling and discoloured, giving in to the daily onslaught of damp as the steam from the shower lingered in the absence of an extractor fan or window to allow its escape. There was a mirror above the basin but this was cracked and clouded, rust had penetrated into the cracks in the glass from the metal frame that surrounded it and the reflection in the mirror was like looking through the eyes of a person with a severe sight impediment, and cataracts. Frank didn’t mind this as he never had reason to use a mirror; he brushed his black, rapidly greying hair back over his head, and let his beard, also hastily lightening in colour with each passing month, grow wild. The hallway from the front door was short, with only five metres of stained green carpet between the bedroom door and that of the bathroom, and, on the right at the end, next to the soft green glow coming from the restroom, was the doorway into the kitchen. This was the largest room in the apartment but was still relatively small, only two metres wide by three long, and contained a small, round wooden table with two chairs immediately to the right as you entered. On the table was a round fish bowel housing a solitary goldfish, Lenny, who swam happily in and out of the small plastic bridge and castle, made to look as though they were constructed from large stones, which Frank had purchased with him and the tank from ‘Garth’s Pet Emporium’ when he’d moved back to the city from Arizona. The pebbles at the bottom of the bowl were multi-coloured and dusted with algae, but the glass was fairly clean; Frank like to clean it frequently so that Lenny could see out, and so that he could sarcastically consult him when he was stuck on a difficult case. Next to Lenny’s bowl was an old black-box transistor radio that was sometimes left on all day so that the sounds coming from the silver grill covering tis speakers would keep the goldfish company while his owner was out chasing down leads. Above the table, on the wall, hung a faded green telephone, its coiled wiring dangling down toward the wooden surface below. It had a built in answering machine, with a red light that blinked under the receiver when a message was waiting which was essential so that Frank never missed a potential case, particularly as he was getting fewer and fewer these days. The far wall of the kitchen was infested with damp and had, running its length from left to right, a small refrigerator, a basin with storage cupboards beneath it – painted a pastel green colour to match the bathroom tiles – and a small stove oven which stood next to the door to the modest patio. The window above the sink, where Frank now stood, looked out into the garden, which was a small but pleasant space that Frank was looking forward to using more in the summer; three stone steps up from the back door led onto a white, bricked courtyard about the same size as the kitchen, surrounded by waist-high walls of similar white-painted brick it was overlooked at every angle by neighbouring buildings, which Frank preferred over the privacy of high fences and large lawns. Although he wasn’t the most sociable, he was comforted by the closeness of others, especially since the events that caused him to leave – flee? – his former home. He had also started going to church again; his belief that his sixth sense had finally led him to true evil in Arizona had encouraged him to do everything in his power to ensure his entry into Heaven, like a bullet to the head encourages someone to die.
Staring out at the rain beating off of the patio outside, Frank’s mind wandered to the time in his life before he’d first abandoned the church; both him and his wife, Michelle, had lived in marital bliss together in Manhattan for a year or so before they fell pregnant with Daisy. Michelle had worked in a coffee shop during their courting and was more than happy to quit her job in order to become a full-time mother, and the benefits she received from the state were almost as much as her salary at the diner anyway. She was a beautiful, strong-willed woman standing barely more than five feet tall with piercing green eyes and long mousy-brown hair and olive skin that she’d inherited from her father’s Latin origin. She was also bestowed with the Latin temperament, though Frank had always found her tantrums curiously endearing. She knew what she liked and didn’t much like change, so it was somewhat surprising how naturally she took to motherhood when Daisy was born. Frank loved to help out looking after his daughter when he got home from work but most days he would return to find the house clean, the baby fed and his own evening meal waiting for him in the oven. He hated that his work took him away from his family; he loved Michelle with all his heart, and when Daisy was born he felt an instant connection with her and often felt consumed with contentedness. Too often, though, he would only have time to play with his daughter for an hour or so after work before she needed to e put down for the night, so he would frequently sneak into her room and watch her sleep before retiring to bed with Michelle. For eighteen months their family had worked perfectly, whirring like a well-oiled machine, and they existed in their own elated bubble, living the American dream. That was until Frank received a job offer from the homicide department in Arizona; the hours were better and the salary was more generous so he was keen to entertain the possibility of relocating, but Michelle was born and raised in New York and vehemently resisted Frank’s discussions regarding the job offer. He tried to explain his frustration over the lack of time he spent with Daisy, and that the job in Arizona would give him many more hours to spend with her and that it would bring significantly more money into the household, but Michelle stood firm, her Latin blood slowly turning to molten lava each time Frank mentioned it. The last straw had come when he had brought home Arizona property brochures to show Michelle what they could afford with his new salary should he take the job; she had erupted into a rage, beating his chest and screaming into his face, dousing it with spittle as she accused him of being selfish and not caring about her own wishes. Within an hour she had packed her bags, loaded Daisy into their station wagon, and screeched off into the distance, heading to her parents’ house on Staten Island leaving a bewildered Frank standing on their porch steps staring at her tail lights as they faded into the distance, a tear forming in the corner of his eye as his usually rock-steady jaw began to quiver. After that day Frank had retreated into himself, throwing all of his focus and energy into his work and not allowing any outsider a glimpse of his pain. He had remained silent, steely-eyed and studious throughout the ensuing custody hearing, which Michelle won, agreeing to provide anything he could financially for his infant daughter despite his ex-wife’s insistence that his contact with Daisy be limited to once a month. He had taken the job in Arizona even though Michelle had allowed him to keep their marital home – her parents were fairly wealthy and had bought a small house in the suburbs for her and Daisy to live in – because the happy memories encased within its walls were too painful to bear now his own walls were tumbling down around him. He continued to see his daughter every month as arranged, alternating trips to Michelle’s new home with her visiting him in Arizona, until she was sixteen; he had told her she wasn’t to visit him one month due to the conspicuously violent slaughters occurring around Tucson, and that he wasn’t able to visit her either because it was his job to catch the killer. Daisy took the news badly and the two of them fought on the phone for over an hour before she finally hung up on him, and they hadn’t spoken since. She had her mother’s stubborn streak and Frank was too frightened of pushing her further away by pursuing unwanted contact. In trying to protect his daughter from Aaron Stokes he had extradited himself from their relationship and had lost the one thing he still loved, but the thought of her alive and healthy, and safe from the clutches of men like Stokes, helped him maintain the weak grasp he had on the thin yarn that was the remainder of his self-esteem. It had been five years since the events in Arizona and Frank had kept regular contact with Michelle, now dating a sleazy used car salesman named Leonard Watkins, so that he could hear about Daisy’s progress at school, through college and into her fledgling working life; she had just completed a degree in journalism and had an apprenticeship at a national newspaper which paid well enough for her to buy her own apartment, which made Frank proud as heck. Standing in his kitchen reminiscing about his daughter’s success filled Frank with pride once more, a warm feeling surging through him as he puffed out his already sizeable chest and smiled softly to himself. In the corners of his eyes he saw his beard shift with the movement of his facial muscles, widening at the sides as his cheeks bulged, and felt crow’s feet wrinkling the sides of his eyes, shadows appeared at the sides of his face like winged ravines in the dim light. He was a handsome man underneath his huge, lumberjack beard and combed-back hair but the trials of the previous decade or so had taken their toll and now manifested themselves as the grey streaks in his mane, the deep wrinkles extending through his brow down to his temples, and the distinct lack of grooming beyond a brush of his teeth and comb through his hair. It was only by virtue of social demand that he even bothered with deodorant anymore. His smile faded as his gaze slowly fell, returning to the horror show in his kitchen sink, and he leaned forward with a groan that signified his resentment of chores but also that he was resigned to having to tackle this one. He grabbed a dirty, damp-smelling sponge from beside the faucet in one gloved hand, and with the other he retrieved a bottle of washing up liquid; the bottle was slippery and difficult to hold with the rubber gloves as he squeezed, aggressively coating the sponge with yellow, lemon-scented goo. He was about to plunge his hands into the cold, greasy water when something caught his eye; the curtain of rain outside his window shifted to the right for just a second, as if the droplets were blown in unison by a rogue breeze, or as if something had passed through them heading towards his back door. Frank dropped the sponge into the water in the sink and peeled off his gloves with a puckering sound like a suction cup being pulled violently away from a wall, the smell of rubber filled his nostrils as he crept his way to the window in the door and leaned closer, peering out into the curtain of rain. Everything was still aside from the falling water; his garden was empty of plants or pots, and he couldn’t see any of his neighbours outside. He scanned the scene in front of him. The wind so rarely penetrated the enclosed courtyard and so his sixth sense was screaming at him that all was not as it seemed. He stopped suddenly with a sharp intake of breath when he saw an anomaly in the showering rain; in the far right corner of his garden was a dark shape, hidden in the shadows but far darker than anything produced by the mere absence of light, it was the size of a beach ball, and the rain blackened as it passed through it. Frank stared at the shape, frozen in terror, the hairs on the back of his neck lifted and his beard twitched with movement as he recognised this thing’s resemblance to what he’d seen in the chapel in Arizona. He wanted to move, to run to the dresser in his bedroom where he kept his gun, but he was frozen to the spot, unblinking and focussed on the menacing dark entity that seemed to be studying him in return. The kitchen light began to hum like a swarm of bees, gradually building in intensity before spectacularly blowing the bulb, plunging the entire room into darkness as tiny shards of fragile glass were thrust in every direction. But still Frank remained still, eyes fixed on the dark. As he stared, the rain passing through the shape began to turn red, splashing like blood on the white of his patio beneath the entity and draining towards his back door in the furrows between the bricks. Frank felt as though his spine had turned to ice as his fear grew, and he was unaware that his teeth were now chattering and tears filled his eyes, but he refused to steer his gaze from the thing in his garden. His concentration was finally broken as the radio came on behind him, noisily blaring out the happy, charming drones of a teenage boy band, and he rapidly spun on his heels, arms out to his sides and knees bent ready to fight. His eyes searched the darkness wildly, and he blinked away a film of tears as he investigated the interior of his home for potential assailants. The radio continued to roar but nothing moved in the gloom, so Frank straightened and stepped cautiously across the room to turn off the music. The room was once again plunged into silence, and loud clicking sounds penetrated his eardrums as he flicked the light switch by the door a couple of times, to no avail. He turned slowly and returned his attention to the opposite side of the room; occupying almost the entire space of the window in the door to the garden was the black entity, it seemed to have grown in size and now resembled the silhouette of a person. The raindrops glistened around it as they fell, but the ones passing through the shape darkened and seemed to slow in their descent, deepening in blackness as they neared the floor. Frank followed the path of these droplets with his eyes and saw that water had begun to leak under the door and into the kitchen, and that the water was bloodied and black like rust mixed with ink. He stood for a moment, back flat against the wall, breathing heavily as the puddle grew, before darting out into the hallway and into his bedroom, his bare feet struggling for grip on the worn fibres of his carpet. His momentum took him skittering into the door of his bedroom as he entered, nearly knocking it clean off of its hinges, and he scrambled to the far wall, beneath the sidewalk-level window, to his worn teak dresser, pulling open the top drawer and retrieving his .38 Smith and Wesson 27 revolver. As he checked that the gun was loaded, flipping open the chamber to reveal six bullets poised and ready to be fired, the radio started up again, this time reciting a creepy rocker ominously crooning over an uneven and out-of-tune piano. The chime of the instrument and whine of the vocals turned Frank’s nervous system into a network of popsicles, his skin became hypersensitive to its surroundings and felt like it had been submerged in an ice bath. He slowly turned around to face the door and crept across his bedroom and out into the hall, his eyes still struggling to focus in the dark. He stepped softly along the hallway, creeping along in a hunched stance, gun at the ready and moving as silently as he could, hearing only the rain assaulting his windows and the music from the radio that began to scratch and waver as he drew nearer to the kitchen, as if the melody was coming from an old warped vinyl record that was slowly melting. The voice of the artist grew gradually deeper and slower until it was an incoherent, deep warble as Frank entered the room and made his way cautiously to the back door; the puddle was gone and he could see no sign of interruption in the flowing rain outside. The deep, disconcerting drone from the radio rose in pitch as he scanned his garden, slowly coming to full speed once more but, as it did so, it was no longer playing music; the eerie song had been replaced by a woman’s laughter, softly chuckling in an almost threatening manner as though it was aware of a dangerous secret. Frank straightened, he knew that laugh; it was one he’d heard many times but it had never sounded so evil before, it had always burst forth in response to some joyous news or unintentional slapstick hilarity from his father. It was his mother’s laugh. He lowered his gun and turned slowly away from his back door, fearful of what he might see, eyes wide and head tilted slightly back so that he was looking down the ridge of his nose. He was unaware that he was trembling as he saw what lurked in the corner where the wall met the ceiling over the radio; the thick black shape, far more dense than just a shadow clung to the ceiling, arm-like projections either side giving it the appearance of a vampire lurking in its cloak in an old fashioned horror movie. It waited for a second, as if checking Frank over, the laughter from the radio building in volume so that it became almost deafening before the entity suddenly rushed forward, roaring through mid-air across the kitchen and colliding forcefully into Frank, knocking him backwards into the door. The impact took Frank by surprise and the back of his head struck the door handle as he fell, leaving him unconscious and slumped against the stove as the entity burrowed into his ribcage and disappeared into his torso. As the last of the shadowy figure vanished into Frank’s chest the radio suddenly fell silent and the only movement in the room was Lenny left happily swimming around inside his bowl.