Copyright © 2015 by Casey Fry, All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including scanning, photocopying, or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright holder.
Also by Casey Fry…
The God Stone (2017)
Dead Man’s Dog
De Facto Dead
The coroner had removed the body, but everything else was left as it had been found. The blood coating the floor, pooled around where she had lain and eventually succumbed to death. It was slashed across the floor and walls, speckling the ceiling, and told the tale of something viciously tearing into her body.
But what? What had torn into her?
Roger ran a hand through curly blonde locks, sending his hair into even greater disarray. He grimaced as he looked at the scene in front of him, imagining what it must have looked like when she was first found.
What happened to you, Kenzie?
The sound of a gun cocking behind him brought Roger back to the present. He hadn’t been moving, but he stilled even further, knowing that he had a gun barrel pointed at his back. His held his breath, listening. Whoever was behind him was also not moving.
If it was the killer—
Roger’s tensed shoulders sagged. “Berkley.”
He turned around slowly. The darkness he had been standing in persisted stubbornly. A window in an adjacent room let in enough light that he could vaguely see the taller man lowering a handgun he had clasped in steady hands. Roger remained silent as he watched the man holster the weapon, and only then met the police officer’s eyes.
They glittered out of a dark face. Their luminescence caught the scantest ray of light coming from the other room and sent his eyes glowing an amber-gold surely bright enough to light the room on its own. The eyes flickered out as he blinked but reappeared quickly enough. They were focused intently upon Roger’s own, and he knew Berkley could see him perfectly.
“I expected you earlier than this.”
Berkley was moving again, his gaze turning away from Roger as he looked toward something else. There was the rustle of fabric and the flutter of papers, but Roger couldn’t see well enough to know what the man had in his possession. His mind flew back to the news report he had heard less than an hour ago.
“This morning, at two o’clock, Kenzie McRee was found murdered. The twenty-four-year-old college student was a witness in the trial of Wyatt Franklin last year, during which the man was found guilty of the murder of three college students and sentenced to death.
“That McRee’s murder occurred exactly one year after the execution of Franklin has brought forth the question, is this possibly a copycat, wishing to continue where Franklin left off? Or a fan, hoping to avenge what they may view as his unfortunate demise?”
“I only just saw it on the news,” he murmured. He had looked away from Berkley as the memory had struck him, and only then realized his attention had returned to the great pool of blood congealing on the floor.
He closed his eyes, his chin touching his chest as he bowed his head. It hurt to think about Kenzie as she must have been in her final moments; terrified, in pain, being shredded by something—
“Do you have any theories?”
Roger’s gasp was quiet, but no doubt still audible to his companion’s ear. The sudden breath was sharp on his tongue, but he let an exhale and deep inhale follow it, and again, until his pounding heart had settled.
He was grateful for the interruption from his thoughts.
“Something with claws. Clearly.”
The blood had pooled in the deep scratches that had been scarred into the hardwood floor, but a close study of the floor with his flashlight had shown him the claw marks. They were deep enough, and wide enough apart, that his first suspect had been a lion.
Unlikely. In fact, in Spectre, New York, it was far more lightly that Kenzie had been mauled by a werewolf.
“It wasn’t a werewolf,” Berkley said, as though reading his mind. Roger knew, at least, the man couldn’t do that.
“How do you know?”
“The full moon isn’t for another week.”
When he first learned what Berkley was, Roger might have asked if the man knew the phases of the moon without having to think about it because he suffered at their whim. Now, a year later, he was aware that werecats were not bound by the full moon, but that Berkley prowled the city during those nights, keeping an eye out for such beasts.
“What do you think, then?” Roger asked, looking toward the shadow standing a few feet away from him. He saw the shoulders shrug.
“It could be any number of things. It’s been difficult to narrow it down. There’s been no talk of anything irregular Underground.” The man’s arm moved and the meager light caught against a manila folder he was holding out to Roger. “A copy of the case file.” Roger took it carefully. “When the captain figures out your nose is deep in this case, I’d appreciate it if that didn’t exist.”
Roger nodded, meeting the taller man’s eyes. “Don’t worry.”
Berkley turned to leave, but hesitated. “Lamb.” Roger couldn’t see his face, but his eyes were narrowed slightly and his voice sounded uncomfortable. “Sharpe’s been keeping a pretty close eye on those he knows you’re close to. If I have to—”
“I know.” He saw the golden eyes flicker briefly to his turned up lips, before the man looked away again. “It’s all right.”
Berkley nodded, before turning and leaving without a word. Roger heard the door shut behind him, and then the turning of a lock.
He tucked the file folder under one arm and pulled his small flashlight out of his jacket pocket with the other. Knowing he shouldn’t spend much time in the house, he resolved to give the whole place a quick, but thorough, search.
Roger moved from room to room in the house, shining his light over every inch. He looked at the ceiling, in closets, and made sure to check under every bed. Had there been a weapon that had been found, he knew Berkley would have said something, but he also knew that there would be no weapon to be found. A human didn’t kill Kenzie – a creature did, and creatures had no use for weapons.
Searching through the rest of the house yielded nothing else of interest, however. Grimacing, Roger closed the bedroom door behind him, took a final glimpse of the living room, clicked off the flashlight, and headed to the front door.
Freezing in place, Roger held his breath. What was that?
He hadn’t heard any ticking before, and he had been sure to use all of his senses as he moved through the house on silent feet. There had been no ticking.
He kept quiet, listening.
The ticking wasn’t steady. The rhythm of it was desperately irregular. Roger exhaled slowly and drew a deep, silent breath, listening.
Breathing quietly again, Roger tilted his head to the side and began to follow the sound. He had to stop a few times and listen, waiting for the ticking to start again, but then it would. He followed the sound, and it eventually led him to the door of the master bedroom, which he had closed right before heading to the front door. There had been no clock in the room save for a digital alarm clock, and there had certainly been no ticking.
Roger took the doorknob in his fingers and turned it slowly.
Tick… Tick… Tick…
He pushed the door open in a fluid motion, stepping into the room quickly. His eyes sought the source of the infrequent ticking sound.
There was a clock on the far wall. Roger frowned at it. It was a cuckoo clock, which he could tell from the tiny, hinged door near the top. The face of the clock was set just below it.
Shaped like a birdhouse, the clock was made of wood and had leaves and vines carved into it to make it appear more woodsy. Pinecone-shaped weights hung down from the bottom of it by thin metal chains, and a pendulum swung back and forth.
Tick… Tick… Tick…Tick…Tick…
It was unmistakably the source of the ticking sound that he had heard. Roger hadn’t noticed its presence before. He had neither heard the ticking nor seen the clock on the wall, and considering his close scrutiny of the whole house, that was very strange, indeed.
Roger studied the clock for a long moment, but there was nothing special about it that he could see. Still…
He snapped a picture with his phone, then shut the bedroom door behind him as he left. It was probably a mistake caused by stress from finding out a friend had been killed, but it bothered him that he had missed it, regardless of the reason.
There were worse things he could have missed, however. After all, there was nothing sinister about a clock except for its morning alarm.
He has waited so long.
He had waited patiently, but the man did not return.
He waited until he could wait no longer.
He left, and even gone, he waits.
He will wait forever.
He is patient.
He is loyal.
Roger Lamb was a private detective.
He had previously been a pilot, but had chosen a new job after his wife left him, in part as a desperate hope that he could win her back. He had failed in that, but it had ultimately turned out for the best, as Connie would never have been able to handle the truths of the world that Roger had learned one year, helping out the local police agency.
Roger lived in Spectre, New York. It was a small city located in the northwest part of New York State, on the coast of Lake Ontario. Sometimes, when the nights were particularly clear, one could stand on the edge of the pier and look through the waters of the lake, clear to the depths below. Down there, beneath the earth at the bottom of Lake Ontario, lay the Underground.
Roger had never been there. It was a place where walked those who were a part of society, but not. It was a place where those who were not animals, but not humans, lived freely.
Underground. The realm of those who all knew existed, but who few believed.
He knew that the existence of the creatures once considered mythological was common knowledge to the world, and had been for seventy years. Common knowledge, however, did not mean accepted, and most of the world went on with their daily lives, choosing to believe that vampires, werewolves, and ghosts were the stuff of legends, even while they walked among them.
A year ago, Roger had been one of those people.
He had believed the world was a place of struggle to find a decent job, to pay bills, to make a living at something you didn’t hate if you were lucky, and to one day die. One case, his first working with the Spectre Police Force, and Officer Alexis Berkley.
It had been an eye-opening case, and had broadened his world considerably. It had made it more difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of some of his client’s problems, because there were so many more to choose from, but it had helped explain some of the riddles he had encountered in past cases, as well.
He had learned the truth. The truth was, the world was far from what it seemed at first appearance.
And Roger had encountered creatures in the past year, some friendly, some decidedly not. He had yet to see his first vampire, but as Berkley said, that was a good thing. Vampires, rare as they were nowadays, were the reason that the world of the supernatural and that of the natural had collided, and one had become aware of the other. The War of the Sun had seen the end of the masks, at least so long as people wanted to see beyond them.
Roger locked the door to his apartment once he was inside and tossed the bound manila folder at the table. It missed and smacked to the floor, where it lay until he returned with a cup of hot coffee. Sitting down at the table, he picked up the folder and opened it, spreading the papers within out across the large area in front of him. For six hours, he went over every piece of information available on the case, writing notes as he perused the file and including a personal report of his own walkthrough of the house.
His cell phone rang at 6:42, as he knew it would.
“Did you read the file?” Roger asked, as he put the phone to his ear. He didn’t look at the caller ID. Only one person ever called him at exactly 6:42 in the morning.
“I didn’t have a chance,” Berkley replied, sounding annoyed at having to admit it. “Did you find anything that might point to our murderer?”
“Some of the wounds have burns around them. From the coroner’s report, it appears to only be the bite marks… places where the creature’s teeth tore into the skin.”
“Did they say what kind of creature attacked her?”
“They don’t have anything definitive,” Roger said, flipping back a few pages to look at that section again. “It says that the few molds they were able to get from the bite marks appear to be those of a dog, but there’s a note here that the dog would have to be twice the size of any regular dog, because the width of the teeth is too great.”
He grabbed his coffee and took a sip, only to find he had already emptied it. He swore quietly, eyes searching the file for something to give them direction.
“You don’t suppose a Cerberus…”
Berkley laughed. “Remind me to give you a list of all the mythological creatures which are, actually, mythological.” He was quiet a moment. “A massive dog, though. With teeth that burn as it bites.”
“You got something in mind?” Roger straightened the papers and tucked them back into the folder.
“Maybe. I’m going to go Underground a while, see if I can’t get some information out of a friend of mine.”
“What kind of information?” Pushing back the chair, Roger carried his coffee cup into the kitchen. The coffee pot had shut off automatically, so he emptied it and began to make himself a fresh pot.
Roger blinked. “The man Kenzie helped put away? He’s been dead a year.”
“Exactly a year, as of her death date. That’s no coincidence.” A horn sounded in the background and Roger realized the man must have been driving. “I’ll be out of cell service for a few hours. There’s nothing you can do until I get back with some information. Why don’t you sleep, let your mind muddle through what you know for a couple of hours?”
Roger yawned at the idea of sleep and ran a hand through his consistently-messy hair. “You sure I can’t do anything? I could go with you, Underground.”
“Later,” Berkley said. It sounded like a promise. “Get some sleep. I’ll call you when I’m Above again.”
“Right as soon as you have service.” Roger picked up his empty coffee cup and looked inside. His lips were turned down in a grimace.
“Right as soon, Lamb. Don’t fuss.”
Roger set the cup in the sink. “Be careful.”
“Goodnight,” Berkley said, his words warped by his chuckling.
Roger flipped his phone closed and sighed.
He didn’t think he would sleep well.
He is as a statue.
He bears only the whisper of wind in his step.
He is silent as he waits, his blood stilled.
He is quiet in his ever-watching.
He lingers onward, always.
He waits for his master.
He waits, quietly.
The shrill ring of his cell phone woke Roger. His arm flailed out from beneath the covers, knocking the lamp on the nightstand to the floor and sending his alarm clock crashing back behind the headboard. A dismayed groan arose from under the covers when there was a clatter of plastic on the hardwood floor and his phone stopped ringing abruptly.
Roger didn’t even bother throwing the covers off or sitting up. He put one hand on the floor and dragged himself only as far off the bed as was necessary for him to reach his cell phone. He grabbed the stunned piece of equipment and the battery that had fallen out of the back and, with some effort, pushed and pulled himself back up on the bed.
He replaced the battery into the back of the phone with eyes that didn’t want to open, dialed the last number that called him, and threw the covers back over himself, cell phone and all.
Someone picked up the other line.
“There’s been another murder.”
Roger grunted into the phone, his tone questioning. He recognized Berkley’s voice, and once he was awake enough to realize that meant the man was Aboveground again, he would be relieved.
“Does the name Peter Franklin ring any bells?”
“No relation to Wyatt. That’s the first thing I checked. I looked into the man. Nothing he’s done connects him to any of the murders. The man was a high school math teacher in Corning. Never married, no kids, no siblings, a bit nerdy…”
Roger cleared his throat. “Jury,” he squeaked into the phone. He coughed to clear the sleep away.
“What?” Berkley asked, his voice sharp.
“Peter Franklin was on the jury for Wyatt’s trial,” Roger said. He threw the covers back and sat up. “I remember, because Kenzie threw a fit. She thought the two were related.”
“I was hoping there wasn’t any connection between the two.”
“Peter Franklin ripped to shreds, too?”
“And half-eaten,” Berkley grumbled.
Coincidences didn’t exist in their line of work. Kenzie and Peter Franklin were both murdered the same way, no doubt by the same person… thing. Kenzie testified against Wyatt Franklin, and Peter sat on the jury that found him guilty.
This case connected right back to Wyatt Franklin.
“Shit,” Roger murmured.
“That’s about how it goes. We need a list of all the people who sat on that jury. I don’t suppose you have one?”
Roger ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I have one. I have all my files yet from that case.”
“Good. I’ll be there in two minutes.”
“Bring me coffee,” Roger said, but Berkley had already ended the call.
Three minutes later, a knock came at the door.
Roger had changed out of his wrinkled clothes and into a fresh pair of khakis. He was buttoning up a long-sleeved shirt as he padded to the door in his bare feet. He flipped the bolt lock and pulled the door open.
The first thing he saw was a large Styrofoam cup with steam coming out of the small hole in the lid. He made a moan of pleasure and grabbed it out of Berkley’s hands, moving over to the table where he had already piled the files he had on Kenzie’s case.
“Packrat,” Berkley observed.
Roger didn’t grace the man with an answer. One hand was busy tilting the coffee cup upward against his lips, but he grabbed a sheet of paper with the other and shook it at Berkley until the man took it from him.
Berkley swore. “Some of these people are already dead.”
“Mm.” Roger licked his lips and set the Styrofoam cup on the table. “I know. Most of them were blamed on accidents, but now I’m doubting it.”
“Nine of these people are dead,” Berkley said, reading through the list. “I remember handling Jones’ case myself. The man was run over with his own lawnmower.”
Roger grimaced. Nasty business, that.
“Ten now,” he said, “with Franklin dead.”
“Goddamn.” Berkley grabbed a pencil and began checking off names. “Rupert Daugherty and Janessa Fuller are the two left on the list.”
Roger flipped open his phone.
“What are you doing?”
“Internet.” It only took Roger a couple of seconds to find Janessa and Rupert online. “Janessa is a waitress at the Lion’s Tavern, and Rupert is a student at Specter College of the Arts.” He flipped his phone closed but hesitated in putting it in his pocket when he realized Berkley was staring at him. “What?”
“How did you find that on the Internet so fast?”
“Social networking sites.” Roger slid his phone back into his right pocket. “I don’t suppose we can just go tell them they’re being hunted by a giant monster who will massacre their bodies and eat the gooey parts?”
Berkley gave him a look that made Roger grin.
“So, what do we do?”
“We try to find the monster before it attacks again.”
“Do you have any idea what it is?”
Berkley shook his head. “No. A few theories, but nothing concrete enough to lean toward any one in particular.” He crossed his arms in front of him on the table. “When you were trying to catch Franklin, did you ever happen to investigate his house?”
Roger shook his head, his lips curved down in disappointment. “Sharpe threw a fit that I was on the case to start. He threatened to have me arrested if I went there.” His eyes flicked up to the man across the table. “Something on your mind?”
“Did you know his mother’s maiden name was Wight?”
“Sure.” He leaned back in his chair. “It’s common knowledge.”
Berkley smirked, shaking his head softly. “Oh, the things you don’t know about the world.” He laughed at Roger’s affronted look. “Do you know what the name Wight means?”
“White, I presume.”
Berkley snorted at him. He stood up and pushed his chair in. “In Scotland, perhaps, but we’re not in Scotland.”
“Explain it to me, then,” Roger said, following Berkley to his feet.
“Wight is another name for “ghost.” Not just any ghost, though. You know there are ghosts all about, some for beneficial or malicious means, and others who simply linger on, their purposes unknown even to them.”
“The name Wight was given to the first child born of a living man and a ghost. A white speck of abnormality on the natural world.”
Roger’s eyebrows shot up and he stared at Berkley for a long moment.
Finally, “That’s actually possible?”
Berkley laughed. “And done more often than you’d think.”
Roger wasn’t quite sure whether he found that disgusting or not. “Right, okay. The children of ghosts. Where are you going with this?”
“While I’m sure there are some people in the world with the last name Wight who aren’t ghosts, Wyatt killed seven people in public places, all without being spotted once, nor being caught. It was only because of Kenzie that we caught him after the eighth, and even that murder was… odd.”
“Odd.” Roger smiled tightly. “That’s one way to put it.”
“If Wight, however, was more than just a name, then we may have a larger problem than we thought.”
“What, if he’s a ghost?”
“Not a ghost. The child of a ghost; a spirit able to touch the world, but unable to die. And certainly not rotting in his coffin.”
Berkley stared at Roger for a long moment, before Roger got it. “Wait… we’re going grave robbing?”
He was so patient.
He waited so long, but the man didn’t come back.
He sat by the window and watched.
He sat by the door and waited.
He waited, but no one came.
He waited, alone.
The coffin was empty.
They had waited a few hours, gathering what information they could from files that Roger had kept from the original case. When the sun began to set, the two had left and drove to Franklin Cemetery, where Wight was said to have been buried. It was located in the southernmost part of Spectre. They took Roger’s Chevy, a beat-up pickup he had received as a cast-off from his brother. The thing had more rust than paint and the heater didn’t work, but Roger liked it.
The bed was empty, leaving them room to place a couple of shovels and cover them with an old blanket Roger kept in the truck. By the time they reached the cemetery, the sun had set completely. Their path was lit by the light of the waxing moon, soon to be full, but Roger had just followed closely behind Berkley who had no problem seeing in the dark.
It had taken them a couple of hours to reach the coffin. A year’s worth of settled dirt and rooted grasses hindered them but didn’t stop their efforts.
And the coffin was empty.
There was nothing in it to even suggest that someone had lain in it at one point. It appeared that the box had been placed in the ground and buried to suggest that Franklin had been put to rest, when in fact he hadn’t even been put to death.
“How did you find out his last name was Wight?” Roger asked, peering at the cream-colored interior of the coffin.
“A contact in the Underground. The same one who suggested we make a visit to Wight’s home before we go digging anywhere else.”
“Is your contact… um…” Roger chewed his lip.
“Human?” Berkley asked, and laughed. “Not this one, no, but he has no reason to steer me wrong.” Roger raised his eyebrows in questioning disbelief. “Well, he has more reason to help me than hinder me, let’s say instead.”
“Someday, you’re going to have to tell me what you did Underground that got you these contacts.”
Berkley smiled, amused by something Roger wasn’t privy to. “Someday,” he said quietly.
“So… what now?” Roger asked.
“Well, we won’t find Wight here. It’s possible he’s still using his old house, so heading there is our best bet.”
Roger bent down and picked up the shovels. He frowned and looked over at Berkley. The darker man had his right hand fisted at his mouth, other arm crossed over his chest. He was staring down into the coffin as though it held all the answers to this mystery. They both knew it didn’t.
“You don’t actually think Wight’s the one who killed Kenzie, do you?” Berkley glanced up at him, expression thoughtful. “I mean, the way she was… torn up…”
“No.” Berkley uncrossed his arms and lowered them to his sides. He crossed over to where Roger was standing and took one of the shovels from him. “This was not the work of a human ghost. This was done by a beast. We can both see that clearly.”
“What do you think it is?” Berkley started shaking his head, but Roger continued. “Honestly, Berk.” Roger gazed at him strongly. “I am not as knowledgeable as you in the ways of the real world, but I am not an idiot.”
“I would never call you an idiot, Roger.” Berkley drew a deep breath and shook his head. “The possibility had occurred to me that it is a hellhound.”
“It’s nothing more than conjecture, but it seems the most plausible. Clearly, McRee was killed by a beast, shredded by something with claws that carved marks into the floor of her house, as I’m sure you saw, as well.” .
“You also said the coroner’s report told of bite marks that left the flesh around them burned. That speaks highly of hellfire.”
“But if it is a hellhound, then it could not have been sent by Wight.”
“Hellhounds don’t just rise from the ground on a whim and start attacking people. The must be summoned, and that cannot be done by just anyone.”
“Their summoner must retain a connection to the mortal world through the thrum of their own heart, and their blood must be hot.”
Berkley let out a laugh, his eyes alight with excitement at the knowledge that there was someone they could arrest for the murders.
“They have to alive.”
The growl arose from nowhere and, seemingly, everywhere at once. It rumbled through the cemetery like an omen meant to drive them into the grave that they had just dug. Roger felt his entire body flush with a cold chill that was premature to death, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Berkley stumble back.
“It’s there!” Berkley waved his hand toward a gravestone in the distance. Roger looked. And then he saw it. He mistook it for a shadow at first, but then it moved.
It was massive. Larger than any dog he had ever seen, it appered to be made of wisps of shadow that danced like smoke as it moved.
The dog lifted a great leg and stepped clear over a gravestone without a problem. Its eyes were crimson as fresh-flowing blood, glowing like lights in the beast’s head.
Roger’s breath wouldn’t come. He felt himself stumble back on impulse, and something clamped tightly around his upper arm. He spun with a gasp to find Berkley next to him. The man’s hands were clasped around his arm, but his nails were digging into his flesh deeply, like claws.
“Get to your truck,” the man gasped, and Roger saw fangs glinting behind his lips.
Berkley shoved him hard in the opposite direction. “RUN!”
Roger made barely a moment’s hesitation, but it was the snarl that decided his course of action. It did not come from the dog, but from Berkley.
He glanced behind him only for a moment, but it was long enough.
Berkley’s muscles shifted under his shirt, twisting and curling against natural order. There was a loud tearing noise and the back of the shirt was punctured by sharp spikes of fur that tore the fabric asunder. Berkley let out a sound, part snarl, part hiss, part human scream, every piece of it rage, and lunged forward.
And where his human friend had been before, a giant cat, so dark purple the creature glittered black, with fur like daggers, and a scythed tail that whipped behind him. The cat leapt at the dog, and with a gasp of breath, a silent prayer for his friend, Roger ran.
He tears into flesh.
He rips through bones like paper and he feasts.
He licks blood from open wounds.
He chews massacred flesh.
He satisfies his rage.
Roger had been sitting in a pew in Carmichael United Methodist Church for three hours when he finally realized that Berkley wasn’t coming.
The realization came all at once and he gripped the edge of his seat with both hands to still his shaking. His fingers turned white from lack of blood and his throat worked as he swallowed down a scream that struggled to rise. He had to hold back the feeling of loss that bubbled up inside of him. If he let it out for even a second, he knew he would break down completely, and he couldn’t afford to break down right now.
There were two members of the jury that were still alive, but that wouldn’t last long if something wasn’t done about the hellhound.
Roger still didn’t know how the beast had managed to set foot in the cemetery. As he understood it, cemeteries were hallowed ground, meaning that the hell-born shouldn’t have been able to go there. Perhaps there was something that he was missing, however. Berkley had never told him that cemeteries were sanctified, and maybe the myths were wrong in that regard.
There were a few things that Berkley had told Roger. His recollection of those words of advice are what brought him to Carmichael Church.
“Look, first off, are you Christian or Catholic or what?”
“Um… well, I was raised Methodist…”
“Methodist, awesome! Do you know where Carmichael Church is?”
“Sure, right down on Duncan Street—”
“Right, so listen. If anything should ever go pear-shaped and you don’t know if you have what you need to be safe, get to Carmichael Church. Churches are safe, but especially that one.”
“Why that one?”
“Because you’re Methodist. You’ll blend in. Secondly, get yourself a crucifix necklace. Silver, if you can. It will protect you.”
“Can’t I just cross a couple of sticks or something?”
“Don’t be an idiot. That only works in the movies. Two crossed sticks don’t make a cross; they make two crossed sticks. It’s the symbol, not the shape.”
“All right… anything else?”
“A little more faith wouldn’t hurt.”
Roger still didn’t have a crucifix pendant. It had been right after his introduction to the reality of the world, a year ago, that Berkley had told him to get one, but Roger had never considered it a priority. He knew Berkley wore one at all times. Maybe if he had been wearing one…
Roger shook his head. No time for that now.
He stood up and left the pew for the red carpeted aisle and headed toward the doors through which he had come. He knew, if Berkley was coming, he would have met him here, or he would have called. Roger had tried his cell phone… he would have to look up his call history to see how many times. There was no answer.
He figured there wouldn’t be one anymore.
Searching out the dog’s next targets was futile at this point. He’d seen the beast. Even if he managed to track them down, he wouldn’t be able to protect them against the creature. He needed to stop it completely, and it seemed the best way to figure out what to do that would be to go to Wight’s house, as Berkley had suggested. Hopefully, he would find his answers there.
Roger was almost to the doors of the church when he spotted one of the sections at the back of the pews which held the hymnals and pencils for services. He hesitated, before grabbing one of the books he saw there.
He hefted the leather-bound book in his hands, turning it over so the golden text scrawled across his eyes. Holy Bible.
He figured his theft could be forgiven, circumstances being what they were. Roger didn’t know how much good the book would do him, but it honestly couldn’t hurt.
Symbols, Berkley was fond of saying.
Roger nodded. Symbols.
He pushed open the church doors and left them, walking briskly to his truck.
He still had the address to Wight’s house stored in his GPS from when he was working the case. Now he would finally get to use it.
He wished Berkley was with him.
Roger turned the key to the ignition and the rusty pickup snarled to life.
Somewhere in the darkness, another snarl answered. Roger’s head jerked up.
Two crimson eyes gleamed at him through the passenger side window. Roger choked on his own breath, his hand tightening on the gearshift.
The dog growled and began to move, pacing through the darkness. It started to circle the blazer with steady, haunting steps, those glowing eyes never leaving Roger.
It occurred to Roger, suddenly, his own part in the death of Wight. He had investigated the case at the request of Kenzie, who had called him when she was sure the police couldn’t help her, wouldn’t believe the whole story. He had used what he learned from her to track down Wyatt Franklin, and it was he who had turned the murderer in to the police.
Of course, if all of the others had been killed for being on the jury, Roger was certainly on the list.
The dog stepped into the headlights. Against their wash, the tendrils of the beast’s wisping form seemed to warp and dance, smoky tentacles curling in canine form.
The dog growled a low, ominous sound, like a promise, and stopped in front of the truck. Its eyes gleamed death, and it stared right into Roger’s.
He swallowed thickly.
Then he threw the truck into drive and slammed on the gas.
The dog burst like a shattered cloud against the front of the truck. A startled yelp turned into an enraged howl, but Roger didn’t stop. He spun the wheel, screeching tires in the church parking lot, and grabbed the road, tearing down asphalt.
No doubt the dog would be after him, but if he was lucky, maybe he could find some way to stop the beast before it managed to catch and eat him.
If he was lucky.
Roger clenched a hand tightly around the steering wheel and swallowed a sob.
He had never been a lucky guy.
He snarls and storms.
He flares with rage, black tendrils smoking.
He has lost his prey, but he will catch it.
He will destroy the man’s murderer.
He will kill those who killed.
He is inescapable.
He is ferocious.
He is hunting.
Roger had ten minutes left until he reached Wight’s house when something heavy slammed down on the hood of the blazer.
His foot crashed down on the brake pedal instinctively. Something big and black was thrown forward, over the hood of the truck and into the road. Roger, hands shaking, slammed his foot on the gas pedal again.
There was a great grinding noise as metal crunched against metal, then the squeal of his tires as they burned against the asphalt, spinning but getting nowhere. Roger saw two great paws on the front of the truck, massive claws sinking down into the hood, holding the vehicle in place. His foot still on the gas pedal, he tried to reach the Bible that had been tossed to the floor.
He was just about to throw the truck into reverse and try to get away from the beast when a great metal scythe slammed down on the hood. It was attached to a long, thin purple-black tail.
Roger let out a sound like a sob and hit the brakes as hard as he could. The truck rocked to a halt, the scent of burning rubber heavy in the air.
A few seconds later, the passenger door opened and Berkley climbed into the truck. He slammed the door closed behind him and simply sat in the passenger seat, breathing heavily.
Roger stared at him. Berkley’s shirt was gone, shredded during his transformation. His pants had managed to adjust, though Roger didn’t know how. They were still torn in places where they had been caught by claws, and the lower half of Berkley’s left pant-leg had been blackened, as though burnt.
His chest and arms were covered with scratches, smeared with blood and burnt in places where the dog had managed to get its teeth on him. Still, he was here. Somehow, he had made it here.
Roger swallowed, eyes scanning his friend again for any injuries he had missed. There didn’t seem to be any, but he… Roger shook his head, lost.
“I thought you were dead.”
Berkley didn’t move his head, but his eyes swiveled over to Roger and his mouth opened in a wide, stupid grin. “I’m all right. This isn’t nearly as bad as all the blood makes it seem.”
“You look like crap. Jesus, Berkley…”
“Don’t fuss, Lamb.” He shifted in his seat and Roger didn’t miss the grimace that spread across his face. He shuddered out a breath when he’d settled again and stared at the ceiling.
“You’re not fine,” Roger said, unbuckling his seatbelt and reaching over. Berkley smacked his hand away.
“We don’t have time for you to go all mother-hen on me, Roger. I’m sore and desperately in need of a shower, but I’ll live. The same can’t be said of Daugherty and Fuller if we don’t stop this damn dog, so let’s get going. We’re close to Wight’s house, right?”
“About ten minutes away,” Roger said uncertainly.
Berkley made a shooing motion with his hands toward the steering wheel. “Come on, then.”
Buckling himself back into his seat, Roger shifted gears and put his foot back on the gas pedal, much less harshly than he had before. He turned the truck right again, took to the road, and headed toward Wight’s.
The ride was quiet most of the way. Roger, still keeping half of his attention on his friend, didn’t want to draw attention to himself, knowing that Berkley was likely aware of his observation. It was Berkley, however, who finally broke the silence.
“Why did you leave the church?”
Roger glanced over at him quickly, startled by the question. His eyes quickly returned to the road, but he didn’t answer right away. After a moment, he said, “I didn’t think…” He swallowed, cleared his throat. “I didn’t think you were coming.”
Berkley nodded, as though that answer was no great surprise to him. He studied Roger for a few moments, but Roger wouldn’t look over at him.
“I was outside.” Berkley’s voice was gentle, holding something of an apology, and something of an accusation. “I was watching the whole time, but I couldn’t get to the church without drawing the dog to you.”
His face shifted until his expression was incredulous. “What were you thinking, trying to run the damn thing over?”
“I was angry,” Roger said defensively. His fingers clenched tightly on the steering wheel. “I thought it had killed you.”
“Well, it didn’t. Don’t be so stupid.”
Roger’s jaw tightened and he didn’t say anything, glaring out of the windshield. Neither of them spoke for the rest of the drive, and it was only a few minutes later that the GPS led Roger up a wooded path.
It was perhaps a mile long and narrow enough that Roger briefly wondered if he would be able to get his pickup all the way up it. They made it through, however, and pulled up in front of a small cabin.
It was a wooden, one story hunting cabin, probably a few decades old. An empty porch wrapped around half of the front, curling around the right side of the building with a railing all the way across but for the bare archway allowing them to step up onto the porch.
Both of them were quiet as they moved toward the house. It had less to do with their need to move in silence than with their refusal to start another conversation with one another. Both of them were angry at the other, and at themselves.
The door was unlocked, and it creaked loudly when they pushed it open. Roger grimaced and they both tensed, waiting for an attack. After a long moment of silence that was too deep, surrounded as they were by forest, the two of them crept into the building.
The moment they crossed the threshold, the smell hit them.
Roger threw his arm over his mouth, gagging into the sleeve of his shirt. His eyes watered heavily and he tried to blink away the tears.
“Good God, what is that?” he gasped, his voice muffled by his sleeve.
Berkley, whose cat-eyes could see through the thick shadows, nodded toward the far corner of the room. “It’s the dog. Dead.”
“Dead?” Roger fumbled for the flashlight in his pocket. He shone it toward the corner Berkley had indicated.
The dog lay on its side in the corner, black fur matted, eyes closed. It was less than half the height of the beast that had attacked them, and far less muscular. In fact, the thing looked as though it had died of starvation.
“It must have been trapped inside after Wight was arrested,” Roger said, moving closer to the corpse. “Didn’t anyone know he had a dog?”
“It’s not in the report,” Berkley said, studying the dog, as well. “But with an empty coffin and a death certificate, it’s pretty clear Wight had someone’s help faking his death. They probably didn’t mention it, or removed the information, because they figured he would return to the house. They didn’t want to take his dog away.”
“Then why didn’t he come back for it?”
Berkley shook his head, at a loss as to how to answer.
The two moved through the small cabin, carefully scouting each room. Roger pushed open a door at the right side of the living room.
Tick… Tick… Tick…
He jumped back, expecting a great black beast of a dog to lunge out at him. Arms in front of his face in what he knew was a futile attempt at self-protection, he glanced through them when nothing struck him down. After a moment, he peeked into the room.
A cuckoo clock hung on the wall across from the bed. Rolling his eyes at his own stupidity, Roger entered the room, looking under the bed and in the closet. All the while, the steady tick tick tick of the clock played in the background. It was a grating and uncomfortable sound, only because he had begun to associate it with something trying to eat him.
Roger looked up, startled, when Berkley stepped quickly into the room. He didn’t miss how the Berkley’s shoulders relaxed slightly when he caught sight of Roger, nor how he looked away quickly. His eyes fell on the clock.
“He doesn’t seem the type to have a cuckoo clock on the wall.” It was a desperate attempt at appearing nonchalant, Roger realized, but he had begun to wonder at the reason Berkley was angry at him. He played along.
“It does seem odd. Kenzie had the exact same clock at her house.”
Berkley frowned. “No she didn’t.”
Roger glanced at him. “I missed it at first, but I think it was broken. I only heard the ticking as I was getting ready to leave.”
Berkley was giving him a queer look. “The exact same clock?”
“Yeah. At least, I’m pretty sure. I have a picture.” He pulled out his phone and opened his gallery, clicking on the picture. He handed his phone to Berkley.
The man held it up against the cuckoo clock on the wall and studied the two of them. He grimaced. “It’s the same clock.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“No, Roger. It’s the same clock.” He lowered his hand, turning off Roger’s phone and stuffing it into his own pocket. He looked at the detective. “Kenzie didn’t have a cuckoo clock in her house. I remember.” He looked back at the clock on the wall. “But Wight had one. And time’s a… funny thing. It’s a level of perception that ghosts and immortals are able to manipulate and move through, because what concept do they have of time? For them, it has no set beginning or end. They place the ending of it where they wish.”
He reached up and touched the hands of the clock, spinning the minute hand nearly half an hour. “And then they begin again, wherever they like, and move through it. Riding time like it’s a metro.”
A low chuckle caused both men to spin around. There was a man standing in the doorway to the bedroom, sharp grey eyes focused on the both of them. He was grinning broadly and looked remarkably healthy for someone Roger recognized as being dead.
“I had a feeling you would be causing me problems, Mr. Lamb. What a pity they had me put to death before I could deal with you.”
“Wight,” Roger growled.
“Don’t you mean Wyatt Franklin?” he asked, opening his arms wide in a gesture that didn’t seem to suit the time. “There’s no need for name-calling.”
“So you have been killing people since you’re death,” Berkley murmured.
“Me? Kill people? Oh, no, no.” Wight smiled. “Wyatt Franklin, yes, he was quite the murderer, yes indeed. Killed eight people in cold-blood, but they stuffed him full of poisons and he got tossed in a hole.
“My name is Peter. Peter Daugherty, I think. I kind of like the sound of it. It’s a nice testimony to the two boys, don’t you think?”
“Daugherty isn’t dead, yet!” Roger snarled.
Wight glanced at the clock on the wall, though Roger had the feeling that the gesture was unnecessary. “No, not yet, true. But it won’t be long. Brutus has been doing a good job in my absence. I knew he would be perfect for keeping the business going.”
Berkley was frowning again. “You meant for him to die here. You wanted him to be left alone.”
“Of course. I couldn’t very well summon a hellhound to do my bidding, being dead and all, so I needed the next best thing. A vengeful spirit would do just fine. Better still, they’re ridiculously uncommon in animals, so even if someone discovered that it was a dog killing people, who would guess it was my dog?” He grinned widely, baring his teeth. “Rather clever, don’t you think?”
“You’re a sick person.”
“I’m dead,” he barked into Roger’s face. “Even my birth was a moment of death. You expect a creature like me to be sane? I exist, but do not live; constantly dying, but already dead.” He laughed. “Seems a pity to let the world suffer on toward death. They’ll all get there eventually, anyway. Why waste time?”
“Don’t try and turn your actions into some desperate attempt to rid the world of misery. You enjoy killing.” Berkley’s voice was harsh, his eyes narrowed into slits.
Wight smiled. “Of course I do.” His skin began to fade, growing translucent, and he seemed to become as malleable as a curtain, flowing easily. Roger watched as he was whisked upward, past them, an into the clock. He disappeared past the cracks in the tiny door above the clock face. They heard his giggle echo back into the room.
“I’ll enjoy your deaths very much, too, boys. Very much, indeed.”
Tick… Tick… Tick…
Tick… Tick… Tick…
The dog stood in the doorway.
Black wisps of shadow curled around it like poison and its eyes gleamed like ruby knives out of its face. Its mouth opened, letting loose that terrible snarl that seemed to rock the room. Roger could see smoke curling out of the creature’s mouth, its teeth glimmering with fire.
“Berkley,” he whispered, retreating a step. His back hit the wall and he felt his knees start to shake. His hand dug into the pocket of his khakis, searching for something to protect himself with. He’d left the Bible in the truck.
“Easy,” Berkley murmured.
Roger chuckled hysterically.
“Just a minute, Roger.” Berkley, too, was backing up, never taking his eyes off of the dog. He was slowly putting distance between himself and Roger, and the dog’s crimson eyes seemed to follow him. “That’s it…”
The dog, who had taken a step toward Berkley, hesitated. It tilted its head, as though listening to something they couldn’t hear, and then sniffed the air.
A growl in its throat, it turned its great black head and focused bloody eyes on Roger.
Roger wondered, briefly, if Janessa and Rupert were dead, that the dog now hunted him.
The dog took a great leap, back legs sending it soaring forward as though on wings. Its front paws struck Roger in the chest, forcing the wind out of his lungs and throwing his head against the wall with a loud crack. The world went briefly white, then black. He sank to the floor and felt something sharp tear into the flesh of his stomach, hot breath burning at his throat.
Another snarl, and then two, fighting each other. Roger could feel the hard floor against his side and he thought his eyes were open, but there was only darkness. Around him, the worlds filled with growling, hissing, snarling, and all the sounds one would find in a battle between two greats beasts.
He was barely lingering on the threshold of consciousness when the clock struck the hour. The cuckoo burst into song.
The dog howled, a sound of rage and imminent victory. There was a loud scream, surprise and fury in one.
Roger felt himself beginning to slip away. There was a hand on his shoulder, something pressing hard against his stomach.
Someone whispered fiercely into his ear, but Roger was already gone.
Roger opened his eyes to see a familiar brown stain spread out across an off-white ceiling like a dirty firework. He blinked his eyes, wondering how in the world he managed to get back into his bedroom when he was sure he was dead.
“And he rejoins the living.”
Roger turned his head to the left to see Berkley stepping through the bedroom door. The man gave him a tired smile. “How do you feel?”
“Like a dog tried to eat me.” He blinked stupidly. “Somebody drug me?”
“Docs had to put you under to stitch up your stomach.” He sat down in a chair next to the bed. “Your guts were trying very hard to escape.”
“Mm…” Roger stared at the chair for a long moment, longer than he would have needed to had his brain been working at full capacity. He was trying to determine whether or not that chair had always been there, but he was fairly sure it belonged in his living room.
A hand on his shoulder startled him. He looked up at Berkley, who was giving him a concerned look. “Are you all right?”
Roger blinked at him. “A dog tried to eat me.”
He smiled, but the grin didn’t meet his eyes. “It almost managed. Stop drawing attention to yourself.”
“Didn’t do anything,” Roger grumbled. He lost control of himself and yawned widely. The action seemed to sap most of his strength and he blinked at Berkley, eyes slipping shut. He groaned in protest. “What happened?”
“The dog got very angry when it realized it had been tricked.”
Roger blinked open his eyes, confused.
“Wight let the dog starve to death so it would come back as a spirit to avenge him.” Berkley tilted his shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. “I helped… reunite the two of them.”
Roger thought back to what had happened, trying to piece it all together. After a moment, he shut his eyes again, smiling softly. “You turned the clock ahead.”
He could almost hear Berkley’s smile. “When I realized the dog was traveling through the clock, I figured it was a safe bet Wight was, too. He had us trapped there, but he wasn’t prepared for the clock to go off and send him out. Once the dog saw him, it realized it had been betrayed and took revenge for its own murder.
“Good thing, too. I don’t think I could have kept holding it off.”
Roger didn’t open his eyes, but he licked his lips slowly, thinking. “You knew the dog would come after me, didn’t you?”
Berkley didn’t say anything for a long moment. Finally, Roger opened his eyes and looked at him. Berkley was staring down at him with no readable expression on his face.
“You’re the one who found Wyatt,” he said finally. “If not for you, he never would have gone to trial.” Berkley closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair. “Of course he was going to come after you.”
That’s why you were so angry at me for leaving the church, Roger thought, but he didn’t say it aloud. Instead, he asked, “So the dog’s gone?”
“Seems that way. It attacked Wight and tore him to pieces. Wight was burnt to ashes in the fire from the dog’s bite, and I figure once the dog realized its vengeance was pointless, being as no one managed to murder its master, it moved on.”
“So, case closed?”
“Case closed. But if you’re going to be a magnet for this sort of thing, you seriously need to learn the basics of dealing with the paranormal. For starters, where’s your damn crucifix necklace?”
Roger smiled. “I’ll get one tomorrow.”
“Hell you will. You’ll be right here tomorrow, not moving.” He patted the bed. “You won’t be moving for a week. I don’t need you tearing your stitches out.”
Berkley looked away. Roger didn’t miss the minute shudder of his shoulders, however much he tried to hide it. He wondered how badly he must have been hurt for it to affect Berkley so visibly.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” he said, instead of asking. He would ask Berkley about it all later, when he was better and up, moving around. He didn’t like how close his friend seemed to losing control of himself.
He wanted to be able to actually be there, if Berkley didn’t take the retelling of it well.
Berkley patted Roger’s arm gently. “Just stop putting yourself in danger, and we’ll be good.” He stood up. “Get some sleep, Roger. Sharpe’s been nagging me for past few days to debrief him on what happened so he can give the press the full story. They’re not all that thrilled about only knowing it was a copycat.”
Roger nodded sleepily. “Did we ever figure out his name?”
“He told us, remember?” Berkley asked, heading for the door. “Peter Daugherty.”
Roger chuckled softly, closing his eyes. He listened as Berkley left, locking the door to the apartment behind him. Roger let himself drift, exhaustion paving the way to a healing slumber.
He was almost completely asleep when he heard it.
Tick… Tick… Tick…
Casey Fry is an author of fantasy, paranormal thriller, and mystery. She enjoys researching mythology and psychology, which she incorporates frequently in her books.
Fry is the author of the DeathSpeaker Trilogy, the second book of which she is writing. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her two cats, Tootsie and Zero, and an overflowing bookcase.
You can follow Casey and the progress of her upcoming books on her website: .
Thanks for reading!
Roger Lamb is a private detective in the city of Spectre, New York and he's only just coming to terms with the knowledge that the "paranormal" is real. When a friend of his is murdered by a creature that can't be human, that very well might be a monster from his nightmares, he finds himself working alongside Officer Berkley to solve the case. Trouble arises when, not knowing what the creature is, Roger and Berkley run afoul of the beast and Berkley disappears, leaving Roger alone to face a monster he has no defense against and knows nothing about. The beast's targets are clear and they need to be protected. And it looks like Roger just joined that list. First installment in the Roger Lamb Case Files. This is a reprint of the original story which first appeared in Beyond Doorways.