Science and Sorcery–Snippet

20 Sep

Chapter One

New York, USA

Day 1

“Damn girl,” Dawn said. “What’s wrong with you?”

Katie Sheehan rubbed her eyes. She wanted to go back to bed, or at least to somewhere quiet where she could sit down and rest, but Dawn had insisted that they went clubbing. Her friend wanted to enjoy her single life in New York City and thought that Katie should enjoy herself too. Dawn meant well, Katie knew, but it hadn’t been a very good day.

“Tired,” she said, feeling dizzy. Maybe she was coming down with something, maybe something bad enough to justify spending two days in bed rather than at work, slaving away beside an asshole who took credit for her work while leering at her every time he thought she wasn’t looking. She wanted another job, but it wasn’t easy to find anything else in the current economic climate.

“Well, come onto the dance floor,” Dawn said. She lowered her voice, mischievously. “There are some hot guys out there.”

Katie rolled her eyes. Dawn was popular with the guys – and a single glance at her chest was enough to tell her why. Blonde and bubbly, wearing a shirt that looked as if it had come out of a Hooters bar, Dawn caught the eyes of every man in the room. Compared to her, Katie felt more than a little dowdy, even if she wasn’t quite overweight. Guys rarely looked at her if she was standing next to Dawn.

Her head spun again as the familiar resentment – at her boss, at Dawn’s looks, at her life – boiled up inside her mind. She caught the side of the table as red fire seemed to burn through her brain, bringing with it a rage she had never fully understood. The room seemed to fade out for a long second, just before the sudden burst of temper faded away into nothingness.

Dawn caught her arm. “Do you want to go home?”

“Yeah,” Katie said. All of her senses seemed to be going crazy. She could smell everything in the hall, from cigarette smoke to the musky stench of guys on the dance floor. The flickering lights were slowly driving her mad. “Please get me out of here.”

The light of the full moon blazed down at them as they stepped outside and started to walk back towards their apartment. Neither of them had enough money to call for a cab, even though they knew that walking home could be dangerous. Katie’s mind was too busy spinning to care; her ears were recoiling under the constant bombardment of noise from New York, the city that never slept. She had never realised just how loud the city was, or just how confining it could feel. The massive towers and skyscrapers seemed nothing more than the bars of a cage.

“That bastard probably slipped you something into your drink,” Dawn said, as they turned the corner and stumbled down an alleyway. “Or maybe you just drank too much.”

Katie shook her head, although in truth she had no way to be sure. She hadn’t drunk more than two glasses, but she hadn’t been paying close attention when the bartender mixed the drinks. He could have given her anything. But she knew what it felt like to be drunk and this was different. Her entire body seemed on edge, waiting for something that was advancing towards her…and yet she had no idea what was happening. The light of the full moon splashed over them and she felt a sudden surge of rage. Her hand gripped Dawn’s arm tightly and her friend let out a yelp.

“Katie,” she snapped. “What is wrong with you?”

The rage faded away, back into Katie’s mind. “I don’t know,” she admitted. She felt sick, and tired, and yet there was something running through her mind that would not let her rest. “Can we just get home…?”

She smelled them before she saw them, four young men carrying knives and lurking in the alleyway, waiting to see what would walk into their grasp. Katie opened her mouth to warn Dawn, but before she could put the strange set of sensations into words it was already too late. The gangsters had moved into position to prevent the two girls from running, their face twisted with greed and lust. Two young and pretty girls…their scent changed as they realised they could do more than just mug the women. Katie sensed their arousal and recoiled in fear, before the fear was swallowed by rage. How dare they even think of violating them?

The lead gangster slapped Dawn with his hand, breaking her lip. Katie sniffed the blood and felt a sudden wave of rage and bloodlust that refused to fade away. Instead, she opened her mouth and screamed as her body started to change, becoming something else. There was a moment of horror as she saw hairs growing out of her hands, and then the bloodlust swallowed her completely.

***

Officer Mathew Coombs heard the screams and started to run, cursing his supervisor under his breath. The NYPD’s latest round of budget cuts had put a number of policemen on the streets alone, without backup, something that meant they had to deal with any problems on their own. He hit the emergency beacon as the screams grew louder, torn from male and female throats, while drawing his pistol from its holster. Anything that could make someone scream like that had to be dangerous.

He ran into the alleyway, pulling his torch from his belt and shining it ahead into the darkened scene. The screams faded away and were gone, just as he caught sight of something moving ahead of him. There was a snarl, almost like an angry dog, as he flashed the light down and saw a horrific scene of carnage. Four bodies, maybe more, were scattered on the ground, their throats torn out by…what? Matt had heard of humans being attacked by animals, but he’d never seen anything like it. And yet he found it impossible to believe that anything human could have inflicted so much damage. All four – no, there were ten pairs of legs, so five – bodies had been torn apart. One of them was very clearly a woman.

“Dispatch, I need a forensic team out here now,” he said. There was a very faint growl, coming from somewhere in the darkness. “And I need armed backup. I say again…”

The growling grew louder and he shone his torch towards the source, catching sight of a giant wolf half-hidden in the darkness. Time seemed to slow down as he stared at the creature, unable to comprehend exactly what he was seeing. It was huge, easily twice the size of the largest police dog in the NYPD, with strange green eyes that seemed to peer at him, almost as if they were hypnotised by the flashlight. And then he saw the blood staining the animal’s snout. He had no doubt that he was looking at the creature that had killed five civilians as easily as a man would squash a spider.

He started to inch backwards as the wolf prowled forward, keeping his pistol trained on the beast’s head. It was growling, very faintly, a sound that sent primal fear running down his spine. The hand holding the pistol started to shake and he caught himself, just as the creature opened its mouth and roared at him. A moment later, it sprang right for his throat. Acting on instinct, Matt opened fire, hitting the beast several times. It’s immense bulk crashed into him and sent him flying backwards, just before it hit the ground with a thunderous crash. Matt staggered to his feet and groped around for the flashlight and pistol – he’d dropped both when the creature had hit him – hoping and praying that the beast was dead. If it had killed five humans, it probably wouldn’t hesitate to add a sixth to that number.

The flashlight was lying on the ground, still burning brightly. Matt stumbled towards it and picked it up, turning it on the beast as he heard sirens howling in the distance. But the beast was gone. Matt started forward, waving the flashlight around, and almost jumped out of his skin as he saw a naked body where the beast had fallen. It was a young girl, barely out of her teens – and clearly shot to death. Matt was familiar enough with bullet wounds to know that they’d almost certainly been caused by his pistol; besides, he hadn’t noticed anyone else shooting…

His head started to spin in absolute disbelief. He’d shot at a wolf-like creature. He’d hit a young girl.

What the hell was going on?

Carefully, he recovered his pistol and knelt down beside the girl, taking her pulse. She was gone, beyond salvation by anything he could do. There was no sign of any ID, or of her clothes…she seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Matt tried to collect himself as a small army of policemen appeared at the end of the alleyway, some of them carrying spotlights to illuminate the crime scene, gasping in horror as they saw what had happened. Very few of them had ever seen anything like this.

A hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up to see McLain, his immediate superior. “Matt, what the fuck happened here?”

“I wish I knew,” Matt said. They wouldn’t believe a word of it. How could he blame them when he wouldn’t have believed a word of it if someone told him what he’d seen? “I wish I knew.”

***

The interrogation room was small, brightly lit and effectively a prison cell. Matt sat in one chair, rubbing his eyes with his hands. It was 2am and it seemed that half the NYPD had been awoken to deal with the nightmare he’d seen, if not created. He’d already made his report to McLain and two of McLain’s superiors; as he’d expected, they didn’t believe any of it. The whole story was starting to look like Matt had gunned down an innocent girl for no clear reason, something that would reflect badly on the NYPD.

He looked up as a door opened, revealing a tall black man carrying two mugs of coffee and a single cardboard folder. “I’m Jeff,” he said, as he put one of coffees down in front of Matt. He didn’t give any rank or title, which suggested that he was part of Internal Affairs. The men who policed the police – fiends in human form, as they were viewed by the regular police – all had the same sense of arrogance and entitlement, as well as a conviction that any copper who didn’t want to talk to them had something to hide. “Tell me what happened today.”

Matt sighed and repeated the story, again. Jeff listened quietly, without saying a word, no doubt comparing it to the stories Matt had told the earlier interrogators. By now, the Mayor would have been informed and the NYPD would be bracing itself for a media storm. A cop shooting a young girl would sell more papers than anything reassembling the truth. It had reached the point where Matt had started to question his own sanity. But he’d seen the other bodies. Nothing human could have done that to anyone.

“They rushed the bodies to the morgue,” Jeff said, when he’d finished. “I’m afraid you definitely did kill the girl, Matt. We pulled your bullets out of her body and checked them against your gun.”

“I know what I saw,” Matt said, quietly. But had he really seen what he’d seen? Maybe it had all been an illusion caused by a hallucinogenic gas. “I don’t understand what happened…”

“Neither do I,” Jeff said. “We haven’t done anything more with the girl’s body, for the moment, but we have had the other victims checked. The best the doctors can suggest is that all five of them were torn apart by a powerful animal of some kind, perhaps an oversized dog. They pulled animal hairs out of the blood; they just haven’t been able to match them to anything.”

Matt leaned forward. “So there was an animal!”

“It seems that way,” Jeff agreed. “We’ve managed to identify two of the victims, both known gang-bangers. The other two males and the girls remain unidentified so far, but we’re only just starting. No doubt something will surface to tell us who they were and what they were doing in that alleyway.”

He looked up, sharply. “Another odd datum,” he added. “The girl you shot was badly stained with blood from all five animal victims. We’ve had it checked against the others and it is definitely their blood. And she doesn’t seem to have any animal hairs on her.”

Matt stared down at his hands. “So what the fuck happened?”

“We don’t know,” Jeff said. The Internal Affairs officer shook his head. “It’s turning into a horrible mess – and it will get worse once the media catches wind of it. We have to take action to show that we’re on top of the situation and we don’t know what action to take.”

Matt scowled. The NYPD couldn’t afford another scandal, not after a series of scandals involving police forces had plagued the nation. Coppers had shot innocent men, or arrested the wrong person, or been politically involved…the list went on and on. He had a nasty feeling that McLain was about to throw him under the bus in the hopes that it would distract attention from the NYPD itself.

“We tested your blood,” Jeff added. They’d taken a sample as soon as they’d suspected that Matt might have been under the influence. “No drugs, no alcohol, nothing that might have affected your judgement.” He didn’t quite say that Matt might have been born with poor judgement, but the training should have taught him better or failed him. “We really don’t know what happened to you, or to her. The physical evidence is…somewhat murky.”

He frowned. “But we do know that you shot the girl, which means that we have to take action. For the moment, pending the outcome of an investigation, you will be suspended from duty and barred from talking to the media. In the event of them managing to identify you, we will take you into protective custody for your own safety. You don’t want the media trying and convicting you before we actually know what happened.”

Matt nodded. Under the circumstances, it was the best they could do. They had to suspend him until they knew what had actually happened, even if they believed his story. Besides, it would give him a chance to sleep and to try to come to terms with what had happened. There was no avoiding the fact that he’d put three slugs into a girl and killed her.

Jeff stood up. “We’d prefer it if you reviewed the instructions for suspended cops and followed them to the letter,” he said. “Don’t talk to the media, don’t try to run your own investigation and don’t leave the city. You may be expected to attend further interrogation sessions without warning.”

“Yeah,” Matt nodded. “I won’t leave the city.”

He caught a glimpse of his own face in the mirror as Jeff escorted him out of the chamber and winced. Matt had never thought of himself as particularly handsome, but right now he looked haggard, as if he’d aged overnight. A good night’s sleep would cure the tiredness, yet it wouldn’t do anything to mollify the guilt. The girl was dead and it was his fault and even though he’d acted in self-defence, or what he’d thought was self-defence, he’d still killed her. It never got any easier.

The other officers in the station looked at him, and then looked away. Failure – and the attention of Internal Affairs – was contagious and they didn’t want any of Matt’s troubles splattering over them. Matt knew exactly how they were feeling; Internal Affairs had a tendency to go on witch-hunts that did little more than threaten the careers of decent policemen. Jeff might appear to be an affable guy, but Matt knew that he – like all officers – was itching for the collar. Arresting a corrupt – or criminally negligent – policeman would go some way towards justifying Internal Affairs’ budget.

Jeff arranged for a car to drive Matt back to his apartment. Outside, it was still dark, with the full moon half-hidden under the clouds, but New York never slept. There were already a couple of reporters watching the police station, as if they expected something spectacular to appear right in front of him. Matt rolled his eyes; he’d seen enough reporters to know that they were just stringers, sent along to make sure all of the bases were covered. The really famous reporters were probably still in bed.

He’d never bothered to rent a proper apartment, which was probably why none of his girlfriends stayed with him for very long. Opening the door, he stumbled inside and crashed down on the sofa, closing his eyes tightly. He was just too keyed up to sleep with the bad coffee he’d drunk at the station. Eventually, he pulled himself to his feet and stumbled across to the laptop. Internal Affairs should have cancelled his access to the national police network of computers, but he knew logins from two of his comrades and those wouldn’t have been changed. By now, the record of the incident in New York would have been entered into the system and linked to other cases. Matt felt his eyes widen as no less than three similar cases appeared in front of his eyes. Two of them involved fatalities, apparently caused by monstrous animals; the third claimed to have seen a young man become an animal. Separately, it was hard to take any such report seriously, but taking them all together…?

Matt sucked in a breath. What the hell was going on?

One Response to “Science and Sorcery–Snippet”

  1. scruffy September 21, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    was never into the sorcery or magic reading till I read some of you work. I like this one too

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