The outback sun bore down once he opened the car door. He scanned the property from left to right, cold eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. The hum of the car engine died behind him. He crept toward the front deck, burnt orange dirt crunching beneath his boots. There was no driveway as of yet. That would have to be fixed. Even a gravel road would work better than the scorched earth Australia laid a claim to.
It was an old ranch home, built sometime in the twenties or thirties if he had to guess. He spit a wad onto the ground, burying the wet brown splotch into the dirt. Cursing his luck, he fumbled in his pocket for the house keys Weston had given him.
A simple objective, the firm had told him before he left. Evaluate the property overnight for grade and potential buyers would flood to take the place.
Flood was a poor choice of words. The place looked like the last time it got rain was the time it was built.
Still, the house was built on acre upon acre of land. He could tell the huge backyard was probably full of cattle at some point. Canberra had claimed the land as possible to be bought just a few years prior after previously telling the homeowners they had to leave due to zoning laws prohibiting developments in that part of the country. Now that it was open again, a plot of this size would definitely attract some big-dollar buyers.
He had even met with some. One was a blonde woman from New South Wales, clutching her young child's hand, in the loading area of the airport. She had caught his eye a few times and downright stolen it a few others. Whether or not it was on purpose was something he had been thinking about a bit too much on the drive out through the arid wasteland.
The lock made a dreadful noise, a sort of groaning wail that probably woke up everything within a five kilometer radius. It fought with him getting out, too. It seemed stuck in the metal disk. Already frustrated, he yanked back on the thing a few times. Next time he blinked he was on his rear, holding the butt end of the key in his right hand and three or four splinters in his left. The front half of the key sat proudly in the lock, mocking his incompetence as he huffed into the house. He slammed the door behind him.
The house was uncomfortably small. He found himself immediately staring at a staircase, leading up into darkness. To his left sat a kitchen—or what he guessed used to be a kitchen, considering the lack of appliances made the room feel naked—with a screen door that fluttered open and shut in the dusty wind. He had forgotten about the side door. After another groan, he turned to his left and shuffled into the living room. His leg ached.
Whatever carpet that used to grace the rough wooden-slat floors had long since been replaced. In its place laid a grotesquely discolored white shag rug, scratched and torn in a few places and rumpled toward the back right corner. It hadn't been cut right and it showed.
He figured the culprit of the discoloration was a dog. He had seen a few dingoes on his way out, but it was more likely that the last owner of the house just wasn't a very sanitary person. He scoffed slightly at the ceiling, too: blank white popcorn chunks glittered in whatever beams of sunlight that managed to shine through the shower curtains that were being used as blinds. White powder, the sparkling remnants of the ancient style, fluttered to the floor occasionally and built up a faint snowlike dusting that was difficult to see.
Something underneath the staircase caught his eye—a loveseat, no bigger than the average armchair. Its legs and arms were carved quite intricately out of some type of wood. It would definitely fetch a high price at an auction. He took a seat, noting its comfortability before standing back up to survey the rest of the house.
There was a back hallway around the corner that wrapped around the house, connecting to a bathroom that had more water than closet, before finding its way back to the empty kitchen. His stomach grumbled, and so did he.
His mind wandered as he began to set up a "camp" before the night fell. The woman he had met before seemed almost bored until she had met him, and then was almost nauseatingly upbeat and perky, to the point of almost ignoring the brat that clung to her arm. She was finely built, however, and he had some difficulty remembering his training on eye contact.
He stopped, wrestling with himself as he stared outside. He had completely forgotten to scout the property lines. His watch beamed a steady 6:30, and the blank Australian sky had begun to dye itself hues of orange and purple. His stomach caved in hunger, but he had been stupid enough to only bring a pack of granola bars. He quickly ate two before shoving the box back into his bag.
Bound and determined to check the upstairs, he found that the staircase itself made terrible noise when he walked up. All fourteen steps creaked like they were about to break. Another tally to the mental negatives box.
The upstairs had one room, a small bedroom area with cardboard boxes packed to the ceiling in the back corner. A dusty bed lay underneath a wide window with a direct view of the rising moon. It beckoned for him, and he cringed a bit as he sat down on the old springs.
Outside was the property's main draw: a large watering hole that had just sprung up at around the same time the original owner had left. He stopped for a second to peer out through the window, in shock of just how clear the water was. Normally it would be murky and filled with silt. This pool was just fine.
It was surrounded by thick brush and flax, bristling in the wind. Or maybe it wasn't wind. He didn't hear any wind outside the shanty's walls.
"Meh." There wasn't much use in thinking too much about it. Probably a stray goanna.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, informing him of the low battery. A notification told him he had less than five percent. He scrambled through the house looking for an available outlet, but the electricity to the house had been turned off a long time ago and he wasn't really willing to go into the cellar to find the electrical box.
Defeated, he sat in the upstairs bedroom and waited until night fell.
He thought he heard a crack.
It was loud, but brief, like a gunshot. He peered over the windowsill, struggling to move and navigate in the darkness. Nothing but pitch black peered back at him. His bare foot caught a stray sliver of wood in the ground, and he let out a curse as he fumbled for a light. Nothing.
Hopping back to the bed, he searched for the painful blight using his hands. Once he found the small, rough needle, he used all of his strength and fingernails to pry it out of the arch of his foot. His foot pulsated, and he imagined that the bedspread was going to be soaked in blood. He huffed as he tied an extra sock around his foot and tried his best to go back to sleep.
The wind became belligerent around 3 a.m. He couldn't tell, mainly because his phone had died at some point in the night.
Almost mechanically, it would pick up and slow down every two or three seconds. Then it would blow hard for a few seconds, disappear, and come back. When he looked out of the window from the bed, he couldn't see the moon. A storm must have rolled in between his last two awakenings.
His foot still hurt.
Before too long, the wind had gone entirely, and he was off to sleep again.
His mouth felt like cotton in the morning.
A few swallows didn't do much to fix the problem, so he decided to get up and survey the house after the storm. Once he put his foot on the ground, though, the reminder of the splinter echoed through his leg and ricocheted out of his mouth in the form of a hoarse curse, the very same uttered the night before.
The white sock he had used as a tourniquet was maroon in some places, pink in others, and crusty all over. He frowned, peeling it off of his yellowed skin before finding another sock to put over his foot. At least the wound had healed somewhat. Every time the foot moved, however, the shifting of the skin caused sharp discomfort. He resorted to taking exaggerated and slow steps down the stairs in order to avoid surprising pains.
The kitchen window had opened, letting in a slight breeze from the south. He enjoyed it for a few seconds before attempting to shut the window. After a few disjointed scraps of metal shrieked together, he noticed that the mechanism to move it had broken. Someone had moved it up at some point before he got there and had somehow broken the latch. He sighed at his own inability to recognize something was amiss and left it as it was. The screen door continued to flutter in the wind.
He nudged the front door open, facing the front of the wind in his boxers and tee shirt. It was with confusion that he noticed that the ground was bone dry. He limped down off of the porch and tested the soil. Nothing within miles had gotten any rain, it seemed like. Did it just get warm enough to evaporate everything overnight after it rained? He scratched his head and walked back inside, bound and determined to check the bathroom for deficiencies.
It did have deficiencies.
Crunching on the last few granola bars, he was reminded of the coworker that would be swinging by later that day to provide him with dinner and a ride home. He stared at the last granola bar in his hand, mentally labeling it as "lunch", and haphazardly tossed it onto what constituted as a makeshift coffee table—two boxes with a placemat he had found in a cupboard on top.
Now was the time to check the back property. He trudged through the rough grass by the back side of the building and into the wide open space that constituted for the acres of land that made up 96% of the property.
He eyed the unsightly line of bushes. They would have to be cut down—or at least trimmed a bit— before the house could be bought. Pondering on it a minute, the thought of who had to do that job came into his mind. He groaned. It definitely would not be him. He started formulating ideas of how to connect his foot injury to unsafe environments and if that would allow him to get out of ever doing any job like this again.
Who even sends agents to the house to stay the night anyway?
The acres were fenced off by an ancient-looking wire fence, which constituted of one wooden stick every ten yards tied together with two ropes of barbed wire. He could feel the tetanus shots already, and decided to walk a firm five to six feet away from them as he paced the perimeter for broken segments.
As it turned out, there were not many spots where the fence was broken. A little dent where a kangaroo hadn't gotten enough air, and another spot ten feet away where a rut had been dug out underneath the fence (most likely by the same kangaroo).
One major spot caught his attention. It looked as if a small car had driven through the fence. Not far behind it was another stretch of hedges, this time even more dead and yellowed than the one near the house. He assumed it was another pond, but one that had possibly dried up. Outside the fence laid upwards to fifty small beige rocks.
He made his way over to the wall of flax. Not looking, he kicked a rock. He looked down, heart speeding up. It was no rock, but half of a cow skull that he had kicked.
He glanced around. Each of the rocks were actually bone; bits and pieces of cow bones that had been broken apart and strewn across the area.
Immediately, he searched for an explanation. His legs refused to move, knees knocking like a child as his eyes frantically examined the detail on each fragment on the ground.
The bones had white streaks in jagged, sharp lines each down the sides. Where they had broken off was an off-white that resembled dying eggs. Did whatever do this eat the cows? He had been told this was an old farmstead, but the previous owner said the tenants spoke nothing of any problems with their cows.
He had to remind himself to keep breathing. The wind quit blowing at his back, and the air became deathly still. From deep inside the tall grass came a low, rolling growl, like that of the saltwater crocodiles in the canal near his home.
But there was no water anywhere near here except for the drainage pond, and that wasn't big enough to sustain one saltie, let alone enough for a colony of the crocs. He started to back away slowly. He would have to tell the firm that there was an unresolved crocodile nest just outside of the––
A loud snap echoed across the plains. His injured foot dug into the red dirt of the outback and he didn't look back. He lilted as he ran, bouncing every stride or so in pain. Every step sent a jolt through his side.
He whisped through the tall grass, the barbed vegetation digging at his exposed legs as dirt flew behind him. The wind stung his eyes. Making it to the house, he slammed the door behind him. He thanked himself for not locking it behind him before he went out.
Stinging sensations pricked at his legs. He looked down. Aussies loved to wear khaki shorts––he was no exception––but as he began the process of removing the barbed seeds from his leg hairs, he cursed his luck.
In the stillness of the house, he questioned what it was that had been out there. A dog? The dingoes from earlier could have theoretically made the trek that far inland. The likelihood of it, now that he thought about it, was shrinking by the second.
The possibility of it being a saltie crossed his mind again. Yet still, there was no body of water within kilometers of there that could be home to a frog, more or less a crocodile. The snap that he heard must have been something else. A bird, maybe.
He shook his head. Things out here just got more weird. He'd never liked the outdoors, anyway. Limping further into the kitchen, he decided to have the last of his granola bars. Reaching into the bag, he found the wrapper and lifted, only to find it lighter than he last remembered it being. He groaned. It wouldn't hurt too much to go without food, and he was only here for another...
There was no clock.
His phone was dead, too.
His fists balled up. This damn place really did want him out of here. He was happy to oblige, but it wouldn't even allow him that single luxury. His foot seemed to radiate as a reminder of the injury he had already sustained.
A loud bang emanated from the kitchen as he brought his fist down onto the wooden counter. If he had any splinters, he never would have noticed them. His vision narrowed. Swiping his hand to the side, age-old glasses and silverware flew into the air. The cups shattered, sending shimmering shards into the corner.
He breathed hard. In and out, like the billows of some ancient forge crafting the most dangerous weapon it could. Fire burned behind his eyes, scorching whatever he saw, and the incoherent mess that spurted from his mouth floated in the silence like black smoke.
And then it was silent again as he looked upon his work. His hand protested in chorus with his foot, and he felt the sudden embarrassed urge to lay down.
Defeated by a nonexistent enemy, he retreated upstairs. He figured waiting was always easier when one was asleep, and he had a lot of waiting to do. Minding the creaking stairs, he marched in solitude, making one last glance towards the living room as if to solidify his solidarity.
The discolored spot on the rug looked more orange than brown now. A mix of both. Maybe his vision was changing.
The bedroom almost seemed smaller in the late morning light. The bed looked pitiful, crammed into the corner and forgotten. It was almost poetic, he thought. He had never really examined the bedroom much for what it was worth. Loft-like and cramped, it made for a better attic than sleeping space. The window was the focal point; the exact center of the far wall, and its shape was intriguing. He stared at the window. What was different? Was there something he hadn't noticed the first time about the thing?
It took a few seconds until he found it.
A jagged crack spiderwebbed across the entirety of the glass. In the bottom left corner was an open hole, where the cracks had originated judging by their direction. He slowly approached it, examining it, thinking about what would have caused it. A gunshot? A bird?
He kicked something small across the floor. He glanced down. It was the piece of wood from earlier, the same one that had gored his foot the night previous. He picked it up to examine it. He really couldn't have examined it during the night because he couldn't find the light. He brought it to the bed and sat down, subconsciously rubbing his foot.
It was an odd color of wood; a tan, like the bones outside. It was curved and highly detailed, with certain lines along the sides looking as if they had been etched by a master artist. He flipped it a few times more. It was obvious to see how it had injured him—the end, still reddened, tapered to a tip. On the opposite end it was a reddish brown.
He glanced up to the ceiling to see where it could have possibly come from. Nothing in the house was made with that type of wood.
It hit him.
This was not wood.
This was bone.
This was a claw.
The object fell to the floor, rattling against the coarse wood and echoing throughout the whole house. The walls crept inward, suffocating him. He needed to leave.
He stumbled down the stairs. The car. He needed to drive away. But he was out of gas. How was he supposed to get out of there? He didn't care. The car was safe.
His leg missed the last step and caught air. A twinge in his ankle
The house wasn't safe anymore. Something was in that bush. Something terribly sinister was waiting for him to go to sleep. The front door was jammed. He shook it a few times. Nothing. After a yell, he shoved. He didn't care what the company thought. He was getting out of here.
It didn't budge.
Frenzied, he put all of his weight behind one dash. He heard a snapping sound, like the crisp, clean break of a tree limb, and fell down on top of the door. He was outside. Shards of wood stuck out from the hinges, where the door had come apart from the doorframe.
Good, he thought. That door sucked anyway.
The car wasn't locked. Nobody lived this far out in the middle of nowhere. So he thought, anyway. Maybe people did, and he just didn't remember it. Maybe people did, and didn't survive whatever it was that hid out in that bush.
The keys jittered in his hands. He thought it was pathetic; his hands shaking like an old man's. Whatever it was that caused it, he wanted it to stop. Maybe the roads would ease it.
He twisted once. A cough, but no ignition. He twisted twice, this down stepping on the gas pedal. Nothing at all.
He stared forward through the windshield at the wind blown landscape behind the house. As far as he could see, there was nothing. Nothing at all. No signs of intelligent life for kilometers upon kilometers; not even a bird in the sky flew overhead.
A soft, inhuman groan wafted past his ears from far beyond the house. He felt faint.
His eyes fluttered open. He slowly raised his head. He was still in the car. Did he pass out? He must have, considering the massive crick in his neck. He looked to his left, sensitive to the pain. One crack later, he was fine. Or so he told himself.
Opening the door, something struck him as odd. He was now parked on the side of the house. When he arrived he parked up front, right in front of that crappy porch. Why was he over here? He glanced toward the house. Trailing behind the car were dark imprints on the ground, at least a meter wide and a meter and a half long.
He had thought the car was safe. Whatever it was that was out here had pushed the car with him inside of it, and lightly enough that he didn't wake up in the process.
He didn't want to wait to find out what the reasoning was. Tripping out of the driver side's door, he limped back into the building and waited.
What felt to be five minutes passed with no sound at all. He held his breath, eyes carefully scanning the windows for any movement. There was none. No movement and no sound.
No, something was there. A soft humming, like a distant motor. He peered out the window. A cloud of dust was coming from the horizon, billowing into the arid blue sky. Barely visible through squinting eyes was a Jeep, wavering in the heat. Finally, his worthless coworker was here. He must be late.
Once the Jeep got within fifty feet of the front porch, he walked out, arms waving. "Hey!"
The Jeep stopped, the door opening with a pop as a rather plump tanned man exited. He had a mustache that dripped with the enthusiasm from his voice, and his childish blue eyes were hidden behind a pair of anachronistic sunglasses that looked like they belonged to John Lennon. The bloke acted like he was John Lennon.
His shoulders slumped. Of all the people they sent to bring him back, they sent Devon.
"Hey, Vance!" The large man's shrill voice echoed across the landscape.
His eye's widened. "No, you idiot, shut up!" He started running towards the Jeep.
"What?" Devon responded stupidly with his high pitched voice. Of course he wouldn't be able to hear him from five meters away.
"You need to be quiet! There's something—"
Devon looked to his right and screamed. From behind the house burst a large brown creature, nearly four meters in height and as big as the Jeep. He could barely visualize it before it collided with the Jeep, flipping it over.
Devon's bloated body flew, landing without much of a sound on the ground. He ducked. The Jeep hit the ground upside down and screeched, sending shards of rent metal and shrapnel flying everywhere.
The air burned with the smell of ignited gasoline and car fluids. His ears rang, just barely able to make out the low rumbling he had heard out by the fence before. He didn't move.
Once the ringing in his ears died down after a few seconds, he felt the need to look up. A short argument with himself ended with the thought that he was going to die anyway, so it didn't really matter if he blew his cover by looking now.
He slowly raised his head. A large, emu-like foot sat inches from his face. Brown and cracked, it sat still like a statue, faced away from him. A neon orange fireball stretched towards the open sky, sending a river of black smoke upward. The car had caught fire.
His ears caught a slight noise. A whimpering, like a small child who had broken a bone for the first time. He squinted and found what the creature had been looking at.
Devon sat seven or so feet away, bloodied from his bald head and obviously concussed, cradling his left arm. It was horribly bent. He tried his best not to look at it, but he just couldn't look away. Some primal part of him froze in horror, the realization that he was viewing the final moments of another man tugging at his brain.
The fat accountant looked up at the beast, catching a better look of it than he ever hoped he would. He stopped whimpering, and for once, something had quieted him.
"Help me, please."
For a split second, he felt the urge to reach out and do something; his base human instinct to help burning at his chest, trying to find anything he could to stop what he knew was going to happen. If he were to just hit the thing, maybe it would turn around and give Devon time to run away or find shelter in something. If he made a noise, maybe he would be able to give the two of them enough time to escape.
But he did nothing, terrified of the possibility of he himself dying. He offered a look to the man less than ten feet from him, an apology caught in his throat. Devon's eyes looked sad. He had never seen them that way before.
Then the wide, goanna-like jaws of the beast clamped down on Devon's upper half, raising him a solid two meters into the air. Muffled yelps and cries for help escaped from the corners of its' mouth. The thick legs then shook from side to side, ripped around in the beast's maw like a dog's chew toy.
His eyes widened. The dry earth underneath the thing's head popped with droplets of moisture— whether they were of blood or saliva, he didn't want to know. He wasn't going to stick around to find out. He pushed off of the ground, ducking under the monster's thin, whiplike tail and bounding for the house.
He hopped the steps, landing on the felled door, and peeked around the doorframe for his first look at the ungodly monster.
It stood taller than his car, just as tall as a large horse. A light brown underbelly was accompanied by a dark overtone with light yellow spots and gray lines down its back. The tail was thin; long, slender and whiplike. It flitted around like a sinister dog's after finding a new bone. Muscular, column-like legs kept the thing upright on a pair of splayed, avian feet. The rest of its body was streamlined, built for speed. It was a wonder that it was able to flip the Jeep. Its four-fingered hands hovered above the ground, waiting for the creature to hobble back down on all fours so it could race after the other survivor.
His eyes fixated on the head. The skin around the top of the head was blackened like war paint, accenting the black, thoughtless eyes in the middle of its head. The head was remarkably similar to that of a bird's, with the absence of a beak. It looked nothing like a crocodile. One solid black streak from the side of the head to the flaring nostril created a formidable horror.
That seemed to be the spot that Devon had found to beat, hoping in vain to get the animal to open up by slamming his fist against it from the inside of the animal. Hints of a thick blue tongue slithered around the accountant's body.
It grew irritated, moving its head side to side to offset the erratic movement of the man. He wondered morbidly if it had ever attempted to eat anything as large in its life.
Preparing itself, it opened its jaws just a bit before slamming them down back on the body a few times, getting a better grip on the man he had been annoyed by for four years. The yelling stopped. Devon's arms fell limply to the sides of its jaws, and his legs slumped downward.
It was a twisted picture, reminiscent of a cat with a mouse it had caught. He didn't feel like celebrating. In fact, he felt like throwing up.
He jerked his head away, ignoring the crick in his neck. That was the least of his worries at the moment. Trying not to think about the terrible ripping noises he heard from outside the fragile walls, he slowly crept away from the door and up the stairs. The hallway that encased the stairway was nearly claustrophobic. That monster could fit in most of the house—just not the upstairs.
His foot hit the first step tentatively. He glanced behind him to see if the thing was watching, and quickly regretted it. The front of its snout was buried in the chest of Devon, whose eyes were wide open, staring blankly into the sun.
It raised its head, caked and coated in blood, and stared at him.
His eyes widened and his breath stopped. Through the doorway, the two stared at each other, human eyes into colorless black pits. The walls became irrelevant. Nowhere was safe anymore.
He took off up the stairs, earning a distant yelp of hunter's satisfaction from the dinosaur behind him. That's what it was; a dinosaur, and he hated the thought of being its prey. His vision tunneled and he could just feel the monster's hot breath on the back of his neck. It had only been seconds! How?
He didn't have time to question it. He got to the door and turned around. It hadn't followed him, after all. He choked a quick sound of relief before opening and slamming the door behind him.
He jolted to a stop after just one step in the room. The sound of an ancient picture frame falling off of the wall and tumbling to the bottom of the stairs echoed through the empty home. Every time it made a noise it pinged. Anything on the continent could have heard it if it was listening.
Restraining an urge to curse, he crept away from the door. His eyes darted from corner to corner of the room, occasionally latching on to the bottom of the doorway to see if anything blotted out the slow stream of light from the bottom.
The window. He would escape out the window.
Placing his hands on the crumbling windowsill, he felt around for a latch or some mechanism underneath that would allow him to open the window itself.
A creak echoed from the hallway. A floorboard, somewhere, was being pressed.
It was coming upstairs.
He began to panic, tugging harshly at the windowsill, grunting in a primal effort to just get the blasted thing open so he could—
Creak. Another crack. A snap, followed by an animalistic grunt just feet from the doorway.
He could feel his eyes welling up with hot tears.
His eyes sprinted from object to object. Nothing would help him. His bag against the corner fell over as the house itself seemed to shift. The walls moved in closer, trapping him in a splintery prison.
Then, silence. Maybe he had been imagining it. Maybe he could make his way over to his bag and check to see if he had enough battery or signal to make a phone call.
His feet silently glided over the floorboards. A single step down might cause the entire floorboard to groan, alerting whatever demon outside to his presence and his lack of an escape route. Refusing to breathe, he picked up the bag.
A zipper. He would have to unzip the bag.
Before he could reach for it, a loud huff brushed against the other side of the door. It exhaled loudly against the expensive-looking wood. Somewhere in the back of his mind, his brain was working normally, assessing whatever damages this thing probably caused and how it had lessened the property value.
He took a breath. He had to take his chance.
The zipper zipped open. Quickly, he peered inside, struggling to find his phone. It wasn't there.
The door behind him exploded. His head jolted around, staring into rows of stained yellow teeth centimeters from his face. The monster's claws splayed, spreading two pairs of four fingers on each hand wide enough to grasp his entire head.
His body screamed, but he didn't remember telling himself to do so. He just remembered staring blankly into a pair of dark, blank eyes, confused as to how he had let something get him into this situation. He remembered the woman from the port before he left, and the stern glance his boss had given him. Would he have rather been fired for not going?
Yes, he thought.
Then, before he could blink, he felt an immensely sharp, cool pain at the back of his neck. He couldn't believe he was dying. This was how he would die.
He felt his body stop screaming.
The ranger caught sight of the house about a kilo away through a set of binoculars.
The front of the house looked like it had been through a storm, with the front door laying flat on the porch and two or three of the front windows completely blown out. A Jeep sat upside down and charred a stone's throw from the steps.
He and his assisting officer pulled up next to the building and parked, shutting the doors. A missing persons' claim from an insurance company was filed the day before for two of their workers, and whenever something like that happened out in the outback it was typically the result of a double-
homicide or a murder-suicide. The last case they had seen involved a man going crazy and starving to death a few kilos from the red center.
They didn't know much about the one man—Vance Burton. Single, thirty-something man with no history of aggravated assault or anger issues of any kind. The boss had mentioned how the one man, Devon Brenatto, was a bit of a character, but nothing nobody couldn't grit their teeth and sit through.
"You check the ground floor. I'll knock out the upstairs."
"Sounds good, mate."
The two of them entered the house, eyes trained on the interior. The homicide cases he had investigated were similar to these. Most of them didn't look like the warzone he was in the middle of, though. The arson involved with the flipped offroader was definitely interesting, though. He wondered how one of them managed to flip it that easily. There was a set of tire marks that stretched from the side of the house to the front, but then nothing for about six meters to its' left and then the car itself was upside down, blown up.
The entryway to the house was all sorts of messed up. He decided he would focus on the upstairs while his colleague did all the work on the ground floor.
The staircase itself was in ruin. Every step or so would be collapsed in as if under the weight of some immense object. Skipping the felled planks of wood, he finally made his way to the top. Another busted door greeted him.
He struggled to put together the pieces. The first instance of a murder was outside—the markings of a body, with congealed blood all over the dust. That's what the blots of darker dirt and sand told him.
Grass cracked beneath his boot. He glanced down at a shattered picture frame. He looked up, eyes tracing the deep cuts of three etched into the walls every three meters or so. He began to feel sick to his stomach. Were there swords or pitchforks involved here? What kind of deranged madman uses iron weaponry to murder someone in cold blood?
"We've got a huge blood spot down here on the carpet," his assisting officer yelled from down the
stairs. "Like somebody emptied out a whole body right here in the living room. Bloody mess."
"Got it," he shouted down, carefully maneuvering up the busted staircase, placing his hand on some of the carvings in the wall. It was too irregular to be a set of knives or even a pitchfork. Something about it seemed horrifically natural.
The doorframe at the top of the landing was in even worse shape. It had been busted through, with something the size of a small truck going through it. He blinked a few times. How in the hell…?
His head peeked over the crest of the stairs. Immediately the stench of rotting flesh grew from faint to overwhelming. His knees faltered, and he slipped on the spot, vomiting at the base of the stairs.
"You alright mate?" came his support from downstairs. "I'm beginning to think he wasn't alone in all this. Looks like a mob came through and ransacked the place."
"Yeah. I'm right. The more I sit here, the more I think this isn't a murder we're investigating anymore." There was no way a single man could have done all of this. There was no way the two men alone could have done any of it, and that was the most concerning part. Yes, there was the possibility of a large group of people aiding one of them—but the logistics of that seemed slim to none. There were no boot tracks in the yard, more or less evidence of other vehicles aside from the two that remained outside.
He swallowed hard, steeling himself as he pulled over the stairs. Splintered wood etched into the floorboards, wherever they were still intact. A pair of shoes, grimy and marred with dirt, faced the doorway unmoving.
A second victim. The second victim.
He walked into the room. The pieces of what he assumed to be the door lay everywhere. A handle was somewhere in the back of the room, but he didn't feel like looking for it. Not anymore.
The shoes were connected to legs, which were connected to a pair of hips, which were not connected to anything. Instead, purple-pink entrails that had at one point oozed blood were crusted over and bloated with the affects of the outside world. Rigor mortis had come and gone. Thinned intestines stretched for a few feet outside of where the hips had separated from the body. They look like they had snapped.
He glanced around the room for the rest of the body. He couldn't see any at first, but eventually did catch sight of a forearm in the back of the room, behind a rusted bedframe against the wall. Strings of muscle and skin had been peeled from it, exposing the bits of forearm bone at the base. The hand was still completely intact, the fingers relaxed.
He hated that he would have to take that back to the police station. They wouldn't know whose arm this was out of the two until they did testing.
He snapped a few pictures of the body before turning to vomit again. Except this time, he caught eyes. Or one eye. Half of a human head, detached from the rest of the body, stared back at him. Dried brains looked like hamburger. He hated that. The bits of yellowed skull that remained were chipped and gnarled, as though a dog had chewed on it like a chew toy and only ate half of it. The entire bottom jaw was missing.
He backed out of the room slowly. His colleague called out from the downstairs.
"I don't think we're dealing with a murder here anymore. These blokes messed up this place. You know there's a huge pile of shit down 'ere, right?"
"I can do you one worse," he answered, stumbling down the stairs. He'd been a detective officer for years and never felt this sick to his stomach before. This was beyond anything he'd ever experienced.
He caught his coworker by the nape of his neck, hands clammy and steeled. He cleared his throat.
"You ever seen half of a man before?"