A Profile In Shades Of Night
A voice, soft, distant, and barely audible, whispered in Terrance' ear, warning him that someone was in the alley with him. Terrance remained motionless, appearing to be in a deep, drunken sleep, the illusion aided by the pungent aroma of cheap whiskey. Terrance strained to hear the slightest sound to indicate that he was no longer alone, but between the thick, grimy scarf that was wrapped around his head, the cardboard walls of his shanty, and the steady drumming of the rain, he was unable to detect even a footfall.
It was not that Terrance doubted the word of the person who had spoken to him, he had, after all, been working with Kim for nearly two years, and she had proven to be his best partner yet. No, it was not her observation that he doubted, it was simply that he wanted to know the location of the intruder—to gauge how much time he had before the refrigerator box that was his home was invaded. Before he became, hopefully, the next intended victim of the psychopath that the news media was calling The Flayer.
Twelve of the hottest days that Philadelphia had ever seen, with temperatures well over a hundred for nearly two weeks, and each of those days bringing the grisly discovery of a body—though what was left could hardly be described as that. Autopsies were still pending on the last seven victims, the sheer amount of damage done to the corpses impeding the intricate process, but the results so far had been identical; the victim had been skinned alive—quickly, painfully, professionally—and then the other…things had been done to them.
Terrance pushed the images from his mind, gruesome images forever captured by his photographic memory, and he willed himself to remain calm. Even though he was surrounded by corrugated cardboard, out of sight of who ever was in the alley with him, Terrance knew that he had to continue with his charade of being a sleeping transient. He knew that the intruder was somehow aware of his state of being, and that any indication of a trap would send the intruder vanishing into the night.
Calm thoughts. Plain thoughts. Everyday thoughts. Where will I find food? How long will this box last? How long until the cops make move on? Maybe I can find an odd job tomorrow.
The ghost of a sound, hidden between the thumping of the rain and the treading of a passing car on the main street, drifted to Terrance, and he identified it as the soft slap of bare skin on asphalt. A foot fall, so soft and faint as to seem ephemeral, yet revealing of subtle details. The intruder was taking great pains to be stealthy, resorting to traversing the alley in bare feet, and advancing with hesitation.
It was still possible that the intruder was just another transient, of the lower order, preying on his fellow hapless human, but Terrance did not believe that to be the case. From the cold spot that seemed to spring forth in his soul, Terrance knew that the being covertly approaching was indeed The Flayer, in search of his thirteenth victim.
Flesh, bones, and sinew, pulled apart, laying across ten parking stalls in the lower level of an underground garage less than a block from this alley. Pupils, their stems hanging off of them like grassy roots, had been carefully positioned atop of a concrete barrier, almost as if intended to witness the desecration done to the body that they had previously occupied.
The first victim in this macabre spree, one of the few not to be a transient, had been the owner of 'A Magical Place', one of those New World shops that specialized in so-called 'White Magic'. She had been identified only because of the contents of her purse, which held—besides her personal items—her own heart, shredded into a pulpy mess.
Held to a wall of the garage by dried blood was a piece of the woman's flesh, roughly twelve inches square. Scratched into the bit of flesh, later determined to have happened while it was still attached to her, were scraggly words.
"Pure or tainted, any may
be my replenishment"
It was well into the fourth day before the coroner was able to determine that the woman's kidneys, spleen, and portions of her brain were missing.
Too late Terrance suppressed the memory, a tangible feeling in the air telling him that The Flayer had some how latched onto his thought, and had determined that there was more than a homeless man sleeping inside the drenched, cardboard box.
Intuition flared in Terrance, and he could feel the intruder beginning to retreat into the darkness, as if the air had become thick as water, and he was being buffeted by the fleeing wake. Their opportunity to end this slaughter was swiftly fading from them, and the consequences would be too terrible to bare, to accept responsibility for.
Terrance was not going to let the opportunity pass so easily.
"Go," yelled Terrance, kicking out the intricately designed brace that held his decoy shanty together and giving him instant freedom. "Go, go, go," he continued screaming into his throat mike, rolling out into the rain, laying flat and pointing his weapon down the alley.
Red and blue strobe lights flashed through the night, bright spotlights filling the far end of the alley and casting a dark silhouette before the prone Terrance. The black shape was nearly indiscernible in the halo of whiteness pouring from behind it, but even the outline was unnerving to Terrance, indicating a massive man in a tattered overcoat. Lengthy limbs hung from the towering torso, ending in disparate hands that were easily three times larger than they should be, and tipped with long, slender fingers.
A sheet of flesh, previously adorning the breasts of a nineteen year old girl, had been pinned to the wall like a bloody poster. Carving in the flesh, determined to have been made with a finger nail from the victim, conveyed a message to those that found it, spelled out in crooked, zigzagging letters.
"The weakness of their flesh
makes my flesh strong"
The rest of the girl—what they were able to find—was spread through out her two story apartment, fouling each room with a sense of death that nothing would ever be able to clean away. It was only last night that it was learned that her heart, lungs, and, yet again, portions of her brain were missing.
Terrance cursed his recollective ability, and his imagination, his mind easily able to see those long, slender fingers physically dissecting the victims—rendering them apart, piece by piece. A vision of the dark form, standing over the remains of the young girl, burned into his synapse, creating a morbid picture of the shape working an obscene, reverse jig-saw puzzle of human origin.
"Freeze," screamed Terrance, thumbing back the hammer of his Auto-Mag, fighting the urge to blink away the water pelting his eyes.
Lights blossomed behind him, and Terrance gasped as the shadow was suddenly made visible, the image before him now darker than ever in the full light. Something curled up tight inside of Terrance, something that tried to shrink from the thing before him, and, for a brief moment, it nearly took Terrance with it, trying to protect him from what he was seeing.
The man was a staggering seven feet tall, totally nude, except for the tattered overcoat, and with a form that was both physically powerful and seeming skeletally thin at the same time. Long, stringy black hair was swept back from his face, secured with a knot of leather string, and revealed a lengthy forehead. His eyes appeared as solid black pools, something Terrance attributed to the many lights and shadows, and glared at the Agent as if boring into his very soul.
The most disturbing things about the man, in the light as they had been in the darkness, were his hands. Gigantic palms, that could easily engulf an entire head, gave way to those tendril-like fingers. The fingers were each nearly a foot long, with multiple joints that let the man curl them up like the tentacles of an octopus.
If not for the single piece of his flesh that they had found, they would not have even known that the man had been African-American until they made a positive identification. His bones, stripped of every single bit of flesh and muscle, were found in the numerous drawers of his desk. The woman that had found them, a co-worker in search of a file, was now in an institution, unreachable by any that tried to penetrate her glassy-eyed silence.
A file cabinet held his various pieces of anatomy, all of them in the properly labeled drawer, arranged alphabetically. Blood marred absolutely nothing, nary a drop to be found in the spacious office—an office on the tenth floor of a very secure building—less than two blocks from the alley that was now the scene of a confrontation.
Found on the seat of the man's chair assuming it was the office of the victim, was the only recovered section of his flesh, thought to have been taken from around his thigh, with another of the cryptic messages cut into it.
"Piece by piece, be it flesh or
blood, mine resurrection is
lovingly made complete."
The team of doctors, coroners, and Federal specialists, now working on the case, were not yet caught up enough to be examining the remains of the man. It would be a few days before it was learned what else—besides his flesh and blood—was missing from his remains.
Every detail of the grotesque man was forever locked in Terrance' mind, his very physique lending it self to every scenario that the Agent could image having taking place, firmly fitting with every aspect of the killings. The fact that this man was responsible for the horrendous acts of the previous twelve days was indisputable in Terrance' eyes, his very being radiating a sense of loathsome apathy towards the entire human race.
Thin, purplish lips stretched into a gruesome smile, pulling back to reveal teeth that were a dull yellow, and very adamine. A dry, hacking emitted from the man, a chortling sound that was animal-like in nature, and Terrance realized that it was a laugh—a laugh not of insanity, but of contempt.
The man crouched, like a cat preparing to leap, and the image of the man hurling to the surrounding roof tops leapt into Terrance' mind. The vision, no matter its absurdity, struck Terrance as a premonition, as an occurrence that would come to be, and the Agent reacted accordingly.
Hundreds of hours of practice with the Auto-Mag had earned Terrance near marksman statis with the weapon, and he put that skill to use without a second thought as to the consequences of his actions. The boom of the Auto-Mag echoed through the confines of the alley, quickly overwhelmed by the thunderous cacophony that ensued when the other officers and agents present, opened fire with their own weapons.
A more deadly rain filled the alley, slugs of lead and Teflon tearing into the man, or ricocheting off brick and metal. Two officers were struck by friendly fire, one injured seriously enough that she would never be able to serve the public again, and still the barrage of bullets continued, spinning the targeted man around like a marionette.
The roar of gunfire finally trailed off as, after twisting about for an eternity of seconds, the man collapsed to the ground, his fallen form smoking from the multitude of hits. Tiny grey tendrils of smoke drifted from his carcass, appearing as small, translucent dancers, trilling upwards to dissipate in the falling rain.
Nearly having succumbed to sheer terror, his entire being still quaking, Terrance numbly realized that he was still repeatedly squeezing the trigger of his gun. He gave no thought to how long he had been dry firing the weapon, certain that he could recall the advent if he wanted to apply his memory skills, but not worried about it at the moment. Right now, this very instant, he wanted nothing more than to rush over to the body and insure that the man was dead.
A hand fell on Terrance' shoulder and he rolled to the left, bringing his gun up, even though he knew that it was empty, and he looked at his partner with eyes wide with terror. Kim returned his gaze with one of surprise, her almond eyes seeing him as she never had before; as a man terrified.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," she exclaimed, flashing her hand in a halting motion. "Terry, it's me."
They didn't see him. They couldn't see him. Not like I did. Not close enough. Don't know. They don't know the truth.
"Terry, it's Kim," she said. Calmly. Soothingly.
Terrance looked at her, finally saw her for who she was, and he lowered his useless weapon, smiling at her. Her auburn hair was nearly flat against her head, soaked from the pouring rain, and blended in nicely with the soft brown of her skin. Her dark blue uniform was black with wetness, matching the vest that she wore, and he thought briefly that she resembled some ebony angel, sent down to rescue him from the horror that he had seen.
"I know who you are," he whispered.
They both turned their attention to the downed man, watching intently as officers and paramedics swarmed around him, neither giving any thought to the chance that he could actually be alive. A moment later, after witnessing several of the men turn from the body to empty their late night meals into the alley, both of them were glad that they had not rushed to verify the man's condition.
A few seconds later, the rain still beating as heavily as ever, their distance proved to be of little protection. The source of the others queasiness drifted to them on the wet air, assailing their senses as strongly as it had their comrades.
"Do you smell that?" asked Kim, nearly gagging, fighting down the bile she felt clawing at the back of her throat.
Sensory memories of the morgue surfaced, though intensely stronger than Terrance had ever experienced, and he knew the smell for what it was.
"Death," said Terrance, barely getting the single word out before he had to turn his head and vomit. His body was shaking, racked with spasms as his stomach forced out the meager meal he had had hours ago, eventually turning into dry heaves that lasted for minutes on end.
Kim quickly joined him, expelling the stale coffee she had been chugging down for the last few hours, and Terrance nearly laughed at the thought that he was glad it was raining. He'd hate to think of what the alley would look—and smell—like, with dozens of law enforcement members regurgitating all over the place.
* * * *
The boy had only been sixteen years old, reported missing less than three hours before the black and white came across his remains, scattered about the alley behind the theater that he had worked at. The officers instantly knew that they had found victim number five, the skin of the boy hanging from the black iron bars of a fire-escape—in several pieces—like laundry hung out to dry.
Even now Terrance thought this to be the worst one of the killings, if for no other reason than the age of the victim, and it plagued his dreams continually. He had been one of the first to arrive, after the call of the discovery had come in, and he had thanked God that he had arrived before having eaten anything—there was no doubt in his mind that he would have spewed it across the alley if he had.
The most gruesome aspect of the scene, the thing that haunted Terrance the most, was the boy's head. It had been hanging from the bottom rung of the pull down ladder, looking as if it had been ripped from his shoulders with brute force. At first, Terrance had pondered why the killer had left such a piece intact—a morbid thought, but a correct one, considering the condition of the previous victims—and then he had found the soul chilling truth of the matter.
The boy's head was completely empty.
No skull, no grey matter, no blood. The head was nothing more than a mask made of flesh, complete with hair.
It was at this point that Terrance resigned himself to being unable—unwilling—to attempt a profile on this serial killer. To construct a plausible profile, one had to be able to establish a mind set like the killer, to think like the killer thought, and to try and deduce his next action. There was no possible way that Terrance, or any other profiler for that matter, would be able to create a rapport with the way this killer thought.
To try and delve into the thoughts of this bastard was to invite insanity, and Terrance had come close enough to that before. Terrance was beginning to have serious doubts that this man, this unspeakable horror of a human being, was even actually that—a human being.
Even if he could bring himself to write out a profile on The Flayer, Terrance knew that it would have to be on black paper, and written in black ink. The only color that could do justice to the twisted, psychotic soul of the unknown perpetrator. Terrance had laughed at that thought, at writing a profile in shades of night, and it had been a laugh of near hysteria.
Violence and viciousness were understandable traits, emotions that could be related to, even emulated. What was being done to these people was something that went beyond any psychotic need that had ever been analyzed, debated, or cataloged. The only human aspect to these killings, were the messages, left in a piece of the victim's skin.
"The darkness of the night
was witness to my death,
and it shall be the mother
of my rebirth.
Though she had chewed him out later for it, Terrance had not called Kim to this crime scene. It had been unprofessional, his deciding on that course of action, but he knew that seeing it would affect her even more than it had him. She did, after all, have a sixteen year old brother, and Terrance knew that she would not but be unable to keep relating him to this scene, forever fearful for him, picturing his face as the one hanging from the fire escape.
There were enough horrors in the world without adding imagined ones to it.
Terrance had never seen doctors work in bio-hazard suits before, but then again, he had never come across a corpse that continually emitted a stench so foul that it caused near incapacitating sickness. The mangled body of the so-called 'Flayer' lay stretched out on a surgical table in the center of an operating theater, having been transported to "Philly Central" in an air-tight containment unit shortly after being killed the previous night.
Even the wind and rain had not been able to cleanse the body of what ever the source of the nauseating stench was, anyone trying to get close to it becoming overcome by the smell. Those that had already expelled the entire contents of their stomach were still affected by the odor, their body racked by dry-heaves that rendered them immobile. A Haz-Mat team was finally called in, their containment suits the only thing that had allowed them to reach the body and seal it up for transportation.
Terrance watched with a sense of repulsion as the autopsy was begun, the bodies of his victims momentarily forgotten in the interest of finding out the identity of this misshapen man that had killed them. The glass dome that covered the operating room was something that Terrance thanked God for as, with the first cut into the corpse's chest, a black mist drifted out of the incision.
The doctors took a step back from the table, perplexed by the strange mist, and watched in fascination as it spewed from the corpse, pouring out of it like some obscene waterfall. The black mist was quickly covering the floor, growing ever deeper, and the doctors began edging towards the door, unsure of what to do. Terrance was on the edge of his seat, starring down into the operating with nervousness, waiting for the doctors to decide what their next course of action would be.
"Jesus!" cried Terrance, jumping up as a hand fell on his shoulder.
The other officials overseeing the autopsy were equally startled, by his scream rather than the arrival of Agent Kim Saunders, and they cast annoyed looks at Terrance before settling back into their seats.
"You need to switch to decaf, Terry," said Kim, moving to the main walkway around the theater.
"I thought you weren't coming for this," said Terrance, ignoring her remark. He was not in the mood for their usual banter, and he hoped that she picked up on that fact quickly.
"We've got a preliminary Id on the perp," said Kim, all business. Kim and Terrance worked very well together, and she knew when he was not in the mood for joking around. "Stockman says we can check out his residence, before he sends a team in."
"You're kidding, right? Since when does Stockman not want to send in a full team?"
"Like I said, it's a preliminary Id. The finger prints weren't what you'd call 'an exact match'."
"Maybe you'd like to be a little more specific," suggested Terrance.
"They're…I don't know…distorted? They match with a Doctor Phillip Sceleris, but only if forensics modifies them."
"Modifies them? How in the hell do you modify finger prints?"
"Resize them to normal length," she said, inducing memories of man's elongated fingers.
"Are you trying to tell me that this Doctor Sceleris somehow lengthened his fingers?"
"It's the only match we've been able to come up with in twelve hours," she offered in way of an explanation. "That's not the weirdest part, though."
"Do I even want to know?"
"The finger prints of Doctor Sceleris…" she paused for a moment, almost as if she was not too sure of the information that she was relaying, "…they match a suspect that Scotland Yard has on file."
"So he's an international fugitive. What's so weird about that?"
"The suspect is wanted for questioning in regards to a murder committed in nineteen-eighteen. Actually, it was the thirteenth murder in a series. I haven't been able to get all of the details yet, but apparently they were very close in similarities to ours."
"I never pictured you as the Scully type," said Terrance, crossing his arms and looking at her with an expression of disbelief.
"I triple checked, Terry. Believe it or not, that body down there is that of a man born more than a century ago."
Terrance looked over his shoulder to catch a glance of a Haz-Mat team moving into the half-filled-with-mist operating room, maneuvering a large, bulky-looking piece of equipment about the room. The device appeared to be some type of industrial strength air purifying machine, one end of it, a large intake fan, already trying to draw in the black mist.
"Sceleris, huh?" Terrance turned back around to face Kim. "Sounds Latin."
"The doctor is, supposedly, German. But his name does have a Latin translation."
"Been a long time since I studied Latin, Kim. What does it mean?"
"Devilish acts. Or something close to that. Feldman pointed it out to me, as he was running the prints for the third time."
* * * *
Wellington Drive was in one of the older sections of Philadelphia, away from the gleamingly modern areas of the city, and was obviously a very affluent neighborhood. Spacious, well maintained lawns, either separated, or completely encircled by, neatly trimmed rows of hedges, gave way to massive brown-stones, most in immaculate condition, the one belonging to Doctor Sceleris being no exception.
"Who the hell was this guy?" asked Terrance, as they drove up the double-wide, black topped drive way. "This place must be worth two, two and half hundred thousand."
"Three hundred eighteen thousand, four hundred ninety-nine dollars to be exact," stated Kim, reading from the thin file of information that she had been able to acquire on Doctor Phillip Sceleris. "Purchased by the good doctor nearly ten years ago, after he established his own clinic."
"Plastic surgeon?" asked Terrance, bringing their car to a stop before the massive house.
"According to this, he's not only a neurologist, but he's also a psychologist. His clinic specializes in treating the wealthy."
"He was briefly investigated in ninety-seven, when he purchased a large quantity of gold bullion."
"Doesn't say. The gold was delivered to his residence, and, as near as the Bureau knows, it's still in his possession. It's suggested that he was hoarding it in light of the old Y2K scare—he had several underground, bunker-like additions added to the house—but he never sold the gold afterwards, and no follow up investigation was ever done."
"How much gold?" asked Terrance.
"Two point five million dollars worth."
Terrance let out a low whistle.
"That's a lot of gold," stated Kim, unnecessarily. "Wonder what he really wanted it for."
"Or how many 'relatives' are going to come out of the woodwork, once the press gets word of it," he said, opening his door. "Come on, let's make sure no one's home.
The woman would probably never be identified, the items around her remains painting her as a transient, one of the unseen homeless of the city. A shopping cart full of aluminum cans, some tattered bits of clothing, scraps of food from the trash bins of a fast food restaurant—these were the supposed possessions of the woman, a good portion of them splattered with bits and pieces of her remains.
A large section of skin, believed to be from her back, had been laid across the cans piled in her shopping cart, another twisted message left for the authorities to find. It was in the same jagged style as the others, carved there with one of the woman's own finger nails, the blood caked into it, suggesting that it had been done while she was still alive.
"Thirteen days I died, and
thirteen nights shall see
to my rebirth."
It was an accepted fact that someone with medical knowledge was committing the crimes, as heinous as that was, because of certain facets of the slaughterings. When it was discovered that various parts were missing from the remains, further examinations revealed that the missing items had been removed with the utmost skill and precision—traits of an exceptional surgeon—the body then ravished in what was thought to be an attempt to hide that fact.
Terrance did not think that that was the case, though. He thought the bodies had been dismembered, ripped, shredded, and rendered, because the killer actually enjoyed it.
Enjoyed it immensely.
"Neurology, huh?" wondered Terrance, as they climbed the steps to the front door. "That involve surgical procedures?"
"Yes, Doctor Terry," she replied, with only a hint of sarcasm. "Very precise surgical skills."
The sheers covering the windows of the large, double doors were backed by black curtains too thick to see through, hiding the interior of the house from casual inspection.
Terrance looked at her, frowning, then rang the door bell, not really expecting anyone to answer the door. A few seconds later, he rang it again, then shrugged and opened the screen door, somewhat surprised to find the main door unlocked.
"The doctor must have felt very secure in this neighbor hood," commented Terrance, stepping into the house.
"That or he was absent minded," responded Kim, following him in.
"Yeah, planning the complete and utter rendering of a human being can cause you to forget the little things."
The entrance to the house gave way to a large foray, a wide open space that gave view to the second floor, at the end of a spiraling staircase that started to the left. A wide archway on the right led to a spacious area that appeared to be a living room, furnished with a sofa, love seat, and a pair of recliners. A large screen TV was also in the room, as was an impressive stereo system, and Terrance nodded, absently, in approval. A second archway, directly across from them, showed a lengthy, wood paneled hallway, with numerous doors on both sides, that ended in what distantly looked to be a kitchen.
"Hello," called out Terrance.
The two agents paused a few seconds, allowing ample time for any one within earshot to respond, then Terrance closed the door behind them.
"What? No butler?" wondered Kim. "No maid? This place seems a little too clean for just the doctor to be living here."
"Maybe he was a compulsive cleaner," suggested Terrance, looking about the living room.
"Maybe they're in the basement, disemboweled," speculated Kim, completely serious. "His first steps into…what ever psychosis they'll name after him."
"Maybe it's their day off," retorted Terrance.
Terrance and Kim stepped through the archway and into the living, looking about the richly decorated area for any confirming evidence of the doctor being The Flayer, however unlikely that any such materials would be out in the open. Though the room was filled with expensive furniture and entertainment systems, the room it self was rather plain in its décor, the walls covered with a burgundy wall paper sporting flowered designs and the windows covered with heavy curtains of a matching color.
Another archway was centered in the rear wall of the room, showing a lengthy dinning room that held a table that looked to seat at least twelve, and a couple of serving carts. The dinning room was wallpapered with the same design as the living room, the windows also covered with matching curtains, and it had an unused feel to it. Terrance doubted that the dinning room had ever been host to elegant dinner parties, be it friendly or professional, and he sensed that the doctor was a severe recluse outside of his practice.
"Not much of an interior design person," commented Kim.
"I always hate seeing a huge house occupied by a single person," commented Terrance, as they passed from the dinning room into the kitchen. "This place should be home to a family—a large family—one that would fill it with a sense of life."
"You get that feeling, too, huh?" asked Kim.
"A lack of life? Yeah, I do."
The kitchen was just as large as the other rooms that they had traversed through, lined with cabinets and counters, and topped off with a center island that was home to the stove, oven, and sink. A multitude of pots and pans hung from a rack over the island, all of them either cast iron or other plain metals, none of them coated with Teflon. The room was as immaculate as the others, not a spot of grease or a stain of some sauce to be seen any where. It almost looked as if it was never used, kept clean for appearances, here only because it was expected.
"I don't like this, Terry," voiced Kim, her tone almost sounding scared. Terrance looked at her, surprised, having heard her nervous or worried but never scared, and raised an eyebrow. "I don't like this at all. I think we should call Stockman and tell him to send in the team."
"Okay," agreed Terrance, pausing for a moment to consider her desire. He found it a bit unnerving, realizing that something about this investigation—besides the gruesome murders—was scaring her, and it only served to increase his own tension.
Visions of what he had seen the previous night, of how the 'suspect' had seemed to him, aided Terrance in deciding to give way to Kim's caution. The stark, cold lights of the operating theater had managed to dispel the shadows that had given the living man a sense of evil, but they had done nothing to flatter his grotesque appearance.
While Terrance made the call on his cell phone, Kim wandered through the kitchen and into the hallway that led to the main entrance of the house. Kim stopped before the first door of the hallway, and opened it, immediately recoiling as a stench hit her, very much like the putrid odor that had radiated through the alley—and continued to emanate from the corpse.
Though not nearly as strong as the odor from last night, the smell still made her gag, forcing her to fight the urge to vomit, and she back peddled away from the door, wanting to draw in fresh air so she could call for Terrance.
Kim involuntarily sucked in lungs full of the smell as she nearly screamed, Terrance scaring the hell out of her by having approached undetected and tapping her on the shoulder. The scream that she had intended to release caught in her throat as she choked on the stagnate smell that had invaded her body, her gagging further induced as her mind tried to tell her that she was tasting it.
His face scrunching up as the odor hit him, Terrance grabbed a hold of Kim and pulled her back into the kitchen, immediately realizing what he had inadvertently done. He got her to the sink just in time, her fast food breakfast coming up quickly and forcibly, burning her throat and sinuses. As Kim continued to empty her stomach, Terrance dashed back to the door that had contained the odor and slammed it such, daring not to breathe again until he was back at her side.
Going through drawers until he found what he was looking for, Terrance pulled out a couple of dish towels, and held them under the water that Kim was running to clean out the sink. Wringing the towels out, Terrance offered her one, which she gladly took and ran over her face.
"You going to be okay?" asked Terrance.
"Give me a minute," gasped Kim, breathing through the wet towel in hopes of cleansing the taint still in the air.
"Stockman's still at the autopsy," said Terrance, continuing after she nodded in acknowledgment. "Pelling doesn't know what's going on, but he said there was some kind of disturbance at the hospital. He's going to have Stockman call us as soon as he can get through to him."
Kim merely nodded again, leaning against the sink as she tried to collect her self, her body still trembling. Her reaction had called up memories from last night, sensory ghosts that had overwhelmed her and caused her to fail keeping down her breakfast, and she was feeling strangely embarrassed.
"I'm going down there," said Terrance, his eyes locked on the hallway, the door just out of his line of sight.
"Terry, don't," blurted Kim, her eyes filled with concern. "Just wait for Stockman to call back, so we can get some back-up here."
"What if you were right about there being someone down there?" asked Terrance, knowing full well that it had been a flippant remark on her part. "What if they're not dead?"
"From that smell, they couldn't be anything but dead," she retorted, still holding the towel over her face.
Terrance looked at her for a brief second, and he could tell that she was, for some unknown reason, completely terrified. It wasn't that he couldn't blame her, he felt the same gnawing sensation in his gut, an instinctual feeling of danger. No matter how haphazardly she had thrown out the comment about bodies in the basement, he could not dismiss the thought that, maybe, someone was down there. And, no matter how unlikely it was that they may still be alive, he had to investigate it. To be certain of it, if for no other reason than to quell his own mind.
"I have to," said Terrance, his voice filled with determination. "Just wait here, okay?"
"I'll be okay," he said, taking one of the wet towels with him, to cover his own mouth and nose. "It's not like the son of a bitch is still alive."
Kim seemed to sink in a little on herself, ashamed that she could not force herself to go down stairs with him, resigned to the fact that he was going to, and nothing she could say would change that.
Likewise, there was nothing else that Terrance could say that would ease her fear, nothing that would assure her that he would be okay, and so he did not even try. He simply turned and headed for the hallway, already holding the towel over his face, his other hand reaching for his gun, despite the knowledge that Doctor Sceleris was both dead, and a good thirty to forty miles away.
Flicking the light switch on the wall, just inside of the door, Terrance was glad that there was at least plenty of light, the enclosed stairway lit up by numerous fluorescent tubes lining the ceiling. He quickly closed the door behind him, anxious to spare Kim from as much of the odor as possible, and he paused as he noticed scratch marks on the inside of the door, looking as if they had come from human hands.
Looking about the stairway, Terrance also deduced that it was sound proofed, the walls thick with heavy insulation, and he wondered how many bodies he was about to find. The doctor must have turned the basement into his own private torture chamber, the only explanation that Terrance could think of for the scratch marks and soundproofing, and he pondered returning upstairs in heed to Kim's reservations.
At first they had thought it to be an unfortunate accident, the man caught in the machinery of the bowling alley and torn apart, but then they had learned the truth. The man's body had been inserted into the machines that reset the pins and returned the bowling balls, but only after he had been flayed and had had a few choice parts taken.
The most hideous part of the recovery came when they had to turn the machines on to give them access to some of the…bits. A ball that had been stuck in cycle suddenly came rolling out of the return, a sheet of the man's flesh wrapped around it, delivering the accompanying message.
"There are many things that
human eyes refuse to see, but
within me, they can see all."
A string of phone calls to all of the employees lead them to discover that the man was in fact a transient, apparently having broken into the rear of the bowling alley to escape the weather for the night. Whether The Flayer had followed him in there, or had been waiting for him, they would never know. The only thing it confirmed was that he preferred homeless victims, and it had induced Terrance to volunteer as a decoy.
It was a decision that had led him through six nights of hellish torture, each dawn bringing a new victim and causing him to wonder what he could have done to prevent it. They may have ultimately succeeded, but Terrance did not think that it was worth the cost of six additional lives, not if there had been some other course of action that would have had a quicker resolution.
Terrance shook off the thoughts of the past and treaded down the stairwell, which turned about on themselves twice, delving further down than he would have thought. The stairwell finally ended at a second door, and Terrance cringed, wondering how much stronger the odor would be once he passed beyond it. Steeling his nerve, Terrance turned the knob, only slightly surprised to find it unlocked, and threw the door open.
The smell was no more intense that it had been in the stairwell. In fact, it seemed…older, as if it had been a part of the basement for a very long time.
The basement was a vast, open chamber that spanned the length and breadth of the house, its walls made of huge, sandstone blocks, and its floor bare earth. The only modern touch to the area were the multitude of fluorescent light fixtures that lined the ceiling, apparently controlled by the same switch that had turned on the ones in the stairwell. What few windows there were, two on each side of the house, set high up on wall, had been painted black, blocking either sunlight or prying eyes.
A trail had been worked into the earthen floor, leading from the stairwell to a single door at the rear wall of the basement, evidently the only use for the basement. The door was constructed of metal, apparently leading to the bunker that Sceleris had had added to the house a few years ago, and Terrance began stepping towards it, warily casting looks about the empty chamber.
Something about the door struck Terrance as being odd, and as he drew nearer, it suddenly hit him. The door was designed exactly like the hatch door on a submarine, complete a with spinning wheel that controlled multiple locking bolts, but if it was part of a secure bunker, should not the locking mechanism be on the other side of the door?
"Crazy bastard," muttered Terrance, stepping up to the door and holstering his weapon so that he could work the wheel.
With loud clangs, the bolts slid out of their holdings, allowing for the door to be opened, and Terrance pulled it back with some effort. The door groaned in protest, its screech of defiance echoing through the basement, and Terrance cringed a little at the sound, which was much like nails on a chalk board.
"Sweet Mother of God," stammered Terrance, looking into the next room, his eyes wide with astonishment.
The room, roughly ten by ten in dimension, was gleaming in the light from the basement, sparkling so bright as to be almost blinding. Terrance had discovered what use Sceleris had made of the gold bullion, every inch of the other room coated with it, even the inside of the door and the slab-like protrusion in the center of the room.
As his eyes adjusted to the glittering brilliance of the room, Terrance could make out strange symbols carved into the walls, bizarre hieroglyphics that he was completely unfamiliar with. The emblems, as unrecognized as they were, sent a chill through Terrance, striking some subconscious note within him. Terrance had no clue as to why he should be so unnerved by the symbols, he certainly would be able to recall if he had ever seen them before, and he gave brief pause to the term 'collective memory'.
"Now who's going Scully?" he said to himself, trying to shake off the feeling of dread.
Stepping into the room and examining the symbols more closely, Terrance rubbed his hand over one, only to pull away from it quickly, finding it to be warm to the touch. Too warm. Warmer than what one should expect to find in a below ground wall.
"Christ," exclaimed Terrance, jumping as his cell phone went off. Shaking his head in dismay at his own reaction, Terrance pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket and answered it.
"Terry, its Stockman," came the voice of his superior, sounding tired and worn out, and more than a little shaky. "We've got a problem here."
"Kim and I are at Sceleris' residence now, Sir," reported Terrance. "There's some strange scenery here, but…"
"He's gone, Terry," interrupted Stockman, sounding almost like a man that had been broken. "There's…there's a lot of dead people here. I don't know what that son of a bitch is, but it's not human."
"Sir?" asked Terrance, stupefied.
A sound, soft and fleeting, like the treading of a bare foot, drifted to Terrance, bringing forth flashes of memory of last night in the alley.
"He got up off the fucking table and slaughtered the doctors!" squealed Stockman, his voice taking on a nearly panicked tone. "He waltzed through our men like they were nothing. Nothing!"
Terrance was gripped by a feeling of sheer terror, the stench of the corpse suddenly assaulting him as strongly as it had last night, and his mind reeled at the implications of what he was sensing.
"There's men splattered all over the fucking walls!" screamed Stockman, his voice clear, though Terrance had slowly lowered the phone from his ear. "You and Kim have to get the hell out of there, Terry! Now! Get the hell out! Do you hear me?"
Terrance slowly turned around, fighting against the trembling that was trying to overtake his body, dropping his phone to the ground as he reached to draw his weapon. Through the open doorway of the golden room, Terrance could see the towering form of The Flayer, standing staunchly in contempt for the human before it.
His blood became ice as he saw what the being held in its hands, his mind trying to retreat to some dark corner of his psyche, and Terrance began babbling "no" over and over.
The Flayer smiled a hideous smile at him, his black eyes shinning with pride as he held up Kim's head, holding it by her hair. Blood was still dripping from the ripped stump of her neck, her eyes frozen open in terror and starring at Terrance as if accusing him of leaving her to her fate.
"Terry? Terry?" cried Stockman's distant voice.
"She makes thirteen," rasped the guttural voice of The Flayer. "She will make me whole."
Something inside of Terrance snapped, pulling him out of his shock, and he brought his gun up, firing round after round into the thing before him. Despair swept over him as his gun clicked empty, the dark form still standing, in defiance to the powerful slugs that had torn through its body, and Terrance' photographic memory played out his life before his eyes.
"You're just a bonus," growled the Flayer, stepping up to Terrance and wrapping one of its massive hands around his head.