By Skotti Kawasan

Part IV

Doug

The man waiting for them, as the lift doors open, is younger than expected. Dressed in a white coat, and tablet in hand; he is considerably more fresh faced, than they are accustomed to as well.

“Detectives,” he says, shaking hands with both of them. “I’m Doctor McAllister, the Registrar here at Hamilton Medical.”

“My name’s Crowley, and this is my partner, detective Velasquez. How’s our guy looking?”

The Doctor leads them away, down a short hall, turning left at the end.

“Well, Douglas regained consciousness briefly. But, we had to sedate him right away. I’m afraid we had to put him in restraints as well. He, er, bit one of the orderlies.”

“He bit somebody?”

“Yes. He awoke in an extremely agitated state.”

“Wait. Agitated? Has his family been to see him?”

“Yes, been and gone again till later. This happened after they’d been; thankfully. It’s a bad enough shock for them, as it is.”

He stops. “Well, you’ll see why.” He turns to them.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before. He was neither as dehydrated, nor undernourished, as I would have expected. How many days has he been missing?”

“Four days?” says Crowley, uncertainly. “Five?””

“Five.” confirms Velasquez.

“Well he’s clearly been somewhere else. He was lying on that beach for not much more than a few hours, I’d estimate. And certainly hadn’t been in the water.”

They enter a room with two beds. Only one is occupied. A middle aged male lies there.

Slightly overweight, skin of dark brown, and sheet draped to the armpits.

Machines are hooked up, to monitor him, and there is a drip. But he’s breathing.

One side of his head is swathed in bandages.

“Unfortunately, however, it was long enough for seagulls to mutilate one of his ears, and, ah, we had to remove what was left of one eye as well. He’d been lying on his side, you see. Completely unconscious.”

“Well did he say anything when he woke up?”

“No. He just pretty much started screaming, not long after. Looked around and jumped up, trying to rip out his IV, and escape.

Yacoub, well, he’s our Orderly, tried to hold him, tried to stop him hurting himself.”

“And he bit him?”

“Yes. Hard too.” he looks at them. “Really hard. He wouldn’t let go either. Just kept on biting harder. That’s why we sedated him. Made quite a mess of Yacoub’s arm.”

“So what now? Is there a time you expect the tranquilizers will wear off?” asks Velasquez, looking at the leather straps, buckled around Doug’s wrists.

“Wait. You don’t have leg restraints?”

“Well no. This is actually the first time, we’ve ever had to restrain anybody.” says the Doctor, looking down at his tablet. “I don’t understand.” He says, looking up. “Is he the victim of some kind of kidnapping, psychological torture? Is there something I need to know about his state of mind?”

Crowley thinks back to their interview with Doug’s therapist.

“‘One minute. I’m here; then I’m there, then somewhere else…’, he said that?”, Velasquez had paused in her writing notes.

“Yeah, those were his exact words.” the therapist, had answered.

They had looked at one another.

“Ms Rosenthal, you mentioned a flapping sound?” Crowley had asked.

Velasquez glanced at her partner sharply for a second, before adding, “Like he could have been waving his arms around?”

The psychotherapist had paused.

“Actually, yes.” She’d agreed. “I guess. Maybe.”

“And a screeching?” Asked Crowley. “What did that sound like; an animal?”

“Yes.” She  had said slowly. “Like a bird, maybe.”

He had written it down.

What the actual fuck? He thinks.

“So, he was naked when you found him?” Velasquez is asking.

“Yes,” answers the Doctor. “Completely.”

The clothes Doug had left behind in Washington Heights, weren’t his. His wife had been unable to identify them, and they were a size, or so, too big.

His phone had revealed nothing out of the ordinary.

“Anything else unusual about him, or the location? There were no footprints, I understand.”

“Well no. And nothing untoward, apart from the fact that his feet and lower legs were submerged when they found him. But the wrinkling on his toes was as though it had only been since the tide had risen. Therefore, he’d been placed there sometime after the last high tide had receded.”.

And no other signs of trauma?”

“Well, there’s just these bites on his lower legs, as well. We thought it may have been fish, or marine life, but we’re quite not sure what they are.

“But apart from that, he’s uninjured. It’s just his ear, and eye, and some lacerations to his face. But totally consistent with the seagulls.”

“You’re sure?” asks Velasquez.

“Er, yes. Unfortunately, when he was found; by a local man, walking his dog; the man said he saw a seagull, with part of an eyeball in its beak.”

“Signs of exposure?”

“No. That’s the thing. His skin is in good shape. And he appears to be well fed and hydrated. Detectives, I’d say he was only placed on the beach after midnight. He was found at around six.

“And if he has been held somewhere, there’s no signs of him having been bound, or abused, either.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” says Crowley.

Doug moans.

“Is that involuntary?” asks Crowley.

“It could be.”

He moans again, rising in pitch, before a left hand tries to move. Presumably toward his wounded eye.

His breathing is labored.

“What have you done to me?” A hoarse whisper.

“Doug,” the Doctor, bends toward him. “Doug, I’m Doctor McAllister. Right now you’re in Hamilton Medical Center. I’m sorry, we couldn’t save your…”

“What the fuck have you done to me?” Doug strains against the leather. “Who are you people? What’s wrong with my eye?”

“Well, Doug, as I was explaining…”

“My eyeeeeeeeee!!” Doug bellows. A whipcrack sound and his bond has snapped. He launches a fist into McAllister’s stomach.

The doctor is down, and Doug is up, and unbuckling his other wrist.

Velasquez draws.

“No nonono no,” Crowley raises one hand at his partner, who says,

“Stop now, Doug! Stop; right now.”

“What have you done to me? Why won’t this stop?What is wrong with you people?” He wails, advancing on them.

“What have you done to me??!”

“Doug, it’s OK,” soothes Crowley. “Nobody hurt you. Your eye got hurt by…by a seagull.”

“LIAR!!” He screams. “There were no seagulls. I remember the spiders. And there was that tree, where the roots writhed like worms. And the Palace of Sorrows. But no birds!”

“It’s OK, Doug. You’re safe now. Stand down.”

“Safe?” He looks at Crowley, his one good eye, leaking tears. “Safe?..”

“You’re in a safe place, now, Doug. Stand. Down!”

“Fuck you!”

And he lunges, and Velasquez fires, and he drops to the floor, leaking blood.

“Fuck!” Crowley, throwing his hands up; then squats over Doug, feeling for a pulse, but Doug’s eyes are still open.

“It really hurts this time,” he grunts. “Will I die?”

His eyes fade empty.

“Shit!” says Velasquez. “Shit!”

She moves to check on the Doctor, who is curled on the floor. He is laboring, but gradually getting his breath back, after being winded.

“You, OK, Doc?” she says, leaning over him.

“Yes,” he finally breathes. “But my ears are ringing. My God, what a terrible thing; what a terrible,  terrible thing.”

Yep. thinks Crowley. Suicide By Cop.

The Road to Nowhere

He is moving. Yet, he is sitting down. Inside somewhere.

A bus, he realises. A long bus; the interior of which stretches off ahead, into the far, far distance.

An endless bus?

Outside, an arid landscape; of rock tumbled slopes, and jagged mountains;  passes by the window. The bus feels to be ascending, into the uplands. Not the direction he would have chosen.

A murmuring thrum; tires on roadtop. The steady, droning of the motor. It has a sleepy feel.

The people around him, are slung low and drowsing.

Each bump of the road announces itself through the cheap padding of the seat; rattling his bones, and the laminate trim. He needs to get up.

But he’s barred at the aisle-side; by a heavy-set man with dark hair and moustache. Wearing a check-shirt and brace overalls, of rough denim, he is staring placidly ahead, at the seat top, devoid of expression.

Deciding to make it obvious, that he’s about to stand up, he turns to the man and says, “excuse me?”

The man looks at him slowly, as though gauging the possibility of some hidden meaning.

Standing up with glacial slowness, he moves his coveralled bulk, heaving it into the aisle.

In passing, he smiles at the man, “Thank you.”, and moves slowly forward down the bus;

nothing immediately threatening, all around.

The man remains standing, staring after him. He doesn’t sit down again.

A vague sense of urgency tickles the back of his memory.

Wasn’t he supposed to be looking for something?

He decides there’s nothing for him, just here. So continues towards what would be the front of the bus.

Maybe there’s a way off this.

Moving quickly; he stops at a gap in the seating.

There is a door there.

A standard bus door. Closed, but glass paneled; so that he can see the grainy road, rushing past.

And beyond it, a rough shoulder, of tearing rock, giving way to a drop down.

He looks around.

Four figures are close by, focused on the door as well. At a set of double seats, they sit huddled. All have faces pregnant with makeup, and pointy; with emotionless, gaping mouths.

The four mannekin-like heads turn slowly, as one.

They are looking at him now, and, “Tunnel,” says one. And then another does the same. “Tunnel.”

They take it up like a chant.

Tunnel…

Tunnel…

And then it gets dark.

There is a string of scattered bulbs overhead. Dim, and far between, but enough to make out the shadows of things. Nothing moving, or nearby.

Nothing around him at all.

The space has opened up.

The shadows, he sees now; are trees.

He is outdoors; the string of bulbs, to light a walkway, in the park at night.

He is on a stone path. Meandering beside somebody. Crickets thrum rhythmically in the balmy air.

Glancing aside, slowly; a woman. She is speaking.

“So, can you ever change it?”

“No,” he hears himself saying. “It changes by itself all the time. Then I’ll be somewhere else. I can’t explain it. That’s just how it happens.”

“And it’s always different?”

“I think so,”

Light.

The bus, emerging from a tunnel.

The midnight grass is gone.

The woman as well.

He breathes again.

What the fuck was that? He thinks.

Who was she? And why, would he ever possibly, be telling anyone about that?

He’s never talked to anybody. Not like that.

Not about what’s real.

But right now, he’s back here. He needs to focus on here-now.

Turning toward the rear of the bus, he sees that it’s become dark. Completely dark, though afternoon daylight here. As though the windows are blacked out, the bus fades there, into deep murk.

He can see his former seat companion, still standing, at the edge of the dimming. Nothing more than a silhouette now.

He keeps moving forward, toward the eventual front. He can see it, the driver and windshield; some 30 yards distant.

A shadow is looming.

They are approaching the higher peaks; and the engines groans, with a change in gear.

An old man has grabbed his wrist hard, and suddenly.

From the left, and below him. Compressed into his seat; with a look of apprehension, sucking in his empty features. “Tunnel,” he insists, nodding his head. “Tunnel.” And then his head, and eyes roll back, to white.

“So you don’t always remember?” the woman is saying now. “Is that what you’re saying? Because I’m really having trouble with this whole thing.”

Her voice has a curious twang to it.

“Yes,” he hears himself admit; his own voice, harsh, and husky. “It’s like I’m here now, and I might remember the place before this. Or maybe not. Then, before that, it starts to become a bit muddled. There are bits and pieces; but I know it goes back, and back; a long time.

“Some people, I remember. But, of course, they don’t remember me. I never actually get to know anyone.”

“What do you mean, you remember ‘some people’?” she asks.

“Well you might see someone once, they’re working at a grocery store. But then later on, they’re, I dunno…”

“Walking  down the street; and you recognise them?”

“Yeh. Like later, they’re the guy at the bank, that’s being robbed.

Or the sheriff of the small town, you’re stranded in.

Or the middle manager at an endless, complex, factory, that doesn’t actually produce anything.”

“Well,” says the woman, after a moment, “Now you know someone.”

The bus is back, and it’s light again

Who could he be talking to?

Snapping his fingers, of course.

He is meant to be finding someone. He remembers now. That woman, obviously.

If she actually exists, and he’s not simply going mad; she could be the only other real person, he’s ever going to meet.

He’s not sure what that means.

He checks toward the back of the bus.

Sure enough, the standing man is long swallowed up by the dark. It has gotten closer, much quicker, this time.

He makes for the driver.

The dark, he sees, will swallow the bus entirely, should they enter another tunnel. Approaching the driver, the man is steering comfortably ahead. The road forms a broad curve around the mountain’s flank. Ahead it divides.

One way leads off, and back down into the valley; while the other continues to rise, up the slope. It climbs through a tunnel there, cut into the rock.

He approaches very slowly, barely moving at all.

The driver’s arms are bony, in shirtsleeves.

The man’s skin is slightly sallow, and spotted with age. His peaked hat alters slightly, in attitude.

He is aware of the turnoff.

Just as he feared, he is indicating right. The driver is turning off, back down the mountain.

The forking road draws near, not far from the tunnel mouth.

He jumps.

Pouncing, light as he can; he lands aside, and astride, the old man. He grips the wheel, spinning it hard, for the tunnel.

And then the moment scatters.

He fractures into a million pieces; a diaspora of self, and feelings, all split apart everywhere; but overwhelmed by one certainty.

This happened before.

He did this once already.

Another time.

This has already happened.

And the scene replays itself.

He lunges forward.

He, (they?) grip the wheel.

The vehicle swerves, with a jerk. Aquaplaning across lanes, in a rapid, spiral, spinout.

Bang!

Into a tree.

And again.

The wheel…

He grabs hard.

Out of control…tree

Smash.

At the moment, he is nowhere.

There is nothing.

He wonders if he’s crashed the bus, and is finally dying.

The Bad Doctor

Anna picks up her coffee, but sets it down again, distracted; clicking her mouse on the Contact Us page. This one has an elaborate website, confusing to navigate. She plugs in her earphones.

And then, picking up her coffee again, she dials.

Ringing.

“Dr Mandel’s office.”

It is the very last one, on Tania Fung’s list.

“Hi, I was wondering; is this the Doctor Mandel who works with gifted children?”

“Well ‘gifted’ is quite a vague term. May I ask, how old your child is, Ms…?”

“Pepper,” says Anna, glancing at her Vietnamese takeout. “Agnes Pepper. My daughter’s seven. I was wondering if this is the Doctor Mandel, who works with children; encouraging them to use their imagination, projecting their dreams, and being able to manipulate their sense of reality? My daughter is really ready, for all of that…stuff.”

“I see,”

Anna has grown bored with elaborating, on their agreed upon script.

“My daughter sees herself as very different from most people. They’re simply not real for her.”

“Ah. Ms Pepper, I should stop you there. I think you’ve got the wrong doctor Mandel.”

Most responses have been the same, prior to recommending a regular clinical psychologist for children.

A few have simply hung up on her.

There is no Doctor Mandel.

“The Doctor Mandel you’re thinking of, is dead.” The woman is saying.

“Wait. Excuse me?”

“I think you mean Doctor Jeffrey Mandel; this is Doctor Jacob Mandel’s office.”

Jeffrey Mandel?” asks Anna. “He died?”

“Yes. He and his wife were killed last year, in a car accident, but that’s all I know. Can I ask what this is really in regards to?”

“Thanks, you’ve been really helpful,” says Anna, ending the call.

Pete quickly finds a small article, from the previous November.

“‘Eminent, and controversial Child Psychiatrist, Doctor Jeffrey Mandel, died Friday, in a car accident; which also claimed the life of his second wife. It is understood the couple were returning to New York City; after vacationing, at their holiday residence, Upstate. Poor weather conditions are thought to be the likely cause. No other vehicles were involved.

“Their eight year old daughter, who was also traveling in the vehicle, escaped injury.’ Er, that’s it.

“It’s from ‘The Harper County Times’, Sunday, November 26, by Celina Gaffney. Could be NewsCorpse; but looks more like a local, owned by one of the large independents, probably.”“Hmmm. ‘Controversial’, huh?” Says Anna. “What the fuck does that even mean, Celina?”

“And if he’s so eminent, why can’t I find anything else about him online, huh?” Pete says.

“That is weird.”

“Yeh. Eminent, but no wiki, nothing written about him, or by him. Nothing.”

“Or it’s been removed.”

“Wait,” says Tania. “Harper County? Isn’t that where Becky disappeared?”

“Yup,”

“Oh fuck, true.” says Pete. “Ooh wait, there’s another article. Oh dear, it’s by our friend, Desmond.”

“The Braniac?” laughs Anna.

“Himself.” affirms Pete. “‘MK-ULTRA Scientist Dies. Daughter in Mysterious Coma.’ by Desmond Braniac.” he laughs.

“Gotta love the Braniac” laughs Anna.

“So, I get it, he’s a tin foil hat guy, but…” Tania interrupts. “Even so, what the actual fuck?”

“You mean the coma thing? You think it could be the same as Jay, and all those other people?

The first incident, I recall, was a bunch of kids in Brazil not that long ago. You’re thinking maybe Mandel’s kid was the first?”

“The same guy who taught Becky how to disappear.” shrugs Tania.

“But there’s weird shit going on all over.” says Pete. “People falling apart, and acting out; mass delusions and hysteria. Absolute chaos.

“And people have been mysteriously disappearing all over the world, too. I don’t know that there’s a connection for all of that, back to Mandel.”

“Hmmm.” Anna pauses, drains her coffee. “Well, we don’t know the kid’s name, but finding the Mandel Residence, in Harper County, Upstate? How hard can that be?”

“On it,” says Pete.

Anna empties the box, and wrestles open the plastic bubble. Inside is a headset, made to fit snugly around the ears, and to cover her eyes as well.

She plugs it into her phone, and opens the app; having created an account earlier.

She is sitting in a room, almost immediately; just as she is now. Kinaesthetics on the headset, monitor body position, and motion.

The Haptic Gloves were sold separately.

The room is featureless, and concrete gray. A window on either side, looks out onto gardens; huge trees, deep green ferns, and wide leaves, of dripping water.

A number of icons float, in front of her.

She selects Avatar, and a range of body types appears, standing to attention. The selection doesn’t comprise much. Variations on a simple, human theme. But she has only the free version of the app, so far.

Before long, she is dressed in leather street armour, and has a tall, pink mohawk. For protection, she selects a Glock 17. It is all very simply rendered.

Entering the URL for Madroom, the scene around her fades, replaced by a starfield. As though she is floating through outer space: a common fill, for VR buffering. Then a new scene, slowly unpixellates around her.

It takes her breath away.

A broken down, and battered, back alleyway; strewn with trash, and detritus. Towering skyscrapers, above and beyond; stand rusted and rotted, some completely eviscerated; spilling their twisted remains in a mound. The barren wreckage of a post world’s-end.

Someone here, has serious VR game developing skills, she thinks. The detail is incredible. She can even see the newsprint on the scraps of newspaper, cluttered around.

She is sitting on a broken armchair; before her, there is a single door, set below street level. She stands, and swings her arms to indicate walking. The whole sensoria is so smooth, she feels as though she actually is moving forward, and then down the steps.

Only her cheap avatar screams ‘fake’.

She knocks. The gloves jar her hands, in sync, on the solid steel of the door.

A small trap slides open. Beyond it, a threatening pair of eyes, blacker than suffering; in a twisted foam face, stuck all over with needles and nails, and broken shards of glass.

It is the corrupted face of a popular TV Muppet.

“Who the fuck are you?” it screams.

“Anna Ng,” she says boldly

Buh-Baowmm.

The sound of incorrectness. A bright red cross appears, hovering between her and door.

“Strike One,” growls the demon. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Nobody,” she tries; the Odyssey springing to mind.

Another strike.

“One last chance. Who the fuck are you?”

Godammit. What the fuck would these assholes think is cool?

She gives up.

“I don’t know.” she sighs. “Fuck this.”

A loud clunk, a lock strikes, and the door begins to open. There is a chain, the spiny face above it.

“One more question. And only one chance to get it right, this time” Black Eyes rumbles at her.

“What do you know?”

Hmmm.

Nothing, seems too obvious, she thinks. And Everything, too cocky.

What could the right answer be?

There’s no pausing this.

Whatever, she thinks.

“Anything,” she shrugs.

“Bahahaha.” laughs the demon. “Welcome to Madroom.”

The door opens fully, revealing a cloak room; old school. Red velvet curtains drape the marble, and broad curves, of Art Deco.

Graceful statues of nymphs hold the brazen light fittings. The carpet too, is deep crimson, trimmed and tassled gold.

The doorkeep’s small, foam, and jagged head; sits atop a monstrous body, of carapace musculature. It is covered in spines, and ragged plates.

Above it, a mop of muppet hair, sticks up crazily.

It wears a too-tiny T shirt; warped and ripped, across its broad frame.

Edgy?

No.

Blunt

af

The demon points at her.

“All weapons are to be surrendered. Hand over your Glock. The software will eradicate any unsurrendered weapons.” it warns.

“By turning them into visible shit stains.”

She hands over her gun.

“You need a name. Not a government name, Ms Anna Ng, social security number 326-79-4296. A worthy name.”

“Nawww fuck,” moans Anna. “[Cough], Nerds!”

“Both of those names are taken.” growls Jagged Face. “In fact, Fuck 659 joined only recently. It’s super exciting; when anything reaches the number, 666, everyone here celebrates, ‘tis a time of mass, self-medication. Or whatever.”

“What kind of name is good?”

“Fool!” it says. “And Noob. I am code, an NPC. I can’t answer such meaningless questions.”

Figuring Fuck You, and You’re a Bunch of Losers, to be already taken, Anna says the first thing that pops into her head.

“MandelBot.”

She types it into the phone display under her forearm.

“Excellent,” says the demon. “Welcome to Madroom, MandelBot. Observe the rules.” It points at a bright screen; in big letters there:

Don’t Be a Dick!

“A word of advice. Enter assuming that nobody here is remotely interested in what you think; much less, in what you have to say.

“Unless you have a great Acceptance Routine, replete with mind blowing CGI; lay low for a while, lurk. Learn the ropes, and who’s who.

“And remember; unless you have something diverting to say…

Shut the fuck up, Noob!”

The cloakroom fades.

She finds herself at an enormous bar.

The Last Bus

Mrs Moreno is struggling once again, with those steps. Her legs tremble in the lifting of them. He winces, watching, taking the weight of her arm.

He’s always ready with a helping hand, to see her safely on board.

He pays no mind to the fact that she never says thank you, and, as usual, shakes his arm away irritably once she’s done.

Finally, with all five of his passengers sat comfortably, he starts the bus; feeling the visceral burr of its engine, lovingly; through his feet and seat.

At last, he can take them away from that God awful Nursing Home.

Even the sad, sagging roof, and busted shutters; gave the place a dread, drooping feel. It always seemed so dark in there.

And everybody tired this morning. Most didn’t even get up on time. He left them sleeping. Daycare staff will be along presently.

Nearly everyone was up late, last night, crowded around Mr Jacobsen’s laptop. Watching the YouTube.

Clip after clip, they kept on going; as they turned up more, and more, of the awful truth. And saw all the connections.

As they had been doing, for weeks now.

And so they knew.

Those few, heartless souls at the top, were using the rest of the world as slaves; and keeping them poor and desperate. So they can’t fight back.

Ignorant too.

And all at the behest of their extradimensional overlords. All the crazy outbreaks of Chaos in the world, are due to their activities.

They come from another plane; he’s always known that, not from outer space.

Only God can save them now.

He whistles up a tune, to drive away such gloomy thoughts.

A nice drive to the countryside, will clear their old heads, he reckons. Bring them back a little sunshine.

Some fresh air.

At a stop of the lights on Jamaica, he glances in the mirror to check “the Settlement”, as he prefers to call it. To make sure that everybody’s settled; and that Mr Sakae isn’t bickering up front here, with feisty Mrs Finkelstein.

And that poor old, Mr O’ Flynn, and Mrs “churchy” Chapman behind him there, on the right, are at least still moving.

Mrs Moreno is staring straight ahead, from up the rear, just like she always does.

Never a word.

Turning onto the Van Wyck, a flash; a motion in the mirror makes him glance up again.

It seemed too quick to be real.

And then his head freezes.

Mrs Chapman has Mr O’ Flynn in a chokehold; slowly squeezing his life away.

Her jiggling arms tremble with effort.

Mr O Flynn is scratching, and gouging at her face with hard fingers, and a frenzied look.

He only remembers the road in time to narrowly avoid a school bus.

Shouting, “Mrs Chapman!”, and looking in brief snatches over his shoulder. He can only yell, “Mrs Chapman! Ma’am, what are you doing?!”

He accelerates, hoping for the turnoff onto Main.

There’s nowhere he can stop here.

Looking up again, past the turn, it’s uncanny, he thinks, how the other two aren’t even looking.

Simply staring straight out the window.

Only now, Mrs Chapman’s beefy arms are clearly winning. Mr O’ Flynn is scrabbling more slowly but desperately at her face. His eyes are beginning to bug right out.

Screeching, he stops finally, across a parked car and a lane.

Leaping up, belt off, he springs as best he can toward them.

“Mrs Chapman!”

And she looks up.

Her expression frighteningly clear.

Her eyes present.

It halts him slightly. Just enough, for her to release the lifeless, old man.

“What are you looking at, you fucking cunt?” the blue haired, matron snarls.

Her face is white with rage.

“Your kind should know their place!”

False teeth bared between rouged and puckered lips, which she licks just once.

And begins to laugh, throwing her head back, laughing hard, and pointing behind him.

Mr Sakae’s small body is atop Mrs Finkelstein.

One hand wrapping her throat, the other is engaged in slowly trying to push his thumb completely through her eyeball. The ropes of his old arms, taut with strain.

Mrs Finkelstein is tugging on his ear, fit to tear it, while attempting to fill his mouth, with her other hand.

Stuffed in, are all of her fingers, and she is shoving and straining at it, pushing in past her knuckles, amid loud gagging.

What the fuck?

“Mr Sakae! Mrs Finkelstein!”

Who to hold? What to grab? His hands pull at them here and there. He can’t believe how strong they are.

But they won’t let go.

Blood is streaming now from Mrs Finkelstein’s eye socket, and Mr Sakae’s ear is actually pulling off, but then a noise behind him, and he recalls Mrs Chapman.

But it is Mrs Moreno standing there.

Quite proudly erect.

Mrs Chapman lies in the aisle, in a spreading red pool.

“Betcha never thought it’d end like this.

Did ya Lizard Boy?”

The fuck she get a carving knife?

“There was nothing you could’ve done.”

“I should have tried to contain the situation. It was all so fucking weird. I…my brain just kinda, I didn’t know what to say.”

“Let it go, man. it wasn’t your fault. You did everything right.”

“I told him, his eye got hurt by a seagull. Jesus. Of all the dumb…of course he just lost it.” he sinks his head into his hands once more. “And now this, they’re gonna suspend you.”

“Marcus,” says Velasquez, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Let it go.”

A thud, as her gun and badge are placed on the desk. They look up at Lieutenant Kellerman.

“You’re spared suspension.” He says,

“Pending further investigation. Truth is, I need you guys, now. We got a real fucked up situation.” He hands them a note.

“Four residents of this Nursing Home, and a staff member were found murdered on their bus, this morning. Hinkley and Ryan are investigating. We need someone to inform the staff at the Nursing Home. And, well, check the place out.”

“The Nursing Home?”

“Yeh. Might be something off there,” Kellerman lowers his voice. “Thing is. One of the victims, and the driver, were stabbed to death. Another was strangled. But the last two, an elderly man, and woman, they killed each other.”

“What?”

They take the van Wyk and pretty soon, they approach the place. A rundown tenement; littered with flaking paint, and wooden, structural sag.

Crowley approaches the front door and sees that it’s open. A linoleum passage runs ahead, with a set of stairs diverging right.

Halfway along, a figure lies face down on the floor, in a dark puddle.

“Shit,” he breathes, signalling Velasquez, and drawing his gun. She does the same.

They softly pace along the hall. Door to the left.

A small room, chairs; waiting room?

Empty.

Glancing up the stairs, nothing.

Velasquez crouches. The body.

It is a middle aged woman, in nurse’s uniform.

The back of her head is split open.

A red pool and nearby spatter, suggest she was killed just here.

No need to check pulse.

Moving along, up to a nurse’s station. Another DB, slumped on the floor behind the desk. No injuries visible, this time.

Going around the desk, Crowley takes a knee. He turns the man; another nurse, slowly over, to reveal a face that he’ll never forget.

His mouth is wrenched wide open. Eyes the same; displaying far more of white than should be seen in any person. It is a frozen look, of utter terror.

He has voided his bladder, the damp showing clearly on his nurse’s whites.

“What the fuck happened here?”

A shuffling sound, arrives on slippered feet and pajama bottoms.

“Marcus, look out!”

A brilliant flash, and an explosion of pain from the back of his head; a gunshot sound.

Then nothing.

Like he never was.