His footsteps came with wet, gritty scrapes as he changed from the pavement to the sidewalk. The world still glistened from an earlier rain. Though he walked the same beat in the day, he had to admit it seemed a very different place in the dark. Spots that were just shady in the sunlight now crouched somewhere within deep, inky curtains. The peacefulness of the waking neighborhood came now as a stagnant and suffocating silence like a tomb. The only sound beyond his own steps was the hiss of the wind which stalked him with its frigid embrace.
He pulled deeper into his heavy coat, grateful that the call box, and the end of the night’s work, would soon be at hand. He thought of the tomato soup and grilled cheese he’d warm himself with when he was home. Still, he chided himself, you’ve got a bit more work before you’re done.
The houses were all medium or large stonework buildings. Their gray only deepened to black. And the lights that flowed out seemed more to glare than to comfort, like the scowling eyes of jack-o-lanterns. But ahead was a house blacked out altogether, the house of a woman dead but a couple of days. He had looked into it, it was his beat after all, but the coroner had been somewhat vague in defining the cause as simply natural. Sure, she was an older lady, a retired widow, but her death was something of a surprise for the neighbors.
He kept his eyes forward as he walked past it, assuring himself that it was respect and not fear… There was another matter, that of a few missing pets. In just a few days, two women had come out as he passed and reported the missing creatures. One insisted that a strange young man had something to do with the vanishing of her beloved cat. This was the first he heard of the “kid’, but it wasn’t the last.
A street over, an eldery woman, Mrs. Hamkins, had reported a strange tale. One night, she found a boy on her doorstep, asking for help. She had sensed something bad or wrong about the kid that she couldn’t quite define. When she asked him where he lived, he demanded to be let inside. Then she asked his name and, at this, he fled in a rage. She reported being thankful that she had left the chain on the door. She had also reported a missing cat.
Old Bill Cooper had rushed out to meet him at the fence. He also had quite a story to tell.
“Yeah, I saw the kid a few nights ago, always at night. It’s hard to keep track of him, he’s sneaky, up to no-good. I have some old binoculars I sat out to try to keep tabs on him. The next time I saw him something weird happened. I was watching him and, suddenly, he stopped and turned to look right at me. It’s funny to say, but, really, it kind of scared me.
“Well, the next night, there was a knock on my door. I open it up, and there he is. He starts to tell me that he’s hungry and cold, and part of me wants to help him, invite him inside. But the rest of me says ‘hold on’, because there’s something really strange going on. Then I notice the clothes he’s wearing, it’s a cute kid’s cut of an old style I used to like when I was young. His clothes had to be hand-me-downs, they were decades out of style.
“Well, then, my wife comes to the door to see what’s happening. She takes one look at the kid and slams the door. She’s screaming and crying and shaking like a leaf. I asked her what was it and she says, “Didn’t you see? The boy! He didn’t have any eyes!” She was hysterical and by the time I got her to the couch and called for a doctor, the kid had vanished. Ever since, my wife’s been in some kind of fever. The doctors are worried, and so am I.”
But Duffy’s path was finished and there had been no sign of the kid or anyone else. When he reached the call box, he reported himself at the end of his patrol and off-duty. His stomach grumbled, reminding him of the soup and sandwiches that were waiting to be made at home. As a soft, cold sprinkle came down, his body likewise craved warmth and shelter. He had barely made the next block when he saw something.
story by Joe Stanley