The Ghoul on Graveyard
Annabelle tried to avoid close contact with law enforcement but the men hovered closer as the porch neared. Once past the secure checkpoint her momentum decreased to widen the distance from the cops.
News reporters and camera crews stood on the sidewalk, unusually quiet and subdued. A line of yellow police tape stretched across the perimeter of the lot, restricting access for the mob of spectators that manifested at every macabre scene. The city nervously waited. Gruesome killings spooked the public. Now the unthinkable had struck in the heart of the safety zone.
The stench grew thick before she reached the open front door. The immaculate turn of the century Craftsman featured the typical tri-color paint job found up and down the streets of the Innsbruck Quarter.
She’d never visited this part of town. Usually she stayed at the office while senior technicians visited crime scenes. Her luck meter had run dry.
Annabelle clamped her free hand over her nose, but even with peppermint oil dabbed around her nostrils, the fetid odor seeped into her mouth. The tang of clotted blood was a familiar flavor she could ignore but the meaty effluence of perforated viscera flooded her palate with saliva.
She silently cursed the circumstances leaving her the solitary on-duty staff at the coroner’s office tonight.
A uniform staggered into the hall, collapsed to his knees, and vomited a watery gruel on the cream carpet. The line of people she trailed stepped around the man as they approached the interior basement entrance.
Annabelle’s steps slowed. Her tummy flipped again. Despite being the last one in, and the only female present, no officer teased her about lagging behind.
Veteran investigators clustered in the living room, displaying pasty faces with tight lips and flat eyes, knowing about similar attacks beneath other tidy clapboard homes. Now the tragedy entered the affluent neighborhood and caused an extra measure of concern.
Descending the wooden steps, Annabelle placed each foot in the center of the worn wood planks, cautious of tearing her flimsy white surgical booties on a jutting nail head. The shoe protection reminded her of a cheap Halloween costume and her thin cotton scrubs, even with the layer of insulated thermal underwear, felt insubstantial in the cold moist air.
She descended to the bottom before looking around.
Light blazed, lamps mounted on raised industrial tripods in all four corners. Sodium bulbs cast bluish light on alabaster complexions, the wash of illumination potent enough for a professional photo shoot. The bright beams exposed every inch of stained concrete, casting the tattered scraps of human into a harsh modern art expose. The victim’s remains, a woman most likely based on the size of the single femur, evidenced spiraling green fractures where the assailant had cracked open the long bone to suck out the marrow.
Something unspeakable had taken place below the pristine oak floors of number 2112 Larkspur Lane.
Hunger had fed.
The space was vile. Deep gauges gashed the floor. Dust comprised of Portland cement mixed with body fluids to form a muddy pink paste. A pretty curvilinear design curled in the sludge.
Annabelle found the fingerpainting more unsettling than the carnage.
“You must be the new girl. Tough draw for a first time.”
The comment came from a slender detective in a rumpled charcoal suit. He slouched against the wall, his profile shadowed by the stairs, and eyes black as shiny beetles under narrow dark brows.
She decided he might be cute.
He tapped his chest with a long index finger. “Name’s Smithson.”
Mumbling a response, Annabelle tried to assess the most efficient method for collecting the tissue remnants. A frigging shovel offered the best bet, but since her equipment lacked one, she’d need to improvise. The royal blue body sack tucked inside the standard issue field kit looked equally useless. A hefty bag would work better, size-wise. Hell, a Ziplock or two could probably do it.
This assignment sucked on ten different levels.
To worsen matters, she’d skipped dinner. The scent of death made her stomach growl. Another noisy rumble and anybody might put dead parts and pale girl together and make ghoul.
Smithson stared at her intently for a moment and then his hand darted out. “Peppermint?”
She glanced down and saw the Altoid tin in his palm.
Well, well. Small world.
Snagging the red and white tin she popped the lid and selected three of the pungent smooth disks, slipping them under her tongue. Better. The fumes masked the tantalizing smell and immediately softened the cramps.
“Thanks.” She returned the breath mints, slid her gaze across his, and turned to do her job.
Later Smithson walked beside her to the county issued car. “If you’re going to hide in plain sight, you learn to take precautions.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Guys like this make it harder for all of us. Controlling your appetite is the first step to successful assimilation. Here -“
She took the business card he presented. “You’re shitting me. We have our own twelve-step program?”
His wheeze of laughter carried an undertone of appreciation. “Not quite. It’s an early warning system, a telephone tree of sorts. You see any sign of an out-of-control feeder and call. We’ll send in a team to head off discovery.”
Annabelle motioned toward the house with her chin. “What went wrong today?”
An odd expression crossed Smithson’s features. He opened the rear passenger side of her car and sidled out of the way. “He fell off the wagon, again.”
She leaned inside and deposited the folded-over nylon bag on the seat. “Who?”
“Your boss. Every so often he goes on a bender.”
Annabelle shot Smithson a dirty look. “Somebody on graveyard could have told the new ghoul.”
“They never do.” He said.
Flash Fiction Challenge: An Affliction of Alliteration @ www.terribleminds.com