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The Eigengrau Effect

Detective Alex White is obsessed with two things: his work and feeding his sex addiction. But a drug-fueled encounter leaves Alex with a bite on his neck and a woman’s blood on his hands. And if that wasn’t bad enough, now he finds there is a new kind of feeding he needs to do…

Age Rating: 18+

 

The Eigengrau Effect by E. C. Shultz is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

The app has received recognition from BBC, Forbes and The Guardian for being the hottest app for explosive new Mystery, Thriller & Suspense novels.
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Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

1

Book One: First Blood

Detective Alex White is obsessed with two things: his work and feeding his sex addiction. But a drug-fueled encounter leaves Alex with a bite on his neck and a woman’s blood on his hands. And if that wasn’t bad enough, now he finds there is a new kind of feeding he needs to do…

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: E. C. Shultz

I could have stared at the file until my eyes fell out. Well, okay, files plural.

I had lost track of how many pictures of crime scenes and police reports were strewn across my desk, smeared with marks from a red pen or a yellow highlighter.

Four months, five victims, all young women in their late teens to early twenties, all dead from exsanguination due to distinct wounds on the neck.

They were all dumped carelessly, like garbage, in different locations all over the city, and never at the original crime scenes. Which I’ll mention, we haven’t had any luck finding as of current.

You know what was really pissing me off? There hadn’t been a trace of this sicko on any of the bodies.

We had a suspect, one of the victim’s ex-boyfriend-turned-stalker had been seen skulking around her place of residence mere hours before her time of death.

Unfortunately, he had been arrested for, of all things, public lewdness, and had been twenty miles away at the exact time of her demise. He was a creep, just not our creep.

His picture remained in the file for reference but was barely recognizable due to the fact I had lost my temper at the time and had scribbled all over it with a black marker.

My mind was reeling between anxiety and anger, a bad combination. I hate to gloat, but there probably wasn’t anyone in the unit who wanted to get his hands on this bastard more than I did.

“Still hoping something will appear if you stare at those files long enough?” I looked up with my pen dangling from the corner of my mouth.

“That’s attractive.”

Okay, maybe I wasn’t the only one passionate about the case. My partner, Alice Spiegel, sat at the desk adjacent to mine.

I had forgotten she was still here doing basically the same thing I was, albeit in a bit more organized manner; she herself was holding a red pen and was reviewing an autopsy report.

“Oh,” I said somewhat dumbly, the pen falling out my mouth, clattering onto the desk, and then rolling off and onto the floor. Alice stifled a light laugh behind her hand. “I thought you had gone home.”

“Really Alex?” she raised an eyebrow. “If you’re not going home, then I’m not. Although it is getting late, Andrew promised me dinner.”

Andrew was Alice’s fiancé. There was a picture of them on her desk angled just right so that I could see the photo of the smiling couple at a Christmas party.

It always made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know much about him, to be fair, only from what little Alice had told me.

Our personal lives weren’t something we usually discussed at work. I think he worked at a garage…or a car dealership…something vehicle related.

“Well, don’t let me stop you,” I said, sitting back in my chair and running my hands through my hair.

“Please Alex, it’s not you that’s keeping me here,” she closed the file and placed it on the tidy pile at the corner of her desk.

“Aww, don’t be like that, you know you love me,” I replied with a smirk. Alice gave me an amused look. “It’s my charm and good looks.”

“Oh, please!” she rolled her eyes and stood up, smoothing out her neat, white, button-down shirt.

“You’re going then?” It was kind of a stupid question. My brain was most likely still on autopilot.

“Obviously,” she picked up her fluffy, rose-colored coat. “You could come with me, you know. Andrew would really like to meet you.”

“I’m sure we’d have so much in common,” I snorted. “But either way, I’ll have to decline.”

“Oh come on, Alex!” she protested. “You’ve never been over to my apartment, and my fiancé would very much like to meet the man who has been keeping his future wife safe.”

“I’m sure you’ve given me great reviews,” I grumbled. “Besides, I don’t feel like participating in a third-wheel dinner.”

Alice flinched, I suppose that had been a bit…harsher than I intended. An uncomfortable silence settled between us, and I’m going to point out this happens a bit more than I’d like to admit.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I really, really don’t enjoy talking about stuff like this.

I’ve never been open about my personal life, and to be honest, I’d never shown much interest in Alice’s. It was somewhat evident she had gotten the hint and opted instead to change the subject.

“…Alex, I know this case is starting to get to you, it’s getting to all of us. But you have to think positive, we’re gonna get this guy. They always slip up at some point, you know they do.”

I dug my nails into my scalp abruptly, “I’ve been over every inch of the crime scenes, photos, reports, bodies, nothing, nada, zip. It’s like this guy doesn’t even exist.”

“Alex, why don’t you stop for once?” Alice replied sternly. Now feeling like a student being scolded for lobbing a spitball at the teacher’s favorite student, I shot her a glare.

“You know you’re not the only person working this case. There’s a reason I extended the invite to you. “

“Sometimes it feels like I am the only one working it!” the words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. Alice snorted in response.

“I had a feeling you’d say that. You always get crass when you’re stressed out.”

I felt a stab of guilt and had to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying anything more idiotic. Alice just waved her hand dismissively.

“Whatever. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said abruptly. She grabbed her purse and turned to stalk off but then stopped and looked at me over her shoulder.

“It’s late on a Friday night, why don’t you take a break for once?” When I didn’t immediately reply, she looked at the floor, sighed, and said, “Goodnight.”

I heard her flat heels clicking against the tile floor until they disappeared behind the sound of the door shutting.

I sat there in the quiet for a long time, surrounded by darkness save for the ring of light coming from the lamp on my desk. I was more upset about that exchange than I would care to admit.

I really didn’t like bickering with Alice, and we got along pretty well most of the time. She was right, I was getting more into this case than was healthy, but I’d worry about that problem later.

For now, I was going to take her advice; I needed to go out.

I unceremoniously shoveled all the files and papers into a heap and pushed them off to the side, making a mental note to organize them later (which was probably never going to happen) and got up.

I shut off my desk light, collected my jacket, and headed towards the door. I exited into the biting January air.

Snowflakes pelted my face and stung my eyes. I shoved my hands into my pockets and bowed my head to block out the wind. As you can imagine, I was still pretty stressed out.

Cases get to every cop, it’s part of the job.

It was still tragic to watch said officers proceed to drink themselves into oblivion afterward because they couldn’t cope, or worse yet, decide the best way to deal was to eat their guns.

I clambered into my car, which I parked a few feet away from the station, hidden under an awning to keep assholes from smashing my windows.

I waited impatiently for the heater to turn on, clamping my hands together and puffing hot air over my fingers.

Once my means of transportation had thawed satisfactorily, I revved the engine and started towards my intended destination. No, not home like Alice recommended or probably expected.

I basked in the glaring neon lights of The Poison Apple as I pulled into the parking lot.

Several drunken patrons, some alone, others escorting the…employees to an alley or said patron’s vehicle for a business transaction. I kept my head low and slipped into the club.

The heavy smell of perfume, alcohol, and cigarette smoke assaulted me as I entered, but it did little to settle my nerves. In fact, it made me somewhat nauseous.

I settled in the dark, back corner of what was hopefully the least suffocating part of the club.

I downed three shots of whiskey in ten minutes, my hands shaking so badly I could barely keep the glass from slipping out of my fingers, but believe me; it certainly wasn’t because I was drunk.

Pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, I rested my head against the palm of my sweaty hand.

I passed a glance towards the scantily clad women parading around, swinging on poles, flashing flirtatious looks at the men ogling at them around the stages and my mouth went sandpaper dry.

I was clutching my glass so tightly my knuckles were white; I swallowed hard and began to tap my foot on the floor.

I was so dazed and preoccupied with trying to distract myself that I barely registered the clink of a glass on the table beside me.

I jolted badly when I felt a hand on my arm and looked up at a young woman giving me a dazzling, crimson-coated smile.

“Hey sweetie, you look like you’re in a bad spot. Sorry to give you a bad shock,” she said in a dark voice that sent a chill down my spine.

I was having a hard time tearing myself away from her smoldering gaze; her eyes seemed to glow, even in the dim light of the bar.

She slid the glass across the table to me with her fingertips and her smile grew wider.

“You look like you could use another drink.”

I eagerly took the drink and downed it in one gulp.

“T-thanks.”

“You looked like you could use some company,” she slid herself up against me. I could smell her perfume and…something else. Something almost metallic, but I couldn’t put a finger on what it was.

Her long fingers curled further around my arm and gave it a tight squeeze. I gave a small shaky nod and tried to moisten my dry lips.

That was a mistake, she leaned up quickly and caught my tongue with hers and all too eagerly sucked it into her mouth.

Oh man, I caved right then and there and kissed her hard, she was delicious, and I was hungry.

She pulled back and smirked, “Looks like you relaxed nicely, mostly,” she laughed and pried my clammy fingers from my glass.

“But, I’ve got something special upstairs for all that stress, it’ll loosen you right up.”

I barely registered her other hand sliding down to rest on my thigh, at least until her talon-like nails dug into my skin, and I uttered an all too pathetic groan.

“Come on,” she growled, I could feel her breath against my throat and it sent an almost painful shudder throughout my body, “Come on, what you say?”

I knew she was offering cocaine, heroin, something I should probably have arrested her for if I had bothered to keep my cop persona with me instead of leaving it in the glove compartment of my car.

But it wasn’t drugs I wanted, but be damned I’m sure she knew exactly what it was I wanted.

“Y-Yes,” I barely managed to wheeze. She grinned and then practically dragged me out of my seat, pausing only to toss a few bucks on the table.

We wove around onlookers and waitresses and dancers and to the back of the club, where we exited out into a back alley.

It reeked of vomit, garbage, and booze, and the cold and snow seemed just as eager to cut through every layer of clothing as my skin.

My teeth clicked together as I followed her through the narrow pathway.

Free of the dizzying atmosphere of the club, I finally got a look at her, well, at her back anyway.

Long flowing dark hair, tank top, thin jacket, leather mini-skirt, strappy heels…how the hell was she not freezing to death?

She came to a stop beside a fire escape ladder and pulled it down to allow us both up. She faced me fully and gave me another smile.

She was young and very pretty, eyes framed with glittering shadow and dark lines, but…that face…why did she look so familiar?

“Party’s up here,” she interrupted my thoughts as she began to climb up the ladder. I brushed off my weird observations and chased after her to a slightly ajar window leading into a dimly lit apartment.

The beat of the music from the club made the walls pulse, something that almost made the room I was entering through the window alive.

Turning around, I went to close the window…or at least attempt to, the damn thing stuck, so I just left it.

“You’re too slow,” she teased, tugging me across the room to a moth-eaten sofa. My jacket joined hers on a nearby chair before turning to me and effortlessly pushing me onto the couch.

She turned on her heel and strode over to a battered desk, making a point to stick out her leather-plastered ass as she dug around in a drawer.

After a minute, she produced a mint tin, a razor, and a straw that had been cut in two and returned to me.

“Don’t worry, this is the good stuff,” with a wink, she carefully laid out the supplies on the scratched coffee table.

After opening the tin, she produced a little clear bag filled with some white powdery substance; I identified it immediately as cocaine.

“Still interested?” she shook the baggy, I gave a quick nod and the response was a huge grin, “Let’s get this party started then!”

With the utmost care, she laid out a straight line on the table, even it out with the razor and then split it into two parts.

She passed me half of the straw and I took it without question. I bent over the table and inhaled the line before slumping back against the cushions sniffing hard and pressing my nostrils closed briefly.

My head started to buzz pleasantly as I watched her mimic my actions.

“There, much better, don’t you agree?” she said, leaning her elbow against the table, eyes suddenly dark and lustful.

She got up and sashayed over to me, settling on my lap and resting her hand against my chest.

“Why don’t you tell me what you want, baby,” she purred as she slid her hand further down until it came to a stop right about my belt line. Oh, that’s how we’re gonna play?

I snarled and forced her hand down further, she didn’t recoil or even flinch, but rather laughed and pressed down hard.

She scraped her teeth over the hollow of my throat and I groaned pleasurably. Between this and the drugs swimming in my head, I was completely lost in the upper ozone layers.

I needed this; I was so hungry. Starved, even. She laughed again, almost with a wicked edge to it, and grabbed the front of my shirt. It was almost as if…she could smell the hunger on me.

Hauling me off the sofa, she dragged me back into what I assumed was the bedroom; a shit bedroom but a bedroom nonetheless.

We shed our clothing on our way, leaving a trail in that general direction. I’m embarrassed to admit I almost tripped over my own underwear as we toppled onto the bed.

She pinned me to the bed and straddled me, growling in an almost animalistic manner while raking her nails over my bare chest.

The world was spinning fast and I was burning as if I was plummeting through the atmosphere, completely high on sex and drugs.

I heard the headboard banging against the wall, and I could hear something composed of glass rattling on the side table.

Well, vaguely hear anyway, it was like I was in a vacuum; like the only thing I could hear and see and feel was the woman riding me into the mattress.

I tracked a bead of sweat rolling down her temple and then abruptly locked eyes with her.

Now something really seemed off, I initially brushed it off as an effect of the drugs, but I could help but notice that her wide brown eyes now seemed to gleam in an almost metallic manner, like polished brass.

Again, I was high; nothing was entirely possible or unusual, right?

She grinned at me and leaned down, running her tongue over my throat. Nothing unusual…

My breathing slowed and then suddenly the numbness of my high was interrupted when a shocking, sharp pain shot down the left side of my neck and down that entire side of my body.

“Hey-!” I yelled and tried to pull away, but that just made the pain increase tenfold. I felt something hot and wet begin to ooze down my chest and shoulder.

I jerked and struggled, trying desperately to push her off, but whatever she was doing to me seemed to increase her strength, because the firmness continued to grow more painful.

I squirmed and bucked but she just bit down harder.

Darkness was beginning to swim at the edge of my vision and even through my drug induced haze, I knew that if I didn’t pry her off me soon, I’d be a dead man.

And that wouldn’t look good for me; a cop high on cocaine essentially sexed to death. Well, I suppose there are worse ways to go out…

I saw, or rather felt, a window of opportunity when her mouth temporarily loosened from my neck. I twisted my head and smacked it hard against hers.

The noise our skulls made on collision was nauseating, but it worked. She fell back with a surprised noise and a wet sucking sound.

I shoved her off and scrambled to get out of the bed, but she grabbed my arm and yanked me back. In an instant, she was on me screeching and clawing at my face like some kind of wild animal.

I groped around blindly on the side table until my fingers closed around something solid and I brought whatever it was down against her skull.

She made another weird noise and crumpled against me like a marionette with its strings cut.

Panting hard, I roughly shoved her limp body off me. She rolled awkwardly onto the floor where she landed with a solid thump.

I looked at my improvised weapon, a bloody ashtray, and then dropped that too, it made a similar noise as it hit the floor.

Regaining my composure as best I could, I got shakily to my feet and staggered across the floor, nearly tripping over her body in the process.

There was another doorway adjacent to the bed and I fumbled around to find the light switch.

Luckily, it was the bathroom I was hoping for, even if it was only illuminated by an unattractive flickering bulb.

The room was absolutely disgusting and the lighting only made it seem grungier, but I didn’t really have a place to complain when you’re in my state.

I limped over to the sink and leaned over it, gripping the edge so hard my knuckles were white. I was still high as a kite and my head was spinning from blood loss, a bad combination.

I felt like I was stuck on a Tilt-a-Whirl that wouldn’t shut off. I evened out my breathing before summoning the strength to lift my head.

I could barely see my green irises around the size of my pupils, but to say I was a mess was an understatement, and the gaping wound on my neck wasn’t really helping.

I winced as I tilted my head to get a better look at my injury. Bitch must’ve had sharpened teeth or something weird like that; I don’t remember noticing.

I shook my head and turned on the tap, cupping my hands under the stream so I could splash water on my face. It was lukewarm and smelled like rusty pipes, but be damned it felt good.

I sighed heavily again and looked back up at the mirror. I don’t know why, but my eyes flicked automatically to the corner, and all the blood drained out of my face.

Standing behind me, eyes filled with fury, blood staining her mouth and chest, was the thing I had bashed in the head mere minutes ago.

With an inhuman screech, she lunged at me, but I managed to duck out of the way before she could grab me and collided hard with the sink.

She uttered another horrific sound and grabbed my arm before I could bolt out of the room.

She swung me into a cheap, built-in-to-the-wall cabinet, and did so with enough force to both splinter the furniture and dislocate my shoulder.

I would have cried out in pain like the pathetic bastard I was right now, but the wind was knocked clear out of my lungs.

What happened next was one big blur as she sprang at me and I made a blind grab for one of the larger pieces of wood surrounding me.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced stabbing someone with a wooden stake, but it’s not a pleasant experience.

There’s this sort of squishy, wet, cracking noise; I honestly couldn’t tell if it was bone or the stake. Her own inertia drove it deep into her chest and she stopped dead.

Well, not quite literally; this shocked look crossed her face almost as if she had been electrocuted.

She pulled back from me, stake still in her chest, stumbling back and back further until she hit the bathtub, toppling over the edge, and smashing her already split skull against the tile.

Blood splattered in various directions, her body sagged, and movements finally ceased.

I sat there, naked, shivering and trying to get my rapidly pounding heart back to a normal rhythm less I end up passing out.

My stomach on the other hand cramped and lurched, so naturally I ended up ejecting the contents of my stomach onto the floor.

Regurgitated alcohol burned my throat as I got up weakly and sagged over the sink.

Shaky and feeling like I had just been forced to ride a roller coaster a couple thousand times over, I cautiously approached her corpse.

Warily, I reached out a hand and pressed my fingers against her neck; no pulse, zero, dead, zip.

I pulled back and then gimped towards the bedroom, shooting nervous looks over my shoulder at the body every so often.

I focused now on getting my shoulder back in place and I stood in the doorway, sucking in a breath before slamming up against the doorframe.

I saw stars and almost doubled over, but I heard the surprisingly satisfying cracking sound of it being reset.

I exhaled shakily through my nose and waited for my head to clear, or as much as it could still swimming with cocaine.

As I stood there, my mind began to reel with everything that was very wrong right now.

First of all, my biggest and most glaring problem was the cocaine, especially considering I was a cop high on cocaine.

The third problem being the dead woman staring with dead eyes at me from the bathtub right behind me; I began to panic, which when you’re high is never a good thing.

My reputation was balancing on the edge of a knife right now; I’d be ruined if anyone found out about the drugs, and more importantly, about my other less…savory habits.

The cocaine would take a while to pass through my system and not to mention the hangover that would accompany it.

I could clean the crime scene…no way, too many variables. This place was a cesspool; it would be far too suspicious if someone took the time to clean it as thoroughly as I would have to.

The cops probably wouldn’t even bother to process it; a shit ton of DNA everywhere and the bed would probably blind me if I scanned it with a black light.

Just another junkie, either killed by her dealer or by another crackhead. Well, okay, technically the latter was correct, to an extent.

Thoughts were buzzing around my head at an absurd rate and it was starting to become painful. I sank down on the mattress and raked my shaky fingers through my hair.

What the hell was I going to do then? No way was I calling Alice…

As if it wasn’t obvious enough, my hard-on was long gone, but that meant one less thing to worry about.

I hurriedly collected my clothing and left her in a heap by the bed so it wouldn’t seem like she had a bed mate or something. Yeah, it sounds dumb now, but what else was I supposed to do?

After redressing, I clambered out the window, down the fire escape, and back into the alley. I hastily returned to the club parking lot, feeling much relief from the frozen air blasting me in the face.

I know, what stellar behavior for a cop, but there was no way I was surrendering in my current state.

I dropped my keys more times than I could count as I made my way to the car; my hands were sweaty and shaking badly.

I dropped them twice more trying to get them into the door and I almost hit my head getting into the driver’s seat.

Fuck, I can’t drive. This was worse than being drunk. I slammed my head against the steering wheel and gave myself a nasty shock when I accidentally set off the horn.

A few passers-by gave me dirty looks as I gave them an awkward, apologetic wave.

I doubted anyone would question me sleeping in the parking lot, I was sure there were a couple drunken customers around doing the exact same thing.

Locking my doors and reclining in my seat, I wished desperately for my own bed and a hot shower. It took a while, but I finally managed to drift off into an uneasy sleep.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with wiggy dreams, and I’m sure you’re aware different drugs can induce different levels of crazy.

I…don’t especially want to regale you with the tale of Alex’s Adventures with LSD.

I was standing in a forest, misty and dim, save for some slim beams of light shining through the thick foliage overhead. Totally normal, right? Well, that’s why it’s weird.

I never have normal dreams at all. Usually it’s something totally bizarre or I don’t remember the dream at all. I guess points for it starting to be weird was the fact the forest was totally silent.

My breathing was obnoxiously loud and every step I took seemed to echo endlessly through the trees. Hmm…maybe weird wasn’t the best word, creepy was decidedly more fitting.

More so also because it felt like the forest seemed to go on forever no matter which way I went. It all looked exactly the same.

Caution and nervousness gave way to panic; what if I got stuck in here forever? Doomed to wander lost for all eternity. Wow, way to be melodramatic.

I hugged myself and felt an unusual fabric under my fingers, not the wool jacket I usually wore. I was wearing a bright red rain blazer.

Frowning, I examined my arms, no weird patches or damages, just a regular, boring raincoat.

Okay, make that two weird things. I shoved my hands into my pockets and continued on my hopeless trek.

I couldn’t explain it, not at the time anyway, but I felt compelled to keep moving; to keep going forward or left or right, and to be fair, it all looked the same.

At one point I was sure I was walking in circles.

A twig snapped under my foot and I nearly jumped out of my skin. My heart roared like a car engine as I looked down at the offending party. The stick crackled slightly as I removed my foot and sighed.

I was about to move again but I heard another snap and all hope of movement ceased, like there had abruptly been a massive disconnect between my brain and my legs.

I turned around, shaking, expecting to see some horrible beast or chainsaw wielding murderer on my ass, but there was nothing; only a few slim trees and the fog. I swallowed and started walking again.

Now the paranoia was starting to kick in. Even the softest rustle possibly brought on by the wind made me jump and stare in that direction until I was absolutely certain nothing was there.

I was getting dangerously close to pitching a fit due to the stress I was enduring and the repetitive surroundings, when I spotted something curious in the distance.

I sprinted this time towards it and finally arrived in front of an abandoned house surrounded by an overgrown garden.

Ivy leeched into the windows and dead, dried flowers littered the crumbling brick walkway. It might as well have been falling in on itself by this point.

Now I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I am a man of adventure, in so many words; I love to push my luck. And you know, a house that looks like it’s about to cave in on your head is just far too tempting!

I strode up to the house and, with little effort, managed to get the door open. It moaned on its hinges, but if I hadn’t opened it slowly and carefully, it probably would have fallen off them.

The floor groaned ominously as I stepped in, and I was greeted by the smell of rotten wood and overgrowth left in a cramped space for a long time.

I was surprised about the portions of the house that were still intact, save for the invading plants and the sheet of dust on everything.

I was expecting crumbling walls, holes in the floors, a caved in ceiling, and busted windows, but there was none of that. The inside was surprisingly well maintained, if a little grungy. How did…?

I was confused, which looking back now seemed kind of pointless, you know, because so many dreams are typically confusing. But cut me some slack, at the time I was confused.

Carefully, I walked through the house, worried that the floor would cave in under me with one misstep.

I wandered around the house, stopping every so often to rattle the doorknobs of various rooms downstairs.

Most of them were stuck, or jammed, or possibly just locked. Who the hell locks all the doors in an abandoned house?

I froze when one of the knobs finally turned fully in my grasp, the movement was almost alien and rather startling. How many doorknobs had been turning?

How long had I been here checking doors? Getting over my initial shell shock of experiencing a functional door, I slowly pushed it open.

It was a bathroom, a strange pale green tint to the tiles and facilities save for the glaringly white shower curtain, bathtub, and rectangular rug by the sink.

It smelled stagnantly of antiseptic and cleaner, it was near suffocating…and then the door slammed closed behind me.

Oh, great. And I hadn’t even registered that I had walked far enough into the room for it to do that.

I turned and rattled the doorknob. Oh, of course it had locked itself! I slammed the door before turning back to the chokingly sterile bathroom.

I felt dirty just being in here, and I don’t think it had anything to do with my adventure in the woods. I was actually surprisingly clean from that whole adventure.

I rested my hand on the edge of the sink and automatically jerked it away.

It burned, not the kind of burn you get from touching a flame, but like the burn from touching too powerful a bleach formula. I looked at my hand; no irritation though or burns, huh.

I passed a glance at my reflection in the mirror, but only fleetingly, as it shattered abruptly causing me to jump back in surprise. Thanks for that vote of confidence.

I observed the shards around the floor, looking at different slivers of my image; I felt disconcerted and decided to stop. I made my way past the toilet and over to the bathtub in the back.

Curiosity got the better of me as I reached for the curtain and grasped the plastic material and yanked it back.

I felt all the color drain from my face and my brain was screaming for me to move, to back up, run, or something, but I seemed to be having problems in that department in this fantasy.

The bathtub was nearly overflowing with red water and the stench of blood and even more cleaner overwhelmed me.

In the tub was a mannequin, featureless, hairless, and whiter than the fence of some rich house owner.

I would have said she was made of plastic or whatever material mannequins are made of, but there was a long, red gash running across her throat.

It was so dark and deep and long that it almost looked like her head was about to fall off.

A loud bang on the door jerked me back into a more coherent state and I wheeled around, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest.

I wished that I could say that I shouted something in an intimidating voice, something like, “Who the fuck is it? What the fuck do you want?!”

But all that emerged from my mouth was the most pathetic noise I had ever made in my life.

I couldn’t explain it, but I was completely and utterly terrified. I heard the bang again and took a step back.

Another bang, another step, but this time the backs of my knees hit the edge of the tub and with a shout I toppled over backward and straight into the water.

It was ice cold, and bit clear to my bones as soon as I was submerged.

I gasped and shuddered and tried to get out, but something grabbed my arm. My head snapped around and I was dismayed to find myself face-to-face with the mannequin.

She didn’t blink, didn’t make a sound, but almost effortlessly pulled my back into the tub. My head smacked against the tile and for a moment, I saw stars, the now insistent banging ringing in my ears.

I was dragged out of my daze when the mannequin grabbed me by the throat and proceeded to shove my head under the water.

I struggled and clawed at her face, but she was completely unaffected, and I was having horrific flashbacks to the events that had occurred in the bedroom mere hours ago.

Submerged, drowning, and struggling with my slowly depleting strength, I was sure I was about to slip into either death or unconsciousness when I heard a growl, clear as if it were right next to me, not obscured by the water.

I forced my eyes open and saw the mannequin, white-faced, but this time with wide, deep set eyes and a grin that should have been impossible by the size of its face. I couldn’t even scream.

***

I sat bolt upright, gasping and wheezing and then yelling in pain courtesy of the sudden strain on my shoulder and neck wound.

I was drenched in sweat and my head felt light, I was so dizzy I was sure I was going to puke again. I swallowed and reached up, gingerly touching the gaping hole in my neck. Yeah, it hurt; big surprise.

My fingertips were glossy with a red sheen, and I noticed there were flecks of blood and skin underneath my nails. Had I been scratching at it? Boy, I really must’ve been comatose then…

I absentmindedly wiped the blood off on my jeans and dug my keys out of my pocket. I inserted them into the ignition, listening to the engine struggle to come to life.

The windows were entirely frosted over, how the hell did I not freeze last night?

Although the way I had been sweating, I was probably too busy dying in dreamland to notice…or whatever the hell was going on.

I warmed my hands on the dashboard as I waited for the windows to melt.

My head hurt and I felt that was a good sign that the cocaine had cleared my system. The windows finally cleared and I peered over my shoulder towards the alley.

No police tape or cops that I could see, for now anyway. I let out a much needed sigh of relief, revved the engine and pulled out of the parking lot and onto the empty street.

I glanced at the car clock; 6:30, well, at least I couldn’t argue I didn’t get a full night's sleep, it sure as hell felt like I didn’t though.

I wanted nothing more now to take a shower and climb into my own bed and welcome loss of consciousness.

And so I drove, listening to the drawl of the Talking Heads CD I had forgotten to take out of the player.

I ran my tongue over my lips and tried to grasp at the rapidly fading memory of that dream; red water, clean tiles, the scent of disinfectant…that creepy-ass mannequin. What the fuck…?

If that had been symbolic of something, it was completely lost on me. And that aside, my chest was starting to hurt.

I hurtled through an intersection, ignoring the blare of car horns as I sped back towards the center of the city.

My apartment was a shithole in an equally shitty building.

The door was broken, the gate to the basement was a rusty mess allowing druggies and the homeless to camp there, even though the damn heater barely ever worked.

My vision went weird as I staggered through the foyer past a row of mailboxes and a few other building tenants to the staircase.

There was an elevator, but it never seemed to work most of the time and I was pretty damn sure it was a death trap, so I didn’t really bother.

I dragged myself to the second floor where my flat was and fumbled to get the keys into the door.

As soon as I was in, I left a trail of clothing leading to the bathroom where I turned on a murderously hot shower and climbed in.

I frankly didn’t care if I ended up with third degree burns, it would be the least of my worries. I felt dirty, disgusting, I needed to be clean. I rinsed all the blood off and cleaned out the wound.

I stood there in the stream of water for a long while, relishing the feel of steam against my skin.

Thank God the heater was on today, but that didn’t matter as I abruptly turned off the hot water and turned it on ice cold.

I could stand in this shower for three days, it wouldn’t matter; I would never be clean.

I got out of the shower finally when my fingers started to go numb. I wrapped a towel around my waist and padded over to the sink. With a sigh, I wiped the condensation off the mirror.

I was honestly expecting to see some horrible creature staring back at me or something lurking in the shadows but all I saw was me, and I gave a faint laugh; I looked absolutely horrible.

I looked like a corpse, my eyes sunken in and surrounded by dark bruises.

I pressed my finger pads against my skin and watched it sink under the pressure; maybe I’d try to massage out the bruises. I guess when you’re tired you’ll find anything amusing.

I heard a loud metallic bang and I uttered a horrified yelp, slipped on the tile floor and proceeded to bang my hip against it as I had failed completely to break my fall.

Well, I grabbed the edge of the sink but not with enough grip to prevent my spectacular landing.

I lay there on the floor panting, my heart pounding in my chest like a steam hammer, looking around as if I was expecting some monster to be lurking behind me.

Then I abruptly remembered that was the sound the heater made when it was coming on. Shakily, I got back to my feet and passed another nervous glance at the mirror; nothing had changed.

I exhaled sharply and leaned against the sink, hanging my head against my chest, ignoring the throb in my hip from my crash landing.

I reached into the medicine cabinet behind the mirror over the sink and pulled out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic alcohol, and a wad of gauze and a roll of medical tape.

I rinsed out the wounds messily with both of the antiseptics and very nearly passed out from the pain that laced down my left side, shoulder, and chest.

I gripped the edge of the sink and waited for it to clear up before pressing down on it with gauze and firmly attaching it with the tape.

Straightening up finally, I groaned and rubbed the non-injured side of my neck. Considering how dirty the human mouth is, it would be a small blessing that I didn’t get some horrific infection.

I hoped the thorough rinsing in the shower followed by cleaning it out with all that antiseptic would help, at least a little bit. But hey, screw hospitals, right?

I shambled out of the bathroom and left the towel unceremoniously on the floor. I pulled on a pair of fresh boxers and then pitched face-first onto the bed.

The sheets were fresh and clean; bless my consideration to change them before I spent the next week at work and sleeping in the bunks.

I undid the sheets and faded blankets and buried myself underneath them. I smiled a little into the pillows until I had shifted enough so that I was cocooned completely in darkness.

It was at this point that I realized how exhausted I was, and I welcomed the comfort of my own bed and the smell of my own sheets.

My body felt heavy and my eyes began to gradually close, but it was at that moment that I began to notice the strangest things; sounds and smells, vague but there.

What the hell was with that all of a sudden? I ignored it, deciding it was my exhausted brain making things up and gradually drifted off to sleep.

I must’ve successfully fallen asleep at some point because I was rudely awakened by the sound of my cell phone going off.

Now normally this wouldn’t have woken me up from such a deep sleep except for the fact it sounded like it was going off right next to my ear.

I growled and untangled myself from the sheets and blankets and sat up. I was struck by what I can only describe as vertigo, my head began to spin nauseatingly and I got tunnel vision.

I screwed my eyes shut and waited until it passed before getting to my feet and staggering over to my pants.

It took me a minute to remember that my cell was in my pants pocket and I fished it out and examined the square screen on the front; Alice glared at me in pixelated letters.

I briefly wondered how many times she had attempted to call me before I sank down on my sofa and flipped it open.

“Hullo?” I said groggily, pinching the bridge of my nose.

“Alex!” Alice shrieked, well, at least it sure as hell sounded like she shrieked. I had to jerk the phone away from my ear because it was inflaming my already aching head.

“Where the hell have you been?! Why haven’t you answered my calls?!”

I waited until she had finished yelling before returning the phone to my ear, “I didn’t hear the phone going off, I’m not feeling terribly well.”

For once in my life, I wasn’t actually lying to her.

“You could have at least called in to tell me that,” Alice chided, she didn’t sound happy.

“I told you, I’m not feeling well, I don’t think I could have mustered the energy to text you,” I said, running my hand over my scalp.

“I’m really sorry, Alice, really. I kind of…spaced on the thought.”

“Thanks for that, Alex. I’m guessing you would have spaced on it too if you had, say, gotten run over by a bus.”

“Well, I couldn’t call you if I was dead,” I replied sarcastically. “Also, this isn’t the first time I’ve skipped a day without calling.”

“Alex, that’s not funny,” Alice was, understandably, not amused. It took me longer to register how stupid that comment sounded; I felt a stab of regret.

I didn’t like upsetting Alice, she was one of the few people I actually considered a friend. “Also, your chronic inability to communicate is going to cost you your job one of these days.”

“You’re right…I’m sorry,” I said weakly, staring at the floor.

There was a lengthy silence before I heard another sigh, “Well, anyway, are you feeling any better?”

“Not really, I feel horrible.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Beats the hell outta me, somewhat literally. Might be a cold or something.”

“It is that time of year,” she sounded much gentler than she had earlier. “Is there anything I can do?”

“I suppose asking for the case files is out of the question?”

“What do you think?” she asked. I could just see her smiling. “Coffee and soup is fair game though.”

“Then no, I’m good,” I chuckled quietly. “I can take care of myself. Also, if I need anything, I can see if my neighbor can help. Thomas usually brings me leftovers from time to time.”

“That’s good. Take care of yourself, Alex. Don’t forget to call if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Alice. Don’t go solving this case without me!”

“Oh don’t worry, I bet the murderer will go on break while you recover,” she laughed. “See you soon Alex, or call.”

“I’ll try to call when I’m feeling better.”

“Thanks, take care!”

There was a soft click as she hung up and with that, I snapped my phone closed and tossed it on my scratched up excuse for a coffee table. Just as I stood up I heard a knock at my door.

I shot a glare towards it as if in hopes it would burst into flames but staggered over and undid the locks before pulling it open. Speaking of my neighbor…

“Hey, Alex! I was wondering if you were home or not,” Thomas said grinning, but then he frowned. “Are you feeling okay?”

“No,” I said irritably, I wanted nothing more than to slam the door in his face and crawl back to bed, but I decided to be sociable for at least a few minutes, for Alice’s sake anyway.

“Oh, sorry to bother you then, I just wanted to give you this,” he held up a brown paper bag. “My girlfriend made meat ravioli, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Thanks, Thomas,” I said, taking the bag, I could smell the red sauce and the cooked meat and the garlic, it was very odd.

“Hey, if you need anything just bang on the wall, you know,” Thomas said, jerking his thumb to the right, indicating the location of his apartment, directly next to mine.

“Yeah, sure, bye,” I said hurriedly as I shut the door in his face and locked it. I slumped against the door, sighing heavily, finally free of any social requirement.

I left the food on the counter, which was probably a stupid idea, but I wasn’t remotely hungry, in fact, the smell of the food made me feel ill.

I went around pulling my shades closed until my apartment was plunged into darkness, save for the sliver of silver light leaking in from the gap in the blinds.

I returned to my bedroom and resumed my previous chrysalis-like state.

I had a very difficult time trying to fall back asleep, and the abrupt onset of insomnia mixed with the encroaching nightmares certainly didn’t help.

 

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