Chapter 2:



Part 1: IconBookmark here

A dark, dismal face stared back at Detective Fabian Mendez from his mug of black coffee. Rough, grizzled, and deeply unhappy. Although darkened and distorted by the hot coffee, it was still the same face he saw every morning in the mirror after he woke up.Bookmark here

Sad sucker, he thought just before a plate topped with a large muffin landed onto the table next to his mug.Bookmark here

He lifted his gloomy gaze to see a young blonde woman in a police uniform, staring at him expectantly.Bookmark here

“Happy birthday,” she said with a grin.Bookmark here

Fabian stared blankly for a moment before breaking the silence with an exasperated chuckle.Bookmark here

“Oh jeez,” he muttered. “I forgot about my own birthday.”Bookmark here

“You gonna thank me?” the woman asked.Bookmark here

“Yes, yes,” Fabian replied wryly. “Thanks, Wendy.”Bookmark here

“My pleasure!”Bookmark here

Fabian leaned forward to examine the pastry that had been forced upon him. It was slightly orange in color, and appeared to be dusted with cinnamon and sugar.Bookmark here

“What is this anyway?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Pumpkin muffin.”Bookmark here

“Pumpkin muffin?”Bookmark here

“Uh huh.”Bookmark here

“They make those now?”Bookmark here

Wendy raised a concerned eyebrow in Fabian’s direction. “They’re seasonal, Fabi. They make them every year.”Bookmark here

Fabi nodded. “I see…”Bookmark here

“For a detective, you don’t seem to pay attention to your surroundings much. Unless there’s a dead body around, at least.”Bookmark here

Fabi was already mid-way through a bite of his muffin when Wendy’s remark stung him like an angry hornet. He swallowed the bite joylessly.Bookmark here

“You know, my ex used to say the same thing,” he remarked before indulging in another bite of the sugary treat.Bookmark here

“I could have guessed that, yeah.”Bookmark here

A sudden laugh almost made Fabi spit crumbs onto the table. “Hey, hey,” he said after swallowing again. “Why can’t you… you know… boost my confidence for once? Tell me about how smart and talented I am, huh?”Bookmark here

Wendy shook her head. “Aren’t you the one always complaining about participation trophies and stuff?”Bookmark here

Her logic was air-tight. “Touche,” Fabi replied with a shrug.Bookmark here

After they’d finished their coffees, the pair made their way back out to the squad car, which was parked in a pothole-ridden lot about a block away from the cafe. The sky had darkened significantly since they’d arrived, and seemed to grow more grey by the second.Bookmark here

It’s gonna rain soon, he thought. I can smell it.Bookmark here

“So how old are you anyway?” Wendy asked as they made their way down the sidewalk. “50? 60?”Bookmark here

“Very funny,” Fabi groaned.Bookmark here

“No, but for real.”Bookmark here

“For real?... Thirty-three.”Bookmark here

“Really?” Wendy raised an eyebrow in his direction. “You seem older than that.”Bookmark here

“That makes sense,” Fabi replied. “I definitely feel older.”Bookmark here

“Got anything fun planned for the night?”Bookmark here

“Well, it’s my birthday… I suppose I should visit my mother.” He seemed more worried than overjoyed at the idea.Bookmark here

“How has she been lately?” Wendy asked, her voice more serious than before.Bookmark here

Fabi gave a quick grunt to clear his throat as he conjured up an answer to her question. “Well… you know…” he finally replied, a slight quaver in his voice. “She has her good days and bad... some bad days are worse than others.”Bookmark here

“I see…”Bookmark here

Finally at their destination, Fabi reached out and grabbed the driver’s side door handle to his old Ford. The door squeaked when it opened, a familiar and welcoming sound to him.Bookmark here

The two got into the vehicle and Fabi absent-mindedly adjusted the icon of Jesus on the sun visor above his head.Bookmark here

“You really like that thing, huh?” Wendy commented.Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Fabi replied. “My abuela gave it to me a long time ago. She said it was for my protection.”Bookmark here

The images from that day flooded into his brain. He remembered the funeral parlor, and the sound of his mother weeping. He remembered the warm embrace of his abuela, holding him tightly as if to shield him from all the evils of the world.Bookmark here

If she could see me now in this dangerous profession, she’d have a heart attack, he thought with a sigh.Bookmark here

“Anyway,” Fabi continued. “Let’s get out of here.”Bookmark here

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Part 2: SuffocateBookmark here

“Mom?...”Bookmark here

A young Fabian Mendez wandered down a metal-lined hall. The floor was made from rusted grating, with some kind of foul sludge flowing just underneath. His small mismatched sneakers clanked against it as he walked.Bookmark here

“Mommy?...”Bookmark here

He came to a fork in the hallway and looked down each identical path. Both of them extended into an impenetrable darkness that Fabi couldn’t see through.Bookmark here

“Mom?!” He called once again.Bookmark here

An echoing call came from the hall to his right: “Fabi!...”Bookmark here

“Mom!” Fabi ran down that path, straight towards the darkness. Even though he couldn’t see even a foot in front of his face, he continued his advancement.Bookmark here

“Mommy!...”Bookmark here

“Fabi!”Bookmark here

He emerged from the thick shadow into another metal-lined hall. A blast of hot steam shot out from a hole in the wall.Bookmark here

“Guh!” Fabi quickly ducked under it and began running even faster, the clunking from his shoes getting louder and louder as his pace increased.Bookmark here

Suddenly he emerged into what appeared to be a massive cylindrical tank, the bottom of which was filled with a dark rotten liquid with chunks of what looked to be meat and viscera floating through it. The liquid nearly came up to his knees, but Fabi still pushed forward, following the distant calls of his mother.Bookmark here

“Mom!”Bookmark here

“Fabi!”Bookmark here

The giant tank filled with the sound of rushing water as more of the putrid drink poured in from holes in the walls. The water level rose further and further as he struggled to move his feet. It felt as if the liquid was also getting thicker as it rose higher.Bookmark here

Flies buzzed around Fabi’s face and he made his slow crawl through the tank. He swatted at them in futility as they collided with his face again and again.Bookmark here

Soon the water was up to his stomach. He wanted to stop, but there was no way out but forward. He had no choice but to keep going.Bookmark here

“M-mom!” He shouted as the liquid reached his neck. “Mommy!” It poured into his mouth, making him choke and suffocate on the festering flesh.Bookmark here

“HUUUUUURGH!” Fabi shot upright in his bed, hands gripping his dry, sore throat.Bookmark here

It was a dream! he thought, his mind buzzing with frantic anxiety. Just a dream...Bookmark here

Somewhere along the line he’d stopped breathing, and his body’s hunger for air finally woke him up.Bookmark here

Not good. I gotta figure out how to stop doing this, He thought. Sleep was proving to be quite dangerous for him as of late, and the nightmares seemed more vivid every time.Bookmark here

He wiped some cold sweat off of his brow as he tried to regain his composure. It was still early in the night, which meant he could still squeeze out a few more hours worth of rest.Bookmark here

“BRIIIIIIIING! BRIIIIIIIIING!” Fabi sighed as his phone lit up on the bed stand.Bookmark here

So much for that idea…Bookmark here

Fabi hit the green answer buttons and brought the phone up to his ear.Bookmark here

“Detective Mendez,” he said calmly.Bookmark here

As the man on the other end explained the situation, it became very clear that Fabian wouldn’t be getting back to sleep for a good long while.Bookmark here

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Part 3: The Heebie JeebiesBookmark here

“Ah jeez.” Fabian Mendez could almost feel the bile rising up from the back of his throat as he examined the freakish scene before him.Bookmark here

“You tell me they almost considered this a suicide?” He asked.Bookmark here

Officer Aaron Mackie nodded. “Yeah, I mean… There was a witness who saw the whole thing.”Bookmark here

Fabi gestured towards the front door of the convenience store with his thumb. “You mean that guy who was crying out front?”Bookmark here

“Yep. That’s the one. Said the man was freaking out real bad and just… started contorting around like that.”Bookmark here

Fabi squinted in confused astonishment. “You mean to tell me this guy twisted his elbows backwards like that all by himself?”Bookmark here

Mackie shrugged. “I- I dunno. We’re gonna take the witness in for questioning, obviously, but we got the whole incident on security camera.”Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

“He didn’t touch the guy the entire time. Just called 911 to report what was happening.”Bookmark here

“You gotta be kidding me.”Bookmark here

“Nope,” Mackie shook his head. “Come on back. I’ll show you.”Bookmark here

Fabi followed the officer into the hallway at the back of the store and the two entered a dimly lit office room. The air conditioning seemed to be on the fritz, as the room was noticeably stuffy and uncomfortable to be in.Bookmark here

Mackie sat down at a chair in front of the computer monitor and pulled up a window displaying the security footage. Fabi waited patiently in the heat for Mackie to find the appropriate timestamp.Bookmark here

“Sorry, this software is kinda cheap and clumsy,” Mackie told him.Bookmark here

“It’s alright. Take your time.” Fabi’s words were meant to put Mackie at ease, but his tone was very obviously on-edge.Bookmark here

“Alright,” Mackie finally said, gesturing for Fabi to observe the computer screen. “I got it.”Bookmark here

He hit “play” and, just as he described, the entire incident played out in front of them.Bookmark here

The man behind the counter just stood there, the store completely empty. Nothing appeared to be amiss, other than the man apparently looking over at the window next to him every five seconds or so, as if he were waiting for someone to approach from the parking lot.Bookmark here

“What’s he looking at?” Fabi asked, pointing at the screen.Bookmark here

“Don’t know,” Mackie replied. “Watch this though.”Bookmark here

He fast forwarded a couple minutes. The man was looking directly out the window now, without glancing away.Bookmark here

“He’s really concentrating on whatever that is,” Fabi observed.Bookmark here

“Sure is.”Bookmark here

Suddenly the man jolted backwards away from the window. He began to shake his head fearfully and appeared to shout something at whatever was coming towards him. However, the camera was angled in a way where they could get at least a partial glimpse through the window, and there was absolutely nothing there.Bookmark here

Fabi furrowed his brow in concern. “It looks like he’s… begging... He’s terrified.Bookmark here

Next, the man turned to face the far end of the store, as if a second figure had appeared there as well, and he cowered against the rack of cigarettes at his back.Bookmark here

“You checked the other angles as well, right?” asked Fabi. “There was nothing there?”Bookmark here

Mackie shook his head. “Nope. Nothing. Just thin air.”Bookmark here

The man then collapsed onto the ground, presumably huddling in the fetal position and scared out of his mind. From that point on, he was out of view of the camera.Bookmark here

“This is where the witness comes in,” Mackie said, pointing towards the video. “Check this out.”Bookmark here

True to the witness’ story, he came in casually through the store’s front entrance and looked around for an employee. His attention was drawn to the checkout counter, and he gradually made his way over. Even with the relatively low resolution of the security video, Fabi could see the growing distress the witness had been feeling in his movements, which became more frantic as the video went along.Bookmark here

“Well I’ll be,” Fabi said with an exhausted sigh. “You’re right. He didn’t even touch the guy. What the hell…”Bookmark here

“Yeah…” Mackie replied solemnly. “Can a guy really do that to himself? I mean… It has to be physically impossible, right?”Bookmark here

“I would think so, but…” Fabi’s mind was racing with questions, but answers seemed to be in short supply. He very quickly decided to give up for now.Bookmark here

“Ah shoot, I dunno,” he continued, throwing his hands up in a show of surrender. “We’ll need to see what the medical examiner thinks. For now, let’s see if we can find any more evidence before this place gets cleaned up.”Bookmark here

“You got it.”Bookmark here

After the men emerged back into the fluorescent lighting of the A+ store, Fabi returned to the checkout counter and peered out through the windows into the empty parking lot.Bookmark here

As much as he tried, he couldn’t see anything.Bookmark here

“What were you looking at, big guy?” he muttered.Bookmark here

As he turned away, he could have sworn he saw something standing out there, watching him.Bookmark here

What the hell?!Bookmark here

He quickly glanced back out, but the lot was still as abandoned as it was before.Bookmark here

I gotta finish up and get out of here, he thought. I’m giving myself the heebie jeebies.Bookmark here

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Part 4: ImpossibleBookmark here

Dr. Dmitry Popov ruffled the sparse salt-and-pepper hair on top of his balding hair. He peered through thick glasses at the examination notes in front of him, very obviously in a state of distress. The name “Austin Goldthwaite” was written at the top of the forms.Bookmark here

It wasn’t a surprise that the doctor would feel so on-edge, of course. He and Fabi had been up since the very early morning trying to crack the case, with little in the way of luck. The past few hours had been spent entirely in the confines of Dr. Popov’s white, brightly-lit office trying to put the pieces together.Bookmark here

Toxicology screens were negative, no history of mental health problems... No leads whatsoever.Bookmark here

Fabi approached the anxious doctor’s desk and set a small paper cup filled with cheap vending machine latte onto it. The doctor didn’t acknowledge this kind gesture apart from a quick “thanks” said over his shoulder.Bookmark here

“No problem,” Fabi replied, rubbing at his dry, tired eyes.Bookmark here

Fabi’s crime scene documentation was finished, as well as all of the accompanying paperwork. However, the final determination for the man’s death was still undecided.Bookmark here

“It’s just impossible,” Dr. Popov muttered. “In all of my years working as a medical examiner, I’ve never seen something like this. It’s just… strange.”Bookmark here

“Well, I’ll leave you to your work,” Fabi said, starting towards the office door. “I think I’ve provided everything I possibly can at this point.”Bookmark here

Popov nodded, keeping his gaze firmly planted on his notes. “Alright,” he replied. “Have a good day, detective.”Bookmark here

“You too,” Fabi shot back with a quick nod before leaving.Bookmark here

He headed back through the examination room, towards the hospital hallway, making sure not to spare another glance for the twisted dead body on the examination table.Bookmark here

As soon as he reached for the door, his phone began to ring again: “BRIIIIIING! BRIIIIIIIING!”Bookmark here

“Oh lord, Fabi thought, wincing. What is it now?Bookmark here

He answered it, giving his usual “Detective Mendez” after bringing it up to his face.Bookmark here

“Fabi!” The voice on the other end called. Fabi recognized the voice right away. It was Wendy.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?” Fabi asked, growing concerned at her tone.Bookmark here

“I know you're tired,” she began. “But we got another scene for you.”Bookmark here

“Another one?” he asked, grimacing. “Is it a murder?”Bookmark here

“That’s the thing…” She took a moment to think over what she would say next. “You know that case you had this morning at that convenience store?”Bookmark here

“Oh god, you don’t mean…”Bookmark here

“Yeah…” Wendy’s voice became grim. “It happened again.”Bookmark here

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Part 5: Three MoreBookmark here

The branches of the dark trees in the distance thrashed around in the furious wind, resembling tiny claws grasping in desperation towards a grey, uncaring sky. Below them, the tall brown grass beckoned to the onlookers in the field, waving and undulating in a seemingly endless mad dance.Bookmark here

Fabi stepped out of his old Ford and his black work boots made crunching noises on the brittle cracked concrete below. About fifty yards away, he spied the police officers in front of an old van that appeared to be rusting away in the middle of an empty field.Bookmark here

His heart filled up with dread, Fabian tightened his overcoat around his body to keep out the quickening breeze and made the journey over to them. Officers Wendy Carmichael, Melinda Park, and Aaron Mackie were waiting for him in front of the steel deathtrap, their faces dark with foreboding expressions.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?” Fabi asked, nodding towards the van. “They in there?”Bookmark here

Melinda nodded and reached out towards the van’s side door with a gloved hand. Carefully, she slid the heavy rolling door open, revealing the twisted rotting carnage inside. Fabi instinctively covered his nose with a hand as the stench wafted towards him and took a small step towards the van to get a better look.Bookmark here

The more he examined the horror before him, the sicker and more worried he felt.Bookmark here

“Good lord,” he said under his breath. “What the hell is happening?...”Bookmark here

Real Aire
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