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Hannah massaged her temples. She feared she was looking at a full-blown migraine. Pain pounded her head like a hammer on an anvil. She rested against the wall, grateful for the support. McClelland and Lang were standing a few feet away, recapping the night’s events. Silas was staring at her. It was uncomfortable, given he was only inches away.
“What?” Hannah asked.
“What do you think you were doing?” he said.
“‘Hey, Hannah, are you okay? Sorry, a man tried to kill you.’ That’s what a normal person would say right now.”
Silas waved a finger at her. “You did something in the bathroom. You drew that guy to the diner.”
She did her best shocked face. “How the heck did you know that?”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, sister,” Silas said.
“I thought I could, you know, use the link like before. Find out where that bar is.”
“It’s not like the Internet,” he said. “You can’t search for anything you want.”
“I realize that now,” Hannah said.
“Even in the best conditions tugging on the link is dangerous,” he said. “I’m surprised something worse didn’t happen.”
“You didn’t see the bathroom.”
He crossed his arms. “So, did you get anything?”
“Okay.” He walked over to the police. “If we’re going after this guy, we gotta do it now.”
Lang looked at him; her face was not encouraging. “Nobody said anything about going into the sewer. We have a crime scene back at the diner. Possible injured.”
“Every minute we waste up here, that freak is getting further away,” Silas said. “Catching him is necessary, you know, if you want to solve this case.”
“What makes you think this has anything to do with the case?” Lang asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Silas said.
“No, it is not.”
He turned to McClelland. “Yo, Louie Anderson. You didn’t bother to tell her what we discussed?”
Lang looked at McClelland expectantly. He raised a hand. “I was just getting to that.”
“Whatever. You guys can chit-chat; I’m going in.” Silas was already bent over the manhole.
“Black, you’ll do no such thing,” Lang said.
“You’re not working with us,” she said.
“It’s a free country,” he said. “Climbing down manholes ain’t against the law.”
“Actually, it is,” she said.
“Well, you’ll have to come down here and arrest me.” He shot a look at Hannah. “Coming?”
Hannah looked at the police detectives. She looked back at Silas. He was already gone. Cursing, she chose the manhole. Lang’s voice followed after them as they descended. Light from outside disappeared quickly, eventually replaced by the dull glow of tunnel lamps. Silas splashed down first and started taking in the sewer. Hannah reached the bottom and stumbled from the ladder, bumping into him.
He didn’t notice, too intent on examining the walls with a flashlight.
“Where did you get that?” Hannah asked.
“Forgot I brought it along.” He patted his satchel.
“I’m not made of flashlights.”
The walls were cracked cement coated with slime. They curved in an arch over them. The floor sloped in the middle, forming a rut that encouraged the flow of water. The lamps gave the place a red glow. It felt like the inside of an artery. Silas almost imagined a subtle lub-dub. Of course, the illusion was shattered by the overwhelming stench. They both opted to breathe through their mouths.
“I never, in a million years, expected to be in a sewer,” Hannah said through her teeth. “I hate you, Silas.”
“First time in a sewer is never fun,” he said. “But you get used to it.”
“You’ve been in a sewer before?” she asked. “I’m not surprised.”
The sharp clang of heeled boots on metal echoed down to them. Detective Lang made quick work of climbing down the ladder. The cop touched down and went for Silas. She stuck a flashlight in his face.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Black?”
“Whoa. Nothing I did warrants that kind of language,” he said.
“I can’t decide if you want to get arrested or killed.”
“Neither,” Silas said. “I want to stop a kidnapper.”
“McClelland told me the connection you made with the homeless man and this Daragon person,” Lang said.
“You’re insane,” she said. “But even if you’re onto something, you can’t run through the sewers to look for a guy.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Do you know how impossible New York sewers are?” Lang said. “There are miles and miles of tunnels, not to mention the subway and utility junction points. We can search for days and get nowhere.”
“But our culprit just came this way,” Silas said. “If we’re fast, we can gain on him.”
“He could have gone anywhere, Black,” she said. “It’s hopeless.”
“Look at this.” Hannah had taken out her phone and was using the camera LED as a flashlight. Pointing it to the ground, she illuminated a small, red puddle.
“Still fresh. He must have gone that way.”
“Ye of little faith,” Silas said to the cop. “I doubt he got very far with a GSW.”
Lang was silent as she looked over the stains that trailed off down the tunnel. “That’s a lot of blood. We might be able to follow. Hopefully, we’ll catch him before he bleeds to death.”
Lang followed the distinct trail down the tunnel. She pulled a radio from her belt and ordered McClelland back to the diner.
“McClelland will deal with the situation above ground,” she said. “I’m taking point. Stick close and do what I say. If this guy is one of your… ghouls, you better have some ideas for stopping him.”
“Ghouls?” he said. “What are ghouls? I never said ghouls.”
“Shut up.” Lang looked at Hannah. “Do your best to keep him in line.”
The police detective’s flashlight cast a yellow glow onto the walls. She kept her gun out, poised in her other hand. Silas watched her, a few steps behind. He assumed police protocol required her firearm remain drawn. A part of him wondered, though, if that was just Lang’s preference. Their footsteps were muffled in the growing channel of water that ran down the tunnel. The trail of blood continued. It dappled the left wall and floor with red.
“You know, I haven’t been in a sewer in ages,” Silas said. “Last time’s got to be London, at that party. Everybody got sepsis.”
“Button it,” Lang said.
“Don’t like my stories?”
“I don’t want the perp to hear us coming,” she said.
“Trust me, there are people down here you don’t want to catch unawares.”
“The mole people,” Silas said.
“Mole people?” Lang asked.
“Small eyes, big ears, sharp teeth,” he said. “They’re becoming rare, but you don’t want to surprise them. Rule of thumb: always make noise in a sewer. The same with bears in the woods.”
“Duly noted,” Lang said. “Now stop talking.”
Silas settled down, for a few minutes.
The ground dipped. Water was moving fast and thick. The sound was loud enough to drown out even Silas. The tunnel ended at a fork leading to two new passages. Lang motioned for them to stop as she approached the left one.
“I see a doorway,” she said. “Must lead to the subway.”
“Thank God,” Hannah said. Her knees were submerged in the water.
“Odds are, he went this way,” the cop said.
“I don’t think so,” Silas said, coming up behind her.
“This guy’s trying to get away from people, not towards them.”
“You’re guessing,” she said.
“Course not, come look at this.”
Silas led the police detective into the other opening. He pointed.
“What does that look like to you?”
Lang took a few steps into the passage. She could just make out a light coming from around a bend. It was flickering, like a campfire.
“I’m sure the locals will have seen something,” he said.
“Locals?” Lang said.
“Mole people?” Hannah asked.
“No, they don’t like fire,” Silas said.
Taking the lead, Lang marched toward the light. Around a corner, they discovered an alcove, a few feet above the water line. A fire was blazing in a trashcan. Huddled around the drum were a half-dozen homeless. At the appearance of a police officer with her gun drawn, they began to scatter.
“Hold it right there,” Lang said in a commanding tone. “Everyone against the wall.”
“Stand down, soldier,” Silas said, climbing into the alcove after her. “They’re harmless.”
He looked into their eyes. They were malnourished and jaundiced. But they were regular people, through and through. Silas opened his hands to show he was unarmed.
“Sorry. We don’t mean to bother you,” he said. “Has anyone passed by? Big fella. Hurt in the arm?”
They looked at the door at the back of the alcove. One pointed.
“That way?” Silas walked over and inspected the hatch. Blood was smeared across the wheel. “He’s been here, Lang.”
The police detective holstered her gun. “All right people, I need you all to head to the main passage. You’ll find a manhole not far away. There are officers outside that’ll help you find shelter for the night. It’s not safe down here.” Her eyes darted to the hatch.
The group climbed out of the alcove as Lang walked over to Silas. Hannah stood by the alcove edge, watching the homeless.
“Think they’ll take you up on that offer?” she asked the cop.
“Probably not,” Lang said. “Most likely, they have other places to hide.”
“They’ve learned not to trust the police,” Silas said. “Not a bad policy, if you ask me.”
“Just get this thing opened.”
It took them both to turn the hatch wheel. On the other side was a short ladder dropping to a new tunnel. It was rectangular with a deep rut in the middle for sewage. To the right was a wall with a sluice at the top. Greasy water trickled down into the rut.
“You think that sluice is big enough for a person to crawl through?” Silas asked.
“God, I hope not,” Hannah said.
“He couldn’t have climbed up there,” Lang said.
“Just eliminating the variables,” he said. He pointed in the other direction. “We go this way.”
“I’ll take the lead.” The police detective drew her gun again. Silas was beside her.
“No thanks for picking the right fork in the tunnel?” he asked.
“Black, I have a gun.”
The sewer held a straight course. Any signs of the homeless man had faded. The trail of blood was gone. The only sound was the incessant flow of water. When Hannah started nodding off, Silas and Lang stopped. She almost bumped into them, stepping back and shaking herself awake.
There was a hole in the tunnel wall, not ten feet ahead of them. The cement had been torn away, revealing layers of dirt, concrete, and pipes. Someone was crouching inside it. Lang motioned to the other two to stay back. Keeping her gun raised, she took a step.
“NYPD. Stand up and identify yourself.”
The person didn’t respond. Lang shone her light, revealing a large man, hunched over, wearing ragged clothes. His sleeve was torn at the shoulder and his arm was soaked with blood. Slowly, he stood up. The trio stepped back. Leaning his hands against the wall, he bowed his head to vomit. The thick, wet sound echoed through the tunnel. Lang made a move to help. Silas stopped her.
The man began to shake. He pulled off his clothes, exposing his slimy body. A sound came from him as his arms bent at unnatural angles. It was the sound of cracking bones. He screamed as his body was forced into a new configuration. Skin bulged as his limbs grew thin and extended. The scream ended with a croak as he slumped back down.
Hannah barely whispered. “Is he…?”
The ragged head jerked up. Black eyes gleamed in the flashlight. In one bound he was on Lang. Her gun went off like an explosion, filling the sewer with light and fury. Hannah covered her ears. Silas turned away to avoid the spray of blood. When it was all over, the creature was on the ground. Not much of its head was left.
Silas whistled as he stepped over to the remains.
“Nice shooting, Tex,” he said. “Didn’t want anything left of him?”
Lang was breathing heavily. Her hands were shaking. She didn’t put away her gun.
“Black blood,” she said. “He had black blood.”
“Don’t think that’s blood.” Silas took a piece of brick and stuck it into the corpse. Pulling it back, he examined the tar-like substance sticking to it. “Maybe some kind of pus. The body’s full of it.”
“What… what was that?” Lang asked.
“It was a man,” Silas said. “Now it’s roadkill.”
“But what did he into?” Hannah asked, not giving the body a close look.
“I dunno,” Silas said. “Never seen anything like it. We’ve discovered a new abomination. How do you like that? What should we call it?”
The women didn’t answer.
“How about The Shambling Man? Shambler? Something with shambles? Although… it was really a jumper.”
He was interrupted by the sound of barking. It echoed down the tunnel. It was answered by another set of barks. Silas moved away from the corpse.
“Well, I suppose we overstayed our welcome.”
“What’s that noise?” Lang asked.
“Do you want to stick around and find out?”
The three of them ran in the opposite direction of the noise. They picked up their pace when they heard sound of wet, slapping feet behind them. Silas stopped at the first doorway he saw and jumped inside. Lang and Hannah followed him into the room. The cop pushed her back against the door to hold it closed.
“There’s no lock on this thing.” She moved out of the way as Silas dragged a crate against it.
“Not really,” she said. “We can’t stay in here forever.”
“Where are we?” Hannah looked over the utility room. There were shelves cluttered with boxes. A few drums lined the floor. The only way out was the way they came in.
“Now would be a good time to try your radio, Lang,” Silas said.
She checked the receiver at her belt. “We’re way out of range of anyone.”
“Something was familiar about the sound of those things.”
“Shamblers,” Silas said.
“What do you mean?” the cop asked.
“The sound their feet made against the ground,” she said.
“Yeah, probably naked and barefoot,” Silas said. “Just like the one she shot.”
“It sounded like the thing that broke into my apartment,” she said. “Even the groaning was the same.”
Silas nodded. “That confirms our suspicions.”
“What suspicions?” Lang said, annoyed.
“These creatures kidnapped Emily Lisbon,” Hannah said.
“Shamblers,” Silas said.
“We believe they are working for the person behind all of the kidnappings,” Hannah said.
“What makes you think that? And how are these things working together at all? Besides that, what are they?”
“A lot of good questions,” Silas said. “But we should mainly focus on getting out of here.”
The door to the utility room shook. Two sets of hands were pounding it like hammers.
“We’ll have to fight our way out,” Silas said.
“How?” Lang said. “I’m out of bullets.”
“Give me a minute.” He searched the room, gathering a pile of rags. Tearing them into strips, he tied the cloth around three pieces of rebar. He pointed.
“What’s in those cans?”
Hannah checked a drum. “Some kind of grease.”
Silas dipped the rags into the liquid. He handed one to Hannah and the police detective.
“What’s this?” Lang asked.
“A torch. Keep the bright end away from your face.” Silas flicked on his Zippo and ignited the oil-soaked rag at the end of his pipe. With it, he lit the others. Pulling away the crate that blocked the door, he motioned for Lang to open it.
“Are you sure this will work?” she asked.
She opened the door. Two of the creatures tumbled into the room. Crawling like a spider, one dove at Silas. He held out his torch and let the thing crash into it. It shrieked as fire swept over it. Another, bone-thin with no skin on its face, swatted Silas’s torch away and pinned him to the ground. Lang came up from behind and impaled it with her torch. She dragged Silas clear as it burned to death.
“If we’re done with this pointless adventure,” Lang said as she helped him to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”
They left the room and ran down the tunnel. Silas shined his light along the walls, hoping to find rungs leading to a manhole. The cop raced ahead of the other two, turning a corner. Her voiced echoed back, ordering them to follow. Lang was already climbing up a ladder to the surface.
Silas offered to help Hannah reach the first rung. She shook her head, indicating she need to take a breath. Silas was anxious, but left her there and climbed up. Soon, Hannah placed her hand on the first rung. She paused. Something was bothering her. It was like a tick tugging at the back of her head. She moved back from the ladder and looked around. The tunnel was empty. But the longer she listened, the louder it got.
It was a whimper, somebody muffling a cry. She ran down the tunnel, away from the manhole ladder. Around a corner, the ground sloped to met a current of water. Hannah splashed down and was running. She quickly found the end of the tunnel. The water dropped forty feet into an enormous cistern. The sound was like thunder. Hannah peered over the edge. The whimpering had stopped, but she knew someone was nearby. Moving back from the cistern, she saw movement in the shadows by the wall.
“Who are you?” Hannah asked. “Were you the one crying?”
The woman said nothing. She turned away from Hannah and walked toward the cistern.
“I wouldn’t go that way if I were you,” Hannah said.
The woman’s head bobbed from side to side. She paused when she reached the edge, watching the rushing water. Hannah moved over to her and offered a hand.
“Please, it’s not safe.”
The woman whimpered. It was a lifeless sound. She leaned over the pit with one hand on the wall. Hannah moved closer. The water was to her knees. She had trouble standing up against the current.
“Take my hand.”
The water surged and Hannah stumbled. She caught herself in time to see the woman go over the edge. Hannah jumped after her. Her hands closed around wet clothes. The weight of the woman pulled Hannah down with her. Someone grabbed Hannah’s feet was pulling her up. Her fingernails cut into her skin, but she did not let go of the woman.
She heard Silas tell her to relax. He had an arm around her. Lang was crouched over the woman she saved, checking her pulse. Satisfied, she leaned back and shone her light into the woman’s face.
“Oh, my God,” Lang said.
“What now?” Silas asked.
“This,” she said, her face pale with shock. “This is Emily Lisbon.”
Image by Barawolf