Chapter I

Il collettore ed il suo premiato

Ami clutched a manila folder tightly in her hands, so tightly that the knuckles underneath her short coat of light orange fur were white and tense.

She sighed and slowly crossed the small living room of her apartment, and set the folder down on the coffee table in front of her television. She took her blue tennis shoes off and set them beside the door to the kitchen area. As she passed into the kitchen, she slipped her dark blue police jacket off and hung it on a peg inside the door. Moving through the kitchen, she came into the small bedroom and unhooked her gun belt. She carefully tossed the belt, holster, and Beretta 96 Brigadier D handgun onto the bed. They bounced slightly when they hit.

With another great sigh, she sat down on the edge of the bed and covered her face with her hands\x85 but she didn\x92t cry. She just sat there, motionless. At last, she looked up, pain showing clearly in her face, and she looked around the small bedroom.

The twin-sized bed took up most of the space in the room, and it had white sheets and a dark green blanket. The covers were in a bit of disarray because she hadn\x92t made the bed earlier that morning, and one of the pillows was hanging halfway over the edge of the bed. Against the opposite wall was a dresser that was packed tightly with clothes. Besides that was a small closet where she kept even more clothes, and a few large boxes on the floor. Beside her bed was a nightstand with a lamp on it. Next to the lamp was her pair of reading glasses. She promptly leaned over to pick them up, then stood up and walked out of the room.

She walked into the kitchen, tucking the glasses into the front pocket of her white T-shirt. The kitchen, like the bedroom, was sparse. It had a refrigerator, oven, microwave, countertop, a few small appliances, and little else. Ami walked over to the oven, pulled a frying pan from the cupboard above it, and set it down on the burner. After pulling a small tub of butter from the refrigerator and putting a scoop in the pan, she clicked the burner onto a medium heat setting. Then she pulled a bowl and a wire whisk from the cupboard, and two eggs from the fridge. These, she cracked into the bowl and beat with the whisk until they were well blended. Then, she poured the eggs into the frying pan and let them cook.

Ami was an attractive looking young girl, of about twenty-four. She was of the feline morph species. Her body was covered with a velvet smooth layer of light orange fur, except for the white stretch that extended from the tip of her chin, over her neck, chest, tummy, and down the insides of her legs. She had medium length brown hair tied back in a ponytail, a few strands fell down on either side of the large feline ears atop her head, and fell over the sides of her face. Her eyes were a dark brown color and bright. Her nose was cute and pink, centered in the middle of her face. She wore a white T-shirt and blue jeans, in which a little hole had been cut away in the seat, to poke her long feline tail through.

When the eggs were done cooking, she scraped them onto a plate and walked back into the living room. It was small, like all of the other rooms in her apartment. It consisted primarily of a couch, an armchair, a coffee table, a television, and a window on the far wall, in which two small potted plants were resting on the sill, taking in the sunlight from the outside.

She sat down on the couch with the plate of eggs in her lap. She pulled her reading glasses from her pocket and placed them on her face. She took a bite of food and reached down for the manila folder\x85 but then pulled back sharply.

"Why am I even interested in this case?" she asked herself aloud, her gentle voice sounded strange even in her own ears.

Ami picked the folder up by its corner and held it up in front of her, at arm\x92s length. "I already know the basic gist of what\x92s in this folder. I know what this case is about, and what it will require me to do. Can I really go through all that pain again?"

She set the plate of food down on the coffee table and set the folder in her lap. "I do want to go through it." She finally said. "Because it\x92s my job." With that, she undid the clasp on the folder and opened it up before her.

There was a packet of paper before her. A report. It looked to be only dozen or so pages long. There were also three photographs in the folder. The first one was a school photo of a very young boy. Ami guessed he was about six years old. He had bowl cut light brown hair, blue eyes, and a big grin with a few teeth missing. He was wearing a blue sweater with a chubby looking and colorful airplane on it. He was holding up a large sheet of paper with a finger-painted work of art on it. The caption label said that the boy\x92s name was Jeremy Stockton and that the photo was taken just three months prior. The second photo was a color picture of what appeared to be a backyard. There was an aluminum swing set off to one side, beside a storage shed. Across from that was a tall oak tree. The snow covered grass was littered with outside toys, ranging from a bright red plastic sled to a soccer ball. The whole yard was surrounded by a three foot high brown panel fence. However, a section in the back had been torn down and was lying broken in the yard. Beyond the fence was a patch of thick woods. Ami looked carefully at the photo but could not come to a conclusion as to what tore the fence down. The third photo was taken closer to the fence, and was looking down. There appeared to be footprints in the few inches of snow that was in the yard. However, she could not make out the shape very clearly. After reviewing the photos, she decided that she\x92d have to go directly to the scene to examine the evidence. She set the photos down and picked up the report.

The report wasn\x92t a very thorough one, but it gave her a good idea of what was actually happening. According to the report, the child, Jeremy had been reported missing in the afternoon of the previous day. His mother had been watching him play in the backyard, out of the kitchen window. She turned to put something away. As she did so, she heard a loud crashing sound. When she turned back and looked out the window, the section of fence had been torn down, and Jeremy had disappeared. She\x92d searched frantically, in the backyard, and when her husband came home from his job at the post office, he\x92d went into the woods for three hours, but came back empty handed. Finally, the Stocktons called the police.

Ami stopped reading and looked up. She reached for her eggs, but found them cold and left them.

"Could this have anything to do with the last case?" she asked herself quietly as she closed the folder and set it down on the coffee table. "Could this have anything to do with\x85"

She sat quietly in the chair, slouched over\x85 perfectly still. She wasn\x92t even crying.

The white Ford Explorer glided skillfully over the light glazing of snow that the recent flurries had brought onto the Michigan highways. It tuned a wide bend and came out on a large, flat stretch. Ahead, and behind, there were only one or two other vehicles on the highway.

"You know, they say that Michigan is so beautiful in the winter." Elaine Benton said, as she turned the steering wheel of the Explorer just a hair to the right. "But there are hardly any people out on the roads now."

"It\x92s only early December," replied the man in the passenger seat. "This part of Michigan is going to get a lot more snow in the next week or so. Then that\x92s when the snowmobilers come up. I hear that Rosemorde is where all of them hang out."

"A nice sleepy little town like that." Elaine commented with a smile. "I\x92m sure it\x92d be very popular with people trying to get away from the rest of the world."

The man didn\x92t say a word.

"Rob?" Elaine asked.

"Yes?" said the man.

She frowned a bit. "You don\x92t seem excited about this vacation."

"I\x92m not." Rob replied.

She frowned even more. "How come?"

"Because I got so much work back home in Indiana that I could be doing, instead of this." He shifted in his seat a little, and moved his gaze from the front windshield to out the side window.

"It\x92s been a long time since we\x92ve ever done something like this, Rob." Elaine said. "You know that. You work too hard. You need a break."

Rob didn\x92t say anything. He just stared out the window and adjusted the aluminum can wear it rested in his lap.

Rob Benton was a tall handsome man. He had dark brown hair, cut short and spiky in the front. His face was well defined, with a square chin and dark brown eyes that hid underneath a pair of thick eyebrows. He wore a green sweater underneath a thick brown leather jacket, and blue jeans. On his feet were brown leather shoes.

In the prime of his days, the forty year old man would have been very nice and friendly, and especially loving to his wife, but such was not the case anymore. Just two years ago, he\x92d been working as a mechanic for the army, stationed at a base in Indiana. One day, he was repairing an aircraft engine when something went wrong. The engine, which he was sitting on top of, exploded. He\x92d been thrown against a wall and was in very bad shape. When he came to in the infirmary, he learned that he\x92d suffered a concussion, and that his entire right leg had been crippled. There was no operation that the doctors could do for him that would repair such extensive damage, and Rob refused to get an artificial leg. So, he was given a cane, and for the past two years, he\x92d been working as an architect with a small firm in Indiana, relying on the cane and on his wife to get him through the day. However, the event left him angry with himself, and how he couldn\x92t do anything on his own anymore. He felt stupid for even getting in that accident, and cursed the very day it had happened.

"Rob?" Elaine called again. "We\x92re going to have fun on this vacation, you hear me? It\x92s been so long since we\x92ve been together like this. Hell, we haven\x92t even made love in six months."

Rob sighed and absently rubbed his crippled right knee. "Do you really want to even make love to someone like me? I think not."

Elaine fumed, and her delicate face turned almost as red as her shoulder length hair. However, she didn\x92t say a word. She simply returned her attention back to her driving.

They sat in silence for thirty minutes like that. Rob never drew his gaze away from the side window. Finally, though, he turned, reached over, and turned the radio on.

"\x85 flurries already seen in the Rosemorde area. It\x92s predicted that the storm we\x92ve seen will move down from the north, and folks, this is a big one. We\x92ve not seen temperatures this low since 92. Early tonight we should have temperatures as low negative ten, with a wind-chill factor of negative thirty. Near zero visibility, and it\x92s predicted that we\x92ll get up to three feet of snow over the next twenty-four hours, also\x85"

"Looks like it\x92s started already." Rob commented.

Elaine nodded at him. "We should make it into Rosemorde before the storm hits, right?"

"We got six hours before the sun goes down, and it gets really cold. Yeah, I think we\x92ll make it."

Elaine nodded again and pointed ahead. "That\x92s the turn up ahead. It should take us directly to the town."

"Not very big, is it?" Rob noted, looking out the window at the very small road past the turnoff.

"Guess not. But the sign says it\x92s the way." She turned the Explorer off the main highway and took it down the turnoff.

They sat in silence for another thirty or so minutes. The road was just barely paved, and had potholes in some places. The snow was slightly thicker on it too, as if it hadn\x92t been used for a while. Soon, the surrounding fields on either side of the road came closer, and the road plunged straight into a thick pine forest. At the same time the paved asphalt road gave way to a bumpy dirt one.

"Holy shit!" Rob exclaimed, straightening up in his seat. "No wonder they don\x92t get that many regular tourists. The only vehicle that could get over this bad of a road is a snowmobile."

Elaine slowed the vehicle down to thirty miles per hour. "We\x92d better take it easy from here out. It\x92d be really bad if we broke the car down out here."

Just as she said those words, the lights on the dashboard of the Explorer began to flicker. The soft hum of the engine began to grow fainter and fainter.

"What the hell?" Rob said, his brows knitting as he watched the lights in the dashboard blink out altogether.

Elaine tensed up with worry. She pushed down on the brakes and the car coasted slower and slower. She edged it off to the side of the road and eased it to a stop.

"This is bullshit." Rob shouted, throwing open his door and stumbling out into the cold air. His right leg almost gave out, but he quickly steadied himself by hanging onto the door. Carefully, using his cane, he limped around to the front of the vehicle and asked Elaine to pop the hood.

She did so, and Rob pulled the hood up. With the keen eye of a mechanic, he looked over the engine for several minutes.

"What is it?" Elaine finally called out.

"I don\x92t know." Rob said. "Everything is in perfect order. The battery was new, and the gas tank was half full when we got this far. I don\x92t see any reason why the car should have broken down."

"Get in the car, honey." Elaine said, opening her own door and climbing out.

Rob moved around to the other side. "Where are you going?"

"I\x92m going to walk ahead, into Rosemorde and get a tow truck." Elaine said as she buttoned up her black jacket.

"I can\x92t let you do that!" Rob called out! "Didn\x92t you hear how cold it\x92s going to get tonight? I don\x92t want you trapped out in that storm!"

"But we\x92re not going to accomplish anything by staying here in the car." Elaine protested. "No battery means no heat. We\x92ll freeze to death there. And look\x85 no one comes on this road often. It could be days before we\x92re found. Listen, the town is not that far ahead. I\x92ll make it before nightfall if I move fast."

Rob just stood there, looking at her.

"Rob, dear, there\x92s a blanket in the back seat if you need it. I won\x92t be gone too long. Soon, we\x92ll be in Rosemorde. Now please, give me the wallet."

Rob paused, then grudgingly pulled his wallet from his pocket and tossed it over the hood of the car. She caught it.

"I\x92ll hire the best towing service there is in town." Elaine said, pocketing the wallet and smiling at him.

"Which is probably the only one." Rob said, climbing into the vehicle.

Elaine began to walk down the road. "I love you, honey!" she called out.

"I love you too." Rob said, then he closed the door.

In silence, he watched his wife walk down the road, until she was completely out of sight. He settled back in his seat and suddenly began to feel very sick. It was as if, some strange feeling of dread had fallen over him.

"Elaine\x85 be careful." Rob whispered, his breath turning into tiny puffs of steam in the rapidly cooling air within the car.

Outside, the skies grew a dark gray. The storm was coming.

Ami checked her watch as she pulled her police cruiser up in front of the small local police station. It was 4:00 p.m. She would have time to investigate the scene of the most recent disappearance, and then examine the site of the first disappearance before the storm hit at nightfall. That was, if Joe got his ass in gear and hurried!

The front door of the police station opened and officer Joe Smith came bounding down the steps. He slipped on a patch of ice, and all three hundred pounds of Joe tumbled the rest of the way down.

Ami didn\x92t even get out of the cruiser.

Joe stood up, brushed the snow off his rear and waddled quickly to the car. He bent down and tried the handle of the passenger side. After a few moments, he knocked on the window and pointed down at the handle.

"It\x92s not locked!" Ami called out, hoping he\x92d hear her through the window. "It\x92s probably just frozen shut. You have to pull on it!"

Joe cupped his ear and pushed it to the glass.

"PULL ON IT!" Ami shouted, leaning closer to the window. Then she mumbled. "You fat idiot."

Joe braced himself on the curb, wrapped both hands around the car door handle and pulled back as hard as he could. After three sharp pulls, the door shot open and Joe tumbled backwards again.

"Watch it with the car." Ami said. "It\x92s the only real cruiser this town has in it."

"Yeah, and everyone\x92s jealous that you get to drive it a lot." Joe said as he moved his enormous girth into the seat beside her. His voice was remarkably high and squeaky for a man of his size. He had large puckered lips, beady eyes sunk back into his head, and small glasses. His head was shaved bald and his police uniform was untidy and stained with food in the front. There was a candy bar in his front pocket.

"That\x92s because I\x92m the head detective in this town." Ami said, pulling away from the station. Joe hurriedly snapped his seatbelt into place.

"You\x92re so good, Detective Barlette!" Joe exclaimed.

"Please hold your compliments." Ami said. "Do you have your papers ready?"

"I sure do!" Joe said.

"Good, now don\x92t get too excited." Ami warned. "All we\x92re going to do it interview a few people and check out a few crime scenes. Under no circumstances are you to interfere. You\x92re just to stand there and take notes. Rookies like you don\x92t participate."

"Yes, I got it, Detective Barlette." Joe said, smiling at her. There was food his teeth.

Ami shuddered and turned back towards her driving. However, in her mind she was cursing why the chief had assigned this fat clown rookie cop to accompany her on a very serious investigation. Knowing her luck, and Joe\x92s reputation, Joe would inevitably screw something up.

It only took them ten minutes to drive to the Stockton residence, which was located just outside of the city limits. Ami got out of the cruiser and pulled her jacket closer around her body. It was dark blue, with the word "POLICE" written across the back of it. She really liked the coat, because she thought it looked cool and it kept her very warm in the winter and fall.

Ami knocked on the front door. Mrs. Stockton immediately threw it open. She was a middle-aged woman with dirty blond hair and slightly pudgy features. She wore a red housedress and the mascara was running down her cheeks.

"Did you find him? Did you find Jeremy?" Mrs. Stockton asked hysterically and she began to cry again.

"Please be calm, ma\x92am." Ami said, taking her arm and leading her into the house. There, she had the lady sit down on the couch.

"I\x92m Detective Ami Barlette and this is Officer Joe Smith." She said, motioning as the large rookie waddled through the door. "I\x92m going to be handling the case of your son\x92s disappearance, but I\x92ll need to ask you some questions."

"Anything, just please find my son!" Mrs. Stockton cried out.

"First, you need to calm down, ma\x92am." Ami said, sitting in the chair opposite of the hysterical woman. "What your son needs right now is your prayers and for you to be strong."

The woman sniffled and nodded her consent.

"Now, let\x92s begin." Ami said, going over the list of questions she\x92d formulated in her mind over the last hour. "Is there anyone who might have something against your son, or this family? Anyone who might want to hurt you in any way?"

"Not that I know of." Mrs. Stockton said.

"Did you notice anyone suspicious around the house or yard during the past month or so?"

"No. Not many people come out this way."

"Does your son have any secret hiding spots he likes to visit, or places in the woods where he likes to play?"

"Jeremy isn\x92t allowed to play in those woods." Mrs. Stockton said. "During the lumber rush in this area, back in the early nineteen hundreds, there were a lot of holes dug to burn garbage in. They just left the holes there, and some of them are as deep as ten feet. It\x92s too dangerous for him to play out there."

Ami straightened up a bit in her seat. Now, she was getting somewhere. "But it\x92s possible he might have wandered out into the woods and fallen into one of the holes?"

"It is\x85 oh God\x85 but his father looked in that area, and he checked all the holes he found. He didn\x92t see find Jeremy."

"But you said there are a lot of holes out there." Ami replied. "So it\x92s always a good chance. I\x92m going to see if we can get a volunteer sweep of this area. We may find him yet."

"What about the storm that\x92s being called for tonight?" Mrs. Stockton asked in panic.

"I don\x92t think that we\x92ll be able to organize a big enough sweep before the storm hits, and we won\x92t be able to operate in the middle of a blizzard either. We\x92ll have to wait till after the storm."

"But he\x92ll freeze to death out there!" Mrs. Stockton screamed.

"Ma\x92am\x85 if he\x92s in a hole, it should offer protection against the wind, and not too much snow will get to him. There\x92s a good chance that he\x92ll live through that, presuming he is in a hole. However, there\x92s little we can do now."
Mrs. Stockton began to sob hysterically.

"I\x92m sorry ma\x92am but there\x92s nothing more I an do. I\x92d like to see the backyard though, if you don\x92t mind."

Still sobbing, the woman pointed to the kitchen.

Ami nodded and thanked her. Then, he turned towards Joe. "Joe, please try to calm her down."

"Me?" Joe asked, pointing to himself.

Ami nodded once then walked briskly through the kitchen and into the backyard via a small utility door.

The cold once again hit her she stepped outside. The snow crunched under her feet as she made her way to the back of the area. As she walked, she noticed a set of footprints that led from the house to the woods. This, she assumed was the father\x92s. When she came upon the broken section of fence, she stooped down to carefully examine the ground.

The set of footprints, which she\x92d seen in the photo, was there\x85 but they were nearly filled in by new snow. She could only see a faint indent. She stood up and walked over to where the fence had been broken in. She leaned down and carefully examined the wooden edges. She traced the break with her finger and then looked back into the woods. It was clear that the fence was broken by something smashing into it. Something that was big and moving very fast.

When she finally came back into the house, Joe was breaking his candy bar in half and sharing it with Mrs. Stockton.

"Did you find anything?" Mrs. Stockton asked. She was noticeably more collected now.

"The fence still puzzles me a bit, but I have a few ideas. I\x92m going to go organize that sweep right now." Ami said. She smiled at the woman. "Don\x92t worry, Mrs. Stockton. We\x92ll find your son."

Mrs. Stockton smiled just a little bit and wiped her eyes. "Good luck, Detective Barlette."

As Ami and Joe walked back to the police cruiser, Joe turned to her. "What did you find, anyway?"

"I\x92m not sure myself." Ami replied. "But I\x92m going to find out sooner or later. I just need some time to think, and going back to the first crime scene won\x92t hurt."

"And where is that?" Joe asked, while getting into the passenger side of the car.

"It\x92s out of town\x85 on the connecting road. A little residence out by the highway." Ami explained. "You\x92ll see when we get there."


Overhead, the sky grew darker yet. The wind picked up, and the snow that once began light, began to increase in volume.

Chapter II

Mettere la vostra fede in uno più sconosciuto

He was dreaming.

Rob\x92s eyes snapped open and he looked around. It was no longer dark in the car, as it had been when he\x92d dozed off. The dashboard lights were all on, and working fine. The headlights shone in front of the car, illuminating the road a good 60 feet in front of the car, and the radio was tuned to the news station.

"\x85the storm that was predicted to hit at nightfall has indeed taken a sharp turn and it\x92s moving southward much faster than anticipated. It\x92s advised that all people stay inside while the blizzard passes over us. The storm\x85"

Rob found that the blanket he\x92d thrown over himself before he\x92d went to sleep was now making him really uncomfortable. He pulled it off and tossed it into the back seat.

He scratched his head and looked around, wondering when the power in the car had started up. He checked the clock on the dashboard and found that it was now going on 6:30 p.m. Elaine should have reached Rosemorde by now. She should be on her way back, with a tow truck. He hoped that she was safe.

He also noticed that it was considerably darker outside. Darker than it should have been. But then again, a large storm was coming. The effects could already been seen outside. The wind was now stronger, and it was actually rocking the Explorer back and forth. The snow had picked up in intensity, and it was getting harder and harder to see through it.

Rob looked over the dashboard once more. Maybe he would be able to drive the Explorer closer to town. If Elaine was caught in the storm, he\x92d be able to find her. However, his plan was quickly put down when he realized that the needle on the fuel gauge was already resting on the "E". He wouldn\x92t have enough gas to go five miles.

Out of exhaustion and despair, Rob sighed. He was so worried his wife. There was any number of dangerous things in the Michigan woods that could hurt her. The idea of Elaine running into a pack of wolves was the first concern that popped into his mind\x85 but for some strange reason, he knew that it wasn\x92t the most pressing concern. For the life of him, he couldn\x92t think of why his mind would play tricks on him like this. Wolves were the most dangerous things out there. It was simple logic. But somehow, subconsciously, he didn\x92t believe that.

All of a sudden, Rob was started by the sound of something crashing down on the top of his vehicle.

A moment of panic swept through him as he fell back in his seat. He quickly stared up at the ceiling and saw a slight indent\x85 meaning something was on top of the Explorer. Something heavy.

His fingers wrapped around the aluminum shaft of his cane and he reached down to unlock the door and get out. Just as his fingers raised the small latch, something smacked against the passenger side window, holding the door shut.

Rob started blankly in horror and shock, at what held his door. It was a hand, but not a human one. It was about twice as large as his own, the fingers far longer and curved into sharp points at the tips. The color of the skin was also not human, but a dark black\x85 the texture was rough and harsh.

Rob turned towards the door and pushed himself back into the driver\x92s seat. He was trying to back himself away from the window, away from that thing outside. The hand stayed there on the window a moment, then it slowly slid its way up the glass, the sharpened "nails" leaving deep scratches in the glass and making an awful screeching sound.

He shifted back into the middle of the car, between the two seats. He was straddling the stick shift and trying to look out both windows at once. This thing, whatever it was, was still on top of the car.

As he looked to his left he noticed that the driver\x92s side door was unlocked. He quickly shot his arm out and pressed the latch down.

Just as he did so, there was a tremendous crash! Something large and heavy smashed into the front windshield.

Rob yelled out and covered his face as the glass cracked into a spider web pattern, but it did not shatter. He straightened up in his seat and brought the cane to bear. Whatever the hell this was, it wasn\x92t going to get him without a fight.

He watched as the creatures brought both of its twisted fists down onto the windshield once again, and this time it did shatter inward. Rob threw his arms up in front of his face to protect it from the glass. Even then, he could feel the sharp shards hitting his hands and landing in his hair. Finally, he brought his arms down enough to look out.

The darkness outside seemed to engulf everything. Through the bright glare of the headlights, he watched as the snow began to blow into the vehicle and the sheer coldness of the environment outside hit him. However, he could not see the creature. When he looked up, he saw that the indent was no longer in the roof of the car. That meant, it was no longer up there.

"I can\x92t just sit here." Rob said. "Like a sardine in a can, just waiting for\x85 that thing to pull me out at its leisure." He slowly moved back to the passenger side door and unlocked it. He was aware of every one of his movements, so as not to startle the creature.

The door gently swung open. His right foot pushed deep into the snow on the ground. His cane embedded itself a few inches, then his left foot. He stood up and looked around the area.

It was dark. He could barely see the woods on the side of the road. To his left, he could see the headlights piercing the darkness but not the near solid wall of snow. To his right, nothing but blackness. He turned around and peered up on top of the Explorer. There was nothing there, and Rob let out a brief sigh of relief.

The snow hit his face and hands, and the wind seemed to pierce through his warm jacket. He shuddered involuntarily and closed the car door gently. He limped forward a bit until he was at the front of the vehicle. There, he leaned up against the car and held his cane in his hands like a club. "God damn bastard won\x92t even show himself now." He muttered to himself.

Where the hell did it go? He couldn\x92t stay out here and wait for it to come back. Not only was it growing colder by the minute, but Rob assumed that whatever animal that thing was, he\x92d have a difficult time killing it with his cane. It was times like this he wished he still had his service pistol.

He stroked his chin absently and thought. It wouldn\x92t do any good to get back in the car, either. It would be just as cold now with the broken windshield. The only option he could see\x85 was to walk to Rosemorde. However, his incapacitated leg, the weather, and that creature would make the trip frighteningly dangerous, if not suicidal.

A sound. Behind him.

He spun around quickly, the cane held ready in his hands.

On the other side of the car\x85 just six feet away from him, sat a large mass of blackness. It was hard to spot at first, but Rob was accustomed to noticing minute details. He saw it more like a shape on the blackness. It was about five feet high, very wide, and powerful looking. To his extreme horror, he watched as what seemed to be its head raise, and two small red dots of light appeared in the darkness. The creature\x92s eyes?

He took a step back, favoring his right leg.

"What the fuck are you?" Rob stammered, partly because of the cold and partly because of the terror creeping up on him.

The creature did not make a sound, but it began to move closer towards the car. Rob watches in horror as it moved around on four legs, like an animal. However, it was far too large to be a wolf, and its red eyes didn\x92t fit his image of a bear.

He raised his can above his right shoulder, like a baseball bat. He was prepared to strike the thing if it came around the front.

Suddenly the thing crouched low to the ground. Rob had only a moment to let his muscles tense and his grip on the cane tighten, before the creature landed on the hood of the Explorer in front of him. If made an extremely loud crash as it came down, shattering even more glass in the car and damaging the engine underneath. It dented the hood down as it regained its balance. Panic stricken, Rob stumbled backwards and fell on his back in the snow before he could even swing his crude weapon.

As he struggled to regain his breath, he looked up and was finally aware of the creature\x92s jaws. Though they were very faintly visible in the reflected light, he could see clearly how sharp they were. Saliva dripped over the teeth and fell from its chin. It raised its head at last and gave a loud, high-pitched, and piercing scream. It wasn\x92t even an animalistic sound.

The gaze of the creature lowered back to Rob. He used his good left leg to push himself farther away from the vehicle, but the creature only seemed to watch him. Finally, it snarled at him and tensed its body up, ready to pounce.



The creature lost its footing and fell into the broken windshield, sending pieces of glass flying. At last, it shook its head, stood up and leapt.

Rob curled into a ball and waited for the worst to be over. He waited a few seconds, then heard the beast crash into the woods directly behind him.

He opened his eyes. Standing near the front of his Explorer was a young feline girl. She was wearing a dark blue police jacket, which blew around in the increasing wind. She also wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Her brown hair was tied in a ponytail and it was dotted with white flecks of snow. In her hands she held a handgun, the barrel still smoking. She was aiming in the woods, in the direction the creature had gone.

Ami pointed her gun in the air and looked off in the woods. Then, her gaze dropped down to the man lying on the ground by the roadside. She quickly walked over to him and kneeled in the snow beside him.

"Are you hurt?" Ami asked.

"No, the thing didn\x92t touch me." Said the man. "What the fuck was that?"

"I have no clue." Ami said. "I was hoping you might have a better idea."

"I\x92ve never seen something like that before in my life!" exclaimed the man.

"Calm down, sir." Ami said. "And tell me your name."

"Rob\x85 Rob Benton." Said the man.

"I\x92m Detective Ami Barlette." Ami said, helping him to his feet. Then she pointed over her shoulder, to the police cruiser just ten feet away. "That\x92s Officer Joe Smith. Hey, Joe! Radio into HQ and tell them what happened."

The fat man in the car nodded his consent and picked up the radio.

"Having car troubles?" Ami asked when she turned back to Rob.

"Just a few." Rob said with a bit of malice in his voice. "The damn thing just stopped here in the middle of the road. Then my wife went into Rosemorde to hire a tow truck."

Ami scratched her chin.

"Did you happen to pick her up on your way out here?" Rob asked.

"We didn\x92t pick anyone up." Ami replied. "Hell, we didn\x92t even see a single person on this road."

"No footprints?"

"If there were any, the snow has covered them up by now."

Rob bit his lip. "Elaine\x85 must have made it into town."

Ami shrugged. "And that\x92s where we\x92d better get you, too. Come on, let\x92s get in the car."

Joe\x92s head popped out of the passenger side window. "Detective Barlette. I can\x92t get in touch with HQ. The snow storm must be blocking the signal."

Ami brushed some strands of windblown hair from her face. "Damn it!" she said. "Well, let\x92s just get back, then. Come on."

Rob bent down and picked up his cane. Ami looked at his right leg as he limped forward. "I thought you said you weren\x92t hurt." Ami said.

Rob shook his head. "I had this before tonight." Was his reply.

Ami helped the man get into the back of the police cruiser. Then she moved around to the driver\x92s side and got in. As she started up the car, Joe leaned closer to her and whispered, "Detective Barlette, what was that?"

Ami knitted her brows. "How should I know?"

Joe shrugged, and Ami turned her attention back to the road. She turned the car around and headed back towards Rosemorde.

About ten minutes later Rob forwards in his seat. He began to shift uncomfortably.

"What\x92s the matter?" Joe asked from his place in the passenger seat.

Rob shook his head.

Ami adjusted the rearview mirror to look at him. "No, tell us. What\x92s up. You look nervous."

"I\x92m just\x85" Rob sighed. "I wonder if my wife is safe, is all. I mean, with that thing out there in the woods. She went off on foot\x85"

"Rosemorde isn\x92t that long of a walk." Ami said. "I\x92m sure she made it into town all right."

Rob was silent.

Ami bit her lip and looked forward again. There was no use talking to him, she thought. He was too bitter over something, and he wouldn\x92t be of much help now. She paused, realizing that her own thoughts also applied to herself.

Joe looked up from a bag of chips. "What\x92s that?" he asked.

"What\x92s what?" Ami demanded.

"That." Joe said, pointing out the front window.

Ami looked ahead and noticed something luminescent in the middle of the road. It was an object sitting in the center of an area clear of snow, so the wet dirt underneath showed. She guessed that the diameter of the snowless area was about three feet. She brought the car to a stop about ten feet from it and opened her door. "I\x92m going to check it out. Stay here."

She walked the short distance and then stood in the middle of the cleared circle. There was a sudden rush of wind and she had to push her snow matted hair from her eyes to see what the object was.

It was a candle. The candle that was exposed which didn\x92t make sense because it was in the middle of a snowstorm. She kneeled down beside it and looked. The flame was burning brightly, never flickering. The snowflakes seemed to move around the small fire.

She was examining the odd candle when she noticed a few other items beside the candle. Curious, she picked them up. There was a small wallet sized photograph. In the dim light of the candle and the powerful glare of the cruiser\x92s headlights, she saw that the man in the photo was Rob, probably before he\x92d suffered his accident, and an attractive young woman with pale skin and red hair. Ami assumed that this was his wife, Elaine. There was a small smudge over the photograph. It was a dark red and seemed to have been made from a thumb being dragged over the surface. She placed the photo in her pocket and picked up the second object. It was a lock of red hair. The strands were only about four inches long, and tied together with a black string. She also pocketed the hair. She reached for the third and final item, but then drew her hand back in surprise and disgust.

It was a finger. A human female\x92s ring finger severed at the base. There was a ring on it, and the entire area around the finger and ring was covered in blood. Ami then realized what the smudges on the photograph must\x92ve been. Blood. Could it be Elaine\x92s blood and finger? She hesitantly picked the finger up and slid the ring from it. She pulled a small evidence bag from her coat pocket and filled it with a handful of nearby snow. Then she placed the finger in the bag, and the bag into one of the large side pockets on her jeans. She then placed the ring in the same pocket as the hair and photo. When she was satisfied that there were no more items to be collected, she attempted to snuff the candle out. Her fingers pinched at the flame, but it didn\x92t go out. She tried several times, then took another handful of snow and dumped it onto the candle. After a moment or two, the flame sprung back to life through the white powder.

She stood up, a bit discouraged, and turned back towards the car. All of a sudden, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. When she looked closer, Ami saw that there was a dark side road carved into the woods.

Ami scratched her chin as the snow hit her face. She\x92d never known about that road, and normally she was very good with directions and the like. However, the items that she\x92d found were directly in front of this road. What did it mean? Could it be that Elaine was down this road?

She shook her head. "Why is this my concern?" she muttered to herself. "My job is to find the little boy, not this man\x92s wife. But I can\x92t turn my back on him, especially after having found the finger. If it is hers, she\x92s in great danger. And what if, by some slim chance, these two cases are related\x85 no, what if all three are related?"

Joe honked the horn of the cruiser rudely.

Her thoughts broken, Ami hurried back to the car. "What do you want?" she asked as she threw the driver\x92s side door open. "I just saw you standing out there. I thought you were going to freeze to death or something."

"Thank you, but you\x92ll find that thinking is what detectives are paid to do." Ami said sharply, buckling up. Then, she turned in her seat and faced Rob. "Sir, I need you to identify a few things."

"Sure." Rob said, looking up.

Ami pulled the photo out of her pocket and handed it to Rob. "Was this your photograph?"

Rob started. "Where the hell\x85"

"And is this your wife\x92s hair?" She held up the lock of hair.

Rob snatched the hair. "Yes. But how\x85"

Ami held up the ring. "Is this hers?"

Rob paused.

"What?" Ami prompted.

"That\x92s her wedding ring." Rob said at last.

Ami nodded and took the items back from him. She set them in a box beneath her seat and put the car into drive.

"Were they out there?" Rob asked.

"Yes, by a candle." Ami answered.

"What were they there for?"

"I don\x92t know that, but I think I have a pretty good lead."

Ami turned the car down the dark side road she\x92d spotted earlier. When Joe asked where it led, Ami smiled. "I think, it leads to Elaine."

Chapter III

Scura la casa


The road that they proceeded down was a dark one. The gravel and dirt itself would only accommodate one vehicle, and the trees on either side pressed in upon them ominously. The headlights didn\x92t shine ahead very much.

"It\x92s getting near sundown, I guess, huh?" Joe commented, looking at his watch. "I guess we can\x92t see the sun because of the storm and everything anyway. It\x92s just all so bad."

Ami just shrugged and concentrated on her driving.

Rob sat silently in the back.

After about thirty minutes down the road, Ami sighed and broke the silence. "Joe, do you have a weapon?"

Joe nodded his head. "They gave me a .9mm handgun. Never used it, though."

Ami frowned. "Now the best thing I could hear right now, but I guess it\x92s a start. If you see that thing coming towards the car or anything, you shoot at it, got it?"

"I got." Said Joe.

Rob leaned forward in the back seat. "What about me?"

"You want a gun too?" Ami asked in a bit of disbelief. "Really, we can\x92t give them to civilians."

"I used to be in the army." Rob said. "Granted, I was a mechanic, but I still knew how to handle and shoot a gun."

Ami went silent for a moment, deep in thought. At last, she pointed to the glove box of the car. "Joe, there\x92s an extra .9mm in there. Could you please take it out and give it to Rob?"

Joe opened the small glove box and pulled the handgun out. He handed it to Rob, who checked the gun over once. "Not really the kind I\x92m used to dealing with, but it shouldn\x92t be too hard to use."

"No, not at all." Ami replied. "Just point and pull the trigger."

"How long does this road go on for?" Joe whined.

"Do you really think Elaine could have made it this far on foot? I mean, we\x92ve been driving for a long time." Rob noted.

"All the evidence by that candle seemed to point in this direction, but there\x92s always the possibility that I am wrong." Ami said. "Still, I have a good hunch that Elaine didn\x92t walk all this way."

Rob looked blankly at her, and Ami watched his expression in her rearview mirror. "What do you mean by that?" asked Rob.

"You saw the signs, I showed them to you." Ami said. "All of the evidence we have so far\x85 the ring, the hair, the photo, the creature, this trail\x85 all of them suggest that perhaps Elaine was taken somewhere against her will. I\x92ll be frank with you, too. Some of the evidence we\x92ve collected also would indicate that she is at the very least, injured enough to bleed. She may or may not be dead\x85 who knows. That creature looked pretty serious and it seemed perfectly capable of killing a human being."

"I could never live with myself if that beast killed Elaine." Rob sighed.

"If she\x92s alive," Ami said. "And she very well might be, we will find her, and bring her back."

At that moment, something struck the top of the car with incredible strength.

Rob jumped back. "Holy shit! Not again!"
"What?" Ami shouted, swerving a bit, then bringing the car back on track.

"It\x92s that animal!" Rob yelled, pointing his gun at the ceiling of the car.

Joe immediately pulled his own weapon, and began to shoot through the ceiling. There was a loud thud, and then the creature\x92s fist smashed into the driver\x92s side window.

Ami yelped and shifted to her right as the window exploded inward, sending shards of glass everywhere. She felt the sting of one that cut her cheek and she winced in pain. However, she didn\x92t take her hands from the wheel.

Joe pointed the gun in her direction, but Ami shouted. "No! You\x92re going to shoot me!" With that, she pushed the gun away.

Rob shifted over to the left side of the car and peered out the window into the darkness. Looking back, he knew that it was stupid to do that, but he wanted to get a clear shot at the beast. All he saw when he looked out the window, however, was more blackness. From where Ami\x92s window had imploded, he judged the approximate position of the creature and shot straight through the window. A bit of glass exploded outward, but most of it just cracked in a spider web like pattern emanating from the black bullet hole that appeared, it\x92s edges a dull white.

From outside, he could hear an immense and inhuman wailing that pierced his ears. He thought he could hear the rumbling as the creature moved from the left side of the car towards the middle, a large bulge appearing in the roof again. Then, with a great crash, the black scaled claw hammered through the roof, sending bits of metallic debris into Rob\x92s lap.

He shouted out and pointed his gun at the roof, firing round after round until the clip was empty, and even then he continued to pull the trigger fruitlessly. The sound of his gunshots was accompanied by Joe\x92s firearm. A few shots after Rob had run empty, the creature\x92s claw pulled back through the roof, and little droplets of blood fell down upon his upturned face.

"I\x92m going to try to shake this son of a bitch off!" Ami shouted from the driver\x92s seat. "So hold on tight!"

"What?" Joe exclaimed, but his protest was too late. Ami swerved the police car sharply to the right for a split second, and then quickly jerked it back to the right.

In his back seat, unbuckled, Rob shifted wildly to the right and then to the left. He finally, laid flat on the seat, stretched out with his hands and good leg bracing his body into a set position.

Sweat appeared on Ami\x92s brow as she concentrated. The steering wheel slid easily through her hands as she worked the car over the road.

But then there was a sharp crash.

Rob fell right out of his seat and down onto the floor, with a grunt.

Joe lurched forward, his seat belt cutting into his large stomach and he had the breath knocked out of him.

Ami had somehow brought both feet up and had them pushed tightly against the dashboard on either side of the steering well, creating her own brace for the impact. There was a loud, secondary crash outside of the car, and then a good amount of rustling.

"Jesus, Ami! What the hell is going on?" Rob stammered.

Ami was silent a moment, then she put her right leg down and pulled her gun from her holster. "Stay in the car. I\x92m going to check something out."

Joe whimpered. "Out there? With that thing?"

"Shut up!" Ami snapped at the fat officer and she swung her left leg down and opened the car door. She rolled out in one swift movement.

Outside, she was breathing hard. The only light she could see was that of one of the headlights on the car, and it was shining still farther ahead, however it did illuminate the large tree that she\x92d crashed the car into. The impact had almost completely demolished the driver\x92s side of the front, and it was a miracle that all of that wreckage had buckled upwards instead of crushing her inside the car like a piece of clay in your swiftly tightening fist. The snow, as she noticed, was still coming down, though the canopy of the trees that stood above the road blocked most of it. Then she remembered the beast. She stood on her toes and peered over the top of the car, the gun held tightly in her hands. Nothing was on top of the car, nor was there anything on the side of it. She glanced to her left and saw that the tree had been splintered and broken in two places. One was where the front end of the car had struck the tree\x85 the second was higher up.

"The beast was on top of the car." Ami muttered to herself, glancing up into the farthest heights of the tree. "But when I hit the tree, it flew off and hit the damn thing too. But where is it now?"

There was a crashing in the woods behind her, and she spun around to face it bringing her gun to aim.

Nothing came out, but the sound continued. In fact, it was getting fainter. The beast was moving away from her. She\x92d been able to injure the damn thing.

"Detective Barlette?" Joe called out in his whiny voice, as he came out of the car. "Do you need like backup or anything?"

Ami turned and snapped at him, but brought her gaze back to the woods lest the creature double back and try to surprise her. "I thought I told you to stay in the car, Joe. You\x92re still a rookie, you know. If you get killed, it\x92s my ass down at the station that\x92ll get chewed out!"

"Killed?" Joe winced. "Who said anything about\x85 can we just turn back now and go home?"

Ami\x92s jaw dropped at the stupidity of the officer behind her. "Joe, LOOK AT THE CAR!"

Joe looked.

Ami continued, in as harsh a tone as she could muster. "That thing is wrecked, totaled! We\x92ll never get it running again, you idiot!"

Rob\x92s door opened and the man limped out. "What the\x85" He looked at the tree. "What a mess."

"Is this the day that everyone disobeys my orders?" Ami cried. She turned back towards the car, content that any immediate threat was gone.

"Sorry, I just wanted to see what happened." Rob said, rubbing the back of his head with one hand, and leaning on the side of the car for support. "Did we kill it with that crash?"

"No." Ami sighed. "But I think we wounded it."

"Good." Rob said. "But it\x92s still out there."

"Which is why we\x92d better get out of here." Joe piped up.

"How?" Ami asked. "The car is done for. And it\x92ll be one hell of a walk back down this road, then into Rosemorde. I don\x92t think we\x92ll make it back before sunrise, and that beast is still loose. We won\x92t stand any better chance walking around in a pack, in the dark, with one cripple, in the snow."

Rob lowered his head.

"We could head up the road." Joe offered.

"We don\x92t know how long it goes, and what\x92s even at the end of the road." Ami protested. "And what happens if we get down there and it\x92s a dead end? We\x92ll be double screwed because we have to get all the way back."

"No one would put such a long road out in the middle of nowhere if it didn\x92t lead to something." Rob said. "And look how long we\x92ve been on this road, too. There can\x92t be that much more."

"I have a map." Ami said reluctantly as she crawled back into the car and reached over to the glove box. She pulled out a laminated map, folded up perfectly and an inch thick. She walked around the car and laid spread it out on the trunk. Joe produced a flashlight from his belt and shone it down on the map so the three of them could see. Tiny flakes of unfiltered snow began to fall on the glossy surface.

"This is where I think we are." Ami said, as she pointed to a large area of forest region that lay between the main highway and Rosemorde. "And judging by how long we\x92ve been on this God damned road, I\x92d say we\x92re about here." Her finger rested somewhere in the forested area, only more east.

"What\x92s that?" Rob asked, pointing to a line on the map.

Ami studied the lines. "That\x92s a relief line. It means there\x92s a cliff near there."

"A cliff?" Joe asked, perplexed.

Ami shrugged. "But what could be up on a cliff?"

"A sawmill?" Rob mused. "This area is very heavily wooded."

"True." Ami admitted. "Though I don\x92t know of any operations around here. If we\x92re lucky, they\x92ll have a phone or something. And if not, at least we can be safe inside. That is, presuming there even is a building up there."

"Why can\x92t we use the radio in the car?" Rob asked.

"It\x92s busted, man." Ami said, a frown crossing her face. "Normally, there would be all kinds of chatter on it. But when I went to get the map, I noticed that no lights were on. And I don\x92t think my walkie-talkie will work during this storm, no matter how powerful it is."

"So, should we get started?" Rob prompted.

Joe whined a little bit more, about being scared, but no one listened to him at all.

"Before we set off," Ami said, "I think we\x92d better prepare ourselves more."

"What do you mean?" Rob asked, curious.

Ami fished a small set of keys out of her pocket and selected one. She inserted it into the keyhole of the trunk, and it popped open. From inside, she withdrew two shotguns. One she handed to Joe, the other she kept for herself. She pulled out another handgun and gave it over to Rob. She also found two boxes of shotgun shells. One went to Joe, the other to her. The last item she took was a large package of regular handgun rounds, which Rob placed in his side pocket.

"Are we all set?" she finally asked, checking her shotgun.

Joe mumbled, and Rob gave an affirmative nod.

With that, they began their walk.

It was 9:12 p.m.

They\x92d been walking about twenty minutes, with Ami in the lead, her shotgun loaded and ready. Joe had to help Rob stumble along, since he\x92d lost his cane. Rob held Joe\x92s high powered flashlight in his hand, and it provided enough forward light that Ami felt she didn\x92t need to use her own flashlight.

Just as she began to feel that moving forward down the road was dangerous and pointless waist of time, the road took a sharp left-hand turn, and then thinned out almost instantly.

Before them stood a large, five story house, or rather, a mansion. It looked black against the black night sky, save for a few dim yellow lights on in a few rooms. No details of the house\x92s exterior were noticeable due to their angle, and the darkness.

Joe whistled in admiration.

"Holy shit, would you look at that?" Rob said softly, with a bit of amusement in his tone. "I told you we\x92d find something down this road."
"Do you think someone lives there?" Joe asked.

Ami glanced at Joe. "Of course!" You idiot. "Just look at the lights in the windows." They don\x92t normally leave lights on in abandoned houses.

A flash of lightening followed by a loud crack of thunder brought them all back to their senses.

"No use standing out here in the snow like a bunch of shits." Rob said. "Let\x92s go up and knock on the door. I\x92m sure you can make them let us in with you badge\x85 if they refuse." He looked towards Ami.

Ami shrugged, trying to stay indifferent. She didn\x92t want to use her authority to push people around like that.

Without further hesitation, the three made their way up a fancy flagstone pathway that led to the front door. On their way, Ami admired the wide, open lawn, frosted with snow. Even though it was dark, it looked to be well kept.

When they got to the front door, Ami reached out and clasped the heavy iron knocker. She knocked three times on the oak door and took a step back.

They waited a few minutes.

"Maybe no one lives here after all." Joe said.

Ami shot him a look and tried again.

This time, an old man opened the door. The man was hunched over and very sickly looking. He wore the standard black outfit of a servant, and it was perfectly pressed and crisp. He had no hair on his head, which was dotted with brown spots. His face was a mass of wrinkles, and glowering little black eyes, a curved nose and a sagged mouth. "Yes?" he asked with a slight accent, and a tone of uninterested malice that made Ami\x92s skin crawl.

"Hello, sir. I was wondering if we could come in from the rain and use your telephone." Ami said, trying to emanate as cheerful a voice as she could.

"The Master does not take visitors. " said the old man. "Go away."

Ami thrust her foot in the door before the old man could close it completely. He looked down at her with contempt and shock in his worn face.

"Let me introduce myself then." Ami said. "I am Detective Ami Barlette with the Rosemorde Police Department. Our car\x85 was\x85 incapacitated down the road, and we really need to get in touch with someone in town."

The old man paused for a second. "Let me check with the Master first."

Ami nodded, and pulled her foot from the door. If the old man double-crossed them, she could always shoot the lock off and write the incident off as a matter of necessity.

The old man was gone for several minutes, and just as Ami was working herself up to shoot the lock, the door opened again, this time fully, and the old man ushered them in hastily and with a bit of malice. "Enter now, and the master will see you shortly."

Ami thanked him and her whole party came in out of the snow. The old man led them down the dimly lit main hallway, which Ami noted was painted white with red trim. A few various paintings hung on the walls, and the floor was hardwood with a carpet made of red and gold material.

The old man bid them to enter a room that was the first one on the right side of the hall. They did, and found themselves in what appeared to be a small, but cozy parlor. There was a couch and two chairs that were made of black velvet. A fireplace to their left was crackling and casting its warm orange glow over the entire room. Against the far wall was a large picture window with the red curtains drawn tight. There was a dark mahogany table between the couch and the two chairs.

Once again, Ami thanked the servant and took a seat on the couch. Rob silently sad down beside her and Joe took a seat in one of the armchairs.

"I\x92ll go get the Master now." The old man said, and he shuffled out of the room.

"What a nice place." Ami commented.

"It does look nice." Joe said, suddenly aware that he was clutching his shotgun tightly.

Ami took notice of their weapons and blushed, not even realizing they\x92d been carrying them this long. "Maybe we should set these down." She said as she laid the firearm on the table in front of her, making sure to switch the safety setting into position. Rob and Joe did likewise, though a bit reluctantly.

Moments later, a male wolf morph appeared in the doorway of the parlor.

The man, as Ami noted, was very tall and very thing. He had long black hair that was pulled pack into a ponytail that went down to his waist and a few strands fell over his eyes, which were a pale blue. His lips were thin and red, and he had high cheekbones and a straight nose to boot. He was dressed in a black robe with a red sash, made entirely of silk. Just a bit of his chest was expose, though it was apparent he was also wearing black silk pants. One hand was tucked into the pocket of his robe, the other was against the door frame as he leaned in the opposite direction. When he spoke, his voice had a harsh firmness, but a gentle softness at the same time, hidden and mixing in his heavy tone.

"Welcome to my home." He said.

Ami stood up. "Hello, and thank you for allowing us in on such short notice."

"How can I refuse an officer of the law, and such an attractive young lady?" the man said, casually as he walked into the room and took a seat in the vacant armchair, that which was closest to the fireplace.

Ami sat back down and looked at him. "My name is-"

"Detective Ami Barlette." The man smiled. "Though I don\x92t believe I\x92m acquainted with your friends."

"This is Robert Benton." Ami introduced. "And Officer Joe Smith."

The man smiled warmly at each in turn. "It\x92s a pleasure to meet you all. And now, let me introduce myself. My name is Andrew Kemfold."

"Nice to meet you." Ami said.

Andrew leaned back in his chair. "Now, I hope you all don\x92t mind, but I\x92m going to be eating a late dinner, and you are welcome to join me."

Both Ami and Rob had not eaten anything in a long time, and they were feeling very hungry, so they accepted his kind offer. Joe was always hungry, and he readily took the generous offer too.

"It won\x92t be prepared for a few more minutes now." Andrew explained. "And it\x92s always been my policy to discuss business before pleasure, so let me get down to business with you if I may be so hasty. I want to help you out in your requirements foremost, and then the pleasantries can be addressed later. As I understand, you are having problems with your car."

"Yes, about five miles down the road." Ami said. "The thing suddenly shut down. It might have been the snow or something, but needless to say, we\x92re in a rough spot right now. We were hoping we could use your phone."

Andrew\x92s face turned grim. "As much as I\x92d like to help you, I cannot in that area. You see, there have never been telephone lines connected to this house. All business dealing I operate are run through correspondence."

"Business dealings?" Rob asked.

"Business first." Andrew said with a slight gleam in his eye. He shifted back to the original topic. "I cannot help you with a telephone, but I can offer you lodgings within my home. Hopefully, this awful storm will have passed by morning and my servant, William, can drive you back into Rosemorde."

"We would appreciate that." Ami said cheerfully. She looked over at Joe, who seemed nervous. Rob seemed indifferent from the stone set expression on his silent face.

"Also, I see you\x92ve brought weapons with you. Not at all uncommon for an officer of the law such as yourself, but I do not particularly like firearms." Andrew admitted. "I always thought they were a coward\x92s weapon of choice, but I do not judge you by your choices. However, I\x92ll ask that you keep them in your rooms if you ever venture into the rest of the house. There will really be no need for them."

"We can comply." Ami said. Joe looked even more nervous.

"Thank you." Andrew said, closing his eyes in thought, as if he were selecting his next topic. "Third, you three need to change. Once you go to your rooms, there will be showers available and a fresh change of clothes. And, there are other needs that should be met." He snapped his fingers.

"Like what?" Joe asked, a faint crack in his voice.

William, the old man, came into the room carrying a black wooden cane with an ivory head. This, he gave to Andrew, who in turn, handed it to Rob. Rob was speechless at having received such a fancy cane.

"I can\x92t really\x85" Rob started.

"Nonsense." Andrew said with a cheerful smile. "It was my father\x92s, but as you can see, I really have no need for it. It shall only lay around somewhere and collect dust. It\x92s better off in your possession."

"You\x92re certainly being very generous." Rob said.

"Don\x92t mention it. I get few visitors way up here, and I do like to treat them when I do get them." Andrew replied, shrugging the compliment off.

Ami was about to speak, but Andrew raised a hand to stop her.

"Dinner is almost ready." Said the tall man. "We shall dine, and then discuss more pleasant matters."

Dinner was perfect and served at 10:00 p.m. exactly.

The opening was a mild tasting soup, that tasted like it was spiced and had a pinch of honey.

The second meal was a tossed salad, with tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, carrot pieces, and onions to garnish it. Seven different kinds of dressings were served with the meal.

The third meal was a potato dish, with cheese and real butter. This was soon followed by the main course. A hot meat dish. William brought each of the dishes to the table, but Mr. Kemfold served each of his guests himself.

Ami chewed thoughtfully on the meat and looked around the dining room. It was wide, and tall, with long glass windows on two sides, though they were curtained. The third wall had a door that led to the kitchen.

"This is good." Ami said after she\x92d swallowed and wiped her mouth with her napkin. The dinner table was fine oak, and the silverware and plates were made of the finest materials she\x92d ever seen.

"The meat? It\x92s an old recipe in my family. Its called \x91Sacrificio del Corpo\x92" said Andrew with pride in his voice.

"What does that name mean?" Robert asked, obviously enjoying the meal too.

"It\x92s Italian for \x91Sacrifice of the Body\x92" Andrew replied casually.

Ami\x92s kitty nose wrinkled a little bit. "That\x92s a pretty disturbing name." She said as she laid her fork down, half a serving of the meat left on her plate.

"Oh, don\x92t judge it by its name, dear lady." Andrew said, chuckling slightly. "My Great Great Grandfather worked at an Italian missionary to Africa when he was young. One day, the missionary ran out of the holy wafer, which is usually used during the communion services to represent the body of Jesus Christ. Well, seeing no other alternative, he and some other members of the missionary slaughtered one of the village\x92s cows and prepared it with many exotic African spices, and they divided the meat into many small portions to be served at the communion in place of the holy wafer. However, he kept the recipe and passed it down through my family. Thankfully, this is not a holy place," he smiled broadly. "And we can enjoy larger servings of such a savory dish." With this, he glanced at Joe on his left, who was packing the food in and showed no interest in the conversation at hand.

When the meal was finished, which was after a desert so rich that Ami had to pass it up, Andrew stood up, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and set it down on the plate.

"I do hope you enjoyed this dinner, my guests." He said.

"Oh, we did." Ami replied, smiling.

"It was good." Rob agreed.

Joe, who had eaten three times as much as any of them, shook his head vigorously.

"Now, if you\x92d all be so kind as to accompany me back to the parlor, we will be able to discuss other matters before retiring." Said the tall wolf.

The guests agreed and followed Andrew into the parlor. From her, Ami got a good view of his back. There was a gray tail faintly visible below his robe\x92s edge, typical of all wolves. Looking up some more, she suddenly realized for the first time how strikingly handsome Andrew Kemfold was. She checked herself and shook her head. No, she couldn\x92t get involved in a relationship, especially with a man like Andrew, who she didn\x92t even know.

They sat in their accustomed seats when they reached the parlor.

Andrew reached into his robe, and Ami watched as a bit of his white chest fur was exposed. She caught her breath a little. He pulled out a flat gold case, and flipped it open. From this he drew a cigar and placed it between his lips. He looked up and offered cigars to the others.

"No thank you." Ami said. "I don\x92t smoke."

"Pity." Andrew replied. "These are some of the finest cigars to ever have come out of Cuba."

"I\x92ll have one." Rob said, grinning. "Always wanted to try a real Cuban."

Andrew handed one over to Rob, then turned to Joe.

"Sorry, no thanks." Joe replied, holding up his hand and tugging on his collar a little bit.

Andrew shrugged, closed the case, and replaced it inside his robe. He then drew a gold lighter from his robe pocket, lit Rob\x92s cigar, then his own. He puffed thoughtfully at it for a few moments, then looked up at the ceiling.

"There are few things I find more relaxing than sitting in my parlor on a chilly winter day, smoking." He said. "I find that simply pondering the mysteries of the universe, or the mysteries of the inner soul, are a fine way to pass the time. Don\x92t you agree, Detective?"

"You can call me Ami." She said, smiling. "And I\x92m sorry to say that I\x92ve never really had time to ponder any mysteries beyond the criminal type. Those kinds of things put a lot on the mind already."

"Of course." Andrew said, showing a bit of sympathy in his expression. "Your line of work must be mentally taxing as well as physically."

Ami nodded. "So what is it that you do for a living, Mr. Kemfold?"

"Please, you can simply call me Andrew." Said the wolf. "And I am the owner of a very large shipping company in Detroit."

Ami raised her eyebrows, and looked towards Rob and Joe for support in the conversation. They were both silent. "It looks very profitable."

"Oh, it is." Andrew said. "My Great Great Grandfather started it upon his return from Africa, though he had to work from Italy in that time. So he had a partner who stayed in Detroit to run things. However, when that partner died a year later, my ancestor moved here to America to run the business. The business was then passed down to my Great Grandfather to my Father, and finally to me. It brings in a great deal of profit, and all I have to do is sign a few papers that come in the mail every month."

"Sounds cushy." Rob admitted.

"Oh, you don\x92t know the beginning, but I won\x92t bore you with all the trivial details." Andrew replied in good humor.

"Do you live here by yourself?" Ami asked. "Any sort of family?"

"I was an only child." Andrew said. "And my mother passed away while giving birth to me. I was in a boarding school in London until I was eighteen. Once I turned that age, my father also died and I moved into this house to run the business. I never cared much for the cities, and prefer the scenery up here in Michigan."

It was when Andrew spoke of ages that Ami realized she couldn\x92t quite tell what age he really was. He seemed young in movement, but certain features about him made him look far older. She smiled politely. "And William?"

"William was hired by my father. He came with the house."

At this, the all laughed, except for Joe.

"In all seriousness, William is a fine chap." Andrew said, putting out the sliver that was left of his cigar. He pulled the gold case from his robe and lit up another one, offering a second to Rob who politely refused. "He\x92s been very loyal, and very useful. He takes the Mercedes Benz into town once every four months to stock up on groceries and other necessities, though I must say that the cellar of this house is more than amply stocked with food. You know, dry goods and that sort of thing."

"Don\x92t you ever get lonely here?" Ami asked.

"One would think." Andrew said, a bit solemnly. "But I\x92ve been a creature of solitude by nature, and one cannot deny their nature." He shifted in his chair. "But enough about me, Ami. Tell me what it is that would bring a detective out this far into the wilderness? Certainly nothing pressing I hope."

"It\x92s kind of pressing." Ami said. "But as long as the storm is still raging, we can\x92t do anything about it now." She sighed. "I suppose that I can tell you, because it\x92s bound to be all over the news in a few days anyway, and from what I can see, you\x92re not really up to date with the news that much." She placed a finger on her chin. "There was a kid named Jeremy Stockton who lived in Rosemorde. Not too long ago, he wound up missing. Someone had broke down the fence in his back yard and kidnapped him. Now, just a little while before a similar thing happened. There were some kids who lived out on the main highway, and they came playing in these woods, only more to the southwest. One of them ran home crying, saying something about a big dark \x91thing\x92 taking his brother. Well, we couldn\x92t find any trace of the brother. Me and Joe were on our way out to that crime scene to see if we couldn\x92t find anything that might have been missed the first time\x85 something that might give us more insight into the case\x85"

"I think William told me some news on that last incident. A bit of gossip he\x92d picked up in town."

Ami nodded. "It was really big news in town. I guess all the wives in Rosemorde were talking about it for weeks." She cleared her throat and continued. "This next part may benefit you a little more."

Andrew raised his eyebrows, but only listened.

Ami started again. "On our way to the scene, we found Rob\x92s car broken down on the side of the road, and some sort of animal was attacking Rob." She looked over to see Rob wince slightly. "We scared it off, thankfully. But on our way back towards town, we came across something odd. It seemed to be a candle and some weird objects that belonged to Rob\x92s\x85 wife, whose also gone missing. The stuff was right in front of the road that led us here. In fact, we were going down this road when that animal attacked us again. In all honesty, our car didn\x92t break down. I crashed it into a tree."

Andrew raised his eyebrows again. "I do hope you weren\x92t hurt."

"No, we weren\x92t." Ami said. "But that thing is still out there."

"Do you know what kind of animal it is that attacked you?"

"Actually, no. It was really\x85 weird. But it was dangerous, so as a police officer, I\x92m going to advise you and William to stay inside until this is cleaned up. I think I\x92m going to get the DNR and maybe even the state cops on this one."

"A good idea." Andrew said, shaking his cigar absently in the air. "But, if Mrs. Benton and these children have been lost in the same area as the animal, what\x92s to say that it hasn\x92t gotten them already?"

"We can\x92t really say anything about that." Ami said sadly. "Because we really don\x92t know anything. We have few leads." She patted the pocket where the dead finger lay absently.

"Regardless, if I see either of these missing people, I\x92ll be sure to send William to town immediately."

"Yes, but tell him to be careful. This animal is capable of puncturing vehicles very easily." Ami warned.

"I shall." Assured the tall wolf. Then he turned towards Rob. "I do hope your wife turns up well. I\x92ve never had a wife myself, but I know that you must be dealing with a lot of pain right now."

Rob bowed his head. "Thank you."

Andrew turned towards Joe just then, who was on his right. "And you, my good fellow. You\x92ve not spoken much tonight, but I hope we can talk more tomorrow morning."

Joe only nodded.

"My guests, I am afraid it\x92s my time to retire." Andrew said. "I would like to wake up early tomorrow and see if the storm has passed. That way, William can take you into town with as little time wasted as possible."

Ami checked her watch. It was almost midnight. "Goodnight, Andrew." She said sweetly.

"Goodnight, Ami." He smiled back. "And goodnight Mr. Benton, Officer Smith."

They offered their thanks once more, and let Andrew leave. Before going through the door, the wolf turned back to them.

"When you\x92re done in the parlor, simply talk to William. He\x92s by the stairs and he\x92ll show you to your rooms." He said, then he left.

Ami sighed a little, her expression blank.

"He seems like a nice enough guy." Rob said. "Really easy to warm up to, I\x92ll give him that much. Bragged a little, but if I had his kind of money, I know I\x92d be bragging too."

"I don\x92t trust him." Joe said, coldly from where his ass was planted in the plush chair.

"Oh, but you trust his food and his chair and his hospitable rooms, huh?" Ami snapped defensively. "Joe, if you\x92re going to be a good cop, you need to learn to read character better."

Joe frowned. "I\x92m going to bed."

Rob stood up. "Me too."

Ami stretched in her seat\x85 a stretch only a feline like herself could do. "You both are right about that. I\x92m beat."

They each picked up their individual guns, and before they could leave the parlor, Ami stopped them.

"Guys, just to be safe, keep your gun close by your bed during the night. Make sure you can grab it in a split second if you need to, and try not to fall into too deep of a sleep."

"What are you so paranoid about?" Rob asked. "I thought you liked this guy."
"What do you mean by that?" Ami asked, becoming defensive again. God, what was happening to her? She lowered her head. "Sorry\x85 I do trust the guy. He seems fine. I\x92m just worried that this beast is still out there\x85 and who knows what it can do? For all we know, it\x92s perfectly capable of somehow entering this house, and if it catches us unarmed and asleep, we\x92re fucked."

"She\x92s right." Joe said. "Oh well. Goodnight."

Joe left the room, and Ami turned back to Rob. "Why did I get stuck with that fat-ass?"

Rob couldn\x92t help but chuckle. "He really doesn\x92t seem like cop material, does he?"

"He isn\x92t." Ami sighed. "And I got stuck dragging him along on this case. I don\x92t want him to get hurt. If he is, I\x92ll probably have to explain it to his family. They live just across the street from where I eat lunch, sometimes."

Rob nodded slowly. "Say\x85 Ami? Can I ask what you think about Elaine\x92s chances out there? I mean\x85 with this creature and all?"

"I thought we went over that already."

"Yeah, but that was in front of Joe. I want to know what you really think."

Ami sighed. This was getting hard. Now that her head was clear and level again, she began to sort things out in her mind. Perhaps it was time he knew about the finger.

"You have to promise not to freak out." She said.

"I won\x92t." Rob assured her.

She reached into the side pocket of her jeans. "Now, this will come as shocking, but I think this belongs to your wife." She held the evidence bag up.

"That water belongs to Elaine?" Rob asked.

"What?" Ami looked at the bag. The snow had melted and had formed into clear water.

But there was no finger.

"What the hell?" she stammered.

"What is it, Ami?"

She shook her head. "Nothing. It\x92s nothing, really." She had this bag on her at all times! How could the finger have gotten out? She dug in her pocket but did not find the finger.

"What was it?" Rob pleaded.

"It\x92s nothing!" Ami said, suddenly feeling a headache and the urge to lie down and get some sleep. "I need to go to bed now. I\x92ll see you in the morning."

With that, she left the room, and Rob, feeling empty.


Chapter IV

Nella notte Insegue

Ami allowed William (who perhaps she did not feel at ease with despite how much she liked Andrew) to lead her upstairs and to her room.

Her room was on the third floor. That was where the guest rooms were located, including those of Rob and Joe. Hers was down the right hall, on the very end, and to the left. Rob\x92s was right across from her room, and Joe would be sleeping in the room to her left.

The room she received was quite spacious. The carpet was soft red material that felt good on her feet when she took her boots off. The bed was against the left wall, and had a soft white canopy of see-through material around it. On the far wall was a window with the red curtains drawn shut again. She pulled them back a little to peer out, but all she saw was the black night and the rapid gush of snowflakes that blew past her window like thousands of shooting stars in the infinite blackness of space. Below the window was a table. Seeing no table readily near her bed, she pushed it over so it would be on her right. Upon this, she placed her shotgun and handgun, as well as all the extra ammo. To her left were two doors. One led into a bathroom that contained a toilet, sink, and shower. The shower she made use of, taking a long and hot one. When she got out, she plodded over to the other door, naked, and found a towel and a small wardrobe. She wrapped the towel around wet fur and dried off gingerly, while selecting a simple white button up shirt and pair of blue jeans for the next day. She laid her other clothes, including her police jacket over the foot of the bed. She could not forget them the tomorrow morning.

Before going to bed, she made a sweep of the room. She made sure the window and door was locked. This seemed silly to her at first. What if she needed to get out of her room in the middle of the night? She\x92d find the door locked and it would be hard to fumble with the latch in the darkness. Also, if anyone needed to take refuge in her room, it\x92d be equally as hard to unlock in that event. However, the thought of some creature slinking into her room while she rested peacefully, and all because she neglected to lock her door, frightened her more than she cared to admit. Besides, she was going to sleep naked, as she did every night, and she didn\x92t want any of the men in the house to come in and find her like that.

Also, she sat up with the white silk sheets pulled up to her waist, while she pulled the radio from the belt hung over the foot of the bed. She tried every frequency the thing could emit, and she finally found a line through the storm.

"This is Detective Ami Barlette." She called into the speaker.

"\x85zzzzzz\x85 Barlette what\x92s your stat\x85"

"I\x92m doing fine, but I\x92m in an old house. It\x92s down a road that\x92s between the highway and Rosemorde."

"\x85house on the highway and\x85zzzzzzzz\x85."

"No, down a road."

"\x85zzz\x85 own a road?"

"The road is between the highway and Rosemorde."

"\x85zzzzzzzz\x85. Between the\x85 zzzz\x85 way and Rosemo\x85zzzzzz"

"Yes. It\x92s owned by a guy named Kemfold."

"\x85zzzz\x85 Kemfol\x85.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz\x85"

"Yes, that\x92s his name. Can you check up on him?"


"And when you come out here. Bring back up. Bring everyone. This is a very dangerous situation."

"\x85zzzz\x85 copy that Detec\x85zzzzz\x85."

"And when you do come out, bring all the weapons you got."

"\x85zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz\x85" There was no longer any response.

Ami smacked the walkie-talkie radio with her palm a few times, but it refused to work anymore. She gave it one last smack and replaced it on her belt. She\x92d try again in the morning. She\x92d tell them down at the station to get the DNR on the animal case right away.

As she settled back into the bed, feeling the cool silk around her body, she began to go over the day\x92s events in her head. Man, a lot certainly had happened. Way too much for her taste, but a detective didn\x92t always get what they wanted. And herself, twenty-four years old and already a detective. She was good, and she was on the rise in the law enforcement field. If she continued at the rate she was going, soon she\x92d be able to move to a different city, like Detroit. She might even get to work in Chicago or New York. Fresh out of high school, she\x92d attended the Police Academy. After four years, she\x92d moved to Rosemorde, near her city of birth, and became a police officer. Two years later, she was detective. Where would she be in two more years?

But everything had its price. No one was clear of sin.

As sleep overtook her, and welcomed her into it\x92s misty realm, the memory of her sins came back to her in the form of dreams.

She was eight years old then. A young little cat girl wearing a white T-shirt and blue overalls with the knees wore out. She had big bright eyes and seemed to be the happiest child in the world.

And she had her little brother too. Richie was only six years old then, the summer day that it all happened.

Her family lived in Chesterville Michigan, which was only ten miles west of Rosemorde. Because of how wooded the area was, little Ami and Richie had no lack of forest to explore. In fact, their back yard was practically a forest, and the two children loved to spend long summer afternoons lounging about in the birch trees with a picnic basket their mom had packed for them.

On one of these days, Ami had found a great length of rope in her father\x92s garage, and she had slung the bundle over her shoulder and toted it out into the woods one day early in the morning. When she got to a small clear spot that she and her brother always played in, she found a suitable tree and proceeded to rig a trap that she\x92d read about in a book once. She threw one end of the rope over a strong branch and tied one end in a loose shaped noose, which she covered with leaves. In this, she set a great big juicy apple she\x92d stolen from the kitchen pantry. Then, she proceeded back to the house hoping the woodland animals would not steal her "brother bait".

Later in the day, she and Richie went out into the woods as they usually did in the summer. When they got to the clearing, Ami pointed out the apple and began to get excited. Naturally, being only six, Richie ran for the red fruit. At the same time, Ami ran for the other end of the rope. When Richie got inside the circle of the noose, she pulled on the rope with all her strength.

Her little brother flipped upside down and dropped the apple, which he\x92d only taken two bites out of. He was suspended one foot off the ground, and Ami tied her end of the rope around a low branch so that she would not have to continue holding it.

"Lemme go, Ami!" Richie wailed.

Ami just laughed. "Got\x92cha good, didn\x92t I, Richie Boy?"

"Ami, lemme go!"

Ami felt to malice towards her brother. It was just her natural job as an older sister, to tease and torment him. "Only if you say uncle."


"Fine then." She pretended to leave.

"Ami come back!"

She did. "Ready to say uncle now, you little pea-brain?"

Richie shook violently, upside down. "Ami, I\x92m gonna tell mom on you!"

"Not if you\x92re upside down like that." Ami grinned.

Richie thrashed. "Unca!"

Ami frowned, mockingly. "I can\x92t hear you."

Richie began to cry. "Unca!"

"Still can\x92t hear you, Richie Boy!" Ami cried in glee.

Richie spun around slightly in mid air, until he faced her directly. "UnccaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"

Ami frowned for real. He brother was thrashing wildly with a look of sheer terror in his eyes. He was looking at something directly behind her.

She turned slowly, and she saw it for a split second. It was large, and black, and beastly in its movement. It lumbered forward towards the two children. She caught one glimpse of a huge tooth filled mouth, and then she ran.

She ran.

And she ran.

She ran until she tripped over a small tree that fallen across her path. She slid several feet, scraping her elbows and coating her overalls in brown dust, but she rolled to her feet with the agility of a child and broke into her panicked run again.

And she could hear Richie screaming. The sound filled her ears more than the sound of the wind rushing past her head. She heard a deep and thunderous rumbling, but the sound of her little brother screaming was louder. He was crying out her name.

"Ami come back! Ami don\x92t leave me! Ami! Ami! Ami!"

And then it stopped. It stopped too suddenly. She was not far enough away to not be able to hear. She should have heard her brother screaming just then, but she couldn\x92t, and the silence was even more terrible than Richie\x92s screams of pain and terror.

She stumbled into her backyard, covered in dust and leaves and blood. Twigs entangled themselves in her brown hair and the velvet orange fur that wasn\x92t covered by her clothes, and tears were streaming down her face.

She told her parents. Her parents did not know what to make of her story about some sort of monster, but they immediately hiked out into the woods, with Ami to show them where Richie was last.

They came into the clearing. The rope hung over the tree, dangling idly, and it fluttered slightly in a cool summer breeze. The end was completely frayed, and stained red. Richie\x92s blood. The trunk of the tree and the grass, long tamped down by the children\x92s frolicking, was also splattered with the warm red mess. Her mother screamed. Her father looked ghastly pail. Ami cried, the tears cutting through the dust on her cheeks.

Richie was gone.

He didn\x92t even stand a chance.

He didn\x92t even stand a chance because of the rope.

He didn\x92t even stand a chance because of the rope she got him in.

The funeral services for Richie Barlette were short. Parents who had lost children didn\x92t need the sorrow to be drug out for that long.

Ami was the last one to look at the coffin, and offer her condolences, but she knew it was an empty coffin. Two weeks worth of searching the woods behind her house and they\x92d found nothing. Neighbors from Chesterville and Rosemorde came together to scour the woods, but nothing turned up. And now, there was this. There was nothing more than an empty coffin and a scared little girl named Ami Barlette.

As she turned away, she saw one of the police officers that\x92d helped in the search. The officer, who was a close friend of her parents, was a young feline woman with red hair. Ami talked to the woman briefly, and she patted the little girl on the shoulder. She said that it would be okay, and that she would catch the bad man who took her brother.

But there was no bad man. There was\x85 was\x85 that thing. And no one would be able to find it.

The officer took off her jacket. It was dark blue with police written across the back, and she put it over Ami\x92s small shoulders. Ami wiped her eyes with the sleeve and sniffed.

She never did ask for her jacket back, so Ami had kept it. God knows where it went. Ami had received her own brand new one when she entered the force, but that jacket was one of the first things that helped her to cope. When she wore it, she somehow felt safe.

And now, deep in her subconscious she knew that whatever killed her little brother was also involved in what was going on now, sixteen years later.

She was the cop now.

She was going to kill the beast.

She was going to get her revenge.

Why her? Why did it have to be her?


I\x92m sorry, Richie. So sorry.

Andrew was there.

He was wearing his black robe with red trim, and he was sitting in his chair in the parlor. Ami was sitting on the couch directly in front of him, wearing a red dress, which to her seemed very sexy. The leg was slit up the side, and the neckline was quite low, showing off her prominent cleavage nicely.

"Ami?" Andrew prompted in an almost dreamlike voice.

She saw her actions as though her consciousness were detached from her body. She crossed her legs and leaned back on the couch. "Yes, Andrew?" she asked, in a seductive voice that even she could not believe had come from her own mouth.

Andrew slid out of the chair and was kneeling directly in front of her. "My dearest Ami, you are my mistress. I am here to serve you, to be at your beckon call."

Ami saw herself smile. "Andrew, you are handsome." She said, and she stroked his furry cheek.

Andrew grinned, and his eyes seemed a little bit darker, almost black. "Thank you, my mistress."

She took his face in her hands and drew it up to her own, and there she kissed him on the lips. His tongue slid between her teeth and went into her mouth. The kiss, by all means, should have been lustful and passionate, but to Ami, sensing everything from the outside, could only taste something horribly bitter on Andrew\x92s breath as they kissed.

His paw fell on her shoulder, and his delicate fingers worked at sliding the shoulder strap of her dress down.

"Do this." Ami said, breaking off the kiss. "I command you to, as my loyal servant of Djaiak."

Ami was confused. What had she just said?

Andrew pulled the straps of her dress down her shoulders, and his claws had left red scratch marks on her skin, but she didn\x92t even feel the pain\x85 not even when the scratches began to bleed.

Ami slid halfway out of the dress, naked from the waist up now and she smiled, but the smile was not her own. There was something unnatural about the way her lips curled up now. Something that seemed to be evil.

Andrew drew back and undid the sash around his waist. Then he pulled his robe back to reveal a criss-crossing pattern of scars across his chest. Ugly red scars that hadn\x92t healed, and showed up plain against his silvery fur. The scars were still bleeding, and it was at this point that Ami saw her own face smile again, as if in pleasure at this horrendous site. She watched in terror as she bent forward and licked his scarred chest, blood seeping out of the wounds and onto her tongue.

Andrew only smiled and placed a firm hand on the back of her head. "Welcome home, my mistress. We\x92ve missed you."

She awoke with a start. Her eyes popped open but she held the urge to scream inside her throat.

It was cold, and she was sweating.

She raised a hand and looked at the glow-in-the-dark hands on the wristwatch that sat on the table, next to the bed. It was 12:57 a.m.

She sighed in the dark and tried to sit up, but she couldn\x92t prompt her body to do so. She couldn\x92t fall asleep either.

It seemed to be growing colder every second and she touched her tummy. The sweat had collected on the fur in cold little drops.

Then she saw it.

It was just a motion at first, and she couldn\x92t see very well at all. Her room was composed entirely of darkness, but there seemed to be an object in her room that was even blacker than the darkness that hung about her. She had to strain her eyes, but she could pick out the motion, very rhythmic. It was moving up and down, just a little bit at a time.

It was breathing.

When she looked harder, she saw how large it was.

Holy fuck!

That was the creature. It was in her bedroom, just in front of the door that led to the bathroom. It was crouched low and seemed to be waiting.

She watched in silent terror as it opened its eyes. Two small red pinpricks of light appeared and were pointed directly at her.

Her heart was beating so hard in her chest she could almost hear it. She began to sweat even more and her breath in came in short little gulps. It knew she was there, but why hadn\x92t it killed her already?

Her left hand moved painfully slow over the silk sheets as it moved to the edge of the bed.

Ami tried to calm her breathing down some. Any sudden movement might alert the beast, and she knew it was pretty fast and agile for its size. Her hand moving slowly across the sheet, she silently prayed that it couldn\x92t see in the dark, but she knew better. A creature of darkness such as that surely could see in the dark, and it frightened her even more.

She felt her fingertips slide off the edge of the bed. She knew she\x92d have to raise her hand about five inches to be level with the table. Then she\x92d have to move it past her watch and lay it on\x85 Which weapon was closer the shotgun or the handgun? She hoped that her hand would find the shotgun handle first.

Her hand was shaking when she raised it, but she managed to lift it up to the level of the table. Her knuckles brushed against the hardwood, and then she felt her hand move across the surface of the table, probing for something.

The side of her hand hit one of the objects on the table and she heard a soft thump as her wristwatch his the carpeted floor.

"Shit!" she called out as she watched the red eyes close in on her, very quickly. She rolled out of her bed, to her left, just as something large and heavy crashed down on her bed. Her had smacked the corner of the table sending a wave of searing pain throughout her skull. The table also fell over and she felt cold metal fall down on her bare side and slide off.

Ami snatched at the metal and grasped the barrel of her shotgun. With feline quickness, she rolled away from the bed and onto her back, facing the beast. In the dark she could see its eyes turn towards her and she fired in the dark, aiming right for the eyes.

There was a bright yellow flash as the shotgun went off, and she felt her right elbow slam back into the carpet due to the recoil. The creature howled and the eyes were lost for a second, giving Ami time to rise to her feet. As soon as she did so, however, she regretted it.

Though the room was too dark to see, she could feel it spinning around her. She felt as if she was going to be sick, but she kept it down and moved to her right, just seconds before the creature obviously leapt at her. The wind gushed by her left side, feeling cold against her naked fur and there was a loud crash in the bathroom door and a part of the wall. She was thrown forward on her knees.

Ami wheeled around onto her back again. This seemed to be the only productive way to shoot, and she fired directly into where she thought the bathroom was.

There was another piercing wail and she fired two more shells in the same direction. This was actually working.

Suddenly, bits of plaster hit her face as the beast leapt out of the bathroom and stood directly over her. She held the shotgun up defensively, not able to fire again. The creature lashed down with its jaws. Ami reeled back, feeling a few teeth cut into the skin of her left arm. She cried out, and could smell the putrid aroma coming from the beast\x92s mouth, and she could feel a warm mixture of drool and blood pool down on her chest.

Right then, as the teeth sunk into her arm, she wished she had her handgun. Then she could fire directly into its face and perhaps blind it.


She looked back and saw light pouring in from the hallway. Two figures were standing there, shooting in her direction. The beast on top of her backed off slightly.

Joe Smith cocked the shotgun again and fired twice more at the beast, while Rob easily emptied five whole shots of his own handgun into the creature.

The beast was completely off of Ami now, and it dove at the two men in the doorway. They fell to the sides as the creature pushed between them and ran out the door, it\x92s thick back busting a section of the door frame as it went.

Ami was panting heavily, still clutching the shotgun defensively in front of her chest.

"Ami are you okay?" Rob asked, panic creeping into his voice.

Ami felt the memories of her two dreams rushing back into her mind like the tides coming back to shore. They were distant at first, but gradually they gained momentum. "I\x92m fine." She said, shaking her head and standing up.

"Detective Barlette, you\x92re naked." Joe said, his eyes almost popping out of his head.

In the dim light, Rob and Joe appeared as shadows to her. However, the light coming in from the hallway must have illuminated her body quite nicely. She felt her cheeks grow red and hot and she felt like smacking the rookie with the butt of her shotgun. "Well don\x92t just stand there you God damn pervert! Turn your back! Are you fucking blind?"

Joe quickly turned. Apparently, seeing her naked for any longer was not worth suffering her wrath. Rob also turned, more out of politeness than at her command.

Her command? Hadn\x92t she given Andrew commands in her dream? Was she really like that? What did it all mean?

She turned to her bed. The clothes she\x92d laid out had been knocked to the floor, but she picked them up anyway and pulled the blue jeans over her legs. They were a little long, but she rolled up the cuffs. The button up white shirt, on the other hand, was a bit too tight, but she\x92d have to deal with that. Her arm, as she noticed while she was putting the white shirt on, was not bleeding as bad as she\x92d thought at first, so she applied pressure to it with a white towel (that soon turned crimson), and soon the bleeding stopped altogether.

"Thank you guys." Ami said when she had finished dressing, and pulled her medium length brown hair back into a ponytail. "I would have been dead if you two hadn\x92t come when you did."

"I heard such a ruckus." Rob explained, slipping the handgun into the waistband of his own khaki pants. He was wearing a fresh green T-shirt and had also slipped his brown leather jacket back on. "So I came over as soon as I could."

"The door was locked." Joe said. He was wearing the police outfit he\x92d had on the day before. Apparently he hadn\x92t bothered to even change. He rested the shotgun in the crook of his arm. "But I remembered from the Police Academy how you should break doors down and I did."

At least he was good for something. Ami thought bitterly, still blushing at the fact of having that fat man looking at her without any clothes on. She quickly tired to push the embarrassing thoughts aside in her mind. "Have you guys checked on Andr\x85 er\x85 Mr. Kemfold and William yet?" she aked.

"No, we just came straight over here." Rob replied.

Ami nodded gravely as she clipped her belt into place and tucked the handgun into its holster. "Then we have another problem here, too. That thing obviously got into the house somehow, and Mr. Kemfold and William are in a lot of danger."

Joe spoke up. "So are we just going to go check on them?"

"Seems rational." Rob noted.

"Fine then." Ami picked up her shotgun and headed cautiously out of her bedroom. "Here we go. Be quiet, too. We don\x92t want to alert this thing. It already has the upper hand on us in the dark."

The three of them moved down the dim hallway. Ami was in the lead with her shotgun ready and held up in front of her. Rob followed closely behind her with his hand clamped around the handle of his handgun. Joe was the last one in the terrified party, the shotgun held at the ready, though his hands were shaking so badly that the parts of the gun clicked together. Ami seriously considered taking all of Joe\x92s weapons for fear he\x92d blow his own head off on accident, but then thought better of it because three guns firing at this creature would to a lot more damage than two.

When they got to the stairway, Ami peered down into the darkness. She glanced behind her and motioned with her hand. Rob nodded in agreement. Ami then proceeded to creep down the stairs, one foot at a time. As she did this, her back pressed firmly to the wall, she began to worry about Andrew. She hoped that the creature hadn\x92t killed him, and that he was safe. He wondered where his bedroom was.

On the second floor, Ami glanced in both directions. They were lined with a few doors, but none of them were ajar. This meant that whatever was behind them was probably safe.

Not so! Joe even said the door to her bedroom was locked when he came to her aid, so how did the beast even manage to get in? The window was not open\x85 besides, it was too big to enter that way. Noting this fact, she whispered to the men. "Check each room. Shout if you need help. More than likely it will be the beast and we\x92ll all come running anyway."

The three split up. Joe checked to their left, while Rob and Ami went to the right. Each person checked a few rooms, then came back in the middle of the hall.

"I didn\x92t find anything." Joe said. "There were a few bedrooms, some even looked like they\x92d been used recently, but there was no one around."

"Same on our side." Ami said, stroking her chin. "Okay guys. We\x92ll head to the ground floor and then check the place out." She hoped that Andrew wasn\x92t dead or missing like all of the other people and that he downstairs in the kitchen or parlor.

They crept down to the main floor in the same fashion as they\x92d approached the second floor. When her feet tapped down on the hardwood, she looked around her. She saw a dim light coming from the parlor and she quickly proceeded in that direction. However, when she got there she found that it was only the small licks of flame in the fireplace that were dying out. No one was in the room.

After the parlor, she moved across the hall and into the dining room. The table was cleared of last night\x92s meal and was set up for another one. She looked to her right and noticed the doorway leading to the kitchen. The metal door was slightly ajar.

"There." She said just as a gust of wind outside rattled the panes of glass in the dining room. Everyone instinctively jumped and brought their weapons to bear. After a few tense moments, they calmed down and sighed, bringing their breathing back to normal.

"We have to start being smarter about this." Ami murmured. "If we\x92re so jumpy, we\x92re more likely to shoot each other, rather than that beast."

"Speak for yourself." Joe whined. "I\x92m running on sheer instinct here. I want to live!"

"We all do, you crybaby." Ami said, under her breath. With that insult clear of her lips, she moved slowly and cautiously towards the kitchen.

Ami pushed gently on the double door. It swung inward and the kitchen, once dark, was cast in a pale gray light from the dining room. She looked around and could see all of the usual things one would find in a kitchen. The wide countertops were silver and sterilized. There was a gas oven against the right wall, and sink on her left. A large pantry was against the left back wall, and she could see only sparse items of food on it. It must\x92ve been about time for William to go back into town to stock up.

And then the thought came to her that in two years of living in Rosemorde, a Mercedes Benz, as Andrew had implied that he owned, had never been noticed in town. Surely, someone would have seen it and talked about it. Words like that got around in a small town like Rosemorde, and that helped the police out. Perhaps she\x92d have a look at the garage before she left, to see such a priceless car.

But now, she had to concentrate.

On the right far wall she saw something out of the ordinary. It appeared to be a heavy wooden door, hung on old iron hinges. It was definitely out of place in the modern sterile kitchen. She advanced upon the door and pushed it open. The rusty hinges gave a low squeak as she did so. Then, she peered down to see the outline of stone steps that led downward in a spiraling manner.

"Odd." She said as she descended.

"Detective Barlette!" Joe gasped. "You\x92re not going down there, are you?"

"Sure I am." Ami replied. "What if someone is down here?"

"Or what if something is down there too?" Joe argued.

"Stay up there if you\x92d like." Ami said coldly.

Joe turned to Rob. "You\x92ll stay up here with me, won\x92t you?"

"I\x92m with Ami on this one." Rob said, shaking his head.

Joe sighed and reluctantly agreed to go down the stairs with them.

Ami drew the flashlight from her belt and held it in her left hand as she held the shotgun at the ready in her right. As she walked down the stone stairs, she could hear her boots make rather loud tapping sounds. They were too loud for her taste.

There were about thirty steps in all when the spiraling stairs finally stopped. The bottom opened up into a cellar like area, only much deeper. In fact, it looked more like another hallway. It was also lit from above by dimly glowing yellow light bulbs. There was no chain to pull, nor any noticeable switch.

"What do you suppose this place is?" Rob asked, looking around.

Ami switched her flashlight off and peered down the hall. There were three wooden doors at the end. One on the left wall, one at the right, and one in the center. "I don\x92t know, Rob." She said. "But I think we\x92d better check it out."

They walked the short distance down the hall, which was only about twenty feet, and they stopped in front of the door on the left. Ami took a deep breath, then opened it. It did so easily and they peered into a small stone room that resembled a jail cell. It had a mattress in the far corner, stained yellow with urine and filth. Beside it was a scraped up metal bowl. Ami took a step forward and stepped in a pile of excrement. "Shit." She said as she scraped the bottom of her boot on the floor and looked in the bowl. The bowl was filled with food, but it was so old that it had been rotten for a long time now, and mold as well as a few insects claimed the slop.

"There\x92s nothing of interest in this one." Ami finally said. "If anyone once\x85 lived here, which would have been really bad, they are gone now." She tried to imagine someone living in this dark room, sleeping on the dirty mattress, eating from the disgusting bowl, and going to the bathroom on the floor. It was inhumane, and she wondered why such a place existed beneath Andrew Kemfold\x92s house.

They walked back across the hall and tried the door on the left. It was locked. Upon pushing slightly on the door, they heard a sound from the other side.

Ami stepped back and pointed her shotgun at the door. She tuned her keen feline ears and listened intently.

It was a sniffling sound. It sounded like a child crying.

She knocked on the door. "Hello? Is anyone in there?"

The sniffling continued.

Ami knocked again. "We\x92re here to help you. Who are you? What\x92s your name?"
A weak voice came from the other side of the door, between sobs she could make out the name. "Jeremy\x85 Jeremy Stockton."

Rob watched, as Ami\x92s eyes grew wide.

Ami gritted her teeth. She\x92d finally found the missing boy, but why here of all places? What was he doing here, under Andrew\x92s house? "Hold on, honey. I\x92m going to get you out of there, but you\x92re going to have to back up away from the door, you hear? Are you away from the door now?"

There was a sniffle, then a "Yes."

Ami raised her foot up and kicked outward at the door. The door flew inward, splintering a few bits of wood as it went.

The boy sat huddled in the corner. His light brown hair was messed up and a bit longer than Ami remembered in the picture and his light blue eyes was not so bright. His clothes, a yellow sweater and faded blue jeans, were all torn up and covered in dirt and filth. He looked sadly up at her, child tears streaming down her face, and for a moment, Ami saw Richie sitting there in the corner.

"We\x92re going to take you home." Ami said as compassionately as she could, despite the immense rage building inside of her, at whoever took Jeremy.

Jeremy wiped his nose on his tattered sleeve. "Will you take the nice lady home too?"

"What nice lady?" Ami asked, a bit puzzled.

"Elaine." Replied the boy in a casual voice.

Rob started. "Elaine? Elaine is here?"

The boy nodded.

"Where?" Ami asked.

Jeremy shrugged. "Right after the man put me in here, he put Elaine in here too. She was nice to me and she hugged me and told me stories. She said that everything was going to be okay."

"What happened to her?" Rob asked, desperation in his voice. "Where is she now?"

"The man took him away."

"Who? What man?"

"The wolf. The silver wolf."

Ami felt the wind knocked out of her just as hard as if she\x92d taken a physical hit. "Andrew\x85"

"See, that guy is a criminal." Joe wailed. "He\x92s probably a child molester and a murderer and-"

Ami slapped Joe across the face. "How the\x85" she looked down at Jeremy. "How the heck am I supposed to think with your constant whining?"
Joe looked down.

Ami bent over and scooped the child up in her arms. After looking him over for any serious injuries, she set him down on the floor. "Do you think you can walk?" she asked him.

Jeremy nodded.

"You\x92re a good boy." Ami replied. "Now, do you know where the man took Elaine?"
"No." said Jeremy solemnly. "You\x92ll help her, won\x92t you? She\x92s so nice."

"I will." Ami said, taking his hand. She then turned to Rob and Joe. "I think we\x92d better check that last door, just in case. We don\x92t want to overlook anything. Maybe Elaine is there, too."

Both of them agreed to this, and the group of four moved to the middle door. This was unlocked, and Ami pushed it open easily. "Joe?" she asked before stepping into the room. "Could you watch Jeremy? And hold his hand?"

Joe sighed. "I guess." With that, he took the child\x92s hand.

The hall, as Ami saw, was much longer than the first one. It was roughly two hundred feet long, and seemed to turn right at a sharp angle. It was lit with filmy yellow light bulbs, like the hallway before it. Almost as soon as she entered the hall, she happened to glance down and see the crack.

The crack, which ran from the top edge of the wall on the left all the way down, across the floor, and up the entire right wall, was about a foot wide. Ami peered down into the crack, but she couldn\x92t see anything trapped down in there.

Rob whistled softly. "That\x92s some damage."

Ami stood up and looked around. "Well, this house is on a cliff. I\x92d imagine that the building\x92s weight pressing down on it for so long and the weathering caused this crack. It certainly doesn\x92t look safe, does it?"

"Good thing this hall has the light bulbs then." Rob said, motioning up at the ceiling with his handgun. "Or else someone might break an ankle if they stumbled over the fissure in the dark. I sure as hell know that I wouldn\x92t design a house that sat on such a weak support."

"Let\x92s just keep moving." Ami said, waving them forward. "If we keep debating the place\x92s architecture we\x92re not going to get anything accomplished."

They all stepped over the crack in the floor, paying extra attention to helping Jeremy. Finally, when they were on the other side, Ami took the lead again and continued onward.

As she walked the long distance, she noticed her foot slipping in something slick. When she looked down she saw that her boot had skidded over a dark sticky fluid. When she bent down to look closer, she saw that it was blood.

"Rob, this doesn\x92t look good." She said, pointing down at the blood.

Rob sighed. "Happy thoughts, okay?"

"I\x92m just saying, that this is an odd spot for blood to be. Not that this whole friggin place isn\x92t odd, but I\x92m just wondering how it got here."

"This whole friggin place gives me the creeps and I\x92m about ready to get out of here, but not before we find my wife." Rob said.

"Of course." Ami replied. "I\x92m with you."

Joe whimpered. "This place is evil."

Rob looked up. "No shit." Ami\x92s contempt towards the chubby rookie cop was rubbing off on Rob, too.

They proceeded the rest of the distance, and Ami found to her growing feeling of hopelessness, more blood splattered on the floor, walls, and even the ceiling. The seed of doubt that had been planted in her mind when she picked up that finger in the middle of the road had blossomed into the great flower of doubt. She honestly, one hundred percent, believed that Elaine Benton was dead and that continuing further was fruitless, but she\x92d have to humor Rob. They were both in it together, and there was the chance that she was completely wrong, and Elaine was alive.

Though she highly doubted it.

They turned the corner, and Ami spotted it first. To their immediate left was a barred window. It was very small, though. She walked up to it and looked outside. All she could see through the dark and the snow was a lake far below them, and in the distance. There were thick and tall pine trees surrounding it, and they seemed to fester up a small hill until they reached the cliff. Then, she realized that the hall they were in was similar to a bunker in a hill. This window was directly on the face of the cliff.

She didn\x92t have time to ponder the window for very long. Rob shook her shoulder and pointed farther down the hall to a door that was similar to the ones in the last hall. The group approached it and stood outside.

"I\x92m going to go in with Rob. Joe, you stay with the kid out here, and run like hell if anything happens." Ami ordered.

Joe only nodded, the sweat beading on his brow. His hand clamped a little tighter on Jeremy\x92s shoulder.

Ami held her shotgun up and pushed the door open, not surprised at all that it wasn\x92t locked. If it had been locked, as Jeremy\x92s cell had been, it would have meant there was a live person on the other side. But this was open, meaning that they would find nothing.

But to her dismay, she was wrong.

The room was made out of stone, but painted flat white. In the center of the room was a large flat stone block about the size of a twin bed. The rock and the walls were absolutely covered with deep crimson blood. A little pool had formed in the middle of the stone, and was leaking over the edge and pudding around the sides. Some of it was dried and looked more maroon, but most of it was fresh and was still drizzling down in slow thick streams. The blood on the walls was haphazardly splattered all around, forming various chaotic patterns on the white walls. In several places Ami could make out bloody handprints. To the far right was a wooden shelf. Resting on the shelf was a horrific collection of tools. There were several long and sharp looking knives. There was a hammer, and a pack of opened razor blades. There were several jars and a tube, along with a large line of needles. All of the items were completely covered in blood.

"Holy mother of fuck\x85" Rob stammered, his jaw dropping.

Ami turned her head away. She\x92d never seen so much blood in her life. Not even the last Christmas when two cars full of drunken teenagers had collided and most of the kids had their heads smashed in or were thrown fifty feet. This was more than sick or disturbing for her. It was infuriating. It was infuriating for her to imagine someone could be so evil as to do such heinous acts that this room would exist. It made her mad to think that the person behind this could be Andrew Kemfold, a person whom she liked, and had trusted at first. How could she have been so stupid? It also made her mad to think that she\x92d accused Joe of being a poor judge of character when he was the only one among them who\x92d guessed at Andrew\x92s true nature. Her face hot and red with disgust and embarrassment, she turned and left the room with the shotgun slung over her shoulder.

Outside, she leaned back against the wall and placed a hand on her knee, and she took a few deep breaths.

"What is it?" Joe inquired.

Rob had walked out of the room too, looking pale.

"It\x92s nothing." Ami said. "Just don\x92t let the kid go in there." Ami said as she closed the door behind Rob.

Joe looked concerned for a second, but then he realized that it was probably best he didn\x92t know anyway.

"There\x92s nothing left down here." Rob said.

Ami nodded and stood back up. She\x92d regained some of her composure and began the walk back. "I guess, we\x92ll have to search the first floor a little better, or maybe even the upper levels of the house."

"You think Kemfold is still alive?" Joe asked.

"Fuck Kemfold!" Ami shouted, despite the child being there. "And you know what? Fuck searching around anymore. I want to get out of here."

Rob narrowed his eyes. "But Elaine-"

"Elaine is dead!" Ami looked at him. "Kemfold is an evil bastard, and he did so much to all these people. He is the one that kidnapped Jeremy, and he\x92s the one that killed Elaine! Yes, Kemfold murdered Elaine! I don\x92t know how he did it, or why he did it, but I know she\x92s not around in this house anymore. Not living, anyway. And now, we just have to get to the garage, steal that son of a bitch\x92s car, and get the hell back to\x85 to\x85"

She fainted.

When she opened her eyes she was looking up into Rob\x92s face. Her mouth felt dry as she sat up. "What\x85 what time is it?"

"It\x92s just after 1:30 a.m." Rob explained. "Are you okay?"

"No, I have a headache."

"You do have a good bruise on your forehead."

She briefly remembered hitting her head on the table during the bedroom struggle. And thinking about the bedroom made her think of those awful dreams. "I know. How long have I been out for?"

"Just ten minutes." Rob said.

Ami sighed. She knew that her ten minutes of absence could have spelled doom for the crippled man, the rookie cop, and the six-year-old kid, had the beast come lumbering down the hallway.

"I\x92ll be fine." She finally said.

Rob helped her to her feet. She bent down and retrieved her shotgun. Then the conversation came back to her.

"Rob," Ami said. "I\x92m sorry for snapping at you and being so rude. I don\x92t know what\x92s come over me lately. I mean, I\x92ve just become so immature. And it all started as soon as we came into this house."

"No apology needed." Rob smiled, steadying her at the elbow.

She felt silly being aided in standing by a cripple, but she readily accepted his help.

"I just, really don\x92t think Elaine-"

Rob stopped her. "I know. You\x92re right. I\x92ve been acting foolish too. I know she\x92s dead, but I couldn\x92t seem to come to grips with it. I was thinking maybe if I looked hard enough, I\x92d be able to find her. But I won\x92t. Every second we spend in this Hell is another second in danger, so we\x92d just better move."

Ami appreciated his sound thinking, and when she could support herself, she led the small group back down the hallway.

They passed the window and the blood splattering. She now had a good idea what they were caused by, and she could almost imagine a cart with a dead body on it, spurting and dripping blood as it was rolled down this hall. They passed over the crack in the floor and the first hallway they\x92d entered. They climbed the stone stairs and found themselves back in the kitchen.

"You know, I\x92m beginning to wonder if that creature is even still around." Joe said. "We haven\x92t seen it since earlier tonight, in Detective Barlette\x92s bedroom. Maybe we scared him off or something."

"I wouldn\x92t be too sure of that." Ami said, walking up to a silver countertop. She was almost sure that Andrew\x92s sadistic crimes and the beast tied in together somehow.

Just then, the door between the dining room and the kitchen crashed open. The beast was standing in the wide doorway, growling at them. In the dim gray light, she could see the two red eyes.

There was a general panic among the group. Joe fled from the child and rushed for the pantry. Ami scooped Jeremy up and hid him behind a counter where she and Rob crouched.

"Think it saw us?" Rob whispered.

"I know it saw us." Ami said. "So let\x92s just blow this guy away."

With that, Ami and Rob simultaneously stood up and began to unload their guns at the creature. Ami counted off the shotgun rounds as she fired. She shot six times in all, while she estimated that Rob fired ten times. There was no support from Joe.

The creature backed up under the rain of bullets, but it gradually began to edge closer and closer to them. Six shells later, Ami realized that their shooting was doing little good, and soon the beast would be upon them. She thought quickly, and dashed to her left.

The creature turned to follow her as she moved.

"Hey, asshole!" Ami shouted at the creature as she positioned herself by the counter. "Come and get me!"

The beast needed no prompting, and it lunged straight at Ami.

Ami expected this and she rolled forward. The creature leapt right over her head and crashed into the gas oven. She spun into a standing position and turned to face Rob. "Get Joe and Jeremy out of here!"

Without hesitation, Rob picked the child up and fled into the dining room, followed by Joe.

The creature was standing with its back half up on the counter, and it\x92s front half on the floor. The smashed oven, as Ami had planned, was emitting gas into the air.

Ami smiled. "Now I\x92ve got you." She said as she dove for the door. At the same time, she hammered off the last four shots of her shotgun straight between the beast\x92s front legs. The first three lodged themselves into the oven front, while the last struck home.

Just as she fell through the swinging double door, a huge explosion rocked that section of the house.

The doors swung open and fire as well as a few kitchen pieces flew out, and Ami had to stay low. When she turned to look up, she saw that the wall between the kitchen and the dining room was weakened and coming down. She rose awkwardly to her feet and dove to the right of the dining room table as the wall crumbled.

Rob, Joe, and Jeremy were against the far wall. Jeremy was crying and Rob was trying to calm him.

"Nice one." Rob said as Ami got to her feet and tossed the expended shotgun onto the dining room table. It shattered some wineglasses as it fell, but she really didn\x92t care.

"Thanks." She said as she pulled her handgun from its holster. "And now, I think we have nothing else to worry about."

There was the hollow sound of clapping.

They all turned to the door that led to the main hall, and they were shocked to see Andrew Kemfold standing there in his black robe, a grin spread from ear to ear. He continued to clap for a few more seconds, and then thrust his hands into his pockets.

"A good trick, if I may compliment you, Ami." Andrew said. "I know that I would not have been able to think of it, in as short of time as you had. Your quick thinking and ingenuity are very keen, but that\x92s only to be expected."

Rob glowered at him. "You\x85 you killed my wife."

Andrew suddenly turned his attention towards Rob. "Oh, you figured it out. Why did it take so long? I thought you might have been a bit brighter."

Rob raised his handgun and aimed it at Andrew\x92s head. "You murderer! I\x92m going to kill you!"

"Don\x92t be so impatient you clod." Andrew said, frowning a bit. "Don\x92t you want to know what happened to her? I mean, if I killed her, surely there must be a body lying around somewhere. And you checked this house very well, am I right? And you turned up nothing, too?"

Rob was silent.

The smile returned to Andrew\x92s face. "Well? Don\x92t you want to know?"

"Tell me." Rob said.

"I thought you\x92d never ask." Andrew replied. "How shall I put this?" He was silent for a moment himself, as he thought. "Let\x92s just say that the meal you enjoyed last night, was very fresh."

Rob\x92s finger tightened on the trigger of his handgun. "What do you mean?"

Ami felt sick.

"The meat dish, of course." Andrew chuckled. "You see, I enjoy the taste of people. And I had one already served up for that night\x85 her name was Elaine, wasn\x92t it? Oh that\x92s no matter now. She\x92s gone and in your stomachs right now. I mean, it would have been rude for me to dine on your wife and not invite you. I may be a murderer," Andrew winked. "But no one can accuse me of being uncouth."

Ami felt ready to puke just then. She doubled over and fell onto her hands and knees, and vomited right there on the carpet. It felt like her stomach was on fire, and when she was done she wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and looked down.

There, sitting in the pool of her own vomit was the finger she\x92d picked up in the middle of the road. It was Elaine\x92s finger, half digested. How the hell did it get in her stomach? Certainly she wouldn\x92t really eat\x85 She threw up again.

Rob paid no attention to Ami, but only glared at Andrew. "You\x92re a fucking liar!"

"See what your lovely friend Ami has returned." Andrew said, motioning. "You\x92ll see that she enjoyed her meal."

Rob glanced slightly to his side to see Ami kneeling beside the pile, and the finger glistening on top of it.

Ami looked up at him, sheer terror in her eyes. "Rob, I didn\x92t\x85"

Rob ignored her. He turned his attention back to Andrew. "You\x85"

"Now, killing me will get you nowhere, Mr. Benton." Andrew said as he took a step into the room. "You see, I cannot be killed. I am one of the children of Djaiak, and my dark god protects me from physical harm."

Ami stood up. There was that "Djaiak" again, just like from her dream.

"And you, Mr. Benton, are just a pawn in the grand scheme of things. How can you fight an entity such as a god? You cannot, I am afraid. And hence, you have two options, each of which I will be glad to help you with. Option number one: You can join our ranks. Most prefer this option because they actually live and gain unbelievable power. Your second option is to become the official \x91Sacrificio del Corpo\x92, and become nourishment for those who do choose to follow Djaiak. The same applies for your obese friend." His eyes sparkled in the dim light. "And the child\x92s fate has already been decided to be the latter. He\x92s much too young to join our ranks. And we do enjoy very fresh meat. It\x92s actually quite tender and very delectable if you sprinkle-"

"That\x92s enough you bastard!" Ami screamed. "You shut up now, or I\x92m going to blow a hole right through your friggin head!"

"You can\x92t do that, Ami." Andrew said. "And that\x92s why you don\x92t get a choice of your fate. It\x92s already been decided also. Sixteen years ago, to be precise."

Ami held her handgun up and aimed at Andrew\x92s head also. "Die!" she shouted as she pulled the trigger.

At the same time Ami began to fire, Rob instinctively began to shoot. Each of them got in about twenty shots, reloading their clips with more ammo from their pockets whenever their weapons got low.

Finally, Ami stopped shooting. Rob did too.

Andrew lay against the wall of the dining room. His chest cavity had almost been completely blown away and the left side of his head was also exposed. Blood ran down the entire length of this body, gathering in a pool on the floor. There was a large splattering against the wall also that would leave quite a stain.

Ami\x92s gun fell at her side and she looked at the wolf that sat lifeless. "It\x92s\x85 it\x92s finally over."

Rob took a deep breath and turned away. Ami wasn\x92t sure, but she thought she heard him crying.

Joe had been covering Jeremy\x92s eyes during the whole gruesome scene, and he led the boy out of the corner with his hand still in front of his face. "I think I\x92m going to take him into the other room." He said.

"No, let me." Rob said as he walked towards Jeremy and took his hand. Joe complied. "A lot of loud noises tonight, huh slugger?" he asked the small boy, who nodded in return.

Ami stared down at the body some more and Joe came over. "Whoa, you did him in good, didn\x92t you?"

Ami felt like smacking him again, but she was too weak to do anything just then. "Is my fate really decided? I just wish I knew what was going on." A tear rolled down her cheek.

Joe took her by the elbow and turned her from the body. "We need to go home." He said.




Ami wheeled around suddenly. Her face turned pale at what she saw. Andrew, still propped up against the bloody wall, was clapping. His eyes and face remained blank, but his hands were raised and clapping. After a few moments, his head turned to look at her and Joe. When he did so, bits of flesh fell off of the wound on his head, and his eyes rolled forward in their sockets. "Impressive display of your violent firepower, if I may say so. However, it is a pitiful display of your ingenuity I\x92m afraid. Come now, Ami. Surely someone with such a \x91blessed\x92 body and mind as yours can come up with more innovative ways to kill a defenseless man. It can\x92t be all that hard, presuming your past, hmm? I mean, take your little brother for example. What was his name? Oh yes, now I remember. It was Richie. Little Richie Barlette. He made a fine meal. Like I said, we like them fresh."

Ami backed up, horror stricken. "You can\x92t be alive. We killed you forty times over. You\x92re supposed to be dead!"

Andrew placed his hands on the floor and pushed himself to his feet. When he did so, some of his innards spilled out onto the floor in a heap, with a sickening wet sound. "Oh, any normal man should have died from that assault, but I am not a normal man by any means." He said. "Do you want to see what I really look like?"

"No, I want you to die!" Ami screamed and raised her gun again. By this time, Rob had poked his head back into the room and he saw what was going on. He fished in his pocket for more ammo but only came up with three handgun bullets.

"Oh, I\x92m sure you\x92d love to see what I really look like." Andrew said as he took a step towards Ami and Joe. "I would imagine that a detective such as yourself would be just full of potent curiosity." More of his guts spilled out onto the carpet as he walked forward. "Now come and let me show you. I promise that you won\x92t be disappointed at all."

Ami raised her gun and shot him once in the head. His head lashed backwards like one of those blow-up punching bag dolls, but it came back forward, a calm grin locked into its face. He didn\x92t slow down in his pace. She fired twice more, getting the same effect.

"If you\x92re going to be difficult about it, Ami, I\x92ll have to just show you now." Andrew said.

"Don\x92t call me by my name!" Ami wailed and fired again.

Andrew stopped now, and was standing ten feet from Ami and Joe. He bent over forwards and grunted. "Now," he said, his voice growing slightly deeper. "You will see what a child of Djaiak really can do\x85"

With that last ominous promise, Andrew shouted out in pain. Ami felt both the urges to run away and to help him at the same time, but she opted to back as far from him as she could. Joe followed suit.

Andrew crumpled over and was on his hands and knees now. His moans began to get deeper and deeper, though they were moans of extreme pain. As Ami watched, his back began to bulge. The silk robe stretched an began to tear away in a few places as several black ridges appeared, poking through the fabric. Soon, the whole back of the robe was torn away and fell loosely around his sides, and she could then see the black scales that were forming on his back. Then she noticed his arms as they began to bulge. First at the shoulders, but they gradually got thicker and thicker as they went down. The black scales also formed over these, until they reached the hand where the whole thing contorted to become a large claw, with three separate talons on it. His hips and legs widened too, and they actually hinged backwards at the knees as the scales covered these like the rest of his body. Soon, his feet were claws as well, and they dug into the carpet. The large wound in his chest healed almost instantly, and there was no more loss of blood. His neck bulged and thickened, and his face pressed inwards, becoming dark and flat. As his body grew more and more in size, she could see several black, spike-like tendrils extend from pockets on his back and shoulders, and they began to whip about wildly. She stepped back once more as the soft blue eyes that once belonged to Andrew Kemfold disappear into dark hollow sockets, only to be replaced by two small pinpricks of red light. His large mouth opened wide, to reveal three individual rows of razor sharp and rotting gray teeth. A long black tongue uncurled from the maw and hung limply in front of the creature, clear saliva dripping down onto the floor.

"Jesus Christ." Joe stammered. His hands were shaking and he grabbed Ami\x92s shoulder tightly and cried out in fear. "Detective Barlette! Help me! Help me!"

Joe was sounding like a scared little girl. She was a scared little girl once.

Ami clutched the handgun in her palm and raised it towards the creature. She could actually feel her own hands shaking. This beast was what Andrew really was. He wasn\x92t a person at all. He was a monster, on the inside and out. This thing was responsible for Richie\x92s death, and Elaine\x92s death too. She had to kill it, but her small handgun would not be able to hurt such a huge creature very much. Not effectively at least.

The creature stood up on its hind legs and let out the most awful scream that she\x92d ever heard. It was so high pitched that she and Joe reflexively covered their ears. Beside them, glasses on the table shattered and all of the tall windows in the dining room did too. She ducked forward and tried to protect her face from the flying glass.

The beast\x92s front half came back down and the face seemed to grin at them. It opened its horrible toothy mouth again and spoke in a rumbling voice that seemed to come from the depths of Hell. "Now you see."

Ami shook her head. This was not happening, this was a bad dream. Snow came in through the shattered windows and lighted gently on the floor. A cold wind followed, but it didn\x92t effect her as much as the sight of that terrible creature did.

"You can\x92t get away from what was destined, Ami." Said the creature. With that, it lunged forward.

"Joe, move!" Ami shouted as she dodged to her left.

Joe, being large and lethargic by nature, was not so lucky. He tried to dodge to his right and stumbled. The great talon on the creature\x92s claw moved like a flash of light\x85

\x85 And impaled Joe directly through the midsection. Joe dropped the shotgun he\x92d been carrying. His face contorted in pain, but he couldn\x92t call out. Blood filled his mouth and poured out over the lips as he was lifted high in the air. Then, with almost effortless ease, Andrew the creature placed Joe into its mouth and clamped all three rows of teeth down on the body. Blood spurted from scores of punctures and dribbled down over its chin. It made a slight hissing sound as it chewed on Joe.

Ami cried out in utter disbelief. This was not happening. Joe was not dead, and if she could open her eyes, she\x92d be safely at home in her bed, and she\x92d find that she\x92d just dreamed the whole thing. But there was no waking from this. Deep down in her heart she knew it was real, and she knew she had to survive.

Her handgun would do little good against Andrew, but maybe the shotgun that Joe had dropped, would. She hated the thought of scavenging weaponry off of a dead man, but drastic times called for drastic measures, and she could not think of a more drastic time than this.

She dashed forward and scooped the shotgun up off the floor, cutting her knuckles on the broken glass as she did so. The Andrew creature didn\x92t quite notice, as it was too busy enjoying its snack.

Ami quickly checked the chamber of the shotgun and found that it had fifteen shots left in the expanded clip. That might be enough, but she\x92d have to make each shot count.

The beast finished its meal and glared down at her. Its red eyes glowed. "Why don\x92t you shed that weak shell?" Andrew said in his booming voice. "You can rise to the level that you were always destined to achieve."

"I don\x92t know what you\x92re talking about!" Ami shouted as she moved in front of the beast.

"You\x92re trapped in that weak body." Andrew said as his hand swung down. It was so fast that Ami had no time to dodge backwards. She was scooped up like a fish out of a bucket and was held in front of that grinning evil face. "And if you break the body, the true power inside will be released."

Ami was sweating as she brought the shotgun up to bear and pointed it in the beast\x92s face.

The creature only laughed. "So you think you\x92re going to harm me with your weapon again, Ami? I thought a bright girl like yourself would have learned by now that you can\x92t kill me."

"I can sure as hell try." Ami replied casually, and she jammed the barrel of the shotgun into the creature\x92s right eye. "Even an evil piece of shit like you has to have a brain, right?" She pulled the trigger.

There was a muffled bang, and a rush of warm blood and brain tissue exploded out of the eye socket, over the barrel of the gun and on her arm. It cried out in pain and the grip around Ami loosened. She fell to the ground and landed on her back. The creature fell over on its side and twitched. The tendrils protruding out of its back flailed wildly.

Ami backed up and looked at the spasms of what was once Andrew. "Go tell Djaiak or whoever the hell it is that you worship, to stay away from Rosemorde. You\x92ve caused enough trouble."

The creature\x92s mouth opened slightly. "I\x85 am not\x85 the\x85 cause\x85" The head lolled to the side, and it stopped breathing.

Ami circled around it twice, kicking it in spots to make sure it was dead. Then she noticed Rob watching from the door.

"How\x92s the kid?" she asked.

"He\x92s fine." Rob replied, staring down at the creature. He looked pale. "Is it really over now?"

"I think so." Ami said, walking away from it. She stopped in the doorway to look back at it again. "Awful arrogant, whatever it was. It claimed that it couldn\x92t be killed, but look how easily\x85 well, not that easily. It cost us Joe, but in the big scale of things, it came down with only one bullet."

Rob sighed and helped her out of the dining room. "Well, at least it\x92s all over now. So let\x92s just go."

"Yes." She said, almost absently. "It\x92s all over now." She looked down at her watch and could see it was just before 3:00 in the morning. There wasn\x92t much time left before the sun rose, and she wanted to get back to Rosemorde soon. There was too much information she needed to get out.

"So, you said we should check the garage?" Rob offered. "And maybe find a car or something?"

Ami nodded. "Yes, that\x92s right." She took little Jeremy\x92s hand and the three of them walked down the main hall and out the front door.

Immediately, they stepped into a frosted world, where the snow had piled up well over two feet during the course of that long night. It was a beautiful sight, despite the place they were at, and all of the bloodshed they\x92d seen that night.

They walked down the short path, picking their way through the snow and leaving deep footprints in their wake. They cut across the lawn to their left and came upon a building that was not attached to the main house. The doors in front were very wide and rolled up, thus leading Ami to assume that this was the auto garage.

Together, Ami and Rob managed to lift the front door. It rolled up into the ceiling of the garage, the roller bearings squeaking with rust and age. Inside, they found an older model Mercedes Benz.

"Nice." Rob commented as he moved to the passenger side door. Then he frowned as he looked inside of the car. "Oh crap. It looks like it hasn\x92t been touched for years. There\x92s a layer of dust on here deeper than the snow out there."

"Mr. Kemfold did say that William took the car to town every three months or so." Ami said, no longer calling Andrew by his first, informal name. She silently opened the back door for Jeremy to climb into, and then she slid into the driver\x92s side. It must have been luck that the keys were still sitting idly in the ignition. She turned the keys, but there was only a loud choking sound coming from under the hood of the car.

She tried again, with no effect.

"Let me have a look at this." Rob said, getting back out of the car. "I was a mechanic in the military."

Ami watched silently as Rob exited the car and popped the hood up. The hood of the car obscured her view, save for the small shadow she could just make out if she brought her gaze lower to look through that crack.

Rob gave a low and drawn out whistle. "Well damn. The entire engine has just about been gutted. Half your necessary parts are just gone. I don\x92t think-" He was suddenly cut off there.

Ami frowned. "Rob?"

No answer.

"Rob?!" Ami shouted again.

Then she heard Rob\x92s scream from in front of the car. She quickly through open her car door and wheeled around.

The Andrew creature was standing out in the snow, one eye a bloody mess, the other gleaming an evil red in the darkness. Rob was lying in the snow, trying to crawl away as fast as he could, but his crippled leg wouldn\x92t let him move faster than a snail\x92s pace.

As of now, the creature hadn\x92t noticed Ami, but was advancing on Rob. Thinking even more quickly than before, Ami rushed back to the car. She pulled open the back door and helped Jeremy out.

"Now sweetie, you\x92re going to have to stand in the corner over there, and don\x92t come out until I come get you, okay?"

Jeremy sniffled and nodded, then rushed into the shadow line corner of the garage, where he hunkered down between a stack of tires and a tool chest.

Ami rushed back to the driver\x92s side of the car and leaned her head in. She hit the lever by the steering wheel and popped the car into neutral, then she got out and went around to the back. She placed her hands on the trunk and pushed forward as hard as she could.

Rob was crawling away from the beast. The deep snow wasn\x92t helping him much, though. It went down the cuffs of his sleeves and down the neck of his shirt. His face was damp with the melted snow and red from the exertion. Behind him, he could hear the creature moving with him step for step, gloating over him. It was playing with him before he would die.

All of a sudden, it turned its head to face the garage. The Mercedes Benz was slowly rolling forward towards him.

"How can you be so simple as to believe you could hurt me with this mere automobile?" taunted the beast as it brought it\x92s clawed fist down on the hood of the car. The talons sunk into the metal with a screeching sound and the glass in the windshield cracked slightly. With great ease, it hefted the car up into the air, then tossed it several yards. It landed in the deep snow with a crunch, and as Rob watched, he saw a tiny stream of gasoline leak from the gas tank.

The horrible head turned and peered at the garage. It could see nothing in it, and a smile crossed its bloody lips. "Ami, where are you?" it said in the low rumbling voice. "Don\x92t hide from me, Ami. You can\x92t hide from your own fate."

There was a crunching in the snow and the beast spun around. Ami was dashing towards the Mercedes Benz, which lay on its side, the bottom facing the scene.

In the dim light, Ami turned to face the creature. "Right here!" she called out as she stood in front of the car. One hand held the shotgun, while the other was hidden behind her back.

The creature forgot all about Rob and is slowly lumbered towards the cat girl. "It\x92s only fitting that your physical shell should be cast off at the hands of one of your most devoted followers."

"I don\x92t know what the hell you\x92re talking about." Ami said, backing up until her back was against the axle of the car. "All I know is that you\x92re evil. You\x92re the devil himself."

"Oh no." The creature bellowed, and it sounded almost like mocking laughter. "I am not the \x91devil\x92, Ami. The religion I practice is one that has been forgotten for many centuries. I am neither of God, nor of Satan. I am a follower of a third entity entirely. But you should know all this."

Ami climbed backwards, a difficult task, but made it on top of the side of the car. She almost slid off but managed to keep her balance while in a crouching position. "Stop playing your mental games with me." She said. "The only thing I\x92m going to do is kill you."

"If you feel so confident." The Andrew beast said as it came closer.

With that, Ami swung the arm that was behind her back. It held a short black cylinder with a red tip. It was a rescue flare, the kind found in automobile safety first aid kits. She dragged the red tip across the surface of the car and held the now sparking tip against the small stream of gasoline.

Instantly, the trickle ignited into a large lick of flame. Ami jumped back and landed on her back in the soft snow. The flame trickle moved up the stream and into the gas tank of the car. As soon as it did this, the car exploded away from her- right into the creature.

It shrieked in pain as the wall of fire struck it and knocked it onto its back in the snow. The black scaled flesh began to burn and melt with the heat.

Ami threw her fist into the air for a moment, then ran around the flaming car and towards the beast. It was rolling around in the snow, trying to extinguish the flames. She jumped up onto its chest, feeling some of the flames around her legs as she did so, and pointed the shotgun right into the beast\x92s face. She emptied the rest of her shotgun shells into the beast\x92s face.

When she ran out of ammo, she finally stepped down off of the creature. The face was almost completely caved in, and it streamed with blood. The front of her pant legs and her hands were also splattered with drops of the red fluid, and she had to take a few deep breaths to calm down. The monster was silent and motionless.

Then she remembered Rob. She spun around and found him lying face down in the snow. There was a large and bleeding wound in his left shoulder, and it stained the snow red. "Rob!" she cried. "Rob, are you okay?"

Rob moaned, and Ami fell to her knees beside him. As she did so, a sudden gust of cold wind picked up. It was hard to see through the blowing snow and the darkness.

"I\x92m fine." Rob said. "But shit, it\x92s cold."

"I know." Ami said. "I don\x92t know what we\x92re going to do now. Maybe go inside and wait for the storm to blow over before we try to-"

She was cut off by the distant sound of police sirens. They were faint at first, but they gradually grew louder. They were coming up the road, through the snow.

"Rob, the backup is here!" Ami said, smiling. She could hardly keep herself from crying. "They\x92re finally here."

She stood up and rushed into the garage to collect Jeremy. When she came back with the boy, three police cars and two ambulances were pulling into the small snow lodged parking area in front of the garage.

One of the officers stepped out of the car. He was wearing a thick police jacket and dark sunglasses despite the fact it was must not have been more than 4:00 a.m. He took one look at Ami and smiled.

"Detective Barlette. Good to see you." He said above the wailing sirens. "Now I see where you\x92ve been all night. Sorry it took us so long, but we had trouble finding the road."

"It\x92s fine." Ami said, walking up to him. "I never noticed it before either and I must\x92ve driven by the thing hundreds of times." She suddenly looked down at Jeremy and a happy smile crosses her lips. "This is the missing Benton boy. He\x92s a little scratched up, and I think he should be checked out right away."

The officer\x92s eyes widened. She noticed even though they were behind the glasses. "You found him here?"

Ami nodded as a paramedic scooped the sniffling child up in his arms and loaded him in the back of the first ambulance. Soon, the ambulance started up again and rushed back towards town.

"What the fuck happened here?" asked the officer as he stared intently at Ami.

"I\x92ll tell you later, but there are two more things to take care of first." Another officer brought her a cup of warm coffee poured from a thermos. She thanked him and gratefully drank, thankful to have something that would remove the vile taste of her own vomit that lay on her tongue. She brought the officer and the remaining paramedics to Rob, who had managed to roll himself onto his back.

"This is Robert Benton. He\x92s pretty banged up to, but he\x92ll live." Ami said, smiling down at Rob.

Rob smiled back as the paramedics helped him up.

"Oh, watch his leg." Ami said with a twang of concern in her voice.

"And the other thing, Detective?" asked the officer.

Ami pointed over to the dark mass lying in the snow beside the overturned Mercedes Benz.

"What is that?" asked the officer.

Ami brought him closer so he could see. When he could finally make out the details on the monster, he turned away. "God damn, I don\x92t believe it. I just don\x92t fucking believe it. What is it, some kind of fucking animal?"

"It\x92s a monster." Ami replied plain and simple. "And it killed a few people, including Officer Joe Smith."

"The fat rookie?"

Ami looked down and nodded. "Yes, that\x92s the one." Now that Joe was dead, he didn\x92t seem like such a bad guy, and she instantly felt sorry that she\x92d been so cross with him in the past. After all, police officers risked their lives every time they put on their uniform and went out in the streets. Any moment could be your last when you were a cop.

"I just don\x92t believe it." Stammered the officer nervously. "I\x92m going to have to get a team of researchers on this one." He said. "As soon as the storm clears I\x92ll be able to put a clear call through."

"Yeah, the snow is a bitch." Ami agreed as she sipped her coffee. She almost felt like telling him about the second, smaller creature that they\x92d find charred and burnt in the kitchen of the house (whom she assumed was the servant William who\x92d undergone a transformation similar to the one Andrew had displayed. Apparently, one could change back into the human form at will, since the creature they\x92d faced far earlier that night was smaller\x85 hence, it was William.), but she thought better of it.

"You\x92re not in very good shape yourself, Detective." The officer noted.

"Who me? I\x92m fine."

"No, you\x92re covered in blood, and there\x92s a nasty bump on your forehead. I think you should be checked out too."

A paramedic by the last ambulance was waving at them. "We\x92ve got room for another patient with Mr. Benton." He shouted.

"I think you should take it." Said the officer. "You\x92ve obviously had a really long night."

Ami nodded and walked slowly to the ambulance. She was tired, and it would be good to take a hot shower in her own home, and to sleep for twelve hours straight.

She climbed up into the back of the ambulance and sat down beside Rob, who was strapped into a stretcher. The paramedics were in the front, so they could be left alone to talk.

"Some night." Rob said weakly. There was an IV taped to his wrist.

"Yeah, it has been." Ami said, taking his hand. "I\x92m sorry to get you caught up in all of this."

The ambulance started up and pulled away from the scene. Out the back window, Ami watched the three police car lights fade away in the darkness.

"You don\x92t have to apologize." Rob said. "I was brought into this whole thing when my wife\x85" He stopped short.

"And I\x92m also sorry about that, too." Ami said. "She meant a lot to you, I know. You loved her."

Rob nodded. "My only regret is that I wasn\x92t the husband I should have been. I let my disability control my life. Ever since I lost the proper use of my leg, I\x92ve been jaded and a miserable man. What happened tonight made me step back and take a look at the way things were going in my life. I realized that I\x92m going to have to change some things. I\x92m just glad I actually lived, so that I can apply these new ideas."

Ami only smiled. "You\x92ve come a long way. Thank you for all you\x92ve done to help me."

Rob smiled back and let his eyes rest shut. "I\x92m not dead, just really tired."

There was laughter in the back of the ambulance. "Of course." Ami said. "You\x92re too tough to be dead."

There was a slight thump as the ambulance hit a dip in the road.

Ami looked down and smiled. "What are you going to do now?"

"I think I might go down to Florida." Rob said. "The snow will bring back too many bad memories. What about you?"

"I should get away from Rosemorde, and go to a bigger city. Everyone knows I\x92m a good enough detective to do it, but I\x92m not sure if I want to forget."

Rob raised his eyebrows and the ambulance hit another dip in the road. Ami fumbled in her seat.

"Don\x92t look at me like that." Ami said grinning. "I\x92m just saying that this should serve as a reminder to me, not to get too cocky. There\x92s always something bigger and badder out there, and I\x92m sure it doesn\x92t get much bigger or much badder than-" The ambulance hit another dip in the road and almost toppled over. "Damn, what speed are they going?" She moved to the front of the ambulance to look up in the cab.

When she looked in, she saw that both the driver and the assistant paramedic had their faces smashed into bloody pulps. The two side windows had been shattered in.

Ami stepped back in horror and clamped a hand over her mouth. The glass must have been broken during one of the dips. She moved back into the back and her face had turned pale.

"What is it?" Rob asked, noticing the look on her face.

"The\x85 the\x85" Ami stammered.

Suddenly, a large black clawed hand smashed down from the ceiling of the ambulance. Rob and Ami shouted out as the claw swiped just inches over Rob\x92s face. Ami noticed the black flesh was charred and peeling in places.

She moved to the back of the ambulance and kicked open the back doors, and she was plunged back into the cold night. The hand swept by her head again and caught a few strands of her hair. She pulled away and looked behind her. Rob was immobile, strapped down into the stretcher.

Ami took hold of the edge of the stretcher and threw it out the back of the ambulance as hard as she could. The stretcher bounced once on its edge, spun around in the air a few times, and finally landed face down. She jumped out herself, rolled twice and came up kneeling. She could clearly see the creature, illuminated red by the ambulance\x92s lights, atop the vehicle.

She knew the ambulance was stocked with two tanks of pure oxygen. She steadied her gun at the back door and fired three shots from her handgun into it as it sped away from her.

The ambulance exploded in a brilliant orange and yellow fireball, and she was knocked flat onto her back by the explosion despite the distance. She heard a low wail as the flaming vehicle crashed steadily through the trees.

Ami moved on her hands and knees over to the overturned stretcher and she righted it. Rob spit some snow out of his mouth and glowered. "You could have warned me before you did that." He said.

"Sorry." Ami replied. "But I don\x92t think this is over yet."

"Jesus!" Rob cursed. "What does it take to kill that son of a bitch?"

Ami unfastened the straps that held Rob down and helped him to his feet. "I think I have an idea. Can you walk?"

"I\x92ll try." Rob said.

Ami nodded. "Good. I think that my first police car was not too much farther up."

The two of them walked back towards the mansion, with Ami supporting Rob as they walked. It wasn\x92t that long of a journey, but it took a little while due to the darkness and the deep snow. Fortunately, there were plenty of tire tracks that they could walk in.

When the came to the police car, they found that it was still smashed up against the tree, only a layer of snow covered the top and the hood. Ami pulled the trunk keys out of her pocket again and popped it open.

"What do you got left in there?" Rob asked, leaning up against the back.

"I have ten sticks of dynamite." Ami answered.

Rob gasped slightly. "What? Why would you need that?"

Ami pulled the ten sticks and a portable timer from the far depths of the trunk. "It\x92s northern Michigan. We have all sorts of mountains and stuff, and if the need ever arises to blow a path through the forest of rocks, we have these ready. Do you have a lighter just in case the timer doesn\x92t work?"

Rob pulled a silver one from his pants pocket. "Sure do."

Ami nodded. "That\x92ll work fine."

"And what are you going to do with those anyway?" Rob asked. "I mean, we\x92ve tried to blow this thing up before and it didn\x92t exactly work that well."

"We\x92re not going to blow him up himself." Ami said. "We\x92re going to lure him into the house after we\x92ve set the dynamite up, and we\x92re going to crumble the whole thing down on his ass."

"Good plan." Rob mused. "Presuming you can pull it off."

"It has to work." Ami said. "I need to kill this thing. Not just because it\x92s trying to kill us, but because it killed Richie."

"Who is Richie?"


Before the words could come out of her mouth, the creature came out of the darkness. A clawed hand swept across Ami\x92s back. The talons cut deep through her police coat, and into her back. She winced and cried, and she dropped the ten sticks of dynamite as she fell forward.

Rob stumbled forward as he watched Ami fall.

"Why do you continue to fight?" asked the beast. "All is lost for you, so you might as well spare yourself the pain and surrender now."

Ami coughed.

Rob scooped up one of the sticks of dynamite in the dark and wiped the wick off on his shirt. He brought out his silver lighter and prepared to hit the small switch.

And in the same way that Joe was killed, the creature lunged towards the man who could not run and speared him through the right shoulder.

Rob\x92s body twisted in pain as his feet were lifted from the ground. "Ami!" he shouted.

Ami cleared her head and looked up. "Rob! Hold on!"

"It\x92s over for me!" Rob shouted as the creature brought him up to its mouth.

"That\x92s right, Mr. Benton." Said the creature, and that same bloody grin spread over it\x92s mauled face.

"Ami, keep going with the plan!" Rob shouted. He paused, sweat on his face and pain in his expression. "I\x92m sorry I couldn\x92t have helped you more."

With that, the creature thrust the upper half of Rob into his mouth. The teeth clamped down, making an awful crunching sound.

Ami screamed in terror and rage. THE MONSTER KILLED ROB!

She pulled the handgun from her belt and pointed it at the creature as it swallowed Rob\x92s limp body in two bites.

"You fucking bastard!" Ami shouted, tears welling in her eyes.

"You\x92re next." Said the creature as it moved forward. "You should have been the first, but things didn\x92t go how I had planned. We can\x92t always get what we want, though."

Ami cried and stepped back. This was too nightmarish, this was too ironic and too sad an ending for such a tragic night. This couldn\x92t be real! This could not be happening right now.

All at once, the smile on the creature\x92s face became a look of confusion. One moment later, its stomach burst open in a muffled explosion.

Ami was knocked back and coated in a thick film of blood. She looked up to see the monster land backwards himself.

Rob must have lit the dynamite just as he was being eaten. It was his last action, and he\x92d done it to save her life.

In the pile of blood and stomach refuse, she could see the undigested remains of Rob\x92s top half, but they were not moving. She refused to see any more, and she scooped up the nine remaining sticks of dynamite as well as the timer, and she ran towards the house, as fast as she could.

While she ran, she silently prayed though she\x92d never been a religious person herself. She prayed for the souls of Joe and Rob, and that the creature would not wake up too soon. She prayed that things were safe with the other police officers at the house\x85

But she stopped dead in her tracks when she got to the mansion.

Chapter V

La bestia all'interno dello spirito è la bestia che gestisce il corpo


The snow fell lightly over the scene. Three overturned police cars and seven mauled, bloody, and dismembered bodies lay in the snow. They were wearing the dark blue coats of police officers and spreading large stains of red in the pure whiteness of the snow they were in.

The sight angered her as much as it made her sick. She tried not to look at any of the bodies, the bodies of men she\x92d worked with before in Rosemorde, and she picked her way up towards the house, weaving between bits of the carnage.

She came up to the heavy oak door and found it already open, just as she\x92d left it earlier. As she made her way down the front hall, she began to think of where she\x92d place the explosives. The best place seemed to be low, down in the cellar. It would perhaps topple the whole cliff as well as the house.

As she stood there, the explosives cradled in her left arm, she head the loud call of the Andrew monster right outside.

Fear made its way into every fiber of her body as she ducked into the dining room. Her feet crunched over the shattered glass and the bloodstains. Her tail swished anxiously behind her as she jumped over the rubble of the kitchen/dining room wall and she climbed over the other debris (including the body of the William monster) in the kitchen. At least that beast wasn\x92t coming back to get her.

She ducked through the cellar door and down the stairs. Halfway down she stumbled and fell a few steps but clambered to her feet and continued on as fast as she could. Behind her she could hear the creature crashing through the kitchen.

Ami raced down the hallway, through the door, and into the longer hall. Her breath came with difficulty and her chest felt tight as she kneeled down.

Her hands wouldn\x92t seem to cooperate as she pushed the electric spikes into the ends of the dynamite sticks. Once she\x92d completed all nine, she inserted the small plug into the timer and set the ten minutes. That would probably be enough time to lure the monster down further. And even then, it probably would not know enough to escape the house before it fell down around him. If it meant that she\x92d have to sacrifice her own life to kill the beast, she would do it.

And then, she heard it behind her. The beast had come down the stairs and was advancing upon the door directly behind her. She set the timer down beside the crack and moved ahead of it. She was facing the door just as it was thrown open.

The creature was there, and as it forced its immense shoulders through the small door frame, the bricks around it began to crack and break away. This made the crack in the floor groan and widens slightly.

Panting heavily, she turned around completely and ran straight down the hall. The beast was stuck in the door, and she might have enough time to do something else. She raced, ignoring the pain in her cut back, and spun the corner.

She glanced to the left as she did so and spotted the barred off window. If she could get those bars away, she might be able to squirm through.

With that, she dashed into the slaughter room and picked a strong hammer up from off the shelf. The tool felt slick with blood in her hands, but she ignored it for now. She raced back out and pounded on the bars as hard as she could. From down the hall, she could hear the creature roaring, and it began to break free.

Several more swings later, the bars broke free and fell outwards with a clang. She peeked out over the edge and saw a ten-foot drop, but below it was a hill that led down to the lake. It was a steep, but manageable climb. She pulled her upper body through the small window opening and fell face first down. She landed on her shoulder with a jolt of pain, but she quickly got to her feet and looked up.

The beast had broken free of the door and it\x92s oppressive shadow appeared at the window.

She prayed that it would not be able to get through that wall as she rushed down the hill. She needed it to be confined in that passageway, so that the explosion and collapse of the house would ultimately kill it.

But her prayers were unheeded. About halfway down the hill, a small rock struck her in the back of the head. She spun about to see that most of the wall was torn away, and the beast leapt down onto the hill. It steadied itself with animal like balance, and then proceeded down slowly.

"Shit!" she shouted. Now, all hope was lost.

Eventually, the hill ended and it flattened out into a small plain. She wheeled about just as the beast came onto the level surface too. Behind her, she could hear the cracking of the ice on the small lake.

"It\x92s come to an end, Ami." Said the beast. It looked like one great big mess. Its face was torn open in places and full of bleeding wounds. It\x92s skin was scorched and black, and it smelled of singed flesh. The stomach was still burst open, and bits of its intestines slopped down into the snow.

"Fuck you!" Ami cried as she pulled her handgun out.

Her handgun would do no good. All was lost.

"Surely now you can see the error of running from me. I am a superior being."

"You\x92re nothing but a murdering monster!" Ami spat, her grip tight on the useless gun. She clung to it like a crutch.

The beast laughed, his deep voice shaking the woods all around him. "Oh, Ami. I am far from a monster. In fact, the closest parallel that I can think of is an angel."

"You can\x92t be." Ami said, shaking her head. "You\x92re nothing more than an evil animal!"

"An animal, I am not." Replied the beast with a cold tone in his voice. "Can a common animal speak as I do or reason as I do? No, the only other Earthly creature on this planet that is even remotely similar to us is you, a sentient humanoid being. Even a morph counts."

"But that doesn\x92t mean I am exactly like you." Ami said. "You\x92re only capable of death and destruction, whereas people are capable of so much more."

"You think you are so different from us?" shot the creature. "You think you are so much better than us, when you judge us with the standards that people have created, and which you as a police officer uphold. You are not different, and it is the truth that will set you free. \x91La bestia all'interno dello spirito è la bestia che gestisce il corpo\x92"

"I don\x92t know what you\x92re saying." Ami shouted. "And I don\x92t care. All I want right now is to see you DIE! I want you to pay for killing my brother!"

"Your brother." Mused the beast. "He should be of no concern to you, as he is of no concern to me. He is not even part of Djaiak, and has not been smiled upon. His death was a kindness to the world, as will the death of all those who are not of Djaiak."

"You bastard\x85" Ami said through gritted teeth. She raised the handgun. "I\x92m not going to take any more of your talk."

The beast said nothing, but revealed its three rows of razor sharp teeth. "If it\x92s a fight you want, Ami, it\x92s a fight you\x92ll get. In the end, your death will mark a new chapter in the book of my dark religion."

"Shove it." Ami said, the fear seeming to leave her body, but not her mind. "It\x92s time for you to die."

The timer on the explosives ticked away\x85

Ami fired twice. Both shots hit the creature in the face, but it didn\x92t even flinch as the bullets embedded themselves in his flesh.

"Such pitiful weapons, Ami." It said. "How many times have you tried to kill me now? Quite a few, and none of the methods you used seemed to work."

Ami fired three more shots and backed up a bit. She was cautiously circling the beast with her gun held out in front of her. She knew that she didn\x92t have many more bullets left in her single handgun, and maybe the creature knew it to. Maybe it was trying to get her to waste her ammo, so she\x92d put up no more fight.

The beast leapt forward, but only halfway. It was enough to make Ami jump back and hit her foot on a rock. She cursed, but kept her balance and her gun pointed forward. While it was close enough she squeezed off five more shots, one of which struck its good eye. The beast grunted but made no other action.

"Fight me all you want. You can\x92t win, Ami."

"Stop calling me by my name!" Ami said and shot three more times.

"Give up now. You know your struggle is useless."

"I don\x92t care if I die here." She fired again.

"But you should care." Said the beast as it took the bullet in stride. "For when you die, the true power will be released."

"I\x92m sick of listening to you." She fired three more times.

"You should listen to me. You\x92ll find that what I have to say is very much the truth, and very interesting."

"Fuck off." She fired twice more.

The beast circled around her and backed up slightly. "You\x92re not being smart about this." It grinned. "Let me kill you and all of this will be over." The tendrils on his back glistened in the light that shone down the hill. They waved around erratically.

"You\x92re the only one who\x92ll be dying tonight!" She fired three more times.

"I highly doubt that."

She pulled the trigger to shoot again.

All she heard was a soft click.

She was completely out of bullets.

"And now that that little dance is over with, we shall get down to business. I\x92m disappointed it took so long, especially considering I prefer business before pleasure\x85 but killing your husk of a body will be business and pleasure."

Ami backed off as it loomed towards her. It swiped, but she dodged to her left. The pain in her back caused by the beast\x92s claws, suddenly shot back up and she winced.

"In pain, are you?" asked the beast. Blood dripped down from its jaw.

"I\x92m not going to die. Not like the others that you killed. They were my friends."

"They\x92re of no importance."

"I hate you."

"You should."

The creature lunged forward, and Ami jumped back. As she did so, she tripped over a rock. Her arms swung wildly as she tried to maintain her balance, but she couldn\x92t stay up. She fell backward and landed hard.

The monster drew up over her, leering down with hollow black eyes and his evil mouth.

"It was all fun, Ami." He said. "A lot more fun than I\x92d predicted, at first. But now it\x92s over. Isn\x92t it funny how things work out? I didn\x92t even have to come after you. You came to me. You knew it was your destiny."

"I don\x92t know about my destiny!" Ami wailed, fear creeping back on her. She didn\x92t want to die. "And I don\x92t care what perverted image you have in mind, but it\x92s not me! It\x92s not my destiny!"

"But it is, Ami. And now\x85" he paused, savoring the kill that was to come. "It\x92s time for you to face it."

The explosion sounded, and the shock was so powerful that Ami felt it under her back as she lay there trembling. The beast\x92s jaws moved from her and it looked behind himself. Ami caught a brief glimpse of what was going on.

The dynamite in the house had exploded. Since the hallway was under the cliff, it widened the fissure just enough so that the entire rock face of that side of the hill shattered. The beast watched, for the first time, in horror, as a mountain of rubble and wood and concrete slide down the short hill.

Ami took the time to roll out from under the creature, and she dashed to the left. The creature tried to move, but just as it did so, the pile fell down on top of it. It was soon buried under the entire mass of the cliff and house.

Ami held her hands above her head as the rain of destruction fell. She felt chunks of rock strike her arms as she knelt crouching in the snow.

After a few moments, the endless roar of motion ceased and she looked up. Through the dust, she could see that the majority of the pile had landed in a centralized location, and that the monster was trapped, possibly dead, under that thing.

She stood up and felt the cold snow and wind on her face.

Was it dead?

She\x92d killed it, or thought she\x92d killed it several times before. How could she be so sure that what it had said wasn\x92t the truth? Maybe it really couldn\x92t die.

She walked up the pile of gray rubble, and coughed slightly as the dust entered her lungs.

A few rocks in front of her lost their hold and tumbled down a sheer piece of concrete. They made a hollow sound as they came down.

How could she tell if it was dead or not? Would she have to dig? She had to make sure though, no matter what.

Ami sighed and scratched the back of her head.

Then, a large slab of rock was thrown high into the sky. It came down with a loud crash and shattered into several pieces.

Ami turned, horrified.

The beast was there, pinned and struggling under a great pile of rock and stone. She could see that only the upper body was out from under the pile, but it was clutching at rocks with its arms, trying to pull itself out. However, she noted, it was acting very weak. It had lost most of its strength, though she assumed that it would recover quickly.

She furiously searched about for anything to be used as a weapon, and she spotted a length of metal rod that had snapped at a point and formed a sharp point. This, she wedged out from between two stones and rushed at the beast screaming.

She slid two feet on the stone, and thrust the metal point into its side. It wailed, pitifully.

"This is for Richie!" she said as she drove the spike farther into the chest. She could feel the moistness inside as she pushed.

She was driving it into the beast\x92s heart.

"This is for all those cops!" She drove deeper still. The wailing became louder and more pitiful.

"This is for Joe!" She leaned on the metal weapon as hard as she could.

The creature\x92s scream became ear shattering.

"This is for Rob!" She drove it several more inches into its heart. The blood spurted up over the metal edge and coated her hands.

"And this\x85" she paused, her breath coming it short hard gasps. "This is for me\x85"

With that last syllable out of her mouth, Ami thrust the metal point as far in as she could. Soon, she felt it hit the rock on the other side.

The creature gave one last agonizing cry. It resounded in her ears and echoed over the icy lake and the broken cliff.

And then, before her eyes, the beast began to change. It shrunk in size, too. It convulsed and fell into jerky spasms. The black scales disappeared and were replaced by torn and blemished flesh and silver gray fur. The arms changed back to those reminiscent of the wolf that Andrew was. The head changed back to the wolf face she\x92d known before, only it was riddled with bullet holes and the eyes were shot out. Blood seeped out of its mouth and it raised its feeble naked arm one last time.

"You\x85 will see\x85 soon enough\x85." Andrew coughed up blood. "Your days are numbered Ami\x85 you will\x85 you will rise to where you rightfully stand\x85 among\x85 us\x85"

Ami did not say a word. She picked up the biggest rock that she could lift by herself. It was roughly the size of a water cooler, and she dropped it on Andrew\x92s head.

It made a sickening splat, and short sprays of warm blood shot out from under the rock.

Ami stood, still panting. Then she fell to her knees and her eyes welled up with tears.

Above her, the snow stopped falling and the wind stopped blowing. The sun peeked over the far distant edge of the forest, casting a cold gray December morning\x92s light on the destruction that had just ended.

She placed her face in her blood stained hands, and she cried.




To: Police Chief Roger Warrens

From: Detective Ami Barlette

Date: December 24

Subject: Follow up

Dear Chief Warrens:

I\x92m writing this informal letter to you as a follow up to the official report that I gave you earlier, the one surrounding the incident outside of Rosemorde.

I know that you either believe my account to be fabricated, or myself to be mentally unstable. A lot of people believe the same thing, and I would like to believe either of the two things myself, but I cannot honestly say that I am lying or that I am crazy. I know what happened to me and those few people who shared in the horror I endured during that one night, and I am not soon to forget it.

Officers White, Gillespe, Hanker, Ward, Bradford, Levitts, and Watson are all dead. As I stated in my report, the monster known as Andrew Kemfold killed all of them in means I was not able to uncover myself, but I\x92m sure that the county medical examiner will be able to provide you with more conclusive information. Paramedics Fowler and Richerson also died at Kemfold\x92s hands.

Officer Joe Smith, the rookie, is also dead. Andrew Kemfold killed him also, and consumed him before my very eyes. He showed actual potential, now that I look back on things, and I know he will be missed. I\x92ll notify his family of his death tomorrow, and I\x92ll be sure to leave out the questionable details, as they would only upset them more.

Two civilians died during the events that happened. Elaine Benton died shortly before the incident at Kemfold\x92s house occurred. She was obviously slaughtered like livestock and eaten, which I am disgusted to say, by Officer Smith, Robert Benton, and myself, unbeknownst to us.

As for Robert Benton, husband of Elaine Benton, he is also dead. The monster form of Andrew Kemfold consumed him.

The child who was reported missing, Jeremy Stockton, is safely back with his family, and undergoing medical treatment at the Rosemorde family health center. However, his condition is grave and psychiatrists say that the trauma he has suffered, and they refuse to acknowledge my story as credible, has caused him a great deal of mental damage. They say he won\x92t exactly be mentally sound, and my heart goes out for Jeremy and his family.

As for myself, I was treated for a concussion and multiple wounds to my back and body. The medical report of myself, which I included, with official report, should have been enough evidence to prove to you that the monster I speak of did in fact exist.

In only the officers who\x92d seen it while it was unconscious had lived to back my story up\x85

Also, the house of Kemfold has been destroyed. Andrew Kemfold and his servant William are presumed dead, though no bodies have been turned up in the remains of the destroyed house. Knowing this, my rational mind tells me to be afraid that they are still around, but something deep down in my heart tells me that they are gone for good, but at the same time my heart tells me that the battle is not over yet.

I also find it strange that Andrew Kemfold owns no shipping business in Detroit, nor is their anyone who matches his description in the FBI records. I now can see that his entire story was a front to some larger scheme. If you ask me what that scheme is, I will tell you. The scheme was the ascent of Kemfold\x92s own dark religion. It\x92s a religion that has not been practiced for centuries, but it\x92s one that seemed to parallel our modern ideas of God and Satan. However, I could not turn up any more information on it than what Kemfold himself told me.

I know that many people in Rosemorde now believe that I am insane, and I know that after reading this letter, an insistence that my preliminary report was true, you will too. I also know that many people will be suspicious of me, seeing how I was the only person to survive such a horrible ordeal.

In response to this, I now announce that I am going to leave the police force, and move back home to Chesterville. Although it\x92s none of your business, politely said, I am going to research all I can about the religion Kemfold spoke of.

One last thing. Kemfold seemed to think that my "destiny" if you believe in such things, existed with his dark God, Djaiak. I do not know what my future holds, but I know that my submission to this practice of sheer evil will not be voluntary, should it occur.

I\x92m going to pray tonight, and wish that the best happens. And I suggest you do too.

Thank you for reading this letter, if you get this far. I hope that the police force in Rosemorde stays strong, and I hope that you and the citizens of this town are safe for the rest of your days.


(Former) Detective Ami Barlette








-The End-



Written by: Bryan A. Tallman (Ryan Goldfoxx)