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«The Night Monster», James Swain

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Cops aren’t supposed to get frightened. The badge and the uniform and the gun strapped to a cop’s side are intended to ward off the normal fears that most people experience when confronted by unspeakable horror and evil.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. Cops get scared, just like everyone else. Sometimes they get so scared, they run for their lives. Other times, they get shaken to the core and never forget the things they’ve seen. It happened to me, two years into the job.

I was going home in my cruiser when I got the distress call. A woman was being assaulted at the Sunny Isle apartment complex, and a neighbor had called 911. Sunny Isle was a mile from where I lived, so I took the call.

According to the dispatcher, a college student named Naomi Dunn was being assaulted by a man inside her apartment. It had sounded like a domestic disturbance, something I’d dealt with many times as a cop. When the dispatcher had asked if I wanted backup, I’d said no, I could handle the situation. The dispatcher had told me to proceed with caution.

I arrived at Sunny Isle a few minutes later. Four orange stucco buildings made up the complex, with entrances from each apartment facing a courtyard containing a pool and a children’s play area. It had started to rain, and there were white caps on the water.

I searched for a place to park. The lot was filled with junkers, many with student tags. Several had bumper stickers that said Clinton in ‘92! I’d read about the Arkansas governor’s run for president, and didn’t think he had a chance.

I parked and got out of my cruiser. There was a yellow rain slicker in the trunk, but I didn’t bother to retrieve it. I was a native, and was used to getting drenched by the occasional downpour.

Walking into the courtyard, I scanned the unmarked stucco buildings. They were quiet, and I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I walked around for a few minutes, then decided to leave. It had been a long day, and I wanted to eat dinner with my wife and two-year-old daughter, then hit the books. I was studying to become a detective, and the lengthy test was weighing heavily on my mind.

“Officer! Officer!”

A ghostlike woman materialized by the pool. Dressed in a simple black housedress, her soaking wet hair was plastered to her head.

“Did you call the police?” I asked.

“That was me.”

Her voice was trembling, and she was shaking from head to toe. I couldn’t tell if there was something wrong with her, or if she was just plain scared.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Earlier I saw a large man lurking around the complex. Then I heard noises from Naomi Dunn’s apartment. She was screaming, so I called nine-one-one.”

“Is Naomi Dunn still in her apartment?”

“Yes.” The woman pointed at the last building, on the ground floor. “He’s still in there, hurting her.”

“Do you know who he is?”

“No, but he was huge.”

I started to walk toward the building, and the ghostly woman called after me.

“Take your gun out,” she said.

The words made me freeze. I’d been trained not to draw my weapon unless my life was being threatened. The tone of her warning said that it was. Unstrapping my holster, I rested my hand on my gun’s handle.

“Please go inside your apartment and lock your door,” I said.

“Yes, Officer.”

I waited until the woman was in her apartment before I approached Dunn’s apartment, and put my ear to the door. There was banging and shoving inside, the sounds loud enough to be heard over the rain. I knocked and stepped back.

When no one answered, I went to the window, and peeked through the flimsy curtains. The apartment’s interior was a disaster area, with furniture uplifted and an upside down TV set on the floor with Dan Rather’s smiling face. A bloodstain on the wall made me shudder, a bloody hand dragged across the wall. It didn’t look like any domestic disturbance I’d ever seen.

Movement in the rear of the apartment caught my eye. Down the hallway and through an open door, a twenty-something woman stood inside a bedroom. Blond and powerfully built, she was throwing vicious kicks and punches at a person I could not see. The rapidity of the blows told me that she was schooled in self-defense, and made me wonder if the blood I’d seen had come from the person she was hitting.

I instinctively relaxed. I assumed this was Naomi Dunn, and could see that she was holding her own with her assailant. I had arrived just in time.

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