With a look on his face that verged toward the inappropriately erotic, Ryan Norman polished his silver badge. He loved the way it glinted in the moonlight. He loved the way it made him look. So why wouldn’t he take pride in its appearance? Why not, when the rest of the night going to be stuck in the same, plodding rut as the night before?
It was another boring night shift at the dock, looking after the hundreds of shipping crates that came and went on a daily basis from the city port. He wasn’t a police officer, nor was he a security guard. What did his bosses back at head office call him? A security guarantor. Some new age bull shit to make the companies he was hired out to feel more comfortable in their decisions. A security guarantor. That wouldn’t last too long, he thought. People like heavy handed names, titles that struck awe and terror in any prospective thieves. Something like ‘security bastard’. Security guarantor was a fad and it wouldn’t be around much longer.
He held his flashlight like it was a gun, strolling worry free through the looming corridors that were created by the crates that had been placed strategically across the area. The only thing he’d ever had to do here was scare of some homeless guys who had made an empty crate their home. That was it. No smugglers-- boo--, no thieves-- yawn--, just hobos trying to keep warm in the night. But he had chased them off, reported their appearance to the authority, and that was that.
Ryan had tried to become a police officer but they had failed him on psychiatric grounds. He couldn’t remember the exact reasoning. Whatever. All that mattered was the task at hand. The job. He continued his patrol, his flashlight poking into the nooks and crannies of the crates just in case there was something waiting there for him. Not that there ever was. He sighed, resigned to another boring night at the--
There was a sound.
A bottle being kicked?
Something being moved when it shouldn’t have been?
Someone being where they shouldn’t.
“Fucking homeless bastards,” mumbled Ryan. He turned on his radio and called in the minor disturbance. Investigating, he said. Could be a rat. A cat. It could be Sinbad the fucking Sailor, but he had to call it in regardless. With that done, he began his approach.
“Hello?” The shadows didn’t answer. He rolled his eyes. “Fucking…”
Ryan followed the source of the sound. He had heard it once and he knew where to look. He kept his cool, just like he had been trained to, and pushed on. “I’m warning--”
The sound of the containers being struck? Like someone was being thrown against them?
Ryan pushed on, determined. This could be something. This could be his something. The trigger for him to finally become a police officer. Then? A detective! Then… he could become the chief of police for the whole city. These were just some of the ideas he had. Some of the ideas he shared with the interviewers when he had applied to the police force. They gave him looks. Jealousy? He shook his head, dismissing his thoughts. Now wasn’t the time.
Ryan turned a corner and as he raised the flashlight the bulb began to flicker and fail. He cursed furiously under his breath but to no avail. The light died unremarkably, leaving Ryan alone with a shape slumped against one of the containers. He holstered the flashlight and approached the slumped figure. “Hello?”
The man-- Ryan was convinced it was a man now-- remained still.
“Hello…” He couldn’t see a thing. He realised he had stumbled into one of the poorest lit areas of the lot-- typical. He moved slowly toward the shadowed shape ahead of him, arms outstretched just in case. In the distance he could see lights flickering on and off, but there was nothing nearby to rely on to guide him through.
“Okay,” he whispered to himself. He knew the man was dead. The man had to be dead. That was the only option now. This was not a night for drunken layabouts slumping over in port authority storage lot. He knelt down next to the figure ready to check for a pulse, but then--
His flashlight turned on in its hilt. He looked down at it in surprise, scrambling to turn it off, and when he looked back up at the man’s face he screamed as loud as his lungs would allow.
Every opening on the naked man’s face was stitched closed. His ears, his eyes, his nostrils and his mouth, all sealed shut with tightly wound strands of black string. The man’s skin was pale and thin, wrapped tightly around his frame. He looked how Ryan imagined mummies to look like in real life, not CGI-effected or made up all Karloff like. His flesh was torn in places, like it had grown so tight that it had began to split. Blackening ulcers oozed what must have been blood but Ryan couldn’t be sure. The viscous fluid was paste-like and oil-like in colour…. Ryan couldn’t help his next reaction--
--Ryan vomited over himself in shock. He’d never seen anything as horrible as this in all his time on the dockyard. He’d seen homeless men and women covered in shit and god knows what else, but this? He wiped his lips of the vomit, and looked down at his shirt.
“Fuh… fuh… fuck--!”
The man grabbed him-- Ryan screamed again as the desperate hands groped at his vomit drenched jacket and pushed the man back against the container, making the same sound that had drawn him to this location. “nnnmmm!”
The man made stifled, suffocated sounds and scratched at his face, not knowing what was going on. He was pale and dehydrated and his every movement was making his situation even worse, spreading the black discharge all over his face He knew what he had to do, even in his terror. He grabbed the man’s hands.
“It’s okay!” he shouted, trying to get through to the man, “ okay, help is here! Help is here! Calm down!”
The man struggled pathetically, but his actions fizzled out. He settled, but still shook, still looked a horrifying mess of a human being. His paper-like skin was now peeling off his body, and Ryan was horrified by the smell coming from the wounds a rotten dead smell he knew he would never be able to forget.
Ryan took his pen knife from his pocket and fiddled with all the attachments. He pulled out the fork and cursed, pushing it back into its slot. Finally, after some struggling-- his own fingers numb and senseless-- he was able to pry out the scissor attachment.
“Stay perfectly still!” he shouted, and the man nodded.
Ryan went to work.
He began to snip at the strands that bound the man’s eyelids closed. The man seized up for a split second, but settled when he realised what was happening. Ryan assumed he was caught in the moment when his eyes were initially sealed, that horror must overcome you at such a time. Ryan was horrified at what he was having to do. He was trying desperately not to touch the man’s skin, but he had to, and when he did so he felt the man’s skin shift and peel under his grip. The man continued to make pained noises as he went to work, but was trying his best to stay calm now.
With one eye done, the man blinked furiously, trying to adjust to his new predicament.
Ryan smiled in an attempt to comfort him, but the man began to scream through sealed lips, grabbing at Ryan’s shoulders as he tried to settle him.
“It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s--”
Someone took a hold of Ryan’s hand and shoved the scissors into the man’s eye, causing blood to spurt into Ryan’s mouth and send the man into convulsions.
Ryan turned and saw a man wearing what he thought was a gas mask, but before he could react he was struck so hard that his nose split open and his world faded to black--