Andre inched his way along the unlit passage toward the subtle, amber glow spilling into the darkness from a solitary doorway that appeared through the gloom. The closer he got the more he sensed the overwhelming vibration of fear bleeding into the frigid atmosphere around him. Its intensity so powerful he could taste the bitterness on his tongue. When he reached the doorway he pressed his back against the damp, stone wall and peered around the arch.
The decaying church resembled a yawning, dark cavern. In the center of the darkness a circle of six cloaked figures, their faces hidden beneath hooded cowls, chanted an ancient hypnotic mantra. Their only illumination were six sculptured candelabra, the flame of each black candle emitting a wispy tendril of smoke that spiraled toward the vaulted ceiling and dissipated into an unholy grey aura above them. A male figure, dressed in a similar, hooded black cloak, stood in the center of the intimate circle clutching a sobbing young woman.
Fingers of apprehension gripped Andre’s gut and squeezed tightly as he studied the demonic ritual. Something about the picture was wrong―very wrong. He scanned the shadows for a better vantage point and spotted a pile of broken pews stacked on the nearby platform. Crouching on hands and knees, he crawled out of the doorway, up the steps, and slipped into the maze.
Each member of the circle watched the pair intently, savoring the sensation of mortal fear. They fed off it: addicted to the exhilarating rush.
The circle tightened as each member of the edgy group anticipated their moment of gratification. They pushed back the hoods and dropped their cloaks to the floor—it wouldn’t be long now.
‘Please. I’m begging you … let me go,’ the young woman implored through sobs.
‘Unfortunately, I cannot do that,’ her captor replied, unmoved by her plea. ‘No one leaves here once they become a member of our family.’ A smirk crossed his lips and he gently brushed the warm stream of tears from her cheek. ‘You know the rules.’
‘I won’t tell anyone you’re here,’ she said, her voice quivering.
The mocking group snickered at the young woman, sticking out their tongues and making licking and biting motions at her. She shrank back against the man holding her and looked up into his emotionless features. ‘Please,’ she whispered.
The cloaked figure pulled her to him and elevated them both into the air. She screamed—the high-pitched sound ricocheting off the stone walls—and clung to him, terrified that he would let her fall. Without hesitation, he produced a small dagger, thrust it into her throat and twisted the blade. The young woman clutched at the hole, gasping as blood spurted from the gaping wound in rhythm with her dying heartbeat.
The euphoric group cavorted below, smearing the warm, sticky liquid onto their bodies and licking it off each other’s skin.
The dark figure pushed her away and she plummeted to the concrete below. ‘Bon appétit,’ he offered, remaining above them.
Three females scurried, spider-like, across the floor on hands and knees to where the twisted, convulsing young woman lay. Attacking like ravenous animals, the trio ripped bloodied chunks of flesh from the body with their teeth and sucked them dry, while other group members sank fangs into each other’s flesh and drank.
The bloodthirsty scene made Andre’s insides churn with revulsion, but something compelled him to continue watching. A disquieting rush surged through his body, stirring something deep within him and he swallowed the sensation, trying to suppress it.
Once the frenzied, blood orgy subsided and the sated group dispersed, only the cloaked figure remained. He propelled himself through the air and landed on the platform near Andre’s hiding place. ‘You can show yourself now,’ he summoned. Silence. He sighed. ‘Must I make you come out of there?’
Andre knew there was no way out, and from what he had witnessed, he also knew this creature could do exactly what he claimed. He reluctantly pulled himself from the tangle of wood and steel, remaining at a distance. ‘Who … are you?’ he asked, attempting to conceal the uneasy tremor in his voice.
‘You should already know the answer to that question, Andre,’ the dark figure replied, removing his hood.
Andre’s body stiffened. ‘How do you know my name?’
As the shadowed figure moved toward him through the gloom, a milky beam of moonlight filtering through a broken, stained-glass window illuminated his pale features.
Andre stepped backwards. ‘No!’ he shouted, the prickling sensation of fear crawling over his skin like a swarm of insects.
The figure moving toward him was his mirror image.
Unsettling laughter echoed around the empty hall, stealing Andre’s attention from the creature standing inches away. He swung his head up and scanned the balcony. No one.
Turning back, he discovered he was alone. He didn’t hesitate; he leapt from the platform and ran for the doors. The chilling sound of laughter followed Andre and he peered over his shoulder expecting to see his doppelganger looming up behind him—but only the darkness pursued him. When he reached the doors leading to the street, they burst from their hinges in a spray of splinters and debris. He stopped abruptly and faced his nemesis lunging out of the darkness…
3:25 a.m. Los Angeles River, Los Feliz Area
In the early morning haze, as Detective Reece Daniels fought his way through the pack of hungry journalists and climbed under the yellow crime scene tape, he knew exactly what to expect. This body made number six in a series of murders committed over a two week period, and, as yet, no suspect had been apprehended. He’d given a brief statement, making it perfectly clear that it was an ongoing murder investigation and, at this stage, he was unable to disclose any information. He hoped it would buy him some time.
The crime scene was buzzing. Uniformed cops guarded the perimeter, plain-clothes and uniforms combed the scene for evidence, and black and white squad cars were placed strategically around the scene with strobe lights flashing. Even the Crime Scene Unit was on the job.
A rookie cop standing point approached him, and Reece flashed his badge as he got closer. The cop nodded and waved him through.
‘How did the press get wind of this so damn fast?’ Reece asked as he passed him, irritated by the barrage of questions thrown at him when he arrived.
The cop shrugged. ‘Beats me, Detective.’
Reece strode across to the crime scene. ‘What’ve you got for me, Jim?’ he asked, reaching a balding, middle-aged man in a grey sweatsuit.
‘ Same as before, I’m afraid,’ Jim replied, peering over his shoulder as he crouched beside the naked body of a teenaged girl. ‘Nothing new.’
‘No wounds on the body?’ Reece stood behind his colleague, arms folded across his chest, an irritated scowl on his unshaven face. He knew the answer even before Jim said it.
‘I’m afraid not. Nothing visible at this stage, anyhow.’ Jim was in the process of bagging the victim’s hands to avoid contaminating possible evidence.
‘Then how the hell is a body drained of blood without some kind of weapon being used? Maybe you’ve overlooked something.’ Reece was frustrated with the lack of evidence and suspects.
‘Hey, I just call it like I see it. You know that. Don’t get pissed at me, I’m doing the best I can under the current circumstances.’ Jim stood up, peeled the purple latex gloves from his hands and dropped them into his kit. ‘You think I don’t want to see you nail this nutcase? Take a look at her, Reece, take a good long look. She’s just a kid. Probably the same age as my daughter, Lisa.’ He walked away from the body, nodding to the guys from the coroner’s office who were waiting impatiently nearby. The detective followed.
‘I’m sorry,’ Reece said, sighing heavily. ‘This case is driving me crazy. The investigation has turned up nothing on this maniac so far, and the DA’s office is breathing down my neck. They want an arrest soon. McCracken is head-hunting and I don’t want it to be my head he’s after.’
The two men stood together while the body was bagged, tagged and removed from the scene.
‘Are you absolutely sure there are no wounds? What about syringe marks?’ Reece was desperate for any information his colleague could offer.
‘Nope, none. I’ve gone over every inch of the victims with a fine tooth comb and there’s zilch. Whatever this guy uses … well, it beats the hell out of me.’
‘There’s got to be something we’re overlooking.’ Reece paced agitatedly. ‘We’ve got to find out who this crazy sonofabitch is and fast!’
‘Have you considered the possibility it could be one of us?’
The detective stopped pacing and stared at him. ‘What are you saying?’
‘I’m saying it could be a cop. It’s been known to happen before.’ He paused for a moment, and then continued his analysis. ‘Why no clues? Maybe he knows how the department operates. Could be he’s selling the blood to blood banks or hospitals for some extra cash, or maybe he’s one of those screwballs who drinks it.’ His stomach squirmed at the thought.
‘And maybe the guy’s a vampire.’ Reece gave an unamused chuckle.
‘Hey, come on, Reece, this is no laughing matter,’ Jim chided.
‘I’m well aware of that fact. If I didn’t know better, I’d probably consider vampires at this stage—bodies drained of blood—it’s becoming a fricken epidemic.’ He ran his fingers through his wavy, sandy-colored hair and blew out a long, slow breath.
‘I understand how you feel,’ Jim consoled. ‘Besides, vampires leave marks remember … fangs.’ He tapped his right incisor with an index finger, the hint of a smile erasing his serious expression.
Reece studied him for a moment, an eyebrow raised. ‘Right,’ he said. The two men stood in silence for some time until Reece’s cop instincts kicked in again. ‘How long you estimate she’s been dead?’
‘Can’t say for sure. Possibly 48 hours. I’ll be able to give you a more precise time of death once I get her on the table.’
Reece rubbed a hand across the stubble on his chin. ‘If she’s been gone that long why hasn’t someone reported her missing?’
‘Good question. I’ll leave that one with you, you’re the detective.’ He shook Reece’s hand. ‘Well, I’m heading home. I don’t like being away from my girls too long, especially with this nutcase on the loose.’
Reece watched Jim push his way through the horde of journalists, camera bulbs flashing every which way as his colleague threaded through the pack, heading for his car. Reece remained where he stood gazing at the shallow water, too many unanswered questions reeling round inside his head. Where was this guy killing his victims? Why teenage girls? It wasn’t as if he raped them. He didn’t. Why no wounds on the bodies? And what was he doing with the blood? Maybe Jim was right. The guy could be selling it. But what if he wasn’t? With the Gothic scene so prevalent in LA, could it be used for some kind of ritual? Reece didn’t have any answers and he didn’t like it.
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© 2012 M. A. Anderson
Bella Luna Books, Australia
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission of the Author.