"What the hell am I doing here" Detective Michael Stonebender thought as the unmarked Crown Vic came to a stop in front of the dilapidated house in one of east Tampa's less pleasant blocks.
He was staring at the paperwork for a known sex offender suspected of involvement in a violent attack three days ago in one of the areas more run down parks. The victim had been critically wounded , and at some point after the attack had been torn at by wild animals, probably dogs, resulting in her death.
"We lock them up, and they just keep coming back out, eh, John?"
The driver, Stonebender's partner, John Venture, gave a sympathetic nod. "Yeah, but look at it this way, we could work at Walmart. He gave his trademark smirk, Mike returned a raised eyebrow and the two got out of the car at the same time.
Walking up to the house was a depressing experience, you could almost feel the desperation of the neighborhood, houses that forty years ago were considered part of an affluent area, now fallen into disrepair. Lawns untended, paint peeling, cheap dining room furniture now serving duty on the houses open porches.
"I like what they've done with the place," John quipped.
"Art deco, very nice", Mike replied deadpan.
Upon cresting the stairs they were confronted with a weathered discount depot front door, complete with peeling paint and the street address in worn-out chipped flowing script on the wall beside it.
"Your turn,"John deadpanned.
"Why is it always my turn?"
"Because it's all your fault." John tried to keep a straight face.
"Shut the hell up, slacker" Mike finally responded.
Three loud raps on the door and the two settled back into an alert but relaxed posture, waiting for a reaction.
"TAMPA POLICE, PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR." Mike called out after a few beats.
There was a scuffling sound inside the house, causing both detectives to shift their weight and perk up their ears.
A few moments after their call, a rotund woman in a flower print mu-mu opened the door and began a full scale assault on the officers. Demanding in broken english to see identification, wanting to know why they roused her from her evenings reality TV viewing to answer the door, and various other demands, some not applicable due to the laws of physics.
"MA'AM!" John finally demanded.
She stopped mid tirade to look quizzically at the detective.
"We just want to know if you know someone named James Edwards, this is the last known address for him." Mike explained reasonably.
"No! I don' know nobody named that!" She fired back.
At the back of the house a door slammed, After a heartbeat long pause, both detectives split in opposite directions, and headed around the sides of the house, the obnoxious woman forgotten.
Mike rounded the house and vaulted over the rickety chain link fence in one move. This was why he had become a cop, the thrill of the pursuit. He had known beforehand that the job required enormous paperwork, endless boredom, and long hours, but this was the part that got him through all of it.
As he rounded the back of the small house he saw a shadow finish sliding over the back fence, this one taller at eight feet. The detective did not hesitate, launching himself forward, jumping and swinging just the way he had been taught in the academy. In seconds he was in pursuit, a few hundred feet behind the fleeing suspect. He could hear a loud barking behind him, along with some blistering profanity. Apparently John had found the side of the house with the dog house on it.
As he ran he fished out his radio and began barking into it.
"10-46 ,This is 962, I am in foot pursuit of a white male, 30's, white shirt, black pants last seen headed east on Lake from 29th!"
He knew that backup was still critical minutes away as he saw the dark figure race into a side alley. There was no time for decisions, if he lost Edwards in the alleys, they might never find him again. This thought waged a winning battle with the desire to wait for backup and secure the area. After all, the dogs were good, but if you were clear of the area when they went in...
He rounded the corner.
And pulled up short.
Edwards was at a dead end, his back against a literal wall.
"POLICE, GET ON THE GROUND NOW! Mike barked at the cringing man.
Edwards was a lot bulkier in real life than he had looked in his mugshot, and at first the detective thought he was complying. In truth he was crouching, staring with baleful eyes at the officer.
"I'm not going back." There was a cold certainty in his voice that made the hair of the back of the detectives neck rise.
"I SAID GET DOWN! HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!" Mike barked over his weapon again.
"And I said that I'm not going back." Edwards stated flatly. He was still kneeling, his right hand on the ground in almost a football players crouch.
As he finished speaking, he looked up, and Stonebender thought for a second that the mans eyes flashed a feral yellow.
Mike opened his mouth again to repeat his demand, when Edwards became a flash of movement, and the officers breath was knocked out of him by an explosive impact. At first, he had thought Edwards had managed to pull a gun and open fire, but the impact kept coming, Edwards began to struggle with him.
He rolled onto his stomach in a knee jerk protective response, allowing the heavier man access to his back, but not his gun or vitals.
As he instinctively fought back, he got sensory impressions that didn't match the situation as he knew it.
The arms he was struggling with seemed to be covered with something harry, more than even the most hirsute man could sport. Edwards voice seemed to be more of a growl now, up close and personal, the mans foul breath in his ear. Stonebender felt a new flash of pain as he was slammed into a pallet lying in the alley, it seemed that his forearm had been laid open, his first instinct was by claws, but the rational part of his brain realized that it must have been the pallet.
He managed to get a grip on the arm that was trying to wrap around his throat, and his training came though. He leveraged the arm, and managed to flip himself on top of his attacker, using the mans weight against him.
The sight that met him was one out of nightmares. Inches from his face was a slavering maw, with large canine teeth, mounted in an equally improbable snout. Over this snout was a pair of glaring yellow irises, with an unmistakable human intelligence behind them. For a split second, the experienced detective was stunned, unable to make what he saw under him fit with what he knew of the world.
The former Edwards realized his advantage, and the detective was brought back to reality by the feeling of something, no several somethings raking down his shin. The pain was enough to unlock Mike from the mental loop he was in.
He yanked his gun arm free, and without thought, jammed it into the visage that was snarling inches from his own. He began to reflexively pull the trigger, the sharp report of his weapon inches away was deafening, but the reaction in instant.
The form under him shuddered at the first impact, and the grip around his neck loosened.
Mike leapt up, and in one movement, began emptying his weapon into the form before him, while backing away wiping blood out of his eyes as he went. He didn't even know where the head wound had come from, and didn't care at the moment.
A sharp change in the movement in his hand brought is attention back to reality, as the Glock locked in the open position, completely emptied.
He took a second to wipe the blood from his eyes again, and looked back at the creature that had attacked him.
It was a man.
Edwards was laying still in a slowly spreading pool of his own blood, his head mostly gone, and the front of the white tank top was covered in no less than ten slowly expanding spots of bright red.
The detective backed away slowly, still not sure what had just happened. Mike turned, then dropped his weight onto a convenient crate and took a deep breath.
He had just killed a man. A Man?
For a moment, Mike intentionally ignored the repeated calls of his radio, and the thoughts falling though his own mind. He had killed A MAN. Nothing else. Something in the ferocity of the attack must have brought the image to his brain. There was no other explanation.
"Ye gods," he thought, "This is the start of a nightmare".
Stonebender was thinking of the labyrinthine paperwork and investigation, a guaranteed week off with pay, but no picnic.
He had no idea of the nightmare he had actually stumbled into.