1

'Read me another chapter?' Ten year old Bethany asked, smiling from her pillow.

Her father, Jonathan, smiled back and ruffled her halo of blonde hair. 'It's late, kiddo; you've got school tomorrow. I'll read an extra chapter on Friday, okay?' Bethany nodded and pulled her duvet closer to her chin. Jonathan kissed her forehead, said goodnight, and left his daughter to slumber in darkness.

It had been ten years since he'd become a father, and ten years since he'd become a widower. It was hard to balance being a police officer and a good father, and several things suffered for it. The house, for instance, was lacking in what most people would call conventional tidiness and his relationship with women wasn't the greatest in the world. In fact he hadn't been on more than a handful of dates since Bethany was born. Not that it bothered him at all. He was quite happy to spend the rest of his life without the presence of another wife or girlfriend, but he feared his daughter may need some more female presence in her life than her grandmother.

Slumping on the settee with a can of lager in his hand the father sighed half-contentedly; he was dreading the next day.

For the past four months the streets of Lanvale were less safe than normal. There was always some kind of assault or robbery being committed on a nightly basis and usually there were several murders a month, most of which never made it to the news – the victims being, more often than not, homeless, prostitutes or gangbangers. Not exactly the kind of people others would mourn the loss of. However, recently, the body count had increased to comprise of those not usually included on the list of fatalities. Housewives, businessmen, teenagers and even a priest had suffered at the brutal hands of this maniac.

By tomorrow, he knew in his gut, there'd be at least one body to deal with and no way to identify it – the method this psychopath had adopted to quite literally destroy his victims was nothing short of monstrous, rendering facial and dental recognition impossible.

The smashed and ruined mouths, being the only vaguely recognisable part of the faces of every one of the dead mauled in such malevolent ways as to be indiscernible from human form were twisted into an inaudible yet ghastly and nightmarish scream. Truly their last moments must have been terrible and every night as he closed his eyes Jonathan was disturbed by the sight of the final scream for help – or mercy.

It took a loud noise to rouse him from sleep. A thunderous wooden banging rattling his skull quickly shook him into realising it was coming from inside his house; from his back door.

His feet carried him into the hallway before he could even think of commanding them. His intention was to attain his gun but was instead frozen in place by a dreadful sight.

There in the shadows stood a man, the living room light half-illuminating and glimmering off water dripping from matted walnut hair, a crooked mouth grinning insanely and at the end of a long, bony plaid-clad arm, a small black pistol aimed directly at him.

Jonathan stood, frozen nearly mid-stride in the doorway to his living room, staring at the gunman, who stared back with glistening wet tarmac eyes. They faced each other down for several seconds before a bullet was let off into Jonathan's shoulder, his stomach then a final shot into his thigh.

Howling in agony he fell backwards into the lounge. The intruder stepped into the room and shot out the ceiling light; his face was visible for barely half a second before everything was plunged into darkness.

'Remember me, John?' The crooked mouth hissed down at the wounded officer, a hint of sick joy in its raspy voice. Indeed Jonathan remembered him and his horrible tone: he was Jack Creager, a main suspect concerning the current wave of murders plaguing the dissolute metropolis. Evidence pointed to him being the killer, but it was all circumstance, and nothing could be made to stick.

Though in the eyes of the law he was innocent he was widely believed by many in the police force to be the perpetrator. There was an air about him that was unpleasant and, some felt, terrifying.

Even the hardiest of men shivered at the sound of Creager's cold, rasping voice with it's sudden and almost violent bouts of mad religious cursing. To look at him was to see a sick man yet the way he spoke made it clear he was suffering from nothing more than religious zeal seen by many as madness, but was proven quite rational and sane through numerous tests and interrogations.

Minute shards of light shone into the room as Jack peered through the curtains, making a satisfied noise when he saw nobody outside. He turned and looked down at the bleeding man, who was writhing on the stained carpet and said 'looks like nobody heard. I was praying they wouldn't. A gun wasn't my first choice of weapon but I knew you'd easily overpower me, John, so I had no choice.' He grinned before adding 'sorry about that.'

Jonathan wheezed heavily, trying to speak through the pain and grit teeth. Liquid fire burned through his wounds and with every heartbeat more of the viscous blaze made its way through his body.

Creager stooped down next to his victim, 'why, you ask?' He half-chuckled. 'Oh Jonathan, even if I were to explain to you my reasoning I doubt you'd understand. The Lord has plans for us all; everyone has a part to play in this corporeal dance. I'm here to set into motion a very important chain of events and this existence's need for you has expired. Die happily John, knowing you've helped change everything.'

What happened next was the worst thing imaginable.

'Dad?'

Oh God, no.

'Dad what was that noise?'

Panic overrode Jonathan's pain and he completely ignored Jack unveiling a small rubber mallet.

'Stay upstairs Beth! Go through the fire escape!'

'But Dad,'

'Now Bethany! Don't,' violently cut short his garbled words barely made it past his smashed lips.

Bethany began her slow, darkened descent, curiosity and concern for her father overpowering the fear she felt. Sickening thumping noises were all that came from downstairs. 'Dad what's going on?' Halfway down the staircase she was met by a tall, lithe outline she knew was not her father. It reached out and fiercely grabbed her arm, yanking her through the gloom.

She screamed and struggled and was eventually let go when her feet collided with something soft. The curtains were the only thing within reach; they tore when she gripped them to cease her descent and the street-light that shone through illuminated the horrific sight of her bloodied and mutilated father breathing shakily in the middle of the room.

The psychopath emerged from the hallway and loomed over the wounded man. Bethany watched as he lifted the mallet and continued his vicious attack; she screamed and cried and begged him to stop but the demented criminal would not listen. The young girl picked up a brass ornament from the glass coffee table and threw herself at her father's attacker, bringing the statuette down on the back of his neck. Creager growled and swung his fist backwards, hitting Bethany in the face and sending her crashing face-first into the small unit.

Consciousness barely graced Jonathan's brain and his sight was completely gone; all that he could do was listen hazily as his young girl's cries of mercy mixed with crunching glass. The only thing that comforted him in his dying moments were the distant wailing of sirens cutting through the night.

The top of the sun was just brushing the horizon and early morning air was being torn apart by rubber screaming against wet tarmac and sirens shattering the rarely-acquired silence within the city, men barking orders and boots slapping against the water-logged ground.

The armoured response team stood poised and ready with their automatic rifles aimed at all possible entry and exit points of a small, spotlight-illuminated town house. Then, for the third time that night, the sky ripped open and rain hammered down upon the gloomy Welsh city. The inside of the house was now darkened but the police lights shone through the living room window, giving a horrifying glimpse of the situation inside. It wasn't long – barely three minutes – before neighbours flocked out onto their doorsteps to watch the spectacle before them as the houses on either side of the offending home were evacuated and locked up.

'What do we know so far?' A brown trench coat called over the heavy rain. A fluorescent yellow jacket turned, wiping his brow, and squinted against the strong spotlights as he covered his radio with his other hand.

'One fatality already. Sniper reports one adult body on the living room floor.' The shadows cast by the yellow lighting hid the pain burned onto the superior officer's face, but there was something more important than the loss of his old friend.

'What about Bethany?'

The other man sighed, 'unknown,' and before he could say anything more the front door burst open. There he stood, Bethany sobbing and trembling in front of him with a large bleeding gash down the left side of her bruised face, Jack Creager stared blankly into the spotlights, gripping the young girl by her bloodstained hair.

Quickly his face twisted into a horrible vision of rage and he started screaming into the light, 'turn them off,' he roared, 'turn them lights off now!' There was no compliance on the authorities' part. They stood their ground and waited for the right moment to strike.

He continued to shout, gleefully now. Everything was as planned – there was only one thing left to do.

He quickly raised the gun to the girl's temple and pulled the trigger.

Dark crimson bloomed into the open air.

Bethany screamed and jumped aside as Creager's lifeless body collapsed forward down the small flight of steps, the jammed gun clattering down after him. He landed in a sick, crumpled heap on the pavement below. His dead eyes stared up at the small girl, blood flowing from the openings in his head and mixing with the rainwater as the sun slowly rose above the horizon.