Chapter One – December, 21, 2010

 Devon knew that feeling presenting itself to her. A feeling that had haunted her childhood and most of her adolescent life. The one she hated most.

 Moments ago, the passing treetops looked as if they were ablaze as the sun set over the mountains. Devon was now half way through her ocean crossing back to the city she had just left. Now she gazed numbly out upon the black water drifting past. During her travels, Devon’s mind would normally be captivated by the passing islands or entranced by the trail of white and black foam mixing from the propeller blades of the massive ferry. The crossing of the ocean back and forth between Vancouver Island and Vancouver was a secret love of Devon’s. Her adopted father Mark may have moved across the water just over two years ago for a new job, but she never was short of excuses to visit the mainland when she could. Most people dreaded the rising ferry costs, or would complain about the whole two hours it took for such a short trip. Devon tuned them out; there was something about the distinctive West Coast scenery and the smell of the ocean that always excited her. Today though she stood alone, freezing on the outside deck. Too anxious to sit inside and too impatient to get there. The blue hue from her cell phone screen lit up the inside of her hood as she looked at the time. It was only six pm. Another two hours and she would be back in Victoria, the city that for the last seven years she called home. Her outgoing call list read nothing but the same number over and over, repeating down the whole screen with the name Derrick beside it.
 Derrick was one of the first few people Devon met when she came to Victoria. His father lived next door to Mark in a small two-bedroom house. Derrick was the first guy Devon ever felt safe enough to let past her web of trust issues, allowing him see the real her. After the age of fourteen, when she went to live with Mark, Devon’s life was exceptionally different. Finally she was safe, allowing herself to start untangling that web. Finding a family in the home of her adopted father, building true friendships, and falling in love with Derrick left Devon in a state of detachment from her past. Now like an old friend, that feeling was reacquainting itself, just two weeks before she was supposed to spend Christmas with Derrick. If that wasn’t bad enough, Derrick ended it all with a cryptic email telling Devon that he no longer could have her as part of his life and that he was sorry. With no answer to the emails she had sent as a reply, Devon had nowhere else to go. Staying in Victoria, alone and surrounded by reminders of Derrick was not an option. Not wanting to burden friends with her emotional baggage, she escaped over to Vancouver to the shelter of her father’s house.
 Devon had never really experienced the dissolving of a relationship on this level. She had dated a few boys in her later teens that ended because her heart was never truly invested. It wasn’t until they were nineteen when Derrick finally told her how he felt. His confession, of course, was a relief to Devon since he told her after she had initiated their first kiss. Even so, her pride was not the kind to send her running to confront him like some crazy ex-girlfriend. She had witnessed other people have to deal with exes like that and swore she would never become one of them. The reason for her venture across the water back to her city was more serious than a broken heart or torn ego. Devon put these aside after receiving a phone call from a mutual friend who had told her that Derrick has been absent from work for over a week, and was not returning anyone’s calls. For as long as she had known Derrick he had never taken a day off work in his life. Even when he was sick, he would push through the day so he would not let anyone down. That phone call was the final push into action, but the driving force of her heart was being a month late. In the coming days, Devon was expecting a call from her clinic to confirm her suspicions after an at home pregnancy test showed positive. Devon wanted to wait until she found out for sure whether she would be carrying his child before saying anything to him.
 That feeling presented itself again: churning her stomach like the propeller churned the water below. An old friend, she trusted this feeling more than she trusted most people. This feeling was her protector, a warning that always held true. Devon had spent most of her childhood in and out of foster care and had learned early about the outcome from this feeling. The outcome was this-Devon was going to lose.

 In a daze, Devon stepped off a curb. What seemed like moments before, stepping onto the bus platform outside the ferry had vanished in a sea of memories. She didn’t even remember the ride, or how she got here, but she pushed on making her way across the empty street. Having come from living on the streets of downtown Vancouver, Devon was used to being surrounded by real skyscrapers. She never crushed Derrick’s excitement when he talked about the view from his eighth story condo. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as some of the condos she had been in, but all that mattered was that he was happy. Derrick had never left Vancouver Island, not even to cross the water to Vancouver. In a way, Devon found beauty in his simple nature. The height of his building might not have impressed her, but still to this day she was never sure how Derrick was able to afford such an extravagant place across from the park. Especially on a meager bank tellers salary. Since they worked together at the bank, she knew what sort of income he had. She chalked it up to Derrick’s savings; he had always been so frugal with spending. At least, he used to be frugal. In the past year, he also started investing in his wardrobe. Not just the quality of his clothes, his style even seemed to change drastically. If it was anyone other than Derrick, she might think that it was some sort of façade, but with him, it felt like a genuine attempt at improving himself. No matter what the changes at the end of the day he was still the sweet guy she fell in love with years ago. Devon stumbled, lost in thought instead of looking where she was going. Her eyes searched for signs of light in the top floor windows where Derrick’s condo stood. There was nothing: darkness covered the buildings’ skyline.
 Devon’s dark hair whipped across her face, stinging her already blushed cheeks. She pulled her scarf up to shield them from the December wind. The city of Victoria was truly Vancouver’s opposite when it came to the bustle of city life. Sometimes the streets were so vacant of people during the winter months that Devon could imagine that the apocalypse had come and gone, and only she remained. She tried to move faster in hopes to escape the beating of her pulse, which closely matched the still-present churning of her stomach. It was futile; her chest tightened with each beat the closer she got. Inside her mind, she kept a fleeting hope that for once in her life she was simply over reacting.

 All of these thoughts running through her mind were briefly silenced as she sighed, standing in front of the intercom. “Merry Christmas to me,” she said aloud. Her finger hovered over the pin pad hoping for some kind of sanity to turn her away: to turn back to her apartment and not give in to all these emotions. Eight… Zero… One… Her fingers did the work for her almost out of memory than actual thought. The clicking of the buzzer kept ringing through its first cycle until Devon heard the final click followed by static. “Come on Derrick pick up.” Devon pushed his apartment code again as if somehow this would change Derrick’s disappearance in the world.
 Shivering in the night air, Devon had gotten the attention of the night guard Jackson. He stood up from his desk adjusting his belt to tuck in his uniform as made his way over to the front door. A gush of warm air enveloped Devon as Jackson leaned out. Until now, she truly hadn’t realized just how cold she was from the trip over. Devon knew the buzzer was not going to get her anywhere and that her relationship with the doorman just might be her way into the building. Jackson had kept her company on nights that that Derrick was late getting home from work. 
 Until recent months they mostly entertained each other with small talk but these last few times were dominated by Jackson’s excitement of soon becoming a father. No matter what the topic of the evening was, they always somehow worked around to debating over which late night pizza place was best in the city: Zombies or The Joint. Devon wouldn’t exactly say they were friends; they were more like friendly acquaintances. At least enough of one to help her out now.
 “Good evening Miss Andrews. Mr. Ashton is pushing his luck leaving a beautiful woman out here all by herself.”
 “Hey, Jackson.”
 “You must be freezing out here. Why don’t you come in and wait for him?” Jackson opened the door wide as he normally did, waving her in with a smile.
 First obstacle achieved! The lobby was hers. Devon slipped past Jackson’s large frame as he held the door for her. The height of the building may not have been that spectacular, but the developers certainly knew how to attract the up and coming wealthy when they designed the interior. The lobby was bright and airy. There were potted plants growing in a few of the corners: miniature trees and shrubs surrounding a small indoor water feature. Devon remembered being impressed when Derrick first brought her here that they were actual live plants, not artificial ones collecting dust like so many apartment entryways in the city. In the summer, they would burst into a riot of colors and scents, helping the lobby feel warm and inviting. Devon knew that what she needed was not part of Jackson’s job, which left her unsure of how to approach him. If she was completely honest with him, he might not be inclined to get involved. Who in their right mind would? She thought. The personal problems of tenants in the building were certainly not his concern, and it may even go against some “doorman’s code of conduct.” Devon wondered idly if such a thing existed. One thing was certain, without his help, she knew she wasn’t going to get any further. “Thank you, Jackson. Also, you know its Devon, not Miss Andrews.”
 “I do like to be professional when I can be; there is not much in this world that calls for it these days.”
 “Well said.” Devon put her hand on his arm, trying to create a closer connection. Tactics such as these were ones that she was not comfortable using, but anything to reach the further ground. “Actually, I’m not really waiting for Derrick.”
 Jackson immediately looked uncomfortable by Devon’s statement, eyeing her suspiciously.
 “I was just in Vancouver visiting my Dad for a bit of pre-Christmas celebrations when I received a call from one of our co-workers. She said Derrick hasn’t been in the last week, and when I tried calling him, there was no answer. Everyone’s just so worried about him, including me. I was hoping we could check on him to make sure he’s ok.” She removed her hand from Jackson’s arm to wipe at her eyes. She didn’t need an act in order to look desperate or on the verge of tears. Devon was struggling to keep the knot in her stomach from taking her over. A twinge of guilt weighed on her as she took a deep breath. It was half of the truth, and hopefully enough to get the desired results.
 “Well…” Jackson paused looking around the lobby. “Of course, we can. I do have to stretch my legs and do my rounds anyway. Come to think about it, I haven’t seen Mr. Ashton in a few days.”
 Devon’s heart sunk and her skin turned pale as the blood drained from her face.
 It was apparent from her expression that he had said something wrong. In a desperate attempt to fix it he nervously continued, “We can go up together. I’m sure it’s nothing.” Faced with a woman on the verge of tears, Jackson continued to stumble on his words as many men do. “We don’t want to have to fill out a missing person’s report or anything,” he chuckled. There was a pause as he searched Devon face for a slight smile to his bad joke. Instead, there was only more worry. “Oh my god…sorry I’m not very good at saying the right thing sometimes. You can ask my wife, serious foot in mouth syndrome.”
 His awkwardness got Devon to laugh for the first time in days. “Thank you, Jackson. I really appreciate it.”

 Inside the elevator, she pushed the eighth-floor button repeatedly as the door slowly closed. Devon had to take a couple of deep breaths to try to calm herself as her chest kept getting tighter.
 Her anxiety was enough to make Jackson start questioning things. “Is everything ok with you and Mr. Ashton?”
 Devon knew that it wasn’t fair to Jackson and that she couldn’t hide the truth of the situation any longer. She would let him have it in all its brutal truth if that is what he wanted. “Honestly?”
 “Yes honestly,” He replied.
 We broke up two weeks ago, and I think I might be pregnant.”
 “Oh jeez, Devon I could lose my job!” The elevator dinged, and the door opened to the eighth floor. Devon hopped out into the hallway before he could change his mind about helping her. Jackson placed his hand against the elevator door keeping it open. He looked at Devon in hopes that she would get back into the elevator but instead, she stood there.
 “Please hear me out.” She waved at Jackson, inviting him into the hallway with her. She could tell he was hesitant, and she knew she had to get it all out before he had a chance to stop her. “I really don’t want you to get in trouble.”
 “But…” Jackson tried to get a word out.
 She cut him off. “Work honestly has not heard from him in a week. He hasn’t answered anyone’s calls. If you could, just knock on the door and see if he answers.”
 “And then what?” Jackson said confused at what else to do.
 “If he answers then he’s just hiding I will walk away and not say a word,” Devon said in the most rational tone she could produce. She did everything she could to convince him that helping her was the right choice.
 Jackson stood there contemplating her request. “Ok, fine, but you can’t make a scene. Please, this is my job we are talking about. Plus I have a baby on the way, Devon. Promise?” Reluctantly he followed her into the hallway.
 Devon put her hand on her stomach, knowing all too well what Jackson was feeling. “I know, I know. If it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t ask you to do any of this. I promise I will not say a word.”
 He nodded. “Ok fine. He’s probably just hiding in his man cave licking his wounds for being an idiot. I love my wife, but to break up with you? That makes Mr. Ashton a first rate idiot.” Jackson headed down the hall towards Derrick’s shaking his head.

 The door to Derrick’s apartment was around the corner just out of sight from other apartments. To Devon, the last few feet felt like she was facing the last mile of a marathon. She had been traveling most of the day to get here, and now for some reason, she came to a stop. The hairs on the back of her neck started to stand on end followed by an overwhelming sense of dread and sickness. Every nerve in her body screamed at her to get back into the elevator. She wasn’t sure which she was hoping to find, that Derrick was in there, safe and just acting like a jerk, or that something terrible had happened to him. Neither option was one she wanted, but she had to find out. Devon obviously was not the only one sensing it: the wave of dread that stopped her body from moving had also stopped Jackson just two steps from the door. His posture was stiff and rigid and Devon knew it was now or never. Fighting the feeling in her stomach, that feeling which had been with her since she got the call from work, she pushed herself past Jackson and knocked on Derrick’s door. Not wanting to get caught, Devon tucked herself against the wall just out of view of the peephole.
 The sound of her fist rapping was enough to snap Jackson’s feet forward. He nervously cleared his throat before calling out. “Um, Mister Ashton? It’s Jackson the night watchman.” He looked at Devon shaking his hands in the air not sure about how to proceed, or what sort of explanation he could give to justify this intrusion into Mr. Ashton’s privacy.
 “Noise,” Devon whispered.
 Jackson shushed her with his finger in the air “The neighbors called about a noise disturbance on your floor. Are you ok?” His statement seemed absolutely ludicrous, as an eerie void of sounds clung in the air around them. Even the everyday busyness of other tenants was silent. Usually, there was the chatter of a television set, or dishes clattering coming from behind the other apartment doors. Instead, there was nothing.
 Devon stepped closer to the door, placing her ear against it, attempting to hear something.
  Squish.
 “Devon” Jackson whispered, reaching out to pull her away.
 This time, she shushed him placing her fingers to her lips. “I think I heard something.” Adjusting her footing, she fully turned in towards the door as she heard the strange noise again. Squish. She looked down; finally realizing the noise was coming from under her feet. Below her in the dark blue fibers was a stain of black slowly creeping across the carpet from the bottom of Derrick’s doorway. Devon rocked her shoe back and forth creating the squishing sound before pulling her boot away from the rug.
 “It is water?” Jackson asked.
 She shrugged her shoulders, unsure herself. Devon crouched down to take a closer look, placing her two fingers against the wet part of the rug. As she slowly lifted them, her hand began shaking. “Jackson, open the door.” Her words were no longer hushed.
 “What? Are you crazy? I can’t just enter someone’s suite without cause.”
 “Open the door, Jackson.” Devon lifted her two fingers above her head towards his gaze. They were smeared with crimson. “It’s blood!”
 “Shit!” Jackson fumbled with the ring on his belt, struggling to find the master key.
 That feeling held true. She snapped, frantically slamming her hands on the door; leaving bloody fingerprints across it like a child’s finger painting. “Derrick! Open the door, Derrick answer me!”
 Jackson finally found the right key; he pushed Devon aside and slid it into the door. Her body tensed, a cold blast of air met them as he pushed it open. A square of light from the hallway fell through the front door, stretching across the floor. The balcony was wide-open, winter wind playing with the gauzy curtains as the hue from the street lights below danced across the dim apartment. Devon could make out the pool of blood trailing a few feet across the hardwood floor.
 “Derrick!” Devon ran to him, slipping on the trail of blood and falling just beside his body. Derrick lay propped up against the couch slightly curled with his hands clutching his abdomen. Scrambling on her hands and knees, she tried to grip against the sticky wet floor so she could kneel in front of him. His blood soaked through her jeans and covered her hands. There was a reek of musk in the air and amongst the tang of iron was a faint hint of Derrick’s cologne: something he only wore for special occasions. Devon steadied herself, placing her hand on his pale face. She was shocked at how hot his skin felt; he was burning up. Her heart leaped with hope. “He’s alive!” She shouted towards Jackson. “Derrick please wake up! Oh god, what happened?” The only response was a slight moaning as he tightened his arms around his waist. She looked back at Jackson, who was standing frozen in the doorway. His face had turned pale, and his hands were shaking.
 “Jackson Call 9-1-1!!!” Devon pulled Derrick’s hands away to see where the blood was coming from. A thick gush poured out from the side of his stomach. His wound was massive. “Oh god!” Devon quickly put pressure over the wound, trying to hold back the flow with her bare hands. It was useless. She could feel it continue to leak between her fingers. “JACKSON, GOD DAMMIT HELP HIM!” Devon shouted, looking around for something better to use to staunch the flow. With one hand, she started unwinding her scarf hoping it would do the job. “Hang on Derrick!”
 Finally, the security guard managed to pull out his phone. His shaking fingers tried to dial 9-1-1, as his gaze was unable to leave the sight of so much blood.
 Derrick’s eyes slightly opened peering up at her searching vaguely “Devon, noo.” His voice was no more than a ragged whisper.
 “Oh god Derrick what happened?” Devon’s shock was wearing off, tears welled up as she began to cry. She leaned down to kiss his lips. “Help is coming you have to hold on.”
 Derrick moved his head slightly up as he whispered in her ear. His words leaked out in gasped breath and sent a chill up Devon’s spine. “It’s still here.”
 A low animal growl rolled across the room, vibrating through Devon’s chest. The sound came from further in the apartment, from the darkness of the bedroom hallway. The hairs feverishly stood up on the back of her neck as the same feeling of dread from the hallway washed over her. Derrick’s words rattled in her mind: It’s still here. A thud from the doorway pulled Devon’s eyes toward Jackson. His face was locked in fear, staring past her into the darkness of the condo. The glowing light from his phone now lay on the floor. “9-1-1. Please state your emergency?..Hello?”
 As Jackson turned to run from the unseen threat, something solid tore into Devon’s shoulder, sending pain ripping down her arm. The force of what hit her knocked her forward, and in a fraction of a second, she felt the sickening give as her right hand plunged wrist deep into Derrick’s intestines causing his body to convulse. The smell of musk, which Devon noticed when she first entered the apartment, was all around her, fully masking the metallic smell of blood. When the fleeting moment passed Devon’s head collided with the coffee table with an awful sound. For a brief couple of seconds, everything around her went black.

 “Ughhh…” The room felt as if it was spinning as waves of vertigo overtook her. Her vision blurred as she attempted to focus on her surroundings. Devon was laying on the floor, splayed out over Derrick’s now lifeless corpse. She used her left arm to pull herself up onto all fours as shooting spikes of pain pierced her skull. She could feel her jeans, caked in cold blood, sticking to the front of her legs. Dazed, she blinked a few times trying again to clear the fog from her eyes. Devon tried to move her right hand feeling a tug; something was holding it in place. As she looked down her focus finally started to clear only to find her mind grappling with the shock of what was happening around her. She pulled again: her hand was stuck deep inside Derrick’s stomach. Devon looked down into his eyes as they hung open, absent of life, his body jerking as she pulled.
 She tried to twist her arm free as an intense pain erupted from her injured shoulder, instantly pulling her mind from its state of shock. The horror of where she was came rushing back to her. Oh god, Derrick! Nausea swept over her; Devon had to swallow several times trying to keep the bile from erupting from the pit of her stomach. She desperately tugged at her trapped hand, trying to free herself so she could escape. Devon could feel blood dripping down her back just below where she had been clawed open. Bursts of intense pain ripped down from her shoulder causing he right arm to pull hard, freeing her hand from Derrick’s corpse. Instantly Devon placed her now free hand onto the wound. The sensation of fire spread out, perforating into the skin around it. She tried to muffle her cry, only to be drowned out by the screams coming from the doorway. Jackson! She thought. This aria of screams and tearing flesh were short lived as Devon heard a brutal crunching sound. In the silence that followed, Devon grabbed her stomach. That tiny life that may be growing was all she had left of Derrick, and she wasn’t going to let this thing take that from her. Devon’s knees slipped in the pool of blood surrounding her. Fueled by the new surge of adrenaline Devon pulled herself up using the side of the broken coffee table and bolted drunkenly for the patio. She had to escape and get away from whatever was blocking the doorway.
 She heard the thump of Jackson’s body, whatever finished tearing him apart had now turned its attention on her. The wind blew the curtains wildly as she crossed the threshold of the balcony. Devon turned her body while pulling against the glass door, sliding it closed behind her. Whatever it was impacted against the glass, sending a spider web of cracks splintering out in every direction. Devon tried looking backward and as her head turned she caught her foot on a piece of the floor mat. She stumbled losing her balance causing her to slam into the cement side of the outer balcony wall.
 The creature’s bulk slid quickly down the glass as it crumpled to the floor.
 With her good arm, Devon pulled herself up propping her back against the cold concrete. Gasping in terror, she tried to see what lay beyond the window through the cracks in the glass. All she could make out was that it was massive. “Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck.” Devon stuttered. In a panicked breath, she began to coach herself aloud. “Devon get up! Get your ass up. Now!” As she pushed down on the palm of her left hand, a greater pain presented itself. This time, it spread further down her back and across her torso. A scream burst from her lungs and her skin burned as if it were on fire. She inhaled a few breaths to steady herself to try again. Instead of using her arms she would use her legs to push her back up against the cold concrete. Devon’s hands guarded her stomach as she slid her body up to brace herself against the railing. Back on her feet, she looked down for signs of people below. “Help! Help me!” she cried out, but there was no one to hear her. Frantically, she looked around the balcony for anything to help her escape.
 Suddenly movement beyond the broken window startled her. The animal began to twitch. Adrenaline pumped harder coursing through her body. There was one other way she could go. Devon cautiously looked over the side railing of the balcony: just below her lay a possible answer of escape. Finally, something she could work with. The balcony below Derrick’s suite stuck out a foot further: enough that Devon could see a table and chair set. If Devon could just lower herself down onto the table, she might be able to get help from the people below, or least get in through their balcony and escape down the stairwell. Having use of only her good arm, she hugged the railing with all her strength. Devon managed to slide her legs up and over, lowering as much of her body as she could manage. No matter how much she stretched, she couldn’t reach the table. Her legs dangled in the air. She tried to look down to see how far it was. Everything spun as blood loss and vertigo got the best of her senses. Devon’s eyes shut tight.
 THUMP.
 As soon as she heard the sound, Devon knew that she was out of time. Strong winds caught at the remnants of her jacket, pulling and shaking her body. Panicking, it was now of never. She knew she needed more reach to get to the table. Devon attempted to grab the cement lip below the railing with her injured arm. Maybe it would be enough if she could block the pain, but it was no use. Her foot was still too high, and she was slipping. The sweat from her hands re-slicked her bloody palm, and in a heart-stopping moment, Devon was falling.
 The table buckled as she landed on it, folding in on itself. Devon cascaded forward toward the center of the balcony with no way of stopping herself. Her body slammed hard into the concrete floor landing only inches in front of the patio door. In a futile attempt, she lifted her arm trying to reach the door handle, but it was too far. Her wounds and blood loss were too extensive; her body was failing. In her weakened state, she hit the glass door, hoping that someone inside would hear her. That maybe someone would come to her aid. Dizziness overtook Devon, and her arm collapsed to the ground. Unable to move, crippled on the floor, all strength had left her. Derrick was dead. Jackson would never see his unborn child. A stream of tears poured from her eyes. Devon was sure that she and her unborn were soon to follow. At that moment, there was a brief solitude as Devon looked into the sky’s reflection against the glass. The clouds seemed to part, blown by the chill wind. There was an ominous red glowing disc now suspended in the night’s sky comforting her. The red ring of the eclipse filled the glassy surface of her eyes. Devon had never witnessed an eclipse: she smiled in awe of its beauty.
 An explosion came from the above balcony. Devon could hear the cascading pieces of glass skittering across the floor as the animal broke through. She closed her eyes as tight as she could while placing her good hand over her mouth: there was nothing more she could do. Maybe the animal wouldn’t find her if she was quiet. A cold wind rushed into the balcony blowing against her, burning her skin. It felt as if the wind was ripping the flesh from her body as she trembled and shook. Her heart began to beat hard and fast, pumping the pain to every crevice of her being. Her blood began to boil. An eternity of pain in mere seconds, followed by the sound of tearing flesh made Devon whimper through clenched teeth. Muffling the sound with her hand, Devon did everything in her power not to scream. She begged for the pain to end, for death to reunite her with the man she loved. The world began to drift in and out, her heartbeat finally slowing down, fading as she fell in and out of consciousness.
 A loud THUMP shook the air around her. There was nowhere left to hide; the beast was now there on the balcony with her. Devon’s eyes opened briefly, taking in the reflection of the creature hunched over her before trembling shut. The last thing Devon would remember was the animal’s hot panting breath against the side of her cheek.

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 The van drove recklessly through the empty streets racing towards the scene. Briggs checked his gear for the hundredth time. It’s not that he thought his gear was out of place, or that anything was missing. This was just how he prepared for the action.
 “Hurry up and wait” laughed one of his team members.
 Methodically, like clockwork, he checked his magazines to make sure they were full and correctly secured in his webbing. Once through that, he began checking his other gear: the non-lethal taser he was required to carry, handcuffs secured in their pouch on his belt, and the multi-tool on his hip. Then he checked that his vest was fastened snug against his chest. To any outside observer, Briggs appeared to be calmly preparing for their entrance, but inside, he felt the charged energy that was always there before emerging into the unknown crime scene.
 The duty of the Emergency Response Team, also known as the ERT, was to clear the area and to neutralize any hostiles before the forensic teams went in. The first responders called the ERT as soon as they discovered the bodies. The little information Briggs had received over his radio consisted of a missing young woman and two male bodies. Inspector Gregson suspected that she might be in the suite below but did not give any reasoning to why. As unlikely as it was, she very well could be the perpetrator they were looking for. Even if she wasn’t, she likely witnessed something that could shed some light on what happened there. Briggs looked out as the reflection of the full moon passed the vans windows; he was sure that it was going to be a long and interesting night. It’s not that he was superstitious himself; he just found that full moons would bring people’s inner crazy out of the woodwork and onto the streets.
 He looked at the rest of his team: each member was doing the same check. Only young Johnson looked nervous, but Briggs knew that the kid could handle it. His nervousness reminded Briggs of his first tour of duty; back when he was with the military all those years ago. While no amount of training could ever fully prepare you for what you encountered on a mission, Briggs could tell that Johnson had what it takes to survive in life like this. It didn’t hurt that the kid was also the best marksman he’d ever seen.
 ERT was never the first on the scene, so when the van finally pulled up at the entrance to the condo building, he wasn’t surprised to see reporters starting to gather out front. Just what we need, more media circus in an already fearful city. Briggs was the first to jump out followed closely by his team. His first objective was reporting to Inspector Gregson. He hoped that by now Gregson would have more information before they entered the unit. He could have just used the radio, but he wanted to speak with the inspector first before prepping his team. Without giving the reporters a second look, he walked past the cops guarding the front door and into the building’s foyer.
 Immediately the acidic, sweet smell of vomit struck him. Over to his right, bent over with his head between his knees was the patrol officer that was first on the scene. At least, he had the good sense not to contaminate the crime scene. Other than the smell, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the entryway. Well, aside from the posh digs now surrounding them. This was definitely not like the normal crack houses his team were used to entering. Briggs knew that he would never be able to afford a place like this on his salary. Good thing I’m not in the ERT for the money, he chuckled to himself. Briggs walked up to the first uniform that he could see. “Where is Inspector Gregson?”
 The Uniform looked up from what he was doing. “He just went down to the parking garage to interview the tenants of Suite 701. I can radio down if you’d like.”
 “If I wanted to radio I would do it myself, just point me in the direction of the stairwell.” Briggs was direct and never one to worry about hurt feelings when it came to getting the job done.
 The Uniform dutifully pointed towards the back of the lobby, in a tucked away corner. Residents of this type of place rarely took the stairs, so there was little reason to dress it up. Briggs quickly told his team where he was going, and that the residents of 701 had been located. If Inspector Gregson played his cards right, they could be going in shortly. Either that or they’d be waiting all night for a warrant that may never arrive.
 The lobby may have been upper class, but the parking garage was like every other garage he’d ever seen: basic concrete supports, and glaring neon lights. Even with the industrial fans doing their best to pump in fresh air, there was the faint smell of oil and exhaust that would never quite go away. He could see Gregson just ahead, talking to a pair of civilians. From their attire, they were probably coming home from a night on the town. The age difference between them had Briggs guessing second wife or mistress. The male’s body language was stiff and tense; Briggs could tell that the man was trying to assert his dominance over Gregson. Good luck with that. Gregson’s no idiot, and no matter whom you think you are nothing gives you an authority in this type of situation. Briggs smirked a little, knowing that Gregson would have none of it. Gregson had known Briggs a long time, almost as long as Briggs had been with the ERT. Over the years, they’d developed an understanding and respect for one another. He knew that this rich piss-ant wasn’t going to get the best of the Inspector. As he approached the group, he could finally make out their conversation.
 “What happened? You can’t keep us from going up there!” said the man
 Yup, this guy is used to getting his way, Briggs thought. He smirked a little more, glad it was Gregson dealing with this guy instead of him. Briggs didn’t have the patience to deal with an entitled man-child who seemed to think that the world owes him everything. The world doesn’t owe any man anything. It’s earned: this was Briggs’ outlook on life. Knowing that if he interrupted it could ruin this male dominance dance, a process that Gregson needed to win, Briggs paused. He was just far enough back that neither of the civilians would give him a second look.
 Without flinching, and ignoring the man’s attempt to assert himself, Gregson continued to talk to the woman instead. He knew this would ruffle the man’s ego and get under his skin. “The quick explanation miss,” he smiled, “Your unit is situated directly below a crime scene. We have reason to believe that whatever went on in the above suite may have led down to your balcony. We are currently waiting for a search warrant to investigate your premises.”
 “Oh my god! That guy who lives above you!” The girl’s words were high pitched and slightly slurred from drinking. She pushed on the man’s arm trying to get his attention.
 Gregson continued, focusing his attention solely on the woman as if the man’s presence was meaningless. “Where were the two of you tonight?” Briggs knew there was no way that the woman had anything to do with the case, but she seemed the most likely candidate to help bring this to a close. It was like finding the right pressure point to take an opponent down.
 The man grew stiff. “We were at a movie downtown and then dinner. We have witnesses!” He exclaimed nervously.
 Briggs could tell the man’s mind was quickly reliving every bad TV crime show he had ever watched. His reaction was comical, yet Gregson’s face stayed stoic as he finally turned his attention to the man. “These are just routine questions Mr. Finning. Nothing more.” He turned again to the woman. “Were you acquainted with Mr. Ashton?”
 The gaze of the man seemed more interested in the woman’s answer then Gregson was.
 “Just saying hi in the elevator… What? That’s all I swear.” She tried to reassure the man beside her by rubbing his arm.
 “What if it did? What if, somehow, it got in my suite?” The man dropped his arms to his side, finally showing real concern for his situation.
 “Sir, we cannot divulge any information on the current case at this point. However, if you were inclined to give us your permission to enter your suite, we could move this along. The sooner we have access to your unit the sooner we can assess the situation.”
 “How long will that take?” Finning questioned.
 “The entire building is on lock down. As it stands no one will be entering the building or their suites for the next 12 to 24 hours as we sweep for evidence.”
 “Where the hell are we supposed to go tonight?” Finning’s frustration began to rise, as he realized just how powerless he was.
 “Just let them in Jim so we can leave. I want to go somewhere warm!” The young woman whined, stomping her feet like a petulant child.
 Right on cue. Gregson had played his part masterfully. He could have been waiting all night for a search warrant. An overturned table on a windy night was not sufficient means to enter the suite below, even with the blood found on the upper balcony railing. Gregson waited for the man to give in to the woman’s demands. He could tell she was used to getting her way in the end.
 “Fine whatever you need.” The man pulled out his keys from his pocket, fumbling with them as he detached his apartment door key and forcefully placed it in Gregson’s now open palm. “Can we go now?”
  God bless the predictable nature of a man’s needs for a pretty girl thought Briggs
 “Sure you two can leave.” Gregson gripped the key before snapping back at the young officer who still stood patiently behind him. “Get these people’s information and don’t forget to get them to sign an entry form before they leave.” Having what he needed, Gregson turned to head back to the main lobby. To his surprise, he saw Briggs grinning behind him.
 “So I guess I can green light my guys for entry?”
 “You pass your last psych eval, Briggs? Because that type of grin has no place at a murder scene.” He tossed the key over to Briggs. “And yes, let’s get this over with quickly. We’ve got a missing girl we’re still trying to locate, and if she’s suffered the same type of wounds as the other two, we can only pray she’s still alive.”

 Before entering the suite, Gregson made sure to brief the ERT fully on the situation. They knew the blood coming through the ceiling was a mix of doorman Jackson Penn and the tenant Derrick Ashton. The coroner’s best guess was that some animal bit the tenant and gruesomely ripped apart the doorman. From photos already taken upstairs, both Gregson and Briggs were not convinced. Both men were seasoned hunters and nothing this close to the city could have inflicted the damaged displayed on the floor above. The doorman’s head had been partially removed from his body, and his torso was ripped into pieces. But where was the missing girl? Was the girl the killer or just another body waiting to be found? The only evidence of her being in there were smaller shoe prints left on the hardwood floor and some bloody hand prints around the scene that were too small to match either of the male victims. Whoever or whatever it was had smashed its way through the sliding glass leaving some sort of dissolved residue and few bits of hair. This gave some support to the possible animal theory but not enough. The way the balcony door had broken outwards and no signs of blood found in any of the stairwells gave a second theory. Gregson suspected that the killer, animal, or missing female may still be waiting just beyond the door that the ERT waited to breach.
 Gregson swiped the radio headset from the table and placed it in his ear. “I’ll be watching the security feed from the lobby. There’s a camera set up in the hallway by the unit door. Get your team in place and wait for my order. I want Briggs and Johnson in first, followed by Dixon, Forbes, and Daniels. You know the layout. Five officers in and the rest of you wait in the hallway. Only enter if you’re needed as backup. I repeat, only as a backup. I don’t want the scene contaminated, or forensics will have a field day.” Gregson sighed, relieved simply to be moving forward with what felt to be already a long night.
 Briggs’ team was the best of the best. He had been in the military a decade before the fifteen years he was currently serving with the Victoria Police force. After three tours overseas a desk job or cruiser wouldn’t be a comfortable fit for someone who had seen as much as he had.
 Tall and lanky, Johnson was the newest member to join the ERT in the last year. Unlike Briggs, Johnson had only been with the Victoria Police for five years of his twenty-five on this earth. Briggs had been mentoring the young man since he joined up with the ERT and was confident in Gregson’s choice to send him in as second. Briggs told him that if he went military, Special Forces would be a great place for him since he has the skill for the kill. He failed to notice how this statement always made Johnson very uneasy. Gregson hoped Johnsons skills wouldn’t be needed, and that it was just a blown over table from the winter storm.
 It didn’t take them long to get into place, poised in the hallway with weapons angled, ready to go as soon as the word was given. Briggs pressed on the mic for his radio headset, “Ready.”
  Gregson’s voice crackled in his ear. “Affirmative. ERT team, you are cleared for entry.”
 Briggs knocked on the door and called out, “This is the Victoria Emergency Response Team. If anyone is in there, please make yourself known.”
 The only answer was the slow drip of blood pooling from the ceiling above the doorframe. He tried a second time, still only silence.
 Briggs stepped into position, covering Johnson’s left beside the doorway. Johnson held out the key and hovered it over the keyhole as the rest of the ERT held position; their weapons poised at the ready. The hallway was dead still. Not even the ERTs breathing could be heard as they stood frozen in anticipation. Briggs gave the signal, nodding to Johnson. His slid the key into the hole turning it as he pushed open the door with the speed and grace he was known for. Briggs covered him as the five-man team rushed the interior spreading out from room to room. The lights mounted on their guns caressing every corner and crevasse, exposing any area that one would hide. Less than 30 seconds in Briggs could hear his team calling out. “Clear.” “Clear.” “Clear.” “Clear.” He followed suit standing in the middle of the condos interior. “Clear.”
 The condo was dark and silent as the men stood patiently waiting for the next command. No matter how much time had passed, the memory of muscle and mind never forgot the routine or that rush of adrenaline that came from the unknown possibility of death. This feeling was something they all lived for, and why each of them found a home in the ERT. Briggs’ psychiatrist told him that it was a close parallel between the criminals and killers they faced and himself. In his case, his conscience kept him on that thin line of being a killer for good instead of a killer for pleasure. Either way, this is where he felt most alive. He tugged the handle of the balcony receiving no movement.
 Suddenly from the darkness of the other rooms, he heard Johnson give a sharp startled cry. “We have movement!” he shouted into his headset.
 Instantly Briggs was bounding over an ottoman, his gun light bouncing as he breached the door to the master bedroom. He stood in the room with his weapon raised and at the ready. Inside, he found Johnson waving his arms repeating “No action, there is no action in the apartment. Stand down backup.” By this point, it was too late. The other ERT members, who were in position down the hallway, rushed into the unit behind Briggs.
 “Just what the hell is going on up there?” Gregson’s voice demanded, ringing through into Briggs’ earpiece.
 Briggs quickly assessed the room, seeing Johnson dusting himself off while Forbes did his best to shield a smirk. He let out his breath lowering his gun. “Just a couple of ERT chasing shadows,” Briggs replied. “The unit’s interior is clear. No sign of entry or disturbance. The balcony door is locked from the inside. Just on our way to check it out now.”
 With no further leads, Briggs knew that Gregson was looking down the barrel of a long night of paperwork and more unanswered questions. Was this linked to the killings in the summer? Was it just some random animal attack? If so, what kind of animal, and how the hell did it get into the eighth story condo without the security feed catching it? Also where the hell was the girl from the security camera? Gregson’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “Cut the crap and clean it up.”
 “Yes, sir.” Briggs was already pushing his was into the living room as the rest of the ERT formed in behind him.
 Flap, flap.
 A sound made Briggs and the rest of the ERT tense: silently they repositioning themselves amongst the furniture. Briggs readied his gun taking the front position beside the balcony door. Johnson now to the left held up his fingers with the countdown mouthing the words “One, two…” On three, he pulled back the curtain as Briggs light flashed around the balcony.
 His eyes could not wrap themselves around the images flooding back at him. A second later Johnson flicked on the balcony light exposing the grotesque display for all to see. To think that something so nightmarish was shielded from them by the thin layer of the balcony curtains.
 To his left Johnson stumbled back stammering trying to create words to comprehend what he was seeing. He slumped down onto the ottoman hunching forward as he threw up onto the beige carpet.
 Briggs cursed into his headset.
 There was red everywhere. The balcony was a slaughterhouse.
 Flap, Flap came the sound again.
 Pressed up against the bottom of the glass door, flapping wetly was what appeared to be the right side of a human face. It pulled back and forth in the wind clinging to part of a blood-streaked scalp. Large pieces of pale skin, mucus, and clothing lay heaped amongst a pool of crimson blood.
 In all his years in the military and the ERT Briggs had never encountered anything like this. The closest thing this reminded him of was the aftermath of skinning an animal while hunting. It looked as if a human had brutally shed its skin; large portions retained enough detail to tell that this was definitely at one point a human being. A sick thrill of dark fascination passed through him: there were still new experiences in a world where he felt he had seen it all.
 As he kneeled down, mesmerized by the empty sockets of the deflated face, the ERT waited in silence. He spoke into his headset. “We are going to need forensics in here. We found the girl.”