Rats a short horror stor.., p.1
Rats: a short horror story,
a short horror story
by Jack Heath
Copyright 2013 Jack Heath
Cover photograph by Loongar, used under a royalty-free license from Dreamstime.com
This story was first printed in Trust Me Too, a 2012 anthology by Ford Street Publishing
One cop, Detective Bromham thought. It's a crime scene – murder, no less. And how many cops do they send? Just one.
He eased the patrol car to a halt in the only available park, two blocks away from the source of the call-out. As the ancient brakes moaned and the engine shuddered, Bromham remembered a time when they used to send a six-man special tactics unit to the site of a domestic disturbance. Those were the days.
But as these disturbances became more common, they started sending these teams only to homicides. When homicides began to happen every other week, they sent cops in pairs instead. One to drive, one to shoot, his former partner had always joked – until his ear was shot off when they interrupted a video-store robbery.
And now, here Bromham was. Old newspapers crunching under his feet as he pushed through the fish stink of the alleyway, protected by nothing more than a Kevlar vest, a Taser and a badge. Alone. It could be hours before the forensic team arrived.
He couldn't blame his bosses. Resources were stretched thin across this evil city. Last month an old warehouse had been quarantined when it was found to be full of dead cops, apparently killed by an unidentified bio-weapon. Those who were left alive were all busy searching for a perpetrator.
At least Bromham would have some company soon. When he got to apartment 303, he'd meet up with the officer who'd called in the homicide, and they'd investigate together. Bromham hoped Detective Simms would be an old man, like him, with stories of the glory days. Someone else who remembered how things were supposed to be.
There was no alarm when he wrenched open the fire door. Most of the apartments in this building had no registered occupants. They had been half-renovated when the credit crunch hit, and were left to fester in their patchy paint afterwards. Plain-clothes cops sometimes checked the building for vandals and illegal immigrants, but other than that, it stayed empty. Bromham didn't see a soul as he climbed through the silent stairwell.
The third floor was a gallery of graffiti and burn marks. Once a home for the wealthy, then for those who had nowhere else to go, then for no one at all. Some of the apartment doors were open, revealing yellowed mattresses lying on the bare concrete and cockroaches scratching across the ceilings.
The door for apartment 303 was closed. Bromham pressed his ear to it.
He took a deep breath, thumped on the door, and shouted the words he'd shouted a thousand times before: 'Police! Open up!'
The noise boomed around the deserted corridors before fracturing into pieces too small to hear. There was no response.
Bromham tried the handle. It turned easily, but emitted a scraping sound that made the hairs on his arms stand up.
He saw the bodies before he saw anything else in the room – because there was nothing else in the room. Unlike the other apartments, which had a squalid, lived-in look, this one was eerily clean. It was like dust refused to cross the threshold.
The two corpses lay side by side in the middle of the living room, as though making snow-angels. They looked like a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl, although from this angle, Bromham couldn't see their faces clearly.
'Detective Simms?' he called.
There was no reply.
He stepped into the apartment, his hand sweaty around the rubber grip of the Taser, peering left and right. There was no sign of anyone else. When he reached the bodies, he reached down to check the pulse of the older woman –
– and he froze.
Bromham had seen many dead bodies in his career. Sometimes they were sad, like the woman who'd been stung by a bee on her honeymoon and had gone into anaphylactic shock. Sometimes they were gruesome, like the man who'd been found in a sewer after drowning six months earlier, or the one who'd fallen onto the killing floor at an abattoir and been herded by the cattle into the bladed machinery before anyone could switch it off. But he'd never, ever seen expressions of horror like the ones on these two women.
The middle-aged woman's eyes were so wide that the whites were visible all the way around the irises, and her lips were drawn back to expose teeth that had been frozen mid-chatter. He found himself wondering if her hair had been grey before her death, or if fear had bleached the colour out of it.
Dried saliva was cratered around the teenage girl's mouth, and her face was as waxy as an old photograph. Her eyes were rolled back into her head.
Recovering his composure, Bromham touched their throats. No pulses, and each corpse was somehow colder than the room.
Leaving the bodies where they lay, he pulled on some latex gloves and went to examine the rest of the apartment. The bedroom had no bed, and the window was blacked out with tape. Inside the walk-in robe, he found no clothes, just rails from which they might be hung – and on the floor, eight dead rats.
At first he thought this might be the work of an exterminator, since there didn't seem to be any wounds. It was rare, he knew, to find dead rats in groups, because unless they all died at exactly the same time, the live ones devoured the dead. But as he bent down to look more closely, he could see that they were in varying states of decomposition. This one, with the pitted eyes and shrunken joints, had been lying there for weeks, but that one, still plump and furry, only days. Another looked like it could have been alive only hours ago.
One dies, Bromham thought. The smell draws another. That one dies, somehow, and the smell draws yet another.
He closed the wardrobe again.
The bathroom was only identifiable as such because of the circular holes in the walls and floor. Nooks for the vanity, the toilet and the shower, once the piping had been installed. Peering down one of the drains was like looking into a well. Bromham could faintly see his reflection in the distant water, and was surprised how unnerved he looked. As a teenager he'd visited a haunted house at a carnival, and been photographed just when a man in a rubber mask had grabbed his leg. He hadn't bought the photo afterwards, but he'd seen it on the flickering screen. His brows had been knotted together and his lips curled downwards at the edges in the same way they were now.
Keep it together, he told himself. The forensics team will be here soon enough.
He walked back into the living room.
He had three mysteries to unravel. Firstly, why had Detective Simms left the scene of the crime? Secondly, what had killed these two women? There were no bullet-holes, no stab-wounds, no ligature marks. Their necks didn't look broken, and there was no vomit, which usually meant no poison. It looked like two simultaneous heart attacks.
Thirdly, why were there two bodies, when only one had been reported?
Very carefully, Bromham started going through the pockets of the teenage girl. No keys, no wallet, no phone. Her clothes had no labels; in fact, they looked homemade. The stitches were unwinding at the edges.
He expected to find the same thing when he searched the other body, but instead he found a wallet, a can of capsicum spray and a two-way radio. He opened the wallet, and found a police badge shining at him.
He looked at the ID. Name: Detective Rebecca Simms.
A chill crawled up his spine. That explained mysteries one and three. Simms had found the dead teenager and called it in, but she hadn't checked that the murderer was gone.
A dead cop needed to be reported right away. Bromham pulled out his radio.
'Dispatch, this is Detective Bromham. I'm in apartment 303 on the corn
'Copy that, detective. Sending backup to your location. Over.'
Bromham hooked his radio back onto his belt, and thought again of the warehouse full of dead cops. What was this city coming to?
For no reason at all, he remembered the rats. One death lures another, which lures another...
The teenage girl sat up.
Bromham yelped, and jumped backwards, his brain rebelling against the sight. He'd checked her pulse. She was stone cold. How could she still be alive?
'Are you okay, Miss?' he stammered.
The girl's head swivelled to face him. Her eyes stayed rolled back, but her mouth fell open like an oven door, revealing a thick, black tongue. She stood with unearthly grace, and before he had time to react, reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.
The pain was sudden and world-destroying, but it didn't come from his arm. It came from his chest where, after four decades of loyal service, his heart had suddenly stopped beating.
Bromham tried to scream, but his lungs were already growing too weak to push out the air. His head was spinning. Ice trickled through his veins, everywhere except where the girl's hand was sizzling on his arm like an oil burn. It was as though all the stored-up chemical energy in his body, all the glucose and fat and oxygen, was being incinerated and the resulting heat was being sucked out through his arm. His life force was being vacuumed up.
Bromham's vision was blurring, but he could see the room was swinging. He toppled over, fireworks bursting in his brain as the back of his skull hit the ground. The girl – the monster – maintained her grip, patiently.
He gripped the Taser in his trembling hand. He doubted that it would work on the girl. But just maybe it would work on him.
He pointed it at his own chest and pulled the trigger.
There was a snap and a fizz and the monster yowled, tearing her hand away. Bromham barely heard the sounds over the renewed pounding of his heart. It was like stepping out of a meat-locker and plunging into a pit of hot tar. The blast of electricity to his core left him thrashing and twitching and not dead yet.
He couldn't stand, but he could crawl. He crawled towards the apartment door, cursing his shivering limbs for their weakness. His palms and kneecaps scraped the concrete. He dared not look back at the girl in case he lost his balance.
Three metres from the door. Two. One.
He reached up for the handle, as though he were a rock climber clawing at the precipice.
A hand closed around his ankle, and he felt the rest of his life slip away.
Detective Pravo pulled up a block away from the apartment building, and turned the key. The motor ceased its rumbling.
Two bodies. One of them a cop. Surely dispatch could have spared more than one detective to check it out? What was this city coming to?
Soon, she thought, they won't send anybody at all.
About the author
Jack Heath is the pen name of an internationally bestselling author. He wrote The Cut Out, the Countdown To Danger series and fifteen other action-packed thrillers for young people, which have been shortlisted for multiple awards and published in several languages around the world.
In the course of his research he has trained with firearms, performed street magic, visited morgues and prisons, travelled through Russia and read only books by women for a year. When he’s not touring schools, libraries and festivals around the world, he lives in Canberra.
For more information, visit jackheath.com.au.
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