December 6, 1999

The Graveyard Shift

I had a bad dream last night. Not really a nightmare, just a bad dream. But it did leave some pretty strong impressions. I've spent a good part of this morning turning those impressions into the beginning of a short story. Here it is...

Debra and I got the call around 2am.  We were the first on the scene, so
we were supposed to take primary responsibility for assessing and handling
the situation.  We got the credit, we took the blame.  Not in equal
quantities, as it turned out.

Michael and Catherine Parsons had been awakened around 1:40am by noises
from downstairs.  They had both gotten out of bed, put on slippers and
robes, and tiptoed downstairs to find the source of the disturbance.
Michael had taken the lead, brandishing a nine-iron, with his wife
holding a flashlight over his shoulder.

They had found a small girl, maybe ten years old, huddled in a corner of
the kitchen, clutching a can of soup.  She had ransacked the kitchen,
taken some bites out of a loaf of bread that had been left out on the
counter, pulled open some cabinets and drawers, knocked over flatware and

The girl was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and coveralls smeared with the
same dirt and grime that covered her face and hands.  The first thing the
Parsons did, after calming the girl, was to clean her face and hands and
wrap her in a blanket.  Then they called 911.  They were feeding the girl
hot soup when Debra and I arrived.

Debra talked to the girl while I took a statement from the Parsons.  They
didn't recognize the girl; she wasn't from the neighborhood.  They weren't
sure how she got into the house, either.  All the doors and windows were
locked.  I did a quick circuit with the husband and had to agree.

I came back and knelt down next to Debra.  "You've always got good news,"
I said.  "What is it?"

"Her name's Wendy.  Isn't that right?"  She smiled at the girl, who was
busy slurping up a second cup of soup.  "No ID on her.  Looks like she's
been playing in the dirt for a while.  I'd guess running away from
someone, but I don't see any obvious signs of physical abuse.  We'd better
get EMS to check her out just in case."


Debra was having a ball.  I have to admit, I was feeling pretty good
myself.  Us grunts on the graveyard shift are usually stuck breaking up
drunken brawls and shaking down street dealers.  It's not often we get to
do a genuine rescue of an innocent.  It feels good.  Reminds me why I took
this lousy job in the first place.

I walked down the hall to use the phone.  Michael Parsons was in the
bathroom.  Catherine Parsons had gone back upstairs to get a comb for
Wendy's hair.  She came back down as I was dialing.  We exchanged weary
but happy smiles.

She walked into the kitchen and screamed.

I dropped the phone and drew my weapon.  I pulled her out of the doorway
and looked in.

I hadn't thought anything of the slurping noises coming from the kitchen.
Wendy had been eating soup.  I figured Debra would have called out if
anything had gone wrong.  I guess she wasn't fast enough.

Debra had fallen to the floor.  Her face and neck were gone.  Blood and
flesh were splattered all over the linoleum.  I could see bone where her
cheek used to be.  Wendy had her back to me, standing over the body,
looking down, clutching her blanket and shivering.

"Wendy," I said, "come away from there, honey."

The thing that turned around in Wendy's place was not human.  The round
baby teeth had been replaced by rows of jagged incisors.  Its eyes glowed
yellow, and its skin was gray and wrinkled.  Wet blood covered its lips
and chin.

It looked straight at me, opened its mouth, and made an unnatural sound.

I shot it twice through the chest.  After it had fallen to the floor, I
put another bullet in its brain.  Then I threw up.


EMS got there at about 2:30am.  They pronounced Debra and the child-thing
dead on arrival.  I had already called dispatch, and Homicide was on its
way.  While we waited, EMS treated Catherine Parsons for shock.  Her
husband tried to comfort her.  I locked myself in the bathroom and cried
for ten minutes.

When I came back out, nobody was in the kitchen.  I looked inside at the
two bodies.  I'm not sure why-- maybe I was hoping that this whole
horrific episode was some caffeine-induced dream.  Maybe Debra was still
alive.  Maybe I hadn't just shot and killed a ten-year-old girl.  Maybe I
just had to wake up and go back to work.

I started to leave, then stopped and turned back.

The moment when I first fired at the child-thing was burned into my
memory.  I could see the rows of sharp teeth, one line behind the other
like a shark's, and Debra's body lying on the floor.  She had fallen back
against a cabinet, then forward, coming to rest on her side, one leg bent
over the other.  The child-thing had fallen back onto Debra's unbent leg.

Both of Debra's legs were straight now.

My pulse quickened.  I wondered if the child-thing could sense me even
now, studying the scene and trying to quiet my breathing, one hand
twitching over my holster.  I knew I hadn't moved anything, and the EMTs
had better things to do than poke at a dead body and get yelled at by CSU.

"Mrs. Parsons!" I yelled, never taking my eyes off the child-thing.

All four of them came running, the Parsons and the two EMTs.  Catherine
Parsons stopped beside me, not looking down.  "Wh-what, Officer?"

"Do you have a cleaver, ma'am?" I asked.

Her brow wrinkled in surprise and disgust.  "What?"

One of the EMTs stepped closer.  "You feeling okay, guy?"

"I'm fine.  I need a cleaver or some other kind of knife.  A big knife."

"What for?"

"To cut the head off that thing."  I pointed.

Catherine Parsons choked on a scream.  The other EMT pulled her away.  Her
husband followed.

"Do you really think that's necessary?" the first EMT asked.  I have to
admit, for a kid who couldn't have been older than twenty-five, he was
awfully level-headed about the whole thing.

"That thing was a ten-year-old girl," I said, "and then it wasn't.  It ate
my partner's face.  And I don't think it's dead."

"You shot it three times," he said, with a hint of disdain.  "Including
once in the head."

"Do you see it bleeding?  Do you see that thing bleeding from any of its

"I really can't tell from here.  There's a lot of blood."

"It's not human.  I don't know how to kill it, but I'm going to try
everything I can think of."

"You know CSU's going to have a fit if we touch anything."

"Fuck CSU."  I started pulling drawers.  "Are you going to help?"

He stared at me for a second.  Then he looked down at the child-thing on
the floor.  He muttered something and began pulling on a pair of rubber
gloves.  "I'm going to check for a heartbeat.  Do you mind?"

I drew my weapon and aimed it at the child-thing.  "I'll try not to clip


The child-thing didn't move again.  The EMT, Pooley, didn't find a
heartbeat, or a pulse, or any blood in the gunshot wounds.  I found a
cleaver.  He stood back while I decapitated the thing.  Then I found a
wooden spoon, sharpened the end to a point, and drove it through the
center of the child-thing's chest.

CSU did have a fit.  But by that time I was sitting in my patrol car,
waiting for Homicide to show up and interrogate me.  It was nearly 4am.  I
had never felt so tired in my life.  I fell asleep, shivering.


For the record, in my dream, I was first Michael Parsons, then the uniform (I tend to jump from one character to another in my dreams), and I think it was my wife (but not my wife) who died. The EMT didn't exist in my dream, but I thought he would help ground the story.

I'm not sure where any of these ideas came from, but if I were to guess, I'd blame (in order) the WB's double-whammy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel every week, then The X-Files, those damn Pepsi commercials (imagine Hallie Eisenberg as the child-thing), and finally the echoes of a private detective-meets-vampire story I wrote for a class in 1992.

I've been writing nothing but science fiction for a while. This was a nice change of pace. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the story goes from here. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!