This story is by Amy Ward and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
His screams, thick with blood ebbing from the mortal wound to his neck, fill the crisp night air. Forcing my legs to move faster, and my heart to pump harder, I flee. My lungs burn, punishing me for too many months of neglect and time missed at the gym. Even in my haste, daring not to look back at the grisly sight of the man clutching his open throat, I make a mental note to revisit the gym that is in my apartment building. If I live through the night, that is.
My father’s apartment is just two blocks ahead. Much closer than mine. With my legs beginning to ache, it may as well be a million miles away. I can only pray that my adrenaline will carry me through the door and up the seven flights of stairs.
Seven flights of stairs! Why didn’t my dad choose the apartment on the first floor?
The mutilated man is silent now. Or maybe I am unable to hear his cries over the hammering of my heart.
I’m amazed that the streets are empty. Even at 1 a.m., in New York City, there are usually a few people out walking their dog or coming home from a fun night out with friends. Maybe they heard the screams and ran into their homes. Maybe somebody has already called the police.
If I hadn’t let my phone die while working a double shift at the hospital, I would have called the police myself and insisted on speaking with my dad. The last text I sent informed him that I was taking an extra shift and would see him tomorrow. His response was confusing to me, “Find someone else to work it. You need to be off the streets by dark.” Shortly after that, the depleted battery died.
His apartment building comes into view. For the first time since the man on the sidewalk was attacked, I chance a look over my shoulder. Nothing but the darkness of the sleeping city and the stillness of the night. I am no less comforted.
With weary legs, I slam into the front door of my father’s building. My fingers have temporarily forgotten how to enter the security code. I fumble, cursing loudly at my body’s rebellion. Finally, after several attempts, and images of being torn to bits, the code is entered correctly. Once inside, and confident the door is closed securely behind me, I back towards the stairwell slowly. Watching. Waiting. I fully expect the horror that savagely attacked the man on the path to have followed me here.
My breath is coming in heavy gasps as my heart chastises me for the exertion. Placing my hands on my knees, I bend over and try to collect my thoughts as to what exactly I just experienced. I replay it in my head over and over. There is no logical explanation. One minute all is still. The next, screams of agony from behind. I wonder how I will be able to explain this to the police. Hopefully, when I call, they will put me through to my dad.
With one last look at the door, I turn towards the stairs and begin the trek up. My legs complain, and my head swims with the unfamiliar energy I have sapped from my body. After seven flights of stairs and several breaks to slow my breathing, I arrive at my dad’s door.
It is ajar.
My heart begins to accelerate again. My breath becomes more difficult to bring in. This must be how an anxiety attack feels. My body decides it will not endure anymore strain tonight and is attempting to shut down.
I am surprised when the door opens fully, and I see my father standing before me. Without a second thought, I rush to him. He shuts the door quietly behind me. Wrapping my arms around him, I begin to sob out the story of my ordeal. I am only slightly aware of his cold, listless embrace as I blabber on through unrelenting tears.
The more I recount, the more irritated I become with him. He seems unaffected by the fact that his daughter was nearly killed…actually saw a man be murdered. I look up into his face and am appalled.
His face, although smooth and without blemish, is ashen. The emerald green eyes that used to make the ladies swoon are now a strange mix of red and gold, with dark circles underneath. He seems to look right through me. I can see him begin to tremble.
“I told you not to be out after dark, Jeanette,” he says, turning away from me. Even his voice is different. Smoother. “The city is not safe after dark.” My father was born and raised in New York City. Yet, his voice carries no sign of the accent I am accustomed to.
He goes to the window and looks out. I feel more comfortable without his eyes seemingly peering through me. With his back to me, I stare at him. He is wearing faded jeans and a worn out t-shirt. Not the police uniform I expected. Stranger still, his shoulders appear broader.
“What do you mean, Dad?” I finally ask with an audible tremble in my voice.
For several seconds, my dad remains silent.
Finally, without turning, he answers, “That man was going to rape you. Murder you.”
“What?” I demand, shrilly.
“There is a group that has been chosen to protect the city at night in ways that humans cannot.”
A chill begins to snake its way up my spine. His wording is eerie and confusing.
“I am part of that group,” he mutters.
A thought begins to creep in. “Did you kill that man tonight?” I ask, tears threatening to spill once more. He doesn’t answer. “Look at me, dad.” I implore.
He is unmoving.
“Look at me!” I scream.
With a growl that resonates from deep in his belly, my father turns toward me, his fangs glistening.