This story is by Stephanie Laza and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
From the moment she emerged from the subway station, Jeanette “Jean” Tanner knew something was off. Even for the streets of New York, people were scurrying faster than usual, and away from something.
Scanning over the teaming masses, she spotted the cross street her father had instructed her to meet him at, but instead saw the all too familiar figure of Nick Tyson, the officer her busy Chief of Police father often pawned her off on. Jean groaned internally as she made her way through the crowd toward him.
“Officer Tyson” she called as she approached, trying to mask her disappointment. “Another ride along then?”
Tyson raised his hands warily. “Something really came up, Miss Tanner.”
Jean stopped short. There was a strangeness to his voice and motions.
“Nick, where’s my dad?”
“He’s fine. Now, let’s get you home…” Jean peered behind him, noticing for the first time where the crowds were fleeing from – a street blocked with caution tape and, around which a horde of pedestrians still lingered pensively. Patrolling officers kept them at bay, cold and menacing, but no Chief Tanner.
“Dad” she called, lunging forward and into the crowd.
She could hear Tyson’s shouts from behind, which only furthered her resolve. She pushed her way deeper into the crowd and under the tape. Bodies were splayed out everywhere in a pattern that would usually be determined as an explosion, except that there were no signs of fire or heat.
“Behind the line, miss.” A female officer accosted her.
“I’m looking for Chief Tanner, my father…”
“Behind the line.”
Jean found herself back behind the tape with Tyson only getting closer. “Grab that girl” he yelled to the officer who had pushed her out. Jean slipped deeper into the crowd, ducking to avoid detection, glancing desperately inward for signs of her father, but she was unable to see much through the mass of people.
The crowd thinned as she moved further, and she found the tape veered off and dead ended into a parking garage. She tried to backtrack into the crowd, but its occupants were less inclined to let her back in as they were to let her out. In her frustration, she pulled out her cell phone and called her father.
“Please pick up,” she prayed.
To her surprise, a low but familiar ring emitted from the depths of the parking garage.
“Could it be?” she whispered, stepping towards it. The entrance was taped off, but unguarded, so she slipped in unnoticed.
Darkness surrounded her and grew darker the further she went in. She walked on. The fourth ring panned out as her call went to voicemail. She waited a moment before dialing again, testing her theory. Sure enough, the ringing started again, growing louder as she neared. As she rounded the corner, she could see a faint glow thirty feet ahead. Throwing precaution to the wind, she rushed toward it and picked it up off the ground. It was her father’s phone. Dropped? Or discarded?
Jean heard another sound, this time above. It sounded like scuffling. Treading with more care this time, Jean stealthily ascended the third level, closer toward the sound. A strangled scream stopped her dead in her tracks. Jean took a moment to steel her courage before peering around the pillar that stood between her and the sound. Up ahead a faint light of an archway illuminated the silhouette of a struggling mass.
Jean gripped the pillar and tried to discern what it was. The mass split in two, revealing the figures of two men as one fled and the other chased, both rushing straight toward her. The pursuer tackled the other and they tumbled to the ground just feet away from her hiding place. Jean could now see that the tackler was undeniably her father. She almost sighed with relief at seeing him. The fact that he was exchanging blows did not concern her. Both men were on their knees, but her father had the man in a headlock. Jean felt a surge of pride. To think that he was her dad…
And then her father plunged his teeth into the man’s jugular.
The man writhed in desperation, his screams muffled by Chief Tanner’s vice-grip hand. In the struggle, Jean caught sight of occasional spurts of crimson shooting in all directions, and there was a terrible gulping sound. Her head swam. This couldn’t be real. It be a dream, a nightmare. She remained petrified behind the pillar, unable to look away as her father sucked the life out of another human being. This could not be true, yet it explained so much: her father’s sudden youthful vigor in middle age, her parent’s split, his ascension to Police Chief, the drop of crime rate… Jean shut her eyes at the last thought, as if to block it out.
He eyes popped back open as the scuffling subsided. Chief Tanner was standing now, his victim limp and unmoving. Jean watched in terror as the monster that once was her father twisted to face her.
For a moment, as she looked into his eyes, Jean could see him as her father again, despite his blood-stained mouth.
A rustle in the shadows interrupted her thoughts. With lightening quick movements Chief Tanner was in the shadows, flinging yet another body through the air with a sickening snap. As it landed at her feet, she caught sight of the surprised and lifeless face of Officer Tyson.
Jean could feel her father’s arms surround her as she screamed, his palm muting her cries as it had the dead man’s just moment before. She could hear him whispering “I’m so sorry” over and over again.
When at last she could scream no more, he whispered again:
“Jean… I’m sorry. I would have lost everything. I would have lost you!”
Jean broke from his grasp and ran. She could not bring herself to tell him at that moment, but he already had.