This story is by Emma Crowley and was a runner-up in our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Emma Crowley is a professional dog-petter and creative writing student at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. When not writing, she very much enjoys reading and watching other people play video games on YouTube. She also edits for The Madison Review and The Madison Journal for Literary Criticism.
“I assure you, Mr. and Mrs. Huston, we are doing our best to locate your daughter’s missing limbs.” Lieutenant Matthew Collins watched the mother’s fingers shake as they hovered above her daughter’s shoulder, inches from the wound. Behind her, her husband stood tight-lipped and silent.
“What kind of monster would do something like this?” The woman’s voice wavered but echoed easily off the morgue’s metal interior. “We can’t bury her in … in pieces.”
Mr. Huston wrapped an arm around his wife as she dissolved into sobs.
“I don’t understand how this keeps happening,” he growled. “Do you know how many bodies have been mutilated under your watch, Lieutenant?”
Collins winced. As head of the investigation, there was no avoiding the bodies. There wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to wipe the mutilated corpses from his mind. Thirteen.
“Believe me, we are doing everything we can to stop these … ah … attacks.” He picked at a fingernail, something he always did when he lied. He had told her that everything was fine, and she had grabbed his wrist. “You think I don’t know what this means?”
Two days ago, the coroner found that one of his cadavers had both eyes scooped from their sockets. In the week before that, a few fingers and part of an ear had gone missing, among others.
Now, the Lieutenant dropped his gaze to the body on the slab before him, both arms sawed off roughly at the shoulders. The monster’s appetite was insatiable.
Mrs. Huston wiped her eyes. “Do you have children, officer?”
Collins’s jaw clenched. His time in the morgue had been spent almost entirely avoiding the dead girl’s face. He had been imagining his son’s death far too much since the investigation began. It was only a matter of time before he lost control.
“I’ll give you some time with your daughter.” He swallowed thickly. “Excuse me.”
The Lieutenant escaped into the hall, tugging at his collar. Over the past week, he had spent a lot of time in the morgue. He barely had time to relish the fresh air before the shouting started. A tall man had the coroner pressed up against the concrete wall, meaty fists clenched around the smaller man’s collar.
“— follow every procedure, every guideline in the book,” the coroner stammered, eyes fixed on the hands at his throat. “Every night the morgue keys are locked up where only police can get at them in an emergency —”
“That’s enough.” Collins seized the larger man by the shoulder. “I’ve seen every scrap of security footage this place has. Doctor Anderson here has done nothing wrong.”
The man yanked his arm from the Lieutenant’s grip. “If you really have seen every scrap this place has,” he snarled, “how is it that you bastards still don’t know who’s doing it?” There was pain behind the anger in the man’s eyes. “They took my wife’s hand; sawed it off with the wedding ring still on her finger.” His voice faltered. “I had to bury her without it. I had to stand over her grave with the matching band still on my finger.” He raised a hand to show the Lieutenant a silver ring. Behind him, Dr. Anderson’s eyes widened as he took in the man’s finger, bruised and swollen beyond recognition.
The man’s voice fell to a whisper.
“I couldn’t even give her mine.”
Collins fought to keep his own voice steady.
“I promise you, we are doing the best we can. We’ll have your wife’s hand back to you as soon —”
“It’s too late for that.” The man stepped backwards, shaking his head. “Just make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
“It’s just a scratch.” She showed him the wound when he got home. “He didn’t do it on purpose.”
He left the other men standing in silence. Dr. Anderson gave Collins’s arm a squeeze.
“Don’t worry about him, he has to know that this isn’t your fault.”
Collins sighed, running a hand over the scruff creeping up on his chin. “What if it is, though?”
He had taken the phone from her and cancelled the call. “He’ll be fine. We don’t need to bother the hospital quite yet.”
“You can’t blame yourself for this, Matt. You need to take time off, get some sleep —”
“All this isn’t going to stop so I can take a breather, Ryan. I could handle a couple of fingers here or there, but now it’s eating whole arms —”
Anderson took a step back, face screwed up in confusion. “Eating? What the hell—?”
“I mean it’s gotta be a cannibal, right?” Collins gestured wildly as he spoke to hide his own shaking hands. “Why else would someone want pieces of fresh bodies? I mean it would be easier to get older cadavers, but those probably aren’t as good for eating, right?”
Dr. Anderson’s eyes scanned Collins’s face, worry and suspicion written clearly in the wrinkles on his forehead.
“I think it’s about time you head home, Matt. Go see your son, have dinner with your wife. Stress doesn’t look good on you.”
The sun was just dipping below the treeline when the Lieutenant bid farewell to Dr. Anderson at his car. The metal car handle burnt his fingertips and he groaned. Sure enough, when Collins opened the door, a putrid stench emerged. He climbed in nonetheless, shooting a disgruntled look at the lumpy black bag in the backseat.
“He only bit me because he’s hungry. I’ll be fine.” She didn’t look fine.
He could handle the smell with all windows down and the AC on full blast, but his stomach heaved when he was forced to throw the bag over his shoulder to lug it into his house. It was even harder to keep his work at work when the stink of death followed him home. He longed to pitch the bag into the basement and wash away the day’s bad memories with a hot shower. But he had done that the other night, and it had cost him everything.
So he dumped the bag on the workbench at the bottom of the stairs and flipped on the single bulb dangling in the center of the room.
“Ugh.” Something squelched under his polished shoe. A dark crimson ooze leaked out from under his foot, dripping into the fractured floor. The Lieutenant groaned and wiped the treads on the leg of the workbench, scraping the smashed severed ear from his shoe. A pearl earring glinted in the light, stripes of red stained onto its surface. A birthday gift to his wife; she had worn them almost constantly.
“He won’t hurt me. He knows me, I know he does.”
Collins turned his attention back to his bag. The sooner it was done, the sooner he could try to forget. Bile climbed his throat as he pulled its contents out and tossed them into the darkness.
The arms slid across the ground, painting a bloody streak across the concrete. Collins took a deep breath before crouching down.
“Hey, Jake,” he called softly, “are you hungry?”
The sound of chains dragging against stone replied.
“Come on, son.”
A slouched figure wandered into the light, shoulders hunched. Its bare feet slapped against the concrete in a staggered rhythm. Though its face was torn and peeling, patches of skull visible underneath, the hair never changed. Rotted flesh dangled from his bones and one of his eyes oozed from its socket, but Jake was as blond as the day he was born.
Jake dropped to his knees and sunk his teeth into one of the arms.
Collins’s fingers traced the police-issued handgun at his belt. His eyes watched his son eat, but his mind was elsewhere, a night when he had drawn the weapon. He had come downstairs with a few fingers in a plastic bag to find his wife lying prone on the cold floor, blood oozing from a gaping gash in her side. Jake was leaning over her, hands dripping with gore as he shoved a chunk of his mother into his mouth.
The Lieutenant had frozen for just a moment before pulling his gun on the boy. “What have you done?” he screamed, words barely audible between sobs. “She was your mother! You killed your own mother!” He approached Jake, gun aimed at his head. The boy didn’t acknowledge him, ripping warm flesh apart with his teeth. “Don’t you remember her? Don’t you remember me?” He pressed the nose of the gun against Jake’s bright blond hair. “You aren’t my son anymore.”
But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had dropped the weapon back and fell to his knees. When his son had finished eating, he collected what he could of his wife and buried her. He put the gun back in its holster and tried to forget. Now, he drew it again, turning it over in his hands. It had to end. The monster had to be destroyed.
Matthew Collins raised the gun to his own head and fired.