Toward the end of High street, under the eight eighty freeway, oﬃcers Hargrove and Chambliss sat in their crown vic, parked a few yards oﬀ the pavement.
Hargrove liked to park here, or he used to anyway. It seemed that there were many things oﬃcer Hargrove used to like. Every now and then he wondered why he had liked those things; they seemed so far away now. Slouched on the passenger side of the seat was a man in a police uniform that left a good two inches of wrist and ankle showing. The identiﬁcation bar, tarnished and dull with thumbprints might have read “Chambliss”. The man looked more like a small ogre.
With his cap oﬀ oﬃcer Hargrove could see that his partner’s bullet head had lost more hair, and that the skin underneath was a sickly yellow, and what looked like peeling age spots were appearing in the balding areas. Looking out the window toward Farm Island without really seeing it.
Chambliss picked absently at the edge of one of these diseased looking patches of skin. In one of his moments of clarity, which were becoming increasingly rare, Hargrove saw Chambliss. And what he saw pushed against his sense of reality. Leaning back in the seat, his knees against the the guy looked almost exactly like a ﬁgure out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Looking ﬂeetingly in the mirror at his own visage, Hargrove sensed a thread of unreasoning fear, like a pin worm in a bucket of water twisting endlessly as it sank slowly into the depths of his consciousness.
He didn’t look any too good himself for that matter. Hargrove had grown taller himself, but he had also become thinner. Gaunt, really. His head had grown rounder as well, and instead of becoming scurfy, the skin on his body resembled rubber, or plastic. It felt like plastic too; the kind on the outside of a wire. What folks called insulation.
Worried about the fact that his skin was becoming water repellent, and that his pores were disappearing into a thick, shiny sheath, Hargrove had told himself that he would see a doctor right away. That was six weeks ago or so. The really scary thing was, nobody seemed to notice. Chambliss had discarded the use of shoes for crying out loud, but did the watch commander notice at roll call? Not on your life. In fact, nobody seemed to notice them much at all. Both oﬃcers had missed duty several days, time a lost concept to them, memory a thing best left in some frozen bit of experience, now far beyond their reach.
Chambliss ﬁnally ﬁnished peeling the leathery scab from his head, holding the trophy up between thumb and foreﬁnger. Hargrove stiﬀened as a vibration went through his torso. He started to say “incoming”, but what escaped him was a hum, like that of a refrigerator. Awareness came into the street monster’s eyes, and Hargrove caught them before he could look away. There was a cackle and a sudden pop. A thin stream of smoke escaped the outside corner of Hargrove’s left eye. This time Chambliss looked away.
Hargrove watched Chambliss turn the glass pipe over in his huge hands and noticed streaks of watery blood on the bowl. As he always did these days, he caught glimpses of terror ﬁlled faces pressed against the glass, searching vainly for help as they passed out of view to be replaced by others. As he watched a child of no more than twelve years look left and right, her face real enough to be distorted by pressing it to the side of the bowl, Chambliss put ﬂame to the bottom of the glass.
First pain, and then agony twisted her features as her face ﬁrst melted, and then turned to smoke in the pipe’s bowl. The thing that had once been oﬃcer Grady Chambliss sucked greedily on the tube and untold numbers of the damned swirled up the tube, into his lungs. Oﬃcer Hargrove thought about how that smoke was already being absorbed by the beast man’s alveoli to race in milliseconds to the left ventricle of his heart where those souls went…Chambliss passed the ﬁlthy thing to Hargrove accepting it, wondering what he had just been thinking.
He held the pipe absently as his partner exhaled an enormous cloud of smoke through his nostrils. Several small graying spots in the smoke obtained gravity, and fell wherever they landed in the car. Hargrove noted for the thousandth time that every surface had small black specks sticking loosely to them. Vaguely he remembered that, when he cleaned himself they were sometimes hard to remove, and that he sometimes wondered where they went after swirling down the drain.
Oﬃcer Hargrove, or what was left of him, didn’t remember holding the ﬂame beneath the pipe. He did not remember the imploring faces in the bowl. The part of him that was still Danny Hargrove didn’t want to see those faces as they ignited into smoke, and travelled into him on their way to his shower drain.
Reading his mind, the big man said in a voice that sounded like the crushing of hundreds of bones “That’s the good stuﬀ huh Hargrove? Still ﬁghting it aren’t you?”
Some motion on the waterfront caught both men’s attention. For a moment a ragged man pushing a shopping cart came into view. stopping for the briefest of moments the man looked furtively around. Not seeing the cruiser, he pulled a bottle from his tattered coat pocket and took a long pull on it before recapping it and putting it back in its hiding place. The man started forward against an unsteady gait, and he his cart were almost instantly hidden by a row of dumpsters.
“Be right back partner.” he said with an evil wink. “Got to do some police work, right?”
Hargrove simply put the pipe to his lips, touched ﬂame to the bottom of the bowl, and waited. This time he watched the faces; he noticed how many of them seemed to be from diﬀerent eras. Many of the faces looked as if they belonged to Paleolithic, or even neolithic humans. Others wore garb that placed them in various historical times. Always, the faces bore expressions of hopeless desperation. He noted, not for the ﬁrst time, that just before they vaporized into smoke, the faces swirled around the bowl two or three times before being sucked into the tube. Hargrove’s mind lost perspective as his consciousness skyrocketed to ﬁfty kilometers. Up here, at the top of the stratosphere, he felt nothing. What was happening thirty one miles below seemed insigniﬁcant. Whatever Chambliss was doing to the man with the shopping cart was far away, and far away was where Hargrove wanted to be. Needed to be. Because back there, on the planet he must return to was the visitor.
Before the visitor Hargrove had been a man with a plan. After high school he had attended Berkeley and gotten a bachelor’s, majoring in criminal justice and went straight into the academy. Hargrove had been married for two years, but the relationship fell apart when he got accepted into the law enforcement leadership graduate program. Pretty hard to keep a job, a graduate degree program, and a family going, but he had tried. Hargrove knew that, and for awhile he had maintained the ﬁction that his marriage would be revived as soon as he made lieutenant, but none of that mattered now. Nothing mattered since the visitor had arrived.
Hargrove let himself picture the visitor for just a moment, and wished he hadn’t. Why couldn’t he just stay up here? It was cold, sure. The air must be thin, but Hargrove was pretty sure he wasn’t breathing, and it was…lonely; but lonely was good in a world where the visitor could exist. !Later, Hargrove didn’t have any idea how much later, because time had lost all meaning, oﬃcer Hargrove saw Chambliss trying to get comfortable in the back seat. The big man was lying on his back, with one leg propped up on his other knee, scratching absently at the black specks on the sole one enormous foot. The discarded souls, because what else could the possibly be, formed a strange swirl on the seat beside his butt. An empty bottle lay on his chest, a still damp blood stain covering his body from his chin to his waist.
Chambliss grinned at him knowingly, and Hargrove saw that sometime in the last little bit of time his partner had developed fangs. While Hargrove searched his mind for surprise, the radio crackled to life. Both officers were being summoned to the scene of a murder. The murder hadn’t happened yet, but it soon would.The Butcher Shop