azombiewrites: (The Detectives)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Must be Your Death A Walking
Fandom: The Detectives
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Horror.
Rating: PG
Main Characters: Detective Sergeant Chris Ballard.
Secondary Characters: Lieutenant Johnny Russo
Disclaimer: Based on the Characters created by Jules V. Levy.
Challenge: Written for The [livejournal.com profile] spook_me Multi-Fandom Halloween Ficathon 2014 and [livejournal.com profile] 10_hurt_comfort
Prompts: Boogeyman and Monster Under the Bed
Picture Prompts: Prompt #1 and Prompt #2
Author's Notes: Story title snagged from Ski King's cover version of 'Dad's Gonna Kill Me'.
Word Count: 7,476
Status: Complete

Summary: After following a suspect into a vacant house, Detective Sergeant Ballard becomes an unwilling participant in a fight against evil.





Must be Your Death A Walking


The two-storey home was empty, abandoned long ago, rumors of a violent haunting keeping potential homeowners, children and trespassers at bay. Why the suspect chose this particular house to run in to, Detective Sergeant Ballard didn’t know, didn’t question . . . only followed. Heart racing, adrenaline pumping through his limbs, fingers tingling with the emotion, Ballard stepped through the open back door, stopping just inside the entrance; the room darker than he thought it should be. Eyes adjusting to the darker interior, Ballard waited within an empty kitchen, listening for anything that would give away the location of the fleeing suspect.

The silence became thick, heavy . . . uncomfortable. A chill travelled his spine, a painful tremor running the length of his body. Something felt off . . . wrong. Instinct told him to run. Common sense told him they were only rumors, stories created to scare the neighborhood kids. Common sense told him to keep moving, to find their suspect, to make an arrest. Sometimes, common sense didn’t know what the hell it was talking about . . .

A sound above him, soft footsteps, something scraping across the floor.

Backup not far behind, taking his gun from its holster, the grip comfortable, confident, Ballard moved forward, stepping through another open doorway, moving deeper into the house. His steps quiet, methodical, unwilling to give away his position; a cornered suspect could become volatile, risking anything and anyone to get away.

Ballard paused at the bottom of a staircase, a length of winding steps disappearing into a blanket of darkness above him. A nagging feeling, a whispered warning; both ignored. Heart pounding, Ballard placed his right foot on the first step . . .

Something crunched beneath his foot, the sound loud as it echoed through the house; his presence revealed. Running footsteps moving from one room to another, the suspect once again on the move; searching for a source of escape . . . an unlocked window, a resourceful weapon.

With a strong sense of foreboding, of time running out, Ballard moved quickly, his long legs taking the stairs two at a time, his left hand following the railing, keeping his balance. He hesitated at the top. The darkness seemed to move around him . . . shadows shifting with a will of their own. No longer sure . . . his confidence dropping, now uncertain . . .

Movement to his right, sudden, quick . . . too quick to follow, a painful blow to the side of his face.

His body twisting, his balance lost, momentum of the physical blow following through, Ballard fell over the railing. Voicing his shock, heart pounding with surprise and fear, Ballard fought with everything he had to stop his decent, arms, legs and fingers reaching outward. His fate already written, he passed the point of no return.

It wasn’t a long drop, the distance short . . . if his landing was difficult, his body striking the floor without some sort of protection . . . his position wrong . . .

He could see the floor coming toward him . . . too fast. Not wanting to see the final moment, he closed his eyes and lifted his arms, an attempt to protect his head, the effort too late . . . The impact even more painful than he expected it to be, his head slammed against the floorboards. Limbs tangled, eyelids heavy, Ballard struggled to stay awake; the suspect still in the house, still a threat.

His attempts wasted . . . the darkness too invasive . . .

.
.
.

Consciousness restored wasn’t as easy as it should have been, a search through the darkness engulfing his mind for any working faculties a painful and miserable failure. Unable to hold onto the simplest of thoughts, each one lumbering through his mind, brain too clumsy to grasp onto something that should have been so simple. Pain, conflicting, sharp and dull pounded through his skull, only causing him more confusion. He had no memory of what happened. Only awareness that something had.

Opening his eyes, grateful for the lack of light, arms hiding his face from the world, Ballard fought through the nausea and dizziness. He wasn’t having much success . . . he felt so goddamn awful. On death’s door . . .

A soft touch, fingers brushing against the back of his neck, through his hair. He let out a breath, a deep sigh and closed his eyes. Someone had found him. They would take care of him, whisk him away to a place that would take away the pain and . . . A thought, a distant memory drifted slowly past, its image broken beyond repair. Unable to understand its significance, Ballard let it go. If it were important, it would come back to him.

Come back it did, not so much a memory but a reminder, a returned feeling of something . . . wrong. The feeling grew in strength, becoming so strong . . . Eyes snapping open, Ballard blinked, the movement slow . . . too slow. The sight before him was a confusing, mixture of colors and blurred shapes. Closing his eyes, he waited for a very long, lingering moment before opening them, the effort much more difficult than it should have been.

Chiding himself for being so stupid, Ballard lowered his left arm, the movement stiff but not painful, curling it against his side, his fingers slack. A large empty room revealed; a dust covered floor beneath him, a long length of winding stairs to his left; a frown marring his features at the sight of something that seemed familiar. Vision blurred, he searched the room for anything that would explain why his skull was in such poor condition. Shadows filled the corners of the room, anything and anyone hidden in their depths. Why did that bother him so much?

Something tugged at his skull, pulling at his mind, an invisible cord.

Ballard turned his gaze . . .

In the shadows of black and gray, a darkened corner . . . Something moved, a human form separating itself from the shadows. A tall, thin man dressed head to toe in a long black coat, turned up collar hiding the lower part of his face. A black fedora hat sat low on his brow. Vision out of focus it was difficult for Ballard to make out the man’s features . . . what he could see didn’t sit well in the pit of his stomach; eyes as black as the shadows behind him, angry blue lines traversed skin so pale it was almost translucent.

Stance full of confidence, body language eerily still beneath the coat . . . it was unnerving.

Head tilting to the side, the man took a step toward Ballard . . .

Ballard’s body jerked with fear, his chest tight, a painful bite, the emotion strong. His breath harsh, quick, Ballard tried to push himself away, his movement minimal, nausea, dizziness and pain keeping him in place. Ballard took a breath and held it, waiting to see if the man was going to take another step. He couldn’t understand the fear; it had no explanation, no introduction to its true source. He’d seen worse but there was something about the man . . . something . . . wrong.

A single thought crossed Ballard’s mind; this man would be his death.

Ballard closed his eyes. It had to be a figment of his imagination . . . the only possible explanation. He had hit his head that much was obvious. The man who stood before him was no doubt a side effect of a head injury. But there was doubt, doubt that he was hallucinating. His fear, the strong need to run told Ballard this man was real.

His mind began to drift, lost in a void of uncertainty and assurance. Somewhere in the back of his skull, through the pain, Ballard could feel a small vibration begin, a soft hum, the sound broken, an irritating itch. A voice, its words whispered, hard to understand. Concentration difficult, he tried to listen . . .

“Welcome to my home.”

A noise in the distance . . . a car horn, a dog barking . . . a sense of normality . . . not as normal as it should be.

The invisible cord snapped; the voice in his head suddenly silent, a switch turned off. Opening his eyes, Ballard watched the man step back, the movement slow, meticulous. Embraced within the shadows, he disappeared from Ballard’s sight.

He couldn’t stay where he was, Ballard was sure of that. The continuous feeling that something wasn’t right crawled along his spine, a nasty itch created, the urge to scratch so strong . . . Instinct told him to move. It wasn’t that simple. Skull, feeling like it was broken, would hinder any attempt to move. Common sense told him the man was only a side effect of a head injury. Common sense told him to stay where he was until help arrived . . .

Wait . . .

A terrible feeling churned through his gut. Someone had touched him, their fingers against the back of his neck, his head . . . he wasn’t alone. Had it been the man in the shadows? Common sense told him no. Common sense told him there had to be someone else in close proximity . . .

Figment of his imagination or not, a sudden and unexplained fear drove him forward. Knowing he wasn’t safe, Ballard began to move; not as easy as it should be, more painful than he thought it would be. He moved his legs, the movement difficult, inept. Pain flared in his right hip. Not just a head injury. Thoughts, confused and disjointed, ran through his mind, a single thought standing out; what happened?

Ballard rolled onto his stomach, off his right shoulder, his arm caught beneath him. His gaze stumbled, the pain stabbing through his shoulder causing him to lose what little focus he had gained. Closing his eyes, he took a deep careful breath, hoping it would help. It took a few seconds . . . too many. Brain trying to make sense of what he was feeling he couldn’t understand why his right side was the focus of all his pain. Vision still blurred, his gaze settled on the staircase.

He was taking too long. His head injury created fabrication could come back at any moment and he didn’t want to be in such a vulnerable position when it did. Ballard pushed himself up onto all fours, his limbs weak and trembling, hip and shoulder screaming in protest. Head hanging between his shoulders, breath too quick, Ballard tried so very hard to keep his position. The room spun around him, the floor swayed beneath him, the darkness pressed against the edges of his vision. Bile rose into his throat, saliva gathering at the corners of his mouth . . .

Now or never . . .

Ballard pushed back, weight resting on his heels, his balance struggling to stay balanced. Without thinking, he stood up, it was a hard fought battle but he made it . . .

He fell, knees buckling, broken equilibrium sending him back to the floor, landing on his back, head bouncing painfully against the floor. Darkness, heavy in weight, flowed through him, pressing his limbs against the floor. The moment passing quickly, consciousness staying with him. Legs tangled once more, arms stretched outward, Ballard allowed his gaze to wander, no destination in mind. His eyes wouldn’t focus . . .

Above him, in the dark shadows at the top of the stairs, stood the man in the long black coat, his hands resting on the staircase railing. The man didn’t move, only smiled, his lips stretching, the expression disappearing behind the collar of his coat.

Oh hell no. This was not his imagination at work. This wasn’t the side effect of a broken skull. It wasn’t . . .

Ballard blinked. How did he get to the top of the stairs without revealing himself to Ballard? Deciding he didn’t care, not wanting to find out, knowing the truth would be more disturbing than he would have expected, Ballard struggled to get back up.

Dizziness scrambled his limbs, his body lumbering, falling a second time or was it a third. He couldn’t do this. A repeated sensation, something tugging at his mind, pulling his gaze back to the top of the stairs. That same vibration at the back of his skull, the humming still soft, the sound still broken. He didn’t want to listen to it, didn’t want to know what that man had to say . . .

“I will be your death, Sergeant Ballard.”

The understanding that this man knew his name didn’t register with Ballard, his brain still struggling to pull itself together.

“Run.”

Ballard ran.

As well as he could run. He rolled over, pushing up onto hands and knees, crawling to the closest wall. Using it as a crutch, a way of keeping himself upright, Ballard stood up, leaning heavily against the wall when his body threatened to return to the floor. Resting his forehead against the wall . . . He snapped his head back, the pain too much, too strong. Locking his knees, Ballard struggled to keep himself from falling. If he fell again, he would never get up, he was certain. Turning his back to the room, right shoulder against his crutch, he reached upward, fingers shaking, finding the injury above his right eyebrow. A hiss of pain escaped his lips. He lowered his hand, holding it in front of his eyes. Even through blurred vision, he could see the blood.

Knowledge became awareness. He could feel the blood on the side of his face, already drying . . . how long had he laid there on the floor. His hair was sticky with the congealing substance, an irritating itch he didn’t want to scratch. Ballard knew about head wounds. There was always too much blood. A scary sight for anyone who didn’t know better. His symptoms told him he had a serious concussion, a debilitating condition if had to fight for his life.

He had to get out. Find help. All he had to do was stay on his feet and keep moving, harder than it should be. The first step was the most difficult, his head and body fighting him all the way. Balance lost, it was difficult to stay upright. Ballard followed the wall, taking him toward to an opened doorway on the other side of the room, a possible exit to the outside world. A developing limp, his right hip too painful, made his progress slow.

In his peripheral, Ballard could see shadows forming in the corner of the room, the same location the man had been earlier. It caused him to hesitate, not sure, if he should be moving toward the shadows or away from them. Turning back, his gaze searched the room. No exit behind him, left with no choice; he had to move forward, past the corner of shadows.

Breath caught in his throat, a nasty feeling settling in his stomach, Ballard kept moving. He stumbled, knees buckling beneath his weight. Fighting for purchase, his fingers scraped along the wall. Not caring how, Ballard managed to keep himself upright; the inevitable too close for comfort. He kept moving.

He reached the opened doorway, the short distance he had walked taking almost everything he had. He only had to step through the door, away from the shadows. Something held him in place, a curiosity that could very well be the death of him. He needed to know. Was it real or imagined?

Common sense told him there was nothing there, nothing to cause him fear. Common sense told him he was being an idiot. He stepped forward, one hand on each side of the doorframe . . . last chance. No need to hang around to prove common sense right. He took another step, closer to the shadows . . . both hands now on the left side of the door. Shoulder against the wall, the pain stopping his mind from drifting too far beyond his reach . . .

With his left hand, he reached forward, fingers stretching, his hand disappearing into the darkness. Nothing. He felt like a complete idiot. He had an excuse, his brain damaged, injured in such a way that . . . fingers wrapped around his wrist, pulling him forward, off balance. His footing lost, his grip on the doorframe weak, Ballard pulled into the shadows, disappearing from sight. A smell so putrid. A whispered voice, the words scaring him more than they should, “I am your death.”

His mind shut down, eyes closing, body collapsing . . .

.
.
.

“Run.”

He couldn’t. As hard as he tried, Ballard couldn’t get back up. Couldn’t move his limbs, refused to move his head. There was too much pain, too much nausea. Ballard felt as though his head was living on a child’s merry-go-round; the movement faster than it should be. He felt sick to his stomach, his head too heavy, body ready for disposal.

On his back, Ballard allowed the world to move around him, a sickening speed. Walls moving, merging into a solid block of something blurred almost beyond recognition. If things could just slow down long enough for him to do something, anything. He felt confused, lost, no idea of the danger only moments away . . .

“Run.”

His gaze shifted, the voice giving him a direction. The man stood in the corner, an expression of disappointment on his face. Common sense told him not to worry, the man only a symptom of an injury more serious than he thought. Common sense told him help would be along shortly.

Common sense was talking out of its ass.

This was still too real to be anything imagined. His fear still too strong . . .

The man moved quickly, coat tails flapping behind him, the sound of angry birds taking flight. Coming too close. Ballard flinched, his body itching to move, to get away. Fight or flight? Considering the situation, Ballard’s injury, it was an easy decision to make. Finding an inner strength, Ballard forced his body to move. He bent his knees, right hip cringing, heels of his boots finding purchase, pushing his body back. Palms of his hands, arms offering support, creating movement, distance . . . Not fast enough. Not far enough. The man moved in, taking only a few steps, coming to a stop, hovering over Ballard . . .

Hovering?

No. He wasn’t hovering. Only seemed like it. Common sense told Ballard he was lying comatose in a hospital bed, his mind living another form of reality, a place that only existed because of a broken skull. He could feel the hard floor beneath him. See the man standing . . . hovering over him. Smell an odor so foul . . . Mostly he could feel the pain. If this reality was real . . . he was in serious trouble.

His common sense could shut the hell up.

Ballard shook his head. A tremendously stupid idea. His pain increased, pounding, squeezing his head, the skin tight across his skull. He closed his eyes, hitching a breath through gritted teeth. This wasn’t working. This was . . . wrong. Opening his eyes, his gaze took too long to settle.

The man was close . . . to close, his face adjacent to Ballard.

Ballard froze, diaphragm pausing, heart beating wildly. Shadows moved within the man’s irises. Common sense wanted to rear its ugly head but Ballard shut it down. People didn’t hover. People’s eyes didn’t contain moving shadows . . . The man smiled, lips spreading, opening, revealing small, sharp teeth. People sure as hell didn’t have teeth like that. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. Ballard knew it was. Knew it without a doubt. He had to move. Had to get the hell out of a nightmare that wasn’t imagination, wasn’t the side effect of a brain injury . . .

Lungs beginning to starve, Ballard took a breath. Something putrid filled his throat, his lungs. He gagged, the bile rising into his throat, his mouth. Ballard swallowed, forcing the bile back down. He turned his head away from the smell, a regrettable move. The pain in his skull shifted, lying heavy on the left side of his head.

Smile still on his face, the man reached up, a set of long fingers resting against the side of Ballard’s face. The man’s skin was cold, clammy, a touch that crawled across Ballard’s skin. Pressure applied, the man forced Ballard’s head back. His eyes staring into Ballard’s, the man’s finger’s followed the line of Ballard’s jaw. In a move too quick for Ballard to follow, the man pulled down on Ballard’s jaw, opening his mouth.

Phlegm, thick, yellow, fell from the man’s mouth. Ballard used everything had to close his mouth, turn his head but the man’s strength was too much. The spit landed in the back of Ballard’s throat with a sickening thwack. Ballard gagged, choked on the thick liquid. It tasted like death. He tried to spit it back out . . . The man snapped Ballard’s jaw shut, fingers spreading, covering Ballard’s mouth and nose. No. He wasn’t going to swallow. He couldn’t bear the thought . . . he could feel it in his throat, gag reflex keeping it in place.

Pain be damned, Ballard raised his arms, weak fingers gripping the man’s arm. He pushed. He pulled. He couldn’t release the man’s grip. He used his legs, kicking out, finding nothing. There was nothing to find. The man wasn’t standing . . . he was hovering.

His lungs struggling, Ballard continued to fight something that was so natural. He wouldn’t swallow. He tried to breathe through his nose, taking in only a smell of something bad. Closing his eyes, Ballard pressed his heels against the floor, pushing himself way from the man above him. Grip still tight, the man simply followed.

The fight began to leave him, his body giving in, doing what it had to do to survive. Not without one last act of defiance. Opening his eyes, Ballard raised his left arm, rolled his shoulder and struck out at the man, fist colliding, the man’s jaw shifting beneath his hand. It hurt more than it should have, the collision breaking the skin on his knuckles. There was no other reaction, only the shadows in the man’s eyes taking on a darker tone.

He needed to breathe, no other choice. Ballard swallowed, grimacing beneath the man’s hand. It was even worse than he thought it would be. He could feel it coating his throat as it struggled to go down, a heavy lump striking low in his gut. The man didn’t let go, his hand pressing down, fingers digging painfully into Ballard’s cheeks. He swallowed a second time, choking down the remainder of the spit. Goddamn, he’d never tasted anything so bad . . .

Lips eerily still, the man released his grip and said, “Run.”

Pain lingering in the background, Ballard rolled over onto his left side, forcing himself up onto all fours. Head lagging, he gagged until his cheeks turned red. Spittle fell from open lips. Moisture filled his eyes. His chest ached, his stomach hurt, his head throbbed. This was more real than it should be. He couldn’t get rid of it. It stayed in his stomach like a dead animal on the side of the road.

A blow so strong, forced Ballard over onto his back, his body sliding across the floor, coming to an abrupt stop when he slammed against the wall, his right shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. Pain overrode everything else. He breathed deep . . . something wasn’t working, the air refusing to enter his lungs.

He couldn’t breathe. His diaphragm wouldn’t work. Ballard began to panic, an unfamiliar emotion, something he had never felt before. This was more frightening than he thought it would be. He had to take a breath. A sound of wheezing, loud in his ears. Ballard dropped onto his back, stretching his shoulders, the pain a distraction. Closing his eyes, he waited. It felt far too long, vision blurring further, the darkness moving in. Just as he was about to black out, his diaphragm shifted, pulling in a deep breath, a series of coughs the result.

Lungs grateful, Ballard continued to breathe, his chest heaving . . .

Something felt different. The pain no longer dominant, his vision clearing, the nausea settling, the dizziness drifting away, his memory returning. He felt a hell of a lot better. No. This couldn’t be right. Under duress, Ballard had made the decision that what was happening was real, but things that crossed the threshold of the unnatural kept slapping him in the face. Common sense wanted to speak but he told it to shut the hell up.

Putting it to the test, Ballard stood up, his legs shaky, his balance better than he thought it would be. The man in the black coat had done something to him . . . the spit . . . Ballard shuddered, his stomach rolling. He felt sick . . . physically and mentally sick.

“Run.”

Run where? Ballard had no idea of his location. No. That wasn’t true. His memory improving . . . he had followed a suspect into a house . . . into a house abandoned because of stories filled with ghostly haunting.

Ballard locked his knees, standing straight, body stretching to its full height. He put his back to the wall and stared at the man before him. This man, in his black coat and hat . . . this man with eyes made of shadows, teeth so sharp and skin so pale . . . Where was Ballard’s common sense when he needed it. This man had touched him . . . violently. This man had . . . this man was real.

Ballard ran.

Past the man and through an open door and into a long hallway. He paused, not sure which direction to take . . . something slammed into his back, throwing him forward. Instinct put his arms out in front of him, Ballard grateful he didn’t hit the floor face first; his head not in the mood for further injury. He didn’t look behind him . . . he knew what was there. Pushing himself back up onto his feet, Ballard kept moving, his legs stumbling, heart pounding against his rib cage.

Before him, only darkness . . . moving shadows. Where there were shadows . . . Ballard turned around and ran in the other direction, passing the room he’d escaped. He could sense the man behind him, sense the man's long fingers stretching toward him . . .

Ballard followed the hallway as it took a right turn. He skidded to a stop, palm of his right hand sliding across the wall, keeping his balance. There was nowhere to go. Wait. An open doorway. Glancing behind him, Ballard could see the man standing in the corner of the hallway, watching him . . . waiting. Ballard wasn’t stupid. A trap had been set. Herded toward it, given no choice, Ballard moved toward the door.

Standing in the doorway, gaze searching the room, Ballard took note of the large window on the opposite wall. A way to escape the man in the black coat or another trap? He stepped into the room. To his left were a bed and a mattress; covered with a patterned quilt, its colour long lost beneath a stain of dirt and mould. On the right, propped up in the corner, a baseball bat . . . a possible weapon. Did the man want him to fight back? No. The man wanted him to run.

Ballard turned back, his intention to do just that. The man stood before him, forcing Ballard to take a backward step into the room. The man didn’t follow, only watched, a smile on his face, his head tilted to the side.

Ballard waited with more patience than he thought himself capable, the wait easier than it should have been. His chest ached with fear, his heart beating a fast unnatural rhythm. The blood rushing past his ears so loud . . .

So loud, he almost missed it . . .

Turning his body, stepping back away from the danger, Ballard watched as the bed moved, its legs scraping against the floor. Common sense wanting to intervene changed its mind, instead coming to the agreement that whatever was about to happen was in fact . . . real.

The movement stopped, a gap created between the bed and the wall. Ballard was torn. He wanted to keep his gaze steady, watchful . . . another possible trap but he also needed to confirm the man wasn’t an immediate threat; he couldn’t deal with two sources of danger at the same time. He had to defuse one simmering threat so he could concentrate on the other.

Making a choice, Ballard turned his head; his gaze pulled away from the bed . . . it was the wrong choice, the man in the black coat no longer there . . .

The bed scraped across the floor, the sound abrupt, violent. Ballard turned. Surprised to see the suspect he’d followed into the house coming up from behind the bed, Ballard reached for his gun, the holster empty . . .

Memory flashing, his concentration removed; he’d fallen from the staircase . . . his gun falling from his fingers as he’d reached for something to stop his fall . . .

Mind snapping back into place, Ballard moved with confidence, sidestepping the suspect as he rushed toward Ballard. The suspect, his momentum keeping him moving, fell against the wall. Ballard cursed his luck. The suspect came back at him, the baseball bat now swinging a wide arc, the side of Ballard’s skull its destination.

Ballard ducked, stumbling out of the way. Finding his balance, Ballard stood with his feet separated, the right slightly behind the left, weight on his back leg. Knees bent, he waited. The suspect didn’t. Repeating his first move, the suspect swung the bat a second time. Ballard lowered his upper body, ducking beneath the swing. Ballard then came up from the side, throwing a hooked punch, striking the suspect against the side of his skull, behind his left ear. Ballard could feel the shock of the punch through his elbow and into his shoulder. More painful for the suspect, the man stumbled to the floor, baseball bat falling from slack fingers.

He had to get rid of this threat . . . permanently. Ballard moved in. Grabbing the suspect by the shoulders, Ballard lifted him, throwing him forward toward the window; two birds with one stone. Things didn’t always work out the way you planned, the window not as breakable as it should have been. The suspect struck the window, bouncing back into Ballard, both men falling to the floor.

Limbs tangled, Ballard struggled to get back up, to gain control of the situation . . .

A strong grip at the back of his neck, fingers digging painfully into his skin. Ballard recognized the touch, his body cringing, his skin trying to pull away. The man pulled Ballard up onto his feet, tossing him into the corner of the room, Ballard’s body becoming painfully aware when he hit the wall. Falling to the floor, Ballard tried to get up, the man in the black coat standing over him. The man struck out, a painful blow to the side of Ballard’s forehead.

Dazed, Ballard couldn’t keep his balance, falling once again. His jaw seized, the man raised Ballard’s head, turning it to face the room. The man released his grip, gently patting the side of Ballard’s face. Ballard flinched, turning his head to the side. Another strong grip, Ballard’s head forced back. Holding up a finger, the man let go. Ballard understood. The man wanted him to watch . . .

The man stood up and stepped back. Smiling down at Ballard, he turned and in one quick move, he picked up the suspect. They turned to face Ballard, the suspect kicking and screaming. Reaching round, the man placed the palm of his hand flat against his victim’s chest, over his heart.

Unsure of what was about to happen, Ballard could only watch with morbid fascination . . .

It was quiet, eerily so . . . not as violent as Ballard thought it would be.

The suspect’s movements began to slow, legs and arms becoming slack until he hung limp within the man’s embrace. Suspect dropped to the floor, his eyes open, his gaze still . . . too still. His chest no longer moving . . . dead . . .

The man turned back to Ballard, shadows dancing in his eyes . . .

Ballard snapped his body forward, fingers of his right hand finding the baseball bat. Rising up onto steady limbs, Ballard swung low, giving the man no opportunity to duck beneath the blow. Putting everything he had into it, the bat struck the back of the man’s knee, the leg collapsing, the man falling onto his back . . . a lot easier than Ballard thought it would be. Ballard followed through, bringing the baseball bat down against the man’s head . . . a powerful blow, the sound of bone breaking . . . a noticeable dent in the man’s forehead.

The man with skin so pale, almost translucent, smiled up at Ballard . . .

“Run.”

Common sense wanted to tell Ballard the man should be dead, if not dead, at least unconscious but common sense was as confused as Ballard . . . they were more afraid than they thought they would be.

Ballard dropped the baseball bat and ran from the room, turning left. Following the wall, Ballard took the corner too fast, his feet sliding out beneath him. Falling onto his side, he didn’t wait, scrambling back up onto his feet, his body still moving, still running. He came to a sudden stop at the top of the stairs.

The stairs were the only option, no other choice but to traverse them. Looking down, Ballard felt a bout of vertigo tumble through him . . . he didn’t want to take another fall, not like the last one.

His gun would be at the bottom of the staircase.

One quick glance over his shoulder . . . just as he hoped it wouldn’t be . . .

A harsh push from behind, Ballard fell forward. As painful as expected, Ballard hit the stairs, his body falling head over ass. Reaching out, he grabbed hold of the staircase railing, the sudden halt pulling painfully at his shoulders. Ballard stood up, his limbs trembling with adrenaline, the fear pumping through his veins. He ran down the stairs, body moving fast . . .

The man stood at the bottom of the stairs.

Ballard tried to stop, the attempt more difficult than it should have been. Momentum keeping him moving, unable to halt his progress, Ballard stumbled, his knees bending, falling down the last few steps . . .

Expecting to fall into the man, Ballard was surprised when his body hit the floor, chest and face smacking against the boards. Teeth biting into his cheek, his breath taken away from him, Ballard rolled onto his side, curling his legs up to his chest and closing his eyes. Goddamn that had hurt.

“Run.”

Breath taking too long to come back, no time to wait, Ballard moved on to his hands and knees, his gaze searching for his gun . . . there, beneath the stairway. He refused to look back. Pushing himself through the pain, through the lack of air, Ballard stumbled up onto his legs and ran around the staircase toward his gun, the small revolver now his only weapon. Expecting a violent blow from behind, Ballard stopped and picked up the gun. Such a familiar weight, the grip comfortable. Ballard turned, searching for the man threatening his existence.

The room empty. The corners free of shadows. Common sense told Ballard he was safe. Common sense told him it was over. Common sense was beginning to think the world was flat . . . Gun raised, forefinger heavy on the trigger, Ballard stepped forward, around the staircase. His gaze searched the room . . .

Nothing . . .

The feeling of something . . . wrong . . . was still strong. It nagged at the back of his mind . . . Ballard shifted his head, an attempt to remove the uncomfortable feeling . . .

Pain struck across his shoulders, knocking him forward onto his hands and knees, his weapon falling from lax fingers. A second blow flattened him. Face against the floor, eyes watering with the pain, Ballard pulled a breath through clenched teeth. His shoulders, his fingers, felt numb, unresponsive. Something was broken, he was sure of it.

Booted feet stepped into his line of vision, edges of a black coat scraping across the floor . . .

The baseball bat hit the floor. Flinching away, Ballard kept moving, dragging himself away, toward his gun. Fingers, thick with pins and needles, gripped the handle, finger finding the trigger. In one move, Ballard rolled onto his right side, raised the gun and pulled the trigger. He didn’t settle for one shot, emptying the revolver into the man who stood over him.

Not as fatal as it should have been, the man stayed upright, a smile crawling across his face.

Words vibrated at the back of Ballard’s mind . . .

“Run.”

Common sense told Ballard not to bother. Common sense told him there was nowhere to run. Common sense told him he was going to die in this house.. . . there was no way he could defeat this man. Ballard couldn’t argue with common sense. He lay on his back and shook his head . . .

The man stepped close, closer than Ballard wanted him to, and opened his mouth . . .

“RUN.”

Damn it. If he was going to die, he was going to die fighting. Ballard struggled to stand, the pain echoing through his upper back and shoulders. He stepped back, stumbling over the bottom of the staircase. He found his balance, more difficult than it should have been.

Deciding to do the unexpected, Ballard rushed forward, toward the man. It turned out better than Ballard thought it would, the man stepping to the side. Ballard kept moving, through the open doorway, toward the back door.

Expecting a strike from behind, Ballard wasn’t disappointed . . .

It was more of a shove, the strength behind it surprising Ballard. He fell, body hitting the floor, the connection more painful than it should have been. Not waiting, knowing he was running out of time, his life almost at an end, Ballard got up, his body awkward, limbs stiff with pain.

Another push from behind . . . the man was playing with him . . . having his fun . . .

So close to the open back door, the world beyond it continuing as though nothing was wrong. So close to freedom . . .

The door slammed shut. Ballard’s heart sank, an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach, a strong ache embracing his chest. Not willing to give up . . . not yet, Ballard gripped the door handle, turning it left and right. It had locked . . . no. No, no, no . . . no.

Fingers circled the back of his neck. The touch cold, a chill running the length of Ballard’s body. Snapped around, Ballard lifted off his feet and slammed back against the door. One hand gripped Ballard’s throat, holding him in place, keeping his feet off the floor. Putrid breath ghosting over Ballard’s face, he turned his head away. Ballard raised his arms, his fingers trapping the man’s wrist. Not enough strength left in his body, Ballard could do little, his struggles weak, unable to loosen the man’s grip.

The man began to squeeze, fingers digging painfully deep, making it difficult for Ballard to breathe . . .

Common sense told Ballard what was coming next . . .

Ballard closed his eyes.

The man let up on his grip, Ballard able to pull in a comfortable breath. The smell of death entered his lungs. A finger against the side of his face, turning his head. The man’s breath on his skin, warm against his ear . . . words whispered.

“Look at me.”

Ballard didn’t want to look death in the face. Refusing to open his eyes, Ballard waited for the inevitable. He didn’t have long to wait . . .

Slapped across the side of his face, Ballard’s eyes snapped open. The grip on his throat became tight once more, Ballard fighting for each breath. The man’s touch returned, fingers brushing over Ballard’s face, across his brow, over his cheek, along his jaw. The touch suddenly gone but not for long.

A hand pressed against Ballard’s chest, over his heart . . .

Ballard fought with everything he had left . . . not enough left in him.

He could feel his heart pounding, fear causing a painful rhythm. Something changed, the beating of his heart becoming erratic, out of sequence. He stared into the man’s eyes, now unable to look away. Life fading, Ballard became limp; the man’s grip the only thing keeping him up. Darkness pushed against the edges of his mind.

Less painful than he thought it should be, Ballard could feel his heart slowing . . .

The man smiled, an ugly line cutting across his face.

Ballard’s heart stopped . . .

.
.
.

Ballard woke up fighting, his limbs thrashing, striking out at anything and everything. His wrists held, a strength pushing him down, Ballard’s efforts to escape increased. He gave it everything he had, his fists breaking free, striking something soft, a grunt of surprise reaching Ballard’s consciousness.

“Chris! Stop.”

The familiar voice brought comfort and understanding. Body relaxing, Ballard opened his eyes, the effort more difficult than it should have been. The room spun, dizziness causing his body to collapse. Closing his eyes, Ballard waited for the moment to pass. He breathed deep . . . a rotten taste at the back of his throat, an odour of death lingering in his lungs . . .

Ballard sat up, the movement sudden, arms failing to find enough purchase to keep his balance . . . eyes open, he searched the room, taking notice of where he was. Clean, white walls . . . a smell of disinfectant . . . a hospital room. Through blurred vision, he could see his friend, Russo sitting on the edge of the bed, an expression of concern on his features.

What the hell . . .

Goddamn, that had been one hell of a nightmare.

Nausea rolled through his stomach. Dizziness unsettled his brain. His head hurt, more than he wanted it to. His shoulder and hip ached, the pain deep. Carefully, Ballard laid back, the bed soft, comfortable. He tried to think, to remember.

“What happened,” said Ballard, his throat sore, his voice rough.

“We found you at the bottom of a staircase,” said Russo, shifting his weight on the edge of the bed. “Looked like you took a fall down the stairs.”

Ballard frowned. He'd fallen down the stairs? Something stirred at the back of his mind, a small vibration, a soft hum . . . no. Common sense told him it was just a nightmare. Common sense told him it hadn’t been real . . .

A putrid odour hung in the air.

Something that tasted like death stuck to the back of his throat.

Ballard raised his left arm, holding his hand up in front of his face . . . the knuckles bruised, the skin broken . . .

Fear gripped his heart, his chest aching with the emotion.

“Chris? You okay?”

Something was . . . wrong.

In the corner of the room . . . shadows moved, Ballard more frightened than he thought he should be . . .


The End.



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