Part 20 – The Crimson Plague.

Henry Bruce, Head of the Department for Occult Investigations, was not having a good week. First an outbreak of some mysterious Plague no Doctor could treat, and now this.

The body on the floor was not in a pretty state. It looked as though… well, maybe best not to go there. There was blood all over the place.

It was murder, definitely. The Crimson Plague was not quite this bad, though it was certainly a sickening sight. Besides, very few plague victims had time to wreck havoc in their own house before they went down, tipping over furniture and tearing paintings to shreds. Bruce turned to the police officer standing by.

“Remind me why I was called here,” he said, impatiently, “I have hospitals filled with Plague victims suffering from a disease I cannot treat but that everyone seems to think I can, I am standing on the brink of a disaster. It is also, may I remind you, only my third week as Head of the Department for Occult Investigations. If, sir, you have any good evidence linking this attack to the Supernatural I would be delighted to hear it. Otherwise I’ll be leaving.”

“Oh, sir,” the officer looked taken aback, “there is evidence alright. Just look at this.”

He stepped towards the body and, bending down on his knees, pointed to its face. Bruce grimaced but examined it.

“I don’t see anything,” he said after a while, “what is it?”

“Look at the eyes,” said the policeman. Henry bent forward and looked at them. His frown faded slowly, replaced with a look of astonishment. The eyes did not reflect him. They reflected something else, what looked like a pair of savage eyes and a short, flat snout. Quickly he stood up.

“That’s not possible,” he said, “You were right officer, this is very much my area.”

“I always thought it was an old wives’ tale,” the officer rubbed his chin, “the victim’s last sight imprinted on his eyes.”

“It is,” Henry Bruce smoothed back his hair, “which is why it’s so interesting. What did that thing look like to you? Some kind of animal? If so it could still be here. Have your men searched the premises yet?”

“No,” the officer shook his head, “when we got here we checked the body first. When I saw the eyes I thought it might be best to contact you.”

“Very well,” Henry smiled to himself, “gather them, I’ll need assistance if whatever creature can do that to a man is still lurking around this place.”

A few minutes later a small company of police-officers had been assembled. Bruce briefed them quickly and motioned to the stairway at one end of the room. He pulled his pistol from the pocket of his coat and flicked off the safety catch. Then, as one, they crept towards the stairs, silent and slow.

When they reached the landing Bruce frowned to himself. Three doors and another set of stairs. Selecting one door he moved silently but hurriedly towards it and swung it open with a quick action, pointing his gun into the room. It was a bedroom, and apparently empty.

The second door yielded a similar result, this time a study and workroom. But the third… the third made Henry pause. A scratch mark, long and curved, marred the wood. He looked back at the others and raised a finger to his lips. They stared back at him, faces set.

“It appears I was right,” Henry murmured under his breath, “there’s some kind of animal in there.”

This door he opened as slowly and carefully as he could. Inside, the room was dark but just visible. It had evidently once been a sort of library. Now books were piled everywhere, some torn and ripped, others smoldering as though they had been burned. In one of the corners, between two shelves, something was crouching in the shadows. At the sound of the door opening it looked up and moved forward, slowly and purposefully into the light. Henry Blake stepped back and his eyes widened. He wanted to shout out in surprise, but his voice stuck in his throat.

The creature was small and hunched, about the size of a seven-year old child, if it uncurled its bent spine. Its arms were long and muscular, ending in dextrous, clawed fingers on large hands. Its legs were short and bent and its whole form covered in thick, short and bristling fur. By far its most horrible detail was its face, with small ears and a short, flat snout. The mouth was distended, oversized canines pushing their way out over the lips and curling outwards to either side. The eyes… the eyes were pure white, and glared at Henry Blake from slits in the face.

“Good God,” he muttered, raised his pistol and fired. The creature shrieked, startled by the report of the gun, twisting its body around to escape the oncoming missile. The bullet struck it in the back and it stumbled. For a moment it seemed like it would collapse onto the floor, but then it turned and let out a terrible, monstrous shriek of rage and pain.

Before Blake knew what to do the thing had leaped at him, covering the distance between them in a single bound. It struck him with surprising force, it felt like a tonne of bricks, and he stumbled backwards, arms flailing. One of the officers behind him caught him, while another stepped around and tried to grapple with the creature. There was another shriek, this time accompanied with a human yell of pain, and suddenly the creature was bounding away, back into the library.

Getting to his feet Henry glanced down at the fallen man, who had tried to wrestle the monster off him. He was moaning in pain, a black, claw shaped mark burned through his uniform and into the flesh beneath.

A crash from the library made Henry look up and dash into the room. The window on the far side had been shattered. There was no sign of the creature. Running over to it Henry gazed out, into the street. He could just make out a small form on the pavement below, loping away on all fours. How had the thing managed to survive a fall like that?

Returning to the policemen grouped outside, he stuffed his gun back into his pocket.

“It has escaped,” he replied to the unspoken question, “I want men to scour the city, whatever that thing is it needs to be caught, and fast.”

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