Stories

All Is Not As It Seems

“Her thoughts are racing. Sweat pouring from her temples. Her body is moving at a speed she didn’t know is possible. What she does know is that she must keep moving. She can feel it behind her. Gaining. Moving closer as she pushes with every ounce of her life to pull ahead. She’s running for that life.

Must get off the streets.

Too crowded.

Too many obstacles.

Why aren’t they fleeing?

Don’t they understand the danger?

She is confused and terrified. But she can’t worry about them except to avoid them. She must find somewhere to hide. Must elude the beast she is convinced she can feel breathing down her neck.

But how?

The terror is rising and the adrenaline pushing her harder. She darts down an alley to her left. In her haste she catches her foot on something and stumbles to the ground. She steals a glance over her shoulder as she scrambles to her feet, half-crawling and half-running until she is fully upright. Then she breaks into her former pace. Her body is screaming. Each breath is a knife in her chest. But it closed in on her when she fell, and she must get away. It’s closer than she thinks. Pain sears through her back as it rips at her shirt and her flesh. She feels hot blood running down her back. Can’t deal with the pain now. Another sharp turn to her left, and she runs straight into a young lady, toppling both of them to the ground. She mutters an apology and scrambles to her feet. Her legs are practically jelly from the exertion but she manages to get them moving again.

People are yelling at her to “slow down” and “watch out.” She can feel their stares. But her fear is blocking out everything but her survival. She knows she can’t keep up the pace much longer. She must find somewhere to hide.

But how?

Where?

As hard as she tries, it is always just steps behind her. How can she lose the beast? Another quick turn, but still it follows. Running. Running. Her heart beating so hard she can barely stand the pain. But she runs. Another turn. More yelling.

“Hey lady, watch it!”

“Slow down, ya loon. What are you running from?”

She keeps going. She can’t stop. She steals another glance over her shoulder. It’s still there. Relentless. But something more, something else was there. No, someone else. Someone else is chasing her now. She makes another hard break to the left; she’s turned down an alley. It’s very dark. She can feel the hot breath on her neck. It makes the little hairs on her neck stand up and her heart beat ever faster. She is sure it will stop any moment, the exertion reaching the breaking point. Aside from the breathing she hears steps, not her own, quickly approaching.

Oh God! A wall, oh please no, not a wall.

In the darkness and her haste she turned down a dead-end alley. As the terror begins to seize her body, the wall is rapidly approaching. Nowhere she can go; her eyes dart about. Over her wheezing breath she hears a voice. Someone yelling after her, “Stop!”

“Hey, lady! Stop!”

The wall, only steps away. She begins screaming in terror. She is clawing at the wall as she reaches it, trying in vain to scale it or find a way through it. Impossible, it is several stories tall and made of brick, no way of getting through. The steps behind her are ever closer.

Her screams of terror turn to shrills of pain. Claws rending chasms in her flesh. She crumbles to the ground amid furious gnashing of claws and teeth. As her body gives in to the torment and exertion, she hears a voice faintly as she slips away “This is Unit 342, need a bus in the alley behind Xiang Zhu’s on 16th. Hurry, I’m losing her!” and then there was nothing.

“Office Reichs? Detective Adams. You were the first on the scene?”

“Yes, sir. I was on patrol on 26th when this woman runs past me like a bat outta hell. Screaming. I saw her plow into one woman. So I took off after her to see if I could stop her, get her under control so no one would get hurt.”

“Was someone chasing her?”

“Well, she was acting like it. Kept looking over her shoulder, yelling for people to get away and hide. But I never saw anyone following her. She was terrified though; there was no mistaking that.”

“Do we have any ID on her?”

“I haven’t touched her, Sir. I was waiting for the ME to get here.”

“Do we have a time frame for the ME?”

“No, sir.”

“Great.” Adams steps closer to the body. “Officer, you said there was no one following her?”

“Not that I saw. I must’ve been chasing her for at least a mile before she ran down this alley.”

“So these gashes, they look pretty fresh.” Adams is lifting a piece of her shirt with the end of his pen. “Were they there when you were began following her?”

“Well, um…!” Reichs stammers a little.

“Spit it out, Reichs.”

“Well, sir, I know how this is gonna sound…! But, well, um…!”

“Reichs!” Stern, blunt. Adams is fresh out of patience tonight.

“Sir, when she hit the end of the alley, she started screaming bloody murder. Looked to me like she was trying to claw her way through the wall. And well, I saw it, and I don’t really believe it, but I watched her skin just rip apart. There was blood gushing. But no one was touching her, I swear!”

“So these cuts just magically appeared? While you’re standing there staring? You expect me to believe that?”

“I know, sir…! Like I said I don’t believe it either, but that’s what I saw.”

A black van pulls to a stop a few feet from them and a door slams shut.

“It’s about time, Cornwell. So sorry to inconvenience you.”

“Shove it, Adams. I was out to dinner with my wife.” The ME grumbles, then under his breath: “First date in months, thought I was gonna get some tonight. Oh, well. Whatever.”

“Awe, poor baby. Can we get on with this? Or do we have to listen to more of your whining?”

“Bloody hell, what happened here?” Cornwell gasps, ignoring the sarcasm oozing from Adams.

“According to Reichs over there, this woman was running full speed, running into people, screaming like a crazy lady. Said he chased her for about a mile when she bolted down the alley, and when she hit the end she crumpled, screaming in pain, and the gashes just appeared. Then she just stopped moving.”

“They just appeared? Seriously? Does he have a version based in reality?”

“That’s what he told me; ask him yourself if you won’t accept it from me.”

“This all looks pretty fresh; when did he say this happened? This body is still very warm.”

“Not more than an hour ago. The kid’s pretty shaken up; he really believes that’s what happened.”

Cornwell stands over the body, making cursory observations, taking some Polaroids of the body and her face. “These wounds are deep; how did they just appear? It’s not possible.” He says, mostly to himself, then to Adams: “Was Reichs paying attention? Maybe he came on the scene 5 or 10 minutes later and the perp got away, and he’s afraid because he screwed up.”

“He swears he was right behind her.”

“Whatever.” Shaking his head, he hands a Polaroid of the woman’s face to Adams, then says to his assistants: “Let’s bag her boys and get her back to the lab.” His assistants move toward him and put the gurney and body bag into place.

“Wait, Cornwell, can you check her pockets, see if there’s any ID or a phone or something? We’ve no idea who this lady is.”

“Yeah, uh, I don’t see a wallet or purse, no phone. Wait, what’s this? Huh, looks like a business card. A Dr. Janet Robb. Doesn’t say what kind. Just an address off West 42nd. Here ya go.” He hands the card to Adams and helps his boys lift the body onto the gurney. He tapes bags over her hands, then zips up the black bag. They load the body into the van and take off. Adams walks back over to where Reichs is standing.

“You’re with me, Reichs. Let’s go.”

“Sir? Go where, sir?”

“The vic had this business card on her.” He hands the card to Reichs. “We gotta go check it out.”

“Uh, yes, sir. But, Detective, it’s after 11, probably not gonna be anybody there?” Reichs stammers as he tries to catch up with Adams.

“So we go there. If no one is there then we figure out where to find this, uh, Dr. Robb.” He says, looking at the card again, “It’s the only information we have; we’re going to chase it until we find it goes nowhere.”

“Right. Understood, sir.”

Adams pulls his Crown Vic to the curb outside 7049 W. 42nd Ave., the address on the card. It is a business park comprised of several three-storey buildings. All non-descript. No names on the outside of the buildings, just the addresses.

They stride up to the building marked 7049, and Adams pulls open the door, mildly surprised it opens, since only a few lights were seen from the outside. There is a directory on the wall to the right of the doors. Only three listings, one for each floor. Dr. Robb is listed as being on the second. They find the elevators farther down the corridor and ride up one floor in silence. Reichs is nervous. He’s only been a beat cop for a little less than a year. This is the first murder he’s seen, except he isn’t actually sure it’s a murder. Adams is stoic, just standing there like he was carved from stone. The elevator stops, and the doors open to a small room with only one door. There is a small plaque to the left of the door that simply reads: “Dr. Janet Robb, Ph.D.” Adams steps out first and tries the knob on the door. It opens, so he motions to Reichs to follow him through.

The room they step into is a lab. All white and test tubes. Very clinical and smells faintly like bleach. Off to the left is a small area that looks as if it is an office, but also a sitting area. A desk is to one side with some bookshelves filled with books; but there is also a couch across from a couple of chairs. Everything is white and chrome, very clinical, very clean.

“Excuse me! You can’t be in here.” A woman’s voice comes from somewhere towards the back of the lab. Adams looks up and sees a petite lady quickly walking towards them. She is definitely not happy they are there. “Do you mind telling me what you are doing in my lab?”

“I’m Detective Adams; this is Officer Reichs. We are looking for Dr. Janet Robb.”

“I’m Dr. Robb.” She blurts, visibly irritated, “What do you want? I have a lot of work to do and you shouldn’t be here.”

“Dr. Robb, we just have a few questions. What exactly do you do here, Doctor?”

“I really don’t see how that is any of your business.”

“Well, this makes it my business,” he says as he hands her the evidence bag containing her business card.

“So you have my business card. That somehow entitles you to barge into my lab and disturb me with your stupid questions?”

“Doctor, that card was found on the body of a young woman that died just a few hours ago. So that is what makes this my business. So again, what is it that you do here, Dr. Robb?”

“I’m researching a new medication. I don’t see how that young lady has anything to do with me.”

“Really? So are your business cards just lying in so many random places that she could have just picked one up? She had your card; she must know of you. So that makes it likely that you know of her.”

Exasperated, she sighs and says, “Well I guess that could be likely. Do you have a picture of the woman? A description? Something? ‘A young woman’ is awfully vague.”

Detective Adams takes the Polaroid Cornwell gave him from the inside pocket of his jacket and hands it to Dr. Robb. She looks at it in silence for several moments before slowly moving her hand to her mouth and saying “oh, God” barely above a whisper.

“I will assume from your response that you do, in fact, know who this young woman is,” Adams says.

“Yes, detective, I do. Her name is Paige Richards. She was a participant in the clinical trial I am running.”

“What kind of clinical trial, Doctor?”

“We are in the final stages of our application to the FDA to approve our medication. It is a drug designed to be an anti-depressant. So far it has proved to be quite effective and has very few side effects. If this one passes the final tests, it could replace many of the anti-depressants that are on the market.”

“So you said she was a participant in your study?”

“Yes. You said she died a few hours ago. How did she die? You wouldn’t be here if it were an accident. Was she murdered?” The doctor slowly walks towards the sitting area, still looking at the photograph. “I don’t know why anyone would want to murder her.”

“Did you know her well, Dr. Robb? I thought the idea behind these studies was anonymity.”

“Yes, Detective, you're right. I am the only person that has access to their names. All of my associates only know the participants by their file numbers. I did a psychological evaluation of every participant before the study began. This woman, Paige; she was very quiet. Withdrawn. It was difficult to get her to talk to me during the evaluation. The study has been going on for approximately three months now. She was doing really well on the medication. I have observed the evaluations my associates have had with her and she seemed to be opening up. She appeared to be happier, um…lighter. How did she die, Detective?

“Officer Reichs, why don’t you explain to the doctor?”

“Yes, sir.” Reichs sat down in the chair across from the doctor. “Dr. Robb, I was on foot patrol on 26th street. At approximately 10 p.m., Miss Richards ran past me. She was yelling for people to run away and hide. She looked frantic; she turned a corner and ran into another young lady, knocking them both to the ground. I chased after her; I identified myself and yelled for her to stop. I don’t believe that she heard me. She just kept running. At one point she screams as if she is in pain. Then, after about a mile, she turned and ran down an alley, which happened to be a dead-end. When she hit the wall she was screaming and clawing, like she was trying to get through the wall. Then she let out a blood-curdling scream and crumpled to the ground. Then I saw several deep cuts appearing on her body. After I saw the cuts she stopped screaming and was still. I believe that is when she died.”

Dr. Robb just stares at Officer Reichs for several tense moments. He begins to feel very uncomfortable under her stare. Finally, she looks down at her hands, and asks: “Office Reichs, what caused the cuts? Did she fall against something? Did she hit her head?”

“No, Doctor, she neither fell against anything nor hit her head. I know how this is going to sound, but I watched her skin tear apart as she screamed. I saw nothing causing it; it just happened.”

“In all due respect, Officer, that is not possible.”

“I understand your suspicion, Doctor. I am still having a hard time believing it, and I watched it happen. But I am telling you the truth. I followed her for at least a mile. There was no one else following her. There was nothing at the end of that alley with her; I have no idea how the wounds appeared.”

“I have heard of people being scared to death, but they die because of a heart attack, not deep lacerations that mystically appear. I cannot believe that the sequence of events that you explained actually occurred. It is not logical.”

Adams sighs and stands up, “Well, at this time, Doctor, that is all the information we have. I appreciate your time.” He hands her one of his business cards and takes back the evidence bag and Polaroid. “If you think of anything else, please call me.”

“Of course, Detective. Would it be possible to find out the results of the autopsy? Just so I can make sure it had nothing to do with the medication?”

“I’ll see what I can do, Doctor. But it will have to wait until we have wrapped up the investigation. We can see ourselves out.”

“So what do you think, Reichs?” Adams asks as he puts the key in the ignition and pulls away from the curb.

“She seemed truly surprised by the news of Miss Richards’ death. I don’t believe she had anything to do with it.”

“Or maybe it’s just that she sincerely believes she had nothing to do with it. I am really curious about this drug trial. Although I’ll be damned if I can figure out how a drug could cause lacerations. All the rest of the details could be explained by chemical reaction, but the cuts…. Well I just don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait for the report from the ME. I’ll take you back to the precinct; we’ve got nothing else to go on tonight.”

“Don’t we have to find the vic’s family and let them know?”

“I’ll take care of that. You’ve done your share. Get some rest. I’ll let you know when the ME is ready for us.”

squaresdarcy gray


A talented writer and keen critic of what she reads, Darcy Gray wrote the short story below in response to an assignment in her Science Fiction class at West in Fall 2010. Where Darcy will go and what she’ll do in life is uncertain, because the future is not yet written. However, one thing about Darcy seems certain: She is a very talented writer, and she should continue writing.