The call came in about an agitated man on Mount Street.
It was early morning, the sun just nudging upward, and I was a few sips into my coffee. My partner grunted something about the Irish, whiskey and venereal disease as I shuffled out to our car.
He threw me the keys and took three swift drags on a cigarette, then tossed the rest towards the homeless man who lay sleeping by the wall at the back of the station.
Driving across town joggers pounded the pavement alone or in packs. “Fucking mothers jogging with prams are the worst,” Davis said pressing the switch for his window and gulping his black coffee.
I didn’t reply. I couldn't handle Davis until I’d had a full hit of caffeine.
I pulled up outside the unit block and as I stepped out I heard him, the agitated man. I jogged up the steps, Davis slouching behind me. Along the upper walkway that ran past five front doors, all ajar and full of eyes, was a sharp left turn and a man waving his arms frantically as a woman peered out from a gap in her door. I caught sight of the chain lock she had.
“Let me the fuck in. Who the fuck are you? Where is Meg?”
He sounded close to tears and I coughed and went to place a hand on his shoulder but stopped just before.
“Hi” I said, light tone, non-judgemental, desperately needing more coffee. “What’s the problem here?”
He turned to me. He was early thirties. Short cropped hair. Slight stubble. Wide eyes.
“Officer, my unit has been broken into and my wife kidnapped. The woman inside will not answer me.”
I looked at the woman. She was almost in tears. “Miss Derickson?” I asked and she nodded.
“You know her?” the agitated man asked.
“Miss Derickson is the one who phoned us. Now how about you come away from the door here, and we’ll try and work all of this out.”
The agitated man looked down the stairs to where a hills hoist was hung with faded towels and torn t-shirts. He turned back to the door and the stared at me with desperate eyes.
“Where’s Meg?” he said and then collapsed.
At the station I sat him in room 03 and ran his name through the system. He’d told us his version of things. He’d gone out for a morning run just after 5am. He’d done his five km and come home to find the door locked. He’d left it on the catch. He’d knocked lightly and then harder when Meg didn’t answer. Eventually the door opened and a stranger was staring back at him. He’d asked where Meg was and the woman had shrugged and said he was at the wrong address. He’d shaken his head.
Explained he’d lived there for two years. Then as she’d gone to close the door he’d jammed the toe of his runner into the gap and demanded to know where Meg was.
Shortly after we’d been called.
After calming him down he’d told us his name – Peter Reynolds – and repeatedly given us the address we’d been called to as his home address. Then he’d given us his mobile number and that of Meg. He tried to call her on his phone, a shonky old Motorola flip top, but frowned and said he wasn’t getting any service. I punched her number into my phone but was told that the number dialled was not recognised.
I showed him my phone from the front seat and shrugged. “Sorry Peter, looks like her number has been disconnected.”
He stared at me, then I realised it wasn’t me.
He was staring at my phone.
I went into room 03 and placed a coffee and two slices of burnt fruit toast onto the table. Peter looked up at me, his crappy old Motorola inert on the tabletop. I had vague memories of playing Pairs or Snake on something like that when I should have been writing essays.
“Have you found Meg?” he asked immediately.
I gestured to the toast. “Eat mate, then we’ll see what we can work out.”
His eyes found the food and I saw saliva spill from his mouth. He snatched at the toast and took a huge bite, margarine running over his lips. As he swallowed he winced and sipped the coffee, hot though it was. He cleared the plate in under a minute and chugged the coffee down.
“Hungry huh?” I asked him and he looked at me confused.
“I guess, yeah”
I noticed his runners. They looked like a pair I’d had back in uni.
“So Peter Reynolds, husband of Meg Reynolds.”
“Tennant of Unit 7, 183 Mount Street.”
He nodded again.
“Employed at State Transit. Project Manager. Graduate of Sydney University.”
He nodded again.
“Have you found Meg? Only…”
I pulled my phone out and he stared at it in wonder. I pulled up the screen I’d found after a few tries on Google. A headline. I turned and showed it to Peter, believing this would end whatever prank was being played. Some kind of Channel Seven paid actor trying to revive cold cases. Some wannabe angling to get his hands on money from a deceased estate.
Peter stared and read the words I knew to be there. “Man Vanishes During Morning Run.” Beneath the headline were details about Peter Reynolds. About no trace being found. Suicide being suspected. The shoreline searched.
“What?” Peter’s mouth hung open. “I went for a run this morning.”
“Peter that’s impossible. In fact I don’t think it is possible you are Peter Reynolds so how about you start telling me what’s really going on here.”
“What do you mean I’m not Peter Reynolds?”
I looked at him. The man clearly in his early thirties.
“Peter Reynolds would be 43 now. And unless you have a damn good moisturiser mate you are not 43.”
He put a hand to his face. He coughed. He looked like he might throw up.
“F…f….f 43? Meg….where is Meg? She was preg….”
And he passed out again.
He was Peter Reynolds.
We dug up some photos and he was an exact match. He was still sat in room 03 nervously fidgeting as we traced Meg on the system. She was in Queensland now. Married. Two kids. One age 11, the other age 6.
11. Peter’s kid. A boy. She’d named him Peter.
I called Meg and heard a cheery voice answer. I slowly, carefully, laid out what was happening and the cheerful voice vanished. Silence replaced it. After a while I asked the question I needed to know. “Meg, is there anything distinguishing about Peter, any way we can do a verification that this is him?”
She was quiet but then said in a barely audible whisper. “Top of his left shoulder. Peter has a scar. It looks like a bite. He fell backwards onto a tent peg as a child.”
I thanked her and she asked what next. I told her we would be in touch and left her world broken in Brisbane and turned back to room 03 in Sydney.
Peter pulled his t shirt aside and I saw what looked to be a long faded puckered bite on his shoulder. He told me about camping. Falling.
He asked about Meg. About the pregnancy. His eyes were running red. A phone trilled outside and I realised I’d left the door open. His eyes snapped to the electronic ringing and I saw them go opaque. His lips trembled and I turned to look behind me. For a moment I saw the room beyond darken, as though the fluoro tubes had all lost current, but then the room brightened and the phone was answered.
I looked back at Peter. His face was white and he was tugging at his left arm, pulling at the skin above his elbow.
“Teeth” he said and started to sob.
I wanted rid of this. I typed everything up and called through to missing persons and the on duty psyche support. The man in 03 was brittle. I could see him through the glass tugging at his elbow, snapping glances at the window. Three more rounds of fruit toast had been cleared away and he was on his third coffee.
I was about to hit send on the file when it clicked that I needed a photo. I opened the door and asked Peter if I could take a quick snap. He looked in wonder at my phone as I turned it to one side and snapped a quick picture of him and then before he could say anything I returned to my desk.
I flicked the picture across to my desktop and dragged it to the e-mail. Then out of habit double clicked it open to make sure it was clear. There on my screen was Peter, staring in desperation. Mouth open. Hands slightly above the table.
And above his left elbow a long dark line that curled and drifted upwards towards the ceiling.
I took six more pictures.
On my phone the line was just visible but on the bigger screen it was perfectly clear. A thick dark almost wet looking rope snaking from a twist around the skin above his elbow and drifting towards the ceiling.
I showed it to Davis who shrugged and said “fuck it.”
I showed it to a few others who called it fucking weird but showed no other interest. Then I got a wave that Line 3 was a woman called Meg calling from Brisbane. I reached for the phone and wondered if I should patch it through to room 03 and let her speak to Peter. I wish I had.
As I lifted the phone I saw Davis walk into the room and saw him reach out to Peter to shake his hand. A few more questions. A different angle of approach. See if we could get to the bottom of this. As their hands touched I saw Peter snap tight as though he’d been yanked. Davis went rigid and in a moment the room was empty. Just a curl of dust in the air.
In my ear was Meg’s voice.
She was asking to speak with Peter. She’d know if it was him if she could just speak to Peter. Could she speak to Peter? Please?
Around me the station went to hell as people started to scream. The room wasn’t empty as I had first thought. The ceiling was covered in blood and as I tried to answer Meg I saw it start to rain down along with what I thought was a nose.
Hours later I was allowed to leave.
The pictures on my phone had been seized. My account of the morning taken. Verified. Signed off on. Room 03 was sealed. Davis was missing.
I heard a disjointed story that in Petersham a guy who’d gone missing eight years earlier had turned up with one leg missing screaming outside his old home. As soon as an ambo had touched him they’d both vanished in a gout of blood and bone fragments.
Then as I left Jordan at the front desk told me he’d just heard that in Maroubra a man had been running screaming through the streets and been recognised as a dodgy fucker who’d vanished himself three or four years back to duck out of a debt.
Someone had filmed him and Jordan showed me the clip. Teenagers laughing at the running man. A concerned Joe Public stepping into the road to calm him. The man stopping and looking desperately over his shoulder. Turning to the man and breaking into a scream. The man putting his hand out to placate. That simple human instinct of touch. Hey man it’s ok, here calm down, take it easy, let’s talk.
And the minute they touched the red and the screams and…
I didn’t go home.
I went to the headland where Peter had vanished. I followed the route Meg had reported twelve years before. Stepping along the path eyes scanning for the past. He ran laps along the headland, down the snaking path towards the Dunningham Reserve, back around and up Beach Street, hooking right up the hill and connecting back again.
I walked it three times and on the third I stopped and looked at the beach, at hundreds of happy people basking and swimming. I felt a chill and for a moment the sky seemed darker. As though someone had pulled a filter across the sun. a greenish filter. Sickly.
I pulled out my phone and snapped a shot of the beach. I looked down at the screen and saw the greenish hue was present. I saw that from the sky, like spilt ink, black wisps were curling down towards the sand.
I turned and shot a snap of the town and looked down at the screen. Black lines snaking from the sky towards the shops and streets and lives.
I looked up at the late afternoon blue sky and the birds wheeling in the air. I raised my phone and took a shot directly above me. I held the phone there and looked at the image.
It was black. It was fringed with green. It was stretching towards me.
Now I sit in the basement of my building.
Now I eat cold beans from the can.
I piss in the empty water bottles I’ve already drunk. I shit in the corner on the floor.
I smoke more that I eat.
I hear screams. I used to hear screams. I’ve been down here for eight days. I locked myself in after I took the pictures on the headland. I’m sure some people fought back. I’m sure the army made valiant attempts. I’m sure mankind did it’s best. And its worst. I’m sure for every moment of valour there was a rape. For every life saved there was a life shattered. Whatever happened though I stayed down here. Even when I heard pounding on the door I stayed down here. Even when my snatched food supplies dwindled I stayed down here.
Then there was a moment a day, two days ago, where I knew, I fucking knew, I was the only person left on the planet.
I knew every other life had gone.
I hear them, the creatures at the end of the tendrils.
hear them howling into the green night. I smell them, burnt sugar and copper. I hear a grinding sound of teeth gnashing at my world.
I scrawl by candlelight.
My phone is almost out of charge.
Peter Reynolds slipped into some other, some other fucking place. Some place hungry. He slipped in and slipped back. Just a blink, a flicker, but twelve years here.
Other people slipped through too and slipped back. On the same day.
But they weren’t sent home. They were bait on hooks. They were worms on fishing lines.
And I guess we taste good. A fat fucking reservoir of food.
My last cigarette.
My phone is on the red line.
The electricity is gone. The signal is gone. My lighter sparks and then catches and I hear that creature scream as the flame flickers.
They can smell me.
I look at the red line. 5%? 2%?
The battery almost gone. For some reason that breaks my heart more than anything else. It’ll never be charged again.
I point the phone ahead of me and take one shot. With the flash on. I don’t need to see the screen. I saw it in the light of the flash.
Black tendrils all around me, snaking closer.
A wet wide maw of teeth stained in blood and torn faces.
I’ll stand in a moment and toss my lit cigarette at it.
The candle is guttering and my cigarette is almost gone and I can feel something tug at my leg and if I can just keep writing then someho