He sprints away, not daring to look back, his footsteps echoing down the hallway like distant gunshots. He just had to get to the back stairway and up to his office on the second floor, where his EpiPen was stashed. It was the only solution at this point. He should have injected himself hours ago when he felt the sensation crawling up his back. Stop it, he hisses in his mind, It’s too late now. Stop thinking about what you should have done and just go. Get. That. EpiPen!
He continues to sprint down the hallway, listening for the frantic footsteps. They were close, but not close enough to catch him. They were still yelling for him to come back and is he okay. His heart feels as if it is going to beat right out of his chest and the itching beneath his back grows unbearable. He reaches his office and practically breaks the door down getting inside. EpiPen, EpiPen! Where is it? The footsteps are closer now, almost right behind him. He tore papers off his desk and rips open every drawer. A desperate whimper escapes his throat. Ripping open one last drawer, praying to God it is the right one, a small pen like shape catches his eye. Bingo.
“Salem! What’s going on, are you okay?” His colleagues stood in front of his desk; concern embedded in their voice. Salem is crouched behind the desk, out of their sight, and watches the used EpiPen stick to his leg. He swallows, feeling that nasty itch peel away from his back. He feels drained from the inside out, but it doesn’t matter anymore; it’s over. Everyone is safe and no one had seen him.
Salem takes a shaky breath and stands up. Putting a hand on his desk to balance himself, he greets them, trying to sound normal. “Hey, guys. Sorry about running out of there like that, and for the mess in here.”
“Yeah . . . it’s okay,” they say, exchanging worrisome and slightly scared glances. It was the way people always seemed to look at him. “Are you going to tell us what that was about?”
“Yeah, I have a lethal allergy to peanuts and one of the foods at the office party must have contained a few. I rushed up here to grab my EpiPen.” He holds up the one in his hand. “I couldn’t find it at first, so that explains the tornado that destroyed my office.”
One of his coworkers, Lee, immediately covers his mouth with his hands. “I am so, so sorry! I had no idea you were allergic to peanuts!”
He continues to apologize, to which Salem simply says it’s alright. They all pat him on the back, thankful he didn’t have to go to the hospital. They took the bait, which is good. It never turns out well if he has to explain himself further.
“Thank you, Lee, for telling me. I was wondering why he wasn’t answering my texts. I’m glad he’s alright.” Olive hangs up the phone, hand lingering atop it for a moment longer. She never knew Salem had a peanut allergy. They have been dating for over a year; an allergy as serious as that seemed to be important enough to mention . . . right?
Olive pushes the thought aside and refuses to think more of it for the rest of the night. She texts Salem one more time before retreating to bed, letting her mind wander. Her dreams begin to take shape, forming into nightmares. They began a year ago and she still does not know what caused them. All she knows is that her mind will be filled with the wolfish monsters by the end of the night, as they always do.
I’m okay, Salem types quickly, I’m at the office. We still on for dinner tonight?
Yeah, sounds good :)
Olive’s answer is quick which makes his heart thump furiously in his chest. He sends back a heart emoji and smiles to himself thinking, See? Everything is fine, she didn’t question the allergy and is excited to see you. Calm down. Everything is okay.
Right after lounging back at his desk, his boss saunters in with a folder in his hand. “We got a new case today, Salem. Seems like something you would be into.”
He perks up, raising his eyebrows. “Oh, yeah? What do you have for me, boss?”
“There’s been a series of murders occurring all throughout town in the past week. According to the autopsies, they appear to happen in the middle of the night, around 2 am or so. The way they died varies from strangulation to what seems like clawed to death. We’re not sure yet, but the cases are strange.” His boss runs a hand over his bald head, something he only does when the case is bad.
“Really?” Salem swallows. “How many victims were there?”
“Only three, that we know of. Their deaths were spread out, as well. One occurred on Monday the other on Wednesday morning, and the last one Wednesday night.”
Cases like this is what causes Salem to question whether or not this is an appropriate career for him.
“Alright,” Salem says, holding out his hand to retrieve the folder. “I’ll take on the case.”
“Clawed to death? How does a person even achieve that?” Her stomach threatens to regurgitate the hamburger she just congested as a result of this horrendous image. They are sitting in a booth along the wall at the town’s local diner, burgers in hand, both glancing around every few minutes to assure no one is listening.
“I don’t know.” Salem shakes his head, eyes wide with disbelief. “The photographs looked like the work of something unnatural. Either the murderer has an animal he brings along with him to do the dirty work, or he is a real-life Wolverine. Either way, it’s terrifying.” He licks his lips after that last word and takes a long sip of his cola.
They finish their dinner in silence, each comprehending the horrific events. Olive knew that dating an FBI agent who works with forensics would be hard to stomach sometimes, but this is simply revolting. Something only heard of in horror films.
The waitress comes over, receipt in hand, and lays it on the edge of their table. “Have a good night, ya’ll.” She smiles sweetly and walks back over to the counter she came from, but not before giving Salem a double glance. It was a strange glance that appeared to be cautious, but in an ignorant sense.
“Did you see that?” Olive says, eyebrows furrowing. She turns to Salem across from her, but he’s not listening. He has his head in his hands, slowly rubbing his temples. This case must be taking a harder toll on him than she realized. She softens and reaches across the table, putting a reassuring hand on his arm. “Let’s get out of here, Sal. You need some rest.” He obeys to her but doesn’t say anything.
Olive enjoys taking care of him. It makes her feel needed. But tonight, something was off. It didn’t feel like she was taking care of him because she wanted to, instead, it felt like it was necessary. She felt as if there was more to this case than he was telling her; if only he would inform her what that was.
The pounding in his head is crueler than usual. And the headaches only occur if . . . but no, it couldn’t be. Not this close together. Salem shook his head and looks over to Olive in the driver’s seat. She had insisted on driving to give him time to unwind from the stressful day.
“Hey,” he says, taking her right hand in his and giving it an affectionate squeeze. The pounding in his head continues. “Thank you for being there for me. I know I can be kind of a closed book sometimes, but I appreciate you being patient with me. I’m going to work on getting better at that.” Thump.
Salem smiles at her and bops her on the nose. She laughs, bats away his hand, and says of course. He wants to let her in, he really does. But it’s much easier to promise than to actually follow through with it.
“Do you maybe want to stay over at my apartment tonight?” She asks while stopped at a red light. There’s eagerness in her eyes, full of hope. This is why you don’t say affectionate crap like that because then you break her heart, he hisses to himself. “We can watch movies and binge eat on pizza.”
“Actually, it’s probably better that I go to my own apartment tonight. Just to unwind and clear my head of things.” He gives her his signature ‘this hurts me more than you to say this’ look and she nods her head. Most of the time, she gains sympathy for him and pats his head saying she understands; but not tonight. Her entire frontage has shifted; she’s tense and her lips are pursed.
He wants to try to convince her more, but the pounding continues. Louder and much more persistent.
Olive drops him off at the front of his apartment building, still refusing to say a word to him. He doesn’t care at this point, though. He needs his EpiPen. He reaches for the keys in his back pocket and staggers up the stairs to the front of the building. He struggles to get the key in the lock, fingers slipping, distracted by the noise.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He bites back a frustrated scream and jams the key in the lock at last. Come on, just get up to the second floor and get that EpiPen, he encourages in his mind. Stumbling in, he frantically looks for an elevator. There was no way he would make it up two flights of stairs.
At last, he reaches the elevator, jams the arrow pointing up, and falls inside.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The last thing he remembers is pushing the elevator doors closed.
Olive forcefully opens the door to her apartment and nearly slams it shut, stopping it at the last second, as to not wake her neighbors. She grabs the remote from her kitchen table and turns on the television. Checking her cell phone for the fourth time since she got out of the car, still no messages, she decides to turn it off.
She takes a deep breath, sets her purse on the counter, and falls back onto the sofa. Her heart is tired from all this back and forth stuff with Salem. He has kept secrets ever since she met him, continuing to refuse to tell her any of them. She was done. Once and for all, she will end things with him tomorrow.
“We are interrupting this television program to bring you breaking news . . .”
Olive turns the volume up and gets up to grab a snack, expecting the news to be a robbery or a car chase. She looks around her pantry and settles for a banana.
“We have just received news about a murder at a local park. A woman was participating in her nightly jog when she was snatched and murdered. There are a few witnesses who claim to have seen a man walking around the same area minutes before the death. They say he looked abnormal; hunched over, hair covering most of his body, and unusually tall. An autopsy is being performed on the woman as we speak; the middle portion of her body covered in deep gouges, similar to claw markings of an animal . . .”
Olive’s eyes grew wide as she watches the television, dropping her banana on the floor beneath her. Deep slashes? Claw markings? She ran to her cellphone to call Salem. Although she was done with him, this could be groundbreaking for his case. If he went to his boss now, they could possibly catch the murderer.
As she dials the numbers on her phone, a vociferous knock appears at her door. She startles, nearly dropping the phone. She hesitates to press call and peeks out the peephole. Letting out a breath of relief, she begins to open the door.
“Jeez, Salem, you scared me half to death. Did you see the news? They say there was another—”
Olive’s words are caught in her throat as she opens the door and sees Salem clearly. Something is not right with him. His eyes have an insane, frantic look to them, and his hair is disheveled. He looks much taller than before, which is strange. It must be a trick of the light. There’s more hair poking out from underneath his shirt, that is definitely a trick of the light. But then he steps closer, closing in on her, backing her up against a wall. It’s not a trick of the light.
“S-Salem?” She stutters, words barely coming out above a whisper.
“I’m sorry.” His voice is raspy, much deeper than before. His eyes intensify with desperation. She tries to back up further, but it is no use. Looking for a way out, she sees the most horrific sight of all. His fingers are missing their nails. Instead, there are claws.