(Content Warning: Violence, Murder, Language, Crude Humor.)
Detective Jeff Star sat at his desk in the 31st precinct of Ruby City, staring at a new batch of grotesque pictures from the latest crime scene. A serial killer was on the hunt in his hometown, and he made a solemn vow to catch the scumbag. The latest victim, Alison, suffered from Agoraphobia, a type of anxiety disorder. A detailed report from her psychiatrist, Doctor Jeremiah Isaack, revealed a detailed look into Alison’s lifestyle.
She lived alone in her home and never ventured outside for anything. Doctor Isaack stated in his report that he had to make special home visits to monitor her progress. Alison was thirty-four years old and worked from home as a computer programmer. If Alison needed anything, she would order it online to be hand-delivered to her house.
It was a surprise even to Doctor Isaack when Alison’s body was found outside tied to a tree. It was almost like she was forced to face her fears because the cause of death was cardiac arrest. Alison was so scared her heart basically exploded in her chest.
Jeff’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted when Detective Bob Eager slammed a book down on his desk.
“What the hell, Bob?” Jeff barked.
Bob gasped and said, “It’s here! I finally got it.”
Jeff grabbed the book and read the title out loud. “Tales from Mr. Macabre by Daniel R. Hayes.”
“Yes,” Bob bragged. “Do you know how hard this book is to find? It’s sold out everywhere!”
“Well… I’m glad you finally got it,” Jeff grumbled. “Can’t you see I’m working here?”
Bob rolled his eyes and retorted, “What’s a matter with you, don’t like horror novels?”
Jeff bit his lower lip and fired, “My whole life is a horror story!”
“I-I’m sorry,” Bob stuttered. “I thought I would give you a good reading recommendation. You know… to help with your lonely nights.”
Jeff shrugged and took a deep breath. “Thanks, Bob. Maybe I’ll get around to it later if I have time. Right now, I have my work cut out for me.”
Bob nodded and sat down in the spare chair next to Jeff’s desk. “Well, my man, what do you have so far?”
“Take a look,” Jeff said, handing Bob the case file. “I got five victims deader than a limp dick on an old man hooked up to a Viagra drip!”
Bob laughed and looked through the vanilla folder with wide eyes and spoke aloud as he read, “Let’s see… We have a male victim beaten to death with a blunt weapon. A female stuffed with insects. Another male all busted up found in a trash bag, and another female who was drowned.”
“Yeah,” Jeff smirked, “and they were all found in the Ruby City Canal!”
“Hmph!” Bob huffed. “Well, I don’t envy you on this one. Do you have any leads?”
Jeff scrunched his forehead and replied, “As a matter of fact, I do. Can you guess the one thing these victims have in common?”
“They all have the same psychiatrist, Doctor Jeremiah Isaack!”
Bob laughed. “You think the doctor did it?”
Jeff slowly nodded his head. “I do. In some twisted way, I think this doctor knows more than what he’s saying.”
“Do you need backup?”
“Thanks, Bob, but no. This son-of-a-bitch is mine!”
Bob lifted his cheeks to reveal a wry smile. “You know, I still remember that one case where those children were murdered. You insisted it was their mother, and no one believed you. Ha, you were right in the end, though, so who am I to doubt you now?”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Bob. I’m off to pay the good doctor a visit!”
“Can’t you wait until morning? It’s awfully late!”
“Not a chance in hell,” Jeff yelled, grabbing his jacket. “Crime doesn’t care what time it is. The doctor has a lot to answer for!”
Driving through Ruby City, the smell of pollution filled Jeff’s car, so he briskly rolled the window up. The only thing on his mind was solving the case. In his fifteen years as a detective, Jeff had secured a flawless one-hundred percent success rate in all cases. Failure was never an option, and he often worked days without sleep to see a case to its finality. Jeff’s obsession was legendary among his peers, and over the years, Jeff developed a unique nickname. Through jealousy or praise, he became known as The Star Detective.
Pulling into Doctor Isaack’s private parking lot, Jeff noticed that everyone else had already left for the night, yet one light remained in the good doctor’s office.
“Now,” Jeff said to himself, “why would the doctor still be here? The star detective is about to find out.”
Jeff casually walked to the entrance and saw his reflection in the front doors. He paused to tuck his white dress shirt into his black pants and smoothed out the wrinkles in his brown trench coat. In the long hours of studying the case file, Jeff didn’t have time to change clothes to look fanciful, so his raunchy appearance would have to do.
The entrance was unlocked, much to Jeff’s surprise, so he stepped in, keeping a watchful eye. The office was dimly lit, so Jeff followed the glowing lights down a narrow hallway to Doctor Isaack’s office.
Before entering, Jeff called out, “Doctor Isaack, this is detective Jeff Star. May I enter?”
A rustic voice called back, “Yes… please enter, detective Star. I’ve been expecting you!”
Jeff opened the door, puzzled by what the doctor said. “What do you mean you’ve been expecting me?”
“Never mind that,” Doctor Isaack babbled. “Please, please come in!”
The office was immaculate with decorative lamps, bookshelves lined with fancy novels, plush carpet, exquisite furniture, and a mind-blowing fish tank. The good doctor sat behind his desk with fingers intertwined.
“Nice office, doctor,” Jeff said with a dash of sarcasm.
“Thank you, detective. Please sit and let us converse.”
Jeff sat down in a green cushioned chair to face Isaack. “I know you’ve answered some questions before, but I had a few more I’d like to run by you.”
Isaack slowly tugged his lips into a devilish grin and replied, “Very well, detective, this is your time after all, so ask away!”
“My time?” Jeff queried. “What do you mean, my time?”
“Awe, detective… don’t be so shy. This is your time to discuss anything you wish.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, doctor. You act as if I’m one of your patients.”
Doctor Isaack nodded in affirmation and jotted down a few notes. After a slight hum that would rock a hummingbird to sleep, he gently closed his book like it was hiding a delicate flower.
Jeff grimaced, rose from his seat, and snapped, “Are you taking notes on me!?”
“Do not be alarmed, detective. I’m just scribbling some doo-dads in my personal journal.”
“Give it to me,” Jeff ordered. “I want to take a look at it!”
Isaack rose from his chair and cradled the journal like a mother protecting her child. “I bet you would like to feast your eyes on my personal writings. What delicious secrets are stored within, hmm?”
Jeff narrowed his eyes and scowled. “Look at you dressed in your fancy attire, thinking you’re better than everyone else. I have you pegged as the killer, and I bet my career that the truth lies within that book!”
Laughter erupted from Doctor Isaack as the thrill of the moment exploded right before his steely eyes. “My, my, detective, so afraid to fail. Tell me… what was your relationship with your mother like?”
Rage boiled within Jeff like molten lava from a sleeping volcano suddenly waking to devour the world. He balled his fist swung across the desk, but the deadly punch missed its mark. Doctor Isaack telegraphed the maneuver with lightning-quick reflexes.
“You bastard!” Jeff snarled. “You’re under arrest for murder, but not before I get a few punches in!”
Once again, the good doctor cackled. “That’s it, detective! Face your fear so that I might help you!”
Isaack scurried away and took a stance behind his glowing fish tank. “You suffer from Atychiphobia – an extreme fear of failing. I suspect that you suffered some kind of failure in your childhood that sent you on this current path of righteousness!”
“You’re the one who’s crazy,” Jeff screamed from behind the aquarium, trying to grasp the doctor.
“Ha, ha, ho, hum!” Isaack giggled. “I’ve had my eye on you for a long time. The legendary star detective who solved every case he’s ever worked on. When I learned of your involvement in this case, I knew we would meet eventually.”
“Give it up, Isaack! I have a fresh can of whoop-ass for ya!”
“No!” bellowed Isaack. “I can not allow you to interrupt my good work! This city is counting on me to cleanse their sins and heal their wounds!”
Jeff could no longer control himself. In his frustration, he shoved the fish tank over on Doctor Isaack. The aquarium shattered in a tsunami of broken glass, leaving the goldfish to flop around on the wet carpet.
“NO!!” Isaack shrieked. “My babies!”
The doctor frantically scrambled along the floor, picking up his slimy pets in a desperate attempt to save their lives. His feeble hopes were crushed as Jeff quickly pounced like a roaring lion. Punch after punch collided on the doctor’s face, and Jeff was sure he heard bones crunching.
“Admit it, you bastard! You killed those people in some sort of sick twisted game!”
“Yes!” admitted Isaack, shielding his face. “I did it all, and I’m proud of it!”
The onslaught of punches came to a sudden stop. Doctor Isaack was like a wounded puppy whimpering for his mother. Jeff took a deep breath and reached for the handcuffs in his back pocket. He decided that enough was enough, and it was time to claim victory once more with another case solved.
Taking his eye off the prize for only half a second, a shard of glass slashed through Jeff’s throat, allowing a waterfall of blood to shower down on the good doctor. Isaack was not a whimpering puppy but a possum playing dead. His attack was vicious and primal.
Jeff fell to the floor, gasping for air. His vision was failing. Doctor Isaack picked up another piece of glass and stood over his newest victim. “You see, by failing, you have now faced your fears! How does it feel to be cured?”
No words came from Jeff, only gargling sounds of death.
“Now, I must tell you that killing you will bring me much joy. My babies are dead because of you!”
Isaack stabbed the glass into Jeff’s right eye and then stomped down, impaling his brain with a loud squishy sound. The light from Jeff’s soul faded to black like someone had turned off the television.
“Another miracle!” Isaack said to himself. “Where’s my journal? I need to record this event while it’s fresh.”
Over the next few hours, Doctor Isaack cleaned up the crime scene, locked the office, and carried Jeff’s corpse to his car. He opened the trunk and slammed Jeff’s body down. Closing the lid, Isaack declared, “Now it’s off to the canal to dispose of you like all the others!”
Isaack turned to enter his vehicle, but a strange silhouette of a slender man stood in the darkness, watching.
A cold shiver raced down Isaack’s spine, “Who’s there?”
Stepping away from the darkness was a man wearing a black trench coat with a matching fedora hat. His eyes were glowing red, and a dark gloom hid his face. He spoke in a deep, haunting voice.
“I know what you did… BOY!!”
Doctor Isaack could hear his heart thumping in his chest. The exhilaration of his good work had disappeared. In its place was fear, sheer terror ravaging his soul.
“This is not what it looks like!” slurred Isaack. “Who are you?”
The weight of each footstep from the stranger was like a thousand lightning strikes as he approached. “I am but a Shadow from a world where festering sinners like you pay a great price.”
“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”
“You owe a debt for your transgressions, and I am here to collect!” the Shadow growled.
“You’re crazy,” Isaack gulped. “Would you like to join one of my private sessions?”
The Shadow placed a finger to his smoky lips and warned, “Shhhh! I think you should meet my special friend, Hot Head.”
“Hot Head? Where is he? What does he want?”
A gust of wind blasted through the parking lot and rocked Doctor Isaack. The Shadow stood firm like an unmovable mountain, trench coat flapping. “I’m afraid he’s hungry. It’s been a while since our last appearance in Gemstone City!”
Suddenly, an image of a devastating fireball burned through Isaack’s mind as he remembered that Gemstone City was destroyed decades ago. His neck hair stood erect as he heard a growling sound coming from behind.
Isaack turned and saw a mighty hellhound creature the size of a grizzly bear with mangy black fur and burning skin underneath lit on fire. Black wispy smoke wafted through the air burning Isaack’s nose. The sulfur smell was putrid, and the doctor could taste bile in his mouth. The beast’s eyes burned with vengeful flames, and its massive shark-like maw dripped with boiling saliva.
“Oh, my God!”
Hot Head was primed, ready to pounce at his master’s command.
“Please, don’t hurt me!”
The mighty beast snarled and abruptly burped a fiery flame, which piqued Isaack’s interest. Studying the mind and body language was second nature to the doctor.
“Ah, you must be a pyromaniac!” Isaack exclaimed. “You love fire, huh, boy?”
Hot Head glanced at his master, who was watching ever so closely. The Shadow acknowledged his pet with a slight nod. Permission to do whatever he wanted.
Paw after massive paw inched closer to the trembling doctor.
“Listen,” Isaack ordered, patting the air for Hot Head to halt. “I can help you face your fears. I can make you better!”
The fiery hellhound did not cease and burped yet another flame that seemed to agitate him further. The beast howled underneath the glowing moonlight. Panic took over Isaack, who wanted to run away, but some unforeseen force held him in place. He was frozen in fear.
The Shadow crowed, “Now, now… I think it’s time you took your own medicine… BOY!”
“No, NO!” cried Isaack. “Good boy, that’s a good boy. Stay away from me!”
Doctor Isaack’s eyes were transfixed on Hot Head as the beast spewed forth a fiery inferno of flames straight from Hell. Isaack’s blood-curdling scream could be heard throughout Ruby City as he was roasted alive.
No longer able to stand, Isaack fell to the ground, and Hot Head pounced like a lion to a mouse and ate what was left of the doctor. Crunch after crunch filled the Shadow’s ears. A joyful symphony of dark justice paid in full.
The Shadow looked around the landscape of Ruby City and then at his faithful companion, who stood defiantly by his side. “Another city filled with sin. The debt here is enormous, my friend. I hope you’re still hungry!”
Hot Head’s lips quivered, salivating for the meals to come. The Shadow and the beast together again, a triumph of evil. The legendary duo marched towards Ruby City and faded away in the wind.
Their adventures were just beginning!
Daniel R. Hayes