fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
It was a warmer, wetter snow falling into my hair, my neck craning out my squad car window. Big snowflakes landed on my clenched fist, grasping the door's frame. I would tell anyone that I was watching to make sure that the Gasps followed protocol. No lights were on inside the house, but I could see the Gasps crawling around couches, sniffing doorways and bloody stains in my mind. The truth is that my head burned. Three months of working with them had not stopped the burning.

"Code ten at CSU, West entrance, we have a group disturbance," the radio suddenly shrieked . A few weeks ago, I would have answered in response. Paulson, code six-on overwatch. I was reprimanded for responding at all. I was given strict orders to exist as little as possible while on overwatch, even to other members of the police department.

I leaned back into my vehicle and looked at my watch. 7:50 PM, it said with a faint, green light-up. Ten minutes--they were almost done. A dull knock against my roof brought my attention to Officer Peter, standing outside the car.

"No reaction this time, Paulson?"

I just stared.

"I'm sure they need your help down there. Those noisy kids are probably protesting tuition hikes again. I'm sure you'd like to gas them."

"I would rather be there than babysitting monsters here," I bitterly replied.

"Christ, you're an idiot. They look like cops, they move like cops, they don't talk at all, and they're damn good at finding crime scenes. We're paid more to be here than to be there, where our lives are in danger. What is your problem?"

"I don't trust them."

Peter sighed. "I get that. It can be irritating to sit around waiting for a crime scene to be cleared while the G's get hungry. Couldn't let them go destroying evidence. But tell me this: have you ever seen them eat anyone who wasn't already dead?"

"One of them tried to go after my son when he was sick."

"Did he survive?" Officer Peter replied, crossing his arms.

"Yes, barely."

"He lived because you got a warning. I don't get your problem here."

I wanted to tell him that he had lost sight of what it meant to be a cop, but I knew that he would report on my attitude. It was his job to monitor me as much as the Gasps. Yes, I had a grudge because my dying son was used as leverage to put me where I am, but I'd learned to see an advantage too. From here, I could monitor them. I could be the first line of defense if the Gasps ever tried to harm a living person.

"No problem," I replied.

"I hope not," Peter said, turning away from the window and leaning against the car. "Oh look, they're done already."

The Gasps certainly worked fast. Only three were with us tonight, divided between our two cars. They strolled out of the house at a tidy pace, carefully maintaining the visage of police officers. I knew their red eyes without being able to see them through the snowfall and the darkness. I knew their satiated grins. I knew that this house had played host to a grisly murder or accident, and that there were no more traces of any blood or flesh anywhere inside, not even in the thickest of carpets.

I stepped out of my vehicle and opened the rear, passenger side door. Only one of the Gasps climbed in. His "name" was Officer Daniels. I locked the door behind him. He was the first Gasp I had met--one whose nose I smashed when he tried to kill my son. Even the peppermint scented air freshener and the cage between us did not conceal the odor of decomposition on his clothes and his breath; the victim had been a drunk.

Victim. I wondered if we would know, standing outside with our cars, whether Officer Daniels had eaten a living or a dead person. The coroner's office had swept the place before we stepped in, but could they be trusted?

I looked into the rearview mirror and saw the same red eyes grinning back at me as always.

*****

Call it curiosity. Call it yearning for a life tossed aside.

Call it foolishness, cruising conveniently past the college on the way back to the station, where lines of cops had formed and hundreds of students huddled under the flicker of a pale street light and glowing, flashing smart phones. I could feel the cops' teeth grinding under their visors. I could hear the students screaming, flapping their posters in the falling snow. I could smell the first canister of tear gas as it swooped through the air, hitting one angry young woman's forehead. Her eyes went dark, and her long hair twisted around and snaked up her face as she tumbled to the ground. The canister landed and settled in the thin snow right next to her face.

Fear danced in the darkness as the gas began to spread. Students scattered everywhere, doing anything possible to run from the burning, stinging fumes. The police stood still, gritting their teeth for new reasons. The girl didn't move.

Call it a nightmare as the Gasp in the back of my cruiser kicked the door open. I saw the metal twist and screech, snapping open. I had no time to react. He was scrambling down the icy sidewalk towards the gas and the body, his long tongue wrapped around his neck. As he ran, he began to crouch until he was moving with his fingertips and his feet, stretching his torso enough to pull his shirt out of his trousers.

I could imagine him thirty feet away. Twenty feet. Ten. Then he would have her in his mouth, clawing away her flesh with his hands while the police and the students stopped to watch.

I screamed, "Officer Daniels!" He stopped running and turned. I shot him only once through the base of his throat. He looked surprised while he fell. I ran to the girl with my hat covering my face. I picked her up and carried her inside the nearest building while her friends surrounded me, shrieking and crying.

"Get her an ambulance! Get her an ambulance!" I shouted hoarsely as the gas started to get into my lungs. I felt like I would vomit fire. As I walked outside, they watched me. The students watched a cop shoot a cop, and they had no idea what to do with any of it. The police line was not moving, but their eyes were angry, and their faces were twisting through the cloud of gas, deciding what to do. I didn't give them a choice. I grabbed the Gasp's body and hauled him into the back of the squad car before trying to close the broken door after him. How is he so strong and so light? I wondered as I pushed the gas pedal all the way to the station.

When I put the dead Gasp in the chair opposite Major Jenkins, he stood up and pointed one finger out the door.

*****

I filled out paperwork the next day, waiting for whatever judgment they would give me. No one in the station would look me in the eye. I was a traitor.

I coped with it all reasonably well until I realized what I had done.

A tap on my shoulder from the Major's secretary brought me back to that chair in front of his desk, where he sat with his palm held open. I slowly dropped my gun into his hand. He nodded and took it.

He smiled.

"You're not fired, Paulson. This is a formality. You can still perform your duties on overwatch. In fact, I have to congratulate you on successfully disarming a situation that would certainly have brought media attention to our department's use of Gasps. You saved the girl's life!"

I said nothing. I had lost my only opportunity to let the world know about monsters, all by doing what was necessary and right.

"Of course, the whole station knows it was you that shot a cop, even though they don't know which one. I can't do much to help you there," Major Jenkins cleared his throat. "Try talking about it with our therapist. You'll find him very helpful, in this regard."

He slid a card across the desk but held it down with one finger when I tried to grab it. He was no longer smiling.

The therapist's room was on the second floor, in one of only a few offices with no windows. I knocked and heard someone say, "Come in," even though the lights were off.

He was there, with gauze wrapped around his throat. He was sitting in a large, swiveling chair with padded arms, across from a couch. "You bastard," I growled.

He pressed something to his neck. It was a black, and it looked like a miniature flashlight--an electronic larynx.

You've talked enough, a robotic voice tonelessly droned from the Gasp's hand. You're powerless, Paulson. I own your life. You will continue to feed me, again and again. I will become fat off the flesh of people that you guide me to.

"I can't do it anymore."

Did you ever think you had a choice? Only your cooperation will save your child. I can smell him on you. I know where he is even now. After him, then your family. Then, who knows?

"Why do you stay here, then? Why do you need us?"

I like the bodies you give me best. So many flavors.

I should have attacked him then. I would likely have died, as I had guessed the therapist had, but I might have destroyed him in the process. Instead, I walked out, softly closing the door behind me while my head burned inside.

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