Denial This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

At two-thirty p.m., in the prestigious Highrise Skyrise Apartment Building, a killer stalked down the hallway. The killer looked perfectly ordinary: brown hair, brown eyes, and an innocuous face with a sweet smile. The killer knocked, and a door opened. The killer was let in. And then the screams began.

At two-forty five p.m., in the police station two blocks away from the Highrise, Tony Lazarus received a call for help. There were screams, a frightened civilian jabbered into their phone. Gunshots. Tony flipped the alarm to call his comrades and rushed out, almost forgetting to grab his jacket. Not five minutes later, he and his partner drove the squad car straight into the mass of media and confused residents of the apartments. As soon as he cut the engine and opened the door, he was swamped.

“My daughter’s in there!”

“How could this have happened? The building’s not even two years old!”

“This is a good part of town, if you can’t keep crime out of here what are you good for?”

He swallowed down acid retorts and pushed his way over to his partner. Jeff glanced at him. “You gonna be okay on this one?”

Tony swallowed again, this time out of nervousness. “Y-yeah. I’m fine. Let’s just check this out already.” He could do this. Dead bodies were nothing new. It was okay, they weren’t familiar bodies this time. “Let’s go,” he said again.

Another officer—David, maybe? Tony didn’t know; the kid had joined while he was on leave—ran up with an already full notepad. “At two-fifteen a woman by the name of Maureen Davies saw a strange man enter Highrise. She had never seen him before, and we pulled up the security tapes to show his picture to other residents, but so far nobody has recognized him.” He hesitated for a split second. “Sir, the security tapes don’t show him exiting, either. If he is the killer, it’s entirely probable he’s still in there, and he might not be dead. What if his real target isn’t dead yet?”

Tony looked at the glossy printout. A furtive looking man, tall, dark hair and darker, slanted eyes filled the left half of the paper. He brushed David’s concerns aside with a nonchalant wave of his hand. “It never hurts to check things out. Bring the squad; we’re going in.”

At three o’clock exactly Tony’s squad entered Highrise Skyrise Apartments. The opulent lobby was silent, empty; and the shag carpeting was spotless. Tony’s eyes flicked around, cataloguing possible hiding places. He motioned for half the squad to take the stairs, the other half to follow him to the elevators. The slight ‘ding’ the doors made when they opened was enough to make the tense men jump. “Steady, boys,” Tony whispered with a slight smile and then led them into the elevators. All of them barely fit. The air was hot and stale. But short fifteen second ride was blessedly uneventful.

The doors opened smoothly and revealed the other half of Tony’s squad crouching on either side of a door in the hallway. He gave David a slightly quizzical look, and the younger man nodded. “This one, sir.”

Tony looked it over. It wasn’t splintered, the lock wasn’t shot off. The door was devoid of any signs of violence. He narrowed his eyes at David. “You sure?”

“This was the room the body fell from, sir.”

Tony felt a slight tap on his shoulder. It was Jeff. “Tony, look at that door two down from this one. It has bloodstains on it.”

With a slight shudder, Tony saw that Jeff was right. Blood had even oozed onto the thick cream carpet and dried into a dark rusty stain. “David, I think it’s the one down there.”

David looked like he wanted to argue. Thankfully, he didn’t. Tony wasn’t sure how much more he could have taken. “Would you just check this one sir? Just in case?”

Tony rolled his eyes good-humoredly. “Of course.” At least he wouldn’t be the first one to see the dead bodies. Maybe they would be on the floor, like Mariah was. No, no, this was not the time to be grieving for Mariah. His squad had already moved on, and only Jeff was still standing behind him. “Go ahead,” he whispered. “I’ll be in and out in a jiffy.”

Jeff moved on. Tony placed his hand on the cold, shiny metal handle of the door. It turned silently, without a hitch. Swung open on well-oiled hinges. The room was dark and empty. Nothing of interest here. With no small feeling of satisfaction he became sure that David was wrong.

Until the breeze from the open, shattered window raised goosebumps on his skin. His breathing sped up as he saw a dark stain that covered half of the couch nearest to him. A slight whimper reached his ears. A small shape, almost lost in the dark recesses of the far corner moved. Tony’s gun jumped into his hand, ready for action. “Help me,” a tiny voice pleaded. “He shot my mama. He’s hiding in the closet. Help me.” It was a little girl’s voice, terrified and weak.

Tony gingerly took a step inside the darkened room, not wanting to shout or call for backup in case he scared the killer away. The hairs on the back of his neck slowly prickled and rose. A shaking hand rose from the shadowy figure and pointed towards a closed door on his right side. “In there,” came the whisper. Tony’s hand, shaking slightly, reached forwards and turned the knob.

The first thing he saw was the gun. Without hesitation, he shot. Bang, Bang, Bang! The tall figure toppled out. Tony looked down at the figure, lying there on the floor. But something didn’t seem quite right. Where was all the blood? Oh, it was on his neck. But Tony hadn’t shot him in the neck.

The man from the security tapes stared up with unseeing eyes, his throat slashed and the silvery gun tied to his hand.

A tremendous force slammed into Tony, like he had been rushed by a linebacker. Except that linebackers didn’t normally draw blood, and Tony was bleeding. Gushing, actually, realized a distant part of his mind. When he touched his hand to the wound in his belly, it came away dripping. Tony turned and saw that the girl was no longer crouching in the corner. She was standing close to him, and holding a smoking gun in her steady hands. He leaned against the wall and as he sagged down in a trail of his lifeblood followed.

He should have recognized the honey brown hair, the chocolate brown eyes. “Eliza? W-what, why…” his tongue was no longer functioning, the room was growing dark. From outside, he heard the shouts of his squad but knew they would be too late.

“I saw what you did to mommy,” his daughter said. “You shot her right in the head. Left her lying there on the floor while you ran away.”

No, no, he tried to protest, but couldn’t find the conviction to make one last denial. Mariah had been murdered, but not by him. Or had she? His hand was shaking, the gun was shaking, and he saw her one last time before he followed her phantom screams to the underworld.





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