Eddie Rollins didn’t believe in ghosts or phantoms or the boogeyman, but at that moment he felt a chill run down his spine like a drop of cold water. Gun in hand, he inched through the darkness between two bulbs mounted above doors on the backside of MicroTech’s large, squat building. Thirty yards ahead, a keypad beside one of the metal-skinned doors had just beeped and lit up. Seeing no one standing before it, despite the brilliance of the halogen lamp directly overhead, he’d drawn his weapon.
Unusual things made him nervous: eight years on the force had taught him that shifting shadows in a dark alley or unlocked doors that should be locked meant trouble. He believed it was this suspicious nature that had kept him alive and earned him the security position at MicroTech when he went out looking for a job to supplement the pittance Baltimore paid its finest. In all the times he’d made this late-night circuit around the building’s perimeter, none of the keypads had ever beeped or lit up of its own accord. Then there were the noises: a faint whispering that could have been the wind, but his instincts told him wasn’t.
He considered radioing for backup or at least asking Larry, who sat in front of a bank of monitors, to put down his ever-present magazine and tell him if the cameras were picking up something Eddie’s eyes weren’t. But until he knew more he didn’t want to risk looking foolish or, worse, giving away his presence if someone was back here and hadn’t already seen him.
He swept his gaze across the large parking lot, half full with only the night shift’s cars. The few lights scattered around on high poles were dim and useless. Still, he thought he might spot something interesting—a dome light, a commercial vehicle—but nothing jumped out at him.
He smiled a little: nothing jumped out at him—not the best choice of words in this situation.
At the far back of the parking lot and circling around the sides of the building, a grassy berm rose to a tall chain-link fence topped with loops of concertina wire. Years ago, in an attempt to keep the employees from feeling like prison workers, the company had planted a row of trees midway up the berm. Pretty, but stupid from a security standpoint.
He scanned the trees, mostly defoliated this time of year. Something glinted in one of them, and he squinted at it. He could make out the fence through the branches and was thinking that’s what had caught his eye when the keypad beeped again. Six beeps, actually, and the door’s bolts disengaged with a metallic thunk. As the door swung open, Eddie crouched and hurried toward it, watching the lighted area draw closer over the sights of his revolver.
The light shimmered, a rippling current of air like heat waves coming off hot asphalt, then it was gone. The door was swinging closed now, and Eddie bolted for it.
It slammed shut.
He was almost to the door, recalling the code that would open it, shifting his gun into his left hand, when he tripped over something and crashed onto the concrete pad at the threshold. He rolled to see what he’d stumbled over and almost screamed—would have screamed, had his lungs not frozen solid.
A pair of eyes stared down at him. Just eyes, shaped by unseen lids, floating in the glow of the light. Where a head and body should have been . . . nothing. Beyond the eyes he could see the building’s white-painted bricks, a crack running up from the foundation. The eyes blinked and moved toward him.
The same fear that had paralyzed him a moment before now spurred him to action. He scrambled backward, pushing himself away from the approaching eyes. He leaned on one elbow, swung his gun up and fired, instinctively aiming eighteen inches below the eyes, a center-mass shot—if whatever this thing was had mass.
The eyes sailed back and disappeared. A gout of blood appeared in the air and gushed down and around the point of impact in a thin sheet, coating a chest and stomach Eddie could not see. He gazed in awe as the eyes reappeared, this time as narrow crescents. They—and the growing sheet of blood—descended slowly, as though the invisible being was sliding down the brick wall.
The door burst open, fluorescent light from an empty hallway exploding over him. But the hallway wasn’t empty: more eyes rushed out of it, bobbing up and down, coming toward him. And another object, floating, circling, as though dancing on the waves of light—a long blade: a knife or sword. It glimmered and sparked as it came at him. In the speed of it all, everything slowed down in the way wheels spin so fast they appear not to be moving at all. He swung the gun toward the eyes, the blade, and felt something strike his hand hard. He fired into the night sky.
A pair of eyes, angry slits with dark irises, stopped over him, and he felt a blow against his chin, knocking his head back. He felt the back of his skull collide against the pavement and an explosion of pain, making his vision go white. Then he felt no more.