Detective Inspector Bishop left his car in a cloud of smoke, stamping out the barely lit cigarette underneath his heel. He felt terrible afterward. Cigarettes were getting hard to come by these days, and he immediately felt the familiar pang of wanting another lit in between his fingers. He walked farther up the street past other cars similar to his, bulbous white vehicles with singular blue lights on top, and stopped outside a small stone house with a striking red door. It was one of only two articles of color to be found on the street in the gray misty English morning. The other was the fresh blood on one of the policeman’s hands as he knelt into the bushes, regurgitating his breakfast.
“D.I. Bishop?” a man asked, tipping his navy blue hat.
“I’m Detective Constable Parsons, I was first to arrive.”
Bishop nodded again, not answering D.C. Parsons while he surveyed the scene. There were at least seven officers coming in and out of the gray cobblestone house, each of them wearing the same look of severe concentration, their faces scrunched up in an attempt not to be sick. “Show me,” he said simply, wishing as he saw these young men’s faces that he hadn’t just smoked his last cigarette. He was positive he was going to need another after this morning.
Parsons led him through the scarlet front door and into the hallway; the walls were covered in mauve green wallpaper with tiny pink flowers snaking up on thin thorned vines. They walked past the living room where a small blond woman was crying with her head on a silver-haired man’s shoulder. The parents.
Bishop pulled out a pair of gloves from his pocket and slipped them on.
“The missing, presumed dead, boy’s name is Samuel Edwards,” Parsons continued. “His room is just through here and his sister is in the room down the hall,” Parsons said, careful not to stare into the parents’ eyes as they glanced up when the men passed. No one ever looked at the parents; in any open case, policemen didn’t want to see the parents’ hope, shining as bright as the tears in their eyes, because more often than not there was no hope.
“Here,” Parsons said, handing him a handkerchief from his left pocket.
Bishop looked down at the light blue fabric with the initials B.P. clearly stitched. “What’s this for?”
Parsons held it out farther. “Trust me, Gov; you’re going to need it.”
Bishop rolled his eyes and pushed past Parsons. His first thought as he entered the room was that he should have taken the damn handkerchief.
The smell was overwhelming: the stench of run-over cat, or leftover steak abandoned outside in the summer heat. Bishop swallowed, the taste of his last cigarette turning foul in his mouth. He scanned the room, his body planted solidly in one spot on the floor just inside the doorway. From this spot, he could see every corner of the room.
“Everyone get out,” he grumbled at the officers who were processing the room.
Parsons moved into the room. “You heard the man, get out!”
While everyone filed out of the room, squeezing between Bishop and the thin doorframe, Bishop said without moving, “That means you too, Parsons.”
Parsons grunted his annoyance, but he turned and left. “Come on everyone. Let’s go outside and get some air. Give the man some space to work.”
Bishop breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth. Careful to take long, steady, slow breaths, keeping count, so as not to vomit at the scene before him.
It was as if the room had been ripped in half and two different rooms had been spliced together. The half of the room behind Bishop was clean, the light blue walls lined with family photographs and little trinkets a young boy would love. Cars, trains, and airplanes lined the shelves. An army to protect him while he slept, not that it did any good.
Bishop reached up to one of the shelves and lifted a small fighter plane, the kind that flew in the Great War, and ran his fingers over the metal wings, his fingertips trailing dust. A coat of gray painted all the little toys on the shelf like a second skin. His parents had probably told him that they were expensive and not toys, but why put them in a child’s room if they were not meant to be played with?
Bishop took the small plane into his hands, running his fingers over the white numbers and small metal grooves as he turned to look at the rest of the room.
The nightmare half of the room was covered in blood and shadows. It was as if someone had dipped a brush into red paint and had thrown it at the walls, splattering red across light blue. The small wooden bed which lay against the wall was cracked as if something had clawed its way out from under it. The rug beneath the bed was soaked through with blood, so much blood that it was only just now beginning to dry. The thick strands were matted and tangled together like the wet coat of a shaggy dog. There was a small ball on the rug, a milky white color with streaks of red. Bishop took a few steps closer, lowering himself onto his heels to get a better look.
Bishop remembered a small, and at the time insignificant, piece of information his father had once told him: all eyes are the same size, from little children to full grown adults; the human body grows to fit the eyes, not the other way around.
The eye was perfectly intact, surgically removed, from what Bishop could see from his angle. The red veins wound like bits of string stuck to the glassy surface.
He bent down for a closer look when suddenly the eyeball whirled around, a blue iris staring directly at him. Bishop fell backward with a gasp, a scream caught in his throat.
The eye stared at him, pupil wide with fright. It darted back and forth between somewhere on Bishop’s right, to back at him.
Bishop turned at the sound of Parson’s voice and quickly looked back at the eye, but it lay unmoving, pupil dead and the iris pointed down.
“You okay, Gov?” Parsons asked from the doorway.
“Yes I’m fine,” Bishop snapped. “I haven’t finished in here yet.”
“You seen the writing yet?” Parsons asked, walking farther into the room. “What do you think it means?”
“I was about to get to that,” Bishop said impatiently. “If you’ll excuse me.”
“All right, boss, but the parents want to talk to you when you’re done.”
“In a minute,” Bishop muttered, getting to his feet and narrowing his eyes at the wall above the bed.
Parsons’s heavy footsteps plodded back down the hall.
Bishop leaned over the bed and ran the fingertips of his gloved right hand over the words painted with dried blood. Someone had dipped their fingertips into a pool of wet blood and written the words “You know you want it,” letting the wet blood drip down the wall like melting ice.
Does it mean the boy or something else? Bishop asked himself. He put the thought to the side while he cast one more look around the room and walked out. He met up with Parsons down the hall, standing outside the drawing room and watching the family.
“I want to see the sister.”
“Shouldn’t you talk to the parents first?” Parsons suggested, keeping his voice low.
“No, I don’t want anything affecting my judgment, especially the parents. Where is she?”
Parsons pushed himself away from the wall that he had been leaning on. “Phina is in her room. There’s an officer outside.”
“Why is he outside?”
“Phina was slightly hysterical. She attacked one of the officers when he tried to help her.”
“Let’s go then.”
The husband and wife looked up as they passed by. “What is he doing?” a female voice asked as they rounded the corner.
“They’re going to interview your daughter now.”
“But they can’t!” came a male voice.
“Sir, please sit down!”
Bishop and Parsons stopped outside a lilac door where a navy blue-suited officer was leaning. “She still in there?” Parsons asked, jerking his thumb toward the door.
“Yeah,” answered the officer, a thick bandage wrapped around his arm, drops of blood seeping through the cloth. “She stopped screaming ’bout twenty minutes ago. Now she’s just muttering to herself.”
“You want to do this by yourself, boss?” Parsons asked, an eager tint to his voice clearly showing that he was crossing his fingers and hoping Bishop would say no.
“Yes, I don’t want to crowd the girl,” Bishop said, turning the doorknob and opening the door.
The room was painted lilac with stripes of silver and periwinkle. Teddy bears and stuffed animals were strewn all over the floor, arms and heads torn off, bits of stuffing blowing around from the air coming through the window.
She was small for a girl of eight years, still wearing her pink pajamas from the night before, though they were stained with patches of red blood. Her dark black hair was tangled, red gooey filaments slowly inching their way down her face like little slugs, hiding her from view as she drew furiously on the wall in front of her.
“Oh my God,” Parsons muttered, from the doorway, his hand going to his mouth.
Inwardly Bishop seconded that. Before them, drawn on the wall was the boy’s room. A crude image of Samuel Edwards was on his bed being pulled underneath, while his stick figure sister tried furiously to get at him, striking at large tentacles with a small knife.
“I guess we can safely say she saw what happened,” Parsons muttered, leaning into Bishop.
“Yes, but is an eight-year-old girl a credible witness? And, I mean, look at that,” Bishop said, pointing at the scene that was still unfolding as Phina Edwards drew. “She’s obviously traumatized. She thinks that a monster took her brother.”
“Well, there is no body,” Parsons offered.
Bishop turned to glare at Parsons. “There are no such things as monsters.”
“Gov, someone bled Samuel Edwards out and took his body, leaving nothing behind but his blood and one of his eyes. I’d say whoever did this was a monster for sure,” Parsons said, crossing his arms.
“Get out of here, Parsons.”
Bishop bent down on the floor next to the bed. “Phina, my name is Tom Bishop, I’m a policeman. Can you tell me what happened last night?”
There was no answer, no indication that she had heard him; she just continued to scribble, coloring in the tentacle limbs.
“Phina? Can you tell me what happened to Sammy?”
She stopped, her pen hovering over the wall, her blue eyes staring at him through the folds of her hair. They were sharp, intelligent eyes, not what he was expecting from a girl her age. “Sammy?”
“Yes, your brother Sammy. Can you tell me what happened to him?”
She gestured at the wall.
“Can you tell me what you saw, Phina?” Bishop asked, folding his hands in front of him.
“The nightmare man, he always visits me, but he came for Sammy.” She sniffed, brushing the hair from her face, wiping her hand across her small snotty nose.
“Who’s the nightmare man, Phina? Phina, can you tell me where the nightmare man took your brother?”
She sniffed again, the thin line of freckles on the bridge of her nose moving upward as she did. “The nightmare man lives in the nightmare land, but it didn’t always used to be the nightmare land. It used to be Slumberland, with lots of nice dreams and nice people, but now the nightmare man comes at night, and steals our dreams, and sometimes he steals us.”
“What do you mean steals us?”
“Sometimes he steals kids, but I don’t know why, I think because he wants our dreams.”
“Phina, is your brother still alive?”
“The nightmare man can’t steal his dreams if he’s dead.”
“Where were you when the nightmare man took your brother?” Bishop asked, sitting cross-legged on the floor, picking up one of the few intact teddy bears off the ground and turning it over in his hands.
“I was in my room asleep. I heard Sammy scream, and Mummy and Daddy were out so I went to see what was wrong.”
“Why were your mum and dad out, Phina?” he asked, discarding his usual gruff tone in favor of a softer gentler one.
“They always go out and sometimes they don’t come back and Sammy thinks they forgot us, but I tell him they’ll be back. They always come back.”
“Do you like it when they’re home?”
She shrugged. “I have nightmares when they’re home.”
“Do your parents wake you when you have nightmares?” he prodded.
She looked at him from under her hair like he was crazy. “When I have nightmares I go to sleep.”
Ashleigh Bennett, an Amagansett resident, is in her senior year at Purchase College, majoring in creative writing and minoring in English literature and history. She plans to attend graduate school in England next year to obtain her master’s degree. This is an excerpt from her debut novel, “Slumberland.”