The Boss had made his declaration with a red face and a T-shirt caked with sweat.

“We need everyone to be as vigilant as possible. Governor Morrison is close to calling out the National Guard. No joke.”

A few murmurs cut through the assembled group. The voices sounded panicked.

“You guys on the overnight shift are the frontline. You’re the state’s first defense. If we can catch this bastard and put the case to rest, then you all can sleep tight knowing that you saved lives. Also, just in case you didn’t read the email, everyone is getting time-and-a-half right now. If, God willing, one of you find him, then you’ll receive time-and-a-half and an extra $2,000. Is that enough motivation for you all?”

The Boss raised his arms in the air like a firebrand preacher. The overnight workers all said “yeah” with enthusiasm. That would be their last moment of solidarity before work began.

As with every night, the workers retreated to their individual cubicles. Since the job was so specialized, and since the company (a major military contractor) had money to spare, each member of the Observation Teams (or OTs) had their own cubicle, their own monitors, and their own headsets. The company also built what they called a “Fun Room” for the employees to get together and drink coffee. Everyone hated the name because it reeked of desperation and suspended adolescence.

The Fun Room was empty most nights, and when it did contain life, it tended to be atomized life. The company knew full well that its OTs were made up of socially awkward nerds and a handful of legitimate psychopaths. OT members were not the type to “chew the fat” or make “small talk” with their peers. Besides being prisoners of their environment, the work itself left OT members mute and mostly traumatized.

On that particular night, Herbert Krabbe sat down in his cubicle and immediately began his daily work ritual. He twisted the cap off from his coffee thermos and poured himself a drink. Next, Herbert reached into his duffel bag and pulled out his sandwich (turkey with cheese and mustard), a bag of chips, and his iPhone. He pulled out a pair of oversized headphones and placed them on his bullet-shaped head. He finished it all off by cracking his knuckles. The sound was loud, but there was no one around to complain.

Herbert logged on to his company computer, and after a few dances with the mouse, his two monitors were loaded. The left screen was full of footage from security cameras scattered across three states. The right screen included a blank “Incident Report” page. On a normal night, Herbert usually filled out between ten and twenty such reports.

Herbert, like every other company employee attached to the OTs, was assigned to watch all of the major highways in Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. OTs reported every accident, homicide, and suicide. These reports were then kicked to the state police, who then booted them up to Washington, D.C. after completing the investigations. The company, which ran similar operations in the warzones of Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Libya, provided the United States federal government with the vast majority of its annual statistics regarding highway accidents and fatalities. The point of it all was to improve safety. Herbert was convinced that it was all done in order to satisfy ghouls in suits and ties.

With just one year in, Herbert had already seen over one hundred deaths in real time. He’d seen rivers of blood seeping out from underneath overturned trucks; he’d seen piles of scrambled brains and detached eyeballs resting underneath the moon. The worst of it all was the inability to do anything about the deaths at all. The heartbreak and tragedy could not be stopped by Herbert or anyone else. Herbert never talked about anything, let alone his sneaking suspicion that he had undiagnosed PTSD. His hands always shook.

Rather than run-of-the-mill traffic accidents, the point of Herbert’s shift that night was to find and hunt down the “Freak.” That’s what the message boards on the Internet called him. The newspapers, TV, and radio called him the Allegheny Valley Ripper. Herbert had heard at least one of his co-workers refer to the unknown killer as the “Blood Man.”

The Freak’s first recorded crime had been on April Fools’ Day. The Idaho State Police had found Lorie Carnegie, 44, dead at the wheel of her Nissan Altima on a lonesome stretch of US Route 30. A trooper with the last name Maxwell had found the car with its lights off on the side of the road. Inside, he found Carnegie dead and her vehicle covered in gore. The killer had slashed her throat so deeply that when the EMS techs moved Carnegie’s body, her head rolled off her shoulders and made a dull thud on the asphalt. The most gruesome fact about the murder of Lorie Carnegie had been uncovered by the coroner in Pocatello. The Freak had hacked and slashed Laurie Carnegie so badly that all of her blood was either found inside of the car or could not be accounted for.

The Freak’s crimes grew in intensity as he traveled eastwards. There had been the murder of Rob Clement on U.S. Route 75 in Kansas. Clement had been disemboweled and partially skinned. The Kansas troopers found Clement, sans liver and tons of blood, spread-eagled on top of his Ford F-150. Even worse had been the murder of Claire Rheingold in Indiana. The police in that case only managed to find the late mother of three’s right arm and left leg. Everything else was blood and gristle along U.S. Route 31.

The Freak had been a fun diversion at Herbert’s office. The few conversations that the OTs had had with each other were about the killer, and the grown but still immature workers talked about the Freak as if he were a character from a horror movie. Things did not become serious until they found the dead Ramirez family in Ohio. That one was too close to home.

Esteban, his wife Maria, and their two children Kevin and Lester were stacked on top of each other just to the right of their minivan. All of their throats had been slashed and, for some reason, the Freak had removed their noses and ears. A lot of people suspected cannibalism as the killer’s primary motivation.

The van, like all the other cars targeted by the Freak, lacked any signs of a wreck or tampering. The tires were fully inflated, the windows were intact, and the doors had not been forced open. That was one of the biggest mysteries. The bigger one, the one that frightened everybody familiar with the string of homicides, asked: how can one guy kill four people in one night? More to the point, how could the Freak gut and eviscerate his victims in brazen, open-air attacks without anyone seeing him?

Herbert guessed that the Freak knew his killing grounds well. In Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, and other states, the Freak had struck late at night and on desolate stretches of highway. Herbert knew all too well that, between the hours after midnight and sunrise, most major interstates are as quiet as the grave. As to how the Freak could kill so many so easily, Herbert did not have a clue.


11 o’clock came and went. Midnight was equally boring. Herbert, for the first time in two months, took his job seriously. He did not watch YouTube videos, he did not purchase a bunch of unnecessary items from Amazon, and he did not stalk some of his high school crushes on Instagram. He was zeroed in on the security cameras. He watched everything that moved in Frostburg, Maryland, Millersville, Pennsylvania, Bridgeport, West Virginia, and a bunch of other no-name towns.

Nothing happened, so Herbert went to the Fun Room and bought a package of animal crackers. After feeding the antiquated machine $1.25 in quarters, Herbert waited for his humble snack and thought about what kind of car the Freak drove. Would it be a new model sedan with all the creature comforts? Would the Freak have one of those obnoxious station wagons with remote sensors that beeped loudly anytime someone sneezed within 20 feet of it? Or would the Freak drive something flamboyant, like a black hearse or a big pink Cadillac with a skull for a hood ornament?

The crackers made a thud when they hit the bottom of the vending machine. Herbert winced. Such a thud meant that more than a few crackers would be ruined inside. Herbert hated nothing more than cellophane bags full of crumbs.

Herbert went back to his desk and tried to maintain his vigilance. It did not last. By five minutes to two, he was seven minutes deep into a video game play-through.

It was a swift movement in his peripheral vision that jolted Herbert out of his lethargy. The movement was quick, quick like a moving vehicle. Herbert moved in his swivel chair. He moved close to his left monitor and sought to find the moving vehicle. He watched for a minute, but failed to see any signs of life. He shrugged his shoulders, then went back to watching someone else play a video game.

The object moved again. This time, Herbert saw what it was. It was a compact car: dark-colored, foreign-made, and nondescript in every way imaginable. The only thing that made the car unique was what it was doing. Herbert watched as the vehicle slowed down, pulled off to the side of the road, and put on its hazard lights. With a single mouse click on an hourglass icon, the camera zoomed in to reveal a Maryland license plate. Herbert looked in the camera’s upper left-hand corner and read the coordinates. He knew them well. The strange car was within spitting distance of Cumberland, Maryland, a former railroad town known for its skyline full of church spires.

The car’s driver exited. Herbert hit the hourglass icon again, but he could not discern any of the driver’s features. All he could see was a tall, thin, and pale shape dressed all in black. The driver’s movements were fast and twitchy. He opened the door to the backseat, and without effort, flung something heavy onto the road. Its outline was that of a human being. A dead one.

Herbert watched the camera and began to sweat. Yes, it was a dead body on the road, and the driver had put it there. The reason was obvious. The driver already had a lit road flare in his hand and he was waving it around. Herbert realized two things: one, the driver had to be the Freak, and two, this was how he found his victims; he preyed on their Good Samaritan instincts.

Herbert caught himself crossing his fingers and praying that there were no late night drivers near Cumberland. If they were, Herbert wanted them all to be no-good bastards who would drive past or over their dead grandmother.

Herbert’s eyes went back and forth between the camera on the Freak and his new incident report. Details were layered upon details, as Herbert envisioned his incident report leading to the capture of America’s most wanted serial killer. He saw all the money and fame. Best of all, he saw a way out from his tedious, mind-numbing job.

A white SUV came into frame. Maryland plates. Decals and stickers in the back window. Herbert zoomed in and found them all family-friendly. There was the white outline of two parents and a brood of little children. There was also some kind of black and white bumper sticker decorated with drawn-on flowers and butterflies. Herbert’s heart sank and his throat turned to gravel.

The SUV stopped by the Freak’s car. The passenger, a woman, got out and immediately bent over the body on the road. The driver, a man who had to be the passenger’s husband, looked at the corpse briefly before turning to the Freak. Only the driver gesticulated with his arms as he talked. The Freak stayed disturbingly still. Herbert knew that they were discussing the “accident” and its victim.

Herbert went from whispering “stop” and “no” to shouting the words. He saw it all coming before it happened. When the Freak grabbed the man by the throat and threw him against the SUV, Herbert closed his eyes and turned his head away. But soon enough, he kicked himself and forced his eyes to watch all the bloodletting.

The husband was in a heap by one of the SUV’s tires. The Freak had the wife pinned to the asphalt. Herbert expected the Freak to wrap his hands around the woman’s throat and squeeze, but instead he leaned over the woman. His thin, but presumably muscular back engulfed the woman’s head and upper torso. The Freak held the position for a minute. When he was done, he stood up and turned back towards the husband. The Freak hunched over the husband and used his right hand to swipe back and forth like a maniac painter. It looked like the Freak was slapping the husband’s face, but Herbert knew better. He knew that the Freak was slashing at the man’s throat. Black, rather than red blood arched over the Freak’s shoulders. When the Freak bounced on his heels and moved to the husband’s left side, Herbert saw that the serial killer’s face was covered in dripping blood. The Freak made no attempt to wipe the blood away. Rather, the blood-covered Freak pulled once on the man’s arm and it removed it. He stood up and threw the detached arm over the guardrail and into the grass.

The Freak continued to maul the dead man. He bit his face, ripped off his ears and nose, and, most abhorrent of all, the Freak cheerfully jumped up and down on the man’s torso. Throughout it all, the wife stayed prone and lifeless on the road. Herbert kept thinking about the woman and the fact that, throughout the crime, he never once saw the Freak use a weapon of any kind. The only weapon was the Freak himself, even though Herbert knew that that was biologically impossible.

Herbert’s fingers flew across the keyboard as he completed the incident report. For the first time in his working life, Herbert ran out of his cubicle and ran to the Boss’s office. The Boss was not in, so Herbert told everything to Carl, the assistant manager, in between gasps for air. An alarmed Carl followed Herbert back to his cubicle. The assistant manager wanted to see the carnage for himself.

The blood was still on the highway, but the Freak and three corpses were gone. Gone too was the Freak’s car. Herbert’s heart sank a little when he noticed that the white SUV was missing its license plate.

“Christ, where did he go?” Carl asked.

“I’ll work on it and tell you if I see him again.”

“If or when you do, write another incident report, okay? The company wants this thing covered wall to wall. We want a paper trail on this one. You want one, too. After all, that’s how you will get the reward.”

Carl winked at Herbert. A small, crooked smile escaped Herbert’s tight mouth, and he winked at his superior. Herbert, usually a morbid and morose soul, was feeling downright chipper thanks to the hunt for the Freak. In minutes, he had managed to forget all about watching the evisceration of two innocent people.

Herbert sat down at his desk and began clicking. He clicked on every single camera on the screen. Herbert minimized and maximized, and he viewed different highways from several angles. He tracked and tracked, but he failed to find the Freak again. Herbert turned and looked at the digital clock behind him. It read 3:40.

Dread and excitement coursed through Herbert’s veins. The excitement came from the hunt. For the first time in his life, Herbert felt the primitive thrill of being the hunter, regardless of the obvious fact that, in reality, the true hunter was the Freak. Herbert and the company were merely second-stringers to the Freak, the arch-killer and matador.

The dread’s origin was a little more cerebral. Although his job was full of horrors, Herbert usually relaxed at home by watching paranormal TV shows featuring self-proclaimed demonologists and ghost chasers. The one thing that all of the shows agreed upon was that 3AM was a bad time. Some called it the “devil’s hour,” while at least one of the spiky-haired demonologists referred to it as the “real witching hour.” The Freak was a killer, for sure, but after seeing him slaughter two people in less than five minutes without wielding a weapon, Herbert suspected that the Freak was something more than human. Or maybe not human at all. Herbert had to cut the thoughts off. If he let them go deeper, he’d lose his nerve.

3:52. That is when Herbert saw the Freak again. A small camera in the lower left-hand corner came alive with movement. Herbert minimized all the other cameras. He pulled the particular camera up and made it the size of the entire monitor. What Herbert saw floored him.

The Freak was attacking a sheriff’s deputy. The two figures were interlocked in a tango of death. The Freak was clearly winning, with one hand squeezing the deputy’s hand and the other punching the injured lawman in the ribs. The deputy did manage to fire a round at his attacker. The 9mm or .40-caliber did absolutely nothing to the Freak, and within seconds, he snapped the deputy’s back in two. The deputy, who looked no older than 21, fell to the asphalt with the smoking gun still clutched in his hand. My God, Herbert thought, he killed a cop.

Herbert watched the Freak as he studied his fresh kill. The Freak lowered his head and moved it side to side like a dog. The movement frightened Herbert. What frightened him even more was a small and fleeting look. The Freak looked up at one of the light poles hanging high above the highway. Herbert tried to convince himself that the Freak was just looking at the light and not the company camera inside of the light. Herbert could not lie to himself. Sweat began to coat the back of his neck as the Freak looked directly at Herbert.

The killer’s face was moon-shaped and pale. The eyes appeared sunken in his skull. They were black, blacker than the black and white image that kept Herbert’s attention. There were no distinguishing characteristics to the Freak’s clothes. They were just uniformly black.

Herbert once again went to find the Boss. Once again, the Boss was out of his office. Herbert could not find Carl, either. Unaware of who the next person in the chain of command was, Herbert ran around the office looking for anybody. He had to let someone known that the serial killer had just become a cop killer.

The doors to every cubicle were locked. The Fun Room was empty, too. Herbert took the stairs all the way down to the first floor. For some reason, Herbert walked through the dark and empty hallways of the first floor, which was leased to a marketing firm that specialized in digital media. There were no night owls working on last minute proposals or spreadsheets there, either. The only other soul Herbert found was Rick, the janitor, smoking a cigarette outside.

“Hey, Rick. I need your help, man. I need you to see something.”

Rick’s eyes betrayed confusion. “Herb, right?”

Herbert winced out of anger. He hated the nickname “Herb” more than he hated his full Christian name.

“It’s Herbert, actually.”

“Yeah, okay. What’s up?”

“Do you mind coming upstairs with me? I got to show you something.”

Rick gave Herbert another weird look. But the look passed. Rick shrugged his shoulders and began to follow Herbert up the stairs. Herbert did not see Rick place a small brick between the door to the working man’s makeshift smoke pit and the first floor. Herbert also did not know that Rick had forgotten his ID badge that night and was thus forced to break company rules in order to clean the building.

Herbert was the other rule-breaker. The company had a strict policy about not showing anything to anyone outside of the company. Employees were also barred from discussing their jobs with anyone, including spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends. Herbert, though, was thinking about money. He thought that Rick would be a good witness just in case any of the other OT members tried to take credit for finding and following the Freak first.

“Hey, do you mind if I use the pisser real quick? Gotta take a squirt. This job demands coffee.”

Rick winked at Herbert. The second wink Herbert had seen in just one night. Herbert nodded and told Rick his cubicle number. He returned to his darkened room and waited for the crass janitor.

The deputy’s car was on the screen. Herbert knew that the Freak was inside. The Ford Crown Vic sped along at a high rate of speed. The state-of-the-art cameras could barely keep up with the souped-up motor, and for the most part, Herbert saw nothing more than a trail of red taillights. At 4:26, the car pulled off of the highway and turned right at a four-way. Herbert was so engrossed in following the car that he did not immediately recognize where the Freak was. The true horror of the Freak’s location came home when the stolen cop car stopped and parked. Herbert zoomed in and watched the car’s lights die. The Freak was now in the company’s parking lot. He had somehow found the company’s location, despite the fact that it was a secret to pretty much every state and federal government department.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Herbert said to himself. He jumped up and left his cubicle. Although he worked for a military contractor that was staffed with ex-Navy SEALs, US Army Special Forces, and at least one former member of the French Foreign Legion, the company had never taught Herbert any self-defense skills. The company did not even have an active shooter policy in place. Now, Herbert and the rest of the OTs were up close and personal with a serial killer who could take a round to his stomach and keep fighting. The odds of surviving did not look good.

Herbert first tried to hide underneath the sink in the kitchen. Couldn’t fit. Too fat. He then checked out the Fun Room, but it was an open space with soft pillows and a couch pushed up to the wall. Herbert felt his pulse and decided that he was close to a heart attack. He was out of options. Then he heard a voice echo through the office.

“Herb! Herb! Where are you again? Can’t remember the number you told me. It’s a bitch getting old.”

It was Rick. Herbert saw him wondering through the dark office, looking into the cubicles. He was close to calling out to Rick until he saw the black shape move away from the wall.

“Hey, Herb…”

Rick’s voice was cut off and drowned out in a tidal wave of blood. The black shape had latched onto his throat and was sawing away. Herbert saw that the Freak’s main weapon of choice was his teeth. My God, Herbert thought, the Freak really does eat his victims.

In seconds, the Freak dropped Rick’s lifeless body onto the carpet. A big pool of blood expanded underneath the corpse. From his position, Herbert could see that the Freak was bald and had hairy and pointed ears. He could also see his hands, which were white like milk and featured long, yellowed fingernails.

Tears. Hot, salty tears poured down Herbert’s face for the first time in a long time. Herbert rocked back and forth and whimpered like a child as he heard the Freak maul through the OT teams. The Freak’s method was simple: he’d lightly knock on each door. When the door would open, he’d kill the OT member in seconds. To Herbert, it sounded the same as the killing of Rick. The killings were wet, sloppy, and very loud. In any normal office, the Freak’s attacks would elicit panic and a stampede of white collars fleeing for the stairs. However, here, in this company, all of the workers enjoyed their headphones and loud music. Nobody heard a thing until they were all dead.

At 5:07, Herbert heard the Freak’s heavy boots stop in front of him. The Freak had found Herbert’s hiding place, which was in plain sight. Herbert kept his eyes sealed shut until the Freak kicked his shins. Herbert looked up.

The Freak was so pale that his skin was almost blue. His head was bald and covered in dark blue veins. His mouth was a mask of gore. The Freak’s black clothes were also wet with the blood of Herbert’s former colleagues. The killer smelled of death and iron. Herbert gagged.

The Freak held up one long finger. At the tip of the fingernail was a piece of flesh that was both white and a little gray. The Freak wagged his finger back and forth. It was a universal gesture meant to scold Herbert for his actions. It worked, and Herbert stopped everything in order to pay attention to the monster in front of him.

The Freak moved the finger from Herbert’s face and used it to point at one of the office’s largest windows. There, in one of the corners of the window, Herbert saw a faint trace of the morning sun. Usually, that flash of orange denoted the end of the shift. However, the climbing sun meant something else to the Freak. He waved goodbye to Herbert and walked towards the stairs. Herbert heard his footfalls for at least two floors before they disappeared.

Until 5:15 that morning, Herbert refused to move. He cried and vomited in his mouth, but did not move. When he finally did, he gingerly walked to the window and looked down. He saw that the stolen cop car was gone. The missing cop car gave Herbert temporary relief. That is until he realized that other cop cars were sure to come once the day shift OTs arrived. With no Freak, the cops would look at him and blame him. Herbert would be the killer. Another piece of workplace violence, they’d say. Maybe some would even report that the Freak and Herbert were the same person.

Herbert preempted this fate by using his ID badge to access the door to the roof on the twelfth floor. At precisely 5:19, Herbert Krabbe jumped. His body would not be discovered until 8:45. To this day, nobody knows about either the massacre at the company’s top-secret office or the identity of the Freak.