Author's Note: TRIGGER WARNING for this chapter for mentions of stillbirth and miscarriage. Later chapters will have a trigger warning for rape. I didn't even think about adding one until a reviewer suggested it to me (thank you, onlyonechairleft!), and I'm sorry for any distress I might have caused!
Being out alone at night was the scariest part of moving to the city. Anna didn't know why the theatre couldn't have gotten their interns housing that was closer to their rehearsal space, but she knew that thinking like that wasn't going to change anything, so it was best to just do what she could to stay safe. Usually she would go home with her roommate Stacey but Stacey had decided to go out for drinks, leaving Anna all alone.
She called her mom. Having something else to think about - not to mention someone on the other end of the phone in case someone decided to jump her - would ease her mind.
"Hey, Mom. What are you doing?"
"Nothing, baby. Just got off work. I hate the late shift on Friday nights, I always end up having to stay longer because of the idiots banging each other up with beer bottles and chairs. What are you still doing up? Don't you have rehearsal in the morning?"
"Yeah. I just got out of tonight's rehearsal too."
"Oh my god. I knew those bastards were gonna work you too hard, they always do to interns -"
"Mom, it's just tech week. I'm used to it," Anna was saying when she heard a growl nearby, in an alleyway. A dog lunged out at her. She swore, dropping her phone. She kicked at the dog, and it yelped and retreated off down a stairwell.
Anna picked up her phone, in time to hear her mother frantically asking if she was okay. "I'm fine, Mom, just a dog."
"Did he bite you?"
"Nah, he tried to, but I'm fine." She checked her legs to be sure he hadn't scratched her either, and as she did she caught sight of the garbage bag the dog had been rooting through. Poor thing was just defending the food it had found. That made her feel like crap - she'd never kicked a dog before - but she promptly forgot her guilt when she saw a small hand amongst the trash.
"Oh my god! Oh no. Oh no, Mom, I have to call you back."
"Honey, wait, are you alright?"
"There's a baby in the trash! I have to call the police!"
Doctor Melinda Warner had just finished making her last few notes on the dead infant when Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler arrived on the scene. They ducked under the crime scene tape, Stabler holding it up for Benson, and walked briskly toward her. She didn't wait for them to engage in the usual "What've we got?" pleasantries and dove right in. "Deceased newborn baby girl, found in a garbage heap."
"What the hell happened to her?" Elliot asked. His gut roiled as he knelt down to take a closer look at the baby. Her stomach had been torn open and her legs were slightly mangled. At one point in his life he might have wondered what kind of human being could do this to a child, but he'd known that answer for a long time. He dealt with that kind of human being every day.
"Hard to say. The woman who placed the 911 call found the girl after a stray dog had been chewing on her for a while. Cyanosis on the lips and fingers suggests stillbirth, but until I get her in the lab I can't rule out a homicide."
"Thanks, Melinda," Olivia said as Elliot stood up next to her. "We'll put out an alert to nearby hospitals for women reporting hemorrhaging or miscarriage." If it was a stillbirth as Melinda thought it might be, then the mother of this baby must be distraught and panicking to have dumped her like this. She hoped the woman would have gone to a hospital so she could get proper medical care and some counseling.
"I'll run her DNA when I get her to the lab to see if I can get a parental match on anyone in our system," Warner said.
Elliot nodded and said, "Alright. I have to appear in court in a few hours. Keep us posted?"
Olivia considered spending the last few hours of the night at the station house in the bunk room, but eventually decided that the time it would take to get back to her own bed was well worth it.
The air was stuffy in her apartment. Summer was setting in. She turned on the ceiling fan in her bedroom and opened the window, but even though the breeze that drifted in was cool and pleasant, it was still difficult to breathe. She undressed, down to an undershirt and panties and lay on top of the bedclothes. As she lay in bed, she listened, like she often did, for errant noises.
The sudden footfalls on the stairs outside her apartment shook the whole building. She hardly had time to react and take hold of her weapon before she heard her front door being ripped from its hinges, cast aside and crashing to the floor in the hallway. A shadow crossed her room, formless and terrifying. When it closed in on her, she felt impact from it, like two hands slamming into her chest, sending her falling backward onto her bed. She could only bear for a moment to look up at the shadow's pure blackness, now gaining a human shape, before her eyes closed and her mouth opened to scream.
The sweat running down her forehead dripped into her eyes, stinging and making them tear up. The monsters in her nightmares were normally more human-like. She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the feeling of dread, trying to calm her jangled nerves. She steadied her hands, stretching her fingers until they stopped shaking. Her throat was parched, dried out after her desperate panting.
Everything in her apartment was exactly as it should be. Nothing tossed around, no evidence of the destruction that that creature must have left behind. As she went into the kitchen to pour a glass of water, she had to remind herself that it was only a nightmare, that she had no reason to be surprised at how normal things were. But there was something that was there that hadn't been before, something that made her skin crawl. The air around her still felt moist and muggy. A strange scent, like the scent of a struck match, hung in the air.
She closed her bedroom window and turned on the air conditioning. It seemed unlikely she would get back to sleep, but she went back to bed anyway. Exhaustion weighed her down, and she nearly collapsed back into her bed.