Let's Just Call Them Monsters

They’re all human to begin with, but when does their humanity run out? Do they stop being human when their hearts stop beating, or when their minds stop thinking? Is it when their eyes turn white, or when their blood turns black, or when their brains rot in their skulls? He’s asked himself this question countless times, and he still doesn’t know the answer.
All he knows is that he sacrificed his own humanity to get here, and he’s not going to let theirs get in his way.

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24. Monsters and Machines

Even as he wiped the black dregs from his knives onto his jeans, Jamie was struggling to keep the guilt alive in his mind. Over the three hours he’d been driving, the smears of black had turned to water on his clothes and remnants of red had turned to rust on the blade of his knife. His grip on the steering-wheel was loose, not desperate, but his elbows were cramping and quivering and the red threads lingering in the creases of his fingers had glued his skin to the leather. He blinked, and the blood could have been sweat. He blinked again, the sweat evaporated, and he stopped shaking.

If he wasn’t sweating, he wasn’t nervous. If he wasn’t bloody, he wasn’t guilty.

With the blood, his sympathy had withered and died. In the horrendous mess of blood and guts and arms and legs that filled his only remaining memories of Malworth, he’d counted from thirteen to thirty-two. He’d seen thirty-five people drop dead where they stood, only to get back up again as if the blood and sweat and tears they’d lost had meant nothing. As if a beating heart and a working brain and functional emotions were just as useless as the black bullshit they’d spewed out of their mouths before their breathing had stopped and they’d died in the puddle. Death hadn’t been an obstacle for the doctors and nurses, who’d now be lying in body bags without a trace of human emotion left on their faces.  It hadn’t been an obstacle for Mabel, or for the bus driver, or for Lisa or Karen or Jim or the annoying guy with the hipster beard or any of the people whose corpses he’d been forced to keep in check.

Why should it have been an obstacle for him?

He’d been following the road from Malworth in a straight line, hoping and praying that he’d reach wherever that fucker Robert Walker had ended up before the police caught up with him. Jamie didn’t want to end up in jail; he totally understood that killing thirty-five people would ordinarily merit a lengthy prison spell, as would stealing a car and crashing a bus in a ditch on double yellow lines, but at the end of the day, he was just cleaning up Robert Walker’s mess. He’d set off, a confused, panicking man guilty of nothing more than recklessness, but once the death toll and the kill count had spiralled further and further out of control, his search had become personal.

He’d been assuming that Robert would stick to where the people were, so he’d kept his knife close at hand in the passenger seat through each and every populated area. Even in the towns, he hadn’t come across anyone. Nobody living. Nobody dead. Nobody undead. Not visibly, anyway; Jamie hadn’t dared to get out of the car. He was scared of being infected, but he was also scared of killing again.

Basically, he was scared of becoming a monster.

As the streets had turned into lanes and the houses into trees, he’d become more aware of the sensation of being watched, but it was probably just paranoia. He’d clearly set off on his journey towards insanity long before setting off on his journey towards Robert, and he’d passed the second mark just a few moments ago. He’d started talking to himself.

“I mean, they definitely were dead, weren’t they?”

Long pause. Birds chirping.

“I mean, they must’ve been dead. I watched them die. Then again, I never checked their pulses. But I knew they were dead.”

Car engine. Quiet air.

“How do I know, though? I mean, aside from the fucking lights in the sky telling me so. Wow, I’m just as fucking crazy as Robert.”

Silent night. Dead silent. Silent as the grave.

“The lights in the sky are turning people into fucking alien zombies, and I haven’t been infected yet. Well, I mean, I could’ve been, but that’s besides the point. I haven’t been infected yet, but I’m losing my fucking sanity because I’m a motherfucking murderer. I’ll end up in prison even if I do survive the fucking apocalypse, and then I’ll watch the world burn itself apart from behind bars and eventually fucking starve to death. Beautiful. Fuck England. Fuck Nabdale. Fuck aliens. Fuck my life.”

Jamie sighed for breath, inhaling a few lungfuls of the insipid scent of lavender before swearing for the millionth time and snatching the air-freshener off the mirror. He opened the window, gasping at the sudden assault of cold wind racing past at sixty miles an hour, and hurled the trinket out onto the road. The window closed, sucking the arctic freeze out of the car with it.

“Man, I’m on edge. Fuck it, course I’m on edge. The world’s ending and I’m the most wanted man in England.” He shoved his head into the back of the seat, jamming the accelerator down even harder. “Kind of exciting, actually. Better than dying without a fucking legacy in the world, right?”

His laugh trickled miserably into the empty air. Jamie flicked his eyes back down to the left, at the two knives lying worthlessly on the passenger seat.

“Hope I never have to use you again.”

He paused. “Wait, no. That’s bullshit. Hope I only have to use you again once, to kill that son of a bitch Robert Walker. Poor guy. Not his fault. But now he’s gotta die.”

Jamie licked his lips, steadying the punching match his head was waging on his chest. A few lumps of green hill were growing larger against the sunburnt night sky, and the sides of the road curved downwards into two frostbitten muddy scars. Then, he saw the footpath.

“Guess it’s too much to hope Robert stuck to the paths, huh?” Jamie laughed again, thinner, deader. More alone.

Then, he spotted the couple.

“Though he would’ve stuck to the people.”

He yanked at the brakes, pulling into a relatively neat stop right next to the first signs of life he’d seen for an hour or so. The two women were holding hands, walking along the road at a leisurely pace, looking at each other and chatting as if they had all the time in the world. If Jamie was on the right track, they definitely didn’t.

“’Scuse me,” Jamie said, leaning out of the window and trying to keep his knives out of the couple’s sight.  “I’m, um... lost. Could you give me directions?”

“Sure.” The girl with the yellow knitted hat and fingerless gloves stepped towards the car. Her girlfriend, who had two long ginger plaits and a thick smattering of freckles, stepped back towards the ditch without letting go of her hand.  “Where’re you trying to go?”

“Well...” he started. “I’m not really sure.”

“Okay then.” She tittered without smiling, raising her eyebrow in confusion.

“It’s more who. I’m looking for somebody. He should’ve come past you about... two or three days ago? If he came by at all.”

The couple exchanged glances. The ginger girl had started to breathe a little more sharply, and the first girl turned back to reassure her.

“Anna, it’s okay.” She turned back. “What does he look like?”

Jamie shifted in his seat, hoping that the fact Anna had now stepped back into the ditch had nothing to do with the knives on his front seat.

“Oh, uh... he’s wearing a hospital gown. He’s got brown hair and a brown beard. He-” Jamie cut himself off as the girls shot each other another glance. “You’ve seen him, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, it was bloody weird, my friend, let me tell you!” the woman said. “It was like something outta Twenty-Eight Days Later! He was going along this road, legging it like a blimming hundred-metre sprinter. Palest eyes I’ve ever seen.” She paused and glanced back, adjusting the hat over her black fringe. “That the guy you’re after?”

Jamie drew in breath. “Yeah. It is. Which way was he going?”

She paused for a second, then pointed down the road towards a gap between the two hills. In the gloom of twilight, Jamie could just make out the trees studding the countryside. “Right down there. Why’re you after him?”

Jamie sighed, and struggled to find the right words. “Uh, well… I’m kind of, like…” He remembered the lie he’d spun for the crowd in Malworth. “His carer. From the hospital. He’s hurt a lot of people.”

“Really?” Anna, the other girl, stepped forwards again. “Georgia, I told you he was dangerous!”

“No, no.” Jamie said. “I don’t mean, like, a, uh… killer.”

“You don’t?”

“Nah, not really. Well, I mean, yeah, but- not a bloody axe-murderer.”

Georgia coughed, frosting the air.

“But he doesn’t, like, y’know…”

“Pull women over by the side of the road and stab ‘em?” Anna interrupted, grabbing Georgia’s hand and dragging her backwards. Jamie froze, but neither of them made a move to run.

“No. He doesn’t. But he does smack people on the chest like he’s crazy.”

“Is he crazy?” Anna asked, stuffing the hand that wasn’t clutching Georgia’s deeper into her pocket.

Jamie’s blood froze, yet again, as Georgia coughed into the cuff of her coat and frowned at the muddy stain.

“Fuck.” He groaned, reaching behind his back.

“What?” Anna screamed and stepped backwards as Jamie turned back with the knife. “Georgia, he’s got a- Georgia? You okay?”

“Yes- I’m- fine-” the girl with the yellow hat was spluttering.

“You got hit, did you?” Jamie drawled, grabbing for the car’s doorhandle with the knife in his other hand, behind his back.

What are you doing? She’s not a threat to you.

Anna screamed, pulling her hand back out of her pocket and stepping in front of Georgia. “What the hell d’you mean, hit?”

“On the chest.”

“I don’t…” Anna’s voice trembled as tears started spilling down her spotted cheeks. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

When she realised Jamie wasn’t ready to gut her with the knife, Anna whimpered a couple of times and then threw herself past him, onto the ground where Georgia had fallen. Georgia was clutching the kerb with her thinly splattered, blackened fingers, and Anna screamed and tried to pull her upwards as the vomiting started.

Jamie cringed. It was the first time he’d noticed the smell of the infection.

“What did you-” Anna was stumbling over her words as she turned to face Jamie, who hadn’t moved. “What did you do? What’s happening? What’s happening to her? Georgia? Georgia!”

“She’s dead,” Jamie said, as Anna let out a high sob and let Georgia fall to the kerb.

“No, she’s not, she’s not!” Anna was yelling, cupping Georgia’s blank grey face with her white hands. “Can you hear me, baby? Georgia, please!”

She was yelling and screaming and tripping over her words, apparently forgetting all about Jamie and his knife. Then, someone drew in breath from below them and Anna wobbled, throwing her arms around Georgia’s neck.

“Get away-” Jamie began, but when Georgia opened her eyes they were blue. Then, they were light blue.

“You- you’re alive! Thank god!” Anna turned back to Jamie. “What the hell’s happening?”

When she turned back, Georgia’s eyes were white. Her grip on Anna’s slackened and she fell limply downwards.

“No, no! What the h-h-hell…” She turned to Jamie, . “You’re… you’re a damn, uh… you’re a d-d-damn doctor, are- aren’t you?”

“Um, yeah. But I-”

“Well, do something!”

“I-”

“D-do you know what just h-happened? Is it to do with that guy you’re after? Can you c-cure it?”

“Well, no.”

He fumbled and dropped one knife. Anna’s green eyes went wide when she caught sight of the red and black rust on the blade.

“I mean, yes. You can cure it. But-”

“Well, d-do something! An-anything! Now!”

Now.

Now was good. Now was safe, for both of them. Now, Georgia was awake again, but she had a couple of seconds before she went crazy. Now.

Jamie fell to his knees, picking up the knife from the ground behind him as he dropped. Anna was whimpering and sobbing even more than before, her breath snagging in her throat and choking her into coughing.

P-please…” She was stuttering. “P-please. Please save her!”

Jamie sucked in breath, clenching the sticky knife in his sticky fingers; Anna, viewing him now through a film of tears, only noticed what he was doing just as he was about to get it over with.

“W-what? What? N-no! No! NO!” Her voice was hysterical. “Please, no! Oh, please, God, no, don’t do this! No! Why- why are you doing this? No!”

He had his arm raised outwards, the tip less than three inches away from the chest area of Georgia’s coat. Jamie turned, his vision full of tears he didn’t remember asking for, as the monster opened her burning white eyes and fixed them onto the sky. Anna squealed in horror and dropped to her knees next to Jamie, shaking her head and her hands and her shoulders and her voice.

“G-G-Georgia? Babe? W-w-what?”

“Get back!” Jamie hissed with venom, turning his head sideways towards her. Her face was drenched with tears and her voice was drenched with fear. She wasn’t afraid of Georgia. She was afraid of him. That wasn’t fair. He was trying to save her. He was the hero, wasn’t he?

The look on her face made Jamie pause; maybe he would have withdrawn the knife and run, if he’d been so lucky. Unfortunately, luck doesn’t tend to favour murderers. Anna screamed, her yell tangling in the air and bouncing back from the hills, as Jamie’s arm and shoulder wrenched themselves away from Georgia. When he turned, she’d sat up and thrust her own heart straight onto the knife, black blood and strings of vomit latching onto her coat and jeans. Her eyes withered, her body folded in half, and Jamie stood up as Anna continued to scream her heart out.

NO! NO! N-NO! WHAT- WHY- HOW- NO! GEORGIA! GEORGIA! NO!”

She cut herself off with a final scream, grabbing Jamie’s arm as he attempted to get back into his car. His legs were lead, as was his heart. The girl’s screams were tearing his body apart.

“YOU- YOU MONSTER! HOW COULD YOU? WHY WOULD YOU?”

His jaw locked, his fist clenched, and he threw one knife back into the passenger seat as he lurched and pointed the other right at her chest. Her eyes widened, her screams were soaked up, and whimpers started to trickle out of her mouth as she fell back to her knees next to Georgia.

“I’m not a monster!” Jamie yelled at her, forcing the knife further through the air. “I’m NOT a MONSTER and I REFUSE to be called one! I’m just trying to HELP- can’t you see that? Georgia was going to fucking KILL you!”

“I don’t care!” Anna yelled, agitatedly grabbing fistfuls of her skirt as she struggled to avoid throwing up in the gutter. “You killed HER! YOU KILLED her! You bastard! Kill ME too then!”

Jamie paused and his grip on the knife cramped. “What did you just say?”

“I said kill me. KILL me, you piece of shit!”

He paused. Then, the knife was pressing into the side of Anna’s neck. She didn’t seem to notice it was the wrong way round and let out a high, shaking sob, squeezing her eyes shut.

“Are you infected?”

“Wh-”

ARE you?”

She whimpered. “What the fuck do you mean?”

Jamie screamed. “DID he or DID he not hit you on the fucking chest?”

“Yes! So what?”

She was still holding Georgia’s hand. The black blood and vomit were covering her fingers and she was wiping it on her shirt, not caring at all.

Jamie was crying as his voice rose louder. “Then you’re fucking infected!”

Fuck you!” Anna spat, crying so hard that the tears were slurring her voice and making her sound as though she was underwater.

Jamie strode forwards and was standing over her; his tears were falling on her head as hers ran all over Georgia’s, diluting the black muck into water that ran off her lifeless skin into the river. He still had the knife, but his spine had been grabbed by a freezing fist that was contorting him this way and that, playing his muscles like a concertina, controlling him like a fucking marionette.

Anna turned back to him and spluttered, a thin trickle of black coming from the corner of her mouth. Jamie gasped and raised the knife back towards her face.

Back at the hospital, he’d pointed his scalpel at the manager’s throat out of gutsy desperation, just wanting to escape, just wanting to get out alive, just wanting to keep the threats away. Now, he wanted to kill Anna. He didn’t just need to; he actually wanted to. She was annoying him. She was messing with him. She was making him feel like a villain, and that pissed him off.

He was definitely going crazy.

He was definitely broken.

He was no better than any serial killer.

What the fuck have the lights in the sky done to me?

DO it!” Anna screamed, starting to cough harder. “What are you waiting for, you crazy piece of shit psycho?”

Good question.

“I’m waiting,” Jamie panted. “For you to die.”

She was coughing harder, but even through the illness, she was still arguing. “Like- fuck- that- matters- to- me! Do it! Do it now!”

Now.

Now was good.

Jamie growled over the sound of the car’s running engine. He grabbed Anna’s arm and dragged her to her feet as the colour drained from her eyes. His knife hovered over her chest as she glared at him with nothing but mad hatred, but then, he pulled her body closer to his as her coughs finished and she went limp. He closed his eyes, stifling a sob, and plunged the knife into her back.

She stiffened, but her eyes had already closed.

Jamie got back into the car, feeling the anger and the violence and the bravery and the guilt draining from his mind faster than the blood. His feelings had gone. He was like a computer without any settings; just a blank, silent screen. His emotions had expired. Shut down. He could go through the motions, but inside, he was cold and dead and could have been made of metal.

The apocalypse is here, and I’m going to sit here in this car, not moving, forever. That’s what they think I deserve. They want me to sit here till the police drag me away and feed me to the fucking electric chair. Maybe that’s what I want too. I doubt it’ll even hurt; after all, machines live on electricity, don’t they?

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