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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25. Calling the Dead

The thin, rock-hard bed felt like it had been left out in the rain for half a century, but somehow, it was comfier than the sofa she’d slept on last night. A pronounced draught shuddered through the empty cell block every time a door was opened somewhere else in the station, but that wasn’t shit compared to the freeze she’d felt in her kitchen after the window had broken. The smell of cigarette smoke that lingered in the air was practically heaven’s perfume to a nose that had spent the last day trying to get used to the reek of blood. Leah felt safe in here. She couldn’t be hurt behind her steel bars and, more importantly, she couldn’t hurt anyone else.

She wondered what had happened to Dylan. Perhaps, after all his fighting and yelling, he’d ended up back with his self-proclaimed asshole of a father. More likely, he’d been dumped into a children’s home. Perhaps, by now, someone might have even bothered to tell him his mother was dead. Leah regretted what had happened to Harriet more than anything, and she wanted to suffer through every last consequence of what she’d done, but she couldn’t help dreading the idea of Dylan knowing it had been her who ruined his life. She wanted to believe that after all this confusing bullshit was over, there would still be someone left in the world who’d think of her without loathing.

“If the law doesn’t like you, I don’t give two shits what the law thinks,” Dylan had said.

Leah smiled at the thought as she stared out through the metal bars of her prison cell.

There are some things kids don’t understand.

She braced her back against the cold plaster of the wall, letting her eyes settle on the row of empty cells opposite her. Undoubtedly, the one in the corner, with drips of mildew coating the ceiling and flickering light-bulb, was reserved for Jamie Cloverfield. All of the cells had white walls and greying floors; hers was the only one with a window. It was a pathetic sliver of triple-glazing thickly edged with grime, but she was glad it was there. The sunlight helped her relax, and the arrival of daytime had always reminded her that not everything had fallen to shit yet. As long as there was sunlight, there was still hope.

Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t set to rise for hours.

The grey grit of the country road, greying green of the fog-shrouded fields, and grey-black, dusty four o’clock sky made her feel as though she was in a dream: hazy and loose and unreal. The dark of night made Nabdale look dead. Very soon, it probably would be.

The air was damp with the smell of smoke, and every gust from the air-freshener blew the sharp sensation up her nose and gave her twinges a hundred times worse than pins and needles. It was cold, but her head was spread with a scalding sting that drew tiny droplets of water from her eyelids. She blinked, and she was crying. She blinked again, and her eyes were just watering. She blinked a third time, and her cheeks were dry. How long had she been sitting on her bed? Minutes? Hours? Days? She didn’t care. Unless the apocalypse struck pretty damn soon, she was going to be here for a lot longer.

After the third mouthful of diluted, rotten smoke, Leah coughed. It wasn’t noticed. Inside and outside, dead or alive, real or not real, she was alone.

In the distance, she heard screaming.

The sound of metal grating on metal shuddered clean through her, wrenching her out of her trance and threading her spine with thin shivers.

“Morning!” someone bellowed, rattling the door open and letting the thin halo of light from the reception area flood forwards in a torrent.

“Morning, sergeant,” Leah managed.

“Okay,” Sergeant Wolf started, dumping his keys into his pocket as the two of them met at the cell door. “I’d normally be a bit ruder and, you know, stricter, but since you’re the first serious offender- in fact, any kind of offender- we’ve had for a while, I’m going to try to be nice. How’d you sleep?”

“Um, good.” Leah lied.

He ran a hand through his sand-coloured hair, which looked almost grey in the fizzing glow of the nearest light bulb.

“Right, so after breakfast-”

“I’m not hungry.”

Sergeant Wolf looked taken aback. “Are you sure? You didn’t want anything to eat last night either.”

“No, I’m okay.” He was right, but her stomach was recoiling at the mention of food.

“Okay, fine. Have it your way.” The stony gravel was starting to creep back into his voice. “Anyway, today I’ve been told you’re going back to the interrogation room-”

She struggled to hold back a sigh.

“-to tape your full confession. You know, to use in court. My colleagues who met you, they all reckon you’ve got a good chance of having the charges reduced to manslaughter if we stick to the original story. If you say you were tired and felt threatened. How’s that sound?”

She told the truth. “Slimy.”

“Okay-”

“Slimy and dishonest,” she said. “I want to be honest, and if lying’ll get me off easy I want to lie even less. I took a little boy’s mother away from him, and-”

“Leah, listen to me.”

She wrapped both hands around the bars and felt her fingers going numb with her head as she leaned closer to him.

“Frankly, Leah, now that my colleague’s walked away from the door, I want you to know I don’t think what you did deserves ass.”

“Excuse me?”

Sergeant Wolf screwed his eyebrows together.

“You’re not a murderer, Leah, and I believe that you honestly acted in self-defence. Screw the little boy, at least for now- he’s not relevant.”

“But Dylan-”

“Leah, I’m going to repeat what you said to me last night. There’s something happening to this town; I’ve heard about it. People are dropping dead in the goddamn streets- black blood, white eyes, the works- it’s spreading like wildfire.”

Leah gasped, and he paused before shoving his hands into his pockets and locking his eyes with hers.

“Cloverfield killed twenty-three more down in Malworth.”

She clapped a hand to her mouth and started breathing harder. “No-”

“Leah, listen. These aren’t people we’re dealing with; they’re goddamn fucking things. Please, listen. I’m not going to bring up the zombie apocalypse, because I don’t want to believe in all that crap- but something is happening. Something that’s taking people and stopping them from being people at all.”

“Sergeant-“

“Don’t interrupt me.” He was breathing hard, and his dirty blue eyes were darting all over the place. “I’ve been up researching this all night, and I believe you. I more than believe you. I think it’s even worse than they’re all saying. We’ve got less than a week. Less than a few days before this is all beyond our control. I never thought I’d say this about a guy who’s clearly a borderline psycho, but thank fuck for Jamie Cloverfield. Without him, we’d have been overrun already.”

“But I-”

“You felt your life was in danger, and that could be classed as manslaughter.”

Could? Well, why not?

“It’s less than that.”

“How? Why?”

“Because you didn’t slaughter a man.” He held up a hand as she went to protest. “You didn’t kill anyone, Leah. You killed something that wasn’t human anymore, and I want you to stop being a goddamn martyr, because you never committed a crime.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“What?”

“Why are you telling me all this? What’s the point?”

“Because,” Sergeant Wolf glanced over his shoulder as he fumbled back in his pocket for his keys. “I’m going to let you out.”

What?”

“I want you out. You did nothing wrong, Leah, and you don’t deserve to be cooped up in a place reserved for sadistic bitches.”

Her eyes scanned the line of empty cells. “There’s nobody else here.”

“No, because this is rural England, but you get the point.” He isolated the key and shoved it into the lock. The bars made an ugly whining sound as he tore the door out of the gap between them. “Get out of here. I’ll say you escaped.”

“How the fuck would I’ve escaped?”

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to do the right thing. And besides...” He paused and looked out of the window, at someone whose footsteps Leah could hear approaching the station. “In a few days, if they don’t get the fucking army down here or some shit, none of this’ll matter any more. We’ll all die if we stay here. You die in here, or you try and live out there. Your choice.”

He stepped aside.

Leah closed her eyes against her pounding heart and thumping head. After at least half a minute, she was focusing so hard and standing so close to Wolf that she could smell the smoke on his breath. Obviously, there hadn’t been a criminal in here for a long time, and the burnt-out cigarette butts crushed into the ground probably belonged to him.

Die in here, or try to live out there.

Well,” Leah began, only pausing for a split-second as the sergeant’s walkie-talkie crackled with noise. He ignored it, but he’d started wringing his hands against the bars he’d pushed aside.

“Sergeant, with all due respect, I think the choice you’ve given me is bullshit. I still think I killed someone, because I did. The fact remains that I stabbed a woman through the heart- well, I mean, George did that, but I blew up her head- and whether or not she was conscious or not throughout that entire thing doesn’t matter to me one smidge. If I go back out there, and end up having to deal with more of those- um… monsters, I- and I think we all- would be forced to do it again. Sergeant, I don’t want to end up doing what Jamie Cloverfield’s done, but, to be honest, you’re right. The legal system is completely and utterly fucked.”

He didn’t say anything.

“Since soon, the law won’t mean shit, I reckon that trying to live out there is going to involve a whole lot of killing, or whatever you want to call it. Eventually, we’ll all be forced to do shitty things to stay alive if this doesn’t come under control soon. I can’t even hope for anything better any more, since everything I lived for has disappeared. My love, my job, my friends, my reputation, my house. Everything. Gone. I’ve got nothing left to live for.

Leah walked backwards and sat back down on the cardboard mattress with a thump. “So, honestly, Sergeant Wolf, I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather die in here.”

He sighed, closing the bars. “Very well. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do to help you. Someone’ll be back to get you for your confession in about half an hour. That okay?”

“Yeah,” she said wearily. “You go ahead and do that.”

His walkie-talkie spat again as he turned to leave.

* * * * * * * * * *

She didn’t start to regret her decision until about five hours later. They’d been a pleasant five hours, if she dared to say so herself; she’d been feeling very pleased with her moral superiority, getting ready to settle into a painless life of paying back debts to society. Or, of course, a relatively painless few days before she was found and infected. Then, a very painful few days before she died.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Leah’s blood ran cold as she stopped to listen to the new sound, feeling her heartbeat reaching up to pummel her throat. The sound of gravel giving way under someone’s feet was rapid, as if the person was running. When she looked out of the window of the cell, nobody was there.

Crunch.

There was more than one.

Leah’s head darted back up to the window and her eyes widened when she saw the woman coming down the driveway. Her hair glistened dark brown; she was wearing a black scarf that used to be pink, and the dark skin of her cheeks was splattered even darker. Her white eyes seared through the black film like electric torches. Behind her was a young man with unwashed strips of yellow-blond hair more ragged than torn cloth, his beard blended black with vomit.

If Leah had been as naïve as she wished she was, she would have said they were running for their lives. They didn’t have any lives left, but they were running. Right towards the front door.

She yelped and ducked, cold nausea crawling down her throat, as she tried to keep herself hidden from the monsters. They couldn’t get through doors; she knew that. As long as something stayed between them and their victim, they couldn’t function.

She waited for the first of many fruitless thuds against the door. There weren’t any. Leah assumed they were helpless outside.

Then, she remembered that the doors of the station were made of glass.

Shit.

And that they opened automatically.

Double shit.

She could hear a rumble of muffled yelling as the doors neatly slid open, letting the monsters into the building with no effort whatsoever.

“Hey! You’re- hey! Can you hear me?” Sergeant Wolf’s voice. Her heart sank.

“Oh, shit! Davis, get my gun!”

NO!” Leah yelled before smacking a hand over her mouth.

There were a couple of dull thuds, as if someone had been punched. Sergeant Wolf yelled.

“Davis, damn you, my gun!”

“Your gun? Why?”

“Kill these sons of bitches!”

The monsters, naturally, said nothing. It wasn’t the most nail-biting of confrontations if all you had was your ears, but Leah’s knuckles were straining on the bars as she yelled. “Don’t kill them! Don’t! You don’t have to!”

“Leah, they’ll infected us!” He was panting, and she could hear the sound of running footsteps on the carpet right before  the CLANG of something or someone colliding with the metal door of the cell block.

“She what?”

“Infected me! Hit in the head, right?”

She closed her eyes. “No, the chest! They have to hit you in the chest!”

“Oh… thank… Christ...” He was panting even harder now. “They haven’t hit me in- Oh. Shit. Never mind.”

“What?”

“There’s another one.”

“No! Are you serious? Where are they now?”

He paused. The silence was metallic and charged, leaving a sour taste in her mouth.

“Sergeant! What the fuck’s happening out there?”

Then, she heard his voice. Not addressing her, but someone else.

“Thanks. I can take it from here.”

“Are you sure? OW!” Wolf’s colleague was cut off mid-sentence by a dry thud.

“Fucking hell, Davis!”

“What’s happening? What’s happening?” Leah shrieked at the closed door.

BANG.

The gunshot shook the entire building and rung a rhythm into Leah’s metal bars. She screamed.

Thud. The monster, even deader than before, hit the ground.

BANG. BANG. Thud.

Once the metal had stopped singing, everything was silent.

“I killed them,” Wolf said about half an hour later, unlocking the chain and stepping into the cell block. By the time the light had reached Leah, she was curled up in the corner, hugging her knees to her chest. The tears were falling freely from her eyes and soaking into her clothes, making her head ring like the metal after the gunshots.

Without looking up, she whispered, “I know.”

“My colleague, um… Davis, he… he helped me take care of the bodies. He, uh… believes you too.”

Suddenly, the scrunch of gravel and the swoosh of the automatic door rang through the station again. Sergeant Wolf cursed and dashed back out with his hand already in his jacket. He’d left the door wide open.

BANG.

Leah squeezed her eyes shut and let a pathetic whimper fall from her lips at the sound of the gunshot.

CRASH.

She jumped upwards, staggering as the blood rushed from her skull, at the sound of the automatic doors shattering into smithereens.

BANG. Thud.

Sergeant Wolf walked back in. This time, the metal took half a minute to stop screaming.

“Was it another one?” Leah said weakly.

“I think so.”

She jumped to her feet. “You think so?”

“No, Leah, no. I know so. I’m sorry. I swear I’d never have shot him otherwise.”

“So…” she laughed bitterly. “What should we do now?”

“Well…” he flicked at a tiny speck of black on his stubble while Leah pretended not to have noticed. “The world’s definitely fallen to shit.”

“Yeah.”

“Davis got infected, Leah. He knows he’s gonna die.”

She sighed again. “Yeah. Please don’t let him near me.”

“I won’t. He’s got a few days, right?”

“Yeah. George had three.”

“Right,” he said. “So here’s what I reckon. This all started with that Robert Walker chap, right? And, if I believe your story- which I’ll have you know everyone at this damned station does- Harriet Hyde.”

“Yep.”

“But before that, it started with some weird-ass lights in the sky, right? Is that part true, or not?”

Leah nodded. “George saw them.”

“Well, then,” Sergeant Wolf said. “I reckon it’s obvious what’s happening, then; don’t you?”

He leaned in even closer and lowered his voice. “Someone, or something, is trying to wipe us all out.”

Leah started. “What?”

“Yeah. Something’s being put in people’s blood, right? I’m not a doctor, I don’t know whether it’s a bacterial thing or a virus or what.”

“A neurotoxin,” Leah said. “Probably. But for the heart. It kills the brain; I saw Harriet’s. Rotten to the core, but it was her heart keeping her upright.”

“Right,” the sergeant said. “I’m not saying it’s goddam…” He dropped eye contact. “Aliens, or anything, but I reckon once enough people have this bullshit in their blood, something else is going to happen.”

Leah knew what he meant, but decided to keep asking questions. She felt as though he must be rather enjoying his detective work. “What’s going to happen, officer?”

He looked at her again. “Some kind of signal, right?”

“Yeah. I thought so too. So… now what? What do you reckon’ll happen next? They’ll just hit a switch and knock us all dead?” She paused. “Without getting back up?”

Sergeant Wolf sighed and rummaged in his pocket. “Yeah.”

“I think so too. Looks like we’re all fucked, huh?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Well, in that case, I’m all out of fucks to give about my job. You want to come out of that cell for a bit?”

She looked up at him, noticing the thin fingers of sunlight highlighting his silhouette against the dark doorway. Then, she sighed, letting a bitter laugh slide out with it.

“Nah. What’s the point?”

“Anything I can get you? You want something to drink?”

She didn’t say anything.

“Well, you do have the right to remain silent.” He laughed. She didn’t. “You feel like you need a lawyer yet?”

She shook her head.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” He paused again, sighing and rubbing his face before she spotted the orange spark and white plume of a cigarette being lit.

“You know,” she choked through tears that were at least half because of George. “Smoking kills.”

He laughed, then inhaled another lungful of bitterness. “Uh… you know, Leah. Your time for the phone’s sort of run out, but…” He sighed. “I could hook you up, if, you know… there’s anyone you want to call.”

She went to say no, but she’d had enough of refusing his kindness.

“Sure. Could I use your phone?”

“Of course.” He took another drag of his cigarette before holding the box out to her. “You want one?”

“No, thanks. Could I, um…” she trailed off for a second. “A glass of water would be nice, if that’s okay.”

She wasn’t thirsty, but it didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter any more.

* * * * * * * * * *

It wasn’t until several hours and several gunshots later that Sergeant Wolf returned with the phone and left her alone with it.

Crunch. BANG. Thud. Nothing.

Her cell was a blank, black square in a blank, black grid reserved for the worst people in Nabdale. If George had been there with her, maybe it would have felt slightly less dirty and dark. In the past few days, she’d been too busy running away from threats or screaming at idiots like Jamie or getting arrested or jerking in and out of nightmares, and she’d almost forgotten to grieve. Now, she was alone, and there were no threats other than the probably insane amount of monsters on the horizon, so she could finally focus on the truth. It was tearing her heart in half, but George was dead and he wasn’t coming back.

The phone sat, useless, in her hand.

Crunch. BANG. Thud. Nothing.

Maybe she should just send one final fuck you to the soon-to-be-crumbling world by making a prank call. She could do anything: order a pizza, book a holiday, hire a hitman, buy a private island, win the lottery, surf the internet until her fingers were numb and her mind was number. None of it would matter, because she’d be dead before any of it paid off and the phone would amount to nothing but a few more minutes of wasted time. She could call her parents, who lived all the way up in Scotland. Maybe, just maybe, they might still give a crap about their youngest daughter. Calling her mum and dad was the only sensible thing to do, and Leah had always thought of herself as sensible.

She sat in the dark, with her throbbing head and her throbbing heart, waiting for her fingers to do the sensible thing.

Instead, they dialled a different number. One she’d forgotten she still knew off by heart, from the years and years since its owner had written it on her arm on the front porch of the hospital. Leah held the phone to her cheek, which was still damp and stinging from her hours of crying, and waited.

The first trill sounded with no answer. That was expected.

The second trill sounded with no answer. That was expected too.

The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth trills sounded, striped by silence, punctuated only by the occasional curse word and gunshot from the police sergeant at the desk outside.

BANG. Thud. Nothing.

Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. No answer. Leah wasn’t surprised at all. She would have been surprised, actually, and a little horrified, if the phone had been picked up. She waited for the voicemail.

“Hi, this is George, um… George Angel. I’m sorry I couldn’t pick up your call, but I’ll get right on it.”

His voice made her laugh and cry and scream, all at once. The sound reminded her of a cat whose tail had just been trodden on, but grief, now that her body had finally bothered to give it to her, was a very weird sensation. It was liberating to let her emotions burst out at last, throwing themselves back from every corner of the cell and ringing determinedly in her ears as she sobbed.

George’s fabricated voice was interrupted by another, fainter one.

“Yeah, that was fine. Now just say goodbye and then press zero.”

“Yeah, I know, Leah. Anyway, uh… thanks for calling. Leave a message!”

Then came the beep. It drilled her eardrum in half, but she didn’t care. Without listening to the words, Leah let her message tumble out with the torrents of tears, saying everything she wanted to say and everything she never thought she’d hear herself say and everything she’d rather die than admit, right into the waiting voicemail inbox of a man who’d never speak again.

Then, she hung up, but not for long. Her fingers, which had once been so sensible and obedient, were shaking harder with sobs as she dialled the number again.

She fell asleep to the sound of gunshots, electronic bleeps, the wind, the birds, and his voice.

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