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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20. Lost Souls

It’s funny, Jamie thought as he locked the front door of his house and started to run back down the road. I’ve never thought about how much I fucking hate running.

In an hour, he’d be the most wanted man in Britain. He reckoned he’d better get used to being out of breath.

He’d only gone home to chuck a bit of tap water onto his bloody hands, arms and hair, and to change into black jeans and a black t-shirt. Black wouldn’t show the blood, after all. He’d only bothered to leave his soiled work clothes bundled up in the corner of the room before packing his bag and leaving. Over a dozen people had watched the killings, so it wasn’t like there was any point in hiding.

He just needed to keep running.

Jamie pulled into a power-walk on the corner before reaching the bus-stop, sliding a hand carefully into his bag to reassure himself he had everything he’d need for whatever the hell he was about to do. Food? Tick. Water? Tick. Phone? Tick.

Wait, no. They can track me on my phone.

Yanking his phone out of his bag, Jamie dropped it into the hedge of the house next to him and kept walking. Metaphorically speaking, there was enough blood on his hands to set off metal detectors, but physically speaking, he looked fine. He just had to be careful, and if that meant leaving his phone behind, then he had to do it.

Bye bye, pictures of treasured memories.

Wait, no. You don’t have any treasured memories.

Bye bye, cat pictures and internet memes.

Jamie briefly reassessed his options. He didn’t know if he could live without his cat pictures and internet memes. Then again, life was full of sacrifices. Especially when the police were hot on your heels.

Bye bye, crazy dance music. Bye bye, contact with your entire family and friends. Bye bye, normality.

Jamie pulled to a halt when he reached the bus stop, plopping himself down onto the bench with his hand still in his bag.

The longest, sharpest knives in my entire pathetic kitchen? Tick. Tick.

Obviously, he’d wrapped both blades in a spare t-shirt before packing them, because even though his job was toast, he wasn’t about to abandon his safety training. He was reckless, but he wasn’t stupid.

As he got onto the bus, pouring a handful of change onto the driver’s counter and dumping himself into a seat, it occurred to him that he had no idea where he was going. He was trying to stop the epidemic, sure, and that probably meant he was looking for Robert Walker, but which direction was that? The guy had escaped the hospital three days ago; he could have been halfway across the damned country by now.

The only advantage Jamie had in the chase was a brain. Robert Walker’s was rotten to the core, and whatever the hell was controlling him clearly had no concept of navigation. After all, it was new to this planet. Jamie knew Nabdale, and he had a vague concept of a couple of other places too, which he decided counted as an acute sense of direction.

I’ve got an acute sense of direction and two bloody great knives. I’ll be fine.

The bus had been empty when he stepped on board; for a man who needed to go unnoticed, that was good news. Then, someone else got on after him. The other passenger was an elderly woman with a floral headscarf over her white hair, holding a plastic supermarket bag of shopping. Of course, even though she could have sat in any seat she damn well pleased on the entire fucking vehicle, she decided to summarise the way Jamie’s luck was going by sitting down right next to him.

Great.

Jamie struggled not to sigh in frustration as the woman turned to him.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Mabel. Where are you off to?”

I just killed eight people and now this.

“Hi,” he said. He paused.

Yeah, where AM I off to?

“I don’t really know, but I’m working on it.”

“Well, I’m off home. I just went on my daily grocery shop.”

Jamie’s eyes started to roll upwards as Mabel started talking about her shopping. In his desperation, he half- considered making an excuse to move, acting like a crazy person, and actually telling her he was a killer. At least that would make her leave him alone.

Suddenly, Jamie sat up straighter. “Sorry, what did you just say?”

She looked up at him, surprised. “I just said the eggs they sell in Nabdale are much fresher than the ones you get in Malworth.”

“No, no.” Jamie shook his head. “Before that.”

She pressed her lips together and looked up at the ceiling, thinking. Jamie sighed again, restlessly clenching and unclenching his fists.

Jamie, killing eight people is one thing. You cannot punch an elderly woman for being forgetful.

“Did you say you go shopping every day?”

“Yes, every day. I like to feel the sun on my face and watch the young folk-”

“Okay. Do you always take this bus?”

“Yes, of course. I don’t like to drive my car any more, not since my dear husband-”

“Sorry, sorry.” Jamie cut her off again. “Have you seen anything, um… weird on this road in the last few days?”

Mabel frowned again. Then, her eyes brightened. “Yes, actually. About three days ago.”

“Really?” Jamie’s heart started beating faster. “What?”

When she says she’s seen Robert, act natural.

Jamie tried to look casual as he leaned further forwards in his seat.

“Well, I was looking out of the window, thinking about my lovely grandchildren and how soon, they’ll all be taller than me.” She chuckled.

Jamie rubbed a hand across his face. “Uh-huh.”

“And I noticed that the trees were starting to lose their leaves- you know, they were all going grey and falling off. Nabdale looks so pretty in autumn, doesn’t it?”

Jamie covered his eyes with his hand and tried not to growl. “Yep. Sure does.”

“And then, I saw something really strange.”

He removed his face from his hands and looked back at her. “What was it?”

“Well, about a mile south of here, there’s a kind of dip in the side of the road. You know, a ditch.”

“Yep.”

“And in the autumn, it fills up with water and mud, and that’s when all the birds come down.”

“Uh-huh.”

For fuck’s sake.

“But what was really strange was that this year, there were no other birds in the lake.”

“Really?” Jamie tried not to let the frustration show in his voice.

“And then I saw why that was. They’d all been scared away.”

“By what?”

She leaned in, and her eyes narrowed.

“A really, really big bird of prey.”

This time, he couldn’t restrain his annoyance. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m not!” she exclaimed. “It was huge! Must have had at least a two-metre wingspan! I think it was a kestrel or a hawk… we don’t really get eagles in this country, although-”

“Dammit!” Jamie burst out. “Mabel, have you seen Robert Walker or not?”

Mabel blinked. “Who?”

“I mean, a man in a hospital gown. Would have come through here about three days ago.”

“Oh, him!” Mabel said. “Yes, I was getting to that, because I saw him right after the bus went past that kestrel. Holy moly, you youngsters are so impatient! If I had a teenage son like you, I’d be sure to teach him to respect his elders!

For fuck’s sake, woman, I’m twenty-nine.

Maybe don’t say that out loud.

Jamie let out a long breath. “Sorry. Look, was he going this way?”

“I don’t believe I wish to continue this conversation,” Mabel replied, turning up her nose.

Jamie sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just… I’m frustrated because this is really important, and…”

Suddenly, his hand flashed out and grabbed a box from the top of her shopping bag.

“What are you doing?”

“I swear to Christ, uh… Mabel.” Jamie said, standing up and pausing as he noticed how pale blue her eyes were. “If you ever want your fucking, uh…” He read the label on the box he was holding. “Cayenne pepper pasta water back, you’ll tell me where the hell Robert Walker went.”

What the fuck is cayenne pepper pasta water?

“I’ve got six boxes of that pasta water,” Mabel scoffed, getting up to move seats.

Look at me,” Jamie panted.

When she turned, her eyes were as piercingly grey as her hair.

“I’m desperate,” he said. “Do I not look desperate?”

She said nothing, but she’d started to scrunch up her eyes as if she was in pain.

“Okay, okay.” He ignored the shudder in his spine. “Which way was the man in the hospital gown going? Was he going this way?”

Mabel nodded as a sharp cough pricked the back of her throat.

“Okay, right. And did you, um… see him after you’d got off the bus?”

She nodded again.

“Did he, um… touch you? I mean…” He trailed off as he noticed how weird the question sounded. “Did he hit you on the chest?”

“Yes,” Mabel said. “Along with a few of the other people getting on and off. And the driver, too.”

What?” Jamie started to panic. The- the driver? This driver? Is it, um… the same guy who’s driving us now?”

Mabel craned her head round to get a better look at the bus driver. “Yes, of course it was! I only ever take the six-seventeen out of Nabdale. It’s always Pete driving. Good afternoon, Pete!”

“Afternoon, Mabel!” the driver called back before dissolving into a fit of damp coughing.

Oh, shit.

“But I didn’t- he didn’t hurt me. I just thought the poor young man must be wrong in the head, like my dear husband was. He didn’t, um… he wasn’t a threat to me.”

Jamie paused and muttered under his breath as the last of the colour drained out of Mabel’s eyes.

“Yes, he was.”

Suddenly, the bus gave a massive lurch off the road and Mabel yelped, dropping her shopping. Jamie staggered and looked forwards to see that the driver had passed out, slumped forwards with the thinnest line of black pooling from his mouth onto the steering-wheel.

“Shit!” Jamie cried, pulling himself out of the seat he’d fallen onto, rushing down the aisle and managing to push the unconscious driver out of the way. He dumped himself into the chair, struggling to wrap his head around the absurd amount of gears and buttons, before picking a pedal he sincerely hoped was the brake and slamming his foot down with all his might.

The bus jerked to a halt, one wheel up on the kerb and the other halfway down the ditch. Jamie sucked in breath as a strong gust of wind rocked it from side to side, but they didn’t slip any further down.

“You okay, Mabel?” Jamie panted.

Of course she wasn’t okay.

When he turned, Mabel was unconscious too, lying across both of their seats with her head resting on Jamie’s backpack and her eyes cracked open into white slivers. Jamie legged it back towards her and pulled his bag away just as the first tendril of dark saliva dripped onto the ratty fabric of the seat. Swearing again, Jamie unzipped his bag and rummaged around for the bundle wrapped in his t-shirt. His heart started throbbing in his mouth as his hand closed around the knives.

As soon as he’d yanked the bundle free from his bag, he heard someone gasping for breath behind him. Jamie spun around to see the bus driver, who’d woken up on the floor and was pulling himself into a sitting position as the first shreds of white appeared in his eyes. He was still breathing. He was still alive.

Jamie ignored his senses yet again as he yanked both knives free from their wrapping, leaving his backpack lying next to the limp body on the seat. He launched himself back down the aisle, dropped to his knees, and sunk both blades clean into the driver’s heart.

“Sorry,” he muttered, pulling the steel free from the flesh and drawing out droplets of bright scarlet. Jamie’s heart turned to ice for a fraction of a second. No sooner had the red specks splashed onto the ground, however, than the new ones just leaving the wound started darkening into black.

Jamie sighed in relief.

Mabel gasped and then screamed as she woke up for the last time, standing up in the aisle and almost falling again when her feet met the lopsided floor.

“You’re…” she staggered back. “You’re… you’re that monster they’re talking about on the news!”

Then, her bright white eyes rolled upwards, her mouth slackened and she crumpled to the ground like a rag doll.

“No,” Jamie muttered, wiping black blood off his knife and onto his shirt. On the black fabric, the stain looked just like water. “You are.”

Damn, that sounded really cinematic.

Despite everything he’d done, Jamie decided to wait until Mabel got back up again.

He waited.

And waited.

God, mercy’s ridiculously time-consuming.

When the monster wearing Mabel’s face finally stood up again, Jamie was ready. He should have felt horrendous about stabbing an old woman but, both fortunately and unfortunately, his emotions had crumbled into dust even sooner than hers. She widened her fluorescent eyes, stretched out a grey, creased hand and started to hobble down the aisle towards him, but she didn’t stand a chance. Batting away one hand, Jamie closed his eyes before driving his knife into her chest.

“Wait,” he muttered to himself as Mabel’s empty shell slid back to the ground. “I never found out where Robert went.”

For fuck’s sake, Jamie.

The dashboard underneath the dead bus driver had more buttons and switches and levers than the fucking Millennium Falcon. Jamie had absolutely no idea which one opened the door. Then, his eyes fell on the little red hammer above the front window.

“IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, USE HAMMER TO BREAK GLASS.’

Jamie’s kill count of eight had just risen to ten, and if he didn’t move quickly, the town would be overrun by catatonic zombie-robot mutant monsters. It may not have been exactly what the people who’d safety-proofed the bus had in mind, but he reckoned it still counted as an emergency.

“Fuck it,” he muttered, standing up on a seat to snatch the hammer. Pursing his lips, he swung it into the window with all his might.

Thud. Crack. The brass-tipped red plastic bounced off the window as if it was rubber.

“Wow, that was useful,” he mused, bracing one arm against the back of the seat, lifting his leg and kicking the window until it shattered.

Taking one last look at the two monsters he’d just dispatched, Jamie tried not to feel like too much of a badass as he cleaned off his knives and swung himself out of the broken window. Luckily, he jarred both his ankles on impact and fell into the ditch, muddying up his blood-soaked t-shirt. That was enough to knock him down a few pegs.

The glass canopy of the bus stop was just visible on the horizon in front of him. Mabel had said that the bus stop was where she’d seen Robert, so Jamie hurried up there with his backpack in the thin hope of finding some kind of clue. Obviously, there wasn’t one. The country lane was just as mundane and quiet as any, unless you counted the empty shell of the wrecked bus and the two empty shells of the wrecked human beings inside it. Jamie, for one, did not.

Then, he spotted an even smaller, even quieter, country lane leading off to the right between two lines of trees. The road had been darkened by the shadows cast by the last light of day, and it looked to be well-hidden.

If I was a mindless lunatic monster, where would I go?

Jamie squinted against the setting sun, noticing the thinly etched silhouette of a church at the end of the road.

I’d go towards the people.

Casting another furtive glance across the abandoned road and even more abandoned bus, Jamie tightened his grip on the backpack containing his weapons and hurried off down the muddy lane. He couldn’t help wishing he hadn’t thrown away his phone, even though it might have led the police to him.

He was alone. He was bored. He was scared. He was, for all intents and purposes, evil.

And besides, the long and cold trail he was chasing to find Robert would have been more bearable with his crazy dance music.

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