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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4. Forget my Face


When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was the cold.

My dream had been blacker than night, but I could feel I was being watched even without being able to see. Somehow, I just felt wrong, even though nothing bad really seemed to be happening to me. All I could remember was a freezing sear that felt like metal under my back and an electronic squealing sound that sliced my eardrums in half and made me ache. Eventually, the dream left me alone, and so did the noise, but the cold pang on my skin and the dull pang in my muscles stayed behind. I’d slept on my side, and when I woke up, my right arm, hip and leg were soaked in such a freezing sensation they almost felt wet.

No, wait a minute. They WERE wet.

I opened my eyes and realised I was lying in a puddle.

The water was all around me, seeping through my clothes and onto my skin, searing with almost as much ferocity as the metal table in my dream. I stretched out my arms to prop myself up, rubbing at the twinges of pain in my temples until they disappeared, and when I put them back down, my fingers hit a dry patch of moss and a bare concrete pavement. Blinking blurred the half- formed patches of light in my vision into semi-discernible objects, and after rubbing my eyes, I noticed the buildings towering above me on either side. Chinks of blue sky poked through the very tops of the houses, punctuated by the odd smear of a grey cloud, but I was confused by the colour for a few drowsy seconds. The last time I’d seen the sky, it had definitely been red.

Then, it hit me. Like a ton of bricks. Two brick walls.

I shot to my feet, gasping, almost losing my footing as the heavily wet side of my clothes tried to drag me back down. Wringing out the stagnant water as best I could and trying not to shudder in the icy breeze, I spun in several circles to try to determine where the fuck I was. I drew a blank.

I kept muttering to myself that everything was okay, that I must have just sleepwalked a few yards outside my house and ended up down the side of someone else’s. Similar things had happened before. I staggered out of the alleyway, heading away from the puddle and the smell of rotting rubbish and towards the sunlight and the sound of traffic. As soon as I emerged into the street, I thought I’d see my house across the road, with the door open and my family asleep inside.

Nope.

There was a house in front of me, yeah, but it sure as fuck wasn’t mine. It was a house I didn’t recognise. Nah, fuck that; the entire bloody TOWN was one I didn’t recognise.

Every building on the street was an immaculate splash of scratchy plaster, stingingly bright paint and gleaming metal, a painful departure from my run-down, dust-choked, good-for-nothing home town. I couldn’t help wondering whether I’d been abducted from my universe and dumped into a kids’ cartoon, noting that everyone who passed me had a jaunty smile on their face and a jolly bounce in their walk, almost as if they were preparing to burst into some choreographed musical number. Thank God those smiles dropped and those bounces flattened when I came out of the alleyway.

Standing in the middle of a street I didn’t know, dripping a muddy pool onto the pavement from the hem of my pyjama trousers, I couldn’t have looked any more ridiculous. I’m normally the fiercest person ever, I swear, but right then, my eyes were raw from crying and my cheeks were coated with tears. I was confused, I was tired, and more than anything else, I was fucking terrified. Not just for myself, but for my family too. My nightmare hadn’t helped me come up with any kind of logical explanation, but there had to be one. Everything has a logical explanation, right?

Well, apparently fucking not.

* * * * * * * * * *

After an hour checking road signs, reading timetables and repelling concerned idiots, I managed to find a bus to take me back home. I realised, glancing down at my pyjamas once I’d boarded, that I didn’t have a penny on me. Luckily, my bedraggled hair, filthy clothes and furiously bewildered scowl were enough to silence any objections the driver might have had. He looked me up and down, probably concluding that I was either homeless or insane or both, before letting me past with a nervous flick of his head.

The bus was crammed to breaking point, but as I made my way down the aisle, one particularly weedy-looking guy sprung up from his seat and backed away like he’d just seen a wild animal. I was pretty proud of my intimidation tactics, not conscious of any remorse in my mad desperation to get home or wake up or whatever, and dumped myself into the empty chair with a murmured ‘thank you’. The bloke sitting next to me must have been on his way to work, but his tie was covered in cartoon characters and his hair was messier than mine, even though I’d just accidentally taken a nap in a grotty alleyway.

Curling up in my chair and clutching my soaking legs to my stomach, I let my mind wander back to the question I’d been keeping beaten down ever since waking up.

“How the FUCK did I get here?” I muttered to myself. I let my mouth repeat the query over and over again; the words dissolved into silence after a minute or two, but they didn’t stop echoing back and forth inside my head. Closing my eyes, I let the darkness jump up and batter me, uninterrupted by red sparks or blinding white lights. I’m not sure why I was surprised by the peace. The sounds around me dulled to a hum, and I guess at least a few of the conversations were either directed at or based on me, but I didn’t care. I had to try and remember how the hell I’d woken up in an alleyway seventy miles from my house.

Right after the dream, I think I’d been able to recall it quite well, but the more I tried to focus on it, the hazier and blurrier it got. By the time the bus finally started moving, I’d been desperately chasing fragments of the night for several minutes, but it was no use. My memory was a shitstorm and everything was gone.

I was sure I’d been outside at the start. I could have been in the field, but maybe not; all I had was the vague memory of cold wind on my face. Then, all of a sudden, from the sky downwards, the world bled itself red and disappeared.

Glancing down at my ruined trousers, I finally noticed the thick smears of soil clotting my leg.

The dry black powder stood out on the blue fabric as plainly as anything could have in the foggy swirl of my bewilderment. Where it had been dampened into mud by the puddle in the alleyway, dregs of weeds clung to the mess, but there hadn’t been any plants other than moss in the alleyway. No mud either.

Shit.

I blinked. The red sky. The white lights. The metal table. The ugly squealing sound. They’d all come later; after the field, after the mud and the weeds. After I’d fallen asleep.

“It was a dream. A dream. A fucking dream,” I muttered. “You were dreaming. Shut up.”

I’ve never had a nightmare in my life.

To my frustration and distaste, the guy with the wacky tie ended up being one of the chatty ones. He grinned at me in a manner that could have been sympathetic or sarcastic, seemingly undisturbed as the others were by the fact that I looked like I’d just crawled out of my own grave.

“Hi. Uh... you need help or anything? Where are you going?”

I turned away, fixing my eyes on the window opposite the aisle and glaring at the road as it rushed past. The distraction was no use; the people on THAT side of the bus were staring at me too.

“What’s your name? If you can remember it, that is.” He had one of those laughs that’s just firmly irritating for no good reason.

Since my seat was near the front, I rooted my gaze firmly on the wing-mirror, trying to ignore the shiver sent down my back by the blinking red headlights behind us.

“Can you talk?”

I gritted my teeth and sighed, turning back in my seat to fix the bloody idiot with a glare. “Not that it’s any of your business, but surprisingly enough, I CAN remember my own name. It’s Harriet. I’m going to Nabdale, where I was last night before waking up a million fucking miles away, and frankly, yeah, I do need help. From a fucking MEMORY specialist. Not from you.”

Everyone on the bus was staring at me now. Beautiful.

“Really? What happened?” the guy persisted.

“Mate,” I said, picking a clump of dandelion off my dressing-gown and flicking it at the window, “I don’t have a fucking clue.”

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