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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23. Stranger than Fiction

She should have known the police would be back for her, but by the time they knocked, there were other things on her mind. Namely, the black bottomless pit, prickled with red thorns of light, that the monsters in her head were currently dragging her down. Her head fizzled with screams and sirens before the sound of knocking had even broken through; this time, it was louder. Angrier.

Leah couldn’t blame them for being angry. She knew what it felt like to be lied to.

As she opened her eyes, the temporary image of a sallow-skinned monster with brown hair and silver-flecked eyes loomed over the sofa where she lay. Then, she blinked, and reality faded back in. The knock on the door sounded again, even louder and angrier.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

“Police! Open up!”

Leah walked into the kitchen, feeling the bare skin of her feet numbing against the bare tiles of the floor. A gust of wind whipped through the busted wall and washed over her like water, shot through with the metallic rottenness of residual blood. As she rubbed the crusts from her eyes and licked her dry lips with an even drier tongue, the sear of the floor beneath her and the air around her made her bold.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

“Open up, Miss Ness! We know you’re in there!”

She braced her arm against a freshly-scrubbed marble countertop and started to rummage in the cabinet. “Just one second.”

“We will enter, with or without your permission, with force if necessary.”

Leah swallowed two pills from the box, glancing wryly from the window to the door and blinking in the lazy spill of morning sunlight.

“Firstly, the door is unlocked, officers, so feel free to come in.”

The banging stopped. Leah walked slowly up to the front door, catching what she hoped was someone’s eye in the distorted frosted glass of the window.

“And secondly, if I hadn’t complied, and locked and barricaded myself in, there’d be no reason to batter my lovely door off its hinges.” She opened the door to see three police officers in their neon yellow jackets. “After all, there is a massive hole in the kitchen wall.”

The two men and one woman blinked, saying nothing. Then, after a long and awkward pause, during which Leah was trying to decide whether or not she had the upper hand, the man with the dirty blond hair and the stubble spoke up.

“Leah Ness, we’re here to arrest you on suspicion of the murder of Harriet Hyde.”

If they’d been expecting denial, or tears, or any emotion at all, they were disappointed. Leah slowly raised her eyes to the ceiling, dusting imaginary specks of dust from her hoodie sleeves, before shrugging and reaching for her shoes.

“I know.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“How’d’you catch me in the end, then?” Leah asked the only female officer on the way down the path.

The officer looked at her in surprise, as did one of her two colleagues. “You admit to committing the crime?”

Leah shrugged, the handcuffs jingling softly as they dragged down on her wrists. “Yeah. I mean, you knew it was me, right?”

“We did suspect you, yes. Both of you. But we didn’t have enough evidence until I- I mean, until, um… Sergeant Wolf came to us with new information.”

“What was the new information?”

The officer on her other side turned to whisper to his partner. “We did remember to tell her she has the right to remain silent, right?”

“Well,” the policewoman continued, throwing a glint out of her eyes to prove that Leah’s calmness unnerved her. “We looked through the station’s CCTV footage.”

Leah nodded. “Ah. You saw me delivering the kidnapped child.”

The officer frowned. “Why did you kidnap him?”

“I’m a nice person, I swear.” Leah waved a hand vaguely, feeling the air sticking to the sweat on her skin. “After accidentally killing his mother, I didn’t want him to see her. So I took him.”

“Mmm.”

They were at the car now. Leah gently shrugged the hand off her shoulder and got into the passenger seat, closing her eyes and inhaling the smell of tea tree and new leather and autumn air. It was a simple smell, one she’d taken for granted her entire life, but in comparison to the stench of stagnant blood she’d been breathing for the last twenty hours, it was like a drug.

The door closed after the last officer got in next to her. There was a long pause.

“So,” Leah started tentatively. “Which one of you’s Sergeant Wolf?”

“That’d be me,” said the officer with the blond hair and the stubble who’d visited her last night. He was sitting in the driver’s seat.

“You found the evidence that caught me out?”

He nodded and grunted, gripping the steering-wheel a little tighter. “Uh-huh.”

Leah caught Sergeant Wolf’s eye in the rearview mirror as the car pulled out into the road, giving him a small smile with a flick of her eyebrow. He didn’t smile back, squinting slightly as he tried to judge her mood, but then she nodded and simply said “Thank you.”

* * * * * * * * * *

It was the second time she’d been in a police station in two days, and only the second in her entire life. The first time, she’d been a frightened, bereaved young woman, trying to do the right thing for the sake of a little boy who’d been mercilessly torn away from his mother. The second time, she was a murderer. She’d admitted everything, and she’d be glad to rot in a cell for it if the law demanded it, but she still despised the looks she was getting.

She tried to keep her mind level, but the images of the bottomless pit and the monster watching her sleep were still tarnishing her thoughts and ruining her mask of composure. She settled for keeping her shoulders and chin level instead. Escorted by three police officers, bound by two steel handcuffs, and charged with one murder she most definitely committed, she should have looked broken or angry or sad or confused or, at the very least, contemptuous. But, all the way down the corridor that smelt of mildew and dust, all the way along the blue ratty carpet with its trodden-in blu-tac and gum, even after she was inside the stagnant shit-hole they called an interrogation room, Leah Ness kept her head held high.

The handcuffs were taken off. There were no red welts, because she’d never struggled and strained them. She was offered a drink, which she declined. Then, they read her her rights, which barely mattered. She was crap at remaining silent, the town was likely to fall to shit before she had the chance to speak to a lawyer, and she didn’t have anyone to call. More to the point, she wasn’t denying it any more. She quite literally had nothing left to lose. Family? Ha. Home? Destroyed. Freedom? To do what? Cry? Sleep? Grieve? Wait to die? She could do all of that from the warmth and comfort of her cell.

After everyone else had left, Sergeant Wolf turned on the tape recorder.

“Leah Ness, do you admit you were responsible for the death of Harriet Hyde?”

Her voice turned into damp cotton wool as it left her mouth. “Yes, I do.”

She leaned back in her seat and started to pick at a loose piece of skin on her thumb.

“Do you admit sole responsibility, or did you act with someone else?”

“Both.”

“Excuse me?”

Leah sighed and picked harder, watching red starting to seep into the grooves of her thumbnail. “Somebody else helped me to- to… kill her, but I am asking to be charged with sole responsibility.”

“The other individual in question was your boyfriend, George Angel?”

“Yes. But-”

“But you’re saying he can’t be charged?”

“I am.”

“On what grounds?”

Leah swallowed, pushing the clot of blood around on her finger until it shredded. She ran a hand through her hair and then raised her eyes to meet his.

“George Angel is dead, Sergeant.”

The officer cleared his throat and then coughed, rubbing his forehead. “How did he die, Leah?”

“One of his patients passed on a disease. It took three days to kill him.”

“What kind of disease?”

Leah was done with lying, but she was also done with giving people what they wanted. Luckily, the story of how George died was such a stupid one that telling the truth would allow her to satisfy both cravings at once.

“An extraterrestrial one.”

“Extraterrestrial?”

Why does he have to repeat everything I say?

“Yeah. You know which one I mean. Don’t you?”

He went white, and she continued.

“The one that kills you slowly, painfully, and then brings you back. Brings your body back. The one that chars your blood into black tar.”

“You’re saying that, um, Harriet Hyde also had this… disease?”

“Yes. And those eight people down at the hospital, I dare say.”

“And the two on the Malworth bus?”

Leah frowned, leaning back in her chair again. “There were more?”

“Yes, we believe so.”

“All with black blood and white eyes?”

Sergeant Wolf cleared his throat again. “Not quite. There were traces of red blood on one of the victims found in the Malworth bus, I believe. And a strange case of, uh… dual colouring in his eyes.”

As if he hadn’t finished changing.

“I see.”

If I die, I am going to drag Jamie Cloverfield down to hell with me.

“Anyway, I assume you are denying responsibility for the other, uh… the Sergeant checked his notes, passing a couple of pages headed with the rough scrawl ‘Black blood murders’. “For the other ten murders?”

“I am.”

“The ones for which Jamie Cloverfield is a confirmed suspect?”

“I had no part in them.”

“You knew Jamie?”

She blinked thickly. “Vaguely.”

“But you deny any involvement at all, despite your combined victims all sharing, uh… um- symptoms?”

“I deny any involvement in Jamie’s idiocy. But I confess to my own.”

“Yes. Please could you detail to us exactly how you and your partner George knew the victim?”

Leah sighed and shrugged. “We didn’t.”

“Then what was your motive for killing her?”

Leah’s mouth fell open, but her brain wasn’t ready. She didn’t really have an answer.

Well, I do have an answer, but it sounds really stupid.

Fuck it.

“She was an alien zombie.”

“I see.”

No argument.

“I know it sounds dumb.”

“Not as dumb as you’d think, Miss Ness.”

“Right.”

“And how was, um… this, uh… black-blooded alien zombie a danger to you?”

He was getting nervous now. Maybe he was new to interrogating murderers, or maybe he was secretly freaked out by the strange things happening in Nabdale, or maybe he was just unnerved because he thought she was bat-shit insane.

Whichever one was fine.

“Well, I’m not sure. But- and I know this sounds stupid- I am absolutely one hundred per cent positive Harriet Hyde was dead before we found her.”

“Found her?”

“Yes. We went to her house because we heard her screaming for help.”

“I see.” Sergeant Wolf wrote something down, scratching his head and taking a swig of his coffee.

“And when we got there, she was dead.”

He put his pen down with a bit too much enthusiasm. “Miss Ness, I remind you that you already confessed to the murder. Going back on your original-”

“And then,” Leah interrupted, calmer than she felt. “She got back up again.”

“She was alive?”

“She was dead.” Leah picked at one of the scabs on her palm. “But she stood up.”

“She died from- from what, exactly?”

“From the same disease that killed George.”

“From an illness.”

“Yes.”

He leaned further forwards onto the desk separating them, his sullen eyebrows tracing the tiniest of smirks from his eyes. “An illness that blows your head apart and stabs you point-blank in the chest?”

Leah leaned even further forwards, mirroring his gaze, but she let the remnants of a smile tug upwards at her lips as well. The doubt was squeezing her so tightly she felt as though her internal organs were collapsing, but she’d promised the truth, and whether they liked it or not, that was what they were going to get.

“No,” Leah said calmly, swinging her heels out from under the chair and crossing her legs under the table. “We blew apart her head and stabbed her point-blank in the chest.”

“Why?”

“Because she was being aggressive.”

“You plead self-defence?

Leah considered. “No, not really. But George and I reckon she’d have infected us if we hadn’t done it.”

The sergeant leaned back and pulled his glasses off to wipe them on his jacket, agitated. He raised his voice for the benefit of the tape recorder while she watched, soaking up tears with the blanket of numbness inside her head.

“Leah Ness, you admit to the murder, but you ask to be absolved of the crime on the basis that Miss Hyde was an extraterrestrial reprogrammed zombie who wanted to recruit you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I never asked to be absolved.”

A face peeked through the window and then vanished. From the muffled further reaches of the corridor, towards the porch, Leah could hear someone coughing.

“Well, then.”

Sergeant Wolf fixed her with a glare, but she repelled it right back and watched it blow up in his face.

“Well, then.” He repeated. “So Jamie Cloverfield is our knight in shining armour, is he? Running ruthlessly across the county to slay these, uh…” he ran a hand through his hair and leaned back in his seat. “Alien, uh… zombie creatures? Robots? What should I say?”

She watched him, intrigued, and then let the corner of her mouth twitch up a little. “I’ve taken to calling them monsters, sergeant, if that’s any help.”

“Okay, fine. Regardless, you believe in Jamie Cloverfield’s cause? You think he’s doing the right thing?”

“No, sergeant.” Leah said. “I don’t. I think he thinks he’s doing the right thing, but I don’t think, uh… murder should ever be called the right thing. I regret, from the bottom of my heart and every inch of me, what I did to Harriet Hyde, and I wished I’d never done it. I just explained to you the events that led up to it. I told you the truth. You asked for the truth.”

“I find it very hard to believe that what you’re telling me is the truth, Leah. Do you understand why that is?”

“Of course- of course I do!” she said. “Don’t you think I know how bloody ridiculous this all is?”

“But you’re sticking to your story?”

“Yes please. Oh, and by the way?”

He looked back up at her. “Yes?”

“Were you there yesterday morning?”

“At the crime scene, you mean?”

“Yes.”

He glanced sideways. “No, I wasn’t.”

“You weren’t there to see George.”

“No.”

“So you aren’t infected.”

Sergeant Wolf was trying not to shudder as he turned back towards the door, his ears clearly noticing the coughing. “No, I suppose not.”

“She leaned forwards. “Lucky you. Better watch out for the rest of your colleagues who were, though.”

“Leah, I don’t understand what you mean.”

Leah allowed her eyes to roll before anchoring them back onto his and curling up part of her mouth in a withering look.

“Sergeant, you know what I mean. You can deny it all you want, but there’ve been nine- eleven deaths and one disappearance in a week. You can deny it because it doesn’t make sense, or it defies all logic and reasoning and rules of time and space and physics, or because it’ll give your lazy arse extra paperwork to do, but you saw all those poor people in their fucking vats of black sticky shit, with their heads or limbs or whatever torn off.” Tears silvered in her eyes. “You know something unexplainable’s happening in Nabdale.”

Sergeant Wolf fidgeted as doubt lashed his eyes.

By the time she’d been taken to her cell that afternoon, feeling weirdly relieved, Leah had already decided what the strangest part of her arrest had been. It hadn’t been the spontaneous confession after hours of hiding, or the smell of new leather after a day of blood, or her utter calmness after a lifetime of being a drama queen. The strangest thing was that, after he’d turned back to ask a question which she should have assumed was intended as mockery, there was no mockery in the police sergeant’s voice. His throat was dry and his eyes were wrought with little flecks of intrigue.

“Well, Leah, how long will it be before the alien, uh… robot-zombie apocalypse destroys us all?”

His face was dark with conviction, and then bright with contempt. Then, he shook his head and took another swig of his still-hot cup of coffee to dampen his nerves.

“Oh,” Leah said, feeling the salty tears starting to clog her voice back up again. “I’d say we’ve got at least another day or two.”

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