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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28. The Basement at the Ends of the Earth

Jamie was starting to get sick of quiet little towns, but at least Rushton wasn’t burning.

The buildings were beige and square, just like the ones in Malworth, but cleaner and with less black blood on the walls. In fact, there were no signs of disturbance anywhere. It was late in the afternoon, and the few people he’d spotted peeking through their curtains or strolling around on the footpaths looked completely fine, if a little confused by the presence of a police car. Jamie hadn’t been able to resist pinching the car, since none of the police were still alive to stop him.

His destination wasn’t hard to spot, since the town was a tiny hamlet on the edge of a hill and one green field was covered in black blood that matted the grass into muddy soup. Jamie pulled to a stop outside the metal gate, which was still twisted through with rotting blue-and-white police tape, and got out to examine the three sets of tyre tracks in the mud. Two police cars, he reckoned, and one bloody great lorry to carry away all the dead cows.

The bulk of Rushton had been decently populated, if a bit quiet, and that had reassured him a tiny bit. No screaming meant no fear, and no fear probably meant no death. Probably. Out here, though, something felt different. A thin silk of fog clung to the green-and-black hillside and there weren’t even any birds singing in the trees, let alone traffic on the pathetically small country lane.

Jamie’s four blades clattered together in his pockets as he got out of his stolen police car and trudged through the ruined grass, picking his feet up higher and higher as it grew to his waist and started jabbing his stomach. He glanced down to rub the traces of a nettle sting from his hands and, when he looked back up, the house he’d seen in the news was peeking over the top of the hill.

It crouched at the very edge of the field, hunched over as if it was embarrassed about being built somewhere it wasn’t meant to be. The beige bricks had worn grey and were crumbling away, zig-zagged with ivy, but the sky above the house was blue, the valley below it was green, and Jamie couldn’t feel even a hint of a spooky atmosphere. It was just another house. Victor Day was just another guy. Or, at least, he used to be. Now he wasn’t really much of anything.

Jamie felt his fingers itching to get at the gun in his back pocket, even though there was nothing around him to shoot. With his pockets full of weapons, his clothes soaked in monsters’ blood, and his head swimming with symptoms of his own death, he tried his best to walk like a badass and play a dramatic-sounding song in his head for his long slog through the weeds. Eventually, he gave up on trying to be cool; he was constantly tripping over his own stupid feet and grabbing fistfuls of nettles, crackling the autumn fog with curse words. The assassin, just like his victim, was just another guy. There was nothing badass or cool or heroic or even remotely special about him, but here he was anyway. One guy against another guy. What a story.

By the time he’d reached the front garden of the house, Jamie had inhaled plenty of the metallic, sweet-and-salty odour and taken a really long look at the blackened remnants caking the grass of the field. He couldn’t help wondering, as he breathed in and gagged at his millionth lungful, why the blood was even there.

Why kill cows? Why kill sheep? Why’d that be a necessary part of the invasion plan?

Jamie was only a human being, and he wasn’t even a very intelligent one. He couldn’t understand everything about the aliens’ bullshit plan to take over the shitty part of England, but in order to stop it, he didn’t really need to know much else. All he needed to do was stick a knife or a bullet into the chest of everyone who was a part of it. A simple job for a simple man.

One idiot against the end of the world? Now THAT’s a movie I’d watch.

Jamie reached the front door, looking at the darkened windows, the drawn curtains and, most of all, the mess in the front garden. The man who’d lived here had lived for three days after his abduction. Why hadn’t he even tried to clean up? Why did his house and farm look, for all Jamie knew, completely abandoned?

I swear to fucking Christ, he’d better be here. I’m not going on another fucking witch-hunt. I’m dying already.

Jamie knocked on the door. There was no response. If Victor was at home, he was alone.

Letting his fingers brush against the cold metal of his gun, he hurried in a wobbly circle around the house, searching for smashed windows, broken-down doors, anything that could have proven the monster escaped. George Angel had smashed a glass door to smithereens with his fists, and Robert Walker had hurled himself out of a fourth-floor window at the hospital, but whatever was left of Victor Day hadn’t even tried to get out of the house. That was strange, since whatever human-sensing software the bastards in the sky had downloaded into his blood must have been going into meltdown with all the oblivious twits in the village. Victor must have had really weak fists or really, really strong double-glazing.

Unless, of course, he’d died outside.

Shit.

Jamie took a deep breath, slipping a hand into his pocket to run a finger across a scalpel, before wrenching at the handle of the front door. It was locked. Of course it was. He muttered something ugly under his breath, raised his leg and almost toppled into another waiting vat of nettles before managing to plant a kick in the centre of the door. It folded inwards like a sheet of paper, and Jamie got his first look at Victor Day’s living-room.

“Oh my fucking god.”

The house had once been a normal house, just as Victor Day had once been a normal guy. Neither was true any more. Every inch of drab wall not hidden by dog-eared post-its was covered with blue biro writing, and half-full notebook pages made up the cloth on the grimy glass coffee table. Jamie turned and ran his eyes across several lines of text that made up a paragraph on the doorframe, a sort of fucked-up, disjointed poem with no rhythm.

‘IT’S HAPPENING. THEY SAID I WAS MAD.

1) I WAS DUMPED IN THE MIDDLE OF CAMBRIDGE.

2) WIPED MEMORY. DON’T REMEMBER THE NIGHT.

3) THE COWS ARE ALL DEAD.

THEY’RE COMING FOR ME.

THEY’RE WATCHING ME THROUGH THE WALLS.

I ALWAYS KNEW I’D NEED THE SHELTER.

EVERYONE LAUGHED AT ME.

BUT I’LL GET TO LAUGH WHEN THEY COME DOWN FROM THE SKY.’

“Christ,” Jamie whispered, clenching and unclenching his fist around the gun. “What a fucking drama queen.”

He picked up one of the pieces of paper and flopped down onto the sagging sofa to read it, realising that it was another mad scrawl detailing how Victor had woken up in Cambridge and come home to find his cows dead, only to immediately decide he’d been kidnapped by aliens and start planning to ‘go into hiding’. Jamie would have called his target a crazy bastard under his breath, was it not for the fact that the obsession felt mildly familiar. Before getting smacked in the face by the reality that it was all real, he himself used to enjoy idly obsessing over abduction cases, sending prank emails to NASA and watching the sky for hours when he was meant to be sleeping or studying. The only difference between him and the man he was hunting was that Victor Day had lost his marbles down the back of the sofa an awfully long time ago. The letters covering every surface were huge and scrawled, then tiny and hunched, and the sentences and stories were every bit as erratic as the man who’d written them. Jamie imagined him running around his house in a blind panic, tearing his hair out and wringing his hands, trying to make sense of the mangled panic in his head before it was quickly joined by the ache of his imminent death. As a fellow UFO nut, Jamie couldn’t say he blamed the guy, but by running off, he’d become a massive bloody inconvenience.

Jamie sighed. He just wanted this story to be over already; it was getting boring and repetitive and he was sick of all the gore and violence and convoluted character tracking. Why, for once, couldn’t he wrap things up nicely and neatly and go home and die in peace?

Just as he was about to leave the world to sort out its problems without him, his eyes fell on a post-it note that lay on the stairs. When he read it, he sighed so heavily his breath could have been made of lead.

‘I’M HIDING. YOU’RE SEEKING. COUNT TO TEN, YOU LITTLE GREEN BITCHES.’

“For fuck’s sake,” he muttered, dumping his backpack onto the sofa and looking wildly around him for any potential hiding-spots.

He spent the next half-hour on his feet, running around the downstairs area of the doomed man’s topsy-turvy shack, opening defaced doors, knocking on scribbled walls, and jumping up and down on different bits of paper-strewn floor. Every so often, he’d stop to hit his freezing chest with a fist or slam his burning head against a wall, but the pain would only ever clear for a split-second before coming back even worse.

Jamie wondered what he was looking for. A trapdoor? A secret door? A portal to another dimension?

“Victor?” he eventually yelled, his voice trickling thinly into the silence.

Nothing.

Obviously.

“Victor? You there, you fucking lunatic? I’m just here to kill you, then I’ll leave you in peace, I swear.”

Jamie sighed raggedly and shrugged at nobody, but when he stepped backwards to collapse onto the sofa, the floor creaked and sagged beneath him. He looked down at the carpet, whose loose corner lolled lazily against the wall like the dog-eared page of a book.

Oh.

Falling to his knees, Jamie overturned the coffee table, which fell with an ugly BANG and another sickening lurch of the floorboards. He yanked the carpet aside and, after he’d finished coughing at the cloud of dust and dirt tossed into his face, he finally found the trapdoor.

The edges were grimy and black, but the handle was shiny and new. The words IN CASE OF INVASION were painted in neat letters on the wood.

“Victor Day, you crazy fucking bastard,” Jamie whispered, smiling against the icy fingers tweaking his heartstrings. He heaved the trapdoor up to reveal a set of stairs that looked better-kept than the ones he’d seen in the house and started climbing down, closing the floor above him. He tripped several times in the darkness, but his first swear word activated the lights and lit up the room with a bright white glow. On either side of him were bare brick walls with absolutely no madman’s writing visible, and right in front of him was the door that led to the lair of the madman himself.

Alien invasion of some description was clearly what the shelter had been built for, because there was a fucking biosuit hanging on the wall and a loaded pistol on the table by the stairs. On the far side of the corridor, a grid of shelves was stacked with cans of food and bottles of water, and there was a cardboard box full of clothes and another full of books. This hadn’t been a hasty three-day job. Victor Day had clearly been planning his invasion strategy for years.

“Holy fucking shit,” Jamie murmured, staring through the gridded glass of the window before shoving the door open. In the real madman’s lair, the walls, floor and tables were covered with photographs, most of which either showed a blurry light on a black background or a gangly-looking alien creature with gigantic eyes. All of the photos were covered with a million and one labels and notes, but Jamie guessed that none of them said anything along the lines of ‘FAKE AS SHIT- YOU CAN SEE THE INVISIBLE STRING’. He was embarrassed to realise he’d seen most of the photos before, but he’d always confined his obsessions to the relative safety and secrecy of internet forums. Victor Day had just... he was just...

Well, he was Jamie in a few decades, essentially.

Jamie had noticed the body when he’d first walked in, but it had seemed more respectful to pretend not to notice for minute or two. Victor was in the corner; his auburn hair was shot through with silver and black, and the black wasn’t supposed to be there. He was sitting, slumped like a rag doll, on the desk chair, but the desk chair had been pushed all the way away from the table and there was a loaded gun on the ground by his lifeless foot. The black vomit was pooling at the very corner of the room, but the brown blood was pooling in his lap, having trickled down his chest, underneath his shirt, from the neat bullet-hole under his jaw. Splatters of grey brain and bone were drying and congealing together on the wall behind his head. Jamie didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sight of the empty cardboard roll on the desk, or the tinfoil the crazy bastard had wrapped around his head a few days before dying. Obviously, none of the desperate efforts had done anything to keep away the infection.

Victor’s eyes were still open and the white irises were livid, black pupils swimming like beetles in the sour pool. He was still awake, of course, but the sight of Jamie hadn’t even made him twitch.

Jamie stared at the monster for a second, trying to break eye contact. There was something hideously eerie about the underground shelter his four-day murderous rampage had dragged him to. Unlike the other victims, who’d been laughing at Jamie as they spewed up their guts on the road, Victor had been prepared. He’d done everything right; or, at least, he’d done everything the brainless twats on the conspiracy websites had told him was right. He’d built his shelter to hide from the aliens. He’d covered his head with tinfoil to reflect the rays of their fictional mind-control beams. He thought he was safe if the aliens couldn’t reach him anymore, but the problem was that they’d already reached him. He’d been right. They probably had been watching him. Jamie wondered if they were watching right now. What he’d been wrong about, of course, was that whoever had done this to him wasn’t biding its time, waiting to strike. It was sitting back, waiting for the fun to begin. Even after all that time, all that preparation, all that infatuation, Victor Day had been just as helpless as everyone else.

His safehouse had become his crypt.

Jamie couldn’t blame him; after all, the truth was a pretty fucking stupid one. Alien invasion movies were stupid enough, and zombie apocalypse ones were even dumber; it was mindless, ridiculous, even, to imagine that both could come true at once. Alien zombies. What a fucking idiotic concept. Jamie knew that not even the most money-hungry pandering idiots would write a book or make a film about such convoluted bullshit as this, and if they had, then the readers and viewers would leave yelling something like “It’s either aliens or zombies, not both! Pick a storyline, you fucking idiot!”

And yet, somehow, it had happened anyway.

Now, at the end of the alien-robot-zombie apocalypse, two men were in a room together at the end of the earth, surrounded by a bunch of bullshit they’d thought could save them, wondering how anything this stupid had ever been allowed to happen. One of them was dead. The other one was dying. Both of them were desperate.

It was real. It was ridiculous. And it was anything but laughable.

Jamie’s wrist brushed against his knife as he raised his hand to his back pocket, drawing blood. It seared with pain, but it was a normal pain, which made a nice change. Jamie almost laughed when he saw the red again.

“How original,” he mused, finally managing to tear his eyes away from the mess on the wall.

He was panting with exhaustion and struggling with tears, and he didn’t have a reason for either. His head was killing him metaphorically and his heart was killing him literally. He stood, watching every movement the monster that used to be Victor didn’t make, for the entire afternoon.

The sun set over the horizon. At least, he guessed it had, since his phone was telling him it was eight- thirteen at night. Just like that, Jamie had one day left to live, and Victor was out of time already.

One hand reached the gun in his back pocket as the other hand froze against the steel of the knives in his front. It wasn’t exactly a hard decision. He cast his eyes over the scores of notes and photographs on the walls one last time.

“Holy shit, Victor,” Jamie muttered at last. “Thank God you’re a loony conspiracy theorist like me.”

He laughed bitterly, casting his eyes up to the trapdoor that had stopped the infection from spreading across the country.

“You’ve saved a lot of people, you mad bastard.”

And he raised his gun and shot him in the heart. The lights in his eyes were snuffed out and the lights in the sky lost another scapegoat.

Now, there were just two left, and Jamie’d already found one.

* * * * * * * * * *

Here’s to being human,” he murmured as he fired his last two shots into the night. 

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