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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27. Burning Heaven

Leah had always been sure she knew the difference between dreams and hallucinations. She reckoned hallucinations happened at some point before falling asleep; while you were hanging, half-conscious, in a vision, you could still be easily jerked awake like a puppet on a string. That had always been the case for George, anyway, back when the world made sense. Hallucinations could be completely abstract, like bottomless black pits and flashes of red light, or completely real, like waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the grey-eyed ghost of your dead boyfriend standing over you.

Earlier, as the sound of George’s voice repeating the same string of words had started circling her head and blurring together in the darkness, she’d hallucinated that George was in the cell next to her, alive. Her mind had tried to make him talk, but all he’d say to her, with his mouth slowly going more and more out of synch like a badly dubbed TV programme, was “Hi, this is George Angel. Sorry I couldn’t pick up your call.” Hers had been a confusing mess of a grief spiral, but whether or not he was really with her, and whether or not she was going crazy, and whether or not she’d really committed murder three days ago, she was still glad she’d given herself up. Nobody could be hurt while she was in jail; she was safe from the infection, and people with the infection were safe from her. Despite the hideous mess of arms and legs and hearts and blood and brains that had filled the dreams and the reality of the last three days, she’d managed to avoid being infected, and even when life and death stopped mattering, she’d still be here, in her reasonably warm cell, until hell froze over or heaven burned red and fell from the sky.

She was happy here.

Soon after she’d woken up, George had vanished from the cell, and so had his voice. As if she’d been programmed, as if the denial stage of grief was hardcoded into her memory system, she’d dug the phone out from under her limp pillow and dialled the number again. Then, she’d fallen asleep properly and dreamed.

She dreamed, of course, about Harriet.

After three days of ugly red emotion and two nights of sticky black confusion, it should have been a relief when the darkness and the sound of George’s voice finally changed into a scene that was actually recognisable. Unfortunately, the scene was one she never wanted to see again, and from the moment the dream had started, she’d been trying to wake herself up. She couldn’t though, no matter how hard she tried; something in her head was keeping her trapped.

The sofa gleamed white, the aging patches of leather were summer-yellow, and even the splatters of black were bathed in delicate pools of rose-pink from the window. The sky outside was purple, flecked with pink and grey clouds that shone silver in the sun, and Leah started to wonder why the hell her dream had augmented the colours so much. After all, she didn’t realise she possessed enough imagination to make a murder scene look beautiful. The dream looked so lovely that it just felt wrong.

Luckily, the dead body lying on the sofa was still as ugly as ever.

Harriet’s white skin was speckled with drying patches of grey, and the arm that stuck out over the edge of the seat was patterned with a sheen of sweat that glistened pink and purple and blue. The spidery white fingers pooled onto the ground with the blood, whose two colours- one of life, the other of death- had mixed into maroon. The ratted blue fabric of the dead woman’s dressing-gown was a painfully bright turquoise in the dream, and the purple stains covering one side of her body almost looked as if they were meant to be there. One thing that definitely wasn’t supposed to be there, even in a dream that seemed personally designed by Leah’s mind to make her feel less guilty, was the massive chunk missing from Harriet’s head. The scalp was, as she’d originally thought after blowing it apart herself, just like an eggshell, and the thick lumps of black trickling over the mangled remains of one eye shimmered silver.

Perfectly self-aware, Leah tried to pinch her arm, tried to wake up and suck herself back into the stagnant darkness of the prison cell where she belonged. She was disgusted at her own mind’s depiction of a scene that was supposed to be hideous; the colours and glitters and gently hazy shapes were a ridiculous departure from the acrid gore and harsh reality of the murder she’d committed. There wasn’t even any red blood in sight.

That was, until she caught sight of her own knees.

She’d been trying to manoeuvre the ungainly arms of the body the dream had plonked her into, but they wouldn’t move. They were following their own stupid trajectory, wringing themselves together and curdling chunks of black together into thick soup. When she looked down to watch what was happening to Harriet’s blood, she caught sight of her own, crimson and thin, soaking through the worn denim of her jeans. It was dabbing Harriet’s carpet with scarlet, but it wasn’t hurting her.

She knew something was definitely wrong when she caught sight of herself.

There wasn’t a mirror in the dream. Leah, with grey dripping from her flushed face and black dripping from her blue-and-blonde hair, was on her knees behind the sofa, staring at her hands and shaking her head. Controlling herself almost remotely from the constraints of her prison bed, Leah- or the person whose eyes she was borrowing- George- got up as well.

As the two remaining human beings in Harriet’s living-room walked closer to one another- as Leah walked closer to the other version of herself- the colours and lights in her mind burned brighter and brighter. The eyes of the blonde woman with the blood-splattered face were shining with an even brighter blue than her hair as glittering silver tears fell onto the ground, and the screams obviously coming out of her mouth had been compressed into a melodic muffle.  Leah- on the prison bed- didn’t have any idea how to feel about being close to George again. She was so close, in fact, that she was borrowing his eyes and using his taller perspective to see herself at the lowest point in her life.

It was in his body that she wrapped her arms- or his arms- around the dream-version of herself. In the dream, the two murderers were hugging each other, just as they had three days earlier, and spreading black blood all over one another as they sobbed in shock.

She could feel the shaking in Leah’s shoulders transferring into George’s body, and she could feel the dampness of the blood and the tears on both of their cheeks. For a moment, as she buried her head in the mass of blonde hair below her chin, she lost sight of Harriet’s mangled body, and all she saw was gold. It was easy to sink down, to lose herself in the dream, and to forget that the stupid reality of the dream and the stupid reality of reality ever existed at all. It was quiet.

And in the silence, her spine started to tingle with electric chills.

The skin of George’s arms in the dream, and of Leah’s arms back in the real world, prickled with the slightest of goosebumps. Then, the unease intensified into anxiety as her skin and flesh started to squeeze tighter. Letting the sensation fill her up, Leah tried to swallow as her throat clogged with a lump of fear, but she’d forgotten she was still asleep. The dream was controlling what she was seeing, and it was controlling what she was feeling. What she was feeling, as she knelt on a blood-splattered carpet inside her mind and lay on the cold stiff mattress in real life, was what some of the more flamboyant medical professionals she knew referred to as a sense of impending doom.

Something terrible was about to happen.

Leah watched with passive curiosity as the black-splattered white room stayed completely the same. Then, the grip around Leah’s shoulders tightened in the dream and both George’s hands settled into the space between her shoulder-blades. She felt her fingers prickling with chills, and then, she felt her chest flooding with a thin chill that seeped through her spine and into her heart.

The scream withered before it even reached her lips.

It doesn’t count.

He was still alive.

As the rainbow medley of the murder scene tilted and spun and bled itself scarlet, Leah was sucked out of her own head and back onto the cold mattress, underneath the chilly blanket. Was it the bed making her cold? No, of course not. This was the twenty-first century. The prison had central heating.

The cold was bleeding out from her heart.

It can’t be.

Can it?

The memory of her three-day headache gave her her answer.

An electric bolt of ice shot down her back and sprung her upright in the bed, burning and freezing her head and her heart. Her hands were clawing fistfuls of the blanket from around her bare legs as her knees shot up to her chest, trembling, with every single scrap of hair standing on edge. Freezing sweat was gluing unwashed strands of blue hair to her forehead, but her cheek was even wetter, and when she lifted up a shaking hand to wipe her face, she was rewarded with a dirty smear of black. Her stomach contorted, her throat stung with acid, and suddenly her mouth was full of something thick and lumpy that tasted fouler than raw sewage. Leah bent double with the pain and rolled over, falling out of bed. She started spluttering and spitting long strings of ruined vomit onto the floor, gasping and heaving and trembling and weeping acidic tears. Her head may have been on fire, but her heart had finished burning and was spitting smouldering ashes into her veins.

For a second, everything was silent.

All those days. All that hope. All that effort for nothing.

Leah threw back her head, arched her back and screamed, letting the ugly sound drown the room until she couldn’t breathe.

And then, the convulsions started.

Another slash of agony threw her onto her back, and her ragged fingertips scraped and clawed at the ground as her neck snapped and twisted, swinging her head harder and harder into the space under the bed as whimpers fluttered from her lips and perished. Her throat was glued together with the foul taste and she couldn’t breathe, but it didn’t matter, because her heartbeat was a hail of rocks in her chest and her head was freezing black and burning white. She wanted George, but he was dead. She wanted her parents, but they didn’t want her. She wanted to pass out. She wanted to sleep. She wanted to be anywhere but here.

Dead or alive, as long as she didn’t hurt anyone else, she just wanted it to stop.

Please, nightmare, take me back.

It was no use.

This is what happened to George. This is how you become a monster.

Every cycle of agony just made the room burn brighter.

As the seizure ended, Leah could feel the taut tug loosening its grip on her muscles, but instead of lying on the floor and letting the strength drain out of her skin and through the cracks in the plaster, she struggled to her feet. Every bone and every muscle seemed to try to twist in the wrong direction, but she gritted her teeth and took another step. As she collapsed onto the bed, she felt her thoughts, all of them, all the happy and sad and hazy and clear and strange and normal memories she had in her head, starting to crumble into dust.

She thought of the woman she’d killed on the sofa.

What was her name?

She thought of the man she’d found dead on her kitchen floor.

What was his name?

She lay on the bed and tried to picture herself.

What’s my name?

She squeezed her eyes shut as they blazed the black room whiter, ignoring the pulses of light starting to cloud her vision, and managed to latch onto the last thought she still had. It stuck, unable to move, between her ears, and she focused on it and pinned it down with all the strength she still had. That strength wasn’t going to be enough for long.

No more killing. Die before you kill.

It was the last promise she had.

Through the whitening haze of mist, Leah imagined what would happen in the morning. A police officer would come to get her, unlock the cell door. Perhaps he’d be infected already, or perhaps not, but it didn’t matter. She’d get out. And then she’d infect other people. If Leah let the white clouds of bullshit wipe her mind clear for good, like they’d done to George, she’d be taken over and used. Used to kill other people.

George had broken promises, her parents had broken promises, and Jamie must have broken more promises than anyone. Leah, however, had never broken a promise before.

I wonder how it makes you feel. Happy? Sad? Scared? Confused? Proud? I’ve got none of those emotions left.

All she had was a broken body and one thought.

She was lying on the bed like a smashed china doll, one leg bent so far back that it should have been burning with agony. Grabbing all the muscle strength she still had, Leah managed to direct it at her left arm and jerk her hand up into the air, over her chest. She grabbed the corner of the mattress and pulled herself back onto the floor, panting and trying to hear past the buzzing in her ears. It occurred to her that she’d probably fallen into the pool of vomit, but it didn’t matter, because she couldn’t feel anything anyway. Then, she felt her two remaining fingers closing around something smooth and hard. When she tilted her wrist to drag it towards her, lukewarm liquid spilled onto her arm. She’d forgotten all about the glass of water she’d been brought, but then again, she’d forgotten almost everything else as well.

Leah used the bed to pull herself back up onto the pathetic, useless twigs those alien bastards had left her for legs. As a final pulse of electricity injected itself through her nerves, her arm jerked and the glass struck the wall and shattered. Leah tightened her fist around the remaining shards of glass, watching burgundy blood falling through the creases in her palm and into her sleeve. Then, the strength left her knees and she fell face-first back onto the floor. Bits of the room were dissolving, one by one, in a seething pit of acid that was burning and rotting her brain inside her skull.

As she struggled desperately to raise her head out of the mess of blood and sick, Leah caught sight of her own reflection in a piece of broken glass. The skin on her face was encrusted with black, and everything looked grey in the red glow of the apocalypse, but she could see the electric glow starting to burn the blue from her eyes.

Leah gave in to the force of gravity and let her fist fall back down, still clutching the shards of glass. She screamed as cold pressure thudded onto her chest, but as her fingers finally loosened, she wasn’t conscious of any sound. Her heart gave a massive agonising lurch as the throb in her blood withered and died, but she wasn’t conscious of any sensation.

All Leah was conscious of, just as the blinding sensation of dizziness swooped in to turn all her thoughts bright white, was a feeling of triumph and a wet pain in her chest that was sharper than the burning. As the whiteness in her vision and the ringing in her ears went away, she could hear George’s voice. It could have been in her head, or it could have been coming from the cracked screen of the phone under her pillow. She didn’t care anymore. She was safe.

I foiled your stupid bullshit plan, you stupid bullshit aliens.

Leah smiled, letting red blood seep from between her teeth as her eyes turned white and her vision turned black.

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