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.


26. Freezing Hell

Jamie had been tracking Robert for the last twenty-four hours, and by that, he meant he’d been driving blindly down a relatively straight bit of road, pausing every time he saw a depression in the undergrowth and hoping he wasn’t just chasing the epic journey of some random wild animal. Once, about two hours and a hundred miles ago, he’d seen an old man throwing up over the fence of a field that probably wasn’t his, staining the beige stalks of grass black. He’d stopped, asked him for directions, and then put him out of his misery. His mind was telling him it had to be done, and his heart was telling him basically the same thing, but with slightly less conviction. Whatever was the right thing to do, killing had long since made him sick to his stomach. Past his stomach, in fact. Morals weren’t even a part of it anymore, but all the way through his muscles and bones and gullet and brain and gut and heart, Jamie had had enough of the sight of blood. The knives sat uselessly on the floor of the passenger seat, practically gathering dust as the lumps of ruined blood hardened on the blades. He hadn’t bothered to wash it off. He was done with hiding. And, since leaving the girl with the ginger hair to rot with her girlfriend at the side of the road over a day and a night ago, he’d decided he wanted to be done with killing too.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t kept that promise for long.

As the sky darkened and signs for the Scottish border started frequenting the road, the narrow tangle of bushes on his left arched upwards into a forest. The dead trees stood out in grey-white pinstripes against the black night, striping the ground with perfectly parallel shadows that flashed moonlight in and out of the car as he drove alongside it. Jamie had been tracking a random squiggle of trodden- down grass and bushes which wound in and out of the fields, and now, that path had deviated through the trampled remains of a fence, across the road, and disappeared into the woods.

If that’s Robert’s trail I’ve been following, Jamie thought as he brought the car into a crawl at the edge of the woods, the climax of this journey is going to be stupidly annoying.

The woods had grown even thicker in the last couple of miles, and the strips of moonlight along the road had almost vanished completely, leaving everything pretty damned dark. Despite remembering to pack food and two bottles of water, one of which had turned out to be vodka but he’d drank anyway, for his three-day journey, as well as throwing away his phone and supplying himself with enough weaponry to kill twenty-seven people, Jamie had completely forgotten to pack a torch. He’d obviously just been hoping he’d never have to track the monster with glowing white eyes through a freezing, spooky forest in the north of England in the middle of the night. The whole thing just seemed too ridiculously cliché. And yet, after all this time, here he was.

It’s not exactly the ends of the earth, but it’ll do.

The entire landscape was steeped in darkness when Jamie pulled over and got out to stand on the deserted road. He had one knife in each hand and shoved each, blade-first, through the lining of his pocket to keep it in place. Every inch of the car he’d stolen was rusted to death, and the groan of the door opening reminded him of the mournful cry of something that was dying. When he eventually worked up the courage to close it, the CLANG jarred the air and turned into five as it echoed through the trees. Everything was quiet for a second, but the panicked noise an animal was making in the middle of the woods rattled clean through him as if he wasn’t there at all. Unfortunately, for whatever life Robert Walker was still hoping to cling to, Jamie was there. And, until the man who’d started this whole ridiculous mess was dead, properly dead, he wasn’t going anywhere.

The shrubs at the edge of the trees had been wrecked and flattened, almost ground into the mud, by someone or something passing through. Jamie doubted that he was on the trail of anyone other than Robert Walker, but then again, the possibilities are endless when you’re a fucking idiot.

He sighed and put his hands on his hips to check the location of the knives.

Deeper into the spooky forest it is.

Jamie left his crappy car unlocked, stepped through the mess of shrubs Robert Walker had already pushed aside for him, and ploughed into the first wave of trees.

He could see now that he’d parked at the very corner of the woods, and that, about half a mile or so down the hill, the trees ran out into what could have been open land or a field. Jamie inhaled the musty smell of soil and twigs and bird shit, letting the frost hanging in the air cut through his head and sharpen his senses as he cautiously ran a finger along the handle of one knife.

If he was lucky, Robert Walker would be dead by the end of the night.

If he was unlucky, well… there were a few possibilities. Death was one of them. Maybe he’d get infected, or maybe it’d happen even before then. Maybe he’d fall into a hole or get gored by a bear or some kind of mutant squirrel. Another potential ending was getting arrested, but then again, that was bound to happen eventually. The only thing that wasn’t clear yet was whether he’d be getting arrested for thirty-five murders, or thirty-six.

Far away from the filthy skies of town, the blue of the Milky Way stood out like a dribble of glitter, framed with blurry smears of silver cloud. Instead of marvelling at the beauty and majesty of outer space, though, or whatever it was stupid people did when they had time to waste, Jamie just ignored it. Looking up, watching the dead spikes of tree growing smaller and smaller until they tapered off hundreds of feet above him, made him feel dizzy and sick. The twigs beneath his boots snapped and crumpled as he stumbled, almost falling over, and it was then that he decided he was glad he didn’t live in the countryside.

Fuck nature.

Way back in university, Jamie had briefly dated a guy called Martin who’d been studying astrophysics. Martin, for some reason, had adored space and the stars more than the life-sustaining air he breathed. He’d known all the names of the stupid patterns in the sky off by heart, even though Jamie had never been able to distinguish the crazy-ass Latin words from the ones he’d learnt at medical school, and sometimes, when the night was perfectly clear, he’d drag Jamie out of town into the middle of nowhere, just to make him look up at the damned sky. Jamie had never understood what was so bloody special about the Milky Way. It just looked like a dramatically bigger version of the mess his older brother left on the kitchen counter when he made tea. Even before something from outer space had wrecked everything that was good about his life, Jamie had always been nervous of the sky. You never knew who or what was going to fall out of it.

Fuck nature, and fuck outer space.

More and more trees passed as he carried on walking, whipping past in a blur as if he was still driving at sixty miles an hour. The thin wash of light at the edge of the forest was growing larger, and the bottom of the hill was getting closer. He could make out the black outline of a house against the blacker sky, a vague jumble of angular shapes whose light was pouring from a couple of windows on the lower storey.

As he got closer, the shape of the building became clearer in the half-formed mist and a thin silver streak of wire materialised against the hillside. It seemed to be cutting off the garden, or, more likely, a field.

Oh, fuck. Not another fucking field.

Harriet Hyde had been taken from a field, and so had Robert Walker. Jamie knew all of this because he’d been obsessed with the man in ward five from the moment he realised he was connected to the murdered sheep. The articles he’d read and the photos he’d seen were the reason why, as Jamie’s trail drew him closer and closer to the back of the tiny house on the hill, he realised he recognised it.

The last time he’d seen this house, it had been in a hazy black-and-white photograph on the front page of some crappy newspaper, but Jamie could remember every little detail of that photo, from the massive hole in the undergrowth to the black-and-white lumps lying in the field, all the way down to the splatters of black blood coating every last stalk of grass. Obviously, the dead sheep had been removed since the photo had been taken and most of the blood was invisible in the darkness, but Jamie knew that the trail had led him right back to Robert Walker’s house.

Right back where all this bullshit started.

Jamie squinted hard against the dark blobs and stripes that made up the landscape, but he couldn’t see anything that could have been suspicious. The moon had disappeared behind a few silvering smudges of cloud and the sky was almost as black as the ground. Even the stars, those stupid, useless, untrustworthy stars, seemed to have dimmed, and the clouds were converging into a circle. That was the first sign something was wrong.

The second sign something was wrong was the huge flash of red light that painted the entire hillside scarlet. The third was the figure it highlighted, standing stock-still in the very centre of the garden.

He was so perfectly still that Jamie would have bet he was a scarecrow, but although Robert Walker’s dead-eyed face must have been pretty effective at scaring crows, that probably wasn’t why he was there. Whatever the hell Robert was doing in his garden, and whatever the fuck the red lights were doing back in the sky, Jamie didn’t care. After all, he wasn’t just there to scare crows either.

Jamie shielded his eyes against the sudden assault of bright light, feeling his other hand checking the location of his knives as the scarlet shooting stars burned brighter in the sky. Then, he sucked in breath, relinquished the last scrap of control he still had over his anger, and started to sprint away from the woods and towards his target.

The dried grass Robert was standing on had been compressed and ground into the soil, creating a messy circle like an impact crater. In the blood-crimson wash of light, Robert’s shadow slashed the ground for twenty feet or more, splayed into a million fragments by the green and yellow undergrowth. The blue of his hospital gown had been rotted grey by wind and rain, stained black by blood and vomit, but then again, all colours looked grey and black in the red glow of the apocalypse.

Jamie glanced up at Robert as he ran, which was his first mistake. His head lurched at the sudden change of plan and he went sprawling onto the grass next to the fence, rolling onto one of his knives and cutting a stripe of red blood out of his right thigh. He winced and rolled over onto his back, already panting. Lying as he was on the ground, he could see a pulsing smear of scarlet gradually creating a rip in the black night sky, flaring and receding directly above where Robert was standing. Or, at least, that was where Robert had been standing.

When Jamie threw himself off the ground and back onto his feet, Robert had noticed him. That wasn’t surprising, considering Jamie was the least stealthy person ever to grace the planet with his annoyingly loud presence. What was surprising, even after thirty-six separate encounters with monsters just like Robert, was the ridiculous speed with which he was approaching and the blaring pinpricks of his eyes that burned through the red haze like electric torches. Robert’s beard and hair were matted with week-old chunks of black saliva and blood, and his grey skin was so dry it resembled plastic. A rip up the side of his leg barely preserved a scrap of blood and the matching rip up the side of his gown only barely preserved his dignity, but then again, he was dead. It wasn’t like he gave a shit about his appearance.

Jamie didn’t have a time to give a shit either before the monster was on top of him.

“Shit!” Jamie yelled, kicking Robert in the chest on instinct and sending him flailing onto the scarlet-dipped grass. He hurdled the fence and landed on his hip, scraping his elbow on a piece of barbed wire as he jumped back to his feet. The light in the sky was getting brighter. Robert barely even flinched, landing on dead-straight arms and hurling himself back up again without so much as a stutter. Jamie crossed his arms over his hips as the monster came back at him, pulling both knives free and slashing them forwards and sideways to rake two massive welts into Robert’s stomach. Robert didn’t even miss a beat as dark droplets started spraying from his wounds and peppering his uninvited visitor with blood. The night was dark; it was too bloody dark for an epic fight, even though the sky was crimson and purple instead of black. Jamie couldn’t see what was going on through the blur, but he’d started it, so now he had to finish it. As his second wild stab completely missed and knocked him back into the fence, he looked up to see that the Milky Way had become a dribble of blood and the rift between the clouds was tearing wider and wider open.

Jamie wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but he’d known, from the second he’d first been told about Robert Walker’s black blood, that the infection was spread with some kind of toxin. Driving and blindly stabbing for three days had given him plenty more time to think, and he reckoned that once enough people were infected, there’d be some kind of signal. One that would kill everyone. Maybe that was why they needed Robert back, but maybe not. Maybe they just wanted to carry out a repair job on their first prototype, or do a couple more experiments. Maybe they were going to take everything back and make everything okay again, but he doubted it. Jamie didn’t know what the fuck the bastards with their red lights in the sky wanted with Robert Walker again, but he was going to make damn sure they didn’t get it.

Whatever they wanted, they probably weren’t expecting that their plans could be ruined by a short, half-insane redheaded bloke armed to the teeth with two bloody great kitchen knives. Jamie grinned against the overwhelming pain in his leg as he tore his body back off the ground.

“I’m Jamie Cloverfield, and I’m here to FUCK up your SHIT!” he screamed, even louder, as the light above them burned white and the ground around them burned orange. A fat droplet of fire detached itself from the rip in the sky and began to tumble down towards them.


Robert Walker reached Jamie in a flash, fixed him with a luminous glare, and pressed his hand fully-splayed onto Jamie’s heart.

Double fuck.

“Oh.” Jamie said, glancing down as a freezing burning sensation filled his veins. He looked back up at Robert. “Thanks for that.”

The sky was bleeding redder around them. The light was falling closer, but Robert Walker had stopped fighting back, and Jamie had had enough of sightseeing.

He twisted both knives around in his hands, shook his head to clear away the first symptoms of his three-day death sentence, and drove them both into Robert Walker’s chest with so much force he lifted him off his feet.

Jamie gasped and flung them both to the side as the air sizzled and the light reached them.

Then, after what seemed like an age of noise and flashing, there was silence and darkness. The light had vanished into nothing, and Jamie and Robert were both still lying in the field. One of them was in better shape than the other.

Jamie looked up at the man impaled on both his knives as the last of the black sludge drained out of his chest and mouth. There was a slight splutter of blood, and then, the light in Robert’s eyes went out for good.

“Nothing personal,” Jamie panted, yanking both his knives free and dumping the body of his thirty-sixth unlucky victim into the grass. He paused and looked down at his chest.

“Actually, never mind, man. That was all personal.”

He staggered out of the field, scaled the fence with all the elegance of someone smashed out of his mind on drugs and alcohol, and collapsed into a messy heap on the ground under the black sky. He could already feel the headache starting to whine and moan at the back of his head, but that could just as easily have been the vodka.

After a minute of panting and whimpering over his slightly cut leg, trying to decide whether or not he cared about his infection, the rest of the drukenness kicked in and Jamie got cocky. He stood up and almost stumbled as the blood was sucked from his head, bracing his arms against the wire fence and stabbing his fist randomly up at the sky.

“HA!” Jamie screamed, slurring his words like the drunken idiot he was. “I foiled your STUPID BULLSHIT plan, you STUPID BULLSHIT aliens!”

The sky, just as it was supposed to, stayed completely silent and black.

“I’d love to see the looks on your DUMBASS FACES right now! YEAH! Score ONE for the earthlings! FUCK you! Go BACK to MARS, you dumb pieces of SHIT!

The sky was still black. Nobody was listening.

Jamie sighed, letting his voice drop back into its regular state, which was actually only slightly quieter than his drunken yell. He paused, collapsing back into the damp grass as the first signs of pink bled into the horizon.

“That was for my friend George,” Jamie said, leaning his head against the fence-post to watch the stars. He paused. “Oh, and Harriet. And, uh… Doctor King. Yeah. Her too. And…”

Shit. There’s too many.

“And Pavel and Rachel, and, and… and that one guy who fell on the floor, and that one guy who got stabbed through the throat and that other lady and the eight people I stabbed in the hospital. Yeah, that was for all of them.”

Jamie panted.

“And also, uh… Mabel and the bus driver. And Lisa and Karen and Jim and that stupid hipster guy and all those other Malworth people I forgot the names of. And also Georgia. Her too. And Anna.” His voice caught when he said Anna’s name, but he ignored it. “And all the other people you guys FUCKED UP! Well, I mean, to a certain extent, I helped, but it was all for the greater good, right?”

His voice dropped. “Right?” he whispered to himself.

Nobody heard his question. His voice echoed off a hundred trees and bounced back through sheets of empty darkness.

He was alone.

Suddenly, the sound of a door opening and the subsequent scream of horror made him turn around, jarring his neck as he nursed his aching chest. There was someone standing in the doorway of the farmhouse, and Jamie was willing to bet it was Robert’s mother.

Her son was lying in the middle of a crop circle like some kind of fucked-up satanic sacrifice, in a pool of his own blood, wearing a ruined hospital gown with two knives sticking out of his chest. No wonder she was screaming and calling for her husband.

Right, Jamie thought, getting to his feet with as much elegance as his victory-drunk and literally drunk ass could muster. Time to leave.

The journey through the forest was much less creepy. He was infected now, after all, so he had no fear of bears or mutant squirrels.

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