Monsters and Machines

NOMMED FOR MOVELLA OF THE YEAR 2017

Nabdale is the most boring town in England. It’s muddy, it’s rainy, it’s full of cabbages, and all its residents can talk about is the lights in the sky.

On Sunday night, the lights come down, and barely anyone notices. The few who take notice have three days before they’re silenced. First comes the headache. Then, the nightmares begin. And after that, there’s no waking up.

As a very crazy, very real conspiracy theory takes Nabdale by storm, the residents are forced to push the boundaries of what they believe, and what they’ll do to survive. They’ll have to watch their loved ones suffer; they’ll have to abandon their normal lives, and everything they thought they knew about humanity. They’ll have to die. They’ll have to kill. Sickness and hysteria spread like wildfire, and the plot only gets stupider. It’s the end of the world, and they’re either too early, or too late, to stop it. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try.

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10. Just a Theory

#98: ROBERT WALKER AND HARRIET HYDE: MAGICAL MENDING (WO)MEN OF NABDALE

Hey, everyone. How are you doing? Good? Good. I’m glad. Because I’m doing absolutely dreadfully. If you wanna know why, it’s because I, as previously mentioned many, many, MANY many times, live in Nabdale.

And Nabdale happens to be on the brink of a fucking apocalypse.

Okay, okay. Let me explain. If any of you haven’t seen the news, let me enlighten you. Yesterday, which happened to be a Wednesday, 08/11, a patient at Nabdale General Hospital fell out of a third-storey window and landed in the car park. (Well, more specifically, he landed in a bush, but ain’t none of that matter.) And then, he got back up and ran off merrily into the sunset. (Technically into the forest.) Now, I obviously wasn’t there to see it. Not many people were; just a few doctors and the vast majority of the waiting-room, as far as I could gather. But I’m not clueless about this. Now, I’m picky about who I share my identity with, for obvious reasons (I know what happens to people like me. I’m not letting myself get carried off by the Men in Black.), but I want you all to be assured that I’m telling the truth, so you all ought to know that it happens to be my full-time job to know these things. I always thought confidentiality was bullshit, which is why I’m sharing (or about to share) all this information with you. You might want to know why, after all this damned time rabbiting on about green lights, I’ve suddenly moved onto the even-less-believable Mending Man of Nabdale. But it’s all connected. Sit back and allow me to elaborate.

The man who fell out of the hospital’s third-floor window was named Robert Walker. He was twenty-three years old. He lived on a farm on the outskirts of Nabdale with his parents- the farm is located at the top of a hill range to the north of the town, directly above the valley where the third green light fell on Sunday night. His middle name was Peter, he was unmarried, unemployed, and the window he fell out of was the window of Ward Five, the third intensive care unit on that floor. On the day he disappeared, and for the previous three days, that ward had been completely unoccupied aside from him. And that, my friends, was because the hospital’s staff were trying to hide what was happening to him. When he was admitted, having been found at the bottom of a ravine after a rainstorm on Monday morning, bone-dry without a scratch on his body, he was placed by the hospital’s pitifully stupid team of trainees in the trauma ward to stay the night. The next morning, they took one look at his vitals and isolated him immediately. Why? Because he had a burning fever, an impossibly high blood pressure, a painfully panicked pulse (appreciate the alliteration? Sit tight, coz there’s so much to get through in 2,000 words or less that I don’t reckon I’ve got time for jokes.) and a headache so splittingly bad he was seeing things that weren’t there and forgetting his own name. I wasn’t there for any of this, obviously, but I know it’s the truth. By Wednesday, he was drifting in and out of coma-like stupor, his brain seemingly failing to do all but keep his heart beating, and at around lunchtime, black veins started appearing on his skin. Or, should I say, UNDER his skin. The blood sample they took from him that evening was solid BLACK. That’s right, his BLOOD was BLACK, and the consistency was NOT RIGHT. It was way too thin, and then it curdled into way too thick. And then, right after they’d taken that blood sample, get this…

Robert Walker died.

He died. His heart, which’d still been going cuckoo-mental, just suddenly stopped, and no amount of CPR could fucking force it to start again. I know. Please, PLEASE don’t ask me how I know. (I know you’re going to, anyway; just don’t expect me to answer. At least for the first few days. I might buckle after that if I’m still alive.) Poor old Robert Peter Walker, pounded into the ground by a green light, was pronounced dead after twenty minutes of attempted resuscitation, and his heart never started again.

“But wait!” I hear you cry as I switch on my supersonic hearing once again. “How could he have died? You just said he jumped out of a window and vanished, never to be found!”

Well.

*Rubs hands together*

Please note that I said HIS HEART NEVER STARTED AGAIN.

However, I never said he didn’t get back up again.

Obviously, I’m no scientist. I’m no doctor. I just drink and know things. (Game of Thrones reference.) And what I know is that ten minutes or so after Robert Walker was pronounced dead, and THIRTY minutes after his heart had stopped in the first place, he jumped out of a third-floor window by himself, picked himself up, assumedly shoving all those broken bones back into place with some kind of voodoo magic, and ran off into the sunset/forest before any man or machine could stop him. And another thing I know is that he opened his eyes again without starting up the heart monitor.

Yeahhh, here it is, folks: The wackiest theory ever to grace sci-fi! (But NOT, weirdly enough, the wackiest theory ever to grace this blog. THAT honour has to go to the genetically modified tarantulas in Aldi bananas- see blog post #87.) I feel the need to point out, though; this ain’t no theory. At least, what I’ve TOLD you so far ain’t no theory. What I’m ABOUT to tell you ain’t no theory.

And there’s more.

You guys may or may not believe me when I say the lights in the sky are connected to this strange sickness that killed and resurrected poor Robert. And I don’t blame you. I’m actually convinced the vast majority of you guys don’t believe a word I tell you. I bet the whole stinking half-million of you just follow me because I’m hilarious, or I have good grammar, or you’re mind-numbingly bored and want to laugh at someone who talks bat-shit-fucking-crazy nonsense. If so, that’s fine. I appreciate you all. Except the ones who draw the fanart. But here’s the thing: THIS time, unlike a lot of the other times, I have more evidence. And I’m not going to pretend I’m not sure it’s all connected, because it IS.

Here’s what else I know.

Now, when I started off on the Robert-Walker tirade, I acknowledged a few of you might have read it in the news. It’s fair to say the hospital’s doing a mighty fine job of keeping all this shit surrounding Robert pretty damned quiet. Kudos to them for that. As such, that poor guy, whose parents even admitted he’d done nothing of note in his life whatsoever, barely got a column in the Nabdale Post. Poor sod. But if you missed THAT, it’s entirely likely it’s because you were reading the OTHER top story this week. Which was- SAY it with me now- THE DEATH OF HARRIET HYDE. Same day, within three hours of what happened to Robert. Allow me to continue.

My job’s such that I don’t know as much about this. Of course, I could be lying to you about that to protect my identity, but consider this: If I WAS lying to protect my identity, I wouldn’t have just said that. Although, of course, it could be a triple bluff, and what I’ve just said is actually a brilliant way to confuse you so much you leave the scent behind and go back home to your dog-biscuits and nice warm bed. Go home. No clues to my real identity here. At all. Not that my name, if you DID find it out, would mean anything to you. It’s a pretty damned cool name, but not a famous one or anything. Anyway: I apologise. I’ve been distracted talking about myself, when really, if anyone deserves the focus of this blog to be on them, it’s the thirty-six-year-old single mother who was found brutally killed in her home while her son slept upstairs.

Notice that phrase? BRUTALLY KILLED. Recognise it at all? If you do, it’s because it’s the same phrase all the papers, local and national, used. They never mentioned HOW she was killed, now, did they? She could’ve had her guts spilled. Or her head chopped off. Or her throat cut. Or… okay, you know what? You get the idea. This case, no matter how famous the police has let it become in the mere twenty-four hours since it happened, has been kept DETAIL-FREE. And that is very unusual, especially in a case that has already been CLOSED. Notice how nobody, including my intelligent self, has used the word MURDER. The police aren’t looking for anyone else in connection with the death, even though we can gather merely from the phrasing of the damned articles that it wasn’t an accident. The police statement given out at the time said, and I quote, in capital letters to once again emphasise my point, “WE HAVE TAKEN ALL RELEVANT SUSPECTS INTO CUSTODY.” And then, for fuck’s sake, this MORNING, they released another statement. THIS time, they said, and I quote again, “WE ARE NOT TREATING THE DEATH AS SUSPICIOUS.”

Now, isn’t that just a lovely heaping slice of SUSPICIOUS AS FUCK with a hefty drizzle of COVER-UP ICING? (See that? A metaphor. Can’t tell me my English studies are going to waste.)

And here it is, the cherry on top: Harriet Hyde’s address was number seven, Church Road, Nabdale. Sound bad? No? (There are millions of Church Roads in England, because every fourth building is a fucking church- it’s the second-most-common street name in the country after High Street, so don’t worry if it doesn’t sound bad just yet. (On a separate note, there isn’t actually a High Street in Nabdale.)) Now, remember what I said about where the green lights fell on Sunday night? One in the very distance, in a residential area, that’s still unaccounted for. One in the valley where Robert Walker was found. And one on the northern outskirts of the town, directly opposite the church. THAT one, my friends, did the same to Harriet Hyde what the third and final one did to Robert Walker. And THAT is a theory, but I know I’m right.

Why else would the police cover up what they’re trying to sell as a simple open-and-shut case? Maybe because the woman they found when they broke down the door wasn’t a WOMAN at all, but a zombie. A machine. With black blood. What would you, if YOU were a straight-laced no-nonsense peace-keeping officer of the law, say to that? And why would they let those suspects go, whoever they happen to be, whatever they were doing in her house when she came back from the dead, when they had, and I quote again, “BRUTALLY KILLED” an innocent woman?

Exactly.

The FACTS are as follows: Lights come down from the sky and infect people with an inhuman sickness. After three days, they die and after thirty more minutes or so, they get back up again without any of their vital signs of life.

From there, it’s a short jump to reach the THEORY: Aliens are turning people from Nabdale into robotic, enhanced zombies for unknown purposes, probably nefarious. World domination. Or, at least, COUNTY domination. I dunno if this is happening anywhere else, but if not, those alien bastards must not be too keen on reaching the whole world. They’re in Nabdale. That’s it. So far.

So far.

Now, I don’t wanna spoil anything for you lot, which is why I’m holding my cards until I’m surer on more of my evidence. Because believe you me, I have SHEDLOADS more theory threads to pull into this intricately sewn apocalypse sweater. (Look- a second metaphor!!)

I’ll be doing some more digging this afternoon- can’t give more details than that without dramatically revealing my identity to the world. So expect another update before the next sunrise. Nice after-dinner/late-night/work-procrastination reading for you.

Till then,

That Conspiracy Twat.

George knew he’d been right not to let Leah touch him. The last twenty-four hours had been hell on Earth, sure enough, and the fact that his skin still felt like it was bubbling even after an hour-long shower wasn’t the half of it. He’d scrubbed off every last ounce of that blood, every last ounce of those brains, as soon as he’d walked into the police station, because the smell had been so unbearably bad that even the bloke who’d arrested him had seemed rattled. Then again, as the blogger had said, that could easily have been because of the mess they’d left in the kitchen.

George and Leah had been released thanks to a lack of evidence. They hadn’t lied; in fact, they’d told the whole truth, and they probably hadn’t been believed, but that didn’t matter. The police had believed enough to rule self-defence, make a tentative comment to them to keep this quiet, and let them go. It’d all been very weird, and George was suspicious, and George was terrified. The blogger, whoever the fuck he was, whoever the fuck he thought he was, and however the fuck he’d gotten hold of all that confidential information about George’s patient, had been right about everything. Everything, that was, but the lights in the sky. The lights in the sky were bullshit; they were hallucinations, and they were fucking plot points this deluded idiot with a laptop had made up to make the story seem more interesting. Then again, the alien argument was as unimportant now as Robert Walker’s middle name and marital status, because the zombie argument was real and vicious and terrifying.

He’d had a nightmare that night. He’d have understood it if it’d been about Harriet; that smell, lingering on his skin, that blood, dripping back into his hands and refusing to come off, those eyes, boring right into his skull till they burned holes through him and knocked him cold. That woman, and her body being used as a puppet, and her face being used as a mask to hide the lack of humanity behind those eyes. Those eyes. Those eyes. Oh, Christ. They’d haunted every one of his waking seconds since the moment she’d first opened them, sure, but they didn’t even touch him once he’d fallen asleep. Instead, his nightmares were dragged with black and grey, walls closing in and moulding around him and pinning his arms to his sides; the sky running liquid and coating his skin and burning, burning, burning. And green flashes falling from that sky, blinding him and tossing him upwards and downwards and sideways. Stealing the breath from his mouth and the heat from his blood and weakening him till he melted into nothing.

And when he woke up on Thursday morning, he had a headache. More vicious than he’d ever felt before. The bloody stress was destroying him, even though he was so free from stress now it should’ve bent him the other way. He’d been suspended from work, of course- kept away from the other ill patients till the case was neatly closed and they knew for sure he wasn’t going to try to collect any more skull fragments. Fuck this investigation. His work was his everything, and not because he loved it; he loathed it with every molecule of his being, because it filled him with hideous memories, but it gave him something to do. Something to obsess over. Fixate on. He needed it- every shift, every voluntary overtime, every moment at home that Leah had to drag him away from to force him to eat or sleep. How was he supposed to live without his work? He couldn’t. And he couldn’t relax, either; fuck the thought of it. He just stressed. For twenty-four hours, he stressed and stressed and stressed. And the stress had given him a headache, and the blood had given him a fucking rash, and now he was ruined.

A single day had ruined him for life.

With no work to fixate on, George had turned himself to research. It wasn’t good for him- this constant stream of information that only served to add to his stress in the end- but he didn’t care, because until the moment he shut the computer down, he could keep all that fear at bay. He was a doctor. He could have just used his head to come to the same conclusions he ended up with. But reading the musings of others- That Conspiracy Twat, for instance- was just god-damned entertaining.

The problem was, though, that Conspiracy Twat wasn’t stupid. He’d been absolutely right about everything so far, sure, and it seemed it was only a matter of time before he figured the rest out, too. No matter how perfectly logical and flawlessly airtight this theory was in George’s head, he could go on kidding himself it was bullshit until somebody else came to the same conclusion. The moment he read something online, in black and white, in the cold electric white light of day, was the moment he started believing it.

And here it was, whilst it was still just a theory:

For two of the three days before Robert Walker’s death, his heartbeat and, by consequence, his pulse, had been getting faster and faster and faster. That, to George, meant that his brain had been ordering his heart to pump his blood faster to get… something into his organs. Whatever the fuck it was. Whenever heart rate increased because of exercise, it was to pump more oxygen. Whatever was in Robert’s blood, though, wasn’t oxygen; he’d barely been breathing fast enough to stay conscious. George remembered Harriet’s brain, and how it’d turned into grey soup. And how her blood had been curdled black muck. Three days ago, or whenever this infection had really begun, something had entered her blood that’d turned it black and poisoned her brain, shut it down from the inside. George knew that because stabbing her in the heart had stopped her. Not the head. The head no longer mattered, because her brain no longer mattered. Her brain was dead, her body was dead, the rest of her organs- including her stomach, in fact, thanks to the vomiting- were dead.

Wherever the fuck this infection was, and however the fuck it brought its victims back from the dead, it was caused by something that entered the blood. A virus, maybe.

And he knew what viruses did. They spread.

Fucking brilliant.

* * * * * * * * * *

“You know I’m risking my job being here,” Jamie mumbled, fussing his cup of tea with his spoon as he stirred in yet another lump of sugar.

“I know.” George said. “I’m sorry. But I needed to talk to you. I needed to tell you something. And besides…” He looked up, daring to meet Jamie’s eyes. “You’re pretty damn risking your job already. Aren’t you?”

Jamie’s face flickered with genuine confusion. “What? What do you mean?”

George licked his dry lips with his drier tongue. “You know what I mean. And if I still had the power, you’d be fired now. I should tell Nora.”

“Tell her what?”

“What you’ve been doing.”

George.” Jamie laughed nervously, taking a gulp from his mug. “I have no idea what you mean. Anyway-”

“Jamie.” George’s voice was ripe with fury, but he pushed it down. God, he should’ve known the moment he’d seen it. He couldn’t believe it’d taken him a day to work it out. Then again, they only had twenty minutes before Jamie had to be back at work, and he needed to talk to him without the conversation dissolving into an argument.

“What?” Jamie still looked confused, and slightly frightened.

“N-nothing. I’m sorry.” George sighed, looking down. “I just… I’m a bit highly-strung at the moment. Ignore me.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.” Jamie said. “What you di… I mean, what happened to you… George, you need to know I don’t… I don’t believe any of the crap. I don’t… blame you. Or- or Leah.”

He’d told Jamie about Harriet when he’d called him to ask to meet up. He hadn’t been able to bear the thought of any more secrets, and besides, if it had waited to come out till they’d been sat in this café, it could’ve been a whole lot worse.

“Mm.” George sighed, shuddering at another flash of memories. The second her eyes had opened- that had been the single second playing over and over in his head ever since it’d happened. Not the head exploding. Not the knife going into her chest. The eyes opening, fixing on his. Hey, he didn’t pick the memories. “It’s okay. Look, about this, uh… About what’s happening.”

Jamie nodded, nervous. “Yeah?”

“I think I know what’s happening. I mean… I mean, roughly.”

“Okay.”

“And you’re the only trainee in that…” George bit his lip. “In the hospital’s pitifully stupid team of trainees, you’re the only one I t-trust.”

Something flashed across Jamie’s face- a look of recognition- before he wiped it away and smiled tiredly. “Thanks.”

“I think the infection is, uh… something to do with the blood.”

Jamie raised his eyebrow. “Huh.” ‘No shit’ was poised on the tip of Jamie’s tongue; George could see him fighting back.

“No. I mean… I mean, I reckon it’s a virus. That gets into your blood and gets pumped around to every other organ, like the brain. Harriet… Harriet… Her brain was soup. When your blood goes black- you know about that, right?”

Jamie nodded, dazed. “We picked up the blood sample syringe after you’d left.”

“Okay. And I reckon it kills every organ but your heart. If-”

“George, George.” Jamie held his hands up, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing. “Look, we already worked all that out.”

“You- you did?”

“Yeah.” Jamie sighed and leaned forwards. “And when I say we, I actually mean I. I made them analyse that blood sample myself because of it. That blood’s the key to working out what’s going on, but-”

“What? What were the results?”

Jamie blinked. “Huh?”

What were the results? Of the blood sample analysis?”

“Oh. There was something in it. Like, it looked like a virus, but not one I’d ever seen. But-”

“What did it look like?”

“George, I’m sorry, man. Really, I am. But the fact is that none of this fucking matters.”

George blinked in shock. “What- what do you… what do you mean?”

“I mean it doesn’t matter why this is all happening. It would’ve mattered if we’d found a virus we recognised. Wouldn’t it? Because then we’d be able to devise a treatment. And work out how to stop it from spreading. But this… It’s new. I don’t think it’s even a virus, to tell you the truth; there’s nothing we can do with that information anyway. We could science the hell out of it if we wanted to, right? But it wouldn’t amount to much, and people would still keep dying whilst we were busy fucking around with chemistry. We can’t force this to make sense, George. We just have to accept it doesn’t, and…” Jamie spun his empty teacup around. “Deal with it.”

George frowned. “What do you mean? What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying anything.”

“But I know the crap you believe, Jamie. I’m sorry. But how can you expect me to take anything you say seriously when I know for a fact you reckon it was alien spaceships that did this?”

Jamie laughed. “Man, you got me. But George, you’re not getting it. Look, I’m sorry you got suspended, and I’m sorry for what happened to you. Really, I am. But…” he laughed again. “What we do or don’t believe about this just doesn’t goddamned matter. What matters is what it’s doing, and we need to deal with what it’s doing, not what it is. Am I making any sense? I feel like I might be talking gibberish again.”

“You are.” George sighed. “But, Jamie… this- this whole thing- the- the… this doesn’t make any sense.”

“No.” Jamie checked his watch and groaned. “But it’s happening anyway, isn’t it? Look, I have to go.”

“Wait a minute.” George’s heart sank into his stomach. “One more thing.”

“Okay. What?”

George got up as Jamie did. “If it’s a virus, isn’t it, uh… in-infectious?”

He didn’t know why he was asking this question of one of his trainees, his loopiest trainee at that, when he already knew the answer himself.

Jamie looked at him. “It’s not a virus. It’s like a virus.”

“So it might be contagious.”

Jamie’s face whitened. “Yeah- yeah, I guess so.”

“Stay away from me then.”

Jamie turned around to look at him. “What?”

George sighed and waited till they were both outside, then turned to Jamie again. He pulled off his gloves and yanked both sleeves up to the elbow. The skin of his hands and arms was puckered and blistered, the greyish-brown gouges in his flesh shiny with healing. His lip trembled as he saw the mess again, and Jamie silently clamped one hand over his mouth.

“The blood,” George whispered. “This is where… this is where Harriet- Harriet’s blood touched me.”

“Oh- oh, god-”

“And this,” George said, turning his arm over, “Is where Robert vomited on me.”

The inside of his wrist was a curdled, dark brown, black-leaking ruin. George had sobbed when he’d seen it, but now, he just sort of felt empty. Same as always. Cold and empty. Cold and stoic. Cold and dead.

He reckoned the fever would hit tomorrow.

#99: GREEN SKY SYNDROME

Hey, guys. I promised you an update, and here it is.

The two people arrested for killing Harriet Hyde were named George and Leah Angel. George is a senior consultant at Nabdale General- or, rather, he WAS before his suspension- and Leah is his wife. George was in charge of caring for Robert Walker during his time alive.

Leah is a paramedic- still is; she wasn’t suspended. Yesterday, before Robert and Harriet’s deaths, she and her team picked up a third guy who’d come back from the dead with perfect symptoms of the black blood infection. I’m gonna call it Green Sky Syndrome for now. This guy lived in Nabdale. He’s now unaccounted for, off running somewhere in the wilderness with his robot buddy Robert.

The first victim of Green Sky Syndrome was named Eric Bruce. He’ll probably be forgotten: After all, his story’s the least dramatic. For now.

One last thing. I now know for a fact, thanks to George Angel, two simple facts. One: Green Sky Syndrome is contagious. You catch it by touching the black blood, the black vomit, or any part of a victim that contains the virus. Two: The only way to stop one of these robots/zombies/monsters is by destroying their heart. Poor George. He was damned helpful. He found this blog. He knows it’s me. In fact, he’s probably reading right now. Hi, George. I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but I’m trying to save the world. If you hadn’t wasted all your time trying to make sense of nonsense, trying to hide the truth, maybe you would’ve survived it.

Sit tight, and stay indoors. I beg of you. Unless you’re in Nabdale, in which case, once again, I beg you: Get out.

Yours heavy-heartedly (Is that a word? That’s not a word.),

That Conspiracy Twat.

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