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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15. Making a Mess

“You alright, mate?”

Jamie jumped. “What?”

“You look zoned. Are you alright?”

Jamie blinked, taking a moment to think his answer through. George is dead. The town’s going to shit. The world’s going to end. Everyone’s dying. Everyone’s getting back up again. The zombie apocalypse is here. There’s an alien invasion coming. We’ve got ten seconds till this fucking hospital goes down. I’m gay. I’m wanted for espionage. I’m going to fucking die. Leave me alone. Help me. “Yeah. I’m fine. How are you?”

“Good, thanks. See you later!”

“See you,” Jamie practically growled.

He’d never really liked this job. He’d decided to become a doctor for two reasons: firstly, because he couldn’t’ve followed his dreams of becoming an author without feeling like an asshole for wasting his intelligence, and secondly, because he’d wanted to save lives. Saving lives wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Jamie’s young age hadn’t stopped him from being smarter than the other trainees, but he was still too childish to make this career work for long. His colleagues were busybodied assholes, and he wasn’t going to miss them when they died this evening. This lab coat had never hung right on him, never looked quite right with this electric orange hair and these manic yellow eyes, but as it turned out, the sleeves were great for hiding things.

He checked the clock. It was six-thirty in the evening. He didn’t know if he could go through with this, but he had to.

Jamie gritted his teeth and tried to remember why he was doing this. Nabdale had laughed at him for a year. They’d laughed at his wild rants, and now all those wild rants were coming true. All at once. Did these people deserve to be saved? Not in Jamie’s book they didn’t. He wasn’t doing this out of compassion, or fear, or patriotism, or anything like that. He was doing this because he was bored. He was a normal guy with a thing for action movies, and now was his chance to be a badass. He wanted to be a hero. Go down in style, maybe, if he ended up going down. And he didn’t care how many black-blooded fucking zombies he had to kill to get there.

“Wow.” He murmured, shocking himself with the sound of his own voice. “I’m being really bloody dramatic.”

Ten minutes passed, and he didn’t move from his spot by the wall in the break room.

“And… talking to myself, too. Looks like I’ve already joined the crazy ranks.”

“Jamie!”

He jerked his head up. “Uh, no. Wait. No. I mean, yeah? What’s up?”

Nora King raised one eyebrow at him. “You in there?”

“Yes.”

“You sure? You look like you’re somewhere else.”

Jamie coughed out laughter. “Yeah. No. Sorry- sorry.”

“Well, any chance you could help me with the next rounds?” Nora wiped her forehead, closing her eyes for a second. “I, uh… I need to…”

“Are you okay?” What was the damn point of him asking that question? He already knew the fucking answer.

“What? Yeah- y-yeah. I-I’m fine. It- It’s the stress.”

“You’ve been here since four in the morning, right?”

She sighed. “Right.”

“That’s a fifteen-hour shift, Nora. You’ve been here for fifteen hours.”

She blinked. “Have I? I hadn’t noticed.”

“How? Are you-”

“Tired? Yes, I am.” Nora planted her hands on her hips. The look in her eyes was distant. “Do I have a choice? No, I really don’t. Without George, we, uh… We’re killing ourselves. He, uh…his suspension’s ending soon, though.”

“You sure?” Jamie held the cuff of his sleeve tighter in his hand. He’d been gripping it all evening. “He’ll be back soon, will he?”

Nora looked at him, then nodded her head slowly. She didn’t know he knew. “Right. Yeah. Jamie…”

“Sorry. You have to get back to work.” Jamie clenched his fist. “I’m holding you up.”

“No, Jamie. About- About George.”

“What?”

Nora checked over her shoulder. “He-”

“Nora, we need you out here!” Pavel, one of the other trainees, stuck his head into the break room. “And Jamie. We-”

“Alright, I’m coming.” Nora pressed her lips tightly together. Jamie wondered how bad the headaches felt. He wondered whether the fever had hit her yet. Surely. He was waiting for those black veins, those bungled sentences, that vomiting. Those white eyes. Those… Shit, he was zoning out again.

“Yeah? What about George?”

“I’ll tell you later. I’m sorry.”

Jamie sighed. “Nora, I know George’s dead.”

She jerked her head up. “Wh- What?”

There was a long pause. She was staring at him like he’d just told her she was going to die. She was, but she didn’t know that yet.

“I know he’s dead. I know… I know he was arrested on Wednesday.” Jamie hissed. “And I know he died last night from…” Jamie sighed. “From the same thing everyone else is dying from.”

“I don’t…” Nora raised her voice. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Uh-huh.”

“George is just… on suspension.”

“You’re lying to me.” Jamie frowned and tried to force his voice to sound serious. “You’ve been lying to the lot of us this whole time, haven’t you?”

“No.”

“You have. I dunno who told you to, but you’re keeping the truth from us.”

“About?”

“About George. He’s dead, and he was killed by his wife, wasn’t he? This morning?” Jamie sighed. “Because he’d turned like Robert. He’d turned into a ZOMBIE!”

Shit. Too loud.

Nora raised one eyebrow.

He shouldn’t have raised his voice. Or maybe he should. Either way, now, a small crowd had gathered around him and Nora, nervously trying to avert their eyes when Jamie stopped to stare at them.

“What are you looking at?” He said to his friend, Rachel, one of the nurses. He grinned.

Rachel smiled nervously. She looked at Nora, who’d buried her head in her hands, then back at Jamie. “What, uh… what- what’s this about George? Is he coming back?”

No.” Jamie said. He probably shouldn’t have said that. He should have just waited till everyone who was going to die, died. But it was too fucking late now. Screw it. “No. George isn’t coming back. He’s never coming back, guys!” He raised his voice. “George Angel died this morning.”

He listened to the confused mumbling, watched the glances his co-workers started shooting at one another. The nervous laughs. Joking. They thought he was joking. That was understandable. He’d always been the office fucking joker, hadn’t he?

“George Angel,” Jamie raised his hand, then lowered it when he realised how fucking stupid it made him look. It made him look drunk, and he sounded drunk, too, his voice wavering louder and softer as he tried to decide how loudly he wanted to shout. “DIED this morning. I know I’m a fucking jokester, and I always have been, but this is NOT a joke, okay?”

“What do you mean, he died?” Someone said. “How do you know that?”

“Because…” Jamie sighed, rubbing his face. “Because I met up with him the other day. And he said-”

“You what?”

“Don’t worry about that. George was vomited on by Robert Walker- You know? You know him, Nora?”

Nora looked angrily at the floor. Of course she knew him.

Jamie rolled his eyes. “He was my patient. So, yeah, I knew him better than any of you ignorant assholes. Although I’m not sure he ever really liked me.”

“Can’t imagine why.” Nora muttered, turning to walk away.

“Neither did George.”

“Now, that I did know.”

“Cheers. But- but George was KILLED by Robert! Don’t you get it?” Jamie yelled, pointing at Nora. She paused with one hand on the door-handle.

“I’m telling the truth. Nora. I don’t know what you’ve been told, but you need to stop lying to us.” Jamie stopped, revelling in the deathly silence his speech had triggered. How cool must he look right now? He hoped at least a little. Not that he cared about that, obviously. What could he say now to look cooler? How about…. “And you need to stop lying to yourself, too.”

Nora sighed, dropping her gaze to the ground. Then, she shook her head and tried to regain her composure. Jamie knew her. He knew she was lying. But she wasn’t going to buckle, especially not under him.

“Jamie, I’m serious.” She said. “You need to do your damned job. That, or go home. What’s it going to be?”

“I- I…” Shit. He’d run out of things to say. “I’ll come and help. But I- But I need a minute.”

“Well, hurry up, or I swear I’ll find someone who’s allowed to fire you.”

“Only George had the clearance to do that.”

“I know.”

“And he’s dead.”

“Shut up! Can’t you see you’re causing a massive disturbance?” Nora winced as she spoke.

“Don’t worry, I’ll chuck myself out in a minute. First, I want to tell everyone here what happened to George.” He raised his voice, never taking his eyes away from hers in a desperate attempt to make her abandon her lie. “George Angel has just died, horrendously, and you all deserve to know why.”

Nothing. No unanimous cheer, no tentative muttering, and not even one gasp of surprise. Just a crowd of bewildered faces, staring at him like he was crazy. He was, but nobody was supposed to know that here.

“Look, you- you need to know why… Nora, I’m sorry. They need to know why because it’s about to kill a lot more of you.”

“The hell are you on about?”

A couple of people laughed, but only nervously. He got it. Psychotic rants like this weren’t funny; they were frightening. Or sad. Maybe just sad, actually. Great.

Jamie glanced sideways as Nora cleared her throat and coughed once, delicately, into her hand. He looked down and saw her wiping a black oily smear onto the side of her lab coat. A single icy finger prodded his heart, but he ignored it and kept talking.

“George Angel died because Robert Walker vomited on him, okay?”

There was a long pause.

Shit, that sounded dumb.

“Wait, no.” Reluctantly, Jamie turned back to Nora. “Robert was chucking up when he died, right?”

The breath she drew in was just sharp enough to make him realise his question had struck a nerve. “Yes.”

“Did any of it touch you?”

She nodded curtly, clenching and unclenching her fists in an obviously fruitless attempt to regain her composure. “Yes. He was confused.”

“He didn’t have a heartbeat, doctor! His blood was black and his vomit was black and he had no pulse!

“I know. Everyone knows; we’ve been through this.”

“But you’re still acting like nothing’s wrong with it!”

“What the heck else are we meant to do? Yeah, so he came back from the dead and he sicked up on me, Jamie. SO what? If you can’t deal with getting sicked on, you shouldn’t have joined a healthcare profession. The hell’s your point?”

Jamie sighed, wriggling his elbow and clutching the cuff of his sleeve tighter. He was more conscious now than ever of what he was hiding. “Okay.” He said. “Okay, okay. Who else got sicked on, then?”

There was silence.

Then, someone raised her hand from the back of the crowd.

“Uh, me.” Rachel murmured.

Jamie shook his head, then swallowed and forced out the words, “Anyone else?”

“Us too!” someone yelled from the back of the crowd. Jamie recognised the voice as Pavel, who must have come back in whilst he was ranting.

“Jesus Christ…” Jamie said. “How fucking many of you got infected?”

“The hell do you mean, infected...” Pavel began, but he stopped himself as a few more murmurs in the crowd interrupted him.

A couple of people tentatively poked their hands up. After a minute of prodding and nervous mumbling, Jamie counted eight infected people, in a crowd of about fifteen or sixteen.

He’d spent the last two days counting, sure, but this was bloody ridiculous.

“You all got shit on you?” Jamie said with a shudder.

He saw at least one nod.

“You’re getting headaches?”

He locked eyes with Rachel, who was half-grimacing, half-wincing with fear. She nodded at him, and he knew she was dead serious.

His heart sank. He’d liked that girl.

“Hallucinating? Vivid nightmares?” Jamie caught Nora’s eye from across the room. “Black vomit?”

What are you on…” Nora struggled, then cut herself off with a sob of pain. Jamie bit his lip, feeling a stab of pity for her.

“Okay, let me just work something out…” Jamie muttered, pushing his way through the crowd to lean against the wall. Then, he started to count on his fingers.

“Why’d’you need to lean on the wall to count?” Pavel asked

“Shut up.” Jamie held up a finger for silence. “Let me think.”

He raised one finger. Then, another.

Jamie finished what everyone had been assuming to be a difficult maths calculation with three fingers held up.

“So you counted to three,” Pavel said.

“You’re all going to die!” Jamie said. “Don’t you get it?”

“Back to work, everyone!” Nora shouted. “That’s enough-”

QUIET!” Jamie yelled. “Today’s SATURDAY, and you were all infected on WEDNESDAY, which means you’ve all been fucked up for three times twenty-four, or seventy-two hours!”

“We know the days of the week,” someone who was definitely infected murmured.

“And basic maths,” someone else piped up. Jamie scowled.

“George was infected on TUESDAY!” Jamie answered. “And he died last night, after three days. THREE days! And today’s Saturday. How long’s it been since YOU lot were all infected? Well, let’s see how well you know the fucking days of the week NOW, shall we?” He was losing it. His composure was dropping. No. No. Ah, fuck it. “THURSDAY!” He held up one finger. It was his middle. “FRIDAY!” He held up his index. And… SATURDAY!” He stuck up a third, then held his hand up. “One, two, THREE! You’re all BUGGERED!”

He paused, panting, as everyone looked at him with a mild combination of shock and amusement. Only Nora, whose face was suddenly full of black veins when he turned to eyeball her, seemed to have been upset.

He swallowed. Ugh, that was graphic.

“Get out, Jamie.” She hissed. “You need to go home; you’re not well. This staff doesn’t need your crazy goddamned ranting.”

“It’s not crazy, and you know it.” Jamie bit his lip. The veins jumped up every time she spoke and he could see now that the whites of her eyes were greying.

“I’ve had it up to here.” Nora said. “Call me a liar for protecting their goddamned spirit? Look at yourself.”

Was he really about to say this? It was really fucking mean, but it sounded cool.

“No,” he whispered. “Look at yourself.”

She blinked. Then, slowly, she dropped her gaze from his and lifted an arm to touch her own face. Her eyes widened as she pushed two fingers along the ridge of a vein, and Jamie tried hard not to shudder. This was bad for him. He tried to imagine how she must feel.

As Nora paused for words and then began to panic, Jamie watched the tears welling in her eyes with a mixture of smugness and pity. She opened her mouth to respond, then closed it again, and then she started to choke on her words as the tears spilled over her cheeks. Then, Jamie realised something else. She wasn’t metaphorically choking on her words; she was actually, really, genuinely choking.

Nora’s cheeks flared red as she tried to swallow, then failed. Then, she paused, and a few more glimmers escaped from her eyes. She squeezed them shut and shook her head, faster and faster, and Jamie could tell she was trying to clear the headache but knew that wouldn’t make it better. He knew, by now, that nothing would make it better.

Then, she opened her mouth and Jamie jumped back as she spat a torrent of black vomit onto the floor. Gasps and shouts of shock jumped upwards from the crowd as Jamie turned to yell to them. “Step BACK! Anyone touches her, they’re DEAD!

He paused, looking back just as Nora’s eyes rolled up and she passed out. His heart started pounding harder in his ears. “Oh, fuck! Okay. Okay.”

One of the trainees ran forwards from the crowd, trying to get to Nora, but Jamie held him back. “There’s nothing you can do,” he hissed.

“What’s wrong?” someone called from behind Jamie, interrupting themselves by clearing their throat. Then, a couple of people screamed as the damp sounds of coughing and cries of pain filled the air.

“Aw, fuck,” Jamie said, twisting his sleeve in his fist. “Alright, alright. Anyone who wasn’t touched by the vomit, or the blood, and DOESN’T have a headache-” Jamie yelled. The room was growing emptier as more people dropped, and the screaming was still growing louder. “GET the FUCK out of here!”

“What the hell’s happening?” Someone yelled as they ran towards Jamie.

No, Jamie!” Pavel ran forwards and crouched down next to Doctor King to feel for a pulse. “You’re the one who has all the answers! So you tell us…” He paused as the crowd exploded outwards, each person running in a different direction to find help. “What the hell is going on?”

He turned. He swallowed hard as he saw Pavel’s face bristling with black veins too.

“Get out of here.”

Nobody still standing moved, and Jamie felt the anticipation in his veins boiling into rage.

“But-”

“Everyone get OUT!” He screamed. “Or-”

“Or WHAT?”

“At a guess? You’ll all get RIPPED the FUCK apart!” Jamie raised his arm.

“And what about you? What gives YOU the right to fucking stay?” One of the other trainees stood up and grabbed Jamie’s arm, then immediately tore it away. “Ow!”

Jamie smiled slightly, accidentally locking his eyes with the guy as the guy stared in horror at the red blood starting to sheet his hand.

“Oh my god!”

Jamie sighed in frustration, letting go of his cuff. He pulled the twelve-inch kitchen knife out of the rip in his sleeve and looked back at the man he’d cut by mistake, turning the weapon over in his hand.

The man’s blood was red.

“This isn’t your fight,” Jamie murmured, pulling out the second knife and gripping both tighter. “So get the fuck out.”

He checked behind him, but Nora, and the remaining people in the room, most of whom were dead, were still on the floor. Their eyes were still closed.

“Wh…” The man took a step back. “What- what are you gonna do, Jamie?”

He cut himself off with a gasp, and Jamie turned to watch Nora peeling herself away from the sticky black puddle she’d died in. Her black scribbled veins were gone and her eyes were open wide, glowing white like the soulless machines they fucking were. Jamie licked his lips again.

“Get,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the crowd. “The fuck out of here. Or I’m going to have to make even more of a fucking mess than I’d planned to make.”

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