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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17. Self-Pity

“Any chance you fuckers gonna let me shower off before you chuck me in fucking prison?”

Jamie thumped his head down onto the table. He was a fucking idiot. Or maybe he was just fucking bad at running from the police. Either way, his dramatic run away from the hospital with his guilt and badassery in tow hadn’t lasted long before he’d been grabbed and body-slammed against a police car.

Whatever.

“I need you to cooperate, Mr Cloverfield. We know you did it.”

“Of course you fucking know I did it!” Jamie laughed furiously into the tabletop. “I’m fucking covered in the sons of bitches’ blood, aren’t I? You got a call saying I was stabbing people willy-nilly, didn’t you? Fucker. You need to let me go- I need to get this fucking job done! The fucking world’s getting overrun by bullshit and I need to fix it!”

“Okay.” The police officer blinked. “Okay, fine, Jamie. That’s okay, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay here for a bit longer.”

Jamie jerked his head up. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

He licked his lips and leaned forwards, his handcuffs rattling. “The way you just talked to me. Treating me like I’m clinically insane.”

The police officer said nothing, but he fidgeted, and that was enough to make Jamie sniff with laughter. Him? Insane? Never.

“Look at me.” Jamie said to the officer. “Look at me. Do I look crazy to you?” He sighed as the officer blinked. “No. I don’t, do I? I’m calm. Pretty fucking calm for a newbie mass-murderer, right? I know exactly what just happened. I know exactly what I just did. I know why I’m here. And I’m not going to lie; I’m pissed about it. But that doesn’t make me crazy, does it? I’ll tell you something for free. I’d know if I was crazy.”

“But…” The officer sighed. “You’re not exactly a reliable source of an opinion on that, are you?”

Jamie swore and brought his metal cuffs down hard on the tabletop. “I’m NOT crazy!” He said. “In fact, I’m the most rational fucker in this entire fucking town! All those people I killed? Or, at least, all those people you think I killed? In the hospital? I didn’t kill them. And if I hadn’t stabbed them to shut them the fu- the fuck up, they’d have killed everyone else in the building. Including me. Hello? Anyone there? I’m trying to SAVE THE FUCKING PLANET HERE! Any chance I can purloin some FUCKING self- defence charges?” The door opened, but Jamie ignored the newcomer. “Failing that, is there ANYONE in this goddamned police station who isn’t PLAYING DUMB TO WHAT’S HAPPENING TO THIS TOWN?”

“Sure there is,” the heavyset bloke standing in the doorway said.

Jamie looked up, raising one eyebrow. He assumed this was the police sergeant, based on the way the officer who’d been sitting with him jumped to his feet in terror. He was massively tall, sure, but something about him said don’t mess with me. Actually, it said I haven’t slept in a month, so don’t mess with me or I’ll tear your fucking arm out of its socket and make you eat it. The guy’s blond hair was sticking up at all angles, his stubble looked accidental, and one corner of his shirt was untucked. He also stank of smoke, as he took his seat opposite Jamie.

“You the sergeant?” Jamie spat, twisting his hands in the cuffs.

The sergeant nodded. He tilted his head up to look down his nose at Jamie, but there was amusement in his eyes, and maybe even interest. Jamie curled his lip, completely aware and only a little ashamed of the fact he was behaving like a spoilt child.

“So.” Jamie tried to sound threatening, but the snarl curled up in the back of his throat. He was too fucking angry to stay rational. “Are you gonna say anything, or what?”

The sergeant just rubbed his forehead, then stroked his fingers across his mess of stubble. He hadn’t taken his eyes off Jamie. Not once.

Jamie licked his lips again. Coz, if not, I think I’ll come in on you.”

The sergeant still didn’t say anything.

“I know it’s fucking hopeless to ask,” Jamie said, “So I won’t bother asking you to let me out. I can beg and rag all I want and you’re not allowed to hit me, so I’ll just say what I know’s the truth, okay? Here’s the truth. If you don’t let me the fuck out of this jail, and you don’t acknowledge Nabdale’s got a serious robot zombie problem, and you don’t let me out to deal with it-” Jamie clenched his fist under the table. He was trying so hard to sound hardcore. “The entire town, and probably the entire country, is going to go down in fucking hellfire. And that’s the truth.”

He looked at the sergeant, who still hadn’t said a word but was now smirking slightly. He was still staring, too. His eyes were narrowed. The silence was sort of awkward, actually. He felt like he was shouting at a brick wall.

“What are you staring at?” Jamie said. “What are you trying to work out? I’m just a dumbass ginger guy, picked up for killing eleven- no, twelve- of my colleagues, and I’m sitting here covered in their blood. I’m guilty. It’d be fucking hilarious if I tried to deny it, but I won’t, coz I’m not pissing around. It’s straightforward, isn’t it? Chuck me in jail. What-”

“I’m trying to figure out why it was you.”

Jamie stopped, the question dying in his throat. He blinked and swallowed. “What?”

The sergeant pressed his lips together in thought, then turned to look over his shoulder at the officer who was still standing behind him.

“Davis,” he said.

“Yes, sir?”

“Get out.”

The officer blinked, and Jamie raised one eyebrow.

“What?”

“You heard me.” The sergeant paused, and when it came again, his voice was falsely sweet. “Would you please leave the two of us to talk?”

“Uh…” The officer struggled. “That’s, uh… I’m not actually supposed to leave when you-”

Damn it, Davis! Who the fuck’s in charge here?”

“Uh…”

“Which one of us has the badge? The posh shiny sergeant’s badge he earned from being the best fucking bringer of justice in the building?” The sergeant looked down at his jacket, then up again. “Well, I left mine at home this morning, coz I was called in to deal with what you said was a mass-murderer, but that’s not my point. The point is that you don’t fucking have the badge, do you? Coz I have it. Coz I’m the fucking boss. So get your entitled arse back into the kitchen before I kick it there.”

Davis blinked. Then, shooting one last nervous glance in Jamie’s direction, he opened the door and left the room.

The sergeant turned back to Jamie. “Mr Cloverfield?”

Jamie tried not to lean forwards with too much enthusiasm. “Uh-huh.”

“There’s a big chunk of blood hanging off your head.”

Jamie went to pick it out, but the sergeant shouted for him to stay still.

“What?”

“Don’t get any more on you, you crazy bastard!”

“Why not?” Jamie, trying not to react with too much shock to the fact the sergeant was obviously on his side, dropped his hand back to his side. The sergeant said nothing. He just shook his head, a smirk forming on his lips.

“Man, you’re dead, Jamie.”

“I know.” Jamie spat.

“You’ve got three days, right?”

Jamie raised one eyebrow. “Wait. You, uh… you believe the-”

“I believe it. Yeah.” The sergeant said. “Listen. I believe every last fucking word they’re saying. You wanna know why? Because I’ve seen it, and only a fucking fool doesn’t believe their own eyes. If you hadn’t killed those fucking monsters, Jamie, the town’d be overrun already, and that’s the truth.”

Jamie twisted his mouth sideways.

“I’d shake your hand, sir, but I don’t want to touch you, or even get close to you in any way, shape or form.”

“That’s fair.”

“I know it is.”

Jamie sighed. The blood was sticking to him; it’d congealed into jelly. He didn’t really want to touch it either.

“Look, uh… sergeant.”

“It’s sergeant Wolf.” The sergeant corrected.

“Cool name.”

“I know. Back at you.”

“This is dumb.”

“I know.”

“Okay, so let’s get back to what you were just saying.” Jamie said, leaning forwards. “About me being a hero and all that.”

“I never said you were a hero.”

“No, but you did say I was a flipping… That I… okay, never mind. Look, are you going to let me go?”

The sergeant raised one eyebrow, like he was thinking.

“I dunno.” His voice was smothered in sarcasm. “I can let you go, but I’m not really meant to lie to my colleagues or crate false evidence or anything like that. If I do let you go, will you promise to be good?”

Jamie raised one eyebrow. “Fuck no.”

“In that case, yeah. I’ll let you go.”

“Okay. So, uh…”

“I can give you a run for it, and pretend your handcuffs, uh… fell off or something. And I can do a bit to keep the police force off your back, although I can’t do much. You’ll have to be quick. Elusive. All that crap. Can you do that?”

Jamie thought for a second, his heart pounding as he realised he was going to be let go. It was a nice feeling- this validation of what he’d just done, this realisation that he was, after all, the hero. He could do this. Then, he realised he’d just been asked a question.

“Uh, I’m sorry, what?”

“Can you at least try to pretend you’re too clever for me to catch?”

“Well, you guys caught me in the first place because I fell over.”

“Right.”

“And I also scream a lot in situations like this.”

“Situations like this?”

“I mean, uh… stressful situations. Not that I’m used to mass murder or anything like that. Stress. When I’m under stress, I tend to be a bit stupid.”

“Okay.” The sergeant leaned over. “Look, if this helps any, you’re not the only one who’s been getting a bit stab-happy these last couple of days.”

Jamie raised one eyebrow. “Uh, I’m sorry. What?”

“You know another doctor at your hospital by the name of George?”

“Oh.” Jamie sank. “Yeah. He’s dead.”

“He killed one of the first.”

“Yeah, but he got infected.” Jamie sighed. “He’s probably running around by now, stirring shit… I have to deal with him.”

“His, uh… No, you don’t.”

Jamie looked up.

“I don’t?”

“Uh, no. George has been, uh… dealt with.”

“He has?”

“Yeah.”

“By who?”

“His wife.”

Jamie’s eyes widened and, even as he tried to close it, his mouth dropped open. “What- Leah?”

He remembered George’s wife. He’d met her once or twice- she was a medic, just about as demure and innocent as it was possible to be, with her pink cheeks and her dopey smile and big blue eyes. She’d killed George? He couldn’t picture it.

“Yeah.”

“Leah’s a bloody flake! Christ. I’m impressed.” Jamie smiled. “Where is she?”

The sergeant said nothing.

“How do you know this, anyway?” Jamie asked. “How do you know she did it?”

“Because…” Sergeant Wolf sighed and waved his hand. “Like you said, she’s a flake. She called us on herself. She let us arrest her. She bloody asked to stay here.”

Jamie shook his head, incredulous. “All she did was kill one guy!”

“Yeah, her husband, Jamie.” Sergeant Wolf cleared his throat. “She was neck-deep in shock. And guilt, too. Besides-”

“Guilt’s a luxury she can’t bloody afford. Especially since she only killed one guy. Her husband, fine. But still.”

“No. It wasn’t just one.” Sergeant Wolf shook his head. “She ended up killing two of the medics on her squad, too. This morning. On the outskirts of town.”

“Bloody hell.”

“The third got ripped to shreds.”

“Holy fuck.” Jamie rubbed his face with his hands. “They were infected, though, right?”

“Course.”

“She’s here now, is she?” Jamie said. “You’ve got her locked up here?”

Sergeant Wolf sighed. “Yeah.”

Jamie thought for a second. That woman may have been slightly less of an emotionless killing machine than he was, but she must’ve been harder than he’d thought. She believed everything. She’d killed three people herself; without her, the problem would’ve been bigger. She’d wimped out, sure, but Jamie had always had a knack for persuasion.

“Let me talk to her.”

* * * * * * * * * *

He’d forgotten how completely and utterly terrifying he looked, soaked in blood, sweat and bruises, till Leah jumped up from her bed and stood bolt upright when she spotted him. She was clutching a mobile phone in her hand and wearing her pyjamas- shorts and a camisole with a jacket and trainers that looked too big for her- but she wasn’t shivering, even though the cell block was freezing. The shadows on the wall had drenched her grey and she looked thinner than he remembered. Then again, he didn’t exactly look like a dream either. More like a nightmare.

“Hi, Leah.” Jamie began.

Leah stared at him, her eyes wide. She was frozen. Then, she jerked her head downwards and started to jab at the screen of the phone till the mess of noise trickling out of it stopped. She looked back at him, then curled her lip.

“Who the f- fuck are you?”

Jamie blinked. She didn’t remember him? That was… relieving, actually.

“Don’t you, uh…” Jamie struggled, then icked at a patch of blood on his jaw. “You don’t recog-.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Leah shook her head and walked up to the bars, curling her hands around them. “Sorry. Look. Jamie. You’re Jamie, right? George’s… George’s…”

“Trainee.”

“The one who got pissed on spiked punch at the Christmas party and nearly fell out the window.”

Jamie curled his lip. This was why he’d been hoping she didn’t remember him. “Yeah.”

Leah looked back down at the phone in her hand, then stuttered. “George- George’s dead.”

“I know.” Jamie sighed, running a hand through his hair and then having to yank his fingers free when they stuck in a knot. “I, uh- need your help.”

“My-my help?” Leah whispered, looking down. “With what? You- you- you’re covered in…”

“I know. Well spotted.”

“Wh- what the fuck have you been doing? You haven’t-

“The hospital was overrun, Leah.” Jamie clenched his fist, the flashbacks in his head suddenly making him feel more self-conscious than brave.

“Overrun?”

“Robert Walker? Three days ago he infected a half-million of the doctors.” Jamie sighed.

“I know. And you killed them? All of them?”

“Twelve.” Jamie said.

“You checked for stragglers?”

“Yes.” He lied. He looked at her. “You knew?”

“I knew.”

“Then what the hell are you doing in here?”

She looked at him, those big blue eyes suddenly looking anything but innocent. She didn’t say anything, so Jamie opened his mouth to speak again. “I came to-”

“No!” Leah said. “I know you’re going to ask me to come and help you ki- help you kill more people.”

“They’re not people. It’s not killing if they’re not people.”

“Bullshit.”

“It’s true, and you know it.” Jamie tried to swallow his frustration. Bloody medics and their emotions. “Please, Leah. Sergeant Wolf’s letting us both out. He wants… He wants to help us stop it. We can save this town, Leah. We can save the- I dunno, maybe the whole country! Please. I need you.”

“You need me?” Leah took a step backwards and folded her arms, looking him up and down. “Looks like you’ve done a pretty damned fine job yourself so far, don’t you think?”

“I can’t do this by myself.”

“Well, I’m sorry, whoever the fuck you think you are. But this town’s already fucked. You want someone to keep you company on your killing spree?” Jamie reckoned Leah had been crying before he’d interrupted her; her voice was damp and sullen. “You should’ve gone to look for another fucking killer.”

“You’re a killer too, Leah.”

Leah choked back a sob and pointed at him, narrowing her eyes to slits. “Don’t you dare fucking call me that.”

“You are.” Jamie insisted. “You’ve stabbed three people. That makes you a killer. You know it. You know it, Leah!”

“I’m not a killer!” Leah sobbed. “Not any- not any more. I’m done with killing. Please. Just let me forget it.”

“And die?”

“If that’s what it fucking takes, yes!”

I’m going to die,” Jamie said quietly.

Leah looked at him.

“What?”

“I’m going to die,” Jamie repeated. “I’m covered in the stuff, same as George was.”

“Shut up about George.”

“He’s dead, Leah.”

“Shut up! SHUT up!” Leah sobbed. “Just leave me alone.”

Something about her words was starting to sound unnatural, almost forced. Like she didn’t really believe them. Like she didn’t really want to be left alone. Jamie raised one eyebrow and thought for a minute.

“I’m so sorry, Leah.” Jamie said.

“If you’re sorry, then fuck off.”

“No. Not sorry about disturbing you.” Jamie told her. “I’ll never regret that. I’m sorry you had to go through losing George. I’m sorry whatever the hell’s happening to this town cost you so much. I am, I promise you. But you can’t sit here and do nothing. You can’t sit here and deny it. You have to make peace with it.”

“Make peace?”

“Yeah. These monsters are bitches, Leah. They aren’t giving us time. You have to move on, and wait till it’s all over.”

“No, I can’t. I need to grieve. Sit here and cry, Jamie. It’s what you do when you’ve lost someone. You should try it sometime. At least then you’ll know how the families of all those people you killed are going to feel in approximately an hour. I need time.”

“You need time to wallow, you mean?” Jamie said. “Wallow in self-pity and do fuck all, after all this? Leah, you don’t have time. You need to help me.”

There was a long pause. Leah looked like she was thinking. Then, she sighed and looked back up at him, planting her hands on her hips.

“George fucking hated you, Jamie.”

Jamie paused. He swallowed, trying to sound nonchalant when he spoke again. “He- he did?”

“Yeah.”

“He said that to you?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh. That’s nice.” Jamie wracked his brains, trying to figure out why he cared so much. He noticed the headache for the first time. It was a little sickening. “I don’t care.”

Leah looked up.

“I don’t care that George hated me,” Jamie said. “I don’t blame him. I didn’t know him that well, and I don’t know you, but one thing I do know is that he wouldn’t want you falling apart over him like this.”

“I… I can’t-” Leah sniffed. “I can’t fucking help it! He’d want me to care, wouldn’t he?”

“Leah, can I ask you a question?”

Leah paused. She looked at him, raising both eyebrows. “What?”

Jamie swallowed. “If George hadn’t died, and he’d still been fine, would you have handed yourself in?”

“What- what do you mean?”

“If you hadn’t been having all this grief over George, would you have given yourself up?”

Leah looked down at the ground. “Yeah. No. N-no. Yes! It was the right thing to do!”

“You don’t really believe that.”

“Of course I fucking don’t!” Leah swung herself back towards the bars and eyeballed him again. “I know exactly what I believe, Jamie, but what does that matter anymore? Why can’t everything just make sense? I want it to. I want to know what the right thing is.

“The right thing is saving lives,” Jamie said, licking his lips, “even if it means it costs others.”

“I- I know.”

“If George had still been alive, Leah…” Jamie ventured, “and you’d had no choice, would you have still killed all those monsters?”

“It was…” Her words dripped with tears. “It was only thr-three. Two.”

“Two.”

“Yes. Yes, I guess I… I would’ve still killed them.”

“And would you do it again?”

“Would I do it again?

“Yes.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“What about if George was at stake?” Jamie asked. “Or someone else you loved? Would you kill the monster then? To save a life?

“Yes, of course.”

“One of your patients?”

“Yes.”

“What about someone you’d never even met? If it’d save them?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“The entire town, then.”

“Y- uh…” Leah trailed off as she realised he’d interrogated her into a corner. “Uh… yes. Yeah, I guess I would.”

“They’re monsters, Leah, and you know it. They’re taking the people we love away from us, and they’ll take so many more if we all sat here, doing nothing. They’re not humans anymore; they’re sick fucking flesh-puppets. I dunno what’s causing this, or why, but I do know that if this is all part of some stupid fucking plan, they’re using our sentimentality against us. Maybe they’ve been brushing up on their zombie films. Either way, Leah, what you’re doing is what they want us to do. It’s still early. I might’ve reacted too soon, but we’ve given ourselves a chance to get a head start. We need to stop them.”

“Yes.” Leah curled her fists, looking self-consciously around. “Yes, yeah, I know.”

“Do you want to save lives?”

She sighed. “Yes.”

Jamie smiled, clenching his fist and wishing he still had a knife to make himself look and feel cooler. Or maybe that he wasn’t covered in congealing black muck in the least attractive way possible. He held up the keys to the cell, which sergeant Wolf had given him before leaving the two of them alone.

“Then what are you waiting for?”

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