When I stumble into the room, there’s no way they can hide their shock. Twenty faces stare, open-mouthed. Twenty statues at the small tables, no longer touching their food.
Blood runs down my hands, warm and sticky. It soaks my shirt. I can feel patches of gore on my face.
A voice cries out, and someone rushes forwards. I think they’re asking if I’m okay, if I’m hurt. They place a hand on my shoulder, tentatively. Maybe that’s one spot that isn’t stained red.
I smile. I hear a drop splash onto the floor, and I feel liquid touch my foot. Strange that I don’t remember removing my shoes.
A second figure approaches, more cautiously than the first. I see their eyes travel my body, but never meeting my own gaze. I’m thankful for that. If they saw too far inside, I doubt they’d appreciate what they would discover.
I’m only dimly aware of the room, and I can’t quite recall how I got here. I feel like I’ve only just woken, but the aching in my limbs tells me I’ve been active. Again. There’s a throbbing in my side, where the cotton of my top sticks to my skin. Something pulls when I move, and I imagine a wound opening. I imagine blood merging.
It had to happen sooner or later. I should have been more careful.
I want to pull away from the person holding my shoulder. A woman, I think, with a kindly face. She should be more concerned about infection. I shouldn’t be this close.
A young girl sits in at a corner table, feet up on her chair, arms tight around her knees. Someone throws up. I hear whimpering.
These are good people. But so were the others. Good is no protection anymore—if it ever was.
A couple of people step round me, and I hear a door open. I recall shutting it behind me, when I came through. I take a breath, ribs pulling at my chest.
I can’t take much more of this.
If that wound is serious, if I’m infected, then maybe I won’t need to.
There is a scream behind me, and a gasped expletive. The hand on my shoulder flinches.
I know what they’ve found. That scream is like a switch, illuminating my memory. In a white-hot burst, the last few minutes are no longer lost.
They’ll be looking at the bodies now. They might even recognise some of them.
The hand on my shoulder lifts, and the woman steps back. Her head shakes, her mouth quivering.
I smile again. Because, honestly, everything is fine.
I hear someone retching, and over the thick coppery air from the other room washes the harsh, acrid stink of vomit. It’s worse than the blood, or the other stuff that comes out when a body finally gives up.
Who knew killing would be such a messy business?
Someone bumps into me from behind. They start to apologise, then put a hand up to their mouth. I read the terror in their eyes, and know it’s directed at me.
As if I’m the one they have to be scared of.
And then everybody’s moving. Chairs scrape against the floor, and people run for the far door. Someone pulls out a phone. I hear them yelling for the police, for an ambulance. For God. One of them shouts something at me, calls me a name, but there’s panic in their voice. Panic and fear.
And then I’m alone. The far door swings shut, and nothing remains in the room but the stink of death.
My side aching, I turn to the inner room, seeing as if for the first time exactly what I’ve done.
Their lifeless eyes are open. Once, this would have disturbed me, but I’m too used to it now. The blood and the deep wounds likewise I accept as simple reality. All life is fragile. We all bleed.
There is a knife on the floor, and a machete next to the last limb I severed with it. And I can feel the memory of my arm swinging, and the way the metal edge bit into flesh. I recall the shriek as the once-human creature staggered then fell.
I look down, and prod the body with my toe. It doesn’t move. And I know I did a good job here.
A siren sounds in the distance, and I wonder if it is time to end this. Maybe I should wait. Maybe I should try to explain.
But they wouldn’t listen. Who would believe that these people—these things that had been people—were a threat?
I remember the first one, three long weeks ago. I refuse to bring her name to my mind. The thing I killed was not who she used to be. The infection had already taken over.
I did what I had to. Just as I did with the four bodies in this room.
The wound in my side burns, the warmth seeping deep inside. I wonder if I should end things before they get worse. Then I wonder if I have the strength to carry out such a task.
No. Even if I am infected, I will fight on. I will do what I can.
I turn and burst through a fire-exit, running out into the rain. My sore, cold feet splash through puddles, and I think how the downpour will wash some of the blood away.
But not all of it.
It never really goes. Even when I can’t see it, the stench hangs in the air, a constant companion. A reminder of what awaits, and a catalyst to keep me fighting.
The air glows red and blue, and I lurch down the alley, into the darkness.
I can’t allow myself to be caught. Not when there is so much more work to be done.
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The Illusion Of Control