The World Was Full of Monsters By E.M. Fitch

He squeezed the trigger with a slow, practiced pull. The sound of the shot pierced the air, just one crack among hundreds, thousands, that would sound that day. Her head jerked back with a thunk, the finality of her skull smashing into the pavement.

Death would be easier.

Onto the next.

Aim. Squeeze. Crack. Thunk.

The air was saturated, dust and blood that smelt of rust. The city roared around him, soft darkness tainted with screaming. Those not infected ran with guns, inside and around the fence, putting bullets in the ones that turned. No one knew who was in charge anymore.

Aim. Squeeze. Crack. Thunk.

But they all knew the enemy.

Flashlights were prohibited around the infected. They were less dangerous, less active, in the dark. No one knew why. So Paul couldn’t see the approaching soldier, but he knew from the even footsteps that he wasn’t infected.

“Almost done with this group?” the lieutenant asked.

“Yes,” Paul answered. His partner Ryan nodded.

Their lieutenant’s boots thumped down the alley, distinctive smacks that differed from the surrounding echo of gunshot. The group of twitching bodies was almost down. Which was good. The cool purple light that preceded the dawn was leaching into the night sky. The orange glow of morning would follow soon. And then the twitching bodies would wake. They’d come, like they’d come every dawn, biting and eating and thrashing.

“They’re pushing the fence again,” Ryan said, his eyes blinking out the sweat that was beading on his forehead. Paul watched his friend lift his hand, an old reaction, it took his fingers brushing against the plastic mask of his helmet to remind him he couldn’t just brush the sweat away. The helmets were stifling. Even in the predawn of autumn, it was impossible not to sweat.

He paused for a moment, leaning back into the brick of the building. There were only a handful left, the moans almost inaudible over the shouting of the military.

This group was an easy one.

“So they’ve almost finished this building then?” Paul asked, gesturing behind him. Ryan nodded.

“I heard them starting the sweep of the last floor,” Ryan answered. “Should be rounding the rest out soon.”

They had been doing that for the past week. It was why Paul was brought in. They had set up a perimeter, a chain link fence around a small group of high rise apartment buildings, then took the apartment buildings and flushed out the infected.

It had sounded easy, sounded like the right thing to do. Set up a safe location, clear out the infected, and put up a fence. What else could they do? Let them sweep the entire country?

But the reality was far worse. The men, women, and children they had escorted to the streets, the infected who were just turning, still able to speak and reason, needed to be handled. There was no cure. And none was coming. They couldn’t be put beyond the fence and left to wander, there were too many and the fences wouldn’t hold.

So they were shot. Just like the group on the pavement in front of him. Executed for an illness they couldn’t control.

But really, what else could they do?

“You going to volunteer again? Front line?” Ryan asked. Paul nodded. “You know you’d stand a better chance of surviving if you stay back with me?”

He nodded again.

“Rodriquez! I need a man over here.”

Paul grit his teeth and adjusted his helmet, the front sliding over his slick forehead.

“Go on,” Ryan said, grinning. “Shouldn’t take too much to finish these up here.”

A chuckle escaped Ryan’s lips and Paul felt his hands curl into tight fists. But he said nothing.

The world was full of monsters.

He fell into step next to the officer that called him. The man was military. He wasn’t sure which branch. Paul had only been out of the academy three weeks when the infection broke out; he had only just started in his local small town station. He knew how to write traffic tickets and had memorized the Miranda Rights.

Now he was judge, jury, and executioner for the infected.

He didn’t know how the infection began. Some blamed it on the hospitals. It hit there first. Hands would shake, eyes stained yellow, speech slowed and then stopped. The infected patients fell unconscious in the dark and woke up in fitful rages whenever light hit them. They started biting.

Not biting. Eating.

The thought still caused nausea to roil in Paul’s stomach.

With each bite from infected person to healthy person, the disease spread. Thousands and then millions staggered with yellow eyes and bloody mouths, reaching, always reaching for more.

“There’s a crowd up front, all showing symptoms.” The man’s name was etched unto a badge pinned over his chest. Paul could just make out the letters. Sergeant Evans.

“I heard we’re moving the fence, I’d prefer-“

“I need an extra pair of hands here, Rodriguez,” Evans cut in. “There’s no point in moving that fence if what’s behind it isn’t safe.”

Evans rounded the corner of the building and Paul followed. They could have made the walk blind. It wasn’t hard to figure out where they were headed. The screams gave it away.

“Lay down! Get down!”

The shouts over the crowd were magnified by a bullhorn. It squealed in electronic protest when the speaker button was released. Eyes peered from the windows of the building out onto the crowded street. Bodies were butted up to the fence, unable to turn and run from the soldiers into the uncertainty of a city full of the infected.

“He’s an alcoholic,” one woman pleaded. She tried to get onto the street and was pushed back. “He’s not infected! His eyes are always that color!”

Paul wasn’t sure who she was begging for, but it didn’t matter. If anyone showed even the slightest bit of symptoms, they were eradicated. He watched as she was pushed back inside, her sobs muffling when the door was slammed closed. It was the only way to be sure.

“Please,” someone begged. “It’s dark. I’m still okay!” Paul didn’t look at him. The infected did well in the dark. Until they didn’t. It always progressed the same. Trembling limbs, yellow eyes, loss of reason, collapsing when the sun set, then the eating.

A hand landed on Paul’s forearm. The fingers trembled and Paul shook them off, recoiling out of habit. He whipped his flashlight up, and cast the beam into the man’s eyes. His pupils shrunk into the wide yellow pulp of his eyeball.

Paul walked past. Screams from all around him pleaded and threatened. They yelled that it was dark and they were still moving, that they might be okay, that the military was nothing but murderers, that they were wrong.

Paul estimated fifty people before him. Some knelt already, heads bowed. One woman kept the small person beside her tucked under her shaking arm, it could have been a boy or a girl, impossible for Paul to tell. He moved into line with the other officers.

“Last chance, get down!”

Most didn’t listen. Paul felt a low tremble in his own hand, not from any illness he contracted, but from a deeper sickness that had spread through him since the start of all this. It would be easier, cleaner for them, if they’d lie down. One shot to the head, it would be over. Instead there would be a spray of bullets, hitting all over and hopefully killing in the first sweep. He waited for the signal, gritting his teeth when the man with the bullhorn started the countdown. Someone to his right laughed and Paul fought the urge to swing his gun in that direction.

The world was full of monsters.

They weren’t laying down. He brought his rifle to his shoulder anyway, didn’t bother to aim, and pulled the trigger in rapid succession when the man said “One.”

The screams drowned out the gunfire, muffled from healthy survivors inside the building, sharp and piercing from the street in front of him. The spray of bullets scattered into and through the crowd. They fell, landing with sickening crunches in heaping piles. He beat down the surging nausea as the smell of blood saturated the interior of his helmet. When the last fell, he stepped forward, with the others, and toed through the carnage for moving limbs. A shot sounded, loud in the sudden stillness. Different sets of eyes stared up at him, some yellow, some not, all staring blankly into the coming dawn.

Then one set blinked.

The eyes never change. The eyes of a baby are the same size as the eyes of a man. It’s the only part that never grows. So Paul focused on the set of wide, brown eyes and ignored the rounded cheeks, the gaping holes of missing baby teeth, the smooth skin of childhood. He had to ignore it. He stared into those eyes, aimed, and pulled the trigger.

The world was full of monsters.

“Front line, sir?” he asked, turning on the spot. The older man nodded, jerking his head towards the fence. Paul followed it towards the rising sun.

*

The sun rose with a line of advancing light. It crept up the streets, pouring between the buildings and casting the asphalt in glowing orange. The bodies rose with it. The twitching bodies, breath rattling through their lungs, lurched to their feet. Some had broken legs, the bones scraped together when they moved, there were holes in others, shotgun blasts and ripped flesh hanging loose. But still they’d come. With the rising sun, they’d staggered into angry life, moving in never ending swarms towards the promise of warm meat.

“Get out in front.” The command was barked from the left and Paul moved forward. He slinked into the unprotected open, the groaning rising in pitch as the infected awoke. They shuffled towards him, some faster than others. He lined up his sights and pulled back on the trigger.

It had to be a headshot. Each time. They wouldn’t fall without it.

“Move it forward, Rodriguez!”

He kept his steps even, a slow advance into the line of infected. The men behind were wrestling with the fence, extending the barrier further into the city.

He liked the front line. It wasn’t so hard to kill when the infected were running right at you, wanting to eat you.

The infected drew closer. Paul was still shaded, the sunrise not yet hitting the bodies at his feet. He put a bullet in every skull he passed and with measured steps advanced to the line of snarling infected.

“Hold that line.” He heard the bark of a command from thirty yards behind him. He planted his feet and shot at whatever moved in front of him, the heads snapping back as the bullets pierced through.

The far corner of the building they were trying to secure was just ahead, twenty yards at most. He kept his sights aimed there, picking off the infected as they appeared. The sky glowed orange, the building a silhouette against it. The infected streamed as black shadows, faceless masses that oozed blood as they ran towards him. They growled and thrashed, wordless, guttural noises issuing from them, their throats echoing the roar of their unsatisfied stomachs. He could hear their teeth snapping together, chewing restlessly as they staggered forward.

The fence was coming up behind him. The men secured it to lampposts and buildings left to rot. It was jagged and sloppy, but it had held so far. He moved forward to the corner of the building, his sights aimed on the empty thirty yards between him and the point of the fence. No one would stagger through.

When his commander signaled, he rolled off the corner and around the building. He walked gun first into four infected men, bent over and quietly feeding on a fresh body.

They turned as one, entrails streaming red blood through their fingers. They chewed slowly as their pulpy, yellow eyes landed on him. One snarled, a sharp noise ripped from its throat.

Paul got off two shots, killing one and missing another, before his gun was pushed up against his chest. Three landed on him, their jaws snapping. Flecks of blood spattered over his mask and helmet. His line of sight blurred with red smears. Teeth, splintered and jagged things, snapped against his facemask. Fingernails dug into his arm and chest and a heavy pressure that felt like a bite clamped onto his leather boot.

Death would be easier.

The thought flashed before he could prevent it. Because it was true.

The world was full of monsters.

There were two kinds of people left in this world, the kind that was attacking him and the kind he had become. A slaughterer of sick men, women, and children.

And he didn’t want to be either.

His grip on the gun slackened. Everything on him was protected. Light armor, leather gloves and boots, a helmet you couldn’t even scratch under, bite proof jacket. But he could still die. He had seen it happen to others. No armor was foolproof.

And maybe he wouldn’t turn, maybe they’d kill him instead, just like the pile of carnage he found them eating.

The snarling and grunting drowned out all other noise. There was no other normal sounds anyway, no sounds of traffic or bustling people, not even birds; it had all been lost already, ever since the start of the outbreak. But another noise did break through. A small, insistent tapping.

Paul eyes traced the line of the building, settling on a window where a girl was watching him. Even through the specks of blood and smeared fingerprints, he could see her. She was young, couldn’t be older than twelve, and her green eyes locked on him.

The infected men pawed at him, teeth scraping. They were heavy, pinning him to the asphalt, moving in restless agitation over his still body, trying to find a way to feed. They reeked of blood.

The world was full of monsters.

The girl’s brow creased and her lips pressed in a hard line. Her fingers came to rest on the window, almost like she was reaching out for him. His own fingers spasmed on his gun. Arms clad in red plaid came around the girl and squeezed. Paul tensed.

The world was full of monsters.

But it wasn’t the grip of an infected. It was one of comfort. Someone was comforting the girl.

But maybe we’re not all that’s left.

Paul twisted into the pavement, a yell ripping from him as he scrambled backwards from underneath the sick men. He pressed his back to the brick, wrestling his feet free. Paul thrashed out with his boot and felt his heel smash through a rotting eye socket. A body fell. He kicked again, got enough space between him and the last two infected to raise his gun and shoot.

More were coming now. He could see their silhouettes staggering closer through the dawn. He used his leverage against the building to stand.

The girl was still there. He could see her from the corner of his eye.

He wouldn’t survive this. He didn’t want to. But he needed her to, needed there to be someone left in the world who wasn’t a monster. So he’d give it another day, and maybe another one after that. Give whoever remained the best shot possible.

The men with the fence drew nearer and Paul stepped forward towards the city to give them space to work, picking off the infected that came. When they were done, he climbed back into safety, the girl’s building secure.

Because he was needed. For now. He was needed to rid the world of monsters. And he would do that. Even if, in the end, it included himself.

 ~*~

Bio:
E. M. Fitch is an author who dabbles primarily in Young Adult fiction but just can’t resist playing in a world full of zombies. The World Was Full of Monsters is an outtake from her recently released debut novel Break Free the Night. You can find more about her works through her web site: www.emfitch.com or chat her up on Twitter @erinmfitch.

 

4 thoughts on “The World Was Full of Monsters By E.M. Fitch”

  1. Hi Erin,
    This is really a fantastic story. You show us the value of innocence and blur the lines of morality in a world of warriors and monsters. Lovely stuff. I have your book on my list TBR list and am so looking forward to it!

  2. Erin, I don’t think I have ever read a story so horrifically gruesome, that was so skillfully, beautifully written. I’m glad I read it in the afternoon, instead of right before bedtime!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed the story in spite of the gore, it can be a fine line when creating horror and I’m glad the writing came through for you. Thanks so much for your comments, it made my night!

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