Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

NPC (Stranger Tales No. 3)

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Five rows of metal corridors, a scalding shower and haircut before they opened up the prison to her. She wore a pastel skirt-and-cardigan combo that was the “base” for young, white women.

‘All the prisoners are made to look like the same few models,’ the lady who cut her hair had said. ‘The possessed doesn’t like variety.’

She barely recognised herself in the mirror, with the dyed mousey hair, and the plain bob cut. In normal prisons, and in other countries, you had to wear a jumpsuit. Didn’t matter if you had been caught smoking pot or killed dozens of people, whether you were black or white or young or old: you all had the same suit, and from that base uniform you could wear it how you wanted. It felt more erosive to her individuality to be forced into such a specific style. But then, this prison was meant to be erosive to everything.

Martin, the official who had been in charge of her since her sentencing, took her along the last corridor, which rose from underground to street level.

‘We’re going to come out a street away from your route, near the east side. I’ll show you your quarters and how to get into them, and take you once around your route. From tomorrow, you’ll be on your own as you walk.’

Carly’s sentence was walking. Martin had given her a map of the city, with its three sprawling areas and outlying countryside, and on it a few tiny streets were coloured in red: her route. Every day, for the rest of her life, she would walk those same few streets, over and over and over. ‘Unless circumstances change or prevent that,’ Martin had said. By “circumstances”, she knew he meant “grievous injury”.

They came to a huge metal door, with multiple locks and security codes. Martin passed them all deftly before swinging it open. The sunshine and fresh air hit her, and Carly breathed it in gladly. During her trial, she had been trapped in an average prison cell, and to go outside now felt like freedom to her. Of course, that was a mistaken impression. She imagined she’d get sick of outside soon enough.

They stepped out onto the street, and Martin shut the door. It vanished into the brown brick wall of the building, nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. Two metres from it, there was a red wooden door with a shiny brass handle. The subterranean compound ended in a church, of all things.

The street they were on was as lively as expected: walkers passed by, many of them wearing the same uniform as Carly, others dressed as old men, old ladies, business people, casual men, workers. They all glanced at her and Martin as they passed, flicking their eyes the ground uncomfortably, unhappy to see a new arrival joining them in hell.

‘First things first,’ Martin said. ‘All the doors to the high-rises are fake and don’t open. The glass ones have dummy stores behind them. The only doors that do work are those to the fast food joints, bars, and casino. Hidden doors lead to all the living quarters. Come on and I’ll show you yours.’

They crossed the street, and Carly noticed how intently Martin watched the peacable roads. Not a single car moved out of file or at a different speed to the others passing by, but that could all change in an instant. They had considered making her a driver, instead of a walker, but ultimately decided her crime was too great for driving. Drivers at least had seatbelts, and three tons of metal between them and outside. Walkers were much more likely to die, though not the most likely. Drivers, walkers and workers, then hookers, police and gang-members, from least likely to certain doom. The judge had been relatively lenient on her, Martin had said. A more religious man would have made her a hooker for sure.

Down the street, cutting through an alley, and then to another block. Martin stopped in front of a white building with fake clothes stores along its bottom, and looked around for a moment.

‘Here, by this poster,’ he said. Next to a poster of an imaginary action movie, there was a crack in the brick. Martin prised it open with his finger, and underneath was a fingerprint scanner. He scanned his thumb and the door swung inward, leading onto some desolate stairs.

‘If the possessed is nearby, no doors will open,’ Martin explained as they went up. ‘Except those ones that are always open, that I mentioned before. The tag will monitor that you’re sticking to your route, but you are allowed to deviate from the path in order to enter these places. The bars don’t have any alcohol, obviously, and you can’t play for money at the casino. You are not permitted to stay in any of these places for more than two hours.’

Otherwise everyone would stay in there all day, and never complete their routes, Carly thought. They came to the third floor landing, and this time they went through the door instead of ascending further. A corridor with five doors stretched to their left and right. He took her to the leftmost door, and opened it with another fingerprint scan.

It was a bare little room, with a bed and bathroom. A bookcase and some stationery were the only items of note. On one of the walls, there was a metal hatch, the kind used to send meals from the kitchen in multi-level restaurants.

‘There are some reading materials, and stationery for writing home. If you want to send a letter, just place it in the hatch along with your plates. Your breakfast and dinner will be sent at 7am and 6pm every day. Dirty clothes should be placed in one of the laundry bags in your drawer, and onto the second tier of the hatch. Now, let’s go back outside.’

At least it has a window, Carly thought as they left her new home. That was better than the cell she had had. Again, the illusion of freedom was nice, even if the bruise on her arm, from where they had inserted the tag into her skin, reminded her of the truth every time it brushed against her torso.

Her route began right outside her front door. It led down five blocks, along one, then up, then repeating in a snake-like pattern. Five blocks across from the starting point, it turned back on itself, making the same pattern in reverse: down the street, across one, then up or down. She guessed it took about an hour to do the whole thing. Martin said little as they walked together, still looking around, constantly wary of danger, as she should be. How often must he do the walks that people will do until they die, she thought. I wonder what the officials do with gang-members and hookers. I can’t imagine it’s fun.

Finally, they returned to the stretch of wall and poster that were her front door.

‘Your sentence starts as soon as I leave you,’ he said. ‘But you only have to walk the route three more times today, as you’ve just started. The tag will buzz if you go off the route, so you’ll know if you take a wrong turn. If you have any questions, then go into one of the open buildings and ask someone. If there’s one thing that’ll give you comfort, it’s that your fellow convicts are usually very willing to talk.’

She nodded. He turned, and she struggled with the urge to plead with him, beg him to take her back into the compound, beg him not to abandon her here.

‘I didn’t do it,’ she blurted out. He gave her a sad smile.

‘I’m not the judge, so I can’t make that call,’ he said. ‘But you never know. Luck might be in your favour. There are people who’ve been in here for years and never been hurt by the possessed. You might be one of them. If the ruling’s appealed and overturned in that time, you might just be one of the few who gets out.’

‘Hurt by him? You mean everyone meets him?’

‘Oh yes,’ Martin said, with a callous laugh. ‘Yes, everyone sees the possessed. It wouldn’t be much of a punishment if we couldn’t guarantee that, would it? Well, good luck.’

With that, he walked away. She stood by the wall, staring around at the street, terrified by the worn faces of everyone who passed by. She knew she should start walking, but the idea of starting on the track that would be the rest of her life seemed hideous.

‘Beginner’s fright, huh?’ said an old man as he walked by, with a kind smile. ‘Might as well get it over with, honey. It’ll only feel worse if you put it off.’

‘Come on,’ said a businesswoman a little behind him, ‘it’s just one foot in front of the other.’

Carly inhaled and stepped out onto the street.

It was like walking down a normal street in a normal city, at first. Group of people walked together, chatting. Those walking past her avoided her gaze, like regular urbanites. The lack of variety began to grate on her after a few minutes, though. She passed five women in her same uniform by the first turn in her route. Different faces, different heights and builds, all squeezed into the same look, until they all began to look indistinguishable to her.

The worst part, though, the part that no-one could have known merely from watching the crowds on the street, was the tension hanging thick in the air. Even the people who grouped up and seemed to be having fun had terse smiles and brittle laughter. It was like a smog that lay over everyone’s shoulders, a blanket that every person carried in part.

She saw interference after a little while. One businesswoman was walking very slowly, hobbling in her high heels, so she took them off and carried them in her hands. Within a few minutes, a door opened from a wall next to her and a suited person jumped out, grabbed her arm, and uttered a few words to her. The businesswoman complained and pleaded, but the suit merely passed her shoes back to her, and handed her what looked like a white slip. As Carly overtook her, she saw the businesswoman opening the slip and placing the blister packs on the back of her heels, before stepping back into her shoes with a tearful grimace. Carly felt grateful for her sandals, even if her toes were cold and grit was starting to collect between them.

An hour later, the walk was complete. Only twice more today, and then forever more until she died. She stood on the street in front of her front door, and looked down at her feet, and skirt, and shaking hands, and she began to sob.

‘Cheer up, girl,’ an old man said as he passed by. It was the same old man who had first cheered her on, now on his next circuit. ‘It could be worse. You’re still alive, and we’re all here to help. Want to walk and talk?’

You’re all murderers and worse, Carly thought. She shook her head, and scrabbled at the wall for the fingerprint scanner. The old man gave her a pitying look, and continued on by.

Once she was in the stairwell, she found she didn’t have the will to go up to her new room and face its hotel-like bleakness. Outside only held more walking, and more prisoners, and eventually the possessed, and doom. She had nowhere to go, and nothing could save her. So she stood by the door, crying into her hands, for who knew how long. Finally, her sobs subsisded, and the will to continue living returned. This was her punishment. This was her fate, and she had to face it head on.

The sunshine was just as bright outside, and the roads just as orderly. The walkers going by gave her small smiles of encouragement. It was nearly lunchtime.

There was a fast-food chicken place off the third turn of her route, and her stomach was rumbling. It was nearly empty, with no queue and only a few people sitting at the tables. She tried to ignore their looks as she walked to the counter.

‘Hey,’ the girl at the til said. She would have been indistinguishable from a fast food worker on the outside of prison, with her brightly coloured cap and polo shirt, but she had the slouching, judgemental attitude of a young, tattooed cynic. She looked like she should be chewing gum.

‘Hey,’ Carly returned, looking at the menus. Bright pictures of fried chicken and salad and drinks, with similarly bright prices. She had no money, of course.

‘Don’t bother looking at those,’ she said. ‘They’re for atmosphere. We’ve got a normal kitchen back there, and a microwaveable version of nearly everything, so just ask for what you want and I’ll tell you if we have it.’

‘I want a sandwich,’ Carly said. ‘Just a ham sandwich. No mayo.’

‘No problem,’ the girl said, before shouting the order back. When she turned back, she gave Carly one of those small, sympathetic smiles that she had been receiving all day. It must be painfully obvious how new she was.

‘I’m Sarah,’ the girl said. ‘You’ll get to know everyone round here within a few days. There’s not exactly a lot of us, so we have a community of sorts.’

Carly nodded, not knowing what to say.

‘So,’ Sarah continued, ‘what are you in for?’

I can’t answer that, Carly thought, but she still felt so raw, so upset at her fate, that she decided to spill it. What was the point in caring anymore?

‘They said I killed my baby, but I didn’t do it. It wasn’t my fault.’

‘Poor girl,’ Sarah said, with raised eyebrows – the small show of sympathy you give to a stranger, when you really don’t care about their problems.

‘You?’ Carly asked.

‘My boyfriend and brother went on a spree,’ she said. ‘Robbing across America. I was their getaway driver. Killed a couple of cash register girls. Judges thought it’d be funny to put me here.’

‘Karmic justice,’ Carly muttered.

‘Myeah. How long does it take to make a fucking ham sandwich around here?’ she shouted back to the kitchen. A man pushed along a plate with a meagre white-breaded sandwich on top, and Sarah picked it up. Carly had to resist the urge to go for her nonexistant purse.

‘Well, see you around, hun,’ Sarah said. Carly picked up the plate and turned away. She had only taken a few steps to the nearest empty table when the door slammed open, frame juddering as it recoiled from the force. A man walked up to the counter without a word.

‘Welcome to Clucky Hut, for all your Clucky needs,’ Sarah squeaked, suddenly standing straight, with a bright smile painted on her face. She fumbled for a button on the counter and a holographic menu appeared in front of the new visitor. The air had thickened in an instant. Everyone in the joint huddled, shoulders hunched, staring straight ahead at their meal – everyone except Sarah, with her plastic, terrified smile, and Carly, struck like a deer in headlights, plate wobbling in her hand.

He looked nearly normal. Average height, close-cut brown hair, stubble. The kind of harsh, handsome features beloved by both male models and criminals, all piercing cheeks and laser eyes. He seemed to stare through the world, as if barely noticing it while he made his way around. Utterly devoid of emotion. She hadn’t thought it would be so easy to tell him apart from everyone else, but a cloud of fear seemed to swarm around him, given off in the way he held himself and every movement of his body. He was the only off-model, non-suited person she had seen in the city.

He extended his hand to one of the options on the menu, and Sarah reached further under the counter, pulling out one of the meals that was displayed in the fake advertisements.

‘Have a Clucky good day, sir!’ she said.

The man opened the packaging – so like home, Carly thought with a pang, yet so fake – and took out the chicken burger he had ordered it. Squeezing it between his dirty fingers, he sank his teeth in, and chewed.

Sarah’s smile wobbled.

He ate.

No-one at their seats had moved, except to look at each other and at Carly, still standing there like a loose hanging thread on a t-shirt. She wanted to sit down, she wanted to eat, but she knew if she moved she might call attention to herself, and then her prison sentence would be very short indeed.

The man finally finished his meal, and pushed the tray away. Sarah made it vanish as quickly as she had made it appear. She allowed her smile to fade, but the man at the counter did not move. He looked around the shop, turning stiffly, and Carly jerked to face the wall as he swept his eyes to her side of the room. Don’t drop the plate, she told herself, just don’t drop the plate…

She peeked back. The man was still looking around. What is he doing, she thought, trying to fathom what was happening behind his eyes.

Without a change in expression, he pulled a gun from his belt, and pointed it at Sarah.

Carly backed into the wall, plate clattering on the ground, automatically raising her hands. The people at the tables cowered, shielding their heads with their hands. And Sarah stepped back, crouched, and held her arms above her head, in a gesture of defeat, a plea for mercy.

The man turned his head and saw Carly, and everyone else buckled down. A ghost of a smile passed over his features, and then he put the gun back in the holster, turned, and left as suddenly as he came.

A collective breath rushed round the room. Carly felt her chest with her hand, felt her heart pounding at her rib wall. So that was the possessed. That was her punishment, bound up in one crazed, murderous man.

Sarah turned away from the til, wiping her eyes with shaking hands. The man from the back came out and comforted her, rubbing her arm. All Carly heard was ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re still alive.’

She picked her plate from the floor, ham sandwich still intact on top. When she took her first bite, it was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted, salty meaty taste spreading over her tongue and soft white mush coating her teeth.

‘Next time,’ said an old lady at the table, ‘get your ass down quickly.’

The man from the kitchen took Sarah’s place at the till. Carly nodded at the admonishment, wondering why she had never realised how amazing food could taste.

#

The next day she wondered if she could just huddle underneath her covers all morning, refusing to look out at her white hole of a room. But come 6.30am, a loud alarm sounded, like it came from the very walls. She tried to curl up and ignore it, but after a minute the tag under her arm buzzed violently and she knew it was no use. Up, five minutes trying to adjust the shower to how she liked it, then into her bland uniform for the day.

Her feet had been especially disgusting to wash this morning, leaving grey and brown streaks all over the shower floor, and the thought of how bad they would get today made her feel sick. Blisters were starting up on her heels and across the bony ridges on top of her feet, where the sandal straps constantly rubbed against her. And she had only done four walks yesterday. She gritted her teeth, gave the sandals a wipe with damp flaking toilet paper, then slipped her feet back into them. Constantly walking in inappropriate footwear was punishment enough. She thought with envy of the old men and workers with their large, comfortable boots. Not fair to punish women in that extra way.

You’ll get used to it, she told herself, as she slipped on the skirt and blouse and cardigan. She had been surprised to see her new hair in the mirror this morning, but she would soon get used to it, and to getting up and doing this every day. Just think of it like a job. Like when she was still working at the supermarket, before she had Ava, and she used to drag herself out of bed and climb into her plastic-feeling uniform in pitch dark before standing on her feet for eight hours, burning her hands on hot rotisserie chicken grease. She got used to that. She would have to get used to walking, and sore feet. And a man pointing his gun at you for his own enjoyment.

Carly shuddered. She missed home.

Before the tears could spring on her again, she forced herself out of the flat. Coming out the doors, she met the businesswoman with sore feet from yesterday, an old lady, and a girl dressed exactly as she was.

‘Morning,’ said the businesswoman, already limping slightly in her heels.

The old lady nodded and went out. Carly and the other girl in the skirt stopped at the door to the stairwell. She felt she should be embarrassed to look so similar to another woman, even though that was the point. This woman had very dark eyebrows and a longer nose than her – she did not suit the mousy look.

‘Go on first,’ she said to Carly. ‘It’s best if we spread out a little on the walk – it looks kind of weird for similar models to go together.’

‘Okay.’

On the stairs, numerous people were clicking and clomping by. All these heinous convicts, talking cheerfully to each other, as if there was no danger outside, as if they were free.

‘How are you finding it?’ the girl asked.

‘…Tiring.’

Again, a small smile for the newcomer.

‘The girl who was in your room before you was here for ten years before anything happened to her,’ she said. ‘They had to change her model and everything. If anyone was tired, it was her. But she used to say that the way she saw it, outside you could be run over or shot or just drop dead from stroke at any second, so here was not much worse, and you don’t have to worry about food or bills or anything like that. I think you last longer if you’re positive like that.’

‘Being positive won’t stop someone shooting you in the face,’ Carly replied.

‘Didn’t stop her being dragged fifty feet by a speeding minivan either,’ the girl said. Her eyes were suddenly shiny with tears. Perhaps it was easy to be open with people in the same sad situation as you. Perhaps it was easy to become very close, and that made it the harder when they were suddenly taken.

‘Go on,’ the girl said. ‘Best to get started.’

Carly was out on the street before she realised that she should have asked the girl what to do about her bad feet. Well, there’d be plenty of time for that. She’d probably learn everyone around here sooner or later. Like a new family.

She recognised people from yesterday’s walks as she passed them, and by the third turn she was feeling strong enough to smile at them. The atmosphere had lessened slightly today. More chatting between groups, more genuine giggles. She walked with the businesswoman at one point, and asked why that was.

‘The possessed came by here yesterday, then ran off to the harbour. That means he probably won’t be back here again today.’

‘That’s good,’ Carly said. She thought about the harbour, and the countryside around the city. Keeping her voice very low, she asked:

‘Has anyone managed to run away from here?’

‘Invisible walls,’ the businesswoman said.

‘What?’

‘Clear plastic walls right round the edges of the fields, and on the sea border. We’re pretty much our own little country here, trapped in like hamsters in a cage. You know, you can get video feeds of what goes on here if you dig deep enough in the web – tapes of people drowning as they try to escape, banging against the walls in the fields, that kind of thing.’

‘I didn’t know they had cameras,’ Carly said, realising how naïve that sounded as soon as she voiced it.

‘When they grabbed my hard-drive they found I’d been looking at them,’ the businesswoman said. ‘Asshole lawyer tried his hardest to get me in here because of that, even though I hadn’t killed anyone. It worked.’

It was good to know there were some non-murderers here, at least – even if it was vastly more injust.

‘At least the public can’t see these things,’ Carly said. She didn’t like the idea of strangers examining her every idiotic move, especially her death.

‘What would be the point? It’s mostly hours and hours of people walking around. Really boring. Even the possessed doesn’t do anything interesting a lot of the time. Just runs about, stealing shit, driving too fast, that kind of thing.’

That man. Who was he? How had he come to be here? What kind of sick mind did he have, that let him terrorise incessantly?

‘Has anyone ever killed the possessed?’ Carly asked, again quietly.

‘All the time,’ the businesswoman laughed. ‘You think you can have so many gang fights without getting hurt at all? Hell, I saw one video when his head was blown clean off. But he always comes back.’

Carly’s skin crawled.

‘That’s not possible.’

‘Some people say there are hundreds of clones of him in the vault underground. Others say he’s an android. Whichever it is, we’re sure as hell not getting rid of him anytime soon. Fuck, my feet are killing me!’

She stopped and leant on the wall beside her, slipping off one heel and stretching her toes.

‘Go on, I’ll speak to you later. Jesus Christ…’

Carly was glad to walk away, since she needed the time to digest what she had just heard. It wasn’t possible. It was not possible.

She had lunch at Sarah’s joint again. The cashier didn’t say a word to her this time. It seemed she hadn’t fully recovered her ease after yesterday. This time she sat down as soon as she got her meal. The sandwich didn’t taste half as good.

#

It was late afternoon when he came up and started walking beside her. Black and lime green sneakers, bandana around his cornrows, white t-shirt. She automatically tensed as he approached her. One thing from outside was the same in this prison: gang-members always meant trouble.

‘Hey.’

She didn’t reply.

‘New girl, right?’

She nodded.

‘How you finding it?’

She made a non-commital noise. He continued to walk beside her for the next minute in silence, matching his pace to her increasingly slow steps. The blisters were becoming nearly unbearable.

‘Hey, you want my shoes?’

Carly burst out laughing. It was probably a nervous reaction, one of those fits that came in moments of stress.

‘Girl, I’m serious. You look like you’re hurting. Want my shoes for a while?’

‘I’d love them,’ she said. ‘Don’t think it’s allowed, though.’

‘No-one’ll notice for just a minute. Come on, let me be the gentleman.’

What was the use in being paranoid in a place like this? It all came down to the same two options: live, die. At least she knew she was being watched. Hopefully the officials would intervene if anything non-lethally awful happened.

‘Okay then.’

She gladly slipped off her sandals, stretching her toes on the warm, rough concrete, and stepped into his huge, sweaty shoes. They were like pillows on her feet. Heaven.

‘Don’t think you’ll fit mine,’ she said, picking up her sandals by the straps.

‘No biggie. Ain’t like there’s much glass or anything here.’

So they started walking together, people staring and giggling at Carly, with her neutral clothes and massive neon sneakers, and the barefoot gangster beside her.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Carly.’

‘Reese. Listen, Carly, I think you’re real pretty.’

She laughed again, trying to ignore those nerves. Once upon a time she would have maced him or run away for saying such a thing. Who gave a fuck now?

‘Me and all the other girls who’re exactly like this.’

‘Naw, they can’t change your face.’

‘You expect to get something from me, by saying that?’

That probably qualified as the most confrontational thing she had ever said. He was unfazed.

‘Listen, I’m a gentleman,’ he said. ‘The way I see it, you gotta live every day like it’s your last – especially when you’re dressed like me,’ he added, with a smile at his outfit. ‘So if I see a pretty girl, I tell her, and then what happens, happens. Can’t say I want any more regrets.’

Her nerves, her fears, were swept away at once, and instead she felt the urge to cry. Here was a walking dead-man, and yet he was human enough to give her his shoes for a while, and do without himself.

‘You kill someone?’ she asked.

‘Didn’t have much choice,’ he said.

‘Were you in a gang before coming here?’

‘Not much choice, where I’m from.’

‘How does it work for you here, then?’

‘Soon as the possessed comes out round here, we run and get him.’

Reese looked around the street: the staid line of cars, the never ending stream of similar people. The odd gang-members scattered around, noticeable by the lime green on their clothes. Nearly all of them were black, Carly realised. It had always been a thing for others to deal with – gangs, and hackers, and miscarriages of justice, the sort of thing that could never affect her. Then suddenly Ava was dead one night and somehow she ended up here, facing it all.

‘And he shoots you,’ she finished.

Reese nodded.

‘Usually. Can’t say I’ve dealt with that myself – not from him, anyway.’

Carly wiped her eyes.

‘It’s not fair,’ she whispered. ‘I’m not meant to be here. And if you couldn’t help it, you shouldn’t be here either.’

‘It ain’t fair,’ he agreed. ‘But that’s an outside thing, y’know? Once you’re in, you’re in. Nothing you can do about it from here.’

Outside didn’t care. She hadn’t cared. Since the possessed had appeared one day, and no-one could contain him, it was only right that they had used him to do justice, she’d thought. And now there was nothing she could do, because invisible walls and locked doors kept her in. Kept them all in.

A screech burst through the air.

The walkers froze, most ducking to the side, leaning against the walls. A crash came from up ahead, and the line of cars juddered to a halt. Carly froze, but Reese pulled her against the glass wall beside them, right next to the lacy mannequins of a fake lingerie shop. He stepped in front of her. The revving of a car grew louder, with more ear-piercing crashes and scrapes. The walkers were hiding behind fake dumpsters, huddling together in groups, crouching behind doorways. The line of cars buckled, then with another loud crash four of them span out of place, one crashing into a nearby building ahead of Carly. She dropped to her knees, turning her back to the road, arms shaking as she covered her head – a useless gesture against such danger.

She peeked over her shoulder and saw the car rush by, before it slammed into another vehicle. Deliberately driving at full speed on the wrong side of the road. The car was horribly dented, fender long gone and lights all smashed. The hood was half-open, smoke was coming from the insides, and at the window, staring passionlessly into the half-obscured vision, was the possessed. His face was cut from the glass of the cracked windows, but he did not seem aware that he was bleeding. He stared, and ploughed on into the fake taxi he had hit, until the taxi – squeezed between his force and a streetlight – span, and tilted onto its side. With that, the revving began again, and the possessed flew off at full speed, until the next crash was heard from further down the street.

The creak of hanging metal was all that was left, before the cries of pain started.

Reese straightened from his stance: leant against the wall over her, trying to protect her with his own body. Carly stood up and saw what he was looking at. Up ahead, the car that had spun out of control had hit some walkers. She knew she shouldn’t, but the same ghoulish curiosity that use to make her slow down on the highway when passing an accident now made it impossible for her to stay put. She walked towards it, as many of the other walkers were now doing, and Reese followed her to the scene.

The walls of the buildings burst open. Paramedics, complete with kits and stretchers, poured out of the gaps, along with officials in uniform, trying to push away the non-injured walkers.

‘Get back to your routes – everyone – back to your routes – we will clean up this section so everybody get back to your routes!’

The driver was barely alive, covered in glass from the broken window, half-stuck in his seat. They had to work to pull him out and he screamed the entire time. Ragdoll bodies were limp by the wall, blood on the concrete, some crying and holding broken limbs as the medics tried to help them. Near to Carly lay the unmoving body of the old man she had passed yesterday morning. The one who told her to cheer up.

‘Get back to your routes!’ the official said, pushing her away.

‘Come on,’ Reese said, taking her arm, ‘let’s go.’

I didn’t do it, she wanted to say. I didn’t do it. I’m not meant to be here. You’re not meant to be here. This isn’t right. This isn’t fair. Ten years before you’re dragged along by a speeding car all because you went to sleep one night and when you woke up your daughter was dead in her bed and they said you did it, and there was no appeal, there was nothing she could do, nothing she could do to protect herself against that monster with the unchanging face and the unstoppable force.

All she said in the end, as Reese dragged her away, was:

‘No…I can’t…I can’t…I can’t…’

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Written by G.J.

24/04/2013 at 4:04 pm

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