I wake, all of a sudden and in agony. Belly down, I find myself spread eagle across one of Master Algernon’s expensive French carpets.
I pull myself from the woollen domain as a gust rips through into my designated sleeping quarters. The front door has been left wide open but why would nobody come to close it? Sure, I answer myself, it’s a large house — the largest I’ve ever stepped foot in — but the walls are traditionally thin and the corridors are large. Spiders, moths, and mozzies have already started to occupy the corners and crevices.
Initial thoughts of accident leave my head immediately as I touch it; something attacked me. The back of my head bleeds, the flesh smeared on impact. You can’t lead a life like Edwin Algernon without making enemies; not in this world, and not in the last. Upon closer inspection, I catch wind of dirt trodden into the velvet mountain of stairs, leading to the master bedroom.
I creep and keep my eyes open for unusual shadows until I reach the door of Master Algernon’s bedroom. Already, I feel the worst has been committed and I am too late to repay my debt. The door is cracked open and a once symmetrical patter of ornate Celtic symbols has been damaged. Peering through the broken heritage, I see a scornful young man; half-dead, a familiar wrapping of festered skin.
He doesn’t have to acknowledge my existence for me to realise I’ve already been caught; standing in front of Edwin and Ronald Algernon, a knife in his disease-ravaged hand coated in the blood of the senior Algernon.
The Masters Algernon sit strapped together back-to-back.
Then, he turns.
Spider-leg chest hairs poke out from between shirt buttons: his trademark look. The villain turns and points his grotesque eyes towards me: clouded to near-blindness by the virus that he has been willingly distributing throughout the Northern Beaches, infecting healthy candidates and turning them into monsters like myself.
Luke McCoy, the man who ‘recruited’ me.
Try as I might to hold back my reactions, my teeth — disgusted — grit without permission like a great, rotting army.
“I know you, you’re the ‘special’ one, aren’t you?” His sentences are intercut with almost pre-recorded segments of forced laughter railing off the same three sounds with each pause. “You made me a lot of money, you know that? But a lot is not quite enough, y’know? Do you remember me at all? Did you ever figure out what it was that made you so special? I could tell right away, there were always little bits and pieces of your personality in your eyes. That’s why you racked up such a high price, you’re a miracle. A God-damned super mutant.”
He tears his glance away from my face each time I try to mouth something towards him, tearing gaping holes in our dialogue. Luke places his dirtied knife right back into his left trouser pocket before he steps forward to meet me halfway. “Don’t start moving, not just yet. You’ll be coming with me, ‘Albion’, to become a fantastic father for the next generation of Zeds.”
I shake my head and raise my fists as I have been taught to do.
“It’s not an exact science, my people haven’t quite figured it out yet. But we’ll get there, especially with good ol’ resilient Albion.” Eight peeling knuckles touch my own, “it’s not a choice. Your ‘Master’ is dead and his son’s not far behind, so you fight for McCoy now.”
I swing, aiming only for his tender skull. It doesn’t matter if he’s only part-infected, it’s the only way to end him but still, I miss. He steps away from my poor, sleep-damaged aim and I’m force-fed more nonsense. “I met your brother the other day, Mr. Haig.”
The words are filtered past my ears, I don’t catch on until he speaks up again. “Ridley Haig,” he says, “your brother is coming to the City, Byron.”
My body kicks in before I can react to the news and our fight begins; I’m growling and spitting while he’s just shouting and laughing in my ears, even with my fist in his mouth. “Don’t you ever learn? You can’t kill me Byron, you just can’t.”
Luke McCoy is the reason that I am like this and my revenge personified. It’s strange to have somebody in your life that you can force all of the blame onto for a single life-changing moment. Rarely does one get the chance to create an enemy, a true enemy. A physical manifestation of all your dark thoughts; that’s how Fredrichson explained Luke to me.
I had explained my story during our first session as an ice-breaker to prove the power of our language. On the night of the attack, we were heading to Palm Beach carrying nothing but an old tent — not even waterproof — and a couple cans of food. We had walked from the City having been evicted just a few days earlier and now, we were hoping to catch a ferry to a survivor’s campsite.
I hope they made it.
Luke didn’t mention my Dad, did he?
For the night, we slept beneath the stars on the edge of a public park. My brother and father took care of the surrounding Zeds as fast as possible and I can still remember the look on Ridley’s face: he was sad as he fired each bullet. It confused me at the time, my mind had been warped a little by T.V and film. Why feel? Zombies are mindless, survivalist brutes and their death is a favour to the world.
I hope he understands them better now.
Our campfire kept us warm until the wind picked up, spreading our modest set-up across the brush of the park. The light and warmth garnered the Zed’s attention and they quickly gathered, despite my family’s best attempt to dispatch the creatures. We fled to the beach, the sprint felt like it took hours as even the slowest of Zeds felt like Olympic sprinters.
From there, we leapt from the frying pan into the shitstorm beneath it as something more vicious had been tracking our scent. They were well-camouflaged in the moonlight, tripodal and drooling. Faster than anything I could imagine and, when my body could no longer carry my own weight, I fell hard.
Mother, she came screaming after me, no matter what my father ordered.
Only I came back from it. By the time I returned to consciousness, the process was already over and I had developed into the form I stand in now: stronger, more intelligent, wordless. I could neither scream nor speak as I watched the man I fight now steal my mother’s remains from beside me.
All I could do was bite.
I tore through Luke’s skin like there was nothing beneath it, forcing my fate upon his own. He screamed and cried like the child I was as his minions poured piles of pills down his throat in order to save his pitiful life. Like rice at a wedding, they slung bandage rolls and needles against his body. His devolution was my doing, and it’s the reason I was sold to the auction in the first place.