Monday, 14 September 2009 - 8:34 pm

The disposal of monsters

We lost Sylvia last night.

Perhaps I should be more precise, considering the circumstances: she passed away. We know exactly where she is.

I got the news when I arrived this morning. No need for me to do anything; it was already dealt with. The body had been disposed of – that phrase turned my stomach and I tried not to think about chains and mindless moaning.

I was sent to change the sheets of the bed she had been lying and dying in. They were ripe, somehow more so than when she had been alive. I almost wished I was back in the kitchens, but I didn’t dare think about food in case it came up to say hello. With no water to wash them in, fabric like that is taken outside and stretched under the sun. Once the stains are dry, they’re beaten off.

It’s another of those things that it’s best not to think about too deeply.


After the sheets were stretched out and the bed was made up again, I went to find Simon. He was checking over one of the kids; a little boy had a temperature. It wasn’t dangerous, so the little one was sent back to his dorm and told to stay in bed. I don’t even know where the children’s dorm is. They’re not in with the women and we’re not supposed to stray.

The medic tried to avoid me. I think he knew that I knew what groaned silently in the basement. He’s subtle in the way he sends me off to do something and busies himself so I won’t disturb him, but that only works for so long.

Last night, I dreamt about the shambler in the basement. His face kept changing – one minute it was monstrous and stretched; the next it was Sax with sad eyes. He strained towards me and the chains cut into him, and he was Ben with bared teeth. He pushed and he pushed, tearing himself apart while I scrabbled at the wall behind me, at the door, but I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t run away. I looked back as he started to reach through the hole in the wall. He rasped my name and then the chains cut him into quadrants. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t scream. I was bottled up and choking on the horror of it. I could still hear the wet slap of his parts against the floor when I woke.

Just like I had to go down and see what was in the basement, I had to get an answer from Simon. It was a different kind of challenge but it still made my heart thump uncomfortably in my chest. And once again, I almost turned away from the door to my target. Inside, I sat down so that I could see Simon’s face more clearly and so I couldn’t run away so easily.

“Where was Sylvia’s body taken?” I asked him.

He said something evasive about it being dealt with, using that ‘disposed of’ phrase again.

“Is it in the basement with the other one?”

He looked at me and changed his mind about denying any knowledge of it. We both knew it was true. He sighed and shook his head wearily. “Yes, she is.” He offered nothing; he was going to make me work for my answers.

That was fine by me. I had questions, and a sick feeling in the back of my throat. “Why are you keeping them down there? Why aren’t you killing them?”


I tried to think about what kinds of tests he could be doing on them. I can’t imagine how he would hope to get close enough to do any tests on a shambler. Also, most of the diagnostic equipment is ruined or lacking someone qualified to use it, even if they would dare to contaminate the medical equipment with poisoned shambler shards.

“The General wants to know how they work. The best way to kill them. How strong they are, how much damage they can take, how long it takes them to starve to death.”

I’m not sure if I felt sick because of the tests they would have to do to get that data, or because I could see why they would need that kind of information. “And what have you found?” I figured I might as well get everything I could while I was there. It’s not like it could make the nightmares any worse.

Simon shrugged and avoided my eyes. “They get more frantic as they get hungrier. I don’t think we’ve ever had one starve to death – they tend to tear themselves to pieces first, trying to get to food. They won’t eat each other, only meat from people who aren’t or haven’t been Sick. Bleeding seems to weaken them eventually, but it takes a long time. I assume you know the best way to kill them.”

I nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“No-one knows, except me, the General, and a handful of others. So many got sick that we didn’t want anyone else to know.” What happened to their friends.

He didn’t say it, but my mind filled that part in for him. I can imagine the chaos that would cause – friends and family being tortured to death in the basement. Though they can’t feel it, though it might be justified, it’s still wrong.

Then my mind tripped over something he had said. It was waving a little flag and I paused to turn it over. “How do you know that they don’t eat people who have the Sicknesss?”

Simon glanced at me for a heartbeat and didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to answer.

My stomach disappeared into the floor between my feet. Tests. I couldn’t sit any more and shot up to pace around the room. “And how do you know what they do eat? Did you test that, too?”

“No!” His denial was quick. I suppose it’s something. “They showed us without needing to be asked. What do you think we are?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

Again, he looked away and I got the feeling there was more he wasn’t telling me. I wanted to press him, but there was a stubborn set to his shoulders. I had got everything he was willing to give, so I left him alone. A fella arrived a short while later with an injured wrist and provided us with enough of a distraction that we found excuses not to talk for the rest of the day.


There’s a monster in the basement and it’s hungry. They’re keeping it hungry to see what it does. Soon, a new one will wake and keep it company, not that either of them will notice.

Simon knows the people those monsters used to be. He nursed them all through their Sickness and then chained them downstairs. He’s a lot stronger than I am; I couldn’t do it. No wonder he looks so terrible all the time.

I think the worst part is that I’m not as horrified by it as I thought I’d be. I can see why they’re doing it. But those monsters used to be people. We’re supposed to bury and honour our dead, or raise a pyre to the heavens for them, not poke them with sticks to see what they do. Not that.

The thing I am most sure about right now is that I don’t want to become like Simon. It’s one of those compromises that I don’t want to make.

I’ll hold onto my horror, for fear of who I’ll be without it.