Halfway back to Zoe’s place, or at least the building I remembered her being in, I heard someone shouting, only a street away. They sounded scared. I froze.
Part of me wanted to just keep walking. To ignore it. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t my problem, didn’t affect me, and getting involved could make things worse.
It was a very small part of me. The rest of me was already moving towards the source of the sound. Apparently I wasn’t the type to learn from my mistakes.
I ran around the corner running at full speed and barrelled right into somebody. They grunted as we both fell backwards, though I barely felt the impact at all.
“Sorry,” I said, already standing up again.
The guy I’d run into looked up at me, a look of pure terror plastered across his face. He quickly scrambled to his feet before pushing past me.
“Run, dude,” he said, his voice hoarse. I turned to look past him, and realised why he was running.
I didn’t know what I was looking at, but it was running right at me, and it showed no signs of slowing down. I clenched my first, already feeling my body begin to change. The world slowed, the cold receded. Everything became clearer.
Whatever it was, it almost looked human. It had a human face, albeit one twisted by rage and an intense focus on the guy I’d knocked over. It wasn’t even paying attention to me.
It was a good couple of feet taller than me, with pallid grey skin and prominent black veins. Every muscle on its body bulged, and despite its humanoid stature it ran on all fours.
I stood my ground as it got closer, saliva dripping from its lips. It seemed like it was just going to run right through me. I almost couldn’t wait for it to try. I felt strong.
As soon as it got close enough, I pulled my fist back and punched it right in the jaw. I felt the force of the impact travel up my arm, and an ache begin in my shoulder, but the creature was thrown sideways, growling as it slid across the ground.
I smiled as it snarled at me, its focus on the boy completely lost. Just what I wanted. I braced myself as it charged again.
It occurred to me as it threw itself through the air towards me that I didn’t have the first idea how to fight. I’d always avoided violence, and yet here I was, throwing myself headfirst into a fight with some kind of inhuman monster. Never mind wondering what the creature even was, or what it was doing in Melbourne.
The creature collided with me, and it hurt a lot more than the bullets did. It threw me back into the wall behind me, and I felt the bricks crumble and break.
It sank its teeth into my shoulder, and I cried out, surprised by how much it hurt. As strong as I was, this thing seemed to be able to match, and it had size and weight behind it on top. It suddenly occurred to me I was in an extremely bad position.
Adrenaline surged through me as I grabbed it by the shoulders, and threw it backwards off of me. It rolled along the ground, landing on its feet, looking even more pissed than before.
It charged again, and I knew there was nothing I could do if it hit me. Instead, I leap-frogged over it, landing behind it as it crashed into the wall, almost running right through it. Just how strong was this thing?
My mind was racing, trying to come up with some way to stop it. If it could shake off running headfirst into a solid brick wall, I wasn’t so sure there was a lot I could throw at it that would have much more of an impact. I could keep punching it until it fell down, but I was more likely to end up getting beaten up myself that way.
The creature snarled loudly, a sound that echoed throughout the streets. Moments later, I heard several snarled responses. I could only assume that meant more were on the way.
“What did you do?” a voice shouted, their voice shaking a little. The guy I’d knocked over had stuck around, hiding behind a bin.
Before I could say anything to him, the creature charged at me again. This time, instinct took over.
I ducked as it threw itself at me, driving my forearm into its neck. I slammed my fist into its stomach, and flipped it over the top of me, smashing it into the wall behind me. It dropped to the ground headfirst, and without thinking, I brought my foot down on its neck.
I shuddered as I heard it crunch beneath me, and the creature twitched and stopped moving. The guy was just staring, his mouth gaping open.
A dark shape dropped down from above, landing in a graceful stance, arms spread wide. The guy went back to hiding behind the bin.
“What the hell did you do that for?” the newcomer asked, standing up straight. A long coat fluttered behind them, and their face was hidden behind a dark mask, the eyes glowing an eerie red. Their voice was distorted, filtered through the mask.
“You’re the Vigilante,” I said, suddenly feeling intimidated.
“And you’re a murderer,” they said, taking a step towards me. “Do you have any idea who you just killed?”
I looked down at the motionless body beneath me. All I saw was a grotesque, mutated monster.
“How could I possibly know who that was?”
The Vigilante took another, aggressive step towards me.
“And that makes it okay to kill them? Because you don’t know who they used to be?”
I shrank back, not feeling frightened, but guilty. I had a sinking, twisting feeling in my gut, as I realised what the creature was.
“They’re human,” I said, my voice strangled. “Infected. This is what happens to them.”
The Vigilante crouched beside me, running their hand across the dead body’s hairless head.
“I don’t know if there’s a way to save them, after they get infected,” they said. “But I’m determined to find out. We owe them that much.”
“How are we supposed to do that?” I asked. “Nothing seems to stop them, and people, uninfected people, we need to protect them, too…”
The Vigilante reached into their coat, and pulled out a syringe, filled with a clear liquid. With their other hand, they pulled out what appeared to be a toy pistol. After twirling it through their fingers, they handed both to me.
“I’ve tested a lot of sedatives, this is the only one that seems to work. A full syringe will knock them out for about an hour, half a syringe for a quarter of that.”
“And the gun?” I asked, holding it awkwardly away from me.
“It’s a flare gun. Shoot it if you manage to subdue one, and I’ll come retrieve it,” the Vigilante said, looking down at the dead one again.
“And do what?”
“I’ve been keeping them somewhere,” they said. “It’s safe, they can’t hurt anyone and they can’t get out.”
“Don’t they hurt each other?” I asked, surprised.
“No, they don’t. This infection, it seems almost deliberate. They cooperate, working together. And they’re not as mindless as they seem. The more of them that are together, the smarter they seem.”
“And you’re putting more and more into one place?”
The Vigilante laughed.
“Trust me, nothing’s getting out of where I’m keeping them, no matter how clever and coordinated they become.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Because it took me six months to get out, with help from the outside,” they said.
Our conversation was interrupted by another echoing snarl. One of the infected humans came rushing into the street, another dropping down from a rooftop.
“Take the boy and go,” the Vigilante ordered. “I’ll take care of these two.”