Swallowed by the Beast Sample
Carnival Carnage by Samie Sands
Every year it’s the same old tosh. We have this massive celebration which begins with all the nearby family coming around to ours for a barbeque at lunchtime. This is followed by a good couple of hours with us all pretending not to totally hate each other like we do the rest of the year. Then, when all the adults are suitably drunk and things could descend into chaos, we pack up and head out to the carnival in the town square.
That bit actually has the potential to be quite fun, if I didn’t have to spend the time babysitting my two bratty five-year-old cousins Jack and Jill (nope, not even kidding! Who calls twins such ridiculous names?) and hang about with Daniel. He’s the same age as me, but such a loser. He loves all sorts of geeky shit and just has absolutely zero social skills. I do not know what he does with his time. Luckily, we don’t go to the same school. He’s far too embarrassing to have around my mates, so I end up spending most of the time trying to avoid everyone I know.
Don’t judge me, I actually have a good reputation around here, but as we all know, popularity is a fragile thing. Hard to build up, but any little thing can knock you right off the social ladder, straight back down to the bottom. I refuse to have that happen because of my idiot family.
If I’m totally honest, the worst thing of it all is that my bloody mother always, without fail, forced me to wear a dress. I have to “Look like a girl for once”. She is so God damn old fashioned. People don’t wear dresses anymore—that’s why jeans were invented for Christ sake! I stare at my unfamiliar reflection and huff, tugging at the hem uncomfortably. This just isn’t me in any way. I need this day over with so I can go back to my real life.
Mid-morning brings with it a flurry or grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins. I can’t even begin to keep track. I keep the fake smile plastered across my face, even though inside I am screaming profanities and cringing. The afternoon passes slowly, very slowly, but without too much drama. It’s surprising really, that all these people can bear to be around each other. After all, they spend the rest of their time bickering over money, child rearing and other pathetic issues. Why must they pretend now? It’s so dumb. I’ll never understand the politics of adulthood.
The television blares out the political speeches—another 4th July tradition, but I tune out, unable to bear listening. This day is dragging on and I feel so uncomfortable in the swishy, short dress it’s unreal. The station finally flickers onto the news, and mum immediately silences it. As I watch the fading black, the inane chatter starts surrounding me again. Why is it that when adults get drunk, they just get louder and more stupid? Seems absolutely ridiculous to me, which is why alcohol has never tempted me.
I finally free myself to shove on some jeans and a plain t-shirt, as we are getting ready to leave for the carnival. The whole facade is embarrassing enough, without being seen in a dress. My parents are suitably out of it now, so I guess they’ll never notice. The walk to the carnival is as awful as expected, the twins are screaming top note and running riot around me, and Daniel is blabbering on about Star Trek or Star Wars or something else I don’t understand. They’re all driving me nuts; I’m just about at the end of my tether. Glancing down at my watch, I can’t help but wonder how much longer do I have to suffer this?
Before I know it, the familiar carnival music is blaring out so loud; I know we must only be moments away. I feel a sense of foreboding as I turn the last corner, almost as if I can sense something bad is going to happen. And then predictably, it does. I run smack into Kelly who is lip-locked with Kyle.
I’m too stunned to be humiliated, too angry to move. Kelly is my friend, my closest friend. I mean, I’ve always known that she was untrustworthy, we popular girls normally are, we have to be to survive the jungle of high school, but to do this? She knows how long I have been after Kyle—I have literally liked him forever.
“Bitch!” I spit the accusatory word out before I can regain control of myself before I realize that I am supposed to be incognito. A loud gasp followed by giggling ensures the knowledge that the twins have heard the profanity. I spin around to see them in fits of hysterics, with Daniel blushing brightly. I am too full of rage to think rationally. All I can focus on is a red mist that has descended around me. Kelly and Kyle have pulled apart.
At least they both have the decency to look embarrassed, but the wetness of their lips is too insulting for me to feel any forgiveness.
Angry tears sting my eyes, but I pinch my nose to stop them falling. I refuse to let them have that effect on me. Kelly starts stammering, explaining, but I can’t help but notice she doesn’t let go of Kyle’s hand even once. He keeps a smug grin on his face the entire time. Why do boys enjoy girls fighting over them so much? It’s just weird. I don’t want to hear anything these two have to say, nothing will make their betrayal less painful, this horrible day any better. I instinctively turn and run off, back the way we came. Away from them, from everyone.
Monday at school is going to be unbearable. Any sort of drama draws everyone in, especially a bitch fight between two very popular girls—supposed best friends at that! I can’t go through all this crap again. I know it sounds old and boring, but now we’re so close to graduating, all I want to do is get my head down, try and achieve something so I can actually go to college. I’ve started to realize how important this whole education thing is way too late, I have so much to catch up on. This is the last thing I need.
I suddenly notice voices and footsteps running behind me. I whirl around, expecting an immediate confrontation with Kelly or Kyle, but no. It’s just my cousins. The three people I least want to see in the world. “Just...go back.” I pant, trying to stop the steady stream falling from my eyes. “I’ll be there in a bit. I just need...” After a few seconds of silence, Daniel pulls me down to sit on the ground. The hardness of the floor pulls me back into reality and the tears become sobs that rack through my entire body.
Finally, I’m pulled out of my self-pity stupor by the twin’s concerned chatter. I really shouldn’t worry these kids; they don’t understand the harsh reality of life yet. They have plenty of time to suffer all that I’m going through. I force a weak smile, and even though all I want to do is go home, I suggest going back to the carnival. I know they’ll all want to; sitting with a crying girl will not be in any of their wish lists this holiday.
We walk back, me nervously behind the others. I’m frightened I’m going to see them again. One heartbreak a night is enough for me. As we turn the dreaded corner, my heart in my mouth, the sight before me is not what I expected.
High flames. Blackness. Grey smoke.
Everything is on fire. What the fuck is happening? Is this arson? I mean, I know I wasn’t exactly looking forward to enduring this hell, but I can’t imagine anyone going this far. I stand frozen as I watch the firemen shoot jets of water onto the flickering flames, creating more smoke and confusion. Where is everyone? What about the rest of my family? There must be an assembly point somewhere. We should go and find them; they’re probably all panicking about us. They’ve got no idea where we are.
Grabbing hold of the others, we run off. We circle the area, looking for anyone and don’t manage to stumble across a solitary soul. I start to feel like I can’t breathe. I’m not sure if it’s the smoke or the panic. What if everyone died in the flames? Is that possible? That means...
No, forget it. That’s just an unbearable thought.
I finally find a fireman to ask. He looks at me confused before shrugging his shoulders, talking quickly and frantically at me in a foreign language. Frustrated, I shout after all of the firemen. But they ignore me, starting to leave. Aren’t they supposed to make sure we are safe or something? I walk forward into the black and grey smoldering mess. The others follow I can hear their footsteps and breathing behind me. The twins are whispering to each other. I don’t know how much they understand about what’s happening and I have no idea how to even begin to explain anything.
Nothing. No one.
I turn to Daniel, my confused expression mirrored in his. What do we do? A noise to my left causes me to spin round. Someone to ask, finally. “Hey!” I call out to the shadowy figure as it moves slowly forward. I shield my eyes, trying to get a clearer view. “Hi, um…We just need some...” I trail off as the person becomes clearer. Kelly. That bitch. She looks a bit banged up, possibly burned, but she’s walking around, so must be fine. I turn and stalk off in the opposite direction, refusing to deal with her right now.
The others stay close behind me, obviously unable to make any choices for themselves. Much as they’re starting to annoy me, I’m more consumed by relief that at least someone else is here. I wish we knew where to find everyone else. I’ve tried ringing mum, but I guess my network is down. Typical. Phones never seem to work when you need them to most.
The silence rings out, deafening in my ears. My sight is restricted to just in front of me. So, when a loud, high pitched scream, full of terror, pierces the air, it induces immediate terror. “Daniel? Jack? Jill?” I question quietly so as not to disturb the obvious mass murder that is about somewhere, trying to bump everyone in this town off. I push forward, reaching in front of me, trying to hold onto one of them. My hands shoot relief through my body as I touch hair. I almost let out a relieved giggle.
The hair is matted and wet, almost like someone has been swimming in the ocean. It must be Jill, she must have done something when I wasn’t looking. I move closer, inhaling. The scent of ash and burnt meat makes me gag, fires seriously stink! I pull Jill in close, inexplicably scared. Growl. I snap my head down towards the little girl. Why is she doing that? Suddenly a hot radiating pain takes over, starting in my wrist. I want to scream out, but my mouth feels like it has been sewn shut. I want to move, but my feet feel like lead.
When the mist descends from my eyes, I see a sight before me, which makes no immediate sense, but spells danger to my brain all the same. A woman, not a girl, certainly not Jill, who is covered in blood and pus, her clothes all torn, a bone sticking out from her leg, has her teeth sunk into my arm and seems to be relishing the taste.
I tug my arm back ripping off a chunk of skin as it drags against her mouth, and force my legs to run. I try to block out the pain, try not to let it get to me just yet. Isn’t shock supposed to set in at some point, taking over everything else? Distracted, I somehow manage to run smack into a tree, the motion sending me flying back to the ground. The radiating agony in the front of my head blacks everything else out for a single moment.
When I finally come back around, I can feel and see a red sticky liquid running down my face. Blood. Well, that’s just great. Just another problem to add to the long list. I look around, confused by the eerie atmosphere. Seriously, this seems like some kind of nightmare. If it weren’t for the excruciating pain over all of my body, I could almost let myself believe that this hideous day hadn’t even begun yet. That I’m still in my bed. Waiting.
I stagger upright, trying to work out what I should do next. My brain is all...fuzzy. I wish there was some around I could ask for help. If I get back to the smoldering embers of the carnival I might be able to find Daniel or the twins. I think back to my reluctance to be seen with them only hours before, now I’m desperate to see a familiar face, especially one of theirs.
I see in the mist ahead of me, moving shapes. It looks like people, but they’re moving weirdly. Sort of jerky and very slowly. I speed on, wanting to find someone, wanting to know what happened here. I reach the group. There are eight people here, but they aren’t really...human. They’re covered in blood and rot and they smell like gone off barbeque meat. What’s with these people? I walk up close to them, wanting an answer. One of them snarls and snaps their teeth at me, before sniffing the air and turning away. I get up in one of the girls faces. Her curious eyes follow me and send shivers up my spine. Her irises are completely white. In fact, all of them look like this. I try and speak to them, but am met with low growls and groans.
They circle around me, staring at me, half disgusted, half curious. I’m sure my expression is the same. One of them is dragging a bloody stump behind him where his leg used to be. He doesn’t even seem bothered by this. Nor does the girl who has an obvious stab wound in her stomach—that must hurt like hell. She must be all sorts of tough!
Suddenly a gunshot rings out in the distance. As my head snaps around, searching for help, so does all of theirs. Quickly they are ambling away, any interest in me waning. I follow behind, unsure of what else to do. At least they might lead me somewhere safe. Twelve more gunshots ring out, keeping us all on the right track. I wonder what the significance of the thirteen shots is. A boring history lesson flicks into my mind, somehow familiar, but it is gone before any particular memory can click into place.
As we amble, I can feel my body getting heavier, my mind getting more sluggish, my emotions becoming null and void. What is happening to me? The bite mark on my wrist has, somewhere along the line, turned completely and utterly black—what does that mean? I think I need to get to the hospital. I don’t panic though like I normally would. In fact, I feel weirdly serene.
A noise distracts my trail of thoughts. I look up to see the group I was following, all knelt to the ground looking at something. I move in closer, curiosity getting the best of me. I quickly see blood splattering everywhere, which confuses and intrigues me equally.
Vomit fills my mouth when I realize exactly what they’re doing. They’re eating someone. Cannibals. That could quite easily have been me. These people are sickoes. Unless, could this be some kind of zombie apocalypse prank? I think I remember someone doing that in the UK a while ago; someone won a few million on the lottery and created a zombie-infested town to trick his mates. Is this what’s happening? Then why did I get bitten, that’s a bit much, isn’t it? Weirdo! Why aren’t I in on the prank? I wish I knew for certain because everything is getting a bit much for me now. All I want to do is cry—and that isn’t like me at all.
* * *
I feel like I haven’t seen anyone for days. I have no idea how long I’ve been wandering about but my emotions are flicking rapidly between despair and frustration. I need some help. I’ve got to find Daniel and the twins at least. Then we can all head home to see if we can find the rest of our family. Then I’m going to sleep this shitty day off once and for all. Next year I’m not doing a single thing to celebrate 4th July. I’m staying indoors, locked in my room.
I slump down onto a rock, my body refusing to carry on. I think I must sleep or blackout. I have no idea how long for, but when I awaken, the sight before me pushes my mind to its very limit. A dead body lies at my feet. I push back, eyes flicking around, worrying about my own life. Why would those cannibals have eaten this guy and not me? In my haste to move, I nick my wrists, causing black goo to seep from the wound. Could it be this that stopped them? A newfound gratefulness for the woman that bit me overtakes.
I move away as fast as my ailing body will let me. But as I’m going, something inside me shifts, a new emotion takes over. It’s hard to describe, even to myself. It sort of feels like a blinding, blackout rage. Suddenly, I don’t want to run anymore. I want to stop, to turn, to fight. I don’t though because I know it isn’t rational, my brain is at least allowing me that much common sense. I keep running until I come across an unusual, intriguing sight.
People. Hundreds of them, all crying, wrapped in blankets, some burnt, badly hurt. Instead of feeling sad, like I know I should, or happy that I’m no longer alone, I feel a rush of something different. Excitement? Lust? Before I know it, I’m charging forwards, bearing my teeth. I don’t care anymore about what is right and wrong, all I want to do is copy the cannibals and feel some flesh against my teeth. It’s not hunger driving me, more a desire to cause harm, pain, to inflict fear. I want all the people to be pushed to the brink of despair. I want them to experience emotions they didn’t even know they could feel.
A loud scream explodes and people fly in every direction. I am slower than them, but the fear I inflict stiffens some of them, allowing me to grab hold. Sinking my teeth into tissue at every opportunity, a rush of euphoria running through me every single time, just to chew on it and spit it out. Once I have bitten a person, they become nothing to me. I have no further use for them, so I toss them aside onto the next.
I hear a voice; it’s calling out a name. A stirring of recognition inside causes me to stop. Is that...my name? I turn, feeling a sense of déjà vu, of familiarity, blood dripping down my chin. A group of people behind me, all nervously stepping in my direction, chattering incessantly.
My family. I look at them curiously. What are they doing? I edge closer to them and they rile backward, afraid I realize. They don’t need to be frightened of me - I know I attacked others, but I love them, I wouldn’t do it to them. Good old Daniel bravely comes closer, the twins cowering behind. He’s speaking to me, but I am too transfixed on the saliva glistening on his lips to hear any words. His arms outstretched, wishing me forwards. I step, willing myself to play this cool. If I’m ok with Daniel, the others will trust me and accept me again.
I lean into him, nestling into his chest, breathing in his familiar scent. I smile as I eventually pull back, pleased with myself. I have proved that I can do this. It’s only when I stare into Daniel’s tearful eyes, his open mouth, that the familiar metallic scent of blood wafts into my nostrils. I realize I have a massive chunk of his neck in my mouth. He falls to the floor, the weight of his body too much. The others run away bellowing out screams. I spit the dirty flesh on the ground. That moment was a game changer. Now all I can focus on is my need to devour them all.
* * *
Hours later, everyone in the entire town is either an unfortunate casualty or just another member of the shuffling army that I seem to be leading. I don’t know why everyone has turned to me, but I am relishing the power and position. Almost as if it’s my destiny to be in charge. I look around and try to grin at the familiar faces I have spent the day with, including many members of my delightful family, but my jaw is slack and destroyed from the battle.
We move forward slowly, but with avid determination. None of us know exactly what happened to our little town carnival this Independence Day, no one is even sure why we’re like this. The only thing we collectively know now, is there are no humans left here for us to infect, to recruit. We need to move on; we need to take over the next place. Nothing will stand in our way.