“A Corpse with Ambition” by Shaun Avery

Day 3

After spotting a fresh set of boils on my chest, I spent a good ten minutes prising one of the filthy bastards off. Hurt like a bitch, but I was past caring.

I guessed I had about a fortnight before it got to my face and I couldn't conceal it anymore. How much fun could I get up to before then? I'm guessing lots.

P.S. The holiday trade is going down the pan at the moment, understandably, but the ads still come thick and fast. I saw one for Butlins holiday camp as I left for work. "Come to life," the perfect-skinned singer says on the jingle. Almost bust a gut laughing. Then I headed to the office.

The drive to work was as amusing as ever, but at least I got to laugh at the fallen landmarks, devastated by enemy bombs, and all the people buzzing around them like flies. Pretty stupid; if they could see what I've got, live with what I've got, you can bet they'd lock themselves at home, safe from mutation. Too late for them, though. And far too late for me.

Work growing duller... or was it just my head doing a turnaround? Yeah, well, whatever, it was still all I could do to stop myself from diving over my table and tearing Mr. Brett's head off.

Mr. Brett.

Oh, how I loathe my boss. He was tedious enough before, or perhaps I was just more tolerant in my pre-decline days, but since the war started he's appointed himself as morale officer, and taken to coming out with all these "we must keep hope" speeches which the rest of the office idiots see as rousing but that I find about as dull and unconvincing as the old British propaganda movies they used to show during World War Two.

Driving back, watching the elite fire squad put out yet another explosion, I found it amazing that we could manage to live, function as normal, during such times. Then I pulled off my tie, unbuttoned my shirt, looked down at my new assortment of boils whilst thinking of the day I'd just sat through, and I sighed, and I believed it.

Day 5

Woke up in the middle of the night with a screaming pain in my head, put my hands to my temples and lay there wincing, unable to move and scared halfway to death that this was my moment, my endgame, that I was going to die before kicking out the jams just one last time, motherfuckers, and made about a thousand promises to myself about things I would do if I survived this night of sheer panic, until it stopped.

The pain was getting steadily worse, starting to take a mental toll as the physical flaws increased, I realised; pretty soon, things would start to fall off.

I was looking forward to it. If I can just keep my head together through the whole mess, I reminded myself, then I'm in for a grand old show.

All this serves me right, I thought as I beat a slow path through some bad (is there any other kind?) traffic later. The thing about war is this: it keeps you scared, but it also removes some dull social restraints and bonds - does that make sense? When I was ten or so, myself and a friend found the body of a dying hobo under a bridge, and we kept coming back every day until he was dead, and then, after watching a TV show about a coroner, we decided to open him up. We had some fun with him and his insides, and we would have carried on having more and more fun, but his bratty little brother followed us one day, and he blabbed to his parents, and they spoke to mine, and needless to say, they put an end to our friendship, both parents blaming the other's child for everything. Mine sent to me to stay with my aunt and uncle for the summer. My uncle was a stern man who took a dim view to my experiments, and many were the nights he came to my room, belt in hand, to vent his fury on me. The day I went home, I pissed in his shoes and then put razor blades in them, just for good measure. They were discovered before he put the shoes on, unfortunately, but no matter. A few years ago, I headed back to the farm, finished off the job on him, then dug up my auntie, who'd been dead for about four years by then, and danced with her in the moonlight to a jolly tune in my head. What can I say? Old habits die hard.

This started a healthy interest in the dead, so when I saw the mass burial mounds waiting to be burned, I couldn't contain myself; I bribed my way past a disgusted-looking soldier, and immediately made my way over to an attractive blonde teen. I mean, come on, guys; how was I to know that her sumptuous young body was riddled with illness?

Midday. Headache had returned, and was certainly not helped by being forced to work with Lucy and Phil. The latter is a local playboy who's humped his way through half the office, and the former is a student working here in her gap year who was only too ready to tell us that she's modelled with some of the world's finest, and it's common knowledge around the place that he's sticking it to her, even though she has a boyfriend who's off fighting somewhere. Personally I'd love to tell said boyfriend just how faithful his partner is being in his absence; if only I could get his number somehow...

Anyway, I just about made it through the day and I was getting ready to make my escape when Mr. Brett called us all together, announcing, with glee sicker than anything I could ever come up with, that we would all go to a karaoke night tonight, to raise morale. "I expect everyone to attend," he said, casting an eye at me, since I was a man notorious for lack of group spirit, a man who'd been forced to pay a fine for non-participation in every charity event we've ever ran here in our oh-so generous office. A grin as wide as your arm spread over his face as he said, "it'll do us all good, right?"


Damn the man.

I didn't really fancy it - I've heard my co-workers sing many times, and believe me, it's not a sound for the faint-hearted - but I saw no point in causing trouble before the right time, so I dragged myself along. As rank decreed, Mr. Brett went first, singing with Polly, a manager that everyone thinks is a lesbian. Afterwards, he sat beside me, wearing a smug grin on his face. "I sang a little when I was younger."

"Really?" It hadn't shown.

I sarcastically told Phil and Lucy they should do a duet version of that shitty song "Something Stupid," and the two pathetic bastards looked at each other sappily, actually taking my suggestion seriously. The thought of them sitting on chairs singing to each other was intense, and threatened to send me off into waves of violent delirium, but I managed to hold on. Needless to say, my request to do "I Hate Led Zeppelin" didn't go down too well, so I stepped out the back when no one was looking, thankfully missing my chance to see the two reluctant lovers serenade each other.

Unable to sleep, head filled with tangled images of my own diseased body and the terrible state I left my aunt and uncle in so long ago, I soon found myself down by the corpse mound again. But this time I had plans of a different nature, plans that would make Burke and Hare proud. The lovely blonde that gave me the disease had been burned, so I picked another for my purposes, an overweight, ginger-haired housewife. I grinned as I shoved her in the back of the car, thinking of my great idea.

I managed to avoid the heavily armed, heavily armoured soldiers as I made my way to a sleazy motel and booked a room for three nights. "I want total privacy," I told the man. "And no one must enter the room when myself and my friends are not present. Is that clear?" He just shrugged apathetically - as long as I wasn't a pest, what would he care what I did with the room? - and handed me the key.

Day 6

Had the great dream again. In it, I was getting it on with this hooker with massive tits, and, having already taken her up her back passage, I was getting fairly into it as I took her from the front, and I was just biting her neck, which she seemed to love, when it happened: the disease had finally spread, and my tool came dislodged inside her. She didn't know, though, and she just kept writhing on the bed beneath my now incomplete body. I woke up in soggy shorts and sheets, glad that the dream hadn't come true. Yet.

Dinner with Phil.

"Listen, I know you and Lucy must have a hard time finding a place to go." I cut off his protests, his denials of activity with her. "I had a nice weekend away with a girl all sorted, but she's had to pull out; why don't you have the room?"

Had he been in full control of his senses, he might have shot my story down with some well-placed questions. Luckily for me, he wasn't thinking with his head, and he accepted the key with heartfelt thanks. "Forget it," I told him. "What are friends for?"

I followed them the entire way, trailing them from Phil's house, where they spent a good half hour getting re-acquainted with each other's bodies, all the way through cracked streets filled with whining kids, burning houses and broken down parents, to what passes for temporary accommodation in that forlorn part of town near the corpses.

"It was nice of him to let us have the room," Lucy said, and for a moment I was surprised by her gratitude; at work, the thin blonde girl could come off as being very cold with a tendency to look down on everyone except her partner in infidelity here, so this expression came as something of a shock.

Not as much of a shock as the one she got when she went into the room, of course.

Phil and Lucy, expecting a night of illicit passion, found themselves pulling back the bed sheets to reveal the infected body of a middle-aged housewife, one who'd been in a worse enough state before I'd had my fun with her, one whose disease-riddled body lay cut open and spewing out misery and death at them. I watched them run out into the night, Lucy spitting out pieces of vomit as she ran, Phil telling all about what he would do to me tomorrow.

Why wait until then? I thought, and dived out of the shadows and into them.

Day 9

When it happens, it happens fast. Boils all over my chest, making it a real bitch to button my shirt. And as if that wasn't enough, Mr. Brett found out somehow. He called me into the meeting room, and all of the directors were standing around the table, looking grave and solemn in their black ties/white shirts, and I realised, for the first time, that they looked like they were at a funeral. But whose? Use your loaf.

"How long have you had it? Where did you get it? How could you have put all your colleagues, your friends, at risk?" The questions came thick and fast, unlike the solutions. "Don't you feel any guilt for what you've done to Phil and Lucy?" Now how the hell did they know about that one? I shook my head, frantically trying to rid myself of the influence of their words, and it wasn't too hard; all I had to do was think of every office argument I'd fought and lost, every terrible assignment I'd been handed from up on high, and my eventual reply was full of vitriol:

"You've all got it, ha-ha! And now my job's done, I'm out of here!"

I dived onto the table, expecting someone to stop me, but they didn't, and I ran, all the way to the end of the table, and instead of dropping back to the floor, I jumped forward, flying through the air until I met the window and went through it, sprawling into the open air and letting gravity do its work, falling, falling, falling to the ground, to my end, getting the bitter last laugh on the system and the illness...

Day ? anybody's guess

And who should I see upon my awakening but Phil and Lucy, shuffling through a packed hospital, hate in their eyes when they looked at me? "We can cure anything these days," a voice told me. "We can stitch soldier's arms back on and send them back into battle; that's why this war will last a very long time. And they finally found a cure for The Illness. So, when they've given you a nice new body, you can come back and earn your forgiveness. Oh, I know it will be hard and long, but we'll hire the best therapists money can buy, and one day, you and Phil and Lucy will all be able to work together again. We'll be together for a long time yet, my boy."

I looked up. Just in time to see Mr. Brett and the board of directors staring down at me.