On the screen there’s a woman falling to her knees, and I feel the impact in my own. I’ve always had those kind of sympathy pains, particularly when patella meet concrete. This woman, a slender blonde shrouded in a long black shapeless coat, pitches forward onto her face, and although there’s no audio my brain fills in the silence with a loud splat, like a raw egg thrown at a wall. The unfortunate victim lies there for a few seconds, then she stirs. I should feel relieved that she’s alright, and this scene I’m powerless to interact with—someone had filmed it nine hours ago—is going to proceed on a happier note. But I don’t. There’s something about the stiff, almost mechanical way she’s planting her palms on either side of her prone body, her face still glued to the ground.

“Looks like she’s gonna do an up-dog,” Horance mumbles around his smoldering cigar. I’ve gotta admit, that’s exactly what it looks like. Then the room behind me explodes in groans and other sounds of disgust as the back of the woman’s coat splits in two, falling away like the sides of a pea pod, only instead of a shiny green pea it’s a wet red thing that raises its malformed head and howls a primordial roar at the sky. Again, there’s no sound, but I imagine a hoarse keening through the throat of a wolf with emphysema.

Someone in the room vomits, and I want to, too. The thing rising out of the remains of the woman pushes forward and kicks the empty sack of flesh aside and I think about how I take my socks off at the end of the day, by stepping on their toes and pulling my feet free. Then the strange demon dog stands on its own. I call it a dog because that’s exactly what it looks like, a skinless dog. It stretches and shakes itself, just like dogs do. Then it bounds outside of the frame and the camera can’t follow because whoever had been holding it is running for their life. I wonder if they’d survived the incident.

The lights in the conference room come up and the projector clicks off but continues to make that fan noise that projectors make. I can hear this because the room’s gone dead silent in the wake of witnessing something that had only previously been possible in—

“You gotta tell us that was some Hollywood special effects shit, Sarge. Tell us that was some YouTube video that a kid made to break into the industry, ’cause fuck, I’d hire him in a minute. That shit was believable.” It’s Hanson speaking, and he never was too good at it. It sounds like he’s on the verge of losing his composure, which wouldn’t be unusual for him. He’d once shot up a village because they refused to give up the location of a band of insurgents we’d been hunting. That’d been a long time ago, and we’d all been a lot younger and stupider back then, but it always felt like the only thing that Hanson had grown out of was the ‘young’ part.

“You stow that b.s. right the fuck now, Hanson,” growls Tommy ‘Sarge’ LaMarche. He hasn’t been part of a regimented anything for years, but a lot of us have never gotten out of the habit of calling him by his old rank. He steps to the front of the room and stands in the light from the projector. “That was one-hundred-percent reality, ladies and gentlemen. Zombies, nightmares, demons, or space viruses—we’ve got a job to do and it’s going to be unlike anything you’ve ever faced before. Which means it’s going to pay extremely well, but you’re going to have to earn every god-damned penny.”

2015.01.12 – 2023.08.13

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