From the author: Welly On A Plate is Wellington city’s annual food festival that everyone enjoys. But when mysterious new vegan burgers are added to the menu, they find this tasty delicacy has a hidden and terrifying secret.
My name is Ewan Kennedy and everything I am about to tell you is the truth. This is not a joke. I promise you. This is all completely real.
I’m holed up in my garage at 87 Moorefield Street. I know I probably don’t have much time left, and there’s no hope for me, but I hope whoever sees this can find help for Katie and James. Maybe for my wife, Cindy, too. The kids are hiding under the house. I’m not really sure where Cindy is. If you can help them, if you can do anything at all, please tell them all I love them very much.
I’ll say it again, this is genuine. This is not a hoax. It is happening in Wellington right now.
I need to start at the beginning. I need to tell you everything so you can understand.
It began, I think, with the burgers at the food festival, Welly On A Plate. It’s the only thing that makes sense. It was a popup place selling vegan burgers which tasted and bled just like real meat, but the sign said they were made from a special mushroom from somewhere in Southeast Asia. Or maybe it was Australia? Or a lab in Antarctica? Shit, I don’t know. But wherever they came from, it was only ten dollars for a decent-sized burger and a side of fries. Crazily cheap. People queued for ages, all eager to find out what the fuss was about.
A group of us went there after work, had to wait for nearly twenty minutes before we got served. It was worth it. The burgers were amazing. They tasted like the best beef I’d ever had. We all agreed, you would never know they were made from fungi.
The only thing I thought weird at the time were the rictus grins on the faces of the two girls who served us. Their smiles were identical and they creeped me out. Like they were wearing some kind of mask.
We ate there a whole bunch of times before the place disappeared. Almost everybody did. Mostly thanks to word of mouth and social media, people travelled all the way across the city to try the food. Then, even before the food festival ended, the popup place stopped trading. It was a little unusual, but I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Even when Bob got sick in the office, we didn’t realise it was connected. Not at first. Not until I started to think about it.
It was pretty brutal. He chundered all over his keyboard and his whole body turned grey. I would never have believed how much sick could come out of a person. Then he threw up blood. We tried to help him as best we could, but he had some kind of heart attack. He collapsed on the floor of the office, died right there in front of us.
The paramedics came and took Bob away, and Simon – our boss – told us all to go home. I suppose I noticed then that Simon’s skin looked pretty waxy and he was sweating a lot, but we were all in shock about Bob.
I took the bus home as usual. I didn’t want to talk to anyone so I put my headphones on. I didn’t even realise what was going on until people on the bus began to shout and stand up in their seats. A woman sitting at the back had thrown up repeatedly. She convulsed and collapsed. The bus stopped and people tried to help her, but it was too late.
I was a wreck by the time I got home.
The next day wasn’t much better. Simon and Carlos were absent but no-one seemed to know why, and Joe spent the morning looking green before he excused himself and went home. I don’t know if he ever made it.
We saw dozens of people getting ill in the street. It was obvious something was very wrong. At half-past two the police came, and we were told to get out of the city. Nobody would tell us what was going on. There was nothing helpful on social media. Every local radio station said the same thing. We should go home, lock all doors and windows, and stay away from the hospitals. The best we could figure, it was some kind of serious stomach bug.
There was a bloke in the city centre yelling that it was food poisoning, to stay away from the street food, but I don’t know where he’d got that information. A few girls standing on street corners were selling white paper facemasks for twenty dollars each. They were making an absolute killing.
The city was total chaos. Everyone was trying to get out at once. People were falling over in the street and being sick. I wanted to help, I really did, but getting home to Cindy and the kids was my priority. I tried to call her on my mobile, but the network was totally munted. I couldn’t get through no matter how many times I tried. The roads were stuffed, traffic bumper to bumper in every direction. I walked from the city up the Old Hutt Road and climbed the steps towards our house.
Cindy was already at the house when I got home; she hadn’t been into work. I knew she was rostered to work the evening shift at A&E this week. I hugged her tight and kissed her, then looked around for the kids. I started to panic when I realised they weren’t there, but Cindy calmed me down. She told me they were in the laundry room, that she had put them there to keep them safe.
It was then I realised how pale she looked, how red her eyes were. I asked her if she was feeling crook, and she said she was feeling terrible. She said she thought maybe she’d picked up a bug from work. I got scared then. I sat her down on the sofa and she was shaking all over.
We didn’t have long. She... she started being sick, and I managed to get her to the bathroom, but by then she was vomiting bright red...
I stayed with her until the end. Everything was such a mess. I was such a mess. In so many
ways. She was my rock. I loved her so much... So much.
I couldn’t stay. I wanted to. I didn’t want to leave her side. I left her in the bathroom and closed the door. I knew there wasn’t anything I could do for her. I needed to go and help Katie and James.
Cindy had put them in the laundry room underneath the house and covered the door with the wooden picnic table from the deck. I slid the table out of the way. I could hear them moving around inside and I called out to them, to let them know it was me and it was safe, but when I tried to open the door, Cindy had padlocked it from outside.
I went back to the house and rummaged in the drawer where we keep the keys, but I couldn’t find them. I figured Cindy must have kept them on her. I really didn’t want to go back into that bathroom, to see her lying there, but I didn’t have a choice.
I was halfway to the door when I heard noises from inside. I thought... I mean... I was so hopeful.
You can imagine.
I opened the door and saw her. Saw it.
Whatever that was, it wasn’t Cindy. She snapped her head back at almost a hundred and eighty degrees, and screeched at me. Like some giant bird. There was a pale brown growth, a thin tentacle or something, protruding from her forehead. Her eyes had turned completely black.
I’ve seen the movies and the TV shows, I know what those things are supposed to look like and behave, but this, this was nothing like that. She was so fucking quick! She took literally seconds to go from being on the floor to almost getting out the door.
I didn’t think. I just slammed the door shut and leaned all my weight on it, and she hurled herself into it from the other side, over and over again. I don’t know how, but my tiny, no more than fifty-five kilo vegan wife, seemed to have the strength of a hundred kilo All Black.
I tried to figure out what to do.
The bathroom was at the end of the house. There was nothing immediately to hand I could use to bar the door, to keep her – it – inside. My only choice was to run. Run and hope it didn’t catch me. I waited a while until the banging stopped. I thought it had got bored or had forgotten about me.
I took my weight off the door and ran like hell for the bedroom. I was wrong, it hadn’t forgotten me. Somehow, it managed to get out and it was after me before I could slam the bedroom door. I slid the dressing table across the door frame then moved the bed across as a second barrier. I could hear it thumping on the door and screeching. I knew I couldn’t stay in the house, I needed to get the kids out and get away.
I wasted a lot of time in the bedroom, trying to think. I should have busted out of there straight away and taken care of whatever that thing was Cindy had become. Or... no... I wouldn’t have been able to. Whatever it was, it still had most of Cindy’s face. I don’t think I could have.
Oh, fuck. I should have done more.
It banged and crashed outside for a while, and I could hear it snuffling. There was nothing in the bedroom I could use as a weapon. I opened the wardrobe and pulled all the clothes off the metal hanging bar. I wrenched that loose. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I listened at the door, I knew it was still there on the other side. I opened the bedroom window as quietly as I could and slipped outside into the garden. I shut the window behind me. I didn’t know how long it would take to find a way out.
I was on my way back to the laundry room when I saw our neighbour, Mrs Waverly, standing in our garden and going through our rubbish bins. At least, it used to be Mrs Waverly.
It must have heard me coming up from behind, and it spun around so quickly it was a blur. When it saw me, it screeched, just like Cindy. It had a growth on its head, much bigger and longer.
It lunged for me. I had no time to think, only react. I stuck the metal pole out in front of me and braced myself. It ran headlong into the pole. The end entered just underneath its chin and stuck out the back of its head. I’d killed. It twitched and shook, and thick yellow goo seeped out around the wound.
I couldn’t take the pole out, I had no choice but to let the body fall with it still wedged in its head. I really didn’t want to, I needed a weapon. The garden shed was just around the corner. I took the potting knife and the pruning shears, and put them through the belt loops of my jeans. I took the garden spade too. I was hoping to use it to try and lever off the padlock from the laundry room door.
I crept around the side of the house to the laundry room. I couldn’t see or hear any more of those things but I couldn’t be sure. There was a small window at the side, slightly higher up than the door, and I climbed onto one of the wooden garden chairs to peer inside. There was a light on; the portable halogen floodlight we used when we were sorting out the clothes. I couldn’t see Katie and Jamie properly; they seemed to be huddled at the back. I tapped on the glass and called their names as loudly as I dared. They stirred a little but didn’t answer me.
I used the edge of the spade to force the wood around the lock. It was difficult but I managed it eventually.
I opened the door and saw the growths on their heads.
They were slower than the others had been. They seemed sleepy or confused. They staggered towards me and I knew I had no choice. I slammed the door and wrestled with the picnic table. I blocked the exit and I walked away.
I walked away...
I turned my back on my own family and I left them there. I don’t know how to help them now. If they could ever be helped.
I came here to the garage. It was the only place I could think of that might be safe. I locked the doors. I needed to keep those things from getting in, and keep myself from getting out. My head hurts and I feel sick. I vomited a stream of sticky red a little earlier, and I know what that means. My wife and kids are still out there. Or at least, something is. I suppose they’re not really my wife and kids any more.
I don’t want to become one of those things. I can’t do that. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting anyone. Even if it’s not really me.
I hope whoever sees this does better than I can. I hope you can either make it stop or find a cure. You need to find out who owns that burger place and get them shut down. Please, don’t let this happen anywhere else. To anyone else.
Cindy, Katie, James; I love you all so much. I’m so sorry.
“Good morning. My name is Doctor Wolbach, and I’m the Senior Research Scientist here at the Wellington headquarters of the Department of Evolution and Population Control.
“Thank you all for your time today. I do appreciate you coming down here so early and at such short notice.
“To recap: Subject 37419 was found in the garage of 87 Moorefield Street, Wadestown. Seven days after outbreak and final containment was complete. The Subject had apparently deliberately impaled themselves on a garden implement, and taken their own life.
“A mobile device was found next to the body with what you’ve just seen recorded as a video file. It appears that Subject 37419 had tried to upload this video to the internet, but thankfully the upload failed. The original file has since been deleted and scrubbed in accordance with DEPC company policy.
“We have a team of one hundred and fifteen agents scouring other online sources to find and delete all traces of other, similar files. Our AltNews and Deepfakes Department is working tirelessly to discredit any that we find.
“Subject 21785 was found in the garden of the property, also deceased, and apparently neutralised by Subject 37419.
“Subjects 37500, 37501 and 37502 were discovered inside the property. They were captured and taken for processing. Advanced stroma stalks were clearly visible.
“Tests are still ongoing to control the unwanted side effects of the usually very effective Boletus Aliena Ceremortium. Here at the DEPC our primary focus is always on careful monitoring and control. We constantly strive to ensure the department stays inconspicuous. Unfortunately, it appears that the fungus had mutated, causing unexpected results. Early reports show this was due to Subjects combining it with other ingredients, most likely a condiment of some kind. A new, more fool-proof system is now being researched. Considering every Kiwi adult’s daily consumption level, I believe coffee is the most obvious choice.
This story originally appeared in Infected: Tales to Read at Home .
Strange creatures lurk in the shadows of the Beehive, while a beast From The Deep is determined to destroy us all. Being Neighbourly might just change your life, and if you listen closely you can hear demonic Whispers in the wind. So sit back, take a sip of A Good Cup of Coffee and question all The Things You See. In the city, there are no Second Chances and every chapter might be your last.
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