Caleb was over the shock by now. But that flapping flesh on the top of his skull just wasn’t comfortable at all. He had to stop himself from reaching up and touching it so often that just keeping his hands still was itself like Chinese water torture.
At the school, he had lost himself completely. Babbling something about how he was a murderer, right there in front of the kids. Tam said, “No, Caleb, they’re dead already, remember?” Two… no, three corpses on the floor: the Wrecks he’d hacked up and the boy he’d failed to save. As they drove along, a lot of completely absurd images flashed through his head. It was like some kind of trip. Like dreaming. And he kept talking about idiotic things.
“What about boats? What about remote control boats?”
But he’d forgotten already what he meant by that. “Tam, I’m fucked up.”
“You’re not, honey, you’re in shock,” she said in her Authority voice. It was a great tone of voice that she utilised to instil confidence. It suggested that she knew something beyond a shadow of a doubt. “Drink some more,” she said. He had a warm can of Coke and drinking it actually did make him feel better. After a while, his mind settled. Now it was just his scalp, which was sore like it was being pried right now with a crowbar and at the same time, itchy like somebody had just poured sand all over it.
They were nearly at the doctor’s when Tamara jumped on the brake.
“What the hell?”
Somebody was crossing the road twenty feet in front of them. It would have looked like a casualty from some explosion—if it had been a photograph. His clothes were torn, skin exposed and there were clearly-visible bloodstains on his hoodie and slacks. His face was bruised all over like he had been roughly interrogated. But his movements really gave it away. Something about the way he acted was not at all right, even for a wounded man. He walked very slowly but wasn’t looking where he was going. And his hands, held out in front of him, waved around in a way that was undeniably, and freakishly, like insect feelers.
Tamara put the car in reverse. She backed away to a safe distance and stopped.
“Guess we’ll have to go round,” said Caleb. But for some reason, they didn’t move. They just stared at the Wreck, fascinated by its strangeness.
It had started to approach, but stopped. Like it knew it would not catch them before they drove off. Still, the fingers kept a clutching, grasping pose and the teeth were bared. After a second it looked away from them. Whatever it was looking for, it could not find. It looked back and spotted them again and as if its short-term memory was fucked, it reacted by raising its arms and walking towards them.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Tamara said. Caleb looked at her but she stared ahead. Her tone of voice made him nervous. There was more to it than it seemed. As if she had just decided that this was the statement that summed up their lives.
“Come on, honey,” Caleb said. “Let’s go.”
Tamara snapped out of her hypnotic state and turned the car around. Caleb wondered what was going on in her head. Maybe the thing in the road reminded her of what might happen to him. And it might. In fact, his chances were not great. Any contact at all was dangerous and that one at the school had bitten right into him. And bacteria in its mouth would get in his bloodstream that way. Did they clean it before they left? He couldn’t remember.
But his stomach was starting to give him pangs now, too. He was hungry and not hungry at the same time. A strange feeling. Not good. Almost like his guts were becoming numbed. It made him feel a bit like puking. He kept quiet about it and didn’t roll down the window because Tamara was sharp, she’d notice that.
The streets were deserted the rest of the way to the doctor’s. Everyone alive was locked indoors.