They were not sure what to expect inside. Imsam might have a large family and any or all of them might have become infected. But apparently he lived alone and had a dog. Or used to.
That dog was now torn into chunks, with little remaining to even distinguish it as a particular animal. Caleb saw a skull and paws. The rest was just fur and blood, horribly spread over the whole living room as if they had made a feast of the poor mutt. Imsam stood over the spectacle for a minute as Caleb and Tam arrived behind him. Then the doctor summarily announced, “Animals do not get infected. There is nothing to fear.” Caleb wondered if he had done his grieving right there, in ten seconds.
They went to the kitchen, and Tam poured everyone a tall glass of water while the doctor examined Caleb’s scalp. Tam asked if she could borrow some food from the fridge. “Do you mind? I’ll pay…”
“Take it, take it,” said Imsam. He was as dismissive in his generosity as he was in his bedside manner. Caleb, meanwhile, felt his guts churn immediately after he drank the water. It felt like a piranha feeding frenzy.
“I must get my bag,” said Imsam.
“Hey,” said Caleb, “do I have time to use the bathroom?”
“Certainly,” said Imsam. He led Caleb down the hall. He pointed to the bathroom and continued on as Caleb ducked in.
He was almost certain he was going to have an explosive case of the runs. When he got to the toilet, his bowels didn’t disappoint. Caleb managed to open a window without getting up, then spent several minutes parked on the bowl while he made sure his system was completely empty. The effort was painful. He said to himself, “Better out than in.”
But it wasn’t the most reassuring shit Caleb had ever taken. Even after he was completely relieved, he could still feel that strange disconcerting numbness in his guts. It was like nothing he’d ever felt. He wasn’t sick, but he kept thinking that anything could be going on down there and he wouldn’t know. Something replayed in his mind about the symptoms of infection. Damned if he could remember it. Still, he knew this wasn’t right.
Back in the kitchen, Tam was eating a bagel. She offered Caleb some but he ignored it. There was a doctor’s bag open on the kitchen counter and Imsam was very quick about setting up a tray full of bandages, clamps, bottles, syringes and surgical packages. He directed Caleb to sit down. Then he injected his wounded scalp and Caleb felt his skin being tugged over and back painlessly, an experience that made him even more nauseous than the state of his bowel.
He asked Caleb if there were any other symptoms.
“Well… I have to admit, my digestive system is acting very strange. Not hungry, not painful, just… strange.”
Tamara’s face went totally blank, and she paled. She walked out of the room. He heard the front door close, then the car door and for an instant he thought it would be best if she left him forever. But the car didn’t start. Instead, Imsam cleaned the wound with iodine and put in sixteen stitches and it all happened in silence. After about ten minutes Tamara came back in. She looked like shit. Caleb’s heart was wrenched by the sight of her. She was in pain. She handled it well enough.
When he finished stitching, the doctor had Caleb wash his entire face and head in warm water with disinfectant solution. When that was done, he wrapped his head in a roll of bandage. By the end of it, Caleb felt human. The anaesthetic took away the constant reminder of teeth grinding against skull, and the horrors of the day were starting to recede.
“What about some antibiotics?” Caleb suggested. Imsam’s face looked as if they were on TV and Caleb had just stolen his line. His expression changed when it dawned on him that his patient didn’t have all the information.
“METMA has posted a warning to all doctors about this,” he said. “Nobody is to be given antibiotics. The bacteria take aggressive action and the patient can suffer acute side-effects, including death.” What he implied by this had never been said. It was the elephant in the room, naturally. Caleb glanced at Tam, who looked exhausted and reluctant to hear the words.
“What do you think?” said Caleb. He just wanted it get it out of the way.
“Well, you probably already know,” said Imsam with a professional tone of doom. “As far as I’m concerned, you are most likely infected with Epsilon Rex.”