He was on his hands and knees looking at the floor. When she got down to his level, the look in his eyes made her shiver. He looked like he was staring straight down into Hell. His eyes flicked over and back. He might be having hallucinations. Had Imsam fucked him up completely with this experiment?
“Jesus,” Caleb croaked. Then he immediately puked.
“Help him up,” said Imsam. “Get him water.”
Imsam put him back in the chair while Tamara filled a glass of water. It took several minutes for Caleb to calm her down while Imsam watched him intently. He assured them both he was not seeing anything out of the ordinary.
When he looked like he wasn’t about to blow up any more, Imsam questioned him in detail. But Caleb wasn’t the best person she’d ever met at articulating. His vocabulary had never been great and this was very new.
“I could feel it, that’s all,” he said. “For a while now I’ve been kind of… less sensitive inside. Feels like my guts are part of someone else.”
“Proprioception affected,” said Imsam. “Interesting.”
Tamara had no idea what he was talking about. “What about the chillies?” she said with finely-tuned impatience.
“It kind of came back,” said Caleb. “It was painful, but then I could just feel things.”
“You looked a but stunned,” said Tam.
“Stoned? I wish I was.”
“It wasn’t natural. I can still feel it. It’s not good. It’s kind of… crawling in there.”
For a while nobody said anything. Imsam mashed the chillies into paste in the cheese. He gave the slop to Caleb with a spoon in it. “I’d recommend you try to eat the whole thing. It really worked. I am quite amazed. It seems… the bacteria hate chilli. It will give you time.”
He managed to swallow most of it without chewing. And despite some retching noises he kept it down. Tam watched with some amusement, but also a bit of clarity. The chilli incident had shaken her out of a defiant mood. She realised that defiance was unhealthy. It was too close to denial. What Imsam said was true. He was 90% likely to be infected, and infection was 90% likely to lead to death. Statistically that meant he had a one in five chance of survival. And that was an optimistic estimate. She wouldn’t put money on anything else with those odds. There was no point betting on his life.
Imsam volunteered a clean shirt. He went to get it and they were left alone for a minute.
“I’m going to find out what it’s like to be a zombie,” Caleb said.
“And I’m going to have to watch,” said Tamara.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said.
“What?” she said. “What do you think I am? I’m staying with you.”
When Imsam came back, he stopped in the doorway until they turned to him.
“I am sorry for your trouble,” he said. Tam was sort of impressed.
“That’s okay,” Caleb said steadily. He stood up and took the shirt from Imsam’s hand.
“What are you going to do now?”
Imsam looked into various corners with a frown and said quite seriously, “I must look for my cat.”
Caleb thanked him and offered him money but Imsam wouldn’t take it. Instead, he handed Tamara a bottle of antidepressants.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said.
“In that case,” said Imsam, “I recommend you buy a bottle of brandy.”
He walked them out. When they saw the car all three of them remembered with a head-slap that the front of the Honda was still slimy with infection. They gingerly hosed it down from a safe distance. Surprisingly, Imsam shook hands with Caleb before they left. Caleb looked at him with a frown.
“In its first stage, the disease is not contagious,” Imsam said. “You cannot pass it on to anyone until…” he stopped just in time. Until you become a Wreck yourself, Tam thought.
“What are my chances?” Caleb said.
“In my professional opinion, you have none,” the doctor said blankly. “Be prepared.”
As they got in the car, Tamara reaslised why she needed antidepressants. But they would take a few days to kick in, and would dull her senses in other ways. She needed to be sharp if something sudden happened. Fear was good. The sadness and horror that were coming, she’d just have to live with.