He was not infectious. Or contagious. Whichever. Caleb realised that he could, for example, kiss Tamara if he damn well felt like it. She reversed out onto the road but in the moment of stillness between that and moving forward, he leaned over fast and grabbed her with his mouth. He kissed her a dozen times in a dozen different ways: tender, rough, playful, loving, sloppy, questing and more. He threw in a sleazy one while he was at it.
“Oh, honey,” Tam said when he let go of her. Her face told the whole story. They were still in love but he was dying, and they didn’t have time to come to terms with it.
“Come on,” he said, and patted her on the leg with what he hoped was a sense of adventure. He felt so much better since he had been patched up that he had an insane notion to say “Fuck it, let’s just go home.” But she might go along with the idea and that thought made him come to his senses.
He didn’t feel any new symptoms although the writhing in his guts was something vile. It still felt like his inner organs belonged to someone else. Like his brain wasn’t giving the orders anymore so any feeling of movement was a shock to his own mind. It made him intensely ill and he wished the chillies would wear off and let him go back to being numb.
There were not many Wrecks around at this side of town. Varsity, population 3,400, was a place that centred on the church, school and department store. Everything else was trees and houses, spread out ridiculously. Between Varsity and Rounlin were a few commercial parks and franchise offices, plus one or two mock-colonial estates where the houses seemed superior just because they were on top of a hill. They had maybe an hour to drive, assuming no obstacles. Caleb took out the bottle of painkillers and counted them. Just four, but that would do. He swallowed one.
“We’ll need gas soon,” said Tamara. She had just spotted a filling station in the distance. But Caleb didn’t like the idea.
“We’ll check it out,” he said.
They slowed as the gas station came up. There were three Wrecks standing at the pumps and several splattered bodies. Caleb marvelled for a second at how easy it was to get used to sights like that. But Tam moaned involuntarily.
Caleb almost missed the only thing that was weirder than three walking corpses: a guy at the side of the road in some sort of Halloween outfit.
“The fuck? Some guy’s just standing there! Look at him!”
Tamara had completely missed the guy. He was standing completely still, looking at the fuel pumps. She followed where he was pointing. “No fucking way.”
He was dressed in a grey trench coat, which was buttoned up for rain. This would have been old-school but unremarkable if not for the addition of a Frankenstein mask. A full latext mask that covered his whole head.
“Is he crazy?” said Tam.
“Looks like Franken-Bogart,” said Caleb. His instinct said there was some reasoning behind this, but what it was he couldn’t imagine.
They cruised past and Caleb thought that he saw the guy’s head turn towards them a fraction. The Wrecks at the pumps were watching them. They lifted their arms. Then they started moving, slowly.
“Go back,” he said. The poor bastard standing there was obviously in some kind of trouble.
Tam turned around at the gas station exit road. They drove back fast and the Wrecks changed their trajectory like slow-motion missiles. They pulled up in a cloud of dust and Caleb rolled down his window. “Get in!” he yelled. The guy didn’t move. The Wrecks were still some way off. “Are you stuck? What’s wrong?” said Caleb.
Frankenbogart seemed to be saying something but his voice was so low that Caleb couldn’t hear. He waved at Tam to shut off the engine. He spoke again, very slowly. Judging by his voice he was quite young, maybe in his teens.
“You guys would be doing me a big favour,” he said, “If you’d fuck off and leave me alone.”