They talked, and Tamara would zone out while things seemed normal for a while. Until they saw a Wreck, or a corpse (a natural dead one), or people running between houses just like in war-torn cities.
“We’ll have to change the words of the song,” said Caleb. “We can’t tell kids to run when they should be standing still.” This was obviously in reaction to Frankenbogart. Caleb spoke of him with a tone of hero worship.
Tamara thought about it. “Okay. If you stand still, they can’t see you. But if, for some reason, they do see you… then you’ve gotta move.”
“Right.” Pause. “Maybe that’s not so good for the smallies. They should know that if a Wreck gets within a certain range, they should run anyhow. They have the advantage. Any reasonably fit kid could outrun a Wreck easily.”
Tamara sang a test-run verse. “If you’re skinny run away, if you’re fat stay still and pray!”
Caleb laughed at that for a long time. Tamara felt like opening the window to let out that sound. To say to the whole world, “Fuck you, we can still have a good time!”
When they saw a squad car, Tam slowed down.
“Do our cops carry pepper spray?”
The squad car was parked at the entrance to a low, austere mansion that was painted an off-white grey. It carried the name “Solace” over the wrought-iron gate. There were spherical bushes on the wide lawn and the house had no less than four bay windows. One of them was broken.
They droved past slowly. Tam’s heart skipped a beat when she saw a figure sitting on the ground beside the squad car. It was a cop. He sat in a strange position– like he was meditating– and rocked slowly over and back.
“Whoa,” said Caleb.
Tam pulled up, but not too close. “I don’t like it,” she said summarily.
“What’s to like?” said Caleb. He was already getting out of the car.
“If it’s too risky, forget it,” Tam said before she followed him.
“Okay,” said Caleb.
The cop was talking to himself. Not a Wreck, if recent experience was anything to judge by. But they took it slow all the same.
He was neither young nor old. His face was jowly and covered in patchy stubble. He sat on his feet with his hands on his knees in front of him. Caleb approached very slowly with Tamara at his shoulder, like two people trying to swat a giant fly. His hands were covered in blood. Up close, Tam could see spots of blood on his face and uniform, too. Her throat was dry.
“Hey,” said Caleb. The cop stopped mumbling and looked at them.
“Are you the police?” said the cop. He looked at Tam and said, “Are you my mother?” Wrongness emanated from the man, like a smell. He had snapped. He had seen or done something inside that house that was beyond sanity. His soul had been kicked into oblivion. His eyes were full of darkness and pain. She also saw that his gun was missing. She squeezed Caleb’s arm and he patted her leg twice. Movements you wouldn’t even notice but they communicated everything that was necessary, with no words.
“You mind if we take a look around?” said Caleb, testing. The cop mumbled something they couldn’t hear. Caleb gave Tamara a glance and they backed away.
The cop turned his head to watch them. He said, as if he was some kind of guru, “It’s not now, it’s what happens next…”
Tamara shivered but for some reason, she memorised that statement. Caleb waved her towards the car. They both moved like the misfortunate in front of them was a rattlesnake. She got to the Honda at the same time as Caleb got to the other side of the squad car. He opened the door and looked inside.
When he came back, he was almost running. Tam got the engine started. She felt the cop might explode. But he didn’t, and something about Caleb’s attitude when he got in told her things were good. He opened his hand and there in his palm was a small, matt black can with various warning signs on it and the words “Pepper Spray” in neat Helvetica.