Caleb had already tried tuning in the radio, but he was about as likely to pick up the Zeitgeist. This was not a shock. No aerial had been properly attached since they bought it and the coat hanger fell out six months ago.
He felt sunburned, though Caleb hadn’t been sunburned since he was a teenager. It felt like someone blowing the hair on his arms. For now it was a mild sensation but it was making his skin tingle and he caught himself rubbing his fingers together like a camp villain. He stopped. More and more of his mental energy was going into suppressing things that looked like symptoms for Tamara’s sake.
This was the fault of the Epsilon Rex bacteria. Skin crawling. He was pretty sure it was on the list. He felt like eating too, though his digestive system seemed to be sitting on his pelvis like a stone at the moment so that hardly made any sense. His organs were completely numb. He subtly checked to make sure he wasn’t after shitting himself.
Caleb was going through the gamut of symptoms like the pilot who ate the fish in that movie. When the hallucinations kicked in, he was in real trouble. Until then, Caleb figured he didn’t have to worry. But in his younger days he had tried out a few drugs and LSD was one of them. Hallucinations were no laughing matter. “Fever” wasn’t as easy a ride as it sounded either.
He had a split-second daydream of jumping out of the car and running. It wasn’t a rational idea. The same voice told him to hurry up and get to the METMA centre for treatment. He didn’t know what was there. Maybe there was a cure by now. Or maybe anyone with the disease was being unceremoniously shot. In which case he was rushing to his doom. But he wouldn’t really mind that. He didn’t want to die a slow death with Tamara watching. He just wanted someone who knew what they were doing to take over.
“Maybe you should take the pepper spray,” he said.
Tamara thought about it for a second. “You’re more likely to get close enough to a Wreck to use it without being hit,” she said lightly. She had obviously missed the point.
“In case you have to use it on me,” he said.
“The fuck out of here!” she squealed. “I’m not going to pepper spray you.”
“What if I’m hallucinating?” he shot back. “What if I turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining, right here in this car? You’d be glad you had that can of pepper spray then.”
“Fine.” She took it. “How are you feeling?”
No answer he could think of was good enough. “I really wish the radio was working,” he said eventually.
They were halfway to Rounlin. Outside, Caleb saw the occasional Wreck in the streets. It was like some twisted pilgrimage. They mostly appeared in small groups and all faced towards Rounlin. Some were shuffling along the route like the shit competitors at the end of a marathon. All going the same direction. Caleb wondered what that was about. He also knew that he would find out soon enough. He wondered if it was like death. Or if it was a living Hell of pain and insanity. An alien intelligence screaming in his ear. Mind-shredding images he couldn’t get rid of. Spiralling into a hole in the world.
A wave of fear crashed over him. He took a deep breath but it caught in his throat and turned into an embarrassing gasp. Tamara looked at him with an expression of such concern that he thought her eyebrows might meet in the middle. He chuckled to break the tension.
“Got the DT’s,” he said. “I need a drink.”
“No problem,” she answered.
“I wasn’t serious.”
“We’re getting you a drink. Me too.”
They stopped at a bar long enough to get a bottle of cheap cognac. The barman was watching the TV. Tam congratulated him for staying open and he said “Fuck it,” then showed them an old-fashioned shotgun he kept under the counter.
“Hey,” she said. “I notice you’ve got a radio there but you’re not using it. How much would you take for it?”
The guy looked at her with a strangely teacherish expression and said, “What do you think it’s worth?”
They gave him thirty bucks, which was not ripping off either party. Caleb felt a rush of adventure and told the guy he also wanted to buy that bottle of Tabasco sauce he’d just spotted behind the bar.