“Jesus Christ, what the fuck?” Caleb shouted. “Get back here, you bastards!” But the only people with weapons were now gone. The Wreck went straight to the nearest car, even though there wasn’t enough flesh stuck on the front of his skull to call it a face. The people inside got out: an oldish man and his wife. She was limping. They couldn’t move fast and were hysterical. No surprise there.
It was a horror show playing out in front of them, but Tam and Caleb stayed where they were. They were not heroes. Real people don’t just jump up and save the day when others are in trouble. They hide. And despite her best intentions, Tamara couldn’t think of a way to help. The Wreck was effectively invincible and even touching it was fatal.
The grey-haired couple hobbled in their direction through the stopped cars. The Wreck was truly fucked and remarkably, couldn’t catch them. Tam’s stomach turned. The blood that seeped from its wounds was thick and purplish, much too dark. Like blueberry sauce. Not human blood. She wondered if this was what made their faces look bruised all the time. She also wondered how many more times this was going to happen before they got to the METMA treatment centre.
“Get out,” Caleb said.
The cars in front of them were quickly emptying. The Wreck was coming their way. Each car was driven by someone from a different walk of life but they all looked the same in one respect: stretched. Pushed to their limits. And all the passengers had something in common too: they were hurt, bandaged, feverish. Tam realised something, a significance for the future that was almost scarier than the monster in the here and now. Anyone going into Rounlin today, in the middle of a self-imposed curfew, must be looking for the METMA centre. In other words, every car going the same direction as them had at least one Epsilon Rex victim inside. There were Wrecks blossoming all over this fucking road.
A growing crowd backed away from the corpse that was now ten feet from Caleb. Tamara fell back. Caleb stood his ground.
“Caleb?” she said. He looked stoic. Like he was staring down his boss on principle.
“I wanna try something,” he said quietly. Before she could answer, he stepped forward. He had the can of pepper spray in his hand.
The Wreck stretched his hands towards him and he sprayed them. Its splattered-fruit face twitched and moved in his direction. It looked like it had been dragged a mile along a dirt road. Tam gagged. The Wreck did not react instantly. But after a second its behaviour changed. This in itself was enough to amaze the spectators.
It seemed to lose focus as if it was genuinely blind. It reached in several different directions like it was looking for something but not finding it. Then it let its arms fall to its side. This was strange on a whole new level. It just stood there for a second and then, like the spirit of a massacre, it groaned in pain. That sound was more than anyone could take. It was indifferent, and yet there was some kind of sorrow there. The Wreck stood, wavering slightly, with globs of rotten blood clotting in its clothes and falling on its feet. Through its ruptured jaw that sound continued. The cry of an animal as it drowns. The people watching gasped and exclaimed. Tam heard “Christ” and “Lord save us”. If only it was that easy.
An engine roar reached them and a Humvee suddenly appeared, ripping up the side of the road and spewing dust. It came past the parked cars and heaved to a stop. This was the first time Tam had actually seen the army turn up. By rights they should be everywhere. About fucking time.
Soldiers jumped out of the jeep. Tamara expected a hail of bullets but these guys weren’t even carrying guns. Instead they had two long poles with lassoes on the end like those things the Crocodile Hunter used to wrap around a croc. The first two went to either side of the Wreck. They eyed it up suspiciously.
“What’s it doing? Looks like delta whiskey.”
“Something else. Bag it.”
A third and fourth soldier came from the other side of the Hummer. One of them shouted at the crowd to get back. Way back. The other had a tank on his back and a hose that looked like it was for spraying weedkiller. Caleb looked at Tamara and she saw from his expression that he expected fireworks. They quickly shuffled away, taking cover behind a car, along with the other spectators who were now tumbling over each other like the young, stupid antelope in a lion attack.