They were moving steadily now. That was good because any time they stopped, Caleb couldn’t see too well. There was something happening to his eyesight. It was a gradual change and difficult to pinpoint but he narrowed it down to movement. He would bet cash money it was Wreck-related. Great.
“How are you, honey?” said Tam. She kept asking him how he was doing and he kept saying he was fine. But so far he hadn’t lied to her, much. He wondered if this would be a good time to start. Probably not. They were a team.
“I think we need to hurry,” he said. She looked alarmed.
“We’ll be there in two shakes, hang in there,” she said.
“I’ll be fine,” he answered too quickly.
They steered away from the centre of town, which alleviated the traffic. They covered the half-mile quickly, passing out of the financial ‘district’ of old city-style buildings. Shadows were growing on the walls. But Caleb found that his disease softened the edges of things so nothing was as colourful or as clear as it had been. It wasn’t blurred but faded, like it was all becoming part of a two-dimensional image that, if he ran his hands over it, would be smooth.
And his hands. Both of them were now almost completely alien to him. He’d been able to accept it, though in the beginning it was unbearably creepy. Now it just made him nervous. He kept feeling that his hands could act without instructions from his brain. They might start disobeying him any second. That was unlikely in real life but the feeling persisted. It had started in his feet, too.
They were forced to stop in a queue of traffic. “I think this is it,” said Tam.
“Fantastic,” said Caleb. He wasn’t sure he sounded convincing.
With the car stopped, he looked ahead and tried to focus on something. There was a METMA sign. He stared at it. The sharp letters were written in red on yellow, big enough to be seen from several hundred yards away. But the longer he stared, the less he saw. The colours were becoming less vivid. The shape of the letters was blending with the background like a lump of pastry being flattened by a rolling pin.
He blinked, but it didn’t clear. “Take some Tabasco,” said Tam. His brain was still working, and Caleb realised that this was a damn fine idea. He took the bottle out of his pocket and chugged it.
The Alien feeling was pushed back for a moment, almost all the way. His eyesight was clear. He got a sense that the Epsilon Rex bacteria needed to divide its forces to battle the invading pepper sauce molecules. It was a feeble effort, but worthwhile. He knew what full colour looked like again. He compared the two states. The colour didn’t fade exactly, it just didn’t register. This made things harder to isolate.
He finished off the bottle. “Should have got a large one,” he said.
It might have been possible to forget that they were not in a regular traffic jam. But as they got closer to the gates, they passed by a burned-out car. Inside were two skeletons. Two actual human skulls and spines and ribcages, blackened, visible through the smashed windows.
“They’d better find a cure for this thing,” Tamara said. “Or we’re going to turn into something less than human.”
“Jesus, honey,” said Caleb. A part of his mind got all fired up and ready for a philosphical debate on the nature of humanity. But at that exact moment, while they were watching, four kids ran up to the car. They looked about ten, maybe eleven years old and they squealed in excitement as they did something fast and apparently thrilling. Nobody tried to stop them. They suddenly ran in two different directions and when they were gone, the bodies were noticeably different. Sure enough, the kids had stolen the skulls. Kids. The same kind he had been teaching yesterday. Stealing the heads from recently-murdered corpses.
Caleb rolled down the window and screamed at them. “Get back here!” He quickly realised that sounded pathetic. But what do you say to a child carrying a human head that doesn’t belong to them? Tamara grabbed his hand. When he looked at her, she shrugged; a ‘Meh’ kind of shrug. He rolled the window up.
“We’re all fucked,” he said. He and Tam muttered this together, shaking their heads, holding each others’ hands for a minute. Then they were at the gate of the METMA Treatment Centre.