The homeless man shifted until he was uncomfortably close. His disembodied voice crooned at Caleb. “You could do the same,” he said. “Or, you could just tell them to fuck off. You can do that too, you know. That’s what I did.”
“What do you mean?” Caleb muttered. His brain was pulsating with horror and pain.
“Tell them lay off, and they’ll just leave you die.” Caleb heard the man move back. He stared at the ceiling and wondered why someone would choose to reject treatment, even if it was a million-to-one shot. Maybe the guy just wanted to clock out. Maybe he’d seen it all and then some. Maybe some people would prefer to be dead—still seeing, still walking around—than alive. He fell asleep with this on his mind.
His eyes moved down his arms to the palms of his hands. He could see through them. But the things he saw were not light, but sound. A fizzing, pulling sound like electricity. It was magnetic. His body was a machine: the size of an elephant, all tentacles like a squid. Alien. It was dragging him along with it and he needed to fight.
He was disturbed, along with everyone else, by soldiers shouting. There was a lot of movement, three or four men. It was violent and fast and for a second he couldn’t remember where or even who he was. The bum to his right was turning over to see. There was somebody new in Miss Taylor’s spot. Caleb blinked several times and tried hard to focus in the chaos.
The light was blinding. He thought he saw two men burying meathooks into one of the patients and dragging him out screaming by the legs. People made piteous sounds. The lamps only showed chalk outlines on utter blackness. Caleb’s eyesight was still not right, especially in this artificial light. It was mind-boggling to wake up from a nightmare to this seething disaster area. He decided to stay awake for a while, just to get his bearings.
The sounds of insanity moved into the distance. Order returned, though there were people crying again and Caleb heard muttered prayers to his left. He sat up and wrapped himself in the one blanket he had been provided. It was the dead of night and freezing. His dream had been otherworldly. It made him sick. The reality wasn’t much better. While he sat watching, there were several more quick exits. Some were willing, others not. Within an hour there was another emergency: somebody had died unnoticed. Suddenly, there was a Wreck in the room.
The soldiers were satisfactorily brutal. They snapped snares around its limbs and dragged it to the ground, then cleaved its legs with hooks and lifted it off the floor entirely. They ran it out of the room like a battering ram. A perplexed voice to Caleb’s left said, “Why didn’t they tase it?”
Caleb stayed silent. He was in no fucking mood for conversation. His mind twisted and turned. It landed safely half an hour later and strangely, he felt at peace. He felt like a man who knows his place, even if that place is at the oar of a galley.
He was ready when the doctor came back to give him his treatment. He had been expecting it. The doctors never ceased in their work. They were like soldier ants.
It was the same guy who had given him his tag. “Roll up your sleeve,” he said.
“I don’t think so,” said Caleb. “I don’t want that shit.”
The doctor’s body visibly reduced in size, though Caleb couldn’t see much of his face. The outline of his head was an eclipse. “Just do it,” he said hoarsely. Caleb’s neighbours seemed to be watching the scene.
“What if I told you I want something specific?” said Caleb. “Could you do that?”
“Doubt it,” said the doctor. He scratched his head violently.
“But it works,” said Caleb. “I know it does. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Caleb had the light on his face and the doctor analysed his expression for a long time. “What?” he said in the end, evidently pissed off. “What is this thing you want?”
“Chillies,” said Caleb. “Lots of chillies. Tabasco Sauce will do too. If you haven’t got either of those, get me Pepper Spray. They all work. My girlfriend has Pepper Spray. She’s waiting outside.”
It was a while before Caleb heard the words “We’ll look at that.” The doctor left in a hurry. It wasn’t clear whether his idea had gone down well.