The full light of morning had arrived pretty quickly, like a train pulling into a station. Most sane men would flinch and instinctively look away from the scene that was lit up. People were trying to drag their dying to safety while men with rifles and a chainsaw easily hunted them down and cut them in half. At the same time, some of the wounded themselves had changed sides and joined in the killing. Caleb heard rising screams of terror from the opposite side of the burning METMA centre. Over by the front entrance, this scene was being repeated. Or something worse.
Rand, like a bulimic, forced himself to puke. It was clearly painful. Eventually he took a few deep breaths and stood up. “I need water,” he croaked. “And medicine. Antibiotics.”
“Antibiotics won’t work,” said Caleb. Rand’s expression changed. They both knew he was right. The Wreck had gotten its slime inside him. Throwing up might get rid of most of it, but that shit was strong. He had an even chance of being infected. “My car,” said Rand. “Zelinski.” His voice was reduced to a whisper.
A figure staggered out of a doorway near the furnace. It was wreathed in smoke but once in the open, it seemed to sober up and find itself. It was a Wreck. And what a Wreck.
Caleb could not figure how so much loose jelly stayed together. Muscles, bones and organs were all in the wrong places. Shredded human fibres stuck out everywhere in bloody chaos. The only clothing left on it was a pair of shoes. Its head and face were like a game of Jenga made out of flesh. This thing was the Bogeyman a butcher tells his kids about.
Luckily, the car park was in the other direction. There were now two reasons to hurry. Rand didn’t need help to run, though his breathing was ragged.
They had to get through the courtyard. The maniac soldiers were right in front of them. Caleb almost stalled. But he forgot that Rand was their boss. The young suit angled towards them instead of away.
They had found a Wreck of their own. The two soldiers carefully shot it in the knees multiple times, then in the head. Then at a shout, the giant advanced with the chainsaw. His method for this situation, apparently, was to carve the body straight down from the top of the head to the tailbone. He had blood on his face. Caleb had a feeling that he was doomed and everyone knew it but said nothing, like the cleanup crew at Chernobyl.
Rand waved. One of the soldiers spotted him. “One over there,” Rand whispered. He pointed, which worked better than his feeble croaking. The soldiers looked at the meatbag. It was stomping towards the living with purpose. Arms out. Its hands, at least, were intact.
“God fucking damn it, we did that one already,” said the soldier. Nevertheless, all three of them went towards it. They shot it down. It seemed to have more energy than most. Why was unclear. But even Caleb’s sense of Wreck auras picked up on something fuller, livelier than other Wrecks.
The battlefield was horror and tragedy competing for dominance. Caleb and Rand ignored the wordless sounds everyone made and set a pace towards the car park.
It was half-empty. Rand’s car was a top-of-the-line Lexus. As they approached it they saw that somebody in a hurry had rammed it. The two passenger’s side doors were battered. Rand winced at that for about half a second, but his priorities were in order and he didn’t give it any more attention.
“Can you drive okay?” Caleb said when they were in. Rand nodded. Then he took out his phone, scrolled through it and handed it to Caleb.
“Better if you talk,” he said, still whispering. He started the car. The screen had a number for Zelinski on it. Caleb pressed ‘Call’. They pulled away from the car park and through the back gate of the METMA centre. The screams and sirens and smoke were left behind for good.
“We’re on the way,” said Zelinski on the phone.
“Don’t bother, it’s burning down,” said Caleb.
“What? Fuck.” A long pause. “Where are you?”
“We just left,” said Caleb. “Rand was attacked by a Wreck. What should we do? Hospital?”
“Hospitals are a no-go,” said Zelinski. “Wait. We have chilli peppers and Tabasco. That’s the only thing I can think of. You’ve got to meet up with us.”
For some reason, Caleb’s heart surged at those words. Zelinski hadn’t even mentioned Tamara by name, but he said we and that was enough. Caleb realised his missed her so badly he was about to cry like a goddamn baby.