The shower had stopped running. Tam checked the bathroom and Caleb wasn’t there. He was in the bedroom, getting dressed. But slowly. Like someone struggling with an injury. She walked up behind him and put her arms around his waist. It took him several seconds to become aware of her.
“You okay?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Caleb. But she didn’t believe it. “I think I might… need more… chillies some time soon.”
Tam hurried to the kitchen and got a bottle of chilli sauce. She ignored Zelinski and Rand’s stares, with their implied questions. She brought Caleb the bottle and he downed a mouthful. Once again, his eyes cleared like he had rapidly recovered from being stoned.
“You’ve got to kiss me,” said Tam. Somehow she felt that this might be the last time.
“God, I dunno,” said Caleb. They both knew he was near the edge. Infection might be on the cards. She grabbed the chilli sauce from him and shook it into her mouth. Sloshed it around and swallowed. A second later, her mouth flared up. It was magma. It was the colour red brought to life. It was a thousand paper cuts to her tongue, tonsils and throat. She couldn’t help gagging.
Once she’d got hold of herself, Caleb held her by the shoulders and looked into her face. He smiled. He giggled a bit. “That’s too romantic,” he said. Then her kissed her, and she opened her mouth and tried to suck the love from his body.
For a split second the passion was in her, but the movement felt mechanical. Ten percent of her was living it, the other ninety screaming, “You’re kissing a zombie”. She tasted something non-human. She felt the energy fading from his hands as he held her. She tried to get it back, and so did he, but it wasn’t working.
The moment when they might have their last real kiss as a loving couple was already gone. He let her go and they stared at each other. “This is pointless,” said Tam. Tears streamed down her face.
“I think so,” said Caleb. “So what else is there?”
So much for quality time. Numbly, she led him back to the kitchen. He looked less like a casualty of war now, but only until the chilli sauce ran out again.
Zelinski served bowls of food, and they ate and talked. “You need to tell your neighbours what’s going on,” Zelinski said. “It’s only fair. And safe.”
He was a man driven by practicalities, so Tam couldn’t argue. She finished her food like a wolf. It was an ugly mess but it revitalised her like some kind of video game character. Then she looked out the window for Wreck activity.
The house stood on a corner. The kitchen window gave good access to the street. Somebody far away was shouting. Tam watched. Sure enough, a Wreck wandered across someone’s lawn.
Rand was muttering something. Tam didn’t hear him. She was fascinated by the lone zombie. Didn’t know why. Then it hit her. “It’s going a different way,” she said.
While she went out to talk to Caleb’s neighbour, Zelinski darted to his Ford Focus and went circling the block. Up to now, groups of Wrecks had always been headed for Rounlin.
When she heard Caleb’s plight, the neighbour offered Tam a cup of tea by way of condolence. Tam politely refused and told her, “I just wanted to let you know. In case you… hear anything. You should be ready.”
“Okay, fine,” said the woman, a sturdy wartime bride. Tam was impressed with her tenacity. But five minutes after she got back, a car roared away. The neighbour had taken off.
Zelinski’s Focus came back. The scientist appeared in the doorway. “It’s true,” he said like he was inventing Christmas. “I saw two groups in different areas. They’re going West now.”
“Why?” said Tam. “And how would they pass on the message? Do they have some form of communication?”
Rand looked at Caleb, who sat dutifully at the breakfast counter waiting for orders. “He knows,” said Rand.
They brought Caleb to the living room. Rand, who was suddenly adept at dealing with people in a delicate mental state, sat him down on the couch and spoke to him softly. “Caleb,” he said. “I want you to think about any impulses you’ve had, like a sudden urge to run away. I want you to describe it, if you can. In particular, I want you to take note of whether that feeling changed lately. Like in the last few hours. What do you hear? What do you see? Can you feel the presence of something unnatural, something otherwordly? Think about it for a while, then answer in any way you can.”