Zelinski was ushered into the bathroom by Giulianova. The Corporal stood by the door, just in case Zelinski had an accident or tried to kill himself while he was supposed to be having a shower.
When he emerged, Zelinski seemed reborn. Maybe the sensation of showering had displaced the memory of dead human flesh snaking over his body. He had also been covered in a crust of Ep Rex mucus since the moment he was attacked by the Blob. Now he had emerged from that shell.
Caleb’s clothes were too big for him but he searched until he found some stuff that didn’t hang from his frame. A burgundy wool sweater that had shrunk in the wash, and a ten-year-old pair of jeans covered in paint stains. It was a nicely ridiculous getup. Tam was just glad he didn’t look like Caleb while he was walking around in Caleb’s old clothes.
“Thanks,” he said heavily. The first word he had spoken in days. The transformation wasn’t complete. He was not his old self yet.
It was a new day. Tam had tried to sleep but couldn’t, so she ate something instead. A fruit salad with some cheese on crackers. She offered some to Zelinski. He took the cheese crackers, but frowned at the fruit.
Tam called her parents in Minneapolis. They were in pieces. It took a lengthy conversation to discover that they were not actually fucked. Her younger sister Fiona had been missing for a few days; naturally, Mom and Dad thought she was torn to shreds or turned. But she was fine. She was eighteen and prone to unpredictable, risky decisions. She’d gone to an old mill with her boyfriend and a bunch of teenagers who thought a zombie plague was the one thing they could ride better than anyone. She came back after two days with no contact. Her poor parents were insane from anxiety and premature grief.
Tam eventually got around to telling her mother that Caleb had got infected protecting the kids, and then died and become a Wreck. There was silence on the phone. “Oh God, Tamara,” her mother said. “I know,” said Tam.
She put some things in a bag and told Miller she was ready to go. They stomped down the stairs, like the first day back at school.
Miller and Giulianova pointed their rifles squarely at the three Wrecks who were lying in the flowerbed down the street. The Wrecks didn’t move. Everyone looked at each other. “Check it out,” said Miller.
The Wrecks had simply collapsed. The army guys went ahead. Tam and Zelinski caught up when they knew it was safe.
Each Wreck had one hand pushed deep into the soil. Apart from that, they just looked like dead bodies. A man and woman, both overweight, in sweats. And a small young woman in a parka jacket. The corpses were slightly mutilated, as if they had been rolled down a hill after they died. And the smell was unnatural. They smelled of ammonia.
Miller looked at Zelinski. “Doctor?” he said in a measured tone. “What do you think?”
Zelinski’s thought process was strained. After a long time he spoke, stammering. “N-not mummified, so… n-not the same as before. The mychorrizae… the fungus. Lives in the soil. Maybe, they needed to make contact with it. For what? I don’t know.”
“It looks like it drained out of them, doesn’t it?” said Tam. They all stared at her. Zelinski in particular seemed stunned by her pronouncement. She didn’t see the big deal. Petrified Wrecks concentrated all their Ep Rex in the palm of the hand. They’d encountered it before. These ones had their hands in the earth. Now they were just dead. It looked like they had concentrated and poured all their Ep Rex cells, or molecules or whatever, through those hands into the ground.
It was not their mystery to solve. They climbed in the Humvee and took off. Giulianova drove. Miller contacted Army Headquarters and had a shouting match over the radio until Tam had a headache and Zelinski was shaking. Miller, though, acted like this was part of the job.
“Charlie Echo two five,” he told his partner. “Eight clicks west of Rounlin.” That was where they were headed.
The roads were quiet. They saw some Wrecks crossing a field. They talked about whether they should stop and attack. But Tam gathered from the conversation that Miller and Giulianova were extremely short of ammunition. They decided to leave it to a larger force.
The outskirts of Rounlin were transformed into a militaristic nightmare of checkpoints, burned cars, charred bodies, roadblocks and discarded army paraphernalia. Tam was terrified. But the scene gave way to an almost normal city. Apparently, the gates had held. The city itself was not devastated like Varsity. People could be seen darting between buildings and driving too fast. The place was in lockdown, but surviving.