Night overcomes day. I confront the TV, demanding its entertainments. The DVDs I usually keep in odd places have gravitated together and are sorted into piles. The larger piles are porn titles. Kristine chooses the one to watch. It isn’t.
She sits next to me, smelling attractively of some herbal soap. I sling an arm over the couch, feeling its skin and thinking of hers. Her hair is damp from bathing and, if my eyes don't deceive me, that bathrobe covers skin only. Was sympathy sex on the cards? Even after I acted like a hard case? I haven’t found a substitute for my hand in over a year. Breaking that drought is pretty appealing.
Kristine doesn’t drink as a rule but is clumsily cajoled into sipping a gin and tonic. I guzzle aged Scotch Whiskey straight from the bottle. Halfway through the movie she blows her nose and dabs tears.
I admit the film is pretty soppy. Some dumb dork loses a moronic tart. Everything will be resolved by the end. The usual formulaic crap Disney churns out. But I sense something else affects her.
I hit the pause button and pass off a human feeling as my own.
“There’s water on your face so either something’s wrong or the plumbing is about to let go. You’re the one who said not to hold stuff inside. You told me that, remember?”
I stifle a yawn, hoping we can go back to watching the movie.
“I don’t want to dump on you.”
Nope, no such luck. I’m expected to drag it out of her.
“I can handle it. Consider me the rubbish bin and dump away.”
“You’re not a rubbish bin, Sam. Don't be so self-critical.”
“Don't psycho-analyse everything I say.”
Irritation undoes my sympathetic lead in. I relent to feminine sniffles.
“Just tell me. You know you want to.”
“It hurts too much.”
She got a point. I’ve had a year to stew on my experiences and it still feels too soon to be reliving them.
“You’re good at talking. Go for it. Tell me where you used to live.”
I gloss over the backhanded compliment.
“I...I lived on the other side of the river...before...before the Crawlies...with Shanna, near the stadium…”
Her voice cracks. There’s a logjam at that juncture.
She changes tack.
“I'd taken a trip to Dad and Mum’s farm; they lived about sixty kays south. Just before the blockades went up. I worried about them being alone, you know, with the infection spreading and everything. The radio reports got pretty wild while I was there. Telling us to leave but never saying where to go. We saw the traffic on the road out front. Both lanes jammed with people going nowhere. I couldn’t get back to Shanna.”
There’s another anxious moment while she regains control of herself. Maybe I should offer her a Xanax.
Nah. I might need them.
“The phones stopped working and the TV only had army bulletins. A bunch of Creepies walked into the farm the same day we came under martial law. We know these people aren’t right. The TV tells what hosts looked like but we see them...the way they move...all slow and stiff. Their awful, dead faces.
Dad told us to lock ourselves inside then he went out to warn them off. He thought he’d be alright with his gun. He had to shoot one that grabbed him. Other Creeps pulled him down and they held him for ages. He screamed then went quiet.
We were too scared. Too scared. I was too scared to save my own father...
The Creeps left him there, on the ground. We went out about an hour later. He was bleeding from lots of scratches but still alive. Couldn’t wake him up. Me and mum looked after him for the rest of the day…he woke up...as something else. He wasn’t dad anymore.
Mum was with him. He attacked her. Knocked her out. Maybe he killed her. I don’t know. I’d never seen him so violent before. I hated him. I hated my dad. He tried to get me too. He's slow, and so strong. I ran upstairs. He dragged Mum off. I watched from the window when he took her down the driveway. I guess maybe they’re out there still. Somewhere.”
Streams run down red cheeks. I nudge a packet of tissues over. She takes a handful to console herself. Time passes where I dream of being the comforting companion she needs instead of the tongue-tied lump I am.
Steering away from matters of the heart might calm her.
“Where’d you go then?”
“There’s a small town close to the farm. You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
Nor would I care to know its location.
“Some good people fixed up the community hall for refugees. We followed government bulletins for a while. Gathered food, stuck together, waited for rescue. Shanna met me there after a couple of days. I was so happy. I’d been so scared for her. I almost lost it. Lucky she’d found a pushbike, well, you saw the roads. It was probably abandoned. She wouldn’t have stolen anything.”
I slap both hands to my cheeks in mock disbelief.
“Shut up. Not everyone is so quick to go against their morals.”
“Never had any to begin with.”
“We talked about the infections at afternoon meetings...”
Probably over tea and biscuits. Bloody sight better than Hadley’s crew’s guns and steel capped boots.
“...George, he was a high school science teacher, he says the same thing as you. About that new medical bug. Then there’s the Alien Invasion rumour. Lots of people got caught up in it. There’s even a mob that came through town trying to convert us to worship the Parasites. Father Johnson chased them off. Now that I’ve seen one I suppose it’s not surprising people think they’re aliens.”
“She’s...my partner. We got separated when the Bugs found us.”
“Umm, partner? You were, like, together-together? So you’re not talking sisterly togetherness?”
“No, Sam. We were a couple.”
Awww, SHIT. Struck out again. There goes my small chance of getting laid. I nose-dive into despondency at the speed of sound.