“Thank you,” I said distractedly. I’m not sure he heard me. The phone clicked, and the sound of his breathing was replaced by the sweet acoustic guitar hold music of the SymboGen communications system.
I waited, none too patiently, and listened more to Beverly barking than to the music. As long as she was still barking, the man was still outside. Hopefully the second woman was there with him, and not exploring some other avenue into the house. I shivered a bit, despite the fact that it was a perfectly warm day. If she got inside, I didn’t know what I would do.
The phone clicked. “Sally?” said Dr. Banks. He sounded concerned but not panicked. If anything, there was a note of relief in his voice, like he’d been waiting for the day I would call him voluntarily for a very long time. “What’s wrong? You gave Jeff a bit of a scare.”
“I’m having a bit of a scare myself right now, Dr. Banks,” I retorted. “I’m alone in my house with my dog, and three people with that sleepwalking sickness are here. One of them is at my back door. She keeps hitting the glass.” It seemed like such a small thing when I said it out loud like that, but it was impossible for me to properly articulate how horrible every little smacking sound was. Her palm was starting to look more red than white when she hit the door, like the repeated impacts were irritating the skin. If it hurt her at all, she didn’t show it. Her expression remained exactly the same, as blank as it had been the moment she appeared on the porch.
“Sally, you need to get out of there.” Now Dr. Banks sounded like he was on the verge of panic. “Is there any way for you to get out of the house?”
“I’m in my bathrobe, I’m unarmed, and there are three of them.” I stressed the number this time, like that might somehow make him understand how bad the situation was. “I know one is in the side yard and one is in the back. I don’t know where the third one is. So no, I can’t get out of the house, unless you’re absolutely sure they’re not going to attack me the way Chave did. I don’t have a bunch of security guards here to save me.”
Dr. Banks took a deep breath. “Are the doors locked?”
“I’m going to send a security team. If you think there’s any chance the people outside your house are going to get in, I need you to go and lock yourself in the bathroom. My men can get inside even if you’re not there to open the doors for them. I’ll pay for any damages. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Dr. Banks. I understand.” My parents would be pissed if they came home and SymboGen had kicked the front door in, but I assumed they’d be even angrier if they came home and found me dead in the kitchen.
“Stay safe, Sally.” The line went dead. I lowered my phone, slipping it into the pocket of my bathrobe, where I wouldn’t lose it. The woman from down the block was still methodically slapping the glass door. Beverly was still barking. As long as I focused on those two things—those pieces of proof that I was still safely inside and the monsters were still outside—I was okay.
I was okay.
I wasn’t okay. I found myself staring at the woman on the other side of the glass door, searching her eyes for some trace of the woman I’d seen walking down the sidewalk less than a week before, laughing over her shoulder, engaged with her own life. That woman wasn’t there. No one was there. I was looking at a corpse that just happened to be somehow up and walking around, and if I didn’t understand how that was possible, that was just because there were so many things I didn’t know.
I kept staring into her eyes, almost afraid to move, and waited for the sound of someone coming to rescue me.
Time stretched and slipped away, becoming something defined by three sounds: Beverly’s barking, the slap of skin against glass, and the drumbeat hammering of my own heart. I didn’t move. Beverly was starting to sound hoarse, but she wasn’t letting that stop her. As long as Mr. Carson was at the window, she was going to keep on barking at him. I wondered how much she understood about the sleeping sickness. What sort of scent did the infected give off, if a dog could detect it at a distance? She’d known when her original owner first started getting sick. She’d known when Mr. Carson and the others came up to the fence. They had to smell sick somehow.
I suddenly flashed on Marya talking about Tumbleweeds, her store cat, and how he’d been standoffish with the customers for the first time in his pampered life. What was it she’d said? “He even hissed at a poor woman yesterday.” I had to wonder whether that poor woman had joined the ranks of the sleepwalkers shortly after being rejected by the normally good-natured feline. If animals could detect the early signs of the infection, they might be the best way of avoiding it.
Assuming that all animals could detect the early signs of the infection, whatever those signs were. Assuming that the infection was passed person to person, and that it could be avoided. Assuming a whole lot of things, most of which probably weren’t safe to assume, not with the limited information available to me.
I was still staring at the woman when Beverly stopped barking and started to growl. I whipped around before I fully realized that I was going to move. The slapping against the glass behind me got more insistent, but it was competing with a somewhat more pressing sound: someone was knocking on the front door.
“Miss Mitchell?” shouted an unfamiliar male voice. “Are you all right? If you are unable to come to the door, we will enter to confirm your condition. We will be making entry on the count of ten. One…”