As soon as I flipped the switch the room was flooded with soft white light from the low-emission bulbs above the sink. It didn’t hurt my eyes as much as normal lights would have after being in the dark for so long. That was a relief. I fumbled the medicine cabinet open without really looking at the rest of the room. The shelves were laden with all sorts of things both prescription and non, including a full bottle of ibuprofen. I struggled for a moment with the childproof lid before it came free, abruptly enough that little red pills went all over the room. I didn’t bother trying to pick them all up. I just shoved six into my mouth, swallowing greedily, before I turned on the tap and bent to drink straight from the faucet like a dog. For all I knew, ibuprofen was contraindicated after brain surgery, but since Sherman hadn’t exactly provided me with aftercare instructions, I was playing things by ear, and my ear said it would do a better job if it wasn’t attached to a skull that felt like it was full of wasps.
When I had swallowed away the last of the dryness in my throat I stayed where I was, bracing my hands against the edge of the sink and bowing my head as I watched the water swirl down the drain. My hair was still an unfamiliar distraction as it hung in my frame of vision, keeping me from seeing the rest of the sink. A single pill had landed in the basin, and was resisting the swirling water that threatened to pull it down the drain. It looked out of place.
Everything looked out of place. Something about that pill, red against the white, made me lift my head and really look at what was in front of me for the first time since I had turned the lights on.
The sink was laden with all the things that I would have expected to find in a bathroom—hairbrushes, straightening iron, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a dozen other grooming tools that Joyce would have been better equipped to identify than I was. There were framed pictures on the walls, and the medicine cabinet wasn’t just full, it was overfull, packed with bottles and creams and cosmetics. The house smelled abandoned, and no one had come to investigate the noises that I was making, but whoever lived here hadn’t moved away. They’d just disappeared.
Slowly, I turned to look at the rest of the bathroom. Everything I saw just confirmed my fears. The shower curtain was puddled in the bottom of the tub, having been ripped from its rod by someone who wasn’t being careful. They might not have been capable of being careful: the bathroom rug was almost entirely the deep brown color of dried blood, save for a few splotches around the edge where the fabric remained plush and white. I stared at the rug for a moment, trying to convince myself that I was just looking at a bad dye job. The little splatters of blood on the linoleum and the edge of the tub made that an impossible trial.
The drums were beginning to pound in my ears. Ronnie must have brought me here because he knew that the original owners of the house were gone, either killed by sleepwalkers or joining them. How far had the infection spread while I was locked away? How much time did the human race have left?
I walked carefully back to the bathroom door, trying to tread as lightly as I could. Not only did my legs hurt so much that running would have been impossible, but any sound I made would mean risking an attack.
The hall was still deserted. I stood for a moment in the bathroom doorway, listening to the house around me. I didn’t hear movement. That was good; that could mean that I really was alone. The real question was Ronnie. Would he have put me someplace safe, or would he have left me in a killing jar to see what would happen to Sherman’s prize specimen when faced with real danger?
Almost unconsciously, I rubbed my still-healing wrist, feeling the stitches shift beneath the gauze. I could handle myself if I had to. I just didn’t want to do it if I had any other choice.
A house this well lived in had probably been occupied for at least five years, which meant the occupants might have installed an emergency services landline. I turned to my left, heading still deeper into the house as I looked for the most logical place to find that sort of thing: the kitchen.
The carpet underfoot muffled my steps, which was a good thing, except for the fact that it would also have muffled the steps of anyone who followed me. I kept glancing over my shoulder, squinting through the thin light from the open bathroom door as I watched to see whether I was being followed. No slack-jawed shapes had yet loomed out of the darkness, but that sadly didn’t mean much of anything. Sleepwalkers weren’t clever—at least not if the ones we’d encountered thus far were anything to go by—but they moved slowly enough that they were basically ambushes waiting to happen, at least until the moment when they decided to attack.
My foot struck linoleum. I stopped, struck by the sliding glass door on the wall directly ahead of me. It was standing open, a bloody handprint against its surface like a tattoo. The drums in my head got even louder. That was how the sleepwalkers had been able to get into the house, or maybe that was how the original inhabitants had been able to escape after they lost themselves to their implants. Either way, it was a way out.
Would the sleepwalkers still be lurking in the backyard, unable to find their way past the fences? Or were they in the darkest corners of the kitchen, trying to make up their slow minds about what to do with me? I had to make a decision.
I chose safety. I crossed the kitchen floor as fast as my legs allowed, grasping the sliding glass door and yanking it shut. It squealed in its track, and I winced but kept pulling until it was snug against its frame. Then I flipped the lock, and froze, watching the foliage in the backyard for signs of movement.
There weren’t any. But nothing moaned behind me either, and so I did my best to set my paranoia aside as I turned and began searching for a working phone.