“Well, Beverly’s started eating shoes…” Nathan began, and I sat quietly and listened to him talk about what our dogs had been up to, and began to feel like maybe things were going to be okay after all.
Break the mirror; it tells lies.
Learn to live in your disguise.
Everything is changing now, it’s too late to go back.
Caterpillar child of mine,
This was always life’s design,
Here at last you’ll find the things you can’t afford to lack.
The broken doors are ready, you are very nearly home.
My darling child, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
–FROM DON’T GO OUT ALONE, BY SIMONE KIMBERLEY, PUBLISHED 2006 BY LIGHTHOUSE PRESS. CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT.
—hear me? This is Harry Lo of KNBR, the Bay Area’s real rock, broadcasting live because I have nothing else to do and no other way of getting the message that I’m still alive in here out to the world. I have now been broadcasting for twenty days straight. It’s almost Halloween, kids, and if anyone’s out there listening, I recommend against going trick-or-treating this year, because the streets are alive with the actual undead, which may make it hard to tell the kids in costumes from the people who want to eat your face off.
Eating. I remember eating. Those of you who tuned in yesterday—and if any of you tuned in yesterday, why aren’t you calling to let me know that I’m not alone in here? Please, I’m begging you—you may recall that I ate the last of the crackers from the staff vending machine. I’ve started eating tissue paper, since my sister used to swear by that as a weight loss aid. I’ve also eaten an entire bottle of Vicodin, taken from our former lead anchor’s purse, and I’m about to follow it with the last of the tequila.
This is Harry Lo, signing off. I hope that if you’re out there, you have better options left than I did.
–FROM THE FINAL TRANSMISSION OF HARRY LO, KNBR, RECORDED ON OCTOBER 28, 2027
The sound of tires on the street outside made me stand and stick my head out of the bathroom, still clutching the fully charged cellphone in my hand like a talisman against all the bad things that were waiting in the dark. I’d been sitting silently since Nathan hung up, watching the phone’s battery bar slowly fill and wishing that he had been able to stay on the line. Apparently, it was unsafe to have too many connections going in or out of the new lab location; Fishy wasn’t the only person who knew how to trace a call. With the cell network on the verge of collapse thanks to neglect and a lack of callers, anyone who was still making calls was exposing themselves to all manner of tracking. By the government, definitely. But also, apparently, by SymboGen, which was still open and operational, and offering to “help” anyone who had been impacted by the sleepwalker plague.
According to what Nathan had been able to tell me during our short time on the phone, I’d missed the shit really starting to hit the fan by three days. That was the span between my disappearance and the first person to go into a sleepwalker frenzy on live television. That would have been a big deal no matter who did it, but that first victim was Paul Moffat, the mayor of San Francisco. He had been in the process of giving a speech about the crisis, one that was mirrored to the local public television station, less because anyone thought he had anything new to say, and more because he was a heavy contributor to their operating budget.
People started caring a lot more about what he had to say after he ripped somebody’s throat out with his teeth. That probably wasn’t the kind of attention he’d been looking for.
By the time somebody thought to shoot him, even CNN was carrying the footage of his conversion and subsequent attack. According to Nathan, that segment had aired on an almost constant loop for three days, and even Dr. Cale had put it on the main screen in her lab for a few hours, making sure everyone had the chance to see it. Then she’d turned off the screen and announced that while they were not abandoning the search for me and Tansy, they couldn’t hold off moving the lab any longer. Things were destabilizing too fast.
She was right about that, since by that point, no one really cared about the mayor who’d freaked out and eaten a few people. They were too busy worrying about their friends, their neighbors, their parents, their children… themselves. The warning signs had been there, and they had been ignored, one bellwether after another, until their weight became too great and everything came crashing down.
It took less than ten days for my cousins to incapacitate American civilization as we understood it, disrupting food chains, causing power outages and hospital shutdowns, and in some cases causing the evacuation of entire cities. There were still news feeds and Internet reports coming through, but they got scarcer each day as the people behind them fell. I guess maybe I should have been proud of that, except I was a tapeworm who thought of herself as a human, and they were tapeworms who thought of themselves as tapeworms. We were on different sides, and whenever there’s a conflict, somebody’s going to wind up on the losing one.
I just didn’t want it to be my side, even if I still wasn’t sure what side that was.
Footsteps on the walkway in front of the house snapped me out of my brief reverie, followed by the sound of gunshots. They came quick and efficient, one after the other, like someone running a hand along a typewriter. Then the shots stopped, and someone began hammering on the front door.
“I’m coming!” I still couldn’t run, but I could hobble quickly. Two more gunshots sounded in the time it took me to get to the front door, which I unlocked and opened to reveal the wild-eyed face of Nathan Kim. He was wearing a black uniform I’d never seen before, and had an assault rifle in one hand. It looked out of place against the backdrop of my gentle, scholarly boyfriend. So did the bodies that were littering the lawn. Fang and a man I didn’t recognize were standing back-to-back behind him, their own rifles slowly sweeping the area as they watched for more sleepwalkers.