The sleepwalker—because there was nothing else it could have been; not with a closed, unlocked door being the only thing between it and freedom—opened its mouth and moaned again, weakly. It didn’t try to get out of its nest. I didn’t think it could have moved if it wanted to.
I bit my lip, staring at the figure in the corner. It didn’t moan again. I wasn’t sure whether that was because it was too weak, or because I had stopped moving and it could no longer tell where I was. Either way, it didn’t seem like it was going to come after me anytime soon. I turned my back on it and resumed my trek toward the window, looking out on the street below.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting after the situation at the hospital and the number of people who had been shoved into USAMRIID’s quarantine. Some part of me had still been holding out the hope that this would all just go away, and the world would return to a semblance of normalcy. I put a hand over my mouth, blinking rapidly to prevent the tears that were welling up in my eyes from clouding my vision. Normalcy was no longer an option, assuming it had ever been an option in the first place.
There were no cars moving on this suburban street, and the few lit windows on the houses around me were all on the second floor, meaning that anyone who was still awake and alive was staying as far from ground level as possible. That made sense.
The street belonged to the sleepwalkers.
There were only about twenty of them in my view, although that didn’t mean that there weren’t more hiding in the bushes or skulking in the long shadows down the sides of those same houses. They were of every age and race, from small children to a man I guessed had to be in his eighties. All of them shambled along with the same mindless lack of purpose, their hands held slightly out in front of them as if to ward away obstacles. While I watched, two of them bumped into each other, patted one another’s arms, and finally joined hands before shambling on in tandem. This neighborhood was no longer the property of the human race. Its successors had taken over.
There was a faint moan from behind me. I whirled, suddenly convinced that the sleepwalker in the corner had managed to get loose and come after me. The bright specks of its eyes glared from the exact spot where I’d seen them before. I took a deep breath, trying to calm my pounding heart. “It’s okay, Sal,” I whispered, earning myself another moan from the sleepwalker. “Unless you’re going to feed it, it’s not strong enough to come after you.” I felt bad about reducing the sleepwalker to an “it,” but that was technically true of the tapeworm part of the composite, and I wasn’t going to sex the human half just to get the proper pronouns.
Still. This room looked like it had been designed for a teenage girl. If she was the sleepwalker, she’d been locked in here when she converted. Either she had been able to shut the door before her parents could get to her or she’d been the first to go, transitioning while she was asleep or otherwise distracted. No matter what had happened, most of her belongings were probably in here with her, and teenage girls had cellphones.
I began feeling my way along the top of the dresser next to the window, moving cautiously in an attempt to keep from cutting myself on the broken glass that had been knocked from the empty picture frames still studding the walls. I found a charger plugged into the wall about halfway down the length of the dresser, its unconnected end seeming to taunt me. There had been a phone in this room. This dark, dangerous room with the watching sleepwalker still occasionally moaning from its place in the corner.
“Steady,” I murmured, as I disconnected the charger and stuffed it into my pocket. I knew the house still had power. If I could find the phone, I could call for help.
A rustling sound from the corner dragged my attention back to the sleepwalker. It was trying to work its way free of its nest, its withered, wasted limbs refusing to support its weight. As it moved, it revealed enough of its chest for me to identify it as the teenage girl whose room this had been. I felt a little better about that. She had already been robbed of her humanity and her future; the least I could do for her was think of her as the woman she had been before one of my cousins burrowed into her brain and destroyed her.
“I’m sorry about touching all your stuff, but I don’t think you could tell me where your phone is,” I said apologetically, and resumed feeling my way along the dresser. “I wish you could. I’m sorry this happened to you.”
She moaned again, even more weakly this time. It was sort of nice not to be alone, since I knew that she wasn’t going to attack me: if she’d been capable of getting to her feet, rather than just rustling around in her nest, she would have done it already. I had a body packed with nutrients and fat, and I could have kept her alive for a good long time if she’d been able to get to me. I felt bad about that too—it was like I was waving a steak in front of a starving man—but since the steak was what was keeping me alive, I wasn’t going to share. It was terrible that her fate and mine had taken such different directions, but it wasn’t my fault. I just wished that there was something I could have done to fix it.
Honestly, I wished I had any idea who could have fixed it, or whether anyone was going to try. Dr. Cale was hard to predict. USAMRIID was all about humanity, and Sherman was all about the tapeworms, but humanity made the tapeworms—humanity brought the whole situation down on their own heads—and the tapeworms were taking things that didn’t belong to them. No one was completely in the right. No one was completely in the wrong, either.