hollowmen Page 10

“What do you mean?” Boden leaned forward, listening intently to Daniels.

  “I would isolate individual viruses and keep them in separate petri dishes,” Daniels said. “In one dish, I would expose them to human blood, and the virus would immediately rush to it and infect it.

  “When I put the virus under the microscope, they would be moving towards the infected blood, going towards where the virus was already invading,” Daniels went on.

  “How do you know the virus wasn’t just drawn to the blood?” I asked.

  “They were, when they were close enough to it,” Daniels said. “But since it was only a drop of blood, it had to be in the same dish for the virus to notice.   If I had uninfected blood near the virus but not in the same dish, when I looked at the virus under a microscope, I saw no change in its reaction. The virus simply moved aimlessly around the dish. ”

  “So you’re saying the virus can communicate with itself?” I asked. “And that form of communication can span a distance far greater than the scent of blood or any other clue we’re giving off?”

  “That’s what I think, yes,” Daniels nodded.

  “When a zombie finds us, everything infected with the virus knows about it,” Boden summarized. “And the larger the colony of zombies, the louder the virus gets, attracting more zombies, and so on. ”

  “Exactly,” Daniels said. “That’s why we needed to leave the quarantine. We’d attracted far too many zombies, and they’re strong and determined. ”

  “What happened when you exposed the virus to my blood?” I asked.

  “Your blood?” Nolita looked confused and glanced between Daniels and me. “What’s special about your blood?”

  “I’m immune to the virus,” I said, brushing her off. At this point, I didn’t care who knew about it. I just wanted to find out what Daniels knew. “So, what happened with my blood?”

  “When I put your blood in a petri dish, the virus didn’t do anything,” Daniels said. “Normally, it rushed toward the blood. But with yours, it only interacted with your blood when it accidentally came in contact with it. ”

  “Then what happened?” I asked.

  “It tried to attack your blood, the way I’d seen it do before,” Daniels said. “But when it engulfed your cells, the virus acted strangely. Instead of expanding and growing, latching onto things and mutating them, it moved erratically. Then it died. ”

  “It died?” I asked. “My blood actually kills the virus?”

  “Well, viruses can’t die, not exactly,” Daniels said. “But it froze. It stopped moving or interacting with anything, so essentially, yes it died. ”

  “Holy shit,” Nolita said, looking a little stunned.

  “Your blood like poison to them,” Daniels said, then exhaled deeply. “Unfortunately, I was never able to figure out why or how to harness that. ”

  “So you know that the zombies are strong and they can talk to each other,” Boden said. “But you have no idea how to stop them?”

  “Essentially, yes,” Daniels nodded grimly.


  All those months, after everything they’d done to me, and they hadn’t learned a single thing. I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to swear and punch him. But I didn’t. I just balled up my fists and closed my eyes.

  And not just because it would wake everyone and freak them out if I just started randomly beating the shit out of Daniels.

  Because despite everything, I knew that I would’ve done the same thing as him. Maybe I would’ve given the patient more pain meds, but I would’ve tested for everything, tried anything to learn how to stop this.

  In the end, it was the lack of a cure that frustrated and pissed me off, not everything I’d endured for it.

  “But you’re sure they don’t like the cold?” Boden asked.

  “Like most other things, when exposed to the cold, the virus slowed down considerably,” Daniels said. “At the right temperature, it stopped moving completely. The cold doesn’t kill them, but it can freeze them. ”

  “And unlike us, they don’t know how to bundle up or create fire,” Boden said.

  Page 28

  “Right,” Daniels said. “If we can find someplace cold enough, and make it stable for us, we should be able to survive a long time. ”

  “Assuming we have enough food and supplies to last us,” Boden said.

  “We have food, and we can hunt,” Nolita said. “We’ll just have to get more resourceful. ”

  Daniels smiled down at her, as if suddenly remembering she was there. “And I believe we can do that. ”

  “Speaking of which, there’s a kitchen here. ” Nolita pulled away from Daniels and stood up. “I should see if there’s any food that they left behind. ”

  “I’ll go with you,” Daniels offered.

  Using a stick they’d brought in for the fire, Nolita made a torch. Then she and Daniels went back into the kitchen to explore and hopefully bring back some food.

  Boden and I were left in silence, which gradually began to feel awkward. I was never one for small talk, but I didn’t want go to sleep yet.

  “So what’s your story?” I asked him.

  “My story?” He shrugged. “I don’t have one. ”

  “I don’t know anything about you,” I said. “I don’t even know your first name. ”

  “It’s Charlie. ” He smiled at that and extended his hand to me. “Charlie Boden. ”

  “Remy King,” I said and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you. ”

  “Likewise. ” He leaned back, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I really don’t have a story, though. ”

  “How’d you end up the quarantine?” I asked.

  “I was in the army,” Boden said. “This was back before the zombies. I didn’t have any money for college, and there were no jobs in the town I grew up in. So I joined the army, thinking I’d do a couple years in the Middle East, build a career, then come home and go to school, get a job, all that. ”

  “And then the virus happened,” I said.

  “I’d finished basic training, but I hadn’t gone overseas,” Boden said. “And then instead of fighting an enemy, I was staying here, killing my fellow Americans. ”

  “So you were in it from the start?” I asked.

  “Yeah. ” He chewed the inside of his cheek and rubbed the back of his neck. “At first we started rounding up the zombies, trying to get them all together to test them. Then we were getting them in holding cells, exterminating them.

  “This was before we really understood what was happening and what they were,” Boden said. “They were newly turned, and they still looked like people. They were women and children, and we were slaughtering them.

  “I remember once very clearly thinking, ‘This must be how the Nazis felt. ’”

  “You can’t say that,” I said. “You can’t believe that. They massacred people for no reason. You were killing monsters. ”

  “I know. ” But the way he said it, I wasn’t sure that he did. “We did what we had to do, and I still do what I have to do. I don’t regret it, and I don’t question it. There’s no other way to stop a zombie. You can’t reason with it or cure it. You just have to kill it. ”

  “That is true,” I said. “There’s nothing else you can do when it comes to zombies. ”

  “The thing is …” He paused, thinking. “How do we know that they’re not buried down there somewhere? The humanity in them, the people they used to be. How do we know they aren’t still in the heart of every zombie?”

  “I think maybe they are,” I admitted. “But that’s even more of a reason to kill them. If I was a crazed monster without control of my body or my actions, I’d want nothing more than for you to put a bullet in my head. ”

  “Anyway …” He shook his head, clearing it. “That’s my story. I graduated high school, and I’ve been a soldier ever since. The past couple years are a blur of zombie murder. ”

/>  “So what happens if we get settled somewhere?” I asked him. “Do you think you’ll be able to settle into civilian life?”

  “I could ask you the same question. ” He turned to me with a knowing look in his eyes.

  Something clattered in the kitchen, giving me a reprieve from our conversation. I didn’t want to answer his question because I didn’t know how I could. When this was all over – if this was ever over – how would I ever be able to lead any kind of normal life? How could I ever put all of this behind me and go back to feeling human again?

  “Nolita and Daniels have been gone for a while,” I said. “I should go check on them. ”

  Before Boden could say anything more, I got to my feet. My legs still ached from all the walking, but it wasn’t bad. I didn’t bring a torch with me when I went back to the kitchen because I knew they had one.

  I pushed the door open, and I saw the torch’s dim light. They’d set it in some kind of holder, like a metal vase, and the light shimmered off the reflective surfaces of the stainless steel around it. The kitchen was surprisingly large, almost as big as the main room of the lodge.

  The main part of the kitchen, where the torch was, had the ovens and prepping area. It was mostly clean back here, like it had been in the front room of the lodge, aside from a little bit of garbage and some blood.

  The back part of the kitchen was where the pantry and fridges were. Wire racks covered in pots and pans separated the front part from the back. Through the racks, I could see movement, but I couldn’t tell what.

  I heard something, panting and what might have been a death groan. I didn’t want to alert a zombie, so I crept quietly towards the back. I grabbed a large metal pot from where it sat on a stove, since that would be better than no weapon.

  I rounded the corner to the pantry, steeling myself for a zombie attack, but found something more gruesome: Daniels and Nolita were having sex.

  She had her back pressed against a rack, her arms stretched above her, holding herself up. A few scattered canned goods were still on it. She’d taken off her pants and underwear, so her bare legs were wrapped around Daniels.

  Her shirt was pushed all the way up, and Daniels had his face buried in her neck. His pants were down, and I got a full view of his ass before I realized what I was seeing and looked away.

  “Oh my god,” I said and rolled my eyes.

  “Remy!” Daniels said in surprise, and I heard the shelves rattle as they scrambled to detangle themselves. “What are you doing back here?”

  Page 29

  “Can we get a little privacy?” Nolita snapped.

  “Sure, have all the privacy you need,” I said. “Just make sure you bring the food with you. ”

  I was walking away and about to round the pots and pans when something caught my eye. The fire from the torch was shining through the shelves, and it reflected off the stainless doors of the fridges and freezers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light moving.

  I turned back around in time see the fridge door opening and a hand reaching out. Not just any hand, but a thin one with long, yellowed fingernails. A zombie.


  “Watch out!” I shouted, and Nolita acted instantly.

  She pushed Daniels back, protecting him, and he fell back into the rows of pots and pans, making them all clatter to the ground.

  The zombie had completely emerged from the fridge now, and it was clearly an older one. It was too sunken to have male or female features, and its only hair were a few patches of long dark strings hanging from its skull. Its mouth was mostly full of teeth, all jagged and crooked and protruding from its mouth. It was almost as thin as the zombie I’d seen climbing out of the semi-trailer, but this one was in better shape and surprisingly fast.

  Nolita charged at it, although I’m not sure what she meant to do since she had no weapons. I think her mind was probably fogged from making love with Daniels, and her only thoughts were focused on protecting the guy she was falling for, at any cost.

  The zombie lurched at her, and she punched it. She connected with its eye, pushing it deeper into its skull. If she’d hit in the jaw, everything might have gone differently. But she didn’t.

  I stood at the ready, holding my oversized pot, and if I’d seen a moment to jump in, I would’ve. But Nolita had a killer right hook, and as the zombie fell to the ground, I assumed she had it under control. She hadn’t taken off her combat boots, even to have sex, and I thought she’d smash the thing with no problem.

  But the zombie only fell to its knees. Nolita grabbed what was left of the zombie’s hair, meaning to yank its head back and punch it again. Instead, the zombie jerked forward, leaving Nolita with a fistful of zombie scalp.

  The zombie’s head was right at the level of Nolita’s bare stomach. She’d put on her panties and pulled her shirt down over her chest, but she hadn’t bothered to adjust it, so it was still bunched up under her breasts.

  And like that, the zombie bit into her, its teeth sinking into her flesh. She screamed, loud and piercing, as the zombie got a mouthful of her stomach.

  “Nolita!” Daniels shouted and tried to scramble to his feet out of the mess in of pans and shelves.

  Nolita was still screaming and hitting futilely at the zombie’s head, but it refused to let go. It dug its bony fingers into her thighs, latching itself even more tightly to her.

  “Move your hands, Nolita!” I yelled. I wanted to hit the thing, but she was hitting it and grabbing onto it, so her limbs were in the way.

  She did as she was told, and somehow, that knocked her off balance, and she fell backward with the zombie on top of her. It let go of her, but only long enough for it to tear a hole in her skin before going in for another bite.

  I swung the pot down on its back as hard as I could, crushing its bony spine, but it still didn’t let go. I didn’t want to hit its head out of fear of hurting Nolita worse. I hit the zombie again, and again, but it didn’t let go. Nolita was still screaming, and Daniels kept shouting her name, standing impotently behind us.

  I kicked the zombie in the side using all my might, and finally it came free. Sort of. It flew off the side of her, but Nolita’s intestines went with it. The zombie had a grip on a long tendril of her innards.

  When I’d hit the zombie repeatedly in the back, I’d apparently severed its spine, because it couldn’t seem to use its back legs anymore. It crawled toward Nolita, pulling itself with its hands.

  “Nolita!” Daniels immediately rushed to her side, kneeling down beside her.

  “There’s still a zombie, you idiot!” I grabbed his arm and yanked him back, fearing the zombie would latch onto him if it had a chance.

  The zombie opened its mouth, preparing to let out some kind of howl, and I jumped over Nolita and slammed the pot down into its head. I could feel the skull crushing underneath, but I lifted it and slammed the metal onto the zombie twice more for good measure.

  When I was done, I pushed the hair back from my face and turned around. Daniels was kneeling next to Nolita with tears in his eyes. She was still alive, her eyes open wide, but her mouth was filled with blood. She’d stopped screaming, and the only sound she made was her trying to swallow and choking on her blood.

  “What is going on?” Boden asked, storming into the kitchen and brandishing his gun. Then he saw Nolita and stopped cold. “Oh hell. ”

  I stepped over Nolita and shut the fridge, just in case there were more zombies waiting inside. Then I made sure all the other doors were closed, and Boden walked slowly over to where Daniels was crying and cradling Nolita.

  Her intestines were hanging out of her stomach, leading to where the zombie lay crushed to death on the floor. Her mouth was moving, and she was trying to make words, but there was too much blood filling her mouth.

  “I love you, Nolita,” Daniels said, pushing the hair back from her forehead, and then he looked up at Boden standing over him. “I
can’t help her. I can’t fix this. It’s too …”

  “Move,” Boden said simply.

  Daniels looked down at her and sniffled. Almost reluctantly, he let go of her. He still knelt by her side, but he moved back from her.

  Without saying a word, Boden stared down at Nolita. Then he pointed the gun at her forehead and pulled the trigger.

  I jumped, and Daniels wailed. He immediately picked up Nolita again, holding her dead body to him.

  As someone who’d been awake while people played with her intestines, I knew that Boden had done the right thing by Nolita. She wouldn’t have survived that much longer. Even if she miraculously did live despite the wounds, it would only be a matter of time before she was a zombie.

  Boden turned and walked out of the kitchen. I stayed behind, watching Daniels cry over Nolita for a few minutes, but the situation was too gruesome for me to leave him there.

  “Come on. ” I touched his shoulder. “We need to go. ”

  “No, I don’t want to leave her,” Daniels said. “I can’t just leave her here like this. ”

  “We can’t bury her, and you can’t just sit here with a dead body,” I said. “Let’s go and get you cleaned up. ”

  Page 30

  “No, I can’t. ” He shook his head and tried to look up at me, but his eyes wouldn’t meet mine.

  “You’ll get used to leaving the dead behind,” I said.

  I grabbed his arm and started pulling him. He was resistant at first, but he gave in, letting me lead him away from her.

  I don’t know why exactly I helped him. I just knew how much it hurt to lose somebody you cared about, and it didn’t do any good to get their blood all over your clothes.


  We didn’t talk about Nolita. There wasn’t much we could say that everyone didn’t already know.

  In the main room, they’d all heard the commotion and were wide awake. Stella was crying, and Bishop was comforting her. When I took Daniels out, I cleaned him up as best I could using a rag and no water. They’d watched me for a while, but eventually, the kids fell back to sleep, and so did Bishop, Teddy, and Serg.

  Even Daniels managed to fall asleep. But I stayed awake for a long time. I don’t think Boden slept, but I’m not sure how much sleep he ever got.

  In the morning, we packed up to go. When Stella asked about Nolita, nobody answered her. We just gathered our things and left.

  Daniels walked much slower than he had before. He tried to keep to himself, staring at the ground and lagging behind the group. But whenever I noticed it, I would grab him and drag him along, forcing him to pay attention and walk faster.

  This proved more and more irritating as we went along. The area was heavily wooded and very mountainous. We tried to go around the mountains whenever possible, but the land was still rugged. Dragging Daniels around trees and up hills wasn’t exactly fun.

  It was getting colder now, but the ground wasn’t completely snow covered. The cold didn’t seem to deter the zombies, though, based on their death groans. They’d picked up right up on our trail. We might have lost them yesterday, but if Daniels was right about the virus being able to attract the infected, then the zombie that killed Nolita had probably alerted the rest of the pack somehow.