hollowmen Page 13

The infection was getting worse. It wasn’t the zombie virus, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wreaking havoc on my body. The fever was growing, and I felt weaker. Between the cold, the infection, the borderline starvation … I was not doing so well.

  I began to regret going after Stella. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to save her, assuming she was still in a condition where she could be saved. All I was doing was getting myself sicker, possibly killing myself, to rescue a child I barely knew, a child that probably couldn’t even be rescued.

  I stopped walking, and for an awful minute, I seriously considered going back. For one moment, I considered leaving a child to die. I didn’t want to, and I felt guilty even considering it.

  But would it be worth me dying to go on a futile mission for her? Was I willing to give up everything on the small chance that I could actually help her?

  Then I heard Stella crying, and I had my answer.

  The whole time I’d been walking, I hadn’t her cry, which had alarmed me. My only reasoning for it, other than her being dead, was that Bishop comforted her. Stella liked and trusted Bishop.

  So if Stella was crying now, something had changed.

  I was getting closer to the city. I could tell because more and more houses that were popping up around me. If the snow hadn’t been coming so hard, I might have been able to see the skyline of the city in the distance.

  Instead, all I could see was a large concrete box off the side of a highway. It was an old factory, and based on the sign hanging from it, I wouldn’t have known for sure what they built. But from the rusted green combines parked in front, I guessed that they built farm equipment.

  That was where Stella’s cries were coming from. An old factory full of sharp, monstrous machinery.

  I ran toward it without hesitation. She was still alive. I could still save her. And nothing would stand in my way.

  When I got closer to the factory, I slowed down. There were a few windows around the building. They were covered in dirt and muck, and I wiped it off so I could peek inside. The first window I looked in only showed me the inside of a ransacked office, which really wasn’t much help, so I moved on to the next one.

  This one gave me a view of the inside of the factory, but there were large, dusty machines all around, so I couldn’t get a clear view of anything. I could see movement, flashes of fabric between two machines, and a hanging chain that swung back and forth, but I couldn’t really see anybody.

  Stella was still crying, a plaintive mewling sound, but I couldn’t determine where it was coming from. I could hear someone else, someone who might have been Bishop, but the noise they were making sounded weird. It wasn’t a death groan or that bizarre retching thing zombies sometimes did.

  It reminded me of the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes. It was a strange blathering of sounds that were completely unintelligible.

  The windows were divided up into eight smaller panes, each one roughly two feet wide by three feet high. One of the bottom panes on the window had been broken with the top half complete missing.

  Carefully, I grabbed the glass and pulled out the pane, trying to be as quiet as possible. Once the glass was free, I dropped it in the snow and hoisted myself up. I had to go on my side, sliding through the panes silently.

  I almost tumbled to the floor headfirst, but I caught myself on the ledge. I pulled my legs through, and then dropped quietly onto the floor.

  I’d landed behind a large machine with massive rotary blades. I’m not sure what it was for, but I was thankful that there was no electricity to turn it on. I didn’t want to see it in action.

  I was still catching glimpse of movement, and the garbled noises were louder and rather panicked. I crouched down and crept around the machine.

  I had to stay low, nearly crawling to get underneath a lineshaft roller conveyor belt. The bars above me kept me somewhat hidden, but I could actually see what was going on from that vantage point.

  It was Bishop pacing and making all those weird sounds. Her head twitched, like she’d suddenly developed Tourette’s, and her movements were jerky. Her hands and arms moved sporadically beside her, not like they were flailing, but like a malfunctioning robot.

  When she made the noises, the garbled cartoon grunt, spittle would fly out from her mouth. Her eyes were wild and crazy, but there was a hint of something in them, a consciousness that a zombie didn’t have. She was aware of what she was doing, but based on how terrified she appeared, I didn’t think she had any control over it.

  I realized that I was seeing something I’d never seen before. She was turning into a zombie. I’d seen humans, and I’d seen them as zombies, but never the actual act of turning.

  Stranger still, Bishop appeared to be trying to fight it. She couldn’t, of course, not any more than a person could will away AIDS or stop the common cold. It was a virus, and it would win.

  As fascinating and painful as it was to watch Bishop transform, she wasn’t my priority. I needed to figure out where Stella was, so I could get her out of here, maybe without Bishop even noticing us escaping.

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  I moved away, staying underneath the conveyor and followed the sound of Stella’s crying. I’d walked a few yards across the factory when I spotted Stella. If I hadn’t been crouched down, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to see her.

  There was another huge machine across from me, sitting only a few inches off the ground. That’s where Stella was, squished underneath. I’m not sure how she even had room to get under there. Even the teddy bear she always carried with her look smashed in the tight space.

  I was about to crawl out from under the conveyor belt and let Stella know I was here, when I heard Bishop start making a retching sound. It was the inhuman coughing that I’d only heard zombies and movie monsters make before.

  Bishop had had her back to me, but when she slowly turned around, there was no mistaking she was a zombie. Any consciousness or intelligence had been erased from her face. And she fixed her bloodshot eyes directly on me.


  I did not want to fight. I wasn’t sure I could win. But when Bishop ran at me, I realized I had no choice.

  I ran out the other side of the conveyor belt, so that would be between us. That didn’t really stop her, though. She dove at it, flying over the rolling metal, and landing on the floor. I kept running, looking for something to fight her with.

  The factory was full of deadly machinery with sharp edges, but I had no idea how to use that against her. Bishop would be ridiculously strong and fast. It wasn’t like I could just grab her and hold her down against a rotary blade.

  Sheets of metal hung down from the ceiling on thick, rusted chains. Farther down the line, the sheets of metal had been pressed into doors and sides of combines and tractors. They moved across the factory on heavy metal hooks.

  Bishop was right on my tail, so I jumped up onto the conveyor belt. I stumbled quite a bit on the lineshaft rollers, so I ran on the side. Because it was like walking on a balance beam, I had to go slower than I would’ve liked.

  But Bishop had gotten up on the conveyor behind me, and she was doing much worse than I had. She crawled along on her belly, grabbing at me with her outstretched hands, but I always managed to stay a step or so ahead of her.

  When I was close enough, I leaped up and grabbed onto one of the hooks. The thrust of my jump propelled it along, sending me flying across the aisle. It stopped short above the top of a machine, and jerked me back, nearly giving me whiplash.

  I dropped down on the machine, still hanging onto the chain, and the hook came down to my waist when I stood. I’m not sure what the machine below me was supposed to do, but the conveyor belt ran through it. The top was flat, and it was about ten feet off the ground.

  Bishop had gotten off the conveyor belt and was running toward me. I knew I had to come up with a plan, but all I could do was struggle to catch my breath. My st
omach screamed at me. When the chain had jerked me, I think I might have ripped out a few stitches.

  With Bishop clamoring up the conveyor belt to get to me, all I could do was wait. I backed up as far from her as I could, so when she got up on the belt and her hands stretched out for me, she couldn’t grab my feet.

  The surface was smooth metal, and it was hard for me to grip. I almost wanted to grab her hand and help her up, just so we could get this going. If I thought she wouldn’t have bit me, I probably would’ve done it.

  Thanks to her impossible new zombie strength, she got up. She stood on the machine across from me, but before she could charge, I pulled the chain back, and then swung it at her as hard as I could.

  The hook sunk into her side, tearing through her flesh. It actually worked out much better than I’d hoped, because it was caught under her ribs. The chain moved away, hanging over the floor with Bishop hanging from it at an angle.

  Blood was dripping out of her side. As she screeched and babbled in her new zombie language, blood started coming out of her mouth. She never stopped flailing, though, and she kept reaching out for me, trying to grab me, even as she spun in a slow circle.

  Then she threw her head back and let out a long howl, summoning other zombies. I’m not sure how close they were, but with a city nearby, there had to be other zombies. And I could not face them.

  I jumped down off the machine and ran back to where Stella was hiding. Bishop was still alive, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. I couldn’t even reach her where she was hanging, and part of me felt like she deserved it.

  If she’d just gone off when we told her, if she’d actually done what was best for Stella instead of turning into a crazy kidnapping bitch, this wouldn’t have happened. So this is what she gets. Since zombies couldn’t really die, not unless their heads or hearts were damaged, she could be stuck hanging from that hook for a very long time.

  “Stella!” I lay on the ground in front of her and reached my hand under the machine toward her. “Stella, come on. We gotta go. ”

  “When Bishop started getting sick, she told me to stay under here and not to come out for anyone,” Stella said.

  So when she’d actually started turning, she’d had Stella hide. That was noble of her, except I don’t know what good that would’ve done. Stella would’ve just died underneath that machine or been ripped to shreds by Bishop if she ever came out.

  “Well …” I glanced back to where Bishop was howling and hanging from the chain. “She changed her mind and says you need to get out of here. ”

  “Bishop said – ”

  “Look, Stella, I need you to trust me,” I said. “I’ve never done anything to hurt you, and I never will. But we have to get out of here. Now. ”

  She extended her pudgy hand toward me, and I grabbed it. I pulled her out from under the machine, and I picked her up. She tried to look around, but I put my hand on her head and pushed her into my shoulder, so she couldn’t see Bishop.

  I ran out the front door, and I kept running. I really had no idea how long I’d be able to go, especially carrying Stella, but I had to push myself as far as I could. Bishop was still calling zombies, and we couldn’t be anywhere near them when they arrived.

  The snow was coming down hard, covering up the tracks I’d left behind. I could still see some of them, but the farther away we got from the factory, the more they were filled in. Soon, I’d just have to guess the way back to the farmhouse.

  When I couldn’t carry her anymore, I put Stella down. I still hung onto her hand, and she walked as fast as her little legs could carry her. That was about as fast as I could go anyway. I was sweating profusely, and I felt dizzy.

  Page 38

  At first, when I saw the figure waving its arms over its head, I thought I was hallucinating. Then Stella pointed to it and asked who that man was. He was in front of us, off to the right of where we were heading.

  My first instinct was to give him a wider berth, pass by him without interacting with him if at all possible. But I was starting to think that I might not be able to make it back to the farmhouse, and I didn’t want to leave Stella alone out here to freeze to death.

  Besides that, I’d been worried about Serg, and he’d turned out okay. He’d helped us a lot, and maybe this guy would be the same. I had to learn to trust my fellow man, because I really couldn’t do this on my own.

  “Are you zombies?” the man shouted when we got closer.

  “No,” I said. “Are you?”

  “No. ” He laughed and started jogging toward us.

  Stella had been walking beside me, but I picked her up. I held her on my hip, and her boot accidentally kicked my incision. I nearly threw up when she did that, but I swallowed it back.

  The man coming over to us appeared to be in his early fifties, with gray hair kept short and neat. He had on an army-green trench coat, with a uniform underneath, the beige suit kind decorated with all sorts of pins and patches. It was in surprisingly good shape, unlike Boden’s and Nolita’s uniforms, which were worn to the nub.

  “I’m so glad to see you. ” He grinned broadly at us. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen other people. I got separated from my group after we left the quarantine, and I’ve been wandering alone. ”

  “You were at the quarantine?” I asked.

  The snowflakes were sticking to my eyelashes, and everything looked blurry. I tried to blink them back, but my eyesight was still blurry. Then I realized the snowflakes weren’t the problem.

  “Yes, I’m General Clark. ” He held his hand out to me, but I didn’t shake it because I was holding Stella. He smiled understandably and put his hand back down. “You were at the quarantine? I don’t remember seeing you there. ”

  “Yeah, I’m Remy King,” I said. “I kept to myself a lot. ”

  “Who is this pretty little girl you have with you?” Clark asked, bending down to Stella’s level. She shied away from him and buried her head in my shoulder.

  “This is Stella,” I said. “We found her outside of the quarantine. ”

  “We?” Clark looked around. “Is there more to your group?”

  “Yeah, they’re back at a house, waiting for us,” I explained. “We’re heading there now. ”

  “Do you mind if I join you?” Clark asked. “I don’t want to be any trouble, but I don’t want to stay out in this snowstorm, either. ”

  “Yeah, that should be okay. ”

  As we walked, going in the direction I hoped the farmhouse was, Clark talked amicably at first. I said hardly anything in response, and Stella said nothing at all, so eventually he stopped. I did think it was a little weird how jovial he seemed. Especially for a soldier, and considering the whole zombie apocalypse.

  But he said he’d been wandering alone for a long time. Maybe he was just relieved and excited to have found people again.

  I didn’t have much strength to be paranoid, either. I still refused to put Stella down, and that was taking enough of my energy. Handing her off to a stranger felt wrong to me.

  The snow kept coming down harder, feeling like icy glass stinging my cheeks. I was still sweating, but it was freezing in my hair.

  The sky was darkening, and I prayed the house was getting close. I’d started stumbling a lot. Clark offered to take Stella or suggested I put her down, but I refused both.

  Then finally, I could see the glow of a fire from inside the house. We were close.

  My legs gave out and I fell to my knees, careful to keep Stella up so she wouldn’t get hurt.

  “Remy, you should let me take her,” Clark said, holding his hands out to me. “Or let her walk. The house is right there. ”

  “No,” I insisted. “I’ve got her. ”

  But I didn’t really. Clark actually had to help me back to my feet, and even then, I was staggering and swaying as I walked. I was so dizzy, I felt like I might tip over at any moment, and my s
kin was on fire.

  I stumbled up to the back door, and I couldn’t even turn the knob. I pounded on the door, with Clark asking me if everything was okay behind me.

  “Remy!” Boden smiled when he opened the door, but his expression immediately changed to one of confusion when he saw Clark with me. “General Clark?”

  “I found him on the way here,” I mumbled out a response and pushed past Boden into the house.

  After being in the snow for so long, the house felt insanely warm. But since I was already so hot, that wasn’t a good thing. It was suffocating.

  “Remy. ” Daniels looked relieved as he walked into the kitchen, but that fell when he saw Clark. “Clark? How …”

  “Here. ” I shoved Stella at him, since I couldn’t hold her anymore. I probably could’ve put her on the ground, but that didn’t occur to me then.

  “Remy?” Daniels took Stella, but he narrowed his eyes in concern at me. “Are you okay? You don’t look good. ”

  “She doesn’t have the virus, does she?” Clark asked, a new edge to his formerly cheerful voice.

  “No, Remy doesn’t…” Boden waved him off, too busy eyeing me over to give Clark a good answer. “What happened?”

  “No, I’m fine. Everything’s fine. ” I pushed my damp hair back from my forehead, and put my hand on the counter to steady myself.

  Honestly, I had no idea why I was lying, except that I’d been doing it for so long. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me or waste time and energy on me. But at this point, I couldn’t fake it anymore.

  “You made it!” Max squealed and ran over to me. He threw his arms around my waist, crushing my incision, and I nearly screamed. He jumped back, alarmed. “Remy?”

  “Kid, I’m sorry. ” I looked at Daniels, and from the stark expression on his face, I knew that I did not look good. “Something’s wrong. ”

  And that was it. The ground gave out underneath me, and everything went black.


  What I remembered after that was mostly a blur, fragmented images and sounds that didn’t always fit together. I knew that I passed out, but I kept fighting to regain consciousness. Being out cold wasn’t something I was comfortable with.

  Page 39

  “Jesus, Remy. ” Daniels’ voice sounded like it was coming from underwater. I blinked my eyes open, and he was sitting over me, his face hazy as it hovered above me.

  He touched my stomach, where the incision was swollen, and pain shot through me like a searing white heat. I screamed, because I couldn’t help myself.

  “How long has this been like this?” Daniels asked, and I mumbled an answer that didn’t make sense. “Remy, why didn’t you tell me about this?”

  “It hurts,” I whispered, and I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks.

  “What’s wrong?” Boden asked, and I could barely see him, standing above Daniels.

  “She has an infection. ” Daniels pursed his lips, looking grave. “She might have sepsis. I don’t know why she waited so long. ”