hollowmen Page 2

“Was it his idea to leave me behind?” I muttered.

  “You can ask him that. ”


  “He’s in our group. ” Tatum motioned toward the walls. “He’s waiting with a little band of evacuees that we’re going to travel with. ”

  “Great. ” I went back to the closet and pulled out a faded green messenger bag. I started filling it with clothes. When I was done, I planned to raid the kitchen for a few supplies. “Who else is in our little band of merry men?”

  “I don’t know for sure. Boden was doing a sweep too, so it depends on who he finds. ”

  “Who?” I asked.

  “Boden. He’s my sergeant,” Tatum replied. “But when I left, there were six of us. Some of the last six to leave. ”

  Page 4

  Tatum was saying something else, but movement caught my eye. Moonlight was spilling in through the trailer window, and a shadow crossed over it. I stood up straight and looked around the room.

  “But Bishop still thinks she’s the leader – ” Tatum was saying.

  “Shh!” I hissed.

  I couldn’t hear anything, so I stepped toward the hall. Tatum had already drawn his gun, and he stood on alert in the kitchen, his eyes scanning the windows.

  “What?” he whispered.

  I shook my head. “I thought I saw something. ”

  I was about to tell him that I was seeing things when the window above the kitchen counter shattered as a zombie went flying through it. Tatum lifted up his arm to shield his eyes and fired blindly at the monster crashing toward him.


  I rushed forward, grabbing a frying pan from the kitchen sink. As the zombie dove at Tatum, I raised the pan and slammed it into its skull. It felt like I was crushing a soft-boiled egg, and the zombie fell to the floor at Tatum’s feet.

  With that strange, thick blood oozing from its skull, I would’ve thought the zombie would’ve been out of commission. But apparently it wasn’t.

  It raised its head, its jaundiced eyes sunken deep in the skull. It raised a hand, its fingers curled forward like they were deeply arthritic, and it let out a loud bellow.

  I’d heard the death groans a thousand times before, but this was different. The groans had more of a rattled sound to them, like a dying man’s breath mixed with a dog’s howl. This reminded me of the sound a demon made when it was being exorcised in a movie. It was completely… inhuman.

  The sound was cut short by a loud bang when Tatum shot the zombie point-blank in the face, and the zombie finally collapsed on the ground, its brains splattered on the cupboard behind it.

  “Shit. ” Tatum wiped the blood off his service revolver before holstering it. “We gotta get out of here before the rest come. ”

  “The rest?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

  “They’ve changed their tactics. ” He scraped his boots absently on the floor, getting as much zombie off them as he could. “The zombies send out one or two zombies, usually older ones, as feelers. When they find something, they make that call, letting the others know they have fresh meat. ”

  “They’re communicating with each other?” I asked.

  He nodded, his lips pressed together grimly. “It appears that way. ”

  I ran back to the room and slipped on a pair of ill-fitting tennis shoes. I’d meant to raid the trailer for more supplies, but I didn’t want to waste time waiting for more zombies to show up. I wasn’t as strong as I should be. Just hitting that zombie with a pan had been hard. My shoulders ached, and my arms felt like jelly.

  I grabbed the messenger bag and followed Tatum out of the trailer. We were both warier, so we moved quickly and quietly through the compound, being sure to attract as little attention as possible

  The darkness made the trailers a labyrinth for me, and I stayed at Tatum’s heels. That was harder than it sounded, though. I was used to being the fastest person, which was how I’d managed to survive so long being chased by inhuman monsters. What training I’d tried to do inside that room hadn’t been nearly enough.

  It wasn’t until we reached the gates that I realized how bad the zombie invasion must’ve been. The holding area between the two doors was a complete massacre. Zombie bodies with their greenish blood splattered everywhere and guts hanging out. Uninfected humans either torn up or shot.

  I’m not sure exactly why they were shot, but I could speculate. A few were probably killed in friendly fire because of the chaos of the zombie attack, but I’d guess that most were self-inflicted or done as a mercy killing because they’d been bitten. It’s generally believed that death is a much better alternative than turning into a zombie.

  “Holy shit,” I said, staring at the carnage around me. I stopped, both to catch my breath and because it never ceased to shock me what this world had become.

  Tatum held up a hand to silence me and shot me a glare. “Quiet. Zombies are crawling all around the perimeter. ”

  I nodded my understanding and followed him through the mess of corpses. My feet slipped a few times in the goop, but I managed not to fall.

  Once we’d made it outside, Tatum took to nearly crawling. I could hear zombies, but I couldn’t see them. Their ragged breath sounded too close for comfort, but they weren’t near enough for me to be able to see.

  I mimicked Tatum’s movements exactly, walking low to the ground and moving stealthily away from the quarantine. I barely breathed the whole time, afraid of alerting a zombie.

  We were completely submerged in darkness, since the tall quarantine walls blocked out the moonlight. When we got past the shadows, we might have to run for it, but for now, the darkness was on our side. If we couldn’t see the zombies, then they couldn’t see us either.

  When we hit the edge of the shadow, Tatum didn’t change his pace, though. He kept up the crouched walk for quite a while after we were away from the quarantine. I wasn’t sure of the distance exactly, but it was far enough that he eventually felt safe moving freely again.

  “Where are we going?” I asked softly once we were walking normally.

  “A campsite,” Tatum explained and pointed off in the distance. “Not too far from here. They’re waiting for me, then they’re leaving in the morning. ”

  “What if you didn’t come back tonight?” I asked.

  “Then they would still leave in the morning. It’s too dangerous to wait around here for long. ”

  We didn’t say anything else until we reached the campsite. It was at least a mile away from the quarantine, and my legs and feet ached something terrible by the time we reached it. But it was just as well. My body had to get used to this again.

  The “campsite” turned out to be an old army truck with camouflage fabric pulled taut over the bed. It was completely dark, and I wouldn’t have known anyone was there if Tatum hadn’t stopped there.

  He rapped gently on the back gate and the barrel of a gun immediately appeared over the top.

  “Easy, Boden,” Tatum said and held up his hands. “It’s just me. ”

  “Who’s with you?” a man demanded, presumably the Boden fellow.

  “Remy King. ” Tatum pointed back at me. “She’s just girl from the building. She’s totally clean. ”

  Page 5

  “Neither of you were bitten?” Boden asked.

  “No, we’re both fine. ”

  For a moment, nothing happened. The gun remained pointed at Tatum and me, and we stood outside of the truck. Then the gun retracted, and the back of the truck went down.

  “Ladies first,” Tatum said and gestured for me to go.

  I climbed up first, sliding past the man holding the gun, though I still hadn’t gotten a good look at him. In the darkness, I could only make out the shapes of people, but I couldn’t really tell who any of them were, if I even knew them.

  But it was definitely crowded. Just climbing in, I stepped on someone, who only grunted in response.
br />  “Get some shuteye,” Boden commanded. “We’re heading out first thing in the morning. ”

  “Are you doing the watch all night?” Tatum asked quietly, but I wasn’t sure if it was so he didn’t wake anybody or because he didn’t want to attract zombies.

  “No. Nolita will take over in a few hours,” Boden told him. “Get some rest. You can have watch tomorrow night. ”

  “I can watch,” I offered, since I really hadn’t been awake that long.

  “No,” Boden snapped. “Sleep. ”

  I thought about pressing him, but I didn’t think he would change his mind.

  I tried to find a place to hunker down for the night that wasn’t already occupied by another body, but it was difficult. I finally found a spot, sitting up squished between somebody’s boots and Tatum’s head. Tatum managed to lie down, and he was out almost the instant his head hit the truck bed.

  I, on the other hand, spent most of the night watching the shadow of Boden’s head as he stared out into the night, vigilant against a zombie attack. Sometime before Nolita took over, I fell asleep.

  The truck was moving when I woke up. At first I thought it was because someone was driving, but I realized it was because people were getting up. I opened my eyes and saw the other evacuees for the first time.

  There were seven of us, counting Tatum and me. The only other two I knew were Daniels, the doctor from the quarantine, and Bishop, the woman who was sorta like the head of the people out in the trailers.

  Daniels was still asleep, curled up in the corner of the truck bed, his neck bent at an odd angle so his head was propped up. He’d used a thick green jacket as a blanket, and his dark hair fell over his eyes. His mouth hung open wide, and he snored a little.

  Bishop was awake, sitting with her butt on the edge of the truck. Her eyes were steel blue, and they reminded me of a vulture’s, the way they followed everyone around. She had to be in her late forties, with dirty blond hair that hung down to her knees when she didn’t pull it back. In her hands, she sharpened two knives against each other, making a sound that reminded me of nails on a chalkboard.

  Sitting next to her was somebody I didn’t know, but he looked familiar. He was unshaven with short brown hair and surprisingly friendly eyes. Nobody had friendly eyes anymore. He yawned and stretched and didn’t look fully awake yet.

  A blond guy was sleeping near the end of the truck, his legs curled up to him. Judging from his army uniform, I guessed he was Boden from last night, though his blond hair looked longer and shaggier than I was used to seeing on the soldiers.

  Standing watch by the door was a girl, presumably Nolita. She looked a few years older than me, with strawberry blond hair pulled back in a loose bun. Her eyes were tired and sad, but there was something strikingly beautiful about her. Not in a model sort of way, but in a … powerful way. It was the kind of beauty someone got after they’d seen everything horrible the world has to offer, and yet somehow came out mostly unscathed.

  “I thought you left,” Bishop said, her eyes on me as she sharpened the blades.

  “No. ” I sat up straighter, feeling a crick in my back from the way I’d been sleeping. “I didn’t leave. I was in the building. ”

  “Stockades?” Bishop asked, and I noticed she was chewing on something. Not food, since she hadn’t swallowed yet, so maybe gum, although she looked like the kind of woman who would chew tobacco.

  “No. ” I shook my head. “It was a … medical thing. Ask him. ” I pointed to where Daniels snored in the corner. “He knows. ”

  “Does he?” Bishop appeared surprised, then she shrugged. “He seems to know a lot about things. ”

  “You know each other?” The guy sitting next to her motioned between us.

  “She came in with that rock star and Harlow,” Bishop explained.

  “Oh. ” The guy smiled at that. “Harlow makes the most wonderful clothes. She was a real asset to the community. ” He leaned forward extended his hand to me. “I’m Teddy. ”

  “Remy. ” I shook his hand uncertainly, but he just smiled tiredly at me.

  “What kind of medical stuff?” Nolita asked, suddenly joining the conversation. She was still looking outside, watching in the early morning light for zombies, but she’d turned to face me more.

  “Uh …” I sighed and had no clue how to explain it, or if I even should.

  “You’re not infected, are you?” Nolita asked, and I noticed a slight Southern drawl to her voice.

  “No. ” I shook my head. “Nothing like that. It was just … some experiments. ”

  “Experiments?” Teddy asked, still smiling, and he cocked his head. “I didn’t know they did that kind of thing there. ”

  “I’ve heard about the experiments. ” Nolita narrowed her eyes at me. “I didn’t think anyone survived them. ”

  “Well, I did. ” I shrugged.

  “Are we awake?” Tatum said groggily and stretched next to me. “Oh, yeah, the sun’s up. Guess we are. ”

  “Boden’s still asleep. ” Nolita nodded to where the blond soldier was curled up. “We’ve got a little bit before we have to move out. ”

  “Oh well, I’m up. ” Tatum yawned and sat up. “I have to take a piss anyhow. ”

  He stood and then hopped over the back of the truck, landing on the ground with a thud. Once he was gone, I took the opportunity to use his space to stretch out my back and arms. Between the way I’d slept last night and not being used to using my muscles, I was sore as hell.

  “What kind of experiments was it?” Nolita asked, turning to face me fully. “What’d they do to you?”

  “I…” I faltered, still having no clue how to answer. “They took blood mostly. Lots of blood. ”

  Page 6

  “Why?” Nolita asked, except it sounded more like “whey” when she said it.

  I shrugged. “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask the doctor?”

  “He’s not really a doctor,” Bishop said, correcting me. “He’s a scientist. ” She’d been looking down at her knives, but she lifted her eyes to meet mine. “His expertise is blood-borne pathogens. ”

  Nolita tilted her head, eyeing me. “Are you sure you’re not infected?”

  “Absolutely positive,” I said and stood up. I didn’t like the way both she and Bishop were staring me down.

  Outside of the truck, Tatum swore loudly, and it was instantly followed by the death groan of a zombie.

  “Oh damn. ” Nolita looked out the back of the truck, aiming her gun.

  I ran to the back to see what was happening, but I could already hear Tatum’s gurgled screams. When I leaned out, I could see Tatum standing beside a nearby bush. A huge, fat zombie was on him, tearing out his throat.


  I leaped out the back of the truck, although I wasn’t sure what I planned to do. Nolita fired her gun behind me, and the zombie’s head exploded – its brains splattered all over the bush as it fell the ground.

  The now-dead bloated zombie took Tatum with it, and they collapsed to the ground in a bloody mess.

  I took a few steps toward them, jogging, and then I stopped short. Even from the truck I’d been able to see the damage. There was no way Tatum could survive that. The zombie had literally torn out his throat. I didn’t need to go nearer and get an up close view of that.

  “Shit,” I said. I put my hands on my hips and stared at Tatum’s body. “Shit. ”

  I couldn’t think of anything better to do or say. So I just took a step back, then forward again, and kicked at the ground. I wanted to scream or yell or cry or do anything. But… all I could do was stare at him and say, “Shit. ”

  “Was anybody hurt?” Daniels asked, and I turned to see that he’d climbed out of the truck.

  He was tall and lean, almost lithe like a model, and there was no way he would’ve survived the zombie apocalypse if the army hadn’t been protecting him. He wasn’t that much old
er than me, and his eyes appeared particularly young.

  “How did this happen, Nolita?” Boden demanded. He’d woken up, and he was standing at the back of the truck, glaring down at her. “How did you let this happen on your watch?”

  “I couldn’t see through the bushes!” Nolita insisted. “It was Tatum’s fault for going that far out to take a piss!”

  She was right. There was a small patch of bushes and trees, not a ton, but enough where a zombie could sneak up on Tatum, and that’s exactly what happened. I grimaced and stared out at the foliage, watching for movement from any more zombies.

  “Remy?” Daniels had walked closer to me, so I looked back at him. “Were you hurt?”

  “Was I hurt?” I asked and laughed darkly. I took a step back from him and rubbed the back of my neck. “The good doctor wants to know if I’m hurt!”

  “Remy,” Daniels started, and I could see him gearing up to say something important, maybe even apologize, but I wasn’t in the mood for it.

  I took deliberate, quick steps toward him, and then I decked him right in the face. He was taller than me, so it was a weird angle, but I connected squarely with his nose, sending pain shooting down my fist.

  Daniels fell back on the ground, holding his nose, which almost immediately began to bleed profusely. As soon as I hit him, Boden jumped out of the truck, but he stood a few feet off, watching our exchange before interfering.

  “That was for leaving me in the quarantine to fucking die, you ass!” I shouted at him.

  Then, since I could think of nothing better to do, I started walking in a circle, shaking my hand to ease the pain that pulsed through it. It’d been far too long since I’d thrown a punch.

  “I didn’t know you were still there,” Daniels insisted, his voice muffled because he was covering his nose. “I thought you’d already left with the other doctors. ”

  “Sure you did,” I said.

  Teddy had scrambled out of the back of the truck and went over to Daniels. He had a balled up rag in his hand, and he held it to Daniels nose, telling him to tilt his head back. Bishop was the only one left in the truck, and she stared down at us all with that weird vulture glare of hers.

  “You didn’t need to hit him like that,” Nolita said, glaring at me as she helped Teddy get Daniels up to his feet. “How is he supposed to know where everybody is? The evacuation happened in a hurry. At least he tried to save people. You ought to show him some respect. ”

  “Respect?” I snapped and shook my head.

  “Enough. ” Boden held up his hand and stepped between Daniels and me. His back was to Daniels, and his blue eyes were on me, warning me not to push him. “With the shouting and guns and the death groan, and now with the smell of fresh blood, there will definitely be more zombies on the way. We have to move out. ”

  I knew he was right, so I just took a deep breath and looked away from him. I still needed a minute to calm down.

  “Everybody, you need to clear out everything from the truck,” Boden said. “Grab anything you want to take. Everything else gets left behind. ”