hollowmen Page 3

“What?” I asked. “You aren’t taking the truck?”

  He shook his head. “No gas. It was just a place to camp. ” He stepped back towards the truck.

  I sighed again and looked up at the sun shining brightly above us. It’d been so long since I’d seen it, and I’d almost forgotten how warm it felt beating down on my skin. Even with the chill in the air, it still felt amazing.

  It was still cold out, and from the few patches of snow that dotted the landscape, I guessed it was the end of winter, beginning of spring.

  A few birds were chirping. They’d fallen silent when the zombie attacked Tatum, but they apparently felt safe enough to start up their songs again.

  I turned back to where Tatum lay and swallowed hard. I hadn’t even thanked him for rescuing me, not really. He was a good soldier and a good man, and he didn’t deserve to die this way. Not that anybody did.

  Feeling like I had to say some kind of goodbye, I walked over to him. The fat corpse of the zombie mostly covered him, so using my foot, I tried to push it off him. It took some doing, since the zombie seemed to weigh a ton, but eventually, it slid off Tatum with a heavy groan as its body expelled all kinds of gas.

  Page 7

  Of course, it was worse when I saw what had been done to Tatum. It was a gory mess, his blood covering his shirt, mixing with the zombie’s. His eyes were still open, and they were kind eyes.

  Something about that was too much for me. I fell to the ground on my knees next to him, just staring at him. I kept expecting it to get easier when people died, but it never seemed to get easy enough.

  “Thank you,” I whispered.

  Tangled in the mess of his neck flesh, the sun glinted off his dog tags. I couldn’t bury him. I wouldn’t even be able to mourn him. So the only thing I could think to do to honor him, to remember him in some way, was to take his dog tags.

  Carefully, and somewhat grotesquely, I got the dog tags off him. They were covered in blood and zombie goo, so I wiped them off on his clothes. When I’d finished, I held them up in the light, making sure I’d gotten it all.

  “You know, if you take the dog tags from every soldier who dies fighting zombies, your bag is going to end up impossible to lift from the weight of them all,” Boden said, his voice right behind me.

  “I know. But I think I needed to take these. ” I turned to face him and saw he was holding my messenger bag out to me. I took it from him and dropped Tatum’s tags in it. “Thank you. ”

  “I figured you had a rough morning. ” Boden gave me a lopsided smile that was anything but happy. “Did you know him well?”

  “Not well,” I admitted. “But I knew him. ”

  Boden stood over me, dressed in a black T-shirt and camo pants. His clothes were stained, worn, and full of holes. Everything was wearing out and running out.

  Something occurred to me, and I moved toward Tatum’s body. His service revolver was still on his hip. I was wondering why he hadn’t used it, but when I reached for it, I understood. It had gotten caught on the worn leather. He hadn’t been able to get it fast enough.

  It was a bit of a struggle, but I got it free. Then I proceeded to feel around his pockets and belt, looking for ammo.

  “If you’re looking for more bullets, you won’t find any,” Boden said.

  “Why not?” I asked.

  “Because there isn’t any more. ”

  “Oh. ” I faced him, squinting because the sun was shining behind him. “You mean like there isn’t any more on him?”

  “I mean like we don’t have an endless supply of guns and ammo stored up,” Boden said. “Eventually they had to run out. ”

  “There’s no more in the whole world?” I asked, dubiously.

  “I don’t know. There might be a billion guns in China, but that won’t do us much good here, will it?” Boden asked dryly. “All I know is that there aren’t more at the quarantine, and we’ve searched all over the area and we’ve used everything we found. ”

  “So we’re really out?” I asked.

  “That’s what I said. ” He held his hand out to me.

  I checked the chamber. “It has three more rounds. ”

  “I’m not throwing it away,” Boden said, his hand still out to me.

  Sighing, I handed my gun to him. I hated giving up a weapon, but if we were almost out, a soldier might as well have the gun. Especially since Boden appeared to be the soldier in charge.

  Once I gave him the gun, he walked away from me, back to where the rest of our travelling companions were waiting by the truck. I wasn’t offended by that, at least not until he handed the gun I’d just taken from Tatum over to Bishop.

  “Hey,” I said, scrambling to my feet and slipping the messenger bag over my shoulder. “Why does she get a gun?”

  “Because she didn’t just punch somebody in the face for no reason,” Boden said without looking at me. He picked up a green duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder.

  “He deserved it,” I muttered, but I knew that was a moot point.

  Daniels’ nose had stopped bleeding, but he kept dabbing at it with the rag Teddy had given him. Everyone appeared to be ready, their bags gathered, and they all averted their gaze when I looked at them.

  Boden walked around the truck, and he kept walking. He didn’t say anything or tell anyone to join him, but by the way he walked, everyone started to follow him. So I did too.

  “Where are we going?” Teddy asked, following right at Bishop’s side.

  “North,” he replied simply.

  “North?” I echoed and stopped. “I’m not going north. ”

  Boden sighed and turned around to face me. “What’s wrong with going north?”

  “There’s less zombies up north,” Daniels explained. He’d been a few steps behind me, but he stopped when he reached me. “They don’t like the cold. ”

  “My brother Max went to a compound in Nevada,” I said. “They have lots of people, and lots of weapons. It’s the only other safe place I can think of. ”

  “He’s in a compound?” Boden shook his head. “If there were a lot of people, it’s gone now. Humans are beacons to the zombies. They’re demolishing everything. ”

  I swallowed hard, believing him. “Maybe. But I have to go to be sure. ”

  “Well, we’re not going back that way,” Nolita said. “If you want to go on a rescue/suicide mission, that’s fine. But the zombies will be ten times worse that way. ”

  “That’s fine. ” I nodded, taking a step back. “Thank you for all your help. And good luck going north. ”

  “You won’t survive without any weapons,” Nolita pointed out, but she didn’t offer me any.

  Bishop stopped walking and glanced between Boden and me before saying, “We shouldn’t split up. Not a group this small. We need to keep the survivors together. ”

  “You can’t just go it alone,” Boden told me when I kept walking. “Stop. ”

  “Why?” I asked, but I did anyway. “You’re going north, and I’m going back to find my brother and see if there’s any more guns at the compound or any other survivors. ”

  Boden walked a few steps over to me, eyeing me up severely. “Do you really think they have guns there?”

  “I’m sure they do,” I said. “They’d stockpiled a lot of weapons. ”

  He sighed, then looked back at the rest of our team. Nolita pursed her lips, but nobody else appeared to have an opinion one way or the other.

  “Fine. ” Boden relented. “We’ll go back down to the compound, to look for guns and provisions. But we won’t go any farther south, even if your brother isn’t there. Is that clear?”

  Page 8

  “Perfectly,” I said.

  I failed to mention that I hadn’t asked them join me, but I figured it would be safer if they did. I could always use backup, especially since I didn’t have any guns, and if we could find guns at the compound, it would be really good fo
r them.

  We turned and changed directions, heading back toward the main road. Boden had traversed the area frequently looking for survivors and killing zombies, so he knew the way back to the highway. I’d taken US-93 from the compound up to the quarantine, and the plan was to just follow it back.

  I wasn’t sure whether going back to the compound would be the right thing to do, at least not for them. I knew what I needed to do, and I’d be damned if I let anyone stop me.


  By midafternoon, I’d almost completely stopped missing the sun. It beat down on us mercilessly as the day warmed up.

  I wasn’t used to temperature changes anymore, either, since my room had been kept at a cool 65 degrees all the time. Daniels had explained it was better for all the tests and experiments.

  It gave me some small pleasure to see that he wasn’t handling the journey well either. At first, Nolita had been encouraging him, almost leading him down the highway. Eventually, she must’ve tired of it, because she walked alone.

  Daniels lagged behind, struggling to keep up with me, and I was at the back of the pack. Boden led the way with Bishop a few steps behind him, and Teddy was glued to her side. Teddy and Bishop occasionally exchanged a few words, but nobody else really spoke as we walked.

  “I am sorry about what happened,” Daniels said quietly, and Bishop looked back over her shoulder.

  Instead of acknowledging him, I quickened my pace. That didn’t amount for much, since the shoes were killing my feet, and my legs ached. Daniels had to scramble, but he caught up with me a few seconds later.

  “Remy,” Daniels tried again. “I really am sorry. ”

  I slowed down because it wouldn’t do me any good to kill myself trying to outrun him. I readjusted the strap on my bag and glanced over at him. He brushed his long bangs out of his eyes, which were definitely too large for his thin face. His nose was puffy and red, and a few drops of blood stained the front of his shirt.

  “For which part?” I asked. “Performing useless tests every day that accomplished nothing except nearly killing me? Or leaving me in the building to die while you escaped?”

  “I didn’t know you were there. I swear it,” Daniels insisted. I didn’t say anything, so he went on. “And I didn’t want to hurt you. You know everything that happened in there wasn’t personal. It was about trying to save the human race. ”

  I wasn’t sure whether it was because he was talking, or the pleading tone in his voice, but he was attracting more attention. Teddy and Nolita kept looking back at us. Daniels didn’t notice because he was too busy looking at me.

  “I know what happened in there,” I said finally. “And I know why it happened. But it all amounted to nothing. So I’m sorry if I’m still a little pissed off about it. ”

  “I’m not asking you to apologize. ”

  “Then what are you asking?” I shot him a glare. “Why are you even bringing this up?”

  He looked hurt for a moment, and then shrugged it off. “I wanted you to know the truth. We’re going to be working together, and I wanted you to know that I’d never unnecessarily put you in harm’s way. ”

  I didn’t know whether I believed that. Daniels had never been malicious or cruel to me, but a lot of what transpired in the quarantine wasn’t pleasant. I had the scars to prove it. Track marks covered my arms, and a lot of my veins were wrecked from all the blood they took.

  Daniels and a few other doctors thought the answer to my immunity might be locked away in some of my glands and internal organs. Scars from incisions were laced together all over my stomach, like my skin was some kind of bizarre patchwork, from all their probing.

  One doctor had been convinced it was coming from some gland in the base of my skull. He’d wanted to cut open my head and dig around. Daniels had somehow gotten him to drop that idea, so I guess he had saved my life that time. Or prolonged it really.

  If I hadn’t left when I did, I wouldn’t have survived that much longer. People can only go so long losing blood and getting cut open before their bodies stop being able to function.

  “What’s done is done,” I told Daniels. “We’re out now, and we need to focus on surviving out here. ”

  “Right. ” He nodded. “You’re right. ”

  He slowed then, dropping a few feet behind me. Nolita had been looking back at us a lot while we talked, and she stopped when she saw him fall behind.

  “Maybe we should take a break,” she suggested. “We’ve been walking all morning. ”

  Boden seemed reluctant to stop. When he turned around, he kept walking backwards. He slowed down a bit, since Nolita had stopped, and Daniels, Bishop, and Teddy had been quick to follow suit.

  “How far is it to the compound?” Boden asked me. We were now the only two walking, but neither of us was going that fast.

  “I’m not sure exactly,” I admitted. “We drove last time. But I’d say it was at least another day’s walk. ”

  “This is some detour,” he muttered, but he stopped. “All right. Quick break everyone. I have some water in my bag but not much. Drink only what you absolutely have to. ”

  He dropped the duffel bag to the ground with a heavy thud. He unzipped it and pulled out a bottle of water and handed it to me first, since I was the closest to him. I wanted nothing more than to chug the entire thing, but I’d heard what he said and only took a quick drink before passing it on to Teddy.

  After I’d gotten my drink, I sat on the road, lying back on the warm asphalt. Boden lay down near me, his legs bent at the knee and his arm draped over his eyes to block out the sun.

  Nobody asked about food on our break, even as they got comfortable and passed around the water. We’d all been through this before. We knew how low provisions were and how sparingly we’d eat.

  Our rest stop ended too quickly when Boden abruptly got up and said it was time to move on. Nobody questioned him or complained, which was nice. We all knew what needed to be done. We hadn’t survived this long by being weak.

  As the sun began to set, we had to start thinking of a place to camp out. A farmhouse was about a quarter mile off the highway at the end of a long gravel driveway. Since it would be safer than sleeping out in the middle of the road, we headed toward it.

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  It turned out to be a real find. It was a huge two-story house, and the first-floor windows were all boarded up. When we got to it, I waited outside with Teddy and Daniels while Boden, Nolita, and Bishop went in to make sure it was all clear. I wasn’t used to being the one waiting outside, but I didn’t have a gun, so it made sense.

  Once they were certain there were no zombies or anything dangerous inside, we all went in. While there might not have been zombies in the house anymore, there definitely had been at one time. Everything was torn up and destroyed. Blood, zombie and human, was splattered on the walls, the floors, and the broken furniture.

  Bishop was in the kitchen when I came in, looking for food. It looked like it had once been a cute, cozy room, with a border around the cupboards of red roosters. But now plates were shattered on the floor, the fridge was turned on its side, and there was a rotting hand in the sink.

  “This is such a waste. ” Bishop tsked and held up a box of oatmeal for me to see. It looked fine, except the bottom corner had a small hole nibbled in it. When she shook the box, a few oats and several dark brown sprinkles fell out. “There’s mouse shit everywhere. If there was any food, the damn rodents got it. ”

  “Do you know what we have for food?” I asked.

  The prospects didn’t look good, but I went over to help her anyway, picking through the garbage that littered the floor for anything edible.

  “I know what I packed, and it wasn’t much,” Bishop said. “Some fresh vegetables from the gardens, carrots and potatoes mostly. A bag of homemade rabbit jerky. A couple cans of SPAM and a can of tuna. ”

  “But that’s just what you packed, right?” I as
ked. “Teddy packed his own. ”

  Bishop shook her head. “No, that’s all the food we have between me and Teddy. I’m not sure what Boden and Nolita have, though, but I’m sure they have something. And you and Daniels didn’t bring anything. ”

  “Sorry. ” I hated that I hadn’t brought anything. I felt like the weakest member of the group, and that was really pissing me off. “I didn’t have time to really look. ”

  “No, it’s okay. ” She waved me off. “I understand. Sometimes you just have to run if you want to survive. ”

  Teddy poked his head around the kitchen doorway and knocked on the wall. “Boden’s getting food out if you guys want to eat. ”

  I was starving but I didn’t want to eat. I knew I had to survive but I didn’t like to take from others when I had nothing to contribute. My only hope was that when we got to the compound, we’d find plenty of food and weapons to make up for my lack of help now.

  Bishop and I followed Teddy out to the living room, where we found that he and Nolita had straightened things up a bit. They’d righted the couch and removed most of the garbage. Nolita was lighting a few candles when we came in. The only other light came from the sun shining between the slats of wood over the windows, and the sun was going down.

  In the center of the room, newspapers were spread out like a picnic blanket. They looked reasonably clean, and I guessed that Nolita and Teddy had picked the nicest ones they could. Boden sat down cross-legged at one side, pulling food out of his duffel bag and setting it on the newspapers.

  So far, it was two bottles of water, three potatoes, a dented can of salmon, and two cans of Vienna sausages.

  “Everybody gets half a potato,” Boden explained after he’d set it all out. “And you should all get some protein, either some salmon or a couple sausages. ”

  Everyone sat around the food in a small circle, and I sat down next to Boden. He cut the potatoes in half while Bishop opened the cans. Boden handed us our potato, then Bishop started passing the cans around.

  Boden took three sausages then held the can out to me. I took one, and he gave me an odd look.

  “That’s all you’re having?” Boden asked, and I nodded. “You can’t be serious. You need more than that to survive. ”

  “I’ll be fine,” I insisted.

  “Suit yourself. ” He shrugged and passed the can to Daniels. “But if you end up passing out from lack of food, I’m not carrying you. ”

  “I would never ask you to. ”

  After we ate, we went upstairs to find a place to sleep. As soon as the sun went down, Nolita blew out all but one candle. Light attracted zombies, so we wanted to keep things as dark as possible.

  The second floor was in slightly better shape than the first, but it wasn’t great. Boden and Teddy pushed a huge oak dresser out of the master bedroom and put it at the top of the stairs. Boden went through all the rooms, looking for furniture to stack on top of the dresser, and came up with a rocking chair and a chest.

  Once he was sure he’d built an adequate barricade, we went to our separate rooms to sleep. There were only three bedrooms upstairs, so Teddy and Bishop shared a room, Boden and Daniels bunked together, and I got a room with Nolita.