hollowmen Page 6

When I dropped out of the window onto the M, it creaked and groaned under my feet, and for one horrible second, I was certain it would crash to the ground below me. But it didn’t, so I scrambled up to the top.

  A few zombies had gathered below me, drawn out by the noise I was making, and one of them made a weird retching sound. It reminded me of a cross between a cough and the sound a dinosaur had made in Jurassic Park.

  I stood up on the sign, and I had to jump up to reach the ledge above me. The first time I missed it and fell back onto the S. The metal screeched below me, and it wouldn’t hold up for many more falls like that. If I didn’t make the ledge in the next jump, I’d end up on the sidewalk below.

  I crouched low, pushing myself as hard as I could when I jumped up. My fingers caught the edge of the concrete lip around the roof. Using my legs, I pushed myself up, but not before scraping my stomach against the brick of the building.

  Once I’d pulled myself up on the roof, I looked down over the edge, watching the zombies below me. They jumped up, reaching for the M, but they never quite made it. Even if they did get it, they would probably only succeed in pulling the sign down on top of them. Max and Stella were still safe in their loft.

  I went across the roof to the other side of the building, where the stairs would lead away from the welded doorway. The rickety wooden stairs were still intact, and there weren’t any zombies loitering around them. I’d made enough noise in the front of the store to keep them there looking for me.

  The landing at the top of the stairs wasn’t as close to the roof as I’d have liked. I climbed over the ledge and hung on, lowering myself down as gently as I could. I was still several feet from touching the landing, but I had no choice, and I let go, dropping down.

  My ankle groaned at me, and I fell onto my back. Wincing, I pulled up my jeans to inspect my leg. The good news was that it wasn’t broke. It still hurt, but I didn’t think it was sprained. It’d just be sore for a little bit, but I could walk it off.

  A lone zombie had wandered down the street, and I had to get him before he summoned the rest of the zombies. He hadn’t seen me yet, but it wouldn’t be long before he did.

  I stood up quickly, ignoring the pain in my ankle, and I sat on the metal railing of the stairs so I could slide down to the bottom. As soon as my feet hit the sidewalk, the zombie noticed me. He was only a few feet away, and he opened his mouth. All of his teeth were missing, but that wouldn’t stop him from howling.

  I grabbed the broken broomstick out of my pants and charged at him. Just as he began to croak out a sound, I swung the stick, and it connected hard with his head. There was a loud crack as his neck snapped, and his head flew off his body.

  Before any other zombies came out to play, I turned around and ran. I didn’t want to lead any of them back to where Boden and the others were hiding, so I had to hurry and remember the directions Max gave me. He knew all the best ways to squeeze around town and where to hide if zombies caught sight of me.

  Page 16

  When a zombie did give chase, I managed to lose it when I slid between two houses and crawled underneath a porch. Then I was free and clear, running toward the house.

  From the outside of the house, there was no sign of them, so I cautiously went inside. The front door had been torn off before we’d gotten there, and I knocked on the wall when I came in.

  “Hello?” I called.

  “Remy?” Daniels appeared at the top of the stairs, looking down over the box spring. “Boden told us you were as good as dead last night. ”

  “Well, I’m not,” I said. “I found my brother and another little girl. They’re both doing fine. ”

  “What about supplies?” Boden yelled from somewhere down the hall. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him fine.

  “They have food, but not much in the way of weapons,” I said. “We can probably take it with us. ”

  Nolita came and stood next to Daniels. “You’re still planning to come with us? I thought you were set now that you found your brother. ”

  “We can’t stay here. ” I shook my head. “This town is overrun with zombies. We couldn’t survive for much longer. ”

  Boden came out and pushed the box spring aside, then jogged down the stairs with his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He had my messenger bag in his hand, which I’d left here last night before I ran off with Max.

  “You really need to start grabbing your own stuff,” Boden said when he handed it to me, but he was smirking.

  “Thanks. ” I took it from him and slid it over my shoulder. “I’ll work on that. ”

  “Where’s Max?” Daniels asked, and I shot a look at him.

  “What do you care?” I snapped.

  Daniels seemed startled by my reaction. He’d been walking down the stairs, but he paused and scrunched up his eyebrows.

  “I just … if he’s going with us, I thought he’d be with you,” Daniels clarified.

  “He’s in a loft,” I said. “I left him and the girl there when I went to find you. No need for them to face zombies unless they had to. ”

  “Let’s go get them and get out of here,” Boden said once everybody had come downstairs.

  “There’s just one thing,” I said, stopping him as he walked toward the front door. “The building they’re in is surrounded by zombies. ”

  He sighed. “Of course it is. ”

  “Fine,” Nolita said. “You go get them and meet us back here. ”

  “I don’t think I can get them out by myself,” I admitted. “Especially not with the food. ”

  Nolita had pressed her lips into a tight line, and they twitched when I mentioned food. She might not be willing to risk anything for me or my family, but she needed food to survive, just like the rest of us.

  “You say there’s a little girl?” Bishop asked.

  I nodded. “Stella and my little brother Max. They’re both just kids. ”

  “All right. ” She nodded once. “I’ll go and help you get them. ”

  “I’ll go, too,” Boden said. He took off his duffel bag and dropped it to the floor. “The rest of you stay here. If we’re not back in a few hours, then go on without us. ”

  Bishop gave Teddy a reassuring smile as she handed him her bag. “We will be back. Just hang tight. ”

  I led Boden and Bishop back the way Max had taught me. When we got to Main Street, we hid beside the closest building we could, peering around the corner so we could watch the store where Max and Stella were staying.

  A small cluster of zombies had gathered, but I would guess it wasn’t more than a dozen. I’d faced a lot more than that and come out on top, so I figured that we could handle this. A couple of the zombies had begun to fight amongst themselves, tearing at each other’s clothes and flesh.

  “They’re hungry,” Bishop whispered, noticing the same behavior I had.

  “I have a few rounds left, but we really are running out of ammo,” Boden said. “I might not even have enough to shoot all the zombies here. ”

  I stared at the zombies for a minute when it occurred to me. “I have a plan. ”

  “What is it?” Boden asked.

  “Cover me,” I said, then ran out toward the zombies.


  The first zombie that charged at me, I stabbed right in the chest with the broomstick. It was an older zombie, so his chest and bones gave in easily as I drove the stake through his heart.

  Right before the next zombie was upon me, I ducked down. It ran right into me, its legs slamming into my head, and I stood up, sending it flying head over feet. It landed on the ground, its face pressed against the concrete, and I stomped on the back of its head, crushing its skull into the street.

  I heard the bang of the gun going off and felt the spray of zombie blood on my back. I turned around to see a zombie with its head blown off collapsed on the ground, and it was safe to assume that Boden had shot it.

; Two more zombies were racing at me, and I had no weapons. I simply dodged one and pushed the other one out of the way. They both chased after me, and I ran until I was in front of the store.

  A zombie stood directly below the M, and I kicked it in the stomach. It bent forward and collapsed to the ground on its knees. I jumped onto its back and then jumped up so I could grab onto the M.

  Even as my fingers were grabbing hold of the sign, I could feel the other zombies latching onto my legs. Their fingers dug into my flesh, and when I tried to kick them back, they pulled off one of my shoes.

  I swung back and forth, trying to free myself, and the sign groaned loudly above me. My pants were starting to slip off my waist. When a zombie tried to bite my foot, I managed to kick in the roof of its mouth, but things weren’t going well.

  Then the sign finally began to fall. The metal screeched as it snapped, and the M began to swing forward, taking me and several zombies with it. The M moved like a pendulum as it came free, so by the time the S finally came loose, we had started to swing up higher in the air.

  I let go, falling to the sidewalk. I scraped up my arms when I landed, and I rolled out of the way, pressing myself to the brick of the building. A zombie was still hanging onto me, but most of the zombies were hanging onto each other, in one mass.

  The sign crashed to the ground, smashing the zombies beneath them. Even though the zombie still hung onto my leg, his body had been crushed under the metal. That didn’t stop his head from moving though, and he tried to sink his teeth into my calf.

  Page 17

  I rolled onto my back and kicked him in the face with my shoed foot. He kept gnashing at me, so I kept kicking him until he finally stopped moving.

  While the sign had managed to take out most of the zombies, one of them was still lurching toward me. I was scrambling to my feet when Boden shot it, and it fell to the ground.

  Boden and Bishop had come out of hiding, and they walked across the street toward me. Boden still had his gun raised, in case another zombie came out of the woodwork.

  “Is that all of them?” Boden asked.

  “I think so. ” I picked up my shoe that a zombie had pulled off and slipped it back on.

  He lowered his gun when he reached me. “That was really stupid, you know. If that sign hadn’t fallen, they would’ve ripped you to shreds. ”

  “But they didn’t. ” I shrugged.

  I headed in to the store, which was now thankfully zombie free. Max poked his head down through the hole in ceiling. When I came in Stella had been beside him, but as soon as she saw me, she disappeared.

  “Max, lower down the ladder,” I said.

  “Did you get rid of all the zombies?” Max asked.

  “I wouldn’t have you lower it if I hadn’t. ”

  “Who are they?” Max asked as he dropped the rope ladder down.

  “That’s Boden,” I pointed to him, and then pointed to Bishop. “That’s Bishop. They came with to help me. ”

  “Hello. ” Bishop smiled at him and waved.

  “Hi,” Max said, but he didn’t smile.

  I climbed up the ladder, and Bishop followed me. Boden stayed down on the ground, presumably keeping an eye out for zombies.

  “Get your stuff together,” I told Max. “We’re getting out of here. ”

  “And going where?” Max asked.

  “North,” I said simply. I grabbed one of their sheets and went over to the corner where they’d stored all their food and supplies. “It’s safer up there. Less zombies. ”

  Max did as he was told, first shoving his things into a backpack, while I put their provisions in a makeshift sack I’d made from the sheet. I grabbed the lighter stuff first, avoiding most of the canned goods. They would get impossible to carry if we had too many.

  “I thought you said there was a girl,” Bishop said.

  “There is. ” I turned back to look around and saw Stella buried in the blankets, trying to hide. “She’s right there. ”

  “It’s okay, sweetie. ” Bishop crouched down in front of her and smiled. “We won’t hurt you. We’re here to keep you safe. ”

  Stella only buried herself deeper, so I got up and walked over to her, trading places with Bishop. Max had finished packing one backpack and moved onto putting Stella’s things in a smaller pink one.

  “Stella, honey, it’s okay. ” I knelt down. “Come out of there, please. ”

  She poked her head out farther, her matted hair all but hiding her eyes. “Why?”

  “I need you to come talk to me for a second. ” I held my hand out to her. “I won’t hurt you. I promise. ”

  She seemed hesitant, so Max chimed in, “She’s nice, Stella. You can trust her. ”

  Reluctantly, Stella pushed off the blankets and walked over to me. She still clung to the ratty old teddy bear. When she got closer to me, I put my hands gently on her arms, and she tensed up, as if expecting me to hit her.

  “Do you have anything here that you want to take with you?” I asked. “Max is packing a bag for you, but I want to make sure you get everything. ”

  “I’m not going,” Stella said, her voice muffled because she spoke into her teddy bear.

  “You have to go, Stella,” I insisted as gently as I could. “Max is going. I’m going. Even Ripley is going. ”

  Ripley wasn’t in the loft right then. I wasn’t sure where she was, since she’d left while I’d been gone. But since she’d followed me across the country once, I was pretty sure she would do it again.

  “I’m not going,” Stella repeated, her little voice getting more indignant.

  “Why not?” I asked, trying a different approach.

  “I don’t go down there. ” She pointed to the hole in the floor. “That’s where the monsters are. I’m not going anywhere there’s monsters. ”

  “There’s already monsters here,” I said. “That’s why we’re leaving. To get away from them. ”

  “No!” Stella pulled away from me, and I tried to hang onto her, but she was squirming like crazy, so I let go.

  “Max!” I sighed and stood up. “Tell her she can’t stay here. ”

  I stepped away from her in frustration. Throwing her over my shoulder while she kicked and screamed wouldn’t have been out of the question, except that it would attract zombies. But I couldn’t very well leave a little girl here to die, either.

  Max came over and crouched in front of her. He talked to her in a low voice that I couldn’t quite understand, and I went to help Bishop finish getting the food. We’d gotten about as much as the sheet could handle, so Bishop knotted it twice.

  Bishop dropped the food down through the hole and climbed down after it. I stood at the top of the hole, watching Max whisper to Stella, but we really didn’t have much more time to waste. More zombies were probably on their way.

  “We have to go, Max,” I said, interrupting their conversation.

  “She’ll come,” Max said finally and stood up. “You go down the ladder first and help her. ”

  I did as Max suggested, and when I got on the ladder, I understood why. The rungs were almost too far apart for her short legs. She would have fallen off the ladder several times if I hadn’t been there to catch her.

  Max climbed down with her bag and his. She put the bag on her back, then took Max’s hand. I took the sack of food, while Bishop stayed close to Max and Stella, offering to help them as we walked back to get the others. Stella refused any help, and I knew it was going to be an awfully long walk north.


  Boden had smartly suggested that we stay off the main roads and away from any cities. We’d followed the highway to the compound because it was the only way I knew how to get there, but if we were just going north, it didn’t really matter what route we took.

  Main roads meant more cities and towns, and more cities and towns meant more people, which meant more zombies.

  We m
et up with Nolita, Teddy, and Daniels at the house, and Ripley was already there, waiting for us. Max had actually been happy to see Daniels, and he even tried to hug him, but I put my hand on Max’s shoulder and wouldn’t let him. I didn’t care if Daniels was trying to save the human race. I’d never forgive him for nearly killing my brother.

  Page 18

  We followed an old dirt road out of town and eventually cut through fields. No crops had been planted in them for a very long time, so they were overgrown with weeds, but they still had the patchwork appearance of cornfields.

  Stella wanted to hang onto to Max the entire time, even when she started lagging. Eventually she got tired enough that she was willing to let someone carry her, and Teddy toted her on his hip.

  Sometime in the afternoon, we came upon a semi-tractor and trailer tipped over onto its side. The cab door was open, and from the ground, I could see the blood splattered across the windows.

  The name on the side of the door said it was for a major big-box store, which meant that the trailer could be filled with things we could use.

  “Should we see what’s inside?” Bishop asked.

  Boden thought it over, then shook his head. “Anything inside it would be spoiled. ”

  “You don’t know that,” Bishop said, disagreeing with him. “It could have something useful, even if it’s not food. We’re running out guns. ”

  “I’ll check it out,” Daniels offered and went around to the back of the truck.

  Boden shrugged. “Do what you want. ”

  He set down his gun and duffel bag and went in to inspect the cab. He climbed up the side of it, so he stood next to the door, and peered in.

  I followed Daniels around the back. Teddy and Bishop stood off to the side with the two kids, which was probably good since we didn’t know what was in the trailer.

  The handles and lock were rusted, and Daniels couldn’t get them by himself so I helped him. It still took a lot of pushing and grunting, but we managed to get the door. As soon as it fell open, we regretted it.

  The scent itself was repugnant. It was all rotting flesh, sick and  sweet. The whole trailer echoed with the sound of buzzing flies. Maggots were crawling over everything, covering the patches of brown and green blood like snow.

  “Holy shit. ” Daniels gagged and stepped back, covering his mouth.

  I crouched down, trying to see what had been inside. I pulled my shirt up over my mouth so I wouldn’t have to breathe it in directly.

  It was too dark in the trailer to get a good look of anything, but from the mess, I doubt there had been any food or anything useful. At least not for a very long time. This all looked like torn up people, dismembered corpses, with dried blood splattered all over the walls.

  Then I heard a low rattle, and the lit glinted off the yellow in its eyes. A zombie was only a few feet from the door, and it started crawling toward me.

  “It’s alive!” I yelled and jerked back.

  I tried pushing up the door to close it, but the zombie was on it, scrambling much faster than I thought something that emaciated could do. It was literally a skeleton with patches of brownish flesh hanging off it. Its shriveled intestines hung out through holes in its stomach.