Hollowmen, p.11
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       Hollowmen, p.11

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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Ripley seemed to be the only one that really didn’t like the cold. Whenever she had to walk through snow, she looked particularly pissed off and confused.

  Max was also struggling to keep up. Serg stepped in to help him, which really pissed me off. Not just because I didn’t quite trust Serg yet but also because I was too busy helping Daniels to be able to help my brother.

  We took a short break near the top of a smaller mountain. The hike up had been grueling, but it seemed to be the easiest way through. The peak was covered in snow, so we hoped it would at least slow down the zombies.

  Daniels refused to eat anything, but that was fine by me. One fewer mouth to feed was better for us all. It’s when we got up to leave and Daniels refused to get up that I finally lost it.

  “Oh my gosh,” I sighed. “Is this what Nolita had to deal with all the time? Constantly pushing you along?”

  “No. ” He glared at me for saying her name. “I went willingly. ”

  “Good. Can you go willingly now?” I asked.

  The others had walked a few feet ahead, but they were waiting for us. Teddy was carrying Stella again. None of us trusted her to be able to make it down the mountain on her own. The path was treacherous at times.

  “No. I won’t. ” Daniels stood up, his face drawn. “Why don’t you just leave me alone? Why don’t you just let me stay here to die?”

  “Because!” I didn’t exactly know why, so I sighed in exasperation.

  “Because we don’t leave anyone behind. ” Boden stepped toward us, trying to come to my aid. “If you can walk, you can follow us. Now come on. ”

  “Exactly,” I chimed in.

  “No. ” Daniels kept his eyes fixed on me and pointed at me. “You. I want to know why you’re pushing me so hard. You don’t even like me. And after everything I did to you and your brother, I don’t even blame you. Why can’t you just let me die?”

  “I don’t know why,” I said finally. “I just can’t, allright?”

  “No. ” He shook his head. “That’s not good enough. ”

  A zombie made a weird retching sound in the distance. We hadn’t heard one since before we stopped to take a break, so they were gaining on us again.

  “Remy,” Boden said. “We need to get moving. ”

  “Go. ” I looked back over my shoulder at him. “We’ll catch up. ”

  Boden sighed. “Fine. But hurry up. ”

  They started walking away, and I heard Max asking Boden something about me. Boden spoke too quietly for me to hear his answer, and I turned back to Daniels.

  “Why, Remy?” Daniels asked. “Why is it so damn important to you that I live?”

  “Why does it matter to you?” I asked. “Why isn’t just living good enough?”

  “Because it isn’t anymore. ” He hugged himself with his thin arms, and he looked so despondent staring down at the dirt.

  “Look, I get it. I’ve been where you’re at,” I said. “But losing your girlfriend isn’t reason enough to quit. We need to keep going. ”

  “Why?” His voice cracked. “Why do we keep going? Why, when there’s so clearly nothing left to live for?”

  I rubbed my eyes, hating this philosophical argument I was having with someone that I wasn’t even sure I liked.

  “Dammit, Daniels, you only knew her for a few days. What did you live for before that?”

  “Finding a cure. Trying to save us. And that failed,” Daniels said. “I worked as hard as I could, and I didn’t do anything, except nearly kill you. And then I met Nolita, and I couldn’t save her. I can’t do anything, and the whole world’s going to end. ”

  “Maybe it will. Maybe we’ll all die,” I said. “But that’s not your fault. And we’re not dead now. And that’s why we keep going. We keep living as long as we can, and that’s all there is to it. ”

  He considered that for a moment, then lifted his eyes to look at me. “Why do you care, Remy? Why are you helping me?”

  “You did the best you could, and I know it,” I said finally. “You did the best you could by me in a really shitty, fucked up situation. And maybe it wasn’t always the right thing or what I wanted, but it was the best you knew how to do.

  “And this is the best I know how to do,” I said. “And all I can tell you is that shit happens, get over it, and go on. But I can’t keep dragging you over these mountains. So if you want to stay here and die, then… I guess I’ll have to let you. ”

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  I waited a moment to see what his reaction would be, but he didn’t seem to have one. A zombie let out a long, low death groan, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I turned around and walked away.

  Just when I thought I’d left Daniels behind, I heard his footsteps behind me. He caught up to me, but neither of us said anything. There was nothing more to say. He’d made a choice, and I thought it was the right one.

  We hurried, so we reached the others quickly. Bishop was helping Max down the hill, holding his hand so he didn’t slip down a ridge. I took over and helped him until we got down on flatter land. Daniels did just fine without me.

  When we reached smoother terrain, Boden fell back next to me. He normally led the group, but he let Bishop take the lead. Max was walking beside Daniels, talking to him about a weird blue bird he’d seen in a tree, and for a change, I wasn’t pissed or worried that the two of them were interacting.

  “I take it that you’ve forgiven him then,” Boden said quietly and motioned toward Daniels.

  “Honestly?” I shook my head. “I’m not sure there was ever anything to forgive. ”

  “Really?” Boden raised an eyebrow and stared down at me as if he didn’t believe me. “What about everything that happened? All the scars you have from him?”

  “He didn’t do most of that, and the parts he was complicit in… well, I’m not sure I would’ve done anything different. ”

  Boden looked almost comically shocked at that. “You really think that?”

  I shrugged. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and nothing’s ever been as desperate as it is now. ”

  “Hmm,” Boden said thoughtfully. “Are you ever going to tell me what exactly happened to you at the quarantine?”

  “Probably,” I said. “If we live long enough. ”

  “Ooo, a new reason to stay alive. ” He smirked.

  I laughed, for the first time in quite a long time, but it was cut short by the sound of a zombie howling right beside us.

  21.

  Somehow, we’d missed it, and seven zombies were only a few feet away from us, standing between the trees. Maybe they hadn’t even been following us. It was entirely possible they’d just been standing there, and we walked into them. But either way, we were kinda screwed.

  “Take Max and run!” I shouted at Daniels, but it was the only way I could think to protect my brother. I’d stay here and fight and send him out of harm’s way.

  “Get the kids out of here!” Bishop yelled, apparently having the same idea I had.

  Teddy was holding Stella, who’d begun to cry, and he ran off through the trees. Daniels did the same thing, hesitating a moment longer than I would’ve liked, then he was pulling my brother along as they raced through the forest.

  That left Boden, Bishop, Serg, and me to try to fight off the zombies. At least it was an even fight.

  Or it would’ve been, but right away, a zombie took off, running away from us. That ordinarily would’ve been a relief, but that meant it was going after Daniels or Teddy. It was going after the kids.

  Boden had his gun, and he fired one shot, hitting a zombie right in the head. He’d killed it, but when he pulled the trigger again, nothing happened. He was out of ammunition.

  Bishop had inherited Nolita’s gun, and she managed to get off three shots before running out. She killed one, but only maimed another that was charging at her.

  Teddy had the other gun, so Serg and I were the only ones without
weapons. Or at least we were at the start of the fight, since Boden and Bishop ran out so quickly. But at least Boden was using the gun to beat the zombies with.

  I don’t know how Serg was fighting, and I didn’t really have time to think about it. I had my own zombie to deal with. I could maybe outrun it, but I didn’t want to accidentally lead it to Max or Stella, and I definitely didn’t want to try running back up the hill.

  A fight seemed my best option, even though I’d just seen how well that worked out for Nolita.

  When the zombie charged at me, I grabbed its arm and swung it around, slamming it into the trunk of a pine tree next to me. It felt a bit Wile E. Coyote to me, but the zombie was stunned for a moment.

  I grabbed the back of its head – which was still surprisingly full of thick curls, so I got a good grip – then bashed the zombie’s face into the tree over and over until it stopped moving.

  Serg was struggling with his own zombie. He had out a large hunting knife, which he was using to try to slash at the zombie in front of him. It kept the zombie back a bit, but it wouldn’t for long.

  In fact, if Ripley hadn’t come out from behind a tree and pounced on the zombie, Serg probably would’ve been dead meat. Thankfully, there was nothing that cat loved more than killing zombies.

  Boden was bashing a zombie with his gun, and it was still twitching, but I doubted it could hurt anybody. Bishop was fighting off another zombie, but Serg joined in to help her fight it off. The only zombie left unaccounted for was the one chasing the kids.

  I figured between Bishop, Boden, Serg, and the lion, they could handle the last zombie, and I took off in the direction I’d seen the zombie go. I wasn’t sure where they went, other than north, but it wasn’t long before I heard Stella crying.

  I ran toward the sound of her cries, and when I was closer, I heard another noise mixed in with it. A zombie tearing and eating flesh. It was a very specific sound, but one I knew all too well.

  I slowed down when I approached, trying to get an idea of what the situation was before I ran headlong into it.

  All I could see was the back of a zombie, bent over as he gnawed on something. He was shirtless and clearly male, but his skin had a greenish hue to it, and his spine protruded almost like spikes from his skin. He was starving.

  Stella was still crying, but I didn’t see her at first. Then I looked up. She was sitting in the lower branches of a pine tree, clinging to it, and staring down as the zombie ate what I presumed to be Teddy.

  I grabbed a thick stick from the ground and snapped it over my leg, creating a pointed edge. The zombie looked back when he heard it, but I hid behind a tree. I waited for a few seconds, then I heard the zombie start chewing away at Teddy again.

  I crept out from the tree and walked up behind the zombie. It was too engrossed in eating to notice me. It was in the middle of biting into one of Teddy’s organs when I drove a stick through its back, jabbing it right through the heart.

  The zombie slumped forward, in what ended up being a bit of a blessing. It fell over the hole it had ripped in Teddy’s back, sparing Stella from looking at it anymore. Though I suppose she’d already seen enough.

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  And what I could see of Teddy’s body wasn’t pretty. His legs and pants were shredded, clawed up by the zombie’s hands. His mouth was open wide, frozen in an expression of horror, and his entire back was stained with blood.

  “Stella, sweetie,” I said, turning my attention to the little girl hiding in the tree. “It’s okay. The zombie’s gone now. ”

  “No!” She shook her head, tears streaming down her chubby cheeks. “The zombies are never gone!”

  “Well, they are for now,” I said. I moved closer to the tree, which meant stepping over Teddy’s body, and I held my hands out to her. “The zombies are gone, and everything’s okay. You can come down now. ”

  “No!” She clung onto the branch and kicked at me, like she was trying to shoo me away. “I’m never coming down again!”

  “Stella. ” I sighed and put my hands on my hips. “This is like the loft all over again. You came down from that, and that turned out fine. ”

  “It did not!” Stella pointed to Teddy. “He got eaten! And something happened to that lady back in the cabin! It’s not fine!”

  “Well, yes, those things did happen but …” I trailed off.

  But what? She had a point. She just couldn’t live in that tree forever.

  “Is everything okay?” Bishop asked as she jogged up behind me. Boden and Daniels were following behind her, but at a much slower rate.

  “Well, Stella’s in the tree,” I started to explain, but Bishop’s eyes had been locked on her. She’d probably been summoned by Stella’s cries, the same way I had.

  Bishop looked down when she got close and slowed to a startled walk. She put her hand to her mouth, and her eyes widened as she approached Teddy.

  “Oh my god. ” Her voice trembled, and tears filled her eyes. She lowered her hand and circled closer to Teddy. She reached out like she meant to touch him, but she didn’t. “Oh, Teddy. Oh no. ”

  “I’m sorry,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything better to say.

  “No. ” She pushed her lips together in a thin line and swallowed back tears. “It’s not your fault. And he died bravely, at least. That’s something. ”

  “Yeah, it is,” I agreed.

  “Stella. ” Bishop turned her attention to the child, smiling up at her with tears in her eyes. “Are you okay, sweetie?”

  “Yeah. ” She nodded. “But I’m never coming down. ”

  “How did you get up there, honey?” Bishop asked, wiping at her eyes. “Did you climb up there?”

  Stella shook her head. “Teddy helped me up here. Then when he was climbing up, the zombie grabbed him and pulled him back down. ”

  “That won’t happen to you, Stella,” Bishop said. “We got all the zombies. It’s safe to come down now. ”

  “I already tried that approach,” I told her quietly. “The kid’s not budging. ”

  “Come on, honey. ” Bishop held her arms up to the tree. “Come on down. I’ll keep you safe, Stella. I promise. ”

  “Remy!” Max shouted, and I turned to see him running through the trees toward me. Daniels was behind him, but moving more slowly.

  “Hey, kid!” I stepped in between Max and Teddy, blocking his view as best I could. When Max reached me, he jumped into my arms, hugging me.

  “I’m glad you’re okay,” Max said, and I let go of him, putting him on the ground. “Are all the zombies dead?”

  “They sure are,” I said. “Well, the ones that were attacking us, anyway. ”

  “Did everyone make it okay then?” Daniels asked me, and I shook my head. His eyes travelled over to where Teddy and the zombie lay dead, and he frowned.

  “Thank you for taking my brother,” I said.

  Daniels nodded. “It was nothing that you wouldn’t have done for me. ”

  “What’s Stella doing up in that tree?” Max asked.

  “Um, she’s hiding out. ” I put my hand on his shoulder, keeping him from walking closer to Teddy’s body.

  It might have seemed silly to some that I was trying spare him from seeing that. After all the gore and death he’d witnessed, Teddy would just be another one in the long list of horrors he’d encountered in his short life.

  But if I could make it so there was one fewer awful thing haunting Max’s nightmares, then I would do it. I’d always tried to shield him from seeing the worst of everything, and I knew that I couldn’t every time. But that never stopped me from trying.

  “Stella, you’ve got to come down,” Bishop told her in a soothing voice. “We can’t stay here forever. ”

  “Max, why don’t you ask Stella to come down?” Boden suggested, since none of Bishop’s tactics seemed to be working.

  “Come on, Stella. ” Max stepped forward, bu
t he was looking up at her. “You gotta come down from there eventually. ”

  “No, I don’t!” Stella insisted.

  “Yeah, you do,” Max said. “You’re gonna get tired and hungry and you’ll have to pee. You can’t eat or pee up in that tree, and if you tried to sleep, you’d fall out. So you should come down now when we’re all here to help you. ”

  That argument seemed to be winning Stella over. She didn’t immediately denounce it as stupid, and she looked down at Bishop.

  “It’s okay, Stella. ” Bishop held up her arms. “I’ll catch you. ”

  “Oh hell,” Boden whispered.

  “What?” I whispered back, wondering what his problem was.

  Then he pointed, and I saw it right away. When Bishop lifted up her arms to reach for Stella, her shirt had ridden up in the back. There on her side, a few inches above her hip, was a large bite mark. The edges were ragged and bloody, fresh from her fight. A zombie had bitten her. She was infected.

  “Shit,” I said.

  22.

  Daniels and Serg must’ve have seen the same thing, because they both let out large sighs. Bishop was too busy coaxing Stella out of the tree to notice us, and it seemed to be working, so we let her keep going.

  “Come on, honey. ” Bishop’s hands were outstretched, and Stella was tentatively letting go of the tree. She moved closer to Bishop but hadn’t made an official move to get down yet. “I’ll catch you, sweetie. ”

  “You promise you’ll catch me?” Stella asked.

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  “I promise, honey,” Bishop said.

  “And you promise you won’t let the zombies get me?” Stella sniffled.

  “I cross my heart and hope to die,” Bishop said, and I grimaced.

  Stella finally relented. She sat down and dangled her legs over the branch. Then she slid off the edge and fell into Bishop’s waiting arms.

  “I’ve got you, sweetie,” Bishop said, cradling the little girl and comforting her. “Everything is going to be okay. ”

  She whispered soothing words into Stella’s hair, then turned around toward us. She was rocking the child gently in her arms until she saw our faces. Daniels, Serg, Boden, and I were all standing in a line, staring at her grimly.

  “What?” Bishop asked. She paled, and her gray eyes were scared, but she honestly didn’t seem to understand what would be wrong. “What’s going on?”

  “Bishop, you’ve been bitten,” Boden said matter-of-factly.

  “What?” She shook her head. “No, I wasn’t. ”

  “We saw it,” Boden said.

  “You saw it?” Her eyes furrowed in confusion. “Where?”

  “It’s on your back. ” Daniels pointed at her, as if that would clarify the spot. “When your shirt rose up, we all saw it. ”

  “No, I didn’t get bit. ” She shook her head again and turned, lifting up her shirt and trying to see it. “I was scratched. That’s all. I never got bitten. ”

  “Bishop, we know the difference between a scratch and a bite,” I said. “I’m sorry. ”

  “But…” She’d started backing up, still holding Stella in her arms, and that’s when it first occurred to me that we might have a problem. “I might be immune. You’re immune. I could be like that. ”

 
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