Hollowmen, p.12
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       Hollowmen, p.12

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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I was a little stunned to hear Bishop say that. I’m not sure how she knew I was immune, except that Bishop seemed like the kind of person that knew things. She was in charge at the quarantine. Or maybe she’d just overheard me talking with Daniels.

  “You might be immune,” Boden agreed. “But you probably aren’t. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, though, and we’ll let you go off alone. But you can’t stay with us anymore. ”

  “You can’t!” Bishop insisted, and her eyes had gotten a wild glint to them. “You can’t separate me from the children! I’m the only one Stella trusts!”

  “Please don’t make it harder than it is,” I said. “Just put Stella down. ”

  Stella, sensing the tension, had begun to cry again. She clung tighter to Bishop, which did not help the situation at all.

  “What’s going on?” Max asked, sounding frightened. I’m sure he understood what was happening – at least the part about Bishop being infected. I think he’d asked more because he was afraid of what was going to happen.

  “Just stay back, Max,” I said and stepped closer to Bishop. “Just put Stella down, and we’ll talk about it. ”

  “No. ” Bishop shook her head fiercely. “I’m not letting her go. I’m not infected, and she needs me. ”

  “Bishop, be reasonable. ” Boden stepped closer to her, so we were starting to circle her.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Serg stepping away. But Bishop didn’t notice. She was too focused on Boden and me, who were closing in on her.

  “You were a good leader,” Boden went on. “You always did what was best for the people. And what’s best for the people is putting the little girl down. ”

  “I am a good leader, but you’re not,” Bishop said, and tears were fresh in her eyes. “Remy, you shouldn’t be listening to him. He’s wrong about this. I can take care of your brother and Stella. You can’t listen to him. ”

  “He’s right, Bishop,” I said. “And you know it. ”

  She backed away from us, but she wasn’t looking where she was going. Her eyes were fixed on Boden and me, and she didn’t see Serg coming up behind her.

  Serg pulled out his hunting knife, and I nearly winced when I saw it, but I managed to keep my expression neutral. I didn’t know what he planned to do to Bishop, but we needed to get Stella away from her. If Bishop ran off with her and became a zombie, it would be horrendous.

  “You’re wrong,” Bishop kept saying as if that would convince us somehow.

  Then Serge was behind her. Using his free hand, he grabbed onto her hair, and she gasped loudly when he pushed the blade into her back. I’d been terrified that he’d stab her or slit her throat, but since she was still breathing, I guessed he was only pressing it there so she knew he had it.

  “That’s my knife,” Serg said, his voice low in her ear. His grip on her hair held her to him, and her eyes darted around. “I don’t want to kill you in front of the little girl, and I don’t think you want that either. So put her down, and I’ll let you live. ”

  “Please,” Bishop pleaded, and Serg pushed the knife harder in her back, making her wince. “Fine! I’ll put her down. ”

  Serg still hung onto her, so she couldn’t run away, but he moved the knife back, so Bishop could bend down and put Stella on the ground. Stella tried to hang onto her, but Bishop pushed her away with tears streaming down her cheeks.

  “Come here, Stella,” Daniels said. He stood behind me and Boden, back with Max, and he crouched down and held his arms out to her.

  Stella cried, standing there bewildered for a few seconds, then she dashed past me and ran into Daniels’ waiting arms. He scooped her up and held her to him, letting her cry into his shoulder.

  “What are you going to do now?” Bishop asked when she stood back up. Serg still hung onto her hair, with his knife in her back. “Are you going to gut me?”

  “No, I’ll let you live if you promise to go away and never come back,” Serg said.

  “What if I’m not infected?” Bishop asked, wiping at her nose. “Because I’m not. ”

  “I don’t care,” Serg said. “Don’t come back. Just go away. ”

  She sniffled, then nodded. “Fine. ”

  Serg let go of her, then circled back around to stand by me. He still had his knife out, in case she decided to try something, and her eyes darted between us.

  “I’m not infected,” Bishop insisted, rubbing the back of her head. “I’m not. You’re making a horrible mistake. ”

  Page 34

  “We’re sorry if we are,” Boden said. “But I really don’t think we are. ”

  “I would know if I was infected,” Bishop said. “I would know! And I’m not. ”

  Stella started crying harder when Bishop shouted, and I just wanted her to get out of there. She’d been bitten, and we couldn’t risk having her around. It was way too dangerous for the kids, not to mention everyone else.

  “You need to go. ” I stepped closer to her. “We’re letting you live, but if you don’t go, that will change very quickly. ”

  She nodded, her eyes crazy but sincere. “You will be sorry. ”

  Bishop turned and ran off through the trees. It wasn’t until she was out of sight that I let out a deep breath. I put my face in my hands, and I just wanted to crumble. Everything that had happened in the past few days was weighing down on me like a ton of bricks, and I wanted to collapse.

  “I’m sorry,” Serg said. “I should’ve noticed when we were fighting the zombies. I should’ve seen her get bit. I wasn’t paying enough attention. It’s my fault. ”

  “No, it’s not your fault,” Boden assured him. “It’s nobody’s fault. ”

  I turned back around and walked over to Max. He asked me what was wrong, but I didn’t answer him. I just picked him up and hugged him. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was hold him in my arms, to feel the weight of him grounding me here, holding me in this place.

  Despite how hard things got, I had something keeping me here, something I needed to keep fighting for. And as long as he was here with me, I had to keep going.

  I kissed the top of his head and swallowed back tears. “I love you, Max. ”

  23.

  “She’s following us,” Boden said.

  “I know. ”

  After we sent her away yesterday, we’d walked on without any breaks. Between the zombie attack and everything with Bishop, we didn’t want to risk slowing down for anything. A few times, I thought I’d seen or heard her scurrying around, but it could always be attributed to the wind through the trees or Ripley trailing us.

  We slept in a cave last night, a small hole in a ridge. It was cozy to say the least, but it was easy to keep track of everyone. Boden and I traded off keeping watch, but neither of us saw anything more dangerous than an owl.

  So far the worst that had happened after Bishop left was Stella crying almost constantly. She calmed down by nightfall, and Max got her to eat. He said she’d been the same way after the compound burned down, but she got over things eventually.

  This morning seemed to be a dramatic improvement. She even walked along the trail with us, usually holding Daniels’ hand, but sometimes, she’d hold mine.

  While Stella had improved, our situation had not. Bishop was now clearly following us. We could hear her, and I’d even seen her a few times moving through the trees. I kept half-hoping that Ripley would think she was a zombie and pounce on her, thus saving Bishop a lot of pain and suffering. Not to mention helping us out.

  “She’s getting bolder,” Boden told me, his voice low in case Bishop was nearby listening. “I just saw her a few feet from us, barely even hiding behind a tree. ”

  “Did she still look human?” I asked.

  “So far. But it won’t be much longer. ”

  The transformation from human to zombie varied from person to person. I’d seen it happen in as little as a few hours and as much as four days. It just dep
ended. But really, any time now, and Bishop would turn into a monster.

  “We need to keep the kids close,” I said. “And not just because she’ll be a zombie soon. ”

  “Agreed. ” Boden nodded.

  Without saying anything more, he bent down and scooped up Stella. She’d been walking rather happily beside Daniels, but she didn’t really seem to mind being picked up either.

  Either Serg had been listening or understood what was happening, because he crouched down and offered Max a piggy-back ride. Max gladly accepted, and we continued walking.

  The mountainous terrain was smoothing out more, which was a nice reprieve for our legs. It probably made it easier on Boden and Serg to carry Stella and Max, too. The trees were spreading out a bit more, and we stopped seeing Bishop.

  I’d begun to hope that she had turned into a zombie, a crazy one that gnawed off her own leg. If we were lucky, we’d never see her again. And our luck seemed to be changing.

  It began to snow, which in and of itself was neither a hindrance nor a benefit. But we hadn’t heard any death groans since the morning. We weren’t to Canada yet, but maybe we were far enough north that the zombies wouldn’t follow.

  We stopped to check the map at a house on the side of the road. The garage door was wide open, so we sat down on the concrete floor. The roof provided enough shelter from the elements, and I could see everything in front of us. The snow was coming down heavier, but it was turning into slush on the ground, making our pants and shoes damp and cold.

  It was too early to camp for the night, but Boden and Daniels had done a quick sweep through the house to see if anyone was there and check for food. It was empty of people, zombies, and anything worth taking. The only thing it had going for it was that it was warmer.

  “I’m gonna take the kids inside to warm up and eat something,” Daniels said after Boden pulled out the map. “Do you guys want to come in?”

  “Nah. ” I shook my head. “We’re good. ”

  I didn’t want to go inside to warm up just to cool down. Truth be told, I was running a fever, and the cold actually felt good. Besides that, I liked being able to see everything with the garage door open.

  I think that’s why Boden stayed outside, but I’m not completely sure. He had the map unfolded in front of us, and we were both studying it when Daniels, Serg, Max, and Stella went inside the house.

  “We’re coming up to the city,” Boden said. “We’re going to have to go around it. ” Using his finger, he drew a half-circle on the map around the dot on the map.

  “Do you think that’s far enough away?” I asked. “Or should we go more like this?” I drew my own half-circle about a centimeter out from his.

  Boden shook his head. “I don’t think we need to go out that far. We’ll just be wasting time. ”

  “But after what happened last time we tangled with zombies, I don’t really want to go through that again,” I said. “We’ve lost three people in the last two days, and all our guns. We couldn’t handle something like that again. ”

  Page 35

  “I don’t want that either,” Boden said. “But it’s getting colder. How much longer do you think Stella can handle walking around in this without getting sick? She’s malnourished and exhausted as it is. Do you want to add pneumonia on top of that?”

  “No, of course not, but I think that a zombie attack is more imminent than an illness. ”

  “This is a safe enough distance,” Boden insisted. “But it will cut half a day’s walk off our trip. ”

  I opened my mouth to argue more, but there was a commotion inside the house. Banging, grunting, and Stella screaming. Then Max began calling my name.

  “Max!” I shouted and was instantly on my feet.

  I raced toward the house, my feet slipping in the slush. The few steps up to the front porch were horribly slick, and I almost fell on my face before regaining my footing. The handle to the front door turned, but the door itself wouldn’t budge. It was stuck.

  Max had stopped yelling for me, which only made me panic more. I slammed my shoulder into the door as hard as I could, but it still wouldn’t move. Then Boden was at my side, hitting it with me, and the door finally flew in.

  “Max!” I yelled and dashed through the house, racing through the empty front rooms.

  “Remy,” Max said, and I saw him standing in the kitchen doorway at the back of the house.

  I ran over and picked him up. It wasn’t until then, when I had him safe in my arms that I really looked around. Serg was lying on the kitchen floor, bleeding. Daniels was bent over him, pressing an old towel to the wound on Serg’s stomach, but the blood was seeping around it.

  “She took her, Remy,” Max was telling me, his voice thick with fear.

  The house’s back door was off on the kitchen, and the door was wide open, letting snow blow into the room. Boden went over to it, peering outside, but he must not have seen anything, because he turned back to face us.

  “I tried to stop her,” Serg said, wincing as Daniels put pressure. “I’m sorry. ”

  “It’s not your fault,” Daniels said, trying to comfort him. “You did the best you could. ”

  Somewhat reluctantly, I put Max down. He was getting heavy, and he didn’t really need me holding him.

  “What happened?” I asked.

  “Bishop came and took Stella,” Serg explained. “She tried to get Max, too, but Daniels held her off. Then Bishop got my hunting knife from me, and she stabbed me with it. ”

  “She wasn’t a zombie yet?” Boden asked.

  Daniels shook his head. “Not yet. But she grabbed Stella and took off out the back door. I don’t know what she plans to do with her. ”

  “And she has your knife now,” Boden said.

  “No, she dropped it over there. ” Daniels pointed to a bloody knife on the floor.

  Serg grimaced. “Sorry. I didn’t – ”

  “It’s fine. ” Boden waved at him, but his eyes were on me. “What do we do?”

  “She couldn’t have gone far,” I said. “Not yet. ”

  “I didn’t see her out there. ” Boden motioned to the open door behind him. “Bishop was always fast. She’s probably even faster and stronger if the virus has started taking effect. Not to mention she’s infectious. ”

  “You have to go get Stella!” Max sounded appalled that we were even talking about this, and his brown eyes were wide. “You can’t leave her out there!”

  “Max, can you go find me some thread?” Daniels asked, cutting his protests short. “I need to stitch up Serg. I have a needle, but I need some thread. ”

  Max hesitated, looking between Boden and me, but when Daniels said his name again, Max moved. He ran through the house, and I heard him throwing things about as he searched for it.

  “How is he?” Boden asked, turning his attention to Daniels and Serg.

  “He’ll be fine,” Daniels said. “I think she missed all the major organs. A few stitches, and he’ll be right as rain. ”

  “She didn’t bite him, then?” Boden asked quietly.

  “No. ” Daniels shook his head. “Serg’ll be fine. ”

  I stepped over Serg and brushed past Boden, walking out the back door. Boden followed me.

  “Remy,” Boden said, so I stopped and turned around to face him.

  “I’m going to find her,” I said firmly. “Even if it’s too late, I have to try. You’re the one that said you don’t leave anyone behind. ”

  “I did say that,” Boden agreed. “But when I said ‘left behind’ I didn’t mean ‘hauled off by zombies. ’”

  “Bishop’s not a zombie yet. She’s just insane. ”

  “Like that makes it any better,” he muttered. “I should go with you. ”

  “You can’t. ” I shook my head. “They need you here. ”

  Serg was injured, Daniels was no good in a fight, and Max was just a kid. Without Boden, the
y were easy targets for any crazy person or flesh-eating monster that came along.

  He nodded grimly, realizing the same things I had. “How long do you want me to wait for you?”

  “It’s not that long until it’s dark. ” I looked up at the cloud-covered sky. We had maybe a few more hours until nightfall. “And Serg could use the rest. Wait until morning, but no longer than that. If I’m not back, go on without me. ”

  “Okay. ” He looked at me a moment longer, like he wanted to say something more.

  But he didn’t, so I started to walk away from him.

  “Remy,” Boden called after me, and I turned back to see him walking backwards toward the house. “Don’t do anything stupid. Stay safe. And… come back in one piece. ”

  24.

  If the snow had been real snow instead of the mushy gunk it was, it would’ve been easier to follow Bishop. She would’ve left tracks for me to find. Every now and then I would catch one – a smashed imprint in the grass and snow. But I was mostly following my gut.

  The area around the farm was tree lined enough that she was hidden from sight. If it had been all flat land, I would’ve had a clear view of her running with a child. But I didn’t.

  I started off running at first, but then I became paranoid I’d miss a footprint or lose her track if I hurried too fast. Slowing down might have eased my paranoia, but it was only widening the distance between myself and Bishop. That gave me a whole different kind of panic.

  Page 36

  I’d left the map at the farmhouse with Boden, but I’d looked at it enough to know that I was heading in the direction of the city. That made some sense. If Daniels was right about the virus calling out to the infected, the large zombie population of a city would be telling Bishop to join them.

  If that happened, though, if Bishop met up with the zombies before I got to her, then this would no longer be a rescue mission. There’s no way a little girl like Stella could survive a mob of zombies. I was pretty sure that even I couldn’t do that.

  My only hope was that Bishop wasn’t a zombie yet, and I’m pretty sure she’d taken Stella to protect her. In her mind, she was the only one who could do it, and as long as she still had some of her faculties in place, her goal would be keeping Stella safe.

  I’d been trudging along for some time, and the snow was sticking more. It’d gotten cold enough that it could actually stay frozen on the ground instead of melting in to a slick mixture. That made Bishop’s tracks easier to follow, but that was the only good thing.

  My legs were frozen from the knee down. The slush had been melting against my pants and shoes, soaking them, but now that it was colder, my jeans had literally frozen around my legs. Like my leg had become the clapper inside the solid bell of my pants.

  My head and stomach still felt very hot, despite the cold snow blowing against them, and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. The incision had actually begun to throb the last few hours. I could feel it pulsating under my shirt. I hadn’t looked at in a few days, because I didn’t want to.

 
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