Hollowmen, p.16
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       Hollowmen, p.16

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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“Good. ”

  “What happened?” Boden asked. I shook my head. “Was…” He paused. “Did Clark to try to do something … to you?”

  “Yeah,” I said thickly.

  “Did he …” Boden swallowed, choosing his words carefully. “Did Clark … succeed?”

  I shook my head, just once. “No. Daniels came in, and then …”

  “And then Clark got him,” Boden finished for me.

  “Yeah. ”

  “That’s not your fault, Remy. ” He’d set aside the towel, and he took my hands in his, staring up at me, but I just stared off in space.

  “It feels like my fault. ” I took a deep breath. “Everything feels like my fault. ”

  “But it’s not. ”

  I looked down at my lap, struggling to keep fresh tears back. The cut on my neck stung, but I barely noticed it. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Boden. ”

  “Do what?” Boden asked.

  “Live. ” I shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just … it’s so hard, and it doesn’t get better. Every day is more exhausting than the last, and this horrible, senseless shit keeps happening. I can’t…”

  “You can,” Boden insisted. “You can and you will. This is just a really, really bad day. But you’re stronger and better than this. You can overcome anything. ”

  “Why, though?” I asked. I stared into his gray eyes with tears swimming in my own. “What’s the point of fighting so hard to stay alive if this is what life is?”

  “Because. ” He looked up at me, and then he stood up.

  He leaned forward, and he pressed his lips to mine, kissing me gently. Then he stopped, but he kept his face close to mine as he searched my face.

  “Why’d you kiss me?” I asked.

  “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I wanted to make you feel better. ”

  I thought about it, and I hadn’t heard a better reason to do anything in a long time, so I told him, “Do it again. ”

  He kissed me, deeper this time, and pushed me back on the bed. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him to me.

  30.

  We lay on the bed, him on top of me, kissing for a long while after that. There was something almost subdued in the way we kissed and the way he touched me. I’d gotten used to everything being so frantic, immediate, and insistent.

  But this was something much different. It was as if we were savoring the moments, trying to make them last, enjoying one of the few things left in this life that we could enjoy.

  I tried not to think of anything except the way his lips felt on mine, the strength of his hand on my side, the weight and warmth of his body against me.

  Then as abruptly as we’d started, we stopped.

  Boden propped himself up on one arm, staring down at me, and he brushed the hair back from my face.

  “Are you feeling any better?” he asked.

  “I don’t know,” I answered honestly.

  The rage I’d felt earlier had dissipated. But the emptiness and ache lingered. By now I knew that it would never really go away. The longer I lived, the more I’d lose. Eventually, I’d have a giant hole inside me, and nothing else.

  “Where’d you go?” Boden asked.

  I blinked and looked up at him. “What?”

  “Just now. ” He smiled crookedly. “You disappeared. ”

  “I was just thinking. ” I tried to smile back at him, but it felt weak.

  “Do you want to go over and see Serg and the kids?”

  I shook my head. “Not yet. A few more minutes, okay?”

  “Okay. ”

  He lay down next to me on his side, and I slid closer to him, resting my head on the crook of his arm. We stayed like that for a few minutes, probably longer than we should’ve given how frantic Max and Stella probably were.

  But I wasn’t ready to go over there. Something about seeing them, telling Max and Stella that Daniels wasn’t coming back … that made it feel all too real. I just wanted stay here, in this weird cocoon with Boden, and pretend that nothing outside this room existed.

  Eventually, we did get up. Boden pulled the thin comforter off the bed and went into the bathroom. I stood just outside and watched as he covered up Daniels. That was the closest we could get to burying him.

  We’re gathered our stuff before we left the room, and then Boden locked the door behind us. That would hopefully keep the zombies out, and Daniels would maybe get some peace in his death.

  That’s what we had to do. Leave our dead lying around and move on.

  Max ran over and hugged me as soon we went into the next room. He’d been positive that something horrible had happened to me, despite Serg’s assurances to the contrary.

  Almost as soon as I walked in the door, Stella began asking about Daniels. She’d gotten rather close to him over the past few days. I sat down next to her and explained as gently as I could that he wasn’t coming back.

  She knew what that meant, though. She’d already lost enough people and understood what death was far better than any six-year-old should have to understand.

  We went to bed after that. I still felt too sick to eat, and the kids had already had supper. I shared a double bed with Stella and Max, and Stella snuggled up close to me. She cried softly as she fell asleep, and I stroked her hair.

  Max was having trouble falling asleep, too, so he asked me to sing him a lullaby. When we’d first started out on our own, right after zombies had killed our parents and the virus was still new, I used to sing to him every night.

  I didn’t know any lullabies, but Max didn’t know that. The only song I could come up with that I knew all the lyrics for “Blackbird” by the Beatles. So, as the kids drifted off to sleep, I softly sang to them about broken wings and being free.

  Page 46

  The morning came, and we packed our things and left.

  The days that followed felt unremarkable. We walked from sun up until sundown, barely out-running the death groans following us.

  Boden and Serg took turns carrying Stella when she got too tired to walk. I tried to, but Boden refused to let me. Daniels said I shouldn’t be lifting anything until my incision had healed completely.

  The one good thing about losing so many people in our group was that our food rations suddenly didn’t seem so low. We were going to be set for a while, but not forever.  

  When we went to bed one night, camping out in the back of an abandoned Dodge Ram, I realized we hadn’t heard a single death groan all day. Just to be safe, we walked on another day, and another day after that, and we still didn’t hear anything.

  Midafternoon on the fourth day without any death groans, we found a house on a lake. It was more than a house, though. It was glorious. The living room had a fireplace, and the back wall was the height of the house and made of glass, so you got the full view of the lake.

  All the furniture was covered with sheets, carefully protected. This was somebody’s vacation home, and they’d left one fall and never came back.   Based on all the dust that had built up and the musty smell, I’d guessed it had been a while ago. But that made sense. Once your neighbors started eating your flesh, a vacation didn’t sound like as much fun.

  There were four bedrooms upstairs, and the master bedroom had a fireplace. One of the bedrooms was done all in purples and pinks, with flowers everywhere. The small twin bed even had a new fluffy teddy bear sitting on it.

  The other two bedrooms were more basic. One was really beige, and the other was forest green with duck trim around the edge.

  But the most exciting part wasn’t the view, the bedrooms, or even the multiple fireplaces. It was the game room in the basement. Not only did it have a pool table and a poker table, which were fun enough themselves, but it had a gun cabinet, with seven different shot guns and many boxes of shells below. They even had a crossbrow, and several fishing rods.

  We’d be able to hunt and defend o
urselves against attacks.

  We were somewhere in Canada, and although I wasn’t sure how deep we were, it was cold enough that the grass was still mostly covered in snow.

  Ripley had followed us all the way up here, and I let her into the garage. Boden seemed a little leery of idea of letting a lion run loose in the house, but it was too cold to leave her outside. She loved swimming, and I knew she’d love the lake out back when it warmed up.

  Max and Stella were running up and down the stairs, playing some kind of game I didn’t understand, but it involved a lot of laughing and squealing. Serg had discovered a wine rack off the side of the kitchen, and he went through it, trying to pick out a nice one to go with our dinner.

  I’d pulled the covers off the couches in the living room, revealing soft leather furniture. The sun was setting on the lake behind the house, so I stood in front of the window, admiring it.

  “What do you think?” Boden asked, walking over to me.

  “This is it. ” I turned to face him. “This is what we’ve been looking for. ”

  “I know. ” He nodded, but he had a look of apprehension. “It almost seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?”

  “I don’t care. ” I looked away from him to stare back over the lake. “This is it. And I’m not letting anybody or anything take this place from us. ”

  31.

  “Stella!” I leaned on the banister leading upstairs and yelled up to her. “Are you coming or not?”

  “I’ll be down in a minute, Remy!” Stella shouted back. “Hold your horses!”

  While I waited for her, I flipped through the book again.

  We’d been at the house for a few days, and we’d already settled in rather nicely. Max and Stella especially took to it. The game room downstairs had a rather well-stocked library, and they had books on everything from cooking to making candles to finding edible plants in the wild.

  That was the one I flipped through now. Stella and I planned on going out to try to gather some plants to eat, but I wasn’t sure how many of them would be out, since spring was only just beginning.

  The previous tenants had been kind enough to mark pages – some were dog-eared and others were written on with a red pen – letting me know what they’d been able to find around here, where it was, and if it tasted any good.

  “Stella!” I called again, sine she still hadn’t come down.

  “I’m coming!”

  I heard her before I saw her, a weird slogging sound that I didn’t understand until she appeared at the top of the stairs wearing oversized pink galoshes she’d found in her new bedroom. They came up to her knees and the rubber made an odd slapping sound when she took a step.

  To top it off, she’d added a bicycle helmet we’d found in the garage. At least she’d worn her own clothes with it, but I wasn’t sure what we’d do when she started to outgrow them. I’d have to learn how to sew, I guess.

  “What’s with the get-up?” I asked Stella, gesturing to her boots and helmet.

  “We don’t know what’s out there,” Stella said, like it should be obvious. “I need to be prepared. ”

  “Can’t argue with that,” I said. “Come on. ”

  I took her hand when we went out the front door. She hesitated before following me, though, looking around in all directions several times before deciding it was safe. I didn’t hurry her because that was a good habit to have.

  The house was pretty isolated, which was another reason I liked it so much. As far as I could tell, it was the only house on the entire lake. The driveway even stretched a quarter of a mile to the road.

  The area surrounding the property was fairly wooded, mostly with pine trees but a few maples and oaks stood bare-branched in the mix. Despite the chill, some greenery was poking out here and there, shooting up between melting patches of snow.

  We didn’t travel far from the house, because I hadn’t brought anything to defend ourselves with. I didn’t hear any zombies, and the area seemed safe enough. But that didn’t mean it was. I didn’t want to be any farther than a quick dash to safety.

  Stella and I took turns looking at the book, and she studied the pictures carefully. We found a few leaves of something that was supposed to edible, but when I tried it, it tasted too bitter to possibly be consumed.

  We did manage to find a small cluster of berries. I examined the pictures several times before I tried one, out of fear of accidentally ingesting something poisonous. Nothing happened after I ate a few, so I let Stella try one. I didn’t let her have any more though, until I’d seen how I reacted to them.

  Page 47

  I wished Daniels was around. He’d know what to do if we accidentally ate something that could harm us. Hell, he’d probably even know what plants were dangerous, so we wouldn’t even need the book.

  That wasn’t the only reason I wished Daniels was around, of course. I missed him a lot, more than I’d expected I would. But he’d been my only companion for six months, and though our relationship was rocky a lot of the time, I truly believed he was a good person. He tried to be rational in an insane world.

  Sometimes I found myself going to ask him something or wanting to tell him something, only to remember that he wasn’t here. That he would never be here again.

  “Remy,” Stella whispered. Her hand found mine, squeezing tightly onto it.

  “What?” I asked, pulling myself from my thoughts.

  “Are they zombies?” She pointed to three figures walking on the road at the end of the driveway.

  They moved normally, with the fluid movements of humans that zombies were incapable of.

  “No, honey, they are not,” I said quietly as I watched them.

  There were two men and one woman. The woman had fiery red hair, long curls she hadn’t even attempted to tame. The younger of the two men was wiry, with a grizzled face. He had a scar that stretched out from underneath one eye around to his temple.

  But the last guy was a giant of a man. He towered over the other two, with broad shoulders and a bald head that appeared to be twice the size of mine.

  Their clothes were ragged and worn, and all three of them carried bags, fat with their possessions. I supposed they didn’t appear all that different from our little group, but my heart beat erratically when I saw them. I couldn’t see any weapons, but I was never sure if I could trust people.

  They paused at the end of the driveway, talking among themselves. I held my breath, hoping they would keep walking, bypassing our house completely. But they didn’t. They turned and walked toward the house.

  Stella and I were near the edge of the driveway, so they would see us when they got closer. We were somewhat hidden in the trees for now, so we had a chance to run and hide. Or we could step out and introduce ourselves.

  I wasn’t sure what the best course of action was, but the three strangers were walking to the house, where Boden, Serg, and Max were playing cards in the basement game room. I couldn’t let people blunder on in them.

  “Stay behind me,” I told Stella.

  I still held her hand, but I’d moved so I was blocking her with my body. I took a few steps out to the driveway, and she moved with me, hiding behind me.

  “Excuse me. ” I cleared my throat, and the three people stopped short on the driveway. The smaller man and the woman looked startled, but the giant didn’t have any clear expression. “Can I help you?”

  “I don’t know,” the smaller man said, his voice lilting with an accent. I couldn’t place it for certain, but it sounded almost Irish. “Can you help us?”

  “Did you need something?” I asked, rephrasing my question.

  “Is this your house?” the woman asked, and she at least attempted to sound friendly.

  “Yes. ” I stood up straighter and tried to sound more confident. “Yes, it is. ”

  “You live here by yourself then?” the wiry guy asked, smirking a bit, and then gestured to S
tella hiding behind me. “You and the little girl, I mean?”

  I shook my head. “No. There’s three other guys in the house. Waiting for us. ”

  His smile fell away, and he exchanged a look with the redhead. I definitely did not like the vibe I was getting from them. I wanted to run to the house away from them, but I feared if I ran, like mad dogs, they would give chase.

  “Where are my manners?” The woman laughed lightly. “I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Hayley, that’s Louis,” – she pointed to the wiry guy – “and this big guy here is Bruce. ”

  “I’m Remy,” I said, because I had to say something back. “And that’s Stella. ”

  “We’ve been wandering for days,” Hayley said. “And as you can imagine, we’re quite tired. You wouldn’t mind if we stopped and just took a little break here?”

  “I …” I started to shake my head. “I don’t think – ”

  “We wouldn’t be any bother,” Hayley insisted and took a step toward me. “We have our own food, so we wouldn’t eat yours. We just need a little break, to put our feet up. ”

  I was wrong about Bruce, the giant standing behind her. I’d thought he didn’t have any expressions, but he was definitely grimacing now as he glared down at me.

  “I’ll see,” I said, because I wasn’t sure that I could fight a giant like that on my own. But in the house, with Boden, Serg, and several guns, I thought I might stand a chance. “I have to check with the others. ”

  I picked up Stella then, putting her on my hip, and I turned to walk quickly to the house. I didn’t look back, but I could hear them following me, Bruce’s heavy steps clomping on the ground.

  As soon as I got in the door, I put her down and whispered, “Go to your room and lock the door. ”

  She raced up the stairs, and I walked farther into the house, wanting to put distance between myself and the weary travellers.

  “Boden!” I shouted, hoping he heard the unease in my voice. “Serg!”

  Louis whistled when he came inside, eyeing up the rather impressive living room. I’d stepped back, moving deeper into the living room away from them. Bruce made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a growl, and I have no idea if that was good or not.

  “This is some place you got here,” Louis commented.

  “And you have all this space just for the couple of you?” Hayley asked.

  “Thanks,” I muttered, and Louis took off his backpack and casually tossed it on the sofa. “Boden! We have company!”

  “Company?” Boden’s voice wafted up the stairs, and within seconds, I heard footsteps tramping up them.

  Boden, Serg, and Max came upstairs, all three of them looking confused. I hadn’t called for Max, and I was hoping that they’d take the hint that I wanted him to wait downstairs. I had no idea what this might turn into, but I was certain that it’d better if Max stayed out of it.

  “Oh, company. ” Boden’s eyes widened with understanding and surprise when he saw Hayley, Bruce, and Louis standing our living room.

  “This is Hayley, Louis, and Bruce,” I said, gesturing to each of them as I said their name.

  Page 48

  Max, who always tried to be polite, couldn’t seem to help but gape up at Bruce. I motioned for him, but it took a few seconds for him to notice, since he kept staring.

 
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