Hollowmen, p.17
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       Hollowmen, p.17

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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I hissed his name, and then finally Max saw me and walked over to me. I put my arm around him, pulling him as close to me as I could without looking really weird about it.

  “Sorry to just intrude like this,” Hayley said, smiling at Boden. “But we just needed a bit of rest. ”

  “And you definitely have the room for us,” Louis said as his eyes searched the room. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he was casing the joint.

  “No, no, it’s not an intrusion,” Boden said. He glanced quizzically at me, and then turned his attention back to our “guests. ” Pushing up the sleeves of his fitted black shirt, he stepped toward them. “It’s always good to help out fellow survivors. ”

  “We’re glad to hear you say that,” Hayley said. “Some people can be so cruel. ”

  “And selfish,” Louis added.

  “Well, um, we try not to be. ” Boden smiled thinly at them. “I’m Sergeant Boden of the US Army. ”

  “Oh, a soldier?” Hayley attempted to look impressed, but it came across as condescending.

  I’d never heard Boden introduce himself as soldier before, so I had a feeling he was trying to intimidate them. Let them know that he knew how to kill, and he would have no hesitation doing it again.

  “And this is Private Serg. ” Boden gestured over to Serg, who had no army training whatsoever.

  “Serg?” Louis snickered at that.

  “What Louis means is that that’s an unusual name,” Hayley said, trying to correct her comrade. “Are you Russian?”

  “Not that I know of,” Serg replied. “I was born and raised in America. That’s how I, uh, ended up joining the army. ”

  “There’s not much of an army anymore, though, is there?” Hayley wrinkled her nose. She’d walked over to the couch and rubbed the back of it, almost petting it.

  “I mean, it’s really just the two of you, ain’t it?” Louis smirked and gestured between Boden and Serg. “For all intents and purposes, that’s all that’s left of the US Army. ”

  “You’re right. ” Boden put his hands on his hips and glanced back at Serg. “We’re not much of an army. ” He turned back to Louis and Hayley, smiling as genuinely as he could. “That’s why it’s great that you’re here. It’s so good to commune with others since there’s so few of us left. ”

  “Right,” Serg chimed in. “We’ve got to help each other out. ”

  “That is what we’re always saying,” Hayley said.

  “You know what? I have a great idea,” Boden said excitedly, as if something had just occurred to him. “We have a bottle of vodka downstairs. I could get it, and we could all have a drink to celebrate. How does that sound?”

  Louis, Hayley, and Bruce all looked at each other, and they looked quite pleased, like they were getting away with something. Louis especially looked like the cat that’d gotten the canary, and they all chuckled.

  “Yeah,” Hayley said, trying not to laugh as she spoke for the group. “That sounds great. ”

  “Max, why don’t you go up to your room?” I suggested. “You’re too young to drink anyway. ”

  I thought he might fight me, because he hated to be left out of things, but he didn’t. He just sighed and trudged away. He had to walk past our guests on his way to the stairs, and Hayley reached out and ruffled his hair as he went by. I had to use all my restraint to keep from going over there and ripping her arm off.

  “Excellent. ” Boden clapped his hands together. “I’ll be right back with the alcohol. ”

  Boden turned and went downstairs. We had a few bottles of wine off the kitchen, but I knew for a fact that we had no vodka in the house. So I had no idea what Boden was getting in the basement, but I hoped it would help the situation.

  32.

  Serg and I stood off to the side of the room, waiting for Boden to return, since the guests seemed to fill up the living room. They’d spread out through it, claiming their space already.

  None of them talked to us, but Hayley whispered something in Louis’s ear that made him laugh uproariously. He looked at me as he laughed, and it sent a chill down my spine.

  “You know what, I’m sorry,” Boden said as he ascended the stairs. “We’re completely out of vodka. ”

  Then he turned at the top of the stairs, coming out so we could all see him and the crossbow he was carrying. He had it pointed at the ceiling so far, but it was locked and loaded. Bruce growled, and Hayley gasped at the sight of it.

  “But I did find this awesome crossbow,” Boden finished.

  “Oy!” Louis held up his hands and took a step back. “There’s no need for that!”

  “But…” Hayley looked genuinely distressed and confused, and her eyes darted around the room, before settling back on Boden so she could plead with him. “You said you wanted help! We survivors need to join together!”

  “I lied. ” Boden shrugged. “I don’t trust any of you, and I want you to get the hell out of my house. ”

  Something about that incensed Louis. He shook his head and swore under his breath. He made a move toward Boden, so Boden dropped the crossbow, pointing it directly at him.

  “This isn’t your house!” Louis snapped, but he stopped. “You have no more right to this house than we do!”

  “We found it first,” Boden said simply. “That makes it ours, and that makes you intruders. ”

  “We’re not intruders. We just want …” Hayley started off begging, but when she saw she wasn’t getting anywhere, she changed her strategy entirely.

  She’d been leaning on the couch, but she stood up straight. Her expression had been desperate and plaintive, but it shifted to hard anger.

  “I’ve walked too far and too long to let something like this go to a couple whiny bitches like you,” Hayley said. “I am not going back out there. So you can either leave now, or we can do this the hard way. ”

  “The hard way it is then,” Boden said and took aim with the crossbow.

  They really didn’t expect him to fire. I didn’t know why not, except that they’d probably been able to prey on the kindness of strangers before. With so few survivors left, it was easy to want to stick together.

  Page 49

  But people like Hayley and her crew had made it impossible for that happen.

  Louis ran at Boden. Maybe he thought he could get to him before Boden pulled the trigger, but he didn’t. He’d barely made it two steps when the arrow pierced through his neck.

  “You son of a bitch!” Hayley screamed.

  While Louis clawed at his throat, I made my move. I figured I’d leave the giant for Serg and Boden to take care of, but I could get Hayley out of the way.

  I raced over to the fireplace and grabbed a poker. Hayley was rushing towards Boden, who was reloading the crossbow with the quills he’d jammed into his back pocket. That left Serg trying to distract Bruce, who lumbered toward him.

  I ran forward and landed on the back of the couch, knocking it back to the ground. Hayley was a few steps away from me, so I swung out wide with the poker. It connected with her back, and she cried out before falling forward on the floor.

  Serg chucked a kitchen stool at Bruce, but he smacked it away and it crashed into the banister. Fortunately, Boden had finally reloaded the crossbow, and he fired at Bruce. It went through his ample bicep, but it didn’t really seem to slow him down.

  “Why in the hell did you grab a crossbow?” Serg shouted in frustration.

  “Cause we had more quills than we had bullets,” Boden said, once again struggling to reload. “It seemed logical!”

  Hayley rolled onto her back, and I stood over her. I slammed the poker into her arm, and I could actually hear the bone snapping.

  Serg had climbed up on the kitchen counter and grabbed the last kitchen stool. When Bruce came after him, trying to grab him, Serg tried beating him back with the stool. He swung it as hard as he could, and he landed a few good blows on Bruce’s head and arms. <
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  Bruce was undaunted, though. He grabbed the stool and ripped it from Serg’s hands.

  “Boden!” Serg yelled, backing up as far as he could go. “Fucking shoot him in the head!”

  Bruce had grabbed onto Serg, one massive hand on each of his arms, and he’d begun squeezing him, crushing Serg with his bare hands.

  Boden stood behind Bruce and aimed the crossbow up at the back of his head. It was nearly pointblank from that range, and when Boden pulled the trigger, the quill shot right into his head. It didn’t go all the way through, so the point was imbedded somewhere deep in Bruce’s brain.

  It worked, though. Bruce let go of Serg, stumbled back, and then fell to floor so hard, the whole house shook.

  “Please. ” Hayley cradled her arm and scooted back away from me with tears in her eyes. “Please, don’t kill me. ”

  “Fine. ” I lowered the poker. It didn’t seem right to attack her when she was defenseless like that.   “Get your shit and get out of here. ”

  “Thank you,” she said and struggled to get to her feet. “Thank you. ”

  She went over to gather her bag, as well as Louis’s, but since she only had one arm, that was a bit of a problem. As she fumbled around with the straps, I turned back to see how Serg was doing.

  He sat on the counter, rubbing his arms. “Don’t ever grab the crossbow again,” Serg told Boden. “Use it for hunting, sure, but if we’re fighting zombies or something, no crossbow. ”

  “Sorry,” Boden said. “I didn’t think I’d actually have to shoot anybody with it, though. I thought that just bringing it out would be enough to scare them off. ”

  “We all survived,” I said. “And that’s what counts. ”

  “Yeah. ” Boden had been looking at Serg, but then he turned toward me and his eyes widened with fear. “Remy!”

  Then it was slow motion. I was turning around to see what was behind me, and the gun was going off, a loud shot that echoed through the room.

  I lifted my arm, thinking I needed to shield myself from something, but I saw Hayley with a hole blown in her chest, falling back to the floor. When she landed, a knife clattered out of her hand.

  She’d gotten a knife from her bag and was running up behind me to kill me.

  I didn’t understand the gunshot until I looked at the top of the stairs. Max was lying on the floor, his feet hanging over the top step, with a shotgun lying next to him.

  “Max!” I yelled and ran up the steps to him.

  “Did I get her?” Max asked and sat up.

  “Yeah, you got her. ” I sat down next to him and brushed the hair back from his eyes. “What were you doing?”

  “I heard you fighting, so I got the gun out from your room,” Max explained. I kept a loaded shotgun under the bed, in case zombies broke in during the night. “Then I saw her coming at you, so I shot her. ”

  “Oh. ” I dropped my hand and didn’t know what to say to that. He’d saved my life, but he had just killed somebody. And he was only eight. The recoil had been so strong, it’d knocked him down.

  “Did I do something wrong?” Max asked.

  “No. ” I shook my head and put my arm around him, pulling him to me. “No, you didn’t. I just wish that you hadn’t had to do that. ”

  “I know. ” He pulled away from me, so he could look up at me. “I know you wish things were different, but they aren’t. This is the way things are, Remy. And they’re not going back to the way they used to be, no matter how much you want them to. ”

  33.

  Boden, Serg, and I took the bodies out back and burned them. We didn’t want to leave them in the yard to rot and attract zombies and animals. That proved to be a lot of work when it came to Bruce, and just getting him out the back door and into the grass was exhausting.

  The smell of burning flesh was horrendous, even from inside the house with all the windows closed. I went around the house lighting every scented candle they had, which ended up being quite a lot.

  Serg went to bed fairly early. He was sore from the fight and tired from moving bodies. Max had been acting weird the rest of the night, and he went to our room shortly after Serg went up. I asked if he wanted to talk, but Max said he just needed to rest.

  The fire was still burning, and I wouldn’t sleep until it was out, out of fear it would catch the house on fire while we slept. I sat in the living room, watching it out the back window. Stella had curled up next to me, watching it for a while, but she’d fallen asleep.

  Boden had taken her up to her room and put her to bed. I’d strained lake water, and then boiled it over the fire in the fireplace to make myself a cup of tea. I sat on the couch with my knees to my chest, slowly dipping the blackberry tea bag in and out of a coffee mug.

  Page 50

  “So you’re just gonna stay up all night?” Boden asked as he came back down the stairs after getting Stella tucked in.

  “If the fire goes all night,” I said.

  “I think it might. ” He sat down on the couch next to me. “It’s kind of beautiful, isn’t it?”

  The yellow and orange flames danced in the night sky, making the entire living room glow.

  “It would be,” I admitted, “if it weren’t a bonfire of human flesh. ”

  He sighed and leaned his head back on the couch. “You need stop that, Remy. ”

  “Stop what?” I turned back to look at him, his face glowing orange from the fire.

  “I’ve seen shit, too,” Boden said, his eyes grave and sincere. “I’ve seen the worst the world has to offer. And it can be a truly gruesome and ugly place. But there’s beauty in it, too. There’s moments of actual joy. And you’re refusing to experience any of it. ”

  I bristled. “I’m not refusing anything. ”

  “You are,” Boden insisted with a wry laugh. “I don’t know if it’s guilt or what, but you are absolutely refusing to be happy. ”

  “It’s not a choice. ” I shook my head. “I can’t be happy. Not with people constantly dying and being afraid of dying and trying to protect everyone and make sure everything is safe. ”

  “Well, exactly. How can you be happy when you have the entire weight of the world on your shoulders? When it’s your job to save every person you come in contact with? When you can never ask for help on a single thing?”

  “I – I – I don’t even know what point you’re trying to make,” I said. “I’ve done everything I can to protect Max and Stella and you. How is that a bad thing?”

  “It’s not bad, but you never relax. ”

  “I never relax?” I scoffed. “This is so ridiculous. You’ve known me for a few weeks, and we’ve been on the run from zombies the entire time. How is that relaxing?”

  “We’re not on the run from anything right now,” he said. “And we’re safe. ”

  “We just killed three people!” I laughed incredulously. “How is that safe?”

  “Nobody is breaking down the door right now. The kids are sleeping soundly. You’re drinking tea,” Boden pointed out. “This is about as safe as it gets. And you still have your guard up. ”

  “My guard?” I set my tea on the table and stood up. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about my guard. ”

  Boden leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. “Really? Because I think you’re getting all worked up because I’m getting it exactly right, and you know it. ”

  “I’m not worked up!” I snapped, then realized I’d raised my voice.

  I don’t know why his accusations had me so frazzled, but something in the truth of it was getting under my skin. He was right, at least partially.

  “You’re so determined to persevere, but because you’re trying so hard to not feel anything, to deny any emotion or connection you have with people, you don’t even know why you want to persevere. ” Boden stood up. “You don’t even know what it means to be alive. ”

  “I …” I started to spea
k but my voice cracked.

  So much of life hurt, so much of it had been lost. The only way I knew how to survive was to shut everything off, or at least try to. To bury everything I felt down deep inside me, hiding the happiness along with the sadness.

  But it was killing me. I was exhausted from fighting it, from trying to keep everything inside me inside. And as much as I’d tried to do this all on my own, the one thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t. I needed people. I needed Max, Stella, even Serg. And I needed Boden.

  “So what I am supposed to do?” I asked finally.

  “Let go. ” Boden stepped closer to me until he was right in front of me, his chest nearly touching mine. “Stop trying to have control, because you don’t. Stop trying to save the world, because you can’t. ”

  “You’re saying I should do nothing? I should just let the zombies come and kill me and everyone else?”

  “No, of course not. What I’m saying is fight when you have to, but laugh every chance you get. And enjoy the moment you’re in. ”

  His chest was touching me now, strong and warm against me, and he pushed me back, pressing me against the wall.

  I swallowed hard. “You mean like this moment now?”

  “Exactly. ”

  I expected him to kiss me, since his lips were nearly brushing against mine, but he didn’t. He reached down and grabbed both my wrists and pinned them above my head. With his body pressed against mine and my hands above my head, I couldn’t move.

  I felt powerless, and even though I trusted Boden, I felt strangely terrified. Deep down, I knew he’d never hurt me – not on purpose. But something about being like this made my heart race, and I involuntarily began to tremble.

  “Let go,” he whispered, and then his mouth finally found mine.

  He kissed me passionately, almost roughly, and I closed my eyes, focusing on nothing else except how wonderfully warm his mouth felt. And the heat of it – of him – pushed away my anxiety, and all I could feel was him.

  When he pulled away from me, I tried to follow him, to keep kissing him, but he kept me pinned to the wall. He used one hand, holding both wrists together, while his other hand worked its way down my pants, pushing them and my panties down.

  Once he’d gotten them to my knees, I helped the rest of the way, moving and kicking my legs until my pants were on the ground and I could step out of them.

  He kissed my neck, and now his lips felt cool on my skin. I was flushed with warmth, with excitement and anticipation. A hungry heat flowed through me, radiating from my belly down to my thighs.

  I didn’t even know he’d undone his pants until I felt him thrust inside me. I cried out in surprise and pleasure, and he was kissing me again, silencing my moans. I wrapped my legs around him, and then he let go of my arms, letting me hang onto him as he pushed me harder against the wall.

  Something changed between us then. There was a frantic hunger in the way we kissed and moved. Even the way he gripped me, his fingers digging into my bare back and pressing me to him, it felt desperate and primal.

  Our bodies intertwined, moving together in the most animalistic way, and we were firmly in the moment. Neither of us was in control, and it felt wonderful.

 
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