Hollowmen, p.8
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       Hollowmen, p.8

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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He glanced back over at me, where I had returned to glaring at him. He somehow thought that was an invitation and walked up the embankment over to me.

  “Hey,” Daniels said and sat down next to me. He picked up a stone, rolling it around in his hands, probably just to busy himself. “I couldn’t help but notice the evil eye you were giving me when I was fishing with your brother. ”

  “Then why’d you keep doing it?” I asked.

  “Look, I know what you must think of me,” Daniels said.

  “No, you don’t,” I snapped. “You can’t possibly know, because I don’t even know. ”

  “I’m going to…” Boden floundered for a second then stood up. “I’m just gonna go. ” He walked farther down, standing closer to the stream and giving Daniels and me some privacy.

  Daniels’ dark eyes followed Boden down the bank, then he turned to face me, leaning his knee in toward me.

  “What I did to you…” He took a deep breath. “I am sorry for it. ”

  “Vivisection isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can just apologize for. ”

  “You make me sound like I’m Dr. Mengele or something,” Daniels said.

  “And you’re not?” I shot him an icy look.

  “He mutilated people for the sport of it,” Daniels said emphatically. “You know why I did what I did. You volunteered for it, Remy. And I know it didn’t end up amounting to anything, but isn’t the entire human race worth the risk?”

  “Yes, it is,” I admitted, but the anger hadn’t left my voice. “That’s why I agreed to it. And I don’t blame you for doing what you thought was best, and what probably was best, given the situation. But you can’t blame me for not wanting to hang out with the guy that sliced me open a dozen times. ”

  He softened after that, his shoulders slacked, and he lowered his eyes. “No. I don’t suppose I can. ”

  I didn’t have anything more to say to him. In fact, I hadn’t even really wanted to say that, so I got up and walked away, heading down to see how Max was doing.

  The rain let up as the day went on, but it didn’t completely subside. Nolita took over keeping watch, and Boden lay out on a blanket, sleeping now so he could stand guard later in the night.

  Teddy had taken to telling Max and Stella a story, some mutated version of Rumpelstiltskin that involved a talking unicorn and a mermaid. He was acting out parts and doing voices, getting rather grandiose with the whole thing, but the kids were delighted.

  I even found myself engaged in the story after a while, laughing in a few places. In retrospect, Teddy was maybe too good of a storyteller, since he’d distracted us all. None of us was keeping watch like we should’ve been.

  That’s how someone came rushing to our campsite, and we didn’t even noticed until he was inside.

  14.

  He froze when he saw us, his brown eyes wide and startled, reminding me of a spooked deer.

  Nolita had already drawn her gun, pointing it directly at him, and he held up his hands, palms out in a gesture of peace. Bishop moved, putting herself between him and the kids, in case he wanted to try something.

  “I’m not a zombie!” he said breathlessly, and probably just in the nick of time.

  I stood up and kicked Boden with my foot, waking him up. Just because this guy wasn’t a zombie didn’t mean he was safe to be around. Boden was instantly alert and on his feet. As soon as he saw the intruder, he narrowed his eyes at him.

  The man’s black hair was short, but his bangs were stuck to his damp forehead, dripping water down his face. Dark stubble covered his face, making it hard for me to be sure of his age, but I guessed he was several years older than me.

  Page 22

  All his clothes were soaking wet, and his jeans weren’t much more than rags. The gray army jacket he wore was stained heavily with zombie blood. The shoulder straps to his pack were held together with worn duct tape.

  “I’m not a zombie,” he repeated when we didn’t say anything, but his voice had gotten quieter. “I’ve been wandering out in that rain, and I just wanted to get somewhere to dry off and warm up for a little bit. I don’t want to hurt anybody. ”

  “Are you alone?” Nolita asked, her gun still pointed at his head.

  “Yes, I’m alone. ” He nodded.

  “Are you army?” Boden motioned to his jacket.

  “What?” His face scrunched in confusion, and then he looked down at his clothes. “No. I found this. ”

  “You took it from a soldier then?” Boden crossed his arms over his chest, eyeing him up.

  “I took it from a zombie,” the guy clarified. “I was cold, and I needed a jacket. ”

  Bishop stepped forward to get a better look at him. She’d been standing in front of Max, but when she moved, he came over to me. He was half hiding behind me, and he put his hand on my back.

  I almost jumped when he touched me. I wasn’t used to having someone just come up and put an arm around me. Physical contact was something I’d learned to live without.

  Since Max seemed nervous, I wanted to calm him. I reached back and touched his head, leaving it there to reassure him.

  “What’s your name?” Bishop asked the stranger.

  “Serg. ” He extended his hand and stepped forward, like he meant to shake hands with her, but nobody moved toward him, so he dropped his hand and stopped. “I just want someplace dry to stay for the night. I won’t bother any of you. ” He paused. “Please. ”

  Bishop seemed to consider him for a moment, then nodded. “You can stay the night. ”

  “Thank you,” Serg smiled, relieved.

  “Whoa. What?” Boden held up his hands and walked over to Serg. “You don’t get to decide that without talking to anyone. ”

  “Sure I do. ” Bishop smiled thinly at Boden, and turned to walk back to the fire.

  “No, you don’t. ” Boden stalked after Bishop, his feet slipping a bit in the gravel of the embankment.

  Nolita had lowered her gun, and she chewed her lip, watching Serg uncertainly. For his part, he stayed by the entrance of the underpass. His hands were on the straps of his bag, like he wanted to take it off but wasn’t sure if he should.

  Bishop led Boden past the fire, to the opposite side of the underpass from where Serg was waiting. When she finally stopped, she rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.

  “You’re not in charge here,” Boden said, purposely keeping his voice low and trying to keep the edge out of it.

  “Who says?” Bishop asked, staring up at him with her intense hawk-eyes. “You?”

  “Yeah, me. I appreciate your age and experience – ”  Boden said, and she scoffed and laughed.

  “I ran the civilians at the quarantine,” Bishop reminded him, her tone icy. “I know how to take care of people. ”

  “Yeah, maybe in there you do. ” Boden pointed in the direction the quarantine was. “But this is out here. We’re at war with the undead, and I’m the soldier. I pull rank over you. ”

  Bishop was probably twice his age, but she was much smaller. He was nearly a foot taller, and his shoulders were broad and strong.

  While they continued arguing about who was in charge, Daniels decided to do something. He walked awkwardly over to Serg and extended a hand to him.

  “I’m Craig Daniels. ” He smiled at him, glancing back over at Bishop and Boden when Bishop raised her voice, and Boden hissed at her to quiet down.

  Serg shook his hand and smiled wanly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause problems for you all. ”

  “That?” Daniels waved off Bishop and Boden. “That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. ”

  “So… it’s okay if I stay?” Serg asked hesitantly.

  “Uh…” Daniels glanced back at Nolita, who shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

  “Thank you. ” Serg smiled again and took off his bag, setting it carefully down on the bank.

  “So, where are
you from?” Daniels asked, attempting strained small talk.

  “I was from Michigan originally, but that was a very long time ago. ” Serg’s expression went a dark.

  It was a familiar look. The one people got when they thought about the past, when they remembered what life had been like before zombies roamed the Earth. Everybody who’d lived this long had lost so much to survive. We outlasted our homes, our pets, our friends, even our society.

  Nolita went over with Daniels to continue the banal introductions, so I turned my attention back to where Boden and Bishop were still fighting.

  “Max, go sit with Teddy,” I said. Teddy was sitting by the fire with Stella on his lap, and I knew that if Serg suddenly went ballistic, Teddy would protect the kids.

  “Why?” Max asked.

  “Just go do it,” I commanded, and I went over to Boden and Bishop.

  “You can’t compare that. ” Boden was shaking his head when I reached them. “What you did at the quarantine is not the same as running an army. ”

  “Well, this isn’t an army, is it?” Bishop shot back.

  “Enough,” I said, loud enough to get the attention of both of them. “It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. And besides that, neither one of you have the right to make decisions carte blanche for all of us. ”

  Boden fell silent for a few seconds before quietly saying, “Someone is the leader, though. ”

  I shot him a glare, and he lowered his eyes and stopped talking.

  “I don’t know if he should stay the night with us,” I said, lowering my voice so it was barely audible over the rain. “I don’t like the idea of just picking up strangers. You never know who you can trust anymore. ”

  “This isn’t our bridge, Remy. ” Bishop looked at me incredulously. “We can’t just kick him out. Not when it’s raining. We should help our fellow man in times like this. ”

  “I know that, and ordinarily I’d agree with you. ” My gaze went back over to where Stella and Max were sitting with Teddy. “But it’s not just us. We have kids here that can’t defend themselves very well. ”

  “Your brother seems pretty resourceful to me,” Bishop pointed out. “He took care of himself against a town overrun with zombies. ”

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  “Zombies aren’t the same as people,” Boden said, echoing my thoughts exactly. “They’re getting smarter, but they’re not rational. They can’t trick you or steal from you when you’re sleeping. ”

  “Well, I’m not sending him away,” Bishop said, her eyes shifting angrily between Boden and me. “If you think that’s what you need to do, you can go to tell him that he can go out there and freeze to death and get eaten by monsters. ”

  “That’s not what I’m saying,” I tried to tell her, but she’d already started stomping back to the fire to sit down next to Teddy. I looked up at Boden, who sighed loudly. “We’re not wrong. ”

  “I know,” he agreed. “But I don’t really want to kick him out, either. I’ll keep watch all night, and he can stay. But just one night. ”

  I nodded, because that was the best compromise we could make. Boden walked away and roughly pulled his shirt down from the line where it’d been drying. He pulled it on, then went over to talk to Serg.

  Serg kept to himself, but I’m not sure if that eased my fears or made them stronger. I stayed close to Max and Stella and made sure to keep one eye on Serg.

  That got harder to do once it got dark, because Boden put out the fire. The light would attract zombies. I stayed awake for a long time, lying on the gravel next to Max, but eventually my body gave out and fell asleep.

  It didn’t feel like I’d been out that long when I felt someone roughly shaking me awake, and in a panicked voice, Max was saying, “Remy! Wake up. ”

  15.

  “What?” I sat up with a start, preparing to fight something, anything.

  The rain had stopped, and the clouds must’ve parted, allowing light from the full moon to find its way under the bridge. It was still dark, but the light illuminated the silhouettes of people sleeping around me. I could see the outline of Boden, standing by the mouth of the underpass, but there didn’t appear to be any cause for alarm.

  “What’s going on?” I asked, looking down at Max. He’d been sitting next to me, but he lay back down in the dirt.

  “You were moaning in your sleep,” Max yawned, already settling back in to sleep. “It was freaking me out. ”

  “Yeah, she does that,” Daniels said. “You get used it after a while. ”

  He was lying beside Nolita, one arm draped over her. It was an affectionate, protective gesture, as if Daniels could protect her from anything.

  The idea that I moaned in my sleep bothered me. I knew I had nightmares, though I tried my best not to remember them. I also knew that sometimes I cried in my sleep, because I’d wake up with tears drying on my cheeks.

  But it scared me what I might say, that I might give something away that I’d much rather keep to myself.

  “I moan in my sleep?” I asked Daniels, since Max had already fallen back to sleep, snoring softly. “Do I say anything?”

  “Sometimes. Usually it’s just names, but other times …” He trailed off.

  “Other times what?” I pressed.

  He let out a deep breath. “Sometimes you say, ‘No, stop. Please. Stop. ’” He paused and licked his lips. “That didn’t start until after you’d been in the quarantine for a while. ”

  I understood his hesitation about telling me. I may have volunteered for their experiments at the quarantine, but once they’d started cutting me open while I was still conscious, I’d begged them to stop. I’d pleaded with them while sobbing.

  Daniels usually left before that. He’d never actually been present for a surgery, although he was the one who did my aftercare – cleaning my wounds, making sure I ate and drank, giving me IVs when I refused.

  Once, after they’d removed my appendix, the pain had been excruciating. I didn’t think I would survive it. I’d lain curled up on my side, holding my stomach. The pain was so intense, I’d begun vomiting, which only made matters worse.

  “Oh, Jesus, Remy. ” Daniels had rushed over to me. He knelt down on the cot as I dry-heaved over the edge. “You’re going to rip your stitches. ”

  “I don’t care,” I said with tears streaming down my cheeks. “I hope I do. I hope I die. ”

  “You don’t mean that. ” He pressed a cold washcloth against my forehead, which was searing hot from a fever. “If there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you’re a survivor. ”

  “No. ” I shook my head and swallowed hard to keep from throwing up. “I’m not. I can’t do this anymore. ”

  “It will be awhile before you have surgery again,” Daniels tried to reassure me.

  He kept wiping at my face. I swatted his hand, trying to push it away, but I didn’t have the strength. Since I couldn’t push it away, I just grabbed his hand and held it, forcing him to look me in the eye.

  “No, Daniels, I can’t do this. Please,” I begged him with tears in my eyes. “Please don’t make me go through that again. Kill me first. I can’t. ”

  He pursed his lips, then let go of my hand and stood up. “I’ll be right back. ”

  I didn’t know how long he was gone. I rolled onto my back and kicked at the wall. That only made my abdomen hurt worse, but by then, I was in so much pain, I could barely notice the fluctuations in it. It was intense, excruciating, and constant.

  When Daniels came back, he was carrying a syringe. He sat down on the edge of my cot and reached for my arm, but I pulled it back from him.

  “What is that?” I asked.

  “It’ll make you sleep,” he said and tried to take my arm again, but I jerked it back.

  “What?” I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t, so I just glared up at him. “You have something that can make me sleep, and you’re giving it to me after the
surgery?”

  “I’m sorry, Remy. If they knew I was giving it to you now, they’d put me in the stockades. ”

  “Why?” I demanded. “If you have medicine that can help my pain, why wouldn’t you give it to me?”

  His eyes were sad and dark when he shook his head. “We only have a finite amount of pharmaceuticals. We know how to make some of them, but we’re not equipped to mass produce them, so we need to be careful with what we have. ”

  “And they don’t want to waste them on me, because I’m going to die anyway,” I said, finishing his thought. “I don’t matter. ”

  Page 24

  “I’m sorry,” Daniels said, and it sounded like he genuinely meant it. “I don’t make these decisions. I just have to follow orders. ”

  “You and the Nazis,” I muttered and refused to look at him anymore.

  “I’ll do everything in my power to make you as comfortable as I can,” Daniel said. “I can promise you that much. I know what a sacrifice you’re making for us all, and I know you deserve so much better than this. ”

  I didn’t say anything to that. He reached for my arm again, and I let him take it. He injected me with the syringe, and soon after, I fell asleep. I don’t know if I moaned in my sleep that time, but I woke up with tears on my cheeks again.

  Even after the horrors I’d seen with the zombies, unspeakable vicious gore, the worst of my nightmares were of the quarantine’s operating room. Naked and tied down to a cold metal table, with the bright lamp shining down on me.

  They were doctors, with scalpels and stiches and surgical precision. But they might as well have been serial killers, torturing me in their basement when I felt the knife slice into my skin, saw my own blood pooling in my naval.

  Every time I went into that room, I was never sure if I would come out of it alive. Sometimes I’d pass out on the table, when the pain became unbearable, and I’d hope I was dead. But then I’d wake up to that horrible nightmare all over again.

  I got up from where I sat next to Max and went down to the stream. I needed to clear my head. I crouched down on the bank and splashed cold water on my face.

  Max had startled me awake, but I remembered the haze of my nightmares. Tonight they weren’t about the quarantine, although the alternative wasn’t much better. They’d been about Blue and Harlow.

  The whole time I’d been in the quarantine, enduring everything I had, what got me through was the knowledge that I was doing it for the people I cared about. So people like Blue and Harlow, and Max and Lazlo, could have a better life without monsters roaming the Earth.

  But nothing I had done had mattered at all. Daniels hadn’t been able to find a cure. Zombies were doomed to plague mankind until the end of the time. And Blue and Harlow were dead.

  I hadn’t had a chance to mourn either of them yet, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to acknowledge the ever-growing ache in my chest.

  To distract myself from my thoughts, I went over to see how Boden was doing. I walked past Serg on my way over to him, and he appeared sound asleep. He had used his bag as a pillow and draped his jacket over himself like a blanket.

  Boden stood at the top of the embankment so his head almost touched the bridge above us. He had his hand up on it, resting against the concrete almost as if he were leaning on it. His gun hung over his shoulder on a strap, and he stared out at the moonlit night.

 
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