Hollowmen, p.9
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       Hollowmen, p.9

         Part #2 of The Hollows series by Amanda Hocking
 
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“Need any company?” I asked when I reached him.

  He shrugged. “Sure. ”

  The storm might have passed, but the night was still chilly, so I wrapped my arms around myself to warm up. Boden was only wearing short sleeves and a threadbare shirt, but he didn’t seem to mind the cold.

  “Have you heard anything from him?” I asked and nodded in the direction of Serg.

  “Not a peep. ” He shook his head, then looked down at me. “I heard you, though. ”

  I sighed. “It’s just bad dreams, I guess. ”

  “We all have bad dreams. ” He turned back to the long grass blowing in the wind. “This whole world is one long bad dream. ”

  16.

  With the map spread out on the ground in front of us, Boden and I crouched low, both of us scrutinizing the quickest ways to Canada that bypassed major roads and towns. Bishop stood behind us, peering down at it.

  “I think that’s the best bet,” Boden said, tapping the paper.

  Most of the path he suggested would take us through a national forest, which should be fairly zombie free. But it came out near a city, and I’d been hoping to avoid cities completely.

  “I don’t know. ” I shook my head. “We’re coming too close to civilization. ”

  “We’d go around the city,” Boden said.

  “We’re still too close,” I insisted. “I don’t like the idea of running into a swarm of zombies. ”

  Boden smirked. “Nobody does, Remy. But to give it the kind of berth you’d want, it would take us another day or two out of way. We’d be going toward the West Coast when we should be heading north. ”

  “So what if it’s out of our way?” I asked. “It’s not like we have a deadline when we have to be somewhere. ”

  “Maybe not, but I for one want to get someplace where we can settle down instead of wandering all over the planet,” Boden said.

  “Me too, but not at the expense of everyone here,” I said.

  “No, he’s right,” Bishop interjected. “The little ones aren’t going to be able to handle all this walking, not as well as the rest of us. ”

  I glanced back over my shoulder, where Teddy was helping Stella and Max pack up the rest of their things. The sun had risen about an hour ago, and the morning had been spent eating and getting ready to go. Boden, Bishop, and I didn’t eat anything, but the kids needed to, if we expected them to keep their strength up.

  “Besides that, we can’t keep camping out like this,” Bishop said. “We’re too exposed to the elements. We need to find a safe place where we can stay. ”

  Boden exchanged a look with me, and I sighed. I didn’t like taking risks, at least not with Max’s life, but Bishop was right.

  “So we take my route?” Boden asked, and I nodded reluctantly. “Good. ” He folded up the map again and shoved it into his duffel bag. “We should get moving then. ”

  I stood up just as Serg came over to us. He’d woken up roughly the same time as we had, and he’d eaten breakfast out of his own food he carried in his bag.

  “I just want you to know that I’m not following you,” Serg said, readjusting the straps of his bag on his shoulders. “But I’m going north, too. I hear there’s less zombies up there. ”

  “So you’ll be walking in the same direction as us?” Boden asked him.

  “Kind of, yeah,” Serg nodded. “I just want to get to Canada as quickly as possible. ”

  Boden scratched his head and muttered something to himself. “You can walk with us, if you like. We can’t promise you protection, and we won’t share any of our provisions. ”

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  “I understand. ” Serg offered a small smile. “Thank you. ”

  Once he was out of earshot, I turned to Boden and said, “What’d you invite him along for?”

  “I’d rather have him walking beside us than sneaking up behind us,” Boden replied simply.

  We finished packing our things and headed out. We started out following Boden’s path as closely as we could, but when we heard the rumblings of zombies nearby, we had to diverge from the course.

  It was nice that we had a map, though, and for once we weren’t wandering completely blind, even if it was hard to discern where we were since we weren’t really following roads.

  The zombies called frequently in the distance, but we never got close enough to see them. But to be safe, we didn’t slow down. We kept as quick a pace as we could manage and didn’t take any breaks.

  That ended up wearing on the kids. Teddy and Nolita ended up carrying Stella most of the day, taking turns between them. I would’ve offered to carry her myself, but I didn’t think she liked me that much.

  Besides that, the walking was harder on me than I’d ever admit. My stomach ached terribly, and when I’d cleaned up in the morning, I’d noticed that my incision was leaking. I assumed that wasn’t good, but I didn’t want to ask Daniels for help. Not unless I absolutely had to, and I wasn’t there yet.

  By midafternoon, Max really started trailing. I walked in the back with him, and eventually I took his hand, nearly dragging him along. He didn’t whine or complain, though – he just struggled to keep up.

  Once Max stumbled and fell to the ground. To make matters worse, the death groans were nearby.

  We were walking uphill through thick pines and scattered bare maples. The ground was covered in dry pine needles and patches of snow. It was colder up here, and we’d stopped once to put an extra sweaters on Max and Stella.

  The trees offered cover from the zombies, but the zombies calls sounded like they were echoing off the tree trunks. It was hard to tell exactly where they came from, but it couldn’t be that far away. Our best bet was to stay quiet and keep moving.

  Every time one of them would cry out, Ripley would stop, her ears pointed forward as she looked around. So far, she hadn’t spotted one, and I figured that was a good sign, since she had better tracking skills than I did. She just kept walking several feet away from us, weaving through the trees.

  When Max fell, I was still hanging onto his hand, and it jerked me back. I started pulling him up, but he shook his head and refused to stand.

  “Remy, I hurt my knee. ” He let go of my hand and sat up. A rock had torn through his jeans, and his knee was scraped and bloody. “I don’t think I can walk. ”

  “It’s just a scrape, Max,” I said in a hushed tone. “You can walk just fine. ”

  “No. ” He shook his head and looked up at me with sad eyes. “I’m too tired. I don’t think I can walk anymore. ”

  We’d already been lagging behind the others, and when I looked back up the hill, I could see the rest of them getting even farther away. Even Ripley continued on, her beige body almost disappearing in the trees.

  “You can do it,” I insisted and took his hands. I tried to pull him to his feet, but his legs gave out, and he fell back to the ground. “Max, come on. ”

  “Remy, I can’t,” he said.

  The plaintive tone in his voice made me believe him. Max wasn’t one to just give up or throw fits needlessly, but he was an eight-year-old kid. He couldn’t go on forever, no matter how much he wanted to.

  With no other option, I tried to pick him up. The problem was that I wasn’t that strong anymore. I wasn’t eating, I was exhausted from walking, and I probably had an infection brewing. The adrenaline rush I got in battle with zombies made me capable of things that I couldn’t do in regular life.

  Unfortunately, as worried as I was, the adrenaline hadn’t kicked in yet. Or maybe I didn’t have any left.   Eventually, I supposed, my body would give out, too, even if I kept pushing it. Unlike the zombies, I wasn’t immortal.

  I put my arms underneath Max and tried to lift, but my feet slipped in the dirt, and we both fell down. Bracing my feet, I picked him up, but the trembling in my biceps let me know that I wouldn’t be able to carry him for long.

  Still, I was determined
to do it as long as I could. Which only ended being a few steps before I stumbled and fell again.

  “Remy, go on without me,” Max said.

  “I’m not going anywhere without you. ” I sat on the ground next to him and ran an exasperated hand through my hair, trying to figure out what to do.

  I couldn’t call to the others, not with the zombies so close. Max and I were talking in whispers, afraid of alerting them to our location. If I yelled for Boden or Teddy, the zombies would be on us, and that wouldn’t be good for anybody.

  Our best bet was to wait here silently and hope the zombies moved on without spotting us. When Max had enough strength, we could get up and catch up to the others.

  “You should keep going,” Max insisted.

  “No. ” I looked at him and smiled grimly. “If you stay, I stay. We’re in this together, remember?”

  I put my arm around him and stared down toward the bottom of the hill. I had my brother again, and I wasn’t about to leave him behind. We sat there for a while like that, listening to the death groans of the zombies growing closer. Max covered his knee in mud, trying to hide the scent of his blood. I held my breath, and waited.

  17.

  A twig snapped right behind us, and I whirled around, expecting to find a blood-thirsty monster. Instead it was only Boden, trudging downhill to us by himself. I stood up, wanting to ask him why’d he come back here, but I was too afraid to make a sound.

  Without a word, he bent down and picked up Max. He swung Max around to his back, so Max wrapped his arms around his neck. Then Boden started hurrying back up the hill, moving as fast he could without making noise.

  I followed after him, determined to keep his pace. I’d had a bit of a break waiting with Max, and I felt a second wind coming. Or maybe that was the adrenaline from thinking that Boden was a zombie about to tear us to pieces.

  Based on the fading sound of their death groans, I guessed the zombies were moving slower than us. They were wandering without a real purpose, possibly drawn to the scent of people but without a clear target. We were on a mission to get away from them.

  When the zombies sounded far enough away for that it was safe to talk, I finally asked Boden why he’d come back.

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  “I noticed that you and Max weren’t with the group anymore,” Boden said.

  “You didn’t need to come back and risk running into zombies. ”

  “I don’t leave anyone behind,” Boden said simply. “Not if I can help it. ”

  “How’d you know we hadn’t been eaten by zombies already?” I asked.

  “I didn’t,” Boden admitted. “But I figured the kid had just needed a break. ”

  “Thank you for coming back for us,” Max said, and I realized that I hadn’t thanked Boden either. “Remy wouldn’t go on without me. ”

  “And she shouldn’t have,” Boden said, and then looked over at me. “But she could’ve asked for help. ”

  “Thank you,” I said and lowered my eyes.

  It took a little while, but we caught up with the others. They weren’t going as fast as Boden and I were, which made sense because by that time we couldn’t even hear the zombies anymore. We’d left them behind.

  We made it to the top of the hill and then went back down again, which was much easier. Boden was even able to put Max down, and he walked down into the valley below. It was dark by the time we reached it, but we kept going until we could find some place safe to camp out.

  Fortunately, we didn’t have to walk very long. We found a picnic area and what appeared to be some kind of lodge. It was a huge log cabin with all the windows boarded up. The front door was metal, and it had been left open.

  Bishop and Boden went in first to check it out. Using a stick and an old rag, Boden made a torch, and lit the rag on fire with a match. But it didn’t take him long to scope out the inside and see it was all clear.

  It was basically one huge room with a linoleum floor. It reminded me of my old high school cafeteria, except for a few stuffed animal heads on the wall and the blood splattered on things.

  In the back was a cafeteria-style kitchen, but it was separated by a metal curtain that came down from the ceiling to the countertop. Boden checked that out briefly, and then shut the door to the kitchen, closing it off.

  Other than the two small bathrooms, that was it for the lodge. The main room had a fireplace on one wall, and three wooden pick tables lined up in the middle of the room. The only signs that people had once stayed there were a few pieces of clothing, a couple of empty tin cans, and some other garbage. And the splattered blood, of course.

  The windows had been boarded shut so well that not an ounce of light got through the cracks. Boden and Serg gathered wood outside, then started a small fire for light and for warmth, since it was getting cold in here.

  They took two of the picnic tables and set them in front of the double metal doors at the opening of the lodge. With that, we were essentially closed off from the world and probably the safest we’d been in a long while.

  We all ate supper quickly, without really saying anything. The day had exhausted us. According to Boden’s calculations based on the map, we’d walked nearly forty miles. That was quite a feat, considering how much we’d walked the day before, and the day before that.

  Stella hadn’t walked as much as the rest of us, but she was falling asleep while she was trying to eat. Bishop made up a bed for her, using some of her clothes for a pillow and blanket.

  Shortly after that, everyone else started hunkering down for the night. lay laid next to Stella, and Bishop, Teddy, and Serg were asleep pretty quickly.

  Boden, Daniels, Nolita, and I stayed up, sitting around the fire in a semi-circle. I wasn’t sure whether Boden meant to keep watch again tonight, although I didn’t really feel like we needed it. After the nightmares I’d had last night, I wasn’t eager to get to sleep, not until I would pass out cold, too deep asleep to moan or make a sound.

  I’m not sure why Daniels and Nolita were staying up, but they sat awfully close to one another. Nolita had packed a thin army blanket with her, and they shared the one blanket between the two of them. It was wrapped over their shoulders like a shawl, and she rested her head on his shoulder.

  They’d been doing that kind of stuff all day. Every time I saw them interact, they were touching or whispering something to each other. It was gross.

  And I say that not just because I had feelings of revulsion for Daniels. Something about flirting during the apocalypse felt disgusting. It felt wrong to fall in love when people were dying all around you.

  That’s part of the reason I’d refused to feel anything for Lazlo for so long. That and because of how things had turned out. We’d been separated, the way I’d always known we would, and one or both of us would probably end up dead soon.

  When I thought of him now, I tried not to feel anything. The best way to do that would be not to think about him at all, but I hadn’t mastered that yet.

  “How much longer until we hit Canada, do you think?” I asked.

  “A week. ” Boden shrugged. “It depends on how fast we go. Maybe a week longer until we’re far enough north for the zombies to stop following. ”

  He sat cross-legged with his hands held out toward the fire, warming them. I was leaning back, stretching my legs out, and with my arms propped beside me. It put too much pressure on my abdomen when I sat up normally. When I put my hand over my shirt, the incision felt swollen and warm.

  “You think the zombies are following us?” I asked.

  “They definitely are,” Daniels said. “That’s what I was saying at the quarantine. They’re following people wherever they go. ”

  “They won’t find us here, will they?” Nolita asked, her Southern accent sounding alarmed.

  “Eventually. ” Boden put his hands down and rested his elbows on his knees. “Hopefully not tonight, but we’re pretty well
boarded up if they do. ”

  “What do you suppose happened to the people that were staying here?” Nolita looked around, admiring how closed off the lodge was. “Why do you think they left?”

  “Probably for the same reason we left the quarantine,” Boden said. “The zombies surrounded the place. Given enough time, they would’ve gotten in. It’s better to run while you still have the chance to. ”

  “Maybe they did get in,” I said and motioned to the dried blood on the fireplace. “And there aren’t any bodies because they’re all zombies now. ”

  “One thing’s for sure,” Boden said sadly. “Zombies will always find a way in. ”

  “How much do we really know about them?” I asked, turning my attention to Daniels. “You’re the resident expert. What do you actually know about them?”

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  “I spent more time studying the virus itself than the actual zombies. ” Daniels attempted to shy away from the question. “Anything I say about their behavior is sheer speculation. ”

  “But it’s your speculation that caused us to the leave the quarantine,” Boden said.

  “No, a brutal zombie attack did that,” Daniels corrected him.

  Boden’s expression hardened. “You’re arguing semantics. You’re the one who said that the zombies weren’t going to stop coming, that there were too many of us together making our scent too strong. ”

  “Yes, that is what I believe,” Daniels said. “But I can’t say that it’s an absolute fact. I can’t say much for certain about the zombies. ”

  “Well, what do you believe then?” I asked.

  “They’re attracted to us, possibly by our pheromones, possibly by something else that we don’t even know about. ” Daniels stared off as he spoke. “They’re getting smarter, and they communicate in some way more than sounds. ”

  Nolita gazed up at him, her face aglow from the fire, and she had an expression of pure unabashed reverence and love. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it, but Daniels didn’t seem to notice. He was too lost in thought.

  “They do talk to each other,” Boden said. “We’ve heard their death groans and howls. ”

  Daniels shook his head “The death groans are just sounds. I think they make them unconsciously. The howls they do to alert the others when they’ve found food, but they have to have another way to communicate with such a vast group and to organize in the way that they are. ”

  “To say that they do something unconsciously suggests that they do things consciously, that they have a consciousness. ” I rubbed my forehead, trying not to think about the implications.  

  “Maybe not individually, but they seem to have a collective consciousness,” Daniels explained. “A hive mind, like bees or ants. ”

  “How?” I asked. “How is that possible?”

  “I don’t know. ” Daniels shook his head again. “But I don’t fully understand how any of this is possible. Even in a particle form, the virus would communicate with itself. ”

 
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