Hollowland / Page 25

Page 25


“It’s a bush.” Lazlo broke his silence. He’d shut up since I pushed him earlier, but the game had gotten to be too much for him. “It’s always a bush.”

I suspected Blue had tolerated their game because he had more patience than the rest of us, and I didn’t say anything because it would be more of a headache arguing with them.

“But there’s different bushes,” Harlow said indignantly, glaring at Lazlo, but Lia lowered her head. “She was talking about a specific one.”

“Ooh, the intensity of it all!” Lazlo waved his hands in mock excitement. “We may never know the exact bush Lia saw on our 300 mile walk!”

“Well, what else are we supposed to do?” Harlow snapped. “And it’s your fault we’re all out here walking anyway!”

“Why don’t you try playing another game?” Blue suggested before Harlow and Lazlo got into it more.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things,” Vega said. She looked straight ahead, talking to no one in particular.

All of Harlow and Lia’s musings had been interspliced with random declarations from Vega. She spoke rarely, but when she did, it was almost entirely in Bible verse. The verses she said had little connection with the conversation at hand, but none of us chose to address that.

While back at Korech’s ranch, I had felt some kind of kindred spirit with Vega, but the more time I spent with her, the more I found her kind of off-putting.

Lia could be annoying in her own right, since she was older than me but behaved more like Harlow, but Vega was just… weird. She held her head high, always looking ahead, reminding me of the old films I’d seen of Nazi’s marching.

“So… was that your suggestion for a game?” Lazlo asked Vega, giving her a sidelong glance.

“It means that we have a task at hand, and we need to work to achieve it before we can play,” Vega replied, her voice emotionless.

Lazlo exchanged a look with me, but I just shrugged. What did you say to that?

“We don’t have a task at hand,” Harlow scowled. “We’re just walking. We can walk and talk at the same time.”

Vega didn’t respond to her, so nobody said anything. Harlow tried to introduce another game, but Vega had shamed Lia, and she wouldn’t play.

After a while, Harlow started to slow down. She lagged the entire time, with her and Lia following more to the back, but she was falling farther and farther behind.

“I’m tired!” Harlow had to shout to be heard since Vega and I were so far ahead of her. “Can’t we like take a break or something?”

“Just a little bit longer,” I said.

The sun was right above us, so it had to be close to noon, but if I were on my own, I’d walk without stopping at all. It was incredibly frustrating never knowing what time it was, and I wanted to make it somewhere “safe” by sundown.

“But I’m hungry. And I have to pee,” Harlow persisted.

I turned to face her and walked backwards, meaning to encourage her to keep moving. She had already taken her messenger bag from her shoulder, dragging it behind her.

“Fine,” I sighed. “Let’s do a quick lunch.”

“Thank you!” Harlow immediately plopped onto the road.

Vega turned to me, and without any tone to indicate her approval or disapproval, she said, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

“Okay.” I matched her blank tone. “We are going to have lunch now. So… we can work better.” I didn’t know what she was trying to get at, and I didn’t really want to offend her.

“Okay,” Vega nodded. “I’m going to go to the bathroom.”

“All right. Excellent.”

I watched her as she walked off the road to do her business behind a few bushes, purposely giving a wide berth to the area where Ripley had lay down to nap. Ripley had been following us closely, but spent most of the time walking in the grass. I guessed that was easier on her feet than the hot asphalt.

“Are you eating, Remy?” Lia asked.

She had already squatted down on the road to go through her bag, next to where Harlow sat. Blue and Lazlo wandered back over to them, and Blue slipped off his oversized backpack. He stretched and rolled his shoulders, and I was eager to ditch my bag and do the same. My shoulder and back were killing me.

“Maybe just a beef jerky,” I said.

My stomach complained, wanting more food, but it was hard to walk on a full stomach. Besides that, we were dividing the food among six people. I needed to conserve as much as possible.

I dropped my bag onto the road with a thud and pulled out warm bottled water. Lazlo tossed me a beef jerky when I got closer to where they sat in a circle, but I didn’t sit down myself. It would just be harder to get up. My feet throbbed, and my legs ached, but I knew we had to keep pushing through it.

“So what’s up with her?” I asked Lia, nodding in Vega’s direction, where she had finished peeing and moved on to praying.

“That’s just how she is,” Lia shrugged. “She was always different, even for us.” She opened a can of tuna with a can opener Blue had smartly taken, and gave it to Harlow.

“I’m so glad she decided to come with us,” Harlow muttered, eating the tuna out of the can with her fingers. Sanitation wasn’t much of an option anymore.

When Vega came back towards us, Lia excused herself to go to the bathroom. Lazlo sat on his messenger bag, using it as a chair. Taking a big bite of his beef jerky, he eyed up Vega.

“You hungry?” Blue asked her, nodding at the food Lia had taken out.

“I won’t eat until sun down,” Vega said, like that meant anything. “But I will take some water.” Blue handed her a bottle, and she took a long drink.

“So… Vega,” Lazlo looked at up at her, forcing a friendly smile and squinting in the sunlight. “That’s a fun name. Were you named after Vegas?”

“Vega means ‘light.’” She stared at him so hard, I half-expected him to burst into flames. “‘I am the light, the truth, and the way.’”

Lazlo rubbed the back of his neck, growing uncomfortable, and even Blue looked away. Harlow alone remained unabashed and stared up at Vega curiously.

“So… you’re saying that you’re the Messiah?” Harlow asked, voicing the conclusion we had all just come to.

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