Hollowland / Page 27

Page 27


A chill ran down my spine. I didn’t understand the message, but someone thought it was a good idea to play with infected blood. That was never good.

“What the hell does that mean?” I asked.

“It’s a song by the Beatles.” Blue paled. “And in the Charles Manson murders, after they brutally murdered people, they wrote ‘Helter Skelter’ on the refrigerator in blood.”

“Somebody’s emulating Charles Manson?” I asked as the knot tightened in my stomach.

“No,” Blue said unconvincingly. “They probably did it as a joke.”

“Real funny.”

Blue didn’t want to stand around and talk about it anymore, and I followed him outside. Lazlo asked how it went, and I told him the house was empty. Blue and I failed to mention the note on the door or anything about people being here already. There was no point in freaking them out.

Lazlo stopped carrying Harlow, but she didn’t seem to mind. The clustering houses of a town was up ahead, and she perked up at the sight of them. Her pace quickened so much, I had to tell her to slow down. I didn’t want anybody in front of me, not when I didn’t know what lie ahead.

Before we even reached the city limits, we could see it was in shambles. Garbage was everywhere, the lighter things blowing around in the wind. It smelled rank, like rotten banana peels and sour milk.

A burnt shell of a car sat in the middle of the road. A zombie head was mounted on the front, like a hood ornament. It’s swollen, greenish tongue hung limply from its mouth.

“This is what the outside world is like?” Lia asked. Her ashen skin blanched further, and she gaped at the mess around her.

While the rest of the world had been falling apart, she had been hiding in a basement. This was her first time seeing exactly what had become of everything

“This is worse than anywhere I’ve seen.” Lazlo’s expression mirrored hers. Like Lia, he had been spared from most of this, but to me, it looked about par for the course.

Ripley made guttural sounds and moved in closer to us, but we’d all moved closer together, walking in a slow moving lump.

The town had been disassembled. Siding had been ripped from houses. Blood and dismembered bodies littered the streets. A pile had been set on fire on a front lawn. It had been burning too long for me to tell what it was, but it smelled of hair and tires. A dog gnawed on a carcass too disfigured to be recognizable, but it took off when it saw Ripley.

I pulled my gun out, and Blue did the same. When Harlow saw us draw our weapons, she made a frightened whimper.

I didn’t like that she didn’t have a gun or anyway to defend herself, that none of us did except for Blue and me, but we didn’t have enough weapons. I would’ve given Harlow or Lazlo mine, but I could do more good with a gun than they could.

“Just stay together,” I said.

Lia and Harlow held hands, huddled together, and Harlow reached out to take Vega’s hand, including her in their circle. Lazlo stayed close to them, and he picked up a metal rod, giving himself a makeshift weapon.

Over the past few months, I had learned how to fight against manic raging monsters. Pvt. Beck spent hours teaching me how to shoot, how to fight, but all his lessons were designed with zombies in mind. They were the enemy. So the one thing I was unequipped for was something logical and intelligent.

When a bullet whizzed past my head, so close I could feel the breeze on my temple, and blasted through the window on a house across the street, I knew we were in trouble.

Lia screamed, and she and Harlow ran away from the shattering window, assuming that was where the shot came from. But they were actually running towards the shooter.

I yelled to stop them, but I realized too late that we were already surrounded.

– 11 –

A red Toyota riddled with bullet holes sat on the side of the road, and I rushed at Harlow, Lia, and Vega, pushing them into the side of the car. Ripley disappeared, hiding in the chaos. Blue and Lazlo stayed on the other side of the street and jumped behind a bloody sofa that had been left on the curb.

The air was rattled with the sound of gunfire, none of it coming from Blue or me.

Nobody had closed in on us yet, but I saw them running across the street or repositioning themselves amongst the garbage they used as barriers. I couldn’t be sure how many there were, but I had seen at least three, not counting the mystery shooter who’d nearly blown my head off. He was the one doing all of the shooting so far.

Our assailants appeared to be mostly men. They weren’t army, but they had on military based outfits, with a hobo twist. Some kind of army surplus black and gray camouflage with dirty, ragged black civilian clothes layered with it.

They came from the north side, so we could either retreat back the way we came or go over to the side where Blue and Lazlo were hiding.

Bullets peppered the car, making a horrible tin sound as they bounced off. Harlow covered her hands over her head and screamed. I crouched next to her, aiming my gun at the street in front of us.

When one of the men ran across the road, I fired, hitting him in the leg. He pulled the trigger on his gun, shooting emptily into the air.

“Go!” I shouted, waving my arm for the girls to run across the street to the couch where Blue and Lazlo hid.

Harlow was too curled up to notice me, but Lia was paying attention, so she grabbed Harlow and darted over, with Vega close by them.

As soon as they started running, I stood up and looked over the Toyota, searching for the guy who had been shooting us. After I shot one of his friends, he stopped shooting. I didn’t know where he was hiding, except the bullets were coming from higher, so I just started shooting out all the windows in the second story of the houses.

I took a step back, walking backwards to the couch. The guy I had shot earlier sat in the middle of the road, nursing his leg wound. Nobody came out to help him, but in the bushes nearby, somebody started shooting at me.

Blue shot at him. I’m not sure if he hit him or not, but I ran backwards, still pointing my gun at the houses, and nearly fell over the couch.

“Why are they shooting at us?” Lia asked, her arm wrapped tightly around Harlow.

I was catching my breath, so I just shook my head. I didn’t have an answer anyway, but Blue exchanged a look with me. If these people had anything to do with the Helter Skelter we saw earlier, they were probably doing it just because they could.

Other than the injured guy moaning, the street had fallen silent, and I didn’t trust it.

“What are we gonna do?” Lazlo asked in a hushed voice.

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