Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chapter 15: Melee

The good thing about fighting zombies is that you can talk all you want about your plans and actions without fear of the enemy reacting to the words. Oh, they might react to the noise, but if they already know you're there or are about to, so what?

I started the party. The interior garage door was just off the kitchen on the far side of the house from the bedroom, and it was of much higher quality than the other doors. Unless I missed my guess, it was actually a repurposed front door, what with it being metal sandwiched around a dense wood core. Secured with a deadbolt--the key was in the lock, thankfully--the mechanism hadn't been touched by the zombies on the other side. Lucky for me, Jess was at the other end of the house keeping the New Breed too busy to go exploring.

I'd taken longer than I wanted putting together my gear, but I was ready. One last bit of preparation required: I pulled back the bulky makeshift sleeve on my left forearm and made a shallow cut there. I wiped the blood on the front of my shield quickly and liberally. Not as some kind of macho show of fearlessness.

Nah. I was the bait.

I unlocked the garage door and opened it, stepping bracing myself on the pair of concrete steps leading up to the door as I set the shield in place. I'd added a couple supports around the door frame that the shield slid into nicely. By themselves they stood no chance of holding back the weight of even one person, but they'd add some much needed bracing when the flood hit me.

"Hey, assholes!" I shouted at the milling bodies whose heads had craned toward the open door. I was going to tell them to come and get me, but as always the cannibalistic dead were a step ahead in that regard.

The doorway was a natural choke point, which had its good and bad elements. Narrow enough that only one or two bodies could actively snatch at me at a time, but also concentrating the weight of every zombie pushing on them into a very small area. My legs were braced for the impact, and since I stood on the steps, I was lower than I would have been on level ground. The first zombie, driven crazy by the smell of fresh blood, had to reach up and over the shield's edge in an attempt to grab me.

I held the rock hammer in my right hand, my left attached to the thick plywood. On my head I wore an old construction worker's helmet, secured with a bit of rope. Heavy safety goggles sat on my face, a cloth with some stains I'd tried hard not to think about knotted over my lower face. I ducked down and let the fingers scrape along the helmet, time my attack, and brushed the overextended arms to one side with my shoulder as I popped up and slammed the narrow end of the rock hammer into the zombie's skull.

You might be saying, oh, no, what about the other zombies grabbing at your poor arm? Won't your giant, manly muscles take scratches when the try to claw it?

Your concern and admiration is appreciated, but no. In addition to covering my head as best I could, I used a roll of duct tape, some more rags, and a few select pieces of scrap wood to armor my forearms. Is it ugly? Of course. It was awkward and laughably thrown together. But it fucking worked.

The body of the zombie I killed fell back into its companions. I'd hoped to knock a few of them off their feet or at least backward an appreciable degree, but no dice. Instead it dropped almost where it was and tangled their legs as the swarm tried to press forward. Three or four basically tripped over each other and fell into the shield as a group.

Some of the force was directed downward, but enough slammed into me that one of the braces I'd hastily hammered into the door frame popped right off. My jaw clenched with effort, I put my left shoulder into the shield and held firm. My limbs didn't quite shake with the effort, but the deep ache in my knee rekindled, sending fresh new heat radiating down to my toes and up to my hip.

It took a few seconds for the toppled mass to right itself and relieve the pressure on me. The moment it began to let up, I chanced shifting myself to get a better look. Lucky as ever, the bare edge of a zombie's head hovered just over the rim of the shield as it steadied itself. I took another swing, moving a lot less so I didn't let up on my pressure against the barrier.

That zombie went down, too, but things got...complicated.

I hadn't planned for the dead behind the fallen bodies to step on them like stairs. I should have, especially since I've seen them do it before, but in the rush it just hadn't occurred to me. The next dead man to step up stood a good ten inches higher than the last, easily able to maintain its balance as it reached down at me. I crouched, which was convenient since I had a couple weapons laying on the top step. I sat the hammer down and grabbed a long, huge screwdriver, thrusting it up between the extended arms of the zombie and through the bottom of its jaw.

I used my legs to give the shot more power and damn near lost the fight right there. I almost toppled as the shield shifted in front of me. A pulse of fear shot down my throat, paused at my belly, and settled somewhere in the vicinity of my bladder. I was not going to piss myself. Death before dishonor!

Just kidding. I have no shame.

Unfortunately, the zombie sprawled backward when I killed it and took the screwdriver along for the ride. "Fuck," I said. I had other weapons, but I couldn't afford to lose them. Wasn't like I could leave this spot and go get more, after all. "Gotta be more careful."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Adam said from the room full of zombies in front of me. "I'll get it for you."

A few seconds later, a hand appeared and dropped the weapon into my waiting fingers. It did this by brushing aside the arms of a New Breed zombie trying to climb over the edge of the shield. I was looking up when it happened, and my heart dropped. The New Breed couldn't see or sense Adam in any way, but it was smart. Its arm was shoved aside, and its eyes narrowed in response. It knew something was there, even if it couldn't see it.

I tried not to lose my shit when the New Breed whipped an elbow into Adam's face with thunderous force.

This was super not good.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Chapter 14: Junkyard Dog

I'll spare you the details of getting into the garage. It was basically how I made my way to the attic, but in reverse and a ton easier since I could just kick holes in the drywall as needed. I had to make a couple to line myself up over the work bench, and luckily the garage was empty of zombies. I pondered what I'd do before I lowered myself down. If the door was locked, I was probably safe. If not, I'd need to come up with a battle plan post haste in the likely event that the dead heard me and came to check it out like curious, flesh-eating kittens.

Deciding that, yes, 'fuck it' was basically the theme of my life to that point and not wanting to break the streak, I lowered myself down with just my arms, touching my boot to the work table with barely a scrape. It was a display of upper body strength the me or pre-2010 would have been envious of, but modern Josh had a more nuanced view of what had been required to make those muscles happen.

"I'm gonna stay up here," Jess said, her head hovering over the hole. "I'm gonna go wake Adam up if I have to fall on him to do it."

"Right on," I replied. "If there are tools in here we can use, I can pass them up to you and we'll hit them from three sides."

Jess nodded, then vanished. I climbed down from the work bench and took stock of my options. Like any practiced looter, I started rifling through the place unabashedly. There were a handful of circular saw blades in various states of wear, the expected tools like hammers, screwdrivers, and other standard items. I never discount a length of hardened tool steel. That shit is tough and almost always useful somehow.

The full-sized wood ax was less ideal. Powerful and deadly? Totally. Easy to swing inside a cramped hallway? Not in the least. A hatchet would have been far better, but honestly almost any of the short tools hanging on the peg board would have been. The problem was being able to handle a swarm without being overwhelmed. My coat had an armored lining of plastic discs in it, but that only went so far. When four or five zombies take you to the ground, nothing short of Iron Man armor is gonna save your ass.

This is the part where I'm supposed to come up with some brilliant, out-of-the-box solution that blows everyone away, but real life isn't like that. Instead I found some pieces of plywood leaning behind a pair of tall cabinets and realized some familiar ideas from Haven might come in handy.

I packed up some tools in a bag for Jess when she came back, then got to work. Inside the cabinet, I found lots of the weird items that accumulate in garages. Door handles, cabinet fixtures, rope, sealant, dozens and dozens of random things. I pulled a four by two foot section of heavy, three quarter inch plywood from its stack and started on a shield. I kept a rock hammer for myself, and attached a strap to it. Why the person who owned this house had a rock hammer in the first place, I have no idea. I wasn't going to judge. Before the Fall, I myself had a collection of weird ass tools I thought I'd need but never once used.

The total work time for me was about ten minutes. When Jess reappeared, I at least heard her coming this time. No getting startled.

"What's the plan?" she asked, eyeing my homemade tower shield dubiously.

I told her. Nobody was really happy about it.

(Hey, guys. I've started a new serialized Zombie Apocalypse/Futuristic SciFi/Dystopian story called Deathwatch and I hope you check it out. The site it's hosted on pays by so many page views, so share it far and wide. You can bookmark my Vocal Media author page, where all the chapters will show up, for easy reference.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chapter 13: Overhead

Jess had followed me, of course. Not all the way up into the attic since she was well aware of the spider population of such spaces and had no qualms about letting me take the traditional male role when dealing with them, but standing on top of the dresser with her head and chest through the ceiling.

"They've got my leg," I said, a little panicked as I yanked my foot away from the zombies again. "Little help please."

And Jess actually hesitated. Mind you, it was because she looked at the insane collection of spiderwebs and (I'm pretty sure) had to stop her brain from just noping out right there, but still. Hesitation. I catch exactly no fucking breaks at all.

To her credit, she hauled ass once the mental tug of war was over, not even bothering to duck around the spiderwebs. Look, I know I'm harping on this pretty hard, but both of us were severely afraid of spiders. Stop laughing, you assholes.

"Count of three," she said when she grabbed onto my wrists. "Kick hard."

She counted it out and I lashed out with my foot just before she yanked me upright. Pushing with my scrunched-up leg was super not fun, but we managed it. Thank god I was able to free my right leg, or the assist wouldn't have accomplished anything. As it was, I sort of bobbed up and fell over, sprawling across the beams as Jess let go. Hard to blame her for that. I would've done the same to save my balance, too.

"Looks like you lost a boot, there," Jess said, nodding at my right leg.

On my back, staring at the dusty ceiling through silvery threads of webbing, I grunted. It was a general ungh of assent. Yes, I hear you. Yes, dear, you're right. Lost that damn boot. Can you please just give me a second to suffer in peace?

While I tried to recover, the deep pulses of nausea-inducing agony thrumming through my body slowly losing power, Jess deftly stepped over my body and looked down through the hole. "Ugh. Goddammit. It's always something. What do you want to do?"

I lay there for another thirty seconds without answering. My brain was starting to settle down but still had a bit of pain-fuzz to shake off. I pursed my lips as I thought about it. "Did you see whether this place had a garage?"

Jess cocked her head. "I...think so? Pretty sure it's on that end." She pointed toward the side of the house opposite the master bedroom. "But we have weapons. What are you thinking?"

"That if we use a gun, we're gonna draw every zombie for a mile around us," I said.

Jess nodded. "Yeah. There are a lot more than there should be. And it's going to be a lot of work to knife all of them without making a mistake and getting overwhelmed. Should we just go out the window? Knock a hole in the ceiling over Adam and pull him up, then leave together?"

I pondered the idea. "We can always do that if we want, but I'm a little worried they'll chase us if we just try to leave. Wouldn't hurt to see if we can't find something better than a knife that doesn't grab the attention of a gun." I left unsaid the fact that I'd left our other weapons just outside the room, thinking like an idiot that it was better to spread them out in case one of us got trapped in another part of the house. Being prepared is good, but stupidly over-preparing has pitfalls.

I sighed and rose to my feet. "I'll check it out if you want to try waking sleeping beauty again."

Part of me was hoping the garage would be infested, too. Just so we could call it a day and take our chances outrunning the zombies. It was less work, and I was out of practice dealing with the constant stress of being in the wild.

Jess, however, seemed to be coping with it just fine.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Chapter 12: Digging It

I almost broke my hand when I punched the ceiling the first time. I swore loudly and shook my paw vigorously while Jess stood there with a wry expression on her face.

"Looks like you hit a stud," she noted.

I gave her a baleful look. "You think?"

The second time around, I tapped more thoroughly as I looked for the hollow space I wanted. Then, feeling like an idiot, I gave the spot a few test punches. Increasing the strength of the hits each time ended with a small crack I could jam my knife into. Silently thanking my brother for taking me to work with him back when he installed drywall for a living, I began working the blade and widening the crack.

It took a few minutes of awkward, overhead shoving with the knife (that could have doubled for equally awkward sex between virgins) to create a void in the drywall I could work with. Once I was able to fit my hand in the space and pull, the rest was a cake walk. Once the hole was big enough for me to fit through, I sheathed the knife and hauled myself up. One silver lining of the end of the world was that I was in better shape than any time before it, so pulling my body up was not only possible, but easy.

The attic was unfinished, and everywhere by my point of entry was filled with familiar pink insulation. I shuddered at the ridiculous number of spider webs in front of me. Hey, stop laughing. I'll fight a zombie hand to hand, but the idea of a spider ending up on my face...nope. Not even going to think about it.

Thin morning light filtered in through the vents on either end of the attic, just barely enough to see through. I slowly, carefully picked my way across the wooden beams. Falling through wouldn't be immediately fatal, but presumably a hungry zombie would be happy to finish the job. It only took a few seconds to spot the access for the attic about halfway across the space. Of course there wasn't a handy fold-down ladder attached to it, but then my first priority wasn't to climb down. I needed to get the lay of the land first.

I popped the thin wooden panel free and pulled it up, then took a look down inside the house.

"Oh, fuck me," I said entirely too loudly.

Zombies filled the hallway through the hole. Not packed shoulder to shoulder, but enough that three of them were immediately visible. All of them looked up.

"Glad you fuckers can't climb, at least," I muttered. It was true, but only halfway. New Breed could climb, but I doubted the ability of one to find a way up through the access hole. My experience with these smarter, all around better zombies didn't fully discount the possibility, but that same experience told me it would take any New Breed longer to figure out and execute such a plan than I intended to give them.

"What's going on?" Jess asked from behind me. I jumped in surprise, my foot slipping off the edge of the wooden supports and crashing through the ceiling next to the attic access. My left leg collapsed, folding up even as I racked myself on the wood, a lightning bolt of pain and nausea lancing through my body from my groin outward.

"OHFUCKINGWHY," I screamed, almost incoherent from the sudden shock of pain. Below, something tugged at my foot. Something insistent on getting to the tasty meat inside.

Shit. Shit. SHIT.

"Jess, help me," I said, valiantly struggling against my captive foot, trapped left leg, and the thumping pain in my nethers only made worse by the pressure on my right leg as the zombies below tried--so far--unsuccessfully to pull me all the way through the ceiling.

All in all, it wasn't shaping up to be a great morning.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chapter 11: Clever

Yes, the house was empty. And yes, we secured the doors, even going so far as to cover and reinforce the window we broke to get inside the place. We didn't fall into complacency, no matter how comfortable living on the farm made us feel. Jess and I locked ourselves inside one bedroom and shifted furniture in front of the windows. Adam did the same, though we helped him move stuff around because we're not complete dicks. 

This abundance of caution means extra time and effort before bed, but it's worth it not to be caught off guard. Every time I did it, I thought about how silly it felt. That was the old part of me, the tattered remnant of the guy I was before The Fall. He was a fan of zombie movies and kind of an idiot if I'm being honest. The type of dude who lived day to day never expecting the worst to happen to him. That the worst had happened, and to the entire world no less, somehow still hadn't managed to totally erase that aspect of my personality. Some people have angels and devils on their shoulder. I have a guy in a lawn chair with the mellow disregard of a deeply stoned Matthew McConaughey. 

But the desire to live won out as always, and I helped secure the room. That morning, the exception proved the rule. 

Like a prey species instinctively waking to the sound of its predatory, the noise of zombie claws scratching at the bedroom door brought me fully conscious with zero lead time. I leaped out of bed fully clothed, my injured knee throbbing under the sudden abuse. 

"Fucking fuckity fuck," I fucking hissed, because it fucking hurt. 

Jess was only a second behind me, rolling off the bed and onto her knees, snatching up the rifle as she went. She swept the room with the barrel of the gun, and despite the seriousness of the situation I couldn't help the urge to chuckle. Here she was, eyes still puffy with sleep and barely open, but with the steady hands of a practiced killer. The weapon didn't waver a millimeter as it traveled in its arc. I was pretty sure my wife would fight--and fight well--even when unconscious. 

"Whuzzgoin'on," Jess mumbled against the stock of the rifle. Then her ears perked up. She licked her lips and cleared her throat, though her voice was still dry and raspy when she spoke. "Is that a zombie? Inside the house?"

"Sounds like it," I replied. "Door doesn't exactly have a peephole, but I doubt Adam is standing there scratching at it." I cocked my head in thought for a moment. "Though if he is and this is just him messing with us, I'm totally going to punch him in the junk." I said the last part loud enough to be heard in the adjoining bedroom, but got no response. 

Jess shambled over to the wall and put her ear to it. Her face screwed up in concentration. "I'll be...he's still asleep. I can hear him snoring." She moved away slightly and raised her fist to the drywall, knocking on it loudly. "Hey, wake up. Do your ghost thing and lead these fucking zombies out of the hallway, please."

We waited for a few seconds. Jess listened again before shaking her head. "He must be out like a light. Still snoring."

I couldn't help a grin. "Just like that time Patrick didn't show up for lunch with us and we banged on his window for like twenty minutes. Some people just kinda hibernate."

Jess shrugged. "Adam might be the only person left on the planet who can get away with that and not have to worry about being eaten while he sleeps."

She walked over to the door and stopped just in front of it, watching the handle shake. It was locked, of course, but the inner doors of houses were notorious weak points. We'd moved one of the two dressers in front of it just to be safe, though offset a little from the knob so it could sit flush with the door frame. "How are we even going to see what's out there? Want to open the door and risk it?"

I shook my head and looked out the window. I had to lean up against the other dresser to do it, and even then I could only see out from a limited angle. "Ugh. There are like twenty of them outside. Where the hell are they coming from? We picked this damn state because it was mostly empty."

"Technically, we picked it because John's bunker was here and Kell needed his research to come up with a cure," Jess corrected. "But yeah, your point stands. At least we know it's a New Breed on the other side of the bedroom door."

I turned, eyebrow raised. "How do we know that?"

"It's smart," Jess said, pointing at the ceaselessly twisting knob. "Normal zombies don't mess with door handles. And I bet it was watching us from the woods. If it saw us break the window and flip the deadbolt, it might have figured out how we got in here and copied us."

A shiver ran down my spine. "Fucking smart zombies, man. So creepy."

"Creepy or not, we need to figure out a way to at least see what we're up against. If the whole house is full, it might just be better to go out a window."

Something lit up inside my brain. I don't know where the inspiration came from, but once the idea was there, I knew it was perfect. "Help me up onto the dresser," I said. 

Jess eyed me skeptically. "This can't be going anywhere good."

I smiled, pointing a finger at the ceiling. "I think I have a way out."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chapter 10: Wild Buck

Adam came in handy, I'll say that for the kid. After hours of walking and dodging the occasional cluster of zombies, we finally had to stop. Iowa was fairly empty of the dead, but only relative to how densely packed pretty much everywhere else was. Which was why, when we finally packed it in for the night, we had to clear away a handful of zombies from a house that looked ideal.

To my surprise, Adam waved for Jess and I to hang back at a distance. He asked to borrow my knife and marched toward the place, a little ranch style home that had been new when the world ended. The windows were all easy enough to see through, only dust marring the view rather than blinds or curtains. Even from far away it was easy to see there were no dead wandering around inside. Which didn't mean jack shit; they floor might have been covered with them. That was rare, and at any rate cleaning out a house was old hat for us. Getting in was the problem.

Adam was the solution, or so we thought.

"Have you seen him actually kill a zombie?" I asked Jess, who stood with rifle in hand just in case things went sideways.

She gave a half shrug. "He's survived out here for a while. I assume he has. He's definitely not an amateur."

Adam strolled to the clutch of zombies idling in the front of the house. This wasn't an uncommon sight. While most of their kind wandered endlessly in the search for food, when their reserves ran low many would clump up around places the faded instincts in their brains told them their favorite prey should be: houses. Anywhere that carried even the faintest whiff of humanity was fair game, but the deeper recognition of what a house was certainly seemed to play a part in the behavior.

Adam slipped behind a zombie at the edge of the crowd and grabbed it by the hair. His movement was swift and brutal, yanking the head back and taking its balance in one motion. He followed it to the ground, only giving himself a second to reorient and strike. The heavy knife went down three times, each blow jamming a widening hole into and through the eye socket.

"Definitely done it before," I observed. "You can't always get through the bone at the back in one hit. He did three like it was nothing."

Jess shot me a long-suffering look. "I know that. You know I know that. And since I obviously have eyes, I really didn't need you to explain it to me. I'm not an idiot."

My face went hot. "Sorry. I was just making conversation."

Jess looked back toward Adam without responding. She wasn't angry, I could tell that much. Her moods were usually clear to me, if more inscrutable lately, and this seemed much more like irritation. I didn't mean to come across that way, like a guy who thinks he has to explain everything to a woman. Part of me never evolved past the earlier parts of our relationship, when Jess was breaking free of a life that kept her from being able to learn about a lot of the world. Back then my ridiculous capacity for storing useless information was something she took advantage of all the time.

But things change. I guess I had to make myself change with them. Jess was, by any objective measure, a far more capable person than I would ever be.

"Oh, that's not good," she said, breaking me out of my reverie.

Adam was on his third zombie, and the group seemed befuddled by the sudden and inexplicable deaths of two of their buddies. Adam slipped when he went for the third, and it managed to dig its sharp fingers into his forearm. Whatever mojo made him impossible to see or smell clearly didn't do the same for touch. The zombie didn't try to bite the arm, treating it like a piece of wood, but it did have a good grip and was drawing a lot of blood. Even from fifty feet away--downwind, obviously--I could see the strain on his face as he bit back the scream trying to tear its way out of his throat.

I started forward, but Jess put a hand on my chest. "He's not in immediate danger. We'll just get in his way."

Adam struggled against the zombie, trying in vain to get some kind of purchase. Every time he shifted his weight, the dead woman holding him instinctively gripped more tightly and forced him to back off. The scene was bizarre, and that's saying a lot considering how off the rails the world had become. Seeing a zombie struggling with a living person but not actively attacking went against every expectation and norm I'd developed over the better part of a decade.

He didn't even look over at us for help, which I considered a credit to the kid. Instead he paused, took a few controlled breaths, and thought it through. A few seconds later he reached up with his free hand, put the tip of the knife to the zombie's ear, and slowly pushed. This wasn't at all lethal, but it did irritate the dead woman and force her to move out of the way. When she did, her fingers came loose enough for Adam to pull his arm free.

Bleeding and clearly furious, Adam stepped around and took hold of her hair, then drove the knife into the back of the dead woman's neck. The hit was clean, though risky as hell if your aim wasn't perfect. His was. The spinal cord and all the Chimera cells running along it were severed instantly.

Adam didn't hold back with the last few zombies. His controlled manner evaporated as he stepped in and kicked the knee of one zombie in, straddled it in the confusion after its fall, and drove the blade into the middle of its face with both fists. The kid didn't even seem winded when he took the fight--hell, it was really just a slaughter--to the remainder.

"Remind me not to sleep if I ever piss him off," Jess quipped.

I nodded seriously. "Yeah, no shit."

As it turned out, the house really was empty. It gave us a safe place to sleep once we broke in, and there were no more zombies around to give us any trouble.

But as they say, every day is a new day, and the next morning proved that point with authority.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chapter 9: Truckin'

When we left Haven, fuel was not a concern. Okay, let me qualify that: fuel wasn't impossible to come by. The oil fields of Texas were producing, the associated communities making up the Union had the old United States strategic petroleum reserved, and those two sources of crude were fed into the handful of refineries in an almost nonstop stream. Hell, Haven itself even had a little refinery. All it takes is a constant heat source and some basic equipment. 

It's a wonderful way to crack oil into all sorts of useful things, and the end result was to give Haven a stockpile of fresh, usable fuels. Primary among them gasoline. At the time of our departure, every vehicle used for more than local security sweeps was outfitted with admittedly homemade but functional extended fuel tanks. Few of them could go for less than seven or eight hundred miles thanks to this extra capacity. 

Our truck, on the other hand, had just a regular tank and even that was only about half full. Or half empty. Pick your own perspective on that one. 

The nearest hidden fuel cache was well outside our range, which was how we found ourselves walking a solid twenty miles southwest of the bunker which was supposed to be our rendezvous point. 

"This sucks, just FYI," I said. "Why did we take the long way around, again?"

It was a rhetorical question--well, okay, a rhetorical complaint, if such a thing exists--but Adam, plodding along between and slightly ahead of me and Jess, answered. 

"Trust me, it's the only way I know to stay ahead of these guys. Even being inside the truck won't have completely eliminated my smell or whatever they track."

Jess shook her head. "You were inside the cab the whole time. It'll be thin. We might have gotten away clean."

"Don't bet on that," Adam replied. "I stole a car to get away from them the first time. They still found me."

No one had a response to that, because what was the point? If he was right, there was nothing we could do about it anyway. Adam could be tracked or he couldn't, a rigid binary. We fell into another long, semi-companionable silence. Those were common on the road. Adventures in books were always interesting. As William Goldman made famous, books are usually the 'good parts' version of a story. They skip over the long walks (excepting, of course, The Long Walk by Richard Bachman) and the boring routines, and who am I to break that trend?

No world-changing events occurred on that stretch of road. Nothing of note would happen until the next morning, as a matter of fact. But every time Adam talked about his strange invisibility to the zombies, I couldn't help turning it over and over in my mind. I'd spent a fair amount of time studying the undead, and I had a basic grasp of biology. Adam seemed impossible. 

Oh, not that he put off some kind of blocker that made him unpalatable to the dead. That much I was a hundred percent behind. After all, ammonia will drive zombies away in all but the most extreme examples. Covering yourself with a thick enough layer of zombie gore will mask you, so long as it's not New Breed zombies you're dealing with. Nor was it the idea that Adam had some weird mutation of the Chimera organism inside him that would create such a unique and useful trait. The damn thing mutates like nobody's business. Hell, we once--and ONLY once--saw a zombie that had the ability to ward off others of its kind by vomiting up a secretion its body made. 

It was the total invisibility that bugged me. For zombies to not notice him at all rather than just not find him interesting or be seen as a threat--that implied something much deeper. Chimera began its life as a symbiotic organism famous, at least among the researchers who knew about it, for constantly adapting to new hosts, snipping useful DNA to keep for itself, and making the host better in some way. That same adaptable nature also made it ridiculously dangerous. Proof: end of the world. Not a hard sell there. 

But this smacked of information transfer. For a zombie, whose brain no longer functions and is in fact controlled by a delicate lace of Chimera inside the skull mimicking those functions, to wholly be unable to see Adam, it had to first know what not to look at. Right? I mean, if the dude is invisible, then how does the organism know not to see him? It's obviously being tricked somehow, but the mechanism was beyond me. Possibly the data was transmitted by the electromagnetic field living creatures put off, but I had a hard time buying that. Maybe the chemical or pheromone Adam exuded acted like a primer: smell this, and utterly ignore whatever is putting it off. That one I bought more thoroughly. It would be like having a scent that forced your brain to see a blank space where something was.

That's actually not as hard as it sounds. The brain is weird and can be tricked in a lot of ways to confuse the senses. But it still felt somehow...less than perfect.

What if that second theory was right, but not the whole story? What if Adam's pheromone functioned like a hammer or a stun gun, temporarily walloping the zombies around him. Then when he gets close, the Chimera in his body puts off little chunks of itself. The stuff eats up DNA and incorporates it into itself. 

Holy. Shit.

I stopped in the middle of the road. What if that was it: Adam put off Trojan horses. Tiny packets of cells floating on the air that contained instructions like a computer virus. Ignore this guy, it would say, then be integrated into the dead around him. That would explain why his pheromones were so persistent. You'd want to coat everything around you as much as possible to get the best effect. 

"You okay?" Jess asked, eyes narrowed against the afternoon sun. 

I had a theory, but it was just a theory. And it wasn't like it mattered. Surely the people who had imprisoned the kid and studied him already knew the answers. My suspicions and ideas had no impact on the real world or our immediate future. Not to mention a lot of it was speculation fueled by a lifelong addiction to science fiction and medical thrillers. Sure, I felt like it was a revelation, but that didn't necessarily mean Adam and Jess would even care. 

"Yeah," I said, and began walking again. "Just struck by a thought. But it can wait. Let's keep on trucking along."