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.

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