Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chapter 8: Dusty

"I was almost caught by one of the people chasing me while I was in town," Adam said.

Half an hour after our escape, we sat at a pleasant if run down little park off the main roads. We were further west than I'd have liked, it being in the wrong direction from our eventual destination as well as further from the areas Jess or I knew well, but Adam had insisted. He had stopped here on his long walk toward the farm and noted the tiny park as a good place to stock up on water.

Someone had already tried, years ago from the look of it. Dozens of containers spanning a huge variety of sizes and shapes were scattered about. From half-full old milk cartons to five gallon commercial-grade jugs, our options were not limited. At first I thought Adam wanted us to get water from the narrow creek next to the picnic tables and barbecue pits, but I missed the water pump nestled to one side. Apparently the aquifer it drew from was pretty clean.

We waited while Adam stripped down and took a quick dip in the creek, washing away the dust until he resembled a human being again. It was only after he dressed and plopped down at the table that he finally informed us how close to disaster we'd come.

"You want to elaborate on that?" Jess asked in a terrifyingly calm voice. "Especially the part where you didn't mention until now that we left someone behind who can follow us?"

Adam shifted uncomfortably,  though whether this was because of the scrutiny or having put his clothes on without being able to towel off, I had no idea. "Oh, he's not going to follow us. He's dead. That's why the swarm started going so crazy."

When neither of us gave any sign of relief, Adam sighed and continued.

"They send out these scouts, okay? People hunting me down who are supposed to radio in when they find me. I think this guy must have showed up after I left town the first time but before I came back to draw off the swarm. I was doing my thing, carrying around half a squirrel I took from one of the zombies to get them to follow me, when I ran into him. He had all his gear on him, radio tucked away and all. I think he'd just gotten there. He had the weird gadget they use to track me in his hand, so I'm pretty sure he didn't know I was there until we almost knocked each other over."

Jess put up a hand to stop him. "Wait, they have something that can track you? Like, GPS?"

"No," Adam said with a shake of his head. "Whatever it is that makes me invisible to zombies, it puts off a chemical they can track. Kept me from running away by explaining how futile it was supposed to be. The cloud I let off stays in the atmosphere for a long time. Sticks to everything, leaves traces. Their gizmo samples the air for it."

"And since you've been on foot, they can keep up with you before it dissipates," I ventured.

Adam nodded. "Yeah. Were you a scientist or something?"

I chuckled. "No, but we did a lot of our own research into how zombies work, and that was before we hooked up with a guy who knew a hundred times more than we ever dreamed of learning on our own. Zombies hunt by scent. The other senses matter, but they're no the primary way they gather information."

Jess ran a hand over her jaw. "Oh, I bet that's it. Whatever Adam's body secretes probably hijacks all the other senses when it's absorbed through zombie skin."

Adam looked bewildered at this statement. I held back a laugh. "That's why they don't need to breathe the way we do. Chimera rewires their bodies so they can absorb oxygen through their pores. It's also how they smell so well. But we can give you a biology lesson later. How did you end up covered in all that white powder?"

"Flour," Adam said. "It was flour. When the scout saw me, I guess I caught him so off guard that he forgot what his priority was supposed to be. He didn't even try to get to his radio. Just went right for me. I was at the edge of the swarm at the time, so I booked it. Must have dropped the squirrel when I ran. He chased me into a building with the door broken off it. Turned out to be a bakery."

"Oh, no," Jess said, stifling a laugh and covering her mouth to hide her smile, a task she failed at utterly. "Please tell me you didn't pull a slapstick comedy out of your ass."

Adam's sigh was all the confirmation needed, but he carried on anyway. "Chased me to the back. I yanked at this shelf that was looted and empty except for--you guessed it--a big sack of flour at the back. I guess whoever hit the place didn't climb high enough to see it. Anyway, I pulled the shelf when I went past it and the bag fell, hit the guy in the face, and busted wide open. Knocked him stupid for a few seconds."

I leaned in. "What did you do next?" I was really enjoying this story.

Adam fidgeted. "Grabbed a rolling pin and bashed his head in." He pointed to the gash on his own scalp. "Caught myself on the edge of the shelf while I was running out of there. Didn't want to be stuck in the room when the smell of blood got to the zombies. I'd have been hemmed in."

"So," Jess said, humor now drained from her expression. "You wanted us to double back on your trail to make it harder for them to tell where you are. Going back into areas you've recently been to will cover our movements. And now we have a chance to get away clean by, what, sneaking past whoever else is out there and shooting off in a whole new direction farther back on the trail?"

"That was the idea," Adam said, looking slightly disturbed that Jess had seen and understood his reasoning so well. He'd have to get used to it; that was just who she was.

"I'm cool with that," I said. "Better than having to constantly worry about being tracked for pretty much ever."

Jess nodded agreement, but her eyes never left Adam. It wasn't like we were virgins when it came to life-threatening situations, just that neither of us liked the idea of being manipulated into a course of action by having what little trust we could extend to others turned to that purpose. I knew what was going through her head as clearly as I knew my own thoughts, and the reverse was true as well.

Dangerous as it was, the plan was solid. Which didn't mean I wouldn't pull him to the side and have a little talk with him about telling us things we needed to know when we needed to know them.

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