Authors: Amanda Hocking
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Occult, #Teen & Young Adult
The Hollows #2
Copyright © 2010 by Amanda Hocking
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
“Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men”
- T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men,” 1925
I was dying. Or at least I really hoped I was.
During the operations, I often screamed for my own death, begging them to just hurry up and kill me. They didn’t, though. They planned on keeping me alive for as long as they could, dissecting me over and over again.
I wasn’t even sure what they were looking for, and honestly, I didn’t think they knew either. From what Dr. Daniels told me, the doctors and scientists at the quarantine were no closer to finding a cure for the lyssavirus, despite all the examinations and tests and vivisection they’d performed on me.
Daniels was the doctor I dealt with the most. He did the day-to-day things – drew blood, occasionally gave me shots – but nothing too terrible. All the truly gruesome experiments and surgeries were left to a nameless, faceless mob of butchers.
Even though Daniels repeatedly assured me that they were surgeons, some of the finest that had ever practiced medicine, I wasn’t convinced. Any doctor who had taken the Hippocratic Oath wouldn’t act like they did.
In the night, they would come into my little white room – a windowless cell that was a cross between a lab and a prison. The surgeons always came when I was sleeping based on some theory I was more complacent when I was drowsy, but I don’t think I was ever really “complacent.”
Two or three large men would come to get me, their faces blocked by surgical masks. They didn’t need them, not yet, so I could only assume they wore them to keep themselves faceless. They wanted to make it as impersonal as possible. To them, I was just a lab rat, and they didn’t want to humanize the situation with introductions.
I tried to fight them when they came, kicking and hitting as best I could, but I was growing weak. Everything they did to me, it was killing me, even if the process went much slower than I’d have liked. Almost all my bones were visible, and my veins popped bright blue through my nearly translucent skin.
As often as I could, I attempted to work out – doing pushups, curl ups, jogging in place, anything I could think of to keep my muscles from atrophying. But I was barely eating, I hadn’t seen the sun in I-don’t-know-how-long, and I was constantly losing blood and occasionally an organ.
When I’d first started getting carted off to these surgeries, they’d sent four men, and they could barely hold me. But this time, they’d only sent two.
Lately, I’d been considering not fighting them, because it was a waste of energy. I never prevented anything from happening. I only exhausted myself. So last night, I attempted to not fight, to just let them take me away.
But as soon as I saw the operating room, I couldn’t help it. Just the sight of the cold metal, the ultra-bright lights, the scent of the disinfectant, it flipped a switch inside me. It filled me with an all-too familiar terror and a wave of intense nausea passed over me.
The men had each taken one of my arms, so my bare feet were still on the ground. As soon as the door swung open to the operating room, I bucked against them. I tried to pull back and wiggle out of their grasp, and when that didn’t work, I tried kicking them.
But it didn’t matter. They were stronger than me, and I knew the only reward I’d get for my troubles would be bruises on my arms and legs.
By the time they dragged me over to the table, I’d given up on fighting them. I resorted to begging, trying to appeal to their humanity, even though that had never worked before. Anything I said – tears, prayers, bartering, pleading – it all fell on deaf ears.
They took off my shirt, and then they laid me down on the cold metal table. They held me down until the leather straps were secure. A strap ran across each ankle, thigh, wrist, and either over my ribs or my hips, depending on where they planned to cut. Today, the strap went over my ribs, so that meant my abdomen.
After that, the two men left, and I waited. Sometimes I’d wait an hour, maybe even longer.
But eventually, the operating team came in. Five men, all dressed in white, their operating masks on, their hair in surgical caps, plastic gloves on their hands. It all appeared like any normal surgery save for one thing: The patient was completely lucid without any pain medication.
All their surgeries were performed while I was wide awake.
“Please,” I begged them. I strained to lift my head, as if it would somehow be better if I could see what they were doing, if I knew exactly what tools they were using to slice me open. “
. Don’t do this. You just did this a few weeks ago. I need time to heal. Please. Let’s postpone this.”
But they didn’t talk to me. They never even acknowledged me. They’d talk amongst themselves in low whispers that I couldn’t understand.
“Okay, if we have to do this, can you just give me a warning?” I asked. “Just let me know before you cut me. Give me a second to prepare myself. Okay?”
When nobody said anything, I laid my head back, staring up at the light above me. It was so bright, it nearly blinded me.
Then, without warning, I felt the blade, cold metal slicing through my flesh. I gritted my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut. This wasn’t even the worst of it. Cutting through my skin was the least painful part of what they did.
It was when they were inside, playing with my organs, taking biopsies, squeezing things, investigating, that it was impossibly brutal. Sometimes I’d pass out from the pain, but not often enough.
I winced as excruciating pain began in my abdomen. I couldn’t see what they were doing, but my skin was stretching as they pried open the incision they’d just made. In a few moments, they’d be cutting into some organ I probably needed to use to stay alive.
“Oh hell,” I said through gritted teeth, and the pain got worse. I balled up my fists and pulled at the straps as much as I could. Blinding agony ran through me, and I didn’t even know what I was saying, but I knew I was screaming.
A blaring siren rang out through the room, and for a moment, I just thought it was a side effect from the pain. But when I opened my eyes, gasping for breath in attempt to fight the pain, I saw that the room had been bathed in flashing red lights.
“What’s happening?” I yelled.
I strained to lift my head, but all I could see were the doctors hovering over me, their hands bloodied from cutting me open. They exchanged looks and mumbled to each other, but they didn’t appear to know what was going on any more than I did.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked them again, louder this time. “Did the zombies get in?”
The surgeon who had cut me open pulled his bloodied gloves off, and tossed them on me. I felt them, cold and latex, on my bare skin. Then he turned and walked away. He’d discarded his trash on top of me, and he and the rest of the doctors were leaving.
“Hey!” I shouted after them. “You can’t just leave me here! Unhook my straps!
But they didn’t come back, not that I’d really expected them to. There was an emergency, and they didn’t have time to waste on me. I was nothing more than a science experiment to them.
If zombies had broken in – as I strongly suspected – I would be a buffet for them. I was tied down, unable to move, and my stomach had already been cut open, giving them easier access to their favorite foods. If they got in here, they would literally tear me apart.
As much as I wanted to die, or at least I preferred death to all these surgeries, I did not want to get ripped to shreds. I wanted a nice quiet fall-asleep-and-never-wake-up kind of death. And if I couldn’t get that, then I had to get out of here.
I pulled at the straps, but they didn’t budge. After surgeries, I always had welts on my skin from fighting against them. The leather was ridiculously strong.
But since I had no other options, I kept straining at them. I tried to arch my back, even though it killed my abdomen, and I rocked the table.
All my struggling didn’t succeed in getting myself my free, but it did tip the table over. When it crashed to the concrete floor, my stomach screamed in pain. The metal holding my strap in place was crushed between the table and floor. It wasn’t broken, not yet, but if I could keep rocking the table on it, I might be able to get one hand free.
In order to do that, I had to smash my left hand painfully against the floor, but it was the only way I knew to get out. So I rocked backward, almost tipping the table forward on me, but it steadied itself on its side.
Finally, the metal hook bent far enough that I could slide the wrist strap out. The leather was still around my wrist, like a bracelet, but I didn’t care as long as my hand was free.
With my free hand, I reached up to undo the strap on my right wrist. That sounded simpler than it actually was. I had to twist my freshly sliced-open abdomen and stretch and strain. I cried out as I undid my other hand.
The other straps were quicker and easier, and once I finally had them all off, I got to my feet. I got a look at my incision. It was only about three inches across, so it wasn’t the worst they’d done, but blood was seeping out of it and running down my stomach and pants.
I couldn’t walk around like that, not with zombies attracted to the scent of blood. There were a needle and thread on the smaller table with all the surgical tools. The butchers always sewed me up when they were done, so that was something, I guess.
My hands were shaking, and my left hand was sore and scraped up from hitting the floor. Plus, I’d never been that good of a seamstress. But I couldn’t just walk around like this, and I was certain the doctors weren’t coming back.
I threaded the needle and braced myself on the tray. Fortunately, all the surgeries had raised my pain tolerance quite a bit. Unfortunately, it still hurt like hell when I shoved a needle through my own skin.
I didn’t scream, though. I didn’t want to attract unwanted attention from a zombie. I just clenched my teeth and powered through it. I nearly threw up halfway through, but I kept it down.
With slick bloody hands, I staggered around the room. I found a towel and wiped myself as best I could, then I put on the shirt I’d come in with. I grabbed a scalpel from the tray, since it was the closest thing I had to a weapon, and I left the operating room to find out what was waiting for me.
It was rather anticlimactic, because at first, there was nothing. The third floor – the floor I lived on – was completely deserted. The red flashing lights and warning sirens had scared everyone, as was their job.
The next floor was exactly the same, but I finally found something when I staggered out of the stairwell onto the first floor.
That main level was the soldiers’ quarters. It was like a dormitory, where they lived. It was dark and appeared to be empty, but as I walked down the hall, one hand running along the wall for support, I heard something coming from a room.
I didn’t think I could fight, not in this condition with a tiny scalpel, so my best bet to escape a zombie was to take off running. And that’s exactly what I did.
I’d only made it a few steps, my bare feet slapping against the cool tiles, when I heard someone calling my name.
“Remy?” Pvt. Tatum shouted, sounding confused.
I stopped and turned around to face him. “Tatum?”
He stood in the doorway of one of the rooms, so he must’ve been the noise I’d heard. His blond hair was cropped short, and he had his gun drawn, pointed at the ground.
“What are you doing in here?” Tatum asked, walking toward me.
“Oh, you know.” I shrugged. “Just hanging out.” He smirked, and I shook my head. “What’s going on? What’s with the sirens?”
“The damn zombies got in.” He lowered his eyes, and I noticed his army fatigues were splattered with greenish blood – zombie blood.
“Are we overrun?” I motioned to the front door. “Are they out there right now?”
“No, not exactly.” He shook his head. “Come on. Let’s go outside where the sirens are quieter, and I’ll explain everything.”
We walked down to the front door together, and he pushed open the door. A draft of cool air blew in, I practically ran past him to get outside.
It was night, and the stars twinkled above me like diamonds. I hadn’t seen them in so long, and I swore that I’d never smelled anything as clean or fresh or wonderful as that air smelled just then.
The grass was cold beneath my bare feet, and the air had a bitter chill to it. But I didn’t mind. It all felt wonderful to me. I stood there for a minute, breathing it in.
“What are you doing?” Tatum asked, arching an eyebrow.
“I never thought I’d see this again. I thought I was going to die in that room.”
“I told you I wouldn’t let that happen.” He smiled warmly at me.
“You did.” I smiled back, then realized we were in an abandoned quarantine in the middle of the night with zombies roaming about. “So what happened? Where are the zombies? Where’s everybody?”
“The past few months, the zombies have been systematically attacking our walls,” Tatum said. “Or at least that’s what I said, but nobody believed me. They said the zombies couldn’t think enough to form an attack.”
“They were getting smarter,” I remembered. “Even when I was back out there. They were working together somehow.”
“Exactly!” Tatum said. “A few nights ago, they finally got in.”
I looked around the camp, the trailers dark and empty, and turned back to Tatum. “But the zombies aren’t here now?”
He shook his head. “No. Only about thirty or so of them got in. We went out to search for survivors, and they were waiting for us when we came back. They snuck in with the caravan.”
The quarantine was surrounded by a giant brick wall. There was only one entrance to the facility, and that was through two metal gates. The first set of doors led into a smaller holding area, and the second set of doors actually led into the quarantine. The double doors helped keep the infected from getting in.
“Did they get in through both doors?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He grimaced. “The idiots on the other side opened the door when they heard shooting, and some of the zombies raced right in.”
“Were people hurt?” I asked. “Are Lazlo and Harlow okay?”
“Yeah, they’re both fine,” he said. “There were some causalities, and it was a lot worse than it needed to be. That’s when they realized how much we’d been underestimating the zombies.”
“So they evacuated the quarantine? That doesn’t make sense. This is the safest place I’ve been to, even if it’s not perfect.”
“They wouldn’t stop until they got in.” He paused. “We had too large of a population, and they’re drawn to people somehow. They were clustering around us, building an army, growing stronger, and we’re running out of ammo. We had to split up and scatter. The next time the zombies got in, it would’ve been much, much worse.”
“So how come you’re still here?” I asked. “Why didn’t you leave with everyone?
“I was just doing the last sweep to make sure we had everybody before meeting up with the other evacuees,” Tatum said.
“Where are they?”
“All over.” He shrugged. “We disbanded into small groups over the past few days. Most of the zombies have cleared out, dispersing to follow some of us. They’re much easier to handle in smaller numbers.”
“So Lazlo and Harlow are gone?” I asked.
“They left in one of the first groups, which was probably one of the safest ones. The zombies weren’t smart enough to track people when they started leaving, but they’ve figured it out now.”
“And we’re in one of the last groups?” I asked.
He nodded. “Pretty much.”
“What was with the sirens?” I asked. “Why all the theatrics?”
“Some people didn’t want to leave, especially the people living inside the building,” Tatum explained. “But the general had given them an order. He ran the alarm to scare the rest of them out.”
“I see, I guess.” I turned to him, trying not to get hopeful. “What about my brother? Do you know if he made it out safe?”
“Your brother?” Tatum sounded confused at first, then nodded. “Yeah, yeah him and Blue made it okay. I haven’t heard from them since they left six months ago, but that’s probably good news.”
“Six months?” My jaw dropped. “I’ve been trapped in that room for six months?”
“Yeah.” He pursed his lips. “I tried to get in to see you, but they made it impossible. After your brother escaped, they really cracked down.”
“It doesn’t matter.” I shook my head and started walking away. “I’m out now.”
“Where are you going?” Tatum asked, following me.
“My old trailer. I can’t wander around in old scrubs without shoes. Some of my clothes have to be left behind. I can’t imagine that Harlow or Lazlo would take them.”
The quarantine was still a maze to me, and I ended up getting lost. Fortunately, Tatum had been keeping tabs on Lazlo and Harlow, and he knew where our trailer was. As we walked to it, he filled me in on how they’d been doing, and they’d mostly being doing well. Or at least as well as anyone can do in this world.
Their things were tossed all over the place – Harlow’s clothes scattered on everything, dirty dishes in the sink, and an old acoustic guitar on the couch.
When I went into the trailer, I felt a lump in my throat. I remembered the last night I’d spent here, in Lazlo’s arms. I shook my head, clearing it of any sentimentality, and went to the back bedroom to get changed and grab clothes. Harlow had clearly taken it over, but some of my clothes were still shoved in the back of the closet.
Tatum waited in the kitchen area for me, and I left the door open a crack so I could to talk to him.
“I don’t get it,” I said as I changed out of my scrubs. “I thought the zombies were all supposed to be dead by now. They told us the infection should die out in a few months, and it’s been almost two years since the outbreak started.”
“They were wrong,” Tatum said simply.
I put on a tank top with the hope that would absorb some of the blood from my incision, and then pulled on a sweater and pair of jeans. My old jeans were too big for me now, so I’d had to put on a pair of Harlow’s that fit just fine.
“How do we know that anything we’ve heard is true?” I asked. “Everything they’ve ever told us about the zombies could be wrong.”
“We don’t. But your buddy seems to know the most on them.”
“My buddy?” I was fully clothed so I opened the door wider.
“Yeah, the doctor. Daniels.” Tatum leaned against the kitchen counter. “He’s the only one that agreed the zombies were plotting against us, and it was his idea that we leave and split up.”
“Was it his idea to leave me behind?” I muttered.
“You can ask him that.”
“He’s in our group.” Tatum motioned toward the walls. “He’s waiting with a little band of evacuees that we’re going to travel with.”
“Great.” I went back to the closet and pulled out a faded green messenger bag. I started filling it with clothes. When I was done, I planned to raid the kitchen for a few supplies. “Who else is in our little band of merry men?”
“I don’t know for sure. Boden was doing a sweep too, so it depends on who he finds.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Boden. He’s my sergeant,” Tatum replied. “But when I left, there were six of us. Some of the last six to leave.”
Tatum was saying something else, but movement caught my eye. Moonlight was spilling in through the trailer window, and a shadow crossed over it. I stood up straight and looked around the room.
“But Bishop still thinks she’s the leader – ” Tatum was saying.
“Shh!” I hissed.
I couldn’t hear anything, so I stepped toward the hall. Tatum had already drawn his gun, and he stood on alert in the kitchen, his eyes scanning the windows.
“What?” he whispered.
I shook my head. “I thought I saw something.”
I was about to tell him that I was seeing things when the window above the kitchen counter shattered as a zombie went flying through it. Tatum lifted up his arm to shield his eyes and fired blindly at the monster crashing toward him.