I looked for Hollis among the animated corpses. He was near the end, munching on somebody's big toe.
I repressed a gag and called his name.
He turned a wound-covered, pepperoni-pizza face to me. His eyes were still clear blue; they hadn't yet taken on that milky glaze of the undead.
"Christine! Will you join us? We're taking over!"
Pink-tinged tears fell from his eyes, and were absorbed into the rotting flesh beneath. I walked alongside Hollis, keeping pace with the marchers, but keeping my distance as well. There was a man in a black suit on the other side of Hollis. He was mumbling to himself.
I looked at Hollis. He was definitely crying. What the fuck?
"...the wages of sin is death," murmured the Man in Black. He sneezed, spraying bloody snot all over the back of the zombie in front of him. The newly painted Jackson-Pollock-canvas didn't even flinch.
"I love you, Christine! I want to marry you."
Highlight of my life. A proposal from a zombie.
"You're a zombie, Hollis. You don't love anything except flesh and brains," I said.
The Man in Black lurched, as if my words caused him pain.
"The lust! The flesh!" he shouted.
"What's his dealio?" I asked.
"He was a preacher,” Hollis said. “Practicing for Sunday's sermon when we busted into his church. He's still trying to preach, I guess."
I nodded. A fresh one. It seemed the newer the zombie, the more they held onto to their former selves. It was the passage of time that rotted the zombies’ grey matter. Hollis had only been reanimated a few days ago. Still, he seemed more lucid than the preacher.
"Hollis, what started this?"
Hollis shook his head. His eyes glazed over—I thought for a moment I was losing him—but they cleared, baby-blue again and he seemed okay.
"Remember that festival awhile back? Zombie Fest? Well, there was a real zombie from California here and he infected someone."
California. That figures. Damn tourists always causing trouble.
"A real zombie, Christine!" Hollis looked like an excited kid on Christmas; an undead kid with putrid, maggot-infested flesh.
We were headed towards downtown. A crowd gathered, lining both sides of the street. If there were cars ahead of us, they quickly got out of the way, even on U.S. 19, where traffic stopped for no man.
The spectators began to jeer and throw things. Not a smart thing to do, in my opinion. "Go back where you came, you undead bastards!" a male voice yelled.
And just where might that be? None of them had been buried, so the only thing they could return to would be their normal, living state—and that sure as hell wasn't going to happen. Here were people bitten and infected with a plague. From California. I laughed. Eighty percent of the population there are brain-dead anyway.
A zombie a few rows ahead of us dashed out of his line and grabbed the man from the sidewalk. The man struggled, but it was no use. The plague caused those stricken to have superhuman strength; especially when they were pissed off.
The crowd screamed as the zombie bit into the struggling man's neck, severing his carotid. Blood spewed from the open wound. The man jerked twice…and then was still. I turned away just as the zombie lowered his head and began to feed. Hollis craned his head to watch, which disturbed me greatly.
"Where are we going, Hollis?"
"We're goin' straight to hell, where old serpent Satan flaps his wings, to fan the flames of our destruction!"
"Cool it, padre," I said. "It'll be okay," He looked over and rolled his eyes at me as if to say 'Don't bullshit me, sister.'
A woman's voice rose amongst the spectators. "I hope they kill every stinkin' one of you, zombie freaks!" Some of them held hastily crafted cardboards signs. One in particular read: "Leeve Our Branes Alone!" That one made me grimace.
“The stupid always survive,” I grumbled.
Hollis hadn't heard a word I'd said. He was drooling, still trying to watch the zombie buffet. I tugged his bloody shirt sleeve, and his head snapped back; he looked at me with an eerie calm. I shivered and hoped he didn't notice.
"I asked you where we're going."
"Uh, I dunno...hang on."
Hollis tapped the shoulder of a female zombie in front of him. She was missing an ear and her nose was decayed to a pulpy mass.
"Do you know where we're going?"
"Why are you going to the Coast Guard?" I asked, but I had an awful feeling I knew.
Hollis again reached to tap No-Ear Woman. I pulled him back.
Scanning the horde, I wondered who the mastermind might be, if there was such a being. I thought about asking Hollis, but he didn't seem to know much about the plans of his brethren, if there were any.
I guess I knew then that I couldn't save Hollis. There was no cure for this plague, and by the time the government got around to doing anything, the whole state, from Key West to Tallahassee, would either be dead or undead. The thought brought tears to my eyes. I had loved what used to be the man walking next to me. But I also knew I couldn't let him, or the others, transform me. I wasn't ready to put brains on my list of gourmet delicacies, so I had to take care not to get bitten. I still don’t know where the disease came from. Maybe some shit-head scientist fresh out of UC-Berkeley woke up one day and thought, "Geez, I'm bored...I think I'll create a zombie virus. Yeah, that would be cool!"
A shout from the crowd cut through my daydreaming. It was aimed at me.
"Whatcha doin' with them monsters, girl? You a zombie lover!!!" He was big, like an eighteen-wheeler with legs. He stuck a middle finger up in our direction.
"Shut the fuck up, man!" Hollis shouted.
"Make me, you friggin' corpse!"
I couldn’t understand why these people came out to taunt an army of zombies. Hollis tried to get past me and lunge for Mack-Truck, but I pulled him back. Another zombie broke from the crowd and went for him, but he wasn’t alone. Two men were with him, and all three were armed: Mack-Truck had a tire iron; the other two had Louisville Sluggers. Mack swung the tire iron, and it connected with a loud crack. The zombie went down. It was dead, but the men continued to beat it into a lumpy, fleshy mass oozing on the concrete, not hard considering the fact that this zombie was already rapidly decaying.
We continued the march. As we neared the police station, I became anxious. There were police cars parked at the station, but I couldn’t see any officers in the crowd.
A shadow appeared at my side. I glanced up into another pair of living eyes.
It was Kevin.
Kevin worked in the same office I did. He was extremely shy and extremely unpopular. No one talked to Kevin unless they had to and Kevin, likewise, spoke only when spoken to. He was an efficient, hard worker. Therefore, the other employees were continually seeking ways to get him fired. I never understood why it was that slackers always wanted to see the people doing the work get fired. Hell, it was because of them that they got to slack off.
"Hello, Christine," Kevin said, smiling. I had never notice that he had such a nice smile; probably because I'd never seen him smile before.
I had also never seen him outside of the office. His casual attire was very different than the business suits he wore to work. He was dressed in blue jeans, a faded Lightning shirt and a black, leather motorcycle jacket, which set off his wavy brown hair and blue eyes.
Damn! Kevin was hot!
"Sorry about your boyfriend," he said.
I was suddenly aware of Hollis stiffening at my side. My jealous zombie boyfriend.
"Er...Hollis? This is Kevin. He works with me."
"Er...Hollis? This is Kevin. He works with me."
"Idle hands are the tools of the devil!" Preacher barked.
Kevin shrugged. "I think it's horrible what they're doing."
This seemed to satisfy Hollis, but not me. I looked at Kevin. He read the question in my eyes.
Kevin leaned over.
"When we get to the fences, veer off with me and prepare to haul ass," he whispered.
"Why?" I asked.
He looked wary. "Just be prepared.”
“Do you know why they want to get to the Coast Guard?”
"Well, they just can't go shambling into Tampa International Airport now, can they?"
He had a point.