The human came forward, the delicious swirling colors that made up its body was a joy to behold, but not one that drove Red out of his mind with hunger anymore.
“Hello, down there in the corn,” the guy called.
Was he the one? Would he care about what happened? Would he understand what Red wanted to tell him?
“I can see you fine there you know. I know you can hear me.”
Watching the two humans have sex on the porch a mile away had been fascinating. Their bodies had intertwined and glowed brighter during the coupling it had just about driven Hugh, the weakest of the trio, into a feeding frenzy. At first Red hadn't known what they were doing, after a moment's shock he figured it out. Then he laughed with the other two and sat down to watch the show. The three of them were much too far away to seen the details of what was going on, but the glow, it was a steady brightness that only grew larger as they proceeded. Red was caught up in his thoughts about it again when the man on the road called down a third time, “Did you want to talk?”
“Sorry.” Red called out as the man started to turn away. “Don't go. I want to talk.” And so the die is cast, he thought to himself, this is my pawn in the great game of someone else's making.
The man on the road seemed to hesitate, then turned back, “So, talk. Who are you?”
“My friends call me 'Red.' And you?”
“My name is Max.”
“Pleased to meet you Max. Where are you headed?”
“Away from here. East. I hope to run into a place where there aren't any zombies.”
“Right. How far east you plan on going. I can tell you the east coast is gone.”
“Excuse me for asking, but how do you know that?”
“I just do. You have time for a story Max, you and your friend?”
“Maybe. I am supposed to find out what you want, the others are not so keen on talking. Talking...that hasn't worked out well in the past.”
“Not with other zombies maybe, but not all of us are like that anymore.”
The man seemed relieved, “Yeah that is what I thought. We ran into one guy, well, he didn't want to fight with us, but there was another, more powerful zombie making him fight.”
Good, thought Red, he already knows something, this might not be as bad as I thought.
“You still talking?” Max asked after twenty or so seconds went by.
“Yeah. Sorry, I can get distracted at times. I am trying to figure out what to say to you.”
“I am not going anywhere; we plan on camping out here as long as we can.”
“That wouldn't be a good idea.”
“There are a bunch of zombies coming this way from Colorado and Wyoming.”
“How do you know? Or is this another question you don't have any proof for?”
Angry, Red thought, he is so angry. Then again so am I. “Max I didn't do this and I didn't want any of this to happen. It was not my plan and I am fighting against it as best I can. Some things you are going to have to trust me a little about, but in this situation I can provide proof. How did you see me?”
“I...I just spotted you across the field.”
“You didn't and I know you didn't. Not at night while I was three rows deep in the corn and half a mile away. You've killed a lot of zombies haven't you?”
Max was quiet, Red thought he was trying to decide what to say. Finally he spoke again, “Okay, yeah, I have and I can kind of see zombies from a long way off now.”
“A useful talent and I took a guess that you had it after you reacted how you did on the porch over there.”
“How long were you there?”
“And you just watched us?” Max said with some anger.
“I didn't want to intrude. How as I to know you could see us? Don't worry our vision isn't that great, we knew you were there, but couldn't see much in the way of what you were doing, the corn is too high.”
“So you can see, well, I don't know what to call, life force?”
“I suppose, I see a colorful swirling of blood coursing through living tissue. It is wonderful, the most exciting and beautiful thing I have ever seen and it is in every living person. I, well 'we' really, I have two companions with me, wouldn't have seen anything, except the....what you were doing, seemed to make the colors brighter and more intense. Like a beacon.”
“Shit. It drew the zombies from Colorado here?” Max asked a little confused.
Red laughed, “No. Sorry. No. It wasn't that big or bright. More like anything a mile away could see it. How far out can you detect us?”
“That is about my maximum range too. Your friends are within range and I can sense the edges of town without any effort. If I concentrate, I can see into parts of town. I have to focus to see you, it isn't like I just do it.”
“That might not be far enough to prove my point. Try casting your mind's eye further west. Do you see anything?”
The man concentrated, then seemed to stagger under an invisible blow. Behind him, the woman holding the shotgun fired into the corn field a pellet winged Red in the arm, even though he dodged. The woman was fast.
“Fuck you!” she screamed firing repeated into the field where Red was moving around.
“Stewart!” Max called out, “Stop! Stop! It wasn't him!”
She fired once more, then paused to reload, standing next to Max, who was down on one knee in the middle of the road.
Red decided to proceed as if nothing had happened, “Do you see them?”
“Fuck you!” Stewart yelled, pulling the shotgun up and aiming it where Red's voice came from. Max reached up and pulled the stock down, earning a glare from her.
“It wasn't him. He is telling the truth about us not being able to stay here.”
“What is going on Max, what did you see?”
“Zombies, lots and lots of zombies.”
“Over a hundred and fifty thousand, near as we can tell,” said Red, moving slightly to one side after talking.
“Are you bringing them here?”
“No, me and my two friends are doing everything we can to stop them.”
“Because I hate them Max. I hate what they did to us and I hate what they are trying to do to you and the other humans. But I need your help.”
“Do you want what I need or some background first? If you have time and if you promise not to shoot at me I can tell you what I know and what I need.”
“I am not inviting them up to the house for coffee. We stay here and he and his friends do not get any closer to the house than they are ready are.”
“We won't come any closer.”
“Okay, then we can talk. So tell your story.” Stewart said belligerently.
“It started down in Florida. My brother in law called me up and asked me to help him move his old car off the street, he said the cops were going to tow it. I came over to help, and these cops met me there and they 'arrested' me. I had no idea what was going on or even why they had taken me in. They parked next to this building and dragged me inside, it looked like an ordinary office building on the outside and smelled terrible inside, like being downwind of a deer two weeks dead. So we go in and I meet this guy, he looked like a mad scientist and he introduced himself as Doctor Thomas Sentry. At this point, I thought it might be some sort of prank my in-law was playing, but he just stood there with a dumb look on his face, sadder than anything. The cops stayed with me while the Doc when into another room, eventually he called for us and that is when I started struggling. There were three zombies along one wall, I didn't know they were zombies at the time, but I knew there was something wrong with them. The floor was coated with blood, some dried, some fresh. The smell, God the smell was horrible! I know what 'carnal house' smells like now; rotted and decomposing flesh. The doctor came in and told me not to be afraid and while the police held me, he bit into my neck, sure that wouldn't make you afraid. I could not move, I have to emphasize this, the cop's grips were like iron. After he had bitten into my neck, he started sucking my blood, but it got all over me, ran down my shirt, down the outside of my jeans and splattered onto the floor. I was hurt bad too, and I knew it, there was just so much blood. Then I remember him pulling back and slitting my wrist with a small sharp knife, he did it length ways down my arm, not across it. He collected my blood in a five-gallon bucket not some medical thing, just a normal looking plastic pail. The bucket already had some blood in it, half coagulated on the sides and it looked like...well, like when your momma made brownies and let you lick the bowl. There were finger streaks all through the blood, as if someone or something couldn't get enough of it. My last living memory is of watching my blood pool at the bottom of that bucket.”
"Do you remember being dead at all?”
“No. I don't have any visions to tell you about heaven or hell. If any of the others remember anything, they aren’t talking about it. I can tell you this though, they burned all of the churches in town, on Sentry's orders. I think some of the faithful were inside them at the time too. The first thing I remember when I came back was having my head inside the bucket, licking up someone else's blood. I remember drinking a half dozen times, I didn't get the whole bucket, I just got a portion and when Sentry decided I was smart enough he booted me out with instructions to not make any more zombies and lay low until he called me. Of course, not everyone followed that rule, he must have messed up his instruction to some of the others somehow and that is when the problems started. Things got out of hand pretty quickly and all of us were called up to rein in the renegade zombies. Zombies attacking others in the street and one couple moved off to a nearby community and started a nest of zombies there, it was a mess and Sentry barely got it under control before he made his plans. We like the flesh of our enemies too, blood is good, if it is fresh enough, but nothing is better than living flesh.”
“Even now?” asked Stewart.
“Now...well now I am able to control my hunger a little better, I am not sure why. Before I couldn't, I just had to eat, there was no way I could stop, aside from having the food removed from me or being ordered to stop eating.”
“So you don't eat anymore? Not even regular food?”
“How is that possible?”
“You know what I did Stewart? Before I became what I am?”
“I was an assistant manager at the 'Bait Bucket,' we sold fishing supplies and bait. Do you really think I might be able to tell you what has happened to me or why I don't need to eat anymore?”
“No, I suppose not. So how'd you end up in Colorado?”
“You two know anything about 'Og'?”
Max shook his head, “No, I thought I heard the name on the radio, WWEB. Just before it went off the air.”
“Yeah, that is right, well Og was actually Neil Rosol, I never liked the guy. I was with him, not by choice I had to go with him.”
“Everyone has choices Red,” said Stewart.
“Humans have choices, Stewart, zombies have to do what their maker tells them to do. Most zombies, even the smart ones never figure this out that they can control their own 'children' quite well and even lesser zombies to a great extent. Anyway Neil and I came up from Florida. There was this guy there, Doctor Sentry, he is the one who made us all, in theory that makes him the head zombie and he should be able to control all of his creatures. However, I know for a fact that controlling zombies a couple generations removed from you is more difficult than one you made yourself. If I ran into a really smart zombie...”
“We call them 'Super Zombies',” said Max.
“Yes that’s good! If I ran into a super zombie who was my great-great-grandchild I might not be able to tell him to do anything, unless I was more powerful than he was.”
“How do you get more powerful?” asked Stewart, already suspecting the answer.
“Eat more humans, or drain their blood at least. Anyway I was talking about Neil. He was a big fan of Egyptian mythology, one day he decided we had to call him 'Og' some kind of sun God or something. I was down there with him at the radio station, a group of soldiers came and were roughing up our troops, they tended to use wounding tactics, fragmentation grenades, shots to the arms and torso when they first ran into us. They soon learned that only major trauma to the head would keep the zombies down and switched tactics pretty quick. What they didn't expect was that we, well, you would call us 'supers,' had picked up several weapons from the police and other convoy's we had ambushed earlier, we even had some rocket propelled grenades, that sort of thing and a few zombies who knew how to use them. We let the convoy get in real close then hit them hard, we almost wiped them out, but they had a reserve that retreated when we got the first bunch of them. I was sent by Neil to pursue those soldiers when the bomb went off behind me. Almost everyone I was with didn't make it. I had the luck of being down by this shitty little creek and it was just low enough that the debris went flying over my head by inches instead of into my head. I tried to crawl down under the stream bed after that, I didn't know if there would be more bombs coming or if it was over. There was only the one, and it took the heart out of Neil's army, most of the supers were there with him, and the ones who had come with me were just gone once I got up. Here and there a few dumb zombies shuffled around, but I was free. See it gets back to the orders I was given by Doctor Sentry.”
“I thought you were following Neil, had to do what he said?” asked Stewart.
“Sentry told me to do what Neil said. And Neil's last orders were to make sure the remaining men in the convoy didn't come back to interfere with his plans anymore. No Neil meant the convoy people couldn't mess with him. Therefore, I was free.”
“It was just the two of you sent to Denver? You made all those zombies?”
“Oh yes, yes we did. We checked into a hotel downtown, converted it in a single night about a week before the fall, when the second-shift employees came in we used them to feed the first shift and get them into some sort of intelligence, then sent them home to get their families and told them to hide the slow 'children' they had made until the twenty-fifth, which is when this whole mess started in earnest. After that hotel we split up, I went on a journey up highway seventy, taking two of the single guys with me. In one day, I dropped zombies off in Idaho Springs, Frisco, Vail, Eagle, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction. Whenever I ran out of zombies to plant in those towns, I just stopped and made a few more. I swung south from Grand Junction to hit Montrose and Durango before heading straight east towards Pueblo. I hooked up with Neil in Colorado Springs the very next day, in three days we had over two hundred operatives waiting to strike, in four more days we had zombies smart enough to follow our orders in almost every medium sized city in the state, and I even dipped down into New Mexico after meeting Neil because he told me no one was assigned to spread the plague there.”
“Just two of you wiped out the entire state. Somehow I just can't believe that.” Stewart said.
“We didn't make zombies and send them out to terrorize people, we made them stay inside and wait for a few days, we brought some of them back to almost the super level and gave them some autonomy to act discretely. It was a quick, silent takeover of society. Believe it, it happened worldwide.”
“So this isn't just happening here?” asked Max, he could see Red shake his head through the corn, “I was hoping there was someplace we could go, somewhere safe again.”
“I wasn't in the inner circle of the planning, but when I left most of the town left too, about three thousand of us flying out of the airports in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and other locations, they had buses up the coast to catch flights out over a period of like three days, from what Neil said. He said I would like being second in command of a state.”
“What was the rest of the plan?”
“I have no idea. I know phase one was to create as many zombies as possible that is what we did. My opinion is that it worked too well. We destroyed too much of humanity. It has been a week and almost the entire state was destroyed, if it worked that well in other places then, there are not many humans left.”
“This is all well and good, a nice update on current events, but what does this have to do with us again?” asked Stewart.
“All of the zombies are being drawn east, toward Chicago, I think. About half of the zombies in the Denver area are heading up along highway seventy-six and turning east on highway eighty. There are some zombies coming in from Wyoming too, but not that many.”
“Great, so if we head north of the interstate the zombies will pass us by. Thanks for the warning.”
“No, you don't understand, I was second in power in for this area, I am not being compelled east; I can feel what is happening zombies are being forced west from Chicago too. Which is why I think the problem lies there.”
“No, Stewart I see what he means,” said Max “Why would they be heading towards each other? To wipe out a threat, there must be people alive between here and there.”
“Again, what does that have to do with us? We can't stop a hundred thousand zombies.”
“We can warn them what is coming.”
“No, you can stop them all,” said Red.
“What do you mean? How?”
“Kill whoever is making it happen, kill the 'Neil' that was sent to Chicago. Then the zombies will become disorganized and stop acting in concert.”
“Ah, mister, do you see who we got with us? A bunch of kids, not a carload of soldiers.”
“I didn't know that. I can see that they are there, but I can't tell how old they are unless I got closer." Red shrugged his shoulders, "It doesn't matter who you are with, you drive east and tell them what is coming and how to deal with it, but you have to make them believe you. The zombies coming this way are just a drop in the bucket for what is going to hit Iowa, and I am pretty sure it is Iowa where they are headed. I looked at a map last night and it makes sense in a way. Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, all low-population states that may not have gotten a zombie maker of their own.”
“That is all you want us to do?” asked Stewart, “Well we can pass the word along, they might believe us, why don't you come along and tell them too?”
“No way. I like my life, or whatever it is I have left. I cannot imagine anyone who thinks I might snack on them when I get hungry is going to keep me alive too long. Plus the closer I get to Chicago the stronger the urge to go that direction gets. I and my two friends are only going to keep slowing the horde down until the call is irresistible. One of us is weaker than the others and when he starts to leave, we are going to grab him and head west out of range. We do not want to become slaves again.”
“How good are you at slowing them down?”
“Not real good, they are still making thirty or forty miles a day, despite our best efforts. According to the mile markers we passed to get here that means it will only take another twelve days to get to the edge of Nebraska.”
“Twelve days? So we have to get to Iowa, convince someone to go to Chicago, find the guy and kill him in twelve days? Chicago is a big place Red, unless you have an address or something I don't think it can be done.” said Stewart.
“Look for the biggest building, that is probably where the super zombie is. Besides, I think your friend can find him.”
“What?” said Max and Stewart together.
“You can see zombies Max. Can you tell us apart?”
“Yes, if I concentrate.”
“Is there any difference between me and my two friends?”
“What is it?”
“You are sort of lighter colored than they are, you have a dull, light bluish color, I almost thought you were alive, but no...” Max stopped realizing he telling the zombie things he didn't want it to know.
“So you can see humans too. Let me guess they have a nice, colorful pattern that swirls around and fades and brightens as they move and do things.”
“Are you a zombie Max?”
“What? No, no I'm not! Why are you asking?”
“Because you can see things the way I can, and I could see people this way from the moment I woke up after dying. It was a rhetorical question, you look alive to me. But to me zombies look like you described them, a dull, single color, the better and faster the zombie the more light their color is. I am light blue, huh? Well, Neil he was sky blue, almost white. Go to Chicago, find the glowing white aura and you've found the super zombie. Then just kill it.”
“But...but that means I have to go!” blurted Max.
“Could be. We all have choices.” Red said, repeating back what Stewart had said to him in the beginning.
“What happens if it isn't just him? In Chicago, I mean?”
“Then you have to decide what to do. Or what you can do. I don't know what will happen then. Sentry, way down in Florida, he is an abomination, I know that. He bled most of the people from the town dry and I doubt he was going to stop just because he sent us away, I have no idea what he is like now. I just know I plan on steering well away from where he was.”
“Why can't you circle around and meet us on the other side of Iowa, somewhere in Illinois?”
“If I get too close to Chicago the chief zombie there will be able to control me. We come from a limited family of abominations and there is a strict rank based on when we were created. I won't risk my freedom by getting too close to the super zombie in Chicago.”
“Nice, so we have to go do your dirty work for you?”
“For me? No, not for me. I would do it if I could. You need to do it for the living people, to give them a chance. I think if you guys get rid of this zombie in Chicago that will solve the immediate problem of all the zombies heading east. After that, I can't say what other problems you will have, I just don't know. Sentry maybe, probably…eventually I'd guess. You know I saw him before I left. When he was giving me and Neil our marching orders. He was different, there was so much raw power around him. Yeah, I would guess you are going to have to deal with Sentry.”
“Why?” asked Max.
“The good doctor thinks if he consumes enough of you he can become a god. And after thinking about it the last couple of weeks I am afraid he might be right.”