Red lugged the body of the deputy off the road towards the river and hid on the far bank as another police cruiser went by on the highway with its lights flashing. It stopped at the cars that were lined across the road and the two men inside got out and started looking for ways to get by. There was no chance the police officers could see him, the vegetation was so thick that Red had barely seen the police car. He lowered the body down into the grass and looked it over. It was still full of life giving energy, sometimes it took a while for a body to fade and become unappetizing to a zombie. Looking west he could see the horde traveling south again, he wondered what Nita and Hugh would say when he got back to them, they had to have a reason for doing what they did. Still he had time to get a meal in, if he hurried. Stripping off his clothing he hung it out of the way in a low crook on a tree then started in on the body. He was not incredibly hungry, that had seemed to fade as he regained his memories, but the taste was still fantastic and he felt the energy coursing through his body as he fed. He pulled the choicest parts out of the corpse to save time; he knew that if he gorged himself he would end up vomiting. Turning the body slowly, he went after only the organs that held the most life energy. Grasping the head in both hands, he forced his fingers into the eye and then pulled forcefully, removing most of the eye sockets and nasal cavity, some splatters of blood still managed to hit his clothing where he had placed it. Red sighed and dug into the hole in the man's face with his long, lean fingers, fishing the brains out. As he went he wiped the exposed mucus that drained into the hole from the sinus cavity onto the deputy's shirt. Red was young enough that he could remember times when he was not so discriminating. When the hole constricted his hand, he broke another section of the skull off so he could scoop out what was left. These days when he fed he made certain that the dead would not rise again, plus the brain was the best part.
When Red finished with the head reached down and pulled up the deputy's shirt, and then pressed his hand inwards at the bottom of the rib cage. He pushed until his hand broke through the skin and tissue, it was like pushing through a child's balloon, the skin gave away slowly with some resilience at first, then suddenly split and tore in a long cut, allowing Red access to the internal organs. He moved his hand up through the diaphragm to grasp and pull out the heart, the large muscle was tough to chew but the taste was second only to the brains. Moving down his list of good parts to eat and subsequently further down into the body Red wrapped his hands around the liver and pulled it from the body, even more than the heart the liver was held in place by suction, releasing only with a loud, wet popping sound that was both amusing and disgusting to his ears. By the time he finished with the liver the colorful glow from the body was almost gone. Each person was different, each person seemed to die at a different pace, some people, after death could be eaten a day later, others faded within minutes. Red had no idea why this was so, but he had learned to eat fast. The thought of feeding didn't sicken him anymore, not like the first few times he had fed when he was smart enough to know what he was doing. Now he just took it as a fact of his new life that this is how he ate and how he always would until he died again. Standing he almost slipped as his foot came down on a loop of intestines that had been pulled out when he took the liver, the slippery flesh flattened in an unpleasant manner and Red quickly pulled his foot back. Looking himself over he noticed his feeding hadn't gotten any cleaner despite constant practice, his chest and stomach were streaked with blood that was dripping down his belly onto his legs. He was glad he had taken the time to disrobe before eating, if he encountered any humans they might not shoot him immediately, but a bloody zombie, or human for that matter, was sure to be fired upon. Getting down into the river Red washed up, making certain to rinse out his hair, forgetting to do that was a mistake he had made before and one he would not make again. He skirted around the body when he made his way back to his clothing and got dressed despite still being wet. The clothing clung to him and Red hoped it gave him the appearance of sweating, which would add to his 'human-ness' and make sense given the heat and humidity. As a zombie he didn't sweat anymore, all of his bodily functions were turned upside down, nothing was the same. He knew in a few hours he would have to squat and expel the meaty parts of the body he had just eaten, they would come out looking like chewed up pieces of meat, but not digested as far as Red could tell. Whatever he expelled never smelled that bad either, maybe faintly rotted, but no worse than that. Shrugging into his shirt, Red set off to where he had left Nita and Hugh.
He was crossing highway 281 a few miles south of town when a stray dog caught his scent and jogged up to him. It growled a bit and Red growled back. When he set off again the dog followed, growling at odd intervals. Red kept an eye out, he didn't dislike dogs, but he didn't want this one jumping him when he was unaware, so he had to either kill it or make friends with it. Looking around, he concentrated, trying to find something to feed it. Finally, he located a rabbit burrow that was close enough to the surface that he could see the cowering creature that was a foot underground. Standing over the rabbit, he thrust his hand into the soil and broke its neck in one smooth motion. He tore the things fur open along the back, then turned towards the dog, which had tags on it. Kneeling he coaxed the dog towards him. It came forward, growling and hungry looking, wanting the rabbit, but obviously not trusting Red. Inch by inch it crept closer, until Red snapped his hand forward and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck. The dog started struggling and Red held it away from his face with almost no effort, then lifted it off the ground. He dropped the rabbit and reach for the mutt's collar, using his faster reflexes to avoid the thing's snapping bites.
“Riley huh?” Red said after looking at the name on the collar, “If I was named that I'd be mad too. Who gives a dog a people name? Poor mutt you gotta be confused out of your fool head.”
Talking seemed to calm the beast and after a few minutes and a couple of sharp shakes the thing stopped trying to bite Red every time he tried to pet it.
“See? All you need Riley is a firm hand to keep you in check. I know dogs, my dad had a few and you are confused about who is the big bad boss of our pack. I am here to tell you that I am the alpha male and if you want to come with me you better accept that. Got it?”
He set the dog down, but kept his one hand firmly on the scruff of its neck, with the other he picked up the rabbit and offered it to the dog, it snapped at him again and he shook it, the second time he offered the rabbit it licked the dead animal's bloody fur. Red let it do that for a few minutes, then dropped the carcass and started petting the dog again. Finally, he let go of the scruff and the dog just stood there, looking at him, then nosing the rabbit, then looking at him again.
“Take it girl, you can have it.” The dog picked up the rabbit and started chomping into it. Red stepped back, wondering if it would follow him or just stay and finish the meal he had provided. “You can come with me if you want. I wouldn't mind the company and I think Nita will like you.” He turned and started to walk away, Riley picked up the rabbit and followed him.
The journey back to where he had left his two companions took a couple hours, the countryside was rugged, not flat as he had always imagined the mid-west. In addition to the rises and falls of the land there seemed to be a minor river or lake every quarter mile, most of the rivers and streams he could jump, but the lakes he had to go around. The farm was empty. This concerned him. He approached the van that Nita had stuffed the zombies into and opened the back door, it was empty. Or rather almost empty, there was a chest in the back, it looked like it was made out of cedar and was about two feet wide, three long and maybe twenty inches tall. The sides of the chest were coated with black blood that Red recognized as the kind zombies bled out. Flies were thick in the van as well, a whole cloud of them rose up as he pulled the chest out onto the gravel road.
Before he opened it, he knew what he would find; either Nita or Hugh. Riley whined nervously near his feet. Unlike with the humans, Red couldn't differentiate between zombies very well. If they were close, within a mile or two, he could tell his friends apart from the run of the mill zombies around them, but that was mostly due to how they moved and acted. He unlatched the chest and flipped the lid back. Nita's open eyes stared out at him, unseeing. Her arms were missing and her legs had been hacked off near the upper part of her thighs. Her stomach was ripped open and her entrails had been removed, cut up and dumped back into the cavity where they had been before. Red had become somewhat of a student of anatomy and he could tell the parts in Nita had been stirred up, he couldn't tell if she had still been alive when it had happened, but assumed so. No one would have a reason to do this after she had been put down. The top of her skull was hacked up and the bone was broken into shards that shown whitely through the black, sticky blood. Gently Red lifted the top of her skull, revealing an empty cavity underneath it. Whoever it was had hacked the top of her skull off and scooped her brains out to kill her.
Fuming, Red threw his head back and screamed, he took a step towards the van and smashed the back of it with his fist, tearing a hole through the metal, plastic and glass, causing it to roll over onto its side. He went after the vehicle as if it was the thing that had caused him so much pain, stooping he picked it up and lifted it over his head, half spinning he stopped and threw it into the farm house a hundred yards away, it crunched through the porch roof and ended up at an angle with the engine resting in the living room.
Looking back at Nita, he said, “I don't care what it takes. I will find the sonofabitch who did this and make him pay. I will make him pay. I am so sorry Nita, so sorry. You were a little fucked in the head, but I could have loved you, I really could have.” Somehow leaving her there to be eaten by maggots didn't seem right to Red, so he brought the chest over to the house and kicked in the front door, he set the chest down in the living room ten feet in front of where the van had come to rest. Then he went to the barn and looked around, it didn't take him long to spot the gas cans on the shelf by the tractors. Riley backed away from Red's anger, going over the ditch and into the field with the bit of her rabbit that remained.
Ten minutes later, with a smoking pillar behind him Red was stalking down the road after the tail end of the horde. Along the way he tried to convince himself to calm down, to think and plan. Nita had been almost as strong as Red was, the zombie or zombies that had killed her were likely to be able to order him around as well. Except for anger, anger always made things difficult. Scanning ahead, Red found he could spot the source of his anger quite easily, even though he was well out of visual range of the thing. It almost looked human. The swirling colors of the zombie told Red right where it was and upon seeing this he did stop.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” The thing had to be as strong as him, probably it was the secondary zombie who had traveled to Chicago to make sure that city fell. It might have consumed more living than Red, it might have been brought back from the dead sooner too, which were disadvantages if he were to fight it fairly. Watching it, he could tell it had spotted him too because it stopped moving. It was waiting for him.
'Fairly' that is the key. I can't fight it fair. I have to cheat. Or run away. Those were his options when he thought about them. With some reluctance, Red turned west and headed away from the horde toward Wyoming. Riley followed at his heels.