Max heard Bill call out for him. Answering was impossible with the zombie’s hand clamped tightly around his mouth.
“I know you want to answer him. But just simmer down. Relax. Ain’t nothing you can do to change what is happening right now.” The zombie, one Stewart would quantify as an ‘Einstein’, continued carrying him down a ravine through the fog.
After he was pulled from the truck Max remembered hitting the ground hard and landing on top of the zombie who had grabbed him. Then things became a little blurry as the hands of the dead pulled at him, lifting him up and away from the unmoving form of the zombie that had cushioned his fall. Now he was being carried like a trussed pig by a large African American man, and there were zombies all around them. In fact, when Max concentrated on his friends he could tell that the zombie attack had been called off of them. The shamblers were dispersing from the glowing sparks that Max had come to see his friends as.
“I’m Lucas.” The zombie offered by way of introduction. Turning to his nearby friends, fellow Einsteins, Lucas said, “You truss him, I’ll hold his mouth.”
When Max had his feet on the ground he tried to make a break for it. The other zombies were not expecting his strength, but Lucas was ready for it. He kept one hand pressed against Max’s mouth and used his other to grab him around the back of his head. Max’s scream was an aborted muffle that hadn’t carried more than a few feet. Lucas lifted Max into the air by his head, held him there and shook him with an almost tenderness.
“I know your kind.” Lucas said, giving Max another gentle shake. “You might take more shaking to break your neck than most living, but I could do it. And now you know it. So? You got no choice in this. Come along with us. Either quietly or not, but either way you are coming along.”
Max had wrapped his hands around Lucas’s arms so all his weight was not balanced on his neck. He couldn’t communicate in the position he was in, so he just let the rest of his body go limp. The other zombies quickly closed in and tied his legs, using what looked like metal cuffs on his legs. They put one set on and after a moment’s hesitation, snapped a second set into place.
“See? We know about you.” Lucas said. “Sorry about this next bit.”
Max caught a flash of orange as a strap was wrapped around over his eyes. His feet hit the ground abruptly and Lucas removed his hand and forced some sort of ball into Max’s mouth. The cord was tightened at the back of his head and once strapped in Max couldn’t speak so much as a word. His hands were pulled behind his back and double cuffed like his feet had been.
“Look at it this way, at least you don’t have to walk.” Lucas pointed at two of the zombies nearby and said, “Carry him. And don’t hurt him.”
The zombies hefted Max like a log over their shoulders and the group set out at a jog through the fog.
‘Stewart!’ Max thought furiously in his mind, trying, hoping to contact her. After all, if he could see nearby people, why not talk to them too. In this case his hopes were dashed and nothing happened at all. Slowly he watched as his friends made every widening circles in a search pattern behind him at the camp ground. One by one, the group slipped beyond his ability to see them anymore.
The sun rose and burned off the fog around them, replacing it with a hot, humid summer day. The zombies stayed away from roads, they travelled through the woods and along stream beds and if they did take a man-made path they practically ran while they moved along it. It was mid-morning before they stopped and Lucas undid the bindings holding Max gagged.
“Sorry, it has been a few weeks since I was alive. It is amazing how quickly you forget about certain things. Are you thirsty?”
Max wanted to respond with defiance, he had plenty of time to think about what would happen when they inevitably spoke with him. He had figured out they would, he didn’t know what they wanted, but if they wanted him dead they had ample opportunity. If they wanted live humans, they would have taken Bill and the others. ‘No,’ he thought, ‘They wanted me. And they got me.’
To test his theory he merely said, “I wouldn’t say no to a drink.”
Lucas nodded, “I think it is pretty safe to say you could yell for help all you wanted out here. Can you still see your friends?”
Max put a confused look on his face and looked around, “No. How could I?”
Shaking his head Lucas didn’t smile when he said, “That is not what I am talking about. And I want you to know that I know that. Now, can you still see your friends?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Max answered, “No.”
“Not so hard is it? Cooperating, I mean.”
“About that drink…” Max ventured.
“Coming up. Adam?” Lucas asked, “Get the man a drink.”
A zombie cut from the cloth of male adolescent approached with a shoulder bag and pulled out a liter of bottled water. He popped the lid off of it and held it up while Max drank his fill, then pulled back a little late, spilling water everywhere.
“Sorry.” Adam said with a sulky voice that indicated he was anything but.
“Don’t worry about it. In this humidity I’ll be soaked through in an hour anyway.”
“True enough.” said Lucas, “Are you hungry?”
“What have you got?”
“Does it matter?”
Max waited a moment and nodded, “Yeah.”
“Well how about pancakes, bacon, grits, fresh eggs and plenty of maple syrup and butter? Served with hot fresh coffee. Do you take cream and sugar?”
Involuntarily Max felt his mouth watering, “Both.”
“Adam.” Lucas said.
The young man pulled out a box of Kashi food bars.
“Sorry, we don’t have any of that other stuff.” Lucas said. He took a bar from Adam, tore the wrapper off and held it while Max nibbled it.
“So, what do you want with me?” Max asked between bites.
“I don’t want anything with you.”
The rest of the meal was short and silent. Lucas didn’t gag Max when they started moving again, but he didn’t allow Max to walk himself either. The group only travelled a short distance, when they came across a four lane highway. Max caught sight of a road sign, it was highway 75, the same road he had been travelling south on yesterday. Max couldn’t tell if they were at a spot on the road that he had already passed, but if he had to guess he would have said they were further south.
They group stood in the brush just off the road, except for Lucas and Max the other zombies crouched down out of sight from the road. Lucas took Max back about into the trees almost out of sight of the highway, and they waited.
“What are we waiting for?” Max eventually asked.
“You tell me. You got the sight. Don’t blink or you might miss it.”
A few more minutes passed and Max heard the sound of a car driving along the highway. It was moving along at a good clip and disappeared from sight in seconds thanks to the heavy tree growth. The vehicle was a mini-van of some sort, which relieved Max, he had been afraid it would be one of the trucks carrying Bill and Stewart away from him.
“That’s it?” Max asked. “You wanted me to see a mini-van drive by? You could have just asked.”
Lucas shook his head, “Nope. I don’t think you would have come. Anyway that was only the first one. We’re waiting for the second. Give it a couple minutes.” Lucas took ahold of Max and carried him to the edge of the highway, they loitered there in full view of anyone coming along the road now.
Closer to five minutes later a camouflage military vehicle came around the long curve towards them. The Humvee slowed and stopped before them and Max saw the passenger door open and a woman got out. He recognized her.
“You! You’re…Harry’s girl!” Max said with surprise.
The woman shook her head, “’Harry’s girl’? Bah! Harry was my man.” She said emphasizing the word ‘my’, “You almost got it right. A small deception that worked pretty well, though not good enough. Of course you almost killed me. Then again you did get Harry.”
“I saw you. You got shot in the street.”
“Neck shot. I healed. Harry…not so lucky.”
“But, the bombs!” Max stammered, “The bombs started falling everywhere, we barely got out.”
“Yeah, I didn’t. You know what it’s like to be buried under a building? It took me hours to figure out what happened and a day to organize a digging party to rescue me.”
Both stood and stared in silence for a moment, then Lucas said, “Are we done with the reunion? He is the one you wanted?”
The woman nodded, “Yeah, Lucas. This is him. Thanks.”
“I’m gone then. Want me to pin the others down for a bit, or does it matter now?”
“Nah, let them go. I’ll have plenty of time to talk. And I can handle a diversion or two myself if I have to.”
“Alright. Bye Aubrey. I’d like to say it was a pleasure, but, well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. If it’s any consolation it is for a higher cause.”
Lucas snorted, “So you say, I see what you want, but this hierarchy problem is never going to go away. Not until there is only one of us left.”
“We can argue what’s best later. I need to talk to this guy now.” Aubrey said.
Lucas turned and went into the woods, pausing before he stepped into them, he turned and said, “Oh, and Aubrey, he didn’t notice. I don’t think, you might have to point it out to him.”
“Aubrey.” Max said, “I don’t suppose you brought me all this way to let me go?”
The petite woman smiled and nodded, “That, believe it or not, is exactly what I am going to do.”