Home > Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)(9)

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)(9)
Isaac Marion

His face gets eerily serious. ‘What? Love?’

I think about this, and I find no response beyond a simple shrug. So I shrug, trying not to smile.

M throws back his head and does his best impression of laughter. He thumps me on the shoulder. ‘My . . . boy! Lover . . . boy!’

‘Leaving . . . with her,’ I tell him.

‘Where?’

‘Taking . . . her home.’

‘Stadium?’

I nod. ‘Keep her . . . safe.’

M considers this, watching me with concern clouding his bruised face.

‘I . . . know,’ I sigh.

M folds his arms over his chest. ‘What . . . going on . . . with you?’ he asks me again.

And again, I have no answer but a shrug.

‘You . . . okay?’

‘Changing.’

He nods uncertainly, and I squirm under his probing eyes. I’m not used to having deep conversations with M. Or with any of the Dead, for that matter. I rotate the coffee cup in my fingers, intently studying its fuzzy green contents.

‘When . . . figure out . . .’ M finally says, in a tone more earnest than I’ve ever heard from him, ‘tell me. Tell . . . us.’

I wait for him to crack wise, turn it into a joke, but he doesn’t. He is actually sincere.

‘I will,’ I say. I slap him on the shoulder and stand up. As I walk away, he gives me that same strange look I’m finding on the faces of all the Dead. That mixture of confusion, fear and faint anticipation.

The scene as Julie and I make our way out of the airport resembles either a wedding procession or a buffet line. The Dead are lined up in the halls to watch us pass. Every last one of them is here. They look restless, agitated, and would clearly love to devour Julie, but they don’t move or make a sound. Over Julie’s heated protests I asked M to escort us out. He follows a few paces behind, huge and vigilant, scanning the crowd like a Secret Service agent.

The unnatural silence of a room full of people who don’t breathe is surreal. I swear I can hear Julie’s heart pounding. She is trying to walk steady and look cool, but her darting eyes betray her.

‘Are you sure about this?’ she whispers.

‘Yes.’

‘There’s like . . . hundreds of them.’

‘Keep you safe.’

‘Right, right, safe, how could I forget.’ Her voice grows very small. ‘Seriously, R . . . I mean, I’ve seen you kick ass, but you know if someone decides to ring the dinner bell right now I’m going to be sushi.’

‘They . . . won’t,’ I tell her with a surprising degree of confidence. ‘We’re . . . new thing. Haven’t . . . seen before. Look at them.’

She looks closer at the surrounding faces, and I hope she can see what I’ve been seeing. The strange array of their reactions to us, to the anomaly we represent. I know they will let us through, but Julie seems unconvinced. A tight wheeze creeps into her breathing. She fumbles in her messenger bag and pulls out an inhaler, takes a hit from it and holds it in, eyes still darting.

‘You’ll . . . be okay,’ M says in his low rumble.

She expels the breath and whips her head around to glare at him. ‘Who the f*ck asked you, you fu**ing blood sausage? I should have hedge-trimmed you in half yesterday.’

M chuckles and raises his eyebrows at me. ‘Got . . . a live one . . . “R”.’

We continue unmolested all the way to the Departures gate. As we step out into the daylight, I feel a nervous buzz in my stomach. At first I think it’s just the ever-present terror of the open sky, now looming over us in bruised shades of grey and purple, boiling with high-altitude thunderheads. But it’s not the sky. It’s the sound. That low, warbling tone, like baritone madmen humming nursery rhymes. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten more attuned to it or if it’s actually louder, but I hear it even before the Boneys make their appearance.

‘Shit, oh shit,’ Julie whispers to herself.

They march around both corners of the loading zone and form a line in front of us. There are more of them than I’ve ever seen in one place. I had no idea there even were this many, at least not in our airport.

‘Problem,’ M says. ‘They look . . . pissed.’

He’s right. There is something different in their demeanour. Their body language seems stiffer, if that’s possible. Yesterday they were a jury stepping in to review our case. Today they are judges, announcing the sentence. Or perhaps executioners, executing it.

‘Leaving!’ I shout at them. ‘Taking her back! So they won’t . . . come here!’

The skeletons don’t move or respond. Their bones harmonise in some sour alien key.

‘What . . . do you want?’ I demand.

The entire front row raises its arms in unison and points at Julie. It strikes me how wrong this is, how fundamentally different these creatures are from the rest of us. The Dead are adrift on a foggy sea of ennui. They don’t do things in unison.

‘Taking her back!’ I shout louder, faltering in my attempt at reasonable discourse. ‘If . . . kill her . . . they’ll come here. Kill . . . us!’

There is no hesitation, no time for them to consider anything I’ve said; their response is predetermined and immediate. In unison, like demon monks chanting Hell’s vespers, they emit that noise from their chest cavities. That proud crow of unyielding conviction, and although it’s wordless, I understand exactly what it’s saying:

No need to speak.

No need to listen.

Everything is already known.

She will not leave.

We will kill her.

That is how things are done.

Always has been.

Always will be.

I look at Julie. She is trembling. I grip her hand and look at M. He nods.

With the pulse-warmth of Julie’s hand flooding through my icy fingers, I run.

We bolt left, trying to dodge around the edge of the Boneys’ platoon. As they clatter forward to block my path, M surges out in front of me and rams his bulk into the nearest row, knocking them into a pile of hooked limbs and interlocked ribcages. A fierce blast of their invisible horn stabs the air.

‘What are you doing?’ Julie gasps as I drag her behind me. I am actually running faster than her.

‘Keep you sa—’

‘Don’t you even think about saying “keep you safe”!’ she shrieks. ‘This is about as far from safe as I’ve ever—’

She screams as a skinless hand pinches down on her shoulder and digs in. The creature’s jaw opens to sink its filed fangs into her neck, but I grab it by the spine and wrench it off her. I fling it to the concrete as hard as I can, but there is no impact and no shattering of bones. The thing almost seems to float in defiance of gravity, its ribcage barely touching the ground before springing upright again, lurching towards my face like some hideous, unkillable insect.

‘M!’ I croak as it grapples for my throat. ‘Help!’

M is busy trying to peel skeletons off his arms, legs and back, but he seems to be standing his ground thanks to his superior mass. As I struggle to keep the skeleton’s fingers out of my eyes, M lumbers towards me, pulls the thing off me, and flings it into three others about to jump on him from behind.

‘Go!’ he yells and shoves me forward, then turns to face our pursuers. I grab Julie’s hand and dash towards our target. Finally, she sees it. The Mercedes. ‘Oh!’ she pants. ‘Okay!’

We jump in the car and I bring the engine to life. ‘Oh Mercey . . .’ Julie says, stroking the dashboard like a beloved pet. ‘So happy to see you right now.’ I put the car in gear and release the clutch, gunning us forward. Somehow, it seems easy now.

M has given up trying to fight and is now just running for his life with a mob of skeletons trailing behind him. Hundreds of zombies stand outside the Departures entry area, watching everything in silence. What are they thinking? Are they thinking? Is there any chance they’re forming a reaction to this event unfolding in front of them? This sudden explosion of anarchy in the state-approved programme of their lives?

M cuts across the street, directly across our exit route, and I floor the accelerator. M crosses in front of us, then the Boneys cross in front of us, then four thousand pounds of German engineering smashes into their brittle, ossified bodies. They shatter. Bits of anatomy fly everywhere. Two thigh bones, three hands and half a cranium land inside the car, where they vibrate and twitch on the seats, releasing dry gasps and insectile buzzes. Julie hurls them out of the car and frantically wipes her hands on her sweatshirt, shuddering in revulsion and whimpering, ‘Oh my God oh my God.’

But we are safe. Julie is safe. We roar past the Arrivals gates, onto the freeway, and out into the wider world while the storm clouds churn overhead. I look at Julie. She looks at me. We both smile as the first raindrops begin to fall.

Ten minutes later, the storm has launched into its big opening movement, and we are getting soaked. The convertible was a poor choice for a day like this. Neither of us can figure out how to put the top up, so we drive in silence with heavy sheets of rain beating down on our heads. We don’t complain, though. We try to stay positive.

‘Do you know where you’re going?’ Julie asks after about twenty minutes. Her hair is matted flat on her face.

‘Yes,’ I say, looking down the road at the dark grey horizon.

‘Are you sure? ’Cause I have no idea.’

‘Very . . . sure.’

I prefer not to explain why I know the route between the airport and the city so well. Our hunting route. Yes, she knows what I am and what I do, but do I have to remind her? Can we just have a nice drive and forget certain things for a while? In the sunny fields of my imagination we are not a teenager and a walking corpse driving in a rainstorm. We are Frank and Ava cruising tree-lined country lanes while a scratchy vinyl orchestra swoons our soundtrack.

‘Maybe we should stop and ask directions.’

I look at her. I look around at the crumbling districts surrounding us, nearly black in the evening gloom.

‘Kidding,’ she says, her eyes peeking out between plastered wet clumps of hair. She leans back in the seat and folds her arms behind her head. ‘Let me know when you need a break. You kinda drive like an old lady.’

As the rain pools into standing water at our feet, I notice Julie shivering a little. It’s a warm spring night, but she’s saturated, and the cab of the old convertible is a cyclone of freeway wind. I take the next exit, and we ease down into a silent graveyard of suburban grid homes. Julie looks at me with questioning eyes. I can hear her teeth chattering.

I drive slowly past the houses, looking for a good place to stop for the night. Eventually I pull into a weedy cul-de-sac and park next to a rusted mini-van. I take Julie’s hand and pull her towards the nearest house. The door is locked, but the dry-rotted wood gives way with a light kick. We step into the relative warmth of some long-dead family’s cosy little nest. There are old Coleman lanterns placed throughout the house, and once Julie lights them they provide a flickering campsite glow that feels oddly comforting. She ambles around the kitchen and living room, looking at toys, dishes, stacks of old magazines. She picks up a stuffed koala bear and looks it in the eyes. ‘Home sweet home,’ she mumbles.

She reaches into her messenger bag, pulls out a Polaroid camera, points it at me and snaps a shot. The flash is shocking in this dark place. She grins at my startled expression and holds up the camera. ‘Look familiar? I stole it from the skeletons’ meeting room yesterday morning.’ She hands me the developing photo. ‘It’s important to preserve memories, you know? Especially now, since the world is on its way out.’ She puts the viewfinder to her eye and turns in a slow circle, taking in the whole room. ‘Everything you see, you might be seeing for the last time.’

I wave the picture in my hand. A ghostly image begins to take shape. It’s me, R, the corpse that thinks it’s alive, staring back at me with those wide, pewter-grey eyes. Julie hands the camera to me.

‘You should always be taking pictures, if not with a camera then with your mind. Memories you capture on purpose are always more vivid than the ones you pick up by accident.’ She strikes a pose and grins. ‘Cheese!’

I take her picture. When it rolls out of the camera she reaches for it, but I pull it away and hide it behind my back. I hand her mine. She rolls her eyes. She takes the photo and studies it, tilting her head. ‘Your complexion looks a little better. The rain must have cleaned you up a bit.’

She lowers the photo and squints at me for a moment. ‘Why are your eyes like that?’

I look at her warily. ‘Like . . . what?’

‘That weird grey. It’s nothing like how corpse eyes look. Not clouded over or anything. Why are they like that?’

I give this some thought. ‘Don’t know. Happens at . . . conversion.’

She’s looking at me so hard I start to squirm. ‘It’s creepy,’ she says. ‘Looks . . . supernatural, almost. Do they ever change colour? Like when you kill people or something?’

I try not to sigh. ‘I think . . . you’re thinking . . . of vampires.’

‘Oh, right, right.’ She chuckles and gives a rueful shake of her head. ‘At least those aren’t real yet. Too many monsters to keep track of these days.’

Before I can take offence, she looks up at me and smiles. ‘Anyway . . . I like them. Your eyes. They’re actually kinda pretty. Creepy . . . but pretty.’

It’s probably the best compliment I’ve received in my entire Dead life. Ignoring my idiot stare, Julie wanders off into the house, humming to herself.

The storm is raging outside, with occasional thunderclaps. I’m grateful that our house happens to have all its windows intact. Most of the others’ were smashed long ago by looters or feeders. I glimpse a few debrained corpses on our neighbours’ green lawns, but I’d like to imagine our hosts got out alive. Made it to one of the Stadiums, maybe even some walled-off paradise in the mountains, angelic choirs singing behind pearl-studded titanium gates . . .

I sit in the living room listening to the rain fall while Julie putters around the house. After a while she comes back with an armful of dry clothes and dumps them on the love seat. She holds up a pair of jeans about ten sizes too big. ‘What do you think?’ she says, wrapping the waist around her entire body. ‘Do these make me look fat?’ She drops them and digs around in the pile, pulls out a mass of cloth that appears to be a dress. ‘I can use this for a tent if we get lost in the woods tomorrow. God, these folks must have made a fancy feast for some lucky zombie.’

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