Home > The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(10)

The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(10)
Author: Isaac Marion

Zane? Lourdes? Something with an X?

No one tries to ease my entry. A few nervous glances are all the acknowledgment I get. But today was never a day for making friends; even Julie seems uncomfortable and eager to detach. There are too many stormclouds hanging in the air.

Nora stands framed in the window of the volleyball court with her arms folded, watching some kids toss a ball around. Her face is close to the glass and I can see her eyes in the reflection staring back at her. When she sees us approaching, the lost look on her face coalesces into a soft sadness. “Sorry for being a bitch,” she says, still watching the kids.

Julie moves toward her but stops at a less-than-intimate distance. “Did you have the wolf dream again?”

She turns around. “Can I just say sorry and leave it there?”

The two women watch each other, Julie searching, Nora evading. “Okay,” Julie says. Not an ending, but a bookmark.

A pair of slender arms wrap around her shoulders, catching her in a surprise hug, and the tension in her face melts as she turns around to return it.

“Damn it, Ella, you’re pretty stealthy for an old lady.”

“Lawrence has been teaching me some tactics. How are you, dear?”

“Hanging on.”

Her smile for Ella is warm and unreserved. I suspect that despite Julie’s general popularity, her true friends form a much smaller circle. Perhaps no wider than this corner of the room.

“And how are you, R?” Ella asks me with more pointed interest.

“Doing well, Mrs. Des … Descon …”

She smiles. “Desconsado.”

I shake my head. I visit her house nearly every week; I should be able to pronounce her name.

“Most people default to Mrs. Rosso anyway,” she says. “But like I keep telling you: call me Ella.”

I clear my throat. “I’m doing well, Ella. Hanging on … climbing up.”

“Happy to hear it.”

Ella is elderly, but she radiates an incongruous aura of youth. Her dark eyes are clear and sharp, her posture is straight—the result of a survival fitness regimen that knows no retirement age. She even has a few streaks of black in her grey hair, which she ties back with a red kerchief rather than tease into a grandmotherly curl cloud. She is not a little old lady. She is a woman.

Nora drifts over to the edge of our triangle, hands folded in front of her. “Hi, Ella,” she says quietly.

“Good to see you, Nora. You’ve been scarce lately, haven’t you?”

“Busy sewing up zombies.”

“Right.”

Julie watches Nora. Nora glances at her, then away.

“I’ve noticed you spending a lot of time with one in particular,” Ella continues, giving Nora a conspiratorial smile, but Nora doesn’t take the bait.

“I assume you mean Marcus. He needed a lot of work. Six bullet wounds and a shattered jaw.”

Ella nods, faintly disappointed. “And where is he now?”

“Good question.” Nora looks at me. “Where’s your friend, R?”

I think for a moment, wondering how to answer this. I remember the long climb to M’s temporary housing on the top floor of an apartment tower, the woozy sensation of the plywood walls swaying in the breeze. I remember opening the door to his spartan quarters and finding him stuffing his few possessions into a backpack: two white T-shirts, a hunting knife, a box of Carbtein, and a stack of vintage porn magazines.

“I’m going camping for a while,” he said, and I remember paying more attention to the quantity and fluidity of his words than to their content. It was early in our rejuvenation and we were still giddy over the ability to speak. We would sit in his room for hours and just say words, comparing the length of our sentences.

“Where?” I asked, losing by a landslide.

“Don’t know yet. Just need to get out. Be alone. This thing we’re doing …” He tapped his forehead. “It hurts.”

I knew what he meant, though I couldn’t relate. M, like most of the recovering Dead, was remembering his old life. Slowly, in small twists and jabs, the shards of his old identity were penetrating his new one, merging and combining, and it was a disorienting process. Some didn’t survive it. One dived off the stadium roof, screaming, “Get out of me!” to whoever was creeping in. Another ran into the city and tried to join a pack of All Dead, who gruesomely rejected his membership. One simply shot herself. I heard these stories as cautionary tales and clung viciously to the present. I was still a blank slate with only Julie written on it, and I intended to keep it that way.

“Good luck,” I told M at the stadium gates, and he turned. The M I used to know would have punched my shoulder. This one hugged me. Either his transformation was making him sentimental, or this was a bigger good-bye than I knew. Today’s great outdoors are packed with predators—human, animal, and other—and “going camping” is a popular mode of suicide.

“I’ll see you later,” he called over his shoulder as he walked out into the city, and I hoped—and continue to hope—that he meant it.

“He went camping,” I tell Ella while Nora and Julie watch me expectantly. At Ella’s stricken look I quickly add, “He’s coming back.”

“We’ll see,” Nora says.

Ella nods and her eyes drift. “It must be difficult … coming back. I can hardly imagine what you go through.”

“When are you doing your vision quest?” Nora asks me with a faint edge in her voice. “Don’t you need to go out into the woods and commune with your past lives or something? Everyone’s doing it.”

   
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