WE KEEP WALKING AS the daylight slowly fades, the darkness finally bringing some respite from the heat.
"What time is it?" Adam asks.
"What day is it?"
"Don't know that either."
"Don't suppose it matters," he grumbles as we limp slowly down a long dirt track that curves around the edge of a deserted farm. He's right-the time, day, date, temperature, position of the moon... none of it really matters anymore. Life is no longer about order and routine, it's about the hunt and the kill and just getting through each day unscathed. When the war began, killing was all that mattered, but things feel like they're changing now.
I would never tell him, but I've enjoyed traveling with Adam. Having someone like him to talk to has proved unexpectedly beneficial. Maybe that's why I went back for him earlier, and why I've put up with him for the last few days. Without even realizing it, he's helping me make sense of what's happened to me since the onset of the Hate. Before I killed them, Adam's parents had him locked in their garage, chained to the wall like a dog. He'd spent months there in total isolation. I've had to explain everything that happened to the rest of the world while he'd been locked away. Going over it all again has helped me to understand.
Adam's first direct experience of the Hate was similar to mine, but in some ways the poor bastard had it even tougher than me. He was caught off guard when he realized what he was and what he had to do. He tried to kill his family, but, filled with the same fear and disorientation that I remembered feeling after I'd killed my father-in-law, his father managed to fight back and smashed his right hand and left ankle with a small sledge hammer. Rather than finish him off or turn him over to the authorities, though, Adam's parents locked him up and locked themselves down. They didn't have the strength to kill him, even though they knew he'd kill both of them in a heartbeat. I understand why they did it. It's like the tied-up kid I found earlier today. The Unchanged just can't let go. They hold on to the people that used to matter to them in the vain and pointless hope they'll somehow be cured or change again. But how can we be cured? We're not the ones who are sick. Adam's parents had the whole thing planned out. They starved the poor fucker for days, then fed him drugged food to keep him subdued and under control. Finding him was like something out of a fucked-up Stephen King book. Wonder if Stephen King's like us or like them...?
"Can we stop soon?"
"You got any idea where we are?" Adam asks. His voice is weak. I glance across at him. His face is white and his skin clammy.
"Roughly," I answer. Truth is I'm not exactly sure, but for the first time in ages I actually do have a fair idea of where I am. For weeks I've traveled everywhere on foot. Like most people I've shunned cars and other similar means of transport-they make me feel conspicuous when all I want to do is disappear, and anyway, most roads are blocked and impassable now. I knew we were getting close, but it was yesterday afternoon, after we'd spent almost an hour waiting on the outskirts of a vicious battle for a kill that never came, when I caught sight of the Beeches on the horizon-a distinctively shaped clump of ancient trees perched on top of an otherwise barren and exposed hill. The trees are a natural landmark I used to pass on the highway traveling back home from rare day trips out with Lizzie and the kids. My best guess was that we were three or four miles short of them, and from memory they were another five miles or so from the edge of town.
"So where are we?"
"Close to where I used to live."
"So why do you want to go back there?"
"What?" I mumble, distracted.
"Back home? Why do you want to go home?"
"I lost my daughter, and I want to find her again," I tell him. "She's like us."
He nods his head thoughtfully. Then, from out of nowhere, a huge grin spreads across his tired, sweat-streaked face.
"So how many did you kill today, Dan?"
"Two, I think. You?"
"Beat you! I got three. You should have seen the last one. Speared the fucker on my stick. Took more effort to pull it out again than it did to skewer him!"
"I tell you, man," he continues, the tiredness gone and his voice suddenly full of energy and enthusiasm, "it's the best feeling. When I first see them they scare the hell out of me, but as soon as I'm ready and I've got my head together, all I want to do is kill. Does that feeling ever go? Tell me it doesn't..."
Adam's still living off the buzz of sudden power and freedom that comes with understanding the Change and experiencing your first few kills. I felt the same when it happened to me. It'll be a while before he comes down again. It's like a drug, and we're like junkies. I don't get the same highs I used to anymore, just the cravings. The euphoria has faded, and life's more of a struggle now. It's getting harder to find food, and I'm tired. The gap between kills is increasing, and all that's left to do in those gaps is think.
"The feeling doesn't go," I answer. "It just changes."
"Wish I'd been there at the start..."
For a few seconds he's quiet again, daydreaming about all the opportunities he's convinced he's missed. The silence is only temporary while he thinks of the next question to ask.
"So what are we?"
"What do you mean?"
"All I want to do is kill, man. I'm addicted. Am I some kind of vampire?"
"Don't be stupid."
"I'm not, think about it..."
"Believe me, I have thought about it. We're not vampires. We don't drink blood, we just spill it. I like garlic in my food, I'm okay with sunlight, and I can see my reflection in mirrors."
"You sure? You seen the state of yourself recently?"
I ignore his cheap jibe. He's right, but he looks no better. It's months since I cut my hair and weeks since I last shaved. I did manage to wash in a stream yesterday-or was it the day before...?
"What are we, then? Werewolves?"
I shake my head in disbelief. This guy's relentless. What's even more disturbing is the fact I've already had this conversation with myself and I've got my answers prepared. Truth is, at the beginning, there were times I felt more like an animal than a man. In some ways I still do, but now I scavenge more than hunt. Less like a wolf, more like a rat.
"We're not werewolves. We don't change when the moon comes out."
"I know that, you prick," he says, catching his breath as the toes on his broken foot drag on the ground. I stay quiet for a moment, wondering if I should tell him what I really think or whether it's just going to pointlessly prolong this stupid conversation.
"Here's what I reckon," I say, deciding just to go for it. "You want to compare us to a type of monster? Look at the evidence-"
"Look at how we live and what we do."
"I don't get you..."
"We drag ourselves around constantly, looking for Unchanged to kill. It's almost like we're feeding off them. When you're killing you feel alive, like you can do anything, but the rest of the time it's like you're in limbo. Just existing. Not really living, but not dead either..."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying we're like zombies," I finally admit. "Being out here is like being one of the undead."
He doesn't react. For a minute everything is quiet and deceptively peaceful, the only sound our slow, uneven footsteps on the dirt track.
"Do you know what I always used to wonder?" he eventually asks.
Do I really want to know?
"I used to wonder what happened to the zombies after the end of the film. You know what I'm saying? When all the living have been infected and there's no one left to kill, what happens next? Does the hunger ever go away, or is rotting all that's left for them?"
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