A decapitated zombie is actually good company—just the head, not the body. The way I figure it, when whatever it is brings them back, it’s their meat and muscle that makes them mean. Maybe it hurts or something. Whatever it is, it’s stronger than their brains, and they end up shuffling around and moaning without words and biting people, and that’s nasty. But when you get rid of the whole rest of the body, then the head can be… not “normal,” exactly, but it doesn’t get all moany and chompy, and there’s enough brainpower left that it can actually be well-behaved. I didn’t figure all that out by myself, but I heard some and I guessed some. I’m good at figuring things out.
That’s why I had two zombie heads strung on the back of my backpack to keep me company. Plus, they smelled like zombies, so other zombies—the moany chompy kind—mostly left me alone. Like I say, not the best traveling buddies, but every damned place in America smells like zombies now, practically, and anyway some days I can’t smell them above myself. Candy was easy to tie on; she’s got long hair, so I just tied that around one of the straps. Bud was a little harder, because he had short hair and was half-bald anyway. I finally discovered that ear cartilage is surprisingly strong, so I strung a rope through loops in both ears and put him up beside Candy. They’re not the people I’d most want to travel with in the whole wide world, but they’re someone to talk to, and since I could go weeks without seeing another living person—and then they’d shoot at me, like as not—it kept me from going crazy. At least as far as I can tell. They used to call me “Crazy Mary” sometimes. Now nobody called me anything except the heads, and they just called me “Mary,” or sometimes just “Hey.” I don’t know what Bud and Candy’s real names were; I guess coming back after you die kind of messes with your memories, or maybe it’s having your head chopped off. So I named them, because I had to call them something.
I’d been slogging west across Nebraska, though I could have been into Colorado by now, or maybe even Wyoming, and it’s been peaceful and quiet and boring. The roads were mostly still good, but walking on the asphalt day in and day out can be murder on the feet—and I was a waitress, so I know aching feet—so sometimes I liked to just cross some of the fields that are all going back to long grass. It was easy to imagine the buffalo coming back and covering the whole land from horizon to horizon with fuzzy brown, if there are any buffalo left to start having little buffaloes.
And Bud said, “Hey, Mary. Where are we?” His voice sounded like a grunt because he had no lungs, so he just grunted in the back of his throat. Candy did, too. I had closed up the bottoms of both their necks with tied-on plastic bags, and sometimes when the wind was blowing they sounded like kazoos, but I didn’t do it for the sound; I just didn’t want their crap smearing on my backpack…