Exhumation is a slow process. It reminds R of farming, something that he remembers mostly from borrowed memories. They till the earth and plant the seeds. Some come up and grow and become a part of life again. Others lie fallow, obstinately refusing to change from the seed they are. R and Marcus and the others who want to come back, they're the vegetables and flowers and fruits of life. They're the product of hard work but ultimately it was their choice to grow and face the sun. The bonies are the seeds that lay fallow. There is no saving them, only death.
Colonel Grigio is still a seed, R thinks. The whole world is changing around him but Grigio resists change. He leads the charge against the bonies because that's what he knows how to do - kill the undead - but he doesn't know what to do with the ones that have come back. He doesn't know what to do with R, especially when Julie is so fond of R. They're not allowed alone together in the house, not when Grigio is home but Nora's gotten good at running interference for them. Still, it's stifling and Julie chafes under her father's watchful eye.
R's one of the lucky ones, the ones who've found someone - a living one, a human - to help. Not all are as lucky but they have each other at least and R knows that the time will come when everyone is as lucky as R and Julie. He even has hope for Marcus, who still plays the charming ladies-man.
They've given the former zombies a section of the compound, what once was a museum but now is a house of their own in the already crowded shelter behind the walls. No one wants to live with them. Not yet. Not until the seeds have all sprouted or fallowed. Not until exhumation is complete.
That will change in time.
R spends most of his time with Julie. It's nice, being alive again. Everything seems brighter. He doesn't know if it's because his eyes are functioning better now or if it's just hope painting everything in brighter colors. Maybe it's a bit of both. He has hope now. Hope for himself. Hope for Julie. He even spares a bit of hope for Colonel Grigio, that he will grow into this brand new world and thrive like the rest of them.
Julie wants to explore. She wants to go on adventures, to see how the other bastions of human resistance have fared and to spread the message - life is coming. R will go wherever Julie is, so they pack up the convertible with food and gas and drive off towards the nearest settlement. Julie drives because she's way better at it than R and there's not a soul around. Their hands intertwine over the gearshift and at night they lay close to each other in borrowed, abandoned beds.
Julie whispers softly to him from the other side of the pillow they share, telling him of her daydreams - of planes in the sky once more, of children playing in fields, of not being afraid.
Most nights they sleep, quiet and content in each other's companies.
Some nights, like their first night away from the compound and away from Colonel Grigio's watchful eye, Julie will undress where she knows R is watching. She'll crawl into bed with just her bra and panties on and lay beside him on the bed. It starts with a simple touch, always. A hand on her hip or shoulder or cheek. Gentle. He likes to feel the warmth of her spreading through his fingertips, warming the chilled but no longer dead flesh.
They meet with lips first, then other parts, clashing together like two waves on the ocean. The sounds they make are soft, near-silent, quiet as befits the world around them. Julie shows him what to do, moving his hands and arms where she wants, taking what she wants and giving so much more. After, when they lay side by side, hands intertwined, staring up at the ceiling, R thinks that this is where he was always meant to be, here with Julie, and his time as a zombie was just waiting for the right person to come along and change everything.
It takes them ten days to reach the settlement to the north. No bonies bother them. As they approach the settlement they see people - zombies - but when they slow, there's a light in their eyes that means they're more than dead. They are seeds waiting to grow. The former zombies – the exhumed – follow them as they make their way to the city walls where guards train their guns on the ones following. R holds up his hands and waves, warning them off. Julie accelerates and they speed to a stop in front of the gates.
"Don't shoot," Julie shouts, confusing the guards who look ready to save them from the hordes of undead. "They're alive."
They get out of the car while the gate guards call for backup.
"There's a cure," Julie says. "The dead are coming back to life."
R follows at a slower pace. He's used to men with guns trying to shoot him. These ones seem to accept him for the living person he now is, with no knowledge of what he once was.
"What are you talking about?"
Julie turns to him then. "R, tell them."
He's not sure what he's supposed to say. "Hi. I'm R. I used to be a zombie." He feels like he should be at a support group meeting, not standing outside a walled complex with a gun suddenly pointed at his face. He raises his hands and takes a step back. "I got better."
The second guard approaches cautiously and scans both of their eyes. "No sign of infection."
"We should get inside," the first guard says. "There's a whole group coming." He raises his rifle, but Julie lowers it with a hand on the barrel.
"They're with us."
"Let me show you."
Then Julie runs to the closest of the exhumed – a bedraggled middle-aged woman in dirty clothes with unkempt hair – and hugs her. The woman is startled for a moment, but then she hugs back. When Julie pulls away, there's a light in the woman's eyes that wasn't there before.
The guards stare. One slowly raises his walkie-talkie to his lips and says "You've got to see this."
One-by-one the exhumed are brought into the city and another city is saved. They stay the night, refresh their supplies, and in the morning they're off again.
This is how the world was exhumed.