You drop beside the man and tilt his head back to clear his airway. Though a foul smell leaks out, no breath escapes. You squeeze his nose and puff into his mouth. His chest rises like an inflated balloon, but the man fails to breathe on his own. You find the center of his chest and apply compressions with the heels of your hands to the beat of Staying Alive to keep the rhythm. Still nothing.
You repeat the process over and over, yet the man fails to respond. His skin cools and eyes appear still, lifeless. Your work may be the only thing keeping Martys brain alive, but despite your training and determination, your body tires, and you cannot sustain CPR forever.
You glance up at the roar of a car engine.
Bouncing down the contours of the highway, a jeep travels toward you. Dust flutters up from its tires, and you make out the distinct shape of the military vehicle. As it nears, the jeeps slows, and you spot two people sitting inside. The jeep stops just before the body of Marty, and out steps a thin woman and a short man, both wearing Army combat uniforms and looks of confusion and surprise.
"Are you all right?" the man says with a slight Southern accent. The woman heads over to Marty and stands above him. Her almond-brown hair is wrapped in a bun, one strand slinking along her cheek, made rosy by the cold.
As the man approaches, he halts and scans your uniform. "Im Corporal Darius Mims," he says, then points to the woman. "Shes Private First Class Rebbecca Milford."
"Good to meet you both. Im Captain Aaron Amah," you say. "Private, do you have a medkit in your vehicle?" you ask.
Rebbecca runs to the jeep and returns with a medical bag.
"Take over CPR." You rise and lean on the rear of your car as Rebbecca continues working to resuscitate Marty.
"What happened here?" Rebbecca asks.
You sit on the trunk of the car. "I was on the road and just saw him lying there, so I pulled over."
"Did you call for help—an ambulance?" Darius asks, drawing out his smartphone.
"No, I stopped and started CPR."
Darius dials his phone and turns to peer down the highway. The snow has stopped, but the cold hangs in the air.
"Hes not breathing," Rebbecca says. She wipes sweat from her brow, but the pause is momentary, and she resumes CPR, her arms shivering in the stiff breeze. Marty remains motionless, except for a twitching left leg.
You pick up your smartphone and dial into base. The line rings and connects, though a busy signal answers. You re-dial but again, the call ends in a busy signal.
"Its ringing over and over but no ones picking up," Darius says, having no better luck. "Oh wait, I connected."
You close your phone and keep your eyes on Marty. His leg no longer twitches. Maybe it was the last remnants of nervous system conduction, like those final movements when a chicken loses its head.
Darius spins toward Marty, standing in the middle of the right lane of the highway and speaking into his smartphone. "Hello. Hello. This is Corporal Darius Mims. I was scheduled to report to Alexander Air Station, but we came upon an accident. Im with Private Rebbecca Milford."
As Darius speaks into the phone, relating the events leading up to this moment, Rebbecca rushes to the side of the jeep. "Where did I put that first aid kit," she mumbles.
Your right hand aches, and you check your range of motion by rotating your hand in a wide circle. Most likely just a strained muscle. Your watch reads 12:10—late for the meeting.
While Rebbecca drags out a hefty first aid pack, Marty sits up. His eyes, red and bulged, scan the area like two alien antenna feeling about in the air. His lips part and thin strands of yellow mucous span the black of his mouth. His skin is rippled and dark, like flesh decomposed for days, and a putrid smell lifts into the air. He cranes his neck sideways and before you can react, his arms reach out and grab Rebbeccas ankles. She flinches and screams, turning her body to the side, but as she moves, Marty yanks her down. Her head slams on the edge of the door, and her body folds as shes pulled. Marty crawls across the asphalt and drives his teeth into the meatiest part of her calf.
"What the hell?" Darius yells, fumbling with the phone in his hand.You throw open the trunk of your car and find your M9 pistol. You chamber a round, turn, and fire it into Marty. The base of his head splits off a chunk of skull, and Rebbecca yanks her leg away. She staggers and limps around the jeep, her leg a mess of torn flesh and blood. An area of skin is cut and flaps open, revealing bone.
Darius draws his own pistol and steps back, swiveling between you and the downed body of Marty, which lies still on the side of the road.
"He bit me. That crazy bastard bit me," Rebbecca says, hanging on the door of the jeep.
Darius staggers back to the highway, hand wrapped around the phone to his ear. "Sir, yes Im here."
You step over to Martys body, which now appears as a corpse should after several days of death. You recall bodies like this, found days after battle: discolored, bloated, and foul-smelling, eyes bulged, lips swollen, skin around the nails retracted so the fingers look clawed.
"I—I understand, sir," Darius says, a tortured look worn on his face like he just heard of the death of a loved one. "But sir, I…no, right. Yes. I can do it."
Darius holds out the phone to you and glances back at Rebbecca, who leans against the jeep as she rifles through her first aid bag.
You raise the phone to your ear. "Aaron?" you hear a voice yell and immediately identify the man as Colonel Faulkner.
"Listen, get to Alexanders quick, but be careful. The infection has spread fast, all may be lost. Ill brief you here. Good luck."
As you hang up the phone, you hear a gunshot. You turn to face Darius, whos standing over Rebbecca, softly sobbing with a pistol in his hand.
"You had no choice," you say. You place a hand on his shoulder and feel him trembling. "The bite is what killed her. You saved her from infection."
"We went to basic together…her and me. She was a good soul, married six months. It shouldn have happened. She didn deserve it." He chokes out the last few words.
"Nothing I say can express how sorry I am. But we need to go now. Its not safe. The world changed in minutes. Theres no telling what comes next."
Snow falls again, wetting the road and sloshing under the chassis of the car. The rhythmic flapping of the windshield wipers soothes you. Theres a darkness in the clouds that casts a shadow upon the plains, deep and rich, painting the ground in blues and grays. Lonely cactus trees dot the earth.
As you turn your attention to the highway, you spot a wide-open gate ahead and a sign saying "Alexander Air Station." An empty military jeep sits off the road. You drive through the posts, and the base comes into view. At first, you hear what sounds like thunder, but you realize the noise is automatic gunfire. Ahead, two soldiers in combat uniforms and helmets who carry M16 assault rifles flag you down and run toward your car. Past them, a scene of war and chaos plays out as soldiers fire and vehicles lay overturned and ablaze. A small civilian jet takes off, and from this distance you can just see the faint image of a person hanging off the wing until the plane levels and picks up speed. Then the body flips off and plummets behind a building.
You stop at the urging of the soldiers, and a man leans against your car. "Stop!" he yells, gasping for breath, hands shaking, a mix of blood and dirt masking his face. "Sir, the dead…they
e returning to life," he says and waves you on.
You pull the car along the road and round a depot building. And then you see them, streaming from behind a hangar, a pack of a dozen or so soldiers running beside the road. Their bodies twisted and skin ravaged with the marks of death, they emit a unified moan. A trumpet of gunfire erupts, and the dead soldiers twist and turn as bullets rip apart their flesh. A distance away, a Huey hangs in the air, smoke drizzling from a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on its side. The helicopter dips forward and speeds past you and over the hangar.
You drive forward and spot a uniformed woman directing traffic in a makeshift parking area. "Wheres Colonel Faulkner?" you ask, and she points to a square building. You park in front of it and run inside, almost colliding with the colonel himself. His normally gray hair looks white, and he smokes a cigar, something he never does in front of soldiers.
"Aaron," he says in a startled voice. He pulls you to the side as four soldiers in full tactical assault gear rush by. "The reports you may have heard, an infection ravaging the Far East, its true, and the virus has made its way here. The infected become hostile, enraged. Once infected, a person changes swiftly, sometimes in an hour or less. Once changed, their only goal is to infect by attacking the living, biting them. Theres no cure and no way to contain them. Our only recourse is to put them down with a head shot."
More gunfire bursts outside, causing Colonel Faulkner to pause. "Listen, I fear weve lost too much ground already and need to consider the future. I want you to get somewhere safe, even home. Avoid contact with anyone and hole up for a few days. Take this."
He hands you a satellite-phone-like device, though its a type youve never seen before. It has an extended keypad and a digital display with what appears to be tracking coordinates. "I will contact you within twenty-four hours. We
e putting together teams for the next phase of an operation we hope will sustain us. Until then, stay alive and be ready." I understand you said am ready to undertake this. Great," he says, placing his hand upon your shoulder.
Colonel Faulkner ushers you outside. Sweat rolls across his face, and you spot a trickle of blood along his neck. "Keep yourself locked in. If you encounter dead hostiles, kill them. Once infected, theres no saving them anyway."
You step into your car and k-turn out of the parking area. Colonel Faulkner slaps the hood of the car as you pull away. You flip on the radio. A whiny female voice spits from the dashboard radio.
"—police are trying to control the situation, but a massive number of reports are coming in of enraged, violent citizens wreaking havoc throughout the area. Many assume this change in behavior is due to infection from the virus spreading through Asia, Australia, and Africa—"
As you pull towards the exit, you spot the building used as an armory and turn off the main road to park beside it. If you take some gear, youll improve your odds of surviving. You swing the door open and step inside to what can only be described as chaos—a department store on Black Friday. Soldiers run from aisle to aisle, grabbing everything they can take. The shelves are nearly empty, and a booming voice from the back of the armory yells for everyone to leave now. You have time to grab an item or two.The range and accuracy of the M16 will serve you well. It will need some 5.56 rounds, though.
With the carbine in hand, you pop a magazine inside so its ready for action.
"Everyone out now!" someone yells, and a group of armed military police rush the room. You follow the exodus of soldiers outside, jump into your car, and ride out of the base.
Snow falls again, wetting the road and sloshing under the chassis of the car. The rhythmic flapping of the windshield wipers soothes you. Theres a darkness in the clouds that casts a shadow upon the plains, deep and rich, painting the ground in blues and grays. Lonely cactus trees dot the earth. But all of the colors and objects wash away, and a single thought fills your mind—Johnny should be home soon, and you want to be there when he arrives.Your hands shake as you close the door and cross to the center of your home. Max bolts across the living room, barking and jumping until you bend to pet him. Being home and seeing Max calms you.
The things youve already seen—the infected, their victims, the chaos—all rattle your nerves and have you asking too many questions with no immediate answers. How do I stay safe? What do I do now? When will this end? You feel like you
e sitting next to a time bomb, and at any moment—
Sounds outside: hurried footsteps, a gunshot, a growl. You creep along the wall and lean to the side, peeking through the edge of a window. An older man runs across the street near the front of your house, chased by a woman, long hair covering her head like a flowing hood. She hobbles diagonally, torso twisted off-center from her legs, and her arms rise and fall with each gallop. The old man turns and fires a revolver, misses, then races around the corner of a nearby house. The woman follows, unfazed by the gunshot.
You wonder if Parker, your neighbor, is home. Hes smart and works for the city, though its just a job at the museum. Maybe he knows whats going on. Or maybe Vince is home. He lives across the street and has been quite friendly in passing conversation. He keeps to himself, so you know little about the man other than that he teaches at a high school outside Nightfall. He has that distinct air of being capable, and you have a gut feeling hed know what to do in this situation.
You wonder about Fred, the neighbor on the other side of your house. How is he dealing with the mayhem in the city? Hes mid-40s and doesn appear to be in the best of health. Is he still alive?
Outside, the sound of what could only be described as civil war rages, citizen vs. citizen, in an engagement no one will win. How do I ensure my safety? What is the government doing to stop the spread of infection? So many questions and nowhere to turn for straight answers. Your mind races as you try to figure out what to do next.You survey the house. Everything is in good shape so far, with nothing broken and all intact and able to withstand light damage or force.
You collect tools, wood, and nails from the basement and set out to secure the home as fast as possible given the imminent dangers lurking outside.
Your vast crafting knowledge comes in handy in such situations, and your tool chest is invaluable in this case. First, you cover the door with the thickest boards you can find and reinforce them with 2x4s a few feet apart, using bolts and screws with wood glue to adhere the surfaces. You fasten boards over the windows as well, anchoring them to the wall with a masonry bit and wood screws. The creatures appear to have superior strength, or at least are determined enough to fight through a boarded window, so you use duct tape to seal any gaps, which also helps keep out the cold air. Since youve blocked so much visibility to the outside, you cut out small viewing ports in several windows. These provide a line of sight to various points outside.
The whole process takes just half an hour, thanks to your tools and know-how.
You feel somewhat worn from the effort, but at least the house is in better shape than before.
You run to the kitchen and find the schools phone number on a list of emergency contacts taped to the refrigerator. The line rings, but an automated message plays. "Due to increased call volume, the number you dialed cannot be reached. Please try again."
You redial several times, each with the same result. On the sixth call, the line connects to a different automated message—this one from the school. It states that classes ended early, and students were dismissed home.
Johnny should be on the school bus by now. You have no idea what route it takes, or you could pick him up. The only thing you can do now is wait for him.
Training a dog can take weeks or months for even a simple task to be performed on command, but Max has always proven to be highly teachable. Youve been working with him over the past few months to teach him to obey simple commands, and though he listens and obeys, you must reinforce his training every so often.
You bring him into the living room and grab a few of his favorite training treats. Unfortunately, theres only a handful left—enough for this training session, but not enough to use for a meal.
Maxs tail spins in a circle of excitement as you lead him through a series of commands: stay, sit, come, and heel, all of which will come in very handy should one of the infected cross your path, or even in dealing with a survivor of the outbreak. Each successful time he obeys, he receives a treat, and as you continue the practice, the reward matters less and less as the actions become habitual. After thirty minutes of working with Max, he listens with attention and performs the action with faithful obedience.
You take the satellite-phone-like device to the kitchen table and place it flat on the surface. The dark-gray screen lights up with a touch, popping on a digital display with a sequence of numbers: 40.056950, -106.346576. Assuming these are your current location coordinates, you inspect the rest of the screen. A dull gray icon hangs at the bottom right corner shaped like an envelope with a lightning bolt icon next to it. No other symbols or indicators appear on the display.
Next, you check the back panel but find no seams nor compartments for batteries, USB ports, antennas, or even a place to plug in a recharger. As you flip the phone around and look for a way to charge it, two series of letters momentarily flash on the extended keypad: AS and FT. You press each once, but nothing lights up and no messages flash. Did pressing them do anything? Having checked the phone as thoroughly as possible, you set it aside until it rings or provides an alert.
You check the time—3:00 pm.
You hear a bus outside and rush to the door to greet your nephew. His book bag swings on his back as he runs up the sidewalk, glasses crooked on his face. "Ares, its all over school, and we had to go to the auditorium until the buses showed up, and policemen were there to walk us out!"
You bring him inside and lock the door. He tosses his bag to the side. Max runs into the living room to greet your nephew. "The bus driver had to drive around jeeps and army guys on the road, and at one point, this guy Timmy called him a zombie, tried to get on the bus, and we kept driving."
"Okay, lets talk for a minute. Its important we both stay inside and keep the door locked. If anyone comes to the door, please tell me. Well be safe here until the government gets everything under control."
"Got it," your nephew says.
"Go get yourself a snack."
You check the time—3:30 pm.
Johnny stops by the house phone in the living room and stares down at it. "Ares as he fondly calls you, can I call my mother?".
You tell him no and he replied Why not?" Johnny asks, his voice high-pitched.
"Id rather not bother her until later, and we have stuff to do around here to make sure we
e safe. Okay?"
"Sure, I guess," he says and sits on the couch. Theres a lot to do in the house, and youll call your sister later. In the meantime, you…
You check the time—6:45 pm.
As you look around the living room, you realize your supplies and gear are scattered around the house. Its time to gather everything up and inventory your resources. Searching through the entire house, you gather a variety of useful things: a backpack, a knife, toiletries (two bars of soap, half a bottle of shampoo, half a tube of toothpaste), extra blankets, a bottle with some whiskey in it, a hammer, nails, and some wood, along with a half-full bottle of pain-killers. Johnny looks through a closet and brings you a GPS and flashlight with a pack of batteries. You create a pile on the first floor so everything is accessible when needed. As you rush around the house, Max watches you with an excited stare.
After the initial search, you move through the house more carefully and collect anything else that might be of use.
In your bedroom, you find a full can of pepper spray. You almost forgot you even had it. While upstairs, you open the top drawer of your dresser and dig under folded clothes to find a .38 Special revolver you bought for home protection.
You were hoping to practice with your close-combat weapon while on vacation, so you take out your Calvary sword
Your grandfather handed down his prized Civil War cavalry sword to you, which was passed down through your family tree. You recall summers at your grandfathers farm as a child, when youd practice swinging the sword and pretending to be a soldier in a pivotal battle of the war. Later in life, you found a class in sword-fighting and have made the cavalry sword your weapon of choice ever. Though you have cooking knives, you also bought a stainless-steel cleaver at a trade show. Surely it could come in handy. Also, you add your own set of portable cookware to your inventory. You gather all of your crafting tools and add them to the pile. Your neighbor asked you to work on his old Ford trucks engine, so you brought all of your mechanical tools out of storage recently. As you gather supplies, you shuffle past a pamphlet for a new karate dojo in town. You doubt the outbreak is a good time to check it out, but you have some proficiency in boxing
you also own a Bush master AR-15. Based on the M-16, this semiautomatic rifle spits out bullets as fast as the trigger can be pulled. With thirty rounds in the magazine, this rifle will keep you firing in heavy gunfights. The AR-15 has an effective range of five hundred yards, and its ammo is common in the US due to the guns popularity.Scouring the house, you locate numerous items hidden under boxes in the attic, including a heavy rope and an old baseball bat from your days of playing softball. One crate has a pair of binoculars in working condition, along with a compass. You also bring out a set of three road flares you kept in storage.
As you race through the house, you recall a petty cash fund in case of emergency. You pull down some tin cans from the back of a cupboard and locate a bundle of rolled cash totaling a thousand dollars.
You focus on any other items that might help. And then it clicks—your botany book. In college, you took a course on plant biology. Sure enough, the book sits high on your bookshelf. You flip through the book and know it will be invaluable for helping you identify edible plants should you need to find new sources of food.
As you finish searching the house, you remember buying a few supplies for a camping trip you were hoping to take a compound bow,The compound bows efficient design allows virtually anyone to draw the bow and shoot with impact and accuracy. The set came with twenty arrows.
It 7.45pm you call your sister hospital the house phone has no dial tone, so you try St. Marys Cancer Center on your smartphone. Busy signal. Just like when you tried to call Johnnys school, you redial over and over again. After a dozen tries, someone answers. His voice shakes as he says, "St. Marys Cancer Center."
"Im calling for a patient, last name is Amah."
"What is your relationship to Ms. Amah?"
"Im Captain Aaron Amah," you say in a commanding tone. "Shes my sister."
Through the receiver, you hear alarms ringing, a crackling loudspeaker, screams, and shouts. The background noise makes hearing the receptionist almost impossible.
"Your sister…oh my god. Im so sorry to tell you this over the phone. Shes gone."
"Gone? What do you mean, gone?" you yell, voice breaking.
"Im so sorry. She passed. Im so sorry. You have no idea whats going on here. The police are moving the living. God help us. Im so sorry."
The line goes dead.
All your thoughts focus on your sister and how she died alone in a hospital in a far more violent way than the reason she was there, and the images swimming around your head are crushing. Your nephew stares at you, his eyes swollen with tears and bottom lip quivering.
Come here," you say, waving Johnny over. He stands still. "Listen, your mom…she…" You can find the right words. How do you tell an eight-year-old his mom has passed away?
"Your mother died. She was very sick, and Im not sure how, but—" Johnny runs forward and falls into your body. You wrap your arms around him, and this only seems to open the gates of emotion. He sobs and shakes, and though you cradle him and tell him everything will be okay and his mother is in a better place, his tears keep falling faster. He falls into you and hugs you back, and there he stays until sleep overcomes him. You lay Johnny across the couch and cover him with a blanket. He lost a mother, and you lost a sister.
e not sure how you feel, for a larger issue rushes into focus—survival. You might feel sad shes gone; hell, you might feel relieved she won have to see the world turn to Armageddon, but whatever you feel, you know now is not the time to feel it. Time goes by, and you finally decide upon your next course of action.You check the time—8:15 pm.
Maxs ears pop up, and he rushes to the window, staring rigidly toward the front of the house. His stance goes low to the ground. Just then, your eyes catch movement through space in the boards covering the front window, and you peer outside. A slender figure hobbles on your sidewalk, a man dressed in a blue blazer and black jeans. His arms hang by his side but bow outward, and his legs twitch as they take each step. When he turns toward the front of the house, you see the real signs of infection: the yellow skin, the green marks, the fogged-over eyes with dark pupils flitting around like goldfish in a cloudy bowl. Brown strands of drool waver from his mouth to his chin. And for some reason, whether coincidence or a hidden sense, he looks at your front door as if he knows something lives behind it. He climbs the stairs and stops at the front door, eyes fixed forward and head tilted to the side.
"Its one of those things," Johnny says as he stares out the window.