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Chapter One

“Contamination. Chaos. Cannibalism.”

If I had to describe in just three words what my life had become, those would be the ones. But it wasn’t me who just spoke them. It was Carla the Cop, my almost-girlfriend.

“It’s turning into a plague,” she added.

Just a few days ago, my life had been normal.

I had been fairly happy just working as a park ranger, parenting my fourteen-year-old daughter, and enjoying the relative simplicity of my routine existence.

Then all hell had broken loose. Literally.

“The infected. The crazed. The abominable,” said my brother’s friend, Mike, his words reaching me as if from a great distance. Also, I realized he was talking about me, too.

It was true. Because I was one of them.

The wretched course of my infection was the most horrifying thing I’d ever experienced. God, I was so sick that I was starting to not care if I kept my sanity—or even my life. Yes, if not for my daughter—who was the center of my universe—I would have had much darker thoughts than the ones that currently plagued me.

A plague. Yes. That’s what this was turning into. One thing the infection did for me was jolt me out of my own small and perhaps selfish existence to consider the big picture.

“It’s a global threat to humanity,” Carla continued.

I nodded, but felt unable to vocalize actual words. And that very much scared me.

My brother and his friend—both lieutenant commanders in the United States Navy—had unwittingly brought the infection to my house. They were two of just a handful of people who had come in contact with mysterious meteors that had crashed from the heavens. They’d become so sick and irrational that I’d had to imprison them in my cellar—for their own safety, as well as mine and my daughter’s.

I still didn’t know if their forced captivity was right or wrong, but I’d justified my own actions as drastic steps that I had taken to protect my brother from those who were looking for him, and to stop the infection from spreading.

“Apparently, we will all get our turns to play judge, jury and executioner,” Mike said. He looked at me for a moment, as if he wondered if what he was saying was registering with me.

I nodded. Above all, I had to protect my daughter, Anna. She was my life, and my reason for living. She was what I was fighting for, even now, in my sickness.

I tried to say my daughter’s name and it came out as, “Ah-ah.” I tried again, and gave up. I was so sick. So very sick.

Anna wiped my brow. She was acting so brave. But I saw the tears shimmering in her eyes.

Mike continued, “Accounts of these same symptoms appearing in people exposed to the meteors were followed by actual cannibalism—this was reported at international locations where these meteors landed. People who came in contact with the rocks developed symptoms. Like mine and now, his.” Mike gave me a sharp look.

“It’s like a freaking monster movie exploded in Los Angeles,” Jared said.

“You mean the world,” said Anna.

Sadly, I knew it was just a matter of time before I, too, became a monster.

“I may be a bit of a science geek,” Anna continued, “but has anyone noticed that no women have been reported to be infected?”

Her comment caused a lot of eyebrows to be raised. Not mine, of course, as I was doing all I could to remain sane. Carla was the first to respond, “Wow,” said Carla. “Nice catch. What are your thoughts about this, Anna?”

“Well, what if—because of the differences in our physiology or emotional makeup from men—women might be immune to the infection?”

“Interesting speculation,” Mike said. “We have discreetly found out that people all over the world are becoming infected, but you’re right, every victim, that we know of, has been male. At least the ones that we know of who are eating other humans and infecting others, and who are, we assume, multiplying this unprecedented catastrophe.”

I was now having some trouble following the conversation. During this period of my sickness, I had no idea to what extent I would lose my ability to discern right from wrong. Truth was, no one knew what to expect from this outbreak. Perhaps the military knew more, perhaps the Agents in Black. Perhaps no one would ever completely comprehend the far-reaching consequences of what had happened...or was about to happen.

Sweet Jesus.

“You’re being very quiet, Jack. How are you doing?” I heard Carla say, an edge of concern in her voice.

I still knew that I was Jack, only I didn’t want her to know just how sick I felt. So I didn’t reply.

As I agonized over what had happened and worried about what was to come, I sat with them at the kitchen table in the Los Feliz house where I sometimes lived, a place that was usually full of warmth and memories of good times for Anna and me.

“Jack?” I heard my name again as if from far away, like an echo, and recognized where I was. But I felt feverish, drugged.

I tried to focus on my hazy surroundings, to not let familiar recede from my recognition. We were in a beautiful, old Spanish-style house, set back from the street and overlooking Los Angeles. The faint creamy-pink color stucco home had been lovingly crafted with arched wooden doors and Mexican-tiled halls throughout and a terracotta tile roof where doves nested under the eaves and cooed in the mornings. The house wasn’t mine, not in my name, and that was a good thing. Otherwise, I would most certainly have been found by now, and perhaps wiped off the face of the earth by the Agents in Black.

“Earth to Jack,” Mike said. “Come in, please.”

“Snap out of it, Jack!” Carla said.

I sat with my elbows on the table, my head buried in my hands, and tried to concentrate on the conversation unfolding around me. My daughter, Anna, sat next to me, along with her boyfriend, Jared, my good friend Carla the cop across from me, and finally, Mike to my right.

Mike had been infected along with my brother Joe and I had ended up drowning him. Yes, drowning him. Mike, of course, had survived that drowning and for the first time since he was infected, he seemed normal, hopefully cured. He now showed no symptoms of the illness. So the general consensus was that I would have to be drowned, too, if I wanted to save my sanity. And my life.

Jesus, what an option. A horrible, shitty option.

I moaned and held up my hand for them to see.

“Look at that! It’s getting worse,” Anna said and got a package of frozen peas from the freezer and laid it on my hand. “Maybe this will help.”

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