Title: After (Book 1)
Word Count: 46k
The dead walked. The world fell apart. But what happened after? Jenna Deluise is just trying to survive in this broken world, but after her father’s apparent suicide she discovers that she didn’t really know him at all. How was he connected to the zombies? Why is his former boss so sure he is alive? What else was he hiding?
I kept my head down as I walked along the C road, clutching the bag of groceries to my chest. It wasn’t the kind of neighborhood you wanted to linger in, and it was one of the better ones in the city. I sidestepped a man sitting on the ground. He was wrapped in an old, tattered blanket. He held his hands out to whoever passed him, begging for any money they could spare. I tried not to look at him. I didn’t have any money to give him. I barely had enough for the groceries I just bought.
Joining the queue for the checkpoint, I tried to ignore the chill wind blowing. Summer was definitely over. My jacket was threadbare as it was and I couldn’t afford a new one. Winter was going to be fun. Not.
I kept my gaze fixed on the ground as I moved closer to the front of the line. It wasn’t a good idea to make eye contact with a lot of the people who lived around here. I missed our old house. At least you could walk the streets without worrying about getting mugged, or worse.
I was jostled from behind by a woman wearing a black knit cap and a long black coat.
“What are you looking at?” she snapped. I quickly faced front. I wasn’t interested in a fight; I just wanted to go home.
I swiped my identity pass at the checkpoint; I was two blocks from home. The Alliance soldier posted there scrutinized it carefully before handing it back. Seriously, did I look like a threat?
“Reason for entering this area?” he asked, his cold blue eyes piercing mine. He wore the standard black uniform with the red Alliance symbol on the breast. An automatic weapon hung at his side and I had no doubt that he knew how to use it. The New Alliance was the ultimate law enforcement.
“I live here,” I said.
“What’s in the bag?”
I don’t think he liked my tone, but I didn’t have another I cared to use. Every freaking day I had to go through this. I’m pretty sure it was the same guard too, but the AS had a habit of making people’s lives miserable. He took his time searching my bag, for all that was in it. A few canned goods.
The line behind me was a long one; everyone was crowded together, eager to get home before dark. Most of the people looked half starved. Food wasn’t cheap in this quadrant and a lot of people had taken to stealing it to survive. We weren’t that bad, yet.
Finally, he waved me through. I hurried away, glad to put him behind me.
I didn’t get far before startled cries rang through the crowd. I glanced back to see someone stagger into the road. He was dressed in rags, his face covered in dirt. The crowd fell silent as he let out a loud moan. I froze. It couldn’t be. My heart began to race.
A ripple went through the crowd and one word rang out clearly. The word no one wanted to hear, the word most people were too terrified to even utter.
Several AS ran forward, weapons already drawn. When the man saw them coming he dropped the act and raised his hands in surrender.
“It was a joke,” he cried as he was tackled to the ground. There were grunts and cries from him as the AS laid into him. Idiot! Nobody tried to help him, and I didn’t blame them. It wasn’t something to joke about.
They hauled him to his feet and led him away. I wasn’t sticking around any longer.
Turning into the alleyway that would take me home, I found that it was already occupied by a street vendor, selling a variety of fruits that were hard to come by nowadays.
“Hey sweetness,” the vendor crooned at me. I glanced at him, taking in the ratty hair, beard and cold black eyes that were checking me out. I used my free hand to pull my jacket tighter around me.
I sped up, hoping to get past him, but he stepped forward, blocking my path.
“Why don’t you choose something nice for yourself, then we can discuss payment,” he raised an eyebrow. He was standing way too close for my liking. I could smell his rancid breath.
He was at least six inches taller than me and while he was no wrestler, he still had more muscle than me. This could go wrong very quickly. Thinking fast, I said, “Do you have a permit to sell these goods?”
I tried to keep my voice steady. The question seemed to confuse him, “What?”
“A permit. Under section seven of the New Alliance code, it is illegal to sell imported goods without one.”
“Yeah? And what would you know about it, little girl?”
I pulled an ID card from my jacket pocket, “Plenty, I’m an undercover agent for the Alliance.”
He backed away, swearing, “An agent? What are they hiring them straight out of kindergarten now?”
I glared at him. Okay, I look slightly younger than my seventeen years but not that young.
“I should shut you down right now,” I said.
“Come on, I’m just trying to make a living, like everyone else.”
I sighed and took a closer look at his pitch. I spied some oranges. I hadn’t had one in years. I picked up three of them and dropped them into my grocery bag.
The vendor watched me, but didn’t say anything. Usually where there was one agent, another was never far behind. He was probably used to them shaking him down. Why would they pay for things when they could just take them?
I lifted an apple too, making a show of biting into it. It was delicious.
“If I catch you around here again, I’ll shut you down,” I walked away.
At the end of the alley I turned right, passing a burnt out car. A huge black skull had been painted on the wall beside it, along with the words CHAOS REIGNS. Yeah, it did.
Once I was sure I was out of sight, I collapsed against the wall, breathing hard. That was close. It was a good thing I had held onto dad’s work pass. It was the only things of his I had kept. The vendor hadn’t bothered to look too close, all he saw was the Alliance symbol and that was enough to sell it.
At least I had something to show for it. Lifting one of the oranges from the bag, I inhaled its scent. Mom would love them. This reminded me, I was late getting back. I ate the rest of the apple as I walked.
Mom and I shared a crappy two bedroom apartment in South City, formerly Southern Manhattan. It’s all changed now, since the Alliance took over running the country. They had divided the country into quadrants, with an Alliance outpost in each one. Any quadrant deemed uninhabitable was known as an X quadrant. Most of them were located in the centre of the country. They used to be high population areas which were overrun during the outbreak.
Our apartment was on the second floor of a tower block, which housed over sixty families. It was a shoebox compared to where we used to live. That was before everything with dad.
I climbed the concrete steps to the second floor.
I felt a smile spread across my face at the sound of his voice. Ross Tamby, our next door neighbor. He was a year older than me, with dark hair and gorgeous green eyes. He was the one good thing about living here.
“Hi, Ross, how’s your mom?” I asked.
He was wearing a pale blue shirt over slacks, which he looked great in. I was suddenly self-consciousf my own clothes. An old flannel shirt that was frayed at the sleeves, over jeans.
“Better, I think it was just a bug. Thanks for making that soup for her.”
“It was no problem. Oh, here I have something for you,” I held out an orange to him.
“Where did you get that?”
“I just picked it up when I was out.”
He hesitated, “I don’t know, Jen. The Alliance have been really clamping down on imports.”
“I won’t tell them if you don’t.”
He laughed nervously and took the orange, turning it over in his hands, “Hey, I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”
“Yeah, of course. What is it?”
“I need someone to watch my little sister tonight. Just for a few hours, I would be really grateful.”
I don’t really like kids but when he stared at me with those green eyes, I felt myself caving, “Sure. What time?”
“About seven? You’re the best Jen. Hey, maybe we should hang out some time?”
“I’d love to. How about Friday?”
“Friday’s no good. Saturday?”
I nodded, “Definitely.”
He gave my arm a squeeze, flashed me that smile again and went back inside.
Oh, my God, Ross Tamby just asked me out. This day was definitely getting better.
Once I reached my front door though, everything that happened in the last couple of months came back to me. It didn’t seem right to be happy about something as stupid as a date. Not now that dad was gone.
I paused for a moment, and then went inside. I found mom seated in front of the TV. She was huddled in one of dad’s old shirts, staring vacantly at the screen. Her long auburn hair, the same shade as my own, was streaked with strands of grey. All that happened in the last few months had aged her.
“I’m back,” I said. It took several seconds for her to respond.
“Hi, honey,” she said, her eyes never leaving the screen.
The news was on. That was all that seemed to be on TV anymore, news and documentaries about the outbreak.
I left her to it, taking the groceries into the kitchenette to unpack.
“Hey,” Lana said, bursting into the house. Lana Barrett lived a few apartments down.
“Did you just let yourself in?” I asked.
I shook my head and sighed. She had a habit of showing up whenever she felt like it. Since I was the only other girl around that was her age, she assumed we were friends. I guess we kind of were. I mean I couldn’t exactly turn a friend down since I didn’t have any, but she was so annoying, and she had no concept of privacy.
“I saw you talking to Ross. What did he want?” she asked, hopping up on the counter and swinging her legs back and forth. She was wearing a t shirt for an old grunge band over leggings.
“Me to baby-sit. He, uh, asked me out too,” I said.
Her mouth fell open, “Seriously? How did you manage that?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. He just asked me.”
“Wow, what have you got that I haven’t? I mean, I know you’re older, but I’m blonde. Plus I have a lot more going on,” she waved her hands in front of her chest and I felt myself flush. There was no comparison, and now I found myself questioning why Ross asked me out. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth.
I busied myself with the groceries trying to hide my burning cheeks. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of knowing she was right. I’m sure guys asked her out all the time, but I wasn’t so lucky. I kept my head down at school. Sure, a few guys asked me out, but I turned them down. Mom kept a tight rein on me. If I told her I was going out with some guy, she’d probably ground me for a year. It sucked, but I couldn’t entirely blame her. The world was a crazy, dangerous place.
“I heard that Jamie Ford got arrested.”
Glad to change the subject, I asked, “He did? Why?”
“I heard he was doing ‘deliveries’,” she did air quotes, “for the Alliance on the DL, but when he was caught, they denied it. He was sent to camp.”
I rolled my eyes, she said camp like it was some summer thing, not the concentration camp it was. I’ve heard a million horror stories about those places. Jamie was kind of a loner who liked to pull stupid stunts on people. I wasn’t surprised he got involved in something skeevy, but I thought he had the sense not to get caught. I’m sure the Alliance were quick to use him as their fall guy.
“I should get dinner started,” I said.
She was busy twisting her hair around her fingers, “What are we having?”
“Mom isn’t up to guests. Sorry.” Now she was inviting herself to dinner?
“Yeah, okay. Well I should get going anyway. Let me know how it goes with Ross. I want all the juicy details.” She gave me a wink and headed for the door.
As she passed the door of dad’s office, she looked back at me, “Is that where he…?” She drew a thumb across her throat. I just stared at her in disgust. She shrugged and walked out.
“Bye, Mrs D!” she called loudly.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the door slammed shut. I really needed to start locking it.
After I put the groceries away, I peeled one of the oranges to eat. Popping one of the segments into my mouth, I savored the sweet juices. Putting the rest of the pieces onto a plate, I brought them into the living room for Mom.
I took a seat beside her on the ancient leather sofa that had been here when we arrived. The stuffing was falling out of it and it smelled faintly of cat pee, but it was one of the few bits of furniture in the apartment. Dad wouldn’t let us take anything from the old house, except for some clothes.
“Mom?” I held the plate out to her.
“Oh, lovely,” she said, taking a piece.
She ate it without comment, further proof of how much she had changed since dad’s death. There was a time she would have screamed at me for arriving home late and she would have interrogated me about the oranges too.
Now she seemed distant. Lost. It was up to me to cook and clean and buy groceries on the meager widow’s pension which Mom received once a month from Gene-Pharm. Sometimes she would lock herself away in her bedroom for days.
It had been two months since dad had killed himself. I came home one day to find the Alliance removing the body. They wouldn’t let me see him, or answer any questions I had. Mom was hysterical. When she finally calmed down, she told me he overdosed on pills. There was no note. No explanation. He was just gone.
I spent all my energy since, trying not to think about him. About how he abandoned us. I had my mother to take care of; I couldn’t afford to fall apart.
The news ended and Clive Rutherford appeared on the screen. He was a self-proclaimedistorian, who travelled the country documenting the epidemic and its aftermath.
“Almost twenty years ago, the outbreak began. A deadly virus swept America, spread by the bite of the infected. It became a third world country, practically overnight, with Canada and South America closing their borders to prevent it from spreading. Minor outbreaks occurred across the globe, but none as devastating as here. A team of scientists worked tirelessly to find a cure.”
A picture flashed up on screen of the scientists. I inhaled sharply when I saw my dad’s face amongst them. He had been a key player in finding the cure.
“Infected areas were dusted with an experimental cure, which eliminated a large percentage of the infected, but made it almost impossible to grow anything in the soil.
The country began to rebuild itself, slowly, with the help of the New Alliance, the military appointed government whose swift action saved the country from total destruction. It was only five years ago that the vaccine was approved. Since then, the infected have been successfully eradicated.”
I snorted. The infected. They made it sound like they had a bad dose of the flu, but using the Z word was practically a crime in itself.
Yes, the zombies were gone, but the world was still a mess, and it would be for a long time to come. I admit I don’t have a lot of firsthand experience with the devastation. Dad was hired by Gene-Pharm when I was very young and we were moved to one of their safe zones.
I remember the first time I ever saw a zombie that wasn’t on TV. It was the day we had moved to the house in the suburbs.
We were driving past one of the restricted zones. I was in the back seat of our minivan; I was only about four years old. A chain link fence ran around the area and I remember seeing the people in the zone pressed up against it, their faces desperate and terrified. Mom tried to get me to look at her and tried to distract me by singing songs, but I couldn’t look away.
As I watched, a wave of panic went through the crowd and they all scattered. A few of them fell to the ground in their haste to get away. A man emerged from the crowd, waving his arms wildly. He crashed into the fence as though he didn’t know it was there.
For a second our eyes locked, as he looked at me hungrily, his face crazed and black bile covered his chin. Then the car moved on and he was gone. I woke up screaming every night for a month after that.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a helicopter which drowned out the TV. It wasn’t unusual to hear them pass over, but this one sounded very close. Something told me that trouble was on the way, and Dad always said I had great instincts.
“Mom, maybe-” Before I could finish the sentence, the living room window exploded, showering us in glass.
I screamed as two Alliance soldiers jumped into the room. They trained their guns on us.
Word Count: 47k
One mistake could doom mankind…
A young intern discovers that the company he works for is developing a deadly virus. Terrified of what it could do, he steals the virus and the antidote. When it is accidentally released on a subway train, the occupants all perish. The problem is they don’t stay dead.
Jack, a computer geek, receives an email which leads her to a scientist and a street-smart punk called Danny, who holds the antidote in his veins. The unlikely allies fight to expose the company and their virus to the media, but can they stay alive long enough to synthesize a cure? And how far will the virus spread?
Just keep moving, don’t make eye contact with anyone.
I jogged down the steps to the subway, avoiding looking at the sea of faces that were heading up. The bag I carried bounced off my hip and I thought of the contents inside and what would happen if they broke. I couldn’t slow down though, so I placed my hand on the bag, holding it firmly against my body.
Several people bumped into me, none of them bothering to apologize. If they knew what I was carrying they would definitely keep their distance.
The train hadn’t arrived yet; a small crowd filled the platform. I moved as close to the edge as I dared; eager to get out of here.
I was breathing heavily, sweat dripped off me. My shirt was soaked through. A blonde girl, about my age, gave me a disgusted look and inched away from me. I didn’t blame her.
What have I done?
I had just ruined my entire life. Working at Gene Pharm was my dream. I’d done my time as an intern, earned my promotion and here I was one week in and I had stolen research. I was in the lab, going through old projects and cataloging them. A message had appeared on my computer screen, an instant message with a file name. There was no sender, so I just assumed that it was an internal memo for me on which file I should work on next. The file was buried deep and once I read it, I could understand why.
Maybe I could still fix this. If I took the bag back, explained the situation…
No. If I took it back, they would kill me. And if this stuff ever got used…that didn’t bear thinking about. I wasn’t naïve, I know that a lot of pharmaceutical and research companies work on some deadly stuff, but this was beyond anything I’d ever seen. It had the potential to wipe out most of the world if it got loose.
I heard the distant rumble of the train. I just needed to put some distance between me and Gene Pharm. Then I could decide what to do next. My parents owned a cabin up north, before they died. It was in my mother’s maiden name. I could go up there and lay low for a while. There was no way they would think to look there.
As the train pulled up, I saw them. Two suits, about twenty feet away, searching the crowd. I knew they were from Gene Pharm.
Keeping my head down, I boarded the train. It was only a matter of time before they caught me. I quickly took a seat and opened my laptop. Inserting the flash drive, I opened up my email. There weren’t many people who would understand what I was sending them, but one person sprang to mind. Jack Wylie. We were in college together, chemistry specifically. He would know what the formula was and what it could do.
I typed Jack into the mail recipient box and his email address came up. I glanced around for any sign of the two goons in suits. They were two cars back, searching every passenger.
“Damn,” I muttered. I attached the file, typing a quick message to Jack.
I need you to take a look at this. Gene Pharm was working on it and I think they are going to test it on humans. If you don’t hear from me again – make sure the media gets this.
I prayed Jack wouldn’t think it was a hoax. Ripping the flash drive from the laptop, I slipped it down the side of the seat. It was better not to get caught with the evidence on me.
They were only one car away now. I couldn’t let them get the virus or the antivirus. The car I was in only held five other people. An old couple, a woman carrying groceries, a middle aged man and a teenage boy.
He was about eighteen, with dark hair, wearing a black hoodie and baggy jeans. He stood by the doors, ear buds in place. I could make out the faint sounds of Paint it Black playing.
He was going to get off the train. I unzipped the bag to reveal the two injector pens inside. I wasn’t about to risk exposing the virus, but someone else should have the antivirus. Someone with no ties to Gene Pharm.
Gene Pharm could destroy it or at least keep it for themselves. I pulled out the antivirus, set the bag on the seat and stood up. The train was slowing down. This could be my only chance to make sure the antivirus survived.
When the train lurched, I pretended to stumble into the boy, while injecting the contents into his hip. He ripped the buds from his ears and glared at me.
“Watch it man,” he snapped.
Realizing what I had done, I looked into his green eyes, “I’m sorry.”
He was thrown by the sincerity of the statement.
“It’s cool,” he shrugged. The train stopped and he got off. I watched him go as the doors closed. He headed up, out of the subway and I lost sight of him. Taking a step forward, I thought I could follow, but a hand clamped down on my shoulder. I didn’t need to look to know they had reached me.
The train moved off again. One of them led me back to my seat and sat beside me. The other stood close by. They couldn’t make a scene here. That was the one thing they knew how to do well – cover their asses.
“I believe you have something that doesn’t belong to you,” the one beside me said. His dark hair was shaved close to his head and his nose looked like it had been broken a few dozen times. His buddy was shorter, but equally intimidating.
“Please, if it gets out, millions could die.” They had to understand why I was doing this.
The one beside me glanced at his partner looking amused, “I don’t give a damn about the details. We’re just here to return what was taken.”
I looked around the car. No one was going to help me. My hand tightened around the bag.
“We’re getting off at the next stop. Mr. Breton wants to see you.”
I swallowed hard. No one ever came face to face with Breton. He was an enigma, always shut away in his office on the fourteenth floor. Of course if I was responsible for the production of a deadly virus, I’d want to keep my face hidden too. He had the power and the influence to make me disappear.
We stood up, ready to leave. I still held the bag.
I threw an elbow at the goon next to me. I caught him in the nose and he stumbled back. I took off running towards the back of the train.
Someone pulled the emergency brake as I reached the final car. It was empty. I fell to my knees, the bag shooting across the floor. It was still unzipped and the virus rolled out.
I scrambled after it, but they had caught up to me.
With a final glance back, I crashed through the car door and down onto the tracks. I started running, certain I would never stop.
S. K. Gregory writes in the horror and fantasy genres. She enjoys reading and posts reviews for authors through her site. When she’s not writing, she enjoys watching movies and photography.
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