The Z Strain Sample
Book One - The First Three Days
Tuesday, August 13th 2019, 6:19 PM CST
Flight 191 from Chicago O’Hare to Denver International
Gwen Harris walks down the isle of an airplane with red seats, her fingers grazing the tops of the chairs as she passes. Her eyes scanning the seat numbers as she makes her way towards the back of the plane. She finds her seat and places her small black carryon bag into the overhead compartment, flopping down into the airline chair her head leans against the headrest. She takes a deep breath as she watches the other passengers moving around the plane, putting their luggage away, and getting settled into their seats. The airport had been chaotic from the moment she hit the curb. Gwen leaned her seat back and took her book out of her purse, thinking to herself that as much as she loved coming to visit her best friend Penny, she vowed never to fly in and out of O’Hare again. She took the bookmark out and began reading.
At thirty two years of age, Gwen Harris considered herself to be an attractive woman. She wore black horned glasses that she thought made her look hip, her auburn hair fell just below her shoulders and usually had a slight curl to it. She had light brown eyes with green flex. Though many men had pursued her over the years, she had never found anything that she had considered to be too serious. Part of her believed that men were just simply too immature for adult relationships. Though she also conceded that she had, almost without exception, put her career before her relationships. She’s been working her tail off between medical school and working as a nurse to pay for it, she didn’t have time for meaningless relationships with immature men, or at least that’s what she always told herself. But at the end of the day she would love to have a nice warm body lying in the bed next to her.
Gwen set down the book in her lap, it looks to be a trashy romance novel by the cover. Pulling her phone out of her bag she pushes a few buttons and opens her photo album. She flips through the pictures from her first vacation in nearly eight years. As a young medical professional, time away from the hospital was rarely found. She had considered dating someone from her field, but most men in the medical profession (from her experience) are maniacally egocentric, self-obsessed socially inept children with the inability to relate with any other human being other than to give advice or criticism. Flipping through picture after picture of herself and her best friend from childhood Penny Miller, pictures in front of the Sears Tower, Pictures from Medieval Times, and pictures of the two of them in their bikinis out by the lake. It had been the best week she could remember for a very, very long time. Her entire life since she was in her middle teens had been dedicated to her education, dedicated to her career, everything else was a distant second.
But Gwen didn’t regret her life, she loved it, she had a very close knit small group of friends, who, despite their busy schedules, found time to go out at least once every couple weeks. Her loving, though frequently overbearing, sister lived only about five minutes from her, though their adult relationship hadn’t flourished as when they were children. They were simply very different people, with very different point of views, who found it challenging to maintain a conversation without it turning into an argument.
Still flipping through pictures, she giggled when she saw the picture that Penny had taken an extreme close up shot of Deon Norton’s rear end, the only player for the Cubs whom Gwen had admitted to finding attractive. She sets the camera back into her purse and lets her eyelids close, and dozes off quickly.
She doesn’t awaken until a hand touches her shoulder, Gwen jolts awake to hear the captain making the announcement that they are beginning their descent and to return seats their upright and locked position. She does as she’s told and begins gathering her belongings.
Ten minutes later she finds herself standing at the baggage carousel, Gwen rubs her eyes and temples as her head has begun to throb. It seems to her as though a hundred people must have come and gone, only herself and a man in his 50s with a long grey trench coat have been standing there patiently for minutes awaiting the arrival of their luggage while dozens of others walk up for 30 seconds, grab their luggage and go about their day.
“Always seems like yours is the last one out too?” she says to her carousel companion, he looks her direction, seemingly annoyed by the fact that she spoke to him and returns his attention to the endless cycle of revolving baggage. About a minute later her black suitcase finally falls from the heavens, and she’s finally able to make her way back to her blue Nissan sitting in the long term parking garage. As she slides into the seat, she immediately reaches over, opening the glove box and pulls out a bottle of aspirin. She takes three and throws them into her mouth, swallowing hard without water. She closes her eyes, leans her head back, and rubs her temples for a moment before starting the car. The trip to Boulder goes by quickly and there is little traffic driving out of Denver. Her thoughts are filled with work, a small part of her dreading going back to work in the morning, another part of her excited to tell her coworkers about her vacation.
It is fully dark outside when she arrives at her home on Laurel Ave. She pulls into the driveway and throws the car into park. She sits for a moment before exiting and removing her luggage from back seat. Inside she sets her bags down by the front door, and looks at the empty apartment. Her white fluffy sofa looks very inviting after the nap in the uncomfortable airplane seat. Over on the counter leading into the kitchen her only dependent, a fichus plant looks a little worse for wear. After a week without water a few of the leaves had dried up and fallen off.
“Oh you poor thing. Did I neglect you?” Gwen asked the plant. It did not respond. She walks over to the sink and gets a cup full of water. She returns to the counter and waters her green friend. She looks over to the doorway seeing mail all over the floor in her entryway. The mailman had been pushing them through the slot in her front door for the last week.
“Good lord.” She sighs walking across the living room and squats down in the entryway, and begins gathering the mail. She places the pile of mail in a wicker basket that sits on the end table. She kicks her shoes off into the middle of the living room floor, and falls down onto the couch. She glances to the answering machine, the number eight blinking in red. The answering machine starts playing a message from a telemarketer, some mortgage company, she considered pressing the skip button, but fell asleep instead.
Laurel Ave, Boulder Colorado
Thursday, August 15th, 7:34 A.M.
Gwen’s eyes open to an empty, gloomy apartment. The early morning sun is sending beams of light through the darkened living room illuminating every piece of dust in the air. Gwen stretches out, her legs spreading off of the couch. She groans, and she strains to force her eyes to focus on the clock hanging on the far wall. She jumps up from the couch, alarmed.
“Shit.” She exclaims, realizing she has less than an hour to be to work at the hospital. She rushes through her shower and gets dressed. She throws on a pair of green scrubs, puts her hair into a quick pony tail and heads for the living room. Trotting out the door she nearly slips and falls on a half dozen pieces of mail in her entryway. She pauses for a moment in disbelief, staring down at them.
“What the fuck?” She says to the empty room. She bends down and begins slowly picking up the mail. She was honestly considering if it was possible that she had missed these yesterday when she arrived home. “There’s no way.” She reassures herself. She walked through her day yesterday, coming home, watering the plant, seeing all the mail, picking it up, and putting it in the basket. She was a hundred percent confident that she did not leave mail lying in the foyer which means she missed a mail delivery.
She turns back to the living room and turns on the television, confused. Good Morning America is on. She looks at the date at the bottom of the screen and reads the date, it reads Thursday, August 15th. She got home Tuesday. It takes a moment for it to sink in, but finally she realizes that she had slept for nearly thirty hours. Sitting back down on the couch her purse falls from her hands onto the floor. She looks over to the answering machine which is now blinking the number thirteen. She hadn’t slept through a phone call in years, let alone five of them.
She presses the PLAY button on the answering machine and rubs her temples. She hits the delete button on the first two messages, having already hear them before falling asleep. The next one was an automated message from her insurance company reminding her that her insurance payment is due next week. The next was thirty seconds of silence, Gwen pressed skip. The next two were from friends who apparently didn’t know she was going out of town. Finally getting into the new messages, the first two were from her boss wondering why she hadn’t made it to work yesterday.
“Hey Gwen, its Mike. I thought you were coming back from vacation today, give me a call, and let me know what’s going on.” Beep
“Hey Gwen, it’s Mike again. It’s almost noon and I still haven’t heard from you, everyone I asked said that you were flying in yesterday, and that you’d be back today, so please call me. Okay, talk to ya.” Beep
The last three were all from her sister, who presumably had her itinerary memorized and was losing her mind that a day and a half had passed since the plane landed and she hadn’t gotten an “I’m home and alive” call.
“Gwen, its Stacy. I called your work, you weren’t there, call me ASAP.” Beep
“Gwen, I called your neighbor, she said your car was out front but no one answered when she knocked. Gwennie, where are you? Please call me as soon as you get this. Love you.” Beep
“Gwen I’m getting very worried here, if I don’t hear from you soon, I’m calling the police, call me.” Beeeeeep.
“End of messages” Says the robot voice from inside the little box.
“Jesus, what the hell is going on?” Gwen asks to herself. She picks up the phone and dials her sister.
“Where the fuck have you been? I was scared out of my mind.” Her sister Stacy yells through the phone.
“Stace, you probably won’t believe me, but I was here, asleep.” Gwen explained.
“You’re right, I don’t believe you. How come you didn’t answer the door when Mrs. Parson’s knocked?”
“Wow, I must have slept right through it.” Gwen said.
“Bullshit, you?” Her sister sounded amazed.
“Hand to Christ.”
“So everything’s okay then?” Stacy sounded skeptical.
“Yea, I guess. I’ve had a pounding headache since I got home. I guess I was just super tired after my whirlwind vacation.”
“Okay, call me later.” Stacey didn’t sound confident. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, I must have just been exhausted. I have to call Mike back. I’ll call you tonight okay? Love ya.”
“You too Gwennie. Don’t forget to call me, I want details.”
Gwen presses the red button on the phone disconnecting the call. She pressed the green one and dialed her boss. She spoke as soon as the line connected.
“Gwen? Is everything okay? I tried to call you all day yesterday.”
“I know, I’m sorry, Mike I slept the whole day. I woke up this morning thinking it was yesterday.”
“Are you serious?” He asked, astounded.
“As a heart attack.”
“Wow, must’ve been some vacation, anything I need to know?”
“It’s nothing like that Mike, I was feeling a bit under the weather when I flew in, apparently I was pretty sick if I needed thirty six hours sleep.”
“Yea? I could use one of those colds myself.” He chuckled.
“Listen Mike, if it’s all the same, you mind if I just plan on coming back in tomorrow. I still don’t feel quite right.”
“Gwen I was going to tell you to take the day off anyway, we can get your shift covered.”
“Okay, good. I’ll call you in the morning if anything changes.”
“Okay, get some rest, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Gwen hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen. Wondering why if she hadn’t eaten in nearly two days why she wasn’t starving. She picks up and apple and begins to nibble. Almost immediately her stomach rejects it, and she vomits violently into the sink to the point that she begins to dry heave. She walks unsteadily back to the phone and calls her doctor to make an appointment.
Four hours later Gwen is sitting uncomfortably on the examination chair in one of several exam rooms in Dr. Meadow’s office. The nurse had already been in, and taken her vitals, had asked several questions regarding her condition and left the room. She returned about ten minutes later and asked Gwen to disrobe handing her a paper smock. She then wheeled a small cart over and took several ampules of blood. That was over a half hour ago and Gwen was becoming impatient. She was about to peek into the hall to make sure they hadn’t forgotten about her when the shiny bald head of Dr. Meadows moved through the door, his eyes never moving from the chart, he walks in and sits down onto the stool seemingly on instinct. He is in his sixties, a little old school, but is usually very friendly, personable and thorough. Though today he only makes brief eye contact with Gwen and sat there staring at the chart for a full minute before speaking.
“And you say that you slept for nearly two full days?” He asked.
“No, about a day and half. I got home a little after nine, on Tuesday, went straight to sleep when I got home, and didn’t wake up until seven in the morning on Thursday.”
“I see.” Dr. Meadows still hasn’t looked up from the chart. Now a long and awkward silence has filled the room. Gwen shifts from side to side uncomfortably on the paper of the exam table.
“Dr. Meadows?” She finally asks sheepishly.
“Oh, oh yes, Gwen, I’m very sorry. It’s just . . . this chart doesn’t make any sense.” He removes his small round wire framed glasses from his face and rubs his eyes. “Your blood is reacting as if it were fighting an infection, but there is no infection that I can see, you have an almost nonexistent count of white blood cells, and I watched several red cells die right under the microscope.”
“What does that mean?”
“Gwen I have been in medicine for nearly forty years, and honestly honey, I don’t have a clue.”
“Should I be worried?”
“Let’s not start panicking just yet, I’ve sent a sample of your blood to, a specialist, to get a second opinion. In the meantime, I’m going to run a few more tests, and make a few phone calls. Why don’t you let the nurse take your vitals again and I’ll check back in a few minutes okay?”
“Sure.” Gwen said. More waiting. The nurse came in, took her blood pressure, and temperature again. Writing everything down in her file.
“What do you think?” Gwen asked.
“Oh, I’m not a doctor.” The nurse replied.
“I know.” Gwen said. “But you looked at the chart, what do you think?”
“I’m not supposed to.”
“What do you think?” Gwen insisted.
“If I had to make a guess, and it is only a guess.”
“I understand.” Gwen said trying to encourage her to continue.
“I would say virus. But it’s not acting like any virus I’ve ever seen before.” The nurse said. “Whatever it is, it has Dr. Meadows spooked.”
“Well that’s not very comforting.” Gwen said.
“I Know, I’m sorry. I’m really not supposed to.” The nurse was interrupted by the door opening, Dr. Meadows was standing in the entryway looking a little flustered.
“I’m afraid it’s going to be a while until we have the results of your blood work back, they said they’re putting a rush on it, and asked if you could stay for a bit. You can put your clothes back on and move out into the waiting room if you’d like.”
“Dr. Meadows, what’s going on?” He looked at her and frowned. She thought he was carefully thinking about what to say next. He let out a long exhale rubbing his hand on his bald crown.
“I don’t know yet Gwen, but they asked that we wait for them to contact us. We need to be patient, I’m sure we’ll hear something back soon.” With that Dr. Meadows turned and exited the room quickly and moved down the hall.Gwen shook her head, knowing in her heart that something was very wrong, but did as she was told. She put her clothes back on, her head was spinning.
She moved through the waiting room on a cloud. She felt like she was outside looking in on this story and this wasn’t her life. This couldn’t possibly be her reality. She walked out through the glass doors that read B. Meadows M.D. She walked down the stairs and walked out the front door. There was a young man with shoulder length brown hair wearing a Metallica jacket standing near the front doors smoking a cigarette.
“Mind if I bum one of those from you?” The young man looked up surprised.
“Ah, yea sure.” He pulls out a pack of Marlboros and hands her one.
“Can I get a light?” He nods, lighting the cigarette for her with a zippo pulled off a leather holster on his belt. Gwen takes a long deep pull off the cigarette and immediately starts coughing.
“You alright lady?”
“Yea, I just haven’t smoked in nearly eight years.” She said looking at the cigarette in her hand. It tasted terrible, but she took another drag anyway.
“What made you start today?” He asked putting the cigarettes back into his jacket pocket.
“I don’t know, stress I guess.” The young man nods indifferently. He turns away, and begins to text on his phone signaling to Gwen that he was all finished with the conversation.
Atlanta Georgia – Center for Disease Control
Thursday, August 15th, 11:57 AM
Kirk Foley was the director of the Center for Disease control, this was his seventh year as director, his eleventh year overall. Mr. Foley reports to a General Grover who reports directly to the president. He had arrived at his office at exactly 5:52 AM, though he wasn’t scheduled in until seven, he had been called in early by General Grover himself. In his tenure at the CDC Mr. Foley had never received a call at home from the General, so he assumed it was something serious.
He only took a moment to gather a few things on his desk before heading to the conference call. There had been a package on his desk, he hadn’t recognized the name on it, and therefore put it off until later. Mr. Foley ran out of his office and jogged across the building.
On the other side he walked up a short flight of steps up into the conference room. There were only three technicians designated for a level 5 contagion spread, all of them were waiting for him. The second he saw their faces his heart leapt into his throat. He scanned his security badge at the door and waited for the light to turn green. As soon as he stepped into the room one of them spoke up.
“He’s here General.” The bald man in the white lab coat said.
“Good, let’s begin.” The General’s voice came from over the phone. “Mr. Foley?”
“Yes. Yes sir?” He said fumbling his papers and pulling out a desk chair.
“Did you receive a package on your desk this morning?” The General asked.
“Yes. I didn’t have time to open it. Do I need it?” Mr. Foley asked stopping halfway to sitting down.
“No. I have already uploaded my copy. Mr. Nelson if you would?” One of the other men with a lab coat stood up and leaned over pressing a button on the projector. A white box appears on the wall at the end of the room, and the lights are dimmed.
A video camera turns on, shuffling can be heard off camera. The room looks to be a normal living room with a grey stone fireplace in the background. Above the mantle is a landscape picture of deer grazing in a meadow. In the forefront is a grey recliner with a small brown table next to it. A man in a blue pinstripe suit walks into view from the right side of the screen, disturbing the camera as he passes by. He is a middle aged man of a thin build and greying hair. His frame is small and meek, though his eyes have an intensity that most find unsettling.
He sets some papers down on the side table, takes a moment to adjust his tie, and sits down in the grey recliner. His face is thin, almost emaciated, and his nose slightly pointy. His thinning brown hair is falling into his face on one side. He pushes the hair out of his face and leans over and retrieving the papers from the side table. He takes a moment, pushing the hair out of his face, and looks down at the notes for a moment. Taking a deep breath, the looks up into the camera appearing slightly nervous as he clears his throat.
“My name is Doctor Robert Palmieri, formerly of the MIT department of Biological Engineering, and this is my . . . manifesto.” He clears his throat again and shuffles the papers in front of him.
“Some will call me evil for what I have created, some may call me mad, but there will be some, who will call me a hero, a visionary, a patriot.” He leans forward in his chair, his gaze intensifying on the camera.
“It took nearly seven years of research, and the expenditure of the fortunes of several very wealthy men to bring my dream to fruition. The brain is a very complex and mysterious thing, but when you break it down into what each little portion of the brain does, it all became very clear. With a properly engineered virus, you can shutdown logic sensors, emotion, even pain, or rational thought. You can essentially rewire the brain section by section, with the right virus infecting the right nerve centers.”
“My gift to you, to this planet is a slow moving, multifaceted pathogen that would begin blood borne, then will mutate to all human fluids. The brilliance of it is that in its original state the symptoms should present similar your average flu prior to the second stage mutation. With an incubation period up to a week before it begins effecting the brain.” Dr. Palmieri sets down the papers on the side table and stares at the camera lens for a moment before continuing.
“So, to all that are listening, I have created the zombie virus, I released that virus four days ago at Chicago O’hare International airport. The rejuvenation of humanity has begun.”
The screen went black, the three men in the white lab coats looked to Kirk Foley. He sat with his mouth agape. No one spoke for several moments.
“Foley?” The General came over the intercom. “What do you have to say?”
“What do I say? What do you want me to say? If this is true, then there is no containment. If this man has truly released this virus at O’hare four days ago, there is no quarantine. You’re talking about millions of infected spread all over the world.”
“That is not an acceptable answer Mr. Foley.” The General said.
“What would you have me do? Send a garrison to every report of infection?” He said sarcastically.
“Yes!” General Grover yells and hangs up the phone. The three men have not stopped looking at their boss, and it’s beginning to make Kirk Foley’s blood boil.
“You heard him!” He yelled jumping out of his chair. The three men responded in kind exiting the room quickly. “Go! Do it! Every report of infection!” He yelled after them as they walked briskly down the stairs. Kirk Foley walked around the corner of the table and pressed the button on the projector to play the message again.
Friday, August 15th 12:02 PM
About halfway through her cigarette Dr. Meadows comes out the front door looking a little frazzled.
“Time to come inside Gwen, you too young, man, you should come with us as well.”
“Me?” The young man asked puzzled.
“You have news Doctor?” Gwen asked. Her heart was pounding in her chest.
“Um, yes, I just got a very troublesome phone call . . . from the CDC.”
“The CDC? Why? About me?”
“Yes, about you, about all of us.”
“What do you . . .? “The doctor put his hand up to stop her.
“Gwen, you have some kind of infection. One I’ve never seen before, but it is. . . . Well, they said that all of us should remain inside to prevent any spread.”
“Spread, you mean we’ve been quarantined?”
“Yes, I do believe so, I think they should be arriving any moment.” Dr. Meadows proceeded to usher them through the glass door and up the stairs peering over his shoulder the whole time.
Gwen flopped down into a chair in the waiting room, her face ashen her mind spinning, her heart racing. The young man was pacing across the floor like a caged animal. He stopped abruptly and stared out the window, his mouth agape. Gwen followed his gaze rising up to look out the window to the parking lot. She watched as soldiers poured out of several personnel carriers. She watched as they began setting up blockades, as they ran a length of razor wire across the parking lot. Watched soldiers scurry around the sides of the building out of sight.
Other patents had joined them staring out the window. A woman in her fifties with bright red hair and a button up flower shirt was the first to break the silence.
“Jesus would you look at that, looks like a whole army battalion out there.” She turns away from the window and takes a seat, rummaging through her purse “I need to call my husband. He needs to know that, there. . .” She stops mid-sentence seeing the doctor standing the doorway. “Dr. Meadows, do you know what all this is about?” She motions to the window behind her. The rest of the patents turn to face the doctor.
“If you would all take a seat for a moment. I’m afraid I have some news.” Most of them comply taking seats facing the doctor. There are fifteen patients, not counting the three small children playing in the corner. “I’ve received a call from the CDC about thirty minutes ago.” There was an immediate flurry of questions from the other side of the room. Dr. Meadows raises his hand and waits patiently for the commotion to calm. A few moments later the chaos subsides and the doctor resumes speaking. “For those of you that may not know, the CDC is the center for disease control, and the only thing I know right now is that we may potentially be infected with some sort of virus.” Another ripple of commotion from the patients. The doctor waits patiently for them to calm down again. “We must remain in the building until further notice to avoid any spread.” A man in a flannel shirt steps in front of the doctor.
“How long is this supposed to take, I have other things I need to do today? They can’t do this to us.”
“David, listen, we just have to sit tight, I’m sure there is nothing to worry about, we just have to stay here until they can get some other doctors here to run some tests. I’ve never personally been involved in a situation like this, but I wouldn’t count on going home any time soon.”
“My cell phone just stopped working.” The woman with the red hair said with some panic in her voice. “I was just talking to my husband, and the call dropped, and look, see, now I have no service bars.” Several others took out their respective cell phones to find that none of them had a signal either.
“Jesus doc” David said looking very concerned “Thought you said there was nothing to worry about. They don’t block cell reception unless they want to make sure you’re cut off from the world, so you don’t start a panic or something” As if on cue, the television switched to static.
“They can’t do this, isn’t this illegal, to keep someone imprisoned like this?” The redheaded woman yelled.
“I’m afraid it’s not dear.” Dr. Meadows interjected. “When it comes to stemming the tide of a virus, I’m afraid that human rights take a back seat for the safety of the masses.” He took a tissue from his front pocket and wiped his brow. They could all see that he was terrified. As much as he tried to hide it, it oozed out of him.
Jennifer the nurse called out from behind the counter. “The regular phones don’t work either doctor.”
As the hours passed the sun faded into the distance over the Rocky Mountains. There was some idle nervous chit chat in the waiting room, but no one really said what they were all thinking. None of them were ever going to make it out of here. They talked about their lives, their families, sports, anything to attempt to distract them from their current situation. No one slept, except Gwen, who was snoring loudly sleeping in what looked to be a very uncomfortable position.
August, 16th, 0200 hours
3rd United States Army Reserve - Garrison duty
Private Bret Marsden stands behind a green personnel carrier smoking a cigarette. He had just turned nineteen, but had the face of a sixteen year old. The night was thick with humidity, not very common for Colorado. Standing on a quiet street in what could only be described as a commercial area of the city, the only sound in the air is that of the bugs and what appeared to be one lone frog somewhere in the distance. The temperature had peaked in the mid-nineties today, and the soldiers had received orders to keep their respirators on at all times. It had been a miserable evening by all accounts. Almost twelve hours on scene, and there were no new orders as to how long they were supposed to hold this line. The only orders received came in a little after 1:00 PM. The orders gave this address and very simple yet explicit instructions. No one in, no one out, lethal force authorized. Private Marsden knew he was supposed to be wearing his M25A1 protective mask along with his battle dress over garment, as there may be a biological contaminant involved. He had decided to sneak away, and had removed his mask for a much needed smoke.
Captain Earnest E. Horn rounded the corner to see his Private without his protective gear on and made straight for him.
“Private Marsden, what the hell do you think you’re doing without your mask on?” His voice muffled though authoritative through his own mask.
“Sir, I’m sorry sir, I needed a cigarette sir.”
“You will put your mask back on and you will keep it there until the time you are ordered to remove it, am I clear Private?”
“Chrystal Sir!” The private stomped out his cigarette and put his mask back on. “Sir, any word on what we are supposed to be doing here?”
“Were doing it private. Garrison duty, no one in no one out.”
“I know that sir, but why?” Private Marsden asked as he pulled his mask back onto his face.
“Our job is to follow orders, not to ask why. That‘s for the brass to figure out. Move out, back to your post.”
Suddenly shuffling and yelling can be heard from the other side of the truck. Private Marsden slaps his mask onto his face and chases after Captain Horn who is already rounding the side of the truck.
“We’ve got inbound, multiple subjects!” one soldier yells
“Fire, fire, fire!” Another soldier yells. Private Marsden rounds the corner to see Captain Horn already in a crouched position in front of the truck. Across the parking lot there are dozens of people sprinting from the front of the building. Most of them look sick. Several are bleeding. Gunfire erupts all around them. Gwen Harris can be seen in the middle of the pack, her face drooping oddly, her face, and blouse are covered in blood. Her right arm is bent at an unnatural angle. A bullet passes through her chest causing her to turn and stumble, but she continues on. Moments later a bullet smashes into her left eye, and she falls dramatically to the ground. The woman in the flower shirt is at her left, there is a long gash along her cheek running down onto her neck. Her nose appears to be broken, it lies flat against her face and is dripping profusely with blood. Several bullets tear through her arms and chest, but she runs through them with little more than a twitch.
Private Marsden assumed his respective position next to Captain Horn behind the barricade. Captain Horn stops, confused, he looks down the line and the young men under his command, and sees several faces with the same confused look that he imagines himself wearing. These men and women are running across the parking lot towards soldiers armed with machine guns without fear. The bullets are tearing through their flesh, breaking bone, spilling their blood, but it wasn’t stopping them. Very few are falling, all the logical processes of his mind can’t find any rational to what his eyes are showing him. Then he sees the answer, like a light bulb bursting to life inside his mind, but it couldn’t be. His mind strains to reject this idea as fiction, but looking at the mangled faces the bullets tearing through bodies. People that run through pain, fear, and self-preservation. All semblances of logic vanish.
“Shoot em in the head!” Captain Horn yells down the line. He turns and looks down the other side, “Aim for the head!” Recognition to follow this order takes too long. Some adjust their aims, and the flood of humanity begins to fall, faster and faster. The barricade breaks, a large man in a flannel shirt launches himself over the razor wire, his mouth agape. His face lands squarely on the neck of a young soldier, his eyes wide with terror and pain through his protective mask. The young men around him begin to shuffle and turn trying to scurry away. They try to fire, but they too are overwhelmed as the flood of humanity rushes headlong through the razor wire cutting large gashes in their own flesh. Unflinching, they slam headlong through the barricades overwhelming the young soldiers.
Captain Horn watches in horror and disbelief as he watches Private Lewis, an 18 year old kid, get a chunk of flesh bitten off his face. He watches as another young man in a brown shirt with a gash in his chest so deep that bone can be seen, sunk his teeth into another soldier’s arm. He turned and fired taking down the man. But to his complete surprise, Private Lewis gets back to his feet, blood still streaming from his face and neck. He turns and begins aiding the attacking horde in killing his fellow servicemen. Captain Horn couldn’t believe what his eyes were seeing, he continued firing, one headshot after another, but there were just too many, a young boy who had been shot several times in the legs had drug itself through the base of the blockade and sunk his teeth into the right calf of Captain Horn tearing a chunk of flesh in his mouth. Captain Horn yelled out, looking down in shock, seeing a young child, his eyes blank and wild, a chunk of flesh, fabric, and skin hanging from his mouth and blood streaming down his chin. Captain Horn put a bullet through his head as he was hit from the other side and lost his footing. His brain was flooded with signals of searing pain from all over his body before the world went dark.
I appreciate you taking the time to read the opening sequence of The Z Strain. I hope that it excites you for what is to come. What comes next is too exciting and unnerving to sum up into a paragraph, but I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Again, thank you,