One vaccine dose. The deadliest virus the world hasn’t met yet. A mom who has to save her daughter and could die trying.
Cady lives out in a rural area and life with her daughter is thrown into turmoil – even with society so far away.
Jackson has promised her a vaccine – but only one dose – for the virus he’s loosed on the world.
Can Cady choose between saving her daughter or leaving her little girl alone in a world filled with questions and fear? While the world falls ill, Cady is faced with the worst decision a parent could have. Will she make the right decision? Is it too late to change Jackson’s mind?
No one would know, if Pete Smithey cut a small slit into the pallet in the back of the warehouse and took a few packets of the hot new fragrance sample.
No one would know. He repeatedly reassured himself as he looked around the empty warehouse, searching for another employee who might be in early for a shift or a surprise inspection from the higher-ups.
Carrie, his on-again-off-again-currently-off girlfriend, would be ecstatic when he showed up with the fragrance. She’d probably forgive him for the latest infidelity, at least enough for him to take her to the movies or a party or something.
The utility knife fit his sweaty palm, but he rolled it over and over against his jean-clad thigh. Swallowing, he looked around the dim interior one more time. The only things greeting his search were other pallets, large shelves only accessible by forklift, and an office at the end of the long building. Concrete flooring didn’t make his job easy as he paced the floor, monitoring for activity during the night.
Trident Storage and Shipment, the company he worked for, sold high security to people to store and ship their items and then only put one, untrained man to guard against anything that might come during the night. Pete wasn’t even allowed to carry a gun. He had a radio and a stick that wasn’t even tough enough to call a baton.
It was now or never. Carrie had accused him during their last breakup that he never took risks, except cheating on her. He didn’t chase his dreams. He didn’t do anything, but disappoint people. Well, taking the fragrance sample sheets would make it hard for her to complain about. Carrie had been talking about that fragrance for months.
His girl, even if she wasn’t his girl at the moment, loved anything that had to do with End of the World as We Know it. She was obsessed with the apocalypse and prepping. The fact that there was a fragrance named after the end of the world. The hype being made over the fragrance was so huge, it was touted in magazines and on social media as having to be made from gold with how much everyone talked about it. But when you asked point blank what it smelled like, no one seemed to know.
Pete shoved the blade from its slot, exposing the sharp point. He sliced through three layers of thick plastic, surprised at the wrap job.
Reaching his hand inside the oblong opening, Pete dug through the stacked cardstock sheets, grabbing what he could in his fingers and slipping them from the opening. The familiar image from the commercial graced the card, a matte-textured spot with very small type font instructing the reader to sniff here. No gold in sight.
Pete sniffed, inhaling the strong fragrance with an asexual bend. It didn’t smell male or female, but more along the lines of natural – like pine and cinnamon but less heavy. Pete couldn’t place the familiar scents, but he liked the combination.
He liked it so much, he rubbed some on his shirt and neck, sniffing the card again before sticking the stack of cards into his back pocket.
Grabbing a roll of duct tape, Pete patched the hole he’d created. He replaced the tape, retreating to the office to include a report on a damaged product discovered in the incidents log. TSS was so cheap, they didn’t even have cameras.
His buddy had walked out with a newly released laptop the week before, stating the incident report that it had slipped off the forklift and been runover. No one had said a thing.
Glancing at the clock above the computer, Pete smirked. He’d be off in time to pick up Carrie from her shift at the restaurant. His girl worked as a waitress. He could pick her up, give her the surprise and see if she’d want to go out with him.
He couldn’t wait to see what she thought of his gift.
It wasn’t every day he could present her with the End of the World.
The shrill blast of Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me broke through the calm sleep claiming Cady. She blinked, struggling to pull herself from the restless dream she’d been locked in and she couldn’t seem to shake.
Rolling to her side, she glared at the phone with its ringing face and caller ID declaring the caller was “Restricted”.
She picked up the phone, resistant to answering as she glanced toward the wall clock. Three AM? THREE? Who called anyone at three in the morning? Bailey was home and Cady’s parents were supposed to be launching on their cruise any day now.
The call went to voicemail and she sighed as she moved to set the phone back down on the mattress by her pillow. Without her husband, the bed was too large and Cady often found herself lost in the center as she sought some escape from the gruesome reality her life had taken on.
She sighed, staring at the clock. How long would it take her to fall back to sleep now?
The jarring mid-chorus ring startled her again. A repeat call? She flopped to her back and pulled the phone in front of her face. Swiping the answer key under the “Restricted” tag, Cady glared into the dark toward the ceiling. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Did you do it? Did you forward your mail like I told you?” Jackson’s sultry tone snapped Cady from the pre-dawn confusion she was still wrapped up in. She’d never heard his voice before, but she’d recognize him no matter what time he called or what he sounded like.
His words… their chilling meaning shook her to the core. He was serious.
And she’d never been more terrified.
Cady worked to control her breathing and her temper. “How did you get this number?” She wasn’t listed and she’d replaced her phone number not too long ago. How had he gotten it? Focusing on that issue would help her regulate her reaction to what his call was really about.
Jackson’s soft laugh riddled the line. “I’m smart, Cady Moss. It’s not hard to find out anything about people these days. I just didn’t do it before since we had agreed to be anonymous before. I took that seriously. When you emailed me about your husband, well, that took off the need for anonymity. All bets are off now, aren’t they?” His laugh faded and he returned to a business-as-usual tone. “Did you do what I said? I need to make sure.”
“I’m stocked up. I have forwarded my mail. I ripped the mailbox down and there is a gate across my driveway. We don’t put fences in up here because of restrictions in place, but the woods are thick enough and more of a deterrent than any picket fence would be.” She bit off the list with accuracy and stoicism. He had no idea what he was doing to her, or he did and he didn’t care.
It was probably the latter. A man that would set out to completely wipe the world clean of human existence couldn’t have a shred of empathy inside him. How had she been so wrong for so long?
“You have time for maybe one or two more trips to the store. I wouldn’t take more than that, Cady. I’ll call you five days after the last set of instructions arrives.” His voice filled with giddiness as he talked. “Who knows? I might call you before that. I’m finding that the world is my playground and soon, I’ll control everything.”
“Jackson… please. Don’t do this.” Cady rubbed her eyes. She didn’t want to start crying, but he wasn’t just talking about destroying the world, he was talking about destroying her world – her daughter – Bailey, her parents, Scott, and so many more.
Her desperation to keep it from happening warbled her voice. Tears dripped from her eyes into her hair. Cady’s anger couldn’t surpass the fear welling inside her. Deep down she knew it didn’t matter what she said, or what she did. Jackson was too far gone.
But she had to hope. At that point in time, that’s all she had to hold onto.
Sighing, Jackson hardened his voice like he was talking to a child and delivering a tough love speech. “Cady, you know we have to do this. You know it. Don’t try to make things harder than they need to be.”
Maybe she had affected him, gave him pause. “We can lead a revolution. We can create awareness, or… something. I don’t know.” She racked her mind, looking for ideas. She had to do something. She couldn’t just sit there and let him warn her and kill everyone else. “Please, Jackson. I’m scared and I… I don’t want this.”
He waited her out, silent longer than the sound of her voice as it faded over the line. When he spoke, his tone brought embarrassment to Cady’s stomach with a painful ache. “Apathy doesn’t care how much awareness is out there, Cady. Come on. I’m surprised at how you’re acting. This is the way it needs to be. We can’t make people aware about too many babies contributing to the world. How do you ask mothers to stop having babies? You can’t. I’d even be up for killing off the old once they reach a certain age, but who is going to lobby for that bill? The politicians who are already past the cut-off date? We need a reset. No, this needs to happen as a general cleansing. We can start everything over.”
Cady couldn’t breathe and clutched at her chest with her free hand. Was she having a heart attack with the sharp stabbing pain ripping down her arms from a bandlike sensation across her breastbone? She didn’t reply.
His voice softened and he spoke cajolingly. “Come on, Cady. I’ve always wanted to meet you. I used to think you were a guy and now… I want to meet you more, knowing you’re a woman. Let’s do this. We can be the last two people on Earth.” He paused, the moment dragging out forever as if they waited to see who would breathe next. Jackson didn’t too long before ending the call with a soft click.
Cady pressed the phone against her ear long after the screen turned dark. She finally dropped it to her side on the main cover, staring into the darkness while her tears continued to course from the sides of her eyes into her hair.
Jackson was going to end the world and Cady had no way to protect Bailey or her parents. Her daughter hated her since Cady’s husband, Bailey’s father, Zach had died a few weeks ago. One more thing was definitely going to rip them apart more – maybe more than would ever be fixable.
Flopping onto her side, Cady stared out at the darkness. Winter would hang on a while longer, leaving them with dark hours until well after six in the morning. Where her house was located, they could get snow as late as June or July. Trying to close her eyes to get more rest, Cady tempered her breathing. It didn’t matter how slow and even she tried to breathe in and out – her pulse was speeding and she couldn’t get the chill from her skin.
She would never get to sleep at that rate. Sliding from her bed, she pulled on her sweatpants, socks, and a comfortable sweatshirt. Maybe she could read downstairs and catch a nap on the couch before Bailey got up.
Padding quietly down the hallway to her daughter’s room, Cady peeked inside. The soft sounds of sleep almost broke her heart.
It was just them. She and Bailey against the rest of the world. Because once Jackson got started, they couldn’t trust anyone. That hurt more than anything.
The fact that she didn’t know what was going to happen was hard to swallow. She had an idea, but with Jackson, anything was possible.
What was ahead for her family? What nightmares did Jackson have planned and what could Cady do to prevent them?
She’d done everything she could to be prepared and her neighbor, Scott, was going to help with some other things. But she’d never truly believed something horrific would come – and certainly not because of her.
As she carefully closed Bailey’s door and returned to the stairs, Cady couldn’t help wondering, how did you stop a tsunami with one sandbag?
“I can’t believe you thought of me. This is incredible!” Carrie squealed again inside the 1980s Mustang with its rusty frame and supped-up engine.
They’d parked at the two-theater cinemas on the side without the security cameras. Pete had already checked the movie times and the big premiere they were going to wouldn’t start for another forty-five minutes. He had plenty of time to do things to Carrie in that time. With how packed the movie would be, they wouldn’t be able to mess around in the backrow seats like they usually did.
She wrinkled her nose and half-turned toward Pete with her long, bare legs bent his way. She wore a short black skirt and heels under a button-up white shirt that constrained her chest with creases where it was too tight. Carrie was a busty girl, and Pete liked that best about her. Knitting her eyebrows, she tapped the card on her white front teeth. “It smells so… I can’t put my finger on it. I love it.” She nonchalantly unbuttoned the top few buttons of her waitressing uniform and rubbed the face of one of the cards down into her rounded cleavage.
Leaning forward with an eyebrow raised in challenge, Carrie dropped her voice to match the seductive glint in her eyes. “Pete, honey, can you make sure it smells okay on me?” She batted her incredibly long lashes and Pete didn’t stand a chance. She even thrust her chest toward him for easier access.
He leaned forward, holding her gaze until he dipped his face into the softness of her bosom. He inhaled the aroma from her flesh that he’d already rubbed on himself. He licked her skin, nipping at the curve above her lacey bra cup.
She squealed, stretching her legs across the seat and console to wrap around his waist. He reached his hand up under her skirt, delighted to find she hadn’t bothered with underwear that night.
For all his nerves, Pete had made the best decision ever stealing the perfume samples.
After getting in some great front seat sex, Pete and Carrie walked hand in hand to the theater, showing their tickets at the door. Carrie clung to Pete’s arm, still giddy from the gift and the reassurances he wouldn’t cheat on her a twelfth time.
Pete rolled his eyes as he started to remember why he looked elsewhere sometimes. Carrie was great to screw, but she liked to talk – a lot – and Pete, after sex, liked to just veg out. He didn’t want to focus on what she’d done that day or who had said what. He just wanted to sit and watch the movie or whatever he was doing.
Finding seats in the middle of the theater was fairly easy since they were still twenty minutes early.
“Honey, can we have some popcorn?” Carrie looked at him hopefully with a sexy little pout to her lower lip.
Half-distracted, Pete nodded, pushing himself to stand from the automatically folding seat. He smiled at her and pushed by her legs and the legs of a few more, early watchers. He ambled toward the counter, pointing a large bucket of popcorn and a large pop. They could just share the treats from the concession stand. It wasn’t like they hadn’t shared every other germ they had when they were in the car.
Not for the first time, Pete had talked Carrie into not using a condom. No big deal, but he preferred it without. Plus, he knew she was on birth control.
The cute cashier winked at him as she told him the price. If she wasn’t careful, she’d be his number thirteen. He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket, unknowingly dropping one of the stray fragrance cards to the ground at his feet. Pete paid the woman, accepting the small folded up paper she offered him. It most likely had her number on it and Pete was certain that as soon as he could ditch Carrie, he was going to make the cashier the next one on his list.
He turned, a bit more of a bounce to his step.
Pete ignored the card he’d dropped on the floor.
He went back to the theater to sit beside his girlfriend to daydream about the things he wanted to do the girl behind the counter.
But back at the counter, at the concession where the girl had flirted so boldly with the good-looking guy, a group of teenage girls congregated for popcorn and candy.
Megan was one of those girls, but she hung back, worried about getting caught having snuck out of her room to go out with her friends. She couldn’t get into the mood of the evening with so much worry riding her shoulders and twisting in her gut.
She glanced down, noticing that her shoelace was undone. Crouching, she tied it, spotting a familiar scene beneath the heel of her friend, Stacey. When Megan picked it up, she jumped up, clenching the card in her hands and squealing.
Stacey turned, flipping her long blonde hair behind her. With a hand on her hip, she duck-lipped as she spoke. “What is wrong with you, Megan?”
Megan wasn’t phased by Stacey’s rudeness. They didn’t like each other, and Megan didn’t care. She leaned toward the other girls, ignoring Stacey and thrusting the card into the middle of the group. “Look what I just found!”
The girls crowded around the small card. Exclamations filled the air as they realized just what it was that Megan held. “Let me smell it first and then you guys can take turns.” She dragged out the excitement as everyone waited in breathless wonder as Megan sniffed the long-awaited perfume.
Something familiar about it brought another sniff and Megan smiled. “Wow.” She sighed, handing the card to the next girl beside her. The moment became almost reverent as each girl quietly inhaled the aroma and then commenting about it to the girls around them.
Stacey dropped her hand from her hip and stomped closer to Megan after everyone had taken a turn. “Aren’t you going to let me smell?” Of course, that question had to drive Stacey nuts, and Megan didn’t mind holding out a moment longer. But with everyone watching, she couldn’t be too catty.
Holding out the card, Megan smiled beatifically. “Sure.” But she made Stacey smell it while Megan held it. There had to be some control when holding the End of the World in your hands.