If you knew the end was here, who would you tell? Who would believe you?
In Cady’s case, no one would take her word at face value. Not anymore.
A microbiologist in another time and a prepper by choice, Cady hasn’t been in the science industry in years. She gave up a promising career to pursue life with her husband in the woods.
When a man from her past resurfaces with vague warnings and promises to uphold overzealous plans from their college days, Cady must remember the details or lose more than a friendship.
The entire human race stands in the balance.
With Jackson on one end of the ethical debate and Cady on the other, the release of a virus more deadly than any the world has seen can be any second… any second…
Can Cady convince Jackson to stop? Or will she die with the rest of the population?
Grab this thriller and jump into the apocalypse. Hold your breath! Paulson will take you for a ride.
Would that be her time to die? Cady thought she’d made her peace with death, but as chills ravaged her body and aches destroyed her nerve endings, she didn’t know if she still wanted to die. What if the vaccine failed? She didn’t have enough time to figure out the answers to any of her questions. She needed time.
She wanted more time.
All she’d tried to do was save as many people as possible.
Her hope hadn’t taken into account the vast devastation planned or the fact that pain was a part of the game. The game that centered around eradicating the population.
Her friend betrayed her. Her husband abandoned her.
All she had left was her daughter. Everyone else would be dead by now, or worse off than she was.
Cady didn’t have the right to complain, yet she longed to end her suffering with the Glock hiding under her bed. Yet, what could she possibly hope to accomplish with a bullet in her brain?
Lying on the floor beside her bed, she reached under the mattress and pulled the gun from its position of safety. The weight was comforting as she tightened her fingers on the handle. She squeezed her eyes shut and slumped back to the carpet.
Nothing was soft or calming. The threads of the carpet abraded her skin, every nerve screaming to be left alone, yet itching at the same time.
It would be okay for her to end it. No one would know. No one would care.
If she killed herself, every sacrifice would be in vain. Her daughter’s pain would be for nothing.
Cady dragged a breath through her swollen and cracked lips. She didn’t want to open her eyes and find the sun beating through the window. She didn’t want to acknowledge the chill in the air as an illusion to a fever. She just wanted all of her blankets on top of her, warming her in the sun.
Half-heartedly, she reached up and tugged on the blankets, but couldn’t budge them. What was she thinking about? Oh, right, killing herself. Everything would be a waste. Cady didn’t like waste, and all of that would be the worst kind.
She groaned… if only the vaccine had been enough.
“Smell like the end of the world. The revolutionary new fragrance that will stop his heart and restart hers. Coming soon to stores near you.” The commercial on the sixty-five inch television screen faded to a fuzzy black.
Cady sat back on her haunches, eyebrows raised as she rested her palms on the tops of her thighs.
Thick snow fell outside her windows, past the four-foot perimeter of the wraparound deck. If she listened hard, she would be able to hear the popping of the firewood in the next room.
She didn’t usually watch TV but lately she’d taken an interest in reality shows based on homesteads while she inventoried her storage. There wasn’t a lot she could do outside for preparing with feet of snow blocking the garden entrance and the greenhouse door. Taking up the shows had been a desperate attempt to keep her sanity. Recently she’d begun binge watching Mountain Men. The show was filled with great tips and prepper information she couldn’t get enough of.
Her favorite tip so far involved the butchering of a large pig. The men had explained that after draining the blood, they soaked large towels in boiling water. They then laid the towels out, spread neatly on the pig’s hide, and let the boiling water saturate the skin and hair. After a few minutes they were able to carefully shave a thin layer of skin and the hide hair from the pig without a large mess.
Not that Cady had pigs, but she might one day. The fact that the information was so easy to use made it a fun fact to absorb while she was going through the tedious task of checking her emergency preparedness items.
Each weekend she filled her afternoons with checking the family’s supplies and improving on a skill. With the political climate, it was only a matter of time until something happened. Cady’s entire goal revolved around making sure her daughter survived anything that happened. She pulled the third – and last – bright yellow seventy-two hour kit toward her and opened the top zipper.
A poncho should be on top. “Good, at least that wasn’t taken.” Cady rolled her eyes. Yes, at least that was there. What else had made it past her husband’s rabid desire to destroy everything she worked toward? She poked around the main pocket and nodded when she saw the main items she was checking for were present.
For her state of mind, thinking about her presently-absent husband wasn’t the best move. The commercial returned and Cady furrowed her brow. Twice in one break?
They really wanted to sell that perfume which hadn’t even released yet. “Smell like the end of the world.”
Cady chuckled, tightening the rear strap on the large hiking backpack. No one was in the room with her, but she found it funny to talk to herself out loud. “Who would want to smell like the end of the world?” Smelling like decay and rot wasn’t her idea of fun. Which wasn’t that what the end would be like? Death and sickness? She couldn’t imagine anything different. Moving the bag to the side, she glanced again at the large screen set about ten feet from her.
Bailey flopped into the room, her long auburn hair flowing behind her. She pouted as she claimed the middle cushion on the couch by the wall opposite the TV. “Dad might want to smell like the end. Maybe then you’d pay attention to him.” She smirked as she raised her foot onto the couch, bending her knee to the side and fiddling with the top of her ankle sock. At least she’d had the decency to take her shoes off before coming inside this time.
At thirteen, Bailey pushed the boundaries of Terrible Teen. She didn’t like her mom – at least that was the sentiment she exuded whenever she was within sight of Cady. No telling what she said when she wasn’t around.
“Maybe you shouldn’t worry about things like that.” Cady kept her tone light. She wasn’t going to start anything with her daughter. Cady’s relationship with Zach was none of Bailey’s business. Snapping another strap, Cady turned back to the television.
“I think I have the right to know, if my parents are going to get a divorce.” Bailey snapped, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her bent knees. Fear narrowed her eyes and she couldn’t hide her vulnerability from her mother.
Cady remembered feeling those same things years ago with her own parents. Thankfully, nothing had happened to warrant the emergence of any concern, but Cady couldn’t promise anything like that to her daughter. There was too much under the bridge between her and Zach and she wasn’t sure there was any way to recover from it. They’d married for the wrong reasons and held on for even worse ones.
The mention of divorce upset Cady more than she wanted to own. She struggled to keep her emotions under control. Divorce. Who would have believed that she’d be facing the prospect of divorce in her own marriage not more than fourteen years after committing to her husband?
If she wanted to get through the next few days filled with unknowns, Cady would just have to ignore Bailey.
Of course, Bailey was daddy’s little girl. She was an only child and between her mom and dad, she was spoiled past the brat point. The young girl was afforded anything she wanted. Flipping her alliances between her parents was something she did often, but she always returned to her dad. Cady had begun expecting it and found little solace when Bailey was on Cady’s side.
Focusing on her kit and opening the last strap, Cady chewed on her bottom lip. She couldn’t remember if her first aid kit needed more sterile gauze. She would have to go through the packages again. She was also running low on ibuprofen. She leaned over and added the newest remembered item to the list on her notepad set to the side. “We should do another dry run this week. I’m not sure I have everything and those newest MREs might not taste very good.”
Bailey didn’t say anything else as Mountain Men came back on. Her silence was probably a good thing. Cady was irritated by Bailey’s comment and then her silence. Did Cady stick up for herself when she wasn’t even sure what the accusation was? There was no point fighting about any of it.
There was no point fighting. They couldn’t control anything that was happening anyway. Zach had made his choice more than obvious.
Zach… He’d never been overly affectionate and as Cady had delved deeper into the prepper lifestyle, Zach had pulled further away.
Cady paid as much attention to Zach as she had to, or as much as she could. He drove long-haul trucks and was gone a lot of the time. When he was home, he berated her for not going out and finding a job with her microbiology degree. He hated driving truck. The economy that far north didn’t allow for a lot of electrical engineering which was what his education was in.
Lab work wasn’t much different with regard to availability which was what Cady would end up doing with her degree. North Idaho was great with a lot of things, but jobs weren’t one of them, unless you were in construction or hospitality.
As much as Zack treated Bailey like a princess, she was capable – even if she was a daddy’s girl. She played along with the girly façade he wanted to see her as, even though it was something she wasn’t. As soon as he was gone, Bailey traded in the skirts and curls for jeans, t-shirts, and braids. Riding around on her bike and climbing trees struck her fancy, not sitting around pretending to have a tea party. At only thirteen years old, she was a fairly independent child. Cady liked to think that was thanks to her and not the babying Bailey underwent from her father.
The perpetual pout on Bailey’s face was destined to annoy Cady something fast. Bailey kicked her foot. “When will Dad be home? He promised to take me fishing this spring.” Ah, the infamous fishing trip. The only time Zach relented on letting Bailey be a tomboy, simply because he wanted a fishing buddy.
The man was enough to drive Cady nuts. At least he didn’t make Bailey wear a dress while they fished, but she avoided the suggestion even in jest, just in case he did decide to give it a shot.
Cady kept her tone light, even though she wanted to tell Bailey to get her feet off the couch. “Friday. He said he should be home on or before Friday.” Almost a week. Cady didn’t want the time to pass as fast as she knew it would. As much as he complained about truck driving, the job gave Cady a respite from his negativity and his demands.
Zach would never let Cady forget how much he hated his job. He wanted to move to California or Oregon or Texas where there were jobs in his field. But Cady refused to move. If he wanted to relocate and find a job that he liked, he was welcome to it, especially after the last year. If things continued on as they were, he might still do just that.
She wasn’t against him finding work he liked. She just had a feeling they were supposed to stay in north Idaho. Something anchored her there and she wouldn’t leave. She wasn’t one to ignore her gut instincts and the feeling to stay was stronger than her knowledge in organic chemistry.
Staring at the television, Bailey didn’t respond to Cady’s answer about her father. “What’s dinner going to be?” Changing the topic, Bailey dropped her foot and leaned back on the couch. Her sigh echoed around the room, creating a tic in her mom’s right eyelid.
Rolling her shoulders and leaning her head to the side, Cady took a deep breath to calm her irritation. There was no point in getting frustrated with Bailey when they were the only two there. “Well, I thought we could have an easy night. I’ve got some things still to do.” She pointed toward the kitchen. “I was just thinking leftovers. We have a lot to pick from – pizza, spaghetti, and I think we have burritos, too.” She glanced at Bailey. “No point in wasting them.”
“No point in wasting them.” Bailey formed the sentence at the same time Cady did.
Cady laughed. “Jinx.” Maybe Bailey’s attitude was going to be good for the night. What Cady wouldn’t give for a break from the teenager syndrome. She smiled fully at her daughter.
Rolling her eyes, Bailey huffed. “Mom, no one says that anymore.” She shoved herself from the couch and stormed from the living room, her arms tight at her sides. Leaving behind a room filled with confusion, she didn’t look back at her mom.
Once again, Cady couldn’t do anything right. Her momentary excitement deflated, Cady stood and pulled the packs into a pile. At least she knew Bailey and Zach shared the same sentiment about Cady. She was never doing anything right. They liked to joke about what she was bad at and what she messed up which only made Cady want to try even less.
And the teasing about prepping was incessant. At least Bailey had left the room before digging in about that part of Cady’s preferences. Cady wasn’t sure how far she could stand to be pushed, but with her nerves on edge, she had a feeling it wasn’t far.
The only things she loved doing more than the rest of her family hated were her prepper things. Zach didn’t support her preparations for emergencies in any form. He even refused to let Cady spend any of their money on prepper items or food storage. He said anything like that was a waste of time. The world wasn’t going to have any problems with food or natural disasters – at least not where they were.
And yet… he was a truck driver. He had to know that if any of the truck drivers – long haul or otherwise – quit or if any of the trucks stopped or if there was a strike, there would be no supplies brought to the stores. What then?
If they maintained an attitude of living only in the present, they would starve. Cady had a well-stocked food storage shoved under the house in the crawlspace. Zach never went down there, in fact, Cady wasn’t sure he knew how to access the space. Cady never had to explain where the funds came from to stock it. She had been building the stockpile with the standard grocery money for years.
Since Bailey was gone most of the time with friends and she didn’t understand her mother’s prepping fanaticism, Cady didn’t feel the need to explain what she was doing.
Looking over the bags one more time, she double-checked for anything left unsecured and shut any undone snaps to make sure all the openings were closed. She lugged the backpacks with one thick strap slung over her shoulder and one in each hand to the closet under the stairs on the other side of the living room. Shoving the packs inside onto a wide shelf, she snugged them against a bright orange EMT bag that held their portable first aid supplies. She still needed to go over those items.
Maybe she was obsessing. It seemed like she was obsessing. Was that one more thing she needed to go over?
With only a little time left before she had to grab leftovers from the fridge – no way was Bailey going to help – Cady went to her office off the foyer and sat at her desk. Another secret she had from her husband was a side job as an online science tutor. Helping college students figure out their microbiology and biology papers brought in a little extra money to help fund her prepping plans and grow her nest egg.
She wasn’t dumb. The type of relationship she had with her husband wasn’t a forever kind. Sadly, she fell in love with an ideal… not reality. Getting pregnant before she could figure out he wasn’t the one for her changed her plans and altered her dreams.
Cady hated when her plans changed. Taking on prepping worked well as a stress-reliever. Putting everything she had into making sure they were ready for anything had become her passion.
The prepper groups she was in were serious about their storage, their knowledge, and conspiracies. She’d heard them all but nothing was leaning toward anything real. At least… not that she could make sense of. She knew too much science, too much logic.
Sometimes, even for all her work and storage, she wondered just what she was prepping for.
Blinking at the wide forty-inch monitor, Cady took a deep breath. The overwhelming number of emails from students were more than enough to keep her busy for the next three weeks. Thankfully, mid-winter break would start soon and she would get a break. She just needed to push aside her personal issues and prioritize what tasks needed to be done when.
After her list was complete of what she needed to work on immediately and what could wait, she’d find a minute to get dinner on. More importantly, though, she would just scour her inbox for any more information from the home owners’ association. She’d been trying to get a straight answer for a few weeks now and her last email had been bold and slightly accusatory.
She had no idea why they would put a ruling in the Codes, Covenants, and Restricts – CC&Rs – about owning goats. The rules stated residents could have cows, horses, chickens, dogs, anything, but you couldn’t have goats. No goats. Not in pens or fenced in. Nothing. Just thinking about the irrationality brought a grimace to her face.
Goats were good for a lot of things, and they were easy to take care of. You could use their milk for just about anything, same as you could with cow milk. If there was a snowstorm, you could pull them right into your garage and not have to worry about there being enough room. Cows on the other hand needed a significantly larger space.
She squinted at the subject line of the bottom email. What was that? An email from Jackson? Finally! She stopped, staring at his name and thinking back. When had she heard from him last? Not since before the last election.
He’d sent her an email spouting off about his political preference. Every word he typed was always so full of passion and absolutism. His way was the only way. Most of the time Cady agreed with his philosophies and conspiracies. When she didn’t agree with him, they engaged in fun discussions back and forth that they never took offensively. Dealing with Jackson was refreshing and she looked forward to hearing from him when she was going through really tough times.
Talking to him always gave her a thrill. Of course, Jackson was a man. Every word he typed and the memes he sent her were riddled with testosterone. Even the male-superiority jokes reeked of “man”. Judging by many things he’d said over time, he had no idea she was a woman.
And Zach had no idea about the place in her life Jackson held. She didn’t consider it being unfaithful to anyone, let alone her husband. To be fair, no one knew about Jackson. The elicit part of their relationship tickled her. He was her secret. There was nothing romantic between them. He thought of her as a man and she preferred it that. She got more respect as a man. A name like Cody left things basic for her.
Plus, Jackson was her friend from before.
Before her ideals had changed. Before she’d turned into a mother with protective instincts and more sentimentality than she’d ever wanted to claim. She was more emotionally attached to people and places and she was embarrassed by that.
Wait, had her ideals changed? When had she altered into a passive homebody who would rather prep for the inevitable than stepping out and doing something to create change? She wasn’t a sitter or a dreamer, she was a doer and she’d lost that part of her when she’d become a mother. Not that she didn’t want a better world for her daughter. She just had an innate need to be safe, keep her child safe.
Had Cady lost everything she believed? She lifted her chin. With intentional movements, she rolled the mouse to place the arrow over the subject line. Opening his email wasn’t just a curiosity or a need to find that small thrill… no, now Cady had to do it just to prove the Cady she’d been was still inside the smothered shell she’d become.
The email opened and his perfunctory words clenched across the screen.
I’m not sure how this will find you. It’s been forever since we spoke. I still believe the way we’ve always talked.
Maybe more so now.
There are so many people all around me with no manners or etiquette. Children are getting abused for no reason but evil and people are offended at the color of the sky.
Decency is gone in the world.
I’m done trying to figure out how to deal with it.
As always, when I start to feel too depressed by the world’s situation, I turn to our conversations in the past. I’ve been putting plans in motion since we last spoke – actually, since our last brainstorming session. I think you would be proud of what I’ve come up with. This is a project over time.
In fact, we can get this off the ground together. Or I can do it by myself. No, I won’t do that to you. I’ve already started it. I’m about to end it. There’s so much in here… so much I can’t say… so much I want to say.
Please, ignore my ramblings. None of that matters. The countdown has begun. I’m working on our plans. I have more details that I’ll send soon. But don’t worry – I’m not going to let us down.
Not to sound morose, but you and I are the only people who should live. Even my own mother needs to go.
I know you understand.
The first skim through only increased the thrill. Anytime Jackson spoke with the presence he had, Cady knew something good was coming. But there was something off in the email, like his obsessive tendencies were warping.
Over the years, he hadn’t done anything harmful to anybody. Mostly he just shared research with Cady that she’d been able to apply in her own jobs. When she’d stopped working, she’d collected information from him, living vicariously through the things he’d researched and discovered.
But dying? Living? What about their plans? Which one was he talking about because there had been so many over the years. She grinned at the thought that they were “plans”. Cady would’ve referred to them as daydreams, or what-ifs. What if the world’s population was cut in half? What would happen to the ecosystems, if there were no more humans? What if there was a disease that could completely wipe out the world in under one-hundred-and-eighty days? They’d even named their pseudo-virus CJ180d, complete with a mortality completion plan.
Cady wasn’t sure what he was getting at with the email. It wasn’t possible that he’d created a virus, it wasn’t possible that he’d come up with a plan to destroy the world. Cady would have known what he was up to. Besides, he was one man. What could he do?
She didn’t bother answering the email right away, because he would be suspicious, if she did. He would probably accuse her of being one of those smart phone yuppies who had all of the emails directed right to the phone.
How many times had they complained about those exact people? She checked the date of the email. Okay, he’d just sent it that morning. Good, she’d wait until tomorrow or the next day to reply.
Cady snort-laughed as she reread the cryptic message. He was probably drunk or something. He’d reveal what he was talking about soon, maybe even before she emailed him back. She’d wait. It wasn’t like he’d actually asked her a question or anything anyway.
Slumping back into her office chair, Cady relished the memories of their conversations as they flooded over her. They’d never met in person and yet, he’d been such a presence in her life, she couldn’t believe there were large periods of time where they hadn’t spoken. Yet, when they’d finally reconnected, it’d been like they had never stopped talking.
Jackson might not know it, but he’d gotten her through quite a few years of college and after where she hadn’t known what she was doing. She’d never given in and told him how much he meant to her as a friend. That would definitely give away her femininity. Guys just didn’t espouse that huggy-huggy attitude.
Thinking back over their numerous conversations and everything leading up to and surrounding CJ180d, Cady cocked her head. Did she still believe the way he did? Did she still support the same things he and she had talked about? There were so many. Sometimes, they would just type things to vent.
Out of the dozens and dozens of beliefs they shared, she couldn’t pick any one that stood out more than any other. If she did still believe some of them, she wouldn’t have started a family. She would have terminated the pregnancy before she’d let a life get in the way of her plans or add to the problems of the planet.
She drew her eyebrows together and pursed her lips. She wasn’t the same kid. When push came to shove, she hadn’t been willing to have an abortion. That was when her real beliefs had come more into focus. She’d always gone along with Jackson because she liked to believe she was more science than theology, more logic than emotion. But facing motherhood, her true identity had shifted. She’d gone from pro-choice to pro-life, from a more liberal perspective to a more conservative standpoint.
The change had been so subtle, she could only see the switch as she looked back over her life. She’d started dressing more modestly, talking less brashly, and she’d begun listening to others. True, she’d dropped her brazen side, but she’d become softer, more nurturing. And dang, if she didn’t own a few guns. She didn’t know how to use them yet, but prepping without an arsenal wasn’t acceptable. Like Prepping 101 included three sections – food, supplies, guns. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
If Jackson knew about her guns, he’d probably freak out. He didn’t know she lived in north Idaho. What would he say to that?
But Jackson had never considered that she might have changed because she’d never given the impression that she could. And she wasn’t sure she was comfortable with the open fact that she had changed. Looking at her life, she had to ask herself if she was she better off the way she’d become or would she have been better off staying the path Jackson still walked?
If she still believed the way Jackson did, she wouldn’t live in a big house with the carbon footprint of a dinosaur. So many things in her current life would be drastically different. She wouldn’t be with Zach and she’d probably live in a large city, working to eliminate some danger, working to uphold some cause.
The realization that she’d changed so much was sobering. Would Jackson consider her a liar? A hypocrite? Was she a fraud? Based on all of their conversations she couldn’t believe some of the things they’d actually talked about, actually considered.
Cady couldn’t help thinking that she’d morphed into one of the people they’d assigned as “deserving” what they got. If what she’d said in the past with Jackson was true, did Cady deserve to die?
Thinking back, that’s what all of their plans had centered on. Getting the end the world deserved. Eradicating those who were causing the earth more pain than they had the right to. So many wrongdoers and so little justice. They’d always just wanted justice, and death had seemed like the ultimate punishment.
Maybe she did deserve death. Maybe she deserved everything they’d ever talked about.
An inkling of fear crept through her. If she got even a fraction of the pain and destruction they’d discussed, she’d never survive it all.
Running his fingers through the short hair along the side of his head, Jackson sneered at the family sitting at the end of the public transportation bus. Jackson would have just ridden his bike the hour to the office, but the slush and ice weren’t easily managed by his mountain bike and he didn’t have the time or desire to have to deal with getting splashed with dirty, freezing mud he’d have to clean up.
As if the crowded transportation wasn’t bad enough, Jackson had to inhale the unwashed scent of the masses which was a combination of day old sautéed onions mixed with a fruity aftertaste like that of overripe bananas sitting in the sun.
The family at the back was probably the worst of the group he had to sit with. The children were loud, impolite, making constant noises like that of a flock of squawking parrots stuck in a cage.
Jackson couldn’t be sure, but he was pretty sure he’d caught the youngest boy picking his nose more than once. The germs he had to be spreading with his grimy hands would be uncountable and untrackable.
Every few seconds, Jackson stared at the mother as if to make a point, to draw her attention to what was happening around her. She sat on the bench seat, staring out the window. Jackson wouldn’t blame her for getting lost somewhere else, somewhere she didn’t regret her life or her choices. There was no evidence of a father figure and the woman had no wedding ring on her finger – or any fingers. Every once in a while the mother would glance toward the front of the bus, as if checking they were still on route before going back to staring out the tinted glass.
One of the children – Jackson didn’t care which one – threw something in a random direction. A solid thud came from the window by Jackson’s head. Slowly, Jackson turned his head to the side, arching an eyebrow at the sight of a rubbery-looking sticky hand clinging to the glass of the bus.
Eyeing the offending item, he cast a glare toward the group of children. While holding eye contact with the oldest boy, Jackson reached up and ripped the toy from the window. He mashed the mushy item in his palm, refusing to grimace at the sensation in his hand.
The taller girl approached, a gentle smile showing braces. With more freckles across her nose than anywhere else, she reached up and tugged on the sloppy braid trailing over her shoulder. “Can I have the hand back, please?”
Jackson offered a tight smile as he considered what would happen if he yelled no at her and threw the hand out the window. One, he’d be littering and that was a cardinal sin to him. Two, he didn’t need to draw unnecessary attention toward himself. He had to stay under the radar to keep his plans in motion. Without further thought, Jackson handed the blue toy to the girl. The only consolation he had was that she replied with as many manners as she’d requested the hand.
Too bad all the children in the world couldn’t be polite. That was something that could be directly blamed on the parents. If the children weren’t being raised right, then the parents needed to be punished. Obviously, discipline was lacking somewhere and it seemed to disintegrate in the generations following the second world war.
Unfortunately, that meant that all the people in the world needed to die. Of course, the statement was such a simplistic, blanketing assertion. Jackson had taken years to come to that conclusion. Not just the offenders needed to die. Everyone. Sometimes he believed he did, too. Sometimes, he woke up in a cold sweat at what the term “everyone” entailed.
During the harsh light of day, he couldn’t deny the earth needed a fresh start and even with half of the population, the world was too far gone. He believed that. His own humanity needed him to acknowledge that it wouldn’t be an easy mission to undertake. Once he did, everything would be so much easier. Maybe it was the reality that asserted itself over his enthusiasm.
While he chose to live alone, he still had the option to go out and find someone else. Once he put his plan into place, he would take that choice away. Staring at the family, Jackson remembered why he chose to be alone, why he chose to follow the path he’d started.
Offering grace to the brats on the bus wasn’t that much of a hardship. Not when he could take solace in the fact that they’d be dead before the nation’s birthday.
The bus came to a stop and Jackson dismounted. He zipped up his coat and pulled his fleece balaclava into place. He didn’t cast a second glance at the children or the mother. He didn’t care enough.
They were just blips in an otherwise overpopulated world. Jackson didn’t want to have anything more to do with them.
He’d finally realized and accepted that people were a blight on the world. People were destroying the awe-inspiring creation that the world was. He didn’t believe in creationism and he didn’t believe in the Big Bang. Somehow, the world had come about and he was going to make sure the world was saved.
Even if he had to go down with the rest of the people. The less contact he had with them, the happier he would be.
White slushy snow sucked at the tires as the bus pulled away. He waited for the bus to pass, waving his hand at the explosion of diesel exhaust toward his face. The black inkiness dissipated into the air, leaving an acrid smell behind.
Deep in his pockets, Jackson found his gloves. He pulled them on and set his jaw to the side, adjusting the backpack on his shoulder and shrugging on the last strap. He was in for a hike and he’d do better to make sure everything was in place before heading off. His home wouldn’t be as warm as the houses lining the street.
Once everyone was dead, there wouldn’t be any more pollution. Plants and animals could return to their rightful places and nature could destroy the cement structures which had obliterated natural ecosystems.
The bus had dropped him off at the last stop in town on the corner of Main Street and nowhere. He walked on the sidewalk headed away from the buildings and fences. His steps took him further and further from civilization. He didn’t believe in private transportation… At least he refused to use it until there were no more buses to take him where he wanted to go.
But, oh how much he longed to climb into the privacy of his own vehicle which would be completely sterile and minus the annoying presence of any parasitic human beside himself. Maybe he would get a car before the end so he could tour his destruction and take it all in.
He avoided kicking a pinecone frozen into a patch of ice which marked the transition from the paved sidewalk to the shoulder of the road. The gravel rolled off the black, shiny surface which only proved that it was actually chip sealed.
Snow had been plowed to the edges of the road in a graceful pile that led the way to the end of the pavement. He continued walking until the plowed road turned into track-riddled snow. The presence of the wide, rocky path about fifteen feet away from the shoulder was hidden behind the snow berm. The snow-hidden trail narrowed to a faint presence of footprints Jackson followed as he stepped into the barren bushes to cover where he’d been. In the summer there was so much dirt everywhere, and while he didn’t like being dirty, Jackson loved that it was even less evidence he’d been there.
His backpack slapped the lower indent of his back as he climbed over the bushes and snow. Down a slight decline, he clamored until the path evened out to a more manageable grade.
Jackson still hadn’t decided if he was going to be the only person left alive or not. He didn’t know what it would be like to see dead bodies all over the place or even how long he would be able to last by himself. Being alone was appealing, but out of choice. Once he set destiny into motion, there would be no other option than for it to go forward. Surviving was an option he would have, something no one else would.
Ending Jackson’s own life quickly might be the best way to go. Especially since the virus would be more pain than he wanted to face. Or, maybe giving himself the vaccine and watching the population disintegrate around him would be worth all of the horror of complete loneliness.
If only there were a woman… he’d reconsider taking the vaccine and they could repopulate the earth together, like Adam and Eve. He wouldn’t even offer the second vial to his only friend.
Jackson wasn’t sure what he was going to do yet. There are so many options.
And every single choice was all his.
Following the curve, past the sign that said “No outlet – private property”, Jackson continued walking. He ignored the warnings and just glanced toward the white fuzzy smoke off in the distance. Wyoming was cold and wet in January. If anything, it was more bitter and unforgiving than other four season locales.
Jackson ducked under the fence post at the very end of the property. He liked to take it to the end of the line. He narrowed his gaze, watching for any signs that the property owner had found him. In all the years Jackson had lived there, no one had found him yet. There were no tracks other than his. He retrieved a pine bough he’d stuck beside a tree and reached over the fence to brush away the last vestiges he’d been there.
The snow was harder to hide his presence in, but soon, he wouldn’t have to hide from anyone or anything. If he decided to keep on living. The options he’d left himself were invigorating. If he could, he’d high five himself.
Hiking through the collection of snow, he approached a copse of trees at the base of a plateau-style bluff, which overlooked the majority of the property. Trees and boulders decorated the landscape with various greens and dark, wet browns and blacks. Snow covered the tops brush and half-rotted stumps with icy round sculptures. The picturesque scenery sat at the back of the land plot which was close to a thousand acres, fenced in and overall well-maintained.
The chunk of land wasn’t Jackson’s.
Someone had left a bunch of train boxes at the back of the property where plants grew up and over, camouflaging the majority of them. At the bottom of the stack, Jackson had turned one into a bunker. Using solar panels placed on the tops of trees, he’d been able to harness enough energy to charge a few core batteries for the small things he needed done.
He squatted on the land and left behind no evidence that he was there – no bills, no wires, nothing that could lead anyone to where he rested his head.
Jackson was a no one.
No one knew his real name – even his family clung to a name that didn’t represent who he was or who he’d become. One guy he’d been friends with for years on the internet knew his name but didn’t know the face to go with it. Jackson had no known address and even used a dead man’s Social Security number. He’d been working on building up that man’s credit for a long time and now he could get any loan he wanted when he wanted with forged evidence of income.
Slipping through the back entrance of his bunker, Jackson turned and locked it up tight before doing anything else. As long as he was quiet, if the property owner or owners came by, they would never know someone lived inside the train cars, even the cables to the panels were carefully secured to the trees above.
White air puffed out in front of Jackson as he breathed into the chilly air of his home. He placed his backpack on the table at the far end of the box and sat in the chair at the desk. Everything he owned was second-hand or had been repurposed in some manner. He didn’t believe in brand new where brand-new wasn’t needed. Except underwear. Some things couldn’t be used – there was no other option on that. With all of the documented waste in the world, Jackson refused to add to it. He had to be the exception to the problem, or he wouldn’t deserve the vaccine.
Just thinking about the changes coming flooded his cortex with exuberance.
Jackson sighed. He couldn’t wait for the revolution.
Was he more excited or more nervous about the final stages of his plan? He had emailed C. Moss because he had to tell someone, and his long-time friend would understand. He had to share with someone what he was dealing with.
Even his place of employment didn’t know who he really was. They used the same credentials from when he’d been hired on as the tech guy. G-Pax, the pharmaceutical company, had hired him as a contractor which gave him the money to push his plans forward. That… And the fact that he was extremely talented in creating offshore accounts and convincing people to invest in his business ventures.
Working at the pharmaceutical company made it easy for him to have access to equipment he needed to continue to develop his viruses and his other parts of the plan. He stole them or ordered from their suppliers with work accounts.
He believed in the One Thing theory to “focus on one thing until you find success”. The man whose book he idolized was Gary Keller, a book which led him to find out what his true goal was and focus on actualizing on his real meaning in life.
Jackson’s entire reason for living became constructing a way to kill everyone else.
Cleaning the world of its parasitic problem, not just his town, not just the state, or the country – but the entire world. He wanted to eradicate the world of any more abuse. Seven billion people on the planet and more and more every day.
The sheer growth was unacceptable. Didn’t people realize there was birth control?
He reached forward, flipping the switch to turn on the Internet using the booster he’d connected up another tree with a painted satellite. It would take a moment for everything to boot up and get online, but it was worth the energy it would use to check his email for a reply from Moss. They’d been friends since the late 90s. They had met on a basic chat and both had promised from the beginning to always keep it anonymous.
Jackson had honored that promise. So far, he hadn’t even tried to find out where C. Moss lived. He could. He knew how to get information from the computer. He was good. But his promise to his friend was more important.
Plus, there was a level of honesty and trust when things were kept anonymous. Things were said when they were anonymous. Jackson needed that. He needed that safety and he wanted to provide that for his friend. The guy was brilliant, too. He had ideas and theories and when they would come off their rants they would come up with plans that Jackson ended up using more than one of. He even printed off their emails and chats to reference later. He had three-hole punched them and put the pages into 3-inch ring binders. Marking them up like the best reference books was fun, but making his own notes in the margins has been like revisiting a new edition of a well-loved book.
Rereading those conversations reassured him that his thinking was not out of the norm. His thinking was proactive, more along the lines of freethinking and world protection than anything else.
They had multiple pages that agreed with climate change and proved it on a mathematical level. Population control was the most basic of topics for them that they came back to again and again. A favorite twist to the topic was how to control population and the problems associated with free thinking and choice.
Always their conversations came back to population eradication. When you just took the human out of the equation, there was no problem with choice, no problem with consequences of population control. Population decimation was the answer to all of the problems they listed.
Climate change? Get rid of the population.
Not enough food? Get rid of the population.
Too much greed? Get rid of the population.
Too much sickness? Get rid of the population.
Getting rid of the population was the answer to everything.
Jackson reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small case he carried everywhere with him.
He opened the black box and pulled out two very small vials. The glass was cool to the touch but didn’t need to stay cold. He’d designed it that way. It would be viable up until one-hundred-and-thirty-degrees. He had to make sure not to leave it in a hot window in the summer.
Not that they would make it that long. The efficacy of the vaccines wouldn’t last after he released the virus.
Jackson only had two vials.
There would only be two.
He had destroyed the formula that had taken him months and months to create. All of the materials he’d used to create the vials had burned in an incinerator at work. He’d made sure that the vaccine wasn’t accessible by anyone, but who he wanted to have it. Jackson would offer the second vial to C. Moss. He owed his friend that much. Even as Jackson waffled on using the vaccine himself, he had to give his friend the option to take it. To live or not to live – wasn’t that what they wanted to give the planet?
True, he’d be forcing Moss to be alone until he died, but at least he could grant his friend the choice. Yet, Jackson had the feeling that if he knew his friend, then he could recognize the fact that there was no way the man would take the vaccine.
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