The virus delivers more surprises as it takes more lives.
Who dies and who survives?
The world is choking as each survivor faces more terror beyond just the sickness of others and themselves.
As the virus moves across the country, who wins and who loses?
Survive with Cady and her family or don’t… Either way, you won’t be able to stop reading.
Ranger’s matted fur consoled Scott as he intertwined his fingers in the mess. Keeping his voice low, he murmured, “Good boy. We’re almost there.”
There being Scott’s house. They had to get to his house to get a gun so he could protect them. The need for quiet and protection was directly related to the pack of coyotes slowly stalking Scott in his weakened state.
The virus had left Scott confused and debilitated. He even thought he could take care of himself, if he could just get back to his house.
He couldn’t breathe fully, each pant for air a desperate inhale as his lungs tried to compensate for his weakness.
Moonlight broke through the treetops and Scott stumbled, his bare feet softened by the wet ground and torn up by the gravel and large rocks protruding from the packed dirt of the road.
A soft yip from a fringe coyote made Ranger stop and growl louder. The sound came from deeper in his throat than a bark. Scott could feel the vibrations in his hand as he held onto his dog.
He was so glad to have Ranger back. He’d thought he’d lost his best-friend south of Coeur d’Alene. Ranger didn’t look worse for wear. The dog had made it home and he felt like he hadn’t lost too much weight in the last few days.
Even as Scott faced the danger of a pack of hungry coyotes, his elation and relief at seeing his dog was noticeable.
His muscles wanted to give up. He wanted to sleep. He needed rest.
As much as his body wanted him to give up, Scott didn’t want to stop. They had to keep going. The house wasn’t more than twenty yards away. He could see the shape of Rachel, his neighbor, as her dead body lie on his grass. The gun she’d shot herself in the head with would be somewhere right in that area.
The moon was high in the sky, casting tree shadows across the road.
Glancing at Ranger, Scott debated running without him, or grabbing Ranger’s collar and hanging on. No matter what Scott did, he wouldn’t have the energy for more than a few seconds of action. He was getting better, but not enough to fight off the pack of coyotes. Thank goodness, they weren’t wolves.
No, wolves would be a nightmare he’d never wake up from. At least with coyotes, there was a chance. Maybe.
Scott limped forward, determined to reach his house. He had to reach it. If he could get that gun, then he could protect both him and his newly returned companion. Where was the weapon? Would his feet get him over the grass and onto the concrete pathway leading to his porch?
Goosebumps rose on Scott’s skin. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the early spring breeze that carried a hint of winter still on its edges or if his fever was returning or worse. What if he sensed something from the coyotes – like a sixth sense of a prey.
He dragged his feet forward, forcing each step. Fifteen yards.
Scott glanced at Ranger who stalked alongside him. Ranger flicked his glance to Scott and something passed between them. Scott suddenly knew what to do. He had to make it to that gun. That’s all that mattered. Ranger would give him backup.
Not even taking the time to tense up and prepare, Scott bolted toward his yard. The sudden burst of energy came grudgingly as if even his body didn’t want to live long enough to save them. Scott ignored the soft padding of the chilly grass beneath his feet as he left the roadside. Even the damp blades hurt his tender skin, trying to impede his every step.
His sudden sprint away triggered the predators waiting and watching. The coyotes sprang forward. Yipping and snarling chased Scott’s heels. He pumped his arms with an intensity for survival he hadn’t felt since his high school football days.
Ranger wasn’t running beside him. Scott couldn’t afford the time to look back when Ranger’s growl turned into a bark and a snarl.
Scott had to get to that gun and now.
He reached Rachel’s body, ignoring the flesh torn from her bones. Her face was no longer recognizable, but Scott would focus on that later. Gun. Gun, where was the gun?
Her hand had fallen to the side, beside the bushes and Scott dropped to the ground, digging along the rocks. His fingers closed around the cold metal of his firearm and he pushed himself back to his feet and swung around to aim at the pack. Hopefully, he had more ammunition in the chamber. Hopefully…
His heart stopped. Ranger snarled and bit at two coyotes attacking him from either side.
The pack had tightened around the three animals as if looking for a way to get at their next meal. Scott had been abandoned for a moment.
If he didn’t hurry, he would miss his chance.
He wasn’t going to miss out on a proper reunion with his dog. Not because some coyotes decided a sick Scott was dinner.
With his arms weak from the virus and the mad dash to get the gun, Scott struggled to lift the firearm. He wasn’t sure how many bullets were in the clip, but he really just needed a couple. Even one would be more help than harm.
Using both hands, he aimed the gun but couldn’t get a solid bead on one of the coyotes fighting with Ranger – not without a chance of hitting his dog.
After a long moment of trying to get one of the coyotes in his sights, he shifted the position of the gun and squeezed the trigger.
The slight recoil combined with his exhaustion and he jerked his arms back.
Was he strong enough to try again? A high-pitched yip let him know he’d hit something. As he aimed again, he hoped it wasn’t Ranger.
Bailey jerked her head up from leaning against the wall. The sound of the gunshots in the distance pulled her from her wallowing. Everything was easy to hear with the silence left behind with the absence of power.
The nights were still getting cold and Bailey wasn’t sure what was ahead of her. At the top of the stairs, Bailey listened closely. Where were the shots coming from? Was there a killer on her driveway? As prepared as Bailey was to shoot a target stapled to a tree, she wasn’t ready to defend herself with a gun. Not yet.
A loud thud hit the porch and Bailey held Jessica closer to her chest as she darted down the stairs in the dark. The overhead skylight clung to a layer of snow along the edges of the bubbled glass, dimming the moon and starlight.
As Bailey’s shirt skimmed the textured wall, the whisper of the contact matched her breathing.
Had Scott shot Jason? At the bottom of the steps, Bailey reached out with her free hand and felt for the door handle. Flinging the door open, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the minimal light. At least she could see shapes so she didn’t trip on anything.
Jason had fallen to the deck, his white t-shirt almost glowing in the shadows. He wasn’t moving. Had he been shot? Was the gunman waiting for them out on the drive? The house was darker than outside. Bailey’s silhouette could stand out against the pale house exterior.
Glancing around, Bailey knelt by Jason’s side. She adjusted Jessica in her arms and reached out cautiously as tears flowed freely down her cheeks. “Jason?” Her whimper broke the silence of the night.
Another shot rang out, but further away. The distance didn’t matter. Bailey ducked backwards and then crouched closer to Jason’s fallen form. Patting his chest and head, Bailey sighed in relief. He hadn’t been shot – at least from what she could feel. She had to get him inside and figure out what was wrong with him.
Standing, she carried Jessica into the living room, laying her on the couch and rolling up a blanket to create a makeshift crib line so the newborn wouldn’t fall from the cushion. Bailey had no idea how old a baby was when they started crawling, but Jessica seemed too small to do much more than eat, poop, and cry. Oh, and sleep.
Jessica didn’t stir as Bailey transferred her to the makeshift bed. Bailey didn’t have time to wait to see if she was going to wake up. Listening for Jessica’s cries would have to be enough monitoring for now.
On the porch, Bailey knelt again and shook Jason’s shoulder, peering as close to his face as she could get. Her warm breath rebounded from his skin and hit hers, cooling as it made contact. “Jason? Wake up. Can you hear me?” She kept her voice low in case there was a killer out there taking potshots at them.
Nothing from Jason. No response. Bailey settled back on her heels, wrapping her arms around her knees and staring in the direction of the road. With the loop and curve of the drive and the large island of trees in the middle, she couldn’t see all the way to the road, but that didn’t stop her from looking in that direction.
Okay, she didn’t honestly think someone was out there shooting at them. She would hear the shots closer and that wasn’t the case. The shots were further away, more hollow sounding.
What Bailey needed to focus on right then was getting Jason inside. For whatever reason, he’d collapsed and she couldn’t help him by leaving him outside. How did she get him in, though? What if he was hurt? She couldn’t fully check him or fix him with him crumpled there on the deck, half-on and half-off the steps.
If that was her dad, what would she do? Bailey was tough. She could move him herself. She had to. She had no other choice other than to leave him there and that wasn’t an option she could live with.
As much as her dad treated her like a princess, he’d told her to make sure she stayed in shape. Bailey hadn’t taken him seriously, but she hadn’t ignored exercise either. Right then, as she faced having to move a solidly built teenage boy inside, she wished she could go back and tell herself to work out and get stronger.
Taking a deep breath, she stood and then bent over, hooking her hands under his armpits and pushing backward with her butt. The movement dragged him toward her and she did it again, stepping back as she slid him closer to the door.
Another gunshot split the night and cut across her breathing. She jerked her head up. She had to find out who that was. What if Scott was in danger? If he’d found a gun, he might be protecting himself or he was going on a delusional rampage. Neither was a good thing.
Jason obviously hadn’t found Scott, or the man would be nearby. So the safest bet would be to assume that Jason hadn’t been shot.
Maybe Jason had turned back for a flashlight or something in the all-encompassing darkness. Actually, that was being dramatic. It wasn’t that dark out.
With her butt up against the door, Bailey reached behind her. She pulled the handle down and thrust a hip out to push the door in. Back to her maneuver to pull Jason into the house, Bailey yanked under his arms two more times.
All she had to do was get Jason in the house. She couldn’t spend any more time with him. At least not until she found Scott. Not until she figured out where her neighbor was. He was supposed to be there, in the room beside her mother, where he was supposed to be getting better or getting ready to die.
What would she say to her mom, if she lost Scott on the first night she’d been left in charge?
Rather than just leave Jason on the floor, Bailey ran into the living room and retrieved a throw pillow. Returning to his side, she carefully placed it beneath his head. His skin burned beneath her touch and she gasped. “You’ve been sick. Oh, Jason.” Bailey shook her head. How long had he been hiding it? The rash hadn’t been evident on his neck and his eyes had just started to look red-rimmed. She hung her head. She couldn’t focus on that right then. “I’ll be back.”
Not that he could hear her. Not that he knew what she was doing or even cared.
Bailey couldn’t go far with Jessica, Cady, and Jason alone in the house with no one to watch them or tend to their needs.
No, she didn’t have the time to search far for Scott. If she did get lucky and found him, she couldn’t carry him back – not on her own. She had to take the four-wheeler to retrieve him. There was no other way to bring him back. He’d been too sick to leave.
In fact, if she found him and he survived, she was going to give him a hard time about being stupid enough to leave the house. He deserved some teasing after the scare he’d put her through.
Listening one more time for any crying or sounds from Cady or Jason, Bailey softly closed the door behind her. She ran to the shed, sliding onto the seat of the four-wheeler.
Would they get to the point where they’d find a routine again? Now that the power was out and everyone was sick, Bailey needed to hold onto something to look forward to. She needed hope. Anxious to have one person pull out of the sickness, Bailey really just needed to find some hope. That would help with the hope. If just one would survive, she could find a glimmer she needed.
That’s all she wanted, all she needed. Hope that someone could survive the virus.
Her mom. Her neighbor. Jason and Jessica. She needed hope that she wasn’t going to be alone at the end of it all. If she had to face the world alone, why would she want to survive?
Bailey started the engine, giving it a couple seconds to warm up. What would she find when she left her driveway? Was she just putting herself in harm’s way? She had no other option before her. The overwhelming weight of the situation she found herself in made her want to lie down and cry.
She’d have to just make do with letting the tears out. Bailey wiped her cheeks and shifted into high gear. Revving the throttle with her thumb, she set her jaw.
Suck it up, Bailey. She wouldn’t take the time to dwell on her self-pity.
She had to get it together and then she had to find Scott.
If he shot her, she’d never forgive him.
Jackson’s truck had been ransacked. All of his weapons were gone. He stood at the door to the cab with an eyebrow arched and a smirk on his lips while he held his hand on his hip. He wore clean clothes. His old soiled outfit littered the carpet in the motel room he wouldn’t be returning to.
After wrapping his feet and hands with bandages, he’d forced himself to get dressed and gather his belongings. He was hungry and not the kind of hungry some vending machine snacks would assuage.
First, truck. The way the truck had been picked over, Jackson wouldn’t be surprised if those men had been real from his hallucinations. They probably had looked through all of the room keys at the front desk and figured the missing one was where the truck owner was. They wanted the keys to steal the truck. And who wouldn’t? The truck was mean looking. Too bad it was pretty worthless now.
Jackson might have been loud as he’d suffered from the effects of the Cure. He wouldn’t be surprised. He was the type to groan when getting a massage from a stranger. He had no shame.
The gas cap was left off which meant they’d probably siphoned his fuel. Jackson leaned his head back and took a deep breath. He wasn’t going anywhere with his feet injured the way they were. He needed another day or so to let his feet rest before he could start searching for a vehicle that worked.
Limping back into the office, he grabbed another room key and settled for pulling some of the remaining items from the machine. Trail mix would have to work for now. He didn’t want it to, but he wasn’t stupid. Nutrition was imperative for his feet to heal. With water and nuts, he should be able to at least give his body energy to beat the initial mending.
In a clean room, Jackson sighed as he carefully lowered himself to the bed. This room didn’t stink like urine and misery. He didn’t bother blocking the locked door. Keeping himself in wasn’t a worry anymore.
Keeping others out? He’d love to see someone try to hurt him at this point. He was invincible. Next, he had to find Cady and let her tell him how amazing he was. He was getting sick of telling himself.