Chapter One - Talbot Journal Entry 1
The End…has come and gone. This is the new beginning, the new world order and it sucks. The end for humanity came the moment the U.S. government sent out the infected flu shots. My name is Michael Talbot and this is my journal. I’m writing this because no one’s tomorrow is guaranteed, and I have to leave something behind to those who may follow. Although the chance of humans making a comeback is remote. We have never been this close to the abyss. Oh, who the hell am I kidding, we’ve already fallen over and are clinging desperately to a small outcropping.
I’ve lost damn near everything in an attempt to get back to the East Coast Talbots. I watched as two dear friends departed to their families in the south, to never be heard from again. I watched as my neighbor, a valiant warrior named Jen, was shredded by zombies. My daughter’s fiancé Brendon died in a rescue attempt for me, BT and Jen. And my adopted son Tommy has gone missing. So now I must leave ‘home’ and strike out against a relentless enemy named Eliza, who has placed me on the top of her ‘to kill’ list. The clock is ticking. My son Justin has been infected with a low dose of the zombie virus and for the most part has been able to keep it at bay, although with some notable side effects, one being that Eliza can use him as a spy. While we were recuperating on the banks of Lake Erie in Camp Custer, Doc Baker came up with a serum that Justin has to take daily. It quite literally keeps the Demon out of his head, the problem being is that we only have forty-five or so of these shots left.
So either we find Eliza and deal with her or she’ll find us. Come to think of it, both ways really kind of blow. I’d much rather wait out the end of the world in a nice cozy cabin but now it’s personal. She has dominion over two of my sons, and is directly responsible for the death of my future son-in-law.
Day One – T-Minus four hours before departure.
“Is everything all packed?” Ron asked.
“Hell Ron, I’m a Talbot, everything was packed last night,” I told him.
“One more thing then,” he said. “I need to show you something.”
“I’m not a doctor, I don’t know what boils on your ass mean.”
“It’s too early.”
“I know, it’s just my way of diffusing the stress.”
Ron smiled wanly at me as he led me to the back of his bedroom, more specifically into his master closet.
“Holy crap this closet is huge, you could sleep in here,” I jibed.
“I have,” he responded. When he didn’t elaborate, I figured this to be his ‘doghouse’ so to speak. “I even have cable in here,” he finished proudly.
“Get out?” I questioned him.
He moved a duffle bag aside to show a small 19” flat screen set back against the wall. “Sometimes I start a fight when the Sox are on just so I can get some peace.”
I was nodding my head. “Fucking brilliant.”
“I thought so,” he said, smiling modestly.
“This is cool and all but this isn’t why you brought me here, is it.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Not so much,” he said as he bent over, rooting around and under a small mountain of sweaters. He finally pulled out the prize he was searching for. It was an old suitcase that had seen better days and a box roughly the size of a football, not the shape mind you, just the size.
“Any chance you’ve got a hand grenade in there?” I asked him hopefully, pointing to the small box.
“Nothing quite as explosive, literally.”
“Figuratively then? Really?”
“I just remembered it and I thought it might be relevant. Dad gave me this box and the suitcase when I was 15. He told me this story about how his father gave them to him to eventually give to his, at the time, unborn grandkids. Grandpa told Dad to never open these and that he should give these to his kids because they would know what to do with them.”
“Wait, so Papa John gave this stuff to Dad, with the explicit directions not to open them, so that he could give them to his future kids to open?”
“Yeah, that’s the gist of it.”
“And you’ve been hauling this stuff around since then? But I’ve never seen it and I used to snoop around your room all the time.”
“Nice Mike, so much for the sanctum of privacy.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Hey, I was just doing what all younger brothers did.”
“Yeah, and you weren’t my first younger brother. I made the bottom of my closet into a trapdoor.”
“Damn, you just keep racking up the respect points. So what else you got hidden in here?” I asked as I started tapping my right foot on the closet floor listening for the telltale sign of hollowness. Alarm flashed across Ron’s face. “So you do have something here!” I said, redoubling my efforts.
“You tap one more time and I will take the tires off the truck I’m letting you borrow.”
My foot hovered in the air. I was close, but I would leave it at that. Who knew what treasure trove he had hidden? I wouldn’t doubt it at all if it was gold bullion.
He first opened up the suitcase. There were stacks of notebooks and loose-leaf papers. They looked pretty brittle to the touch. I bent to grab a piece and the corner broke off in my hand.
“Careful,” Ron chided me.
“I barely touched it,” I said in defense.
“This stuff is almost a hundred years old.”
“Ron, I’m not getting the importance, especially now, why you’re showing me this stuff.”
“Let me back track. Gram Marissa.”
“Oh I loved Gram Marissa, she always smelled like licorice and honey,” I said fondly.
“She did sort of, didn’t she?” Ron said, getting that faraway look in his eyes.
Grandma Marissa had a smile on her face every day up until the day she died; it was a trait I had often desired to emulate but I always seemed to come up woefully short. Either her faith in mankind was much stronger than mine, or much more ignorant. It was better to think the former, it made her seem a much stronger person.
“Anyway,” Ron started up again. “Gram Marissa’s dad was a doctor, actually a physicist.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.” I was astonished, that was a pretty lofty position and I was fairly certain that I had never heard of the man.
“Stop interrupting me.”
“Just because you’re my big brother doesn’t make you the boss of me.”
“What are you, two?”
“Just messing around.”
“The whole stress thing?”
“It’s what I do.”
“Any chance you’ll grow out of it?”
“Pretty far in the game now to think about changing the rules.”
“Fair enough, you ready for the rest of the story?”
I nodded and twirled my hand around to let him know it was OK to proceed.
“Alright, so Gram Marissa’s dad was Dr. Hugh Mann.”
“Like Hu-man?” I asked.
“I thought you weren’t going to interrupt anymore?”
“I never said that, you did.”
“Fine,” He said, a little perturbed. “Yes, like Hu-man, only with a Hugh, H…U…G…H, not H…U.”
“Sounds the same.”
“Mike, shut up.”
I nodded again, I had yet to agree to anything though.
“So Dr. Mann discovered these bugs that under the microscopes of his time bore an eerie similarity to the human form.”
“Shit, no way, he was the one that discovered Hugh-Mannites? Why aren’t we rich or something? I read all about them on the Internet, how they were really just a concocted boogie-man to raise awareness about hygiene back then.”
“Oh they were the boogie-man alright, but they weren’t concocted. Didn’t you read between the lines, the similarity of time lines between the eradication of the dust mites…”
“And the Spanish Flu? Holy shit, I never put it together until now.”
“It’s all in these papers.”
“Now don’t get me wrong, this is super interesting shit, and I’m not even pretending.”
“Thanks,” Ron said drily.
“Wait,” a conspiracy light bulb flickering above my head. “How does this tie into the H1N1?”
“Now you’re getting it,” Ron smiled grimly. “I started reading these notes right after Dad gave them to me.”
I looked questioningly at the brittle parchment. Ron understood immediately.
“I had them photocopied.”
I nodded and he continued. “So our great grand dad was one of the first to put it together. When dust mites died so did people.”
“So the flu was no flu.”
“And they said when Mom dropped you on your head you’d never be right. I thought they might be mostly wrong.”
“Keep talking, funny one, just remember I’m borrowing your truck and you won’t be there to see what happens to it.”
His previous smile fell from his face. “Anything happens to that truck…”
“Whoa, whoa, big brother, I didn’t say anything was going to happen, I merely implied it.”
“Yeah, that makes me feel SO much better.”
“I’m just messing with you, nothing is gonna happen to your baby.”
He eyed me unmercifully, we both subconsciously knew my last statement was a lie.
“The doctor realized when the military became interested that his discovery could now be used for nefarious purposes.”
“Big word, been using a thesaurus again?”
“Bad, asshole, it means bad.”
“Oh I know what it means, it just seems like you were dropping large words just to do it. So even back then the government was a little shady?”
“Remember the USS Maine?”
“Touché. I still don’t know if I’m putting all the dots together. So the gummint…”
“Yeah, just my white trash way of saying government.”
“Whatever, how many times did Mom drop you?”
“So the gov-ern-ment,” I said slowly, making sure to over-enunciate each word. “They got a hold of our great granddad’s research and they did what any self-respecting government would do. They figured out a way to use the bugs as a means of mass destruction on our enemies. Is that a fair assessment?”
“Well, yes and no. They definitely took an interest after the Spanish Flu wreaked its havoc. There is even evidence to suggest that they ran tests with it around the time of WWII but besides the deaths of 1918 that were caused by accident, there is nothing to suggest that they did anything with it after that.”
“Would they wait a hundred years? And why use it against their own…” I stopped mid-thought. “Fuck me, someone else got a hold of it.”
Ron put his index finger to his nose to let me know I had nailed it.
“So someone tainted the world’s supply of flu shots. But who and for what purpose?”
“Hell, take your pick little brother. The John Birch Society, the One World Government, the Illuminati, the fucking Girl Scouts, any one of them. To what purpose? Well, that depends on which one of the psychotic groups got a hold of it. Just plain anarchy, control of resources, not enough cookie sales. I can’t imagine they expected this much collateral damage but there you have it.”
“What else do his notes say?” I asked.
“There’s a potential for a cure in here, but he never fully perfected it and I’m not sure what effect it would have on the parasite now. Whatever version is running through those zombies out there, it isn’t 1.0.”
“Shit, if the government…”
“Gummint,” my brother corrected me.
“Yeah, them.” I said. “By the time they got through with it, the parasite has to be a fully weaponized creature.”
“Do you think your friend Doc Baker along with his research and these notes would be able to do something?”
“Possibly, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find him. I don’t even know for sure if he made it off the base.” I missed the doc and his family; they were good people and I only hoped the best for them. “And Tommy is my priority.”
“I’ve been good so far brother, but I don’t need any extra pushing. If I thought I had a one in a million shot of tracking down the doc with these notes AND, that’s a big AND, I thought he was alive AND could do anything with them I’d change everything in a heartbeat.”
“I’m sorry Mike, it wasn’t my intention to make you feel like you weren’t doing the right thing.”
“Oh it probably was but you didn’t mean it in a bad way. We have a link to Tommy. There is a potential way for us to track him down, slim sure, but a chance. Doc Baker could be two houses away from us right now and we’d never know it. I promise if I come across a clinical physician I’ll hog tie him and won’t let him go until he figures out how to make this potential potion.”
“That’ll have to do.”
“Glad you’re on board,” I said sarcastically. “What’s in the box?”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure but I think you’ll know.”
“Uh oh, I don’t like it already,” I said, and I wasn’t kidding or trying to be funny.
He pulled the lid off the box. The smell of old garlic slammed into my nose. I intrinsically knew, it would have been impossible not to. As he pulled the white gold locket from its case a tremor of unease began in my stomach and wrapped around my spinal column. I was shaking uncontrollably like a bear had wrapped its paws around a small tree and was shaking it violently trying to make the bee hive drop its prize, only the prize in this analogy was my quivering mind.
“Don’t,” I mouthed silently as he opened the jewelry.
A bolt of power seemed to leap from Eliza’s cold eyes as she stared back at me. A small smile pulled up one corner of her lips as she seemed to take a cruel satisfaction in my unease.
“You alright?” Ron asked across a seemingly vast expanse.
“Close it,” I said breathlessly.
I’ll give him this, he didn’t taunt me with it like a big brother is apt to do with an object of fear. Like countless brothers holding a bug up to the frightened gazes of their sisters. Or the glob of spit that is repeatedly drooped in front of the younger sibling’s face to only be sucked up at the last moment, or a countless other myriad forms of minor torture. My anguished look of distress was enough to convince him that this wasn’t a game.
“That’s her then?” he said as he shut the locket.
“Where did you get that?” I asked after I was able to speak again. I reached my hand out, not sure if I truly wanted to touch it.
Ron brought it closer to my hand. “You sure? I thought you were going to pass out just from looking at it.”
“Not from the piece itself, only the picture, it has power.”
Ron eyed me skeptically. He was not a big believer in what he could not touch or see, but he still reluctantly handed it over.
“Wow, it’s so cold,” I said as I gripped the chain.
Ron touched the chain to see what he was missing. “It’s cool at best, room temperature I’d say. I think it might be in your head, little brother.”
“Well there’s always the chance of that, Lord knows what else goes on in there, it would fit right in.” With my right hand I grabbed hold of the locket, rubbing my thumb over the smooth surface. I pulled back instantly when I felt something prick my finger. “Shit, I’m bleeding!” I muttered, looking at the small drop of blood pooling up on the tip of my thumb.
Ron grabbed the locket out of my hands and rubbed every last bit of it. “What the hell did you cut yourself on? This thing is as smooth as buttered silk. Maybe you shouldn’t use so much anti-bacterial on your hands, it’s making them as dry and brittle as Hugh’s notes.”
“Funny,” I said as I sucked the bubble of blood off my opposing digit.
“Use a different finger and touch it,” he suggested, pressing the locket back into my hand.
“Kiss my ass. Rub it on your face first.”
And he did just that and nothing happened, no scratch, no mar, no nothing.
I was feeling a little foolish, I angrily grabbed it from him.
“Hold on,” he said. “I want to make sure that you’re not pulling a scab off or something.”
“Fine,” I gritted out as I showed him the index finger on my right hand.
You would have thought he was looking for trace evidence at a crime scene the way he analyzed my finger. “Alright, it looks fine.”
“So I can continue?”
“Proceed,” he said airily.
I rubbed my finger over the face of the jeweled locket. “Fuck!” I pulled back quickly, blood was again pooling on a previously unmarred finger.
“Holy shit Mike.”
“I told you the damn thing had something wrong with it.”
“I’m not ready to believe that just yet, I think you might be hitting a trigger switch or something that causes a barb to come out. Kind of like an early ages theft deterrent.”
“Oh yeah, that must be it,” I said sarcastically, now cleaning blood off of my finger and thumb. “Just put the damn thing away.”
Ron put it back in its box and then proceeded to hand it to me.
“Fuck that,” I told him. “I don’t want it.”
“Near as I can tell it’s yours.”
I shook my head in the negative like a six year old child being accused of stealing cookies. My face was covered in chocolate and in my hand I still had half a cookie but still I denied ownership.
“Gram Marissa was kind of vague, like she was remembering the details through a veil. But the boy with the incredible baklava told her that this locket was somehow linked to his sister, that it had some power.”
Goosebumps the size of small gooses, (geeses?) rippled up my forearms. “Gram Marissa met Tommy?”
Ron stopped to think for a moment. “I think she said the name ‘Tomas’ but I guess that makes sense from everything you’ve told me.”
“Why is our family the center of this shit storm, Ron?” I asked in despair. Just when I adjusted to the extra weight of a particular event, I seemed to pick up some extra baggage. Eventually I would get to the point of breaking, maybe not today but I could feel it coming like a locomotive in a dark dead-ended tunnel. There would be nowhere to run and by then I don’t think I’d want to.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I wish I knew Mike. But I think we need to think of these items as weapons in this war. They were obviously important enough that Tomas came into our grandparents’ lives to keep them safe and let them know what they had, at least to a degree.”
“A book of directions or maybe an instructional DVD would have been awesome.”
Ron laughed. “Let’s get the rest of your stuff.”
I could feel the chill of the locket in my heart as I gingerly rubbed the outside of the box.
* * *
Talbot’s Journal Entry 2 - Day One
Outfitted with a new truck, plenty of ammo, weapons and food, Tracy, Justin, Travis, my brother Gary and I headed out to find Tommy. My previous injury to my shoulder has nearly healed to completion. I came to Maine hoping for the best and expecting the worst. The East Coast Chapter of the Talbots have suffered some losses, notably my brother Glenn in North Carolina and my niece Melanie who lives, (lived?) in Massachusetts. But for the most part, paranoid delusional Talbots or as they are now known, ‘survivalists,’ have stayed relatively strong.
My spirits should be much higher than they are, but I just can’t get it out of my head that this is a one way trip. We’ve been driving for four hours, and Tracy has yet to say one word. Her head has been resting against the passenger window, and she’s just been staring blindly out at the passing scenery. Leaving her mom Carol behind was actually a good thing. She wouldn’t be on the run any more, she’d be able to rest and find some semblance of normality, if possible, at the Talbot compound. Leaving Nicole behind was another matter. Our daughter is pregnant and Tracy wasn’t going to be there for it, and that above all else was weighing heavily on her. Well, that and the fact that some dumb ass named Michael Talbot was dragging her two sons back into harm’s way.
I didn’t quite see it that way. ‘Harms Way’ seemed to now be a main thoroughfare that intersected regularly with our ‘Life’s Path.’ The only noise in the truck was Gambo’s (my brother Gary) checking and rechecking of his magazine clips. I appreciated the thoroughness, and the obsessive compulsive disorder of it, I really did. But four or five times should be the max!
“You about done back there?” I asked Gary.
“With what?” he asked back.
“Admitting your problem is the first step to recovery,” I told him.
“Forget it,” I said, too tired to even sound exasperated.
Gary started unloading and reloading his magazine clips again.
“I thought BT was gonna kick your ass, Dad, when you told him he had to stay behind,” Travis said from the backseat.
“Yeah, he got pretty close to your head with his crutch,” Justin said smiling in remembrance.
I absently rubbed my cheek where the rubber bottomed tip of the crutch had brushed across me. BT had been swinging for the fences, lucky for me he had foul tipped or I’d be back at my Dad’s nursing a concussion. Although how bad would that be, really?
“Yeah, that was close,” I said, forcing myself to sound cheerier than I felt. It fell flat. The interior of the truck once again slipped into silence, interrupted only by the repetitive sound of bullet scraping against bullet. How the hell that became a comforting noise was a mystery to me.
“What the hell is that smell?” Travis asked, grabbing his nose.
Justin sheepishly raised his hand. “Aunt Lyndsey made me try her breakfast burrito.”
The smell was horrific but it wasn’t this which caused my already depressed mood to implode. It was the remembrance of Henry. I had felt it best to leave him behind also. Besides not having my furry friend and companion along, I no longer had a viable alibi when my lactose intolerant bowels fired off a fiery discharge. “Oh, Henry,” I mumbled under my breath.
Gary rolled down his window, the howling wind masking his sounds of gagging.
“Wonderful,” Tracy said as she rolled down her own window. I was thankful that at least now she couldn’t rest her head in that melancholy way. It was breaking my already shattered heart.
We hadn’t seen much in the way of zombies yet. I figured there were a few mitigating factors. Maine was sparsely populated, number one, number two the area was so economically depressed that if the infected flu shot wasn’t being given for free not many people here were going to spend the twenty to twenty-five bucks to get one no matter how virulent the bug. Shit ,who cares if you’re sick if you don’t have a job to go to anyway.
“How are you planning on finding Helen?” Gary’s voice came from the back seat.
Tracy slowly turned to look at him. “Who?”
“You know, the werewolf chick,” he replied, never looking up from his magazines.
“You know you’re talking out loud right now, Uncle Gary?” Travis asked in concern.
“Dad, there aren’t any werewolves, right?” Justin asked.
“Hon, do you have on any silver jewelry?” I asked Tracy.
“You can’t be serious. And even if I did have some on, you wouldn’t be making any bullets out of it to kill a beast from faerie tales,” she said, placing her hand protectively over her obviously gold chain and crucifix.
“Was that cross blessed?” I asked her.
“How should I know, you bought it for me for our anniversary.”
“No, that’s right, it must have been my other husband.” Her glare should have stopped me in my tracks, unfortunately I was paying too much attention to the roadway to heed the warning.
“Well, did he get it blessed?” I asked her.
Her hand would have connected with the side of my head if the G-forces from my hard braking hadn’t flung her forward. Thank God she was wearing her seat belt.
“What the hell Mike?” she asked hotly.
Travis nearly crawled over his seat to get a better look at what had brought us from 60 to 0 in record time. A full grown two thousand pound moose was galloping full speed towards us, and he had no clue whatsoever we were in his way. The zombie latched on its back and the one on its left rear leg had absorbed all of its attention.
I was in such a rush to throw the truck into reverse, I slammed it into park. The engine was taching at 5000 rpms and we weren’t moving.
“Mike, you’re going to want to back up,” Gary said, his eyes never straying from the charging beast.
“I think he’s right Dad!” Justin threw in for good measure.
It was taking long seconds for my racing mind to catch up to my ill-timed action.
“Mike!!” Tracy said, placing her feet on the dashboard and bracing for impact.
Travis sat back down and refastened his seatbelt. Wise move, I thought to myself.
The moose was within fifteen feet by the time I figured out how to drop the gear into reverse. That transmission got the workout of its life as I slammed the gas pedal down. We were moving but the moose was still gaining.
“Not gonna make it!” I said aloud.
The moose’s front hoof clipped the bumper, momentarily taking our rear wheels off the pavement. Between my furtive glances to the rear to make sure we weren’t going to hit a wayward semi, and back to the front and possible death by Bullwinkle, I noted that the moose’s next step was going to take him half way up our hood which would result in certain destruction with death being a possible consequence. Zombies saved our lives, yeah, write that line down, zombies saved our lives. (Sure, we would have never been in this situation if it wasn’t for them, but that’s just splitting hairs.) The one that had latched on to the rear of the moose took that opportune moment to hamstring the giant critter. The moose dropped like a brick, his head slamming into the hood and grill. So much for the resale value. Ron was going to be pissed.
I laid on the brakes again almost as hard as I had the first time. For twenty seconds I sat there, sweat accumulating on my forehead. The pops and groans of the overworked engine were drowned out by the mewling of the moose as it was being eaten alive. The sad sound pierced the air and my heart, so much so that I got out and killed the zombies as they feasted and then put one into the moose’s terror stretched eye. It was then that I noticed the torn tendon on the hind leg still hanging out of the zombie’s mouth. Tracy and Travis had come up to get a better look. Justin was rubbing Gary’s back as he puked behind the truck.
“We should go, Mike,” Tracy said, grabbing my arm.
This opening act to our quest seemed an ominous premonition of things to come. I could not stop staring at the brain matter as it oozed from the moose’s eye wound.
“Dad, how did they catch a moose?” Travis asked.
‘By hunting it down relentlessly,’ I thought. “They must have stumbled on it while it was sleeping,” I lied.
We had narrowly escaped death by deaders just a week ago, how far would we have gotten if it had been speeders? As a survivalist I had prepared and trained for the day when the world was going to take a giant shit on itself, but I had no idea how much luck was going to factor into my family’s continued existence. I did not like it. Luck was a fickle bitch.
I finally turned from the gruesomeness; Gary’s retching had subsided slightly. Justin was no longer rubbing his back as the puddle of bile began to spread and he didn’t want to get in the splash zone.
“Big moose,” Gary said from his hunched over position, brown drool hanging in stringy rivulets from his mouth.
“Big moose,” I echoed. “You ready to go?” I asked him.
“Just about,” he answered, immediately followed by his biggest purging thus far.
I popped the hood of the truck to see if the contact with the beast had damaged anything internally. Besides a bumper that would never pass inspection and a hood with a two foot long crease, we were in pretty good shape. Ten minutes later I gave as wide a berth to the carnage in the roadway as the two lanes would allow. It wasn’t near enough. Gary’s persistent gagging in the back brought me to the edge of my own expulsion. Another ten minutes and I was almost able to convince myself the whole thing was just some elaborate nightmare induced by my sister’s chili. Then I saw the drops of blood on the hood and they sliced effectively through that illusion. Oh yeah, did I express how pissed off Ron was going to be about his truck?
Pin It Now!