Authors: Richard McCrohan
Copyright © 2014 Richard McCrohan
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
ISBN 13: 9781502363596
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014917123
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina
To Linda, the love of my life
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I’d like to thank my amazing wife, Linda—and that’s the real “amazing” kind, not the television-talk-show “OMG, she’s, like,
amazing” kind—for putting up with my sometimes excruciatingly weird ideas, and my four grandchildren, Jennifer, Michael, Brandon, and Justin, for thinking their grandfather is “way cool.”
To all the writers of the zombie apocalypse: many, many thanks for your inspiration and for hours of joyous reading.
And finally to the legions of zombie fans out there: if not for you, I’d probably just be writing grocery lists. Thank you.
n late February astronomer Arthur Soldaris of the Astronomical Society of Nevada discovered a previously unknown comet. Now known as Comet Solaris 116, it became an online celebrity when early calculations placed it colliding with at least one of our solar system’s planets, if not Earth itself. Taking on the Internet nom de guerre Pandora, Comet Solaris 116 quickly zoomed to cult status in online chat rooms—from professional scientific queries to doomsday preppers predicting cosmic (and to some, karmic) Armageddon.
Leading world astronomers soon calculated that although Pandora, as it was now universally called, would not strike Earth, it would in fact hit Mars, albeit probably with just a glancing blow.
In March, as predicted, Pandora indeed struck Mars. Hitting the red planet obliquely at forty miles per second, the comet exploded, sending millions of tons of meteors and dust on a new trajectory. Pandora’s dust cloud was now heading directly into Earth’s orbital path. The governments of the world quickly tried to dispel rising fears about Earth’s destruction, reassuring us that the meteor showers would not, for the most part, be damaging and primarily would be dust and debris clouds that most likely would just give us awesomely dazzling skies for forty-eight hours.
As Earth passed through this long dust cloud, there was, as promised, very little actual damage. Most of the meteorites weren’t large enough to
do much in the way of structural devastation to buildings. Astonishingly colored sunrises and sunsets did indeed appear throughout the world. People excitedly threw Pandora parties on patios and in backyards and watched the shooting stars at nighttime get-togethers, though it was probably more from relief than out of any real holiday spirit. Of course a small but vocal lot of doomsday advocates speculated that all the debris the world’s population had been subjected to could not be good, and the worst was not over.
Some two weeks after that cosmic event, the worst did happen. It started in India and China, due to Earth’s rotation, as these were among the initial countries to be exposed to the Pandora dust cloud. People started to get sick. At first it seemed to be just the infirmed and the immune depressed, but soon hospitals were inundated with desperately ill people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believed it was due to some new avian flu virus. The CDC and the World Health Organization were initially thwarted in their investigation when China closed off all communication with the outside world, ending these organizations’ access to data and patient interviews. Soon people in other countries around the world experienced the same illness. Headaches, chills, and a wet cough were the first symptoms and usually lasted a week. A high fever soon followed, accompanied by a low white-blood-cell count and delirium. Blood pressure either rocketed or plunged to dangerous levels. CDC officials in Atlanta communicated that they had discovered that the new disease was a virus hitherto unknown to science and perhaps had been borne to Earth via the debris cloud from Pandora.
The Pandora virus, as it was now named, claimed more and more victims. Hospitals were soon hopelessly overwhelmed as more people sought to be admitted and more doctors and nurses contracted the same disease. Fortunately the death rate wasn’t high; it eventually grew to about the same as that of a seasonal flu. The terrible part, however, was that the Pandora virus sickened 30 percent of the world’s people. The fact that whole populations took to wearing medical face masks didn’t seem to prevent the spread of the disease, although that didn’t stop most people from doing so.
After a couple of weeks, the vast majority of patients seemed to recover. The symptoms all but disappeared, save for a slight headache and some gastric upset, and the world went back to its previous routine. WHO and CDC doctors continued to experiment with the Pandora virus, trying to discern just what made it tick. Unknown to the doctors, and certainly unknown to the patients themselves, the virus hadn’t died and gone away. Now that it had been exposed to natural earthborn viruses and the human genome, Pandora was mutating rapidly. Like all viruses, the only thing Pandora wanted was to replicate and spread. Being an alien organism, it could do things other viruses could not, and now it was lodging itself in the brain stem and mutating to accomplish its task. And it was doing this in all the world’s survivors of the initial infection.
On May 11 in Kiev, Ukraine, Anichka Hordiyenko woke up feeling awful. Her husband Vasyl gave her some soup, but she vomited it up along with a copious amount of blood. By the time he got her to the closest hospital, she had gone severely downhill. Her face looked sunken and pale, her eyes listless and dull. In what would be called the Pandora 2 Mutation, Anichka was Patient Zero. The doctors tried everything they could to save her; some even had remembered her from her first visit to the emergency room when she had contracted the original Pandora virus. After an hour of increasingly futile treatments, she died. Vasyl, grief stricken, insisted on remaining by her side. Because the emergency room was becoming crowded due to a major traffic accident—which was quite common in the Ukraine—Vasyl and his wife were curtained off and soon forgotten. Not soon after, Vasyl could be heard anxiously calling for a doctor. But then again so were all the nurses and traffic victims in the crowded room. Vasyl’s calls turned into screams. When the nurses finally pulled the curtain aside, they froze. Not because Anichka Hordiyenko’s husband was staggering, holding his torn neck as blood from his carotid artery shot all over the curtains, but because Anichka, pronounced dead twenty minutes ago, was sitting up, chewing on the piece of flesh in her mouth. Her milky eyes moved to the two nurses, who stood open-mouthed, staring back at her. A low growl formed in her throat, and she clumsily, but far too quickly for a dead person, rose from her bed and,
with her outstretched hands curled into bloody claws, dove for the two stunned women.
By the end of the day, scenes like this were playing out in hospitals all over the world. Former Pandora survivors suddenly were becoming deathly ill and dying and, anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes afterward, reanimating and attacking anyone who was unlucky enough to be nearby. Neither seer nor soothsayer could have predicted this. The world wasn’t ready.
ean Sullivan woke up with warm sunlight pouring into his room. It covered everything it touched with a pleasant yellow wash. Stretching his whole body while rolling back and forth with his arms outstretched, he smiled as he heard his vertebrae pop into place.
, he thought,
it’s hard to wake up cranky on a morning like this
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Sean stretched again then got up and wandered into the bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror and casually looked at his reflection. At twenty-seven years old, with wavy dark-brown hair and a relatively handsome face, Sean Sullivan was at his prime. At six feet and 180 pounds, with long corded muscles from years of martial-arts training, he was having the time of his life. Employed in the art department of a small advertising agency, he shared the house he was living in with his three best friends. The four of them, all in their late twenties, had been together since college. They weren’t so much confirmed bachelors as just not in a hurry to get married; they couldn’t think of anything better than what they had right now. Sean’s relationship with his girlfriend, Linda Berger, was a little more serious than the romantic relationships of the other three, but they were a long way from an engagement.
It was Saturday, and Sean didn’t have to go to work. He brushed his teeth and splashed some water on his face, intending to shower after
he had breakfast. He already heard bustling noises downstairs in the kitchen.
, he thought.
He’s always the first one in the kitchen
Mike was Michael Quinn, one of Sean’s housemates and his best friend. They had gone to high school together. After meeting in their junior year, they became fast friends. During their senior year, they took up guitar and formed the Fabulous Shamrock Brothers folk-rock band. They both had a strong urge to be cool and get laid but an unfortunately equal lack of any real talent. Before graduation they found out they were going to attend the same college and decided to room together. They wound up hanging out and living together ever since. Six feet tall and 190 muscular pounds, Mike was something of a gym rat. His short-cropped brown hair and, as all the girls said, “really cute looks” made him the perfect wingman.
Sean strolled downstairs and into the delicious-smelling kitchen. He spied Mike just sitting down at the table with a large plate of pancakes. “Hey, Mike. Those pancakes smell great. Any more there?”
“Well, morning, Sean. You’re up early. Uh, yeah, there’s a bunch more I made just in case. Grab another plate and help yourself. Syrup is on the table.”
“Too nice of a morning to stay in bed,” Sean said, hurrying over to the pancake stack. He put five on a plate and walked over to sit with his friend. “What are you up to today?”
“I don’t know,” Mike mumbled through a mouthful of syrupy food. “I thought I’d watch the news and see what’s been happening with this Pandora virus shit. Did you hear the police sirens last night? Christ, I thought they’d keep me up all night.”
“The only thing that keeps you up is your girlfriend Sue,” Sean said, chuckling.
“Yeah, well, this virus thing is no joke. I heard the people who survived it are getting sick all over again. Not only that, but they’re going nuts and attacking people,” Mike said, as he got up to rinse his empty plate in the sink.
“I heard that too,” Sean exclaimed. “You know, I was on the Internet last night, and they were talking about this video from London that
shows this guy attacking two English bobbies after going on some kind of a rampage. Apparently the cops were hitting this guy, but nothing seemed to be stopping him.” Sean paused, looking off in thought. “The really strange thing is that they said he had just died on the street a little before that. Weird, huh?”
Mike was fixing himself a cup of coffee from a Keurig coffee maker. He stopped and looked at Sean askance. “I think you’ve watched
Night of the Living Dead
one too many times, my friend,” he said with a smile.