Topher, Jesse, and Sawyer thought their greatest threats were the Infected and Mutated that roam the world. As they struggle to reach the Concentration Center in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina they discover that the monstrous mutations of the undead are the least of their problems. Something else, something far more intelligent and lethal, is hunting them.
Topher knows that the only way humanity will survive is to find a cure for the strange infection that’s ravaged civilization. He’s on the brink of discovering it, but the further his research goes, the more he realizes that curing the world may mean losing Sawyer.
In order to stay together, all three men will have to battle for their lives and Topher will have to make the ultimate choice: cure the world or save his lover?
“You stupid bitch!” Richey shouted. Chloe was hitting him, throwing everything she had into her punches and slaps. Richey punched her in the face, and Chloe fell limply to the side.
Reality snapped back.
Nash scrambled for the fallen gun. I dived for another. I grabbed the shotgun and fired a shot at Stu, hitting him in the stomach. He dropped the AK-47 with a scream.
Jane’s gun went off. I craned to look. Jesse had her hand raised in the air, twisting her wrist so that she dropped the pistol. He slammed his knee into her gut. She collapsed to her knees with a groan.
I climbed to my feet and grabbed the AK-47 from Stu, keeping my shotgun aimed at his head. He lay on the ground, clutching his stomach. There was a dampness that seeped through his fingers. Stu stared up at me, but it was too dark to read his expression.
“Help over here!” Nash shouted.
I jerked my head up. Nash was on the ground, struggling with Richey. There was a flash of silver mixed in the tussle, and then a succession of gunshots. Nash and Richey froze, and my heart leaped into my throat. Nash shoved Richey, who fell back lifelessly.
“Bastard,” Nash spat. He stood, holding the gun.
A hand locked on my ankle and pulled my foot out from under me. The world tipped sideways; all the stars spilled out of the galaxy. My head slammed into the ground. I dropped the guns. The grass smelled damp and musky. I groaned and dug my fingers into the dirt. When I looked up, Stu had a gun pointed at my head. Blood poured from his mouth. He didn’t have long. A few minutes, maybe only seconds.
I tipped my head back and looked over at Jesse. At some point, the tables had flipped again. More of Jane’s guards had come, corralling Jesse, Sawyer, and Rio over with Chloe, who lay motionless on the ground. Jaden clung to her. His tiny whimpers punctuated the night.
Nash stood off to the side, his newly proffered gun pointed down. He glared mutinously at Jane.
“Enough games,” Jane said viciously.
I inched my fingers toward the AK-47. Stu kicked the gun out of my reach. “Don’t move,” he wheezed and then coughed wetly.
“You’re going to die,” I whispered. “Do you want these to be your last moments of humanity? Killing innocent people?”
“Shut up!” Stu roared. He towered over me, all muscle and rage.
I closed my eyes. A cool breeze stirred through the grass and kissed my face. I opened my eyes and looked back at Jane.
“Abominations must be destroyed,” Jane said, as if it were a mantra. If she said it enough times, would it make everything that happened here okay?
“Do it,” Jesse challenged. “Kill us. It won’t make a difference.”
Jane took a gun from one of the guards and aimed it straight at Jesse.
My eyes widened. I clawed at the grass, trying to compel my body to move. Jane’s arm trembled. Her convictions shook.
“Please,” I croaked. Her head snapped in my direction. “Don’t. This isn’t the answer. This isn’t the way to save the world. You do this, and you destroy all hope of ever stopping the infection.”
“What do you know?” she sneered, her teeth dark with blood.
“I know that if we kill one another, we’re no better than the Infected.” I pushed up on unsteady arms. “Life isn’t over. It’s only evolving—”
Jane scoffed. “Blasphemy.”
“No, reality. The ability to adapt, to expand, it exists inside us. We can overcome this, but we have to stop killing one another first.”
Her gun turned on me.
“You think we can overcome this? This hell on earth?”
“Do you think this is the first time we’ve faced extinction?” I rose to my knees. Icy fingers of fear inched down my spine. My blood pounded between my ears. I had to force myself not to look away. Somewhere, deep inside Jane, was a little girl scared of the monsters. I had to find her and show her that we had hope. “I know how to save us, but if you kill us, then you destroy any chance of stopping this.”
“Liar,” Jane said. “How could you know?”
“Just kill them!” Stu shouted.
“Jane, please,” I whispered.
Beyond her, a crowd huddled together. A few guards had been left to keep watch. Past them was the tree line, which was nothing more than a formless shadow stretched across the horizon. The world continued on, beyond this camp, beyond any other camp that struggled to get by.
From the trees, shapes emerged, black figures that staggered and stumbled toward our camp. They pressed into the perimeter, a deluge of undead that would soon wash over us.
A gunshot cracked open the night with a thundering clap. I caught the glimmer of blood spray before Jane fell forward and face-planted the ground. Bruce stood behind her, a revolver aimed at where she’d stood.
It was like a bomb went off. The three guards who stood by Jane began to fire. I lunged for the shotgun and turned around, shooting Stu before he could get off a round. His head exploded into a congealed mess of blood. I scrambled to my feet.
Three guards lay on the ground with head wounds. The wall collapsed, toppling over as easily as a house of cards, and the Infected flooded in.
Bruce stood over Jane, chest heaving. “I… She… This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I…”
“We don’t have time—” I was cut off by the foghorn bellow of an Infected.
They were right on us. Their rotting shapes grew solid. I pumped the shotgun and fired off a shot at the barreling Infected, hitting him in the shoulder. The Infected’s body twisted, and he staggered, but he didn’t stop. He came, ravenous and wild.
Bruce craned his head around. He started to scream, but it was knocked out of him as the Infected tackled him. I lunged for Bruce, but someone caught me around the waist.
“Let him go,” Jesse shouted. “Grab the guns, and let’s go!”
“You can’t— He’s—” What? Dead. Bruce’s screams grew wet and gurgled, like so many others we heard all around us. I pushed off Jesse and collected Stu’s weapon.
Everyone grabbed what guns they could. Screams erupted in the distance. The purging was over, and all that was left was another broken camp. Nash carried Chloe into the RV with Jaden following behind. I shoved some guns into the front of the truck. Rio climbed into the driver’s seat of the pickup and started it up.
I glanced toward the Infected. They were running for us, closing in fast. I spared Bruce one final look and then rushed into the RV. Sawyer started her up, and we peeled around the church, barreling through the rest of the flimsy perimeter.
I shoved past Jesse and ran into the bedroom, where I raised the blinds on the single window. I watched as people scrambled to pull themselves together and escape. Now, with death pressing in, it didn’t matter who was a sinner and who was a saint. We were all food.
Time and time again, we watched civilization fall, and it always felt like a bitch slap. I bit back the misery, told myself to move on, but how long would we keep going? I pressed a hand against the window. The Infected came down on the fence, the numbers too great for the plywood and sheet metal to hold. They slammed into the barricade, and like the rest of the world, it fell.
I swore Bruce looked up and watched us as we drove away. Impossible, I knew. He was lost to the infection and to the inevitable fate of mankind. But in the thickness of the night, I saw a faint glimmer. Most likely it was my mind playing tricks on me, but there was a small part of me that saw moonlight reflecting off his eyes.
A hand slid over my shoulder. I turned to Jesse and pressed my face into his shoulder with a shudder.
“I…” What? I hated this? So did he. I didn’t finish the sentence. I wrapped my arms around his neck and savored the feel of him against me.
“We can’t save them all,” he whispered into my ear.
I nodded, because really, that was all I could do.