Authors: Justin Kassab
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, #Dystopian, #Action & Adventure
|Akashic Books (2014)|
|Tags:||Fiction, Science Fiction, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Action & Adventure|
"Foamers is a worthy addition to the canon of postapocalyptic fiction, and like the best of such books, at its heart it’s a frontier novel, brutal and exciting, celebrating individualism and self-determination. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun."
--Tim McLoughlin, author of
Heart of the Old Country
"When a screwed-up flu vaccine mutates much of humanity into mindless beasts, 'Trust your intelligence' becomes the leitmotif of a group of survivors. Fast-moving, violent, and vividly imagined,
creates a dangerous world made disquietingly believable."
--David Poyer, author of
"It's as if
had a head-on bus collision with
Night of the Living Dead
. I want to look away, but I can't stop reading."
--John Koloski, author of
, book #1 of the
Terminally diagnosed with Huntington’s disease as a child, Kade coped by preparing for the Primal Age. Now in his twenties, a faulty vaccine has turned the population into bloodthirsty monsters called foamers. His group of survivors find themselves constantly caught between foamers and a warmongering paramilitary unit, forcing the group to redefine humanity in a world without law.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are a product
of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Akashic Books
©2014 Justin Kassab
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013957097
“I’ll never understand why he fights,” Kade said, pointing to the alien robot on
screen. “He knows he’s defeated.”
Sitting beside Kade on the couch was Jem. They were watching a movie about alien
robots that had been a tradition of theirs for over a decade.
Jem, an acronym for James Eric Masters, was wearing his full military uniform and
drinking a beer. Kade had always been amused by the fact that he and his friend were
polar opposites. He had shaggy hair and a scruffy beard, while Jem had a clean-shaven
face with a close military cut. Jem was a National Guard Chinook helicopter pilot,
volunteer firefighter, and owned a dog. Kade was content working at Rite Aid. Somehow
they managed to be friends.
“One day I hope you’ll understand, Chief,” Jem replied, his ice-blue eyes glued
to the movie.
“Whatever.” Kade knew that if he ever found himself on his knees before a super badass
robot, knowing he didn’t stand a chance, he’d make his peace and call it a day.
He rattled the last drops in his beer can.
Jem shook his head. “Still got half.”
Kade weaved his way through the main room, populated by a handful of Jem’s friends.
Under normal circumstances there would have been more, but after months of living
in fear of the Feline Flu, many people avoided high contact environments. Even the
new vaccine release didn’t give everyone who was invited the courage to make an appearance.
Kade didn’t know many of people in his house, but Jem was popular and, after all,
this was his deployment party.
Come Back Safe
was hanging in big letters over the entrance to the kitchen, each
word on its own piece of printer paper. The President had called in Jem’s unit to
D.C. to help with disaster relief, and crowd control. The Feline Flu had devastated
Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. The rate of contamination was
much higher in the cities, along with increased societal complications: transportation
breakdowns, protesters, riots, looters, and murder.
Every day the media had run broadcasts about some Steelers-wearing jackass in a WWI
gas mask breaking through a drugstore window, or a crowd of people protesting where
the Rocky statue used to be. The protestors showed no indication of dissipating
even though the vaccine was available as of twelve hours ago. The news would maintain
their scare tactics for months regardless of the Flu’s threat level after the vaccine,
unless a better story came along.
Since the outbreak of the Feline Flu, Kade had been doing research to make sure he
was intelligently informed. The natural resistance of people aged fourteen to thirty
made them more resilient to the Flu, which, combined with the sparse population of
Central Pennsylvania, made the risk of contagion lower than the national average.
Even with this information in hand he understood the public’s fear-based reaction.
The death toll had been climbing rapidly, and it was the deadliest flu since the
Spanish Influenza. Add that to the news continuously playing the stats of the Feline
Flu, the stage was set for panic to play itself out. The Feline Flu vaccine was now
circulating, and early reports showed that in the past twelve hours, 90 percent of
the American population had been inoculated. The President had declared a national
emergency and shut down all schools and nonessential businesses so that everyone
could receive the vaccine immediately. This mass vaccination wasn’t a silver bullet
by any stretch, but it would curtail the fatalities. After more than a year of death
and chaos, Kade hoped people would relax and return to living without fear.
Like most of the country, Kade had lost someone to the flu. His father had passed
away from pneumonia in the first month. Losing his father had hit him hard, but he
clung to being his little sister’s only caretaker to fight through the pain. The
funeral had been a little over a year ago, which was the last time Kade had seen
his fraternal twin brother, Damian.
He snapped back from his thoughts and tried to remember why he was now standing
in the kitchen. The empty beer can in his hand reminded him why he’d embarked. Two
women blocked his path to the fridge. One was his little sister, Ashton; the other
was his longtime friend whom they all called Tiny.
Kade reached over Ashton’s shoulder and plucked the beer from her hand.
“Shit, Kade, really?” Ashton said, putting her hands on her hips and scowling at
The cold liquid tasted so much better when taken from her.
“It’s not like Tiny won’t hand you another beer the moment I walk away,” he said.
“Look at you, playing big brother,” Tiny said. Kade couldn’t help but look his friend
up and down. Her long, slender legs disappeared under a pair of jean shorts. She
wore a black tank top that contrasted against her milky skin, which had stayed smooth
even after her tour as a combat medic in the Middle East. Her defined neck, freckled
cheeks, and black hair drew him in. Her lips stretched into a tight-lipped smile
as she looked at him with her warm brown eyes. Kade knew no look he liked better.
Ashton shooed him with a hand. “Then git.”
He scratched his nose with his middle finger and walked out of the kitchen.
“Act your age,” she hollered after him.
Tiny opened the fridge and pulled out a beer.
“Don’t hate him for it, he’s just trying to protect you,” Tiny said, leaning against
the table. “How’d your senior year go?”
Ashton cracked the can and took a swig. “I tore my Achilles. While my team celebrated
a State Championship, I went to the hospital. So it ended splendidly. How’d your
“Discharged.” Tiny turned to the side to show an ugly scar running the length of
her quad to her knee. The jagged scar resembled a cursive M, fishing around the base
of her knee to her inner leg.
Ashton traced her fingers along the scar. “Still, had to be pretty cool being a combat
“Till I had to pull shrapnel from my own leg.”
“I hate physical therapy.”
“It’s such a pain in the ass. Are you at First Choice Rehab?” Tiny asked.
“One hour, Monday, Wednesday, Friday,” Ash replied.
“They have me on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll see if I can switch so we can suffer
together,” Tiny said.
“I just started on the treadmill. It feels so good to run again.”
“I’m going insane not being able to run.”
“Least you can’t chase after my brother, then.”
Ashton perked up. “Is X coming tonight?”
Tiny set the beer can on the table and grabbed Ashton by the shoulders. “Ash, I want
you to listen closely. Stay away from Xavier.”
Ashton spun, her auburn braid hitting Tiny in the face. “Sure thing, Kade.”
She forced her way through the packed living room, heading for the most logical place
to find X: the poker table. She frowned when she saw that he wasn’t there but Mick,
the cop, was.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a beer behind your back, would you?” Mick said, glancing
at her from behind his cards. His buzzed hair looked like a torch above his police
uniform, which he was still wearing since he had come straight from working a twelve
hour shift. Ashton didn’t dislike Mick, but she was uncomfortable around a police
officer. The allure of the poker table eluded her. In a group of mixed sexes she
couldn’t figure why a bunch of guys would cluster around a table to take each other’s
coins. To the best of her memory though Mick had never had a girlfriend, probably
because of how seriously he took his job.
“No sir, just a Pepsi.”
She pushed through the crowd to the couch and plopped between Kade and Jem.
Without looking, Kade pulled the beer from her hand and passed it to the guest of
honor. “How’d you know Jem needed a beer?”
She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Don’t you guys ever get sick of watching—”
Jem lifted the remote and hit pause. “Kade, while we have a witness, I need to ask
Ashton clapped her hands in sarcastic excitement. “He’s going to propose.”
“Something far more important. I need someone to watch Argos for me. I’ll give you
one of my bulletproof vests as payment.” Jem’s eyes locked on Kade’s.
Kade took a few pulls of beer. Dogs weren’t his favorite animal. In fact, no animal
was his favorite animal. Despite his preferences, he couldn’t turn down a request
that meant so much to Jem. Especially if it came with a bulletproof vest.
* * *
Jack “Alpha” Ritchie sat at the island in his kitchen. He had received his flu vaccine
earlier in the day and had since been trying to erase his guilt with alcohol. He
poured the last drops of the Knob Creek into his glass. He was sick of the pain.
He wanted it to go away. Now he was out of bourbon. Without the bourbon, the pain
would come back. He didn’t want to hurt anymore. He wanted to feel nothing.
Snatching the tumbler, he drained the last of his liquid relief. He fought hard to
keep the tears from leaking while he clenched his jaw. He failed. Hot liquid ran
freely down his face. He missed Sarah’s gray eyes.
Even though it had been almost two years, it still felt like yesterday that he’d
held his daughter in his arms at the veterinarian’s office. Skittles, her calico
cat, had been sprawled out on the examination table. Red foam bubbled from the corners
of the cat’s mouth.
“Skittles has an advanced case of pneumonia. There’s nothing we can do. I’m sorry,
Alpha,” the vet had said.
“I left Alpha with my fighting days. Just call me Jack, please.”
Jack had been prepared to put Skittles down, what he didn’t expect was Skittles being
a carrier of the Feline Flu that would lead to the Vet’s death a week later. From
there the Flu spread like a college case of crabs. Within a month the Flu had traveled
coast to coast.
His hand shook as he clutched the glass. With a battle cry, he hurled the glass off
a cabinet, showering fragments across the floor. Anger. Rage. Both burned through
his veins. Stumbling, Jack gripped the neck of the bottle and hurled it through the
kitchen window. Next were the stools. Grabbing them on outlying ends, he flexed
his muscles with all his might. The metal buckled and folded in half, after which
he threw them, one by one, into the kitchen wall like they were oversized darts.
He roared; all the veins in his neck and face bulged as he screamed at nothing. Nothing.
He had nothing. He was alone.
He’d lost his wife and Sarah in the same day to the flu. They had been following
his wife’s ambulance when Sarah’s symptoms started.
There were only two occasions he ever lied to his daughter and they both had happened
that day. He squeezed into the chair beside Sarah’s hospital bed; his wife had passed
away earlier in the evening. Sarah was in and out of consciousness, and he felt as
helpless as he had when Skittles was the one on the table.
Watching her fade away, he regretted he hadn’t retired sooner from mixed martial
arts. But when he was winning the money was good and allowed him to take care of
his wife and daughter. After a few reconstructive surgeries and a string of losses,
he threw in the towel. At first he had been afraid he would miss the rush of the
fight, the cheer of the crowd and, most of all, proving his dominance over his opponents,
but found he loved the time with his family more. As he sat there watching his daughter
die he would have traded his entire career for a few more days with her.
She became conscious one last time.
Jack shot to his feet and took his daughter’s small hand. “I’m here, honey.”
“Is Mommy all right?” Sarah asked.
“Mommy is all better now.”
“Will I be all right?”
“Yeah, honey, you’re going to be just fine.”
The end of his world had come.
Jack slammed his fist on the kitchen table, splitting his knuckles against the wood.
Bringing both hands together into a unified mass, Jack smashed the table. The crack
separated, and half the table splintered to the kitchen floor. With his size fourteen
foot, Jack booted the side of the half-standing table, which slid and crashed into
Storming across the kitchen, he grabbed the top of the refrigerator and tipped it
into the island, spilling condiments, milk, and yesterday’s lunch all over the floor.
He wanted the pain to go away. He wanted to see his wife. He wanted to hold his daughter.
He wanted to look into their gray eyes again. He wanted to die.
The room spun like a tilt-awhirl. Cold gripped him to the bone even though sweat
ran down his forehead. Jack grabbed his old jacket from the coat rack and slid it
on. The back of the jacket had a capital A that stretched from shoulder to hip. He
stumbled through his delirium into the living room where he fell onto the couch.
Jack clutched his jacket as he fought against the spinning room. By the time his
body settled into the couch, he was unconscious.
Hours passed as Jack’s body fought the vaccine’s virus.
The weakened virus was reviving and waging war against Jack’s immune system, which
was losing the fight. The Feline Flu had a strong survival instinct, and found a
new area to call home. This new home was Jack’s neocortex.
Just before dawn, the battle ceased. Jack had been defeated by the virulent flu
One of his fingers twitched. His eyes shot open, and Jack rolled off of the couch
and onto all fours. He quickly scanned the room, his eyes settling on the TV, which
was replaying a late-night infomercial.
He still heard the sounds coming from the TV, but his mind was so damaged that he
no longer grasped language, one of the many higher functions he no longer could access.
He spun in circles, trying to find a way to escape the cage that had once been his
living room. The dark sky beckoned him. Jack charged over the couch and hurled himself
through the window, rolling onto the front lawn. He got back onto all fours and screamed
in rage. He felt the burn of his ruptured skin, and the warm blood running from his
wounds, but he no longer understood them as the concepts of pain and blood, only
the rage they instilled.