Authors: Russ Melrose
Copyright 2014 by Russ Melrose
All Rights Reserved
13 Digit ISBN: 978-0-9908391-1-8
10 Digit ISBN: 0990839117
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 –
The Fourth Day
Chapter 2 –
Chapter 3 –
Chapter 4 –
Gabriel and Lucifer
Chapter 5 –
Chapter 6 –
Chapter 7 –
Chapter 8 –
The Long Night
Chapter 9 –
Chapter 10 –
Chapter 11 –
Chapter 12 –
Chapter 13 –
Chapter 14 –
Purified by Fire
Chapter 15 –
Chapter 16 –
Chapter 17 –
Chapter 18 –
The dual nature of man is a mystery
Filled with endless possibilities
Ripe with good and evil
It was just past three in the afternoon when I headed down Vine street in the direction of Alex's house. Vine Street was a meandering thoroughfare that threaded its way through the Murray City area of the Salt Lake Valley. A small group of the infected spotted my car and began to run after it in their stumbling gait, arms outstretched as if they might be able to reach me. And as I sped away, I could still see them a few blocks back fading quietly into the background, and even though I knew they had no chance of catching me, their tenacious pursuit unsettled me long after they were out of sight. Their unrelenting persistence disturbed me in the same way a dark, lingering dream might in the middle of the night, giving me a bad feeling I just couldn't seem to shake.
After I was certain there weren't any infected around, I rolled down my window to catch a glimpse of the birds as they headed south. They had begun leaving that morning in dense formations, their impromptu migration darkening the sky and casting drifting shadows against the valley floor. There were reports that had the birds coming from as far north as Canada, and I couldn't help but wonder where they were headed since the virus seemed to be everywhere. They must have had some kind of intuitive sense of the gravity of the situation we humans were lacking. And as I watched them fleeing to the south, their shrill wailing caws cut into me like a cold winter wind. Glancing toward the southern end of the valley, I couldn't help but marvel at how the vacating birds had turned the southern horizon into a quivering black mass.
I managed to forget about the birds and the infected when I turned into Alex's cul-de-sac two blocks off Vine. There weren't any infected wandering around and my pursuers were long gone. Still, I felt nervous at the prospect of leaving my car in the driveway, so I decided to ask Alex to open the garage door when I got inside.
But by the time I'd opened Alex's front door, I had forgotten all about my car. Alex was sitting in a leather armchair he'd pushed up against the wall near the radiator in his living room. His left arm dangled down to where he had handcuffed his wrist to the pipe that fed water into the radiator. On the other side of the chair, a half-empty bottle of Popov Vodka along with a thick whiskey glass and an opened bottle of Ibuprofen lay on an end table. Not far from his armchair, his 9mm Glock 17 lay on the coffee table along with the key to his handcuffs and a small stack of white surgical masks in a Ziploc bag. He smiled and winced at me at the same time. "What's up, Jake?"
I couldn't answer him. I was too distressed by his appearance. Alex's head kept nodding as if he were about to drift off to sleep, and his large round face had lost its usual luster and had turned a pale mothy gray. His face was coated with a thin layer of perspiration and the ashen coloring of his face appeared to have bled into his sweat. Finally, just to say something, I asked my brother a question to which I already knew the answer. "Headache and fever?"
Alex nodded his head slowly. "Yeah," he said, lifting a corner of his mouth sheepishly, forming a weak, tilted smile. "This headache's a real killer."
I remained motionless just inside the doorway, mesmerized by my own fear. I watched my brother dig the heel of his hand deep into his eye socket, massaging his eye slowly in a circular motion.
"When did the headaches start?" I asked.
Alex looked up at me and held his head steady for a few moments, his forehead wrinkled in thought as if I'd asked him to solve some abstract math problem. Then his gaze was past me and I wasn't sure whether or not he'd lost the thread of my question.
"Couple hours ago?" he finally said, as if he were guessing but wasn't sure he had the right answer. "I think it was a couple hours ago."
Alex had called me three hours earlier and was insistent I come over. He must have suspected then he was infected, but he didn't say anything. He'd sneezed a few times during the call, but I didn't think anything of it. My brother was one of those people who just didn't get sick. We'd planned on meeting the following morning and heading up to our cabin in the Wasatch Mountains to get away from the craziness. The plan had been mine and I had to convince Alex to go along. Alex's resistance stemmed from a sense of civic mindedness he'd cultivated from his duties as a highway patrolman. But since I'd always been more of a surrogate parent than a brother to Alex, it wasn't too hard for me to convince him to go along. My plan was to ignore the chaos from the distance of our cabin and wait for the virus to run its course.
Alex managed to lift his free arm and pointed at the white surgical masks on the coffee table. "Better put one of those on, Jake," he said.
Even though I'd heard my brother just fine, I couldn't get my body to move. My legs felt stiff and I couldn't seem to coax them into moving. And as the seconds passed, I began to feel embarrassed by the level of fear I was feeling. What I was most afraid of was that my brother might notice my hesitancy and realize just how frightened I was. But Alex wasn't in any condition to notice much of anything. His head had settled onto his chest and he was struggling to keep his eyes open. After a few self-awkward moments, I closed the door behind me and made my way to the coffee table where I removed one of the surgical masks from the Ziploc bag.
I couldn't help but remember how just yesterday the media had been ranting about the importance of wearing surgical masks if people absolutely had to leave their homes. At the time it all seemed like overkill, and besides, where were people supposed to get surgical masks from? I assumed Alex had received a batch of them because he was a highway patrolman and was expected to help distribute them. After fitting the mask to my face, I sat down on the couch directly across from him, no more than ten feet away.
Alex was still dressed in his uniform. His short-sleeve shirt, still stiff from the starching it took at the dry cleaners, was unbuttoned and partially hanging out on one side of his pants. Alex had always been so meticulous when it came to his uniform, it was strange to see him and his uniform in a disheveled state. The inside of his shirt collar was darkened with sweat and his sleeveless undershirt was drenched with perspiration, and I suddenly realized the dense, sour odor I'd only half-noticed when I first arrived was coming from my brother.
I had a great deal of difficulty grasping the reality of what was happening. In a matter of a few days, the world had become this surreal, incomprehensible place, and a part of my mind didn't want to acknowledge that my brother was sitting across from me handcuffed to a radiator and infected with a bizarre virus. I couldn't wrap my mind around the possibility of my brother turning into some ghoulish flesh-eating creature in a matter of a few hours. Since yesterday, grisly videos of the infected attacking and eating their victims had begun to surface over the internet. Not to be outdone, local and national news outlets followed their lead and were showing similar videos on their broadcasts. The world had gone insane, and like the flocks of birds heading south in search of a safe haven, I just wanted to get away.
The swamp cooler switched on and shook me from my melancholy reverie, and soon after, a light breeze channeled through the room drawn toward a partially opened window. The moist cool air lifted my spirits if only for a short while.
I was fidgeting with the bag of surgical masks when I realized why Alex had called me. I knew he wanted me to be with him in his time of need, but it was more than that. Ever since we were kids, I had helped extricate Alex from one case of mischief after another. It was part of our sibling dynamic. Besides being his surrogate parent, I was the fixer. Alex would get into some kind of mischief and I would find a way to help him out of whatever mess he'd managed to get himself into. That's why I was here now, to fix things like I had always fixed them, to help Alex figure a way out of this insanity. At least those were the thoughts running through my mind. But then my gaze shifted to the Glock 17 lying on the coffee table and it dawned on me that my brother had already come up with a solution.
But I wasn't going to think about the gun or whatever it was Alex might have dreamed up in his feverish mind that would involve the Glock. I decided what was best for both of us was to get Alex talking and keep him talking as long as possible. Normally that wouldn't be much of a problem, though in his current state, I wasn't sure how talkative he would be.
I couldn't help but wonder how my brother had gotten infected, not that it mattered at this point, but it would be something to talk about. And whether I was being morbidly curious or not, I couldn't seem to let go of the need to know what had happened to my brother. Authorities believed the virus had been released in airports on July Fourth, and since the symptoms began manifesting virtually everywhere about a day and a half later, that put the incubation period at somewhere near thirty-six hours. Since it was Friday, that meant Alex must have been infected sometime late Wednesday night. I couldn't seem to keep myself from asking him the question. I just had to know.
"Alex, do you remember what you were doing Wednesday night?"
But Alex didn't respond. And for a moment, I wasn't sure if he was awake or not. His chin was still pinned to his chest and he made no effort to move it. Alex was in a stupor, his mouth open and his eyelids fluttering wildly. Finally, he managed to raise his eyes to look at me, but my question didn't seem to register. He looked at me quizzically, then looked around the room. "Mom home yet?" he asked.
My brother seemed to be stuck somewhere in the past. "She's not home yet," I told him.
In reality, our mother was long gone. She'd left seven years ago with a silver-haired businessman from Argentina. A tall, beefy man with a coppery tan, large white teeth and lots of money. Alex was a freshman in college and I was a junior. She told us we were fine and left us with the home we'd grown up in along with the mortgage. Truth was she'd been absent most of our lives. And now she was cavorting around on some ranch in the grasslands of Argentina. For the first few years she sent us Christmas cards, then nothing. Which didn't surprise me too much, but Alex worried himself sick. He still sent her cards on her birthday and Christmas every year and since they didn't come back, he reasoned she must be okay. I had no doubt our mother was fine. If I were going to worry about anyone, it would have been the Argentinian gentleman.
"Just hanging at the station with the guys after my shift," Alex said suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, speaking more clearly than at any time since I'd arrived. "Drinking some java."
Alex had found enough energy to lift his head up and return my gaze. His new found lucidity caught me off guard. Could he be getting better? Was that even possible? Then I realized his symptoms might be nothing more than the flu, and we'd simply gotten caught up in the paranoia and overreacted.
"Are you feeling better?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said. "The headache's a lot better."
"So you were just at the station Wednesday night, drinking coffee after your shift?"
"Nothing. Just wondering."
Alex's face was still a stone-hued gray, but his energy was up and he was lucid. He looked better than at any time since I'd arrived. And the thought crossed my mind, at least the possibility of it, that Alex's illness really was nothing more than a common case of the flu.
"We should still head up to the cabin in the morning, don't you think?" I was hoping the mention of the cabin might make Alex feel better.
"Sure, I'll be feeling better tomorrow," he said. "Maybe we'll get some fishing in."
Alex was much more of an outdoorsman than me. The cabin, the fishing, the hunting, the guns—they were Alex's passions. I went along to spend time with my brother. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the outdoors. I always found the fishing quite relaxing and loved being at the cabin. But I was there because of Alex. My personal preference for leisure time leaned more toward the bookish side of life. I spent my time reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction and browsing the internet, harvesting information on whatever current subject piqued my interest.
Truth is Alex and I didn't share a lot of common interests and we bore little resemblance to one another. Same mother, different fathers. Alex took after his Canadian father in appearance, a Bunyanesque lumberjack and outdoorsman. Alex was wide shouldered, bull-chested and measured in at just over six-foot two. He'd been a football player in high school and up at the U, and when he attended Murray High, he'd also set a number of weight lifting records. Since he graduated from the U, Alex had developed a slight beer-related paunch that women seemed to find adorable. They also loved his jovial, carefree demeanor.
As for me, I also took after my father—slender and bookish, though without the glasses, at least thus far. I had also inherited his thin lips and narrow nose which when I was lost in thought, as I often was, could give me a cold, austere look. My father was a CPA who lived in the Sandy City area of the valley. After his brief marriage to my mother, he remarried and fathered five children from marriage number two. I rarely saw my father throughout the years and felt little kinship toward him or his family.
Our mother never married Alex's father, though she seemed to prefer him to my father, the same way she preferred Alex to me. Her relationship with Alex's father was short-lived. In reality, it never stood a chance. He was even more of a free spirit than our mother.
People were always surprised to find out Alex and I were brothers. They'd look puzzled and incredulous, and from time to time there would be the "You're kidding me, right?" query. But Alex and I couldn't have been any closer despite our physical differences.