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The Michaluk Virus is loose.
In the heart of Atlanta, Georgia, the Michaluk Virus has escaped the CDC, and its effects are widespread and devastating. Most of the population of the southeastern United States has become homicidal cannibals. As society rapidly crumbles under the hordes of infected, three people—Ethan Bennett, a Memphis police officer; Cade Alton, his best friend and former IDF sharpshooter; and Brandt Evans, a lieutenant in the US Marines—band together against the oncoming crush of death and terror sweeping across the world.
As Cade, Brandt, and Ethan hole up in a safe house in Tupelo, others begin to join them in their bid for survival. When the infected attack and they’re forced to flee, one departs to Memphis in search of answers while the others escape south to Biloxi, where they encounter more danger than they bargained for. And in Memphis, the answers that one man finds are the last answers he wanted, answers that herald a horrific possibility that there may be more to this virus than first suspected.
The Sneak Peek:
Brandt Evans’s scuffed black combat boots struck the wet pavement heavily as he ran down the rain-dampened street. His heart hammered wildly against his ribs, as if it were trying to beat free from his chest. His breathing was loud and harsh. His hands sweated and shook uncontrollably. His whole body was on edge.
He had been running for over half an hour.
Brandt ducked into an alley without slowing his pace. He dropped down beside a smelly, overflowing green dumpster to hide. Leaning back against the cool brick wall, he felt the solidness of it, the rough stones scraping against his back through his thin t-shirt. He closed his eyes and struggled to breathe. His lungs burned. His eyes hurt.
He was a rabbit trying to outrun a fox. Hunted. Desperate.
He just needed a moment to rest. Just one moment. He could spare a moment, couldn’t he?
Brandt leaned forward and peered at the alleyway’s opening. He took in a deep breath of the sharp, cold January air and rubbed his hands over each of his arms in turn to ward off the chill. He’d lost his jacket at some point during the chase, and he desperately wished he still had it as he hunched over and shivered. He held his breath until his chest ached, and then he slowly released it. It clouded the air before his face.
Brandt thought he might have lost them, but he didn’t want to take any chances. There was no way to know how many had followed him, how many had caught his scent. He had to assume that it wasn’t just one or two. He had to assume that he was being pursued. Always pursued. If he let his guard down…
Brandt wiped his sweating palms down the thighs of his camouflage pants and leaned back against the wall again. He knew what would happen if he were caught. He’d seen many of his fellow soldiers succumb to the plague. He knew that if he were caught, it would all end in blood and pain and death. It was not the end he had envisioned for himself when he’d taken this mission, and he refused to let it turn out that way.
The faces of the other soldiers flashed through Brandt’s mind, and guilt settled heavily over him. Even he had known the exact moment when the quarantine failed, when the mission fell apart. But rather than acknowledge the abject failure of the mission and order a retreat, those in command had continued to bark orders at those under their charges to fight and to die.
The guilt of surviving would plague Brandt for the rest of his life.
Brandt had to get out of the city, as soon as he possibly could, if he expected to stay alive. He had to run. He had to get ahead of the infection, flee, and find a safe place to hide. He didn’t care that he’d abandoned his post. His post didn’t exist anymore, as far as he was concerned. Half of the military didn’t. They’d all died or turned within the past several hours. All except for him.
A faint noise echoed from the alleyway’s entrance. Brandt’s heart jumped into his throat and choked him. Brandt leaned to peer around the edge of the dumpster again, and his hand wandered to the military-issue Beretta M9 handgun at his hip. He drew it and ejected the magazine to look inside. It was empty, as expected. He pulled back the slide. He already knew what he would find: a single bullet, the one he’d carefully counted ammunition to save. Just in case.
But Brandt was nothing if not a survivor. Even with the lone bullet in his possession, he’d never have the will to use it on himself. He snapped the magazine back into the gun as quietly as he could. The sound was too loud to his ears, and he worried that the simple action would draw unwanted attention to him.
As if on cue, a shuffling noise came from the other side of the dumpster. A quiet snarl followed it, along with an odd snuffling sound. Brandt closed his eyes and instinctively pressed his back more firmly against the brick wall. He became the rabbit again, shrinking back among the loose trash that skittered about in the stiff, cold wind; he hoped against hope that he wouldn’t be sniffed out. Another jolt of adrenaline pumped into Brandt’s veins as an ominous chill ran down his spine and raised the hair on the back of his neck. He could have sunk into the bricks and hidden inside them.
Brandt’s instincts whispered that there was not going to be an escape from this one. Brandt wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. The idea of being chased, of being caught, was slowly driving him insane. He had to do something, anything to alleviate the awful sensation.
Brandt took a deep, steadying breath and stood abruptly. His head swam at the sudden movement; his vision dimmed, and the alleyway spun around him. His heart lurched in his chest. Brandt shook his head and caught his hand against the dumpster to steady himself as he lifted the gun. The weapon felt incredibly heavy, and the barrel trembled. He swallowed and curled his finger to depress the trigger.
Time slowed to a crawl.
The last bullet left the gun with a loud bang. The bullet whipped past the blood-covered man who ran down the alleyway toward Brandt. It embedded into the wall with a splatter of brick. Shards of red stone sprayed the man and cut into his cheek. He seemed unaffected as he continued his pursuit of Brandt.
Brandt stumbled back. The emptied Beretta fell from his limp hand to the pavement. Brandt looked left and right frantically. Thoughts blazed through his mind in a flurry, faster than he could catch them. His shot had missed? How had it missed when the target was so close? He was an expert marksman, for Christ’s sake! He wasn’t supposed to miss!
Brandt’s dark eyes alternately darted from the man to the alley walls on either side of him. Should he try to run past the man? Should he fight and kill him? Either way, he was likely dead.
Brandt swore under his breath and mentally inventoried the weapons left on his person. There hadn’t been much to begin with: just the sidearm that now lay expended on the pavement and a rifle Brandt had abandoned once he’d run out of ammunition for it. The extra weight of the spent weapon had been a hindrance to his flight. He took a couple of steps back and remembered the one weapon he had left.
Brandt knelt and pulled his KA-BAR knife free from the sheath strapped to the outside of his right boot. It wasn’t much, and he wasn’t sure how much damage the seven-inch blade could actually cause, but it was all he had left. He stood just in time. The man launched himself at Brandt, hands extended, hatred in his red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes.
Instinct guided Brandt as he lifted the knife sharply upwards and stood from his kneeling position. In one smooth move that should have been deadly, Brandt slammed the knife’s blade into the fleshy underside of the man’s lower jaw.
To Brandt’s dismay, the man’s gnarled hands closed in tight fists on Brandt’s shirt. The man shook his head violently to free the knife from his jaw. Trapped, Brandt struggled to pull himself from the man’s grip, but the man was stronger than he looked.
So Brandt did the only thing he could. He wrenched the knife roughly from the man’s jaw and slammed it with all the strength left in his limbs directly into the man’s left temple.
Shock invaded the man’s features as the blade struck home. His forward momentum carried him a few more steps after Brandt struck the fatal blow. He leaned heavily against Brandt and then fell to the pavement, hard.
Brandt backed away from the body, shuddering as nausea welled up in his throat. He shook the sensation off and took his first real look at the man who had attacked him. He wasn’t anyone Brandt recognized, which was the best news Brandt would get all day. This man was too old to have been a current member of the military. He was around seventy years old, thin and bony and wrinkled with age, hair white and sparse on his head. His body was clad in dirtied sweatpants and a bloodstained white bathrobe, his feet bare and torn from running without shoes on the cold, unforgiving streets and sidewalks of Atlanta. The elderly man was definitely a civilian, possibly from one of the local nursing homes. Judging by the crusted blood under his lengthening, yellowed fingernails, the man had been ill for at least four days.
Brandt leaned down and grasped the hilt of the knife, pulling it free from the man’s temple. It slid away from the bone and flesh with an indescribable sound that made Brandt nearly drop the weapon as he shuddered in disgust. He took a moment to wipe the blood from the blade onto the edge of the dead man’s bathrobe. He had no desire to continue his examination of the dead body before him. Brandt looked instead to the Beretta lying on the wet pavement. The weapon was empty; it wouldn’t do him any further good. The chances that he would find much suitable ammunition for it in a city under siege were slim, and searching for it wasn’t worth his time. The general populace had days before raided the gun shops and sports stores in the city for anything usable that had been left behind by the military, and all of the ammunition stores were most likely bare. Regardless, he scooped the gun up and jammed it into the holster on his belt.
Brandt looked around the darkening alley. Night had begun to fall, the dusk settling over the alley and making it difficult to see. He tried to center his mind and figure out where to go, what to do. He couldn’t stay on the streets in the dark; it increased his chances of being killed tenfold. The city still crumbled around him, so he needed to move fast. His options were severely limited.
Brandt turned in a slow circle and spotted a red ladder hanging at the end of the alley, almost invisible in the dark. A fire escape, he realized. It at least offered an alternative to returning to the street. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure nothing else was coming in his direction. Then he returned the knife to its sheath on his boot and jumped up. He caught the bottom rung of the ladder and hauled himself onto it, his biceps bulging as he dragged himself up. He began to climb as quickly as he dared.
The metal rungs were slick with rain and ice, and they bit into Brandt’s palms and fingers as he trekked up the ladder. His boots slipped on the icy rungs more than once and sent his heart faltering in his chest. It was only through his own reflexes that he didn’t fall from the ladder and to the pavement below. The thought of breaking bones and leaving himself helpless was enough to keep him on his guard. There would be no salvation for him if he ended up with a broken leg in a dirty alley in downtown Atlanta. In that situation, he could just slap a sign on himself that said “dinner” and lie back to wait for his end.
Brandt reached the roof easily enough and gained his footing on the flat graveled surface. From there, he took a few moments to look out across the city and plan his next step. Smoke billowed on the horizon, close to the edge of the downtown metro area. A tornado siren blasted its monotonous refrain from somewhere in the city, warning Atlanta residents to get to a safe place. Gunfire rang out too close to Brandt’s position for comfort. Screams echoed faintly through the streets nearby, but Brandt didn’t dare check out the source. An ambulance siren played its part in the symphony of a city falling in on itself.
Brandt dropped to his knees, suddenly overwhelmed by the trauma he’d experienced that day. He ignored the gravel digging into his skin through his pants and covered his mouth as he fought off the bile that rose in his throat. The horror he’d faced throbbed in his brain even as he closed his eyes. The things Brandt had seen that day were worse than anything he’d ever dreamed of seeing overseas in combat; the images would stay with him forever. It was all Brandt could do to remain upright in his kneeling position as he fought to choke back the sickness in his mouth and in his soul.
Brandt couldn’t hold it back, though, and he hunched over the gravel and vomited. His throat burned and his eyes watered as he gripped the edge of the building and dug his fingers into the stone. His chest heaved as he coughed up the remains of his last meal. Brandt rocked back on his heels, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, and cleared his throat. The taste in his mouth was awful, but it was the last thing on his mind. He felt at his face, testing his own temperature as best he could. Brandt couldn’t tell if he was running a fever or if it was just heat generated by his climb up the fire escape ladder. He was sure he would be feeling the symptoms by now if…
Brandt shook his head, clearing his throat once more as he took in the view. “A virus did all of this?” he whispered hoarsely. He looked upon the city once more. The city in which he’d grown up. The city he had loved more than any other city he’d seen in his time in the military. It was like nothing Brandt had ever witnessed before. It was the beginning of the end of civilization, and the thought terrified him. “How can this even be possible?” he asked out loud to no one.
Derek Rivers was wrong. Derek Rivers had to have been wrong. The man who had warned him of this very possibility was long dead, one of the early victims of the viral outbreak that, even now, swept over Atlanta and beyond with a speed to rival the Black Death itself. Brandt had thought that Derek had exaggerated in his tales of test subjects and viruses and drugs. But Derek hadn’t exaggerated. Indeed, Derek hadn’t gone far enough in his description of the total devastation that the virus could visit upon the city. Brandt doubted that the man had ever thought it would get this far, that he had ever thought his worst-case scenario would come so terrifyingly true.
“Which way, which way?” Brandt whispered. He forced himself to his feet once more. It wasn’t time to be puking on a roof and reminiscing about men who were likely dead. He slowly surveyed the rooftop, searching for an escape route and a plan. He looked in every direction, uncertain which way would be safest. None of them, really. Safety was a foreign concept to Atlanta now.
Before Brandt went anywhere, however, he needed weapons. He needed food. He needed water. And he needed a place to hide for the night.
Jessica Meigs is the author of The Becoming, a post-apocalyptic thriller series that follows a group of people trying to survive a massive viral outbreak in the southeastern United States. After gaining notoriety for having written the series on a variety of BlackBerry devices, she self-published two novellas that now make up the first book of the series. In April 2011, she accepted a three-book deal with Permuted Press to publish a trilogy of novels. The first of the trilogy, entitled The Becoming, was released in November 2011 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Audible in paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats. It was also named one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Zombie Fiction Releases of 2011 and Best Apocalyptic Fiction Releases of 2011. In March 2012, she released a related novella entitled The Becoming: Brothers in Arms. The second novel in the series, The Becoming: Ground Zero, is coming in July 2012 from Permuted Press, with a third novel, The Becoming: Revelations, to follow. A fourth and fifth book are currently in the process of being written.
Jessica lives in semi-obscurity in Demopolis, Alabama. When she’s not writing, she works full time as an EMT. She enjoys listening to music and spends way too much time building playlists for everything she writes. When she’s not rocking out at concerts or writing or working, she can be found on Twitter @JessicaMeigs, on Facebook at facebook.com/JessicaMeigs, and on Goodreads at goodreads.com/jessicameigs. You can also visit her website at www.jessicameigs.com.