Day 1 – June 17, 2003
The wailing of an ambulance driving up from behind, with its annoyingly bright flashing lights forced Mike Brace to pull over to the side of the road. The cars in front of him did likewise. When traffic moved again in front of him, he saw the reason, a bad car accident blocking most of the intersection of South Jackson and Yesler.
“Not sure why anyone would have been driving so fast to cause an accident like that,” he wondered.
Mike pulled around and parked under the viaduct in a dirt lot, where he wouldn't have to pay for parking. He walked past the scene as he headed up toward First Avenue. Paramedics were already placing a motionless guy, all bloody and looking pretty dead, onto a gurney.
“Another one for Harborview or the morgue,” Mike said. It was gruesome, but he hadn't feared the sight of blood in a long time. The Army Navy supply store was a lot of blocks away and if he wanted to get back to Everett before traffic got worse, he'd have to hoof it.
Mike was aware that buying a lot of weapons at this stage in his life was going to raise some red flags. He'd already strung out the purchase of nearly six thousand rounds of .45 ACP ammo over the past year. Before that, he'd bought nearly as many 5.56mm, .223 rounds and 12 Gauge shotgun shells. Weapons, such as a converted AR-15 fully automatic rifle and a Mossberg Persuader pistol-grip shotgun were his favorite guns to play with at his local firing range. He wasn't sure red flags would matter in the long run, but he still thought about the possibility of getting into more trouble. Mike felt reasonably assured the government would likely be more concerned about impending zombie hordes than about Mike Brace, self-protection weapons buyer.
Today, he was looking to pick up some bayonets, combat knives, and if he could find one, a very sharp sword. He was prepared, when asked about his multitude of additional purchases, to laugh heartily and joke about the end of the world. But it was no laughing matter. The truth of it was, he believed his mother's premonition about humanity's end of days, as it was often popularized.
It was early August of 2001 when she'd called him at work, something she rarely did. She was in a panic and asked him to come home. Of course, Home was half-way across the country, in Kentucky.
“There will be a major terrorist attack consisting of bio-terrorism,” she said. “But it will not be some isolated incident, but a global catastrophe of the worst magnitude. It will rival an act of God and in the end, may simply be seen as one.”
She cried throughout her recitation of a precognitive dream, with me holding her hands. She hoped she was wrong, but she knew she'd not live long enough to see the validity of the images she witnessed.
He had no reason to doubt her emphatic words. And why not? She'd predicted the death of his father in a terrifying dream as well. That single truthful incident had become a defining moment in Mike's life, for the supernatural had touched their lives in such a undeniable way.
And when he pressed her for details about what she saw in the dream, she refused. Instead she told him with a sober face to gather weapons and portable broadcast equipment; an emergency kit, food, fresh water, a boat. Anything else that would assure his survival and pave the road for communication with his fellow man; to speak the truth to whomever might listen.
She was vague about the nature of the end of the world as they knew it but she required him to be prepared for it. But she also told him to expect a letter with full details about the dream after she'd passed on, which she saw was coming soon. Terrorism on a massive scale. The world didn't know about Osama Bin Laden and his plans for 9/11 in August.
When the towers fell, Mike called her to ask if that was what she'd seen.
“Only a precursor son,” she replied. “I'm afraid it'll be a lot worse than that.”
Mike's mother paid for most of his purchases with her savings and his inheritance.
“Money will mean little to you soon. Society will be nothing. You may as well spend it now,”
She died four months later, leaving Mike alone to figure out how the end was coming, for the world and perhaps for himself.
Mike hoisted his close-order weapons-full seabag onto his back and trekked back toward his van.
“Should have parked closer and paid the damned parking fare!” he said as he felt his back complain under load.
Mike heard a buzz in the air, coming on fast like a turbo-prop airplane, but more insistent. Its sound was low to the ground, too low to be safe above the city streets.
Then he saw the sound's source, a military predator drone, white-gray against the dark Seattle buildings. He peered carefully at it, curious about the whys and legalities of the government conducting operations like this.
Mike noticed the drone descending lower still, with a nozzle spraying a white aerosol fog from its aft section. What scared him in that moment was the crowd of curious people standing in its cloud, as if the drone was targeting the larger groups of people.
“What's in that spray?” he said as he ducked into a cafe just to be safe. He stared at the miniature aircraft as it flew on down the street, spraying all the while.
“Maybe it's spraying insecticide,” said a woman peering out the window with him.
“Maybe,” Mike replied. His Navy experience told him otherwise. Especially in June, especially in Seattle, with little to no bug activity.
The question that loomed for him was why. Why would the United States government use drones in this way?
“You got a TV?” he asked the counter person.
“Nope,” the young woman said.
“What about a radio?”
“Are you going to order food? We don't offer hand outs.”
“Then we don't have a radio.”
A droning in the air told him the bird was making another approach.
“This is NOT good,” he whispered. He found he wanted to stay put. But he knew he'd be safer on the water. He watched the drone fly off in a different direction as its ominous fog fell slowly to the street.
Mike removed the seabag from his back and took his tee shirt off and wrapped it around his face below the eyes.
“It's not a gas mask, but it's better than breathing whatever that shit is,” he said to no one as he put his seabag back on.
“Sir, you're gonna have to leave. This is a cafe, not a locker room,” the woman at the counter said.
“Don't worry your precious sensibilities ma'am. I'm leaving.”
He peered out into the street and saw that it was quiet on the street. He stepped onto the sidewalk.
“Mom told me the end of everything was going to start like this and I don't have nearly enough ammo, food or fresh water. Or batteries.”
Mike ran toward the viaduct where his van was parked, dodging other pedestrians as he did so. He also watched and listened for the predator drone but all he heard were the typical city sounds, tires driving over expansion joints of the raised concrete viaduct with loud thunks a block away, honks, ferry horns announcing a departure for Bainbridge Island or Bremerton.
He wasn't sure what he expected, but he could feel something was wrong, even if on the surface, things still ground on the same way in typical city fashion.
He'd been gone more than an hour and the ambulance remained, its strobes flashing in silence and the gurney was empty. There seemed to be a lot more blood and nobody standing around that he could see.
Then he heard blood curdling screams somewhere nearby.
His instincts told him to get away fast, but he wanted to understand what was going on. Mike pulled his weapon-laden seabag from his shoulders and pulled a matte black hatchet from within its cavernous opening. He shouldered the bag once more and cautiously approached the accident scene, his hatchet next to his thigh in what he hoped was a non-threatening manner should any police officer see him.
He noticed a paramedic bent close over what looked like a woman's prone body.
“Is everything alright over there?” he called out to the medic as he glanced around.
The man growled a deep unnatural grumble and looked back at Mike. Horror filled Mike's heart when he saw the bloody face and recognized that the paramedic had been gorging on the woman's neck, gory refuse dripping from the man's jaw.
“Shit!” he yelled as sprinted toward the parking lot. He paused for a moment, keeping his eyeballs peeled for motion toward him. He pulled his cellphone out and dialed 911. There was only a busy signal, something he'd never heard before. He shoved the phone back in his pocket. Wheezing caught his attention and Mike saw the original accident victim, bloody and torn, loping in an unbalanced gait toward him, his arms outstretched.
“Shit!” he yelled again as he bolted in the opposite direction toward First Avenue.
He heard a woman screaming somewhere behind him but he didn't turn.
Now was not the time to fight, or to be stupid, he thought. He had to get on the highway North before the roads were shut down or overrun. He saw that possibility as a very likely reality.
Mike spied his van and ducked behind a car, but he heard more wheezing and growling. He held his hatchet at the ready, watching for the owner of the noise as he skirted low around cars. He wished he'd brought his 1911.
Fear raced through Mike's body, yet he found himself curious too, for he really hadn't expected the END would occur so soon, what with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan; the hunt for Osama and WMD. In his mind, he immediately saw the arc of how badly this could go if one human could die, reanimate and infect another person in such a short period of time.
It was the perfect avenue for terror. And he was thankful to his mother for her warning. He'd read the letter she'd left for him, and yet he still could not have conceptualized THIS.
More growling and snarling moving toward his location told him he might be in a tenuous, if not dangerous, situation. Mike would have to make a run for it and scouted every avenue for bolting. He counted at least five people that growled like zombies closing in.
He breathed deep and steeled his nerves. Then Mike Brace felt he was as ready as he'd ever be. He pulled his keys from out of his pocket and jumped into motion, hearing a guttural snarling to his left. He glanced in that direction and discovered the zombie was not even looking his way but toward the front of his van.
Mike jammed the key into the lock and opened the door and tossed the heavy bag up over and across the driver seat and into the cargo space. An unnatural clicking close to his back caught his attention. He raised his hatchet, prepared to split a skull open and nearly swung until he saw a young girl, ashen-faced except for the blood spatters, standing there shivering.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded slowly. Her eyes were all pupil.
He saw motion behind her and he picked her body up, shoved her into the van and closed the door. In the back of his mind, he understood this to be a watershed moment, but still, he responded with the deadly force that was required. He swing the hatchet with a low whistle and severed half of the zombie's neck and jaw. Blood spurted from the man's neck like a fountain and Mike found himself thinking of Steven King as he leapt free of the flow. The man fell backward onto the asphalt, gurgling in his bloody mess. Mike had seen enough horror flicks to know the zombies always get back up. He swung once more and connected thickly with the man's forehead. Mike felt the blood spatter on his teeshirt mask. He pulled the shirt away from his face and threw it on the ground. He glanced around to make sure no other threats loomed before he opened the door. A few hundred yards away, a zombie ambled around but had not yet noticed his presence by the van. Mike knew others were nearer and he climbed in to the driver's seat, set the bloody hatchet on the console between the seats and locked the door.
“What's your name? Are you okay?” he asked. He wondered if her mother had been killed, but the shock on her face and mute nature gave him the answer.
He wasn't too sure about what to do but he knew he needed to get out of Seattle. Mike started the van and he chuckled briefly as he thought about the other horror movie cliche: cars that wouldn't start.
He put the van into reverse and pulled out of the dirt parking spot. There was heavy bump. The van rocked a bit and he mashed the accelerator. He looked out his window to see a zombie hit and run. He paused for a moment, then aimed for the head. He heard something pop like a grape.
“That's two,” he thought as he made his way toward the entrance onto northbound I-5.
Mike turned on the radio to the am news station.
Coming up next, Seattle weather. And on the fours, Business Weekly roundup...
He flipped through other stations and found nothing being reported about flesh-eating zombies or government predator drones flying the streets.
By the time Mike crested the bridge spanning Lake Union, the girl was trembling uncontrollably.
“Are you okay?” he repeated.
She looked at him, fear etched in her expression.
He attempted to dial his ex-girlfriend's number, but typical traffic on the highway prevented him from being able to concentrate on that and driving, so he set the phone down.
Traffic seemed to be traveling okay, which had him wondering how each driver, each passenger would eventually respond or succumb to what he saw; what he experienced in such a short time.
We have several accidents to report on both northbound and southbound I-5. Traffic is slowing to a crawl south of the Mercer Street exit and on northbound lanes, near Northgate. Taking alternative routes is advised. For all your traffic needs, turn to News 990.
“But no word on zombies,” he said. He looked over at the girl.
Maybe Highway 99 would be a better idea, he thought.
“Can I call my dad?” the girl asked.
Mike looked at his phone and said yes.
She picked it up and dialed a number with trembling fingers.
He could hear the ringing but no answer.
“Your dad probably doesn't recognize my number,” he said.
The girl nodded as she folded the phone and placed it back on the console, next to the hatchet. She stared briefly at the bloody mess.
“So what's your name? My name is Mike, Mike Brace.”
She looked at him not unkindly and spoke as if it were normal.
“My name is Amy. Those monster-people killed my mom and they almost got me, but I got away.”
“Yes you did. Do you want me to help you find your dad? Where is he?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“I'm sorry about your mom, okay? I'll take you wherever you want to go to find your dad. But we need toget out of Seattle first.”
She nodded again, still shivering. He noticed a reddish tinge to her face now, as if a fever was building within her.
He drove off the NE 50th Street Exit and headed toward the highway that would take them north and around the accidents.
The phone rang and Mike picked it up.
“Hello?” he said when he didn't recognize the number.
“Someone from this number called me?” a man asked.
“Do you have a daughter?”
“Yes, she's with her mother.”
“No. No she's not. Hold on.”
He handed her the phone.
“Daddy? I'm scared! Where are you?”
“At work honey. Where's Mommy? Who are you with? Is he hurting you?”
“No Daddy, Mommy's dead and Mr. Mike saved me from the monsters.”
“What? Hand the phone to the guy.”
Mike pulled over into a convenience store parking lot.
“I don't know what you're up to but if you don't want the wrath of God or me on your shoulders, you'd better get her to me now!”
“Where are you?”
“Meet me at Alderwood Mall, near the theater.”
“See you there in about 25 minutes or so.”
“You'd better have an explanation when you get here.”
Mike pulled into the circular area near the theater. People milled around, but he sensed something off. He couldn't be certain if he was feeling the girl's obvious distress or if the walking dead roamed this area as well.
“Do you see your father?” he asked.
“I'm going to call him.”
The phone rang and went to voice mail.
“Hey this is – ah – Mike Brace and I'm here with your daughter.”
Fifteen minutes later, he felt even more nervous. He left another voice mail and another, but no father.
He dialed 911 again and the number was busy. The girl looked like she was sick, like she had a very high fever. He took the liberty of touching her forehead and it was so hot, he whipped his hand away. She'd stopped shaking, but had now become so listless, he wondered if he ought to go to the nearest hospital, back the way he came down Highway 99. There was Providence Medical Center in Everett too.
He tried calling the father one last time, and left a message about his daughter's terrible fever. As he was clicking off, a stark realization occurred in his mind. This girl is infected.
He got out of the van and unlocked the passenger side door and he felt stupid and scared when he saw the bloody and puffy arm. She'd been bit by someone, but had squirmed away at the last second, he guessed. Her head was leaning back into the headrest, her eyes closed.
And now he really didn't know what to do. Suddenly, the situation was real. He'd killed two people. And this girl was going to expire from the infection and wake up dead. And for all he knew, the father was dead now too. It was only a matter of time.
He got back in the van and raced to the highway. North was the only way to go, to Providence Medical Center. Mike mashed the accelerator and drove 80 mph all the way up I-5 and into Everett. As he came to a full stop at the Emergency Center entrance, the girl heaved once, stiffened and then slumped over.
He ran to the doors to get a nurse, but when he got there, an armed guard with a rifle stood there, shaking his head and aiming the rifle out toward him. He jumped back to the van and gently laid her on her back on the asphalt. She couldn't be his problem any longer. He climbed into the van and called the dad's number one last time and told him where she was.
“I'm sorry for your loss,” he added as an afterthought.
As he drove away, he saw the body of the girl lift off her back, stand and lumber toward the emergency room door. He looked away before the armed guard could shoot her. He felt the weight of humanity on his shoulders and the guilt in her loss.