Authors: Anna Abner
Tags: #zombie, #teen, #horror, #apocalypse, #plague
Book One in the Red Plague Trilogy
By Anna Abner
Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner
Praise for The Dark Caster Series
“A sizzling and sweet paranormal romance.” 5 out of 5 stars.
--Christine Rains, author of the 13
“A wonderful, suspenseful love story.” 5 out of 5 stars.
--Coffee Time Romance
“A great paranormal adventure with many twists and turns.” 5 out of 5 stars.
“This book kept me on the edge of my seat.” 4 out of 5 stars.
--The Reading Café
Books by Anna Abner
Spell of Summoning
(Dark Caster Series Book One)
Spell of Binding
(Dark Caster Series Book Two)
(Red Plague Trilogy Book One)
(Red Plague Trilogy Book Two)
(Red Plague Trilogy Book Three)
Subscribe to Anna’s monthly
for sneak peeks, updates, and bonus material!
Thank you to Jaycee DeLorenzo at Sweet and Spicy Designs for her beautiful and creative covers and to Jeff Hill at Driving the Quill for his insightful editing.
Thank you to my beta readers for all your help. Rachel R., Paula R., Mary L., Julie L., Suzanne G., Susan C., and Miechi J. Your comments made my story better, and I can never repay you.
I dedicate this story to my daughter, my shining star.
A buzzing circular saw woke me five minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. Instant, achy terror consumed me. I scrambled out of bed in my PJs and crouched at the end of the hall, peeking around the corner into the living room beyond the foyer.
“Dad?” I hissed.
He stood, hands on hips, in front of our big screen TV staring at local news.
I sagged against the wall in relief. For a moment I’d thought… But no. We weren’t being attacked by red-eyed plague victims.
Dad hadn’t heard me, but around and between his arms I watched the agitated news anchor struggle through her report.
“If you are in a heavily infected area,” the hollow-eyed brunette read off the teleprompter, “you are instructed to shelter in place. Do not attempt to travel. Roads and highways are impassable, particularly in Raleigh and Charlotte. The safest thing for you to do is stay where you are. Lock your doors and windows and wait for further instruction.”
A tiny hiccup of fright escaped my throat, and Dad whipped his head around. His normally slicked back blond hair was dry and messy as if he hadn’t bothered to comb it at all.
“Maya,” he exclaimed, pasting on a friendly smile. But under the positive facade I could tell he was just as terrified as I was. The world was falling to pieces and we both knew it. “Good morning, baby girl. Did the construction wake you up? I told them not to make noise until after six.”
. He hadn’t called me that in two years. Not since Mom’s funeral.
“Dad,” I said, twisting my fingers around a long tendril of dark hair. “What is going on?” I had fallen asleep worried about the incredibly fast-moving 212R virus and woken up in a construction zone.
“Oh.” He glanced through the kitchen archway toward the saw noises. “These men are building a survival bunker in the pantry. I think I mentioned it last week. It’s like a panic room, but it won’t require electricity.”
“Why do we need that?” Was I not panicking enough? 212R was infecting densely populated urban areas and, after three days of fever, stripping the diseased of their higher level thinking skills and replacing them with insatiable cravings for raw flesh and blood. Victims were crawling all over the larger cities. We were safe, for the moment, in our suburb. But we might not be for long.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, showing me another fake smile, making me even jumpier. “It’s an insurance policy. Get dressed and we’ll have breakfast.”
I slipped into my bedroom and tugged on my track gear—shorts, tee, and cross-trainers—in record time to catch up to Dad and one of the construction workers at the kitchen island.
Dad pulled stacks of wrapped twenties from his shoulder bag and slid them across the granite counter toward the man.
“It’s more than I told you,” Dad said quietly. “Can you finish before two?”
“No problem, boss.” The man glanced at me. “With the four of us working nonstop it’ll be done in a couple hours.”
“With an independent ventilation system?”
“Exactly like we talked about.”
“Roger’s putting in the piping now.”
I cleared my throat. “Do you want cereal, Dad? There’s some oatmeal left.”
He flinched as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Baby girl, make whatever you want. I have to go in a minute.”
My belly plummeted. “You’re going to work?”
The television, the small one next to the toaster oven, was tuned to cable news. On the screen was a fuzzy snapshot of an infected man, his face splattered with blood and his eyes a distinct and deep shade of red.
The news anchor said hotly to his guest, “We will not call them the Z word, Professor. They are ill and need our support, not our ridicule.” He choked up, covering his mouth for a moment. “My mother has been sick the last couple days. Her eyes went red last night.” He inhaled a shaky breath. “I won’t stand for that kind of language. Not on this show.”
On the right side of the screen was a cautionary graphic with bullet points. Stay indoors. Conserve energy. Boil water and keep it in sealed containers. Phone calls for emergencies only.
“I’m sorry.” Dad used the remote to turn off the TV. “You don’t need to watch this nonsense. It’s all posturing and fear mongering.”
Well, they had succeeded. I was terrified. “Should I stay home from school?”
“No,” Dad said. “The virus isn’t here yet. The best thing for you to do is go to school, see your friends, run track, just be
“But the news—“
“It’s bad in the cities,” he agreed, “but we’re not in the city. If 212R is here, it’s new. We have time.”
Up to three days. That’s how long it took the infection to invade a body and take over completely.
“Your lab is in Raleigh,” I reminded him. “It’s not safe there.”
He cupped my face, and though his touch was gentle, his fingers were tense as talons against my cheeks. “A cure exists, Maya, but I have to finish synthesizing the antiserum. If all my staff shows up I can finish it today.
I have to go
I opened my mouth to argue further. He was one chemist toiling in a Center for Disease Control lab full of scientists and technicians. What difference would his absence make, honestly, in the grand scheme?
“I can put an end to this,” he said, his voice turning husky with emotion. “I can fix everything. I can
I saw in the set of his jaw and the steel in his spine I was not going to convince him to stay.
My stomach unraveled like an old scarf. “But you’ll come home tonight?”
“Of course.” He backed away, gesturing to the counter by the sink. “On your way to school, will you return Mrs. Kinley’s dish? It’s been sitting here for a week.”
“I’m sorry I’m in such a hurry,” he said, collecting his satchel, keys, and cell phone. “The CDC is sending a helicopter to pick me up.”
I walked him to the front door, getting that itchy feeling I used to get when he dropped Mason and I off at day care years ago. I didn’t want him to go.
“Don’t forget,” he said, pausing at the threshold, “wash your hands constantly. Carry sanitizer with you. No shaking hands. No hugs. Eat and drink from sealed containers only.”
“I will, Dad.” I’d heard his cleanliness rules so often, especially in the last few weeks when 212R was all anybody could talk about, I knew them by heart.
“Come home tonight,” I pleaded one last time. Since Mom died and my twin brother Mason went away, Dad was all I had left. “Promise me? No matter how much work you still have to do?”
“I’ll come home. And I’ll bring a generator for the bunker.” He kissed my forehead and drove off in his car.
I had almost forgotten the workers banging away in my kitchen until I shut the front door and came face to face with their crew leader.
“Any little extras you want in there?” he asked, smacking his lips as he studied my hair. “Since your daddy is paying for it. I can throw in carpeting. Would you like that? What about a bulletproof peephole?”
Tucking my hair behind both ears, I edged toward the hallway and my bedroom. “Sounds good. Thanks.”
I twisted my hair into a bun, packed a bag with a change of clothes, my copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets for English class, and my school binder. Before leaving my room I hesitated in the doorway staring, unfocused, at my honey colored guitar. Holding it in my arms, strumming the strings, and feeling the chords’ vibrations in my ribcage was the best part of my day. But it would be a pain to carry it from class to class so I left it behind, promising myself to play it when I got home.
I left the house in a hurry, snatching the baking dish off the kitchen counter on the way out.
Mrs. Kinley opened her front door, but only after I knocked five or six times. And when she did, her hair usually in a sleek ponytail down the back of her neck laid loose and wild.
“Maya, what are you doing out there?” She yanked me inside, slamming the door and locking it behind me. “Are you watching the news? It isn’t safe.”
“Have they closed the schools?” Maybe I wouldn’t have to go after all, no matter what my dad thought.
“Not here. But they did in Raleigh.” Her cat Freckles darted across the room as if she had a ghost on her long fluffy tail. “They’re closing down the whole city. This zombie plague is ridiculous.”
The Z word, the word we weren’t supposed to say.
“Do you know what they just said on TV?” she added. “Reds can’t speak.” Her eyes filled with unshed tears, and she reached for my hand. Her fingers were cold, but strong. “Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever heard? Even if they wanted to communicate, they physically can’t.”
Extricating my hand, I tried to smile reassuringly, but I feared it was more of a sneer. “It’s sad.”
“The saddest,” she said, turning back to the box she was packing on her living room sofa.
“My dad went to work in Raleigh,” I said. “He’s trying to finish a cure.”
“Bless his heart.” Her words were kind, but her eyes were resolute as if she’d already written him off. “Do you want to stay here with me until he gets home?”
“I’m going to school,” I announced bravely, though I felt anything but. “I just wanted to give this back.” I showed her the dish. “Thanks again for the brownies. They were really good.”
“My pleasure.” She pulled me in for a longer and tighter than normal hug, and I rested my chin on her shoulder. Enveloped in Mrs. Kinley’s soft, sweet smelling arms, I missed my mom more than ever. “Be safe. Not even our little corner of the world is immune to all this.” She waved her hand toward the living room to encompass the news on the TV.
“I will.” Readjusting my backpack I crossed her lawn and slid behind the wheel of my car, a rinky-dink coupe my dad had bought for me to practice on.
Palmetto High School was practically deserted. And it wasn’t just students ditching under the threat of plague. Half the teachers were absent and only a handful of subs showed up to cover their classes. Lots of kids crammed into classrooms they wouldn’t normally be in.
But my track coach was right on time and ready to sweat.
“I hope you delicate flowers came to work,” Coach greeted us. “No bird or pig or, I don’t know,
flu is going to stop us, right?”
I glanced to my right at the three other runners who’d shown up to morning practice and nodded woodenly.
“That’s what I love to see.” Coach blew her whistle. “Warm up mile. Let’s go, ladies.”
I took off, quickly outpacing my teammates.
My best event was the one thousand meter. I was fast on a normal day. Maybe the panic and anxiety helped fuel me because I was better than fast. I was a machine in drills, not even caring about the humid, North Carolina air hanging heavy and thick. As I sprinted sweat blossomed, coating me in sticky moisture, but I never slowed down. By the time the first bell rang I was wrung out. I showered in the locker room and hurried to first period.
My history teacher Mr. Coates had the TV on and nobody even pretended to study or finish assignments. We scooted under the television and absorbed live footage from New York and Miami, the hardest hit U.S cities so far.
And North Carolina was right between them.
Infected plague victims, red eyes seeming to glow, swarmed the streets attacking and consuming people. Survivors jammed all major routes of transportation—freeways, train depots, airports.