Terra Necro: Tipping Point, by Michael Crockett
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Description: Ian Ward was at a low point in his life. Recently discharged from the Navy as the Shakes Virus went global, he narrowly missed the military’s general order that all military personnel were required to take the controversial vaccine. With little cash and no prospects, he ended up as a dishwasher in a greasy spoon diner, smack in the middle of nowhere.
The only bright spot in his life is a beautiful, kind waitress named Roxanne. She is everything he ever wanted in a woman, but seems determined to keep him at arm’s length.
Then, those who were administered the vaccine suddenly began to get sick and die. Riots swiftly broke out around the globe, many of which turned violent. As aggression rose, so did brutality levels.
Then, the dead began to rise and attack the living. Something is terribly wrong with the vaccine originally meant to save humanity, and all those who took it are dying and becoming zombies.
Now, the world is a nightmarish tragedy of the walking dead, hungering for flesh, and all-too-human monsters, who have realized the only law is survival of the fittest.
And caught in the middle are Ian and Roxanne.
A friend of mine once told me that every great disaster in human history had a tipping point; an exact moment when a series of events combined in such a way that the brink was reached and passed, ultimately sending everything sliding into chaos of change.
I couldn’t fathom what he was talking about at the time, all that has changed now.
Earth’s tipping point – or, more accurately, the tipping point of civilization – was brought on by a combination of natural disasters, a plague, and human error.
There were wars, of course. A never-ending stream of wars somewhere in the world has always been par for the course, so no one was surprised to watch more and more uprisings on the nightly news. What did the most damage, though, were the natural disasters. Heavy snow storms, floods, tornados and hurricanes, while not uncommon, seemed to increase in both frequency and intensity. The most popular theory was that global warming was changing the Earth’s weather patterns, and causing freak storms. Maybe that was true, maybe not. Whatever the cause may have been, the effect was that a lot of people were killed or injured, and countless more were left homeless. Soon, there were refugee camps popping up in just about every country.
It was within these camps that the pandemic known as Shakes first appeared in Europe.
Shakes, which was caused by a virus that attacked the central nervous system, was virulent and highly contagious. The onset of the disease was defined by a low-grade fever and flu like symptoms, which were rapidly followed by severe headaches and uncontrollable trembling – hence the name Shakes. The final stage included abnormally high temperatures, delirium and muscle-wrenching convulsions.
It was fatal in ninety percent of the cases.
The UN sent a vast number of medical personnel to various refugee camps, but they ultimately weren’t able to do much more than ease the suffering of those afflicted. By the time Shakes began to rear its ugly head in Asian camps, it quickly became apparent how contagious the virus was, and troops were sent not to treat, but to quarantine. A few early news stories covered protests and several riots in various camps, but the media were quickly forbidden to approach the camps for ‘health reasons’ soon thereafter. A few brazen news teams tried to talk or sneak their way in, but the UN passed a resolution mandating that anyone who came in contact with any of the camps were to be immediately detained and quarantined. Not long after, there was a total blackout of all camps.
For a brief while, the world’s interest moved on to other things. The usual stories of small wars, natural disasters and celebrity rehab again dominated headlines. Then the rumors started circulating. The word was that the quarantine was failing, and Shakes was spreading outside some of the camps. As a result, some of the UN troops were deserting. The media jumped on the rumors with a voracious appetite, and for a while there was nothing else on TV. But, when actual proof failed to materialize, the world’s interest turned to a sex scandal involving a global leader.
Six months and five days after it first appeared in a refugee camp, a case of Shakes was diagnosed in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Center for Disease Control moved quickly, and the patient was immediately quarantined. Standard press conferences were held, and the population was assured the threat was manageable. The officials in charge stuck to that line right up until there were cases of Shakes reported in major cities on every continent. Only then did Shakes become a ‘major health concern’.
Do you think so? Really?
Shakes wasn’t like SARS, either. A lot of older people told me SARS always seemed to be distant, like it was always happening somewhere else. But pretty soon, everybody knew someone who had Shakes.
It was about this time that things, or more accurately people, started to get really ugly. The general distrust that had been bubbling just under the surface erupted into full blown paranoia. People regarded strangers with everything from suspicion to open hostility. Masks of all sorts, even gasmasks, were worn everywhere, and going out in public with a runny nose was an invitation for violent attack.
Which, when looking back, probably wasn’t the smartest reaction, since Shakes appeared to be spread by direct physical contact.
Finally, in the U.S. and several other countries, a law was put into effect that made it illegal to be outside your home with any cold, flu or allergy symptoms. Anyone caught exhibiting these symptoms was swiftly arrested and placed in quarantine. If you had a cold or a bad allergy day and you left the house, you’d be arrested and confined with those who had Shakes.
It was basically a death sentence.
Then, it was announced a vaccine had been developed through a joint venture between a pharmaceutical company and the CDC. The vaccine was quickly mass produced and shipped around the globe, despite some researchers going on record to say it hadn’t been properly tested, and wasn’t ready for use on the population.
As would be expected, there was a mad rush to get the vaccine. Since it was always in short supply, there were large riots and thousands of people were hurt or killed. Despite the rocky start though, people began getting inoculated regularly, and it looked like the threat might have been over.
Then, people who received the vaccine started to get sick and die.
Maybe the Shakes Virus mutated, maybe the vaccine wasn’t ready like some of the researchers said, or maybe the virus and the vaccine reacted in the body in an unforeseen way. Whatever the cause, the end result was that people started getting sick once again. The symptoms were much the same as Shakes, and took several weeks to manifest after the vaccine was received. But one thing was for sure; once you got the shot and the symptoms started, you didn’t have long to live.
This time around there was no hope; the mutated virus was one hundred percent fatal.
This caused more protests to erupt, many of them violent, and in a lot of places riot control had to get extreme. Maybe that’s why no one realized what was happening at first. Stories of riots and violence inundated the news, so when it got really bad, perhaps we just weren’t paying attention.
Or, perhaps no one wanted to believe the dead were actually reanimating and attacking the living.
So, where was I during the events leading up to the tipping point? When Shakes first hit the news, I was in Japan finishing my enlistment aboard the destroyer USS Binckle. I had enjoyed my time in the navy, but I wasn’t going to be allowed to reenlist, since all my evaluations stated I had ‘issues with authority’, which was really not the best mentality for a member of an authoritarian organization. It eventually got me on the PTS (Perform to Serve) list, which was a very professional way of saying ‘you’re fired.’
I couldn’t argue though, and had no one to blame but myself. I really didn’t like being told what to do, and couldn’t seem to stop making snide comments or letting my body language show just what I thought of the person issuing the orders. I was discharged just after the Shakes vaccine starting going global, and narrowly missed the military’s mandatory vaccine program. Everyone still in service was ordered to take the vaccine, and those who refused were immediately removed from their position and slapped with a Bad Conduct Discharge. A few people took that deal and, as it turned out, were the smart ones.
Immediately after returning to the States, I stayed with some friends in San Diego while searching for a job. Unfortunately, there weren’t many places hiring, and those that were had no interest in someone the U.S. Navy didn’t want. After a lot of online searches and phone interviews, I finally managed to land a job as a security guard, halfway across the country, at a packing plant in Bright Water, Kansas. I luckily found a small, one room apartment to lease, and the rent was dirt cheap to boot. But, since the pay for the job was minimum wage, it was all I was going to be able to afford.
Unfortunately for me, when I arrived at the plant to begin my first shift, I was told it had gone bankrupt and had closed its doors.
So, there I was – fired twice in less than a month, stuck in the middle of nowhere, nearly broke, and no prospects in sight. I had enough money for a bus ticket back to California, but I’d either have to live off my friends’ charity or go stay with my mom until I found another job. I was too proud to do either. Besides, I joined the navy to get away from my mom, who was a narcissistic, attention-starved control freak, and I couldn’t stand the thought of living in that Hell again. Also, my mom had recently gone back to the Philippines to take care of her mother, and I definitely didn’t have enough money to get there.
After the plant manager informed me I didn’t have a job, I stopped off at a little diner in town to grab a bite to eat and decide what my next step was. As it turned out, luck was on my side, since there was a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. After sitting down at a table, I immediately asked the waitress about it, and she told me the job was still available. The diner’s owner, a fat guy named Ralph, was there, and he interviewed me on the spot. Ralph informed me that no one else had applied for the job, and I suppose that should have raised some suspicions in my mind, but the position included a free motel room located right behind the diner. And like I said, I was almost broke, and Bright Water wasn’t exactly a booming metropolis – beggars can’t be choosers. During the interview, Ralph asked me several questions that seemed kind of random, and didn’t have much to do with the job; in fact he seemed to be worried that I might be an illegal alien or a cop. My mother is from the Philippines, and I have dark hair and eyes, which means I’m always being mistaken for a Latino, usually Mexican.
Since I was the only applicant, Ralph hired me on the spot as the night shift janitor, dishwasher, and all-around gopher. After working there for a while, I started to get the idea that Ralph was into a lot more than just running the diner. He had a lot of ‘business associates’ who he’d conduct meetings with. I was never introduced to any of them, but just one look at them was all I needed to know that they were thugs.
The diner was a theme eatery named ‘The Dining Car’, as it was fashioned out of an old train car. A counter ran the length of the car on one side, and some booths along the opposite side. The front door was at one far end of the car, and two small restrooms were at the other. A cinderblock building was attached, which housed the kitchen, freezers, storage, and Ralph’s office.
Since this was a small diner in a small town, there were only two other lucky individuals to share the night shift with. Hack, the Fry Cook, was an old guy with grey hair and leathery skin, who was as talkative as a tree and about as friendly. Hack’s entire vocabulary seemed to consist of three phrases; “Got it.” “Order up.” And “Clean that.”
Then there was Roxanne, who was the resident waitress and duty manager. Roxanne was friendly and talkative; she was one of those people who you instantly liked. She was in her late twenties and had beautiful dark eyes, long black hair, and since she was from El Salvador, she spoke the very proper English of someone who had just learned the language. She also had an accent that was, well, sexy, and the first time I saw her I thought, “Stripper Body”. Yeah, I was thinking like a sailor, but in my defense she could have made serious money as an exotic dancer. After I got to know her, I realized how nice she was, and I felt pretty bad about my immature fantasies. We fell into an easy friendship. Well, she did at least. I, on the other hand, developed a pretty big crush on her, but she didn’t seem to see me as anything more than a friend, or a little brother at best. Anyway, the Dining Car in Bright Water, Kansas was where I called home when the tipping point was reached, and everything fell apart.
My name is Ian Ward, and I’m a survivor in a world where the dead walk and civilization no longer exists. What follows is my story of survival, loss, and triumph.
I was at the sink washing plates when Hack staggered through the back door, holding his arm up close to his chest. He was muttering, “Damn wino bit me! Damn wino friggin’ BIT Me!” over and over in a short, breathless voice. I looked up and noticed his hand was clamped over his arm just below his elbow, and blood was oozing from between his fingers. I quickly grabbed the cleanest towel I could find, and attempted to help stop the bleeding. Roxanne came in from the counter area to see what all the commotion was about.
I sat Hack down in the chair he kept near the grill, where he would sometimes doze when we weren’t busy, and wrapped the towel tightly around the wound. It looked like a chunk had been torn from his arm, and he was bleeding profusely. I glanced up at Hack, and noticed he wasn’t looking so good. To be fair, he didn’t look all that good, even on his best days – he smoked too much, never ate anything that wasn’t fried, and had that sixty-going-on-eighty look. But now he was shaking, his skin had a pale, waxy look to it, and I was fairly certain he was going into shock. I looked at Roxanne, who was hovering behind me wringing her hands, and told her to call an ambulance.
Roxanne hurriedly ran to call 911, and I started talking to Hack. I’d learned in the navy that you were supposed to talk to the injured and wounded in order to keep them from going into shock, so I knelt down next to him and asked what happened.
“He bit me,” Hack replied, staring at nothing.
“Who bit you?” I pressed.
I realized that asking questions about how he got injured probably wasn’t the smartest topic at the moment, but if there was some nut running around biting people, I wanted to know who it was.
“Wino what allus hangs out in the alley,” Hack mumbled. “Somethin’s wrong with him. Just walked up and bit me while I was havin’ a smoke.”
Hack’s smoking was epic. He would chain smoke three cigarettes in the time it would take most smokers to finish one. His real name was Scott, but his continuous coughing, which would sometimes get so bad the customers would complain, is what earned him the dubious honor of his nickname.
I was about to ask Hack what he meant by “something being wrong with the wino who bit him,” when I heard a low moan behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and immediately shot to my feet with a yelp when I saw what was standing at the back door. It was Ed, a homeless guy who always hung around the alley behind the diner so he could rummage through the dumpster. He was just standing in the doorway, but to my growing horror, I realized that part of his face and one of his eyes was missing, and he was covered in blood. Then, Ed bared his teeth and began shuffling toward me.
Everything seemed to slow down and happen all at once. Hack let out a shrill scream, and stumbled out through the door into the counter area. I heard Roxanne scream, and I found myself grabbing a mop and shoving it against Ed’s chest to keep him away from me. Ed moaned again and tried to grab me, but thankfully the mop was keeping me just out of his reach. What the mop couldn’t keep away from me though, was the smell. Ed stunk like something that had been dead a very, very long time. I began to try and push him back toward the door, but I wasn’t making much progress, since my feet were slipping on the thick film of grease on the floor. It quickly became a back-and-forth contest of Ed trying to get around the mop, and me trying desperately to keep him away. I was also trying to deal with the fact that part of his face was missing, and it looked like his throat had been torn open. Several of his wounds looked like they had been caused by something biting chunks out of him. I was beginning to have trouble keeping the mop between us, and was even considering dropping it and taking off running, when a saucepan whizzed past my ear and smacked Ed right in the forehead, knocking him off balance. As Ed stumbled backward clumsily, I took full advantage of the change in fortune and shoved the mop hard against his chest. After several forceful thrusts, I finally pushed him through the back door, which I immediately slammed shut and locked. When I turned and put my back against the door to catch my breath, Roxanne was standing in the middle of the kitchen, eyes wide, lips parted, and breast heaving, with another sauce pan poised and ready to throw. I’d never seen anyone look more beautiful than she did at that moment.
“I think I love you,” I blurted without stopping to think.
Roxanne dropped the pan, put her hands over her face, and burst into tears. It was the reaction I should have expected, but it was still a little bit of an ego-killer.
I started to go over and put my arms around her, but a loud thump against the back door made me spin back around in surprise. The door was thick, wood sheathed with steel, and had a strong lock, but was shaking a little, and it sounded like Ed was throwing his whole body against it. Despite being unnerving, the door looked like it would hold, and all appearances were that we were safe for the moment. I turned back to Roxanne, who was trying to regain her composure.
“Where’s Hack?” I asked.
“He ran out through the front door,” she said, her voice shaking a little. “He just ran away and did not look back”.
“Oh, son of a mother grabber,” I said, and ran for the door into the counter area. It had just occurred to me that the front door was unlocked.
I ran out into the dining area, vaulted the counter, and twisted door’s lock so hard I bruised my fingers. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, I reach over to the nearby window and flipped the sign around to ‘Closed.’ I suddenly realized the front door was mostly glass, so I unlocked it, pulled the security shutter down, bolted it into place, and then turned the lock once again. As I turned around, I realized there were two customers sitting at the counter; an elderly couple who had driven up in an RV about an hour earlier. They were about halfway through their meal, but they had stopped eating and were staring at me apprehensively. I couldn’t really blame them.
“We gonna be allowed to leave when we’re ready, boy?” the old guy asked, frowning at me. He was a tough looking man who had obviously stayed in shape as he aged.
I normally don’t take it well when someone calls me ‘boy’, but I had a few more important things to worry about at that moment.
“Bill!” scolded the old lady, a pleasant looking woman whose gray hair made her look grandmotherly.
“Quiet, Edna”, said Bill, still looking at me. “Well, boy, you gonna answer me?”
“Oh, uh, yes sir,” I stammered. “We just had a little problem with a homeless guy out back, so I’m keeping the door locked until the police arrive.”
Bill and Edna looked at each other, then back at me with worried expressions.
“Did that fella who just ran outta here get bit by any chance?” asked Bill.
I glanced at Roxanne, who had followed me out of the kitchen, and nodded.
Bill and Edna looked at each other again, and I could see fear in Edna’s eyes.
“If you know something, please tell us,” said Roxanne.
“Well, I can tell ya it ain’t good,” said Bill, pushing his plate away. “We’re comin’ back from a trip back east, and the last few days we kept meeting other people that that was travelin’ in different directions, all who seemed to have the same story. Seems folks that got the new shot for the Shakes go all crazy and start biting, and even eating, other people.” Bill shook his head, and the lines on his face deepened as he frowned. “We didn’t believe it at first, but then we saw it happen at a rest stop the other night. There was these folks that came in, all crammed into a car, and one of them was pretty sick. He was just a kid, maybe ten or eleven. They was going around asking for any medicine or bandages that anyone could spare, and said some crazy guy had bit the kid a day or so before. ’Course, I wandered over to have a look, since I was a medic in the war, and thought maybe I might could do somethin’. Problem was, when I got there, I see this kid laying in the back seat of this car and, I gotta tell ya, there was no helpin’ him. I been in combat, an’ I’ve seen lotsa dead people, and I got to where I could just look and tell when someone was dead. And this kid? He was dead.”
Bill looked over at Edna again, and then turned to face us. He looked grim, and Edna looked pale.
“Only thing is, before I could say anything, this kid, this dead kid, he sits up and he’s got these dead milky lookin’ eyes.” Bill shuddered and took a sip from his water glass.
“So he wasn’t dead?” I asked confused.
“You ain’t listenin’, boy. He was dead. I know when folks is dead; it’s like there’s a light’s gone out in ‘em, and this kid looked just like that. But then he opened his eyes, and the light was still gone, but there was somethin’ else there.”
“What do you mean something else?”
“I dunno, never seen the like before. Wasn’t right though.”
“So then what happened?” I asked.
Bill looked me straight in the eye, and I felt a chill run down my spine.
“That boy turned to his Ma and took a bite right out of the side of her neck,” he said, “and he chewed that chunk of his Ma up and swallowed it, and then he went to take another bite, and all the time she’s screaming and his family is all grabbin’ him and trying to pull him off his Ma.”
“What did you do?” asked Roxanne in a hushed voice.
“I got Edna into the RV, and we got the hell outta there,” Bill replied, “and it looks like we ought to be gettin’ outta here too.”
“We need gas, Bill,” said Edna. “The tank ain’t but half full.”
“We can get gas down the road. We got to stay ahead of this.” Bill looked at Roxanne, “What do we owe you?”
While Bill paid the check, I went over to the window and looked out toward the parking lot, and further out to the road. The diner was a few hundred yards from the bottom of the freeway off-ramp, and I noticed a few cars on the elevated portion, but not one on the exit or feeder roads. I could see a few people up the road, but they seemed to just be milling around aimlessly. I could also hear some sirens in the distance, and twice, what sounded like gunshots, though I wasn’t sure. That thought reminded me Roxanne had dialed 911 some time ago, and still no one had shown up. I went to the phone and dialed 911, but all I got was a recorded message telling me to stay on the line and, ‘My call would be answered by the first available operator’.
I noticed Bill and Edna were heading for the door, so I hung up the phone and went over to unlock it. As I turned the lock, Bill darted a glance at Roxanne, and then turned to me.
“You two might want to think about getting out, too,” he said. “This is gonna get worse before it gets better. You might want to come with us.”
I glanced at Roxanne, but she shook her head.
“I think we’ll wait here,” I said. “Somebody will come and straighten this out.” I hope, I added mentally.
“Suit yourself then,” Bill replied. “I wish you both luck.”
I raised the security shutter, and Bill and Edna walked out of the diner, down the steps, and into the parking lot. Unsure what could possibly happen next, I quickly closed the shutter and locked the door. As I turned back to Roxanne, I heard a shrill scream come from the parking lot. I ran over to the nearest window and looked out. Bill was on the ground struggling with someone, and Edna was standing over them both, pulling with all her might against Bill’s attacker.
The attacker was Ed.
From the look of things, Bill and Edna almost made it to their RV when Ed, who was apparently on the other side of the RV, had come around the vehicle and attacked Bill. Then, I noticed several other figures converging on Bill and Edna. My first thought was that they were coming to help, but when the first of the group reached the struggling trio, they either grabbed Edna, or simply fell onto the clashing forms of Bill and Ed. I heard Edna give a long wail of agony, and saw blood spray into the air as she was born to the ground by her attackers.
I started toward the door with every intention of going out to help, but Roxanne grabbed my arm.
“Ian, No! You cannot help them, and you will be killed too,” she whispered.
“I can’t just leave them out there!” I said, pulling away from her.
“Ian, please do not go. There are too many of those things, and you cannot help them,” Roxanne pleaded.
I dared to look out the window again, and almost vomited. Roxanne was right; there were now about thirty of those creatures, and they were all over Bill and Edna. Bill was completely hidden by his attackers, who seemed to be tearing at him with their bare hands and teeth. I could see that he wasn’t moving, and I was sure he was dead, but Edna was not. Several of the attackers had her pinned down on her left side. I could see her legs sticking out of the pile, and they were kicking, almost as if she was trying to run. As I watched, unable to look away, her legs slowed, and then mercifully stopped.
I turned away from the window and found Roxanne standing behind me with her hand to her mouth, tears running down her face. I put my arms around her, felt her tense up and then relax, and I gently led her away from the window. As we reached the counter, she started to sob quietly. I sat Roxanne down on one of the stools, and was just about to sit next to her, when it occurred to me that several people were, at that very moment, attacking and quite possibly eating, two people right outside, and we were in full view. All that needed to happen was for one of them to look in our direction.
I jumped up, turned off the lights, closed all the window blinds, and started thinking in terms of how safe we were. The diner itself was a converted train car, so it was made of metal, and had windows high enough that they couldn’t be reached easily from the ground. The kitchen was cinder block, with only two windows, which were also set high up in the walls. No one was going to reach those from the outside without a ladder. The back door was wood, sheathed in metal, and the front sported a strong security shutter that could only be opened from the inside, so I thought we were reasonably safe.
Now, all we had to was wait until help arrived.
I went over and sat down next to Roxanne, who had stopped crying, but was now staring blankly at the coffee maker behind the counter.
“Roxanne, are you ok?” I asked and then tried to ignore the part of my mind that said, AAANNNDD the Stupid Question of the Year Award goes to…
“Who are they, Ian? What are they, and why are they doing this?”
“I don’t know. Bill mentioned that people who got the vaccine for Shakes went crazy. Maybe it creates some kind of toxin in the body and affects the brain; makes them go crazy.”
“Do you really think that is it?”
“It must be something like that. What else could it be?” I asked. I was haunted by of the images of Ed, and the wounds in his neck. Could someone take that kind of damage and still live?
Roxanne shivered. “Bill said the boy he saw was dead, and then he started moving again.”
“Roxanne, that’s crazy. How could that be happening? Dead people don’t just get up and walk around like that,” I said, but I was getting a bad feeling.
“There were some stories on the news about this in other places too,” Roxanne stated. “Did you see them?”
“No, my room doesn’t have a TV, so I haven’t been able to keep up on what’s happening,” I said. And Ralph has the hots for you, so of course you get a TV in your room, I added mentally.
“Well, there were reports of attacks and cannibalism in a lot of different countries, and they said it was the ones who took the Shakes vaccine that were getting sick, and then going crazy.”
“Ok, whatever the reason, those people out there are dangerous, and we have to figure out what we’re going to do.” I looked around the room. “This place is pretty safe, so maybe we should stay here and see if the police can get the situation under control.”
“But, what if they cannot, Ian?” asked Roxanne. “We do not have a very big police force.”
“Well, then the National Guard and the Military will move in and…” my voice trailed off as a horrible realization hit me.
“What is it Ian?”
I took a deep breath and tried to fight down the rising dread.
“Ian! Answer me!” Roxanne demanded, leaning toward me.
“Roxanne, right after I got out of the Navy, all military personnel were ordered to take the Shakes vaccine. No one had a choice, and I’m pretty sure the National Guard units were among the first, since they would be the primary units called up in case of an emergency.”
“But that means…the whole military could be sick.” Roxanne put her hand to her mouth.
“And that means, not only is it likely we don’t have a large force of well-organized, heavily armed people to help us, we might have to deal with a large number of sick people out there,” I added.
Things were not looking good.
Terra Necro: Tipping Point, by Michael Crockett
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