From the best storytellers of Phalanx Press comes a frightening tale of Armageddon
It spread fast- no time to understand it- let alone learn how to fight it. Once it reached you, it was too late. All you could do is run. Rumored safe zones and potential for a cure drifted across the populace, forcing tough decisions to be made. They say only the strong survive. Well, they forgot about the smart, the inventive and the lucky.
Follow five different groups from across the U.S.A. as they make their way to what could be America’s last stand in the Lone Star State.
Brazilian Highlands Rainforest – 25 March
As the helicopter orbited the remote village, Riley Erickson could see fires burning on the ground. Smoke billowed, forming thick clouds of black smoke that blocked out the sunlight. She looked down at the file in her hand and opened it, once again examining the photos of mangled bodies and faces frozen in rage. She looked up, startled when a man in a khaki jacket to her front touched her arm. He smiled at her and pointed at his wrist.
“We’ll be on the ground in a few minutes,” he said. “What exactly are we after here, Doc?”
She pursed her lips and put away the folder. “I’m not sure, a few days ago, reports started coming in that people in this village were acting erratically. The Government thought it might be another rebellion or something to do with the drug trade so they sent in teams. It took them a day to regain control of the village. After they did, they noticed some of the survivors continued to get ill, and violent.”
He looked up at her suspiciously. The man, Johnathan Reid, wasn’t a doctor or any sort of medical professional, he was part of a State Department Personal Security Detail. Riley had tried to refuse the extra baggage, but at the last minute before her flight, her superiors had insisted the man tag along. And now, looking at the updated file information she’d received on the ground at the Nova Republica Airfield, she knew why. Whatever was happening deep in the Brazilian rainforest was getting worse. It was her job to find out what it was.
“Is it a new drug?” Reid asked.
She shrugged and looked at him. “Could be, or an infectious disease, maybe just another uprising, it’s too early to say.”
Riley reached down for her medical bag and removed a paper mask that she snapped over her mouth and passed an identical one to Johnathan. The bodyguard held the mask like it was a tissue. He looked at her and asked, “Is this really necessary?”
Riley nodded. “Until we’re sure it’s not infectious, we should be cautious.”
Johnathon shrugged and put the mask on but let it hang around his neck. The helicopter was on the final approach and he readied himself next to the door. Seconds after the landing gear made contact with the ground, the door slid open and Johnathan stepped outside. He turned back to face her. “Get your sample and we get out.”
She nodded, but Johnathan kept his eyes on her. “I have to know that you understand,” he said. “This bird will stay running. Meet your contact, get the blood samples and we go, it isn’t safe here—and I’m not just talking about whatever it is making these people nuts. There are over a hundred flavors of criminals in this jungle, and I’m not eager to meet any of them.”
Losing patience at being spoken to like a child, Riley moved up in the seat and pushed past him. She stepped into the humid air and walked away from the landing pad carrying her backpack over her left arm. As she walked, she searched the surroundings. She saw men in olive green uniforms setting fire to buildings, while people were herded together in small, confined crowds under armed guard. She’d seen similar overreactions in the Congo. Government forces there quelled entire villages to put down some perceived outbreak. Easily treated things like Cholera were mistaken for Ebola and hundreds of lives were lost in the ensuing panic. At the end of one of the masses, she saw the man she was looking for, a Brazilian medical chief.
Paulo Aguirre was tall and middle-aged, and his silver hair hung down over dark, brown skin. He was standing near the edge of the civilians, speaking into a cell phone, but as he saw her approach he ended the call and hastily approached her. “Doctor Erickson, I hope the trip was kind to you,” he said.
Riley looked past the man to the rounded-up villagers. “What’s going on here?” she asked. “Why are you holding them like that?”
Paulo frowned. “We’ve failed to contain it. These people will be moved to quarantine, but until we have transportation, we have to keep them in small manageable groups in case one is infected. We can’t risk one infecting all of them.”
Turning her head, she pointed to the burning homes. “And the fire?”
“The military has ordered the entire village be burned, even the dead.”
“What exactly is it you are trying to prevent the spread of?” she asked growing frustrated at the treatment of innocent people. “Where are the samples?”
Paulo looked around him then stepped closer to her. “There is more you should know. Please follow me.” The doctor turned and quickly stepped away toward a row of covered bodies near the edge of the village. Apprehensive now, Riley looked back to make sure Johnathan was close by. The large bodyguard hadn’t spoken, but he was shadowing her, sticking close behind her, his eyes scanning for threats. She could see he was nervous about being on the ground, and now having seen the danger firsthand, she was feeling guilty for blowing off his warning. He looked down at her and nodded, okaying her to follow the doctor.
The man was kneeling over the row of bodies and he pulled back a long white sheet revealing the faces of four men, all of them clearly not native to the village. The bodies had blood seeping from the eyes and ears, gunshot wounds to their heads. “Who are they?” she asked.
Paulo shook his head. “I don’t know, but these two are Korean, and the other men are Iranian—all of their papers say they are Lebanese.”
“Why would you think they were Iranian?”
Pointing to one of the dead men, Paulo said, “Because he told me before the soldiers killed him. He was early symptomatic when we arrived, but soon his behavior changed and he attacked my staff.”
Riley pointed at the bodies. “It doesn’t look like any disease killed these men. It looks like your soldiers did the killing.”
Paulo clenched his jaw, causing Johnathan to move closer. “You don’t understand, they were dangerous.”
She shook off his comment and looked around the nearby area. “Where are the rest of your people, the rest of your staff?” Riley asked.
Paulo shook his head and looked away. “Doctor Erickson, why are these men in Central Brazil? Why were they here?” he asked, ignoring the question and pointing to the bodies of the dead foreigners.
A scream, followed by several gunshots, erupted on the far side of the village. Riley turned to move toward it, but Johnathan stepped in front of her, blocking her path. “It’s okay,” Paulo said. “It’s one of the containment groups.”
“How is that okay?” Riley asked, her tone turning harsh as more gunfire filled the air.
“If anyone in one of the groups shows signs of violence, the soldiers will shoot them.”
Disgusted, Riley tried to move toward the shooting. “You’re executing people for being sick?” she shouted.
Johnathan reached out and stopped her. “Doctor, the sample. Please, we need to go.”
Paulo overhearing the large man, moved quickly to a set of boxes on the ground near the bodies. “Yes, of course, the samples. And you should take this too,” he said returning and handing Riley an olive green case.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s filled with notes, things these men had it in their possession. I don’t know the language, but perhaps you can get help with it.”
A woman in a nearby group screamed and attacked another civilian next to her. A soldier raised his rifle to take the pair out as more people rose from the group and overwhelmed him. Other nearby soldiers panicked and fired into the group, small clusters of villagers began to scream and broke up as the soldiers fired at the fleeing people. No longer debating, Johnathan grabbed her by the arm and turned her toward the helicopter, pushing her ahead. She began to protest that she needed to get more information from Paulo but was cut short.
Riley screamed as a round zipped past her and hit the Brazilian doctor just above the right eye. Johnathan pushed her into a crouch and rushed her toward the waiting helicopter. As they ran, she could see that a mob of people was chasing after them. She sprinted and reached the open door. Behind her, she heard Johnathan’s weapon fire. Turning back she realized her bodyguard had turned and was firing at the attackers.
They were moving quickly, some running directly at him trying to tackle him to the ground. He fought hard, swinging with his left hand as he fired into their bodies point blank with the handgun. He continued moving backward as he fought until he was in the opening of the door, screaming at the pilots to take off. He reloaded his weapon and continued firing as the helicopter left the ground and circled over the village. Looking down, Riley could see that the place was lost. There were no more neatly arranged groups of villagers waiting to be quarantined. Instead, she saw masses of bodies pouncing and chasing after panicked soldiers.
Johnathan slammed the cabin door shut and fell back into his seat. “What the hell was that?” he shouted.
“I don’t know. You saw what they were doing, they were executing the infected. What would you do if you saw your family members and neighbors murdered?”
Johnathan let out a sadistic laugh and holstered his pistol. “I think we saw two different things, Doc. I saw some rabid-ass people with bloodlust, they were out of their bodies crazy.” He stopped and adjusted his shirt and looked back at her. “Did you get what you needed?”
She nodded, then looked at his arm. There was a trickle of blood moving down his elbow. “You’re hurt,” she stated.
Johnathan straightened his arm, looking at the cut on his right bicep. He removed a bandana from his pocket and tied it around the wound. “It’s just a scratch. I’ll get it looked at when we get back to DC.”