Exclusive sneak peek at the first chapter of Tainted World. Release date is December 15, 2017, exclusively through Amazon by clicking here. The fabulous Rebecca Roberts is lending her voice talent again to the series.
The final installment of what happens when a miraculous cure ends up destroying the entire world.
When Dr. Everett Berning’s discovery of a permanent cure for drug addiction fell into the hands of Benito San Nicholas, head of the Alvarado cartel in El Salvador – the end result was the dead took over the world.
In less than 48 hours, narcotics tainted with fungal spores are deployed around the globe and mankind’s existence hangs in the balance. Nowhere is safe as the death toll mounts and the reanimated corpses aren’t the only threat.
The remaining members of Project Rememdium and the small contingent of survivors from Arkansas band together. The decision is made to flee to a safer location, yet Teresa Alvarado had other intentions. Once in the air, hell-bent on finding Benito San Nicholas and killing him for what he’s done, Teresa Alvarado forced the pilot to take them to her native El Salvador.
Will Teresa’s own personal vendetta actually offer hope to Dr. Berning and the rest of the world?
Or will the dangerous jungles of El Salvador be the place where all hope is lost and they take their final breaths?
MIKE BAILEY STRUGGLED TO OPEN HIS EYES. The lids were heavy and seemed as though sealed shut with glue. Every part of his body ached like he’d been beaten head to toe with a baseball bat. He tried, but couldn’t recall, any difficulties during his last shift. Did he arrest Kirk Sorrell’s drunken ass again, struggling to get him cuffed and booked? No, there wasn’t a memory of dealing with the old moonshiner. Did he drink too much when he arrived home? No, he didn’t remember having any beers. Why the hell was he so sore?
A weird noise caught his attention. The steady drip drip drip of water didn’t make sense. He’d just had Russell’s Plumbing out maybe two weeks ago to fix the hot water heater at the house. Russell charged him way too much for the work performed, so if it was leaking again, Mike would insist he return and finish the job correctly.
Licking his dry lips, Mike winced. The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth which confused him. Had he bitten his tongue while sleeping? Did he have a wicked nightmare, like he used to when a child, and struggled with imaginary monsters while under the covers? Why did things seem so foggy inside his mind?
Drip. Drip. Drip.
A heavy moan startled him. It was too low and deep to be from his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Collette. Besides, she had gone with several friends on a cruise for the holidays. Had she returned early and snuck into Mike’s bed to surprise him for Christmas? Maybe that’s why he was so sore. He’d spent the night having wild sex while half asleep and yet didn’t seem to remember any of it.
What was the awful smell? If Collette bought some cheap, duty-free perfume, she picked out a horrible scent.
Forcing his brain to rise up from the fogginess, Mike whispered, “Collette?”
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Managing to force his eyes open, it took several seconds to focus and adjust to the surrounding darkness. Strange shapes appeared, and Mike Bailey suddenly had full clarity.
He wasn’t at home in his bed.
Collette wasn’t beside him.
The moan came from his lips.
He was in the Humvee, hanging upside down, tethered by the seatbelt cutting into his lap. Early streaks of the sun touched the edges of the morning, and Mike’s stomach lurched when it dawned on him the drips weren’t from water.
They were from his head, and the smell wafted from a dead body inches from his face.
The rush of memories made him dizzy and nauseated. Opening his mouth, he puked so hard stars appeared. His vomit covered the ruined face of the corpse below him in a wet splash of stomach juices.
Panic tore through his chest while he struggled to unlatch the seatbelt. He tried to hang on to the suicide handle so he wouldn’t fall on top of the dead woman, but the weight of his body was too much. The second he landed on top of her, his jacket was coated with tacky blood and hot vomit. He scrambled out of the busted window.
“Shit! Oh, shit! I touched her blood! Not good, Mike. Not good!”
Shedding his coat, he tossed it onto the pavement. He didn’t care about the cold air swirling around or the fact he didn’t have another. He tried to remember what the doctor back up in the cave said about transmission of the infection but came up blank. His head throbbed, and he felt dizzy.
Blood dripped into his eyes, making it difficult to see. Wiping his hands on his pants in case residual liquid remained he reached up and touched his forehead. A gash several inches long started in the hairline, spreading all the way down to his eyebrow. Mike sighed long and hard, grateful the wound was from a good smack against the steering wheel and not from a bite. He needed to find something to use as cover before the scent alerted the dead.
Bending down, he looked through the broken glass into the interior of the Humvee. He didn’t want to climb back inside to search for a towel or cloth, but he had little choice. Squinting, a hint of blue and pink resting next to the dead woman’s outstretched hands caught his attention. Mike’s mouth went dry. He remembered what it was and how it got inside the vehicle.
“Jackson, where the hell are you?” Mike whispered, fully aware he wouldn’t hear an answer.
Flattening himself on the ground, he reached in, stretching his arm as far as he could. Bile rose in the back of his throat as his fingers touched the cold, dead body. Forcing the wave of disgust down, he continued to feel around for the baby blanket. He latched onto the soft material, yanking it free.
After wrapping the cloth around his head, Mike pulled the gun from the holster on the Humvee floor and looked around. The early morning sunrise helped him view the unfamiliar surroundings. Thankfully, no other vehicles were around, and no other corpses shambled about on dead legs.
“Okay, Mike. Think. Calm down and think! Allsop was in the passenger seat, and I was drivin’. We just passed Lead Hill. The woman! We stopped to help the woman with the kid!”
Squatting back down, he peered inside the Humvee. The memories of the young woman holding a toddler no older than two while flagging them down made his heart clench. Renee. She’d said her name was Renee Cramer, and she’d run out of gas while driving toward Branson where her parents lived. She’d been walking for hours in the middle of the road, trying to keep her son quiet as she headed toward the nearest town to seek shelter and food.
Where was the child?
Why had Renee turned?
Thinking back, he couldn’t recall her displaying any signs of being ill when they picked her up and offered a ride. Mike tried but couldn’t remember her turning. The memories he latched onto were her nursing the baby after she’d downed an entire bottle of water and the smell of a dirty diaper. A vague memory of the sound of her sniffling from the backseat made him wince. He’d assumed she’d been crying. Was it possible she’d snorted something and that’s how she’d turned? She hadn’t been bleeding and rode with them for almost an hour before things went south, so that had to be the reason.
Pushing aside the disgust of looking at what once had been Renee Cramer, he studied her face. She’d been shot once, right above the left eye. He checked his weapon—he still had a full clip—which meant either Allsop or someone else put her down.
Mike stood and looked around, seeing nothing but woods and a two-lane road. No houses; no signs of life. He ruled out someone else sneaking in and putting a bullet in Renee’s head. It had to have been Allsop, so again, where was he?
The Humvee was useless now, so whatever he decided to do next would have to be on foot. Walking over to the passenger side, he noted the door was open. Streaks of dried blood covered the passenger seat and door. One of the backpacks was still inside, so he pulled it out. Food, water, extra ammunition, and a flashlight, were inside. The destroyed remains of the radio littered the cab. He removed the flashlight and scanned the interior and around the outside of the door, hoping to find a clue as to what happened to Allsop.
A piece of oddly-shaped flesh rested on the ground about two feet away from the door. His heart rate spiked as he peered closer.
It was part of an earlobe.
On instinct, his hand checked both ears. They were intact, so he glanced one final time at Renee’s corpse.
She still had both earlobes too.
“Oh, God. It has to be Jackson’s!”
With no way to communicate with anyone, no vehicle to drive, and no idea where Allsop was, he realized he had one choice: Go on foot until he found other means of transportation.
“Dammit! We should have gone to Bentonville first! Oh, God, I’ll never make it on foot. It’s too far away!”
Mike danced on the edge of hysterics. The words he’d spoken to Walter, Reed, and Kyle had come back to haunt him. I’m not turnin’ around or givin’ up until I know—for sure, without a doubt—what happened to my family. If that means I need to leave and go out on foot alone, I will.
Frozen by fear, he stood next to the Humvee, staring at the empty road looming in front of him. Was his current predicament punishment for shooting Shaun? Maybe this was Karma’s way of making him pay for the colossal mistake of taking an innocent life? Or, was it Murphy’s Law? Kyle and the others warned of the dangers of helping strangers, yet they refused to listen. During their earlier drive, the conversation with Allsop centered on that very topic. How it was wrong to turn a blind eye to others in need; that wasn’t who they were. They’d been determined not to let the events of the past week turn them into cruel, selfish monsters. Allsop and Bailey were cops, trained to protect and serve, and they weren’t ready to give that part of their lives up.
They should have. Both men were still stuck in the old world, not the new, horrible one. Each was determined to retain their former thinking, and look what it cost them?
Reed Newberry was right—splitting up and going separate ways—no matter the reason, had been a huge mistake. He wished he’d listened because if he had, he wouldn’t be standing in the middle of an empty road, alone and terrified. Thinking about Reed and the others made a lump of regret press against his chest. He’d always admired Regina Parker’s spunk and strength, secretly trying to emulate her every move. He’d failed miserably. She’d given up her life to save others, and Mike Bailey knew he would never, ever be able to achieve the same sacrifice.
The eerie silence made goosebumps appear under his shirt. Mornings in the mountains were usually quiet, but the absence of any sounds of humanity was terrifying. No distant rumbles of vehicles; no voices; no planes overhead. No radio or TV chatter. No hum from the electrical wires above his head.
How many people were left? Did the government destroy everything the walking corpses didn’t all over the United States just as they’d done in Central Arkansas? Was the quest to find his parents a foolhardy one? Yes, it was, but there was nothing he could do to change the decision. He had two choices, and they were quite simple: Stay put or move.
Other than fear, the other reason tethering his feet to the ground was Allsop. Where did he go, and why did he leave Mike alone? Did he take the toddler with him, and if so, why? Should he wait a while for Allsop to return?
A slow burn of anger ignited in his gut. Allsop—for whatever reason—left him alone in the Humvee. Jackson didn’t even attempt to help him or bind his head wound. Allsop fled, leaving Mike alone and unconscious with a dead woman inside a crashed vehicle. All the words spoken about doing the right thing, helping others, were just hollow rhetoric from Jackson.
The anger allowed him to make his decision—he’d move. If Jackson left him alone to fend for himself, then that’s what he’d do. He wouldn’t wait around to see if his former friend returned. Jackson Allsop was on his own from a choice he made, not Mike.
Following the faint yellow lines in the middle of the road, his footfalls seemed loud in the quiet morning. Alternating between scanning the forest on each side of the road for any movement, he continued forward. A green roadside marker ahead confirmed he was on Highway 14, and Ridgedale, Missouri, was twenty-five miles away.
Struggling to shake the overwhelming sense of dread, he kept walking. Ridgedale was the next big town, and though it might be crawling with the dead, there’d be a police station. He could sneak in, find some more ammunition, maybe hole up in a back room and catch some rest. Hell, maybe some of the officers were still alive and they’d offer aide to a fellow cop. They might even give him a vehicle. If not, and he arrived to find the town full of nothing but corpses, he would resort to stealing a car or truck.
With bearings back in full swing, he picked up his pace. He could do this. He had to because his parents needed him to remain strong. Images of his elderly parents huddled in the basement of their house, terrified and hungry, urged him to put one foot in front of the other. His father had cataract surgery three weeks ago and wasn’t recovering as quickly as he should. It was why he had planned on spending Christmas with them at their house rather than have them attempt the long drive to Malvern.
With renewed purpose, Mike continued to scan the surroundings for any signs of life. The sun appeared, giving him plenty of light to keep an eye out for the dead. He stopped and grabbed a bottle of water from the backpack, taking a few sips. After putting the bottle back inside, he snatched a protein bar and started eating. He’d taken three bites when a weird noise reached his ears.
Swallowing the last mouthful, he shoved the remaining bar back inside and then stood. Something red on the ground to his right caught his attention. He didn’t need to investigate—he knew it was blood.
A lot of blood.
Removing his gun, he went into cop mode. His eyes took in everything around him. The woods were empty as far as he could see, yet the more steps he took, the louder the sound grew.
The road curved left and up a small incline. Mike followed the sounds and the trail of blood, ready to take down a muncher, wishing he had a knife with him too. He worried about the noise from discharging his gun, knowing it would alert any other monsters lurking in the woods.
As he topped the incline, he saw a shoe on the side of the road.
A child’s shoe.
The anger from before at Allsop leaving him alone disappeared. His instincts took over as he ran toward the lump of clothing on the side of the road. He recognized the jacket. It was Jackson, and he wasn’t moving.
The urge to run away or find out if his friend was dead competed for control of his mind. He fought the one to flee and continued forward, unwilling to walk away and leave Jackson injured on the side of the road—or worse.
“Please be okay. Please don’t be a corpse. Please don’t make me have to kill another friend,” Mike whispered, tears rolling down his cold cheeks.
Maintaining a good five feet of space between them, Mike stepped around to the front of Jackson’s body. He gasped at the horrid sight, his mind spinning at the mess in front of him.
He didn’t take time to determine which one was chewing on the other. The mass of gore and blood between Jackson and the toddler was undistinguishable. Instead of trying to figure out who was eating who, Mike screamed, “No!” and fired. He destroyed both heads with one shot.
Unable to stop, he crumpled to the ground, retching and gagging as he fell. Never, in his whole life, had he seen anything so foul or disturbing. In that split second of time, he knew Allsop left him alone—not because he didn’t care—but because he was trying save his friend’s life. Allsop gave up his own life and turned into a monster just so Mike could survive.
His mind gridlocked. All Mike Bailey could do was crawl away on all fours, curl up into a ball, and sob on the side of the road.
This is the end, and now, I’m all alone. Please, God, forgive me for thinking it, but let Mom and Dad be dead already. Not reanimated. Dead. Oblivious. They don’t need to live in this nightmare, and for that matter, I don’t either.
With shaky fingers, Mike raised the gun. The barrel was still hot when it touched his lips. Between great sobs, he faintly registered the sound of a vehicle approaching.
He didn’t care. When the car stopped and someone jumped out, Mike didn’t even look up.
“No, don’t! Things will be okay, son! I’m here to help, not harm. I’m still alive and not part of the government, I promise.”
The voice sounded familiar—a sure sign to Mike he was hallucinating. There was no way the voice belonged to him! Even if by some slim chance the voice wasn’t a product of Mike’s imagination, it wouldn’t matter anyway. Mike was ready to go and wipe the horrors from his mind with one burst of hot lead.
“Son, put the gun down. You aren’t alone any longer. Now, neither am I, praise God! You’re hurt, but it doesn’t look like a bite, so I can help patch up the wound. Don’t let your life end on the side of the road by your own hands when salvation is mere feet away.”
The heavy sorrow in the words broke through Mike’s soul. He almost laughed at the word salvation. What a colossal joke!
Glancing up, it took his brain a few seconds to confirm the disheveled man staring at him matched the voice. “Pastor Trent? What are you doin’ here? I thought you went to West Plains with your family and the others? Are you real or a figment of my broken mind?”
A warm smile spread across the old man’s face as his shoulders sagged with relief. “Mike? Mike Bailey, is that you?”
Mike let his head nod once in agreement, pushing back the blanket to reveal his full face.
“Well, I’ll be! Haven’t been this happy in days! Am I real? Yes. I’m pastor of nothin’ anymore, but it’s me. Come on and get in. You look hungry, tired, and at the end of a dangerous rope. I’ve got a place nearby where you can rest and eat. Don’t give up now, son. Don’t. You need me, and I could use the companionship.”
Hanging his head in shame, Mike sobbed. “I can’t….I won’t….The images won’t leave my head. I’m done with all this.”
Gravel crunched, and a warm hand touched Mike’s shoulder. “You can, you will, and memories fade over time. Let’s get off this road before any of the unfortunates are drawn to the sound of the car or us jabberin’.”
Mike let Pastor Trent help him to his feet, following him to the beat-up Chevy idling in the middle of the road. “What happened to the Humvee you were drivin’?”
A shadow of sadness filled Trent’s eyes. “Same as what’s happened to most everybody. It died.”
Mike waited until inside the warm interior before saying anything else. “That’s what you call them? Unfortunates?”
Sliding behind the wheel, the old man gave Mike a weary grin. “That’s what they are—unfortunate, reanimated shells. The term is much better than zombies, don’t you agree? What could be more unfortunate than your body being controlled by the Devil himself, and you’re helpless to do a thing about it?”
Wiping the snot and tears from his chin, Mike nodded yet didn’t respond as the car passed the remains of Jackson and the kid.
Unfortunates, indeed. Then again, those of us still alive are too—unfortunates who get to witness the destruction of society.