“We strongly caution viewers that the footage about to be broadcast is of a highly graphic and unsettling nature.”
The blonde anchor glanced nervously off-camera, as if there were a gun pointed at his head, then gazed back into the lens.
“I’d like to remind our audience that it has never been the policy of this station to panic or unduly alarm our viewership in bringing such events to public attention, or exploit or sensationalize any such footage we may receive. That said, the videotape we’re about to present is uncensored and unedited in hopes that viewers might better prepare themselves for what is happening in the eastern portion of the country and which, by all reliable indicators, may spread our way in coming weeks.
“This footage comes to us from our affiliate station in Chicago and was shot by W.N.C. cameraman Dennis Kabrich in the neighboring community of Elmhurst. Once again, what you are about to witness is real and is attributed to the so-called ‘Wormwood’ or ‘Yellowseed’ virus, first reported near the town of Willard, Pennsylvania, just two short months ago. This footage is of an extremely graphic nature and viewer discretion is strongly advised.”
With that, the cautions ceased and the videotape rolled.
“We need to start making plans,” Rudy Cheng told his wife later in bed, nudging her out of a warm drowse. “We need to start getting ready for this thing.”
Aimee propped herself up on an elbow. “Rudy, Chicago is almost two thousand miles away. They’ll figure out how to stop it before it gets much further.”
He flipped himself on his back and gazed at the ceiling. “I wish I could believe that.”
“That news report must have been something to tie you in knots like this.”
“It was. I don’t know whether to wish you’d seen it or be grateful you didn’t.”
“Well you know how television can be. They like to play things up, make them look bigger than they actually are. What they didn’t show you is how normal things are a block or two away. You only saw what they wanted you to see.”
He nodded, thinking of the pile of bodies and the line of gunners on the roof.
“This looked like the apocalypse.”
She laughed softly in the dark. “People have been seeing the apocalypse for two thousand years.”
Against his closed eyelids, a dead man came shambling out of a dingy garage and disintegrated in a storm of gunfire, taking a screaming soldier with him.
“This looked pretty convincing.”
The bedroom lapsed into silence.
“What have you been doing all night?” she finally asked.
“Watching the news. Thinking about what I’ll do when this thing finally shows up.”
“If this thing shows up,” she amended, touching a finger to his lips.
“If,” he allowed, though not believing it. Aside from the Chicago video, more snapshots of the epidemic were surfacing, opening up like new doors to Hell. It didn’t matter if you called it Wormwood or Yellowseed, it wasn’t the sort of thing that just petered out of its own volition. It had a maw the size of Texas and wasn’t likely to stop chewing until there was nothing left but silent earth and rotting dead.
“What sorts of plans have you been making?” Aimee asked, though hesitantly.
“I drew a map of the neighborhood,” Rudy told her.
“Maybe I’ll show it to some of the neighbors tomorrow,” he decided. “See if anyone else has given this serious thought.”
In his first published novel, Michael James McFarland draws an unforgettable portrait of Quail Street, whose residents have joined together to survive an emerging epidemic. Their initial plans, threatened by widespread panic, fall to pieces with the arrival of the virus itself and, pitted against one another for survival, courage and cowardice become malleable — more often than not a consequence of circumstance — the characters forced to change with each new crisis.
Warning: this novel contains graphic material and is not intended for readers 17 and under.