How It Ends: Tales of the Viral Apocalypse
Four complete and unabridged tales of global pandemics set in the present and in the future.
Of Inner Demons
Synopsis: Amidst the collapse of society caused by a neuropathic brain virus that causes violent psychosis, a discharged U.S. Marine sergeant seeks to prove his worth in order to free himself from his painful past, only to discover his path to salvation will be tested at the hands of a young woman and the serial killer that is stalking her.
Hunter stood outside in the warmth of the summer’s afternoon pumping gas and gazing at the building that was not only a gas station but also a food mart and a laundromat. A slight smile came to his face concerning the laundromat part of the building. It reminded him a bit of Caneadea, where his local service station was a three business endeavor, too. However, his station washed cars instead of clothes. The gas tank was almost full when the beat-up white pickup truck pulled up to the side of the building. Two men inside the vehicle and three in the bed exited the truck in a hurry, and they were armed with what appeared to be clubs and pipes. Hunter knew it was trouble before he saw the men, just by the way the pickup made its approach into the parking area. One of the men with a sinister grin pointed a club at Hunter as the motley group entered the store. Hunter could have made a hurried exit but the vehicle wasn’t quite refueled. As a precaution, Hunter removed his P320-M17 from the SUV and placed it into the empty leg holster he was wearing.
There was a clamor inside the store, and then some shouts followed by some crashes, a shotgun blast, and finally three pistol shots. Hunter hadn’t observed any of the men that had gone inside carrying a shotgun. The blast had most likely come from the store attendant defending the business. The three shots were probably in retaliation, and Hunter was certain the outcome didn’t favor the store worker. The crew came out hooting and hollering in celebration. One man wearing a green colored cap was clutching a shotgun, raising it in the air in cheer. Another man shattered the front window by striking it heavily with a large piece of pipe. Hunter had his hand on his pistol as soon as he heard the shots. He was hoping to avoid trouble but that was not going to happen. After the window shattered the group turned their sights on him. Trouble had found Hunter. One scruffy looking man shouted in an aggressive tone, “Soldier boy. We’re taking your truck,” and then pulled a pistol. The scruffy man pulled first, so Hunter shot him twice center mass—the second shot directly to the heart. The shotgun toting, cap wearing man attempted to draw down on Hunter in response, but Hunter responded with deadly force and cut the man down before he could get the barrel pointed. Killing two out of the group didn’t seem to deter the remainders from coming at him. With pistol aimed Hunter shouted a firm, “Don’t!” Except the three did not yield to Hunter’s warning, so Hunter shot the lead aggressor, who was coming forward with a raised piece of pipe. This time Hunter did not use deadly force, instead he shot the man in the leg. With three men out of commission the other two assailants decided to cut their losses and flee, leaving their wounded companion behind.
Hunter kicked the pipe a good distance away from the man’s reach but the belligerent and agitated male seemed to be possessed at doing Hunter harm. Cursing Hunter with expletives that he would never repeat, the man rose with bloodied, injured leg and attempted a lunge. Hunter returned with a punch to the disturbed man’s face that knocked the attacker unconscious to the pavement. Hunter could have gotten into his SUV and driven away, except he was concerned about the store clerk. He went to check and Hunter had been correct. The outcome hadn’t favored the store worker. The young man was dead. As he exited with cellphone to ear, attempting to call authorities to report what happened, Hunter caught a glimpse of the white pickup truck racing off the road and into the lot. The driver was purposely coming toward him. Hunter dashed out of the way just in time. The truck passed under the service island between the two pump stations and slammed into the building between the coin laundry and store entry, crushing the front end of the vehicle. With pistol in hand Hunter checked the condition of the driver and passenger. The two were either dead or unconscious but clearly incapacitated, and both were unmistakably suffering head trauma from the impact. Hunter didn’t care. He got in his SUV and drove away, making no attempt to make a second phone call to get through to the police. If authorities wanted to question him on what transpired, he was certain they would be able to locate him through the credit card he had used to purchase the gas. Instead, he called his mother but she did not answer. He left a message that he would be to her within three hours.
Synopsis: On the outskirts of Tokyo Prefecture, two rival yakuza clans battle each other over an antiretroviral for a zombie virus while contending with a horde of the living dead in a gruesome, action packed tale of revenge and escape.
Norito Yamamoto stood transfixed on the dead Nobu and Yoshio who lay near the elevator, unceremoniously having been tossed aside like the dead, useless corpses that they were. However, Yamamoto was not staring at the dead bodies out of some erotic attraction; he was observing them with such intensity because he thought he had seen one move. As he watched keenly he saw Nobu twitch for the second time and became alarmed.
“Hey, I think one of them is still alive,” Yamamoto told his partner Koji Hamasaki, as he moved a few paces down the hall.
“Do you see him breathing?” Hamasaki asked.
“No,” Yamamoto replied.
Hamasaki warned, “Then get back over here before Boss Saito sees you have left your post.”
Yamamoto ignored Hamasaki’s advice and moved to Nobu’s bloodied corpse.
“But I saw this one moving.”
“No way,” Hamasaki told him. “They’re dead.”…
The junior yakuza member was not convinced that the slain Tohno member was truly dead. He knelt down to check Nobu’s body.
“I’m telling you,” Yamamoto stated with certainty, “This one moved.”
Hamasaki responded, “Then just stick him in the head with your katana, and get back over here before you get us in trouble.”
As Yamamoto drew his sword from its scabbard, Nobu’s eyes popped open startling him.
“Shit!” Yamamoto exclaimed, “He is alive.”
Nobu grabbed onto Yamamoto’s leg and bit into him. Yamamoto cried out and repeatedly stabbed Nobu in the torso in an attempt to get the Tohno junior to release his grip. Nobu, however, was unaffected by the multiple piercings and pulled Yamamoto down, and bit into his face. The young yakuza let out a wail as he tried to shake Nobu loose.
Down the hall Hamasaki stood paralyzed with a terrified look on his face as he watched his clan brother being eaten. Then the corpse of Yoshio awakened and joined in at tearing and devouring chunks of Yamamoto’s flesh.
Norito Yamamoto flailed but didn’t scream as the meat was being ripped from his torso because his throat had been torn open. Hamasaki wanted to help, but all he could do was clasp his hand to his mouth in an attempt to prevent himself from vomiting. Yoshio turned from his chewing and glared at Hamasaki.
Planet of the Piranhas
Synopsis: Forced to abandon Mars Station, a NASA terraforming team returns home only to find that the world they left behind is now inhabited by a new species of sapiens… A kind that hungers for humans.
Erin stepped on the fuel pedal. The vehicle accelerated and slammed through the small group sending mutants thudding and smashing off the vehicle’s heavy-duty grille guard. Zeke looked out the back window and saw the remainder giving chase.
“Jake, they’re following,” Zeke warned.
What was behind them was the least of their problems. Ahead was a larger group, and they were charging toward the oncoming truck.
“We won’t make that,” Erin advised, but Jake was looking down at his map. “Sir?” she spoke louder, to get his attention.
“Turn,” Jake directed, not even looking up from the map in his lap.
All Erin saw was desert.
“Where?” she wanted to know.
“Anywhere!” Jake ordered.
Erin down shifted and swerved right into the desert, and toward an apartment complex in the distance.
Bouncing over the rough terrain of an unforgiving desert, the truck passed through a housing subdivision and onto a dusty dirt road. After traveling for several miles, a stadium complex came into view as they moved further toward Las Vegas proper.
JJ stuck his head between the front crew cabin seats.
“Sam Boyd Stadium,” he announced.
“Which way?” Jake asked him.
JJ paused, trying to get his bearings.
“Thought you were based at Nellis?” Jake asked him.
“I was. Doesn’t mean I know every back street in Vegas… Go left, that’ll take us to Boulder Highway.”
“Ah, Jake,” Zeke’s voice rose from the cargo area. “I hate to be bearer of bad news, but have you checked your watch.”
Jake responded, “I know.”
Elmer was curious about Zeke’s comment. “Colonel? Is there something we should know?”
“You weren’t listening,” he told the NASA commander.
Elmer wasn’t going to accept that as an answer. “Tell me again.”
“Those creatures—the piranhas. They’re us.”
“Are you trying to tell—”
“That’s what I’m saying. The disease didn’t kill us, it changed us.”
“Then the Japanese were right?” Mamiko announced.
“How’s that?” Scott asked.
Mamiko replied, “Commander Suzuki at the Miyazawa Station. He told Commander Taylor there were rumors that the virus was altering DNA. But I told Commander Taylor such rapid evolutionary change was impossible. How could this have happened?”
“There were rumors,” Scott explained. “Terrorists. Our own government. Some conspiracy nuts claimed it was the crashed Mars team that brought it back.”
Mamiko rebutted his absurd postulations, “That’s ridiculous. There was nothing on that flight that could cause such a drastic alteration in DNA.”
Jake enlightened her. “Well, doctor that was never confirmed. There wasn’t even enough time to identify the virus let alone its origin.”
A Time for Trees
Synopsis: As the military tries to contain an ecological event that is transforming humanity into murderous tree-like creatures, a U.S. Deputy Marshal and his scientist brother struggle with a decision. Flee Manhattan or stay and sacrifice everything in hopes of saving the city they’ve vowed to protect.
Peter’s team had been on duty for 28 hours, and had completed the final pick up by 8:40 am on day four, the first morning of the two-day heatwave. His convoy had just crossed over the Queensboro Bridge and were nearing Checkpoint Queensboro Echo, the checkpoint into Manhattan, when they drove head on into a firefight. The checkpoint was being overrun by Branchers. Lending aid to their fellow Joint Force Headquarters comrades, the added firepower of their M2A1 .50 caliber heavy machine guns mounted on their vehicles helped to suppress the incursion. Though temporarily repelled, the checkpoint was a complete loss, and all but two of the checkpoint personnel had not survived the attack. As Peter’s squad pulled away, the regrouping Branchers followed. The convoy headed south via the FDR Drive to Combat Outpost Savior at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport on Pier 6 in lower Manhattan. It was the extraction point for all priority evacuees.
When they came to East 10th Street and the John V. Lindsay East River Park that runs parallel to the FDR, a giant root sprang up through the roadway directly in their path. Peter was in the lead vehicle, and his driver was able to quickly maneuver around the rising tentacle. The second and third vehicles were not so lucky. Peter radioed to the other Humvees in the convoy about the rising root but they were not as quick to react to the obstacle. The second Humvee swerved sideways into the rising root. The third vehicle stopped just behind the second avoiding a crash. However, the thick tendril came slamming down crushing the second Humvee as it grabbed onto the third. The occupants of Humvee two were killed instantly from the forceful crush, while the third Humvee was being repeatedly pummeled from side to side onto the pavement, pulverizing it. Vehicle four attempted to back up, but Branchers had swarmed onto the roadway and overwhelmed them. Peter’s vehicle was the only Humvee unscathed. There was nothing he could do for the others. Then he saw the large root turn toward his vehicle. The Humvee turret gunner opened fire. As the root came down, Peter’s Humvee sped clear. The root attempted to follow, but it couldn’t extend its tendril fast enough to latch onto the Humvee.
The Branchers were in pursuit and they were jumping onto the roadway from every direction. Peter’s wife and son were frightened beyond anything they had ever experienced. Peter tried to calm his family down, except the noise from the turret gunner’s .50 caliber machine gun that was clearing the road ahead, and the NYARNG specialist talking loudly on the radio giving a sitrep to Combat Outpost Savior, did not help the situation. Peter promised he would get them safely to the helicopter. When they arrived to the heliport the helo was still two minutes out. Peter figured they had 3 or 4 minutes before the helipad would be swarming with tree humans. Even with all the soldiers guarding the pier entrance, he knew it wasn’t going to be enough. Peter was right. As the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk transport helicopter landed, the Branchers began their assault.
Artwork by John Becaro, Mark Eugene and Daniel Eskridge.
Design by TS Alan.
Edited by Kevin Fern & Paul Wiese.