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BOOK I

The Rising

You can’t kill the truth.

—GEORGIA MASON

Nothing is impossible to kill. It’s just that sometimes after you kill something, you have to keep shooting it until it stops moving. And that’s really sort of neat when you stop to think about it.

—SHAUN MASON

Everyone has someone on the Wall.

No matter how remote you may think you are from the events that changed the world during the brutal summer of 2014, you have someone on the Wall. Maybe they’re a cousin, maybe they’re an old family friend, or maybe they’re just somebody you saw on TV once, but they’re yours. They belong to you. They died to make sure that you could sit in your safe little house behind your safe little walls, watching the words of one jaded twenty-two-year-old journalist go scrolling across your computer screen. Think about that for a moment. They died for you.

Now take a good look at the life you’re living and tell me: Did they do the right thing?

—From Images May Disturb You,

the blog of Georgia Mason, May 16, 2039

One

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot—in this case, my brother Shaun—deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens. As if we didn’t already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked. This isn’t a surprise. It hasn’t been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to get technical, it wasn’t a surprise then.

When the infected first appeared—heralded by screams that the dead were rising and judgment day was at hand—they behaved just like the horror movies had been telling us for decades that they would behave. The only surprise was that this time, it was really happening.

There was no warning before the outbreaks began. One day, things were normal; the next, people who were supposedly dead were getting up and attacking anything that came into range. This was upsetting for everyone involved, except for the infected, who were past being upset about that sort of thing. The initial shock was followed by running and screaming, which eventually devolved into more infection and attacking, that being the way of things. So what do we have now, in this enlightened age twenty-six years after the Rising? We have idiots prodding zombies with sticks, which brings us full circle to my brother and why he probably won’t live a long and fulfilling life.

“Hey, George, check this out!” he shouted, giving the zombie another poke in the chest with his hockey stick. The zombie gave a low moan, swiping at him ineffectually. It had obviously been in a state of full viral amplification for some time and didn’t have the strength or physical dexterity left to knock the stick out of Shaun’s hands. I’ll give Shaun this much: He knows not to bother the fresh ones at close range. “We’re playing patty-cake!”

“Stop antagonizing the locals and get back on the bike,” I said, glaring from behind my sunglasses. His current buddy might be sick enough to be nearing its second, final death, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a healthier pack roaming the area. Santa Cruz is zombie territory. You don’t go there unless you’re suicidal, stupid, or both. There are times when even I can’t guess which of those options applies to Shaun.

“Can’t talk right now! I’m busy making friends with the locals!”

“Shaun Phillip Mason, you get back on this bike right now, or I swear to God, I am going to drive away and leave you here.”

Shaun looked around, eyes bright with sudden interest as he planted the end of his hockey stick at the center of the zombie’s chest to keep it at a safe distance. “Really? You’d do that for me? Because ‘My Sister Abandoned Me in Zombie Country Without a Vehicle’ would make a great article.”

“A posthumous one, maybe,” I snapped. “Get back on the goddamn bike!”

“In a minute!” he said, laughing, and turned back toward his moaning friend.

In retrospect, that’s when everything started going wrong.

The pack had probably been stalking us since before we hit the city limits, gathering reinforcements from all over the county as they approached. Packs of infected get smarter and more dangerous the larger they become. Groups of four or less are barely a threat unless they can corner you, but a pack of twenty or more stands a good chance of breaching any barrier the uninfected try to put up. You get enough of the infected together and they’ll start displaying pack hunting techniques; they’ll start using actual tactics. It’s like the virus that’s taken them over starts to reason when it gets enough hosts in the same place. It’s scary as hell, and it’s just about the worst nightmare of anyone who regularly goes into zombie territory—getting cornered by a large group that knows the land better than you do.

These zombies knew the land better than we did, and even the most malnourished and virus-ridden pack knows how to lay an ambush. A low moan echoed from all sides, and then they were shambling into the open, some moving with the slow lurch of the long infected, others moving at something close to a run. The runners led the pack, cutting off three of the remaining methods of escape before there was time to do more than stare. I looked at them and shuddered.

Fresh infected—really fresh ones—still look almost like the people that they used to be. Their faces show emotion, and they move with a jerkiness that could just mean they slept wrong the night before. It’s harder to kill something that still looks like a person, and worst of all, the bastards are fast. The only thing more dangerous than a fresh zombie is a pack of them, and I counted at least eighteen before I realized that it didn’t matter, and stopped bothering.

I grabbed my helmet and shoved it on without fastening the strap. If the bike went down, dying because my helmet didn’t stay on would be one of the better options. I’d reanimate, but at least I wouldn’t be aware of it. “Shaun!”

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