Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Happy Halloween Teaser!

 Here is the first chapter of Last Hour.
As I’ve said before the start of this book takes us back to the beginning of the story, to a different character on the other side of the US.
Hope you love it and are excited for the release in a few weeks!
This is an unedited chapter, no judging how hard it is for my poor editor...
Copyright Tara Brown 2017

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost

Chapter One

Day one, six months ago
“The world didn't end in fire.
It didn't end in ice.
It didn't end at all.
It changed, becoming a faceless mess.
A horde of death and pestilence.
And mist.
I cannot forget the mist.
Taking everything.
Everything all at once.
But I didn't see it.
I ran before the mist hid me too.
I was alone.
I am alone.
I am forgotten, already before I am known.
My name is lost on the wind, gone before it was spoken.”
I pause and glance up at the circle.
“Brilliant, Liam. Brilliant poem. You really got that Robert Frost feel to it, and made it your own.” Celia nods. No one claps. We don't clap for each other. We praise in different ways. But making loud noises in this group is frowned upon. Sometimes it’s called a trigger and sometimes triggers go off.
“Did you write that this morning?” Meredith asks quietly. She does everything quietly, it’s annoying. Annoying because I can sense her need to scream, even if she won’t. It’s there, bubbling below the surface, roiling in her skin. She acts like she’s better than us, keeping her calm. I hate it. I hate how smug she is about her ability to pretend she’s normal.
The silence is a lie but it’s also the truth. It shows the world just how crazy she is, even if she thinks otherwise.
Most days I try to avoid the desperate need I have to make her scream, shattering that silence.
“Did you write it this morning?” Meredith repeats herself.
“I did.” I don't tell her about the dream it came from, the one that ripped me from my sleep. My mother, a person I vaguely recall and dislike recalling at best, was shrieking and telling me to run. She said something about the mist and then she was gone. I woke up, sweaty and gasping for air with shaking hands and a rapidly beating heart. I remembered the dream perfectly. And the mist. And then I wrote the poem.
“Because of the mist?” Meredith asks.
“What? What mist?” I’m lost.
“The mist.” She whispers and giggles, being annoying.
“What mist?” My patience slips away, not that I ever have much with her. Her incomplete silence, even when speaking, drives me to want to commit crimes, more crimes. New crimes and old ones.
She’s silent while making noise, it’s infuriating.          She does it on purpose. She knows it sounds like she’s holding something back, teasing you with a little bit of what she has to offer. It’s fake. Deep down Meredith is just as crazy as we are. Just as loud. She just a better liar than I am and that pisses me off more.
“The mist.”
“What mist, Meredith?” I demand before glancing out at the sunny Florida morning. Is it possible she knows about my dream?
“Okay, Liam. Meredith’s obviously confused, let’s not start the morning this way.” Celia speaks softly while showing us authority with her tone. I hate that more than Meredith.
“I’m not starting anything, Celia, she doesn't make sense. She never makes sense. She does this to mess with us all, to get us worked up. She’s a trigger on purpose to get us punished.” Her lack of sense has my hands balled up and words coming out with vibrations. How can she not see Meredith does this on purpose? Celia is one of the sheep who fall for Meredith’s simple act. She sees the weird quiet way Meredith has of speaking and existing and breathing and assumes it’s because Meredith doesn't want to be noticed, except she does. That’s why she does it. People who don't want to be seen, aren’t. They move like a wild cat, they stalk and listen and wait. Meredith is fucking annoying the way she is so loudly silent while pretending she doesn’t want to be noticed and of course, she ends up the center of attention. I hate her. I hate them both.
Meredith’s eyes land on my fists, nervously and yet satisfied because she knows it’s working. Again, she’s used her lies to work me up, something I swore I would stop doing. She look she gives me, the satisfied one, makes me want to smash things so I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
I want to go outside today and Meredith isn’t worth solitary.
She isn’t worth the vibrant display she might eventually make if provoked or attacked.
People like her always do.
They snap.
Eventually they snap and it’s colorful and crazed because the silence was a lie and an act to get pity and be treated like an infant, coddled.
But we’re not infants, we’re a pack of wild animals. We’re unable to watch someone become colorful without all of us becoming that way.
And Lester cannot get colorful, not without someone dying. Of course, if I could guarantee Meredith would be the one to die I might risk it…
“The mist was on the news. It’s on the news. Mist—” Meredith mutters, not meeting my eyes, provoking me further. She stares off to the side, like she isn’t fully engaged in conversation and she isn’t completely on her own. She’s here and she’s not. She silent and yet she speaks. Her act is flawless, I have to give her that. So flawless I fall for it every time. I fall hard.
“WHAT MIST?” I snap and scream, sending a shock through us all. I lose it.
But fire-breathing dragon wakes the animals in this cage.
It hits Lester first.
His fists are balls of steel and his face is crumpled like tinfoil when he screams, looking just like an ape, a pasty ape. A disgusting bald ape.
“Liam!” Celia jumps up, blowing her whistle and pointing at me. “You shut it down.”
“I just want to know what god damned mist she’s talking about! She never explains anything. She sits there with that daft look on her face, half drooling and half living and half knowing how to breathe! It’s like having a conversation with a coma patient whose eyes flutter every now and then for responses and you idiots eat it up! She’s doing it on purpose!” I’m lost in my own mist. It’s a red mist and Lester is there with me.
“SHUT IT DOWN!” Celia warns. I know this means I’ll be in solitary for the day if I can’t stop.
But I can’t.
If I had an ounce of self-control I wouldn't be here. I’m smart enough to not be here. I wouldn’t fall for Meredith. I wouldn’t let her work me up.
But I do. Because I’m weak and foolish.
“I hate her! I hate her stupid god damned face—” I’m midway into the tantrum that will send Lester over the edge, the one that will guarantee he and I are not in group again together when Celia’s whistle cuts me off but I keep screaming, “She never shuts up and yet she’s silent about it! Silent noise! And you all fall for the act! It’s fake!”
Guards enter but it’s too late. I’m gone. I’m frothing and screaming and throwing things at stupid Meredith. A chair hits her in the face, making her flinch and fall over but she never stands up anyway, not all the way. She never fights back. She’s so feeble. I laugh as she cowers, refusing to let herself out of the cage she’s made of.
Even when my face hits the floor and a knee crushes my back as cuffs force my arms into positions they don't like to be in, I still laugh at her. “I hate you, Meredith!” I spit blood onto the cold cement floor. “I hate you!”
Her eyes don't meet mine.
She’s pathetic.
She’s not my equal.
Except in this moment, this angry moment, it’s me that isn’t her equal. Meredith is winning. I just can’t see it yet.
My screams become sobs as my feet drag down the long white corridor.
I’m halfway to the cell when I realize Meredith has won again.
I have lost. Again.
Lights flash in sync, I swear in sync with my sobbing.
The end of the journey involves slamming.
Slamming the door open and slamming me onto the bed as the cuffs come off and slamming a hand on the door to close it. All that noise leads to an end.
But first I have to make my noise.
I rage.
I want her dead.
Then in the silence of solitary, when I lose my rage and can’t scream any longer because sounds eventually stop leaving my lips, I hate her even more. Only now I hate her and Celia together and I blame them for everything. And it’s my turn to be silent.
Pacing like a tiger in a cage, like the jaguar I once saw in its Plexiglas surround, I plot.
It’s start violent, when I’m angry my imagination is weak, I’m weak. I make foolish mistakes and let things that are below me dictate how I act. Celia and Meredith are below me but I let them set me off.
As I calm, I see the answer before me.
I can’t kill her, I won’t win that way. Even if I want desperately to see what her blood would look like spread across a wall or a floor or even the driveway. Or even what kind of sound her head makes when smashed into bricks.
It will be a short-lived joy and I will still be stuck wondering what it would have been like to see her lose it. And as much as I was to provoke her to the point of losing her mind, she has too much self-control and I’ll end up looking like the asshole.
No. I just need to strip away that self-control and show them, all of them, she’s a fucking liar and the control she has over herself is fake.
She’s fake and she lies and if I show them her real side, she won’t be able to hide the monster she is and that I am the one who has been trying to protect them from her. That she is the one who provokes us in group, on purpose. That she shouldn’t even be in group. She’s making us worse. She’s sick and provoking rage on purpose.
But how?
How to show them she’s the problem?
Meredith needs to be baptized in the blood bath I know she wants to create.
She did it once before, that’s how she ended up here. That alone is how I know this is a pathetic act and is faked for their sakes. And mine.
She’s going to do it again, she just needs a little help remembering who she is.
I’m going to help her.
Maybe I won’t hate her so much if she stops being pathetic.
But how?
The answer smacks me in the face.
A smug grin pastes across my chapped mouth as I start to form a plan.
I even know what drug to give her.
Last spring when she had a severe cough they wouldn't give her cough medicine because it had hydrocodone in it. Celia said it would make her angry. We spent a month listening to the most annoying cough in the entire world. Well they spent the month listening to it. I spent most of the time in solitary.
But how to get into the Doc’s office? I need a distraction and while Lester was my best bet at one there’s a good chance he’s going to be kept separate from me.
A sound disturbs my planning.
I turn towards the small window hearing it a second time as I walk to the light. What I see through my squinted gaze, doesn't make sense. I blink but it’s still there so I close my eyes as I count backwards from ten. I haven’t hallucinated in years and this isn’t the moment to start. Not when I have a firm plan to ruin Meredith.
My heart races, as I contemplate the madness that’s linked to seeing things that aren't there. Rage and psychotic tendencies are one branch of the crazy tree that is controllable. Hallucinations are another.
I barely recall when the last time I imagined things that weren’t there was. I know it was years ago, when I was on the drugs that were forced on me. And I haven’t taken anything like that in a long time, so if I’m seeing things, I’m in trouble.
This is something new.
I have never hallucinated drug free.
When I open my eyes, the scene is the same.
It’s red.
There’s blood spraying from the neck of a patient.
It’s Old Mike.
I’d recognize his holey sweater anywhere. His daughter gave it to him and he wears it every day.
He’s screaming and some lady I don't know is moving like she’s biting him in the neck and maybe the arm.
When she pulls back, her face is red.
The grass and their clothes are red.
The air around them is red.
It’s red mist they’re struggling in but Old Mike isn’t giving much of a fight. He’s old…
She wins and pins him against a post, biting down again, sending more blood shooting into the air around them as she pulls back her face, screaming into the mist.
“Holy shit.” I blink again, not trusting the things I’m seeing. I rub my eyes but still, it’s there.
What if it isn’t me?
What if it’s really happening?
Someone else runs out onto the grass, tackling the woman.
Old Mike collapses, twitching and lying still for a moment.
Butterflies and shivers attack my body, as I step back from the window. “What the hell?” This is really happening.
Old Mike stays down, he’s dying, bleeding out on the grass as the random lady bites the nurse who tackled her.
The woman screams again, sending more shivers up my body. Her screams are mad, truly mad. A sound I didn't know I hadn’t heard before this moment.
She rages and then she goes quiet.
Red faced and covered in blood, she falls limp, face down into the grass.
The nurse scrambles along the lawn to Old Mike, dragging her own bleeding arm. She’s screaming for help as she attempts to save Old Mike. Her hands are covered in blood, hers and his and maybe the biting lady’s, as she holds them down on his throat as blood gushes through her fingers.
I stand still, staring for a long time, I don’t know how long. I wait for someone to come but no one does. I wait for something to make sense. But nothing does.
At some point the nurse falls on the ground next to him. I don’t know if she got bit bad enough to bleed out too, I can’t see. Her and Old Mike lie there next to the biter lady for so long, I swear it’s an eternity.
My mouth’s dry and my heart’s racing and I don’t know when I blinked last but what happens next is something out of a science fiction movie, the kind we aren’t even allowed to watch here.
Old Mike’s hands lift, twitching and shaking. He convulses, jerking to life and crawling up from the ground, backwards like something from the Exorcist.
Even though I’m inside, locked up tight, separated from everyone else, I take another step back.
Old Mike stands next to where the nurse laid down on the grass, and sways on his rickety old legs for a second before he freezes.
His head jerks to the left three times.
He walks in a slow circle, his body covered in blood.
He pauses, twitching like some of the palsy patients I’ve seen and then jerks his head to the right, also three times.
“Oh shit.” I can’t think or feel anything, beyond the shivers. I’m freezing.
The cold air of the air conditioning is blowing down on me from the roof, making the tiniest whistle. It add tensions, like the soundtrack from The Shining.
Old Mike pauses again, tilting his head like he’s waiting for someone to pour something in his ear. His head jerks again, this time like he’s heard something, and then he’s off. I’ve never seen the old man run like that. I’ve never seen him move much at all, except when they try to take his sweater on washing day.
Old Mike’s gone, the biting lady is next to the nurse is on the ground, neither of them moves. Until, as if on a timer, the nurse repeats Old Mike’s movements.
When she’s gone, I’m alone again. Me and the original random lady who hasn’t moved sine she bit them both. I back up until I can’t see her or the blood stains anymore.
I don’t know what to think. I pinch myself hard enough that my nail cuts in and a small cut starts to bleed.
A scream fills the air, this one comes from inside.
I spin, seeing through the glass window in my door as a nurse runs past. She’s shouting.
Confused, I scan the hallway and small nurse’s station next to me. No one moves. The screaming fades but doesn’t stop.
Another person runs past the window, this one not making any sounds beyond slapping feet.
A big guy hurries by after that.
I slap the window when I see movement again but the older lady ignores me. She turns back, looking behind her and then running.
She sees something, something I can’t.
A man runs towards my window, with another lady right behind. Someone screams, one of them is tackled to the ground by whatever is behind them. I assume it’s the lady screaming as the man leaves her, he runs faster, the look on his face as he passes my window is pure terror. I have seen that look before.
“What the hell?” My mouth is as dry as a cotton ball and my eyes are burning from not blinking as I stare at them. The woman below my window fights, trying to crawl away, kicking and screaming.
A herd of people come, seeing a nurse biting the screaming lady, but don’t intervene. They stare for a moment and then continue on together, strangely calm.
It’s silent, except for the lady who was bit and is now unconscious, even though she was only bit on the leg. The nurse who bit her is on the ground, lying still as well.
I want to look away.
But I can’t.
Staring, I press my nose against the cold glass and watch, as the scene plays out, just as it did with Old Mike, only here there’s blood smeared across the white, industrial floor. So when the lady who was bitten stands and does the twitchy head thing, she’s much creepier.
As if all of it’s on timers, the silence ends all at one.
Screams begin filling the halls and the ceiling and the window behind me again. Every scream matches what I have already seen. Madness, fear, fighting.
Panic has taken over the hospital, but this time it isn’t a few people running past, it’s pandemonium.
Feet begin pounding and thumping down the halls in front of me and above me as nurses and doctors and possibly patients rush past me. I bang on the window but they ignore me.
Everything goes silent for a moment again before someone comes running around the corner, pausing when she sees the scene in front of her.
I bang on the window again, not thinking clearly.
Her eyes dart to mine and then over to something I can’t see. The woman rushes to me, unlocking the door. As I pull it open to escape, she jumps in knocking me back and closing it again. The door clicks, followed by muffled screaming. A man comes around the corner, blood running down his face where he’s clearly been bitten. His eyes are wild as he shouts and thumps on the window.
“Holy shit. What the hell is going on?” She trembles, taking up the window view of the man losing his mind on the other side. “Did you see that? Holy shit! They’re everywhere! What’s happening?”
We both jump when the man outside starts smashing his face against the glass.
I tell myself over and over that he can’t get in. I chant it until I realize that if he can’t get in, we can’t get out.
“You locked us in!” I mutter, eyes locked on the creepy guy outside of my door.
“I know. They can’t get in here.” She gasps for air, her breath drowning out the sound of the whistling air conditioning. “It’s safe in here.” She doesn't sound convinced.
“What the hell just happened?”
“I don't know.” She mutters.
I can barely hear her over the sound of the man smashing himself against the glass.
The noise of his body hitting the door could drive me insane, if I weren’t already there.
His hands and face bleed from the pounding but he doesn't stop.
He screams until no sound comes out.
“They can’t get in.” She repeats and turns around, nodding at me. “We’re safe in here.”
“Safe? We’re locked in and everyone’s leaving. We need to find someone to let us out.”
“You don't know how bad it is out there.” She scoffs and stares back out at the hallway. “He’s nothing compared to the rest of them.”
The violent man pauses, tilting his head oddly again. He snaps his head to the right, running off and leaving us with the red haze to stare through.
Screams flood the yard outside. I don't look but she does. She rushes past me, gasping at the scene. “What the hell? They’re all biting each other. They’ve gone mad!”
“Maybe it’s better than the food here.” I joke uncomfortably.
“Are you seriously making jokes right now?” The disgust is laid on thick.
“Maybe.” How do I explain that it’s my thin, inappropriate mocking of serious moments?
“It’s like they’ve gone crazy.” She ignores me and my joke.
“No. Crazy people don't do this, not like this. This is more like rabies.” I try to sound calm but I’m on edge, panicking at being locked in a box. The walls are getting smaller every time I think about the fact people are leaving us here. “Rabies.” I whisper again, almost to myself.
“They—they’re eating each other.” She panics at the sight in the back. “Did you see?”
“No.” I shake my head, reliving the moment on the lawn. “Look closer. They’re not eating, they’re not chewing and swallowing. They’re biting. Watch them. They bite down, ripping the flesh, and then they stop. And then the biter collapses and the guy who’s bit passes out for a moment and then they wake up and do the same thing.” I gasp for a breath, realizing I’m rambling. “They’re spreading the disease.”
“How can you tell?” She shouts at me, she has to over the noise flooding the hospital grounds outside, the fight seems to have moved out there.
“What?” I ask, I have no idea what she’s talking about. I’m reliving Old Mike getting bit and trying to stay calm.
“How can you tell?” Her eyes are wide and I think I see tears in them. “How are you so calm?”
“I’m locked in solitary confinement and like you said, we’re safe from everyone out there attacking each other. It gives a bit of perspective.” I glance out the window, taking my own words to heed fighting to stay still. “From here we can observe them. Take a second and pay attention to the fact that they aren’t eating, they’re biting. It’s just like spreading a virus like in a movie. It’s obvious this has to be some sort of rabies.”
“You’re creepy.” She mutters and glances back at the window. “Since I’m stuck in here with you, I’d appreciate you keeping that creepy shit to yourself.”
“Should I panic like you? Would you feel better knowing a diagnosed psychopath is panicking in solitary with you?” I mock her, noticing I feel better when I do.
“No.” She swallows hard, admitting a truth she doesn’t want to.
She is scared of me. Her dark eyes are wide, terrified. She’s a dark and beautiful picture of fear. On any other regular day, I might have enjoyed the view, but this isn’t a normal day.
“I’m Grace.” She does that thing that all people do with psychopaths, they try to personalize their relationship with us, as if forming an attachment makes it so we won’t attack. They think their bond with us saves them, not realizing how much more we will think of them. Like how I'm now repeating her name, Grace. I'm thinking about it. How it would sound shouted in the Grand Canyon. Or whispered in a basement with concrete walls and the slightest bit of water dripping somewhere in the distance. “What’s wrong?” She asks when I don’t say anything.
“Liam.” I say after a long minute. “I’m Liam.”
“I know who you are.” She doesn't meet my gaze. “Everyone knows you.” She’s a small bit older than I am, maybe twenty-five. She’s beautiful, athletic. She’s wearing scrubs, but I can’t place her in the staff I’ve met. I’d remember her.
“Who are you, Grace?”
“Nutritionists.” She sighs. “We need to focus. It’s getting worse out there. There’s dozens of them attacking. People are running, screaming. What are we going to do?”
Grace the nutritionist. I don’t know her.
“Did you hear me, it’s getting worse?” She scowls.
“I can hear them just as well as you can.” I sit on the bed, staring at her. She’s interesting and she makes this moment less. Not just less frightening, but less lonely. Less weird. “Can I ask you a question?”
“No, Liam. Let’s keep this as friendly as we can without getting too personal.” She glances my way, meeting my eyes with hers. Maybe she’s smarter than I gave her credit for.
“Do you have the ability to get us out of here in case no one comes?” I ask anyway. I only asked permission to scare her into thinking I would ask something personal. “Because you asked me what are we going to do, and all I can think is die. We’re going to die if we can’t get out.”
“Yeah, I think my key opens the inside lock.” She sounds distracted.
“You think? You came in here hoping you could get out?” I sigh and wait for the screaming to end. “How long do you think it’ll be before they run out of people to bite?”
“I don’t know.” She’s disgusted with me I think.
“Well think about it. It’s a small facility. There’s only a hundred and fifty people in here, plus at least that in staff. I can’t imagine it’ll be that long. And whatever this is, it moves fast. Unnaturally fast. The biters change faster than they should. I don't know that the body can morph that quickly, at least not naturally.”
“What do you mean?” She asks but stays stuck, staring out the window, desperate to watch, as the screaming gets louder and closer.
“I mean this can’t be driven by nature. They’re bitten and within a short amount of time they’re a biter too? This isn’t a video game or some cheesy movie, it’s real life. There’s no way they should be biting so quickly. And the head jerk, it must be some kind of rewiring.” My mind is moving as quickly as my lips are. “It’s science, it’s forced on us. It’s an experiment gone wrong.” An idea hits me hard. “Is there government testing here?” I never even thought of that.
“No.” She looks at me again. “No, I don’t think so. I haven’t ever heard of any.”
“Science? You mean like a purposeful virus that's been released by accident?”
“I mean like whatever is happening to them once their bitten, they’re being controlled. Their head jerks to the left and then the right, three times. All of them. They go from screaming and freaking out to completely calm. Listening. Something is making them do this. It’s not natural. There’s no virus that does this. They attack and then stop, moving onto the next victim or falling down on the ground.”
“How do you know this?”
“Watching and guessing. It’s easy to observe when the danger isn’t representing itself to you. But observation suggests the hypothetical answer is man, not nature. Our bodies do not react to viruses this way. Not even rabies, so this is some sort of man made rabies.”
She swallows hard, nodding. “I guess.”
“Are you scared?” I don’t need to ask, I can tell she is. I just want to hear her say it. A little joy would be nice to distract me from the horror outside and the being trapped inside.
“Of me?”
“No.” She lies. It’s beautiful to see. People who understand a disease assume they know how to work it, control it. I love that about the hospital and its staff. I hate when I lose my temper and the intelligent hold I have on who I am. I hate when I unleash and prove all their stupid theories right about me.
“Did you have to run from them?”
“Yeah.” She sounds hollow now.
“Why’d you come down here?”
“I came from my floor, two up, down the stairs. I heard the commotion on the grass and looked out the window, I saw the fight. I know the nurse, Sheila. She’s nice. I ran for her but then the stairs started filling with screams so I took the first door. Everyone else was running outside but the doorway was clogged and they were coming.” Her pitch rises a bit and her eyes widen but she doesn't see me or this room, she’s reliving it all. “They were running at me, coming from two sides. I hurried into this corridor and when I came around the corner I saw that.” She points at the door, to the bloodstains. “And then I saw you. And I knew you were a safer bet.”
“I’m the safer bet.” I confirm it. It’s the truth. As much as I play with the idea of being alone in here with her and me being me, I have no desire to hurt her. In fact, since I arrived here I have had no desire to hurt anyone, well except that little bitch Meredith.
And now asshole some biter’s probably taking that away from me.
They’re making Meredith a savage animal and I’m not there to see it.
It’s disappointing to say the least.
Almost like a year’s worth of hate being washed down the drain.
“We need to leave here.” I say after a few moments of thought.
“The police will come. They’ll help us. We should stay in here until then.”
“The police?” I cock my head to the side, not even sure I heard her right.
“Yeah. They’ll come. Something is obviously happening here. They’ll save us.”
I have to fight not laughing at her. “Do you think this is isolated to this one institution?”
“You don’t? You’re the one who asked about government testing.” She leaves the window and goes back to the door, wincing when she sees the carnage through the red haze drying on the window.
“Well, that’s one possibility but if there’s no government testing here, then this likely came from out there.” I point at the window, towards the gate.
“Maybe. But maybe it’s just here.” She’s hopeful.
I’m not.
I’m a realist.
I think of it as a gift.
If I had to guess, I’d say she thinks being an optimist is a gift.

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