Suspense R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author SCI FI Fantasy
Chapter One ~ J ason's   eyes   remained   on   the   mountain   of   human   skeletons.   He   pulled   off   the   empty highway,   passed   the   faded,   hurricane-bent   sign   he   remembered   once   read   Scenic Outlook. “Don't know about scenic,” he mumbled. “But it's dramatic.” He   said   the   same   thing   every   time   he   stopped   here,   just   as   his   father   did   when   he was   alive   and   took   Jason   with   him   on   his   rounds.   His   father's   body   probably   lay somewhere   on   the   top   of   the   pile,   since   it   didn't   grow   as   fast   as   it   once   had.   His father's   father,   mother,   aunts   and   uncles   were   probably   in   the   same   heap.   Though, they could have been in one of the other two body dumps in Florida. The   rough   asphalt   rose   above   the   surrounding   grass   into   what,   long   before   he was   born,   had   been   a   popular   rest   stop   between   the   Florida   East   and   West   coasts. Jason   pulled   to   a   stop   and   got   out.   The   decelerating   roar   of   a   double-engine   tractor pulling   six   trailers   behind   it   caught   his   attention.   He   turned   and   watched   as   the   long rig exited the far ramp, into the landfill. Jason's phone rang, and he performed the mental pick-up of his implant. “Where are you?” Tina asked. Jason   swiveled   south,   toward   the   landfill,   and   released   the   mental   bridge   that allowed her to see what he saw. “Oh, gross. I can't believe you stop there.” He sensed Tina turn off his visual feed. “Saying hi to my relatives.” “No you aren't. You're just sick.” He grinned. “I love you too.” “Must   be   the   job,”   Tina   said.   “But   that's   why   I'm   calling.   Dr.   Mercer   dropped   a hint today that you'll get the position with Harrington.” “No more field work, eh? You'll like that.” The   robotic   arm   of   the   tractor   lifted   one   of   the   trailers.   The   screech   of   birds heading   for   the   landfill   made   it   hard   to   concentrate   as   Tina   harangued   him   for   his love   of   fieldwork.   The   sky   north   and   south   turned   pepper-gray   as   gulls,   crows,   and buzzards swirled together. In   moments   it   was   going   to   become   very   unpleasant,   and   a   little   dangerous,   as   all manner   of   flying   creatures   swooped   down   on   anything   that   once   looked   animate, including   those   who   still   were.   The   gates   of   the   trailer   opened   and   debris   dribbled out.   In   seconds   the   smell   of   rotting   flesh   reached   him.   Jason   held   his   breath   and rushed   to   get   in   the   car.   He   turned   in   his   seat   and   watched   the   load   of   bodies   tumble toward the pile. It   had   been   eighty   feet   high   for   five   years.   Would   it   continue   to   settle?   Surely   as   it sank   into   the   swamp   and   struck   bedrock,   the   new   loads   would   rise   higher.   But   half of the human body is water, and leaches out. “Are you listening to me?” Tina snapped. “You're    excited    about    getting    me    into    purified    air    so    the    next    time    I    make passionate love to you, you don't have to worry about catching a disease from me.”    “That   isn't   what   I   said.”   She   was   angry.   He   loved   the   way   her   lip   twitched   when she   got   angry.   Adorable.   What   was   best,   she   could   never   pretend    to   be   angry.   At least successfully. “But you were thinking of sex. That's all you think about,” Jason teased. “You asshole.” Her lip would be twitching good. “I've   been   doing   fieldwork   for   a   decade,”   he   said.   “If   it   was   going   to   kill   me,   it already   would   have.   People   who   haven't   seen   the   sky   in   twice   that   long   bloat   and puke up blood every day.” “Why   are   you   being   such   a   pig?   There   are   hundreds   of   people   hoping   to   land   this job.” “Looking at this, hard to believe there's that many people left alive in Florida.” He   looked   down   what   used   to   be   the   highway's   access   road.   As   far   as   he   could see,   the   skeletal   mound   trailed   off   toward   Miami.   The   sound   of   birds   fighting   for access to the new bounty filtered through the frame of the car. He    interrupted    her.    “Can    you    imagine    the    horror    our    relatives    must    have experienced when the body dumps began?” “Jason!”   Her   lip   must   have   been   curling   over   her   forehead.   “This   means   real research, not just pulling numbers off machines.” “Remember   the   scene   in   Monty   Python?”   he   asked.   “They're   pulling   the   cart shouting, ‘Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead.' If they'd only known.” A   splatter   of   guano   hit   the   hood   of   the   car.   The   sky   darkened   from   the   birds. Jason   thought   of   his   dad's   description   of   how   it   was   when   he    was   a   kid.   “The   sky   was empty of birds. We screwed every species, not just our own.” A six-inch splay of crap struck the windshield. “Miserable fucking place.” “What?”   Tina   screeched.   “It's   the   most   elite   lab   in   the   world.   What   are   you talking about?” He   shook   his   head   and   started   the   car,   accelerated   over   the   crumbling   asphalt   of the   parking   lot.   Gulls   swooped   across   his   path.   Gravel   pinged   the   undercarriage.   He glanced    north    at    the    pristine    wilderness    that    was    the    northern    edge    of    the Everglades.   Just   out   of   view   would   be   hundreds   of   miles   of   abandoned   homes   and buildings being reclaimed by the remaining species. “Calm   down.   Calm   down,”   he   said.   “I   was   talking   about   the   landfill.   I   got   caught in a feeding frenzy.” The   connection   was   quiet   for   a   moment.   Jason   put   the   car   on   autopilot   and watched   the   speedometer   needle   swing   to   the   right.   His   body   compacted   against   the seat. “They should only dump at night,” Tina said. Jason   imagined   her   shiver   of   disgust.   She   could   never   work   in   the   field,   examine the   effects   of   the   plague.   Aggregated   data   in   spreadsheets   was   the   closest   she'd   been to   it.   As   far   as   he   knew,   she   hadn't   even   lost   a   close   family   member   to   the   damn virus. Bizarre her father was still alive. How   many   over   forty   still   survived?   Scandalous   the   average   age   of   those   in   the CDC   hierarchy   was   over   fifty.   If   there   were   enough   people   left   who   cared,   they'd   be pounding   on   the   organization's   doors,   carrying   pitchforks   and   torches,   demanding to know why they weren't dying like everyone else. He   shook   his   head.   It   was   the   reason   no   one   admitted   to   belonging   to   the   CDC. His   eyes   dropped   to   the   logo   on   his   shirt.   It   was   blue,   but   the   ubiquitous   three   letters were   long   gone.   The   subagencies   acted   like   unaffiliated   corporations.   He   wouldn't have even been aware of the scope of the true agency, if— Like   a   wakeful   dream,   he   saw   his   father's   face   leaning   over   his   mug   of   beer.   It was   their   private   celebration.   Jason   had   completed   his   doctorate   and   looked   forward to   his   new   job.   His   dad   wasn't   smiling.   He   looked   toward   the   slider   opening   to   the back yard, and to the front door, as though he scanned their home for prying eyes. “You know you're going to work for the CDC,” he said. His voice had been soft. “They provide data for—” “No.” His dad snapped the word. “Keep your eyes open.” His   father   changed   the   topic.   Eager   to   talk   about   new   challenges,   Jason   let   the moment   go.   But   the   short   exchange   returned   to   him   over   the   past   decade   when   he least expected it. “Are you there?” Tina asked. “Yeah.   Look.   I've   got   two   more   stations.   Be   back   in   an   hour.   Let's   talk   about   it over dinner.” She was quiet too long. “Why aren't you happy about this?” “It   isn't   that.   You   just   caught   me   at   a   bad   time.   Looking   at   two   billion   corpses   has a way of filtering your energy.” She   cleared   her   throat.   “Why   you'll   never   get   me   on   Alligator   Alley.   Bye.”   The connection broke. He   cleared   the   long-abandoned   toll   plaza   and   the   highway   veered   north.   The mounds   of   kudzu   on   the   shoulder   flipped   by   in   a   blur.   Hidden   underneath   it,   tens   of thousands   of   vehicles,   most   of   them   containing   skeletons.   He   couldn't   remember ever   being   revolted   by   the   scene.   It   wasn't   that   he   was   desensitized.   He'd   never   been sensitive   to   it   in   the   first   place.   In   his   lifetime,   they   had   always   been   there.   Nothing but   the   red   and   yellow   blooms   interrupted   the   monotony   of   green   flowing   over   the entombed skeletons no one had the time to collect. Difficult   to   imagine   the   millions   who   pulled   off   the   road   to   die,   coughing   blood, bleeding   out   before   car   engines   stalled,   left   to   rot   under   the   sweltering   Florida   sun. So    many,    everywhere,    impossible    to    deal    with.    Those    who    didn't    get    off    the pavement were eventually pushed aside by a bulldozer. That   was   the   world   two   years   into   the   plague.   There   was   no   one   left   to   shout, “Bring out your dead.” He   reached   to   his   hip   and   activated   his   computer.   The   holographic   monitor   and keyboard   opened   in   front   of   him.   He   selected   the   icon   that   opened   his   notes   and scanned   the   displayed   list.   Since   his   father’s   death,   his   ominous   warning,   Jason identified seven companies that weren't just contractors for, but arms of the CDC. He   glared   at   the   third   name.   It   was   the   lab   Tina   worked   for.   High   on   the   food chain.   It   was   the   lab   Dr.   Harrington   managed,   where   Tina   expected   him   to   go. Jason's   eyes   continued   down   the   roster   of   firms   “to   work   for.”   Near   the   bottom,   he glared at the name that matched up with the icon on his shirt. His   father   joined   the   management   of   that   company   and   was   dead   three   weeks later. One day after telling Jason, “Keep your eyes open.” Chapter Two ~ W hen   she   answered   the   door,   Tina   wore   a   reserved   smile   and   a   turquoise   blouse that   blended   with   her   black   hair   like   a   distant   nebula.   It   was   nice   to   see   her   in something besides a white lab coat. “You're so beautiful,” Jason said. “Just   good   genes,”   she   said,   repeating   her   cliché.   “You   said   you'd   be   back   early. Where've you been?” “Can't I even come in before you give me the business?” She   narrowed   her   eyes,   but   stepped   aside.   He   walked   in,   continued   toward   the kitchen. She closed the door and followed. “I   had   to   replace   sensors   in   a   three-hundred   foot   well,”   he   said.   “Nasty.   Could have used help. First time I'd ever done that.” “Don't they have techs for that?” He   grinned,   turning   around   quickly   and   stepping   to   her,   grabbing   her   in   a   tight embrace.   She   accepted   his   kiss,   but   responded   back   with   a   hell   of   a   lot   less   vigor than she had the previous night. He   slid   his   right   hand   down   her   back,   across   her   ass,   enjoying   the   tight   curve. The   slinky   material   of   her   slacks   made   her   feel   tastefully   naked.   He   pulled   her   face hard   against   his.   The   flavor   of   a   merlot   lingered   on   her   tongue.   Still   she   didn't respond   like   he   hoped.   Her   hands   remained   pressed   against   his   shoulders,   but   her eyes   were   closed.   He   raised   his   searching   hand   and   slid   it   under   her   blouse,   lightly walking his fingers up her soft flesh. A shudder crossed his nape. Just say the word. God, I love you. He   drew   his   hand   around   her   side,   tickling   the   sensitive   skin   of   her   belly,   teasing to move for her breasts. Instead he glided his hand down, onto her pelvis. Lower. He   spread   his   hand   out,   pinky   at   her   crotch,   the   rest   of   his   hand   resting   across her   thigh.   He   relaxed   his   grip   at   the   back   of   her   head,   eased   the   penetrating   kiss.   He pulled her top lip back with his as he pulled away. Okay. That wasn't going to get her mind off their last conversation. “You could have called,” she said. “I did.” “After    you    were    already    two    hours    later    than    I    expected.”    Her    lip    did    its miniature dance. “I called when I knew when I'd be back,” he said. “You   can't   talk   while   you   work?   We've   had   phone   sex   while   you   uploaded   data.” She reached into a kitchen cabinet and withdrew another wine glass. He   nodded   at   her   glance.   She   filled   it   from   the   bottle   left   to   breathe   on   the counter.   A   serious   splurge.   So   she   had   wanted   an   early   celebration.   Very   confident he   would   get   the   job.   She   poured,   handed   him   the   glass.   He   took   a   sip,   rolling   it   over his   tongue.   The   first   bitter   taste,   before   the   palate   adjusted,   was   the   best   one   to   share with a lover. He leaned toward her but she stepped away. He hated to waste it, but swallowed. “You hear from Dr. Harrington’s office?” “Yes,” he said. “Set up an interview?” “Not yet.” Her face was relaxed, but she held on to her anger. Life is too short. “I'll call him tomorrow,” he said. “Don't worry.” “If   you   don't   show   enthusiasm   for   the   job,   they   may   give   it   to   someone   else   who does.” Her voice edged upward. Her lip twitched. “Then   it’s   meant   to   be,”   he   said.   “If   he   thinks   he   can   find   a   better   candidate,   he should hire him—or her.” “What's   with   you?”   she   shouted.   Tina   threw   the   dish   towel   she'd   been   using   to wipe the counter into his face. The   rag   hung   on   him,   wrapped   around   his   head.   He   slowly   pulled   the   towel   off and   placed   it   on   the   counter   he   was   leaning   against.   The   escalation   of   her   mood startled   him.   She   looked   like   she   was   close   to   crying.   All   because   he   didn't   share   her excitement? Okay.   Women   required   tact.   Asking   her   what   the   fuck   her   problem   was,   wasn't going   to   get   him   laid.   But   her   deep   emotion   made   him   want   to   take   her   right   there on the counter. He   needed   time.   He   took   a   gulp   from   his   wine   glass.   The   merlot   swam   in   his mouth   growing   harsh.   He   swallowed   it.   Still   nothing   came   to   him.   He   should   have majored in psychology. “I   get   the   feeling,”   he   said,   “anything   I'm   going   to   say   in   the   next   ten   minutes   is going to make things worse, not better. Do you want me to leave?” She   whipped   her   fist   down   to   pound   an   invisible   podium,   her   body   jerking   with the   motion   of   the   tantrum.   “You   act   like   you   live   in   a   pre-plague   world.   Open   your eyes.” He studied her, waiting for her to continue. The moments dragged. “You're dense as dirt,” she said. “Pretty much. Obviously.” “You're twenty-seven. How long do you think you have?” she asked. That didn't help. “I thought you were mad because I was late.” She didn't budge. Not even her lip. “Okay. So you're mad because I'm not as enthusiastic about this job as you are.” “You'd    be    working    directly    with    Dr.    Harrington.    Don't    you    know    what    that means?” Jason opted to survive over heroism and kept his mouth shut. “You don't get it do you?” Jason felt like screaming. “I thought we settled that.” She walked out of the kitchen. He heard her bedroom door slam. “Ahhhhh.” Women ! He   swilled   the   remaining   wine   in   his   glass,   making   his   eyes   water.   He   slammed the   empty   glass   down   and   his   thumb   went   through   the   rim.   Blood   seeped   from   a one-inch   slice   in   his   flesh.   He   watched   it   bead,   holding   his   hand   over   the   ruined glass,   imagining   the   sub-microscopic   worlds   living   in   every   drop,   the   specific   lifeless arrangement   of   nucleic   acid   which   determined   how   soon   he   would   be   spewing   up   his guts. Less   mass   than   he   watched   ooze   from   his   thumb   had   annihilated   a   quarter   of earth's   inhabitants.   Mutated   after   that.   Became   less   particular.   The   second   year, spread broader, faster. “Stubborn little shit.” That    was    thirty-three    years    ago.    He    knew    practically    nothing    of    that    world. History   prior   to   the   outbreak   became   moot.   The   world   would   never   be   the   same again.   They   had   stopped   teaching   BP,   before-plague   history   by   the   time   he   was   old enough   to   attend   virtual   school.   By   then   there   were   no   schools.   Everyone   studied from the safety of their home. Physical   contact   was   part   of   that   untaught   history.   But   Jason   was   curious.   The on-line   library   made   him   aware   of   what   his   generation   would   never   experience. Dance clubs, concerts, sports, Saturday night get togethers with friends. He wished he hadn't been curious. It would have been easier, not knowing what he was missing. The   blood   dripped,   mingled   with   the   film   of   wine   at   the   bottom   of   the   glass. Jason   held   it   six   inches   from   his   face,   studied   in   queer   fascination   the   two   fluids combining. “Drink it up, bitch.” When   would   the   Jihad   virus   circulating   in   his   body   click?   Decide   it   was   his organs' turn to liquefy? Most people didn't want to know if they'd been exposed. Everyone was. When   he   had   his   blood   sample   scanned   when   he   was   thirteen,   he   learned   he   was. To   be   over   forty   and   not   exposed   was   the   trick.   It   was   the   only   way   to   remain   alive. Live   in   a   vault   and   consume   nothing   canned   or   packaged   since   the   outbreak—the only   way   to   remain   unexposed.   In   other   words,   everyone   had   to   recognize   they   were a member of the walking dead. “Fucking   fanatics.   Shouldn't   have   been   so   effective   keeping   nukes   away   from 'em. They found something worse.” Jason   walked   to   the   recycler   and   flipped   the   glass   shards   through   the   opening. He   walked   to   the   kitchen   sink   to   wash   his   hands.   The   automatic   ultraviolet   light turned   on.   The   law.   Never   repealed.   Made   no   difference,   never   did.   Designed   to make   stupid   people   think   government   was   doing   something   to   tide   the   deaths.   All   it did was promote melanoma. “Yeah. The government looks out for us.” Jason   slammed   his   fist   into   the   fixture   and   the   bulb   shattered.   He   felt   a   new twinge   in   his   wrist.   Looked   down   to   find   new   signs   of   blood.   He   washed   his   hands, used   a   paper   towel   to   dry,   held   it   against   the   larger   cut   while   he   got   a   new   glass   and filled it with the remaining merlot. “What was that?” He   turned   to   face   Tina.   She   had   changed   into   just   a   double-ex   t-shirt,   no   shoes, and   had   brushed   out   the   magical   potion   that   kept   her   hair   wavy   all   day.   It   hung down   straight   beside   her   face,   settled   gently   across   her   shoulders.   She   was   still   as beautiful as any angel. “Don't come in,” he said. “I just had a battle with overly sensitive silica.” “What?” “Glass. Stay back.” He   walked   to   the   hall   closet   where   the   vacuum   was   and   returned.   She   stood   with her   arms   crossed   while   he   cleaned   up   the   glass.   He   kept   glancing   at   her,   enjoying   the image, so different from the one she portrayed earlier, but no less delectable. “What are you grinning about?” she asked. “Fighting the urge to grab you up and rush to the bedroom.” She    snorted.    A    precious    sound,    coming    from    her.    “Yeah.    That's    a    delusion. What's with your hand?” “The glass won,” he said. She   moved   to   him   and   reached   for   his   hand.   He   held   it   out.   Relaxing   his   fist,   his adhoc   pressure   bandage   made   up   of   the   towel,   loosened.   They   watched   the   tiny   jag together.    It    appeared    no    longer    interested    in    bleeding.    Tina's    expression    turned distant.   He   didn't   think   it   had   anything   to   do   with   a   disgust   for   blood.   His   mind wandered. Did BP Americans fear blood like APs? “Something to eat?” Tina's focus returned from her sad place. “Sure.” Maybe   he   should   have   asked   her.   There   was   something   else   there.   She   might have   shared.   It   might   have   explained   what   was   going   on   with   her   tonight.   Jason wasn't sure he wanted to know. A complication. Life is too complicated as it is. They   turned   their   attention   to   the   meal   packs   sitting   on   the   kitchen   island.   She pulled   the   red   irradiation   strips   off   the   single-serving   meals.   They   were   quiet   as   they prepared   and   ate   their   five-hundred   calorie   feast.   After   they   finished,   she   threw   the two   cardboard   tiles   away   and   went   to   the   small   fridge,   and   pulled   out   a   fresh   piece   of fruit. Jason couldn't remember the last time he saw a fresh plum. “Dr.   Mercer   handed   them   out   at   the   office   today,”   she   said.   “He   walked   around with a silly grin on his face, like he'd just lost his virginity.” “Proud of a coup. He had a right to be.” His   mouth   watered   as   she   sliced   into   the   flesh.   He   reached   down   and   snagged the   pit   and   popped   it   into   his   mouth,   unwilling   to   let   any   of   the   precious   flavor   go   to waste.   It   was   bitterer   than   he   expected,   but   the   explosion   in   his   mouth   was   still   a treat. He   took   one   of   the   slivers   and   fed   it   to   Tina.   She   took   it   sensuously   with   her tongue,   making   him   shiver.   He   went   to   the   trash   and   spat   out   the   pit.   She   dangled   a slice   for   him.   The   enticement   forced   him   to   postpone   his   thoughts   of   seduction   for   a moment. But she was as ready to leverage their treat as he was. She   pushed   him   into   a   chair   and   straddled   him,   lifting   the   t-shirt   up   to   her   waist. His    lungs    sought    extra    oxygen    as    his    lust    grew.    He    clenched    the    slice    of    plum between   his   teeth   and   she   closed   her   mouth   over   his,   as   they   shared   the   morsel. They   slowly   finished   the   treat   bite   by   bite   like   that,   as   he   caressed   her,   hands   flowing from hips to breasts. The   feel   of   her   flesh   placed   him   in   his   private   nirvana.   Her   tongue   filled   his mouth,   the   acidity   of   the   plum   matching   the   sensuality   of   shared   wine.   He   wrapped his   hands   around   her   tiny   ass   and   pulled   her   tighter   against   him,   her   teeth   pressed hard against his lips. Her body relaxed and she pulled away. Jason jerked his eyes open. She looked past him, someplace else. “What?” She didn't say anything for a moment. “It's late. And I can't take a shower tonight.” Ahhhh. “You bring me near explosion and—” “I'm reaching my water allotment,” she said. Sooo?” “You know how I—” He   very   much   knew   how   she   had    to   shower   after   sex.   “I'll   bathe   you   myself,   every inch of you. I'll make it worthwhile. I promise.” She stood. She stood.  And walked away. Just like that! “It isn't the same,” she said. “Promise me you'll call tomorrow?” Damn!    She   was   still   on   the   interview.   It   was   almost   enough   to   wish   he   was   still   a virgin. Almost. No. Not really. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
Thirty-three   years   after   the   onslaught   of   an   engineered   plague that     has     shredded     Earth's     population,     technology     keeps     a starving   few   on   the   eastern   seaboard   going,   where   the   death   rate from   the   virus   slows   only   because   there   are   few   alive   who   it   is designed to kill. Jason   Kates   is   recruited   to   join   the   inner   circle   that   controls what's   left   of   civilization.   A   distrusted   outsider,   Jason's   forced into    a    mission    west    to    learn    if    there    is    anyone    left    in    the heartland,   if   fields   are   tilled.   He’s   not   expected   to   survive.   His journey    diverges    from    an    exploration    for    food,    to    man's    last chance of survival—New Order.
Urban Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
New Order Apocalypse Chapter One ~ J ason's   eyes   remained   on   the   mountain of    human    skeletons.    He    pulled    off    the empty      highway,      passed      the      faded, hurricane-bent   sign   he   remembered   once read Scenic Outlook. “Don't       know       about       scenic,”       he mumbled. “But it's dramatic.” He   said   the   same   thing   every   time   he stopped   here,   just   as   his   father   did   when he   was   alive   and   took   Jason   with   him   on his   rounds.   His   father's   body   probably   lay somewhere   on   the   top   of   the   pile,   since   it didn't    grow    as    fast    as    it    once    had.    His father's   father,   mother,   aunts   and   uncles were   probably   in   the   same   heap.   Though, they   could   have   been   in   one   of   the   other two body dumps in Florida. The     rough     asphalt     rose     above     the surrounding   grass   into   what,   long   before he   was   born,   had   been   a   popular   rest   stop between     the     Florida     East     and     West coasts.   Jason   pulled   to   a   stop   and   got   out. The   decelerating   roar   of   a   double-engine tractor     pulling     six     trailers     behind     it caught     his     attention.     He     turned     and watched    as    the    long    rig    exited    the    far ramp, into the landfill. Jason's   phone   rang,   and   he   performed the mental pick-up of his implant. “Where are you?” Tina asked. Jason     swiveled     south,     toward     the landfill,   and   released   the   mental   bridge that allowed her to see what he saw. “Oh,    gross.    I    can't    believe    you    stop there.” He   sensed   Tina   turn   off   his   visual   feed. “Saying hi to my relatives.” “No you aren't. You're just sick.” He grinned. “I love you too.” “Must    be    the    job,”    Tina    said.    “But that's      why      I'm      calling.      Dr.      Mercer dropped   a   hint   today   that   you'll   get   the position with Harrington.” “No    more    field    work,    eh?    You'll    like that.” The    robotic    arm    of    the    tractor    lifted one   of   the   trailers.   The   screech   of   birds heading   for   the   landfill   made   it   hard   to concentrate    as    Tina    harangued    him    for his   love   of   fieldwork.   The   sky   north   and south   turned   pepper-gray   as   gulls,   crows, and buzzards swirled together. In    moments    it    was    going    to    become very   unpleasant,   and   a   little   dangerous, as   all   manner   of   flying   creatures   swooped down     on     anything     that     once     looked animate,   including   those   who   still   were. The   gates   of   the   trailer   opened   and   debris dribbled    out.    In    seconds    the    smell    of rotting   flesh   reached   him.   Jason   held   his breath   and   rushed   to   get   in   the   car.   He turned   in   his   seat   and   watched   the   load   of bodies tumble toward the pile. It    had    been    eighty    feet    high    for    five years.   Would   it   continue   to   settle?   Surely as    it    sank    into    the    swamp    and    struck bedrock,   the   new   loads   would   rise   higher. But   half   of   the   human   body   is   water,   and leaches out. “Are     you     listening     to     me?”     Tina snapped. “You're   excited   about   getting   me   into purified    air    so    the    next    time    I    make passionate   love   to   you,   you   don't   have   to worry about catching a disease from me.”     “That    isn't    what    I    said.”    She    was angry.   He   loved   the   way   her   lip   twitched when   she   got   angry.   Adorable.   What   was best,   she   could   never   pretend    to   be   angry. At least successfully. “But   you   were   thinking   of   sex.   That's all you think about,” Jason teased. “You asshole.” Her lip would be twitching good. “I've     been     doing     fieldwork     for     a decade,”   he   said.   “If   it   was   going   to   kill me,    it    already    would    have.    People    who haven't    seen    the    sky    in    twice    that    long bloat and puke up blood every day.” “Why   are   you   being   such   a   pig?   There are    hundreds    of    people    hoping    to    land this job.” “Looking     at     this,     hard     to     believe there's    that    many    people    left    alive    in Florida.” He   looked   down   what   used   to   be   the highway's   access   road.   As   far   as   he   could see,   the   skeletal   mound   trailed   off   toward Miami.    The    sound    of    birds    fighting    for access   to   the   new   bounty   filtered   through the frame of the car. He   interrupted   her.   “Can   you   imagine the     horror     our     relatives     must     have experienced      when      the      body      dumps began?” “Jason!”     Her     lip     must     have     been curling    over    her    forehead.    “This    means real    research,    not    just    pulling    numbers off machines.” “Remember      the      scene      in      Monty Python?”   he   asked.   “They're   pulling   the cart   shouting,   ‘Bring   out   your   dead.   Bring out your dead.' If they'd only known.” A   splatter   of   guano   hit   the   hood   of   the car.    The    sky    darkened    from    the    birds. Jason   thought   of   his   dad's   description   of how   it   was   when   he    was   a   kid.   “The   sky was    empty    of    birds.    We    screwed    every species, not just our own.” A    six-inch    splay    of    crap    struck    the windshield. “Miserable fucking place.” “What?”   Tina   screeched.   “It's   the   most elite    lab    in    the    world.    What    are    you talking about?” He   shook   his   head   and   started   the   car, accelerated   over   the   crumbling   asphalt   of the   parking   lot.   Gulls   swooped   across   his path.    Gravel    pinged    the    undercarriage. He      glanced      north      at      the      pristine wilderness   that   was   the   northern   edge   of the   Everglades.   Just   out   of   view   would   be hundreds   of   miles   of   abandoned   homes and    buildings    being    reclaimed    by    the remaining species. “Calm   down.   Calm   down,”   he   said.   “I was     talking     about     the     landfill.     I     got caught in a feeding frenzy.” The      connection      was      quiet      for      a moment.   Jason   put   the   car   on   autopilot and     watched     the     speedometer     needle swing   to   the   right.   His   body   compacted against the seat. “They    should    only    dump    at    night,” Tina said. Jason   imagined   her   shiver   of   disgust. She     could     never     work     in     the     field, examine      the      effects      of      the      plague. Aggregated   data   in   spreadsheets   was   the closest   she'd   been   to   it.   As   far   as   he   knew, she     hadn't     even     lost     a     close     family member   to   the   damn   virus.   Bizarre   her father was still alive. How    many    over    forty    still    survived? Scandalous    the    average    age    of    those    in the   CDC   hierarchy   was   over   fifty.   If   there were   enough   people   left   who   cared,   they'd be   pounding   on   the   organization's   doors, carrying         pitchforks         and         torches, demanding    to    know    why    they    weren't dying like everyone else. He   shook   his   head.   It   was   the   reason no   one   admitted   to   belonging   to   the   CDC. His   eyes   dropped   to   the   logo   on   his   shirt. It    was    blue,    but    the    ubiquitous    three letters   were   long   gone.   The   subagencies acted    like    unaffiliated    corporations.    He wouldn't    have    even    been    aware    of    the scope of the true agency, if— Like    a    wakeful    dream,    he    saw    his father's   face   leaning   over   his   mug   of   beer. It    was    their    private    celebration.    Jason had   completed   his   doctorate   and   looked forward   to   his   new   job.   His   dad   wasn't smiling.     He     looked     toward     the     slider opening   to   the   back   yard,   and   to   the   front door,   as   though   he   scanned   their   home for prying eyes. “You    know    you're    going    to    work    for the    CDC,”    he    said.    His    voice    had    been soft. “They provide data for—” “No.”     His     dad     snapped     the     word. “Keep your eyes open.” His   father   changed   the   topic.   Eager   to talk   about   new   challenges,   Jason   let   the moment     go.     But     the     short     exchange returned    to    him    over    the    past    decade when he least expected it. “Are you there?” Tina asked. “Yeah.      Look.      I've      got      two      more stations.    Be    back    in    an    hour.    Let's    talk about it over dinner.” She    was    quiet    too    long.    “Why    aren't you happy about this?” “It   isn't   that.   You   just   caught   me   at   a bad   time.   Looking   at   two   billion   corpses has a way of filtering your energy.” She    cleared    her    throat.    “Why    you'll never   get   me   on   Alligator   Alley.   Bye.”   The connection broke. He    cleared    the    long-abandoned    toll plaza   and   the   highway   veered   north.   The mounds   of   kudzu   on   the   shoulder   flipped by   in   a   blur.   Hidden   underneath   it,   tens of    thousands    of    vehicles,    most    of    them containing        skeletons.        He        couldn't remember    ever    being    revolted    by    the scene.   It   wasn't   that   he   was   desensitized. He'd   never   been   sensitive   to   it   in   the   first place.    In    his    lifetime,    they    had    always been    there.    Nothing    but    the    red    and yellow   blooms   interrupted   the   monotony of     green     flowing     over     the     entombed skeletons no one had the time to collect. Difficult   to   imagine   the   millions   who pulled   off   the   road   to   die,   coughing   blood, bleeding    out    before    car    engines    stalled, left    to    rot    under    the    sweltering    Florida sun.   So   many,   everywhere,   impossible   to deal   with.   Those   who   didn't   get   off   the pavement    were    eventually    pushed    aside by a bulldozer. That   was   the   world   two   years   into   the plague.   There   was   no   one   left   to   shout, “Bring out your dead.” He   reached   to   his   hip   and   activated   his computer.   The   holographic   monitor   and keyboard    opened    in    front    of    him.    He selected    the    icon    that    opened    his    notes and   scanned   the   displayed   list.   Since   his father’s     death,     his     ominous     warning, Jason    identified    seven    companies    that weren't   just   contractors   for,   but   arms   of the CDC. He   glared   at   the   third   name.   It   was   the lab    Tina    worked    for.    High    on    the    food chain.    It    was    the    lab    Dr.    Harrington managed,   where   Tina   expected   him   to   go. Jason's   eyes   continued   down   the   roster   of firms   “to   work   for.”   Near   the   bottom,   he glared   at   the   name   that   matched   up   with the icon on his shirt. His   father   joined   the   management   of that   company   and   was   dead   three   weeks later.   One   day   after   telling   Jason,   “Keep your eyes open.” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017