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This Plague of Days Finale: Another Sneak Peek

Kelly Dickson had been a mother, wife and elementary school teacher at the Brooklyn School for the Blind. Before X, Z and A — three deadly strains of the Sutr virus — pulled the world down the path toward the new Dark Ages,  Kelly lived in New York all her life. She named her dog (a tall, affectionate boxer) Batman. She faced the darkness with a smile, confident she could find the way.

As the summer turned to autumn and Sutr’s first stirrings were still a vague, foreign problem mentioned at the bottom of newscasts, Kelly shook as she asked her husband to check the electronic test kit for her. Kelly was nervous about having a child. The sensor read: blue. 

Kelly didn’t know what blue meant. She didn’t know what the color blue looked like, either.

“It means we’re pregnant,” Brad said.

“One of us is more pregnant than you,” Kelly said. It was true the baby was an accident, but one of the happy kinds. 

“It’ll be okay. It’ll be better than okay. We’ll make it good. Maybe even great.”

“I’m scared, but I think we’ll just have to settle for perfect,” she said.

“We’re too ambitious not to try, right?”

“Yes, that’s true.” She kissed him.

Her husband, Bradley Dickson, was an engineer for Dell. Brad had been buried under high aspirations and heavy work long before the baby. As the baby grew within Kelly, the world changed behind the Dicksons. It was as if they stood with their backs to a movie screen, oblivious as the plagues built in strength. They fixated on a bright future instead. They talked of someday grandchildren. They could only see each other.

When the baby came, Kelly gave birth at home. The hospitals weren’t considered safe for childbirth by then. A neighbor woman helped Brad deliver the child, a little girl the Dicksons named Susan. After the baby was born, Brad took up any slack. He helped with the baby without a grumble, rising above Kelly’s expectations in every way.

Then the first wave of the Sutr-X virus hit New York deeper and harder. Quarantines and looting began. Brad’s abilities shone even brighter. He was strong. He knew guns. When the looters came to steal from the Dicksons, he drove the gang away with a bullet between the eyes of the first thief who made it through their barricaded door.

“Count the days,” Brad said. “On the other side of this thing, we’ll say we spent 100, or maybe 200 days, in hell. Then everything will get back to okay and someday we’ll bore our grandchildren with stories about the big, bad flu. Someday, all this will feel as remote as the trials and horrors of pioneer days. I swear.”

Brad told Kelly that he’d thrown the looter’s corpse in the street as a warning to anyone else who would threaten his family. His voice was steady and calm and so matter-of-fact, he scared her a little. Later, she heard him crying in the night as he rocked the baby.

It was the first time she’d ever heard Brad cry. When he did that, she was filled with confidence that the plague hadn’t driven him mad. Despite throwing a corpse into Nostrand Avenue, her husband was still one of the good guys. Kelly was so sure then that they’d make it through the Sutr pandemic.

Then the baby began coughing. The Sutr Flu took tiny Susan Dickson on a Thursday night as a rainstorm poured and pounded.

Brad withdrew and stayed in the nursery with the baby. He wouldn’t come out and Kelly couldn’t force herself to come in. The smell of baby powder, the softness of Susan’s flannel sheets and the small, too-quiet room set off more crying jags. Kelly stayed in her bed.

Kelly knew she could stop counting the days now. The calendar would never matter again. There would be no first steps or first day at school or someday grandchildren. With the baby dead and gone (gone where?), no matter how soft and warm the weather, every day would feel like the rainy Thursday night Susan died.

Kelly slept and hoped it was all really nightmare born of maternal fears compounded by a failing world. Her baby’s cry did not wake her. A full day had passed. When she went to the door, she could hear the rocker’s creak on the old hardwood floor. Brad still held Susan, rocking gently and muttering to the child, but the baby would never awake. 

“There are flowers called baby’s breath,” Kelly told Brad from the nursery door. “Until now, I never thought how morbid that sounds. Something that dies right after you get it shouldn’t be called baby’s breath.”

“It’s time,” he said. “We can’t keep her here any longer.”

That was all Brad said. When Susan died, it was as if the baby had taken part of Brad with her, leaving Kelly and her guide dog alone with the ghost of what might have been.

* * * 

Kelly and Brad made their way to the nearest church to bury Susan.

Even as he dug their daughter’s tiny grave, between Kelly’s sobs and moans, Brad began a gravelly cough that would not ease. With the exertion of digging, his hacking coughs came thicker and faster. “Kell…I’m sorry. I think I’m gonna have to dig a bigger hole.”

“You are leaving me alone.”

“Just…” Brad broke into another coughing fit. “I thought I could fight it, Kell. I really did. I’ve had the fever for a few days. I didn’t want to tell you.”

“You’ve been hiding it from me.”

“I’m afraid…when I went out to find food…I’m afraid I brought it back with me. Sutr got me, but I killed Susan.” He wept, then spit something out. Then Kelly listened as Brad  threw up and wretched.

“Give me the shovel,” she said. “I can dig.”

“I’ll hold her,” Brad said. “When it’s bedtime, could you please tuck us in together? I’ll keep her safe. Susan and I will hide under the covers.”

Batman whined, snuffled and nuzzled Kelly’s hand, looking for reassurance. Maybe the guide dog somehow sensed the horrors still on the way. Kelly had no reassurance to offer. She wept as she dug.

Brad coughed a long time, each breath wheezing into the next, shorter and shallower as the day cooled to night.

Heedless of nightfall, Kelly knew darkness. She kept digging, making comfortable room for two.

Brad struggled to breathe and spat thick liquid obstructions into the growing pile of dirt beside him. His fever spiked into hallucinations and Brad began to talk to his dead baby about fields bathed in sunshine. 

“Do you see that, Susie?” Brad asked, his thoughts floating in at a languid pace. “Elysium fields…white circles in the sky…bullshit harps and wings of false promises…the end of trying. Susie, I don’t wanna try no more…I’m tired, baby. I’m really…really…bone tired.”

And Brad stopped trying. His arms went slack and he almost dropped the baby. He lay down and covered Susan in loose dirt until only her cherubic face was exposed to the world.

Later, Brad stopped breathing.

Kelly was angry when she’d found what he’d done with the baby. She wept and wailed as she pushed him into the open grave.

When she was ready to say goodbye to them both, she placed the baby carefully in her husband’s arms for the last time. She picked up the shovel and tucked Brad and Susan in for their longest night.

~ The finale to the Plague of Days trilogy launches on Father’s Day. On June 15, This Plague of Days, The Complete Three Seasons by Robert Chazz Chute will also be released. The future is sweet and terrible and thought-provoking and filled with the infected (of several varieties.)

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Sneak Peek: From the prelude to This Plague of Days, Season 3

In the last of the old days, while the virus still incubated small and soft, we went about our lives. We went to work. We bought and sold and ate and slept. Distracted by the little things, we somehow forgot big dreams.

We wished we lived where we vacationed, but we did not move. We acted like our time was not finite. We fell in and out of love, heedless of the larger dramas at the edges of vision.

Before the pandemic wound around the Earth and began to squeeze, we did not connect cause and consequence. We were actors on the stage of our imaginations, improvising our lines, unaware the theater was on fire.

Those who did not believe in higher powers? They still believed in the illusion of tomorrow. We all thought the future would somehow be better, or at least no worse. We were blind to Entropy’s rising storm.

Nature’s hammer blows were theoretical for most of us then. We did not believe in death until the hurricane made landfall. Until that nice receptionist from the doctor’s office called about a surprise, and very urgent, follow-up appointment, the threats were not personal. Danger was for other people.

We didn’t know complacency was slavery. We were fairly happy in our blindness, but we didn’t even appreciate that.

The Sutr plagues made us honest. We began to talk about suffering and loss and what we believed. Disease taught us compassion. Fear reminded us we were still animals, part of the food chain. We learned we are all, without exception, Time’s target.

These are the lessons of the pandemic. This is your plague of days.

~ This Plague of Days 3 launches on Father’s Day, as does This Plague of Days, The Complete Series.


This Plague of Days: The Mackinac Bridge Massacre

An excerpt from todays’ revisions of Season 2 of This Plague of Days. 

TPOD season 1 ecoverJack ordered her daughter to close her eyes, too.

“No, Mom.”

“Anna! I don’t want you to wake up screaming with nightmares tonight.”

“No,” Anna said. “I’ll look. Years from now, I’ll tell my children what I saw here.” She gazed at tangled horrors as the van bumped along over a sprawl of bodies. The uncaring Sutr Virus had not done this. People had done this to other people.

Many of those murdered had no eyes now, but their gaping jaws suggested anger, fear, pain and surprise. Anna saw torn flesh. White bones rose. Skeletons emerged from their hiding places. 

“If I don’t look…” Anna said, “it’s not right. Someone has to bear witness. If I don’t look, it’s like saying this doesn’t matter or it means I won’t be around later to pass it on. Someday soon, the animals will finish eating and what will be left but me and my memory? Not looking is like…”

“Giving up,” Theo said. “Yes. Look, Anna! It’s a heavy load, but someone who can tell the story should carry the memory.” 

 

Season 2 arrives this fall. You can get Season 1 now by clicking the cover. The revisions are going well, but I’m adding a lot of new material as well. Season 2 is packed with action.

 


This Plague of Days: An intro to serials and the big idea

Reports of autism cases per 1,000 children gre...

Reports of autism cases per 1,000 children grew dramatically in the US from 1996 to 2007. It is unknown how much, if any, growth came from changes in autism’s prevalence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve never read a book as a serial, think of it like a television season broken into episodes. Just like TV, I throw hooks and leave characters hanging off cliffs until next week.

There are five episodes in Season One. You can purchase the weekly episodes at 99 cents each, or look under the couch cushions and find out what happens next immediately by buying TPOD Season One for just $3.99.

Gosh. Um. Getting the discount is the recommended course. Not in the couch? Try your winter coat pockets or the change in the car’s ashtray. Thanks!

Strap in, buckle up and say, “Pickle!” (You’ll find out.)

And watch out for the zombies. They’re coming for you after a long voyage and they are starving.

~ Robert Chazz Chute

June 2013

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Extended, special sneak peek: How This Plague of Days begins

“Basically,” Dr. Julian Sutr said, “Viruses are zombies. They are neither classifiable as living nor dead. When given the opportunity, they reproduce using a host. Their molecules form complex

Until the Sutr Virus hits here, you could read these books by Robert Chazz Chute. Just sayin'.

Until the Sutr Virus hits here, you could read these books by Robert Chazz Chute. Just sayin’.

structures but they need hosts to reproduce. Nucleic acids, proteins — ”

The Skype connection froze for a moment and then the doctor understood he was being interrupted. “—preciate your summary, doctor.” Two men in uniform and one woman in a suit, each with their own screen, regarded him with impatience.

“The virus has grown more…opportunistic. What fooled us early on was the varied rate of infection and lethality. I suspect individual variance in liver enzymes accounts — ”

The woman cleared her throat and Sutr lost his place in the notes he’d prepared for this meeting. She sighed as he fumbled with his iPad. He had too many notes and not enough time. The woman sighed and tapped a stylus on her desk. “I’m meeting with him soon, doctor. I need the bullet, please. What do I tell him?”

Sutr removed his glasses and closed his eyes. This was too important to stammer and stutter through. Finding the correct words had never mattered more. He took a deep breath but kept his eyes closed and pretended he was speaking intimately with his beloved Manisha. His wife’s name meant “wisdom” and she shared her name with the goddess of the mind. He needed her and her namesake now. “My team and I…” He took another deep breath. “The virus has jumped.”

One of the men in uniform, an admiral in white, spoke, which automatically muted Dr. Sutr’s microphone. “First it was bats, then birds, then migratory birds, then pigs and cows. What animal do we warn the WHO about now? What animal do the Chinese have to slaughter next to keep the cap on this thing? A vaccine won’t help billions of Chinese peasants if they starve to death first.”

“I’m very aware of the stakes, sir, but the virus has jumped to humans. I asked my contact at Google to watch the key words. The epidemiological mapping of the spread is already lighting up in Japan, Malaysia, Chechnya and I already have confirmation it’s in parts of the Middle East, I’m afraid.”

“What’s your next step, doctor?” the woman asked.

Sutr opened his eyes. “I’ve sent my team home. They should be with their families now. As should we all.”

The man in the green uniform, a four-star general, leaned closer to his camera, filling Sutr’s screen. “This is no time to give up the fight, doctor. We’ve got a world to save from your…what did you call it? Zombie virus?”

“Pardon me, general. It was a clumsy metaphor. My point was that viruses are dead and I can’t kill dead things. I’m afraid we lost containment. I suspect we must have lost control sometime in the last two to three weeks. Perhaps less. Maybe more. There are too many variables. This virus is a tricky one. Something new.”

The general paled. “Are you saying this disease was engineered?”

For the first time, Sutr showed irritation toward his inquisitors. “I don’t know! I told you, there are too many variables. The loss of containment could have been sabotage or someone on my team made a mistake. Maybe they were too afraid to admit their mistake. It’s possible I made a mistake and I did not recognize it as such! I’ve identified the virus signature, but the work will have to be taken up by someone else. In my opinion, we need a miracle. As a virologist who has worked with Ebola, my faith in miracles is absent. Nature doesn’t know mercy or luck. That hope was beaten out of me in Africa.”

The admiral cut in. “Look, you’re already headed for the Nobel by identifying the virus. There’s time. We have to hope — ” but the woman in the suit held up a hand and he fell silent.

“We do appreciate the complexity of the challenge before us, Dr. Sutr. That’s why we need you. You’re the best and you’re farther along in the research than any of the other labs.” The woman looked conciliatory now and her voice took on a new, soothing note. “We’re very anxious to have you continue.”

Dr. Sutr stiffened. “I’ve already composed and sent an email for the lab network. You’ll have the entire data dump and I’ve made extra notes so your teams won’t waste time with what hasn’t worked. Dan, at CDC will coordinate my latest data to the other nodes. Good luck with it.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You were vague about the virus gaining traction in ‘parts of the Middle East’. Have you line of sight confirmation, doctor?”

“Yes. I’ve seen the virus’s work in person. Here in Dubai, in my own house. Tarun, my baby boy died last night. My wife, Manisha, followed him to see where he went early this morning.”

“We’re so sorry for your loss, Julian,” the woman said. “Are you infected?”

“I have no doubt I will die.”

“How long have you got, son?” the Admiral said. “You’ve said the infection gradient and lethality is so variable…you could keep working. We could still defeat this thing.”

Julian Sutr’s voice came firm and steady. “General, Admiral…Madam Secretary. It’s entirely possible that I brought it home to them. My wife and child are dead by the virus that bears my name. I should have been an obstetrician like my mother. She brought life into the world…” A tear slipped down the doctor’s cheek. “You people ask me what you should tell him. Go to your briefing. Tell him that, in all likelihood, he is the last President of the United States.”

Dr. Julian Sutr picked up the Sig Sauer P220 from his desk, placed the muzzle under his chin and pulled the trigger.


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