The pain in my hand was excruciating, but I didn’t really care. I contemplated the bluish veins creeping up from my hand to my arm, probably toward my heart. I didn’t care. My head ached, my body ached, and I was hungry. I was very, very angry. Mostly, I strove for emotional control.

“We’re losing him,” Jared said from seemingly afar.

“No, he’ll be okay,” Anna replied, equally far away.

As far as I knew, my brother Joe, who had been infected along with Mike, was still out there somewhere, getting sicker, but gaining the enormous physical strength the infection presented after a period of severe illness, all while slowly going insane. Before Mike was “cured,” he had actually been obsessed with feeding on human flesh.

All of these thoughts went through my feverish mind in a haze. I tried to keep focused, to keep caring. I cared, but I didn’t care, too.

So weird.

I wanted so desperately to keep my daughter safe. And I cared for Carla, too. Who else? Jared, and even Mike, although just hours ago, he’d wanted to kill Anna. And, of course, I cared for my little brother, Joey.

I didn’t know what to do and I was so sick that I almost didn’t give a damn. Almost. But I had to give a damn. God, I wanted to live, but at the same time, I was losing...interest.

Jesus.

“Dad, I’m counting on you to keep it together,” Anna said. “We all are.”

I tried to hang onto that more than anything else.

“Jack, are you hungry?” Carla asked.

I nodded. The growing fatigue, I knew, could only be cured by feeding. Feeding on...human flesh. To be more specific, gray matter. Brains.

Lord help me.

“Want an ice cream sandwich?” Anna asked me. “We have lots.”

I shook my head, gathered my thoughts. Or tried to. Mostly, my thoughts were on the gray stuff. I looked absently down at my hand. It had been cut a couple of days ago by a punch I’d delivered to my own brother. I was guessing this infection, or disease, was spread through blood contact. I didn’t even want to risk touching anyone.

Mike was absolutely convinced he was cured. That meant...what? I couldn’t remember.

“Hey, bro, come back to us,” Mike said. His voice came from so far away.

“You got better,” I heard Anna say to Mike. “Does he have to get better the same way?”

“I’m fresh out of alternate ideas,” Mike replied and Anna gave a little cry. She could have been weeping from atop one of the distant hills behind us, she sounded so far away.

The voices continued, all sounding distant, hollow, empty. At least, to my ears.

“Let’s weigh our options,” said Carla, “and be very cautious with our actions.”

“I can’t bear this,” my daughter said. Jared, her boyfriend, held her hand tightly.

I could barely pay attention to the conversation. My head ached so viciously that I couldn’t think of much else but the thump-thump of it all.

I’m fucked, I thought.

I was also thirsty as hell but could no longer drink any form of liquid. I vaguely realized that I should be seriously dehydrated by now. Most of all, my hand hurt like someone was driving a railroad spike through it, although the cold pack had alleviated some of the pain.

I looked at Carla and reason left my mind. I wanted her. Not sexually. I wanted to taste her. Taste her skin, her blood...her brain...I shook my head again. I decisively glanced the other way, out the window and into the night, but only saw my reflection in the kitchen window. My own face looked desperate, haunted, and a shadow of my former self. I might have even had drool at the corners of my mouth.

“Dad, are you even listening to us?” Anna’s voice brought me back.

I forced my mind back into the conversation and turned my face her way.

“Daddy?”

Daddy, she called me Daddy, I thought to myself. Like when she was little.

“What?” I asked blankly, forcing myself to cough up a one-word answer. Except it came out like a growl. I’m a monster.

“Mike says we should contact Uncle Joe,” she said. Her eyes fell on mine with growing concern.

“Okay,” I said simply. Was that the right word? My mind was wandering again, leaving logic behind. All I could think of was the smell of humans, and the hunger that raged within me.

Anna was sitting next to me. I could smell my daughter’s scent, and in a perverse way, I wanted it. Can’t be right, I told myself. She’s your daughter, for Christ’s sake. But my hand, my good hand, reached out and pawed her. She shrank back, startled.

Jared jumped up and pulled her back. Carla took no chances. She switched into cop mode, jumped up and twisted my arm behind my back. I cried out in pain. It was my infected arm! But she didn’t release me.

“What are you doing?” she barked, not backing down, not one bit.

I tried to apologize but my throat and lips couldn’t form the words. I could still think but I was unable to articulate. It was maddening and more frightening than the pain in my arm. I had lost the ability to communicate with words, a basic human function.

Once again, I desperately tried to gather my thoughts. I loved my daughter with all my heart, more than anything or anyone in the world. How could I have wanted to hurt her?

God, I am going insane.

Carla squinted at me, clear intent in her eyes that I had crossed some line. She knew, damn her. She knew.

In the next instant, I felt rage for Carla, who had been nothing but good to me through all of this. I lunged at her. I didn’t care about the pain in my twisted arm. I wanted her to leave me alone, and at the same time, I wanted to taste her flesh. I turned and lunged at her, my mouth wide open.

Carla immediately cold-cocked me with her handgun.

Chapter Two

I slowly came back into consciousness.

My eyes were still closed, but I could feel that I was lying on hard, cold cement that did cool the back of my head a little. I turned on my side. I didn’t care where I was. I just wanted my face to feel the same cool relief. It felt good, the only part of my body or mind that was soothed.

The smell of the cellar and the darkness came to me slowly. My right hand hurt like hell, and I realized my left hand was chained to one of the beams.

I was hazy but I managed to sit up and look around. Where was I? You’re locked in the cellar. Why? I tried to concentrate but my mind wasn’t cooperating. Think, Jack.

The last thing I remembered was sitting with everyone at the table, listening to them all trying to figure something out. A cure. Because I was sick. I wasn’t sick, I was just hungry. I tugged at my cuffed hand. Carla must have done it.

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