This book is dedicated to Kathleen Secor, Diana Fox, and Sunil Patel.
Without their efforts, I would never have made it this far.
From the Dead
People say things like “it wasn’t supposed to go this way” and “this isn’t what I wanted.” They’re just making noise. There’s no such thing as “supposed to,” and what you want doesn’t matter. All that matters is what happened.
I honestly have no idea what’s going on anymore. I just need to find something I can hit.
My name is Georgia Carolyn Mason. I am one of the Orphans of the Rising, the class of people who were under two years of age when the dead first started to walk. My biological family is presumably listed somewhere on The Wall, an anonymous footnote of a dead world. Their world died in the Rising. They didn’t live to see the new one.
My adoptive parents have raised me to ask questions, understand the realities of my situation, and, in times of necessity, to shoot first. They have equipped me with the tools I need to survive, and I am grateful. Through this blog, I will do my best to share my experiences and opinions as openly and honestly as I can. It is the best way to honor the family that raised me; it is the only way I have to honor the family that lost me.
I’m going to tell you the truth as I understand it. You can take it from there.
—From Images May Disturb You, the blog of Georgia Mason, June 20, 2035.
So George says I have to write a “mission statement,” because our contract with Bridge Supporters says I will. I am personally opposed to mission statements, since they’re basically one more way of sucking the fun out of everything. I tried telling George this. She told me that it’s her job to suck the fun out of everything. She then threatened physical violence of a type I will not describe in detail, as it might unsettle and upset my theoretical readership. Suffice to say that I am writing a mission statement. Here it is:
I, Shaun Phillip Mason, being of sound mind and body, do hereby swear to poke dead things with sticks, do stupid shit for your amusement, and put it all on the Internet where you can watch it over and over again. Because that’s what you want, right?
Glad to oblige.
—From Hail to the King, the blog of Shaun Mason, June 20, 2035.
My story ended where so many stories have ended since the Rising: with a man—in this case, my adoptive brother and best friend, Shaun—holding a gun to the base of my skull as the virus in my blood betrayed me, transforming me from a thinking human being into something better suited to a horror movie.
My story ended, but I remember everything. I remember the cold dread as I watched the lights on the blood test unit turn red, one by one, until my infection was confirmed. I remember the look on Shaun’s face when he realized this was it—it was really happening, and there wasn’t going to be any clever third act solution that got me out of the van alive.
I remember the barrel of the gun against my skin. It was cool, and it was soothing, because it meant Shaun would do what he had to do. No one else would get hurt because of me.
No one but Shaun.
This was something we’d never planned for. I always knew that one day he’d push his luck too far, and I’d lose him. We never dreamed that he would be the one losing me. I wanted to tell him it would be okay. I wanted to lie to him. I remember that: I wanted to lie to him. And I couldn’t. There wasn’t time, and even then, I didn’t have it in me.
I remember starting to write. I remember thinking this was it; this was my last chance to say anything I wanted to say to the world. This was the thing I was going to be judged on, now and forever. I remember feeling my mind start to go. I remember the fear.
I remember the sound of Shaun pulling the trigger.
I shouldn’t remember anything after that. That’s where my story ended. Curtain down, save file, that’s a wrap. Once the bullet hits your spinal cord, you’re done; you don’t have to worry about this shit anymore. You definitely shouldn’t wake up in a windowless, practically barren room that looks suspiciously like a CDC holding facility, with no one to talk to but some unidentified voice on the other side of a one-way mirror.
The bed where I’d woken up was bolted to the floor, and so was the matching bedside table. It wouldn’t do to have the mysteriously resurrected dead journalist throwing things at the mirror that took up most of one wall. Naturally, the wall with the mirror was the only wall with a door—a door that refused to open. I’d tried waving my hands in front of every place that might hold a motion sensor, and then I’d searched for a test panel in the vain hope that checking out clean would make the locks let go and release me.
There were no test panels, or screens, or ocular scanners. There wasn’t anything inside that seemed designed to let me out. That was chilling all by itself. I grew up in a post-Rising world, one where blood tests and the threat of infection are a part of daily life. I’m sure I’d been in sealed rooms without testing units before. I just couldn’t remember any.
The room lacked something else: clocks. There was nothing to let me know how much time had passed since I woke up, much less how much time had passed before I woke up. There’d been a voice from the speaker above the mirror, an unfamiliar voice asking my name and what the last thing I remembered was. I’d answered him—“My name is Georgia Mason. What the fuck is going on here?”—and he’d gone away without answering my question. That might have been ten minutes ago. It might have been ten hours ago. The lights overhead glared steady and white, not so much as flickering as the seconds went slipping past.
That was another thing. The overhead lights were industrial fluorescents, the sort that have been popular in medical facilities since long before the Rising. They should have been burning my eyes like acid… and they weren’t.
I was diagnosed with retinal Kellis-Amberlee when I was a kid, meaning that the same disease that causes the dead to rise had taken up permanent residence in my eyeballs. It didn’t turn me into a zombie—retinal KA is a reservoir condition, one where the live virus is somehow contained inside the body. Retinal KA gave me extreme light sensitivity, excellent night vision, and a tendency to get sickening migraines if I did anything without my sunglasses on.
Well, I wasn’t wearing sunglasses, and it wasn’t like I could dim the lights, but my eyes still didn’t hurt. All I felt was thirst, and a vague, gnawing hunger in the pit of my stomach, like lunch might be a good idea sometime soon. There was no headache. I honestly couldn’t decide whether or not that was a good sign.
Anxiety was making my palms sweat. I scrubbed them against the legs of my unfamiliar white cotton pajamas. Everything in the room was unfamiliar… even me. I’ve never been heavy—a life spent running after stories and away from zombies doesn’t encourage putting on weight—but the girl in the one-way mirror was thin to the point of being scrawny. She looked like she’d be easy to break. Her hair was as dark as mine. It was also too long, falling past her shoulders. I’ve never allowed my hair to get that long. Hair like that is a passive form of suicide when you do what I do for a living. And her eyes…