Readers’ Favorite says, “… one of the best books I have read lately . . . an exquisite book . . . that will break your heart.”
Gene manipulation, mind uploading, and nanotechnology combine to alter the definition of being human. Synthetic-life and genetic engineering allow the world’s greatest minds to live forever, uploading new life to perfect their craft.
“Overall, the Wises offer readers a solid tale of intrigue that also explores humanity’s greed for knowledge, money and immortality. An engaging read for sci-fi and zombie fans.” – Kirkus Reviews
He searched their faces as he hit the surface; blank, dark eyes stared, watching him sink slowly, peacefully beneath the water. There was no scream left in him. Both his cousins stood by, silent, reaching for their smokes, which they lit from a shared flame before tossing the match into the water as the cool quiet closed above him. His bare rump hit the bottom gently as his cousins turned and disappeared from the pool’s edge.
The sun peered cautiously over the rooftops as if unsure whether there was any innocence left in this world worth warming. Blue awakened for his morning libation, his gray head pounding, as was the habit as last night’s buzz drained from his senses. He stumbled from his tiny abode among the plastic bags of chlorine, pool chemicals, and cleaning supplies stored in the shed, his little hole in the world.
He moaned. Survived another day, he thought as he struggled to emerge, his eyes scaled over with a thick layer of morning crust. He squinted, seeing only vague forms through the gunk as the shadows crept slowly into hiding. He glared with contempt at the sun. Pushing through the chemically induced fog, he bent low to flush the haze from his brain. The concrete, still warm beneath him, provided a comforting contrast to the cool splash as he thrust his face into cupped hands full of water. He flushed the water across the back of his neck and over the top of his head, soaking his sweat stained T-shirt. Blue shook his head gently, not wanting to disturb the careful balance between the fog in his brain and the potential
for head-splitting pain that was sure to come with any enthusiastic movement.
The water in the neighborhood pool was clear and still. The way it should be!
This early in the morning, the still water provided a view of the cracks in the pool’s sides and the chips in the blue paint that gave the water the pale blue color of a Caribbean bay. Or what one should look like, anyway, he thought. Never seen one.
Kneeling at the water’s edge, his eyes shut against the burning light, Blue waited as the steady thumping eased to a low background rhythm before trying to push himself from the rough surface. With hands thick and cracked from years of labor, he pressed the sides of his head, shoving the heel of his palms into his eyes to steady himself. He blew hard through grimy teeth and growled against the pain in his head as he shoved himself to his feet.
The sun, finally giving in to convention, broke over the battered, parched, red-brick row houses of Philadelphia. Blue froze when he spotted the boy floating effortlessly on the water. The sun-kissed skin stopped just above his hips and started once again just below his knees, his tan evidence of the low riders normally clinging precariously to skinny juvenile hips. No one was there to compete for space at this time of the day, allowing him peace as he reclined effortlessly upon the water. As Blue watched, the kid seemed to gaze at the orange haze peeking cautiously over the chipped and broken slate rooftops. His handsome dark eyes were shaded by long black lashes, which filtered the sun like a wide ebony fan.
As the sun broke over the weathered homes of Philadelphia, Blue stood motionless, wondering how the young boy could float so effortlessly in the chilled morning water. His skin, darkened by the summer sun, was stretched tight over tiny ribs. He bobbled silently in the quiet of the early morning, apparently unaware that he had been found. Blue, his head beginning to clear, enjoyed the sound of the lapping water. Feeling assured that his swollen brains would not squeeze out his ear, Blue slowly eased the pressure of his hands against his skull and peeled back the lids of his eyes to let in a sliver more of the morning sun. “Damn kids know better,” he grumbled to himself, turning to the long pool hook that leaned against the shed. He carried it like a javelin in his fist. Give him a thump, he thought. Chase his dumb ass home where it belongs.
Stooped, hoping not to be seen, he moved slowly, pitching to one side with the weight of the hook clenched in his hand, and crept close, crouched like a hung over cat, stumbling as his eyes began to clear. “Aw, damn,” he exclaimed, slapping the hook to the deck, disappointed that his game was done. He could see the boy clearly now. The bruises along his protruding ribs had stopped spreading a couple hours ago, tracing dark lanes along the bones that merged in a bloating blue mass across his back. His eyes had stopped swelling, and his nose had stopped bleeding, leaving a large blood stain that drained slowly into the pool and spread around his head like a swirling dark hollow.
“Shit,” Blue spat through gritted teeth. “You gotta be—oh!” He moaned as the anger increased the pulsing thud in his head. He looked around, hoping to find someone, a witness, anyone he could enlist for support before making the police call.
The naked child lolled limp and broken in the shallows of the neighborhood pool, cradled by submerged stairs as the cool morning breeze rippled across the chilled, still blue water, scuffing the shattered body along the coarse cement edge. He waited, hesitating, as though he had found a forgotten toy abandoned in the rush to make last night’s dinner engagement. Fading trails of gelled blood slipped from wounds out of place on the innocent.
Blue watched as the ambulance crew arrived about fifteen minutes after the 911 call that reported a floater in the south side pool. He could see by their casual manner that it wasn’t unusual to get such a call on a hot summer morning. Swimmers occasionally jumped the fence after having one too many beers and went belly up in his pool, but nothing would have prepared them for the unspeakable violence this child must have experienced.
Jake was the crew leader’s name, the only full-time member of his crew. Blue watched as Jake surveyed the scene to be sure it was secure. Blue slumped against the shed, angry, as he watched an officer zero in on him and make his approach. Certain of the endless blabber they would employ to coax a coherent sentence from the chemical haze in his head that still crowded out any rational story, he was dreading this part.
The kid’s dark eyes burned in his mind. Terror, he thought, and sadness were etched on the small child’s face. The mouth was open in a lost scream for the help that hadn’t come. The kid’s eyes spoke volumes. Blue watched as Jake lurched back, his stomach heaving as though he would lose his breakfast. Blue palmed his face but could not stop the words from invading.
“Where’s his tongue?” Jake blurted in shock as he tore his eyes from the child’s gaze. Blue winced. “Check the pool.” Jake’s voice rattled through Blue’s inflamed brain. He spread his fingers to see the two squad members huddled near the entrance.
“Oh crap,” Blue muttered, shaking his head upon hearing Jake say to the crew, “Make sure we have all of him.” Blue tried but could not block the words. He could hear the officer leaning close and babbling in his ear about sounds, voices, screams, something during the night, and yet he could not stop Jake’s voice. He heard him mutter something that made him shudder.
Jake’s voice pushed through again, saying, “I don’t see his tongue,” and then trailed off.
Blue lifted his head to see Jake slowly donning a pair of chest high rubber waders and gauntlets before stepping into the pool. He watched, unable to tear his eyes from the scene as Jake fi shed a thick tarp beneath the broken child to lift him from the water. His naked body bent horribly wrong when Jake placed his hands in the water and eased him out. Blue felt his stomach flip as Jake grimaced and the bones separated in his hands. The kid’s neck hung at a grotesque angle from his shoulders as he was lifted from the pool.
Thank goodness I missed this last night, Blue thought, sickened as Jake laid the naked boy on the tarp and rolled the edges to prevent liquids from escaping.
Blue could tell Jake didn’t want to remain in the pool any longer than absolutely necessary, as he quickly pulled himself from the water. Just being there seemed to creep him out. “Oh man,” he groaned as he watched the local news van pull to the curb, setting up just outside the gate as patrol cars rolled to the curb. “This is going to be a long day.” He cringed.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
As Blue struggled to make sense of the morning’s tragic beginning, at the other end of town Tim took a short break from his crunches while Nora scoured the cheap pressed-wood cabinets, trying to find something for the two of them to eat. He sat quietly for a moment to catch a story on the morning news show. He needed his daily political fi x, and with the twenty-four-hour cable news running endlessly on his new flat screen, he felt in touch. His deep blue eyes were bright with fresh oxygen gulped to bring his heart rate back to normal as he sat and held the crunch before letting himself fall back, listening for the latest political pundit to burst into their partisan diatribe.
Tim’s apartment was small but efficient and cost effective. Wide, full-length windows lined one wall overlooking the town from the third floor. They filled his life with a constant freshness and a continuous flow of natural light, providing a source of en energy to his small world. His walls were bright and lively with mounted posters reflecting a love for music. A saxophone filled a corner of his room with a brass shine that reflected sparkling gold tones across the wall, and a music chart, complete with notes and scales, was painted in black and white across the main wall, running the length of the room. He was alternately doing crunches and pull-ups, hearing the news, and reading the text for his next class while listening to the tinny sounds of a meal being prepared in the kitchen of the small studio apartment he kept in Center City, Philadelphia. Nora stopped in regularly these days to be sure he took the time to eat.
His kitchen was sparsely populated with lonely vegetable cans tucked back in the far corners of the cabinets and a few random pots and pans distributed about the room with no real order. Tim usually grabbed a salad from the local deli and ate from the clear container with plastic ware or grabbed an energy bar from the local health-food store, rarely sitting down for a meal. His habits did not warrant a formal eating area, so there was no kitchen table or chairs to be had. Tim took meals on the couch when he did eat in
the apartment, kicking his feet up on the ottoman and holding his food in his lap.
“Between work and school,” he could hear her complaining as she banged around nearly empty cabinets searching for something to make, “you would definitely forget to eat if no one was here to remind you.” As she always did, Tim knew she would tie the tiny apron behind her slim waist and search the fridge for something useful. “Do you even have eggs?” her voice carried easily through the small rooms. Tim heard a hint of a pout in her voice.
“What?” Tim replied a little too loudly without looking away from the television. “Nora!” he shouted louder. “Yo! Baby girl. Come here. Quick!” His voice held a sense of urgency that drew her against her better judgment.
The apron around her waist gave Nora a classic curvy look she really enjoyed. Dressed as she was in her gray cotton T-shirt and running shorts, she was stunning. The cotton hugged her hips nicely and draped around her thighs with just enough cling to keep Tim’s workouts short on these mornings. Nora grabbed a towel and poked her head into the room to better hear his answer.
“You’ve got to see this. Oh! Jeez,” he said. His voice gave away his disgust at the scene unfolding across the screen.
She spoke softly as she stepped in to bring the flat screen into view. “Turn it up.”
Nora cringed as the reporter broke into his monologue. “On the scene now is Ron Castle reporting for ROCK news live in New York,” the anchor said in an upbeat tone. “Ron, is there any connection between this attack and the attack earlier this year in Florida?” he asked, tossing the story to the on-scene reporter.
“Thank you, Steve.” Ron began his report as he walked slowly to his right, bringing the police tape into the shot for dramatic effect. The bright yellow plastic tape stretched from tree to bench to pole, forming a narrow off-limits triangle of taut flat plastic protecting a dark mass of sticky ooze. Discarded bandages, wraps, and torn plastic packaging were strewn about—remnants of the lifesaving attempts as the perpetrator and victim were tended to. Gawkers dressed in bright, cheery below-the-knee swim trunks and barely there bikinis mixed with the serious, drab business suits surrounding the area, pointing and gesticulating their excitement at being a part of the latest zombie cannibal assault. Teens hopped up and down, pantomiming for their friends at home whenever the camera panned past them while others rolled in the background, waiting for their opportunity to bust a trick for the cameras.
Ron reported along the shoreline of Battery Park while deep in the background, framed by the silhouette of Ellis Island, children rolled and biked, bursting high in the air from the half-pipes, and fearlessly grinding rails at the skate park. These kids were oblivious, completely unaffected by the cameras and crowds. “The early reports indicate the recent incidents, while very similar, are indeed isolated events with no apparent connection,” Ron said with conviction as the camera zoomed to focus on the dark pool at the center of the triangular isolation zone. “The attacker here in New York was shot and killed this morning by police,” Ron continued in his matter-of fact reporting style. “Preliminary reports received from the police public relations office indicate the latest biting attacks may be drug related, Steve,” Ron said with mock contempt. “Early reports noted traces of what are known on the streets as bath salts may be to blame. A police spokesperson has assured us, Steve,” Ron explained with a grimly straight face, trying to make this personal, “that the attacker in this case, like the others, does not signal the start of the anticipated mythical zombie apocalypse.”
“The victim was originally reported to have lost several fingers as possible defense wounds,” Steve said trying to sound casual. “Is this true? That would seem to imply the victim saw the attacker coming and tried to fend off the attack.” Steve’s blonde co-anchor, long legs crossed to show her red lacquer–soled shoes and athletic thighs, bobbed her head in full agreement as the screen split to allow the anchors to show their fear and personal concern.
“That’s right, Steve,” Ron declared, trying to sound as though he had the inside track to the police reports. The camera panned to reveal a large bloodstain on the sidewalk where the attacker had fallen. Onlookers leaned over the police tape for a better look at the gore. “Investigators say three fingers were bitten off the victim’s right hand in addition to the wounds that likely were the cause of death,” Ron said. “The victim was allegedly bitten multiple times on the side of his neck, severing the artery.” The camera shot faded to a medical chart showing the location of the wounds and faded rapidly to a graphical representation of the possible defense position of the victim to illustrate the effect of the violent attack. “He also suffered several bites to the face and left upper arm in the attack.”
Tim saw Nora’s face twist. “Oh my gosh!” The words burst from her lungs as the report ended. “What’s going on?” her eyes asked as she turned to Tim. She looked to her boyfriend for some comfort and perhaps some sanity.
“Come on, CDC guy,” she said as she turned to him with a hint of sarcasm in her voice, “what the heck?” Nora was never one to mince words and truly expected nothing but greatness from her guy.
Tim was not sure how to answer her challenge. He could see in her stance that she really expected him to have an answer. The look in her eyes told him she was looking to him for an explanation when she asked, “how many zombies are running around out there these days?”
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