Prologue

The little seedling had taken root in our thoughts long before we ever realized it was there, struggling to break free from its tiny shell and sprout up into the sunlight of our consciousness. It was simple but ingenious, the kind of idea that leaves you stunned when you realize how perfectly all the pieces fit together. It grew by slow degrees from something inconsequential into something inescapable, something imposing yet strangely comforting, towering over us as though its very purpose in life was to reach and crack open the sky above us to reveal a splendid truth. As all around us the world was going to Hell it planted itself firmly in our minds, digging deep into our brains like tree roots into soil, desperately clinging to life as though without us for support it would fade into thin air and be lost forever.

It sounded nothing short of crazy at first, and Alex and I wanted no part of it. Not that the two of us had never done anything remotely crazy before; for instance, I once tried to persuade him to let me jump over his dad's car while he drove it because it was part of a film project and I wanted it to look convincing, and he once faked cutting off his own finger to freak out his parents, which, knowing his dad, was an especially stupid thing to do. But we knew where to draw the line. This was a whole new level of crazy, and it wasn't something we were about to risk our lives and our sanity for. Taking the risk of becoming one of them was pretty much at the very bottom of our summer to-do list. We tried to abandon the idea and focus on adjusting to the chaotic new world we found ourselves in.

But it was a persistent little bastard, and it would not let itself be ignored. Though we tried to push it from our minds, somehow it always bounced right back. It was certainly a bizarre survival strategy, there was no doubt about that; but once we got over our instinctive denial, we found no reason why it shouldn't be possible. The more we thought about it, the more we grew sure that it held potential. Aside from the daily trials of staying alive, we spent most of our time obsessing over this idea, and as the days dragged on it became harder and harder to simply let it go. Even after losing everything we'd lost, and in spite of the multitude of troubles on our minds, we couldn't help but keep coming back to this elegantly simple, hauntingly clever idea.

It infected us like the plague was infecting everyone we knew and loved, taking hold of us just like a disease, possessing us with an unshakable resolve to follow this road to the end and see where it led us. Maybe our theory was right. And if not, it wasn't like we had great odds of lasting much longer anyway. It was an absolute miracle that we'd even survived this long. People everywhere were being taken by the infection, men and women and children, dead weight and die-hard survivalists alike. What hope did we, two kids who had only just finished high school, who were hardly even ready for real life in the old world, have to stand against it?

And ultimately, what would it really matter if we failed?

The End

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