Prologue

Toilet paper.

Why is it that, in every apocalypse movie or TV show, no one ever thinks of toilet paper?

It's always big guns, fast cars and thick walls. Yeah, those things are important, but they are not the only things you need for survival. Survival is mundane. Survival is getting water, getting food, getting toilet paper.

I can hear some of you already 'But… but… a shotgun blasting a zombies head off! Lots of guns and ammo to take down the shambling hordes of the undead.'

Buddy, you won't be shooting every second of every day, and if you are, if you need to be shooting for that long, accept the fact you are already dead. What you will be doing every second of every day is sweating, is burning calories and producing by products. Hence, the aforementioned toilet paper and the reason I am ransacking a warehouse that was once a storage area for a large supermarket.

I had gotten a pretty good haul out of this place over the last few months. Plenty of canned goods, dehydrated foods and bottled water. I even got some seeds to start my very own garden and add to the farm produce, because the stores in the warehouse are running out pretty quick. I mustn't be the only one ransacking it. I wonder how many other survivors there are outside my little group. Where are they hiding? We had been through this area of the city a lot in the last few months, mainly on supply runs to the warehouse, but also raiding houses. Which reminds me, I had to visit that house on Richmond Avenue and finish raiding the gun safe and collect the fuel cans we had found hidden there. Then there is the police evidence warehouse. Only part of it had been inventoried, but we could trade that bag of weed with the guys in the agricultural college for more equipment, and then make a run to the pharmacy…

Oh, sorry about that. It's a bad habit of mine, going off on tangents like that. That and talking. My mother often described me as an overly caffeinated, chattering monkey. She was right about that.

I wish I could tell her she was right about a lot of things.

Ahem, yes, well, maybe we should begin again. Agreed?

My name is James Regan, but my friends call me Jimmy- what few there are. I'm seventeen, originally from Ireland, but I currently reside in rural Tennessee, a long way from where my story begins and an even longer way from home.

To make any sense of my situation, I have to go back three years. Back before the words 'Grim Reaper Virus' was stamped on the back of everyone's eyelids and made their nightmares literally claw at their front doors and throats.

Three years earlier

I have tried to make sense of it. I suppose its human nature to try and make sense of things. We claim The Will of God, or Karma. Science maps things out. Something happens because someone is greedy or angry or wants power. But a virus isn't greedy. It doesn't get angry and it doesn't want power.

The Grim Reaper virus was just one virus among many. A cough on a subway. Another H1N1 bug. Bird flu. That's what people thought. But it wasn't. It spread so fast, and affected so many that soon, entire cities began to falter. Countries began sealing their borders, but it didn't matter. A virus doesn't recognize a political border, a line on a map. A tourist in Paris, a business man in Beijing, a couple on their honeymoon in Sydney and a receptionist at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. The Grim Reaper had spread its wings and flown.

I was on holiday in New York when the virus hit. Of course, there was the expected period of rioting and looting, but the police (backed by National Guard units) had quickly restored order. People had locked themselves in their homes, hoping to ride the virus out. I was trapped in my hotel room for three days with my parents and two younger brothers, going mad with pent up energy I couldn't use, when a National Guard truck passed underneath the window. It was directing any foreigners who were in the U.S. legally to head to the city airports. Buses would be provided for us.

We didn't know it, as we boarded the bus for JFK, but things were tittering on the edge. Hospitals were full to near overflowing with the sick and the mortuaries were packed. Even now, three years later, no one knows how many people didn't go to hospital but changed in their own homes. No one knows how many military units deserted their posts. There was a tidal wave coming. But you wouldn't think that when we reached the airport. Everything seemed calm. Maybe it was the belief that we were finally going home. I know my parents looked less stressed than they had in a while.

I was sitting on the curb outside the airport, playing cards with my brothers and a dark skinned boy with dreadlocks. Around us, a line of National Guardsmen and cops with dogs were leading random people out of the massive crowd that had assembled and escorting them to waiting ambulances. An elderly man standing near us whispered to my mother that these people "had the illness." I glanced at one man as he walked past me. He sure looked ill. He was pale and sweating, his skin had a greyish tint to it and his eyes were glassy. I jumped as my brother yelled 'Snap!'

His laughter at my response was drowned out as a group of bikers roared up and pulled up a short way off, and my attention was once again off the game of cards. I loved bikes. Pedal bikes, quad bikes, dirt bikes and the massive Harley-Davidsons the bikers rode. I was memorized and in love. I was so distracted by the bikers (who weren't all one group, but belonged to two different motorcycle gangs that were involved in a turf war) that I didn't notice as a line of buses pulled up near us, or as a the members of the national guard broke into two groups. One group went into the airport terminal, the other jogged down the road in the direction the buses had come from.

I was lost in a daydream, but I was rudely awoken as gunshots rang out from inside the terminal. I jumped to my feet, grabbed my brother's hands and looked around wildly. Inside the airport terminal, the troops were shooting wildly into a slouching, moaning mob of people. Their gunfire seemed to have little to no effect. The two motorcycle gangs took this as an escalation of their feud. A member of the 'minority' MC took out a gun and shot a member of the 'majority' MC.

An electric currant of panic swept through the crowd. As if on cue, the police began herding people onto the buses and ignored the ambulances they had been so diligently guarding only moments before. I tightened my grip on my brothers' hands and forced my way through the crowd to where my parents were looking around frantically.

"Come on you two," I panted as I strained through the crowd. My mother spotted us and looked relieved. She trotted over to us.

"You have your passports? Your visas?" she asked as we joined the jostling cue for the buses. Around us, the shooting intensified as the police realized that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to ignore the ambulances and the troops down the road opened up and fired into a massive group of people that stretched across the road. Behind me, the majority MC began to win the fight.

What happened next is a blur to me. My grip on my little brothers was lost when someone fell on top of me, forcing me to the ground. I must have hit my head off the asphalt, because my next clear memory is of a pain in my head and blood trickling into my left eye. The ground around me was littered with bullet casings, and I was still trapped underneath whoever had fallen on top of me. I struggled to get loose. I was dimly aware of someone calling my name, but my head was too fuzzy to make sense of it and I was distracted by trying to free my legs.

When I finally got free and got my head clear, I found myself in the middle of a panicked crowd. People were trying desperately to get onboard the buses, which had their doors closed. My mother was cradling my younger brothers and screaming my name out of one bus, while my father was trying to force his way out the doors. It didn't matter. The buses began to move, running over people if they had too. I looked around, hoping there was another bus that I could get on. All I saw were the people who had been in the ambulances. Their skin was mottled grey and white, their eyes lifeless. A few of them had collected around bodies and were eating them. What few soldiers were left were aiming for them, shooting them in the head.

I was terrified, looking around for any escape. I tried to turn to see behind me, but someone wrapped their arms around me and sunk their teeth into the collar of my soccer jersey. Or tried to. I kicked out behind me, knocking the person's legs from under them and I lunged forward as they toppled back, taking a chunk of my jersey with them. I felt the sun strike my bare back.

I whipped around to face my attacker, to find the biker who had fallen on me. He was young. Early twenties at most. A sizable chunk of my jersey hung from his teeth. He wore simple leather cut with a Prospect patch sewn into it. His skin was mottled grey and white and his eyes were glazed and lifeless. He opened his mouth to unleash a deep, guttural moan. When the jersey fell away, it revealed a bullet hole in his neck. He lunged for me, and still in a daze, I just reacted. I side stepped his clumsy lunge, grabbed him around the neck, and squeezed.

Afterwards, I sat down hard, shaking my head to clear it, with my ears ringing in the sudden silence. I was alone; everyone else was either gone or so far away they would be unable to hear me. I was completely alone, except for scattered bodies. Some were mauled beyond recognition, others were totally intact. Only the intact ones had bullet wounds in the head.

"Mom? Dad?" I called weakly.

I stood up uncertainly, clutching at the front of my ruined jersey. I began to panic. Breathing became hard. I wanted to collapse, to scream, to sob. My thoughts were spiraling down into darkness, until I heard the sound of dragging footsteps. A wounded soldier was limping towards me. He had a nasty bite wound on his leg. He glanced at me, looking me up and down and sighed heavily. He looked at the body of the biker.

"You do that kid?" he asked.

I nodded numbly. The soldier bent down and stripped the cut off the solder and threw it at me.

"Cover up kid. It's a warm summer's day. You don't want to get sunburn."

I pulled on the cut as the soldier bent down again and began fishing through the dead bikers pockets. He managed to fish some keys and a pack of cigarettes out of the bikers pockets before he collapsed in a heap, panting.

"We need to get you out of here kid," he mumbled. He nodded towards the bikes. "You know anything about bikes?"

"Mount on the kickstand side. That way, you won't tip the bike over," I whispered, feeling lost.

The soldier grinned, and then flinched, his face contorting in pain.

"A good start. More than most people know," he slurred. "Now listen up kiddo, we don't have much time."

He pointed up the road.

"We managed to stave off some infected coming this way, but we have info that there is a larger horde coming. You ever ridden a motorbike before? Can you follow directions?"

I nodded—yes to both questions.

Twenty minutes later, and I had gotten my wish- I was riding a Harley-Davidson. I weaved in and out of the stalled traffic on the Van Wyk Expressway on my way to Queens. Lone infected meandered through the traffic as well. I tried my best to be confident on the bike. It wasn't like I had trouble reaching the controls, but I was very aware that if I took a fall from the bike, it would be the end of me. But, it would probably be a more merciful death that dying of dehydration and hunger in a strange city. I just needed to follow the soldier's advice and get the hell out of New York. But first- stop at the soldier's apartment and get a change of clothes.