Most of the stories I have read describe the initial stages of the infection as a flu. All of them say people suffered "flu like symptoms." That wasn't the way with this infection. An explosive temper and loss of appetite were the early signs. Then there was a sensitivity to temperature. People were either freezing cold or boiling hot with only the most minimal change in temperature. Itchy, discoloured skin and loss of fine motor function followed by coma and death rounded off the symptoms.

The initial reports coming out of Africa and the Middle East spoke of revolutions and government crackdowns. Just another turn of the wheel in what seemed like the endless cycle of revolutions and government crackdowns that plagued these regions. Then came the reports out of Cape Town. The report started out claiming it was a protest against government corruption, and over the next twenty four hours, things went downhill. By hour twelve, no one thought it was a protest, and many people realized things were very, very wrong. The live images showed throngs of people, many in hospital gowns or totally butt naked swarming lines of police and military personnel. You could see the little pops in their chests from bullets hitting them, but they didn't even flinch. They just kept moving forward.

Then the infection spread beyond Africa and the Middle East. There were outbreaks along the Mediterranean coasts of Portugal, Spain, France and in southern Italy, as well as in India, Russia and China. They had learned from the initial stages of infection though, and soon police and soldiers flooded these areas and contained the first outbreaks. Every TV station had an army of experts, all contradicting each other. Even the kids channels had given over their air time to news reports. No one knew anything, but there was a strange sense of calm. When the infection broke out in Australia, New Zealand and all across South America, people became uneasy. When the French Army lost control of the city of Nice, and the Portuguese Army abandoned the Algarve region, people sat up and took note.

Finally, when an internationally acclaimed scientist with more Doctorates than I knew there were branches of science, declared publically on the BBC "We have absolutely no idea what this is and anyone who claims they do is either lying, delusional or knows what this is because they created it," the world went into free-fall. This is when the pilgrimage's began. Even when most airlines stopped services people found a way. By boat, by train or by car, they made their way to Holy Sites. For the first time since the early 1960's, doing the entire length of the Camino de Santiago was, by order of the Pope, a plenary indulgence, meaning most of one's sins were forgiving. I have to hand it to the Catholic Church, they handled things well in those final days. The Pope, as head of the Vatican City, was the only leader of a country to address the people of the world on what was happening. This also made him the only religious leader to address what was happening. It didn't matter though. The panic had set in.

000

Fourteen year old Daniel Burgmann woke with a start, his dark grey eyes fluttering open. He lay still for what seemed like an age, trying to figure out what woke him up. The house was quiet, as was the small subdivision Daniel lived in. Daniel rolled out of bed and scratched at his bare chest as he padded to the window.

The sun was just peaking over the horizon, giving him just enough light to make out the street below and the burnt remains of Mrs. Berry's car under the fallen street light. Nothing moved on the street. Very carefully, Daniel slid the window open and listened. The street was still quiet, but it was still there- very faint, a background noise one could nearly ignore. It rose up from the city in the distance. Daniel slid the window shut, shuddering and turned to the calendar on the wall, marking another day.

"Two weeks of this crap," he muttered as he made his way to the bathroom.

In the faint light of dawn, as he stood over the bucket that served as his toilet, Daniel studied himself in the mirror over the sink. At fourteen, he was tall for his age, with broad shoulders and a strong athletic body and a mop of sandy brown hair over dark grey eyes. The last two weeks had burned off what little puppy fat remained around his cheeks.

"I'll have to go out today. I have to find food," he muttered to himself.

Daniel wasn't having conversations with himself, not yet, but two weeks without other people was taking its toll. Daniel had always been a gregarious person, the type of person to make friends easily, to put people at ease. He missed noise. He missed his little brothers and sister running around, his parents calling him when he slept in or encouraging him at practice. As he finished in the bathroom and made his way back to the room, he thought about his family again. He didn't really know what happened to them. His mother had taken his sister to ballet; his father had taken his brothers fishing—back when things were still normal in their corner of the world.

Daniel had stayed at home due to football practice, planning to be picked up by his mother and join his father and brothers later in the day. Only a few people had shown up for practice. None of them were concerned with the absence of the rest of the team or the coaches. They had horsed around, fake wrestled, tossed the ball around. Basically, they had goofed around. They all knew what was happening in the rest of the world, but none of them were really concerned. All the news channels were certain it would never get this far,

Until Daniel heard his phone ring. It was his father, and he was panicked. He hurriedly told Daniel to get home, locked the doors and open the gun safe. That had sent a shiver down Daniel's spine. His father had never let him anywhere near the gun safe without breathing down Daniel's neck. With a trembling voice, Daniel asked his father what was going on. His father was silent for a moment and then said 'Something bad. Lock the doors. Stay indoors until things calm down and then make your way to Grandpa John's cabin near the lake.' Daniel had asked his father why he wasn't coming for him, but the line had gone dead before his father could answer. It was then Daniel heard the sirens in the distance, over the laughter of his teammates.

He had stood frozen, looking at the half dozen kids his own age joking around on the field and the empty car park. Where were the parents? The coaches? He called out to his friends that he was leaving, that it was a waste of time staying here as no one was coming. A few of them shrugged and said they were staying- it was a day off. Some more looked around nervously and said they were leaving too. As Daniel rode away on his bike, he glanced at the boys who had stayed. They were stripping out of their t-shirts and making their way to the (empty and unattended) swimming pool on the far side of the car park.

For the last two weeks, Daniel had followed his father's instructions and stayed at home. He had been glued to the TV until the power died. The plague had reached them and had started in his home town. Images from news helicopters showed the local hospital with people crowding the doors. Then there had been the mass evacuation of 'all healthy residents.' People were allowed out, but no one was allowed enter past the military blockade- which probably explained why his father had been unable to reach him.

For those left in the city, there had been panic and martial law. Police cars patrolled the streets at irregular intervals for the first week. When Mrs. Berry had speed up the road and slammed into the street lamp, the sparks had set off the leaking gas tank. The cop who had been rolling up the street had called it in, but no fire truck arrived. The cop had drifted away after an hour. Daniels other neighbors had organized and come up with an 'escape' plan—to hike through the woods that surrounded their homes and avoid the military that way. Daniel had spent the night before agonizing over what to bring and the best weapon to use from the gun locker, so he had slept in the following morning. He arrived after his neighbors had left, but just in time to hear the gun fire echoing from the woods. That had been ten days ago, and Daniel hadn't left the house since.

What had frightened Daniel the most was when his neighbors had returned- but they were no longer his neighbors. Their chests were riddled with bullet wounds. They had attacked their pets like a pack of wolves, tearing apart Mr. Johansson's English Bulldog with savage intensity. They had then lurched after a police cruiser that had pulled into the street, shambling after it with stiff legs. That had been the last Daniel had seen of them, and that had been the last police patrol as well. The last news report before the power went out was a little over eight days ago, and had been about a suspected outbreak in at least eight others towns around the country, as well as minor outbreaks in Boston and New York.

Now Daniel was out of food and nearly out of water. He needed to stock up. He quickly dressed in jeans and a loose t-shirt, with one of his father's hunting vests over the t-shirt. North Carolina summers were hot and sticky, and he wanted to get this done early before the day became really hot. Going to the gun locker, he strapped a knife to his left hip, a Colt M1911 to his right and examined the other guns. There were several hunting rifles and shotguns. Daniel picked out a shotgun as his primary weapon. It would be a better close range weapon than the rifles if he was attacked. If he did spot other living people at a distance, avoiding them was his best option. He filled the pockets of the vest with extra ammo.

Five minutes later, Daniel was by the front door, staring out through the windows at either side of the door. He examined the street in the early light of the morning. It was still clear. Taking a deep breath, Daniel stepped outside.