Title: The Beginning
Series: Abnormal/Variant, Book Three
Author: M. Rose Flores
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/01/2021
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Genre: Horror/Thriller, LGBTQIA+, YA, PNR, bisexual, dark, horror, zombies/undead, postapocalyptic, family drama, found family, children, San Francisco, Alcatraz, anger/aggression
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One of their own is stranded in San Francisco, a city long since claimed by the undead. When the rescue mission goes sideways and someone else is taken hostage by Abnormal zombies, Cate and the Alcatraz survivors find themselves pulled in two directions: Do they enlist the help of a doctor who claims to know the origin of the hyper-intelligent infected, or do they trust a mysterious group called the Organization, who have ties to one of Cate’s people from before?
In the Abnormal zombie camp, it’s clear to Melody that her people are missing some crucial information about her captors. Can she get back to the island in time to tell them before they do something irreversible?
With the island on the verge of chaos and the lives of their loved ones in the balance, the Alcatraz group clashes over who can be trusted, if anyone, and what to do about the Abnormals. To save her family, Cate must pick a side and confront the thing she fears most—before it’s too late.
In this twisting conclusion to the Abnormal/Variant trilogy, the survivors must reevaluate their ideas of family and humanity and finally answer the question that has been on everyone’s mind since The End:
What does Cate’s immunity really mean?
M. Rose Flores © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Everything will be okay.
I repeat the words in my head, over and over, though I don’t believe them. The rain bears down on the boats, an unrelenting torrent soaking every strand of hair and fiber of clothing. Not one person seems to notice. Everyone looks ahead, to San Francisco. We’re almost there.
My jacket hangs heavy and dripping on my body. Is that the reason my shoulders are rounded, as if I’m collapsing in on myself? Or is it the fear, inching toward desperation with every stroke of the oars? Their rhythmic splashing is nearly drowned out by the rain, the distant thunder, and my own heartbeat as we close in on the city. Toward Samantha.
Our boat bumps the end of Pier 33, followed by the other one. I grip my sister’s hand. Mel squeezes back and turns up the corner of her mouth for a fraction of a second before letting go to adjust her jacket, her hammer, her glasses. She’s fidgety; I get it. I can’t imagine how nervous she must be, and she has far more cause than the rest of us.
But it will all be over soon. Because somewhere close by, Sam is waiting for us. All we have to do is find her. Soon, we’ll be on our way back to Alcatraz. Safe. Together.
If she wants to come with us. If she has magically forgiven me for breaking up with her. Damn it. Ever since I saw the SOS a few hours ago, I have been so intent on bringing her back—so set on getting to her before something terrible happens—I let myself forget why she left in the first place. Or maybe I never let it sink in. Maybe the idea of Sam choosing to live and die alone in the city rather than spend another second on Alcatraz with me was too painful. Her face appears in my mind, the expression the same as when I told her we were done. Hurt, disappointed, angry. Maybe, the face I find will be that one.
Or worse, the face we come upon will be emotionless and vacant, not from shutting herself off, but from something far worse. Something irreversible. The image morphs, turning bloody, black-veined, and white-eyed. Sam, but not Sam. Something one of us will have to deal with. It doesn’t have to be me. Does it? Should it? I glance down at my axe. I’m dizzy for a minute even though I’m still sitting. My body sways on the little boat bench. Mel nudges my shoulder, I think.
“Cate?” Her mouth stretches a little more this time, an approximation of a reassuring smile. “Ready?”
“Hey, we’re going to be okay.” She wraps an arm around me. “No matter what.”
I know she means “whether Sam is alive or not, whether she comes back with us or not.” My insides harden and twist. When I lock eyes with her again and she’s still trying to smile, guilt seeps into me. It should be me reassuring her. Mel hasn’t left the island since we got there. She hasn’t seen a single ambulatory zombie since the day we escaped the city; she’s been safe with her babies and her garden for more than three months. She should never have come.
It will be fine. It will be okay.
I try like hell to believe it.
Murray gets out of our boat to tie it up. Though he hasn’t operated the ferry since we found the rowboats, he takes his inherited role as captain seriously. He moves to help Jax with the second boat. Behind them, silent shadows bustle around on the pier. They’re tough to distinguish in the gray morning light, but they look about the size and shape of adult humans.
“Did Sam find people?” asks Mel, taking hold of my hand again as I help her off the boat.
“When’s the last time you met anyone alive out here?” Joaquin’s hand automatically moves to his gun.
“Never.” Mel’s voice sounds small in this big space. She surveys the area. The last time she was here, it was the dead of night, and we were fighting our way off the mainland.
Debris litters the area. Shattered glass, garbage, pieces of rope and chains. It has always been this way, but it feels more dangerous now for some reason. One single black suitcase sits off to one side. Has it always been there? Surely, one of us would have checked it out. We use Pier 33 as our point of entry every time we go into the city for supplies, and Joaquin and I never miss anything of use. Surely, someone would have noticed such a thing sitting there, so out of place, so conspicuous.
Up ahead, the shadows continue to shift.
Who are these people? If they were with Sam, she would have told them we’d be coming. I can count at least ten of them, far outnumbering our seven. So why are they hiding?
“Hello,” says Marco as we all inch farther up the pier. He sounds nervous, too, which is disconcerting in itself. In the almost three years I’ve known him, I can only remember seeing him uneasy a handful of times.
“Sam?” calls Calvin. “We saw your signal.” He brushes Mel’s knuckles on his way past us, glancing at her, wordlessly checking on his partner. She dips her head.
“We came to bring you home, Sam.” Even as I’m saying the words, a blooming, viscous certainty spreads through me, coating my insides in cold dread: whoever this is, it isn’t Sam.
They emerge from all around and gather. One of them holds a flashlight, but their hands are otherwise empty. No bags, no weapons, nothing. Their bodies are varying shades of gray; their eyes are clear and unclouded. Black veins peek out from under their clean, untattered clothes.
Mel sucks in a breath and holds my hand tighter. It isn’t a reassuring sisterly squeeze; it’s fear. These are not people.
Thankfully, as I already guessed, Sam is not with them.
“Shit,” mutters Jax behind me. “I’ve never seen this many together at once.”
Why are they all together this way, just standing there? We know by now not all zombies are equal, but I don’t think any of us knew they could organize. This many can’t possibly be here by chance. It’s as if they were waiting for us.
“No,” I whisper. That can’t be right.
“What is this?” Mel asks, glancing at me, at Cal, at the squad of Abnormal zombies staring us down. “What’s happening?”
“It’s a goddamned trap,” Calvin says, pulling his bowie knives out of the sheaths on his legs and taking one giant step forward. “Melody, get behind me.”
They must have seen Murray bring Sam here yesterday. Maybe the Abnormals followed them and waited for the right moment to call us over, knowing we’d come for one of our own. Sam might have been dead this whole time. She might not have survived her first night alone.
Seagulls circle over our heads—at least fifty of them—all screaming, undaunted by the rain. What are they doing? Waiting for corpses to scavenge, probably. Not ours though. Let them feast on zombie flesh after we drop every last rotten one. I grind my teeth and take hold of my axe, fighting the urge to unleash a feral scream, ready to demolish these killers, these soulless monsters. They have taken nearly everything dear to me over the last two years. They are everything wrong with the world.
Mel has to let go of my hand to take up her hammer. She wipes her hands on her jeans, takes a deep, shaky breath, and pushes her glasses up her nose. I want to hold on to her, to protect her. She has never been a fighter. She shouldn’t be here.
Joaquin and Marco square off on either side of us and take up their weapons, making no secret of it. Why would they? These zombie assholes must know we won’t go down without a fight. And if they didn’t before, they will now.
The black-haired Abnormal zombie in the front extends one of its grayish-tan hands toward us and opens its mouth unearthly wide. I wouldn’t be surprised if a thousand black flies poured out. It’s hard to tell what the zombie is saying, but it sounds a lot like “Go!”
We rush at them before they have a chance to run us off the pier. To my right, Murray and Marco collide with a pair of them. Mel raises her hammer with a yell. To her left, Joaquin starts shooting, despite Marco and Calvin’s protests. Guns are almost never necessary, yet they are Joaquin’s default weapon. One body drops with a satisfying thud, but his gun is useless against the next one as the zombie shoves Joaquin to the pavement with a growl. He fumbles for his knife, but I don’t have the chance to see what happens next.
I swing my axe at the one sprinting toward me, but it ducks and comes back up fighting. What the hell kind of Abnormal is this? I dodge the punch and move into the formation Calvin taught me last year designed for efficient zombie fighting: Duck, Roll, Crouch, Swing. The zombie watches me. As soon as I start to roll, it shoves me to the ground, and my axe flies out of my hands. I scramble to my feet and reflexively continue the formation, swinging my leg out in a sweep-kick designed to take it out at the knees. The kick lands well enough; the zombie stumbles. As it recovers, I snatch up my axe. The Abnormal blocks my first blow with its forearm. I nick its head, but the blow draws enough blood to incapacitate it for a quick moment. As it frantically tries to clear the blood from its eyes, I drive my axe into its forehead. This time, my aim is true. The body drops.
I give myself three seconds to catch my breath. Many more surround us, and my people need me. To my left comes the sound of a gunshot and a body hitting the ground.
“Joaquin, no guns!” shouts Calvin. “Do you want to bring in more?”
Behind Joaquin, Marco is dealing with a six-foot-something Abnormal. When it claws at his face, he employs Calvin’s form as well. Marco manages to duck and roll successfully, somehow keeping hold of his axe. But before he can come into a crouch, the Abnormal trips him in a move I can only describe as calculated; in essence, it’s the swinging kick in Calvin’s formation. Marco goes down hard. I run toward them. The Abnormal reaches for Marco, but I cave in the back of its head with my axe. The zombie falls, and I hold out a hand and help Marco up. His face is red, his breathing rough. That was too close. He dips his chin in thanks and steps on the zombie’s head so I can wrench my axe free.
“You good?” he asks.
I nod. “Yeah.”
A sudden panic tightens my chest. Where’s Mel? I haven’t seen her since the fighting began. I search the melee for her, my heart hammering. I find her landing a solid whack with her hammer to the temple of an Abnormal about my size, half a head shorter than Mel. The blow doesn’t kill the thing, but she ducks as it tries to claw her, and as soon as she can, she swings again.
I sag with relief. She’s got this. She’s fine.
An Abnormal I don’t see until it’s too late sends me sprawling with a single, solid punch to my chest. I fall to the ground, coughing. The zombie, which used to be a pretty brunette human, advances the way a living person would, with sure steps and its stare locked onto me. It lunges.
I duck faster this time, dipping just as it’s about to get me and ramming my shoulder into its midsection, knocking it down. It keeps its wild, defiant eyes on me as I put my boot on its black-veined neck and get a good clean kill. But the weirdest thing happens as I pull my axe free: a voice I don’t know shouts a name I don’t recognize.
Another Abnormal charges at me, arms pumping, with what appears to be rage on its face. If zombies could feel rage. It drops to grab a piece of glass, hardly breaking stride, and throws itself toward me. I duck out of the way, but it clips my shoulder, sending me sprawling. It doesn’t hesitate, just starts slicing aimlessly, screaming and screaming. I curl into a ball.
My clothes can’t do much to protect me; my skin shreds as the glass drags through it. My arms, my hands, my face. The searing pain of so many shallow cuts mingles with fury and terror, the kind which, in general, might make someone stronger. But I’m frozen in place, pathetic and small. I cry out with each new wound, but I can’t make myself move.
This is it.
I am going to die.
NineStar Press | Books2Read
Meet the Author
Rose Flores lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with her spouse Stephen and their three fluffy beasts, collectively known as Legion (the cats, not the spouse). She is currently working on a degree, two novels, and two collaborative graphic novels. When Rose isn’t writing or studying, she works as a professional dog trainer and loves every part of it, even the copious amounts of drool. The Island is her second novel, the sequel to The End.