The 5th Wave

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs.
Runs from the beings that only look human,
who have scattered Earth's last survivors.

Four waves later, four billion dead.
And the fifth wave?
No one knows. But it's coming.

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12. 11

MOM DIED ON A TUESDAY.

Dad buried her in the backyard, in the rose bed. She had asked for that before she died. At the height of the Pestilence, when hundreds were dying every day, most of the bodies were hauled to the outskirts and burned. Dying towns were ringed by the constantly smoldering bonfires of the dead.

He told me to stay with Sammy. Sammy, who’d gone zombie-like on us, shuffling around, mouth hanging open or sucking his thumb like he was two again, with this blankness in his teddy-bear eyes. Just a few months ago, Mom was pushing him on a swing, taking him to karate classes, washing his hair, dancing with him to his favorite song. Now she was wrapped in a white sheet and riding on his daddy’s shoulder into the backyard.

I saw Dad through the kitchen window kneeling by the shallow grave. His head was down. Shoulders jerking. I’d never seen him lose it, not once, since the Arrival. Things kept getting worse, and just when you thought they couldn’t get any worse, they got even worse, but Dad never freaked. Even when Mom started showing the first signs of infection, he stayed calm, especially in front of her. He didn’t talk about what was happening outside the barricaded doors and windows. He laid wet cloths over her forehead. He bathed her, changed her, fed her. Not once did I see him cry in front of her. While some people were shooting themselves and hanging themselves and swallowing handfuls of pills and jumping from high places, Dad pushed back against the darkness.

He sang to her and repeated stupid jokes she’d heard a thousand times, and he lied. He lied the way a parent lies to you, the good lie that helps you go to sleep.

“Heard another plane today. Sounded like a fighter. Means some of our stuff must have made it through.”

“Your fever’s down a bit, and your eyes look clearer today. Maybe this isn’t it. Might just be your garden-variety fl u.”

In the final hours, wiping away her bloody tears.

Holding her while she barfed up the black, viral stew her stomach had become.

Bringing me and Sammy into the room to say good-bye.

“It’s all right,” she told Sammy. “Everything is going to be all right.”

To me she said, “He needs you now, Cassie. Take care of him. Take care of your father.”

I told her she was going to get better. Some people did. They got sick, and then suddenly the virus let go. Nobody understood why. Maybe it decided it didn’t like the way you tasted. And I didn’t say she was going to get better to ease her fear. I really believed it. I had to believe it.

“You’re all they have,” Mom said. Her last words to me.

The mind was the last thing to go, washed away in the red waters of the Tsunami. The virus took total control. Some people went into a frenzy as it boiled their brains. They punched, clawed, kicked, bit. Like the virus that needed us also hated us and couldn’t wait to get rid of us.

My mother looked at my dad and didn’t know him. Didn’t know where she was. Who she was. What was happening to her. There was this, like, permanent, creepy smile, cracked lips pulled back from bleeding gums, her teeth stained with blood. Sounds came out of her mouth, but they weren’t words. The place in her brain that made words was packed with virus, and the virus didn’t know language—it knew only how to make more of itself.

And then my mother died in a fury of jerks and gargled screams, her uninvited guests rocketing out of every orifice, because she was done, they’d used her up, time to turn off the lights and find a new home.

Dad bathed her one last time. Combed her hair. Scrubbed the dried blood from her teeth. When he came to tell me she was gone, he was calm. He didn’t lose it. He held me while I lost it.

Now I was watching him through the kitchen window. Kneeling beside her in the rose bed, thinking no one could see him, my father let go of the rope he’d been clinging to, loosened the line that had kept him steady all that time while everyone around him went into free fall.

I made sure Sammy was okay and went outside. I sat next to him. Put my hand on his shoulder. The last time I’d touched my father, it was a lot harder and with my fist. I didn’t say anything, and he didn’t, either, not for a long time.

He slipped something into my hand. Mom’s wedding ring. He said she’d want me to have it.

“We’re leaving, Cassie. Tomorrow morning.”

I nodded. I knew she was the only reason we hadn’t left yet. The delicate stems on the roses bobbed and swayed, as if echoing my nod. “Where are we going?”

“Away.” He looked around, and his eyes were wide and frightened. “It isn’t safe anymore.”

Duh, I thought. When was it ever?

“Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is just over a hundred miles from here. If we push and the weather stays good, we can be there in five or six days.”

“And then what?” The Others had conditioned us to think this way: Okay, this, and then what? I looked to my father to tell me. He was the smartest man I knew. If he didn’t have an answer, there was no one who did. I sure didn’t. And I sure wanted him to. I needed him to.

He shook his head like he didn’t understand the question.

“What’s at Wright-Patterson?” I asked.

“I don’t know that anything’s there.” He tried out a smile and grimaced, like smiling hurt.

“Then why are we going?”

“Because we can’t stay here,” he said through gritted teeth. “And if we can’t stay here, we have to go somewhere. If there’s anything like a government left at all . . .”

He shook his head. He hadn’t come outside for this. He had come outside to bury his wife.

“Go inside, Cassie.”

“I’ll help you.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“She’s my mother. I loved her, too. Please let me help. ”I was crying again. He didn’t see. He wasn’t looking at me, and he wasn’t looking at Mom. He wasn’t looking at anything, really. There was, like, this black hole where the world used to be, and we were both falling toward it. What could we hold on to? I pulled his hand off Mom’s body and pressed it against my cheek and told him I loved him and that Mom loved him and that everything would be okay, and the black hole lost a little of its strength.

“Go inside, Cassie,” he said gently. “Sammy needs you more than she does.”

I went inside. Sammy was sitting on the floor in his room, playing with his X-wing starfighter, destroying the Death Star. “Shroooooom, shroooooom. I’m going in, Red One!”

And outside, my father knelt in the freshly turned earth. Brown dirt, red rose, gray sky, white sheet. 

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