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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6. 5

THAT WAS THE LAST PERSON I’ve seen.

The leaves are falling heavy now, and the nights have turned cold. I can’t stay in these woods. No leaves for cover from the drones, can’t risk a campfire—I gotta get out of here.

I know where I have to go. I’ve known for a long time. I made a promise. The kind of promise you don’t break because, if you break it, you’ve broken part of yourself, maybe the most important part.

But you tell yourself things. Things like, I need to come up with something first. I can’t just walk into the lion’s den without a plan. Or, It’s hopeless, there’s no point anymore. You’ve waited too long.

Whatever the reason I didn’t leave before, I should have left the night I killed him. I don’t know how he was wounded; I didn’t examine his body or anything, and I should have, no matter how freaked out I was. I guess he could have gotten hurt in an accident, but the odds were better that someone—or something—had shot him. And if someone or something had shot him, that someone or something was still out there . . . unless the Crucifix Soldier had offed her/him/them/it. Or he was one of them and the crucifix was a trick . . .

Another way the Others mess with your head: the uncertain circumstances of your certain destruction. Maybe that will be the 5th Wave, attacking us from the inside, turning our own minds into weapons.

Maybe the last human being on Earth won’t die of starvation or exposure or as a meal for wild animals.

Maybe the last one to die will be killed by the last one alive.

Okay, that’s not someplace you want to go, Cassie.

Honestly, even though it’s suicide to stay here and I have a promise to keep, I don’t want to leave. These woods have been home for a long time. I know every path, every tree, every vine and bush. I lived in the same house for sixteen years and I can’t tell you exactly what my backyard looked like, but I can describe in detail every leaf and twig in this stretch of forest. I have no clue what’s out there beyond these woods and the two-mile stretch of interstate I hike every week to forage for supplies. I’m guessing a lot more of the same: abandoned towns reeking of sewage and rotting corpses, burned-out shells of houses, feral dogs and cats, pileups that stretch for miles on the highway. And bodies. Lots and lots of bodies.

I pack up. This tent has been my home for a long time, but it’s too bulky and I need to travel light. Just the essentials, with the Luger, the M16, the ammo, and my trusty bowie knife topping the list. Sleeping bag, first aid kit, five bottles of water, three boxes of Slim Jims, and some tins of sardines. I hated sardines before the Arrival. Now I’ve developed a real taste for them. First thing I look for when I hit a grocery store? Sardines.

Books? They’re heavy and take up room in my already bulging backpack. But I have a thing about books. So did my father. Our house was stacked floor to ceiling with every book he could find after the 3rd Wave took out more than 3.5 billion people. While the rest of us scrounged for potable water and food and stocked up on the weaponry for the last stand we were sure was coming, Daddy was out with my little brother’s Radio Flyer carting home the books.

The mind-blowing numbers didn’t faze him. The fact that we’d gone from seven billion strong to a couple hundred thousand in four months didn’t shake his confidence that our race would survive.

“We have to think about the future,” he insisted. “When this is over, we’ll have to rebuild nearly every aspect of civilization.”

Solar flashlight.

Toothbrush and paste. I’m determined, when the time comes, to at least go out with clean teeth.

Gloves. Two pairs of socks, underwear, travel-size box of Tide, deodorant, and shampoo. (Gonna go out clean. See above.)

Tampons. I’m constantly worrying about my stash and if I’ll be able to find more.

My plastic baggie stuffed with pictures. Dad. Mom. My little brother, Sammy. My grandparents. Lizbeth, my best friend. One of Ben You-Were-Some-Kind-of-Serious-Gorgeous Parish, clipped from my yearbook, because Ben was my future boyfriend and/or/ maybe future husband—not that he knew it. He barely knew I existed. I knew some of the same people he knew, but I was a girl in the background, several degrees of separation removed. The only thing wrong with Ben was his height: He was six inches taller than me. Well, make that two things now: his height and the fact that he’s dead.

My cell phone. It was fried in the 1st Wave, and there’s no way to charge it. Cell towers don’t work, and there’s no one to call if they did. But, you know, it’s my cell phone.

Nail clippers.

Matches. I don’t light fires, but at some point I may need to burn something or blow it up.

Two spiral-bound notebooks, college ruled, one with a purple cover, the other red. My favorite colors, plus they’re my journals. It’s part of the hope thing. But if I am the last and there’s no one left to read them, maybe an alien will and they’ll know exactly what I think of them. In case you’re an alien and you’re reading this:

BITE ME.

My Starburst, already culled of the orange. Three packs of Wrigley’s Spearmint. My last two Tootsie Pops.

Mom’s wedding ring.

Sammy’s ratty old teddy bear. Not that it’s mine now. Not that I ever cuddle with it or anything.

That’s everything I can stuff into the backpack. Weird. Seems like too much and not enough.

Still room for a couple of paperbacks, barely. Huckleberry Finn or The Grapes of Wrath? The poems of Sylvia Plath or Sammy’s Shel Silverstein? Probably not a good idea to take the Plath. Depressing. Silverstein is for kids, but it still makes me smile. I decide to take Huckleberry (seems appropriate) and Where the Sidewalk Ends. See you there soon, Shel. Climb aboard, Jim.

I heave the backpack over one shoulder, sling the rifle over the other, and head down the trail toward the highway. I don’t look back.

I pause inside the last line of trees. A twenty-foot embankment runs down to the southbound lanes, littered with disabled cars, piles of clothing, shredded plastic garbage bags, the burned-out hulks of tractor trailers carrying everything from gasoline to milk. There are wrecks everywhere, some no worse than fender benders, some pileups that snake along the interstate for miles, and the morning sunlight sparkles on all the broken glass.

There are no bodies. These cars have been here since the 1st Wave, long abandoned by their owners.

Not many people died in the 1st Wave, the massive electromagnetic pulse that ripped through the atmosphere at precisely eleven A.M. on the tenth day. Only around half a million, Dad guessed. Okay, half a million sounds like a lot of people, but really it’s just a drop in the population bucket. World War II killed over a hundred times that number.

And we did have some time to prepare for it, though we weren’t exactly sure what we were preparing for. Ten days from the first satellite pictures of the mothership passing Mars to the launch of the 1st Wave. Ten days of mayhem. Martial law, sit-ins at the UN, parades, rooftop parties, endless Internet chatter, and 24/7 coverage of the Arrival over every medium. The president addressed the nation—and then disappeared into his bunker. The Security Council went into a locked-down, closed-to-the-press emergency session.

A lot of people just split, like our neighbors, the Majewskis. Packed up their camper on the afternoon of the sixth day with everything they could fit and hit the road, joining a mass exodus to somewhere else, because anywhere else seemed safer for some reason. Thousands of people took off for the mountains . . . or the desert . . . or the swamps. You know, somewhere else.

The Majewskis’ somewhere else was Disney World. They weren’t the only ones. Disney set attendance records during those ten days before the EMP strike.

Daddy asked Mr. Majewski, “So why Disney World?”

And Mr. Majewski said, “Well, the kids have never been.”

His kids were both in college.

Catherine, who had come home from her freshman year at Baylor the day before, asked, “Where are you guys going?”

“Nowhere,” I said. And I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was still living in denial, pretending all this crazy alien stuff would work out, I didn’t know how, maybe with the signing of some intergalactic peace treaty. Or maybe they’d dropped by to take a couple of soil samples and go home. Or maybe they were here on vacation, like the Majewskis going to Disney World.

“You need to get out,” she said. “They’ll hit the cities first.”

“You’re probably right,” I said. “They’d never dream of taking out the Magic Kingdom.”

“How would you rather die?” she snapped. “Hiding under your bed or riding Thunder Mountain?”

Good question.

Daddy said the world was dividing into two camps: runners and nesters. Runners headed for the hills—or Thunder Mountain. Nesters boarded up the windows, stocked up on the canned goods and ammunition, and kept the TV tuned to CNN 24/7.

There were no messages from our galactic party crashers during those first ten days. No light shows. No landing on the South Lawn or bug-eyed, butt-headed dudes in silver jumpsuits demanding to be taken to our leader. No bright, spinning tops blaring the universal language of music. And no answer when we sent our message. Something like,“Hello, welcome to Earth. Hope you enjoy your stay. Please don’t kill us.”

Nobody knew what to do. We figured the government sort of did. The government had a plan for everything, so we assumed they had a plan for E.T. showing up uninvited and unannounced, like the weird cousin nobody in the family likes to talk about.

Some people nested. Some people ran. Some got married. Some got divorced. Some made babies. Some killed themselves. We walked around like zombies, blank-faced and robotic, unable to absorb the magnitude of what was happening.

It’s hard to believe now, but my family, like the vast majority of people, went about our daily lives as if the most monumentally mind-blowing thing in human history wasn’t happening right over our heads. Mom and Dad went to work, Sammy went to day care, and I went to school and soccer practice. It was so normal, it was damn weird. By the end of Day One, everybody over the age of two had seen the mothership up close a thousand times, this big grayish-green glowing hulk about the size of Manhattan circling 250 miles above the Earth. NASA announced its plan to pull a space shuttle out of mothballs to attempt contact.

Well, that’s good, we thought. This silence is deafening. Why did they come billions of miles just to stare at us? It’s rude.

On Day Three, I went out with a guy named Mitchell Phelps. Well, technically we went outside. The date was in my backyard because of the curfew. He hit the drive-through at Starbucks on his way over, and we sat on the back patio sipping our drinks and pretending we didn’t see Dad’s shadow passing back and forth as he paced the living room. Mitchell had moved into town a few days before the Arrival. He sat behind me in World Lit, and I made the mistake of loaning him my highlighter. So the next thing I know he’s asking me out, because if a girl loans you a highlighter she must think you’re hot. I don’t know why I went out with him. He wasn’t that cute and he wasn’t that interesting beyond the whole New Kid aura, and he definitely wasn’t Ben Parish. Nobody was—except Ben Parish—and that was the whole problem.

By the third day, you either talked about the Others all the time or you tried not to talk about them at all. I fell into the second category.

Mitchell was in the first.

“What if they’re us?” he asked.

It didn’t take long after the Arrival for all the conspiracy nuts to start buzzing about classified government projects or the secret plan to manufacture an alien crisis in order to take away our liberties. I thought that’s where he was going and groaned.

“What?” he said. “I don’t mean us us. I mean, what if they’re us from the future?”

“And it’s like The Terminator, right?” I said, rolling my eyes. “They’ve come to stop the uprising of the machines. Or maybe they are the machines. Maybe it’s Skynet.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, acting like I was serious. “It’s the grandfather paradox.”

“What is? And what the hell is the grandfather paradox?” He said it like he assumed I knew what the grandfather paradox was, because, if I didn’t know, then I was a moron. I hate when people do that.

“They—I mean we—can’t go back in time and change anything. If you went back in time and killed your grandfather before you were born, then you wouldn’t be able to go back in time to kill your grandfather.”

“Why would you want to kill your grandfather?” I twisted the straw in my strawberry Frappuccino to produce that unique straw-in-a-lid squeak.

“The point is that just showing up changes history,” he said. Like I was the one who brought up time travel.

“Do we have to talk about this?”

“What else is there to talk about?” His eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. Mitchell had very bushy eyebrows. It was one of the first things I noticed about him. He also chewed his fingernails. That was the second thing I noticed. Cuticle care can tell you a lot about a person.

I pulled out my phone and texted Lizbeth:

help me

“Are you scared?” he asked. Trying to get my attention. Or for some reassurance. He was looking at me very intently.

I shook my head. “Just bored.” A lie. Of course I was scared. I knew I was being mean, but I couldn’t help it. For some reason I can’t explain, I was mad at him. Maybe I was really mad at myself for saying yes to a date with a guy I wasn’t actually interested in. Or maybe I was mad at him for not being Ben Parish, which wasn’t his fault. But still.

help u do wat?

“I don’t care what we talk about,” he said. He was looking toward the rose bed, swirling the dregs of his coffee, his knee popping up and down so violently under the table that my cup jiggled.

mitchell. I didn’t think I needed to say any more.

“Who are you texting?”

told u not to go out w him

“Nobody you know,” I said. dont know why i did

“We can go somewhere else,” he said.“You want to go to a movie?”

“There’s a curfew,” I reminded him. No one was allowed on the streets after nine except military and emergency vehicles.

lol to make ben jealous

“Are you pissed or something?”

“No,” I said. “I told you what I was.”

He pursed his lips in frustration. He didn’t know what to say.

“I was just trying to figure out who they might be,” he said.

“You and everybody else on the planet,” I said. “Nobody actually knows, and they won’t tell us, so everybody sits around guessing and theorizing, and it’s all kind of pointless. Maybe they’re spacefaring micemen from Planet Cheese and they’ve come for our provolone.”

bp doesnt know i exist

“You know,” he said, “it’s kind of rude, texting while I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”

He was right. I slipped the phone into my pocket. What’s happening to me? I wondered. The old Cassie never would have done that. Already the Others were changing me into someone different, but I wanted to pretend nothing had changed, especially me.

“Did you hear?” he asked, going right back to the topic that I said bored me. “They’re building a landing site.”

I had heard. In Death Valley. That’s right: Death Valley.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a very smart idea,” he said. “Rolling out the welcome mat.”

“Why not?”

“It’s been three days. Three days and they’ve refused all contact. If they’re friendly, why wouldn’t they say hello already?”

“Maybe they’re just shy.” Twisting my hair around my finger, tugging on it gently to produce that semipleasant pain.

“Like being the new kid,” he said, the new kid.

That can’t be easy, being the new kid. I felt like I should apologize for being rude. “I was kind of mean before,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.”

He gave me a confused look. He was talking about the aliens,

not himself, and then I said something about me, which was about

neither.

“It’s okay,” he said. “I heard you don’t date much.”

Ouch.

“What else did you hear?” One of those questions you don’t want to know the answer to, but still have to ask.

He sipped his latte through the little hole in the plastic lid.

“Not much. It’s not like I asked around.”

“You asked somebody and they told you I didn’t date much.”

“I just said I was thinking about asking you out and they go, Cassie’s pretty cool. And I said, what’s she like? And they said you were nice but don’t get my hopes up because you had this thing for Ben Parish—”

“They told you that? Who told you that?”

He shrugged. “I don’t remember her name.”

“Was it Lizbeth Morgan?” I’ll kill her.

“I don’t know her name,” he said.

“What did she look like?”

“Long brown hair. Glasses. I think her name is Carly or something.”

“I don’t know any . . .”

Oh God. Some Carly person I don’t even know knows about me and Ben Parish—or the lack of any me and Ben Parish. And if Carly-or-something knew about it, then everybody knew about it.

“Well, they’re wrong,” I sputtered. “I don’t have a thing for Ben Parish.”

“It doesn’t matter to me.”

“It matters to me.”

“Maybe this isn’t working out,” he said. “Everything I say, you either get bored or mad.”

“I’m not mad,” I said angrily.

“Okay, I’m wrong.”

No, he was right. And I was wrong for not telling him the Cassie he knew wasn’t the Cassie I used to be, the pre-Arrival Cassie who wouldn’t have been mean to a mosquito. I wasn’t ready to admit the truth: It wasn’t just the world that had changed with the coming of the Others. We changed. I changed. The moment the mothership appeared, I started down a path that would end in the back of a convenience store behind some empty beer coolers. That night with Mitchell was only the beginning of my evolution.

Mitchell was right about the Others not stopping by just to say howdy. On the eve of the 1st Wave, the world’s leading theoretical physicist, one of the smartest guys in the world (that’s what popped up on the screen under his talking head: ONE OF THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE WORLD), appeared on CNN and said, “I’m not encouraged by the silence. I can think of no benign reason for it. I’m afraid we may expect something closer to Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas than a scene from Close Encounters, and we all know how that turned out for the Native Americans.”

I turned to my father and said, “We should nuke ’em.” I had to raise my voice to be heard over the TV—Dad always jacked up the volume during the news so he could hear it over Mom’s TV in the kitchen. She liked to watch TLC while she cooked. I called it the War of the Remotes.

“Cassie!” He was so shocked, his toes began to curl inside his white athletic socks. He grew up on Close Encounters and E.T. and Star Trek and totally bought into the idea that the Others had come to liberate us from ourselves. No more hunger. No more wars. The eradication of disease. The secrets of the cosmos unveiled. “Don’t you understand this could be the next step in our evolution? A huge leap forward. Huge.” He gave me a consoling hug. “We’re all very fortunate to be here to see it.”

Then he added casually, like he was talking about how to fix a toaster, “Besides, a nuclear device can’t do much damage in the vacuum of space. There’s nothing to carry the shock wave.”

“So this brainiac on TV is just full of shit?”

“Don’t use that language, Cassie,” he chided me. “He’s entitled to his opinion, but that’s all it is. An opinion.”

“But what if he’s right? What if that thing up there is their version of a Death Star?”

“Travel halfway across the universe just to blow us up?” He patted my leg and smiled. Mom turned up the kitchen TV. He pushed the volume in the family room to twenty-seven.

“Okay, but what about an intergalactic Mongol horde, like he was talking about?” I demanded. “Maybe they’ve come to conquer us, shove us into reservations, enslave us . . .”

“Cassie,” he said. “Simply because something could happen doesn’t mean it will happen. Anyway, it’s all just speculation. This guy’s. Mine. Nobody knows why they’re here. Isn’t it just as likely they’ve come all this way to save us?”

Four months after saying those words, my father was dead.

He was wrong about the Others. And I was wrong. And One of the Smartest Guys in the World was wrong.

It wasn’t about saving us. And it wasn’t about enslaving us or herding us into reservations.

It was about killing us.

All of us. 

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