No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.ISBN-13:Printed in the United States of America This book is dedicated first and foremost to the One for whom this book was written, then to my loving family. -Contents
1-Breaking Point…1 2-Asleep…8
4-The Nexus…21 5-Hunger…28
6-Evening Comes…37 7-Legendary Heroes…46 8-Into the Dark…52 9-Life and Death…59 10-Blues…67
11-All Alone…74 12-First Strike…81 13-Let the Games Begin…89 14-Run For It…106 15-Fight or Flight…114 16-Battle for Mankind…123 17-Paradise…135 18-No Future…145 19-Kindred…153 20-Denial…162
21-All is Well…170
It was Monday morning. He had just finished pulling an all-nighter to work on his research paper. And now it was finally done. Well, not exactly done…but it was close enough. Conclusion? Screw it, he decided.
He looked at his wristwatch. 7:20. He had five minutes to reach the bus stop.
Kevin glanced down at his clothes: a simple t-shirt and blue jeans. It was what he had worn the day before, but now was not the time to be picky, even if his clothes did smell slightly of old socks. He printed out his homework and shoved it down his backpack. On his way out he stopped by the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face, combed his hair, gargled with mouthwash and dabbled a bit of cologne over his shirt—all under thirty seconds. Then he rushed to the front door and eyed the table of the living room. His lunch bag wasn’t there.
Kevin heaved a sigh. Mom forgot. Again. I guess I’ll just have to buy lunch.
Out the door he went, hurrying to the far end of the driveway. Andrew Shoemaker, his next-door neighbor, sat on the curb, leaning against the oak tree. Andrew had on a dress shirt and baggy slacks. Within this suburban area, they both attended the same public school, Rockville Middle. They were both in the eighth grade. In fact, Andrew also attended a few of his classes, though Kevin couldn’t really remember which ones.
Kevin stood next to Andrew, glimpsing at his watch again. 7:25. He looked down the street. No sign of the bus. No loud screeching. No flashing lights. Nothing. Though the bus driver was known to be punctual, it wouldn’t be the first time she was late.
Tired, Kevin closed his eyes for a moment. Andrew played with a broken stick, tapping it against the asphalt. They both waited quietly for the bus to arrive. The silence lasted for a while.
Andrew finally spoke up and said, “What time is it?”
Kevin took one hard look at the time. “Seven forty-five!”
“School’s going to start,” said Andrew. “Maybe we should walk. It’s only two miles.”
“Only two miles?” Kevin rolled his eyes. “Can your parents give us a ride?”
Andrew shook his head. “My mom’s working.”
“Same. My parents are always out the door at seven.” Kevin sighed. “Looks like we don’t have a choice. We’re going to be late.”
They headed down Grace Drive, quietly following the sidewalk. The silence made Kevin uncomfortable. He felt the need to say something. However, they never really talked much and had almost nothing in common.
Kevin said suddenly, “Aren’t you in my history class?”
Andrew replied, “Front row. Third seat.”
“Did you do the research paper?”
“Just barely. Did it all last night.”
“Me too!” Kevin chuckled. “It was like midnight when I remembered to do it! I typed it up all morning. Just used websites for sources. What’d you do yours on?”
“Wow, the guy who discovered electricity?”
“You’re probably thinking of Benjamin Franklin—though I wouldn’t say he discovered electricity.”
“Then the guy who invented the telephone?”
Kevin’s interest waned. “Well, whatever. Hamilton’s probably not that famous anyway.”
Andrew raised a brow but stayed silent.
On their way to school they passed by a large house surrounded by short walls of stone. It was eye-catching to say the least—with its pink window frames and red roof. A black cat reclined on the wall, licking itself clean. It stopped as soon as it caught Kevin’s attention. Its eyes glazed, it stared at the two boys as they walked past. Kevin couldn’t help but stare at its dilating pupils. The cat’s gaze was entrancing.
From out of nowhere a yellow Labrador rushed to the wall, barking profusely at the cat. Startled by it, Kevin averted his eyes, hoping not to catch the mutt’s attention. After the two boys reached the end of the block, the barking stopped. Kevin glanced back. The two animals sat beside each other, watching the boys disappear around the corner. Kevin looked at Andrew to see if he was also curious about it, but Andrew paid it no mind. Kevin couldn’t resist taking another look. That scene kept replaying in his head. He spun around. However, the animals were gone.
“What’s wrong?” Andrew asked, looking concerned.
Kevin rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know. I think I’m starting to see things.”
“I know what you mean,” said Andrew. “Lack of sleep will do that to you.”
Kevin and Andrew finally arrived at Rockville Middle School. Compared to the other schools nearby, Rockville Middle was pretty new. Built only ten years ago, the school looked modern, clean and sturdy. The American flag rested on a tall pole in a circular driveway. A long canopy served as shade for the front entrance, covering several rows of benches. It usually had buses flowing in and out, but then again, they were nearly fifteen minutes late. All the buses were probably long gone by now.
However, Kevin did find something most odd. The glass doors of the entrance were closed.
The two boys stood in front of the school, exchanging glances.
Kevin said, “Today is Monday, right?”
Andrew scratched his head. “Yesterday was Sunday….”
“Could it be a Holiday?”
“March twenty-third? What holiday would that be?”
“That’s in April for us.”
“Hmm…” Kevin pondered for a moment. He said half in jest, “Maybe it’s a new late-kids-aren’t-allowed-in policy.”
Andrew replied, “Isn’t that against the law?”
Abruptly, someone came from behind them and pushed Andrew aside. He winced.
“Out of the way,” a girl growled.
Kevin looked to his left. A girl brushed past them. Katie Evans. He recognized her from math class—though she hadn’t showed up in class for the longest time.
Katie’s black hair reached her shoulders, hanging over her face. She straightened out her dark blue jacket as she approached the front doors. Katie rattled the handle. The door didn’t budge. Exasperated, she kicked the door, screaming.
Kevin said flatly, “It’s locked.”
Katie glared at him. “You think I didn’t figure that out?”
Kevin raised a brow at her, shaking his head. “I didn’t say—”
“Shut up and watch,” she snapped, grabbing a lone brick from the grass nearby. The brick must’ve been left over from the construction. Kevin cocked his head.
Katie pulled her arm back and then launched the brick into the door with all her might. The glass shattered, scattering shards all over the concrete, tiles and grass. There was now a big opening through the doorframe.
Kevin stared at the broken door, his mouth agape. He shouted, “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?”
Katie laughed loudly. “How’s that for locked?” She brushed the broken glass aside with her sneakers, carefully stepping over the threshold. Kevin and Andrew cautiously followed her.
Once inside, Kevin snapped, “I can’t believe you just did that. Aren’t you afraid of getting in trouble?”
“No one’s going to find out who did it. And you’d be dumber than dumb to rat.” She snickered, “I’ll be going to class now. Don’t bother thanking me. Just buy me lunch and we’ll call it even.” She waved goodbye and left.
Kevin shot her a dirty look as she stopped by her locker. “She’s got some screws loose.” He motioned for Andrew to follow him. “We’d better get out of here before someone sees us.”
The halls were dead silent. Normally, everyone would be sitting in class by now. Though the halls were usually quiet at this time, it was typical to hear the mumble of lectures or class discussions. But today was extra quiet. The only sounds they heard were the annoying squeaks of their sneakers echoing off the walls.
They arrived at the door of the main office. Kevin knocked. No response. He knocked again, just in case. There was still no response. Kevin slowly twisted the doorknob and opened the door. The room was empty. Not a single person in sight. He could see no sign of anyone having been in there recently.
“This is getting really weird and freaky,” said Kevin. “No buses. No one at school. It’s Monday! Where’d everyone go?”
Andrew said, “Maybe today is a day off. It’s not like it always has to be a real holiday.”
“Then how come no one told us about it?”
“Look,” said Andrew, pointing down the hall. “It’s Katie! She didn’t go to class.”
Kevin caught a fleeting sight of her as she ran past. “Looks like she’s going home.”
“Maybe we should just go home.”
“Not yet.” Kevin reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “I think I’ll call Brad. See what he’s up to. Maybe he’s got some answers.”
Kevin called his friend. It rang three times. No one answered. He quickly canceled the call and tried again. No one was picking up.
Frustrated, Kevin grunted, “He’s not answering. He always sleeps in when there’s no school.”
“That’s okay,” said Andrew dryly. “I think I’ll just go home.”
Kevin thought of something. “Hey, let’s stop by his place and see if he’s home. He lives really close to school. Just up the road.”
“Is that okay? I don’t know him.”
“Sure. He’s fine with everything. If he’s home, we can hang out. He won’t mind.”
Brad’s house was located in a residential community behind the school. It was a two-story house with blue siding. Kevin knocked on the door a few times and rang the bell twice.
Andrew glanced around the exterior of the home in great interest. Though it wasn’t really that amazing of a house, it was definitely a step up from his neighborhood.
Kevin folded his arms. He waited but no one came to the door. “I wonder where everyone went.” He reached into his pocket for a key.
Andrew looked at him, curious. “You have a key to his house?”
Kevin unlocked the door and entered. “Our families are really close. I stop by after school pretty often.”
They crossed the hall, stomping dirt over the brown rug. The furnished living room was on their right and the fancy dining room was on the left. The wooden stairs ahead curved upward to the second floor.
Kevin ran up the staircase, yelling, “Brad! Are you here?” Kevin went straight for his friend’s room. The door was closed. He rapped on the door and said, “I’m coming in.” He slowly opened the door and peered inside. Brad was in bed, snoring loudly. Resting by the side of his bed was his collie, Max. The dog raised his head to look up at Kevin as he entered the room.
Kevin’s eyes narrowed. “I knew it! You were sleeping!” He stood by the bed and gently shook it. “Wake up. It’s almost nine. I said WAKE UP!” He screamed into Brad’s ear, smacked his shoulder and finally jostled the bed. Brad continued sleeping. He didn’t even stir.
Andrew heard the yelling. He stood by the door of the bedroom. “Is everything all right?”
Kevin startled tickling Brad by the neck and waist. Brad just rolled over. “Wow, he’s usually pretty ticklish.” With a sly grin, Kevin told Andrew, “Get me some ice.”
Andrew nodded and left the room.
While waiting for Andrew to return, Kevin took Brad’s pillow and whacked him over the face with it. He yelled and shouted with all the air in his lungs. He kicked the footboard. Nothing he did managed to even disturb Brad’s deep sleep. When Andrew came back with a mug full of ice cubes, he handed it to Kevin. Kevin took an ice cube and rubbed it all over Brad’s face. After feeling the cold moisture on his face, Brad twitched, but that was it. Max cocked his head and whined, as though he disapproved of what the boys were doing to his owner.
Kevin said hesitantly, “Brad, come on…wake up already. This is getting ridiculous.”
Then, as Kevin stared at Brad, an idea popped in his head—a strange idea…one that was impossible. It was totally unrealistic, like something out of a bad horror flick. Kevin thought, What if he couldn’t wake up?
As he pondered over this concept, he began recalling simple things. His mom didn’t leave the lunch bag on the table like she usually did. And the whole way they walked to school, they did not see a car, or a single person other than Katie. He wondered about the implications. It was a ludicrous idea to be sure, but could it be true? What if everyone was asleep…and couldn’t wake up?
Kevin knitted his brow, biting his nail nervously.
“What’s wrong?” asked Andrew.
Kevin barked, “Come on! We’re going home right now!”
Kevin raced down the street, wanting to know if it was possible. Could his parents still be sleeping in bed? He prayed to God that it was all just his wild imagination. Andrew struggled to keep up, his heavy book bag bouncing up and down his back as he ran.
When they reached their block, the two boys ran to their homes. Kevin sprinted to the master bedroom and kicked the door open. Breathless, he stood at the doorsill, gulping air. After he caught his breath, he straightened up and gaped at the bed. His mother and father were still asleep. Kevin stooped over the side of their bed.
Confused, he pinched their cheeks, hoping they’d be annoyed. He shook them, hoping they’d be angry. He cried out the most profane things possible, hoping they’d scold him. They did nothing.
His eyes wide open, he gazed at them for several minutes, until he finally broke down.
A bad dream. This has got to be a bad dream!
Tears pouring down his cheeks, Kevin squatted by the side of the bed. He wondered if they would ever wake up. Then he wondered if he would wake up from this nightmare. He covered his damp eyes with his hands and screamed his lungs out. He kept screaming and screaming until his voice cracked. Was this the end of the world? He had no idea. But to him, it sure felt like it.
evin and Andrew sat down at the curb. They just sat there, as if nothing happened—or as if nothing was ever going to happen. Just a moment before, Kevin had gone to check up
on Andrew to see how his mother was doing, but Andrew had simply replied with a solemn shake of his head. Their fears were confirmed. Everyone was asleep…and there was nothing they could do about it.
Kevin stared morosely at the road. Andrew fell back on the lawn and gazed at the sky.
After a long period of contemplation, Andrew broke the silence. “What should we do?”
“I don’t know,” Kevin replied. “We could wait. It might be temporary. Like maybe everyone is just incredibly tired and they’ll be awake by tomorrow.”
“That’d be good.”
“And that’d be an understatement.”
“Could we try calling someone else? Maybe this is just a neighborhood thing.”
Kevin’s face lit up. “I never thought of that!”
Kevin hastily dialed 9-1-1 on his cell. He listened to it ring for a while. Kevin counted the number of times it rang. If it reached twenty, he would hang up. To his surprise, it didn’t even reach five.
“Hello?” A woman answered.
“Hello!” Kevin jumped to his feet. “Hey! Is this 9-1-1 emergency?”
“I’m terribly sorry,” said the woman, sounding frightened. “But we cannot help you at this time. Please try calling back at a later date.”
“Wait! My parents aren’t waking up. I think it’s a coma. Hello?”
“Again, I’m terribly sorry. But there’s…no one around at the moment. Goodbye.”
“No, wait! Don’t goodbye me! We need—”
The woman hung up rather quickly.
Andrew stared at Kevin. “Well?”
Disheartened, Kevin threw his cell phone over his shoulder and sat back down. “She said there’s no one around and told me to call back later.”
Andrew yawned. “Back to square one.”
Kevin became very quiet and went back to staring at the road, emotionless.
Andrew hummed a single note. “Want to play video games?”
Kevin turned slightly to see Andrew with the corner of his eye. “At a time like this?”
Andrew shrugged. “Why not? It’s not like there’s anything else to do. No school. No homework. No life. Nothing at all.”
Kevin thought for a moment. “True…but we could also do other things—things we normally can’t do.”
Kevin grinned. “Like driving!”
Andrew’s interest was piqued. “Do you know how?”
“I practiced in a parking lot recently. Besides, the roads are empty. It’ll be easy.”
“Isn’t it dangerous to drive if you’re tired?”
“You’re right,” said Kevin. “I’ll take a nap first. After we get some rest then we can do whatever we want.”
“You don’t think…” Andrew stopped and gulped.
Kevin demanded, “What?”
Andrew took a deep breath before continuing. “You don’t think we’ll end up like everyone else?”
“I don’t know.” Kevin shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
“That’s a big risk to take,” said Andrew reasonably. “Never waking up again.”
“But we have to sleep sometime. It’s not like we can just stay awake forever.”
Andrew said, “So…if we don’t sleep, we might die from lack of sleep. But if we do sleep, we’ll never wake up and will probably die in our sleep.”
Kevin frowned. “You make it sound so depressing.” Andrew hung his head sheepishly. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“Don’t apologize,” said Kevin. “You’re just stating the facts.” Kevin stood up, stretching out his arms and legs. “I don’t care anymore. Depressed or not, we have to do something!” He smiled. “Going to sleep to escape this nightmare. Oh, the irony.” Kevin marched up the driveway.
A man’s voice said, “Hold it right there.”
It wasn’t Andrew’s voice.
“Who said that?” Kevin spun around, searching the area. “Is someone else here?”
Suddenly, a dog and cat appeared before him, blocking the way to his house. It was the same dog and cat from before: the yellow Labrador and the black cat. The Lab was blind in the left eye, having a scar over it. The cat glared at the boys with intense eyes. Both pets looked intimidating.
“I said that,” said the dog.
Kevin froze. It was like his mind suddenly exploded. He gawked at the animals for a long time. Then, when he finally regained his composure, he turned to see Andrew’s reaction. Andrew looked just as shocked. Kevin faced the animals again, thinking of any possible explanations for this strange occurrence.
Kevin broke into laughter. “Oh, that’s a good one, Andrew. You’ve been practicing ventriloquism?”
The dog jumped on top of Kevin and barked, “Kid, can’t you see I’m the one who’s talking here?”
“Okay…maybe I’m hallucinating.”
The dog said, “This is no hallucination. Do you want me to prove it?”
“Give me a test. I’ll prove that I can understand you.”
“Um…okay. For starters, you could get off me.”
The dog backed away and sat down. “And?”
Kevin got to his feet and thought about it for a short time. Then he finally came up with a good idea. “I’ve got it. How about an act? If you can act like the cat is chasing you around, then I’ll believe you.”
The dog gazed wide-eyed at Kevin. “You want me to do what?”
“Act like you’re being chased by a cat.”
“I-I don’t—I can’t—” The dog stuttered. Shivering, the dog slowly turned his head and stared at the cat in horror. He then stared at Kevin with these endearing eyes full of anxiety. The dog looked as though it was about to cry and maybe even faint. Kevin saw that the dog was reacting really strangely.
Gloating, the cat sneered in a female voice, “Come on, run away! You heard the boy!”
“No, that’s okay,” said Kevin, and the dog took a deep breath of relief. “If it’s a matter of pride, I can understand. I just want to know how you can talk.”
The dog said, “We’ve lived long enough with humans.”
“Then why don’t I normally see animals talking?”
“We already have our own forms of communication. We only need to speak human language if we’re speaking to humans. Or if we need to communicate universally.”
Kevin nodded. “I guess you have a point there. But why do you guys sometimes act like you don’t really understand us?”
The dog explained, “It is our law not to speak with humans. How much more trouble would be caused if we could communicate easily? We don’t care about the things you care about. You work, you invent, and you engage in strange forms of recreation such as traveling or…leaping off airplanes. Your laws and rules mean nothing to us.
“Think about it. What if we did speak with humans? In crime scenes they’d start to look for animal witnesses. They might try to use us for spying or killing. They might even start applying laws against us and we’d no longer have the freedom to go wherever we want, eat whatever we want or pee wherever we want. No, it’s better if the humans did not know.
“More importantly, we live by instinct. How would you react if you knew that the chicken you ate could speak your own language? As animals we are in tune with nature and live by nature. We accept death as inevitable, but you humans see it in a different light, trying to create ways to increase your lifespan in any way possible.”
Kevin furrowed his brow. “I’ll never look at a piece of chicken the same way again.” Kevin paused. “If it’s against your law, why are you talking to me?”
The dog replied gravely, “Because these are desperate times. Humans all over the world cannot wake up from their slumber. We are not sure why, but we don’t think it’s natural. It’s because of this situation that we’ve formed the HPC, which we are agents of.”
“Agents? HPC? So is this like an organization with animal agents? What does it stand for—Hungry Pet Country?”
His eyes narrowing, the dog looked annoyed. “No. The HPC is the Household Pet Coalition. It is a temporary alliance of all pets…except for fish—they’re pretty useless. As pets, we need humans to live. Not only that, but we love our masters. We are willing to set aside our differences to protect them,” the dog snuck an angry glance at the cat, “even if the differences go back for thousands of years.”
Kevin cocked his head. “Then why don’t you go and solve this? What’s the point in coming to me about it?”
“Because humans are more resourceful. Understanding your language does not mean we understand much of anything else about you. Your science is beyond what we could fathom. Those computers and cars and such would be very useful to our investigation.”
Kevin shrugged. “I’m only thirteen years old. I’m not a scientist or anything. I’m not even smart…like, at all.”
“The only reason we are turning to children such as yourselves is because you are the only ones we have found awake,” said the dog. “And I didn’t say you had to be alone. We welcome any humans for this task, even that friend of yours over there. If you feel you cannot help us solve the problem, at the very least we could use your assistance in finding humans more suitable for the task. Don’t worry about anything else. We are agents sent by the HPC and we will be your bodyguards. I’m Genesis.” The dog gestured to the cat with his head. “And this is my associate, Luna.”
“Genesis and Luna? Who gave you those names?”
“We named ourselves,” Genesis replied. “We’re strays.” Genesis continued, “So how about it? Are you in or out? I can guarantee that if you go to sleep…you’ll never wake up. Do you want that to happen? Your family and friends…they’ll all be dead. And so will you. On the other hand, if you stick with us, we might find a way to save the human race.”
“It almost sounds like I don’t have a choice,” said Kevin.
Genesis nodded. “Then you see things our way.”