As the only child in an upper-middle class family, Rowan has had it easy. Doted on by a mother who never wanted anything but a child to love, she's never wanted for anything. Kiaya's life, however, has been anything but easy. Parents who didn't want her, followed by being torn away from her only sibling by the foster care system, she knows what it means to have to work hard for the things she wants.
When a deadly virus sweeps the country, Rowan and Kiaya are away at college and far from everything they love. Desperate to make it home, they team up, but as the world around them dies, an unexpected detour leaves them stranded in Vega, Texas where they stumble upon a shocking discovery. The virus isn't just killing people. It's changing them.
When muscle bound former cop Devon sweeps in to save the day, it looks like their luck has shifted. With hundreds of miles left to cross and the dead taking over, the trio is determined to do whatever it takes to get home. Traveling historic Route 66, Rowan, Kiaya, and Devon fight for survival as they struggle to come to terms with their changing world.
Written in the tradition of the Amazon bestselling Broken World series, Far From Home follows a group of survivors through a zombie infested country as they search for safety, all the while growing and changing with the world around them.
Release date: January 3, 2020
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 321
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Far from Home
Kate L. Mary
There were at least seven Internet tabs open on my computer, one of which was set to the local news station in Dayton, Ohio, WHIO. Two reporters—one female and one male—whose names I didn’t know were talking about the current crisis and how it was affecting not just the Miami Valley, but the rest of the country as well.
“…travelers are advised to display their papers at all times and to keep to approved routes. Anyone found traveling on closed highways or without papers will be arrested immediately and held until martial law has been lifted. The government and CDC are working together to do everything they can to stop the spread of this deadly virus, but they need your help. Stay inside as much as possible, and if you absolutely have to leave your home, take precautions. Wash your hands regularly and wear a mask. Avoid large crowds, especially if you’re showing any symptoms.”
Since that wasn’t the page I was currently staring at, I couldn’t see the reporters’ expressions, but it didn’t matter. Their grave tones told me everything I needed to know. It was serious.
“I want you to stay there, Rowan. Do you hear me?” Mom’s voice rose an octave on the last word, and I cringed away from the phone pressed against my ear. “It’s safer in Phoenix.”
“How can you expect me to stay where I am with things as bad as they are?”
I scrolled through my Facebook feed with the hand not holding my phone, scanning each post before moving on to the next. Nearly every one of them had something to do with this virus. Either it was a news report, a post about someone who was sick, or a shared post that had gone viral, and each one had my gut twisting tighter until I thought I was going to hurl. One of my high school friends had moved to New York to try to make it on Broadway, and her post from three weeks ago was the one that made me finally pause. It was only one line, but it was enough to fill me with dread.
Deb Williams Everyone here is sick.
There hadn’t been a single update to her page since that post, and it now had hundreds of comments from friends and family, all of them begging for information they had to know they’d never get. The reports coming out of New York were infrequent and sketchy at best, but what little I’d heard left no doubt in my mind. Deb was dead, and I couldn’t be the only one who knew that. Odds were, everyone who’d commented on the post thought the same thing. They just weren’t ready to accept it.
My gaze landed on one of the last comments, posted only a few hours ago. It was her mom.
Rachel Williams Please respond and tell us you’re OK.
The words blurred together when tears filled my eyes, and I scrolled down before blinking them away, not wanting to see them again because it made all of this too real and much, much too personal.
I had to swallow before I said, “I want to come home, Mom.”
On the other end of the line, my mom sighed, and it seemed as if something happened to the connection, making the noise sound far away. It didn’t just emphasize the distance separating us, it made it feel bigger, as if someone had pulled on an imaginary string and somehow stretched the miles out, making crossing them impossible.
“Rowan, I’m serious about this,” she said, a small quiver in her voice. “Stay. There.”
I clenched my free hand into a fist, digging my normally perfectly manicured nails into my palms. After days of gnawing on them, they were jagged. It was a bad habit from my childhood and one I’d thought I’d gotten over.
“You can’t possibly expect me to stay,” I argued. “They’ve canceled classes. Almost nothing is open. Everyone who lives even remotely close left weeks ago, and the dorms are nearly empty. I feel so trapped and alone here.”
“I spoke with the university, and they’ve assured me the dorms will stay open for the students who can’t go home. You are one of those students. It’s too far for you to travel alone, and we are much too close to New York.”
“Troy is almost ten hours from New York!” I nearly shouted into the phone.
Hysteria was creeping up on me, and I dug my nails deeper into my palm, trying to ground myself. It didn’t help, because there was nothing to hold on to.
“Ohio is closer than Phoenix, which is where you’ll be staying. I’m serious, Rowan. I won’t talk about it anymore.”
I squeezed my eyes shut when my head began to pound. Under my cheap, University of Phoenix dorm room desk, my legs were shaking, and even pressing my heels harder against the floor wasn’t helping. When was the last time I’d felt like I needed my mom? I couldn’t remember. Maybe after Doug had dumped me sophomore year of high school, but I’d been sixteen. I was twenty now and in my third year of college, I shouldn’t need my mother to wrap me in her arms and tell me everything was okay. But I did. Desperately.
“Mom—” My voice trembled. “I’ve heard rumors about people in Phoenix coming down with it. I’m scared.”
She sighed again, but this time it wasn’t from frustration. Even hundreds of miles away, I could feel her fear. “I know you are. So am I. That’s why I want you to stay there. Once they get this thing under control, you can come home. But until we know they’ve stopped it from spreading, you’re staying in Phoenix. Do you understand?” When I said nothing, she said, “Rowan, no matter what else happens, I have to know you’re okay. Please.”
“Okay,” I mumbled, my eyes still closed.
“Good,” she said, letting out a deep sigh of relief. “Dad got called in to the hospital a few hours ago, but I’ll tell him you called and you’re okay.”
“All right,” I replied automatically.
“I’ve transferred more money into your account. Be sure to get the cash now just in case—” Mom’s voice cracked, and the sound felt like it was stabbing me in the heart. I heard her swallow. “Get small bills if you can and stock up on supplies so you don’t have to go out. Whatever you do, avoid big crowds. Got it?”
“I’ll go to the bank today,” I assured her, thinking about my dad and his job, and how avoiding crowds would be impossible. He was an ER doctor, for God’s sake. I couldn’t think of a worse job right now.
“Good,” Mom said, the relief in her voice ringing through the air. “We love you, Rowan.”
“I love you,” I said.
“Talk to you tomorrow?”
Mom let out a deep breath, and a second later, the call cut out.
I opened my eyes, and my gaze focused on the travel papers I’d gotten the day before. The travel papers my mom knew nothing about because she’d forbidden me to come home. But I was legally an adult, wasn’t I? I was twenty. I could vote, and if I committed a crime, I’d be looked at as an adult, no questions asked. Sure, I couldn’t legally buy alcohol yet or even rent a car, and I was still considered my parents’ dependent since I was going to college full time, but those things were minor when it came to the big picture. I was twenty years old, and I should have been able to make my own decisions.
Yet I was listening to my mom when she told me to stay in Phoenix.
I picked the papers up and unfolded them.
Approved For Travel
The words screamed from the paper as if taunting me, daring me to go against my mom’s wishes, only I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough. I’d always been a pleaser, and just the process of getting the physical so I could apply for travel papers had twisted my insides into knots. Forget the fact that it had cost me five hundred dollars and I’d had to get a cash advance on my credit card—something Mom was going to freak about when she finally found out. Which she would, because my parents paid the bill. They paid for everything I did, gave me everything I needed without batting an eye. My car, my insurance, money every month for gas and anything else I needed. Right now, though, what I needed was to be home, and for the first time, my parents were denying me. It felt…wrong.
But Mom was overreacting, wasn’t she? The virus had started in New York, which was hundreds of miles from my hometown of Troy, Ohio, and six weeks had passed since martial law was declared and the government had locked down the area. Sure, a few people had gotten out, but as more cases had popped up, they’d locked down other cities as well. They were on top of this. They were determined to stop the spread. And the rumors I’d heard about people in Phoenix getting sick had to be just that. Rumors. The government and CDC were doing everything they could to stop this thing. Plus, based on what my mom had said, no one in the Dayton area was even sick at this point. We’d know if they were. Dad worked in the emergency room!
As if trying to justify my train of thought, I started scrolling through Facebook again, this time concentrating on the friends who were in or around the Dayton area. The first one I came to was Mandy Ditmar, a girl I’d graduated with who’d stayed in Dayton to attend Wright State. She’d shared the University’s official post canceling classes more than three weeks ago, and when I clicked on her profile, an image popped up of her at a restaurant in the Oregon District with a group of friends only a week later. I recognized the place as the Dublin Pub—an Irish restaurant that had live music on weekends—and it seemed as crowded as usual.
Things must not have been too bad in Dayton if people were still willing to go out and party.
I returned to my Facebook feed and scrolled some more, this time stopping on a post from one of my high school teachers. Mr. Phillips had taught French and just so happened to be the father of the guy who’d dumped me sophomore year for a cheerleader with big boobs and an even bigger personality. As far as I knew, they were still together. Unlike Mandy, Mr. Phillips’ page was full of warnings about staying inside and avoiding large crowds, but not a thing in his posts gave me any real pause. They were nothing but regurgitated warnings from local and national news stations. Then there were the official statements from the CDC. Nothing to really freak me out because I’d seen and heard the same things all the way out here in Phoenix, and I hadn’t seen a single sick person.
I clicked the small Facebook icon in the top left-hand corner so I could go back to my feed, but didn’t get far before being distracted by a YouTube video one of the girls in my hall had shared. It played automatically, but like always, there was no sound, and at first I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at because it was too shaky. Then whoever was filming it steadied their phone, and a man came into focus. He was walking weird, dragging his feet, and his arms were up and grasping at air like he was trying grab something. Even crazier was the color of his skin. It looked grayish. Washed out. It had to be the lighting, though.
Without thinking, I clicked on the video, turning the sound on.
“What the fuck is wrong with him?” a guy in the background called.
“Don’t know, man,” another guy, maybe the one recording, responded. “He looks dead, though.”
“Right.” The first guy chuckled. “Hey, dude, you okay? You need me to call someone?”
The man walking toward them—no, it was more like he was stumbling toward them—let out a groan.
“Sounds like a fucking zombie,” the guy recording muttered.
“Shut the fuck up. The dude’s sick,” the first guy said. “I’m out of here. I’m not catching that shit.”
The video shifted, and suddenly only the street was visible, but the recording continued.
“Yeah. Let’s get out of here before—”
There was a grunt, and the phone hit the ground, landing facedown. It didn’t stop recording though, and a second later, screams and shouting rang through the air. One guy—the one in the background—was yelling, begging someone to stop, and scraping sounds followed, telling me there was some kind of struggle. Another shout sounded, only it was different than before. It was a painful cry, a scream of agony that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Then there was a grunt, and the video ended.
I blinked and shook my head. Had the sick man attacked them? That was what it had sounded like, but it didn’t make any sense. It had to be fake. Some assholes had staged the thing and put the recording on YouTube to gain followers. That was all. The world was full of people like that, and a national emergency didn’t change things.
“Assholes,” I muttered before going back to my feed.
Every profile I clicked on after that felt like a repeat of the first two. Shared posts full of warnings, but no real stories from anyone in the Dayton area that made it seem like there was anything serious happening. It confirmed what I’d already suspected. Mom was overreacting, being overly cautious. She had to be. What was more, it was just like her. I was, after all, her only child, and she’d always been overly protective. It made sense, too. She and dad had unsuccessfully tried to have a child for ten years. Even fertility drugs and in vitro hadn’t worked, which was why they’d finally settled on adoption. My mom had been thirty-six by the time they finally brought me home, my dad forty-two. After all that time of waiting and trying, they’d finally had the family they’d always wanted, and Mom had been terrified something would swoop in and steal it.
Which was why she was being so cautious now.
I exhaled and sat back, thinking.
A good twenty-seven hours of driving separated me from home, and that was taking the normal route, which wasn’t possible. With martial law in place, most major highways had been shut down, forcing the few people approved for travel to take very specific routes. I’d been given a map—a paper one, which I’d never used in my life—when I got my travel papers, so I knew most of my drive home would be on Route 66. I couldn’t even imagine how much of it would be through the middle of nowhere or through old, rundown towns. Not exactly ideal, considering I was a twenty-year-old chick and would be traveling alone.
Which brought up another issue. I had my car since I’d insisted on driving out to Phoenix this year—much to my mother’s dismay—but did I have enough money to get home? Mom said she sent more, but since martial law had been issued a few weeks ago and travel had been cut off, the price of nearly everything had gone up. Getting home would be expensive, and it wasn’t like I could ask my parents to send more money when I wasn’t supposed to be going anywhere, and I’d maxed out my one credit card so I could get the physical and papers required for travel.
I needed a travel companion.
Shoving my chair away from the desk, I got to my feet, pausing long enough to stretch before heading out.
The hall was quieter than a library and had an empty feeling to it. It was eerie, like something from a horror movie, and I couldn’t stop from looking over my shoulder as I walked, half expecting some masked killer with a knife to be standing behind me. No one was there, of course. Not a murderer and not any students, either. Everyone on my hall had packed up and headed home except me and one other person, and I only knew she was around because I’d seen her coming out of her room yesterday. Until then, I’d thought I was alone. She was all the way at the other end, which was a different hall than the one I lived in, and we’d never spoken. I was pretty sure her name was Vanessa, although I could have been wrong. I was notoriously bad with names.
The stairs and a small lobby sat at the center of the building, separating the two halls. Stiff, stained chairs and couches were positioned in front of the community television, and a handful of small tables sat off to the side as well. There was even a bookcase, which was stuffed with old, dog-eared paperbacks and board games someone had donated probably two decades ago—most of the games were missing pieces.
It was the bulletin board above the bookcase that I was interested in, though. Usually it was bursting with fliers for clubs or volunteer opportunities, the occasional job opening, and even postings for used textbooks—there was a website where you could buy or sell them, but some people still preferred to do it old school. Now, though, the bulletin board was covered with inquiries from students who were desperate to get home but had no means of transportation. Nearly all of them were from people who had already left, but I was willing to bet one or two were still hanging around, either because they hadn’t decided to leave until more recently or because they hadn’t located someone who lived close enough to their destination to find a ride.
The odds of locating someone who needed to get to Ohio were slim, but maybe there was someone who could ride with me part of the way—and help with gas money. Maybe they needed to get to St. Louis or somewhere else in Missouri. Hell, at this point, I’d be happy to have someone ride with me to Oklahoma. Anything was better than nothing.
I scanned the papers tacked to the bulletin board, pulling down the ones from people I knew had already left whenever I came across them. The crinkle of paper as I balled them up seemed loud in the quiet room, and like before, I found myself looking over my shoulder when my heart beat faster. I was being stupid. The virus sweeping the country was the only thing I should be really afraid of, and as far as I knew, it hadn’t even made it this far west. It wasn’t like something was going to sneak up and take a big bite of me or anything.
The image of that man in the YouTube video popped into my head.
“Get a grip,” I muttered to myself, trying to ignore the tightening in my gut.
When the postings on the bulletin board got me nowhere, I headed for the stairs, tossing the ball of paper into a trashcan on my way. One floor down, the halls and lobby mimicked the one I’d just left. Quiet and empty and totally devoid of any signs of life, making my already pounding heart beat faster as I scanned the bulletin board. Some of the postings were the same as the ones from upstairs, which I promptly removed, but there were new ones, too. The word Indiana leapt out at me, and I scanned the rest of the note scrawled across the small piece of blue paper.
Looking for a ride to Indiana.
Will pay for gas.
- Kiaya Washington
I studied the name, rolling the letters around in my head while I tried to figure out how it was pronounced. Key-a-ya? That couldn’t be right. Kay-a? Maybe, but I wasn’t positive. Oh, well. She was probably used to people butchering her name.
I pulled the paper off the bulletin board and headed down the hall. There was a phone number scrawled under the words, but since I was on the second floor anyway, I might as well check it out. If Kiaya was still around, odds were good that she’d be in her room. Everything on campus was closed, and even off campus not much was open. People were taking this shit seriously. Even all the way out here.
The door to room 223 had a couple pieces of blue paper just like the one I’d pulled off the bulletin board taped to it. One was a repeat of the post Kiaya had left in the lobby, but the other was older and had nothing to do with the virus.
She’d underlined the first word three times as if it would force people to obey, and I couldn’t help sighing. This girl sounded like a barrel of fun.
I rapped my knuckles against the door, and the sound echoed down the hall, and that spooky horror movie feeling returned full force. Even as I glanced around to make sure I was still alone, I rolled my eyes. Still, I couldn’t help it. I blamed that damn YouTube video. It had me on edge even though I knew it was a fake. Zombies weren’t real, and they never would be.
The door opened, and I let out a yelp and jumped back.
Laughing at my own stupidity, I put my hand to my heart. “Sorry. I guess I’m just jumpy.”
The girl narrowed her big, brown eyes at me. “Can I help you?”
She was a tad taller than I was, and thin, and very delicate and innocent looking. There wasn’t a stitch of makeup on her face, and her flawless, light brown skin gave off the impression that not a drop of the stuff had ever touched it. She was cute, even if she would have benefited from some eyeliner, and thankfully, nothing about her set off warning bells in my head.
When I said nothing, Kiaya lifted her eyebrows expectantly, and something about the way she pressed her full lips together gave off the impression she was deep in thought as she, in turn, studied me. It was the questions in her dark eyes that finally jolted me out of my stupor, and I shook my head, giving her an apologetic smile.
“Are you Kay-a?” I asked, taking a stab at the name.
“It’s pronounced Ky-ya,” she told me, but didn’t seem all that bothered by my blunder.
“Sorry. I found your note.” I shrugged apologetically as I held the paper up for her to see—as if I thought she might have forgotten she’d written it. “Indiana?”
“Oh.” Kiaya blinked. “I thought I’d put it up too late and missed my chance.”
“Nope,” I said, the P popping out of my mouth and echoing down the hall. “There are a few of us still around.”
“Not many.” She looked past me toward the empty lobby.
“Yeah,” I said, following her gaze.
For a second, we stood in silence, then I shook my head again and waved the note. “Anyway, I live in Ohio. I want to go home, and I have a car, but it’s a long drive. I figured we could help each other out?”
Kiaya nodded, but eyed me like she was trying to make a decision. “I wasn’t going to leave. I figured this whole thing would get sorted out pretty fast, and having the dorm to myself would give me a chance to get ahead in my classes, but now…” She swallowed and glanced past me again, and that feeling from before returned, raising the hair on my arms. “The news reports are getting scary.”
“I know,” I said around the lump of fear in my throat.
Once again, that damn YouTube video popped into my head. I had a feeling it would be playing on repeat in my dreams tonight, which was going to suck. Like I wasn’t already freaked out enough, I had to dream about zombies. Great.
“You have papers?” I asked, wanting to get down to business.
Kiaya nodded, and her dark, wavy hair, which was pulled into a ponytail high on her head, bobbed. “Yeah.”
“Me too.” I mimicked the gesture, unsure of what else to do. She obviously wasn’t much of a talker and really wasn’t giving me much to work with. “I’d want to head out soon. Not tonight, but maybe tomorrow? I need to go to the bank and pack some things, and maybe stock up on snacks for the trip. What do you think?”
Again, Kiaya nodded even as she pressed her lips together, considering her options. “Yeah. Okay.”
She didn’t sound very sure.
“You do want to go, right?”
She gave a small, non-committal shrug. “It’s not like there’s much of a reason to stay here.”
She looked down the empty hall again, but this time I avoided following her gaze. I was freaking myself out too much, and I needed to get a grip.
“Then tomorrow will be good?” I prompted.
“Yeah,” was all she said. Again.
Holy shit. Over twenty hours in a car with her was going to be annoying.
I blew out a long breath so I didn’t sound irritated when I said, “Good. Meet me in the lobby tomorrow morning? Let’s say seven. I want to get on the road early.”
Kiaya only nodded in response.
This time, I didn’t hold in my sigh.
“See you then,” I said as I turned.
I’d only taken two steps when she called out, “Wait!”
The word echoed through the empty hall, and I had to suck in a deep breath to try to calm my pounding heart before turning. It didn’t work, but I looked back at her anyway.
Kiaya was focused on me. “What’s your name?”
“Oh.” I laughed at my own forgetfulness and grabbed my braid, waving it at her to try and lighten the mood. “Sorry, blonde moment. I’m Rowan. Rowan Summers.”
For the first time, Kiaya smiled. “Thanks, Rowan.”
“No problem,” I said, waving over my shoulder as I headed off.
I had a travel companion, which was good—as annoying as I suspected she was going to be. Not that it mattered. We’d drive to Indiana together, I’d drop her off, and that would be the end of it. It wasn’t like we were going to be life-long friends or anything.
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