But as Jackson and his father creep closer to achieving their goals at the CDC, things slowly begin to unravel. Meg isn't cooperating the way she should be, and the presence of a new person in her life is threatening to blow their plan apart. Jackson must now decide how to deal with the girl he has spent the last nine years trying to manipulate, as well as the family she has left and the man who has taken up residence in her life. To complicate matters even more, the darkness inside Jackson has gotten increasingly persistent, making it difficult for him to control it at times and leading him to wonder if he shouldn't just give in to his urges once and for all.
Twisted Mind is a dark and disturbing look into Jackson's brain, and the inner-workings of the CDC. It will give readers a glimpse of the future, as well as answer questions that have plagued us from the very beginning of the Broken World series.
Release date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 129
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Behind the book
The Twisted series is a continuation of the Broken World series, picking up twenty years later and following the survivors as they face a new set of troubles in a post-apocalyptic world.
Twisted Mind: A Broken World Novella
Kate L. Mary
When he saw her from a distance, her head barely visible through the crowd and a terrified expression shimmering in her green eyes, the thing that lived in the pit of his stomach woke. It was getting stronger. He didn’t know where it came from or what it was called—or if it even had a name—so he just called it the need. That’s how it felt to him, anyway. Like a hunger pang or the desperate ache he got in his lungs when he stayed under water for too long. A burn that wouldn’t go away no matter how many deep breaths he took in.
Other people would probably say the need was an unnatural thing, but to Jackson Star it felt normal. It felt right. It had been inside him for as long as he could remember, and like many of the urges that had increased in intensity as he moved from childhood to his teen years, and then grown into a man, this urge had deepened with age. So much so that at times the need was strong enough that it even overshadowed hunger.
The need gnawed on Jackson’s insides as he pushed his way through the crowd, shoving people aside much harder than necessary. The anger and violence in the air was so thick that his mouth filled with saliva. He could taste the volatility as he ran his tongue over the roof of his mouth, and he had to bite back the smile that threatened to break free. The heat and rage surrounding him fed the need, but Jackson knew now wasn’t the time to give in to it. Meg, tiny and helpless, was in the middle of this crowd, and she needed his help.
He reached her at the same time that her Uncle Al did, the buffoon who had somehow managed to rise in the ranks of the enforcers, and together the two men pulled Meg from the crowd. Her body trembled under Jackson’s grasp, and the fear that throbbed through her stirred the need inside him even more. Almost on their own, Jackson’s fingers tightened on Meg’s arm. She was a petit thing, and he knew that if he wanted to he could snap her bones with very little effort. And he did want to. He wanted to very, very badly.
They reached the edge of the crowd and Jackson dropped his hands to his sides, curling his fingers into fists as he tried to regain control. No matter how much he craved it, no matter how good it would feel, now wasn’t the time for breaking things. He had a plan, and part of that plan was to be there for Meg whenever and however she needed him.
At his side, Meg and her uncle talked, but the blood pounding in Jackson’s ears made it difficult for him to focus on the conversation completely. Meg was reassuring Al that she wasn’t hurt, and her uncle was lamenting how dangerous the streets of New Atlanta had gotten. As if the world outside these walls was any better. The fool. If he knew the precarious position he and his family were in he would bite his tongue. No one, especially not the people standing at Jackson’s side right now, should complain about how the settlement was run.
Jackson clenched his fists even tighter.
“Things have gotten bad,” Meg was saying as she glanced toward the throng of people she had just fled, “you can’t blame them for being upset.”
Jackson inhaled slowly through his nose, trying to clear his head even more. Now that the mob had mostly dispersed, the scent of violence had been replaced by the odor of shantytown. Urine and trash, unwashed bodies. Suffering. It was so revolting that Jackson had to resist the desire to cringe away from the stench.
“They don’t have to live like this,” he said, glancing behind them at the barely standing shacks before focusing his attention on Meg. “They’re choosing to live in filth. If they worked harder, they could make a better life for themselves. They’re a drain on society.”
“How?” Meg whispered, her green eyes big and round and so full of pity that it made Jackson ill.
He pressed his lips together and silently cursed himself for allowing the words to pop out of his mouth. It was a stupid mistake to make, and even worse, it wasn’t how he felt at all. These people were living in filth and they were a drain, but they were here because his father, Garret Star, the Regulator of New Atlanta, had put them here. They had a purpose, although temporary, and when his father was done with them they would be disposed of like the trash they were.
But Jackson shouldn’t have said anything. He and Meg had just gotten into a fight—some dumb shit about how his father needed to do more to help the masses—and he’d set out to make up with her. Like everything else in the settlement, Meg had a role to play, and they wouldn’t get where they needed to be if she was angry with him.
Most of the time anymore, Jackson felt like he could go either way with Meg. She was undeniably beautiful, but also a pain in the ass with her idealistic view of the world and her never-ending desire to look for the good in things. Most of the time she was more trouble than she was worth. This was, after all, his father’s plan. One that had formed years ago, before Jackson had even graduated from cloth diapers, and it made sense in the grand scheme of things. Meg may have been too opinionated for his taste, but she had the right name. A name that would give Jackson and his father more power in the settlement, and that was something the Stars planned on taking advantage of.
Jackson was ripped from his thoughts when Al asked him to escort Meg home. The apartment she lived in was close enough that they could see it from where they were standing, so of course she protested. Jackson ignored her however, as did her uncle, which made him respect the older man just a little bit more than he had previously.
Despite the fact that he was entrusting Jackson with his niece’s safety, the look Al gave him was penetrating enough to made Jackson’s scalp prickle. He stood his ground though, keeping his face expressionless so Al wouldn’t change his mind, and after a second Meg’s uncle relaxed, although he still didn’t look thrilled to be in Jackson’s presence. Not that people ever were.
Jackson wasn’t a fool. He knew most people could see what he really was, but he didn’t care. The truth was, he had never really tried to hide his real self from the world. Not unless it suited him, that is. Like with Meg. Her entire family looked at him with suspicion, except maybe Charlie—and again that was how Jackson wanted it—but Meg saw him in a different light. To her, he was the boy who had saved her and comforted her. The one who would always be a shoulder for her to cry on. It was a perfectly planned strategy and one of the many personas Jackson had taken on over the years, but it was by far the most difficult role he had ever had to assume. Still, he knew that if everything played out the way he and his father had planned, it would all be worth it in the end.
A few seconds later, Al hurried off, and Jackson slipped his arm around Meg’s waist so he could lead her down the road. Her body was tiny next to his, which he loved. That was another plus about Meg. She was small, and even though Jackson wasn’t a big man, being next to her made him feel like he was.
Not that his size had ever hindered him from doing what needed to be done. Men twice his stature shrank under his glare, cowered at the very mention of his name, and darted out of his way in the streets. And they were right to be afraid. When the need took over, Jackson was pretty certain that he was more monster than man.
He was a robot on the walk back to Meg’s apartment, saying all the right words automatically, barely even registering what they were before they left his lips. Meg responded just how she should, forgiving him and accepting his embrace when she needed comforting.
That was the only moment that he felt the façade of sensitivity begin to slip away. Having her head resting against his chest and his arms around her little waist woke the need, and he found himself having to concentrate on her words so he didn’t give in to the scenarios playing out in his head. Meg at his mercy. Meg begging for help. Meg finally becoming his once and for all. It was almost too delicious to resist.
By the time they had started walking again, Jackson felt like the thing inside him was trying to rip its way out. Meg was sniffling, but he had succeeded in fixing their little rift, and when he left her at the door to her building, he felt like they had taken a little step forward in their relationship. The progress had been slow, but steady, and he was smart enough to know that any move forward was a good thing. No matter how small it might have seemed to the outside world. They were young still, and there were plenty of years ahead of them, and plenty of time to allow his plan to come to fruition.
This time when Jackson got a big whiff of shantytown, he allowed his nose to wrinkle in disgust. The buzzing in his stomach was the only thing that could possibly overpower the stench of urine, but even that couldn’t mask the stink of rotting trash. Garbage day was nearing, meaning the piles of refuse had been sitting in the sun for weeks now, and the smell had gotten so strong that it was impossible to ignore. Even walking past it the way he was right now had him feeling like the stink was soaking into his pores, and he knew that he’d be forced to take a shower the second he got home or he’d feel like it was following him for the rest of the night.
Meg had been right when she’d said something needed to be done. The Regulator needed people, but the filth that had gathered in this section of the city was nothing more than a headache, and the people living in the shacks were more than a waste of resources. As far as Jackson was concerned, the whole area needed to be bulldozed completely. Maybe he’d even suggest it to his father.
He walked faster, ignoring the buzz that grew in intensity from the sounds echoing through the little streets separating the shacks. If it weren’t for Megan James, Jackson would never come near this part of the city. His own house was almost on the other side of the settlement, and in a much nicer area, and there was nothing else in this part of the city that deserved his attention. Yes, if Meg didn’t live here, he could pretend this entire section didn’t exist at all.
Only she did live here, which meant Jackson found himself walking down this street several times a week to pick her up or drop her off, and despite the stink from shantytown or the pain in the ass she could sometimes be, he savored playing the part of Meg’s suitor. As much as she would allow it, that is. Hopefully, they would soon be able to take the next step in their relationship. Jackson had been patient, he had paid his dues and he had no doubt that one day Meg would come to her senses and realize she needed him in her life. Especially after this business with her dad. Things for her were only going to get worse. Jackson and his father would see to that.
Meg and Jackson had been friends going on nine years now, and through every twist and turn in her life, she had come to him for comfort and advice. He’d hugged her when she was sad, had listened to her talk about her long-dead mother like the woman had been something special even though she was nothing more than a ghost of an idea to Meg, he’d even been there to hold her hand when her father had disappeared. Jackson had always made sure that he was nearby when Meg needed an ear, planting seeds in her mind that grew slowly, but knowing that when they finally did sprout, their roots would be strong and deep.
The only kink in the plan had come two years ago when Meg had started dating that prick, Colton Decker. The asshole had been older than Meg, and tall—several inches over six feet—and that had only made Jackson dislike the guy more. Meg had met Colton when she’d gone to visit her dad at work, and when the asshole had asked her out, she had come running to Jackson to gush about it. It had taken everything in him not to kill Colton that day, and playing the part of the dutiful friend had been torture. For the first time in their friendship Jackson had found it difficult to hide his real feelings, and the more time Meg spent away from him, the harder it had become.
Although they had never discussed it openly, he knew that she’d ended up sleeping with Colton. Jackson had witnessed it firsthand, listening in from the CDC, grinding his teeth the entire time. It had almost been enough to drive him mad, and at that moment, as the sounds of their rutting grew more intense, the need had grown until he’d barely been able to contain it. It had felt like it was trying to eat its way out of him. Like it would kill him if he didn’t give it what it wanted.
Lucky for Jackson, he’d only had to wait a few hours. The next morning, the sun barely up and the sky painted in brilliant shades of orange and pink, Colton had been given a solo assignment outside the wall. Jackson had been there waiting for him, and when his blade had cut into the other man’s spinal cord, it didn’t matter that Colton was nearly a foot taller. He had dropped to the ground like a useless pile of meat, his eyes full of terror as he waited to discover his fate. That had been a very satisfying day for the need.
Jackson had barely made it home and had just finished washing Colton’s blood from his hands when Meg showed up at his house, her eyes teary and full of shock at having just learned the horrible news, and Jackson had been there—as usual—to wrap her in his comforting embrace.
He’d wanted her for so long now that he was no longer sure if it was still Meg that he wanted or just the surge of victory that would come when she finally gave herself to him. Not that it mattered. There was no going back. His father’s plans for the future had always centered on Meg, and that hadn’t changed. Jackson needed her at his side and that was all there was to it.
It was just after eight o’clock in the evening when Jackson made it home from dropping off Meg, and the large house was so empty and silent that his footsteps echoed through the halls as he headed to his room. His father was probably still at the CDC, being the Regulator of New Atlanta involved a lot more than politics, and late nights at work were a normal part of life. Especially these days. After two decades of failed experiments and near misses, they were finally making some real progress. The last few weeks in the labs had been thrilling.
The road here had been a long one, despite his father’s genius. It seemed that every corner Garret Star had successfully turned over the years had led them to another hurdle, and every solution he’d come up with had presented yet another set of complicated problems. Angus James had turned the tides, but the end goal had remained just out of reach for many years.
Not that Jackson had ever doubted that his father would do everything he had set out to accomplish.
Garret Star had graduated from high school and headed off to college at the young age of thirteen. From there he had gone on to study evolutionary biology and virology, earning multiple degrees in both fields by the time he was in his early twenties. As a genius, Star had often found himself feeling separated from his peers. First in high school when he was years younger than the other members of his graduating class, then in college when he would find himself sitting at home alone on Saturday nights while everyone else got wasted at keggers and frat parties.
In his solitude Star had turned to comics for comfort, feeling especially drawn to the ones that featured creatures that had come back from the dead. The concept had nearly consumed him, and he’d spent years tearing through the neatly drawn pages between studying and lab work, imaging a world in which such things could happen.
Time had moved on, but the idea had stayed with him, tucked safely in the back of his mind as he left college and his career took off. He’d earned a position at the CDC right away, barely more than a research assistant in the beginning. In those early days Star had spent his time working on projects that were overseen by doctors with decades more experience than he possessed, but who had lacked the mental aptitude or vision to do anything really great with their lives.
Thanks to his unyielding determination to achieve scientific immortality, Star had moved up in the ranks quickly, gaining access to some of the more top secret projects within his first two years at the CDC. He worked on assignments that dealt with biological weapons and viruses that were so deadly few people even knew of their existence, studying them in hopes of learning their weaknesses. But in his free time, Star was secretly conducting his own research. The comics that had kept him company throughout his early years had become so rooted in his brain that he’d found it impossible to shake the concept. What if he could bring someone back to life? What if he could create a zombie-like creature?
It was one of the top secret projects he was assigned to at the CDC that had finally given Star the answer he’d been looking for. While Jackson had never learned the original goal of Project Chronos, he did know that the research his father did on it helped lead him to where he was today.
The first time Star’s group managed to reanimate a dead monkey, he had acted shocked right along with the other scientists. He hadn’t been, however, because bringing the primate back from the dead had been Star’s goal from the very beginning. While other doctors working in the CDC had worried about viruses being used to wipe out the human race, Star had had a totally different kind of biological weapon in mind. A virus that would keep the human body going even after all the life had been drained from it.
The idea had first come to him during his comic book days, and no matter how hard he’d tried or how many projects he’d taken part in, Star had never really been able to shake it. Zombies had seemed impossible to him at first. A creature that was fun to read about or watch on television when there was nothing better to do, but one that could never really exist. The idea that the brain could somehow keep working long after the body had died should have been preposterous. But as Star got deeper into his studies he began to wonder if he couldn’t in fact create such a being. Unlike the ones within the pages of his favorite graphic novels, though, he imagined a creature that had no will of its own, but would be more than capable of following orders. It would have a purpose much greater than simply eating human flesh, and that purpose would be to serve Star.
He knew that the first thing he had to do, however, was to greatly reduce the number of people on this retched planet. Timing was everything, though. He’d to make sure he had thought everything through. Had to make sure he was in the proper position and had other people who could help him achieve his goals after the disaster. If he was going to risk everything and everyone on the planet, he needed to make sure he was ready for the avalanche that would follow.
By the time Chronos was released on the world, Garret Star had risen to the position of director of the CDC. Covering up his part in the breach had been easy since he was the one calling the shots, but pinning it on a terrorist group had been even easier. The Middle East had become more and more aggressive in their efforts to wipe out America, and even though a biological weapon wasn’t their usual style, no one doubted that they had done it. One group was even nice enough to step in and claim responsibility, although these details had been kept secret from the general population. No need to induce panic.
Facing certain doom, the CDC and every other major medical institution in the world had scrambled to find a vaccine. Unfortunately, the doctors who weren’t in Star’s inner circle had no idea that the virus was Chronos until it was too late, and the ones who were privy to that information had no intention of stopping it from spreading. Even better was the fact that a vaccine had actually been created before the virus was ever released, insuring that the proper people would survive the original outbreak and continue their work in the new world that came after.
The virus spread from one side of the country to the other, then across the globe, doing it’s job perfectly and killing more than eighty-five percent of the population. By the time the bodies came back, Star and his colleagues were safely locked away in the CDC, waiting for the initial mayhem to die down so they could move on to the next part in their plan.
Once the dust had settled, Star and his team got to work securing the streets around the CDC and calling on survivors to take shelter in the area. They provided stability for people who were still shell-shocked from loss while also establishing themselves as the new face of the country. Although he stayed behind the scenes at first, no decisions were made without Star’s approval, and nothing happened that he didn’t personally have a hand in.
His plans ran deeper than just controlling the government, though, and in order to move to stage two, Star needed to get his hands on some of the people who had carried natural immunities to the virus. What he hadn’t counted on, however, was that none of those immunities stuck with a person once bitten by an infected corpse, and it didn’t take long for Star and his team to realize that they needed someone else. Someone with enough antibodies in their blood that they could survive even a bite.
Someone like Angus James.
Jackson learned bits and pieces of the truth as he grew, his father feeding the information to him a little at a time as he judged it to be important. Thankfully, Jackson had not only inherited his father’s genius, but his aptitude for science as well, and with the proper culturing, he grew into a person even more lethal than Garret Star had ever been. Both inside and outside the lab.
It wasn’t until Jackson started his apprenticeship at the CDC, however, that he had learned Angus James was still alive. He’d been fifteen then and his father, knowing that children had the tendency to run their mouths off, had kept that little morsel a secret. Jackson, like everyone else in the settlement, had heard rumors that James was alive and being held in the CDC, but had never really believed it. Finding out that it was true was a pleasant surprise. Even better than that, though, was finding out what his father was actually trying to accomplish with the blood of Angus James.
Twenty years had passed and they were finally getting close. The virus they had cultivated now created creatures that were very different from the original flesh-eating monsters that roamed the world. These new zombies were a hybrid, not quite dead but definitely not human, and even though they didn’t take orders the way Garrett Star had envisioned, they were much closer to the mindless drones his father had always wanted to create. Just a few more tweaks and they would be there. Jackson could feel it. Then all the useless men and women being held in DC could be infected and they would have their army, and when that happened, there would be no stopping them.
Jackson thought it all through as he slammed his knuckles into the punching bag he’d set up in his room. The need had gotten stronger on his walk home and more than anything right now, he wanted to get some of his aggression out. Over and over again his fists hit the firm but pliable surface in front of him, the bag swinging back and forth as an ache spread through his knuckles. But the desire inside him didn’t ease. Sometimes exercise worked, sometimes it didn’t. There were times when things got really bad and Jackson would have to resort to searching the streets for someone to take his aggression out on. Anyone would do, really. A bum passed out in an alley, a whore in shantytown, or even an unsuspecting woman he picked up in the entertainment district. The need wasn’t picky when it came to blood and violence.
Jackson only stopped hitting the bag when the ringing of the telephone echoed through the still house. It was Meg. Would he like to go to the entertainment district tonight? She and Charlie needed a break. Jackson smiled to himself as he agreed, feeling satisfied with this turn of events. Not only did it seem to prove that he and Meg had made progress in their relationship, but he also knew the fight would help feed the need. Especially if the zombies managed to win and he got the chance to see some real blood spilled.
It was rare that Meg went out in the evenings, and Jackson saw this invitation as a sign that he had in fact broken through some invisible barrier. That Meg was thinking more and more about her future and how much easier her life would be with Jackson in it. She was almost there. All she needed was a little push.
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