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Authors: Joshua Guess

The Fall: Victim Zero

BOOK: The Fall: Victim Zero
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Victim Zero


The Fall: Book One


Joshua Guess



2013 Joshua Guess

Dedicated to Jess, my patient and supportive wife. Thanks for not murdering me in my sleep.

As promised, a thank you to the backers of the
Victim Zero
IndieGoGo campaign. I planned to include your names here, but many of them are unavailable to me at this time. Rather than publish a partial list, I will spend the next months gathering them for the print edition and update this version accordingly.

All of you have my deep and lasting appreciation for your support. It's no exaggeration when I say this book would not exist without you. A different book at a different time, maybe, but you made this happen. You rock.



James N. Cook


Has anyone ever bought you a gift that changed your life?

It happened to me back in the fall of 2010, when my wife bought me my very first Kindle. It was a keyboard model, largely outdated now, but top of the line stuff at the time. My wife knew I loved to read, and she thought that a Kindle would be a cost-effective and convenient way for me to indulge my reading habit without further burdening our single, overloaded set of bookshelves. Furthermore, she felt confident that it would give me something to do whilst she watched TV shows she knew I hated.

And you know what? She was right.

Her endless re-runs of
Will and Grace
no longer irritated me in the slightest. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even talk to her for a solid three months, engrossed as I was in the new, wonderful world of self-published writers.

I had gotten tired of the same old boring, re-hashed, formulaic crap that all the major publishing houses were thrusting upon hapless bookstores, and I was ready for something new. When I discovered the bevy of fresh, original content provided by writers who had until then labored largely in obscurity, it was like the proverbial breath of fresh air. Being the avid reader that I was, I ate it up like four-year-olds at a pixie-stick party.

Noteworthy among those early, hastily bought and rapidly consumed novels was a book by a young, independent author from Kentucky. The book was titled,
Living With the Dead: With the Spring Comes the Fall.
That young author, as you may have surmised—or as you should know already if you have read his other work—was none other than the scribbler who penned this fine, enthralling volume you now hold in your anxious hands: Joshua Guess.

When I first became acquainted with Josh’s work, I was a rabid fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and I hungrily devoured anything I could get my hands on that in any way, shape, or form concerned zombies and their penchant for bringing about worldwide catastrophes. Now, some of these novels were good, and some were not. In fact, some were such revolting puddles of regurgitated, maggot-infested crap that I was ashamed of myself for being stupid enough to get suckered into buying them. Others, however, were quite enjoyable.

Josh’s work fell firmly into the latter category, obviously. If it didn’t, I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing this foreword.

So what, you may ask, set Josh’s work apart? What lent it a gravity and verve that lifted it above the teeming, unwashed masses?

For starters, it was not just endless pages of impossibly fit, attractive, scantily-clad protagonists bashing in zombie-head after zombie-head and occasionally making such stupid, boneheaded mistakes that I found myself trying to reach into my own cerebral cortex to claw the memories out with my bare fingers. (A bit of hyperbole, I know, but it illustrates my frustration with the selection of zombie-lit available at the time.)

Josh’s work was a stark contrast to the majority of zombie novels out there. It still is. The format and structure of the story allowed him to take his time with it. Do research. Bounce ideas off people. Let others participate. The result of this experiment was a broad, sweeping story spanning a course of years that drew me into a world of hardship, pain, fear, despair, and above all, triumph. It illustrated the dark depths of the human heart, explored the animal nature that lives in all of us, and shined a harsh, unpleasant light on every last one of our society’s vaunted morals.

As the series went on, it asked the hard questions. Just how far would you be willing to go to survive? What would you do to people who threatened your loved ones? Who stole from you? Who took slaves, and robbed, and raped, and pillaged? What would you do if you had only yourself to look to? No cops, no military, no authorities. Just little old you.

Well, Josh’s character found out, and he found out in spades. He did it all. He was brave and fought like a lion. He was a coward, and fled, pissing himself with fear. He was wounded, and lay squirming in the darkness trying not to scream from the pain. He built a community, led it, lost his way, and had his status as leader revoked. He let anger make his decisions for him, and the results were often disastrous.

But through it all, his community survived. Against all odds, they dug in, gritted their teeth, and with their blood, and their pain, and they sheer, iron-headed, fuck-it-all stubbornness, they steadfastly refused to go quietly into that good night. Instead, they built a home. A solid, lasting one.

The Compound. New Haven. And finally, just plain old Haven.

I followed the story with rapt attention. As I did so, a little voice began buzzing in the back of my head. It whispered,
Why aren’t you doing this
? Josh was, after all, self-published. I didn’t have any illusions of being as good a writer as he (I’m still not), but if he could do it, why couldn’t I? What was stopping me? Query letters? Bored, uninspired literary agents? Dismissive, domineering publishing houses?


Digital publishing had done away with all that. The road was open. All I had to do was walk it.

So I did.

Drawing inspiration from a bespectacled, goatee-sporting young fellow from Frankfort Kentucky, I sat down in March of 2011 and started work on the teeming, frothing mess that would eventually solidify into my first novel,
No Easy Hope
. It did pretty well, so over the next year and a half I wrote two more. It’s been just over eighteen months since my first novel was published, and with more than sixty-thousand copies sold, I’m damned glad I screwed up my courage and took the plunge. However, I never would have done it if not for Josh.

At some point, the two of us began corresponding. Then we started making snarky jokes at each other. Now we’re bros. That’s how things go sometimes.

I earned the privilege of being let into Josh’s confidence, and was thus one of the first people to learn about
Victim Zero
. When I learned that Josh was finally, thank the sweet Lord, writing a standalone novel set in the LWTD universe (much less a prequel where I got to find out what caused the The Fall), I was stoked. I knew it was going to be good. It
to be. So imagine my excitement when Josh agrees to send me a beta copy of
Victim Zero
prior to publication.

I expected it to be good. I expected it to be engaging, and action-packed, and to draw me in like a piss-drunk sailor to a brothel. I expected to enjoy it.

What I expected was nothing compared to what I got.

And now, you get to read it too. Consider yourself lucky.

Which brings us full circle to my wife, and the fact that she bought me a Kindle. A device that allowed me to discover a talented young writer who was still trying to find his audience, and to draw the inspiration I needed to become a writer myself. Inspiration that led to me having a budding career as an author ahead of me, and a far brighter future than I ever could have hoped for. And now, as an anemic attempt at repayment, I’m asking you to do the same for him.

Take a chance. Lay down a few bucks and buy this book. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

After you’re finished, when you’re pissed off that the sequel isn’t available
right goddamn now,
maybe you can tell a friend. Leave a nice review. Share it on whatever social media site du jour you fancy this week. Josh is a great guy, and a great writer, and if there is anyone who deserves a chance to do this writing thing for a living, it’s him. 

So buy it. Read it. Enjoy it, and most importantly, share it.

You’ll be doing me a favor if you do.



James N. Cook.

Charlotte, North Carolina

June 3, 2013

A note to the reader:


This book is set in the same universe as my
Living With the Dead
collections. If you're a reader of those collections and/or the blog they're collected from, this book will serve as an interesting backstory and parallel tale. You do not need to read
Victim Zero
to understand the blog, however. By the same token, new readers don't need to read the blog to enjoy this book or understand the world. They are separate stories that touch in places, but don't need each other to be enjoyed.



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The end of the world started on a fishing boat.

That was not the primary mission of the boat; it was a science vessel. Though the men and women who worked its decks pulled fisherman's hours and suffered the same weather, their purpose was fundamentally different. One group sails to eat, the other sails to

The boat should have been at its current location a day before, but harsh seas and high winds kept her anchored longer than anticipated. The marine biologists aboard and their many student researchers discovered the delay to in fact be a lucky break—the algae bloom was spectacular following the churning of the sea in storm.

For hours they hauled small pots of water, a cycle repeated until the tanks were full of iridescent blue-green algae. Then the plastic containers finished their last trip into the sea, were cleaned and stowed, and the vessel turned toward home. A day late but richer for the potential in their discovery, the crew celebrated with cold beer and fresh-caught fish grilled on the main deck.

It would be years before they learned of their part in the end of the world, innocent and small as it may have been. Lost among the understandably more vital news of the day, no one connected the suicides of one tenured professor and two of his former students. By the time anyone could have connected their research to that day on the boat and the haul they brought in, it was far too late. At that point the world had fallen too far for anyone to care.

But that was later. After it all happened.

This is the story of how it began.


Part One: Chimera Rising

The dews drop slowly and dreams gather; unknown spears

Suddenly hurtle before my dream-awakened eyes,

And then the clash of fallen horsemen and the cries

Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.

From “The Valley of the Black Pig”, by William Butler Yeats

Chapter One

Kelvin McDonald, who was only called by his rightful first name when some woman or another in his family was angry, sat in his office long after his staff went home for the day. It had been seven years since that last trip before being awarded his doctorates; seven years of constant research into the strange organism he'd drunkenly dubbed Chimera on a night out with his team members.

The world hadn't really been a different place then, but looking back on how much of his life changed from that day, it seemed like someone else had lived it. He had entered college at sixteen, sought after by every university with a science program to speak of. Full scholarships offered and finally accepted, Kell found a home at Stanford. He remembered those first few days on campus; a tall and gangly black kid, too young to need a shave more than every third day, southern accent not thick enough to get him laughed at but always present and commented on by the west-coast cast of characters around him.

BOOK: The Fall: Victim Zero
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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