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Aaden's Hope

“There is no cure,” Aaden said. “It’s over. Mankind took the hit.”

Dead Men Play the Game - book coverRelease date October 3, 2016
© 2016 Jacqui Jacoby, Body Count Productions, Inc.

It took little time for the world to go from cell phones, credit cards and the Internet to barren continents and too few people to count. The very few who remained refused to roll over and die. Now, four years later in a small campground in Northern California, twenty people rely on each to make it day to day.

Before ‘The Fall’, Aaden Munoz lived as a laid-back handyman with more music in his mind than crops. Now he serves as an unofficial leader, keeping wheels moving when chaos wants them to stop. Digger “No-Last-Name”, the newest recruit, is an efficient government operative carrying a secret grief no mother should ever have to bare.

The days of keeping the food growing and the supplies coming in are never ending. Each survivor is responsible to the person next to them, helping them stay safe, healthy and happy. The camp is a place of unity, family and hope … until betrayal comes from nowhere with a knife to decide that maybe, none of them were meant to survive.


She was the first person Aaden had seen since the camp shut down.

Young, maybe twenty-two. Her long hair straight, her green eyes wide with innocence.

“Hi,” she smiled, holding a young kid on her hip. He looked like her and she held him close.

Standing by the lake Aaden pulled on his fishing line before he had a catch, sticking the edge of the pole into the soft sand around the water.

“Have you been here long?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t have a calendar and my phone died awhile back. I’m Aaden.”

She looked around, to the camp ground, to the green expansion of what might be called a lawn. “It doesn’t seem like there’s enough to live on here.”

“We got this,” he pointed to the lake. And there’s a store about three miles up the road. Owners disappeared awhile back from the sign on the door. They left the back door open. I’ve been getting what I need and fixing what’s broken to pay for it. Who is this?” Aaden asked, nodding at the kid.

She smiled down at the child. “Jared, say hi to Aaden.”

The kid burrowed into her shoulder, making Aaden smile.

“I’m Lexi,” she said. “I was in San Francisco and this happened. I drove for a while then came here. The world’s gone crazy. I saw people fall.”

“No one’s falling here and we have cabins if you want to stay.”

The cabin he set her in wasn’t far from his. He got the supplies out of the lodge and made the beds for her and Jared.

She kept her distance for a few days and he didn’t mind. He made extra food, they chatted. Jared ran around the green.

When Lexi and Jared started stripping down to their unmentionables three days in a row, Aaden sat on the bank thinking things might be taking a turn in an unexpected direction. Her thin T-shirt when wet, didn’t take a lot of imagination.

She came out of the water, holding Jared’s hand, smiling shyly.

“It’s Jared’s nap time. He usually falls asleep right away and is a deep sleeper.”

“Really?” Aaden asked.

He wasn’t quite sure what he thought of the situation. He wasn’t opposed to casual sex but it was something he had to be in the mood for and he didn’t think he was feeling it. Caulking up bedpost notches wasn’t his style.

Besides, she might be looking for a hero in a world she saw go wild. And hero and him rarely made it into the same sentence.

He went to his cabin. She went to hers.

Twenty minutes later, she was at his door, her wet hair brushed out, a little bit of color on her lips that hadn’t been there before.

She came in, leaving the door open.

He was on the edge of the bed, his guitar on his knee.

She sat beside him close and he knew he was running out of time to decide.

He didn’t feel like it. It was that simple. She was pretty, her smile shined, but she didn’t do it for him and he knew he was going to have to say no.

She reached up to push his hair back from his forehead with her fingers. He let go on the body of the guitar and took her hand in his, trying to think of an easy let down.

His gaze snapped up, his fingers tightening. “You’re burning up.”

“No, I’m not. I just got out of the lake, that’s all.”

“And that would cool you off.”

Staring in her face he saw a distance in her eyes that didn’t seemed to match the girl he had seen. There was a pinkness to her soft skin. He stood up to lean the guitar in the corner.

“Where you going?” she smiled.

But the smile that had shined bright now looked mechanical.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Why don’t we go next door, you won’t have to worry about Jared and we can take a nap.”

“Take a nap?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said with a big grin he wasn’t feeling. “I’m real tired. I’d love a nap. With you beside me.”

She stood, swaying a little and he led her back to her cabin.

He tried to help her through the night. He tried to remember what they said on the news.

But it didn’t help. Lexi was dead by morning.

Aaden didn’t take time to mourn. He turned to Jared.

But he didn’t have any aspirin or Tylenol.

He searched the lodge but even the first aid kit was full of only torn wrappers where fever reducers had been.

Wet rags.

A dip in the lake.

Nothing worked. When the convulsions hit, that little body was too weak to hold on. Aaden held him close, praying when prayer hadn’t been something he had done in years.

It didn’t matter.

Jared died in his arms. Three years old and dead because Aaden couldn’t do better.

Aaden laid him beside his Mom on the bed in cabin #12. The grief for people he barely knew engulfing him.

Aaden had never taken time to learn about Ross Valley Epidemic before escaping here. Not more than he learned that morning in Piper’s apartment. All that memory had faded as his disbelief had refused to register the possibility. Staring at the blanket covering the two of them, he wasn’t sure what to do, who to call. He only knew authorities never came to question him about the deaths he would gladly explain.

When he went looking for someone to report it to, he found nothing but silence.

As he dug their grave three miles from camp in a meadow near some trees, he didn’t even know if he had been exposed to the sickness.

It was a pretty spot. He buried mother with son in her arms, wrapped in a white linen tablecloth he found in the lodge. The makeshift cross held nothing but their first names. Lexi had not told him their last.

Alone in the camp with his guitar, the atmosphere became solemn. The need to hear a voice violated his preference for solitude. Right now, he needed to know he wasn’t alone in the world.

When the caravan pulled in the gate of Camp Lake Vineyard a month later, he knew everything would change. They parked between his ancient Ford truck and Lexi’s green Subaru.

A tall man in fatigues came out of the driver’s seat.

“This place was hard to find,” he said. “Kinda hidden.”

Aaden shrugged. “Always thought that was its appeal.”

The man looked him up and down, his gaze moving around the parking lot.

“Is it okay if we stay here?” he asked.

“It’s fine, but I’m it. Everyone else left. There are lot of rooms. I don’t know anything about what has been going on outside that gate.”

“My name is Vaughn Bario. And we might be the last of the human race.”