T H E 5 W A V E TH
THERE WILL BE NO AWAKENING.
The sleeping woman will feel nothing the next morning, only
a vague sense of unease and the unshakable feeling that someone
is watching her. Her anxiety will fade in less than a day and will
soon be forgotten.
The memory of the dream will linger a little longer.
In her dream, a large owl perches outside the window, staring
at her through the glass with huge, white-rimmed eyes.
She will not awaken. Neither will her husband beside her. The
shadow falling over them will not disturb their sleep. And what
the shadow has come for—the baby within the sleeping woman—
will feel nothing. The intrusion breaks no skin, violates not a single
cell of her or the baby’s body.
It is over in less than a minute. The shadow withdraws.
Now it is only the man, the woman, the baby inside her, and
the intruder inside the baby, sleeping.
The woman and man will awaken in the morning, the baby a
few months later when he is born.
The intruder inside him will sleep on and not wake for several
years, when the unease of the child’s mother and the memory of
that dream have long since faded.
Five years later, at a visit to the zoo with her child, the woman
will see an owl identical to the one in the dream. Seeing the owl is
unsettling for reasons she cannot understand.
She is not the fi rst to dream of owls in the dark.
She will not be the last.
ALIENS ARE STUPID.
I’m not talking about real aliens. The Others aren’t stupid. The
Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest
human to the smartest dog. No contest.
The ones we made up, the ones we’ve been making up since we
realized those glittering lights in the sky were suns like ours and
probably had planets like ours spinning around them. You know,
the aliens we imagine, the kind of aliens we’d like to attack us,
human aliens. You’ve seen them a million times. They swoop down
from the sky in their fl ying saucers to level New York and Tokyo
and London, or they march across the countryside in huge machines
that look like mechanical spiders, ray guns blasting away,
and always, always, humanity sets aside its differences and bands
together to defeat the alien horde. David slays Goliath, and everybody
(except Goliath) goes home happy.
It’s like a cockroach working up a plan to defeat the shoe on
its way down to crush it.
There’s no way to know for sure, but I bet the Others knew
about the human aliens we’d imagined. And I bet they thought it
was funny as hell. They must have laughed their asses off. If they
have a sense of humor . . . or asses. They must have laughed the
way we laugh when a dog does something totally cute and dorky.
Oh, those cute, dorky humans! They think we think like they do!
Isn’t that adorable?
Forget about fl ying saucers and little green men and giant
mechanical spiders spitting out death rays. Forget about epic battles
with tanks and fi ghter jets and the fi nal victory of us scrappy, unbroken,
intrepid humans over the bug-eyed swarm. That’s about
as far from the truth as their dying planet was from our living one.
The truth is, once they found us, we were toast.
SOMETIMES I THINK I might be the last human on Earth.
Which means I’m the last human in the universe.
I know that’s dumb. They can’t have killed everyone . . . yet.
I see how it could happen, though, eventually. And then I think
that’s exactly what the Others want me to see.
Remember the dinosaurs? Well.
So I’m probably not the last human on Earth, but I’m one of
the last. Totally alone—and likely to stay that way—until the 4th
Wave rolls over me and carries me down.
That’s one of my night thoughts. You know, the three-in-themorning,
oh-my-God-I’m-screwed thoughts. When I curl into a
little ball, so scared I can’t close my eyes, drowning in fear so
intense I have to remind myself to breathe, will my heart to keep
beating. When my brain checks out and begins to skip like a
scratched CD. Alone, alone, alone, Cassie, you’re alone.
That’s my name. Cassie.
Not Cassie for Cassandra. Or Cassie for Cassidy. Cassie for
Cassiopeia, the constellation, the queen tied to her chair in the
northern sky, who was beautiful but vain, placed in the heavens
by the sea god Poseidon as a punishment for her boasting. In
Greek, her name means “she whose words excel.”
My parents didn’t know the fi rst thing about that myth. They
just thought the name was pretty.
Even when there were people around to call me anything, no
one ever called me Cassiopeia. Just my father, and only when he
was teasing me, and always in a very bad Italian accent: Cass-eeoh-
PEE-a. It drove me crazy. I didn’t think he was funny or cute,
and it made me hate my own name. “I’m Cassie!” I’d holler at
him. “Just Cassie!” Now I’d give anything to hear him say it just
one more time.
When I was turning twelve—four years before the Arrival—my
father gave me a telescope for my birthday. On a crisp, clear fall evening,
he set it up in the backyard and showed me the constellation.
“See how it looks like a W?” he asked.
“Why did they name it Cassiopeia if it’s shaped like a W?” I
replied. “W for what?”
“Well . . . I don’t know that it’s for anything,” he answered
with a smile. Mom always told him it was his best feature, so
he trotted it out a lot, especially after he started going bald. You
know, to drag the other person’s eyes downward. “So, it’s for anything
you like! How about wonderful? Or winsome? Or wise?”
He dropped his hand on my shoulder as I squinted through the
lens at the fi ve stars burning over fi fty light-years from the spot on
which we stood. I could feel my father’s breath against my cheek,
warm and moist in the cool, dry autumn air. His breath so close,
the stars of Cassiopeia so very far away.
The stars seem a lot closer now. Closer than the three hundred
trillion miles that separate us. Close enough to touch, for me to
touch them, for them to touch me. They’re as close to me as his
breath had been.
That sounds crazy. Am I crazy? Have I lost my mind? You can
only call someone crazy if there’s someone else who’s normal.
Like good and evil. If everything was good, then nothing would
Whoa. That sounds, well . . . crazy.
Crazy: the new normal.
I guess I could call myself crazy, since there is one other person
I can compare myself to: me. Not the me I am now, shivering in a
tent deep in the woods, too afraid to even poke her head from the
sleeping bag. Not this Cassie. No, I’m talking about the Cassie I
was before the Arrival, before the Others parked their alien butts
in high orbit. The twelve-year-old me, whose biggest problems
were the spray of tiny freckles on her nose and the curly hair she
couldn’t do anything with and the cute boy who saw her every
day and had no clue she existed. The Cassie who was coming to
terms with the painful fact that she was just okay. Okay in looks.
Okay in school. Okay at sports like karate and soccer. Basically
the only unique things about her were the weird name—Cassie for
Cassiopeia, which nobody knew about, anyway—and her ability
to touch her nose with the tip of her tongue, a skill that quickly
lost its impressiveness by the time she hit middle school.
I’m probably crazy by that Cassie’s standards.
And she sure is crazy by mine. I scream at her sometimes, that
twelve-year-old Cassie, moping over her hair or her weird name
or at being just okay. “What are you doing?” I yell. “Don’t you
know what’s coming?”
But that isn’t fair. The fact is she didn’t know, had no way of
knowing, and that was her blessing and why I miss her so much,
more than anyone, if I’m being honest. When I cry—when I let
myself cry—that’s who I cry for. I don’t cry for myself. I cry for
the Cassie that’s gone.
And I wonder what that Cassie would think of me.
The Cassie who kills.
HE COULDN’T HAVE BEEN much older than me. Eighteen.
Maybe nineteen. But hell, he could have been seven hundred and
nineteen for all I know. Five months into it and I’m still not sure if
the 4th Wave is human or some kind of hybrid or even the Others
themselves, though I don’t like to think that the Others look just
like us and talk just like us and bleed just like us. I like to think of
the Others as being . . . well, other.
I was on my weekly foray for water. There’s a stream not far
from my campsite, but I’m worried it might be contaminated,
either from chemicals or sewage or maybe a body or two upstream.
Or poisoned. Depriving us of clean water would be an excellent
way to wipe us out quickly.
So once a week I shoulder my trusty M16 and hike out of
the forest to the interstate. Two miles south, just off Exit 175,
there’re a couple of gas stations with convenience stores
attached. I load up as much bottled water as I can carry, which
isn’t a lot because water is heavy, and get back to the highway
and the relative safety of the trees as quickly as I can, before
night falls completely. Dusk is the best time to travel. I’ve never
seen a drone at dusk. Three or four during the day and a lot
more at night, but never at dusk.
From the moment I slipped through the gas station’s shattered
front door, I knew something was different. I didn’t see anything
different—the store looked exactly like it had a week earlier, the
same graffi ti-scrawled walls, overturned shelves, fl oor strewn with
empty boxes and caked-in rat feces, the busted-open cash registers
and looted beer coolers. It was the same disgusting, stinking mess
I’d waded through every week for the past month to get to the
storage area behind the refrigerated display cases. Why people
grabbed the beer and soda, the cash from the registers and safe,
the rolls of lottery tickets, but left the two pallets of drinking
water was beyond me. What were they thinking? It’s an alien
apocalypse! Quick, grab the beer!
The same disaster of spoilage, the same stench of rats and rotted
food, the same fi tful swirl of dust in the murky light pushing
through the smudged windows, every out-of-place thing in its
Something was different.
I was standing in the little pool of broken glass just inside the
doorway. I didn’t see it. I didn’t hear it. I didn’t smell or feel it.
But I knew it.
Something was different.
It’s been a long time since humans were prey animals. A hundred
thousand years or so. But buried deep in our genes the
memory remains: the awareness of the gazelle, the instinct of the
antelope. The wind whispers through the grass. A shadow fl its
between the trees. And up speaks the little voice that goes, Shhhh,
it’s close now. Close.
I don’t remember swinging the M16 from my shoulder. One
minute it was hanging behind my back, the next it was in my
hands, muzzle down, safety off.
I’d never fi red it at anything bigger than a rabbit, and that
was a kind of experiment, to see if I could actually use the thing
without blowing off one of my own body parts. Once I shot
over the heads of a pack of feral dogs that had gotten a little
too interested in my campsite. Another time nearly straight up,
sighting the tiny, glowering speck of greenish light that was their
mothership sliding silently across the backdrop of the Milky
Way. Okay, I admit that was stupid. I might as well have erected
a billboard with a big arrow pointing at my head and the words
yoo-hoo, here i am!
After the rabbit experiment—it blew that poor damn bunny
apart, turning Peter into this unrecognizable mass of shredded
guts and bone—I gave up the idea of using the rifl e to hunt. I
didn’t even do target practice. In the silence that had slammed
down after the 4th Wave struck, the report of the rounds sounded
louder than an atomic blast.
Still, I considered the M16 my bestest of besties. Always by
my side, even at night, burrowed into my sleeping bag with me,
faithful and true. In the 4th Wave, you can’t trust that people are
still people. But you can trust that your gun is still your gun.
Shhh, Cassie. It’s close.
I should have bailed. That little voice had my back. That little
voice is older than I am. It’s older than the oldest person who
I should have listened to that voice.
Instead, I listened to the silence of the abandoned store, listened
hard. Something was close. I took a tiny step away from the
door, and the broken glass crunched ever so softly under my foot.
And then the Something made a noise, somewhere between a
cough and a moan. It came from the back room, behind the coolers,
where my water was.
That’s the moment when I didn’t need a little old voice to tell
me what to do. It was obvious, a no-brainer. Run.
But I didn’t run.
The fi rst rule of surviving the 4th Wave is don’t trust anyone.
It doesn’t matter what they look like. The Others are very smart
about that—okay, they’re smart about everything. It doesn’t matter
if they look the right way and say the right things and act exactly
like you expect them to act. Didn’t my father’s death prove
that? Even if the stranger is a little old lady sweeter than your
Great-aunt Tilly, hugging a helpless kitten, you can’t know for certain—
you can never know—that she isn’t one of them, and that
there isn’t a loaded .45 behind that kitten.
It isn’t unthinkable. And the more you think about it, the more
thinkable it becomes. Little old lady has to go.
That’s the hard part, the part that, if I thought about it too much,
would make me crawl into my sleeping bag, zip myself up, and die
of slow starvation. If you can’t trust anyone, then you can trust no
one. Better to take the chance that Aunty Tilly is one of them than
play the odds that you’ve stumbled across a fellow survivor.
That’s friggin’ diabolical.
It tears us apart. It makes us that much easier to hunt down
and eradicate. The 4th Wave forces us into solitude, where there’s
no strength in numbers, where we slowly go crazy from the isolation
and fear and terrible anticipation of the inevitable.
So I didn’t run. I couldn’t. Whether it was one of them or an
Aunt Tilly, I had to defend my turf. The only way to stay alive is
to stay alone. That’s rule number two.
I followed the sobbing coughs or coughing sobs or whatever
you want to call them till I reached the door that opened to the
back room. Hardly breathing, on the balls of my feet.
The door was ajar, the space just wide enough for me to slip
through sideways. A metal rack on the wall directly in front of me
and, to the right, the long narrow hallway that ran the length of
the coolers. There were no windows back here. The only light was
the sickly orange of the dying day behind me, still bright enough
to hurl my shadow onto the sticky fl oor. I crouched down; my
shadow crouched with me.
I couldn’t see around the edge of the cooler into the hall. But I
could hear whoever—or whatever—it was at the far end, coughing,
moaning, and that gurgling sob.
Either hurt badly or acting hurt badly, I thought. Either needs
help or it’s a trap.
This is what life on Earth has become since the Arrival. It’s an
Either it’s one of them and it knows you’re here or it’s not one
of them and he needs your help.
Either way, I had to get up and turn that corner.
So I got up.
And I turned the corner.
HE LAY SPRAWLED against the back wall twenty feet away,
long legs spread out in front of him, clutching his stomach with
one hand. He was wearing fatigues and black boots and he was
covered in grime and shimmering with blood. There was blood
everywhere. On the wall behind him. Pooling on the cold concrete
beneath him. Coating his uniform. Matted in his hair. The blood
glittered darkly, black as tar in the semidarkness.
In his other hand was a gun, and that gun was pointed at my
I mirrored him. His handgun to my rifl e. Fingers fl exing on the
triggers: his, mine.
It didn’t prove anything, his pointing a gun at me. Maybe he
really was a wounded soldier and thought I was one of them.
Or maybe not.
“Drop your weapon,” he sputtered at me.
“Drop your weapon!” he shouted, or tried to shout. The words
came out all cracked and crumbly, beaten up by the blood rising
from his gut. Blood dribbled over his bottom lip and hung quivering
from his stubbly chin. His teeth shone with blood.
I shook my head. My back was to the light, and I prayed he
couldn’t see how badly I was shaking or the fear in my eyes. This
wasn’t some damn rabbit that was stupid enough to hop into my
camp one sunny morning. This was a person. Or, if it wasn’t, it
looked just like one.
The thing about killing is you don’t know if you can actually
do it until you actually do it.
He said it a third time, not as loud as the second. It came out
like a plea.
“Drop your weapon.”
The hand holding his gun twitched. The muzzle dipped toward
the fl oor. Not much, but my eyes had adjusted to the light by this
point, and I saw a speck of blood run down the barrel.
And then he dropped the gun.
It fell between his legs with a sharp cling. He brought up his
empty hand and held it, palm outward, over his shoulder.
“Okay,” he said with a bloody half smile. “Your turn.”
I shook my head. “Other hand,” I said. I hoped my voice
sounded stronger than I felt. My knees had begun to shake and
my arms ached and my head was spinning. I was also fi ghting the
urge to hurl. You don’t know if you can do it until you do it.
“I can’t,” he said.
“If I move this hand, I’m afraid my stomach will fall out.”
I adjusted the butt of the rifl e against my shoulder. I was sweating,
shaking, trying to think. Either/or, Cassie. What are you going
to do, either/or?
“I’m dying,” he said matter-of-factly. From this distance, his
eyes were just pinpricks of refl ected light. “So you can either fi nish
me off or help me. I know you’re human—”
“How do you know?” I asked quickly, before he could die on
me. If he was a real soldier, he might know how to tell the difference.
It would be an extremely useful bit of information.
“Because if you weren’t, you would have shot me already.” He
smiled again, his cheeks dimpled, and that’s when it hit me how
young he was. Only a couple years older than me.
“See?” he said softly. “That’s how you know, too.”
“How I know what?” My eyes were tearing up. His crumpledup
body wiggled in my vision like an image in a fun-house mirror.
But I didn’t dare release my grip on the rifl e to rub my eyes.
“That I’m human. If I wasn’t, I would have shot you.”
That made sense. Or did it make sense because I wanted it to
make sense? Maybe he dropped the gun to get me to drop mine,
and once I did, the second gun he was hiding under his fatigues
would come out and the bullet would say hello to my brain.
This is what the Others have done to us. You can’t band together
to fi ght without trust. And without trust, there was no hope.
How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their
“I have to see your other hand,” I said.
“I told you—”
“I have to see your other hand!” My voice cracked then.
Couldn’t help it.
He lost it. “Then you’re just going to have to shoot me, bitch!
Just shoot me and get it over with!”
His head fell back against the wall, his mouth came open, and
a terrible howl of anguish tumbled out and bounced from wall
to wall and fl oor to ceiling and pounded against my ears. I didn’t
know if he was screaming from the pain or the realization that I
wasn’t going to save him. He had given in to hope, and that will
kill you. It kills you before you die. Long before you die.
“If I show you,” he gasped, rocking back and forth against the
bloody concrete, “if I show you, will you help me?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t answer because I didn’t have an answer.
I was playing this one nanosecond at a time.
So he decided for me. He wasn’t going to let them win, that’s
what I think now. He wasn’t going to stop hoping. If it killed him,
at least he would die with a sliver of his humanity intact.
Grimacing, he slowly pulled out his left hand. Not much day
left now, hardly any light at all, and what light there was seemed
to be fl owing away from its source, from him, past me and out
the half-open door.
His hand was caked in half-dried blood. It looked like he was
wearing a crimson glove.
The stunted light kissed his bloody hand and fl icked along
the length of something long and thin and metallic, and my fi nger
yanked back on the trigger, and the rifl e kicked against my
shoulder hard, and the barrel bucked in my hand as I emptied the
clip, and from a great distance I heard someone screaming, but it
wasn’t him screaming, it was me screaming, me and everybody
else who was left, if there was anybody left, all of us helpless,
hopeless, stupid humans screaming, because we got it wrong, we
got it all wrong, there was no alien swarm descending from the
sky in their fl ying saucers or big metal walkers like something out
of Star Wars or cute little wrinkly E.T.s who just wanted to pluck
a couple of leaves, eat some Reese’s Pieces, and go home. That’s
not how it ends.
That’s not how it ends at all.
It ends with us killing each other behind rows of empty beer
coolers in the dying light of a late-summer day.
I went up to him before the last of the light was gone. Not to
see if he was dead. I knew he was dead. I wanted to see what he
was still holding in his bloody hand.
It was a crucifi x.
THAT WAS THE LAST PERSON I’ve seen.
The leaves are falling heavy now, and the nights have turned
cold. I can’t stay in these woods. No leaves for cover from the
drones, can’t risk a campfi re—I gotta get out of here.
I know where I have to go. I’ve known for a long time. I made
a promise. The kind of promise you don’t break because, if you
break it, you’ve broken part of yourself, maybe the most important
But you tell yourself things. Things like, I need to come up with
something fi rst. I can’t just walk into the lion’s den without a plan.
Or, It’s hopeless, there’s no point anymore. You’ve waited too long.
Whatever the reason I didn’t leave before, I should have left
the night I killed him. I don’t know how he was wounded; I didn’t
examine his body or anything, and I should have, no matter how
freaked out I was. I guess he could have gotten hurt in an accident,
but the odds were better that someone—or something—had shot
him. And if someone or something had shot him, that someone or
something was still out there . . . unless the Crucifi x Soldier had
offed her/him/them/it. Or he was one of them and the crucifi x was
a trick . . .
Another way the Others mess with your head: the uncertain
circumstances of your certain destruction. Maybe that will be the
5th Wave, attacking us from the inside, turning our own minds
Maybe the last human being on Earth won’t die of starvation
or exposure or as a meal for wild animals.
Maybe the last one to die will be killed by the last one alive.
Okay, that’s not someplace you want to go, Cassie.
Honestly, even though it’s suicide to stay here and I have a
promise to keep, I don’t want to leave. These woods have been
home for a long time. I know every path, every tree, every vine
and bush. I lived in the same house for sixteen years and I can’t
tell you exactly what my backyard looked like, but I can describe
in detail every leaf and twig in this stretch of forest. I have no clue
what’s out there beyond these woods and the two-mile stretch of
interstate I hike every week to forage for supplies. I’m guessing
a lot more of the same: abandoned towns reeking of sewage and
rotting corpses, burned-out shells of houses, feral dogs and cats,
pileups that stretch for miles on the highway. And bodies. Lots
and lots of bodies.
I pack up. This tent has been my home for a long time, but it’s
too bulky and I need to travel light. Just the essentials, with the
Luger, the M16, the ammo, and my trusty bowie knife topping the
list. Sleeping bag, fi rst aid kit, fi ve bottles of water, three boxes of
Slim Jims, and some tins of sardines. I hated sardines before the
Arrival. Now I’ve developed a real taste for them. First thing I
look for when I hit a grocery store? Sardines.
Books? They’re heavy and take up room in my already bulging
backpack. But I have a thing about books. So did my father. Our
house was stacked fl oor to ceiling with every book he could fi nd
after the 3rd Wave took out more than 3.5 billion people. While
the rest of us scrounged for potable water and food and stocked
up on the weaponry for the last stand we were sure was coming,
Daddy was out with my little brother’s Radio Flyer carting home
The mind-blowing numbers didn’t faze him. The fact that we’d
gone from seven billion strong to a couple hundred thousand in four
months didn’t shake his confi dence that our race would survive.
“We have to think about the future,” he insisted. “When this
is over, we’ll have to rebuild nearly every aspect of civilization.”
Solar fl ashlight.
Toothbrush and paste. I’m determined, when the time comes,
to at least go out with clean teeth.
Gloves. Two pairs of socks, underwear, travel-size box of Tide,
deodorant, and shampoo. (Gonna go out clean. See above.)
Tampons. I’m constantly worrying about my stash and if I’ll be
able to fi nd more.
My plastic baggie stuffed with pictures. Dad. Mom. My little
brother, Sammy. My grandparents. Lizbeth, my best friend. One
of Ben You-Were-Some-Kind-of-Serious-Gorgeous Parish, clipped
from my yearbook, because Ben was my future boyfriend and/or/
maybe future husband—not that he knew it. He barely knew I
existed. I knew some of the same people he knew, but I was a girl
in the background, several degrees of separation removed. The
only thing wrong with Ben was his height: He was six inches taller
than me. Well, make that two things now: his height and the fact
that he’s dead.
My cell phone. It was fried in the 1st Wave, and there’s no way
to charge it. Cell towers don’t work, and there’s no one to call if
they did. But, you know, it’s my cell phone.
Matches. I don’t light fi res, but at some point I may need to
burn something or blow it up.
Two spiral-bound notebooks, college ruled, one with a purple
cover, the other red. My favorite colors, plus they’re my journals.
It’s part of the hope thing. But if I am the last and there’s no one left
to read them, maybe an alien will and they’ll know exactly what I
think of them. In case you’re an alien and you’re reading this:
My Starburst, already culled of the orange. Three packs of
Wrigley’s Spearmint. My last two Tootsie Pops.
Mom’s wedding ring.
Sammy’s ratty old teddy bear. Not that it’s mine now. Not that
I ever cuddle with it or anything.
That’s everything I can stuff into the backpack. Weird. Seems
like too much and not enough.
Still room for a couple of paperbacks, barely. Huckleberry Finn
or The Grapes of Wrath? The poems of Sylvia Plath or Sammy’s
Shel Silverstein? Probably not a good idea to take the Plath. Depressing.
Silverstein is for kids, but it still makes me smile. I decide
to take Huckleberry (seems appropriate) and Where the Sidewalk
Ends. See you there soon, Shel. Climb aboard, Jim.
I heave the backpack over one shoulder, sling the rifl e over
the other, and head down the trail toward the highway. I don’t
I pause inside the last line of trees. A twenty-foot embankment
runs down to the southbound lanes, littered with disabled cars,
piles of clothing, shredded plastic garbage bags, the burned-out
hulks of tractor trailers carrying everything from gasoline to milk.
There are wrecks everywhere, some no worse than fender benders,
some pileups that snake along the interstate for miles, and the
morning sunlight sparkles on all the broken glass.
There are no bodies. These cars have been here since the 1st
Wave, long abandoned by their owners.
Not many people died in the 1st Wave, the massive electromagnetic
pulse that ripped through the atmosphere at precisely eleven
A.M. on the tenth day. Only around half a million, Dad guessed.
Okay, half a million sounds like a lot of people, but really it’s just
a drop in the population bucket. World War II killed over a hundred
times that number.
And we did have some time to prepare for it, though we weren’t
exactly sure what we were preparing for. Ten days from the fi rst
satellite pictures of the mothership passing Mars to the launch of
the 1st Wave. Ten days of mayhem. Martial law, sit-ins at the UN,
parades, rooftop parties, endless Internet chatter, and 24/7 coverage
of the Arrival over every medium. The president addressed the nation—
and then disappeared into his bunker. The Security Council
went into a locked-down, closed-to-the-press emergency session.
A lot of people just split, like our neighbors, the Majewskis.
Packed up their camper on the afternoon of the sixth day with
everything they could fi t and hit the road, joining a mass exodus
to somewhere else, because anywhere else seemed safer for some
reason. Thousands of people took off for the mountains . . . or the
desert . . . or the swamps. You know, somewhere else.
The Majewskis’ somewhere else was Disney World. They
weren’t the only ones. Disney set attendance records during those
ten days before the EMP strike.
Daddy asked Mr. Majewski, “So why Disney World?”
And Mr. Majewski said, “Well, the kids have never been.”
His kids were both in college.
Catherine, who had come home from her freshman year at
Baylor the day before, asked, “Where are you guys going?”
“Nowhere,” I said. And I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was
still living in denial, pretending all this crazy alien stuff would
work out, I didn’t know how, maybe with the signing of some
intergalactic peace treaty. Or maybe they’d dropped by to take a
couple of soil samples and go home. Or maybe they were here on
vacation, like the Majewskis going to Disney World.
“You need to get out,” she said. “They’ll hit the cities fi rst.”
“You’re probably right,” I said. “They’d never dream of taking
out the Magic Kingdom.”
“How would you rather die?” she snapped. “Hiding under
your bed or riding Thunder Mountain?”
Daddy said the world was dividing into two camps: runners
and nesters. Runners headed for the hills—or Thunder Mountain.
Nesters boarded up the windows, stocked up on the canned goods
and ammunition, and kept the TV tuned to CNN 24/7.
There were no messages from our galactic party crashers during
those fi rst ten days. No light shows. No landing on the South
Lawn or bug-eyed, butt-headed dudes in silver jumpsuits demanding
to be taken to our leader. No bright, spinning tops blaring the
universal language of music. And no answer when we sent our
message. Something like, “Hello, welcome to Earth. Hope you enjoy
your stay. Please don’t kill us.”
Nobody knew what to do. We fi gured the government sort of
did. The government had a plan for everything, so we assumed
they had a plan for E.T. showing up uninvited and unannounced,
like the weird cousin nobody in the family likes to talk about.
Some people nested. Some people ran. Some got married. Some
got divorced. Some made babies. Some killed themselves. We
walked around like zombies, blank-faced and robotic, unable to
absorb the magnitude of what was happening.
It’s hard to believe now, but my family, like the vast majority
of people, went about our daily lives as if the most monumentally
mind-blowing thing in human history wasn’t happening right over
our heads. Mom and Dad went to work, Sammy went to day care,
and I went to school and soccer practice. It was so normal, it was
damn weird. By the end of Day One, everybody over the age of two
had seen the mothership up close a thousand times, this big grayishgreen
glowing hulk about the size of Manhattan circling 250 miles
above the Earth. NASA announced its plan to pull a space shuttle
out of mothballs to attempt contact.
Well, that’s good, we thought. This silence is deafening. Why
did they come billions of miles just to stare at us? It’s rude.
On Day Three, I went out with a guy named Mitchell Phelps.
Well, technically we went outside. The date was in my backyard
because of the curfew. He hit the drive-through at Starbucks on
his way over, and we sat on the back patio sipping our drinks
and pretending we didn’t see Dad’s shadow passing back and
forth as he paced the living room. Mitchell had moved into town
a few days before the Arrival. He sat behind me in World Lit,
and I made the mistake of loaning him my highlighter. So the
next thing I know he’s asking me out, because if a girl loans
you a highlighter she must think you’re hot. I don’t know why
I went out with him. He wasn’t that cute and he wasn’t that
interesting beyond the whole New Kid aura, and he defi nitely
wasn’t Ben Parish. Nobody was—except Ben Parish—and that
was the whole problem.
By the third day, you either talked about the Others all the time or
you tried not to talk about them at all. I fell into the second category.
Mitchell was in the fi rst.
“What if they’re us?” he asked.
It didn’t take long after the Arrival for all the conspiracy nuts
to start buzzing about classifi ed government projects or the secret
plan to manufacture an alien crisis in order to take away our liberties.
I thought that’s where he was going and groaned.
“What?” he said. “I don’t mean us us. I mean, what if they’re
us from the future?”
“And it’s like The Terminator, right?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“They’ve come to stop the uprising of the machines. Or maybe
they are the machines. Maybe it’s Skynet.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, acting like I was serious. “It’s the
“What is? And what the hell is the grandfather paradox?” He
said it like he assumed I knew what the grandfather paradox was,
because, if I didn’t know, then I was a moron. I hate when people
“They—I mean we—can’t go back in time and change anything.
If you went back in time and killed your grandfather before
you were born, then you wouldn’t be able to go back in time to
kill your grandfather.”
“Why would you want to kill your grandfather?” I twisted
the straw in my strawberry Frappuccino to produce that unique
“The point is that just showing up changes history,” he said.
Like I was the one who brought up time travel.
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“What else is there to talk about?” His eyebrows climbed toward
his hairline. Mitchell had very bushy eyebrows. It was one
of the fi rst things I noticed about him. He also chewed his fi ngernails.
That was the second thing I noticed. Cuticle care can tell
you a lot about a person.
I pulled out my phone and texted Lizbeth:
“Are you scared?” he asked. Trying to get my attention. Or for
some reassurance. He was looking at me very intently.
I shook my head. “Just bored.” A lie. Of course I was scared.
I knew I was being mean, but I couldn’t help it. For some reason
I can’t explain, I was mad at him. Maybe I was really mad at myself
for saying yes to a date with a guy I wasn’t actually interested
in. Or maybe I was mad at him for not being Ben Parish, which
wasn’t his fault. But still.
help u do wat?
“I don’t care what we talk about,” he said. He was looking
toward the rose bed, swirling the dregs of his coffee, his knee popping
up and down so violently under the table that my cup jiggled.
mitchell. I didn’t think I needed to say any more.
“Who are you texting?”
told u not to go out w him
“Nobody you know,” I said. dont know why i did
“We can go somewhere else,” he said. “You want to go to a movie?”
“There’s a curfew,” I reminded him. No one was allowed on
the streets after nine except military and emergency vehicles.
lol to make ben jealous
“Are you pissed or something?”
“No,” I said. “I told you what I was.”
He pursed his lips in frustration. He didn’t know what to say.
“I was just trying to fi gure out who they might be,” he said.
“You and everybody else on the planet,” I said. “Nobody actually
knows, and they won’t tell us, so everybody sits around guessing
and theorizing, and it’s all kind of pointless. Maybe they’re
spacefaring micemen from Planet Cheese and they’ve come for
bp doesnt know i exist
“You know,” he said, “it’s kind of rude, texting while I’m trying
to have a conversation with you.”
He was right. I slipped the phone into my pocket. What’s happening
to me? I wondered. The old Cassie never would have done
that. Already the Others were changing me into someone different,
but I wanted to pretend nothing had changed, especially me.
“Did you hear?” he asked, going right back to the topic that I
said bored me. “They’re building a landing site.”
I had heard. In Death Valley. That’s right: Death Valley.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s a very smart idea,” he said. “Rolling
out the welcome mat.”
“It’s been three days. Three days and they’ve refused all contact.
If they’re friendly, why wouldn’t they say hello already?”
“Maybe they’re just shy.” Twisting my hair around my fi nger,
tugging on it gently to produce that semipleasant pain.
“Like being the new kid,” he said, the new kid.
That can’t be easy, being the new kid. I felt like I should apologize
for being rude. “I was kind of mean before,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.”
He gave me a confused look. He was talking about the aliens,
not himself, and then I said something about me, which was about
“It’s okay,” he said. “I heard you don’t date much.”
“What else did you hear?” One of those questions you don’t
want to know the answer to, but still have to ask.
He sipped his latte through the little hole in the plastic lid.
“Not much. It’s not like I asked around.”
“You asked somebody and they told you I didn’t date much.”
“I just said I was thinking about asking you out and they go,
Cassie’s pretty cool. And I said, what’s she like? And they said you
were nice but don’t get my hopes up because you had this thing
for Ben Parish—”
“They told you that? Who told you that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t remember her name.”
“Was it Lizbeth Morgan?” I’ll kill her.
“I don’t know her name,” he said.
“What did she look like?”
“Long brown hair. Glasses. I think her name is Carly or
“I don’t know any . . .”
Oh God. Some Carly person I don’t even know knows about
me and Ben Parish—or the lack of any me and Ben Parish. And if
Carly-or-something knew about it, then everybody knew about it.
“Well, they’re wrong,” I sputtered. “I don’t have a thing for
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
“It matters to me.”
“Maybe this isn’t working out,” he said. “Everything I say, you
either get bored or mad.”
“I’m not mad,” I said angrily.
“Okay, I’m wrong.”
No, he was right. And I was wrong for not telling him the
Cassie he knew wasn’t the Cassie I used to be, the pre-Arrival
Cassie who wouldn’t have been mean to a mosquito. I wasn’t
ready to admit the truth: It wasn’t just the world that had changed
with the coming of the Others. We changed. I changed. The moment
the mothership appeared, I started down a path that would
end in the back of a convenience store behind some empty beer
coolers. That night with Mitchell was only the beginning of my
Mitchell was right about the Others not stopping by just to
say howdy. On the eve of the 1st Wave, the world’s leading
theoretical physicist, one of the smartest guys in the world (that’s
what popped up on the screen under his talking head: ONE OF THE
SMARTEST GUYS IN THE WORLD), appeared on CNN and said, “I’m
not encouraged by the silence. I can think of no benign reason
for it. I’m afraid we may expect something closer to Christopher
Columbus’s arrival in the Americas than a scene from Close Encounters,
and we all know how that turned out for the Native
I turned to my father and said, “We should nuke ’em.” I had
to raise my voice to be heard over the TV—Dad always jacked
up the volume during the news so he could hear it over Mom’s
TV in the kitchen. She liked to watch TLC while she cooked. I
called it the War of the Remotes.
“Cassie!” He was so shocked, his toes began to curl inside his
white athletic socks. He grew up on Close Encounters and E.T.
and Star Trek and totally bought into the idea that the Others had
come to liberate us from ourselves. No more hunger. No more
wars. The eradication of disease. The secrets of the cosmos unveiled.
“Don’t you understand this could be the next step in our
evolution? A huge leap forward. Huge.” He gave me a consoling
hug. “We’re all very fortunate to be here to see it.”
Then he added casually, like he was talking about how to fi x
a toaster, “Besides, a nuclear device can’t do much damage in the
vacuum of space. There’s nothing to carry the shock wave.”
“So this brainiac on TV is just full of shit?”
“Don’t use that language, Cassie,” he chided me. “He’s entitled
to his opinion, but that’s all it is. An opinion.”
“But what if he’s right? What if that thing up there is their version
of a Death Star?”
“Travel halfway across the universe just to blow us up?” He
patted my leg and smiled. Mom turned up the kitchen TV. He
pushed the volume in the family room to twenty-seven.
“Okay, but what about an intergalactic Mongol horde, like he
was talking about?” I demanded. “Maybe they’ve come to conquer
us, shove us into reservations, enslave us . . .”
“Cassie,” he said. “Simply because something could happen
doesn’t mean it will happen. Anyway, it’s all just speculation. This
guy’s. Mine. Nobody knows why they’re here. Isn’t it just as likely
they’ve come all this way to save us?”
Four months after saying those words, my father was dead.
He was wrong about the Others. And I was wrong. And One
of the Smartest Guys in the World was wrong.
It wasn’t about saving us. And it wasn’t about enslaving us or
herding us into reservations.
It was about killing us.
All of us.
I DEBATED WHETHER to travel by day or night for a long
time. Darkness is best if you’re worried about them. But daylight
is preferable if you want to spot a drone before it spots you.
The drones showed up at the tag end of the 3rd Wave. Cigarshaped,
dull gray in color, gliding swiftly and silently thousands
of feet up. Sometimes they streak across the sky without stopping.
Sometimes they circle overhead like buzzards. They can turn on a
dime and come to a sudden stop, from Mach 2 to zero in less than
a second. That’s how we knew the drones weren’t ours.
We knew they were unmanned (or un-Othered) because one
of them crashed a couple miles from our refugee camp. A thuwhump!
when it broke the sound barrier, an ear-piercing shriek as
it rocketed to earth, the ground shuddering under our feet when
it plowed into a fallow cornfi eld. A recon team hiked to the crash
site to check it out. Okay, it wasn’t really a team, just Dad and
Hutchfi eld, the guy in charge of the camp. They came back to report
the thing was empty. Were they sure? Maybe the pilot bailed
before impact. Dad said it was packed with instruments; there
wasn’t any room for a pilot. “Unless they’re two inches tall.” That
got a big laugh. Somehow it made the horror less horrible, thinking
of the Others as being two-inch Borrower types.
I opted to travel by day. I could keep one eye on the sky and
another on the ground. What I ended up doing is rocking my head
up and down, up and down, side to side, then up again, like some
groupie at a rock concert, until I was dizzy and a little sick to my
Plus there are other things at night to worry about besides
drones. Wild dogs, coyotes, bears, and wolves coming down from
Canada, maybe even an escaped lion or tiger from a zoo. I know,
I know, there’s a Wizard of Oz joke buried in there. Shoot me.
And though it wouldn’t be much better, I do think I’d have a
better chance against one of them in the daylight. Or even against
one of my own, if I’m not the last one. What if I stumble onto
another survivor who decides the best course of action is to go all
Crucifi x Soldier on anyone they come across?
That brings up the problem of my best course of action. Do I
shoot on sight? Do I wait for them to make the fi rst move and risk
it being a deadly one? I wonder, not for the fi rst time, why the hell
we didn’t come up with some kind of code or secret handshake or
something before they showed up—something that would identify
us as the good guys. We had no way of knowing they would
show up, but we were pretty sure something would sooner or
It’s hard to plan for what comes next when what comes next is
not something you planned for.
Try to spot them fi rst, I decided. Take cover. No showdowns.
No more Crucifi x Soldiers!
The day is bright and windless but cold. The sky cloudless.
Walking along, bobbing my head up and down, swinging it from
side to side, backpack popping against one shoulder blade, the
rifl e against the other, walking on the outside edge of the median
that separates the southbound from the northbound lanes, stopping
every few strides to whip around and scan the terrain behind
me. An hour. Two. And I’ve traveled no more than a mile.
The creepiest thing, creepier than the abandoned cars and the
snarl of crumpled metal and the broken glass sparkling in the
October sunlight, creepier than all the trash and discarded crap
littering the median, most of it hidden by the knee-high grass so
the strip of land looks lumpy, covered in boils, the creepiest thing
is the silence.
The Hum is gone.
You remember the Hum.
Unless you grew up on top of a mountain or lived in a cave
your whole life, the Hum was always around you. That’s what
life was. It was the sea we swam in. The constant sound of all
the things we built to make life easy and a little less boring. The
mechanical song. The electronic symphony. The Hum of all our
things and all of us. Gone.
This is the sound of the Earth before we conquered it.
Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars
scraping against the sky. That’s how quiet it is. After a while it’s
almost more than I can stand. I want to scream at the top of my
lungs. I want to sing, shout, stamp my feet, clap my hands, anything
to declare my presence. My conversation with the soldier
had been the fi rst words I’d said aloud in weeks.
The Hum died on the tenth day after the Arrival. I was sitting
in third period texting Lizbeth the last text I will ever send. I don’t
remember exactly what it said.
Eleven A.M. A warm, sunny day in early spring. A day for doodling
and dreaming and wishing you were anywhere but Ms.
Paulson’s calculus class.
The 1st Wave rolled in without much fanfare. It wasn’t dramatic.
There was no shock and awe.
The lights just winked out.
Ms. Paulson’s overhead died.
The screen on my phone went black.
Somebody in the back of the room squealed. Classic. It doesn’t
matter what time of day it happens—the power goes out, and
somebody yelps like the building’s collapsing.
Ms. Paulson told us to stay in our seats. That’s the other thing
people do when the power goes out. They jump up to . . . To what?
It’s weird. We’re so used to electricity, when it’s gone, we don’t know
what to do. So we jump up or squeal or start jabbering like idiots.
We panic. It’s like someone cut off our oxygen. The Arrival had
made it worse, though. Ten days on pins and needles waiting for
something to happen while nothing is happening makes you jumpy.
So when they pulled the plug on us, we freaked a little more
Everybody started talking at once. When I announced that my
phone had died, out came everyone’s dead phone. Neal Croskey,
who was sitting in the back of the room listening to his iPod while
Ms. Paulson lectured, pulled the buds from his ears and wondered
aloud why the music had died.
The next thing you do when the plug’s pulled, after panicking,
is run to the nearest window. You don’t know why exactly. It’s
that better-see-what’s-going-on feeling. The world works from the
outside in. So if the lights go off, you look outside.
And Ms. Paulson, randomly moving around the mob milling in
front of the windows: “Quiet! Back to your seats. I’m sure there’ll
be an announcement . . .”
There was one, about a minute later. Not over the intercom,
though, and not from Mr. Faulks, the vice principal. It came from
the sky, from them. In the form of a 727 tumbling end over end
to the Earth from ten thousand feet until it disappeared behind a
line of trees and exploded, sending up a fi reball that reminded me
of the mushroom cloud of an atomic blast.
Hey, Earthlings! Let’s get this party started!
You’d think seeing something like that would send us diving
under our desks. It didn’t. We crowded against the window and
scanned the cloudless sky for the fl ying saucer that must have
taken the plane down. It had to be a fl ying saucer, right? We knew
how a top-notch alien invasion was run. Flying saucers zipping
through the atmosphere, squadrons of F-16s hot on their heels,
surface-to-air missiles and tracers screaming from the bunkers. In
an unreal and admittedly sick way, we wanted to see something
like that. It would make this a perfectly normal alien invasion.
For a half hour we waited by the windows. Nobody said much.
Ms. Paulson told us to go back to our seats. We ignored her. Thirty
minutes into the 1st Wave and already social order was breaking
down. People kept checking their phones. We couldn’t connect
it: the plane crashing, the lights going out, our phones dying, the
clock on the wall with the big hand frozen on the twelve, little
hand on the eleven.
Then the door fl ew open and Mr. Faulks told us to head over to
the gym. I thought that was really smart. Get all of us in one place
so the aliens didn’t have to waste a lot of ammunition.
So we trooped over to the gym and sat in the bleachers in near
total darkness while the principal paced back and forth, stopping
every now and then to yell at us to be quiet and wait for our parents
to get there.
What about the students whose cars were at school? Couldn’t
“Your cars won’t work.”
WTF? What does he mean, our cars won’t work?
An hour passed. Then two. I sat next to Lizbeth. We didn’t talk
much, and when we did, we whispered. We weren’t afraid of the
principal; we were listening. I’m not sure what we were listening
for, but it was like that quiet before the clouds open up and the
thunder smashes down.
“This could be it,” Lizbeth whispered. She rubbed her nose nervously.
Dug her lacquered nails into her dyed blond hair. Tapped
her foot. Rolled the pad of her fi nger over her eyelid: She had just
started wearing contacts and they bugged her constantly.
“It’s defi nitely something,” I whispered back.
“I mean, this could be it. Like it it. The end.”
She kept slipping the battery out of her phone and putting it
back in. It was better than doing nothing, I guess.
She started to cry. I took her phone away and held her hand.
Looked around. She wasn’t the only one crying. Other kids were
praying. And others were doing both, crying and praying. The teachers
were huddled up by the gym doors, forming a human shield in
case the creatures from outer space decided to storm the fl oor.
“There’s so much I wanted to do,” Lizbeth said. “I’ve never
even . . .” She choked back a sob. “You know.”
“I’ve got a feeling a lot of ‘you know’ is going on right now,” I
said. “Probably right underneath these bleachers.”
“You think?” She wiped her cheeks with the palm of her hand.
“What about you?”
“About ‘you know’?” I had no problem with talking about sex.
My problem was talking about sex as it related to me.
“Oh, I know you haven’t ‘you know.’ God! I’m not talking
“I thought we were.”
“I’m talking about our lives, Cassie! Jesus, this could be the end
of the freakin’ world, and all you want to do is talk about sex!”
She pulled her phone out of my hand and fumbled with the
“Which is why you should just tell him,” she said, fi ddling with
the drawstrings of her hoodie.
“Tell who what?” I knew exactly what she meant; I was just
“Ben! You should tell him how you feel. How you’ve felt since
the third grade.”
“This is a joke, right?” I felt my face getting hot.
“And then you should have sex with him.”
“Lizbeth, shut up.”
“It’s the truth.”
“I haven’t wanted to have sex with Ben Parish since the third
grade,” I whispered. The third grade? I glanced over at her to see
if she was really listening. Apparently, she wasn’t.
“If I were you, I’d go right up to him and say, ‘I think this is it.
This is it, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to die in this school gymnasium
without ever having sex with you.’ And then you know
what I’d do?”
“What?” I was fi ghting back a laugh, picturing the look on his face.
“I’d take him outside to the fl ower garden and have sex with him.”
“In the fl ower garden?”
“Or the locker room.” She waved her hand around frantically to
include the entire school—or maybe the whole world. “It doesn’t
“The locker room smells.” I looked two rows down at the outline
of Ben Parish’s gorgeous head. “That kind of thing only happens
in the movies,” I said.
“Yeah, totally unrealistic, not like what’s happening right now.”
She was right. It was totally unrealistic. Both scenarios, an alien
invasion of the Earth and a Ben Parish invasion of me.
“At least you could tell him how you feel,” she said, reading
Could, yes. Ever would, well . . .
And I never did. That was the last time I saw Ben Parish, sitting
in that dark, stuffy gymnasium (Home of the Hawks!) two rows
down from me, and only the back part of him. He probably died
in the 3rd Wave like almost everybody else, and I never told him
how I felt. I could have. He knew who I was; he sat behind me in
a couple of classes.
He probably doesn’t remember, but in middle school we rode
the same bus, and there was an afternoon when I overheard him
talking about his little sister being born the day before and I
turned around and said, “My brother was born last week!” And
he said, “Really?” Not sarcastic, but like he thought it was a cool
coincidence, and for about a month I went around thinking we
had this special connection based on babies. Then we were in high
school and he became the star wide receiver for the team and I
became just another girl watching him score from the stands. I
would see him in class or in the hallway, and sometimes I had to
fi ght the urge to run up to him and say, “Hi, I’m Cassie, the girl
from the bus. Do you remember the babies?”
The funny thing is, he probably would have. Ben Parish
couldn’t be satisfi ed with being the most gorgeous guy in school.
Just to torment me with his perfection, he also insisted on being
one of the smartest. And have I mentioned he was kind to small
animals and children? His little sister was on the sidelines at
every game, and when we took the district title, Ben ran straight to
the sidelines, hoisted her onto his shoulders, and led the parade
around the track with her waving to the crowd like a homecoming
Oh, and one more thing: his killer smile. Don’t get me started.
After another hour in the dark and stuffy gym, I saw my dad
appear in the doorway. He gave a little wave, like he showed up at
my school every day to take me home after alien attacks. I hugged
Lizbeth and told her I’d call as soon as the phones started working
again. I was still practicing pre-invasion thinking. You know,
the power goes out, but it always comes back on. So I just gave
her a hug and I don’t remember telling her that I loved her.
We went outside and I said, “Where’s the car?”
And Dad said the car wasn’t working. No cars were working.
The streets were littered with stalled-out cars and buses and
motorcycles and trucks, smashups and clusters of wrecks on every
block, cars folded around light poles and sticking out of buildings.
A lot of people were trapped when the EMP hit; the automatic
locks on the doors didn’t work, and they had to break out
of their own cars or sit there and wait for someone to rescue them.
The injured people who could still move crawled onto the roadside
and sidewalks to wait for the paramedics, but no paramedics
came because the ambulances and the fi re trucks and the cop cars
didn’t work, either. Everything that ran on batteries or electricity
or had an engine died at eleven A.M.
Dad walked as he talked, keeping a tight grip on my wrist, like
he was afraid something might swoop down out of the sky and
snatch me away.
“Nothing’s working. No electricity, no phones, no plumbing . . .”
“We saw a plane crash.”
He nodded. “I’m sure they all did. Anything and everything in
the sky when it hit. Fighter jets, helicopters, troop transports . . .”
“When what hit?”
“EMP,” he said. “Electromagnetic pulse. Generate one large
enough and you knock out the entire grid. Power. Communications.
Transportation. Anything that fl ies or drives is zapped out.”
It was a mile and a half from my school to our house. The
longest mile and a half I’ve ever walked. It felt as if a curtain had
fallen over everything, a curtain painted to look exactly like what
it was hiding. There were glimpses, though, little peeks behind the
curtain that told you something had gone very wrong. Like all the
people standing on their front porches holding their dead phones,
looking up at the sky, or bending over the open hoods of their
cars, fi ddling with wires, because that’s what you do when your
car dies—you fi ddle with wires.
“But it’s okay,” he said, squeezing my wrist. “It’s okay. There’s
a good chance our backup systems weren’t crippled, and I’m sure
the government has a contingency plan, protected bases, that sort
“And how does pulling our plug fi t into their plan to help us
along in the next stage of our evolution, Dad?”
I regretted the words the instant I said them. But I was freaking
out. He didn’t take it the wrong way. He looked at me and smiled
reassuringly and said, “Everything’s going to be okay,” because
that’s what I wanted him to say and it’s what he wanted to say
and that’s what you do when the curtain is falling—you give the
line that the audience wants to hear.
AROUND NOON on my mission to keep my promise, I stop for
a water break and a Slim Jim. Every time I eat a Slim Jim or a can
of sardines or anything prepackaged, I think, Well, there’s one less
of that in the world. Whittling away the evidence of our having
been here one bite at a time.
One of these days, I’ve decided, I’m going to work up the nerve
to catch a chicken and wring its delicious neck. I would kill for
a cheeseburger. Honestly. If I stumbled across someone eating a
cheeseburger, I would kill them for it.
There are plenty of cows around. I could shoot one and carve
it up with my bowie knife. I’m pretty sure I’d have no problem
slaughtering a cow. The hard part would be cooking it. Having
a fi re, even in daylight, was the surest way to invite them to the
A shadow shoots across the grass a dozen yards in front of me.
I jerk my head back, knocking it hard against the side of a Honda
Civic I was leaning against while I enjoyed my snack. It wasn’t a
drone. It was a bird, a seagull of all things, skimming along with
barely a fl ick of its outstretched wings. A shiver of revulsion goes
down my spine. I hate birds. I didn’t before the Arrival. I didn’t
after the 1st Wave. I didn’t after the 2nd Wave, which really didn’t
affect me that much.
But after the 3rd Wave, I hated them. It wasn’t their fault, I
knew that. It was like a man in front of a fi ring squad hating the
bullets, but I couldn’t help it.
AFTER THREE DAYS on the road, I’ve determined that cars are
They prowl in groups. They die in clumps. Clumps of smashups.
Clumps of stalls. They glimmer in the distance like jewels.
And suddenly the clumps stop. The road is empty for miles.
There’s just me and the asphalt river cutting through a defi le of
half-naked trees, their leaves crinkled and clinging desperately to
their dark branches. There’s the road and the naked sky and the
tall, brown grass and me.
These empty stretches are the worst. Cars provide cover. And
shelter. I sleep in the undamaged ones (I haven’t found a locked
one yet). If you can call it sleep. Stale, stuffy air; you can’t crack
the windows, and leaving the door open is out of the question.
The gnaw of hunger. And the night thoughts. Alone, alone, alone.
And the baddest of the bad night thoughts:
I’m no alien drone designer, but if I were going to make one,
I’d make sure that its detection device was sensitive enough
to pick up a body’s heat signature through a car roof. It never
failed: The moment I started to drift off, I imagined all four
doors fl ying open and dozens of hands reaching for me, hands
attached to arms attached to whatever they are. And then I’m
up, fumbling with my M16, peeking over the backseat, then doing
a 360, feeling trapped and more than a little blind behind the
Dawn comes. I wait for the morning fog to burn off, then sip
some water, brush my teeth, double-check my weapons, inventory
my supplies, and hit the road again. Look up, look down, look all
around. Don’t pause at the exits. Water’s fi ne for now. No way am
I going anywhere near a town unless I have to.
For a lot of reasons.
You know how you can tell when you’re getting close to one?
The smell. You can smell a town from miles away.
It smells like smoke. And raw sewage. And death.
In the city it’s hard to take two steps without stumbling over a
corpse. Funny thing: People die in clumps, too.
I begin to smell Cincinnati about a mile before spotting the
exit sign. A thick column of smoke rises lazily toward the cloudless
Cincinnati is burning.
I’m not surprised. After the 3rd Wave, the second most common
thing you found in cities, after the bodies, were fi res. A single
lightning strike could take out ten city blocks. There was no one
left to put the fi res out.
My eyes start to water. The stench of Cincinnati makes me gag.
I stop long enough to tie a rag around my mouth and nose and
then quicken my pace. I pull the rifl e off my shoulder and cradle it
as I quickstep. I have a bad feeling about Cincinnati. The old voice
inside my head is awake.
Hurry, Cassie. Hurry.
And then, somewhere between Exits 17 and 18, I fi nd the bodies.
THERE ARE THREE OF THEM, not in a clump like city folk,
but spaced out in the median strip. The fi rst one is an older guy,
around my dad’s age, I guess. Wearing blue jeans and a Bengals
warm-up. Facedown, arms outstretched. He was shot in the back
of the head.
The second, about a dozen feet away, is a young woman, a
little older than I am and dressed in a pair of men’s pajama pants
and Victoria’s Secret tee. A streak of purple in her short-cropped
hair. A skull ring on her left index fi nger. Black nail polish, badly
chipped. And a bullet hole in the back of her head.
Another few feet and there’s the third. A kid around eleven or
twelve. Brand-new white basketball high-tops. Black sweatshirt.
Hard to tell what his face used to look like.
I leave the kid and go back to the woman. Kneel in the tall
brown grass beside her. Touch her pale neck. Still warm.
Oh no. No, no, no.
I trot back to the fi rst guy. Kneel. Touch the palm of his outstretched
hand. Look over at the bloody hole between his ears.
Shiny. Still wet.
I freeze. Behind me, the road. In front of me, more road. To my
right, trees. To my left, more trees. Clumps of cars on the southbound
lane, the nearest grouping about a hundred feet away.
Something tells me to look up. Straight up.
A fl eck of dull gray against the backdrop of dazzling autumnal
Hello, Cassie. My name is Mr. Drone. Nice to meet you!
I stand up, and when I stand up—the moment I stand up; if I
had stayed frozen there a millisecond longer, Mr. Bengals and I
would be sporting matching holes—something slams into my leg,
a hot punch just above my knee that knocks me off balance, sending
me sprawling backward onto my butt.
I didn’t hear the shot. There was the cool wind in the grass and
my own hot breath under the rag and the blood rushing in my
ears—that’s all there was before the bullet struck.
That makes sense. Of course they’d use silencers. And now I
have the perfect name for them: Silencers. A name that fi ts the job
Something takes over when you’re facing death. The front part of
your brain lets go, gives up control to the oldest part of you, the part
that takes care of your heartbeat and breathing and the blinking of
your eyes. The part nature built fi rst to keep your ass alive. The part
that stretches time like a gigantic piece of toffee, making a second
seem like an hour and a minute longer than a summer afternoon.
I lunge forward for my rifl e—I had dropped the M16 when the
round punched home—and the ground in front of me explodes,
showering me with shredded grass and hunks of dirt and gravel.
Okay, forget the M16.
I yank the Luger from my waistband and do a sort of running
hop—or a hopping run—toward the closest car. There isn’t much
pain—although my guess is that we’re going to get very intimate
later—but I can feel the blood soaking into my jeans by the time I
reach the car, an older model Buick sedan.
The rear windshield shatters as I dive down. I scoot on my
back till I’m all the way under the car. I’m not a big girl by any
stretch, but it’s a tight fi t, no room to roll over, no way to turn if
he shows up on the left side.
Smart, Cassie, real smart. Straight As last semester? Honor
You should have stayed in your little stretch of woods in your
little tent with your little books and your cute little mementos. At
least when they came for you, there’d be room to run.
The minutes spin out. I lie on my back and bleed onto the cold
concrete. Rolling my head to the right, to the left, raising it a half
inch to look past my feet toward the back of the car. Where the
hell is he? What’s taking so long? Then it hits me:
He’s using a high-powered sniper rifl e. Has to be. Which means
he could have been over a half mile away when he shot me.
Which also means I have more time than I fi rst thought. Time
to come up with something besides a blubbery, desperate, disjointed
Make him go away. Make him be quick. Let me live. Let him
end it . . .
Shaking uncontrollably. I’m sweating; I’m freezing cold.
You’re going into shock. Think, Cassie.
It’s what we’re made for. It’s what got us here. It’s the reason I
have this car to hide under. We are human.
And humans think. They plan. They dream, and then they
make the dream real.
Make it real, Cassie.
Unless he drops down, he won’t be able to get to me. And when
he drops down . . . when he dips his head to look at me . . . when
he reaches in to grab my ankle and drag me out . . .
No. He’s too smart for that. He’s going to assume I’m armed.
He wouldn’t risk it. Not that Silencers care whether they live or
die . . . or do they care? Do Silencers know fear? They don’t love
life—I’ve seen enough to prove that. But do they love their own
lives more than they love taking someone else’s?
Time stretches out. A minute’s longer than a season. What’s
taking him so damn long?
It’s an either/or world now. Either he’s coming to fi nish it or he
isn’t. But he has to fi nish it, doesn’t he? Isn’t that the reason he’s
here? Isn’t that the whole friggin’ point?
Either/or: Either I run—or hop or crawl or roll—or I stay under
this car and bleed to death. If I risk escape, it’s a turkey shoot.
I won’t make it two feet. If I stay, same result, only more painful,
more fearful, and much, much slower.
Black stars blossom and dance in front of my eyes. I can’t get
enough air into my lungs.
I reach up with my left hand and yank the cloth from my face.
Cassie, you’re an idiot.
I set the gun down beside me. That’s the hardest part—making
myself let go of the gun.
I lift my leg, slide the rag beneath it. I can’t lift my head to see
what I’m doing. I stare past the black, blossoming stars at the grimy
guts of the Buick as I pull the two ends together, cinch them tight, as
tight as I can, and fumble with the knot. I reach down and explore
the wound with my fi ngertips. It’s still bleeding, but a trickle compared
to the bubbling gusher I had before tying off the tourniquet.
I pick up the gun. Better. My eyesight clears a little, and I don’t
feel quite so cold. I shift a couple of inches to the left; I don’t like
lying in my own blood.
Where is he? He’s had plenty of time to fi nish this . . .
Unless he is fi nished.
That brings me up short. For a few seconds, I totally forget to
He’s not coming. He’s not coming because he doesn’t need to
come. He knows you won’t dare come out, and if you don’t come
out and run, you won’t make it. He knows you’ll starve or bleed
to death or die of dehydration.
He knows what you know: Run = die. Stay = die.
Time for him to move on to the next one.
If there is a next one.
If I’m not the last one.
Come on, Cassie! From seven billion to just one in fi ve months?
You’re not the last, and even if you are the last human being on
Earth—especially if you are—you can’t let it end this way. Trapped
under a goddamned Buick, bleeding until all the blood is gone—is
this how humanity waves good-bye?
THE 1ST WAVE took out half a million people.
The 2nd Wave put that number to shame.
In case you don’t know, we live on a restless planet. The continents
sit on slabs of rock, called tectonic plates, and those plates
fl oat on a sea of molten lava. They’re constantly scraping and rubbing
and pushing against one another, creating enormous pressure.
Over time the pressure builds and builds, until the plates slip, releasing
huge amounts of energy in the form of earthquakes. If one
of those quakes happens along one of the fault lines that ring every
continent, the shock wave produces a superwave called a tsunami.
Over 40 percent of the world’s population lives within sixty
miles of a coastline. That’s three billion people.
All the Others had to do was make it rain.
Take a metal rod twice as tall as the Empire State Building and
three times as heavy. Position it over one of these fault lines. Drop
it from the upper atmosphere. You don’t need any propulsion or
guidance system; just let it fall. Thanks to gravity, by the time it
reaches the surface, it’s traveling twelve miles per second, twenty
times faster than a speeding bullet.
It hits the surface with a force one billion times greater than the
bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Bye-bye, New York. Bye, Sydney. Good-bye, California, Washington,
Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia. So long, Eastern Seaboard.
Japan, Hong Kong, London, Rome, Rio.
Nice to know you. Hope you enjoyed your stay!
The 1st Wave was over in seconds.
The 2nd Wave lasted a little longer. About a day.
The 3rd Wave? That took a little longer—twelve weeks. Twelve
weeks to kill . . . well, Dad fi gured 97 percent of those of us unlucky
enough to have survived the fi rst two waves.
Ninety-seven percent of four billion? You do the math.
That’s when the Alien Empire descended in their fl ying saucers
and started blasting away, right? When the peoples of the Earth
united under one banner to play David versus Goliath. Our tanks
against your ray guns. Bring it on!
We weren’t that lucky.
And they weren’t that stupid.
How do you waste nearly four billion people in three months?
How many birds are there in the world? Wanna guess? A million?
A billion? How about over three hundred billion? That’s
about seventy-fi ve birds for each man, woman, and child still alive
after the fi rst two waves.
There are thousands of species of bird on every continent. And
birds don’t recognize borders. They also crap a lot. They crap fi ve
or six times a day. That’s over a trillion little missiles raining down
each day, every day.
You couldn’t invent a more effi cient delivery system for a virus
that has a 97 percent kill rate.
My father thought they must have taken something like Ebola
Zaire and genetically altered it. Ebola can’t spread through the
air. But change a single protein and you can make it airborne, like
the fl u. The virus takes up residence in your lungs. You get a bad
cough. Fever. Your head starts to hurt. Hurt bad. You start spitting
up little drops of virus-laden blood. The bug moves into your
liver, your kidneys, your brain. You’re packing a billion of them
now. You’ve become a viral bomb. And when you explode, you
blast everyone around you with the virus. They call it bleeding
out. Like rats fl eeing a sinking ship, the virus erupts out of every
opening. Your mouth, your nose, your ears, your ass, even your
eyes. You literally cry tears of blood.
We had different names for it. The Red Death or the Blood
Plague. The Pestilence. The Red Tsunami. The Fourth Horseman.
Whatever you wanted to call it, after three months, ninety-seven
out of every hundred people were dead.
That’s a lot of bloody tears.
Time was fl owing in reverse. The 1st Wave knocked us back
to the eighteenth century. The next two slammed us into the
We were hunter-gatherers again. Nomads. Bottom of the pyramid.
But we weren’t ready to give up hope. Not yet.
There were still enough of us left to fi ght back.
We couldn’t take them head-on, but we could fi ght a guerilla
war. We could go all asymmetrical on their alien asses. We had
enough guns and ammo and even some transport that survived
the 1st Wave. Our militaries had been decimated, but there were
still functional units on every continent. There were bunkers and
caves and underground bases where we could hide for years. You
be America, alien invaders, and we’ll be Vietnam.
And the Others go, Yeah, okay, right.
We thought they had thrown everything at us—or at least the
worst, because it was hard to imagine anything worse than the
Red Death. Those of us who survived the 3rd Wave—the ones
with a natural immunity to the disease—hunkered down and
stocked up and waited for the People in Charge to tell us what
to do. We knew somebody had to be in charge, because occasionally
a fi ghter jet would scream across the sky and we heard what
sounded like gun battles in the distance and the rumble of troop
carriers just over the horizon.
I guess my family was luckier than most. The Fourth Horseman
rode off with my mom, but Dad, Sammy, and I survived. Dad
boasted about our superior genes. Not something you’d normally
do, brag on top of an Everest of nearly seven billion dead people.
Dad was just being Dad, trying to put the best spin he could on
the eve of human extinction.
Most cities and towns were abandoned in the wake of the Red
Tsunami. There was no electricity, no plumbing, the shops and
stores had long since been looted of anything valuable. Raw sewage
was an inch deep on some streets. Fires from summer lightning
storms were common.
Then there was the problem of the bodies.
As in, they were everywhere. Houses, shelters, hospitals, apartments,
offi ce buildings, schools, churches and synagogues, and
There’s a tipping point when the sheer volume of death overwhelms
you. You can’t bury or burn the bodies fast enough. That
summer of the Pestilence was brutally hot, and the stench of rotting
fl esh hung in the air like an invisible, noxious fog. We soaked
strips of cloth in perfume and tied them over our mouths and
noses, and by the end of the day the reek had soaked into the material
and all you could do was sit there and gag.
Until—funny thing—you got used to it.
We waited out the 3rd Wave barricaded inside our house. Partly
because there was a quarantine. Partly because some pretty whackedout
people roamed the streets, breaking into houses and setting fi res,
the whole murder, rape, and pillaging thing. Partly because we were
scared out of our minds waiting for what might come next.
But mostly because Dad didn’t want to leave Mom. She was
too sick to travel, and he couldn’t bring himself to abandon her.
She told him to go. Leave her behind. She was going to die anyway.
It wasn’t about her anymore. It was about me and Sammy.
About keeping us safe. About the future and hanging on to the
hope that tomorrow would be better than today.
Dad didn’t argue. But he didn’t leave her, either. He waited
for the inevitable, keeping her as comfortable as possible, and
looked at maps and made lists and gathered supplies. This was
around the time the whole book-hoarding, we-have-to-rebuildcivilization
kick started. On nights when the sky wasn’t totally
blanketed in smoke, we went into the backyard and took turns
with my old telescope, watching the mothership sail majestically
across the backdrop of the Milky Way. The stars were brighter
now, brilliantly bright, without our man-made lights to dim them.
“What are they waiting for?” I would ask him. I was still expecting—
like everybody else—the saucers and the mechanical walkers
and the laser cannons. “Why don’t they just get it over with?”
And Daddy would shake his head. “I don’t know, pumpkin,”
he would say. “Maybe it is over. Maybe the goal isn’t to kill all of
us, just wean us down to a manageable number.”
“And then what? What do they want?”
“I think the better question is what they need,” he said gently,
as if he were breaking some really bad news. “They’re being very
careful, you know.”
“To not damage it more than absolutely necessary. It’s the reason
they’re here, Cassie. They need the Earth.”
“But not us,” I whispered. I was about to lose it—again. For
about the trillionth time.
He put his hand on my shoulder—for about the trillionth
time—and said, “Well, we had our shot. And we weren’t handling
our inheritance very well. I bet if we could somehow go back and
interview the dinosaurs before the asteroid struck . . .”
That’s when I punched him as hard as I could. Ran inside.
I don’t know which is worse, inside or outside. Outside you
feel totally exposed, constantly watched, naked beneath the naked
sky. But inside it’s perpetual twilight. Boarded-up windows
that block out the sun during the day. Candles at night, but we’re
running low on candles, can’t spare more than one per room, and
deep shadows lurk in once-familiar corners.
“What is it, Cassie?” Sammy. Five. Adorable. Big brown teddybear
eyes, clutching the other member of the family with big
brown eyes, the stuffed one I now have stowed in the bottom of
“Why are you crying?”
Seeing my tears got his started.
I brushed past him, headed for the room of the sixteen-yearold
human dinosaur, Cassiopeia Sullivanus extinctus. Then I went
back to him. I couldn’t leave him crying like that. We’d gotten
pretty tight since Mom got sick. Nearly every night bad dreams
chased him into my room, and he’d crawl in bed with me and
press his face against my chest, and sometimes he forgot and
called me Mommy.
“Did you see them, Cassie? Are they coming?”
“No, kiddo,” I said, wiping away his tears. “No one’s coming.”
MOM DIED ON A TUESDAY.
Dad buried her in the backyard, in the rose bed. She had asked
for that before she died. At the height of the Pestilence, when hundreds
were dying every day, most of the bodies were hauled to the
outskirts and burned. Dying towns were ringed by the constantly
smoldering bonfi res of the dead.
He told me to stay with Sammy. Sammy, who’d gone zombielike
on us, shuffl ing around, mouth hanging open or sucking his
thumb like he was two again, with this blankness in his teddybear
eyes. Just a few months ago, Mom was pushing him on a
swing, taking him to karate classes, washing his hair, dancing with
him to his favorite song. Now she was wrapped in a white sheet
and riding on his daddy’s shoulder into the backyard.
I saw Dad through the kitchen window kneeling by the shallow
grave. His head was down. Shoulders jerking. I’d never seen him
lose it, not once, since the Arrival. Things kept getting worse, and
just when you thought they couldn’t get any worse, they got even
worse, but Dad never freaked. Even when Mom started showing
the fi rst signs of infection, he stayed calm, especially in front of
her. He didn’t talk about what was happening outside the barricaded
doors and windows. He laid wet cloths over her forehead.
He bathed her, changed her, fed her. Not once did I see him cry
in front of her. While some people were shooting themselves and
hanging themselves and swallowing handfuls of pills and jumping
from high places, Dad pushed back against the darkness.
He sang to her and repeated stupid jokes she’d heard a thousand
times, and he lied. He lied the way a parent lies to you, the
good lie that helps you go to sleep.
“Heard another plane today. Sounded like a fi ghter. Means
some of our stuff must have made it through.”
“Your fever’s down a bit, and your eyes look clearer today.
Maybe this isn’t it. Might just be your garden-variety fl u.”
In the fi nal hours, wiping away her bloody tears.
Holding her while she barfed up the black, viral stew her stomach
Bringing me and Sammy into the room to say good-bye.
“It’s all right,” she told Sammy. “Everything is going to be all
To me she said, “He needs you now, Cassie. Take care of him.
Take care of your father.”
I told her she was going to get better. Some people did. They
got sick, and then suddenly the virus let go. Nobody understood
why. Maybe it decided it didn’t like the way you tasted. And I
didn’t say she was going to get better to ease her fear. I really believed
it. I had to believe it.
“You’re all they have,” Mom said. Her last words to me.
The mind was the last thing to go, washed away in the red
waters of the Tsunami. The virus took total control. Some people
went into a frenzy as it boiled their brains. They punched,
clawed, kicked, bit. Like the virus that needed us also hated us
and couldn’t wait to get rid of us.
My mother looked at my dad and didn’t know him. Didn’t
know where she was. Who she was. What was happening to her.
There was this, like, permanent, creepy smile, cracked lips pulled
back from bleeding gums, her teeth stained with blood. Sounds
came out of her mouth, but they weren’t words. The place in her
brain that made words was packed with virus, and the virus didn’t
know language—it knew only how to make more of itself.
And then my mother died in a fury of jerks and gargled screams,
her uninvited guests rocketing out of every orifi ce, because she
was done, they’d used her up, time to turn off the lights and fi nd
a new home.
Dad bathed her one last time. Combed her hair. Scrubbed the
dried blood from her teeth. When he came to tell me she was
gone, he was calm. He didn’t lose it. He held me while I lost it.
Now I was watching him through the kitchen window. Kneeling
beside her in the rose bed, thinking no one could see him, my father
let go of the rope he’d been clinging to, loosened the line
that had kept him steady all that time while everyone around him
went into free fall.
I made sure Sammy was okay and went outside. I sat next to
him. Put my hand on his shoulder. The last time I’d touched my
father, it was a lot harder and with my fi st. I didn’t say anything,
and he didn’t, either, not for a long time.
He slipped something into my hand. Mom’s wedding ring. He
said she’d want me to have it.
“We’re leaving, Cassie. Tomorrow morning.”
I nodded. I knew she was the only reason we hadn’t left yet.
The delicate stems on the roses bobbed and swayed, as if echoing
my nod. “Where are we going?”
“Away.” He looked around, and his eyes were wide and frightened.
“It isn’t safe anymore.”
Duh, I thought. When was it ever?
“Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is just over a hundred miles
from here. If we push and the weather stays good, we can be there
in fi ve or six days.”
“And then what?” The Others had conditioned us to think this
way: Okay, this, and then what? I looked to my father to tell me.
He was the smartest man I knew. If he didn’t have an answer,
there was no one who did. I sure didn’t. And I sure wanted him
to. I needed him to.
He shook his head like he didn’t understand the question.
“What’s at Wright-Patterson?” I asked.
“I don’t know that anything’s there.” He tried out a smile and
grimaced, like smiling hurt.
“Then why are we going?”
“Because we can’t stay here,” he said through gritted teeth.
“And if we can’t stay here, we have to go somewhere. If there’s
anything like a government left at all . . .”
He shook his head. He hadn’t come outside for this. He had
come outside to bury his wife.
“Go inside, Cassie.”
“I’ll help you.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“She’s my mother. I loved her, too. Please let me help.” I was crying
again. He didn’t see. He wasn’t looking at me, and he wasn’t
looking at Mom. He wasn’t looking at anything, really. There was,
like, this black hole where the world used to be, and we were both
falling toward it. What could we hold on to? I pulled his hand off
Mom’s body and pressed it against my cheek and told him I loved
him and that Mom loved him and that everything would be okay,
and the black hole lost a little of its strength.
“Go inside, Cassie,” he said gently. “Sammy needs you more
than she does.”
I went inside. Sammy was sitting on the fl oor in his room,
playing with his X-wing starfi ghter, destroying the Death Star.
“Shroooooom, shroooooom. I’m going in, Red One!”
And outside, my father knelt in the freshly turned earth. Brown
dirt, red rose, gray sky, white sheet.