Henry spent eight years chained to a post. Exposed, starved, infected with the December Plague, and mad. During those eight years, the December Plague consumed most of the world’s human population, causing the infected to become violent and cannibalistic.
But Henry escaped. And now he’s been Cured. He vividly remembers what has been done to him and others. He can also recall the terrible things he did while he was infected. He and his fellow survivors face a world unlike anything they knew before. They are weak, lost and completely alone. Now released from both the madness of the Plague and the cruelty of their captors, they must decide which is more important: survival or revenge.
The Cured is a standalone novel in the world of After the Cure.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I read too many zombie books– I wanted to know what would happen if the zombies were not only cured, but if they could remember what had happened when they were ill. I thought the society that might form would be very like living in a country after a terrible war. How do people live and work with and love people who have committed terrible crimes? What if everyone had killed in order to survive? What would that look like?
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main characters in this book came from an event in its companion book, After the Cure (The Cured is stand alone and can be read independently). A group of Infected were featured in that book for a few scenes and then the story moved on. But I wanted to know what happened to them. I wanted them all to be normal, everyday folks, not super prepared, extra tough survivors. These were people who were completely unprepared for the trauma they had undergone and the world they were waking up to.
Henry could smell them even before he opened his eyes. The smell overrode any thoughts he might have had of dreaming it all. It was a putrid gassy mix of rotting meat and mildew that hung over him, pulsing, undeniable, and real.
He tried to focus. What was the last thing he could remember before the reek? He had chased a man and a woman across a field. She was wounded. He had smelled the blood even over his own stench. Henry had been hungry. So hungry. He had ached with it, he still felt hollow, but the pain had subsided. He realized he could taste the rotting meat on his tongue as well as smell it and his stomach clenched, but there was nothing to vomit. When he thought of what he had meant to do to the woman, to the man too, if he caught them made his stomach cramp again, but whether it was from nausea or hunger he couldn’t tell. Have I shaken off my madness at last? He wondered.
And what about the others? Henry had seen them from the corners of his eye as he ran across the field. They had been only competition then, and he would have eaten any one of them if they had been easier to catch. Were they still sick? Had he awakened only to be devoured by them instead? His muscles stiffened painfully as a weak splash of adrenaline hit them. Not enough energy to run now. If they didn’t eat him, he’d die of starvation anyway.
Henry risked opening his eyes just a crack. A mountain of brown hair shuffled around about an arm’s length from him. He stopped breathing. It seemed to sway for a moment and then a thin brown arm reached out for something. The hand was missing its last two fingers and the arm was little more than a wrinkled stick. He opened his eyes a little more so he could see what it was trying to grab.
Henry started to sit up as he saw the hand reaching for a pile of boxed food on a nearby table.
“I wouldn’t do that,” growled a thick voice to his left. The hairy thing’s arm and Henry both froze. Relief wrestled with wariness in him. At least the man could talk and the mountain of hair could presumably understand. Not infected then. But what did they want with him? Why were they here? Henry turned his head. The man next to him was naked, except for the spackling of mud and grass on his skin. His gray hair tangled into his straggly beard and hid everything except one watery eye and a ragged socket where its mate ought to have been.
“Oh please,” said the voice under the hill of brown hair, “I’m so hungry, I just want a little. Just a little. I’ll do whatever you want.”
The hair began to sob and the gray man leapt out of his chair and knelt beside it, surprising Henry with his energy. “It’s not mine,” the gray man said, “I think it’s for all of us. I won’t try to keep it from you, but if you eat it, if we eat it, we’ll get sick.”
“I don’t care,” snivelled the woman next to him, “I’m too hungry.”
“What was your name?”
“Molly. And I used to work in a grocery store. And there were impossible amounts of food just ready to pick up and eat. I’ve been hungry for so long. Months? years? I had to eat. I had to.” The woman slumped down on the floor and cried harder. “Oh God! What did I eat? What did I eat?” she sobbed. The gray man wrapped a skeleton arm around her shoulder and tried to help her get up.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s done now. We don’t have to do that any more,” he said.
“We?” asked the woman.
He patted her gently. “I was Vincent. And I was a priest. Listen, Molly, we can eat real food now, but we have to be careful. If we eat so much that we get sick, we may die. We have to start small, with a little broth or some milk. But I need help,” Vincent held out his emaciated arms. “I can’t lift very much water by myself and there are a lot of us.” He turned toward Henry. “Now that you’re awake, maybe you can help?” His remaining eye squinted and Vincent drew back hesitantly. “That is, if you’re– if you’re not still sick.”
For the first time in almost a decade Henry felt himself smile with relief. “I’m not sick any more,” he said, his voice crackling with thirst. He pushed himself slowly off the wooden floor.
“There’s a kitchen and a few soup pots, but the water is out. There’s a pond behind the house.”
“Shouldn’t we call someone? A hospital?” said Molly pushing aside the matted curtain of hair in front of her face.
Vincent shook his head and reached for a fluttering piece of paper on the table. “I’m not sure when you got sick, or if you know what has happened since, but I don’t think there’s anyone to call,” he said, handing her the paper. “It’s not all bad news,” he said as he saw Henry’s grin collapse. “And we’re alive and sane again.” Henry helped Molly up and followed Vincent into the kitchen.
“How long have you been awake?” Henry asked.
“Only about an hour longer than you. There are the other three that haven’t woken up yet too.”
Henry looked doubtfully back into the living room. “Are you certain they are alive?”
Vincent clattered around in dusty cabinets looking for pots. “Yes. I checked you all. So far, we’re all alive. But without food and water, we aren’t going to last very much longer. None of us are in good shape.”
Henry looked out of the kitchen window at the thick whorled grass still silver with frost. “It’s cold. We should find some clothes.”
Molly stumbled into the kitchen, still holding the paper. She stood next to Henry and looked outside. “It’s all gone, isn’t it?” she asked.
Henry looked over at her, tried not to see the tarry stripes of old battles on her thin arms or the maggots wriggling on the surface of a new wound near her chin. He tried to smile. “Someone woke us– cured us. It can’t all be gone, someone must be making medicine still. And they didn’t just shoot us, so they probably weren’t looters. Not that we had anything valuable anyway.”
Molly twisted the mat of hair back with her mangled, clawed hand. She looked up at Henry. “I guess that’s true,” she said and she smiled a little too. Vincent emerged from the cabinet with two large stock pots. He looked over Henry’s shoulder at the gray, frosty day and shivered.
“There must be clothing here somewhere.” He placed the pots near the door. They heard sounds of people moving from the living room.
“I’ll check upstairs if you want. There must be a bedroom here,” said Henry, “If you’ll check on whoever is waking up.”
“Be careful,” said Vincent, “I haven’t been upstairs yet. I don’t know what, or who, may be up there.”
Henry shuffled toward the dusty entrance hall. His legs were rickety, like unoiled wood and he wondered how he had been able to chase anyone when he could barely keep himself upright. He stopped in front of the front door. The man had shot him with a dart as he banged on the front door trying to get to the woman. That was the last thing he remembered, not the field. There must have been a sedative in the dart. He wondered how long he’d really been sleeping. If the past several years had just been an awful dream. Maybe this was the dream. He turned toward the dark stairs and almost groaned as he counted them. Dark spots and splashes wove across the treads and Henry hoped whoever was bleeding had gone away long before. He went up slowly, leaning on the wall, but he was still out of breath when he reached the top. There was a pile of bloody clothes and sheets in the hallway corner. They were so soaked that the blood was still wet and a heavy copper smell hung in the top of the stairwell. Henry’s stomach roiled and he was horrified to find his mouth watering. He hurried past the pile and into the first bedroom. He wiped his forehead and tried to push away his stomach’s reaction. Tried to push out the memory of all the other times he’d given in to that particular desire. He wasn’t ready to think about it. His body couldn’t afford for him to become overwhelmed by grief and guilt. He could hear long sobbing wails rising up from downstairs and knew someone else had just woken and realized the past was real and not the nightmare it seemed.
The dresser was askew and the bed unmade but not dusty, though everything else in the house seemed to be. Henry assumed it was the wounded woman and the man who had shot him, but where had they gone? And why had he been brought inside? Henry struggled with the swollen dresser drawer. It squealed open at last. Men’s clothes. He hesitated, thinking of the grime and blood and acrid sweat that covered him. He’d never wanted to bathe so badly in his life. He had to eat first. Before comfort and definitely before vanity. Henry pulled on an old pair of jeans and a shirt. He looked at the shorts and socks, but it was too personal. He grabbed armfuls of clothing and walked back to the stairs, throwing the clothes down ahead of him. He didn’t want to come back up here if he could help it. The heavy copper smell made his stomach cramp again. He turned toward another bedroom. The curtains were drawn and only a gray glow outlined the furniture in the room. Henry crossed to the window, relieved to be away from the bloody clothing. He opened the curtains and watched a flurry of dust specks settle lazily back onto the windowsill. The room had been closed for a long time, everything neatly tucked into place, it still smelled lightly of pine needles. Henry looked around and saw the naked trunk of a Christmas tree, tiny glass lights slung over its bones, here and there a shining ornament clung to the thin wood claws, a pile of dark needles and shattered sparkling glass at its base.
Henry walked around the carefully made bed to the stenciled white dresser. He began rummaging around the drawers, pulling out armfuls of women’s clothing this time. A shadow caught his eye and Henry looked up, catching his reflection in the dusty vanity mirror. He stumbled backward and the withered tree snapped underneath him, ornaments shattering with a musical tinkle around him. He got up, brushing himself off and blushing, realizing the reflection was his. His face was almost entirely hidden, dark, matted hair covering all but his eyes and nose. He tried not to look, but he caught a glimpse of himself anyway. His bones seemed to be rising as the rest of his face sunk away. His nose had a crook that he didn’t remember and there were white wriggling maggots in the muck caught in his long beard. Henry shuddered and picked up the clothing. He hurried away from the mirror and down the stairs, away from both his hunger and revulsion, toward the safety of the others.
He carried the large bundle of clothing into the kitchen where the whole group now milled around. The three newly awakened people argued tearfully with Vincent and Molly for food.
One of them, a weaselly looking man, whose hair only remained in patches of long tufts stood very close to Vincent, his eyes squinting and his chest thrown forward. Henry thought there might be a fight and wondered if he had enough energy to stop it. “Look,” said the weaselly man, “how do you know all this stuff? Maybe you just want all the food for yourself. Why should we trust you?”
“What’s your name, son?” Vincent asked calmly.
“Rickey. And I’m not your son.”
“Rickey. I was a missionary before– before this. I worked in places with severe famine. I’ve seen people die because they were allowed to eat too quickly. We need to start with this powdered milk.”
“We’re not starving,” sneered Rickey, “We had that cow just a few days ago, don’t you remember?”
Henry watched Molly put her good hand to her mouth, as if she could stop the vomit that wasn’t going to come. It was a dry heave instead. He tried to block out the image of the rotting cow, but he could feel the slick, spoiled mush of the meat between his teeth even now. One of the women behind Rickey spoke up.
“I don’t think that was a few days ago. I think we’ve been asleep a while. I fell and scraped my hand on the porch when we were chasing those people. It was very bloody and I was so hungry. I– I kept licking my hand until I passed out. And now, the scratch is almost gone.” She held out a small hand where a large scab was flaking off and leaving clean skin behind.
“Even if it was only a few days ago,” said Vincent, “we haven’t been eating properly for a long time. Probably since we got sick. And the little we got from Phil’s men stopped, what? Three months ago now? Our bodies aren’t meant for that. We have to be careful.”
Henry held up the bundle of clothes. “Then let’s get dressed and get that water so we can at least have some of the milk.” He dumped the clothing onto the tiled floor and picked up one of the soup pots. He didn’t want to hear them argue about food any more, it made his whole body ache. He opened the back door and walked carefully onto the cool, overgrown yard. The dead grass was matted down in great silver whorls from where the snow had lain. A few patches of early clover had begun to poke through. Henry trudged slowly down a small slope to the pond. He had to push through thickly clustered reeds and yellowed lily pads to get to the water. He felt the chill of the water on his ankles before he realized he had stepped into the water. He backed up in surprise and looked at his feet. He touched them, poked his heel, pinched his big toe, but he couldn’t feel anything. He wondered when he’d had shoes or even socks on last. It was like trying to remember an endless bad dream, but he thought it must have been at the lodge. Marnie had made sure they had things like that. His feet must have been frostbitten sometime in the last three months. Henry wondered what else he didn’t know about his own body.
He watched his feet carefully as he filled the pot with the gray-green water. He didn’t want to make them worse. He’d have to remember to find some shoes to protect them. He wondered where Marnie was as he struggled back to the house with the heavy pot. She had come to visit him after Dave had stopped. Henry could remember her pushing a plastic plate full of food toward him with the handle of a broom. He had lunged at her, but the little girl hadn’t even flinched. She just looked sad. “I told you I’d take care of you if you got sick, Henry,” she’d said. She was the only one who’d called him Henry after a while. Henry sat down on the back porch, the heavy steel pot between the knobs of his knees. His memories were blurry, angry things, a smear of bloody rage populated by strange voices and faces. He hoped they would stay indistinct, locked away. But Marnie stood out, sharp and vibrant. He remembered every time he’d seen her. Something in his infected brain had built a barrier around her, as something separate, untouched by the madness that swallowed him. He hoped she had escaped the carnage at the lodge. He could still feel the warm pressure of her weight on his back as she unhooked the chains that held him and he could almost feel the warm panic in her breath as she’d said goodbye. He had been gnashing his teeth, roaring, straining to leap at the men beyond his pen. She probably thought he hadn’t heard her, but he had. He had to find her. Had to protect the little girl who’d been abandoned to the world by the people meant to care for her the most.
Deirdre Gould lives in Central Maine with her three children and husband. She’s also resided in northern Idaho, coastal Virginia and central Pennsylvania, but all of them just led her back home.The winters sure are cold, but that just means the zombies run slower. The area is isolated, but that just means the apocalyptic diseases don’t spread as quickly. And the storms are bad enough that no one thinks you’re crazy for “prepping.” It’s kind of ideal for a post-apocalypse writer when you think about it.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!