Everyone had finally accepted that it wasn't going to work after all.
Not that it came as any surprise.
Staring at the road ahead, at mile marker 71 passing under the glow of his headlights, John remembered the day he told them—told them the truth in unambiguous terms, as a matter of fact. It wasn't going to work, no matter how much Dr. Zanthur promised it would. The crazy man was the one who had actually started the whole thing and didn't even realize it, so how could he possibly be the one to undo it? The other doctors wouldn't listen, though. Even with the calculations and empirical data on his side, they couldn't see it. Or wouldn't. Blinded by their own dreams of finding the cure and the prospect of global notoriety, they refused to listen, refused to even entertain the notion that John knew more than they did, that he actually understood how history would repeat itself, how the whole process would play out. And besides, he was only one voice against more than five hundred. With those numbers, they considered his opinion more of an outlier than a real possibility, so he needed to just shut up and sit down. The cause of science was far greater than the cry of one man.
As it turned out, their actions affected more than just one, though.
Ahead, a large road sign glowed green against the backdrop of a blackened canvas. Truth or Consequences, it announced, and a white arrow pointed toward an exit ramp. Under the large sign a smaller one labeled it as the "City of Elephant Butte." John smiled as he passed by, exchanging the interstate for Business Loop 25. As a kid, he and his friends made fun of that sign and of the city itself. Sure the U was long, but that didn't matter to a group of six graders. Why would you want to live in a place like that? they often asked with a cackle. And though the high school claimed the tiger as its mascot, to John and his friends, and to most everyone else who didn't live there, the town and the team would always be the back end of a pachyderm.
His smile faded as the business loop took him past houses and buildings left dark. Even the towering street lights now stood blank, two rows of silver ghosts illuminated only by the beams of his headlights.
"It's the cure to end the spreading disease," Dr. Zanthur proudly announced. John could still see him on the television, flanked by the President and the leaders of both the House and the Senate. "No longer will the world be held hostage to the sickness of the few. With this serum," he added, and held up a vial of orange colored liquid to emphasize his point, "the entire population will be set free."
But it didn't set anyone free. In time, just as John predicted, it had actually enslaved the masses. The blaze of a new disease flared up on the coasts and quickly spread inward. Images of crazed lunatics and street mobs, their eyes pasty white, their mouths dripping with blood, filled the television sets. From New York to St. Louis, L.A. to Denver, and all points in between, the world imploded as fathers turned against their sons, mothers against their daughters, each devouring the other until almost everyone had been infected.
There was only one salvation to the madness, and John saw it firsthand in the footage of an execution interrupted by a prison riot. With a slight nod of the head, the warden gave the signal and the medic administered the first of three injections, then the second. Finally, as the prisoner slipped into a sodium thiopental-induced coma, the medic pushed a lethal injection of potassium chloride through the IV. It was then that the door to the execution chamber flew open. Screams pierced the air as a small band of monsters entered and attacked the warden and medic. More screams as another wave of animals found entrance into the witness room. In the end, the only one left untouched was the dead prisoner. One figure actually stopped and sniffed at the corpse, as a dog might a bowl of peppers, before it turned its nose away and attacked someone else.
In the heart of the darkened city, John turned right onto East Riverside. In another mile, he reached the clinic, a veterinarian's office just off the Rio Grande. He had been there before as a kid, the time his father took him along to put down Roxy, their aged and failing Golden Retriever. His father said it was the humane thing to do. At the time, though, he didn't see anything humane about it.
In the parking lot, with the brick face of the clinic white-washed by his headlights, John put the gear in park and turned off the engine. There wouldn't be much time, he knew. Like sharks smelling blood in the waters, creatures a mile away would sense that something new had just entered town.
He reached over and shook the shoulder of his passenger.
"Wake up, Billy," he said and shook the shoulder again. "We're here."
The boy raised up and looked around. "Dad? Where are we?"
"At a town close to where I grew up. Truth or Consequences."
Billy looked out at the building. "What's this place?"
John looked at the sign on the wall: Emergency Vet Clinic. Inside, he wouldn't find any potassium chloride, but he would most certainly find enough pentobarbital and sodium thiopental. It wouldn't be pretty, but he was tired of running against a force that would eventually find them. At least this way it would be on his terms.
He took a deep breath. He could be honest with the boy, but that wouldn't make it any easier.
"Salvation," he finally said.