The end of the world started with a fucking armadillo. Joel Miller, who was currently trying to
free the roadkill from the grill of his ATV, had no way to know this, though. No way to know he was patient zero. No way to know that the moment the armadillo had crossed his path, had been obliterated into a fine red mist by his four-wheeler and sprayed all over Joel’s pudgy red face, he’d kickstarted the apocalypse. As Joel poked a bit of viscera through the slats of t he grill, screwing his face up in displeasure, he was utterly oblivious to the fact that a plague was sinking into his skin, racing through his veins, breaching the blood-brain barrier and digging its claws into every cell it touched.
The roar of a four-wheeler coming up behind him distracted him from his task, but it did not
distract the disease bubbling beneath the derma. Joel turned on a heel, his weight bearing him down
into the mud left behind by the late summer thunderstorms. His camouflage was covered in mud, but
that had never bothered him before, and he straightened up a bit as Keith’s quad spit dirt up over the
oak trees that lined the trail. “You hit somethin’, Joey?”
“An armadillo,” Joey mumbled, rotating back to look at the grill of his four-wheeler, his pants
riding down in the back and exposing an expanse of fleshy white skin. When he and Keith had been
teenagers, Keith had made a sport of tossing quarters into Joey’s buttcrack and seeing how many he
could get in there before Joey inevitably noticed. It was cheaper than the arcade, and in most cases,
more entertaining. “These fuckin’ things.”
“Yeah. Those fuckin’ things,” Keith commiserated.
Out there, off the shores of the Brazos River, deep in the heart of the Texas hill country, those
fuckin’ things had evolved into perfect little bombs of a super plague, immune to drugs and newly
capable of hopping from animal to man. When startled, the armadillo jumped seven feet in the air and
came back down, hard, capable of smashing windshields and denting car hoods, obliterating itself in the process but spreading the ultimate biological weapon. In the days to come, after Joel and Keith got back to Bastrop and after the tiny town was overrun by something unavoidable and utterly awful, the less sensitive of the survivors would point to the armadillos as the ultimate defense mechanism of Mother Nature, as her final warning to humans: back off, or die.
To Joel, it was just a mess of blood and guts stuck in his eyelashes, the downy hair of his face,
the shock of red curls that was receding on his head.
“Got it,” Joel said, yanking out the mess that had been a living animal and groaning a bit as he
tossed it aside. He stood up, wiping his blood-covered hands down on the worn denim of his jeans and looking at Keith. “You ready to go?”
Keith nodded, giving the gore a look of disdain before he mounted his own quad, grinning over
at his best friend, neither of them aware in the slightest that the moment they stepped foot in town
they were exposing everyone in it to a plague they were incapable of staving off. “Let’s get going. Sun
should be settin’ soon, and there’s way worse things out here than armadillos.”