Read The academy: book 1 Online

Authors: Leito, Chad

The academy: book 1

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The Academy

ChadLeito

 

 

 

1

 

Asa’s Dad’s Friend’s Dog

 

              Asa was listening to the radio before he was pulled over by the cop and it all began. An unusual amount of crows sat in the trees surrounding White Bridge Road, watching Asa’s car cruise by.

             The steering wheel of the old Volvo vibrated beneath his hands, the suspension unable to keep up with the rocky terrain beneath the tires. He leaned forward and squinted into the summer night; the weak, yellow beams of the rusty car didn’t penetrate far into the country road. Every once in a while he saw a pair of eyes staring out at him from the thick woods that surrounded as he passed on the unmarked stretch of land.

             Asa was fourteen years old and did not have a driver’s license.

             The Volvo had been his mother’s. It still smelled like her, Asa thought. The cracked red leather on the seats, the chipped mahogany dash, and the matless floorboards all reminded him of her. Asa missed his mother, but the thought of her did not pain him; it made him happy to remember her.

Through the speakers in the car that she had bought,a late night radio program was playing. It bothered him to hear about the pandemic going on, but he found that he was not able to reach up and turn it off. The voice was vibrant, cheerful, and seemed almost mocking when juxtaposed with such serious subject matter.

             “You’re listening to Dritt PM, the only place to get news, weather, and more live in the wee hours of the morning beneath the Dritt Texas sky. I’m Chuck Morgan, your host, and joining me today will be biologist Dr. Jaime Harrett from the Dritt Institute of Technology, right down the road. Dr. Harrett, how are you doing this evening?”

             “Wonderful.”

             Asa glanced in his rearviews and saw nothing. Dritt PM had been a nighttime-news station his whole life. It was completely absurd and unnecessary. The town of ten-thousand didn’t need a live radio station that played from midnight to six in the morning, but it had one; just like it didn’t need a theme park, a zoo and the biggest man-made reservoir in the world, but they were there too. When you live in a town with Robert King’s son, you have access to a lot of things that you don’t need. Asa had heard that Cobb King suffered from insomnia, so he bought a whole radio station just so that he could listen to it if he went for a nighttime drive.

             Chuck Morgan’s voice was articulate and showed no sign of tiring. “That’s great. As we said before commercial break, Dr. Jaime Harrett is on air with us tonight to talk about the sickness that’s on everyone’s mind—the Wolf Flu. Dr. Harrett, thanks for being here so late. I would imagine that you’d usually be in bed by two in the morning and I appreciate you being here.”

             “My pleasure.”

             Asa shifted in his seat at the sound and furrowed his eyebrows. The Volvo’s sound system wasn’t the best, but he could hear that Dr. Harrett’s voice was going hoarse. A sore throat was usually an early sign, and even though Asa had seen countless people fall to the virus, it still made him uncomfortable to know that this woman could be sick.

             Chuck went on—“If you would, please give our listeners a little intro into the Wolf Flu. I understand that most people, if not everyone, is familiar with the virus by now, but just in case, would you say a few words explaining what it is, talk about the symptoms and why it’s relevant?”

             “Sure,” she croaked out, and then cleared her throat. Asa turned up the radio. “The Wolf Flu is, as you’ve said, a virus. It’s not actually a strand of the flu, as the name leads people to think. An immunologist at Harvard University named it whenever people still thought that the virus was a newer, stronger version of the flu. Now, we know better. We know that we don’t know what this thing is…” she began to laugh without humor, which turned into a rasping, horrible cough. “So, we don’t know exactly what the Wolf Flu is, but we do know a few things about it. It causes immune suppression, abdominal tenderness, sclera icterus, rash, fever, severely increased mucus production, hacking cough, weight loss, vomiting in some cases and death in all cases.”

             It was quiet for a second and only static came through the radio. The words echoed through Asa’s mind again—and death in all cases. He knew it was true, but hearing it still gave him chills.

             Dr. Harrett continued—“It spreads at an incredible rate. The death toll of this thing is unmatched by anything that we’ve seen before, and we don’t know if anyone is immune or how to stop it.” She began to hack and cough into the microphone.

             There was silence on the radio and then Asa heard papers ruffling. He was still leaning forward, staring at the road ahead. Even at thirty miles per hour, White Bridge Road could be dangerous at night. It was seldom travelled, which is why Asa chose to drive on it. Highway 44 ran parallel with White Bridge, but the highway was six lanes, and White Bridge was only two. The old, country road was mostly abandoned except for cows, the occasional tractor, and Asa, who sometimes liked to drive at night when he couldn’t sleep. He was only fourteen years old and he didn’t want to risk being pulled over on 44, so he took White Bridge. Most of the officers in town would understand his situation; there were millions of kids like him; both parents dead with no one to look after them. The Wolf Flu had swept the US so fast that the public social services didn’t have a chance to sort all the kids out into foster homes. Even if they had been able to, there weren’t enough foster homes to handle all of them. Kids had to get around, and with no parents to drive them, they had to learn how to drive themselves. But still, Asa didn’t want to risk getting pulled over by a cop having a bad night. The laws hadn’t changed, just how most of the officers enforced them.

             Dr. Harrett’s voice came through again: “Last I heard, the global population’s been cut in half, but it’s impossible to have good, hard numbers on the Wolf Flu. It moves so fast. No one had even heard of it two years ago.”

             Asa remembered when the information first reached him. An electron-microscope image of the virus was on the front page of the New York Times. The article was saying that Latvia was suffering from an elusive, and frighteningly effective strand of the flu. When you read things about distant countries with funny languages, you never expect it to affect you. But six months ago Asa had been holding wet rags to his mother’s burning forehead. He had felt so helpless those times. There was nothing that he could have done for her. The hospitals wouldn’t see her. They were packed. When she died, the funeral was sparsely populated. Everyone was in the hospital, Asa guessed.

             Chuck’s voice was happy and confident, “and what do we know about the physical properties of the virus? Can you tell us a little more about how it infects people and what exactly it does?”

             “It’s dark matter, as far as we’re concerned. We don’t know. It doesn’t make sense with what we have about viruses so far. It’s a contradiction to every rule we’ve seen. We can’t tell how it passes, and it makes some people undergo harsh mutations, but not everyone. For some, the effects look similar to cancer. We know surprisingly little about this thing and that’s what makes this a dire, serious situation.”

             There was a flash of light from the corner of Asa’s eye and then he was searching the rearview for what he thought he saw. He wasn’t looking ahead, and wasn’t aware that he was putting more pressure on the gas. The radio was silent for another moment. The interview was awkward; there wasn’t much to say about the Wolf Flu that everyone didn’t already know. Asa wanted to know if they would talk some about Robert King, Cobb’s father and the man who paid for the radio station, but he guessed that they wouldn’t. Not many people had good things to say about the man, Asa included. They probably weren’t going to speak poorly of him when he’s paying the bills.

             A burst of red light flittered through the trees a half-mile behind the Volvo and then disappeared. Asa flipped off the radio and could now only hear the groan of the engine and the rattling and squeaking the metal of the old car made. He stared into his mirrors and saw nothing. He scanned around and concentrated his hearing, listening for the whine of a siren. He sighed and was about to turn the radio back on when the police car pulled out onto White Bridge Road behind him, sirens and lights announcing its presence.

             Asa cursed loudly to himself and kept on going. The police vehicle was still over half a mile behind him. Asa searched the road for side streets. He didn’t think that he could outrun a cop. But maybe if he tried, they wouldn’t care to follow.

             He didn’t think an officer would arrest him if they caught him out driving, but he knew that they could. His car wasn’t registered, he didn’t have a license on his fourteen-year-old person, and he hadn’t paid a single tax on the small house that his mother had left him. The bills had come, but he didn’t have the money.

             Asa could now hear the siren screaming behind him and that the police car was speeding to catch him. The cop car weaved in and out of its lane, lights illuminating the forest around it. It was as if the person driving was drunk. Asa’s heart was beating in his chest. He did not know why this officer would want to pull him over. He wasn’t speeding. All his lights were in order.

             Asa steered the Volvo over to the side of the road and began to slow, hoping the police car would skirt by him, in an emergency of some kind that had nothing to do with him. He made a promise to himself to drive less if this happened. He watched the swerving, speeding cop car behind him. He heard the siren and the pulse in his ears and neck. His mouth had gone dry. His palms had started to sweat as they always did when he was terribly nervous.

             Despite Asa’s wishes, the police car slowed to a crawl behind the Volvo. Asa pressed down on the brakes, put the Volvo in park, and sat there. The police car parked behind him at a cockeyed angle. The siren turned off, but the lights stayed on, alternating red and blue into the cabin of the car that used to be Asa’s mom’s.

             Asa wondered if there was any kind of old registration in the glove box. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and put his hands on the steering wheel. He had heard of people getting shot by officers because they weren’t showing their hands. It was an extreme thing to happen, but these were extreme times. The murder rates had skyrocketed since the Wolf Flu hit America, and the police were as on-edge as anyone.

             Asa tried to breathe and thought that he didn’t have any money if they wanted him to pay a ticket. The owner of the LuckyStop down the road from his house knew his mother and gave Asa all the gas and food he needed. He had no cash to buy anything with. He looked in the rearview and saw that the officer was not yet out of his car. Then, running through his associations with the word ‘cash,’ his mind fluttered to Robert King, or as some called him ‘The Boss.’

The Boss ownedAlfatrex, the one and only company that has produced even a semi-effective drug against the Wolf Flu. The injection was painful and expensive. For two hundred dollars they would stick a six-inch needle in your back and inject what felt like battery acid into you. The Wolf Flu vaccine had apparently been proven to ‘significantly reduce’ a person’s likelihood of contracting the virus, whatever that means. And you had to get it once a month, or they said that it wasn’t effective. Robert King was the world’s first trillionaire, or so some thought. No one really knew how much money he had. Often times, when the gas station was closed and Asa was hungry, he thought of how awful he would feel to be the richest man in history and to not be donating a dime to assist in the biggest pandemic of all time, much worse than the one before it, the Spanish influenza. The Boss said that his contributions came in his work from Alfatrex, but god knew that his time wasn’t free.

The cruiser’s driver door opened and a huge bootslammed down onto the dirt. Asa kept his hands on the wheel and watched the officer through his rearview. A giant hand gripped the roof of the police car, making it shake, and the officer stood up so that Asa could see him for the first time. He was a big, solid man, who was evenly spread out and thick in every area of his body. The driver door slammed shut, and the officer stepped into better light.

Asa’s head cocked when he saw the man, confused. He was balding and sparse strings of greasy red hair covered half of his ears, ran over his collar, and pasted onto his forehead with a thin layer of sweat. His uniform shirt wasuntucked in places, and the buttons didn’t match up just right. The two things that alarmed Asa the most were the man’s face and the way he was walking. The officer was large all over, but his face was gaunt, and thin. His skull was huge, and on top of it was tight, pale, freckle scattered skin that sunk in at the cheeks and in the dark bags underneath his eyes. He looked as though he hadn’t eaten for days. He looked left and right as he walked, his eyes shot through the forest as though there was a predator lurking for him deep in the brush. He walked with the sloppy certainty of a man who has had a stroke but doesn’t know it. His feet limped and he was walking in crooked line, his boots making dirt clouds in the road as he made his way over the gravel to the Volvo.

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