“Don’t you think they’ll just believe he got thrown from the crash? Animals got to him?”
“You’re forgetting, I volunteered a time or two with the Search and Rescue team. They won’t stop looking until they have the remains of all the victims. Besides, I’ve already called around. They have a body that fits our needs in the next county over. We’ll put it under what’s left of the fuel tank and light it, and they’ll never know it wasn’t him.”
Their words echoed in his head. Okay, he must be imagining things. Head injury, he thought. Then a pain hit, as if someone had a vise grip on his rib cage. It grew so intense that he screamed out. When it finally let go, he pulled Baxter’s collar up to his chest and held onto it. Then he let out a breath and tried to slip back into nothingness.
Chase smelled smoke. He felt cold. Colder than even the ice he rested on. Fever. He had a fever. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out. Five minutes, or five hours. It didn’t matter, he told himself. He wasn’t sure anything mattered if what he believed about his parents, sister, and Tami was true.
He didn’t know what hurt the most. His body or his heart. And then suddenly he did know. His heart. He’d lost his family. Lost his dog. Lost everyone.
All of a sudden he heard footsteps coming his way. Another pain started at the top of his neck and crawled down his spine. He arched his back and moaned.
“Come on, boy. Let’s get out of here.”
Chase felt someone pick him up as if he weighed nothing. He opened his eyes. “Put me down,” he said, the words barely a whisper.
“Sorry, son. We gotta go.”
“What about the tracks?” the other man asked.
“Run some brush over them. With this weather, the team won’t make it down here for another twelve to fifteen hours.”
Chase was suddenly lifted from the ground. Up like he was floating. No, like he was flying. He turned his head away from the man’s chest who held him close. He was about sixty feet in the air, looking down at the plane crash. The last thing he saw before he passed out again was the smoke coming from part of the wreckage.
Chase heard voices. He lifted his eyelids, not sure where he was. Raising his head off a pillow, he stared at the bedside table and saw the dog collar Tami had given him.
Memories started ping-ponging around his head. Tami. The plane. The crash. The light. The two men.
Grief swelled in his chest and threatened to drown him. Nothing but pride stopped him from curling up in a little ball and sobbing.
Then other vague flashes started filling his head. Time in this bed. In pain. Fever. He’d had a high fever. He recalled the man, the one who’d worn the white lab coat, the one who’d showed up at the plane crash, sitting by his side. He could almost feel him now, running cold towels over him. His words had been calming. Telling Chase that he would be okay. That the pain would end soon.
It hadn’t felt like he would be okay. He’d hurt like hell.
Chase spotted a glass beside the dog collar. He remembered the man bringing him something to drink. It had tasted like some kind of berry concoction, but better than anything he’d ever tasted. When he’d finished one glass, he’d asked for more. But the man said he couldn’t drink too much. Chase had growled at the man, sounding almost animallike, not knowing where the urge had come from.
Another noise sounded outside the bedroom door. Chase pushed the memories away and sat up a bit. Suddenly, the berry smell filled his senses again. The door opened and the man carried in another glass.
Chase swallowed as his mouth watered. He sat up. He didn’t ask, but the man sat down on the edge of the mattress and put the glass in Chase’s hands.
He brought it to his lips and drank greedily. When he’d finished, the man took the glass from him.
“Do you remember anything?” he asked.
The momentary relief from the grief disappeared. The drowning sensation returned. “The plane crashed.”
He guy nodded. “I’m sorry for your loss. Your father was a good man.”
Chase recalled seeing this man in the lab when they’d gone for the test. “Are you Jimmy?”
Chase’s gut tightened. “My dad didn’t trust you to look out for me,” he said without thinking.
Jimmy sighed. “We were just getting to know each other. But I’ve done all I can to help you. And I will continue to help you.”
Chase looked around. “Why am I not in the hospital? I was in a plane crash for God’s sake.”
Jimmy reached out and touched Chase’s arm. “Do you remember what bad shape you were in?” he asked. “Do you see any wounds on you now? Are any of your bones broken?”
Chase looked down at his arms. He had a vague memory of not being able to move his right arm, and he hadn’t been able to feel his legs. Fear swirled around his chest. He yanked the covers back, exposing his legs. He bent his knees up and then lowered them back on the bed. No wounds. No broken bones. He looked up. How could … “What happened?”
“There’s a virus. The VI virus. Your father, you, and your sister were all carriers. It’s—”
“No!” Chase remembered what his sister had said about the strange virus. The virus that made people … made people crave blood. His gaze shot to the glass in the man’s hands. Was it blood?
“No,” Chase repeated. “This is crazy. I don’t believe in …”