Following a distress call from the State Police, Dr. Edward Neil and a team from the Centers for Disease Control enter the small town of Hartworth, Montana. Immediately they encounter a man in a pickup truck holding a quarantine post. His body decimated by a disease like they have never seen. The entire town, population a little under a thousand … dead. Men, women and children. The unknown germ hit so fast, the town did not stand a chance of survival. But it didn’t hit so fast that they couldn’t shut down and protect others from what they had.
It is a race against the clock and not only must Edward Neil discover what wiped out the small town in just a couple days, he needs to determine if it crossed boundaries. The germ is strong, contagious, deadly and fast.. If it did escape Hartworth, humanity could very well face an extinction level event.
The germ frightens Edward more than anything he has ever encountered. More so because he learns quickly it is manmade. A biological weapon gone awry. As he fights and chases his answers, he must also ponder the question whether or not it is already too late.
Ground Zero - 1
The wide eyes seemed to stare at Dr. Edward Neil, following him around the room like a painting. Eyes that were open, didn’t blink, the color of them lost in the blood flow that had poured into the white portion of the eyeball and turned black.
The victim had to be in his twenties and he, like everyone else Edward Neil guessed that he would encounter in Hartworth, Montana, was dead.
The quiet, small town, nestled in the north of the state close to North Dakota and Canada, was an entity all to itself.
The nearest neighboring town was forty-three miles west.
It had been days since a car moved down the road or a person walked the streets
That’s what Edward estimated.
They entered into the town alone in protective garb. A fresh blanket of snow lay upon the unmoved cars, covering the Christmas decorations that gave even more a depth of sadness to the situation.
The song, Silent Night, would forever hold new meaning. It eerily played on ‘auto’ through the streets of the town.
There were homes and ranches within the boundaries of Hartworth; those had to be checked, as well. But Edward felt it would be useless.
They would bring no one else into the town until he and his team had thoroughly gone through and confirmed what had occurred.
Edward hadn’t a clue what killed everyone, not yet. Skin appeared as if it boiled below the surface, black as if burned, but it wasn’t charred; it was blood. Skin peeled off in layers and adhered to the bedding. This more than likely occurred while the victim was still alive. It happened only after they literally vomited their insides, and blood seeped from every orifice.
He stopped about five victims into his search and made his way to the utilitarian metal lab trailer set center of the one-stoplight town.
After disinfecting, he removed his garb and poured a cup of coffee. They’d only just set up, had not been in town that long, and already Neil felt the wind knocked from him.
He sipped his coffee. It made him sick. He had been in the field and worked for the CDC for years; never had he seen anything as horrendous as Hartworth, and he’d barely scratched the surface. When the call came about Hartworth, he was back in Vermont actually joking around with Dr. Walker about a zombie apocalypse. The odd timing of the call coupled with the conversation sent a chill up his spine.
Receiving only minimal details and a directive to pack a small team and go, Edward knew he wouldn’t be home for Christmas.
It was strictly confidential. In fact, Edward had never encountered something as classified as this.
A small team would go into Hartworth; four CDC security squads would police the neighboring roads wearing gas company logos. The story was a gas leak.
Hartworth, like many small Montana towns, was an entity of its own, so it wasn’t uncommon for someone from a neighboring town to go days or even weeks without having contact with Hartworth.
Because of that, Edward hadn’t a clue when the outbreak occurred or how long they were dead. Those were part of the answers he had to discover.
The dead town, however, was luckily discovered by a keen state trooper, Steve Irwin, who had a cousin that worked as a secretary for the CDC in Atlanta.
The trooper was at a crossroads about six miles from town and thought it odd that at two in the afternoon, there were no car tracks in the snow, nor had any attempt been made to maintain or ash the roads out of Hartworth.
He needed only to make it to the edge of town, and he knew.
He discovered the first body in a pickup truck right at the beginning of town, decimated by illness. The young man held a shot gun and looked as if he were standing guard, or rather sitting guard.
Irwin took a picture of it with his phone, and before calling it in to the station, he called his cousin at the CDC. The trooper’s slip in protocol was actually a good thing. It worked in favor of keeping the situation tight-lipped and secret.
The picture went through the CDC faster than any disease.
Irwin was told not to go into town, to report it as a gas leak, and position troopers on the outskirts to keep people away.
He did. Irwin and the other troopers immediately went into quarantine in a special CDC trailer.
As far as the story of the gas leak told to the State Police, Edward was still fielding questions regarding that.
Something he could handle
What he couldn’t handle was the daunting task of solving the mystery before him. He would with the others, bit by bit, piece by piece, body by body.
He had to do so quickly, because with something as deadly as what wiped out Hartworth, Edward was certain he didn’t have much time.
But before he found the answers to what happened in Hartworth, he had one very important task to complete. First and foremost he had to find out if the bug crossed boundaries. If it did, the CDC had bigger problems to face than just one small dot on the map.