Dust and decay, p.1
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       Dust and Decay, p.1

         Part #2 of Benny Imura series by Jonathan Maberry
Dust & Decay


  Also by Jonathan Maberry

  Rot & Ruin


  Special thanks to some real-world people who allowed me to tap them for advice and information, lean on them for support, and in some cases shove them into the middle of the action. My agents, Sara Crowe and Harvey Klinger; my editor, David Gale, and all the good people at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; experts Dr. John Cmar, of Johns Hopkins University Department of Infectious Diseases, and Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us (Thomas Dunne Books); fellow YA authors Nancy Holder, Michael Northrup, Heather Brewer, and Maria V. Snyder; the King of the Zombies George A. Romero; and cadaverine experts Ellery and John Griswold.

  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or

  real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are

  products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales

  or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Jonathan Maberry

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more

  information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at

  1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  Book design by Laurent Linn

  The text for this book is set in Augustal.

  Manufactured in the United States of America 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Maberry, Jonathan.

  Dust & decay / Jonathan Maberry. — 1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: In post-apocalyptic America, fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his friends set out into the great Rot & Ruin hoping to find a better future but are soon pitted against zombies, wild animals, insane murderers, and the horrors of Gameland.

  ISBN 978-1-4424-0235-5 (hardcover)

  [1. Zombies—Fiction. 2. Survival—Fiction. 3. Bounty hunters—Fiction. 4. Brothers—Fiction.] I. Title. II. Title: Dust and decay.

  PZ7.M11164Dus 2011



  ISBN 978-1-4424-0237-9 (eBook)

  Quote from ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King used by permission of the author.

  All rights reserved.

  This one’s for Don Lafferty, Arthur Mensch, and Sam West-Mensch.

  And—as always—for Sara Jo.

  —J. M.



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16


  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31


  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47


  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67


  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapter 79

  Chapter 80




  A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.




  “Why do we have to study this stuff?” he demanded. “We already know what happened. People started turning into zoms, the zoms ate just about everyone, everyone who dies becomes a zom, so the moral of this tale is: Try not to die.”

  Across the kitchen table, his brother, Tom, stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Are you deliberately trying to be an idiot, or is it a natural gift?”

  “I’m serious. We know what happened.”

  “Really? Then how come you spent most of last summer complaining that no one my age tells anyone your age the truth about the living dead?”

  “Telling us is one thing. Essays and pop quizzes are a whole different thing.”

  “Because heaven forbid you should have to remember anything we told you.”

  Benny raised his eyebrows mysteriously and tapped his temple. “I have it all right here in the vast storehouse of knowledge that is me.”

  “Okay, boy genius, then what started the plague?”

  “Easy one,” Benny said. “Nobody knows.”

  “What are the leading theories?”

  Benny jabbed his fork into a big piece of buttered yam, shoved it into his mouth, and chewed noisily as he spoke. It was a move calculated to annoy Tom in three separate ways. Tom hated when he spoke with his mouth full. He hated it when Benny chewed with his mouth open. And it would muffle most of what he said, which meant that Tom had to pay even more attention to the yam-packed mouth from which the muffled words came.

  “Radiation, virus, bioweapon, toxic waste, solar flares, act of God.”

  He rattled it off so there was no break between the words. Also annoying, and worth at least another point on Benny’s personal Annoy-O-Meter.

  Tom sipped his tea and said nothing, but he gave Benny the look.

  Benny sighed and swallowed. “Okay,” he said, “at first people thought it was radiation from a satellite.”

  “Space probe,” corrected Tom.

  “Whatever. But that doesn’t make sense, because one satellite—”

  “Space probe.”

  “—wouldn’t carry enough radioactive material to spread over the entire world.”

  “We think.”

  “Sure,” conceded Benny, “but in science class they told us even if one of the old nuclear power plants did a whatchamacallit, t


  “—wouldn’t be enough radiation to cover the entire planet even though it has more radioactive materials than a satellite.”

  Tom sighed. Benny smiled.

  “What conclusion can you draw from that?”

  “The world wasn’t destroyed by radioactive alien space zombies.”

  “Probably wasn’t destroyed by radioactive alien space zombies,” Tom corrected. “How about a virus?”

  Benny cut a piece of chicken and ate it. Tom was a great cook, and this was one of his better meals. Yams, broiled chicken with mushrooms and almonds, and rich green kale. A loaf of steaming bread made from the last of the winter wheat sat near where Benny could plunder it.

  “Chong’s dad says that a virus needs a living host, and zoms aren’t alive. He said that maybe bacteria or a fungus was sustaining the virus.”

  “Do you know what a bacterium is?”

  “Sure … it’s a bug thingy that makes you sick.”

  “God, I love it when you display the depth of your knowledge. It makes me proud to be your brother.”

  “Kiss my—”


  They grinned at each other.

  It had been nearly seven months since Benny’s lifelong hatred and distrust of Tom had transformed into affection and respect. That process had started last summer, shortly after Benny’s fifteenth birthday. On some level Benny knew that he loved Tom, but since Tom was his brother and this was still the real world, the chances of Benny ever using that L word were somewhere between “no way” and “get out of my way I’m going to throw up.”

  Not that Benny was afraid of the L word when it came to someone better suited for it, namely the fiercely red-haired queen of freckles, Nix Riley. Benny would like very much to toss that word up for her to consider, but he had yet to do so. Shortly after the big fight at the bounty hunters’ camp, when Benny had tentatively tried to bring up the subject, Nix had threatened bodily harm if he said that word. Benny had zipped his mouth shut, understanding completely why the moment had been so inappropriate. Charlie Pink-eye Matthias and the Motor City Hammer had murdered Nix’s mother, and the insane events of the days that followed hadn’t allowed Nix to properly react. Or grieve.

  Those days had been the weirdest mix of absolute horror, black despair, and soaring happiness. The emotions he’d felt didn’t seem to even belong in the same world, let alone the same person.

  Benny gave Nix her time for grief, and he grieved too. Mrs. Riley had been a great lady. Sweet, funny, kind, and always a little sad. Like everyone else in Mountainside, Jessie Riley had suffered terrible losses during First Night. Her husband, her two sons.

  “Everyone lost someone,” Chong often reminded him. Even though they’d been toddlers, Benny and Chong were the only ones among their friends to remember that night. Chong said that it was all a blur of screams and shouts, but Benny remembered it with a peculiar clarity. His mother handing him through a first-floor window to Tom—who was a twenty-year-old cadet at the police academy—and then the pale, shambling thing that had been Dad coming out of the shadows and pulling Mom away. Then Tom running away, his terrified heartbeat hammering like a drum inside the chest to which he held a squirming, screaming Benny.

  Until last year Benny had remembered that First Night in a twisted way. All his life he had believed that Tom had simply run away. That he had not tried to help Mom. That he was a coward.

  Now Benny knew different. Now he knew what kind of torment Tom had suffered to save him. He also knew that when Mom had handed him through the window to Tom, she had already been bitten. She was already lost. Tom had done the only thing he could have done. He ran, and in running had given value to Mom’s sacrifice, and that had saved them both.

  Now Benny was fifteen and a half, and First Night was a million years ago.

  This world was no longer that world. On First Night the old world had died. As the dead rose, the living perished. Cities were incinerated by the military in a futile attempt to stop the growing armies of the dead. The electromagnetic pulses from the nukes fried all electronics. The machines went silent, and soon, so did the whole country. Now everything east of the small town of Mountainside was the great Rot and Ruin. A few other towns littered the foothills of the Sierra Nevada north and south of Benny’s home, but the rest of the old world had been consumed.

  Or … had it?

  During that adventure in the mountains east of town, Benny and Nix had seen something that to them was as inexplicable and potentially world-changing as the zombie plague had been. Flying high, high above them had been a thing Benny had only ever read about in old books.

  A jet.

  A sleek jumbo jet that flew out of the east, banked in a slow circle around the mountains, and then headed back the way it had come. Now Benny and Nix were counting down the days until they left Mountainside to find where the jet had come from. The calendar pinned to the wall by the back door had black Xs over the first ten days of this month. There were seven unmarked days, and then a big red circle around the following Saturday. April 17, one week from today. The words ROAD TRIP were written in block letters below the date.

  Tom thought that the jet was flying in the general direction of Yosemite National Park, which was due east of the town. Benny and Nix had begged Tom for this trip for months, but as the day approached, Benny wasn’t so sure he still wanted to go. It was just that Nix was absolutely determined.

  “Earth to Benny Imura.”

  Benny blinked and heard as an after-echo the sound of Tom snapping his fingers.


  “Jeez … what planet were you orbiting?”

  “Oh … just kind of drifted there.”

  “Nix or the jet?”

  “Little of both.”

  “Must have been more about the jet,” Tom said. “There was less drool.”

  “You are very nearly funny,” said Benny. He looked down at his plate and was mildly surprised that it was empty.

  “Yes,” said Tom, “you were eating on autopilot. It was fascinating to watch.”

  There was a knock on the door. Benny shot to his feet and crossed the kitchen to the back door. He was smiling as he undid the locks.

  “That’s got to be Nix,” he said as he pulled it open. “Hey, sweetie …”

  Morgie Mitchell and Lou Chong stood on the back porch. “Um,” said Chong, “hello to you, too, sugar lumps.”


  BENNY STARTED TO SAY SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE WILDLY CRUDE AND physically improbable, but then a smaller shape pushed her way between the bulky Morgie and the wiry Chong. Even though he saw her every day, seeing her again always made his heart bang around like a crazy monkey.

  “Nix,” he said, smiling.

  “‘Sweetie’?” she asked. Not smiling.

  It wasn’t the sort of thing he ever said to her. Not out loud, and he could kick himself for letting it slip. He fished for a clever comment to save the moment, aware that Tom was watching all this from the table, and Morgie and Chong were grinning like ghouls.

  “Well,” he said, “I—uhh …”

  “You’re so smooth,” Nix said, and pushed past him into the kitchen.

  Chong and Morgie mimed kissy faces at him.

  “Expect to be murdered,” Benny threatened. “Painfully and soon.”

  “Yes, snookums,” said Morgie as he followed Chong into the kitchen.

  Benny took a few seconds to gather the fractured pieces of his wits. Then he turned and closed the door, doing it very carefully even though slamming it would have felt much better.

  After her mother died, Nix had first moved in with Benny and Tom, but then Fran Kirsch, wife of the mayor and their next-door neighbor, suggested that a young girl might prefer to live in a house with other females. Benny tried to argue that Nix had her own room—his room—and that he didn’t mind sleeping on the living room couch, but Mrs. Kirsch didn’t buckle. Nix moved into the Kirschs’ spare

  Nix and the boys crowded onto chairs at the table and were doing a pretty good imitation of vultures with the leftovers. Tom settled back into his chair, and Benny reclaimed his.

  “We training this evening?” Morgie asked.

  Tom nodded. “Road trip’s coming up, remember? Benny and Nix have to be ready, and you two guys need to stay sharp, Morgie. Who knows what you will have to face in the future?”

  “You’ve been working them pretty hard,” said Chong.

  “Have to. Everything we do from now on will be about getting ready for the trip. It’s—”

  “—not a vacation,” Benny completed. “Yes. You’ve mentioned that thirty or forty thousand times. I just thought we’d have, y’know, a night off.”

  “Night off?” echoed Nix. “I wish we were leaving right now.”

  Benny dodged that subject by asking, “Where’s Lilah?”

  Lilah was the newest member of their pack. A year older and infinitely stranger, she had grown up out in the Ruin, raised for a few years by a man who had helped to rescue her during First Night, and then living on her own for years afterward. She was more than half feral, moody, almost always silent, and incredibly beautiful. The Lost Girl, they called her on the Zombie Cards. A legend or myth to most people, until Tom and Benny proved that she existed. She wanted to go with Benny, Nix, and Tom into the Ruin to find the jet.

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