By Mira Grant
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There are two sides to every story. . .
We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we unleashed something horrifying and unstoppable. The infection spread leaving those afflicted with a single uncontrollable impulse: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, a team of scrappy underdog reporters relentlessly pursue the facts while competing against the brother-and-sister blog superstars, the Masons.
Surrounded by the infected, and facing more insidious forces working in the shadows, they must hit the presidential campaign trail and uncover dangerous truths. Or die trying.
More from Mira Grant:
Praise for Feed:
"It's a novel with as much brains as heart, and both are filling and delicious."―The A. V. Club
"Gripping, thrilling, and brutal… McGuire has crafted a masterpiece of suspense with engaging, appealing characters who conduct a soul-shredding examination of what's true and what's reported."―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Feed is a proper thriller with zombies.” —SFX
Table of Contents
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It's not what's true that matters. It's what people remember when the dust dies down.
You haven't experienced real joy until the first time you've improvised a zombie trap from six yards of chicken wire, a bunch of old lumber, some string, and a guinea pig. I mean damn, people. That's living.
—AISLINN "ASH" NORTH
My mother was a goddamn national hero.
She lived in Oakland before the Rising, and she was there when everything started going down. Just her, my grandma, and four kids. I was the youngest. Four years old, full of piss and vinegar and random fits of defiance. Too big to keep locked in a playpen, too small to understand what was happening, or why Mama cried all the time, or why the apartment was suddenly full of guns and strangers. I don't remember much about those days. It's just flashes, little glimpses of things my mind has mercifully decided I don't really need to know.
I had two brothers once. I know that. I still have a sister. She was seven in 2014, and she wrapped herself around me like a blanket, and we both rode out the storm.
The world will never know what my mama did to save us. Just trust me: She was a hero.
We buried her this morning. Her name will never appear on the Wall.
—From That Isn't Johnny Anymore, the blog of Ben Ross,
May 16, 2039
The world isn't so good with funerals anymore.
Deaths, sure; we have plenty of those. We can give you death in any shape or size you want. Good death, bad death, slow death, fast death—the modern world is the fucking Amazon.com of dying. Maybe it wasn't like that before the Rising hit and the dead started to walk, but hey, guess what: All that shit happened, and now we're the rats in the wreckage, living and dying in the aftermath of our parents' mistakes.
2014. That was the year when everything changed, when a bunch of bored jerks broke into a lab and let a nifty synthetic virus out into the world to have a party in the stratosphere. Only the virus didn't stay up there, where it wasn't hurting anybody. It dropped back down to Earth and got to work infecting people. Maybe that would have been cool—I've never had a head cold or a stuffy nose, and I understand that those were right annoying—but it met up with another nifty synthetic virus, and the two of them hit it off right away. They got right to the business of having babies, and like all babies, these ones took after both sides of the family. They got their airborne daddy's communicability. They got their slower, stealthier mama's adaptability. And then they got the world as a birthday present. Where Kellis-Amberlee walked, the dead got up and joined in the fun.
So yeah, we're real good at dying. Every human on this planet has been in a full-time immersion course on the subject since the summer of 2014. What we're not good at is burying our dead without putting a bullet between their eyes first.
I'd been waiting across the street from the funeral home for the better part of an hour, fussing with the hem of my floral sundress and wishing for an excuse to go do something else. Anything else. Taxes? I'm there. Trip to the licensing board to explain why my tracker sometimes went offline for no apparent reason? Okay, I'm your girl. Cleaning out my in-boxes on the various social media sites that I was supposedly curating for the team? All right, let's not push it. Although it still might have been easier on my nerves.
Loitering has been illegal essentially forever, even before the Rising, although it used to be more erratically prosecuted. People got more nervous about it once we started coexisting with zombies, since now the weird guy who's been standing on the corner for the last hour watching the traffic lights change is potentially getting ready to eat you and your entire family. The patrol cars had been circling the block with increasing frequency, and I was pretty sure all the local CCTV cameras were focused on me, waiting for the moment when I did something actionable. Again, technically, loitering was actionable: I was breaking the law by staying exactly where I was. But the local cops would have needed to get out of their vehicles to mess with me, and that would have put them out in the open. Nobody likes being out in the open.
Well. Most people don't like being out in the open. The majority of the human population would be perfectly happy living and dying in hermetically sealed little rooms, never seeing the outside world again. Most people are pretty terrible, really.
A patrol car appeared around the corner, slowing until it was creeping along at maybe three miles per hour, the officers inside watching me suspiciously through the closed window. They were getting bolder, which meant they were getting ready to ask why I was mooching around the streets alone, with no visible weaponry. I stayed where I was, crouched gargoyle-style atop a weird modern art piece that had been installed to commemorate local victims of the Rising, and dipped a hand into my purse.
Before the dead walked, that sort of thing could have gotten me killed. Reaching into a bag while under police surveillance was likely to be interpreted as reaching for a gun—and back then, just having a firearm in the presence of the cops was considered a totally valid reason for them to start shooting. If the Rising hadn't happened when it did, the police would probably have triggered a civil war. That would have been even nastier than the zombies, if you ask me. At least zombies were acting on hunger and instinct and blind need, not racism and paranoia and carefully nurtured power trips.
The patrol car slowed to a stop as I pulled out my license and held it out for both them and the nearest cameras to see. The thumbnail photo of me had been taken right after a bad haircut and a worse bar fight, which was why I kept it: Given my line of work, if someone was ever trying to identify my body it was a pretty sure thing that I'd be covered in bruises and rocking some seriously hideous hair.
"Aislinn North, journalist, license number IQL-33972." The "I" identified me as a journalist of foreign origin, granted permission to work on American soil. "I'm waiting for my colleague, Benjamin Ross, who is currently engaged in a legal visit to the Oumet Brothers Funeral Home." I nodded meaningfully toward the building on the other side of the street. "This is a public street. I don't have to file any paperwork to be here, and as a licensed journalist, I'm exempt from local vagrancy and loitering restrictions. Now shoo. I'm working."
I grinned, revealing the gap where my left incisor had been prior to a nasty encounter with a man who thought that running a zombie dog-fighting ring would be a great way to spend his twilight years. Ben always says I'd be more photogenic and pull better ratings if I got it fixed, but Ben can stuff it. I don't have the time or patience to mess around with dentures and bridges, and given the odds and how I tend to do my job, I'll probably be a zombie someday. Being a zombie with unbreakable titanium implants in my mouth seems like an asshole thing to do. Besides, I hate dentists. They act like everyone is a walking biohazard zone, like it's somehow our fault that they decided to go into a profession that involves blood.
The policemen stared at me, mouths open and eyes wide, before hitting the gas and roaring down the road, probably breaking several municipal speed laws in the process. I didn't know for sure. Northern California's weird local regulations were a little outside of my comfort zone. Give me a small town in the Irish countryside, surrounded by rolling hills and burial mounds, and I'm your girl. Give me a city that should have been abandoned during the Rising, where the skyscrapers are just one more excuse for people to lock themselves away from the natural world, and I can rock it. But the suburbs of California? Nah. Unsafe, uncool, and not my favorite place to kill an afternoon.
The doors of the funeral home opened as the mourners began emerging. There was no reception line for people to tell the family how sorry they were: That had been handled inside, followed by the line for the blood tests that would clear them to go back out into the world. No one looked around or even hesitated as they beelined for their respective cars, unlocking the doors, sliding inside, and shutting themselves in the latest in the series of boxes that defined their lives. I would have been impressed by how efficient they were, if I hadn't been so busy shaking my head at their cowardice.
"World didn't end when the virus hit, you assholes," I muttered, shifting positions atop the statue. The bronze was warm where it touched my skin. I could have stayed where I was all day long, bored but comfortable.
Fortunately, I didn't have to. The crowd finished flooding into the parking lot, and there was a moment of chaos while they all tried to leave at the same time, cramming their cars into the exit without stopping to think about the fact that this was going to slow everybody down. I tapped the camera attached to my dress strap, zooming in on gridlock. The footage might be useful for something later, if I could go for a tight enough focus to keep people from realizing that it had been shot at a funeral home. No one likes to be reminded of the finality of death, and footage that forces that reminder never plays well. Kinda ironic, given how well the finality of death plays for an audience when it's up and walking around, taking bites out of the neighbors. A good zombie video is still money in the bank, even all these years after the end of the old world and the beginning of the new.
The last car pulled away. The funeral home was still, save for a few crows that had landed on the lawn and were now pecking at the grass. They took wing, cawing frantically, as the door swung open one last time and a tall, angular black man in an even blacker suit stepped out, his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun.
I didn't wave. I didn't move. Ben was always trying to take in as much of his environment as he could. His defense against the so-called glare was just as likely to be his attempt to steal a moment to get the lay of the land. That was my cue to blend in as much as I could, settling into the deep, utterly practiced stillness that had seen me through my childhood.
Ben scanned the street for a few seconds before his eyes focused on me. Raising one hand, he signed "okay" in my direction, signaling that I had been well and truly spotted. I nodded, coming out of my crouch and sliding down from the statue.
The soft thump when I hit the sidewalk was almost obscured by the sound of wind rustling through the eucalyptus trees. I reached up and patted my former perch fondly. Much as I'd hated being here, the statue had been a good place to kill the afternoon, and I was going to miss it, at least until I found something else to sit on, some new high ground to claim. There was always new high ground. It was all a matter of knowing how to look for it.
"Ash," said Ben, once he was close enough to speak without shouting. He never did enjoy raising his voice, not even in an emergency. "Any trouble?"
"Some local cops got a trifle too interested in me when I didn't move for an hour, but I showed them my license and they moved on," I said. "I'm guessing I'll have a ping from the licensing board by the weekend, reminding me that the police are not here for my amusement and should be treated with respect. Aside from that, there was nothing. No shamblers, no ramblers, no major local alerts. We missed a few little stories. Someone broke into a mini-mart near Mount Diablo—they named the mountain after the devil, Ben, this is where you've brought me—and someone else started a fire when they tried to cremate their dead parakeet. Nothing worth chasing. Hell, I wouldn't even have turned my camera on if we'd been there."
Now Ben looked amused, despite the pain lurking in his dark eyes. He was asking about the news because that was who he was: That was how he coped. I was less clear on why I was going along with it. Ben might be all about repression, but I've never seen the point of it.
Maybe that's why we're still married, apart from all the nonsense with immigration and then his mum getting sick and everything. I'm afraid that if I divorced him without someone else standing ready to take my place as terrible influence, he'd crawl into his own head and never come out again.
"You know," he said, "I don't think I've ever seen you turn your cameras off."
"True," I said, blithely. "Did you know that border guards have scramblers in their collars to keep their faces from showing up on video? It's like they think people would illegally film the customs process."
Ben raised an eyebrow.
"This is where you point out that one, I do illegally film the customs process, and two, Mat unscrambles that sort of shit in their sleep, and so what's the big deal? I'll tell you what the big deal is, Ben. The big deal is how it shows an essential lack of faith in the population." I crossed my arms and pouted as exaggeratedly as I could. "Am I not an American citizen now? Do I not deserve the benefit of the doubt?"
"You've been an American citizen for less than two years," said Ben. "Talk to me again once you've been tapped for jury duty and lost a week to sitting in a little box, staring at a bunch of grandstanding attorneys who see you as their ticket to a top-rated Internet talk show."
I snorted, but I didn't argue. The fondness of attorneys for shoving journalists in their jury box was well documented, even if being a journalist had been a get-out-of-jury-free card before the Rising. Making us serve was a way to punish us for our tendency to film whatever the hell we wanted—which had led to a whole lot of convictions over the years, including a few murder cases, which had become notoriously hard to prosecute since Johnston's Law made manslaughter impossible in high-hazard zones and Willis's Law made "he was a zombie when I shot him" a valid defense. Kellis-Amberlee activated in the blood almost instantly upon disruption of the body's electrical systems, no matter what caused the disruption. Shoot somebody in the forehead and they'd die without reanimating, but any blood tests you cared to do would still show that boy howdy, they'd sure been a zombie when you took them out. Naughty, naughty zombies, always trying to eat the living.
Journalists screwed that up. Journalists did weird shit like strapping cameras to crows in order to get overhead shots of the city, and sometimes that meant we turned a misdemeanor "you shouldn't discharge an unlicensed firearm after nine o'clock in a school zone" into a rare felony "you shouldn't kill people, it's rude." So the attorneys made us suffer for our sins whenever they could, knowing we'd chase the story as soon as the verdict was in and we were legally allowed to get into the meat of it. Sometimes that made the attorneys look like heroes, because it was a better story that way. Sometimes it got them out of their crappy public service jobs and into something cushy and media-related, where they never had to be in an open courtroom again. Either way, it wasted a lot of our time, and that was what they lived for.
Ben rubbed his face. "No word from Mat?"
"Mat's busy," I said. Mat was always busy. A planet-buster comet could be falling from the sky and the people of Earth could be scrambling for their shelters, and Mat would hold up a hand and say "Sorry, come back later, this hard drive isn't going to reformat itself." If I hadn't been so fond of them, I would probably have started keeping water balloons in my purse. "But I did hear from Audrey. She says, and I quote, 'Tell Ben we got this. He can take all the time he needs.'" I smiled serenely. "You see? They got this. This has been gotten. We do not need to rush back. Want to go for a milkshake? I could commit crimes that would get me deported for a milkshake. Twice if the shop had violet on tap."
"You shouldn't drink violet milkshakes," said Ben. "Nothing consumable should be that shade of purple."
"And yet I drink them anyway. Come on, Ben. Let's go to Berkeley and have something nice before we head home. You can have boring vanilla and pretend it makes you morally superior. Maybe we'll get lucky and a bunch of zombies will attack the soda fountain while we're there, and then we can be Johnny on the spot for a story right in the middle of the Masons' home territory. Can you imagine the looks on their faces?" I was laying it on a little thick, but that didn't matter as much as getting Ben to agree to do something—anything—apart from heading home and wallowing in his sorrow.
Wallowing is dangerous. Wallow too much and you can forget what it means to do anything else. Maybe that's not so bad for some people, the ones who live in gated subdivisions with guards at the gate and snipers standing at the ready, but for people like us? People who go out into the world and bring back the facts of the matter, whatever those facts happen to be? Wallowing gets us killed. There's no room for grief in this post-Rising world, where bodies are cremated as soon as they hit the ground to keep them from getting up and going for the people they used to love. There's only room for moving on, putting the sadness behind us, and letting the world back in. It sucks, sure, but it's the kind of suck that keeps people alive.
"Heh," said Ben, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. I beamed at him. His smile died instantly, replaced by something far more familiar: regret. "You know, my mama would have been happy to have you at the funeral."
I stopped beaming. "Ben, don't."
"She liked you. I know she always said she didn't, but she didn't mean it. She didn't like what you represented, that was all. She knew you didn't mean me any harm. Sometimes she even said you were a gift from God, since you gave me an excuse for good Christian charity."
"I don't want to have this conversation." Not in public: not where some asshole with a camera could come along and turn us into the news. Everyone in the business knew what our deal was. I'd talked about it on my blog more than once. That didn't mean that some people wouldn't be happy to come along and start muckraking, trying to prove that we had never even been friends; that everything about our relationship was a business arrangement, and not true, if platonic, love.
Ben's face fell. "Ash…"
"Milkshakes. Come on. Milkshakes, and distance, and time. I'm sorry about your mother, we all are. We want you to take the time you need to get all the way better. We can cover for you for at least a week before anyone notices, if that's what it takes. Mat says they can spoof your email address and handle all of the merch orders, if you want them to. We're just waiting on your word. I'll even talk about your mother with you, if that's what you want me to do, but please, not here. Not on the street, not where we don't know who's listening. Please." I gave him my best pleading look.
I'm good at pleading. I've had a lot of practice at pleading. Pleading with his image over the Internet, trying to convince him to help me get the hell out of Ireland before I lost my mind. Pleading with the agents at border control on both sides—America to let me in, but not before I'd pled with Ireland to let me out. Our population was never the highest. After the Rising, when the Catholic majority really got to work grinding out the hellfire and brimstone, a lot of people chose to leave. Between that and the zombie sheep, it was no wonder the government started limiting immigration out of the country, while simultaneously opening the doors to anyone with Irish heritage who wanted to come home, live under a religious hegemony, and produce oodles of fat Irish babies. Fun for the whole family!
And all of that had only been the warm-up to pleading with his mother not to contest our marriage, which had offended her all the way down to the marrow of her bones. Her youngest son had been the light of her life, the last piece she had of the good, clean world before the Rising. She'd been waiting for years for him to find a wife and start giving her grandchildren. Instead, he'd come home from an unannounced trip overseas with an Irish expatriate who was only marrying him for the citizenship, and who had no intention of either sleeping with him or bearing his children, even via artificial insemination. I'd been a real shock to her system, and if there was one good thing about this situation, it was that we'd been married for so long that I was pretty sure I hadn't killed her.
Well. Mostly sure. She had rather been counting on us getting divorced once I had citizenship, and when that hadn't happened, her disapproval had been a bit difficult to bear.
Ben sighed, shoulders drooping. "I should be crying," he said. "I should be a soggy mess in a corner somewhere, going through tissues and confessing all my sins. Instead, I'm standing here with you, talking about ice cream. Don't you see how not right this is? I should be mourning more than I am. I should be sadder."
"None of this means you didn't love her, if that's what you're worried about."
"How many times did you tell her that there's no right way to love? Well, this is the flip side of that. There's no right way to be sad, Benny-boy. Maybe you're going to stop sleeping, or cry every night for the next year. Or maybe you're going to return to business as usual, until one day you turn around and someone's wearing her favorite color, or carrying a bouquet of her favorite flowers, and it breaks you." I put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "The only right way to mourn someone is to remember them. The rest is just trappings."
Again he smiled, although the expression came nowhere near his eyes. "How do you know so much about mourning?"
"My mother was a banshee and my father was the cold North wind," I said. I took my hand off of his shoulder. "Now come on, what do you say we go and get that milkshake? It's my treat. You can have whatever you want."
"I say—" Ben paused. "I say hold on a moment." He raised a finger, signaling me to wait, before he reached up and tapped the skin behind his left ear, activating his bone-implant phone. Not as disposable as a burner or as attractive as an ear cuff, but no one could take it away from him, and the only way to permanently disable it would be surgical. Better yet, because it was made of lab-grown bone matrix, it didn't show up on most equipment sweeps. Even if the rest of us were stripped of our gear, he'd have a way of reaching the outside world. That was worth its weight in bullets.
I crossed my arms, rolling my eyes extravagantly as he walked a few feet away, lowering his voice. That meant the call was private enough for him to not want me listening in. Rare, annoying, and a good opportunity to sweep the area. I stepped back into my original position in front of the statue and started my scan.
The funeral home was empty, the shuttered windows dark and the parking lot deserted. There was a red dot above the main window, attached to a small black box; a Devlin security system, most likely, hardwired into the local police department's computers. Funeral homes are no more dangerous than any other business that regularly admits large groups of people, and are probably a lot less dangerous than some. That doesn't stop their insurance rates from climbing every time someone gets a bad feeling about them, which has meant some heavy investments in security. The average funeral home is better protected than most banks.
If the red light was on, there was no one left inside: Even the staff had gone home. I switched my attention to the surrounding buildings.
Not many people will voluntarily live right next to a funeral home, despite the aforementioned excellent security. If I wound up in the neighborhood, I would have been asking about storing my valuables in the old embalming rooms. So it was no surprise that the curtains on the apartments to the left were shabby, repaired several times and then pulled tight across barred windows. There was a high fence around the whole structure, apparently wood, but with giveaway metal strips at the top and bottom. It was a steel-core oak model, and there was probably a switch in the manager's office that would allow the whole thing to be electrified at the drop of a hat. Good choice. The only visible trees were eucalyptus, whose high branches and friable bark made them virtually impossible to climb. Even better choice.
The structure to the right was more of an absence: a green field surrounded by a cast-iron fence, allowed to grow wild and weedy. It was surprisingly lush; someone was still watering it, despite California's perpetual drought conditions. That meant it was the property of either a church, a private school, or both. Churches could afford to water empty lots. They had a good income from their apocalypse-panicked parishioners, and their tax breaks meant that they were always looking for something else that they could write off. Private schools were sometimes more strapped, but almost all of them were playing on the idea of "normal someday." As in "when we reach that normal someday and this all goes back to the way it used to be, we'll have this beautiful, secure space for your children to play in, so give us money, or we might have to sell it." It kept the donations coming in, and it kept the idea of the virus-free promised land alive in the minds of the rich.
Something was moving in the field. I frowned and took a step toward the street, pulling a mag from my pocket. It was a single lens mounted on a wire frame, like a pair of glasses that had been cut in half. It clamped to the bridge of my nose, amplifying my vision first by a factor of ten, and then, when I tapped the magnification switch on the side, by a factor of thirty.
There was a moment of disorientation as my brain adapted to the virtual split screen of seeing normally with one eye and at a distance with the other. The first several times I'd used the mag it had made me sick to my stomach, unable to cope with such dramatically different visual inputs. Mat had told me sternly that they hadn't designed the system just to have it go to waste; they ordered me to keep trying. Now, I could use it as a sniper scope if I had to, taking the long shot without hesitation and rarely, if ever, missing.
- "A U.S. presidential campaign set in a zombie-infested future bears an eerie resemblance to the way we live now. Simply jump in and enjoy ... a whip-smart thriller overflowing with sharp ideas and social commentary."—Kirkus (starred review) on Feedback
- "The strength of this tale lies in the diverse cast, their deep ties to one another, and Grant's ability to surprise the reader with emotional gut punches."—Publishers Weekly on Feedback
- "Grant excels at writing complicated personalities participating in complicated relationships, and this is no exception."—Booklist on Feedback
- "Astonishing ... a fascinating exploration of the future."—New York Times on Newsflesh series
- "While there's plenty of zombie mayhem, political snark, and pointedly funny observations here, the heart of this book is about human relationships, which are still the most important thing in the world...even in a world where you might have to shoot the person you love most in the head, just to stop them from biting off your face."—Locus on Feed
- "Feed is a proper thriller with zombies. Grant doesn't get carried away with describing her world or the virus. She's clearly thought both out brilliantly, but she doesn't let it get in the way of a taut, well written story."—SFX on Feed
- "The story starts with a bang as corruption, mystery, danger and excitement abound."—RT Book Reviews (4.5 stars) on Feed
- "Gripping, thrilling, and brutal... Shunning misogynistic horror tropes in favor of genuine drama and pure creepiness, McGuire has crafted a masterpiece of suspense with engaging, appealing characters who conduct a soul-shredding examination of what's true and what's reported."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on Feed
- "Intelligent and intense, a thinking-person's post-apocalyptic zombie thriller set in a fully-realized future that is both fascinating and horrifying to behold."—John Joseph Adams on Feed
- "I can't wait for the next book."—N.K. Jemisin on Feed
- "It's a novel with as much brains as heart, and both are filling and delicious."—The A. V. Club on Feed
- "OK, all of you readers who want something weighty and yet light, campy and yet smart, horror with heart, a summer beach read that will stay in your head and whisper to you "what if," Deadline is just what you are looking for."—RT Book Reviews on Deadline
- "Deft cultural touches, intriguing science, and amped-up action will delight Grant's numerous fans."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on Deadline
- "Intelligent and exciting...raises the bar for the genre."—Telegraph on Deadline
- "Wry and entertaining."—NPR Books on Blackout
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2016
- Page Count
- 496 pages