Young woman and her infected lover flee to the Mojave Desert to escape the Gestapo-like US Health Services during a new outbreak of a "Mad Cow" prion disease that turns people psychopathic. The novel was showcased online in The Write Launch: https://thewritelaunch.com/2019/09/twisted-fate/ recently showcased
The disease, which resulted from a mutation in a prize bull imported from Switzerland in 1997, causes personality breakdown and psychopathic behavior before eventually killing the victim. Due to its extremely long incubation period, it had spread unmonitored for decades. After a test is devised—and made compulsory—panic and grief erupt as people learn they are positive for the prion.
When the novel opens, the president has declared martial law: the infected are being arrested and quarantined in government camps by the Gestapo-like U.S. Health Services or its military arm, the feared Infection Control Squads.
Zoe and Brian, who live together, take the test, and to their horror, Brian is positive for the prion. He is “chipped” to indicate his status. Although Zoe tested negative, she is not sure that status will continue because human-to-human spread is still uncertain. Brian is terrified of incipient madness and death, but they discover that their commitment to one another is stronger than they knew.
Fearing that Brian will soon be arrested, the couple hide in their now-deserted condominium complex, paralyzed with fear and indecision.
Zoe had heard of a sanctuary for positives or “psychs,” as they are called, in the Mojave Desert. The couple flee south through an almost unrecognizable landscape. The country’s economic woes have resulted in a dramatic rise in homelessness, squatting and crime. People, both infected and uninfected, have lost their jobs and taken to the roads; Families live in their cars or camp along the freeways.
The divide between rich and poor has widened profoundly, the wealthy walling themselves off in heavily guarded luxury enclaves and bunkers. The government has set up labor farms where the homeless tend crops and receive crude housing and sustenance.
“Only a year ago,” Zoe reflects, “Brian and I looked like any other young cubicle drones, renting an overpriced town house in a clonish suburb of hacienda-style strip malls and barbered office parks. But that life we once mocked as soulless and regimented seems like a golden age now.”
Zoe is estranged from her complex, dysfunctional family; Brian, handsome and outgoing, he had worked in high-tech sales. To Zoe, he had “frat-rat” vibes—not her type at all. Yet, after meeting at a Las Vegas trade show, they had begun a passionate but guarded relationship, later moving in together.
Now, Zoe is called upon to protect Brian and help him stay out of the hands of the Infection Control Squads.
Meanwhile, she is not sure if his personality is beginning to be affected by the disease. He was never a particularly sensitive guy, she worries—had she actually been seeing early symptoms? She believes that he had saved her from her sterile, isolated existence; her loyalty to him is tested.
When military vehicles pull up to conduct a sweep of their condominium complex at 3 a.m., Zoe and Brian watch in horror from their bedroom window as neighbors also in hiding are found and loaded into trucks.
The couple had stockpiled food, gasoline, a gun, and other supplies in case they had to go on the run. Now, Zoe and Brian barely evade capture and take off driving south. Their goal is one of the remote sanctuaries that political rebels set up in remote areas. Brian and Zoe have only vague directions to a region of the Mojave Desert.
Driving without rest, they reach the Mojave before their car runs out of gas. They are on a long-abandoned road overgrown with weeds, the asphalt torn and rutted. They cache their few belongings and set out to walk the remaining 15 miles to the sanctuary—if it even exists.
When a car containing two young men offers them a lift, they are at first grateful, but are later brutally attacked and beaten. Brian manages to shoot one attacker dead and wound the other.
Zoe and Brian now face the moral quandary of what to do with the wounded man, Seth, who claims to be an evolutionary biologist researcher, unaware of his lab tech partner's violent intentions. Zoe convinces Brian not to shoot Seth dead on the spot, or leave him to die slowly in the desert. They put him in the back seat of his own car and take off for the sanctuary. When they finally arrive at “Destination Hope,” they realize that it is actually a cultish research facility, conducting experiments on living people against all ethical standards. The government is funding these off-the-grid facilities in the hope that they will find a cure if they are not held back by medical ethics.
Initially welcomed, Brian and Zoe soon find themselves prisoners—not only of their creepy hosts, but of the unsurvivable Mojave. They dare not leave on foot, and so they watch for the opportunity to steal a car. The researchers, convinced that they are working to save the human race, plan to try a risky new treatment on Brian that could lobotomize him --- or cure him.
Zoe pretends to accept the researchers' goals. She even begins a romantic relationship with Seth, the biologist. Seth tells the horrified Zoe tht Brian's personality will most likely disintegrate and he will become as dangerous as a wounded tiger.
Following a failed escape attempt, Brian is confined somewhere in the complex. Zoe can’t find out where he is being held. A promising treatment involves surgical removal of prion-infected tissue and radical chemotherapy on the rest of the brain: canit halt the progress of the disease?
Seth’s wounded vulnerability and scientific brilliance cause Zoe to fall for him, feeling guilty and duplicitous. She integrates herself into the life of the facility and is even given an office job.
After a trip with Seth to the desert, Zoe shares a drug with him and becomes disoriented. She wanders alone through a ghostly landscape, convinced that she does not even inhabit her own body.
Some time later, she awakens in the hospital. She has merely passed out from heatstroke, she is told. But security guards soon take her into custody: Brian has broken out, stolen a car and escaped. The administrators suspect Zoe of conspiring with him and want to keep her under close watch.
When Brian appears, armed, and confronts them. Zoe is forced to make a quick choice. She decides to escape with him, and they drive off into the magnificent and deadly desert.
Is Brian the man she knew and loved? Or a different person entirely—whether from his disease, from the treatments, or from resentment of her infidelity?
Zoe looks for signs that he still oves her, and for hope that society itself can survive and enter a future worth inhabiting.
50ish man, avuncular but dangerous
The Day after tomorrow
I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the killing of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/movies/22murder.html?_r=0
I collaborated with producer Don Murphy (Transformers, Natural Born Killers) on the script "Fast Fade" on the life of tragic film noir actress Barbra Payton.