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James Patterson, Neil McMahon

Toys

EXTINCTION

Many species have become extinct because of human destruction of their natural environments. Indeed, current rates of human-induced extinctions are estimated to be about 1,000 times greater than past natural rates of extinction, leading some scientists to call modern times the sixth mass extinction.

— Encyclopedia Britannica

TOY

A material object for children or others to play with (often an imitation of some familiar object); a plaything; also, something contrived for amusement rather than for practical use.

— The Oxford English Dictionary

Prologue

7-4 DAY

I will not forget this moment for as long as I live, which, in truth, might not be that long anyway. I pop the ominous disc labeled “7–4 Day” into the player and sit back on the dusty, threadbare couch in my parents’ cluttered fallout shelter at our beloved lake house in the north country.

I figure that something titled “7–4 Day” can’t be good news.

And it isn’t.

Wham! — no slow reveal, no fade-in. There are just bodies everywhere. Human beings are slumped in car seats, collapsed on sidewalks, lying on the floor in front of the counter at a once popular fast-food restaurant called McDonald’s.

Next comes a classroom in which high school students and their teacher are just lying, pale and bloated, at their desks.

A construction worker is dead in a cherry-picker, and it is possible that his eyes have actually popped from his face.

A postman is sprawled on a porch, the mail still held dutifully in his hands.

A towheaded girl is dead on her bicycle at the bottom of a roadside culvert-and this finally brings tears to my eyes.

It’s as if some master switch has been thrown, turning off their hearts and brains just as they went about their daily lives.

Not everyone’s dead though.

In one indelible scene, elevator doors are pried open and a screaming, traumatized businesswoman emerges-at least seven corpses of business types are visible behind her.

There is some hope at least.

A few hundred survivors are gathered at midfield in a baseball stadium, possibly in New Chicago. The camera pans around. Horrible! The pitcher is dead on the mound, his face buried in dust. There are uniformed bodies at the bases, in the outfield, in the dugouts. The stands are filled with fifty thousand forever- silent fans.

I’m light-headed and ill as I sit on my parents’ couch and watch all this. I’ve been forgetting to breathe, actually; my skin is clammy and cold.

Now I view a snapped-off flagpole displayed against an urban skyline-a skyline of blackened, broken, and smoking buildings. They’re like teeth in a jawbone that somebody has pulled from a funeral pyre.

I’m beginning to suspect that this footage must have been staged-but who could have made such a clever and horrifying film? How had they been able to pull off this hoax with such authenticity? And for what possible reason?

Now there’s street-level, hand-shot footage showing thousands of people coursing over bridges and along highways. They’re carrying coolers, water bottles, blankets, small children, the infirm. There are furtive close-ups of military patrol vehicles at intervals along the way. Checkpoints. Tall, broad-shouldered government soldiers with mirror-faced helmets and automatic weapons attempt to bring order to this incomprehensible chaos.

The film’s final scenes are of earthmoving machines and the enormous trenches they’ve made. These trenches are as wide and deep as strip mines. Bulldozers are standing by to help refill them, their scoops loaded with the uncountable dead.

The video ends and I sit in the dark, lost in shock, horror, and total confusion.

Is it some sick joke? A staged holocaust? Am I supposed to believe that some hideous plague has been hidden from history? When did it happen? Why have I never seen anything like it before? Why has no one ever seen or heard about this?

There are no answers to my questions. How could there be? What I have just witnessed simply isn’t possible.

Suddenly there are hands on my shoulder, and I leap up from the couch, fists clenched, crashing into an end table and knocking a coffee cup to the concrete floor. There is the sound of breaking glass, and my heart nearly explodes.

“Hays! It’s just me. Dad. Hays, it’s me! Down, boy.”

Of course, it was just my father putting his hands on my shoulders, meaning to comfort me. Still, I can’t quite give him a pass for this. It is his shelter, and his damned film, and his hands.

What- what was that?” I demand to know. “Tell me. Please? Explain it.”

“That film?” he says. “That, Hays, is the truth. That’s what really happened on 7–4 Day. They almost killed off the entire human race. What you learned in grade school, everything you read at university, is just a cruel hoax.”

Book One

FALL FROM GRACE

Chapter 1

Forty — eight hours earlier-a mere two days before I watched the 7–4 Day film at my parents’

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