City dweller Gabe Common, seventeen and a high school dropout, has just moved with his mother to Chumsville, South Dakota, a speck in the eye of humanity. With a population of around three hundred people, Gabe is resigned to spending his summer studying online and watching the wheat grow.
It all changes when he wakes up one morning and finds most of Chumsville’s population gone, including his mother. Along with the other survivors, he finds that an impenetrable barrier has surrounded the town which allows people to enter but not leave. To make matters even stranger, he finds wings growing from his body, and the other residents exhibit changes as well, some of them interesting and many of them frightening.
Soon the Changed, as Gabe comes to call them, are met by the FBI, and they are just as bewildered as everyone else is. Tensions mount as the heat rises, harsh words are exchanged, and sides are drawn. Once Gabe discovers the reason for their transformation, he has to deal with another matter—the darkness of the human heart. It is only then that he learns what it is to confront evil and face it down, even if it might cost him his life.
“Back’s itchy?” Carl asked them both. Without waiting for a response, he added, “My legs have been giving me this trouble for a couple hours.” With a grunt of discomfort, he went back to the stool at the counter and sat down to massage his lower limbs, groaning as he did so.
Odd... But odder still was that his arms and legs began shrinking as each second elapsed. His skin also began turning a shade of... Gray.
Cora’s right arm started to thicken, and Percy was puffing his cheeks in and out rapidly, like... Like a fish out of water. “What’s going on here?” Gabe murmured, but no one bothered replying to his question.
“I’ll take Percy home,” Carl offered.
With a soft exhalation of breath, he got to his feet, limped over to the little man’s position, and looped his arm around his shoulders. Together, they moved outside. Silence reigned until Mary uttered a soft sigh. “I need help.”
Gabe looked up and the expression holy crap went through his mind. A thin veneer of something that looked like bark had started forming over her mouth. Bark, as in tree bark, as in wood, and oh, this couldn’t be happening! While he wanted to say something, the words just wouldn’t come out. Finally, he managed to stammer, “Are you okay, Mary?”
No, she most definitely wasn’t. “Someone,” she managed to say, “Get me ou’side, pease... Huuuey.” She couldn’t enunciate properly, but the wide eyes and the fearful expression on her face said SOS in no uncertain terms.
She said hurry. Gabe ran over along with Tank to help her, while the other occupants of the room simply stared.
In the next few seconds, Mary’s legs started to fuse together... Like... Some sort of trunk. Bark swiftly covered her body from the waist down, and the transformation was both fascinating and frightening at the same time. Yet, she didn’t seem to be in any pain.
Tank grabbed her around the waist and lifted her easily off the ground. Gabe kicked the door open and made sure her arms—now rapidly turning into branches—didn’t catch on anything. The large man grunted as he hefted the load. “Get her through,” he instructed. “Easy... Watch her head...”
Together, they carried her outside to the front of the diner, set her down, and she waved her arms, very stiff now, seemingly in an effort to get them out of the way just in case the power that was changing her rubbed off on them as well. The other people came outside to stare at the process, mute and wide-eyed.
“I’m okay,” Mary said with difficulty. “I stay here.”
Those were the last words she ever spoke as the bark closed over her mouth. Everyone took a step back. In a matter of seconds, the proprietress became rooted to the ground, her body morphed at lightning speed into a graceful elm tree, and the branches spread majestically over the roof of the diner.