Charles D. Campion, a soldier working in a military biological weapons facility, discovers that the containment measures securing one of the base’s weapons have been breached. Campion narrowly eludes the lockdown that follows and escapes the base, where people are already dying of the plague they have unleashed, an augmented strain of influenza known as superflu or Captain Trips. Campion flees home to pick up his wife and daughter and drives them east from California. He does not realize that he was infected by the superflu before he managed to flee the base.
Campion travels across the country, infecting many people. Roughly 99.4 percent of the human population is susceptible to the virus, and everyone infected by it dies. The other 0.6 percent are completely immune; on them, the virus has no effect. Finally, after stops in many states, Campion crashes his car into a gas station in a small town in Texas. He dies on the way to the hospital.
The medical examiner cannot determine what killed Campion and calls the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. Federal officials quarantine the small town of Arnett, Texas, while the military escorts the survivors to the CDC in Atlanta. Stuart Redman, an East Texas plant worker, ends up quarantined in Stovington, Vermont, after a brief stay in Atlanta. He is one of those who are immune to the disease. Doctors try to determine why he is immune in the hope of making a vaccine. After days of tests, the lone survivor at the CDC facility in Vermont is Redman.
Leaving the CDC, Redman roams New England, meeting Glen Bateman (a retired New Hampshire sociology professor) and Kojak, an Irish setter. The three travel together toward a farmhouse in Nebraska to which they are drawn by dreams of an old woman (Mother Abagail) sitting on her front porch. About half of the survivors of Captain Trips are having these dreams of the old woman. They travel toward Nebraska and the farmhouse from all over the United States. The travelers begin to find each other on the road, and they form groups to travel together safely. Redman, Bateman, and Kojak join Harold Lauder—a teenage social outcast—and Frances Goldsmith—a pregnant young lady in her early twenties. Harold and Frances are the only survivors from Ogunquit, Maine.
In New York City, Larry Underwood, a singer, meets Rita Blakemoor, a wealthy socialite and cocaine addict. They decide to travel together, but Blakemoor dies from a drug overdose, leaving Underwood alone. Underwood makes his way to Maine, where he meets Nadine Cross, a virginal teacher destined to become the wife of Randall Flagg, and a young boy she calls Joe. Before leaving Ogunquit, they see signs that Lauder has painted indicating that he and Goldsmith are going to Stovington. On the way to Vermont, the party of three meets others traveling toward what they hope is a place of sanctity.
Meanwhile, Nick Andros (a deaf-mute drifter from Arkansas on his way to Nebraska) finds Tom Cullen, a mildly retarded man, in Oklahoma. Later, the two men find Ralph Brentner, a farmer who seems to understand tools and machinery, on a stretch of highway somewhere between Oklahoma and Nebraska. These three travelers meet others who eventually become what Andros perceives as his family. Andros leads his group to Nebraska and Mother Abagail. Together, the parties of Redman, Andros, Underwood, and many others then...
(The entire section is 1391 words.)