Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 47

"Lori!"  Joe's aghast cry brought the captain about.  His eyes widened as he saw the gun aimed at him.
"I'm sorry, captain." I said steadily.  "We're not going anywhere.  Going back to Cairns is a death sentence and the speedboat cannot carry all of us to safety.  You leave me no choice."
The captain held my gaze for a long moment.
"You would not kill an innocent man." The captain said confidently.
"You're right." I agreed with a calmness I didn't feel.  "But to save my family, I am perfectly willing to shoot an innocent man in the leg." I adjusted the aim of the gun slightly.  "And as I am a nurse, I can ensure the wound is treated properly so the risk of death will be low."  I hoped I sounded a lot more confident than I actually felt.  "If you - and anyone else- are determined to return to Cairns, in spite of all we have told you, then you can  take the speedboat.  But this boat is not going anywhere."
"For God's sake, Lori, put down the gun!" Joe hissed, appalled.  He doesn't really believe me either, I thought sadly, or he wouldn't be trying to stop me.

The captain nodded slowly.  "I see. Well, I guess I see your point."  He looked at the gun pointedly and then at the other men.  "Any of you want to go back to Cairns?"  Two of the men in the fishing expedition stood up and joined him.  One looked back at us and shrugged helplessly.  "If what you are saying is true, I have to go back and try to find my family."
I nodded, keeping the gun raised.  "Good luck to all of you."

Silently, we watched them climb into the speedboat and head into the horizon.  I knew we would not see them again. 

Long after they had disappeared from sight, I stood at the back of the boat, staring into our wake as Ken guided it in a long arc down to the town of Townsville.  Joe came and stood silently beside me.  As the stillness between us lengthened, I forced myself to face him.  "I'm sorry, Joe, but I couldn't let him take us back or force us back onto the speedboat.  You don't understand what we've been through.  I did what I had to do to protect my family."
His face was somber.  "I know you did, Lori. I'm just having trouble coming to grips with...everything."
"Do you believe me?" I asked in a small voice, dreading the answer.
He sighed, resting his elbows on the railing as he gazed out to sea.  "You cut off our daughter's arm.  Either I'm married to a crazy woman or you're telling the truth." He looked at me, his eyes tender.  "Of course I believe you."

Resting my head on his shoulder, I closed my eyes.  "I had to believe you were safe out here on the water.  The thought that something might have happened to you..."
Joe covered my hand with his.  "I had no inkling... it was really only on our way back that we began to even have a clue that something was wrong.  No other boats, no radio contact, no satellite phone...nothing."
"I'm glad.  If you had come back early, God knows what you would have sailed into." I shivered at the thought.  Joe wrapped an arm around my shoulders.  "One of these days you are going to have to tell me the whole story.  Some of the things Michele has told me...well, I'm sure she must be exaggerating your exploits somewhat."
I laughed.  "Oh, is that right?  You don't think I'm capable of handling myself, mister?" Giving him a shove, I glared at him with mock outrage.  Joe stepped back with a grin, hands raised in surrender. 
"Well, come on, we are talking about you, Lori.  You are the most harmless person I know.  Although after seeing you with that gun..."  He stopped abruptly, the blood draining from his face.  Slowly, I turned around.  The horizon was aglow, a glorious crimson false sunset. 
"My God," Joe murmured, eyes wide with disbelief.  "They really did it."

All I could see, as I stared at the hauntingly beautiful and dreadful sky, was Mike's face.  My heart ached with the knowledge that he was gone.  Really and truly gone.  Mike with his dry wit and laconic nature would never make me laugh again or give me comfort just by his presence.  The only thing that made the loss bearable was knowing he wouldn't have suffered, that he wouldn't have had time to turn into one of those monsters.

One by one, the others joined us.
"Do you think it will work?" Michele ventured eventually.  "You know, get rid of the virus?"
I blinked and dragged my eyes away from the rosy horizon.  It still seemed impossible that our government would choose to explode a nuclear bomb in their own country.  "God, I hope so, Michele."  If this virus succeeded in escaping our town, our country was going to be in a whole heap of trouble.  "If they destroyed our town with all those innocent people, for doesn't bear thinking about."  I thought of Travis and his group, of the school hall full of kids - now nothing but ashes.
"What if it doesn't work?" She asked  in a small voice.  Kaye and I exchanged a glance.  It was a thought that had plagued both of us.
"Then we find somewhere safe and hole up." I answered steadily.  "We've survived this long by ourselves.  We can continue to do so."

A gloomy silence fell over all of us. I sighed and shook myself.  "Is anyone looking after the babies or are they running riot downstairs?"  I looked around and saw Jessie was missing.  Somehow that didn't surprise me.  For one so young, she had shown herself to be responsible and motherly towards the babies. 
"I'll go check." Michele said and headed belowdecks with Lucas close behind. Smiling, I tried to remember the last time I'd seen them apart.   Ken went to check on the new member of the group who was at the wheel.

I looked at Kaye as she hovered nearby, looking like she had something to say.     Years seemed to have fallen off her since she'd been reunited with Andy.  "It still feels unreal, having my all family together and well.  It would never have happened if it hadn't been for you, Lori."
I blinked.  "It wasn't just me." I muttered, pain flitting across my face at the memory of those we'd lost. 
"I know.  But you were the driving force behind us.  We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you."  Impulsively, Kaye hugged me.  " I don't think I would have had the strength to face what we went through if you hadn't been there.  Heck, I know I wouldn't have survive and neither would my kids.  But now we're all together - and safe.  I just wanted to say thank you, Lori, for everything."  I nodded mutely.  As she walked away to join the others downstairs, Joe flung an arm around Michele and me and pulled us close.  "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"  He whispered fiercely.
"Aw, Dad." Michele protested happily.  "Puh-lease."  He looked at me over her head and the look in his eyes warmed my heart.

Below decks, Jessie and the dog were keeping my babies happily amused bouncing on the double bed.  I winced but let it go.  Kaye was right.  We had a lot to be grateful for.  I had my family together -and they were safe.  For the first time in days, my family was safe. 

Laughing, I threw myself on the bed in the midst of the mayhem.  I grabbed Jessie and tickled her till she squealed in delight.  Alex and Sarah demanded to join in while Lizzie the dog hopped around the bed and barked hysterically. It was bedlam and it was wonderful.

Was the danger posed by the virus truly gone?  None of us could know what tomorrow would bring, but if the last few days had taught me anything, it was to live for today.  And today I had the people I loved with me - and that was enough.


Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 46

Overloaded as it was, the slim speedboat surged rapidly through the water making for Jorge's Patch.  As the sun rose above the horizon, I could almost hear the tick tock of my waterlogged and now defunct watch.  Go, go, go, it seemed to shout at me.  With every mile we put between us and Cairns, the more anxious I became.  Are we far enough away yet? How far away do we have to be?
"Carrying this amount of weight, we've probably only got a few hours of petrol.  If we don't intercept Joe's boat within the next hour, we're going to have to think about heading for one of the islands to refuel."  Ken observed.  Michele sent me an anxious look.
"We'll find him." I reassured her.  We have to. 

Half an hour later, the drizzle ended, much to our relief, allowing the warmth of the day to dry our clothes.  We scanned the horizon for any sign of a fishing boat, without any luck. 
"Are you sure this is the way Daddy went?" Michele asked, binoculars glued to her face.
"Unless they changed their plans when they were underway, yes."  It was the first time the thought had occurred to me, and I felt sick at the knowledge that we might miss them altogether.

Twenty minutes later, Lucas spotted a boat on the horizon.  As Ken set the speedboat on an intercept path with them, Michele stood beside me at the front of the boat.  It had to be them.  As we neared the fishing boat, I strained my eyes to see the name on the side of the vessel. 
"It's the Sea Princess!" I yelled. "It's your Daddy's boat!"  Michele screamed and hugged me excitedly.  We danced in a circle like kids - not the easiest thing to do on a small speedboat.

The Sea Princess slowed and stopped as we neared them.  Bumping against their hull, we waved and yelled at the faces appearing over the side.  The speedboat seemed so small next to their boat.
"Lori?  Michele?"  Joe's disbelieving voice drifted across.  "What the hell?"
I searched the faces of the men gathering at the edge of the boat until I found his familiar thin face.  I beamed him a smile of utter joy. 
"Daddy!' Michele screamed, a cry quickly taken up by Sarah and Alex. 
"Kaye!" Andy appeared beside Joe, looking bewildered.  The noise rose to chaotic levels for a few minutes as his wife and children greeted him ecstatically.

The captain of the ship stepped forward.  "Would any of you like to explain to me what is going on?"
I nodded.  "Yes.  May we come on board, first?"  He nodded.  Minutes later, the speedboat was tied up alongside and the group had started to move across.  I lingered for a moment and then, without really knowing why, I unwrapped the pistol from its' waterproof covering and stuck it in my belt.  Maybe I just felt naked without a weapon these days.

Stepping onto the boat, I saw my husband embracing Sarah and Alex tightly, a look of dismay on his face.  I felt sick.  How would he react when he realised I was responsible for the loss of his baby's arm.  His eyes found mine over her head, a look of confusion and disbelief in them.  Then he stood up and strode over to me.  I found myself enveloped in my husband's arms.  Sighing, I wrapped my arms around him and allowed the comforting feel of his embrace to seep through my body.  Home, it whispered, safety. 
"Are you okay?" He asked with concern, pulling away to search my face.  "Lori, what the hell happened?!"
I sighed.  "It's a long story."  Turning to Michele and Lucas, I asked them to take the babies and Jessie downstairs and find something to feed them.  It had been a long night for all of us. 

Sitting around the deck, Kaye, Ken and I outlined the situation to the captain, Joe, Andy and the three other men who had been on the fishing expedition.  There was silence for a long time after we finished.
"It did seem odd that we couldn't raise anyone on the radio..." The captain murmured.  A tanned, rugged man in his forties, he seemed competent and sensible.  "But I'm sorry, you must understand that this story is really incredible."
I nodded, looking at the stunned faces around me.  "I know.  But it's the truth."
He nodded grimly.  "Maybe." He stood up decisively.  "But you must realise that I cannot take your word at face value."
I nodded.  "Take us to down to Townsville and then you will soon find out what we're saying is true."
He snorted.  "Going four hours out of my way because of your story would make me a laughing stock.  I can be back in Cairns in no time and then I'll see for myself if there is any truth to your story."
Ken bolted upright before I could open my mouth to protest.  "Are you crazy?  Did you hear anything we had to say about nuclear bombs about to be dropped?"
The captain nodded.  "I heard you.  However, even if the rest of your story is oddly convincing, your basis for believing a nuclear bomb is going to be dropped on our city is pretty flimsy.  Certainly not enough to stop me going back, I'm sorry."

Kaye, Ken and I looked at each other with various degrees of frustration and anxiety on our faces.  We knew that we couldn't risk going back.  How the hell were we going to convince this man who held our lives in his hands?
"Captain, do you honestly believe we would take a boat all the way out here on a whim?"
"As I don't know you at all, it's possible.  However, it is far more likely that you are confused and mistaken."
"Confused!" I exploded, surging to my feet.  "I saw with my own eyes people die of horrendous wounds and then get up and try to kill me.  We all have.  What part do you think we are confused about?"  From the corner of my eye, I was aware of Joe staring at me.  I guess I didn't really sound like the wife he had left behind. 
"I don't know." The captain looked discomforted - and a little desperate.  "Maybe this is just your idea of a practical joke. " 
"I don't think you really believe that." Kaye interjected quietly from beside Andy.  "You just can't bring yourself to accept it.  Do you have family in Cairns, captain?"
He nodded jerkily.
"I'm sorry." She murmured sympathetically.  It was as if she had slapped him. The colour drained from his face.
"I'm returning to Cairns now." He spoke woodenly.  "If you do not wish to come, you are welcome to return to your speedboat." 

The captain turned to go.  I stood up without conscious thought and pointed my pistol at his back.

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 45

"Oh Mike." I whispered in appalled disbelief.  "This can't be happening."
He pulled his shirt back on and sat down beside me.  "It would seem it can." 
I gazed at his profile as he stared at his hands, grappling with his own thoughts.  He's going to die.  It seemed impossible that I wouldn't see this face every day.  In just two days, it had become as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror - the square jaw with the dimpled chin, the curve of his top lip that hinted at an inner romantic, the broken nose and the calm grey eyes that seemed to read me like a book...
Mike straightened as if he had come to a decision.  "Do me a favour.  When we get to the beach don't tell the others."
I swallowed, trying to fight back a hysterical desire to scream at the unfairness of it all. "All right.  Oh, Mike, I'm so sorry."
He nodded.  "The thing is, Lori, I've decided I'm not going to getting back on the boat with you." He held up his hand to forestall my protest.  "I'm not going to make you guys responsible for putting me down when I turn and I sure as hell don't want you to remember me as one of them.  I don't want you to go after me.  Promise me, Lori."

Oh God, this can't be happening.  Tears blurred my vision as I nodded jerkily.
"Tears for me?" He asked gently, his thumb brushing my cheek gently.  It's raining, how can he tell? I wondered vaguely as I tried to blink the tears away.
"Yes, tears for you, you bloody idiot." I hissed fiercely at him.  "As hard as it is to believe, I'm going to miss your ugly mug."  The tears turned unexpectedly into gut wrenching sobs.  I tried to stop but I couldn't.  My body shook with the violence of my grief.  Why couldn't I stop?  Oh Mike, Mike, Mike. 

Mike gathered me into his arms, covering my face with soothing feathery kisses. I flung my arms around his neck and pressed my lips against his with hungry, desperate need.  Responding ardently, he pressed his lips hard against mine as his hands entwined in my wet hair.  I wanted, needed, to feel his lips, his hands, his body against mine.  I gasped as he traced my neck with his mouth, hands kneading my hips against his.  He murmured endearments against my lips and  kissed away the tears that mingled with the rain. 
"I would have loved you for a lifetime, Lori."  He whispered against my hair.  It was too much.  Sobbing, I leant my head against his chest, feeling the strong beat of his heart. 
"Please don't leave me, Mike.  Not yet."  I knew it was a cruel, childish thing to say but I couldn't help myself.  I felt crazy with grief, even as he stood before me, still alive and healthy.  Mike wrapped his arms around me, pressing me closer to his chest. 
"It is what it is, Lori.  I don't regret a moment I've spent with you these last few days, Lori.  I don't want you to, either."  He grasped my shoulders and held me at arms reach, holding my gaze. In my eyes, I let him see all the things I couldn't say.  For a long moment, we stood in the rain facing each other.  Then he dropped his arms as he stared over my shoulder at the horizon.  I followed his gaze and saw the soft glow of the dawn lighting the distant skyline.  We had run out of time.

Dropping his arms, Mike restarted the engine.  My stomach churned with the need to say something and the helplessness of knowing that nothing I said would change anything.

As Mike brought the boat close in to shore, I did a quick head count and saw with relief that everyone on the shore was accounted for.  Mike put down the anchor and we jumped out in the shallows to greet the others.
"Thank God!" Ken thumped our backs.  "You were out there for so long, we were starting to wonder if something had gone wrong!"
I avoided looking at Mike.  "We're fine but we really need to get going." 
Michele paused by me a moment and squeezed my hand.  I guess she has as much trouble expressing herself as I do because her eyes said so much.  Jessie shyly smiled at me as she passed with the dog still in her backpack.  "I'm glad you're okay."
"I'm tough," I smiled.  "like you."  As we talked, Mike reached out and rubbed his dog's head.  The sadness in his eyes broke my heart.

I held back as the others grabbed their backpacks, plonked babies on shoulders and started wading through the water towards the anchored speedboat. 

I looked at Mike.  He was watching them leave with blinkered eyes.  My throat tightened.  Catching me watching him, he shrugged wryly. Pulling off his backpack, he held it out to me.  "You'd better take this."
"And look after Lizzie.  She's a loyal little thing."  As he walked away, I impulsively called after him.  "I could have loved you for a lifetime, too, Mike." 
He turned and grinned that familiar crooked grin at me.  "Well, hell, maybe next time round, eh?"

The darkness swallowed Mike as he trotted up the face of the sand dune.  I watched him until I could no longer see him, all the while wanting to call him back with every fibre of my body, aching with the need to hold him close and tell him everything would be okay.  Letting him walk away was one of the  hardest thing I'd ever had to do in my life.  As I turned away and headed for the boat,  I thought I heard my name whispered on the wind.  My heart leapt as, for a moment, I thought he'd changed his mind.  But it was just my imagination clinging at straws.

"Where's Mike?" Ken frowned as he started the engine.
"He's not coming." I forced out, trying to appear composed.  "He was infected."
"Oh no..." Kaye stared at me, a hand rising to cover her mouth.
I shrugged, struggling to breathe through the tightness in my throat.
"Such is life."

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 44

Keeping to the long grasses and palm trees that grew along the edge of the sand bank, Mike and I crept towards the marina.  The moon glinted in the water which sloshed soothingly on the beach.  It was a picture of serenity and beauty.  I knew better.  As we drew alongside the first row of boats, I could see dark figures wandering along the pier.  The boathouse above the pier stood dark and forbidding. 

"How are we going to do this?" I asked in a low whisper.  Mike nodded to the row of boats before us.  "We swim out to the end of the pier, climb up the ladder and work our way through the boats till we find one with keys and fuel.  Considering some of the owners must have been killed while still onboard, it shouldn't be too hard."
I swallowed, pretty confident it would be bloody hard.  "Okay. Let's do it."  I glanced uneasily at the horizon.  Was it my imagination or was there a ghost of a light already there?  I knew dawn couldn't be far away.  And with dawn came extinction...

Staying low, we slid into the gentle waves.  I'd never really liked swimming in the sea.  Between sharks, jellyfish and crocodiles, I had always found it hard to fully relax and enjoy the experience.  Now I could add the possibility of walking corpses to the list of things that could be waiting for me beneath the water.  However, except for a couple of scary moments when I felt unseen things brushed my legs, the swim to the end of the jetty was uneventful.  Mike pulled himself up the ladder and paused at the top for me to join him.
"I'll check the left side, you check the right." He whispered.  "Stay alert, Lori."
I nodded and scurried into the nearest boat, a fifty foot sailing boat.  I checked the ignition.  Nothing.  Pulling out my parang, I crept down the stairs into the living area.  It was small but comfortably decorated, designed to feel like home.  I glanced around, wondering where the owners would keep their keys.  The kitchen?  Keeping a wary eye  before me, I backed into the compact kitchen.  No keys on the bench tops or hanging on the walls.  I started searching through the drawers.  As I bent down to peer into the bottom drawer, a sixth sense alerted me.  Spinning around and falling on my bum,  I saw a man rushing at me.  Swallowing a scream, I thrust my parang up defensively as the man flung himself on me.  The knife lodged in his chest giving me the space to throw him to the side, with considerable effort.  Scrambling to my feet, I swung my parang down, cleaving his forehead.  Pulling it out, I brought the parang down again with all the force I could muster.  Brains spilling out of his skull, the body stilled.

Breathing heavily, I spun around in case the noise had attracted any other corpse lurking in the ship.  But nothing moved.  Heart thumping, I quickly checked the rest of the ship but there were no further surprises.  I moved back out onto the pier.  Mike emerged from his ship and shook his head.  Damn it.  I stepped onto the next ship, a fishing boat.  Again, the keys weren't in the ignition.  I searched the entire ship cautiously, but there was no trace of the keys.   Feeling the dawn pressing on me, I hurried onto the next ship, a motor boat.  As I searched the galley, I heard footsteps pounding down the stairs.  Mike appeared in the doorway, looking grim.  "We've got company."  Oh hell.

Rushing out, I saw a wall of dark bodies flooding down the jetty towards us.  So many corpses pressed down the narrow wooden walkway, that bodies spilled into the sea continuously on either side.  Wordlessly, Mike and I ran to the next boat, a catamaran.  Again, no keys.  I smacked the side of the boat in frustration.  As Mike searched below, I ran across the jetty to a large motorboat.  To my delight, I spotted keys in the ignition.  "Mike!" I screamed excitedly, scrambling into the boat.  As I reached for the keys, a moan brought me to a stop.  A man, grey haired with dulled eyes, stood up from behind the captain's seat.  From the cabin, a woman stumbled as she tried to climb up. 

I felt Mike come up beside me.  "You take the woman, I'll handle the man." He murmured.  Nodding, I lifted my parang in preparation and slid cautiously forward.  At the top of the stairs, I waited for her to look up at me.  The curly haired middle aged woman bared her teeth at me although her eyes remained emotionless.   With a vicious swipe of the knife, I lopped off her head.  It bounced off the steps as the body fell to the side.    Turning around, I saw Mike stepping over the man's fallen body to turn on the ignition. 

Glancing around, I saw, with an ice-cold chill, that the mob was only minutes away.  The whole length of the jetty jostled with corpses desperate for us.  Noting them, Mike turned the ignition.  Nothing.  He tried again. Grimly, he turned to me.  "Might be a spark plug but we don't have time to find out."

Scrambling onto the jetty with Mike behind me, I looked around desperately.  Just ahead of the mob spilling down the jetty was a small speedboat, its outboard motor catching my eye.  I looked at Mike and he nodded.  We bolted to reach the speedboat before the mob reached us.  It seemed I could feel their non-existent breath on my neck as I screeched to a halt ahead of them and leapt into the speedboat.  Pausing to remove the mooring rope, Mike leapt in after me and grabbed the outdoor motor with surety.  Tilting it back, he quickly opened the tank vent, moved the shift gear into neutral and adjusted the choke. 
"Mike." I whispered, voice quivering.  Glancing up, he muttered a choice word as he saw the corpses standing on the edge of the jetty, reaching for us.

Standing up, he swung his rifle up.  As he took careful aim, he spoke to me in a measured tone. "Lori, you need to prime the fuel system.  Squeeze the line until it feels firm and then pull the cord.  Got it?"
I nodded dazedly, my heart in my throat as I stared into the faces of the walking corpses, so close I could count the lines and wounds on their faces in the moonlight.  As Mike fired, taking out the nearest body, I primed the gas-line bulb with shaking hands, trying to decide if it felt firm or not.  Rapidly,  Mike aimed and shot, aimed and shot.  As quickly as the bodies fell down or off the jetty, more took their place.

Finally, I pulled the cord.  The engine stuttered.  With more strength, I pulled the cord again. It roared for a moment, filling me with excitement. As the head of the drifting boat bumped along the jetty, corpses threw themselves at us. To my dismay, several hit the boat, causing it to rock severely.  Mike stumbled and fell over a corpse as it moaned on the bottom of the boat.  Desperately, I pulled at the cord again.  Please, God, start!  The engine roared to life.  I don't think I had ever heard such a sweet sound in my life.  As the boat pulled away from the jetty, I turned back to Mike. I saw him struggling beneath two corpses.  Grimacing, he was holding one  corpse at arm's length as it snapped its teeth above him.  The other lay pinned beneath Mike's body at a right angle, its arms clawing at Mike's face. 

Pulling out my parang, I stood beside him and with one slice, decapitated the creature below him.
"Thanks." Mike grunted, throwing the other corpse off him.  Scrambling to his feet, he stood over the creature as it gaped hungrily at him, and calmly put a bullet through its' brain. 

Moving to the wheel, Mike took control of the boat.  Smiling tiredly at me, he said, "Good job."
"Thanks." I responded weakly, finding a seat before my legs collapsed under me.  "Could you tell it was my first time starting an engine?"

The clouds that had been so heavy with rain all night finally released their burden.  Rain dripped down our faces as we drew parallel with the group on the beach.   Mike stopped the boat some distance offshore.
"Lori, there's something I need to tell you before we go in."
I looked at him queryingly.  He looked so serious...and sad.  "What is it, Mike?"
Rather than answer me, he pulled off his shirt.  As I gaped at him, startled, he turned around.  I stared at his back as the rain dripped down his smooth skin.  My mind couldn't seem to comprehend what it was seeing.  It couldn't be a bite, it couldn't be.     Slowly, Mike turned back to me.  As I raised my eyes to his face, he shrugged, an ironic lift to his lips .  "Such is life."