Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 23

The streets were eerily empty.  No cars moved along the road, no children played in front of their homes,  no school children played in the grounds.  Everywhere, people huddled silently in their homes.  A lone zombie stood beside the road as we drove by, staring blankly ahead.  Blood marred the whole left side of his body. I saw a shiver go through Kaye's body.  "I knew you were telling the truth but to see it for myself..." She whispered.  I nodded silently.

As we turned onto the highway, the situation changed dramatically. We watched, open mouthed, as tanks, jeeps, and trucks full of grim faced soldiers passed us, heading for the city.
"Yeehah!" Roy exclaimed.  "Now those zombies are going to get their arses handed to them!"
I felt a moment of excitement.  "I hope so, Roy."  The thought that this might all be over by tomorrow or Sunday was heady.

For the next several minutes, vehicles continued to pass us, heading into town.  As we took the turnoff to the Tablelands, we fell in behind another civilian vehicle coming from the beaches, presumably with the same idea of leaving town.

"What the hell..." Roy murmured.  Before us, armed soldiers stood across the Tablelands road, backed by a tank blocking any access.  A few civilian cars were pulled over on the side of the road.  We slowed to a stop as a soldier with a loudspeaker moved forward.  "There is a quarantine order in place.  Please turn around and return to your homes."  As the driver ahead of us pushed open his door and emerged, the soldier backed away rapidly.  The other soldiers brought their weapons up sharply.  "Sir, return to your vehicle immediately." As the driver, a tossled fair-haired man in his early thirties, continued to move forward belligerently, I started to get a bad feeling about this.  The soldiers looked jittery and nervous and I could see this situation going bad quickly.  "We have orders to shoot, sir.  Return to your vehicle now." 

The driver paused.  "You can't force us to stay here!" He yelled, gesticulating wildly.  "It's not safe!" The soldier lowered his loudspeaker.  I heard his voice clearly as he tried to calm the driver down.  "I understand, sir.  However, you need to take your family home and make your house aas secure as possible.  Lay low and it will be over in a few days."
"Yeah, when my family and I have been killed by those lunatics!" The driver screamed, face red with frustration.  He started to move forward again.  "I want to talk to whoever is in charge of this goddamned operation!"
The soldier stumbled backwards as the other soldiers charged forward.  "Move back, move back now!" They all yelled in agitation, guns raised to firing position.
"Oh my God." Kaye whispered, horrified.  "Can't he see they mean business?!  They are going to shoot him!" 

We watched, aghast, as the desperate man continued to approach the soldiers determinedly.  A shot rang out and the man jerked.  He touched his chest in surprise and then took another stumbling step forward.    We watched in horror as a barrage of bullets pierced his body, causing him to jerk around in a grotesque caricature of a dance.   As the noise faded away, his body collapsed to the road.  Agonised screams erupted from his car.  The passenger door flung open and his wife ran out.  I closed my eyes, unwilling to watch this disaster play out.  The loudspeaker blasted a warning for the wife to stop.  As I heard no more gunshots, I ventured a peek.  The wife was on her knees a few feet from her husband's body, sobbing  her heart out.

"He just wanted to get our baby to the Mareeba hospital." She cried in grief and anger.  " He didn't deserve to die, you bastards.  You're supposed to protect us, not kill us!"  She stretched out to touch her husband's foot.
"Your daughter's sick, ma'am?"  The soldier's suddenly alert voice should have warned her but she was too distraught to notice.  "Was she bitten?"
She nodded distractedly.  " She's unconscious.  She needs treatment!"
Without a word, the soldiers circled around her towards the car, weapons high again.  "Have you been bitten, ma'am?"
The young woman nodded, her eyes still glued to her husband's body.  "She bit me on the finger.  It's nothing." She turned her eyes on the soldier pleadingly. "Please - just let me take my daughter to the hospital."

One of the soldiers glanced at us and talked into his walkie-talkie. As he moved towards us, my hand clenched the armrest instinctively.   Kaye gasped nervously as he paused a few feet from our car.  He held his gun casually but alertly.  "Sorry, ma'am, but there is a quarantine order in place.  No one leaves the city.  We need you to turn around and head back home. Now."

I nodded, my eyes never leaving his face.  "We're leaving now."  Glancing at me, Kaye threw the car into reverse and slowly backed up some distance.  Once we were out of range of his weapon, we started breathing again.
"Jesus." Roy exclaimed from the back seat. "I thought we were goners for a minute!" 
"They are not taking any chances." I agreed shakily, as Kaye started to do a u-turn.  I could see that the other car and woman were now ringed by armed soldiers.  A soldier was cautiously poking his gun through the rear car window. The woman's posture was pleading as she begged them to help her.  I felt sick, knowing that she was not going to get it.  Not from the soldiers and not from us.  As we drove off, a volley of gunfire rang out, seeming to go on forever.  I didn't look back.  I couldn't bear to know.

Shaken, none of us said anything for several minutes as we headed for the Redlynch turnoff. 
"What do you think it means?" Emma asked quietly.  We all knew what she meant.
"It means they are serious about containing this disease." I answered, equally softly.   "And they are prepared to take any measures necessary to do so."
"Even killing innocent people."  It was a statement, not a question. 
"They did warn him." Roy added, halfheartedly.  "But to kill the family like that! Jesus!  There's no proof that everyone who gets bitten becomes a zombie!"  No one said anything.  Their emotions were probably as mixed and wrenching as mine.  That family could have been any of us.  The dead man had been trying to save his family just as I was still trying to do.

As we reached the turnoff to Redlynch and my sister's home, the staccato sound of nearby gunfire drew us to a stop. 
"I think it's coming from the city." Emma offered.  "It has to be those soldiers we saw earlier."
I frowned as I concentrated on the noise.  "It is a lot closer than the city.  Maybe just over the rise there." I pointed ahead.  No sooner had I said it than we saw figures pouring over the rise like ants down an anthill.  Hundreds of bodies flowing downhill towards us.  We watched in stunned silence for at least a minute as the human wave just kept on coming. 
"There must be at least a thousand!" Kaye murmured in awe.
"People or zombies?" Roy put into words the question we were no doubt all thinking.
"Any chance anyone remembered a pair of binoculars?" I asked halfheartedly, knowing no one did.
"No, but my camera has a pretty good zoom on it." Michele piped up.  Reaching back to grab the proffered camera, I beamed at my brilliant daughter.  She grinned before rolling her eyes.  Don't overdo it, mum.

As I zoomed in on the rise, we huddled around the little viewing screen.  Frustratingly, it couldn't zoom in close enough to see individual faces but what we saw was enough to confirm that the majority of the figures were zombies.  Interspersed in the crowd, I could see the uniformed figures of soldiers fighting for their lives.  Standing back to back, a group of six soldiers fired weapons at the mass of figures grouped implacably around them.  Moving the camera, I spied a man swinging his weapon desperately in circles as he tried to keep the creatures at bay.  Within seconds, he was consumed by the crowd.  Everywhere I turned the camera, I could see men fighting for their lives - and losing.

Coming over the hill, a truck full of men fired machine guns as they tried to make their way to the beleaguered men.  Except for the few zombies they hit in the head, the bodies kept pressing around the truck, making it increasingly difficult for the vehicle to move.  Even as we watched, the truck stopped moving and corpses swarmed over it.

"My God..." Roy whispered. "If the army can't win, what hope do we have?"
"Stop it, Roy." I said sharply.  "We've survived up to now, haven't we?  Maybe we are better equipped to survive than they are."
"How do you figure that?" He sneered.
"We know what we are up against." I replied quietly. "Something, it would appear, the army hasn't figured out yet." 

No comments:

Post a Comment