Grabbing a sheet, Mike made a sling around his torso, swinging his gun out of the way. "Ready."
I smiled at Sarah. "Time for a piggyback ride with Uncle Mike." Unprotestingly, she let me tuck her into the sling. I hesitated a moment and then, grabbing a nappy from the nearby change table, wrapped it around her eyes.
"Mummy!" She protested.
"Ssh." I said firmly. "You're not allowed to look until I say so." Once we stepped out on the ledge, we needed to proceed with total silence. I couldn't take the risk of her being frightened and alerting the corpses to our presence in the tree. She pouted but subsided.
Banging on the bedroom door made it clear that our time had run out. Over the window sill, Mike stepped carefully out onto the slim ledge running along the length of the building. Fingers grasping firmly at the gaps between the bricks, he slid a foot along the ledge. My heart in my mouth, I watched his progress. My daughter sat trustingly on his back as he sidled along the wall, blindfold obscuring most of her face. Now it was my turn. As I stepped nervously onto the ledge, a hinge on the bedroom door gave way. The corpses would be in the room in seconds, I knew. I squeezed my fingers into the millimeters-thin gap between the bricks and resolutely slid my feet along the narrow ledge, one at a time, until I had left the safety of the window.
My fingers started to shake from fear and the strain of holding on to such a narrow gap. Just keep moving, I told myself firmly, one foot at a time. Time seemed to still as my focus narrowed to my fingers and toes maintaining contact with the building. From the corner of my eyes, I could see Mike's comforting shape. Finally, I saw him clambering over the balcony and as I, too, reached it, Mike grasped my hand firmly and helped me over the railing. Gasping, I stretched my aching fingers.
"Ready?" Mike queried gently. I nodded. As ready as I'll ever be. My fingers dug into my palms as he balanced carefully on the balcony. Even though I trusted Mike with an absoluteness that surprised me, it was nerve-wracking watching him prepare to leap across a twenty-five foot drop with my daughter. I needn't have concerned myself. He made the leap with a surety I could only envy. Balancing on a thick outlying branch, he gestured to me. My turn. Swallowing, I sat on the balcony's edge. I looked over at Mike who smiled encouragingly at me. I knew he could see my fear and I appreciated his silent understanding. Okay, here goes nothing. I pushed off with both feet, aiming to hook my arms around the branch. I hit it with my chest, knocking the wind out of me. As I flailed in panic, trying to get a footing, Mike reached down and gripped my hand firmly. I calmed down, knowing he had me and would never let go.
Once I'd found my feet and regained my breath, we started carefully making our way down the old mango tree. The horde were gathered only thirty feet away, so we made our way down with excruciating slowness and quietness. As we crouched on the lowest branch, Mike whispered. "We need to hit the ground running. Head for the back of the golf club. Ken said he'd leave keys in a golf cart for us."
I looked at him askance. "Golf cart? They're not very fast, are they."
"They just need to be faster than those things." He tipped his head at the mob. Point taken.
Mike lowered himself to the ground quietly, the thick trunk between him and the horde. Then I swung down and let him lower me quietly to the grass. Taking a deep breath, I nodded to let him know I was ready. He held his hand up, watching the sky. He was waiting for cloud cover, I realised with no little admiration. Without the moonlight revealing us, we might actually make it across unseen! Excitement and renewed hope filled me.
The night darkened further as the moon disappeared behind black heavy clouds. "Now." Mike whispered and we bolted into the open. Trying to run fast but lightly, I fought to keep pace with Mike's long stride. We made it halfway across the park before the moon appeared again. A distant moan suggested that we had been spotted. As we entered the car park, I saw the remainder of the horde, a large group of at least two hundred, mobbing the heavy doors of the clubhouse. Hopefully, that meant the horde didn't realise the group had gone already, and not that the group was still trapped inside. Racing for the side of the building, I heard the excited moans of the mob. We had been spotted.
My chest burned with the effort of keeping up with Mike, but knowing what awaited me if I slowed gave me the impetus to keep up with him as we rounded the back of the clubhouse. There, in a row, were three buggies. The first and second carts didn't have keys but, with deep relief, I saw that the the third cart did. Jumping in as Mike turned the cart on, I held on as the vehicle jerked forward. It darted forward over the landscaped grounds as corpses spilled around the corner. God, it seemed to go so slowly, even though I knew it was probably travelling at least twenty miles an hour.
Slowly, slowly, the distance between us and the mob increased. As we traversed a small hill and they disappeared from sight, I breathed a sigh of relief. The buzz made me lightheaded. Grinning, I looked over at Mike and saw my baby still patiently sitting with her eyes covered. Laughing, I reached over and removed the blindfold. Blinking, she focused on my face and smiled in response to mine. Then she saw where she was and clapped her hands. "Ooh, buggy ride!"
Mike grinned at me. "That's what I love about kids. So easily pleased."
We steered clear of all dark patches as we drove across the beautifully manicured lawns. We didn't have the time or inclination to deal with any stray corpses lurking in bushes. Some minutes later, I spotted the gleam of the creek separating the golf course from the bay upon which the marina had been built. To my delight, I saw the dark shape of the two other golf carts and the figures standing around them. They were still here and safe!
Jumping out, I ran into the embrace of my family and friends. I kissed my children, then Jessie and Kaye. Mike was confronted by an ecstatic chihuahua who fought her way out of the backpack to jump into his arms and cover his face with licks.
I paused as I came to Ken and Lucas. As happy as I was to see them, the pain in their faces invoked the loss we had suffered. Wordlessly, we drew together in a long, tight hug. Finally dropping our arms, I took Lucas' face in my hand. "She told me to take care of you, Lucas. You need to know that you are family - now and always." He nodded, eyes dark with emotion.
"We've only got a couple of hours till dawn, folks." Mike reminded us gently, returning an enthusiastic Lizzie to Jessie's backpack and picking up his own backpack, which Ken had been shouldering. "Let's get across."
"Um, aren't there crocodiles in this creek?" Michele asked nervously.
"Probably." I admitted. "Stick together and we should be fine. They like to pick out the stragglers." I had no idea if that was true, actually, but we needed to get across that river, regardless.
The creek was only about thirty feet across. Ken seemed pretty confident that we could walk across, so the guys and Kaye, who was the tallest female in the group, carried the babies on their shoulders as we entered the cool water. Michele and Jessie stayed firmly in the middle of the group. I could see Michele casting nervous glances around us. Maybe I should have been more worried but I had yet to hear of a crocodile attack on a golf course in Cairns. Still, we all breathed a sigh of relief on making it safely to the other side.
"What now?" Ken asked, trying to squeeze water out of his shirt. A slight breeze made our dripping clothes chilly and uncomfortable. Mike nodded at the sand dune blocking the view of the marina.
"Let's check it out."
Ken, Mike and I struggled up the sandy bank and lay down just below the dune's edge. Mike pulled out the binoculars and focused on the marina sprawled below us. A few lights shone from boats moored there. In the dark, it was difficult to see any other details from the dune.
"What do you see?" Ken asked.
I sighed. Figured. Part of me had hoped that the marina was somehow miraculously empty, silly as that now sounded.
Mike lowered the glasses. "We'll never get the whole group safely to a boat via the marina. I suggest a couple of us fetch a boat while the rest wait by the beach."
"Yeah." I responded heavily. "Makes sense." Turning to Ken, I asked. "Will you lead them to the beach, Ken? Keep them quiet and out of sight?"
Glancing from me to Mike and back, he looked ready to protest. Then he sighed. "I guess you two are a good team. You've already shown that. Okay, I'll wait for your signal."
Scrambling back down the dune, he gathered the group. I looked at Mike who was staring at me. "What?"
"You could sit this one out, you know, Lori."
Could I? As much as the thought appealed, our lives hung on the success of this mission. I knew how Mike worked, he knew how I worked. Ken was right; we were a good team. I wasn't about to risk the group's life by changing things up now. I shrugged nonchalantly. "What, and miss out on all the fun? Not likely."