Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 12

"Can we go now, mum?" Michele asked uneasily beside me.  She still seemed subdued but the colour had come back to her face at least.  I nodded hesitantly.  The sooner we left, the better.  But I knew I couldn't leave just yet, not while there was a little time to spare.  I had to at least try to warn the people here.

Squeezing Michele's arm, I smiled reassuringly.  "Go ahead, honey.  I will be along in two minutes."  With that, I set off at a trot for the office.  Stepping into the airconditioned room, I saw a pleasant looking receptionist with a short blonde bob, and two men talking.  One was the young man Emma had tried to talk to, and the other was an older, pot bellied man with salt and pepper hair.
"I need to speak to the manager."
"I'm the manager." The older man stepped forward, a hint of a smirk on his face. "How can I help you?"

Keeping my voice level, I looked him in the eye.  Somehow I had to convince him that I was serious and yet not a lunatic. "Yes.  I am a nurse and I have just come from the hospital.  I'm here to warn you and your staff that you need to leave.  Right now."
 "Ahh.  You're with the, ah, interesting lady Brad was just talking to, aren't you?" 
"I am." I tried not to show how much his condescension irritated me.    "We work in the ER at the Cairns Base Hospital. There was an outbreak of some kind of...plague this morning.  It is infectious and appears to cause extremely violent behaviour in affected people."
Young Brad grinned.  "Yeah, that's what the other lady said, too, except she said it was making people come back as zombies, or something!" He laughed, looking at the others for backup.

Gritting my teeth in frustration, fighting the urge to look at my watch as I felt precious time slipping away, I looked at the boy coolly.  "You'll have to excuse my friend.  She has been through a lot of trauma today."  I turned back to the manager.  "The virus is spreading rapidly through the city area. We just passed a large number of infected people heading this way.  If you are caught by them, you could be killed or...infected."
The manager looked very dubious.  "I haven't heard anything about this on the radio."

I had to go. The sense that at any moment now, the zombies could appear and block any escape, plagued me like an unbearable itch.  "The authorities may not be aware of the danger yet, or they may be too busy dealing with the crisis.  I promise you that this is no joke.  You have maybe five minutes, ten at the most, to get out of here. "  The blond receptionist's eyes widened in alarm as I continued desperately.  "Please understand - if an infected person attacks you, they will try to kill you.  You won't be able to reason with them or placate them..."
Giving up, I moved towards the door.  I had already spent way too much time here.  "Leave now, find your family and, if you can, get the hell out of town for a while."  The receptionist moved to get up but the manager pushed her down into her seat.
"No one goes anywhere until I contact the authorities and confirm the situation."  He glared at me and then his staff, and headed into his office. 

I caught the girl's worried eyes as I opened the door.  "By the time he contacts someone who knows anything, it will be too late for you." I gestured through the shop window at the two smoke plumes which were clearly visible.  "You can see for yourself that something is going on in town."  Brad looked uncertain but the young woman nodded decisively and reached for her handbag. 

As I turned around, I bumped into Emma.  "Time to go, Lori."  Her face was pale again.  I realised why as I registered the sounds of traffic chaos.  Tires squealed, horns blared and sirens screamed as the madness neared us.  It was definitely time to go.

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 11

In the few minutes that we had been preoccupied in the restaurant, the situation in the city centre had deteriorated markedly.  In the street in front of us, people struggled desperately with implacable corpses.  A zombie pulled a clueless driver out through his car window. Terrified mothers dragged their young children through traffic trying to evade the ever-increasing numbers of walking dead.  Vehicles honked as they tried to make their way through the confusion. 

And scattered amongst these scenes of desperate struggles were the heartbreaking images of battles that had been lost - a father shooing a toddler away as  zombies tore at his body; a large middle-aged woman clawing her way along the pavement as a creature gnawed at her leg; a mother with a baby still clasped to her chest as blood pooled beneath her senseless body.  The zombies crouched over their spoils like jackals at a lion's kill, squabbling over intestines and fleshy chunks.  And then, to me, the most chilling image of all - the newly dead figures slowly standing up and moving off in search of new victims.

Jim whistled slowly.  "This thing is moving quickly, Lori."  He pointed to smoke spiralling into the air several blocks away.  It seemed a good bet that it was related to this catastrophe. 
"We'd better try to get ahead of it," I answered grimly.  "or we might find ourselves trapped in town."

The ambulance, with its lack of obvious occupants, remained largely unbothered by the zombies.  The three creatures that blocked our way proved no deterrent to Jim's picket and my stake and we were soon back in the vehicle.  I slipped into the passenger seat after Michele, allowing Jim to take the wheel.  Having got my oldest daughter back, I just wanted to reassure myself that she was really here.  I grabbed her hand tightly.

"Oh, so kind of you to join us!"
I sighed.  "Nice to be back, Roy." I glanced through the back window.  "Is everyone okay in there?  Jessie?"
Her thin face appeared.  "I'm okay.  It was a bit scary for a while, though.  There was a lot of screaming and banging outside."
I felt a twinge of guilt.  "Yeah, I know.  But you kept quiet.  That was the right thing to do."  She smiled a little at that.

As Jim swung out onto the street, he made no attempt to avoid the zombies making their way towards us.  There were few living people in the vicinity now, having fled or joined the walking dead.  My heart ached as I recognised the dead father standing beside the blank-eyed chubby toddler he had tried so hard to save, watching us drive by. 

As Jim made his way carefully down Sheridan Street, taking care to avoid abandoned cars and the occasional living human,  we sat in silence, trying to make sense of the chaos.  Michele didn't say much, still looking a bit stunned.  I squeezed her hand tightly but left her alone to deal with her emotions.  What could I say that could possibly make things better?
"Okay, folks, what's the next step?" I asked levelly.  I desperately wanted to get to the twins but Kaye lived half an hour out of town in the rainforest - I had to believe that they were safe for the moment.  These people, however, had families in more immediate need of rescue.   I swallowed the urge to demand to be taken to my kids.

Jim answered hesitantly, calmly darting around a pileup between a van and a bus.  This far down the street, there were no obvious signs of zombies but the frantic behaviour of the people on the street spoke of recent encounters with the creatures.  "I've been thinking about it.  I think we should split up." He hastened on before anyone could protest. "We've only got a small window of opportunity before this plague infects the whole town.  All our homes are in the suburbs so, hopefully, our families should still be safe.  It makes sense to split into two or three groups, collect our families and meet back at a designated location as quickly as possible."
"My sister's home." I instantly replied.  "It's a pole home in Crystal Cascades.  If we had to, it would be relatively easy to defend it."
Jim nodded and there were reluctant murmurs of agreement from the others, even Roy. 

"I live out in Edmonton." Ken agreed slowly.  "That's a good thirty minutes from Emma's place in Whitfield.  We could cover a lot more ground if we split up, I guess."
"I live in Earlville." Jim added.  "That's on the way to Edmonton so we could ride together."
"What about you, Roy?" I asked, a little surprised at his reticence. 
He snorted, cheeks reddening.  "I left Melbourne two years ago to get away from my bitch of an ex-wife.  There's no one here for me to worry about."
I nodded, feeling a pang of empathy for him, and turned to Jessie.  "What about you, Jessie?  Where will we find your parents?"  She shook her head violently, her eyes darkening with distress, and sank back against her seat.  I met Emma's eyes and saw my sudden realisation reflected in them.  Jessie's parents must have been at the hospital this morning.  I prayed that Jessie had not witnessed her parents' fate but I suspected that it was a forlorn wish.

We quickly agreed that Jim and Ken would head off together while Emma and I would check on her parents and brother, seeing Whitfield was on the way to Crystal Cascades.
"Roy?  Who do you want to go with?"  I asked.  His eyes darted between me and Jim.  It may have been unfair of me but I suspected that he was calculating just who was less likely to run into zombies.  A not unreasonable reaction, I guess.  I still despised him for it, though.
"You girls will have your hands full with the kids." He responded gruffly. "I'd better go with you."


As we left the chaos of the city centre behind, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Discussion turned to finding a car for Jim and Ken.  As there was a rental car yard only a few blocks away, we headed over there.  Pulling into the car yard, everything was quiet and business as usual.  Such normalcy struck me as completely bizarre, and I had to suppress the urge to giggle.  I suspected the others would think I was hysterical.

Jim did a quick check of the vehicles in the yard and settled on an old combi van.  "Shouldn't we warn them?" Emma asked worriedly as the rest of us stood around the ambulance, keeping a wary eye out for any sign of trouble.  "They are completely clueless!"
"Yes, but not until we get our car." Ken stated firmly.  We watched silently as Jim filled in the paperwork quickly and walked out with keys to the combi van ten minutes later.  The young man with him was professional and courteous - and completely unaware.  Emma looked at me, and at my nod, hurried over to him.  I hoped she would get through to him but I had the depressing feeling that it was a story that had to be lived through in order to be believed.

Ken and Jim shifted awkwardly from foot to foot; none of us wanted to be the one to say goodbye.  We had been through so much as a group!  It went against every grain in my body to let anything divide us now.  However, I kept my peace and gripped Jim's and then Ken's hands.  "You take care now.  Don't take any stupid risks.  I am going to kick your butt if you get yourself killed!" 
"Once we've checked on Ken's parents and my Lizzie, we'll head for your sister's place.  Hopefully, it will only be a couple of hours."  Jim reaffirmed with a gentle smile.

Emma returned and shrugged hopelessly at our unspoken question.  "I'm sure he thinks I'm mad."  She turned to Ken and her eyes brimmed with tears as she hugged him fiercely.  I didn't hear her whispered words but he closed his eyes as he held her close for a long minute.  Clearing his throat, Ken stepped back.  "See you guys later."  With that, the men climbed into the old bomb and drove out of the car park.  I watched them leave with an aching heart.  Would I ever see them again?