Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 15

Throwing myself forward, I struggled to tug the parang out from under Mrs Jones' body.  Grasping it tightly, I turned around to see legs looming beside me.  Instinctively, I rolled sideways and jumped to my feet, heart pounding and parang held at the ready. 

Emma's father slowly turned to face me, and the reality of the situation hit me.   A big man, Emma's father towered over me by a good foot and a half.  How the hell was I supposed to bring him down?   I couldn't reach to cut his head off.  I glanced sideways, calculating my chances of just making a dash for it.
Too late.  The huge zombie staggered forward, his long arms bringing him within reach in a second.  I tried to duck under his arm but it closed around me and pulled me into a horrible caricature of an embrace.  I struggled frantically to free myself but his superior strength, even in death, kept me pinned against his body as his teeth lowered to my neck.  The parang struck futilely against his arm and shoulders but I just couldn't get enough momentum to make a difference.

As I felt his teeth pressing on my neck, I closed my eyes in defeat.  I'm sorry, babies.  A second later, my eyes shot open as his teeth slid off. He can't bite me without his lower jaw!  The knowledge filled me with adrenaline.  Swinging my legs up, I planted them against the bed's sidetable and pushed backwards with all my strength.

As the zombie stumbled backwards, his grip weakened for a moment.  I wrenched myself away.  Then, taking a running leap, I launched myself on his unbalanced body and rode him down to the ground.  Swinging the parang down with force, I buried it several inches deep in the skull. 

The zombie blinked slowly.  Shit!  I pulled the stake out of my belt and plunged it through his eye.  Or at least I tried to.  In my frantic haste, I missed, bouncing off  bone instead.  The zombie's arm shot  up and grabbed the hand with the stake.   Inexorably, he drew it towards his teeth.  I didn't know if he would have more luck this time but I knew I couldn't take the chance.  My suspicion that the zombie virus was transmitted through the zombie's blood or saliva meant that even the smallest break in the skin could be fatal.

 I struggled to pull my hand free but his grip was unbreakable.  Twisting the stake, I managed to plant it against his upper jaw and momentarily halt the downwards journey of my hand.  With my left hand, I wiggled the parang out of the skull with some difficulty.  The zombie's other arm reached up and knocked the stake out of the way. As he brought my hand to his teeth, I slammed the parang down on his arm with all my left handed strength.  Again. Again. 

Finally the arm fell away from the body and I suddenly had control of the stake again.  This time, I quickly but carefully placed it against the eyeball.  As the zombie started to raise his head,  I positioned the heavy parang as a hammer above the stake and, with one massive swing, drove it right through the creature's brain.

I shuddered and shook atop the still body for several long minutes before I could drag myself off the corpse.

Eventually, I dragged myself to my feet.  I felt drained and numb.  As I passed the dressing table, I caught a glimpse of my bloodstained uniform.  The up close and personal fights with Emma's parents had resulted in an appearance more suited to an extra in a horror movie than to a nurse.  I couldn't face Emma as I was, not drenched in her parents' blood. 

A quick search through Mrs Jones' cupboard unearthed a worn grey tracksuit.   After stripping off my disgusting uniform, I checked my appearance in the mirror.  A bit loose but it would do.  I rinsed the weapons, tucked the stake in my waistband and wrapped the parang in a towel. Taking a deep breath, I prepared to face Emma. 

She was waiting by the ambulance.  Her eyes skimmed over my change of outfit without expression but I saw her shoulders stiffen.
"So it's over?"  She asked softly.  I nodded wordlessly. 
"Dad?" Her voice sounded hopeless but I knew she had to ask.  I shook my head.  She closed her eyes and turned away.  I looked at her helplessly and hoped that she could forgive me one day.  Maybe she would always see her parents' murderer whenever she looked at me.

Roy interrupted the moment.  "We should go.  If it's reached here,  we're not safe."
Emma swung around, her blue eyes hard and determined.  "We have to pick up Luke first."  Luke was her younger brother.  She also had two sisters but one was working in Brisbane and the other was at uni in Townsville.  Luke was pretty much the baby of the family at twelve and coddled by all of them. 

I saw Roy roll his eyes in frustration but, for once, he held his tongue.
"Of course." I agreed.  "We're only a few minutes away.  He's bound to be okay, Emma."
She nodded and climbed into the car.  As I clambered in after her, she reached over to touch my arm.  When I looked at her, surprised, she said, simply, "Thank you."


The school looked peaceful and inviting, sprawled over a couple of acres of lush greenness.  So did their home, the unwanted thought popped into my head.  The lunch bell must have just gone as the high school kids could be seen eating and strolling in groups around the school.  The reminder that the day was only half done stunned me like a bucket of cold water in the face.

"Can I come, mum?" Michele piped up from behind.  I snorted, "Not a hope in hell."  I looked hard at Roy.  "You keep the car ready to go and you keep these kids safe, Roy, or you'd better pray the zombies get to you first."
He blinked and then grinned widely.  "You got it, lady KillBill!"  I scowled at him but didn't deign to respond.

"What do we do first?" I asked Emma as we crossed the carpark, my weapons discreetly tucked away.  I had offered the parang to Emma, reluctant to part with my trusty stake, but she had refused it without explanation.  Maybe the thought of the part it might have played in her parents' death was too much for her.  "Do we go to the office and warn the school or go straight to his classroom?  Do you even know what class he is in?"

"I guess we could cover both options." She answered slowly, thinking hard.  "All the kids have to stay in the communal area while they're eating their lunch so I should be able to locate him pretty easily.  How about you tackle the principal and I'll meet you back in the office with Lucas?"
I sighed.  Great.  Let's hope the principal had an open mind and was prepared to put his students' safety above his scepticism.  "Sure.  Make it quick, okay?  We don't know how far ahead of the zombies we are."

Emma headed for the noise-filled undercover eating area while I pulled open the office door.  Two minutes later, I was talking to the principal, a smartly dressed fortyish woman with sleek brown hair.  She listened to my highly edited version of the truth with an ever-increasing frown.
"Let me get this right.  You're saying that we've possibly got a crowd of infected and highly dangerous patients headed our way.  And the reason we haven't received any warning from authorities is because it has happened so quickly and they are overwhelmed?  Is that correct?"
I nodded vigorously.  "I know I must sound like a lunatic but, Mrs Lynch, if I'm telling the truth, you have a chance to save a school full of children.  If I'm not, all you risk by listening to me is some egg on the face."
"And my career, credibility and the parents' trust."  She added drily.

I held my peace, and resisted the urge to tap my foot impatiently, as she sat in deep thought.  Coming to a decision, Mrs Lynch reached for the phone.  As she dialled, she answered my unspoken question.  "I have a friend in the State Emergency Services.  I'm sure she'll have some answers." 
I crossed my fingers but, as I expected, the phone rang out.  The principal slowly returned the phone to its stand.
"I wish she had answered." I sighed.  "She would have, without doubt, confirmed my story and we could get on with saving the kids."

The dark-haired woman glanced distractedly at me as her fingers tapping on her table, obviously wrestling with her thoughts. 
"Actually, the fact that she is too busy dealing with an emergency to answer her mobile, lends some credence to your incredible story."  She answered slowly.
I leant forward eagerly.  "Then, please, move your students to the most secure location in your school. Trust me, you'll know within a couple of hours whether this is a hoax or not.  When the crisis is over, you can contact the parents."

The phone on the principal's desk rang.  She started and picked it up.  A bemused look crossed her face and she turned to me.  "It's for you."  Oh shit.  My stomach sunk to my toes.
I grabbed the phone. "Emma?"   I knew this call was trouble, but what?  Was one of the students infected? More?
"They're coming across the field!" Her frantic voice came over the phone.  "And I haven't found Lucas yet!  His teacher says he's showing a new kid around!"
I bolted out of the chair.  "Keep looking.  I'll come find you."   Slamming the phone down, I leaned over the table and looked the startled principal hard in the eye.  "You're out of time, Mrs Lynch."
"What's happening?" She asked warily.  Frustrated, I grabbed her arm and pulled her out of her chair. "See for yourself." 

I ran, half dragging the woman with me, to the far window.  Sure enough, across the large green playing field, I saw enough zombies to turn my insides to jelly.  They staggered across the field in a six feet deep wedge of dead, torn figures.  Many of them wore the same clothing.  A school uniform, I realised.  God, they had to be kids from the catholic high school down the road.
"There!" I pointed at the wall of bodies.  "Do you see that?!"
"My God..." Mrs Lynch whispered. 
I spun her around to face me.  "You've only got minutes!  You've got to get the kids to a safe location, immediately"

Charging out the back door, I headed in the direction Emma had taken.   I had only gone a few meters when the alarm went off.  At least I assume it was the alarm as what actually played over the speakers was Darth Vader's theme song.  The already familiar crisp voice of the principal came over the loudspeakers. 
"Head immediately to the hall!  Everyone is to proceed in an orderly manner to the hall as quickly as possible."
The students near me looked confusedly at each other. "Isn't this a fire drill? Aren't we supposed to meet in the car park?"
The other student shrugged. "As long as it gets me out of Maths this afternoon, I don't care."  They turned and headed towards the large purple hall near the right end of the oval.

I quickly spotted Emma running alongside the walkway, looking distraught.  She grabbed my arms as I ran up.  "I can't find him, Lori!  I can't find him!"
"He's fine, Emma. We'll just go to the hall and wait for him there." 
She nodded shakily, seeming to take comfort in my calmness.  If she only knew, I thought.  On the inside, all I wanted to do was to shake her and scream in her face that we - to quote Roy - needed to get the hell out of here!  I ached to hold my babies and assure myself that they were all right.

Walking fast past the calm lines of students and the teachers urging them along, we kept an eye out for the dark hair of Emma's brother.  Tall and sporting the bedhead hairstyle popular among boys today, he should be easy to spot.  But what I spied was something almost as exciting.  The sports shed. 
There was bound to be something we could use in there!   I pulled  the parang out and cleaved the lock off with one blow.  Inside, it was stacked up to the roof with sports equipment.  I glanced around quickly for anything I could be useful in a fight.  There was the usual hoolah hoops, ropes, balls and, aah, cricket bats.  I grinned happily as I hefted one in my hand.  Perfect.

Tucking the bat under my arm, I trotted after Emma who was nearing the front of the line.  "I can't see him!  He's not here!"

It was then that the screaming started.