Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 30

Skye reared back as her mother's hands swiped at her face.  As she moved, the pressure of the workbench against Jodie's abdomen lessened, allowing her to lunge forward.  Skye shoved the table forward again, forcing her mum back against the wall. 

I stared at the scene, appalled.  How long had she been at this for?  Mike hurried forward and took over for Skye as I helped the trembling teenager to sit down. Blood covered the right side of her face and chest.  It appeared to be from a wound in her neck.  The child was pale and, I suspected, in shock.  Looking around, I spotted some old towels and grabbed them, pressing one firmly against the neck wound and placing another around her shoulders. 

"Lori?" Mike was looking at me meaningfully as he kept the zombie firmly pressed against the wall.  I sat down beside Skye, keeping the pressure on the neck wound. "Skye?" I spoke gently.  "Do you understand what has happened to your mum?"
She looked up at me with haunted eyes.  "That's not mum anymore.  It's a monster in my mum's body."
I nodded.  "We need to ...put the monster down now."
Skye dropped her head into her arms.  "Good."  My heart ached for her.  I looked up and gave Mike a silent go-ahead.  He nodded and, releasing  the table, pinned Jodie back against the wall by the throat.  As she squirmed and clawed at him, he thrust his knife into her brain.  The creature's movements stilled and, as he withdrew his knife, it slumped against the table.

At the sudden silence, Skye raised her head and stared at her mother's body.  The sadness in her face broke my heart.  Helplessly, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"I'm so sorry, Skye."
"I don't know what happened." She burst out.  "She was alright last night after we escaped those things and hid in here.  She was really upset because we didn't know where Jasmine was, and her arm was sore where she was bitten, but she was okay!  Then this morning, she started getting really sick.  I was happy when she finally fell asleep but when she woke up, she was ... one of them.  She tried to kill me."

I felt helpless and my head was spinning.  I didn't know what to do.  We needed to get out of here as quickly as possible but the fact was that Skye had been bitten.  When - if, I corrected myself- she turned, she would be a threat to my family.  And, in truth, I did not know if she would be able to make the trip across.  She had lost a lot of blood.  I looked over at Mike pleadingly.  What do we do?

With compassion in his eyes, Mike knelt before Skye.  "We have to get out of here now.  Can you walk, Skye?"  His sideways look to me said 'we'll deal with whatever happens later'.  I centered myself.  He was right.  Right now, there was a sick, frightened girl who needed our help.
She shook her head.  "I don't think so.  I...I don't feel good."
I exchanged a concerned look with Mike before turning to reassure her.  "Well, of course not.  You've lost a lot of blood and you've been through an ordeal."  I really hoped that was all it was.

The walkie talkie crackled.  As Mike pulled it out of his backpack, we heard Lucas' voice. "You've got incoming, guys!  ETA is approximately ...four minutes."  Mike's lips quirked at Lucas' professional tone.  "Understood, Lucas.  Good job." 
Returning the walkie talkie to his pack, he spoke in a brisk tone to Skye.  "Where do you keep the car keys?"
"On top of the fridge."  Her words seemed a little slurred.  Worried, I pulled away the towel from her neck. Fresh blood flowed down her neck.  Shit.  I applied more pressure and spoke wordlessly to Mike.  Hurry.  He nodded and moved to the garage door, weapons in hand.

"I feel tired." The young girl murmured.  "I want to lie down."  I noticed with alarm that there was a fine sheen on sweat on her pale forehead.
I shook my head vehemently.  "Not a good idea, Skye.  I want you to talk to me."  The shock and blood loss could lead to unconsciousness soon if I didn't put some fluids back into her.  I watched Mike slip out the door.  I was a little anxious for him but only a little.  I had absolute confidence in his ability to handle almost any situation he found himself in. To my mind, the man was as invincible as Arnie in Predator- but better looking, I added mentally.

"What about?"  Skye murmured sleepily.
"I don't know." I wracked my brain.  "What do you want to be when you grow up?  What sports do you like to play? Do you have a favourite book?"
"I want to be a zookeeper.  I love animals." She sighed. "Jasmine always says that cleaning up lion poop sounded like the perfect job for me.  I'd get so mad at her."
I laughed, trying to block my last memory of Jasmine staggering up the driveway.  "Sounds like a typical big sister to me."
She smiled a little.  "She's so annoying."
"Yeah well.  Sisters grow out of that eventually and end up becoming your best friend."  The sadness I felt for her was overwhelming.  Her mother and sister was dead.  Getting to know her sister as an adult was an experience she would never have. 

The garage door opened and Mike slipped back inside.  I noticed some fresh blood splatters on his white t-shirt.  He jangled the car keys and grinned. 
We lifted Skye and placed her gently on the back seat.  Mike climbed into the driver's seat of the little sedan while I rode shotgun.  He pulled out the walkie talkie. "Lucas, is Ken there with you?"
"I'm here, Mike."  Ken's calm voice came over the air.
"We're bringing the girl with us but she's injured.  We're taking the car and I plan to park it right under the stairs.  We're not going to have much time so be ready to grab her as soon as we arrive. "
"We'll be ready." Ken replied. 

Mike looked at me as he prepared to press the remote for the roller doors.  "Ready?"
"Yeehah." I said unenthusiastically.  He grinned and pressed the button.  As the door rolled up, it revealed zombies.  A lot of zombies. 
"Yeehah." Mike grinned, putting his foot down hard on the accelerator and ploughing through the creatures as he charged out of the garage, straight across the road and up our driveway.

As he neared the top of the driveway, he veered off the driveway and across the dirt to the stairs, braking to a stop just beneath it.  Fortunately, most of the zombies had not made it back yet.   "As soon as you're all inside, I'll release the handbrake and let the car roll back down."  Mike glanced around at the zombies gathering around the car and pulled out his rifle.  "I'll cover you."
"What about you?" I asked worriedly.  He looked at me and his lips did that quirky thing that was sometimes cute and sometimes irritating.  "I'll be fine.  Now go.  Lucas and Ken are waiting."  I glanced up and saw the men leaning over the stairs.  I heard the sound of the rifle firing as I squirmed into the back seat.  Skye was looking dull and drowsy.  "Okay, Skye.  We're almost there.  We just need to climb onto the roof." 

Skye nodded, her eyes dull.  With an effort, she sat up and followed me as I climbed out of the window and onto the car's roof.  I could tell that the effort had drained the last of her reserves but, thankfully, it was enough.  Ken and Lucas reached over the railing, grabbed her upstretched arms and pulled her over into the safety of the stairwell.  A quick look around showed that Mike was doing a great job of keeping the immediate area clear but all the noise was attracting more and more zombies.  We would be overwhelmed within minutes. 

I thumped on the roof to let Mike know we were clear and then jumped up and pulled myself over the railing.  Running up the stairs to the verandah, I peered anxiously over the balcony to see how Mike was doing.  I saw the car start to roll backwards.  Mike flung open the door and, with jaw-dropping agility, jumped first onto the moving bonnet and then the roof before turning and springing like a leopard towards the balcony as the car passed underneath on its one way trip down the hill.   His fingers latched around the railings of the balcony, taking the weight of his body.  Calmly, Mike then swung his legs up onto the ledge and pulled himself up.

I stared at him, openmouthed, as he climbed over the balcony.  He looked up as he brushed his hands clean and saw me gaping at him.  "What?"
Realising my mouth was still hanging open, I shut it abruptly and shook my head.  "Nothing.  Just that I'm starting to believe you do do balloon animals and magic tricks."  Walking past me, Mike waggled his brows mischievously in response.

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 29

The rain poured down in force all night, blocking all sight and sound.  As the new day dawned, the deluged lessened once more, revealing the full extent of the damage done during the night.  It looked like a tornado had cut through the street.  Up and down the street, the houses lay open and broken.  No window remained intact, doors were broken off their hinges, pets lay torn on the lawns.  It was a scene of devastation.

Peering through the curtains in the living room, I spotted familiar faces amongst the zombies.  Although her face was torn beyond recognition, I recognised the familiar plump figure of Mrs Brand standing blankly in front of our mailbox.  My heart seized for a moment as I spotted the slim figure of Jasmine staggering up our driveway. Blood marred half her face but her long fair hair made her instantly recognisable.  Poor, poor child. 

All through the night, zombies had gradually made their way to our property.  Now, with the lessening rain, I could hear the continuous moans of the horde shuffling beneath the house.  Nervously, I wondered how long the barricade would hold with a mass of bodies pressed against it.  Looking down the street, I could see that the only other house that seemed to interest the zombies was the boys' home down the end.  There were a dozen or so zombies gathered around it.  I wondered if that meant there were still people alive in that house.  I hoped so.  With their cyclone shutters down, maybe they could withstand the zombies until help arrived.

Turning away, I looked at my group, scattered around the living room.  The babies sat in front of yet another dvd as we tried to keep them as quiet as possible.  My heart contracted at the sight of Sarah lying quietly on a beanbag beside her brother.  The medication was keeping the pain under control and tended to make her sleepy but she seemed to have accepted the loss of her arm with a complacency that only a three year old could display.  If only her mother could accept it as easily.  Every time I saw the stump that was now her arm, I felt a wave of guilt and grief that threatened to swamp me.
Blinking, I looked away.  Emma and Kaye sat on the sofa behind the babies, talking softly as they drank coffee.  On the other sofa, the men and the teenagers were gathered around the CB which had been placed on the coffee table.  Jessie sat on the floor near them, playing with Lizzie, the 'plucky' chihuahua.

As I moved to join them, I heard a sound from outside.  I paused, frowning.  It had sounded like a cry for help.  It came again, a sound like a kitten's cry.  Michele looked up.  "What was that?"
"I'm not sure but I think it was someone calling out." I slid the security door open and stepped outside onto the verandah nervously.  Although I understood intellectually that the zombies knew we were here, it still seemed like I was running around in front of them, waving a flag saying 'come and eat me'.  Mike moved up beside me, a quiet and comforting presence.  The others joined us.

The cry came again, weak and thin.  As the zombies on our lawn turned towards the sound, I saw that they were heading towards Jodie's house. 
"It's Skye!" Michele said excitedly.  "She's still alive!"
"Whoever it is needs help." Kaye spoke quietly, a frown on her slender face.

I met Mike's eyes.  The urge to charge out and rescue the girl was powerful but after my last outing, I knew how quickly the situation could become dangerous.  As he'd said last night, our group had to come first.  I just had to keep reminding myself of it.
"It just mightn't be possible." I hurried on as I saw the protest on her lips. "If we can come up with a low risk plan..." 
I chose to ignore the ironic lift of Mike's brow.  Do as I say, mister, not as I do.
"We need a distraction." Lucas offered, dark hair as rumpled as ever.  Michele shot him an admiring look.  Oh boy.  "Something that will draw the zombies away from the house."
Mike nodded thoughtfully.  "Good thinking, Lucas.  How fast are you? Maybe you can run down the street and draw them away that way."
Emma gasped in outrage.  I rolled my eyes and gave Mike a shove. "He's teasing, Emma."
She sniffed as the big man grinned at her.  "Haha."

The faint cry came again, drawn out and filled with pain and fear.  I closed my eyes, trying to remain detached, even though I knew it was futile.  There was no way to block out the cries of another human being in need, especially a child.
"We could place a radio in one of the other houses." Lucas suggested.  "At maximum volume, it should act like a beacon."  Mike looked at him, visibly impressed. 
"The Brands have a surround sound system." I offered.  "Not that I have a clue how to operate it."
Lucas interjected eagerly.  "It would only take me two secs to work it out." 
Emma stepped forward angrily.  "No, Lucas!  I won't allow it." 
The boy looked at her in annoyance.  "You're my sister, not my mum.  You don't get to tell me what to do."
As Emma opened her mouth to retort, I held up my hand.  "We're not going to let you put yourself in unnecessary danger, Lucas."
"I'm the best choice, anyway." Kaye interrupted. "I've had to listen to Billie Holiday so many times at afternoon tea over there that I could probably operate that system blindfolded."

I didn't like the thought of Kaye being outside one little bit.  It was one thing to place myself in danger's way but the thought of anyone else leaving our little sanctuary sent me into a panic.  I wanted to stamp my feet and say 'no way!' but that reedy, frightened girl's voice was impossible to ignore.  If it was my daughter, I would want someone to help her.
"As far as I can tell, all the zombies are gathered either around our house or the boys' house down the road, so as long as you're careful and stay out of sight, you should be alright." I said reluctantly. 
Kaye looked so slender and fragile; I had to remind myself of the way she had delivered a kick-ass blow to Roy yesterday.

Mike picked up a black backpack.  "Lucas, you and Michele will be lookouts." He pulled out two walkie talkies.  "It will be your job to give us the heads up if we are about to have unwanted company."  The boy looked a little mollified as Mike pressed a walkie talkie into his hand.  Mike looked down at me, square jaw grinding yet another piece of gum into submission.  "As soon as we get the all-clear, I'll head out the back door into the forest and circle around to the girl."
I raised my brow defiantly.  "We'll circle around to the girl."  Like I said, it was easier to place myself in harm's way than sit by and watch others do it.  Mike nodded expressionlessly.  Still, there was something in his eyes that made me think I had reacted exactly as he had expected.  It irritated me for some reason.  I guess no girl likes to be predictable.

Through the kitchen window, I watched anxiously as Kaye slipped out the back door into the nearby forest line. Logic suggested that there would not be any zombies in the forest, unless they were going after small animals.  I prayed that we were right.  In her dark clothes, she slipped unnoticed through the trees until she was right behind the Brands' back door.  Then she dashed across the grass and disappeared into the house. 

As I waited for the signal with mounting anxiety, Mike appeared and silently handed me a pistol.  I tucked it into my belt beside my trusty parang.  To think I had once thought the knife was only good for chopping chickens.  To my immense relief, the sweet sound of Billie Holliday suddenly blasted over the street.

"Sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought
of ever returning you
Would they be angry
if I thought of joining you?"

I shivered.  Nice sentiment, lady. 

As hoped, the music started drawing the zombies towards it.  The zombies that had been in Jodie's house stumbled back into the streets.  Quite a few of the ones under our house shambled across the steep landscaped lawn.  I saw, with relief, Kaye darting back into the forest as zombies made their way up theBrands' front lawn.

"Time to go." Mike murmured.  I nodded.  I followed him to the back door.  Michele grabbed my arm, eyes sharp with concern.  "Please be careful, mum." 
"Don't worry, honey.  See, I'm armed to the teeth."  I patted my weapons reassuringly.   "Anyway, if I have to, I'll throw Mike in the zombies' way to save myself."
My daughter rolled her eyes but smiled, reassured, anyway. 
"Nice." Mike muttered as he opened the back door.  "I'll be sure to watch my back."
I grinned at him.  "It'd only be as a last resort, Mike!"

We made it through the forest and across the road at the bottom of the hill without detection.  Then we slipped down to the riverbank and made our way through the treeline to the back of Jodie's house.  The backyard seemed clear so we ran across and pressed ourselves against the back wall.
"We're going to have to be quick." Mike murmured.  "Once they realise there aren't any people in the Brand's house, the zombies will be heading back here."  I nodded and peered through the broken back window.  It was one of the girl's bedroom and looked like a train wreck. 

The girl's incoherent cries were much clearer now.  I tracked it to the garage. Great.  With the rollerdoors down, the only way to get to the garage was through the house.  From the look in Mike's eyes, I knew he had realised the same thing.  Cautiously and as quietly as I could, I climbed over the windowsill into the bedroom.  I knew it was likely that some zombies had stayed behind to find the source of the cries.

Once Mike was inside, we walked as lightly as we could through the corridor. Mike braced an arm across my chest abruptly.  Catching my eye, he pointed at the room on the left.  A quick glance revealed a zombie standing in the middle of the room, staring through the window.   We slipped past the open door with all the stealth we could muster. 

We found the garage door next to the kitchen.  At least we assumed it was the garage door as a zombie was banging its hands against it, futilely.  Pulling a thin knife out, Mike slipped up behind the creature and pinned it against the door.  Before it could emit a sound, he efficiently plunged the knife through its eye.  Immediately, its body slumped down, allowing Mike to quietly lower the body to the floor.

The door was bolted and made of heavy wood which explained why the zombies hadn't broken through.  As gently as possible, Mike slipped the bolt.  Indicating to me to step back, he pulled the door open a fraction.  Immediately, the volume of the cries jumped through the roof.  We met each other's eyes, and by mutual agreement, leapt into the garage, slamming the door behind us.

"Who's there? Is someone there? Please help me!"  A quavering young voice called out.  I hurried forward, trying to locate the voice amidst the car, boxes and tools.  "It's Lori Nelson.  Is that Skye?  Where are you?"

A deathly moan stopped me in my tracks.  There was  a zombie in the garage with us.  Mike tensed beside me, passing the knife into his left hand and pulling around his rifle.
"Please hurry." The voice shook with desperation.  "I can't hold on much longer.  I'm over here in front of the car."
I edged cautiously around the car, parang at the ready, and saw the child.  And her mother.  Jodie snarled and clawed at her daughter as the fourteen year old kept her mother pinned against the garage wall with a portable workbench.