We had really lucked out with the design of this house. Having been built into the mountain, the steep slope and the rainforest growth behind the house had so far proven too difficult for the zombies to negotiate successfully. Mike and I opened the back door and slipped quietly into the tangled shrubbery a few steps away. If all went according to plan, we should be at the lookout in less than two hours. The rain had fortuitously stopped, although the day remained heavily overcast.
Making our way up the steep incline covered in dense rainforest was strenuous work, especially as we needed to move quietly, to avoid any unwelcome attention, unlikely as it seemed in the forest. I sent Mike's back an irritated look as he moved through the landscape with seemingly little effort and I resolved to work out a whole lot more when this whole mess was resolved.
After ten minutes of going straight up, I was quietly relieved when we headed downhill again towards the road. As it came in sight, Mike signalled to me to get down low as he scouted the area.
"Clear." He grunted and walked into the open. I stumbled out of the greenery onto the bitumen, sweaty and itchy.
"You okay?" He asked politely but a slight twitch of his mouth suggested amusement. I glared at him as I brushed off leaves and ants. "Just fine, thanks. Can we go now, or do you want to talk about the weather, too?"
He raised his hands in surrender and moved off. Walking down the middle of the deserted road was an eerie feeling. The only sounds were those made by insects, the wind and our boots on the bitumen. Normally, this road was busy with walkers, bicyclists and motorists. This close to the national park, I would often hear families talking and laughing in the rock pools that lined the road all the way to the waterfalls. But today there was just the sounds of nature. I didn't like it.
As the entrance to the national park came into view, we slowed down and proceeded more cautiously. I counted ten cars which potentially meant ten car loads of zombies. The beginning of the trail was on the other side of the car park so we skirted around the edge of it, sticking close to the forest line. Mike abruptly stopped me and gestured across the park. I looked to where he was pointing but I couldn't see anything. A splash of colour caught my eye as the figure of a teenage boy in colourful board shorts emerged from the forest. The vacant stare and the ragged wounds all over his body saddened me. Somebody's son, a voice whispered in my head. He lurched into the middle of the car park. Behind him, some more young boys emerged. Did they somehow know we were here, I wondered. Had we been too noisy? I stayed very still in the shadow of the trees, breathing shallowly, as the zombies milled on the road for several minutes. Finally, one staggered down the highway and, like sheep, the others turned to follow him.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I gave Mike a 'let's get the hell out of here' look that he picked up loud and clear. We made it to the trail without spotting any more zombies, thankfully. It was a deceptively simple dirt trail which I knew would rapidly become steep and just kept getting steeper. It was going to be hell.
Surrounded by cool rainforest on both sides, we walked up the trail, keeping a sharp ear and eye out. A couple of times, nearby rustling in the shrubbery caused us to freeze but both times it turned out to be goannas. Bloody big lizards with a tendency to be cranky, they were still hugely preferable to zombies.
After ten minutes, my heart was pounding what felt like a hundred miles an hour. I was sure my face was an unattractive beetroot red but I doggedly pushed on up the dirt track which had become steeper, rockier and twisted with tree roots. Mike paused to send me a querying look. Scowling, I waved him on. The man was a robot, I was sure.
Finally, the track leveled out and I knew we were almost there. Hallelujah! I was inordinately proud of myself. Not a word of complaint had passed my lips (quite unlike the last time I had done this hike, I thought, which had consisted of me and Kaye whining and moaning all the way). Of course, we hadn't had the fear of flesh-eating zombies to motivate us, either.
Two hundred meters later, we emerged onto the deserted bitumen road leading to the dam. I stopped, breathing deeply, and pulled out my bottle for a long drink. "Oh, my god!" I gasped. "Who the hell does that for fun?!"
Mike took a swig out of his water bottle. "You did well." I looked at him disdainfully, although I was secretly delighted to receive praise from him.
"Which way now?" He asked, wiping a slight sheen of sweat of his forehead and having, it would appear, regained his breath already. I really disliked this guy sometimes.
There were no vehicles to be seen up here. No vehicles and no zombies. The dam was a sixteen kilometer windy drive from the town below. There was no way zombies would have wandered up here overnight. Feeling safe for the first time since this plague hit us, I felt an intense desire to jump, sing, shout at the top of my voice.
We had to walk downhill a while to reach the lookout. It boasted the most spectacular views of our town, from beaches to city to surrounding rainforests. It took my breath away every time. It did not fail to do so again, if for different reasons. All across the city, dozens of columns of smoke spiralled into the air, painting a picture of disaster.
Seating himself comfortably on the lookout fence, MIke pulled out his high-power binoculars and started a slow survey of the landscape before him. Even without binoculars, I could see long convoys of army vehicles moving along the main roads in every direction. It filled me with hope. As long as they will still trying, we had a chance.
After fifteen minutes of Mike's silent presence, I started getting antsy. Surely he'd seen everything there was to see by now! Finally, he put down the binoculars and stared pensively into the distance. I bit my tongue as I waited for him to say something.
Mike abruptly held the binoculars out to me. He looked unusually somber. I suddenly felt reluctant to take the glasses, but I knew I needed to see for myself. Adjusting the focus of the binoculars, I peered at the suburbs below me. The power of the binoculars blew me away even as I stared, horrified, at the devastation before me. The streets looked like they had been hit by a category four cyclone. Cars dotted the streets, overturned or crashed against homes and trees. The houses stood open, windows smashed, clothes and toys strewn across their lawns. And stumbling down the street in ones and twos, were the dead. The binoculars were so powerful, I could see the details of the individual zombies, from the torn clothing to the pasty skin and bloody wounds. It was hard to look at them and not think about the living, breathing people they had been only a day ago. They had laughed and loved, fought and cried. And now the shells of their former lives shambled forward in an endless hunt for food.
"Check out your seven o'clock." Mike murmured. There was an enormous dark mass spreading over several blocks. As I adjusted the focus again, my stomach sank. Zombies, thousands of zombies, moving as one unit.
Where were they heading, I asked myself. Moving the glasses ahead of the mass, I spotted a wall of sandbags near the end of the street and, behind the wall, soldiers. Their slew of weapons poked over the blockade. As the zombies neared, the soldiers opened fire and tore into them with machine guns and other high powered guns. The front lines of the zombie horde were ripped apart in seconds. As they fell down, other zombies clambered over their bodies and, in turn, were hammered by bullets. Some collapsed, never to rise, but others staggered on even as their bodies became little more than bloody meat. The horde moved forward with the relentlessness of a mud flow.
I couldn't look away, such was my horrified fascination. Grenades flew into the approaching crowd of dead. Body parts soared into the air. A torso and head landed on the sandbags, causing the soldiers to rear back in panic. A young man rushed forward and used his rifle to shove it off. I realised, with dismay, that they weren't even making a dent in the zombie mass. I heard a distant thumping and, glancing up, saw heavy-duty helicopters speeding in to provide cover for the overwhelmed units. Banking, they came in low and released missiles which flew straight into the dead crowd. Explosions rocked the street. Jamming the binoculars to my eyes again, I saw large gaps in the crowds which, within seconds, had disappeared like they had never been.
The horde was now only about twenty feet away from the sandbag blockade. Panicked, soldiers started to turn and run. Those that stayed ripped desperately into the crowd with their weapons. So many bodies littered the street that the advance of the zombies slowed as they clambered over mounds of body parts. But it didn't make a difference. The soldiers didn't stand a chance against an enemy that had no fear - and overwhelming numbers. More soldiers bolted. Silently, I urged the remaining ones to go. I couldn't bear to watch what was about to happen but I couldn't tear my eyes away, either.
Finally, as the zombies loomed just beyond the sandbags, the units must have been given the signal to retreat. They grabbed their weapons and ran in the other direction. Then they stopped. I could see the panic on the faces of the soldiers and what appeared to be lots of yelling. Moving the binoculars, I realised why. Zombies were filing into the street from the other end, too. The soldiers were trapped. Heart in my mouth, I watched as the soldiers drew together, back to back, spraying the approaching hordes with fire power. Brave as they were, it did them no good. They disappeared beneath the zombies without a trace. Thirty or more men lost within minutes.
"Oh my god." I whispered as I lowered the glasses. Turning to Mike, I found myself lost for words. He nodded, taking the glasses back from me. "It's like that all over the city." Peering through the binoculars, Mike continued to talk. "There's another battle going on in the Edmonton suburbs and one at the beaches and they're all getting their asses kicked." He lowered his glasses and looked at me seriously. "There is just no way for them to combat the sheer numbers of zombies coming at them."
"How many, do you think?" I asked, my mind reeling. How many of us had been lost?
He shrugged. "Based on what I'm seeing here, I'd guess eighty percent of the city's population are now dead men walking."
I shivered, appalled. Somehow, I doubted that the army had been prepared to combat a zombie horde of over one hundred and twenty thousand that had literally sprung up overnight. If we weren't hiding out in a scarcely populated area, I wondered, would we now be part of that horde?
"They'll bring in reinforcements, won't they?"
Mike shrugged. "Maybe. The trouble is that normal tactics of war don't work against creatures that just keep coming, no matter what. It's like trying to fight a force of nature. "
I frowned. "So?"
"So what happens when the powers-that-be realise that?"
"They'll try something else."
"That's what I'm worried about."
I shoved him, irritated. "Enough vagueness, Mike. I guess I'm thick so just spell it out for me."
He shook his head. "Nah. Forget it. Too many years of army bureaucracy and paranoia speaking."
"Oh, no, you don't!" I glared at him. "Spit it out."
Mike shifted awkwardly on the fence. "Seems to me that it is going to occur to someone at some stage that the surest way to prevent this virus from getting out is to drop a nuke on us."
My mouth dropped. "You think they might nuke us?!"
"Yeah," He replied soberly. "I do."