"Whoa! That's a leap, isn't it?" My voice was suddenly shrill. "How do you go from a few lost battles to nuclear warfare?!"
"They can't let this virus get out, Lori. We're acceptable losses if the alternative is the virus infecting the whole country or even the world."
"There're still other options!"
"Really? What? Keep a quarantine in place until the bodies decay away?"
"Ye-es." My mind rebelled at the thought that anyone could contemplate wiping out a whole town. Even if most have already been killed or turned? "Assuming your fantasy is remotely plausible, what do you suggest we do?"
Mike jumped off the railing and picked up his backpack. "We make a bug out plan. First hint that the army is withdrawing all its troops, we get the hell out of town."
I laughed, a little too high pitched. "We tried that already. It didn't go too well."
"The highways aren't the only options."
As I followed his retreating figure, I realised he was right. The quarantine could not successfully prevent us from hiking out via the rainforest that hugged the city of Cairns or grabbing a boat and heading out to sea. At least I didn't think so.
As we neared the start of the trail, my stomach growled embarassingly loudly. "Um, I think we should eat before we head back down the track."
"I agree. Noise like that will bring every zombie in the area on our heels."
"Ha-ha." I headed for the gorgeous dam which lay ahead of us. "I'm just not a damned robot, like some people. I need food."
Mike grinned as I stomped past him.
We dumped our backpacks on a picnic table and proceeded to eat our sandwiches in silence. I couldn't get the image of a nuclear weapon being dropped on us out of my mind. Just the possibility of it was enough to make me want to pack up my tribe and head for the hills. Literally.
"We're should post someone up here with a walkie-talkie to keep an eye on the troop movements." Mike said between mouthfuls.
"Okay." I wondered if he wanted me to volunteer. I had no intention of being separated again from my family, however, so I kept quiet and focused on eating.
Belly soothed, I gazed at the still lake. It looked so cool and welcoming. Oh bugger it, I thought defiantly, a few minutes more won't hurt. Throwing Mike a mischievous grin, I took off at a run and leaped into the water. Just as I expected, it felt glorious. As my head emerged, I saw Mike on the bank, watching me with a crooked smile.
"You look like a drowned rat, girl."
I laughed. "Don't care what I look like. The water feels like heaven!"
He sat down and plucked a blade of grass.
"Don't you want to come in and cool down?" I asked, curious. He shook his head.
"Big strong Mike isn't scared of the water, is he?" I teased.
Mike just shrugged as he lay back on his elbow. My curiosity increased.
"You can swim, can't you?"
Exasperated, I splashed water at him. "Tell me, damn you!"
Shaking my head, I clambered out of the water. "Has anyone ever told you what an annoying man you can be?"
"Ahhh!" Shaking my sopping hair, I splattered water all over him. Laughing, he held his arms out in a protective gesture. In that instance, I had a intense moment of deja vue. A scene from many years ago. Joe on a rug here, laughing at me, as I stood over him, wet and cajoling him to join me...
I blinked and saw Mike's quizzical expression. "We'd better get going." I mumbled, walking away. It hurt too much to think of Joe, not knowing if I'd ever hold him again.
Thankfully, the walk downhill proved a lot easier than the walk up. Still, I was perspiring freely by the time we returned to the Crystal Cascades national park. Pausing to scan the area, I was reassured that there were no zombies lurking in wait for us. As I turned to Mike, the walkie-talkie crackled.
Mike pulled it out. "What's up?"
It was Emma. "Put me onto Lori, please, Mike." He raised his eyebrow quizzically as he passed the walkie-talkie to me. I shrugged. She didn't sound frantic so I assumed it wasn't an urgent matter.
"Hey Emma. What's going on?"
"It's Sarah. She's developed a high fever and I'm concerned..."
The world spun around me. Not my baby, please. As the walkie-talkie fell from my nerveless hand, my vision darkened and I felt my legs go out from under me. Strong arms grasped me and lowered me gently to the grass. Mike's face swam above me. Dimly, I was aware of him talking on the walkie-talkie as I gasped for breath, overwhelmed by panic.
"Lori." His voice cut through the panic. "Listen to me. Sarah hasn't got the virus. Her wound is infected. Do you hear me? She hasn't got the virus."
It took me a while to grasp the meaning of the words he was saying, but as they sunk in, I felt dizzy with relief. Closing my eyes for a moment, I took a deep breath and tried to center myself once more. My baby was going to be okay. Shaking, I sat up and grabbed the walkie-talkie.
"Oh Lori, I'm so sorry. I didn't think..."
"When did she develop a fever?" I interrupted.
"Not long after you left. I've cleaned rewrapped the wound but it's badly infected. We're going to need a broad spectrum antibiotic to treat the sepsis."
"Okay, okay." My thoughts spun through my options. "I'll find some."
I looked up at Mike. "Fancy a road trip?" I asked with a weak smile. He stood up and offered his hand to me.
"Things were getting dull around here, anyway." He responded, deadpan.
Back on my feet, I tucked the walkie-talkie away. "There is a pharmacy at the Redlynch shopping centre. We should be able to get what we need there."
Mike nodded. "First things first, we need a vehicle." I agreed, looking at the ten or eleven cars sitting in front of us.
"I don't suppose your repertoire of skills include hotwiring a car?" I asked hopefully.
He shook his head regretfully. Damn. I was beginning to think that there was nothing this guy could not do.
Sighing, I looked across the car park. There was nothing for it but to go to the popular swimming holes and search the picnicker's belongings for keys. "Okay. We'll try the first swimming hole and keep our fingers crossed that we find car keys quickly."
"Look for one with a remote. We don't have time to try unlocking a dozen cars in order to find which one the key fits."
I agreed and we set off at a trot across the car park. Nearing the top of the stairs which meandered down the steep bank to the first rock pool, I paused and pulled out my parang. From the corner of my eye, I saw Mike reach over his back and pull out a cleaver. Carefully, quietly, I stepped down the rock steps, followed by Mike. There were vines and trees on both sides obscuring our view as we descended. As the waterfall came in sight, I spotted several teenage boys in their board shorts standing stranded on large rocks around the waterfall, gaping wounds on their bodies. A family of zombies stood in the shallow end of the rock pool. They turned to stare at me, a man and woman in their thirties and their two little girls. Both the girls' faces had been gnawed, exposing teeth and bone in a gruesome mockery of a grin. Lumbering awkwardly through the water, they started to make their way towards us.
As I stepped off the stairs onto the bank of the pool, I saw the picnicker's bags. They lay loosely grouped together on the surface on a nearby flat boulder. Just beyond them stood a powerfully built man and, presumably, his girlfriend. Her bloodstained blond hair almost covered the missing chunk in her cheek. They, too, immediately began staggering towards us.
Mike stepped past me, cleaver held forward. " I'll hold them off while you look through the bags, Lori. Make it quick. "
"Umm." I tugged his shirt. "I have a suggestion. Why don't we just grab all the bags and get out of here?"
"Yeah, that plan works too."
Bursting through the trees, we raced over the smaller rocks to the big boulder. Keeping a watchful eye on the zombies as they approached, I grabbed as many bags as I could carry and then turned and ran back up the steps, Mike on my heels with the remaining bags.
I upturned the bags on the road and scrabbled through them, searching for keys. I found three sets of keys but none with remotes. Frustrated, I turned to Mike. "Any luck?"
He dangled a set of keys in front of me. It didn't have a remote, either.
"Damn it!" I cursed. We would have to try all the cars. The noise we were making was already attracting unwanted attention. Two zombies lurched out of the toilet blocks and, in the distance, I could see several zombies staggering down the path towards us.
Mike stood up. "These'll do nicely, Lori. Let's go." Puzzled, I dusted off my hands and followed him as he strode into the car park. He bypassed several cars and then stopped. As I cleared the cars, I saw he was standing beside a Kawasaki motorbike. "What do you think?" He smiled. "Do the job?"
"Right now, I'd accept a bicycle." I responded, a nervous eye of the zombies. "Let's get out of here."
Mike straddled the motorbike and I clambered behind him, hands firmly on his waist. Opening the throttle, he roared down the highway with confidence. Minutes later, we passed our house as we headed towards the shopping centre. I sent them my love and prayers as we drove over the old bridge.
A car lay overturned on the hill, blood staining the road around it. On the side of the road, a zombie stood motionless, staring at us. As we left the rural suburbs behind and entered the suburbs, we found our path blocked. Car upon car lay stalled, crashed or overturned, blocking the road for a hundred meters. Mike slowed the motorbike as he cautiously negotiated the maze of vehicles. I swallowed as I spotted a woman's arm lying on the road. Blood splattered the road around it. The smashed windscreen of a nearby car had pieces of clothes and flesh hanging from its edges. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a woman standing beside a blue volkswagon. Grey skinned and dull-eyed, the creature limped towards us. My hands clutched Mike's shirt instinctively. He turned his head inquiringly, and seeing the woman, nodded in acknowledgement. A moan drew my eyes to a middle aged man lying on a bonnet on my right. He stretched his arms out to us, his mouth stretched wide over grey gums. I flinched involuntarily before I realised that he could not reach us. His lower body had been severed when he had been pinned between two vehicles.
Moaning. All around us, as Mike weaved between vehicles, heads appeared. "Mike!"
"I see them."
From the houses lining the street, zombies lumbered out. My heart started racing. I trusted Mike but things were getting a bit hairy for my liking.
A hand lunged out of a car window as we passed by. I screamed as it brushed my arm, causing Mike to swerve. As he straightened the bike, I looked back at the car. Through the window, a child, still strapped in its seat, stared at me. Four or five years old, its blank, implaccable eyes gazed out of a face still plump and innocent. From the front seat, its mother thrashed in her seat, unable to work out how to release herself from her prison.
Finally, we were through the maze and Mike opened the throttle again, sending the bike surging forward. He roared out onto the open highway again, swerving adroitly between the dozen or so zombies dotting the road.