As we entered the suburbs, I noted with sadness the many lit homes on both sides. Each one stood as a testament to a family lost last night. I knew that if there were people still alive, they would be huddling down in darkened homes, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, just as we had done. So many homes also meant many zombies roaming the neighborhood. Thankfully, the darkness and bobbing water had lulled the babies to sleep. I examined the trees and banks for any sign of movement as I floated by, intensely aware of how exposed and vulnerable we were.
A dog barked in the distance. I realised it was a sound I hadn't heard since this plague started. I wondered how it had survived this long and, with sadness, how much longer it would remain alive. "Head in, folks." Mike murmured, starting to swim sideways out of the current, followed by the rest of the group. It took us a little longer to reach them with the unwieldy boat.
"Okay, stay here." Mike whispered. "Ken and I will find a vehicle." I flared up, wondering why he didn't want me along. Hadn't I proven myself yet?
"We can't risk any noise." He continued, looking straight at me. "You have a much better chance of keeping your kids quiet than Ken or I have." I scowled but couldn't argue the point. Michele was right - I guess I am a control freak, always needing to be in the thick of things.
The men disappeared through the grove of trees giving us cover. Lizzie quivered but I had to admire her obedience to Mike as she silently watched him walk away. Now for my own kids. Watching them like a hawk, I raised a threatening finger every time they opened their mouths. They shut them again. Kaye employed similiar tactics with her toddlers. In this way, twenty minutes passed uneventfully, although my nerves were starting to feel considerably frayed by the time I heard a vehicle scream out of a driveway across the road.
"Get ready, everyone." I whispered, scrambling to my feet awkwardly with my babies. Michele reached over and pulled Alex out of my arms. We hurried to the edge of the treeline and saw the bright lights of a large vehicle heading our way. Behind them, corpses poured into the street. Ahead, the street was also filling. This was going to be close, I realised. The four wheel drive screeched to a halt in front of us. Mike leaned out of the driver's window. "Hustle, people."
Piling in on top of each other, we were inside the vehicle and on the move in seconds. The road ahead was already thick with weaving bodies. Mike plowed through them, accelerating to an unnerving speed.
"Um, Mike." I murmured, my face pressed up against his seat as the kids tried to untangle themselves and crawl in the back seats. I got a foot in my back and an elbow in my side. "Ouch! Getting us killed...oof...in a crash...uh...won't be a big improvement...hey!...on dying in a fiery nuclear explosion."
"If they gather in enough numbers, we won't be able to get through at all." He responded calmly as a body bounced off our bonnet. The wheels thudded over several more bodies before the car left the road and roared across the empty field behind the shopping centre, heading for the beach road.
The road stretched, empty and serene, before us. Even the kangaroos and curlews one could usually spot beside the road were nowhere to be seen. "Wow, it's like a ghost town." Lucas murmured in awe.
"Let's hope it stays that way." Mike responded drily. I knew what he meant. If we ran into a horde of walking dead like the one at the airport...I shuddered.
Fifteen minutes later, Mike paused the car as we turned into the main street of Yorkey's Knob. A sleepy little suburb, it nestled around a crescent shaped bay upon which the marina had been built. The main street stood silent and dark before us, as did the whole area. The street lights had not come on. "We're about to re-enter a populated zone, folks, which means lots of walking dead, so be alert." Mike spoke, a tense edge to his voice. The dark enveloped us on all sides as the car moved forward, except for the thirty or forty feet in front of the car illuminated by the headlights. Within seconds, the first zombie appeared in the lights. A bedraggled woman in her thirties, she stared at us as we passed within inches of her. An old man bounced off the side of the car back into the darkness. A face gleaming in the dark on the side of the road; two children walking down the road, arms reaching for us; boys in board shorts banging on the door as we passed. The tension in the car rose as more and more zombies appeared before us.
Finally, we approached the turnoff for the marina. "Hell." Mike muttered, braking sharply. Looking up, I saw a wall of darkness at the outer reach of the headlights. It moved into the light, revealing blank faces and ragged limbs. I drew in a sharp breath as an endless number of heads appeared behind the front line. Ten, twenty deep, they just kept coming.
With a harsh squeal of wheels, Mike reversed up the street.
"There must be over three hundred." Lucas estimated from the back.
"What are we going to do?" Michele asked anxiously. No answered as we focused on the street around us.
"Mike!" I shouted. From behind us, a mob as big as the one before us, if not larger, spread across the street and gardens. We were trapped. The car screeched to a stop.
"Hold on, folks." Mike said calmly, and changing into first gear, charged up the street a bit before swinging a hard left into the car park of the nearby IGA supermarket. "We're going to have to hoof it from here."
We piled out of the car. The babies cried and whimpered as they clung to backs, sensing the tension in the air. I desperately wanted to comfort them but I needed to focus. Pack on back and stake in hand, I ran after Mike into the dimly lit supermarket. He stood in the center of the shop, gun in hand, warily looking around. Blood stained the counter, fruit and vegetable were scattered and squashed on the floor, displays lay knocked over.
As the others joined us, Mike looked at Ken and Lucas. "Bar the doors, give us some time." They nodded and hurried away as Mike turned to us. "Stay close and stay alert. We don't know what we'll find."
Single file, we walked slowly towards the back storage rooms, leaving Ken and Lucas to finish blockading the doors. Emma cast an uneasy glance behind her as we left but said nothing. With a toddler on her back, she couldn't offer to stay with them. She needn't have worried as they rejoined us a few minutes later. "We've got zombies banging on the glass." Ken said tersely. "We've maybe got about five minutes." Mike nodded in acknowledgement.
A dragging, wet sound alerted us to company as we passed the deli. A dark haired young woman with once-beautiful blue eyes dragged her torso towards us. Her legs were shredded, gnawed stumps. A long bloody trail marked her slow progress along the floor. I wanted to end her miserable existence but every moment could mean the difference between life and death for our group, so I hardened my heart and walked by.
From the cereal aisle on our right, came moans. Lumbering down it towards us were three young - and very dead - employees. Mike stepped forward and shot them, one at a time, through the head as their arms stretched out for us. Without a word, he moved forward again. From behind us, came the sound of crashing glass. "Looks like we just ran out of time." Ken whispered grimly behind me.
Knowing the horde was just behind us, our pace quickened as we hurried through the dim shop. I caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of my eye and then a figure launched itself across the aisle. I blinked and saw Michele falling backwards, struggling with a figure, my son's frightened face peering over her shoulder. My heart froze in my chest. Michele instinctively wrapped her hands around the woman's neck, forcing her head away. Teeth gnashing in frustration, the woman flung her head from side to side in an attempt to sink her teeth into flesh. My momentary paralysis broken, I ran over and pulled the dead woman's hair violently back. Her eyes looked dully back at me as she bared her teeth. I plunged my stake through her eyes and as her limbs stilled, I flung her body to the side. The others circled in concern around us.
"Are you okay?" I asked frantically, as Michele regained her feet. "Did you get bitten, scratched?"
"No, I'm okay." She answered shakily as Alex threw himself at me. I picked him up and held him tightly. Moans, hundreds of moans, erupted behind us as the creatures responded to the ruckus. Wordlessly, we all ran.
Through the swinging doors, we ran into the huge, dark storeroom. Rows of shelves and boxes lined the room. Someone banged against a shelf as they hurried towards us. With a jerk of his head, Mike indicated the docking bay. As we slid the door up, the swinging doors to the storeroom banged open. God, they were so close now. My heart banged frantically against my chest as I held my little boy close. Looking around, I checked on Sarah who clung to Emma, an arm wrapped tightly around her neck.
The alley was dark and deserted. We raced away with the moans of the creatures behind us ringing in our ears. A dark mass emerged from the end of the alley. Oh hell, no!
"Over the fence." Mike said tersely, indicating the the property opposite us. I glanced around us as the boys gave the girls and children a boost over the fence. Corpses were closing in on us from both sides. Their dragging footsteps and dull moans filled me with helpless revulsion.
"Your turn, Lori." Mike murmured. I placed my foot in his hand and leaning awkwardly against the fence, handed a clingy Alex over it to Michele before pulling myself over.
We crept quickly along the side of the house to the street. A glance showed it to be free of zombies. For the moment.
"The golf course is only a few blocks away." Ken whispered to the group. "We can cross it to reach the marina."
A zombie staggered onto the street. "Here they come again." Emma whispered despairingly. It seemed we were the only game in town tonight.
Quietly we slipped down the darkened street and weaved our way through the houses in the the direction of the golf club. Again and again, we had to change direction or jump a fence as the horde - or hordes- blocked our journey. We couldn't stop to draw breath or regroup. We took turns carrying the children in an attempt to maintain a fast pace. Exhausted mentally and physically, we pushed on in a zigzag manner, drawing slowly but inexorably towards our destination.
Finally, after two long, terrifying hours of playing a deadly game of hide and seek, the club house loomed before us. We huddled in the garage of an old apartment block, staring at the area we had to cover to reach the club house. The clubhouse sat a good two hundred meters away, over a darkened road, parkland and a car park. "Ready?" Mike glanced at each of us. We all nodded, although I am sure everyone felt as drained as I did. Emma took Sarah in her arms and I picked up Alex. Jessie slipped her hand in Michele's. The poor child had not said a word this whole trip. I reached over and cupped her face gently. Those serious brown eyes sought mine, searching for reassurance. "You're doing so good, Jessie. I'm really proud of you." I glanced up at Michele. "Both of you." They smiled at me and tightened their hold on each other's hands.
We slipped across the empty road and into the bush parkland. A curlew cried its haunting call nearby. Another curlew picked up the melancholic tune. Growing up, I used to think it was the cry of someone grieving. I shivered. Tonight, it felt horribly prophetic.
"Here they come." Lucas called out softly. Looking over my shoulder, I saw them streaming across the park on a collision course with us. What the hell? I wondered in frustration and weariness. Could they smell us? Were they communicating with each other somehow?
"Pick up the pace, folks." Mike called, coolly. "Mike." I huffed, Alex already a dead weight in my arm. "We can't keep this pace up right across the golf course."
"I know. We'll find a vehicle at the clubhouse."
A scream brought us to an abrupt stop. Turning around, my heart seized in my chest. A tall, thin dead woman had pounced on Emma from the bushes. With hungry desperation, it clung fiercely to Emma's arm. Hampered by Sarah clinging to her chest, Emma struggled to pull away.
"Emma! Sarah!" I screamed. Thrusting Alex into Mike's arms, I started running back. To my horror, I realised the horde were closer to them than I was. Emma looked up at me, her face frozen with fear. She couldn't defend herself adequately with Sarah in her arms. Glancing fearfully to the side, she saw the horde stumbling with eagerness towards her and recognised what I had seen: I couldn't reach her before they did.