Okay, its taken a shit load of whisky and some minor revision but here it goes. The intro to a story of floods, hope, zombies and running scared. I only just realised that Birmo had used 'after' in his last title. Fuck it, my title sounds good to me anyway and that's really all that counts.
AFTERSLUDGE (A floodfic Zed tale)
I sit here and look around the cafe wondering how it all came about. Where did it start? Was it as that kid in Ipswich tweeted, “Prolly the scary man in the haunted house up the road started it.”? Who really knows? Sure the eggheads have their explanations about biological controls and mutant viruses but I’ll try and figure it out as I write this brief account of our experience. Figure it out for humans now that I have the time, feeling a hell of a lot safer in amongst a larger, well equipped and organised group. Baz reckons it’s the result of natural selection that we’re all together in one place. I put it down to a bit of luck in finding the right people, the right vehicles, the right weapons and having read and watched a lot of post-apocalypse scenarios. Especially ones with those zombie fucks.
By jingies I hate those shambolic representations of unlife. To me the definition of life is the elimination of them. Nothing else matters. To them I'm just a food source, a walking human DNA food court. I can understand that after the Eleven Floods, the risks of Ross River Fever, Dengue Fever and some bastard of an encephalitis strain needed to be controlled. The CSIRO boffin who developed bacteria which would render the mosquitoes infertile was on the right track. Just a shame it happened to coincide with the mutation of H1N1 away the fuck from its flu path and into the brain path. How the fuck it jumped like that we still don't know, only that all the mosquitoes subsequently infected as carriers are now dead, thanks to the boffins bacteria agent. A big fucking shame that all those mossies bit a huge chunk of the population and the Z1 flu was then transmitted via bodily fluids. Didn't take long to hit Asia and once it was there, Europe, the Americas and Africa didn't have a hope in hell'; there simply wasn't enough time for it to be analysed and quarantined. Fuck me, its a wonder any of us have survived. Now we have all these zeds gnawing on humans. All they need is a hit of DNA and they can keep going. The humans don't even have to be alive, just uninfected. That's a fuck load of bones lying out there for these monsters to gnaw on. Doc Strang tried to explain from his fortress in Dunedin but I can't grasp it. Maybe its because his accent has gotten Kiwified but shit I wish he'd speak straight. I could swear he once quipped
"Zuds in Unzud, eh?"
I hope he and his missus will come up with something better than suggesting,
"Get some L&;P bro! Failing that look at your dopey fucking DNA strands and see what bits the Shuffling Cunts most prefer. Get a grip, observe and find some answers. We're full bore on some messy fucking lab work here and its time you zed fodder helped out."
What a smart arse. I much preferred it when he stuck to slagging off the likes of Michael Clarke, Manly Warringah and Charlie Sheen.
So Baz has quite a few of his own egghead mates working on just that. He calls it a critical mass of research capability, I see it as a most excellent opportunity to take the piss out of nerds. They really hate it when I ask them to analyse Warnie's zooter in terms of aerodynamics, mass, shape and his rooting ability. They just don't get it. They shoo me out of the lab or away from their Macs and ask me to look for more samples. I reckon they're a big reason why we lost the Ashes twice in a row with their reliance on computing power and muesli bars. I wish we had McGyver or that bloke from Burn Notice. They'd know what to do. Mind you I'm glad we eventually teamed with our own A Team in the form of Wally and his tribe. But that was recently and I need to get back to the start of it all. Geez its hard trying to keep this shit together but I'll do my best.
The floods were a real bastard the way they hit the East Coast. The West suffered as well but Queensland, the NSW rivers and Victoria suffered big time, particularly Queensland. I remember going up there to help out a mate in Ipswich, shovelling that stinking mud, lifting white goods and sodden furniture and who knows what else. Brisbane was flooded with volunteers but Ipswich struggled at first until the tweet deluge sent hundreds of gumboot wearers to where they were needed. Tough, smelly and at times dangerous but really uplifting in the way everyone banded together. What I hated was when some arsehole would yell the State Of Origin Cry ""Queenslander!". As a True Blue New South Welshman it made my blood boil. Sure, it helped them get through but I wished they'd get a new catch cry those cane toad fuckers.
A month after the first effort I went back up to see what else was needed, knowing that the initial surge could do with some follow up. The immediate post flood adrenaline rush had left the locals a bit worn and the workload had taken its toll. That's when the boffins announced they'd been releasing mosquitoes with some sort of bacteria which would help wipe out all sorts of diseases and viruses by rendering the mossies infertile and in some cases neutralising the virus. Then the encephalitis and H1N1 mutations started. We weren't to know and the early cases were diagnosed as different flu's, so vaccines were administered to everyone. Vaccines which didn't beat Z1, which had already jumped ship and was happily swimming to all points of the globe like a kid splashing about in a tub of soft serve ice cream. What a nasty fucking virus that one turned out to be. It killed off brain cells affecting all memory, most verbal, and the more sophisticated motor skills. The patients would then be driven by a need to ingest human DNA. That's the only way they could survive. In some of the early cases all had seemed lost so the docs turned off the beep beep machines, rendering the patients clinically dead. Oh yeah, sure they were. They simply lurched up, and started munching on whatever human they found nearby. I remember the first vision of this captured by hospital security CCTV being laughable, unbelievable, and we thought that it was some sort of YouTube/hoax, like when someone photoshops their girlfriend's naked and sex consuming body on Shakira's head. Really fucking funny.
One of the most shocking clips was taken by a proud dad, of his week old infant breast feeding. It was sneezing and then using its milk teeth to tear tiny pieces of flesh from its stunned mother. The vision of milk and blood weeping from her breast as she tried to both comfort and shun her child was a symbol for us all, a symbol for our species. The sound of her husband's cries suddenly cutting out as he discarded the camera echoed around the world from its source in Brazil. An echo of despair to be repeated millions of times, as crippling fear, panic and chronic depression had a group marriage with zed as the wedding crashers. I still hear those cries whenever I try and grab some sleep. I catch Z's in my sleep as well as when I'm awake. My hope is that the echo will stop once we've wiped them out. Its why I'm glad we all agreed on the cafe's name, it speaks of hope and reassurance. No-one argued with my suggestion of '"Zed's Dead." Just after suggesting it I watched Wally go roaring off on his enduro with shottie in the custom scabbard and a Steyr strapped to his back. Naturally he'd festooned himself with a long knife, grenades and an awesomely potent looking sledgehammer. Ever the craftsman is Wally.
A few months after the floods recovery I was ruminating on how fucking jammy our cricket team had been in winning the cricket world cup and hoping that the Bulldogs would continue their arse whipping ways in the NRL and the Swans keep up their winning streak in the AFL. I also had a soft spot for the Chicago Cubs struggling with their screwed up roster and pleasantly surprised to see them running 3rd with one game back. I was watching the Bulldogs go sixteen ahead of Easts Rorters through the agency of another blockbusting run and try by the silly-haired-and-inked Jamal Idris. Channel Nine cut into the coverage with an Urgent News Bulletin just after Ennis kicked the conversion. They had vision of the so-called H1N1 variant flu causing another series of school, hospital and, well basically anything where concentrations of people gather. From there it just went on and they never went back to the football game. This was serious with the biggest fucking capital S I'd ever seen. More serious than Jack Black's Oscar nomination for that piece of 3D special effects crap and way scarier. Just.
I took stock of my bug out gear, logged into the Zombie Squad website for helpful hints on flu outbreaks, packed and walked down to the beach. Nothing like a body surf to clear the cobwebs of fear. The lifesavers weren't there, no flags denoting the safe swim zone and only a score of die hard Coast Walk puffers pounding the beach side as I walked onto the sand. I looked at the waves, judged that the rip was where it should be and splashed in where I reckoned the clubbies would have thought was safe. It was near high tide and some nice waves were rolling in on the north side about twenty metres out. Noice. There were three more swimmers out there and we had a chat about the flu outbreak. We all agreed it was a brief interlude and the boffins had it under control and meanwhile, these were some of the bestest waves for body surfing evvaahhh!
After we'd had enough we went back up near the clubhouse and found a lone bloke wearing his surf lifesaving gear, cap and all. It was old Stuey, one of the Bronte mainstays and a legend of the BBQ fundraisers and helping drunk euroratsackers out of a fight with the briny. The latter was a major fault, I had no time for those dumb fucks and had previously offered him a hundred bucks to hold their heads under water.
Stuey said he was staying, "It's pride son. this is my beach and I want to see it safe if only for today. If I were you blokes I'd be getting out and heading bush where you can find tucker and water. Things are turning to shit and it ain't gonna improve. Me, I know waht I'm up to and I know how to keep meself together. Besides, I don't want ter have ter be dragging your arses out of the shit every hour."
I looked at the other swimmers and I saw what I was feeling. Dead cold fear now that we'd left the ocean and its winter-chilly yet comforting waters. We'd left the womb and were looking for our first comfort, a swaddling blanket, a milky breast and soothing, cooing voices. What we saw was way the fuck from such fantasy. We saw Chris from the corner shop on Hewlett St stumble down the stairs which connect the top, northern part of Bronte Park to the beach. He was stumbling, looked drunk. He sneezed once and fell down, raised himself in a parody of a cheap mime (no, you ain't getting any cash from me you try hard fuck), and saw Stuey. As the four of us swimmers drew together in a sense of fearbonding we saw Stuey walk inside the clubhouse and come back out with a shotgun.
"Chris, the beach is closed. go back up home."
I called out,
"Stuey! It's Chris. Whaddaya doin' mate?"
Stuey swung the shottie around to us, shook his head and swung it back on Chris. I called to Chris to stop, that Stuey was mad but he kept on with this stumbling shuffle, his head turning to Stuey and his mouth starting to work a poor grumble. Stuey had the shottie cocked, finger on trigger and I was about to see one local icon blast the crap out of another. I admit I'm not brave and I froze, the fear setting my feet in the biggest concrete slab of do-nothing since the Feburary Taliban peace talks and then I noticed my fellow body surfers edging backwards, looking backwards and eyeing off the surf, like they wanted some sort of re birthing experience. Chris was oblivious, seemingly drugged, sort of lobotomized ad focussed on Stuey. Oh dear. Chris managed a slight slaver and didn't stop, still with an unintellible groan. Death stared out of his eyes and I realised that something was wrong, very, very wrong. As my fellow swim buddies edged back to the womb, all I had was a Primal Scream,
"Chris! No! Its Stuey and he'll shoot!"
Stuey glanced back at me, shook his head ever so slightly and watched Chris stumble on.
Its a really strange thing, having that portent of something bad about to happen but not acting. Cowardice, fear, all bound up in selfish-preservation. Sure I"ll own up to all of that and more but I still think I could have rushed Stuey, distracted him and prevented what happened. That's always the gnawing, soul-thumping and ultimately nightmare spawning, dagger of doubt.
Chris mumbled, groabed, I dunno, it was all way too scary weird to take in at the time. Chris stumbled on. Stuey raised his shotgun ever so slightly and squeezed on the trigger. A roar! A deity-shaking, deafening noise. An explosion not only injuring and abusing but almost raping the wonderful, naturally soothing rhythm of the beach. A spurt of flame and a cloud, a quickly boiled then dissipating cloud of stinking death notice smoke, writing a sign of the future. The shotgun pellets tore into and through Çhris' head. It reminded me of a cicada I'd once stomped on as a kid and had guiltily buried in a matchbox. A bloody mess mixed with white and grey, pieces of skull and bone but never like that seen on a faux pirate flag.
Chris fell with the remnants of his skull hitting the pavement before the rest of his body. Apparently mine wasn't too far behind as the sheer unreality of what I'd seen overcame any interest in witnessing more horror. It was the first time, a landmark, a raging beacon for the GPS navigator of shock and despair.
"At the next shock take the foetal position and cry." demanded my internal Tom Tom.
I disobeyed. I didn't wait for the next shock, just did it right then as memories of Chris selling me bus tickets, smokes, ice-creams and overpriced groceries mingled with the reality of his bloody, almost headless corpse falling into unlife. It all ran through like some crap beta version of a Windows media player running on Acid Max. I didn't really know it was just the beginning. I certainly felt like taking the avoidance option, my natural instinct.
Oh how my subconscious yearned for that avoidance, to make it easy and safe, but that bastard called reality kicked in via the agency of a now shotgun less Stuey offering me a cup of tea. I took it, shakily slurping, almost crying as my shoulders sagged in disbelieving shock. Stuey then draped a blanket around me and handed me a hip flask. I took it, my hands still shaking. I sniffed the opening. Rum. Bundy. Some habits can be useful.
"Thanks mate. That OP is it Stuey?"
He grinned, the first one I could remember given the circumstances, and responded in his own, old school style.
"Natch. Whaddaya reckon, I'm a poof?"
I took a healthy pull. It was comforting, a memory of late nights in good times. I looked around and for the first time got out of my own centre and wondered where the three other swimmers were. Stuey saw this and explained,
"When they saw you drop they did runners bigger than the Yanks' relay team. They all took off in their crap Vaucluse Vans." He held a low opinion of Swedish and Malaysian all wheel drive soccer mum cars. I took another swig of the Bundy and he offered me a smoke. Winnie Blues. I took one as John Saffran's line about trusting him on the Winnie Blues bizarrely ran through my mind. I knew there was no cynical, smart arse Melbourne guerrilla comedy gonna get me away from this, away from Chris' now covered corpse, away from the gunpowder stink and away from the realisation that life was never going to be the same again. No, no enfant terrible to help out here.
Stuey was getting edgy and spoke as such,
"Sorry to brush you mate, but I need to get my shit together. Another two days and this will be kill zone in paradise. Get the fuck out of here and quickly. I'm sorry you had to see what happened to Chris, but there'll be more of that.'"
Stuey was staring to unravel, the whole gory, stinking mess was hitting him, yet he still kept some cool.
""Fuck! You'll need one of these. I got anotheree, yeah. Shotties for everyone!"
He gave a half maniacal giggle, his shooting of Chris was taking more effect.
He looked at his shotgun and handed it to me. Then he went back to the clubhouse and came back with a box of ammunition a few minutes later. I took the nterluded opportunity to I finish off the Bundy and fired up another Winnie Blue. Stuey smiled as he saw me set down the flask and take another drag. He then went all Captain Lifesaver serious, shoving the ammo into my hands. His voice resonated with fear and realisation of what may yet come.
"Use that gun and don't hesitate."
I croaked out almost a half sob,
"Thanks Stuey. I'll come back after I find my mob and once this blows over. I'm sure we'll be eating your burnt snags in September." I clenched back a sob, my voice all wobbly as I walked off,
"See ya, mate."
Stuey stiffened his middle, strode quickly forward and gave me a hug, and in a rumbling, controlled voice, offered his parting words of advice,
"Now fuck off. There's no rainbow gold at the end of this victim storm."