The SES lady at the Evac desk waited while I checked my googlemaphone for updates from friends and family. The OMG's had turned into a lot of 'fuck fuck fuck' but the key message was from my brother. He was heading to the old Hawkesbury Agricultural College, now a campus of the Uni of Western Sydney. Top idea. He'd studied food technology there amidst all the cow cockies doing agriculture. He'd won a beer guzzling record by holding a beer gun in his mouth while said weapon was on full tilt, for a College record of thirteen seconds. Not quite the measure of life but it did afford him some yobbo hero status amongst the country boys. Funny thing is that he never drank beer. Rum, cider and whiskey were his tipples. I messaged back accepting the invite and queried the beer gun. The response was not polite.. The college had its own farm, farm animals, laboratories and chemicals. Lovely stuff to cushion against the Z1 virus craziness.
"Hawkesbury College, near Ruchmond. Just down the road from the racetrack." I told the lady, adding, "But I'm stopping off at Beecroft overnight, to secure the old family home. It 's still on the market and I need to make it safe." She tapped at her laptop, murmured a couple of 'umms' and hit the enter key with relish. She then printed out an updated ED. As well as the old data it had a list of roads I was to follow all the way to the college via Beecroft. A combination of Google Maps and a shit hot police I.T. team had made it look simple. My new ED also had authority codes for fuel at Shell and Caltex, food authorisation for a single male and travel authorisation for twenty-four hours. I had to be at the college by then. Easy. I'd be at Beecroft in an hour from now, do the house thing and out of there first thing in the morning. Then an hour and a half to the college. Dead simple. Yeah, right. Everything's easy when you're an ignorant dickhead.
The SES woman wished me luck as the background weapons tune became louder. Wasn't quite the Zep or AccaDacca but earmuffs were going to be an OH&S Committee agenda item if it got much closer. I went over to the Brit backpackers to see how they were getting on. Turned out they had a choice of getting on one of a fleet of planes organised by the U.K. government or take their chances at a refugee camp being set up at Eastern Creek. Seeing as how theyy weren't Superbike jocks or V8 junkies they just wanted to go home. They were to drive out to Mascot and park the Falcon in a designated zone, then panic aboard to a Virgin jet. We hugged each other farewell and I was most surprised they didn't make a final chip about the Poms thrashing us in The Ashes. Thank fuck for that.
Now it was time to talk to Heather. She was putting her revised ED in her purse as I strode up. She looked up, that killer smile beaming, drilling into my heart. By fuck she was gorgeous.
"By fuck you're gorgeous." It came out. My spam filter had failed again. Before she could reply I quickly fired another salvo.
"I'm going to the family home in Beecroft, then out to Hawkesbury College to hook up with my brother, some science nerds and some students of GM crops, pig swill and heifer shagging.' I hesitated before adding,
" I'd really love it if you came along. The heifers ain't really all that cute." Heather's laugh pinged me once again.
"Listen Laundry Boy, I appreciate you asking and am tempted, believe me. The thing is I need to check on my own family and friends up at Berowra. Mum's not well and Dad is probably too ratarsed on rum by now to sort anything. I really have to check on them, make sure they are safe." She looked at her phone, cramped in her left hand. " My brother tweeted that he's still up in Rockhampton, holing up in a quarantine hotel. He says they're fine for food, beer and rum, not so fine for freedom of movement."
"Yeah, seems to be a lot of that these days." I wiped off my hang dog look and whipped out my phone and handed it to her.
"I want your number." She nodded, handing me her Nokia. After a bit of skull sweat I managed to put in my number, my bro's and a calendar reminder for exactly a week later instructing her to "Make love to Terry." I made sure it had reminder alerts, both noisy and vibrating with extra emphasis on the vibrate option. We swapped our phones back. I looked at mine. The most recent contact update was for 'Jellyfish Heart'. We laughed together, I'd listed myself on her phone as 'Sting Remover'.
We hugged. It was one of those ones where you put everything into it, as if you'll never see each other again. We kissed long and hard, soft and slow and kept the embrace going for longer than expected of people not in a realtionship. Eventually we pulled apart. I wiped away a few tears from her face with a soft finger touch. It was shattering, a realisation of something just won and then immediately lost. Reminded me of the Ashes test when Binger almost brought us home to a brilliant win. Except this was real loss. I hugged her again then she turned away, walking to her car. Her convoy was leaving in five minutes, mine in fifteen. I watched as she walked down to her Barina, drove out and joined a line of cars at the upper road block, bipping the horn on her way past. Beep beep Barina. I was still watching when her convoy drove off, up towards Birrell Street. She was gone. So was my heart, my head and any 'harden the fuckupness' which may have been hangin around, waiting for me to act. I went and sat down under a tree, my back against it and my knees drawn up. The background gunfire was now coming from a different direction and at an icnreased rate. It sounded like a battle and I wondered how many were getting the Chris treatment. Then more gunfire from closer to the school but to the west. A few cops ran past, carrying assault rifles.
The noise from the east died out but now the western front was becoming livelier. I stood up and saw a group of figures in army clobber running with purpose to the school. They stopped outside the park adjoining the school. Two of them set up a machine gun, another three lay prone, assuming a well drilled firing position. The cops stood behind the small squad. Then I saw what the soldiers had been firing at. There must have been fifty of them, stumbling, shambling and heading for the school. I turned around to see one of the SES guys start marshalling people into the classrooms. I trotted over and spoke,
"I have a shottie in my car. I'll be back in a minute." The SES guy hesitated, then nodded.
"Be real fucking quick." I ran off to my car and retrieved my hip flask, shotgun and the box of ammo Stuey had donated. I got back to the school and saw the soldiers firing into the shambling crowd. The cops and the SES guys were firing as well. So, this is what it comes to. I walked quickly up to them, next to a cop. He looked at me, the shotgun and nodded.
"Don't gawk at them, shoot the zed fucks!" I cracked open the shotgun and put a shell into each barrel, closed it again. Checked the safety. Raised the shotgun and aimed. Fuck! They were a bunch of old people. Where did they come from? Then I remembered the nursing homes up behind Macpherson Street, leading up to the Waverley shops.This wasn't going to be like shooting foxes, pigs and feral cats. Oh no. No big fat moggies in trees this hunting day. I hadn't fired a weapon for over twelve years, My arms shook. Then over the barrels I saw a couple of the zeds, their mouths working, their limbs shambling them along. Just like Chris. My first shot was too high. I took a breath. The second shot impacted the left side of the head of one of the wrinkly zeds. That side of the face erupted in a mass of gore and splintered bone. the rest of the head lolled crazily to one side, attached by withered muscle. It then slid down against the right shoulder, a gruesome reminder of a kid's mangled rag doll. Then the creature fell. My first zed kill.
"That's it mate. Keep it going." This was from the other cop who was slipping another magazine into his rifle. The first wave of zeds was down, but there two more following it. How many fucking nursing homes are in Waverley? Obviously enough to supply three waves of an army of zeds in a surreal mix of blue rinse and incontinent stumbling. I reloaded. The next shots decapitated two more of them. By now the combined firepower of our small group was decimating the horde. I fired off ten more rounds before the zeds were stopped. Some of them weren't dead, making jerky crawl movements and still slavering with their mainly gummy mouths. Two of the soldiers walked amongst them, doing the Dance of the Double Tap. The rest of us stood there, still surging with adrenaline. Then I noticed that the soldiers looked really young, like mid to late teens. I spotted the Waverley College cadet insignia on their uniforms. Those kids had just been shooting at what could have been theio grandparents, even great grandparents. This was becoming more fucked up by the minute. We'd come to this, using school cadets to wage war against what were once our own loved ones. Too much angsty crap for my brain. I pulled out my hip flask and took a swig before handing it to the nearest cop. It quickly did the rounds, the cops ignoring the underage drinking of the young soldiers. They'd earned a quick snort of the Mark. The two double tappers walked back, both of them looking to be in their later teens. They sported winning grins wer. The taller one said,
"Some excellent tap dancing here boys. Fucking wrinklies are the shit, Represent the Double Yooo! Woooo!" Then he grabbed the flask, swigged down a gulp and handed it to his co-tapper who did much the same before passinmg it around again. After we'd had second gulps it was empty. So was my heart.
The taller, older cadet retained his cheeky grin. That and his young face and uniform reminded me of photos taken at Gallipolli of the sixteen year olds who bumped up their ages to join what they hoped would be a Great Adventure back in World War One. Their modern counterparts seemed quite pleased with themselves. The adrenaline was still running. I also intended to run.
The SES guys soon herded the rest of the evacuees out of the classrooms. At the same time we saw another group of cops, SES and soldiers approach from the east, where the other battle had been fought. When they reached us there were handshakes and congratulations all around. The cops conferred and one got on his radio,
"Tamarama and Bronte precincts clear between McPherson and Bondi Road. Waverley twenty-three and thirty two proceeding to Clovelly precinct with SES and army components. Request resupply of ammunition and water for fifteen. We''ll RV at the Cemetery." He must have been happy with the squawked response as he grunted with satisfaction.
"Okay, the primary school crew stays here until evac is completed. Then radio in for more tasks." He motioned to the cadets I'd fought alongside,
"You fellas tag along with us. Your major has arranged some treats for you." The kids whooped with joy. Obviously they'd been promised something special before they'd been sent out to fight. They all went and piled into a combination of cop cars and council trucks, lights flashing in some kind of victory dance. The remaining SES guys and cops resumed their traffic and evacuation marshalling, keen for us to leave. My group was now ten minutes overdue so there was no dawdling, we went to our cars and drove up to the roadblock. There was a delay which I used to refill my hipflask and check my ammo. Six shells left. Gonna need resupply, so I walked up to the cop who was keeping us in queue.
"Got any spare shottie ammo? Twelve gauge? Any sort of load will do." The cop walked a couple of paces and opened up the boot of his car. He reached in and took out three boxes of ammo and as he handed them to me said,
"Use them wisely. Good luck and thanks for the help back there." I shook his hand and went back to my car, belted up and took a swig out of a water bottle and slipped The Reels into the CD player. Cued it to Bad Moon Rising, and drove off to Dave Mason's take on the Creedence classic. A lot ran through my mind as the convoy headed out. We went through Bondi Junction, then down to Edgecliff, before hitting Bayswater, William Street and then down to the Harbour Tunnel. All along the way we saw similar convoys, each headed by a car liveried with green masking tape and ribbon tied to aerials. We headed north west from the tunnel, down to the next one going through Lane Cove. By then I'd tired of Mr Mason and slipped on a Billy Connolly CD. I needed a laugh. All the way I was thinking of the loss of my home, friends, Heather and my non killing ways. The destruction of that first zed at my hands replayed itself, a horror show. Then it went. Billy was talking about willies and I started laughing. I yelled out "Go Big Willy" in an hysterical release. Ironic really, given the fact that I'd thought all my actions thus far were pretty much those of a small balled man from Scaredistan. At Beecroft Road I headed down Hannah Street, to the old family house. I pulled up into the drive, took my pack and went to the front door. A red tape was across it. I took it off and unlocked the door, noticing an ED on the floor. I picked that up and stowed it into my pack. I left a note on the telephone table explaining who I was and what i was doing, along with contact numbers for the rest of the family and myself.
One of the first things I checked was the pantry, especially the bottom shelves. Good, there was till some gin and whisky I'd left there during the period of shock and cleaning up after mum had suddenly died. Before she'd left us I used to visit her once a week, share a meal and we'd catch up with each other. Occasionally I'd take her on excursions out into the country or up the coast to visit her one remaining school friend. I sure missed those times, her love and her common sense. I paused before snappimg out of the maudlin thinking. i'd done enough of that after the funeral and it was an occasional habit with which I knew how to deal.
I looked in the fridge and found some cheese, unopened long life milk and wilted lettuce, along with anciuent condiments we'd yet to pitch out. I cleaned everything out, binning the old stuff and boxing up anything useful from the pantry. I checked all the rooms, but we'd left nothing valuable or useful before cleaning it out for market.
I did notice my old Gray Niccols cricket bat. I picked it up and shadowed a cover drive, almost dinging the wardrobe. I took it outside and put it in the boot. Could come in handy against a zed, just like in that Pommie zombie comedy. I retrieved my laptop, chargers and plugged them in, trying to get as much charge into the batteries. I'd forgotten to use the charger in the car. I turned on my HP abacus and scanned the latest feeds. MSN was still up, as was Google but the number of search results were limited to dozens, not hundreds. Twitter was also becoming sparse and blog entry updates weren't frequent at all. The Cloud was dissipating and soon would shrink down to a few sites. I left updates on Twitter, blog and Facebbook. Then I cooked up some pasta, dried out cheese and tomato paste. I went back to the car and retrieved a bottle of cleanskin Merlot. Screwed off the cap, poured a big fuck-off glass and lit up a an old Amanda cigar. The teev was showing just a few channels of evac shit, some old movies and a hashed mash of CNN, Fox, Sky and ABC24 feeds. for an hur I caught up what had been happening during my bissful, drunken, beachside self indulgence. I'd ignored a lot of bad shit in my life but this was the largest pile of crap since the back-up of the Bondi outfalls. I hadt a hint of how to deal but instead loaded up the DVD of the 2006/7 Ashes whitewash of the Poms. I really needed to see Punter's First Test brilliance, Warney's inspirational leadership to bring us to victory in Adelaide, Gilchrist's demolition of the Poms in Perth and Haydos and Symmo smashing them in Melbourne. Yeah, cricket perfection.. Thanks boys.
I retrieved a bottle of bourbon, hit 'play'and nursed whisky in one hand and the remote in the other. Bliss. If only tomorrow would be the same. Unfortunately Groundhog Day wasn't on the menu despite its existential demands. While I was watching a glorious replay of Punter's lads running amok, other elements of this new world were playing their own horrid games. I was going to need an even newer rule book.