My head was full of fear, the googling thing in my skull hadn't quite yet logged in. Looking back at Stuey's shooting of Chris I now know that deep down there'd been a realisation that what Stuey had done was necessary, but the shock, combined with the effects of the strong rum had pulled another level of fog over my mind.
I kept on walking up the hill on the north side of Bronte Beach. I walked past the millionaire mansion once owned by Heath Ledger and reached Hewlett Street. I took one more look down at the park and the beach, Chris' body now just a misdrawn stick figure on the clubhouse promenade with Stuey nowhere to be seen. I turned around just as a police car pulled up right near the steps I usually take up to Andrew Court. Two cops got out, one of them carrying a data slate, the kind carried by couriers, pizza delivery types and other functionaries of an online world. The other carried a look of exhausted worry. Worry beckoned to me,
There it was, no questions about shotgun blasts, decapitated shopkeepers or crazy old clubbies, just my address.
I told them,hysterically adding,
"But what about Chris and Stuey? Chris is down there, dead and Stuey's off his nut!" I pointed down at the clubhouse,
"Okay," the cop looked down at the beach, "we're dealing with that, a team is on its way and it will be okay". Just one thing about that, was the victim infected? sort of stumbling, pale, mumbling or groaning?" If so, did he bite you?"
I shook my head, still in a fog, still not registering what was turning out to be something far more horrible than what I'd just seen. Alert, I wasn't, never really had been.
"Okay, go back to your place, pack up and go to your evacuation centre. Its on this docket."
Data Slate Cop printed out what looked like a receipt and handed it to me. It had my name, address and Bronte Public School on it, plus a series of numbers.
"The numbers are your receipt for your apartment, its contents and any outstanding financial obligations currently associated with it. When this is over, you'll need that receipt. Keep it safe. Now get the fuck out of here. Oh yeah, that guy you saw get shot? "
I nodded, at last an acknowledgement of what I'd seen. Also I'd forgotten I was carrying Stuey's weapon and two cops hadn't blinked an eye. Reality gave me a big fuck off slap to the head. The cop went on,
"If you see another one like him, use that shotgun. Head shots are the only way to stop them. Go on, get packed and get to evac."
The cops walked away and up to the house next to Heath's and knocked on the door. I watched. No answer. They waited, so did I. No answer. Data Slate cop punched his receipt printer, tore off the paper and slid it under the door. They then stuck a strip of green tape on the door. When they saw me they shooed me off. I walked away, with increased pace. When I got to my block I saw a few of the other residients piling their cars with prized possessions. I rushed up the stairs to my place, saw a red sticker on the door and went inside. A cop receipt was on the floor, telling me that as there was no-one home the flat was now government property, due to the emergency. If I didn't contact the number provided or report to a police officer I would have no right to the flat, its contents but would still be liable for any financial liabilities. I laughed, put the shotgun down, tore up the note and took stock. I gathered a few family photos, a couple of books, a stack of cd's and DVD's including Zombieland and Planet Terror then all the food I had. Only amounted to two boxes worth of supplies. Then it hit me, Chris' shop was closed. all shops would be closed. I switched on the radio and tuned to ABC Local, the go to station for emergencies. I switched on the TV, it was still working. Flipping the channels showed me a series of news desks, explaining eveacuation details for The Emergency. Kochie was noticeably absent but Karl Stefanovic was there, running through hard facts and locations. The ABC had Virginia Trioli going through much the same. On radio they were doing it by postcode groupings. I listened for mine as I showered. I changed into jeans, steel capped boots, long sleeved drill shirt and packed socks'n'jocks for a week, two pairs of jeans, my board shorts, two other pairs of shorts and a few windcheaters and jumpers until the pack was amost full. I packed my toiletries and first aid kit in the front pocket and whatever touring maps I could find and strapped a pair of runners on one side and sandals on the other. Reminded me of my ratsacking days.
I then went through whatever I could find on the net as to what had happened while I was being an oblivious, self obsessed, dozey prick. I found that the H1N1 virus had jumped ship into some sort of brain fucker, maybe allied to an encepholytis thing but the science was beyond me. Boffins had released mosquitos into the east coast flood areas, mossies which carried bacteria designed to sterilise other mossies. It worked but not before the mutant virus had spread. By the Flying Spaghetti Monster had it spread. Cities and towns were being evacuated, right fucking now, and then they would be cleansed. People who'd been infected by the mutant virus were being herded into makeshift camps. There were vids of some of them, aimlessly shambling and then occasionally taking a bite out of someone. All accompanied with the OMG screams and a spooky mumbling from the biters. I found a couple of snuff vids from a group tagged as #zedkillnow. Those vids reminded me of what Stuey had done with Chris. That's why the cops were matter of fact about that little episode and weren't surprised by my possession of a shotgun. They were getting everyone, well, the uninfected, the hell out of town before the critical mass of infection would wipe us all out. Was that right? I didn't know, all I was worried about were family and friends but still I looked after myself and resumed packing.
I surveyed what I'd packed and in another box I stuffed detergent, toilet paper and the half dozen plastic bottles of water I kept in the fridge. Then my beer, and a bottle each of rum, bourbon, single malt, gin, vodka and Drambuie. All my booze. I carried everything down to my car and waved goodbye to Therese and Ian from downstairs as they were marshalled off in their Lancer by a bloke in an orange SES vest. I went back to my flat, did an idiot check then grabbed all the chargers and batteries I owned, including the car adaptors for laptop and phone. I checked the phone for signal and found that it did. I sent texts to all my contacts telling them I was heading to the local primary school and would update later. I checked my own inbox and found similar messages with a lot of hysterical OMG!!!'s included, like you'd expect from Big Brother contestants when they first realised they were actually in Da House. My twitter timeline was full of crap, but had some helpful links which I immediately hooked into, #dontpanic being one of the best. I tweeted what I was doing then flicked back to SMS mode. I sent one to my siblings saying I'd head up to the mountains to my brother's place, going via my sister's at Balmain. The messages got through, acknowledgements from all, with my sister saying to avoid Balmain, she was going to her son's place outside of Griffith. He was minding a farm for friends of the family. Perfect bug out place. Okay, so I hooked into my frends' replies. They were a mixture of sensible planning and panic. The sensible ones I wished good luck, the panicky ones I told to take ten deep breaths and do what the evacuation people were saying. I looked for my hip flask, the one with the Makers Mark logo and opened it up, sniffing the contents like a seventeenth century toff sniffing his perfumed hankerchief as he walked the streets of a stinky London. Smelled alright to me, nothing like London and the only peasant around here was myself. I took a quick swig, recapped the flask and did the final idiot check. I pulled out all electrical cords, turned off all switches, checked the fridge (for the tenth time) and turned off the water mains. both hot water and general purpose. That was me done. I looked around the flat, it seemed emptier but still as if someone lived there. Pictures on the walls, and, oh crap, better put the pot plants on the balcony with their rougher, óutside' mates. Right, that was it. Everyting locked, ship shape and as untidy as I dare, which was a truckload of untidy.
I walked out, final bags in hand and went downstairs to my car, dumping the bags on the back seat while others milled around, waiting for the direction to go. Fuck, check letterbox. Sure, I was goning to summon the real estate agent offering instant valuation and then follow up with a selection of home delivery Thai, Indian, Chinese, Turkish and pizza orders. I laughed at the futility of it but still put the flyers into the Blue, (Paper and Cardboard only) Recycling Bin. Gotta help the planet. My head was still spinning, a combination of fear, panic and wanting to run. Fight or flight, I'll do a runner every time. I checked the fluid levels for my Commodore, only needing to put in a bit of brake fluid and top up the wiper water tank. All packed, ready to go. Now what else was happening? There were still six of us waiting, two couples, myself and Heather from number nine. The two couples were backpackers on short term leases. Noisy fucks a week ago but they looked scared, making nervous jokes, trying to lift flat spirits and reassuring each other in some sort of cultural throw back to the Blitz. Heather just looked stunned. She also still looked stunning.
Okay, recap on Heather. My first encounter with Heather had been a few months ago, earlier on in the swimming season. It was a late Sunday morning and I'd just put a load of washing in the communal laundry and walked out onto the landing between floors. She was walking down from above wearing a very skimpy bikini, an angel from above. I did the smiley "hi" thing and she smiled back. I noticed a large red mark above her left breast, extending up to her shoulder. She noticed my gaze, rubbed the area and explained she'd encountered a jellyfish and it was still stinging. Hmmm, here comes Prince Valiant,
"Ï have something you could put on that." Geez, that came out wrong. I quickly added a postscript, Ï have some Sting Go, for bluebottles and such." Fuck, did I really say 'and such'? I was babbling.
"Really? Does it work?"
"Sort of. Its best with ice, some sort of alcohol rub, then you smear it on." I sounded more confdent now, having used the stuff before in exactly the same combination.
In my flat I got out the icetray and put some cubes on a saucer, then retrieved my reserve Stoli from the freezer.
She was checking out my flat, the untidiness of bachelordom combined with a coupe of prints of classic nudes on the walls, photos on the bookshef and the detritus of my slack lifestyle scattered around.
"Sorry about the mess." Traditional apology, I'd used it too often.
"Sókay. Youré a bachelor obviously." I gave her the ice cube dish, not offering to do the rubbing. She applied the ice while I went and got the anti-sting lotion. When I walked back into the kitchen dining nook she was rubbing Stoli onto her breast, underneath her bikini top. Now I needed the ice cubes. She looked up and took the lotion. I did some busy look away stuff, grabbing a couple of glasses and pulling some chilled water out of the fridge. I poured two glasses and ventured a gaze at Heather, just in time to see her readjust her bikini top and do one of those wiggles which makes blokes like me think of anything besides scivvies and waggling two fingers at a bunch of toddlers. She noticed my obvious interest,
"Ï have a boyfriend." she smiled. I grinned back,
"Let me know when that job becomes vacant. I'll lodge a resume."
Heather took a swig of Stoli then downed the glass of water before standing up and moving to the door.
"Thanks for the first aid, Laundry Boy. See ya 'round." She threw back a smile and a swish of dark brown hair as she walked out the door. I propped there watching her arse sway along the walkway. She turned around once she reached the stairs at the end and gave a wave which I reciprocated. Took me a full half hour to get my hear rate down to something which wouldn't alarm St Vincents Hospital. Then I retrieved my washing from its wet thrashing.
Since then I'd noticed her around and about and exchanged pleasantries, even going to the shops together once or twice when we found each other about to embark on identical missions, but from my point of view it was all very sadly platonic.
Six of us waiting, ready to decamp to the local primary school. Heather had her gear packed in her old Barina and the ratsackers were loaded up into a '96 Falcon wagon. We stood around looking at Stuey's shotgun, wondering what the fuck was going to happen next. A bloke wearing overalls, an orange SES vest and a rifle strapped across his shoulder walked up to us. He was holding a two way radio which was making walkie talkie noises. He listened, pressed the 'transmit'button and said,
"Ready for last of Andrew Place to go." He looked at us all and ground out the orders he'd uttered too many times,
"Okay you lot. Time to go. Park in Dixon Street near the school and go and get further evacuation advice. Don't forget your evac dockets. Those ED's are priceless."
After a quick conference re batting order of convoy, Heather led off with the Brits following her and me playing tail end Charlie. As we left I saw the SES bloke give us a wave. When I next looked in the side mirror he was finishing up taping across the driveway. Job done. I gave a mental wave goodbye to the block, my home of the last decade or so. Its care was now in the hands of the Bondi butterflies. Heather led us around to Hewlett Street and at the end of Dixon we found a cop waving us to the right. A hundred yards down there was enough space for our three cars. Further up the hill we saw roadblock barriers manned by another cop, this one wielding a very serious looking rifle, like one of those used by cops who surround hostage farmhouses outside of Adelaide. To our left was the school. Another SES guy was walking up and down keeping watch on all of the parked cars. Up the other end of the street we saw a small convoy of cars be waved through another road block. In the distance I heard what sound like a car backfiring. And again. I’d heard that sound before on soundtracks of movies featuring the cappingness of people called Eastwood or Willis. The six of us looked at each other, a lot of questions in a quick glance. Then the shooting of Chris decided to do an unrequested replay in my unforgiven mind, like some sort of crap initialisation fault in an iPhone app, written by aGen Y Jobs disciple in between tweeting about 'awsm pwning'. It was overlaid by the SES guy telling us to go up to the school, to the classrooms where we go to vote. This week I mainly be voting for ‘I want all of this crap to stop’. In both houses. Just write ‘1’ in the box for returning to normal. The SES bod told us to just take our ED’s. Oh yeah, Evac Dockets, not election porn from that cute Greens chick who always hangs out there on election day and never goes for the sausage sizzle.
The school grounds had around two hundred people milling around, waiting their turn to approach the classrooms. As we walked through the front gate a cop checked our dockets and waved us on into the grounds. A few more backfires popped off in the closing distance. Either the boy racers who frequent the precinct hadn’t spent a lot of time on tappets and timing or something a tad more sinister was on the hob. All I wanted was a few WRX hoons to go past and the world would be getting back in sync. Ended up there wasn’t a fully sick ride to be seen bro’, just some more popping and an increase in worry lines on the combined faces of the SES and cop establishment types. The SES guys all of a sudden were carrying rifles and shotguns. Some sort of apocalyptic magician’s trick. Prepared. There are times when you walk through the soft sand down at Bronte and it its hot, really scorching your soles, and its totally fucking hard to lift your feet despite the burniness. Seeing previously unarmed and peaceful volunteer blokes toting Arnie gear added a similar beachside angst. Painful, check. Necessary, in doubt. Scary, yes. Anthony Green called that one as a victory for the Get The Fuck Out Party after a simple, preliminary count of primary votes:
“No need to go to preferences in this seat Kerry, we can call it right now. We’re just waiting on the early results in the adjoining electorate where the Scared Shitless candidate is way ahead in the count of some key booths.”
We went to the tables which were signposted in alphabetical groupings., just like elections. The four backpackers were directed to an international table, just like absentee voters. I was in the ‘A-H’ group, Heather in the ‘P-Z’ afterthought. The background backfiring died away, as I suspect did a few souls. A few minutes later the SES official asked my name.
I handed her my ED and my driver’s licence. She asked me where I was planning on going. I looked at Heather waiting two back in her queue and thought of my siblings. Once again that nasty little fucker called ‘doubt and indecision’ órchestrated a coup and named itself as supreme leader of my mind. Nothing was definite except wanting to run. To where, I now had idea. Then what had been a little acorn grew into the mother of all oaks in my head, and in its unyielding, oakey language it yelled,
"Time to man the fuck up you useless prick. For fuck's sake, make a move!"
Those talking trees can be a real bastard, just like those tiresome fucking Tolkien Ents, especially when all you want is to hide under a bed and wake up when everything is all nice and easy again. I realised something about that little fantasy. Not. Going. To. Happen. The road was waiting, and so were people I knew and loved. The background popping started again, closer this time. I thought of my family, my friends and Heather. Then I thought of Stewie's shotgun. Fuck it. It was now my shotgun and I suspected it was going to become one of my besties. Man up? It was going to take a shitload more than a shottie, a V6 Commodore and a crush on a neighbour. It was however a start. Time to hit the road.