‘L90′: [2] - Ridley Haig; October 10

 

Oh, I can envision how this is going to go down. The argument already ferments in my stomach, irritation and anger stick to my breath in the form of bile. They are not going to leave The Basin without a fight, I don’t want to leave either. Is there any use arguing? It’s in our best interest to leave now, I can smell the drama in the air. 
    The pressure is already firmly stuck in the air, eventually we’ll be driven out. The atmosphere is lined with a sick tension so thick I can feel the stares on the back of my neck. The wounded are already close to death, they’ll be standing again in an hour. The citizens of The Basin will have to make a decision: kill their friends now, or kill their friends later.
    I tear into the heart of our home, pulling apart the two lips of the zipper. My apology is already balancing on the tip of my diving board tongue, “first of all,” I would begin, hoping a satisfactory sentence would fall head first.

Instead, I swallow it.

I’m greeted by a spot of baldness on Lana’s head, she’s waiting for my arrival with Cameron on her shoulder. I stroke his head and, with relief, take in the situation. Unfortunately, they must’ve heard my father and I talking. Lisa is already packing literally everything she can into a single rucksack. The canvas bulges, the stitches are at breaking point and the floor is still littered with shit.
    “I’m sorry.”
    “It’s fine,” she tells me.
    “That’s not helping the situation.” She’s managed to age backwards and develop the mentality of a teenager since we started travelling. Tragedy leads to maturity, comfort brings the opposite. Lana, on the other hand, remains unchanged. I check back to her as she wrestles with Cameron, “can you still drive a boat?”
    She shoots me this look, one like no other. The kind of look a snake would give a dying vole were it to ask for help, it gives me the answer I need.
    “Where’s Jacob?” I hear Cameron ask as he crawls through my legs, “have you seen him Ridley?”

Jacob, I always forget he’s supposed to be part of our group.

His random appearances tend to remind me that we haven’t always been together, our little group. Before the Zeds swallowed civilisation whole we hadn’t even met, Cameron has been the latest addition to our band. In order to reach The Basin, we hijacked a boat from Palm Beach and on it, we found the boy.
    He spoke no words as we boarded, fearing for his life. We would never have noticed him if it wasn’t for the baby chick roosting upon his shoulder. I remember it made this horrible noise as we departed, more car alarm than living creature. The kid had spent weeks stowed away on that boat, rationing discovered food between himself and the chick. He’d stumbled upon a load of supplies hidden beneath the floorboards of the boat: soups, crackers, even some old English biscuits.
    Not only was he able to save the chook’s life, risking his own, but he offered to feed our starving group. There was a kindness in his eyes that I hadn’t witnessed for months and so we took him along. He didn’t mind, as long as we took Jacob along with us too.

It had been a long time since my last chicken dinner.

Jacob was never meant to be food though, he was a friend. Cameron raised that chook himself and it kept him company during the struggle. We promised right there and, disappointed, I crossed my heart. We’d never taste him, he’d simply roam around The Basin free as a… well, bird. He was basically the only non-human creature around us. We even got eggs out of the deal. 
    (Jacob, in hindsight, was a poor name choice but we never considered telling Cameron).
    This freedom meant that we hardly saw the bird, he was often too busy rummaging around the bush. In a panicked rush, I can’t be expected to find a full-grown hen in the dead of night. “I’ll keep an eye out,” I lie as we hurry out of the tent with only a single rucksack and a handful of weapons. We’re leaving behind a collection of our gear, and now I’m second guessing the move. We could live on the boat, couldn’t we? Why not just take everything? Hell, why not undo the tent and take that with us?

Before I realise it, we’re already on the wharf and too far to turn around. My father is already running the engine, wasting what fumes we’re running on. Lisa carries our junk, Lana trails behind and I’m holding Cameron on my back. He giggles like it’s the greatest day of his life and as we pass beneath the wooden gateway, he waves. He says “goodbye!” to our home, “goodbye!” to the campers and “goodbye!” to the soaked cardboard of the rum box rules.
    I catch myself crying, almost. It’s that kind of cliché, the singular tear that falls down your cheek. It dampens the bag beneath my eye like a leaking ceiling. Suddenly, I’m not so tough and the feeling spreads as I hear “wake up!” in the background of the fuss. It’s the sound of The Basin folk trying to revive their dead. Wailing, screaming, mocking the calls made by birds of prey.
    We’ve been their protection since our arrival, some have come and some have left. More than half of them don’t know life without us and without our disappearance, another attack could lead to their deaths. Without us, the poachers would have murdered them. We’ve left them no weapons to use in our place, no secret techniques to ensure their survival and now, I think they regret there stares. It’s not until somebody says “come back” that I break, and the tear falls.
    Before I even attempt to flee, I take charge and help each one of them onto the board. Lana and Lisa jump ahead so I can hand them Cameron who continues to giggle and laugh like we tickle him. Then, he stops. His eyes stretch wide open, index finger pointed, I wait for the fated ‘why are we leaving’ but instead, he smiles. “It’s Jacob!”
    The poorly named chook waddles our way, clucks replicating the sound of sniffles and tears: “don’t leave me,” she’d say, “Raymond might try to eat me again!”
    I grab the porky bird from behind her wings and she freezes in place. Obviously, the poor thing is terrified of me, I don’t think she trusts that I won’t eat her.

I’d love to do it, honestly, I would.

I take the poor girl under my arm and we make our way onto the boat together, right before my father decides to speed off. Cameron sits on the back deck for a second, Jacob sits on his lap. With her wings flapping in the breeze, the two of them wave off The Basin.
    It’s obvious my father doesn’t understand what he’s doing despite his reluctance to notice it. Lana steals the wheel from him, taking up the most confident stance. The master of anything with moving parts, I don’t think she’s done a thing that hasn’t impressed me yet. Lana has this natural instinct, one that would fit a leadership role perfectly. My father, he was good once, but he lacks this intuition. A wealth of military experience, coupled with survival skills, made him the initial choice.

His heart’s not in it, that’s all.

My father no longer takes his self-proclaimed title seriously. Instead, he mopes around and acts of his own accord, expecting us to just read his mind and follow muted orders. Life has no meaning to him anymore, I think that’s the problem. I’ve caught on in the past few weeks but the symptoms have been around for a long time. At some point, he just devolved into this hate filled, pseudo-tough old man waiting for his death.
    It’s all the fault of the Zeds, so he says. The strangeness that has enveloped him is an amalgamation of all the horrors that have faced us so far: the outbreak, our departure from the city, losing half our family. It’s all taken its toll on his mental health, it’s destroyed him.
    My father doesn’t sleep anymore, he just collapses. When he does, it brings on insane, nonsensical rants. It’s a window into his being, I listen when I can. From what I’ve gathered, he can only stomach two outcomes: either he dies, or he kills each and every one of them, even the Halfers. Once or twice, I’ve had to pry the gun from his shaking, sleepless hands. Paranoia of the dead, Aaron Haig is a paradox: a thanatophobic with a death wish. A psychopath, standing ankle deep in the boots of a great man.
    When we were kicked from the walls like Christmas pups, we shot straight for Avalon on the Northern Beaches. An old seaside haunt from my father’s youth and, inevitably, where we would lose our family. Attacked in broad daylight, strange creatures unlike any living Zed took the lives of my mother and little brother.
    We couldn’t have seen it coming, we were all new to the Zombie Nation and they were too fast. My father always had a routine when it came to spotting the Zeds, he was the scout back then. He spent most of his life an avid camper, a nature nut even in the army. He loved the outdoors, constantly trying to push this love onto me. I took to it slowly, the others not so much.

When we left them, they were still alive.

Wounded and bleeding, they had already been bitten which meant there was no chance of saving them. You can’t just go sucking out the poison or any nonsense like that. We didn’t have a drop of that sugary vaccine either, hell, we didn’t have painkillers let alone miracle ‘cures’. Once you’re infected, you’re dead and you’re gone. I’m sorry they’re gone but honestly, they’re better off than we are.

We decided to spend a night on the boat, perhaps the rest of our lives if we could. We couldn’t, of course, not with the ever-declining amount of food rations outside the City walls. The boat itself is comfortable for the five of us though, almost perfect. There’s enough room for each of us in the cabins but I think I like it better up top. From here I can watch His Majesty Morning draw closer, slivering up the water in an elegant, orange snake. An impossibly regal moment, I inhale and ingest the surrounding calm.
    Hours pass like milliseconds and I watch the sun create a golden solar semi-circle in the sky before my friends shake off the worst nights sleep they’ve had in a long time. Lisa opens her eyes first: after cracking her neck repeatedly against her shared rucksack pillow, she stumbles towards me as the physical embodiment of a hangover with dripping eyes and heavy lips. She’s in a Zed-like state and scuffs her feet across the striped linoleum floor where her socks acquire a light dusting of dirty brown hair. The locks are Lana’s, who tears it out in her sleep.
    She steps up on deck and lays her delicate elbows against the wooden barrier that holds us from the shimmering duvet of ocean ahead. We are silent. She stretches and stamps, yawns and cracks each finger in a sequence of short to tall before words leave her lips. She’s not up for this journey.
    “I agree,” I say, “you’re not. None of us are, Lisa. We don’t even know where we’re going.”
    “You’re sure we can’t just stay on the boat? It looks fine to me, we’d just need to make a few trips here and there an-“. I have to tell her to stop but my mind debates between a sharp, authoritative ‘shut up’ and pressing my index finger against her slender lips. I take a few pages from each book and consider my options, there’s no real reason for me to explain the logistics behind spending our last remaining years on this beaten vessel, we just can’t. The way her pupils dart around like sandflies, I can see she understands my plight.

When it comes to Lisa, everything is in the eyes.

In a lecture, I tell her that if it’s not the ubiquitous danger of poacher sidelights, it’s the boat itself, a shipwreck waiting to happen. The floorboards have been broken and re-broken, now held together by duct tape alone. Each doorway is missing its door and there’s not a single pane of glass to be seen in any of the port holes.
    “I could fix it though, we just need to stop at Palm Beach. There’s bound to be something we can find laying on the ground or in that tuck shop.”
    “That’s a good mindset and all,” I tell her, “but we can’t fix a boat with rotten wood and Violet Crumbles.”
    She leaves me with a tut and I watch as she carefully treads back down below deck and gives Cameron a ‘good morning’ hug. In the midst of the love and care, my father storms past them and makes his way to me.
    “Why are we still here?” He pollutes my oxygen with the vile stench of morning breath, “we should’ve started moving when you woke up.”
    “I thought it would be best to wait until everybody else had gotten up.”
    “You thought wrong, surprising nobody. Get us moving.” He shouts, turning his attention to Lana. “Get up and push us towards Palm Beach before I have to do it myself.”
    I chase my father’s heavy footsteps back down beneath the deck and catch eyes with our helmswoman. She and I share a disgusted glance, “unpack the things,” she orders in a whisper and then disappears onto the deck. Lisa, thankfully, has already begun unpacking out bag with a frown upon her face. Items unfold one by one; five water canteens (one for each of us), a flathead screwdriver, a roll of bandages, and a cellphone.
    “Why do you still have that?” the insecure old man asks, “don’t you know those companies stopped caring a long time ago?”
    “It’s sentimental.”
    “It’s a waste of space.” He hardly lifts his head as he speaks, simply checking for dirt beneath his untamed fingernails. “What else did you pack then? On with it.”
    I, however, kept my eye on the bag as she unpacked. Her nervous demeanour shines through cracks of ‘tough girl’ like lead paint chips. I can see stutters waiting to pounce from behind those once-pierced lips, her delicate hands shudder as they fall from her crucifix necklace down to lift the next item: a large, black velvet bag. My father hears the metallic jingle of his only possession and immediately lurches from his seated position, snatching it from Lisa’s hands.

I remain silent.

In this bag is a collection of puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit together: an outdated jigsaw of stainless steel and chrome. Completed, the pieces would form a sniper rifle if they weren’t found in rubbish bins or in the pockets of corpses. “I’m still missing one part,” he says to himself before squeezing the bag into his pocket.
    Lisa continues in the background, hauling out the remnants of the backpacks innards like an ancient embalmer: an apple, one half-eaten sausage roll, a sewing kit and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. She continues to hunt through internal pockets as if she’s unsure whether or not she filled them. “With all that said,” she began, “we also have fourteen useless, space wasting rounds of sniper rifle ammunition.”
    My father grits his teeth, “if you speak to me like that again, you little shit…”
    “Dad, stop it.” I speak up this time, standing as I say it. A brief silence, and then I try to continue but a fistful of vicious words uppercut me from my father’s direction.
    “If you don’t stop interrupting me, I’ll brain you. Do you understand?” His words hit me hard and I back down. He storms off with the attitude of a petulant child on a long haul flight, so I ask the poor girl to continue her list.
    “The two handguns have a total of thirty nine rounds between them, and there’s eighteen rounds of revolver ammunition too.”
    “With that, I’ve got my Swiss Army knife and of course, we have a chicken.”
    At that moment, Cameron shoots his head around to make sure that Jacob is still clucking away. “We’re not going to eat him though, are we?


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