Without my Dad in tow, the walk to North Avalon was easy enough. Those misshapen bends of Barrenjoey Road weren’t a struggle for us but, without a break, our troupe is tired. We’re not really in the best of health at the moment, if there’s one thing we lack it’s proper exercise. The occasional walk around the campsite has apparently not been all that straining on our bodies.
The old petrol station near the tennis courts was a welcome sight and now, in the baking sun, we rest against the bowsers. When I was a boy, I could’ve pictured myself living here. It was a quiet little town filled with eccentrics and unsettling types. Dodgy folk, but it’s an overall lovely place. Both the town and the beach were once tourist destinations but nobody would want to visit them now. Surfing - a sport I never quite grasped - was a large part of the town’s appeal but there’s no longer a single wetsuit in sight.
There’s a groaning coming from the left. Surrounding an old bus shelter is a pack of feral Fullers. You can’t give them the benefit of the doubt but it looks like they’ve become half-wits in their long-decrepit state. The older ones develop this pack-mentality and won’t attack anything that appears larger than themselves. Their body shapes indicate their nothing but Rotters, it’s rare to come up against anything else in these parts.
“It looks safe to move on, I reckon we’ll be able to take them if they decide to attack.” They’re a little burned out from last night’s events. I think it’s the bandage but any tear in the fabric of our group, like this gaping hole my Father left, is going to deal more damage to us than I can explain. We’re on a helter-skelter, ready to hit the Earth at any moment.
We pass a couple of the Zeds before they begin to notice our presence; they grumble to themselves, repeating prominent phrases from their past like broken, walking dictaphones. They’ve scattered themselves across the road and the pavements, waiting to prey on possums. It’s the slightest noise that’ll catch their attention - like Cameron scuffing his steps - which causes them to stare. The mumbling develops like film, a slow process transforming these guttural bass-line moans to whistling screams. A cavalcade of bodily noises: “please”, “yes”, and “why?”.
We pass them unharmed and head into thick air, dense and smog-like smelling of burnt hair and festering flesh. The pavements grow darker in colour where run-off has spilled, decorated with the occasional splatter of blood where an unlucky traveller has been caught. My vision shudders at the thought of losing somebody in our group, I mean, what the hell have I brought us into? I shotld’ve turned back around when my Father left us.
In the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of three zombies crowding a small, furry carcass and I have to stop to make sure Cameron is still with us. This sudden lack of movement alerts the creatures and I’ve doomed us all. Behind the three is a fourth, a Strongman hidden amongst the Rotters. Wrapped in a leathery canvas of sin, the creature stretches and prepares for the chase like a track runner; swollen veins and the underbite of an English Bulldog.
You can see puncture wounds from broken bones where the muscles in its upper body have expanded but waist down, its physique has taken a beating. One leg appears to be missing entirely while the other has shrunken, a feeble prawn attached to its hips by a string of purple flesh. Using its hands as feet, the Strongman kicks away what is left of its possum dinner as we become dessert.
As a team, my Father and I developed multiple strategies for every conceivable encounter. Take slow steps backwards but you must not move with too much haste, you’ve got to act as one of them. In our time in the Zombie Nation we’ve witnessed many things but cannibalism is not a popular trend within Zed communities. The zombie’s first tactic is to smell you out but the Strongman’s sense of smell is shot compared to the other strains.
As I consider this, the Strongman takes a long, hard look at me before stomping over, shaving medallions off its palm against the uneven blacktopped road. It towers over me, a pipsqueak stands against the beach bodybuilding bully. Its lower bod, too large for the clothing warn before the infection hit, swings naked at nose height. A featureless face, both blind and deaf, lowers itself to me and almost buries itself in matted hair. Through a gaping, heart-shaped hole where the nose once sat, the creature inhales.
Picture a wine tasting.
This tasting lasts almost a straight minute and there’s no break between sniffs: infinitely inflatable lungs. Once it’s finished, the Strongman returns to its straight-backed form and screams towards the sky. I take this chance to check: where has the group gotten to? And, with the utmost disappointment, I see that they have not yet taken the chance to escape as we had discussed in the past.
Instead, if anything, they’ve moved closer to the beast. Why? Why would they not just grab Cameron and run? Lisa is pointing and, following that outstretched finger like a child, I see that Cameron stands behind the Strongman, looking at me for guidance. It’s a stupid idea that will get him killed and any sudden movement that might stop him could get us all dead. I feel like his pissed-off father when our eyes lock. “What. Are. You. Doing?” I mouth the words at him as wide as I can muster. Then, this devilish smile seems to come across his face; in his right hand, Cameron has one of our shared pistols. He’s going to shoot the Strongman in the back of the head, so I have to express my point clearly. “Do. Not. Do. This. Bad. Idea. No. Stop.”
When the Strongman’s roar ceases, it exhales a physical cloud focused almost entirely in Lisa’s direction. The literal stench of death. Lisa’s stomach contents vacate, projectile vomit spreads across the floor like sewage. The smell, it entices the Strongman and he dabs his hand into the mahogany fluid. Before the creature can taste the creamed bile, Cameron pulls the trigger hard. The bullet almost seems to shoot out from the gun in slow motion but it hits the mark as expected.
It’s not the only expectation which is met as the shot slices through the rhino-hide skin but only three layers deep. The beast remains unharmed, but angered.
“Run!” I shout with complete faith in the idea that we will never, ever outrun this creature. Lana tosses me her pistol, meaning both her and Lisa are now indisposed. She and I run together, hoping to loop around at some point to save Cameron who has run in the other direction, back to Palm Beach. “The Strongman grow these extra thick layers of skin, it’s hard to penetrate with anything so don’t bother attacking!” I say, “but these layers only grow where the skin is already quite thick. The eyelids and the insides of the elbows or knees are the thinnest.”
“I thought you couldn’t kill them like that, isn’t that what you said?”
“Yes, well that was before somebody gave Cameron a gun…”
“You wanted to do that!”
“All right, all right. Yes, you have to crush the skull but the undead can skill bleed out, it’ll slow it down long enough for us to do something about it.”
Lana shouts as loud as she can, hoping to reach Cameron’s little ears. She’s repeating my theory, ordering him to try and shoot the inside elbow. The poor kid fires relentlessly, hitting once every three bullets. Soon, the ammunition is used up and he drops it, running into the arms of Lisa. The Strongman spins on the spot, chasing his injury like a dog would its tail.
I hand Lana back her gun, “you need to get its attention.”
“What are you going to do, you fool?”
I pull my knife from my back pocket and begin the slow walk to another possible death. The Strongman still spins on the spot, searching all over for the mozzie that just bit it. I get a single chance to stab the creature’s waist and knock it over but I’m faltered. There’s a strange rumbling coming from behind me, it’s like the Earth itself is vibrating, a powerful engine approaches.
Impossible, there’s no petrol left.
“Ridley, get down!” I follow Lisa’s screamed order to the letter and fall to the Earth as a hideous yellow ute tears past the Strongman and I. The ute comes to a halt behind the creature, catching its attention. Four young men pull themselves from the seats, cheering and holding their arms up in the air where a roof once belonged. One of them removes something from the passenger side glovebox and tosses it at the Strongman.
The black cylinder attaches itself to the zombie’s flesh and beeps whilst I’m still on the floor. I attempt to crawl away: it’s only a homemade grenade, a craft I never had the knack for. The bomb erupts, evaporating the monster’s skull and replacing it with a fountain of black blood. When the body joins my own, the four men help Lisa and Cameron into the back of the ute. They’re the true image of a survivor albeit more desert island than zombie apocalypse in those tattered rags.
“You two with these two?” The grenade-chucker asks as Jacob hops into the ute as well, “and the chook?” He’s caked head-to-toe in sunscreen, a luxury people are still taking for granted. I stick my thumb up at them and nod, “we’ve got no room for you.”
“Where are you going to take them?”
“Follow us, we’re just around the corner. It’s been a while since we last saw any people.”
My thumb shoots up again, and they vanish. “It’ll be nice to connect with new people,” I tell Lana, “and if worse comes to worse, we’ll just steal their supplies and head off to Warriewood.”
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