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Authors: Jeremy Bates

Six Bullets (4 page)

BOOK: Six Bullets
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Am I surprised old Buzz survived so long post-impact? No,
not really. Not only was the station about as remote as you could get, the
entrance to it was an unmarked dirt road perpendicular to the highway that
disappeared into a barren red landscape of rocks and scraggy vegetation. Most
people would drive right on by it without batting an eye, and even if you knew
the turnoff was there, Buzz could have easily erased evidence of it altogether.
So, no, I’m not surprised he lasted so long, especially with all those sheep to
eat.

I spotted Buzz around what I suspected to be midday.
Although my eyes had become well-adapted to the permanent dark, I didn’t know
it was old Buzz until I put on the night-vision goggles. And sure enough it was
Buzz all right. He stood across the road, behind a parked car, staring at my
house. He didn’t know I was a survivalist, didn’t know about my stockpile of
goods. So I’m not sure what brought him here. Maybe he was simply lonely. Maybe
he’d been going around town stopping by all our old mates’ homes. Maybe the
pump-action rifle clasped to his chest was just for self-defense.

And maybe cows could fly.

In this new world, friendship didn’t mean shit. It was all
about survival. All that mattered was food, water, shelter, and staying alive.

Buzz made the first move. He crossed the street, slowly,
limping, favoring his right leg. He was thinner than he used to be, gaunt.

He stopped when he reached the sidewalk adjacent to my
property.

“Burtsy?” he called. His voice was hoarse, oddly
high-pitched.

I didn’t reply. He couldn’t know I was home. I’d dressed up
the house to appear deserted.

“Mate,” he said. “I need to talk.”

I didn’t reply. He stared at the house, assessing it. Sully,
I noticed, was coming up through the trapdoor to the roof. I motioned for him
to keep low. He moved to the edge of the roof and peered out from behind a
parapet.

“Mate,” Buzz went on. “Jenny’s sick.” He paused. “I know
you’re there, Burt.”

He pushed open the metal gate. It squeaked in the still,
suddenly charged air. As soon as he stepped on my dead lawn, I said, “Stop
right there, Buzz.”

He froze. I think despite what he’d said, he was surprised I
was indeed home.

“Burtsy?” His voice became animated. “Burtsy?
Bloody
hell!
I reckoned everyone was dead!”

He took another step forward.

“I told you to stop right there,” I said.

He put on a hurt expression. “It’s Buzz, mate.” He was
scanning the roof, the parapets. He could hear where my voice was originating
from, though I didn’t think he could see me, at least not clearly. From his
vantage point all that would be visible would be the barrel of my Remington and
maybe the top of my head. “How’d you last so long, you son of a bitch?” he
asked.

I didn’t reply.

Buzz still held his pump-action rifle clasped tightly
against his chest. “Look, I know times are tough, I know that, whatever you’ve
been eating, whatever you’ve got stashed away, I don’t want any of that. But
Jenny’s sick, mate. She needs help. I’ve been wandering this fucking graveyard
for days looking for someone who can help her.”

“Where is she?” I asked.

“At the station.”

“You drove here?”

“Yeah.”

“You have petro?”

“Bloody right, and I’m happy to share some, if that’s what
you need.”

“You left Jenny alone?”

“I didn’t have any choice, mate. She’s so bad she can’t
move.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know. I not a fucking doctor, and there aren’t any
doctors left, are there? But she can’t get out of bed. Has a fever too. I’m
scared, Burtsy. I’m fucking terrified I’m going to lose her.”

“What do you think I can do?”

“You got any medicine?”

“Sorry, mate,” I said.

“What about food? We’re starving. We haven’t eaten for days.
Just a little something, you know?”

I raised the rifle so the scope’s crosshairs aligned with
the center of Buzz’s forehead. I took a deep breath, counted to three, and
squeezed the trigger. The sharp, toneless report echoed loudly. Buzz’s head
disappeared in a spray of bone and brains. He dropped to the ground.

Sully whirled toward me, his face white with surprise.

But I wasn’t paying him any attention. I heard footsteps,
someone coming in one heck of a hurry. When you spend all day listening to
nothing, you get very good at hearing everything.

Ten seconds or so later Jenny stumbled into view, skinny and
out of breath but definitely not bed-ridden. She didn’t see Buzz lying in a big
pool of blood until she was nearly to my yard. She let out a pitiful moan and
threw herself down next to him. She was silent for a long time. Then she began
to cry softly. It was a heart-gutting sound.

After about a minute of this she went abruptly silent. She
eyed the house warily, as if realizing if I could shoot Buzz in cold blood, I
could do the same to her. She got to her feet, rubbing tears from her cheeks
with the back of her frail hand.

She retreated cautiously, one step, two. She bumped into the
iron fence. This gave her a start. She yelped and turned, about to run.

I put a bullet through her head too.

 

••••••

 

I expected Sully to flip out after
witnessing me murder two people I used to know. Yet Buzz’s and Jenny’s deaths
didn’t seem to faze him in the least. When he asked me why I didn’t let them
go, it wasn’t accusatory; it was simple curiosity.

This was a talk I’d been meaning to have with him for some
time, and the conversation went something like this:

“One of these days I might not be around, Sully,” I said.
“It’s just going to be you and Walter. And there are three things you need to
know. Three rules to live by.”

I studied Sully to make sure he understood the seriousness
with which I was speaking. His dark shaggy hair was long and tousled, his face
smudged with dirt, and there was a maturity in his green eyes I had never seen
before.

“The first rule is you have to stay put,” I continued. “I
know you don’t like it here. I know there’s nothing for you to do. But you’re
safe. You have food, you have water, and you have shelter. You go out there,
you go to the cities, you’ll die. That’s a fact, Sully. The people out there,
they’re animals, Sully. Starving animals. Desperate animals.
Intelligent
animals. There’s nothing more dangerous than that, and nothing out there but
death. Your only chance—and Walter’s only chance—is to stay here, bug out, and
wait this thing through.”

“What if it never ends?” he asked. “What if things never go
back to normal?”

“They will, Sully. Maybe not back to normal. That’s going to
take a while. But I’ll tell you this. A lot of powerful people, the ones who
used to run the world, they will have survived, and they’ll be working to
restore…whatever it is they have to restore to get things working again.”

Sully stared at me. I didn’t know if he believed me. I
didn’t know if I believed myself.

“So that’s the first rule: stay put,” I said. “The second
rule is you have to remain concealed. You can’t bring attention to the house.
You can’t let anybody know you’re in here. Because if they know you’re in here,
they know you have food. And they’ll do whatever is in their power to take that
food. You following me, boy?”

He nodded this time.

“Good,” I said. I reached out my arm, to pat him on the
shoulder. He flinched away. I lowered my hand awkwardly and cleared my throat.

“What’s the third rule?” he asked.

“If somebody comes around, even somebody like Buzz, someone
you might have known once, and they look like they might want to get inside,
forcing you to reveal yourself, you can’t negotiate with them. You got that, Sully?
No matter what they say, you can’t negotiate, you can’t trust them, you can’t
let them in. And just as importantly, you can’t let them leave alive.”

“Because they’ll come back?”

“That’s right. They’ll come back. As sure as Earth spins,
they’ll come back. They might come alone, or they might bring others. So you
can never, ever let anybody leave alive.”

     

••••••

 

Sully and I carried the bodies of
Buzz and Jenny to the backyard. I told Sully to go inside, but he knew what I
had planned, and he wanted to participate, and I suppose he had to learn this
sometime too. So we carved the flesh from Buzz and Jenny into fat strips,
rinsed and salted the pieces to kill off the microbes and fungi, then hung them
on hooks out back to dry. Cannibalism isn’t something you ever want to do, but
we’re living in a world where we’re forced to do a lot of things we don’t want
to do anymore, and salted meat can last for years. 

     

••••••

 

Sully joined me on the roof tonight
again. We had a good talk. I told him some stories from the mines, some history
of Broken Hill. He had never been interested in any of this stuff before, but
he was listening and responsive. He even told me about a girl he’d been seeing
before Shiva. I’d had no idea about this. I mean, I knew he hung out with girls
and everything. Like I’d said, he’s a handsome kid. He would have had no
problem getting a girlfriend. I guess he was just embarrassed to bring her
around the house. He was only fifteen then. But, yeah, her name was Amy
Wellington. I knew her father, Scott. He used to run the kitchen of one of the
pubs in town. The pub was losing customers because it was a hole in the ground
and the food was shit. So Scotty, who used to be a chef in Adelaide, struck up
a deal to run the kitchen provided he got a seventy percent take on all the
receipts. It didn’t work out and the pub ended up shutting down—leaving Scotty
in debt to the local grocer who’d let him run up sixty grand in credit. Anyway,
Scotty’s daughter, Amy, was two years older than Sully and a part-time
lifeguard at the Y. Sully was on the school’s swimming team, so he ended up
seeing a lot of her at the pool. They’d been together for about three months
when NASA verified that Shiva was on a collision course with Earth. Scotty took
the wife and Amy to Adelaide a week before the rock struck, believing they’d
have a better chance surviving down there. Amy spent most of her last day in
Broken Hill with Sully. He didn’t come out and say the two of them shagged, but
the way he was talking about her, I got the feeling they did—I
hope
to
hell they did. Nobody should have to witness the end of the world as a virgin.

 

••••••

 

I was rereading this diary from the
beginning today for something to do, and I realized I’ve left out an important
part of the narrative, namely how we missed such a big asteroid hurtling
through space toward us.

I guess to answer this you have to understand how NASA and
Spaceguard worked. They didn’t randomly aim their telescopes at different parts
of the sky in the hopes of spotting near-Earth objects. Like planets, asteroids
are arranged in a flat disk around the Sun, similar to the rings around Saturn.
This is called the ecliptical plane. All celestial bodies on this plane orbit
the Sun in a predictable pattern. Naturally, this was where NASA focused most
of its attention. They picked out the most threatening rocks, performed
calculations to determine when in the future—fifty years, five hundred, a
thousand—their orbits might be at the same place and time as Earth’s orbit,
then catalogued the data.

The reason we didn’t see Asteroid Shiva until the last
minute was because it had an unusual orbit that cut a path at a forty-degree
angle to the ecliptical plane, placing it in a region of sky that wasn’t often
searched. Moreover, Shiva didn’t move at a constant velocity. It spent ninety-five
percent of its time outside the inner solar system, where it moved slowly, was
a faint dot, and hard to spot. When it returned to the inner solar system, the
Sun’s gravity sped it up, making its jaunt past Earth very brief, and making
the window for discovery very small.

Actually, experts always knew an asteroid like Shiva
appearing out of nowhere was a very real possibility. Because we could only
accurately track asteroids that had already made a close pass to Earth. The
last time Shiva made a close pass was in the Seventies, when we weren’t keeping
an eye on the sky. So when it comes to these kinds of killer rocks, there are
two scenarios. One, they will swing by our planet many times before a potential
hit, which means if we spot them we will have decades or centuries of advanced
warning. Or two, their first approach will be their last, due to a direct
collision, leaving us little more than enough notice to say goodbye to our
loved ones and wonder how this could possibly have happened.

 

••••••

 

You know what I miss? A flushing
toilet. It’s a damn indignation squatting over a hole in the backyard. I miss a
lot of things, but I guess I shouldn’t be bitching. Sully’s continuing to open
up. He slept on the roof with me the night before for the first time. He’s
asking me more and more about the world outside Broken Hill, about Sydney and
Melbourne and Adelaide, how they used to be, what I think’s happening in them
now. We’re developing our old rapport. I think I’m getting my boy back.

 

••••••

 

Earth. Why do some people call it
“the Earth?” We don’t say “the Mars” or “the Jupiter.” Then again, we do say
“the Sun.”

earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth

What a weird word when you think about it.

 

••••••

 

I hear an engine in the distance. Scratch
that.
Engines
. A lot of them…

 

••••••

 

Bikies. I counted ten
tattoo-covered, hard-ass dudes riding flamboyantly customized Harley Davidsons
and choppers, some adorned with human skulls and bones. There was also a Toyota
HiLux flying a black and red flag, the flatbed crowded with a half dozen young
women. The caravan stopped on Argent Street out front of the Palace, the grand
old dame of Broken Hill pubs. Back in the day, workers of the Central Mine
built a tunnel that connected deep to the pub’s basement, so they could sneak
there
around noon, drink themselves
silly, then clock off nicely licked at the end of the day, managers none the
wiser.

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