Authors: Brett McBean
TALES OF SIN AND MADNESS
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Copyright © 2010 Brett McBean
Cover Art Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gallacher
Design Copyright © 2010 The Spatchcock
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the express written permission of the publisher and author, except where permitted by law
Dedicated to Dick and Brian.
With special thanks to the good folk at LegumeMan Books.
It looked as though nobody had been by for months to clean the sign that stood by the side of the highway.
Simon Fletcher carefully set down the burlap sack on the reddish-brown soil, then dropped his backpack beside it. He raised an arm and brushed away the dirt from the sign with a dry, leathery hand. When he had uncovered the prize, he looked down at the large sack. “We’re heading in the right direction,” he said, spitting out a clump of dust encrusted phlegm. “Coober Pedy twenty kilometres.”
He glanced up and down the wide, dusty highway. Empty.
He turned away from the highway and opened his backpack. Pulled out one of the bottles and unscrewed the top. Flecks of dirt fell away and he took no notice of the cloudy water as he downed a small amount.
It had been a clean bottle, once. The water clear and cool. Now all ten bottles were tainted with the filth of the land, the sweat of his journey and the blood of the dead.
Still with half the bottle left, Simon screwed the top back on then put it into his pack with the other bottles, assorted canned goods and the one special thing that he was saving until he reached Coober Pedy. He zipped the pack up then mounted it on his back.
He yanked the scarf from his Khaki’s left pocket, wiped his face and neck, then shoved the damp cloth back in.
“Okay, time to go,” he said, heaving the sack up, and like a gaunt Santa Claus, slung it over one shoulder.
Simon knew the quickest way to Coober Pedy was straight down the Stuart Highway, however, he also knew that the son-of-a-bitches could drive, and he had so far survived staying away from any arterial roads.
Placing one foot in front of the other, just like he had done for the past six months, Simon started off on the final leg of his journey.
Which had begun half-way across the country in Townsville, where he had lived with his wife Tully in an apartment right in the heart of the city. He had forgotten the details of the place now; all he remembered was it had been nice and modern and that he and Tully had been happy.
Happy. He had almost forgotten what
was like, too.
But he was certain he would be happy soon. Once he had done what he had set out to do, then he would regain some semblance of his early life, before the rise of the New World.
He had been at the hospital, his home away from home, when the first reports started coming in from America. Reports of mass murder, chaos and, unbelievably, the dead returning to life. He hadn’t believed it then, but as the days went by and the virus swept over the world, disbelief turned to despair and soon there were reports of it happening in Australia. Everyone from doctors to teachers to librarians speculated on the cause – no one had the answers, least of all Simon. However, he recalled some line from an old horror movie he had watched when he was a teenager, something about the dead walking the earth when there was no more room left in hell. That seemed as good a reason as any, in his opinion.
“Christ, it’s everywhere,” the young man in the bed next to Tully had remarked one afternoon. He then coughed blood and died, his heart monitor displaying a flat-line.
Simon had been thinking of the guy’s remark when, a few minutes later, the man opened his eyes and leapt out of the bed at him.
Fortunately, Tully had been asleep.
Because what happened next was not only ghastly, but in hindsight, monumental: Simon grabbed a pair of scissors that were sitting on the bedside table (right next to the flowers and ‘thinking of you’ cards) and, during the struggle, ploughed the scissors deep into the man’s right eye socket. This time the man stayed dead, and Simon, scared and covered in blood, had clocked his very first kill – the first, as it would turn out, of many.
Simon smiled, his lips dry again. The sun, his constant adversary and companion, fiery and unforgiving, beaming down as he continued his journey south. “How frightened I was,” he said. “I had killed a man. I was certain I would go to jail.” He wanted to laugh, but his throat was too dry. Every time he swallowed he could feel the film of desert dust, taste the earthy soil of the South Australian outback. Even talking was unpleasant, but necessary. “Even though I had seen all the reports on TV, heard all the broadcasts on the radio. Still, I thought what if the guy hadn’t really died? What if I had killed an innocent man, someone who had been as scared and confused as I was?”
Of course, no one had come to take him away. No one cared about the dead patient with the scissors sticking out of his eye.
That’s when Simon first realised the full impact of what was happening. They were now living in a world where murder was accepted, even expected, where it paid to be ruthless and selfish. A very strange and fucked up world.
And nothing he had seen, before the rise of the New World or since, had best exemplified this than Alice Springs. Alice – the centre of Australia. The centre of madness.
Townsville hadn’t exactly been a hive of peace and love – Simon had barely managed to escape from his home city alive – but there had been so much commotion and panic going on in the first stages of the horrid epidemic he had been fortunate enough to make it out; but not before killing a dozen zombies as he left.
He used to be a fleshy man, not overweight, but enough so that Tully could grab onto his flab during sex and use it as leverage. By the time he reached Alice Springs, four months later, he looked skeletal. Even some of the humans remarked that they had seen long-dead corpses fatter than him.
“That’s what you get for surviving on water and cold baked beans,” he had told them.
Of course they all thought he was mad, having walked all the way from Townsville. But they didn’t ask him why, and he was more than happy not to tell them.
“Stay here with us,” they had said. “It’s good, safe. The zombies won’t get you here.”
He had heard about militia activity in America and the UK, but Alice Springs was the first place in Australia where he had come across it. Men – some of them police, a lot of them not – had built makeshift barricades around the town, using trucks, cars, buses and even sacks of dirt. They had stocked up on all the weapons and ammo they could get their hands on. It was a good vantage-point. A town smack-dab in the middle of the Australian outback: a perfect place for crazed armed men to keep watch for attacking zombies.
Simon himself had almost been shot when he first arrived. Expecting either a ghost town, or a zombie-infested trap, what he found was much worse.
“All I want is somewhere to rest and to re-fill my water bottles,” he had told the soldiers concealed behind a rusty FJ Holden. It had taken them an uncomfortably long time to lower their guns, but after deciding he wasn’t a zombie, they finally allowed him inside their utopian world – a world where the people were as dead as the zombies, only they didn’t know it yet. Paranoia, fear, hatred, pain. These were what Simon found in the New World version of Alice Springs. A place where the people were more wary of each other than of any flesh-craving, car-driving, gun-toting zombies that were, so they thought, sneaking around the scorched outback. And yet, even though Simon repeatedly told them that he hadn’t seen any of the undead for weeks, no one would believe him.
Shut away in the muggy, foul-smelling high school gymnasium with other ‘civilians,’ Simon built up a loyal following of distrust, mainly due to the fact that he wouldn’t open his sack and show them what was inside, despite their insistence.
Simon only stayed a few days – it was all he could stand – and he left Alice (including the vile ‘meat-wagons’ which Simon thankfully never got told to go into), before the people got rough and forced the sack open. Some of the parting comments included: “I hope you rot out there.” “May the zombies eat your heart.” “You should’ve stayed with us.” “You’ll die out there.”
So far Simon had yet to regret his decision. It hadn’t been a hard choice anyway, in his opinion. He would rather face the zombies than live in a world where madness was King and abomination the Queen.