It was around two in the morning when Frank woke up and walked outside of his stockmen quarters to light a cigarette. He tried repeatedly to light his disposable lighter to no avail, it was out of fuel. Disposable lighters, one more thing on the list of conveniences that were now a limited commodity.
“Need a light mate?” I spoke out from the shadow of my doorway where I was sitting, holding out a Zippo lighter. Frank took the lighter and thanked me, lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply with satisfaction. Frank handed back the lighter after studying the picture of a demon etched into the side.
“Keep it Frank, I got a box full of them. Can’t sleep mate?”
“Nah Sean. Keep having the same dream about the fight at airport. What about you? Having trouble getting some shut-eye?”
“I haven’t slept since I woke up from being bitten. I don’t think I can sleep. On the plus side, I get a lot more done.”
“Interesting…” Frank took another long drag of the cigarette.
“Ya reckon? That’s not the half of it, I keep hearing voices from all over the globe. Different accents, languages and half I can’t understand. So I don’t read minds, I just intercept messages and I can’t talk back to them. So much chaos and suffering out there, but I suppose its good to know people are still out there though. In the last week, two new voices have cropped up.”
“This is new… Any intel?”
“Nah mate, the babble I can understand is basic bullshit. People talking to each other, others are a one way conversation. One in particular is sending morse code for SOS out in between her thoughts. I worked out there are around 130 people, maybe less if some can talk multiple languages. They all seem to know they are telepathic, and they are all definitely human.”
“You three are definitely different, I’ll give ya that. You’re handling it better than most would too”
“Meh… Ya can’t let shit get to you. You’ll learn most of us are pretty laid back. Ya either accept the moments in life or adjust and change them. All we can do at this point is accept the moment and adapt to it. The vehicles are fueled, oil is topped up, they’re serviced and I added a jerry can rack to all three.” I took one last drag, and put the cigarette out on my boot.
“Been busy eh? S’pose ya got plenty of time with the whole ‘lack of sleep’ thing. James was bitten to right? Does he have any super powers?”
“Super? Yeah he got bitten, but I dunno if he’s got any abilities. Haven’t asked him yet. I’ll hit him up in the morning for ya.”
“You three are seriously too relaxed. At least you make people feel at ease.” Frank sighed, flicked his cigarette across the walkway into an old milo tin. He said his goodnights and went back reluctantly, to re-live that moment for the second time that night.
I studied the maps for a few hours until the sky started to change color. The horizon illuminated a hot pink, a sign that a cool morning was approaching. The smell of stew filled the air and I heard some pots and dishes clattering in the main house.
Out of nowhere, footprints appeared in the red dirt. Each step raising little spurts of orange dust. “Been walkabout Nori?”
“Yeah brudda. Had to speak to a local tribe for ya uncle. They were having a big corroboree last night, if I knew ya never slept, I woulda asked ya to go talk to some elders for me.” Said Nori’s voice from thin air. “Ah well, let’s wake ’em all up for tucker eh?” She re-appeared and drew a deep breath of air through her nostrils deeply. As she did her chest rose and her back arched. I must have been concentrating on getting to my family so hard to miss the fact she was a lady. Didn’t help that she bound her chest in sports tape and wore a cap with her hair tucked up in it.
“Why couldn’t you tell what my ability was before, Nori?”
She sighed and squeezed herself in the door frame next to me forcing me to shove over to make room. “Sean, I can only tell your what ability is when you use it, not being able to sleep is something you don’t use. It just happens like sneezing or breathing.”
“What about me hearing thoughts?”
“Only when you concentrate on trying to listen, like when you focus on a single voice. Otherwise it’s the same thing. Zombies will still be drawn to you, but you’re not a beacon. I learnt that when I turn invisible, so does my ability. I am trying to turn other small things invisible. I can turn what I am wearing and holding, but I can’t turn something like a dog or a motorcycle invisible, yet.”
I looked to Nori accusingly, “What happened to your lingo?”
“You think any rich parents would let their kid speak like I do? It keeps me on the same level as the rest of you. A more ‘traditional’ lingo allows me to show that I haven’t lost my roots.”
We woke the others and joined the rest of the family for one last meal before hitting the road. We filled ourselves so much the men couldn’t hold their stomachs in around the ladies. We quickly went over a few things and our best option was still to head west. The east was obviously still overly hostile, too dangerous to go back, so Longreach was our first goal. Longreach was where The Royal Flying Doctors were established, which meant medical equipment would be kept nearby. After checking our maps we decided to collect materials from the museums, heritage places, veterinary clinic and the ambulance station. The hospital would have much more and better equipment, but was too high risk.
Three four-wheel drives, each filled with supplies around the seven seats and each towed a trailer that only held two spare tyres each.
It was five in the morning and the sun had peaked as we drove through the recently turned ghost town of Barcaldine. As we passed the Tree of Knowledge’s monument, the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party, every eye watched it as we drove past the train station.
The lead car was occupied by Frank, Jason, Anita the Welsh bitch, and Sarah. Sarah was one of the surviving police officers and looked the part too. Perfectly straight uniform, polished shoes, pony tailed blonde hair. The only things that were out of character was her pink framed sunglasses, a sheathed military knife strapped to he belt and a small backpack.
The second vehicle carried the Jensen twins and three passengers. The first was a Polynesian police officer who favoured his three machetes. A proud New Zealander who stood to six and a half foot high who made James look like a twig in comparison. Joseph’s black wool like hair cut short and his traditional facial tattoos made him look even more intimidating. He had a soft side though, spending hours with the kids back at the farm letting them color in his face and adding new tattoos with felt tip pens.
The second was a marine biologist from AIMS, a younger lad that called himself Bango. A quiet and reserved person that kept himself fit. He knew the waterways throughout Queensland and used to hunt often, he wanted to come along because “The outback is no place for a marine biologist, even with estuaries close by. Besides you’re gonna need to know what’s edible or not.
The third was a cop on the verge of retirement who witnessed the loss of his family twice. He watched them change into zombies when he arrived home too late, then he pulled the trigger himself. He didn’t blame himself; he was after vengeance. He always remained calm, collected and never seemed detached from the world. He reinforced the fact that he hated zombies with a passion often, ensuring we made no mistake that if we were turning, he would put us down. The night before we left he requested ” If I turn, shoot me, bury me and mark my grave with ‘The Smith Family’. I want the world to think my whole family was buried with me. I want them to think of the loss, to remember us, I want you to remember us.” Smithy sat back into his chair pulling the throw rug over himself. He exhaled audibly twice before we realized he wanted prompting.
“Yeah brudda, whats on ya mind?” Nori asked leaning onto the table. Smithy looked to Nori, James, Me then back to Nori. “Why are you three immune and not others?”
“Do you like stories brudda? Or do just want the short version?” Smithy requested the short version. Nori replied with a single word “Genetics”
“Fine, the long version” He seemed irate. After an hour and a half of exaggerated movements and a lengthy story of the E’Clai, Smithy noted that in future he would stick with the short version.
I laughed aloud remembering the conversation as I drove with Jo beside me Nori sitting next to my two nephews in the far back. James sat behind me next to my niece. Jo knew the risks, but she also knew the Corporal had set a beacon before he was killed… Again.
Suddenly a voice exploded into my head, making my brain feel like it was being inflated and was only suppressed by my skull. “Do you hear me zombies? I am going to kill every mother fucking one of you!”
I nearly blacked out as I let go of the steering wheel and braced my head trying to reinforce my skull. When I finally focused again I found James bracing me with his arm from behind my seat. Nori had leapt forward and was leaning over the center console and was leaning against me to balance herself at the awkward angle. Jo barely had enough time to move and was helping Nori balance. They both had a natural scent that caused my nostrils to flare and force me to breathe deeper. Nori’s cap had fallen and her hair was brushing my cheek. Nori looked at me with a sideways glance and smirked “You good now?”
I took the wheel back and she slid back to her seat smiling through the review mirror at me still. James patted my chest “Your probably going to have a bruise there soon Chief, you hit your head on the steering wheel and I pulled you back pretty hard. What the fuck happened?”
“Some dickhead decided to yell out and challenge every bloody zombie on earth. He sounded American and he sounded pretty pissed off too. He had to be white ’cause he… wait”
My thought was cut off by a female voice inside my head, like a light whisper “… and be careful what you promise Victor, we may make the same oath on you and your new family.” She seemed to be talking to herself but a sense of acknowledgement was felt after she spoke, like a legion was in agreement.
“Sean what’s going…” I cut Jo short… “Something has changed. I can hear more now, not voices, I mean with my ears. I can smell too, like smell everything. There are motorbikes coming our way, I can see them ahead on the road.” The road was flat and stretched straight for miles. “Ya better get orders from Frank. We need to get Jo and the kids off the road.” I said to James.
“He says to pull up behind them on the left. He called us supers again.”
Nori’s smile was gone. “Sean, one of them is a zombie and a few of them have abilities.”
As we pulled off the road the group of riders stopped the moment they spotted our vehicle and parked on the middle of the road, keeping their motorcycles running.