Her period stopped coupla months back so we stopped fuckin. In the end we realised she wasn’t pregnant, just had fuck all to eat. Everythin out here is poison, anyway. Didn’t wanna risk eatin anythin we didn’t know was safe. After livin on canned beans for fuck knows how long we found a book in a house that told us all about bush tucker, so we didn’t starve. Got harder in winter, but.
Can’t say what’s worse, but in summer, what it is now, they stink more. Australian summers are brutal and so’s the winters. But yeah, the stink of the dead ones gives us more warnin but make us slower cos of the heat. I had to get real fit real fast.
She said she’d always loved the summer til now. I always hated it cause I’d get jealous of the girls. They’d wear bikinis and Mum always made me go in board shorts.
Don’t matter now cos everyone’s dead. Dunno how we aren’t.
Zombies. The walkin goddamn dead. Probly why heapsa people died at first. No one could believe it.
My family turned so I hid in the tree house for ages, dunno how long, but it was fuckin long. It was the first time I’d been that hungry.
I made it back to the house eventually, took everythin in the kitchen an made a camp in the bathroom upstairs.
Met her when she was tryina steal the knives in the kitchen.
‘They’re the shitty ones,’ I said, cricket bat held loose at my side. She looked dangerous but I didn’t think she was gonna hurt me. ‘Good knives are upstairs.’
She looked at me. I was wearin a dress, one of Mum’s old ones. Musta looked weird cause I hadn’t shaved my beard in forever. No one round to shout them sharp words at me anymore anyway.
‘You’re alive,’ she said.
‘Well shit, are ya stupid?’
She kept lookin at me. She hadn’t had a shower for ages, I reckoned. Her face was all grubby an that.
‘Do you need new clothes?’ I asked. Hers was all ragged. That’s alright in summer I guess, long as you have somewhere to stay at night, but when winter came round she was gonna freeze.
So she got new clothes and a shower an then she didn’t leave. Didn’t want her to, either. Neither of us said anythin. She just didn go.
We had to leave the house when a few dead ones got upstairs and fucked up our barriers. Made it out alright but had to leave all our shit behind. Nicked a coupla bikes from across the road and then we just kept ridin. I started to wonder what had happened to the kids whose bikes we took, but they were dead. No point.
Camped out, got some spare clothes n that and couldn’t find another house that was safe. Some had zombies in them, some had people. People are worse cos if you’ve survived that long after the world’s gone to shit you gotta be tough as nails.
I’m not, but she is. I woulda died when the zombies got in my house if she wasn’t there.
But she was, and she’s here now, too. Couldn’t get rid of me if she tried, not that she would. We sleep outside when it’s warm like this. Heapsa mozzies but you get used to em when there’s no aeroguard in a hundred Ks. Can’t just go to the shops anymore. Tried to raid a few but everythin useful’d been nicked already.
Sometimes we were stupid and slept at the same time, but not anymore. Last time we did that a group of guys almost found us. They’d been followin our trail for a while but we’d managed to avoid them even though we didn’t know they was lookin for us. They’d caught a glimpse of us one day and thought for some reason we’d have guns that they could steal.
Dunno why they thought two chicks ridin bikes would have guns. We didn’t even have a fuckin car. An sides, I’d never seen a gun except on the hip of a cop one time. Scared me shitless cos up til then I’d never realised that guns existed. Thought they were like unicorns, only in stories.
Course I knew they was real, just didn think they were here.
Maybe all them movies about zombies made em think that guns just popped outta the fuckin ground or some shit, I dunno.
But we lost em, rode our bikes up some highway through the night. Don’t think the guys thought we’d go the highway and so they musta stuck to the bush. Haven’t seen em since then, anyway.
And now the moon is full and I wonder. The moon’s sposed ta be a woman, ain’t she? I always liked the moon. Used to pretend I was the moon.
Don’t need to pretend anymore. I didn’t get the chance to start hormones or nothin before everythin turned to shit but it doesn’t matter anymore because all there is, is her an me, an she knows I’m a woman, anyway. Never even had to ask.
There’s a cracklin noise like leaves under feet not too far off. Could be a possum or somethin but I reach for my cricket bat, anyway. I crouch low and peer through the bush. The light from the moon plays through the gum trees but I can’t see nothin.
The cracklin happens again. It sounds closer but I can’t tell where it’s comin from. If it’s a dead one I should wake her, but if it’s one of them guys I shouldn’t move. Them dead ones got real good hearin sometimes. Maybe it can smell us. I lick a finger and put it in the air but even though the wind’s comin from that way I can’t tell which way the sound’s comin from, so we could be upwind.
I breathe from my mouth to try and keep as quiet as possible as I reach for my cricket bat. It’s harder to kill em without a knife, but knives are too tricky and somethin could go wrong. Almost got bit a coupla times cause you gotta get closer, so I don’t use em anymore.
She’s always got two knives on her, strapped to her leg an her wrist. If it’s a guy the knives would be better though. A cricket bat to the face is gonna slow ya down but a knife in the rib’ll do wonders. Draw blood, but. Could bring dead ones.
The sound happens again, louder, more rhythmic. Like someone’s walkin up to us. Too rhythmic to be a dead one. It’s one of the guys. Shit.
He knows where we are, otherwise why would he be walkin that fast? Crunch, crunch, crunch, the dead gum leaves are cracklin under his boots.
I nudge her awake and her eyes flick open. She takes one look at my face and she sits up quietly, slippin outta the sleepin bag. There’s a flash of the moon on her wrist as she gets out her knife.
‘It’s one a them guys,’ I say. ‘Not a dead one.’
She peers through the trees, lookin for the guy. She’s crouched, muscles tight like a cat and she moves her fingers round the handle of her knife, gettin ready. I grip my cricket bat with two hands and raise it as I stand. He knows where we are, anyway.
The stompin gets louder and then I can hear his breath and he’s behind me. I whirl around and give him a smack to his face with my bat. Doesn’t phase him, he jus stumbles for a sec and comes back. I raise my bat and then I notice the drip drip drip of his stomach.
An there is no stomach. Ripped clean out, blood everywhere. He gets closer as I back away and the moon’s on his face. He’s a dead one but you can’t tell cept for the fuckin look on his face, not a person face anymore.
She springs up from behin me an shoves the knife up into his eye socket. Black blood slugs out and he falls backward. She lets go a the knife an watches him fall.
‘We have to leave, he’s still got blood on him.’ She doesn look at me when she says it but leans down and gets her knife outta the guy’s face. ‘And we weren’t that quiet, others probably heard us.’
I nod and start packin. Wasn a lot, cause you can’t take too much when you gotta keep everythin on ya back.
Backpacks on, we start ridin. Don’t like ridin in the night, but sometimes you gotta. I wonder bout the guy. He wasn rottin like the others, he was real fresh. Wonder what happened to the other guys. Think there was four of em but dunno. He’d only got bit in the stomach, less there was more that we couldn see. Wonder why they didn eat him. Maybe his friends killed the dead ones that turned him.
We keep ridin til dawn when our legs feel like they’re gonna fall off. I call her dawn, sometimes, but never to her face. We never asked each other our names and now they don’t seem important anymore. Never really had one a my own, anyway.
She starts coughin.
At first we think it’ll go away. Her lungs are tired from the ride. But in the night she starts shiverin an it’s not that cold and I start to worry. She says it’s fine but she won look at me when she says it. An then a fever starts.
I keep watch again an I’m fuckin tired but I can’t make her do it. She tosses in her sleepin bag, rips it off her, puts it back on. I dunno what to do.
‘I’ll get better,’ she says. ‘It’s summer and I’ve just got a cold. It’ll go away soon.’
But the next day she jus gets worse and she’s shakin like mad. Knives are dangerous, they make ya get too close. The dead ones must got some sick shit in their blood an she’s got something from that one.
‘Did you get bit?’ I ask.
She shakes her head. ‘I would’ve turned by now. And I would have told you. You know the deal.’
As soon as one of us is bit the other has to kill em. There’s no way to save someone. That’s the rule.
That day we don’t go anywhere.
In the afternoon though, we hear voices. My first thought is to call out to em. Maybe they can help with whatever she has. But she gives me a look an I remember what world this is. Strangers are way more dangerous now. Everyone out here has killed dead ones, sometimes they’ve killed people, too. I haven’t and I don’t know about her but I reckon she musta. She was out in the wild since it started, I reckon. She don’t talk about it.
The voices are far away but just the fact we can hear em means they’re too close. I leave her with our stuff and go have a look. It’s the guys; there are three. It don’t look like they’ve got any transport, which shows why we’ve been able to outrun em.
At first we thought about havin a car but then when we realised we’d need petrol we knew it was a shit idea. Sides, cars are noisy as fuck. Draw every dead one for kilometres round.
I lay on my belly an watch em for a while. They’re bit noisy, even jokin an stuff. Couple of em have smokes an though I never smoked in my life I want one a those cigs. The smell drifts towards me an it smells rank but it smells like the world before. I grip the dirt under my hands and tell myself to stop bein such a idiot. Old world’s not comin back, this is all we got now.
In the old world I think I mighta asked her to marry me, even though it’s not legal. Don’t think that’d matter but, the thought behind the question’d be enough. Figure even though we’ve known each other for not long we’ve been through a lot and not tried to kill each other so we’d be alright married.
The guys look like they’re settlin in for the night and so I go back to her. She’s sweatin.
‘Ya need medicine,’ I say. ‘We gotta find a chemist.’
She shakes her head. ‘You know towns are too dangerous.’
‘You’re gonna die.’
‘I’m not,’ she says and coughs, real loud.
We freeze. But the voices continue in the background like they hadn noticed. ‘Let’s go,’ she says. ‘They’re going to find us.’
We follow the highway for a bit, til it’s dark again. Coupla dead ones get in our way but I jump off my bike and bash their heads in with my bat.
We can see a town comin up and pull our bikes up.
‘We should wait til mornin to go there,’ I say. ‘Can’t fight proply in the dark.’
She nods, coughing.
Ridin around the outskirts and through the bush, our tyres crunch the old gum leaves underneath our bikes but we don’t stop. Ain’t another way to get through that’ll take less noise.
We find a shed eventually and it’s unlocked. I light a candle from me bag an she opens the door. There’s nothin in there so we go in, barricade the door real good an it’s nice just ta be in a place where ya don’t have to watch your back every second.
‘Not bad,’ I say, lowerin my bat.
We spread our sleepin bags out on the floor and we’re a tangle of limbs through the night. Don’t know where my legs end and hers begin. It’d be claustrophobic in the old world but now havin her so close an real is better than anythin.
We wake at dawn and she doesn look better but she doesn look worse. It takes her a while to wake up and she smiles at me in the morning light. The shed’s gettin hot already from the sun outside an so we get our bikes ready.
She finds a stick and uses it to keep the shed door shut. ‘Just in case any dead ones get in,’ she says.
I look at the shed. It’d be nice to sleep somewhere like that again, almost kinda like a house cept shittier. But better than the bush. Not that I don’t like campin but when you’re doin it every night an someone’s gotta keep watch so ya don’t get killed it’s a bit much.
She doesn look back as we ride off but I take one last glance at the buildin and wonder if maybe we can go back again. Maybe I’ll ask her later. Sure she wouldn mind a coupla more nights’ rest. Only problem is it’s too close to the town. People still are drawn to em even though there’s never anythin there. Here’s hopin there’s somethin we can use to fix her.
The road is dead quiet except for the sound of our wheels and breath. We’ve got pretty good at not breathin too heavy but it’s hard to make no noise at all.
We see the first buildin and she signals me to get off the road. I follow her an we ditch our bikes, cover em up with a bit a leaves an that.
‘You know where the chemist is?’ I say.
She shakes her head. ‘No idea. Somewhere in the middle, I’m guessing. Keep your bat ready.’ She gets out both her knives, one in each hand. ‘Come on.’
Before we set off she has another coughin fit an I pat her back. We look at each other when she’s done but don’t say nothin. If she coughs in the town could mean we die. But we don’t say.
I go first, skirtin round the edges of the buildins. It’s empty an everythin’s dusty. It’s good cause there’s not too many leaves under our feet to make noise.
There’s a dead one but I get it in the back of the head with my bat fore it realises we’re even there. I grunt as I swing. Quiet, like, but loud enough for someone to hear.
‘Get down,’ she says, pullin the back of my shirt. We’re behind a bush in front of a buildin. The window is smashed.
Mouth full a dust, I try not to choke as I look round for the reason we’re low.
It’s one a them guys. His clothes look more ragged than before, shirt torn and there’s blood spray all over him. He’s walkin crookedy but not in a dead one way. Somethin wrong with his leg, maybe. He looks round, head swivellin like a bird’s, dartin this way an that, lookin for the source of the noise.
‘I know you’re there,’ he says, an he’s got a spanner in his hand. Maybe harder an heavier than a cricket bat, but shorter.
I see her roll her eyes an I grin at her. Half the people we come across spew lines from movies. Probly makes the whole thing easier to deal with. Seems less real.
‘He’s gonna find us,’ I whisper.
She nods. ‘Be ready for it,’ she says. Dunno what ‘it’ is but can’t be good. She’s a cat again, an she’s got her knife out ready. It twitches in her fingers.
He’s gettin closer an closer an then he walks straight past us, rounds a corner a coupla buildins down an then he’s gone.
I’d sigh in relief if there was time but there’s no time anymore. We keep low and keep lookin for the chemist. It’s to the left. The windows are all smashed an there’s a coupla dead ones in there.
She goes in first, knifes one in the eye. I follow and knock a couple down. I get one an smash its head in, she knifes the other one I knocked over. Goin through the rest a the shop there’s no more.
‘D’ya know what ya need?’ I say, looking around at the shelves of perfume and nail polish, bandages and baby formula.
She shakes her head. ‘Something out the back, I’m guessing.’
There’s a couple of bottle of cough syrup an stuff left on the shelves out the front so I grab them and all the bottles of vitamins left and put em in a bag. They’re noisy but havin these’ll help. I put down the bag an my bat an keep walkin through the shop.
She coughs an I can hear her throat tearin as she gasps for breath in between.
‘Let’s have a look, then,’ I say, an start toward the room behind the counter where the pharmacists’d be waitin to serve. I wonder how many studied thinkin they’d end up in a lab fightin disease but instead ended up in here, a chemist in a small town that no one gives a shit about.
Well I know shit all about science anyway so I could be dead wrong. But every time I go into a shop now I wonder about the old times and who worked there and if they had fun an if they liked their boss an which customers gave them the shits an which ones seemed to make all the shitty ones seem worth it because they always had somethin intrestin to say.
There’s a noise of a door. We look at each other. My cricket bat’s at the front of the shop, lyin next to the bag of fuckin vitamins. God fuckin damn it, rookie move that’s gonna get me killed. Jesus.
Someone’s breathin real heavy out the back. She’s collapsed in a coughin fit so now there’s no point in hidin an then the guy comes out behind the counter, come in through the back door.
‘You,’ he says.
I say nothin, cause fuck that. He doesn know me, just my face. An I know shit all about him except that his friends are dead because they’re not here. I wonder if he killed them. I wonder if they turned first.
My bat’s too far away. He’d get me before I could get there, even if he was limpin before. I look at her but she can’t barely breathe all of a sudden so she can’t help me. I’m standin next ta a rack a teddy bears, not gonna be any good as weapons.
‘Youse’ve got weapons, yeah?’ he says. His eyes are fuckin manic. ‘Carnta survived this long without them can ya have?’
Fuckin bogan dickhead. ‘We got a cricket bat an that’s all.’
‘That all?’ he says. ‘You think I’m a fuckin idiot?’
I’d say yeah if I didn’t think he’d kill me for it. ‘That’s all, swear.’
She’s slowly makin her way to me, crawlin when he’s not lookin. She’s not gettin very far, but now’s only coupla metres away.
An I can see he don’t believe me, not a little bit. He’s wondrin best howta kill me. Could snap my neck, maybe. I wasn skinny before an now I’m almost nothin cause like I said, shit all to eat, an we gotta ride bikes everywhere. Never been this fit before, an this unhealthy.
‘Just you two?’ he says.
I don’t answer cause I’m not a idiot.
‘With a cricket bat?’ He shakes his head an mutters.
‘Where’d your friends go then?’ I say an nod to the blood on his shirt. ‘Jus went for a walk did they?’
An he looks at me an I know I’m about to die. His eyes aren’t a person’s eyes anymore an he comes at me like one time when I were little an a dog tried to bite off my face. Missed, an I had ta get stiches in my arm. Dogs are pretty short but this guy ain’t. Looks like he’s only made a muscle an skin an mindlessness. He comes at me an I dodge, fallin into the rack of teddy bears which should be soft but still hurts like fuckin hell.
Wind gets knocked outta me an I roll away from him.
She’s sayin somethin an it takes me a sec to realise she’s sayin ‘catch’. She throws the knife near my feet. I reach down, still lyin on my stomach, an grip the wrong end of the knife. I can feel blood pour outta my fingers and grip the handle proper.
He makes a grunting noise as he comes at me again an I turn just in time so I’m lyin on my back. He’s above, still got them manic eyes an he can’t see anymore. The knife’s gone in through his ribs an I can feel that, I can feel it, through the handle. Warmness stains my hands an I can’t look at it. I can’t even yank out the knife and I just roll out from under him an stand up, dust off my pants like nothin happened.
I go behind the counter an pick up half a dozen boxes of pills. Open em, chuckin em to the floor when they’re not the ones I want. I know which ones I’m lookin for cause last time I was sick the doctor gave me green ones, half was dark green and the other bit lime. They smelt like shit but they worked. Didn realise pills had a smell til them ones. Take two twice a day and then you’ll be right, he said. Cough’ll go away.
I dunno if these’ll help but that’s all I can think to do an she says she trusts me.
She’s sittin now, head in her hands. The guy’s blood is seepin out from under him and it’s gonna reach her if I don’t find the right ones soon.
Can’t look at him. He wasn’t a dead one an I killed him. Fuckin hell. My hands are still warm. There’s an old lab coat hangin up an I wipe the red off. Can’t get all of it, but. The red shows up brighter than it should on the white.
When I go back into the shop proper she’s cleanin the knife. The guy’s rolled onto his back now an his eyes are starin at the ceilin. He’s surrounded by fuckin teddy bears for shit’s sake.
‘Come on,’ I say, and walk past him, put the medicine in the bag with the vitamins and grab my bat.
She doesn’t look at him as she steps round the blood an follows me. I hand her some of the pills an she swallows em dry.
When we get back to our bikes we still haven’t said anythin. An then we just keep ridin.
Alison is from Melbourne, Australia, and hasn't slept since March because she's currently undertaking honours in creative writing. She enjoys the internet, words, comics, cats and attractive aliens in video games. alisonwritesthings.com is her shiny website.