The change was quite slow, now that I think about it. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I lost the family home in the fire – with the family inside. It was tragic, yes, and it took more than a while to pick myself from the ground, but I think the anticipation helped me cope.
It started with the black helicopters. Abe Loveless, who was the PM before mob rule broke out, had ordered a complete shutdown of all borders, but it was no use. Canada, Scotland, Nepal and China all did the same thing and failed. Even North Korea had fallen to the infection before us. We hoped that Australia would have an advantage, being an island country, but over the course of three years, we couldn’t hold the infection off. However, it wasn’t really the disease that destroyed us; it was the riots, mobs and mass hysteria. If someone came down with something as trivial as hay fever, the mob would have grabbed them and thrown them in the river anyway.
After a while, Tasmania lost contact with the outside world. News stations burned, planes crashed and ships sank. At that point came an age which was comparable to The Lord of the Flies. Civil rule took over. Three good people stood above the crowd, trying to bring peace and order to save the lives of their friends and family. Their throats were promptly slit. Then, they inevitably woke from their three-hour slumber, out for blood. Zombies.
Before the zompocalypse, zombies were just a part of myth and legend, which constantly appeared in film, books and video games. People were obsessed with them, but now all we want to do is escape their decaying grasps. Our once-population of 500,000 fell to 300,000 after the first riots. That’s when I lost my family. Three hours later, they climbed from the rubble, blackened by fire and reddened by blood. The population fell again, to 150,000. After our first year alone, the population continued to fall. People weren’t accustomed to the tribal life and Tasmania, which was previously a hub of inhumanity, had degraded to a hub of savagery. It became a cause of celebration when you recognised someone from the old life, even if they didn’t recognise you back.
I’m sorry to break it to you but my last friend, Sam, didn’t make it past 25 years of age. I lost him four years ago.
We went on a supply run at an old abandoned grocer’s. It had gone untouched during the riots because it was buried under the depths of a rural village, through an obscure alley and a flight of stairs, under the ground. It was filled with rotten fruits and meats, but there was one line of shelves at the back which were lined with enough preservatives to feed the whole lodge.
“Hey Sam, do you remember alphabet soup?” I asked, picking another can from the shelf, “Because that still exists.”
“I hate alphabet soup,” he cringed.
“You’re a monster,” I snapped, hugging the can. “Besides, you can’t afford to be picky.”
“Fine,” he said, snatching a jar of preserved olives from the shelf, “I dare you to eat one of these.”
He knew I feared olives more than death itself. I opened my satchel, placing the alphabet soup in it, and stared at the olives with cautious eyes.
“Okay,” I replied, reaching out for them, “when we get back.”
“I’m not going to forget,” Sam said, as I placed the olives in my satchel.
Later we began to walk out of the store, when something caught Sam’s eye.
“No way,” he gasped.
“What?” I asked, absent-mindedly turning to see what he was looking at. He jumped over the store counter and stepped over the corpse of the owner.
“Check it,” he grinned from ear to ear, picking a strangely shaped black bag from under the shopkeeper’s desk.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Yes!” he laughed, ignoring me. “It’s not empty.”
He unzipped the bag to pull out a saxophone.
“I haven’t played in years,” he gawked. “I lost mine in the fire.”
“Oh,” my hand tightened around my satchel, “I wouldn’t put my lips on that.”
“No, I’m not going to. I have a box of old reeds hidden somewhere,” he said, putting the saxophone back in the bag and gracefully sliding over the counter, “and I’m going to look around for some disinfectant.”
“Sam,” I groaned, “why would you need that when we have a perfectly good rusty trombone at Base?”
“Pish,” he scoffed. He climbed through the aisles and finally lifted a purple bottle of disinfectant into the air.
We got to Base just before sunset. Base was originally a tourist lodge and it was constructed as a safe-haven by the last tourist in Tasmania; an American named Jacob Sampson. He was a bit of a genius. Before the zompocalypse, it would have been called a “gated community,” but now, un-gated communities didn’t exist, making the word ‘gated’ redundant.
Sam and I settled into our pad and I sat around, waiting for Sam to clean his new saxophone.
“Oh no,” I said, as he sat down, smiling widely, “this is going to be a nightmare.”
“Just sit back,” he said, “and let the music take you away.”
I sighed, and stood up, “Alright, but I’ll listen to you from the other room.”
I moved into the kitchen, opened up a cold can of beans, sat down to eat and attempted to finish the book I was reading. I don’t know why I kept torturing myself; even if the author was still alive, there was no way I was going to get the last book of the series.
After an hour passed, I leaned back to ask Sam why it was taking him so long to tune the saxophone.
He merely scowled, saying, “It is tuned.”
Later on, I crept into bed, blowing out the lantern on my nightstand. The night had settled around me. I could hear the crickets chirping outside and a group of lodgers chatting far in the distance. The night was icy, but the years had acclimatized me to sleeping in the cold. It didn’t take long for sleep to embrace me, but I was awakened by Sam knocking at my door; three slow and steady knocks.
“Travis,” he was breathing heavily, and painfully forcing his words out.
“Sam?” I asked, jumping out of bed and stepping through the room.
“Let me in,” he mumbled.
“What do you want?” I asked, sliding the latch along the door.
My heart jumped into my throat. “There’s food in the kitchen,” I called through the door.
“I’m so hungry, Travis,” he slurred. “Let me in. I’m starving.”
I slid the latch back into place and backed away from the door.
“Sam, you’d better not be joking,” I said, backing towards my bedside table, and reaching inside for my knife.
“Give me food. Please.”
I flicked a match and lit my lantern, lifting it above me and stepping towards the door. I heard Sam furiously scratching at the wood.
“Sam, try to control yourself,” I said, sliding the latch open, and stepping back.
The door handle rotated, and the door swung inwards. Sam stood in the doorway, staring at me. His eyes were shrouded by his brow. His fingernails were bloody from scratching at the door. Beads of sweat were falling from his forehead and his breathing was deep, and heavy. His feet padded along the ground as he lumbered towards me.
“Sam, you’ve got three seconds to get out or I’m going to kill you.”
He froze in his spot and looked up at me. His lips were blue and his right eye had a long strand of mould blooming from it. His left eye was blood red. He snarled, and ran straight into my knife. It drove its way into his chest, crunching through his sternum and tearing into his heart. His teeth gnashed my ear, so I pushed him back. Once he was far enough away, I kicked him back. He collapsed to the ground, writhing and choking. I jumped onto him, and brought the knife down, driving it into his skull. A warm torrent of blood climbed up the knife and bathed my hands. The red pool expanded beside him, until his struggling stopped, and he finally died.
I could feel my eyes tearing up. The stench was unbearable. A deep, stinging sensation filled my limbs, and the back of my throat; the feeling of panic. I looked down at his corpse, which was frozen still, and out of the corner of his mouth I spotted it, jammed in the side of his cheek, and covered in brown, sticky blood. It was the reed of the saxophone.