Happy Halloween everyone! As promised, I’m sharing a bit of a ‘spooky’ story with you for this special time of the year.
The last tenant of Adelaide was a short story I wrote for an Australian themed anthology last year that, sadly, didn’t make it off the drawing board. I’ve submitted it to a few other short story competitions and anthologies, but no luck.
And so, I am giving it to the world here instead. Well, not giving really more sharing. So, no, you can’t go off and use it however you like. This is still my story. And I know by publishing it here, it will now be null and void to be used by me elsewhere. I can live with that, as long as those who read it enjoy it for what it is… A short story about Zombies. 😉
So, here is The last tenant of Adelaide, enjoy!
I’d never been a great fan of zombies. I scoffed at the concept while still fearing what would happen if it could really happen. But it was one of those late night, insomnia fuelled fears… I had never been the sort to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. That is, until it started to happen.
As with most epidemics that arrived on our shores, it started as a cough. The patient would steadily go downhill as necrosis set in around their body. Only, despite their cells dying, the victim did not, they simply changed. We had zombies. Not just an Australian first, a world first. No one knew where the disease came from, but for some unknown reason we had it here and only here. The rest of the world appeared safe, for now.
They weren’t your typical television zombies out for brains and zipping through the night after their next victims. They were slow, and appeared docile until the moment they were attacking and tearing you limb from limb. All they seemed to want was to kill, or to turn a person into another zombie. Why? Will we ever know? Burning the bodies seemed to stop them, and they didn’t seem to last too long in the ocean before dissolving. Mind you, there was no Wizard of Oz melting moment if sea water was thrown on them. People learnt that the hard way.
The zombie’s necrosis infected all they touched or all who an infected victim coughed upon. It spread faster than any known pandemic to date and soon the world closed its borders to anyone in Australia trying to get out. When it first began, either the Government didn’t know how bad it would be, or knew and had decided to try and keep it a secret. I’ve never wasted my time getting too philosophical over it. They did, however, enforce a nation-wide curfew from sun down to sun up. Only emergency personnel or those authorised to be out left their homes. The general public were not amused, until the deaths started. I was still in two minds over it until the night there came a scratching at my back door. Living alone and not owning a pet – nor at the time being too fearful of the night – I listened intently and tried to drown it out with the television. It was the ripping of the flyscreen in my open bedroom window followed by a thud and then shuffling that got my attention. I don’t know what it was, but just the presence of the zombie in my home had the hairs stand up all over my body. Despite not thinking too much of the threat then or even believing it to be a zombie, something deep within me sensed the danger and I found myself scrambling to my feet. My first thought was to move towards the bedroom to investigate but this deep, fearful survival instinct had me instead grab my bag, keys and phone then escape.
My first instinct was to flee away from the bedroom at the back of the house and so it was my front door I opened… and where I met my first zombie face to face. The memory still causes shivers as I saw a man, young, long dead and black and green with the necrosis disease – as it was then called. Flakes of skin falling from his shrivelled body as he slowly lurched forward, snatching at me. I slammed the door with a scream and turned to find another way out. The door behind me rattled and I was about to turn to ensure I’d dead bolted it when a shadowy movement caught my eye. There was definitely one in the house. This one was female, older and obviously had been dead for less time as the skin was more a mottled brown, red and green. Oh god, it was my neighbour! Why hadn’t I checked on her this morning like the police were asking people to? The beady, hungry eyes that stared at me from metres away down the hall did not go with the old lady I knew. The blackness, the rage, the almost pure evil that seemed to be within them marred all memories of the smiling, kind and friendly eyes I remembered. I was very lucky to survive that first meeting of zombies untouched. I fled back to my lounge room and flung open the window on the other side. Praying for no zombies on that side of the house I popped the screen and scrambled out. There were dark shadows milling under the peppercorn tree in my backyard, but I didn’t stop to count how many or whether they were alive or dead. My car was right there and I was in it and driving as quickly as I could before I even knew I’d done it. That primeval fear and adrenalin carried me out of the suburbs of Tea Tree Gully and into the city before the Police stopped me. I fell from the car, sobbing, into the arms of a Police officer. As the shock set in I realised the enormity of it all. Zombies were everywhere, how was a curfew meant to stop them to save us? In that one night I lost my home, my life as an accountant and my sense of ever truly feeling safe again.
That night wasn’t just the catalyst that caused me to realise life, as I’d known it, seemed to be over. It was also the night the zombie rumours became real life threats to everyone I knew. Those, that is, who survived.
The nation panicked, not just Adelaide. Anyone who could tried to leave by any means known. The world’s navies combined and shot down any planes and sank any boats that dared to flee. A country that had so recently disdained the very thought of boat people had become them, and their deaths were counted as a tragedy by a scared world who looked on and couldn’t think of a better solution to stop this plague.
For those of us who remained, our world became turmoil of fear and death. The problem quickly escalated and people didn’t just go about their business as if nothing was wrong. It was really then that we realised how much the world had abandoned us to this fate. That was when society started to falter. I joined the homeless communities of Adelaide, where we initially clustered in foyer of the Police Headquarters on Angus Street at night, fearful of the noises and hoping the bordered up glass frontage would keep the danger at bay. As society crumbled further, this small pretence of safety went with it. That was when we stopped being united in our fear and homelessness as a community and instead broke down into groups of people just out to survive.
As the homeless numbers grew, I found myself amongst friends, work colleagues and family members. We seemed to cluster together for support by association. By night we fled and hid from these night walkers, these vicious decaying creatures of our own making. And by day we fought and hid from those still alive, those who were seeking the best shelter, the most food and the greatest resources possible at any cost, including another’s life. There was no happy and safe commune out in the country for us all to strive for, we were on our own.
We became isolated pockets of fear and loathing, sheltering together one moment, fighting the next for the last scrap of food. I had been an accountant in a safe and happy firm on King William Street and despite the crumbling of society, I still found myself following the orders and requests of my Manager. Though, rather than reply with reports and figures, I fought beside him with knife and gun. As much as I was ashamed of being lowered to the level of savage, I had to survive. I did not ask for the zombies, I hadn’t been one of those who joked of the zombie apocalypse. And I was damned sure I wasn’t going to become one of the festering numbers with those oh so dark, dangerous and hungry eyes.
I don’t know how it started, but some unthinking soul thought the best way to eradicate the zombies was with fire. And so the country blazed. The entire nation. Towns, farmland, bush and cities… it all burned. It killed more than just the zombies and dwindled the food resources and population down to a few scattered thousands. No longer a civilisation, Australia was now gone as we knew it. And the zombies proved to be as resourceful as cockroaches in the onset of the fires and so the fearful bumps in the night continued despite our greatest of losses.
As for me, I was still surviving. Still an afraid, tormented soul who never wanted to believe in zombies, but refused to lie down and give up now they were here. No longer ashamed to be a savage, I did what had to be done to survive… as did anyone around me. At first our group numbered in the hundreds. We took the eastern half of Tee Tree Plaza as our home as there were enough of us to protect it. Our group weren’t zombie fighters and protectors of the innocent, don’t be stupid. We simply wanted to survive. And so we stole. Everything. Trucks to contain our goods, money and petrol to barter and move with, guns and weaponry to protect and kill. We fought others for our gains; zombies and the living both became our enemies in our striving for survival. We ram raided shops and homes alike, taking anything of use and trying to wait the possible day Australia was once more a zombie free place. The day the rest of the world would remember us.
As time passed, our numbers dwindled. We lost some to zombie, others to rival gangs. The fires that consumed all of the hills and parts of the surrounding suburbs of Adelaide left my group thin on the ground. We had to give up our fortified home and find smaller places to hide. So we headed back into the city, now an empty mostly burnt out shell, rather than a thriving bustle of cultural events and life I remembered it as. It still hurt to see the glass, debris and burnt bodies everywhere, but I was surviving, that is what counted. I had lost friends and family despite my best efforts, the least I could do was survive to be someone who remembered them and mourned their loss. Those that remained in our group grew scared and started to pick off individuals who were too slow to not see it coming. I was one of the last, not because I was tough, but because I was sneaky. I had seen what was coming, felt it in that primal survival instinct of mine and had already made plans. I had been stock piling a considerable amount of our supplies for some time in an apartment block in the city’s east. Half the building was gone, destroyed by a downed plane some years ago. What remained was charred, but still structurally sound. At least the room at the top I chose was. I knew I couldn’t store enough there to last me a life time, but I was hoping for at least another year or so before I gave in and let fate decide for me.
So, while hiding our resources, I watched the biggest, strongest and slyest member of my group, my Manager, of all people, hunt down the competition to ensure all our accumulated resources were just his. He had always been a ruthless man in business, and his steady will to survive had been what had attracted me to fall under his leadership when society as we knew it disappeared. He had changed now; his steady devotion to survive had dropped from all to one. Sometimes I even feared him more than the zombies at night.
What he was doing, his culling of our group, was done on the quiet at first, one person missing every few days. It had become natural to expect this. For those of us who survived the night, we were often too tired to then defend ourselves from the competition of the living the next day. When our group was dwindled down to ten in a matter of a month – after surviving for almost six as a party of thirty – I began to suspect. Being the trusting soul that I was, this is when I started seeking my own hide away and stock piling what I could there. I had been watching our great leader for some days when I witnessed him drop our number to below five and knew I would be next. There was a similar greed and hunger to his eyes, as his killed a man we had worked with for years, as I remembered seeing in that first zombie’s. He was alive, uninfected by the necrosis, but that same zombie darkness glinted in his eyes and I became frightened of this living day walker as much as I was of those dead creatures of the night. That was when I stopped looking in the mirrors, not wanting to see if that same brutal survival instinct was looking out at me.
Whether it was a survival instinct or just wishful thinking, but those of us who remained alive within the group still pretended nothing was wrong. Well, besides the obvious zombie apocalypse and destroyed world around us. So by day we still banded together and sought further resources for our stockpiles. One such day was when we had discovered a nursing home on the city limits on Portrush Road that stocked a fair amount of tinned goods. A stranger had pleaded for his life with this information. It wasn’t enough to save him, but was tempting enough for us to make the hike out to there and retrieve it before anyone else did.
Despite all the pillaging, fires and destruction of our once beautiful city, this place seemed almost untouched with a lot of glass still remaining in its windowed frontage. I think this is what saved us from the zombie. Well, most of us. To get to the pantry, we needed to enter through the dining hall. And there, scattered about at tables, dishevelled and diseased sat the elderly occupants of this home. Some really were dead, carcasses slowly rotting in the sunlight streaming through the windows. But amongst them were a few alert-eyed undead. I don’t know why, but they were always immobile in daylight. But it didn’t stop them from watching you with their dark, hunger filled eyes and, if you weren’t careful, retracing your steps and hunting you down come night fall. The room was a mess, chairs, tables and human remains were strewn everywhere. There had obviously been a function the day they had been struck by the disease as there were also tables of long rotted food. All in all I felt it was not a good omen to be there. It had been my job to get the place ready to burn down, so I was staying outside and dowsing the place with petrol. One of the best ways to ensure you were not hunted by a zombie was to burn its den to the ground. I had just finished my task when I heard a muffled scream and knew our team was now down to two. And I was fairly certain which two it was. As I looked up, I met the determined and mad eyes of my former Manager as he stood there with backpacks bulging and gun in his hand. My survival instinct had me moving before he could pull the trigger. I struck a match and lit my petrol sprayed work, using the whoosh of flames and billowing black smoke to run. Why I ran into the burning building, I don’t know. I lived off my instincts and that is what they told me to do. Why the stupid man followed, rather than expect me to burn, I also don’t know.
I found myself once more in the sunlight flooded dining room and hid. He was coming for me, my instincts warned. It was drowned out, however, by the fact that I was squatting in a burning building and very aware I was being watched by half a dozen zombies with those eyes I feared more than anything would one day be seen in me. Adding to my concern was the billowing black smoke; would it count as being darkness? Would these undead soon move?
I was broken from these thoughts as the ceiling started to cave in and the air became too hot and thick to breathe. Unable to stay my nerve further I leapt to my feet to make for the back door. Only to come face to face with the man I was fleeing. Despite the heat and urgency we just stood there locked in each other’s gazes. All we both wanted to do was survive, but who would shoot first? His steely eyes watched me, as if sensing I wasn’t as unarmed as I appeared. Could I reach my own gun in time? In the end I didn’t have to, but still learnt a valuable lesson. Thick smoke was indeed enough darkness to at least allow a determined zombie to lurch forward. The old woman grabbed my former Manager’s arm and that was all it took. The necrosis quickly flowed from her to him and his look of cunning turned to one of fear and pleading. I hadn’t been looking forward to shooting this man, but the look in his face proved it was a mercy killing. The bullet between his eyes felled him, if I had been too late in saving him from becoming part of the undead, the fire should at least do the rest.
Before he had even toppled to the ground I was running, I was out of the building and, not forgetting to grab as many packs of food as I could carry, I was gone before the flames reached the gas bottles I had piled up in the kitchen. Even from the distance of a few kilometres that explosion shook the ground beneath me as I staggered back to my city hideout. It was like a wave of shock allowing me to realise that, since the hell that was the zombie plague, I was now truly alone. Truly the last tenant of Adelaide.
That had been months ago and now alone; I resolved to be in charge of my own life and death. And so, here I now sit in my hide away, twelve floors from the city below in a building that threatens to topple down at any moment. I’ve done my best to protect myself from the undead and living alike. I piled the stairwell and halls with as much furniture and rubble as I could and then covered as much of it with wet cement to harden and prevent an easy entrance. I bricked up the lift shaft, despite there not having been electricity to this city for years now. In the end I even bricked myself into the apartment, resolved to the fact that I’m not going to survive this plague, but simply giving myself a few more months. It took a while, but I eventually even installed steel enforced metal shutters where the French windows once stood keep the night, and what it contains, out. Though I’ve not seen a zombie climb, I will never take that chance. I’ve pretty much been left alone during the day too, pigeons and rats excluded. I have a small balcony where I cook, when needed, and also throw the refuse of my life. There is enough food and water for another year, if I’m lucky. And I’m still undecided as to what I will do first when I crave meat – eat a pigeon, a rat or the tins of SPAM I seem to have unwittingly collected.
This is not life; I wouldn’t even proudly call it survival anymore. It is merely prolonging death. I’m the last tenant of Adelaide, or so it seems, and will eventually have to come to the decision I now ponder daily. Slowly starve or end it all by throwing myself away like the rest of the refuse. I know that is my choice if the zombies ever find me. Being twelve floors up, it will be a quick decision and hopefully an even quicker death.
And left behind will be this laptop, charged by a solar panel pack, containing this note to the world that some of us survived long after you gave up on us. Some of us chose to live and, depending on how I end up, we got to choose how we died. Don’t pity us, just remember the last tenant of Adelaide.