Helen Grier, former missionary at the Grace Abounding Church of Rodney, awoke on a brilliantly clear Samoan morning. She’d decided to fly up here to celebrate her retirement. She had fallen in love with Western Samoa when stationed here as an army nurse doing vaccinations of Samoan children as part of a joint venture between the New Zealand and Western Samoan governments.
Well yes, the afternoon would be a scorcher, but goodness, the colour of those flowers, the dolphins and odd whale playing out in the bays, the happy smiling and running children, and the good, godfearing people- in fact, much more so than back home in Auckland, she thought to herself. And the Samoan people had brought so much to New Zealand- their music, their robust Christian faith, their prowess and discipline in rugby and netball, their strong family life, their dance. And even after all these years, it was still so beautiful, so serene and peaceful here.
She wandered down the main stretch of Apia, watching those around her as they made their way to church.
Suddenly, a hellish image materialised in front of her. She gasped at it, harbouring the signs of almost certain demonic activity- it was a ghastly parody of humanity, with its riven, bleeding head, yellowed corneas and cracked and yellowing teeth, and she could almost smell its sulphurous and putrid breath. Its clothing was ripped and torn and it snarled and made bestial noises as it devoured what seemed to be human flesh.
Helen fell to her knees and loudly prayed, although she felt dizzy, tired and angry at this unwelcome intruder from Satan’s realm. When she opened her eyes, a formidable Samoan matron was smiling at her, extending her hand:
“Thank you my dear.”
“My goodness, did you see that hellish thing? It was good that you beseeched the Lord to remove it from here. You are obviously a godly woman, doing something like that for us.”
Her new friend handed Helen a cool Coca Cola, which she gratefully downed. What a good, Christian woman she obviously was. Huh. This virtually never happened back home in Auckland, Helen reflected sadly. Then she realised something:
“Wait. Do you mean to say that you saw it as well?”
“Oh yes. They only started appearing recently. But like you, we can pray them away. You look thirsty and tired. Would you like to come to church with me and my aiga?* We’re holding a homecoming ceremony for my grandson. He recently qualified as a doctor at Auckland University and lives over there, but he’s working here at home on a government vaccination programme.”
“Thank you, I will. What a coincidence, I was here back in 1963, with the New Zealand Army, doing a vaccination programme myself. You must be very proud of your grandson.”
“You hear such horrible things about all the drugs and crime in that big city of Auckland. But my grandson Silisi, he was brought up well, worked hard, and succeeded.”
“I’m Helen, by the way.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Helen. Ta’alofa. I’m Malia. You look hot and tired. Don’t worry, we’ll be at the church soon.” As luck would have it, Malia was carrying a large chilly bin full of cold Cokes to the celebration, given that her aiga had been entrusted with organising the post-service celebration.
Helen revelled in the earnestness and sincerity of her sisters and brothers in the Lord, although she did feel somewhat the worse for wear afterward. There was the inevitable post service touch rugby game between young village men and visitors from Auckland, the big smoke. Malia swelled with pride once more as she pointed out one of the other young men at the game, who Helen recognised:
“That’s Afi, my nephew.”
“Afi Simisimi? The Otago Highlanders prop forward? You have a very accomplished family, Malia love. You must be very proud of them.”
And then it happened again. Helen saw Malia open her mouth to reply, but heard nothing. Instead, something grim and horrific gradually superimposed itself over the raucousness of the post-service touch match and the running, playing profusion of small Samoan children, amidst their indulgent elders. Instead of her newfound friend and fellow parishioners, she saw nothing but widespread bones, broken trees and vast expanses of arid and inhospitable ground. Bewildered, she wandered through the ashes of Apia’s buildings. At least those demonic creatures were gone. But this…this wasn’t paradise, it was hell.
And then she became aware of a blinding pain and growing darkness from within her. She clutched at her stomach and fell to the dusty, ashen ground. Mercifully, the charnel houses and desolation faded away, and Malia and her doctor grandson were crouched over here and Malia was holding her hand. She almost wept with gratitude, but it was becoming a labour even to draw breath. Then her vision started to mist over, but she felt at peace. If she had to leave this life now, better that it be here, in this land that she loved so much, with its generous, loving and tenderhearted Christian people.
And then, Helen Grier died at peace.
“Damn it! Why didn’t you call me sooner?” Kahu Grieves, the Dunedin Hospital’s paramedic team leader exclaimed as he got up from crouching over the body of Helen Grier. But it was a very different woman from the one who had just died in the simulacra of Western Samoa. This version of Helen had lank, stringy hair, an emaciated face that told its own story of suffering, endurance and pain experienced. Dressed in a tatty housecoat and simple second hand skirt, her handbag had fallen to the ground when she had. Amidst her meagre personal effects, there was a container full of anticancer medication.
“I had no idea she was this ill, mate.” Dom Prosser, proprietor of Letheworld VR, replied, running his hand through his silvery hair, and handing over a printout of Helen Griers’ patient record. Kahu relented as he saw the other man’s earnest bewilderment and grief at what had befallen the elderly lady at their feet.
“Does she have any next of kin?” Dom asked, as Kahu looked up from the form.
“Nope. Lost them all in the Zombie War. She was evacuated down to here from Rodney, up in what used to be Auckland. Apparently, she was the only survivor of her whole church…Grace Abounding, it says here. Ah. Wait a minute. There should be a National Health Registry redcard warning about her cancer and weak heart here. There’s not. Let me see the client screen original.”
Dom complied. Kahu nodded: “It’s been hacked. Restorationists, probably. Damn it, they should have known she’d do something like this. Don’t worry, though, Dom. You’re not legally liable for this- you couldn’t have known how sick she was.”
“I hate this, though. Ah well. The poor old love died at peace. Look at the smile on her. At least she didn’t have to deal with all the shit out there. What?”
Kahu was frowning as he took in the virtual location of Helen Grier’s final moments. He angrily said: “Apia. Samoa. The way it used to be. The way it should still have been now, if not for our fuckin’ National Unity Government and its Triage henchmen.”
Dom squeezed the other man’s shoulder, silently indicating his agreement.
Unlike New Zealand, where there were formidable natural barriers that obstructed the marauding mindless undead hordes from causing maximum carnage, and which had provided ample opportunities for survivors to regroup and fight back, most of its Southwest Pacific Island neigbours didn’t have its mountains, lakes and rivers and worse, suffered from remoteness, rudimentary infrastructure and
poverty. There was nowhere left to run when the zombie apocalypse descended onto Western and American Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati and the other jewels of the remote archipelagos.
Unknown and cut off from the rest of the world, villages were slaughtered, infection spread like wildfire, and lands that had housed the cultures of whole peoples from centuries past had been snuffed out, leaving desolation. Broken fales, desolate howling wind, broken trees and no birdsong or animals, dessicated soil and funereal silence met Republican New Zealand Navy survey robots as they trundled through the aftermath of massacre and oblivion.
Back in New Zealand, the traumatised erstwhile survivors of those islands had guessed at the fate of their homelands and many had simply given up. It wasn’t just deliberate suicide through inviting the grisly embrace of the zombies as they devoured willing prey, it was self-starvation, escalated combat fatalities amongst soldiers, and willingness to join their families back in their charnel house island homes. From prewar levels that comprised about fifteen percent of New Zealand’s total population, surviving Pasifika numbers had nosedived.
Amongst Maori and indigenous Hawaii’an survivors of World War Z, there was understandable bitterness and rancor about what had befallen their Polynesian cousins in the Southwest Pacific. It didn’t particularly salve their resentment that many pakeha Kiwis had lost friends and family to the Triage policy too, and that New Zealand had just as firmly shut the seaway routes from Australia as it fell to the zombie onslaught. Granted, Maori communities had a greater share of surviving wealth and benefits in post-WWZ Aotearoa and their standard of living had risen considerably.
But it didn’t bring back the broken shells and silent wastelands of the Southwest Pacific. Except for VR facilities, nothing could. In fact, that probably helped explain why despite shortages of everything else, the high-resolution, sensory surround infotech had advanced in the years since the gradual end of the Zombie War. People wanted to escape, often back into an idyllised prewar past or postzombie future which had never known the undead. To offset greater unrest at the deprivations and hardships of the postwar world, government policy encouraged it.
“I can understand why she did it. She had no-one else and according to the refragged, original data on the NHR database, she wanted to spend some last time in the place that she’d loved most before the war. So she took one last, virtual holiday in the Pacific Islands, rather than face a lonely time in a hospice or in a euthanasia ward, because she’d run out of palliative care drugs. I see a lot of this sort of thing. Too much.” Kahu finished filling out the paperwork as Dom zipped up the bodybag, and they easily lifted Helen’s fragile, emaciated body, carrying it toward the ambulance.
As it drove off, Dom Prosser held Helen’s crucifix, gently kissing it.
If nothing else, at least that lonely old woman hadn’t died alone. Even if it was all a gossamer facade and illusion of peace and solace, at least Helen Grier had not died amidst the decay, squalor and austerity of postwar Dunedin. She had known happiness and serenity at the end, more than anyone usually experienced in this harsh, brave new post-apocalyptic world. The grey rain began and started to hammer down on his prefab hut business as he went inside to await his next customers.
“Rest in peace, Miss Grier,” he whispered.