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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    SAFE HARBOUR By Craig Young
    April 6, 2013  Short stories   Tags:   

    On the dark,deserted grey-green Tasman Sea, midway between the shattered and haunted remnants of Australia and the precipice sanctuary of New Zealand, an apparent large piece of driftwood stirred, ebbed and flowed in the stillness. It had once been a large eucalyptus tree, but the ravages of the Pakistani-Iranian nuclear exchange and the nuclear winter that had followed had brought storms and blizzards in its wake. However, if one looked closely, the forelorn hulk was deceptive. Beneath a camouflague tarpaulin lurked three Australians, intent on sanctuary and survival in the barricaded and intensively defended Land of the Long White Cloud.

    Theirs had not been an easy journey, but thus far, the lead lining in the tarpaulin above them had cloaked them from scrutiny by the patrol vessels from New Zealand’s Republican Navy and its Triage Guard. Before the apocalypse had descended, Taylor Wilkes had been a Chartered Professional Accountant in Sydney, a conservative divorced man who disliked everything that had happened to his country since the eighties. He never thought he’d become a shabbily clothed, dirty asylum seeker, but fate had dealt its hand. He glowered at Marianne Davies, the young woman who shared their boat, and her infant Neil. The brat wouldn’t stop crying and it had nearly led to their Triage Guard detection and probable return to the wasteland of former Australia until Davies had managed to persuade her baby to stop its wailing.

    She narrowed her eyes and said levelly: “When’s this boat going to turn up? You said it’d be here by now.”

    He retorted: “How the hell should I know? I didn’t ask for you to get onboard the dinghy, you were trespassing onboard.”

    Marianne snapped back: “Christ, I’ll just be bloody glad when this whole thing’s over and we can get away from you, you inhuman bastard.”

    Any tetchy response from the older man was rendered academic by the sudden appearance of a silhouette on the distant horizon, and a blinking yellow light. Taylor sighed in relief and flicked his torch on and off, signalling to what seemed a fishing boat, which then slowly turned and began to plough toward them. On cue, little Neil began coughing and whimpering, but for once, Taylor managed to ignore him, with the prospect of rescue drawing ever closer. Finally, it was possible to make out the appearance of two people, an older woman dressed in a grey cardigan and carrying a duffle bag, and the vessel’s captain, who seemed the same age- in his sixties, judging from his lined face. He waved to the trio, as Taylor discarded the wooden facade and tarpaulin:

    “Ahoy there! How many of there are you? Our shortwave contact your way said four?”

    Marianne called back: “Only three. One of us was left behind.”

    Taylor was about to retort that the cripple would only have gotten in the way, but bit his lip. For once, he realised that restraint might be the better part of valour.

    Gratefully, the three of them were assisted aboard the vessel, although they had to sit through a brief forged document photo and ID hack session that incorporated them into the New Zealand National Identification Database.

    Not for the first time, Captain Garth Izzard felt contempt at the inhumanity of New Zealand’s National Unity Government and its murderous “Triage” policy. He reckoned that he could identify someone turning when he spotted one, and neither of the two adults looked at death’s door and about to trip over the doorway into becoming undead.

    Folk myths can be deadly that way. Within the body of one of the three sanctuary seekers, the thanatovirus’ ebon black spheroids were laying waste to their cellular immune system. Perversely, it expressed itself in fatigue, not in pain or increasing loss of self-control.

    Baby Neil started to cry again, leading Taylor to snap back:

    “Could I have a seperate cabin? I’ve had to put up with that brat’s racket for the last three days.”

    Elspeth Downe had been a retired nurse and a grandmother, until she had lost her family during the apocalypse. When she’d heard, through ATEN, the Anti-Triage Escapers Network, that there would be a nursing mum and her little baby coming through this time, her heart leapt at the opportunity. And Marianne was a good girl, she could see it in her eyes and the tattered elegance with which she dressed.

    She made sure that the mother and baby had enough formula and food to last them the evening and morning, until they docked in Dunedin and disappeared into the throng of New Zealand’s post-apocalyptic second largest city.

    For a welcome change, Neil stopped crying quickly that night. She placed him in the crib and tenderly kissed his forehead, as he gurgled and then fell asleep. Marianne lay back, closed her own eyes and, exhausted by the day’s stresses and routines, joined her baby in dreams. She soon entered deep sleep.

    Thus, she was not aware when Neil bolted awake, as pain surged through his body, pain that he could not communicate, for the shock and trauma killed him instantly. But that was not all. Inside his body, microscopic tendrils of black emanated out from a chance drawing pin contact with his skin, by cruel coincidence and chance one that had also snagged a zombie toddler and drawn its ichor. The shards crept into his body as they infused through his dead muscles and his digestive system. Then the zombie that had once been Neil Davies opened its eyes and caught a whiff of its mother lying in the bed across the cabin.

    Although Neill couldn’t articulate it in life, nor in its new twilight post-sentient existence, driven by sensory impression and instinct, there were two human scents that pervaded zombie presence. One was ‘food’ or ‘quarry’ , and the other was ‘initiate.’ As Neill climbed over the crib barriers and dropped onto the floor, the vessel’s groaning and fatigued metal and shifting fish catch on the deck beneath them masked the diminutive zombie’s movements and its rasping querrelous noise as it crawled toward Marianne.

    Marianne awoke with a start, but far too late, as the animated cadaver that had once been her baby tore into her throat and drank and ate deeply, but not enough to end her existence altogether. Weakened by the effort of nursing her baby, hungry from the days at sea still and exhausted by the stress of surviving and eluding the zombies all these months, Marianne was unable even to cry out. Her mouth remained caught in the moment of shock and trauma as the infant feasted itself on her intestines, until the ichor began to flow and her corpse began to reanimate. In a parody of parental tenderness and intimacy, the female zombie took its former infant in its arms and they lurched toward the door, retaining a fragment of memory.

    When Elspeth opened the door with a cup of hot cocoa and some more baby food, she wondered why the room was so dark. Then abruptly, the two zombies fell on her from their concealment, ripping and tearing at her. She didn’t have time to alert the others as her kindness and compassion were betrayed. Outside, it was still dark and windy, so the slamming door could be put down to mere wind turbulence.

    In his cabin, Taylor jerked awake as the doorway into his room was filled with light. He cursed as he saw his lifeboat tormentors silhouetted in the doorway and growled:

    “What the hell now? I said I wanted this cabin to get away from-” His words trailed off as a stray shaft of moonlight caught the true form of the two zombies and he lurched back in his bed as his heart began to triphammer arhythmically. He tried to leave the comfort of his bed, but fell and there was a sickening crack from his fragile shin. The two zombies moved to devour him where he lay, whimpering in pain and horror, impotent in death as in life.

    Captain Izzard was the final one to fall, suspecting nothing, intent only on getting his catch in and dropping off his passengers in Dunedin. He was about to change course to avoid the reef that the marine radar had highlighted just ahead of his vessel, when his door slammed open. He swallowed as he spotted the murderous vestiges of what had once been Marianne and Neill Davies. His hand closed on his pistol, and he brought it up, shaking, aiming it at her head. Increasingly, it began to buckle, as the two of them drew closer, rasping and groaning, then it dropped from his convulsing hands. He couldn’t bring himself to do it.

    Garth Izzard was a decent man. Decent people don’t shoot parents of small infants and their babes in arms. And all Captain Izzard could see was his own baby grandson and son, taken from him by the ravages of the Zombie War.

    Finally, though, he picked up the pistol, bringing it up toward his own head, closing his eyes, hoping his wife, children and grandchildren would be there to greet him on the other side of all this.

    The shot rang out in the cabin, but whatever additional food the two zombies might accquired from the situation would never be known. The vessel ran aground and jagged rock tore across its hull, colliding with the engine. In an instant, the vessel, the two zombies and its slaughtered occupants were consumed in an expanding fireball of diesel oil and flame, tearing them apart.

    When the Triage Guard’s RNZNV Helen Clark arrived as the sun rose on the wreck, only a forelorn piece of smouldering driftwood was left to bear testimony to the tragedy of good intentions gone wrong, with the vessel’s name a final, ironic commentary on what had eluded the women, men and infant onboard:

    SAFE HARBOUR.

     

    10 Comments

    1. Thanks for another good read Craig!
      Always watching out for your work.

      Comment by bong on April 7, 2013 @ 9:50 am

    2. That was pretty heavy. Very nicely done.

      Comment by Doc on April 7, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    3. I thought that this one would have to be a downer, given that few people seem to have asked the question “What would happen if the Raedekker Solution (or its analogues) were deliberately flouted out of a sense of tragic but well-intentioned human compassion for those caught on the ‘wrong’ side of the line?”

      It’d be interesting to see how other nations deal with this (hint hint) in their own geographical contexts…

      Comment by Craig Y on April 7, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    4. great read

      Comment by Gunldesnapper on April 8, 2013 @ 6:39 am

    5. Very nicely done. I really got sucked down in the vortex of horror. You are a fine writer.

      Comment by John the Piper's Son on April 9, 2013 @ 2:31 am

    6. This has such an old school feel to it that it was refreshing. Too often today’s writers try and flower things up or tell a story in a manner that is cute or overintelligent. The varying styles and voices make this site amazing. This piece falls into place with all of the other variants. Good story with a solid old school style of telling that made it an easy read.

      Good job.

      Comment by A.J. Brown on April 9, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    7. Creepy. Good but creepy.

      Comment by Terry Schultz on April 10, 2013 @ 9:59 am

    8. Very nice stand alone piece – although it lookslike it could easily be part of a larger story….

      Comment by JohnT on April 13, 2013 @ 8:11 am

    9. This is heavily over-written, but it’s an engaging piece that shows promise. Keep going!

      Comment by Rodney Hilton on April 18, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    10. Liked it. I was surprised at the brevity, but was really good. In my opinion, it’s no mean trick to write a true short story and be able to tell the whole tale without seeming to rush it. Good job.

      Comment by JamesAbel on April 19, 2013 @ 10:47 am

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