The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 26: Fertile Ground
"Proceed to the docks in an orderly fashion!" the voice boomed over the loudspeaker. "There are enough boats for everyone, but you must proceed slowly."
For some reason, instructions like this have the opposite effect in the movies, and the case of Sydney, Australia was no different. Even as the ship captain pleaded with the people for calm and order, they surged over each other with the same ferocity of the undead as they tried to force their way onto the boats. People pushed, shoved, even tried to climb over one another, and when polite measures such as these failed, they turned to real violence, fighting, clawing and doing everything in their power to be the first on board, which did wonders for delaying the evacuation.
It was a month ago that the undead began appearing on the shores of Australia. Within days their numbers spread. Attempts were made to contact other nations for assistance, but these cries for help were answered with the same: every world power, from England and China to Germany and Japan was dealing with their own zombie problem, and help would not be coming.
Orders were soon issued. A curfew was initiated, and neighborhood watches were formed. Those living in the small towns were told to clear cut the forests, thus giving them a clear view for any approaching undead.
For a time, things went well. Towns and cities were fortified in short order, ordinary people becoming soldiers overnight. The patrols reported record numbers of dispatched undead. News reports painted a rosy picture, highlighting every small victory the army achieved as if they had wiped out the last zombie, boosting the morale of the citizenry. Where America had failed, Australia was determined to succeed: they would throw the zombies back into the oceans they had shambled out of, and reclaim their land.
Bold intentions, but the road to Hell is paved with the best of them.
It wasn't long before the patrols started coming back with fewer and fewer people. Soon they disappeared entirely, and new recruits had to be forced to pick up a gun and venture outside. Neighbors grew mistrustful, and soon the meetings stopped, the patrols ceased their daily vigils. It wasn't long before the zombies, albeit unknowingly, took advantage of the lapse in security. One after another, the towns and cities fell.
Two days ago the government and military had come to the conclusion that try as they might, the undead could not be stopped short of a nuclear cleansing of the continent. After hours of debate, the decision was made to evacuate. But with hundreds of thousands of walking dead infesting the countryside, by the time the order was given it was almost too late.
Mitchell Saws lowered his rifle and looked over from the blockade he was guarding. He scowled at the citizens as they fought and struggled to make their way onto a boat. Not that they needed to. By current estimates, only 45 percent of Australia's population was still alive. There would never be enough evacuated to fill the boats, but when you're staring into the rotted face of your family and friends, blind panic is the only logical response. He felt an arm on his shoulder, and turned to see the face of Jessica Blaine, his lover for many a year, as well as his fellow soldier in the Australian Defense Force.
"Eyes front, Mitch!" she shouted, trying to be heard over the din of small arms fire and heavier ordinance. "Find a use for that fucking gun or you're sleeping alone tonight!"
Against a threat like that, Saws had no choice but to obey. He gripped the weapon and opened fire, decimating one undead after another. He had won awards for his marksmanship, but up until now, those skills had only been used against paper targets and wombats. Now, though, they served him well.
Overturned cars, cement blocks, even a newsstand had been drafted into the impromptu blockade that had been formed. With rifles, machine guns and even some artillery, the soldiers and police officers made a valiant final stand. Undead dropped like scythed wheat, but more arose to take their place. One soldier screamed as a zombie clambered over the barricade and dragged him into the teeming mass, and screamed even more as he was torn to ragged chunks. A curse drew Mitch's gaze to the right, where saw an officer was holding his bleeding arm. At his feet lay a zombie; a shotgun blast had reduced the creature's skull to paste, but not before it doomed the soldier. The officer looked at Saws, pulled his pistol, and before anyone could stop him, blew his own brains out.
Mitch grimaced as the man crumpled to the ground, but a part of him felt relief. Once infected, there was no way to stop the virus. If the officer hadn't taken his own life, someone else would have. Not a pleasant thought.
One by one, the undead made their way over the blockade, and one by one, the soldiers fell, some screaming, some fighting. Flames erupted as some shot the gas tanks of the cars, decimating the undead closest and torching those farther away. Mitch looked around for an officer to sound the retreat, but it appeared none were still alive to give said order.
"Fall back!" he shouted. "Make for the boats!"
On the docks, fear and disorder had given way to chaos and blind panic as the people watched the ghouls overwhelm the army. Several boats had left only half full, their captains deciding it was better to leave with some then lose all. Mitch and Jessica fired their weapons into the air, attempting to calm the crowd. Some responded, but others did not, and the panicky civilians clambered and fought to get on board.
Closer and closer the undead came. Grenades and Molotov cocktails were thrown, but where one fell, ten arrived to take its place. Jessica looked to the crowd, panic growing on her own face, then to Mitch.
Saws clenched his teeth in frustration, then, muttering a silent prayer for forgiveness, began battering the panicked people, clearing a path for the calmer members of the herd. Jessica joined in, and soon several soldiers were engaged in this more proactive form of crowd control. Several civilians were shot in the arms and legs when they tried to attack the soldiers. Soon, the few remaining boats were full, though so were the docks.
Mitch ran to the captain of the boat he and Jessica were on. "Cast off, we're getting the fuck out of here!"
The captain looked helplessly to the people still on the docks. "We can't leave those people.." he began.
Mitch shook his head. "You're already way over capacity," he said. "Any more and we'll capsize. Besides, they're already dead."
On the docks, the naval officer saw the soldier was all-too correct. The undead swarmed over the wounded humans like pirana on a cow. Screams from men, women and children filled the air, some mercifully short, others for what seemed like hours, though in reality was just a few minutes. They watched, as bodies were torn to pieces, arms, legs, organs, even a few heads flung aside in the feeding frenzy. Those zombies missing legs or otherwise handicapped scrambled for the scraps that fell their way, fighting over them like rabid animals.
The captain looked to Mitch. "You've killed them," he whispered. "You soulless son of a bitch, you've killed them all."
"We'd all be dead if we waited," Mitch said, not believing a word of what he said. "Our country may be lost, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna let everyone in it die too."
No answer came from the captain as he turned the vessel away from shore. Mitch kept his eyes glued to the city, as he watched fires consume skyscraper and suburban home alike. The sound of gunshots told him there were a few survivors still there, and while his heart wanted to leap into the water to save them, his head was in command, and told the rest of his body to stay where it was.
Jessica came up to the bridge, a look of sad triumph on her face. "How many?" asked Mitch.
"On all the boats, around nine thousand three hundred," she said.
Mitch turned away, his hands clenched so hard the bones almost snapped. "There were almost a million people told to go to those docks, and all we can get are nine thousand?" he whispered fiercely.
Jessica took his hand in hers. "That's enough to start over," was all she could say.
"Start over where?" Mitch asked "Those things have spread to nearly every square inch of land there is. Where else can we go?"
Before his lover could answer, the captain called out. "Look, over there!"
The two soldiers turned to see a small fleet of battleships approach the docks. Three destroyers and an escort of cruisers, all flying a flag they thought they'd never see again.
"Shit, it's the Americans," Mitch said as the Stars and Stripes came into view. "Why are they here?"
The answer came a moment later, when the guns on the warships opened fire on the docks, shredding the undead, decimating dozens, hundreds, with each shot. After four salvos, the docks were in ruins, the zombies no more.
"I can't believe it," the captain said. "After all we've done to them, after all their allies have done, they're still willing to help us."
The transmitter near Mitch squawked with static, and the soldier grabbed it as if it were a cobra. "Hello?" he said, feeling a little foolish using such a casual greeting.
"This is the USS Liberty, United States Navy, Captain Richard Maxon," came the response.
"Liberty, this is the Australian transport ship Perseverance, Sgt. Mitchell Saws, 1st Battalion. We're bloody grateful for the assist."
"Not a problem Saws, glad to be of help," Maxon said. "We heard your distress calls and decided to do what we could to help. Were you able to get everyone out?"
""Not everyone, no, but the fact we saved anyone is cause for celebration," Mitch responded.
"Too true, too true," Maxon said. "Well, we've got food, medical supplies and doctors here if you need any help."
That'd be right appreciated," Saws said, relieved laughter edging into his voice.
A tapping sound drew Mitch to the ship's captain, who was holding a clipboard with a piece of paper on it. Written on the paper was the word "blockade?"
Mitch nodded in understanding. "Say, Maxon, how did you guys get past the blockade?"
Maxon paused a moment before answering. "Simple. It's gone."
Mitch's eyes widened. "Gone?"
"Yeah, all the ships are gone," Maxon said. "With all the undead outbreaks, I guess they're needed elsewhere. Now I have a question for you. Were there any other evacuation points?"
Mitch looked to Jessica and the captain. Both were shaking their heads, and their eyes showed terror worse than any the undead could inspire. "Maybe, but this was all done so fast, I'm not really sure."
There was a pause before the U.S. captain responded. "Well, I'm sure we'll find them, especially if they're as stupid as you and broadcast their position for all to hear."
Suddenly, the guns on all the ships turned towards the Australian refugees. Mitch's hand gripped the transmitter so hard he nearly broke it in half. "Maxon, don't!" he screamed. "There's women and children on these ships for Christ's sake!"
"Too true," Maxon said. "Just like there were on the Gale, the Jefferson, and the Tried and True."
"Just a few of the many ships which the blockade you and your friends sent to the bottom," Maxon said, his voice taking on a mocking tone. "And guess what? There were women on board those ships, and children too. They had done nothing to you, and you murdered them in cold blood."
Panic rose in Saws. His hand trembled as he pressed the button on the transmitter. "Maxon, please, this won't undo what happened."
Maxon laughed. "No, no it won't. But it will make us even."
As one, the guns on all the ships fired. Like the undead on the docks, the refugees on the ships were decimated, shredded by explosions and shrapnel. Mitch tackled Jessica to the floor, just as a three-foot shard of glass flew through the space she had occupied a moment ago. The captain was kind enough to take her place, his head landing several feet from his body.
Again and again the destroyers and cruisers opened fire. Within moments, the ships began to sink, burning hulks filled with corpses, though these would remain unmoving. Mitch felt cold water on his arms and looked up as the sea began to cover the Perseverance. He ran to the emergency kit, grabbing the life preservers and lifeboat. Just then, he heard the sound of a hissing snake, and looked up in time to see a torpedo slam home into what was left of the bridge.
His final thoughts were that maybe, just maybe, they truly did have this coming.
Captain Maxon looked on the destruction the ships had caused like a proud father. A lieutenant handed him a sheet of paper. "More distress signals from other evac sites, sir."
Maxon looked at the report, then nodded to the helmsman. "Head to these coordinates," he said. "Can't move into a new house until you clear out all the pests."