The March of the Dead

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28

I got up early.

Mum stood up in the kitchen. The gums swayed out the backyard in the morning light.

I turned to leave.

‘Here.’

I turned back.

She held lunch out to me.

I singed. ‘Jeez, Mum. Sorry. Nearly forgot.’

She gave me a wry look, her slender body enclosed in the dimness of the kitchen. Her Astley’s Accountants T-shirt clung to her slender frame, her business pants silky. ‘I’ll have dinner made for you in the fridge, okay?’ she said, a few vegetables sitting on the bench.

Now I sat on the bus, travelling towards school.

I recalled walking out the house, Dad throwing tools in the back of his truck. ‘You be good.’

I give him the same smile I’d given Mum, putting my earbuds back in. ‘Always am.’

But on the bus the tall man stood. From the outset, it looked bizarre.

Why in the heck is he standing up?

Perhaps I was too far back to see the wildness no doubt in his eyes. Outside the bus window, the day was nice and blue.

I had been staring at those paddocks and farmlands passing by, thinking of the basketball game I’d played with the boys yesterday, how we’d chuckled whenever someone missed the hoop.

I imagined Cantey trying to swat the ball from Turner, Turner throwing the ball into his face. ‘You want it? You got it.’ And the pursuing rumble.

I stared over at the tall man.

The one ... the one ... the one,’ he mouthed. I say ‘mouthed’ because I played music in my earbuds and could only read his lips. The heads of seven or so others bobbed from the back of the seats before me.

I turned down the music.

It would be the last time I ever listened to that song.

I heard it then:

‘... has come, and reaches up from beneath. He has found the way into the souls of the living, punctured through, and now flowers. Come forth, souls of the damned, give yourselves over and embrace His will.’ The tall man stood there in the aisle, his business jacket swaying from the rocky bus ride.

His black trousers sat loose on his legs.

‘Come forth, oh one from beneath, come forth and draw your rath upon the world, bring forth your hate and terror to us on Earth.’ His voice rose. ‘Bring forth your terror and sin and evil, oh merciful one, your time hath arrived.’ Higher still. ‘Bring forth your ....’

The tall man still stood as the bus drove on the highway.

I noticed up a sign up ahead reading ‘Burarra’. Well into the distance, I could see my school in the nice autumn sunlight.

Someone over the other side of the bus said, ’Sit ‘own. You’re scaring the kids.’ It was a man in his early fifties who had been gazing at the screen of his mobile.

The tall man smiled, pulling something from his back, and I shivered as I saw the shining blade.

A grandmother sat in the sideways seats up front. There sat Oscar Boyce with his earphones in. I saw a primary-aged kid, face white as he stared at the man. Sunlight glinted off the rails of the seats.

The knife was plunged at the area I couldn’t see in front of the bus driver’s seat. Blood burst up onto the clear Perspex separating the driver from those behind him.

It sprayed, and sprayed and sprayed up onto that plastic barrier, as though there was a hole in some water main behind the seat, the water, in this case, red. The flow continued, spraying and spaying out. It slid down, and down, and down that plastic.

The screams sounded.

The man, long-armed and broad-shouldered still stood as the bus gathered speed, gradually veering left and left as we travelled.

People screamed now: a girl behind me. One of the boys up front of the bus.

The roar of the engine increased as the bus picked up speed.

My heart beat so hard I thought my chest would explode.

For some reason I thought, Kehlani.

We accelerated along, cars zooming by. Then we hit, smashing into a telegraph pole on the side of the road.

A loud, metallic eruption sounded as the tall man burst through the front window, flung out as though pulled by the hand of some giant ghost. At this moment, the grandmother had been flung towards the front too, and she too burst through that glass.

The tall man and the grandmother sailed through the air, I’ll never forget that. They were lost to my fleeting consciousness, but I’ll never forgot her grey hair flapping about in the breeze as she flew like an angel towards the front of an oncoming car.

Screams had erupted throughout in that final moment.

That horrid, metallic sound stinging my ears.

I’m dead, I thought.

My head bounced forwards, then back against the metal railing.

It was the last I remembered before I blacked out.

*

At some point I awoke.

I sat there, back aching, a burning sensation running down it. My mind came in and out of consciousness.

I blinked my eyes open once more, seeing that tilted head before me, the blood congealed in the girl’s hair.

I looked around.

Or at least I peered left, right, ahead, up, down, where I could gaze without moving my head.

I tried to move my body, but a feeling like someone tearing a knife down my back splintered throughout me. I groaned.

I felt something thick and sticky and cool sticking to the back of my head.

Heaven?

Then I saw the smoke, leaking in through the windows, filling it up.

Outside, through the greyness, that ever-expanding greyness I saw orange flashes and blurry orange balls well off in the distance. The smell of burnt wood and ash wafted throughout the bus. I choked on it.

I brought my hand up, covered my mouth, went to call for help but my voice was too choked.

Mum .. Dad ... guys .... guys what’s happening ... where are you ...? Mum ... Dad ...’

Sitting there, I coughed, taking in more thick grey smoke. I glared around me. I still sat in the bus; that much was evident. I couldn’t see too much. I stared ahead. There, before me, through the thick greyness sat figure, after figure, after figure.

Each sat in their seats still, heads tilted to the side through the thick grey smoke. It was night outside the window, smoke all throughout the bus. I drew in more of that ashen air, coughed, covered my mouth, looking to my left. Pain sliced through my side. I groaned.

What the heck have I done to myself?

I looked down.

The belt was around me.

I reached down, trying to click it.

I clicked.

I clicked.

Nothing happened.

What the hell?

A figure, ahead of me, standing there in the gloom and smoke of the bus, gazing.

It was a man, his gaze directed at me. I could tell because of the position of his outline and glint of whiteness in his eyes. Come on come on come on come on come on, I thought, pressing down that clip. It was jammed, the belt tight around me.

Alarms sounded well off in the distance. The sounds of something roaring, crackling sounded from somewhere far away. No sounds of shouting from anywhere beyond the bus, no other sounds at all.

It was no longer a nice blue day, just a smoky grey hell. That grey smoke billowed across the highway outside my window. Flakes of white ash slipped down against the window, appearing to tap the glass, like ghosts trying to get my attention.

A terror streaked throughout me, my eyes wide.

A horrid coppery taste filled my mouth.

My back felt like some disks had slipped out of place; it felt like the hand of some demon with claws had racked through it.

I groaned. The figure stepped forwards.

No ... no ... no, no, no, no, no, no, no ...

‘No, no, no,’ I muttered, pressing that button over and over. A different figure emerged beside me.

I gasped, looking over.

Nic Kayson.

His face looked stark white. ‘It’s all over, Blinky,’ he said.

It was astonishing how different he looked; a once cocky boy, with nice skin, the boy now ashen, thin.

He gave me a flimsy grin as he leant over.

‘Here, son, just let me get it. We need to get outta here ... they’re all gone, Blinky ... and the ones left ...’ For a moment he glared at that man, who took another slow step through the smoke towards us.

The boy gasped.

’Oh God ... not more ... not more,’ he said, frowning. He clicked that button beside me, leaning over, squinting now.

He leaned back, looked at the thing, then grasped my hand. ‘I love you, brother,’ he said, turning and walking off. Closer that thing stepped.

My heart now beat so hard it hurt. A weakness, some sickness or fear swept through me. Then I felt the fabric of a girl’s dress sweep past me from where Nic had been seconds ago. A school girl moved, slunk along the aisle towards the man. I couldn’t see her face. Soon came animalistic sounds from the smoke as both wrestled. They disappeared into the smoke on the floor, more of those screeches sounding.

I was clicking, clicking.

The screeching stopped.

Something rose from the smoke beneath me.

A creature, for that is all it could be described as, slunk closer and closer down the aisle towards me.

A peace sat within me, a kind of acceptance of my approaching doom, but a figure emerged beside me again in the smoke. I gazed to see Nic reaching over me, growling.

‘Come on, Blinky ... come on.’

The girl slunk towards us.

‘Nic ... Nic,’ I said, staring at that thing approaching.

Nic stopped, looked up at it.

He tried to raise his hands, but the girl, skin white like a sheet, lashed out at him. A horrid growl came from Nic, and soon both slipped down to the smoke.

More sounds. I heard the girl screech as I yelled, ‘Nic!’

All was silent, smoke thick, oozing throughout the aisle.

I was staring at the floor before me, clicking that belt. Then it rose, the girl, rising from the smoke. A hole sat in her face where her eye used to me, dark blood oozing from it. A white clammy hand reached out for me. My breath left me as my hand came up, swatting the hand away.

Flaky, dust-covered hair slumped down the sides of the girl’s white face.

I leant back, kicking out at her from my seat, but still those white hands clawed. She made sounds only crazed lions make. Her hands swiped past my face, ripping skin off of it.

One of my feet found her, but at this moment another figure swept by me. Soon those crazed lion-like sounds doubled as these two ... entities fought in the gloom.

I felt the belt finally click.

A peace, a happiness, a hope washed throughout me.

My god, I’m free.

I stood, and nearly collapsed in sheer pain as something horrid splintered through my back.

Oh God what have I done, I thought, groaning as I hobbled down the aisle.

I gazed behind. Through the smoke and gloom a girl on hands and knees, face white and bloody, crawled towards me across the bus aisle. A single blazing red eye glared up at me, her dirty hair clinging to her face and cheeks. Her chest gleamed whiter than the ash against the windows.

I lumbered towards the back door. The doors were parted. More of that hope swept through me. I grunted, then felt some hand, the hand of something demonically strong grasp my ancle and I slipped, crashing down onto the floor.

There I lay. I turned to see clammy, pale white hands attached to my leg. The girl yanked on it, trying to drag me back into the gloom of the aisle.

’Off of me ... off of me,’ I called, kicking out.

I cried out Kehlani’s name, hoping, wherever she was, she could hear me, could help me out of this.

That thing scratched at me. As its nails clawed my shins I felt the skin ripping.

I released a haggard cry, staring back, seeing the flesh having torn open and blood oozing down my calve. I lashed my foot out, kicking the girl in the head, directly in her other eye. She was blinking.

It was enough.

Her hand had lessoned its grip. I yanked my leg away, scrambling forwards through the smoke and gloom. I neared the open door, still crawling, but turning, I saw the girl scurrying on all fours towards me, blood oozing from that missing eye.

I released another choked scream, closing my eyes for a moment.

I scrambled further forwards, lunging for that door ...

And saw her there.

A lady.

Standing.

Waiting.

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