Ignoring the tyre’s vandalism of the car’s duco, I feed on the power. We fishtail along the Creep's trampled dual laneway. Flapping rubber and long grasses that scour the car’s underside mark our passage.
A road’s kerb announces itself by crashing hard underfoot. New noise and sparks fly when the exposed wheel rim bites bitumen.
A slight rise in the landscape’s panorama displays sprawling suburbia. It is a directionless maze of endless cul-de-sacs and traffic calming circuits that yesterday’s society yearned for. Without maps to guide me I am clueless which way to turn.
Unfazed by the richness of choices before me, our speed does not decrease. I grimly control the car’s urge to suicide by allowing it to divert us into the first side street without a ‘no thru road’ sign.
Losing sight of the riled-up throng of battered Creeps is a comfort. My choice of street is less endearing. A thick delta of silt, gouged from a high-set property’s unmaintained retaining walls, spills across the road. Seeds sprout readily in the loose soil forming a solid curtain of green preventing a judgement of how far the hazard extends.
Melding with the car I wince when a heavy right foot forces the engine to drag its injured rear ever faster. Wheels spin and dig for grip as we bounce up the feathered edge of the earthen bank and mow a track through fledgling shrubs.
We breach the far side of what proves to be a small green island at increased speed due to a downshift and increased revs. Therefore I cannot avoid the large fallen tree blocking our path directly behind the final veil of grass.
I drive into the tree’s dried leaf crown. Brittle limbs shatter and snap in a noisy explosion and the windscreen crazes, unable to fend off thicker pieces of wood. I turn my head from the breaking glass and happen to catch the baby’s accusing eye.
For good measure a front tyre blows.
My show of surprise at these misfortunes is partially feigned for her benefit. I tut loudly when a less ignorable deflation rudely rips the steering wheel from my control. We careen into the gutter, leaving a layer of paint on an immovable power pole. We’ve sidestepped it purely by bad-luck’s poor management.
Grabbing the rattled child, I eject from the craft as if emergency trained. A circular, indecisive dance ends in a dash for the nearest downhill abode.
The steeply plunging driveway delivers us heavily against the front door. It is secured firmly against riff-raff such as me. I wrench at it anyway, hoping the lock will give from sheer force of need alone.
That hope bears no fruit and not for the first time I curse other people’s security-consciousness. Whatever TV shows depict, it isn’t easy to noiselessly break into a house; especially when your housebreaking equipment consists of a woollen jumper and a tired baby.
I curse the people who left the city at the height of the Parasite spread. They almost always locked up behind themselves, stupidly believing they’d return to their homes and resume normal lives.
It’s beside the point that I locked my flat’s door as well, even though all my windows were already broken by looters.
Though shielded from the road by a riot of healthy shrubbery I jog around a mossy garden path, taking us further from the crash scene, around the back of the house.
The backyard garden is growing with similar exuberance. Shrubs invade the lawn’s long-stemmed uniformity. Entangling vines drape from full gutters. I draw confidence from breaking spider-webs that cross the path and disturbing fluffy-headed weeds.
No one has been here recently.
I arrive puffing; covered in web and seed, at the rear entrance. This door also resists hard tugs at its handle without a hint of give.
Unsure of my next move I shift burning bare feet restlessly and look around the yard. A hose attached to the rainwater tank stirs a raging, cotton-mouth thirst. Abraded soles on hot concrete are forgotten when I scamper to it and twist the tap.
I greet the green slime that plops from the hose with a screwed up face.
Ripping the hose from its spigot is a solution that releases a clear stream of water. No further debris are forthcoming so I kneel in new mud to suckle directly from the plastic fitting, like an infant on a teat.
The rehydration is a sensual experience. When my thirst is satisfied I break from the tap; overfull and gasping for air. A loud burp resounds.
The baby coos and I look down at her flaky, brown head. A tiny tongue protrudes, licking at splashes that fall from my chin.
“You thirsty too?”
I dribble a palm-full near her mouth. My aim is off and splashes wet her face leaving clean patches amongst the brown. She splutters and begins a mechanical mewling again.
Water reactivates the dried on scum’s stench.
We both stink.
More noticeably now we’re in the fresh air.
Placing the kid on the damp ground I rinse off my face first. It feels so good I stick my head under the stream and agitate crusty hair.
Although I’m aware of our situational insecurity, getting this stuff off my face is psychologically important.
I unwind the baby’s cloth noticing that she still hasn’t messed herself. In all the time I’ve been carrying her about she’s been poop-free. Having to wash Parasite poo from her is all the punishment I need, yet even as I decide this she lightens her load in a squirt of black crap.
I shake it from my hand.
“More shit? Thanks a bunch. Ahem. You aren’t reading my mind, are you?”
She wriggles; acting suspiciously like a baby and ignoring my worried frown. Her distinct disinterest in communicating, either mentally or physically is not reassuring.
Maybe the coincidence is too far-fetched. She pooped. So what? The slightest change to her world is subject to tight shut eyes and loud crying, rather than logical enquiry.
I decided to keep a lid on my thoughts anyway. Maybe I’ll believe babies aren’t stupid for the time being.
Slightly bewildered and unbalanced I re-wrap the child in her wet cloth. An alcoholic drink or two and a few pills would be nice, but transportation to a happier place requires wheels and a motor at this juncture.
Holing up in the house is an attractive proposition. But I know Creeps always follow prey to the last known sighting. They will haunt this area, making a nuisance of themselves for many days. Even if previous knowledge, drawn from past interactions is no longer valid, I’ll not trust these unleashed hunter-killers to act radically different.
This sweater is even more uncomfortable soaking wet and itchy than it was just itchy. I scratch while tiptoeing from the tangled greenery to a concealed front gate. The hinges squeal like a stuck pig when eased open.
No Creeps are in sight. I guiltily head off down the street, leaving the getaway car’s steaming engine behind us.
Secretive movement halts me mid-step a few streets further on. A bobbing head, grizzled by an unkempt beard, fearfully views me over the top of a forty-four gallon drum. I smile in relief at the man’s fear. His delightfully human expression is that of a real person. One who can help us, harbour us, take responsibility for my oncoming mental collapse. I display the child and grin in friendly welcome.
A most unexpected bullet whines past my ear. I don't think it was a warning shot.
The baby tugs at my damp jumper when reclasped to my chest. We scarper as fierce swearing and more bullets predetermine my zigzagging course down the street.
It is only after several hard trodden kilometres that I resentfully empathise with our attackers viewpoint.
He’d seen a fat dude in a daggy purple sweater, wearing love-heart shaped sunnies and no pants! Shooting at a crying baby is harder to forgive but I don't have the monopoly on madness.
I would have been shot at before the Parasite invasion.
The adrenaline rush wears off. The light package I carry begins to drag at my arms. I look for a place to rest
Instead of a place to rest I see an impossible sign.
I walk to the faded, nondescript advertisement featuring amateurishly depicted trees and four nightmare inducing words: The Golden Pine Nursery.