I quietly make my plans and string Kristine out until early morning sunlight brightens the room. Packing her frailty into deep sleep is assisted by a double dose of manufactured softness. I place water bottles and cookies; the soft, chewy ones she likes; on a bedside table. Prominently displayed next to these offerings is a plastic cup containing another dose of ‘lights out’, completing the banquet. In the event of an early awakening she’ll reach for the promise of another languid afternoon rather than seek out my company, so my absence should go unnoticed.
The lounge room stinks of oiled gun-metal. I’ve layered myself with guns and knives, and pack too many spare weapons. The overcompensation has roots in my previous outings where many injuries were amassed. But, hefting the two weighty duffle bags is a short-lived exercise. They crash to the carpet and are left behind. I accept the company of a shotgun, and stuff pants pockets with cartridges until they bulge.
The truck’s preparation is brief. It involves sloshing a jerry-can of diesel into the gum-sealed fuel tank. I throw scant gear into the cab and turn the ignition. Its previous battering hasn’t affected the engine’s performance. The motor starts and runs smoothly.
The rank interior is as second-hand as the exterior. Bloody finger-prints and mud stains the seats. Reminders of past follies aren’t sufficient to divert my single-minded purpose.
By fiercely concentrating on minutiae I can block the extreme danger and stupidity of this excursion. Mirror positions, set; seat suspension, bouncy; hairstyle, woah, now there’s a fashion statement.
Paranoia resents being ignored. It wriggles uncomfortably when I drive out the gate into an unpopulated street. My calm disconnection and anticipation of forgiveness is, of course, artificially managed. Another gel cap disappears over quivering lips to ensure this state will continues and I suck it down with a cold breath.
My first Creep sighting for the day is a large one, complete with massive white beard, ambling along the road. Santa, arriving early this year. He swivels at the motor’s drone and steps into the truck’s path. I have no compunction about mowing down mythical beings. Especially those who yearly failed to deliver on my childhood demands. The truck shrugs off the impact, bouncing the Creep along the road in a bone breaking thrashing of arms and legs.
Sunlight scattering through trees flicker across my face and create shades of indescribable hues to blind and dull my vision. My driving skills decline in this cosmic light-show of firing synapses. Donning dark sunnies defuses the great ball of gas that warms our planet although my rippling skin still exudes tiny domes of acrid sweat.
Empty suburbia cruises by in its ongoing Sunday morning’s pretence. I swallow saliva down a tingling throat. A shaky hand rasps across a numb bristled chin indecisively. The highway I’ve entered for reasons of expedience is a parking lot of a hundred thousand stalled, dirty cars. They close in on my singular lane, forcefully freed by Army bulldozers. The silent metal carriages still bear the marks of aggression of that final rush hour.
An illegal turn leaves this river of steel behind and the phantom roar of its engines recede from my inner ear. My mind prefers a route down a maze of quieter streets where we lurch across crackling drifts of fallen leaves. Bereft of man’s intervention, Mother Nature’s encroachment and clutter is constant. We are now in the wake of winter’s second relaxing grip and I nod respectfully at Her increasingly bold and riotous advance upon our previous order.
The Golden Pine Nursery is easily found despite a circuitous route traced carefully on the map. The humanoid figures I spy dotted about are ominously numerous, though I disregard them as hazardous with unqualified confidence.
The premise’s security is intact and I’m not surprised. Why would anyone waste energy raiding a garden supply store. No-one but me. Landscaping materials have few emergency uses during Parasite invasions.
The sturdy gates burst at weak hinges when reversed into with a large enough mass. I disembark and slip between the truck and the damage it has caused to survey the untidy profusion of greenery filling the shade-clothed expanse. It hums with the only parasitic species that I can handle. Bugs and mosquitoes fill the air; disturbed from the weeds as I brush past them.
Low rows of wire mesh benches hold a multitude of black plastic pots. They spill a healthy growth of weeds from each, around the dead sticks of less robust rightful owners. The common and vigorous overwhelms the beautiful and coddled. Natural selection favours the ugly and destructive and this saddens me on an already gloomy day. My head clouds with Shanna’s stolen life and Kristine’s consequentially shattered spirit. Anger is fleeting. It is useless to me right now.
Using the shotgun as a makeshift machete, vines and shrubs are lashed aside. I forge a path towards a hand-painted sign. A stylised Pine tree depicted as a universally recognised Christmas tree.
Located in this area is a graveyard of needle-shedding, brown limbs. These trees survived to outgrow the limits of their pots, then died in windblown domino falls; root bound and starving.
The prickly, crumbling forest resists my advance but I see they have protected one stunted tree that clings to life. A chest-high, sickly book-leaf pine, shaded by its dead brothers. Questing roots festoon the broken pot, braving the element of air to forage between pavers. In the absence of a healthier specimen I accept its portentous survival and tear it free from its home with much effort.
I strut away with my find under the confetti of dying leaves; accolades thrown by deceased shrubs and thriving weeds, as if they wish my ragged prize well.
The symbol is secured in the truck’s rear; its tiny footprint is ridiculous on such a massive deck space. It would be unreasonable to return with only one tree to show for my efforts which leads me to study this establishment’s other wares. A grand design is enlivened in my head.
The company’s forklift has enough charge in its battery to ignite the gas left in its tank. I use the lumbering beast to pilfer pallets of fertilizer and potting mixes. Hoses, fittings and an assortment of tools are sourced from the shop’s interior wares. I can’t figure a way to load the forklift itself so I am resigned to using the disagreeable manual pallet-jack back home when I unload.
The afternoon rolls over my paper thin luck like a steamroller. Parts of me are irritable and oppose my enthusiastic pillaging. The more my booty mounts the more tired I become, and soon I agree a homeward return is in order.
I congratulate myself prematurely on a job well done. This foolishness attracts bad luck like flies to rotting meat. I hear a muffled scraping and see hints of movement all around. I’ve been here too long. Several Creeps have caught up with me. And they’ve brought all their mates.