Ignoring the tyres loud vandalism of the car’s duco, I feed on the power. We fish-tail along a Creep’s trampled dual laneway, marking our own passage with pieces of hot rubber and scouring the car’s underside with long grass. A hidden roadside kerb announces itself by crashing hard against the chassis. New noise and sparks fly when the exposed wheel rim bites bitumen.
A slight rise in the landscape displays sprawling suburbia. It is a directionless maze of endless cul-de-sacs and traffic calming circuits. Without a map 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 guide the car against its strongest suicidal urges but allow it to swerve us into a side street rather than fight the wheel too much.
Losing sight of the riled-up throng of battered Creeps behind us is pleasing. The choice of escape route is less endearing. A thick delta of silt, gouged from collapsed retaining walls, spills across the road. Seeds have sprouted readily in the loose soil, forming a solid curtain of green.
My heavy right foot forces the engine to drag its injured rear end ever faster. We hit the feathered edge of the earth bank and wheel-spin races the engine. The car’s spoiler mows a bouncing track through fledgling shrubs. We breach the far side of what proves to be a small island of dirt at a decreased speed. I improve our forward rate with a downshift and more revs; therefore hitting the fallen tree that blocks our path directly behind a final veil of grass is inevitable.
I cut left to avoid the thickest part of the trunk and crash through the dried leaf crown. Brittle limbs shatter and snap in a noisy explosion. The windscreen crazes, unable to absorb these blows from large branches. I turn my head from the breaking glass and the baby catches my eye. She looks accusingly at me, as if I’m driving like an idiot on purpose. For good measure a front tyre blows, totally relieving me of any semblance of control.
I am totally resigned to this development. But, for the child’s benefit I feign surprise as this second deflation rips the steering wheel out of my hands. We careen into the gutter, sidestepping a sudden stop against an immovable power pole, purely by Luck. Or, more likely, due to Bad-Luck’s poor management.
Grabbing the rattled child, I eject from our broken craft as if emergency trained. A circular, indecisive dance ends in a dash for the nearest downhill abode. A steeply plunging driveway delivers us heavily against the front door which 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 that easy to break into a house; especially when your housebreaking equipment consists of a woollen jumper and a tired baby. It’s amazing how many people believed they’d be returning home someday to resume their normal lives. It’s beside the point that I locked my own door when I left my flat; even though all the windows had already been broken by looters.
Though shielded from the road by a riot of healthy shrubbery, I take us further from the crash scene by jogging around the house and down a mossy garden path. The backyard is growing with unrestrained exuberance. Shrubs invade the overgrown lawn with long-stemmed untidiness. Entangled vines drape down from full gutters. I draw confidence from the need to break through spider-webs across the path and note undisturbed fluffy-headed weeds. These indicators mean no one has been here recently.
Covered in web and seed I arrive puffing at the rear entrance. This door also resists hard tugs at its handle, without a hint of give. Unsure of the next move I shift my burning, bare feet restlessly and look around the yard. A hose attached to the rainwater tank enrages a desert dry thirst. Abraded soles that cook 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 disgust. Ripping the hose from its spigot is a timely solution that releases a clear stream of water. I kneel in fresh mud to suckle directly from the plastic fitting, like an infant on a teat. Rehydrating is a sensual experience. By the time my thirst is quenched I am overfull and gasping for air. A loud burp resounds.
The baby coos and I look down at her flaky, brown crusted head. A tiny tongue protrudes to lick at splashes that fall from my chin.
“You thirsty too?”
In the interest of hygiene I splash a palm-full of water across her face to remove the Parasite shit first. It gets up her nose, causing spluttering, and begins another round of mechanical mewling.
The water reactivates a sickening stench from our suits of dried-on scum. She reeks! We both do. Even more noticeably now we are in fresh air. Placing the kid on the damp ground, I rinse off my face as well. It feels so good I stick my head under the stream and agitate crusty hair. Although I’m aware our location is unsecure, getting this stuff off my face is suddenly vitally important.
I unwind the baby’s cloth and notice that she has added some of her own mess to the mix. Washing her butt triggers more crapping and I get some on my clean hands. She’s pooping a black, tarry substance! I worry at my ignorance of what colour baby crap should be.
“You got more shit on me. Thanks a bunch.”
She squirms and ignores my worried frown. I noticed that the slightest change to her world is subject to tight shut eyes and loud crying, rather than logical enquiry. At least we have something in common then.
I re-wrap the child in her wet cloth and long for alcohol and a few bolstering pills. Holing up in this 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 their previous behaviour is no longer the norm, for now I must assume they still work to this pattern.
My new sweater is even more uncomfortable now that it is soaked. And it itches abominably. I scratch my chest while tiptoeing through tangled greenery to a concealed side gate. The hinges squeal like a stuck pig when I ease it open. After checking that no Creeps are in sight, I guiltily trot off up the street, leaving the steaming getaway car in our wake.
A few streets on, I spot a secretive movement behind a makeshift wall of bits and pieces. A man’s bobbing head, grizzled by an unkempt beard, fearfully glares at us over the top of a forty-four gallon drum. I smile in relief. His delightfully human expression of fright means he is not a Creep. He can help us, harbour us, and take care of the child during my oncoming mental collapse. I display the child and grin in friendly welcome.
Most unexpectedly a bullet whines past my ear. I don't think it was a warning shot either. The baby clutches my damp jumper when I drop her to my chest and scarper. Fierce swearing and more bullets determine our zigzagging course down the street.
Over a puffing kilometre later I resentfully empathise with our attacker’s viewpoint. He’d seen a fat dude covered in shit, wearing a daggy purple sweater, love-heart shaped sunnies and no pants! Shooting at us is hard to forgive, but I realise that looking like I do, I should expect to be shot even in a time before the Parasite invasion.
The adrenaline rush wears off and the baby’s weight drags at my arms. I look around for a place to rest and see an impossible sign. I walk towards the faded, nondescript advertisement, featuring amateurishly depicted palm trees and four incredible, troublesome words: The Golden Pine Nursery.