The Jetty Journals ©Ian Buchanan May 2009
I guess if I am being truthful, I miss the dogs almost more than the people. But the dogs were the first to go. After the plague started I saw a few dogs, and shot some infected ones over the following weeks, but I haven’t seen many since. Haven’t seen much of anything recently. Very few people and almost nothing on four legs.
It seems like there are less birds, but I haven’t been bothered by any infected birds. Just as well. The pelicans and albatross that cruise by are big, and the idea of fending off a feral attack from one of them is unnerving. Out on the jetty I’m safe, but I wouldn’t be if the birds came after me.
A dog would be good to have, just to have someone who listens, stop me from going crazy. I can’t do it by myself. I talk to myself too much already.
It’s hardly an effective threat is it?
“Any more of this self-pity, my girl, and I’ll have to give you a good talking to!”
I’d even make do with my grandmother’s dog, which was pretty feeble as dogs go. Old and fat – we’re discussing the dog, not my grandmother – too lazy to chase a ball.
But you can talk garbage endlessly, and a dog will still listen, and not be critical. My grandmother used to talk his ears off, and he never looked bored with her. Had no time for me, but that’s another thing about dogs…their loyalty. I didn’t take it personally.
I need a watchdog. I can’t be on the alert all the time. I still get twitchy after I crash out for more than 6 hours, and wake up in a cold sweat. A dog could be on watch while I’m asleep. That’s what they do…what they used to do, I mean.
Given the lack of an attentive listener, I have decided to spend some time documenting life A.P… “After the Plague”. That’s what this is. Not a blog, not really a diary, more a collection of observations, important events and useful information. “The Modern Guide to Survival in the 21St Century”. “Life Post-Apocalypse” “The Jetty Journals” When it’s too wet to go to town, I crank up the generator, turn on the computer, and add a few more words.
I worry that my mental health is deteriorating. I did briefly think this journal might be useful as a monitoring device, but you can see the logic flaw: If I become worried that I am starting to go a little troppo, I could go back to see how I was a year ago. I could get out last year’s journal, and have a read, and think, “You’re alright. That reads ok. It isn’t Shakespeare, but it isn’t Rasputin either.” But if I’m crazy, maybe I might just think it reads ok. Or maybe I was mad last year and this year. If I’m really losing it, how would I know?
Very hard to be objective when you’re the only one doing the talking.
It’s not like I was prepared for all of this. I hardly had the ideal upbringing and education for my current career move as post-apocalypse survivor. If you were expecting to be one of the few people who somehow survived the worst disaster to afflict the world since the ice-age, what pre-requisites would you think essential? How would you prepare? Would you model yourself on me… comfortable middle-class schooling, with vague plans for a marketing degree and a stellar career in the thick of the significant world of business communications, with a special interest in multimedia?
Who needs to know how to light a fire or fix a generator when there are important issues to resolve like deciding whether to tape the football and watch the movie, or vice versa? Why bother learning how rice is grown when you can get sushi delivered?
I don’t think you could class my family as survivalists. Our holidays were always to somewhere where my parents could flop out by the pool. We weren’t the camping, bushwalking sort. Now, when I occasionally think back to my parent’s Docklands palace, it seems like another world, another life. What was I thinking? How could I have believed that was important? Possessions, clothes, haircuts, our car, my “friends”. Tax planning. The right restaurant. The right school. Contacts. My career. My handbag.
When the plague hit the city, it hit hard and fast. Everyone I know…knew…did what they were told. Stay inside, keep warm, drink lots of water, don’t let anyone in. Mr Allan, our next door neighbour was an international, big-plane pilot, and was an early case. My mother is – was – a nurse, and we got on quite well with the Allans. Mrs Allan was hysterical about it, and my mother, against her better judgment, was persuaded to have a look at him. This was before we’d heard the warnings that were broadcast. A day later and we would have slammed the door in her face, but then there was still some social fabric holding things together. We has been in there for a meal just the week previously…
She was gone for ages, and when she came back my mother was upset, saying Mr Allen was very, very ill. In the time she was there he had deteriorated quickly, and she had waited for an ambulance which was very slow in arriving.
When my father got home he became agitated as my mother started telling him what had happened. My parents didn’t argue a lot, but that night my father wound up fast. Our apartment was pretty big, but it’s hard to have an argument without being at least partially overheard. My father was going on about things in America, and I heard him say “No. It’s happening right now!” I thought he was talking about work stuff at the time. The discussion stopped suddenly, there were a few slammed doors, then quiet for awhile.
I was already in my room, just about to go to bed, when my father appeared in the doorway. He didn’t look too good. For a shocking moment I thought he might be drunk, which was unheard of in our family, then decided he was really stressed and exhausted.
“You don’t look well. Come and sit down,” I said.
He refused, said he wanted to stay where he was.
“What are you doing tomorrow?”, he asked me.
Another time I might have made a snappy remark, but it wasn’t that sort of night.
“Dad…It’s Monday. Tomorrow I go back to school.”
I had been off school for the last week. Sounds good, but it wasn’t. Year 12 isn’t the time to get sick; I had a backlog of work to catch up on. And the reason I’d been off was chicken pox. For some reason I never had it when I was a kid, and it had knocked me around getting it when I was 17. Although I’d been rubberstamped as fit for school, I still felt a bit wobbly. But I was going back tomorrow, and that was that. That was that.
He wiped his forehead. His skin was shiny…sweaty. He swayed a little and carefully took hold of the doorframe. I asked him again if he wanted to sit down, and then he gave a strange answer…
“Yes, I will. Pass me the chair and I’ll sit out here.”
By then I was thinking that there was something really peculiar going on.
“What is it, Dad? What’s wrong? "
He waited until I had passed over the chair, waved me back to sit on my bed, and only then he leaned forward and flopped down into the chair.
“This is going to sound odd,” he said, “but I don’t want you to go to school tomorrow. I want you to go to…,” he hesitated. “Do you remember the Shipton’s holiday house in Sorrento?”
“Good. I want you to go there.”
“Dad. What’s going on?” I had to ask…"Is Mum Ok? What’s happening?"
And then he told me. The news stories in America were true, but understated. A viral plague was sweeping the US, and was out of control. He thought Mr Allan was infected, but just one of the first, and that it would spread just as quickly in Australia….and the rest of the world. My mother had gone to bed, sick, and my father was feeling ill already.
I actually though he had gone mad. If they were both sick, I couldn’t just leave. Who would look after them? What if I was sick, too? I couldn’t just leave anyway. The only way I could get there would be to drive, and I still didn’t have my license. The fact that I was thinking of these things was bizarre…I had just missed the last week of school, I couldn’t not go! On top of all of that there was a mid-term exam waiting for me in a couple of days.
“It’s on the news. It’s out of control in the US. They’re evacuating cities, but it’s too late. It’ll be the same here. By tomorrow the roads will be logjammed. You have to get out now!”
It was all a bit much for me, late at night, not-quite-normal-looking father spouting apocalypse stuff. I basically refused to go, said I would stay and look after them, get a doctor in.
“There won’t be any doctors!”, he replied, “Ring an ambulance. Call emergency services!”
I looked doubtful, and he fumbled for his mobile. He tried a couple of times to dial, but he kept wiping his face and his sweaty fingers slipped on the keypad.
" Hey, It’s OK, I’ll do it", I said, in a calming tone. I figured if he was having some sort of mental breakdown we might need some help, and I pulled out my phone and dialled. If we could get an ambulance crew here, they’d spot it if he was dangerous. The emergency services line rang, and rang, but no one answered. It cut out. I tried again, the same result. I put the phone down and looked at him.
“Karen,” he said, " you need to go. I’m sounding frantic because I am. I want you to get away before the city falls apart. Tomorrow will be too late. "
“But I can’t go without you and Mum”, I cried. “Come with me!”
“Too late, " he said sadly. “Come and say goodbye to her, then you have to go. Cover your face!”, he warned and led the way.
Numbly I followed him to their room. My mother, who had been laughing and energetic that afternoon, was in bed, grey-faced, sweating. My father kept away from me, on the other side of the room, and warned me not to touch her.Now, if he’d been wrong, I don’t know what the consequences would have been. At a base level we would have looked very silly. “Sorry I didn’t study for the exam, sir. My father thought the world was ending. I spent the night illegally driving to Sorrento.” As it was, 20 minutes later I found myself still with a face wet with tears driving out of the carpark in my father’s two-seater, no learner plates, loaded up with tinned food and water. Lucky I had started my driving lessons…..
Melbourne on a Monday night at 11.00 is often a dead place, and it was dead that night. I drove slowly, and I am sure in a distracted, haphazard way, that would have had Mr Caton, my driving instructor, in a frenzy. It would have attracted a police car sooner or later under normal circumstances, but that night the only police cars I saw were rushing somewhere and ignored me.
I got onto the freeway, and was in Sorrento by 1.00am.
The Shipton’s kept a key hidden, and I used it to open up. My residual weakness from being ill, the emotional exhaustion of the last couple of hours and lack of sleep had me feeling very light-headed, and I gratefully hit the bed. But tired as I was, I found it impossible to sleep. I wondered if it was me that was mad, or my father having some sort of breakdown. I got up and went to the telephone to call, but it was very late and if they were sick they wouldn’t appreciate the call. A friend, Jane, always kept late hours so I rang her, but went straight to messages. I tried the ambulance/police/fire-brigade line again. This time it didn’t even ring, just nothing.
Uncertain as to what to do, I turned on the radio, and flipped, in growing horror, from channel to channel. My father was on the money…it was all about the American plague and it’s catastrophic effect. It was making a devastating impact. The Shipton’s have a TV of sorts, only gets a few channels. I got up, did the usual Uri Geller routine with the aerial, and channel-surfed the three working channels. They were all showing the same CNN footage, only occasionally crossing to Australian commentary, but it painted the same picture as the radio.
I started to feel ill, an oily feeling in my stomach and a feverish wave of cold, even though I was sweating.
I suddenly realised I was going to be sick, and without even time to prepare, repeatedly vomited all over the Shipton’s floor, the couch, myself. With TV and the radio blaring away, I passed out.
I don’t have a clear recollection of what happened next. I was very sick, for at least two weeks, and it passed in a feverish blur.
I got by with plenty of water, and the food I brought with me. Hardly the stuff for a convalescent. One image I recall sharply was feeling ghastly, but determined to get some nutrition into my system. I remember sitting on the floor, weeping with frustration as I struggled with the can opener and something in a tin. I was too weak to manage the can opener properly, and it took me a long time.
The house was a disgrace. I was sick more than once, and often too feeble to make it into a bucket. And that wasn’t the worst deposit I made on the loungeroom carpet. Twice I crawled to the bathroom and sat in the shower recess and rinsed off. That was hard work, as by then I was covered in boils and contact with the carpet on my hands and knees was agony. I couldn’t manage the soap, but even just plain warm water made me feel a little better. I kept passing out. Broadcasting stopped on the TV after a couple of days, and the radio was silent, so I lost track of time.
Then one day, I woke mid-afternoon, starving. My skin was healing, and although I was still very weak I managed to open and consume three unheated tins of food….a soup, baked beans and tinned fruit. A balanced meal, almost! I ate again the next day, and was able to manage a proper shower. My skin was still tender, and I was shocked at the scars the sores had left behind. I wasn’t model material before, but I wasn’t the Elephant Man either. Nowadays I’d give him a run for his money.
After the shower I could see, and smell, the ruin I’d made of the Shipton’s house. I suspect that wasn’t what the Shipton’s had in mind when they offered the house to us. I tried to ring my father…home, work, mobile…nothing. Not that he wasn’t answering, just no response from the phone system….no dial tone, nothing. Same for my mother….work, ( not that I am supposed to call her there), her mobile, her pager….It didn’t take long to work out no one was available…nothing worked.
The property is a biggish one, on a hill with a very steep driveway. I looked out the window, but it’s hard to see much. All these beach bush-blocks are very private and overgrown.
I sat down and thought it through. No phone. No TV, radio. Power OK, water OK. Can’t talk to my parents. The idea of walking off and looking for help frightened me. What if I fainted again, and no one found me? What if I fell walking down the steep driveway?
In the end I decided to drive the car…down the driveway, and up the next-door driveway. If that didn’t work I’d try the next place, and just keep going until I found someone.
I made hard work of it. I was still pretty feeble, and feeling ill still. When I had to turn my head to look back to reverse out a wave of nausea rolled over me. I bumped my way down the driveway, bumped a bit more gracefully up the next door driveway.
The smell of the Shipton’s house was replaced with a different one. A sickly, sweet but gagging smell, it activated some sort of primitive fight/flight response. I didn’t know what it was then, but I know it well now…the smell of more than one decaying body. I banged on the door, worked my way around the porch, banging on the windows. When I got to the back door, it was not locked, and after calling out some more, went in.
I backpeddled quickly. I had met the neighbours once, last summer. It might have been them in the bed…hard to tell. I worked my way down the street. The eighth house was empty. By then I had nothing left, and I forced the back door, and put myself to bed in the first bedroom I found.
The bedroom looked like mine…pretty messy, bed unmade, posters, clothes on the floor, a bit whiffy, but I didn’t care. I flopped straight into bed, clothes and all, and started to doze off. Now I’m not sure which came first…the sliding, scraping noise, or the sudden thought: “Why is this bed warm?”. Whatever it was, despite my fatigue, I was suddenly wide-awake.
There was something shifting under the bed, and it bumped me as it moved. I rolled my eyes sideways to see if I could see what was emerging from under the bed. I guessed the direction 100% incorrectly: a voice suddenly said in my ear, from the other side, “Jeez, you could at least have taken off your shoes!”
I jerked back and found myself face to face with a guy about my age, perhaps younger. He looked frightened, but nevertheless, indignant. His brown hair was tousled and pillow-flattened, with a cobweb dangling across his forehead…he’d obviously jumped from the bed straight under it. He had big hands and feet, but small, rounded shoulders. He was tallish and skinny, but the big hands said he was a growing boy with more to come. He still had a still-childish face with a little snub nose. He was wearing a horrendous pair of tracksuit pants, and a worn-out black t-shirt with some fantasy-dragon-medievalist theme. He was starting to recover, and he said, “Who are you, and what are you doing in my bed?”, trying to put a bit of bluster into it.
I sat up and apologised, explained that I thought the place was empty, and quickly gave him a summary of why I was there. “Do you know what’s going on? Have you spoken to anyone else?”.
He knew a lot more than I did. He’d been sick, but nowhere near as sick as I had been, by the sound of it. And by the look of it…he had almost no scars, looked quite normal.
He spent most of his time on the couch while he was sick, and tried out the TV every day. Broadcasts stopped more than two weeks ago. But he had a computer, and had been trying the internet as well. I asked him to show me, but he said “Nah, it stopped working a few days back. It’s the phone line, I think. I can’t make a connection. The power’s ok.”
He had a few pages cached, so I got out of the bed and we had a look. He had stuff from the CNN page, the Washington Post, The Age and the News site, and a blog/rant site. No video footage, but the news-stories painted a pretty grim picture. The Americans had first denied there was anything going on, but had nevertheless burned out whole counties trying to contain what looked like a leak of a military virus. No one knew if it was an accident or deliberate. It wasn’t clear what the virus was…it had some of the aspects of rabies, anthrax and smallpox. Whatever it was, there was no developed antidote.
The primitive attempt at containing it by nuking infected areas failed. Each time refugees fled ahead of the holocaust, and the virus spread very rapidly. Because of the speed of infection and the secrecy, it was spread worldwide by travellers at first unknowingly, and then by panic as people ran. Too late, planes were grounded, travel stopped.
I read it all, but to be honest it didn’t make an impact. I guess the immensity of it was just too much to absorb, and despite what I was reading I was still assuming it was a matter of finding other people, my parents, getting things sorted out.
The last screen he had was a graphic showing the progressive stages of the infection. I understood the purge stage, and the skin sores, but I didn’t get the third stage, which showed a haggard, hollow-eyed face and was labelled “Infectious”. The last stage was “Death”.
“Do they all die?”, I asked.
“You’re the only other person I’ve seen so far. Sean,” he said and stuck out his hand.
“Karen”. We shook.
The Jetty Journals ©Ian Buchanan May 2009
If you enjoyed this, try The Jetty Journals web site: www.thejettyjournals.com
An Australian version of a post-plague world. If you liked “28 Days Later” or “Day of the Triffids”, you might like this.