You and Me versus Zombies 015

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

My son’s brain is a sponge. From the time he was a bunch of multiplying cells somewhere deep inside his mother, there was a feedback circuit developing. Stimuli coming from taps, prods, even singing from his mother and I through developing nerve endings into his crysalis. Nothing develops in a vaccuum. Every prod is turned into information somewhere in his growing nervous system, and tucked away in the fanning matrix of neurons which would be later wrapped in flesh and bone that we kiss and gaze adoringly at.

As such, I am careful what I feed into that matrix.

For instance: Sam doesn’t need to see the postman.

I cuddle him and give him back the lollypop. He sucks at it while coming down off his energetic bawl, now and then gasping for air.

“Home time,” I whisper.

You and Me versus Zombies 014

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

My dad taught me how to shoot while I was growing up. It’s in a little subset of skills that I never thought I’d ever use again.
The postman has not moved from across the street, still twitching and muttering in the bright sun.
I bring the rifle to my shoulder and align the sight’s crosshairs on the helmet. I debat for a moment if the bullet’s caliber is enough to travel through all those layers, and move the aim for its chest.
“Don’t hold your breath,” whispers my dad into my mind’s ear. “Aim just above the target. And squeeze squeeze squeeze-”
The rifle kicks into my shoulder. The postman yelps, and sinks to the ground.
Sam starts to cry.

You and Me versus Zombies 013

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

​I wonder how it got so close without us hearing. But then, Sam does have a powerful set of lungs when he’s upset.
The postman was once an averaged sized person, but since Zero Hour the limbs have struggled to change their shape beneigh the work clothes. The motorcycle helmet is still bright red, and sits crooked as the head has began to morph and deform. The fluro saftey jacket is caked with dust and mud, and sometime over the last few weeks it has lost a shoe.
Maybe it sees us, or detects us, or something. Right now it sways in the bright morning sun, dazzled and confused, legs wobbling.
My trigger finger begins to twitch.
Sam knows the drill. For the first time this morning he is still, and lets me pick him off the slide and put him into the seat of the pram. I turn him away from the postman, and reach into the carryall for the earmuffs. They make his head look like two giant pimples have replaced his ears, and they must feel heavy. But Sam doesn’t touch them. He knows the drill.

You and Me versus Zombies 012

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

     I wrap the lollypop in a clean hanky, my sticky trophy for standing my ground and weathering the tantrum. Sam has already scuttled to the metal pipe ladder, and I stand to one side with a guiding hand at the ready. It’s been a few months since he got the hang of climbing this thing by himself, but my guardian angel routine still kicks in ready for the odd misplace foot.
     He scrambles through the second tier of the play equipment to the top of the slide. He went through a phase of throwing himself down the chute with complete abandon and little injury until one day he caught the landing mat awkwardly and hollered for a full twenty minutes. Since then a self-preserving caution has begun to show in his behaviour.
     He sits at the top of the slide, tiny legs and shoes out like rams. He wriggles to escape the friction between his bum and the plastic, and I see his fine blonde hair start to stand as static builds.
     Then Sam sees the Monster.
     Distracted as I am, it’s only through the change in Sam’s demeanour that I follow his line of sight. A hundred metres away, confused by the sun, stands what was once a postman.

You and Me versus Zombies 011

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)
     The park was the easiest to clean. After Zero Hour, all it took was a little rain and several towels (which I then burned in a corner of the park), and the German-designed, plastic moulded play equipment was toddler-safe again.
     Sam rocks hard in the pram for my attention.
     “Oh kay!” he points at the play equipment. “Oh kay!”
     “Lolliepop first,” I say, putting out my hand. It is bad enough I am feeding him such a hard lolly. There is no way I am going to have him run at his usual ballistic speed, only to have him trip and ram it stick and all into his larynx.
     “No!” He turns his face from me in a vain attempt to get the sweet out of my reach.
     “No playing then,” I say happily, and sit on the ground in front of the pram. I lean back on my elbows, making a show of how much I am enjoying the sun.
     “Play play play!” He demands.
     “You know the rules, mate.”
     Tears flood into his eyes. He goes red. His mouth gapes open, the lollypop dangling precariously from the corner.
     I wait.
     The wail starts deep inside him. It gathers emotion and pitch, powered by his sugar-tainted muscles of his diaphragm. As it emerges, the wail rockets up the decibel scale, making most human ears flinch. It is suddenly punctuated by huthuthut from Sam’s throat, some sort of emotional hand-reach that may have worked one other time. Then the lungs are expelled, no more air left to fuel the noise. The diaphragm kicks into reverse, creating a massive vacuum, and air rushes audibly into Sam’s mouth. The wail (part two) begins with increased gain, the muscles now warmed up impose clarity, definition, and volume.
     I wait. The sun is just gorgeous.

You and Me versus Zombies 010

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

     Sam has different levels of “losing it”.
     As I leave the supermarket he is gearing up for a spectacular tantrum. His face is red, his lungs are swelling, and his dummy hangs on his bottom lip ready to escape.
     In a practised move, I lower my bags, hang the rifle in the crook of my arm, and strip the wrapping from a lollypop. With one hand I whip the dummy away, and plug the lollypop in its place.
     “Mfft,” says Sam happily.
     “Make it last,” I say, rolling the supermarket door shut.

You and Me versus Zombies 009

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

     The shopping bags are threaded over my left arm, the torch held in my left hand with the rifle under my right arm. I move the torch beam over the checkout area, past the freezers, and over the start of the shopping aisle. Two rats run past my foot and I relax. Live rats are a good sign.
     I walk quickly to the baby area. From the shelf I pull down two large cans of formula, saying a silent prayer of thanks to the god responsible for this miracle substance. Two packs of disposable nappies, some arse-wipes, and a spare dummy.
     Back to the front of the supermarket, I walk past a lolly stand and grab two lollypops and stuff them in my pocket.
     At the exit I hesitate at the door of the liquor department. The display of clean-skin wines are still there. I look at them for a long time.
     Sam cries outside.
     I turn away, yet my hand grabs a bottle as I exit the store.

You and Me versus Zombies 008

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

     We pass under the Town Hall clock town, its hands forever frozen at the moment the suburb had its final blackout.
     Past the post office and the darkened Library. Only once did I press my face up to the windows and stare inside. I long to be able to clean out the building and access the accumulated knowledge inside, but that day I saw the spun tendrils and gossamer hanging from the ceiling and walls, and deep in the darkness unknown bodies moved. I give the Library wide birth now.
     I am certain that supermarket is as clear as it can be, but I still feel my pulse beginning to increase as I get near the locked roller door. This is the only viable access to the building, the others I long since boarded and blocked up. Nevertheless, the roof is thin, and maybe something found access in the days since the last shopping trip.
     I undo the padlock and heave up the roller door, staring into the gloom until my eyes start to itch. Then from the pram I pull out my torch, several shopping bags, and my rifle.
     At the doorway I turn and wink at Sam.
     “Don’t go anywhere,” I say.
     “We’ll see.”

You and Me versus Zombies 007

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

     I feel myself relax with relief seeing no evidence of the brawl I thought I heard during the night. The covering and clean-up of the aftermath from the night was a morning job I never relish, not least of which is the added difficulty of doing it with Sam nearby.
     Take the time it takes to normally to a job. Multiply it by five.
     As I push the pram, I find myself yet again musing on What Happened.
     A virus. Reanimating people and stripping them of their humanity. New creatures stalking the streets at night, spreading their curse though their bite.
     I find I am rubbing unconsciously my wrist where a crescent bite-wound received during Zero Hour is still healing. The worry since that night has diminished, replaced by other more pressing concerns.
     Ridiculous, I tell myself again. Totally ridiculous.

You and Me versus Zombies 006

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

     I had not realised how late the morning was until I stepped outside. The street beyond the Fence was bright in the late morning sun. The tall, over-growing grass from the nature strip in the middle of the road is bright green and glistens from the rain just before dawn. The still-damp street is washed of some of the accumulated dirt, though clumps of matted and decomposing leaves are still piled in random heaps. I survey as much as I can see from behind the Fence, a large roll of blankets under one arm in case I need to cover any fallen bodies.
     Satisfied, I unlocked the gate and step onto the footpath.
     Behind me, Sam rocks impatiently in his pram.
     “Dada push!” he commands. “Dada push!”