Authors: Dan Yaeger
I raised the rifle; the scope picture showed him magnified; steam rose off his munching snout. "Tasty," I concluded, thinking that I would experiencing the same thing shortly. I was sweating from the trek and humidity and, in that moment of mild fear mixed with excitement, I had to find calm. Only a hunter would understand that feeling. "Crosshairs on his left chest, breathe out slowly and halfway. Squeeze."
A crack rang out and tore through the tranquillity of the bush. The resounding ringing in my ears was accompanied by the kick of the rifle. In that moment, the deer had lost his legs and it was done. "Woooohoooo!!!" I cheered, not caring what else I scared. The rifle had given away my location before my victory cheer anyway. I raised my rifle up and smiled broadly; survival. I felt the pressure lifted; like a rush of wind on a stifling-hot summer’s day. The feeling of elation and relief came over me. Many days’- worth of meat and survival was certain once more, in an uncertain world.
I cycled the rifle bolt and the .308 calibre case ejected. I caught it in flight, gave it a quick acknowledgement of good luck and it went back into my pocket to be reloaded or kept as a keepsake. Ammunition was hard to come by and, due to absolute necessity, each casing would be reloaded. Reloading of cartridges went beyond their intended utility and was dangerous. More dangerous, however, was not having the ammo to kill the horrors that had spread across the globe. And so it was for good reason that reloading ammunition to dangerous extents was essential in my effort to sustain and survive. “I would never give up.”
My footfalls thumped rhythmically on wet ground as I ran over to my fallen friend. An immediate assessment concluded he was a strong, healthy young specimen. “Thanks my friend,” I murmured as I got nearer. With closer consideration, I confirmed he was indeed well and had eaten the finest shoots and ferns to create a good girth and a great set of antlers on his head.
The deer was at peace and its dark eyes were blank and innocent. All that makes me human drives me to acknowledge what it was; an impressive and kindred creature. The fallen deer gave me the gift of life; to live another day. It was a privilege. I was grateful to him and respected the life given so I could keep mine. I was never religious but I often placed a small posy of flowers to mark the passing of a life to aid mine. Where the animal fell, I marked its last place. Not sure why; not a calling card but my sign of respect in a world that had indeed lost such a thing.
I looked at the deer again, at his empty eyes and briefly but sentimentally stroked his head. In former times I would have thought twice about taking his life but this was truly about survival, not the pursuit of trophy hunting. I needed meat and things had become a little urgent. It had been a bad season for hunting and scavenging and I was up in the remote territory of the New South Wales Alps, surviving by myself. Zombie incursions had taken precious game animals from me and wasted my time hunting undead instead of hunting for food. Zombies took time, ammunition and delivered nothing in return but short-term returns to safety. So that deer hunt was not at all frivolous and I felt only the smallest pang of guilt at the animal's passing. Deer were such a good prey that offered meat of the finest quality. This one was special in both form and timing; it deserved to be remembered. His antlers were a prize and I would honour him by having his weapons adorning the hearth back at my cabin. “He really is on the fat side,” I thought, touching his belly. His hide was still thick, having not yet shed his winter coat. The fur was both beautiful in pattern and utilitarian; to be appreciated. “I might use this for a lining or insulation for a coat?” I thought to myself. I would use the fur, the meat, take some bone for weapons and even drain some of the lanolin into an old pill container.
My “Original Bowie Knife” patterned blade slid out of old leather, the smell reminding me of family who taught me all I knew and loved me enough to be persistent and confident that I could survive.
The blade glided from the deer’s nether-region up to its throat with ease. The smell of a fresh kill is earthy, bloody and warm. I remember the first time with grandpa and dad; I indelibly experienced butchering a deer. Gross at first, you never forget it, but you get used to it. I made all the appropriate cuts and skinned the deer with some good skills. No meat was left on the skin and I didn't cut through the precious fur, keeping the hide intact. After liberally salting the hide, I rolled it up and stowed it in my pack. I would tan it later. Then I continued, fashioning steaks and deer bacon, as thin as I could in the field. While I was skilled, the blade was special.
I named this knife “Orion”; it was a family heirloom and my favourite. It was put to good use on this task like it had for generations in my family. The knife I used had been a gift from my grandfather. He gave me quite a collection and it was a gift that kept giving in my circumstances. German steel from a time before everything was made in China or India, relived old times in my hands. The steel held an edge through all of the adversity I put it through. My Grandpa had put that edge on it. The knife was sharpened at such an angle that the blade had a legacy of sharpness much like the genes of my survivor ancestors to whom I owed much.
My grandfather had been a man from a time gone by, even in his own time. He had been someone I remembered as strong, loving but stern and with a fire in his heart and a love of adventure. He and my father had taught me to shoot, fight, and fish and do things with my hands: survive. Much of those things, core to surviving, had been learned at the family’s weekend home and the bush near Tantangara. So many had forgotten the ways of survival or had never known them in a time where we needed them most. My family were an exception holding onto old ways and some pride in where we had come from and the struggles we had endured in getting there. Relatives and my immediate family had been a little like chameleons in a modern world of computerisation, information overload, air-conditioned buildings and bullshit-bingo. But times had changed for the worse, for everybody. As a great scientist once said, extinction is the rule, survival is the exception. That quote had become particularly relevant in those dark times. My grandfather was an exception as were my father and I. Grandfather had raised his boys, like him, to be a jack-of-all-trades; never happy with a lazy life and he passed on a need for hardship and adventure. The women of my family were also great, perhaps more so, but you will hear of them later; they are sadly missed in a world that could use their ways, all of them.
I lost my family during the Great Change; nothing great about it. When things had fallen apart, around the world, I had lost so many, so quickly and in the chaos could not have been sure about my parents or siblings. I had lived in Canberra, the illustrious capital, and was considered privileged to live there and have family property at the South Coast and at Tantangara in the Alps. With the cataclysmic events of the Great Change, the capital was untenable and destabilised quickly, spreading to the satellite communities around.
Around Canberra, many people lived in the so-called satellite communities and commuted into the metropolis via very fast rail. Towns popped up everywhere, with one rare town being built out of a need for infrastructure rather than just space. “Tantangara,” I whispered with love and hate. I had fled to that town when things in the capital had collapsed.
The town of Tantangara, despite more recent horrors, held a special place in my heart. Tantangara was where my grandfather had worked as an engineer, as had my father, in two of the many careers they had had in their dynamic working lives. Tantangara was built on the need to expand the dam that had been there, to supply additional water to the massive population of the region and, more importantly, the capital. The government had renamed it Lake Tantangara and had created a niche for tourism in the beautiful New South Wales alpine setting. Even if people spent most of their time looking into holographic glasses or at devices, the view and air was something even the most hyper-consumer could not deny. It was almost an appeal to what little natural sense humans had left.
Once technology and communication began to crumble and people turned, supply chains followed. Canberra had had a population that demanded more than local regional supply could afford: this meant doom. But Canberra was not alone and it fared as badly as many cities had worldwide. The aftermath of the Great Change of 2028 was a dark time globally. What had caused it? Greed, selfishness, corruption, laziness and materialism were all at the heart of it. Shame was on all of us.
The cause and catalyst for the Great Change was the virus-cum-drug “Divine”. Divine was the driving force in a new-age renaissance of drugging-up and dropping out. The pharmaceutical firms and doctors were complicit, no leading, in it all. They legitimised people opting-out and gave them a crutch to get by when things were too hard for them. The medical and pharmaceutical fraternity wanted captive, controlled and dependent consumers. What was scariest was that Divine was no secret; it was advertised as a feature in a product and its positives were sold as benefits. The worldwide marketing machine and distribution network preyed on people’s belief in decadent freedoms and it worked too well. It was all about maximising pleasure, minimising pain and, unfortunately minimising effort to do anything at all except consume. Timothy Leary and a similar movement many decades before would have been proud for 5 minutes until they realised it was the worst example of capitalist greed, not to mention it all went to shit.
The initial distribution network for Divine was flawless. Whether antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic or antacid, Divine was part of the prescription for a few dollars more. You would get high, feel good and desire more. The after effects of exposure to Divine were guilt and the typical addictive response to need more of the drug. This latter side-effect was a flu-like symptom that made you feel lousy with an instant turnaround if more Divine was consumed. It delivered the intended high and a following low by the virus. It worked well, too well. In fact what it achieved was nothing short of remarkable.
“Divine indeed,” I thought, shaking my head as I did my work. Divine’s intent was to captivate and control consumers, giving them a high and driving them to buy and consume without abandon as the ultimate in consumer addicts. It worked. It worked better than anyone’s sick mind could have dreamed.
The corporations had planned all this; to subjugate people through a clandestine drug and pharmaceutical syndicate that leveraged people’s dependence on medications and prescribed “pill popping”. Pharmaceutical companies, in a powerful cartel with doctors and governments, thought they had hit the jackpot. The money was rolling in and all were fat and happy. What they hadn’t realised is that their testing had not been outside lab conditions and that mutation would occur. These fools, in their greed, would act as the delivery mechanism for the most devastating weaponised biological agent that man had ever made and may have meant the End of Days for us all.
Perhaps it was the last laugh at humanity as it perfected the dark control of capitalism and consumerism? It was something we had worked to achieve for so long: our own destruction. But the virus was initially a happy participant in its role as slaver. It soon wanted more.
Divine was a new generation of drug. Once made, it would multiply; a genetically engineered virus or perhaps nanotechnology. Pharmacies grew “certified Divine” while quantities of it were gathered up in home labs and grown much like a yoghurt culture or home-brewed beer. Whether it was mutation in these homes and backyard labs or otherwise, Divine mutated. It didn’t take long for it to achieve a mind of its own as a colony: a virus working together for its survival, spread and supremacy. It was an accident, a mistake. It had to have been. I had convinced myself that no-one could have been so diabolical to have intended the worldwide disaster that had followed the introduction of Divine into the market. I would never know the complete answer. The mutated Divine had a distinct, sweet candy-apple smell; it would soon be melded with the smell of death on an epic scale. Somewhere in the world, someone was infected by the mutated virus amid that candy-apple smell. Some lone individual infected many others, and so it began. The zombies followed their noses and ate everything and everyone in their path. The destruction of man would be the way the Divine virus would spread and flourish. People had been infected and got on planes and trains; the pandemic was pervasive and unstoppable. No-one seemed safe, anywhere in the world.
Weaponised or mutated Divine manifested symptoms in users or those infected that spanned months in some and as little as weeks and days and seconds in others. Like me, some were immune. Unlike most, I didn’t like the smell, wasn’t drawn to it and if I had something with Divine in it, the virus would have no effect. As the virus grew in those infected, the symptoms would degenerate human consciousness to a point that sex-drive, the want or need for clothing or shelter and other less essential needs to that of food and water (blood was preferred) were ignored. The last thing left was a never-ending hunger that was all about base food consumption: just enough to sustain the virus and pass Divine on to another host. The closest meat was the order of the day; the ultimate in laziness and selfishness which epitomised the drug culture that started the mess in the first place. People turned on each other and cannibalised one another horrifically and Divine spread like wildfire. But not to me: I was immune.
I was one of the few who had something in his genes that meant Divine was ineffective or perhaps I had fought it off early in some way and had anti-bodies. I was not a biologist or scientist with the requisite skills to study and determine diagnoses and fact. I had observations and theories, though. One of these was family background and personal traits. No history of family chemical dependencies, a naturally good immune system from my mother and a versatile and well-balanced mind may have all played a part. I’m not perfect but I believed that I had something special in the combination of upbringing, genes and way of life that kept me from the fate worse than death that others faced. I was a survivor like those who had lived on and persisted through plague, famine and war since the dawn of man. The Great Change was the black plague of my generation and I was another link in the human chain of survivors that endured.