This novella is truly the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. It has zombies, living roads and a metal-spiked echidna. It has a young main character, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under 15. The story has some dark themes. Despite this, it is not a depressing tale, and I hesitate to classify it as horror. But, did I say it has zombies?
Read part of the first chapter below.
Three weeks ago, Daddy left town with the other volunteer firefighters to fight the fires in the city, and Tom and Mother have looked after the farm. Radios, phones and TV broadcasts have fallen silent, trains have stopped coming and the main road has remained empty.
When Tom finds a large metal egg on the farm, and a metal-spiked echidna hatches from it, the neighbour Mr McGregor wants to kill it. Whatever has silenced the rest of the world is creeping into town. Roads start talking and zombies come into town, wanting to tell everyone how they died. People must fight back.
But Tom thinks differently. The echidna, which he names Thing, is a true friend. Thing protects Tom from the greedy roads, the evil zombies and even Mr McGregor. To find Daddy, Tom needs to follow a map he has found in a vagrant camp site, a map which leads him straight to the place where all the trouble started.
The pump that sucked the water from the river was the farm’s heart. Daddy always said so. That Mother would ask Tom to turn it on made him feel important, scared almost.
It was not that he didn’t know how to do it. He had watched Daddy many times. Sometimes Daddy had let him pull the string that made the motor go put-put-put-put and blew a cloud of black smoke in your face. Sometimes, Daddy had let him open the valves. Watch out for snakes, Daddy would say, because snakes liked to hide under the pipes, where it was cool and moist.
It was just that… Daddy had always been around to help him. The farm was so strange and quiet without Daddy, but that didn’t stop the rice from growing or the sun from shining or the wind from drying out the ground, so someone needed to flood the field.
He checked the diesel in the pump’s reservoir, and he pulled the string. The motor sputtered and blew a big cloud of smoke. Tom laughed, but it was a kind of lonely sound without anyone to laugh with him. While the water was going up the long snout that made the pump look like a mosquito, Tom banged a stick on the valve—to scare the snakes—and used all of his skinny weight to turn the handle. The valve creaked open. Brown water sloshed out of the pipe. It ran in the runnels between the rows of rice plants, which stretched as far into the dusty air as Tom could see.
Now he could ride his bike home and come back in a few hours’ to turn off the pump. He could sit on the veranda with Mother, staring into the distance with the phone in her lap.
His hands jammed into the pockets of his shorts, Tom walked down the levee, pushing aside the grass that was almost as tall as him.
Over his head, the leaves that still hung on the gum trees had turned brown, even though only a haze remained of the vile clouds of purple smoke that had drifted in from the east, where Daddy had gone to fight the fires.
The smoke had gone now, so that was good, wasn’t it? The trees would recover. Gum trees were good at that. You thought a fire had killed them and a few weeks later leaves would grow from the trunk.
These trunks had no leaves, only purple stains on the white bark, from the smoke. His brain kept telling him, Bushfire smoke isn’t purple, but his brain wasn’t giving him any suggestions what the purple smoke might be if it wasn’t from a bushfire.
There was a sound down near the river, where Tom couldn’t see because the grass was too tall.
The roar of an engine echoed in the silence. Tyres slipped on gravel and out of the grass came a van, bright purple and painted with flowers. Tom yelled and jumped out of the way. He tripped and fell into the grass. The van came up the levee, pushing aside bushes and crunching dead tree branches on.
Tom yelled after it, “Hey, what are you doing here?” Trying to sound important, like Daddy would, but his heart was pounding and he didn’t feel important at all, just scared and very small. People were here, people who had, Daddy would say, no business being on the farm.
The man at the wheel paid him no attention. There was another man next to him, and Tom thought he spotted the silhouettes of a few more people in the back seat. The ones in the front had long hair and wore bright clothes. Blue and yellow and orange.
The van roared past him, crested the levee and was gone in a cloud of dust.
His heart still beating wildly, Tom dusted himself off. He knew the driver: he was one of those people who lived in the camp at the river bend. Strange men with long hair who played songs in front of the supermarket on green guitars with flowers. Everyone called them Weirdos so often that they even started to use it themselves, and seemed proud of it.
They had no business being here, none at all. What were they doing here?
On legs that were still shaky, Tom walked down to the sandy patch where he sometimes came to catch yabbies. The van’s tyres had left deep marks here. Tom kneeled and inspected the tracks, and how they vanished in the grass, like a detective, but a pari of tyre prints gave him no answers, just made him feel more scared, and more confused, and smaller. Things were happening in the world outside his farm and the town, things he didn’t understand.
At the base of a tree, between the reedy grass, lay a metal object. Round and shiny, about the size of Tom’s foot, it looked just like… an egg.