Text copyright © 2014 by Beau Johnston

There she was; the 12:00pm ferry. Her engines idling, just waiting for the final seconds to tick away so she could depart on schedule. The deckhand saw me running toward him, so he kept the gangway down just long enough to allow me to embark. I gave him a grateful smile and thanked him as I jogged past. As soon as I was on board the whine of the hydraulics sounded, indicating that the gangway was rising; quickly followed by a loud metallic clang as the ramp locked into the closed position. Once the gangway was secured he signalled the captain it was safe to depart. The engines roared into life and the ferry chugged away from the wharf.

Considering the size of the riot, I found it strange that nobody else thought to flee to the harbour. After a leisurely ride across the harbour on the ferry and a day spent in the relative safety of Manly, things should have had enough time to return to normal. I kept watching the wharves as we cruised past the Sydney Opera House. It was a little disconcerting to see that they remained empty. I wondered if the police cordon had tightened to a point where it indiscriminately trapped freaks and pedestrians together. Had I made the wrong decision to flee to the harbour? It was too late to change my mind. I wish I knew what was happening back there. Moments later we veered to the east around the front of the Opera House and into the harbour; Circular Quay was now completely blocked from sight.

I strolled along the deck and through the entrance of the passenger seating area. Sitting several rows in front of me were four of those same freaks responsible for this morning's riot. My eyes sprung open and adrenalin surged through my body once again. In unison, they all looked at me. I raised my walking stick to my right shoulder, ready to swing it like a baseball bat at the head of anyone who approached me. To my surprise their eyes opened wide as they leant back in their seats while raising their arms with open palms toward me, all yelling "Whoa", "Wait"; "No".

I scanned the group for movement and snarled "First one to come near me gets his face smashed in".

A few moments of silence passed as we watched each other. They looked at me as though I wasn't real. I looked at them wondering which one of them would be stupid enough try their luck. Their group consisted of two males and two females, all of them appeared to be in their early to mid-twenties; average build and probably average height. When they realised I wasn't going to attack them they appeared to relax a little, lowering their hands and reclining back into their seats. I wasn't ready to let my guard down yet. I continued watching them for any covert movements.

"Do any of you douchebags want to explain why your group decided to start a riot in the middle of the city this morning? Do they even have a name for what's wrong with you? WELL....? ANSWER ME!!!!" I violently spat at them.

The group rocked back in their seats, again raising their open hands defensively. The man with the thin face and dark curly hair started to rise from his seat, "It wasn't ...".

I cocked the stick back and took a half a step forward, ready to swing the stick into his face if he continued moving.

"SIT DOWN!" I roared.

The strength drained from his legs and he collapsed wide-eyed into his chair. He understood he wasn't going to get a second chance.

"If you've got something to say, you'd best do it from the safety of your seat. I won't give you another warning. Now", I asked more calmly "What were you going to tell me? And bear in mind, your answer dictates whether I hold you until the cops arrive; or I deal with you myself".

He glanced nervously at his companions and stuttered "It....it wasn't us. We had nothing to do with it".

My eyebrows rose in disbelief. There were four of these zombie-fools sitting in front of me, dressed in the same Halloween costumes as the freaks that attacked me and everyone else this morning, trying to convince me that they weren't involved.

I glared at them and snapped "You've got exactly three seconds to tell me the truth before I knock your teeth down your throat".

"It's true" blurted out the red haired girl on his left, "If you'll just give us a chance to explain".

I looked each one of them in the eyes and said "This ought to be interesting".

The man with the thin face had the presence of mind to remain seated this time. "Even though the Zombie Horde Parade doesn't officially commence until noon, people usually start arriving in Hyde Park just after nine o'clock. This gives us a chance to meet-up with friends beforehand, so we can march together."

He started to relax a little as he continued talking, "We aren't allowed to turn up in our costumes, so we get ready in the park before the parade. And while we get ready, we also make sure each-other's make-up and prosthetics are okay".

"Prosthetics?" I asked with a raised eyebrow, "you mean artificial limbs?".

"No" he said, "You see the bite mark on my neck and torn skin on my face?". The rest of the group looked at him, then at me. I nodded, and he resumed speaking "They're made of latex. We then use stage make-up to blend the edges of the latex into the skin, helping to create the overall appearance of our zombie characters. It's a fiddly job, so it's a lot easier if we help each other".

I looked the rest of the group over, noticing that each one of them had some very realistic looking wounds. "Some of those prosthetics look pretty realistic" I said, pointing at the brunette's left forearm. "That one looks like someone actually bit her".

"That's because it is real. Somebody did bite her" he complained. "And I'm getting to that part". He sounded like he was about to cry.

He looked around at his friends, gave himself a moment to regain his composure then continued. "We didn't get there until about 10:00am. There were eight of us then. When we got to Hyde Park, we found a nice, shady area to sit on the grass, not far from the entrance to St James Station. We sat and chatted for a few minutes, discussing ideas for make-up and how each one of us should shuffle or walk during The Parade. Looking around, we were surprised by how many people were turning up early. There were at least a hundred and fifty people already wandering around the park and most of them seemed to be getting ready for the Parade. So we got out the costumes, make-up and prosthetics, and started working on each other". He was smiling at this point in his story.

Instantly, his demeanour changed to that of an abused child about to take another beating from an angry parent. "It was then that we saw a huge group of guys; maybe forty or fifty of them, came pouring out of St James Station. They were already in full costume. They came shuffling out from the underground train station and spread out in groups of three or four, straight toward groups of people who were sitting and getting ready. It was strange that they all had similar costumes; mostly homeless people and early morning joggers. These guys got to some of the other groups before they came near us. We heard some of the girls in the other groups screaming, but thought nothing of it. Why should we? They were just playing along. Just then, six of them descended on us. I stood between them and the group and told them to leave us alone, and that we weren't interested in joining them. They were playing far too rough. One of them tried to grab me, but I fell backwards over Tina", he glanced at the redhead next to him "she was still sitting down. Gary jumped in and grabbed him by the shirt. But before Gary could do anything him, he bit Gary's forearm. I didn't think the wound was that bad until I saw how much blood was gushing out. The guy just stood there staring at Gary while chewing on the chunk of flesh in his mouth. I nearly threw up. Simon ran in to separate the two of them when a second guy appeared behind Gary, grabbing his shoulders and sinking his teeth into Gary's neck. He shook his head like he was a wild dog with a small animal in its mouth. A large chunk of skin and muscle ripped free from Gary's neck, and a huge spurt of blood sprayed from his neck. Simon tackled the second guy to the ground and started pummelling him".

He took a deep breath and pushed on. "Gary managed to escape from the first guy, and get him into some sort of hold, but then he collapsed on top of his attacker, pinning him down with just his body weight. Mary went over to help. The guy on the bottom couldn't grab her because his arms were trapped, but he kept trying to bite her hands. So she took off one of her shoes and shoved it into his mouth. Then she took her jumper off and pushed it against the gaping wound in Gary's neck. But the spray from his neck had already reduced to a weak spurt. Tina went to help Mary" he nodded to the brunette on his right, "while James", nodding to the bald man on his right "rang 000 for an ambulance. I looked around the park and could see similar fights happening all around us. We needed the police and lots of ambulances. When I looked over to see if Simon was okay, I saw that he was still sitting on top of the same guy, punching him in the face. Simon had done a lot of damage to the guy; his nose was badly broken, all his front teeth were knocked out, and it looked like his jaw was dislocated. Despite these injuries, he showed no sign of passing out or giving up. Simon had shredded his knuckles pretty bad on this guy's broken teeth. It was a real mess; they were both splattered in blood".

I looked to each member of their group, looking for any body language that would betray their story as a lie. Disturbingly, this seemed to be the truth. The man with the thin face continued. "When I turned to make sure Lily and Marc were ok, I saw that they were rolling on the ground, fighting with their own aggressors. Lily managed to wriggle out from under her attacker. She was even getting the upper hand. She managed to climb on top of him, but her hand got too close to his mouth and he bit her pinky finger off. As she screamed two more guys fell on top of her, pushing her face down onto the guy on the ground. One guy clawed the flesh from her back; the other tore a huge mouthful of muscle from the back of her arm. Me and James jumped in. We dragged those two pricks off of her and pushed them away from our group. They stumbled with the momentum and staggered after other groups of people. Tina ran across from where Mary was looking after Gary screaming "Gary's dead!". But when Tina saw that Lily couldn't escape from her weirdo, she ran over and kicked him in the side of the head like a football. It made him have some sort of fit. He lost his grip on Lily and lay convulsing on the ground. She was able to get away from him".

"Simon ran past us with a gore splattered tree branch in his hand, yelling at Marc to get out of the way. Marc pushed his guy off of him just as Simon swung his branch straight down on top of the guy's head like an axe. There was a loud crunch; then the guy fell face-down in the grass, not moving".

After a few moments of silence, Mary continued the story. "Darren" she nodded at the man with the thin face "Insisted we get Gary to hospital. I told him that Gary was dead. Darren looked at me as asked "How can Gary be dead if he's sitting up?". I turned around and saw Gary was sitting up and staring at us. I ran over to Gary, and kneeled next to him, trying to get his pulse. I told him that he was in shock and that he shouldn't try to get up by himself; that we'd help him. It was like he didn't even know I was there, or he didn't understand me. I shook his shoulder, and slapped him lightly on the cheek a few times. Finally he looked at me. He looked like shit, but at least he was responding to external stimuli. With Simon's help, I got Gary to his feet. As I looked over my shoulder I felt a sharp pain in my arm. The bastard bit me. I pulled my arm away in pain and backed away from him. The others were yelling at him to stop, but he wasn't listening. He was snapping at us, acting like those guys who attacked us. Simon swung his branch at the back of Gary's knees which made him fall to the ground..... It was the only way to stop him from coming at us". Mary looked ashamed, "He kept trying to bite us. So we left him there".

Darren spoke up again "We split into two groups. Lily, Marc and Simon went up Market Street, to the medical clinic in the mall. The four of us" he gestured at his group "live on the north shore. So once we get to Manly, it's only a quick bus ride home".

I noticed four parallel gouges running down Tina's left cheek. These definitely weren't latex. I nodded toward her, asking "What happened there. That doesn't look like a bite".

"No" she said, absent-mindedly touching the wounded area. Wincing in pain she instantly regretted her action, "When I went to help Mary with Gary; one of the other guy's hands got free. He tried to grab my face. I pulled back, but not quick enough. I don't think it's serious; just a scratch".

They finished talking; then sat in silence. If I hadn't seen the weirdness myself I wouldn't have believed a word of what they'd said. At first glance this group looked just like the freaks who poured out of Hyde Park. But I'd had time to study them as I listened to them talk and I realised that by comparison, their costumes were nowhere near as authentic as the first group. The clothes this group wore were new, but strategically ripped and stained to give the appearance of being old and damaged. Their skin was clean, with the exception of the badly applied make-up, tacky prosthetics; and blood from their recent altercation. These guys looked nothing like the freaks from this morning. Their make-up and costumes were impeccable. And they stank. Adding these facts to the injuries, downtrodden demeanour and obvious fear this group was emanating, I was inclined to believe their story.

I looked the group over once again. I'd seen abused animals in better condition than these guys. "You lot look pretty banged up. You should consider paying a visit to the Emergency Department at the hospital. But you might want to have a plausible explanation for how you got those injuries. I don't think you want to tell them the truth. They'd probably lock you in the psychiatric ward".

As the ferry eased toward Manly Wharf, the captain throttled back on the engines, reducing them to idle, and guided her home.

Mary looked at me and responded for the group "I don't think any of these injuries are too serious. I have some basic medical supplies back at my place. There's nothing here I can't handle".

We weren't exactly friends, but I no longer felt openly hostile toward them by the end of the ferry ride. They helped each other to their feet, gathered their belongings and disembarked. I followed them at a short distance, watching them shuffle along Manly Wharf and into a waiting bus. I had no idea where they were actually going, but surely between themselves they were able to clean and bandage their wounds and follow up with their friends.

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