Chapter Three - Gridlock Of The Dead
Go Here To Read ED Day From The Beginning
Everybody died so fast.
They never said everybody would die so fucking fast.
Maybe 100,000 people turned up for work in Sydney’s CBD on the morning of ED Day, March 21.
A whole lot less people than were coming to work before the second wave of the pandemic hit in February, but there was still enough to form thin crowds and and for it to look pretty much like an average weekday, workday, morning in the city.
When I was walking down Clarence Street to my building site, I had to step around a tight pack of office workers waiting for fresh coffee from a window cafe. There was nothing going on to tell me this would be the last morning like this I'd ever see in Sydney.
Everybody should have been at home.
We all knew how bad the first and second waves of the pandemic had been. Everybody knew someone who died in the January or February waves.
Even when they stopped reporting the scale of the death toll on the news, everybody you talked to said "Yeah, so-and-so died last week" or "He wasn't even sick when he went to bed..."
Everybody knew five or six people who were sick with the virus. You'd help them if you could. But even doctors could only do so much. If you could find a doctor. Most of the doctors fled when the politicians left.
They didn't tell us. Nobody told us.
We didn’t know the third wave was going to be a fucking apocalypse.
The World Health Organisation were all over the news in January and February saying we should quarantine ourselves in our homes, but you could only do that for so long.
The government refused to make the quarantines mandatory, and people still had to make a living. You didn’t get paid if you didn’t work, and there was plenty of work to do. The more people who died, or got sick, the more work needed to get done.
Retired nurses took over the running of jammed packed medical centres.
Cops became ambulance drivers, taxi drivers jumped behind the wheels of the buses.
On my building site - a 20 storey office block with six floors of apartments and penthouses - half the workforce was off sick on any day in February. That was during the second wave of the pandemic. That's what the WHO called it anyway. To me, it was like the bird flu pandemic began in late December, and never really went away, or stopped killing people. But the WHO and the government, when they were still reporting this kind of news, claimed a wave was over when the death toll was down 50% on the previous week. That might be wrong. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to all the details.
At my building site, we all had do other jobs to fill in for those who couldn’t get out of bed, or were lying in a dirt bed already. Carpet layers helped out with the plumbing, glaziers did double duties as plasterers.
If we’d known the third wave was going to wipe out everyone we knew, we wouldn't have bothered coming to work. Of course we wouldn't have. But they didn't tell us. Instead we were told "The worst is almost over", "bird flu related deaths are decreasing rapidly", "our policies have worked, and will continue to work" and, my favourite, "This is not the time to panic!"
If the government or the WHO knew how totally devastating the third wave of the pandemic was going to be, why didn't they tell us? Why did they keep it themselves? Why the fuck wouldn't they want us to know what was really going on?
Even when the death toll rocketed back up in the first week of March, and security guards started shooting into rioting crowds outside the barricaded up hospitals, the government refused to declare mandatory quarantines and shut down the city.
The first two waves of the bird flu pandemic kicked shit out of the economy, so the newspapers reckoned, and the prime minister said everybody who could get to work, who wasn’t too sick to work, had to get into it.
The medical experts, the scientists who knew about pandemics, howled and freaked and said telling people to go to work when the virus was so infectious was fucking insane. Only total quarantine, they said, inside the home, would stop the pandemic from spreading and killing more people. That was their united advice.
But the media stopped reporting on the pleas and warnings from “hysterical” doctors (as the prime minister called them all) in late February. They just stopped interviewing them, and when nobody calling into talkback radio wanted to talk about anything other than the bird flu pandemic, they turned off the talkback radio as well.
The prime minister and the premier insisted they knew better than all those experts. If you could work, they said, if you could get to work, you had to go to work.
It was in “the national interest”, whatever that meant.
The news told us in early March that more two million Sydneysiders had packed and left Sydney "for the holidays". Bullshit. Those who could get out did a runner. Headed for the country, or to stay with friends or relatives up the north coast, where the bird flu pandemic wasn't hitting so hard, or so the stories went.
Most people didn't have a choice in the end. You had to get money to eat and to buy medicine and food for friends or neighbours who were already sick. If you didn't work, you didn't get money.
So a hundred thousand Sydneysiders did what they were told, what they had to do, on the morning of March 21. They went to work.
And now they’re all dead.
There were only a few buses still running in the centre of Sydney on the morning of March 21 – ED Day.
Every bus I saw when I was walking to work, down Clarence Street, was crammed full of commuters, most of them wearing face masks.
At 7am, people rushed around for morning coffees and muffins from the few places still left open and lingered outside their offices, getting in last cigarettes. Even with the paper and cloth face masks on, people still found a way to smoke. Everybody smoked. Stupid rumours about heavy smokers not catching the virus, something to do with the heat and toxicity of the smoke killing off the virus in the throat, became easy enough to believe.
I saw lots of people coughing and sneezing on the way to my building site, but I just thought that was all from the disinfectants people doused their face masks with, to keep out or kill off the H5N1 virus. Treating the face masks in this way had made lots of people cough and sneeze in the past.
The parade of people I saw that morning sticks in my mind now. Some of those I passed by looked scared, some looked sad, most looked stressed out and tired. But it still looked like a pretty normal workday morning.
That was at 7am. By 1pm, the streets and offices and coffee shops and elevators and foyers and cafes and little parks all across Sydney’s central business district were crowded with the dead.
Total gridlock had hit the city at about 10am. Some of the survivors told me later that there were blockades by private security guards across most of the roads leading out of the city, they had set up checkpoints weeks earlier to run heat scanners over people, looking for those with bird-flu induced high temperatures. Other survivors said when they tried to get out of the city, they found all lanes of the Harbour Bridge blocked by those mobile 'prison' buses the cops had been using in the past few years every time there was an anti-war or anti-government protest in the city. When the white buses were parked end to end, they formed a steel wall across the lanes. They were parked across the Harbour Bridge to stop people getting out.
Most of the streets around where I was in the city were choked with cars and buses and vans and trucks. Thousands died sitting in their cars, going nowhere, as they tried to escape all the dying and the dead.
Then they were dead, too.
Some people were still dying at midday, but there weren’t many. I could hear them from my rooftop hideout. They weren’t screaming for help in the last minutes of their life. They’d given up on any kind of rescue or relief by then.
Instead, they were calling out questions, their voices mumbled and gurgled by the blood and liquid that filled the lungs of everyone who caught the virus.
“What’s happening to me?” “Why is everyone dead?” “Who did this to us?”
Some were shouting and screaming stuff I couldn’t understand. You started hallucinating something shocking when the fever really hit.
If you weren’t already dead, or dying, by midday of March 21, then you were probably doing what I was doing - hiding away somewhere you thought would be safe. On a rooftop of an apartment tower, or blockaded into an office, maybe hiding in the back of a shop with a broom to bash away anyone who tried to get too close.
You tried to find somewhere, anywhere, to hide out so you could avoid contact with the dead, or the soon to be dead, and you stayed there.
I left my building site at 9,30am on March 21 to go and get coffee and something to eat. Only about 20 guys out of the 120 who had been working on the site had turned up. I’d been up on the 17th floor since I got to work, on my own, installing doors, music roaring. I didn’t hear the noise down below. The speakers on the poles that were supposed to tell people what to do in an emergency didn’t make any sound that I could hear up there.
When I stepped out onto Clarence Street, people were just dropping all over the place, crying, screaming, puking. I grabbed food and water from a Open All The Time shop and then I smashed my way into an apartment building that I’d worked on last year. I knew how to get onto the roof, and that’s where I hid for the next three days and nights.
I came down to the city streets two times.
The first time was later that day, March 21, to shut off the engines of about 60 cars and vans traffic-jammed near where I was hiding out. Everyone in the vehicles was dead. I reached in through open windows, or windows I’d smashed, and turned the keys.
I wasn’t thinking about a few months later when survivors might need to drain the tanks of all those vehicles for fuel. I was just thinking I had to turn off those cars. When I looked around, there was nobody on the streets moving, except for me. Panic hit me and I bolted back up to my rooftop hideout.
I came down again the next morning, March 22, to score some weapons.
During the night of March 21, an Army truck had grunted and grinded along the footpath a few blocks down, trying to get around the blockade of cars and vans, and corpses. The Army truck ended up fully jammed, caught between a shop front, an awning and a car that had crashed into a traffic light sometime on the morning of March 21, when the full panic to get out of the city was peaking.
From up on my rooftop, I’d heard the soldiers shouting into their radios, then the noise of puking, coughing, screaming. They were all dead when I came down at dawn to check them out.
I hid three assault rifles, and a backpack full of clips, inside a nearby hairdresser’s. I took another rifle and four ammo clips and a backpack full of MRE rations back up to my rooftop.
I remembered to search the dead soldiers for anti-virals, but they weren’t even carrying face masks. I suppose they were sent into the city to try and find survivors. They were just kids.
The batteries of my laptop are running low. Too much time staring out at the stars. I never realised how many stars you could see over Sydney until the electricity was cut. Now every night there's a sky show of meteors and blinking satellites.
I’ll stop in a minute for a bit, recharge the batteries and then get back into what happened on ED Day.
Bookman told me I should mention the DVDs we watched earlier tonight in our cinema in the Hilton foyer.
I thought we’d end up watching comedies, but the majority of survivors hand-voted for some tourism DVDs someone brought along.
The DVDs showed Sydney, a few years ago, the streets crowded with streams of people. So many people. There was activity everywhere, busy people rushing about.
So many cars and buses and taxis and motorbikes and courier bicycles all whipping around the streets.
We watched crowds of people laughing and smiling and talking at cafes and restaurants only a few blocks away from the Hilton, but another world away.
So many Sydneysiders in the DVDs looked like they were having a great time. I started drooling when the DVD showed tables full of food from the best Sydney restaurants, and beautiful cups of frothy coffee.
We sat there in the all that darkness of the foyer of the Hilton Hotel, watching the huge glowing projector screen showing us the city we lived in as the way it once was, and now never will be again. Full of life. Brimming with life.
When Trader changed the disc, the silence in the foyer was terrible.
Some of the survivors were crying loudly, most of the others just sobbed to themselves.
Nobody said anything. Trader put on another DVD and we saw Bondi Beach in full summer, crowded with thousands of people. We saw ferries cutting across the harbour and bridge climbers waving from the iron spans. We saw the hillsides of the Botanical Gardens dotted with people having picnics and sleeping in the sun.
By 10pm, we'd watched all the tourism DVDs and everybody decided to call it a night.
Nobody wanted to stay around for more drinks or to talk. Everyone just wanted to go back to their rooms and apartments.
When I was walking back to my place, the emptiness of the dark city streets swallowed me up. The black sides of the office blocks, some glinting with reflections of the stars, looked like a painted backdrop.
The only thing moving on Macqaurie Street ahead of me was a bunch of cats chasing down rats. One of the rats screeched when a cat finally caught it.
It was only the cry of a dying rat, but it was like a siren in that tomb-quiet.
I ran all the way back here, the shrieks of terror from those hunted rats filling my ears, echoing down the city canyons.
I knocked back two warm beers as soon as I got inside my penthouse, and I sat on the balcony for a while, replaying the scenes from those DVDs in my mind, of Sydney so alive, not wanting to forget them.
There’s a bright moon over the harbour tonight. Even from here I can see the dark shapes of all those corpses still floating out there, tangled up in the wreckage of harbour cruisers and yachts and debris from the storms.
I’d give my right leg to be able to step back into the Sydney I saw on that DVD tonight, even for a few minutes. I miss the crowds of people more than anything else now. I miss that feeling of being surrounded by all that life and activity.
Go Here To Read Chapter Four - No News Is Bad News
Go Here To Read Chapter One Of ED Day