Chapter Two - Mushrooms, But No Fresh Meat

Go Here To Read Chapter One - The Silence In The City

April 21

The storm is breaking across Sydney.

It’s nearly 2am now.

I took a break for a few hours and charged the laptop battery. Bloody exhausted after all that riding on the exercise bike. It sobered me up too much.

I’m writing this journal because Bookman hassled me into doing it. He used to run a bookshop in the CBD, still does, but it’s more like a lending library now. He only gets a few customers a day, mostly me and Johnny, the Professor and the women who look after the babies in Sydney Hospital.

Me and Johnny take books from his shop around to the elderly people who don’t like leaving their apartments and hotel rooms. Every few days we drop off five or six books, pick up the ones they’ve read and then drop them off outside someone else’s door.

Bookman used to publish books, too, a year or two before ED Day. He said he published small print runs about what he called the ‘United Resistance’ movement in Iraq, Syria, Israel, England, the United States, New Zealand, Melbourne and Arnhem Land. But after those terror attacks that tried, and failed, to bring down the Harbour Bridge, the security force cleaned out his shelves and seized his book printing machines.

Bookman was held without charge for 20 days. When they let him go he went back to his bookshop, but he wasn’t allowed to sell the kinds of books he did before the raids. Thirty of those books, he said, all his most popular ones, had been classified as ‘terrorist training manuals’ by the government censor. The cops told him if he sold one more book like that, he’d go to jail. He believed them.

After that he sold mainstream books instead, the ones stamped ‘Approved’ on the inside cover. Lots of war books, romance novels, books about ancient history, permaculture, global warming and some about conspiracy theories. Bookman said he always though it was weird that he was allowed to sell conspiracy theory books, but only the ones approved by the government.

Bookman said I had to write this journal because the history of what happened in Sydney when the bird flu pandemic hit, and what happens to us now, a few hundred survivors, has to be written by someone who isn’t a trained writer. He reckons historians and journalists always miss the smaller, but more interesting, details of historical events.

“They focus too much on the big picture,” he said, “and miss all the important stuff.”

I asked Bookman if that means I should be writing about how we collect water and dispose of the corpses and how we get rid of our piss and shit without working sewerage systems. He nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, all those details. Everything. In a hundred years, people will want to know how the rebuilding of Sydney society began. They will want to know how their great grandparents survived ED Day, and made new lives for themselves.”

Lightning just ripped through the clouds, and the thunder is rattling the glass of the balcony doors behind me. The storm is right above me now and the noise is fantastic. The rain is thrumming into the plastic buckets hanging off the balcony. It sounds like a million tap dancers.

I’ve got to get up at 8am to do an early shift on the Corpse Crew. I’m going to try and fit in a visit to see Kat at the Hospital before I start work.

Swinging hooks into all those bodies so we can haul them onto the flat beds always leaves me sprayed with juice and goo, even when I wear the protection suit, and I don’t want to see Kat when I stink like that. Matron doesn’t like me coming into the Hospital full stop because of the time I spend with all those bodies. She thinks they might be still filthy with live bird flu virus. But Matron doesn’t complain too much if I go and see Kat before I start work, as long as I dip my boots in the disinfectant bath and wash my arms and hands. I don’t mind doing any of that.

We all know how deadly the virus is, or was.

Matron and Kat are looking after twelve orphaned babies in the hospital, along with the 20 or so old people who are “ten thousand breaths away from death,” as Johnny calls them.

Those babies survived the pandemic for some reason, maybe just luck, but it’s our job to do everything we can to make sure they stay alive. They're the next generation. I try and think about what Sydney will be like when they're all 20 years old. Probably covered in vines and trees and bushes. I see plants sprouting up all over the place, even between little cracks in the concrete. Hyde Park is already growing out across the footpaths. I found one corpse in the Botanical Gardens lying in a flower bed. Dirt had blown onto this guy's face, and there was all this seedlings sprouting in his open mouth.

I'll be doing four hours on the Corpse Crew today, then we’ve got a meeting at the Town Hall at midday. Hopefully a few more of the shut-in survivors will turn up to see what’s going on.

We get about half of all known survivors in the city at the Town Hall meetings now, and every time we meet we get another five or so turning up who weren’t there the meeting before.

I think today we’re supposed to be deciding where to locate the central ‘bank’ of bottled water, gas cylinders, fire starters, camping gear, medical supplies, long-life milk and canned and dried foods.

There’s still a fair bit of food around that has to be eaten in the next few weeks or months before it goes bad, so we’re not down to rationing our supplies yet. But it’s something we have to start thinking seriously about, that's why we're talking about a central 'bank' for the important stuff.

After the Town Hall meeting, we’ll be having a barbecue in Hyde Park, near that big fountain, with the statue of the bloke with his arm raised. There’s usually a barbecue in the park every afternoon, but the big gatherings are always after the meetings in the Town Hall.

We cook up lots of canned vegetables done in kebabs, with Chinese and Italian dried and cured meats that have been soaked in water until they go soft, or just marinated for a few hours.

One thing we’re not short on is fresh mushrooms. The Professor’s idea of everybody growing mushrooms in a foam box in their hotel rooms and apartments was brilliant. It takes about four weeks to get a good crop growing in those mushroom boxes, and there’s more than most of us can eat now. Trader and Johnny found this big delivery truck and when they opened it up, it was stacked full of those mushroom boxes. Each box had the dirt, mulch, peat and mushroom spores you need to grow your own. There must have been five or six hundred boxes in the back of that truck. Enough for everybody who wants to, to grow a couple of boxes each. Preacher said it was a gift from God, and it's hard not to believe him.

So we got plenty of mushrooms, but nearly everyone is hanging for fresh meat. A big fat juicy steak smothered with fried onions and sauce is only the stuff of fantasies now. Lots of fantasies.

We can’t kill anymore chickens until next month. Everyone’s waiting for that day. We'll probably kill about nine or ten, which won't make for much meat, but it's better than nothing.

If the barbecue this afternoon is like the others, we’ll all be half-blind by 3pm and sleeping on the grass. The long grass.

Nobody yet has snuck into the pen where we keep the sheep and lambs we rescued from the petting zoos in Darling Harbour, but some of the survivors get this weird look in their eyes when they’re standing around watching the sheep and lambs crop the grass in Hyde Park.

I probably do, too. There's about sixty legs of lamb walking around Hyde Park most afternoons, with Preacher as their shepherd. Trader was drooling over those lambs one afternoon last week, and he pointed out that some of the lambs were snacking on the wild mint that's popping up all over the park.

"Look!" he said. "They're just asking for it!"

A few days ago, the Professor found a three metre wide screen and projector in a boardroom of the AMP Building down by Circular Quay. He’s set it up in the foyer of the Hilton Hotel, and hooked it all up to a generator.

The Professor and Trader and a few others dragged down the comfiest sofas and lounge chairs they could find from the upper floors of the Hilton and they’ve put together what they reckon is a pretty awesome cinema in the foyer. Big enough for 80 or 90 survivors. We’ve been promised buckets of popcorn for our first movie night.

It will be the first time so many of us many of us have gathered together to watch DVDs. Everyone’s pretty excited, it’ll be like going to a cinema pre-ED Day, except we can drink booze and smoke while the movies are playing.

Everyone seems to be drinking and smoking these days. I suppose after you survive a bird flu pandemic that killed every one you knew and loved, smoking heaps and sinking tons of booze doesn’t seem that dangerous anymore.

If I’m not too buggered later tonight, after our 'cinema' opens, I’ll get stuck into writing about what happened on ED Day. It's not something I'm exactly looking forward to but it's a major part of the story I have to tell.

Go Here To Read Chapter Three - Gridlock Of The Dead

Go Here To Read Chapter One - The Silence In The City.