I missed the Corpse Crew shift this morning. Just slept right through to midday. I went to the hospital before the Town Hall meeting to catch up with Kat, but she wasn't around. I went and saw some of the babies and the women looking after them. All of the babies are still in good health and get plenty of visitors. There's no shortage of volunteers at the hospital now. Some of the babies will be adopted out soon. Matron has been wheeling their cribs and beds out onto the hospital balcony most days when the sun is shining. She's ready to let them go to Hyde Park next week and start roaming on the grass.
I went and sat with a couple of the old near-coma people, told them what had been going on outside the hospital. The elderly people who seemed so close to death a few weeks ago are making remarkable comebacks. Greenfingers insists it’s because of all the fresh vegetables they’re eating from the gardens, which Matron and Kat serve up in soups or lightly steamed.
Some of them sound like they’re ready to get out and into the wheelchairs, which will be easier now nearly every street in our Zone has been cleared of corpses.
I felt like I needed to talk to Kat. I wanted to tell her what I should have told her last night. That Chrissie was still alive up in the mountains. That I still loved her. That I'm thinking of leaving here and going to Chrissie.
Maybe I was glad Kat wasn't there this morning. It wasn't a conversation I was looking forward to. I didn't think Kat would freak out or anything, or bust me in the face for lying, but I felt shitty not having been straight with her from the beginning about Chrissie.
Kat turned up at the Town Hall meeting only a few minutes before Bossbloke rang his bell to get us all quiet and ready for his opening speech. She didn’t see me and went and sat with some of the women from the hospital I’d been talking to earlier. There was about 150 or so at the meeting today.
For a bloke who never used to say anything at the first few meetings, Bossbloke sure as hell has plenty to say now.
His speeches are getting longer. The one today must have been a good thirty minutes.
He had heaps of notes and read through a long list of 'progress reports', which he'd written up about all the different things we had been working on, from the Corpse Crew to hospital duties to getting the Domain ready for crops and the water-and-food stockpiling missions. I think everybody else was as amazed as I was. Nobody knew Bossbloke was keeping track of our work like this. We sure as shit didn't know he was putting together 'progress reports'.
But he had and he read them out loud, and he made sure we all knew who amongst us hadn't been pulling their weight.
I got off with a big tick. Kat looked around when Bossbloke mentioned my name and waved to me.
Johnny, who wasn't there, got hammered by Bossbloke for being "a goddamned slack piece of shit waste of food". People gasped at that.
Bookman, too, copped it. "Less time worry about your bloody libraries, and more time clearing bodies."
Bossbloke snapped off these words like a drill sergeant, and left Bookman sitting there, a few seats down from me, with his mouth hanging open.
The longer his speech and reports went on, the weirder the atmosphere in the Town Hall became.
We kept looking at each other with that kind of fear-smile thing. Not exactly scared, but disturbed enough to be uneasy.
The reports Bossbloke has been keeping on the work we’ve been doing are more than just a few notes scribbled on paper. It looked like he was reading off a spreadsheet up there on the stage.
For example, he went through the last five days of Corpse Crew shifts and listed how many bodies had been collected and disposed of each day, on each crew. Bossbloke presented the numbers like he expected the Corpse Crews to be competing with each other.
Bossbloke put down his notes and gave the Corpse Crew he'd singled out for praise (led by a bloke I call The Rocker, because he used in a band and will break out his guitar and sing during the barbecues in Hyde Park at the slightest invitation) a big round of applause.
Were we all supposed to join in?
I heard someone say, louder than they probably meant to, "What the fuck is this all about?"
That's exactly what I was thinking.What the fuck is this all about?
Then Bossbloke went through the stats of the food and water collection teams. How much they had stockpiled in the storage areas down on the platforms of Town Hall and Wynyard train stations. Bossbloke knew exactly how many litres of bottled water were there, how many litres of juice, how many kilos of sugar, of oats, of coffee, of tea, how many cans of soup, of vegetables, fruit, puddings, packet pastas, instant noodles and pre-made curries and rice dishes.
Bossbloke then read out the names of survivors who had shown particular initiative, as in they went and did stuff for the good of our clan without being assigned a mission or a task by him.
Greenfingers, for example, got a long round of applause from Bossbloke for setting up the beehives and coming up with the plans to plough up and get crops into the Domain and parts of Hyde Park and the Botanical Gardens.
But Greenfingers didn't look pleased at this bit of attention. He look embarrassed.
As I listened to all the details of what had been going on, I realised just how out of touch I was with the rest of the survivors. I had my circle of friends, my Corpse Crew, but I didn’t hang out with many other people. I felt like I’d wandered in as a last arrival, instead of being here from the beginning, and helping to set up some of the plans Bossbloke was now giving credit to other survivors for.
When Bossbloke finally finished talking, he paused and then told everyone the barbecue was already underway, so lunch would be served soon.
"What about questions from the floor?" Bookman yelled, the emptiness of the main hall echoed the angry edge to his voice.
Bossbloke shrugged, "Whatever. Who's got a question?"
"Me," somebody said from the back. "I got plenty of questions, mate."
I felt a cold chill then, because I saw that look again on Bossbloke's face. That instant tension and anger, the piercing gaze, the fury wanting to burst out of him.
I didn't need to turn around to know it was Johnny who was yelling from the back of the hall.
"If you've got a question, raise your hand..." Bossbloke said.
When I did look around, I saw Johnny standing near the open doors. He didn't raise his hand. Instead, he just yelled at Bossbloke.
The volume was shattering. Nobody yelled anymore. People talked in voices just above a whisper most of the time. There was no background noise of the city now to talk over.
Johnny : "What the hell is all this workplace efficiency reporting about?"
"I'm only taking questions from those who've raised their hand," Bossbloke said.
"We're going to run our meetings in an orderly, democratic way."
"Oh, fuck this!" Johnny yelled, again. "What the fuck are you doing, mate? You're taking the power-tripping a bit far, don't you reckon?"
Bossbloke waved a hand in Johnny's direction. "Sit down, wait your turn."
"Fuck that," Johnny blared. "Who are you to tell us whether we're working hard enough or not? What are you got planned next, ay? You want us to start reporting on each other if we don't think our workmates are busting their arses enough?"
Bossbloke ignored Johnny's mini-tirade, and a dull voice from the other side of the hall came in on Bossbloke's side. "Sit down and wait your turn. I had my hand up first for a question."
I don't know who said that. One of the survivors I don't have much to do with. One of Bossbloke’s supporters, those who gathered around him at the barbecues and hung on his every word, laughing long and loud at his really terrible jokes.
"Okay," Bossbloke said, ignoring Johnny, who still hovered just inside the doors at the back of the hall. "I think you actually had your hand up first..."
He pointed to Trader.
"I'll get around to all of you in time. Go ahead and ask your question."
"Thank you," Trader said as he stood up. He looked quickly over at me and smirked. The little shit. I have to get him off my Corpse Crew. He’s getting on my nerves.
Trader then actually fucking complimented Bossbloke for the efficiency of his record-keeping,
"And I'd like to thank you, sir, for your recognition of our hard work in clearing the streets. My question is, taking into consideration the fact that the majority of us seem quiet happy to stay in the city for now, what are your ideas for how we should react when we are visited by official or non-official visitors? I'm specifically thinking of what we are to do when the Army returns to our city? Or one of the government's private security forces? Or perhaps even a foreign force?"
Bossbloke nodded at Trader and then this fucked up smile crept slowly across his face, and kept on creeping, until I thought the smile was going to consume his entire head.
Most of the survivors in the Town Hall today were an eager audience for Bossbloke. They wanted Bossbloke to tell them exactly what they were supposed to do when the Army, militias or foreign forces entered our part of the city.
I looked to the back of the hall and my eyes met Johnny's. He gave me half a smile and shrugged. I motioned for him to come and sit with me, but he shook his head and signalled he was going to stay close to the door. As far away from Bossbloke as possible.
When I looked back up at Bossbloke on the low stage, I saw that he was watching me and Johnny, his eyes flickering between us. He didn't look happy.
"I have some information on that question," Bossbloke said. That got the attention of everyone in the room.
“We should expect visits from survivors outside of the city area to show up here in the next few weeks," Bossbloke said.
"I think we haven't had anyone turn up yet from Newcastle or Wollongong, or from further away, because I believe survivors in other locations would have needed to get over the same fears that we have now learnt to deal with. The fear of further infection and further deaths. The fear of lawless and violent behaviour in other areas they may travel to. Just as we are terrified of going across the Harbour Bridge to the North Shore or out into the suburbs..."
We’d heard all this before, in at least two other Town Hall meetings. Bossbloke was clearly preparing us for something that was going to happen. Something he seemed to know about, but was a mystery to the rest of us.
In fact, he'd been saying the same kind of things since he first showed up walking down the middle of the city streets after ED Day.
Back then, when I was still hiding out on a rooftop, you’d hear Bossbloke yelling something like, "You are safe in the city for now. The North Shore and the suburbs, from the inner city to the outer West are dangerous and violent. But don't be scared, don't be terrified. We're all okay here. We are safe where we are. Come and meet me in Hyde Park at 4pm today..."
Was that why we were all so reluctant to leave our safety zone of ten square blocks of the CBD? Because Bossbloke had come on like an authority figure and told us it wasn't safe to leave the area? A message he’d kept repeating over and over again? Had he trained us to stay here? To be afraid of trying to get out, even if the robot sentries and feral dog packs were real enough?
Thinking all of that gave me a chill, a real shiver up the back, neck hairs standing to attention, chill. In the two seconds between Bossbloke’s last words and his next, I realised what he had been doing all this time. From the moment we’d first heard his voice, after ED Day, echoing down the deathly quiet streets of this city. This Dead Sydney.
Bossbloke had been working on our minds. He had been pumping up our fears and then offering us security only he could provide.
It was the bullshit War On Terror mind-fuck all over again, on a smaller scale, as I’ve said before. But it was what many of the survivors wanted to hear. Bossbloke told them about the threat, hyped it, built it up, and then provided himself as the solution, or at the very least, somebody who could keep them safe.
"The survivors outside the city are probably just as scared as all of us," Bossbloke said, his voice lower, the words punching the silence of the room. "Yes, just as terrified as we all are. Just as nervous, just as unsure, just as scared to leave their zones of safety."
Bossbloke paused. I waited for Johnny or somebody to yell back an echo of what I’d been thinking. What I’d realised Bossbloke had been doing to us. There was only silence, except for the shudders of breath, the sighs of survivors who nodded along to his every word.
"Why should any of the survivors in Newcastle or Wollongong be any different us?" Bossbloke said. "Why would those who survived up in the Blue Mountains be any less terrified than we are now? Like us, they would fear leaving what they have come to know as a safe place. Like us, they too would be scared of leaving their safety zone to go somewhere where their safety is not guaranteed."
The survivors in the Blue Mountains, I thought. How did he know there were survivors up there? Did he know about Chrissie? Had Bossbloke seen the signal fires that had told me Chrissie was still alive?
"And, like us, these other groups of survivors would naturally be reluctant to leave their food and water supplies to travel a distance to an area where they do not know if there is a supply of food and water. Or if there is, if they can get access to those supplies."
Bossbloke rambled on for another five or more minutes, it was like a sermon, he kept using words like "terrified" "safety zones" "horror" "fear" "grief" "shock" and "periods of adjustments".
It was Bossbloke's theory that other survivors would need about ten to twelve weeks to recover from their experiences on ED Day, and that if they had access to food and water, then they too would have stayed where they were, just as we have.
Bossbloke said he believes that there are survivors, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of survivors all across Australia. And he said he also believes that they, like us, would have been busy securing food and water and disposing of bodies and taking care of the injured and the elderly and the young. All the same exact things that we had been (half) busy doing.
"But," Bossbloke said, in conclusion, with a growing smile, "I don't think many other groups of survivors have been anywhere near as efficient and as rich in initiative and decency as our clan has been. You should all be very pleased with what you have achieved, and the way that you have conducted yourselves since ED Day. When others see what we have achieved here, they will envy us, and they will talk of us as the true survivors. And one day, I promise you all, that amongst the survivors of this tragedy all over Australia it will be you, the clan of Dead Sydney, yes, you will all become legendary for what you have done here."
I almost laughed out loud at that. I think I heard Johnny snigger from up the back and mumble something like, "Fuck, mate, get your hand off it."
But someone hissed at him to be quiet.
Bossbloke was on the edge of the stage by that point, his fists raised dramatically, triumphantly, in the air.
All around me, people started applauding each other and themselves.
The volume of the applause grew and I saw Trader clapping along, smiling and nodding. He looked over at me and nodded and grinned and urged me to clap along as well.
Some of the survivors were slapping each other on the back, when they weren't clapping and hugging and cheering each other.
And there was Kat, off to the side down the front, sitting with Matron, who clapped slowly, looking a little dazed.
Kat wasn't clapping at all. She looked shocked at what was happening in the hall all around her.
Bossbloke stood on the edge of the stage and applauded us all, then started whooping, yelling and punching his fists in the air like he was shadow-boxing a cloud. "You guys are fantastic! Feel proud of yourselves! I do!"
That set them all off into a fit of whooping and yelling and even a few rounds of "Fuck, Yeah!"
Except for maybe me, Kat, Matron, Johnny and Bookman, and three or four others, all the rest of the survivors in the room jumped to their feet and the volume of the clapping and cheering rose louder and louder.
I had seen this scene before. It was a cross between one of those big-teeth American motivational seminars and a LifeSong Sunday afternoon 'Jesus Rocks' concert-sermon.
I had to fight the urge to get up, grab Kat, run as fast as I could right out of that hall and go grab those assault rifles and barricade us into a fortress.
"Okay," Bossbloke finally said, as he waved people to take their seats. "Okay, guys. One more thing, we will need to seriously address the abusive use of alcohol and drugs amongst some members of our clan. You know and I know that's only a few of you, but it's got to stop. We're getting our society back together, we don't want to tear it apart with drug and alcohol abuse, do we? Not after we've come this far.”
Being told they would have to cut back on the booze, and the painkillers and uppers that had become a sort of currency amongst survivors killed off some of the enthusiasm in the Town Hall.
But Bossbloke had more demands.
“One more thing, besides the food and water you collect for the stockpiles, we're going to have to outlaw the liberating of all items from all the shops and stores from today. That includes clothing, DVDs, books and jewellery. We’ll work out a system for distributing clothes and luxury items next week. But for now, our meeting is over. Congratulations to you all for your wonderful work! I'm really proud of you! And you should be proud of yourself!"
In two quick sentences, in the midst of the most feel-good atmosphere any of the PTSD-fucked survivors had felt since ED Day, Bossbloke had just told us all that we can no longer help ourselves to anything from the stores and shops, and he dropped a clanger about alcohol and drug use.
Any comprehension by most people in the hall was lost under another round of excited cheering and yelling and clapping.
"I've got some great surprises for the barbecue as well!" Bossbloke yelled, and the cheers and clapping rose again. "Now let's go and feast!"
As the applause died down and people started heading for the doors, Johnny yelled out from the back of the room.
"Wait a minute! I've got questions I want answered!"
"They can wait for the next meeting, two days from now," Bossbloke said, and jumped off the stage. He was instantly surrounded by a dozen survivors.
They shook his hand and slapped his back, he even got a few hugs and kisses.
I knew many of these people who were praising Bossbloke. I didn’t know them as well as I know Johnny, Matron, Kat, Trader, the Professor, Fireball, Trader, Greenfingers, Bookman and Preacher, but I had talked to most of them, I had shared stories with them, sat with them in St Andrew's Church during a few of Preacher's sermons in the first couple of weeks after ED Day. I had watched movies with them in our Hilton Hotel cinema. I had collected food with them and shared meals with them.
But as they gathered around Bossbloke I realised how little I really knew them, most of them. I realised how little time I had spent with the majority of the survivors, and how much time I had spent in my own bubble, as they had been locked away in theirs.
I’d always thought most of the survivors were like me, and I realised then that most of them weren't. They wanted a Bossbloke. They needed him. They wanted somebody to lead them and tell them what to do, but most of all they wanted somebody to set the rules and enforce the law. That much was clear.
Nobody challenged Bossbloke's fast edict of new laws, if they even heard what he had said. But as I walked out of the hall, and caught some of the frosty gazes cast my way, I realised that I was already in the minority amongst the survivors. I was an outsider to the Bossbloke crowd.
When I walked down the front stairs of the Town hall, Johnny came over to me. He actually looked scared.
We crossed over to the other side of the road from the rest of the survivors as we all headed over to Hyde Park. The smell of the barbecue was already filling the air with wonderful cooking smells. It still amazes me that even with the stench of death heavy in the air, and the tang of the perfume dumped everywhere to cover up that retch-inducing stink, your nose can still pick out the smell of a good barbecue.
"What the fuck was that? Huh? Did you get all that? Do you know what he’s done? He's taken us over already," Johnny said, his voice just above a whisper. I nodded, still stunned by what I had just witnessed. What I had just been a part of.
"If you can think you can win them all over," I said, "Go for it."
Johnny laughed, "Yeah, right. He who has the fresh steaks controls the masses."
Kat came over and gave me a kiss hello. She was heading back to the hospital, “Those people are freaking me out, I don’t want to eat with them today,” and said I should by the hospital later tonight and see her. Then she was gone.
Johnny told me his plan then, of how we’re going to follow Bossbloke, and finally find out where he goes when he disappears for two or three days at a time. The next Town Hall meeting we’re going to have backpacks with enough water and food for a few days.
"Let’s go eat,” Johnny said. “Get talking to some of those people we don’t know that well. Find out what they’re working on and what Bossbloke has told them is going to happen.”
So we went into the park and we enjoyed the barbecue with the rest of the survivors. I made a point of going over to a few I hardly ever spoke to and told them how great it was that Bossbloke had recognised all the hard work they had done, and how important their contributions had been to the survival of our clan.
It was that easy. I got smiles and thanks back in return, and two people told me that I was doing some of the most important work of all in cleaning up the corpses.
Bossbloke kept his promisel.
There were more big tubs full of fresh honey-soaked steaks, enough for everybody who wanted to have half a steak each. There jacket potatoes and grilled vegetables and fresh bread straight out of the brick oven that was now cooking bread and rolls most hours of the day.
But there was little booze. At least, no-one had rocked up with trolleys laden with cases of wine or champagne, or slabs of beer, or boxes of good scotch. The only booze around was what people had brought themselves.
I tried to find out what other survivors knew, but they weren’t all that better informed of Bossbloke’s plans that I was. He was doling out the duties and tasks without revealing his end game plan.
I stayed for an hour and then walked away. I stopped at Maggie’s door downstairs, I could hear her snoring. I didn’t want to wake her, and I was scared of what I would find if I did go inside her place. Even through the door I could hear the gurgle of thick liquid in her throat. Her lungs were filling up with fluid. Pneumonia, or the bird flu. Or both.
I’m going to see Kat at the hospital in a few minutes. I need supplies before I go in Maggie’s room. Gloves, a mask, a gown if there’s one to spare, and a bottle of the watered-down honey Matron uses as anti-bacterial and an antibiotic.
I will kill Maggie if she’s got the bird flu. I won’t let her die that way.
Go Here To Read Chapter Fifteen - "Make It End