Darryl knew something was wrong when the lorry didn’t show.

Matt Reade never missed a delivery, not even the day his wife dropped the sprog. He loved the beach run; it was the highlight of Darryl’s week, too. Betty used to knock up a batch of pikelets and they’d retire to the patio, shaking the sand from the plastic picnic chairs and lighting the citronella candles to keep the mozzies away. They sat for a few hours most weeks, fingers intertwined, while Matt, who loved a good chinwag, clasped his hands to his chest, his bottom lip quivering in excitement as he described the picket line the townsfolk set up when the council decided to sell the sections below the ranges to the army. With Betty gone now, rest her soul, there were no longer any pikelets, but Darryl always kept a couple of beers in the chilly bin and a pack of digestive biscuits on hand for Matt’s weekly visit.

Darryl wondered if they’d closed the road. That happened sometimes in winter when the rain washed sections down the gully. It had rained just after lunch—quite a downpour, and a strong southeasterly—but when Darryl returned with the crayfish pots, the storm had already passed. Besides, Matt had shown up on their doorstep after earthquakes, during floods and lightning storms with a pint of milk under each arm and a maniacal grin. No, it had to be something worse than that.

Darryl sighed. It had been a lonely few weeks. The campground was deserted, except for a stalwart English couple and a carload of Jap tourists down from Auckland. The wind stripped the weaker branches from the pohutukawas along the bank, and bowled over the rubbish bins at the cookhouse. He sipped his third Tui and stared across the field at the English cheerfully hammering extra pegs into their tent fly.

The sun sunk below the horizon, the final sparkle of light dancing on the ocean. It was rough as guts out there today. A mission for the cray pots, but now he had two on the boil, thinking Matt would enjoy the treat.

Darryl locked up the shop and went upstairs to check on dinner. The pot had boiled over.

He flicked on the telly, hoping for an explanation about Matt’s non-appearance. More problems in town. A tanker crashed off Ruataniwha Street, and they’d called in the army to clean up the chemicals. Several residents had been rushed to hospital. They interviewed old Bob Riley, who was mighty rarked up about it. “Right near the school, too,” he mumbled into the microphone. “We told them we don’t want them in this town. People’ll get sick.”

Nothing about a road closure. Maybe Matt was in the hospital. Darryl hoped not; he was nearly out of milk and he needed the company. The English hardly said a word and he couldn’t understand the japs.

After two more beers and a made-for-TV movie Darryl pulled on his flannel pajamas and climbed into bed. He hated this part most of all—he’d slept in the same bed as Betty for fifty-seven years, now his entire life seemed intertwined in their nightly ritual—her with her ankles tucked one underneath the other, hands folded right over left neat across her breast. He with one arm draped over her, head resting slightly on her shoulder, facing the door. When the funeral director dressed her he’d folded her hands like that, right over left, and he’d closed her eyes, so she would sleep. But how? How can she sleep without me?

His eyes watered again.

He heard rustling outside the window. He stumbled up and squinted into the darkness, but couldn’t see anything. Possum, he thought, lying back again.


Darryl rose with cock-call and set the cray pots before ten. He took a walk along the beach. The storms had temporarily abated and the English clambered along the rocks. Feeling magnanimous, he showed them how to collect paua, feeling under the rock shelves and pulling off the shells. Within the hour they’d piled up an impressive stack.

Darryl tossed the undersized ones back and loaded the rest into a plastic bag. “If you come by the house tonight, I’ll make a batch of fritters.”

With her final breath before she’d fallen into the deep, dreamless sleep, Betty dictated her paua fritter recipe. “You’ll be miserable without them,” she’d said, squeezing his hand. Always thinking of him, was his Betty.

The wind picked up then, and the English women—Carrie—complained of the cold. Her floaty skirt flapped like a tent fly around her blue-tinged legs. Her husband, Bob, thanked him, and they hurried back to their tent.

The wind flattened the Maunka against the cliffs. Dark clouds rolled in over the horizon, and fat clumps of rain slashed on the rocks. Darryl pushed his hat low on his head and hurried back himself. He couldn’t bring in the nets in this weather.

Along the way, he stopped by the loo block to check the bog paper.

The block had been built at the edge of a tiny cemetery. The area used to be Maori land and when the English came they built a missionary outpost and a tiny chapel, the foundation of which supported the loo block. Maori and English alike had been buried there, although now most of the graves had been either exposed or destroyed. Tombstones lay haphazardly amongst the overgrown gorse. Old Doc McCurdy from the homestead had been buried there a few years ago, and he’d buried Betty there too, by the sea, where she’d spent the happiest years of her life.

As he stared at the mud rising around the overgrown stones he noticed a dark shape crouching under the doorway of the men’s loo. He squinted—it must’ve been a Jap. But the shape seemed too large, hunched over, slowly slouching forward, shuffling along the fence of the graveyard. It disappeared into the cutting grass.


“You’re seeing things,” he scolded himself. Sweet senility, just what he needed to forget about Betty.


The storm raged on. The English couple popped round at six and commented favourably on the paua fritters. Darryl chilled a bottle of Sav, and even cranked Betty’s Beach Boys record, desperate to appear a jovial host.

They left in good spirits at nine-thirty, clutching Darryl’s umbrella which the wind promptly tore to shreds. They laughed it off. “This is summer weather to us,” Bob joked, tugging his sweater over his head like a waterlogged grim reaper.

Darryl pulled the sheets over his head. As the storm raged on he wondered how his campers fared in their flimsy tents, but no amount of wondering could make him go outside to ask. Betty would’ve asked.

Turns out he didn’t need to. At one am, someone knocked on the door. On the deck stood Bob and Carrie and several japs, shivering, wrapped in sodden sleeping bags.

“Our tents blew away!”

Darryl threw open the door. “I’ll put the kettle on.”

“Should we find the others?” Bob asked.

“There are no others.”

“Oh? I just saw a bloke wandering along the bank past the loo block.”

“Must have been shadows, dear.” Carrie patted his arm.

Darryl wasn’t so sure. He remembered the shape he’d seen earlier that day; he didn’t like to think of someone outside in this weather. But worse, he didn’t like to think of anyone he didn’t know wandering about. He knew everyone around here; the thought was unsettling. He left the outdoor light on and figured if they needed the shelter, they’d knock.

No one knocked.

By morning the rain abated. The wind still bent the trees double and stripped sheets of dust from the cliff face. Debris littered the beach, and when the guests returned to their tents, they found them torn to shreds. The lemon tree in the front garden—a present from Betty—had been uprooted, its fruit pelted against the weatherboards.

Darryl wrapped his swanndri over his stocky frame and trudged down the beach, surveying the damage. Several tiles had flown off the roof of the loo block. He wandered twenty metres into the scrub; the tiny graveyard was a mess, not a single marker stood upright, and the low iron fence had buckled. Some of the coffins had floated to the surface, bobbing in pools of murky mud.

He set about standing up the grave markers. He heard a cough.

He jerked his head up. Leaning against the toppled iron fence was Dennis Cudby.

“Gidday, Darryl.”

“Gidday, Dennis,” said Darryl pleasantly. “Weather’s packed a sad, eh?”

“A real corker. How’re you, Darryl? How’s Betty?”

“Oh, she died, four months ago, now. Cancer. I buried her in the corner,” he pointed.

“Shame, she was a good Sheila.”

“Yes, Dennis, speaking of death….”


“Well, call me a dag, but if my memory serves me correctly I remember digging that grave for you…must’ve been four summers ago, now.”

Dennis scratched his head. “Funny thing, that. I think you might’ve. And a cracker grave it was too, Darryl. Kept me dry all these years, till that storm hit and I just up and wandered off with a splitting headache and a taste for human flesh.

“Don’t worry Darryl, I’ll get it sorted. She’ll be right.” Dennis hobbled over the broken fence; as he did, he kicked a patch of dirt towards Darryl. The clump stopped when it fell against Betty’s tombstone, and Darryl saw it was not a clump at all, but a little foot. A ring encircled the index toe; a little butterfly jewel.


The Japs dumped their keys at the desk and left, jabbering at him in their strange tongue, clapping and snapping. He had no idea what they were talking about.

As he shut the sliding doors he noticed a Maori boy, butt naked and slouching along by the cookhouse, dragging his ankles like a troublemaker. Darryl waved at him, but he just kept shuffling. The Japs stopped their car and snapped photos.

The Maori roared and raised his hand. Darryl realized—too late for the Jap girl who’d stepped out of their car—that he wielded a war mace, the handle rotting and caked with mud. He swung it at the girl’s head and down she went, rolling on the gravel, the right side of her face caved in.

It was no use calling the police. Darryl didn’t have a phone and besides, it would take them an hour to reach the campground. Darryl ran inside and grabbed his rifle from above the fireplace. He rammed two shells in the barrel and raced back outside.

The Maori bent over the girl. And it looked like…oh dear god. Bile rose in his throat.

“Put her down.”

The Maori shot up, blood dribbling down its chin.

Darryl pulled back the hammer. “Put her down.’

It growled; a guttural sound no human throat could form. He threw the corpse into a punga bush and lurched towards Darryl, arms and torso caked in dirt and blood.

Darryl pulled the trigger.

When the shot rang out he squeezed his eyes shut, and his shoulder jolted painfully. Long time since he’d fired a gun. Forgive me, Betty.

He heard a moan; its inflection angry, and the crunch of gravel. He opened one eye.

The Maori warrior stared down at the gaping hole in its chest, growled, and lept towards Darryl…

…who stepped to the side and swung the butt of the rifle at the warrior’s skull. The two connected and the Maori staggered. Darryl, who’d once watched a B-grade zombie film while Betty was at her knitting social, sensed he was onto something and swung the rifle again. The warrior tripped over his own shuffling feet and Darryl raised the rifle and shot, almost blindly, not daring to look.

The Maori toppled over. Blood seeped into the gravel.

“Go!” Darryl screamed at the cowering Japs, not sure if they understood. “To town! Get help!”

They piled into their Honda and backed out the drive, terror in their eyes.

Darryl felt his chest tighten. Perhaps it was a heart attack. A heart attack, senility and a zombie infestation, all in the same bloody week.

He heard gravel crunch. The English couple appeared by the shop door. They waved. “We needed some milk,” Bob said. “But you’ve shut-”

He stopped, mouth agape. Darryl lowered the rifle.

Carrie’s face turned bone white.

“Oh, dear.”


Darryl showed Bob the pile of old fence posts and two-by-fours in the shed. Together they dragged the timbers inside and nailed them against the doors and windows on the first floor. When they ran out Darryl pulled up the deck timbers, but stopped when he saw shadows moving by the pohutakawa.

They set up a lookout on the upstairs deck. Darryl polished his rifle and dragged boxes of shells from the gun cabinet. Carrie cooked sausages and eggs and chips and Darryl cracked open a crate of Tui. The three ate their meal in silence, tossing the bottlecaps carelessly in the corner and listening to the crowd gather outside.

From the lookout they saw Old Doc McCurdy stagger up the path. Blood congealed on his swannie. He turned up the gravel drive towards the bach, but Darryl shot him in the chest, and he didn’t come closer after that.

Dennis sat on their lawn, munching on the leg of the Jap girl. He waved up at Darryl.

“We won’t hurt you, mate. We just want the other two. You’ll see. She’ll be right.”

Darryl raised his gun, but hadn’t the heart to shoot him.

He saw more moving over the crest of the hill. As night descended and the wind picked up, they crept closer to the house, huddling in loose groups, chattering in excitement.

“Darryl, come out!”

He put on the Beach Boys to drown out their cries. Bob and Carrie danced a little, giddy with fear and too many beers. Darryl peeked around the curtain; but drew his head back as a decaying hand slapped the glass. They’d crept right onto the deck. He could see their shadows moving between the boards.

Then the banging started. Slow, rhythmic.

He dared another peek. They ripped up the mailbox and now had a sharpened stake at their disposal. He could hear the timbers at the door buckling.

Carrie whimpered. Bob turned up the record player and grabbed the poker from the fire.

With a crack the door burst, and limbs filled the gap, flailing and scratching at air.

“…in the sun and salty air…”

Darryl fired into the expanding hole. Once, twice. Hands recoiled. He heard shrieks.

“…the girls on the beach are all within reach…”

Bob gesticulated with the poker. Carrie shrieked.

Too many hands. Darryl pushed over the coffee table and slid that against the hole, but the flimsy warehouse particle board wasn’t enough. The door caved inward, and they shoved their way inside.

Darryl forced himself to think, to stay calm. They backed into the hallway. Behind him, Carrie’s drawn, undulating screech seared his eardrums. The smell of rotting, festering meat made his eyes water and his throat itch.

“My wife,” he said, “would appreciate if you wiped your feet.”

“Darryl,” he froze as they pushed and rushed towards him, and he saw her face in the crowd. Lovely and smiling, even though her skin clung to her cheekbones in patches and her gums had rotted away from her false teeth.

His hands shook.

“Darryl, come to me, sweetie,” she opened her arms. Folds of skin hung from the bones and gristle like ribbons.

“Betty,” a moan escaped his throat. He raised the rifle, squeezed his eyes shut, and shot.

He didn’t want to open them again, but he could hear them moaning, close by now. Nearly at the end of the hall. He loaded the rifle.

“Pull the boards off the window in the laundry,” he commanded Bob. “I’ll hold them off.”

He shot Dennis in the leg. Down the geezer fell, tripping those that pressed behind him, creating a barrier at the door. Darryl aimed again, and took out Doc McCurdy in the throat.

He heard Bob grunt as he pulled the last board away. Darryl dived for the window, and rolled onto the grass.

They raced across the lawn, towards the gate. Perhaps they could run to Stevenson’s farm, only a couple of kilometers up the road. Perhaps he’d have a—

A hand gripped Carrie’s ankle; she screamed and Dennis cackled. Darryl was pleased to see Betty was no longer among them. He and Bob tugged on Carries hands, trying to pull her free.

“Try it, Darryl. Better then steaks on the barbie!” Dennis shrieked.

Carrie kicked him in the jaw, which crunched under her boot and flew off. As they fled to the gate Darryl heard the gravel shifting under heavy tires, and the sound of a diesel engine working at the hill.

“The milk truck,” Darryl’s heart soared as he saw the nose of a lorry appear over the crest. “We’re saved!”

They poured on speed and vaulted the gate. Matt pulled on the handbrake and flung open the cab door, a smile wide across his face.

“Cheers mate.” Darryl pushed Carrie inside, and he and Bob swung in after her, slamming the door just as Dennis and his buddies rammed against it. Matt slammed the van into reverse and backed down the drive.

“Hurry! We’ve got to—” the smell reached Darryl’s nostrils: that same fetid stench. He paled.

He stared at Matt, and noticed for the first time how his skin hung limp from his features. The smell grew worse.

Matt grinned as he turned the wheel and the lorry trundled full-speed down the road. He patted Darryl’s knee.

“Don’t worry, mate,” his grin grew wider. “I’ll have you back to town in a jiffy. She’ll be right.”


# # #

She'll Be Right by Steff Green
originally published May 20, 2009



Steff Green is a braille transcriber and heavy metal roadie living in New Zealand. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Mindflights, Big Pulp, Reflection's Edge, Breath and Shadow and go NOMAD, among other venues.

For more of Steff's work,
visit her Big Pulp author page


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