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
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
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
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
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
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
“Our tents blew away!”
Darryl threw open the door. “I’ll
put the kettle on.”
“Should we find the others?” Bob
“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
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, Dennis,” said Darryl
pleasantly. “Weather’s packed a sad, eh?”
“A real corker. How’re you, Darryl?
“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
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
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
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
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
…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.
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
“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,
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
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.
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
“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
“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
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
“Don’t worry, mate,” his grin
grew wider. “I’ll have you back to town in a jiffy. She’ll
# # #
She'll Be Right by
published May 20, 2009