Vignette: For Your Own Safety, Call First

Title: For Your Own Safety, Call First

Length: 2359 words

Summary: There’s always a risk inherent in just dropping by someone’s door in Port Carmila. Especially when that door happens to be answered by the zombie-hunting Steve Nakamura.

Setting: Some non-specific time over the summer between Death is Only a Theoretical Concept and Whatever Great-Aunty Lizzie Says.

Note: These vignettes aren’t stories as much as they’re opportunities for me to play around with the wackiness of the setting and characters. Please don’t expect anything remotely resembling plot, because it’s not there. Also, this piece is inspired by the time my uncle from WA turned up on my doorstep without calling first, and because I saw him once as an eight year old, adult me sure as fuck didn’t recognise him. Ring first, people – ring!

Content warnings: Opening the font door with a weapon in hand, Steve’s discomfort with being seen as a wakizashi-wielding zombie fighter, not-quite-deserved hell wrought on door knockers bearing religion, the many ways one might go around killing a zombie in Port Carmila.

Steve bounds towards the door as the bell, making a sick stuttering noise that doesn’t sound like a ring at all, rings for a second time. He plasters a broad grin on his face and pushes the door open, blade in hand. He finally talked the guys into letting Abe join them on a hunt, which means accepting that this hunt will be less a hunt than a training session, and Abe into agreeing to go on said hunt, which means he’ll be wearing clothes that are not pinstriped business shirts. Ten bucks, though, says he’s wearing those ultra-white runners he must clean after every venture outside his house, because despite all manner of mud and dirt Abe’s shoes all but glow in the fucking dark…

A girl, a white breather girl who is definitely not Abe, stands on the doorstep, her eyes and mouth wide open. Steve doesn’t recognise her, but he doesn’t know everybody in Port Carmila. Just most people. Hunters, coppers, small business owners, paramedics, doctors and other assorted healthcare providers, fishermen, Historical Society tour guides, the local elders, every teacher at Port Carmila High School, everyone who works at Council, merfolk…

She looks rather taken aback, her eyes and mouth wide open, her fists clenched by her skirt. Steve softens his grin, confused: anyone he doesn’t know knocking on his old woman’s door must be either a member of the god squad or those annoying salespeople from competing electricity companies. He knows for a fact, however, that god squad and electricity company minions alike don’t tend to last long in Port Carmila before running inland, maybe because hunters and coppers tend to let feral zombies frighten them, just a little, before swooping in on the rescue. Besides, the girl doesn’t have a clipboard, a name tag or a pamphlet advising Steve on what happens after he dies—something he’s always considered hilariously gauche, considering he lives in the so-called Dead Centre of Australia. Across from a cemetery.

Of late he’s taken to giving bible bashers detailed blow-by-blow accounts of his favourite gay pornos before mentioning Mike Johnson next door is in the market for religion and not irrevocably destined for hell; Steve then shuts the door, bolts for the kitchen, yanks open the window and listens for the mortification that usually results when the very-zombified Mike opens his door and starts asking genuine philosophical questions about what Jesus Christ the Saviour can do for sapient zombies and how that might be better than Pastafarianism.

This girl, sadly, doesn’t look half so interesting. She’s cute, in that innocent girlfriend-next-door kind of way, although knee-length denim skirts and tights aren’t all that practical for impromptu zombie fights. It’s not as though he doesn’t know many girls who can’t turn stiletto heels into deadly weapons, though; he’s seen the girls of Year Nine take down a pair of ferals straying onto the footy oval with nothing more than hairspray, deodorant and a lighter. Sophie Williams once brained a zombie with her backpack, although the fact she was carrying five library books, a hammer and a spare pair of shoes helped. Still, she looks a little—well, city. Try as he might, Steve can’t find any bulges or lumps that suggest a concealed-carry weapon, although he can’t quite get a good look at her back. Maybe she slit holes in the pockets of her skirt and keeps combat knives in sheaths strapped to her thighs, as annoying as they must be to draw? Sharpened hairpins? She must know that those sorts of weapons are only good in a last-ditch effort to stay alive, right? That while walking down the main drag with an assault rifle is generally frowned upon because it makes the tourists twitchy, nobody really cares if one openly carries a machete, axe or a semiautomatic handgun?

Steve keeps two axes, a bottle of kerosene, three gas lighters and an F88 Austeyr behind the counter at Bill’s Books, in addition to whatever he happens to be packing on his person that day, even though Bill has told him plenty of times that her insurance premiums do not cover burning down the building in the process of taking down the mindless undead. He does try to remember that: last time he dragged the bits of a very-confused zombie kangaroo out onto the main drag before burning, which meant Bill only had to try and get the blood splatter out of her carpet. That and ring an ambulance for the tourists who weren’t watching in fascination at the unexpected entertainment.

“Hi?” he says. Why doesn’t she say anything?

Her eyes rest on him, her face twisted up into a dread, stricken sort of expression.

Steve frowns and stares back at her. Okay, so he might have gone a little extreme on the hair—purple and red spikes—but by now everybody knows that he does weird-for-Port-Carmila hair. Even Aggie Skipton has given over on the commentary. The beauty of being the town pansexual is a licence to be strange, everything explained away and justified by that one confounding term. Of course Jack made a few would-be scathing comments about the lack of camouflage, but Steve doesn’t expect him to comprehend that hair can be covered by a green bandanna. Or a hat.

He sighs. Does she go around knocking on doors just to gawk at the people who open them? “Well? Can I help you?”

It occurs to Steve as he speaks that he spends way too much time working behind a counter at Bill’s Books if he’s rattling off customer-service-type comments off the cuff, even if Steve does spend more of his time giving tourists false directions, answering questions and serving as a glorified guard. He doesn’t mind, not when Bill lets him get away with speed-reading new releases as long as he doesn’t crease the spine, but fuck, he’d better not talk like that anywhere Jack can hear him.

She continues to stare, so Steve just raises his eyebrows and waits. Sure, tourists ask weird and embarrassing questions, but they don’t stare that much at him, in large part because tourists mostly come from big cities and coloured hair doesn’t rate in comparison to the balding man in a fairy costume spotted on the City Loop or the zombies heading to the butcher on the way home from work. Abe by all accounts stared the first time he knocked on the front door, but Abe is Abe, a vampire with the heart and soul of an inner-city Melbournian, and the parentals were, by all accounts, acting weird enough to deserve the staring. He looks down at himself, but he’s wearing jeans, hiking boots and a Judas Priest T-shirt next-door-Greg gave him just to be a smart-arse: there is, in Steve’s opinion, absolutely nothing worth a second look.

She can’t be a tourist, can she? Tourists stay on the main drag where they can see everything interesting and be surrounded by lots of other tourists—and hunters in yellow high-vis—in the event of a zombie attack, although Steve has no idea why tourists feel safer in the company of the equally-inexperienced. No, a tourist has no reason to stand on the parentals’ doorstep, so perhaps she is just damn good at the concealed carry or has some kind of amazing unarmed-combat capability. Maybe she’s the kind of person that thinks she can just punch a zombie’s lights out and that solves the problem. One hunt will teach her otherwise, but there are always those who think they have no need for any kind of weapon. They’re kind of people Greg hauls to the hospital.

Why the fuck is she staring?

“Is De … uh…?” She blinks, her voice wavering, as she tears her eyes away from Steve’s face and back down towards his hand. Steve follows her gaze, right down the length of blade propped against the doormat, and as she cringes he can’t help a wince of his own.

He forgot about the sword.

It’s one thing when he thinks it’s just Abe, but to answer the front door with a drawn wakizashi in one hand and a polishing rag in the other? Jack will shit himself laughing if he ever hears about it, and Steve can’t blame him. Can Steve possibly get any more stereotypical? All he has to do is arrange some Hello Kitty Love Bot on his bed along with half of Aiko’s yaoi collection and voila, walking caricature ahoy.

“I swear, this isn’t mine. I wouldn’t touch one of these things with a barge pole. It’s Mum and my moronic best friend who think that lopping limbs off zombies with a sword is the best way to go, and my boyfriend—well, he’s the kind of guy who might be more comfortable with a sword, so I thought he should give it a shot. Vampire super-strength and all. Overlooking the cultural appropriation, of course.” Steve jerks his head, but the girl doesn’t look convinced that this is all a ridiculous mistake, so Steve ploughs on: “Man, firearms were invented for a reason, but no, they’re all ‘Pose of the Suicidal Swan’ or whatever, like it’s still the fucking Middle Ages. Seriously, I’m just doing Mum a favour and polishing for her.”

The girl takes a few steps backwards. Given that he is standing there with a waki-freaking-zashi in his hand, Steve can’t entirely blame her. Next time—next time he’ll put down the blade, pick up his F88 and answer the door with a respectable weapon in hand. Like a normal Port Carmila person who doesn’t want to look like a pretentious fucking wanker.

“Hey, I’m not that weird-arse sword-swinging type, okay? Look, come in. I’ll show you my assault rifle collection. We were just going to go out on a hunt to take out any stragglers down Limeburner’s Creek, so feel free to come with. I made some muffins this morning, so we can even have a picnic. What’s a better way to spend the day, right? So, anyway, what do you pack—weapons, I mean? I once asked my boyfriend’s trans cousin what he packed, and, man, my boyfriend just about died from embarrassment. Oh, and what’s your name? I’m Steve Nakamura.” He grins, trying to put her at ease. “Mum’s down at the cop shop. Hacking up zombie corpses—a bunch of ferals came up from the creek last night. It was a bit bloody.”

The girl just looks all the more nervous, rubbing the toe of one shoe against the other, tugging at her short-cut hair. It takes her a long moment to speak, and when she does her soft voice makes Abe sound confident. “I … uh … I must have made a mistake. Yes. So sorry to … to disturb you.”

Does she truly think that little of him? Or did he insult her? What if she, like Phil, actually prefers to have a sword in hand when it comes to facing down feral hordes? Of course, Phil is used to taking shit and giving it out, just like most hunters: everybody knows that one’s personal choice in weapons is of course superior and everyone else is a moron for not adopting it, but it doesn’t really matter in the thick of things. It’s not like Steve hasn’t brought down zombies with a cane cutter, a can of butane and a gas lighter, when pressed. Or even, that one time, Johanna’s old man’s favourite swing chair. The real problem with a sword, to Steve’s way of thinking, is that Phil moans about using it to hack up feral corpses when the fighting is done, so why not just use an axe to begin with?

“Hey, wait! I’m sorry about the sword thing, really. Come in, have a coffee. If you’re one of those people who think jujitsu’s all the shit, well, you’ll learn, and I’m not going to hate on you in the meantime. Just carry a machete or something, yeah? And my mate, Phil—he is actually deadly with a wakizashi. Just don’t tell him I said so.”

She gulps, her eyes wide—and then she turns and runs down the footpath towards a small red sedan parked by the side of the road.

For a moment Steve just stares after her as she gets into the sedan and takes off down the street at twice the road limit, fast enough that he hopes she runs into Mum and gets booked for speeding because, seriously, it’s a residential street and there are zombies about. She’s made it past the cemetery by the time he shakes his head. Weird. What the hell did he do or say that’s so wrong it merits something as rude as running? He hasn’t turned feral and doesn’t hunger for breather brains, but he might as well have!

Sure, in Sydney people get weird about the carrier thing, but here? The vast majority of breathers in Port Carmila are carriers!

Then again, at least this way nobody will ever know he opened the door with Mum’s wakizashi in hand, and maybe letting the mystery lie is worth avoiding the shame. Abe will be here soon, and then Steve can walk him through the new-polished Nakamura family armoury in the quest to find him a weapon that scares him least. Abe, at least, will appreciate the fact that the weapons don’t look like they’ve been recently bathed in undead blood, and it’s not like the hallway doesn’t smell funky if everything isn’t cleaned regularly.

Steve shrugs, shuts the door and heads back to the cloths, polish and dismantled rifles scattered across the lounge room floor.

(Hayley Williamson, on the other hand, drives straight for the highway and towards civilisation, deciding once and for all that getting to know her father’s sister’s family isn’t essential to her continued happiness. Who knew that her cousin was going to be the type to answer the door with a fucking sword in hand? Next time, she thinks with a shiver, it might be better to make a phone call first…)

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