I took a step towards him, clasping my knife with such force that the knuckles on my left hand turned white. My mother clutched the sleeve of my coat, urging me to stay with her. We had to decide there and then. Was this our father and husband, or not?
I reassured my mother and insisted she stay at the back of the garage. I took hesitant steps towards him. White eyes filled with tears are an astonishing sight; the sentiment is removed from the eye itself but the remainder of the face is overtaken by grief. He kept his hands raised above his head, and when I eventually reached him I placed one of his outstretched hands into mine. It felt warm. It felt alive. I dropped the knife onto the paving stones and warmly embraced him. I knew that this was still my father, for now at least. My mother rushed forth to join us, her mind made up by my actions. We huddled together in the brisk spring morning for what seemed like hours, before retreating into the house, a family once again.
We decided to assess the most immediate problem; a bite wound that required attending to and a visit to the hospital was, obviously, out of the question. In what seems even more surreal now, my mother and I sewed him up with a needle and thread. We performed running repairs on our Zombie. We cleaned the wound as best we could, making sure to use gloves and protective material, because even though it had been made clear to us that Zombies could only transfer the disease through bites, well, they also told us we couldn’t make it beyond three minutes, so as far as we were concerned, all bets were off.
One sewed and the other held a knife within striking range of my father’s head. I doubt my mother could have landed a blow had he turned instantly and leapt at me, but we remained in unchartered territory and it was at least reassuring to have her just…. there.
He repeated the story of his attack over and over as we worked, explaining that ANZ colleagues he had met could help our cause. We found this difficult to comprehend, for we had no idea what the ANZ was and why my father was attending meetings with them. My mother continued to sob as my father consoled her and insisted that people, good people, would come and put things right.
Staring into his white eyes as he spoke led me to lose my train of thought, as what we were doing seemed so abnormal, in opposition to everything we had seen and heard. This was a Zombie face, but one speaking lucidly and lovingly. I certainly couldn’t comprehend it then and it took some months before I could come to terms with the sentence ‘My father is a Zombie’, like admitting that he was an alcoholic or a drug addict. That sense of acceptance came later, both for him and for us.
At first I didn’t grasp quite how the ANZ could assist us, because some issues quickly became apparent. We were essentially harbouring a fugitive, except one with responsibility, with extended family, with a job to go to. How could we maintain his cover? He would at some point have to be out in public. The Preservation would have been on the scene in minutes if anyone had seen him in those original moments.
Once we had sewn him up, he removed his mobile phone from his pocket and dialled a number he seemed to know from memory.
‘It’s David. I’ve been bitten. Of course I’m fine; I wouldn’t be making this call otherwise. But I’m going to need the pack.’
He disappeared into the other room to finish off the remainder of the call and within an hour or so a van arrived at our house and a man and woman climbed out, the former carrying a metal box, and the latter an orthodox briefcase. The male professed to be a doctor and commenced examining my father’s current condition, including extracting a blood sample. The young woman made small talk with my mother and put the kettle on to make a cup of tea, as if this was the most normal occurrence in the history of the universe. What did strike me, though, was how conventional this bizarre situation felt to them, as if providing covert help to the turned (or half-turned, I guess, to be more accurate) was something they had done many, many times before. I’ve asked my father since and he’s not able to put a precise figure on it because the procedure is so ‘black bag’, as he terms it, but he reckons there’s close to a thousand like him in the greater London area, a thousand people that, by law, should be dead.
The woman reassured my mother in the kitchen, explaining in detail what ‘stage’ my father was at and what the doctor was here to accomplish. I watched the doctor, a slick, clean-shaven, but oddly weary-looking gentleman, extract the blood sample and place it inside a small machine. During my time at University I became a keen cyclist, even competing in the female time trials, and had read tales about the top athletes in the sport using a centrifuge to separate out the components of their blood. That’s the only reason I knew what this thing was and my father’s blood was now in it, circling around. I don’t know what it proved to the doctor but he was pleased with the results when he analysed the sample. He packed up and the woman emerged from the kitchen and opened the briefcase she had been carrying in front of my father. I was told to go into the kitchen with my traumatised mother for this part. We stood there, saying nothing between us, just staring into space as we had done for the entire night, both of us spent.
Soon after, I heard the front door open and they were gone. My mother and I re-entered the living room, and my father was facing away from us. He turned his head slowly as we walked through the door. Where his eyes were once white, the colour had returned. He resembled himself once again.
‘Contact lenses,’ he said. ‘I’m going to need these, I think. The doc reckons I’ve got as much as four years.’
Four years! From contemplating a life without my father, it was a second chance. A terminal illness yes, but acceptable given the alternative.
My father told us to sit with him and he described what we could expect over the months ahead. I recall everything he told us then and how prescient that doctor and his associate have been, because the course of events since have been as they predicted. NZ is very procedural in its control on the body, he explained, and that certain blood types, when interspersed with infected NZ, have the capacity to fight the infection better than others. He said that the Preservation’s three-minute rule applied to a significant percentage of the population, as their blood types would succumb to the infection within that timeframe. Others, though, like him, hold a level of resistance within their white blood cells that can prolong their human existence for an extended period. He will eventually concede defeat, but he is living proof that confounds a key element of what we have been told.