Mark parked the car squarely in the middle of the tar road before the closed, locked, shut, unmanned West Gate.
The boom was down, the metal gates chained. The guardhouse was dark, and even from that distance it looked deserted. None of them spoke. Mark considered the road beyond the gate, the continuation of the road they were on, which was one and the same and yet irretrievably different. Outside the park the trees were more contained, thinned out and manicured, and the road was less dusty. It swept away to the top of a rise and disappeared from view. And as it did so he felt a version of himself, fresher, neater and more tamed, disappear from view along it.
Mark unlocked his door, but hesitated about getting out. They were in the park proper, not at a rest camp or picnic spot, and it was becoming increasingly clear to him that they had been left behind, somehow, or abandoned.
He drove as close as he could get to the gate and climbed out cautiously to confirm that it was impenetrable.
‘I think we should climb over.’ Shaun’s voice made Mark flinch, shattering his thoughts.
Ryan grunted his assent, coming to stand behind them, his arms hanging alongside his thighs, palms turned inwards, gorilla-like.
‘Fence is electric,’ said Mark. He bent and broke off a long blade of grass and touched it to the fence; there was a loud tick as the current jolted through it and he felt a small bubble of electricity travel up his fingers.
‘Not the gate,’ said Shaun, repeating his trick, and then rapping on the gate with his knuckles.
‘What’s the point? That’s probably a private reserve out there anyway. They’re dotted all along the borders of the park. Could stretch for ages until you’re properly out.’
‘This is fucking bullshit.’ Shaun gripped the gate in both hands. ‘I am tired and hungry and I’m getting the fuck out of here.’
He watched Shaun wedge the toe of his tekkie on a crossbar and haul himself onto the gate. ‘And what are you going to do when you get out? What then?’ His voice rose into a shout. He felt desperate to fill the empty space around them with noise.
Shaun did not answer. He climbed further, avoiding the sharp curlicue barbs spiking out from the gate at irregular intervals. Mark watched helplessly, Ryan breathing heavily and flapping his T-shirt beside him.
Mark estimated that Shaun was three-quarters of the way up the fence when an unmistakably human and mechanical sound splintered the air: a gunshot. The noise reverberated and ricocheted off the trees and sky and Mark dropped to the dusty ground. He heard Shaun shout as he fell and then saw the dust thud up as he hit the ground.
‘What the fuck – what the fuck’– He tried to stop the words from coming out of his mouth as he stared around, dragging his cheeks across the ground and searching for the source.
A voice, distorted and magnified, rang out: That was a warning shot. Do not attempt to climb the gate again.
Mark crouched shakily, staring out through the gate. He could just make out a silhouette coming into view at the top of the rise.
This park has been quarantined. Do not attempt to leave or break the quarantine again. This is for your own safety. I repeat, do not attempt to breach the perimeter.
Mark squinted at the figure and then scuttled sideways towards the open car door, pulling binoculars from the interior and focusing them on the silhouette.
A buffer zone has been established outside the Park. Any person in that buffer zone will be shot on sight. Do not attempt to breach the perimeter.
Army fatigues sharpened into clarity as more men joined the speaker on the rise. Mark watched as he raised the loudspeaker again. The barrel of his gun stuck up behind him.
Tests are underway. Once the incubation period of the virus has been established the park will be de-quarantined.
The soldier turned to his companion, who had raised binoculars of his own and was studying Mark as intently as Mark was him, and consulted with him before continuing.
Leave the perimeter immediately. Avoid contact with other people.
He lowered the loudspeaker and turned away. Mark stood up and raised a hand, unsure of anything except that he didn’t want to be left.
‘Wait!’ he shouted, immediately regretting it.
I repeat. move away from the perimeter and avoid contact with other people.
The soldier turned and, almost as an afterthought, spoke once more.
‘What the fuck?’ Mark looked at Ryan, who was crouched beside him. ‘We’ve got to get out of here before they start shooting off more warning shots.’
Shaun groaned loudly and Mark turned to look at him, snapping his mouth shut.
‘Shit, are you OK?’
‘Jesus! You’re fucking bleeding, dude.’ Ryan was sitting in the dust; he scrambled to his feet and helped Mark pull Shaun off the ground.
‘Did the shot’ –
‘Fucking barbed wire on the gate.’ Shaun spat on the ground as Mark and Ryan sat him on the backseat of the car. Blood was spurting out of a ragged cut down the inside of his arm. Mark winced and tried not to look at it, handing him a towel from the back of the car.
‘Shit, we’ve got to get away from here, boet. Then we can look at it.’ Mark helped Shaun wrap his arm up in the towel, pulling it tight over the wound, and then ran around to the driver’s seat.
‘There was a lookout spot a little way back,’ suggested Ryan.
Mark drove flat out, the car flying over the bumps in the road, Shaun groaning and swearing. He turned into the lookout point and parked. Ryan helped Shaun sit up in the backseat with his legs outside of the car and his injured arm on his lap.
‘Let’s take a look,’ said Ryan, kneeling in front of Shaun and nodding at Mark to do the same.
Mark rotated the injured arm gently and felt his torso ripple in a heave as he looked at the wound.
He turned his head and swallowed, and then turned back to Shaun to examine the tear. Shaun’s inner left arm was ripped. There was a long gash about ten centimetres long between wrist and elbow, the skin flapping outwards and blood still pumping sluggishly out. Ryan pressed down hard on it with the towel and gestured for Mark to raise it higher into the air. With the wound cleared of excess blood, Mark could see through to layers of flesh and muscle. It was quite deep in one spot, and there were several other, shallower tears around the main wound.
‘How, how bad is it?’ Shaun’s face was completely white and Mark thought that all the blood in his head must be draining out of his arm.
‘It probably needs stitches,’ said Ryan calmly, ‘but I think you were actually lucky, it’s not bleeding that much, so I think you missed nicking major veins or arteries.’
Mark gaped at Ryan as he continued to gently pat at the wound, mopping up the blood.
‘My mom’s a nurse, remember,’ Ryan said, and Mark nodded. ‘Can you grab the plasters? They’ll have to do.’
Mark ran around to the boot and felt relief wash over him as he found the packet with the plasters and Savlon disinfectant liquid. He walked back around the car and held them out to Ryan, whose bulk now seemed authoritative and reassuring – he had somehow drawn his stomach up into his chest. Ryan held Shaun’s arm in the air with the towel wrapped around it and Mark was for the first time incredibly glad that his brother-in-law was there.
‘Dilute some of that Savlon, will you, so we can wash it. Shaun, hold the towel on and keep it in the air, dude.’
Mark did as he was told, placing the cooler box lid upside down on the ground beside Shaun. He filled the shallow vessel with water and mixed in about half of the small bottle of Savlon, stopping at Ryan’s ‘Not too much.’
Ryan was laying out the plasters, tutting over the poor selection. They were at least the fabric kind, which seemed more medical to Mark than the plastic ones with dinosaurs that he had always had as a child.
‘Remember monkey’s blood and the dinosaur plasters?’ He looked at Shaun, who had his eyes closed and his arms raised above his head. Shaun smiled and nodded, not opening his eyes. Ryan lowered Shaun’s arm and peeled off the towel, which had gone from a dirty grey to a bright red. The seeping blood had slowed, and the wound was even more worrying now that it was unobscured. Mark stared at it, fixated by the anatomy on show, the layers of fat and skin and muscle visible in the deepest part of the gash; he leaned in closer, focusing on a flap of already shrivelled skin that reminded him of the slimy uncooked chicken skin on a drumstick.
‘Hold his arm still so I can wash it.’ Ryan snapped his fingers in front of Mark’s face and Mark shook his head and then gripped Shaun’s hand and elbow awkwardly, his fingers slipping, unsure where to hold.
Ryan splashed some of the diluted antiseptic over the wound and Shaun groaned and twisted; Mark tightened his grip and noticed beads of sweat forming along his friend’s receding hairline. Ryan washed the arm again and then towelled it off. He ran his hands through the remainder of the antiseptic, scrubbing them together to get them clean, and then grimaced and began to try to close the wound. He pushed the flesh back into its original place, laying the torn skin over it, pinching the flapping lips of the tear shut. All the while blood continued to pump out in time with Shaun’s heartbeat, which Mark could feel in the crook of his elbow. Once Ryan had laid the bits of flesh roughly back in place, a grisly jigsaw with the pieces lined up but not clicked together, he began to select plasters. He picked the long thin ones, which could reach across the wound.
‘Shaun, hold it still now, buddy. I need Mark to help me with these Band-Aids.’ Ryan looked at him and he nodded, releasing Shaun’s arm. They peeled off the backings of the plasters and Mark watched Ryan demonstrate with the first one, closest to the elbow. He placed one end of it on Shaun’s unbroken skin and then stretched it across, pinching the wound closed with his other hand and laying it down on the other side. Mark started at the wrist and they worked steadily, using up three quarters of the box of plasters, laying them as close together as possible until they had covered the entire rip with sticky fabric. Ryan shredded the towel into strips and wound them around Shaun’s arm to finish.
‘It’s gonna be a bitch coming off, but it’ll do for now.’