Mon, 2 November 2009 - 8:04 pm

A rest in darkness

In the dark of last night, there was a thud upstairs. I was staying in the infirmary again – somehow, little Debbie was still hanging on and I didn’t want to leave her. Jonah was fast asleep on one of the infirmary beds, better able to ignore the noise in the room now that the child was barely breathing at all.

While I’ve been watching over Debbie, I’ve heard the thumps from downstairs, drifting to me through the dark hours. Those distant, almost-rhythmic thumps, beating in time with a broken hunger. I know what makes those noises, chained in the dark, never sleeping, never stopping. It’s easier to block out the shamblers’ chain-rattling during the day, but it always seeps up to us at night.

I’m doing better at ignoring it now, and trying not to think of the small accompaniment that will soon be joining them.

Last night, the thud came from above and inspired a spark of hope in my chest rather than a squirl of disgust in my stomach. Shamblers just aren’t smart enough to climb in through upstairs windows.

I checked on Jonah, but he was out cold. He was lying with his arm flung over his head to block out the wavering light from the candle by Debbie’s bed. I leant on the creaky floorboard near his bed, twice, and he didn’t move. Satisfied, I snuck off towards the door to the stairwell.

I should have taken the candle with me, but I couldn’t bring myself to rob a little girl of the only nightlight. It seemed wrong to plunge her into darkness, even if she was unlikely to ever know about it. It made a difference to me.

So I left it behind. The stairwell door flapped closed behind me, shutting out the last dregs of yellowish light, and I was wrapped in a thick black blanket. I wondered if my sentimentality was worth it as I stubbed my toes on the first step. I tried to be quiet, feeling my way up like the clumsiest ninja in the class. When I got to the top of the flight, I nearly fell on my face by trying to step up onto a step that wasn’t there and had to grab at the wall.

The next thing I knew, there was a hand on my arm. My heart nearly stopped and I had to stop myself from flinching backwards down the stairs.

 

Then there was a familiar voice in my ear with a riff of laughter. I sagged. Matt. Of all the times to creep into the infirmary, he had to pick the middle of the night and sneak up on me. I would have smacked him if I had been able to see what I was hitting. I hissed his name and he chuckled at me. Then he slid his hand down my arm to link fingers with me so he could lead me off into the melted-walled room.

He told me that he’d had to wait until the rain dried up enough for him to come. It was getting harder for him to get away – I was right, I’m not the only one being watched at the moment. Between that and the distinctive limp that slows him down, he has been stuck with the boys.

“For some reason, that’s not as fun as it could be,” he mused. I laughed and slipped in for a hug, apologising for ruining his fun. He grinned and forgave me. He always knows how to cheer me up.

Then he asked how I was and I didn’t know how to answer him. I sagged again, but from the weight of sadness rather than relief this time. I stumbled over my explanations, telling him about the missing food stash – that subject made him suddenly solemn – and Jonah and Debbie. He stroked his fingers through my hair and let me lean on him, and murmured something soothing. We weren’t in trouble, we were doing okay, he said. We were lucky that Jonah wasn’t being a bastard, and as for Debbie… well. All we can do is try to make the end better for her, and she’s lucky to have that much.

He didn’t need to say that some people wouldn’t look after her at all. Some groups tossed their Sick out into the rain to be rid of the threat and the mess. I don’t doubt that some people with a sniffle or a cold been killed that way, just in case. Paranoia has a lot to answer for in these times.

I tried not to think about all that. It was upsetting enough unloading onto Matt, finally letting all of this stuff out and trying not to spill it in tears. He listened, like he always has, but closer than he used to. It’s nice, having a solid person to lean on and have him rest on me in turn.

He sighed when I asked him what’s been happening with him. Things on the boys’ side are no better than they are here. There’s pressure for everyone to help out with the Converter reconstruction and a lot of impatience with the injured who can’t pull their weight. Like Matt, who is still recovering from being stabbed and isn’t back up to full strength yet. He’s fetching and carrying a lot, which isn’t giving his leg the rest it needs, but at least he’s able to talk to most of the Seekers in his travels.

He’s fairly sure that a contingent of the cutouts – he calls them the Scouts – is watching everyone very closely, like snakes in their grass. Whatever snatches of communication he gets with others has to be light and brief. He talked about trying to make up clever codes but was afraid it would only confuse things. They still manage to say what they need to say in euphemisms and sideways references.

He says that the girls have worked out a way to get food out of the stores and over to Jersey’s hiding place. We’re not sure how much they’ve managed to smuggle out yet, but Jersey will let us know when we have enough to support the group for a week. Soon, they promise. Soon.

With all the attention on us, it makes me nervous to think about the risks the girls are taking. A week’s worth of food and water for the Seekers – plus the additional two who might be coming along – is a lot. I don’t know how they’re shifting it all, or how cautious they’re being. A part of me wants to trust them to look after themselves, but I know I’ll feel responsible if they get caught or if something bad happens to them.

“Tell them to be careful,” I asked him. It’s all I can do – pass on wishes and hope they come true. It’s not much use but it’s what we’ve got. I’m so sick of making do.

I rested my forehead against Matt’s, glad at least for him and a stolen closeness that will prop me up during the time we’re apart. I will have that and the promise that we’ll have more of it soon, always ‘soon’. Just a few more days. In the meantime, we took what comfort we could in each other.

 

That was when Jonah walked into the room and pinned us in a flashlight’s beam.

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