Tue, 6 January 2009 - 3:54 pm

Acid bite

We all knew that there were rats down in the bypass tunnel, but none of us had a clue that there were people down there.  We must have walked right past them.

My heart is still beating way too fast, and we got out of there hours ago.  We haven’t stopped since then, not until now, not until the sky started weeping its broken tears.  Now we’re holed up again, hunched and braced and waiting for the next thing to be thrown at us.  It seems that there’s always something.

Ben’s hurt.  There was no hiding it from anyone this time, not like that limp he had.  I can still hear him screaming.  He’s quiet now – we gave him half a bottle of whiskey so he could sleep – but I can still hear that moment when the acid bit him.  It’s imprinted on my eardrums.

 

The tunnel seemed like such a good idea at the time.  It was choked up with vehicles, crashed and abandoned, and there was a huge crack across the access road.  As if it had disengaged itself from the regular run of things.  But there was no water in it, and that seemed important at the time.

We had to climb our way into and through it.  A few metres past the gap-toothed maw, the weird orange light didn’t have the strength to do anything useful.  We felt our way, we murmured to each other, we linked hands, we stumbled and clambered.  We lost time in the darkness, and only once did we lose each other.  It took some frantic calling, but we found our scattered pieces again.

There were so many little noises in there, so loud and bouncing off concrete. They made us jump, made my skin crawl like a thousand spiders.  Rats the size of horses, cockroaches bigger than the silly white dog; that’s what it sounded like. We didn’t look for the sources of the noises; we just kept moving, trying to find a way through to the other side.

Oh, god.  The dog.  Dillon is still crying about that.

 

They came at us from the edges of the tunnel, as if the rain had washed them out of the shadows.  We weren’t even alarmed at first – I mean, they were just people.  We hadn’t seen many others since the rain started, so it was a bit of a relief.  A couple of us even smiled at them.

They weren’t smiling .  They were armed and they didn’t like us there in their tunnel.  They were dirty and lean, and demanded that we get out.  And we would have if it hadn’t been raining.  But what were we supposed to do?

Then one of them grabbed the dog.  It was just a little scrappy thing – no match for an adult who knew how to grab it by the back of the head.  He had a knife – not even a knife, really, just a jagged, twisted scrap of metal.  Sharp enough to gut the poor little thing, sharp enough to make it squeal.  The dog tried to cut its awful fate into glass by sound alone.

The next thing I know, I’m grabbing onto Dillon as he’s lunging past me, headlong towards that man with the knife.  He flung the dog’s body past us and into the rain.  It hit something on the way down – a pipe, maybe, I’m not sure – and then something was falling and splashing rainwater at us.

That’s when Ben got hit with it.  He was closest and took the brunt of the spray, right across his chest. 

It was chaos, then.  We were all shouting, Ben was screaming and trying to tear his shirt off, Thorpe was punching someone in the face repeatedly, Sax waded in with a pole, Sally curled up in a corner.  I lost Dillon in it somewhere and wound up yanking a teenaged girl off Sally on my way to Ben.

 

The tunnel-dwellers ran off eventually.  I didn’t even see them go; I was busy trying to get the damned rain off Ben.  I lost my shirt that way; it disintegrated, as did his and the one I was using to protect my hands.  I used up most of our water trying to rinse the acid off without washing it all over him.

That was probably stupid, but I didn’t care right then.  I just had to make it better, had to stop it burning him.

It looks so awful.  Holes pitted through his skin, exposing raw muscle beneath, great long gashes of it.  It didn’t go very deep, but the damage is still terrible.  It was all I could do to make up some kind of dressing to cover it all up.

 

It was dark by the time the rain stopped, and between the puddled water and the darkness, we couldn’t go anywhere.  We slept in shifts, and those standing guard armed themselves with something heavy and swingable.  I barely slept at all, between the ache in my arm, holding Dillon while he cried, and listening to Ben trying not to moan.  Every little noise made me flinch, made my heartbeat ratchet up a notch.

As soon as it was light enough to see, we picked each other up and headed out of there.  We heard them through the night, the tunnel-dwellers, and we didn’t wait for them to see us off.  We just grabbed everything and everyone and made tracks, and we kept going until the sky thickened again.

And now here we are.  Here comes another night, and I think we might have to keep guard again.  Just in case.

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