Saturday, 26 December 2009 - 9:04 pm

Boxed in

We’re all stuck inside right now, listening to the rain. There’s nothing for us to do, so I might as well write this.

Yesterday was a nice break for all of us, but we can’t afford to become complacent. Sometimes I think that the more we achieve, the more paranoid we need to become to protect it. The shamblers surprised us a few days ago, but they’re not the only threat we have to worry about. They might not even be the worst one.

My injured arm is still fairly useless. The shambler bit deep – Masterson said that I was lucky not to lose a chunk of flesh. I keep thinking about how Jonah’s leg looked, and then I feel ill, because that could have been me. That could have been my arm. It hurts badly enough to keep me awake for hours; I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now. He’s pale and struggling, and there isn’t anything we can do for him. We make sure he has food and water enough, and keep his wound clean. The last part is uncomfortable for everyone, though none so much as him; he screams. Sometimes he passes out, and that’s a blessing. It puts my hurt in perspective.

I decided to go out with the foragers again today. Food is still running short, especially after yesterday’s indulgences, so we need all the hands out there we can get. It only takes a couple of people to tend and plant the troughs. We have to leave one of the guys at the Farm to watch Warren – someone strong enough to keep a trained soldier in line – but otherwise all capable bodies have been put on the hunt.

We hadn’t meant to take most of the protection with us. It just worked out that way.

We didn’t discover the error until we returned to the Farm today. We’d had a pretty good day – no shamblers had turned up, and we had found some preserved food tucked away in a couple of houses. We had stayed out longer than usual, checking every place in our path from cupboards to crawlspaces, and we were all tired.

The first thing we noticed when we got back was the stillness. There would usually be someone around in the yard, most often the kids. The sky was thick and heavy, ready to rain at any second; our first thought was that they had all retreated inside.

When we got out of the vehicles, we heard shrieks and ran to the main building. We almost missed the fight, but no-one was that lucky.

There were half a dozen or so of them, lean men of varying ages, armed with machetes and clubs. They were spilling out of a side door, dragging Mira and Bree by the hair. Thorpe and Masterson were trying to fight them off. Bree was struggling and screaming, but Mira was a dead weight.

We didn’t hesitate: we dove straight into the fight when we saw what was going on. We caught them from behind, which gave us a brief advantage but meant that no-one dared to shoot at them. It would have been too easy to hit a friend, so we were forced to fight hand to hand. I stayed back – I couldn’t fight so well with my injured arm, and there wasn’t room for me in there.

There was so much blood. It spattered on everyone; I couldn’t tell who was hurt and who wasn’t. Mira’s bearer let go of her so he could swing at Bobby; I ducked in and grabbed her arm to drag her clear. She didn’t move when I set her down.

The fight had moved further into the yard by then, the intruders caught in a closing circle. Dr Kostoya helped me pull Bree clear. He was pale and shocked, and I asked him to look after her. The violence was no place for him. The kids appeared at the doorway and I told them to find Sally and stay with her and the baby. When they ran off, I saw a body lying in the hallway. Long, black hair spilt over her hands: Janice.

Bodies fell to the ground. Masterson was knocked unconscious, Thorpe had a nasty cut on his side, and Jersey had a head wound that had bled everywhere. Everyone else had minor injuries. Of our opponents, three were put down and unable to get up: two out cold and one curled up around a kicked groin. A blade hit the ground, rust-coloured with dried blood.

A flash of light caught my eye and I looked up. That’s when I remembered the rain that was about to come. It had stirred itself up into a storm, lacing the orange clouds with purple and splitting them with white flashes. Everyone was too busy fighting to notice.

“Rain’s coming!” I shouted, over and over until they started to hear me. The fighters peeled back from each other, torn between threats. “Get the injured inside. Hurry!”

People moved. The intruders grabbed their fallen friends and ran into the barn. I don’t know – or care – how badly they’re hurt. We retreated back into the main house. Someone thought to toss Warren into the room he sleeps in and lock the door, so he didn’t cause any trouble. Fat drops were starting to fall as we dragged the last of the Seekers inside. Mira’s boots were pitted in perfect circles before the door slammed shut against the downpour.

Masterson was still unconscious, so I was in charge of assessing the damage. I never missed him as badly as I did in the hour before he woke up. At the same time, I was grateful for my time with him and Simon, learning how to treat the injuries I was faced with today.

We lost two. Janice and Mira were both dead when I got to them. Janice had been gutted, her intestines spilt into the hallway. I’m not sure how or when Mira died – she was cut up badly and sticky with blood. I didn’t look very closely; there was the living to take care of. I closed their eyes and tried not to let my hands shake.

I was just cleaning myself up when the doctor came around. He’s concussed but he was able to check on my work. I was so scared that I had missed something, that one of them would die because I hadn’t done the right thing. He didn’t say anything to me, just made a few adjustments to dressings.

Thorpe’s side needed to be sewn back together – I made Masterson wait until he could see straight before he tried it. I remember how it felt when he stitched up the bite-mark in my arm; it’s not a job to be done without steady hands and eyes. I held the big fella’s hand while it was done. To his credit, he didn’t cry out; I wasn’t that strong under the needle. I had been a crying mess by the time the sewing was finished, and I was almost the same this time around, even though it wasn’t me being worked on.

Conroy did a headcount for me. He found Sally upstairs with the children. Iona was in the same room, refusing to come out of the closet. She wasn’t hurt, so no-one was inclined to force her. Everyone was accounted for. Including the dead.

Now we’re all sitting here, listening to the storm beating outside. All I can think about is the group in the barn. We don’t know who these people are or what they’re capable of. They killed two of us. They came in the back door and tried to sneak off with the girls, until the others answered calls for help and we returned home.

The storm is still going strong and puddles are building up outside. I don’t think we’ll be able to get out of here tonight, not until tomorrow’s sun has had a chance to burn off the surface water. Until then, we’re stuck here in this box, staring at the walls. Tomorrow, we’re going to have to do battle again. We’re going to have to finish this properly.

I don’t think any of us will sleep tonight. I need to go find Matt. I haven’t cried yet. I need to find a smaller box to close myself in, so I can pretend that today didn’t happen.