Wednesday, 18 March 2009 - 11:38 am

Carlos’s story

Last night, I was surprised when our shelter-guests came over to talk to us. It was some time after it had grown quiet in the store; the rain was pounding down outside and it was just starting to get dark. My group and I had settled down together to eat, sharing the food around so that everyone had a bit of everything. It’s better that way, rather than eating an entire can of peaches or peas or beans for a meal.

We glanced at each other when the trio approached, and when no-one else moved, I stood up to meet them. Ben joined me, of course. I saw Matt and Thorpe out of the corner of my eye, quietly putting their food down and paying attention, just in case.

“You have any water?” The battered fella was speaking, standing in front of the angry-eyed girl. She looked about fit to burst, but at least kept it to herself. His name is Carlos.

“Some,” I told them. There were bottles sitting on the floor behind me, so there was no point being coy about it. “Did you want to trade something for it?” I’m not foolish enough to give away our water; it’s precious stuff, not easy to find. And these people hadn’t endeared themselves to us.

They offered us some food, and after some back-and-forthing, we made a deal. The exchange went smoothly and I think we all relaxed after that. No-one had tried anything and that laid down some trust between us. A straight-done deal makes everyone happier, I think.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be out of here as soon as it stops raining,” Carlos said as he passed bottles of water back to his friends.

I shrugged. “If that’s what you want to do.”

“Don’t want to stay around here any longer than necessary.” He wasn’t talking about us; he gave a shudder that made me look at him more sharply.

“Why? What happened to you?”

He hesitated, groping for a place to start. “There’s… something making people crazy.”

I frowned and asked what he meant. It was very stop and start, but I eventually got the story out of him. His friends filled in some details and a number of my group gathered up around me to listen as well.


They had been moving through the district that they called their own, looking for water – their group had been as big as ours then. They had come across another gang and tried to scare them off. They shouted and threatened, but the gang didn’t respond: they just kept coming. They moved strangely, as if they were in some kind of twitching trance. Even thrown rocks had no effect – the gang didn’t flinch, they didn’t shout or get angry. They just kept coming.

Becoming freaked out, the group had moved off, leaving the weird people to themselves. But that night, after the rain had stopped, the gang turned up again. It broke into the apartment complex that Carlos’s group called home and stalked them up to the top floor. There was fighting, and Carlos’s friends lost badly. These strangers couldn’t be fought back and they didn’t seem to feel pain. They just kept coming, until they grabbed one of the group and dragged the person down, kicking and screaming. Others stepped over their ravaging comrades to grab someone else. They didn’t go for the supplies that were thrown at them; they just kept reaching for Carlos’s companions.

He didn’t stick around to find out how his friends died. He just took those he could down a back staircase and then ran like hell. The three of them had been running ever since; they’re sure that the gang is following them, though they haven’t seen them in a day or so. They don’t intend to stop any time soon in case they find out they’re right.

As soon as the rain stopped, they gathered up their everything and headed out. The soles of their boots hissed on the wet ground, a sound that made me shiver.


It’s a strange story. I’m not sure if I believe all of it, but I am sure that Carlos believes it. He was disturbed and struggling enough for it to be true; he didn’t strike me as fanciful or a liar, and those who heard his story agree with me.

I’m not sure what to think of it all. I’m worried that it’s true enough to be a danger to us – terrible things are easy to believe in. What could cause a person to become so maddened that they would just attack like that? I’ve seen people willing to attack for food and water, I’ve seen people attack just to beat down the other guy. But not the way that he described, not that mindlessly.

We’re all on edge again, alert and wary of every shift in the air around us. We’ve doubled our watches at night. Just in case they were telling some truth.