Thu, 1 January 2009 - 4:06 pm

Days Gone By

2009.  Happy New Year.

 

New year, new start, resolutions, parties and poppers and fireworks.  It’s supposed to be such a time of hope, but the world is broken.  A part of me is scared that the world ended with 2008 and that there is nothing else now.  I’m trying not to listen to that part, but its voice is there, niggling at me like mouse teeth.

There were no fireworks last night, just acid rain falling from a scorched sky while the sun retreated.  All the familiar things have melted away, although a few of us did raid the café’s bar and get quite drunk.  To forget, to numb ourselves, to blur the mental images of dissolving people.  It was anything but a celebration.

 

Today, everyone was quiet.  Even Simon; he has slipped into unconsciousness now, I think.  His fever is worse and he’s not moaning any more.  I think we’re all missing Delaine’s complaining, too, as annoying as it was.  He said what none of us felt brave enough to.  He made us stronger by giving us someone to argue with.

No-one wants to do anything.  Without Carter, we have no direction, no-one telling us what we need to do next.  The dregs of us are left here, looking at each other or at nothing at all.  It was like some strange staring competition, and I think I lost.

It was Dillon’s face that did it.  He was looking at me for direction again, like he did that first day up in the city.  Thorpe is lost in his own world; he hasn’t spoken to anyone since the rain started and took his friends away.  Ben keeps trying to talk to him, but he’s having no luck at all.  Sally won’t stop rocking and rubbing her arms; they’re almost raw now.  Sax is cradling Nugget like she’s a favourite childhood toy. 

So I sent Dillon off on an errand. The first thing I could think of: fetch as many bottles of water and soft drinks as he could find and carry.  With strict instructions not to stray away from cover and to keep an eye on the sky. 

Then others were looking at me with Dillon’s eyes.  I remembered then why I was so grateful for Carter’s presence, I remembered how relieved I was when those fire trucks first turned up.  It was so I didn’t have to do this any more.  So I didn’t have to take responsibility, so I didn’t have to shoulder up the weight of all these people.

The only things I could think of to do was sort out food and water.  Dillon was on the water, so I sent Sally and Ben to go look at the food situation.  I didn’t know what to do with the others, or myself.  I don’t know what I’m doing at all.  I’m floundering, grasping at whatever scraps of sense I can.  All I can think of to do is carry on with the path that Carter had set us on – get together a plan to get to the hospital.

 

The stuff that Carter and Trevor had collected was lying out in the street, next to their clothes.  I didn’t dare to touch their clothes.  It’s hard to say why; I think I was afraid of what I might find in them.  Would it be worse for there to be something left under there, or nothing at all?  I wanted to look just so I stop wondering, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  And more than that, it seemed disrespectful to go peeking in there.  They were people.  They were friends, as little as I knew them.  It just didn’t seem right.

The rain hadn’t scorched the things they had been bringing back for us, apart from what I think used to be paper.  It had all dried overnight and didn’t carry any acid (I tested that very nervously with a stupid finger), so I brought it inside.  We’ll look at it tomorrow and go from there.  I don’t think I can get us moving today.

 

It started raining again about half an hour ago.  I lost it a little bit, running around and making sure that everyone was inside.  Checking we were all right, looking into everyone’s faces for a trace of the lawyerlady’s eyes.  Dillon was back by then; we were all here.  They probably all think I’m crazy now. 

Then all there was to do was wait and listen to it hissing down.  I tried to think of things we could busy ourselves with, but there’s nothing.  My mind won’t work like that today.

So here I am, trying not to listen to the rain, trying not to wonder how many were caught out in it yesterday, trying not to wonder how many strayed out into it today.  Trying to forget about the ache in my arm and the sore lip where Thorpe punched me.

I keep coming back to the fact that it’s New Year’s Day today.  It makes my hands shake and this aching lump twist in my chest.  The date has changed and the past is gone now; we’ll never get it back.  None of it.

It hurts to look back, to think about the past week and everything that has come tumbling down.  Trying to look back at what came before that is worse, because it feels like a dream.  This – all of this – should be the part that feels like a nightmare (and it does), but it’s the normal stuff that’s slipping away from me.  I don’t want to look backwards any more.  We’re supposed to be raising a glass to days gone by today.

My glass is hollow; the bottom has fallen out of it.

 

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Share
Tags: , , ,
 
Fri, 2 January 2009 - 2:42 pm

Simon

Simon died last night.  No-one knows when; he went quietly, in his sleep.  I don’t know if it was his injuries or the infection; probably both.  He never got the help he needed, and now he’s dead.

We gathered around him this morning.  No-one said anything; we had a moment of silence almost by accident. 

Then there was breakfast to sort out and water to portion out.  Food and water, water and food; it always comes back to them.  I had to shoo a couple of the others away from there before they would do something useful.  Something else.

 

The worst thing is that it was a relief.  Simon’s suffering is over now.  We don’t have to soothe him, or try to get water in between his burnt lips.  I don’t have to wonder any more if all of these delays will kill him.  If I’m going to kill him by doing the wrong thing.

No wondering any more; he’s gone and I failed to get him to the hospital in time.  I don’t know what else I could have done to save him – I keep trying to work it out, but I can’t think of anything else I should have done.  There must have been something.  Maybe I’m not smart enough, or experienced enough.  I shouldn’t be in charge here.  How did I end up in charge?

It’s an awful feeling, the guilt of being glad that someone is dead.  It settles in my stomach like warm poison, like rancid alcohol.  I didn’t know I could ever feel that way about someone.  I keep telling myself that the relief is for his sake, for his peace, but I think that’s a lie.  I think I’m glad he’s gone, because it’s simpler and easier for us that way.

I think I’m a terrible person.  I don’t want to think about someone’s life like that.  Is it just the situation that is making me like this, or was I always this callous?  Always this selfish?  What the hell am I doing?

Share
Tags:
 
Fri, 2 January 2009 - 6:24 pm

Pushing on

I couldn’t keep thinking about Simon.  Instead, I looked through the equipment that Carter collected before the rain took him.  Laid out the map and tried to figure out where we are, where we need to be.  Tried to work out a route to the hospital.

Thorpe asked me why I was bothering.  He’s come out of his silence to snap at everyone with poisonous pessimism.  I almost took his head off.  I told him to go ask Nugget if we should just forget the hospital trip and fester here forever.  Not to mention that there might be real help there, actual contact with organised people.

The kid is still not doing well.  She has one blown pupil in a bloodshot eye and she isn’t awake much.  (I had thought that she was a he, but apparently I wasn’t paying close enough attention.  I’m not doing much right at the moment, it seems.  I feel like I’m stumbling all the time.)  Sax managed to get her to eat today.  I don’t know enough about headwounds to help her; I just know that it’s bad and she needs proper medical care.

I don’t want to lose her too.

 

I found a truck down the street that will hold all of us.  All of us that are left.  I spent most of the day going over the engine, trying to figure out if we can get it going.  All those years watching my dad fiddle with engines seem to be useful for something after all. 

I can’t think about my dad right now.  It makes my throat close up; it makes me useless.

Ben came to help me; he’s often at my elbow lately, which is helpful considering that I still can’t use one arm.  We managed to figure out that the truck’s battery still has juice but the ignition is dead.  Then the rain forced us to scurry back inside.

 

The laptop is almost out of juice.  How will I cope when that happens?  My writing arm is broken – I can’t hold a pen.  I don’t know what to do about all the things that are broken.

 

Someone just asked if we should bury Simon.  I have no idea what to tell them.

Share
Tags: ,
 
Fri, 2 January 2009 - 9:16 pm

For the fallen

Sax sang for Simon tonight.  He gathered us all around and said goodbye to him for us, goodbye to a man none of us really knew.  We knew that his name was Simon Richards.  We knew that he struggled with his pain and tried not to let it out.  We knew that he pushed on when we asked him to, up to and often past his limits; he collapsed more than once.  We knew that he knew we wanted to help him.  But we didn’t know who he was.  We didn’t know his face before it was burnt.

Sax sang Amazing Grace for him.  It was beautiful, and sad, and heartbreaking.  It’s my favourite of all the hymns, but I couldn’t join in for the thickness in my throat.  I don’t know how Sax managed to finish it.  I wasn’t the only one crying by the end, and it wouldn’t stop even after we covered Simon’s face up.

I thought about all those who had fallen, about strong Carter and Trevor, and sensible Liz and the kid, and the poor lawyerlady.  I thought about Harry.  They never got words spoken for them, or a song to carry them away.  I’ve said words for them in my heart – does that count?  It doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m not religious enough to take comfort in spirit alone.  But I hope that they know, and I hope that Simon heard us.

Sleep well, my friends.

Share
Tags: ,
 
Sat, 3 January 2009 - 3:19 pm

Truck!

We managed to get the truck running today.  It took all of us – except little Nugget, of course – to do it.  Ben taught me how to bump-start the car from the inside – I’d never done it before, and because I can’t push, I got to drive.

I didn’t realise how quiet it was around here until that engine chugged to life.  We all laughed and there was much back-slapping.  It felt so strange to smile like that; my face had forgotten how.  It seems like forever since we had a reason.  Since we made some real progress against the disintegration of everything around us.  And this feels like a win.  It feels wonderful.

I feel like I could danc

Share
 
Sun, 4 January 2009 - 9:46 pm

Sax

The laptop battery finally gave out in my last post.  I almost burst into tears right there and then.  It feels horribly foolish, being so attached to this thing I’m doing here, this chunk of moulded metal and plastic, this journal of my strangely spiralling life.  We seem to cling to the strangest things when things fall apart.  Little trinkets, big trinkets.  This is mine, I guess.

It was Sax who fixed it for me.  The big, quiet fella who likes to carry a dented saxaphone around, as if it carries the memory of all the songs it has played.  I remember the soft wail of it in the mall, and the picture he made in his faded suit.  He seems more solid these days, but it’s hard to know if that’s just because he’s not a part of the scenery to me any more.

Turns out, he’s a dab hand with electronics.  He got Dillon to fetch him some parts, and he rigged up a power-converter-type thing to hook up to a car battery.  There are lots around, all of them useless since the ignitions fried.  It feels naughty, sneaking in under a bonnet and sucking out the juice, but it’s not like anyone else is here to use it.  I’m still not used to all the stealing.

 

It was Thorpe who asked how this beautiful piece of machinery is still working when everything else has fried.  I had wondered before, but honestly, I was afraid to ask.  As if that might magically make it not so.  Like a wound that doesn’t hurt until you look at it and know that it has to be painful.

Trust Thorpe to be a douse of ice down our backs.  He’s a miserable piece of work, but at least he puts his shoulder in with the rest of the group.  He’s probably the strongest of all of us; he’s certainly the tallest and broadest, though Sax beats him on sheer bulk.  If only he wasn’t such a dick.

There was an accusation in the way he looked at me, as if I had somehow conspired to keep this machine safe.  As if somehow I was responsible for all of this, as if I had known about it all in advance.  I was so shocked that my throat closed up; I just stared at him.  It was so ridiculous I had no idea how to respond.

Sax came to my rescue.  He’d just got done making Nugget drink something and turned his ponderous attention onto Thorpe.

“The case saved it,” he said, as if that explained everything.  We all looked at him like he was talking in tongues. 

“What’s that got to do with anything?”  Trust Thorpe to recover first and inject something disparaging.  The thing was, I had no idea what the case had to do with anything either. 

“It’s made of metal,” Sax pointed out.  Then he said something about creating a cage and that meant that the pulse couldn’t get through it.  I didn’t understand that part, but basically the case stopped it from being fried.  It’s also dented from some of the recent punishment.

I only bought the case because it was silver and shiny and I liked it.  Who knew, huh?

 

And now it’s back and working, and here I am typing away again.  The thin thread of my comfort and sanity has been restored.  I’m so relieved that I could dance around.

Share
Tags: ,
 
Mon, 5 January 2009 - 9:25 am

Catching up

I’m so behind on everything.  It took us half a day to get out of the café, between getting the truck working, collecting supplies and packing them into it, and then squeezing everyone inside. 

It was slow going.  I hadn’t really noticed before, but there are vehicles all over the road.  Some crashed when they were fried, some just stopped, some were obviously picked up and tossed.  I suspect some of them used to be in different streets entirely; they were carried to their resting places by the blast, like toys, like Dorothy’s house.  In amongst all of it is a hefty serving of debris from shattered buildings.

We had to inch around the obstacles, and a couple of times, the guys had to pile out to shove a car out of the way and open a path.  I lost count of the times we had to backtrack to find a clearer way.

At one point Ben just gave up and scraped past a car, exchanging paint and teeth-edging screeches.  We winced and he shrugged – why protect a paintjob anyway?  It’s not like aesthetics matter, and now it seems strange that we had been so careful before.  It’s silly when I stop and think about it, and yet it was second nature to us. 

I don’t know if this is really faster than walking.  It still feels better to be driving, though.  To not be kicking at the ground any more, to feel like we’re actually making progress.  To give our feet a rest and be going somewhere at the same time.  To not be holed up somewhere like rats who have no idea what to do about the sinking of the ship.

 

We stopped about mid-afternoon and looked for somewhere to take shelter.  The sky was thickening – it’s still orange, still huddling low above us.  It seems to be some kind of cloud cover, but one that the wind isn’t able to tear apart.  I have yet to see a glimpse of blue, and as a passenger in the truck, I did a lot of looking.

The sight of that sky still makes me nauseous.  It taints the sunlight and it robs us of the moon and stars at night.  No blue, and no clean, spangled black either.  It glows red in the mornings and seeps everything ruddy.  It makes me want to scrub my eyes, but they’ll never come clear.

There’s less smoke-scarring up there now; I think the rain has put out the fires.  So it’s good for that much, at least.  We had only just settled down in our shelter when the rainfall started again.  It seems that the cluttering up of the clouds into a thicker, darker mass is a sign to take cover, after all.

 

The next day – yesterday – was more of the same.  Painfully slow chugging, shoehorning our way through the mass of debris.  We’re making our way westwards along the river – we looked at the bridges to the east, but the one we came over on is broken, and the next one is too close to the CBD – it’s the one we fled over to get out of there.  If it’s still standing, it’ll be near impossible to get to. 

West is the bypass tunnel under the river.  We didn’t know if it was open, or clogged, or collapsed in on itself like a broken windpipe.  It was the best one to try, so that’s what we did. 

We were about a block away from it when we got caught out by the rain.  It was spotting on the windscreen before we realised that the clouds had thickened, and Ben yanked the wheel around.  The truck bounced off the road and right through the front of a clothes store.  A mannequin bounced off the bonnet, its head ricocheting into a rack of pants.

I think that shook him up a bit.  For a heartbeat, it looked like a person, ploughed through like tissuepaper.  A couple of us cried out in horror at the sight of it – I think I was one of them.  We almost laughed when we realised what it was.  Ben didn’t look like laughing, though.

 

There’s not much chance of us getting the truck running today.  We’re not going to get it out of the store, and the roads here are too thick with dead cars to have room to bump-start it.  It was almost out of gas anyway.  We’re close to the tunnel, so we’re going to take a look before we try to find another vehicle.

Share
Tags: , ,
 
Mon, 5 January 2009 - 4:37 pm

We’re not alone

The tunnel was terrifying.  I feel like I’m back in a horror movie again, all shadows and creeping noises.  We’re still trapped inside it, listening to the hiss of the rain and watching the floor for runoff. 

We’re not alone down here.

The stupid dog won’t stop barking.  It’s dark down here, suffocatingly so.  But the acid keeps us away from the open mouth, keeps us huddling in the shadows while the sun dies under the pounding of poisoned water.

I wonder what will happen if the drains all fill up.  Now I wish I hadn’t thought about that.

 

Wait, the dog’s gone quiet.  Somehow that’s worse than the damn thing making all that noise.  Better go see what’s up – I’ll be right back.

Share
 
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.

Share
Tags: , ,
 
Wed, 7 January 2009 - 5:17 pm

Knife

Today has been much less eventful.  Today has been about regrouping and resupplying, and letting the injured rest.  Mostly, that’s Ben and Nugget, though some of the others keep telling me to sit down and take it easy, too.  We had to give Ben some more alcohol so that he could sleep.  Nugget needed no such encouragement.

I keep thinking about the fight yesterday.  I’ve never been in anything like that before; the one we ran away from a few days didn’t get that close.  We weren’t involved; I wasn’t involved.  We just ran and stayed out of it.  Yesterday, it was all so quick.  There was no time to think; just react.  I waded in just like everyone else, and I’m not sure what that says about me.

I keep hearing the wet thuds of Thorpe’s punches, or the hollowness of Sax’s pipe landing.  Or the slick sound of that knife, and the squeal of the dog.  Or the hiss of the acid hitting something soft and soluble.

My arm aches all the time now; I think it got knocked more than once in all of that.  I’m trying to ignore it; I can feel the panic climbing up my throat if I think about it too much.  It’s bound up tightly and that will have to do until we reach the hospital.  But it’s been over a week now — what if it’s knitting already, what if it heals wrong?  What if they can’t put it right?  What if there’s no-one there to help me?

If I think about it too much, I feel like I’m suffocating.

Then I look at Ben and Nugget, and I’m ashamed of myself.  They’re so much worse off.  Ben’s in so much pain, and I don’t know when Nugget last woke up.  I’m afraid to ask.  I shouldn’t be so concerned about my stupid arm, but I can’t help it.

 

The others brought back some weapons from a sports store they found.  There wasn’t much left, they said – all the really good (wicked) stuff had already been taken.  They scavenged what they could from the wreckage the looters had left.

I stood and looked at them for a long time, and then I took one.  I have it on my belt now, under the hem of my shirt: a little hunting knife.  I can feel its uncompromising weight pressing on me there.  Me.  Carrying a knife.  I can’t believe it.  But it feels better.

I’m afraid of everything right now.  Where we’re going, what we’ll find there.  What we’ll find on the way.  If we’ll ever make it.  Who I’m becoming through all of this.

My friends used to know me as Mac, but no-one here calls me that.  I have no idea who Faith is, this girl who carries a knife.

Share