Tuesday, 7 July 2009 - 4:23 pm


I thought that we had outpaced the runners, but I was wrong. We found another clump today desperately reversing course. Shamblers don’t only exist in the north and west; they stumble all over these outlying suburbs, and this group had discovered another gaggle of ravenous ex-people.

They were running towards us when they came into sight. I stopped the convoy, not quite foolish enough to plough on towards whatever they were running from. They didn’t stop even when they came abreast of us – they just kept on running around and past the vehicles. I saw someone fall in my rearview mirror, and then there was movement ahead. Jerking, wobbling. Shamblers.

There was a flash behind me – the door of an offroader had been opened. Matt was leaning out of the driver’s window and beckoning. The faller and the one who stopped to help him scrambled into the vehicle. I looked at Ben and he had a hard, set look on his face. There were a lot of shamblers lurching into view, filling up the street.

I leant on the horn to warn the others, then swerved off down a side street. In the rear seats, the siblings weebled and grabbed onto doorhandles. We haven’t gone fast enough to need seatbelts before, but I think they were wishing for them then. I know what damage the living did to the vehicles in their desperation, and I didn’t want to find out what damage the should-be-dead would do in their hunger and persistence.

We wove through backstreets between cluttered-together houses. Twice more, a horn sounded and we stopped while doors opened and closed. We were running across the front of the wave of shamblers, scooping up living flotsam on our way. For a brief, heart-thumping time, I was proud of my little group even as I chafed at the stop-start of it.


We kept going until we lost sight of the shambling wave. A sweeping on-ramp took us away from the suburbs and into the university campus. I think I’ve only been this far south once before, when we came to tour the campus a few months before my sister died. Everything changed after Chastity was gone, including my plans to study. I haven’t thought about this place since then.

It looks different now, with green clumps scoured away by acid and the walls stripped of the overlap of torn posters. It’s grey, concrete and dulled glass. What used to be daring architecture is hard and cold now, sharp-edged against a low, malevolent sky.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone here. We stopped to take stock and wound up shifting into one of the buildings for shelter – I think it used to be the social part of the campus, all sofas and burned-out music equipment. There was nothing of use left apart from thrown-over furniture, as if a strong, angry child had a tantrum here.

The runners were in a bad way. It looks like they had been running for a while – days, even. Masterson is checking people over, but I see him shrugging a lot. We gave them water and something to eat, and posted guards in case the wave wandered in this direction. Hopefully the vehicles ruined the scent trail and we gained enough distance that they won’t be able to follow us.

There’s so much to do that I can barely count heads right now. Everyone is here, I think, spread out between a handful of rooms. Seekers, Wolverines, ex-Pride, runners. I’m starting to forget names as soon as I hear them. We need to decide what we’re going to do and I have no idea how that will go.

I think I’m going to try to organise this mess again. At least so I can check on my friends.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009 - 9:33 pm

Missing heads

We spent most of today searching for a missing fella. I’d like to say that it was worth the effort, but we didn’t find him.

Last night, I went around and tried to take stock. It was easier once everyone had settled down and stopped moving around so much. All of the Seekers were accounted for except Jones. Poor Nugget is still upset about that; she won’t say anything except his name if she’s questioned, or offered food, or told to cheer up. I’ve seen her looking under chairs and in cupboards in the hopes that he’s here somehow. No-one has seen him since we left the warehouse, but I don’t think any of us has the heart to tell her the obvious. He’s gone and he’s not coming back.

Dillon and Dale were made comfortable with the rest of those needing attention on padded seats and sofas. Our two injured boys are looking better, though Dillon still can’t put weight on that broken leg. Thorpe is usually hovering around there, keeping an eye on them. I offered to relieve him for a while but he told me that he was fine. I don’t know how to talk to him, not after the thing with Matt, so I left him to it.

I don’t think it’s a thing between those two. I’ve hardly seen them exchange five words since that morning. It’s a shame – I think they might be good for each other – but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved.

Matt has been mostly keeping an eye on the newcomers, making sure that they get what they need. He has an easy way with people – always has – and they seem to trust him. Most of them are automatically wary with me and I’m not sure why. The rumours about the Seekers, perhaps. I wish that my name wasn’t attached to those whispers.

Bree’s group was short a person last night. Steve – the wannabe Pride-member who had a bandaged arm and seemed to be getting sick the last time I saw him – was gone and they couldn’t tell me where. Bree was pale and refused to say much about it. Perhaps the Sickness took him and they left him behind. They said that’s what the Pride had done.

They didn’t ask us to look for him. This morning, one of the runners we picked up yesterday was missing. A man in his fifties – his wife was desperate for our help in finding him. He went off to relieve himself sometime after dark and didn’t come back. No-one on watch saw him go or what happened after. We searched the campus buildings, calling his name – Norman, are you there? Norman? – but there wasn’t any answer.

His wife is distraught. They had made it this far, through all this craziness. They haven’t been apart in nearly forty years, she said. Childhood sweethearts, married young, parents, grandparents, and now surviving the end of the world. They saw each other through all of that.

“We live in each other’s pockets, got used to the lint and lost pennies,” Iris told me. Now she’s alone and she doesn’t know what to do with herself.

I had no comfort to give her. He’s probably dead and we all know it. I suggested that she help Sally with making sure people were fed and she went off with a vague air. Hopefully the purpose and activity will help her.

We picked up seven in total. Iris and Norman were the first, scooped up by Matt in the offroader behind mine. There’s a young boy, Estebar – just short of Dillon’s age, so eleven or twelve years old – who keeps asking if we’ve seen his sister. He last saw her a few days ago, so I think she’s lost. The Asian fella in his thirties hasn’t said much to anyone and keeps to himself. I don’t know his name. Janice and Tom are a dark-skinned couple, about my age. They keep to themselves too, but seem well-adjusted with everything that’s happening. Caroline is the last one that was picked up and she’s far from well-adjusted. From her shell-shocked look, she lost someone close to her recently. I don’t know who.

We’ve been sharing our supplies carefully with these runners. There’s always at least a couple of the boys watching over the stocks, but there’s only one or two of the newcomers that I think are a danger in that way. The Wolverines in particular are grumbly and defensive, and have convinced Thorpe to help them. He seems to be spending a lot of time with the Wolverines lately, but maybe that’s just because they stick close to injured Dale and Thorpe is always near our healing pair.


We have a fire tonight, lit carefully in a drum dragged inside. Tom has offered to tell stories about the land – his family goes way back in this area, he says. Tales of the past to ward off the present; it sounds like a good way to pass the evening while we try not to listen to the rain.

Tomorrow, we’re going to have to make a decision. Who comes, who is left behind. I look at them all and know I can’t be the one to say. I don’t want fear to make the choice either. In this group of friends, allies, and strangers, I don’t know which way it will all go.

For tonight, we’ll remember what was. I think I hear Iris crying somewhere.

Thursday, 9 July 2009 - 6:02 pm

Frozen in place

The temperature dropped sharply sometime overnight, solidifying the treacherous ice into solid sheets and rime around the windows, encroaching every surface it could get its clammy hands onto.

Jersey swore when he realised that it was as thick inside as it was outside. We’re going to have to be careful when it melts; I’m not the only one watching the ceiling for signs of creeping ice and building drips. No-one wants to wake up to that.

We were supposed to be heading out today, but instead we huddled in. We broke down furniture and fixings for wood to burn, leaving only the padded seats for some of our number to rest on. The fire drum we’re using is not doing the best job of heating us, but it’s certainly better than nothing and safer than setting the carpet alight. We’ll probably rip that up and burn it, too, if it stays this cold.

Someone found a pair of crutches yesterday and Dillon has been practicing with them since then; he’s determined to get around under his own steam again. The activity helped him to keep warm, too, and he wasn’t the only injured person struggling around the floor in an effort to keep the blood pumping. At least there’s always a pair of steady hands around to offer support when they need it.


We found Norman today. Conroy returned with a solemn face from a perimeter patrol – we do circuits every now and then to check for shamblers wandering in our direction. He had found bloody clothes and a belt buckle poking out of the ice. He had the buckle with him, worked loose of the ice’s grip. There was no room there for a body, he said; the rain must have got rid of it.

He didn’t want to ask Iris if it was her husband, so I did it. With my heart on my tongue and feeling ready to throw up, I sat down with her and showed her the buckle. She stared at me and said nothing. The whitening of her knuckles answered the question for me. I covered them with my hand and told her how sorry I was. I asked if she needed anything. I asked if she wanted me to leave her alone and she twitched the tiniest nod. I didn’t know what else to do for her.

My hands were shaking when I left her to her grief. It was a silent thing, stony and shocking. She looked so lost, sitting there on her own.

Ben came over and told me he was sorry. He sounded so sincere that it brought the tears into my throat, and all I wanted right then was a hug. He patted my shoulder and told me to go warm up by the fire, and then he went away.

I went to go hold my hands over the flames for a while, hating that the fire is the same colour as the tainted sky outside. I miss blue and green. I miss trusting the sky. I miss not having to think about telling someone that the person she loves is dead.

Matt came over and asked me if I was all right. I told him what Conroy had found and he put his arm around me. I didn’t know what to say to him, or whether I should lean into him the way I wanted to. Everything feels so much more complicated now. He said something soothing that helped push the lump down, out of my throat.

I stood there for a long time with my head down and my hands out, trying to get warm and shivering anyway.

Friday, 10 July 2009 - 10:02 am

Light in the darkness

Sometime in the middle of the night, Matt roused us. I remember hearing his voice sliding into my dream, and then Ben was shaking my shoulder and telling me to get up.

Everyone gathered at the windows and glass doors, looking out like children who had heard that Santa had been spotted against the moon. There has been no moon for months and Santa didn’t come last Christmas, but we all looked anyway. I’m not sure what we hoped to see.

“There, there!” There was pointing and straining as we strove not to touch the icy glass.

It was there: a single square of light against the blackness. Not the scorched orange of the sky, not the white of stars, but a warm, electric yellow. It beamed steadily across to us from such a distance, not a fiery flicker in its form.

Those who spotted it whooped and slapped their neighbours indiscriminately. I think I laughed and grabbed onto Ben’s cold hand. It’s hard to know why it was such a stirring sight, but it made my heart lift in my chest. Electricity, power. Safety, perhaps. Survival. Promise. All those things, bundled into one small square of light and shone in our direction.

It went out and our breathing almost stopped. We misted up the glass before it came on again. Then someone scrabbled for a pen and started to scribble on the window, trying to record its position.

There’s someone there. There’s a survivor who can run electric lights even after six months of a broken, powerless world.

No-one said that we should go find it. No-one questioned the assumption that we’re going to set out and see who’s there, first thing in the morning. Our consensus was immediate and, for once, without paranoia. We just have to go and see what gives.


This morning is orange and hard, frozen solid outside annd reflecting the tainted light back at us. There’s a black square drawn on a window that we think is pointing us towards the right building, like a symbol from a movie I saw a lifetime ago.

The building is tall and dark today, but not as far as we had feared. It doesn’t seem worth the fuel to drive there, so we’ll walk, heralded by the steam of our own breath.

The footing outside is slippery but we’re all gearing up anyway, even the injured. Dillon wants to go on his crutches, but I plan to keep a close eye on him; I don’t trust the ice. Thorpe is supporting Dale. We won’t move fast but we’ll get there.

Time to wrap up and make a move. Wish us luck.

Saturday, 11 July 2009 - 11:45 am


There wasn’t time to post again yesterday. It’s all been very bewildering.

It was slower going than we thought, and not a straight or simple journey between the social building and the source of the light. The footing slowed us down, and I wound up half-carrying Dillon after he fell down a couple of times. He was trying to be brave but I know how much that must have hurt. He called me the steadiest crutch he’d ever had and tried to grin at me. I said he was a heavy lump and needed to stop eating all the cake.

It seemed to take forever to get to the right building. A sign outside said that it was the Department of Chemistry and Biological Sciences. It’s a strange construction, looking like a work of slapdash modern art at the bottom and then soaring plainly up into the sky above. We didn’t figure out what the wreath of pipes and tubes around the lower level were for until we tried to approach a door.

There was a clang and all of a sudden, it was raining. A spurting waterfall dribbled down from those pipes and forced us to jump back, squealing. There was a frantic moment when we checked ourselves and each other for burns, patting clothing and checking for pain. Nothing more serious than a few spots burned through some of our many layers, luckily. The injured and young were moved to the back of the group even as the water dribbled to a stop.

“Sadistic fucker,” Masterson snarled as he made sure that Sally was all right. Only he could be that offensive and tender at the same time. She patted his hand soothingly, knowing it wouldn’t work. It never did.

He was right about one thing: someone did it. On purpose. It turns my stomach to think about what might have happened if our frontrunners had been a step or two closer.

Some of the boys started shouting at the building, wanting to know who was there and what they thought they were playing at. For the longest time, I thought that we wouldn’t get an answer. That was all we were going to get: a distant light and a spurt of channelled water. Blank walls and a door we can’t reach. Jersey and Conroy were going to smack the pipes down until I pointed out that they’d only splash themselves if they tried. It was enough to make them pause.

“Whoever it is, they’re well-protected,” I told them. “Do you really blame them?”


We were starting to think about leaving, deflated into kicked tyres. Then a window three storeys up opened and a head poked out, just enough to throw words down at us. I caught a glimpse of a wisp of white hair.

“Go away!”

We all looked at each other. Yet again, I was the first to give up on someone else stepping up. “We saw your light,” I called up.

“I have nothing for you!”

I hesitated. It wasn’t like we came with a plan. “We don’t actually want anything from you.”

“Then what do you want?”

Hope. Salvation. Rescue. A hot shower. “Just to see who was here and… what’s going on.”

“That all? I’m supposed to believe that, am I?” He sounded like a man who had learned better than that. I can imagine how. “Who are you?”

“The Seekers.” It was mostly true, though the actual Seekers were outnumbered in the group now. I was hoping the reputation might help us here.


Guess not. “We’re just… survivors.”

The head hesitated, and then the window slammed. We all looked at each other, nonplussed, and didn’t know what to do next. Do we give up and go? Those injured and weak from running rested while we dithered. Then a window on our level opened a crack and he peered out at us.

“There’s nothing for you here. Go away.” Now that he wasn’t shouting, there was a faint accent curling up the edges of his words.

Masterson shifted and his eyes narrowed. “Dr Kostoya?”

“Yes? What?”

“You missed your last appointment.” The doctor glanced sideways at us and shrugged. “He was a patient.”

I was just starting to hope that we had a way in when one of the runners shouted, pointing down the street. There was the unmistakable outline of a shambler, shuffling brokenly towards us. There were dismayed noises on both sides of the chemistry department’s walls.

“They followed you! Why did you bring them here?” Dr Kostoya demanded.

“We came from the other direction,” Matt pointed out.

“Move the injured,” I said, going to grab Dillon. There was a flurry of movement as we shuffled our configuration, putting the young, weak and hurt inside a ring of healthier, fightier bodies. There are so many of us now that there was more confusion than consensus and the whole thing took longer than I liked. It’s a good thing that the shamblers don’t move too fast. By the time we were done, there were three of them in sight.

We don’t go anywhere without being armed any more, bearing weapons on our packs without thought. Like soldiers with their swords and shields strapped to their backs. We’re even getting practiced at taking down the shamblers – bait in front, hitter behind going for the head. Some habits are both comforting and disturbing.

Ben and Jersey took down the first one, and Thorpe stepped up to help deal with the the two behind it. By then, we could see more coming over the rise and my stomach headed for my shoes. There were so many that we would struggle too keep them off us. We didn’t even dare to put our backs against the wall for fear of the waterfall protecting it.


“Kostoya, take the injured in,” I asked while the boys made sickening crunching noises on the shamblers. I tried not to flinch and failed. “Please, just the injured and the kids. They can’t be out here.”

I could barely see him for the reflection on the window, but I knew he was looking at me. I saw surprise slide into his expression. “You have children out there?”

“Yes! We need your help. Please.”

Someone called my name and I was pulled away to form up the front line. I tried to keep track of heads, told Nugget and Estebar to stay with Dillon. Ben was wincing like he was in pain and the other expressions around me were grim, even the Wolverines. They weren’t relishing the idea of this fight. The tips of bats and pipes and poles circled the air nervously.

“Come on then,” said a voice behind us. “Inside now, hurry.” Kostoya was at the door, holding it open, beckoning to us.

At first we didn”t dare trust him. The waterfall was high in our minds, a threat that might drip on us as we ducked inside. Kostoya had to step half out of the door before we would believe that he wasn’t going to turn the sprinklers on again. Then we harried the injured through the door and into the first room we came to. The doors snicked behind us and I didn’t know whether to feel safe or trapped.

When the shamblers got close to the building, we heard the drip of water again; Kostoya had turned the acid on again. The shamblers stopped and wavered for a few long moments, and then turned and headed away. We had no idea that the rainwater would drive them away so easily, but we hadn’t ever wanted to handle the damn stuff.

The shamblers are still wandering around the campus, so now here we are. Holed up in the chemistry department, trying to figure out who this Kostoya is and what he’s up to here.