Sun, 25 January 2009 - 4:21 pm

Running dry

Our first port of call today was a shopping precinct.  We might have the big plan agreed now, we might have worked out where we’re aiming for and have a line drawn on a map, but we still need to worry about the mundane details.  Like the food supplies and the water we’re going to need to walk that line.

The stores were a bust, at least for the consumables.  We managed to scrape together some fresh clothes from the wreckage, but whoever blew through here before us took everything of use.  I think the others are worried about just how much of this district has been picked clean, but no-one has said anything yet.  No-one wants to make something big out of this by shaping it into sound.

We have enough water for tomorrow, and we just finished the last of the food.  There’s another place not too far away we can try; we should get there after a few hours’ walking.  The roads are too clogged to be able to get a vehicle going here, and the fuel tanks we tested were all dry anyway. 

The doctor said last night that they had collected as much fuel as possible to run the hospital’s generators.  Teams of people went out and did it – he doesn’t know how far they got, but we aren’t likely to find gas within a day or two’s walk of the building.  So I guess that answers that question.  We’ll try for cars again when the roads are clearer.

I tried to talk to Sax today, but he’s closed up for some reason.  He’s focussed on looking after Nugget and won’t be drawn into anything else.  He’s keeping her well away from the doctor and Sally, but I don’t think either of them would actually hurt her.  I wish I knew what was going on with him.

Thorpe’s more grumpy than ever and has barely spoken to anyone.  He is more open about shooting the pair venomous glances.  Unlike with Sax, I’m glad that he’s kept to himself today.

Sally seems to be holding up pretty well.  She’s pale and shaky, but she isn’t complaining.  I don’t think she dares to.  The doctor hasn’t really been with us; he might have got through the worst of the drug withdrawal, but he hasn’t come out of it yet.  I wonder if he ever will – there seems to be something deep-settled about his vagueness.  Sally has been steering him in the right direction; she’s his only saving grace right now.

 

I’m trying to feel good about all this today.  I’m not going to let the little stuff bother me.  Either there’s food there tomorrow or there isn’t – worrying about it now won’t change that.  Either the doctor will get better or he won’t.  The others just need time to get used to him and Sally, to forgive them.

Sax just started singing.  Let’s see if we can get the others to join in.  Let’s see if we can sound like a group again.

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Mon, 26 January 2009 - 6:12 pm

Full bellies

Who ever thought that a hairdressing salon would be our salvation. 

It hasn’t been the best of days and tempers have been fraying badly.  We didn’t cover the ground we thought we would.  Ben isn’t doing so well; his burns are still causing him a lot of pain, under the mummy-wrap of bandages.  We had to take his pack off him, and the only ones not carrying anything were Sally and Masterson.  So of course, there were demands that they take the burden.

Thing is, they’re not doing well either.  They’re both barely keeping their own feet and scraping to keep up, even with Ben.  But I’d already used up all of my sympathy credit in getting the others to let them come along and I couldn’t carry a second pack myself.  So they got to carry the bag and started to fall behind.

Thorpe was up front, striding out angrily.  I told Dillon to stay with him, to make sure he didn’t get too far ahead.  Sax and Nugget weren’t far behind; the kid’s not looking too great either.  She hasn’t complained, though, hasn’t even whined or refused to go where she was told. 

Then I walked with Ben, keeping an eye on him.  He told me he was glad I had stood up for Sally and Masterson, and he was glad that there was someone like that here in this group.  I was relieved to hear that someone knew why I did it, that they agreed that we can’t just start leaving people behind because we don’t like them.  At least I didn’t have to fight all of them, at least someone was on my side.  And I’m glad that’s it’s Ben, too – he’s a nice guy, always ready with something sensible and supportive.  I find myself automatically starting to rely on him.

 

When we reached the next set of stores, we found that they had been stripped too.  Some of them had even been set on fire – whether it happened when the bomb hit or afterwards, I don’t know.  Either way, they were gutted now.  The only thing left that used to be edible was the fruit and vegetables in a farm shop, rotted and putrid now.  The scent of it rolled out and mingled with the leftover smoke, creating a smell that caught at the gag reflex in the back of my throat.

It was afternoon by then.  Everyone was hungry and we wouldn’t make the next shopping district before rainfall.  The emotions were as obvious as the vegetables on the air as we headed away from there, cutting down into a residential area. 

It took me a little while to realise that the unspoken emotions were making me tense, that I was coiling up inside as if about to break into a run.  Or face another fight.  It had that feeling in it, as if we were about to be attacked at any moment, as if something was going to snap and burst all over us.

We stopped at a crossroads to look at the map, and as the backrunners caught up, the tension bunched up even tighter.  I could feel Thorpe and Sax not looking at certain people, and Sally and Masterson were wise enough to keep quiet while the rest of us tried to figure out where to go next.

It was Nugget who found it.  While our conversation started circling around, looking for an argument, she was peeping in through a corner building’s windows.  It was a salon with a café out the back – an unusual combination, and perhaps that’s what had saved it.  Dillon tugged on my sleeve and pointed me towards the kid, just as she disappeared inside.

There was plenty of swearing as we followed her in, but that soon changed when we found that the café hadn’t been pillaged.  The kitchen had been tossed and the fridge was disgusting, its contents turned to stinking liquid when it lost the power to keep it cool.  But the storeroom out the back had been missed – there were cans, blessed cans of beans and sausages and vegetables, and precious bottles of water and soda. 

We all laughed then, mostly out of relief.  Packs hit the floor and some just sank into chairs.  The gas stove still worked, so I was determined to have a hot meal.  I roped Dillon into being my arms and dealing with the big pots, got Thorpe to light the gas rings, and when I asked where on earth the plates were, Nugget was there, holding one out to me. She’s a strange little thing, but not as damaged as we thought.

There’s nothing like the smell of heating food.  It wrapped around us like a homey blanket, reminded us of Sunday mornings and warm sunshine.  It eased the taut air, even when the rain started coming down outside.  My little group all lined up with their plates to receive their portion, and they were generous helpings.  Maybe we should be rationing things, but I wanted to remember what a full belly felt like.  Just for this one time.  Almost everyone came back for seconds, until the pots were polished clean.

Masterson threw up.  He’s really not helping his case with that kind of thing – Thorpe’s language was vicious, giving voice to what we were all thinking.  Food is too rare to waste it like that.  Lucky for the doctor, it was raining and no-one was going to kick him out into that.

I don’t know how long it is since he ate solid food.  That’s why he threw up, I think – his stomach needs to get used to it again.  Sally managed to keep hers down, though she looked ill and ate very slowly.  I’m starting to wonder if they really will make it, even with our help.

For tonight, though, we have eaten our fill and cleared spaces on the floor to sleep.  Things grow quiet and dark, and that’s okay. 

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Tue, 27 January 2009 - 3:02 pm

The kid and the cat

We’re back on track today.  Everyone is feeling better after a good night’s sleep and a hot breakfast.  We didn’t splurge on the food as much as we did yesterday, but it was still good to feel that weight in my stomach.  Even Masterson and Sally ate better. 

Our packs are heavy with cans and bottles, but that’s okay.  At least we know we’re going to eat for the next little while.

Our number has grown again.  Sometime in the night, there was a noise in the kitchen.  None of us thought anything of it, but in the morning, Nugget had a little ginger cat in her lap.  I can’t imagine what the poor thing has been surviving on, but it shared her breakfast hungrily today.  She was smiling as the little raspy tongue licked bean-sauce off her fingers – I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that expression on her face.  She was solemn even when we were all feasting yesterday.

Sax told her off and tried to take the creature away, but she wriggled out of his grasp.  She hid under a table, hugging the cat to her chest, and refused to come out.  The cat seems to like her; it didn’t panic or fight once.  Perhaps it knows that she’s protecting it.

Sax wasn’t the only one who wanted to get rid of the cat.  Thorpe pointed out that we can’t afford to feed it, and he’s right.  Sharing one breakfast is one thing, but our supplies are terribly finite.  I think I’m too soft-hearted; I didn’t want to leave it behind.  I don’t want to leave anything alive behind.

It was Ben who went to crouch down by the table and talk to Nugget.  I was getting in everyone else’s way, trying to stop them from just tearing the kid and her cat apart.  As if the little girl hasn’t been through enough already.

He explained to her that we couldn’t feed the cat.  That it would be cruel to take it with us when we couldn’t give it food.  We couldn’t spare extra for it, so it was kinder to leave it where it was already finding its own meals.

Nugget hugged the cat in close and just stared at him.  It was a few long seconds before she nodded, before she let him know that she understood.  We all went to stuff our packs with everything from the store cupboards, and eventually she put the cat down and came out.

 

Seems that the cat didn’t like our plan, though.  The damned thing’s been following us, trotting along at the heels of the group.  When we stop, it follows Sally and Masterson up to the rest of us, and then just sits down and watches.  As if it’s bringing up the rear, or keeping an eye on our laggers.  Thorpe tried to shoo it off a couple of times, but it just blinked at him.  It’s a determined little beastie.

It’s here, now, in this garage where we’re taking shelter for the rain and the night.  Curled up with a little girl who snuck it titbits, I’m sure.  With us whether we like it or not, whether we feed it or not.  I can live with that.

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Wed, 28 January 2009 - 3:48 pm

Cracks

I’m getting so sick of the sniping going on at the moment.  If it’s not Thorpe bitching about ‘the two junkies’, it’s Sax disapproving of Nugget picking the cat up (you don’t know where it’s been).  Masterson is feeling strong enough to start snapping back (which can only end badly if Thorpe or Sax hears him), while Sally looks like she wants to turn into a snail and suck herself up into a shell.  Dillon doesn’t know what to do with himself and is starting to echo Thorpe’s sentiments, which is saddening.  Only Ben is helping, by trying to keep Masterson and Sally away from everyone else.

I feel like tearing my hair out.  It’s like being at school again, all back-biting and fabricated drama.  This is what I left Facebook to get away from; this is what I started this blog to get away from. 

I want to grab them and shake them and tell them to stop acting like children.  Apart from Dillon and Nugget, they’re adults, and all of them older than I am.  They should know better than this.  Can’t they see that the group is fracturing?  Can’t they see that it’s all going to fall apart?  And I don’t want that.  I don’t want to lose anyone else here.  I don’t like all of them, exactly, but we’ve been through so much together.  We’re like family now.

I’m afraid to say it like that.  I don’t want any of them to leave me.  They’re not perfect: they’re aggravating and annoying and demanding and hard work.  But we’re all each other has.  We should hold onto that; we should hold onto everything we’ve got left.

I’ve lost family before.  I know what it’s like.  I know what it’s like when they walk away, when the group you go home to shrinks and whittles away, and I don’t want to go through that again.  I shouldn’t care so much, I know I shouldn’t.  I shouldn’t let this remind me of when my mother left, or when Chastity died.  But it does.  I can’t help it.  I do care.

I don’t want to be alone, and I don’t want them to be alone.  There’s so little else now, for anyone.  I just want this to stop.  I want them to stop fighting.

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Thu, 29 January 2009 - 5:31 pm

The wolf pack

It was starting to feel like we were the only ones left in the world, the last loud footsteps on a swept-clean floor.  In the hospital, it was easy to forget the quiet, but out here again, walking the ruined streets, the silence encroaches.  I think it’s part of why everyone’s at each other so much; it’s wearing away at something inside us all.  A vital nerve is being eroded and we’re all fighting it, fighting each other.  I can feel myself being short with people, so much that I was afraid I was going to snap again.  Just let go at someone until the venom is all on the outside.  That’s good for no-one.

That happened when we met the first group we found.  When they demanded their toll, swaggering up to us as if their name was imprinted in the concrete.  We were lucky that time; they were too stunned to respond, and too few to be a real threat to us.  It’s not something I’m eager to risk again, though, so I hung back when we saw a couple of people moving about down the block.

 

A few of us exchanged glances and agreed silently to go around them, just in case.  We were looking around for a cross-street when the buildings around us boiled to life.  They made a lot of noise, whooping and screeching like makeshift sirens, piling up and over cars in their haste to surround us.

Just like that first time, we moved instinctively, putting the kids in the centre of the group and the strongest of us on the outside.  All of a sudden, Thorpe had a length of steel pipe in his hand – I think it had been lashed to his pack – and Sax was holding his saxophone tightly as if he was ready to smack someone with it.  Ben was standing up as if there was nothing wrong with him, and Masterson was smiling vaguely at everyone.  You can’t have everything, I suppose.

Me, I was wishing that I hadn’t decided to put that knife in my bag.  I wished that I had something in my hands other than air and a fragile temper.  But I was standing in front of Dillon anyway, refusing to hide behind the others. I couldn’t help but think how odd this all was, how distrust had become a habit so quickly.  The lack of even the hope of authorities to protect us left us grabbing for weapons at the least opportunity.  It’s terrifying.  It made my heart claw at my throat, begging me to run or fight, right now.  Trying to reduce me to animal instincts as these new faces moved around us.

 

They were a ragged bunch, these wolves.  Some of them looked like they were wearing the same clothes they were in when the bomb went off, stained with ash and sweat.  Others looked like they had raided the local biker’s store, their leathers slashed because it’s really too hot for that kind of thing.

They were a mix of men and women, all of them in their late teens or twenties.  Ten or twelve of them altogether – it was hard to count heads with the way they circled us.  A couple of them moved badly, limping or lopsided; we weren’t the only ones bearing injuries. There were bruises and recent blood on a few of them, but I couldn’t tell if the fighting had been between each other or another group.

Either way, they looked ready for a fight right then, ready to take all of us on. They didn’t even bother to hide the way they were sizing us up, or the way they fingered their weapons – bats mostly, and a few blades.

I noticed then that Thorpe was the one standing closest to the fella that looked the most like the wolves’ leader.  I groaned inwardly; he is not the most tactful spokesperson.  However, he was probably a better prospect than I was, considering what happened the last time we had a meeting like this.

Somewhere, the other group’s leader had found enough gel to make his hair stick out from his head in all directions.  I managed to keep that thought to myself, even after he started fronting up to Thorpe, demanding to know why we were there in his domain.  To his credit, Thorpe was calm when he answered, neither intimidated nor confrontational.  He assured them that we were just passing through, that we didn’t want anything in the wolf-group’s patch. 

When he said where we were headed, they laughed.  I don’t know why, and I didn’t like not knowing what was funny.  There was something sinister in it, something that was trying to curl up in my stomach and roil uncomfortably.  They refused to tell us, of course; they liked their amusing little secret, and they liked having something over on us.

The laughter made Thorpe angry.  I could hear it creeping into his voice, his tone growing shorter and sharper with each word, each snicker.  It punctured the playful balloon that had blown up around the wolves and reminded them that they had teeth.  Our big fireman and their spikey-haired spokesman were more obviously squaring off suddenly, trying to work out who was alpha here and who would run off with their tail between their legs.  Measuring dicks, as my dad would say.

Everyone was watching them to see who would come out on top.

 

They demanded our water.  It sounds ridiculous when it’s put like that, but it really is precious now.  The simplest thing in the world is now the rarest and most valuable.  I wasn’t looking at Thorpe – I was too busy keeping an eye on the wolves nearest to me – but I caught him shifting his weight in the corner of my vision.  As if he was crossing his arms and showing them just how unintimidated he was.  Of course his answer was ‘no’.

We were all getting nervous then.  We were obviously speeding towards the question of who would strike first and away from ‘if’.  There was a little part of my brain that was analysing everything.  It knew that a solid first strike might intimidate the other group into backing off, maybe long enough for the kids to get away.  That’s what we needed – to get the kids away, and to get these wolves off us long enough to follow them.  But there was no way that I was going to make that first move, to turn tension into all-out violence.

I was abruptly aware that I was unarmed and there was about to be a fight.  The only thing I could think of was the cans in the bottom of my bag and how much it would hurt to get hit by that weight.

I was just slipping the pack off my shoulders when Sally made a noise behind me.  I glanced around to see one of the wolves reaching past Sally and pulling a pack out of the middle of the group.  The pack was still attached to its bearer: Dillon.  Sally was trying to push the wolf away and got shoved off her feet.  Dillon wriggled and fought the attempts to pull the pack off him, and was backhanded.  I remember that sound very distinctly, the sharp slap of knuckles meeting flesh.  Meeting Dillon’s face.  My Dillon.

I snapped.  I swung the pack around as hard as I could and caught the bastard wolf in the face.  I know I was shouting, but I don’t know what. The wolf fell – I don’t know how badly he was hurt.  I know there was blood.

It was chaos then.  There were weapons everywhere, shouts filling up the air until we couldn’t tell one voice from another.  I called to Sally and the doctor to get the kids out of there, and swung my pack at anyone who came near me.  I tried to keep them away from Dillon and Nugget, but it was hard to keep track of everyone.  I don’t know how many I hit, or how badly. 

I got hit a couple of times – I can’t even remember who by.  I was angry that they had picked on a kid while none of us were looking.  I was terrified that one of them would hurt me, or one of the kids, or one of the others I cared about. All of it made me strike out furiously, made me keep on hitting them, over and over.  I just had to keep them away, I just wanted them to stay away from us.

 

It was over so quickly.  All of a sudden, there was no-one to heave a heavy pack at.  Ben was pulling at me, come on, come on, let’s get out of here.  I checked the others, and they were backing off too, stumbling away from the wolves.  There were so many of them, and so many had blood on them.

Thorpe hadn’t stopped.  He was still hitting on the spikey-haired wolf with his pipe, making hollow, damp noises.  The wolf was barely trying to defend himself by then and I ran over to pull him off.  I caught at his upraised arm and called his name.  I told him to stop before he killed the guy.  He spun around and smacked me.

It was my own fault; I should have known better.  It worked in breaking him out of his frenzy, though.  He looked frightening for a second, like he might start hitting again, but the wolves were closing in. 

We grabbed each other and ran, took off up a street and left the wolves behind.  We didn’t stop until we were a few blocks away and found an empty apartment above a store to break into.  Then there were injuries to tend to – and there were a lot of injuries.  Nothing life-threatening, but all of it painful.

It was an hour before my forearm started to ache, and since then the pain has radiated out to my shoulder and right down to my fingertips.  It’s like I can feel the bone pulsing.  My cheekbone is bruised and swollen, and I have other purpling marks on me as well.

Even now, just thinking about all of this, I’m still shaking.  If it wasn’t for the pain, I’d have trouble believing that it really happened.  I think we’re all in shock, to some degree.

I have first watch tonight.  Just in case the wolves come looking for us in the darkness.

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Fri, 30 January 2009 - 2:20 pm

Patching up

It took a while to assess all the damage yesterday. There were a few slashes from the knives – they’re the most tricky to deal with, I think.  Mostly because they’re open and we can’t wash them easily.  Or cheaply.  The rest of the injuries were from the bats – bruises, a couple of possible cracked bones.  Nothing broken, luckily. I think the only one who got away without any damage was Nugget. 

It was lucky that we had just come from the hospital; we had enough dressings for everyone.  Enough bandages to wrap up the sore parts.  I’d do anything for an icepack, though.

When we got inside the apartment, I went to Masterson and shook him – I think I was a little bit hysterical.  He was smiling, the stupid, vague bastard, and the rest of us were trying not to go into shock.  But he was a doctor, and I was damned determined that he was going to be a doctor for us.  We needed him to.  I had to shepherd him around each and every person, and I had to watch him closely with all of them.  When I could be, I was his hands.  I didn’t trust him not to poke at them the way he did with me, that first time.

First, though, I had to peel him away from Sally.  She was a mess, crying and shaking as if she was going to tremble into bits on the floor.  She begged him for some relief, said she needed something so badly.  Then Masterson started to crumple under the knowledge that there weren’t any drugs for them to escape from all this.

I didn’t know what to do.  Thorpe made a snide comment about the doctor being useless to us, and that made me more determined to get him to do something helpful.  I couldn’t deal with him right then, so I turned and shouted at Masterson again, told him that he damned well better be a doctor today, because there are patients here who need him.  It turns out that if you shove and pull and bully him enough, he’ll do as he’s told.

 

Dillon was mostly all right – he was the first one I made Masterson check.  Some awful bruises, flushing violently dark under his skin.  He and I have matching bruises on our cheekbones.  He was so clearly trying not to cry that I put an arm around him and told him he did really well out there.

He asked me if I thought it was his fault that the fight started, because he’s the one that was grabbed first.  The poor kid was terrified that we would all blame him, that we’d think the blood and purpling marks on us were all because of him.  It had never even occurred to me to think of it like that, and I don’t think anyone else here would blame him either, and I told him that.  I’m not sure if he believed me.

I wanted to stay there, to sit with him and reassure him.  It seemed like he needs someone to do that, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fond of him.  I like having him around, and I’d like to be that person for him.  But there were others who needed seeing to, so I did the only thing I could think of: I sent him to look after Nugget and keep an eye on her.  I don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not.

 

Ben all-but collapsed when we had got inside the apartment.  His burns had taken some punishment and he has a couple of cracked ribs.  I dressed and bandaged him as best I could, but there’s nothing I can do about the pain.  I wish I could do more for him.  He’s always ready with a supportive word or a helping hand, but I feel like I can’t return the favour now he needs it.

Sax has a nasty lump on his bald, shiny head and a limp now.  The doctor didn’t think he had a concussion, but the injured knee is a worry.  Masterson showed me how to strap it properly; hopefully that’ll help.

 

Thorpe was the most difficult to deal with, of course.  I had left him until last because I knew it would be hard.  But by then I was exhausted from trying to chivvy and push the doctor into doing what I needed him to.  Look here, what’s wrong with this, how should we deal with that, is this going to be enough.  No, look here.  I got shorter and shorter with him as we moved from one to the next, and by the time we got to Thorpe I had no temper left at all.  I had to clench my hands to stop them shaking.

He didn’t want Masterson anywhere near him, let alone touching him somewhere tender.  He had tasted the blade of the spikey-haired wolf’s knife a few times, though, and I wasn’t in the mood to mollycoddle his feelings.

The big fella got told very shortly to sit still and shut the fuck up so that we could deal with him.  He stared at me and I glared back – I might have the imprint of his hand on my cheek, but I’m not scared of him.  I probably should be; I saw him whaling on that guy, and he would’ve kept going until someone was dead if I hadn’t stopped him.  And there was that shocked second after he hit me when I thought that he might just keep going.  But he didn’t, and I refuse to be scared of him.

He still refused to have Masterson touch him, so I had to be the doctor’s hands.  It made it harder to get him to focus, but we muddled through.  I had to glue a couple of gashes together – he really needs stitches, but no-one wants to do that if we can avoid it.  My right hand isn’t strong enough to do it; it would have to be the doctor.  Hopefully the glue will hold and we can skip that headache.

 

It was such a relief to send the doctor back to Sally and be able to sit down.  That was when things really hit me, and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking.  Ben asked if I was okay and I had no idea what to tell him.  All of a sudden, everything hurt and it was hard to breathe, like the whole fight had hit my nerves all at once.  I guess that’s what happens in an adrenaline crash.

He held my hand until I was feeling better.  We talked about nothing until the rain came and it was time to eat.  Dillon came to sit next to me, and it felt good to curl an arm around him and let him lean on me.  I think we all needed that.

 

Today, I’m so stiff that I don’t want to move.  My right arm vibrates like a plucked harp string every time I move it, singing all the way through me, and my back muscles are locked up the battering I took.  I’m not the only one feeling stiff and sore, and it was a silent consensus that let us stay here today.  I feel like we’re wasting so much time sitting and resting, but I don’t want to walk anywhere today, let alone carry my pack.

Ben seems to be up and about, which is surprising, considering.  I should go help him.  And check on everyone.  I don’t know why, but it feels like I’m the only one who can do that.  Who will do that.  It’s better than sitting here feeling sorry for myself.

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Sat, 31 January 2009 - 4:21 pm

A scrape on harp strings

Today we’re on the move again.  Not very fast and not very far, but at least we’re trying to make progress.  Ben is our unofficial map-bearer and last night I helped him gather the other boys so that we could figure out where we’re going next.

By ‘boys’ I mean Thorpe and Sax, with Dillon sidling in too.  None of them want to hear what the doctor has to say – even if the doctor had something sensible to contribute, which he generally doesn’t. Half the time, it’s as if he’s still high, still caught up in drug-fuelled dreams, though we know that’s not possible.  The other half, he glares at everyone and growls occasionally.

Sally has been withdrawn and useless since the fight; she’s good at making herself easy to ignore.  I think it’s a skill she had to develop once.  Without her, there’s no-one to keep tabs on the doctor – I tried to talk to her, but she wasn’t interested.

 

We had to force ourselves into motion this morning.  Everything was a battle.  Nugget kept trying to run off to find the damn cat – who found us yesterday but disappeared during the night – and I had to make Dillon hold onto her so we knew where she was.  Dillon whined about having to babysit the little one and wanted to do something else.  Sax had trouble getting down the stairs because of his injured knee, and had to lean on a couple of us all the way.  Ben and Thorpe had to be helped into their packs, which was awkward and painful for everyone involved.  Sally didn’t want to unfold herself from her corner of the apartment’s living room – for some reason, she had chosen to curl up behind the TV.  The doctor kept wandering off in a random direction if no-one paid attention and snapped nastily at anyone who tried to bring him back.  Thorpe said that we should just leave them there, which sparked off another round of arguments that left everyone tasting bitter and grumpy.

It took over an hour to get everyone out of the apartment and down on the street.  By that time I was already strung out and snapping at everyone, even poor Dillon.  He looked at me like I just kicked him, and that made me feel worse.  I had no idea how to take it back.

It was a relief when Thorpe started walking and the rest of us were forced to follow.  The whining stopped because none of us had the breath to walk and bitch at the same time.  I was so sick of hearing it, of listening to the same complaints over and over, as if that made them more valid or more important.

We’re all tired and in pain but we have to keep moving.  We don’t have the food reserves to just stay still – we’re checking every building that doesn’t look like it has already been turned over.  We have a purpose now, too, a reason to keep going, a reason to pick ourselves up and push on.  We have family to look for, precious people we have to find again, people who might need us.

 

We didn’t get far at all today.  Sally kept falling behind – I think she’s hurt worse than she let me see yesterday – and Sax was struggling by mid-afternoon.  The rest of us had to pause to let them catch up, over and over until there was muttering, and then more open sniping.

It’s all rubbing at me, right in the middle, wearing me through. I’m a harp frame with most of its strings broken; the few that are intact are shearing under the strain, fibre by tiny unravelling fibre.

I had hoped that the fight might bring us all together – I had hoped that that much good might come of it.  But no – instead, it’s giving us more reasons to be awful to each other.  Things are still heading for the explosive end that they were before, and the pace is picking up.  I feel like I boarded a train that doesn’t have any brakes and it’s already going too fast for any of us to get off.

We’re close now.  It’s just a question of who breaks first.

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Sun, 1 February 2009 - 3:31 pm

Too quiet

Today was quiet. Today we moved on and hardly anyone spoke at all. I kept looking at the others and wishing that I knew what to say to them. I wish I could take the clouds off Thorpe’s expression, and the weight out of Sax’s. I wish I could unfold Sally’s attitude, and unfog the doctor’s. I wish we could sing together again, but no-one has the voice for it now.

I talked to Ben and he told me to give it time. They just needed to get used to each other, to work things out for themselves. I want to stick my oar in and pry open their issues, so that we can deal with them and get this over with. But he’s right; that’s selfish of me. I know that a part of my desire is caused by this tension; it reminds me too much of the time leading up to my mother’s departure. There’s a part of me that is screaming at me not to let it happen again, and another part that just wants it over already.

Ben said it would be all right, he said not to worry. I’m not sure he’s right, but that was what I needed to hear. I needed to know someone else was worried about this, and I needed to know that someone else thought it would turn out okay. It’s easy to feel like it’s just me here – just me and this blog, chasing around ideas and thoughts and feelings. It’s easy to wonder if I’m already alone and the group just hasn’t realised it yet.

I’m so glad that I have Ben to talk to. He always lets me go on about this stuff, always listens. I wish that he’d speak up more sometimes, but he’s a good friend.

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Sun, 1 February 2009 - 5:57 pm

Nice to be liked

I just had a chat with Dillon. I catch him watching the rest of us sometimes, weighing our expressions and the looks we’re giving each other, taking in the unspoken arguments. He doesn’t know what to do about it, either, and I recognise that look on his face. It’s the one I had when things turned sour at home.

I asked him how he was doing. He shrugged and I knew I wasn’t going to get anything out of him about all that. So I changed the subject and thanked him for keeping an eye on Nugget – he’s been keeping the little one on a short leash, even when he hasn’t been asked to. Even when he had complained about it.

He asked me what we were going to do about the cat. She was feeding it, even though we all told her not to. It was my turn to shrug then; not because I didn’t want to talk, but because I didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t using up anyone else’s food, and we stopped her whenever we caught her doing it, but it seems that she’s a determined little thing.

“All it needs now is a name.” I was joking when I said it, but Dillon gave me a curious look.

“She’s called it Jones,” he said.

Jones – weird name for a cat. Then it occurred to me what was really strange about his statement. “How do you know?”

“She told me.”

“She spoke to you?”

“Yeah, yesterday.”

That made me smile. I looked at the little girl again, at her stroking the cat’s head while he sat there blinking calmly at the rest of us. She’s talking – she’s getting better.

“She must like you, Dillon.”

“What makes you say that?” The frown he gave me said that he didn’t know what girls were good for yet, or why he would care if one liked him.

“Because she hasn’t said a word to anyone else. Not even Sax.”

Dillon was surprised but pleased; he seemed more relaxed after that. He kept checking on Nugget – whether he cares about girls or not, he still likes the attention. He likes to be liked. I went to sit with Ben again for much the same reason.

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Mon, 2 February 2009 - 1:41 pm

Implosion

The tidal wave finally broke over us. It’s been building for days, rising higher and higher over our heads until it was all any of us could see any more.

I don’t know who gave in to it first – in a heartbeat we were all caught up in its swell, tumbling over each other until none of us knew which way was up.

 

It was the same complaints that we’ve all heard over the past week. Why are we carrying the two junkies with us, why are we wasting our food on them when all they do is slow us down. They can’t be trusted – Sally abandoned us once and we don’t know Masterson at all. They’re only with us because they ran out of drugs; they don’t even want to be here.

It didn’t help that the more lucid the doctor became over the past few days, the nastier he got with people. He snarled and snapped at everyone, and even I don’t trust his eyes. They’re hollow.

But they haven’t ever hurt us, and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to. He’s a doctor – we need him. He has already made sure that Sax’s head is all right, taught me how to glue gashes together, and told us which antibiotics to take and how to care for the acid burns.

And, more than anything else, if we abandon them, they’ll die.

 

I tried to stay out of it. I didn’t want to get involved; I didn’t even want to listen to it. Masterson was egging his enemies on with a bitter smile, Ben was trying to speak up for him, and Thorpe was raising his voice to shout everyone down. Nugget was hugging the cat tight enough to make it wriggle for air. Sally was crying and begging them, saying that they hadn’t hurt anyone and it wouldn’t be like that. Dillon kept trying to say something, but the men weren’t listening. Sax was weighing in on both sides, apparently at random, and that wasn’t helping anything.

I hated the voices tearing at each other – I kept expecting to see blood all over the floor. I hated the polarisation that was pushing us into the corners of the room. It seemed like it would get physical at any moment, as if there hadn’t been enough punishment lately. As if we didn’t have enough hurts to deal with.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. I couldn’t take my world falling apart all over again.

Suddenly they were all staring at me. It’s possible that I screamed at them to stop. I was standing with my hands clenched tightly enough to make my bad arm spike with pain, but I couldn’t open them. I couldn’t unbend at all. I took in a breath and everything came tumbling out.

I couldn’t believe that this is what we’ve been reduced to. I didn’t think that we were that kind of group, the kind that wanted to throw people out just because they weren’t strong enough, or fast enough, or good enough. We started out because we were trying to help each other, because it was important that everyone survived, that everyone has a chance. Doesn’t that mean anything any more? Why the hell not?

Hasn’t anyone noticed that in all the groups we’ve seen, there haven’t been any children? Or anyone above 35? Were they all kicked out because they couldn’t keep up? Because they couldn’t pick up a bat and beat the shit out of someone else for a can of cold beans? How soon before Sax is kicked out because his knee is slowing us down, or Nugget because she’s too small, or Dillon because he’s too young? What about Ben, with his burns, or me because I can only use one arm properly?

And let’s not kid ourselves about what it means when we kick someone out of the group. How long would any of us survive here on our own? It’s not just a choice about who walks with us – it’s a choice between who we help to live and who we send off to die.

Are we going to become like those other groups we’ve seen? Because they terrify me. They’re little more than animals, and that’s not what we are. That’s not what I want to be. We lost so much because of the bomb, but now we’ve started throwing stuff away – important stuff – and I don’t want to let go of it.

Maybe I’m blind, maybe I’m delusional, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose who I am just because everything has changed.

 

Somewhere in there, I think I got off-track. In the heat of it, it didn’t matter until I stopped and took in a breath in the silence. Then I felt my hands start to shake and had to clench them tighter. I was cracking inside, and I didn’t want to shatter into pieces in front of them. So I told them that I was done listening to them and that they could come find me when they’d finished bitching at each other.

Then I walked out. Out of the room and up the stairs, right up to the roof. I needed the air, great big gulps of it as if I was drowning. I looked up at the orange sky and collapsed into tears wondering if the fires of hell had ascended into the heavens, and this was all that was left for any of us now.

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