Tuesday, 3 February 2009 - 4:38 pm

Different strides

Yesterday, I was up on the roof for a long time before anyone came looking for me. I don’t know if they kept on fighting after I left or if they just glared at each other. In truth, I was terrified of the aftermath of my outburst.

I stopped crying after a little while and calmed down into staring bleakly off the edge of the roof. It’s mostly residential here, apartment blocks and townhouses neatly laid out in concrete chunks. The roads are a haphazard mess of vehicles, as they seem to be everywhere, but things don’t look as broken here. Except for the yawning, hollow quiet – that’s the same everywhere.


When I heard footsteps on the stairs up to the roof, my heartbeat spiked painfully in my chest. What if it was bad news? What if things had gone horribly wrong after I left? What if, right now, some of the group were packing up and leaving? What if they’d already gone? What if they were furious with me and were leaving me behind?

I hoped that it was Ben, whatever the news was going to be. I wanted to see him, to have him squeeze my good hand and tell me that we’ll work it out. But when I turned around, it was Thorpe pushing out through the access door. My stomach instantly plummeted through my feet, while the rest of me braced for a fight. I don’t like that that was my reaction to seeing him, but it’s reflex now.

He looked at me like he didn’t know what to say, and I thought that at least we had that much in common.

“We should head out soon,” he said eventually. He was right; the day was crawling up the sky towards noon and we had to make some progress today. We were closing in on the first dot on our map, slowly and surely.

I nodded and tried to find some words. “Is it settled?” It was the only thing I could think of to ask, the only question that seemed to matter right now.

I saw his expression darken and knew what the answer was before he voiced it. “For now.” Which meant no. Which meant the whole thing wasn’t over yet.

I swallowed the things I wanted to say and looked out over the edge of the roof again. All of a sudden, I felt so tired of all of this. How long was I going to have to fight just to keep this group together, to keep us all going? How long was my stubbornness going to hold out?

“Look, I’m sorry that I don’t like them, but that’s just the way it is, all right?” Thorpe was getting huffy.

“You don’t have to like them,” I told him. “You don’t even have to talk to them if you don’t want to.” I closed my eyes. “I just want you to stop fighting. All of you.”

“Oh, is that all? What about when she–“

Thorpe isn’t prone to letting things slip when he doesn’t mean to, so his abrupt halt made me look up at him. His face wasn’t giving anything away, though, except that he regretted saying more than he meant to. “When she what?” I asked him. “Did Sally do something?”

He flicked me a glare. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Clearly, it does.” He wasn’t going to tell me, though. I tried to think of what Sally could possibly do that Thorpe wouldn’t throw back in her face publicly, that Thorpe wouldn’t want anyone else to know about. And when? We’re all together all of the time, except for last night when we spread over several rooms in the apartment.

I’m not sure what it was that made me think of it. The shuffles in the darkness last night, or Sally’s tears this morning and the way she had looked at him like a kicked dog. Maybe it was the look of distaste that crossed Thorpe’s face when he thought about it.

“She didn’t– she came onto you?” I could just imagine how well that would have gone down. Of all the things she could have done, she had to try that? I think that the last straw on the proverbial camel’s back that brought the tidal wave down on us finally.

“She thought it would change my mind.” He spat the words out as if they tasted disgusting.

“But she used the wrong bait.” I didn’t flinch when he sent me another glare. “Come on, you can’t be surprised? She’s scared, Thorpe, and she’s desperate. How’s she supposed to know that she’s barking up the wrong tree?” Poor Sally. She had meant to fix things and wound up making them worse.

He was unmoved, just shrugged and stared at the other rooftops.

“Look, I’ll talk to her. Make sure she doesn’t do that again.”

I could feel him coiling up next to me at that idea, all ready to get angry again. “Don’t–“

I held up a hand to stop him. “I won’t tell her why you hate it so much. All right?” I looked him in the eye and felt helpless all over in the face of his closed anger. There was a tiny tremble just under my breastbone. “Dammit, I’m not your enemy. Why do you always do that?”

“Do what?”

“You get defensive at everything! No-one here is out to get you. We’re supposed to be looking after each other. We’re supposed to– I just want to help, okay?”

“You just want me to be okay with them staying with us.”

“Yes! What’s so bad about them being with us? They haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Not yet. But they will. And what happens then?”

“That’s different! Then we kick them out. But we shouldn’t kick them out for something they might do. Any of us might do that.” I threw my hands up and felt myself getting upset again.

He gave me a look like ice, as if I was talking about him all of a sudden. As if I meant the bruise on my cheek. “That was an accident.”

“I know! I know, I didn’t mean– I’m not angry with you about that.” I was getting tangled in it again and tried to wave away that expression on his face. A part of me was aware that I was moving my hands around to stop them from shaking, but I couldn’t help it. I could feel my control slipping and that only made it worse when the words started to tumble out of my mouth.

I really wasn’t angry with him about being hit. I didn’t want him to go. I didn’t want anyone to go. Thorpe, this group, these people, they’re all I have now. They’re all I’ve got left. And I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want it to fall apart. Yes, we might be heading towards my dad’s place, we’re going to look for him, but come on. It’s been over a month already – a whole month. Anything could have happened to him. The bomb, the rain, the violence of desperate people. What are the chances of him still being there? What if this is it for me? This could be all I have in the whole world now, a group of strangers that don’t like each other. I don’t want to lose that too. I’m so scared that I’ll end up alone.

I started crying again somewhere in the middle of it all. The tightness in my chest snagged at the words that wouldn’t stay inside; they fell onto the rooftop, but I don’t know if any of them made sense. They stopped when Thorpe put an arm around me – poor guy, he looked bewildered in the face of a girl’s tears, hardly seemed to know what to do with himself. He rubbed my back awkwardly and let me lean on him while I wept. It made both of us uncomfortable; I pulled away when that feeling started to outweigh my need for comfort.

He apologised to me – not for the fighting over Sally and Masterson, but for hitting me. For this time and the one before – he hadn’t forgotten that part of the day the rain came. I should probably mind more than I do about all that, but for some reason he’s easy to forgive. I know it was an accident.

We didn’t talk any more after that. I’d spilled everything I had and the crying had given me a headache. Thorpe isn’t exactly one to over-share, so it went quiet.

We went back downstairs once I’d recovered myself. There were a few expectant looks, but no-one asked. Not even Ben – he barely glanced at me. We just picked our everything up and headed out. Put our feet on the bare concrete and trudged on, each with a different stride.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009 - 5:21 pm


This is taking far longer than any of us thought it would. On the map, the dots really aren’t that far apart, but the line between the hospital and the first one has turned out to be wigglier than we had planned.

We ended up taking a big detour around the wolves’ patch, after the fight. None of us wanted a repeat of that encounter. And of course, we’re moving slower because of the injuries.

On top of that, we came across a street that was completely burned out today. It looks like there was a huge car accident when the bomb went off and somewhere in it a fire started. The cars were fused together and it had hollowed out the buildings on half of the block. They were all staring emptily at the low sky, long since scoured down by the rain. The scorch-marks on what was left of brick and metal were what told us the tale of their downfall, and the mass of it blocked our way.

There was a body in one of the cars. It’s been a days since we saw a corpse – the rain eats the evidence of our demise. I had refused to look too closely at those in the hospital, but this one was just sitting there, teeth bared to the air because the lips had shrunk away from them.

We left the body where it was as we turned to take a path around the ruins. I wish we could have done something for whoever it was, but other than lay him out for the acid to melt away, what could we do? There’s no earth around here to bury him in, even if we had a shovel and the time to dig a hole big enough.

It makes me sad to think that there’s no-one left to do that kind of thing any more, to clear up after us when we’re gone. To look after us when we can’t look after ourselves. It frightens me if I think about it too much.


I talked to Sally about the thing with Thorpe today. She was falling behind again and I went to walk with her. She’s not looking so good – I can’t tell if she wraps her arms around herself because of physical or emotional pain.

She wasn’t eager to talk to me, but that was okay. She was quiet enough to listen, so I just said what I thought needed to be said. I told her that she shouldn’t try that stuff with Thorpe again – or any of the other guys. She doesn’t need to do that here, with us. I said that we’ll work all this stuff out. I think she heard me.

I wish I could have told her that it’ll all be all right. I wish I could have said that there was nothing to worry about, that there was nothing to be afraid of. We would have both known I was lying, so I didn’t bother. I prefer the truth.

You’re not alone, I told her. You do have friends here. I’d like to be one, if she’d let me.

I don’t know if any of it helped; she’s so closed up that she doesn’t give much away. I got a nod and a murmured thanks out of her, but that was it. I hope it helped. I hope about a lot of things right now. 

Thursday, 5 February 2009 - 4:43 pm

Sounds in the silence

Today was not a happy journey for us, but we were close to our target by the time it was over. Sax was antsy when we started to look for a place to stop for the night, even though he’s still limping badly. The first dot on the map is his daughter – she has an apartment near here with her husband and baby son. But the rain was coming, the clouds scuttling up thickly in the sky overhead, turning backlit orange to dark ochre. We had to stop.

No-one’s really talking to anyone else at the moment. With less talking between us, we had more time to notice other things as we walked. Like the emptiness of the stone pots in the streets, ones that used to be home to bushes and flowers. They’re stained earth now, not even a leaf or a fallen petal left by the rain to tell us what used to be there. And the way the buildings in this area are cluttered together, hunched up almost close enough to rub shoulders, as if they’d grown fatter than their builders had intended.

Graffiti tags everything around here. It seems that the rain doesn’t wash away paint very well. And, oddly, some of it is fresh.

The silence isn’t complete, either. We kept hearing people moving around, just beyond our sight. It’s both a good sign – it certainly makes it more likely that Sax’s daughter will be found – and unnerving. We didn’t actually see anyone, though; our previous encounters have hardly been encouraging, so that was a mixed blessing too.


We had broken into another apartment building for shelter when we heard shouts close by. By then, most of us were on the second floor raiding kitchens in the abandoned apartments, and the noise drew us to the windows. It took us almost a minute to realise what we were watching, and then I told Dillon to take Nugget downstairs to Sax and to keep her away from the windows.

There were about half a dozen of them, all young men, all with fluorescent strips flashing down their jeans. They were chasing someone down – it was their shouts that we had heard, hot in pursuit. The quarry didn’t quite make it to the street before us – the next building blocked some of it, but we could tell from the lift and fall of limbs and weapons that there was a beating going on. I flinched, but I couldn’t look away.

I said that we should go and help, even though I knew it would be pointless. We were already too late to prevent it, and I think I’ve lost all my leverage with the group anyway. There’s still a part of me that can’t just do nothing, though, even if all I can do is say that I want to help.

Then a whistle went off and the beaters peeled off the victim. They sprinted off up the street and I thought, there’s our chance. It was Ben who put it into words, who suggested that we should go see how bad it was. He hadn’t spoken to me all day and I was so relieved that he was still supporting me, even if it’s just because we happen to agree on something.

There was a noise that stopped us, one that made my stomach clench up in horror. The hissing washed over us and dribbled down the windows, chasing up the street towards the attack site. We knew then what that whistle meant. I wasn’t the only one to flinch at the sound of that cut-off scream and to turn my face away from the window as the rain passed over.

Thursday, 5 February 2009 - 7:03 pm

The plan

We tried to talk about what we saw over dinner. That group had run off in the direction that we were heading. The fresh graffiti tags seemed to mean something. The groups are getting more and more organised: these ones had a uniform, and maybe they’ve marked their territory too.

I remembered the wolves then. I remembered them laughing when we told them where we were headed. I couldn’t help but wonder if this brutal violence was why. It was enough to make us assume that there are more of them than just those six, as if the whistles weren’t enough of a reason.

Sax’s daughter’s place is only two or three blocks away, inside this group’s territory if what we suspect is true. One way or another, we’re going to have to deal with them if we’re going to get there. Or we have to give up and hope for better conditions at the next map-dot.

No-one was brave enough to suggest that we give up. I’d like to think that no-one wants to give up on someone else’s family, but– maybe the past few days have jaded me too much. I know how selfish human nature is, but I don’t like it. Sax said that it was ‘his baby’, and that was enough to keep everyone’s natures silent.

We’ve decided to try going in a smaller group. Leave the kids and the weaker of us behind – by that, they mean Sally and Masterson, the ones who ‘can’t be trusted’ – while the stronger of us see if we can get through. Ben is staying behind to keep an eye on the kids (and the other two), and to act as protection in case anyone stumbles across them here.

So that leaves Thorpe, Sax and me. We’re heading off in the morning. I think we’re going to need luck for this one.

Friday, 6 February 2009 - 4:46 pm


The good news is that we didn’t get into a fight today. Nothing really went to plan, but at least no-one got hurt any more than they already are. Not physically, anyway.

We started out just after dawn, in the hopes that the other group might not be around that early. It didn’t work; we got as far as the end of the block before we heard a weird hooting noise from a nearby rooftop. I wondered then if we should have sent the others away from this area, in case these watchers had seen where we came out and went to check for more. I wanted to turn back then, to make sure that the others were all right.

But it was too late for that. The hooting was echoed down the next block, and then the one after that. How many pockets of these people are there? And, more importantly, how organised are they? That thought brought both hope and dread as the patter of distant feet drifted down to us through the deserted streets.

We started to back up, to shift away from the oncoming danger. Thorpe was reaching for the length of pipe he had stuck through his belt and Sax was fingering the throat of his battered instrument. I put a hand on the tall fireman to stop him, pointing out that maybe we shouldn’t take an aggressive stance. We should stand our ground and wait for them to come to us, as if we’re not afraid of them.

It’s a gamble, but I couldn’t help but think of some advice Dad gave me when I started going out at night. I was sixteen and thought I was invincible, and he was desperately worried about me. But he looked at me and he told me to keep that attitude. Don’t look like a victim, Faithy, then they’ll be less likely to make you one.

The boys weren’t pleased by that idea. They played along anyway, mostly because they didn’t have any better ideas, and we waited. That was the worst part, I think: feeling my pulse climb along with the volume of the footsteps; being aware of the tension in the fellas either side of me.

Then I noticed the pile of clothes in the gutter just a few paces away and felt sick. Last night, there had been a person in them, beaten and melted away to nothing now. Maybe we should have run after all. Abruptly I recalled that my little knife was still in my pack, and I had left my pack with the others. All I had in my hand was a bottle of water. So much for planning.


There were eight of them, maybe ten. A lot more than us, anyway. All with those fluorescent yellow strips on their legs, bright even in the orange-tinted sunlight. They eyed us sharply as they jogged to a stop, swelling out to almost encircle us. It was an effort to keep my face calm; my heart was trying to thump its way out of my throat as if it wanted to offer itself up to their tender mercies.

“You’re trespassing,” one of them said. He was a foot shorter than Thorpe and had a burn scar down one arm, still healing.

I had to think quickly to figure out which way to jump here. To find an answer that wasn’t going to make things worse. “We weren’t sure who this area belonged to. That’s why we waited.”

He sneered at me and some of his friends snorted. “Weren’t sure? What, you haven’t heard of us?”

“We’re just passing through. And people have been surprisingly difficult to get straight answers out of.”

“Oh, well then. We’re the Stripers.” As names go, it wasn’t very intimidating, but I didn’t point that out. “And this is our zone.”

“Are the tags around here yours, then?” If I tilted my head and squinted a little bit, those tags almost looked like they said ‘Striper’. Thank goodness they can spell and didn’t put an extra ‘p’ in there.

“Of course they are. What are you, stupid?”

“No, just checking.” I was determined not to rise to his bait. I wasn’t going to crack first this time, and I wasn’t going to make it easy for him to turn this into something awful. He was going to have to do better than that. “So we know what’s yours.”

He didn’t seem to know what to do with that. “What are you doing here?”

“We’re looking for family. We’re headed for– where is it again?” I turned to Sax and he gave the street. He looked stressed out, still gripping his saxophone tightly, but he was keeping to himself. I didn’t quite dare to look at Thorpe.

“So you want to just walk into our zone, huh?” That sent a murmur around the group that disapproved thoroughly.

“Well.” I eyed the Stripers in front of me and tried not to look like I was making this up as I went. I’m not always a good liar, but it’s amazing what a person is capable of under pressure. “With your permission, yes.”

“With our permission?” That made him grin. It was better than a frown, so I wasn’t going to complain. “What makes you think we’ll give that to you?”

“I guess asking nicely isn’t going to work here, huh.” I tried to smile back but it came out wary. “Look, we don’t want any trouble. We just want to go check the house out and then leave. That’s it. What’s it gonna take?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have asked them that. I shouldn’t have put that ball in their court.

There was something hungry lurking in his grin then, this Striper with the scorched arm. “I can think of a few things.”

Before I could answer, a hand fell on my shoulder. My heart nearly fell right out of my chest before I realised that it was Thorpe. “Not gonna happen,” he told them flatly. I was grateful and swearing at him in my head at the same time. Support is always nice, but scaring the crap out me isn’t.

The scorched arm was starting to frown, so I didn’t have much time to collect myself. “Come on, we can do better than that. We’ve got water.” I hefted the bottle in my hand.

“So? Not enough to make a difference.” I could see them checking us out; all of our packs had been left behind, so we clearly weren’t carrying much of value except what they could see. Which was one bottle on each of us. “Don’t think you’ve got anything we want, now have ya?”

I hadn’t prepared for this. I hadn’t thought about what we might need to do here beyond ‘not fight’. I caught sight of a big, shiny SUV and wished we’d just stolen a car and driven over them. We hadn’t even tried for a car in days, and the roads were clear enough to be able to start one here.

“Do you want a car?” I blurted the question out before I had time to think about it much.

The Stripers laughed and the scorched arm gestured at the street around us, littered with vehicles. “We’ve got lots of cars.”

I knew I had something then. I knew I had something they didn’t and that made me grin. “Do you want one that runs?”

That made them stop and think. There were sceptical glances and murmurs, but they were definitely interested. Thorpe squeezed my shoulder and let it go; apparently, he thought the signs were good, too. Another one of them spoke up in the scorched arm’s confusion.

“If you’ve got a car, where the hell is it?”

“We don’t have one. The roads have been too clogged to drive, till we got down here. But we can make one of yours run.”

There were a lot of questions then and it was hard to keep up. No, not any car – it had to be a manual transmission. Yes, I know that hotwiring them doesn’t work – we don’t use that to start them. No, there’s nothing wrong with the engines themselves. No, I can’t prove it without doing it. No, I’m not going to say how to do it – if I did that, we’d have nothing to trade, now would we?

I don’t know how long we stood there, back-and-forthing. I could feel myself relaxing into it, losing the fight-or-flight edge of adrenaline, and from the postures around me, so was everyone else. Well, almost everyone – Thorpe still looked ready to punch someone in the face, but he often looks that way.

We came to an agreement, finally – I’d start a car, and they’d let Sax visit his daughter’s place. It took me a few minutes, but I managed to convince Thorpe to go with him. I was confident that these Stripers wouldn’t bother me while I was fixing the car, and I worried what might happen to the boys once they were out of sight. And if Sax found something awful, well, he might need someone there. The big fella didn’t like it, but he agreed eventually. I wished that Ben was there to stay with me, more than anything else in the world.

Friday, 6 February 2009 - 6:53 pm

Playing for time

So off went Thorpe and Sax with a couple of Stripers as escorts, up the street and around the corner. Out of sight. I felt naked suddenly; it was hard to summon up a smile and look casual as I asked these dangerous strangers which car they wanted me to start for them. The scorched arm leered at me and asked if I really wanted to do that for him, but he backed off when I told him yes, that really was all. My heart started beating all out of proportion again.

It doesn’t take all that long to ‘fix’ a car so that it’ll start, but I didn’t want to be finished before the boys got back. There was no telling what they would do ‘while we wait’ and I didn’t want to find out. So I took my merry time, lingered under the bonnet (where I didn’t actually need to be), climbed in under the dashboard. I almost checked the oil, but changed my mind as that might have been a little bit obvious.

Through all of it, the guy with the scorched arm kept asking me about what I was doing. And about how I was doing. And eyeing me in a way I didn’t like. I hadn’t seen many girls in their group; perhaps that was why.

I got them to push the car all the way up to the end of the street, because we needed a big run-up. Not strictly true, but it kept them busy and wore them out at the same time. There was still no sign of the boys, so I fiddled for a little while longer, but the Stripers were getting impatient.

So I finally got them to push the car down the street and started it. Thank goodness, it coughed to life fairly easily. They had chosen a sleek red sports car, of course, and it roared impressively in the post-world quiet. They cheered and carried on, and then panicked because I was behind the wheel and might take off in it at any second.

I was hauled out of the driver’s seat so that they could take it for a spin. They looked like little boys then, all of them, faces lit up at the sound of a growling engine, all oil and moving metal parts. A couple of them even forgot themselves enough to slap me on the back in thanks.

Then there it was, that moment when they realised that I was still there and had done what I had agreed to do. The question arose: what now? I didn’t want to know the answer to that; I didn’t want to find out if theirs was one I would like or not.

I grabbed the scorched arm – figuratively – and asked him if he wanted me to show him how to start it. Anything to fill in the time until Thorpe and Sax got back. I was starting to think they’d been too long, but it hadn’t been long enough for me to give up hope that they’d come back for me.

The scorched arm agreed to my proposal and I sat in the car with him while his boys pushed us down the street. They all cheered when it started obediently and I was so relieved that I smiled.

Then the Striper turned to me and asked if I wanted to stay with them. He said that they’d look after me, make sure that I had what I needed. I could be useful to them, and this time he wasn’t just thinking about sex. He was sincere – I believed that as I sat there looking at him, stunned.

It might have been a good choice. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider it. These people didn’t look like they were starving or struggling, and there was temptation in that. But I could also imagine how they managed to stay that way, and I couldn’t forget what we saw last night. There were other reasons for me to say no, too, and at that moment, two of them walked around the corner.

I was so pleased to see them that I almost grinned. I declined the scorched arm’s offer, as kindly as I could. They might have scared the crap out of me, but they hadn’t hurt us.

My two boys were moving slowly; Sax’s knee seemed worse. There was darkness in Thorpe’s expression when I joined them, and Sax’s face was so bleak that I didn’t dare ask what they found. I shot the fireman a querying look and got a shake of his head in response, so at least there wasn’t a dead body there.

We turned to go then, and I said goodbye to the Stripers. For a moment, I thought that they would change their mind about just letting us go. That they might make us stay and start more cars for them, or worse. So much worse. I couldn’t forget how dangerous they were, not for long.

“Offer’s still open, Faith,” the scorched arm told me, and I knew then that they wouldn’t stop us going. There was a farewell in his voice. “If you change your mind.”

I thanked him and headed off with the boys. Thorpe asked me what it was all about, but I told him it was nothing. There’s no need for them to know about that.

Now, I’m back with the others. Everyone’s all right, except Sax, who didn’t find his baby girl today.

Saturday, 7 February 2009 - 3:33 pm

All about us

There was another internal explosion today. It held off until we were out of the Stripers’ territory, which is lucky. I don’t know that they would have been so accommodating two days in a row.

It was the talk about yesterday’s encounter that sparked it off. Nothing to do with Sally and Masterson this time; this was all about Thorpe and me. We had stopped for a snack and a rest, and the talk turned to how we had been so lucky with them.

It was Ben that went off. He has barely said a word to me for four days, but as soon as he heard that the boys had left me with the other group, he tore into Thorpe. Didn’t he know what might have happened? How could he leave me alone like that, how could he put me in that kind of danger? Yes, it turned out all right, but it might not have. Anything could have happened, and none of it good. We weren’t supposed to split up! He was supposed to be looking out for me, he was supposed to be protecting me. Instead, he abandoned me – that’s the word that Ben used. Abandoned.

I was too surprised to do anything at first. I tried to speak up, to say that it was me who told Thorpe to go with Sax, but they weren’t listening. Thorpe was recovering from his shock at the sudden attack, getting defensive, and that couldn’t end well. I tried to separate them, and Ben snapped something about me defending Thorpe that I didn’t understand.

Then he stormed off. I made to go after him, but Thorpe held me back and told me to let him cool off. I’ve never seen Ben so wound up about something – hell, he has only raised his voice once before in all this time. That was in defence of someone else, too.

Since then, I’ve tried to stay out of his way. Things are tense enough at the moment – we’re skirting around the bottom edge of the Stripers’ zone so that we can head west. We don’t want to attract any more attention; we’re waiting until we’re out of earshot before we risk starting a car.

I’m touched that he would stand up for me like that. I’ve never had anyone do something like that before. But now he won’t even look in my direction and I have no idea what to think of that. Did he only do it because he believed it was the right thing to do, or does he really care?

I’m worried about Ben. I miss talking to him. I wish I knew what was going on inside his head.

Sunday, 8 February 2009 - 4:26 pm

Eyes like her dad

I caught up with Sax today. He’s been withdrawn ever since he went to his daughter’s home, which is understandable.

I spoke with Thorpe first, tried to find out what happened when they got to the apartment. This is what we were trying to talk about when Ben exploded yesterday and I was determined that it wouldn’t just slide past us. So many things seem to be slipping through my fingers at the moment.

Thorpe said that the Stripers had been delighted when they found a building that hadn’t been broken into yet. They tore off into the other apartments, while he and Sax went into his daughter’s.

It was untouched; it looked like they had just stepped out for a moment. There was nothing there of use. The Christmas tree was still up and the presents were all there, wrapped and pristine underneath it. Sax didn’t say anything. He just wandered around, took a few things, and then they left.


Normally I’d sit with Ben while we all ate, but he’s still avoiding me. So I sat with Sax and asked him how he was doing. He gave me an odd look and then smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Checking up on me, Faith?”

I thought about what I should tell him, then shrugged and went for the truth. “Yeah.”

He patted my hand and suddenly he looked like a grandfather. The hair growing around the base of his skull is lightly salted and he doesn’t have a time-creased face, but there was something so aged in the slump of his shoulders, in the downturn of his head.

Her name is Alecia. She’s a few years older than I am, and her little boy is nearly three years old. He runs her ragged, all energy and straining boundaries. Her husband is the only boy who ever stood up to her father and refused to be intimidated out of dating her.

He showed me a couple of pictures of them; he must have taken them from her apartment. She looks a little like her dad around the eyes.

Their car was gone, he said, and the little one’s pushchair. They hadn’t been home since it happened and he didn’t know where they might have gone that day. Still, I told him, there was hope. They could have joined a group, like we did. They could have gone somewhere else for help and sanctuary.

At least we didn’t find evidence that they’d died. At least we know that they might still be alive somewhere. And we’d keep looking, we’d keep an eye out for a sign of them.

I don’t know if I helped, but the reassuring smile he gave me was a bit more convincing the second time around. 

Sunday, 8 February 2009 - 8:21 pm

The saxophone

I didn’t notice until we were settling down to sleep that Sax isn’t carrying his saxophone any more. He’s had it on him since the city came down, battered and bent, hanging off its strap or gripped in his meaty hand. It gave him his name.

I think he left it there, in Alecia’s apartment, among the things she doesn’t need any more. I think he’s said goodbye to it, to that part of himself that he has carried with him this whole time. He’s moving on without it.

I can’t help but wonder if he gave up too quickly. But maybe he’s being realistic. Maybe he’s right to think that there’s no chance of us finding our families again. But he hasn’t said anything to burst our bubbles. He’s carrying on anyway. I don’t know where he finds his strength.

I think he’s the bravest of all of us.

Monday, 9 February 2009 - 4:38 pm


We’re in another building tonight, this one packed full of tiny apartments. Furniture has been squeaked into the narrow rooms and every spare cranny has been stuffed with knickknacks, ornaments, books, pictures, and, in one case, shoes. We went through each cubbyhole home, searching for food and water mostly, and anything else that might be of use.

It’s still strange, walking through other people’s things. I find myself unwilling to touch things, trying not to leave them out of place, in case whoever owns them might come back someday. Maybe they’re like us, walking home the long way. I take what I know we need, but it still feels wrong.

I want to leave a note behind us: an IOU, an apology. Some sign that we took because we needed to, not because we wanted to. Not because we could. But I didn’t leave a note. I am a thief now; perhaps it’s time that I admitted that and got used to it. Perhaps it’s time I stopped making excuses.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to walking around other people’s homes, and hoping that they’re dead and never coming back so that I’ll feel less guilty about taking their stuff.