Monday, 21 December 2009 - 8:44 pm

The only thing

I think I like going out with the foraging party better than staying at the farm. I don’t know if it’s the movement, the purpose in our searching that makes me feel like a Seeker, or if it’s just being away from somewhere where everyone looks to me for answers. Out on the road, things are simpler. We all know what we’re doing and where we’re going – we get the maps out every morning and plan a circuit that brings us back to the farm each night.

It’s not that I dislike the farm – I don’t. I am glad we’re here and I’m always pleased when I hear about the progress we’re making. Conroy is damaged but there’s nothing wrong with his cognitive abilities: he’s getting the water system hooked up with extra tanks so that we have enough for us and the plants.

Janice found worms in one of the troughs and got everyone excited about them. It’s the first non-human life we’ve seen in such a long time, and it’ll make growing food easier. Nugget and Estebar were running around with them today, chasing each other with little wiggly creatures and laughing. I don’t think I’ve heard Nugget laugh like that before.

The buildings are gradually becoming more functional and more like a home; every morning while we’re pouring over the maps, we get at least one request to keep an eye out for something in our travels. Something not food or tools, not essential. But nice. Pillows and blankets. Extra shirts. Cleaning supplies – cloths, sponges, bleach.

The farm means hope for us. It’s only just starting, but right now I don’t have any reason to think it won’t work. Things are falling into place. Even things with our slave Warren are calming down.

When I was heading back towards the kitchens to return a pile of dishes tonight, I heard a noise from one of the storerooms we haven’t had much use for. I wasn’t sure what to do – my hands were full, but I wanted to know what it was. It could be someone in trouble. It could be a couple of someones making out. It could be rats.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t think that it was a good noise. It was sharp and angry, a punch against a wall made by something hard. Not a fist, I was sure about that – whatever it was had edges not softened by flesh. I paused and listened, but it didn’t repeat. After a couple of heartbeats, there was a softer sliding noise and something padded thudded onto the floor.

I didn’t like it. It sounded like a body – a person – and it was too quiet. I put the stack of plates down on the floor and rapped on the door before I opened it. What I found inside was far from anything I might have expected.

It smelled sharply of fresh urine in the little storeroom. There were no windows; instead, it was lit by a hurricane lamp. The flame bounced calmly in its glass case, oblivious to the mess in the room. Little cardboard boxes littered the floor, each one with an end torn open, each one scrunched in the middle as if caught in a closed fist. They were gathered up towards one end of the room after being thrown at the wall there. In amongst them were little white plastic shards.

I didn’t have time to take in what they were – I was distracted by the shape huddled at the other end of the room. Sitting on the floor, booted feet planted solidly, head bowed behind bent knees, she didn’t notice me enter at first. Then her head lifted and I saw that it was, in fact, Jersey. Only she could look so angry, and hurt, and pissed off, and as if she might punch anyone who asked if she was crying.

“What the fuck do you want.” She didn’t even pitch it as a question.

“I came to make sure everything was all right.”

“I’m fine. Get lost.”

It’s not like we’ve ever been the best of friends, but it still isn’t fun to be rebuffed like that. I cast around for something else to say and my gaze fell to the floor again. The floor and those little plastic sticks. Then a scrap of crumpled packet caught my eye – …Test – and I put the pieces together. I blinked, then quietly closed the door behind me. No wonder she was hiding.

“Jersey, are you pregnant?” There was a little part of me that soared at the idea. If someone else was pregnant, maybe it would be a little less weird for me to be carrying a baby too. I could have someone to share the journey with.

She huffed and shoved herself to her feet. She moves in short, hard bursts, with more effort than grace, and she stamped as she stood up. She’s about my height, but always seems bigger.

“No, I’m not.”

She seemed furious in a way that didn’t fit the words. The Jersey I had grown to know would despise being pregnant; she isn’t that kind of girl. Until recently, when she started latching onto Jonah, I wasn’t even sure that she liked men.

Then I looked at the mess on the floor again. There were a lot of them, twenty maybe, all torn open and used. How long has she been doing this, coming in here and checking? Because she was afraid she was pregnant, or to see if it had happened yet?

She was trying to push past me to get to the door, but I caught her arm. It was there when I looked into her face: the fear, buried deep under the angry barriers she keeps up.

“Are you trying to get pregnant?”

She tore her arm out of my hand hard enough to make my fingers smart. “It’s none of your business.”


“It’s the only thing that works! Okay? Are you happy? The only thing.”

I stared at her, at a loss for what she meant for the longest time. Then I remembered the Sickness. Jersey was burned by the rain weeks ago – months now? – and must be due to get Sick soon. The only person to survive it – to get burned and never get Sick – was Sally. The baby was blamed, and now here was our punch-happy tomboy trying to get pregnant. To save her own life.

It made perfect sense, but it still made me feel ill. She must be so scared; the negative tests on the floor were testament to that. She saw my expression change and hated it. She isn’t close to anyone, isn’t used to sharing this kind of stuff.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Not to be funny, Faith, but you don’t exactly have the equipment I need. So unless you want to lend Matt to me, the best thing you can do is stay out of it.”

Hell no. “Have you talked to Masterson?”

“Are you kidding?”

I didn’t blame her – I wouldn’t wish that examination on anyone, not from him and his cold hands. “You might want to think about it. I–” I looked at her and knew there wasn’t anything I could give her. Helplessness blossomed in my chest in a lukewarm seeping. “Good luck,” I wished her instead. It was the best I could offer.

Her shoulders slumped a tiny bit – this weighed on her more than she could hide. I tried not to think about how pale she looked, or about how she didn’t look well. I stepped aside and she stamped past me. The door bounced off the wall, wavering like it was sorry it got in her way, and she was gone.

It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised she had no idea that I was pregnant. I’m glad of it now. I don’t need another person throwing resentment at me, and I wouldn’t blame her for it. I’m terrified to have this baby and she’s terrified not to have one. Luck isn’t fair.

I can’t give her what she’s looking for, but I hope she finds it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009 - 7:15 pm


I have grown used to the stillness of the After. I didn’t realise that until today.

Out with the foraging crew, it’s hard to avoid the quiet. We drive until we find somewhere we haven’t already picked clean and pile out of the vehicles to scour the buildings. We break up into pairs, each of us bearing a weapon of some description. When the engines shut off and the group whittles down into just two pairs of feet each, the silence creeps in. It presses against us, like heavy dust on the air choking off speech.

We move quickly, partly because of the need to cover as much ground as possible, but also to get out of the quiet. It’s easier to ignore when we’re together – the automatic sounds of half a dozen people drive the soundlessness back. Our ears latch onto each other’s presence eagerly. I’m not the only one who has noticed the relief in exchanged glances when we come back into a group. I wonder if I’m the only one who smiles when the engines catch onto life again and slap the silence back past the acid-scorched walls around us.

Sound wraps around us like a blanket, chasing away the reality of the After. In its protection, we can do anything, even drive away if we want. We are a loud, noisy piece of the world Before.

Matt and I usually forage together; I don’t think either of us is willing to let the other out of their sight. Every time he goes where I can’t see him, I wonder what he’s doing, what might happen to him. I wonder if he’ll come back to me. Not because I think he’d ever leave, but because of all the dangerous things around us right now. I’ve already nearly lost him once; I’m not eager to go through that again. I think he feels the same about me, especially since the incident with Warren.

Today, we came across a couple of offroaders that hadn’t been ploughed into the scenery. With one vehicle we don’t dare to use because it’s soaked in diesel, we decided to try for a replacement. Thorpe and I did that while Matt teamed up with Bobby. We wanted to break the pattern; loosen our grip on our fear. Jersey went with Jonah and I wondered if she would find what she was looking for.

I don’t know what it is about the big vehicles, but most of the ones we see were crashed into poles, or through walls, or onto other cars. The shockwave didn’t reach this far, but the devastation on the roads is the same as it is closer to the city. I guess the EMP had a longer reach, or people panicked when they heard what had happened and crashed anyway.

I still wonder where they all went. That’s part of this place’s weirdness; it’s not just silence: it’s the absence of sound. It’s all the things that are missing. A child’s laughter from down the street. The slap of a ball against concrete. Voices muffled by walls. Music blaring too loudly three blocks away. Seagulls screaming. Dogs barking at the birds. Something unseen poking through the trash behind a dumpster. An empty shopping bag being rustled by the wind. Footsteps around the corner, not quite seen yet. All of it is missing.

I feel like I’m in a movie and someone pressed the pause button. Everything is here, even the toys and balls, everything except the living. It’s all waiting for something to come and bring it to life. To give it sound again. To press play so it can carry on with what it was doing when the end came. It doesn’t know that it’s too late for that.

Maybe it does know. Maybe it’s desperate for us to be what it needs, what it misses. That’s why it sucks on us, stealing our scraps of sound and movement as soon as we make them. This place sucks on us like we’re mints, little flavoured people it draws and draws on until we’re thin and afraid to show ourselves.

It’s not the most comfortable place to wonder where all the people out here went. Sometimes I think the buildings ate them.

Somewhere in the middle of my musing, I got a lungful of fumes off the engine I was working on. It filled my head and darkened the edges of my world, and I thought, this is it. This is when this little town sucks me into it, a slice of mint on its tongue before it swallows.

My legs buckled and I wound up crumpled over the offroader’s bumper. Thorpe must have heard me stumble, because when my sight cleared, he was holding me up awkwardly. I blinked up at him, bewildered, and then hurriedly pulled my feet under myself again. I had fainted. Or almost fainted. Which is ridiculous; I don’t faint. I’ve never done anything like that before.

I came over all embarrassed and apologised to him in mumbles. Of all the silly things to do. I’m fine, I told him. Nothing to worry about.

“Are you sick?” he asked. I couldn’t tell if he meant to ask that with a capital or not, but I shook my head quickly anyway.

“No, no. Definitely not.”

That seemed to appease him. He made me drink some water anyway. When he was sure I wasn’t going to crumple again, he came to work with me on the offroader I had fallen on. He didn’t say anything but I think he was keeping an eye on me. He so seldom says anything. He’s just there, a solid presence that helps to weigh the situation down.

Thorpe’s quiet is comforting in its own way, but it was still a relief when the others got back, bringing their noise with them. Matt slipped his arms around my waist from behind and kissed the side of my neck, and I leaned back into him. They had found a few boxes of supplies, so they felt good; it was enough to bring a smile to my lips as well.

We packed the boxes into the vehicles and started the engines, chasing the silence away. I sat in the passenger seat and watched it go. Then we were off down the road, taking our roaring bubble of sound with us. We are not done yet, it shouts. We are not gone, we are not going. We’re alive.

We will not be silent.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009 - 7:03 pm

Teeth and bone

It has been months since we faced shamblers. We saw some on the way to the University, but they were easy to avoid. That was a month ago – since then, we have only seen the signs of their passing in broken windows and bashed-in doors. Blood stains on the floor tell of the taste of hunger.

When we saw that group of shamblers, the ex-soldiers with us asked us why we ran. Why we didn’t just stand and fight them. Today, we answered that question. We had no choice.

It was another regular foraging day. Yet another small town, another huddle of buildings on the side of a dirty road, the roadsigns so eaten by the acid that we couldn’t make out its name. There were no vehicles suitable for stealing, so we split into our pairs – and one threesome, as Mira decided to join us today – and scoured empty homes and businesses for food. We’ve found tools and equipment enough to keep us going, but food is still our biggest problem.

I don’t know which of us saw them first. If someone shouted a warning, I didn’t hear them.

Matt and I were in a sprawling house, set back from the road a little. It probably used to have a pretty garden out front; now it was just heavy dirt to wade across to get to the front door. We’re settling into a routine with these things. He stopped in the kitchen and started on the cupboards there, and I went further back to check for a pantry or laundry. There wasn’t much, but I did find a shelf of mason jars full of preserved fruit. My stomach growled at the sight of them: apricots and apples, and more I couldn’t quite see. I lifted myself onto tip-toes to try to take a count of them.

There was a shuffle against the floor. I turned towards it with a ready smile, so pleased with myself, thinking it was Matt.

Its skin was like burnt leather, blackened and cracked. Something had torn its mouth wider than it should have been – I could see teeth through its cheek. Clothes hung off it in rips and shreds. Its eyes were wrong. And it was right there, right beside me, close enough to smell the scorched, stale, bitter copper of it.

I screamed and did the worst thing I could have: I lifted a hand to fend it off as I stumbled backwards. A broken hand closed around my wrist. I felt the bones moving against each other as I tried to yank myself free, hard things shifting beneath the flesh, tearing at it from the inside. But it just kept pulling me, pulling and pulling towards its stretched mouth. Terrifyingly inexorable.

I tried to keep it away from me. I braced my other hand against its skull, pushing to keep those teeth away. I have no idea, but I think I was shouting at it, as if battering it with sound might make a difference. It was stronger than me. It didn’t care if I damaged it, but I shied away from breaking my own wrist to get free. Every instinct told me not to, even when its teeth were opening and closing just an inch from my forearm. Even when it moved itself closer and closer, backing me up against the counter and bearing down on me.

There was a rush of movement – Matt. Matt was coming. I just had to hold on a little longer, but it was so strong. I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t stop its mouth from closing on my arm. The pain was sharp and hot, and wet when teeth tore the skin. I screamed all my fear and hurt at it. I could feel its teeth scraping against bone as it clamped down and down..

Then Matt was shouting something at me – let go, let go of its head. I yanked my free hand back and there was a flash and a deafening crack. The shambler was suddenly a dead weight on me, gravity pulling it down and my arm with it. I fought, trying to get free. Matt had to grab its head and lift the teeth out of the imprint on my arm. He still had the gun in his hand.

I was free. I gulped in air, staggering away from the crumpled body until my back hit a wall. My whole arm was molten fire and I was afraid to look at it – I just clamped my hand over it, aware I was bleeding. Matt got a clean shirt from somewhere and wound it around my arm, while I just stood there, staring at the damned dead thing on the floor and shaking. I couldn’t stop shaking.

When Matt was done tending my arm, he looked into my face, his expression all torn up with earnest pain. “There was another one,” he said, gesturing towards the kitchen where he had been. I jerked around to look and saw a crumpled arm lying across the doorway. It took me a moment to realise that he was trying to explain why it took him so long to get to me.

I lifted my hand to touch his cheek. “We’re all right,” I said. “We’re okay.” He’d saved me, saved my life – I knew it, but I had no idea how to put it into words.

A sharp crack from outside interrupted us. The others. There were more. Matt and I grabbed our weapons and ran outside, following the shouts and shots to our friends.

They were clustered near a store front: a straggle of hungry dead and five friends. Mira had been scavenging with Dale and Bobby; the three of them were tackling the loose shamblers at the edges of the group. Jonah and Jersey were inside the store, fending off front of the group through the shattered front window. The rest of the Seekers were back at the Farm. Every now and then, a shot punctured a skull and a body fell bonelessly to the ground.

Matt and I ran up and got to work. One immediately turned and reached for my arm. I realised with a lurch that it could smell the blood and wanted it. Matt shouted at me to get back, but I had a bat in my hands and our friends were trapped. I could feel the fear of the first one rising in my throat, trying to choke me the way it had grabbed my wrist. No. I struck out. No.

It still frightens and disturbs me to know just how easily a human skull can be caved in. I’ll never forget that sound.

There were so many of them. Matt’s gun cracked beside me. Our footing was treacherous; I couldn’t think about it too hard, or I’d know we were stepping on bodies. I got grabbed again and he peeled it off me. A shambler latched onto his shoulder and I smacked it in the head until it let go. The air was full of gunfire and shouts, and the sound of desperate bodies hitting the ground. The shamblers didn’t make any more noise than they always do, straining and moaning, and falling down.

The five of us outside managed to get to the window and regroup with the pair inside. Jonah was in a bad way – one of his legs was a mess. We finished off another couple inside, and I managed to get enough space to look at the injury. Jersey looked fit to murder another wave of the hungry bastards if they should happen to appear.

They had literally torn chunks off Jonah’s lower leg. I knew it was bad when I dabbed blood away and could see bone. He clenched his teeth and couldn’t keep still under the pain. There wasn’t much I could do, so I used my belt as a tourniquet just below his knee and told the others that we had to get back to the Farm, right now.

Bobby picked Jonah up and dragged him towards the vehicles while the rest of us ran in a group around them, watching for any more shamblers. Nothing was moving anywhere any more; the silence was as heavy and complete as always, with only our huffed breaths and hurried instructions interrupting it. Car doors slammed and we kicked the engines into a roar, tearing away from that awful, bloody town.

I don’t think we’ve driven that frantically in a long time. I was crouching in the back, trying to keep Jonah’s bleeding under control while I was being thrown against the seats and doors. He clung to consciousness, though I’m sure he wished otherwise.

The others knew there was something wrong when we got back so early. A few came out to meet us and there were plenty of hands to carry the injured man inside. Masterson descended from his rooms on high to take over; I was only too glad to see him. He snapped at everyone, but in that professional way that we all obeyed because he’s the doctor. We wanted him to save Jonah.

He banned me from helping when he saw the blood leaking from my arm. He didn’t want me contaminating everything. Then I heard him asking for a saw and went back, because he couldn’t possibly be about to do what I thought he was going to do.

“Has to come off,” he said.

I felt like throwing up. Jonah was shouting, begging him not to, his pride as shredded as his leg. No, please, anything but that. I wanted to join in, but I’d seen the mangled mess. It was horrible. There was so much missing.

Masterson pinned him to the bench by his shoulders and leaned over him. “If I don’t, you’re going to bleed to death. Do you understand?” He stood up and looked around. “Hold him down.”

No-one moved. We were all too shocked. Then I asked Jersey for her belt. She unthreaded it and handed it over without asking why. I stepped to Jonah’s head, folded the belt over, and said, “You’d better bite down on this.”

Jersey started to swear at me but the others moved to help. Thorpe held Jonah’s shoulders down and Bobby took hold of his legs. Janice was at his feet, ready to assist. I stroked Jonah’s hair apologetically. He knew that it had to be done, that Masterson wouldn’t demand this if he didn’t have to. Knowing didn’t make it any better.

I wish I hadn’t stayed. I wish I hadn’t heard the sound of a saw on bone, or Jonah screaming around the leather in his mouth. Masterson’s calm, sharp demands undercut the scene in an oddly comforting way, but it was a relief when the patient finally passed out. I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t help, so once he was still, I escaped. I ran to Matt and clung onto him, trying to forget the rasp of the saw. I tried not to think about what was going on in that room, or how close the man I was holding onto came to the same fate, back in Haven.

It took a long time. It was hours before Masterson finally showed himself. Jonah is still sleeping; he’s lost a lot of blood, but the doctor seems to think he has a chance.

Dinner is nearly finished. I should ask Masterson to look at my arm. I wish today was over.

I wonder if tomorrow is too soon to send someone back for the fruit I found.

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Thursday, 24 December 2009 - 10:28 pm

Anniversary, part two: bomb

I didn’t realise what today was until midday. Something felt off – I couldn’t put my finger on it, not until I thought back to last night. Before I had my arm tended by Masterson, when I was writing my post, something had struck me. It took me a few minutes of puzzled musing to realise that it was the date.

A year ago today, the world was rocked and torn by a bomb that went off over our heads. We didn’t know what had happened, just that everything was broken and falling. We were too busy struggling to survive to examine anything. Lives fell away like dominos.

It took us months to find out how bad things really were. All the infrastructure is gone, the whole country hit at the same time. Pieces were left, warped to fit into the holes left for them. Acid and poison taint each day for us, stealing every living thing they touch.

Through it all, we haven’t had an enemy to fight. There are lots of options for who might have been responsible for this, but none of them are here. The only people we have to fight are each other. Living and dead. And we have – we’ve fought everyone we’ve had to, for survival. Some have fought for other reasons, but living has always been the Seekers’ motive. Living and not forgetting who we used to be.

That day, a whole year ago, I was terrified and lost. A young boy found me and latched on, the first of a group that grew up out of the rubble. So many were found and lost. I grew to love that young boy like a little brother. Of the group that walked out of the epicentre, only Thorpe, Sally, and I remain. It’s a sobering thought.

My arm was almost broken when the bomb went off. It took months to heal. Now, I have an injured forearm again, caused by a different part of the bomb’s fallout: our unsacred, hungry dead. It’s all connected, circles of causality and returns. I don’t like to think about it; I have to believe that we can break out of this. One day, we’ll be free of what the bomb did to us.

After the rain huddled us inside, I called everyone together. This blog has made me the group’s historian and timekeeper, and I knew that none of the others would know what today is. What it means.

I had to wait a while for everyone to assemble. Masterson came down, with Sally floating oddly behind him. She looked vague, spreading shy smiles around the room and seeming free of the depression that has been weighing on her lately. She settled down next to the doctor while Bree cradled baby Felix. Even Warren was brought to sit with us, his chains clinking uncomfortably.

Finally, only Jonah was missing, because he couldn’t be moved. I stood up and cleared my throat, and the whole room focussed on me. From adult to the kids, everyone was looking at me, everyone except tiny Felix. I tried not to think of Sax. I tried not to think of everyone who had been there in the city with me and hadn’t made it this far.

This was important; I wanted to do it right. I wished I’d made notes, because I didn’t know where to start. Under so many stares, my throat wanted to close up and hide.

“Thank you all for coming,” I said. It seemed like a good place to start. “I don’t think many of us know what the date is any more. The days seem to run together now and it’s so easy to lose track.” I paused and took a breath. It was harder than I had been expecting; my voice trembled. “Today is Christmas Eve.”

I stopped to let the group digest that, to let them realise what it meant. All around the group, expressions became shocked, and bleak, and brimfull of grief. People reached out for each other. I saw Dale put his hand on Thorpe’s wrist, and for once, the big fella didn’t shake him off. Matt’s fingers slipped into my hand and I squeezed them, grateful for the contact. We remember. We remember all of it.

“We all made it this far,” I said, to fill in the silence that sat on all of us. “A whole year. The world fell down around us, and we’ve survived for a whole year. That’s pretty amazing, and I’m grateful for each day, and every one of you.”

I caught sight of Iona’s face and hesitated. She was smiling at me, so brightly, but there were tears streaming down her face. She wasn’t the only one crying, but hers was the only smile shining through it. I had to swallow mine back; I had more to say, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to once the tears started.

I went on to speak about how none of the past year has been easy for us. We’ve had to struggle and fight for everything, from food, to life, to the freedom to make our own choices. We’ve had to work hard to stay true to the people we want to be, and not turn into one of the vicious groups we’ve had to fend off. We’ve sought a way to build our lives again – and it looks like we might have finally found it. On the way, we’ve found friends, and fallen in love, and built a family.

But we lost a lot along the way, too. Pieces of ourselves, left behind in our wake as we made concessions to the After. We lost all those things we thought were essential to our lives: jobs, homes, comfort. And more than any of that: people. Families, friends, enemies. Everyone sitting there with me today had lost someone dear to them.

I’ve been keeping this blog as a record of everything that has passed. This is our history, so that it might not be forgotten. But we still had to remember. We should remember them, even though it hurts. We should honour them and remember what they meant to us.

So we did. The whole group stood and sang through throats thick with tears. We’ve sung Amazing Grace so many times – we all know the words now. It’s still a beautiful sound, laden with our sadness, love, and hope for them.

When it was over, we all sat down. I was still holding Matt’s hand, gripping it tightly. I was afraid to look at him, because I knew that the emotions churning in my chest would break free if I did. I can break down with him, but I didn’t want to just then.

Luckily, Estebar stood up and came over to me. He was wringing his hands, more nervous than I’ve seen him before; he’s usually a quiet, self-possessed little boy.

“Nugget wants to know if we can sing carols,” he said.

It was the silliest question, and it was completely perfect. I laughed and said yes, of course we can. It was the strangest carolling I’ve ever been to, laced with sadness and reflection, and a mix of voices sliding all over the lyrics. Half of us forgot the words to Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer and were giggling by the end of it. Thorpe and Dale missed it – at first, I thought they were off somewhere enjoying themselves, but then they came back with a couple of crates. I don’t know where they got the beer; the foragers must have stashed it one day. I’m pretty sure I know where it all went, though.

Last Christmas Eve, there weren’t any carols. It was all cracked concrete, smoke and dust. It was voices crying out in the darkness, for help and mercy, and for a morning we weren’t sure would come.

One year on, we put those memories in their place. We sang. Out in the greenhouses, the first green shoots are poking up through the earth.

One year on, the damage that was done that day is finally starting to heal.

Friday, 25 December 2009 - 9:52 pm

One of many

Yesterday, we honoured what had passed. Today, we made the most of what we’ve got. We had enough food to forget about struggles for a while. Enough of us put on a show for the kids to help the rest suspend worry and fear. We did something we haven’t done since the bomb happened: we took a day off.

Christmas has haunted us all year. Decorations clinging to the insides of homes, like a meal that won’t be digested. Dead trees standing limply over unopened gifts. Strings of dead lights across streets. Acid-burned angels blowing trumpets over empty streets.

The After feels like it could never let go of this holiday. Robbed of the chance to celebrate it, it has clung on ever since, not letting any of us forget about it or what happened last year. As if we might forget. We didn’t disturb any of it, leaving it as it was out of some kind of respect.

This time around, we had the chance to celebrate it. A few of the others went out early in the offroaders, back to the place where we had been attacked a couple of days ago. I wasn’t the only one to find something before the shamblers cut our trip short; the foragers came back with cans of food as well as the mason jars of fruit. More than that, they brought back gifts, wrapped boxes and parcels, symbols of generosity from people no longer able to give them. They filled an entire vehicle with them, all different shapes and sizes.

We had a lucky dip. Names were drawn out of a bowl and we each took a gift. There were plenty of opportunities for laughter – Mira opened a pack of large men’s underwear, while Thorpe got a lovely make up kit. I wound up with a supersoaker, while Matt unwrapped a couple of Hello Kitty shirts. He threatened to wear them, so I said I’d come after him with the supersoaker, and we agreed that a straight swap was the safest all round.

After the paper-tearing was done and everyone had shuffled the gifts around to people more likely to need or use them, Janice asked if she could say a few words. No-one objected, so she stood up with a small, battered book clutched in one hand. She talked about the original Christmas story, about a baby born in a stable and the great gift he was to all of us. Everyone listened, though not all of us are Christians. In the After, we can all find inspiration and solace in stories like that, if only because they’re so familiar. It’s easy to feel alone and abandoned out here, but I hope that we’re not. We’d all like to think that there’s something out there on our side.

The reminder of what today should be about is grounding for us. For once, we felt connected to something bigger than just us. We weren’t the dregs any more, we weren’t the only living things left scrabbling to survive. It was easier to believe that this is a start for us, that maybe we’re on the right path.

I hope there are others out there, doing what we’re doing. There must be others. On a day like today, I can’t believe we’re all that’s left. We’re just a part of the world, one part of many.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Saturday, 26 December 2009 - 9:04 pm

Boxed in

We’re all stuck inside right now, listening to the rain. There’s nothing for us to do, so I might as well write this.

Yesterday was a nice break for all of us, but we can’t afford to become complacent. Sometimes I think that the more we achieve, the more paranoid we need to become to protect it. The shamblers surprised us a few days ago, but they’re not the only threat we have to worry about. They might not even be the worst one.

My injured arm is still fairly useless. The shambler bit deep – Masterson said that I was lucky not to lose a chunk of flesh. I keep thinking about how Jonah’s leg looked, and then I feel ill, because that could have been me. That could have been my arm. It hurts badly enough to keep me awake for hours; I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now. He’s pale and struggling, and there isn’t anything we can do for him. We make sure he has food and water enough, and keep his wound clean. The last part is uncomfortable for everyone, though none so much as him; he screams. Sometimes he passes out, and that’s a blessing. It puts my hurt in perspective.

I decided to go out with the foragers again today. Food is still running short, especially after yesterday’s indulgences, so we need all the hands out there we can get. It only takes a couple of people to tend and plant the troughs. We have to leave one of the guys at the Farm to watch Warren – someone strong enough to keep a trained soldier in line – but otherwise all capable bodies have been put on the hunt.

We hadn’t meant to take most of the protection with us. It just worked out that way.

We didn’t discover the error until we returned to the Farm today. We’d had a pretty good day – no shamblers had turned up, and we had found some preserved food tucked away in a couple of houses. We had stayed out longer than usual, checking every place in our path from cupboards to crawlspaces, and we were all tired.

The first thing we noticed when we got back was the stillness. There would usually be someone around in the yard, most often the kids. The sky was thick and heavy, ready to rain at any second; our first thought was that they had all retreated inside.

When we got out of the vehicles, we heard shrieks and ran to the main building. We almost missed the fight, but no-one was that lucky.

There were half a dozen or so of them, lean men of varying ages, armed with machetes and clubs. They were spilling out of a side door, dragging Mira and Bree by the hair. Thorpe and Masterson were trying to fight them off. Bree was struggling and screaming, but Mira was a dead weight.

We didn’t hesitate: we dove straight into the fight when we saw what was going on. We caught them from behind, which gave us a brief advantage but meant that no-one dared to shoot at them. It would have been too easy to hit a friend, so we were forced to fight hand to hand. I stayed back – I couldn’t fight so well with my injured arm, and there wasn’t room for me in there.

There was so much blood. It spattered on everyone; I couldn’t tell who was hurt and who wasn’t. Mira’s bearer let go of her so he could swing at Bobby; I ducked in and grabbed her arm to drag her clear. She didn’t move when I set her down.

The fight had moved further into the yard by then, the intruders caught in a closing circle. Dr Kostoya helped me pull Bree clear. He was pale and shocked, and I asked him to look after her. The violence was no place for him. The kids appeared at the doorway and I told them to find Sally and stay with her and the baby. When they ran off, I saw a body lying in the hallway. Long, black hair spilt over her hands: Janice.

Bodies fell to the ground. Masterson was knocked unconscious, Thorpe had a nasty cut on his side, and Jersey had a head wound that had bled everywhere. Everyone else had minor injuries. Of our opponents, three were put down and unable to get up: two out cold and one curled up around a kicked groin. A blade hit the ground, rust-coloured with dried blood.

A flash of light caught my eye and I looked up. That’s when I remembered the rain that was about to come. It had stirred itself up into a storm, lacing the orange clouds with purple and splitting them with white flashes. Everyone was too busy fighting to notice.

“Rain’s coming!” I shouted, over and over until they started to hear me. The fighters peeled back from each other, torn between threats. “Get the injured inside. Hurry!”

People moved. The intruders grabbed their fallen friends and ran into the barn. I don’t know – or care – how badly they’re hurt. We retreated back into the main house. Someone thought to toss Warren into the room he sleeps in and lock the door, so he didn’t cause any trouble. Fat drops were starting to fall as we dragged the last of the Seekers inside. Mira’s boots were pitted in perfect circles before the door slammed shut against the downpour.

Masterson was still unconscious, so I was in charge of assessing the damage. I never missed him as badly as I did in the hour before he woke up. At the same time, I was grateful for my time with him and Simon, learning how to treat the injuries I was faced with today.

We lost two. Janice and Mira were both dead when I got to them. Janice had been gutted, her intestines spilt into the hallway. I’m not sure how or when Mira died – she was cut up badly and sticky with blood. I didn’t look very closely; there was the living to take care of. I closed their eyes and tried not to let my hands shake.

I was just cleaning myself up when the doctor came around. He’s concussed but he was able to check on my work. I was so scared that I had missed something, that one of them would die because I hadn’t done the right thing. He didn’t say anything to me, just made a few adjustments to dressings.

Thorpe’s side needed to be sewn back together – I made Masterson wait until he could see straight before he tried it. I remember how it felt when he stitched up the bite-mark in my arm; it’s not a job to be done without steady hands and eyes. I held the big fella’s hand while it was done. To his credit, he didn’t cry out; I wasn’t that strong under the needle. I had been a crying mess by the time the sewing was finished, and I was almost the same this time around, even though it wasn’t me being worked on.

Conroy did a headcount for me. He found Sally upstairs with the children. Iona was in the same room, refusing to come out of the closet. She wasn’t hurt, so no-one was inclined to force her. Everyone was accounted for. Including the dead.

Now we’re all sitting here, listening to the storm beating outside. All I can think about is the group in the barn. We don’t know who these people are or what they’re capable of. They killed two of us. They came in the back door and tried to sneak off with the girls, until the others answered calls for help and we returned home.

The storm is still going strong and puddles are building up outside. I don’t think we’ll be able to get out of here tonight, not until tomorrow’s sun has had a chance to burn off the surface water. Until then, we’re stuck here in this box, staring at the walls. Tomorrow, we’re going to have to do battle again. We’re going to have to finish this properly.

I don’t think any of us will sleep tonight. I need to go find Matt. I haven’t cried yet. I need to find a smaller box to close myself in, so I can pretend that today didn’t happen.

Sunday, 27 December 2009 - 9:59 pm


Somewhere in the dark hours of last night, I fell asleep. I curled up with Matt and we tried to find some comfort in each other. Even the blinding passion couldn’t blot everything out, though it managed to exhaust us enough to get a little rest.

It felt like I had barely closed my eyes before there was a fist banging on our door. I jerked awake and stumbled into my clothes, swearing when a sleeve got caught on my bandaged forearm. Matt snagged me by the shoulders and made me look at him.

“Take a breath,” he told me. “We can get through this.”

I sucked in air and let it out again, and nodded to him. It was going to be okay.

On the way down to the yard, I couldn’t get Mira and Janice’s faces out of my head. It wasn’t okay for them. They had staring eyes that saw nothing any more.

Everyone was gathering down there. I caught sight of Iona on the way – she was standing in the kitchen doorway, plucking at people as they passed her.

“Don’t,” she kept saying. “Don’t go. They’ll take the flowers, take everything. Take it all.”

Her warnings were so desperate that I hesitated and caught her eye. I remembered her previous rantings about this place, about what might have happened here. It’s hard to know what’s real with her, but there was no doubt about her fear.

“Do you know these people?” I asked. She stared at me and her hair trembled. “We won’t let them hurt you, Iona. Do you know them?”

“Can’t look,” she whispered. “Won’t look.”

So she hadn’t even seen these strangers and didn’t know if she knew them. I wasn’t going to force her. I could hear voices raised outside; I didn’t want to miss what was happening. I had to be there in case it started to escalate into violence again. We couldn’t afford any more injuries – the ones we had were already stretching our medical supplies past safe limits.

“All right. We won’t let them hurt you.”

She didn’t say anything, just nodded, so I tore off to join the others. There was a gulf running down the middle of the yard between the main house and the barn, between Seekers and intruders. Everyone was armed, rifles on our side and machetes on theirs. There was only five of them – they had been forced to leave two of their number in the barn. Despite being outnumbered and quite literally outgunned, they were still grinning cockily. There was something off about the brightness of their eyes that I didn’t like.

“…place was ours and we want it back,” one of them was saying.

“Well, you can’t have it.” Jersey had stepped up to speak to them. I hurried forward as she started to swear at them.

“C’mon, let’s just get ’em,” another of them said to his friends. “Bet they haven’t got bullets anyway.”

They laughed and waggled their blades meaningfully. Bobby tensed and took aim at the speaker. “You really wanna test that?”

“We don’t do that,” I said, joining the front rank. The kids were lingering near the door and Bree was standing near them. She looked like she had been crying all night.

“We just want what’s ours,” the first one said, his attention swinging around to me. Matt’s weight shifted to put an arm in front of me protectively.

“Nothin’ here belongs to you,” Jersey said.

They laughed again and one of them gestured at her suggestively with his weapon. For a sickening moment, I thought she was going to fire on reflex. They had killed Mira and Janice. They had hurt so many of our people. We don’t know what damage they might have been doing in the barn – Kostoya spent the night worrying about the equipment in there. We had so many reasons to kill them and be rid of their threat. So many reasons, and only one to stop us: we don’t do that. We’re Seekers, and we don’t kill unless we have no other choice. This was still a choice.

Then the intruders’ attention shifted past us, back towards the house. I glanced over: someone was walking out and through the gathered Seekers. At first, I thought it was Sally because of the floaty way she was moving, but the hair colour was wrong. Auburn, not dark – Iona. I caught glimpses of her face: her jaw was set and there was a glazed look in her eyes. She stopped half a pace in front of the line of Seekers.

The intruders grinned, looking pleased with this line of events. Worse: they recognised her. Their frontrunner, who had dark hair twisted into dreadlocks, licked his teeth as he looked her over.

“Didn’t think we’d be seeing you again, Chrissy,” he said. His gaze flicked to Jersey. “Thought you said you didn’t have anything that belongs to us.”

Jersey looked like she was about to explode, so I jumped in. “Her name is Iona.”

The guy with the dreads looked puzzled for a moment, then exchanged grinning glances with his friends. Their amusement set my teeth on edge and for a second, I felt like shooting at them too.

“You see?” he said, gesturing widely with his weapon. “That just proves it. Iona isn’t her name – it’s something I used to say about her.” He said the name again, slower, and it hit my ears with a sick kind of sense. I own her. That’s what he had called her. She had been too broken to give any other name when Haven picked her up.

The Seekers’ shock had a palpable impact. I stared at the girl we knew as Iona; we were reeling, but she was perfectly calm. She smiled at them, almost sweetly, and she said something as she lifted her hand to point at them. I struggled to make out the words. I realised what she said in the moment I recognised what she was holding. A handgun.

“Won’t let them hurt.”

I shouted but she was already firing. The intruders didn’t react until the guy with the dreads fell back a step. Blood blossomed on his shirt once, twice, and he looked stunned when his legs crumpled. He coughed and touched his chest, and was bewildered by his own blood. His friends laughed at first, and then sobered when they realised he wasn’t getting up.

By then, Dale had grabbed the gun, yanked it out of her fingers. She didn’t fight him, just let him have it. She stared at the guy with his dreads as he died in our yard. She couldn’t hear us. Jersey was losing it, waving her rifle and shouting at the intruders to go, just go, get out of here. A bullet punched the air over their heads and they flinched. Whatever drug haze had carried them out here to face us was fast deserting them. Feet stumbled towards the driveway and more of us joined in. Go, don’t come back, go on, leave already. This place is ours and you’re not welcome.

A few Seekers followed them, chasing them down enough to be sure that they were really going and watching them until they were out of sight.

I wasn’t the only one to turn to the shooter in our midst. True to form, I was the first to find my tongue.

“Chrissy? Is that your name: Chrissy?”

She blinked and looked at me. It’s one of the few times she’s ever truly seen me. She smiled, looking so serene as if there wasn’t a man choking on his own blood just a few steps away.

“Better now,” she said. Then she turned and walked inside, leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess.

I didn’t know what to feel. No-one wanted to treat the guy with the dreads, but the awkwardness was taken out of our hands when he expired after a few minutes. Blood stained the dirt in another puddle we all stepped carefully around.

We found two bodies in the barn – the last intruders, the ones that didn’t make it outside again. Kostoya saw the mess and looked like he was going to weep. There was glass on the ground, equipment had been pushed off counters and benches to lie haphazardly on the floor. He hurried around with increasing dismay, calling for Conroy. I helped Bobby and Dale get the bodies out of there; it seemed like the most helpful thing I could do while the professor and his assistant assessed the damage.

A few of us helped to clean up the mess. Everyone stayed at the Farm today, in case the intruders came back. We didn’t talk much – for me, the dead were playing on my mind too much. We put them all out in one of the back areas this afternoon and gathered together while the clouds thickened overhead. We sang for them, for our dead, and then retreated back inside so that the rain could take them.

I wish it was as easy to wash clean my memory.

Monday, 28 December 2009 - 8:11 pm

Who to be

Everyone is still recovering from the events of the past few days. Some of us are healing physical wounds; most of us are healing some other part of ourselves. I feel shaky. Not in myself, but in everything around me.

Shortage of supplies forced us to send out foragers again. We can’t afford not to, and we can’t afford to send all our protection away as well. I decided to stay behind today; I think I’m more use mending what I can here at the Farm right now.

Bobby and Jonah have been spending a lot of time together, talking about things. Jonah is still in a lot of pain, pale and sweaty most of the time, but he’s starting to seek distractions now. They have volunteered to be in charge of our defenses and I haven’t had a reason to refuse them. They’re best qualified for it and Bobby seems to be relishing the trust now that he has it.

Kostoya is upset over the damage to his equipment in the barn. I heard him muttering about changes and reductions and needing to do more tests – he has been talking about things like that for the past week, but now he’s more frantic because he can’t do his tests. Conroy is usually on hand, patting the professor’s arm and telling him that it’ll be all right. They’ll fix up the barn and get the experiments going again.

It’s a strange reversal. Kostoya looked after Conroy following the head injury, and now the brain-injured one has to look after the smart fella.

Of everyone, I think the kids are the ones taking all of this with the most ease. So I sent Nugget and Estebar to help them, fetching and carrying and sweeping up the glass. Kostoya was bewildered by the sudden aid and turned to his faithful assistant.

“Will you keep an eye on them, son?” he said. “They might… hurt themselves.”

Conroy was all reassurance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Kostoya call him that before.

Bree is grieving for Mira. I’ll be honest – I’m surprised by how hard the girl’s death has hit her. It makes me feel ashamed of myself; I know it’s our personal history interfering with my judgement, but I can’t help it. I keep remembering how much Bree has hurt me in the past and how heartless she could be, and it doesn’t tally with the depth of her current pain. I tried to push past it today, tried to be a better person towards her. I asked her how she was, if she needed anything.

She shook her head. “No,” she said, in that quiet way of someone who can’t think of a single thing that might make it better.

I nodded and was about to leave her to it, when she caught my sleeve. She was earnest all of a sudden.

“Thank you.”

I didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t. “You’re welcome,” I said, and then I moved on. There wasn’t anything else to say. It feels like a door has opened a crack but I don’t know whether or not I want to push it open any further.

Masterson and Sally are still keeping to themselves, with the baby. I went up to check on them, knowing that their help was gone and Bree has been too busy to come up to give them a hand. Sally was cradling Felix, singing to him softly to get him to fall asleep. She was smiling at him in a way that reminded me of Iona – Chrissy. She has been so vague lately and today it bothered me.

Masterson didn’t ask me why I was there. His greeting was, “We’re fine. You don’t need to be here.” Nothing like making me feel welcome.

“What’s she on?” I asked.

He met my eye for a second and then looked away. Of course he couldn’t maintain that kind of contact. “She’s fine.”

“You have painkillers? Anti-depressants?” It had to be something like that.

He didn’t answer and I thought about asking where he got them. Then I recalled that Mira had come foraging with us the day the shamblers attacked. She hadn’t left the Farm before or since, and it was shortly after that that I saw Sally downstairs, apparently recovered from her depression. It made sense that the doctor would send someone else out to forage for him.

I was suddenly so angry that I could barely speak, but I managed to force the words out. I didn’t want to hold them back from him.

“When were you planning on telling the rest of us, huh? When were you planning to share them? Maybe with the man who lost his leg and is sitting down there in pain every single day?”

“And what about the pain up here? There isn’t enough to go around.”

“There is never enough. The least you could have done was offer some relief, you selfish bastard.”

He drew breath to defend himself, but I didn’t want to listen to him. I didn’t care what he had to say. I turned on my heel and walked out, aching all the way through as if the knowledge had scoured something away from inside me. I remembered how we found him, high in his hospital on a cloud of drugs. I remembered how Sally had run away to that. Months on, and that’s still where they want to be, even though she’s holding their consequences in her arms and there aren’t enough drugs to sustain them.

I was so angry with them that I felt like snapping off the first head I came across. That’s when I walked into Iona – Chrissy. I literally barrelled straight into her, rounding a corner too fast to stop. Pain nailed me through my healing forearm and stopped any words from escaping my throat. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, gripping it and blinking in surprise.

She recovered her balance and smiled at me. “Whoops,” she said, quite cheerfully. As if that didn’t hurt. As if she didn’t kill someone yesterday. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew what she had done. Surely, somewhere in there, she knew. But did she know it was wrong?

“Sorry, Chrissy.” I couldn’t be angry with her, not after what we had learned. All we know is how badly she was broken, not how they did it, and I don’t ever want to know. I can’t look at her serenity and want to look into that dark place.

The use of that name tugged at her expression, like a memory that was bobbing to the surface.

“Would you rather that we didn’t call you that?” I had thought it was better than ‘Iona’, the name that had grown out of a terrible misunderstanding.

“She’s gone. She went with the flowers, wanted to be mulch.” She was wistful about that, as if she was talking about the Little Mermaid turning into froth on the ocean.

She didn’t want to be the girl who was broken, and we couldn’t call her by a symbol of that breaking.

“What would you like us to call you, then?” I asked.

She blinked at me, as if she couldn’t understand the question.

“You should pick a name. Pick one that you like.”

“I don’t know what I like.”

I should have known that it would be difficult. How was I supposed to know what she liked? There was only one thing she ever talked about consistently. “What’s your favourite flower?”


“You like flowers.” I took her by the hand and led her to the flower farm’s boards. They had been stacked up in a hallway, their pictures and prices no use to us. That wasn’t what we were growing. I pointed the nameless girl at them. “Which is your favourite?”

She stared at me, and then went to start looking over the boards. She handled them so carefully, as if her light fingers might bruise them. As if they were petals of the flowers they held pictures of. She took her time and I started to wonder if she had forgotten what I had asked her to do, but finally she turned to me and pointed at a board. She looked hopeful, like a child. I suppose that was fitting.

“What is that, a lily? You like lilies?”

“Is that right?” She sounded like she thought it was a test.

“It’s up to you.” I gave her a smile and she relaxed. “It’s a pretty name. Do you want us to call you Lily?”

She nodded, and suddenly she was hugging me so hard I thought I’d choke. I was patting her back awkwardly when Jersey walked into the hallway and saw us. Her expression clamped down on unpleasantness as she stomped over to see what was going on. I explained while I peeled Lily off me, and the girl gave us both blinding smiles. She looked like she might bounce on her toes at any moment.

Jersey was surprised, taking the news silently. She frowned at Lily, untouched by that smile. Lily didn’t seem to notice or mind her reticence.

“So you want to be Lily.” Jersey didn’t make it a question, but the girl nodded anyway. She patted Jersey’s arm as if to say, it’s all right now. Don’t worry. Then she turned and floated off down the hall.

I think Jersey is taking all this stuff with Lily very personally. She protected the girl at Haven and has been keeping a close eye on her ever since. She doesn’t want to show just how much this matters to her, and when she does, it’s in shouting and smacking. Yesterday, after Dale disarmed her, Jersey was quick to pull her out of range of anyone who might hurt her. If she hadn’t had her hands full with Lily, she probably would have gone over to kick the man with the dreadlocks, just to make sure he stayed down. She’s probably still wishing she had had the chance to do that.

“You all right?” I asked when Lily was gone.

Jersey scowled at me. “Yeah, ‘course.” Then she stomped off after the girl, probably to make sure she wasn’t getting herself into trouble again.

I checked in on Dale and Thorpe next. They’re are doing all right, though the big fireman is struggling with the gash on his side. It’s not the wound itself; it’s his partner insisting on him resting it. Dale is trying to take care of him but Thorpe doesn’t want to allow it. I’d like to knock both their heads together. For once, I’m not getting involved; this is something they need to work out. Maybe, just maybe, Thorpe will finally let his guard down when it comes to that stuff, but I don’t have the heart to force him, even if I could. That’s going to have to be his choice.

That just left Matt and me. We’re doing better than we were; we’re not so paranoid about being able to protect each other any more. The shambler attack helped with that. We needed a victory, even if it was small and personal against the bigger picture, and that’s what we had that day. We fought them and we won. We came out battered but okay, and we took care of each other.

Even so, it’s still a relief to see him and to know he’s all right. That little reflexive smile he gives when he sees me makes me relax inside, and he still rests a hand on my belly whenever he slips his arms around me.

All that has happened lately only makes me want to hold onto him tighter. But there’s something missing. There’s something more we need – something more he needs, though he hasn’t asked me for anything.

I think I finally know what that is. I think I know who he wants me to be.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009 - 9:40 pm


It doesn’t feel much like a home here. Everyone is walking around armed with guns or bats, just in case. We’re keeping eyes on the perimeter. There have been talks of fences and lines of defense. Traps and trips. Lacing this place with nasty things to keep us safe.

All it does is remind me of the dangers surrounding us: shamblers and intruders; mindless and malicious. It makes me feel hemmed in, penned here like a butterfly on a board, waiting for the pin to nail me down.

I miss the road. I miss the feeling of going somewhere, I miss having a goal to strive for, even one that might not be there when we arrive. Even one that might turn out to be a huge disappointment, or shackles with a kind face.

We’re not Seeking any more. Does that mean we’re still Seekers? Does it matter what we call ourselves? If we change the name of the group, will other things change too? What about the things we’ve tried to hold onto – the aversion to killing, the way we try to help everyone that asks us for it? I don’t want to let go of any of that. I want to always remain a Seeker, searching for something better and never forgetting where we came from.

Whatever we’re called, we’re here and making a go of it. That’s a good thing – I believe in the Farm and what we’re building. There are green shoots poking up through the earth in the greenhouses, plants taking shape that will one day – hopefully soon – feed us. We can sustain a future here. We can build lives bigger than base survival. I truly believe that this place is what we’ve been looking for since the bomb went off.

The Farm is our hope. We have committed ourselves to it, throwing everything we have into it. We’ve promised to make it work. Some of us still go out every day to look for supplies, but this is where we come back to. This is where we rest our heads. Matt and I have our own room here in the main house. The foragers have been bringing back mattresses and bedding over the weeks we’ve been here, and we have our own bed now. We have drawers to put our clothes in and a mirror to brush our hair in front of. We’re gathering those small, personal things that make a place our own. This should be our home now. I’m trying to think of it that way, but for so long, home has been wherever the Seekers stop rather than a particular place. I keep forgetting that we’ve stopped.

Last night, after I finished writing my post, I thought about what it means. Home used to mean my father’s house. Home was the place where I could relax. I could wander around in my underwear. I could do whatever I wanted, be whoever I wanted, with no apologies. I could sleep, sweet and deep, knowing I belonged. I guess it still means that to me; now, it’s only the walls and roof that feel less important.

While I was thinking about all of that, I caught myself turning the ring on my finger. Dad’s wedding ring, the one he didn’t take off for thirty years until he said goodbye to me. It meant so much to him – a promise to his wife, then his family. Even when some of the family left us, he still wore it and kept those promises. I used to worry about him, about how he never went on dates or tried to move on from my mother. Now I think I understand him. I think I’m like him.

Family. I’ve thought about it so much over the past year. I’ve wondered if I love too easily, because of how much it hurts. I’ve found that blood doesn’t matter, not when we share it in different ways. I’ve tried to hold this family of Seekers together despite the After and all that it has done to us. I don’t regret any of it.

Now, I’ve got a closer piece of family growing inside me. I’m starting to look forward to it past the blind terror of the thought of being a mother. I’m not the only one caught up in this joy and fear, struggling to make sense of it: every day, Matt and I slip a little closer together, but neither of us wants to say. Neither of us wants to admit what it means.

We made promises once. In the confusion of Haven, we tried to place something solid between us, something that would hold us together. We had new names for each other: boyfriend; girlfriend; lover; partner. It was what we needed, our next step. But we’ve outgrown that now.

I said yesterday that I knew who Matt wanted me to be. What I didn’t say was that I wasn’t sure if he knew it. We’ve been coasting along for a while. Now it’s time to take another step.

When Matt came to bed last night, he knew that something was going on from the glance I gave him. He closed the door and sat down next to me, immediately concerned. He asked me what was wrong and I smiled at him. I couldn’t help it.

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Then what is it?”

I didn’t have the right words. My mouth opened and closed, but I didn’t have the elegance to speak. Instead, I reached over and took his hand. I turned it over so that I could place a small object in his palm. Releasing it was like letting go of a great weight. My throat loosened enough for me to get a few words out.

“I think this belongs to you now.”

He stared at my dad’s ring as if he had no idea what it meant. I thought he might laugh, or stare at me, or ask me what the hell; I didn’t know if he would understand. I wanted it to be enough, a simple ring that meant the world to me, a symbol that would say everything I wanted to say but couldn’t get past the lump in my chest. It’s me, it’s my family. It’s his.

It took me a minute to realise he was crying. I didn’t know what to do – I wasn’t expecting that. I touched his cheek and said I was sorry. I doubted everything – the way I’d read his feelings, his readiness to accept a commitment like this. He’d spent his whole life avoiding commitment.

“You don’t have to take it,” I said.

I reached for the ring but his hand closed over it, scraped knuckles turning white. He shook his head. When he looked at me, there was a defensive barrier between us, overrun by tears but still trying to protect him.

“Because of the baby?” he asked.

“No.” I couldn’t answer quick enough. “We don’t need that, not out here. No-one cares about that stuff any more.” I realised that I was starting to babble. Answer the question, Faith. “Because of you, Matt. Because of you and me.”

He looked down at his closed fist as if it was all that was holding him together. “Are you sure?” He wasn’t asking about the baby that time.

“Yeah.” I covered his hand with mine. I couldn’t bear to sit there and not touch him. He was so stricken and I didn’t know how to comfort him. “I love you.” He knew that already, but I thought he might need to hear it. Words matter.

He closed his eyes and let out a sharp huff, somewhere between a breath of laughter and exasperation. He shook his head and my stomach clenched; was that a no? I couldn’t take my eyes off his face even though I was terrified of what I was going to see.

“Isn’t this a bit backwards?” he said. Was he making a joke? He looked like he was kidding, like the lighter Matt was trying to poke through. I could only hope.

“Well, the ring doesn’t fit me,” I replied lamely. “And you’re a bit slow.”

He laughed shakily, like I hoped he would, and it was real this time. He took my hand and gripped it tightly. “Guess I’ll have to tell all my girlfriends.”

“And all your boyfriends.”

“Jeez, you want the whole world.”

“Just this bit of it.” I wanted to say ‘just you’, but that felt like too much and too cheesy to be real. He understood, though. We both felt the solemnity underneath the banter. It was just easier that way.

His hand unfurled so he could see the ring again. “Shit, Faith. You really know how to ambush a guy.” He was coming around to the subject again, trying to make sense of it.

I couldn’t tell if I was pressuring him or not. I hadn’t thought this through enough. “You don’t have to decide right now.”

He glanced up at me with surprise. “You think I’d say no?”

I was so sure when he walked in. I had known what his answer would be. But like any battle plan, my assumptions failed at the first encounter. I felt like I didn’t know anything any more, nothing except the hope burning in my chest, the one outlined in fire and neon.

“I’m asking. It’s… it’s your choice. You have to– you should– it’s up to you.”

He shook his head slowly. “Sometimes, you’re an idiot.”

“Does that mean you’re saying yes?” I couldn’t stand any more dancing around; I needed to hear him say it.


“Are you sure?”


“Okay.” I stared at him. “Don’t call me an idiot.”

“Can I call you my idiot?”


We laughed, the tension making us both tremble on its way out. He pulled me over to him so he could loop his arms around me and look at the gold in his palm at the same time. He managed to put it on without letting me go.

“Shit,” he said into my ear.

Then he kissed the bride.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009 - 9:32 pm

A baby called Hope

As giddy as I feel lately, we’re still struggling. We’re still barely foraging enough to survive, growing leaner by the day. We’re not fading or failing yet, but none of us have much fat any more. Once upon a time, I would have been glad of that.

Kostoya is scurrying around with a strained expression. He has been keeping Conroy out in the barn at all hours, desperately recreating the tests ruined by the intruders. We barely see them except for meals. They haven’t told us what they’re working on; when we ask, they always say they’re not sure what it means yet.

I think Jersey is getting Sick. She’s pale and sweaty, and I’ve seen her trying to cover up a cough. She won’t look me in the eye, just shoulders past me whenever I try to talk to her. I wish I could help her, but like she said, I don’t have the equipment.

Jonah seems to be starting to recover. He insisted on getting out of bed today – someone had found him a pair of crutches and he was determinedly hop-thud-hopping around the house. Masterson told him it was too soon, but he’s not listening. He doesn’t want to be stuck in that bed, having us do everything for him. I can’t blame him. At least he’s not white around the mouth with pain any more.

It makes me wonder if he has been given something to ease it. Masterson will never admit it if I ask him, and I’ll only open a can of worms if I speak to Jonah about it, so I can’t find out. I don’t need to know – perhaps I’ll just hope that the doctor did something good there and be glad that Jonah’s feeling better.

Everyone’s working a little harder to take up the space left by our missing friends. Bree is helping Sally out with the baby more. She offered to help with Jonah as well, but Jersey growled at her until she went away. The kids are calling on Sally more and more, and she’s often seen around the house now.

I’m trying to figure out the greenhouses – that was Janice’s speciality, as she knew a thing or two about gardening. I didn’t know where to start, but it turns out that Dale knows enough to unravel what Janice had started. I think he used to work on a farm. It was a relief to be able to defer to him. Growing food is why we’re here and that much responsibility is daunting. I’d much rather worry about everything else.

Matt made me a ring out of a twist of wire this morning. He said he’d get me a proper one just as soon as he finds one good enough. I laughed and said I didn’t mind – but I do. It would be nice to have a real ring. Something solid to hold onto in those moments when I’m not sure about anything. A symbol to show everyone.

We weren’t going to tell everyone. We didn’t want to wave our good news in the faces of everyone else. People are grieving and we’re all hungry. It doesn’t seem like the time to crow about this; it seems disrespectful. Sax would have told me off about it. So would Iris, and Janice, and Dad. None of them are here, so it was left to Dale to have a gentle word with me, in between our talks about the greenhouses.

“It’s not just about you two, you know.” He looked into my face, searching for a spark of comprehension. “We could all use some good news right now. And a reason to celebrate.”

Matt and I had agreed to a marriage but we hadn’t talked about a wedding. I struggled to see the value in it, out here in the After; it was a tradition from a dead world. Then Dale spoke to me and I had to readjust my thinking. This was something for the whole group. I went to talk to Matt and he agreed.

“Most of them know anyway,” he said, lifting his hand. The ring gleamed; it’s not as if we sought to hide it. “And it’s not the only good news we have to give them.”

He meant the baby. I felt awkward and ashamed; there’s still a big part of me that is afraid to tell everyone about it. At the same time, I know the group would be grateful for a reason to look forward. Have I been selfish in keeping it to myself? I’ve been too wound up by the whole subject to consider that before.

I feel like someone poured iron in my shoes and I’m struggling to keep up with the crowd, too concerned with my own feet to see where we’re headed.

There wasn’t any rain today, but everyone was back and looking for dinner an hour or so before it got dark. I took the opportunity to make the announcement, standing before my friends with my heart in my throat and stumbling over every word. It was worse than proposing to Matt – at least I could do half of that in glances.

The group was kind. There were whoops and jeers and plenty of ‘about time’s. Dale came over to hug us both and Thorpe patted me on the shoulderblade. Conroy and Sally both looked delighted. Lily clapped happily, even more euphoric than usual, while Jonah called his congratulations from the couch he was resting on. Estebar was confused but Nugget came over to give me a solemn squeeze around my waist. She stopped there and looked up at me, patting my belly meaningfully.

I laughed and peeled her off. “Yeah, that’s the other thing we have to tell you,” I said. The others shushed to listen; it’s almost like I have them trained. I told them I was pregnant and watched the reactions ripple around the room again.

There was more surprise to that; no-one had noticed, not even with Matt’s habit of resting his hand on my abdomen lately. More of the others got on their feet to come over – I don’t think I’ve been hugged by so many people in months. Thorpe gaped at me as if he couldn’t decide whether he approved or not and I could have sworn I saw Kostoya dabbing at his eyes. Estebar wrinkled his nose and I thought Sally seemed relieved. Bobby made a crack about me not getting married in white and everyone laughed.

Then Jersey stood up. She was scowling more forcefully than usual and I wondered for a second if it was because she was trying not to look Sick. Quiet swept around the room, infecting everyone and turning our eyes towards her.

“Faith’s not the only one who’s pregnant,” she said.

The silence that followed was full of stunned fish. I caught a glimpse of Jonah, who had lost his smile and looked like she had just impaled him; clearly, she hadn’t bothered to warn him. He also seemed sure that it belonged to him – I’ve never seen someone be that struck by a mere maybe. Jersey was glaring around, daring someone to ask how it happened, ready to launch a fist at the least excuse.

Before anyone could laugh and set her off, I stepped over and hugged her. It wasn’t what she was expecting, which is the only reason I got away with it. I kept it quick, and said into her ear, “Congratulations.” When I stepped back again, everyone applauded.

I think I’m the only one who knows what it means to her. I don’t think she told Jonah the reason – she just jumped him, knowing he wouldn’t say no to sex. It’s survival for her, it’s her only hope against the Sickness that’s prickling her skin with sweat and curling a cough up in her chest. I don’t know if the baby has started in time to save her, but now she has hope. Now we all have some hope.

She looked like she wanted to stomp out of the room, so I linked hands with her. She didn’t fight me. She stood with me as we answered the questions that were tossed at us – how far along are we, have we thought of any names yet, what sex do we want, isn’t Estebar a nice name? I answered more than she did, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t have much to say – I hadn’t thought about most of that stuff anyway.

Conroy brought out some alcohol to start the celebrations, and there has been drinking and singing ever since. Jersey was mortified when she was given only water in her cup.

“No drinking for you,” Dale told her with a grin. I thought he was going to get himself smacked, but he had the good sense to retreat while she considered her enraged response. It’s worse that he’s right. I think that was the first time Jersey realised a tiny part of what being pregnant means, beyond being able to survive the Sickness.

The revelries are still going. I had to come and write this, hold up this little, bright flag. She might be all right now. We all might be all right.

Wait. I hear someone shouting. Have to go – I swear they just said the word ‘bodies’.