Tue, 20 October 2009 - 10:18 pm

Small print

Let’s leave Haven.

The words have a beautifully simple shape to them. They ring with a rightness that my bones yearn for. Let’s just go, get out of here, leave the shattered promises and compromised morals behind us. My heart expands as if we’re already free.

Matt and I talked about it yesterday. Lying on a bed of discarded clothes, we talked in hushed voices while the rain rattled on the window. He’s going to talk to the boys and I’ll approach the girls, quietly, casually. We’ll find out who wants to come and work out what we need to do. And then we’ll do it.

If only it really was that simple.

 

We can’t just walk out of Haven.

We’re not officially prisoners here, but we might as well be. We can’t even walk the compound unhindered, never mind up to the gates. There would be demands and orders and stop right there or we’ll shoot.

Even if they opened the gates and invited us to leave, they know we wouldn’t dare to walk through them. We’d never make it to shelter on foot before the rain came; our journey would have a short, screaming end. Everyone knows we won’t make it far on our own and they won’t give us the equipment and supplies we need. Not even the gear we arrived with.

So we’ll have to take it. Somehow, we need to amass enough food, water, fuel, and vehicles to get out of here. Not much – just enough to get to somewhere where we can forage for more. It’s hard to know how far away that somewhere is now; so much of the suburban sprawl had been picked clean before we got here. How far will we get before we realise we’re going to starve?

More importantly, will they chase us? I don’t know. Will they waste even more resources in a pursuit? Is their pride and anger greater than their pragmastism?

If they do chase us and catch us, we’re not going to get a slap on the wrist. They have weapons. Worse: they’re trained in how to use them and have stocks of ammunition. I remember the people begging for help outside the supermarket depot, gunned down before they realised what was going on. I don’t want to become those poor, murdered survivors.

 

The more I think about it, the more the task swells before me. There’s so much to organise and many secrets to keep. I have to work around the weight of my watchers – not just my pet cutout Jonah, but also Peter and sometimes Simon. Not much gets past those guys. The women are keeping an eye on me, too, waiting for that weak moment when I’ll agree to their deal. That moment will never come.

I won’t have to do it all on my own. There are others I know will come with us – most of the Seekers, if not all of them. I don’t know how many of them have made themselves a real place here. They’ll all help make this happen.

What we’re going to do is risky, and tricky, and difficult. We’re going to try it anyway. Just as soon as we figure out how.

The path to the gates is glistening wetly in the dark. I need a better flashlight if we’re going to find our way there safely.

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Wed, 21 October 2009 - 8:05 pm

Add-ons

It’s hard to restrain the itch to get out of here. Every part of me wants to announce it to the world and then sweep out, like an old-time heroine in huge skirts.

But I don’t have any skirts and I wouldn’t get past the door right now even if I did. Jonah is very firm about keeping me in where I’m supposed to be. I’m forced to skulk and whisper in corners. Fear is a great motivator; the General was wise enough to recognise that.

I managed to draw Jersey aside last night, in between her grouches over the troop entertainment. She’s eroding her own place here with that; the women liked her because she protected one of their number, but their gratitude is failing in the face of her disapproval of the whole system. She continues to offer them protection, often going along with the nightly troupe to make sure that none of them are hurt, with disparaging comments and much shaking of her head. I suspect she might be turning into a passion-killer and can’t quite bring myself to mind.

When I told her that we were leaving, she went quiet. First, she asked who ‘we’ were, exactly. Matt’s talking to the male Seekers, and I’m asking her and Tia. She asked when, and how. All those awkward questions that made me feel like a teenaged runaway who had forgotten that food costs money and things are further away than you think when you’re on foot.

“We’re still working that out,” I told her. “We’ll need your help to do it, though.”

That was a good button for her; her shoulders twitched straight and she eyed me sharply. “What do you need me to do?”

“Just keep an eye out for places we might be able to stash supplies, and things we might need. That sort of thing.”

“Are you gonna ask anyone else to come with us?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know anyone else I’d trust enough.”

She nodded slowly, folding the matter over in her head. “Should think about it. There’s others that might want to leave, too.”

“We have to be careful who we tell.” I put as much earnestness into the warning as I could; this is nothing to be casual about. I don’t think Jersey would purposely do anything to jeopardise us, but carelessness could kill. She agreed solemnly; she’s had enough brushes with the hard edges of Haven to inspire confidence in her sensibility about these things.

 

Tia has been cluttered up with her friends in the dorm, so I haven’t been able to talk to her yet. It’s hard to tell which way she’ll jump on this – it’s her new friends and security against the whoring she’s being asked to do. The deciding factor might be her brother’s wishes.

Now I’m wondering who else we should ask to come with us. I’m not close enough to anyone here to trust them with it, but the others might have made friends. What about the boys – have they asked non-Seekers? Have they made close friends over there? I don’t know how we’ll handle bringing strangers with us. Will they become one of us? Will they play by our rules? Or will they up and leave us once we get clear of Haven?

Of course, there’s Dad. I’ll ask him to come; I can’t leave him in this place. He’s different – he’s family. It’s the rest of Haven’s populace that feel like strangers.

Am I being selfish? It’s not like we can make an open offer. We have to do this in complete secrecy, so the fewer people who know about it, the better. It only takes the right words in the wrong ears and one open mouth for all of this to come crashing down around us.

I’m also not sure how I ended up in charge of this. I guess I’m the one who wants it, and the one everyone is used to turning to when we’re heading in a new direction. Somehow, I have to figure all this stuff out. I wish I felt qualified.

I feel like I should have watched more prison escape movies. Maybe I should steal a spoon the next time I’m in the mess hall and make a start on that tunnel.

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Thu, 22 October 2009 - 8:47 pm

Reluctant saboteur

I’ve been dreading and looking forward to the next time my dad came to see me. The last time we talked, I got upset with him because he refused to tell me the truth. When we part, we hugged in that stiff way that shows we don’t really want to but aren’t upset enough to break the tradition.

Since then, I learned that Dad didn’t refuse to tell me what was going on at all. He told me the truth but I didn’t hear him. I had been upset over nothing and made him feel bad. Guilt gnawed at my guts with tiny teeth over it.

Dad brought me dinner today. We’re settling into a pattern – he makes it over here every three days or so, and we spend time together while the rain has us trapped. Neither of us wants to push our luck with Haven’s powers that be, so we’re making do with this.

I took the tray from him and led the way into the office, where we could talk in relative privacy. I put the food down and turned around, my apology queued up behind my teeth, but he stopped me. He was busy fumbling around under his jacket and said that he had something for me. I have no idea how he managed to hide it under his coat like that.

It was a car battery. Freshly charged, just come off the generator loop. He knew why I was being followed around by Jonah – the power leeching – and he guessed that I was trying to keep my laptop charged up.

“Probably getting low again by now,” he said. He wasn’t wrong; I’ve been trying not to worry about it lately. “This is safer, for everyone. No more plugging in, hm?”

I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had prepared garbled in my throat and it was all I could do to throw my arms around his neck. I said thank you and sorry and I love you, over and over in varying patterns. My chest felt like it would burst and I barely managed to stave off tears. I think that was better for both of us. He stopped me finally by patting my back and telling me it was all right, solid as a rock.

There was peace between us again and a part of me relaxed. It’s like that with Dad: we don’t always need to talk about what was really bothering us. We move on without raking the unpleasant stuff up.

I was still nervous when I told him about what Matt and I had decided. He stared at me and asked if I was sure that it was what I wanted.

“There has to be somewhere better than this,” I said. “We came here looking for security and a future. We’re still looking.”

He fell quiet, chewing on his meal. I gave him space to think about it and quickly got lost in all of the things we need to do. I had almost forgotten he was there until he touched my wrist to make me look up.

“What do you need to do it?”

At times like this, I think I have the best dad in the whole world. He wasn’t happy about it – he had the two little creases between his eyebrows that he gets when he’s thinking about something he doesn’t like, and sometimes his jaw muscle twitched. But he was offering to help anyway.

I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about it with someone, to go through all the issues that had been buzzing around in my head and try to make sense of it. I was still groping for what was possible and what would get us into trouble. Between the two of us, we managed to work out most of the questions and a couple of the answers. It didn’t matter that we didn’t answer everything; at least I had a better idea about what we needed to sort out.

Like weapons. I hadn’t even thought about weapons. The notion of trying to steal guns and ammunition terrifies me – I don’t want to give the cutouts any more excuses to shoot us than they already have. There’s no way we could stand up against them in a fight and win anyway. But at the same time, we’d be crazy not to arm ourselves somehow, if not against other people, then to protect ourselves from the shamblers.

And sabotage. That hadn’t occurred to me, either. I was worried about being followed and missed the step where we could delay pursuit by making sure their vehicles didn’t work.

A little part of my brain plugged those two factors together into a solution that turns my stomach. I don’t think I can live with crippling Haven so we can get away. Is it foolish to want to tie their shoelaces together long enough to get clear, rather than cutting off their feet so they’ll never be able to chase us? I know which one would be safer for us.

I don’t hate them. I don’t want to hurt them. I just don’t want to be here any more.

We have options. We have Dad and Thorpe working in the garages, with access to vehicles and tools. It doesn’t have to come to explosives and a bloody mess in our rear-view mirrors.

I was still worrying about it all when Dad left. He smiled and kissed my forehead, and said, “Don’t worry, Faithy. We’ll work it out.”

That was what I needed to hear. I feel lighter now, as if we might actually be able to do this. Unlike most of the time After, this is going to take more than sheer determination, but we can make it work. Without blowing everything up.

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Fri, 23 October 2009 - 10:53 pm

Glass flowers

Matt came to the infirmary again today. This time, there were no attempts to avoid me – quite the opposite. Simon was puzzled about why Matt had come for a checkup until he saw us smiling at each other. Then the medic rolled his eyes and said we were crazy.

It felt a little crazy. I haven’t felt this excited to see someone in a long time. Just meeting his gaze makes me all giddy inside, and when he puts his arms around me… well. It’s the only place I want to be. I’m not afraid any more, of anything. It helps that he found some protection for us, so we can do whatever we want to do. And we did.

Peter’s timing is impeccable. He walked in on us and just stood there, staring, while I tried to cover up. Matt asked him to come back later and the nurse said something cutting about not wanting leftovers. The door slammed behind him when he left and my heart was beating all out of time. Then I looked at Matt and we started laughing, and kisses made me forget all about it.

 

Matt didn’t just come to expose himself to the medical staff, or me. He also came so we could compare notes on our escape endeavour.

He has been talking with the boys, seeing who wants to leave Haven with us. Thorpe and Dale will definitely join us (I believe Thorpe said something along the lines of ‘about time’). Dan is, as always, quiet and ambivalent; it’s hard to tell what he’s feeling at any given moment, but he has said that he’ll help. Terry is torn – after the Shark incident, he has been making friends and a place for himself here by being an obnoxious voice. He also wants to know what his sister wants.

I couldn’t give him that answer. The only one I had been able to speak to was Jersey. I felt lame, able to offer so little, but at least I had the things I had worked out with Dad to share. Between us, we might actually be getting organised.

The current plan is for the boys to look into the vehicular arrangements, both for us and to cripple pursuit. I’m going to get the girls to help me look into the food situation and how we can get some supplies. Weapons and any other equipment we’ll tackle later, if we can. Medical supplies are easy; I have access to anything I think I need here.

I don’t dare hope that it’ll all be that easy, but it’s not like the cutouts will be expecting us to be running out of here. Fingers crossed, their ignorance will last long enough for us to make this work.

 

I returned to the dorms tonight with my head full of possibilities and a body yearning for rest. Before I could get settled, I was greeted by Nadine and Mama Prusco, two of the trio who accosted me a few days ago about entertaining the men.

Nadine was positively nasty while Mama Prusco took the motherly route to explain to me that things work a certain way and everyone has to bear the same burdens. I told them that I wasn’t interested but they weren’t so ready to accept that answer this time.

They know about Matt and me. They know we’ve slept together (I have no idea how; rumours move strangely around Haven). They were angry; it wasn’t up to us to pick and choose who we were with, they said. If I was to sleep with anyone, it was with whomever they gave me.

That’s when I got furious with them. Who the hell were they to tell me that? I work hard, I nurse the sick and injured. I stay up with them all night if I have to. I help make sure there are supplies for us to treat people with. That’s what I give to Haven, and that’s all I’m going to give. They might spread my name in the male barracks and make everyone think I’m screwing the whole army, but that doesn’t make it any more likely to become true. (From the looks on their faces, they knew exactly what I was talking about; they had done it on purpose to get at me.)

I said I’d only agree to one deal: I’ll keep a handful of the guys happy enough that they won’t come to the nightly entertainment, making fewer men for the other women to worry about. There’s four I can guarantee won’t take part – Matt, Thorpe, Dale, and Dad – and a couple more I’m not sure about. I didn’t tell them that one of the number is my own father and two of them are together. Nadine and Mama Prusco don’t need to know that I’m only actually sleeping with one of them, and that I’ll only ever sleep with one of them.

I walked away while the two women absorbed that idea. Damn them, anyway.

 

I hadn’t been prepared for a fight and it was difficult to settle down afterwards. I had to wait until the dorm was quiet enough before I could slip out so I could write this post, and the time seemed to stretch interminably. I lay on my bunk and pretended to sleep, wishing that I could close my ears against the chatter around me.

One voice grew louder than the rest and I looked up to see Iona standing over me. She has worried the ends of her hair to shreds with the way her fingers pluck and stroke at it, and the hems of her clothes haven’t fared much better. She stood at the side of my bunk and swayed from foot to foot, watching me with unusual directness.

“You’ll find the glass,” she said. I had no idea what she was talking about and I could feel the blank expression settling into my features as she went on. “Fields and fields of it, growing. Growing.” She was quite intent about that. “Makes such beautiful flowers. Mustn’t break it. It’ll shatter. Don’t break.” She crouched suddenly and touched my arm, adding the gesture to her pleas.

“I won’t break it,” I told her, patting her fingers. Still not a clue in the world but it seemed kinder to play along. “I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you,” she said, three times. Her smile was a relief. “You too.”

She wavered away then, tattered skirts whispering around her legs. She bounced away from a group of girls and took the long route around to the far side of her bunk so that she could crawl up onto it.

When I closed my eyes, I could hear her murmuring to the ceiling, but I couldn’t make out the words.

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Sat, 24 October 2009 - 9:25 pm

The real future

I discovered another reason for Nadine and Mama Prusco to give me so much pressure to help them entertain the men. It walked into the infirmary on nervous feet this morning.

There were two of them, both girls in their late teens, sharing mutual support long enough to get inside. Then their courage deserted them and they fiddled there, not sure where else to go. I recognised them dimly from the dorm but had no idea what their names were. I saw Peter leering in their direction and took pity on them, going to intercept them. When I asked if they were okay, they looked at me like sheep who had wandered into the sheering shed and weren’t sure what all the buzzing was about.

They asked to see the doctor. I considered telling them that we didn’t have a fully-qualified doctor, but told them to wait in an exam room while I got Simon for them instead. They shuffled off, hugging their coats around themselves in a way that made me suspicious. I offered to stay when they were examined, but they declined; holding each other’s hands was enough.

When they came out, the pair was buoyed up on uncertain toes, clinging to each other’s arms. They were elated in that way that hadn’t sunk in and wound up with uncertain, stunned-fish smiles.

It wasn’t a surprise to hear that they were both pregnant. Their eyes were bright as they told me.

“We’re doing it, we’re really doing it,” one of them told me. She’s blonde and tiny, barely coming up to my shoulder. I think her name is Phoebe.

“We’re creating the future,” the other one said. Sandra or Sondra or Zanda or something, she’s got a round face and mud-coloured hair, and hands that always look raw.

They’re not wrong. This is the real future the world needs: new lives to replace all of those that have been lost. It’s one half of the reason why all the women should partake in the nightly entertainments – keeping the men happy – and peace in Haven – is the other half.

And they’re so happy about it. They’re a part of something bigger than themselves, contributing something that the men can’t. They’re a bright hope in this dark world. I found myself grinning and hugging them, congratulations falling off my tongue. They were positively squealing by the time they left the infirmary, returning to their teams brimful with the news.

They made me think about Sally, fat with pregnancy when we left her at the University. I wonder if the Sickness has taken her yet – it should have by now, if Kostoya was right about the incubation period. And what of her baby? Did the acid’s poison take it too? I wish I knew how they were, even sour Dr Masterson.

Across the room, Debbie was coughing. Each hack of the lungs pulled at me, such a loud sound torn out of a tiny body. The bombs were still stealing lives, the fallout still stripping us down one by one. Every tiny life was precious, and this one was dissolving into tears because she couldn’t stop coughing.

Guilt curdled in my belly as I went to soothe the little one. I stroked her hair and she struggled out from under her blanket so she could crawl into my lap. I hugged her and rocked her, feeling the heat burning out through her thin nightdress. I stayed with her for the rest of the day, until she was finally exhausted enough to sleep and then a little while longer.

It’s my penance.

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Sun, 25 October 2009 - 8:24 pm

Options open

I finally managed to catch up with Tia today. She’s usually up and gone with the bulk of the female population, but this morning she dithered long enough for the dorm to empty out and leave her behind. Jonah was late, so I wasn’t dragged off either.

She listened to my proposition with solemn eyes, giving little away. I knew that she was weighing things in her head – all the benefits and security of Haven against the freedom of the Seekers. Freedom from many things.

“Can Jaye come?” she asked. I had to ask who that was, afraid she wanted to bring one of her new friends with her. They all believe in Haven – pregnant Phoebe is one of them, and they’re even more bright-eyed with the hope of it all now. But no, Jaye was the girl that Jersey got beat up over, the one that was abused and almost raped. I haven’t seen anything of her – she certainly didn’t bring her bruises to the infirmary – and apparently she keeps to herself now. I don’t blame her.

I had no idea that Tia even spoke to her. I only ever see the young Seeker with her gaggle of friends, or desperately trying to be with the gaggle.

“We’ll see,” I told her. I felt like someone’s parent – it’s the sort of thing my dad would say. Tia’s expression gathered into clouds, so I added, “We have to be careful, Tia. This has to stay secret. If she wants to come, I’d like her to, but… carefully, y’know?”

“We can trust her.”

“I hope so. I’ll talk to her, okay?”

Tia seemed satisfied with that. Then she asked a question that no-one else had thought to: “Where are we going?”

I was so startled that I just stared at her for a moment. It’s an obvious thing to ask but I hadn’t given it a single thought until then. I had been focussed on not being in Haven any more, getting out and away from the cutouts without getting anyone killed. We’d go back to the University initially – that was a given. We wanted to hook up with our old friends again and bring them news of what we found at the other end of the radio signal. From there… our options were open. Frighteningly open.

Tia frowned when I told her that. I could tell that she was thinking over the time before we reached Haven, how hard to was to find food and water, the threat of the shamblers dogging our heels. She wasn’t eager to risk all of that again, but she wasn’t saying no, either.

One of her gaggle of friends poked her head around the door to see where Tia had got to.

“Just think about it,” I told her. “And keep it to yourself. You have options, Tia.”

She nodded and hurried off. It didn’t occur to me until Jonah turned up that she hadn’t asked about her brother and if he wanted to come. I don’t know if she assumed he’d follow her lead or if she was too caught up in her own issues to include him. I don’t know when they saw each other last.

 

Figuring out who Jaye was wasn’t easy. I had to try to find a quiet voice among the rabble of chattering women that filled the dorm tonight. If I hadn’t been looking for her, I would never have noticed her when she slipped out. I caught sight of a scrap of auburn hair ducking through a back door and followed it.

She’s a tall girl, all long limbs that she tries to keep folded close to make herself look smaller. She has a scar cutting through one eyebrow and another marring the line of her lower lip, both fairly recent. She probably got them in the incident that got Jersey in so much trouble.

She assumed that I was going to ask her to join Mama Prusco’s group tonight, off to meet a contingent of men for entertainment. After I had told her my name, she believed me when I said I would never do that. Apparently, I’m a well-known troublemaker.

I didn’t ask Jaye if she wanted to leave Haven. There was something shifty in the way her eyes kept darting past me as we talked, as if she was looking for a way out or an excuse to leave. She kept pulling her sleeves down over her hands and hunching her shoulders, which made me wonder what she was hiding. Something about her posture reminded me of the girl I saw after the bombs went off, cutting stripes into her arm because she didn’t know how to deal with it all. I wasn’t sure how to handle that, then or now.

I tried to let Jaye know that she could come to me if she ever needed help or if she was hurt. I told her that I understood why she hid and I’d be there if she ever needed support against Mama Prusco’s pressure. She nodded and tugged at her cuffs, but I’m not sure that she believed me.

She’s far from happy here in Haven, but I don’t know if she’ll want to brave the world outside it with us. I don’t know her well enough yet. We have until the Seekers are ready to leave to sort it out.

I hope that’s enough time for all of us.

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Mon, 26 October 2009 - 7:54 pm

The ferret and the foodstore

Today felt productive. Today, I felt like we were finally making progress towards getting the hell out of here.

Jersey nabbed me this morning, murmuring hurriedly into my ear while the dorm swirled sleepily around us, a mass of grumbles and clothes flapping into place. She’s still working in sanitation (I was surprised that she was still being punished, but I think she’s there out of stubbornness now), and she knew of a couple of hiding places that no-one would ever look. Were they safe for food, safe from the rain? She believes so.

I nodded to her and we went our separate ways. The next task was to figure out how to get the food in the first place. The answer to that came along when I went to fetch lunch for the infirmary’s inmates.

The kitchen workers don’t know how many patients we have currently, or who is on duty on any particular day. I ordered enough lunch for everyone there, including Jonah, knowing that he comes to help himself. He flirts with the girls – if I’m not mistaken, one in particular – but the dumpy woman sorting me out didn’t blink. She just piled up the food and water bottles in my box and sent me on my way.

I gave out what I had to, ate half of my own share, and secreted the rest away in a store room. Just the stuff that would keep – packets of chips, bottles of water. The hot stuff would only go rancid if I tried to store it without refrigeration.

What we really need is someone in the kitchens to siphon cans and boxes my way. I must ask where Tia is working these days. Or perhaps quiet Jaye.

 

I almost got caught when I was stashing the food. My hand twitched to the pile of dressings and tape as soon as I heard the door open, and I tried to hide the racing of my heart when I glanced over my shoulder. It was Peter, leaning against the doorframe and watching me.

“You need something?” I asked him.

He smirked in that way that makes my hand want to curl up into a fist. I restrained myself, straightening the stacks of equipment instead.

“Just wondering when I’ll get to see that tattoo again,” he said. It covers my whole back, but it’s always covered by my clothing. I remembered him walking in on Matt and me and flushed red. “Wouldn’t mind seeing it up close.”

“Never gonna happen.”

“Not even so you can keep seeing your little boyfriend?”

My fury curdled in my stomach – could he really take that away from me? It was none of his business. I scrabbled around for any ammunition I could find.

“If you tell them about that, I’ll have to tell them about all the times you’ve tried to pressure me into sleeping with you, outside of the regulated bounds.” It wasn’t much, but it was all I had. I couldn’t prove it, but then, neither could he.

Stalemate. I could see it in his face as the smirk slid off and his mouth settled into a displeased line. Gotcha, I thought.

He flicked me a sharp look as he stomped out of the room. We had reached an impass, but as soon as he gets something on me, he’ll drop me in trouble faster than a ferret down a trouserleg.

 

I’m going to have to be more careful from now on. I moved the food I was hiding, in case Peter came back to check. I need to work out how to get the stash out of there and to Jersey before he finds it.

I’d better go find her now. We have to get this sorted, and soon.

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Tue, 27 October 2009 - 8:46 pm

Amateur action

With so many eyes on me right now, I’m trying to keep my head down. So of course it’s the perfect time for someone to break into the infirmary to see me.

It was luck that had me looking for something to entertain Debbie with; it put me close to the office when the thuds rattled inside. I didn’t want to look – maybe the boys were up to something in there, or some unusually-sized rats had broken up through the floor. But I wanted to know what it was. Just like the thumping in the basement, it was huge and terrifying until I opened the door on it. Unlike the thumping in the basement, it wasn’t terrifying after I saw what it was.

If it had been anyone but Matt, I would have been furious. I found him on the floor, feet up on the cabinet he’d tumbled off, looking up like a puppy caught chewing on my shoes. His grin had a hopeful note to it.

“Are you insane?” I asked as I helped him up.

He said something cheesy that made me roll my eyes and slung an arm around my waist, pulling me close. That was almost enough to make me forgive him on its own. Then he tried to put his weight on his healing leg and winced. I called him a couple of names that disparaged his intellectual ability and he assured me that he was fine. He’d better be.

He couldn’t stay in the office. Any of the boys might come to get something from in here, including me. Simon had another of the girls in, this one more obviously pregnant, and he might decide she needed a female presence.

The only place safe enough was upstairs. There’s another whole floor on this building, but no-one uses it. It used to be offices and more wards. The rain got in fairly early on, melting a whole set of rooms down one end. They sealed the roof and wrapped it over and over to make sure the rain wouldn’t get in again, but no-one is willing to risk the patients by putting them upstairs. We huddle underneath, secure in the knowledge that there’s a whole floor between us and the hissing, dissolving water.

 

The hardest part was getting Matt to the stairs. I felt like a part in one of those farcical spy movies, sneaking around with amateurish steps and not a clue in the world. I tried to keep track of everyone – Jonah outside smoking, Simon sitting with Debbie, Peter wandering around doing… whatever it is he does most of the time.

With peeking and handwaving and my heart trying to beat its way out through my throat, we managed to get Matt to the stairwell at a hurried limp. I tried to do the smart thing and wait around downstairs to avoid suspicion. Moved a stack of sheets, brought Debbie a fresh pillow. When no-one was paying attention to me, I slipped away as well and stood frozen against the wall of the stairwell, listening for the shocked voices wondering what I was doing going upstairs. The voices never came and eventually I crept upstairs.

I couldn’t ever be a spy. I think the stress would kill me before any enemies had the chance.

When I finally found Matt in one of the broken-ceilinged rooms, I smacked him. For scaring me like that, for hurting himself, for putting us both in a position where Peter could get us in trouble. He’s the one I made particularly sure wasn’t watching when I snuck away, above all the others. He’s the biggest danger in the infirmary, even more than Jonah. I know I can talk to Jonah, even if he is a cutout.

Matt was apologetic but still smiling as he fended off my swipes. It was infuriating.

“Good to see you too, Faithy.”

I could feel my mouth twitching towards a smile and gave his shoulder one last cuff. He’s so hard to stay mad at. Damn him, anyway.

 

The boys have found a solution to the vehicle problem. There are some unused ones in a warehouse down the back of the compound. No-one will notice if they’re moved or messed with. Between Thorpe, Dale, and my dad, they can slip away from their regular duties to make sure the vehicles are working and fueled up, given a few days. If they’re careful, they can steal some fuel away, too.

It won’t take much to disable the other vehicles, they say. Remove a key piece or two from the engine and hide them, and they’ll go nowhere. All they need is warning to get it done.

On the other hand, we’re not doing so good on the food front. I’m doing what I can to secret a bit away every day, but it’ll still take weeks to get enough together to keep the Seekers fed for only a couple of days. It’s not enough. Jaye is working in the kitchen crew; I’ll have to bring her into this if we’re going to have a chance of surviving.

I tried to make Matt promise to stay away and be careful, but he refused. He said that what we really needed to do was find a better way for him to get in. My stomach flutters when I think about the risks he’s taking, but I’d be a liar if I said I minded. Seeing him is worth it. Stolen time and whispered secrets, and so many hopes for the future.

I was grateful that no-one came looking for me until I was dressed again. I heard the voices raised downstairs and rushed back, just as Jonah and Simon were discussing where I might have got to. I gave them an excuse and got back to work, and they dropped the matter.

All we need now is a ladder for Matt to sneak in by. And for no-one to miss us when we’re together. And a bag full of luck if we’re going to pull this off.

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Wed, 28 October 2009 - 10:48 pm

The uselessness of flowers

The escape effort is coming along in skips and steps and occasional great strides. I’m at the back, fretting and nudging, and trying to keep all these balls both in the air and out of sight. The more I think about it, the more shaky the ground beneath me feels. And every now and then I have to stretch for a curve ball.

I talked with Jersey and Tia late last night and explained my problems with being watched. I feel like there are eyes on me all of the time, and while it’s sometimes justified, I know that sometimes it’s not. I’m not paranoid enough to believe that all of Haven is out to get me; it just feels like that.

They said that they would sort out the supplies issue themselves. Some of Tia’s little friends work in the kitchens and she thinks she can get access to the supply store easily enough. Jersey can pick up boxes left out for her when she’s collecting trash and move them to her hiding place.

I feel awful putting this onto them. They should do something to help, of course, but they’ve taken on the whole task of securing us food and water. It’s dangerous; I don’t know what the punishment for hoarding supplies might be, but I doubt it’s as lenient as being put on sanitation duty. They’re happy to do it, even reserved Tia. I think she likes the espionage factor. Jersey enjoys the chance to stick a finger up at Haven, even silently; to her, it’s not just about leaving.

I guess a lot of what I’m feeling is guilt. I’m so useless in this, hampered by the chains of the attention I’ve gathered over the past few weeks. Everyone else is risking so much more than I am right now and I’m not used to it. I’m used to being in the front line, right out there with the rest of them, pulling my weight. I don’t like sitting back and waiting for others to do everything for me. It doesn’t feel right.

Matt told me to enjoy it while it lasts. No-one minds how much I’m doing; we all do what we can, he says. That made me feel worse and more useless than ever. Beholden to all of them. Life is hard enough here without people who don’t contribute, and it’s going to get harder for us.

Matt linked his fingers through mine and kissed my hair. We were sitting in the lopsided upstairs room again, watching the rain make tracks down the plastic-shielded window. There’s something not quite right about the way the liquid slithers.

“You’re the one that pushes us forward,” he said. “Without you, we wouldn’t be leaving at all.” He wasn’t exactly lifting the guilt with that point. “You hold us together – we need you for that. You’re coordinating – that’s something, too.” That was better.

Leaning back into his chest, things didn’t seem so bad. The uncertainty creeps in when he’s not there. It’s getting harder to let him climb out of the window, to let him go at all. I keep stopping myself from asking him to stay, because I know it can’t happen, not here. Not until after we’re far from here.

 

Jersey threw another complication my way tonight. She sat down on my bunk with a scowl that I thought was bad news, but was actually just building up courage to ask me for something. She isn’t used to asking anyone for anything.

“Iona should come with us,” she said finally.

I didn’t even try to hide my surprise. Disturbed Iona? With her plucking fingers and disconnected phrases? I have seen Jersey dealing with her – and defending her when Nadine or Mama Prusco came around looking for ‘volunteers’ for the nightly entertainment – but I didn’t know she felt that attached. I think she feels responsible for Iona and knows what might happen if she’s not there to fend off the deal-makers. I was mostly surprised that Jersey would put up with someone that dysfunctional and a little part of me wondered where the attachment was rooted. I’m fairly sure she doesn’t swing that way, crossdressing or no. Unless I miss my guess, she was once interested in Rico, the leader of her old Wolverine gang, and Terry more recently.

“I don’t think we can make that choice for her, Jersey,” I said.

“So we ask her.”

It was the obvious answer, and I think that we could get her to understand. She’s not that broken. There was, however, a ‘but’. “She says whatever crosses her mind. It’s risky, letting her know.”

“We don’t have to ask her now.”

Jersey had given this a lot of thought; she knew what I was going to say, the barriers in our way, and had responses ready for me. And she was right; if we waited until we were about to leave, the chances of Iona betraying us – accidentally or otherwise – were small. I couldn’t help smiling at her. “We’ll ask her closer to the time, then.”

She gave me an odd look, as if she couldn’t believe it was that easy, and I patted her shoulder. Not everything has to be a struggle.

“She’ll be your responsibility when it comes to it, though,” I said. That stiffened Jersey’s shoulders, but not in a bad way. “To keep her quiet.”

She thought about it for a moment, that scowl descending again. Finally, she nodded and pulled herself off my bed. That was the end of the conversation, apparently.

Iona came by a bit later on and gave me a hair band to tie my hair back with. My last one had broken a couple of days ago and the tie she gave me looked like it had never been used. Red, with a white plastic flower on it.

“Such pretty hair,” she said, holding it out. “Needs flowers.”

I took it and thanked her, and she smiled vaguely as she turned away. I don’t know if Jersey put her up to it or not, but I guess it didn’t harm her case.

This whole escaping business is getting prettier all the time.

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Thu, 29 October 2009 - 10:11 pm

Waiting for the storm

Today, I thought we were finished. Busted. Broken. We still might be.

When I got to the infirmary this morning, I was fretting about the stash of food I had in a storage cupboard. I didn’t like how much Peter has been following me around lately, always there when I turn around. The paranoia was like water, rising higher and higher, its poison seeping into everything I saw and said.

I didn’t notice Jonah overmuch. We chatted like we always did – perfunctory greetings and how-are-yous, and see-you-later at the other end. He went to his post outside the infirmary door to stand like a good cutout soldier and I went inside. Nothing unusual there.

Simon was in his office, going over paperwork with a frown – I think it was inventory. The gaps on our shelves are widening with all the injuries lately and clean sheets are a problem. He’s looking for solutions and wishing for a genie bottle to rub.

Peter was sitting with Debbie, trying to get her to eat breakfast. He frowned when he saw me, as if that was clearly my job and what the hell did was I doing letting him do it. For a nurse, he really isn’t too keen on looking after people. He’s good enough with most of them; maybe it’s just kids he doesn’t like. Or the Sickness.

I wasn’t going to hurry to relieve him. I had my own checks to do, one of which was on the food stash. Just in case, I told myself. Just so I wouldn’t worry about it all morning until I was free enough to take a look.

It was gone. All of it, every packet of chips and bottle of water. The stacks of empty boxes in front were arranged just as I left them, but the one in the back holding the carefully-gathered supplies was missing. Not empty, just gone. I checked all of the other boxes, and it wasn’t there.

Finally, I sat back on my heels and just stared at the cupboard. I felt sick. My heart was thudding against my sternum, Morse code trying to tell me that I was in trouble. But my brain wasn’t listening – it was stuck on a loop of ‘but it should be here’. My fingers shook when I put all of the boxes back into place, covering up the gaping hole in my world. I still knew it was there. I could feel it.

No-one had said anything when I arrived at the infirmary. No-one had asked me about it. Were they waiting for me to flip out? Because I was nearly there. I wanted to demand to know who took the food – didn’t they know it had taken me days to gather just that much? That I was going to put it out with the trash today for Jersey to collect? Didn’t they know how close I was to getting it out of here and out of danger?

I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t go around asking who had taken my secret stash of food – of course I couldn’t. I couldn’t let on that anything was wrong. Perhaps whoever found it doesn’t know it was me who put it there. Maybe they’re waiting for a reaction so they can spot the culprit. I couldn’t give them one. If I keep it all hidden, I might get out of this yet.

So I had to pretend that nothing at all was wrong. Straighten my shoulders and steady myself, and walk back out into the infirmary with a smile ready for whoever came at me next. I braced myself against Peter’s sideways comments when I went to take over Debbie-duty; they stung, but I just told him to go do something useful. Debbie was too vague with the Sickness to notice anything.

I’ve been taut since then, wondering who would come over and demand to know why I was hoarding food. Would it be one of those near me, or a delegation from the General? Would they come crashing in and drag me off?

No-one came. Simon was as distracted and guarded as always, and Peter was his usual annoying self. The only one I thought was paying particular attention to me was Jonah, but that’s his job. I can’t tell if it’s my hyper-sensitivity or if he really is watching me more closely than usual.

All day, I’ve been waiting for that shoe to drop. I’m still waiting. Matt didn’t come today, and Dad hasn’t brought me dinner for several days now. When I think about what might have kept them away, the room shrinks in on me and it’s hard to breathe. I keep thinking that Thorpe will protect them, but what can he do against cutouts with guns?

The sensible part of my brain keeps telling me that I’m over-reacting. There are lots of reasons why Matt might not be able to come. Dad only comes every few days. Jonah’s always watching me, and so are the women in the dorms. It’s nothing unusual. I shouldn’t read too much into it.

But the box is still gone. Someone knows. Maybe not that we’re gearing up to get out of here, but certainly that food was being hoarded. That alone is enough to get us – me – in a lot of trouble.

I’ve told Jersey about it. Asked her to get the word to the others. We’ll need to keep our heads down for a while until this non-storm blows over. I don’t dare to do any more.

What are they waiting for?

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