Mon, 24 August 2009 - 5:30 pm

Nuts

We had more luck with the warehouses today. Our search for something edible turned up nuts. Boxes and boxes of foil packs of nuts. Peanuts, cashew nuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts.

What is it about Christmas and nuts? They have shiny red and green packets, desperate to remind us of that time of year. Poor things have been sitting here since then, waiting for someone to come along and celebrate with them. Well, we obliged, so happy to find a fresh source of food – and one meant for human consumption – that there was even some dancing.

We rushed back to the vehicles with them. Matt couldn’t wait to ask the two convoy guards if they wanted to eat some nuts, which made Dale laugh and Thorpe look unimpressed. After we had crammed as many boxes as possible into the campervan, we had ourselves a little feast.

Terry was the first one to make himself sick. We all laughed when he rushed off to throw up, but it’s hardly surprising. Too many nuts aren’t good for you; my stomach isn’t entirely happy, and I didn’t stuff myself as much as some of the others.

 

We think that someone stashed them. They were on the upper floor of a stockroom, tucked away at the back behind a row of action figure boxes. If we hadn’t been desperately checking everything we could, we would have missed them. And I think Terry and Tia were messing around with the action figures.

It all led to a tense debate. As Dan pointed out, if someone stashed them, then they meant to come back. They’re organised and mobile. They sought to hide them from other survivors, which means they’re protecting themselves. Understandable, but it means they probably won’t be friendly if we come across them, even if they never find out that we stole their nuts.

There’s no way to know when this group came through here or if they might still be alive. We’re fairly sure that the Pride never made it this far south – they were spreading eastwards before they were overtaken by the Sickness – so it probably wasn’t them. We could be worrying over nothing, over people long dead or twisted into shamblers. Or they could be on their way back here right now to pick up their stashed food.

If there’s one stash, there’s bound to be another. We don’t dare turn away from that possibility. We need more than nuts to live on – despite them being packed with all kinds of good things for the body – and we haven’t found the supermarket depot yet. There’s too much to do here to let ghosts chase us away.

Nevertheless, we have another reason to guard the vehicles now. And to stick closer together.

Gotta go – time for dinner. Nuts, with a side order of dog biscuits. Who said the end of the world couldn’t be tasty?

That might have been me.

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Tue, 25 August 2009 - 10:38 pm

Huddle

Don’t have a lot of time to post today. We’re not sure we dare show any light, and in the thick undercloud darkness, any glimmer is too much. I have turned the brightness on the screen down so much I can barely make out what I’m typing.

We found the supermarket depot today. Clearly, we’re not the only ones who know about it. There was activity inside, but we didn’t get close enough to see what.

More importantly, there were guards on the gate. Armed guards, with guns. They looked well-equipped – cleaner and less cobbled-together than the rest of us. Clearly, they haven’t had to wear whatever clothes they came across that happened to be the right size. They looked so official – so normal – that we almost didn’t see them at all. We stopped far too late and stared at them. They looked as startled as we did, staring back at us.

Then they grabbed for their weapons and shouted. They weren’t friendly shouts and guards on the gate wouldn’t intimidate away shamblers. They had to be there to defend the store from other survivors. We didn’t even think about it; our instincts told us to run, so that’s what we did.

It’s not a good sign that they chased us. It’s probably worse that we led them straight back to our vehicles – in our panic, we went back to Thorpe and Dale and our fastest ticket out of there. We forgot that it’s not a quick job to get the vehicles started.

There was so much shouting, lost in the frantic effort to get to safety. Get away, anywhere, where the men with guns can’t find us. Push, come on, release the clutch, come on.

The pair that chased us didn’t attack, not right away. They stopped and radioed someone – there’s no mistaking that tilt of the head towards the shoulder. They held their guns ready a short distance away, and when our engines roared and we were scrambling inside, they opened fire.

No-one was hurt. I’m sure about that. But they punctured the vehicles, both of them – the offroader’s rear windscreen is peppered with holes. How they didn’t hit someone, I don’t know.

We drove hell-for-leather in any direction but towards the depot. Tia was behind the wheel of the campervan – she’s small, but crazy. It was her idea to dive right into a warehouse and close up the doors, huddling down while we listened for our pursuit.

It came. Eventually, we heard the engines grumbling slowly along the warehouse district roads. So loud, so obvious – we were right to stop, or they could have just followed our noise right to us. I think that’s what they were looking for, because they didn’t check inside the quiet buildings. They were looking for noisy runners, not rabbits.

They’ve been circling ever since, even through the rain. We don’t dare move or light a fire – back to huddling in blankets and hoping that no-one notices us. I don’t like the look of these people. They’re too organised.

I’m not sure what we’ll do in the morning. What if they’re still out there?

Have to go – time to put the light out.

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Wed, 26 August 2009 - 8:16 pm

Small mercies

After a tense night in which none of us slept much, we weren’t sure whether to welcome the leak of orange light back into our world. The sound of distant engines still floated to us and no-one wanted to draw attention to our position by starting our vehicles.

Which left us with a dilemma. Do we abandon the vehicles and sneak away, or take the chance that they’ve given up looking for us? We’ve spent so long gathering supplies that we’re reluctant to leave any of it behind, but we can’t possibly carry it all. There’s just too much.

I spent a little time going over what was packed into the campervan, to see how much we might be able to take and what we could afford to leave behind. Beyond the stacks of nut boxes, I found Dillon’s pack. I stopped then. There’s no way I could leave it behind and I can’t carry it as well as all my own gear. We had to find another way to get out of this.

“Maybe they’re reasonable,” someone said when we gathered together to talk about our options. The group was a morass of hope, doubt, and bruised cynicism. No-one wanted to take that first step into the firing line, just in case.

It’s always me. Faced with a reluctant situation in which someone needed to step forward, I always blink first. This particular choice was more perilous than most we’ve faced, but I didn’t see any reason to break the pattern this time. I’m not completely stupid – I suggested we watch them for a while before introducing ourselves. Matt tensed up and Thorpe managed to look even more closed and unhappy than usual, but they didn’t argue.

So off we went. Sneaking through the streets, creeping up towards the depot, we were like ninja in cracked boots and rainbow scarves. We were less ninja-like when we fumbled around inside a warehouse, trying to find somewhere to watch the depot from without being seen. It was more like a comedy of shushes and thumps and muttered swearing.

We didn’t have to wait long for one of those distant engines to turn up – a big truck rumbled in to turn its empty back end to the depot. Seems like they’re emptying the place, taking the supplies elsewhere. Which means that there are a lot more of them somewhere.

I’d love to know how they got a truck that big started – I have a mental image of people lined up on either side like ants, all hauling the great thing into motion so the engine can stutter into life. Somehow, I think they’ve got a better solution than that. I’m a little jealous.

It all seemed so normal. Ordered, ordinary. One of the guards smoked a cigarette like it was a treat, blowing curls into the air. It seemed safe. I was about to get up and go out there when Thorpe clamped a hand on my shoulder and held me down.

That’s when we heard the flap of feet approaching, the kind of patter that panic brings up an empty street along with the rasp of air over teeth. There were three of them, one of them white-haired, running for all they were worth. From the direction they came from, it looked like they followed the truck in. When they drew close, they started waving their hands, calling out. We didn’t need to hear them to know what they were saying. Help us, help us. The shamblers are coming.

The guards didn’t listen. They lifted their weapons and we ducked down, closing our eyes and ears. There was nothing else we could do. We might have been able to avoid the sight, but we couldn’t escape the sound that bounced off the walls at us. The burning rattle, the screams. The too-soft thuds. Our own hearts thrashing in our chests.

I saw Terry holding his sister tightly. Thorpe still had a hand on my shoulder and I had a grip on Matt on my other side. We barely dared to breathe as the silence fell down around us; I think Dan was the only one of us still looking out of the window.

“We should go now,” he said.

We slunk away like bad dogs. I glanced back once and saw the guards calling for help from within the depot. The stumble of shamblers was already pulling itself into sight up the street and the recently dead wouldn’t distract them for long.

We ran back to the vehicles, detouring wildly around the long tail of the shambler chain. Some of them broke off to follow us; we just kept moving, not daring to stop even to fight. e’ll be fine, we’ll be fine, just keep going.

At least it’s easy to outrun the shamblers. I was terrified for all of us and suddenly aware that we might get lost here. Melted by the rain, the buildings all looked the same. Luckily, Tia has a good sense of direction and led us back.

The fear was notching up in my stomach while we got the vehicles going. We could hear distant gunfire and faint shuffles. We had to get out of there, get away. We shouldered the big doors open and drove out in the direction that would take us far from all of this. Then it was all about scrambling and getting away from that area. We put the warehouses in our rearview mirrors and hoped that the shamblers peppering the streets would keep the men with guns too busy to come after us.

They just tore those people down. They didn’t need to. Just shot them and left them there to be devoured. A nice little delay while they prepared themselves. And we almost went up and offered ourselves to them. I almost did.

I feel like things are falling away from us. We’re short of water, the fuel cans are empty, and the tanks are running dry. We had to find somewhere undercover for the vehicles before the rain came because of the damage to the rear windows. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to use those vehicles. We need to find new ones, and a fresh source of fuel to run them.

We didn’t lose anyone today. I feel like we might at any moment, and the others feel it too. We sat closer together around our sad little fire tonight. But for today, we’re all here.

We’re grateful for small mercies, but we’re not looking forward to tomorrow.

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Thu, 27 August 2009 - 5:54 pm

Eight

We are an even number again. There’s a part of me that wants to fight that one little fact, as if Dillon’s place with us could ever be filled. It can’t. It’s just our number that’s even, not our hearts.

Still, I can’t begrudge the one who has joined us. In fact, I was pleased; after the past few days, we needed something to pick us up again.

We were trying to fix the vehicles. Plastic sheeting over the rear windows and pock-marked panels, secured with the fabulous wrap of ductape. We switched to our last spare set of tyres, too; with all the acid on the roads, in ice or puddles, the treads have been wearing down far too quickly. It might be pointless unless we find more fuel to keep them running, but at least they’ll last a little while longer.

The sound of an engine approaching set us all on edge. We downed tools and ducked out of sight, taut as harpstrings. It wasn’t a big engine – in fact, it sounded thin and rattly – but you never know. These days, you just never know.

It almost went past us without comment. A single person on a motorcycle, anonymously helmeted, drifting slowly down the street. My first thought was that the guards were sending out scouts. Then Terry scowled and Dale leaned forward, staring at the back of the rider’s jacket. A design had been roughly painted on, one I found familiar but couldn’t make out.

Dale had no such problem. He ran out into the street, ignoring hissing and grabbing from the rest of us. With two fingers in his mouth, he whistled, brazen and piercing. We winced at the recklessness of it, while the rider heard and turned back. The rest of us quickly hurried out onto the road, forming up around Dale in case he needed our support.

As it turned out, he didn’t need us or any kind of protection. The rider stopped and shut off the engine, unworried by the mob of us standing there. When the helmet came off, we saw why. One of us, come back to the group, come back to the road.

The first thing I thought was that her hair’s grown and she looks more like a girl now.

Jersey. Most of us were pleased to see her. Dale was grinning and went to slap her on the shoulder; he has apparently forgiven her for the months of lying while they were running as the Wolverines. There were no hugs – she’s not really into that – but plenty of friendly buffets and what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here.

“Got sick of sitting on my ass at the university,” she told us, wheeling the bike towards where our vehicles were stashed. “So I thought I’d come see if you guys needed a hand out here. Heard where you were over the radio.” I know Dale and Dan have been talking to the ones we left behind fairly often, when we can get a signal.

There’s obviously more to it than that but none of us pressed her on it. She has her secrets; the difference now is that we all know they’re there, and that makes it okay. Almost. But a few cans of soup and beans soothe a lot of ruffled feathers. We ate well tonight because of her.

The only one who hung back from the greetings was Terry. He’s still bruised over believing that she was a guy and has been brooding since she turned up. It’s not like him and even Tia is worried. It’s putting bluster into Jersey’s attitude – no-one wants a fight right now, least of all her, so she’s trying to breeze right on past the unpleasantness. I can’t blame her for that.

 

Eight’s lucky, according to the Chinese. I don’t know if it’s lucky for us. My mind keeps wandering back to the eighth we lost; he’s never far away these days.

I miss the ones we left at the university. I miss the clutter and chatter of them, their faces around the fire. Their stories and the sussurrus of their voices. It’s good to see even just one of them again.

But eight will do. Eight feels right. Welcome back, Jersey.

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Fri, 28 August 2009 - 9:22 pm

News

We’re stumbling a bit today. Last night, we came across a crate of vodka bottles hidden in the back of the old bar we were bedding down in.

There was silliness and stories, and Jersey gave us news about what has been happening back at the university. We had heard from them over the radio, but only shards, and we were all eager to catch up with them. I think we’re all glad to know that our friends are still there, that they didn’t disappear as soon as they were out of sight. That the shamblers haven’t risen up and swallowed them.

Sally is huge now. From everything the two doctors can tell, she’s doing fine and so is the baby. They think she’s due in about ten weeks, and Masterson is getting snappier each time that number goes down.

Dr Kostoya has adopted everyone who will listen to his chemical babblings. Conroy is straining his braincells trying to keep up – though completely in his element – and even the kids are playing with the ridiculously long words. The little ones don’t get it, but the chemist only requires that an audience entertain him, not understand. That will come with time, he says.

Kostoya’s work is coming along well, they think. They’ve set up a water filtration system and he’s still tracking down the exact nature of the poison. From the little shudder that Jersey gave when she mentioned the acid, I think part of that ‘tracking down’ involved her and her recently-tainted bloodstream. Another reason why she wound up here with us.

Bree and her little friends are still there, becoming a more integral part of the group now that we’ve gone. Now I’ve gone.

Food is becoming an issue for them, too. They have the water situation sorted out, but all the filtering in the world won’t turn it into something to sustain the human body on its own. Their scavenging parties are ranging further and further afield, stretching themselves thin over the threat of shamblers and other survivors. They’ve been attacked a few times by both the living and the broken.

She didn’t say much about Janice and Tom. Someone did ask – Tia, I think. They were good to her, especially when she wasn’t well. Tom’s not well now, but not from injury or starvation. Jersey said something about testing, and I think that’s why she’s here. If Tom has the Sickness, she doesn’t want to watch what’s happening to him. She doesn’t want to see her own future.

She won’t talk about it, breezes right past it all, but it’s there in between her words. It hangs over her like her lie and her secret. Instead she came to us, spent days searching for us in a way that might have got her killed in so many ways. All on her own. I don’t know if I could have done that.

 

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel isolated. I’m never alone – there’s always the others here with me, crammed in close – but outside of our circle is the gulf of our empty world. Even with the radio, voices carrying over the distance, it’s not the same. Gossiping with Jersey felt like a family reunion, with word of cousins and aunts and a crazy old uncle.

It was good. There’s not enough to eat: my stomach is rumbling and we just got done with dinner. We’re all hungover after last night, headsore and drawn. But it was nice, talking about distant friends. Talking about the world out of our reach as if it’s still there. At some point, I fell asleep with my head in Matt’s lap.

A little news goes a long way.

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Sat, 29 August 2009 - 5:16 pm

Elephants

It seems that spring is coming in very slow steps. There’s less ice around now. What little forms overnight is usually gone by the time we’re all up and ready to go. It’s not warm enough to dry up all of the water, though, so we still have to be careful with our footing – no-one wants to put a boot in a puddle, let alone fall down in one.

Jersey is still with us – we’ve strapped her bike to the back of the campervan. Terry isn’t talking to her, but everyone else is getting along with her just fine. Even Tia – I think she’s spending time with the ex-Wolverine just to spite her brother.

I catch Jersey looking at Terry sometimes and the look on her face is familiar. It’s how she used to look when she talked about Rico, the fella who ran the Wolverines until he got Sick. Pained and slightly sad. I wonder if she ever told Rico how she felt. Probably not – how could it have ever worked, while she was pretending to be a boy? And now Terry knows the truth but is so angry over the deception that he’s ignoring her. That’s probably her worst fear when it comes to him.

Much as I might like to, I can’t tell her that I sympathise; she hates pity. That’s part of why she created the lie in the first place: she wanted to protect herself, on her own terms. I can’t believe she kept up the pretence for so long – months, it had to be. I know I couldn’t do it.

The tangled nature of it all is giving me a headache. This is why I prefer not to lie – it’s too complicated and fraught with hurt when it all comes down. At least it’s taking my mind off how hungry I am.

 

Greenberry is directly west of us now; if we head any further north, we’re going to just make this whole trip longer. We’ve decided to strike out for it, just run there as fast as we can.

Our progress hasn’t been great. We’ve been limping along, stopping periodically to check for supplies – food and fuel mostly. We’ve managed to scrape enough fuel together to last us for a while, but every source we’ve come across had already been broken into and sucked almost dry. Even the vehicles abandoned on the road.

I keep thinking about that truck and how much it must guzzle in order to keep moving. I think we all know who has been through here ahead of us, scouring the landscape like locusts. Thinking about it makes me nervous – they might come back at any time, they might pass through here again. I catch myself listening for distant engines and gunfire when it grows quiet.

The shortage is pressing on all of us. It’s not just that we’re hungry and cold; those are just symptoms of a bigger problem. As much as we’ve all tried to pretend it doesn’t exist, the problem is becoming the elephant in our room.

There’s nothing new coming into the world. Everything we find, everything we scavenge, is all that’s left. There are no farms growing fresh food, no factories making new products, no refineries producing diesel. We’ve known this since the bomb went off, but now we’re running out. We’re burning through what little we’ve got and, one day soon, we won’t find anything to live on.

The world’s not done breaking yet: it won’t be over until we’re all dead. It’s doing its best to make that happen. And it might not take that long.

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Sun, 30 August 2009 - 9:22 pm

Before the last step

We stand on a threshold now. The rain is battering outside and night has fallen, but we know it’s there, just outside the walls of this little salon.

Once again, we have run up against the edge of what used to be civilisation. I don’t really know what to call it now. Shelter, perhaps. All that’s left of what people built in the world. And beyond it is the bare open ground.

With two vehicles held together by ductape, plastic, and oil, we can only hope that they’ll last long enough to carry us across the gulf. The rain still comes every day, even though the earth is so thoroughly soaked that it doesn’t seem to be able to take any more of it. The earlier the ice melts, the bigger and more persistent the puddles seem to be.

Somewhere out there in the open space is Greenberry. The source of the radio signal, that one that still loops over and over. There’s a chance that it’s just a machine out there, mindlessly talking to the empty air. We’ve tried, but there hasn’t been any answer from whoever set up that signal. We don’t know if there’s anyone left watching over it.

It could be nothing. But it’s the last place we’ve got left to go. We’re Seekers, and this is the only thing left to seek.

After this, I don’t know what we’ll do. I don’t want to think about it but it’s hanging over us as huge and dark as the gaping bare earth outside.

 

We’re all quiet tonight, all thinking the same thing. The map shows a small cluster of buildings at Greenberry, just inside a wide sprawl of what was once green, rolling hills. Barring obstacles, we should be able to get there tomorrow. One quick jump across the gulf and there’s shelter waiting for us on the other side.

I wonder how many other people have sat here like this, looking at the last step and churning over what they’ll find. I wonder what they found, and if it’ll be the same as what we’ll find tomorrow.

I can’t stand this. The quiet, the waiting. None of us will sleep tonight. Even Jersey has lost the shine of her determined bounce.

There must be something else to do in this place. Something else to find. I’m going to find it. If nothing else, the search is something to do.

I guess that’s why they call us Seekers.

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Mon, 31 August 2009 - 7:50 pm

To Greenberry

It took us less than half a day to get here. The roads were clear – conspicuously so – and the worst obstacles were the puddles that had gathered on the tarmac. We went around them when we could, and restrained the urge to lift our feet up inside the vehicles when we couldn’t. Faithful things, they didn’t leak.

What we found was a mix of good and bad signs. There was a sign that told us we’d found the right place – as if there might be another sagging cluster of buildings out here somewhere. It said ‘Greenberry’ in such clear letters that it might have been recently cleaned. Touched up, even. It was hung on a pair of wire gates that weren’t locked; the chain dangled free. They barely squeaked.

The buildings themselves are suffering from the rain just as much as everything else. Dulled to a dirty brown, they clump together as if grumpy at the isolation. The roofs all seem intact, though; there’s no sign of acid inside just yet. All that they protect are empty offices and garages, bare tables, abandoned chairs, a radio that ticks over and over, and a generator growling patiently in a basement.

There isn’t a soul here. That was the part that hit hardest, when we least expected it. The realisation sank in slowly as we crept around; then we looked at each other and knew, and it winded us. No-one was waiting for us. Our hopes were hung on unravelling threads.

 

We weren’t ready to be crushed just then. We checked out every building, looked into every cranny, thought about poking at the radio, and stood staring at the generator for a while.

“Someone has to have fuelled it up,” Jersey pointed out.

Dan was crouching next to it, peering intently. “No more than a week or two ago.”

A week. That was something. That was not nothing.

From the look of it, the generator was charging a series of batteries, switching itself off and on again in cycles. The radio was running off the batteries. Whoever set it up did a good job, must have known what they were doing. I borrowed one of the batteries to charge up the laptop.

After we had checked everything, we retired to one of the larger buildings to ponder our options. I think the fact that we didn’t go straight back to the vehicles showed that our minds were already made up. If someone filled up the generators so recently, then they might come back to do it again. The only problem was whether or not we had the supplies to wait long enough.

We barely have enough for tonight, never mind tomorrow. We can stretch it out for a couple of days, but beyond that we’re in trouble.

Oddly enough, we’re not as solemn and down as I thought we’d be. It’s not all bad news. There’s that tiny thread of hope, taut and straining but holding itself together by its own raggedy edges. It was enough to prompt a couple of the others to start singing, and then Dan joined in, humming the guitar part. I took up the drums and we all belted our way through the choruses.

It kept us together. It stopped us thinking about the oncoming rain and the blankness outside. It made us ignore the gnawing inside. And it put a smile on our faces.

There might be something here, among all this empty dirt. There just might.

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Tue, 1 September 2009 - 9:51 pm

Rough awakening

Guns woke us up today.

Not distant, not barking at the low sky. Not firing at all. Not even outside.

They were inside, pointing at us like hollow fingers. Luckily silent, but they were still enough to stop our hearts when we saw them.

It’s not a pleasant way to wake up. In the dim of dawn, those on guard never saw them coming. They were just suddenly here, swarming in and around us, and pointing.

From the uniforms, they’re professionals. Army, unless I miss my guess. We found the base that the ECC talked about. We found the place so many were sent for help. I wish that it felt like a good thing.

There were questions, so many questions. Who we were, what we thought we’d find here. We’re Seekers, we told them. We’re trying to find out what’s left. What’s next. How we’re going to survive to tomorrow, to next week, to next month. We’re just… looking for answers, even if we’re not sure of all of the questions yet.

We can’t blame them for caution – you never know who’s carry weapons now, or what they might do for a bite to eat and the chance to live just a little longer. But I lost it when I heard them going through the vehicles. They had no right. No right at all. We had worked for months to get that stuff together and they took it all. Tools, clothing, equipment.

I have to be honest: that wasn’t why I was so upset. All I could think about was Dillon’s stuff. Those last little bits I have of him, still crammed in his pack. They took it – they took all of it. Even his soccer ball. So I went off at them, told them exactly what I thought of them, ignoring the hands that were trying to hold me back. There were a lot of voices shouting but mine was the loudest, right until I got the butt of a gun to the face.

I’m not sure what happened next – I saw stars and my knees buckled. Someone caught me. By the time I could see again, everything was blurry and Thorpe was standing over me like he was ready to pop the guy’s head off. Someone kept saying my name, wouldn’t stop until I answered. I still have a headache from it, and a nasty bruise according to winces my friends give when they look at me.

They went through everything, even our packs. They missed the laptop – they saw a skinny case with paper in it and didn’t look any further. Thank goodness I kept those notes and maps in there. I don’t dare let them know I’ve got it and it still works – they’d take it, I’m sure. They’d take the hearts right out of us.

When they were done pillaging our stuff for everything of use, they escorted us into our vehicles. A couple of them rode with us – though there was barely room – and the rest braced our pair in their military trucks. I’ll never know how we didn’t hear them coming.

I think it’s the only time I’ve wished one of the cars would break down, just to spite them.

We drove for a couple of hours, heading into the open space. After a while, I couldn’t even see the bump of Greenberry against the horizon and we were still going. The road seemed unending, carrying us off and away, but it wasn’t even noon when roofs prickled the skyline before us. Rising up out of the rolling earth, from what used to be grass and trees and training grounds, were barracks and buildings. Hard edges, fenced off and frowning at the skin of orange clouds overhead.

They didn’t talk to us, didn’t tell us what was going on. We tried to ask, even demand, but they just shepherded us into a circle while they carted our stuff off. They left our packs with our clothes in, but everything else grew booted feet and stomped off. I hid the laptop bag under my coat; Matt helped, while he held me up. Standing felt like such an effort. Thorpe tried to stand up to them and got winded for his trouble. We were unarmed and felt more naked than we have in a long time. Not since the Pride.

Once they were done stripping us, they marched us into a shed. The door closed and locked, and we’ve been here ever since. Even after the rain came. We all watched the door and walls to see if it was going to seep in, huddling together. It didn’t, but we stayed huddled together anyway. Feels safer that way.

It’s cold tonight. They left us blankets, but this shed rattles and so do we. I don’t know what they’re planning. I’m afraid to go to sleep because I don’t know what I’ll see when I wake. Matt doesn’t want to let me sleep anyway – he keeps nudging me when I doze. My head aches and all I can think of is holding onto my friends as tight as I can.

I’d better go before they see my light. Morning seems so far away.

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Wed, 2 September 2009 - 9:26 pm

The General

After a night in a shed with no windows, we were blinded by the square of ruddy light made by the door in the morning.

I don’t think I slept. I dozed a while, but even after Matt fell asleep on me, I tried to stay awake. I’ll keep watch, I told them. I’ll stay up.

By morning, my eyes felt like someone had pokered them out, leaving burnt light behind. The orange sun only added to the impression. My throat barely worked as I tried to rouse the others – I wound up shaking the nearest shoulder. Then all the bodies around me were moving and I had no idea which way was up.

They brought us breakfast. Nothing fancy – just cold cans of something indescribable and jug of water – but we gobbled it all down anyway. I don’t remember when we last ate before that – a day, maybe two. Eat slowly, we told each other while our own hands shook at the need inside us. Eat slowly or you’ll only throw it up again. No-one threw up. I didn’t tell the others how much I felt like vomiting every time I moved, but that had nothing to do with the food.

I’m aware that I had a concussion. I know the symptoms. It’s not fun, and it made me feel bad about all those shamblers I’ve bashed in the head. But only a little bit. At least it was over fairly quickly for them.

Once we were done with the food, the army guys took us outside again. The General had come to meet us, they said. He was on his way and we were to wait. I wobbled a bit on my feet, but I felt steadier than yesterday. To stop myself thinking about how much I wanted to puke on their boots, I made myself look at these men with guns.

They’re a strange shard of the time Before. Neat uniforms, but unwashed and mended if you look closely. All men in a mix of ages, some of them too young to have been soldiers before the bombs went off. Some too old to still be doing active duty. They all held their weapons with a note of competence, though; there was no doubt that they knew how to use them. They were quite serious about their discipline, too, with their sirs and salutes, though they only did that when the General walked through the ranks to us.

I used to miss the sight of green. I used to wish for it. But then we were surrounded in a sea of it, fatigues and over-pressed shirts, as if that might make up for the grime ground into them. All that unhealthy green, shifting around us, pressed on my senses and made my head throb.

I wasn’t in the best of moods when the General stopped and smiled at us. The first thing he did was apologise. That confused us, and with startling clarity, I knew that that was exactly what he intended. Good cop bad cop on crack. I could feel my sympathy hardening against him as he looked us over and spread his hands.

“I’m sorry for the manner in which you’ve been brought here,” he said. “We have to be careful, you understand. There’s those who’ll slit our throats while we sleep. But we can see you’re not that kind of people.”

He couldn’t see anything except a group of cold, half-starved people who had spent a night shut in the dark.

“You came looking for somewhere you can survive, make a life, even,” he went on. “You’ve come to the right place. We’ve built somewhere we can all survive – we call it Haven. Would you like to see it?”

We were silent, all of us. The glares coming off us varied in intensity; I think only Tia looked like she was buying his words on face value. She’s still hopeful. I used to be like that. I used to want to be like that.

Of course, I was the first Seeker to step into the conversation. “Do we have a choice?”

“Of course you do. You can walk away if you want, go your own way.”

“And our gear – you’re going to give that back, are you?” Jersey’s tone was derisive and for once I completely agreed with her.

“All of it?” I added.

The General’s face took on a perfect surprise. “Your things were taken from you?”

I wanted to punch him in the face. As if he didn’t know. As if he could not know.

I was about to spit that at him when I saw something behind him. Someone. Familiar, recognisable, moving away, stepping out of sight. I didn’t think – I just stepped forward and called out. I’m not sure what – just ‘hey’, I think. Then someone shoved me back and I stumbled. A hand grabbed and turned me, and I was spinning and slipping and spinning, right down into the black.

 

I just woke up. It’s dark now – I lost hours. I’m not sure where I am, but Matt is asleep in a chair next to the bed, so it must be safe enough. I’m in a bed and it looks… like a used hospital. I think I’d be scared if I could get my head around it all properly.

I found the laptop under my pillow. He must have put it there for me. Trust Matt to know to keep it safe.

He looks so tired, pallid in the blue screen glow. He looks as healthy as I feel right now.

I wish I could remember who I saw. It niggles, that face I almost glimpsed before I passed out.

I don’t know where the others are. I’m worried about them. I also have no idea what happened to my shoes. I’d get up and look, but it’s so dark and I’m not sure I should. Maybe I’ll wait for morning and light, and for my friend to wake.

Or maybe I’ll wake him now and make him huddle up here with me. It’s cold and I don’t like sleeping alone these days.

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