Thursday, 3 September 2009 - 9:08 pm

Green plastic men

Hi, Matt again. Faith’s sleeping right now – she’s been asleep for most of the day. That knock on the head really laid her out, but she’s a better colour tonight.

I was naughty – while she was asleep, I read over the last lot of posts. It felt wrong – it’s like reading her diary, though she has always said that this is our story she’s recording. She puts so much of herself into this blog.

I always wondered where she got her strength from. I think I get it now – she doesn’t, not really. She’s as scared as the rest of us. She hides her fears in here and then runs full-tilt into whatever it is anyway.

Look at me, doing the same thing, trying to tuck everything in here like it’s a magic back pocket. She’s contagious, the silly brain-bruised girl.


She missed most of what happened yesterday. All heroic and trying to do the right thing, and down she went, boom. Should’ve seen Thorpe go off when she passed out – the big lump went all protective of her, and he almost got himself whalloped again for his trouble. Some of the others stepped up to support him too – Jersey and Terry, mostly. I was sure they’d get us all in trouble while our Faithful leader needed help. (Never call her that where she can hear you – she hits.)

I was too busy trying to get her to wake up. I’ve never seen her unconscious like that before and I’m not eager to do it again. I was so afraid she wouldn’t wake up again. She just has to be all dramatic, doesn’t she?

The General called for a stretcher and said they had medical facilities that could help her. The green plastic men would have carried her away from all of us if we’d let them, but while Thorpe harangued them thoroughly, I managed to sneak in and pick up one end of the stretcher. I’m not leaving her, I told them. Wherever she goes, I go.

They let me. Just me. It wasn’t great – the others were not pleased about being left behind – but I guess with this lot you gotta take what you can get. They’re not big on the giving.

This base of theirs is way bigger than it looked when we arrived. I was barely able to keep track of where we were going, too concerned with keeping up and not dropping Faith (I need to tease her about losing weight – my arms were fit to fall off by the time we got to the infirmary). So many buildings, and people! More people than I’ve seen in months outside of a shambler horde.

They’re pretty well set up here. They’ve got a doctor (so new his paint’s still wet, but he’s cute if you don’t mind the fatigues) and some supplies. Said our girl might have a cracked skull, but she’s doing better today.

Once I was sure she was okay, I asked to see the other Seekers. The green plastic men offered to take me to them, but I didn’t dare leave. I have this feeling that I’d never be able to find my way back again if I did. Or if I made it back here, she’d be gone.

It sounds so ridiculous when I put it like that. Paranoia much? But that’s the feeling I get when they ask if I want to go see my friends. Today, I asked them to get Tia to bring Faith’s pack, so she’d have a change of clothes, and they brought Faith’s pack. No Tia. Said she was busy. They brought mine too – so I wouldn’t ask again, I guess. None of it rings right with me.

Why haven’t the others come to visit her? I know they’d want to. I keep expecting Thorpe to tear the door off the hinges like a bear in a beehive. So what’s keeping them away?

I shouldn’t ask these questions. Especially not when I’m sitting in a dark room, all on my own (except for Faith, but she’s asleep so it doesn’t count), knowing the building is full of green plastic men.

Oh, I really creeped myself out with that one. This is the sort of thing they used to make horror movies out of. Used to make. Jeez.

At least they’re feeding us. Regularly, too. It’s not great – it’s not even warm – but it’s food. I suspect it’s dog food, but it’s not like we haven’t eaten that before.

You know what I really want? Clean underwear. It’s funny the things you miss. Me, it’s showers and clean underwear. I’m disgusted by my own clothes. If I think about it too much, my skin starts crawling, and trust me, there’s nowhere for it to go.

Look at me. The world ended and I’m bitching about underpants.

Better go before I use up all her battery. She really would kill me then.

Friday, 4 September 2009 - 11:26 pm

At the window

It’s so tricky, trying to get time to post. I have to be quick – I think they’re keeping an eye on us. How did Matt have time to write all that last night? Maybe the concussion is making me type slow.

This morning, I woke up to hear my friend chatting with the medic – or chatting him up, it’s hard to tell. The medic said that he was still in training when the bomb went off, and they’ve lost the ‘real’ doctors since then, so he’s all that’s left. No wonder he has a perpetually lost look about him.

I insisted on getting up today. I didn’t like that I hadn’t seen any of the others – more worrying, not even Matt had seen them. I kept telling them yesterday that I was okay, but the medic said I should rest and Matt looked so worried that I agreed. Today was the same, though I haven’t slept as much.

If I’m honest, I do feel better for it. I don’t think I’ve slept as much in the past month as I have over the last couple of days.

So I got out of bed today and managed to wander around the room only occasionally wanting to throw up or fall over. Then I sat at the window for a while and watched the courtyard below. That was enough to keep me quiet for a while.

Matt’s right – it is bigger than we thought. So many people moving back and forth, all busy with something or other. Not all of them army – I saw a few civilians in the mix, if the clothing is anything to go by. Some structures have canvas extensions on them, stretched out over vehicles and equipment that they don’t want the rain falling on. It was all… very organised, which I guess is to be expected.

I thought it would be comforting. Organisation, a piece of the old establishment. It should be sweet, but it tastes wrong, like it’s been left out too long.


I’m frustrated with being stuck in here. I’m worried about my friends and where they are. They’re busy, we were told. We’ll see them soon, when I get out of here. Tomorrow, I hope. I’m fine. I kept telling them, I’m okay, let me go find them.

Soon. The stressed little medic says soon. It better be.


I hear footsteps. Time to pretend I’m sleeping again.

Saturday, 5 September 2009 - 9:40 pm


Finally, I made it out of the infirmary today. The medic gave me the all-clear from under the cloud he carries around, and handed Matt and I over to a pair of army cutouts.

After reading Matt’s description of the army fellas, I keep picturing them as little frozen toys when no-one’s looking. Trust him to make guys with guns faintly ridiculous.

They escorted us out of the infirmary and into the middle of a courtyard between the wide arms of buildings. Then they told us that we had to split up. The girls’ dorm was on one side, the boys’ on the other.

My stomach went cold. I took Matt’s hand without thinking; he immediately linked his fingers through mine. No way we were going to let them separate us. The worst part was that it meant the other Seekers had already been split up. There was nothing I liked about that.

“I want to see my friends,” I told them. I planted myself where I stood so they couldn’t pull me up.

They tried a few things. Refusing my demand didn’t work, so they offered to take Matt to go fetch them. That didn’t work either. They explained that they’re keeping the sexes apart for safety – not all the time, just most of it.

I guess I understand that – sex is a tricky beast. We’ve seen what it did in the Pride, and the Sharks. That’s why Jersey hid who she was. That’s why, so long ago it seems, I pretended to be with my best friend so that no-one else would bother me. But that didn’t mean that I was happy with not being able to see my friends.

In the end, one of them went to fetch the guys and brought them to us. Matt and I stood in the middle of the courtyard, feeling foolish and nervous, though it’s hard to put my finger on why. It seemed like we were left there forever, watching for the sight of friends’ faces appearing in the midst of the bustle of the place. No-one else bothered us or even breezed close by.

I’ve never been so relieved to see familiar shapes in my life, stomping hurriedly across the acid-scarred concrete. I almost ran to meet them. They all got hugs, even Dan and Thorpe, and Matt wasn’t shy about it either. They looked all right and were more worried about me than anything else. We’re fine, they said. A place to sleep, regular meals – does wonders, I think.

They’d been told that I was resting and it was best to leave me to heal. They hadn’t liked it but they knew Matt was with me; I wasn’t on my own. That’s the only reason they didn’t push until they got to me. Thorpe had a face like thunder anyway; I think he’s been wearing it since we got here and he’s not inclined to let it go yet, even though he knows I’m all right.

They haven’t seen Jersey, but Terry has caught up with his sister and says that the girls are doing okay. I promised I’d make sure of that when I got to the girls’ dorms. Now that I think about it, I realise that, in saying that, I accepted being separated from my friends. It’s funny how these things seep in while you’re not looking.


We were so busy catching up that no-one noticed the General approach, not until he cleared his throat. I would have looked at him, but Thorpe’s unwavering bulk was in the way. I had to move around him so that I could see what was going on.

“I see you’ve all found each other,” he said. I wanted to trust his smile but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Maybe it’s because one of his men put me in the infirmary.

“We’re Seekers,” I told him. “That’s what we do.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dale nodding.

“And now you have, might I have a word?” He meant me, pinning me with a very direct gaze.

I hesitated and a hand fell on my shoulder, from behind. I looked up at Thorpe and then around at Matt. Their expressions said no. “I’ll be all right,” I told them.

I wanted to hear what this man had to say. I wanted to know what we’d found here, now that my headache was easing and I might make sense of it. I wanted to know if the squirl in my belly was justified or just caution holding me back from realising that it was all okay now.

I stepped towards the General, then turned to face my best friend. He was so unhappy, and he’s done so much for me over the past few days. Stayed with me while I was hurt, despite how many times they must have tried to get him to leave. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed his cheek, whispering my thanks into his ear, suddenly thick-throated. He means so much to me. But I’d see him again; it wasn’t like it was forever. It would be okay.

Stepping back from him was like tearing a part of myself off. Even telling myself that they’re right here in the compound, it felt like I was losing all of them. I had to paint on a brave smile and hope that the bruise on my face didn’t give me away. I’d see them all soon, I said. Can’t keep me away, even if they try.

Then I looked up at the General and nodded, and we moved away to talk. When I looked back, the pair of cutouts were shepherding my friends back towards the western side of the courtyard, Matt along with them now. It was done; it was too late to turn back. Always stepping forward when everyone else is holding back, that’s me.


Dammit. Someone’s looking around in here – I had to hide in the toilets no-one uses to write this. Better go.

Sunday, 6 September 2009 - 9:24 pm

Food for thought

Posting isn’t easy at the moment. I don’t dare let anyone know about the laptop – I’m afraid that it’ll end up ‘requisitioned’ and that’ll be the last I see of it. So I have to wait until I can squeeze myself into somewhere private to do this.

I still need to, though. There’s so much going on and I’m still trying to unravel it all. I’m afraid that if I don’t write it all down, I’m going to miss something important. There are a lot of changes happening to me and to the Seekers, to our lives, and right now it’s hard to see where it’s all going to end up.

I have a sneaking feeling that when I look back on these posts, they’re going to make a pattern I won’t like. Recording them seems important.


So I guess I’d better get on with it. Where did I get to yesterday, before I was interrupted? Oh yes, the General and his little chat.

He drew me away from the others to talk. He asked how I was, if I was feeling better. I didn’t like the flavour of his concern and told him that I’d feel a lot better if his men hadn’t smacked me in the head and I could see my friends whenever I wanted to.

He explained that he had a delicate operation set up here – they had rules, necessary for the good of everyone. Rules like the segregation. I still wanted to see my friends.

“And our gear?” I asked him. The theft of our supplies still rankled. “That justifies taking everything we had?”

“Yes,” he told me. “We have to use everything we can, so that everyone survives.”

Greater good. It’s one of those really annoying arguments that’s hard to counter. It’s just not fair.

“What if we want to leave?”

He spread his hands. “You’re not prisoners here. You can leave any time you want to.”

“Really?” I looked at him sideways. I couldn’t quite believe it was that easy.

“But you came here for a reason, didn’t you? You were looking for something – hope, survival, a new home. Are you really so ready to turn around and leave it behind?”

“I never said that. I just like to know my options. And your men haven’t exactly been welcoming.”

“These aren’t safe times. We have to keep our guard up, or we risk losing everything we’ve built.”

“We weren’t armed.”

“Even so.”

I wasn’t happy with his answer. I wasn’t happy with any of it – how we were brought here, the way we’ve been split up. I know he was trying to explain but it didn’t seem good enough. Maybe it was the niggle of the headache at the back of my skull, tainting everything the way the clouds turned the bright sun ruddy. I wanted to give him a fair chance, I really did. I wanted this to be what we hoped it was.

“So what are you doing here?” I asked, watching the bustle of the place. Just watching it made me feel tired.

“Starting to rebuild,” the General said with a smile. “We’ve got supplies and we’re reinforcing the structures. There’s a school in one of the outbuildings – we don’t have many children right now, but we hope to have more. You met our medic, Simon – he’s training up more medical personnel. We have some engineers working on a water recycling system.” He gave me a look that was both proud and bashful, as if he was warring with his own modesty. “There’s lots to do, Faith. We need all the help we can get.”

It bothered me that he knew my name – I had never told him. But it sounded wonderful. It sounded exactly what we were looking for. After the struggle of the past eight months, it seemed too good to be true.

I couldn’t bring myself to tarnish his picture by putting my feelings into words, not to his face. I needed time to process it and figure out what this all really is. It feels too big for me, as if my hands are too small or my skull too tight to wrap around it.

Instead, I let the General hand me off to the girls’ dorm, where a portly, middle-aged woman directed me to a bunk. Halfway there, Tia jumped on me, so excited that she almost knocked me over. She asked if I’d seen her brother, then eagerly showed me where everything was.


I’m still getting used to it. Waking up in a bed on my own, in a room full of other beds. Not daring to leave certain things out of my sight for fear of someone else stealing them. Regular meals.

There’s a lot to figure out. I guess there’s no rush for now, right? We have time to work out what we want to do. For the first time, we have time.

I’d better go. They’ll wonder where I am.

Monday, 7 September 2009 - 8:49 pm


Everyone works here. No exceptions, I was told in no uncertain terms. As if I might refuse. I had to make an effort not to be offended.

Stella, the matronly lady who oversees the girls’ dorms, collared me this morning. I was lost when everyone else filtered off to do whatever it is they normally do after breakfast, but she wasn’t going to leave me feeling that way for long. She started to quiz me on what I could do – what use I might be, is the way she put it – and I tried to answer her questions honestly.

It came down to two things – fixing cars and first aid. The only skilled things I could do passably Before and have been forced to learn in a lot more detail in the time After. Somehow, I didn’t think my deftness with a cash register or a love of books would be of any help here.

“We have enough mechanics,” Stella told me with a grunt and a roll of her eyes. I guess the army must have its fair share, and from what she was saying, the boys outnumber the girls five or six to one here. There’s bound to be plenty of grease-monkeys among that number. “We’ll have to check if the infirmary needs any more hands. Go help out in the kitchens for now.”

I wanted to argue, but really, what was the point? It rankles that the kitchen is full of girls, but everyone has to help somehow and the General was firm in defending his segregation policy. For our own good, he said. I feel like those words have been said a lot in history and I don’t particularly want to know what else they have been used to excuse.

I just know that I’m going to bounce off the walls if I have to work in the kitchens for too long. When there’s no water to clean anything, knowing what goes on before the food hits the plate is sometimes way too much. By the time lunch came around, I really didn’t feel like eating.

Tia and Jersey are both on kitchen detail, too. Seems they’re about as much use as me in other departments. Tia is very much in her element; she’s falling in with the other women easily and already making friends. The security and stability of the place have lifted a weight off her. Sometimes when I look at her, I’m jealous; I wish I could relax here so quickly.

Jersey is a little more like me. She hates the kitchens with a vicious tongue and spent most of the day grumbling. When I heard her mutter that she should have pretended she was a boy again, I grinned. I couldn’t help it and I didn’t blame her at all. At lunch, she sat and sighed at her plate, poking at the indeterminate contents with a fork.

Just a few days ago, we were starving. Now we’re considering turning food down. It’s startling when I stop and think about it. Jersey stared at me when I pointed that out, then we both ate our portions. It’s no worse than anything else we’ve forced ourselves to put in our mouths, if we don’t think about it too hard.


I miss the boys. This schedule is strange and the beds are hard to sleep on. I keep coming awake, missing the sound of Thorpe’s barely-there snoring or a familiar sleepy murmur. I lie there listening for the breathing patterns I’ve grown so used to, but they’re all gone. Even Jersey and Tia are lost in the wheezing of this room.

We’ve stopped but my legs haven’t caught up; they still want to be on the road. I don’t think they can quite believe that we might have reached the end of our journey. Neither can the rest of me.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009 - 8:55 pm

Chief no more

I think the weirdest thing about being here is the normality. The food is terrible and there’s no water to wash with, but other than that, everything feels very… ordinary. Ordinary for the time Before, as if all the strangeness of the bomb and its aftereffects is a distant story.

It rains here too. There’s a claxon that goes off when it’s getting close and everyone rushes indoors, closing the place up for the night. The generators groan and spit out sparse lights that shine like eyes in the wet dark.

I heard a couple of the fellas talking about shamblers at the gates, but it was an off-hand thing. They laughed about it and then wondered what the lumps in the stew were. Even the acid and its productions have become part of the routine here, incorporated into the normality of the place.

Sometimes I think about all the struggling we had to do, everyone we lost, and I get so angry at this place. Safe in its cocoon of wire and guns, blithely oblivious of the pain burning just a short way from the gates. Sending out a message like an afterthought, riding on radiowaves that barely any of those fighting for their lives can hear.

I think part of it is that I’m not in charge any more. It’s not that I ever really wanted to be, but I got used to being one who made decisions. I got used to having all the information the group had, being ‘in the know’. I got used to being the one that people turned to, listened to. I had a place that was mine.

Here, I’m no-one. I feel like a silly kid again. I’m another face in the crowd, another pair of hands, one more bunk in a long row. I don’t like taking orders without knowing why they’re being issued and I don’t like not talking about what’s going on. I’m forced to follow someone else’s lead blindly, and I don’t even know who that person is. Not really. It chafes, like sand in my shoes.


I managed to see the boys today. Just briefly.

I was helping serve up dinner on their rotation through the dining hall. There are too many people to fit into the hall and we have to eat in shifts. I was spooning out the slop when all of a sudden there was Dale, grinning at me. Thorpe was next to him – of course – and Matt trailed behind them. Terry and Dan were a little further down. We asked how we all were and chattered away. I could feel one of the supervisors burning holes in my back with her eyes and I ignored her thoroughly. I didn’t care that we were holding up the line; these are my friends.

It was only a few seconds, but it was enough to lift my whole day. I’m not sure what they’re doing or where, but that doesn’t matter so much right now. They’re still here, they’re doing all right, and they’re together. That makes a difference. I know they’ll look after each other. I’d rather be helping with that; like so many personal preferences, that one has slipped away. But they’re okay. It’s something to hold onto.


I suppose that’s one more way I’m not a leader any more. I don’t need to look after anyone – or everyone. I don’t need to make sure people are okay.

Is it power-hungry of me to want that back? I feel so small now. I got to be more than just a bookstore assistant or the girl who helped out with Dad’s paperwork, and now that’s all gone. Is it selfish to want more than this? We’re safe, we have enough to eat and beds to sleep in. They’re keeping the shamblers away from the doors. This is much better than being out on the road. This is what we were looking for.

Why, then, haven’t I told them about the University? Why do I hope that no-one else has either?

Why doesn’t it feel like enough?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009 - 8:28 pm

The path we tread

I was released from kitchen duty today. I can’t say that I’m sorry to be out of there. Maybe I’ll be able to face meals with a braver stomach now.

A pair of army cutouts appeared just as the dorm was pulling itself out of bed and towards morning duties. Stella growled at them, but it’s still cold enough that we’re all sleeping fully-dressed, so I’m not sure what the fuss was about. Those women who noticed them gasped and started to think about being shocked, while I rolled my eyes and went to see what was going on.

They had come to take me to see the General; I had been summoned. He has an office up in one of the admin buildings, looking exactly as it did in the time Before. Polished wood desk, maps on the walls, books on the shelves, and a carpet that looked like it had been cleaned recently. He hasn’t let the bomb or its fallout touch him here. He stood up, smooth as you like, and shook my hand over the desk. I felt like I was there for a job interview.

We sat down and he started off with pleasantries. How was I feeling, how was I settling in. How was I finding everything. It felt so weird that I had no idea what to do with myself for a second.

Suddenly, I wondered if my little chat with the other Seekers at dinner had upset things. Was I in trouble? Over that? It was ridiculous; we’re not in high school. Once upon a time, the idea of being in that kind of trouble would have put snakes in my belly, but not any more. His mouth kept moving and I was bracing myself for a reprimand and a sharp comeback. I would never have dared to think about that Before. Everything’s fine, I told him, and the trouble never came.

Finally, he came around to his reason for calling me into his office. Nothing to do with last night’s dinner: he wanted to ask me about our radio. His men have been going through the equipment they requisitioned from us (I bristled both at the mention of our lost gear and his euphemism for it) and they had questions about the radio. What we used it for, if we heard anything other than their signal.

I expected them to ask these kinds of questions when they picked us up, but they didn’t. Perhaps it’s just that I was unconscious for that; did they ask the others about it? Are they filtering us in here one by one and comparing our answers? Or is my pricked paranoia just spinning tales?

We scanned the air waves as often as we had elevation and power, I told him. That’s how we found the signal that brought us here.

“You didn’t picked up any other transmissions?”

I had to make a decision then. To lie or not to lie. To trust or to protect. I looked him in the eye and thought about the ones we’d left behind. Kostoya with his amazing discoveries and waterworks. Fix-it Conroy. Little Nugget and Estebar. Pregnant Sally with her dangerous baby and fierce doctor. Some of them would be better off here. Here would be better off with some of them. And some would be damaged by such a meeting.

“Yours was the only one we found,” I told him.

I went with my instinct. I don’t know enough about this place. I don’t know what they’d do to Sally or her baby. I don’t know how safe the children would be or if they’d be separated from those who are caring for them. I don’t know if Tom would be taken away from Janice. And with all they’ve taken, I’m not inclined to give them anything yet.

I can only hope that they can’t hear the University from here. If our friends are transmitting, trying to find us, they’ll reveal themselves. They’ll reveal my lie. It hasn’t happened yet, so I guess all I can do is hope the General stays in the dark about it.

Oblivious, Haven’s head went on to ask about the ground we’d covered and I went to the map on his wall to point out our route. I skipped by the University but there didn’t seem to be any reason in lying about the rest. It’s not like we’ve discovered much of value along the way, apart from each other.

Looked at on the wall like that, it was a torturous route, with bad turns and double-backs and wild detours. That was our journey. We always got where we were going in the end. I guess that’s all that matters, and now I wonder if we really have stopped. Our journey doesn’t feel over, not yet.

I didn’t tell him that part, just where we’ve been. He seemed surprised, so I smiled at him and said, “That’s why they called us Seekers.”

He looked over the places I had pointed out once more, then said that I should report to the infirmary. Report. Like I’m one of his army cutouts, without a will or a mind of my own. I didn’t argue, though I wanted to; it just didn’t seem worth it.

At least I might be able to make a difference in the infirmary. Simon the medic could use an experienced hand there, he said. It’s startling and a little bit frightening that I qualify as ‘experienced’. I don’t feel experienced; sometimes, I barely feel competent.

That’s where I spent the afternoon. Being shown where things are and what they’re all for. I haven’t seen this much medical equipment since we left the hospital, all those months ago. We’ve come around in a big circle but the view is different this time. Not all of this stuff works, partly because there’s no-one left who knows how to use it, but there’s hope here.

Not many patients right now, but hope.

Thursday, 10 September 2009 - 7:48 pm

Empty beds

The infirmary is an odd part of the compound. It was never meant to be a hospital but, like so much in this time After, it has been used for whatever has been needed.

There are stains on the floor that no-one has been able to get off; again, the lack of water tells. Simon the medic tells me that they wash what they need in bleach, but even that has to be used sparingly. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. The floor is not a priority. At least we agree on that.

It used to be full in here, he said. When the Sickness tore through the compound, it was all he could do to keep up with them all. That’s where they lost most of the medical staff – those who weren’t killed by the rain or accidents, were taken by the Sickness. The Sickness, or the shamblers that rose up from it.

He tried everything he could to get even one of them to survive, but he lost all of them. Even the experienced doctors said they’d never seen anything like it while they coughed up the last of their own lives.

After that, the infirmary was full of all of those attacked by the recently-Sick. I remember the horror of that. I remember seeing friends turn on friends in hollow hunger. I remember the ones we lost that way. None of us could stop it happening, not even to the ones we loved.

I nodded and told him I understood. We’ve all seen the same thing happen. We’ve all struggled to make a difference and failed. Even Ben, the one who did make it through the Sickness, didn’t really come out okay. I didn’t tell the medic about Ben. I didn’t know where to start and I knew I didn’t want to get to the end. And something tells me that the whole subject is more than Simon could take; he doesn’t need any more burdens right now.

He looks so worn out. There’s a qualified nurse on staff too – Peter – but the pair of them have been stretched thin for a while now. They sometimes have one or two of the women helping out but none of them are trained. Not everyone had a real doctor to learn from like I did. Not many have the stomach for this kind of thing, they struggle for time to train new hands, and there’s so many other things that need to be done. I told them that I don’t know how much use I’ll be but I guess we all do what we can.

At least it’s quiet at the moment. There’s a middle-aged woman lying in one of the back rooms with the Sickness – she has a couple of days left at most, they said. I should find out her name, see if anyone knows her story, before she’s gone and mindless. They keep their own records here but it’s not the same. It’s facts and dates, not stories. Not lives. And I’m not ready to give up this blog yet.

Apart from the Sickness, they get mostly accidental or conflict-related injuries. Like me. They get a lot of scuffles in the compound, Simon told me, and eventually everyone ends up in here. I guess people are people, wherever you put them and whatever uniforms they wear. I wish that was a comfort.


In my explorations, I found the room I had woken up in after my head injury. I’m still sore about that, partly because I haven’t finished healing and partly because it seems so normal here. It doesn’t help me feel safe or secure, and it doesn’t ease my worries about my friends.

There’s barely a bruise left on me now and the bed looks like no-one has ever slept in it. Even so, it feels more like mine than the dormitory does. The view from the window is familiar and I can still see Matt asleep in the chair, bundled up in a blanket. He stayed here with me like he was chained to that chair, so determined that I shouldn’t be alone. That none of us should be on our own. Now look at us.

I miss him. I miss all of them, but him the most. There are so many faces here and I barely have time to hear one name before the next one is pressing at me. Just another one in the crowd, a pawn to move around. I want my family back.

I thought back to how I got here, and one thing keeps niggling at me. The reason I passed out, the reason I ended up in the infirmary that first time: the person I saw across the courtyard. I can’t remember who it was. I can’t even picture the body I caught sight of, heading away from us as if we weren’t even there. I don’t think whoever it was saw us or heard me shout. I was so sure I knew who it was but the darkness took that all away. Now I can’t remember what got me so wound up. Or who.

I wish there was more to do. The infirmary is so quiet; there’s little to occupy ourselves with other than going over dry medical procedures and trying to remember which cupboard has the bandages in, for when it becomes critical. I should be glad of the chance to catch my breath and pleased that there’s so little pain here. Just one woman dying in a back room.

It gives me too much time to think. I’m much better when I’m doing something. I never have dealt well with inaction, because it makes me feel so helpless. Here, in this place waiting for patients, it feels like there’s a storm about to hit. I would brace for it, but I don’t know what direction it’ll come at me from.

I’m rambling now. I should go relieve Simon – I think he’s sitting vigil over the Sick woman. I wish I knew what was eating at him. He should get some sleep before he wastes away. I don’t think I’ll get any tonight, so I might as well do something useful.

Friday, 11 September 2009 - 7:56 pm

Across the courtyard

I shouldn’t have gone out last night. I was restless and itchy for something – anything – but it wound up being a frustrating exercise.

It was tricky because the rain had stopped only shortly before I set off and there was a stretch of open courtyard I had to cross to get to the infirmary. Our flashlights were in the gear that the cutouts took from us, so I had nothing to show me the way except the glisten of a few lights off the rainwater and the hope that none of the really wet sections were puddles. I stood in the doorway for several long minutes to let my eyes adjust to the dark before I dared step out there.

It was painful going, with lots of hopping and a last-minute dodge around the dripping corner of a tarp. By the time I was done, my heart was beating so hard my head ached and I had to stop for breath. I stamped my feet and dissolved a bit of the mat, but my poor old boots are still strong enough to keep the acid away from my feet. Sometimes I watch them steam and my feet want to shrink away from the insides, or I imagine the burning seeping through my skin until it itches.

I wasn’t the only one out and about. As I was checking my legs over for splashes, I heard other wet footsteps moving around with that same skipping, darting rhythm mine had. I peeked out to see a handful of fellas heading over towards the other side of the compound. I couldn’t tell if they were heading for the female dorms or not. I almost turned around and went to find out, but there are lots of women in that dorm. Plenty to see off a few men like that if they had to. Just in case, I waited for a long few minutes to see if any trouble started, ready to run back, but all fell quiet again. There was only the dangerous drips and the shimmer of the wet dark.

Finally, I headed into the building and went to find Simon and his sick charge. He was surprised to see me; I wasn’t asked to come and in his mind that meant that I shouldn’t be there.

“But I’m supposed to be helping you out here,” I said, puzzled. “You don’t have to do all this on your own.”

He stared at me as if I had spontaneously grown another head and it was waving at him. I told him that I knew how to take care of someone with the Sickness – trying not to think about the previous times that I’ve had to do that – and that he should get some rest while he can. He said he had other work to do anyway, but when I asked him what there was other than the single patient in the infirmary, he just shook his head.

There are secrets here. Now I’m starting to think that Simon’s weariness isn’t caused by his work at all; it’s the burden of the other things that is weighing him down so badly. He can’t be much older than me but he seems tainted by more than the years he bears. Of course, I want to know what’s going on, but he doesn’t trust me enough to let me in. Like most of us, he has learned the value of trust the hard way over the past few months.

He said I could watch over Sylvia, the patient, tonight instead and insisted I leave him to his duties. I went back to the dorm and checked for those fellas I had seen earlier on the way. There was no sign of them; nothing except footprints across the wet courtyard. At least I hadn’t imagined them.

My good intentions were in tatters but at least I felt like I learned something. Not a good thing, but confirmation that everything here isn’t as ordered and neat as the General would have us believe. There’s relief in that; this place kept trying to look too good to be true, and now I know there’s something wrong it feels more real.

The question now is how much of it is facade and how much hides something else.

Saturday, 12 September 2009 - 10:01 pm

Care and feeding, part one

I’m not sure that working in the infirmary all night is a good idea any more.

For starters, I know they’re hiding things in there. Simon answers questions evasively out of habit, as if he thinks I’m trying to catch him out, and there are clearly things he’s not telling me. I even know what some of them are now.

Also, it’s as creepy as hell. We have enough power for a few lights, but they’re kept to a minimum and turned off after a few hours to save on diesel. The generators only run as long as they absolutely must. After about ten o’clock, everyone else is supposed to be asleep and the whole place is pitched into darkness.

In the back room where Sylvia is lying, I had a candle to burn so that I wasn’t completely without illumination. I nearly set fire to my hair twice when I leaned over to check on her. And honestly, candles are not great for lighting a room – their shadows are constantly shifting and they are nowhere near as powerful as TV and movies would have us believe. Dad used to call the ones on-screen ‘100-watt candles’.

Sylvia is not doing well. She’s wasted thin, her skin gone slack and grey the way it does when someone has lost a great deal of weight and is close to death. Her breath struggles in her throat. I don’t think she’s got long left. She has been unconscious for the past few days, Simon told me, and he doesn’t expect her to wake again. Not to real consciousness, anyway.

I nodded off at one point in the early hours, only to come awake convinced that she had moved. In the wavering candlelight, I was so sure that her arm flexed and that she was about to sit up. I jumped to my feet and stared at her, my heart hammering. Hands flexed, wishing for a weapon, and I squinted as I watched her, ready for that hungry yawn.

Breath rattled against the sides of her throat and her chest rose and fell, but that was all. She didn’t open her eyes; she didn’t sit up. She was still clinging to the last dregs of life. It was a long, heart-racing minute before I dared to step forward and touch her long enough to check her pulse. It fluttered under my fingertips like a moth shedding its own dust.

That was the perfect time for the thumping to start. I nearly leapt out of my skin; it certainly felt like a part of me was left behind, deflating and floating to the floor.

It wasn’t Sylvia; it wasn’t even in the room. It was distant, muffled by walls and space. The sort of sound that is only audible in the quiet depths of night. Daytime masks it with voices and footsteps, blends it into the background noise that we all filter out of our awareness.

But in the darkness, when the shape of the atmosphere changes and voices are stilled into the susurrus of sleep, it rises to find us. Like the pulse that drives us, unheard until it’s suddenly beating us around the ears.

It called to me. I wasn’t the only one awake in the building. I had to find out what it was.


I hear someone coming. I have to finish this – I have to get it out of my head, that sound, that thing I found. But I have to go. I’ll finish this soon.