Mon, 3 August 2009 - 12:50 pm

Killer

I killed a  man last night. I killed someone I love. I didn’t want to. I didn’t mean to.

They sound like such feeble excuses. Thorpe brought the gun, but it was my hands that did it.

I had to make a choice. Ben or Matt. The two people who mean the most to me in this world.

And now I’m covered in blood. I keep looking at my hands and seeing his face. So surprised, his eyes staring at me though he’d already fled from behind them. That perfect circle punched through skin and skull. I did that.

Tears won’t wash it away, but they keep coming anyway. I can’t sleep.

I can’t do this. I can’t find the words. I thought writing it down would help, but there’s no sense to be found in any of it.

I killed someone. I think I killed myself, too.

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Tue, 4 August 2009 - 5:38 pm

Hand on my head

We’re leaving tomorrow. One less than we should have been. Everything’s packed and ready and there aren’t any more reasons to delay.

I don’t want to be here any more. I’ve been buried in blankets, as if they might protect me from the world. From the truth. They won’t. They can’t. It seeps in, it grabs me and sucks me down, and plays over and over in my head. I keep thinking of things I could have done better, or differently, but the end is always the same. A perfect circle.

I could have not picked up the gun. I might have lost them both, but it wouldn’t have been my hands that did it. I keep trying for a better solution, but I can’t find one, and that hurts more than anything.

 

Dillon came to see me today. He struggled all the way up three flights of stairs on his crutches and into the room I had isolated myself in. He asked me how I was, but I had no answer for him. There just aren’t words. I shook my head and returned the question.

He was quite happy to talk. About how he’s getting better on these crutches and the doctor says that his leg is healing all right. He’s been playing soccer with the other two kids, hopping about and using crutches to bat the ball, and they’re not letting him win any more. His grin didn’t mind that, but it didn’t last long. He’s going to miss them when we go; the other youngsters are staying here. Dillon has a family to find.

Before he left, he said that he didn’t blame me for what happened and put his hand on my head. It was the only part of me he could reach from up on his crutches. The gesture brought tears up again, but I held them back until he was gone.

 

If I’m not to blame, then who is? It’s not Ben’s fault that he became what he did. It’s not Thorpe’s for bringing the gun. It’s not Matt’s for standing up for what he thought was right. He was trying to protect me.

I made the choice. Just me.

I want to write it down but I’m afraid to put it into words. That awful scene, the moment when I knew I had to do something. Each frantic little thought that led to the sharp tang of gunpowder in the air. I can explain it. I can justify it. And that’s the part that frightens me the most.

I don’t want to know that I can do something like that again.

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Wed, 5 August 2009 - 7:55 pm

Goodbyes

So today was it. Today, we stood together and said our farewells. Today, the Seekers reformed and set out on the road again, where we belong.

Before we left, I went around to the back of the building to say my own private, apologetic goodbye to a square of concrete marred by scraps of cloth. This is where they brought him after he died, so that he would never come back. The rain made him what he was; it only seemed right that it took the rest of him after he died.

My Ben. The rock I leaned on, the arms I took comfort in. The man I loved, and killed.

I remember lying with him at night, when his skin was still warm. I remember when he got burned, the way his screams tore right through me. I remember all the times he was there when I needed someone. His hand in mine, gripping tight.

He came back for me. That night, he came back to ask me to go away with him. He came back to see if he had a life left, a life with me, but he knew the answer even before I went to see what all the noise was about.

A couple of the others were standing in his way and Dillon was struggling into the room on his crutches when I got there. The way that Ben was standing made my heart thump uncomfortably; it looked dangerous.

“…you’ll kill her,” Matt was saying.

“I won’t.” Ben knew that he wasn’t convincing anyone, not even himself. Then his expression hardened. “Not her.”

Matt drew a breath to argue but he never got the chance to speak – Ben struck out and knocked him down. Thorpe walked in with my father’s rifle and handed it to me so he could wade in and pull his old friend off of mine. He was thrown across the room for his trouble. I was the only one in the room who wasn’t reaching for a weapon to brandish. I told them to stop but no-one heard me – I barely heard myself, my voice was so thin. I cleared my throat and shouted so loud it hurt.

I must have looked terrible, pale and sickly after that last feeding. I tried not to let my hands shake. Ben glared at me and spat accusations at me: I had told them all about him. I gave up his secret. I’d given him nowhere to come back to.

“I came to ask you to leave with me.” I could see the betrayal in his face and the hope slipping away from behind it. “What do I have left now? Should I just become what I am?” he asked me. “Maybe I’ll start with him.”

I don’t know where he got the knife from; suddenly, it was pointing at Matt. That jealous beast had never left him alone.

“Are you going to stop me, Faith?” His eyes flicked to the weapon in my hands; that was the first time I was truly aware of it and the choice I had in front of me. Even Thorpe couldn’t stand against him, but they’d all try if they had to. And some of them would lose. The rifle – my father’s rifle – was the only thing that might stop him.

“Is this really what you want?” I asked him. I felt so tiny.

It was the clench of his jaw that gave him away. He didn’t want this at all, any of it. He was desperate to find a way to live with himself and us. He wanted to know if it was possible and he was losing hope. He was standing with a knife in his hand, trying to work out whether or not he was a monster. I think he has known the answer to that all along, but he didn’t want to admit it.

I begged him not to do this. I asked him to stop, to let us try… something. But he knew it was past all that now. His face twisted with anger and he grabbed at Matt. The gun went off in my hands; I didn’t even think about it.

He stared at me and touched the mark on his shirt. It barely bled at all.

“So this is how it is,” he said, with barely any emotion at all. “That’s not enough to stop me.” Then he lunged for my friend again and I fired.

I think he knew that if he had come at me, I wouldn’t have. I would have let him come, heeding the tiny voice in my head that was telling me that he’d never hurt me, not really. But Matt – I knew he would, and could, and wanted to hurt him.

He didn’t make a sound. Not a cry or a whimper. Just a soft huff as he fell to the floor. The gun was louder when it clattered next to my feet. I stared at him, at the perfect circle on his forehead. Then I just ran, out and up and away from the body.

 

Now all that’s left of him are scraps of his clothes and the soles of his shoes. The rain has washed him away, scoured him out of this tainted world. I don’t even have a picture of him. Nothing to remember him by but the things I’ve lost.

There wasn’t much left in me by the time we were ready to leave; I was hollowed out and wrung dry. But still, the other farewells made me ache inside.

Sally gave me a hug and kissed my cheek. She was the one least afraid of touching me. She’s staying behind so that Masterson and Kostoya can keep an eye on her and the baby. I told the doctor to take care of her and he patted me on the shoulder. The unexpected gesture lifted a lump into my throat. As if it all wasn’t hard enough, he had to choose that moment to be nice.

Nugget is staying behind, and Estebar with her. It’s safer there than out on the road. Matt got a hug from her, but she stayed away from me. I didn’t blame her.

Of the Wolverines, only Dale is coming with us. He has recovered and wants to stretch his legs now that he’s back on them. Conroy wants to help Kostoya with his research, and Jersey is staying in the hopes that they might find a way to stop her getting Sick. Her. I still can’t get used to that. But in a group of over-enthusiastic boys, I can’t blame her, either.

Most of the runners are staying behind too. Iris has taken up the maternal reins for the youngsters. I think she knows that Ben might have killed her husband; she hasn’t looked at me in days. Tom’s knee is still injured, so he’s resting up and Janice is naturally staying with him. No-one expected Bree and her two friends to come along, so we weren’t surprised when they opted not to come.

Terry and Tia decided to join the Seekers, though. I think Terry is a little freaked out by Jersey’s revelation and wants to get away from her, and Tia goes everywhere her brother does.

The biggest surprise is Dan, the so-far withdrawn fella. When we were forming up, he stepped forward and said that he wanted to accompany us. He didn’t give a reason and we didn’t ask; we just made a space for him.

The eight of us set out without fanfare or celebration, tyres slithering over the melting ice. Thorpe, Dillon, Matt, Dale, Terry, Tia, Dan, and me. Those staying in the university stood on the road and watched us go; even Kostoya came down to see us off.

I’m glad to be moving again. I’m glad to be heading for something new, but right now, I’m far more grateful to be heading away from that place.

I can’t count the pieces of myself I left behind.

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Thu, 6 August 2009 - 9:59 pm

A different voice

Hello!

Er, this isn’t Faith – it’s Matt. She was sitting there looking miserable, all uplit in blue, and said that I might as well write something because she had no idea what to say any more. If someone’s going to waste battery power, it might as well be me.

Can’t say that I have more of a clue about what to write here, but, well. Here we are.

 

Okay, I just read over what she wrote about what happened with Ben. I knew she was beating herself up about it, but wow. All I remember is him shouting and coming at me, smacking me in the face (I think I have a loose tooth) and other places. I think Thorpe hit a wall at some point – he has the most spectacular black eye. And then the gun went off and I was checking myself for holes, just in case. Had no idea she could shoot straight. It’s always the quiet ones, huh?

She was right about one thing, though – he did exactly the right thing to make her shoot him. In another time and another place, that’d be called ‘suicide by cop’. Selfish bastard.

 

Just realised that Faith is probably going to read this. Better keep it clean, then.

So, where are we, I hear you say? Well, Thorpe has the map – or Dale or someone – so I’m not exactly sure. We took a skew to the right today in search of fuel, and I think we’re a couple of days out from the Centre we’re heading for. What that means in geographical terms… like I said, I don’t have the map. We’re over here. That help?

I have Terry and Tia travelling in the car with me, and oh god, you can tell they’re siblings. They bicker all the time. It would be annoying if they weren’t so funny. Terry still thinks his sister is made of glass and Tia’s eyes will pop right out of her head if she rolls them much more. We did, however, manage to get all the way through Bohemian Rhapsody twice, headbanging and all. We had to pause halfway through the second round because Tia thought she’d popped a vein.

Up front, Thorpe is leading the charge. Well, not so much a charge as a controlled slither across slick roads between the lumps of abandoned vehicles. It’s like a long, skinny game of pinball, except you lose points if you hit something. He’s got Dale and Dan Wu with him. I bet Dan is feeling like a third wheel. Not that he would ever say.

Good ol’ Faithy is behind us in the campervan. Dillon is supposed to be lying up in the back, but he keeps insisting on wedging himself in the cab. I think he’s trying to bully Faith out of her moping by sheer concentration of presence. Good luck to him – it might just work. Never know, right?

I’ve tried to talk to Faith a couple of times, but it’s hard to know what to say to her. I feel like what happened was my fault. I got in his way, I let him know that we knew. I couldn’t let him get to her. Failed at that, too. And I think she blames me. I don’t blame her for that – if it wasn’t for me, she wouldn’t have shot him. Oh, shit, there I go again.

 

Wow. Y’know, I always wondered how Faith did this, tapping away every day. Turns out that once you start, the babble just keeps coming. Better stop now before I get carried away, give you back to the mistress our faithful blogger. It’s been fun!

~Matt

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Fri, 7 August 2009 - 10:32 pm

Slowbump

Hi, me again. Mopey McGloomgloom still isn’t feeling like talking, not even to a battered little laptop, so you’re stuck with me. Can’t let the laptop feel all lonely and neglected, now can we?

Today wasn’t very eventful, but I’ll tell you about it anyway. It took us forever to get into the fuel tanks under the gas station we found, thanks to the ice. We don’t dare melt it – not that we can – and chipping it off is hard work. After what Kostoya told us about the rain, we’re all especially paranoid about getting any of it on us. There was some squealing and jumping around, but no-one got burned.

Then Tia asked what would happen if the rain got into the tanks and we all stared at the gaping hole in the ground we’d made. As if the stupid thing would grow teeth and start biting people. She just had to wait until after we’d got all sweaty opening the damned thing – couldn’t have mentioned it before we’d gone to all that trouble, huh?

Thorpe wasn’t going to listen to that kind of hysteria – he just grabbed the hose and sucked the siphon into motion. He’s good like that. It didn’t melt his mouth – thank god – so I guess it’s okay. The big loon.

A few of us got restless while the tanks were filling, so we went off to look for supplies. More looking through other people’s drawers and cupboards, talking about how on earth any of them found anything and how long has this been here and how the hell are all these spiders were surviving. Well, we found more webs than actual spiders, but why are there always webs? I hate spiders. Faith likes to make fun of me about that. Cow.

I wish she’d made fun of me today.

 

Most of the day was over before we’d got everything piled back into and on top of the vehicles. Hardly got anywhere before the rain came. We’re snails without the slime.

Still, we were on the road long enough to encounter a single shambler. Haven’t seen any in a while, and there he was, all on his own. Weird. Maybe they’re dying off.

Thorpe hit it with his car, knocked it under his wheels. It was pushing itself up again, so damned persistent, so I went over it too. Not that there was anywhere else to drive. It made the worst noise. Tia said she was going to throw up, but when I asked her if she really wanted to get out of the car, she decided not to.

“Not so much a speedbump as a slowbump,” I told the siblings. They laughed and Terry smacked me on the arm. We all felt better after that. Well, except for my arm.

 

We’re holed up in a little house for the night and I just saw the cutest thing. It’s my turn on watch, so I’m doing patrols in between bits of blog. Anyway, I was upstairs and stuck my head into one of the bedrooms. Dillon is lying with his healing leg sticking out at an angle, all cuddled in on Faith’s chest with her arms wrapped around him. He’s going to remember that fondly when he’s older. She’s fast asleep, more relaxed than I’ve seen her for so long now – weeks, maybe.

I didn’t check in on the others too closely. Some things I just don’t need to see. Not sure where Dan’s got to – I think he’s upstairs somewhere.

Time to turn the watch over to Terry. Better go kick him.

~Matt

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Sat, 8 August 2009 - 8:17 pm

One foot forward

I knew that letting Matt write posts was dangerous. Trust him to start calling me names. Feels like the first time I’ve smiled in weeks. Bastard.

It was nice to have a break from trying to put the mess in my head into words. I found myself staring at a blank screen, cursor blinking expectantly, keys wearing themselves faceless under my fingertips. There was too much stretched thin in me to be able to unravel any of it without breaking. Taking some time away from posting helped.

I thought it would be harder to go forward than it was. But after all the farewells, I got into the campervan, put it into gear and then we were moving. I followed the car in front and left the university behind. Put my shoulder to obstacles when I needed to. Moving onward feels like it should be harder than just walking, one foot in front of the other. But it’s not.

I’d be lying if I said that it was easy. Parts of the things I’m trying to leave behind are following me. I wake up and look over, expecting to see one face next me and finding another. The worst part is that it’s a relief to realise it’s Dillon. I’m relieved that the nightmare with Ben isn’t still happening, and that makes me feel wretched. I’m not glad he’s dead, or that I had to make him that way. But it’s over. At least it’s over.

 

So. Moving onward. Our little group feels strange, and not only because of what happened at the university. It’s hard to look them all in the eye, especially those who have been with me for months. Those who know me, those who might have thought I’d never do something like that. Like the girl in the mirror. She doesn’t know what to think of me, and I have no idea what anyone else thinks, either.

It’s also strange because there are strangers with us – so many people to get to know. I hadn’t realised how comfortable I had become with the old group. The siblings are a funny pair, and Dale is speaking up more now that he’s one of the group. Dan is keeping to himself as much as ever, but we’re hearing his voice more often too. He has an accent that I can’t place.

There’s no talk of Wolverines, or Runners, or outsiders any more. Just Seekers and where we’re heading next. That’s good, I think.

 

Speaking of which, that looks like it’s not going to be as easy as we thought. The Emergency Coordination Centre is on a mountain, up a winding series of roads that used to be crowded over by trees and bushes. Now, the slopes are scorched, the trees worn down to nubs by so many months of acid, and the twist-back roads will be slick with ice.

There won’t be any shelter up there, apart from a few rare houses and the ECC itself. For safety, we’ll have to take the vehicles all the way up (and down again). For safety, we’ll have to take as much food and water as possible.

We reached the foothills today, where the suburbs dribble out into farmlands. Nothing grows in the fields any more, no crops or grass or grazers. There’s just dirt, hard and dark under the rime of ice. We’ve paused here by a convenience store to take stock and gather whatever we can get our hands on. The store itself was looted – fairly recently, judging by the disturbed dust – which is both good and bad. On one hand, it’s a sign of other survivors; on the other, it means less supplies for us.

Tomorrow, we’ll scour the nearby houses for anything we can get. Then we’ll set off up those winding roads and see where they take us.

There’s a snake in my belly, stirring. I’m afraid of what we’ll find up there, and hopeful too. A part of me thinks that the hope is what scares me most.

We won’t turn back, though. There’s too much to move forward for, and too little left behind. One step after another, one painstaking mile under our tyres after another.

We’re on our way.

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Sun, 9 August 2009 - 10:32 pm

Tumbledown

Of the new Seekers, only half of us have strayed away from shelter before. The last time we ventured out into the open, we wound up spending time in prison. None of us remembers that fondly.

By lunchtime, we had searched all the nearby houses for the last dregs of supplies. We shouldered the vehicles into life and stood looking at the swathes of bare ground before us. I tried to think of it as scraped clean, but it just didn’t feel that way. It was waiting for us, stained orange as the tainted sunlight glinted off scraps of frost.

No-one wanted to take the first step. I could feel the others’ minds drifting back to the university, to a place where we might be safe. To the ones we’d left behind.

There’s no going back for me. I don’t want to look at that place again; maybe someday I will, but not now, not yet. So I got into the campervan and told Dillon to strap himself in. Just like before, when the group was waiting for someone to jump first, I was the one who gave in and ended up leading. I guess some things don’t change.

 

The first curves over hills went smoothly. The suburbs fell away behind us, a line of rooftops that shrunk in our rearview mirrors. I felt bared despite the tin can wrapped around me with its engine growling steadily. Normally the sound of it fills up the space, but here there are no walls nearby to bounce it back at us – it just keeps going and going, running away from us. The clouds drift low and thick, unbroken except for where the mountains poke at it. Now I wonder what might lie above the cloud cover. Is the sky above still blue? Are there scraps of real green left up there?

We didn’t have any trouble until the road started to climb steeply up the side of the mountain. I wished suddenly that I was in one of the offroaders – the campervan slithered around on icey roads more than I liked. A couple of times, I thought it wouldn’t make it up the incline; the engine whined and the tyres screamed, and I could feel Dillon holding his breath until the power bit enough to push us up the slope.

Even as far out from the city as we were, there were vehicles abandoned on the roads, left where they stopped when the bomb went off. It’s hard to believe that a single bomb could reach this far. Maybe it didn’t; maybe there was more than one. I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

On the skinny roads clinging to the side of the mountain, each car was yet another obstacle to get around and sometimes there was barely enough room. Then, about mid-afternoon, we came across a bus. There wasn’t any way we were going to get past it, so we decided to release the brakes and let it roll out of the way.

It was a good idea, though easier said than done. We got on board easily enough – the doors had been left open – and the keys were still in the ignition. It took three of us to muddle out the controls and figure out how to do it – none of us had ever driven a bus before – while the siblings checked over the rest of the bus for anything that might be of use.

That’s when we found the body. Tia gave a shocked little cry and the rest of us hurried to see what was up. It was shrivelled and discoloured and barely human any more. I don’t know how long it had been there. Parts of it looked gnawed on, though by teeth too small to be shambler or the more vampiric alternative. I looked close enough to make sure while my stomach threatened to expel the scraps we’d had for breakfast. I couldn’t look away until I was sure. Then I ran off the bus and gulped in great lungfuls of air, as if I’d been drowning.

I don’t know why, but I had to know what had been eating that body. It’s not like Ben could have got up here. I just had to know. I had to see for myself. Maybe I just wanted that awful sight burned into my memory to block out the pictures that float in my dreams. It’s like trying to wash a wound clean with sewer water.

We weren’t so eager to shove the bus down the mountain after that. It seemed terribly wrong to throw away someone’s resting-place like that. But it was still in our way and we had to push on. The day was growing darker as the clouds cluttered up overhead, preparing to share their heavy burden of tainted water with us.

In the end, pragmatism won. Whoever that was there in the bus, they were well past caring about what we did or didn’t do. We moved our vehicles out of the way, I shut Dillon up in the campervan where he’d be safe, and we lashed the bus’s controls so that it would run straight. Then we released the brakes and stood back, watching it roll away on its own.

None of us expected it to gain so much speed so quickly. The road switched back on itself, but the bus kept on going, its wheels spinning free of the ground as it left the tarmac and nosedived into the slope below. We all felt the impact when it hit, and then it spun and rolled, like a child’s toy, down the expanse of scoured earth. There were no bushes to slow it, no trees for it to fetch up against. It wiped out an outbuilding and kept on going, crunching and smashing. It left pieces of itself behind and didn’t stop until it reached a dip in the landscape.

We all stood and watched as it rocked itself to sleep in the dip. There were no doubts left about what would happen if we lost our grip on these roads, if we let ourselves slide off just a little. There’s nothing left to catch us but the bottom of the mountain, and every inch we travel adds to how far we can fall. I don’t think I was the only one with my heart beating in my throat.

 

We didn’t go much further before we decided to stop for the night. No-one said much. We just found a level nook of the road and pulled the vehicles together, and huddled inside the campervan while the rain came down. I haven’t felt so exposed in a long time, just a few inches from death, or poison, or becoming something awful.

I didn’t realise that my knuckles had gone white until Dillon asked if I was all right. He has been so good lately, checking that I’m okay and trying to keep my spirits up. I know I haven’t been easy on him. He had a pack of cards from somewhere, and the whole group played games until it was too dark to see. Just listening to them laugh loosened something inside me, something I didn’t even realise was tight, and that felt good. Better.

Tonight, our thoughts are turning towards what we might find at the top of the mountain. I hope we don’t have to turn over many more vehicles – or bodies – to get there. But for a nice change, I do hope.

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Mon, 10 August 2009 - 9:34 pm

Touching sky

Today, we stood on top of the world. It took us most of the day to get there, between waiting for the ice to unstick and getting around obstacles on increasingly steep and hairpinning roads, but it was worth it. All the terror of trying not to look down the sheer faces of rock and dirt, and having one of the offroaders shunt the campervan up a couple of stretches… even that was worth it.

We all stopped and clambered out of the vehicles when we broke through the cloudbank and the warmth washed over us. I had forgotten how bright the sun can be. Suddenly, there was white in the world again, painfully pure to eyes used to stains. We squinted and shaded our faces, as if we’d been living in caves all these months.

The clouds were too close for comfort, so we didn’t linger there on the roadside for long – condensation was a worry. Dale mentioned the idea of seeing what it looked like from the very top and we were all quickly infected with it. Those last treacherous stretches went by at a reckless pace as we strained for the top, to see more and more of the world above the bomb’s mark. More of the old world, where it’s holding its head above water.

I don’t know how long we stood up there. It was off our path but no-one cared. We should have pushed on to the ECC, but instead we lingered and looked. For a little while, some of us cried.

The clouds aren’t orange on top. They’re pale – not quite white, somewhere between yellow and green perhaps. And above them, the sky… I don’t have the words. I’ve been compressed under the cloudbank for so long, I had forgotten how good it felt to be able to breathe. To look up and feel like there was room to stretch and stretch, room to run as far and as fast as I liked, room for as many possibilities as the human brain could conceive. I have missed that fearless expanse and its freedom.

And colours, so many colours. Delicate eggshell, dipping into violet and and the blush of midnight blue on the horizon; beautiful, beautiful blues while red and gold fall under on the other side. Below them, cluttering up our sight, there’s green here too. Thick and rare and living. We couldn’t see the dirt for the fallen leaves, or west for the trunks of trees. None of us minded. It’s been so long since nature got in our way that it makes a nice change.

We all wound up standing in a huddle when the sun went down. So painful to look at directly but still a wonderful sight. I had my faithful Dillon under my arm, leaning on me, and Matt beside me, fingers linked through mine. The siblings hung onto each other on his other side, and Thorpe and Dale stood behind, tall enough to see past us. Dan stood beside Dillon and placed his hand over mine where it rested on the kid’s shoulder. I looked at him and he nodded at me solemnly, as if he approved of all this and it was somehow my doing. I don’t know why, but that little gesture lifted me.

I wish that Ben could have seen this. It would have burned him, so badly, but I think he would have liked it. I think it might have lifted him, too.

My feet were tired by the time twilight was making it difficult to see, but when I turned around, I couldn’t move. I looked up and up and my throat closed over.

It’s not just the sky I’ve missed, or the sun: it’s the stars, too. And there they were, pricking out their tiny holes in the oncoming dark. Stars. So far away, but not too far to reach us here. I wanted to reach back, I wanted to let them know that we’re still here. We’re still a part of that vast universe, even with our scars and struggles, even hidden away below the cloudbank.

I think part of the tears was relief. Knowing that all of this was still up here, that not all of the world is broken, sullied, poisoned and dying. Ours isn’t the only mountaintop breathing above the clouds – there are others, tiny islands in the sea of acid water. Pockets of clean rock and plants clinging to life. There might even be birds and animals up here.

 

There was no rain for us today. There was no hiding. It’s warmer here but there’s still a nip of winter chill; we didn’t care. We’re sleeping outside tonight, bundled in our blankets with the stars for a cover over our heads. It’s strange, like living in a memory but without the sepia tones.

I don’t think any of us will sleep much tonight. I can’t stop gazing up, counting the stars and wishing that I knew their names. I want to see the dawn and the sun rising again, just to know that it does.

Now I know why the birds sing when the sun comes up; I feel as though I might burst if I don’t.

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Tue, 11 August 2009 - 11:00 pm

Coordination

I wasn’t the only one watching the sunrise this morning. It was freezing so high up, but we stood and stamped in it, watching the stars wink out while the beauty of blue flushed over them. I think that night under the open sky will carry us all for a while.

We were all quiet as we packed up and prepared to leave. We can’t stay up there, as much as we all love it. We have places to go, people to find, answers to seek out.

We set our wheels on the road again, pointing downwards towards the ruffled sea of clouds. None of us wanted to put so much as a bumper into that searing mass. Even Dillon was quiet beside me, solemn and unhappy as the fog lifted around us and the campervan started to waver on the slick surface.

We had forgotten about the ice; the lack of it up above had set us on our way earlier than usual. I had a couple of terrifying moments when I knew that the tyres weren’t connecting with the tarmac at all, separated by the sheen of frozen acid. One wheel nearly slipped off the road altogether: I hauled the van back the other way, heart thumping out through my sternum. We skidded sideways before the van shuddered straight.

Luckily, it wasn’t far to the ECC from the top of the mountain. I’ve never been so glad to shut off the engine before, and I spent a couple of minutes just sitting and waiting for the shaking to stop.

The ECC is high enough to be within the wrap of the cloudbank, so we weren’t eager to get out. Condensation beaded on the windscreen and we exchanged glances and gestures with those in the other vehicles. We wound up waiting for the sun to climb higher, hoping that it would burn off at least some of the moisture, or lift it away from us. I don’t really know how that stuff works – I wished that Conroy was with us; he was always full of that kind of information.

After an hour, we were all bored and impatient. Sitting and staring at the doors of the ECC wasn’t fun, and I couldn’t help but note the details hinting that it wasn’t all we had hoped it would be. There were no lights on and the external surfaces were all badly scarred from the acid. It crouched on the bare ground looking boxy and small. A spiderweb of aerials and dishes teetered on the roof, almost bigger than the building itself. We beeped a few times, but no-one came out. For a moment, I hoped to see a new face there, a smile or even a wary frown would have been welcome. Any sign of life would have been good.

Finally, a couple of the boys threw blankets over themselves and sprang for the doors. They wound up putting their shoulders against the panels and battering their way in. After disappearing inside for a heartstopping minute, they held the doors open and waved us inside. We covered ourselves and ran from the vehicles into the building, barely daring to breathe in case we inhaled the moisture in the air.

Everyone made it okay. I waited for Dillon to hobble in on his crutches before we closed the doors up behind us. It wasn’t damp enough outside to damage our blankets, despite our fears. I wasn’t the only one wondering about the poison in the air, though. At least it seemed sealed enough inside that we would be safe, once we were away from those forced doors.

 

So here we are in the ECC, finally. After all these months, all those winding roads, distractions, obstacles, detours. We have reached that place where we finally get to see if our hopes are justified. We might find out where everyone from the hospital evacuated to, where the help went.

What we found inside was, at first, darkness. Thick walls with a lack of windows protect this place, and it took some fumbling around with the one flashlight that someone thought to bring before we could figure out where we were.

Offices. It all looks like offices, which makes sense if this is supposed to be about coordination. Empty desks thick with paper, maps tacked onto walls, computer screens dull and listless. I’m not sure what I had expected to find here, but an office that looked like the back rooms of my dad’s car yard wasn’t it. It was familiar and a let-down at the same time.

It took some searching but we found the generators in the basement, drained completely dry. We argued over what to do for a while – some of us wanted to see what we could find lying around, while a few of us preferred to try to get the generators up and running again. We finally agreed to sacrifice one can of fuel to see what we could find out.

Now, we have lights. We’re using as little as possible, but we’ve managed to get some of the computers working. This building must be shielded somehow for them to have survived the blast. There’s even a working radio – Dale has been trying to raise the university on it, but I think it’s too late for anyone to be on the roof now. He is picking up that repeating broadcast, though.

So far, we haven’t found enough to put the pieces together, but we’re going to keep looking. It feels like there’s a lot here – we just need to work out how to pick out what we need from the mess. We’re not ready to give up.

It looks like whoever was here left in a hurry. It’s not a comforting sign. I’m trying not to think about that too much.

Time to bed down. Hopefully tomorrow will be more illuminating.

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Wed, 12 August 2009 - 9:15 pm

Horizons

A storm rose around us today, lashing the walls of the Emergency Coordination Centre while we huddled inside. It rolled and thrashed at us, filling our heads with the pound and rush of water, as if it had lost the race to get here and now it was punishing us.

The walls are thick and sturdy here and we’re secure enough behind them. Even so, the acid is beginning to eat its way in. There are places where it has started to ooze inside, rivulets etched down walls. It’s not serious yet, but I don’t think it’ll be too much longer before there’ll be nothing left here worth visiting. We got here in time. Whatever we manage to take away from this place, we got here before it was erased.

 

We have made progress on deciphering the ECC’s secrets. It took another can of diesel to power the generator, but as stuck here as we are, we didn’t have a lot of choice. We’re running chronically short of batteries for the flashlights.

Thorpe has been on the radio for most of the day. He got hold of the guys at the university – they’re all doing okay. A few more shambler sightings; nothing serious. I listened in but I didn’t talk to them.

Conroy helped us get into the computer systems over the radio. For some reason, everyone expected me to be able to do it, but typing out a blog is nothing like trying to get into a government system. I don’t know what all those buttons and icons do!

Dale and Matt managed to figure it out, with Conroy’s instructions and Dillon lending a helping hand. They went through the files, chattering away while Thorpe glowered and tried to listen in on the radio. He checked all the official channels, but the only transmission he picked up was the repeating one we found at the university. The one calling us on towards our next destination.

The computers gave us a little information. The officials holed up here after the bomb went off and coordinated what they could over the radios. They only had rescue services for those first few days, before the extent of the devastation became apparent. They had a problem with rescue workers running off to find their families. I don’t blame them; I can only be grateful that the good ones stayed with us. The only one of them left now is Thorpe, our faithful fireman. I’d hug him if it wouldn’t make him frown at me.

We think the ECC sent the evacuees from the hospital to an army base out to the west. Then they ran out of fuel for the generators, and food, and water, and were forced to flee for somewhere that might be able to support them. From what we can tell, they struck out for the army base, too.

 

There are many maps on the walls, some of them scarred by the leaking acid but mostly readable. Different views, different scales, different areas. It wasn’t until I found a handwritten key that I realised what the markings on them meant.

There’s a red pin in the centre of the major cities on the map, but only the ones nearest to us. Circles have been drawn around each pin, concentric and widening to cover more and more of the city. Most of the country is bare – I guess they didn’t hear about the distant ones. Radios only reach and relay so far.

I looked at our markings, at the pin where I stood when it all came down. The first circle covers the central business district, the part of the city that tore itself to pieces and burned until the acid came to wash it away. I’m afraid to think about what might be left there now. The second circle covers the parts of the city where the buildings were ruined, but not as badly as in the CBD. I’m not sure what the third circle represents – the damage all seemed the same to me that far out. I guess I was used to it by the time we got there.

The pattern is the same in each marked city. In a way, it was a comfort: we haven’t just been left here to fend for ourselves. We weren’t alone because no-one out there didn’t want to come for us; we were alone because they couldn’t. Because there wasn’t anyone left to come for us. The more I thought about it, the less of a comfort it turned out to be.

A part of me went dark as I stared at those maps. It wasn’t just us. There isn’t somewhere we can escape to that wasn’t reached by the bombs. There isn’t a part of this country that stands in the sunshine, as free as our mountaintop. Did they bomb everywhere? Is everyone struggling as badly as we are? Did they cover the whole world with their pain and poison?

I can’t begin to fathom who might do this. I can’t begin to figure out why. How can this possibly make sense? How could someone intend to do something like this?

I remember the CBD. I remember the bodies, the dead, the cries from under the rubble that faded a little more each day. I remember the broken people, and the way we have all hardened into survivors. All those steps and slips that brought us here, and now there’s just more of it ahead. More steps, more chances to fall. More ways we need to redefine who we are just so we keep on breathing.

 

I checked the maps for an army base that wasn’t on our maps. It sitting in the blank area out by the junction that the looping signal is calling us towards, near Greenberry.

All the signs are pointing us in the same direction – to Greenberry, to thatsignal. There’s something comforting about that. But then I can see those concentric circles marking out impacts and deathtolls and it’s suddenly so hard to put my foot out for that next step. I’m starting to feel carried along by all of this. Shepherded.

I keep thinking about the nubs of mountains, heads held just above the surface of the stained water. Stepping-stones across the nightmare. I want to see them again. I want to have more of a horizon than the walls I can reach out and touch.

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