Tuesday, 10 March 2009 - 2:56 pm


Tensions are running high in the group at the moment. I think this area is getting to us. Without even being here, without showing themselves, the Pride is getting to us. And I think I just made things worse.

Last night was intense. There was the fear and the waiting for something else to happen, for something – or someone – else to jump out of a cupboard and scare the crap out of us. But nothing happened; it was just us in a dark house that was emptier than our minds would believe. When I went to settle down for the night, Ben was wound tight too, and, well, I think ‘intense’ is a good word for it. We drove out the imaginary sounds in the darkness and we slept deeply afterwards.

This morning, it was already light when I woke. Ben was trying to slide out from under me; I’d fallen asleep pillowed on his chest, curled against his side. We don’t usually sleep like that; he’s always up first, before everyone else, and he’s not the sleep-hugging kind. He doesn’t like to disturb me when he slips away.

Today, he couldn’t help but wake me. I moved off him and there was something in the way he got up that pulled me more sharply awake. He seemed hurried; if we hadn’t been together for a while now, I’d think he was ashamed about last night.

I asked if he was all right, and he said he was in that way that doesn’t want to talk it. But I didn’t like it, didn’t like seeing him look that way, so I pushed it and asked him what was wrong. He got defensive and angry, and he snapped at me. Nothing is wrong, go back to sleep.


Of course, I didn’t realise what was going on until after he’d stomped off in the middle of my protests. Why is it that I don’t see the right pieces until after it would have been useful? I was confused, and sleep-fuddled, and a bit slow, but it’s no excuse. I was clumsy with him.

I didn’t understand why he turned his back to put his shirt on. I didn’t realise then that he’s always dressed by the time I get up in the morning and we’re only together in the dark. I’ve just grown so used to the burns on his chest that I don’t notice them any more, but they’re the only reason I can think of for him to act that way.

They’re not really scars yet; the burns are still healing. But they don’t look good; they’re vicious red marks across his chest that look like something chewed on him. They’ll fade eventually, but not completely; he’ll always have those scars, I think.

And it matters to him. I haven’t really said before, but Ben’s a good-looking guy. There hasn’t been a time when I felt like going on about stuff like this, but it’s not like I haven’t noticed. He’s the sort of fireman who ends up in calendars. He’s the sort of guy Bree would have gone after, just because he’s built in way that’s honey to a queen bee like her.

It’s not that he’s a vain guy – I’ve never got that from him. He doesn’t seek that kind of attention; I don’t get the feeling that he was one for chasing admiration and easy sex. That’s more Matt’s type, and even Thorpe puts himself forward more than Ben does. He’s content when he’s not in the limelight.

Now he’s been maimed. Permanently marred. I never thought about it like that before now. He’s not the kind to think that battlescars are cool and sexy, and he was hiding from me. I can’t think of any other way to put it; that’s what it felt like. Like he was ashamed. As if I hadn’t seen the marks a hundred times when they were fresh, bandaging them every morning to keep them clean.


I remember him glaring at the rain, now that I think about it. That time when we were stuck under an overhang in the burnt-out zone, on the way to Dillon’s house. He seemed to hate it so personally, so grudgingly, and not just for the people it took from him. Perhaps I should have guessed that there was something wrong then. He’s been a very forgiving guy with everything else.

Does he think that I’m put off by the scars? I’ve been hesitant around them, but only because I was trying not to hurt him. How long has he been thinking like this? How long has he been trying to hide them?

He has hardly spoken to me since this morning, keeping to himself. We can’t speak much when we’re on the move; we have to be quiet. I’ll have to try to talk to him later when we’re hidden away for the night. I have no idea what I’ll say to him. Should I just be blunt about it, or find another way to show him that it doesn’t matter to me? I don’t want to just ignore this; I can’t.

I just hope that I can avoid being clumsy with him again. I hope I can make this better. We all need what comfort we can get right now.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009 - 5:14 pm


Today has been better. More skulking, more keeping an eye out for that graffiti squiggle that means we’re straying into Pride territory. There were no close calls, though, which made a nice change. I think we’re staying on the right side of the line. With luck, we’ll be past the Pride’s reach soon and able to breathe easier.


I waited until everyone else had gone to bed before I tried to talk to Ben last night. Then it was quiet and just us and I had no idea what to say. I looked at him and he was avoiding my eye, so I caught his hand to make him look at me.

I hesitated, trying to find the right words, and he asked if I was okay. Which is typical of him, checking up on me when he’s the one who’s been hurt.

“I think I made a mess of things this morning,” I told him.

“It wasn’t your fault.” At least he was admitting that things had been a mess; that made things easier, even if he was trying to deny things at the same time.

“It was, at least partially. I- I wish you’d say if something makes you uncomfortable.”

He looked away then; of course he didn’t want to admit it. He didn’t want to talk about it. But it was there, hanging right between us, this issue of the marks the rain left on him. I could taste it every time I looked at him, every time I tried to form words for his ears.

“Ben, talk to me.” His silence was starting to get to me. “Tell me if it hurts when I touch you. Tell me if you don’t want me to do something. Tell me you don’t want to talk about it! How am I supposed to stop making mistakes if I don’t know what they are?”

He looked down at our hands – I was still holding onto him, and he linked his fingers through mine. He always does things so quietly, and yet with such intensity. And then he started to speak. He said that the burns didn’t hurt him any more (I had checked before, with all of our recent closeness, but it was good to be sure), but they did make him uncomfortable. He didn’t go into why and I didn’t push him, glad to hear at least that much. He would prefer that I didn’t draw attention to them, which is okay. I can work with that. He apologised and I wanted to smack him or kiss him, or both. Instead, I told him that he had nothing to be sorry for; I was just relieved to get it out in the open.

I think it’s all right now. We seem to have an understanding about it, and while I’m sure I’m going to make mistakes in figuring out his boundaries, at least now I know what I’m looking for. Now, I hope, he’ll let me know where they are, too.

Thursday, 12 March 2009 - 8:20 pm

Nature’s survivors

The rain came early today, sneaking up the road until it spilt a shadow over us from behind. We dove into the first available building – what was once a convenience store, before it was looted. It hissed in denial while we checked ourselves and each other for burns and splashes. I think I even heard a rumble of thunder overhead; I don’t remember it storming since the bomb went off, as if the sky had had enough of booming and shaking.

As we were settling down, there was an odd, skittering sound coming closer and closer, like nails sneaking up on a blackboard. Then a grate in the street starting boiling, festering and spewing indigestinal lava out onto the concrete. It took me a moment to realise what it was.

Cockroaches. Goddamn cockroaches, swarming up out of the ground, fleeing some insect anti-Christ.

At first, I thought that they were immune to the rain that slicked their shiny backs. Typical, huh? Everyone says that if all else fails, there will always be cockroaches, nature’s hardiest survivors, hardy little carapaced bastards. But they weren’t heedless of the hissing falling upon them. Far from it.

They were screaming. Tiny, high-pitched screeches of pain that built in volume as more and more of them poured out into the rain’s kiss. Maybe it was the pressure in their shells escaping, I don’t know, but it set my teeth on edge. It was primordial pain given voice and sounded like nothing I’ve heard before outside of a movie.

The shells didn’t seem to be melting; the acid must have worked its way in between the joints and melted them from the inside out. Those who came behind didn’t seem to notice; they boiled up and spilt over, pushing their dead brethren out of the way in their hurry to scream in painful fury at the sky. They built a mountain of carapaced corpses in the street, a sad, gleaming monument to creatures caught between hell below and fire above.


No-one said anything. We just watched them come, and come, and listened to them die. When the mound finally stopped moving, someone swore softly.

I almost felt sorry for them. There’s something in me that wishes they had survived, that something could survive all of this unscathed. If even the cockroaches are dying, what chance do the rest of us have?

Friday, 13 March 2009 - 2:01 pm

Rabbit run

Yesterday, the rain crept up on us and caught us off-guard. Today, something else did the same thing, though luckily it was far less lethal. Apart from the initial fright, it wasn’t unpleasant at all. But even so, we need to figure out how to be more vigilant, more aware, because I’m not sure that my nerves can take much more of this.

I feel like a rabbit, running and scurrying and hiding, knowing that everything is a predator waiting to take a bite out of me. I feel like I’m waiting for the headlights to turn on me, and then I’ll freeze and that’ll be it. Strung-out nerves will be paralysed until the worst happens.


But there was good news today. The worst didn’t happen. I really should try to focus on that.

I’m not sure which one of us became aware of it first. Distant footsteps, the sound of soles slapping bouncing off the buildings around us until we couldn’t tell which direction it came from. We stopped and turned around slowly, trying to locate the source. The buildings in this area are high, fat things – we left the lower, more private houses behind early this morning, moving into the realm of apartment buildings, complexes and compounds. Some of them have names far prettier than they deserve. Heaven’s Gate was broken and stained long before the bomb went off.

Ben said that we should get under cover; trust him to be the one to realise that we were all standing out there in the open, gawping around like fools while those reflected footsteps got louder, got closer. So Thorpe kicked open a door and we all filed into the foyer of a highrise, huddling close to the edges of the windows to see who might turn up. We had figured out by then that it was a single set of footsteps, but that wasn’t enough to make us stand out there to meet it. It could belong to a scout, or outrunner, or just someone inclined to run back to where there are lots of people to tell them where we are.

So we hid and we waited. The footsteps stuttered, and for a moment I thought they weren’t going to make it far enough for us to see anything. With no ambient noise to get in the way, we could hear the sound weaving through alleys between the buildings; we could track the pattern of the terrain by the quality of the echo, tight passageways and open space lending the sound distinctly different reverberations.

I wasn’t the only one surprised when the body broke into view; it still sounded too far away for that. But there it was, running in the shadow of a wall in an efficient jog, the sort that we would like to travel at but never do. We’re lucky to make it to a fast walk at the moment, between the skulking and the slower members of the group.

The runner looked ready to pass us by, but a f of us recognised it. I’m not sure what tipped Dillon and Matt off, but for me it was the bandage around her head; I knew where I had seen it before. Alice, Dillon’s friend. I breathed her name and everyone relaxed.

The next thing I knew, Dillon was diving off out the door after her. Well, of course he did; he said goodbye to her once, I don’t think he was willing to do it again. We are all clinging to whatever remnants of our previous lives we can get our hands on. A few of us hissed at him to be quiet, to make sure he didn’t start hollering her name as soon as he got outside, but he restrained himself. He ran over to her, startling her into a wary pose before she realised who was barrelling towards her, and then they spoke quietly. The rest of us seeped out into the street again, unhurried for once.

I could tell that Dillon was agitated – he kept his voice down, but his hands were unfettered and waving intently. Alice seemed wary but calm, and her shoulders slumped as she followed him to meet up with us. I think it was relief that made her move that way; she said that she had been looking for us for the past few days.

The street wasn’t the place for a long discussion, so we only checked her intentions before pushing on; longer explanations could come later. She came to join us, she said. Something had happened after we left her on the other side of the river; she hadn’t had a group to leave behind by the time she came after us.

We will hopefully get the full story once we settle down for the evening. For now, it’s time to move on.

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Saturday, 14 March 2009 - 2:18 pm

Where her group went

Alice was wary of us last night; she’s still figuring us out. She wasn’t eager to tell us what had happened since we left her on the other side of the river, but a ring of expectant faces can only be denied for so long. And we deserved answers if she was going to stay with us.

Nugget was asleep by then, and Masterson had grumbled off to do something else. He wasn’t interested in hearing about anyone else’s struggles, I think. He wasn’t far away, though – the store we were holed up in was pretty small and the back rooms stank of rotting matter. None of us wanted to know what was decomposing back there; closing the doors kept most of the smell out of the main room, and that was good enough for us.


After we had departed in the boat, Alice had gone on to look for supplies for her group. When she had returned with the little she had managed to scrape together, most of her friends were dead. They had been sick when she left, all fevers and coughing and shaking. When they first started to fall ill, she had raided a pharmacy for medicine, but nothing they took seemed to help. The only thing that gave them any relief at all were the sleeping pills, and she’s sure that at least one of the group took too many and slept too quietly for too long.

There were only two left alive by the time she got back to them. They were awake but very weak; they hadn’t even been able to move the bodies into a different room. That had been Alice’s job, grabbing the corpses of her friends and dragging them away from the ones who were still alive. The smell was the main problem, I think; we’ve been in more than one building where someone has passed away, the worst of which was the hospital. I still shudder when I think about that place. She didn’t say much about the bodies, just gazed at the floor between us and moved on.

The sickness took the weakest of them first. The oldest of the group, and the fella who had lost an arm and half a leg to the rain. She was the youngest since the couple with the small children had decided to return to their house and try to wait out the disaster. They didn’t know that there wasn’t any relief coming.

One of her remaining friends slipped away during that first night she was back with them; the kind of ‘slipping away’ that is all about sleeping and not about moving at all. The other one lasted the rest of the next day, drifting into a feverish malaise that left him raving. She didn’t tell us what he raved about, but not because it didn’t matter; the girl has a way of layering her silences with an intense desire to keep certain things to herself. She has a way of not speaking that tells us there is more we don’t know.

For example, there was something missing when she told us that she decided to come and find us. She had had nowhere else to go and no-one else to go to, and I believe that much, but there was something else to her decision. I didn’t press her on it, not there in front of everyone; I think she might be more likely to talk if there are fewer ears resting on her words.

Her parents had died when the first rain fell, along with her little sister (Dillon stiffened when she said that, poor kid). Alice had been inside the local store when it happened, scrounging food, and had rushed out of the back room when they started screaming. I think we all remember what that was like, the hiss and scream, and the sight of bodies melting. The memory made us all quiet for a moment, and I snuck a glance at Thorpe. His face showed nothing of what was going on behind it, but I know he was thinking about Trevor.

We were the only people she knew and trusted in the world, and so she came to find us. Considering the detour we were taking around the Pride, it’s a miracle she came as close to us as she did, but she seems like a smart girl. No-one has raised any kind of protest about her joining us, so I don’t think there’ll be a problem there (Masterson said something nasty about ‘picking up any damn lame duck, she only has half a face, for fuck’s sake’, but I doubt anyone will listen to his opinion on the matter).

Thorpe asked her bluntly if she had the illness that had killed her friends, and she said no. She had been with them most of the time they were sick, but she hadn’t caught whatever was ailing them. She couldn’t say why and our doctor was pretending he couldn’t hear us. When pressed, he said that the last time he examined her, she seemed fine (apart from the acid burn on her face), and did he really have to look at her again? He did, mostly to keep the rest of us quiet, giving her a cursory once-over and then a shrug to say he couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary (apart from the acid burn on her face – he always had to put that in). Alice took it all silently, with knifing glares for Masterson; she’s falling into the pattern of things with us very quickly.

Dillon has been very attentive, and brighter since she came. He’s making sure that she’s all right and answering her questions. Telling her about each of us, I think. He wants her to be all right, and for her to stay with us. I don’t blame him; she seems like a kid who could use a break. I don’t know if we’re better for her than her last group, but hopefully we’ll be better than no group at all.

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Sunday, 15 March 2009 - 5:55 pm

What about the rest

I sat with Dillon when we stopped for a break today; the kid looked like he could use some company. Alice is usually near him, but she’s closed in on herself, putting up distance in the smallest physical gap. And besides, it has been a while since I had a proper chat with the boy.

I asked him how he was getting on now that Alice was with us again, and with us to stay. He gave me a smile full of false brightness and said he was pleased, but he knew I wasn’t fooled. The facade dropped with a sigh and, I suspect, some relief.

“She’s different,” he said, struggling to find the right words. “And not just… not just because of, you know.” He made a gesture towards his face rather than mention her maiming in words.

“Yeah, I know,” I told him. I talked about Matt, about how changed he was when we found him, how he wasn’t the same person that I’d known and loved for years. I didn’t go into detail about why he had changed; the kid doesn’t need to know that stuff. And yet, my Matt was still in there, just quieter than before. There’s a lot more noise to distract us now from the shards of things we know. “Give her time. She’s still getting used to us again, too. At least she’s got you to look out for her, huh?”

“Yeah.” He seemed heartened by that, but there was still a shadow on his expression. I nudged him about it and he shrugged, mumbling that he wished everyone was as lucky as he was.

“Is this about Alice’s family?”

“Her dad was really nice. And I used to look after her sister with her sometimes. Claire.”

I put an arm around him and he leaned in. He’s not too old to do that yet. “I’m sorry, Dillon.”

“What about the rest, Faith? What about everyone else?”

I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. I wanted to reassure him, but I didn’t want to lie. He’d know and I’d know, and it wouldn’t help at all. “It’s easier to believe that they’re okay and are doing the same as we are, huh,” I said. “I don’t know, Dillon. I guess all we can do is hope they made it, and that they’re still making it, somewhere. That one day we’ll see them again.”

“Like your dad?”

I gave him a surprised look; I don’t talk about Dad much, but he knew anyway. I guess I mentioned him more than I thought I had. “Yeah, like my dad.”

He nodded and leaned on me for a second more before sitting up straight again. I gave him some of my water and he looked at me sideways.

“How come your arm’s not better yet?”

I looked at my braced forearm and shrugged. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time; I was just used to wearing the brace. “I’m not sure. Been a while since I smacked it on anything. Maybe it is better.” Now that I thought about it, it hadn’t ached over the last few days. We haven’t had a big fight in some time, and I suppose that made the difference. The brace seemed like a target to people we tussled with.

So I took the brace off and flexed my arm and hand gingerly. It felt okay, surprisingly enough. I ran fingertips down the bones of my forearm, and there are a couple of ridges under the skin there that are still a litte bit tender, but no blinding pain any more.

“I guess it’s okay now.”

“Oh, good.” He smiled at me, and I believe it this time.

I put the brace in my pack, in case I – or anyone else – need it again sometime. My arm feels naked without it, and is paler than the other one. It’s odd not to feel the hug of the brace on it; the freedom is going to take some getting used to. I guess we’re all learning to walk without crutches these days.

Monday, 16 March 2009 - 6:36 pm


We haven’t seen any Pride tags since yesterday, so we’re starting to relax. I think we’re finally leaving them behind, sneaking out from under their shadow. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to relax, that knows we should keep our vigilance taut and defensive. The Pride aren’t the only threat around; they’re just the one we’ve heard the most (and the worst) about. But there’s only so much and so long we can stay tense – we have to relax sometime. Something has to give. I suppose the best we can do is try to let it happen when it’s less dangerous.

I keep thinking about my talk with Dillon yesterday. Did I tell him the right thing? Should I be encouraging him to keep the people he knew alive in his heart and hopes? Was that cruel of me? Should I tell him to face reality?

We all know that a lot of people are dead. Chances are, most of the people we have met in our lives are gone now; if not killed the bomb, then taken by what has come after. The rain, the water shortage, the food situation. The violence, the vagaries and greed of desperate and broken people. Injuries and illness that there’s no-one left to treat properly. What chance did most of them have?

When I think of all the dangers that swirl around us every day, it terrifies me. I look around myself, at the group, my friends, these strangers that I’ve fought and slept alongside, these people that I share my food and precious water with every day. There’s not one of them that I want to lose, and I get scared when I think about what might happen to us. Where we’re going, what we’re going to find, what we’ll do with it all. So I try not to think. I try not to see what I know is sensible and true.

I look at Alice and I see something different. She isn’t ignoring the way things are; she knows and lives with it in front of her every day. She’s wary and distant from us. She looks at us as if we’re going to die soon, keeping herself separate because none of us will be around forever. She’s reluctant to share what she has, not because she’s particularly selfish or mean, but because she knows that she has to protect herself. She’s fifteen years old and she has become a tough survivor in the past two and a half months. She’s only along with us for the ride while we’re still here and she knows it.

She saw her family die, and she lost the group she had hooked up with for safety and survival. I don’t know who else she might have lost as well – I suppose there might have been more, as if that wasn’t enough. She knows that not all of the people settling down in the darkness with us tonight will make it. She knows there’s a time limit on all of us, much shorter and closer than anyone wants to admit.

I can’t do what she does. I can’t look at these people and wonder when they’ll die. Or how, all the many ways this broken world of ours might put an end to us. Hell, a scratch on a rusty nail is enough, now that there’s no medical help to be had to treat something like tetanus. I can’t think about all the bad things that might happen; I can barely think about everything that’s already touched us. I put it all down here, I commit it to these typed posts, and then I try to forget. The blog remembers for me.

I have to keep my head clear of that stuff. Maybe that’s foolish of me. I think that the fear would paralyse me if I dwelt on it, blind me to everything else. It would make me want to hide away in some barricaded building, like the old couple we found and ran away from. That would be too much like waiting to die. Then all I would have is the fear and plenty of time to let it eat at me.

Is it foolish to want to hope that there’s some light in this awful world of ours? Is it wrong to tell a young boy that maybe his schoolfriends are alive somewhere, and that we’ll find his parents if we follow their note? Is it lying to pretend that I’m not scared all the time, especially when it grows quiet? Is it weak of me to want to ignore it all, even though sometimes I don’t feel strong enough to fight off the truth? Is it terrible that there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to look for my dad, so that I can keep the hope that he’s alive somewhere?

I don’t know any more. All I am sure of is that I can’t do what Alice does. I love these people I’m with, all of them, even the ones I don’t like. They’re my family and I don’t want to lose that. I feel like every concession I make to the way things are now is carving away a piece of the person that I was. I feel like whoever did all of this, whoever set off that bomb, wins a little more with every part of me that’s pared off. And screw them. Screw the people who did this to us. We’re alive and we’re going to keep pushing to stay that way, for ourselves and to spite the lot of them. I won’t let them beat me, I won’t let them take me away from myself.


Sax just started singing. I haven’t heard his deep, warm voice in a while; it’s the sort of voice that wraps me up like a blanket. Once I’ve got rid of this lump in my throat, I’ll go join in. I wonder if we can get Alice singing, too.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009 - 6:41 pm


We were in a small shopping precinct when the rain came today, and we weren’t alone. We slipped into one of the larger stores from the front and came face to face with another group who were coming in from the back doors. Not really a group – there were only three of them.

We sized each other up, most of us fingering weapons and waiting to see who would jump first. They were outside and looked around for somewhere else to run to. But the clouds were heavy overhead, a dark, congealed umber that was a shade away from dried blood, and all the other rear doors were locked. There was a blur in the air moving towards us, raising tiny puffs of steam as the acid ate anything it could clamour its fingers on.

“You looking for trouble?” I asked them before the posturing could turrn into something worse. We all know how dangerous desperate people are.

“We’re just lookin’ for shelter. C’mon, everything else is locked up on this side.” The fella was thin and bruised. Now that I was paying attention, they all looked like they’d been in a fight recently.

I glanced at the others, but they were all looking at me. Thorpe met my eye with a grim warning; Dillon had a bleak hope in his face, one that didn’t want to see something bad happen today; Matt’s lips were pressed together with wariness but offered no protest; and Ben offered me wordless support for whatever I decided to do. So it was me, standing there trying to make a decision while the rain swept over the loading yard behind the store.

I had no reason to kill these people; no desire and certainly no right to do it. I used to work in a store; I know how heavy the rear doors on buildings like this tend to be. They wouldn’t have been able to break into another one, not in time. So it was let them in or let the rain kill them. What other choice could I make?

“Please, we–”

“Come on in,” I told them, stepping back. The rest of my group did the same, giving them room, though none of us took our hands off our weapons. “Just– no trouble, all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure. None of us want that.”

They skirted around us to see if they could get to another store from the other doors, but the veil of acid had already fallen over the storefronts in the precinct by then. They hovered around the front doors uncertainly, murmuring to each other. I left them to it for a while, busy helping the others search for useful supplies and figuring out the most comfortable place for us to bed down.

Finally, I couldn’t just leave them there, wondering when we were going to turn on them. They never said as much, but I knew they were thinking it; I could read it in the looks they shot us when they thought we weren’t paying attention. So I took a breath and went over to them. Halfway there, Ben was walking just behind my left shoulder, my ever-present if usually silent support. He wasn’t going to let me do this on my own.

“Hi.” They didn’t offer a greeting in reply, just fell quiet and turned to look at me. Why do I always put myself in this position? Is it obvious that I’m just making this stuff up as I go, or can I fake it enough to be convincing? I can never tell. “Listen, you might as well make yourselves comfortable – we’re all stuck here for a while. The hair care section is empty.”

“And?” The girl with them looked a little older than Alice, all angry eyes and snappish tone. There were blood smears on her clothing, old and new.

“And… that’s it. We’re not looking for anything from you.” We had found some supplies of dried ‘health’ foods and bottled water, so we had no reason to try to take what they had. We weren’t going to offer to share with them – there are no charities any more and we didn’t have enough to give anything away – but why force trouble when we didn’t need to?

“Are you for real?”

Her manner was getting to me, trying to provoke me into doing what she clearly thought I wanted to. “Look, do what you want,” I told her shortly. “I just thought I’d come and tell you that we’re not going to take what you have.”

And then I left them to it. After a few minutes of watching us – while I was studiously ignoring them – they went off towards the far side of the store and settled down. They stayed within easy reach of the door, just in case, and I don’t blame them. Still, I wish that the girl would stop glaring in our direction. We’ve done nothing to them.

I’m just glad that we outnumbered them. I can feel a little safer for that.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009 - 11:38 am

Carlos’s story

Last night, I was surprised when our shelter-guests came over to talk to us. It was some time after it had grown quiet in the store; the rain was pounding down outside and it was just starting to get dark. My group and I had settled down together to eat, sharing the food around so that everyone had a bit of everything. It’s better that way, rather than eating an entire can of peaches or peas or beans for a meal.

We glanced at each other when the trio approached, and when no-one else moved, I stood up to meet them. Ben joined me, of course. I saw Matt and Thorpe out of the corner of my eye, quietly putting their food down and paying attention, just in case.

“You have any water?” The battered fella was speaking, standing in front of the angry-eyed girl. She looked about fit to burst, but at least kept it to herself. His name is Carlos.

“Some,” I told them. There were bottles sitting on the floor behind me, so there was no point being coy about it. “Did you want to trade something for it?” I’m not foolish enough to give away our water; it’s precious stuff, not easy to find. And these people hadn’t endeared themselves to us.

They offered us some food, and after some back-and-forthing, we made a deal. The exchange went smoothly and I think we all relaxed after that. No-one had tried anything and that laid down some trust between us. A straight-done deal makes everyone happier, I think.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be out of here as soon as it stops raining,” Carlos said as he passed bottles of water back to his friends.

I shrugged. “If that’s what you want to do.”

“Don’t want to stay around here any longer than necessary.” He wasn’t talking about us; he gave a shudder that made me look at him more sharply.

“Why? What happened to you?”

He hesitated, groping for a place to start. “There’s… something making people crazy.”

I frowned and asked what he meant. It was very stop and start, but I eventually got the story out of him. His friends filled in some details and a number of my group gathered up around me to listen as well.


They had been moving through the district that they called their own, looking for water – their group had been as big as ours then. They had come across another gang and tried to scare them off. They shouted and threatened, but the gang didn’t respond: they just kept coming. They moved strangely, as if they were in some kind of twitching trance. Even thrown rocks had no effect – the gang didn’t flinch, they didn’t shout or get angry. They just kept coming.

Becoming freaked out, the group had moved off, leaving the weird people to themselves. But that night, after the rain had stopped, the gang turned up again. It broke into the apartment complex that Carlos’s group called home and stalked them up to the top floor. There was fighting, and Carlos’s friends lost badly. These strangers couldn’t be fought back and they didn’t seem to feel pain. They just kept coming, until they grabbed one of the group and dragged the person down, kicking and screaming. Others stepped over their ravaging comrades to grab someone else. They didn’t go for the supplies that were thrown at them; they just kept reaching for Carlos’s companions.

He didn’t stick around to find out how his friends died. He just took those he could down a back staircase and then ran like hell. The three of them had been running ever since; they’re sure that the gang is following them, though they haven’t seen them in a day or so. They don’t intend to stop any time soon in case they find out they’re right.

As soon as the rain stopped, they gathered up their everything and headed out. The soles of their boots hissed on the wet ground, a sound that made me shiver.


It’s a strange story. I’m not sure if I believe all of it, but I am sure that Carlos believes it. He was disturbed and struggling enough for it to be true; he didn’t strike me as fanciful or a liar, and those who heard his story agree with me.

I’m not sure what to think of it all. I’m worried that it’s true enough to be a danger to us – terrible things are easy to believe in. What could cause a person to become so maddened that they would just attack like that? I’ve seen people willing to attack for food and water, I’ve seen people attack just to beat down the other guy. But not the way that he described, not that mindlessly.

We’re all on edge again, alert and wary of every shift in the air around us. We’ve doubled our watches at night. Just in case they were telling some truth.

Thursday, 19 March 2009 - 9:19 pm

The feeding

We were all woken by a scream in the early hours of this morning. I was on watch and dozing more than I should have been; it’s easy to get lulled by the quiet of 3am. The sussurus of sleepers draws me in, soothes me into an almost-slumber as I stand by the window, forehead leaning on the cool glass. There was no movement outside to interest my eyes, no whispers of sound or movement beyond my friends. Ben, my fellow watcher, had wandered upstairs to stretch his legs through the empty rooms (and probably to stay awake).

When Alice screamed, I jerked alert painfully, my heart thrashing at my ribs for escape. It felt like it was trying to choke me as I looked around for the cause, rushing over to her, but I couldn’t see anything. Ben clattered down the stairs to see what was going on, and everyone else was stirring in confusion.

The girl was struggling with her blanket, wide-eyed and confused. I asked her twice what happened, and by the time she told me it was nothing, I had realised what was going on. Poor kid had had a nightmare. Ben arrived breathlessly and the others were starting to clamber out of their makeshift beds, so I turned to reassure them and send them back to sleep. They were only too willing to go, though Dillon required a fuller explanation before he would relax again. Leave it to me, I told him. She’s fine, she’s fine.

Alice wasn’t going back to sleep. She had got up and headed away from where we were all bedded down. Ben watched her go and then agreed that I should try to talk to her; he knows his limits. So I went to find where she was huddled against a window.


It took a while to get her to talk. She was shaking and trying to hide it. I sat down on the floor beside her and asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said no, but I know that tone. I’ve used it myself, many times; it’s the kind of ‘no’ that has a ‘but’ in it. It’s the kind of ‘no’ that means ‘not yet, I’m not ready, but please wait, because yes‘. It’s the kind of ‘no’ that rapists keep imagining on the lips of victims, the ‘no’ they don’t realise also means ‘not now, not here, and maybe not with you, but not never’.

“Okay,” I told her, and stayed where I was. I noticed that my right wrist is thinner than my left, from lack of use and wearing that brace for so long. I’m lopsided. Maybe I should start carrying things in my right hand a lot to build up the muscles again.

Alice tried to tell me that I didn’t need to sit with her, but again there was that contradiction in her voice. I looked into her face and saw the young girl in there, the one that missed the company even though she knew she should keep everyone at arm’s length. There was a person in there who needed to talk sometimes, who needed comfort and reassurance; there’s only so much chasing around inside her own skull that she could do. She’s not just a survivor: she’s a person, and she hasn’t forgotten that entirely.

It made me look over towards where Matt was sleeping. He was always that person for me. My shoulder, my ear, my distraction, my sensible advice. I’ve been that for him before, too, and now there’s Dillon leaning on me as well, along with Ben occasionally. That’s okay – it’s nice to be needed. I’ve been the venter enough times to know how vital it can be.

So I waited. Alice has a talent for silence, so when she seemed calmer, I gave her a little prod.

“Was it about your group?”

The look she gave me was sharp and I knew I’d hit the right topic. It was the most recent awfulness in her life, so it seemed like a good place to start. “Yeah,” she said. “Sorry.”

I gave her a dry smile. “I think we’ve all seen enough to have nightmares about it.” Masterson grumbled like a rumpled child, but I don’t think there’s a person here who doesn’t understand disturbed sleep. Especially him. I’ve seen him shift in his slumber, and I’ve heard Sally trying to soothe without waking him, deep in the night when I’ve been keeping watch. I know what is in those dreams of his, caught up in helplessness as loved faces melt in the downpour.

“Wish we hadn’t let those people in,” Alice said, surprising me. I couldn’t follow her train of thought – what did they have to do with this? Was it their story that set this off?

“I thought your group died because they were sick.”

“Yeah, they did. Or– I thought so. Most of them. I don’t know.” She buried her face in her hands, hiding from my frown. She was struggling with it, so I tried for patience, ignoring the voice in the back of my mind that was angry that she had lied to us. I had known that she hadn’t told us everything, but I didn’t like the idea that she had lied. Not when we took her in. I put that voice aside in an effort to get to the truth.


She had believed that they’d died. When she had got back to her group, the remaining members had moved and left her a note, telling them where they were. They’d told her that the others were dead and they had moved to get away from the smell. One had died during the night, in his sleep, and his was the body that she had dragged into the other room. The following morning, the other one had raved at her, caught up in fever-driven urgency. He shouted about people doing things they shouldn’t, wrong people, people with something terribly askew in them. Something awful had happened, he said, but he couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t ever say.

The next day, she had returned from a scavenging trip to find something awful happening, right then. She had heard him screaming from outside and rushed in, running up the stairs and into the room. He wasn’t alone. There were people there, dirty and bloody, and they were tearing at him. Pulling him apart into chunks with their hands and their teeth. And they were eating him.

Some of them stopped and looked in her direction, while his cries died, bleeding out of him into a red stain on the floor. It was just like Carlos had said; they moved wrong, these killers like broken dolls, mindless and voiceless. They didn’t say a word, not even when they saw her. One started to move towards her and then she ran. Just like Carlos and his friends – she ran and kept running until she had crossed the river, until she had found us.


By the time she was finished, I had an arm around her and she was crying into my neck, mumbling to me. She said that she didn’t think we would believe her if she had told us the truth. She had wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, as if that would rub away the memories. I can’t blame her, with memories like that.

Of all things that I had thought about happening in these lawless, limitless times, cannibalism hadn’t been on the list.

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