Tue, 7 April 2009 - 11:08 am

Bed-bound

I didn’t cut myself yesterday. My fingernails were bleeding. I freaked out when I saw it; I didn’t even realise I’d made a noise until a couple of the others came running over. It wasn’t until Sally covered my hands with a towel that I managed to calm down. Then I fainted.

I’ve never fainted before. Ever. I’ve never felt my head swim and then plunge into darkness like that. For an awful moment, I thought I was suffocating. Then I woke up in the middle of being lifted onto a bed in the furniture store. Embarrassment was the first thing that flooded over me, followed by the sneaking footprints of fear.

The weirdest thing was that it didn’t really hurt. I was just… leaking. My fingertips are all bound up now – I look like I tried to pick up a porcupine.

The rest of the group has been really good about it. I’m not allowed to get up until we figure out what’s going on, and Ben and Matt keep bringing me things. Food, water, sometimes a conversation, though the latter not so much from Ben. He looks scared, I think, though it’s hard to tell with him. I haven’t told him how shaky I get when I try to stand up. I feel like all the strength has been drained out of me.

 

Getting harder to concentrate; I can’t post much. Sax’s cough is worse, and I think he’s laid up now as well. Could have sworn I heard someone else coughing too.

Need to rest. Post more later.

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Wed, 8 April 2009 - 3:10 pm

Like flies

Whatever this is, it’s affecting more of us every day. I think it hit us some time ago, but we’ve all been ignoring it in favour of pushing on. The little shaky moments, blemishes on the skin, a random nosebleed; all easily discarded and worked through until it becomes too much.

There are six of us laid up now. Six. A part of me feels guilty, as if by being the first I somehow brought this on all of us. I don’t know if that’s true. I hope it’s not true. But what if it is? What if I’m the one who picked this up and brought it home to this strange little family of mine?

What if I’ve done something irreparable to us all?

 

Ben is lying on one side of me, Dillon on the other. The former came to sleep next to me last night, looking stressed and close-lipped. I asked him if he was all right and he shook his head, but he wouldn’t talk about it. He spat out blood this morning – his gums mouth was bleeding. I told him that he mustn’t get up. He was so pale and didn’t seem to want to move anyway.

A little while later, Dillon snuck up to my side and touched my arm. Tears had been roughly rubbed off his cheeks and he said he didn’t feel good. He had blotches on his legs and stomach, and he said his nose had been bleeding too. So I moved over and he climbed onto the bed with us. When I felt him trembling, I put an arm around him and he snuggled into my side like a little kid. He’s trying so hard not to be scared, as we all are. I don’t have any answers for him, any hope to offer, but at least the cuddle made us both feel a bit better.

Sometime since I fainted, Sally and Thorpe also fell sick. Sax was already immovable on the couch he had claimed for a bed. All of us are blotchy and weak, all of us leak blood from time to time, though Sax is the only one coughing.

I keep trying not to think about Ben’s bleeding mouth but my gums feel strange to me now. One of my nightmares is trying to step out of my head and into my mouth; my dream-self always loses teeth when I’m stressed about something.

 

I don’t think this is an allergy. Masterson agrees with me, though he’s keeping his thoughts to himself. He looked at all of us, with fewer and fewer comments as he went around. I think he lingered the longest over Sally, even though she was the last one to go down. He hasn’t said anything encouraging, not even to the kids, but at least he stopped sniping.

He disappeared for a while earlier and returned with an armful of thick books. He doesn’t know what this is, but he’s looking for us. He’s trying.

Ben and I managed to snag Alice and ask her about her group’s sickness, but she says that that was nothing like this; it was more like ‘flu. She seems coiled, like she’s freaking out within the confines of her own skull. Fear skittered over her face when I asked her if this was what she had seen, as if we were going to accuse her of bringing it here. Which is reasonable, I suppose, but luckily unnecessary.

Poor Matt has been run off his feet. He’s taken it on himself to look after everyone, distributing food and water and to hell with the rationing. He’s frazzled and I think he’d like the chance to talk, but I’m braced by a boy on either side right now. He came and sat with us a little while ago; we talked about nothing over Dillon dozing on my shoulder. I tried to tell him that we’d be okay, but it’s hard to be convincing when I feel like something is drawing the strength out of me, rubbing me thinner and thinner.

The atmosphere in here is heavy and silent. Everyone is speaking in undertones, afraid to ruffle the air in case it turns on us, too. I wish Sax was able to sing; his warm voice would be good for all of us, but it has been torn to shreds by his cough. I feel so useless just lying here.

Sometimes, it feels like I can hear our hope dying, and I remember what my dad told me when I had the ‘flu once: “There are two kinds of people, Faithy. Those who accept that they’re sick, and those who fight it until they’re well again. It’s not just about medicine; letting it win on the inside lets it take the rest of you, too.”

Our insides are losing. I don’t know what to do. Focussing on the others usually helps distract me from my own feelings, but the bleakness is inescapable.

Maybe I can get us singing. I wonder if we’re still strong enough for that.

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Thu, 9 April 2009 - 11:49 am

Boats and drunken sailors

It was strange, listening to the others sing last night. I got us going on a round of Row Your Boat – that was about as creative and complicated as I could manage. We were wheezy and thin, but our voices were there, pushing the silence away from us. Little things matter more than you think.

It was the rendition of What Do We Do With The Drunken Sailor that got everyone laughing. Matt started it, and when he saw us smiling, he hammed it up until we were all grins and giggles. He even got a glimmer out of Nugget and made her dance about with him. It made me tired just watching him, but I’d watch him in my sleep if I could, waving his sequinned pillowcases and turning a curtain into a cape. It made us forget for a while, and we all needed that.

It was quieter than usual when we woke up today. We had to send Alice out to check before we knew what it was: the rain had stopped. At last, the storm has blown itself away and the rain has stopped. That seems like a good sign.

 

Nugget had a nosebleed this morning. Masterson found splotches on her legs and has confined her to bed. She went quietly, hugging in next to Sally. I suspect her grip is tighter than her solemn face shows.

Coughs are tickling at Ben. He’s trying to hide it – or suppress it so that Dillon and I aren’t disturbed by it – but I know they’re there. He holds my hand a lot at the moment, gently because my fingers are taped but tightly when he’s not paying attention. I lean on him to let him know I’m here.

The Rats have poked their noses in here a few times since I fainted and we started becoming bed-bound. They didn’t come closer than the doorway, and when they realised what was happening, they threatened us, in case we pass this sickness on to them. I don’t blame them; I’d be scared too, in their position.

I’m scared enough in my own position. I’m so tired of thinking of everyone else. Is it someone else’s turn yet? I think I need to sleep for a week.

 

Masterson’s getting all excited. I should go find out what’s going on, but I can’t get up. Hopefully Matt will come and tell us what’s going on.

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Fri, 10 April 2009 - 11:25 am

Pirates are we

Scurvy. We have scurvy.

I can’t believe it. It’s so simple but so debilitating. It isn’t something I’ve ever had to worry about before; all I know about it is that it happens when you don’t eat enough oranges and sailors used to get it.

It’s the sailors that tipped Masterson off. Or, more precisely, us singing about them a couple of nights ago. It bothered him half the night, he said, and it came to him suddenly yesterday morning while I was writing the post. That’s why he was running around like a little kid. He sent Matt and Alice off to the chemist to get vitamin pills and then bounced around the room to tell us the good news.

 

I haven’t seen Masterson so animated since we left the hospital. He smiled at us – real smiles, not the sardonic lip-stretches that he usually tosses in our direction, or the drug-fuzzed approximations he wore when there were still drugs to take. He’d found the answer to the riddle, and the cure to what ails us is right here, in this building. He can make us better.

This is why he became a doctor, he said. This purpose, this feeling. He had forgotten what it was like. And I think that some of us had forgotten why he was with us at all, even me, though this was the reason I had been so determined to let him stay. This is why we all put up with his unpleasantness and drag his sorry ass around after us even when spite rolls off his tongue.

He’s a doctor; he heals people. That is so precious, even more now than it was before, because there are so few of them left.

One of the few things I know about scurvy is that it killed a lot of sailors before they figured it out. It didn’t get that far for us, though it was starting to get close.

Yesterday, Dr Masterson saved our lives.

 

We’ll be perfectly fine, he says. We just need to crunch down these pills and it’ll all come right again. I can’t express how much lighter I felt when he said that. I’d have kissed Ben if my mouth had felt better (my gums still feel weird, but I’m trying not to think about that). There were hugs, though, lots of hugs and tired laughter, for everyone.

Today, Matt and Alice have gone outside to see if they can find us some supplies. The Rats have been reassured. Things are looking up. I’d dance if I could – and I plan to once we’re all better.

I’m a feather with its down smooshed right now. I just need some time to fluff up again.

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Sat, 11 April 2009 - 8:14 pm

Preservation

Everyone is feeling better today. An archaic issue might have come back to bite us, but we’re still here and we’re okay. Our bodies reminded us that they have needs and now we’re doing what we can to meet them. We’re survivors.

The kids bounced back first and brightest, of course. Dillon has been eager to go out with Matt and Alice in search of supplies – he’s pushing himself too hard, but Matt promised to keep an eye on him for me. For Nugget, the search for Jones is much more important. No-one has seen the cat in a couple of days and now that she’s better, she’s determined to rectify that. I’ve never known such a stern little girl before.

The rest of us have been up and around today. A few of us went to the chemist and looked over things we might need. We had already refilled our first aid supplies, but we turned our attention to the supplements this time. We took enough to last the group for a few months: multivitamins mostly, along with some of the fish and plant oils.

 

It has been a long time since any of us had fresh food. After the bomb went off, there wasn’t much fruit or vegetables to be found in the city. By the time we had left the carcass of the business district behind, the fresh produce abandoned in the stores had started to go off. With no refridgerators or freezers, everything turned to rot and putrid liquid before we could get to it. The rain made sure that there was nothing to pick in the fields, not even an orange on a tree in someone’s back yard. Fresh food is receeding into fond memory, along with television shows and the ease of the internet.

All we have now is what was preserved without any ongoing mechnical means. Canned, dried, smoked, salted, pickled. Quality and expense mean nothing any more; we just eat what we can get our hands on, ruled only by the stamp of the expiry date and the smell coiling off those items past the safety zone. I shudder at some of the tastes and textures that have crossed my tongue over the past three months, but better a shudder than the hungry cramp in my middle. It’s just another compromise that we make in order to keep living.

It’s no surprise that we developed scurvy. We were all thinking about food but none of us were thinking about nutrition. Today, we know better and we won’t make that mistake again. There’ll be pills for us every morning from now on, making sure that our bodies are fed what they need as well as our stomachs.

Is there anything else that we have been overlooking? Nothing that I can think of. We’re all running a little dehydrated, I think, but that’s because there’s never much water to be had. We’d fix that one if we could.

 

It’s such a relief to be on my feet again that it’s difficult to think of anything else. I never realised how precious energy was; now that there is no chronic deficiency sucking the vitality out of me, I feel alive again. I even got a smile and a kiss out of Ben earlier. He’s perking up now that the crisis is over.

Our supply scouts managed to find us some unspoiled oats earlier and that has lifted the mood here in the mall. Right now, some of the others are arguing over the best way to make porridge. I’d go over and join in, but I’m too busy enjoying the sound of them bantering over something so unimportant. Thorpe is frownily insistent; Ben is exasperated in his earnestness; Matt keeps making suggestions just to see what happens; Sally is fiddling with a wooden spoon as if she can’t decide which one of them to smack first (if only she had the courage); and Masterson is making fun of all of them. The kids are wisely staying well out of it, watching with interest and some impatience, while Sax is smiling quietly to himself over on his couch.

We’re not healed yet, but we’re getting there.

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Sun, 12 April 2009 - 4:25 pm

What’s best

Since the cause of our malaise was discovered, the Rats have been regaining their courage around us. They visit us in twos and threes, siphoning themselves off to speak with Dillon and Alice. Some of them talk to me, but for some reason I intimidate them more than the men do. They speak to Thorpe more readily than they do to me and he’s the scariest one of us.

Maybe it’s something to do with what they’ve heard about us. I couldn’t get much out of them about that, just shrugs and offhand comments about how we weren’t mean or cruel, and how we would give people supplies if they needed something. It’s not all true – we’ve never given supplies away, not willingly – but it’s better than the tales of murder and violence that are circulating about other groups – the Stripers, the Pride, the Sharks.

Now that the Rats are visiting us more often, we have to be extra careful about our gear. Pieces have been growing legs and sneaking away – with some Ratlike help, of course. I don’t know if I’ve been careful enough with the laptop to prevent them knowing about it, but it’s always within my reach now. They might be growing comfortable with us, but that doesn’t mean I trust them.

 

Dillon and Alice seem to be getting on with them better every day. One of the Rats heaved Jones into the store and gave him to a suddenly perky Nugget. I watch our youngsters and I can’t help but worry that they’re becoming closer to these kids, these peers of theirs. I’m afraid that they’ll want to stay here, that they’ll leave us.

It’s selfish of me to hate that idea. I know that. But that sad, sick feeling gnarls in my stomach when I see them laughing with a couple of Rats. It’s a ghost of how I felt when I found out about Bree and Cody, a pale twist of jealousy. Someone I thought was mine wants to be with someone else.

Maybe it would be better for them. Maybe they could make something good here with these kids. Maybe they’d be safer here. These thoughts try to move in with the rest of what’s chasing around in my head, but right now it’s hard to make them mean anything. I don’t want them to go; I don’t want to leave them behind. And besides, would it really be safer?

More than anything else, I know it’s not my choice, and I think I hate that more than anything else. There’s always something else that wants to take people away from me, something that I can’t do anything about.

We’re staying for another day or so, gathering strength and supplies. More time for the kids to make themselves at home here.

I want to do what’s best for them. I’m just not sure what that is; I just know what I want it to be.

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Mon, 13 April 2009 - 6:32 pm

Grace

Sax reminded us what yesterday was. I hadn’t realised, not even looking at this blog every day and seeing the dates roll by. In truth, I haven’t wanted to know just how much time has been passing; it means more days between me and the people I care about, more time for them to be lost in. I panicked a little when Ben asked me if I was afraid of being too late, because of course I am. It’s just that panicking about it doesn’t get me anywhere. It certainly doesn’t make the time any shorter, or make us able to move any faster.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. I’m not a terribly religious person; I don’t go to church, and I haven’t thought about God lately. Not even with all that has happened over the past four months. I’ve seen people ask why this happened and how it could have happened, their eyes cast to the heavens. I’ve heard people cursing God in the darkness.

Here and now, we can’t know why. We don’t even know who let the bomb off or how it burnt the sky, let alone any celestial influences that might have been at play. There has been too much surviving to do for ethereal distractions.

 

I often thought that my name was ironic, considering my apathy towards religion. At least I didn’t completely rebel against it like my sister did with her name, but calling a girl ‘Chastity’ is asking for trouble. I never went to the lengths that she did to get away from the expectations.

It’s not that I don’t believe there’s a God; it’s just that He’s not a big part of my life. Yesterday wouldn’t normally hold a lot of significance for me. I know what it celebrates (the Christian reason, not just the chocolate and chicks), but it’s not a holiday that held any meaning for me before. Thinking about it now, I can feel a little catch in my chest. I look at it differently after last night.

Sax is one of those private, strong Christians, the sort of person that you never think of in terms of religion until he suddenly comes out with something beautiful and profound. That’s what he did. He sat down with us at dinner and asked if we would mind if he said Grace, out of the blue.

No-one has ever said Grace over our meals before. No objections surfaced, not even from the bowels of Masterson’s displeasure, so Sax nodded and began. I know I can’t do his speech justice, but I will try to capture a little of the magic he gave us.

 

Today, millennia ago, a promise to us was fulfilled.

Even after a terrible thing – the worst that anyone could imagine – had happened, proof that healing was possible showed itself. Life returned to a body that was supposed to be dead. Hope returned to walk among us. Grace was within reach of our eyes and ears again.

Now, so many years later, that example still speaks to us. Life continues where death reigns. Hope drives us forwards. Grace is there for those who are looking for it.

It is this knowledge that keeps us strong in the dark times. It is this story that helps us believe that healing will come. Each of us will find our own form of resurrection, even if it seems far too late.

None of us is alone, and none of us is truly lost.

Each of us will find our own grace.

 

As prayers go, it’s a strange one, but it touched us. It left a hush in its wake, its words hanging in the air and seeping into all of us. It sank into into our heads, greeted our memories, and made itself at home. I wasn’t the only one blinking back the urge to cry.

Masterson broke the reverence. He didn’t say anything; he just stood up and walked out. The words touched too close to his loss and drove him away.

His departure brought my head up and made me notice my new family again. Sax sat with his eyes closed, adding private words to those he shared with us. For his daughter. Ben was tight-lipped, holding back the storm in his head and the pain in his chest. Thorpe had his head tilted in such a way that his face was unreadable, but I knew that Trevor was on his mind. Alice touched the bandage covering the missing half of her face until she realised that it betrayed her thoughts, and then reached for her plate. Matt was staring at his food, his jaw taut and his arms wrapped around himself. Nugget looked at me for permission and took her plate up when I nodded, as solemn as always. Sally slipped away from the group to go after Masterson, and I realised what her bracelet was as she passed me: the wrap of beads around her wrist had a tiny cross suspended from the end, caught up between her fingers. I didn’t know she was Catholic until then. Dillon gazed around with eyes that didn’t know what to think of it all; I think we shared the same expression until we saw each other.

One by one, we picked up our food and ate. No-one said anything. Masterson and Sally came back after a while and joined us. He was a palpably boiling presence but he held his tongue. It wasn’t until the plates were cleared that we began to sit back and murmur to one another again.

Our world ended on the day that a certain man was born. Now, we find comfort in the day he came back to life. It makes a graceful sense.

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Tue, 14 April 2009 - 7:55 pm

Distant voices

I had hoped to be back on the road again today. Obstacles keep rising before us, tripping us up and leaving us sprawling here on the mall floor. The Rats are muttering about us making ourselves at home permanently – I can’t blame them. The truth is that the mall is the most comfortable place for us to be for now, even when they somehow manage to steal most of the blankets.

Those of us who were afflicted with scurvy are better now – no more bleeding, no more lightheaded wobblies. I feel like I could walk all day carrying a heavy pack again. My legs itch for it; we’ve been in one place for so long and I can feel the days chipping off me like a thin coat of nail polish. I want to get moving again. I want to get to the next dot on our map, and the one after that.

I want to know if my dad is alive.

 

But not all of us are well. Sax is still coughing, worse and worse now, hacking up awful rasps from his chest. His hands shake when he thinks I’m not looking, and he’s sweating. He waves away concern, but I’m sure he has a fever. He looks pale, faded under his dark skin.

I don’t dare get on the road with him like that. I tried to get Masterson to look at him, but Sax keeps sending the doctor away, claiming that he’s all right. Everyone knows he’s not. He gets so breathless from a bout of coughing that I think he’s going to pass out. All we can do is offer him some water, and we’ve got precious little of that.

Ben suggested that we bundle the sick man up into the back of a car and drive towards the next dot. Matt and Thorpe reported hearing engines on the supply runs over the past couple of days – we don’t know whose engines, and we’re not sure that we want to find out. Starting up a couple of cars might bring them down on us. Could we get away before they caught up with us? There’s no way for us to know. it depends on the state of the roads (usually clogged with abandoned or wrecked vehicles) and what kind of car we can get our hands on.

We spent so long discussing the issue that we ran out of clear skies to escape under and rain sealed us in here. So today slipped away from us like snot down a drainpipe and now we’re settling down in an increasingly familiar darkness.

I’m so tired of letting fear dictate our every move. I don’t know the last time I felt truly secure and safe, when didn’t wonder if someone would die tomorrow. We’ve got supplies to last us a little while and those distant engines aren’t going to stop us doing what we have to.

Tomorrow, no-one’s going to die. It’s time for the Seekers to start seeking again.

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Wed, 15 April 2009 - 7:44 pm

Stay

I had almost forgotten about the kids’ attachment to the mall’s inhabitants. They made friends, swapped names, braided each other’s hair. A couple of the girls have been fluttering around Dillon, who liked the attention without a clue about why it was so nice. Alice is more comfortable talking with people her own age, too. Nugget doesn’t talk to anyone, but she has let them fuss over her. She’s cleaner now than I’ve ever seen her and her hair is untangled; it turns out, there’s a pretty little girl in there.

It wasn’t until we were packing up that I remembered my fear about what those attachments might mean. I looked up and saw Dillon talking with the girls, grinning and waggling his fingers expressively, and my heart lurched. He should have been packing with the rest of us, but he wasn’t preparing to leave. I wasn’t prepared for him to stay.

Ben saw my face and asked me what was wrong. So I told him. He looked surprised; it hadn’t occurred to him that the kids might want to be somewhere else. A little clump of us adults grew around the subject. I wasn’t alone in my wondering: Matt and Sally had also considered it.

Thorpe said point-blank that Nugget wasn’t old enough to make decisions like that, and Dillon probably wasn’t either. His firmness was surprising but oddly pleasing. I suspect that he didn’t want to fight the little one for possession of the cat, and I’m sure that he’s fond of Dillon now, too. He wasn’t alone in that sentiment, and I was so grateful to know that it’s not just me. We’ve all grown attached to these children.

But none of us have any real ties to them beyond the events of the past three months. We don’t even know Nugget’s real name. What right did we have to decide their fate for them?

And what if they really would be safer here, where the Rats know all the nooks and crannies to hide in? It’s shelter from the rain and the attention of the gangs. It’s safer than being on the road. But they’re ours – they’re mine. I don’t want to leave them behind. The only way I’ll know that they’re all right is if they’re with us.

 

Eventually, we decided that it was best to talk to the kids about it. Putting them on the spot looked like a bad idea, so I said that I would talk to Dillon. He was the easiest place to start, but my heart still felt like it wanted to climb out of my chest for a holiday from all this crap.

I caught him when the Rats had skittered away from him and before he could rejoin the rest of our group. He gave me a big smile that faded when I asked him that question. Words fell into ashy pieces in my mouth; I tried to come at it as gently as possible but putting it into words eroded something away. I think it was a shard of the trust between the two of us. He looked at me like I had just slapped him.

“Do you want me to stay here?” His voice echoed the shock I felt whenever I thought about this. It’s the first time I realised that there was a betrayal in there.

“What? No. No, of course not.” I hadn’t expected to be on the back foot in this conversation and struggled for balance.

He was hurt and angry that I would suggest that he might stay here. It took me some time to calm him down; eventually, I told him the bare truth. I couldn’t bear to think about him leaving. I had come to this conversation prepared to beg him to stay with us. We had been together since the beginning, him and me, and I wasn’t ready or willing to let him go.

He was quiet for a moment, and then reminded me about his parents. Even if he didn’t want to stay with us, he still wanted to find them.

In my worry about these new kids, the quest to catch up with his parents had completely slipped out of my head. He told me – several times – that it wasn’t the only reason, that he wanted to stay with us anyway. But it was something tangible for us all to hold onto and that made a difference. I wanted to hug him, but he still looked hurt and upset with me, so I just gave a big, relieved smile.

I wasn’t completely off-base in my fears, though. He said that the Rats had offered him a place here, along with the two girls. They made their own rules, their own way, and they had a comfortable life here. Alice had talked to him about it; she was considering it and wanted him to as well.

Once Dillon was reassured that we didn’t want him to stay with the Rats, his worry about his friend surfaced. He doesn’t want Alice to leave us either. He didn’t know about Nugget’s feelings – who does? – and we both hoped that she wouldn’t try to stay. When it comes down to it, if she ran off and hid, we could spend weeks searching for her and come up with nothing.

 

Dillon said that he would go and talk to Alice. The rest of us are finishing up the packing and keeping a quiet eye on Nugget. Sax doesn’t look good but he says that he can move with us. Exercise will do him good, he thinks. I’m not that confident. We should get out of here soon.

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Thu, 16 April 2009 - 8:16 pm

Scooting

Yesterday, we said goodbye to the Rats and their mall. There was relief and regret on both sides, not least because none of our younger groupmates tried to stay behind.

Alice has had a sullen cloud clinging to her since she talked with Dillon. I didn’t hear what was said, but he was earnest and she was unhappy. They didn’t part well and he seemed surprised when she grabbed her bag and gathered up with the rest of us. Whatever was said, she didn’t decide to stay with the Rats.

Nugget was missing for a while, which worried us because we couldn’t afford to search for her. As if memories of the prison weren’t bad enough, this place was a maze that was never designed to contain people; we’d never find her if she didn’t want us to. She turned up when we had almost finished packing with a determined look on her face and Jones on a leash. The cat looked displeased and sat down at every opportunity, forcing her to pull him across the floor by his harness. That little girl wasn’t going to give up, though. I have no idea how she got the harness on him, and I suspect that her chances of repeating the feat aren’t good.

 

Finally, we were ready to go. The Rats came to see us off. I couldn’t help but notice that a couple of them were coughing and there seemed to be fewer of them around than usual. Alice searched their faces and went away unsatisfied.

We made slow progress, packs hitched on our shoulders and boots creaking at the ground. Sax soldiered on bravely, though his cough is as bad as ever and he had to keep stopping to catch his breath. Worry still curls up in my chest when I think about him.

Luckily, we found a solution to our transport problem a couple of klicks away from the mall. It was so simple that we laughed when we saw it. The glass front was frosted with rain residue, dried like sick, fake snow, but we could still read the signs. It was a dealership, wedged in between a gas station and a Chinese takeaway, but not for cars – it specialised in scooters. Most surprisingly, it hadn’t been broken into yet.

We soon rectified that. We flooded inside and across its floor, each of us moving towards something shiny that caught our eye. The scooters were perfect – able to get around obstacles easily, they would be a lot faster than a car or 4×4. Most of them would take a passenger, so the young ones could ride pillion. There was no protection from the rain – we would have to be careful about that – but we could take them inside wherever we holed up for the night.

The obvious question came up: can we get them started? So Ben and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work trying to find out. Someone found (and broke into) the cabinet that held the keys to the gleaming beasts crammed together on the dealership floor. The ignitions were dead, of course, but some of the models could be kick-started like motorbikes.

Like any dealership, the floor models only had a little gas in the tanks. The cans out the back were pretty much dry, so I left a few of the others sifting through the stock for scooters that we could get going and went next door to the gas station. We weren’t going to be able to get the pumps going without breaking them open and operating the actual pump part by hand, so we looked for an easier option – a tube and the access to the underground tanks. Siphoning would be quicker.

It took four of us to get into the tanks, and over an hour to get the precious liquid out of the ground and into cans so we could fill up the scooters. The sky was growing dark by the time we returned to the dealership. The others were still poring over the vehicles, giggling and squealing and making revving noises, both with the scooters and by themselves. Except Masterson, who looked unimpressed, and Thorpe, who asked me why we couldn’t have found a motorcycle place and got some real machines.

 

By the time we had been through all of the scooters and sifted out the ones we could use, it was raining. None of us noticed it starting, and we didn’t really mind. With work to keep us busy, we didn’t stop until it got too dark to see. No-one wanted to top up gas tanks by candlelight, so we settled down for the night, but not before I snagged myself a jacket from the display of leathers.

I think this is the first time I have taken something that I didn’t exactly need; I’ve always wanted a real leather jacket but could never afford a good one. Money is worthless now and there’s no-one else here to claim it, so why shouldn’t I? A part of me wonders if this is the start of a slippery slope.

Last night, it didn’t matter. We were all on a high and looking forward to the morning. We planned on an early start and mostly succeeded in achieving it. Grins rode above each set of handlebars as we zipped off, weaving around the crippled cars and abandoned trucks. Six scooters in total, with the kids and Sax riding pillion. Dillon has been egging me on from behind my shoulder all day, and I’d be lying if I said that I managed to resist him.

The funniest part was Nugget. When we were mounting up, she approached Thorpe and solemnly tugged on his sleeve. He was already sitting on his scooter and found himself presented with Jones. He looked bewildered as he took the cat, and then surprised when he realised that the little girl was clambering up behind him. Before he could ask how he was supposed to drive with a cat in his arms, Nugget tapped on his elbow and held out her hands for the animal. Jones was settled between the two of them with a stern frown and then she took hold of Thorpe’s beltloops, ready for her ride.

By that time, I was laughing so hard I could hardly see. Thorpe had as much chance of denying Nugget’s intention as Jones had when she put the harness on him.

I hope there are more posts like this one. I can’t stop smiling, just thinking about it. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun.

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