Friday, 17 April 2009 - 11:06 pm


It’s amazing how much ground we have managed to cover in the last couple of days. Our map has seemed so huge, sprawling roads and boundaries. We’ve travelled only a portion of it; that has taken us months to navigate, and there are several more dots to catch up with yet.

Now that we’re travelling on two wheels, some of the worst barriers have fallen for us. We can go through a lot of the snarled-up roads the cars couldn’t use, slipping in between the dead vehicles and debris. Some of them are still so clogged that we have to detour, but there’s no need to stop and shoulder a way open any more. Our diversions don’t take us miles out of our way now; the next block is usually good enough. And we’re travelling far faster than our feet can carry us.

We still have to be careful, for our own sakes as well as to look after the scooters. We can’t crank up the speed too much; some of us haven’t driven a scooter before and the stretches of clear road are short and sparse. But we’re taking fat chunks out of the space on the map anyway. I looked at the distances tonight and a butterfly fluttered in my chest. It’s all within reach again.

We stopped next to another gas station tonight and fought our way into the underground tanks for fuel. The scooters and the cans we have strapped to their backs are all filled up now, and we’re settling to sleep on a cafe’s couches. Our bellies are full and we have blankets to tuck around us. Things could be – and have been – a lot worse.


After the others went to do the usual food-and-water search of the building and to make sure we were secure for the night, I stayed with the map. I couldn’t look away from it. The corners are crumped and the folds are losing their definition, the ink blurring away to show paleness in the creases. Our dots are crude against its neat, crisp etching of roads and rail-lines.

After we crossed the river last, we walked a big loop west and south to get around and under the Pride’s territory, with a jerky bump around the prison and its fields. Since we left the mall, we’ve been travelling due east. There is more open land to the south; we don’t dare expose ourselves like that again, so we’ve stayed within the arms of the suburbs. Back in its pattern, the rain comes every day, usually in the late afternoon, creeping earlier and earlier when we’re not paying attention.

We’re past the open land now, and we have to make a turn. To the south, there are two dots: Dillon’s family and the Emergency Coordination Centre. To the northeast lies our final mark: my dad’s house. Home.

We’re supposed to be turning south; that was the plan. But now I look at that northeastern dot, nestled just a short way below where the river spews out into the sea, and it doesn’t seem so far away. Travelling as we are now, is it so much to ask to go there first? Every day that passes could take Dad away. I could already be too late, but what if I’m not? What if he’s there now, but he won’t be if we go south first?

Everything I’ve seen over the past four months tells me that I shouldn’t waste time getting to him. Everything I’ve seen says that I probably won’t find him alive, but I have to try. I have to know. A part of me knows that my heart is likely to be broken when we get there, and the hope of him is better than grieving. But I want to know. And what if he’s not gone? I can’t turn away when he might be there.

I’d give anything to see him again. Those last days before Christmas, before the bomb went off, we didn’t speak much. But he was always there and I know now how much that meant. I’m crying now just thinking about it.

I want to ask the others to turn northeast, but I don’t know how. It feels so selfish, taking them all that way, breaking the plan we had all made and agreed to. That I agreed to. Do I have any right to do that? People might assume that I’m some kind of leader, but I’m not. I can’t make this decision on my own and I can’t force them to go where I want.

I have to do what’s best for everyone. Dillon’s family is south. How can I risk being too late to reach them?

I can’t sleep. I hoped that putting all this in a post might help, but I think it just confirmed what I already knew. I want to go home, but I don’t know how.

Saturday, 18 April 2009 - 10:19 pm


The question of which way we were heading today came up and disappeared without a trace.

Sax didn’t wake up this morning. He’s not dead – he’s clammy and ashen, and his breathing is shallow. He moans and shifts about on his couch, but he won’t answer us.

There was a lot of confusion. I wound up sending most of the others off to search for supplies in the buildings hereabouts while Masterson checked out the situation. He says that Sax is unconscious and unlikely to wake up unless we get his fever down. Which is easier said than done, considering the lack of ice-making capabilities.

We’re all nervous and upset. I wound up trying to think of things for the others to do while Masterson tries to help him. Most of the group was glad for something to keep them busy and away from our sick friend.

Alice wasn’t glad of anything. She lurked near Sax’s couch, listening to the doctor’s grumblings, with her shoulders hunched and the visible half of her face pale. I wasn’t the only one who noticed – Thorpe snagged her and demanded to know if what Sax has is anything like what killed her previous group. She refused to answer until he shook her, then she said it was. I had to pull her out of his grip before he did something else.

He’s not the only one asking that question and looking at her like she did this. She brought it with her and infected Sax, and now he’s sick, maybe dying. No-one wants to say it, not even Masterson, but we all know he might be dying, right in front of us.

I don’t know what to think. She’s not sick, and even if she was, she didn’t do it on purpose. But she might have killed someone. She might have killed all of us. But she looks mortified and more than a little scared, and not for her own sake.

I can’t think about that right now. Thorpe has strict instructions to keep away from Alice and everyone else is leaving Sax’s care to Sally and the doctor. Faces are grim and the silence is oppressive. It’s dark now but I don’t know how many of us are sleeping. I don’t know how many of us are afraid to sleep in case we don’t wake.

I hope Sax wakes up soon. For all our sakes.

Sunday, 19 April 2009 - 7:32 pm

What’s been said

There was no change in Sax’s condition today. We managed to get him to take some soup, but he didn’t wake up. I took a turn tending him, to give Sally a break, and Alice solemnly took over after a couple of hours. She wants to help – poor thing, I think she’s trying to ease her guilt. And, from the way she looks at him, overcome her own fear. She has seen this happen before and it haunts her.

Masterson is being cautious about what he tells us. He has pulled on his doctor’s coat, all knowing looks and guarded words. I liked him better when his tongue was loose and honestly barbed. He might think he’s doing what’s best, but I still pulled him aside to get something more concrete out of him; some of us are adults and we need to know what we’re dealing with.

He said nothing definitive, of course, but it wasn’t good news. He doesn’t think that Sax will make it. He doesn’t know if we’re all going to end up that way – it’s impossible to judge that kind of thing, he said. Alice has been around this sickness and hasn’t fallen ill, so it’s not that virulent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if the old man isn’t the only one to fall victim to it.

We’ve heard several stories about this sickness over the past few weeks. In all of them, there wasn’t one report of a person getting better. There were witnesses, there were people left unscathed, but no survivors. I’m trying not to dwell on that part. It might mean nothing, nothing at all. It might be completely wrong, word of mouth gone awry, Chinese whispers working their fearful magic.

My dad’s words about being sick keep coming to mind. Confidence and courage are the real battle. Somehow, I need to find a way to stop the fear taking us down.

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Monday, 20 April 2009 - 6:51 pm


Today has been far more hectic than it should have been. When I wasn’t collaring the doctor or tending Sax, I was trying to keep everyone else busy. The scooters are polished and primped, their tanks and cans brimming with fuel. Matt and Dillon painted them up with curly designs; they now proudly display the name we’ve been given, ‘Seekers’ blazing across their stubby noses and rounded rumps. The buildings along this stretch of road have been searched from top to bottom for supplies (we now have so much stuff that I’m not sure how we’re going to carry it all).

Every time there was a pause in the activity, an argument would start. Thorpe has a go at Alice or Masterson every time he gets the chance – mostly Alice. Ben has been snapping at everyone from the pressure of trying to keep the peace. Nugget keeps returning from an extra-curricular foray only to be shouted at, which only makes her disappear again. Dillon is keeping his head down and Sally is creeping around the edges of things, hoping that she won’t be noticed.

We’re fracturing under the strain of this sickness. It’s chipping at our edges and making us raw. And I get the feeling that it’s only just starting.

Sax’s breathing is worse. I have to go.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009 - 7:13 pm


Sax woke up today, enough to speak and shout, but there was no sense in him. His eyes were open but he didn’t see us. He talked as if he was replying but not to any of us. Masterson says that it’s the fever and the dehydration, driving him into delirium.

I tried to be comforted by that. It helps to have an explanation, but there was something restrained in the doctor’s voice that made me press him.

It was good, surely, that he was conscious? Even if he wasn’t lucid? That was a good sign, wasn’t it?

He looked at me and made sure that we were alone. Then he said, “Not neccessarily.” He refused to say any more; he can’t be more specific, because he doesn’t know what this is yet. The symptoms don’t match anything he knows; it seems like influenza, but even that doesn’t fit.

Sax has a rash today that he didn’t have before, crawling up his arm and over his shoulder. Masterson is sure that it wasn’t there yesterday, or the day before. When I heard that, my stomach curled up into a small, hard rock and radianted cold into the rest of my innards.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” he told me gravely.


Hope is exactly what we need right now.

The worse Sax gets, the tighter tempers pull around us. I know it’s because they’re upset, I know it’s because they’re worried and hurting, but that doesn’t make it easier. We are all raw nubs right now; I almost snapped at someone today. The only reason I didn’t was because it was Matt and he looked particularly strained. It’s not a look that suits him.

All I can hear is raised voices. Sally talking to Sax between his raving, trying to get him to lie still and take the food she’s pressing at his lips; he thrashes sometimes. The boys snapping at each other – for once, Masterson isn’t one of them. Alice snipping back whenever she’s spoken to, at the end of her resistance to the erosion of insults. Everyone is impatient and short-tempered, even the usually laid-back Ben.

Trying to keep the others occupied with jobs and activities isn’t working any more. Arguments erupt at the first obstacle and then the whole effort is in tatters. I don’t know what to do any more. They’re not children that I can send to sit in the corner.

To cap it all off, the roof appears to be leaking. There are melting lines down the back wall, wriggling downwards from a stained seam. The room was full of violent language when it was noticed – cursing and griping and do we have to shift now? Because Sax is very heavy to move. Alice, in particular, was freaking out, though she had the grace to try to do it quietly.

We couldn’t move just then – it was still raining outside – so we just shuffled towards the front of the building. A couple of the boys have gone to check out the leak to see what damage has been done, in case the ceiling is in danger of falling down entirely.

Sax is still talking, down to murmurs in the darkness now. I’d try to get the others to sing, but I think I’ve forgotten how.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009 - 1:27 pm


Sometime during the night, Sax fell into a coma. His voice dimmed until he was moaning and wheezing, and then he was just wheezing. I don’t know if I was the only one listening to him, counting the time between his breaths, but the room felt like it was full of ears. When the air stuttered in his throat, I held my breath, willing him to keep going. Just one more breath, and another. Don’t stop.

I didn’t realise that I was crying until Ben rolled over and tried to comfort me. It felt good, burying myself against his chest and hiding from it all for a while. It was nice to have someone else’s arms around me and those meaningless words in my ear – it’ll be all right. Shhh.

It wasn’t until his chest quivered that I remembered something from a few days ago. He had been struggling to suppress coughs. I hadn’t thought much of it before then, I thought it had gone away, but of course, that’s how Sax’s sickness started. Since then, he has been clearing his throat a lot. I heard him do it again as I lay there against him, and this time I felt the spasm he was hiding. He had a cough, irritating and persistent.

I lifted my head to look him in the eye. It was just before dawn, I could barely see him at all, but it was light enough for our gazes to meet. That was enough. We both knew the truth. I felt like something had just fallen out from under me, something important, like a bridge or a floorboard or my own legs. And I started crying again, hopelessly trying to be quiet so that the others wouldn’t know.


When we got up this morning, no-one said anything about what they did or didn’t hear during the night. Then we realised that Alice was missing and all anyone would say was that they didn’t hear her go.

Thorpe is pleased and Dillon is devastated. The rest of us are relieved, even if we don’t know for sure that she brought this thing to us. She probably did. She might have killed us all. It makes sense, as much as I don’t want to admit it.

It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. It’s too late now for Sax, maybe for all of us. I don’t think he’s got long left.

Wherever she is now, Alice is probably a lot safer than she was here.

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Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 3:42 pm


Sax slipped away sometime in the night. He didn’t get up and tiptoe out. He didn’t melt into the shadows when no-one was looking. He didn’t wake up. He was pale and breathing shallowly, and lying very still. By morning, he was grey and not moving at all.

We gathered silently around his couch, each one pulled over by the sight of someone else standing there. No-one said anything. No-one needed to. I wasn’t the only one with tears on my cheeks, though none of us broke the silence with sobs.

Masterson checked his pulse, just to be sure, just to make it official. He looked at us and shook his head.

After a few minutes, I realised that most of us were holding hands. I had Ben on one side and Matt on the other. It felt like those warm contacts were all that held me up. I nudged Matt and nodded at him to take the hand on the other side of him as well. Thorpe was surprised but Nugget already had hold of his other hand. Dillon took the hint and latched onto the little girl and Masterson. Sally completed the circle when she took Ben’s hand.


I don’t think any of us knew Sax very well, but he was still one of us. He was our rock – all of us leant on him at some point. He shared his music with us and helped us raise our voices together.

I remember when we found him in the city. I thought then that he was an old man, that he wasn’t likely to make it out of that nightmare alive. He turned out to be one of the strongest of us. Even when he was injured, he pressed on, unwilling to slow us down. We would have waited for him; we did, at times. I think he hated making us wait, but no-one ever complained about it.

He was a father-figure for Nugget. He looked after her, and I think she listened when he spoke only to her. She seems to understand that he’s gone, sniffing quietly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry before.

He had a bond with Sally as well. That time that he spent on the boat with her and Masterson changed something between them. They made peace with each other and the shadows of their pasts, and came out stronger for it. The loss of his daughter had crushed him, but he was brighter with Sally to care about. I can see her shoulders shaking from here.

We don’t know much about his family except that they were missing when we went looking for them. It nearly broke him – he loved them very much.

He gave us so many things. He taught me about electronics, enough to rewire engines if I need to (and I have needed to). He fixed a radio so that we could listen for signals, for signs of life. He gave me a way to keep this laptop alive, so that I could keep writing this blog. He gave us so many things that we will carry with us as we move forward.


Standing in a circle around him, there was only one thing that felt right to do. My throat was clogged; I had to clear it a couple of times before it would work. My voice was rough-edged and I had to start over after the first line, but the second time I kept going. Struggling up out of our gloom one by one, the others joined in. Even Nugget mouthed the words. Afterwards, there were hugs and tears as we finally let him go.

I hope you heard us, Sax. I hope we made you proud. We love you. We’ll miss you and your Amazing Grace.

Friday, 24 April 2009 - 2:25 pm


After we had said goodbye to Sax and he had been covered with a blanket, we were at a loss for what to do next. I think we all felt like we should do something, but no-one was quite sure what.

“We can’t just leave him like that,” Matt said when we were starting to pack up again.

He had a point; it wasn’t right to just leave him there to rot. Something might eat him. The idea of letting the rain wash him out of the world made my skin crawl, and I wasn’t alone in my revulsion. Fire, perhaps? But it would take time to build a pyre big enough, and we would have to light it in the morning to be sure that the rain wouldn’t put it out before he was properly ashen. None of us wanted to risk setting fire to this whole block by lighting him where he lay.

“We shouldn’t waste a day on that,” was Thorpe’s contribution on the subject of the pyre. He wasn’t wrong.

We threw the matter back and forth a few times. Then Masterson distracted us by holding up a couple of slender bottles and suggesting we raise a glass in Sax’s honour. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Neat vodka is not nice. Cheap, lukewarm neat vodka is positively nasty. It scorched all the way down and made us grimace painfully. Still, that didn’t stop us. We each toasted him – everyone had something that they wanted to say. Of course, we took a shot for each toast; in retrospect, not the wisest move.

Ben: “For being a good friend, to all of us.”

Thorpe: “For always putting your shoulder in with the rest of us, even when you should have taken it easy.”

Matt: “For accepting me without question and helping me feel a part of the group.”

Me: “For helping us know how to say goodbye and reminding us how to sing.”

By the fourth glass, we were all wavering in that happy-fuzzy way (except the kids, who were on soda, much to Dillon’s disappointment). I snuck a little vodka into his next shot of cola, and he made a face when he swallowed it.

Dillon: “For never making me feel like a kid.”

Sally: “For forgiving me, and being there when I needed someone to talk to.”

Masterson: “For those of us left behind.”

Even Nugget gave one, the last of our group: an eloquent, “Sax.”


I don’t remember a lot after that. There was more drinking and we started telling stories. Little private things that none of the rest of us knew. The first time we saw Sax, the things he used to do, how we never heard him play his saxophone. I used to hear him play all the time, busking when the world was right, but then it all fell down and broke his instrument. It feels like a metaphor that I’m too hung over to grasp fully.

We were sluggish in getting up this morning, worn out and sickly in that post-alcohol way. I craved one of my dad’s disgusting fry-ups – eggs and bacon and mushrooms and– just thinking about it is making me hungry all over again. Cold beans in a can is not the best way to tackle a hangover. Okay, not feeling hungry any more.

One side-effect of the hangovers is that none of us want to move Sax’s body. Masterson shrugged and said that we should let nature take him, and for once there was no argument to his idea.


This whole episode has made me realise something. I’m an idiot and time is not our friend. It’s past midday already; we’re wasting dry daytime stumbling around as it is.

We’re almost ready to leave. I have to do this now, or it’ll be too late.

I have to tell them that I want us to go north. I want to find my dad.

Saturday, 25 April 2009 - 1:20 pm

The right direction

The talk went better than I expected yesterday. There was the predictable confusion and questioning as the others tried to figure out what it all meant, in a practical sense.

We have the scooters now, I told them. We could be at my dad’s house in a few days, probably less. After that, we can turn around and head down to the Emergency Coordination Centre like we had planned. If there’s organisation there now, as we hope there is, it’ll still be there in a week’s time. It won’t take that long.

There was doubt on their faces, so I asked them to think about it and went to check on our rides. I wasn’t going to argue them into it. I want this to be their decision. Anyway, I’d just wind up getting upset and then my tongue would get away from me. I’ve cried so many times over the past few days and I don’t want another burning-eyed headache. I feel like my waterlogged skull is being slowly eroded by it all, and my emotional control is worn thin along with it.

Besides, they’re all adults. Even Dillon, for the purposes of this decision; I wanted to include him in it. Not just because he’s a good friend, but also because this means a few more days before we can find his parents again – guilt crawled around in my chest with cold feet when I looked at him.

He didn’t see it that way. He looked at the others and said ‘yes’ to my request, before I’d even walked away to let them discuss it. Bless his heart; I don’t deserve to have the support of a kid like that. I know it was selfish of me to ask this, but he doesn’t see it that way. He’s more grown up than most kids his age.

It didn’t take them long to come back with a decision. It makes a difference when it’s a matter of just days, not weeks like it used to be. Matt knows how close my dad and I are – I don’t want to say ‘were’ – and I think he spoke up for me.

North it is, they said. My heart was so much lighter after that; I bounced onto my scooter, and then off again so that I could hug Dillon. I even agreed to teach him how to drive in my happy distraction. Smart damn kid.


We were only on the road a short time before we realised that it was late and the clouds were gathering, snaggling up against each other in the kids and ready to tear themselves open above us. So we didn’t get very far. But we made it a short distance, we’re closer then we were.

I’m going home. I’m on my way, Dad. I’ll see you soon.

Sunday, 26 April 2009 - 12:29 pm


Progress is a wonderful thing. We made good time yesterday, much more than I thought we’d cover in just one day. I’m not used to going so fast – the past four months have tainted my perspective of the map, as if I can only look at it through the warp of a bowl’s curve.

The going is getting slower the more we go north – the closer we get to the epicentre of the blast, the more wreckage there is on the roads. It’s not dragging us down too much yet, though, not on these nippy little scooters.

We had to take a slight detour once, around a grafitti-tagged zone. We don’t know whose the tags are, and we haven’t heard any stories about the gangs in this area, but none of us are eager to take chances.

I even let Dillon drive the scooter this morning. He thought it was the best thing in the world, revving up the little engine and testing out the weaving ability of the machine. His grin was infectious when he got off, a little shaky with excitement, and he asked if he could drive it again later. We’ll take turrns, I told him.

Despite that, despite all of that, we reached the edge of my home suburb by the time the rain came. Today, we’ll get to my house.


When we were settling down last night, Sally drew me aside. She doesn’t often talk to me, one-on-one, and she was so nervous that I wondered if she was afraid of me. In hindsight, I think she was afraid of what she had to tell me.

She asked me first if Sax had told me anything about her. I said no – he hadn’t mentioned anything. I knew the two of them talked a lot since the time on the boat, and he was very fond of Sally. He never betrayed any confidences with me. I think that made it harder for her.

She looked at me, eyes bright at the mention of our dead friend, and took a deep breath. I started to get a little afraid of what she had to tell me.

“I’m pregnant.”

My response was a stare and an eloquent, “Oh.” Of all the things she might have said, I wasn’t expecting that one. Of course, I probably should have, considering the unsubtle activities that happen in the dark. Ben and I have been careful about protection, and I had assumed they were as well.

I glanced at Sally’s face and realised that she looked very young. Unsure of herself. I summoned up a smile and patted her arm. “Well, that’s great news.” It’s supposed to be good news, right? She looked at me like I was crazy and she’s not wrong; the notion of bringing a baby into this world is terrifying. “Does Masterson know?”

Her eyes widened and she shook her head. “I only told Sax.”

I felt like I was holding onto a can of worms with a loose lid. “Are you okay?”

She shrugged, her head drooping, and she didn’t reply. Matt was looking in our direction and I waved him off, moving to put an arm around her. She’s scared, of being pregnant, of what Masterson will say – and he’s a doctor, he’s going to notice soon – of what the rest of the group will do. We would never abandon her because of something like this; she needed to hear that, and I obliged. She tried not to cry and failed, and I stayed with her until she felt better.

“You have to tell the others,” I told her when she was calmer. “They deserve to know.”

“I will,” she replied. “But not yet.” She trembled at the idea.

I let it go. I hardly know what to think – a baby. I can’t think of a better symbol of hope for us, a sign that we’re going to survive all of this. I gave her a big hug before we rejoined the others, and by then I had got over my shock enough to look pleased for her. We’ll work it out, I told her.


Today I’m going home. Soon, we’ll have a new addition to our group. I feel like I could sprint all the way home, I’m so bouncy.