Sunday, 18 January 2009 - 3:25 pm


I should have paid more attention.  I should have known that this place has a different meaning for one of our number.  I should have known not to let her look after the doctor, not to let her go off on her own.

Sally has been missing since yesterday.  It’s hard to say who noticed first; I was just starting to wonder why the group seemed small, and then Sax said she wasn’t here.  No-one can remember when we saw her last.

As soon as we realised she was gone, I knew where we’d find her.  I remember the way she used to claw at her arms and shiver, even though it’s not cold.  She had always hung towards the back of the group, but when we got to the hospital, she was up at the front.  I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but I should have.  I should have noticed her more, the way she looked around here with alert eyes, the way she offered to help me find supplies.  The way she was quiet when we found the doctor and his fellow escapees.

I guess I was too wound up in myself, my problems, and the shattering of my own hopes to notice hers blossoming.


Thorpe said that we shouldn’t bother to go get her.  That she’d made her choice and to hell with her.  And as awful as it sounds, I agreed with him.  Sally’s an adult (though I don’t know how old she actually is), and can make her own decisions.  But she’s still one of us.  She might need our help.  And if we leave her up there, she’ll die; they don’t have any supplies beyond the drugs.  Nothing to live on but plenty to die with.  I couldn’t live with that, with just leaving her to a short fate up there.

There was a huge argument.  I think the only one who didn’t get involved was Nugget; the girl hasn’t said a word yet and I don’t know if she even understood what was going on.  Even Dillon weighed in, defending me when Thorpe started to loom over me.  I think he was trying to protect me, a terrier against the tiger.  The tiger ignored him, of course, but I appreciate that he tried.  And as much as Thorpe might tower over me, I don’t think he’d ever actually do anything to hurt me.  Either way, I wasn’t going to let him intimidate me.

It’s not like I’m going to go up there and drag her back down here, or lock her in the next room until she’s clean again.  I just have to try.  I have to try to get her back, to pull her out of that stinking place, to save her from starving to death while she’s too high to care. 

Ben backed me up, and Sax said that Sally had to make her own choices.  And he’s right!  I don’t want to force her.  But I don’t want to give up on her.  I can’t.  What if she was duped?  What if this isn’t what she wanted?  What if she ends up like the girl with the empty eyes?

This group, the seven of us, we’ve looked after each other through this nightmare.  That’s how we got this far, that’s why we’re still alive.  Thorpe might ask what the hell it matters, but we’re here and we’re doing all right.  Not many can say that.  So many were lost, so we have to hold on to everyone we have while they’re still here.  We have to.

He went quiet and just stared at me as if I had just said something terrible.  “Fine, do what the hell you like,” he said, and walked out.  I wanted to go after him, I wanted to fix it, even while I was still angry with him for trying to write her off.  I don’t know why he was so angry with me.  Sally is a person, not an asset.  There was no point pursuing it with Thorpe, not then, so the door closed behind him with an empty swish.


Ben and I are going to go upstairs, to see if we can find Sally.  He’s feeling well enough and says that he wants the walk.  Sax disapproves and is scowling, but he won’t get in the way.  I think there’s something personal about this for him; I’ve told him that I’m going to leave it up to her, but he still doesn’t want us to go up there.

I’ve asked Dillon to stay behind and look after Nugget.  I don’t want the kid to see any more of what’s up there and he likes to have responsibility.  I told him to go look for Thorpe if he isn’t back in the next half an hour, too.  Just in case.

Almost time to go.  Time to see if our group is splintering.  Time to see if we’ve lost one more of our already small number.  I put the knife in my bag; that’s not what I’m going to do up there.  I don’t need it.  I just need her to come back.

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Monday, 19 January 2009 - 11:02 am


Yesterday was harder than I thought it was going to be.  The doctor’s den was as wretched as I remember, and quieter.  Some of the people there hadn’t moved since the first time we were up there – literally in a couple of cases; they had an awful kind of stiffness about them.  I feel like we should do something about it – something more – but I don’t know what.


It took us a while to find Sally.  It was getting dark and we only had one flashlight with us.  I found the cubicle where Dillon saw the doctor; the girl was still there, looking like she was sleeping except for the grey tone to her skin.  If she wasn’t dead the first time I saw her, she is now.

We found our lost one in another cubicle, scooted down between a cupboard and the wall, folded up inside the circle of her own arms.  There were tears on her cheeks, but her eyes were disconnected.  I looked at Ben and he shrugged, motioning me forward, as if I would be better for this.

I don’t know why.  I’ve never been on drugs – not like this – and I don’t know her that well.  The group doesn’t speak about the time before this; no-one wants to dig it up, and that means that we don’t really know each other.  Not well enough to know where on earth to begin a conversation like this.

I sat down next to her and propped my braced arm on my knees awkwardly.  I had to try a couple of times to get her attention; a touch to her arm was what made her finally blink at me, wide pupils attempting to fit the whole of me inside.  It took her a moment to smile and say my name, and it was a relief; she was still in there, still floating somewhere within the world’s reach.

“We missed you downstairs,” I told her.  I didn’t know where else to start.

“Had to come,” she said.  “Promised me I could fly again.”  That made her smile dreamily; I was losing her again.

“You can’t fly forever, Sally.”

Her face crumpled then, her head bowing so that the dregs of her hair fell over her face.  I felt like I’d just popped a child’s balloon.  “I know,” she said.  “But I’m not strong like you.”  She was scraping at her arm again, her nails raising red marks in their wake, the need crawling under her skin.

“Me?  Strong?”  I shook my head; I’m a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m strong.  I’m frightened and I complain, I try and I fail, I scrabble and I don’t know what I’m doing.  “I’m not that strong.”

“Then how do you do it?  How do you keep going?  How do you stand this?  You don’t understand.  None of you understand.”

She was curling up on herself, withdrawing, trying to hide inside that inner buzz.  From the marks she was making on her arm, it was fading now.  I hoped that meant that she could still hear me.  I’m not experienced with this kind of thing and I don’t know the things that you’re supposed to say.  I looked over at Ben, but he shrugged again and seemed as clueless as I felt.  She had asked me questions, so I decided to start there.

“I keep going because I have to.  If we stop… well, we’ll die, just like all those other people.  And I don’t want that.  I’m not ready to give up yet, even though… even though sometimes I want to.  Even though it all seems too much, even though it seems pointless.  We’ve come so far, all of us.  And we’re still alive.  That has to mean something.  We have to make it mean something.”

“Make it mean what?  There’s nothin’ left.”

“I… I don’t have all the answers, Sally.  We’ve just gotta keep pushing.  Even though it’s hard, even though none of this is what we want. I’d love to forget about everything, but that’s just not possible.  I wish there was something to take all of this away, too, but this isn’t the answer.”

“Yeah, t’is.”

“Only if you want to die, Sally.  Did you look around up here?”  I could feel myself getting angry, could feel it rising towards my throat so it could spill over her bowed head and defeated shoulders.  But I didn’t want to do that.  I tried to press it back.  “Sally, they’re all dying.  There’s no food or water up here.”

“I don’t care.”

“It’s true what they say about addicts: they are all fucking selfish.”  I was losing my temper again and closed my mouth before anything else snapped out.  It was frustration and I knew it.  It was anger at the way she looked like she did the first time I saw her, rather than the girl with the clear grey eyes I had been used to seeing over the past couple of weeks.  I should have paid attention; I should have tried to talk to her before this.

I swallowed and tried to latch onto something else; anything else.  “There are people downstairs who miss you, Sally.  We don’t want to lose you.  We’ll help you.  Just… just don’t forget that.  Don’t forget about us.”

She tucked her face down into the circle of her arms, her shoulders hunching up defensively.  There was a spurt of anger again, furious that she could dismiss us so easily.  Doesn’t it make a difference that we cared enough to come up here?  Doesn’t any of this make a difference to her?

I stood up then; there wasn’t much left to say.  She knew what she was doing enough to make a choice and I didn’t know how to change it.  I think I was clumsy; my hands feel too big and heavy for this kind of thing.  I felt like the things I really should have said slipped through my fingers and were trodden underfoot as I stepped away from her.

“I’m not strong enough.”  It was very quiet, but I heard her say it.

“All you gotta do is walk downstairs, Sally.  That’s all.”  I knew it wasn’t that simple, but in a lot of ways it was.  Walk away from this, go down to where people were ready and willing to accept her again.  “We’ll help you with the rest.”

She curled up into her shell again, huddling tightly, and I knew the conversation was over. 


So Ben and I left.  I made it out into the stairwell before I burst into tears and he had to put an arm around me until I calmed down.  I wanted this to be easy; I wanted something here to be easy.  Talk to her, convince her that she should come down and join us again, that she didn’t really want to kill herself.  It seemed so simple when I was arguing with Thorpe, but what reasons did I have to give her to stay alive?  What hope was there that this would get better? 

I didn’t have any of those things myself.  All I had was the knowledge that I have to carry on, that I’m too stubborn to give up just yet.  All I knew was to keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other.  All I had was a blind belief that there has to be something more out there, somewhere in the melting darkness.

Ben said I did the right thing.  He said that I had tried and that was enough, but if it had been enough, it would have worked.  Instead, I had failed again.

This is Sally’s strong one, reduced to tears in a stairwell and wondering if stubbornness is enough to carry us past all of our dead hopes.  

Tuesday, 20 January 2009 - 4:12 pm

Those we can’t save

I had to go back up there again today.  It was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn’t sit in that room any more.  We’re all catching our breaths and resting, but I’m still not good at staying still.  My mind keeps running over things and coming back to one question; the question that none of us have voiced out loud.  Not even Thorpe.  The question we’re all thinking about.

What do we do now?

We need purpose, we need direction.  We need to do something more than just think about where we’re going to get more food and water from (though we need to start thinking about that soon, too).  Like Sally, we need more of a reason for putting up with all this than just being alive.  We need a point to it all.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the bleakness of this place.  It’s so easy to see our hopes shrivelling up and dying here, like everything else, like the dream that this place once was.  It’s like a riptide, circling around us, sucking us down one by one and only letting us up once we’ve tasted a lungful of it.  The longer we stay here, the more I think we might just drift into its walls and forget that we’re still alive.

There was only one person that I could think of who might be able to help us figure out what to do next.  I didn’t expect him to tell us where to go or what we should be doing, but he might be able to give us some information to help us make those choices.  I hoped he would be able to help us see that we had choices.  Doctor Masterson.


So I trekked back up the eight flights of stairs today.  Dillon came with me; I never seem to be able to go anywhere on my own at the moment.  Ben was going to come too, but I told him to rest.  His chest is still bothering him badly.  I didn’t really want the kid with me either, knowing the sort of thing we might find, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to stop him.  I kept a close eye on him while we were up there and tried not to let him see the worst of it.

We passed the man who was giggling at the stripe on the wall the first time we were up there.  He was lying against the wall this time, breathing shallow and slow, staring into space.  He seemed paler and thinner than the last time I saw him, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it was since he ate. 

I was appalled to think that we hadn’t even offered these people some food, and that it had been this long before it even occurred to me.  What does that say about me?  They’ve chosen to do this to themselves, but does that mean that we shouldn’t try to save them?  Would we only be prolonging their fate?  I don’t know, I really don’t, and I hate these mental circles.  I know that the group wouldn’t want to give up our tiny food supply to these people and I don’t blame them.  We’re barely scraping by ourselves. 

But it was still there, that niggling feeling that I should be doing something to help these people.  It’s not just because Sally is up there now.  All through the city, I helped to pull people from the wreckage, set them on their feet and on their way.  I stopped people dying, I made things better.  But now… now they are standing in the fire and they don’t care.  They’re almost welcoming it, and I don’t know what to do about that.  It tears me up inside and I have no idea how to make it better. 

What was I suppose to do?  Dillon was there and I didn’t want him to start thinking about these things.  So I didn’t say anything; I just pulled us on to find the doctor.  He’s too young to stand there and think about how this man will probably be dead by dinnertime. 


It took us a little while to find him.  We didn’t see Sally; I wondered where she’d gone to, but we weren’t up there for her this time.  I didn’t really want Dillon to see her like that, either.

Masterson was sitting on a gurney pulled up by the window, gazing out.  He was smaller than I remembered, the spark gone from his eyes.  There was no bounce in him any more; instead, there was a heaviness to the way he turned his head when I said his name.  It took him a moment to focus on me, to struggle out through the fog.

I was glad to be standing by the window; the smell in there was only getting worse.  I tried to forget about how he rebounded about the room downstairs, gleefully dispensing advice about awful injuries.  I tried to forget about how he poked at my arm where it hurt, twice.  I tried to forgive him, but that part was hard.  I had to wait for his attention to come around onto me before I could ask him what I had come to ask him.

“Doctor Masterson, where did everyone go?”

He contemplated my second head as if it might hold some inspiration.  “We’re still here,” he said finally.

“I know you are.  I mean everyone else.  The other doctors, and nurses.  The other patients.  Where are they?”

“Went away.”  I thought that was more unhelpfulness, but he wasn’t finished.  “Went away when the call came.”

“Call?  What call?”

“Call from up high.  Up high and far away.”

“What did it say?  What was the call?  Doctor?”  He was going vague again, slipping off into the burnt clouds.

“Bad things coming.  Get to safety. Sucked everything dry.  No more generators, no more lights, no more light anywhere. No more help, no more anything.  No more, no more.”  He started rocking a bit at that.

“And everyone just left?  It wasn’t calling them somewhere?”  I could feel my stomach heading for my feet at that idea.

“Some went to find out what it meant.  The rest’re just gone.”

I had to mull that over for a moment before I could work out what to ask him next.  “They went to where the call came from?”


“Where is that?  Do you know where it came from?”

He shook his head slowly, his eyes drifting back to the window.

“Why didn’t you go?  Doctor, why are you still here?”  I didn’t want him to disconnect again so soon.  It wasn’t enough; I needed more from him.

His eyes moved back to me, suddenly looking like an open wound.  There was such sorrow there, such pain.  His fingers were curling around his elbow, thinking about relief, and his voice was very small.  “They stood out in it.  Like it was a good thing.”

“Who did?”  I was going to ask ‘stood out in what’, but I suspected that I knew the answer to that.  And with his distracted twitches, I wanted to keep him focussed on one question at a time.

“My own, my sweet…  And… and the little one might not ever come right again.  Happy New Year.”  It took me a moment to recognise the words he’d used about Nugget.  His shoulders hunched as he started to draw in on himself.  I realised then that he was wearing a ring, a ring that meant he’d once had a family.  He was trying to tell me that he had had a wife and daughter, and… Happy New Year.  They stood out in the rain.  They had died, melted like Carter and Trevor.  So he’d stayed here, dwelt in this escape from pain, knowing it would kill him eventually.

I patted his arm and told him that I was sorry.  He cried and collapsed on my shoulder, so I patted him some more and held him until he was finished.  He stumbled back when I thanked him, looking around like an injured animal searching for an escape route.  Fingers clawed at his arms, like Sally’s used to do, feeling that underskin itch.

“Come with us,” I said on impulse.  I don’t know what made me say it.  Maybe because he was driven here by personal tragedy, because I knew what was going on in his head now.  And I didn’t want to leave him here, I didn’t want to go knowing that he’ll starve to death one way or another.  I wanted to help.

The look he gave me was brimful of horror at the notion.  He shook his head and backed away until he bumped into a gurney.  His eyes seemed to think that I was trying to haunt him, to torture him repeatedly. 

Maybe I only wanted to save him because I couldn’t save Sally.  But he wasn’t going to let me succeed with him; he was quite determined to be lost in his pain and his escape from pain.  I took the hint; I drew Dillon away and left him alone.

I looked for Sally on the way out, just in case, but I didn’t see her.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009 - 6:45 pm

Where the people went

I told the others what the doctor said.  They weren’t impressed – well, Thorpe wasn’t impressed, and he speaks loudly in our small group.  He’s determined to think the worst of everything, it seems. 

There’s something in it, I’m sure of it.  In amongst his ramblings, Masterson knew something that we can use.  He said that people went to the source of the signals, and the patients didn’t just get up and walk out.  A lot of them died, but not all; some are just gone.  Where?  Who took them, and why?

Ben suggested that the call probably came from the Emergency Coordination Centre, the place set up to handle big emergencies.  Like, say, a huge bomb destroying the city and poisoning everything.  The ECC had been coordinating the firefighters and ambulances, before the radios all went dead.  He didn’t know much; Carter had been the one in touch with the organisation, not him or Thorpe.

It’s something.  It’s something for us to focus on.  Somewhere here, there should be the details of the ECC – address, radio details.  The phones are down, so numbers are useless, but the radios used to work.  Ben and Thorpe still have one, though the battery ran down a couple of weeks ago.

I asked Sax if he could rig a charger for it, like he did for my laptop.  Tomorrow we’re gonna try to put the pieces together, see what kind of shape it makes.  Tomorrow we might have a purpose and a place to go again.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009 - 6:07 pm

The minor fall, the major lift

There was an awful sound earlier, just after the rain started.  Laughter, echoing loudly in the empty air outside, and then a wet thump. 

I can imagine well enough what it was – the mental images won’t leave me alone.  The fascination of drugged eyes with tinted rainwater, the sensation of flying, of being so terribly free.  Not even feeling skin melting, or the impact with the ground.  Making maniacal, hysterical noises as blood and bone make a Dali painting in reality and bubble away to nothing.

I can’t figure out if that is a good way to go or not.  I can only hope that the cushion of drugs stole away the pain; otherwise, it would be a horror best left uncontemplated.  I would rather not contemplate it as much as I already have.

I wonder if it was Sally.  I wonder if I upset her so much that that’s what she chose to do.  I’m trying not to think like that, but how can I stop?  I didn’t make things better for her, and it’s possible that I made them worse.  I don’t want that to have been her choice.  Never that.

Or Masterson.  I’d be upset if I knew it was him, too.  Now I know about his family, about his pain, I can’t wish harm on him.  Especially not that.  I hope he’s all right, up there in his haze.


We all heard it, sitting in our cosy room and eating our muesli bars.  We all knew what it was, even Nugget; she went and huddled down in a corner, and refused to come out.  We were all thinking about it, imagining that last, doomed flight, like Icarus with his foolish wings. 

This place is sapping our wills.  I could feel it dying in that silence after that fall, feel the air being sucked out of the room.  It was leaving us gasping like fish afraid to go back into the water, twitching reflexively on the carpet.  We were fading, turning into the grey of the walls, into stains on the blankets.

I didn’t like it.  All of a sudden, I wanted to take in a deep breath and scream.  I wanted to get up and run around, I wanted to make noise and splash colour on our faces.  I wanted to be alive and bright and here.

But the hospital was a great weight on me, stealing my courage and audacity, keeping me crosslegged on my blankets as the rain hissed outside.  A thousand snakes making me huddle back from breaking out, like Nugget in the corner.

I looked around, and we all seemed to wear the same face over the same heart.  There was a metal bedpan in the middle of the room with scraps and rags burning in it, our only source of light, casting strange shadows on us.  It reminded me of camping with my dad. 

It’s been years since I’ve even thought about it – we haven’t been camping since I was ten years old.  Out there, it was dark like this, far from the city and the streetlights, starless when it was overcast.  We’d have a fire and uplit faces.  And these strange silences would descend sometimes.  We would listen to the sounds out in the darkness and wonder if there was something there that might eat us.  In those moments, Dad would start a song, something silly and made only for campfires.  We’d all join in and the world outside the firelight would fade away.

It was so incongruous that I smiled, sitting here in this odd camp of ours.  Dillon looked at me strangely, and moved over to ask what was going on.  I asked him if he’d ever been camping before and he shrugged.  Then I just started singing.  Not well – Dad always said I had more enthusiasm than talent – but well enough that the others perked up rather than looked annoyed with me. 

We’re a ragged bunch, but they all joined in eventually, except young Nugget.  She did move closer to listen, though.  Sax was first to join in, his bass voice rumbling in under mine.  Then Dillon, and Ben with an amused look.  I didn’t think Thorpe would, with his rolling of eyes and huffed sighs, but after a couple of rounds he decided to play along.

We filled that little ex-staff room up with sound, made it brim with our voices like we didn’t care what was happening outside.  We were unashamed, and some of us were even smiling, because the song is silly and yet all of us were singing it, even the adults.  But it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that the words meant nothing and the song slipped away from us as soon as it was finished.  It was worth it, for that feeling of lightness in my chest and the looks on flame-flickered faces.

I asked if anyone else knew anything else we could try, and of course, Sax stepped up.  And then Ben started one.  We kept going like that until our little fire burnt down, and then we slept.  All of us, breathing in time.


Row, row, row, your boat

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream

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Thursday, 22 January 2009 - 4:24 pm


I had to ask Thorpe a favour today; always a tricky thing, considering his moods.  He’s been particularly grumpy ever since I relayed Masterson’s words to the group.  I suppose now, on reflection, it was the part about the doctor’s family that upset Thorpe the most, not the information about the call.

I’ve often seen him fiddling with something when he’s not busy.  He always puts it away when someone comes over, slipping it into a pocket that he checks regularly to make sure it’s still there.  I didn’t think much of it until I came around a corner and almost walked right into him, and saw what it was.

It’s a ring, a gold band with a distinctive platinum strip inlaid into it.  I recognised it, and blinked as I tried to remember where I’d seen it before.  I’d seen someone else fiddling with it – it feels like a lifetime ago, though it was only a little over three weeks.  That someone else was Trevor, his fire-crewmate and, apparently, something a lot more.

Pieces fell into place then.  How he’d been so awful since the rain started, why he had reacted so badly to certain things.  Like his reaction to saving Sally, when he couldn’t save someone he cared about.  I remember having to hold him back when it happened; he had been ready to run into the rain for a chance to save Trevor and it had taken three of us to stop him.

He must have had to go through Trevor’s spent clothes to retrieve the ring, a strange thing for someone as unsentimental as Thorpe to do.  Trevor must have meant a great deal to him.  I can’t imagine what that must have been like, going through a familiar, empty shirt for a scrap of a keepsake.  Not even having a body to mourn over or say goodbye to.

He hasn’t cried, not once since it happened.  Not within anyone’s sight, anyway.  He keeps it all locked inside, like the fist that closed over the ring as soon as I came around the corner.  Not in time, but almost.  He knew as soon as I looked at him; my expression must have given me away.  He knew that I knew, and I could almost hear the shutters clanging down behind his eyes.

I didn’t know what to say to him, so I said the first thing that same to mind: “I’m sorry.”  Not for interrupting him, not for almost walking into him.  He knew I meant Trevor, and I think he knew that I meant it.

He didn’t break down; he didn’t even nod in acknowledgement.  He just looked away.  I don’t think he’s used to people talking about this kind of personal matter, and abruptly I could imagine the two of them as a couple.  Thorpe’s stoicism and Trevor’s levity, solidity and gentleness.  They must have made a good pair.  I’m sorry that I never saw them together the way they really were.

I wonder if anyone ever did.  I don’t think Ben knows; he would have said something, I’m sure of it.  Thorpe and Trevor worked together, so they probably had to keep it a secret; otherwise, one of them would have had to leave.  And Thorpe is so private; maybe that’s just how he is.  He’s still keeping that secret, not letting anyone see him grieve, not letting anyone know that he lost something precious, that it died right in front of him.

I’m not sure what made me do it.  A part of me wanted to cry because he hadn’t, because he couldn’t.  Instead, I took off one of my necklaces, unfastened the chain and let the pendant slither off into my hand.  Then I asked him if I could see the ring, just for a moment.

He didn’t want me to; he might hide the softer emotions, but he’s unrestrained with his distrust.  I promised that I would give it right back, please, just for a second.  I thought he was going to refuse, but he passed it over with a hand heavy with reluctance.

It was hard to know what to say, so I told him about the chain.  About how my grandmother had given me the pendant when I was four years old, a St Christopher’s disc worn so much that it’s almost blurred smooth now.  It had taken us seven years and five chains to find one that I couldn’t break after a few minutes.  Since then, I’d worn this one, and it hadn’t failed me once.  Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got another one I can put the pendant on, the other one I wear all the time, the same as this one.  And could he please bend down a bit, because he’s very tall and I couldn’t reach to fasten it.

He tucked the ring and its new chain under his shirt as soon as it was in place.  He didn’t say anything, but there was a restrained note to his frown, as if he was holding something back.  And that’s okay; that’s what he needs to do, I get it now.  There wasn’t anything else for me to say, so I gave a little smile and turned to leave him alone.

“Did you come and bother me for a reason?”  His tone wasn’t as sharp as usual, as if something in him had unbent, just a little.

“Um, actually, yeah.”  I had forgotten about why I had been looking for him in the first place, thoroughly distracted by his truth.  “We need a couple of car batteries and some parts.  Was wondering if you’d take Dillon and see if you can find them.”

He shrugged.  “All right.”

“Great, I’ll send him out to find you.”  On impulse, I added, “Hey, what’s your first name?”


“But you prefer Thorpe?”


“Okay.  Thanks.”

I’m not sure what made me ask, but I wanted to know who he was.  Calling someone by their surname always seems distancing, keeping people just that bit more at arm’s length.  I know it’s hypocritical of me because I used to do it, I used to go by Mac.  I never realised that about me before, but I guess it’s true.

But this isn’t about me.  This is about a man named Jack Thorpe, who lost a love he won’t tell anyone about, who carries a ring to remember him by.

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Friday, 23 January 2009 - 2:47 pm

Spinning compass

The last couple of days have been about trying to get all the pieces together so that we can figure out what to do.  Our food is running low again; we needed to make a decision today if we’re going to have a chance of finding somewhere with supplies before we run out.

We had to figure out what was important to us, beyond basic survival.  I’ve seen people surviving here, and I don’t think it’s enough.  I don’t think it’s enough to do only that, to live from hand to mouth.  Maybe it’s because I know that there’s a finite amount of food and water around, and that water is a major issue.  Rainwater tanks are poisoned, wells and streams can’t be trusted, so we have only bottled or canned drinks to rely on.  And there’s only so much of that around.

We’ve been lucky with the weather.  The rain seems to come pretty regularly – around the same time every afternoon – but it hasn’t been as hot as it should have been at this time of year.  I suppose the stain in the atmosphere is filtering out the sun’s heat, and stopping it from getting too cold at night.  The winter is bound to be far less kind, but at least we’re not sweating out water we can’t afford to lose.

We tried the radio after we got it charged again, but there wasn’t any answer on the channels listed for the Emergency Coordination Centre.  Or any of the other channels, either.  No guidance from anywhere; it’s all up to us to decide.


It came down to family and the promise of organised help.  Those people precious to us and a brand new mecca.  We laid them all out on the map, dotted all the locations we wanted to get to until it looked like a teenager’s acned cheek.

Working out the route is the hardest part.  Of course everyone wants to check on their family first, but should we make the ECC our priority?  In case there’s help there?  Not everyone has family that we will be able to reach: Thorpe’s parents are in a different city completely, as is my mother, and Sax has a son in another country.  He also has a daughter in the area, and Dillon’s parents are well within reach.  Ben has a sister, who has her own family, and we still can’t get anything out of Nugget.  For me, there’s just Dad, the furthest dot out from where we are now.

It’s like the connect-the-dots game from hell – we’ve taken a break because we kept going around in circles and things were getting a little too heated.  Everyone wants to be first; of course they do.  I keep looking at that solitary dot way out by the coast, and the marks showing where we are now.  The distance we’ve travelled already, from the centre of the dead city to its rotting limb here, is tiny in comparison to what we have yet to go.  And it took us three weeks to get this far.

I miss my dad. I’ve tried not to think about him too much because we’ve been so focussed on getting this far, but now I don’t have a choice.  Now I can think about finding him again, and I’m terrified.

I wish he was here so much.  He’d say something dry and practical, make fun of the mess my hair is in, and I’d feel about a million times better about everything.  I wish I knew that he was okay – that would be enough to make me walk lighter.  It would make all this struggling worth it, if I knew he was there. 

I hear his voice sometimes.  I hear him make comments – I hear him now, saying, “Come on now, Faithy,” to make me buck up.  I can almost feel the chuck on my shoulder where he’d nudge me, pushing me off the depressive path and towards something better.  It used to annoy the hell out of me; now I treasure these whispers of him.  They make my heart beat faster, because for a minute I think he might really be right there, behind me, and the disappointment has a bitter bite, but it’s worth it.  I don’t ever want to lose it, even if it’s his ghost, even if it’s all I have left of him.

I need to stop thinking like this.  Yes, I want to go straight for that distant dot on the map.  Yes, I want to be first.  But we all do. 


Of course, we could split up.  But I think we all know that none of us would survive long that way.  There’s so few of us left already and I don’t think any of us want to see the group shrink any further.  I hope we don’t split up.  We’re stronger together. 

The others are coming back now – let’s see if we can sort this out.

Friday, 23 January 2009 - 4:29 pm

Wait for me

It took a lot of arguing, but I think we have a path now.  It’s a wiggly line across the map, sweeping around and down to the EC through the homes of the group’s families, and then up again for a long, straight stretch to Dad’s place.  I knew I’d come last, but I guess someone has to. 

I have to be okay with that.  I want to find my dad, I want to know he’s alive, I want to throw my arms around him again.  I’m scared that I’m going to be too late, that he’ll be gone when I get there, one way or the other.

Ben tried to point out that it won’t take that long.  The roads’ll be better as we head away from the city.  It won’t be that bad; we’ll make it.  I hope he’s right.  I don’t think he is, but I hope.

I’m coming home, Dad.  I’m coming.  Please wait for me.  Please be there.

Saturday, 24 January 2009 - 10:51 am


I just went into the restroom to see if there was anything useful in there for us to take.  We’re leaving the hospital soon.  I hadn’t been in there before; with no running water, bathrooms tend to be pretty disgusting. 

It’s the first time I’ve seen my reflection in a long time – in a month, I guess.  The bomb shattered all of the glass in the city and the windows here haven’t fared much better; it was difficult for so long that I stopped looking for reflective surfaces.  It’s strange – I was so used to looking at myself every morning, making sure that I looked good enough for human consumption, putting on make up, adjusting my hair. But I haven’t even missed it; there hasn’t been time.  With everything that has happened, with the strangeness of the world now, all of those habits seem like they belonged to a different person who lived a millennia ago.  Now, I barely recognise myself.

Of course, everything about me is grubby.  I took changes of clothes from the last store we raided, but I’ve worn everything at least once now, if not three times.  There’s a tear on the sleeve of this shirt that I hadn’t noticed before.  I used to care about what I wore, how I looked, how other people would see me, being as perfect and well-turned-out as possible.  I haven’t been able to worry about that for so long that all I can see now is the practicalities: jeans that are wearing well, a shirt that covers the important bits, and boots that aren’t broken yet.

I pulled the shirt up and took a look at the tattoo on my back.  It’s beautiful; Steve did a good job.  I can’t believe how big it is, rising up my spine and spreading wings across my shoulderblades.  I can’t believe that it has been behind me this whole time.  It feels like it grew out of this last month, out of the falling down and the picking back up again.  Then I remember how much it hurt and realise that yes, Steve really did do the whole thing in one torturously long session.  But it was worth it.  It’s the brightest part of me, possibly because it’s the cleanest.  It’s a  shame that it spends its time under a shirt, really.

The tattoo isn’t the only way that I look different now.  I’m leaner.  My clothes are loose where they used to be snug, but I had thought that they’d just stretched.  I didn’t think much of having to notch my belt tighter lately, but now that I look at myself, I’ve definitely lost weight.  I’ve wanted to lose a bit of extra weight for years, and now it’s gone, disappeared while I wasn’t paying attention.  And I feel good about that.

It seems that the end of the world is the diet that really works.  I could make a fortune with that, if money was worth anything any more.

Even my face seems slimmer; it’s missing some of its softness.  Maybe that’s the lack of makeup speaking.  I caught the sun on my nose – it’s peeling now.  Even with the orange scorch across the sky, enough of the sun’s light sneaks through to burn, it seems.  I’m certainly more tanned than I used to be.

My hair is a mess.  Oddly, it’s not feeling as disgusting as it was a week ago.  It has been lank and gross, but it seems to be losing the greasiness now.  I wish that I could wash it, even if it seems to need it less now.  There are still random red streaks in it, from a whim of a dye job  I did right after I found out about Cody and Bree.  That was a couple of months ago – can it really be that long?  They’re growing out now, dark roots showing, returning to my own colours.

I don’t look great and there was a time when I would be mortified about that.  But I don’t look terrible either.  There are things that I like, and things I’m willing to put up with.  The rest just doesn’t seem to matter that much, though there’s still a part of me that wishes I could be better.  I guess I can’t let go of that desire completely, and I succumbed  to it enough to dig out eyeliner and a hairbrush from my bag. I didn’t look like I used to, but I felt more like me.

There’s definitely something different about my face.  Maybe it’s just that I haven’t looked at it in so long.  Maybe it’s that I haven’t had to look myself in the eye.  Maybe it’s this reflection on myself that I’ve been doing, here in this journal-blog, these things I’m discovering about myself.  Maybe they’re creeping out into the mirror, into the rest of me. 

Maybe it wasn’t just in my face.  I tried to work out what else was different, what there was other than the dirt and the weight. Maybe it’s the set of my shoulders.  I seem straighter than I used to be, like I’m standing taller.  It’s not the heels on these boots – I’ve worn much bigger heels before and not felt anywhere near this tall.  Maybe it’s because I have a purpose now.  Maybe it’s because I have a place here, with these people.  Maybe it’s because, for the first time in my life, I feel more like an adult and less like a child, waiting for someone else’s opinion and direction.  And approval.

Whatever it is, I feel better.  I feel okay.  For the first time in my life, I feel like I can look myself in the eye and not flinch. 

Saturday, 24 January 2009 - 6:10 pm


Today, we left the hospital behind us.  Packed everything we could carry into our bags, picked ourselves up, and headed out into the broken world once more.

It feels so good to be moving again.  We had needed the rest and we had needed the chance to really figure out what we were doing.  But getting out onto the street, stretching my legs and knowing that we were on our way to where we wanted to be… that was so much better.

I looked back at the hospital once, with its hunched shoulders and dull, empty eyes.  It was both a disappointment and exactly what we needed.  I was sorry to be leaving one of our number behind, and I was sorry that we couldn’t help those on the ninth floor. 

The hospital didn’t hold what we had hoped it would, but it healed us anyway, I guess in the ways we really needed it to.  Nugget and Ben are operating under their own strength now.  We know that somewhere, there’s an organised fragment of the world that used to be.  A shard of hope, out there in the slopes of the city’s lower reaches.  We have what we need to carry on.


I turned to walk forward, but a couple of the others were also taking a moment to consider the place we were leaving.  Thorpe was frowning – nothing new there – but Dillon’s face perked up, brightly enough to make me look back again.

We were halfway down the block by then, but there was no mistaking the moving figures by the hospital’s listing doors.  There was no mistaking that they were leaning on each other as they came out, or that they were heading towards us.  I told the guys to stop and tried to make out who it was.  I tried not to hope.

Thorpe swore under his breath and I knew who it was: Sally and the doctor.  They looked awful, but they were alive and moving, and that meant more than anything else right now.  That terrible death we heard the other night didn’t belong to either of them; it’s terrible to say, but it was a relief. I couldn’t help it; I was smiling as they neared us.

It was hard to tell whether Sally was holding him up or the other way around, but it hardly seemed to matter.  They were both pale and clammy-looking, and the doctor definitely seemed the worst off.  They wobbled when they reached us – he was staring intently into space and breathing through his mouth, while Sally dared to look up at our faces.  She was braver than I thought; she even glanced at Thorpe’s thunderhead.

“They can’t come with us.”  Of course he was the first to speak.

I chose not to tackle that head-on, not right away.  Instead, I asked them, “How are you still alive?”  They had had no food or water up there, and it’s been days.  Longer, for the doctor.

“He found a stash,” Sally said when her companion didn’t seem capable of answering.  Her voice was wrung out and thread-thin.  “Some liquid stuff.  For patients.”

“Saline?”  It was hard to believe that they had survived on salt water, but here they were.  Barely.  “What made you change your mind?”

She looked off to the side then, evasive, and abruptly I saw the junkie.  I saw the girl who gives in to the itch in her veins.  “There’s nothin’ left.”

It wasn’t the answer I was hoping to hear.  I was hoping that this was a choice, and I was selfishly hoping that I had made a difference.  Instead, this was the last choice left for them, other than a painful death, because they had run out of drugs.  I had to swallow back the sick feeling in my stomach.

“So you’re clean?”  That was Sax, rumbling in from behind me.  Nugget was hiding behind his legs, a pair of big dark eyes peeking.

The defensive note to Sally’s expression said that she had been asked that many times before.  “Yes.  We… we ran out a couple of days ago.”

About the time that someone took that fatal dive out of the window.  That someone that I had feared was one of these two.  Was that why they jumped?  Because there was no relief left for them?  But these two hadn’t; here they were, over the worst of the withdrawal and asking to come with us.  They had made that choice, the one with a chance of life in it.

“You’re not seriously considering this?”  Thorpe again, looking between me and Sax.  Ben was being quiet, as he usually was, but he didn’t look upset with Sally and the doctor being here.  He was standing by my shoulder and he gave Thorpe a quelling look.

I shrugged.  Of course I was considering it.  “Can you keep up?” I asked Sally.

“Yeah.”  She tried to stand a little straighter, even with his limp arm over her shoulders, to show us that she could do it.  That they would try.

“Are you kidding me?”  Our big fireman wasn’t going to let this happen easily.  “They’ll take off the first time they come within a sniff of something to shoot up with.”

I watched Sally; she didn’t respond, didn’t even try to deny that.  She knew that there wasn’t any point, that it was probably true, that we wouldn’t believe her if she said otherwise. 

“They haven’t hurt anyone but themselves,” I said.  It would be different if they had endangered any of us, and even if they leave, the rest of us will be okay.  “As long as they don’t hurt anyone else, I don’t mind them coming.”

“We don’t have the supplies to waste on them!”

“Then we’ll get more.  They can carry their own, same as everyone else.”  They looked barely able to hold themselves up, let alone packs full of food and water, but my sympathy didn’t extend to mollycoddling them.  This wasn’t going to be easy for them, but it wasn’t easy for any of us.  And besides, we didn’t have anything to make them carry right now.

“I can’t believe this.”  Thorpe threw his hands up in the air.  “Are we seriously going to let her do this?”  He looked at the others for support.

Who the hell put me in charge, anyway?  “Well, why don’t we vote on it?”

So we did.  To my surprise, Sax voted to leave them behind.  Ben raised his hand with mine, and it was a dead heat.  No-one looked at Nugget, but Thorpe did give Dillon an expectant glare.  I was about to protest that it wasn’t fair to put that on a kid, when he spoke up.

“I don’t think we should leave them behind.”

I was so proud of him right then.  Brave kid, standing up to the big fireman like that.  I know he thinks a lot of Thorpe; it must have taken some guts to make his own mind up.

And so it was decided: they were coming with us.  Thorpe growled at them to keep up, and then turned on his heel to stalk away.  Sax ushered Nugget before him, his expression dark and closed.  I haven’t seen him like that before.  The rest of us brought up the rear, with a little gap for breathing.

Sally and the doctor managed to keep up all through the day, though they lagged behind.  I’m glad they’re here.  They’re a mess, but they’re ours and I mean to keep them for as long as I can.  They’ll get better, I know they will.  They’re on their way now, just like the rest of us.