Tuesday, 24 February 2009 - 1:47 pm


We passed over a threshold today. It was the strangest thing – on one side of the crossroads were the quiet houses waiting for their people to come home; on the other, all the light had been sucked out of the buildings, leaving blackened remains behind.

The buildings are packed together tighter here, and that was their downfall. Tenements, flats, little shops, businesses run out of garages – all of it is gone now. A fire tore through here, weeks ago I think. Either when the bomb went off, or when the power was turned on that one, fatal time. In the city, it started a lot of fires, so perhaps that’s what happened here too.

Everything is ash now, grey bones flaking under an orange sky, scorched above and below. The acid has smoothed some of the edges and washed shards all over the streets, fragments evenly distributed. There’s hardly a single building above hip height in this whole area.

We slowed when the colour drained out of the scenery and black rubbed off onto our shoes. The fire took this whole district – it jumped roads and concrete walls. It collapsed homes like failed puddings. The air tastes charred and spent.


Ben’s face darkened as we moved into the realm of charred ruins, and so did Thorpe’s. It must be a firefighter reaction – seeing something they could have battled under control if they’d had the chance. They used to spend their lives making sure things like this didn’t happen.

Someone had tried to fight it. We found a fire truck in the middle of it all, as burned and hollow as the rest of it. The boys went to check it out while the rest of us hovered nearby.

I took Ben’s hand when we moved on. I asked if he knew the fighters that came on that truck and he said he thought he did. He’d worked with the crews from this area before; his own home station belonged to an adjoining district. He didn’t have much hope that any of them had made it; his fellow firefighters would have died before they gave up, the same as he would. If the truck was gone, then they probably were too.

There wasn’t a single body, though. I caught sight of a couple of piles of clothing caught in the gutters, but no bodies. We can thank the damned rain for that.

We did find a fireman’s helmet, empty and battered. I was hoping that our firefighters wouldn’t see it, but they did. Ben and Thorpe looked at each other with grim faces. They didn’t say anything.

I remembered what it was like in the city when it all came down. The firefighters were the last ones to stop and the first ones back in there. I remember losing some to buildings too close to collapse when they dove in after a failing voice. They never hesitated; they just tried until they couldn’t any more.

They were amazing. And a lot of them made it out of the city. A lot of them left ahead of us. We don’t know where they went, but they made it out. We’ll find them again.

Ben said that he hoped so. He hoped that some of them had been as lucky as he and Thorpe have been. He looked at me, wondering if I understood any of this, and abruptly apologised. Of course I did. He was there when the place where I worked fell down and ended up lower than the burnt-out husks around us now. I knew everyone in that building. Sam with her little ones at home, Harry caught in the rubble with his hand in mine. Ben had been the one to carry me off the ruins and comfort me.

Now it’s my turn to comfort him. I understand that feeling of wondering if everyone you worked with is dead. I know what it’s like to wonder if any of them made it out, and suspect that they didn’t. There are people in my life that I know I’ll never see again, and that’s difficult to make sense of. It’s hard to imagine all of those faces just… gone.

Ben squeezed my hand and everyone fell quiet. What was there to say?


We’ve moving on again now. We have to find out how far this burnt-out sector reaches – we only have a couple of hours until the rain comes, and we need to find the shelter before then.