Friday, 20 March 2009 - 11:21 pm

Cry wolf

After Alice told me her story, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Should I tell the group, or keep it to myself? Was it important enough to repeat what was told to me in the quiet dark, in unspoken confidence?

I spent yesterday mulling it over, trying to work out what might be best. The images that she had painted in my head kept poking at me – bloodsmeared faces and hooked fingers tearing at a person’s flesh. No wonder she had nightmares about it.

Finally, I told her that I had to tell the others what she had related to me. She wasn’t happy with that, but I told her that I wouldn’t make her tell it again. I could save her that much, at least.

I waited until everyone was done eating and the youngsters had settled down for the night, leaving just the adults awake with Alice sitting sullenly at my elbow. They were all quiet while I told them the story, their expressions shifting as the details sank in. I caught sight of Sally slipping her hands around Masterson’s arm to hold onto him; of all of us, she looked the most nakedly frightened by all of this. He shot her a frown, but he didn’t protest her clinging to him. It’s possible that he’s getting fond of her.

When I was done, we had to talk about what comes next. Carlos’s trio had come from a different direction to the one we were heading in, so we didn’t think we were heading towards this maddened gang. Thorpe asked if it was the same gang that attacked both groups – Alice’s and Carlos’s. No-one could say for sure, though she said that they sounded the same. They would have had to move very fast to get that far ahead of us, though, and it was only possible if they had cut right through the middle of the Pride’s territory. Both of those factors made it unlikely; Carlos had said that part of what had freaked his group out the first time they encountered the gang was how unhurried and inevitable they moved, and we’ve heard how dangerous the Pride are.

It was Masterson who piped up and asked if this wasn’t just hysteria. Frightened people who can’t handle the awful things that have happened, making up unlikely stories to cover up what really happened. Or perhaps it was guilt speaking. He was looking directly at Alice when he said that, and we all knew that he was asking if she had killed her group, either by staying away too long or not bringing what they needed to survive.

I was furious. I would have shouted at him, but Alice erupted next to me and I had to grab onto her to stop her launching herself, either at him or away from all of us. She was yelling at him about how horrible he is and that she didn’t lie about this, not this time.

Matt said what I was too busy to: “What’s wrong with you?” I suspect I would have sworn at him, though.

I managed to calm Alice down enough to stop her shouting at him. I was holding onto her arm and could feel her shaking; from the tension in her jaw, I could tell she was barely holding back tears. Everyone was angry, but from the lack of abuse heading in the doctor’s direction, I knew that they all thought he had a point. Now, hours after the event, I can see that he wasn’t entirely out of line, but at the time I couldn’t. I just knew that I believed her. Like Carlos, I believed that she believed it. Our discussion was descending into disgruntled murmurs and doubt; I could see the purpose and usefulness of it slipping away.

“I don’t think she’s lying,” I said, trying to get their attention again. “But I also don’t think it matters. The question is whether we dare take the chance that it’s not true.” I looked at Thorpe and Ben. “It’s like someone shouting ‘fire’. You have to assume that it might be true, for everyone’s safety. At least until you’re sure.”

“You’re not suggesting that we go and check it out, are you?” Masterson’s tone was derisive and I could feel my hackles instinctively rising against it. “That’s ridiculous. And suicide.”

“Of course she’s not.” To my surprise, it was Sax who spoke up for me first. His low voice was a smoothing undercurrent to the hot tempers in the group. “She didn’t suggest that we run in and ask the Pride if they were as bad as we had heard, did she?”

“She’s right; we can’t just ignore it,” Ben put in, another calm voice in the melee. He had a possessive hand on my knee, which I didn’t mind in the least.

The conversation shifted towards what we could do with this information, and what we should do. We had already doubled our nightly watches but we had relaxed during the day; we had to be more vigilant. No-one should be allowed to go off on their own, and we had to find some way of warning each other if trouble arose. We all had to promise to look out for each other; the group was our best protection. We were already armed, so we didn’t need to worry about finding weapons, though we should keep an eye out for better ones (I know some of the men would like to get their hands on guns, but we haven’t found any yet).

No-one suggested armour. I wonder if that will be the next thing, as we find more ways to harden ourselves against this world.