Monday, 16 November 2009 - 9:44 pm

Dust in the distance

We haven’t seen any signs of pursuit from Haven for a few days now. Some of us are daring to believe they’ve stopped coming.

In that first long run, after the bullets ran out of legs to chase us, we didn’t see a whisper of a cutout or a military vehicle grinding down the miles. The sabotage on their vehicles gave us a good headstart. The boys removed all the distributor caps and hid them – or something like that.

After that first day of fleeing, we climbed to the roof of an apartment tower under clouds thickening with rain. We peered towards Haven and saw nothing but empty streets, broken cars and abandoned lives. No sparks of life showed themselves – not a whisper of movement or a flicker of light. Just the still and the quiet, stretching out from our feet to the horizon. It felt like Haven ceased to exist the moment it fell away from our rearview mirrors.

Haven and everyone else. The streets were bereft of bodies; even the hurried slink of stray cats was missing. After the bustle of the army base, the world feels like a gaping wound, empty and unable to heal.

It took me a while to realise what else was missing. No signs of life is one thing, but there weren’t any signs of unlife either. Not a shuffle or a lurch, or a hungry groan floating across the city. Where did all the shamblers go? They can’t all have followed us to Haven and thrown themselves on the bullets and bats of the cutouts. They hide from the rain, so the acid probably didn’t get them, unless they tried to trek across open land. They’re stupid enough to do that.


It was the third day when we saw it. High up on another rooftop, desperately searching the landscape for a whisper of movement, we found what we were looking for: a cloud of dust billowing up between buildings, moving with the kind of steady purpose that only vehicles can produce. It had to be them: the soldiers, the Generals men, cutouts instructed to find us and… what? Kill us? Bring us back? What did they hope to gain from finding us?

None of us wanted to find out. We hurried back inside and barricaded the building, trying to make it look like no-one was home. There was no fire or flashlight for us after dark fell, just softly murmured words and the comfort of warm bodies together.

We got up earlier than usual the next morning and set out in the deep dark. The streets were still damp and we had to ride spread out so that we didn’t accidentally spray each other with acid from our tyres. We pushed on through the whole day, stopping only to refuel body and bike, until the last minute before the rain. We dove into the first building with an open door, did a quick headcount, and counted ourselves lucky. All day, I wondered when the prickle of bullets would come, or the roar of engines overtaking us. What would we do if they caught up? Scatter, flee? Turn and fight? How much would we have left to lose by then?

The next morning, we moved on again without delay, despite the lack of signs of pursuit. We stopped to climb a particularly tall apartment tower to see where our pursuers might be, but once again, there was no sign of them. Not a single shadow moved. We looked at each other, wondering what it might mean, and lingered to stare at the ruinscape for a little longer. We left when the strangeness started to get to us – it prickled at my skin all the way to the bikes and I was glad of the roar in my ears and the wind tearing my eyes. We felt like the only ones left alive in the whole city.


We’ve been taking a snaking route, trying to make it harder for anyone to follow us. That’s why it was taking us so long to get to the coast. Straight lines are predictable, the others said. Be unpredictable. Don’t lead them to where you’re going. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it was one of the cutouts who said that. Jonah wouldn’t give us bad advice, but I don’t know about his friends.

Our path took us through familiar haunts. I recognised a street corner near the mall we had found the Rats in. I had no desire to look them up – the last time we had been there, most of the kids were dying of the Sickness. I didn’t want to look into the empty spaces where they used to be. I said nothing and we turned away from the mall, heading eastwards again. Other ruins assumed familiarity as we passed them. I knew I’d only remember things we’d lost and decided not to dwell on them. We were trying to move on – the past was dead and had to stay there. Memories were too heavy and sharp-edged.

I had agreed to our course without truly realising what it meant. Northeast, butting right up against the coast. It took us towards the district where my home had been, the place I had grown up, where I had lived with my dad. If we had turned north, we would have passed right by it.

I didn’t want to go there. I’ve been back once already. I’d found its clues and taken what I had wanted of my old life. I had followed the path it offered me to a reunion, and now that was gone too. I couldn’t look at it, at the mockery of my childhood, the stripped place I used to call home. I would have begged the others not to turn north if I had to.

This morning, we had to make that choice, staring through salty air at the rush of seawater against rocks. North to lead the cutouts astray, or south towards the friends we left behind so many weeks ago.

The cutouts haven’t caught up with us. We haven’t seen any sign of them since that one glimpse of shapes in a dust storm. No more clouds, no sounds of distant engines, no clicking of cocking guns over us while we slept. Our demons fell behind and we didn’t encourage them to catch up. We ducked and wove, unsure if we were deluding them or ourselves.

We’re not even sure they saw us at all. All of this could have been for nothing. Experience and survival make us paranoid – the hardest thing is to take that first, brave step in the direction that might hold a known danger. But at the same time, running scared from shadows and figments is foolish. We needed to stop and reassess things.

I pushed to go south. I know the location was pressing on me, and from the glances he gave me, Matt knew it, too. There wasn’t a lot of resistance – I wasn’t the only one looking forward to friendly faces and a familiar roof over our heads. A chance to stop moving and get our breath back.

Seekers wouldn’t be Seekers if we didn’t argue about it, though. The lack of food around here makes tempers short but it’s nothing worse than we’ve had before. We had a good go-around over it, tossing reasons at each other, and finally decided to take a chance. Turn south. Hope that Haven had given up on us and weren’t going to search for us any more. Hope we weren’t bringing the army to the friends we had tried so hard to keep safe.

It’s a relief for me – it’s selfish, I know. We put a good distance under our tyres today, weaving back on ourselves to head for the University. It feels like space I can breathe in. It feels like real progress, heading to something rather than away from it.

We’re on our way, and we’re leaving our shadows behind us.