Tuesday, 1 December 2009 - 8:04 pm

Fields of glass

It has been a few days since the foragers managed to find any supplies at all and we only had one meal today – over-watered soup eking out the dregs of our supplies. Tomorrow’s looking worse.

This has happened here before. They would send the foragers off for a few hungry days, searching further afield, and survive on whatever they brought back. They always brought something back. But each time they have to go for longer and travel further, in the hopes of finding anything of use. We have decimated areas in several directions now; our options are badly whittled down now.

In between intruding on Sally and annoying Masterson, I’ve been spending my days outside with Thorpe and Dale, fixing up the vehicles. We’re keeping the bikes inside, but the station wagon needed to have the ignition fixed so we didn’t have to push-start it any more. One part of the legacy of our time at Haven is the knowledge of how to make the ignitions work again. We fixed the vehicles used by those we left behind as well, even the ones with fuel tanks a sniff from empty.

It has been nice, working outside with my friends, even with empty stomachs gnawing at us. It was a chance to avoid the dwindling mood inside and the futility of the foraging party. Then the rain would come and we’d all have to go inside, and we couldn’t escape the atmosphere. Even the new baby couldn’t lift us for long, despite him being healthy and unmarred by his pre-natal experiences. Hunger pulls on all of us now; I think Sally is the only one on full rations, and no-one begrudges her that. As un-pragmatic as it might be to feed a sick and possibly dying person, none of us can bring ourselves to abandon a new mother. We aren’t that monstrous.

Something has to be done. We can’t carry on this way and I think everyone can see it now. Cracks are forming in the group; those who stayed here at the University are resentful of those of us who left, mostly because we brought so little back with us. Apart from the medical supplies and bad news, we had nothing of use to give them. We’ve hurried them to this place of empty bellies and blame, and now we’re going to hurry them out of here entirely.


When the rain came down today, we were a disgruntled group in one of the downstairs rooms. For some reason, everyone was there, even Bree and the cutouts, who usually keep to themselves. Poisoned water hammered on the glass and hissed in denial of our sustenance. Grumpy glances were exchanged; with no meal to prepare and eat, there was little else to do. It was only a matter of time before someone said something.

I felt the pressure like a hand between my shoulderblades. Jump in, Faith. Speak first. Break the silence before it breaks you. Take that first step; others will follow. They always do. One of these days, I’m going to end up alone on the end of a plank. I know that every time I step forward and clear my throat, waiting for eyes to turn on me.

Spiders crawled around in my stomach as I suggested to those nearest to me that we should talk about our options. Heads turned towards me as the message rippled back through the room. They all looked at me, waiting for my move and I felt like a butterfly, speared by a pin and spread on a board. All I needed was a frame and a pane of glass.

“We need to figure out what we’re going to do,” I said, loud enough for them all to hear me.

Voices broke in immediately with suggestions, most of them unhelpful and pessimistic. Go to Haven and eat their supplies. Go find some shamblers and roast them. Go further afield to find food. Grow flowers. Curl up and die where we sit. Sell the kids. Go to the country and raise chickens. Kill and eat the next living person we find.

I was too busy staring at them all to put my head in my hands. I didn’t know it had got that bad. I was surprised by some of those who spoke up – even Janice and Dale were making suggestions and they were the most solid, sensible ones in the group. Kostoya looked mortified; he thought they were serious. I tried to stop them, tried to wave and shush them into silence, but they weren’t listening to me any more.

Eventually, Thorpe stood up and shouted at everyone to be quiet. He towers over almost everyone even when they’re not sitting down and he can make himself be heard when he wants to. Silence fell like a surprise, slapping everyone about the ears. Then Thorpe turned to me and asked what I had in mind.

I didn’t thank him for putting me on the spot like that. There was expectation in the room and it weighed on me. I had to scrabble for words and an order to put them in.

“We can’t keep relying on leftovers from Before,” was where I started. Someone grumbled about there not being any anyway and Thorpe sent them a glare as he sat down again. I was perched on a table and kicked my feet, nervous and feeling like a schoolkid all of a sudden. I took a breath and plunged on before anyone else could interrupt.

We had to find a way to sustain ourselves without foraging. We already had a sustainable water supply, thanks to Kostoya; we needed to do the same with food. Grow it ourselves. We had talked about it and knew what we needed to get to make it work, but we had to figure out how and where to get those pieces.

While I was speaking, a scratching started up behind me. I turned around and saw the professor there with a piece of chalk, listing out the components we needed. It made me feel less like I was on the spot and I started to go through them with him. The water wasn’t a problem – we could filter what we needed. A way to protect the plants from the rain but also allow them exposure to sunlight – someone said a greenhouse would do that.

Gradually, others spoke up to add in suggestions and the tone of the room started to turn. We could make a greenhouse easily enough. Seeds – gardening centres should have those. They’re one brand of supplies unlikely to have been raped by looters. Same with tools and probably even fertiliser. Soil – that was a problem. The water filter needed stones and soil to work and had used most of the clean local supply. In order to keep producing unpoisoned water, the soil and stones had to be replaced periodically due to the residue build-up on them. There wasn’t much left in the University now, and finding dirt that hadn’t been pounded by the rain day after day was a struggle.

So where might we find protected soil in the kinds of quantities we needed? Jonah mentioned a farm with a couple of greenhouses that Haven’s foraging party had found, but the bomb’s shockwave had shattered all the glass. If we found something like that outside of the blast’s reach, the soil inside the greenhouses might be untainted.

That’s when I remembered Iona. She was always talking about fields of glass and flowers – perhaps her random images were fragments of a flower farm. I asked her about it and she smiled and told me how pretty it was. Reflecting orange and red, such beautiful colours above and below. So, presumably, it was intact after the bomb went off. Where, I asked her, where was it. Days away, she said. Days and weeks and so much walking, it was like an adventure. Up hill and down dale and around and around. She took my hand and tried to dance around in a circle with me. I could see the eyes rolling around me and felt like joining in. As directions go, it wasn’t useful.

Bobby spoke up and said that he was part of the patrol that had picked her up. She had been with a group who had walked up from the south. That’s all he could remember; if a more detailed debriefing had been done, he hadn’t been part of it. A direction was better than nothing, though. We got out maps and started to look for possible locations, down past the mountains and the empty Emergency Coordination Centre.

“So you think we should leave?” Masterson asked, interrupting the cluster around the maps we had stuck up on the wall.

I was trying to get Iona to point to where her fields of glass were, but never got her answer as we all turned to look at him.

“We can’t stay here,” I said. We were all so hungry.

“Some of us shouldn’t travel. What are you going to do with them? Leave them behind again?”

He knows how to needle me and make me angry. A retort was rising up my throat, but Jersey stepped in to tell him to shut the hell up. Then Dale pointed out that we have the old campervan, and we can get more vehicles to carry them if we need to. We’ll make sure Sally and the baby are okay.

I looked at how many we are and knew that we would need more vehicles. We might be able to cram ourselves into the few we have now but it wasn’t going to be comfortable. But then, our empty stomachs were even less comfortable.

Other protests came up. We have no guarantee that there’s a flower farm there at all, let alone an intact one. What if someone else is already there? What are we going to eat on the way there? (Probably the same as we’re eating now, someone pointed out.) Conroy piped up to say that his mother used to talk about a gardening centre down south that supplied many of the stores up in the city, but he didn’t know where it was.

At the end of the day, we have nothing to lose. We’re starving here, slowly and surely, and foraged supplies are always going to be limited. It’s time to take a chance and move on; at least we have something to aim for. Despite all the protests, the general mood of the group is to go. We hunger. It’s time to make like a shambler and lurch out of here, towards food.