Wednesday, 2 December 2009 - 7:55 pm

Holding on to what’s important

Getting nineteen people moving is harder that you think. I stopped and counted heads today, and that’s how many of us there are now. Nineteen, if you count the baby.

Mother and child are doing all right. Masterson and Kostoya can’t find anything wrong with the baby and fear over that is fading. I check in on Sally when I can, but it’s difficult to get around her over-protective Masterson. I’ve seen Bree and Mira going up there, so hopefully she has company and help with the little one.

As for the rest, most of the group has put their backs to the packing effort. We’ve been getting together gear and clothing, and loading up the vehicles. The atmosphere has been almost cheerful, except for the undertones of hunger. Everyone is painfully aware of how little we have right now. A mouthful each at a mealtime, if we’re lucky. The rest is vitamin supplements and as much water as we can drink. Sometimes it feels like we’re washing ourselves away from the inside out.

Explaining it to the kids is hard. Nugget never complains but Estebar whines whenever he has an audience. He’s just voicing what we’re all feeling right now. We’d give them more if we had it, and I think they get more than the adults anyway, but it’s not enough. It won’t be enough for a while yet.

The main problem we’ve had with packing is with Professor Kostoya and his equipment. He wants to bring everything. We’ve had to devote the back of the station wagon to his gear but it still wasn’t enough room for him. We wound up with components and tools and the great tank of the water filter all laid out on the tarmac in front of the biochemistry building. As much as we tried to play the tetris game from hell, it just wouldn’t all fit. Kostoya fussed around the place, back and forth, wringing his hands and muttering like a mother hen. He needed all of it, had to have everything. Didn’t we understand? It was all vital. Terribly, awfully vital. If we were going to do anything of use, of course. He was already leaving so much behind – this was just the absolute essentials. Bare minimum. And be careful with that!

I’m not sure whether Kostoya’s idea of ‘bare minimum’ is the same as it is for the rest of us. Some of the guys tried to just say no and started taking stuff back inside, but the professor turned an alarming shade of red and flapped around them with such enthusiasm that Thorpe and I were forced to step in. Conroy hurried over to weigh in as well, bouncing up in angry defense of the scientist.

Still healing hands or no, I thought that Thorpe would start hitting people for a little while there. He hasn’t been able to help much so far, thanks to the burns and bandages, and his frustration shows more readily than any other emotion right now. I wound up bouncing like a pinball, asking Kostoya to please calm down, telling Conroy to step back, begging Thorpe to ease off, and instructing the cutouts to put the equipment back down so we could sort it all out.

In the end, it was decided that the water filter tank didn’t need to go inside a vehicle, and it was strapped to the roof of one of the offroaders. It was filled with dirt and stones according to Kostoya’s tense instructions – he was still sore about the whole thing – and left open to catch what rainwater it can. They think the offroader can take the weight. I hope that turns out to be true.

The inside of the old campervan has been made over to accommodate Sally and the baby. The reams of baby supplies have been stacked into every available cupboard – the foragers were thorough in collecting that stuff before the little one was born. Mira and Bree are determined to ride with her, along with Masterson, of course.

I feel like I should talk to Bree, after everything that has happened between us. First Cody, then Ben, and our broken friendship – even with all of that, I can’t think of a single thing to say to her. I don’t trust her. I don’t like the dramas she creates. But she seems to be keeping her head down and that leaves me with nowhere to go with her.

If I’m honest, I can see the place she has made for herself here. While we were gone, she has made friends. She looks after young Mira and even the kids. Estebar and Nugget are always running over to show her something or ask her a question. I would be glad of that, but it’s Bree. It feels like reflex to distrust any good thing she does. She made a place for herself with the Pride, too. I’d like to believe that she has grown into a better person in the After, but I’m not ready yet. There’s too much blood between us, bad or otherwise.

Our injured are mending. Iona never complains, but her wounds are healing all right. She understands about infection and keeping them clean – or at least, she does as she’s told in that respect. She doesn’t seem to feel any pain – I think part of her brokenness blocks that out. She just smiles and tells me how pretty my hair is, focussing on me rather than the injury I’m redressing. She never flinches. She reminds me a little too much of a shambler sometimes, too damaged to feel the world right, but I don’t know how to fix her.

Warren is still restricted to only using one arm, the other slung tightly against his chest. He chafes at it but every time he tries to use his right arm, he grimaces and puts it right back into the sling. Masterson rolls his eyes at the matter and leaves him to it; it’ll take time to come right. There’s a chance that he won’t regain full use of his arm, thanks to the depth and position of the bullet. He’s lucky to have survived being shot in the After at all, but I guess he’s not feeling that right now.

Thorpe’s burned hands are going to take a while, but between Dale and me, we’re keeping them clean and bound. If he’s lucky, they won’t be scarred – the burns weren’t deep. He doesn’t like letting people do things for him but we’ve found that bullying works. If you make him, he’ll do it, and I choose to believe that his scowls are for the pain and inconvenience rather than our care.

Matt grinned and told me yesterday that if he didn’t know about Thorpe and Dale, he’d be jealous of the attention I give the big fella. I think that was his way of telling me that he feels a little jealous anyway, even though he knows there’s nothing in it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fond of Thorpe, but it’s not like that, not on either side. Matt’s words made me stop and wonder if I’ve been neglecting him with everything else that’s been going on. Last night, I stole him away so we could spend some time alone together, and I gave him all of my attention and care. He seemed to appreciate it, if the affection I’ve been receiving is anything to go by.

His leg is doing better; his limp has faded now. He has an impressive scar – he asked me if it made him seem more manly – and I have to try not to think about how sick it made him. Remembering that makes me hold onto him tighter, which he likes more than he wants me to know. Does he know how much he means to me? I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell him without dissolving into tears.

He’s the last one I have left. There was Ben, and Dillon, and Dad. Before then, there was my sister Chastity, and my mother. I loved them and they’re gone. Now it’s just Matt and me, and we’re closer than I ever thought we’d be. When he’s with me, I feel like we can do this, we can find a way to make it out of this place we’re in. The hunger doesn’t hurt so much. When I think about what it would be like without him, it’s hard to breathe, let alone think about doing anything else. He’s not allowed to go anywhere. He has to stay.


I’m getting distracted. The rain rolled in early today, interrupting the last stages of our jigsaw vehicle assembly. It fell heavily on our heels as we hurried to get the remaining gear inside, and it chased us with thunder. Lightning is hard on the eyes – after so many months under an orange sky, white light is painful, even in brief flashes. It’s still working hard out there, rolling out and around us, making the windows shake.

We should be ready to go by tomorrow. The vehicles are fixed and as fuelled up as we can get them at the moment. We’re going to have to stop often to look for supplies but we’re prepared for that. There are still grumbles about this whole course of action but no-one has refused to lend a hand. They’ll all come, piling into the vehicles and allowing themselves to be dragged along with the rest of us. Maybe there’s a spark of hope still glowing under the weight of pessimism and experience.

We’re not done yet. Tomorrow, we set out again. It’s time to start Seeking.