Wednesday, 19 August 2009 - 6:41 pm

Hungry magpies

We’re almost free of the foothills. It’s slow going up here, between the ice and the skinny roads easily blocked by abandoned vehicles. We’re stopping at every gathering of buildings to look for supplies. The process is getting faster with familiarity, but it’s still not easy to coordinate seven people.

Seven. We’re uneven now.


We’ve seen more signs of landslides, too. Naked slopes have sheer angles and spaces where the hillside used to be. Stone is pale where it has been stripped bare and exposed to the fresh onslaught of the rain. Rocks and dirt scatter over the road, around and on top of houses. Blocked and swept-away roads have forced us to re-route several times.

Matt and I have been travelling with Thorpe and Dale in the offroader, and all of us went quiet when we saw the first one. Thorpe’s eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror to meet mine and I leaned forward to put a hand on his shoulder. Matt did the same to Dale; we all needed the contact. None of us remember the landslide happily, though for different reasons.

Tia is the most obviously affected. She keeps refusing to sleep under blankets, preferring to be cold so she can be without their weight. I think she was completely buried under the dirt for a few seconds before someone pulled her out. Now, the pressure is too close to her surface and she can’t stand to be wrapped up.

I don’t blame her. If swimming was a possibility, I’d be afraid of it too. The thought of water closing over my head, of being bowled over like that again, of my whole body being completely victim to another force and unable to even scream – it makes my heart thump uncomfortably and my breaths come short and shallow. I have to close my eyes and suck in a deep lungful of air to make it go away.

I often find myself making a conscious effort to avoid looking up at the rippled earth rising above us. Paranoia prickles, and try not to look just to spite it. The only one I’m proving anything to is myself, but that’s all right.


As if the looming danger wasn’t enough, we’re finding that everything is barren here. The only other people we’ve seen alive are Dillon’s family, but every building around here has been stripped. Food, liquid, fuel, tools, clothing. The only things we’ve found that might be of use are scraps, cast-offs and rejects. We’re running short of everything; even the big bottles of water are emptying fast enough to be a concern. We’re rationing everything as much as we can, but we have to live, too.

It all makes us chafe at the slow pace. We want to get back to the city’s suburbs where there are houses and corner stores to visit. At the same time, we don’t dare pass by a building without checking it, just in case it has something we might be able to use. So we stop and we hurry, and then we grumble as we get back into the vehicles empty-handed again.

Taking things used to bother me. I used to offer small apologies as I did it, running through the excuses of survival and need in my head. I used to feel bad, or naughty, or just a bit wrong. I don’t know when, but somewhere along this road I stopped doing that. There are no apologies for those who didn’t come back here, though sometimes there’s a wish that we could spare enough to leave for those who might follow us. We never have enough, though. We never leave anything we might be able to use. We’re magpies, scarecrow-thin and hungry. I can’t apologise for that. I have enough callouses to be selfish.

We’re almost free now. Almost out of the clutter of hills that makes us hunch our shoulders up. The suburbs aren’t far, with its hopes of forgotten supplies and other people’s beds.

I used to like visiting the mountains, with their landscapes and fresh air. It’s just another thing that has changed, I guess.