Friday, 20 November 2009 - 9:35 pm

Motives and open mouths

We don’t scrape ourselves out of bed before dawn any more. None of us can be bothered to stir up the fire so we can see what we’re doing, and we don’t have flashlight batteries to waste. Too many cracked shins and bruised elbows have punctuated our mornings, and with no signs of pursuit, we’re allowing ourselves to relax a little. Just until dawn oozes over the horizon, sending ruddy light stumbling into wherever we’re holing up.

There’s resistance to the movement towards complacency. Haven looms large in our rearview minds, sending out posses of Scouts to track us down and bring us back. Or just shoot us in the street, like they did to those people asking them for help. No-one wants to risk being caught.

It doesn’t seem like they’re coming. Not after so long – it’s been over a week now. They know we’re no threat to them – at least, I can’t imagine what we could do out here that would make any difference to them. We might send more people their way, but they’re equipped to deal with that. Shamblers don’t take directions. So what do they lose by letting us go free? Other than what we’ve already taken? What would they gain? Some retribution, perhaps? Is that worth the fuel they would have to spend to get to us now?


I was determined to talk to Jonah today. He was packing up with the other two cutouts this morning, and I noticed that they are still segregated from the rest of us. They’re getting closer to us a little at a time, but they still keep themselves separate.

I shouldn’t call them ‘cutouts’ any more. That’s not what they are – they turned their back on that when they asked to come along when we left. They have names now: Jonah and Bobby and Warren. They’re starting to have personalities beyond military stiffness and duty, though we don’t know them yet. They don’t talk to us much but we’re growing used to them anyway.

Before today, I hadn’t noticed the erosion in their uniforms. In Haven, they were always very proper in their dress, identical shirts, t-shirts, and combat trousers, tucked in just so, with neat creases and the belt’s shiny buckle fastened just right in between. Since the escape, that has been slipping away. We’ve all been appropriating clothes from the homes we use at night and they’re no exception.

Jonah’s belt was used to lash packs to a bike when one of the ropes snapped. He has a leather one now, old and scarred. Warren’s t-shirt was thoroughly bloodstained after he got shot, so he’s wearing a new one, covered in very un-military slogans. He wears his shirt unbuttoned over the t-shirt, mostly because of his injured shoulder. Somehow, Iona ended up with Bobby’s shirt and wears it like a jacket, with the cuffs covering her hands and the tails reaching almost to her knees. Bobby has a denim jacket now and thinks himself very cool.

Their belts and hands haven’t borne weapons since we left Haven – we don’t trust them that far yet. They haven’t asked for their guns back either, which is good. It’s a battle no-one wants to have.

They’re all crumpled, and a couple of them bear streaks of ash after yesterday’s adventure with fuel and fire. Their military lines are blurring and I like that. They seem more like people. They feel closer to being future Seekers, but this morning I stopped and looked at them, and wondered. Is that even what they want now?

So I went to Jonah and asked him. I picked a moment when his friends were off packing their vehicles; for some reason, I feel uncomfortably outnumbered when they’re all together. I’m familiar with Jonah. I feel like we have some kind of connection. And now that my debt to him has been paid – by allowing him and his friends to escape with us – we’re on a more even footing.

“What are you guys looking for out here?” I asked him. Everyone was busy, so I lent a hand while he tied a pack to the back of his bike. It was sadly empty.

“Same as you,” he said. He barely looked at me, but when he did, there was curiosity.

“Are you looking to join us? Permanently?”

“Maybe. Depends what that means.”

He seemed to be looking for terms, but it’s not like we have a contract all drawn up and ready. We make this stuff up as we go. I had to stop and think about that.

“It’s what you see. We look after each other. We share everything.”


I caught the twist in his tone and clarified. “Supplies.”


“Everyone’s equal.”

“Except you.”

“It doesn’t work like that. You haven’t seen us argue yet.”

“So we get a say?”

“If everyone agrees you can stay, yes.”

“And the weapons?”

I suppressed a sigh. Of course he had to ask. I hate that they’re so important. “We don’t know you guys, Jonah. We don’t know if we can trust you or not. Who’s to say you won’t call Haven down on us? Or decide to take everything we have?”

“We say.”

“And we’re taking you on your word. But we’re not stupid enough to let you be armed until we’re sure.”

He scowled, not liking that at all. It occurred to me that we had continued with these guys for far too long – this conversation should have been had days ago. Tomorrow, we’ll reach the University, and we’ve talked about what we’re hoping to find there, right in front of the cutouts. If they were going to leave, we should have kept quiet on all of that. We’ve led them right to our friends. The cat is not only out of the bag – it’s had time to screw the tomcat, get fat and have kittens.

I looked at Jonah and then laid a hand on his forearm to make him look at me. “We’ll talk about it all tonight. All of us. Okay?”

“You think that’ll make a difference?”

I shrugged and pulled my hand back. “I hope so. We can get stuff out into the open. You too.”

Jonah didn’t look too happy about that and I was abruptly frustrated with him. I was trying! What more did he want?

“It would help if you guys said something. About why you left. Right now, we don’t know anything about you or your motives. Why don’t you help everyone out and say something for a change?”

“I thought you liked it when I kept my mouth shut,” he said, words like a slap.

“This isn’t Haven. We do things differently.”

That’s when I walked away, before words I’d regret fell out of my mouth. Ten minutes later, we pushed the car started and climbed onto the bikes, and were on our way. True to form, the cutouts – ex-Havenites? Ex-soldiers? I need to think of a better name for them – have continued to keep their own council. Soon, it’ll be time for dinner and the Talk about them.

Here’s hoping that something better comes of that.