Sunday, 15 November 2009 - 5:37 pm

Moving forward

I’ve been riding a bike for so long that I feel stuck in that shape now. My legs are stiff and my back crunches when I straighten it. My whole body has been juddered into pieces from the roughness of the ride.

That first night, we left Haven behind us and kept going until dawn seeped over the horizon to stain us blood-red. The bikes rattled off the side of the road and pulled up in front of a diner in a cloud of heavy dust. I’m not sure why we pulled off the road – it’s not like there was any traffic to get away from.

The pause lasted long enough for us to catch our breaths and take stock. We had lost one of the cutouts at the gates – I don’t know his name, just that it was the one sitting behind Dale. A bullet from the sentries got him, we think. Iona and another of the cutouts had been hit too – those on the backs of the bikes had been most vulnerable, protecting the drivers with their bodies. The drivers all had scratched and scraped faces from the explosion and debris.

We patched up the badly injured as best we could, and repacked some of the supplies where bullets had punctured them. We didn’t talk much. There wasn’t anything to say. The cutouts were tight-lipped and didn’t look at anyone – I think they were feeling the loss of their friend. I couldn’t meet anyone’s gaze, knowing that if I did, I’d see my father’s face as he said goodbye. He was a gape in the group for me, a palpable absence that sucked like the hole in an ice-cold mint. I couldn’t look into the abyss at that moment; we needed to move on, put as much distance between us and Haven as possible before the rain hit. We didn’t see any signs of pursuit but we weren’t going to waste time; it would only take them a few hours to fix the engines the boys had sabotaged. We had to make the most of our headstart while it lasted; we would be able to collapse later.

We topped up the fuel tanks, then hit the road again. We headed northeast from Haven, heading obliquely towards the University. If we were going to be followed, we didn’t want to lead the General’s men straight there. We hadn’t told our tagalong cutouts where we were going, or why, and they hadn’t asked. We just kept riding, weaving around abandoned vehicles, and then weaving from exhaustion as the afternoon wore on. It was a relief when the clouds cluttered up in the sky and forced us to find somewhere to shelter from the rain.

We broke into an apartment block and hauled the bikes into the foyer. It was strange, being in a place like that again, surrounded by the debris of shattered lives and a long-ago Christmas. The doors had all been busted open ahead of us; we weren’t the only looters to rake this place, but we were the only ones using it that night.

The quiet time was eerie. We settled down in apartments, on couches and borrowed beds, and ate our food cold. We looked at each other and checked our hurts. I had a cut on my cheek I hadn’t even felt, probably from shrapnel when the gates blew, and my hands had been scoured by the dirt and dust of our ride. Few had thought to wear gloves. My hair was so tangled form the wind that I couldn’t bear to think about brushing it out.

But there were familiar faces around me again. There were friends that I hadn’t seen in too long and people settling into well-known patterns. Jersey made a nest for herself on an overstuffed chair, hunching up in a way only she found comfortable. Thorpe and Dale bedded down near each other but not together – if they reached out, their hands might touch. And for the first time since it wasn’t about body heat or lies, Matt curled up with me for the night to sleep. I used his shoulder for a pillow and cried into it for a little while, before I was too exhausted to do anything other than fall into an aching slumber.


I forgot about the thing that Dad gave me until the second time we stopped for the rain. The boys went up to the roof of the building to look around – I was about to follow, but I put my hand in my pocket and felt the little object. Missing him was a sudden pain in my chest and I went into a side room to see what he had slipped into my pocket before we parted.

It was a small scrap of paper folded into an envelope, the creases hurried and off-kilter. I was touched that Dad had bothered to make it even though he’d clearly had no time. If he had mused over it, it would have been crisply folded and grubby with being rubbed by oil-stained fingers over and over. I looked at it for a long moment before I picked one of the sides open and shook the contents onto my palm.

My heart wanted to stop. Give up and stop right there. Sitting on my palm, bright and worn, was a simple gold ring. My dad’s wedding ring, the one he’d worn for thirty-odd years. The one he’d continued to wear even after my mother walked out on us. He’d kept it on and held onto that hope that one day, she’d be back and we’d be a family again. Even though we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. He didn’t want to show that pale, naked stripe on his finger to the world, never wanted to say that he was single again. He wasn’t available – he was and always would be taken. It wasn’t just about her: he was part of a family and that was who he was.

And he’d given it up. He had passed it to me, the way he should have when he died.

The wrongness of the timing – the fact that he wasn’t dead when I saw him last – was what broke me down in the end. He wasn’t expecting to see me again. He walked away, knowing he might be killed for what he was about to do for us. For me. He had said goodbye to me for the last time and I hadn’t even known it.

I could feel all the words I should have said to him queueing behind my teeth and backing up down my throat, throttling me. I slid off the chair I was sitting on so that I could feel the cold solidity of the floor underneath me as I curled up. I had promised to go back for him but he didn’t think he’d be there if I did. He was gone. I’m never going to see him again.

I was huddled and sobbing when someone found me. Legs hugged up and the heels of my hands pressing into my eyes. I couldn’t hear anything; there was a vague awareness of footsteps leaving and another set coming in. I wasn’t even sure who it was when arms slid around me and pulled me sideways into a steady chest. It was Matt – of course it was – come to comfort me. He held onto me and rocked me until I had sobbed myself raw. Then I had to explain to him what was wrong. I showed him the ring and managed to say whose it was, and then I broke all over again.

I don’t know how long I was there. The rain came and went, the sun went down, and I still couldn’t make sense of what it meant. Matt stayed with me, holding me and stroking my hair, listening when I managed to stumble words out. The rest of the group left us alone, giving me space until it was time to move on. I was grateful to them for that.

The ring doesn’t fit me. It’s too big for my fingers – I have to wear it on my thumb. Now it’s a bright reminder that catches my eye when I ride and tugs painfully in my chest. As the days pass, I’m getting used to it, though the hurt isn’t lessening yet.


We’ve been pushing on as long as our energy would allow. We have taken to sleeping while it rains and driving through the dark hours, after the puddles have dried. It’s warm enough now that the surface water is mostly gone an hour or two before dawn. We’ve had to scrape for fuel enough to keep going, but the further we get from Haven, the more untapped supplies we find.

We’re not doing so well on food and water. Most buildings have been broken into, their cupboards pillaged, and we’re almost out of supplies now. We stop more and more frequently to check behind any unbroken doors we come across, just in case. It hasn’t yielded much – most of them are businesses and offices, and might have a water cooler with a half-full bottle but nothing in the way of edibles.

We’re making do. We’re falling back into our old patterns, remembering how to be Seekers again. It’s hard and hungry, but the only time we look back is to check for someone chasing us.