Mon, 6 April 2009 - 8:07 pm

Rat tales

Courage has been swelling in the Rats; they are getting used to having us around. I’ve seen a few of them talking to Dillon and Alice. They don’t trust us adults and go quiet whenever we stray too close, but they chat with the youngsters easily enough. I wonder if they’re trying to tempt them to stay here.

I’ve even seen a couple of the girls fussing over Nugget; one of them managed to get her to sit still long enough to brush her hair out. She looks like a different girl with her pale hair all smooth and neat, though she was quick to rough it up with her hands when she was free of the attention. She did allow them to pat Jones, who I suspect has been visiting the enemy camp to beg for food. He hasn’t been getting much from us lately; we’re running too short.

 

I caught up with Dillon earlier and he told me about the tales the Rats spun. He had asked them how often the Pride come here – he’s scared of meeting them, I think, as are the Rats. I had wondered the same thing myself; I think we all have. It’s another reason why we’re eager to get out of here.

The Pride has never come here. I hadn’t seen any of their tags around here, but that’s because there aren’t any; it’s a relief to know that we hadn’t missed the signs. The kids were acting on rumours when they accused us of being from that gang. Rumours and accumulated fear.

The Rats leave the mall often, Dillon said, especially if they get visited. They like to sneak about and spy on the other groups, creeping close enough to listen to their conversations. That’s how they heard so much about the Pride, about their habits of killing and raping. I can just imagine the shell-shocked escapees exchanging trembling words and the hidden kids filling in the details for themselves. It’s hard to know whether to believe that they’re as bad as they sound, but can we risk believing anything less?

That’s also how they heard about us. The Seekers. As names go, it’s not bad, I suppose. I can live with that. I wonder who was talking about us. This is a long way from those we’ve encountered directly, but maybe there is still a gossip network in place even after everything ended. That would be typical; human nature exists in friend-of-a-friend told me and did you hear about and you’ll never guess what I heard.

The Rats picked up other things from the grapevine, too. Like the sickness that struck Alice’s group; they picked up word of a couple of groups falling ill, mostly from people fleeing from it in the hopes of staying healthy. They also caught word of mindless attackers harrying travellers and settled groups alike. They said that more people than usual had been passing through this area over the past couple of weeks, hurrying away from scenes of awful violence. One couple had been chased out of their home, and another gang had run for a week from an attack so bad that none of them said much about it.

And now the rain won’t stop falling. It hiccups every now and then, pausing for an hour or two – just long enough for us to start to think about heading out in it – and then it’ll be back, hammering our hopes into the ground and melting them away. The lightning is becoming rarer, so we’re hoping that this storm will blow itself out soon. We’re all on half-rations to try to make our supplies last long enough.

 

I wish the Rats had had some good news to give us. I suppose the fact that they’ve seen a lot of people lately is good; it means that there are more survivors out there. Knowing that people are still alive makes this all seem less terrible, less final, less like we’re the dregs of a species that has killed itself. It gives me hope that others I know might still be alive.

I don’t want to find what Ben did when I get home. My dad is a sensible guy; he used to teach me how to fix things and tell me to remember to take my little army knife with me everywhere, because you never know, Faithy, you never know. That little fold-out screwdriver might come in useful someday. You were right, Dad, it has. Someday came for me, and it came for you, too. It came for all of us. I hope you took your own advice.

Crap. I must have cut myself. Better go.

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