Wednesday, 24 June 2009 - 7:37 pm


I spent today poking through the guts of the campervans, up to my elbows in grease yet again. I have the feeling that I’ll never have clean hands or nice nails again.

I don’t know why Bree popped into my head when I looked at my hands. Even in this time After, she had perfect nails, painted and chip-free. I could never keep them looking like that for more than an hour even when I didn’t have an engine to investigate. How does she do it?


Some time after midday, I was pulled out of my mechanic duties by shouts from the roof. Conroy was on watch up there, and called down for us to come and have a look. Most of the able-bodied were out looking for supplies; it was only me and Sally left with the two badly-injured boys. I looked at her and she shrugged, so we jogged up the stairs to see what was going on.

I feared that he had seen shamblers heading in our direction, but that wasn’t the case. People were moving our way, but they weren’t shambling along: they were running, as fast as their legs and strength would carry them. In groups and singly, they wove between the buildings, coming out of the west and north to flow right through this area.

It was surreal, standing on a platform suspended between the low, burnt clouds above and the rat-run below. That’s what they reminded me of: rats fleeing. Like a horror movie, we knew that when the rats flooded away from something, a bad thing was about to appear in their wake. It didn’t feel real, as if they were still hours away, but already some of them were abreast of our warehouse and heading past. My heart beat uncomfortably behind my breastbone.

“Where do you think they’re all going?” Conroy asked, staring at the flood of people. Some of them clutched packs, others tried to pull friends along with them. I saw one small child being carried.

“Away from something,” I said. They didn’t know where they were going; as long as it was away from whatever was chasing them, they were satisfied. Or alive, at least. Some were heading eastwards and would run up against the ocean soon. I wondered what they would do then: turn and face what snapped at their heels, or try to keep running?


We couldn’t just watch. If nothing else, Dillon and Dale were alone downstairs and one of the doors was open. We had to move fast, prepare ourselves for whatever it was and, possibly, a sudden influx of strangers.

“Conroy, you’re fastest – run and get the others back here. Sally, you better keep watch. I’ll see about finishing up downstairs, then we should get the gear loaded.”

Neither of them disagreed, so we split up to do that. I didn’t want Sally running around outside with those rats fleeing through this area, so I was grateful that Conroy didn’t argue. It’s weird how willing people can be to follow orders when there’s an emergency at hand. We didn’t even know what the emergency was, but it seemed bad. It felt bad.

I ran back to the campervan I was working on and finished up my checks in a hurry. Everything seemed to be working and all the seals were intact; if we got stuck, it wouldn’t shower us with acid. It would have to do. I hadn’t had the chance to look over the the second campervan so I didn’t trust it, and we were already spreading ourselves thin over five vehicles.

By then, Dillon was asking me what was going on and even Dale was awake and looking worried. I told them the short version and kept working. From the looks on their faces, they were both feeling well enough to wish that they could help but not healed enough to be able to do it. That was encouraging when I really needed something to push me onwards; I worked hard in their places.

I remembered the bridge, when we lost a car to the river along with all of the packs inside. We were lucky not to lose any lives to the disturbing water, but the loss of supplies hurt us for a while. So I was determined not to put all our eggs in one basket and started to split up the gear – tools, food, water, medical supplies, other assorted equipment. A little of everything for each vehicle.

I was only halfway done by the time the others arrived. It was a relief to have hands helping me, and I was able to stand back and direct for a while, catching my breath. I thought about getting Dillon and Dale into the campervan, ready in case we needed to take off, but I didn’t want to move them unless we had to.

We were just finishing up with the loading when Jersey came running down the stairs. I hadn’t even seen him go up to check on Sally. He came back looking puzzled.

“Still more people coming,” he reported. “Traffic’s getting lighter, though. Looks like they’re starting to seek shelter – the clouds are gathering.” That meant that it would rain soon, which would drive everything indoors. That was both good and bad for us.

“Aren’t we going to lock the doors?” Conroy asked, looking towards the still-open panel they had returned through.

I paused and looked around. There were a lot of us now – ten, counting the injured. But was that enough to battle desperate people?

“Not unless there are shamblers in the area,” I said. Expressions darkened immediately in response.

“Should we go out and invite them in? Offer them something to eat and drink too?” Jersey demanded.

“That’s not what I said.” He knew how to get under my skin and seeing Masterson rolling his eyes only irritated me further.

“You’d seriously lock someone out in the rain?” Matt asked.

Luckily, that was enough to give them pause. It was a bad time for an argument.

“Go stand guard if you want,” I told the boys. “But if people need shelter, we shouldn’t keep them out.”

So that’s what we did. The rain came quickly, as if that was what had chased those people in our direction. Sally said that she barely got inside in time. A few stragglers strayed in our direction but they didn’t even make it as far as the yard; they dove into the next building to avoid the downpour.

I can’t help being aware that there are strangers all over this area now. I don’t know what they’re capable of. I don’t know what they were running from. As the rain pounds on the roof and fills up the gutters, we all know that there’s something else out there, something that might be worse.

I don’t know if we’re in the sinking ship, or if we’re on the safe ground that those aboard have swum to.