Friday, 8 May 2009 - 11:24 pm


We were woken this morning by a dull, repetitive thudding. Nugget pulled a blind aside and got us all up with a sharp, high-pitched scream. There were faces at the window, lining the front of the little store, vacant and slack-jawed.

Things happened very quickly, though I can’t say who did what. Nugget was pulled away from the window, the door was bolted, shelves were pushed up against the front wall, gear was scooped up and stuffed into packs, a scout was sent out the back to check for activity. I did a headcount twice; the second time was because I was sure I was missing someone. Then I realised that there really were only eight of us and my heart sank to rest on a sickened stomach.

The blinds had fallen back into place and it was difficult to see what was outside. I didn’t want to look at them, but I also wanted to know what was out there. How many, how bad it was. I wanted to hide, but I didn’t want to sit and wait for them to find me. The unknown fluttered around in my chest like a battered bird.

At one point, I realised that I was holding Dillon tightly against me, having pulled him out of the way of the bigger boys moving furniture. Arms wrapped around his shoulders, we stood staring at the frenetic action around us. I let him go with an apology and he gave me a strange look; I don’t know if the look was for hanging onto him so hard or for letting him go.

Then the lock on the door gave way and the panel scraped open an inch. The weight of a shelving unit stopped it opening any further, but the complaint of the metal grumbled through the little store. An arm wormed inside with blind determination and waved around, grasping. It was blackened and bloodied, and was missing a couple of fingers. I could see the broken ends of bones where the digits had been torn off and the smell was awful, rolling thickly through the gap in the door.

I would have vomited if I wasn’t so keyed up. None of us knew whether to fight or flee; our adrenaline was ready for either, teetering us on tiptoes.

Matt came in to tell us that the back way was clear, but there was no way to get the scooters out – there was a fence to climb. That gave us pause; we didn’t want to give up our best and only means of transport. We hesitated and I got the feeling that our hourglass was dribbling away sand we couldn’t afford. The shelving unit complained again, more strident this time.

“Well, they are hardly going to drive off with them,” Masterson pointed out drily.

He was right and that was enough to send us spilling out the back door, grappling our packs to us. We ran in that headlong way that is a shred of nerves away from a heedless stampede. We shouldered our gear as we went, fighting straps, and heaved each other over the back fence. Garbage cans clattered behind us, falling out from under our feet.

We ran a couple of blocks before we dared to stop, and then we were all about snatching in breaths and blinking the spots out of our eyes. Looking back, we couldn’t see anyone – or anything – following us. I wondered if they were still there, pressing at the door, ruining their limbs in their efforts to get inside the shop. The stillness was punctured by the sudden shatter of glass; they had figured out how to break the front window.

We looked at each other for direction, and I blinked first. The mall, I reminded them. Those kids might need our help, but it also might be more secure. As it turned out, malls have a hundred doors and wiindows, millions of ways to break in, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. No-one else had a better suggestion, so we agreed to circle around to the mall.

Jones had done his usual disappearing act and no-one noticed until much later. That poor cat is usually left to his own devices; I think only Nugget would noticed if he stopped finding us.


We moved as quickly and quietly as we could, down back alleys and empty streets, heading around to the mall entrance from the other direction. We had widened our route enough to completely avoid the road the attackers had been on. Attackers – I don’t know what to call them. I don’t like the ‘z’-word.

By the time we were sneaking over to the dull mall doors, they were gone. I glanced over to see the shop front in tatters, the glass in jagged shards, the blinds half-torn down, the door listing off its hinges, shelves leaning at improbable angles. Brown smears of old blood marked where they had climbed inside.

We didn’t stop; we just went inside. All thoughts of Alice were gone by then – we grabbed the Rats and demanded to know if they had secured the mall at all. Some, they said. Some.

Some was not enough.

We spent the rest of the day boarding up the place. Moving furniture, equipment, poles, beams – whatever we could get our hands on. The Rats tried to obstruct us, and I rounded on them to tear a strip off. Didn’t they know what was out there? There was an enemy they couldn’t scare away with raining ornaments, one that they couldn’t reason or bargain with. There was an enemy that would keep coming, that was stronger than them, that would tear them apart with bare hands given the chance. Now, did they want to help or get out of the way?

They got out of the way. After watching us for a while, they helped.

Now, the rain is falling and I am trying to believe that we are safe. I just wish I could convince my body to relax.