Wednesday, 26 August 2009 - 8:16 pm

Small mercies

After a tense night in which none of us slept much, we weren’t sure whether to welcome the leak of orange light back into our world. The sound of distant engines still floated to us and no-one wanted to draw attention to our position by starting our vehicles.

Which left us with a dilemma. Do we abandon the vehicles and sneak away, or take the chance that they’ve given up looking for us? We’ve spent so long gathering supplies that we’re reluctant to leave any of it behind, but we can’t possibly carry it all. There’s just too much.

I spent a little time going over what was packed into the campervan, to see how much we might be able to take and what we could afford to leave behind. Beyond the stacks of nut boxes, I found Dillon’s pack. I stopped then. There’s no way I could leave it behind and I can’t carry it as well as all my own gear. We had to find another way to get out of this.

“Maybe they’re reasonable,” someone said when we gathered together to talk about our options. The group was a morass of hope, doubt, and bruised cynicism. No-one wanted to take that first step into the firing line, just in case.

It’s always me. Faced with a reluctant situation in which someone needed to step forward, I always blink first. This particular choice was more perilous than most we’ve faced, but I didn’t see any reason to break the pattern this time. I’m not completely stupid – I suggested we watch them for a while before introducing ourselves. Matt tensed up and Thorpe managed to look even more closed and unhappy than usual, but they didn’t argue.

So off we went. Sneaking through the streets, creeping up towards the depot, we were like ninja in cracked boots and rainbow scarves. We were less ninja-like when we fumbled around inside a warehouse, trying to find somewhere to watch the depot from without being seen. It was more like a comedy of shushes and thumps and muttered swearing.

We didn’t have to wait long for one of those distant engines to turn up – a big truck rumbled in to turn its empty back end to the depot. Seems like they’re emptying the place, taking the supplies elsewhere. Which means that there are a lot more of them somewhere.

I’d love to know how they got a truck that big started – I have a mental image of people lined up on either side like ants, all hauling the great thing into motion so the engine can stutter into life. Somehow, I think they’ve got a better solution than that. I’m a little jealous.

It all seemed so normal. Ordered, ordinary. One of the guards smoked a cigarette like it was a treat, blowing curls into the air. It seemed safe. I was about to get up and go out there when Thorpe clamped a hand on my shoulder and held me down.

That’s when we heard the flap of feet approaching, the kind of patter that panic brings up an empty street along with the rasp of air over teeth. There were three of them, one of them white-haired, running for all they were worth. From the direction they came from, it looked like they followed the truck in. When they drew close, they started waving their hands, calling out. We didn’t need to hear them to know what they were saying. Help us, help us. The shamblers are coming.

The guards didn’t listen. They lifted their weapons and we ducked down, closing our eyes and ears. There was nothing else we could do. We might have been able to avoid the sight, but we couldn’t escape the sound that bounced off the walls at us. The burning rattle, the screams. The too-soft thuds. Our own hearts thrashing in our chests.

I saw Terry holding his sister tightly. Thorpe still had a hand on my shoulder and I had a grip on Matt on my other side. We barely dared to breathe as the silence fell down around us; I think Dan was the only one of us still looking out of the window.

“We should go now,” he said.

We slunk away like bad dogs. I glanced back once and saw the guards calling for help from within the depot. The stumble of shamblers was already pulling itself into sight up the street and the recently dead wouldn’t distract them for long.

We ran back to the vehicles, detouring wildly around the long tail of the shambler chain. Some of them broke off to follow us; we just kept moving, not daring to stop even to fight. e’ll be fine, we’ll be fine, just keep going.

At least it’s easy to outrun the shamblers. I was terrified for all of us and suddenly aware that we might get lost here. Melted by the rain, the buildings all looked the same. Luckily, Tia has a good sense of direction and led us back.

The fear was notching up in my stomach while we got the vehicles going. We could hear distant gunfire and faint shuffles. We had to get out of there, get away. We shouldered the big doors open and drove out in the direction that would take us far from all of this. Then it was all about scrambling and getting away from that area. We put the warehouses in our rearview mirrors and hoped that the shamblers peppering the streets would keep the men with guns too busy to come after us.

They just tore those people down. They didn’t need to. Just shot them and left them there to be devoured. A nice little delay while they prepared themselves. And we almost went up and offered ourselves to them. I almost did.

I feel like things are falling away from us. We’re short of water, the fuel cans are empty, and the tanks are running dry. We had to find somewhere undercover for the vehicles before the rain came because of the damage to the rear windows. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to use those vehicles. We need to find new ones, and a fresh source of fuel to run them.

We didn’t lose anyone today. I feel like we might at any moment, and the others feel it too. We sat closer together around our sad little fire tonight. But for today, we’re all here.

We’re grateful for small mercies, but we’re not looking forward to tomorrow.