Thu, 7 May 2009 - 7:02 pm

Stormclouds gathering

We hit the road again this morning. Before we left, I asked Paige if she wanted to stay with us. We don’t know her, but she’s a young girl on her own; that wouldn’t have been safe in the time Before and it’s even more dangerous now. She would be safer with a group.

She refused. She believes that she can take care of herself. We’re not inclined or equipped to force her to come along, and I don’t think the others are eager to have a stranger join us right now, so I didn’t press her on it.

I also asked her if she had seen Alice, the girl with half a face. She said she might have seen someone like that a way west of where we were; that’s where the mall lies.

It wasn’t until after she had already given us directions that she asked why we were looking for the girl. Her mild curiosity was fobbed off with a shrug. We didn’t want to get into the truth, partly because we don’t know Paige and because none of us want to think about what happened with Sax. It’s going to be hard enough when we actually find Alice.

Paige slipped away while we were still packing up. I hope we see her again, or that she does all right, at least. I hate goodbyes. I hate not being able to believe that the poeple I can’t see right now are safe somewhere.

 

Our mad flight from the cafe and that awful ‘z’-word took us in completely the wrong direction. We had to pass back over our own footsteps to get to the mall, and that meant a big detour around the place we last saw our ex-friend. We don’t want to think about what we found there last time, and we certainly never want to see it again.

On the way down towards the mall, the frontrunners slowed their scooters. I made mine whine a little higher to catch up so I could see what had caught their attention. Ben gestured towards a couple of dark shopfronts we were passing: they were marked with fresh tags. The Pride. They have been extending their reach eastwards, and from the look of that paint, they’ve been doing it recently.

Our path turned us south to take us to the mall and we left the tags behind. The Pride don’t seem to have forayed into this area yet but none of us want to linger here in case they decide to start.

 

It was strange, arriving back at the mall and walking into its dim, quiet echo. Its heavy arms were familiar, as was the pelt of candles and ornaments that rained down at us. We retreated and shouted to the Rats until they stopped.

They weren’t pleased to see us. They hadn’t liked us being in their domain the first time and they were even less eager to entertain us again.

Thorpe looked ready to start banging heads together and Ben was carrying a stormcloud with him – they really weren’t helping things. I had to send them off to sort out somewhere for us to spend the night, and doing that much took me ten minutes of pleading, demanding, chivvying and being testy with them. I asked Dillon to explain the situation to the kids, though without saying anything about Sax or the sickness. No need to panic them; just ask about Alice.

They had become braver: they demanded a toll for coming into the mall. We gave them a couple of bottles of water.

When we asked about Alice, they said they’d have to check on whether she had come back or not. Which meant she was here but they didn’t want to tell us until they had talked to her. Dillon was going to argue with them, but I put a hand on his shoulder and told them that we’d look forward to hearing from them.

We haven’t seen them since. We retreated to a rundown store across the street from one of the mall’s entrances; the Rats didn’t want us staying in their home and we were happy to oblige. Now we’re settling down again and no-one is really talking. Ben won’t speak to me, caught up in his own fear and recriminations. He looks at me when I take his hand but glances away again quickly. I don’t know if I’m helping him or not.

Hopefully we’ll hear from the Rats tomorrow. And Alice.

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