Thursday, 19 March 2009 - 9:19 pm

The feeding

We were all woken by a scream in the early hours of this morning. I was on watch and dozing more than I should have been; it’s easy to get lulled by the quiet of 3am. The sussurus of sleepers draws me in, soothes me into an almost-slumber as I stand by the window, forehead leaning on the cool glass. There was no movement outside to interest my eyes, no whispers of sound or movement beyond my friends. Ben, my fellow watcher, had wandered upstairs to stretch his legs through the empty rooms (and probably to stay awake).

When Alice screamed, I jerked alert painfully, my heart thrashing at my ribs for escape. It felt like it was trying to choke me as I looked around for the cause, rushing over to her, but I couldn’t see anything. Ben clattered down the stairs to see what was going on, and everyone else was stirring in confusion.

The girl was struggling with her blanket, wide-eyed and confused. I asked her twice what happened, and by the time she told me it was nothing, I had realised what was going on. Poor kid had had a nightmare. Ben arrived breathlessly and the others were starting to clamber out of their makeshift beds, so I turned to reassure them and send them back to sleep. They were only too willing to go, though Dillon required a fuller explanation before he would relax again. Leave it to me, I told him. She’s fine, she’s fine.

Alice wasn’t going back to sleep. She had got up and headed away from where we were all bedded down. Ben watched her go and then agreed that I should try to talk to her; he knows his limits. So I went to find where she was huddled against a window.


It took a while to get her to talk. She was shaking and trying to hide it. I sat down on the floor beside her and asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said no, but I know that tone. I’ve used it myself, many times; it’s the kind of ‘no’ that has a ‘but’ in it. It’s the kind of ‘no’ that means ‘not yet, I’m not ready, but please wait, because yes‘. It’s the kind of ‘no’ that rapists keep imagining on the lips of victims, the ‘no’ they don’t realise also means ‘not now, not here, and maybe not with you, but not never’.

“Okay,” I told her, and stayed where I was. I noticed that my right wrist is thinner than my left, from lack of use and wearing that brace for so long. I’m lopsided. Maybe I should start carrying things in my right hand a lot to build up the muscles again.

Alice tried to tell me that I didn’t need to sit with her, but again there was that contradiction in her voice. I looked into her face and saw the young girl in there, the one that missed the company even though she knew she should keep everyone at arm’s length. There was a person in there who needed to talk sometimes, who needed comfort and reassurance; there’s only so much chasing around inside her own skull that she could do. She’s not just a survivor: she’s a person, and she hasn’t forgotten that entirely.

It made me look over towards where Matt was sleeping. He was always that person for me. My shoulder, my ear, my distraction, my sensible advice. I’ve been that for him before, too, and now there’s Dillon leaning on me as well, along with Ben occasionally. That’s okay – it’s nice to be needed. I’ve been the venter enough times to know how vital it can be.

So I waited. Alice has a talent for silence, so when she seemed calmer, I gave her a little prod.

“Was it about your group?”

The look she gave me was sharp and I knew I’d hit the right topic. It was the most recent awfulness in her life, so it seemed like a good place to start. “Yeah,” she said. “Sorry.”

I gave her a dry smile. “I think we’ve all seen enough to have nightmares about it.” Masterson grumbled like a rumpled child, but I don’t think there’s a person here who doesn’t understand disturbed sleep. Especially him. I’ve seen him shift in his slumber, and I’ve heard Sally trying to soothe without waking him, deep in the night when I’ve been keeping watch. I know what is in those dreams of his, caught up in helplessness as loved faces melt in the downpour.

“Wish we hadn’t let those people in,” Alice said, surprising me. I couldn’t follow her train of thought – what did they have to do with this? Was it their story that set this off?

“I thought your group died because they were sick.”

“Yeah, they did. Or– I thought so. Most of them. I don’t know.” She buried her face in her hands, hiding from my frown. She was struggling with it, so I tried for patience, ignoring the voice in the back of my mind that was angry that she had lied to us. I had known that she hadn’t told us everything, but I didn’t like the idea that she had lied. Not when we took her in. I put that voice aside in an effort to get to the truth.


She had believed that they’d died. When she had got back to her group, the remaining members had moved and left her a note, telling them where they were. They’d told her that the others were dead and they had moved to get away from the smell. One had died during the night, in his sleep, and his was the body that she had dragged into the other room. The following morning, the other one had raved at her, caught up in fever-driven urgency. He shouted about people doing things they shouldn’t, wrong people, people with something terribly askew in them. Something awful had happened, he said, but he couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t ever say.

The next day, she had returned from a scavenging trip to find something awful happening, right then. She had heard him screaming from outside and rushed in, running up the stairs and into the room. He wasn’t alone. There were people there, dirty and bloody, and they were tearing at him. Pulling him apart into chunks with their hands and their teeth. And they were eating him.

Some of them stopped and looked in her direction, while his cries died, bleeding out of him into a red stain on the floor. It was just like Carlos had said; they moved wrong, these killers like broken dolls, mindless and voiceless. They didn’t say a word, not even when they saw her. One started to move towards her and then she ran. Just like Carlos and his friends – she ran and kept running until she had crossed the river, until she had found us.


By the time she was finished, I had an arm around her and she was crying into my neck, mumbling to me. She said that she didn’t think we would believe her if she had told us the truth. She had wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, as if that would rub away the memories. I can’t blame her, with memories like that.

Of all things that I had thought about happening in these lawless, limitless times, cannibalism hadn’t been on the list.

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