Monday, 2 March 2009 - 5:31 pm

Cockroaches Return

After yesterday’s excitement, we were all a little wary of setting out this morning. We weren’t eager to climb back into the 4×4 again, but we weren’t exactly thrilled by the notion of walking, either.

One of the most shocking parts was seeing the car again, seeing the damage that the cockroaches had inflicted on it. The nearly-shattered windscreen, gouges in the bodywork, dents and scrapes where they’d hit and kicked at it. It hardly looked like the shiny beast we push-started a few days ago.

It was hard work pushing the stupid great thing out onto the road and then far enough to start it, but we were all glad to climb in and put some more distance between us and that burned scar on the landscape. Between us and the memory of that kid and her friends. We didn’t get very far before it all came back to haunt us, though.

It was no surprise when we didn’t want to stop on seeing another youngster running around. This one was older than the girl in the red coat, more like teenaged. It was hard to tell, as all we could see was the kid’s back as it hurried away from us.

Then we saw the soot-smeared figures of the cockroaches chasing the kid. There was no mistaking that sound, the slapping of their feet and their voices raised in pursuit. They must have been on the move half the night to close the gap we had put between us and them. That thought still makes me want to check over my shoulder, the skin on my back prickling.

Thorpe was driving and he braked as soon as they popped into sight, hot in pursuit of the kid.

We didn’t want to get involved. We’d already had a close call with them and none of us was eager to repeat that. I’m sad to say that we were going to drive on, we were going to leave that kid to the untender mercies of the cockroaches.

Then Dillon leaned past me to get a better look out of the window. Before I knew what he was doing, he wound the window down and shouted out of it. Alice. More heads than the kid’s turned towards us, but there wasn’t much doubt whose name he was calling.

“Dillon, you know her?” I had to ask him twice before he would answer me, he was so frantic. The look he shot Thorpe was all plea.

“Please, we gotta help her.”

We hesitated; it was a big risk. There wasn’t much time to make a decision, but no-one was saying anything. We were all waiting, and yet again, I blinked first.

“Anyone say no?” I asked finally. No-one answered, so we strapped in and Thorpe swung the car around towards where the kid was trying to evade her pursuers. Ben was in the front seat, with Matt and me in the back. I made Nugget get into the boot of the car with Jones and told Dillon to belt himself into the middle. My heart thumped uncomfortably as we passed weapons forward.

It’s hard to believe now that we did it. We had to drive through the cockroaches to get to the kid – a couple of them bounced off the bumper and a wingmirror knocked one of them down. Blows rained down on the outside of the car and I was terrified that this was going to be too much for us. Thorpe managed to pull ahead of the group enough to give us a few seconds to open a door and shout to the kid.

She wasn’t going to come to us, but she saw Dillon in between us, calling. Out of breath and out of room, it didn’t take her long to make up her mind. Thorpe barely waited for her feet to leave the concrete before he pulled away again, leaving us to haul her inside. The cockroaches had caught up enough to grab her and pull, and from there it was a tug-of-war. Alice screamed as they tried to drag her out, Thorpe wouldn’t stop the car again, and I wound up leaning over her to smack at the clingers until they let go.

It was close, but between the motion of the car and the fact that we weren’t going to let her go, we managed to shake them off eventually. One of them almost managed to climb into the car over the girl, but between me and Ben we beat him back. Someone lost fingers when the door was slammed closed, but not one of ours.

There wasn’t time for explanations, just holding on while the 4×4 bounced down the road. When it grew quieter, Thorpe eased off on the gas and we collected ourselves. Made sure everyone was okay. Matt was closest to the door we dragged Alice in by and took some punishment, I think. The kid was pretty shaken up, understandably, and I think it was only Dillon’s presence that kept her calm. She had to lie across those of us in the back as we powered on. She has a bandage around her head, covering one eye, but she says that she’s fine.

We kept going until the rain threatened again. We’re not far from the river now – shouldn’t take more than an hour to get there tomorrow. We’ve given Alice some food and are letting her calm down on her own. She hasn’t said much yet, though Dillon has tried to introduce us all. Hopefully we’ll get more out of her tomorrow.

Friday, 13 March 2009 - 2:01 pm

Rabbit run

Yesterday, the rain crept up on us and caught us off-guard. Today, something else did the same thing, though luckily it was far less lethal. Apart from the initial fright, it wasn’t unpleasant at all. But even so, we need to figure out how to be more vigilant, more aware, because I’m not sure that my nerves can take much more of this.

I feel like a rabbit, running and scurrying and hiding, knowing that everything is a predator waiting to take a bite out of me. I feel like I’m waiting for the headlights to turn on me, and then I’ll freeze and that’ll be it. Strung-out nerves will be paralysed until the worst happens.


But there was good news today. The worst didn’t happen. I really should try to focus on that.

I’m not sure which one of us became aware of it first. Distant footsteps, the sound of soles slapping bouncing off the buildings around us until we couldn’t tell which direction it came from. We stopped and turned around slowly, trying to locate the source. The buildings in this area are high, fat things – we left the lower, more private houses behind early this morning, moving into the realm of apartment buildings, complexes and compounds. Some of them have names far prettier than they deserve. Heaven’s Gate was broken and stained long before the bomb went off.

Ben said that we should get under cover; trust him to be the one to realise that we were all standing out there in the open, gawping around like fools while those reflected footsteps got louder, got closer. So Thorpe kicked open a door and we all filed into the foyer of a highrise, huddling close to the edges of the windows to see who might turn up. We had figured out by then that it was a single set of footsteps, but that wasn’t enough to make us stand out there to meet it. It could belong to a scout, or outrunner, or just someone inclined to run back to where there are lots of people to tell them where we are.

So we hid and we waited. The footsteps stuttered, and for a moment I thought they weren’t going to make it far enough for us to see anything. With no ambient noise to get in the way, we could hear the sound weaving through alleys between the buildings; we could track the pattern of the terrain by the quality of the echo, tight passageways and open space lending the sound distinctly different reverberations.

I wasn’t the only one surprised when the body broke into view; it still sounded too far away for that. But there it was, running in the shadow of a wall in an efficient jog, the sort that we would like to travel at but never do. We’re lucky to make it to a fast walk at the moment, between the skulking and the slower members of the group.

The runner looked ready to pass us by, but a f of us recognised it. I’m not sure what tipped Dillon and Matt off, but for me it was the bandage around her head; I knew where I had seen it before. Alice, Dillon’s friend. I breathed her name and everyone relaxed.

The next thing I knew, Dillon was diving off out the door after her. Well, of course he did; he said goodbye to her once, I don’t think he was willing to do it again. We are all clinging to whatever remnants of our previous lives we can get our hands on. A few of us hissed at him to be quiet, to make sure he didn’t start hollering her name as soon as he got outside, but he restrained himself. He ran over to her, startling her into a wary pose before she realised who was barrelling towards her, and then they spoke quietly. The rest of us seeped out into the street again, unhurried for once.

I could tell that Dillon was agitated – he kept his voice down, but his hands were unfettered and waving intently. Alice seemed wary but calm, and her shoulders slumped as she followed him to meet up with us. I think it was relief that made her move that way; she said that she had been looking for us for the past few days.

The street wasn’t the place for a long discussion, so we only checked her intentions before pushing on; longer explanations could come later. She came to join us, she said. Something had happened after we left her on the other side of the river; she hadn’t had a group to leave behind by the time she came after us.

We will hopefully get the full story once we settle down for the evening. For now, it’s time to move on.

Tags: ,
Saturday, 14 March 2009 - 2:18 pm

Where her group went

Alice was wary of us last night; she’s still figuring us out. She wasn’t eager to tell us what had happened since we left her on the other side of the river, but a ring of expectant faces can only be denied for so long. And we deserved answers if she was going to stay with us.

Nugget was asleep by then, and Masterson had grumbled off to do something else. He wasn’t interested in hearing about anyone else’s struggles, I think. He wasn’t far away, though – the store we were holed up in was pretty small and the back rooms stank of rotting matter. None of us wanted to know what was decomposing back there; closing the doors kept most of the smell out of the main room, and that was good enough for us.


After we had departed in the boat, Alice had gone on to look for supplies for her group. When she had returned with the little she had managed to scrape together, most of her friends were dead. They had been sick when she left, all fevers and coughing and shaking. When they first started to fall ill, she had raided a pharmacy for medicine, but nothing they took seemed to help. The only thing that gave them any relief at all were the sleeping pills, and she’s sure that at least one of the group took too many and slept too quietly for too long.

There were only two left alive by the time she got back to them. They were awake but very weak; they hadn’t even been able to move the bodies into a different room. That had been Alice’s job, grabbing the corpses of her friends and dragging them away from the ones who were still alive. The smell was the main problem, I think; we’ve been in more than one building where someone has passed away, the worst of which was the hospital. I still shudder when I think about that place. She didn’t say much about the bodies, just gazed at the floor between us and moved on.

The sickness took the weakest of them first. The oldest of the group, and the fella who had lost an arm and half a leg to the rain. She was the youngest since the couple with the small children had decided to return to their house and try to wait out the disaster. They didn’t know that there wasn’t any relief coming.

One of her remaining friends slipped away during that first night she was back with them; the kind of ‘slipping away’ that is all about sleeping and not about moving at all. The other one lasted the rest of the next day, drifting into a feverish malaise that left him raving. She didn’t tell us what he raved about, but not because it didn’t matter; the girl has a way of layering her silences with an intense desire to keep certain things to herself. She has a way of not speaking that tells us there is more we don’t know.

For example, there was something missing when she told us that she decided to come and find us. She had had nowhere else to go and no-one else to go to, and I believe that much, but there was something else to her decision. I didn’t press her on it, not there in front of everyone; I think she might be more likely to talk if there are fewer ears resting on her words.

Her parents had died when the first rain fell, along with her little sister (Dillon stiffened when she said that, poor kid). Alice had been inside the local store when it happened, scrounging food, and had rushed out of the back room when they started screaming. I think we all remember what that was like, the hiss and scream, and the sight of bodies melting. The memory made us all quiet for a moment, and I snuck a glance at Thorpe. His face showed nothing of what was going on behind it, but I know he was thinking about Trevor.

We were the only people she knew and trusted in the world, and so she came to find us. Considering the detour we were taking around the Pride, it’s a miracle she came as close to us as she did, but she seems like a smart girl. No-one has raised any kind of protest about her joining us, so I don’t think there’ll be a problem there (Masterson said something nasty about ‘picking up any damn lame duck, she only has half a face, for fuck’s sake’, but I doubt anyone will listen to his opinion on the matter).

Thorpe asked her bluntly if she had the illness that had killed her friends, and she said no. She had been with them most of the time they were sick, but she hadn’t caught whatever was ailing them. She couldn’t say why and our doctor was pretending he couldn’t hear us. When pressed, he said that the last time he examined her, she seemed fine (apart from the acid burn on her face), and did he really have to look at her again? He did, mostly to keep the rest of us quiet, giving her a cursory once-over and then a shrug to say he couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary (apart from the acid burn on her face – he always had to put that in). Alice took it all silently, with knifing glares for Masterson; she’s falling into the pattern of things with us very quickly.

Dillon has been very attentive, and brighter since she came. He’s making sure that she’s all right and answering her questions. Telling her about each of us, I think. He wants her to be all right, and for her to stay with us. I don’t blame him; she seems like a kid who could use a break. I don’t know if we’re better for her than her last group, but hopefully we’ll be better than no group at all.

Tags: ,
Monday, 16 March 2009 - 6:36 pm


We haven’t seen any Pride tags since yesterday, so we’re starting to relax. I think we’re finally leaving them behind, sneaking out from under their shadow. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to relax, that knows we should keep our vigilance taut and defensive. The Pride aren’t the only threat around; they’re just the one we’ve heard the most (and the worst) about. But there’s only so much and so long we can stay tense – we have to relax sometime. Something has to give. I suppose the best we can do is try to let it happen when it’s less dangerous.

I keep thinking about my talk with Dillon yesterday. Did I tell him the right thing? Should I be encouraging him to keep the people he knew alive in his heart and hopes? Was that cruel of me? Should I tell him to face reality?

We all know that a lot of people are dead. Chances are, most of the people we have met in our lives are gone now; if not killed the bomb, then taken by what has come after. The rain, the water shortage, the food situation. The violence, the vagaries and greed of desperate and broken people. Injuries and illness that there’s no-one left to treat properly. What chance did most of them have?

When I think of all the dangers that swirl around us every day, it terrifies me. I look around myself, at the group, my friends, these strangers that I’ve fought and slept alongside, these people that I share my food and precious water with every day. There’s not one of them that I want to lose, and I get scared when I think about what might happen to us. Where we’re going, what we’re going to find, what we’ll do with it all. So I try not to think. I try not to see what I know is sensible and true.

I look at Alice and I see something different. She isn’t ignoring the way things are; she knows and lives with it in front of her every day. She’s wary and distant from us. She looks at us as if we’re going to die soon, keeping herself separate because none of us will be around forever. She’s reluctant to share what she has, not because she’s particularly selfish or mean, but because she knows that she has to protect herself. She’s fifteen years old and she has become a tough survivor in the past two and a half months. She’s only along with us for the ride while we’re still here and she knows it.

She saw her family die, and she lost the group she had hooked up with for safety and survival. I don’t know who else she might have lost as well – I suppose there might have been more, as if that wasn’t enough. She knows that not all of the people settling down in the darkness with us tonight will make it. She knows there’s a time limit on all of us, much shorter and closer than anyone wants to admit.

I can’t do what she does. I can’t look at these people and wonder when they’ll die. Or how, all the many ways this broken world of ours might put an end to us. Hell, a scratch on a rusty nail is enough, now that there’s no medical help to be had to treat something like tetanus. I can’t think about all the bad things that might happen; I can barely think about everything that’s already touched us. I put it all down here, I commit it to these typed posts, and then I try to forget. The blog remembers for me.

I have to keep my head clear of that stuff. Maybe that’s foolish of me. I think that the fear would paralyse me if I dwelt on it, blind me to everything else. It would make me want to hide away in some barricaded building, like the old couple we found and ran away from. That would be too much like waiting to die. Then all I would have is the fear and plenty of time to let it eat at me.

Is it foolish to want to hope that there’s some light in this awful world of ours? Is it wrong to tell a young boy that maybe his schoolfriends are alive somewhere, and that we’ll find his parents if we follow their note? Is it lying to pretend that I’m not scared all the time, especially when it grows quiet? Is it weak of me to want to ignore it all, even though sometimes I don’t feel strong enough to fight off the truth? Is it terrible that there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to look for my dad, so that I can keep the hope that he’s alive somewhere?

I don’t know any more. All I am sure of is that I can’t do what Alice does. I love these people I’m with, all of them, even the ones I don’t like. They’re my family and I don’t want to lose that. I feel like every concession I make to the way things are now is carving away a piece of the person that I was. I feel like whoever did all of this, whoever set off that bomb, wins a little more with every part of me that’s pared off. And screw them. Screw the people who did this to us. We’re alive and we’re going to keep pushing to stay that way, for ourselves and to spite the lot of them. I won’t let them beat me, I won’t let them take me away from myself.


Sax just started singing. I haven’t heard his deep, warm voice in a while; it’s the sort of voice that wraps me up like a blanket. Once I’ve got rid of this lump in my throat, I’ll go join in. I wonder if we can get Alice singing, too.

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.

Tags: , ,
Saturday, 18 April 2009 - 10:19 pm


The question of which way we were heading today came up and disappeared without a trace.

Sax didn’t wake up this morning. He’s not dead – he’s clammy and ashen, and his breathing is shallow. He moans and shifts about on his couch, but he won’t answer us.

There was a lot of confusion. I wound up sending most of the others off to search for supplies in the buildings hereabouts while Masterson checked out the situation. He says that Sax is unconscious and unlikely to wake up unless we get his fever down. Which is easier said than done, considering the lack of ice-making capabilities.

We’re all nervous and upset. I wound up trying to think of things for the others to do while Masterson tries to help him. Most of the group was glad for something to keep them busy and away from our sick friend.

Alice wasn’t glad of anything. She lurked near Sax’s couch, listening to the doctor’s grumblings, with her shoulders hunched and the visible half of her face pale. I wasn’t the only one who noticed – Thorpe snagged her and demanded to know if what Sax has is anything like what killed her previous group. She refused to answer until he shook her, then she said it was. I had to pull her out of his grip before he did something else.

He’s not the only one asking that question and looking at her like she did this. She brought it with her and infected Sax, and now he’s sick, maybe dying. No-one wants to say it, not even Masterson, but we all know he might be dying, right in front of us.

I don’t know what to think. She’s not sick, and even if she was, she didn’t do it on purpose. But she might have killed someone. She might have killed all of us. But she looks mortified and more than a little scared, and not for her own sake.

I can’t think about that right now. Thorpe has strict instructions to keep away from Alice and everyone else is leaving Sax’s care to Sally and the doctor. Faces are grim and the silence is oppressive. It’s dark now but I don’t know how many of us are sleeping. I don’t know how many of us are afraid to sleep in case we don’t wake.

I hope Sax wakes up soon. For all our sakes.

Sunday, 19 April 2009 - 7:32 pm

What’s been said

There was no change in Sax’s condition today. We managed to get him to take some soup, but he didn’t wake up. I took a turn tending him, to give Sally a break, and Alice solemnly took over after a couple of hours. She wants to help – poor thing, I think she’s trying to ease her guilt. And, from the way she looks at him, overcome her own fear. She has seen this happen before and it haunts her.

Masterson is being cautious about what he tells us. He has pulled on his doctor’s coat, all knowing looks and guarded words. I liked him better when his tongue was loose and honestly barbed. He might think he’s doing what’s best, but I still pulled him aside to get something more concrete out of him; some of us are adults and we need to know what we’re dealing with.

He said nothing definitive, of course, but it wasn’t good news. He doesn’t think that Sax will make it. He doesn’t know if we’re all going to end up that way – it’s impossible to judge that kind of thing, he said. Alice has been around this sickness and hasn’t fallen ill, so it’s not that virulent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if the old man isn’t the only one to fall victim to it.

We’ve heard several stories about this sickness over the past few weeks. In all of them, there wasn’t one report of a person getting better. There were witnesses, there were people left unscathed, but no survivors. I’m trying not to dwell on that part. It might mean nothing, nothing at all. It might be completely wrong, word of mouth gone awry, Chinese whispers working their fearful magic.

My dad’s words about being sick keep coming to mind. Confidence and courage are the real battle. Somehow, I need to find a way to stop the fear taking us down.

Tags: ,
Wednesday, 22 April 2009 - 1:27 pm


Sometime during the night, Sax fell into a coma. His voice dimmed until he was moaning and wheezing, and then he was just wheezing. I don’t know if I was the only one listening to him, counting the time between his breaths, but the room felt like it was full of ears. When the air stuttered in his throat, I held my breath, willing him to keep going. Just one more breath, and another. Don’t stop.

I didn’t realise that I was crying until Ben rolled over and tried to comfort me. It felt good, burying myself against his chest and hiding from it all for a while. It was nice to have someone else’s arms around me and those meaningless words in my ear – it’ll be all right. Shhh.

It wasn’t until his chest quivered that I remembered something from a few days ago. He had been struggling to suppress coughs. I hadn’t thought much of it before then, I thought it had gone away, but of course, that’s how Sax’s sickness started. Since then, he has been clearing his throat a lot. I heard him do it again as I lay there against him, and this time I felt the spasm he was hiding. He had a cough, irritating and persistent.

I lifted my head to look him in the eye. It was just before dawn, I could barely see him at all, but it was light enough for our gazes to meet. That was enough. We both knew the truth. I felt like something had just fallen out from under me, something important, like a bridge or a floorboard or my own legs. And I started crying again, hopelessly trying to be quiet so that the others wouldn’t know.


When we got up this morning, no-one said anything about what they did or didn’t hear during the night. Then we realised that Alice was missing and all anyone would say was that they didn’t hear her go.

Thorpe is pleased and Dillon is devastated. The rest of us are relieved, even if we don’t know for sure that she brought this thing to us. She probably did. She might have killed us all. It makes sense, as much as I don’t want to admit it.

It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. It’s too late now for Sax, maybe for all of us. I don’t think he’s got long left.

Wherever she is now, Alice is probably a lot safer than she was here.

Tags: , ,
Sunday, 10 May 2009 - 10:28 pm

The back room

Yesterday, things got heated. I didn’t dare to post until now.

We spent the morning scouring the mall, checking all the exits and entrances. Wherever those shamblers went, they didn’t come into the mall. Not that we could tell, anyway.

The Rats came to harry us as we got into the northern end of the mall. It seems we had finally stumbled near to the parts that they call home. They’re getting braver and better armed; they were confident enough to try to scare us off. They weren’t to know that there are far scarier things than them around these days.

They came at us while most of the boys were in the back room of an electronics store, shouting and waving sticks and barbecue forks, and banging on pans. The sound was shocking in the quiet mall, enough to set my pulse racing even before I knew what was causing it.

Sally, Masterson and I spun to face them, weapons in hand; the Rats weren’t expecting that. But with the threat of the shamblers hanging low on our heads and shoulders, we weren’t going to be chased off by kids and noise. We backed up, shouting for them to stop, shouting… I don’t even know what we were saying. It all melded into one morass of words and warring intentions, each side trying to be louder, be heard. Then the boys came out from the room behind us, swelled our size until the kids looked up and stopped. They knew when they were outmatched.

Thorpe looked like he was going to cuff each and every one of them, and as he had his short metal pipe in hand, I thought it best to stop him before he got carried away. So I stepped forward and shouted at them instead, barely taking the time to catch my breath before I launched a tirade at them. Didn’t they know what was out there? Didn’t they know that we were making sure that this place was secure? Did they really think that we were here to steal from them, or attack them?

“No, but we know what you did to Alice.”

The words stopped me in my verbal tracks so abruptly that I forgot how to breathe for a moment. I stared at the kid and his thrust-out chin, and tried to work out what the hell he was talking about.

“We didn’t do anything to Alice.” Dillon stepped forward and I put a hand on his shoulder; he looked like he was ready to punch the kid in the face.

“You did, you got her sick,” the kid replied, unintimidated.

“We did nothing of the sort,” I said, before anyone else could wade in. I could feel the control between us slipping; it wouldn’t take much for someone to fall, and I didn’t want to know what that would mean. “The sickness is all over the place.”

She brought it to us,” Thorpe put in before I could stop him. I shot him a look that I hoped would quiet him; the last thing we needed was a reason for them to argue with us.

“Alice is sick?” Dillon had shifted under my hand. I didn’t need to see his face to know that he looked stricken.

“We just want to see her,” I said before they could speak.

The Rats scowled at us, then withdrew a few steps so that they could exchange glances and hushed words. They finally came back to say that they would let one of us see her. We told them that that would never happen, and we came to an arrangement: most of my group would continue to check out the security of the mall to see if it had been breached, and three of us would go to see Alice. Dillon, because he’s her friend; Masterson, because he’s a doctor; and me, because someone has to get something useful out of the girl.


I wish that Dillon hadn’t come along with us. I didn’t want him to see what the Rats showed to us.

They took us to a small backroom in a clothing store, where beds had been made up between the racks and boxes of stock. Only one was occupied, the half-visible face pale and sweaty with fever. Alice looked like she had shrunk in the wash and still hadn’t dried despite being thoroughly wrung out. She blinked her good eye and hardly seemed to see us at all.

Masterson checked her over first, despite her protests. When he withdrew, Dillon said hello, said her name, and that was all he could manage. She looked at him and gave half a smile, and then he tore out of there. He couldn’t stay and watch his friend in such a state, knowing what had happened to Sax. Fearing it would happen to her.

I would have gone after him, but I couldn’t. Not until after I had spoken to her. I asked the doctor if it was safe to hold her hand and he shrugged, so I did it anyway. I do worse with Ben and he’s almost as sick as Alice now.

“Alice, your group – we have to know if they really died,” I told her.

She looked at me; she had been vague before, but the question had sharpened her attention. She knew what I was asking her about and the pain of it showed in every line of her. Her hand felt like thin, damp paper between mine.

“They did.” Her voice had been sandpapered and stapled to the back of her throat.

“And the attackers you saw – were they your friends?” She looked away from me; I had to press her. “Alice, we have to know. Sax, he–” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say what had happened to him. The thought of it made the words stick in my throat and prickle at my eyes like hot needles.

She shook her head and at first I thought she was giving her answer. Then I saw the tears in her eye and knew that she was refusing to answer the question. She was a girl who didn’t want to say ‘yes’, to acknowledge such an awful memory. As if admitting it made it real, made it impossible to hide from any more.

I was going to press her again – I wanted more, I wanted her to confirm the horror of it, for all of us, for Sax. But Masterson put his hand on my shoulder and told me to stop. Him, of all people. I think the shock of him stepping in for another person’s sake was what stopped me in the end.

I patted her hand and stood up. I apologised and told her that we weren’t angry with her. Then I painted on a smile and told her to get better soon. By the time I was out of the door, there were tears on my cheeks even before I asked Masterson to confirm what I already knew. She had the same sickness as Sax, the same creeping rash. He didn’t say how long she had.


It was on the way out that I caught sight of what was in the next store. Five or six beds – I didn’t stop to count – each of them with an occupant tossing back and forth, or lying very very still. I kept on moving until I made it back to my friends, where I could give my report and break poor Dillon’s heart again. There were arms to hold us there, comfort for us to lean on. And Ben with his irrepressible cough and the clammy heat on his skin.

He’s getting worse. I don’t know how long he can keep moving. I don’t know how long he’s got left. The worse he gets, the more he pushes me away, as if creating a festering bubble around himself will help.

There were no signs of the shamblers yesterday, and we took today to try to decide what to do next. We need to talk to the Rats, need to make them believe what’s coming. They need to know the danger they’re in, though I’m afraid of what it might make them do.

I wish I knew how to help them, and us.

Tags: , ,