Sat, 20 December 2008 - 5:04 pm

My nemesis

I thought yesterday was bad.  Well, today was worse.  Who knew, huh?

Yeah, it’s the week before Christmas and everything is crazy.  Everyone’s frazzled and strung out, and desperate to get that one perfect present so that they can go home and put their feet up.  And for some reason today, all the posters and decorations kept falling down.  I swear, we have an anti-Christmas gremlin in that store.

I was in the middle of trying to re-hang one of the big banners – it takes about three hands, but I was managing – when a familiar blonde flounce caught my attention.  My stomach fell through the floor, but I got the damned banner to stay upright before I turned around to face her.

And there she was, grinning at me and looking as perfect as ever.  Bree, my former friend, the bitch who thought it was funny to screw my boyfriend.

Ex-boyfriend.

She was the one who had started the rumours among our friends.  She was the one who had spread the lies all over Facebook, until even strangers were insulting me and leaving awful messages on my wall. 

I still have no idea why she did all of that; I didn’t do anything to her.  But I’ve seen her go after other people and I know how much she enjoys it.  Now I wonder if she had told us the truth about what they had done.  Perspective is a funny thing, isn’t it?

 

So, there she was, standing right in front of me.  Behind her left shoulder, Tarisha was looking on – Bree’s faithful little shadow, wannabe extraordinaire.  The girl who might have been nice if she wasn’t constantly emulating a bitch.  She at least had the grace to look uncomfortable when she glanced my way.

I hadn’t seen either of them since it all blew up, since I found out about Bree and Cody.  I wanted to slap her in the face, I wanted to scream and muss up that prettily-brushed hair of hers.  But no.  I was working and I was damned if she’d take my job from me, too.

So I looked her in the eye and asked if I could help her, cool as a cucumber.  I was, in that moment, very proud of myself.

Then she spoke and I saw myself wrapping my hands around her throat.  “Hi, I’m looking for something special,” she said.  “For my boyfriend.  I was thinking something like the Kama Sutra.”  She was thoroughly enjoying the notion of using me as a minion for this; her voice positively dripped with it.

I’m fairly sure that I had at least one hand curled into a fist.  Right then, the banner I’d spent fifteen minutes subduing slithered out of its holder and onto the floor.  “I’ll just go and find someone to help you,” I told her.  Then I turned on my heel and walked away.  I have no idea how I managed not to smack her.

I was so upset that I just headed straight out the back.  Amber saw me and asked what was wrong – she’s one of my closest friends at the store.  So I told her.  She went all taut and frowny – and let me tell you, seeing a goth girl getting angry is an intimidating experience.

She told me not to worry about it and went out onto the floor.  I took a few moments to calm down and then peeked out, just in time to see Bree heading out of the store with empty hands and a face like thunder.  Amber was standing by the tills with her arms folded, smiling unrepentantly.  I have no idea what she said to Bree; she refused to tell me.  I’m not sure I care.

Right now, Amber is my hero. 

Share
Tags: , ,
 
Wed, 13 May 2009 - 8:25 pm

Bree

I didn’t realise I’d said her name out loud until I noticed everyone staring at me.

But there she was, right in front of me. She was my best friend once. She was the person I confided in and shared everything with, including and unknowingly my boyfriend. She had taken him away from me, just before the End. Seeing her brought it all back in a rush that wanted to crush my chest. I forgot how to breathe.

The strangest part was that she didn’t look any different to the last time I saw her. She looked like a piece of the time Before that had stepped into After, barely pausing to flick dust off her designer sleeve. Only she could do that; looking perfect was a skill she had cultivated all her life.

 

I found my tongue again as she put a hand on Kingston’s shoulder, with a traitorous little thought: it was typical that she had latched onto this awful, powerful excuse for a man. “What the hell are you doing here?”

She was staring at me with a puzzled frown that took a few seconds to clear. “Mac? Oh my god, Mac?” She hadn’t recognised me at all; had I changed that much? I wasn’t sure whether or not I should be offended. She had the grace to look stunned, at least.

Seeing her, hearing that name – it all jarred horribly with what I knew the world was now. Things suddenly made less sense. I was aware that people were looking at us curiously, Pride and Seeker alike, but I couldn’t think about them.

“I go by Faith now,” I told her.

“I thought you hated that name.”

“Used to.” I glanced at Kingston, who was taking all of this in with a calculating air. “So. You’ve been all right, then.” I couldn’t help it; I smiled a little bit. Typical Bree, always coming out exactly where she wants to be.

“Oh, yeah. You know how it is.” Her fingers curled around her fella’s shoulder and she smirked. I remembered abruptly why I didn’t like her any more.

“You know what happened to Cody?” Not that I cared. I hadn’t wanted to see either of them again, not even after everything that’s happened.

The name was enough to dent her smile. “No, haven”t heard anything. You?”

“Nothing.”

And there it was, the frost between us. We weren’t friends any more. She had taken all the warmth and good feeling and ploughed it into illicit sex with someone I thought I loved. Strangely enough, the coldness helped. It crystallised the situation and I was brighter, clearer. I straightened my shoulders and felt better than all of this.

“Your boy was just propositioning us,” I told her, as if it was nothing. As if I didn’t mind. “Bit of a turnaround, isn’t it?”

Kingston didn’t like being talked about as if he wasn’t here; his expression gathered threatening clouds. Bree’s face hardened and I could see the veneer of cultivated bitch sliding into place. “The world’s different these days.”

I looked at the Pride leader and felt Matt’s hand tightening on my beltloop in warning. Careful now. I aimed my words at her again in an attempt to not provoke him. In truth, I was furious and frustrated, and nowhere near as calm as I thought I was.

“Don’t worry, Bree. I’m not interested in your leavings. Screwing other people’s men is your speciality.”

Bree bristled and Kingston drew himself up straighter, eyes narrowing. It was the sort of scene that didn’t need subtitles.

“Oh, don’t be offended,” I told him. “You’re already getting the better end of the deal. She’s much better at that than I am. So I hear.” She looked away from me and I was surprised at how satisfying that tiny victory was.

Behind my shoulder, Matt hissed my name, barely loud enough to hear. Had I gone too far? I looked around and was rudely reminded of the guns that surrounded us. We were trying not to get ourselves killed and here I was mouthing off over something that happened a world ago. I took a breath and tried to steady myself. I needed to be smarter than this.

Than I realised that Kingston was smiling at me. “And you don’t want to even the score?” In truth, I was tempted to sleep with Kingston to get back at Bree; it was a small, mean voice in the back of my head. She deserved it.

I smiled back at him with no mirth whatsoever. “I wouldn’t lower myself to her level.” I wasn’t prepared to do something like that. I still needed to be smarter. Watch your tongue, Faith.

“Maybe she should show your boy what he’s missing, then.”

I was speechless for a second; the notion of that happening all over again stopped the air in my chest. Bree glanced at Kingston in surprise, but then the corner of her mouth twitched and I knew she’d do it. Out of spite, out of pride. I could feel Matt’s hand at my back, keeping me close for everyone’s safety, and it felt like it was all that was holding me up. We were outside and there was no air.

 

“Sure, if she wants to get sick,” Ben said suddenly. I looked at him in surprise and saw the anger in his face. It was well-covered, but I knew that taut line in his jaw and the flat look in his eyes. He was glaring at the pair of them, both healthy and clean and so damn cocky.

“Sick?” Kingston looked more closely at Ben; his skin was pale and bore a sheen of sweat. There was doubt now and a whiff of distaste.

“Yeah. You know, the sickness that causes those… what is it you call ’em?” Ben glanced at me.

“Shamblers,” I said, mentally begging him to stop there. Don’t give them an excuse to put us down like rabid dogs. Luckily, he didn’t seem inclined to push the issue.

It didn’t take long for the Pride to recover their composure and determination. “You still have a toll to pay,” was Kingston’s decision.

There wasn’t going to be any backing down about that. He had decreed it, and even with the complications, had to see it through. It’s all about pride and status. He was looking at me differently – he suspected I was sick too, and I think Bree’s sour expression had something to do with it, too. His gaze moved on to the others in the group, sizing up Matt and Thorpe, and then those gathered behind. He smirked and my stomach lurched.

“You’re got a nice young thing hidden in there.”

I felt my hand curl into a fist at the thought. He wasn’t joking, and neither were the hungry grins around us. My belly briefly considered throwing up, right on his shoes. I drew breath to answer.

 

“I’ll do it.”

It wasn’t me who said it. I turned to look along with everyone else, and Sally stepped forward. She knows how to hide, that one; I had forgotten she was back there. She drew her tiny self up and the rabbit sought the lion’s eye.

“I’ll pay your toll.”

Share
Tags: , ,
 
Fri, 26 June 2009 - 8:37 pm

Begging

There’s still no sign of whatever is sending people in this direction. They keep coming, moving through the area, passing down lanes and alleys and hurrying across roads. There aren’t many of them now – they come in well-spaced-out clumps. The only reason we keep track of them at all is because the roof of this warehouse is higher than most around here.

Just before the rain started today, a small group stumbled into the yard out front of our warehouse. Some of the boys had slipped out to look for supplies – we’re starting to run low on some things – and the group arrived just as they returned. The clouds were gathering and they saw an open door; what happened next was inevitable.

The sickly green veil of the rain was approaching and they ran for it, water chasing at their heels. They skittered and didn’t slow down as they neared the door, despite the shouts within for them to stop. They ploughed inside, tumbling to the concrete floor in a messy heap. The rain was right behind them – we had to scrabble to get the door closed and stop the damn stuff from being blown inside and onto any of us.

 

There were huffy words as the strangers peeled themselves out of the mess on the floor and stood up again, dusting themselves down. No-one was hurt, luckily.

The last thing I expected was to recognise one of them. I heard the fuss and went to help, and found myself staring at a familiar face. I stopped and took in the sight before me, unable to find any words. It felt like someone had hit me in the solar plexus, stealing my breath.

Bree. Finally looking like she had realised the world had ended, she had drooping hair and torn tights. She noticed me with dismay and tried to straighten her jacket. She seemed thinner than I remembered from those few weeks ago. She was still wearing heels, but she seemed smaller somehow.

“They’re from the Pride,” I managed to say, and that changed the tone of matters.

The boys drew themselves up and formed a wall around the interlopers. There was only four of them but that name held a lot of threat.

“Toss the fuckers out,” Masterson said without hesitation.

“There is no Pride any more,” the other girl said. She was dressed like Bree and couldn’t have been older than seventeen.

“What are you talking about?” Jersey demanded of them.

“They’re gone, they’re all gone.” The girl was on the verge of tears, barely able to control the trembling of her lip.

“You’re right here,” I pointed out.

“This is all that’s left,” Bree said, looking directly at me. “They rest are dead. Faith, it’s just us. Please.”

Of all the times I dreamed about her apologising to me, begging me for something, it wasn’t like this. It tasted a little too much like blood for my liking. Conroy pulled me out of my thoughts by giving me a surprised look and asking, “You know her?”

 

For once, I was determined not to make the decision for the group. We told the Pride remnants to hand over their weapons, all of them. They were reluctant but they did as they were told. Between Thorpe’s looming and Masterson’s wild looks, they didn’t dare not to.

After firm instructions to stay exactly where they were, we drew back to consider the matter. Masterson was ready to beat them all to death himself; there was more venom in him than I’ve ever seen before. Sally was silent and wouldn’t meet my eye. I can’t imagine what it was like for her, after what she did with them. What she did for us.

Matt was the one who voiced the question that has always driven these choices: do we want to become killers, or do we take a chance on these people? Our options were limited because the rain was pounding on the roof; throwing them out meant killing them. We could let them stay, in various stages of freedom, but between the hate and the danger, no-one was eager to do it.

That step was still a big one to take, though. I don’t think anyone here has ever intentionally killed another person, not even the Wolverines. We all had that same look, the one that was afraid to know what murder felt like.

Imprisonment was the best choice. Strip them of their gear, lock them up in the warehouse’s office, and the watches can keep an eye on them through the night. We talked it around for a while, but we kept coming back to the same thing, so that’s what we did. I had to send Sally away to check on Dillon and Dale, and then Masterson to make sure she was all right, but we managed to get the intruders cowed and into the office without any problems.

They’ll be cold tonight, but that’s tough. All things considered, they’re lucky. From their faces, I think they know it. I wish that was a comfort.

Share
Tags:
 
Wed, 22 July 2009 - 9:10 pm

Gutted

This morning, Conroy and Scott took the radio back up to the roof to search for the signal again. They were gone for a couple of hours and then bounced down again. After a few revolutions, they had managed to hear all of the message’s pieces. One of the sentences mentions ‘Apollo’s Mount’, which is a hill near the Greenberry Junction we found on the map yesterday. We’re sure about the location of the signal now, and where to look for those who are sending it out.

Their excitement was infectious and I was only too happy to get caught up in it. I cheerfully helped them spread the word, letting the kids and the few others around know. I avoided intruding on Sally and Masterson’s corner. I couldn’t see Ben in our makeshift camping room, so I went looking for him to share.

I never got to tell him the news. I found him in a supply room and all thoughts about the signal fled from my brain.

He was with Bree.

There’s no mistaking the way he was leaning her into the wall. The tilt of his body, the brace of his hand beside her head. The way his head was dipped in close. Her eyes were closed, her face turned to the side.

The first thing I thought was: it had to be Bree.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d turned around and cut me open, spilling my guts onto the cold floor. That’s what it felt like.

I must have made a sound, because he looked over his shoulder suddenly. That was all I needed to snap my reverie; I spun on my heel and ran. I couldn’t bear to be there, to have to process them, to see which of them smiled and which looked shameful. I couldn’t handle any of it.

He followed me. I heard the slap of the doors behind me as he burst through them, but I didn’t look back. I just kept running, not seeing anything other than doors and obstacles. I think I headed outside on purpose, knowing that the sun burns him. I pushed on when my feet started slipping, even though I wasn’t dressed for it, through the sharp, cold air and across the snow.

I’m not sure how far I went. A few buildings down the street, I think, before I dove inside and found something solid to lean against. I had no breath left; the air shook in and out of my body without giving me any oxygen. I wound up crumpled in a heap with my head in my hands, unable to see anything.

 

I don’t understand. I don’t know what I’ve done, or not done. He hasn’t been interested in that stuff since he got back, but I guess that’s just with me. Just with me.

There are so many pieces and I don’t know how to put them back together again. I feel like I’m holding a bloody puzzle in my hands, and I can’t tell where it starts and I end.

Sleet was pouring onto the snow by the time I had calmed down. All I had on me was a candy bar and my laptop bag. It’s getting colder now, and it’s too dark to head back. I can’t find my way. I’m not sure I want to.

Share
Tags: ,
 
Tue, 28 July 2009 - 5:53 pm

Girl talk

It had to happen sooner or later. I’m not proud to admit what happened today.

I decided not to go out with the foragers again, partly because I knew that I was running away from Ben and all the complications around him when I went out. I had hoped to spend some time with him, but he excused himself with a murmur about needing some space. I was thinking about feeling hurt and then he said that it was because he was hungry. That was enough to make me leave him alone.

I suppose I should be grateful that he’s not just going to Bree any more. I didn’t forbid him or anything like that. I think he knows I wouldn’t handle it well if he kept on with that.

 

I wasn’t looking for him when I went to find Bree, but there was a frightened swirl in my stomach that thought he might be there. He wasn’t. She was alone; her little friends had gone off to help Kostoya again. She didn’t look well and I tensed because I knew the reason for that.

The glance she gave me was so tired that I almost felt sorry for her. I have an idea about the position she’s in right now, stuck between the shadow of the Pride, my own memories and enmity, and the needs of survival. I don’t envy her any of it. I don’t think I’ve envied her since I found out about her sleeping with Cody.

“What do you want, Faith?” she asked when I came into her room and didn’t immediately turn around and walk out again. “Come to tell me to stay away from your fella?”

I had to clench my jaw to stop a number of angry responses spilling over onto her. I closed the door behind me and leaned on the edge of a desk. “I want to know what was going on between you and Ben.”

“He didn’t tell you?”

“I’m asking you.”

She looked at me for a long moment. “You know what he is now, don’t you?” Her tone was expecting a negative answer and I had to slide my hands under my thighs to stop them from curling up. Damn her, she knows how to get to me.

“Yes.”

“Then you know what was going on. He was hungry. I gave him what he wanted.”

I knew she was doing it on purpose, lashing out with the worst wording possible. I think it’s the only arsenal she has left. It pricked at me and I had to keep a tight hold on my temper. “How did you find out about him?”

“Same way you did: I walked in on him feeding.”

I stared at her and tried not to feel sick. I failed. “Who?” Another girl?

Bree glanced away, showing that maybe there was an actual heart in there somewhere. “Steve.” It took me a moment to remember the Pride wannabe she had arrived with. He was just a kid, seventeen, eighteen maybe. “He got Sick. We think he died in the night sometime. Then I found Ben… eating him.” She shuddered delicately.

Steve had disappeared some time ago; she knew all this time? “Why didn’t you tell someone?” Tell me. Why didn’t she tell me?

“He asked me not to. I was too scared.”

“Scared?”

“He’s a– he eats people, Faith. That doesn’t scare you?”

I shrugged. “He doesn’t scare me.”

“Well, maybe he should. You think I let him feed off me because I like it? I don’t. Does that make you happy?”

Actually, it did make it easier to deal with, though I wasn’t going to tell her that. “So why did you let him?”

“I told you – I was scared.” She got up and started pacing around the little room, rubbing her arms for warmth. I think it was someone’s office once. “You people – the rest of you – you barely look at us. Would anyone have noticed if he’d picked us off, one by one?”

I can’t even pin a firm date on when Steve disappeared from our ranks. “How long?”

“Has he been coming to me for this? A while. Few weeks, maybe, off and on.”

I didn’t know what to say. It’s been so long – all that time, he had come to her and hadn’t told me anything.

She smiled bitterly. “What’s the matter, Faith? The happy new boyfriend not all you wanted him to be? Why is it your men always prefer to come to me when they really need something?”

She was close enough that when I stood up, I only had to stretch my arm out to slap her. It made a satisfying, shockingly loud sound. “Why do you have to do this?” She was always taking away things that were mine. Things I cared about.

“Poor blind Faith,” she said, rubbing her cheek. “Never can see what’s right there, can you? Everything’s so easy for you; the things you want just fall into your lap, while the rest of us have to work for it. You don’t deserve any of it.”

I stared at her, trying to take all of that in and only getting shards. “I don’t deserve it? And you do? I’m not the one stabbing friends in the back. What the hell makes you think I get what I want?”

“You always do! The pretty boy with big prospects; the job from daddy. And now the pretty boy and a group that follows your every word, without question.” Her tone dripped with derision and made those things dirty somehow. “The world ended and everything changed, but you, you’re exactly the same.”

“You have no idea who I am.” The words came out more surprised than I had intended, but it was true. She didn’t know me, not if she thought I hadn’t changed. Maybe I didn’t sell out like she did but there are lots of ways to change.

I knew then that I wouldn’t get anything else out of her except abuse. There was already too much in my head and my handprint on her cheek, so I turned to leave.

“What are you doing to do now, little miss blind Faith? Huh?” she shot after me. “Tell him to stay away from me? What are you going to do when he’s hungry enough to bite down? What’s it like sleeping with a monster? How is your perfect little arrangement going to work then?”

I didn’t look back at her. She sounded so angry and I had no answer for her. I let the door close behind me and kept walking, up and up until I got to the roof. I stood there in the cold wind until my cheeks were numb and the clouds had ganged up overhead.

The worst part is, I think I understand her now.

Share
Tags:
 
Thu, 30 July 2009 - 7:14 pm

Unravelling

Last night’s talk didn’t achieve much. Some minds are taking a while to make up. I guess we won’t know who’s coming or going until we actually leave and check who’s in the vehicles.

The only person missing from the discussion was Ben. He didn’t turn up at all last night, so this morning I went to find him. I wound up in a room a couple of floors up, where he was staring out of the window at the forbidden daylight. He didn’t look good, paled into sickliness and gaunt, as if he was wasting away.

He asked me what I wanted and I said I came to find out what was going on with him. He shrugged and gave me a single word: “Hungry.”

I looked at him standing there with his arms wrapped around himself, as if he was afraid of what his hands might do if he didn’t clamp them down. My brain ran through the options with stumbling feet. We didn’t have any fresh meat and canned stuff wouldn’t do. He said he’d exhausted the animal population around here already. The only other option was blood, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him going to Bree again. Her words still rattle around in my head.

It was my blood or hers. My heart made the decision and handed him the knife I still have sheathed at the small of my back. Then it tried to flutter its way out of my chest in denial when he asked if I was sure and I said yes, yes I’m sure. I bared the soft skin of my inner forearm. He didn’t hesitate much.

 

It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I watched him with his mouth on my arm and thought about Bree and her bitterness.

She has hated me a lot longer than I realised. The things she threw at me mean little to me, but they’re so much to her. Like dating Cody, the lawyer with the prospects she used to go on about. And the job my dad gave me at the car yard that I left because I wanted to find my own way, rather than following in his footsteps. She despised the car yard, but she used to tell me about how her father left her to her own devices; ‘free’, she called it.

It never occurred to me that I might have things she wanted, not until she took Cody away. She was the prettiest of our little circle, the confident one, the one with the best job and the most money. I was the plainest, the lowliest, the one hoping someone else would be able to buy the drinks at the high-end clubs she liked. And she had never let me forget it, though it didn’t turn nasty until after I found out about her and Cody.

Bree put herself on her pedastal and made everyone recognise her up there. The rest of us were in our place without any doubts. I know now that there was doubt; it’s just that she was very good at hiding it. Them the bomb kicked her pedastal out from under her and she’s still trying to work out how to stand up on our level. My memory’s Bree has gold plating, and it’s flaking off. Underneath, she’s just as grubby as the rest of us.

It doesn’t make me like her any more than I did before. She’s still the snake at my back, all cold-blooded eyes and tongue grabbing at my air.

 

I was lightheaded by the time Ben was finished and there was a dull ache all the way up my arm. It’s possible I shouldn’t have used the one that was still healing. He put an arm around my waist when I wobbled and kissed me. I tasted copper but wasn’t quick enough to recoil before it was over.

He fetched me something to eat, attentive once his needs were met. I let him. It feels fair to have this exchange between us, even though it doesn’t quite feel right. Or safe. But even with all that, I couldn’t find it in me to be scared of him.

While he was gone, I wondered why he didn’t go find some shamblers to eat; that would solve so many problems at once. Then I remembered what Dr Kostoya said about the chemical deficiency and how the shamblers can’t get nourishment from each other. Presumably, the same applies to Ben.

Abruptly, my stomach went cold and edged into every crevice of my body. Bree said that Steve had died of the Sickness before Ben fed on him, but that can’t be true. It wouldn’t have worked. Steve can’t have died of the Sickness.

Something else killed him. Or someone.

Finally, I am starting to be afraid of Ben and what he’s capable of.

Share
Tags: ,
 
Sun, 20 December 2009 - 7:24 pm

Painless

Despite all the tensions and intrigue, things at the farm are coming along well. We have most of one of the long greenhouses dug out and rigged up to the water system, and the first seeds were planted a few days ago. We’re getting them in as quickly as we can and patching the rest up as we go, because we don’t know how long we’ll have supplies to last us.

There’s plenty of work to keep us all busy. The foraging party goes out every day to search for food, and it’s a chance for tense parties to spend time apart. The rest of us delve into the greenhouses and blot out worries and fears with mind-numbing exhaustion.

The problem is that Warren has been put to work in the greenhouses. Matt and I don’t want to be anywhere near him, so we opted to head out with the foragers today. It was good to get away from the farm for a while. Away from the familiar clutter of buildings and the endless troughs of the greenhouses. Open roads, clearer air. I felt like I could breathe deep for once.

Matt asked to write a post the other day but made me promise not to read it. “It’s just venting,” he told me. I’m respecting his wishes because we feel fragile right now. He hasn’t been right since Warren and the gun, but he won’t tell me what’s bothering him. He’s not usually secretive with me, so it’s either bad or something too deeply buried for him to know what it really is.

I keep wondering if the baby is freaking him out, but he was so happy about that. When I told him, my heart brimming in my mouth, his face lit up and he grabbed me in the biggest hug. He couldn’t have faked a reaction like that, even if he’d wanted to. He was bouncing on his toes, touching my belly with wondering fingertips; he had no idea how much he looked like a big kid.

No, I don’t think the baby is what’s bothering him. He won’t tell me, though. All I can do is hope that he comes out of wherever he is, comes back to me. I wish I could help him, but I can’t reach him in there.

The others are doing all right. Iona won’t come out of the house, but she takes care of everything in there. She even started doing laundry, by hand. I had to stop her the first time – she was scrubbing so hard that the shirt and her hands were being torn to shreds. I made her put everything down and drew her dripping hands out of the sink. They were raw and bleeding, but she hadn’t noticed. She just looked at me with wide green eyes.

“Need to make it clean,” she said. “Tomorrow the flowers must grow. Make it pretty like the flowers.”

“We can make it clean without hurting ourselves,” I told her, leading her gently to our makeshift infirmary. It’s just a room with a bench we can use as a bed to treat people and cupboards we’ve cleared out to keep the medical supplies in.

“I don’t think so.”

Her reply made me look at her face sharply. She sounded sad and her head had drooped. I started to say something, but she interrupted me.

“Hurts, always hurts. Have to make it clean.”

I asked her what hurt, but she wouldn’t answer me. She stood where I put her and let me bind her hands up. I was afraid she had hurt herself somewhere else, and she let me check her over. She didn’t flinch, not once, and I found myself overcome with awkwardness and embarrassment for her. My cheeks were burning by the time I was satisfied that ‘always hurts’ didn’t mean that she had another injury.

I think her hurts are a lot deeper than that.

I took her by the upper arms and tried to make her look at me. The third time I said her name, she finally lifted her gaze to my face.

“You need to look after yourself,” I said. “Don’t hurt yourself, not even to make things clean. All right?”

“It always hurts.”

“It doesn’t have to.” I didn’t feel like I was getting through, but I had to try.

She frowned and studied my face as if she’d never seen it before. Then she nodded with a trace of hopefulness; I’m not sure if she hoped I was right, or if she hoped that was the answer I was looking for. Either way, I let her go.

She has since soaked her bandages through while doing more laundry, but I don’t think she’s hurt herself again.

After I dealt with Iona, I went to see Bree and Mira. They take turns looking after the baby and helping out in the greenhouses. Bree’s head wound is healing – it’s a nasty red mark on her forehead now, just above her temple, stopping just an inch from her eye. The lump beneath it is fading slowly. She has been keeping out of Warren’s presence as well – we share that urge, her and I.

Things are still complicated between us. I tried to talk to the two girls about Iona, asked them to keep an eye on her. Mira started complaining immediately about having enough to do without babysitting yet another body, but Bree cut her off with a quiet agreement.

“We’ll check in on her,” she said. “We didn’t know she was hurting herself.”

Mira stared at Bree, but she didn’t argue.

I’m not used to having Bree agree with me. It felt wrong. It made me second-guess myself. It has been a long time since she betrayed me and set about destroying every part of my social life, but my defenses still come up every time I’m around her. I keep looking for the knife in her hands coming at my back, but it’s not there. I don’t know where she’s keeping it or when she’ll decide to get it out again. I have accepted that I can’t read her at all.

“Okay, thanks,” I said. “How are things up here?”

I haven’t been up to the room where Masterson has Sally esconced. He’s always prowling around up there, always ready to growl at me, and I haven’t wanted to face him. I hoped that Sally would forgive me. At the same time, I wanted to tell her about the pregnancy. I wanted to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to carry a baby in the After.

At first, the two of them fobbed me off, telling me that things were fine. I asked about Sally specifically, how she was and if we were likely to see her any time soon. Bree and Mira exchanged a glance, weighing up how much to tell me.

“David says she’s depressed,” Bree said.

I restrained the reflex to bridle at her use of the familiar name; no-one except Sally calls him that. Most of the group doesn’t even know his full name – he’s just Masterson or the doctor. I wanted to ask her if she was screwing him too, but the words didn’t quite make it to my teeth.

“He says it’s hormones,” Mira added. “And the infection.”

“Infection?”

“She had an infection, after Felix was born,” Bree said. So, the name had stuck to the baby. I was glad about that, but worried by the rest. “David says it’s not uncommon. She was really sick for a while, but she’s over that now. He says she’s recovering, but now there’s post-natal depression to deal with.” She hesitated for a beat. “I don’t think we have any drugs for that.”

There wasn’t much for me to say. I told them to let me know if they needed anything, for her or the baby. They nodded and agreed in that offhand way that says they don’t expect to ever take me up on that. I left with empty hands and empty offers.

Bree has recovered from Warren’s attack, but Conroy hasn’t been so lucky. The lump on his head is shrinking slowly and his eyes are no longer uneven and out of focus, but there’s damage we can’t see. He doesn’t remember the incident at all, and he lost a few days before that, too. He has trouble recalling things now – if you ask him to do something, he’ll go off to do it, but when he’s finished, he sometimes forgets who asked him. Sometimes he forgets what he was supposd to do when he gets to his destination.

As far as I know, the doctor hasn’t put a label on it. Conroy is keeping to himself about it; I think he forgets more than he lets on. He’s scared to admit what’s really going on inside that skull of his and I don’t blame him: he’s lost something fundamental and he doesn’t know if he’ll get it back.

I don’t know anything about this kind of thing: all I know is that it’s complicated and no-one really understands it fully. Maybe it’s possible for him to heal. Maybe all he needs is time. Hopefully we can give him that much.

In the meantime, Kostoya is keeping a close eye on him. The biochemist is always nearby, chivvying Conroy on in his work, asking questions and wondering if he’s done yet. His questions are layered with reminders about what they’re doing; I’m not sure, but I think he’s doing it on purpose. If Conroy has noticed, he hasn’t said anything.

Maybe if no-one mentions it, they can carry on as if nothing has truly changed. As solutions go, that one’s pretty painless for everyone involved.

I wish there were more solutions like that for us. ‘Painless’ isn’t a word that I have had much chance to throw around. We make it work whatever way we can, and I guess that’s what matters.

Share
Tags: , ,