Wednesday, 24 December 2008 - 11:52 pm


I just had to go calm the girl down.  She started wailing, and when I went over, she had a piece of glass in her hands.  There was a lot of blood.  She can’t be more than fourteen, fifteen.  She’s patched up now, and quieter.  I made her promises, I told her we’d be okay.  I have no idea if I lied to her or not.  It just seemed like the thing I should say.  It’s so dark here.


I don’t know how long I stayed under that table after the world fell down.  Until it had gone quiet, and then a little longer.  Just in case, and because I couldn’t quite believe that it was over.  The ground was finally steady under me and it was so quiet that I wondered if I’d gone completely deaf.

The air was thick with dust and I had to feel my way around.  As luck would have it, I had made it to the hardware store – after a bit of searching, I found a flashlight and a fistful of batteries.  That helped a little.

By then, I could hear people calling out.  I found one or two, and then realised that I’d stumbled outside.  There were patches in the gloom where fires had started up, mixing smoke in with the dust.  I couldn’t see more than a few metres in any direction, and honestly, that was too much sometimes.  It was enough to see the bodies of those who hadn’t made it to shelter, sticking out from under the buildings’ fallen rain.

It was almost worse when they weren’t dead.  When I thought they were and then they moved.  I could almost ignore them if they were just dead, skim past them, but after the first one moved, I couldn’t any more.  I had to look at them.  I had to start checking pulses and breathing.  I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving someone alive behind.  Oh god, their faces.  I don’t want to think about their faces.

We dug out everyone we could.  Of course we did.  Anyone who could still move and function lent a hand.  It’s all such a blur now.  Scrabbling at glass and rubble, trying to find a way around the fires, checking the injured, trying to stop bleeding.  My hands are a mess.

I did a first aid course a year or two ago to get a stupid little certificate, so somehow I ended up in charge of our butchered version of triage.  I never wanted that kind of responsibility.  I was supposed to just make people still and safe until the real help arrived.  But today, I was it – just me and whoever I could rope into helping me out.  Applying pressure, tearing up shirts for bandages, lying people down, keeping the guy with the head injury awake, lifting feet above the heart; that’s about as much as I know.  I lost my overshirt somewhere in all of it.

I have no idea how long we kept doing that.  There was always another person who needed to be helped, always another voice calling for help.  At one point, someone came around with bottles of water and packets of potato chips, and told us to take breaks in shifts.  I was quite happy to do as I was told – I felt like I was being held up by a thin thread, taut and thrumming.

Once I sat down, I didn’t think I would be able to get up again, but I did, and I carried on.  I don’t know how.  I just couldn’t not.  There was just so much that needed to be done.

Some of the more mobile survivors went off to find help.  Only one or two of them came back, and it wasn’t with good news.  They said that the smoke and dust were everywhere, thick grey fog for blocks.  Each street told the same story – dust and debris, the injured and the shocked.  One of them went all the way down to the river, but there was no hope there either.


I kept expecting the shock to set in.  It hit people all around – they sat and stared into space, or wept, or wailed.  But I wasn’t allowed; people kept expecting me to do stuff.  Look at this, help them with that.  There’s this one lad who has been on my heels since just after I crawled out of the hardware store; he kept asking me what he should do.  So I kept giving him jobs.  Look for this, go fetch that, see what that person wants, try to find a high place above the dust to see if there are any lights coming.

I have no idea what his name is.  He’s sleeping a little distance away – I can see his feet from here.

There weren’t any lights coming.  No sirens, no engines – no sounds at all apart from crying and wailing and groaning and buildings shifting their weight.  And the tumble of rocks and glass as we try to find those who are still alive.

The sun went down a while ago; I could only tell because it got even darker.  We kept going until it was too dark to do anything.  Then we just found somewhere to collapse, somewhere indoors where the air wasn’t so heavy.  And now I’m here, writing this.  I’m getting blood on the keyboard.

Isn’t anyone coming?  Don’t they know what’s happened here?  Where are the ambulances and the firemen?  Where is the army?  Why are we so alone right now?

We need help.  I can’t do all this on my own.  Why isn’t anyone coming to help us?

Thursday, 25 December 2008 - 11:38 am

Getting up again

There was no Christmas magic to draw us from slumber today.  No filled stockings, no presents, no angel smiling down from the top of a tree.

I was woken up by an earthquake this morning.  Sunlight was bleeding through the dustcloud, so it must have been a little after dawn.  The people around me woke up shouting, ready to panic.  The building above us moaned, its joints creaked, and what few windows were left shattered – someone shouted for us to take cover.  I think it might have been me.

The thunder of it was deafening.  By the time it had rolled itself out and over us, the dust was thicker, the day grown darker.  We picked our way out again; it was like deja vu.  It feels like I’ve been clambering over broken shards of steel and concrete forever; my feet have forgotten what a flat surface feels like.


The wind picked up today; it helped to clear the dust load.  Those of us who had taken shelter in the department store gathered in the street and stared as the layers were peeled away from the air.  It looked like the city was sloughing skin.

There was a gap in the skyline.  Not far off, but right here, right next door to where we were sleeping.  One of the skyscrapers had come down – the home of one of the big banks.  The thunder and the shaking were its death-knell.  The restaurant at its base was gone, obliterated – there wasn’t a scrap of it left. 

Some of the injured had been in there.  I remember helping to lie them on the tables.  I remember using torn-up tablecloths as bandages.  Others had stayed there to look after them.  Now thirty storeys of building was piled up on the place where they were sleeping, and it barely came up to my chest.


I don’t know what to feel any more.  Standing there, staring at the rubble, numbness crept over me.  I could feel it rising up from my stomach, right up through my chest, and I thought it would choke me if it got as far as my throat.  I thought then that I might just break.

Then someone asked what we should do.  I looked around; it was my shadow from yesterday.  He was covered in dust – we all were – and the dirt was streaked across his face as if he was playing soldiers and this was his camouflage.  He was looking at me for answers.  Me, of all people.  What the hell do I know?  But I could see it in his eyes.  I could see me, I could see that rising feeling, I could see him looking for a way not to break.

I told him the first thing that came to mind: go find us something to eat.  I had hardly eaten a thing yesterday and the dust seemed to be sucking us all dry.  Food and drink; that’s what we needed.  I told him to go check the department store’s café.

He ran off and suddenly I wished that I’d gone with him.  The last thing I needed to do was stop and think about everything too much.  It’s hard enough now, when I’m too exhausted to feel much of anything. 

Then I noticed that other people were looking at me as well, in the same way the boy had.  What was I supposed to do?  It’s not like I have a plan.  I fell back on yesterday – I told them to start looking for survivors.  So we started that all over again.


The kid came back with food and bottled water.  Dillon – his name is Dillon.  I stopped and asked him.  When he asked what mine was, I didn’t know what to tell him.  The only person who calls me ‘Faith’ is my dad – everyone else calls me Mac.  I haven’t liked my name since I was a kid, since my mother went on about how beautiful it was, since it became a burden, and an imperative.

I didn’t know what to tell him.  Mac feels like a different person to me right now.  Faith MacIntyre, I said.  My name’s Faith MacIntyre.  What he does with it from there is up to him.


Everyone has a face like his, teartracks streaking dust into grey camouflage.  Everyone except me.  I haven’t cried yet.  I can’t feel anything.

I think there’s something wrong with me.


I can hear them calling – they’ve found another survivor.  I have to go.

Sunday, 28 December 2008 - 8:25 pm

Together until we’re not

Been trying to focus on things lower than the sky.  Thoughts about that go nowhere useful.

The south side of the river fared better than the north.  There aren’t so many high-rises here, less for the shockwave to catch hold of and topple over, but things are still pretty wrecked.  There’s no power now – it only stayed on long enough to make things worse – and no running water.  Shattered glass everywhere, cars tossed into each other and the scenery.  Buildings in various stages of collapse and creaking.  Some fires have already burnt themselves out; others are struggling on.

We didn’t push on today.  After seeing the sky, no-one really wanted to; I think shock is setting in for all of us now.  Carter decided that we should take the chance to rest and recoup, and no-one argued.  We’re all so used to listening to him that obeying is reflex now, as if we’ve all grown into extensions of his fire crew.


I’ve been trying to find out people’s names.  We’ve been struggling on alongside each other for days, but there haven’t exactly been many opportunities to stop and shake hands.  I think I’ve got almost all of them now.

I don’t know Carter’s first name.  He’s forty and strung out, and there’s a wedding band on his finger.  He has a strange momentum about him, as if he’s afraid to stop.  I look at him and it’s familiar.  I guess that’s part of why we don’t mind him being in charge; he seems to need it.

Sally is strung out for an entirely different reason.  I keep catching sight of her rubbing at her arms, as if she’s trying to drub something from them.  Or into them.  She’s pale and sickly; I think if the rest of us hadn’t bullied her into moving, she would have stopped and curled up somewhere in the city’s rubble days ago.  I assumed before she was just very shocked, but now I think it has a more chemical cause.

Liz must be about fifty.  She’s one of the stronger runners of the group – she has an iron determination in her spine.  Most of her attention is focussed on the two little ones she has hanging off her – they can’t be more than six or seven years old.  They’re not related – unless they had very different fathers – and I don’t think they belong to her.  Or they didn’t before all this started.  She doesn’t let them out of her sight now.  One of them – the only name I could get for him was ‘Nugget’ – has a head injury.  He’s been carried by one or other of the group for most of the time, in and out of consciousness.

There’s Dillon, of course.  My shadow, though he’s latching onto one of the firemen as well now.  I guess because I’m injured and can’t be out there doing so much stuff.  He’s thirteen.  I don’t know who he was in the city with; he won’t say and I didn’t want to push him.  Whoever it was, they’re gone now.

The fireman he’s attaching himself to is Thorpe.  I haven’t spoken to him much, but he seems like a sensible kind of guy.  I know he carried Nugget across the bridge last night; I remember seeing the kid flopping about like a broken ragdoll over his shoulder.

Another of the steadier rocks is Sax – he got called by the instrument he’s carrying.  It’s dented; I don’t know if it will play any more.  But he’s keeping it and that’s that.  He’s a big round-shouldered fella, and older than I thought now that I can see the grey in his hair.  It wasn’t until we stopped that I recognised him; I used to walk past him every day in the mall, playing his saxophone, dressed like a blues player from the ’20s.

Delaine is a born whiner.  Nothing is good enough, he’s hungry, he’s thirsty, he’s tired, he’s sore.  He’s the voice of all the little urges inside of us, the ones that the rest of us are too drained or too considerate to let out.  He has no such compunctions.  I hit him in the back of the head with a bottle of water earlier.  Not hard, but enough to get his attention.  I told him that I’d rather go thirsty than listen to his bitching.  I guess my nerves are getting a little bit ragged. Not bad for a left-handed throw, though.

Ben came over and gave me some of his water after that.  He’s the quietest of the fire crew.  He was one of the first firemen I saw; I think he’s been with us the whole time.  He’s the one who helped me climb off the bookstore after Harry.  He’s limping but he won’t let me check out his leg. 

The last of the firefighters is Trevor.  He keeps trying to crack jokes.  He even got Sally to chance a smile earlier.  I caught him worrying at the ring on his finger earlier.  He didn’t notice me; he just sighed and then rubbed his face, as if trying to dislodge a thought from the inside of his skull.

The woman in the heels who came out of the law firm is still with us.  She’s having a lot of trouble with all of this; she has to be chivvied to eat and drink.  She’s vacant, like her driver has taken a break and others need to step in to guide her.  Trevor has been keeping an eye on her, but even he hasn’t been able to get a name out of her.

The last fella is Simon.  He was trapped near a fire and has the worst burns I’ve ever seen.  There’s not much left of his shoulder and one side of his face.  We’ve done what we can for him, but he needs a hospital.  He moans a lot, but no-one dares to mind.  Except Delaine, but even he only mentioned it once.


So that’s us, that’s our bunch of survivors.  Is that what we are now?  Our label?  Survivors, refugees?  All I know is that we’re alive and together until we’re not any more.

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Thursday, 1 January 2009 - 4:06 pm

Days Gone By

2009.  Happy New Year.


New year, new start, resolutions, parties and poppers and fireworks.  It’s supposed to be such a time of hope, but the world is broken.  A part of me is scared that the world ended with 2008 and that there is nothing else now.  I’m trying not to listen to that part, but its voice is there, niggling at me like mouse teeth.

There were no fireworks last night, just acid rain falling from a scorched sky while the sun retreated.  All the familiar things have melted away, although a few of us did raid the café’s bar and get quite drunk.  To forget, to numb ourselves, to blur the mental images of dissolving people.  It was anything but a celebration.


Today, everyone was quiet.  Even Simon; he has slipped into unconsciousness now, I think.  His fever is worse and he’s not moaning any more.  I think we’re all missing Delaine’s complaining, too, as annoying as it was.  He said what none of us felt brave enough to.  He made us stronger by giving us someone to argue with.

No-one wants to do anything.  Without Carter, we have no direction, no-one telling us what we need to do next.  The dregs of us are left here, looking at each other or at nothing at all.  It was like some strange staring competition, and I think I lost.

It was Dillon’s face that did it.  He was looking at me for direction again, like he did that first day up in the city.  Thorpe is lost in his own world; he hasn’t spoken to anyone since the rain started and took his friends away.  Ben keeps trying to talk to him, but he’s having no luck at all.  Sally won’t stop rocking and rubbing her arms; they’re almost raw now.  Sax is cradling Nugget like she’s a favourite childhood toy. 

So I sent Dillon off on an errand. The first thing I could think of: fetch as many bottles of water and soft drinks as he could find and carry.  With strict instructions not to stray away from cover and to keep an eye on the sky. 

Then others were looking at me with Dillon’s eyes.  I remembered then why I was so grateful for Carter’s presence, I remembered how relieved I was when those fire trucks first turned up.  It was so I didn’t have to do this any more.  So I didn’t have to take responsibility, so I didn’t have to shoulder up the weight of all these people.

The only things I could think of to do was sort out food and water.  Dillon was on the water, so I sent Sally and Ben to go look at the food situation.  I didn’t know what to do with the others, or myself.  I don’t know what I’m doing at all.  I’m floundering, grasping at whatever scraps of sense I can.  All I can think of to do is carry on with the path that Carter had set us on – get together a plan to get to the hospital.


The stuff that Carter and Trevor had collected was lying out in the street, next to their clothes.  I didn’t dare to touch their clothes.  It’s hard to say why; I think I was afraid of what I might find in them.  Would it be worse for there to be something left under there, or nothing at all?  I wanted to look just so I stop wondering, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  And more than that, it seemed disrespectful to go peeking in there.  They were people.  They were friends, as little as I knew them.  It just didn’t seem right.

The rain hadn’t scorched the things they had been bringing back for us, apart from what I think used to be paper.  It had all dried overnight and didn’t carry any acid (I tested that very nervously with a stupid finger), so I brought it inside.  We’ll look at it tomorrow and go from there.  I don’t think I can get us moving today.


It started raining again about half an hour ago.  I lost it a little bit, running around and making sure that everyone was inside.  Checking we were all right, looking into everyone’s faces for a trace of the lawyerlady’s eyes.  Dillon was back by then; we were all here.  They probably all think I’m crazy now. 

Then all there was to do was wait and listen to it hissing down.  I tried to think of things we could busy ourselves with, but there’s nothing.  My mind won’t work like that today.

So here I am, trying not to listen to the rain, trying not to wonder how many were caught out in it yesterday, trying not to wonder how many strayed out into it today.  Trying to forget about the ache in my arm and the sore lip where Thorpe punched me.

I keep coming back to the fact that it’s New Year’s Day today.  It makes my hands shake and this aching lump twist in my chest.  The date has changed and the past is gone now; we’ll never get it back.  None of it.

It hurts to look back, to think about the past week and everything that has come tumbling down.  Trying to look back at what came before that is worse, because it feels like a dream.  This – all of this – should be the part that feels like a nightmare (and it does), but it’s the normal stuff that’s slipping away from me.  I don’t want to look backwards any more.  We’re supposed to be raising a glass to days gone by today.

My glass is hollow; the bottom has fallen out of it.


For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

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Tuesday, 6 January 2009 - 3:54 pm

Acid bite

We all knew that there were rats down in the bypass tunnel, but none of us had a clue that there were people down there.  We must have walked right past them.

My heart is still beating way too fast, and we got out of there hours ago.  We haven’t stopped since then, not until now, not until the sky started weeping its broken tears.  Now we’re holed up again, hunched and braced and waiting for the next thing to be thrown at us.  It seems that there’s always something.

Ben’s hurt.  There was no hiding it from anyone this time, not like that limp he had.  I can still hear him screaming.  He’s quiet now – we gave him half a bottle of whiskey so he could sleep – but I can still hear that moment when the acid bit him.  It’s imprinted on my eardrums.


The tunnel seemed like such a good idea at the time.  It was choked up with vehicles, crashed and abandoned, and there was a huge crack across the access road.  As if it had disengaged itself from the regular run of things.  But there was no water in it, and that seemed important at the time.

We had to climb our way into and through it.  A few metres past the gap-toothed maw, the weird orange light didn’t have the strength to do anything useful.  We felt our way, we murmured to each other, we linked hands, we stumbled and clambered.  We lost time in the darkness, and only once did we lose each other.  It took some frantic calling, but we found our scattered pieces again.

There were so many little noises in there, so loud and bouncing off concrete. They made us jump, made my skin crawl like a thousand spiders.  Rats the size of horses, cockroaches bigger than the silly white dog; that’s what it sounded like. We didn’t look for the sources of the noises; we just kept moving, trying to find a way through to the other side.

Oh, god.  The dog.  Dillon is still crying about that.


They came at us from the edges of the tunnel, as if the rain had washed them out of the shadows.  We weren’t even alarmed at first – I mean, they were just people.  We hadn’t seen many others since the rain started, so it was a bit of a relief.  A couple of us even smiled at them.

They weren’t smiling .  They were armed and they didn’t like us there in their tunnel.  They were dirty and lean, and demanded that we get out.  And we would have if it hadn’t been raining.  But what were we supposed to do?

Then one of them grabbed the dog.  It was just a little scrappy thing – no match for an adult who knew how to grab it by the back of the head.  He had a knife – not even a knife, really, just a jagged, twisted scrap of metal.  Sharp enough to gut the poor little thing, sharp enough to make it squeal.  The dog tried to cut its awful fate into glass by sound alone.

The next thing I know, I’m grabbing onto Dillon as he’s lunging past me, headlong towards that man with the knife.  He flung the dog’s body past us and into the rain.  It hit something on the way down – a pipe, maybe, I’m not sure – and then something was falling and splashing rainwater at us.

That’s when Ben got hit with it.  He was closest and took the brunt of the spray, right across his chest. 

It was chaos, then.  We were all shouting, Ben was screaming and trying to tear his shirt off, Thorpe was punching someone in the face repeatedly, Sax waded in with a pole, Sally curled up in a corner.  I lost Dillon in it somewhere and wound up yanking a teenaged girl off Sally on my way to Ben.


The tunnel-dwellers ran off eventually.  I didn’t even see them go; I was busy trying to get the damned rain off Ben.  I lost my shirt that way; it disintegrated, as did his and the one I was using to protect my hands.  I used up most of our water trying to rinse the acid off without washing it all over him.

That was probably stupid, but I didn’t care right then.  I just had to make it better, had to stop it burning him.

It looks so awful.  Holes pitted through his skin, exposing raw muscle beneath, great long gashes of it.  It didn’t go very deep, but the damage is still terrible.  It was all I could do to make up some kind of dressing to cover it all up.


It was dark by the time the rain stopped, and between the puddled water and the darkness, we couldn’t go anywhere.  We slept in shifts, and those standing guard armed themselves with something heavy and swingable.  I barely slept at all, between the ache in my arm, holding Dillon while he cried, and listening to Ben trying not to moan.  Every little noise made me flinch, made my heartbeat ratchet up a notch.

As soon as it was light enough to see, we picked each other up and headed out of there.  We heard them through the night, the tunnel-dwellers, and we didn’t wait for them to see us off.  We just grabbed everything and everyone and made tracks, and we kept going until the sky thickened again.

And now here we are.  Here comes another night, and I think we might have to keep guard again.  Just in case.

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Friday, 16 January 2009 - 5:56 pm

The doctor’s visit

Doctor Masterson is feeling better.  He came in to see us today, standing straight and looking alert.  A little too bright-eyed; I’m fairly sure that he got some of this drugs.  He didn’t smell good – I think he did something disgusting in the room next door.  I guess you can’t have everything.

He almost bounced over to examine the injured and the rest of us followed him; I don’t think any of us trusted this new, alert doctor.  I was a little afraid of what he might do, due to the drugs.

He seemed to be thorough and on-topic, though; he chattered the whole time, and it was all about the patients.  He looked into Nugget’s eyes and asked her some questions.  She didn’t speak, but she did shake her head in answer.  I heard him take Sally aside and tell her that the kid might have some permanent damage from the impact to her skull.  That she might not ever speak or come ‘quite right’ again.  I don’t know what I think about that, yet.

He made faces over Ben’s burns and showed us how to dress them properly, and then went through the whole thing again for Sax.  There are no painkillers left, he said, but if we keep the wounds clean and dry, they should heal just fine.  I’m not entirely convinced – there was something in the way he said that, entirely too cheerful – but it’s worth trying.


Finally, he looked at my arm.  I didn’t really want him to, even after all this time of struggling to get here, fighting to get seen to.  I was afraid of what he’d say, what he’d find; so afraid that I almost refused entirely.  I wanted to, I really did.  I caught myself holding my arm against my chest, looking at him, ready to tell him no.

I knew I was being stupid, though.  So I took a deep breath and I let him.  It’s been days since it was unwrapped; the bruising is much less vivid than it was the last time I saw it.  My forearm doesn’t look like a graffiti artist vomited on it any more, though it’s still weirdly yellow and green in places.  It still hurts like hell, especially when he poked it.  No X-ray machines, he said, so he had to do it the hard way.  ‘Painful way’ is what he meant.

He rubbed his fingertips over a spot in the middle of my forearm and I couldn’t breathe.  It hurt so much I was seeing spots and I thought my heart had stopped entirely.  “There it is,” he said, and did it again.  I pulled out of his hands then; that was all the motion I could force my body into.  I thought I was going to pass out.  The only reason I didn’t fall down was that I was already sitting.

He was talking – babbling again – but I couldn’t hear the words.  Blood rushed in my ears; all I could hear was my heartbeat and the fire in my arm.  I couldn’t even see him.

Was he that rough with the others?  To the boys with their burns?  I can’t imagine what they must have felt.  Why the hell did we let a high doctor look at us?  Why did we trust him – because of his stained white coat?

He tried to wrap my arm up again and I wouldn’t let him.  Don’t touch me, get away from me.  I might have been more forgiving if he hadn’t poked it twice, on purpose.  It still aches now, hours later, where he prodded and rubbed on the bone.

He backed off.  It took a few minutes and several deep breaths for the blinding pain to subside, and by then Thorpe was telling him that it was about time he got the hell out and back to his stinking den upstairs.

I still had questions; I didn’t want the doctor to go.  But Thorpe was escorting him out of the room and I couldn’t fight both of them.  I just sat where I was and watched them, with a creeping, numbing feeling sneaking out from my stomach.  Like everything was wrong.


Dillon came up to me a little while after that and sat down next to me.  He had been out to check the supply rooms again, and he’d brought something back for me.  He didn’t say anything, he just gave it to me: a proper forearm brace, with velcro straps.

I hadn’t wrapped my arm up after the doctor looked at it; I didn’t want anything to touch it.  And he’d gone and got me what I needed for it.  On his own, without being asked.  When I looked at him, he seemed nervous and shrugged at me, answering a question I hadn’t asked.

Dillon told me that the doctor had said my arm had definitely been cracked, but it was knitting and just needed support.  That’s why he went out and got the brace.

I put it on – it feels so much better with it on – and then gave him a hug with my good arm.  He didn’t know what to do with that, and it was a bit awkward, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I’m not good with kids.  They’re like little aliens with desires and expectations that I can’t quite get hold of. I thought teenaged boys were supposed to be brats; Dillon hasn’t been like that once.  He’s trying so hard with me.  His gift was so thoughtful that I burst into tears all over him in the middle of the hug, and he patted my back until I was done. 

I never thought I’d say this about a kid, but I’m glad he’s here. 

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Monday, 23 February 2009 - 3:19 pm


We’re only a few days from the next dot on our map. From Dillon’s home. We’ve been moving on foot because the roads on this side of the river are more clogged; we might be able to find a vehicle in a day or so, when things spread out a bit more.


The kid has been quiet since we got off the boat. He’s usually good about keeping an eye on Nugget, but she’s been unleashed from his attention and wilder than normal. She keeps running off and has to be called back. Thorpe asked what we were all thinking – why wasn’t she left with the others on the boat? I have no idea. I guess no-one thought of her, poor kid.

I didn’t know what to say to Dillon, but there was only so much of that glum face that I could take. I had to try. I caught up with him when we stopped for lunch today and shared a bottle of water with him.

“So, how are you doing?” I think my ‘casual’ was a bit strained; it was hard to hide that I was worried about him.

“Okay, I guess.” Oh, goodie, he was going to make this difficult. That was all right – I was ready for it.

“We’re not too far off now. Recognise anything yet?”

He looked down at the empty wrapper in his hand and started to smooth it out against his knee. “Yeah, some. My school is down that road.”

I looked in the direction he gestured, but I couldn’t see any signs of a school. It must have been some distance away.

“Really? Did you want to call in there first? Hand in some homework, maybe?”

That got a little smile from him, along with a roll of his eyes, of course. “Yeah, right.”

“Better just carry on, huh.” I looked at him for a moment and decided to try a more direct approach. “Are you scared?” I asked, more gently.

He shrugged. He’s been spending too much time with Thorpe; he’s learning how to avoid personal questions with sullen gestures. Or, worse, maybe he’s just becoming a teenager. He didn’t want to look at me and an awkward silence descended. It took me a moment to figure out what to say to him.

“I get it, you know. Being scared. What if they’re not there, like Sax’s daughter? How are we going to find them if that happens?”

I didn’t think he was going to respond for a moment. Finally, he said quietly, “What if they are there?” It wasn’t the question I was expecting; I hadn’t thought of that as something to worry about.

“What about that? It’d be good, right?”

Dillon scowled and scrunched his wrapper up. “Yeah.”

Whoops. Rein it back, Faith. I took a chance and reached over for his hand. “Hey. What is it?”

He looked at me, finally. Poor kid looked so torn up; he was more scared by all of this than I’d guessed. “You’re gonna leave if that happens, right? All of you, I mean. The group.”

“I– don’t know. I guess. It depends what your family wants to do.”

“And I won’t get a say. Dad won’t go anywhere unless he can be in charge, and it’s your group.” He meant me, specifically, and surprised me again. I don’t think of it like that. I don’t lay down the law for the group or anything. Do I?

“It’s not fair,” he said.

It was hard to know what to say to him. “Look, we’ll jump off that bridge when we get there, okay? Your folks might have a good setup where they are, maybe even their own group. Might be safe with them.”

“Safe enough with you.” He was getting belligerent and defensive in his unhappiness.

“Dillon, you are welcome to stay with us as long as you like. You know that, right?” He looked up at me, hopeful as a puppy. “I don’t want to leave you behind either, y’know. I’d really miss you if you went.” I slung an arm around him. “We’re not going to just offload you at the first opportunity. We’re a team, remember? Whatever we find when we get there, we’ll work it out together, okay?”

He nodded and leaned on me. We didn’t talk about the third option of what we might find. No-one wants to think about bodies.

We’ll deal with that, too, if it comes to it.

Friday, 27 February 2009 - 3:49 pm

Dots on a map

This morning we pushed on to Dillon’s family’s place. I walked with Dillon again today, because he kept moping along on his own. I believe in giving people space when they need it, but sometimes that’s not what they really want. I didn’t push him, though – I just walked alongside him until he wanted to talk.

It didn’t take long. He said he barely recognised any of it – the gardens here used to be so thick, almost wild. If it wasn’t for the stained streetsigns, he wouldn’t have known he was almost home.

He stopped outside a gate and said in a small voice, “Mum was really proud of her garden.” I knew then that we’d reached it. The garden was gone, but the house was there, closed up, acid-scorched and waiting.

“D’you want us to wait out here?”

He shook his head and glanced at me. He didn’t want to go in alone. I looked at the others and the boys nodded at me subtly; they’d hang back to give the kid some space. Matt caught at Nugget’s shoulder when she bounced towards the front steps and held her back. Just for now.

The front door was locked, which was a good sign, I thought. Dillon had lost his pack to the river when the car went over, but there was a spare key under a flowerpot; no breaking in required here. I went inside on the kid’s heels and listened to the way that his voice bounced around the internal spaces when he called for his mum and dad. It seemed like the most strangely ordinary thing in the world, hearing him call them like that. It felt like coming home, even if it was someone else’s.

It was a nice house. Comfortable, with the usual clutter of a small family with one almost-teenaged boy. Football boots by the door, fishing rods propped in a corner, books abandoned on a counter. There were pictures of them on the wall; I thought his father had a kind face, while his mother’s smile looked like a habit she had got into. Just the three of them.

The weirdest part was that there weren’t many Christmas decorations still up. I had grown used to seeing them in the houses we overnighted in; as if time had stopped when the bomb went off, along with all the clocks that marked it. There was still a tree in the lounge, though, bearing its load of tinsel and baubles and crouching limply over a few presents.

The others followed us in slowly while Dillon ran around the house, a little slower with each empty room. Finally he trudged back to where we were waiting for him in the hallway; we all knew that they weren’t here. He held out a piece of paper to me, a note he’d found in the kitchen.



Gone to your Aunt Kathy’s house with Jim and Betty. Come find us when you get this. Dinner’s in the oven.

Love you,

Mum and Dad


There was an address on the bottom, but it was the top that made me grin when I looked up at him. He was glum and nonplussed, and so were the others even after they’d seen the note.

“Look at the date,” I told them. The note was written on 2nd January – after the bomb went off and after the rain started. Dillon’s parents had survived all of that, and then gone off to someplace they thought was safer. That was a good thing! It was news. It was more hope than we had expected to find in an empty house.

“Go check the oven,” Ben suggested. Dillon’s eyes were bright, but he tore off to the kitchen to do that. He gave a happy yell when we trailed in after him. It wasn’t the rotten meal he had been expecting; they had left him canned food and bottles of water. It wasn’t much, but enough to see him through a couple of days at least. The cupboards had been cleaned out, but they had left some of the precious supplies in case he made it home.

The questions started then – what kind of car did his parents have (diesel, manual transmission) and could they have started it (well, neighbour Jim was a mechanic). Where was his aunt’s place? We had to check the map to find out that it was up in the hills, near the ECC – its dot nestled in conveniently close to the Emergency Coordination Centre. They couldn’t have picked a better place to go.

Dillon bounced on his toes and hugged me. He almost hugged Thorpe too, but then thought better of it. His parents might not be here, but at least they’re somewhere, and most likely still alive. It was a better result than Sax had.

So now we’re all relaxing in Dillon’s lounge while he pillages his room for stuff he wants to take with him. He says that he wants a hot dinner tonight and that we should cook up some of what his folks left for him. Later, he’s going to open the presents waiting for him under the tree.

Tomorrow, we’re heading back to the boat and the others in our group. We have a new dot on our map and the hope that out there, somewhere, our families are making their own way too.

Friday, 6 March 2009 - 4:55 pm

Making peace with old ghosts

Things are a different in the group. During the day, while we’re travelling, we don’t talk much. With the shadow of the Pride on us, we’re sticking to the edges of the streets and being as quiet as we can. It has settled on us like fog, all clammy hands and a vague discomfort in our clothes as it creeps all over us.

Without the lowgrade chatter to distract me, I’ve been watching the others more. Thorpe walks up front, as stolid as always, with Dillon on his heels. The kid is a highly alert terrier, eager to be the first to spot trouble. He seems to want to prove himself, though I couldn’t say why. I think he wants Thorpe to approve of him; the big fireman is making him work for it, giving as little away as always.

Matt is watchful, in a paranoid kind of way. He walks with a hand on the stick that’s lashed to his pack, ready to pull it out. Ready for someone to try to hurt him. I look at the bleached ends of his hair and see how much he’s changed.

Ben walks with me, his gaze turned outwards, but every now and then his hand checks that I’m still there.

Behind us, there’s Sax and Sally. Nugget is usually skirting around there somewhere, her little legs with far more energy than the rest of us. Masterson brings up the rear, barely even glancing around. He just puts one foot in front of the other and casts baleful looks at one or other of us as the mood strikes him.

The interesting thing is Sax and Sally. The old man hasn’t had much to do with Sally since she abandoned us at the hospital, but there’s a closeness to them now. The time they had on the boat seems to have done them good. And it’s not the way that Sally used to cling close to Masterson – there’s nothing sexual about it.


We retreated through a broken storefront when we stopped for a big of lunch, and I managed to speak with Sally. She seems more relaxed these days, too. The itch of the drugs is less now, I think, and she’s feeling more settled as part of the group.

She said that things had blown up between the three of them about two days after the rest of us had left the boat. They had all shouted at each other; it was vicious and brutal and over very quickly. Certain unspecified things tumbled out that shone light into sensitive places. Some time afterwards, they had talked. Not Masterson so much – he wasn’t interested in building bridges and kept to himself.

She and Sax managed to work out some of their differences. She found out why he took her actions so personally; she didn’t want to betray his confidence by telling me, but any fool can see he’s had someone he loved addicted to drugs. Someone he lost to them. Now, he’s making peace with that by making peace with Sally.

She seems almost scared by the attention. She likes it, this new understanding between her and Sax, but she has this way of letting her gaze dart off into a corner when she talks about it. As if she wants to run there and hide. But she talked to me more today than she has since we started out on this journey and she’s not shying away from his presence any more.

Whatever happened there between Sax and Sally, he’s walking forward again. I can’t say how relieved I am about that. He’s talking with the group in the evenings like he used to, and berating Nugget in that off-hand, put-upon way he has.

I’m taking every good sign I can and putting them down here, because I think we might need them later. It’s easy to gloss over the good parts and focus on the bad. On the blisters and the supplies that are running short. On the hard floors and the creeping hiss of the rain. No, here are some of the things that made today okay. The rest will still be here tomorrow.

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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.

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