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.

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Sunday, 15 March 2009 - 5:55 pm

What about the rest

I sat with Dillon when we stopped for a break today; the kid looked like he could use some company. Alice is usually near him, but she’s closed in on herself, putting up distance in the smallest physical gap. And besides, it has been a while since I had a proper chat with the boy.

I asked him how he was getting on now that Alice was with us again, and with us to stay. He gave me a smile full of false brightness and said he was pleased, but he knew I wasn’t fooled. The facade dropped with a sigh and, I suspect, some relief.

“She’s different,” he said, struggling to find the right words. “And not just… not just because of, you know.” He made a gesture towards his face rather than mention her maiming in words.

“Yeah, I know,” I told him. I talked about Matt, about how changed he was when we found him, how he wasn’t the same person that I’d known and loved for years. I didn’t go into detail about why he had changed; the kid doesn’t need to know that stuff. And yet, my Matt was still in there, just quieter than before. There’s a lot more noise to distract us now from the shards of things we know. “Give her time. She’s still getting used to us again, too. At least she’s got you to look out for her, huh?”

“Yeah.” He seemed heartened by that, but there was still a shadow on his expression. I nudged him about it and he shrugged, mumbling that he wished everyone was as lucky as he was.

“Is this about Alice’s family?”

“Her dad was really nice. And I used to look after her sister with her sometimes. Claire.”

I put an arm around him and he leaned in. He’s not too old to do that yet. “I’m sorry, Dillon.”

“What about the rest, Faith? What about everyone else?”

I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. I wanted to reassure him, but I didn’t want to lie. He’d know and I’d know, and it wouldn’t help at all. “It’s easier to believe that they’re okay and are doing the same as we are, huh,” I said. “I don’t know, Dillon. I guess all we can do is hope they made it, and that they’re still making it, somewhere. That one day we’ll see them again.”

“Like your dad?”

I gave him a surprised look; I don’t talk about Dad much, but he knew anyway. I guess I mentioned him more than I thought I had. “Yeah, like my dad.”

He nodded and leaned on me for a second more before sitting up straight again. I gave him some of my water and he looked at me sideways.

“How come your arm’s not better yet?”

I looked at my braced forearm and shrugged. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time; I was just used to wearing the brace. “I’m not sure. Been a while since I smacked it on anything. Maybe it is better.” Now that I thought about it, it hadn’t ached over the last few days. We haven’t had a big fight in some time, and I suppose that made the difference. The brace seemed like a target to people we tussled with.

So I took the brace off and flexed my arm and hand gingerly. It felt okay, surprisingly enough. I ran fingertips down the bones of my forearm, and there are a couple of ridges under the skin there that are still a litte bit tender, but no blinding pain any more.

“I guess it’s okay now.”

“Oh, good.” He smiled at me, and I believe it this time.

I put the brace in my pack, in case I – or anyone else – need it again sometime. My arm feels naked without it, and is paler than the other one. It’s odd not to feel the hug of the brace on it; the freedom is going to take some getting used to. I guess we’re all learning to walk without crutches these days.

Saturday, 25 April 2009 - 1:20 pm

The right direction

The talk went better than I expected yesterday. There was the predictable confusion and questioning as the others tried to figure out what it all meant, in a practical sense.

We have the scooters now, I told them. We could be at my dad’s house in a few days, probably less. After that, we can turn around and head down to the Emergency Coordination Centre like we had planned. If there’s organisation there now, as we hope there is, it’ll still be there in a week’s time. It won’t take that long.

There was doubt on their faces, so I asked them to think about it and went to check on our rides. I wasn’t going to argue them into it. I want this to be their decision. Anyway, I’d just wind up getting upset and then my tongue would get away from me. I’ve cried so many times over the past few days and I don’t want another burning-eyed headache. I feel like my waterlogged skull is being slowly eroded by it all, and my emotional control is worn thin along with it.

Besides, they’re all adults. Even Dillon, for the purposes of this decision; I wanted to include him in it. Not just because he’s a good friend, but also because this means a few more days before we can find his parents again – guilt crawled around in my chest with cold feet when I looked at him.

He didn’t see it that way. He looked at the others and said ‘yes’ to my request, before I’d even walked away to let them discuss it. Bless his heart; I don’t deserve to have the support of a kid like that. I know it was selfish of me to ask this, but he doesn’t see it that way. He’s more grown up than most kids his age.

It didn’t take them long to come back with a decision. It makes a difference when it’s a matter of just days, not weeks like it used to be. Matt knows how close my dad and I are – I don’t want to say ‘were’ – and I think he spoke up for me.

North it is, they said. My heart was so much lighter after that; I bounced onto my scooter, and then off again so that I could hug Dillon. I even agreed to teach him how to drive in my happy distraction. Smart damn kid.


We were only on the road a short time before we realised that it was late and the clouds were gathering, snaggling up against each other in the kids and ready to tear themselves open above us. So we didn’t get very far. But we made it a short distance, we’re closer then we were.

I’m going home. I’m on my way, Dad. I’ll see you soon.

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.

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Monday, 11 May 2009 - 6:30 pm


Don’t have long – I don’t know who’s watching. Have to make this quick.


A couple of us tried to talk to the Rats today. We had decided to leave, but I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them barricaded in the mall with friends that might turn on them. So we tried to tell them about the shamblers and where they came from.

They thought we were lying. Even with Dillon backing us up, even with the drawn looks on our faces that not even the best actor could fake, they didn’t believe us. I can’t blame them. It’s an unlikely tale.

“Just be careful,” I told them. Wariness would cost them nothing and might save them.

They’re just children. None of the Rats are older than fourteen or fifteen. There are maybe twelve of them up and about now. I would take them with us if I thought they’d come, but they won’t. They don’t want to rely on adults again; they have a home and they’re taking care of themselves, so nevermind anything else. They don’t need or want us.


Dillon went to say goodbye to Alice. We all knew he’d never see her again, not in a good way, but no-one said it. I sent Ben an apologetic look and stayed with the kid while we finished packing up. Dillon needed the support.

We left just as the morning was waning over into another dull orange afternoon. We were eyeing the store across the street while the Rats secured the doors behind us; none of us wanted to go back in there, but that’s where our scooters were. We hadn’t seen the shamblers since the night they disappeared but we still felt their shadows in that place and their eyes at the window.

I asked Dillon quietly if he would be able to drive himself today; I was worried that he was too upset. We spilled down the steps and across the road, fanning out warily, and Dillon said he would be all right. Ben’s shoulder was doing better while the rest of him got worse; he would have to ride behind me again.

We got to the broken-down door when we heard them. Movement inside the store, the breath of a chuckle, the clip of a bootheel on concrete. A strange, metallic click I had only heard in a movie before, rougher and sharper in the real world.

I looked around at the barrel of a handgun hovering in front of a grin.


Have to go – they’re coming back.

Saturday, 30 May 2009 - 9:02 pm


We are definitely not used to travelling with people we don’t trust.

The way we have always worked – the Seekers, that is – is that we share everything. Everyone carries a portion of what we find depending on what they can manage, and food and drink are handed around between us when we stop to eat. I think we just got used to it that way; we’ve had children and injured people with us so often that it wasn’t possible for everyone to carry their allocation of supplies. Things got tense when supplies grew thin and hoarding instincts kicked in, but we got through it. There was never any one person left hungry; it was all or nothing.

We’ve been with the Wolverines for a bare few days, and there hasn’t been a discovery of supplies without some kind of fuss over who gets what. We tried to agree to just let each group keep what they found, but that didn’t satisfy them. The other guy always has the better stuff and luck isn’t always fair.


Early this morning, when most of us were still asleep, a couple of the Wolverines caught Dillon alone while he was on watch. He wouldn’t tell me what happened, or what they took from him.

I found him sitting by a window, looking out, hunched up and hugging his knees. He had been crying; I could see where he’d scrubbed at his cheeks to hide it. He couldn’t hide the bruises, though. I made him show me how bad it was and saw florid colours on his ribs and arms. Nothing broken, at least, but that’s not a comfort.

The idea of anyone hurting Dillon like that made me feel sick, and then tense and hot all over. I hugged him carefully and stood up, ready to go and tear strips off the damn Wolverines. I was furious, partly with myself for not keeping a closer eye on all of this but mostly with them, and I intended to give them a piece of my mind. But Dillon grabbed my hand and asked me not to. Matt was in the room by then and agreed with the kid; confronting them about it was a bad idea.

“You can’t win with them that way,” he told me. He had a look about him that took me a while to place: it was the same one he carried when we found him with the Sharks. It was that look that made me stop.

“I’m not going to live this way,” I said. Matt looked away from me, uncomfortable with the whole thing. But I had to do something; I couldn’t just let this happen to the people I care about. It’s not good enough.


When everyone gathered to eat, I could see the Wolverines watching us, waiting to see how we’d react to the attack on Dillon. We did a fairly good job of acting like nothing was wrong, not rising to their bait, but supplies were still a problem. Our packs were lighter than they should have been, though theirs weren’t.

While we were all together, I proposed a new way of doing things. There are four able-bodied members in each group capable of searching. We would pair up, one Seeker, one Wolverine, and pool everything we found in one place. Mixed pairs would keep everyone honest, and we would split up the supplies so that everyone got an even share.

They didn’t like it, but their attempts at arguing fell flat. They tried to claim that the kids shouldn’t get full portions – they don’t eat as much, they can’t carry it – but the rest of us spoke up to counter it. Thorpe said he’d carry the kids’ food if necessary. And what about Jones? Does the cat get a share too? No. Nugget hugged the scrawny creature defensively when we said that we’ve never fed him anything except scraps.

Eventually, it was agreed.

Dillon stayed back with Matt, which meant I didn’t have to worry about either of them too much. I was partnered up with Conroy, who kept trying to impress me with chattering about how this reminded him of a movie he once saw, or a particular storyline in some comic book. As if any of that stuff mattered any more.

He sidled towards me a couple of times, as if he was going to try something lame like a yawn-stretch-arm-around-shoulders move. Making him carry our find kept his hands busy, though; it was worth the risk of him slipping things in his pockets.


Today’s supply-search went well, despite all the angling and grumbling. I suspect the Wolverines are still hoarding when they can, but our packs are filling up again. That’ll have to do for now.

As for the watches, we’re doing that in our own pairs – no single Seeker is going to get caught out again. It means that we’re getting less sleep, but better that than another beating, or worse. No-one is to go off on their own, for any reason. Both Sally and I tried to convince Nugget of the seriousness of this, and I think the solemn little girl understood.

I wish there was another way to do this, but I guess this is the best lemonade we can come up with right now.

Monday, 15 June 2009 - 8:17 pm


Where did I get to? Things have been happening so fast lately that I hardly know where I am.


With Dillon injured and unable to get up, the Seekers gathered around him to fight off the wave coming in through the empty windowframe. They just kept coming and coming.

I looked across the showroom floor, and there was Kirk, grinning cockily. Dale was crying out for help but Kirk was taking his time, walking around his friend to get a clean swipe at the shambler chewing on him.

Kirk never saw the pair moving up behind him. I shouted at him but he didn’t even glance in my direction, focussed on his target. One minute he was lifting a crescent wrench to take aim, and the next there were hands all over him, pulling him towards hungry mouths. Then there were so many people screaming that it was hard to hear anything.

They had hold of his arms and there was no-one close enough to help him. He couldn’t pull free on his own, not grabbed like that. There was snapping and a lot of blood, and then I didn’t watch any more. Conroy managed to get over to help Dale but they didn’t get to Kirk in time. I remember catching sight of his legs sticking out from the back room, one foot twitching.


The mess attracted the other shamblers in the room. Maybe it was the hot blood hitting the air and spreading all over the floor. Whatever the reason, we suddenly had a reprieve as the staggering attackers shifted towards him.

“We have to get out of here.” I’m not sure who said it. It might even have been me. There were no verbal answers, just a general air of agreement, this was not a place any of us wanted to be any more.

It was an effort to pull my attention around to what needed to be done. I took Sally and ran out to the yard, dodging the shamblers still making their way across the slick footing towards the violated showroom. We started one of our prepared trucks and she backed it up to the shattered window, blocking the portal. The others managed to get the gear thrown into the back while I struggled to start a second engine on my own. I nearly ran it into a wall, but the brakes bit in just in time.

There was no order to it. Just fill up the back of an offroader with whatever packs came to hand, move it out of the way, and do the same with the next one. We ran over the shamblers that got in the way, though that didn’t always stop them. My body didn’t know what to do first – it was a fight between a stomach that wanted to throw up, a heart that wanted out of my chest, and skin that was desperate to crawl off and hide.

Finally all the engines were started, the gear was all piled into vehicles, and we just had to get the injured in too. Dillon screamed when Thorpe picked him up, and again when he was laid on a back seat. Dale had to be helped into the back of another offroader. We were all covered in someone’s blood.

Finally everyone was in a vehicle – even Nugget with a wide-eyed Jones clutched to her chest – and we took off. Shamblers crunched under our tyres and we slid on the mess of blood and ice, but we were all determined to get the hell out of there in the pieces we had left.


We drove for a couple of hours after we saw the last of the zombies. I don’t know how we all stayed together – somehow I ended up in front and the others followed.

Zombies. That term doesn’t seem funny any more, not even a little bit.

We found ourselves in an industrial area and set about looking for a warehouse we could close up for the night. Something we could make secure, though I don’t think any of us will feel secure again. We found one eventually – big enough that we could all drive in and with roller doors we could close after us.

Then there were injuries to deal with. Most of us were torn or bitten somewhere. Masterson was hurt, so I helped him first; then he got to work on patching everyone else up. We barely had enough bandages to deal with it all.

I have four long scores down my upper arm where that shambler grabbed me that felt they were filled with hot lead. It was worse when it was washed with antiseptic – I thought my arm would burn right through and come off. When it was finished, I could barely see and was shaking all over. I can’t believe that Matt had this every day on the bulletwound in his leg.

And then there was Dillon. One leg was broken by the shelves that fell on him, snapped clean through, the doctor said. We scrounged around for something to splint his leg and tore up blankets to lash it all together. The Wolverines gave us a bottle of vodka and we got him drunk before Masterson set the leg. I held onto him and he screamed so loudly. At some point in it all he passed out; I didn’t even realise until someone told me that it was over and to put him down.

We’re all putting up with pain at the moment. I never thought I’d want two small pills so much in my life, just a little relief. The kid has it worse than any of us, and we haven’t tried to move him since his leg was set. He only cries when he thinks no-one will see.

I’ve spent as much time with him as I could. There’s so much to organise: going through what was grabbed in the flight from the car yard, checking the vehicles to see what damage has been done, checking on the injuries, trying to talk to the Wolverines. They’re in a mess, down to only three of their previous six. Jersey won’t talk to anyone except in snaps. Dale has lost a lot of blood; we’re not sure if he’ll pull through.


We’ve set a watch on the roof during the light hours, in case more shamblers turn up. Everyone’s too shell-shocked to talk much, and I’m a little afraid of what will be said once we get past that. I’m afraid of what I’ll say.

For now, all we can do is try to tend to our wounds and hope we avoid attention.

Sunday, 21 June 2009 - 11:14 pm

The Seekers’ mouth

It’s hard to keep secrets when we all live in each other’s pockets. It’s hard not to look suspect when you can’t explain what you’re up to. Of all the things I had thought about since we decided to do this celebration, a cover story wasn’t one of them.

The hardest part is not being able to talk to Matt. I’m so used to telling him everything that I feel myself stumble when he’s near. He knows that something is going on but he hasn’t asked me about it yet. I don’t know what I’ll say if he does so I’m staying away from him in the meantime. I’ve never been good at lying, especially to him. He always knows; he gets this wounded, disappointed look on his face and stops asking.

Thorpe’s giving me weird looks as well. It’s so hard to read his stoic grumpiness; he could be annoyed with me, he could be upset, or it could be gas. Of course, asking him reveals little to nothing except an extra effort on his part not to give anything away.

Masterson couldn’t care less what we’re up to, though he’s getting snarky over the fact that Sally is spending time with me. He’s like a hangnail, the sort you’re just dying to chew off because it catches on everything but won’t because it’ll make your hand bleed.

Dillon, on the other hand, is so bored that he’s glad of any attention I can give him. I wind up sitting with him most of the time I’m in the warehouse, making him help me sort out the things that we found on the day’s scavenging. He’s still in a lot of pain and welcomes distractions. He even brushed out Nugget’s snarled hair earlier, with such patience and care that I found myself sitting and watching him when I should have been shifting supplies. He reminded me of a younger Matt; they have the same hands.


The Wolverines are as much trouble as they always are, squabbling over the division of supplies. They defend their space and gear with dark enthusiasm and the rest of the Seekers mostly avoid them. It made me sad at first, until I realised that they were stopping the doctor from getting to Dale.

Dale is pale and sickly from his injuries, not the Sickness. He hasn’t left his blankets since we laid them down; I don’t think he’s been awake much either. When I found out that his companions had prevented Masterson from checking on him, I lost it a little bit.

I told the doctor to come with me and marched over to the poor fella. When Jersey tried to get in my way, I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. The lad didn’t have the chance to reply – of all the stupid things, stopping a doctor from getting to his patient it right up there with running around in the rain. We might not have much in the way of medical supplies, but we can still make a difference. What did he think we were going to do – kill his friend? Did he really think we’d do that?

Haven’t we lost enough people already? Haven’t they? It was about time they started doing the best thing for survival and making a few compromises, because the way they were carrying on, they wouldn’t last long. We’re all making choices that we don’t want to so that we make it to tomorrow, and it was about time the Wolverines realised that they’re not exempt from that.

Then I noticed I was ranting. Masterson was watching me with a closed expression – maybe just a little smile – and Jersey’s mouth hung open a little. I caught myself, took a breath, and asked the Wolverine to get out of the way.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” he demanded, but he stepped aside anyway.

“I’m the one willing to shout at you so your friend gets help,” I told him.

“She’s the Seekers’ mouth,” Masterson agreed as he stepped calmly past us to Dale’s side. He might pretend not to care, but he still likes to make a difference.

I went to go with him, but Jersey wasn’t finished with me. “He can, but not you. I don’t want you near him.”

I glared at him, furious, and had to remind myself that Dale was the important thing here. So I left them to it and sent Sally to lend the doctor a hand.

The whole incident made me so tense that my arm aches now. The healing gashes cut deep into the muscle and they don’t like to be so wound up. The pain radiates out from my arm to the rest of my body until I find myself gritting my teeth. Then I look at Dillon and know it’s so much worse for him that I don’t complain.


My cracks are showing. I shouldn’t have gone off like that at Jersey, even if he did deserve it. I feel like the slightest thing will make me snap – the wrong look, the wrong word, a question too far. I don’t know how to uncoil myself. I can feel my dream waiting for me when I fall asleep – the footsteps in my head, the reaching fingertips at my back. It feels like something’s coming, something awful.

If I let it catch me, will it really be as bad as I fear?

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Thursday, 25 June 2009 - 6:41 pm


There was movement outside a little after dawn. I woke early – Matt had shifted and pulled the blankets off my feet, and my toes were cold. I let him sleep and got up, wrapping myself in layers of clothing and stamping on my boots. That’s when I heard them, footsteps pattering across the concrete outside.

I went to one of the dusty windows to look out and saw a few of yesterday’s runners creeping out of the next building. The stained sunlight peeked through the constant cloud cover enough to give them blurry-edged shadows. They stumbled wearily but with the determination of people who know that they can’t afford to rest. I’ve felt like that recently, and often since the bomb went off. We push on to survive.


I heard my name from behind me and turned to see Dillon awake and watching. I went over to sit down next to him, warming my hands and feet at the fire’s edge.

“What’s going on out there?” he asked me. He looked worried, poor kid.

“The runners are heading out now that it’s light.”

“Shouldn’t we head out soon too?”

“Maybe.” It’s true that all the movement outside was making me itchy to get on the road. Staying still just doesn’t seem safe but neither is travelling; they each have their dangers. There’s a part of me that naturally wants to hide, but that’s the worst thing we can do; if the shamblers don’t sniff us out, the rain will work its way in or we’ll run out of food and starve to death. Pushing on is our only option for survival.

Dillon looked at me and I reached over to squeeze his hand. He feels even more helpless than most of us, unable to even get up thanks to his broken leg. He seemed to be struggling to say something, so I waited for him.

“Are we going to help any of them?” he asked finally.

It wasn’t the question that I was expecting. “I don’t know. If they need it and they’ll take it, sure.” I shrugged, knowing that it wasn’t that simple. We teamed up with the Wolverines hoping that it would be simple and now Dillon has a broken leg, Dale is badly injured and they lost three of their own. “We might not be able to.”

“You don’t think it would be better if we just looked after ourselves?” He was watching me closely, weighing my reactions, and that made me careful with how I answered. I didn’t want to lie to him; he deserved better than that.

“Better for us? Yeah, it probably would. But everyone’s in the same boat here. We all just want to survive. I don’t think we should lock anyone out in the rain, but we should protect ourselves, too.” I sighed; I was convincing myself of something I didn’t want to. “We shouldn’t hurt anyone else unless they force us to. Y’know?” I didn’t want to become one of those groups, cruel because we could be, or determined to beat down the other guy before he had the chance to do it to us. I can’t look at every stranger and think about putting my bat to his head.

“Masterson says you’re an idealist.” Dillon said it like he wasn’t sure what the word meant.

“Yeah, I guess I am.” I looked sideways at the kid. “He probably said a lot of other stuff too, huh.”

That made him smile. “Yeah. I don’t listen to most of it, though.”

“Probably a good choice.” Masterson doesn’t tend to lie, but he does put his own spin on the truth. “You want some breakfast, hopalong?”


Those on watch today reported that the runners kept moving. New ones came into sight, moving slower than the rest. One pair almost stumbled right into the warehouse, but they saw us and fled around the side. We tried to talk to them, but they weren’t interested.

We talked about moving on, but Masterson said that we shouldn’t move the injured unless we absolutely have to. Dale, in particular, needs a chance to heal before we jiggle him around.

That’s only one reason to linger, though. I think we all want to see what it is that’s chasing people through here; we want to put a face to their horror because it’s less terrifying than the unknown. No-one’s quite willing to go out and ask someone, not yet. Not when we don’t know how desperate and armed they might be.

Perhaps tomorrow, when the backrunners reach us. The ones that are moving too slowly to evade us easily.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009 - 5:38 pm

Hand on my head

We’re leaving tomorrow. One less than we should have been. Everything’s packed and ready and there aren’t any more reasons to delay.

I don’t want to be here any more. I’ve been buried in blankets, as if they might protect me from the world. From the truth. They won’t. They can’t. It seeps in, it grabs me and sucks me down, and plays over and over in my head. I keep thinking of things I could have done better, or differently, but the end is always the same. A perfect circle.

I could have not picked up the gun. I might have lost them both, but it wouldn’t have been my hands that did it. I keep trying for a better solution, but I can’t find one, and that hurts more than anything.


Dillon came to see me today. He struggled all the way up three flights of stairs on his crutches and into the room I had isolated myself in. He asked me how I was, but I had no answer for him. There just aren’t words. I shook my head and returned the question.

He was quite happy to talk. About how he’s getting better on these crutches and the doctor says that his leg is healing all right. He’s been playing soccer with the other two kids, hopping about and using crutches to bat the ball, and they’re not letting him win any more. His grin didn’t mind that, but it didn’t last long. He’s going to miss them when we go; the other youngsters are staying here. Dillon has a family to find.

Before he left, he said that he didn’t blame me for what happened and put his hand on my head. It was the only part of me he could reach from up on his crutches. The gesture brought tears up again, but I held them back until he was gone.


If I’m not to blame, then who is? It’s not Ben’s fault that he became what he did. It’s not Thorpe’s for bringing the gun. It’s not Matt’s for standing up for what he thought was right. He was trying to protect me.

I made the choice. Just me.

I want to write it down but I’m afraid to put it into words. That awful scene, the moment when I knew I had to do something. Each frantic little thought that led to the sharp tang of gunpowder in the air. I can explain it. I can justify it. And that’s the part that frightens me the most.

I don’t want to know that I can do something like that again.