Saturday, 7 November 2009 - 9:04 pm

A matter of consent

The other women in the dorm have learned Jersey’s moods, but even they misjudged just how her temper can flare, especially when she’s already in a bad mood.

Just after I got back from the infirmary last night, I saw Nadine and Mama Prusco cruising the dorm, with the elderly Lavinia in tow. Like the three wyrd sisters, looking for ingredients for their cauldron. The old cow was directing them with little words and flicks of her fingers towards particular girls, mostly those ones trying to avoid meeting the women’s gazes. I heard Lavinia say something about needing to shake up the contingent of women sent to entertain the men. They would try a roster but with monthly cycles and pregnancy pulling girls out of the running, it was just too complicated to make work.

So they have to rake through the dorm every night, grabbing women at random and shepherding them off to the part of the compound commonly referred to as the brothel rooms. We don’t use that name within the hearing of the wyrd sisters, of course, but I’ve heard it on more than one pair of lips. It’s not inaccurate, considering.

Unfortunately for the trio of madams, Lavinia directed them towards Iona. The girl was sitting crosslegged on her bed, humming to herself as she combed out a lock of her hair, teasing out one painstaking knot at a time. She looked up when the shadows fell over her bed, smiling at the faces above her without a trace of reservation.

“Flowers are for plucking, but they fade so quickly,” she told them clearly, just a little bit sad. I think she understands more than she lets on, that one.

Mama Prusco stepped in to take one of the girl’s arms to encourage her to stand up (or, more accurately, to drag her off the bed). Iona didn’t fight or struggle, or even sit there limply. She just turned to put her comb down and went about unfolding her legs so that she could stand. I thought she might resist or at least be reluctant, but she showed no signs of that. That’s when I decided to get involved and got up to go over there.

Nadine was on her other side, ready to escort her to the group of uncomfortable-looking girls waiting in the aisle, when Jersey arrived. She beat me there, crashing into the situation with all guns blazing. I’ve never seen her so furious before. She tore Iona’s arms free, rough enough to leave bruises on everyone involved. By then, I had made it around the bunk and could draw the bewildered girl away from the battleground. Iona came with me as easily as she would have gone with the madams.

Jersey, meanwhile, was laying into all of them with a heavy-laden tongue. How could they think of taking Iona off for something like that? She wasn’t capable of making such a choice. It was like taking a child – and don’t think that Jersey didn’t know the younger women had been pressured into taking part in the whoring too. Only sixteen, a couple of them, but at least they knew what was happening to them.

Nadine made the mistake of defending their actions by saying, “Why shouldn’t she pull her weight? She’ll never know what happened anyway.”

The sound of Jersey’s fist hitting Nadine’s face was a sudden, sharp slap, and the dark-haired head snapped backwards. Her body clattered against the next bunk while voices rose all around us. Mama Prusco grabbed Jersey’s arms, demanding to know what the hell she thought she was doing, and I put Iona behind me. The poor girl was covering her ears against all the noise, whimpering and curling in on herself. Jersey growled and slammed her forehead into Mama Prusco’s face. There was a howl and a spurt of blood. Jersey’s arms were free again as the big woman cupped her hands over her broken nose.

I pushed Iona onto my bunk when Jersey turned on Lavinia. The old woman was tougher than she looked but I didn’t think that smacking her would help anyone right now. So I stepped in and pulled the ex-Wolverine back before she could do any more damage. She almost punched me too but restrained herself at the last moment, her breath coming in short, sharp huffs. She was all coiled tension, ready to lash out at anyone who came close enough – I was just lucky that she classed me as a friend. Anyone else would have ended up like the two smacked madams.

I had to shout over the horrified cries to get everyone to shut up. Throwing in a few four-letter words seemed to administer enough verbal slaps to get their attention. The ragged silence sucked at us like a split lip.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” I told them shortly. “Trying to force someone into this deal of yours.” I saw Nadine drawing breath to argue with me and went on before she could form words. “Forcing someone who doesn’t understand take part is wrong. She can’t consent, and that makes it rape.”

Throwing that word in stopped any rebuttals before they were formed. They can put whatever excuse they want on it, but it’s still rape. I could feel the ex-Wolverine swelling behind me and I turned to fix a glare on her. “Jersey, go cool off. Now. The rest of you, I suggest you go and do whatever it is you need to do elsewhere.”

Jersey made a great show of stomping off to the unused bathrooms out back. To my surprise, the rest of the women dispersed, taking the battered ones with them. I hadn’t actually expected them to listen to me, but I guess a loud voice with a semblance of calm is better than the wailing and the violence. I let the other girls clean up the blood on Mama Prusco’s face and put a cloth to Nadine’s rapidly-swelling eye. I had no stomach to sympathise with them anyway.

My heart was still beating way too fast when I turned around to comfort Iona. She was curled up on my bed with her hands clamped over her ears, a tiny rigid thing murmuring to herself. It took me a moment to realise that she was saying, “Too loud, too loud,” over and over.

It took some coaxing to get her to take her hands off her head, so that she could hear the lack of noise for herself. She looked up at me, and I saw a scar of trauma in her eyes. Whatever chased her wits away was noisy but didn’t leave a mark on her. It pricks at my curiosity, but I don’t have the heart to ask her about it. She’s having enough trouble healing as it is. Instead, I tried to tell her that it was all right, she could relax now. Her response was to nod and bury her face in my blanket.


I left her like that to go check on Jersey, believing that she was calm enough and it would be safe for me to be absent for a few moments. The pugilist was pacing in the bathroom, back and forth, as if she was waiting for the bell to ring again.

She demanded to know why I had stepped in, why I had stopped her from teaching those “fucking pimps” a lesson – wasn’t I on her side? I told her that I was, but they had enough to think about for now and we had to keep things calm if we wanted to stand a chance of getting out of here. Did she want a tagalong cutout like mine? No? Then she should stop getting into fights. Just for now. Just until we can get out of here. Iona is safe, she’s fine.

“We have to take her,” Jersey said.

I hesitated, but I couldn’t find a way to disagree with that. I dread to think about what would happen to Iona without anyone here to look out for her, to protect her. It’s best if she comes with us, even if she’s a burden to us.

I gave Jersey a rag to bind her bruised knuckles with and went back into the dorm room. Iona was sitting on my bunk, rhythmically shredding my blanket into strips with her delicate, plucking fingers. I had to bite back my frustration.

I sighed and tried not to mind, and went to see if any of us might get some sleep. It took me a while to convince Iona to fold up on her own bed, then lay down fully-clothed on mine, abandoning hope of resurrecting the blanket. Sometime during the night, I woke up to find another blanket draped over me and a small body curled up against my back. There wasn’t a lot of room but I didn’t have the heart to move her, and I was too tired for it to stop me from falling asleep again.

What’s a little stiffness in the morning between friends?

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Friday, 11 December 2009 - 7:23 pm

Fire on glass

Iona was right – the fields of glass are beautiful. The stretch over a roll of hillside is like a ripple in a frozen wave. Reflecting the low orange sky, it looks like it’s on fire. A river of molten sand, sliding down to pool at our feet.

We stopped in a spatter of whoops and cheers. Masterson might think I keep searching for the gold at the end of the rainbow, but here it is, right in front of us. Here’s our hope for full bellies and building something to survive the end of canned goods and freeze-dried packets.

It couldn’t come at a better time for me. After the uncertainty and agonising of the past few days, I needed this. Not as much as I had needed Matt’s reaction – which was so much better than I had dared to hope for that I’m still reeling – but it’s still a weight off my chest. We can make this work. We can get through all this, through everything.

The pragmatists among us didn’t join in with the cheering, though I saw smiles on a couple of them. Of course, we couldn’t know if it would work until we got down there and saw first-hand and up-close what we had to deal with. But we wanted to enjoy just getting here. We wanted to celebrate that we had got this far, and the knowledge that our dreams might not be so far out of reach after all. Sure, it was going to be a struggle and lots of hard work to make it happen, but it’s possible now.


We were like kids when we made it to the end of the drive and into the front yard of the flower farm. We piled off and out of our vehicles and ran around, checking things out. Opening doors and sticking our heads inside, checking in cupboards, filtering dirt through our fingers, poking at questionable-looking mounds to see if they twitched. We were back in the yard in record time, reporting our findings in excited voices.

Most of the glass looks intact. Certainly at this end of the long rows of greenhouses, the panes are all whole and seemed sealed enough. There was dirt and the remains of flowers long-dead in the troughs. They had died with no-one here to water and care for them. That’s okay – we can use the remains for compost. It’s a good sign: they haven’t been melted away, so the acid hasn’t snuck in. We can assume that the soil is poison-free, though Kostoya is determined to test it before we go growing any food in it.

That led us to the question of what we need to do next. We split ourselves up into three groups: housing, supplies, and greenhouse examination. I wound up with the latter group, fixed on figuring out just how much of the greenhouses was usable, what tools and equipment there was here, and what else we would need to get started. We knew it would take a trip back to the garden centre to get ourselves properly set up.

The housing group went over the other outbuildings to see where we could set up beds and other necessities. The supplies gang was the largest, with part of it helping Kostoya to set up the water filter and the others looking for any signs of food in the area. I think the professor is going to set up his lab equipment in the barn, so he can run tests on the soil and plants to make sure they’re safe.


All this activity is bewildering. Our vehicles are suddenly stationary and useless, our feet no longer seeking another road to travel down. We’re here. We’ve stopped. Now we have to make this work. All this running around in circles feels more frantic than productive, even though I know that it’s not.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about it all. What if it doesn’t work? What will we do then? Where can we go next? Is this our last, slender thread of survival? A less paranoid and skittish question is: will we find enough food to carry us through until the first crop is ready to eat?

I was outside considering all of this when I spotted Iona. She was sitting inside one of the cars, her chin tucked down behind hugged-in knees. She was a big pair of eyes, blinking and seeing nothing. In all of the activity, no-one had noticed that she was still in there. I went over and let myself into the other side of the vehicle, closing the door with a solid thunk.

I can see why she liked it in there. There was no little breeze to fuss at her hair, no sound of feet hurrying back and forth, no voices lifted in query and answer. It was a peaceful pocket of air, shivering in time with the curled-up girl.

I’ve never seen her so upset before. She has been quiet and increasingly unhappy as we headed down this way, but now we’re here, she’s almost catatonic. I tried to get her to speak or at least look at me, but she wouldn’t. She kept murmuring something when I asked her a question, over and over between snatches of breath. I had to lean in to make out the words.

“They’ll come. They’ll come and you’ll see. You’ll all see.”

I sat back with a lump of ice forming in my belly. Whatever happened to her, it happened here or a place just like it. I think it was the thing that broke her. I hadn’t stopped to wonder if that was going to be a problem for us until that moment.

Leaning over again, I took her face in my hands and turned it so that she was looking at me. She avoided my eyes but at least I forced her to put some effort into it.

“We’re not going to let anything happen to you,” I said. “You’re protected now, Iona. You’re safe with us.”

She murmured at me again, the same answer as before. I don’t think she heard me. With a sigh, I let her go and told her that I was going to arrange a watch. All I could do was hope that some part of her heard me and was eased, even if it wasn’t the part currently in charge of her face.


I grabbed the boys as they passed me in the yard. Thorpe, Jonah, Matt, Masterson, Dale. Jersey came along too – she’s never far from Jonah these days. I think there’s something going on there.

I told them about Iona. She believed there was a threat here. I got the arguments I was expecting – she’s disturbed, she isn’t connected with reality, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and she hasn’t been here for months. I shrugged and said the only response there was: can we take a chance on her being wrong?

A watch was a good idea anyway. Shamblers are likely to be roaming around somewhere and we might not be the only mobile group. As lean and hungry as the world is getting, its inhabitants are only getting harder in their search for survival. Jonah supported the idea – I thought he would – and most of the others were on board too. Masterson was dismissive but that’s nothing new.

Now we have another group in our mixed pod of peas: security. There are people on post now, looking out towards the road and across the fields as the rain slides off the glass. We’ve left Jonah and Bobby in charge of arranging the watches, though I think Thorpe is keeping a close eye on them. There’s still a lot of distrust floating around.

We’re here. We’ve started. Now let’s see what we can make of it.

Sunday, 20 December 2009 - 7:24 pm


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.”


“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.

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Sunday, 27 December 2009 - 9:59 pm


Somewhere in the dark hours of last night, I fell asleep. I curled up with Matt and we tried to find some comfort in each other. Even the blinding passion couldn’t blot everything out, though it managed to exhaust us enough to get a little rest.

It felt like I had barely closed my eyes before there was a fist banging on our door. I jerked awake and stumbled into my clothes, swearing when a sleeve got caught on my bandaged forearm. Matt snagged me by the shoulders and made me look at him.

“Take a breath,” he told me. “We can get through this.”

I sucked in air and let it out again, and nodded to him. It was going to be okay.

On the way down to the yard, I couldn’t get Mira and Janice’s faces out of my head. It wasn’t okay for them. They had staring eyes that saw nothing any more.

Everyone was gathering down there. I caught sight of Iona on the way – she was standing in the kitchen doorway, plucking at people as they passed her.

“Don’t,” she kept saying. “Don’t go. They’ll take the flowers, take everything. Take it all.”

Her warnings were so desperate that I hesitated and caught her eye. I remembered her previous rantings about this place, about what might have happened here. It’s hard to know what’s real with her, but there was no doubt about her fear.

“Do you know these people?” I asked. She stared at me and her hair trembled. “We won’t let them hurt you, Iona. Do you know them?”

“Can’t look,” she whispered. “Won’t look.”

So she hadn’t even seen these strangers and didn’t know if she knew them. I wasn’t going to force her. I could hear voices raised outside; I didn’t want to miss what was happening. I had to be there in case it started to escalate into violence again. We couldn’t afford any more injuries – the ones we had were already stretching our medical supplies past safe limits.

“All right. We won’t let them hurt you.”

She didn’t say anything, just nodded, so I tore off to join the others. There was a gulf running down the middle of the yard between the main house and the barn, between Seekers and intruders. Everyone was armed, rifles on our side and machetes on theirs. There was only five of them – they had been forced to leave two of their number in the barn. Despite being outnumbered and quite literally outgunned, they were still grinning cockily. There was something off about the brightness of their eyes that I didn’t like.

“…place was ours and we want it back,” one of them was saying.

“Well, you can’t have it.” Jersey had stepped up to speak to them. I hurried forward as she started to swear at them.

“C’mon, let’s just get ’em,” another of them said to his friends. “Bet they haven’t got bullets anyway.”

They laughed and waggled their blades meaningfully. Bobby tensed and took aim at the speaker. “You really wanna test that?”

“We don’t do that,” I said, joining the front rank. The kids were lingering near the door and Bree was standing near them. She looked like she had been crying all night.

“We just want what’s ours,” the first one said, his attention swinging around to me. Matt’s weight shifted to put an arm in front of me protectively.

“Nothin’ here belongs to you,” Jersey said.

They laughed again and one of them gestured at her suggestively with his weapon. For a sickening moment, I thought she was going to fire on reflex. They had killed Mira and Janice. They had hurt so many of our people. We don’t know what damage they might have been doing in the barn – Kostoya spent the night worrying about the equipment in there. We had so many reasons to kill them and be rid of their threat. So many reasons, and only one to stop us: we don’t do that. We’re Seekers, and we don’t kill unless we have no other choice. This was still a choice.

Then the intruders’ attention shifted past us, back towards the house. I glanced over: someone was walking out and through the gathered Seekers. At first, I thought it was Sally because of the floaty way she was moving, but the hair colour was wrong. Auburn, not dark – Iona. I caught glimpses of her face: her jaw was set and there was a glazed look in her eyes. She stopped half a pace in front of the line of Seekers.

The intruders grinned, looking pleased with this line of events. Worse: they recognised her. Their frontrunner, who had dark hair twisted into dreadlocks, licked his teeth as he looked her over.

“Didn’t think we’d be seeing you again, Chrissy,” he said. His gaze flicked to Jersey. “Thought you said you didn’t have anything that belongs to us.”

Jersey looked like she was about to explode, so I jumped in. “Her name is Iona.”

The guy with the dreads looked puzzled for a moment, then exchanged grinning glances with his friends. Their amusement set my teeth on edge and for a second, I felt like shooting at them too.

“You see?” he said, gesturing widely with his weapon. “That just proves it. Iona isn’t her name – it’s something I used to say about her.” He said the name again, slower, and it hit my ears with a sick kind of sense. I own her. That’s what he had called her. She had been too broken to give any other name when Haven picked her up.

The Seekers’ shock had a palpable impact. I stared at the girl we knew as Iona; we were reeling, but she was perfectly calm. She smiled at them, almost sweetly, and she said something as she lifted her hand to point at them. I struggled to make out the words. I realised what she said in the moment I recognised what she was holding. A handgun.

“Won’t let them hurt.”

I shouted but she was already firing. The intruders didn’t react until the guy with the dreads fell back a step. Blood blossomed on his shirt once, twice, and he looked stunned when his legs crumpled. He coughed and touched his chest, and was bewildered by his own blood. His friends laughed at first, and then sobered when they realised he wasn’t getting up.

By then, Dale had grabbed the gun, yanked it out of her fingers. She didn’t fight him, just let him have it. She stared at the guy with his dreads as he died in our yard. She couldn’t hear us. Jersey was losing it, waving her rifle and shouting at the intruders to go, just go, get out of here. A bullet punched the air over their heads and they flinched. Whatever drug haze had carried them out here to face us was fast deserting them. Feet stumbled towards the driveway and more of us joined in. Go, don’t come back, go on, leave already. This place is ours and you’re not welcome.

A few Seekers followed them, chasing them down enough to be sure that they were really going and watching them until they were out of sight.

I wasn’t the only one to turn to the shooter in our midst. True to form, I was the first to find my tongue.

“Chrissy? Is that your name: Chrissy?”

She blinked and looked at me. It’s one of the few times she’s ever truly seen me. She smiled, looking so serene as if there wasn’t a man choking on his own blood just a few steps away.

“Better now,” she said. Then she turned and walked inside, leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess.

I didn’t know what to feel. No-one wanted to treat the guy with the dreads, but the awkwardness was taken out of our hands when he expired after a few minutes. Blood stained the dirt in another puddle we all stepped carefully around.

We found two bodies in the barn – the last intruders, the ones that didn’t make it outside again. Kostoya saw the mess and looked like he was going to weep. There was glass on the ground, equipment had been pushed off counters and benches to lie haphazardly on the floor. He hurried around with increasing dismay, calling for Conroy. I helped Bobby and Dale get the bodies out of there; it seemed like the most helpful thing I could do while the professor and his assistant assessed the damage.

A few of us helped to clean up the mess. Everyone stayed at the Farm today, in case the intruders came back. We didn’t talk much – for me, the dead were playing on my mind too much. We put them all out in one of the back areas this afternoon and gathered together while the clouds thickened overhead. We sang for them, for our dead, and then retreated back inside so that the rain could take them.

I wish it was as easy to wash clean my memory.

Monday, 28 December 2009 - 8:11 pm

Who to be

Everyone is still recovering from the events of the past few days. Some of us are healing physical wounds; most of us are healing some other part of ourselves. I feel shaky. Not in myself, but in everything around me.

Shortage of supplies forced us to send out foragers again. We can’t afford not to, and we can’t afford to send all our protection away as well. I decided to stay behind today; I think I’m more use mending what I can here at the Farm right now.

Bobby and Jonah have been spending a lot of time together, talking about things. Jonah is still in a lot of pain, pale and sweaty most of the time, but he’s starting to seek distractions now. They have volunteered to be in charge of our defenses and I haven’t had a reason to refuse them. They’re best qualified for it and Bobby seems to be relishing the trust now that he has it.

Kostoya is upset over the damage to his equipment in the barn. I heard him muttering about changes and reductions and needing to do more tests – he has been talking about things like that for the past week, but now he’s more frantic because he can’t do his tests. Conroy is usually on hand, patting the professor’s arm and telling him that it’ll be all right. They’ll fix up the barn and get the experiments going again.

It’s a strange reversal. Kostoya looked after Conroy following the head injury, and now the brain-injured one has to look after the smart fella.

Of everyone, I think the kids are the ones taking all of this with the most ease. So I sent Nugget and Estebar to help them, fetching and carrying and sweeping up the glass. Kostoya was bewildered by the sudden aid and turned to his faithful assistant.

“Will you keep an eye on them, son?” he said. “They might… hurt themselves.”

Conroy was all reassurance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Kostoya call him that before.

Bree is grieving for Mira. I’ll be honest – I’m surprised by how hard the girl’s death has hit her. It makes me feel ashamed of myself; I know it’s our personal history interfering with my judgement, but I can’t help it. I keep remembering how much Bree has hurt me in the past and how heartless she could be, and it doesn’t tally with the depth of her current pain. I tried to push past it today, tried to be a better person towards her. I asked her how she was, if she needed anything.

She shook her head. “No,” she said, in that quiet way of someone who can’t think of a single thing that might make it better.

I nodded and was about to leave her to it, when she caught my sleeve. She was earnest all of a sudden.

“Thank you.”

I didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t. “You’re welcome,” I said, and then I moved on. There wasn’t anything else to say. It feels like a door has opened a crack but I don’t know whether or not I want to push it open any further.

Masterson and Sally are still keeping to themselves, with the baby. I went up to check on them, knowing that their help was gone and Bree has been too busy to come up to give them a hand. Sally was cradling Felix, singing to him softly to get him to fall asleep. She was smiling at him in a way that reminded me of Iona – Chrissy. She has been so vague lately and today it bothered me.

Masterson didn’t ask me why I was there. His greeting was, “We’re fine. You don’t need to be here.” Nothing like making me feel welcome.

“What’s she on?” I asked.

He met my eye for a second and then looked away. Of course he couldn’t maintain that kind of contact. “She’s fine.”

“You have painkillers? Anti-depressants?” It had to be something like that.

He didn’t answer and I thought about asking where he got them. Then I recalled that Mira had come foraging with us the day the shamblers attacked. She hadn’t left the Farm before or since, and it was shortly after that that I saw Sally downstairs, apparently recovered from her depression. It made sense that the doctor would send someone else out to forage for him.

I was suddenly so angry that I could barely speak, but I managed to force the words out. I didn’t want to hold them back from him.

“When were you planning on telling the rest of us, huh? When were you planning to share them? Maybe with the man who lost his leg and is sitting down there in pain every single day?”

“And what about the pain up here? There isn’t enough to go around.”

“There is never enough. The least you could have done was offer some relief, you selfish bastard.”

He drew breath to defend himself, but I didn’t want to listen to him. I didn’t care what he had to say. I turned on my heel and walked out, aching all the way through as if the knowledge had scoured something away from inside me. I remembered how we found him, high in his hospital on a cloud of drugs. I remembered how Sally had run away to that. Months on, and that’s still where they want to be, even though she’s holding their consequences in her arms and there aren’t enough drugs to sustain them.

I was so angry with them that I felt like snapping off the first head I came across. That’s when I walked into Iona – Chrissy. I literally barrelled straight into her, rounding a corner too fast to stop. Pain nailed me through my healing forearm and stopped any words from escaping my throat. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, gripping it and blinking in surprise.

She recovered her balance and smiled at me. “Whoops,” she said, quite cheerfully. As if that didn’t hurt. As if she didn’t kill someone yesterday. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew what she had done. Surely, somewhere in there, she knew. But did she know it was wrong?

“Sorry, Chrissy.” I couldn’t be angry with her, not after what we had learned. All we know is how badly she was broken, not how they did it, and I don’t ever want to know. I can’t look at her serenity and want to look into that dark place.

The use of that name tugged at her expression, like a memory that was bobbing to the surface.

“Would you rather that we didn’t call you that?” I had thought it was better than ‘Iona’, the name that had grown out of a terrible misunderstanding.

“She’s gone. She went with the flowers, wanted to be mulch.” She was wistful about that, as if she was talking about the Little Mermaid turning into froth on the ocean.

She didn’t want to be the girl who was broken, and we couldn’t call her by a symbol of that breaking.

“What would you like us to call you, then?” I asked.

She blinked at me, as if she couldn’t understand the question.

“You should pick a name. Pick one that you like.”

“I don’t know what I like.”

I should have known that it would be difficult. How was I supposed to know what she liked? There was only one thing she ever talked about consistently. “What’s your favourite flower?”


“You like flowers.” I took her by the hand and led her to the flower farm’s boards. They had been stacked up in a hallway, their pictures and prices no use to us. That wasn’t what we were growing. I pointed the nameless girl at them. “Which is your favourite?”

She stared at me, and then went to start looking over the boards. She handled them so carefully, as if her light fingers might bruise them. As if they were petals of the flowers they held pictures of. She took her time and I started to wonder if she had forgotten what I had asked her to do, but finally she turned to me and pointed at a board. She looked hopeful, like a child. I suppose that was fitting.

“What is that, a lily? You like lilies?”

“Is that right?” She sounded like she thought it was a test.

“It’s up to you.” I gave her a smile and she relaxed. “It’s a pretty name. Do you want us to call you Lily?”

She nodded, and suddenly she was hugging me so hard I thought I’d choke. I was patting her back awkwardly when Jersey walked into the hallway and saw us. Her expression clamped down on unpleasantness as she stomped over to see what was going on. I explained while I peeled Lily off me, and the girl gave us both blinding smiles. She looked like she might bounce on her toes at any moment.

Jersey was surprised, taking the news silently. She frowned at Lily, untouched by that smile. Lily didn’t seem to notice or mind her reticence.

“So you want to be Lily.” Jersey didn’t make it a question, but the girl nodded anyway. She patted Jersey’s arm as if to say, it’s all right now. Don’t worry. Then she turned and floated off down the hall.

I think Jersey is taking all this stuff with Lily very personally. She protected the girl at Haven and has been keeping a close eye on her ever since. She doesn’t want to show just how much this matters to her, and when she does, it’s in shouting and smacking. Yesterday, after Dale disarmed her, Jersey was quick to pull her out of range of anyone who might hurt her. If she hadn’t had her hands full with Lily, she probably would have gone over to kick the man with the dreadlocks, just to make sure he stayed down. She’s probably still wishing she had had the chance to do that.

“You all right?” I asked when Lily was gone.

Jersey scowled at me. “Yeah, ‘course.” Then she stomped off after the girl, probably to make sure she wasn’t getting herself into trouble again.

I checked in on Dale and Thorpe next. They’re are doing all right, though the big fireman is struggling with the gash on his side. It’s not the wound itself; it’s his partner insisting on him resting it. Dale is trying to take care of him but Thorpe doesn’t want to allow it. I’d like to knock both their heads together. For once, I’m not getting involved; this is something they need to work out. Maybe, just maybe, Thorpe will finally let his guard down when it comes to that stuff, but I don’t have the heart to force him, even if I could. That’s going to have to be his choice.

That just left Matt and me. We’re doing better than we were; we’re not so paranoid about being able to protect each other any more. The shambler attack helped with that. We needed a victory, even if it was small and personal against the bigger picture, and that’s what we had that day. We fought them and we won. We came out battered but okay, and we took care of each other.

Even so, it’s still a relief to see him and to know he’s all right. That little reflexive smile he gives when he sees me makes me relax inside, and he still rests a hand on my belly whenever he slips his arms around me.

All that has happened lately only makes me want to hold onto him tighter. But there’s something missing. There’s something more we need – something more he needs, though he hasn’t asked me for anything.

I think I finally know what that is. I think I know who he wants me to be.