Wednesday, 3 June 2009 - 6:23 pm

Drawn straws

Today, I went into Mike’s domain to see about fixing a few cars for us. Each step felt like an apology to him; he never liked anyone in his garage, taking up space and moving his tools so he couldn’t find anything. Even Dad was careful in there, even though it all belonged to him. Mike was a crotchety mechanic, but he could get any machine working and he and Dad were buddies from way back. He might not be here any more but I can still feel him, watching my every move from the guts of someone’s engine.

I think Mike was here, in the time After the bomb. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s the only explanation. The best set of screwdrivers is gone, along with the one wrench that he swore by – Dad bought him newer, less battered ones, but he only ever used that red-handled wrench, adjusting it to fit every job. A thief would have taken the newer ones. A thief who didn’t know.

It’s possible that it was Dad who took it. If he came here, he would have loaded up with tools before he left again. Maybe he would have taken Mike’s wrench for nostalgic reasons, but I just don’t see it. Maybe that’s me being hopeful, but I think if someone other than Mike had been through here, taking things, it would be more of a mess.

That’s the other thing that it took me a while to notice: the garage wasn’t turned over like the rest of the yard’s buildings. Its barely-controlled chaos made sense to Mike and it was familiar to me. The tools still here lay where he left them, waiting for him to come back and need them again.

So it felt weird helping myself to the tools. At one point I stopped and dug out a pen and a piece of paper so I could write him a little note. I left it skewered on a nail in the wall; that made me feel better, as silly as it sounds. I guess I can’t just assume that he’s dead and past caring about this stuff.


I would have preferred to work alone today. There’s so much buzzing around in my head that I’m distracted most of the time and not great company. I can feel myself being quiet, watching the others talk, my mouth empty of anything to add. I don’t think I’ve got anything left in me right now.

It wasn’t really up to me, though. The others are still on supply-searches and that meant mixed pairs, Seekers and Wolverines. If I stayed behind, that meant a Wolverine had to, and I think they wanted one of their number to keep an eye on me. Of all people I wanted around me today, a Wolverine wasn’t one of them.

I saw Conroy immediately perk up at the idea and went chill all over. I glared at him, almost wanting him to be the one to stay; he’d try something, I just knew it, and then I’d snap and beat him with a spanner. I could feel it, that trembling thread of control that has held me back from so much since we met these guys. All it would take was a word, a smirk, a hand resting somewhere on me, the smell of his breath. I could feel my skin twitching already.

I knew that I would snap and that it would end badly, and while there’s a part of me that wants it, I’m not built that way. I can’t invite that kind of thing.

“Any of you know anything about engines?” I asked. That made them fall quiet. I was sure that Conroy didn’t, not with those soft hands, and I hoped that Kirk didn’t either. That was another encounter bound to wind up with someone in a bad way.

Glances were exchanged and to everyone’s relief, it was Jersey who spoke up. I haven’t had much to do with him – he tends to partner up with Sally and hasn’t caused much trouble. He’s as loud and obnoxious as the rest of his crew, despite being the youngest and leanest of them, but he doesn’t have the hungry look I expected from someone at the bottom of the group like that. I think he makes up for his lack of size with bravado and noise.

Sean had that look when we first met them, before he got too sick to sustain it. I think he’s unconscious now, and probably Rico too. The Wolverines don’t want us ‘messing’ with their boys and won’t even let Masterson check on them. I’d fight harder if I thought there was anything we could really do, but there isn’t. The Sickness hasn’t responded to anything we’ve tried; I don’t think Ben survived it because of anything we did. If it was, we don’t know what that something was.

Conroy was disappointed to have his place here in the garage stolen by his companion, but they all went off to search for supplies anyway. It was interesting watching them leave – Thorpe marched off with Kirk and Masterson shoved Conroy out ahead of him, abandoning Dale to partner up with Sally. The doctor might act like he’s not paying attention or doesn’t care, but he wasn’t going to let that particular Wolverine be alone near his pregnant girl.


That left me and Jersey to go over the off-roaders to see what we could get working. Once the others were out of the way, I asked him where he wanted to start and he shrugged; as it turned out, he didn’t know much about engines at all, but he didn’t fancy traipsing through other people’s homes all day. I have a suspicion that there’s more to it than that, but I wasn’t going to press him. I was mostly glad that it wasn’t Kirk or Conroy here.

Jersey actually turned out to be fairly useful. He wasn’t as boisterous or obnoxious without his friends around, and some of the time he honestly tried to lend a hand. I showed him how to siphon fuel out of the gas station next door and he whined that carrying food was easier than lugging full cans around. Still, by the time the others got back, we had a healthy store piling up.

And I wasn’t tempted to hit him with a spanner once.

Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 8:53 pm


It started off as such a normal day, as far as ‘normal’ applies here. And then it nosedived, without warning.

There were no signs of more shamblers in the area, so we moved the vehicles over to the chemistry building to load them up. With so many ‘helping’ hands, it took ages to get everything done, even though we’re not planning to take all of the vehicles with us. After a quick survey last night, it looks like we’ll have maybe a dozen heading out, give or take a few vacillating souls.

I went to check that we hadn’t missed any equipment and heard a shout from one of the back rooms. I called for the others as I ran back to see what it was, though once I saw what was going on, I wished I hadn’t.


Jersey had called out, but when I got there, his air was choked off. Ben was the cause and the Wolverine was batting feebly at his arm. I didn’t think: I ran over and tried to pull Ben off with words and hands.

It was like trying to move the arm of a statue. Ben scowled and shoved me off, and I wound up sprawled on the ground.

“Jersey’s dead anyway,” he said. When I asked what the hell he meant, he added, “She has an acid burn.”

I stared at him, trying to work out which part to process first. Jersey’s batting was fading, so I put the rest of it aside and told Ben to let go, let go. Some of the others were arriving, and I think it was that more than anything else that made him release the Wolverine. Jersey fell into a heap and gasped for air, trying to scrabble away.

“She’s been lying since we met her,” Ben said, spitting the words out like pips. He glanced at the doorway, where Conroy and Dale were among the onlookers. They were as stunned as the rest of us, like fish. “And probably for a while before that. About that, and about being burned.”

We all looked to Jersey for an answer, an argument; anything. It was there, written plainly on his face. Her face. Guilt, fear. She must have kept that secret for so many months, from everyone. Now the thin tissue of it was torn irreparably.

She glared at us, rubbing her throat and coughing, and then stumbled out of a side door. She wanted nothing more than to get away from all of us, and I didn’t blame her. No-one tried to stop her.

It was enough of a distraction that no-one asked Ben what he was doing choking the life out of the psuedo-boy. I don’t think any of them realised what he was doing before they got there.

The onlookers milled about uncertainly, angry murmurs fluttering between them. I caught sight of Terry, who has spent so much time with Jersey lately, looking uncertain about everything. I asked him to go after her, make sure she’s all right, make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid. He asked me why I didn’t want to go, and I told him that I needed to talk to Ben.

He’s a good lad. He didn’t know what to think of his new friend any more, but he went anyway. I hope he managed to say the right things. I can’t imagine how scared she must be now; I haven’t seen her since she ran off.


I turned around and Ben had already gone. It took me a while to find him, and by then I was afraid of what I’d discover with him this time. He was on his own, luckily, and my fear relaxed into anger.

“You were going to kill her.” It wasn’t a question; we both knew the truth of that.

He frowned at me, folding his arms over his chest. “I told you – she’s dead anyway.”

“You don’t know that.”

“She’s been burned. That means she’ll get the Sickness and die.”

I didn’t know what to say to him. Words cluttered up in my throat behind a roadblock of shock. It wasn’t that she would get the Sickness: it was his abrupt attitude about it. As iff that justified everything and anything.

“Ben, that takes months. And she might not die! She could turn out like you.” I tried to make that sound like a good thing, but my heart wasn’t in it. “We might be able to find a way to stop it!”

“She’s dead, Faith. Face it.”

“No! And even if she was… even if we were sure, that doesn’t give you the right to just… kill her.” I looked at him, at the way he avoided my gaze but wasn’t apologetic at all, and suddenly he felt like a stranger.

“Why not? She’s dead and I’m hungry. What would you have me do?”

“You can’t just kill people! Is this what happened with Steve? Did you kill him before the Sickness could take him?”

He just glared at me. “He was dead, too.”

“But still alive when you got to him! Ben, you can’t do this! You just can’t!”

He stepped closer and looked down at me, pulled his lips back. “It’s survival, Faith. They’re not going to make it, so I might as well.”

I stared up at him, ice all over and shivering. It felt like someone else was having this conversation. “How many has there been?” My voice sounded small and far away. It took me a moment to figure out why my cheeks were wet.

He just looked at me for a long moment.

“No more,” I said. “Promise me there won’t be any more.”

“And if I do? Will you offer a vein every time I’m hungry?”

“If I have to.”

The next thing I knew, my back was against a wall and there was a fresh cut on my arm. I didn’t fight him. I felt my heart throbbing and the wall wasn’t enough to hold me up. I asked him to stop just before my knees buckled. He said my name, but it was too dark. I don’t remember hitting the floor.


That was a few hours ago. I just woke up, wrapped in blankets. He must have put me to bed. I don’t know where he is now. I don’t feel good. I can’t keep doing this; I know that now. I think he’ll kill me without meaning to. Add me to the list of those he’s sacrificed so that he can keep on being.

There’s a part of me that wants to believe in him, but it’s growing smaller all the time. The knowledge is seeping through me, slow as slush: I love a killer. Do I dare to think I can still change him? The more I know, the less I like it. But I still don’t know enough. It won’t be enough until it’s too much.

Bones to entrails, I ache. It’s cold tonight. Or maybe it’s just me, all the way through.

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Thursday, 27 August 2009 - 5:54 pm


We are an even number again. There’s a part of me that wants to fight that one little fact, as if Dillon’s place with us could ever be filled. It can’t. It’s just our number that’s even, not our hearts.

Still, I can’t begrudge the one who has joined us. In fact, I was pleased; after the past few days, we needed something to pick us up again.

We were trying to fix the vehicles. Plastic sheeting over the rear windows and pock-marked panels, secured with the fabulous wrap of ductape. We switched to our last spare set of tyres, too; with all the acid on the roads, in ice or puddles, the treads have been wearing down far too quickly. It might be pointless unless we find more fuel to keep them running, but at least they’ll last a little while longer.

The sound of an engine approaching set us all on edge. We downed tools and ducked out of sight, taut as harpstrings. It wasn’t a big engine – in fact, it sounded thin and rattly – but you never know. These days, you just never know.

It almost went past us without comment. A single person on a motorcycle, anonymously helmeted, drifting slowly down the street. My first thought was that the guards were sending out scouts. Then Terry scowled and Dale leaned forward, staring at the back of the rider’s jacket. A design had been roughly painted on, one I found familiar but couldn’t make out.

Dale had no such problem. He ran out into the street, ignoring hissing and grabbing from the rest of us. With two fingers in his mouth, he whistled, brazen and piercing. We winced at the recklessness of it, while the rider heard and turned back. The rest of us quickly hurried out onto the road, forming up around Dale in case he needed our support.

As it turned out, he didn’t need us or any kind of protection. The rider stopped and shut off the engine, unworried by the mob of us standing there. When the helmet came off, we saw why. One of us, come back to the group, come back to the road.

The first thing I thought was that her hair’s grown and she looks more like a girl now.

Jersey. Most of us were pleased to see her. Dale was grinning and went to slap her on the shoulder; he has apparently forgiven her for the months of lying while they were running as the Wolverines. There were no hugs – she’s not really into that – but plenty of friendly buffets and what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here.

“Got sick of sitting on my ass at the university,” she told us, wheeling the bike towards where our vehicles were stashed. “So I thought I’d come see if you guys needed a hand out here. Heard where you were over the radio.” I know Dale and Dan have been talking to the ones we left behind fairly often, when we can get a signal.

There’s obviously more to it than that but none of us pressed her on it. She has her secrets; the difference now is that we all know they’re there, and that makes it okay. Almost. But a few cans of soup and beans soothe a lot of ruffled feathers. We ate well tonight because of her.

The only one who hung back from the greetings was Terry. He’s still bruised over believing that she was a guy and has been brooding since she turned up. It’s not like him and even Tia is worried. It’s putting bluster into Jersey’s attitude – no-one wants a fight right now, least of all her, so she’s trying to breeze right on past the unpleasantness. I can’t blame her for that.


Eight’s lucky, according to the Chinese. I don’t know if it’s lucky for us. My mind keeps wandering back to the eighth we lost; he’s never far away these days.

I miss the ones we left at the university. I miss the clutter and chatter of them, their faces around the fire. Their stories and the sussurrus of their voices. It’s good to see even just one of them again.

But eight will do. Eight feels right. Welcome back, Jersey.

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Friday, 28 August 2009 - 9:22 pm


We’re stumbling a bit today. Last night, we came across a crate of vodka bottles hidden in the back of the old bar we were bedding down in.

There was silliness and stories, and Jersey gave us news about what has been happening back at the university. We had heard from them over the radio, but only shards, and we were all eager to catch up with them. I think we’re all glad to know that our friends are still there, that they didn’t disappear as soon as they were out of sight. That the shamblers haven’t risen up and swallowed them.

Sally is huge now. From everything the two doctors can tell, she’s doing fine and so is the baby. They think she’s due in about ten weeks, and Masterson is getting snappier each time that number goes down.

Dr Kostoya has adopted everyone who will listen to his chemical babblings. Conroy is straining his braincells trying to keep up – though completely in his element – and even the kids are playing with the ridiculously long words. The little ones don’t get it, but the chemist only requires that an audience entertain him, not understand. That will come with time, he says.

Kostoya’s work is coming along well, they think. They’ve set up a water filtration system and he’s still tracking down the exact nature of the poison. From the little shudder that Jersey gave when she mentioned the acid, I think part of that ‘tracking down’ involved her and her recently-tainted bloodstream. Another reason why she wound up here with us.

Bree and her little friends are still there, becoming a more integral part of the group now that we’ve gone. Now I’ve gone.

Food is becoming an issue for them, too. They have the water situation sorted out, but all the filtering in the world won’t turn it into something to sustain the human body on its own. Their scavenging parties are ranging further and further afield, stretching themselves thin over the threat of shamblers and other survivors. They’ve been attacked a few times by both the living and the broken.

She didn’t say much about Janice and Tom. Someone did ask – Tia, I think. They were good to her, especially when she wasn’t well. Tom’s not well now, but not from injury or starvation. Jersey said something about testing, and I think that’s why she’s here. If Tom has the Sickness, she doesn’t want to watch what’s happening to him. She doesn’t want to see her own future.

She won’t talk about it, breezes right past it all, but it’s there in between her words. It hangs over her like her lie and her secret. Instead she came to us, spent days searching for us in a way that might have got her killed in so many ways. All on her own. I don’t know if I could have done that.


For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel isolated. I’m never alone – there’s always the others here with me, crammed in close – but outside of our circle is the gulf of our empty world. Even with the radio, voices carrying over the distance, it’s not the same. Gossiping with Jersey felt like a family reunion, with word of cousins and aunts and a crazy old uncle.

It was good. There’s not enough to eat: my stomach is rumbling and we just got done with dinner. We’re all hungover after last night, headsore and drawn. But it was nice, talking about distant friends. Talking about the world out of our reach as if it’s still there. At some point, I fell asleep with my head in Matt’s lap.

A little news goes a long way.

Saturday, 29 August 2009 - 5:16 pm


It seems that spring is coming in very slow steps. There’s less ice around now. What little forms overnight is usually gone by the time we’re all up and ready to go. It’s not warm enough to dry up all of the water, though, so we still have to be careful with our footing – no-one wants to put a boot in a puddle, let alone fall down in one.

Jersey is still with us – we’ve strapped her bike to the back of the campervan. Terry isn’t talking to her, but everyone else is getting along with her just fine. Even Tia – I think she’s spending time with the ex-Wolverine just to spite her brother.

I catch Jersey looking at Terry sometimes and the look on her face is familiar. It’s how she used to look when she talked about Rico, the fella who ran the Wolverines until he got Sick. Pained and slightly sad. I wonder if she ever told Rico how she felt. Probably not – how could it have ever worked, while she was pretending to be a boy? And now Terry knows the truth but is so angry over the deception that he’s ignoring her. That’s probably her worst fear when it comes to him.

Much as I might like to, I can’t tell her that I sympathise; she hates pity. That’s part of why she created the lie in the first place: she wanted to protect herself, on her own terms. I can’t believe she kept up the pretence for so long – months, it had to be. I know I couldn’t do it.

The tangled nature of it all is giving me a headache. This is why I prefer not to lie – it’s too complicated and fraught with hurt when it all comes down. At least it’s taking my mind off how hungry I am.


Greenberry is directly west of us now; if we head any further north, we’re going to just make this whole trip longer. We’ve decided to strike out for it, just run there as fast as we can.

Our progress hasn’t been great. We’ve been limping along, stopping periodically to check for supplies – food and fuel mostly. We’ve managed to scrape enough fuel together to last us for a while, but every source we’ve come across had already been broken into and sucked almost dry. Even the vehicles abandoned on the road.

I keep thinking about that truck and how much it must guzzle in order to keep moving. I think we all know who has been through here ahead of us, scouring the landscape like locusts. Thinking about it makes me nervous – they might come back at any time, they might pass through here again. I catch myself listening for distant engines and gunfire when it grows quiet.

The shortage is pressing on all of us. It’s not just that we’re hungry and cold; those are just symptoms of a bigger problem. As much as we’ve all tried to pretend it doesn’t exist, the problem is becoming the elephant in our room.

There’s nothing new coming into the world. Everything we find, everything we scavenge, is all that’s left. There are no farms growing fresh food, no factories making new products, no refineries producing diesel. We’ve known this since the bomb went off, but now we’re running out. We’re burning through what little we’ve got and, one day soon, we won’t find anything to live on.

The world’s not done breaking yet: it won’t be over until we’re all dead. It’s doing its best to make that happen. And it might not take that long.

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009 - 6:24 pm


The Seekers are being slowly pulled apart at the edges.

It seems that none of us are working the kitchens any more. Tia has been moved to a cleaning crew, keeping the dorms livable. Jersey now works in sanitation. I’ve hardly seen either of them, apart from at night when we pile into our bunks. I haven’t seen the boys since that time at dinner.

I caught up with the ex-Wolverine today. She’s more unhappy than I’ve ever seen her. I’d say that she’s close to a dangerous depression, except that she tends to vent her frustrations on everyone else rather than aiming it at herself. She was only too ready to unload on me when I asked her how she was doing.

She’s helping out with the water recycling, which sounds like a good thing until she mentions where they get the water to recycle. The sewage system here has been hooked up to a treatment vat, which then feeds back into everything else. No wonder the water here tastes a little strange – it was one of those things that we never thought to question, too glad that there’s water to drink in the first place.

Of course, my first thought was to wonder why they didn’t allow us to wash anything, if they could recycle the water we used. I guess they have their reasons. I think that was my brain trying to get past the revulsion.

“I spent the whole day breathing in other people’s shit,” Jersey was saying. “Only not the bitching and the whining – the real stuff.” She paused in her methodical stabbing of her food to look at me. “Do I smell of it? I can’t even tell any more.”

I paused and tried to filter the scents in the room. Smell isn’t one of the senses that I pay a lot of attention to any more. I used to be so concerned about it, always wearing perfume and making sure I was clean. Now, everyone is unwashed, stained, soiled. Dirty and grimy and a little bit over-ripe. The latrines positively hum with their burden of scent – some of the ‘sewage system’ is a series of buckets that need to be emptied regularly. I’m so inured to the everyday stink that it’s not easy to pick up other things, and it’s never a good idea to breathe too deep in a room full of people and questionable food. .

“No,” I told her. It seemed like the safest answer.

She grunted and forced down a few mouthfuls. “You know, they usually give out latrine duty as a punishment. So how come I got stuck there? I didn’t do anything. One more day of this shit and I’m going on strike.”

I told her that they probably had a shortage of naughty hands and just needed the help. Neither of us really believed it but who wants to rock the boat? She’s doing as she’s asked under sufferance, but at least she’s doing it. I don’t know what will happen if she refuses to work. Something tells me that they won’t appreciate it. Stick with it, I told her. It won’t be forever. Temporary.

That’s what this place feels like to me – a step to something else. But we’re not going anywhere, not moving towards anything; we’re all working to maintain what we’ve got right here. Maybe that’s why I can’t settle: I can’t resolve the contradiction that underlies Haven. So many promises, so much work to do, but so few real answers until you go down to look in the creepy basement.

Maybe it’s just that I don’t have a place yet. I feel part of nothing, separated from my friends and superfluous. The infirmary doesn’t need me and everyone else is okay. Haven would get along fine without me.

I can’t tell if this is my own selfishness talking, or if this is how Haven wears us down. Today, I looked at Jersey considering rebellion and wondered.

Friday, 18 September 2009 - 8:28 pm

Against the flow

I spent most of last night worrying about what was going on in the boys’ dorms and what exactly ‘it’s in hand’ means. Knowing that I couldn’t do anything about it didn’t help. I want to fix it, I want to make it better, but I can’t. I have to trust that my friends will do what’s best but I’m scared for them. I’d feel better if I could just hold their hands in all of this.

There are things closer to home that I can do something about. Like Jersey’s unhappiness with sanitation duty. So I distracted myself with that today.

I almost asked Simon about it, but he hasn’t spoken to me much since the whole shambler-in-the-basement thing. Instead, I talked to Peter, the nurse, and he said that they probably put her there to shut her up. Even he knows that she’s got the wrong kind of mouth to fit in anywhere, and I don’t think he’s met her yet. It makes me wonder where he hears these things. Who does he talk to when he’s not here among the injured brawlers and bandages?

“Maybe if she tried to toe the line, she wouldn’t be given the shitty jobs.” Peter thought he was funny. I couldn’t summon up a smile for him.

He also thought that I was only using Jersey as an excuse to speak to him, and spent most of the rest of the day following me around and indulging in tired innuendos. He kept going on about ‘playing nice’ and ‘stroking people the right way’. He didn’t nudge or wink, but he did waggle his eyebrows at me once. Flirting is the last thing on my mind right now but he seems harmless enough; he’s like a puppy desperate for permission to hump my leg. I didn’t put him off as strongly as I probably should have.


I caught up with Jersey over dinner. I didn’t say so, but she’s starting to smell of her work, even over the usual miasma of unwashed bodies and unappetising food.

“Toe the line? Who the fuck do you think I am?” She was as impressed with the suggestion as I thought she’d be. “It’s bullying – that’s what it is. Don’t go here, don’t say that. Do exactly as we say or else. I don’t have to take this bullshit.”

I wish that I disagreed or disapproved of her more strongly; it would have given my arguments strength. Instead, I just asked her to think about it, maybe try it for a couple of days and see what happens. In hindsight, this was probably the best approach; Jersey likes to do what Jersey likes to do, and she prefers her own choices over orders every time, no matter how arbitrary or spiteful she might decide to be that day. Maybe if she thinks it’s her idea, she’ll do it.

I hope it works. I haven’t heard what they do with people who refuse to work (other than give them sanitation duty), and I’m not sure I want to find out.

Come to think of it, there’s a lot that I haven’t heard about this place. Like what that machine in the warehouse is and what it is we’re all working so hard for. I don’t know the philosophy or purpose of Haven – maybe it’s nothing lofty or even complicated, but I’d like to know all the same.

Ever since I got out of the infirmary, I feel like I’ve been playing catchup. Even the other Seekers were settled into their places by then. If there was any kind of induction or welcoming speech, I missed it. I was just thrown into the mix and expected to swim with the rest of the shoal. I haven’t blindly followed anything but agreed goals since the bomb went off – no ‘please keep left’, no waiting for the green man to cross, no neat queues enforced by social niceties. We’ve made our own way and our own rules. Now, here we are in this strange shard of the time Before and suddenly there are laws and expectations that no-one explains. Not the same ones as there were Before, though. New ones.

I want explanations. I want reasons. I want to feel like a part of something, not just bowled along by other people’s orders.

I’m like Jersey, I guess, except that I don’t express it in the same way. She bitches and swears at anyone within reach – she’d take part in the fights if she could – while I try to find answers to my questions.

I haven’t been able to find or help Matt, but maybe I’ll be able to find the General and some purpose in all of this arbitrary action. I’m going to stick my head above the waves and see where this shoal is heading.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009 - 9:15 pm

Care and feeding, part three

Simon warned me that scuffles happen a lot around here, but I had no idea it would be this often. At least the latest one had nothing to do with the Sharks, though it had everything to do with someone getting screwed.

I feel like I’m on the fringes of a war zone. I’m unable to see the action; all I get are second-hand accounts and graphic images of the aftermath. I’m frustrated with all of it – I’d rather be out there trying to fix it than in here patching up afterwards. I don’t know if I could fix any of it, but at least I’d feel less useless in the face of all the hurt I’m seeing.


They came in in the early hours of the morning. Luckily, I was dozing next to Matt’s bed and if I’m honest, I was glad of the distraction. Watching him sleep is painful; when he’s awake, I can forget what happened in my attempts to keep his spirits up, but when he’s asleep, all I can see is the damage. His discoloured, swollen face that doesn’t look like him at all. It’s starting to go down now, but it still tugs at me to see him like that.

I had to send one of the escorts to get Simon and Peter up. It was more than I was comfortable handling on my own – bumps and bruises are fine, but I worry about the injuries that aren’t so easy to see. Internal bleeding, concussion, cracked bones – the boys are better at spotting those than I am.

There were three beaten boys this time – one army cutout and two civilians. Their injuries told me the story of what happened; sometimes it bothers me that I’m so used to reading these things. The youngest fella had a bust nose that had bled everywhere but his hands were unmarred – he hadn’t thrown a single punch and was probably an unlucky bystander that got smacked in the confusion. The other civilian seems to have taken the worst of it – it looked like someone used a bar to hit him. He was conscious but had several long, nasty bruises across his arms and shoulders from trying to defend his head.

At the time, I didn’t think it was the cutout that did it – the three exchanged looks a couple of times, and there was no enmity in any of it. From what I can tell, the cutout stepped in to pull the attacker off the civilian.

I didn’t ask who that fourth party was; it was more interesting listening to their mutterings. They didn’t say much, but the cutout did spit out something about a ‘bitch’. I tried not to be amused at their grumpiness that a girl could do something like this. It was funny because even after nine months of scrabbling and scraping to survive, they still had no idea what people were really capable of. They’ve been in Haven for too long.


It was a short while later that the culprit turned up, marched in by a pair of soldiers. Her face was marred by blood but I knew that defiant glare. My stomach clenched as I went to relieve the cutouts of their burden and eased her onto a bed. Jersey.

None of the injuries were serious, though there were a couple of head wounds that bled impressively. Lumps and vivid bruises painted pictures of exchanged aggression. No-one said anything, not even the Seeker when I asked her. She just glared at me, her anger aimed at the whole world while her jaw clenched down on the pain. She hunched over awkwardly but wouldn’t let anyone check her out. I had to wait until morning and a chance to get her alone before she’d let me help her.

After the midnight flurry of activity, the infirmary settled down into an uneasy rest. Not long after breakfast, a couple of cutouts – higher-ranking ones, from the stripes on their arms – came to question the latest combatants. The fellas had short interviews and were released back into the wild. Jersey was the last one they went to talk to, and they got a whole lot of nothing out of her. She does a good impression of a baleful rock when she wants to.


It was a little before lunch when the General came in. He spoke with the interviewers, looking grave. He tried to talk to Jersey as well but her lips were not parting for anyone. I went over to try to snag the General before he left, and he rounded on me with a scowl to outdo the ex-Wolverine.

“Why is it always your people causing trouble? If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

“It’s my people being attacked by everyone else here!”

“If you would just stick to the rules–”

“What rules! The ones no-one tells us about?”

“Yeah, tell her about the ‘rule’ that got your boy in trouble. Go on,” Jersey said, getting up to limp over to us. “Tell her about how you’re whoring us out to the men.”

I was so stunned that I couldn’t speak. I stared at the General, waiting for him to deny it. At the edges of the room, the officers and medics looked on.

“It is not that simple,” he said with weighty calm.

“Then explain it to us,” I said.

He huffed, but he sent the others out of the room so that he could speak to us alone. He explained shortly that there were five men to every one woman here, and if there wasn’t some provision for physical pleasure, then they would make their own. So they have a system. It was expected of the women to keep the men quiet. It would be worse for everyone if they didn’t.

I felt sick as he explained it. I remembered that night I saw a group of men crossing the courtyard towards the girls’ dorms. I remembered the General’s comment when I arrived about how he hoped to have more kids for the school soon. I hadn’t realised that he intended to make them.

I asked him what would happen if we refused. He said that the whole point was to avoid rape. It was for the greater good. I saw then what he had done; he had made the girls responsible for sending some of their number to entertain the troops. Those who didn’t want to would be pressured from both sides. It made my head spin to think about.

“But it doesn’t work,” Jersey said. The marks on her were testament to that.

“It works better than the alternative. Without it, this place would tear itself apart at the seams.” That was all the General had to say on the matter. He said that he would consider suitable punishments for those involved; then he said goodbye and walked out, ignoring my pleas for him to wait.

I told Jersey that I was sorry, feeling awful just thinking about what happened, but she shook her head at me. “Wasn’t me he tried it on.”

I didn’t need her to say any more; I knew her well enough to read the truth. She had heard the commotion and found a girl in trouble, and she’d stepped in, as blunt and straightforward as always. She had spent months running with the Wolverines; she knew how to handle herself in a brawl. The girl ran off during the fight and Jersey won’t say who it was. All I could get out of her was that it wasn’t Tia.


I don’t know what to do with myself now. I’m glad Matt’s here – he means that I don’t have to go back to the dorms. I don’t want to go back – I don’t want to look at those women and wonder whose turn it is tonight. I don’t want them to ask me when I’m stepping up to take part. I don’t want to do it. Not like that.

All I can think about is footsteps crossing the courtyard outside, furtive movements in a dark building next to the girls’ dorms. We’re making so many compromises to be here, siphoning pieces of ourselves off here and there to fit into this mould.

How will we know if we’ve compromised away everything that makes us who we are?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009 - 8:05 pm


It’s hard to restrain the itch to get out of here. Every part of me wants to announce it to the world and then sweep out, like an old-time heroine in huge skirts.

But I don’t have any skirts and I wouldn’t get past the door right now even if I did. Jonah is very firm about keeping me in where I’m supposed to be. I’m forced to skulk and whisper in corners. Fear is a great motivator; the General was wise enough to recognise that.

I managed to draw Jersey aside last night, in between her grouches over the troop entertainment. She’s eroding her own place here with that; the women liked her because she protected one of their number, but their gratitude is failing in the face of her disapproval of the whole system. She continues to offer them protection, often going along with the nightly troupe to make sure that none of them are hurt, with disparaging comments and much shaking of her head. I suspect she might be turning into a passion-killer and can’t quite bring myself to mind.

When I told her that we were leaving, she went quiet. First, she asked who ‘we’ were, exactly. Matt’s talking to the male Seekers, and I’m asking her and Tia. She asked when, and how. All those awkward questions that made me feel like a teenaged runaway who had forgotten that food costs money and things are further away than you think when you’re on foot.

“We’re still working that out,” I told her. “We’ll need your help to do it, though.”

That was a good button for her; her shoulders twitched straight and she eyed me sharply. “What do you need me to do?”

“Just keep an eye out for places we might be able to stash supplies, and things we might need. That sort of thing.”

“Are you gonna ask anyone else to come with us?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know anyone else I’d trust enough.”

She nodded slowly, folding the matter over in her head. “Should think about it. There’s others that might want to leave, too.”

“We have to be careful who we tell.” I put as much earnestness into the warning as I could; this is nothing to be casual about. I don’t think Jersey would purposely do anything to jeopardise us, but carelessness could kill. She agreed solemnly; she’s had enough brushes with the hard edges of Haven to inspire confidence in her sensibility about these things.


Tia has been cluttered up with her friends in the dorm, so I haven’t been able to talk to her yet. It’s hard to tell which way she’ll jump on this – it’s her new friends and security against the whoring she’s being asked to do. The deciding factor might be her brother’s wishes.

Now I’m wondering who else we should ask to come with us. I’m not close enough to anyone here to trust them with it, but the others might have made friends. What about the boys – have they asked non-Seekers? Have they made close friends over there? I don’t know how we’ll handle bringing strangers with us. Will they become one of us? Will they play by our rules? Or will they up and leave us once we get clear of Haven?

Of course, there’s Dad. I’ll ask him to come; I can’t leave him in this place. He’s different – he’s family. It’s the rest of Haven’s populace that feel like strangers.

Am I being selfish? It’s not like we can make an open offer. We have to do this in complete secrecy, so the fewer people who know about it, the better. It only takes the right words in the wrong ears and one open mouth for all of this to come crashing down around us.

I’m also not sure how I ended up in charge of this. I guess I’m the one who wants it, and the one everyone is used to turning to when we’re heading in a new direction. Somehow, I have to figure all this stuff out. I wish I felt qualified.

I feel like I should have watched more prison escape movies. Maybe I should steal a spoon the next time I’m in the mess hall and make a start on that tunnel.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 - 10:48 pm

The uselessness of flowers

The escape effort is coming along in skips and steps and occasional great strides. I’m at the back, fretting and nudging, and trying to keep all these balls both in the air and out of sight. The more I think about it, the more shaky the ground beneath me feels. And every now and then I have to stretch for a curve ball.

I talked with Jersey and Tia late last night and explained my problems with being watched. I feel like there are eyes on me all of the time, and while it’s sometimes justified, I know that sometimes it’s not. I’m not paranoid enough to believe that all of Haven is out to get me; it just feels like that.

They said that they would sort out the supplies issue themselves. Some of Tia’s little friends work in the kitchens and she thinks she can get access to the supply store easily enough. Jersey can pick up boxes left out for her when she’s collecting trash and move them to her hiding place.

I feel awful putting this onto them. They should do something to help, of course, but they’ve taken on the whole task of securing us food and water. It’s dangerous; I don’t know what the punishment for hoarding supplies might be, but I doubt it’s as lenient as being put on sanitation duty. They’re happy to do it, even reserved Tia. I think she likes the espionage factor. Jersey enjoys the chance to stick a finger up at Haven, even silently; to her, it’s not just about leaving.

I guess a lot of what I’m feeling is guilt. I’m so useless in this, hampered by the chains of the attention I’ve gathered over the past few weeks. Everyone else is risking so much more than I am right now and I’m not used to it. I’m used to being in the front line, right out there with the rest of them, pulling my weight. I don’t like sitting back and waiting for others to do everything for me. It doesn’t feel right.

Matt told me to enjoy it while it lasts. No-one minds how much I’m doing; we all do what we can, he says. That made me feel worse and more useless than ever. Beholden to all of them. Life is hard enough here without people who don’t contribute, and it’s going to get harder for us.

Matt linked his fingers through mine and kissed my hair. We were sitting in the lopsided upstairs room again, watching the rain make tracks down the plastic-shielded window. There’s something not quite right about the way the liquid slithers.

“You’re the one that pushes us forward,” he said. “Without you, we wouldn’t be leaving at all.” He wasn’t exactly lifting the guilt with that point. “You hold us together – we need you for that. You’re coordinating – that’s something, too.” That was better.

Leaning back into his chest, things didn’t seem so bad. The uncertainty creeps in when he’s not there. It’s getting harder to let him climb out of the window, to let him go at all. I keep stopping myself from asking him to stay, because I know it can’t happen, not here. Not until after we’re far from here.


Jersey threw another complication my way tonight. She sat down on my bunk with a scowl that I thought was bad news, but was actually just building up courage to ask me for something. She isn’t used to asking anyone for anything.

“Iona should come with us,” she said finally.

I didn’t even try to hide my surprise. Disturbed Iona? With her plucking fingers and disconnected phrases? I have seen Jersey dealing with her – and defending her when Nadine or Mama Prusco came around looking for ‘volunteers’ for the nightly entertainment – but I didn’t know she felt that attached. I think she feels responsible for Iona and knows what might happen if she’s not there to fend off the deal-makers. I was mostly surprised that Jersey would put up with someone that dysfunctional and a little part of me wondered where the attachment was rooted. I’m fairly sure she doesn’t swing that way, crossdressing or no. Unless I miss my guess, she was once interested in Rico, the leader of her old Wolverine gang, and Terry more recently.

“I don’t think we can make that choice for her, Jersey,” I said.

“So we ask her.”

It was the obvious answer, and I think that we could get her to understand. She’s not that broken. There was, however, a ‘but’. “She says whatever crosses her mind. It’s risky, letting her know.”

“We don’t have to ask her now.”

Jersey had given this a lot of thought; she knew what I was going to say, the barriers in our way, and had responses ready for me. And she was right; if we waited until we were about to leave, the chances of Iona betraying us – accidentally or otherwise – were small. I couldn’t help smiling at her. “We’ll ask her closer to the time, then.”

She gave me an odd look, as if she couldn’t believe it was that easy, and I patted her shoulder. Not everything has to be a struggle.

“She’ll be your responsibility when it comes to it, though,” I said. That stiffened Jersey’s shoulders, but not in a bad way. “To keep her quiet.”

She thought about it for a moment, that scowl descending again. Finally, she nodded and pulled herself off my bed. That was the end of the conversation, apparently.

Iona came by a bit later on and gave me a hair band to tie my hair back with. My last one had broken a couple of days ago and the tie she gave me looked like it had never been used. Red, with a white plastic flower on it.

“Such pretty hair,” she said, holding it out. “Needs flowers.”

I took it and thanked her, and she smiled vaguely as she turned away. I don’t know if Jersey put her up to it or not, but I guess it didn’t harm her case.

This whole escaping business is getting prettier all the time.