Tuesday, 13 January 2009 - 3:50 pm

The high place

We found out where all the drugs went.  I wish I could say that it was a shock, or even a surprise.  The world has gone to hell in a handbasket; who doesn’t want to get high and forget any of this ever happened? 


We climbed up to the top floor – just four of us, after we convinced Sax to stay with the injured.  Where he should be, for his sake and theirs.  Thorpe tried to suggest that I should stay behind as well, but he stopped when he saw the look on my face.

I wasn’t going to stay behind.  I wasn’t going to linger there and wait for someone else to sort this out.  All I would have done is sit and think and wonder.  Or type nonsense into this record in an effort not to do those things. 

It’s not that I don’t trust the others to do the right thing.  It’s because I have to do something.  I don’t want to be helpless, or weak, or just waiting.  I have to go and see for myself, to replace fantastical mental images with banal reality.  I have to be in motion; my body doesn’t know what to do with itself when it’s still.  My arm aches more when I’m not doing something else. 

And, as Dad would say, my legs aren’t broken, so I might as well go do it myself.


There was this weight against my back the whole way up to the top floor.  A small, hard pressure just above my belt, warm from my skin.  It had been there for days, but I was hyper-aware of it as we climbed the stairs.  We were walking towards a group that might attack us, like the tunnel-dwellers, and the knife seemed to know that.

All the windows are open up there.  I suppose that’s to let the smell out; it certainly isn’t good, even with the ventilation.  Not so much rotting bodies as rancid human waste, the by-product of plumbing that no longer works.  The stench of unwashed bodies and unclean habits.  The gut-turning aromas of the living rather than the dead.

My nose has dulled over the past couple of weeks, after the smoke and dust and then none of us being able to wash properly.  I can barely smell myself or the others in the group any more, but I smelt these people from a corridor away.  There wasn’t much in my stomach, but it still wanted me to throw up.


There were about a dozen of them, down in the geriatric ward.  The patients were all long since gone; this group had taken over the ward and made it their own.  Blankets had been piled near one set of windows and set alight; it was smouldering when we got there, small and sad.  That must have been the smoke we saw outside.

The group might have been a threat if they had been at all capable of it.  They were sprawled in various stages of consciousness, on gurneys and beds, or just stretched out on the floor.  One fella spent the whole time giggling at a painted stripe on the wall.

It was both a relief and disappointment.  They were no threat, but that’s because they’re useless.  They had taken a hospital full of medicine and used it to get completely out of their trees.  The acid is stripping all the trees down to nubs, but they are far too spaced to care. 

I tried to talk to a couple of them, but all I could get out of them was requests for more, and what did I have with me for them?  There was no food or water that we could find.  Lots of spent needles and empty bottles and packets, but no sustenance.  They were suspended on drugs alone up here.


I had to pull Dillon away from a curtained-off bed.  I caught a glimpse of pale white buttocks moving in time with huffed breaths, of a body poised above a girl with empty eyes fixed on the ceiling.  I’m aware that it’s strange to put him in danger by taking him towards potential violence and then to refuse to let him watch a stranger screwing.  He’s just a youngster, though.

There was something not quite right about what was going on in there, too.  She must have been very high to be so still.  I hope she was high.  I hope that he wasn’t doing all the moving in there, because that’s what it looked like.  It looked like she was so far beyond caring that she was never coming back.

We were just looking at each other with clueless confusion when the pair of white buttocks came out from behind the curtain.  He was doing up his pants – thank goodness – and he had a blissful glow about him.  He smiled at us, blankly cheerful in his fuzzy world.

I was going to give up and leave when I noticed that he was wearing a white coat.  It was stained and torn, but it still had a nametag attached to it.  Doctor Masterson.  I didn’t realise that I had read it out loud until he blinked at me vaguely and said, “Yes?”

Everything changed then.  We all started talking at once, which made him look from one to the other and then giggle with delight.  It’s strange, hearing a grown man giggle like a child.  He thought we were the funniest thing he’d ever seen, and his mirth creased him where he stood.


All of a sudden, I was so furious with him.  Thorpe was swearing, and that was exactly what was going through my head.  I mean, how dare he? We have people who need help, people we have kept alive through luck and cobbled-together care, and this is what we find? A doctor, someone who’s supposed to help people, incapacitated because he just had to get high.  Useless – worse than useless: a fucking waste.  A stupid, giggling mess that used to be someone who, once upon a time, chose to save lives.

It was so selfish, turning his back on everything and everyone else like this.  To wrap himself up in a hazy cocoon and damn the rest of us.  Doesn’t he know what we’ve done to get here?  Doesn’t he know what all of this means?

I didn’t realise that I was shouting at him until Thorpe put his hand on my arm to hold me back.  He thought I was going to smack the doctor, and he might have been right.  I didn’t, though. 

I subsided, stepping back and letting Thorpe deal with him.  I was shaking all over.

The tall fireman looked at the doctor – who was clueless, though he had thankfully stopped that stupid giggling – then asked if he’d come with us.  Masterson nodded easily enough; I don’t think he understood the question. 

But he did come with us.  He’s with us right now, asleep in the corner, soaked through with sweat.  We’ll have to wait until he sobers up to figure out if he’s going to be of any real help.

Thursday, 15 January 2009 - 11:47 am


It was almost like sleeping on a bed last night.  A thin pad of blankets and a pillow make a wonderful difference to hard floors and lumpy packs.  I don’t think I’ve slept that well – or that long – in weeks.  The others were talking quietly when I woke up, and that was a comforting sound.  I just lay there for a little while, listening to them, to the cadence of their different voices.

They were talking about the doctor.  About how it might take him days yet to get over the withdrawal. 

Masterson started begging for more drugs last night.  Begging to go back up to the reeking rooms upstairs, he had a secret stash, he’d be willing to share.  Please, please, he just needed some more, it hurt so much. 

I did feel sorry for him.  He has his own winds that he’s prey to, only his are on the inside.  Ours are on the outside, blowing us from disaster to disaster.  All he wants is some relief from the pain.

We need him, and we need him sober. But I couldn’t bring myself to be the monster, to say no to him, to lock him away because it’s best for everyone.  Who am I to do that?  Who am I to force someone to my will, just because I can?  Even with Nugget still fast asleep, even with Ben barely able to lie still with his burning chest.  Even with the support of two big guys and their strong arms.

Sally took him into the next room when he started whining and moaning so loudly that none of us could sleep.  I think she stayed with him for the whole night.  There’s no lock on the door.  There’s no-one holding him back.  He can go and get his fix if he wants it.  It feels like giving up, but sometimes you can’t save a person from themselves.  Sometimes, it’s up to them to do it. 

Will he be sober in time to make a difference?  Will he get sober at all?  I don’t know.  It’s not up to me, and I hate it.

Tags: ,
Friday, 16 January 2009 - 5:56 pm

The doctor’s visit

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: ,
Tuesday, 20 January 2009 - 4:12 pm

Those we can’t save

I had to go back up there again today.  It was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn’t sit in that room any more.  We’re all catching our breaths and resting, but I’m still not good at staying still.  My mind keeps running over things and coming back to one question; the question that none of us have voiced out loud.  Not even Thorpe.  The question we’re all thinking about.

What do we do now?

We need purpose, we need direction.  We need to do something more than just think about where we’re going to get more food and water from (though we need to start thinking about that soon, too).  Like Sally, we need more of a reason for putting up with all this than just being alive.  We need a point to it all.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the bleakness of this place.  It’s so easy to see our hopes shrivelling up and dying here, like everything else, like the dream that this place once was.  It’s like a riptide, circling around us, sucking us down one by one and only letting us up once we’ve tasted a lungful of it.  The longer we stay here, the more I think we might just drift into its walls and forget that we’re still alive.

There was only one person that I could think of who might be able to help us figure out what to do next.  I didn’t expect him to tell us where to go or what we should be doing, but he might be able to give us some information to help us make those choices.  I hoped he would be able to help us see that we had choices.  Doctor Masterson.


So I trekked back up the eight flights of stairs today.  Dillon came with me; I never seem to be able to go anywhere on my own at the moment.  Ben was going to come too, but I told him to rest.  His chest is still bothering him badly.  I didn’t really want the kid with me either, knowing the sort of thing we might find, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to stop him.  I kept a close eye on him while we were up there and tried not to let him see the worst of it.

We passed the man who was giggling at the stripe on the wall the first time we were up there.  He was lying against the wall this time, breathing shallow and slow, staring into space.  He seemed paler and thinner than the last time I saw him, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it was since he ate. 

I was appalled to think that we hadn’t even offered these people some food, and that it had been this long before it even occurred to me.  What does that say about me?  They’ve chosen to do this to themselves, but does that mean that we shouldn’t try to save them?  Would we only be prolonging their fate?  I don’t know, I really don’t, and I hate these mental circles.  I know that the group wouldn’t want to give up our tiny food supply to these people and I don’t blame them.  We’re barely scraping by ourselves. 

But it was still there, that niggling feeling that I should be doing something to help these people.  It’s not just because Sally is up there now.  All through the city, I helped to pull people from the wreckage, set them on their feet and on their way.  I stopped people dying, I made things better.  But now… now they are standing in the fire and they don’t care.  They’re almost welcoming it, and I don’t know what to do about that.  It tears me up inside and I have no idea how to make it better. 

What was I suppose to do?  Dillon was there and I didn’t want him to start thinking about these things.  So I didn’t say anything; I just pulled us on to find the doctor.  He’s too young to stand there and think about how this man will probably be dead by dinnertime. 


It took us a little while to find him.  We didn’t see Sally; I wondered where she’d gone to, but we weren’t up there for her this time.  I didn’t really want Dillon to see her like that, either.

Masterson was sitting on a gurney pulled up by the window, gazing out.  He was smaller than I remembered, the spark gone from his eyes.  There was no bounce in him any more; instead, there was a heaviness to the way he turned his head when I said his name.  It took him a moment to focus on me, to struggle out through the fog.

I was glad to be standing by the window; the smell in there was only getting worse.  I tried to forget about how he rebounded about the room downstairs, gleefully dispensing advice about awful injuries.  I tried to forget about how he poked at my arm where it hurt, twice.  I tried to forgive him, but that part was hard.  I had to wait for his attention to come around onto me before I could ask him what I had come to ask him.

“Doctor Masterson, where did everyone go?”

He contemplated my second head as if it might hold some inspiration.  “We’re still here,” he said finally.

“I know you are.  I mean everyone else.  The other doctors, and nurses.  The other patients.  Where are they?”

“Went away.”  I thought that was more unhelpfulness, but he wasn’t finished.  “Went away when the call came.”

“Call?  What call?”

“Call from up high.  Up high and far away.”

“What did it say?  What was the call?  Doctor?”  He was going vague again, slipping off into the burnt clouds.

“Bad things coming.  Get to safety. Sucked everything dry.  No more generators, no more lights, no more light anywhere. No more help, no more anything.  No more, no more.”  He started rocking a bit at that.

“And everyone just left?  It wasn’t calling them somewhere?”  I could feel my stomach heading for my feet at that idea.

“Some went to find out what it meant.  The rest’re just gone.”

I had to mull that over for a moment before I could work out what to ask him next.  “They went to where the call came from?”


“Where is that?  Do you know where it came from?”

He shook his head slowly, his eyes drifting back to the window.

“Why didn’t you go?  Doctor, why are you still here?”  I didn’t want him to disconnect again so soon.  It wasn’t enough; I needed more from him.

His eyes moved back to me, suddenly looking like an open wound.  There was such sorrow there, such pain.  His fingers were curling around his elbow, thinking about relief, and his voice was very small.  “They stood out in it.  Like it was a good thing.”

“Who did?”  I was going to ask ‘stood out in what’, but I suspected that I knew the answer to that.  And with his distracted twitches, I wanted to keep him focussed on one question at a time.

“My own, my sweet…  And… and the little one might not ever come right again.  Happy New Year.”  It took me a moment to recognise the words he’d used about Nugget.  His shoulders hunched as he started to draw in on himself.  I realised then that he was wearing a ring, a ring that meant he’d once had a family.  He was trying to tell me that he had had a wife and daughter, and… Happy New Year.  They stood out in the rain.  They had died, melted like Carter and Trevor.  So he’d stayed here, dwelt in this escape from pain, knowing it would kill him eventually.

I patted his arm and told him that I was sorry.  He cried and collapsed on my shoulder, so I patted him some more and held him until he was finished.  He stumbled back when I thanked him, looking around like an injured animal searching for an escape route.  Fingers clawed at his arms, like Sally’s used to do, feeling that underskin itch.

“Come with us,” I said on impulse.  I don’t know what made me say it.  Maybe because he was driven here by personal tragedy, because I knew what was going on in his head now.  And I didn’t want to leave him here, I didn’t want to go knowing that he’ll starve to death one way or another.  I wanted to help.

The look he gave me was brimful of horror at the notion.  He shook his head and backed away until he bumped into a gurney.  His eyes seemed to think that I was trying to haunt him, to torture him repeatedly. 

Maybe I only wanted to save him because I couldn’t save Sally.  But he wasn’t going to let me succeed with him; he was quite determined to be lost in his pain and his escape from pain.  I took the hint; I drew Dillon away and left him alone.

I looked for Sally on the way out, just in case, but I didn’t see her.

Thursday, 19 March 2009 - 9:19 pm

The feeding

We were all woken by a scream in the early hours of this morning. I was on watch and dozing more than I should have been; it’s easy to get lulled by the quiet of 3am. The sussurus of sleepers draws me in, soothes me into an almost-slumber as I stand by the window, forehead leaning on the cool glass. There was no movement outside to interest my eyes, no whispers of sound or movement beyond my friends. Ben, my fellow watcher, had wandered upstairs to stretch his legs through the empty rooms (and probably to stay awake).

When Alice screamed, I jerked alert painfully, my heart thrashing at my ribs for escape. It felt like it was trying to choke me as I looked around for the cause, rushing over to her, but I couldn’t see anything. Ben clattered down the stairs to see what was going on, and everyone else was stirring in confusion.

The girl was struggling with her blanket, wide-eyed and confused. I asked her twice what happened, and by the time she told me it was nothing, I had realised what was going on. Poor kid had had a nightmare. Ben arrived breathlessly and the others were starting to clamber out of their makeshift beds, so I turned to reassure them and send them back to sleep. They were only too willing to go, though Dillon required a fuller explanation before he would relax again. Leave it to me, I told him. She’s fine, she’s fine.

Alice wasn’t going back to sleep. She had got up and headed away from where we were all bedded down. Ben watched her go and then agreed that I should try to talk to her; he knows his limits. So I went to find where she was huddled against a window.


It took a while to get her to talk. She was shaking and trying to hide it. I sat down on the floor beside her and asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said no, but I know that tone. I’ve used it myself, many times; it’s the kind of ‘no’ that has a ‘but’ in it. It’s the kind of ‘no’ that means ‘not yet, I’m not ready, but please wait, because yes‘. It’s the kind of ‘no’ that rapists keep imagining on the lips of victims, the ‘no’ they don’t realise also means ‘not now, not here, and maybe not with you, but not never’.

“Okay,” I told her, and stayed where I was. I noticed that my right wrist is thinner than my left, from lack of use and wearing that brace for so long. I’m lopsided. Maybe I should start carrying things in my right hand a lot to build up the muscles again.

Alice tried to tell me that I didn’t need to sit with her, but again there was that contradiction in her voice. I looked into her face and saw the young girl in there, the one that missed the company even though she knew she should keep everyone at arm’s length. There was a person in there who needed to talk sometimes, who needed comfort and reassurance; there’s only so much chasing around inside her own skull that she could do. She’s not just a survivor: she’s a person, and she hasn’t forgotten that entirely.

It made me look over towards where Matt was sleeping. He was always that person for me. My shoulder, my ear, my distraction, my sensible advice. I’ve been that for him before, too, and now there’s Dillon leaning on me as well, along with Ben occasionally. That’s okay – it’s nice to be needed. I’ve been the venter enough times to know how vital it can be.

So I waited. Alice has a talent for silence, so when she seemed calmer, I gave her a little prod.

“Was it about your group?”

The look she gave me was sharp and I knew I’d hit the right topic. It was the most recent awfulness in her life, so it seemed like a good place to start. “Yeah,” she said. “Sorry.”

I gave her a dry smile. “I think we’ve all seen enough to have nightmares about it.” Masterson grumbled like a rumpled child, but I don’t think there’s a person here who doesn’t understand disturbed sleep. Especially him. I’ve seen him shift in his slumber, and I’ve heard Sally trying to soothe without waking him, deep in the night when I’ve been keeping watch. I know what is in those dreams of his, caught up in helplessness as loved faces melt in the downpour.

“Wish we hadn’t let those people in,” Alice said, surprising me. I couldn’t follow her train of thought – what did they have to do with this? Was it their story that set this off?

“I thought your group died because they were sick.”

“Yeah, they did. Or– I thought so. Most of them. I don’t know.” She buried her face in her hands, hiding from my frown. She was struggling with it, so I tried for patience, ignoring the voice in the back of my mind that was angry that she had lied to us. I had known that she hadn’t told us everything, but I didn’t like the idea that she had lied. Not when we took her in. I put that voice aside in an effort to get to the truth.


She had believed that they’d died. When she had got back to her group, the remaining members had moved and left her a note, telling them where they were. They’d told her that the others were dead and they had moved to get away from the smell. One had died during the night, in his sleep, and his was the body that she had dragged into the other room. The following morning, the other one had raved at her, caught up in fever-driven urgency. He shouted about people doing things they shouldn’t, wrong people, people with something terribly askew in them. Something awful had happened, he said, but he couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t ever say.

The next day, she had returned from a scavenging trip to find something awful happening, right then. She had heard him screaming from outside and rushed in, running up the stairs and into the room. He wasn’t alone. There were people there, dirty and bloody, and they were tearing at him. Pulling him apart into chunks with their hands and their teeth. And they were eating him.

Some of them stopped and looked in her direction, while his cries died, bleeding out of him into a red stain on the floor. It was just like Carlos had said; they moved wrong, these killers like broken dolls, mindless and voiceless. They didn’t say a word, not even when they saw her. One started to move towards her and then she ran. Just like Carlos and his friends – she ran and kept running until she had crossed the river, until she had found us.


By the time she was finished, I had an arm around her and she was crying into my neck, mumbling to me. She said that she didn’t think we would believe her if she had told us the truth. She had wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, as if that would rub away the memories. I can’t blame her, with memories like that.

Of all things that I had thought about happening in these lawless, limitless times, cannibalism hadn’t been on the list.

Tags: , ,
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 - 6:35 pm

Diving in

It was nothing dire. Dillon had snapped and was shouting at Masterson. I’m not sure what happened, but it had something to do with Alice – probably one too many crack about the one-eyed girl. The two boys have been separated and Masterson has been told to keep his tongue to himself before he gets it smacked down his throat. Then it was time to move on for the day.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, the courtyard.


I crept over to join the others, and Ben took my hand and held onto it tightly. I didn’t dare to say anything. I think we were all wondering why the crows were just sitting there, why they weren’t cawing. They all seemed to be looking down at us, watching the tiny people move around on the ground. Maybe they were wondering if one of us would die and provide them with a meal.

They didn’t wait long. Without warning, they all erupted into the sky, prompted by some signal none of us saw. It was deafening – the courtyard amplified the sound of wings and crow voices, and all of us covered our ears. They circled once and then dived into the courtyard like it was a great funnel, swirling around and around until they peeled off and dived through one of the open doors. The prison’s dark belly ate them up.

It was over in seconds. They didn’t touch a single one of us, but we were all crouching by the time they were gone, hearts hammering like a big dwarf with a tiny chisel. There was wariness in the way we stood up again, testing our true heights as if it might prompt something else to fly at us. In the crows’ absence, silence swallowed us again, as if they had sucked all the sound along with their wake.


“Fuck this.” Masterson was the first one to speak, jolting us all out of our stunned expressions. “You guys can find the stupid kid. I’m gonna wait in the car.”

He wasn’t wrong. Callous, as always, but not wrong. I wanted to say something to stop him, but I couldn’t figure out what.

Matt didn’t have that problem. “On your own?” He wasn’t confrontational about it, just asked the question evenly.

Masterson was already several steps across the courtyard, heading for the exit, when he turned to scowl back at us. He set a pointed look on Sally; she shifted uncomfortably because her feet hadn’t moved to follow him.

“I wanna stay with the group,” she told him, in that voice that hopes he won’t mind, really, because she doesn’t want to cause trouble. To her credit, she didn’t bow to his disapproval or displeasure. She’s learning to stand up to him.

The doctor thought about it for a moment, and then huffed and came back to us. He wasn’t willing to risk being caught alone in this place and I don’t blame him for that. I had hold of Ben’s hand again and wasn’t planning to let it go anytime soon.


Nugget had to be somewhere inside, so we had to decide how we were going to search for her. We retreated to a doorway to talk, so that we weren’t standing right there out in the open any more.

We didn’t want to split up because we were safer in numbers. But in one group, it would take hours to search the whole place. We didn’t dare call out to Nugget in case there were other people here, and she wouldn’t call back anyway, so we would have to search the prison room by room. At least the number of places we had to search would be cut down by how much she could get into; it was bound to be locked up inside.

No-one said anything about the potential of prisoners loose in there; we were all thinking it. Even guards weren’t a comforting thought; we’ve seen plenty of good people turned to violence and self-interest, and heard stories about prison guards being just as bad as the prisoners, only with keys and weapons. No, if there were people here, they were unlikely to be friendly or disinterested. They were likely to be armed and ready for us.

We decided to split into two groups. Me, Ben, Dillon and Alice in one; Thorpe, Matt, Sax, Sally and Masterson in the other. We were to meet back in the courtyard in an hour. Then we turned to opposite sides of the courtyard, straightened our shoulders, and went in.

It wasn’t until we were split up and inside that I realised none of us had a working watch. It wasn’t the best start.


Time to go. I’ll finish this when I can!

Tags: ,
Thursday, 2 April 2009 - 11:07 am


Masterson is getting more confident with every passing day, and more reckless along with it. He got himself smacked in the mouth last night; it’s not going to be long before he pushes someone into something serious. He couldn’t have picked a worse time; we’re already tense enough. I can’t worry about him every second; I have enough people to look after right now.


Yesterday, once we had the kids subdued, it fell quiet while we eyed each other. My heart was just starting to come down from the fighting high, though not by much; it wasn’t time to relax yet. But I had to think about what to do next, how to handle the fact that we suddenly had prisoners. What the hell are we supposed to do with prisoners?

One of the teenagers kneeling on the floor spoke first. “So, you gonna kill us?” She was glaring at us angrily, one after another, daring us to try, as if they weren’t so much caught as resting.

“No.” That was Thorpe, I think.

“Of course not,” I said almost at the same time.

“Ain’t that what you do?” the girl asked.

“Maybe they wanna fuck us first,” one of the lads put in, spitting at Matt’s feet.

That they would even think that made my stomach flop over inside me. Sometimes, I despise this world that’s crawling through its own ashes.

Masterson just had to stick his nose in before anyone else could say something. “Why, are you offering?”

“Shut up,” I said even as the boy who had spoken started to swell up with outrage. I turned my attention to him and tried to look him in the eye. “No, we don’t. We don’t do that.”

“Sure you do. You’re the Pride, that’s what you do.”

I was so surprised – and relieved – that I smiled at him as I told him that that’s not who we are. They didn’t believe us at first, but then one of the smaller boys pointed out that we didn’t have any guns. I wasn’t thrilled to know that the big, vicious gang near here was armed with guns, but at least it was proof that we weren’t part of that group. They asked us who we were and we didn’t know what to say. With a shrug, I told them my name and started to go around the group, but the girl that had spoken first interrupted me.

“Oh, you’re the Seekers.”

I blinked at her. “The what?”

“We heard about you, too. You’re their leader, right?” Why does everyone think that? “The Seekers, travellin’ around trying to find families or somethin’.” At the mention of families, I couldn’t help but glance at Ben. He didn’t flinch, didn’t look my way at all. It was like he couldn’t hear them. It took me a moment to realise that the girl had said something else. “You ain’t nothin’ like the Pride.”

“No, no we’re not.”

“So, you gonna let us up now?” She was slick, this kid.

“Not so fast.” I didn’t need to look at the others to know that that was a bad idea. “You know who we are, but we don’t know anything about you.”

I saw the girl’s lips twitch and knew that she had been trying to get one over on us. I had to wonder just what she’d heard about us. In this strong-armed society, was a lack of a violent example a weakness? I suppose that a nasty reputation is a form of protection, but I can’t think about what we’d need to do to get one. We won’t do that. No-one here would do that.

“We’re the Rats,” the girl told us, her chin lifting with pride.

“Never heard of you,” Thorpe said flatly.

The defensive barriers slammed up again. “Yeah, well, we keep to ourselves.”


We tossed words back and forth for a little while longer. The kids had been holed up in the mall since just after the bomb went off, staying when all the adults left to find help, or hope, or someone else. They had never come back, but the kids had stayed. And they were doing all right, thank you very much. They had driven off a few groups before us, and they’d drive off anyone who came after, too; it was only because we’d surprised them that we had been able to get the best of them. That wouldn’t happen again; they were very sure about that.

I have to admire their resolve. They’re determined and strong; they’ve adapted well. They say they’ve got enough supplies to last ‘a while’ but wisely refused to be more specific about it. If anything, they were a little too smart, enough that we didn’t dare to lower our guard with them for a second.

We explained that we were there for supplies. They were quick to let us know that there wasn’t any food or water here, but that wasn’t all we were looking for. We needed to visit a chemist – I tried to ignore Masterson’s eyes lighting up at that notion – and fresh clothes would be nice. They didn’t like the idea, but they weren’t in a position to argue.

Eventually, we agreed to let them go on the condition that they stayed far aaway from us. Thorpe was quick to growl at them that if they tried anything – anything at all – we would hogtie them and take whatever we pleased. I saw some of the kids’ expressions grow angry, but their spokeswoman said that they wouldn’t try anything against us. I don’t entirely trust them, but at least it’s a truce of sorts. At least we didn’t need to tie them up at the outset.

There’s a part of me that wonders if we were too easy on them – I think one day someone we let go will turn around and stab us in the back. Is it okay to distrust everyone on those grounds, or do we keep going as we are until it’s too late and there’s blood on the floor?


We’re still in the mall now. The rain came before we were done yesterday, and there are more stores that we need to check for equipment. The Rats have largely left us alone, though I’m sure that they’ve been watching us. We’re keeping sharp vigils at night, just in case, and I’ve heard them moving around in the dark hours.

I’ve just noticed some blotches on my arm. I don’t think I spilt anything on it. I wonder how long they’ve been there.

Friday, 10 April 2009 - 11:25 am

Pirates are we

Scurvy. We have scurvy.

I can’t believe it. It’s so simple but so debilitating. It isn’t something I’ve ever had to worry about before; all I know about it is that it happens when you don’t eat enough oranges and sailors used to get it.

It’s the sailors that tipped Masterson off. Or, more precisely, us singing about them a couple of nights ago. It bothered him half the night, he said, and it came to him suddenly yesterday morning while I was writing the post. That’s why he was running around like a little kid. He sent Matt and Alice off to the chemist to get vitamin pills and then bounced around the room to tell us the good news.


I haven’t seen Masterson so animated since we left the hospital. He smiled at us – real smiles, not the sardonic lip-stretches that he usually tosses in our direction, or the drug-fuzzed approximations he wore when there were still drugs to take. He’d found the answer to the riddle, and the cure to what ails us is right here, in this building. He can make us better.

This is why he became a doctor, he said. This purpose, this feeling. He had forgotten what it was like. And I think that some of us had forgotten why he was with us at all, even me, though this was the reason I had been so determined to let him stay. This is why we all put up with his unpleasantness and drag his sorry ass around after us even when spite rolls off his tongue.

He’s a doctor; he heals people. That is so precious, even more now than it was before, because there are so few of them left.

One of the few things I know about scurvy is that it killed a lot of sailors before they figured it out. It didn’t get that far for us, though it was starting to get close.

Yesterday, Dr Masterson saved our lives.


We’ll be perfectly fine, he says. We just need to crunch down these pills and it’ll all come right again. I can’t express how much lighter I felt when he said that. I’d have kissed Ben if my mouth had felt better (my gums still feel weird, but I’m trying not to think about that). There were hugs, though, lots of hugs and tired laughter, for everyone.

Today, Matt and Alice have gone outside to see if they can find us some supplies. The Rats have been reassured. Things are looking up. I’d dance if I could – and I plan to once we’re all better.

I’m a feather with its down smooshed right now. I just need some time to fluff up again.

Sunday, 19 April 2009 - 7:32 pm

What’s been said

There was no change in Sax’s condition today. We managed to get him to take some soup, but he didn’t wake up. I took a turn tending him, to give Sally a break, and Alice solemnly took over after a couple of hours. She wants to help – poor thing, I think she’s trying to ease her guilt. And, from the way she looks at him, overcome her own fear. She has seen this happen before and it haunts her.

Masterson is being cautious about what he tells us. He has pulled on his doctor’s coat, all knowing looks and guarded words. I liked him better when his tongue was loose and honestly barbed. He might think he’s doing what’s best, but I still pulled him aside to get something more concrete out of him; some of us are adults and we need to know what we’re dealing with.

He said nothing definitive, of course, but it wasn’t good news. He doesn’t think that Sax will make it. He doesn’t know if we’re all going to end up that way – it’s impossible to judge that kind of thing, he said. Alice has been around this sickness and hasn’t fallen ill, so it’s not that virulent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if the old man isn’t the only one to fall victim to it.

We’ve heard several stories about this sickness over the past few weeks. In all of them, there wasn’t one report of a person getting better. There were witnesses, there were people left unscathed, but no survivors. I’m trying not to dwell on that part. It might mean nothing, nothing at all. It might be completely wrong, word of mouth gone awry, Chinese whispers working their fearful magic.

My dad’s words about being sick keep coming to mind. Confidence and courage are the real battle. Somehow, I need to find a way to stop the fear taking us down.

Tags: ,
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.

Tags: , ,