Wednesday, 31 December 2008 - 9:42 pm


Everyone else is asleep now.  I don’t think I can, not until I get this down.  I feel like I did a week ago, when the bomb went off.  If I don’t get this down, it’s going to always be there, harrying me, haunting me.  I’ll burst and I’ll break, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up again.


I think the first thing that happened was that it went quiet.  The storm birds had been screaming at the sky for an hour, and all of a sudden they disappeared.  We didn’t think anything of it – why would we?

Those who weren’t resting were outside, looking for supplies.  I was checking out a truck with a couple of the guys – we were hoping to get it working.  Our group wasn’t the only one out and about; there were others, doing the same as we were.

It was just a fall of rain, the most natural thing in the world.  A scudding-together of orange-stained clouds that let loose.  But it swept up the street with the most awful sound. At first I wondered what the water was hitting to set up such a screeching.

Then I realised that it was people screaming.


We didn’t stop to see why; we ran for the café.  Just dropped everything and ran.  I shouted for people to take cover, shoved others when I reached them; anything to get out of the street.  We only just made it before the rain reached us.  It hissed when it hit the ground, and it dissolved alive within its reach.

Carter and Trevor were making their way back to us from their equipment-gathering mission.  They were too far away.  They ran – we could see them, we called to them – but they didn’t make it.  I can still hear their voices, screaming in pain as they went down. 

I never knew that a human body could melt like that.  In this nightmare week, it’s the worst thing I’ve seen.  Faces warp, there’s blood and then bone showing, and then it’s all mashed together on the ground.  A whole person, reduced to nothing but a steaming puddle in a matter of seconds.  I want to throw up again.

We’ve stepped out of a disaster movie and into horror now.  There’s no other word for it.


We had to hold Thorpe back.  He was wild, wanting to get to his crewmates, shouting and screaming.  I think we were all shouting; my throat is raw with it.  He struck at me and Ben tackled him to the floor.  It took Ben and Sax to hold him down.

Liz was out in it, too.  We heard more screams up the street: a woman and the higher, shriller sound of a little one.  She’d taken one of the kids for a walk.  Aaron; the kid’s name was Aaron.  Oh god, he was so tiny.

I tried to herd everyone back from the front of the café.  Especially Dillon – I didn’t want him to see what was happening.  It was probably too late, but… it seemed like the thing I was supposed to do.  And I was so scared – a breath of wind might have driven the rain further inside.  Back, get back, get away from it, get away.


No-one saw the lawyerlady until it was too late.  She was so quiet that we often missed her, and she never did anything without one of us telling her to.  Eat, drink, walk, keep going.  But she did this on her own.  Between Thorpe and everything else, no-one saw her walk up to the doorway.

She paused there, long enough for us to spot her.  Then we were shouting again, and I ran after her.  She turned around and looked right at me, and I’ve never seen eyes like that before.  So empty, so awful and dark.

And then she stepped outside.  I–

I didn’t make it.  I didn’t pay enough attention.  I didn’t try hard enough to get her to talk, to reach her before it was too late.  I didn’t take the time to convince her not to die.

I never even knew her name.  Maybe if I had known her name, I could have called her back.


After that, after she was gone, it went quiet.  All we could do was stare at the hissing of the rain.  If we listened hard, we could hear the leading edge of it claiming more victims, the screeching growing quieter as it spread its grip.  Dillon was crying and I held him so tightly I must’ve hurt him.

It wasn’t until we all settled down together at the back of the café that we realised that Delaine was missing.  Perhaps it was the quiet; the lack of his complaining.  Someone said they thought he’d gone to look for something.  He didn’t come back even after the rain passed.

So there’s just eight of us left now.  Ben and Thorpe, Sally and Sax, Nugget and Simon, and Dillon and me.  The café feels empty without the others.


Our world has turned into fire and acid and broken rocks.  We’re in the belly of the beast, and I can’t see a way out.

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Monday, 5 January 2009 - 9:25 am

Catching up

I’m so behind on everything.  It took us half a day to get out of the café, between getting the truck working, collecting supplies and packing them into it, and then squeezing everyone inside. 

It was slow going.  I hadn’t really noticed before, but there are vehicles all over the road.  Some crashed when they were fried, some just stopped, some were obviously picked up and tossed.  I suspect some of them used to be in different streets entirely; they were carried to their resting places by the blast, like toys, like Dorothy’s house.  In amongst all of it is a hefty serving of debris from shattered buildings.

We had to inch around the obstacles, and a couple of times, the guys had to pile out to shove a car out of the way and open a path.  I lost count of the times we had to backtrack to find a clearer way.

At one point Ben just gave up and scraped past a car, exchanging paint and teeth-edging screeches.  We winced and he shrugged – why protect a paintjob anyway?  It’s not like aesthetics matter, and now it seems strange that we had been so careful before.  It’s silly when I stop and think about it, and yet it was second nature to us. 

I don’t know if this is really faster than walking.  It still feels better to be driving, though.  To not be kicking at the ground any more, to feel like we’re actually making progress.  To give our feet a rest and be going somewhere at the same time.  To not be holed up somewhere like rats who have no idea what to do about the sinking of the ship.


We stopped about mid-afternoon and looked for somewhere to take shelter.  The sky was thickening – it’s still orange, still huddling low above us.  It seems to be some kind of cloud cover, but one that the wind isn’t able to tear apart.  I have yet to see a glimpse of blue, and as a passenger in the truck, I did a lot of looking.

The sight of that sky still makes me nauseous.  It taints the sunlight and it robs us of the moon and stars at night.  No blue, and no clean, spangled black either.  It glows red in the mornings and seeps everything ruddy.  It makes me want to scrub my eyes, but they’ll never come clear.

There’s less smoke-scarring up there now; I think the rain has put out the fires.  So it’s good for that much, at least.  We had only just settled down in our shelter when the rainfall started again.  It seems that the cluttering up of the clouds into a thicker, darker mass is a sign to take cover, after all.


The next day – yesterday – was more of the same.  Painfully slow chugging, shoehorning our way through the mass of debris.  We’re making our way westwards along the river – we looked at the bridges to the east, but the one we came over on is broken, and the next one is too close to the CBD – it’s the one we fled over to get out of there.  If it’s still standing, it’ll be near impossible to get to. 

West is the bypass tunnel under the river.  We didn’t know if it was open, or clogged, or collapsed in on itself like a broken windpipe.  It was the best one to try, so that’s what we did. 

We were about a block away from it when we got caught out by the rain.  It was spotting on the windscreen before we realised that the clouds had thickened, and Ben yanked the wheel around.  The truck bounced off the road and right through the front of a clothes store.  A mannequin bounced off the bonnet, its head ricocheting into a rack of pants.

I think that shook him up a bit.  For a heartbeat, it looked like a person, ploughed through like tissuepaper.  A couple of us cried out in horror at the sight of it – I think I was one of them.  We almost laughed when we realised what it was.  Ben didn’t look like laughing, though.


There’s not much chance of us getting the truck running today.  We’re not going to get it out of the store, and the roads here are too thick with dead cars to have room to bump-start it.  It was almost out of gas anyway.  We’re close to the tunnel, so we’re going to take a look before we try to find another vehicle.

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Tuesday, 6 January 2009 - 3:54 pm

Acid bite

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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Friday, 9 January 2009 - 4:44 pm

The van

We got trapped in the van today.  We’re still in it now, huddling, while the rain patters down on it.


It used to be such a comforting sound.  That wonderful noise put me to sleep as a child: the delicious rhythm of water on a roof; the rich drip of it off gutters and eaves and the boughs of the tree outside my window. 

I would close my eyes sometimes and listen to the hammering of it, beating at a world that cheerfully wouldn’t submit.  A world that would drink it up and turn it into something green and lush.  And sometimes, just sometimes, when it was hot and heavy out, I would go outside and stand in it.  Let it fall on me, prickling and thick.  And I would dance in it.


Now, it hisses on contact, turning to snakes even on impenetrable metal.  The ribbons of it are faintly green-tinged; I can only tell by watching it slither down the windscreen a few inches from my face.  It makes me tense just listening to it.  It brings to mind the faces I watched melt, how they barely had time to scream before sound was robbed from them.  How they looked at us before the acid took their eyes.

Today, it started without warning.  The first thing we knew, Sax was shouting in pain because he had had an arm propped on the sill of the passenger window and spots on his elbow and forearm were dissolving.  Thorpe was driving and nearly panicked, but we’re in a residential street – no store windows to plough through this time.  He didn’t risk a crash, and I’m glad of that. 

I dread to think what might have happened if he had tried to put us inside a building by sheer force alone.  Broken windows, buckled metal and sprung seams, thrown bodies sprawled everywhere, and the rain seeping in over all of it.  I have a mental image of a crash test dummy bent, bleeding, melting, and bearing all of our faces.


Thorpe took a breath and stopped the van instead.  We rolled all the windows up and double-checked the doors, shut ourselves tightly inside.  It was all we could do, even though it made the van suffocatingly hot.  We would all rather put up with the heat than the acid.

Of course, the van leaks.  The doors at the back are not well sealed (despite this being a plumber’s van), and there’s a crack along one side of the roof that has rusted through.  We have moved everyone away from that side of the van – the rain doesn’t seem to be pooling much, thank goodness.

Ben started to shake when the rain came inside – he was trying so hard not to freak out, but he was almost hyperventilating.  The cab seems waterproof, so we helped him scramble into the front.  He’s calmer now, though he’s still watching the rain with taut horror.  He had a deathgrip on my hand for a while.  His burns are still bright and painful; I wonder if seeing the rain that caused it is making them itch with familiarity.

Sax’s arm isn’t too bad, though it still looks like something slathering chewed on it and tore small, dripping chunks off.  It’s bound up now as best we could make it.  Everyone’s waiting for it the roof to come down on us and wash us away into nothing.  I know that all eyes behind me will be fixed on that place where the rain is coming in and making sickly tracks down the van’s side.

It’s so quiet in here.  I just realised that my typing is the loudest thing in here.  Now I’m all self-conscious about it.  Time to do something else.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2009 - 6:07 pm

The minor fall, the major lift

There was an awful sound earlier, just after the rain started.  Laughter, echoing loudly in the empty air outside, and then a wet thump. 

I can imagine well enough what it was – the mental images won’t leave me alone.  The fascination of drugged eyes with tinted rainwater, the sensation of flying, of being so terribly free.  Not even feeling skin melting, or the impact with the ground.  Making maniacal, hysterical noises as blood and bone make a Dali painting in reality and bubble away to nothing.

I can’t figure out if that is a good way to go or not.  I can only hope that the cushion of drugs stole away the pain; otherwise, it would be a horror best left uncontemplated.  I would rather not contemplate it as much as I already have.

I wonder if it was Sally.  I wonder if I upset her so much that that’s what she chose to do.  I’m trying not to think like that, but how can I stop?  I didn’t make things better for her, and it’s possible that I made them worse.  I don’t want that to have been her choice.  Never that.

Or Masterson.  I’d be upset if I knew it was him, too.  Now I know about his family, about his pain, I can’t wish harm on him.  Especially not that.  I hope he’s all right, up there in his haze.


We all heard it, sitting in our cosy room and eating our muesli bars.  We all knew what it was, even Nugget; she went and huddled down in a corner, and refused to come out.  We were all thinking about it, imagining that last, doomed flight, like Icarus with his foolish wings. 

This place is sapping our wills.  I could feel it dying in that silence after that fall, feel the air being sucked out of the room.  It was leaving us gasping like fish afraid to go back into the water, twitching reflexively on the carpet.  We were fading, turning into the grey of the walls, into stains on the blankets.

I didn’t like it.  All of a sudden, I wanted to take in a deep breath and scream.  I wanted to get up and run around, I wanted to make noise and splash colour on our faces.  I wanted to be alive and bright and here.

But the hospital was a great weight on me, stealing my courage and audacity, keeping me crosslegged on my blankets as the rain hissed outside.  A thousand snakes making me huddle back from breaking out, like Nugget in the corner.

I looked around, and we all seemed to wear the same face over the same heart.  There was a metal bedpan in the middle of the room with scraps and rags burning in it, our only source of light, casting strange shadows on us.  It reminded me of camping with my dad. 

It’s been years since I’ve even thought about it – we haven’t been camping since I was ten years old.  Out there, it was dark like this, far from the city and the streetlights, starless when it was overcast.  We’d have a fire and uplit faces.  And these strange silences would descend sometimes.  We would listen to the sounds out in the darkness and wonder if there was something there that might eat us.  In those moments, Dad would start a song, something silly and made only for campfires.  We’d all join in and the world outside the firelight would fade away.

It was so incongruous that I smiled, sitting here in this odd camp of ours.  Dillon looked at me strangely, and moved over to ask what was going on.  I asked him if he’d ever been camping before and he shrugged.  Then I just started singing.  Not well – Dad always said I had more enthusiasm than talent – but well enough that the others perked up rather than looked annoyed with me. 

We’re a ragged bunch, but they all joined in eventually, except young Nugget.  She did move closer to listen, though.  Sax was first to join in, his bass voice rumbling in under mine.  Then Dillon, and Ben with an amused look.  I didn’t think Thorpe would, with his rolling of eyes and huffed sighs, but after a couple of rounds he decided to play along.

We filled that little ex-staff room up with sound, made it brim with our voices like we didn’t care what was happening outside.  We were unashamed, and some of us were even smiling, because the song is silly and yet all of us were singing it, even the adults.  But it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that the words meant nothing and the song slipped away from us as soon as it was finished.  It was worth it, for that feeling of lightness in my chest and the looks on flame-flickered faces.

I asked if anyone else knew anything else we could try, and of course, Sax stepped up.  And then Ben started one.  We kept going like that until our little fire burnt down, and then we slept.  All of us, breathing in time.


Row, row, row, your boat

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009 - 11:36 am


Yesterday was horrible. We pushed on hard after lunch, moving as fast we could. It wasn’t fast enough.

We’ve been outside when the rain was coming before. Usually, the boys would kick in a door and we would all dive inside. It tends to move across the sky in waves – rarely has it just come down without warning.

This time, we could hear the hiss approaching a block away; the sound drew a wire taut through all of us. Voices lifted with urgency – find shelter, quickly, anywhere. But there were no doors left to kick down, and no ceilings behind their empty frames to shelter us.

It was Nugget who found it. She tugged insistently on my arm until I looked towards where she was pointing. It wasn’t much. The side of a room that still had a ceiling still in place over it. It looked like the remains of a restaurant – there were the skeletons of tables and chairs in there, the bones of cutlery in the ash.

I hollered for the guys and we all dived over. The rain was just down the street by then, a creeping wall of melting pain washing towards us. We had to throw a few charred chunks of wood out of our way, so that all of us could fit under the overhang.

It’s been a while since there’s been no barrier between me and the rain. Since I heard the hiss and splash of it hitting the ground and burning it into submission, up close. In the darkness of the gathered clouds, the water glitters strangely. It isn’t like the clean rain I knew, the rain I loved to go out and dance in.

When it swept over us, we grabbed each other and huddled in tight under the shard of ceiling. I had Dillon hugged against my chest and Ben’s arm pulling me into his side. Matt had hold of Nugget and Thorpe was bracketing him on the outside.

It was a hell of a downpour; harder than I’ve seen for a while. I thought the other day that it might be letting up, but that seems far from the truth now. The sheer amount of liquid – of acid – falling so close to us was terrible. No-one said anything, but we all watched the rapidly-forming puddles with trepidation. If they started to spread in our direction, there wasn’t a lot we could do about it. I wished that we hadn’t thrown the furniture out of the way – we had nothing to climb on now.

My heart was hammering to keep up with the rain beating just a couple of feet from me. Ben’s grip on me was hard enough to leave bruises. I glanced at his face, but he didn’t look away from the rain. I think he was remembering being burned, getting those awful marks across his chest. He’s terrified of feeling that pain again, I think, more than he would ever say. All I could do was find one of his hands and hold on.

I looked at the others, and they were wary but all right. Matt looked angry, and that was strange – I’ve never seen him look like that before. He was always so calm and chilled; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him boiling with fury like that in all the time I’ve known him. I wonder what the rain took from him. Or who.

The furniture we had thrown out suffered under the rain’s touch. It sizzled loudly as it was worn down; the water washed ash and substance off it together. The good news was that the furniture clearly hadn’t been touched by the rain before, which meant that our shelter had protected it and should do the same for us.

I still felt horribly exposed. I could hear it slithering over the top of us, running along the floor above and cascading onto the ground around. We were ensconced on the only island for miles.


Gradually, we relaxed. The puddles weren’t extending in our direction and our toes were safe. I heard Nugget whimpering and Matt patted her shoulder awkwardly. He murdered something soothing that I didn’t quite catch.

Then Thorpe grumbled more distinctly, “Bet he’s better off than we are.”

Jones, of course. I laughed, because the big fella is probably right.

“You should put that cat on a leash,” I told Nugget. She nodded solemnly, taking it more seriously than I had intended. Still, it would stop her panicking about him every five minutes.


By the time the rain stopped, we had slid down to sit on the floor. I didn’t like the way my thoughts were circling, so I looked at the others. All we had to look at was the rain. I didn’t need to be psychic to know why Thorpe looked glum – he had to be thinking about Trevor and the first time it rained. I wish that I could take that memory away for him.

Ben was still tense and unhappy. Maybe he was thinking about Trevor too – though not in the same way, obviously – and Carter and all of his other friends he has lost along the way. I couldn’t talk to him about it – crammed together like that, there was no privacy at all. Dillon was all-but sitting in my lap, which was more comfortable than it sounds.

I’m not sure that talking would have helped anyway. I guess we all have bad memories linked to the rain. For me, it’s that laughing fall out of the hospital window, the one we heard but didn’t see. We never found out who it was, and my nightmares paint different faces on the falling body. Amber, Dad, Matt before we found him, even Cody, and sometimes Chastity, even though she didn’t live to see any of this. My minds fills in all the details I never saw, only too readily.

Now, we are huddled in a more intact but equally gutted building. I didn’t sleep much last night, afraid that the dream would come for me again. I don’t think any of us slept well for fear of that hiss creeping ever closer to us.

Thursday, 16 July 2009 - 10:17 pm

Filtered water

Dr Kostoya allowed a few of us upstairs today. We caught him sneaking around downstairs when the foragers were heading out and he asked if we would give him a hand with something. I went up with Ben, Sally and Conroy.

He has settled himself in his lab with a bed of piled blankets on an old couch in his office. “My home away from home is now just home,” he told us with a shrug.

We were much more interested in the things he had set up in the lab. So many pipes and tubes, tubs and bowls and vats. At first, he didn’t want to talk about any of that stuff – he asked us to help him hook up a new pump to a nest of pipes in the corner. It was a big, heavy thing that had to be held up while it was propped in place and attached to the system.

We struggled to get it into position, but it seemed a lot lighter than it looked. Kostoya was surprised while he hurried around us, fastening things. I couldn’t help but notice that Ben didn’t seem to strain under it as much as the rest of us did, but maybe that’s just yesterday’s conversation colouring things. I’m looking for changes now, so maybe that’s why I’m seeing them.

Kostoya explained the pump after it was dealt with: it would stop the water in the defensive pipes from freezing. He babbled something about convection but I missed exactly what he was saying. I did catch that he has a rainwater tank on the roof that he’s using to supply the system.

That’s not all he’s using the rainwater for, either. Conroy and I peeked at some of the things he has on the counters and were quickly shooed away from them.

“You’re investigating the rain?” Conroy asked him. Of all of us, he’s the one most likely to understand the professor’s mumblings.

“Yes! Of course. What else would I be doing here?” Kostoya was flustered and defensive, but not enough to chase us away. I think he liked that we seemed interested; we reminded him of his long-gone students.

“What have you found out about it?” I said. I didn’t know what I hoped for; it has been so long since we had any chance of discovering anything about the rain that I had given up on answers.

A lot of things, he told us. He’d discovered so many things, and yet he had barely scratched the surface of it. It’s not organic, he said, and it’s not just laced with acid. It’s more than that. And despite it bearing a faintly green tinge, it’s linked to the orange taint to the clouds.

But it can be filtered clean. With the right mixture of stones and soils and enough time, the acid can be sifted right out of the rainwater. It can be made safe.

“Won’t even make you sick,” he said, holding up a glass of water that looked muddy but brown rather than green.

It took me a long moment to realise what he meant. Ben was silent and Conroy’s mouth fell open just a heartbeat before the penny dropped inside my skull.

“The Sickness is linked to the rain?”

“Yes, yes of course.” Kostoya seemed surprised. “What did you think caused it?”

None of us knew what to say to that. It makes an awful kind of sense. I went through the list of those I had known with the Sickness: Sax, with his burnt arm; Ben, with the acid splatter over his chest; Alice, with half her face missing; and, more recently, Steve with his bandaged arm. Of the others – the priest, the Rats – I don’t know if they had ever been burned by the rain, but it’s entirely possible.

Our stunned silence was broken by Sally’s abrupt departure. The lab doors flapped in her wake.

Kostoya decided that was a wonderful idea and shooed us all out. Down in our teaching room again, things were strange. Conroy was fascinated; Ben was silent and internal; Sally was curled up and apparently asleep. I turned it all over in my head until the others got back, my feet carrying me in restless circles around the building. It’s hard trying to keep watch with such a distraction.

I think the rain just got a little more terrifying.

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Thursday, 31 December 2009 - 4:54 pm

Anniversary, part three: rain

There are bodies lying out behind the barn. They aren’t new – it’s Mira and Janice, and the intruders. Bree went outside to throw up after too much alcohol, and screamed when she found them.

The problem isn’t that they’re there: it’s that they’re still there. They were put out days ago – the rain should have taken them. Instead, they’re starting to smell bad and turning sickly colours in the summer heat.

It doesn’t look like they’ve been in the rain at all. They’re not scorched; their skin is as whole as we left it. When the intruders attacked and we had to drag Mira inside, I remember how the acid scarred her boots. It made little pits in the leather, tiny marks made by a petulant god. That should have been the first clue: the acid should have bored right through, scoring holes deep into her feet. At the time, I thought she was lucky. That was before I knew she was dead.

Standing outside in the dark last night, confusion swayed around the group. A couple of the others threw up – it really did smell awful. My stomach flip-flopped uncomfortably and for a moment I thought I’d join them. Instead, I shooed everyone back inside.

None of us knew what to make of it. We turned to Kostoya and Conroy, but the professor had passed out and Conroy was nowhere to be found. The others were too drunk to pursue it, so we waited until morning to seek answers. We did our best to keep up the revelries despite the bleak reminder.


This morning, I was one of the first up. Everyone was hung over except Jersey, the kids, and me. I made us all breakfast and took Matt a plate. He groaned and buried his head under the covers, so I left him to it.

I went outside to check over the vehicles and stopped just outside the door to look up. Apart from occasional checks for rain, I don’t usually pay much attention to the sky. Not real attention, the kind where details make themselves known. The clouds are always there, leaning on us, low and heavy. It has been so long since we saw it any other way that it’s hard to remember what it used to be like; even our time above them on the mountains was months ago.

This morning, the presence of the bodies behind the barn made me look up. It’s hard to tell, but I think the sky is paler than it used to be. The orange isn’t as thick any more, tending towards pale gold at the edges. Edges – that’s not something that the clouds have had for a long time; since the bombs went off, it has been one massive stretch of poison, roiling like an inverted ocean. It has tides and flows, but never runs dry.

Soft singing reached me as someone approached from behind; it was Lily with her soft tread and vague expression. She was gazing upwards as well and I caught a few lyrics.

“Never saw blue like that, before….”

I gave her a querying glance and she pointed to the east. There, if I squinted, was a spot where the cloud cover thinned. As I watched, the masses shifted and parted, stretching a slice of sky open between them. My breath caught and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Shafts of sunlight angled through like great, golden fingers coming down to stroke the earth below. Real, pure, unfiltered sunlight out of the brightest blue.

I banged my fists sore on doors, tearing through the house chased by curses and groans, words garbled by the lump in my throat. They had to get up. They all had to get up and see it, hangovers be damned. Come and see, it’s amazing. It’s wonderful. Lily’s laughter chased me, delighted at the storm moving through the house.

They stopped complaining once they saw. They fell quiet as soon as they stepped outside, as if the whole world was a church and that was God looking down at us from behind a torn curtain. They screwed up their eyes and were reminded what white looked like.


We were there for a few minutes before Estebar asked why the clouds were gathering up like that. He was right: they were gathering into clumps, revealing those slivers of precious blue in between threatening loads. There was a haze against the horizon; it was making up for yesterday’s lack of rain by coming early today. We retreated inside, lingering near the front windows so we could watch it, in case the sky might disappear again.

Kostoya was one of the last to make it down to us, holding his head up with one hand. He peered, blinked, and grunted as if something had just been confirmed. I wasn’t the only one to turn to him, waiting for some kind of explanation. He gazed at us queryingly for a moment before he realised what we wanted, then shuffled his feet and drew his shoulders straight.

“The rain has been getting weaker for some time,” Professor Kostoya told us between great gulps of water. He was pale in his hangover. “Or rather, the acid in the rain has. I’ve been monitoring it. Wasn’t sure what would happen to it – it has been erratic, sometimes more, sometimes less.” He waggled a hand in the air. Conroy watched him, looking like he wanted to butt in at any moment.

“And you didn’t tell us?” Jersey demanded.

“The tests were inconclusive – as I said, results were erratic. I needed more data to be sure.”

“Are you sure now?” Dale asked.

Kostoya looked up. “It is all connected. The clouds, the rain. We need to do more tests.” His gaze returned to us and he realised that he sounded like a scientist. He tried to give us the kind of answer we were looking for. “Now the rain seems to be clean, yes.”

“They know,” Bree said, her quiet words reaching all the way across the room. She was pressed up against the glass, eyes fixed on the oncoming rain.

I had to move closer to realise that she wasn’t looking at the water at all – she was watching the black shapes moving around within it. Crows or ravens – it was hard to tell from such a distance. We were sure of one thing, though: they were getting wet. Creatures who would have known to stay out of it were blithely flying in it and heading our way. Bree was right: they knew it was safe.

It was only a few minutes before they passed overhead. Gleaming, they were a black wave that screamed past the Farm just moments before the water hit us. Lily laughed with delight as they swooped in the air overhead and she was the only one of us who didn’t flinch when rain hammered against the window.


It was a lot to process. A year ago, the rain started and stripped us of half of our ragtag group of survivors. Friends, family, lovers – all were taken, on that awful day and others since then. It stripped every living thing from the Earth, taking away our sources of food. We learned to hide from it, to fear it, to dread its burning kiss. At first it was the pain and loss that drove us into shelter, and then it was the knowledge that it was full of poison. It turned our dead into hungry shells. It was as if nature itself had turned against us and wanted us to devour ourselves. It was horror, and nightmare, and bane, all in one.

Now it’s over. All of that is gone. The acid was a scouring pad; the world is the slate, wiped clean the hard way. Now it’s time to make new marks on it. Now it’s time to start over.

“Faith, no.” Matt tried to stop me, but I already had an arm stretched out of the open door. Rain fell on my skin like a memory from another life. Tears tracked down my cheeks, echoing the marks on the windows, and I turned my palm up as if to catch hold of it.

“It’s all right,” I said. It felt good. It was even a little warm, reminding me of the showers I had missed over the past year.

Someone nudged past me and ran out into the rain: Lily, as fearless as always. I smiled through my own tears, a laugh catching in my throat. Matt was holding my other hand, and I tugged on him.

“It’s all right, Matt.”

He didn’t look convinced, but he followed me outside anyway. In fits and starts, the others followed, looking up at the sky warily. I walked out into the middle of the yard and stopped, lifting my face into the falling water. The crows screeched overhead, swooping through the rain. I could hear the kids running around, small boots splashing below their giggles. Heavier steps trod in more cautious circles, but when I looked over, wonder dared to show itself in the faces around me.

Jonah was in the doorway, unwilling to come out on his crutches, but he grinned at the rest of us. Jersey stood nearby, watching droplets fall into her hand. Bobby stood next to Bree and looked up, and she cast him a sideways glance. Masterson had his hand on Sally’s shoulder while she let the rain fall on baby Felix’s face. He didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t seem to mind. Kostoya had a similar expression, bewildered by the excitement but trying to take part anyway. Conroy was beaming like a fool. Thorpe stood with the ring he keeps on a chain around his neck covered by one hand and Dale’s hand clutched in the other. Lily was in the middle of all of us, her arms outflung and head thrown back with abandon as she turned in circles.

Matt slipped his arms around me from behind and I leaned back into him. I was brimful of everything, wanting to dance, and sing, and cry, and shout out to the sky: “We’re here, we’re alive, we made it.” I hugged the arms around me; without them, I might have floated away. I didn’t mind that I was getting soaked. I felt like I could do anything, anything at all.

We were standing in the rain. The world was ours again.

There was just one thing missing. I tipped my head back onto Matt’s shoulder and looked up at him. He was grinning like a schoolboy and his eyes were bright when he gazed at me. His eyebrows lifted.

“What is it?” he asked.

I echoed his grin, too happy to contain myself. There was just that one thing missing, but that was something we could fix.

“Let’s go get Dad back.”

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