Sunday, 28 December 2008 - 8:25 pm

Together until we’re not

Been trying to focus on things lower than the sky.  Thoughts about that go nowhere useful.

The south side of the river fared better than the north.  There aren’t so many high-rises here, less for the shockwave to catch hold of and topple over, but things are still pretty wrecked.  There’s no power now – it only stayed on long enough to make things worse – and no running water.  Shattered glass everywhere, cars tossed into each other and the scenery.  Buildings in various stages of collapse and creaking.  Some fires have already burnt themselves out; others are struggling on.

We didn’t push on today.  After seeing the sky, no-one really wanted to; I think shock is setting in for all of us now.  Carter decided that we should take the chance to rest and recoup, and no-one argued.  We’re all so used to listening to him that obeying is reflex now, as if we’ve all grown into extensions of his fire crew.


I’ve been trying to find out people’s names.  We’ve been struggling on alongside each other for days, but there haven’t exactly been many opportunities to stop and shake hands.  I think I’ve got almost all of them now.

I don’t know Carter’s first name.  He’s forty and strung out, and there’s a wedding band on his finger.  He has a strange momentum about him, as if he’s afraid to stop.  I look at him and it’s familiar.  I guess that’s part of why we don’t mind him being in charge; he seems to need it.

Sally is strung out for an entirely different reason.  I keep catching sight of her rubbing at her arms, as if she’s trying to drub something from them.  Or into them.  She’s pale and sickly; I think if the rest of us hadn’t bullied her into moving, she would have stopped and curled up somewhere in the city’s rubble days ago.  I assumed before she was just very shocked, but now I think it has a more chemical cause.

Liz must be about fifty.  She’s one of the stronger runners of the group – she has an iron determination in her spine.  Most of her attention is focussed on the two little ones she has hanging off her – they can’t be more than six or seven years old.  They’re not related – unless they had very different fathers – and I don’t think they belong to her.  Or they didn’t before all this started.  She doesn’t let them out of her sight now.  One of them – the only name I could get for him was ‘Nugget’ – has a head injury.  He’s been carried by one or other of the group for most of the time, in and out of consciousness.

There’s Dillon, of course.  My shadow, though he’s latching onto one of the firemen as well now.  I guess because I’m injured and can’t be out there doing so much stuff.  He’s thirteen.  I don’t know who he was in the city with; he won’t say and I didn’t want to push him.  Whoever it was, they’re gone now.

The fireman he’s attaching himself to is Thorpe.  I haven’t spoken to him much, but he seems like a sensible kind of guy.  I know he carried Nugget across the bridge last night; I remember seeing the kid flopping about like a broken ragdoll over his shoulder.

Another of the steadier rocks is Sax – he got called by the instrument he’s carrying.  It’s dented; I don’t know if it will play any more.  But he’s keeping it and that’s that.  He’s a big round-shouldered fella, and older than I thought now that I can see the grey in his hair.  It wasn’t until we stopped that I recognised him; I used to walk past him every day in the mall, playing his saxophone, dressed like a blues player from the ’20s.

Delaine is a born whiner.  Nothing is good enough, he’s hungry, he’s thirsty, he’s tired, he’s sore.  He’s the voice of all the little urges inside of us, the ones that the rest of us are too drained or too considerate to let out.  He has no such compunctions.  I hit him in the back of the head with a bottle of water earlier.  Not hard, but enough to get his attention.  I told him that I’d rather go thirsty than listen to his bitching.  I guess my nerves are getting a little bit ragged. Not bad for a left-handed throw, though.

Ben came over and gave me some of his water after that.  He’s the quietest of the fire crew.  He was one of the first firemen I saw; I think he’s been with us the whole time.  He’s the one who helped me climb off the bookstore after Harry.  He’s limping but he won’t let me check out his leg. 

The last of the firefighters is Trevor.  He keeps trying to crack jokes.  He even got Sally to chance a smile earlier.  I caught him worrying at the ring on his finger earlier.  He didn’t notice me; he just sighed and then rubbed his face, as if trying to dislodge a thought from the inside of his skull.

The woman in the heels who came out of the law firm is still with us.  She’s having a lot of trouble with all of this; she has to be chivvied to eat and drink.  She’s vacant, like her driver has taken a break and others need to step in to guide her.  Trevor has been keeping an eye on her, but even he hasn’t been able to get a name out of her.

The last fella is Simon.  He was trapped near a fire and has the worst burns I’ve ever seen.  There’s not much left of his shoulder and one side of his face.  We’ve done what we can for him, but he needs a hospital.  He moans a lot, but no-one dares to mind.  Except Delaine, but even he only mentioned it once.


So that’s us, that’s our bunch of survivors.  Is that what we are now?  Our label?  Survivors, refugees?  All I know is that we’re alive and together until we’re not any more.

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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.

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Sunday, 18 January 2009 - 3:25 pm


I should have paid more attention.  I should have known that this place has a different meaning for one of our number.  I should have known not to let her look after the doctor, not to let her go off on her own.

Sally has been missing since yesterday.  It’s hard to say who noticed first; I was just starting to wonder why the group seemed small, and then Sax said she wasn’t here.  No-one can remember when we saw her last.

As soon as we realised she was gone, I knew where we’d find her.  I remember the way she used to claw at her arms and shiver, even though it’s not cold.  She had always hung towards the back of the group, but when we got to the hospital, she was up at the front.  I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but I should have.  I should have noticed her more, the way she looked around here with alert eyes, the way she offered to help me find supplies.  The way she was quiet when we found the doctor and his fellow escapees.

I guess I was too wound up in myself, my problems, and the shattering of my own hopes to notice hers blossoming.


Thorpe said that we shouldn’t bother to go get her.  That she’d made her choice and to hell with her.  And as awful as it sounds, I agreed with him.  Sally’s an adult (though I don’t know how old she actually is), and can make her own decisions.  But she’s still one of us.  She might need our help.  And if we leave her up there, she’ll die; they don’t have any supplies beyond the drugs.  Nothing to live on but plenty to die with.  I couldn’t live with that, with just leaving her to a short fate up there.

There was a huge argument.  I think the only one who didn’t get involved was Nugget; the girl hasn’t said a word yet and I don’t know if she even understood what was going on.  Even Dillon weighed in, defending me when Thorpe started to loom over me.  I think he was trying to protect me, a terrier against the tiger.  The tiger ignored him, of course, but I appreciate that he tried.  And as much as Thorpe might tower over me, I don’t think he’d ever actually do anything to hurt me.  Either way, I wasn’t going to let him intimidate me.

It’s not like I’m going to go up there and drag her back down here, or lock her in the next room until she’s clean again.  I just have to try.  I have to try to get her back, to pull her out of that stinking place, to save her from starving to death while she’s too high to care. 

Ben backed me up, and Sax said that Sally had to make her own choices.  And he’s right!  I don’t want to force her.  But I don’t want to give up on her.  I can’t.  What if she was duped?  What if this isn’t what she wanted?  What if she ends up like the girl with the empty eyes?

This group, the seven of us, we’ve looked after each other through this nightmare.  That’s how we got this far, that’s why we’re still alive.  Thorpe might ask what the hell it matters, but we’re here and we’re doing all right.  Not many can say that.  So many were lost, so we have to hold on to everyone we have while they’re still here.  We have to.

He went quiet and just stared at me as if I had just said something terrible.  “Fine, do what the hell you like,” he said, and walked out.  I wanted to go after him, I wanted to fix it, even while I was still angry with him for trying to write her off.  I don’t know why he was so angry with me.  Sally is a person, not an asset.  There was no point pursuing it with Thorpe, not then, so the door closed behind him with an empty swish.


Ben and I are going to go upstairs, to see if we can find Sally.  He’s feeling well enough and says that he wants the walk.  Sax disapproves and is scowling, but he won’t get in the way.  I think there’s something personal about this for him; I’ve told him that I’m going to leave it up to her, but he still doesn’t want us to go up there.

I’ve asked Dillon to stay behind and look after Nugget.  I don’t want the kid to see any more of what’s up there and he likes to have responsibility.  I told him to go look for Thorpe if he isn’t back in the next half an hour, too.  Just in case.

Almost time to go.  Time to see if our group is splintering.  Time to see if we’ve lost one more of our already small number.  I put the knife in my bag; that’s not what I’m going to do up there.  I don’t need it.  I just need her to come back.

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Monday, 19 January 2009 - 11:02 am


Yesterday was harder than I thought it was going to be.  The doctor’s den was as wretched as I remember, and quieter.  Some of the people there hadn’t moved since the first time we were up there – literally in a couple of cases; they had an awful kind of stiffness about them.  I feel like we should do something about it – something more – but I don’t know what.


It took us a while to find Sally.  It was getting dark and we only had one flashlight with us.  I found the cubicle where Dillon saw the doctor; the girl was still there, looking like she was sleeping except for the grey tone to her skin.  If she wasn’t dead the first time I saw her, she is now.

We found our lost one in another cubicle, scooted down between a cupboard and the wall, folded up inside the circle of her own arms.  There were tears on her cheeks, but her eyes were disconnected.  I looked at Ben and he shrugged, motioning me forward, as if I would be better for this.

I don’t know why.  I’ve never been on drugs – not like this – and I don’t know her that well.  The group doesn’t speak about the time before this; no-one wants to dig it up, and that means that we don’t really know each other.  Not well enough to know where on earth to begin a conversation like this.

I sat down next to her and propped my braced arm on my knees awkwardly.  I had to try a couple of times to get her attention; a touch to her arm was what made her finally blink at me, wide pupils attempting to fit the whole of me inside.  It took her a moment to smile and say my name, and it was a relief; she was still in there, still floating somewhere within the world’s reach.

“We missed you downstairs,” I told her.  I didn’t know where else to start.

“Had to come,” she said.  “Promised me I could fly again.”  That made her smile dreamily; I was losing her again.

“You can’t fly forever, Sally.”

Her face crumpled then, her head bowing so that the dregs of her hair fell over her face.  I felt like I’d just popped a child’s balloon.  “I know,” she said.  “But I’m not strong like you.”  She was scraping at her arm again, her nails raising red marks in their wake, the need crawling under her skin.

“Me?  Strong?”  I shook my head; I’m a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m strong.  I’m frightened and I complain, I try and I fail, I scrabble and I don’t know what I’m doing.  “I’m not that strong.”

“Then how do you do it?  How do you keep going?  How do you stand this?  You don’t understand.  None of you understand.”

She was curling up on herself, withdrawing, trying to hide inside that inner buzz.  From the marks she was making on her arm, it was fading now.  I hoped that meant that she could still hear me.  I’m not experienced with this kind of thing and I don’t know the things that you’re supposed to say.  I looked over at Ben, but he shrugged again and seemed as clueless as I felt.  She had asked me questions, so I decided to start there.

“I keep going because I have to.  If we stop… well, we’ll die, just like all those other people.  And I don’t want that.  I’m not ready to give up yet, even though… even though sometimes I want to.  Even though it all seems too much, even though it seems pointless.  We’ve come so far, all of us.  And we’re still alive.  That has to mean something.  We have to make it mean something.”

“Make it mean what?  There’s nothin’ left.”

“I… I don’t have all the answers, Sally.  We’ve just gotta keep pushing.  Even though it’s hard, even though none of this is what we want. I’d love to forget about everything, but that’s just not possible.  I wish there was something to take all of this away, too, but this isn’t the answer.”

“Yeah, t’is.”

“Only if you want to die, Sally.  Did you look around up here?”  I could feel myself getting angry, could feel it rising towards my throat so it could spill over her bowed head and defeated shoulders.  But I didn’t want to do that.  I tried to press it back.  “Sally, they’re all dying.  There’s no food or water up here.”

“I don’t care.”

“It’s true what they say about addicts: they are all fucking selfish.”  I was losing my temper again and closed my mouth before anything else snapped out.  It was frustration and I knew it.  It was anger at the way she looked like she did the first time I saw her, rather than the girl with the clear grey eyes I had been used to seeing over the past couple of weeks.  I should have paid attention; I should have tried to talk to her before this.

I swallowed and tried to latch onto something else; anything else.  “There are people downstairs who miss you, Sally.  We don’t want to lose you.  We’ll help you.  Just… just don’t forget that.  Don’t forget about us.”

She tucked her face down into the circle of her arms, her shoulders hunching up defensively.  There was a spurt of anger again, furious that she could dismiss us so easily.  Doesn’t it make a difference that we cared enough to come up here?  Doesn’t any of this make a difference to her?

I stood up then; there wasn’t much left to say.  She knew what she was doing enough to make a choice and I didn’t know how to change it.  I think I was clumsy; my hands feel too big and heavy for this kind of thing.  I felt like the things I really should have said slipped through my fingers and were trodden underfoot as I stepped away from her.

“I’m not strong enough.”  It was very quiet, but I heard her say it.

“All you gotta do is walk downstairs, Sally.  That’s all.”  I knew it wasn’t that simple, but in a lot of ways it was.  Walk away from this, go down to where people were ready and willing to accept her again.  “We’ll help you with the rest.”

She curled up into her shell again, huddling tightly, and I knew the conversation was over. 


So Ben and I left.  I made it out into the stairwell before I burst into tears and he had to put an arm around me until I calmed down.  I wanted this to be easy; I wanted something here to be easy.  Talk to her, convince her that she should come down and join us again, that she didn’t really want to kill herself.  It seemed so simple when I was arguing with Thorpe, but what reasons did I have to give her to stay alive?  What hope was there that this would get better? 

I didn’t have any of those things myself.  All I had was the knowledge that I have to carry on, that I’m too stubborn to give up just yet.  All I knew was to keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other.  All I had was a blind belief that there has to be something more out there, somewhere in the melting darkness.

Ben said I did the right thing.  He said that I had tried and that was enough, but if it had been enough, it would have worked.  Instead, I had failed again.

This is Sally’s strong one, reduced to tears in a stairwell and wondering if stubbornness is enough to carry us past all of our dead hopes.  

Saturday, 21 February 2009 - 3:20 pm


After yesterday’s adventure on the water, we found a store to regroup in and spend the night. We were going to push on today, but the question of the boat’s radio came up and that presented us with a dilemma.

Sax was going to look at it, but with so many of us crammed onto the boat, there wasn’t any space or time. He still hasn’t recovered from that knock on the head, unsteady on his feet and far too quiet. He’s still not fighting.

He offered to stay behind and fix the radio. I didn’t like that idea at all – he’s vulnerable on his own, as we all are. We’re supposed to stay together. He said that no-one would bother with an old fella like him, but I disagree. The sharks didn’t have any qualms about having a go at him, and I don’t think they’re unique or even unusual. And someone should definitely keep an eye on him, for his own sake.

Then Sally stepped forward and offered to stay with him. I don’t know why – he’s barely spoken to her since she rejoined the group, and he was one of the voices that objected to her presence. She is nursing more bruises than most of us; perhaps she simply wanted the chance to rest.

Sax went quiet at the offer and no-one else really knew what to say. With no reason to refuse, we shrugged and agreed. I still didn’t like the idea, but what was I supposed to do? I wanted to stay behind to keep an eye on them, but I wanted to be with the group as well. And I had to be with Dillon when he got to his family’s place, too. I can’t be everywhere.

Instead, I went to talk to the doctor. I asked him to stay behind as well, to keep an eye on Sax. I don’t trust his health, and I don’t think having the doctor with us without Sally is going to be great either. She keeps him quiet when his acerbic comments would cause trouble.

He looked at me like a weasel sizing up a mouse, but then he shrugged and said he’d take a few days on his ass. I think I preferred him when he was high; his edges were softer then.


We split at about midday. The farewells were weird and stinted – no hugs or fond goodbyes; barely even murmurs promising that we’ll be back as soon as we can. Though we will be back, of course. If I have to drag every unwilling butt personally, we’re coming back for them.

I tried to speak to Sax briefly, but he just smiled at me vaguely and said he’d be fine. Sally promised to look after him and I took heart from that. I think she’s really trying. There wasn’t time to ask why.

I’m worried about them. I wish we could check on how they are; I wish we could call them up. We’ll see them again in a few days, but that’s no comfort. I don’t want to let them go and I wish I could be everywhere.

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Friday, 6 March 2009 - 4:55 pm

Making peace with old ghosts

Things are a different in the group. During the day, while we’re travelling, we don’t talk much. With the shadow of the Pride on us, we’re sticking to the edges of the streets and being as quiet as we can. It has settled on us like fog, all clammy hands and a vague discomfort in our clothes as it creeps all over us.

Without the lowgrade chatter to distract me, I’ve been watching the others more. Thorpe walks up front, as stolid as always, with Dillon on his heels. The kid is a highly alert terrier, eager to be the first to spot trouble. He seems to want to prove himself, though I couldn’t say why. I think he wants Thorpe to approve of him; the big fireman is making him work for it, giving as little away as always.

Matt is watchful, in a paranoid kind of way. He walks with a hand on the stick that’s lashed to his pack, ready to pull it out. Ready for someone to try to hurt him. I look at the bleached ends of his hair and see how much he’s changed.

Ben walks with me, his gaze turned outwards, but every now and then his hand checks that I’m still there.

Behind us, there’s Sax and Sally. Nugget is usually skirting around there somewhere, her little legs with far more energy than the rest of us. Masterson brings up the rear, barely even glancing around. He just puts one foot in front of the other and casts baleful looks at one or other of us as the mood strikes him.

The interesting thing is Sax and Sally. The old man hasn’t had much to do with Sally since she abandoned us at the hospital, but there’s a closeness to them now. The time they had on the boat seems to have done them good. And it’s not the way that Sally used to cling close to Masterson – there’s nothing sexual about it.


We retreated through a broken storefront when we stopped for a big of lunch, and I managed to speak with Sally. She seems more relaxed these days, too. The itch of the drugs is less now, I think, and she’s feeling more settled as part of the group.

She said that things had blown up between the three of them about two days after the rest of us had left the boat. They had all shouted at each other; it was vicious and brutal and over very quickly. Certain unspecified things tumbled out that shone light into sensitive places. Some time afterwards, they had talked. Not Masterson so much – he wasn’t interested in building bridges and kept to himself.

She and Sax managed to work out some of their differences. She found out why he took her actions so personally; she didn’t want to betray his confidence by telling me, but any fool can see he’s had someone he loved addicted to drugs. Someone he lost to them. Now, he’s making peace with that by making peace with Sally.

She seems almost scared by the attention. She likes it, this new understanding between her and Sax, but she has this way of letting her gaze dart off into a corner when she talks about it. As if she wants to run there and hide. But she talked to me more today than she has since we started out on this journey and she’s not shying away from his presence any more.

Whatever happened there between Sax and Sally, he’s walking forward again. I can’t say how relieved I am about that. He’s talking with the group in the evenings like he used to, and berating Nugget in that off-hand, put-upon way he has.

I’m taking every good sign I can and putting them down here, because I think we might need them later. It’s easy to gloss over the good parts and focus on the bad. On the blisters and the supplies that are running short. On the hard floors and the creeping hiss of the rain. No, here are some of the things that made today okay. The rest will still be here tomorrow.

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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!

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009 - 8:22 pm


The cars were still there when we piled out of the gates. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw them gleaming in the orange light, slowing to a walk. Thank goodness; at least they were still there.

There was something not quite right, though; something off about the scene before us. It took me a moment to realise what it was, and my brain has just clicked onto it when Matt stopped and said, “Who left the doors open?”

No-one answered. We looked at each other and some offered shrugs. They turned to me because I was the last one to leave the vehicles, and I told them I hadn’t opened the doors; I had closed the bonnet and come after them. I don’t remember the doors being open when I left.

Not all of them were open – just three in total, across both cars. But it’s not a trivial thing. Our gear was inside the cars, including all of our food and water. If it had rained before we got back, we might have lost it. It was a careless, dangerous thing to do. We had been distracted by Nugget’s departure and the chase to catch her, but had we been that distracted? I had run right past one of those open doors – surely I would have seen it?

But if it wasn’t one of us, then who was it? That was, by far, the more disturbing thought. There was a fearful little snake curling up in my stomach.

“Let’s just make sure everything’s there,” I said when it was clear no-one was going to own up to the crime of leaving the doors open. Better to focus on what we had left.

No-one discovered something missing. I thought the car’s innards looked disturbed, but that might just have been paranoia sneaking ideas into my head. Or maybe just the wind. There are plenty of things it could have been other than a person we haven’t seen or heard or smelt.


As we were sorting out the packs, we talked about how much ground we had covered; it looked like we had done maybe half of the building, between all of us.

We were just shouldering our burdens when we heard Jones mewing in protest. We turned around to see Nugget walking calmly out of the gates, hugging the stupid creature to her chest with a determined set to her jaw.

All hell broke loose then. Packs hit the ground with a mixture of relief and frustration. Nugget looked puzzled and then upset when Thorpe shouted at her. He yanked the cat out of her arms and tossed him in the car, slamming the door to keep him inside. Sax drew her away and gave her some stern words of his own. By then she was trying hard not to cry, and losing.

She pulled herself free of Sax’s hold and was going to run back into the prison in her upset. Luckily, I was between her and the gates, and managed to snag her before she could slip by. She writhed and moaned in protest – the most noise I’ve ever heard her make – but I wasn’t about to let her repeat this morning’s nightmare.

I took her off to the side and held her until she settled down, trying to sush her, trying to soothe her. She didn’t really start to calm down until Sally came quietly over and started to talk to the girl. She smoothed Nugget’s snarly hair back and wiped her cheeks. She told the kid that we were angry because we were worried about her and she wasn’t to run off like that; we had spent the whole morning looking for her because she means that much to us. We were hardly looking for the cat.

To my surprise, Nugget listened. She didn’t say anything – she still doesn’t speak any more than the rare word – but she seemed to hear what Sally said. Finally, she nodded.


With the drama contained, we were all only too happy to turn our attention to the cars and work on getting the hell out of there. We pushed them both off the prison’s driveway and up the road, giving ourselves space to get them going. The first one was fine, but the second, the one that had stalled out, that one wasn’t so great. It struggled to catch and start, and a few seconds later there was smoke piling out from under the bonnet.

There was panic then as everyone hurried away from the burning car. I shouted for the firemen to please do something before we lost the whole thing, and we managed to pop the bonnet open to see the fiery engine. A little fire extinguisher was pulled out from somewhere and the flames were put out with hissing and great gouts of smoke and steam.

Afterwards, we all stood there looking at it. It seemed like something didn’t want us to leave; it brought us here in the darkness and made us stay, and now it was preventing us from going. As I pointed out to the others, I couldn’t look at the engine to figure out what was wrong with it until it had cooled down. Then Sax drew our attention to the sky, to the thickening of the clouds, and we had a decision to make. None of us wanted to spend another night in the cars, but the indoor option wasn’t exactly appealling either.

In the end, we decided it was probably safer being inside than outside. All we had to do was find somewhere we could lock ourselves into for the night. That shouldn’t be too hard in a prison, right?

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Sunday, 26 April 2009 - 12:29 pm


Progress is a wonderful thing. We made good time yesterday, much more than I thought we’d cover in just one day. I’m not used to going so fast – the past four months have tainted my perspective of the map, as if I can only look at it through the warp of a bowl’s curve.

The going is getting slower the more we go north – the closer we get to the epicentre of the blast, the more wreckage there is on the roads. It’s not dragging us down too much yet, though, not on these nippy little scooters.

We had to take a slight detour once, around a grafitti-tagged zone. We don’t know whose the tags are, and we haven’t heard any stories about the gangs in this area, but none of us are eager to take chances.

I even let Dillon drive the scooter this morning. He thought it was the best thing in the world, revving up the little engine and testing out the weaving ability of the machine. His grin was infectious when he got off, a little shaky with excitement, and he asked if he could drive it again later. We’ll take turrns, I told him.

Despite that, despite all of that, we reached the edge of my home suburb by the time the rain came. Today, we’ll get to my house.


When we were settling down last night, Sally drew me aside. She doesn’t often talk to me, one-on-one, and she was so nervous that I wondered if she was afraid of me. In hindsight, I think she was afraid of what she had to tell me.

She asked me first if Sax had told me anything about her. I said no – he hadn’t mentioned anything. I knew the two of them talked a lot since the time on the boat, and he was very fond of Sally. He never betrayed any confidences with me. I think that made it harder for her.

She looked at me, eyes bright at the mention of our dead friend, and took a deep breath. I started to get a little afraid of what she had to tell me.

“I’m pregnant.”

My response was a stare and an eloquent, “Oh.” Of all the things she might have said, I wasn’t expecting that one. Of course, I probably should have, considering the unsubtle activities that happen in the dark. Ben and I have been careful about protection, and I had assumed they were as well.

I glanced at Sally’s face and realised that she looked very young. Unsure of herself. I summoned up a smile and patted her arm. “Well, that’s great news.” It’s supposed to be good news, right? She looked at me like I was crazy and she’s not wrong; the notion of bringing a baby into this world is terrifying. “Does Masterson know?”

Her eyes widened and she shook her head. “I only told Sax.”

I felt like I was holding onto a can of worms with a loose lid. “Are you okay?”

She shrugged, her head drooping, and she didn’t reply. Matt was looking in our direction and I waved him off, moving to put an arm around her. She’s scared, of being pregnant, of what Masterson will say – and he’s a doctor, he’s going to notice soon – of what the rest of the group will do. We would never abandon her because of something like this; she needed to hear that, and I obliged. She tried not to cry and failed, and I stayed with her until she felt better.

“You have to tell the others,” I told her when she was calmer. “They deserve to know.”

“I will,” she replied. “But not yet.” She trembled at the idea.

I let it go. I hardly know what to think – a baby. I can’t think of a better symbol of hope for us, a sign that we’re going to survive all of this. I gave her a big hug before we rejoined the others, and by then I had got over my shock enough to look pleased for her. We’ll work it out, I told her.


Today I’m going home. Soon, we’ll have a new addition to our group. I feel like I could sprint all the way home, I’m so bouncy.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009 - 8:25 pm


I didn’t realise I’d said her name out loud until I noticed everyone staring at me.

But there she was, right in front of me. She was my best friend once. She was the person I confided in and shared everything with, including and unknowingly my boyfriend. She had taken him away from me, just before the End. Seeing her brought it all back in a rush that wanted to crush my chest. I forgot how to breathe.

The strangest part was that she didn’t look any different to the last time I saw her. She looked like a piece of the time Before that had stepped into After, barely pausing to flick dust off her designer sleeve. Only she could do that; looking perfect was a skill she had cultivated all her life.


I found my tongue again as she put a hand on Kingston’s shoulder, with a traitorous little thought: it was typical that she had latched onto this awful, powerful excuse for a man. “What the hell are you doing here?”

She was staring at me with a puzzled frown that took a few seconds to clear. “Mac? Oh my god, Mac?” She hadn’t recognised me at all; had I changed that much? I wasn’t sure whether or not I should be offended. She had the grace to look stunned, at least.

Seeing her, hearing that name – it all jarred horribly with what I knew the world was now. Things suddenly made less sense. I was aware that people were looking at us curiously, Pride and Seeker alike, but I couldn’t think about them.

“I go by Faith now,” I told her.

“I thought you hated that name.”

“Used to.” I glanced at Kingston, who was taking all of this in with a calculating air. “So. You’ve been all right, then.” I couldn’t help it; I smiled a little bit. Typical Bree, always coming out exactly where she wants to be.

“Oh, yeah. You know how it is.” Her fingers curled around her fella’s shoulder and she smirked. I remembered abruptly why I didn’t like her any more.

“You know what happened to Cody?” Not that I cared. I hadn’t wanted to see either of them again, not even after everything that’s happened.

The name was enough to dent her smile. “No, haven”t heard anything. You?”


And there it was, the frost between us. We weren’t friends any more. She had taken all the warmth and good feeling and ploughed it into illicit sex with someone I thought I loved. Strangely enough, the coldness helped. It crystallised the situation and I was brighter, clearer. I straightened my shoulders and felt better than all of this.

“Your boy was just propositioning us,” I told her, as if it was nothing. As if I didn’t mind. “Bit of a turnaround, isn’t it?”

Kingston didn’t like being talked about as if he wasn’t here; his expression gathered threatening clouds. Bree’s face hardened and I could see the veneer of cultivated bitch sliding into place. “The world’s different these days.”

I looked at the Pride leader and felt Matt’s hand tightening on my beltloop in warning. Careful now. I aimed my words at her again in an attempt to not provoke him. In truth, I was furious and frustrated, and nowhere near as calm as I thought I was.

“Don’t worry, Bree. I’m not interested in your leavings. Screwing other people’s men is your speciality.”

Bree bristled and Kingston drew himself up straighter, eyes narrowing. It was the sort of scene that didn’t need subtitles.

“Oh, don’t be offended,” I told him. “You’re already getting the better end of the deal. She’s much better at that than I am. So I hear.” She looked away from me and I was surprised at how satisfying that tiny victory was.

Behind my shoulder, Matt hissed my name, barely loud enough to hear. Had I gone too far? I looked around and was rudely reminded of the guns that surrounded us. We were trying not to get ourselves killed and here I was mouthing off over something that happened a world ago. I took a breath and tried to steady myself. I needed to be smarter than this.

Than I realised that Kingston was smiling at me. “And you don’t want to even the score?” In truth, I was tempted to sleep with Kingston to get back at Bree; it was a small, mean voice in the back of my head. She deserved it.

I smiled back at him with no mirth whatsoever. “I wouldn’t lower myself to her level.” I wasn’t prepared to do something like that. I still needed to be smarter. Watch your tongue, Faith.

“Maybe she should show your boy what he’s missing, then.”

I was speechless for a second; the notion of that happening all over again stopped the air in my chest. Bree glanced at Kingston in surprise, but then the corner of her mouth twitched and I knew she’d do it. Out of spite, out of pride. I could feel Matt’s hand at my back, keeping me close for everyone’s safety, and it felt like it was all that was holding me up. We were outside and there was no air.


“Sure, if she wants to get sick,” Ben said suddenly. I looked at him in surprise and saw the anger in his face. It was well-covered, but I knew that taut line in his jaw and the flat look in his eyes. He was glaring at the pair of them, both healthy and clean and so damn cocky.

“Sick?” Kingston looked more closely at Ben; his skin was pale and bore a sheen of sweat. There was doubt now and a whiff of distaste.

“Yeah. You know, the sickness that causes those… what is it you call ’em?” Ben glanced at me.

“Shamblers,” I said, mentally begging him to stop there. Don’t give them an excuse to put us down like rabid dogs. Luckily, he didn’t seem inclined to push the issue.

It didn’t take long for the Pride to recover their composure and determination. “You still have a toll to pay,” was Kingston’s decision.

There wasn’t going to be any backing down about that. He had decreed it, and even with the complications, had to see it through. It’s all about pride and status. He was looking at me differently – he suspected I was sick too, and I think Bree’s sour expression had something to do with it, too. His gaze moved on to the others in the group, sizing up Matt and Thorpe, and then those gathered behind. He smirked and my stomach lurched.

“You’re got a nice young thing hidden in there.”

I felt my hand curl into a fist at the thought. He wasn’t joking, and neither were the hungry grins around us. My belly briefly considered throwing up, right on his shoes. I drew breath to answer.


“I’ll do it.”

It wasn’t me who said it. I turned to look along with everyone else, and Sally stepped forward. She knows how to hide, that one; I had forgotten she was back there. She drew her tiny self up and the rabbit sought the lion’s eye.

“I’ll pay your toll.”

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