Thursday, 14 May 2009 - 8:27 pm


Everyone was stunned when Sally volunteered to pay the Pride’s ‘toll’.

Then a verbal maelstrom erupted. We were all refusing to let her, half of us talking to Sally and the other half warning Kingston off. I grabbed her arm and when we got too vehement, the Pride reminded us of our predicament with the eloquent, unmistakable cock of a gun. In the corner of my eye, I saw Thorpe gripping a fistful of Masterson’s shirt to hold him back.

Sally looked at me with those dark eyes of hers, the ones that know what’s coming, and she patted my hand. “It’s okay, Faith. I’m not like you.”

I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t fair. She shouldn’t have to do this. There was a rock in my throat and I didn’t know how to hold her back when she gently drew her arm free of my grip. It wasn’t okay. It was so very far from okay. She told me kind lies, said it was all right, and then walked away into waiting hands.

I caught the look on Kingston’s face and almost lunged at him. If Matt hadn’t still been holding onto my beltloop, I probably would have. He was enjoying it: our upset; our frustration; our friend giving herself up to the predators to save the rest of us. He probably enjoyed it more than the sex he was going to have. He liked manipulating people, watching them bend and break. He was watching me at that moment to see if I’d cry. I almost satisfied him.

I think Bree was the only reason I didn’t. She was right there, tight-lipped in a way I hadn’t seen her before. She had learned not to argue, even though she didn’t like it when Kingston put a possessive hand on Sally’s shoulder. So, she didn’t like this either. Regardless, I didn’t want to show that kind of weakness in front of her.

The Pride put Sally on the back of a bike and took her away. I don’t know where. The ones on foot scooped up their stolen food and water, and then shoved us into one of the shattered stores. We were to stay put, apparently, until Kingston was done with us. Thorpe was the only reason that Masterson didn’t try anything.

It wasn’t until the door closed on us that I remembered about the baby. Then, I cried.


We stayed in the store all that night. Everyone was unhappy and quiet. Tension ran high as we didn’t dare relax in case the Pride saw weakness; I wiped my tears away quickly before they could latch onto them.

The Pride checked on us periodically, all grins and needling comments, particularly in Masterson’s direction. The doctor sat like a stone, refusing to look at anyone or respond to the taunts. They had read his connection to her but he didn’t let them benefit from it, and the fight seemed to have gone out of him now that Sally was out of sight.

The others had questions, of course – about Bree at first, and then about how we were going to get out of this. I told them about my history with that girl, the words sticking in my throat. I didn’t want to tell them about that shameful, hateful part of my life, even though it was probably obvious from the exchange outside. A part of me had hoped that I wouldn’t have to deal with it after the bomb went off and the rain sought to wipe the world clean. But now here it was, making things better and worse. I don’t know if it saved or doomed us.

Matt and Dillon were attentive, worried about me and my reaction to having Cody dragged up again. Of all people, Matt knows what it means to me, how much Bree and Cody hurt me. Dillon looked like he’d do anything to change the look on my face, even when I told him that I was all right. I hugged him and tried not to think about it all too deeply; there were far more important things going on that I should have been worrying about. But I was grateful too. I felt less alone under their attention.

Ben stuck close to my side too, as if Kingston had reminded him that we were together. When no-one else was near, he told me that he wouldn’t have done it – wouldn’t have gone with Bree – even if the sickness hadn’t put them off. I believe him despite that awful little voice inside, the one that knows I believed Cody too. Ben had said no this time, and I clung to his hand tighter because of it. I had to hold onto what I had.


I tried to talk to Masterson. I shooed the others away and went to sit next to him, and had no idea what to say. We haven’t got along very well, the two of us, and I didn’t know where to start. He still wasn’t looking at anyone, wasn’t taking any notice of us or the Pride when they passed through.

“We’ll get her back,” I told him. I wanted to ask if he knew about the baby, but what if he didn’t? I knew how tight-lipped Sally was and was afraid of making things worse.

He didn’t answer me. He blinked and turned his head away a little more, so I knew he heard me.

“We’re not leaving without her,” was all I could think to promise him. Then I left him alone again.


As the light fell away from outside the window, talk turned towards our predicament. We didn’t think that the Pride would let us go when they were done with Sally; that would be too easy. We would have to make a break for it, but not until they brought her back to us. We wouldn’t leave her here with them.

We heard the Pride moving around in the store where we had left the scooters, and then the scrape of an engine starting. The chances of us getting our transport back were slim and we grimly decided to discount that possibility. On foot it was, then.

We would have to overpower at least two of them; they went everywhere in pairs or quartets. Surprise was our best weapon, and for that to work, we needed to get them to let their guard down. So we tried to appear pathetic and broken while we waited.

After the scene outside, they were cocky and it was easy for us to spend the night looking whipped and beaten. Far too easy. None of us got any sleep except Ben – the sickness was taking a toll on him. It didn’t take any acting on our part to look worn out by the time the sun came up.


They brought Sally back to us in the morning. She was pale and not moving very well, and the Pride members who escorted her made crass comments with sated grins. I tried not to think too deeply about how badly she might be hurt; I was afraid I’d break down again. The guilt that curled around my innards was a cold snake, one that knew it should have been me and was glad it wasn’t.

Before we could do anything, Masterson snapped. He saw their faces, heard one too many taunt about Sally’s performance, and he went for one of them before anyone could hold him back. We should have watched him more closely.

We hadn’t planned to make our break for it just then. There were four of them, four guns, though the weapons were held lazily. We hadn’t had a chance to regroup. But Masterson was flying at them, shouting, and the rest of us had to step in. He would have been shot if left to his own devices.

It was brief and nasty. All I remember is my heart beating out through my ribs, grabbing and wrenching someone’s arm, shouts banging around my head, and a shot or two going off. The sound was enough to give us all pause and there was a terrifying moment when I wondered if I was hit. Time just shortened on us alarmingly – the rest of the Pride would come and so we had to leave, right away.

The Proud four were put down as quickly as we could. We had to pull Masterson off one of them and manhandle him out of the building. There was more blood than I was expecting; I stopped and stared at it. I have no idea if they died. I hope not. Then someone grabbed my arm and shouted at me to run, and I did. I followed the others, diving down alleys and sidestreets, weaving away from that awful scene. Run, just run, bodies pumping as fast and as far as possible.


We kept going until even the strongest of us was stumbling, and the weaker ones were barely dragging one foot after the other. It didn’t help that it had been nearly a full day since any of us had had any food or water. We staggered into the first unlocked door we found. All we wanted was a place to hide, and the house had a basement, so we went down there to collapse.

We were a mess. Most of us were hurt, Ben could hardly breathe. But we were together. We were free. At that moment, panting into the daytime shadows and listening for signs of pursuit, that was all that mattered.

Tags: ,
Saturday, 16 May 2009 - 10:21 pm

Tearing down decorations

Ben is worse today. He’s feverish and murmuring, and it looks like we won’t be going anywhere soon. Thorpe is watching Ben for me, so I’ve got a little time to post now.

The others spent most of the day scouting out for supplies – we were nearly two days without water after the Pride took our supplies, and we wound up eating cat food. It’s not an experience I’m eager to repeat, but surprisingly less unpleasant than I had expected it to be.

We’re settled in an empty house now. We took down some of the Christmas decorations, because it’s all getting a bit weird. Like the world is stuck on the day the bomb went off, growing colder and dimmer every day, dying gradually under us while the clock forgets how to tick.

I’m trying not to think of this house as the place that Ben is going to die.


We’ve seen the Pride only once since we ran away from them. They passed by the basement just before the rain came, on our own scooters. I wasn’t the only one who felt furious at that: it was a reminder of everything they took from us.

No-one did anything, though. We huddled by the high windows and watched, holding our breath as they scanned the area on their way through. They weren’t trying very hard to find us; they probably thought we were hours away by then. None of us sought to disillusion them.

To my surprise, I saw a familiar face travelling with them. Paige, the girl who told us her story just a few days before, was riding with them. The one who stayed with us that night and listened to our tales. She pointed us towards the mall when we asked if she’d seen Alice; now we think she was sending us into her group’s jaws. She wasn’t wearing the Pride’s tag and I’m not the only one feeling betrayed by that. Perhaps she was only doing what she needed to to survive, serving her group, but I can’t quite bring myself to be okay with that.


I still don’t really know how Sally is. I tried to talk to her, but she won’t open up to me – she just keeps saying that she’s fine and I shouldn’t worry. When I asked her about the baby, she paused before she said that she thinks it’s okay; that was the most honesty I got out of her.

She didn’t tell me off for opening my mouth to the doctor and I haven’t apologised for it. If nothing else, it made him go check her out.

Masterson still isn’t talking to her but he is sticking close; I don’t think he’s been more than a few feet away from her since I shouted at him. She doesn’t do much that he isn’t keeping an eye on, even if he is grumpy and growly about it.


I hear Ben calling again. I’m not sure who he’s calling for but Thorpe looks helpless – I’d better go and lend a hand. I wish this headache would go away.

Tags: , ,
Saturday, 23 May 2009 - 5:05 pm


Sally hasn’t talked to anyone since the Pride returned her to us. She has spoken words, answered questions and offered suggestions, but she hasn’t talked, just talked. Nugget achieves the same end by not speaking at all; I’ve never seen anyone as good at vocal hiding as Sally is.

It doesn’t help that no-one really knows what to say to her. No-one wants to ask about what happened that night – we don’t want to remind her of it, and we don’t want to hear about it. Our imaginations fill in the gaps easily enough and with taller, worse stories than the reality. But then, they might not be so far from the truth, and that possibility is frightening for all of us.

The hardest thing is not to seem like we pity her. She quietly refuses to let anyone do things for her: she carries her own pack and helps with the food distribution every morning and night. She catches me watching her sometimes and gives me a little smile or a pat on the arm; don’t worry, Faith, don’t worry.

I worry. Of course I do.

I know she limps when she isn’t paying attention or thinks no-one’s looking. I know she throws up in the morning, and doesn’t eat much for breakfast because of it. I suppose it’s a good sign; it means that the baby is still all right.

The baby. The tiny life is still an enigma in my head. On one hand, it’s a kernel of hope, a promise of new things and continued living, the basis of species survival in the face of an apocalypse like ours. On the other hand, it’s dangerous, could damage or kill Sally in many ways, will slow us down, and its chances of survival aren’t high. The good far, far outweighs the bad, but I don’t think it can be ignored. We should prepare somehow. I feel like we should do something.

I would bring it up with the group, but they don’t know about it. Masterson doesn’t want to admit it’s really happening, so he won’t talk to me about it and gives me filthy looks when I try. Sally doesn’t want everyone to know and it’s not my secret to tell. I don’t understand. She’s going to start showing soon, and what then?

Do I just wait for it to be too obvious to ignore? Will that be enough time to make any kind of preparations? We’re struggling to feed and shelter ourselves most of the time; I feel like we’ll need months to gather everything we’d need to deal with a baby.

I can feel the ‘what if’s lining up in my head, behind my fingers and tongue, wanting a route into the world. They’re not helpful; there are too many. We can’t plan tomorrow, let alone six months ahead.

I wish I knew how to talk to Sally. I wonder if Bree spoiled it for me, if she has tainted my trust in women. Maybe it’s just that Sally is the only other woman here.

I wish I was the one telling everyone that it’s all going to be okay.

Thursday, 11 June 2009 - 6:36 pm


The cold snap is still crackling ice at us in the mornings and we’re having trouble deciding what to do about it. There’s no way for us to know if it’s going to be like this all winter, or if it’s just a passing weather system. Chances are, it’s going to get worse and worse. The thick cloud cover is already struggling to chase it away.

The Wolverines aren’t eager to leave and take our chances out in the city. They’re comfortable here and we have enough supplies to see us through for a while. We all know that we’re safest together and no-one is willing to break that. Not yet.

Most of us are focussing on making sure we have everything ready to go – most of us Seekers, anyway. The vehicles have been overhauled to within an inch of their lives; I’ve run out of things I can do to them. We’ve packed them on top and inside with as much fuel as we have cans to hold, along with spare parts and tools. That just leaves equipment to keep us warm and alive.


I got out of the yard today, joining the foray into the surrounding buildings for supplies. It was good to stretch my legs and get away from Kirk’s poisonous looks. And, if I’m honest, the reminder of his healing face. I still get a little shock and thud under my ribs when I see it. I did that.

Sally was with us – the supply-searchers tend to travel in a group now rather than pairs, in case of shambler trouble – and I got the chance to talk to her a bit. She’s never very forthcoming, but she’s still a friend. Sometimes it’s good to chat with another girl, someone who understands, and lately she’s been warmer than usual towards me. I think it’s because of Kirk but I don’t want to ask.

I asked about the baby and how Masterson was taking it when we were out of earshot of the others. She said that she was okay – her usual brush-off response, but with more feeling this time. She’s not comfortable with the subject so I didn’t press her on it, and after a few minutes of searching through someone’s wardrobe, she said, “He hugs me at night, really tight. As if he’s afraid I might slip away while he’s asleep.”

She didn’t say any more about it, just gave me a smile and kept on with the work at hand. I think part of why she comes out on these forays for supplies is to get out from under his thumb – he’s attentive to the point of being suffocating, always near her, always watching, always telling her what to do. She doesn’t complain, of course, and I can’t tell if she likes it or not. Her little smile gives her away, though; there’s a part of her that likes mattering so much to someone.

They’re the only part of the group that hasn’t come to share blankets with the rest of us. I don’t think Masterson will let her; he doesn’t want to get too close to any of us and he doesn’t want to share her either. He’s already grumpy enough about being so close to her. I remember his broken words about the family he lost to the rain and wonder if that part of him will truly heal, even with a new child to salve it.

She asked about me and Matt, if we really were just pretending. It was hard to know what to say. Of course we were; we’ve known each other forever and we’ve never been that way. It’s so hard to explain without sounding lame.

And besides, Ben’s coming back. He promised. He could be lying dead somewhere, torn to pieces, eaten or melted down to just boots and belt buckle, but I can’t believe that. He promised he would come back. How long should I wait for him? How long does it take to give up hope?

I don’t think I’m going to let anyone leave now. They all have to stay so that I know where they are. I’m so sick of people being missing, just missing, and having no idea if they’re even breathing any more.

I had no idea that I’d said all that out loud until Sally came over and patted my shoulder. “Yeah,” she said. I don’t think she gets just how crazy it makes me, but she understands. I asked her if there was anyone she was looking for, someone she missed and wondered about too, but she just shrugged and shook her head.

So many barriers there. So many fences around the soft centre of her, propped up one against the other in an attempt to protect. I don’t blame her, but it makes me sad to think about how she came to defend herself so desperately. I think those defenses have been up since long Before the bomb went off; she has been amongst the worst of people for a long time. If that’s how she handles things, I won’t try to change her.

Maybe it’s a skill I need to develop. I don’t think I’m doing a good job of handling things lately.

Tags: ,
Saturday, 20 June 2009 - 5:49 pm


The more I think about this whole birthday idea, the more I’m not sure if it’s a good idea. It doesn’t feel right to make a fuss of one person when there’s so much else going on. I don’t know how many birthdays we’ve missed.

I don’t know how many of us will live to celebrate our next birthday.

Normally, I would talk to Matt about this kind of thing. But it’s his birthday that has brought all of this up, and I’d still like it to be a surprise for him. It sounds silly when it’s stated so plainly but I want to hold onto every little thing that might make this special for him, and for everyone else too. I still believe that we need a celebration right now.

I went to Sally to talk about it again and told her about my concerns. I want this to be right, I want it to work. I want it to make everyone feel lighter. She smiled at me and made such a simple suggestion.

“So make it about everyone.”

It took me a moment to think through what she was suggesting. It was the perfect idea, though. There’s no reason that Matt should be the only one to get presents, why his life is the only one to be celebrated.

Sally and I spent some time working out what we’d do, what we needed and what we have. I think it’s the most that the two of us have talked in a single stretch, probably more than we’ve said to each other in a whole week before. It was nice. I had forgotten how good it was to talk to a girl, to have someone I might call a girl friend.

I’ve never set out to do something like this before; our traditions have happened by accident or on spur-of-the-moment decisions. It’s stressful business – what if I screw something up? What if I forget something vital? What if it all goes horribly wrong?

“Will I have to make a speech?” I asked at one point, my stomach slithering down towards my feet.

Sally laughed at the look on my face, shaking her head. “Someone will have to.”

“Oh, shit.”

She patted my hand. “You’ll do fine. You always do.”

Do I? I have no idea; most of the time I just make stuff up as I go, my mind galloping in the background to try to prepare my mouth for what’s about to fall out of it. All of a sudden I had a craving for notecards and colour-coded ink.

To pull my head away from all of that, I looked at the girl sitting next to me, swathed in her layers of clothing. We’re all like that, bundled up against the cold, three pairs of socks and four shirts. It was impossible to know what shape she was under all of that, though I was sure she must be showing by now. She must have that one soft bulge on her skinny frame.

“It would be a good opportunity to tell everyone,” I told her cautiously. “Use one birthday to announce another.”

Her hands went to her belly, then shifted off as if she knew that the gesture gave her away. “You wouldn’t….”

“Oh, no, no. You should, but I won’t.” I won’t tell her secret, but I think the group should know. I don’t think she should have to carry it alone.

It made her uncomfortable. “Maybe,” was all she would say.

I changed the subject and we made some plans. We only have a couple of days left before Matt’s birthday and there seems like so much to do. We did rule out cake, though – any cake that hasn’t decomposed by now is too scary to think about eating.

Luckily, we have plenty of candles. Enough for one each.

Sunday, 5 July 2009 - 4:07 pm

Guest Post: Gotta Have Faith

Just when the clouds started to thicken overhead, one of the offroaders got a flat. There was no time to fix it, so we all piled out.

I was the first one to spot the church, well the steeple actually. I pointed it out to the others and we headed that way to seek shelter from the rain we knew was coming.

We all stopped and stared in wonder when we got there. All the stained glass windows were intact and the colors hid the dirty streaks left by the rain.

The church looked so normal. I think we all expected to see a priest pop out to welcome us to mass as the door opened. The smiled disappeared from my face as I realized it wasn’t a priest. Well, I suppose once he was, but now he was a shambler.

We were too close to run away, so we had to fight him. We shoved Nugget and Dillion behind us and got our weapons out as the shambler lurched towards us. I looked into his slack face above the white collar, a big mistake. I could picture how his face would look if he was alive, welcoming his flock to his church. I froze.

Thankfully Ben and Thorpe had no problem fighting a dead priest. They ended him quickly. We all turned to the church but no more followed the priest out.

I don’t know who headed to the doors first but we all stepped inside as quickly as we could. We were greeted by silence. We listened for the tell-tale sounds of more shamblers dragging themselves around in the darkness of the church but heard nothing, not even our own held breaths.

We carefully walked down the aisle, looking down each pew for dangers. The main chapel was empty but when we arrived at the altar, we could see a door broken apart down off to the side.

We crept towards the door weapons ready. We smelled the blood before we saw the body, another priest torn apart by the shambler. I jumped a foot when I saw the body move. I realized the poor man was still alive and watched as Sally ran to him calling for Masterson.

Masterson took one look at the body, torn and bloody, and shook his head. There was nothing he could do. Sally tried to soothe the dying man, who whispered painfully, “Run, get out before he kills you.”

“Shhh, it’s okay, Father. He’s gone now. He’s in Heaven, at peace.” She said the words a priest would want to hear. I was surprised at first, then I remembered the rosary she wore around her wrist.

“What Heaven? God has forsaken his children.” Tears filled my eyes at his last words, as this servant of God lost his faith. Sally continued to murmur words of comfort of God and hope, but this priest, this forgotten child of God, couldn’t hear them anymore.

I prayed that his one moment of doubt wouldn’t stop him from getting into the Heaven he devoted his life to; somehow, that didn’t seem fair.

Masterson tried to comfort Sally when we all heard it, a noise outside in the chapel. Someone or something was out there. We all gathered our weapons and headed to see if it was friend or foe. We found him raiding the sacrificial wine. He didn’t seem surprised to see us, didn’t seem to care.

“Is he gone to see his God now?” the man asked indicated the room behind us.

“Yes, who are you?” I asked the man who continued to guzzle the wine.

“Name’s Jake. Is the other gone too?” We looked at the front doors where he was pointing and knew he was talking about the shambler. I nodded.

Jake sighed deeply, “Well at least I don’t have to feel bad about breaking my promise to stay sober if they’re both gone, anyway.”

“Isn’t there anyone else?” I asked him, surprised others hadn’t taken refuge here.

“Nope, not anymore, not even that guy.” Jake pointed at the crucifix above the alter before continuing. “There’s a basement used as a shelter for the homeless. We had a full house until a few days ago, when Father Marco was attacked while he was outside trying to find people who need help. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.” Jake gave a flat smile. As he drank he seemed to want to talk more and more so we let him ramble on.

“He managed to stumble in and Father Anthony tried to save him. It was no use, though. His wounds were bandaged but the Sickness got in and he died a couple of nights ago. We moved him into the office over there and Father Anthony was giving him last rites when he became that zombie thing.”

“We call them shamblers,” I interrupted.

“Whatever. Father Anthony was able to get away from him and ran into the church yelling for everyone to run and save themselves. Bastards did just that, never stopping to make sure the good Father was with them. They fought their way to the door running and shoving to escape. I grabbed the priest’s arm and tried to pull him with me, but he wouldn’t go. He told me he knew that Father Marco was still in there somewhere and he was going to save him. I begged him to leave. I’ve seen those, uh, shamblers before and knew that there was nothing inside them but hunger. He wouldn’t budge.

“Guess his faith saved our lives; well, mine anyway. Just as we heard Father Marco crashing through the office, we heard the rain and the screams of the cowards who ran out earlier. None of them came back inside so I figure the rain got ’em all.

“Course we were trapped with that thing. Father Anthony shoved me towards the basement door and ordered me to lock myself in. He ran the other way to distract Father Marco. Luckily that basement had a good strong door and I was able to barricade it.

“Looks like Father Anthony managed to get back to his office and lock himself in, but the whole time he was talking to Father Marco, trying to find the human inside. He must’ve realized it was a waste of time though, because I could hear him through the vent praying and calling for God to save us.

“I heard the door being torn apart and then Father Anthony screamed ‘Run, Jake!.’ After that, he just screamed and screamed.” Jake paused and gulped down the rest of the wine. He rooted around behind the alter until he found another bottle.

“I tried, I swear, I tried to get to Father Anthony. I started to tear down my barricade until the screaming stopped. Then I just froze, didn’t matter though, that shambler smelled me or something. He started trying to open the door and I piled back my barricade. Ain’t never been so scared before. The door’s strong, built to survive during a natural disaster. But another day or two, it wouldn’t have mattered. He would have gotten in and I would have died. Guess you saved me.”

He didn’t actually say thank you, not that any of us cared. We shivered at his gloomy words and heard the rain begin.

Jake finished the second bottle and staggered unsteadily to the office. We didn’t want to disturb his goodbye, so we let him go by himself. He lurched out carrying Father Anthony in his arms. “He saved me twice, once from the bottle and once from the shambler. He wouldn’t want to become one of those things. I am taking him outside to let the rain have him.”

I tried to stop him but Ben held me back. I turned on him and said, “He can’t do it without getting hurt or killed.”

“He knows, Faith,” Ben explained in a soft voice. I understood then. He knew. Hell, he  was counting on it.

“Shoulda died years ago,” Jake said. “Shoulda crawled into a bottle and died but Father Anthony saved me, gave me a job and a home at this church. I got no reasons to stick around anymore. Besides, maybe God didn’t get the message that things are fucked up down here. I’ll be sure to tell Him. Take the supplies from downstairs. Bye.” Jake smiled at us and headed out in the rain.

Despite the pain being inflicted on him, he managed to close the door behind him, holding Father Anthony lovingly at his side. We braced for the screams that never came.

We all sat listening to the rain for a few moments. It was beautiful behind the stained glass windows. We went into the basement to see what supplies we could use and were shocked.

There was so much food and water we would be able to stock up our packs to the brim. Masterson was delighted at the medical supplies he found. There was even a camp stove we could use to have a warm meal for once.

Delighted, we put together a stew with rice and found packages of chocolate cake for dessert. We dragged everything upstairs, not wanting to be trapped down there if trouble came.

“Too bad we didn’t find this in time for the birthday party,” I said before biting into the chocolate cake.

Dillion grinned like a kid and said, “I love cake. I didn’t think I’d ever have cake again. How did we find cake?”

Matt grinned, “You just gotta have Faith.” He winked at me as the others groaned or chuckled. I sighed; if I could have reached, I would’ve smacked him.

[Guest post by Rissa Watkins.]

Monday, 6 July 2009 - 8:42 pm

Rising words

I woke up this morning to the whispering echo of a prayer in the ceiling. In that strange land between sleeping and waking, it was a tug back to a time when I was small and my mother took my sister and me to a church.

I remember the hush that stole over my whole body when I stepped inside, and the quiet reverence it inserted into my shoes. I exchanged a glance with Chastity and she gave me a cheeky grin in return, clattering off down the aisle to poke into the side chapels. My mother took a firm hold of my hand to stop me thinking about following and drew me up the centre. There was that same indistinguishable murmur moving around in the air and I looked up; it felt like I might be able to see the words on their way up to God’s ears. Then it stopped and the robed figure kneeling before the altar stood up, crossing himself.

That was the last time I was in a church. This time, the priests were mindless and faithless, at least at the end. I don’t like the patterns this world has fallen into. I hope their God has mercy on them. It’d be nice if He had mercy on all of us down here too, but I’ll take what hope I can get right now.

I pushed the blankets off me and sat up, wincing at the hardness of the pew. It might have been nice to stretch out for a change, but at least the offroader’s seats were padded. I tried to be quiet, because that whispered prayer was real and I didn’t want to disturb it.

It was Sally, kneeling before the altar, her head bowed. She had lit five candles in the rack nearby and their ruddy light brushed her hair in highlights; the black dye was growing out, and I think the auburn underneath suited her better.

Ben was watching her pray too. He was sitting on the pew past my feet, silent as a rock. At first, I hadn’t even realised he was there. I don’t know how he does that.

Everyone else was still asleep when Sally finished her prayer and got up.


We didn’t waste much time in heading outside and fixing the tyre. There was an awful moment when the jack shifted: the whole vehicle nearly toppled onto Thorpe and Jersey while they tried to get a spare wheel on. Ben caught it in time to stop it crashing down and, a second later, a couple of the other boys jumped in to help too. Between them, they managed to keep it propped up long enough to fasten the wheel on.

We checked everything else over quickly before we got in and hauled ourselves into motion. I think we’re all paranoid about people getting to our vehicles and the gear we recklessly keep inside. We haven’t seen anyone else today, though, and after the incident at the church, I’m relieved. I’m not sure I can take another encounter like that. I remember Jake pulling the door closed after him, already dissolving, and I shudder.

We stopped a little early today to refill our cans when we found a gas station. We’re all topped up and trying not to think about the rain now. It’s hard when the damned stuff is hissing up the concrete just a short distance away. If we feed enough to the fire, perhaps its snapping will drown out the drizzle.

Friday, 17 July 2009 - 9:03 pm


Yesterday’s revelation spread around the group like fire on a wet log: in sputters and with much smoke. A new word attached itself to the rain and rose out of the ashes: poison. It’s not just acid: it poisons us, makes us Sick, and twists our bodies into those empty shells stumbling around on the ice outside.

Conjecture ran around like a scared child, pinballing from one possibility to the next and failing to find safe arms to hide in. I didn’t hear all of it, and I didn’t understand some of what I did catch. I strove to stay out of it all, and managed to do that until I heard the voices rising towards paranoia and hysteria. I wasn’t the only one calling for sanity and sense.

Give people a little information and they’ll make up a host more to fill in the blanks, truth be damned. Most of what they make up is frightening.

I had to promise to prevail on Dr Kostoya for more answers; it was the only way I could shut up the maybes and what-ifs. Today, that’s what I went upstairs to get. I managed to convince most of the group to stay downstairs – I didn’t want the entire mob turning up and freaking the poor old fella out. The shamblers outside are terrifying for their hunger and my group are no different.

Kostoya wasn’t pleased to see us, but when we explained that we wanted more information from him, he relaxed. I could see it slipping into his expression – relief and the familiarity of the teacher’s pose.

“We have a lot of scared people downstairs,” I told him. I asked if he’d come down to talk to all of us, because the Chinese whispering was giving me a headache. I was afraid that I’d misunderstand the science and get it all twisted.

He hemmed a bit and bustled around the lab in his nervousness, but we pleaded and eventually he agreed. He followed us down and hovered by my elbow until everyone was seated and ready for him.

Standing off to one side, I looked at the room and felt suddenly off-kilter. It was so familiar and yet not at all what it should have been like.

Here were all these people – my friends and strangers who might become friends – gathered behind the desks, students waiting for the professor to speak. They were bundled up in various types of clothing, a mishmash of leather and cloth, felt and suede. Jackets and scarves and the occasional hat pulled down over ears to keep them warm. Thin and worn, with a thread of toughness in all of them.

There were no pens and paper, no notes waiting to be taken. But their expressions were open and expectant as well as guarded, doubtful, hopeful. In one or two, there was downright derision, but they were at least silent about it.

It was a strange classroom in the time After. Standing up by the blackboard, Dr Kostoya stood with his elbow-patched jacket and white hair sticking out in random directions. He didn’t take up the chalk and start writing. He looked like he wasn’t sure whether to dive in or bolt from the room when he took a deep breath.

He dove in. He told us about the bomb scorching the sky, about chemicals suspended in the atmosphere and the conditions that bring it raining down on us. He told us about how the acid interacts with the human body, how it works like a poison in the bloodstream, corrupting the cells it comes in contact with. It takes a long time to build up to a noticeable state – months, in most cases. Sometimes it takes less time, but the chances of absorbing enough acid to do that without dying are fairly slim.

He wasn’t so sure about exactly what it did to the human body to make it into a shambler – he’s a chemist, not a biologist, and he hasn’t had a ‘live’ subject to examine. From his observations, he suggests that there’s a deadening of the neural system, along with most brain functions. They’re left with basic motor functions and base survival – eating. He suspects they’re trying to assuage a chemical imbalance by seeking fresh meat that hasn’t been tainted by the rain; that’s why they don’t just eat each other.

His words turned my stomach over, but they made sense. Kostoya looked at me when he was finished to see if he had covered everything, but I had nothing for him. The others were ready to fill in the gap.

Jersey asked if the Sickness could be caught by being bitten. Kostoya replied that it was possible, but unlikely – exposure had to be above a certain level for it to have any real effect. He said that there would probably have to be blood transfer.

Terry asked if the Sickness could be caught from others suffering from it. The answer was the same: not impossible, but probably required direct blood contact.

Conroy asked if there was a cure. Kostoya spread his hands and said that he wasn’t a biologist or a medical doctor. He didn’t have the knowledge or the resources for that kind of thing. Masterson spoke up to say that it was unlikely someone could be brought back from the shambler state; it’s difficult to return brain function to a person at the best of times. This was far from the best of times. It might be possible to prevent the changes wrought by the poison, but not to undo them. If one had the knowledge and resources to figure it out. And the time.


It was a lot for us all to mull over. The room descended into shards of conversations as the new information was turned over, like rocks, to see what crawled underneath. There is always something crawling underneath.

I caught Kostoya before he could slip out of the room. I asked him, “Is it possible for someone to recover from the Sickness without becoming one of those things?”

He looked at me and shrugged; he thought Masterson was a better person to ask. “I suppose it’s always possible that someone could have a natural immunity. It’s a very virulent chemical compound, according to my observations. It hasn’t left any organic material unchanged in my experiments. But it’s definitely possible.”

I thanked him and he fell out of my fingers before I could think up anything else to ask him. Hasn’t left any organic material unchanged. If someone could be immune to it, then they could be resistant. They might not be changed at all, or they might be changed… differently. Ben was watching me when I looked across the room at him and my innards went cold.


I didn’t noticed Sally until much later, after the foragers got back with some supplies. Her eyes were red from crying and she was hurrying away from Masterson, her head ducked down.

Even with all the talk of the rain, I hadn’t even thought about who might yet get Sick. Who had been burned. We’ve all been wrapped up lately, so it has been easy to forget about the bandages and scars.

Sally’s arm was burnt on the boat while we were visiting Dillon’s house. There was a nasty splash of acid scored across her forearm; I helped her dress it when it was fresh. I don’t know if it’s enough to make her Sick, but I don’t think that’s all that’s upsetting her. I’d ask her about it, but I don’t think she’d talk to me and I have no comfort to offer her.

I need to go and see Kostoya again. I need to ask him what the rain’s poison might do to an unborn child.

Tags: ,
Sunday, 19 July 2009 - 8:39 pm


Today, there wasn’t any rain. It didn’t even fall as sleet. Instead, the foragers ran back under a light drift of white flakes.

I hadn’t seen snow before today. It’s oddly beautiful, deceptively gentle dancing, settling into thick blankets. When the foragers got inside, they threw their hats and umbrellas aside. Within seconds, the melting snow had dissolved all of them. It was a duality that sent an uncomfortable tingle up my spine.

Even with that stark reminder, the kids thought the snow was amazing. They wanted to go out and run in it, but they were too used to this time After to ask so they sat at the windows and watched it instead.

It never gets this cold around here – or, it never used to, anyway. I guess all those rules have changed. Now I’m wondering just how must colder it’s going to get. I’m wondering if the ice will ever recede, or if it’ll just keep creeping over us.

I wonder if the orange sky will lighten enough to let some warmth through.


I went up to the lab today and spoke with Dr Kostoya. I asked him about the rainwater and the effect it might have on an unborn child.

He was flustered, but he answered the question in his roundabout way. He said that it could have any number of effects, most of them killing or mutating the baby. It didn’t sound safe for the mother, either. The short answer was that he didn’t know what it might do.

“I don’t know why you’re all coming to me about this,” he told me. “Didn’t your friend talk to you about it?”

“Someone else asked you about this?”

“Dr Masterson came up earlier.” He eyed me closely. “It’s not for you, is it?”

“No! No, it’s not.”

“But it’s someone, isn’t it?”

I looked at him and didn’t want to lie. He seemed so harmless. “Yeah.”

He frowned at me, churning over the thoughts. “She’ll need help.”

I couldn’t argue with him. I sighed and shrugged, and thanked him for his help.


I was surprised that Masterson would go to the trouble of talking to Kostoya about this. But I’m pleased. I don’t have to be the one to worry about all this, and he is trying to look out for her. At least, I hope that’s why he was asking.

I can’t imagine how Sally is feeling right now. Masterson has been sticking close to her and she was in tears again earlier. I think I’ll go talk to her when I get the chance. All I can do is let her know that she’s not alone in this.

Maybe she won’t turn me away like Ben does.

Tags: ,
Monday, 20 July 2009 - 8:02 pm

Three little words

I managed to talk to Sally last night while Masterson had gone to fetch them some dinner.

She’s more scared than she’s showing. She’s hardly eating and her nails are gnawed down to nubs. She looked at me warily as if I might turn on her at any moment, and said that she didn’t want to tell the others about the baby.

Especially not now. Who knows what they might do if they know she was poisoned and might be growing a mutant baby. I can see Conroy bleakly lining up the movie references, and a few of the others fetching weapons to drive her away. I don’t think anyone would attack her – not directly – but desperate people do crazy things. And Masterson’s mouth would only make things worse for everyone.

I told her we’d work this out. We’d do what we could to fix things. She knows as well as I do that there’s little we can do, but I hope she believed me when I said that I wasn’t going to let anything happen to her. She nodded stiffly and suddenly I could see she was a hair away from crying. So I hugged her, knowing it would break that last bit of self-control but hoping the release would make her feel better. It’s all right to lean on me, it’s all right.

“I don’t know what to do, Faith,” she said into my shoulder. She was shaking and I could barely make out the words. “How’m I going to get out of this?”

She’s too far along to abort safely, so the simpler, bloodier option was gone. She has to bear the baby, and the threat of the Sickness is still swinging over her.

“We’ll figure it out,” I told her. “You’re not alone.”

I seem to be saying those three words so often these days. They feel empty and overused on my tongue, like a candy sucked to a thin shell. All we have is each other here; it’s the one thing that we don’t have to fight and scrape and search for. And I don’t want to let anyone go, not even the strangers among us, the ones we’re just starting to know.

This isn’t a case of keeping your enemies closest: it’s keeping the strangers close, your friends closer, and your enemies at arm’s reach so you can swing a bat at their head.


I left Sally when she was feeling better and Masterson came back. He scowled at me and snapped something about me sticking my nose in again. It hurt more than I like to admit.

“I’m just being a friend to her,” I said. “I want to–”

“Help, yeah, we know.” The derision in his voice twisted in my chest. “We don’t need your ‘help’.”

I stared at him, stung into silence. I’m used to his sharp tongue but not in that way. I don’t know what might have prompted him to slash at me that way. I managed, “What–” before he cut me off again.

“Look at your own house before you go fixing up other people’s.” And then he walked away.

All things considered, I would have preferred a punch in the face. Now Sally is miserable and Masterson is as angry-faced as ever, and I have no idea why I’m suddenly to blame for everything. Maybe it’s because I’m in charge, the one that everyone follows. Maybe it’s something closer to home. I get the feeling that he was talking about Ben when he mentioned ‘my own house’. Unless he’s under the impression that there really was something between me and Matt and this is his way of disapproving. If that’s true, he’s a horrible hypocrite: I remember the way we found him at the hospital.


I feel heavy today. Leaden and useless. I stayed behind when the foragers went out; watching the kids bat Dillon’s soccer-ball around almost managed to cheer me up. His leg is still too sore to kick a ball (or take his weight), but he’s getting better at whacking it with his crutches.

I’m starting to feel stuck here. We’re learning a lot, unravelling mysteries, but we’re treading water. We have to strike out for somewhere soon or we’ll get pulled under and end up cold and hungry.

I think there’s a part of me that wants to run away, too. There’s too much being uncovered, like Caroline’s corpse in the shed. Don’t look, don’t look, stay back, get away.

Now I wonder: have we been running away from the truth all this time?

Tags: ,