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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Wednesday, 31 December 2008 - 9:42 pm


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


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

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

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

Then I realised that it was people screaming.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

And then she stepped outside.  I–

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

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


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

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

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


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

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Thursday, 1 January 2009 - 4:06 pm

Days Gone By

2009.  Happy New Year.


New year, new start, resolutions, parties and poppers and fireworks.  It’s supposed to be such a time of hope, but the world is broken.  A part of me is scared that the world ended with 2008 and that there is nothing else now.  I’m trying not to listen to that part, but its voice is there, niggling at me like mouse teeth.

There were no fireworks last night, just acid rain falling from a scorched sky while the sun retreated.  All the familiar things have melted away, although a few of us did raid the café’s bar and get quite drunk.  To forget, to numb ourselves, to blur the mental images of dissolving people.  It was anything but a celebration.


Today, everyone was quiet.  Even Simon; he has slipped into unconsciousness now, I think.  His fever is worse and he’s not moaning any more.  I think we’re all missing Delaine’s complaining, too, as annoying as it was.  He said what none of us felt brave enough to.  He made us stronger by giving us someone to argue with.

No-one wants to do anything.  Without Carter, we have no direction, no-one telling us what we need to do next.  The dregs of us are left here, looking at each other or at nothing at all.  It was like some strange staring competition, and I think I lost.

It was Dillon’s face that did it.  He was looking at me for direction again, like he did that first day up in the city.  Thorpe is lost in his own world; he hasn’t spoken to anyone since the rain started and took his friends away.  Ben keeps trying to talk to him, but he’s having no luck at all.  Sally won’t stop rocking and rubbing her arms; they’re almost raw now.  Sax is cradling Nugget like she’s a favourite childhood toy. 

So I sent Dillon off on an errand. The first thing I could think of: fetch as many bottles of water and soft drinks as he could find and carry.  With strict instructions not to stray away from cover and to keep an eye on the sky. 

Then others were looking at me with Dillon’s eyes.  I remembered then why I was so grateful for Carter’s presence, I remembered how relieved I was when those fire trucks first turned up.  It was so I didn’t have to do this any more.  So I didn’t have to take responsibility, so I didn’t have to shoulder up the weight of all these people.

The only things I could think of to do was sort out food and water.  Dillon was on the water, so I sent Sally and Ben to go look at the food situation.  I didn’t know what to do with the others, or myself.  I don’t know what I’m doing at all.  I’m floundering, grasping at whatever scraps of sense I can.  All I can think of to do is carry on with the path that Carter had set us on – get together a plan to get to the hospital.


The stuff that Carter and Trevor had collected was lying out in the street, next to their clothes.  I didn’t dare to touch their clothes.  It’s hard to say why; I think I was afraid of what I might find in them.  Would it be worse for there to be something left under there, or nothing at all?  I wanted to look just so I stop wondering, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  And more than that, it seemed disrespectful to go peeking in there.  They were people.  They were friends, as little as I knew them.  It just didn’t seem right.

The rain hadn’t scorched the things they had been bringing back for us, apart from what I think used to be paper.  It had all dried overnight and didn’t carry any acid (I tested that very nervously with a stupid finger), so I brought it inside.  We’ll look at it tomorrow and go from there.  I don’t think I can get us moving today.


It started raining again about half an hour ago.  I lost it a little bit, running around and making sure that everyone was inside.  Checking we were all right, looking into everyone’s faces for a trace of the lawyerlady’s eyes.  Dillon was back by then; we were all here.  They probably all think I’m crazy now. 

Then all there was to do was wait and listen to it hissing down.  I tried to think of things we could busy ourselves with, but there’s nothing.  My mind won’t work like that today.

So here I am, trying not to listen to the rain, trying not to wonder how many were caught out in it yesterday, trying not to wonder how many strayed out into it today.  Trying to forget about the ache in my arm and the sore lip where Thorpe punched me.

I keep coming back to the fact that it’s New Year’s Day today.  It makes my hands shake and this aching lump twist in my chest.  The date has changed and the past is gone now; we’ll never get it back.  None of it.

It hurts to look back, to think about the past week and everything that has come tumbling down.  Trying to look back at what came before that is worse, because it feels like a dream.  This – all of this – should be the part that feels like a nightmare (and it does), but it’s the normal stuff that’s slipping away from me.  I don’t want to look backwards any more.  We’re supposed to be raising a glass to days gone by today.

My glass is hollow; the bottom has fallen out of it.


For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

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Friday, 2 January 2009 - 6:24 pm

Pushing on

I couldn’t keep thinking about Simon.  Instead, I looked through the equipment that Carter collected before the rain took him.  Laid out the map and tried to figure out where we are, where we need to be.  Tried to work out a route to the hospital.

Thorpe asked me why I was bothering.  He’s come out of his silence to snap at everyone with poisonous pessimism.  I almost took his head off.  I told him to go ask Nugget if we should just forget the hospital trip and fester here forever.  Not to mention that there might be real help there, actual contact with organised people.

The kid is still not doing well.  She has one blown pupil in a bloodshot eye and she isn’t awake much.  (I had thought that she was a he, but apparently I wasn’t paying close enough attention.  I’m not doing much right at the moment, it seems.  I feel like I’m stumbling all the time.)  Sax managed to get her to eat today.  I don’t know enough about headwounds to help her; I just know that it’s bad and she needs proper medical care.

I don’t want to lose her too.


I found a truck down the street that will hold all of us.  All of us that are left.  I spent most of the day going over the engine, trying to figure out if we can get it going.  All those years watching my dad fiddle with engines seem to be useful for something after all. 

I can’t think about my dad right now.  It makes my throat close up; it makes me useless.

Ben came to help me; he’s often at my elbow lately, which is helpful considering that I still can’t use one arm.  We managed to figure out that the truck’s battery still has juice but the ignition is dead.  Then the rain forced us to scurry back inside.


The laptop is almost out of juice.  How will I cope when that happens?  My writing arm is broken – I can’t hold a pen.  I don’t know what to do about all the things that are broken.


Someone just asked if we should bury Simon.  I have no idea what to tell them.

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Sunday, 4 January 2009 - 9:46 pm


The laptop battery finally gave out in my last post.  I almost burst into tears right there and then.  It feels horribly foolish, being so attached to this thing I’m doing here, this chunk of moulded metal and plastic, this journal of my strangely spiralling life.  We seem to cling to the strangest things when things fall apart.  Little trinkets, big trinkets.  This is mine, I guess.

It was Sax who fixed it for me.  The big, quiet fella who likes to carry a dented saxaphone around, as if it carries the memory of all the songs it has played.  I remember the soft wail of it in the mall, and the picture he made in his faded suit.  He seems more solid these days, but it’s hard to know if that’s just because he’s not a part of the scenery to me any more.

Turns out, he’s a dab hand with electronics.  He got Dillon to fetch him some parts, and he rigged up a power-converter-type thing to hook up to a car battery.  There are lots around, all of them useless since the ignitions fried.  It feels naughty, sneaking in under a bonnet and sucking out the juice, but it’s not like anyone else is here to use it.  I’m still not used to all the stealing.


It was Thorpe who asked how this beautiful piece of machinery is still working when everything else has fried.  I had wondered before, but honestly, I was afraid to ask.  As if that might magically make it not so.  Like a wound that doesn’t hurt until you look at it and know that it has to be painful.

Trust Thorpe to be a douse of ice down our backs.  He’s a miserable piece of work, but at least he puts his shoulder in with the rest of the group.  He’s probably the strongest of all of us; he’s certainly the tallest and broadest, though Sax beats him on sheer bulk.  If only he wasn’t such a dick.

There was an accusation in the way he looked at me, as if I had somehow conspired to keep this machine safe.  As if somehow I was responsible for all of this, as if I had known about it all in advance.  I was so shocked that my throat closed up; I just stared at him.  It was so ridiculous I had no idea how to respond.

Sax came to my rescue.  He’d just got done making Nugget drink something and turned his ponderous attention onto Thorpe.

“The case saved it,” he said, as if that explained everything.  We all looked at him like he was talking in tongues. 

“What’s that got to do with anything?”  Trust Thorpe to recover first and inject something disparaging.  The thing was, I had no idea what the case had to do with anything either. 

“It’s made of metal,” Sax pointed out.  Then he said something about creating a cage and that meant that the pulse couldn’t get through it.  I didn’t understand that part, but basically the case stopped it from being fried.  It’s also dented from some of the recent punishment.

I only bought the case because it was silver and shiny and I liked it.  Who knew, huh?


And now it’s back and working, and here I am typing away again.  The thin thread of my comfort and sanity has been restored.  I’m so relieved that I could dance around.

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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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Thursday, 22 January 2009 - 4:24 pm


I had to ask Thorpe a favour today; always a tricky thing, considering his moods.  He’s been particularly grumpy ever since I relayed Masterson’s words to the group.  I suppose now, on reflection, it was the part about the doctor’s family that upset Thorpe the most, not the information about the call.

I’ve often seen him fiddling with something when he’s not busy.  He always puts it away when someone comes over, slipping it into a pocket that he checks regularly to make sure it’s still there.  I didn’t think much of it until I came around a corner and almost walked right into him, and saw what it was.

It’s a ring, a gold band with a distinctive platinum strip inlaid into it.  I recognised it, and blinked as I tried to remember where I’d seen it before.  I’d seen someone else fiddling with it – it feels like a lifetime ago, though it was only a little over three weeks.  That someone else was Trevor, his fire-crewmate and, apparently, something a lot more.

Pieces fell into place then.  How he’d been so awful since the rain started, why he had reacted so badly to certain things.  Like his reaction to saving Sally, when he couldn’t save someone he cared about.  I remember having to hold him back when it happened; he had been ready to run into the rain for a chance to save Trevor and it had taken three of us to stop him.

He must have had to go through Trevor’s spent clothes to retrieve the ring, a strange thing for someone as unsentimental as Thorpe to do.  Trevor must have meant a great deal to him.  I can’t imagine what that must have been like, going through a familiar, empty shirt for a scrap of a keepsake.  Not even having a body to mourn over or say goodbye to.

He hasn’t cried, not once since it happened.  Not within anyone’s sight, anyway.  He keeps it all locked inside, like the fist that closed over the ring as soon as I came around the corner.  Not in time, but almost.  He knew as soon as I looked at him; my expression must have given me away.  He knew that I knew, and I could almost hear the shutters clanging down behind his eyes.

I didn’t know what to say to him, so I said the first thing that same to mind: “I’m sorry.”  Not for interrupting him, not for almost walking into him.  He knew I meant Trevor, and I think he knew that I meant it.

He didn’t break down; he didn’t even nod in acknowledgement.  He just looked away.  I don’t think he’s used to people talking about this kind of personal matter, and abruptly I could imagine the two of them as a couple.  Thorpe’s stoicism and Trevor’s levity, solidity and gentleness.  They must have made a good pair.  I’m sorry that I never saw them together the way they really were.

I wonder if anyone ever did.  I don’t think Ben knows; he would have said something, I’m sure of it.  Thorpe and Trevor worked together, so they probably had to keep it a secret; otherwise, one of them would have had to leave.  And Thorpe is so private; maybe that’s just how he is.  He’s still keeping that secret, not letting anyone see him grieve, not letting anyone know that he lost something precious, that it died right in front of him.

I’m not sure what made me do it.  A part of me wanted to cry because he hadn’t, because he couldn’t.  Instead, I took off one of my necklaces, unfastened the chain and let the pendant slither off into my hand.  Then I asked him if I could see the ring, just for a moment.

He didn’t want me to; he might hide the softer emotions, but he’s unrestrained with his distrust.  I promised that I would give it right back, please, just for a second.  I thought he was going to refuse, but he passed it over with a hand heavy with reluctance.

It was hard to know what to say, so I told him about the chain.  About how my grandmother had given me the pendant when I was four years old, a St Christopher’s disc worn so much that it’s almost blurred smooth now.  It had taken us seven years and five chains to find one that I couldn’t break after a few minutes.  Since then, I’d worn this one, and it hadn’t failed me once.  Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got another one I can put the pendant on, the other one I wear all the time, the same as this one.  And could he please bend down a bit, because he’s very tall and I couldn’t reach to fasten it.

He tucked the ring and its new chain under his shirt as soon as it was in place.  He didn’t say anything, but there was a restrained note to his frown, as if he was holding something back.  And that’s okay; that’s what he needs to do, I get it now.  There wasn’t anything else for me to say, so I gave a little smile and turned to leave him alone.

“Did you come and bother me for a reason?”  His tone wasn’t as sharp as usual, as if something in him had unbent, just a little.

“Um, actually, yeah.”  I had forgotten about why I had been looking for him in the first place, thoroughly distracted by his truth.  “We need a couple of car batteries and some parts.  Was wondering if you’d take Dillon and see if you can find them.”

He shrugged.  “All right.”

“Great, I’ll send him out to find you.”  On impulse, I added, “Hey, what’s your first name?”


“But you prefer Thorpe?”


“Okay.  Thanks.”

I’m not sure what made me ask, but I wanted to know who he was.  Calling someone by their surname always seems distancing, keeping people just that bit more at arm’s length.  I know it’s hypocritical of me because I used to do it, I used to go by Mac.  I never realised that about me before, but I guess it’s true.

But this isn’t about me.  This is about a man named Jack Thorpe, who lost a love he won’t tell anyone about, who carries a ring to remember him by.

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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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Friday, 19 June 2009 - 9:25 pm

A different celebration

The warehouse is big but it’s getting claustrophobic. Too many egos and tempers rolling around in there for anyone to be comfortable, underlaid by the naked pain our friends are in that is pressing on all of us. We would love to be able to ease it, if only we could find a way.

The more mobile of us went out to look for supplies again. This area is full of warehouses and factories, some of which have already been broken into, but we checked them anyway. We found a warehouse full of children’s toys, the import sticker marked ‘URGENT’; last-minute Christmas deliveries, I think. It’s so weird to think about Christmas now; it seems so long ago, but there are still decorations up in the offices around here. We’re still waiting for the clock to tick over for us.

We also found a few places with more useful wares – blankets and fresh clothing. There was so much that we fetched one of the offroaders and stuffed the back full so that we could go through everything back at our new base.

The idea of Christmas and gifts reminded me of another celebration – birthdays. No-one has mentioned having one, but I think I’m the only one who really keeps track of the date, thanks to this blog. Matt’s birthday is soon, in just a few days; I hadn’t forgotten, but it hasn’t seemed important until today.

I found a couple of things in today’s haul that I think he’d like. I don’t know what made me do it, but it seemed so important at the time. I hid those little things in the hopes that we can do something about his birthday, and somewhere in it all I decided that we were going to celebrate it. It’s time for the Seekers to get a new tradition.


I caught Thorpe alone (not easy these days, with Nugget tagging onto his sleeve whenever she can) and told him what I wanted to do. He looked at me like I’d grown another head.

“You really think now is the time for that kind of thing?” he asked me.

“Yeah. I think all of us could do with a celebration right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s silly games or just talking. We can’t let everything be… like this.”

“You’re crazy.”

I smiled at him then, shaking my head (I knew better than to try to shrug with this stupid arm). He’s not wrong. “Will you help?”

“What do you need?”

I had no idea what to tell him. Once again, my mouth had run ahead of my ability to plan, so we agreed that I’d let him know. I was going to leave it at that, but I caught something in his expression and it held me back. “You doing okay?”

“Yeah, sure, why wouldn’t I be?”

“I– none of us are, really. You never complain, so I wanted to ask.”

“I’m fine.” Thorpe’s good with the brick walls, so I tried something else.

“Okay. Listen, I wanted to… thank you, I guess.” He looked puzzled “You’re always there when we need you, and you’re so good with Nugget. She’s taken a real shine to you.”

“She’s just following the damn cat.”

I looked at him to check if he’d meant to make a joke, then laughed anyway. He almost smiled. Suddenly, I wanted to hug him, or give him something in lieu of actual physical contact. I opted for the latter and went to seek out Sally, because if anyone here will help me put together some kind of party, it’s her.

She agreed, so we’re planning a party. Quietly, to surprise everyone. Or at least, everyone we don’t drag in to help make it happen.

Saturday, 15 August 2009 - 9:49 pm


We shouldn’t have stopped today. It seemed so harmless. Another gathering of buildings by the roadside, our supplies running low; just a quick stop, that was all. Just a quick stop.

I don’t know where they came from. We were spread out, everyone checking the buildings for anything of value to us. I think Dan saw them first; he was the first one I heard shouting. They were stumbling over the slope above the little town, tripping over rocks and falling down. Dirt skittered down around them – that should have been our first warning.

I counted heads as the group emerged into the street to see what was happening. The shamblers were still a way off, so we decided to complete our search before we left. They’re slow and we were sure we’d have time.

Once upon a time, there were trees on these hills, and grass with its tiny roots, binding it all together. The rain scoured all of that away. There are no trees, or grass, or roots. Nothing to hold it all together. The messy weight of the shamblers was enough to bring it all down.

My first thought was that another storm was coming. Then I realised the rumbling was under my feet and shivering up the walls. I looked up and the whole world was sliding.

I think I screamed. Then there was running, everyone running away. Except Thorpe – he ran back towards the rolling hillside that was coming down to meet us. I shouted at him and looked back. Dale was behind us, just in front of the first building the dirt swept over. I saw him go under, dragged into the wave feet-first.

I ran harder. I couldn’t help it – I just had to get away. Everything was pounding so hard I didn’t even notice the rocks pinging on my back. Then I was thrown down and everything washed over me. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to curl up into a ball, but I couldn’t do that, either.

Then it was over. I pushed myself up and spat out foul grit, and couldn’t believe there was air. My eyes were streaming; I had to scrub them before they’d work properly. Then I saw an arm near me and went to pull it up. It was Terry, coughing and struggling to get up. We stumbled around, trying to find everyone. I ticked names off in my head – Matt, Dan, Tia. Thorpe struggling out of the press of dirt and rocks, shouting so desperately. Dillon fought with the door to a store to get it open, hobbling out on one crutch and looking so worried. He was the only one of us inside when it happened; the rest of us got caught in the tail-end of the landslide.

Except Dale. I haven’t seen Thorpe so frantic since the diner when the rain first came down. It took us minutes to find where the ex-Wolverine was buried, and longer to dig him out. He was unconscious, unmoving. I had to push the fireman out of the way so I could check his pulse and his breathing. His mouth was full of dirt.

I’ve never actually done CPR before except on the training dummies. My hands shook and I had no idea if I was doing it right. The breaths made me dizzy. I kept counting and counting to get the ratios right – breaths and compressions, breaths and compressions. I’m not sure when he came around. Someone pulled me back and I landed on my backside, blinking away spots. Someone was crying; I think it was Tia.


Dillon was the only one of us not mud-coloured. Head to foot, we were long brown smears. He was so bright in his orange jacket, hobbling over the fallen hillside on his splinted leg and one crutch. I think we all heard him shout at the same time and turned to look. He had almost made it over to us.

We weren’t the only dirty bodies pulling ourselves out of the ground: inexorable and hungry, the shamblers were dragging themselves free. There was one just a few feet away from me, almost completely emerged. I hadn’t even noticed the movement. Dillon smacked it in the head with his crutch before I could finish scrambling to my feet. Once, twice, and once more to make sure it wasn’t going to move again. Then he grinned at me.

The flush of relief was sliced off by the movement behind him. More of them were crawling free and he was too close. He tried to hit them, but he couldn’t turn and his leg– He went down. He screamed and then I couldn’t see him any more..

We got to him as fast as we could. No-one had any weapons – it was just bare hands and desperation. We pulled him free and got him into the campervan. There was so much blood. I did what I could for him, but… there was just so much. He kept telling me that it was all right, it’s all right, Faith, don’t worry, it’s all going to be fine. I managed not to start crying until he fell asleep.

I can’t sleep. I keep watching him breathing, terrified every time it catches. I don’t know what to do. Masterson is so far away. The vehicles are stuck in the landslide.

Hold on, Dillon. We have to make it. We have to.

Please don’t go.

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