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, 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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