Wednesday, 2 September 2009 - 9:26 pm

The General

After a night in a shed with no windows, we were blinded by the square of ruddy light made by the door in the morning.

I don’t think I slept. I dozed a while, but even after Matt fell asleep on me, I tried to stay awake. I’ll keep watch, I told them. I’ll stay up.

By morning, my eyes felt like someone had pokered them out, leaving burnt light behind. The orange sun only added to the impression. My throat barely worked as I tried to rouse the others – I wound up shaking the nearest shoulder. Then all the bodies around me were moving and I had no idea which way was up.

They brought us breakfast. Nothing fancy – just cold cans of something indescribable and jug of water – but we gobbled it all down anyway. I don’t remember when we last ate before that – a day, maybe two. Eat slowly, we told each other while our own hands shook at the need inside us. Eat slowly or you’ll only throw it up again. No-one threw up. I didn’t tell the others how much I felt like vomiting every time I moved, but that had nothing to do with the food.

I’m aware that I had a concussion. I know the symptoms. It’s not fun, and it made me feel bad about all those shamblers I’ve bashed in the head. But only a little bit. At least it was over fairly quickly for them.

Once we were done with the food, the army guys took us outside again. The General had come to meet us, they said. He was on his way and we were to wait. I wobbled a bit on my feet, but I felt steadier than yesterday. To stop myself thinking about how much I wanted to puke on their boots, I made myself look at these men with guns.

They’re a strange shard of the time Before. Neat uniforms, but unwashed and mended if you look closely. All men in a mix of ages, some of them too young to have been soldiers before the bombs went off. Some too old to still be doing active duty. They all held their weapons with a note of competence, though; there was no doubt that they knew how to use them. They were quite serious about their discipline, too, with their sirs and salutes, though they only did that when the General walked through the ranks to us.

I used to miss the sight of green. I used to wish for it. But then we were surrounded in a sea of it, fatigues and over-pressed shirts, as if that might make up for the grime ground into them. All that unhealthy green, shifting around us, pressed on my senses and made my head throb.

I wasn’t in the best of moods when the General stopped and smiled at us. The first thing he did was apologise. That confused us, and with startling clarity, I knew that that was exactly what he intended. Good cop bad cop on crack. I could feel my sympathy hardening against him as he looked us over and spread his hands.

“I’m sorry for the manner in which you’ve been brought here,” he said. “We have to be careful, you understand. There’s those who’ll slit our throats while we sleep. But we can see you’re not that kind of people.”

He couldn’t see anything except a group of cold, half-starved people who had spent a night shut in the dark.

“You came looking for somewhere you can survive, make a life, even,” he went on. “You’ve come to the right place. We’ve built somewhere we can all survive – we call it Haven. Would you like to see it?”

We were silent, all of us. The glares coming off us varied in intensity; I think only Tia looked like she was buying his words on face value. She’s still hopeful. I used to be like that. I used to want to be like that.

Of course, I was the first Seeker to step into the conversation. “Do we have a choice?”

“Of course you do. You can walk away if you want, go your own way.”

“And our gear – you’re going to give that back, are you?” Jersey’s tone was derisive and for once I completely agreed with her.

“All of it?” I added.

The General’s face took on a perfect surprise. “Your things were taken from you?”

I wanted to punch him in the face. As if he didn’t know. As if he could not know.

I was about to spit that at him when I saw something behind him. Someone. Familiar, recognisable, moving away, stepping out of sight. I didn’t think – I just stepped forward and called out. I’m not sure what – just ‘hey’, I think. Then someone shoved me back and I stumbled. A hand grabbed and turned me, and I was spinning and slipping and spinning, right down into the black.


I just woke up. It’s dark now – I lost hours. I’m not sure where I am, but Matt is asleep in a chair next to the bed, so it must be safe enough. I’m in a bed and it looks… like a used hospital. I think I’d be scared if I could get my head around it all properly.

I found the laptop under my pillow. He must have put it there for me. Trust Matt to know to keep it safe.

He looks so tired, pallid in the blue screen glow. He looks as healthy as I feel right now.

I wish I could remember who I saw. It niggles, that face I almost glimpsed before I passed out.

I don’t know where the others are. I’m worried about them. I also have no idea what happened to my shoes. I’d get up and look, but it’s so dark and I’m not sure I should. Maybe I’ll wait for morning and light, and for my friend to wake.

Or maybe I’ll wake him now and make him huddle up here with me. It’s cold and I don’t like sleeping alone these days.