Friday, 3 July 2009 - 7:06 pm

The water truck

I kept to myself last night and was too distracted to listen to what the boys found yesterday. They were boisterous, far more high-spirited than I knew how to deal with; I went to bed early. Ben surprised me by coming along and cuddling up. Nothing happened and he didn’t say anything, but I appreciated the gesture.

This morning, Jersey bounced over to me with an expectant look. Was I ready to come look at the truck yet? I had to ask him what truck he was talking about, and he stared at me like I was a crazy person.

“The water truck,” he said. “The one we found yesterday.”

A truck full of water. I didn’t believe them at first, but the buoyed spirits of the others backed him up. I didn’t waste any time in putting on my boots and lashing myself up in scarf and coat and gloves. They led me to it at a jog. One of the others even carried my toolkit for me.

It wasn’t a big truck, but one of those ones with rolling doors on the sides, spooling up to reveal racks of fat plastic water bottles. The type that fit into water coolers and glug. It was a windfall, enough to keep us hydrated for weeks. We could afford to wash wounds with that much water. I got a sudden craving to wash my hair, though I wouldn’t dare waste it like that.

They wanted me to get the truck going so that we can take it with us, which was much more sensible than trying to load its wealth into our other vehicles. The boys had used some boltcutters to get it open (I have no idea where they got the ‘cutters, and probably don’t want to know), and from the marks on it, we weren’t the first to try.

“We’ll be an even bigger target with this thing,” Thorpe said, and he wasn’t referring to its size, though it would be our largest vehicle. The damned thing had a water company logo painted on the sides.

We still wanted to take it with us and I went to take a look at the mechanics of it. I haven’t worked on an engine of this type or size, but at least the basics are relatively familiar. It was a new truck before the rain took the shine off the paint, so its ignition is useless; the only ones I’ve got going without a push-start are the older models.

I sent a couple of the boys back to the car park to get one of the offroaders; there was no way we were going to push this thing far enough to start it, so we were going to try towing it. While we were waiting, I realised that there was a fresh coat of paint over the truck’s sides and a new padlock pinning the roller-door shut. They had been busy while I was buried in the engine.

“Does anyone have a dispenser?” I asked.

Thorpe and Conroy were the only ones left with me. They looked as if I’d suddenly spoken German: similar to English and yet still a mystery. I couldn’t help it; I laughed. All this wealth, so much time and effort spent to take it with us, and we had no way to get at it other than hacking the tops off and fighting over a straw. They didn’t want to leave the truck – or me – but I shooed them off to find a water cooler. Someone must have been making a delivery here when the bomb want off, so there has to be one close. There was no-one around and the others would be back any minute, so they headed into one of the office buildings.


I think that’s the first time in months that I’ve truly been alone. No-one within earshot to come if I screamed, not a soul within sight. A silence that I’m not used to descended and I caught myself holding my breath, ears straining to pick up any whisper of sound. There was nothing. Just the orange sky squatting over the stubbly remnants of a city. I was torn between revelling in the peace and panicking at the strangeness.

I stamped my feet and circled the truck to keep warm. On my third circuit, I saw a twitch of movement down the long stretch of the street, past where a set of blind traffic lights poked up. I stopped and squinted, and the twitch resolved into a patch of weary stragglers heading towards me. I was no longer torn; panic thudded at my breastbone.

I looked around for somewhere to hide but didn’t want to leave the truck. I could lock myself into the cab, but that would only trap me there. I didn’t know that they would attack me but it was a safe assumption, considering what lay behind those rippling metal panels. I didn’t even have a key for the new lock to bribe them with. I thought about following Thorpe and Conroy, but I was afraid that I’d get lost and no-one would find me in time.

I couldn’t see any Seekers coming, couldn’t hear the engine that was bringing them to me. I opted to try higher ground and scrambled up onto the top of the truck. The stragglers seemed closer from there and I felt even more exposed. One quick look around and then I sat down, making myself a smaller object. Smaller target. Still no sign of my friends. They were coming, I knew they were coming.

The stragglers shouted up at me when they were near, asking what I was doing up there; they seemed wary and curious, circling like dogs. Just a handful of them. Waiting, I told them and hugged my knees closer. Waiting for my group. They looked at each other, dubious.

Over the beating of my own heart, I heard the engines before I saw them – too loud to be just one. By then, I was so paranoid that I wondered if it was my friends or another group. Maybe it was the hidden remnants of the Pride, mobile and armed and looking for trouble. I wanted to lie down on the truck’s roof and hope that no-one would notice me up there. The ice from the metal roof was seeping up through my clothes, chilling me from the buttocks inwards.

It wasn’t just one of the offroaders – it was all of them, and the campervans as well. Our whole convoy was powering up towards the water truck with me like a cherry on top. I’m not sure who decided to bring everything but I’m glad they did. I was even glad to see Bree’s vans slinking up in the rear, keeping a cautious distance from the rest of us.

The noise flowed around us, engines and tyres, the rough squeak of brakes and the metallic chunks of the convoy juddering to a stop. They wrapped around the truck, drove in to take firm possession of it. The stragglers shied back from the aural assault and the sight of so many working vehicles. Sometimes I forget how strange it can be in this After world. Doors slammed and hands beckoned for me to come down while the engines growled around us. I jumped down into them, shaky with relief.

When Thorpe and Conroy got back, Ben tore into them for leaving me on my own. I tried to protest but he wasn’t listening. Conroy went pale and even Thorpe backed up a step under the verbal attack Ben levelled at them. He hasn’t been out of arm’s reach of me since that, which is both nice and a little disconcerting. On the plus side, the pair had managed to find a water cooler.

We hooked up the truck and got it moving, and its engine coughed to life. The stragglers were long gone by then, not even appearing in our mirrors as we drove away. I almost feel sorry for them and wish we could have left them a bottle.