Thursday, 29 January 2009 - 5:31 pm

The wolf pack

It was starting to feel like we were the only ones left in the world, the last loud footsteps on a swept-clean floor.  In the hospital, it was easy to forget the quiet, but out here again, walking the ruined streets, the silence encroaches.  I think it’s part of why everyone’s at each other so much; it’s wearing away at something inside us all.  A vital nerve is being eroded and we’re all fighting it, fighting each other.  I can feel myself being short with people, so much that I was afraid I was going to snap again.  Just let go at someone until the venom is all on the outside.  That’s good for no-one.

That happened when we met the first group we found.  When they demanded their toll, swaggering up to us as if their name was imprinted in the concrete.  We were lucky that time; they were too stunned to respond, and too few to be a real threat to us.  It’s not something I’m eager to risk again, though, so I hung back when we saw a couple of people moving about down the block.


A few of us exchanged glances and agreed silently to go around them, just in case.  We were looking around for a cross-street when the buildings around us boiled to life.  They made a lot of noise, whooping and screeching like makeshift sirens, piling up and over cars in their haste to surround us.

Just like that first time, we moved instinctively, putting the kids in the centre of the group and the strongest of us on the outside.  All of a sudden, Thorpe had a length of steel pipe in his hand – I think it had been lashed to his pack – and Sax was holding his saxophone tightly as if he was ready to smack someone with it.  Ben was standing up as if there was nothing wrong with him, and Masterson was smiling vaguely at everyone.  You can’t have everything, I suppose.

Me, I was wishing that I hadn’t decided to put that knife in my bag.  I wished that I had something in my hands other than air and a fragile temper.  But I was standing in front of Dillon anyway, refusing to hide behind the others. I couldn’t help but think how odd this all was, how distrust had become a habit so quickly.  The lack of even the hope of authorities to protect us left us grabbing for weapons at the least opportunity.  It’s terrifying.  It made my heart claw at my throat, begging me to run or fight, right now.  Trying to reduce me to animal instincts as these new faces moved around us.


They were a ragged bunch, these wolves.  Some of them looked like they were wearing the same clothes they were in when the bomb went off, stained with ash and sweat.  Others looked like they had raided the local biker’s store, their leathers slashed because it’s really too hot for that kind of thing.

They were a mix of men and women, all of them in their late teens or twenties.  Ten or twelve of them altogether – it was hard to count heads with the way they circled us.  A couple of them moved badly, limping or lopsided; we weren’t the only ones bearing injuries. There were bruises and recent blood on a few of them, but I couldn’t tell if the fighting had been between each other or another group.

Either way, they looked ready for a fight right then, ready to take all of us on. They didn’t even bother to hide the way they were sizing us up, or the way they fingered their weapons – bats mostly, and a few blades.

I noticed then that Thorpe was the one standing closest to the fella that looked the most like the wolves’ leader.  I groaned inwardly; he is not the most tactful spokesperson.  However, he was probably a better prospect than I was, considering what happened the last time we had a meeting like this.

Somewhere, the other group’s leader had found enough gel to make his hair stick out from his head in all directions.  I managed to keep that thought to myself, even after he started fronting up to Thorpe, demanding to know why we were there in his domain.  To his credit, Thorpe was calm when he answered, neither intimidated nor confrontational.  He assured them that we were just passing through, that we didn’t want anything in the wolf-group’s patch. 

When he said where we were headed, they laughed.  I don’t know why, and I didn’t like not knowing what was funny.  There was something sinister in it, something that was trying to curl up in my stomach and roil uncomfortably.  They refused to tell us, of course; they liked their amusing little secret, and they liked having something over on us.

The laughter made Thorpe angry.  I could hear it creeping into his voice, his tone growing shorter and sharper with each word, each snicker.  It punctured the playful balloon that had blown up around the wolves and reminded them that they had teeth.  Our big fireman and their spikey-haired spokesman were more obviously squaring off suddenly, trying to work out who was alpha here and who would run off with their tail between their legs.  Measuring dicks, as my dad would say.

Everyone was watching them to see who would come out on top.


They demanded our water.  It sounds ridiculous when it’s put like that, but it really is precious now.  The simplest thing in the world is now the rarest and most valuable.  I wasn’t looking at Thorpe – I was too busy keeping an eye on the wolves nearest to me – but I caught him shifting his weight in the corner of my vision.  As if he was crossing his arms and showing them just how unintimidated he was.  Of course his answer was ‘no’.

We were all getting nervous then.  We were obviously speeding towards the question of who would strike first and away from ‘if’.  There was a little part of my brain that was analysing everything.  It knew that a solid first strike might intimidate the other group into backing off, maybe long enough for the kids to get away.  That’s what we needed – to get the kids away, and to get these wolves off us long enough to follow them.  But there was no way that I was going to make that first move, to turn tension into all-out violence.

I was abruptly aware that I was unarmed and there was about to be a fight.  The only thing I could think of was the cans in the bottom of my bag and how much it would hurt to get hit by that weight.

I was just slipping the pack off my shoulders when Sally made a noise behind me.  I glanced around to see one of the wolves reaching past Sally and pulling a pack out of the middle of the group.  The pack was still attached to its bearer: Dillon.  Sally was trying to push the wolf away and got shoved off her feet.  Dillon wriggled and fought the attempts to pull the pack off him, and was backhanded.  I remember that sound very distinctly, the sharp slap of knuckles meeting flesh.  Meeting Dillon’s face.  My Dillon.

I snapped.  I swung the pack around as hard as I could and caught the bastard wolf in the face.  I know I was shouting, but I don’t know what. The wolf fell – I don’t know how badly he was hurt.  I know there was blood.

It was chaos then.  There were weapons everywhere, shouts filling up the air until we couldn’t tell one voice from another.  I called to Sally and the doctor to get the kids out of there, and swung my pack at anyone who came near me.  I tried to keep them away from Dillon and Nugget, but it was hard to keep track of everyone.  I don’t know how many I hit, or how badly. 

I got hit a couple of times – I can’t even remember who by.  I was angry that they had picked on a kid while none of us were looking.  I was terrified that one of them would hurt me, or one of the kids, or one of the others I cared about. All of it made me strike out furiously, made me keep on hitting them, over and over.  I just had to keep them away, I just wanted them to stay away from us.


It was over so quickly.  All of a sudden, there was no-one to heave a heavy pack at.  Ben was pulling at me, come on, come on, let’s get out of here.  I checked the others, and they were backing off too, stumbling away from the wolves.  There were so many of them, and so many had blood on them.

Thorpe hadn’t stopped.  He was still hitting on the spikey-haired wolf with his pipe, making hollow, damp noises.  The wolf was barely trying to defend himself by then and I ran over to pull him off.  I caught at his upraised arm and called his name.  I told him to stop before he killed the guy.  He spun around and smacked me.

It was my own fault; I should have known better.  It worked in breaking him out of his frenzy, though.  He looked frightening for a second, like he might start hitting again, but the wolves were closing in. 

We grabbed each other and ran, took off up a street and left the wolves behind.  We didn’t stop until we were a few blocks away and found an empty apartment above a store to break into.  Then there were injuries to tend to – and there were a lot of injuries.  Nothing life-threatening, but all of it painful.

It was an hour before my forearm started to ache, and since then the pain has radiated out to my shoulder and right down to my fingertips.  It’s like I can feel the bone pulsing.  My cheekbone is bruised and swollen, and I have other purpling marks on me as well.

Even now, just thinking about all of this, I’m still shaking.  If it wasn’t for the pain, I’d have trouble believing that it really happened.  I think we’re all in shock, to some degree.

I have first watch tonight.  Just in case the wolves come looking for us in the darkness.