Tuesday, 20 January 2009 - 4:12 pm

Those we can’t save

I had to go back up there again today.  It was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn’t sit in that room any more.  We’re all catching our breaths and resting, but I’m still not good at staying still.  My mind keeps running over things and coming back to one question; the question that none of us have voiced out loud.  Not even Thorpe.  The question we’re all thinking about.

What do we do now?

We need purpose, we need direction.  We need to do something more than just think about where we’re going to get more food and water from (though we need to start thinking about that soon, too).  Like Sally, we need more of a reason for putting up with all this than just being alive.  We need a point to it all.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the bleakness of this place.  It’s so easy to see our hopes shrivelling up and dying here, like everything else, like the dream that this place once was.  It’s like a riptide, circling around us, sucking us down one by one and only letting us up once we’ve tasted a lungful of it.  The longer we stay here, the more I think we might just drift into its walls and forget that we’re still alive.

There was only one person that I could think of who might be able to help us figure out what to do next.  I didn’t expect him to tell us where to go or what we should be doing, but he might be able to give us some information to help us make those choices.  I hoped he would be able to help us see that we had choices.  Doctor Masterson.


So I trekked back up the eight flights of stairs today.  Dillon came with me; I never seem to be able to go anywhere on my own at the moment.  Ben was going to come too, but I told him to rest.  His chest is still bothering him badly.  I didn’t really want the kid with me either, knowing the sort of thing we might find, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to stop him.  I kept a close eye on him while we were up there and tried not to let him see the worst of it.

We passed the man who was giggling at the stripe on the wall the first time we were up there.  He was lying against the wall this time, breathing shallow and slow, staring into space.  He seemed paler and thinner than the last time I saw him, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it was since he ate. 

I was appalled to think that we hadn’t even offered these people some food, and that it had been this long before it even occurred to me.  What does that say about me?  They’ve chosen to do this to themselves, but does that mean that we shouldn’t try to save them?  Would we only be prolonging their fate?  I don’t know, I really don’t, and I hate these mental circles.  I know that the group wouldn’t want to give up our tiny food supply to these people and I don’t blame them.  We’re barely scraping by ourselves. 

But it was still there, that niggling feeling that I should be doing something to help these people.  It’s not just because Sally is up there now.  All through the city, I helped to pull people from the wreckage, set them on their feet and on their way.  I stopped people dying, I made things better.  But now… now they are standing in the fire and they don’t care.  They’re almost welcoming it, and I don’t know what to do about that.  It tears me up inside and I have no idea how to make it better. 

What was I suppose to do?  Dillon was there and I didn’t want him to start thinking about these things.  So I didn’t say anything; I just pulled us on to find the doctor.  He’s too young to stand there and think about how this man will probably be dead by dinnertime. 


It took us a little while to find him.  We didn’t see Sally; I wondered where she’d gone to, but we weren’t up there for her this time.  I didn’t really want Dillon to see her like that, either.

Masterson was sitting on a gurney pulled up by the window, gazing out.  He was smaller than I remembered, the spark gone from his eyes.  There was no bounce in him any more; instead, there was a heaviness to the way he turned his head when I said his name.  It took him a moment to focus on me, to struggle out through the fog.

I was glad to be standing by the window; the smell in there was only getting worse.  I tried to forget about how he rebounded about the room downstairs, gleefully dispensing advice about awful injuries.  I tried to forget about how he poked at my arm where it hurt, twice.  I tried to forgive him, but that part was hard.  I had to wait for his attention to come around onto me before I could ask him what I had come to ask him.

“Doctor Masterson, where did everyone go?”

He contemplated my second head as if it might hold some inspiration.  “We’re still here,” he said finally.

“I know you are.  I mean everyone else.  The other doctors, and nurses.  The other patients.  Where are they?”

“Went away.”  I thought that was more unhelpfulness, but he wasn’t finished.  “Went away when the call came.”

“Call?  What call?”

“Call from up high.  Up high and far away.”

“What did it say?  What was the call?  Doctor?”  He was going vague again, slipping off into the burnt clouds.

“Bad things coming.  Get to safety. Sucked everything dry.  No more generators, no more lights, no more light anywhere. No more help, no more anything.  No more, no more.”  He started rocking a bit at that.

“And everyone just left?  It wasn’t calling them somewhere?”  I could feel my stomach heading for my feet at that idea.

“Some went to find out what it meant.  The rest’re just gone.”

I had to mull that over for a moment before I could work out what to ask him next.  “They went to where the call came from?”


“Where is that?  Do you know where it came from?”

He shook his head slowly, his eyes drifting back to the window.

“Why didn’t you go?  Doctor, why are you still here?”  I didn’t want him to disconnect again so soon.  It wasn’t enough; I needed more from him.

His eyes moved back to me, suddenly looking like an open wound.  There was such sorrow there, such pain.  His fingers were curling around his elbow, thinking about relief, and his voice was very small.  “They stood out in it.  Like it was a good thing.”

“Who did?”  I was going to ask ‘stood out in what’, but I suspected that I knew the answer to that.  And with his distracted twitches, I wanted to keep him focussed on one question at a time.

“My own, my sweet…  And… and the little one might not ever come right again.  Happy New Year.”  It took me a moment to recognise the words he’d used about Nugget.  His shoulders hunched as he started to draw in on himself.  I realised then that he was wearing a ring, a ring that meant he’d once had a family.  He was trying to tell me that he had had a wife and daughter, and… Happy New Year.  They stood out in the rain.  They had died, melted like Carter and Trevor.  So he’d stayed here, dwelt in this escape from pain, knowing it would kill him eventually.

I patted his arm and told him that I was sorry.  He cried and collapsed on my shoulder, so I patted him some more and held him until he was finished.  He stumbled back when I thanked him, looking around like an injured animal searching for an escape route.  Fingers clawed at his arms, like Sally’s used to do, feeling that underskin itch.

“Come with us,” I said on impulse.  I don’t know what made me say it.  Maybe because he was driven here by personal tragedy, because I knew what was going on in his head now.  And I didn’t want to leave him here, I didn’t want to go knowing that he’ll starve to death one way or another.  I wanted to help.

The look he gave me was brimful of horror at the notion.  He shook his head and backed away until he bumped into a gurney.  His eyes seemed to think that I was trying to haunt him, to torture him repeatedly. 

Maybe I only wanted to save him because I couldn’t save Sally.  But he wasn’t going to let me succeed with him; he was quite determined to be lost in his pain and his escape from pain.  I took the hint; I drew Dillon away and left him alone.

I looked for Sally on the way out, just in case, but I didn’t see her.