Tuesday, 17 March 2009 - 6:41 pm


We were in a small shopping precinct when the rain came today, and we weren’t alone. We slipped into one of the larger stores from the front and came face to face with another group who were coming in from the back doors. Not really a group – there were only three of them.

We sized each other up, most of us fingering weapons and waiting to see who would jump first. They were outside and looked around for somewhere else to run to. But the clouds were heavy overhead, a dark, congealed umber that was a shade away from dried blood, and all the other rear doors were locked. There was a blur in the air moving towards us, raising tiny puffs of steam as the acid ate anything it could clamour its fingers on.

“You looking for trouble?” I asked them before the posturing could turrn into something worse. We all know how dangerous desperate people are.

“We’re just lookin’ for shelter. C’mon, everything else is locked up on this side.” The fella was thin and bruised. Now that I was paying attention, they all looked like they’d been in a fight recently.

I glanced at the others, but they were all looking at me. Thorpe met my eye with a grim warning; Dillon had a bleak hope in his face, one that didn’t want to see something bad happen today; Matt’s lips were pressed together with wariness but offered no protest; and Ben offered me wordless support for whatever I decided to do. So it was me, standing there trying to make a decision while the rain swept over the loading yard behind the store.

I had no reason to kill these people; no desire and certainly no right to do it. I used to work in a store; I know how heavy the rear doors on buildings like this tend to be. They wouldn’t have been able to break into another one, not in time. So it was let them in or let the rain kill them. What other choice could I make?

“Please, we–”

“Come on in,” I told them, stepping back. The rest of my group did the same, giving them room, though none of us took our hands off our weapons. “Just– no trouble, all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure. None of us want that.”

They skirted around us to see if they could get to another store from the other doors, but the veil of acid had already fallen over the storefronts in the precinct by then. They hovered around the front doors uncertainly, murmuring to each other. I left them to it for a while, busy helping the others search for useful supplies and figuring out the most comfortable place for us to bed down.

Finally, I couldn’t just leave them there, wondering when we were going to turn on them. They never said as much, but I knew they were thinking it; I could read it in the looks they shot us when they thought we weren’t paying attention. So I took a breath and went over to them. Halfway there, Ben was walking just behind my left shoulder, my ever-present if usually silent support. He wasn’t going to let me do this on my own.

“Hi.” They didn’t offer a greeting in reply, just fell quiet and turned to look at me. Why do I always put myself in this position? Is it obvious that I’m just making this stuff up as I go, or can I fake it enough to be convincing? I can never tell. “Listen, you might as well make yourselves comfortable – we’re all stuck here for a while. The hair care section is empty.”

“And?” The girl with them looked a little older than Alice, all angry eyes and snappish tone. There were blood smears on her clothing, old and new.

“And… that’s it. We’re not looking for anything from you.” We had found some supplies of dried ‘health’ foods and bottled water, so we had no reason to try to take what they had. We weren’t going to offer to share with them – there are no charities any more and we didn’t have enough to give anything away – but why force trouble when we didn’t need to?

“Are you for real?”

Her manner was getting to me, trying to provoke me into doing what she clearly thought I wanted to. “Look, do what you want,” I told her shortly. “I just thought I’d come and tell you that we’re not going to take what you have.”

And then I left them to it. After a few minutes of watching us – while I was studiously ignoring them – they went off towards the far side of the store and settled down. They stayed within easy reach of the door, just in case, and I don’t blame them. Still, I wish that the girl would stop glaring in our direction. We’ve done nothing to them.

I’m just glad that we outnumbered them. I can feel a little safer for that.