Sunday, 9 August 2009 - 10:32 pm


Of the new Seekers, only half of us have strayed away from shelter before. The last time we ventured out into the open, we wound up spending time in prison. None of us remembers that fondly.

By lunchtime, we had searched all the nearby houses for the last dregs of supplies. We shouldered the vehicles into life and stood looking at the swathes of bare ground before us. I tried to think of it as scraped clean, but it just didn’t feel that way. It was waiting for us, stained orange as the tainted sunlight glinted off scraps of frost.

No-one wanted to take the first step. I could feel the others’ minds drifting back to the university, to a place where we might be safe. To the ones we’d left behind.

There’s no going back for me. I don’t want to look at that place again; maybe someday I will, but not now, not yet. So I got into the campervan and told Dillon to strap himself in. Just like before, when the group was waiting for someone to jump first, I was the one who gave in and ended up leading. I guess some things don’t change.


The first curves over hills went smoothly. The suburbs fell away behind us, a line of rooftops that shrunk in our rearview mirrors. I felt bared despite the tin can wrapped around me with its engine growling steadily. Normally the sound of it fills up the space, but here there are no walls nearby to bounce it back at us – it just keeps going and going, running away from us. The clouds drift low and thick, unbroken except for where the mountains poke at it. Now I wonder what might lie above the cloud cover. Is the sky above still blue? Are there scraps of real green left up there?

We didn’t have any trouble until the road started to climb steeply up the side of the mountain. I wished suddenly that I was in one of the offroaders – the campervan slithered around on icey roads more than I liked. A couple of times, I thought it wouldn’t make it up the incline; the engine whined and the tyres screamed, and I could feel Dillon holding his breath until the power bit enough to push us up the slope.

Even as far out from the city as we were, there were vehicles abandoned on the roads, left where they stopped when the bomb went off. It’s hard to believe that a single bomb could reach this far. Maybe it didn’t; maybe there was more than one. I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

On the skinny roads clinging to the side of the mountain, each car was yet another obstacle to get around and sometimes there was barely enough room. Then, about mid-afternoon, we came across a bus. There wasn’t any way we were going to get past it, so we decided to release the brakes and let it roll out of the way.

It was a good idea, though easier said than done. We got on board easily enough – the doors had been left open – and the keys were still in the ignition. It took three of us to muddle out the controls and figure out how to do it – none of us had ever driven a bus before – while the siblings checked over the rest of the bus for anything that might be of use.

That’s when we found the body. Tia gave a shocked little cry and the rest of us hurried to see what was up. It was shrivelled and discoloured and barely human any more. I don’t know how long it had been there. Parts of it looked gnawed on, though by teeth too small to be shambler or the more vampiric alternative. I looked close enough to make sure while my stomach threatened to expel the scraps we’d had for breakfast. I couldn’t look away until I was sure. Then I ran off the bus and gulped in great lungfuls of air, as if I’d been drowning.

I don’t know why, but I had to know what had been eating that body. It’s not like Ben could have got up here. I just had to know. I had to see for myself. Maybe I just wanted that awful sight burned into my memory to block out the pictures that float in my dreams. It’s like trying to wash a wound clean with sewer water.

We weren’t so eager to shove the bus down the mountain after that. It seemed terribly wrong to throw away someone’s resting-place like that. But it was still in our way and we had to push on. The day was growing darker as the clouds cluttered up overhead, preparing to share their heavy burden of tainted water with us.

In the end, pragmatism won. Whoever that was there in the bus, they were well past caring about what we did or didn’t do. We moved our vehicles out of the way, I shut Dillon up in the campervan where he’d be safe, and we lashed the bus’s controls so that it would run straight. Then we released the brakes and stood back, watching it roll away on its own.

None of us expected it to gain so much speed so quickly. The road switched back on itself, but the bus kept on going, its wheels spinning free of the ground as it left the tarmac and nosedived into the slope below. We all felt the impact when it hit, and then it spun and rolled, like a child’s toy, down the expanse of scoured earth. There were no bushes to slow it, no trees for it to fetch up against. It wiped out an outbuilding and kept on going, crunching and smashing. It left pieces of itself behind and didn’t stop until it reached a dip in the landscape.

We all stood and watched as it rocked itself to sleep in the dip. There were no doubts left about what would happen if we lost our grip on these roads, if we let ourselves slide off just a little. There’s nothing left to catch us but the bottom of the mountain, and every inch we travel adds to how far we can fall. I don’t think I was the only one with my heart beating in my throat.


We didn’t go much further before we decided to stop for the night. No-one said much. We just found a level nook of the road and pulled the vehicles together, and huddled inside the campervan while the rain came down. I haven’t felt so exposed in a long time, just a few inches from death, or poison, or becoming something awful.

I didn’t realise that my knuckles had gone white until Dillon asked if I was all right. He has been so good lately, checking that I’m okay and trying to keep my spirits up. I know I haven’t been easy on him. He had a pack of cards from somewhere, and the whole group played games until it was too dark to see. Just listening to them laugh loosened something inside me, something I didn’t even realise was tight, and that felt good. Better.

Tonight, our thoughts are turning towards what we might find at the top of the mountain. I hope we don’t have to turn over many more vehicles – or bodies – to get there. But for a nice change, I do hope.