Friday, 30 October 2009 - 6:58 pm

Anywhere but here

No progress today, not for the Seekers. Or not in any good direction.

Like little Debbie. Her fever is spiking and she hasn’t been fully conscious since early this morning. She murmurs and calls for her mother sometimes, or makes whimpers that tug at me. All I can do is try to keep her cool with fans and a tiny bit of water.

This afternoon, I caved and told her, “I’m here, it’s all right, Debs. I’m here.”

“Mum?” she said without opening her eyes, so desperately hopeful. I stroked sticky hair back from her face and told her yes, and she fell into a quiet sleep for a little while. It was worth that little bit of heartbreak to give her some relief. She’ll never get well enough to know I lied, anyway.


Dad made it over today, but not with dinner. One of the mechanics had got himself in an accident and had a suspected broken ankle. Dad half-carried him in, waving off help until he got the guy sitting down. I got up from Debbie’s bed to lend a hand, but Simon was already there and Peter was hurrying over too. Then Dad was standing in front of me and I forgot all about them. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around his neck right then.

We retreated down to the other end of the room to where Debbie was shifting restlessly under the fever’s grip. We had no fear of the little girl hearing us, even if she could make sense of it through the delirium.

The first thing Dad said was sorry, for not being able to come. He has been put onto the Converter recovery project and can’t get away as easily any more. From the hard edge to his tone, I think the assignment was very deliberate and more to do with the restriction than the work. They knew exactly what they were doing. He didn’t say, but I’m sure that Dad volunteered to bring the broken ankle in so that he could see me.

I told him about the missing food stash and he didn’t seem surprised. Someone is suspicious about something, though we’re not sure how high the concern goes. They can’t know what we’re planning, but they might easily think that we’re planning something. The question is how many of us are being watched and what will give us away. Caution begs an extreme answer.

I had to ask about Matt. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days, and the last time we parted, he said he’d try to make it over every day. Was he all right? Had something happened?

Dad shrugged. “Probably just got caught up. Haven’t heard anything,” he said. He seemed very sure that nothing was wrong, as if he has been keeping tabs on Matt and the other Seekers. That would be like him – he has always been fond of Matt. He patted my hand and told me not to worry.

I hugged him before he left. Wrapped my arms around his middle and leaned into his chest. He rested his cheek on the top of my head and I felt safe. For that moment, I was safe and everything was going to be okay.

Then he sighed and told me he had to go, and the bubble shattered. Debbie murmured behind me, distress etching the noise into the air around us. I sighed and nodded, and briefly considered begging him to tell the cutouts where to go so he could stay with me. Then I did the right thing and told him goodbye. He can’t stay and we all know it. As he was leaving, I noticed just how grey his hair is getting – it’s almost pure white at the temples now.

I can’t wait to get out of here.


Before the rain came, I told Jonah that I would have to stay in the infirmary tonight. Debbie needs to be watched and I don’t want to leave her alone. She doesn’t respond to the boys as well as she does to me. He wasn’t happy – he feels it’s necessary to stay if I’m staying – but he didn’t argue. He merely excused himself to fetch some gear while there were other cutouts around – for their injured comrade – and came back prepared to camp in one of the empty beds.

I guess that’s what we’re all doing tonight. Camping in beds that aren’t ours and wishing we could be elsewhere.

Anywhere but here.

Saturday, 31 October 2009 - 9:52 pm


I was up for most of last night, catching naps on one of the infirmary beds when Debbie was quiet. She was restless and wouldn’t settle for long. At first, I could hum or sing to her, and she would drift down into a deeper sleep. As the night wore on, sleep grew thinner and let her rise up towards irritable shifting quicker and quicker. By the early hours of the morning, I couldn’t get her to sleep at all.

She wasn’t truly awake, either. She murmured a great deal, but the only words I could make out were the occasional calls for her mother, and sometimes her dad. Eventually, she stopped believing I was her mum, either hearing the lie in my voice or unable to hear me at all. With such a scorching fever, it’s hard to tell.

An hour or so before dawn, Jonah surprised me with a bottle of water. He came over while I was watching Debbie helplessly tossing and turning, tangling herself in the covers. It was all I could do to stop her from strangling herself. Her distress was caught in her throat in raw sobs and she wasn’t reacting to me at all. I could have shouted and she wouldn’t have known.

Jonah was being kept awake by the kid almost as much as I was. He came over and stood next to me, wordlessly holding out the bottle. I thanked him and drank deep – it felt like forever since I’d had something to drink. I wasn’t used to kindness from him – though he hasn’t been unkind – and watched him out of the corner of my eye. He was watching Debbie with a pull-down frown.

“Why do you have to be here all night too?” I asked him.

“If you’re not in the dorm, neither am I,” he said with a sigh.

“There isn’t anyone who can relieve you?”

“No, you’re my assignment.”


He glanced at me and shrugged.

“They must’ve been upset with you when they gave you this assignment,” I said.

To my surprise, the corner of Jonah’s mouth twitched and he said, “Something like that.”

I had meant it as a joke, but apparently it was true. There was an awkward bump to the atmosphere in the room, punctuated by struggles from the delirious little girl. Was watching me really a punishment? Am I that bad? Or is it just a lowly and boring job for a cutout to have to do?

“What did you do?” I asked him, trying not to show how my curiosity burned.

“Oh, nothing much.” His tone suggested that it was anything but ‘nothing much’, but I let him brush me off. I was still reeling from the idea that I was punishment.

“Sorry.” It was all I could think of to say.

He shrugged again and that seemed to be the end of it. He returned to bed a few minutes later, trying to sleep through Debbie’s moans and throttling sobs. Thoroughly confused, I tried to comfort her, even though she didn’t know I was there. For a while, I had the urge to cry along with her.

Jonah has been stuck with me for some infraction, and he hasn’t ever taken it out on me. That makes me feel worse. I haven’t made his job easier, with my weird hours and illicitly-visiting boyfriend, but he hasn’t done more than frown at me and look displeased. Does he think he deserves it as part of his punishment? Does he sympathise because I’m also being punished? Do we deserve each other?

He’s hard to read and he doesn’t exactly over-share. If I ever wanted to date a guy like my dad, he’d be the one. Now that’s a scary thought. Luckily, I have Matt.


I should be kinder to Jonah, try not to make this hard for him.

Is he watching me the way I think he is? Or might he be sympathetic to our cause? I don’t dare dream about that; it’s a lot to hope for. I wonder if he might be a friend to us, but how do I approach it without exposing myself and my friends?

So many questions, so few answers. I haven’t seen Matt for days, or any of the other Seekers since yesterday morning. All I have is the thoughts running around in my head and a sick child dying in front of me. Right now, I can’t see tomorrow being any better.

Sunday, 1 November 2009 - 9:32 pm

Day of the dead

Debbie had another bad night last night. Her fever drove her out of shifting delerium into a quiet, barely-breathing coma. It’s not looking good for her. I watch her, and it leeches the hope out of me a drip at a time. I know there’s no saving her, not from this, but that doesn’t make it easier to watch.

I know I should go back to the dorm. I should let one of the boys sit with her. I should talk to Jersey and Tia, get back in touch with our escape effort. I should put her out of my mind and get on with my life.

But there’s a tiny girl fading who sometimes calls for comfort and I can’t bear to leave her alone. Even I’m just sitting there holding her hand, it feels better than not being there at all, despite her hand being small and clammy and as limp as if she was already gone. If I was elsewhere, I could pretend that she wasn’t here, but I’d know. I’d know and feel bad for abandoning her.


I just noticed today’s date. Yesterday was Halloween, and today is what some cultures call Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead. The day when the dead rise and walk among us.

They’ve been doing that for months. It’s as if the bombs shattered time when they broke the skies, robbing us of a calendar that makes any kind of sense.

The whole world is still decorated for a holiday that has long since become meaningless, with tinsel and baubles and smiling plastic angels. Pretty lights are still strung up across streets and in houses, though they’re on dead wires now, hanging limp like electric corpses. The world still hasn’t moved on from Christmas, as if it doesn’t know how, but there are no gifts for anyone.

Now it seems that the Day of the Dead has been bleeding all over the past few months, twisted into an awful parody of what should be a celebration and a commemoration of those who have left us forever. They should be ghosts, returning to walk with us, benign and honoured. Instead, it’s their bodies that have risen, empty shells that mock us with their familiar faces burned by the touch of the sun. There are no souls there, nothing to celebrate and remember with fondness, or even hate. Just horror and fear, and knowing that no matter how far we run, they’ll follow us doggedly, one ragged step after another. Because it’s all they know how to do now.

It’s easy to forget about that here in Haven, where the cutout soldiers keep the dead at the gates. If the acid didn’t eat the bodies, we would be awash in the stench of their decay by now. But I know they’re out there. When we leave here, we’ll have to face them again and find ways to keep ourselves safe.

Today, on this Day of the Dead, there’s a tiny girl whose future is a shambler. She’s grey and fading, and I don’t think she’ll wake again. Most of those I have seen with the Sickness swam up to the surface once before they died, but they were bigger and stronger. It is hitting Debbie harder and faster than I’ve seen before, and I don’t think there’s anyy swimming left in her.

Maybe today is the day her soul will walk free. Maybe today will be the end of all of this for her, and all we’ll be left with is the husk she leaves behind.

Or maybe today will be her reprieve. Perhaps the fever will break and she’ll wake up clear-eyed and smiling. If there is any magic left in the world, now is the time for it to show.

I’ve seen that magic, though. I saw Ben get up out of the Sickness and seem like a person again. But it had eaten him away inside until he was a halfway thing, striving to be a person despite the gnawing inside of him. The thought of that happening to Debbie turns my stomach so badly that I dread the thought of her waking again. The notion of her smiling again has an edge of horror now.

What sort of world does that to people?


It’s possible that the lack of sleep is getting to me. I’m not usually like this. I just wish that there was something I could do for her. A way to make a difference.

I’m going to curl up in one of the side rooms and try to get some sleep, while the boys are here to keep an eye on the little one. After I wake up, I’ll try to work on my acceptance. But I can’t help thinking that accepting these fates is the same as giving in to it. We’re better than this. We deserve more. Maybe someone else has the answers for us and all we need to do is find them.

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep to the spirit of the day. I’ll send thoughts to our dead and hope they’re in a better place. They are free of all of this, and perhaps the luckiest of us all.

Monday, 2 November 2009 - 8:04 pm

A rest in darkness

In the dark of last night, there was a thud upstairs. I was staying in the infirmary again – somehow, little Debbie was still hanging on and I didn’t want to leave her. Jonah was fast asleep on one of the infirmary beds, better able to ignore the noise in the room now that the child was barely breathing at all.

While I’ve been watching over Debbie, I’ve heard the thumps from downstairs, drifting to me through the dark hours. Those distant, almost-rhythmic thumps, beating in time with a broken hunger. I know what makes those noises, chained in the dark, never sleeping, never stopping. It’s easier to block out the shamblers’ chain-rattling during the day, but it always seeps up to us at night.

I’m doing better at ignoring it now, and trying not to think of the small accompaniment that will soon be joining them.

Last night, the thud came from above and inspired a spark of hope in my chest rather than a squirl of disgust in my stomach. Shamblers just aren’t smart enough to climb in through upstairs windows.

I checked on Jonah, but he was out cold. He was lying with his arm flung over his head to block out the wavering light from the candle by Debbie’s bed. I leant on the creaky floorboard near his bed, twice, and he didn’t move. Satisfied, I snuck off towards the door to the stairwell.

I should have taken the candle with me, but I couldn’t bring myself to rob a little girl of the only nightlight. It seemed wrong to plunge her into darkness, even if she was unlikely to ever know about it. It made a difference to me.

So I left it behind. The stairwell door flapped closed behind me, shutting out the last dregs of yellowish light, and I was wrapped in a thick black blanket. I wondered if my sentimentality was worth it as I stubbed my toes on the first step. I tried to be quiet, feeling my way up like the clumsiest ninja in the class. When I got to the top of the flight, I nearly fell on my face by trying to step up onto a step that wasn’t there and had to grab at the wall.

The next thing I knew, there was a hand on my arm. My heart nearly stopped and I had to stop myself from flinching backwards down the stairs.


Then there was a familiar voice in my ear with a riff of laughter. I sagged. Matt. Of all the times to creep into the infirmary, he had to pick the middle of the night and sneak up on me. I would have smacked him if I had been able to see what I was hitting. I hissed his name and he chuckled at me. Then he slid his hand down my arm to link fingers with me so he could lead me off into the melted-walled room.

He told me that he’d had to wait until the rain dried up enough for him to come. It was getting harder for him to get away – I was right, I’m not the only one being watched at the moment. Between that and the distinctive limp that slows him down, he has been stuck with the boys.

“For some reason, that’s not as fun as it could be,” he mused. I laughed and slipped in for a hug, apologising for ruining his fun. He grinned and forgave me. He always knows how to cheer me up.

Then he asked how I was and I didn’t know how to answer him. I sagged again, but from the weight of sadness rather than relief this time. I stumbled over my explanations, telling him about the missing food stash – that subject made him suddenly solemn – and Jonah and Debbie. He stroked his fingers through my hair and let me lean on him, and murmured something soothing. We weren’t in trouble, we were doing okay, he said. We were lucky that Jonah wasn’t being a bastard, and as for Debbie… well. All we can do is try to make the end better for her, and she’s lucky to have that much.

He didn’t need to say that some people wouldn’t look after her at all. Some groups tossed their Sick out into the rain to be rid of the threat and the mess. I don’t doubt that some people with a sniffle or a cold been killed that way, just in case. Paranoia has a lot to answer for in these times.

I tried not to think about all that. It was upsetting enough unloading onto Matt, finally letting all of this stuff out and trying not to spill it in tears. He listened, like he always has, but closer than he used to. It’s nice, having a solid person to lean on and have him rest on me in turn.

He sighed when I asked him what’s been happening with him. Things on the boys’ side are no better than they are here. There’s pressure for everyone to help out with the Converter reconstruction and a lot of impatience with the injured who can’t pull their weight. Like Matt, who is still recovering from being stabbed and isn’t back up to full strength yet. He’s fetching and carrying a lot, which isn’t giving his leg the rest it needs, but at least he’s able to talk to most of the Seekers in his travels.

He’s fairly sure that a contingent of the cutouts – he calls them the Scouts – is watching everyone very closely, like snakes in their grass. Whatever snatches of communication he gets with others has to be light and brief. He talked about trying to make up clever codes but was afraid it would only confuse things. They still manage to say what they need to say in euphemisms and sideways references.

He says that the girls have worked out a way to get food out of the stores and over to Jersey’s hiding place. We’re not sure how much they’ve managed to smuggle out yet, but Jersey will let us know when we have enough to support the group for a week. Soon, they promise. Soon.

With all the attention on us, it makes me nervous to think about the risks the girls are taking. A week’s worth of food and water for the Seekers – plus the additional two who might be coming along – is a lot. I don’t know how they’re shifting it all, or how cautious they’re being. A part of me wants to trust them to look after themselves, but I know I’ll feel responsible if they get caught or if something bad happens to them.

“Tell them to be careful,” I asked him. It’s all I can do – pass on wishes and hope they come true. It’s not much use but it’s what we’ve got. I’m so sick of making do.

I rested my forehead against Matt’s, glad at least for him and a stolen closeness that will prop me up during the time we’re apart. I will have that and the promise that we’ll have more of it soon, always ‘soon’. Just a few more days. In the meantime, we took what comfort we could in each other.


That was when Jonah walked into the room and pinned us in a flashlight’s beam.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009 - 7:23 pm

No sweet sorrow

“You two are insane.”

My heart was thudding so loudly that it took me a moment to make sense of the words. I couldn’t see, my eyes narrowed to painful slits in the white light, and I struggled to untangle myself from Matt enough to shield myself from the beam.

“Could you lower that, please?” Matt was quicker than I was to form the question.

The flashlight beam continued to pin our heads for a few long seconds, and then moved down to our bellies. Thrown-up light still illuminated our faces, but we had a chance to let our eyes adjust and see what was around us. It took much blinking and squinting, but eventually the dazzle faded.

I was relieved to see that Jonah was alone. For a stomach-clenching second, I was afraid that he had grabbed some backup before coming up to spring blindness on us. I desperately tried to think about what he might have overheard and when we had last mentioned our escape efforts. He had come in just as we were moving on to more innocent stuff, but I had no idea how long he might have been standing outside. Fear curled up in my belly, cold and scaly.

Jonah was scowling at us over the dipped beam, his mouth set into an unhappy line. The expression pulled at a scar on his jaw, making it stand out in the shadow of his stubble.

“Don’t you know how much trouble you’re in already?” he said. “This will only make it worse.”

“Only if you tell them,” Matt said. That was when I noticed that he was standing slightly in front of me, an arm held out across my front. Protecting me. I stepped up behind his shoulder and took his hand, trying to offer him support and solidarity. I didn’t need protection but I was grateful for the gesture.

“Jonah, we’re not doing anything wrong.” The lie curdled around the snake in my belly and it was an effort not to let it show on my face. I hoped my desperation was coming across as earnestness.

“If I tell the officers about this–”

“If?” Matt moved to take a step forward and I had to hold him back. I tightened my grip on his hand and he stopped, standing tautly. I could tell he was glaring at the cutout.

“We know,” I said quickly. “We know. Please, don’t. You know what they’ll do. You don’t have to, right?”

“Technically, I do.”

“But are you going to?”

Jonah paused, watching us narrowly. Weighing us up, judging our worth. I could feel Matt vibrating with tension.

“What do you want?” he asked before Jonah came to a decision. “For not telling them?”

“Have you got something I want?”

I felt Matt tense when Jonah’s gaze flicked to me. By then, I was holding onto my boyfriend with both hands, just in case. The last thing any of us needed right now was a physical fight – the noise would bring everyone down on us, and if I’m honest, I don’t think that Matt would win. Cutouts have training in this kind of thing, and Jonah knows that my boyfriend has a weak leg. It could only end badly for us.

“Might not get exactly what you’re after,” Matt said.

Jonah frowned. “That goes for both of us.”

“Guys, please.” My desperation was rising quickly – I didn’t want testosterone or pride from getting in the way of us reaching some kind of agreement. I wanted a solution that didn’t mean something awful for any of us. “We have to find a way to resolve this. Jonah, what do you want? To keep this just between us?”

“A promise that you’ll never do this again, to start with.” As demands go, it wasn’t a horrible one, though it still made me shift closer to Matt. I didn’t want to make that promise; I didn’t want this one warm hope to be taken away from me. Even if we were leaving soon. Whenever ‘soon’ was.

Jonah went on to say that he never wanted to be in this position again – that was why he wanted us not to meet up like this after tonight. One secret was all he was willing to keep. The more we meet up, the worse he’ll look for not noticing, or they’ll suspect that he didn’t report it. So no more. For his sake as well as ours.

I hadn’t ever thought of it like that. I hadn’t thought about how our deceptions will reflect on him. What will they do to him when we leave? When I slip away from him and leave him without a charge to watch over? Will they accuse him of being involved, or incompetence? What will his punishment be?

I couldn’t think about that then – the matter at hand was far more pressing. Jonah was talking about us owing him a favour – nothing he would define now, but a token he would call in when he needed to. Matt and I were both nervous about agreeing to it.

We didn’t have a lot of choice. We had to agree now and hope that the request wasn’t too awful later; better that than reaching no agreement at all. Better that than being turned in. So it was wrung from us, reluctant words passed over the flashlight’s beam.

Jonah nodded uncomfortably and left us alone. For a while, Matt and I just hung onto each other.

“Soon,” he promised me. “We’ll get out of here soon.”

I nodded and wrapped my arms around him, and we didn’t say anything else for some time. It was almost dawn before we kissed and said goodbye, and he said he’d see me again before long. One way or another.


I haven’t heard from him since. Little Debbie gave up her fight this morning, after such a long battle. By lunchtime, she was gone completely – I don’t know where they took her and I don’t want to ask. I can’t picture her like that, chained up in the basement like a tiny animal. I’d rather remember her pale, still face, greying as the blood settled in gravity’s grip.

I’m trying not to let her fate mean more than it does. I’m trying to believe that it’s not a metaphor for this world After the bombs, succumbing to the poison that surrounds us every day. We can get through this. We have to.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2009 - 6:44 pm


With Debbie gone, there’s no reason for me to linger in the infirmary any more. Being back in the dorm is strange, and yet exactly the same.

Most of the women don’t speak to me. I’m used to it now, but it doesn’t make the bubble around me any less weird. Luckily, I have a lot of other things to worry about, so Nadine’s glares and Mama Prusco’s grumbles tend to fall short of their mark. I do my best to ignore the mutterings of the others.

I only managed to exchange a few words with Jersey before lights-out last night. Everything’s going fine – that’s all she would say. She made a great show of huffing off, scowling up a storm. I don’t know if I’ve done something or if it was just a show for the others. I’m hoping it was the latter.

Tia tried to speak to me as well, but we couldn’t find the space. Every time she came close, one of her little friends would appear to drag her off for something – to fuss over someone’s hair or to swap clothes or something. The world might have ended but girls are still girls, I guess. I’m going to try to steal her away for a chat tonight, somewhere we can get some privacy. From the glances she was giving me, I don’t think she has good news for me. I wish I knew what to brace myself for.


Jonah is still being Jonah. He walks me between the dorm and the infirmary, and stands post outside when it’s not raining. We exchange greetings and idle pleasantries just like before, though with more sideways glances and caution now.

I wish I knew what to think of him. It’s so hard to tell what’s going on inside his head. I don’t know why he’s helping me, or why he’s keeping the secret about Matt and me. I want to ask him, but we have this strange truce between us – ask me no truth and I’ll keep telling lies. I don’t think he’s interested in being friends, though he’s friendly enough to do us this favour.

More than anything else, I’m glad it was him who found us. I don’t know what Simon would have done, but I doubt he would have kept his mouth shut about it. Glad to be rid of us, probably. And as for Peter – well, that could only have gone badly. He would have tried to sleeze a deal and Matt would have wound up punching him, and it all would have tumbled downhill from there. I would have had to make a horrible choice – giving Peter what he wants or giving ourselves up to the cutouts. I would have chosen the second and damned us.

So it could have been a lot worse. It’s going to be a while before I know the full price of our secret, but maybe we’ll be gone by then.

I’ve had no word on the escaping side of things apart from Jersey’s hurried, off-hand reassurance. I try not to worry about it all, but I can’t help it. How’s it all going? Do the cutouts suspect anything, or anyone (besides me)? How soon is ‘soon’? Will we be ready?

How do we make sure that no-one is hurt when we leave? I might be the only one worrying about that, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t. Most of all, I look at the guy patiently escorting me around the compound, performing his penance for an unknown sin. He’ll be blamed for our escape – unless we hurt him. Knock him out and tie him up. It sickens me to think about, but we’ll be kinder than the General. That much I am sure about.

I wish I could tell him. Warn him. I can feel the apology queuing up behind my teeth already, muddling in with all the things I wish I knew how to ask him.

But I can’t. There’s our truce, our non-speaking pact that keeps the peace. So nothing of meaning passes between us.


I should go. The rain has almost stopped; it’ll be time to head back to the dorm soon. Time to submit to my armed escort.

Thursday, 5 November 2009 - 7:33 pm

Plus one, minus two

No matter how much I try to hold things together, shards still slip through my fingers. There are so few pieces that I have any contact with now, and I can’t even keep a grip on those.

Tia has been trying to speak with me for a couple of days. Every now and then, she flicked me hopeful looks across the dorm and nodded towards one of the back rooms, but then someone would turn up and pull her away. The girls have been fussing over her more than usual and I can’t help but wonder if they were keeping her away from me on purpose. I’m not sure what they hoped to achieve with that, but I don’t pretend to know those girls well.

I’m feeling so well-watched right now that I haven’t had the courage to press the issue. I could have gone over there, grabbed her by the arm and dragged her off to talk. I doubt they would have been able to stop me, but it wasn’t a battle I wanted to start. These girls don’t tend to fight physically – it’s all tongue-lashing and voices that spiral up into uncomfortable octaves, sharp with barbs. And their fights don’t finish when someone walks away: they swirl around the dorms, rising and falling like the scum on the tide, snapping dirtily at our edges.

I’ve always hated how girls fight. I used to watch Bree at work and smile, even though it unsettled me. I’m ashamed to admit that I joined in sometimes. Then she turned on me and I realised why I disliked it so much. Girls are vicious. Bruises heal so much easier and cleaner.


Today, I finally got the opportunity to talk to Tia alone. It wasn’t in the dorm at all – just after midday, she slunk into the infirmary looking like a mouse who knew she was sitting in the middle of a trap but hadn’t a clue about where the cheese might have got to.

I was just heading over to snaggle her up before she got lost when Simon was suddenly there beside her. He spoke to her and she looked up at him with wide eyes, and to my surprise, she nodded and went into an exam room with him. I stopped, staring after them, the sheets from the bed I was changing still in my hands.

Peter chose that moment to brush past me – there was plenty of room, but he had to rub his way past anyway – and he chuckled in my ear. “You know what she’s here for,” he said with a grin. I got the sudden urge to slap him, but managed to restrain it until he’d gone away.

I forced myself to finish making the bed up, and then the next one too, while I waited for Simon to come out of the exam room again. I didn’t realise how much I was watching the door until it opened and my hands were only too glad to put down the pillow I was putting a cover on. I was pushing my way into the room when he was still in the process of closing the door behind him. He let me past with a disapproving scowl.

Tia was leaning against the exam table, straightening her clothing and looking paler than usual. She’s an elfin thing at the best of times – if she was any paler, she’d be translucent. She didn’t seem surprised to see me, though she wasn’t comfortable either; she shifted stiffly, as if bracing herself. I asked her if she was all right and she sighed, biting her lip.

“I don’t know,” she said, which only worried me even more. “Has he gone?”

She meant Simon. I glanced over my shoulder to check that the door had closed behind me – it had – and then nodded. “What is it?”

I knew what she was going to say next, but that didn’t make her words any easier to hear. They fell into the room likes stones, toppling into a messy cairn between us.

“I’m pregnant.”

There were so many things I wanted to say. Congratulations. Do you know who the father is? When are you due? That’s wonderful. The words clamoured in my throat but didn’t make it anywhere near my tongue. I put a hand on her arm.

“Are you all right?”

She gave me a look that reminded me how young she is. Eighteen, maybe nineteen by now, forced to take on an adult’s role long before she had ever planned to. Now she was going to be someone’s mother and she was completely unprepared. She was a tiny person lost in a sea of giants and her legs just couldn’t keep up.

The next thing I knew, she was sobbing on my chest, her arms clenched around my middle. I hugged her and stroked her hair, instinctively rocking her while she cried. It’ll be all right, I told her. We’ll get through this. Everyone will help her. Shh, it’ll be okay.

It took me a moment to realise that she was shaking her head. She took a shuddering breath and lifted her head, quietly picking herself up off me. I let her, helped her, made sure she was steady before I let her go completely.

I wasn’t expecting what came next.

“I can’t come with you.”


“When you go. I can’t come, not now.”


“I can’t, Faith. I just can’t.” A sob caught in her throat and she swallowed past it painfully. She stumbled on to tell me about how unsafe it was out there, about how they’d be able to take better care of her here. There was a doctor and an infirmary here. A safe roof over our heads every night and food on the table. No searching, no scratching, no shamblers tearing us down one by one. They were trying to build a future here – there was even a school for the little ones, they said.

“It’s too dangerous out there. I can’t risk it. I can’t,” she told me several times, between pointing out Haven’s virtues.

I tried to reason with her. I pointed out the flaws in this place, and the short-term nature of its virtues. We’re going to look for a future too, something better than this. We’re going back to our doctor, who’ll be able to make sure she’s all right.

“But what if there’s no better future to find? What if there is nothing better than this? What if he’s not there any more, too?”

I couldn’t argue with her. She wasn’t wrong, not about those things. Haven’s promises are so bright and warm, and she’s clinging to them. She won’t see how thin they are – they’re solid enough for her, more tangible than the promise of what lies before us. The Seekers have a lot of shadows to pass through before we have a chance of finding something better than Haven. For most of us, that’s something we’re willing to face. But Tia has her baby to think of and a wealth of fear to keep her exactly where she is.

She looked at me with defiance, tears streaming down her cheeks and her chin trying not to wobble. I closed my mouth on the arguments I wanted to spill on her. She had known that I would argue against her staying – she had been ready for this. She had made up her mind as soon as she suspected she was pregnant. She was trying to do the right thing for herself.

I didn’t agree with her – I couldn’t – but it didn’t feel right to bully her into leaving either. So I hugged her again and told her that I respected her decision. I didn’t like it but it was hers to make. She’d always have a place with us if she changed her mind anyway.

“There aren’t any ex-Seekers,” I told her. “You’ll always be one of us.” It’s who we are, even if we’re not together, even if we’re not out on the road.

Tia was puzzled at first and then she smiled and wiped her cheeks.

“I’ll still help you,” she said.

I thanked her for that and let her go. She slipped out of the room and returned to her work crew, probably to tell them the good news. I, meanwhile, sagged against the exam table and fought back a sudden wave of tears.


She had promised she would still help us get out of here, but I don’t think she will. She’d be a fool if she did. If she got caught, she’d ruin her own position here. She’d end up like me, watched and suspected and judged every second of every day. Pregnant or not, she’d be in trouble. To protect herself, she should separate herself from the rest of us.

And then there’s her brother. Terry is helping the boys out and I have no idea if he knows about this latest development. I don’t think he’ll come without his sister. Families should stick together.

Where does that leave Jersey? She’s attached to Terry, though she’d never admit it. They can’t be together here – even if he wanted to be, which he’s shown no sign of – so what will she do? What will she want to do?

There were so few of us already, and now our numbers are even smaller. With so many barriers rising around us, how will we ever get out of here? There must be a way to make this work. There must be a way to get free of all of this.

I just wish that I could see it.

Friday, 6 November 2009 - 8:36 pm

Seekers old and new

I didn’t need to tell Jersey about Tia. When I got back to the dorms last night, the ex-Wolverine was stomping about with a face like thunder and everyone was giving her a wide berth. I would have asked her what was wrong if I didn’t already know.

She hasn’t ever been close to Tia, not really. Tia’s a girly girl and Jersey very much isn’t. She has looked after herself since the world came down around us and she doesn’t think much of the girls who have relied on others to get by. She’s had to do things the hard way, so why should anyone else get an easy ride? As far as she’s concerned, those who have taken the easier route have yet to prove themselves worthy of her respect.

I don’t think she’s quite that uncomplicated, but that’s the way she’s trying to make her world. It makes a lot of sense in these times After the bombs. She has taken up the mantle of pragmastism and run with it; it’s up to people like me to wave some kind of morality in her face. In many ways, Jersey represents a lot of what I despise about the After, but at least she listens. She doesn’t change, but she does restrain herself. There’s something in that.

I think she has guessed about Terry staying behind as well and that’s part of why she’s so angry. She hasn’t ever said anything about him – certainly not to me – but I believe there’s a candle there, well-sheltered from everyone and everything. It’s burning in the dark now, down to its nub, shrouded by the prospect of leaving him here and going out alone. He never seemed interested in her but Jersey’s not the kind to let that stop her when she wants something.

Except for now, when it’s being taken away from her. I wish I had some comfort to give her. A scrap of hope, some way to show that it isn’t so bad, not really. This world is full of harsh truths and this is one of them. I can’t even tell her how sorry I am – she would take it badly. Jersey’s the kind of girl who always slaps with a closed fist.


I wonder if there are any others here that will be missed when we’re gone. I haven’t made many friends here, but what about the others? Jersey has an odd attachment to Iona – I wish I knew where that came from – but she might be coming with us anyway. At least she’ll have one person she’s close to coming along.

I don’t know about the rest. Thorpe doesn’t make friends easily at the best of times, but Dale is charming enough and Terry doesn’t seem to have any problem in that area. Dan – well, who knows with him. I haven’t seen him since we got to Haven. Matt has always been popular and I doubt it’s any different here. He has probably people he’ll miss. And Dad – Dad’s been here longer than us. He must have made friends, too.

We can’t ask everyone to come along, but are there some we should ask? It’s impossible for me to say – I’m so cut off here, stuck on a tiny piece of rock miles from everyone. I don’t even know where their hearts lie any more.

Maybe I’m just looking for problems where there aren’t any. Jersey is upset and I can’t do anything about it, and that makes it easy to feel bad about everything. If the others have become attached to anyone here and that person is as unhappy as we are, maybe they’ll come along. Maybe they’ll become Seekers too. Or they could betray us and end this.

I am trying to stop being so negative, but it’s hard. I can’t wait to put this place in our rear-view mirrors. Soon can’t come soon enough for me.

Saturday, 7 November 2009 - 9:04 pm

A matter of consent

The other women in the dorm have learned Jersey’s moods, but even they misjudged just how her temper can flare, especially when she’s already in a bad mood.

Just after I got back from the infirmary last night, I saw Nadine and Mama Prusco cruising the dorm, with the elderly Lavinia in tow. Like the three wyrd sisters, looking for ingredients for their cauldron. The old cow was directing them with little words and flicks of her fingers towards particular girls, mostly those ones trying to avoid meeting the women’s gazes. I heard Lavinia say something about needing to shake up the contingent of women sent to entertain the men. They would try a roster but with monthly cycles and pregnancy pulling girls out of the running, it was just too complicated to make work.

So they have to rake through the dorm every night, grabbing women at random and shepherding them off to the part of the compound commonly referred to as the brothel rooms. We don’t use that name within the hearing of the wyrd sisters, of course, but I’ve heard it on more than one pair of lips. It’s not inaccurate, considering.

Unfortunately for the trio of madams, Lavinia directed them towards Iona. The girl was sitting crosslegged on her bed, humming to herself as she combed out a lock of her hair, teasing out one painstaking knot at a time. She looked up when the shadows fell over her bed, smiling at the faces above her without a trace of reservation.

“Flowers are for plucking, but they fade so quickly,” she told them clearly, just a little bit sad. I think she understands more than she lets on, that one.

Mama Prusco stepped in to take one of the girl’s arms to encourage her to stand up (or, more accurately, to drag her off the bed). Iona didn’t fight or struggle, or even sit there limply. She just turned to put her comb down and went about unfolding her legs so that she could stand. I thought she might resist or at least be reluctant, but she showed no signs of that. That’s when I decided to get involved and got up to go over there.

Nadine was on her other side, ready to escort her to the group of uncomfortable-looking girls waiting in the aisle, when Jersey arrived. She beat me there, crashing into the situation with all guns blazing. I’ve never seen her so furious before. She tore Iona’s arms free, rough enough to leave bruises on everyone involved. By then, I had made it around the bunk and could draw the bewildered girl away from the battleground. Iona came with me as easily as she would have gone with the madams.

Jersey, meanwhile, was laying into all of them with a heavy-laden tongue. How could they think of taking Iona off for something like that? She wasn’t capable of making such a choice. It was like taking a child – and don’t think that Jersey didn’t know the younger women had been pressured into taking part in the whoring too. Only sixteen, a couple of them, but at least they knew what was happening to them.

Nadine made the mistake of defending their actions by saying, “Why shouldn’t she pull her weight? She’ll never know what happened anyway.”

The sound of Jersey’s fist hitting Nadine’s face was a sudden, sharp slap, and the dark-haired head snapped backwards. Her body clattered against the next bunk while voices rose all around us. Mama Prusco grabbed Jersey’s arms, demanding to know what the hell she thought she was doing, and I put Iona behind me. The poor girl was covering her ears against all the noise, whimpering and curling in on herself. Jersey growled and slammed her forehead into Mama Prusco’s face. There was a howl and a spurt of blood. Jersey’s arms were free again as the big woman cupped her hands over her broken nose.

I pushed Iona onto my bunk when Jersey turned on Lavinia. The old woman was tougher than she looked but I didn’t think that smacking her would help anyone right now. So I stepped in and pulled the ex-Wolverine back before she could do any more damage. She almost punched me too but restrained herself at the last moment, her breath coming in short, sharp huffs. She was all coiled tension, ready to lash out at anyone who came close enough – I was just lucky that she classed me as a friend. Anyone else would have ended up like the two smacked madams.

I had to shout over the horrified cries to get everyone to shut up. Throwing in a few four-letter words seemed to administer enough verbal slaps to get their attention. The ragged silence sucked at us like a split lip.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” I told them shortly. “Trying to force someone into this deal of yours.” I saw Nadine drawing breath to argue with me and went on before she could form words. “Forcing someone who doesn’t understand take part is wrong. She can’t consent, and that makes it rape.”

Throwing that word in stopped any rebuttals before they were formed. They can put whatever excuse they want on it, but it’s still rape. I could feel the ex-Wolverine swelling behind me and I turned to fix a glare on her. “Jersey, go cool off. Now. The rest of you, I suggest you go and do whatever it is you need to do elsewhere.”

Jersey made a great show of stomping off to the unused bathrooms out back. To my surprise, the rest of the women dispersed, taking the battered ones with them. I hadn’t actually expected them to listen to me, but I guess a loud voice with a semblance of calm is better than the wailing and the violence. I let the other girls clean up the blood on Mama Prusco’s face and put a cloth to Nadine’s rapidly-swelling eye. I had no stomach to sympathise with them anyway.

My heart was still beating way too fast when I turned around to comfort Iona. She was curled up on my bed with her hands clamped over her ears, a tiny rigid thing murmuring to herself. It took me a moment to realise that she was saying, “Too loud, too loud,” over and over.

It took some coaxing to get her to take her hands off her head, so that she could hear the lack of noise for herself. She looked up at me, and I saw a scar of trauma in her eyes. Whatever chased her wits away was noisy but didn’t leave a mark on her. It pricks at my curiosity, but I don’t have the heart to ask her about it. She’s having enough trouble healing as it is. Instead, I tried to tell her that it was all right, she could relax now. Her response was to nod and bury her face in my blanket.


I left her like that to go check on Jersey, believing that she was calm enough and it would be safe for me to be absent for a few moments. The pugilist was pacing in the bathroom, back and forth, as if she was waiting for the bell to ring again.

She demanded to know why I had stepped in, why I had stopped her from teaching those “fucking pimps” a lesson – wasn’t I on her side? I told her that I was, but they had enough to think about for now and we had to keep things calm if we wanted to stand a chance of getting out of here. Did she want a tagalong cutout like mine? No? Then she should stop getting into fights. Just for now. Just until we can get out of here. Iona is safe, she’s fine.

“We have to take her,” Jersey said.

I hesitated, but I couldn’t find a way to disagree with that. I dread to think about what would happen to Iona without anyone here to look out for her, to protect her. It’s best if she comes with us, even if she’s a burden to us.

I gave Jersey a rag to bind her bruised knuckles with and went back into the dorm room. Iona was sitting on my bunk, rhythmically shredding my blanket into strips with her delicate, plucking fingers. I had to bite back my frustration.

I sighed and tried not to mind, and went to see if any of us might get some sleep. It took me a while to convince Iona to fold up on her own bed, then lay down fully-clothed on mine, abandoning hope of resurrecting the blanket. Sometime during the night, I woke up to find another blanket draped over me and a small body curled up against my back. There wasn’t a lot of room but I didn’t have the heart to move her, and I was too tired for it to stop me from falling asleep again.

What’s a little stiffness in the morning between friends?

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Sunday, 8 November 2009 - 9:25 pm

A wealth of bad ideas

All day yesterday, I was waiting for the fallout from Jersey’s fight with the madams to fall on us. It never did. No-one mentioned Nadine’s swollen-shut eye or the purple mess that is Mama Prusco’s flattened face. Jersey’s fat knuckles weren’t commented on, either. Even Jonah was silent on the matter when he escorted me to and from the infirmary.

I don’t think the madams reported it. The cutouts let the women govern themselves for the most part – internal matters remain internal unless someone makes it an external issue. I can see the wisdom in that; if the women are enforcing the rules, there’s less chance of them rebelling against the General’s leadership. It’s the kind of politicking I despise. Why can’t everyone just be reasonable enough to work together and not hurt each other? It’s not like we don’t have enough danger outside of these circles to worry about.

The good news is that Jersey is still free to move around the compound with her cleanup crew. She’s still able to make contact with the boys, and to secret stores away for us. Right now, she’s the thread that’s holding the escape effort together, so the lack of repercussions is a blessing for us.

Today, I was able to slip her the medical pack that I’ve been quietly putting together. Since the food stash went missing, I haven’t been doing much of anything to help the Seekers’ escape, desperate to keep my nose clean in case someone is checking. But as the person who spends the most time in the stores, folding sheets and rolling bandages, and trying to clean what pieces I can for reuse, putting a little of everything aside is easy. A little of this, a smidge of that, over in this cupboard instead of that one. Get a sheet too soiled to use for anything else, fold it over into double thickness and sew up the sides, and we have a makeshift duffle bag. Pack the siphoned supplies in there, then hide it outside in the trash, but make sure to give Jersey the nod in the morning so she knows to look for it.

I’m not completely sure that she managed to get it, but the trash has been taken away, duffle and all. Hopefully it’s nestled up with the food stores next to enough water to keep us alive for a while. Otherwise, the rain that is pattering against the windows is currently eating it away into nothing, washing it all over the concrete and seeping it into the dirt. Bandages, dressings, antiseptic, pills, needles, and everything.


There’s a part of me that hates the theft. It’s not just the stress of it, of wondering if the duffle will be discovered, tucked in a cupboard like it should be there. Or picked up by the wrong person. Or if it would just disappear like the food did. I had to stop myself from checking on it every five minutes, reminding myself that I would only wind up drawing attention to it if I did. Be casual, Faith. Act like nothing could possibly be going on.

It’s not just that that gets to me. It’s how drawn Simon is getting. More and more of the girls are getting pregnant and one or two are growing big now. I’ve seen him reading books on pregnancy and birth methods, boning up on the possible complications he might face. It’s easy to forget that he wasn’t fully trained, and unlikely to have been taught obstretics for an army medic position even if his training had been finished.

The other thing that he has been fretting over is the supplies situation. The infirmary is low on many things, particularly drugs. Taking anything from those thin supplies was difficult for me – too many times, I stood there with my fingertips almost touching the vials, asking myself if we had any right to be doing this. Sometimes, I was so ashamed of myself that I closed the cabinet and walked away. It was easier to come back after events had been particularly difficult or unfair; it was easier to take supplies when I was angry at Haven for something.

Sometimes, I feel like a terrible person, taking things that I know they’ll need to save lives. But so will we. We came to Haven with vehicles, equipment, and supplies, and it was all taken away from us. Now we’re taking something back before we go. It seems like that should make it square, but it doesn’t feel that way. I know they won’t see it that way.

I’m tangling myself up again. It’s done with now – I’ve handed my part of the stealing on. They won’t catch me with it, not until we leave. I can breathe. For a little while, I can breathe and pretend I’m not a thief.

In my honest moments, I’m scared. I don’t have any idea about what the cutouts will do if they catch us trying to leave, never mind what the General will do to us if we survive a failed attempt. I am sure that we’ll only get one chance at it. If we’re not shot during it, we probably will be afterwards. I’ve never done something like this before, and I doubt any of the others have either. How will we know if we’re prepared enough? How can we give ourselves enough time to get away before the cutouts notice what we’re doing and open fire?

I just had the worst idea. Now I wish there was enough bleach to burn it out of my memory.

The rain’s stopping. I have to go. Maybe all of this will look better when the sun comes up again.