Sunday, 13 September 2009 - 9:48 pm

Care and feeding, part two

I’m having to get sneakier in order to be able to post. I think I’ve found somewhere I won’t be disturbed this time. Where did I get to?

Oh, of course. The noise, the thumping drifting to me through the building.


I was torn. I was there to watch over Sylvia. Simon had left me with strict instructions and a set of restraints, should she pass away while I was watching her. That’s really what I was there for: to secure her in case she became part of our After-world nightmare. Hope of recovery had long since died, and she was past any comfort I could give her. She was close to the end and shouldn’t be left unattended.

But there was that thumping. Once I had picked it up I couldn’t put it down; my ears were tuned to it like it was my name across a crowded room. I tried to ignore it but it itched at my consciousness. It started to play tricks, moving away and coming closer, but it was always the same volume. It wasn’t moving at all. I was, though: pacing back and forth while I kept count. My mind kept trying to find patterns in the sound, but there was no regular tempo to track.

I had forgotten to ask for a flashlight. There was just the candle and the dawn a few hours away. It didn’t feel right leaving Sylvia in the dark, but I told myself that she was past knowing or caring about that stuff. I had to know what it was. I had to know what was thumping like that. It might have been just a shutter in the wind but it kept growing into all kinds of awfulness while I wasn’t looking.

As it turned out, it was almost as bad as I had feared.

I was determined not to be reckless. I put the restraints on Sylvia, just in case – the only reason Simon hadn’t put them on her already was respect for the not-yet-dead, along with a last dredge of hope that they wouldn’t be necessary. They weren’t going to hurt her. Then I took the candle and crept the empty corridors towards that sound.

It felt like hours before I finally found it. The sound shifts strangely at night and reflections kept leading me astray. I stumbled on the door to the basement by accident. I didn’t even know that there was a basement here; no-one had shown me that part. Now I know why.

I stared at the flickering shape of the steps and knew it was a bad idea to go down. I’ve seen horror movies; I know that you never go down into one on your own at night, especially when you’ve never been down there before and it’s a big old secret. Especially when there’s a creepy thumping coming from down there and you don’t know what’s causing it. It felt like all of my internal organs were trying to crawl out of my throat and escape, with my heart leading the charge.

Standing there, I wanted to run away. I wanted to pretend I couldn’t hear it down there, thump thump thumping at something solid. But all I could think was that whatever it was would chase me. It would follow me all the way back to wherever I thought was safe. It was a wolf, and you should never run from a canine, imaginary or otherwise.

So I hunkered down and crept down the steps, with the stupid candle failing to show me much of anything. I tried not to over-analyse every little scrap of information and failed – the steps had footprints on them and there was something sticky on one. It smelled awful down there, rotting and rising like fog as I slunk into it. A part of me knew that I was winding myself up and I’d roll my eyes later, but I couldn’t help it.

It was that kind of moment when something small skitters across your foot and you shit yourself, then you realise it’s just a mouse and laugh, telling yourself to stop being stupid. Except there was no skitter – nothing to let me realise and relax. Just that thumping, accompanied by a metallic clink now that I was closer. It rolled around and past me. It called me on, and I had to know. I had to know what it was.

It led me to a door. It wasn’t loud but I knew it was coming from the other side. There was a scraping in the fabric of the sound – metal, wood, and a scratching when the thumps hit. I stared at the door, at the handle, and couldn’t decide if it really was moving or if it was just the shifting candlelight. My internal organs had given up trying to desert me and were attempting to convince the rest of me to leave instead. I almost took them up on the idea.

I really didn’t want to open the door. I looked around and discovered a window cut into the wall beside it. I was relieved and terrified at the same time. There was no glass in it – just an empty hole cut into the panel. Big enough to crawl through. Big enough for anything to crawl through. I edged sideways, trying not to let my hand tremble as the candlelight fell inside and inched across the floor of the room beyond.

In my heart, I think I knew what it was. My eyes needed to see it for themselves before my brain would believe it, though. I had to see the truth to stop my mind from making up all kinds of awful things in its place, swelling a single monster into a flood threatening to burst over us while we slept.

It was just one: a lone shambler in the darkness. The metal clink was the chain harness criss-crossed over its torso, holding it bound in place. It was mindlessly straining against the restraint and the chains bit deep. Shattered ribs stuck out through the torn skin and it had leaked all over itself. When the chains shifted, they ripped pieces of flesh off, showing far too much bone. It didn’t notice.

It had stretched itself against and through the harness enough to reach the door, but only just. It smelled me and shifted its target, reaching out for the empty chunk of wall instead. I staggered back a step, trying not to cry out or throw up – air and dinner fought for space in my throat and for a moment neither of them fit.

Its hands were ruined. That’s what the scraping was – its hands breaking and wearing down against the door while it thump thump thumped.

It stretched its head towards me, teeth bared in case I might stray close enough for a bite. It didn’t make any noise – with the mess that its chest was in, there was no way it could hold enough air for a moan. Then there was a wet crack and I flinched, spilling hot wax onto my wrist.

That was enough. I had seen too much and turned tail to run. I barely remember the scramble up the stairs or closing the door behind me. I didn’t stop until I was in the back room with the soon-to-be shambler, Sylvia. My hands shook when I put the candle holder down and I peeled the wax off my skin. It was a while before I even felt the burn.


When Simon came to relieve me just after dawn, I didn’t mention what I had found. I had taken the restraints off Sylvia and reported a quiet night. I wasn’t sure I could handle whatever explanation he had to give me. Even in the orange daylight, my skin crawls every time I pause for thought in the infirmary, and I look around for that empty face and ruined, reaching hands.

I have to ask him. I have to confront him. I know I’m not going to like it, but hopefully hard facts will drive away the fear.

Right now, I’m feeling far too much like that candle flame, guttering in the dark.

Monday, 14 September 2009 - 8:34 pm

The disposal of monsters

We lost Sylvia last night.

Perhaps I should be more precise, considering the circumstances: she passed away. We know exactly where she is.

I got the news when I arrived this morning. No need for me to do anything; it was already dealt with. The body had been disposed of – that phrase turned my stomach and I tried not to think about chains and mindless moaning.

I was sent to change the sheets of the bed she had been lying and dying in. They were ripe, somehow more so than when she had been alive. I almost wished I was back in the kitchens, but I didn’t dare think about food in case it came up to say hello. With no water to wash them in, fabric like that is taken outside and stretched under the sun. Once the stains are dry, they’re beaten off.

It’s another of those things that it’s best not to think about too deeply.


After the sheets were stretched out and the bed was made up again, I went to find Simon. He was checking over one of the kids; a little boy had a temperature. It wasn’t dangerous, so the little one was sent back to his dorm and told to stay in bed. I don’t even know where the children’s dorm is. They’re not in with the women and we’re not supposed to stray.

The medic tried to avoid me. I think he knew that I knew what groaned silently in the basement. He’s subtle in the way he sends me off to do something and busies himself so I won’t disturb him, but that only works for so long.

Last night, I dreamt about the shambler in the basement. His face kept changing – one minute it was monstrous and stretched; the next it was Sax with sad eyes. He strained towards me and the chains cut into him, and he was Ben with bared teeth. He pushed and he pushed, tearing himself apart while I scrabbled at the wall behind me, at the door, but I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t run away. I looked back as he started to reach through the hole in the wall. He rasped my name and then the chains cut him into quadrants. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t scream. I was bottled up and choking on the horror of it. I could still hear the wet slap of his parts against the floor when I woke.

Just like I had to go down and see what was in the basement, I had to get an answer from Simon. It was a different kind of challenge but it still made my heart thump uncomfortably in my chest. And once again, I almost turned away from the door to my target. Inside, I sat down so that I could see Simon’s face more clearly and so I couldn’t run away so easily.

“Where was Sylvia’s body taken?” I asked him.

He said something evasive about it being dealt with, using that ‘disposed of’ phrase again.

“Is it in the basement with the other one?”

He looked at me and changed his mind about denying any knowledge of it. We both knew it was true. He sighed and shook his head wearily. “Yes, she is.” He offered nothing; he was going to make me work for my answers.

That was fine by me. I had questions, and a sick feeling in the back of my throat. “Why are you keeping them down there? Why aren’t you killing them?”


I tried to think about what kinds of tests he could be doing on them. I can’t imagine how he would hope to get close enough to do any tests on a shambler. Also, most of the diagnostic equipment is ruined or lacking someone qualified to use it, even if they would dare to contaminate the medical equipment with poisoned shambler shards.

“The General wants to know how they work. The best way to kill them. How strong they are, how much damage they can take, how long it takes them to starve to death.”

I’m not sure if I felt sick because of the tests they would have to do to get that data, or because I could see why they would need that kind of information. “And what have you found?” I figured I might as well get everything I could while I was there. It’s not like it could make the nightmares any worse.

Simon shrugged and avoided my eyes. “They get more frantic as they get hungrier. I don’t think we’ve ever had one starve to death – they tend to tear themselves to pieces first, trying to get to food. They won’t eat each other, only meat from people who aren’t or haven’t been Sick. Bleeding seems to weaken them eventually, but it takes a long time. I assume you know the best way to kill them.”

I nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“No-one knows, except me, the General, and a handful of others. So many got sick that we didn’t want anyone else to know.” What happened to their friends.

He didn’t say it, but my mind filled that part in for him. I can imagine the chaos that would cause – friends and family being tortured to death in the basement. Though they can’t feel it, though it might be justified, it’s still wrong.

Then my mind tripped over something he had said. It was waving a little flag and I paused to turn it over. “How do you know that they don’t eat people who have the Sicknesss?”

Simon glanced at me for a heartbeat and didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to answer.

My stomach disappeared into the floor between my feet. Tests. I couldn’t sit any more and shot up to pace around the room. “And how do you know what they do eat? Did you test that, too?”

“No!” His denial was quick. I suppose it’s something. “They showed us without needing to be asked. What do you think we are?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

Again, he looked away and I got the feeling there was more he wasn’t telling me. I wanted to press him, but there was a stubborn set to his shoulders. I had got everything he was willing to give, so I left him alone. A fella arrived a short while later with an injured wrist and provided us with enough of a distraction that we found excuses not to talk for the rest of the day.


There’s a monster in the basement and it’s hungry. They’re keeping it hungry to see what it does. Soon, a new one will wake and keep it company, not that either of them will notice.

Simon knows the people those monsters used to be. He nursed them all through their Sickness and then chained them downstairs. He’s a lot stronger than I am; I couldn’t do it. No wonder he looks so terrible all the time.

I think the worst part is that I’m not as horrified by it as I thought I’d be. I can see why they’re doing it. But those monsters used to be people. We’re supposed to bury and honour our dead, or raise a pyre to the heavens for them, not poke them with sticks to see what they do. Not that.

The thing I am most sure about right now is that I don’t want to become like Simon. It’s one of those compromises that I don’t want to make.

I’ll hold onto my horror, for fear of who I’ll be without it.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009 - 6:24 pm


The Seekers are being slowly pulled apart at the edges.

It seems that none of us are working the kitchens any more. Tia has been moved to a cleaning crew, keeping the dorms livable. Jersey now works in sanitation. I’ve hardly seen either of them, apart from at night when we pile into our bunks. I haven’t seen the boys since that time at dinner.

I caught up with the ex-Wolverine today. She’s more unhappy than I’ve ever seen her. I’d say that she’s close to a dangerous depression, except that she tends to vent her frustrations on everyone else rather than aiming it at herself. She was only too ready to unload on me when I asked her how she was doing.

She’s helping out with the water recycling, which sounds like a good thing until she mentions where they get the water to recycle. The sewage system here has been hooked up to a treatment vat, which then feeds back into everything else. No wonder the water here tastes a little strange – it was one of those things that we never thought to question, too glad that there’s water to drink in the first place.

Of course, my first thought was to wonder why they didn’t allow us to wash anything, if they could recycle the water we used. I guess they have their reasons. I think that was my brain trying to get past the revulsion.

“I spent the whole day breathing in other people’s shit,” Jersey was saying. “Only not the bitching and the whining – the real stuff.” She paused in her methodical stabbing of her food to look at me. “Do I smell of it? I can’t even tell any more.”

I paused and tried to filter the scents in the room. Smell isn’t one of the senses that I pay a lot of attention to any more. I used to be so concerned about it, always wearing perfume and making sure I was clean. Now, everyone is unwashed, stained, soiled. Dirty and grimy and a little bit over-ripe. The latrines positively hum with their burden of scent – some of the ‘sewage system’ is a series of buckets that need to be emptied regularly. I’m so inured to the everyday stink that it’s not easy to pick up other things, and it’s never a good idea to breathe too deep in a room full of people and questionable food. .

“No,” I told her. It seemed like the safest answer.

She grunted and forced down a few mouthfuls. “You know, they usually give out latrine duty as a punishment. So how come I got stuck there? I didn’t do anything. One more day of this shit and I’m going on strike.”

I told her that they probably had a shortage of naughty hands and just needed the help. Neither of us really believed it but who wants to rock the boat? She’s doing as she’s asked under sufferance, but at least she’s doing it. I don’t know what will happen if she refuses to work. Something tells me that they won’t appreciate it. Stick with it, I told her. It won’t be forever. Temporary.

That’s what this place feels like to me – a step to something else. But we’re not going anywhere, not moving towards anything; we’re all working to maintain what we’ve got right here. Maybe that’s why I can’t settle: I can’t resolve the contradiction that underlies Haven. So many promises, so much work to do, but so few real answers until you go down to look in the creepy basement.

Maybe it’s just that I don’t have a place yet. I feel part of nothing, separated from my friends and superfluous. The infirmary doesn’t need me and everyone else is okay. Haven would get along fine without me.

I can’t tell if this is my own selfishness talking, or if this is how Haven wears us down. Today, I looked at Jersey considering rebellion and wondered.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 - 8:48 pm

Not the fish

Tonight seems to be a night for discovering unpleasant truths. I’m all tangled up now.

Keeping this laptop a secret is proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated. As if hiding to write posts wasn’t enough, now I have to figure out how to power it.

I thought sneaking power out of one of the outlets would be easy enough. In those dim hours when the the sun is sinking behind a veil of acid, the generators run to extend our days with electric light. It’s a window of only a handful of hours and I thought they’d never notice if I plugged the laptop into the circuit.

Apparently, they keep a close eye on the power usage. A paranoid eye. The laptop had only been charging for a short time when I heard them coming around, stomping footsteps punctuated by the opening and closing of doors. I was quick to pack it all away and be busy with restacking a medical cabinet by the time they got to me, hoping that they couldn’t tell how quickly my heart was racing.

The pair of cutouts did a quick check of the room and I get the feeling that they didn’t miss much. I keep the laptop’s little metal case under my jacket; so far, no-one has noticed it. Tonight was no exception. I’m so glad that it’s still chilly enough to wear my jacket inside.

I asked them if everything was all right and they assured me that it was nothing to worry about. I can’t help but wonder why a tiny blip in power usage prompts such a thorough response, but they didn’t mention it so I couldn’t ask. Feigning ignorance can be a pain sometimes.


They were turning to leave when I had to stop them. The pair exchanged a few muttered words that caught my attention and sent the rolls of bandages I was sorting onto the floor.

The reason I was repacking the cabinet was that we’d had patients in the infirmary today. Five men of varying ages, all with similar injuries – bruises and scrapes, mostly. They said there’d been an accident and a stack of equipment had toppled over. Simon and I exchanged a glance and agreed silently; we both know the signs of a fight when we see it. We’ve treated too many fist-marks to believe that boxes did it. At least they were original enough not to include doors or stairs in their story.

After they had been patched up and sent back to their duties, I asked Simon why they would lie about the fighting. He shrugged and said it happened sometimes. There were punishments for disturbing the peace of Haven, so the smaller altercations were often allowed to fly under the official radar. When I asked him how often, he said it happened maybe once a week.

That seems like a lot to me. Simon seems to think it’s minor, and until the cutouts came to try to find my power leech, I had no reason to disagree. Their comment was innocuous enough – one said something about groups with animalistic names bringing all the troublemakers, and the other replied, “Sharks aren’t animals, y’know.”

I went cold all over, as if I’d just tumbled into icy waves and there was a fin heading my way. Bandages bounced on the floor when I rushed to snag one of the cutouts.

“Did you say ‘Sharks’? There are Sharks here?”

The soldier looked put out by my intensity, or possibly my grip on his arm. “Yeah. Not the fish, though. It’s just–”

“I know who they are.” I remember tearing my friends out of their jaws. I remember how long it took him to get his grin back. “Were they behind the fight today?”

“Probably. One of them’s usually involved.”

I was cold and my heart was beating all wrong. I didn’t know what to say next, so I let the guy go and muttered a quick thanks. Sharks, here. Somehow they’d made it all this way. All I could think about was whether Matt knew, if he had seen them yet. If they’d found and turned on him again.

If it hadn’t been raining, I would have gone to find him straight away. After the rain, it was too dark and I didn’t know where he would be in the dorms. I don’t know how safe it is for a girl to be creeping around in there at night; I think that would be asking for more trouble than I could handle on my own.

I have to find him. I have to find out where he’s working, or hang around the dining hall until his eating shift comes. I have to see him, talk to him. I have to know if it’s as bad as I fear.

The General may have segregated us, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. I’ve never hated being separated from my friends as much as I do right now. I just want to know he’s all right.

Thursday, 17 September 2009 - 10:07 pm


I thought it was strange that the General never asked me about the other people we had encountered in our travels. I had assumed that he had already talked with the other Seekers, but I checked with Jersey this morning, and they were never asked either.

I thought that the army was all about debriefing, but that doesn’t seem to have happened at all. They’re sending out their message, calling for survivors to come, but they’re not actively seeking anyone. The only groups they know about are the ones that make it to the gates and the rumours that circulate over dinner. I had worried about our friends at the university being found out, but we haven’t even been asked. There’s something missing there, something that doesn’t quite make sense. I don’t like that there are gaps I can’t fill; they make me unsettled.

I should go to the General and ask him. At this rate, I’m going to have a list of questions as long as my leg by the time I get to his office again.


I spent most of the day trying to find Matt. I showed my face in the infirmary and volunteered to go beat on the bedding until it was clean. Once outside, I slipped away and headed down towards the boys’ dorms. I felt bad, shirking my duties, but my friend’s safety and happiness are far higher in my personal list of priorities.

I found Dale first, carrying equipment between buildings. He was so surprised to see me that he nearly dropped the chunk of metal he was transporting, and I gave him a hand with it while we talked. It was heavy and twisted; I have no idea what the thing was supposed to be, but it needed to be moved into one of the big warehouses, so that’s what we did.

Dale was as cheerful and easy-going as ever. I think some of it was put on for my benefit but he assured me that the rest of my boys were doing okay. They’d seen a couple of fights but were staying clear of them so far. Thorpe was over working with the mechanics; Dan and Matt were on roof repair duty; and Terry was working around the stores and warehouse-buildings with Dale, mostly moving equipment and materials around.

We put down the chunk of metal and he told me to go back to the infirmary. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I refused to turn away and Dale reluctantly pointed me towards where Matt was supposed to be working. I felt eyes on me as I headed in that direction, but I straightened my shoulders and strode. I have no reason to skulk and hide, and there were cutouts lounging around anyway.

There was no-one on the rooftop when I got there. I wandered around for a while, poking at stuff while I looked for my friend. They seem to be building something in there, but I can’t imagine what. It’s a conglomeration of so many things, bits of engines and plumbing, most of it unrecognisable now. Looking at it for too long gave me a headache, so I went outside to search again.

I wandered around a corner and found the garages, all banging and engines revving. I hadn’t gone three steps before someone grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. I was about to protest when I recognised the smudged shape looming over me, with its angry scowl and short, sharp words.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

I couldn’t help it – I grinned at him. Thorpe never changes. “Looking for Matt. Have you seen him?”

“Not lately. You have to go.”

I refused and we argued about it briefly. Thorpe was determined that I was going to go back to the infirmary – he even threatened to smack me around the head if that would keep me there. Eventually, he cracked and said that it wasn’t safe for me – he’s starting to sound as paranoid as the General in that respect – and marched me towards the courtyard I had come from. I tried to tell him that it was important and he demanded to know why.

“I have to tell him something.” I realised then that Matt probably already knew about the Sharks. The men’s dorms were a lot bigger than the women’s, but he must have already crossed paths with them. “I have to make sure he’s okay.”

“He’s fine. Go on, go. Shoo.”

I couldn’t talk him around. Finally, I managed to convince him to take Matt a message for me. Just to let him know that I heard there were Sharks here, and that I’m worried. When I mentioned the name, Thorpe went quiet. He understood, but while the big fireman might sympathise, he won’t ever show it.

“It’s in hand,” he told me, then refused to elaborate even when I insisted and shook his arm in frustration. He just firmly detached my hold on him and placed me in the doorway, positioning me like a doll. “I’ll tell him to come see you. Will that stop you from doing something stupid?”

“Probably not.” I was feeling belligerent by that point. “But it might help,” I added, in case he changed his mind. Then I confused him by giving him a hug. Dammit, I’d missed the stupid great lump and the way he orders me about protectively. He doesn’t give much away, but I trust him. He’ll look out for Matt. My best friend’s not on his own any more.


So now here I am, back to waiting and wondering, and worrying. I don’t have anything better to do.

Maybe that face I saw but didn’t see, the figure I glimpsed on the day we arrived here, maybe that was one of the Sharks. Maybe that’s why I called out, why I was so frantic. The splinter of memory I have doesn’t taste like that. It doesn’t taste like panic, or dread. But it’s so tiny and twisted that I can hardly tell, like a shard of black glass turned over in my hands too many times. I don’t know which way up it goes any more.

I should ask the General for a list of Haven’s people. There might be others we know here. I can only hope that if there are, we’re on better terms with them than we are with the Sharks.

Friday, 18 September 2009 - 8:28 pm

Against the flow

I spent most of last night worrying about what was going on in the boys’ dorms and what exactly ‘it’s in hand’ means. Knowing that I couldn’t do anything about it didn’t help. I want to fix it, I want to make it better, but I can’t. I have to trust that my friends will do what’s best but I’m scared for them. I’d feel better if I could just hold their hands in all of this.

There are things closer to home that I can do something about. Like Jersey’s unhappiness with sanitation duty. So I distracted myself with that today.

I almost asked Simon about it, but he hasn’t spoken to me much since the whole shambler-in-the-basement thing. Instead, I talked to Peter, the nurse, and he said that they probably put her there to shut her up. Even he knows that she’s got the wrong kind of mouth to fit in anywhere, and I don’t think he’s met her yet. It makes me wonder where he hears these things. Who does he talk to when he’s not here among the injured brawlers and bandages?

“Maybe if she tried to toe the line, she wouldn’t be given the shitty jobs.” Peter thought he was funny. I couldn’t summon up a smile for him.

He also thought that I was only using Jersey as an excuse to speak to him, and spent most of the rest of the day following me around and indulging in tired innuendos. He kept going on about ‘playing nice’ and ‘stroking people the right way’. He didn’t nudge or wink, but he did waggle his eyebrows at me once. Flirting is the last thing on my mind right now but he seems harmless enough; he’s like a puppy desperate for permission to hump my leg. I didn’t put him off as strongly as I probably should have.


I caught up with Jersey over dinner. I didn’t say so, but she’s starting to smell of her work, even over the usual miasma of unwashed bodies and unappetising food.

“Toe the line? Who the fuck do you think I am?” She was as impressed with the suggestion as I thought she’d be. “It’s bullying – that’s what it is. Don’t go here, don’t say that. Do exactly as we say or else. I don’t have to take this bullshit.”

I wish that I disagreed or disapproved of her more strongly; it would have given my arguments strength. Instead, I just asked her to think about it, maybe try it for a couple of days and see what happens. In hindsight, this was probably the best approach; Jersey likes to do what Jersey likes to do, and she prefers her own choices over orders every time, no matter how arbitrary or spiteful she might decide to be that day. Maybe if she thinks it’s her idea, she’ll do it.

I hope it works. I haven’t heard what they do with people who refuse to work (other than give them sanitation duty), and I’m not sure I want to find out.

Come to think of it, there’s a lot that I haven’t heard about this place. Like what that machine in the warehouse is and what it is we’re all working so hard for. I don’t know the philosophy or purpose of Haven – maybe it’s nothing lofty or even complicated, but I’d like to know all the same.

Ever since I got out of the infirmary, I feel like I’ve been playing catchup. Even the other Seekers were settled into their places by then. If there was any kind of induction or welcoming speech, I missed it. I was just thrown into the mix and expected to swim with the rest of the shoal. I haven’t blindly followed anything but agreed goals since the bomb went off – no ‘please keep left’, no waiting for the green man to cross, no neat queues enforced by social niceties. We’ve made our own way and our own rules. Now, here we are in this strange shard of the time Before and suddenly there are laws and expectations that no-one explains. Not the same ones as there were Before, though. New ones.

I want explanations. I want reasons. I want to feel like a part of something, not just bowled along by other people’s orders.

I’m like Jersey, I guess, except that I don’t express it in the same way. She bitches and swears at anyone within reach – she’d take part in the fights if she could – while I try to find answers to my questions.

I haven’t been able to find or help Matt, but maybe I’ll be able to find the General and some purpose in all of this arbitrary action. I’m going to stick my head above the waves and see where this shoal is heading.

Saturday, 19 September 2009 - 7:47 pm

The big picture

I heard a rumour today. I heard that Jersey had been moved off sanitation duty – it was noteworthy enough that the others who share her work were talking about it over dinner. She must have taken my suggestion to play nice, and late in the day it paid off.

Hopefully she’ll keep playing the game in her new role. I think she’s helping move some stores – one of the buildings needs shoring up against the rain, and they’re moving the contents in the meantime. I think that’s a purpose we can all get behind.

I’ve asked around, but no-one seems to know what the machine they’re building in the warehouse is for. It’s essential to our survival and our future – several people told me that, but they couldn’t tell me how or why. It doesn’t have a name. Don’t worry about it, they said. There’s a plan, one to keep us going, and that’s part of it. The General’s got it all in hand. The army has plans for when things like the bomb happen. Contingencies. They’ll make sure we all get through this.

To what? I didn’t ask but it hung over me like a personal stormcloud, cluttering up my shadow until I felt it following me.

I’m sure that I would be happier if I let these questions go, if I could just accept that this place offers survival, maybe even a future. Once up on a time, I would have. I would have trusted what someone in charge told me and carried on my merry way.

I’ve been in charge. I know that sometimes you have to make things up and fake it until you know what really is the best thing to do. I know that you don’t always have everything you need to make the right choice. It’s not some infallible, all-knowing position – it’s being the one to step forward and speak first, it’s thinking on your feet and diving in the direction that looks best at the time. It’s acting with so much more confidence than you feel that other people will follow you.

I’m glad I’m not in charge of all these people. I tried to work out just how many people there are here in Haven. Two hundred – three, maybe. So many lives, so many things to manage and control. I struggled with twenty-something.

At the same time, I’m not ready to let go. Returning to trust and ignorance isn’t as simple or easy as it sounds.

I can’t imagine how the General has dealt with it all this time, but I guess he’s used this stuff. He’s trained for it. He had control when the bomb went off and so I guess it was easy for him to just keep going. He leads because he’s leading and others follow.

The more I think about the General and what happened all those months ago, the more questions I have. He must know what happened – what really happened, why the bombs were set off, who did it. They didn’t attack the army base; they went for the cities, taking out civilians. There’s no war – the only fighting that’s going on is between ourselves and for base survival. The army is right here, not off on some front. I think if there was a war, it was over the second the bombs went off, or maybe the first time the rain fell.

The only invasion we’re suffering is by the shamblers. Who would bother invading here? Even we don’t want to be here.

The other question is just how many cities were hit. How much of the world was taken out, how much of it has had the poison spread over it, blotting out the sun and burning away everything green and good below? Have have they left us to our fate or aren’t they able to come?

So many questions. I should write a list.

The cutouts wouldn’t let me in to see him today. I got sent away with hard looks, and a leer from one of the soldiers. I’m not that easily put off (or turned on), though.

The General walks the compound every day but, just before the rain comes, he returns to his office. All I need to do is get into the admin building before the rain hits and then he won’t be able to get rid of me for a few hours. I’ll just have to see if I can get him to listen, and then to talk.

It’s not like I’m asking for a lot. Just for answers. Just to know what’s going on, in my life, in the lives of my friends. I have a right to that.

Then why am I so nervous?

Sunday, 20 September 2009 - 8:46 pm

Shark attack

While I was worrying about the big picture, smaller pictures, much closer to home, collided while I wasn’t looking. As a result, the infirmary was full, and most of the patients were my friends.

I was getting ready to slip into the admin building when they started coming in. One minute the infirmary was as echoingly silent as always; the next the door banged open and it was full of voices calling and bodies helping each other inside.

I didn’t recognise the first couple, but then I saw Terry holding a hand over his eye, and Dale behind him with blood on his face. I stopped abruptly when I saw Thorpe hauling someone along with him; I knew who it was even before I saw him. And I knew suddenly who those first two were.

“Is this your idea of ‘in hand’?” My first words to Thorpe weren’t kind. My heart was beating all out of rhythm as I helped him get Matt onto a bed. There was a lot of blood on both of them.

“He’s been stabbed,” Thorpe told me and I saw the cloth tied around Matt’s leg. I shouted for Simon through the lump rising in my throat. I had to blink rapidly to see past the denial in my head – all I could hear was ‘no, this can’t be happening, no’.

Then Matt grabbed my hand and I looked at him. His face looked terrible, cut and swelling already. He tried to say something, but he couldn’t get his split lip to work properly. I shushed him, tried to soothe him, told him it would be okay. I stroked his hair and squeezed his hand. I hoped so badly that I wasn’t lying to him.

Then Simon was there, nudging me out of the way, and Peter stepped in to help. The medic told me to see to the others and I stumbled off to do that. Anything but standing there uselessly while my best friend was in trouble and pain. Anything but looking at his battered face.

Thorpe waved me off, so I went to assess the damage on Dale and Terry. They had been victims of fists and feet, not blades; I think Matt was the only one who was victim to a knife. From the looks of the boys’ hands, they gave as good as they got. Both of them were quiet and unhappy, one of them refusing to look at anyone and the other sneaking worried glances at Thorpe. With no ice, the best I could do was clean them up and give them a damp rag to put on their swollen eyes and lips. I knew that the cutouts would scowl about wasting that much water but I really didn’t care.

By the time I was done with them, Simon was working on one of the Sharks. He said that Matt had lost a lot of blood, but he should be all right. He’d been given something for the pain and was asleep.

One of the Sharks was unconscious; another was splattered in blood, but I don’t know whose. The third was nursing his arm – possibly a broken wrist. I tried to feel sorry for them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Finally, I went to look at Thorpe. He was standing stiffly between Matt and Dale’s beds, glowering at everyone. He shook his head when I went to start cleaning him up, but there was something in his face. The set of his jaw, the pallor to his skin. There was something wrong but he didn’t want to admit it there in the open infirmary. Damn him and his pride.

“Fine. If you’re all right, you can help me get more supplies,” I said and dragged him off into a side room. Closing the door behind us, I told him to sit on the gurney in there. To my surprise, he did as he was told.

He was hurt a lot more than he let on. Even after I’d cleaned up his face and hands, he still seemed taut and pained. I had to make him take his shirt off before I found the reason: his side was a mess of purple and black. He stopped me when I went to fetch Simon and said he didn’t want anyone else to know. Not even Dale; maybe especially not Dale.

I’m nowhere near as good at that kind of thing as the medic is, but I did my best. Thorpe was willing to put up with my clumsiness while I tried to figure out if anything was broken. He’s got a couple of cracked ribs, maybe worse, but nothing too dangerous. I strapped him up thoroughly just in case.

“What happened?” I asked him while I worked. I didn’t think he’d tell me anything out there with the others.

For a moment, I didn’t think he was going to tell me at all. “I don’t know how it started,” he said finally. My mind started to fill in unpleasant possibilities but he continued, “I think they went after Terry.”

That wasn’t one of the options I was considering. “Terry?” He’s just a kid. I managed to feel even more sick about the whole thing. I thought Terry was just quiet, shocked because of the fight, but it could easily be more than that.

“We had words with them days ago. We thought it was sorted. Then I went to see what all the noise was about and found them fighting. Matt was already there.”

“So you waded in to help out.”


I looked up at his face and his frown, and there was a sudden pain in my chest. I haven’t always agreed with Thorpe, but I’ve never regretted trusting him. He’s like a big brother, protective as a bear, and I know he got battered so badly because he took the heat off our friends. I would have hugged him if it wouldn’t have hurt him. Instead, I said I was sorry for shouting at him and felt so wretched I wanted to burst into tears.

Thorpe looked at me like I was about to do something unsettling and went on in case words could avert it. “It was going all right until one of the Sharks pulled the knife. Then a simple punch-up turned into a….”



I took a deep breath and felt less like crying. “Is it going to always be like this?”

“With them?” Thorpe shrugged with his mouth; it was too painful to move his shoulders. I had to help him put his shirt back on. “Maybe. We’ll see.”


When we went back out into the infirmary proper – with Thorpe carrying fresh bandages – there was a cadre of cutouts cluttering up the place and the General standing in the centre. The Sharks were in the middle of blaming the whole thing on the Seekers, while Simon and Peter stood on the sidelines and wiped the blood off their hands.

“You don’t believe their bullshit, I hope,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” The General was, apparently, not having a good day. I wasn’t in the mood to sympathise. He ordered all of those who didn’t require further medical attention back to their respective dorms before the rain came. He gave me a pointed look and I just as pointedly went to stand by Matt’s bed. I exchanged a glance with Thorpe, and the big fireman gave me his burden of bandages on his way to rejoining the other Seekers. He’ll look after Dale and Terry.

The infirmary emptied out after that. I wanted to talk to the General but that really wasn’t the time and I didn’t want to leave Matt again. Simon said that I didn’t have to stay, but I think he knew that it was pointless trying to get me to leave. He and Peter moved the unconscious Shark into another room, which meant that I didn’t have to look at the damned guy across the room.

I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have helped with more than the cleanup. I wish I knew how to fix this. I want to beat into them how wrong all of this is. I want to shout at them until they understand. Even I know that it’s pointless.

Matt’s still asleep. Whatever Simon gave him really put him out, but at least he’s not in pain. I’m still sitting beside him, returning the favour that he did for me when we got here. Not that I need to; neither of us keeps track of that kind of thing. He’s hurt so I’m here.

I hope he wakes soon.

Monday, 21 September 2009 - 10:44 pm

Tell me something

I finally got a chance to talk to Matt this morning. His swollen lip forces him to mumble and he can only see me out of one eye right now, but he seems to be doing all right.

I filled him in on what happened after Simon put him out, let him know that the others are okay. He and Thorpe took the worst of it and the Sharks came off badly. I didn’t mention the General’s appearance or the questions about the fight; there’s no point worrying him just yet. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to worry about repercussions once he’s back on his feet or at least able to form audible sentences.

I had to ask him about what happened. The subject stood like an elephant between us; we both knew that it needed to be aired.

“Did they go after Terry?” There wasn’t any point beating around the bush on this.

His visible eye went hard and unhappy – not a look I’ve seen on my friend before. He nodded stiffly. I held his hand loosely, unable to grip him because of the wrappings around his bruised, torn knuckles. “Couldn’t get to me,” he said.

I looked at him and saw what he meant, saw the cogs turning under his skin. My stomach went cold and I shook my head. “Matt, it wasn’t your fault.”

His glance away disagreed with me. He believed that because they couldn’t get to him, they went after his weaker friend instead. To punish him, to prove that he wasn’t as untouchable as he’d like to make out. Poor Terry never knew to protect himself from that.

“You didn’t do this,” I told him. “They did. You did nothing wrong, nothing at all. It’s not your fault.”

He didn’t answer. I couldn’t stand seeing him like that, beaten and still punishing himself. He hardly looks like the boy I grew up with, the one I’ve known forever.

“You stopped them.” I kept speaking because I hated the silence between us. “Before they– I mean, Terry, they didn’t hurt him badly.” I hoped I was right. Terry hadn’t seemed badly hurt when I checked him over – he’d been hit and his hands were the least damaged of everyone involved, but that was it. I didn’t want to put the possibility of rape into words, but luckily I didn’t need to. Neither of us wanted that spelled out, as if hearing it made it more real, more tangible.

“Yeah,” he mumbled to me, sighing. We were both relieved.

“So, you saved him.”

He glanced at me, unwilling to unbend from his guilt, but his fingers wiggled at my hand lightly. That was enough on that. “Was coming to see you.” It sounded like a change of subject but I wasn’t sure.

“Who was? You?”

He nodded. That was the only reason he came across Terry and the Sharks; he was on his way here. I don’t like to think about luck like that.

“Well, for future reference, you don’t have to go getting yourself stabbed just to see me. Next time, fake a sniffle, okay?”

He blinked at me, and then he groaned. I’m not sure if he said ‘ow’ or ‘cow’, but I am sure that he was laughing, at least a little bit. I was close enough for him to ruffle my hair with his fingertips and I grinned at him. That was better. That was more like my Matt.

Next thing I knew, he was grappling at my hand, awkwardly because of his bound knuckles. “Wanted to tell you somethin’,” he said.

He sounded so intent that my smile faded. I remembered him trying to talk to me yesterday when he had just got here, and I watched him struggling to get the words out with a growing sense of dread. “What is it? I’m here, Matt. What’s wrong?”

He shook his head and I think he tried to smile, but it was hard to tell with his fat lip. “Not wrong. S’good. Promise. You gotta come with me somewhere.”

“What, now? You’re not going anywhere, mister.”

“Soon.” He looked so proud of himself, but he was tapping the back of my hand with his fingertips the way I like, so I couldn’t hold it against him.

“Simon says you’ll be in bed for a few days.”

He gave a little whine. “Stop makin’ me laugh. Hurts.”


“Simon says? You five?”

“It’s the medic’s name!” I couldn’t help it; by then, I was giggling too.


I poked fun at him until he begged me to stop – it really did hurt – and then I went and did my rounds for the day. I avoided the Shark’s room; he was awake and I didn’t want to have to suppress the urge to smack him.

The other Seekers came back for fresh dressings, fresh from a grilling by the cutouts. They have soldiers in the dorms, making sure the peace is nailed down, but somehow that’s not a great reassurance. No-one has come to talk to Matt yet, but I think Simon had something to do with that. I’m hoping that the General comes down to do it; I haven’t forgotten my list and he won’t get away from me so easily again.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my best friend company and trying to help him forget how much pain he’s in. If I have to sleep in that chair again, I’m going to wake up cricked.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009 - 9:15 pm

Care and feeding, part three

Simon warned me that scuffles happen a lot around here, but I had no idea it would be this often. At least the latest one had nothing to do with the Sharks, though it had everything to do with someone getting screwed.

I feel like I’m on the fringes of a war zone. I’m unable to see the action; all I get are second-hand accounts and graphic images of the aftermath. I’m frustrated with all of it – I’d rather be out there trying to fix it than in here patching up afterwards. I don’t know if I could fix any of it, but at least I’d feel less useless in the face of all the hurt I’m seeing.


They came in in the early hours of the morning. Luckily, I was dozing next to Matt’s bed and if I’m honest, I was glad of the distraction. Watching him sleep is painful; when he’s awake, I can forget what happened in my attempts to keep his spirits up, but when he’s asleep, all I can see is the damage. His discoloured, swollen face that doesn’t look like him at all. It’s starting to go down now, but it still tugs at me to see him like that.

I had to send one of the escorts to get Simon and Peter up. It was more than I was comfortable handling on my own – bumps and bruises are fine, but I worry about the injuries that aren’t so easy to see. Internal bleeding, concussion, cracked bones – the boys are better at spotting those than I am.

There were three beaten boys this time – one army cutout and two civilians. Their injuries told me the story of what happened; sometimes it bothers me that I’m so used to reading these things. The youngest fella had a bust nose that had bled everywhere but his hands were unmarred – he hadn’t thrown a single punch and was probably an unlucky bystander that got smacked in the confusion. The other civilian seems to have taken the worst of it – it looked like someone used a bar to hit him. He was conscious but had several long, nasty bruises across his arms and shoulders from trying to defend his head.

At the time, I didn’t think it was the cutout that did it – the three exchanged looks a couple of times, and there was no enmity in any of it. From what I can tell, the cutout stepped in to pull the attacker off the civilian.

I didn’t ask who that fourth party was; it was more interesting listening to their mutterings. They didn’t say much, but the cutout did spit out something about a ‘bitch’. I tried not to be amused at their grumpiness that a girl could do something like this. It was funny because even after nine months of scrabbling and scraping to survive, they still had no idea what people were really capable of. They’ve been in Haven for too long.


It was a short while later that the culprit turned up, marched in by a pair of soldiers. Her face was marred by blood but I knew that defiant glare. My stomach clenched as I went to relieve the cutouts of their burden and eased her onto a bed. Jersey.

None of the injuries were serious, though there were a couple of head wounds that bled impressively. Lumps and vivid bruises painted pictures of exchanged aggression. No-one said anything, not even the Seeker when I asked her. She just glared at me, her anger aimed at the whole world while her jaw clenched down on the pain. She hunched over awkwardly but wouldn’t let anyone check her out. I had to wait until morning and a chance to get her alone before she’d let me help her.

After the midnight flurry of activity, the infirmary settled down into an uneasy rest. Not long after breakfast, a couple of cutouts – higher-ranking ones, from the stripes on their arms – came to question the latest combatants. The fellas had short interviews and were released back into the wild. Jersey was the last one they went to talk to, and they got a whole lot of nothing out of her. She does a good impression of a baleful rock when she wants to.


It was a little before lunch when the General came in. He spoke with the interviewers, looking grave. He tried to talk to Jersey as well but her lips were not parting for anyone. I went over to try to snag the General before he left, and he rounded on me with a scowl to outdo the ex-Wolverine.

“Why is it always your people causing trouble? If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

“It’s my people being attacked by everyone else here!”

“If you would just stick to the rules–”

“What rules! The ones no-one tells us about?”

“Yeah, tell her about the ‘rule’ that got your boy in trouble. Go on,” Jersey said, getting up to limp over to us. “Tell her about how you’re whoring us out to the men.”

I was so stunned that I couldn’t speak. I stared at the General, waiting for him to deny it. At the edges of the room, the officers and medics looked on.

“It is not that simple,” he said with weighty calm.

“Then explain it to us,” I said.

He huffed, but he sent the others out of the room so that he could speak to us alone. He explained shortly that there were five men to every one woman here, and if there wasn’t some provision for physical pleasure, then they would make their own. So they have a system. It was expected of the women to keep the men quiet. It would be worse for everyone if they didn’t.

I felt sick as he explained it. I remembered that night I saw a group of men crossing the courtyard towards the girls’ dorms. I remembered the General’s comment when I arrived about how he hoped to have more kids for the school soon. I hadn’t realised that he intended to make them.

I asked him what would happen if we refused. He said that the whole point was to avoid rape. It was for the greater good. I saw then what he had done; he had made the girls responsible for sending some of their number to entertain the troops. Those who didn’t want to would be pressured from both sides. It made my head spin to think about.

“But it doesn’t work,” Jersey said. The marks on her were testament to that.

“It works better than the alternative. Without it, this place would tear itself apart at the seams.” That was all the General had to say on the matter. He said that he would consider suitable punishments for those involved; then he said goodbye and walked out, ignoring my pleas for him to wait.

I told Jersey that I was sorry, feeling awful just thinking about what happened, but she shook her head at me. “Wasn’t me he tried it on.”

I didn’t need her to say any more; I knew her well enough to read the truth. She had heard the commotion and found a girl in trouble, and she’d stepped in, as blunt and straightforward as always. She had spent months running with the Wolverines; she knew how to handle herself in a brawl. The girl ran off during the fight and Jersey won’t say who it was. All I could get out of her was that it wasn’t Tia.


I don’t know what to do with myself now. I’m glad Matt’s here – he means that I don’t have to go back to the dorms. I don’t want to go back – I don’t want to look at those women and wonder whose turn it is tonight. I don’t want them to ask me when I’m stepping up to take part. I don’t want to do it. Not like that.

All I can think about is footsteps crossing the courtyard outside, furtive movements in a dark building next to the girls’ dorms. We’re making so many compromises to be here, siphoning pieces of ourselves off here and there to fit into this mould.

How will we know if we’ve compromised away everything that makes us who we are?