Thursday, 13 August 2009 - 6:26 pm

Our own saviours

The ECC went dark today. I think we’ve got as much from it as we’re going to get. We didn’t want to waste any more fuel on keeping it alive; we don’t know when we’ll get to another gas station and be able to fill our cans up.

We have answered the burning questions we had: where everyone went; what happened to the organisation and official channels that were supposed to help us. We know where they went, but we don’t know if they made it. What happened to them is the same that happened to all of us – the rain, the lack of supplies, and most likely the Sickness and shamblers too.

We know now that there’s no-one coming. No-one is looking for survivors, because that’s all that’s left now and the mirror is close enough. Maybe there’s a government tucked away somewhere, buried in a bunker with three years’ worth of supplies. With no sign of them, they might as well not be there at all.

There’s still the army base. There’s a hope there, growing slimmer by the second. Why aren’t they scanning the air waves? Why haven’t they answered any of our transmissions? Every establishment we have hoped on has turned out to be empty: first the hospital and now here. I think I’m too tired to rest my hopes on that any more. I can’t take any more disappointments.

We’re on our own. Life, death, what little is left of morality – it’s all up to us now. We’re our own higher authority; we’re our own saviours. We’re all each other has got.


That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to see what’s at the base, though. We talked about it while we waited for the storm to blow itself out and all of us want to continue on to Greenberry. If nothing else, there is the signal. There’s power to send it and that has to come from somewhere. There must be something there.

I asked if we could go back up before we head down the mountain again. I wanted to see the sky, to imprint it on my brain before we were cut off completely again. There was a note of relief in the group; after the bleakness of the revelations here, we all need that comfort.

The storm cleared about midday – it’s hard to tell with all this fog, but it felt like midday – and we took whatever we could find that might be of use to us. There wasn’t much; the ECC workers did a good job of evacuating the supplies when they left.

Before we closed the doors behind us, we tacked a note just inside so that whoever came here after us would know where we’ve gone. So they wouldn’t have to search and wonder.


We have spent the rest of the day on the mountaintop, stunned by all the space after spending a couple of days inside windowless walls. We can see the storm circling off to the west, the thunderheads reaching up much higher than we are. It looks like it’s trying to scrub the stained clouds away, but it’s not having much luck.

As focussed as we have been on finding official organisation, we haven’t forgotten what our next destination is. We have to go south a short way to the place where Dillon’s family fled to. To look for them and hope they’re still there. I don’t think any of us can bear the thought of another empty building telling tales of people long gone.

I spent most of the day sitting with the kid; he’s quiet with nerves now that we’re close to his aunt’s house. He’s afraid to hope they’re there and excited at the same time. It’s worse than when we went to his home – I think the wait has made this carrot seem even more precious and distant than the last one.

The boys kicked his ball around on the mountaintop under the setting sun, and he joined in. He’s still slow and relying on his crutches, but the fellas were kind with him. He hobbled back to me with a grin, flushed and needing a rest. It’s good to see him that way. But that grin faded when he sat down, so abruptly that I asked him what was wrong.

“I’m gonna miss you if I stay with my folks,” he said, then stammered to correct himself. “All of you. Everyone. It’s gonna be strange.”

I wrapped both arms around his shoulders and told him that we’ll miss him too. It made me feel heavy inside; of all of these strangers I’ve grown to like and love, he has been with me the longest. I don’t want to think about him not being in the group.

He was quiet for a little while, then he asked, “What if I don’t want to stay with them?”

It wasn’t something that had occurred to me as a possibility. “That’s up to you,” I told him. “No-one’s going to make you stay there.”

“My dad might. And you guys’ll be able to move faster without me.” He tapped a crutch on the split that bound his healing leg.

I know that kind of doubt and fear; I’ve had those thoughts myself, eating away at me while no-one’s looking. I made him look at me, right in the eye so he would know I was telling the truth. “You’ll always have a place with us. We’re not looking to dump you.”

He nodded and looked glum, so I’m not sure if he believed me. Then the boys called him away to play soccer with them and I joined in too, running and shoving with the rest of them. It felt good to get breathless and laugh with them. Even silent Dan joined in, and I know I saw Thorpe grinning like a kid.

The moon has come up tonight, so bright that we don’t need flashlights at all. The sun is watching us from the other side of the world through that great, waning mirror. It’s a comforting thought. We need all we can get of those as we move towards tomorrow.

Friday, 14 August 2009 - 10:22 pm


We said our farewells to the sky this morning, quietly and with much gazing. We waited a while for the ice to clear down below, we checked and re-checked the doors and windows on the way down, in case the seals weren’t keeping all the moisture out. The acid encroached on the ECC and is wearing it down, and we don’t know how much tougher these vehicles are. Then we all took a deep breath and dove into the cloudbank

The way down the mountain was painfully slow. First, there were icy roads to contend with – either we didn’t give it enough time to melt or it has been colder lately, I’m not sure. My hands ache from spending so long clutching the steering wheel and trying to feel whether the tyres were gripping or sliding. Then there were the obstacles to deal with, more vehicles to push out of our path or edge around. I cursed them until the campervan went into a slide and an abandoned car was all that saved us from a drop right over the edge. We bumped off the other car and back on course, and I swore words Dillon hasn’t heard before. The bumped vehicle slid sideways off the road and clattered a few times. I didn’t look back.

My heart was thrashing all the way. Thorpe offered to drive the campervan a couple of times, to give me a rest, and the second time I agreed. The offroaders are so much more solid on the road. Even so, my arms are sore from the tension and hauling vehicles around, especially my bandaged one. The one with the healing cuts carved into it.

The van looks like it’s been through the wars, bumped and dented and scraped. There haven’t been any wars for our vehicles, just the end of the world and acid ice that’s slowly polishing the tyres. I feel like we made it to the bottom in one piece after leaving swathes of skin behind on the rocky mountainside. I’m not eager to have a journey like that again.


But we made it; here we are, sitting underneath a low orange sky and listening to the rain. It’s too dark to see the clouds there but I know they’re there, hovering just a short way above us and heavy with poison.

We found a small town – a handful of buildings clustered together around a junction. They’ve been thoroughly pillaged, but at least the roofs are solid and not leaking yet. There aren’t any signs of anyone alive here, but we’re used to that. It feels like so long since we saw someone who wasn’t in our group, or on our side. Someone who wasn’t a shambler.

I wonder if they’re truly dead. Ben had a pulse, albeit a very slow one. Doesn’t that technically mean life? But it’s not living. Being a shambler is being dead in so many other ways. Ben was some halfway thing – maybe that’s what made him snap in the end. Maybe that’s what made me snap. I try to imagine what it was like for him and something in me fails.

I don’t want to think about him. There’s too much there and I’m so tired. The boys are talking about changing the cars around tomorrow, letting other people drive. I look at Dillon and I can’t put him in a car with someone else; the two of us will stay together, at least. He needs the support. But a break from driving will be nice.

It’s later than I thought. No wonder I started pondering the true definition of ‘life’. Sometimes I wonder if this laptop keeps proper time – the hours seem to slip away from me in the dark.

Time to turn in, before something else slips away from me in the dark.

Saturday, 15 August 2009 - 9:49 pm


We shouldn’t have stopped today. It seemed so harmless. Another gathering of buildings by the roadside, our supplies running low; just a quick stop, that was all. Just a quick stop.

I don’t know where they came from. We were spread out, everyone checking the buildings for anything of value to us. I think Dan saw them first; he was the first one I heard shouting. They were stumbling over the slope above the little town, tripping over rocks and falling down. Dirt skittered down around them – that should have been our first warning.

I counted heads as the group emerged into the street to see what was happening. The shamblers were still a way off, so we decided to complete our search before we left. They’re slow and we were sure we’d have time.

Once upon a time, there were trees on these hills, and grass with its tiny roots, binding it all together. The rain scoured all of that away. There are no trees, or grass, or roots. Nothing to hold it all together. The messy weight of the shamblers was enough to bring it all down.

My first thought was that another storm was coming. Then I realised the rumbling was under my feet and shivering up the walls. I looked up and the whole world was sliding.

I think I screamed. Then there was running, everyone running away. Except Thorpe – he ran back towards the rolling hillside that was coming down to meet us. I shouted at him and looked back. Dale was behind us, just in front of the first building the dirt swept over. I saw him go under, dragged into the wave feet-first.

I ran harder. I couldn’t help it – I just had to get away. Everything was pounding so hard I didn’t even notice the rocks pinging on my back. Then I was thrown down and everything washed over me. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to curl up into a ball, but I couldn’t do that, either.

Then it was over. I pushed myself up and spat out foul grit, and couldn’t believe there was air. My eyes were streaming; I had to scrub them before they’d work properly. Then I saw an arm near me and went to pull it up. It was Terry, coughing and struggling to get up. We stumbled around, trying to find everyone. I ticked names off in my head – Matt, Dan, Tia. Thorpe struggling out of the press of dirt and rocks, shouting so desperately. Dillon fought with the door to a store to get it open, hobbling out on one crutch and looking so worried. He was the only one of us inside when it happened; the rest of us got caught in the tail-end of the landslide.

Except Dale. I haven’t seen Thorpe so frantic since the diner when the rain first came down. It took us minutes to find where the ex-Wolverine was buried, and longer to dig him out. He was unconscious, unmoving. I had to push the fireman out of the way so I could check his pulse and his breathing. His mouth was full of dirt.

I’ve never actually done CPR before except on the training dummies. My hands shook and I had no idea if I was doing it right. The breaths made me dizzy. I kept counting and counting to get the ratios right – breaths and compressions, breaths and compressions. I’m not sure when he came around. Someone pulled me back and I landed on my backside, blinking away spots. Someone was crying; I think it was Tia.


Dillon was the only one of us not mud-coloured. Head to foot, we were long brown smears. He was so bright in his orange jacket, hobbling over the fallen hillside on his splinted leg and one crutch. I think we all heard him shout at the same time and turned to look. He had almost made it over to us.

We weren’t the only dirty bodies pulling ourselves out of the ground: inexorable and hungry, the shamblers were dragging themselves free. There was one just a few feet away from me, almost completely emerged. I hadn’t even noticed the movement. Dillon smacked it in the head with his crutch before I could finish scrambling to my feet. Once, twice, and once more to make sure it wasn’t going to move again. Then he grinned at me.

The flush of relief was sliced off by the movement behind him. More of them were crawling free and he was too close. He tried to hit them, but he couldn’t turn and his leg– He went down. He screamed and then I couldn’t see him any more..

We got to him as fast as we could. No-one had any weapons – it was just bare hands and desperation. We pulled him free and got him into the campervan. There was so much blood. I did what I could for him, but… there was just so much. He kept telling me that it was all right, it’s all right, Faith, don’t worry, it’s all going to be fine. I managed not to start crying until he fell asleep.

I can’t sleep. I keep watching him breathing, terrified every time it catches. I don’t know what to do. Masterson is so far away. The vehicles are stuck in the landslide.

Hold on, Dillon. We have to make it. We have to.

Please don’t go.

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Sunday, 16 August 2009 - 9:57 pm


Hi, it’s Matt again. Faith finally cried herself to sleep. I opened up the laptop to see what she’d written, but all she had today was the title. I guess the rest is up to me.

I wish it wasn’t bad news.

We knew it was bad when Faith came out of the van this morning. We were digging out the vehicles – one of them was wrecked, but it had protected the others from the worst of the landslide. She looked so strange that we all turned and stared at her. I’ve never seen her so calm before; it was the kind of calm that made me want to go over and shake her, just to see if my Faith was still in there.

“We need to go Dillon’s aunt’s house,” she said. Last night, we had agreed to head back to the university, get the kid to the doctor. We all knew she wouldn’t make such a reversal lightly. “He should be with his family.” She didn’t need to tell us that there wasn’t much time left.

She went back into the van and closed the door, and the rest of us finished up. It wasn’t long before we were on the road.

I haven’t had such a horrible journey before. Thorpe insisted on driving the van and Dale went with him. I wanted to ride with Faith, but there wasn’t room in the back with her and the kid. I couldn’t have done anything anyway, but I wanted to be there. I should have been there. I shouldn’t have left her alone with him.

Something happened about halfway to the house – I’ve never seen Thorpe drive so crazily before. At first I thought it was the ice, or the tyres on the van going. Then I saw Faith moving in the back of the van, rocking back and forth, and I knew. I knew. I have no idea how Thorpe and Dan did it, but somehow they kept going.

We didn’t get a warm welcome when we got to the highset house. We pulled up and piled out, and suddenly there were guns aimed at us. We held our hands out and denied coming to take anything – the people in the house seemed to believe we had come to steal all their food. They wouldn’t listen to us. I heard the guns cocking and thought that, apparently, things can always get worse.

Then the van’s door opened. Faith stepped out with Dillon in her arms, and we all forgot about the guns and the paranoia that might kill us. I don’t know if it was the fall of his arm, or the way his head fell back, or the look on her face, but everyone could see that he was gone. Even those in the house.

I don’t know where she gets her strength from. She’s so thin these days, and I could have sworn I saw her shaking as she walked up to the front of the group, step after heavy step. We moved aside for her and she didn’t falter once. She carried the kid and raised her voice, and I know that he must have been so heavy.

“Mr and Mrs Holt?” I had no idea what Dillon’s last name was until she asked for his parents. I didn’t even know that she knew it. It got their attention. “We were bringing him home. He was protecting us, and… he was so brave. I’m sorry.”

They came out of the house, down the steps and close enough to see his face. There were four or five of them, all carrying rifles. A couple of them started shouting and making demands and threats. His mother howled and buried herself in her husband’s chest. But Faith, she carried on like she couldn’t even hear them.

She told them that Dillon had been with her when the bomb went off. I didn’t know that. They found each other in the rubble and they haven’t been apart since. They’ve looked after each other through this whole nightmare. They went to his home and found the note left for him. That led us here, after all these months. We wanted to bring him home. And we almost made it. He almost got to see them again.

I think the thing that got to me most was the smudge of blood on her jaw. Looking at it, I knew that she had hugged him when she realised he was gone. She had held onto him like that all the way here, I just know it. It’s just the way she is.

When she was finished speaking, she stood there, holding him and waiting. I thought they might let her stay like that until the rain came, but finally one of them stepped forward and took him off her. I think it was Dillon’s father. He took the kid away, back to where his family could cry over him.

Without Dillon, Faith was so lost. I touched her arm and she shrank in, so I wrapped her up. All her strength went with him.

“We have to sing for him,” she said, looking at me to fix it. I glanced at the others, at the new Seekers who haven’t been through this before and didn’t know. Dan looked solemn, standing with his head bowed. The siblings were holding onto each other, Terry trying not to cry as obviously as his sister. Dale had tears streaming down his face and his arms wrapped around himself. Thorpe nodded at me, stony-faced; he’s a stoic bastard, but he got it. Even he wanted to sing for the kid.

So we did. The lyrics were garbled and thick, but we got through it. The Holts stared at us, but a couple of them joined in. It was like they couldn’t help themselves.

When it was done, we went back to the vehicles. No-one wanted us to stay. What were we supposed to say to these people? There wasn’t anything left. They had Dillon and we had nothing but empty hands.

Inside the van, Faith finally broke down and sobbed like she was trying to choke up her whole heart. That time, I wasn’t going to leave her alone back there. I’m not too proud to admit that I cried right along with her. I loved the damn kid too.

Now we’re a few miles down the road, stopped wherever we were when the rain hit. I guess Thorpe and Dan drove; they were the only ones capable, I think.

It’s hard to think about tomorrow. My head is full of Faith standing there, carrying the kid and telling his family how good he was and how much we’re going to miss him. She wasn’t wrong.

She’s sleeping now. I think I’m going to curl up with her; we both need the company right now. Whatever comfort we can get, though it won’t be enough to forget the one we’ve lost.

Good night, kid. I wish it wasn’t goodbye.

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Monday, 17 August 2009 - 9:19 pm


It’s not fair. It sounds childish, but it’s true. This isn’t justice, or karma, or divine intervention, because it’s just not fair.

I had been dreading finding Dillon’s family. I tried to ignore it, I tried not to say, but there was a part of me that hoped we wouldn’t find them. Because I didn’t want to say goodbye to him. I didn’t want to give him up. I didn’t want there to be Seekers without a Dillon in it. I selfishly wanted him to stay with us – with me – always.

He deserved better. He looked after me, even when he was hurt and hobbling. I remember that hand on my head when I needed it. I tried to do the same for him, but the damage was so bad and he just couldn’t hold on. He tried. He gripped my hand so tightly as I told him, we’re almost there, it’s just a little further, stay with me. Stay with me. Then he smiled and asked if his folks were here yet. I’d really like them, and they’d like me, too. Is that them he can hear?

I don’t think they liked me. I brought them a dead son. I tried to give them more than that as I handed him over, but I don’t know if they heard me.

He looks just like his dad. The little tilt to the corners of his mouth, the way his eyes went solemn and nakedly sad in the face of bad news. Even the way Mr Holt comforted his wife. I think that’s the only reason that I was able to let him go, when my whole body was screaming at me to hold onto him, he’s mine, he’s not allowed to go yet.

It felt wrong to leave him there, but it was right too. All I know is that he got what he wanted – to be with them again. That’s what matters, I guess.


It feels different with him than it did with Ben. Ben left me hollow, hardly able to feel anything. With Dillon, it’s more like losing a limb. The nerves are raw and I keep feeling as if he’s right there. It’s hard to walk forward, as if I have a leg missing. I want to curl around the wound, and shout about how unfair it is. The cuts Ben left on my arm, the pounding that the landslide gave me – it all hurts less than this does.

I woke with heavy eyes and a headache this morning, and Matt was curled up around me. For a moment, I thought it was Dillon, but that was just a wish that slipped through the confusion of waking. I was grateful it was Matt. I turned over and hugged him in return; he needs it as much as I do.

I haven’t seen Matt go grey with grief before; even when his family kicked him out, he put a brave face on it. He’s not even trying to do that this time. I guess it’s because he knows he doesn’t need to. He seems faded, worn through.

Then there’s Thorpe. He got close to the kid too, more than most; Dillon looked up to him, and I think the big fella liked that. But he won’t show it. He knuckles it all down somehow. I guess it’s one way to cope. I’d explode if I tried that.

He gave me a hand this morning, tossing some of the heavier packs into the back of the van. He didn’t need to but I didn’t mind. He asked if I was okay, and it was so unusual I stopped what I was doing and looked up at him.

“Not really,” I told him. There didn’t seem to be any point lying about it.

I returned the question but he didn’t answer. He just put a heavy hand on my shoulder and bowed his head. On impulse, I stepped in and hugged him, partly because I knew he’d never ask for something like that. Hugging him is a bit like being swallowed – I barely come up to his shoulder. I think it was partly the awkwardness of his squeeze that brought the tears up again, and partly because I knew he hadn’t cried yet. So I cried for both of them, the last of the original Seekers.

There’s only Thorpe and me left now, of those who came out of the city. All those miles and months, and there’s only two of us still moving. It’s a frightening attrition.


We’re still moving. We pushed our two battered vehicles until they started and we put miles under our tyres. Heading in a new direction now – north and slightly west, out of the mountains. Moving on to the next dot on the map and leaving a part of us behind. A part we’ll carry with us, at the same time.

I still can’t say goodbye. Goodnight will have to do for now.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009 - 8:46 pm


Dale came to talk to me today. He’s a private guy, though not in the way that Thorpe is, so I wondered what was up when he came to give me a hand where we wouldn’t be overheard.

I haven’t spent much time with him since he recovered from his shambler-inflicted injuries; I’ve been preoccupied, mostly with all the stuff around Ben. Before then, our exchanges were underpinned by his pain as I changed dressings and checked wounds. He always made an effort to keep his spirits up, though, always tried to bear a smile, even if it was strained. Or he’d make jokes of the subtle, wry kind.

Today, while we were looking through pillaged cupboards for any scraps of food that might be hiding, he couldn’t find that smile. He kept glancing at me, until I eventually gave in and asked him what was going on.

“The others told me what you did,” he said. “For me, at the landslide.”

I stared at him as I tried to figure out what he meant, what might matter that much to him. Then I remembered the CPR, the taste of dirt and growing dizzy as I tried to give him oxygen. They’d had to pull me off him when he came around. And then Dillon–

“I’m the only one who knows how.” It wasn’t the most inspired response, but it was all I could come up with on short notice. I hadn’t noticed how intent his eyes could get before then. They’re blue and just a little bit green.

“Yeah, but you still saved my life.” He shrugged and that strained smile ghosted past us. “I just wanted to… thank you.”

I hadn’t even realised. In all the hurt that followed, that one little fact had slipped right past me. Something small and hard swelled in my chest as I looked up at Dale and realised that he was right: I had saved him. I couldn’t save the ones closest to me, but I did save someone. It felt like that had to mean something, though I’m still figuring out what.

I didn’t want to make a big thing out of it, though; we all kept each other safe. And my tongue didn’t quite know what to do with itself.

“We’re all in this together.” I felt so lame. But what was I supposed to say? “Look after each other, you know?”

I went to pat his arm and he flinched. That was when I realised he was hurt – we were all battered by the landslide, flesh and bone bruised by the rocks and weight of earth, but he had been buried and hauled out rougher than any of us. I hadn’t even checked to see if there were any serious injuries at the time; I was too caught up in Dillon. Today, though, I had the chance to catch up with that. I made Dale show me his arm, saw the familiar swelling and bruising, and went to dig out the forearm brace I had at the bottom of my pack.

I paused when I got it out. I remembered, so clearly, the first time I saw it. My wrist was so sore, and Dillon had found the brace in the hospital and brought it to me. He had looked like such a good puppy when he handed it over and that alone had made me feel better about being broken.

I didn’t want to give it up. It felt like a part of us, Dillon and me, and there were so few left within my reach. But it was silly – just an object we had shared, one I had stained in the weeks that followed that moment, and Dale needed it. I put it on him before I changed my mind. He saw my hesitation and asked if I was all right. So I told him. There didn’t seem any point in beating about the bush. His face fell, but I fastened the straps anyway. It’s not like anyone else was using it.

After Dale’s hurts were dealt with, I went to check on everyone else. Late, but at least I got there in the end. I hadn’t even realised how many of us were still mud-coloured and smeared with the dirt that tried to swallow us. We’re clay people, different shapes made from the same pressed earth.

I’d do anything for a shower. There’s plenty of soap but no water to spare. I think that sums us up perfectly: so many intentions but a vital piece missing.

We have enough to drink, enough to get by. That will have to do for now.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009 - 6:41 pm

Hungry magpies

We’re almost free of the foothills. It’s slow going up here, between the ice and the skinny roads easily blocked by abandoned vehicles. We’re stopping at every gathering of buildings to look for supplies. The process is getting faster with familiarity, but it’s still not easy to coordinate seven people.

Seven. We’re uneven now.


We’ve seen more signs of landslides, too. Naked slopes have sheer angles and spaces where the hillside used to be. Stone is pale where it has been stripped bare and exposed to the fresh onslaught of the rain. Rocks and dirt scatter over the road, around and on top of houses. Blocked and swept-away roads have forced us to re-route several times.

Matt and I have been travelling with Thorpe and Dale in the offroader, and all of us went quiet when we saw the first one. Thorpe’s eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror to meet mine and I leaned forward to put a hand on his shoulder. Matt did the same to Dale; we all needed the contact. None of us remember the landslide happily, though for different reasons.

Tia is the most obviously affected. She keeps refusing to sleep under blankets, preferring to be cold so she can be without their weight. I think she was completely buried under the dirt for a few seconds before someone pulled her out. Now, the pressure is too close to her surface and she can’t stand to be wrapped up.

I don’t blame her. If swimming was a possibility, I’d be afraid of it too. The thought of water closing over my head, of being bowled over like that again, of my whole body being completely victim to another force and unable to even scream – it makes my heart thump uncomfortably and my breaths come short and shallow. I have to close my eyes and suck in a deep lungful of air to make it go away.

I often find myself making a conscious effort to avoid looking up at the rippled earth rising above us. Paranoia prickles, and try not to look just to spite it. The only one I’m proving anything to is myself, but that’s all right.


As if the looming danger wasn’t enough, we’re finding that everything is barren here. The only other people we’ve seen alive are Dillon’s family, but every building around here has been stripped. Food, liquid, fuel, tools, clothing. The only things we’ve found that might be of use are scraps, cast-offs and rejects. We’re running short of everything; even the big bottles of water are emptying fast enough to be a concern. We’re rationing everything as much as we can, but we have to live, too.

It all makes us chafe at the slow pace. We want to get back to the city’s suburbs where there are houses and corner stores to visit. At the same time, we don’t dare pass by a building without checking it, just in case it has something we might be able to use. So we stop and we hurry, and then we grumble as we get back into the vehicles empty-handed again.

Taking things used to bother me. I used to offer small apologies as I did it, running through the excuses of survival and need in my head. I used to feel bad, or naughty, or just a bit wrong. I don’t know when, but somewhere along this road I stopped doing that. There are no apologies for those who didn’t come back here, though sometimes there’s a wish that we could spare enough to leave for those who might follow us. We never have enough, though. We never leave anything we might be able to use. We’re magpies, scarecrow-thin and hungry. I can’t apologise for that. I have enough callouses to be selfish.

We’re almost free now. Almost out of the clutter of hills that makes us hunch our shoulders up. The suburbs aren’t far, with its hopes of forgotten supplies and other people’s beds.

I used to like visiting the mountains, with their landscapes and fresh air. It’s just another thing that has changed, I guess.

Thursday, 20 August 2009 - 10:32 pm

To fight for

We finally left the hills behind today. The road levelled out beneath our tyres and the loom of unsteady earth lifted away from our shoulders. We’re all breathing easier now.

Sometime in the night, there was the underground rumble of rocks giving way, shaking us up out of our slumber. The rain had leeched away enough earth to send scree tumbling down to reshape the land, close enough to make the windows rattle.

Needless to say, more than one of us panicked. We fumbled for lights and then for faces with our beams. I had to count heads twice to be sure that I had everyone, and almost did it a third time because of a niggling feeling that someone was missing. Oddly enough, it was the brace on Dale’s arm that reminded me who was gone.

Once we were sure that everyone was together, we started to look for the rockfall. It was quieter than the last time, though that might have been because of the rain, so we rushed around inside the gutted corner store we had chosen to shelter us for the night. Flashlight beams just didn’t reach far or wide enough – everything is disorienting in the dark. Shadows play tricks, slipping around corners and across surfaces like liquid, making objects look big, or flat, or just not there at all. The faint slither of acid glinting off building exteriors didn’t help, either. I’d have given anything for a good floodlight.

It had been quiet for a while before we were satisfied that we weren’t close to the rockslide, or mudslide, or whatever it was. We peeled ourselves away from our chosen windows and gathered in the middle of the little store, and just looked at each other. Then we shrugged, someone gave a wry laugh at our skittishness (I think that was Matt), we all relaxed and Tia burst into tears. I think it was relief. I looked at Dale and found him pale-faced with tension. Thorpe hovered behind him like an angry bear.

The boys went and stirred up the fire; no-one was going back to sleep after that. Terry was trying to comfort Tia, but she kept shaking her head and hiccuping as if her tears were choking her. He looked so strained that I went over to see if I could help, put my arm around the girl’s shoulders and suggested that he let me try. He looked relieved as he went to join the others; he loves his sister, but I don’t think he gets girls well enough to handle this kind of thing.


I got her to sit down a little way from the fire where we could talk undisturbed. It took a while for her to calm down enough to speak, and I tried not to listen to the dripping of the rain in the meantime. It has taken on a menacing tone now, worming its way in, as inexorable as the monsters it creates if it doesn’t kill us. Watching the ceilings is a common pastime for us.

I tried to tell her that I got it, I understood – she was scared after what happened a few days ago. Afraid of being buried, afraid of dying.

She looked at me with awful eyes and said, “That’s not it. That’s not it at all.” Her voice was torn from the crying, but there was no mistaking her words. “I wasn’t afraid of dying: I wanted it.”

I had no idea what to say to her. The tears weren’t relief – they were disappointment. It wasn’t exactly a problem I had anticipated. The only thing I could think of was to keep her talking, so I asked her what she meant.

“When the ground closed over my head, I thought, ‘this is it, I’m gonna die’.” She sounded reluctant at first, but then it just spilled out. “I thought I’d panic, but I didn’t. I knew I was gonna die, and that was… okay. I could just let go and everything else would go away. This nightmare, this year – all of it. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything any more. All I had to do was take a breath. I was ready, and then… then someone pulled me out.”

She covered her face like that was the worst thing in the world. I mentioned her brother and she shook her head.

“Terry doesn’t understand. He’s been carrying me, this whole time. Making sure I’m all right, making sure I’m safe. I’m a burden; I make things harder for him. After we joined you guys and he didn’t have to worry so much any more – I haven’t seen him that happy in ages.”

I stared at her, mentally filling in her gaps. It’s not what she thought that horrified me: it’s that I could understand how she got to that place. My feet have touched that path before. “He won’t be better off without you.”

“You don’t know that. It’d be easier without me.”

I couldn’t bring myself to lie to her, to make up stuff we would both know wasn’t true. “There are plenty of people who need others to fight for them, to get by,” I told her. “I’m one of them.” I step up when I have to, when there’s no choice, but I know I wouldn’t have got this far without the protection of the others. I’m one of the weakest fighters. “And there are people who need to fight for someone else, or they won’t fight at all.”

She looked at me dubiously. “So what, I’m doing him a favour by being useless?”

“…in a manner of speaking, yeah.” It wasn’t exactly how I’d put it.

To my dismay, her eyes filled up again. “But I don’t want to be here any more. I don’t know if I can fight it any more. What if I’m not strong enough?”

I reached out to squeeze her hand. “Then let us help you. We’re all each other has got.”

I don’t know if she heard me. She nodded and seemed to take it on board, but I really don’t know. I asked her to think about it and left her to collect herself. Dale and Matt were singing some kind of ditty that stopped as soon as I came over and left Terry grinning. I rolled my eyes and told them to sing something we all knew. Eventually, Tia came to join us and even helped us fill the room with sound. We’re not the most musically skilled bunch, but we have bravado and the ability to make stuff up as we go.


We left the threat of landslides and being buried in displaced earth behind, but there’s a part of it still with us. Not just in the cuts and bruises we all bear; there’s that temptation still eating at Tia. We’re going to have to protect her from herself as much as from everything else.

The thing is, if she puts herself in danger, I’m not sure that we should stop her. None of us would blame her for choosing to get out of this life. She’s old enough to make her own decisions, but she’s not even twenty yet.

Once upon a time, I would never have considered this a question: the answer was always ‘no’. Now I’m not sure what I’ll do, faced with her choice. I’m not sure what this says about me.

Friday, 21 August 2009 - 9:24 pm


Hello! Matt here again, but I promise that it’s not bad news this time. I told Faith about my unfortunate pattern with this fun little blog of hers and she told me to do something more regular.

Between you and me, I think she was glad for the excuse to take a break from this. She’s still kinda strung-out after all the stuff with Dillon, though she won’t admit it, and now there’s something going on with Tia. The girls won’t say what it is, but it’s bad enough to make them both unhappy. Faith has that worried face she gets when something’s eating at her.

I hope the kid isn’t getting Sick. Maybe she’s got a burn. I can’t imagine staring at that future rolling up the road towards me, waiting for the cough and the fever and knowing just how hungry I’ll become.

Dammit, I gave myself goosebumps.


Anyway. So there was a bit of excitement today. We’re searching everywhere we can find for supplies, but we haven’t had any luck in days. Not since we hit the mountains, really. Now that we’re out of that area, we had hoped to find stuff again.

We stopped at this little town on the way towards the suburbs. Everything was fine, just as it always is – we shut off the engines and piled out of the vehicles, stiff from sitting. I slipped on the ice and nearly ended up on my ass; grappling onto the big tree that is Thorpe is all that saved me. The less said about that, the better.

The open doors were our first clue that we weren’t going to find much. We wanted to look anyway, just in case whoever was here before us wasn’t as desperate or thorough as they could have been. Who are we kidding – is there anyone around that isn’t desperate and hungry?

Hungry. That brings me to what happened as we moved towards the nearest doors. Terry and Dale were calling to each other, making bets and taunts, and I joined in for the hell of it. Then we heard something down the road.

That thumping. It’s unmistakable. I think my heart was trying to beat a warning, matching their rhythm as they finally figured out how to get onto the street. They fell out of doorways like grains of puffed rice. Or like roasted coffee beans, scorched and tumbling more than walking.

Then Faith was shouting and pushing me back towards the vehicles. I ran along with everyone else, scrabbling to get them ready to move again. What I wouldn’t do for an ignition that worked. Half of us had to grab weapons to deal with the shamblers closest to us, while the others bumped the engines started.

Dan is a demon with a bat. I’ve never noticed it before – hasn’t exactly been high on my list of things to check out – but he stepped right in front of me when I was pushing the offroader. I saw it perfectly: whap whap, and then he was moving on, cool as you like. It’d be scary if he wasn’t on our side.

To my surprise, Faith was one of the fighters, too. She usually deals with the vehicles. Today, she picked up a bat and went to town. More determination than finesse, but she got the job done. I didn’t start worrying about her until we were ready to go and she wasn’t answering us. I had to grab her arm to get her attention, and nearly got smacked for my trouble.

I didn’t like the expression on her face or the way she looked at the sticky end of her bat. Then we were busy cramming ourselves into the vehicles and getting the hell out of there. She said she was okay but I didn’t believe her. She’ll talk to me when she’s ready.


We were much more cautious when we selected a house to hole up in for the night, further down the road. We checked every room, every cupboard, and not just for food. We didn’t find anything, good or bad, but at least we had a place to bed down.

Pickings are slim and spirits are down, but I can report that dog biscuits are actually quite filling, if hard on the teeth. I have no idea how Shaggy ate Scooby Snacks on a regular basis. They really suck the moisture out of you. Cat food is much easier to get down, though it does spark some arguments. I prefer the beef, if you please; fishy ones make me gag.

You know the world has ended when you have a favourite flavour of cat food.

Saturday, 22 August 2009 - 10:06 pm


Suburbs. I never thought I’d be so glad to see the suburbs.

I used to chafe at having to live in one. I wanted something cooler – an apartment in the city, a houseboat, a fifty-foot yacht to while away my time on. My dad’s house always seemed so… ordinary.

What I wouldn’t give for ordinary.

The suburbs don’t look like they used to, like the one I grew up in. They’re the same houses, squeezed together on too-narrow plots, but the walls are acid-etched in slowly-dissolving streaks. The yards are stripped, all dirt and concrete. The paint on the cars is dull and wearing thin, showing the underskin metal in places.

We passed a tricycle with plastic ribbons reduced to tatters, its wheels iced into the mud that had seeped up around it. Further along the same street, a roof had caved in completely, the house a collapsed pudding. The acid is deconstructing everything.

The world isn’t just broken. It’s still breaking.


Even with the erosion around us, we were glad to be back within the city’s sprawl. The pickings were no better than out towards the mountains, but at least we have more options now. More places to take shelter.

We’re moving with more caution after yesterday’s attack. I’m trying not to think about all of that too deeply.

Thorpe smacked one down right next to me while I was still trying to grab for a weapon. I glanced at him and I remembered how Dillon looked in that moment, those few days ago. He had smiled at me, it’s all right, Faith. And then they had grabbed him. So I started hitting them. They were too close, so many, too close to everyone. My arms hurt and my chest felt stretched until it couldn’t fit any air in it, but there were so many of them. I had to keep going, keep them away.

It wasn’t until Matt grabbed me that I realised how far I had gone. The middle part is all a blur now, one I don’t ever want to resolve.

We’re all safe. That’s the important thing. A few bites and scratches, but nothing serious. I ache in more places than I care to count.


There’s a warehouse district a little way to the west of here. We spent an hour arguing about it tonight: it’s out of our way, but there might be stores there. Other survivors might not have pillaged all of it yet. Tia is sure that there’s a depot for one of the supermarkets there – she used to work for the chain. If nothing else, maybe we can stock up on cat food.

I have to try not to think about Jones and Nugget when I pick up a can with a ginger cat on it. Why does everything feel so connected?

I just remembered who Tia reminds me of. Ben’s sister, the one we found asleep forever with her son. That changes things. That changes everything.

The rain is eroding everything, including us. Outside in, inside out, we’re all wearing away, down to guts and blood and bone. Our skeletons are showing. The ones it doesn’t kill, it turns into monsters.

Even me. I can feel it seeping in, wearing me down. I’m a grain of rice in the monsoon. I’m the whole damned paddy field, overflowing until I’m empty. How do I fight the weather? How do I fight what’s happening to the whole world? To the people that I care about?

How much is enough?