Monday, 16 February 2009 - 11:04 am


Ben seems to have taken my words about not bottling things up seriously: he came to see me last night. He demanded to know how he was supposed to protect me if I was going to run off and leave him behind. I told him that I was trying to protect him, that I couldn’t bear to have anything happen to him because of me. He didn’t like it, but this isn’t a one-way thing.

He went quiet and I pushed at it. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but everyone has been having a go at me since I got back. I had to stand up for myself, I had to make them see why. I had to make them forgive me somehow. And I couldn’t do that if he wouldn’t talk to me.

So I told him that I’m fine. They’re the ones who got hurt yesterday, not me. Everything turned out okay. I just had to find Matt. I had to know that he was okay. And he’s not – the more I see him, the more I know it.

It’s different for Ben. He’s had his crewmate here this whole time – he might not always get along with Thorpe, but they have that connection. No-one else in the group has that. We’re all looking for someone, or several someone’s. And Matt’s one of mine. He’s my best friend, and he was a dot on the map.


He still didn’t say anything; he just frowned at my hand in his. When I pushed him for a response and he asked me if I was his, if we were together. He held my hand so tightly, even when I said that we were, we are together. I told him that I wasn’t like that and I’d never cheat on him. I knew what that felt like, and I’d never do it, never. I don’t think that that was what he was asking, though.

He said that we couldn’t be together if I was going to run off. Being together meant that he looked after me, and he couldn’t do that if I didn’t let him. I’m not used to that. I’m not used to someone wanting to take care of me like that, someone needing me more than I need them. Ben is so solid that I never thought he might need to be needed too.

There’s something more to this that I didn’t dare get too close to. Something in the way that he mentioned looking after me, something in the way he wanted to protect me. I already felt awful for making him feel like this, and I was trying not to cry. I couldn’t take any more of it. I was shaking inside, waiting for him to give up and tell me to shove it, to tell me that I’d ruined this thing we have. I didn’t want him to go away.

But he didn’t. He asked me to promise not to go off on my own again, and I did it, without hesitation. Then he kissed me and the tension between us turned into heat. I think we both needed that. I don’t know if it really resolved anything, but the arguing is over now and things are calmer between us.

I got a smile out of him this morning. I think – I hope – we’re going to be okay.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009 - 1:47 pm


We passed over a threshold today. It was the strangest thing – on one side of the crossroads were the quiet houses waiting for their people to come home; on the other, all the light had been sucked out of the buildings, leaving blackened remains behind.

The buildings are packed together tighter here, and that was their downfall. Tenements, flats, little shops, businesses run out of garages – all of it is gone now. A fire tore through here, weeks ago I think. Either when the bomb went off, or when the power was turned on that one, fatal time. In the city, it started a lot of fires, so perhaps that’s what happened here too.

Everything is ash now, grey bones flaking under an orange sky, scorched above and below. The acid has smoothed some of the edges and washed shards all over the streets, fragments evenly distributed. There’s hardly a single building above hip height in this whole area.

We slowed when the colour drained out of the scenery and black rubbed off onto our shoes. The fire took this whole district – it jumped roads and concrete walls. It collapsed homes like failed puddings. The air tastes charred and spent.


Ben’s face darkened as we moved into the realm of charred ruins, and so did Thorpe’s. It must be a firefighter reaction – seeing something they could have battled under control if they’d had the chance. They used to spend their lives making sure things like this didn’t happen.

Someone had tried to fight it. We found a fire truck in the middle of it all, as burned and hollow as the rest of it. The boys went to check it out while the rest of us hovered nearby.

I took Ben’s hand when we moved on. I asked if he knew the fighters that came on that truck and he said he thought he did. He’d worked with the crews from this area before; his own home station belonged to an adjoining district. He didn’t have much hope that any of them had made it; his fellow firefighters would have died before they gave up, the same as he would. If the truck was gone, then they probably were too.

There wasn’t a single body, though. I caught sight of a couple of piles of clothing caught in the gutters, but no bodies. We can thank the damned rain for that.

We did find a fireman’s helmet, empty and battered. I was hoping that our firefighters wouldn’t see it, but they did. Ben and Thorpe looked at each other with grim faces. They didn’t say anything.

I remembered what it was like in the city when it all came down. The firefighters were the last ones to stop and the first ones back in there. I remember losing some to buildings too close to collapse when they dove in after a failing voice. They never hesitated; they just tried until they couldn’t any more.

They were amazing. And a lot of them made it out of the city. A lot of them left ahead of us. We don’t know where they went, but they made it out. We’ll find them again.

Ben said that he hoped so. He hoped that some of them had been as lucky as he and Thorpe have been. He looked at me, wondering if I understood any of this, and abruptly apologised. Of course I did. He was there when the place where I worked fell down and ended up lower than the burnt-out husks around us now. I knew everyone in that building. Sam with her little ones at home, Harry caught in the rubble with his hand in mine. Ben had been the one to carry me off the ruins and comfort me.

Now it’s my turn to comfort him. I understand that feeling of wondering if everyone you worked with is dead. I know what it’s like to wonder if any of them made it out, and suspect that they didn’t. There are people in my life that I know I’ll never see again, and that’s difficult to make sense of. It’s hard to imagine all of those faces just… gone.

Ben squeezed my hand and everyone fell quiet. What was there to say?


We’ve moving on again now. We have to find out how far this burnt-out sector reaches – we only have a couple of hours until the rain comes, and we need to find the shelter before then.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009 - 2:56 pm


Tensions are running high in the group at the moment. I think this area is getting to us. Without even being here, without showing themselves, the Pride is getting to us. And I think I just made things worse.

Last night was intense. There was the fear and the waiting for something else to happen, for something – or someone – else to jump out of a cupboard and scare the crap out of us. But nothing happened; it was just us in a dark house that was emptier than our minds would believe. When I went to settle down for the night, Ben was wound tight too, and, well, I think ‘intense’ is a good word for it. We drove out the imaginary sounds in the darkness and we slept deeply afterwards.

This morning, it was already light when I woke. Ben was trying to slide out from under me; I’d fallen asleep pillowed on his chest, curled against his side. We don’t usually sleep like that; he’s always up first, before everyone else, and he’s not the sleep-hugging kind. He doesn’t like to disturb me when he slips away.

Today, he couldn’t help but wake me. I moved off him and there was something in the way he got up that pulled me more sharply awake. He seemed hurried; if we hadn’t been together for a while now, I’d think he was ashamed about last night.

I asked if he was all right, and he said he was in that way that doesn’t want to talk it. But I didn’t like it, didn’t like seeing him look that way, so I pushed it and asked him what was wrong. He got defensive and angry, and he snapped at me. Nothing is wrong, go back to sleep.


Of course, I didn’t realise what was going on until after he’d stomped off in the middle of my protests. Why is it that I don’t see the right pieces until after it would have been useful? I was confused, and sleep-fuddled, and a bit slow, but it’s no excuse. I was clumsy with him.

I didn’t understand why he turned his back to put his shirt on. I didn’t realise then that he’s always dressed by the time I get up in the morning and we’re only together in the dark. I’ve just grown so used to the burns on his chest that I don’t notice them any more, but they’re the only reason I can think of for him to act that way.

They’re not really scars yet; the burns are still healing. But they don’t look good; they’re vicious red marks across his chest that look like something chewed on him. They’ll fade eventually, but not completely; he’ll always have those scars, I think.

And it matters to him. I haven’t really said before, but Ben’s a good-looking guy. There hasn’t been a time when I felt like going on about stuff like this, but it’s not like I haven’t noticed. He’s the sort of fireman who ends up in calendars. He’s the sort of guy Bree would have gone after, just because he’s built in way that’s honey to a queen bee like her.

It’s not that he’s a vain guy – I’ve never got that from him. He doesn’t seek that kind of attention; I don’t get the feeling that he was one for chasing admiration and easy sex. That’s more Matt’s type, and even Thorpe puts himself forward more than Ben does. He’s content when he’s not in the limelight.

Now he’s been maimed. Permanently marred. I never thought about it like that before now. He’s not the kind to think that battlescars are cool and sexy, and he was hiding from me. I can’t think of any other way to put it; that’s what it felt like. Like he was ashamed. As if I hadn’t seen the marks a hundred times when they were fresh, bandaging them every morning to keep them clean.


I remember him glaring at the rain, now that I think about it. That time when we were stuck under an overhang in the burnt-out zone, on the way to Dillon’s house. He seemed to hate it so personally, so grudgingly, and not just for the people it took from him. Perhaps I should have guessed that there was something wrong then. He’s been a very forgiving guy with everything else.

Does he think that I’m put off by the scars? I’ve been hesitant around them, but only because I was trying not to hurt him. How long has he been thinking like this? How long has he been trying to hide them?

He has hardly spoken to me since this morning, keeping to himself. We can’t speak much when we’re on the move; we have to be quiet. I’ll have to try to talk to him later when we’re hidden away for the night. I have no idea what I’ll say to him. Should I just be blunt about it, or find another way to show him that it doesn’t matter to me? I don’t want to just ignore this; I can’t.

I just hope that I can avoid being clumsy with him again. I hope I can make this better. We all need what comfort we can get right now.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009 - 5:14 pm


Today has been better. More skulking, more keeping an eye out for that graffiti squiggle that means we’re straying into Pride territory. There were no close calls, though, which made a nice change. I think we’re staying on the right side of the line. With luck, we’ll be past the Pride’s reach soon and able to breathe easier.


I waited until everyone else had gone to bed before I tried to talk to Ben last night. Then it was quiet and just us and I had no idea what to say. I looked at him and he was avoiding my eye, so I caught his hand to make him look at me.

I hesitated, trying to find the right words, and he asked if I was okay. Which is typical of him, checking up on me when he’s the one who’s been hurt.

“I think I made a mess of things this morning,” I told him.

“It wasn’t your fault.” At least he was admitting that things had been a mess; that made things easier, even if he was trying to deny things at the same time.

“It was, at least partially. I- I wish you’d say if something makes you uncomfortable.”

He looked away then; of course he didn’t want to admit it. He didn’t want to talk about it. But it was there, hanging right between us, this issue of the marks the rain left on him. I could taste it every time I looked at him, every time I tried to form words for his ears.

“Ben, talk to me.” His silence was starting to get to me. “Tell me if it hurts when I touch you. Tell me if you don’t want me to do something. Tell me you don’t want to talk about it! How am I supposed to stop making mistakes if I don’t know what they are?”

He looked down at our hands – I was still holding onto him, and he linked his fingers through mine. He always does things so quietly, and yet with such intensity. And then he started to speak. He said that the burns didn’t hurt him any more (I had checked before, with all of our recent closeness, but it was good to be sure), but they did make him uncomfortable. He didn’t go into why and I didn’t push him, glad to hear at least that much. He would prefer that I didn’t draw attention to them, which is okay. I can work with that. He apologised and I wanted to smack him or kiss him, or both. Instead, I told him that he had nothing to be sorry for; I was just relieved to get it out in the open.

I think it’s all right now. We seem to have an understanding about it, and while I’m sure I’m going to make mistakes in figuring out his boundaries, at least now I know what I’m looking for. Now, I hope, he’ll let me know where they are, too.

Sunday, 29 March 2009 - 8:18 pm

Please don’t look

Ben’s asleep finally, so I have some time. Everything is quiet except for the pounding in my head. I want to sleep, but I need to get this down first. For me, for Ben, and for those we found yesterday.


We had no problems getting to the building, or getting inside – the door had been forced open before we arrived. There were marks on the doorframe where a knife had pried it open, and Ben’s expression darkened. He led the way to the side of the foyer, ignoring the immoveable lifts and going straight for the stairwell. We went up quickly and quietly, and when I glanced back at the others, I saw a few of them quietly carrying a weapon in hand as they climbed. Just in case.

On the fifth floor, we peeled off into the corridor. It was terribly silent, not a creak of shifting girders nor a whisper of wind caressing the building. There was no sign of anyone inside, which was a relief in one way, but Ben didn’t seem comforted by that thought.

We found the door to apartment 504 locked and unmarked. I think that was the high point of the day; whoever had broken in downstairs had not invaded this home. Ben had a key to it, attached to the keyring buried at the bottom of his pack. I remember the sound of it sliding into the lock, snicking into place more snugly than anything has for us in a long time.

I looked at the others and Matt was at my elbow, murmuring that they would look for somewhere to settle down, maybe look for some supplies. Sax nodded in agreement and the rest of them moved off down the corridor. Dillon hesitated until I reassured him, then went to catch up with the others. Ben was already inside by then, oblivious to what we were doing, but he’s a private person and I don’t think he would have wanted the whole group watching this. I wasn’t going to leave him on his own, of course, and closed the door behind us.

The place didn’t smell good. My stomach dropped a foot and roiled uncomfortably; I’m getting far too familiar with that gagging aroma. From the line of his shoulders, rolling defensively, I knew the Ben recognised it too. I offered to look so that he didn’t have to, but he shook his head and pressed on. The lounge area was neat and tidy, and completely unoccupied, so we peeled off to look in the other rooms.


It was me who found his nephew. I didn’t even know he had a nephew, but he does. He did.

I didn’t need to touch the body to know that it was dead; there was a little blue-grey hand visible and that was all I needed. I just closed the door and tried to stop Ben from going in. He took one look at my face and pushed me out of the way; he had to practically lift me away so he could get to the door. I begged him not to go in there but he wasn’t listening.

He was four years old, just starting to become a little person. Ben said his name was Jamie. There was a pillow over the boy’s head and that somehow made it all worse, bringing with it the awful thought that someone had smothered him. Ben took the pillow off, as if that might undo the terrible act, and I wasn’t fast enough to stop him. I know that the shrunken face we saw didn’t look anything like the child that he had known, and I wish he hadn’t seen it. We couldn’t even pretend that he was sleeping.

I didn’t know what to do; it was too easy to get distracted by the sight of that tiny form in its train-patterned pajamas. I touched Ben’s hand, but he shook me off, then pushed me out of the way so he could storm out. He was shouting for his sister, Kim, as if she might be hiding, as if she might answer him, and burst angrily into the other bedroom.

She was there, lying on the bed, the same colour as her son. The bottle of sleeping pills spilt out of her hand told the story of how she chose to die, curled up on her side and hunched as if wrapped around a great pain.

Ben wouldn’t stop shouting at her, as if she could still hear him. Asking her how the hell she could do that to her own child, how dare she do that, and why, of all things, why. When he looked like he would grab and shake her, I got in the way and pushed him back, but he didn’t stop yelling. He was just a child, she had no right, how could she, how could she.

He didn’t stop until his voice shredded at the edges and ran out of strength. I could feel him shaking and tears were choking up his breathing, and finally he went where I asked him to. I pulled him out of that room and away from the sight of his sister, and then he collapsed on me, clinging and crying.


The others had heard the commotion and came running. They stopped at the door and I waved them away, trying to assure them silently that there was nothing they could do. They didn’t come in, choosing not to intrude while I comforted Ben as best I could. I’m so grateful to them for giving him the space. They didn’t need to ask what was wrong; it was what all of us feared we would find when looking for our families.

It took a while for him to calm down. Eventually I managed to get him sitting on the couch and we talked. He told me about Kim and Jamie, and cried in a small, broken way. I cried too; who wouldn’t, watching him struggle like that and knowing that there isn’t any making it better. Knowing how what we found today has tainted his memories of his family, of a sibling and a nephew.

It was growing dark by the time he felt strong enough to leave the apartment. Before we left, we wiped our faces and I tried to tidy him up a little bit. To preserve his pride in front of the others; he wouldn’t want them to see him in such a mess. They had found us a couple of apartments downstairs that were comfortable and clean; and, more importantly, empty. They let us have one of the bedrooms and some privacy. I stayed with him; I didn’t quite dare leave him alone.

It was a rough night. Neither of us got any sleep, nor managed to make much sense of it. We cried until our heads hurt and forgot to eat. His emotions came in waves: anger and sorrow, frustration and despair. I spent all of today trying to get Ben to eat something or get some rest, and I only just succeeded in the latter of those. We’re going to use the kitchen here to make a hot meal when he wakes up.

I’m so tired now that I hardly know what to think. I feel wrung out, stepped on and sucked dry. I should get some sleep while I can, while he’s quiet. Even when he’s sleeping, I can see the tears on his cheeks.

Monday, 30 March 2009 - 6:30 pm


This morning, everyone wanted to move on. I don’t blame them; that apartment building was a depressing place to be, and I know that Ben is only too aware of what lies on the floor above us. I suggested it to him and he agreed easily enough – a little too easily, perhaps.

When we were packing up, Sally came over and drew me aside. She said that she had gone back up to the apartment to see if there was anything that Ben might want. Photos, knickknacks, old family jewellery. It’s the sort of thing that I should have thought of, so I felt both grateful and as if I had failed him in some way. I want to say that I’ve been too busy sitting with him through his upset, but that feels like an excuse.

Sally gave me a little package and a note. She said that she had found the note in the bedroom next to Kim’s bed. Then she left me alone with it. When I looked at it, I saw why and went to show it to Ben. I knew it would upset him, but he needed to see it, with its shaky handwriting and tenuously offered answers.

I don’t know if there’s anyone left out there to find this. It seems like the whole world is dead or gone crazy.

Hugh has been gone for nearly a week. He was only supposed to be gone for a few hours, a day at the most. At first I thought he was just delayed; it’s been so long now that I don’t think he’s coming back. My husband and best friend is gone; I think he’s is dead. I would have gone after him, but the gangs tore through the streets below. I saw them kill a man in cold blood. I couldn’t take my baby out into that.

Please know that this isn’t what I wanted. I had no choice. My boy was starving and I couldn’t watch his pain any more. He wouldn’t stop crying and looking at me to make it better. I’d do anything for him. I’ve tried everything. I’ve given him my share of what we had, but it still wasn’t enough. I broke into the other apartments to find more food and water, but there was only so much to find and that all ran out too. It’s all gone now.

My baby was dying and the only thing I could do for him was to end his pain. Please forgive me, Jamie. I did it because I love you. God, forgive me for this; I don’t know what else to do. There’s nothing left and everyone is gone. It’s time for me to go too.

I’ll see you in Heaven, baby. I love you.

It made him cry again. The next thing I knew, he was howling in anger and had put a dent in the wall with his fist. He wouldn’t stop – he just kept hitting it until he was leaving bloody smears on the plasterboard and had made a couple of holes. I didn’t want to get in the way; I was going to let him vent until I saw the blood. Then I tried to catch at him, tried to stop him from beating his hands until they were broken.

He almost hit me. I saw it in his face, that wildness that reminded me of Thorpe when he was lost in his rage and pain. Instead, he grabbed me and slammed me against the wall. I looked him in the eye, trying to make a connection with him, trying to reach him.

“I know,” I told him. “I know. But you need to stop this.” It was all I could think of to say.

It was enough. I saw his fury falter, and then he let go of me and crossed the room so that he could slide heavily down to the floor. He put his head in his hands and it was quiet again.


I packed the note and the package that Sally gave me into my bag. I think Ben will want them eventually, so I’ll carry them for him for now. When I was done, I sat down where I was, giving him space.

It was a little while before he seemed calm enough for me to go to. I cleaned his hands up and wrapped his knuckles, wiped his face and helped him up. Then he hugged me so tight I thought one of us would break again. He was stony-faced and blank when we finally went out to join the rest of the group. There was something terribly defeated in the tramp of our boots down the stairs to the ground, and all of us stopped and looked back at it.

I’m not sure what we were looking for. I don’t know how many of us were wondering how many families had ended that way, how many had chosen a quick death over a long fading. I know that I was. And I was trying not to think about my dad.


Abruptly, Ben broke off to head back inside the building. I went to go after him, but he told me not to; he said he needed to do something alone. I didn’t know what else to do, so I stopped and stood with the others. After the door closed behind him, Matt came over to see if I was all right, and I felt like crying all over again. The only answer I could give him was a helpless shrug. I never knew Ben’s sister or her son, but I feel like I’m grieving for them anyway; that hollow ache inside reminds me of when my own sister died.

Ben was gone almost half an hour. We were all getting restless by then and Thorpe looked like he was thinking about going in there to see what was going on. He has been more patient than I had expected through all of this; he understands, I think. He sympathises, in his way.

When Ben finally opened the door, a coil of smoke escaped with him. His face was closed as he told us to move to the other side of the street, and we soon saw why. The smoke multiplied, escaping through any crevice it could find, and then it was backlit by flames. He had turned the whole building into their funeral pyre. The irony of a fireman setting such a blaze didn’t escape me, but I didn’t mention it.

Instead, I asked Sax to sing for us, for Kim and Jamie. And he did, his warm voice rolling out Amazing Grace as the flames ate their way up through the empty homes to where Ben’s family lay sleeping. We watched as it choked the sky with thick, black smoke, and moved further away as the building collapsed in on itself. There were only bones left when we turned our backs on it and left it behind.

Saturday, 4 April 2009 - 9:47 pm


The storm has been washing over us for more than a day now. It comes in waves, all wind and the shattering noise of thunder, and the thrashing of the rain. We’re too far inside the building to see much of the lightning, but it still crackles far too close for comfort. Then it’ll circle away from us, spinning out to punish some other district before it comes back around to us again. The drains are audibly thick with it, something which makes most of us nervous.

We relocated to a furniture store on the upper floor, further towards the centre of the mall. No-one wants to wake up to a flood that’ll eat us before we can get out of bed. The Rats are unhappy and have a tendency to linger within eyeshot, sometimes within earshot too.

I don’t dare to post while they might be around; I don’t want them to know that the laptop works. I had a pink vest yesterday and this morning it had disappeared, and it’s just not something that anyone else in my group would wear. That’s not the only thing that has gone missing; I’ve heard a couple of the others asking if anyone has seen something – a piece of clothing, a pocketknife, a broken watch.

We’re running short of food and water. We haven’t found any in the stores we’ve been in, and we don’t want to push our luck with the Rats – there are a couple of sports stores here and several household shops, all of which used to hold things that would make good weapons. The kids are wary but they’re not intimidated by us, and I think they’ve been around long enough to have a reason for that confidence. I would rather not find out what that reason is. This truce is so fragile.

We’re hoping for a break in the storm soon, so we can go out and check the other places around here for supplies.


This morning, Ben and I wound up sitting alone while the others were off checking out other parts of the mall. I didn’t feel up to trudging about and he was only too happy to stay behind and mope. I was tired, so I didn’t push him for a conversation, and I was surprised when he started one.

“Do you ever get frustrated with all the delays, Faith?”

I was lying on a couch and pulled my feet up so he could sit down. He didn’t mind when I stretched my legs across his lap. “Yeah, of course. But we can only do what we can do.”

He looked at me searchingly, and there was such darkness in his look. It crouched on his expression, heavy and pressing. “We’re always too late.”

It does seem that way. Sax’s daughter missing, Dillon’s parents moved on, Ben’s sister giving up. Something in his voice made me hesitate before I could agree and the words changed on my tongue. “It wasn’t your fault, Ben. We got there as quick as we could.”

He didn’t answer, just looked down at the hems of my jeans, streaked with dirt and grease and black rubber from my own bootsoles.

“You can’t blame yourself. Don’t torture yourself that way, please. We did what we had to at the time. You know that.” I reached over for his hand.

“I could have gone alone. I could have tried.” He took my hand, even though he was accepting my words.

“And you might not have made it at all. You might have walked into the Pride, into anything.” I know he was right. There’s more we all could have done to get there sooner. There always is. Is any of it enough? Are we trying as hard as we should be, as much as we can? But he needed something different from me right then, so I disagreed with him.

At least he wasn’t getting angry any more; he wasn’t shouting. He was quiet and concentrated about it; he was more like the Ben I had come to know. “I just don’t understand,” he said after a moment, a bleak puzzlement in his voice. “I don’t understand how it happened.”

All this time, the past few days, he’s been trying to make sense of this and just can’t. All he’s been able to feel is the hole in his life, like a blind man trying to figure out where a cup has gone from the ring it left on a table. There was an ache in my chest for him then and I shifted around to curl against his side.

“She did the best thing she could see to do, I guess.”

I can understand it, and that scares me a little. It piqued Ben’s attention, too; he looked at me again. “Could you ever do something like that?”

I didn’t know what to tell him. My throat closed up just at the thought of it, at how Kim must have felt when she walked into that baby-blue bedroom and picked up the pillow. At the thought of ever having to make that decision. “I don’t think I’m that brave,” I told him finally.

I saw his eyes shining brightly when he turned his head away, and sat quietly with him until the others came back. When I got up to see what they were fussing over, he squeezed my hand and came with me. He was the presence behind my right shoulder again, my steely support that was more silent than ever. It’s a step in the right direction, I suppose.

Sunday, 5 April 2009 - 11:42 am


Last night, Ben drew me into the back room of the store and told me that he needed me. It was so dark that I could barely see him, but I caught the look in his eyes. I’m right here, I told him, I’m right here. A dam broke in him and what followed was the most intense sex I’ve ever had. He wasn’t rough – he’s never rough – but it was a lot about letting something give way, about not holding back. We hadn’t been together since we got to his sister’s building, and I think we both needed it.

It wasn’t until he got up this morning that I saw the splotches on his back, just like the ones on my arms. Neither of us had noticed them in the dark; even if the lights had been on, we wouldn’t have seen them during that. I asked him about them, and he got touchy until I showed him mine. He’d had them for a few days, he said.

I was sore and drained, far more than I should have been, even after such a bright bout of activity like last night’s. I didn’t like it, or the way the fear scuttled around in my stomach. A part of me knows that I was probably being over-sensitive and over-reacting, but what if I wasn’t?


Ben fetched Masterson over to us and made him check the marks. The doctor sighed and asked a couple of questions, and said that we’d all just changed our clothes. There was probably something in them that we’re allergic to. It’s also possible that the Rats booby-trapped the garments – maybe they made their own version of itching powder – and that could be causing it.

An allergy. I’ve never been allergic to anything in my life, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. It’s a relief to know that’s all it is. I’ll just switch to my old (yuck) clothes for a couple of days and wait for it to calm down.

Now, if only it would stop raining.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009 - 1:27 pm


Sometime during the night, Sax fell into a coma. His voice dimmed until he was moaning and wheezing, and then he was just wheezing. I don’t know if I was the only one listening to him, counting the time between his breaths, but the room felt like it was full of ears. When the air stuttered in his throat, I held my breath, willing him to keep going. Just one more breath, and another. Don’t stop.

I didn’t realise that I was crying until Ben rolled over and tried to comfort me. It felt good, burying myself against his chest and hiding from it all for a while. It was nice to have someone else’s arms around me and those meaningless words in my ear – it’ll be all right. Shhh.

It wasn’t until his chest quivered that I remembered something from a few days ago. He had been struggling to suppress coughs. I hadn’t thought much of it before then, I thought it had gone away, but of course, that’s how Sax’s sickness started. Since then, he has been clearing his throat a lot. I heard him do it again as I lay there against him, and this time I felt the spasm he was hiding. He had a cough, irritating and persistent.

I lifted my head to look him in the eye. It was just before dawn, I could barely see him at all, but it was light enough for our gazes to meet. That was enough. We both knew the truth. I felt like something had just fallen out from under me, something important, like a bridge or a floorboard or my own legs. And I started crying again, hopelessly trying to be quiet so that the others wouldn’t know.


When we got up this morning, no-one said anything about what they did or didn’t hear during the night. Then we realised that Alice was missing and all anyone would say was that they didn’t hear her go.

Thorpe is pleased and Dillon is devastated. The rest of us are relieved, even if we don’t know for sure that she brought this thing to us. She probably did. She might have killed us all. It makes sense, as much as I don’t want to admit it.

It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. It’s too late now for Sax, maybe for all of us. I don’t think he’s got long left.

Wherever she is now, Alice is probably a lot safer than she was here.

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Friday, 1 May 2009 - 8:18 pm

White rabbits

It’s white rabbits today. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, but Dad used to say it on the first of the month. White rabbits, three times, for luck.

It’s autumn and the only way to tell is by the way the temperature drops at night. There aren’t any trees left to lose their leaves, or animals to grow thick coats, or birds to migrate; just the ever-sneaking chill. In the mornings, the warmth struggles sluggishly through the orange cloud cover, losing ground every day. Winter is going to be very cold, I think.


Last night, I made the others talk about Sax. It was hard – he’s still fresh for us, still missed. I didn’t know where to start, so I just blurted it bluntly: those strangers said the sickness changed their friends. They said they were wrong about death. Maybe we were, too.

The others exchanged glances that said I wasn’t alone in my fears. To my surprise, Dillon was the first to speak up. “But the doctor said he was dead.” He’s getting more confident with us.

All eyes turned to Masterson, who sighed. “He was. No pulse, not breathing… he’s dead.” His tone was matter-of-fact, just like a doctor who was used to seeing that kind of thing every day.

“Could there be a way for him to not be so dead? Some kind of deep coma or something?” I asked him. Mistakes had been made like that before, ending up in stories of people waking up in the morgue or, worse, their own coffin. Bells used to be installed in graves so that the occupant could ring it if a mistake like that had been made. Ring ring, dig me up, dig me up again. But that was centuries ago.

Masterson’s expression slid down into impatience; he didn’t like to be questioned like this. “I doubt it.”

“But it’s possible?” Ben asked, leaning forward.

“It’s not impossible. But it’s highly unlikely.”

“We should check,” I said.

Sally stayed quiet, her eyes overbright as she tried not to cry. The rest of us tried to find a reason not to go back to the cafe where we left our friend’s body. Thorpe grumbled about going so far out of our way and scowled when Masterson agreed with him. The question about whether we had enough fuel to get us there came up, but we’re not that far – a day’s travel at most, we figured. (As it happens, we had to stop to fix a flat tyre, so we were still a few blocks away when we had to stop tonight.)

Pale excuses about why we shouldn’t go circled us. It was Matt who finally silenced them by asking simply, “Don’t we owe it to Sax?”

No-one could argue with that, so it was agreed.


Settling down into our blankets, Ben was wound tighter than usual. I asked him what was wrong, then pressed him on it until he looked at me in the castoff glow of someone else’s flashlight.

“I don’t know if it would be better to find him dead or alive,” he said.

A knot formed just under my breastbone and I knew he was right. What are we supposed to hope for? Death, or a crazy, heedless killer? And not just for Sax – Ben’s cough was worse, escaping suppression now. The others were bound to notice soon.

It seemed to me that insanity, losing yourself, was more terrifying to contemplate than losing your life. From the look on his face, Ben agreed with me.

“We have to know,” I told him, but my voice had no strength in it.

I think that’s the closest to showing real fear I’ve ever seen Ben. There was nothing I could say to comfort him; we both know that assurances would be empty. I hate that. I can’t stand to be so helpless, to watch someone I care about hurting and be unable to take it away for him, not even a little bit of it. The worse this gets, the more I’m losing him – he withdraws to keep it to himself, and he’s getting sicker, and we both know the sickness is going to take him away.

So I kissed him; it was all I could think of to offer him. He said I shouldn’t, but I didn’t care about that and kissed him again. We can share that much, at least, and we did.