Sunday, 28 December 2008 - 10:34 am


I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to tell this part.


They burnt the sky.  That’s what it looks like.  Not just over the city, but in every direction.  It’s a thick orange colour, burnt umber turned inside out.  It’s not the smoke; that’s a black smear against it.

Who could possibly burn the sky like that?  How?  How far does it reach?  And why?  Why would anyone do this?

Looking up at it makes me dizzy.  But it’s so hard to look away.


All of us gathered outside in the street to look at it.  Once the calls had finished, no-one said anything.  When I glanced away from the awfulness of it, I realised how much we all looked the same.  We had all been smeared by the same big, ashen hand from head to toe.  We were eyes and teeth and fallen-open mouths in scorched ghosts.

Gazing towards the city, I can’t believe we were there.  It’s all alight now; the firefighters have lost and fled, and the bones belong to the flames.  I can’t believe we came out of there alive.  Some of the structures are still standing, empty-eyed, like broken teeth.  They gulp smoke at the sky, inverted vomiting, and I can taste it at the back of my throat.


I hadn’t realised until now how much I was looking forward to seeing the sky again.  After all that smoke and dust, I was looking forward to the cleanness of it.

Now I can’t remember what blue is supposed to look like.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008 - 9:42 pm


Everyone else is asleep now.  I don’t think I can, not until I get this down.  I feel like I did a week ago, when the bomb went off.  If I don’t get this down, it’s going to always be there, harrying me, haunting me.  I’ll burst and I’ll break, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up again.


I think the first thing that happened was that it went quiet.  The storm birds had been screaming at the sky for an hour, and all of a sudden they disappeared.  We didn’t think anything of it – why would we?

Those who weren’t resting were outside, looking for supplies.  I was checking out a truck with a couple of the guys – we were hoping to get it working.  Our group wasn’t the only one out and about; there were others, doing the same as we were.

It was just a fall of rain, the most natural thing in the world.  A scudding-together of orange-stained clouds that let loose.  But it swept up the street with the most awful sound. At first I wondered what the water was hitting to set up such a screeching.

Then I realised that it was people screaming.


We didn’t stop to see why; we ran for the café.  Just dropped everything and ran.  I shouted for people to take cover, shoved others when I reached them; anything to get out of the street.  We only just made it before the rain reached us.  It hissed when it hit the ground, and it dissolved alive within its reach.

Carter and Trevor were making their way back to us from their equipment-gathering mission.  They were too far away.  They ran – we could see them, we called to them – but they didn’t make it.  I can still hear their voices, screaming in pain as they went down. 

I never knew that a human body could melt like that.  In this nightmare week, it’s the worst thing I’ve seen.  Faces warp, there’s blood and then bone showing, and then it’s all mashed together on the ground.  A whole person, reduced to nothing but a steaming puddle in a matter of seconds.  I want to throw up again.

We’ve stepped out of a disaster movie and into horror now.  There’s no other word for it.


We had to hold Thorpe back.  He was wild, wanting to get to his crewmates, shouting and screaming.  I think we were all shouting; my throat is raw with it.  He struck at me and Ben tackled him to the floor.  It took Ben and Sax to hold him down.

Liz was out in it, too.  We heard more screams up the street: a woman and the higher, shriller sound of a little one.  She’d taken one of the kids for a walk.  Aaron; the kid’s name was Aaron.  Oh god, he was so tiny.

I tried to herd everyone back from the front of the café.  Especially Dillon – I didn’t want him to see what was happening.  It was probably too late, but… it seemed like the thing I was supposed to do.  And I was so scared – a breath of wind might have driven the rain further inside.  Back, get back, get away from it, get away.


No-one saw the lawyerlady until it was too late.  She was so quiet that we often missed her, and she never did anything without one of us telling her to.  Eat, drink, walk, keep going.  But she did this on her own.  Between Thorpe and everything else, no-one saw her walk up to the doorway.

She paused there, long enough for us to spot her.  Then we were shouting again, and I ran after her.  She turned around and looked right at me, and I’ve never seen eyes like that before.  So empty, so awful and dark.

And then she stepped outside.  I–

I didn’t make it.  I didn’t pay enough attention.  I didn’t try hard enough to get her to talk, to reach her before it was too late.  I didn’t take the time to convince her not to die.

I never even knew her name.  Maybe if I had known her name, I could have called her back.


After that, after she was gone, it went quiet.  All we could do was stare at the hissing of the rain.  If we listened hard, we could hear the leading edge of it claiming more victims, the screeching growing quieter as it spread its grip.  Dillon was crying and I held him so tightly I must’ve hurt him.

It wasn’t until we all settled down together at the back of the café that we realised that Delaine was missing.  Perhaps it was the quiet; the lack of his complaining.  Someone said they thought he’d gone to look for something.  He didn’t come back even after the rain passed.

So there’s just eight of us left now.  Ben and Thorpe, Sally and Sax, Nugget and Simon, and Dillon and me.  The café feels empty without the others.


Our world has turned into fire and acid and broken rocks.  We’re in the belly of the beast, and I can’t see a way out.

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Monday, 5 January 2009 - 9:25 am

Catching up

I’m so behind on everything.  It took us half a day to get out of the café, between getting the truck working, collecting supplies and packing them into it, and then squeezing everyone inside. 

It was slow going.  I hadn’t really noticed before, but there are vehicles all over the road.  Some crashed when they were fried, some just stopped, some were obviously picked up and tossed.  I suspect some of them used to be in different streets entirely; they were carried to their resting places by the blast, like toys, like Dorothy’s house.  In amongst all of it is a hefty serving of debris from shattered buildings.

We had to inch around the obstacles, and a couple of times, the guys had to pile out to shove a car out of the way and open a path.  I lost count of the times we had to backtrack to find a clearer way.

At one point Ben just gave up and scraped past a car, exchanging paint and teeth-edging screeches.  We winced and he shrugged – why protect a paintjob anyway?  It’s not like aesthetics matter, and now it seems strange that we had been so careful before.  It’s silly when I stop and think about it, and yet it was second nature to us. 

I don’t know if this is really faster than walking.  It still feels better to be driving, though.  To not be kicking at the ground any more, to feel like we’re actually making progress.  To give our feet a rest and be going somewhere at the same time.  To not be holed up somewhere like rats who have no idea what to do about the sinking of the ship.


We stopped about mid-afternoon and looked for somewhere to take shelter.  The sky was thickening – it’s still orange, still huddling low above us.  It seems to be some kind of cloud cover, but one that the wind isn’t able to tear apart.  I have yet to see a glimpse of blue, and as a passenger in the truck, I did a lot of looking.

The sight of that sky still makes me nauseous.  It taints the sunlight and it robs us of the moon and stars at night.  No blue, and no clean, spangled black either.  It glows red in the mornings and seeps everything ruddy.  It makes me want to scrub my eyes, but they’ll never come clear.

There’s less smoke-scarring up there now; I think the rain has put out the fires.  So it’s good for that much, at least.  We had only just settled down in our shelter when the rainfall started again.  It seems that the cluttering up of the clouds into a thicker, darker mass is a sign to take cover, after all.


The next day – yesterday – was more of the same.  Painfully slow chugging, shoehorning our way through the mass of debris.  We’re making our way westwards along the river – we looked at the bridges to the east, but the one we came over on is broken, and the next one is too close to the CBD – it’s the one we fled over to get out of there.  If it’s still standing, it’ll be near impossible to get to. 

West is the bypass tunnel under the river.  We didn’t know if it was open, or clogged, or collapsed in on itself like a broken windpipe.  It was the best one to try, so that’s what we did. 

We were about a block away from it when we got caught out by the rain.  It was spotting on the windscreen before we realised that the clouds had thickened, and Ben yanked the wheel around.  The truck bounced off the road and right through the front of a clothes store.  A mannequin bounced off the bonnet, its head ricocheting into a rack of pants.

I think that shook him up a bit.  For a heartbeat, it looked like a person, ploughed through like tissuepaper.  A couple of us cried out in horror at the sight of it – I think I was one of them.  We almost laughed when we realised what it was.  Ben didn’t look like laughing, though.


There’s not much chance of us getting the truck running today.  We’re not going to get it out of the store, and the roads here are too thick with dead cars to have room to bump-start it.  It was almost out of gas anyway.  We’re close to the tunnel, so we’re going to take a look before we try to find another vehicle.

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Monday, 10 August 2009 - 9:34 pm

Touching sky

Today, we stood on top of the world. It took us most of the day to get there, between waiting for the ice to unstick and getting around obstacles on increasingly steep and hairpinning roads, but it was worth it. All the terror of trying not to look down the sheer faces of rock and dirt, and having one of the offroaders shunt the campervan up a couple of stretches… even that was worth it.

We all stopped and clambered out of the vehicles when we broke through the cloudbank and the warmth washed over us. I had forgotten how bright the sun can be. Suddenly, there was white in the world again, painfully pure to eyes used to stains. We squinted and shaded our faces, as if we’d been living in caves all these months.

The clouds were too close for comfort, so we didn’t linger there on the roadside for long – condensation was a worry. Dale mentioned the idea of seeing what it looked like from the very top and we were all quickly infected with it. Those last treacherous stretches went by at a reckless pace as we strained for the top, to see more and more of the world above the bomb’s mark. More of the old world, where it’s holding its head above water.

I don’t know how long we stood up there. It was off our path but no-one cared. We should have pushed on to the ECC, but instead we lingered and looked. For a little while, some of us cried.

The clouds aren’t orange on top. They’re pale – not quite white, somewhere between yellow and green perhaps. And above them, the sky… I don’t have the words. I’ve been compressed under the cloudbank for so long, I had forgotten how good it felt to be able to breathe. To look up and feel like there was room to stretch and stretch, room to run as far and as fast as I liked, room for as many possibilities as the human brain could conceive. I have missed that fearless expanse and its freedom.

And colours, so many colours. Delicate eggshell, dipping into violet and and the blush of midnight blue on the horizon; beautiful, beautiful blues while red and gold fall under on the other side. Below them, cluttering up our sight, there’s green here too. Thick and rare and living. We couldn’t see the dirt for the fallen leaves, or west for the trunks of trees. None of us minded. It’s been so long since nature got in our way that it makes a nice change.

We all wound up standing in a huddle when the sun went down. So painful to look at directly but still a wonderful sight. I had my faithful Dillon under my arm, leaning on me, and Matt beside me, fingers linked through mine. The siblings hung onto each other on his other side, and Thorpe and Dale stood behind, tall enough to see past us. Dan stood beside Dillon and placed his hand over mine where it rested on the kid’s shoulder. I looked at him and he nodded at me solemnly, as if he approved of all this and it was somehow my doing. I don’t know why, but that little gesture lifted me.

I wish that Ben could have seen this. It would have burned him, so badly, but I think he would have liked it. I think it might have lifted him, too.

My feet were tired by the time twilight was making it difficult to see, but when I turned around, I couldn’t move. I looked up and up and my throat closed over.

It’s not just the sky I’ve missed, or the sun: it’s the stars, too. And there they were, pricking out their tiny holes in the oncoming dark. Stars. So far away, but not too far to reach us here. I wanted to reach back, I wanted to let them know that we’re still here. We’re still a part of that vast universe, even with our scars and struggles, even hidden away below the cloudbank.

I think part of the tears was relief. Knowing that all of this was still up here, that not all of the world is broken, sullied, poisoned and dying. Ours isn’t the only mountaintop breathing above the clouds – there are others, tiny islands in the sea of acid water. Pockets of clean rock and plants clinging to life. There might even be birds and animals up here.


There was no rain for us today. There was no hiding. It’s warmer here but there’s still a nip of winter chill; we didn’t care. We’re sleeping outside tonight, bundled in our blankets with the stars for a cover over our heads. It’s strange, like living in a memory but without the sepia tones.

I don’t think any of us will sleep much tonight. I can’t stop gazing up, counting the stars and wishing that I knew their names. I want to see the dawn and the sun rising again, just to know that it does.

Now I know why the birds sing when the sun comes up; I feel as though I might burst if I don’t.

Thursday, 31 December 2009 - 4:54 pm

Anniversary, part three: rain

There are bodies lying out behind the barn. They aren’t new – it’s Mira and Janice, and the intruders. Bree went outside to throw up after too much alcohol, and screamed when she found them.

The problem isn’t that they’re there: it’s that they’re still there. They were put out days ago – the rain should have taken them. Instead, they’re starting to smell bad and turning sickly colours in the summer heat.

It doesn’t look like they’ve been in the rain at all. They’re not scorched; their skin is as whole as we left it. When the intruders attacked and we had to drag Mira inside, I remember how the acid scarred her boots. It made little pits in the leather, tiny marks made by a petulant god. That should have been the first clue: the acid should have bored right through, scoring holes deep into her feet. At the time, I thought she was lucky. That was before I knew she was dead.

Standing outside in the dark last night, confusion swayed around the group. A couple of the others threw up – it really did smell awful. My stomach flip-flopped uncomfortably and for a moment I thought I’d join them. Instead, I shooed everyone back inside.

None of us knew what to make of it. We turned to Kostoya and Conroy, but the professor had passed out and Conroy was nowhere to be found. The others were too drunk to pursue it, so we waited until morning to seek answers. We did our best to keep up the revelries despite the bleak reminder.


This morning, I was one of the first up. Everyone was hung over except Jersey, the kids, and me. I made us all breakfast and took Matt a plate. He groaned and buried his head under the covers, so I left him to it.

I went outside to check over the vehicles and stopped just outside the door to look up. Apart from occasional checks for rain, I don’t usually pay much attention to the sky. Not real attention, the kind where details make themselves known. The clouds are always there, leaning on us, low and heavy. It has been so long since we saw it any other way that it’s hard to remember what it used to be like; even our time above them on the mountains was months ago.

This morning, the presence of the bodies behind the barn made me look up. It’s hard to tell, but I think the sky is paler than it used to be. The orange isn’t as thick any more, tending towards pale gold at the edges. Edges – that’s not something that the clouds have had for a long time; since the bombs went off, it has been one massive stretch of poison, roiling like an inverted ocean. It has tides and flows, but never runs dry.

Soft singing reached me as someone approached from behind; it was Lily with her soft tread and vague expression. She was gazing upwards as well and I caught a few lyrics.

“Never saw blue like that, before….”

I gave her a querying glance and she pointed to the east. There, if I squinted, was a spot where the cloud cover thinned. As I watched, the masses shifted and parted, stretching a slice of sky open between them. My breath caught and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Shafts of sunlight angled through like great, golden fingers coming down to stroke the earth below. Real, pure, unfiltered sunlight out of the brightest blue.

I banged my fists sore on doors, tearing through the house chased by curses and groans, words garbled by the lump in my throat. They had to get up. They all had to get up and see it, hangovers be damned. Come and see, it’s amazing. It’s wonderful. Lily’s laughter chased me, delighted at the storm moving through the house.

They stopped complaining once they saw. They fell quiet as soon as they stepped outside, as if the whole world was a church and that was God looking down at us from behind a torn curtain. They screwed up their eyes and were reminded what white looked like.


We were there for a few minutes before Estebar asked why the clouds were gathering up like that. He was right: they were gathering into clumps, revealing those slivers of precious blue in between threatening loads. There was a haze against the horizon; it was making up for yesterday’s lack of rain by coming early today. We retreated inside, lingering near the front windows so we could watch it, in case the sky might disappear again.

Kostoya was one of the last to make it down to us, holding his head up with one hand. He peered, blinked, and grunted as if something had just been confirmed. I wasn’t the only one to turn to him, waiting for some kind of explanation. He gazed at us queryingly for a moment before he realised what we wanted, then shuffled his feet and drew his shoulders straight.

“The rain has been getting weaker for some time,” Professor Kostoya told us between great gulps of water. He was pale in his hangover. “Or rather, the acid in the rain has. I’ve been monitoring it. Wasn’t sure what would happen to it – it has been erratic, sometimes more, sometimes less.” He waggled a hand in the air. Conroy watched him, looking like he wanted to butt in at any moment.

“And you didn’t tell us?” Jersey demanded.

“The tests were inconclusive – as I said, results were erratic. I needed more data to be sure.”

“Are you sure now?” Dale asked.

Kostoya looked up. “It is all connected. The clouds, the rain. We need to do more tests.” His gaze returned to us and he realised that he sounded like a scientist. He tried to give us the kind of answer we were looking for. “Now the rain seems to be clean, yes.”

“They know,” Bree said, her quiet words reaching all the way across the room. She was pressed up against the glass, eyes fixed on the oncoming rain.

I had to move closer to realise that she wasn’t looking at the water at all – she was watching the black shapes moving around within it. Crows or ravens – it was hard to tell from such a distance. We were sure of one thing, though: they were getting wet. Creatures who would have known to stay out of it were blithely flying in it and heading our way. Bree was right: they knew it was safe.

It was only a few minutes before they passed overhead. Gleaming, they were a black wave that screamed past the Farm just moments before the water hit us. Lily laughed with delight as they swooped in the air overhead and she was the only one of us who didn’t flinch when rain hammered against the window.


It was a lot to process. A year ago, the rain started and stripped us of half of our ragtag group of survivors. Friends, family, lovers – all were taken, on that awful day and others since then. It stripped every living thing from the Earth, taking away our sources of food. We learned to hide from it, to fear it, to dread its burning kiss. At first it was the pain and loss that drove us into shelter, and then it was the knowledge that it was full of poison. It turned our dead into hungry shells. It was as if nature itself had turned against us and wanted us to devour ourselves. It was horror, and nightmare, and bane, all in one.

Now it’s over. All of that is gone. The acid was a scouring pad; the world is the slate, wiped clean the hard way. Now it’s time to make new marks on it. Now it’s time to start over.

“Faith, no.” Matt tried to stop me, but I already had an arm stretched out of the open door. Rain fell on my skin like a memory from another life. Tears tracked down my cheeks, echoing the marks on the windows, and I turned my palm up as if to catch hold of it.

“It’s all right,” I said. It felt good. It was even a little warm, reminding me of the showers I had missed over the past year.

Someone nudged past me and ran out into the rain: Lily, as fearless as always. I smiled through my own tears, a laugh catching in my throat. Matt was holding my other hand, and I tugged on him.

“It’s all right, Matt.”

He didn’t look convinced, but he followed me outside anyway. In fits and starts, the others followed, looking up at the sky warily. I walked out into the middle of the yard and stopped, lifting my face into the falling water. The crows screeched overhead, swooping through the rain. I could hear the kids running around, small boots splashing below their giggles. Heavier steps trod in more cautious circles, but when I looked over, wonder dared to show itself in the faces around me.

Jonah was in the doorway, unwilling to come out on his crutches, but he grinned at the rest of us. Jersey stood nearby, watching droplets fall into her hand. Bobby stood next to Bree and looked up, and she cast him a sideways glance. Masterson had his hand on Sally’s shoulder while she let the rain fall on baby Felix’s face. He didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t seem to mind. Kostoya had a similar expression, bewildered by the excitement but trying to take part anyway. Conroy was beaming like a fool. Thorpe stood with the ring he keeps on a chain around his neck covered by one hand and Dale’s hand clutched in the other. Lily was in the middle of all of us, her arms outflung and head thrown back with abandon as she turned in circles.

Matt slipped his arms around me from behind and I leaned back into him. I was brimful of everything, wanting to dance, and sing, and cry, and shout out to the sky: “We’re here, we’re alive, we made it.” I hugged the arms around me; without them, I might have floated away. I didn’t mind that I was getting soaked. I felt like I could do anything, anything at all.

We were standing in the rain. The world was ours again.

There was just one thing missing. I tipped my head back onto Matt’s shoulder and looked up at him. He was grinning like a schoolboy and his eyes were bright when he gazed at me. His eyebrows lifted.

“What is it?” he asked.

I echoed his grin, too happy to contain myself. There was just that one thing missing, but that was something we could fix.

“Let’s go get Dad back.”

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