Friday, 26 December 2008 - 3:12 pm

River wrong, fire black

We made it to the river this morning.  It doesn’t look right.  It’s as thick and fast-flowing as ever, but the water… it’s not right.  It used to run beautiful and blue; now it’s heavy with mud.  More than that – the mud seems luminous.  A weird, luminous tanned-shit colour.  It looks sick, and sickening.

I asked one woman what was wrong with it, and she shrugged.  Maybe something broke upriver and spilt unpleasantness into it.  And does it really matter?  It’s not like we can do anything about it from here.

I haven’t washed in almost three days.  I’d do anything for a hot shower and fresh clothes.  I’d do anything to wash my hair.  But I wasn’t going to touch that river water.  Skin crawls uncomfortably over my muscles at the thought.

No-one else seemed inclined to take a splash in it either.  I guess I’ll just have to put up with being disgusting for a little while yet.


The fires are getting worse.  The firefighters are trying to control them, but there are too many, too deep into the buildings for them to handle.

Yesterday, the wind was a good thing.  It had mostly stripped the dust out of the city, but smoke has rapidly replaced it.  Today, the breeze is moving the smoke around the city; sometimes we have to duck and wait for great black clouds to pass by, or we can’t breathe.  Worse, the wind is whipping up the flames.

We’ve had to move the injured closer to the bridge, to keep them safe from the roving fires.


Wait, something’s happening.  Gotta go.

Friday, 26 December 2008 - 5:09 pm


There’s no water.  The whole system has stopped pumping.  The firefighters spent an hour trying to find an outlet that would work, but it looks like we’re cut off completely.  Even the broken lines have stopped leaking all over the streets.  They don’t have enough hose to use the disgusting river water; there’s nothing left to fight the fires with.

They’re telling everyone to leave the city.  To pick up the wounded (again) and carry them across the bridge.  There’s still no sign of the ambulances.  Everyone’s so tired, but we can’t stop.

My chest feels like it’s going to burst.  There’s so much smoke around, and even the firemen’s air tanks are empty, used up by giving us clean breaths every now and then.  Before this, I never knew how precious just being able to breathe was.


I think there are just a few of us left here now.  Me and Dillon (he wouldn’t leave even when I told him to), a few other volunteers, and a handful of firefighters.  Everyone else has been sent out in groups across the bridge, towards the hospital.  We’re taking a break before we do some final sweeps of the CBD, to make sure that we haven’t missed any stragglers.


There’s Carter, the fire crew chief.  I’ve been meaning to grab him for ages; there just hasn’t been the time.  Might as well try my luck now.

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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Friday, 20 February 2009 - 4:24 pm

Rockin’ and rollin’

I never want to go in a boat again. That was one of the most awful experiences of my life. Well, okay, not counting the bomb going off and the city coming down and the rain and all the bad stuff that’s happened since then. Just never again with the boat, okay?

I’ve been on boats before. Dad took me fishing a couple of times when I was young. It was fine – I never reacted badly to the motion. I remember one time he had to shout at me to stop running around the boat, because I was having so much fun. But not this time.

I think it was  the smell. I hadn’t noticed it before, but out on the river, surrounded by it, there was no escape. Rotting things, putrid waste all roiling together and sliding past the bow. The slapping of the water against the fibreglass hull. The humidity that made our clothes stick to our skin like undead, clammy hands. We couldn’t help but breathe it all in.

I managed not to throw up. God knows we don’t have the food supplies to go wasting it like that – that might be the only reason I managed to keep it down. But I really wanted to. I had to breathe shallowly and try to ignore the fact that it felt like the whole world was rippling and rolling, not just the water.


Once we were afloat and all on board, we hunkered down and waited for the sharks to stop throwing rocks at us. After a little while, they gave up and went away. Ben and Thorpe changed their wet pants and socks – we’re still wary of getting wet, even if this kind doesn’t burn on contact. Who knows what else it might do? And it’s disgusting: we might not have washed properly for weeks, but that doesn’t mean we want to go splashing in that. Once all was quiet, I started up the engines and off we went.

There was one tricky moment when the boat dipped into a swell, deep enough that the waves threatened to wash over the deck. It’s not something that any of us would have thought about twice before, but now that the river is broken and the skies have turned against us, nothing about this is safe.

Everyone was crammed down in the cabin below except Ben and me – he was the only one who had driven a boat like this before, and being enclosed just made me feel worse. Besides, I had to be topside in case there was a problem with the engines.

I shut the others belowdecks, lashing all the hatches closed, while Ben fought with the boat to keep the water off us. My heart felt like it was being thumped with heavy-tipped sticks, right up against my breastbone.

On reflection, the boys should have changed into dry clothes after we had finished with the river. Both Ben and I were splashed, which only made me want to vomit more strongly – there’s something slippery about the river water, as if there’s oil in it, or three-quarters moisturising cream.

I couldn’t wait to get that damn boat lashed up so we could get off. There was a concrete pier on the opposite bank, a short trek upriver from where we started, and we had chains to use in place of ropes. Once the chains were fastened and the hatches were opened, I was up that ladder like greased lightning (and wishing it was grease on me).


I’m dry now, fresh clothes all over (which means I’ve only worn them four or ten times before). I dumped the ones I was wearing. Matt said he’d read in a book about someone using oil to wash in rather than water. The next time we find a bottle of olive oil, I’m going swimming in it.

I am not looking forward to the return trip, not at all. 

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Thursday, 16 July 2009 - 10:17 pm

Filtered water

Dr Kostoya allowed a few of us upstairs today. We caught him sneaking around downstairs when the foragers were heading out and he asked if we would give him a hand with something. I went up with Ben, Sally and Conroy.

He has settled himself in his lab with a bed of piled blankets on an old couch in his office. “My home away from home is now just home,” he told us with a shrug.

We were much more interested in the things he had set up in the lab. So many pipes and tubes, tubs and bowls and vats. At first, he didn’t want to talk about any of that stuff – he asked us to help him hook up a new pump to a nest of pipes in the corner. It was a big, heavy thing that had to be held up while it was propped in place and attached to the system.

We struggled to get it into position, but it seemed a lot lighter than it looked. Kostoya was surprised while he hurried around us, fastening things. I couldn’t help but notice that Ben didn’t seem to strain under it as much as the rest of us did, but maybe that’s just yesterday’s conversation colouring things. I’m looking for changes now, so maybe that’s why I’m seeing them.

Kostoya explained the pump after it was dealt with: it would stop the water in the defensive pipes from freezing. He babbled something about convection but I missed exactly what he was saying. I did catch that he has a rainwater tank on the roof that he’s using to supply the system.

That’s not all he’s using the rainwater for, either. Conroy and I peeked at some of the things he has on the counters and were quickly shooed away from them.

“You’re investigating the rain?” Conroy asked him. Of all of us, he’s the one most likely to understand the professor’s mumblings.

“Yes! Of course. What else would I be doing here?” Kostoya was flustered and defensive, but not enough to chase us away. I think he liked that we seemed interested; we reminded him of his long-gone students.

“What have you found out about it?” I said. I didn’t know what I hoped for; it has been so long since we had any chance of discovering anything about the rain that I had given up on answers.

A lot of things, he told us. He’d discovered so many things, and yet he had barely scratched the surface of it. It’s not organic, he said, and it’s not just laced with acid. It’s more than that. And despite it bearing a faintly green tinge, it’s linked to the orange taint to the clouds.

But it can be filtered clean. With the right mixture of stones and soils and enough time, the acid can be sifted right out of the rainwater. It can be made safe.

“Won’t even make you sick,” he said, holding up a glass of water that looked muddy but brown rather than green.

It took me a long moment to realise what he meant. Ben was silent and Conroy’s mouth fell open just a heartbeat before the penny dropped inside my skull.

“The Sickness is linked to the rain?”

“Yes, yes of course.” Kostoya seemed surprised. “What did you think caused it?”

None of us knew what to say to that. It makes an awful kind of sense. I went through the list of those I had known with the Sickness: Sax, with his burnt arm; Ben, with the acid splatter over his chest; Alice, with half her face missing; and, more recently, Steve with his bandaged arm. Of the others – the priest, the Rats – I don’t know if they had ever been burned by the rain, but it’s entirely possible.

Our stunned silence was broken by Sally’s abrupt departure. The lab doors flapped in her wake.

Kostoya decided that was a wonderful idea and shooed us all out. Down in our teaching room again, things were strange. Conroy was fascinated; Ben was silent and internal; Sally was curled up and apparently asleep. I turned it all over in my head until the others got back, my feet carrying me in restless circles around the building. It’s hard trying to keep watch with such a distraction.

I think the rain just got a little more terrifying.

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