Heading out into the unknown

So, Mei’s exit from the blogosphere got me thinking.  I’ve been isolated since long before the pandemic hit.  I did it to myself.  Well, my folks helped, and the general shittiness of the world contributed, but really, I mostly did it to myself.  I used to have some ambition, but I dropped that when it got too hard, and resented every minute of my life instead.  I avoided the kind of conflicts that might’ve meant shit or changed anything, and I revelled in irrelevant sniping and trolling.  I went in for the kill when I should’ve called truce and slated others’ weakness without trying to lend them any strength.  And this was all part of a grand master plan to push away everybody who ever started to care about me, in case I got reliant.  Then the world fell apart, more than once, and I was more reliant than I wanted to admit, and all my friends in the world were on this blog, and they were there for me.  I’ve got a lot of skills, and I’m not weak, but I do need people.  My own company’s not good for me.  And, I realised, there are people who need me, too.  They’re trying to start up communities and grow food and build shelters and run schools and fight off gangs in little pockets of green in the desert.  And they put out a call for people like me to come and join them, and I laughed about it and decided that, if they were even real, I was better than them.  Well, if I’m better than them, all the more reason to go along and help them out.  I sent them my vid last night.

I’ve got enough supplies for a few days’ trek, a handset, a solar-powered backpack, a scorcher of a summer’s day and a set of co-ordinates that should lead me on the first leg of my journey to this Dreamtime Town place.  Apparently there are tests along the way.  I got to walk the direction they tell me past the point I’ll run out of water, and trust that there’s a water hole at the other end.  If they reckon I’ve got ill intent, they’ll send me the wrong way.  They’ll send scouts to meet me who have to get home safe and give a good report before I get the next clue; they intend to get to know me a little before they let me in, test my resolve, my trust and the skills I say I’m bringing.  I guess I deserve that.  If I find Frank at the other end, I’m going to swing for the bastard.

You know what, though?  Like Mei, I’m not going to blog about the journey, or about the place when I get there.  I got a coupla reasons for saying that.  First is similar to Mei’s: I feel like a fake.  Up until I lost the store, I was blogging to impress, not to communicate, just like the funny announcements I used to make in the old life instead of talking to my colleagues.  It wasn’t that I didn’t really care, I cared so much I could’ve bled, but I never could connect with anything real while I was aware of being listened to, being public.  I always thought I didn’t care what anybody thought of me, but truth is I care about nothing else.  I wanted people to think of me as the kind of person who doesn’t care what people think of me.  That’s what blogging, performing, will do to you.  You create a persona – you can’t help it – and you get trapped inside it.  It’s not a lie, exactly, but it’s not the whole truth.  It’s a barrier.  You’ve always got to be analysing and describing and advising, never just relating.  Wherever I end up, and whatever happens there, I want it to be me who arrives, no pretences.  I want to relate to people as myself, whether I like them or not.  It’ll be hard work, because I’m not that likeable.  Narrating it all for public consumption probably won’t do me any favours, either.

The other reason is kind of for you guys, because, despite all that Mei says, I do fucking love you people, and that’s how I know it’s hell when somebody you care about disappears from their blog without a word and you don’t know what happened to them.  So if I say, “Hey guys, I’m going off into the outback where I could starve or get bitten by snakes or trampled by wild kangaroos or anything, looking for a place I probably won’t find, where I half suspect people will steal my stuff and kill me anyway – I’ll keep you posted!” then if you hear nothing, you’ll waste your time and power endlessly refreshing my blog and calling my name into the bleak and lonely digital void, and I wouldn’t want that.

If I just tell you all now that I’m going to stop blogging, as of the end of this paragraph – well, then you can imagine me tilling fields of golden wheat, or sipping a glass of homebrew Mojito in a hammock under the desert sun, or making sarcastic wisecracks at a meeting full of earnest utopians – or go with trampled by wild kangaroos if you prefer, I wouldn’t hold it against you – and you’ll have no reason to suppose me otherwise.  In short, if I say I’ll blog, and then I don’t, it can only be bad.  If I say I won’t, and then I don’t, it could be good.  You can imagine me as you want to.  Keep up the work, good or bad or indifferent.   And remember, I might still be reading, so watch yourselves.

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Giving up on giving up

I’ve left Canberra.  I’m sort of following the river, just to keep some kind of water supply, but trying not to be too visible from the major paths.  Still no idea where I’m headed to, but I have new reasons to fear what I’m running from.

Yesterday, I was searching for a key-safe – they make the breaking and entering a little easier, and they tend to be found amongst the tackier lawn ornaments.  I wasn’t having much luck, and was scattering woodland creatures in my wake when I heard the sound that every city scavenger dreads: engines.  I scrambled for the cover of a water butt as the sound of a truck engine approached, a recorded message blaring out its windows.   I listened, pressed against the wall, watching a meerkat I’d overturned roll to a stop at my feet, its paws raised in alert and a madness in its resin eye.

“…have to run and hide.  This amnesty will last three days.  If you are still in the contaminated zone after this time, we cannot guarantee your safety.  This area must be sanitised.  The quarantines are clean and safe.  You will find food, shelter. medical care and clean water.  Once the city can be sanitised, the quarantine will end.  You will be able to return to your home.  Go to your nearest quarantine centre and all refusal charges will be dropped.  You no longer have to run and hide.  This amnesty will last three days…”

I considered my options.  Give up and go to quarantine?  Not happening.  I don’t believe a crackle about any amnesty, and even if I did I’m not just walking into it, not after all this.  Hide out somewhere to wait until this “sanitisation” is over?  Where would I be safe?  What will it involve?  Are they going to fumigate each building?  Nuke us from the air?  How do you sanitise a whole city?  I couldn’t risk assuming a bluff any more than I could risk trusting the announcement.  It’d have to be option three: head into the bush until it’s over, then see what’s left to sneak back to.

So I headed towards the river to find that the paths out that way were looking freshly trodden.  I wasn’t the only contestant to choose door number three. I saw some people out in front, and after passing them in a wide arc I saw some more.  I haven’t seen more than one person at a time since the raid, and I never thought I’d see a crowd again.  I didn’t think that many people were even left in Canberra.  Something on the back of my neck started prickling, and I pulled my hat down and walked on the edge of the path, casting quick glances and listening to the chatter, but not meeting anybody’s eye.  There were families there, little kids, people who’ve been hiding out in their own basements or escaped the quarantines.  People were beginning to talk openly, the way you can when you’re two strangers on a journey in a crowd instead of two strangers with guns in a dusty store with one tin can left on the shelf.  They were starting to get friendly, swap stories. They were letting their guard down.   And I thought, “This isn’t right.”  We were like a bunch of sheep trotting away from a crouching collie.   Sooner or later we’d walk right into a pen.

I tried to talk to a few people, the ones who were front and centre of small huddles, to point out how visible we all were heading this way together.  I suggested breaking up into smaller groups, taking different routes, staying under cover, travelling at night.  Some nodded and started talking amongst themselves, then shrugged and carried on.  Most said, “Safety in numbers” or “Jumpy, aren’t ya?” or even “If they’re coming for us, they’ll get us one way or another.”   Towards nightfall people started making camp, and I thought about what to do.  In the end I decided to keep my distance from the herd and scout ahead, in cover of darkness.  If I spotted anything, I could get back and warn them, but mostly I hoped I could get safely round any trap before it was sprung.  I guess I did that.

About 4am I heard a plane approaching, turned off my torch and dived for cover.  It passed over, back the way I’d come, towards the refugees.  Then a minute later I saw something like fireworks dropping from the sky, and the distance lit up, and a moment after that I heard the muted rumbles and felt the shockwaves, like a train passing underground.  I started running back, then away again, then back again.  Then I did what I always do, what I’ve done since the day I took over the store – hid and waited it out, with my hands over my ears.  I did go back this morning, but there wasn’t anybody left to save.

I don’t think this is even about decontamination.  I think it’s about control.  Anybody not under it is a threat.  I don’t know how I’m going to live away from the city.  I’ve got my rifle and hobbyist bushcraft, and there might be the odd farmhouse to raid on the way out.  I doubt I’ll find much to eat, but I’ve got some supplies and I can survive a little longer.

A little before I started writing this, I wondered whether it was even worth the effort.  I lay down where I stood, decided I wasn’t going to fish or forage or do anything.  I never planned to make it even this far – it’s here and no further, I thought.  That’s it, I’ve had enough.  I can’t do it anymore.  I just wanted to stop.  I wanted to make it all stop.

Well, after an hour or so, I was kind of half asleep, but I opened my eyes and saw a huge brown snake slinking along, not a metre from me.  Not sure what species, but all the ones like it are pretty deadly.  I’ve seen them before, but never that close.  It had tiny, perfect, light brown scales, like a baby pine cone, except where the sun glinted blue-green on the edges, then it was like a tropical fish, sliding through the dry ocean towards me.  And I just thought… oh.

Fuck.

Off.

I rolled away, and by the time I’d picked up a stick it had slithered out of view, leaving me to contend with the idea that I really didn’t want to die after all.  Fucked if I know what I do want.  I guess I need to hang around a little longer and find out.

Going Home

They say you can never go home, but we all know they’re full of shit.

I wasn’t heading towards the area, I just happened to get here.  It’s like when you’ve got an ex you don’t want to bump into, but you kind of do, so you go to the places they hang out, telling yourself all the while they won’t be there so you can act surprised when you see them.  I turned the corner onto my street, and it was just, like: “Oh hey, Low-Rent Studio Unit, fancy seeing you here!  Not moved on yet?  Well, I have.  Not that I came here to tell you that.  Actually, I’m just here to raid the house across the street.  I thought I may as well collect some of my things, while I was passing.  I didn’t even think you’d be home.” But it is. It’s home, and even as I tell myself I can’t bring back the past and it’ll only open old wounds and leave me confused and vulnerable, I know I’m going to stay the night.

I can see now that I was just putting off the inevitable.  I had to come back before I could move on.  I just couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d open the front door and it wouldn’t be depressing as fuck.  I thought, it’ll either have been raided by someone like me, and it’ll look like a burglary: every lock broken, every cupboard and drawer turned out in search of edibles or useables or valuables, then abandoned as a wreck not worth the effort of salvage, like a metaphor for my life.  Or it’ll be somebody like the Triggers, before they went rogue, and they’ll have been in and cleared everything to be logged and sorted and stored for the quarantines, leaving it empty and hollow with only the ghostly echo of the presence of my soul, like a metaphor for my life.  Or there could be somebody living there, eating the last of my food and wearing my clothes and sleeping in my bed, reading my books, watching my movies, listening to my music, taking in everything I am and gradually replacing me from the outside in, challenging me to surrender everything I was or fight to reclaim myself, thereby ultimately destroying a reflection or aspect of myself.  Like a metaphor for my life.

As it turned out, none of those things had happened.  Where I live isn’t exactly rich pickings, so it might have been passed over by the salvage squads and not yet resorted to by the scavengers.  It’s almost exactly as I left it, except for the radioactive slime monster in the fridge and the patches of mould and fungus that a winter without heating has brought out of the wallpaper and soft furnishings.  It’s kind of weird.  I got out my spare camp stove, and it still had half a canister of gas left.  I made coffee – actual coffee – and drank if from the blue speckled-glaze mug I stole from work for my birthday.  I made a bean chilli and rice from the food in my cupboards, with cumin and smoked paprika and passata with basil, a splash of cabernet and fresh oregano from my window box, the new spring leaves.

When it started to get dark, I lit some scented candles from the cupboard of generic gifts, collected over the years from colleagues and casual drinking buddies and ex-partners’ mothers who’ve felt they should get me something but don’t know what I like.  I filled a hot water bottle.  I put on my pyjamas and my dressing gown and my slippers, and got into my bed and dreamt strange dreams.  I dreamt that I’d spent five months barricaded into Colmart and then wandered the deserted streets of Canberra looting kitchens to survive.  Then I dreamt that was only a dream.  Then I woke in the bright sun through unlined, badly-sewn velvet curtains and looked around and, for a good while, I really didn’t know what had happened, and I tried to get back to sleep before I’d remember for sure, but I couldn’t.

I got up and put on clean clothes.  Then I filled every container I could find with water.  I dug out the solar shower I’ve never used (cause I sneer at campers who won’t get in the river) and put it out front in the spring sunshine.  Then I opened every window in the house, got out every cleaning product from under the kitchen sink, shook out every sheet and duvet and rug and throw, scrubbed the mould off the walls, emptied and cleaned the fridge and freezer and kitchen cupboards, washed my raiding clothes and sleeping bag in the bath and hung them out on the neighbour’s washing line.   I went through just about everything  in the place, burning junk I’d never want again in the yard, packing what I could use in my rucksack, stowing everything else away neatly in clean drawers and cupboards.  Then I brought the solar shower into the bathroom and hung it off the useless electric one and got properly clean in warm water for the first time in months, with flower-scented soaps and seashell-shaped sponges (more generic gifts).  I made more real food to eat and to pack.  Then I sat down at my table to write this.

And now I’m hearing that seductive little traitor voice that says I can stay here just a little longer, just casually, no commitment, no ties – no rent, even – and nothing outside has to be real tonight.  I could lock my door and make it all go away.  “Just for eight hours,” says the duvet.  “Or twenty-four,” says the liquor cabinet.  “Or forever,” says the bathroom cabinet.  And that’s why I can’t stay.  If I keep still, then by the time I’m out of options I won’t be able to face going out to find more, and this time there might not be a gang of raiders to chase me away.  Or there might be one too soon. I don’t have my in-store security system here, and my smoke’s probably already caught somebody’s attention.  It’s too dangerous not to move on.

I’m re-stocked and clean, and I’ve got fresh clothes and thick socks and boots that fit.  This is the time to head out again.  No staying still, no going back.

No idea where I’m headed.

What’s real in my world

I’ve had a couple of sunny days to charge up the handset, so I guess I can afford to write something longer than a comment.  My mate Jack’s been spectacularly losing his grip, so I’ve been checking in with a daily Lonely Planet guide to the Edge of Reason, given I’m pretty familiar with that territory, but it’s not going so well.

Back in the real world, I’ve been finding a new hole to hide in every night, moving away from the store and hopefully from anybody who might feel vengeful.

The wound’s healing up nicely, but I still got to be careful how much I try and carry, which is awkward given I never know where my next meal’s coming from.  Every couple of days or so I bump into somebody else, and we either fight or run away or spend an awkward hour sharing out a haul and making stilted conversation, trying not to look like our right hands are hovering over our guns.

The usual routine goes:

“So, you been down Weston Creek?”

“Yep, nothin’ left.  Tried Yarralumla?”

“Yep, nothin’ left there, either.”

Nobody’s going to say there’s anything left anywhere, cause if there is we want it for ourselves.  I mostly try to stay out of sight.  I’ve cut my hair to a fuzz and wear a big hat and baggy clothes.  I’ve not had any major trouble, but one guy did follow me around like a lost puppy for two days.  In the end I had to shoot at him to get him to fuck off.

Only other thing I’ve used the guns for is taking pot-shots at the odd cockatoo, and scaring off anything that starts barking at me out of the shadows.  Yep, there’s feral dogs about, and some of them are even canine.  It’s not true about them being two meals from wolves, though.  That’d be easier to deal with, if they were just snarling, drooling monsters.  I’d shoot the skinny bastards for soup if it were that simple.  The harsher reality is that most of them would as soon have you for an owner as a dinner, but they’re neurotic and needy and narky, and liable to turn on you soon as something spooks them.  Think furry, traumatised toddlers, with sharp teeth and an average running speed of 25 mph.  Still more trustworthy than your average human, but I’ve got enough trouble just keeping myself fed right now.

Biggest danger, though: police patrols.  Last raider who tried to be friendly told me, “You hear barking, shoot into the air and keep going; you hear an engine, drop your haul and get out.  They find you, shoot to kill, and if you’re lucky you’ll die in the gunfight before they can take you to quarantine.”

I asked about the quarantine camps, but then the bastard tried to steal my pack and I had to ram him in the guts with my rifle butt until he let go.  This is why I don’t get chatty so often.

I’ve only met one other woman out raiding.  We shared a fire for a night, and sort of skirted round the topic of teaming up for protection, but one or other of us always changed the subject.  She was in her late 60s, maybe, tough and cheerful, but when she sat down or got up you could tell she was feeling the strain.  My shoulder was still pretty bad back then – I guess we were each wondering whether the other would slow us down. 

Just before we parted company she said, “Your shoulder’ll get better, but I’ll only get older.  Better I walk now than make you leave me behind.”

I nearly said, “I wouldn’t leave you behind.” But I wasn’t sure it was true, so I said nothing.

I haven’t met anybody who’s heard of a case of the flu recently, though word has it the quarantine camps are rife with dysentery and scurvy.  Or were, last time anybody got out alive.  There’s probably not many left there, now.

Pretty much the only places that survived almost intact were a few isolated farming towns, self-governing now, so long as they’re capable of self-defending.  From what I read on the blogs and hear from the raiders’ rumour-mill, a few have come under police control, some under other gangs, but a few are still considered “free communities”.  ’Course, nobody can say exactly where these free communities are, else they wouldn’t be for long, so we can’t be positive they really exist.  Well, what can we be sure exists, these days?  Just ask Jack.  He thinks he knows what’s real.

Not dead yet

At last,  a safe enough stop to check into the blog and say sorry for the old llamarooni last week – I gather I got you all a little worried. I wasn’t injured as bad as I thought, though every time I raise my arm it makes me wince like a poke in the eye with an out of tune violin playing a James Blunt song.  Some of you chatted till dawn, and I was grateful for that, because when dawn came it was warm enough to sleep and know that I’d wake up again.  Still no word from Mei, though.

It’s taken this long for me to be able to recharge my batteries properly, but now I’m back in the blogosphere I guess I’d better explain what all the hoo-ha was about.  Obviously it was raiders – well, sort of – from the uniforms I’m guessing it was the actual police, or what’s left of them, which is more or less the same thing as raiders, but with training.  I half expected Frank to be with them, but would you credit it, it was Trigger I-Never-Wanted-To-Do-This-Shit Grumpy pointing out the traps and cameras and calling the shots.

There were too many of them to corral in my various penalty pens, so I went to plan Get-The-Fuck-Out, which meant grabbing my pre-packed bag and exiting through the skylight.  The Inner Sanctum had a few tricks of its own to slow down the uninitiated, and as I was pulling up my feet I heard the Thunderdome trapdoor come into play: two men enter, one man leaves through a concealed gap in the floor joists a step in front of the threshold.  Glad all that sawing turned out to be worth it, but the other guy must’ve jumped in time ’cause when I turned there was a gun pointing out the skylight, and when I leapt for the fire escape I felt something graze my shoulder.  Adrenalin kept me from making brain-space for that until I was on solid ground.  As I was pegging it for the exit, all I thought was: “Good thing they didn’t hit the workset.”  It only started to hurt when I reached round to get the pistol out the rucksack.

I make it sound like I was pretty slick, but it didn’t all go according to plan.  My aim in this scenario was to go back in through a second skylight, hidden from the inside, and hide out in the false ceiling over Jezza’s office, leaving the inner sanctum looking abandoned.  Then I’d sit tight till the raiders gave up the hunt and moved on.  I wasn’t reckoning on them having a gunner on the roof soon as I got out.  They were quicker than I’d prepped for, and I didn’t react fast enough, so the fire escape was my only way.  Course, not only did the shooter see me go, I had cameras trained on that way in, and as I ran through the car park I could hear shots hitting the concrete around me and voices jeering through the tannoy.  I had my own pistol in my left hand by now, but there was no way I’d have been able to even turn round and take aim before somebody got me, or so I thought till I ran straight into the two they’d left crouching by the fence.  Now I look back, the fact they didn’t shoot means they must’ve been planning to take me alive.  I didn’t think about that, didn’t even hesitate.  Two loud bangs. Close range.  They both went down and I kept running.   By the time I’d got to the end of the block, I could hear engines starting up.  I was in too much pain for barging at doors, and it was at around this point I noticed my whole right side was just about soaked in blood.  The next building had one of those old-fashioned cellars with windows at ground level, so I kicked one in and rolled through onto a bed of broken glass and wooden crates, where I lay for about ten minutes without moving.

There was no way I could lift anything high enough to hide the broken window, no way I could run further, no way I could get up and hide better.  I lay there waiting for death or discovery, and when neither came I began the slow, painful process of getting the bag off my back.  I think I might’ve passed out for a bit.  When I could, I drank half my water and poured a little over my shoulder.  A bullet graze is nasty, I’m here to tell you.  A great chunk of missing skin surrounded by burnt flesh, it looked like a doorway to the deepest pit of hell in my very own shoulder.  Felt like it, too.  By the time I had leisure to pay it attention, the bleeding had almost stopped.  I know you’re not supposed to put anti-septic cream on a gaping wound, but after trying to clean it with an alcohol-free wipe I wussed out.  By evening I’d got it dressed with sticky stitches, wound pads and a bandage that it took me the best part of half an hour to tie one-handed.  Then I ate some glucose tablets and drank the rest of my water, and by then my torch was going dim, and I realised I didn’t have the strength to wind it much, and a kind of terror took me.  I can’t really explain why.  I’m generally your more rational sort of paranoid, anti-social freak, but I became convinced, like it was an unchangeable, universal law, that if I fell asleep at that time I wouldn’t wake up again.  I didn’t just think it might be possible, I knew it.  I was wrong, but that didn’t make it any better.

So that’s what that midnight missive of cringeworthy self-pity and attention-seeking was all about.  Sorry about that, folks, and thanks for the reassurance.   The shoulder’s a lot better now, and I can use my wind-up charger as well as the puny little solar panel on my bag, so I thought I could risk an extended typing session.  I’ve been moving a bit further from the store every day, cause I still get it in my head some nights that that police gang’s coming back to find me.  I wake up in a cold sweat to the sound of circling engines then wake up again to the silence.  The food I brought with me’s all but run out, so here’s your daily dose of irony – I’m going raiding.

Lost the store

I lost the store.  I’m alone and I’m injured and I’m sitting shivering in a basement, shitting myself because there’s nobody, I mean absolutely no fucker out here.  The whole damn world’s dead, except for the ones that are after me.  I think I’m completely alone.

I need more water, I need fresh dressings, soon I’m going to need more food.  If you don’t hear from me again…

Fuck it, if you don’t hear from me again I won’t be around to care what you really thought of me.  But I think about balmy nights round the ashes of the camp fire with the air too hot for sleeping bags and the moon too bright for torches, slapping at mozzies and burning off leeches with a cigarette, the kind of night when everyone complained so much about the bugs I threatened to take you all into the outback one day and show you the meaning of hazardous wildlife, and we made idle plans about it, and up until now part of me still thought it might happen, and that we’d all be in the same hemisphere again, looking up at the same stars.

I don’t make friends easily – you all know that by now.  I thought all I needed was to know someone was listening, but now I need you to talk to me.  If you’re out there, if you can spare the time and the power, chat with me now.  Tell me what you’re doing.  Let me know you’re surviving.  Be better off than me, and tell me some of it means something.  Any of you.  Tell me I mattered, that I made you laugh, that you liked my blog.

I don’t know what to say anymore.  I have nothing else to say.

Running low

Well, that’s the last of the tins.  I’ve even got through the beaten up ones with no labels.  They were mostly beans – not even something exciting or disgusting.  Just another disappointment.

All I got now is the bumper collection of flours and wholegrains.  Funny, nobody seems to think about their fibre intake when they’re raiding.   I got yeast and sugar and salt, but no spirit fuel or gas left to cook on, and the electric hotplate uses too much juice.  Just getting it warm means cycling out more calories than I’d get from the food I cook on it.  Instead, I soak grains like couscous and quinoa in cold water until they’re soft, and I make little flour and water patties to eat raw while I watch vids of fresh-baked bread and try to persuade myself I can smell it.  My only daily treat is sugar, but that won’t last forever, either.

No chance of heating – the only way to get warm here is by a bracing few minutes on the exercise bike, then straight into the double-layered sleeping bags to retain as much heat as I can.  Washing’s a trauma, but it’s not like I’ve got to keep up my standards for anybody in particular.  I remember when the DJ booth was stifling, even in winter – especially in winter.  The radiator takes up half the wall.  I think about the good old days I hated so much, when I’d struggle with the lunchtime dilemma of going past Coll or broiling to death at my desk.

One day I’ll run out of food.  What then?  With one of my main contacts missing and another on his way to the quarantines, we all seem to be on the brink.  I hope Mei’s still reading, even if she can’t post.  I miss her, and that encouraging certainty she had that there’s always a right thing to do and I’ll eventually do it.

Will I leave this place when I run out of food, or just die where I sit?  That’s the only dilemma I have left to entertain you with.  Stay tuned, folks.

Still here.

So, I haven’t posted in a while because there’s been squat going on here.  Just me and the spiders freezing our arses off in the Inner Sanctum.  Nobody seems to be out there – nobody looting the store, nobody on the cameras.  Where the hell is everybody?  I’m starting to feel like they’re amassing just out of sight, waiting for me to set foot outside my defences before jumping out and shouting: “Surprise!  You’re dead!”

To take my mind off the monotony, I’m trying to use up some of the leftover items in the store, the stuff nobody wanted to loot.  It’s rained enough to fill my water barrels, so I’ve dyed my hair.  What do you reckon to the new avatar?  I keep catching my reflection in screens and windows and thinking there’s an intruder.  It keeps me on my toes, but it’s always a disappointment when I find out it’s just me.  Still, it makes me feel different, conspicuous.  I feel like I want to stand up on the roof and shout: “I’m here!  Come and get me, you bastards!”

I want some raiders, I want something to happen – anything.  I’ve set so many alarms and failsafes to keep them out, it seems like a waste if nobody uses them.  I think I can remember where they all are.  How would it be for irony if I ended all this stumbling into one of my own traps?

I wonder where the Triggers are now.  Did Frank join up with the others, or are there a couple of skeletons hanging by bicycle locks off the lamppost two blocks down?  I deliberately took them out of my line of sight from the roof.  I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to know.  It was the first time I’d left the store in forever, and it was a ghost town.  I couldn’t stand it.  In the Inner Sanctum, I can watch movies and vids, I can even SkIMp when there’s enough power, and it seems like the world’s still there.  When I go out, it makes me doubt any of it’s real.  I know I’ve got friends out there, over thousands of miles of oceans and mountains and crust and mantle and liquid iron core.  But the silence and emptiness is right outside, waiting for me, and it’s terrifying.

I didn’t think I’d make it this long.  I didn’t think I’d be any good at this – surviving.  Failure was my speciality, and now I can’t even do that.  Why am I still here?  Why am I still alive?  And what the hell am I supposed to do about it?

No more Triggers or Tomatoes

So, I did let the Triggers go in the end.  I kept thinking of excuses to put it off.  I don’t know if I was more afraid of them turning on me or just knowing how totally alone I am here.  The release went without trouble.  Frank was the only one who didn’t look surprised to see me.  He just said, “Thought you’d be taller.”

I’d thought the same of him, to be honest.  I was a little shocked at how thin and weak he looked, in the flesh.  I’d given them as much as I was eating, but I guess he was used to more, plus I’d been doing an hour on the exercise bike every night and morning, while he’d just been sitting there letting his muscles waste.  I took him to the exit, handed him the padlock keys and told him where the others were.
“Are asking me to let them go?” he said.
“I’m not asking you for anything,” I told him. “It’s up to you, they’re your problem now.”
He walked away without looking back.  He looked defeated.

That was a week ago now.  I guess they either came through for me and didn’t tell anybody else about the store, or they’re dead.  So now, I don’t have a hell of a lot to do with myself besides check the proximity alarms, watch the screens, exercise and run up my power supply, read the socnets and run down my power supply.  And target practice – I reckon it’s not a waste of ammo to make sure I can shoot straight.  The Triggers weren’t exactly company, but they were a reminder that I wasn’t alone in the world.

I have a little concern for my sanity in isolation, a new appreciation for my blogging buddies.  I’d best answer the meme of the month so they don’t abandon me.  Mei wants a Recipe for Disaster: What am I eating, and how am I cooking it?

Well, it’s not all been dog food.  The tinned sausages didn’t last very long, but I make sausage shapes out of spam and corned beef and it’s not even slightly the same, but that’s the closest thing I’ve got to a recipe.  If you got dry egg you can add a bit of water and roll it in that, then in cornflour before frying it, but it doesn’t improve it much.  It’s also salty, which makes me thirsty: not good since I got to be careful with my water supply, and I’m long since out of beer.  I’m catching rainwater through a guttering system I rigged out of plastic cups and hosepipe, and I’m fine for now but trying to store it because I know I’ll get low come summer.  I saved me some big bags of dried beans, rice and pasta, but it does get a bit bland, especially now I’m out of tinned toms for risottos – and they seemed inexhaustible a month ago.  I miss them with a yearning that borders on grief.

I don’t think it’s possible to realise, unless you’re living off tinned food or trying to go vegan, what a remarkable foodstuff the tomato is. Farewell to sweet, sharp, succulent red, laced with the bitter tang of aluminium. Hello to the salty blandness of stock cubes, and the chemical aftertaste of monosodium glutamate, henceforth my lifelong companion.  Ash, my trusty guide to growing your own sanity, keeps blinking me info on making drip-feeders to preserve my most precious resource, and is again encouraging me to get going on a roof garden – he has touchingly unfounded faith in my ability to keep stuff alive.  Still, it’s not like I can’t fit the attempt into my social diary at present, so before long I might go plumbing the undiscovered depths of my digital veridity, even though I can’t expect to strike tomatoes till Christmas.

Want to know what I got in abundance, though? Moisturiser. Metric fuck-tonnes of it, I tell ya. If I could only find some recipes calling for 2 jars of Oil of Aloe, I could open up a damn restaurant up here. As it is, I may starve to death within six months, but I’ll die smooth as an adder’s ass-crack. Let the sky stay clear as a soap bubble – I’ll get all my moisture directly through the skin in the form of provitapeptilide Z, clinically proven to stop the seven signs of dehydration (all except for, you know, dying and such). I won’t age, I won’t wrinkle, I won’t crack in the sun. Archaeologists will find me out here in 100 years’ time, and marvel at the miraculous Colmart Mummy.

She led a pampered life,” they’ll say, “anointed daily in sacred unctions, whose production could have fed and watered a hundred slaves for a hundred years.  Truly this woman represents the very pinnacle of the decadence that destroyed her society.  And why was she lavished with this wasteful abundance while those around her perished?”

And here the camera will linger on my still-succulent lips, the firm tautness of my forehead, the eye-sockets where never a crow has set foot, though my liver has shrivelled within me like a shrink-wrapped turd.

“Because,” they will say, “she was worth it.”  And they’ll be wrong.

The Looter Situation

I haven’t played with my looters for a few days now, and they’re getting despondent.  I gave them board games and playing cards and books and toys, but I can tell they feel neglected.  Jack’s right, I should never have taken them in.  I’m responsible for them now; even if they are first degree arseholes who were going to shoot me and take my store, I can’t just look the other way while they starve or suffocate in their fridge.  So I take their food down and open the door for them every six or seven hours, but I haven’t set them a challenge in days and I don’t even look at the screens that much anymore.  When I do, they’re usually just sitting there, sometimes exercising, sometimes poking at a tin of spam or dog food, and they have that blank look of tired anxiety on their faces, and I know what they’re thinking.

They’re wondering the same thing I’m wondering: how am I going to end this?   How do I get them out of here without risking retribution?  Cause Trigger Bright worked out before I’d even thought about it that my safest, my only really sensible option was to turn off the cameras and let them rot.  That’s why his game from the start has been Trigger Sensible, Trigger Calm, Trigger Reassuring.  He needs to persuade me that he’s Trigger Trustworthy.  I’m not convinced.  He’s tried the Man About the House line on me again, the skunk.  I said he should note, from his current situation, that I’m clearly able to defend myself from the likes of Trigger Happy and his creative threats, and he actually said not to “mind him”, because “he’s harmless really, but you can’t expect the kind of deference you might’ve got in the old world.”
He was trying to push my buttons, I know that now.  He gets me angry, I drop the Big Sister routine to yell at him, and before I know it we’re having a conversation.
“I don’t want deference, you arsehole.  I want to know that if I open the door and let you fuckers loose, some woman’s dead, raped body isn’t going to show up in the parking lot the next day.  Your mate threatened like as not it’d be mine.  How am I supposed to trust you?”
“How are you supposed to trust anyone?”
“Luckily, I don’t have to.”
“Not just yet.  It’s a big store, but it won’t last a lifetime.  Neither will your security setup – batteries stop keeping charge, parts go.  Or you’ll get a bigger gang at your door, and they won’t all fall into your traps. Who’re you gonna trust, them or me?”
“I’ll have to find myself some other options.”
“Such as?”
As it happens, I’ve got a few precautionary measures in place for those eventualities, but no point in showing all my cards.  He waits – I can see him, but he can’t see me.  His hands are resting on his knees as he sits stock still on the beanbag I gave them from the staff lounge.  His scraggly beard doesn’t quite conceal a smirk, and his eyes are always searching, calculating.  I’m calculating how much to say, too.  I shouldn’t be talking to him about this stuff at all.
“I can move on, when I want to,” I tell him.
“Move on where?”
“Why would I tell you?  But I know where there are places it didn’t all fall apart; people pulled together, built communities.”
He scoffs. “Don’t give me that Dreamtime Town shit.”
I was really just trying to lead the topic away from the store, because I honestly have no intention of leaving this place or any idea where else I could go.  So this was new.
“I was thinking of the Beijing students.  What’s Dreamtime Town?”
He paused, but not long enough to look like he was making it up, shrugged and snorted.
“Bunch of fucking hippies starving in the desert, if it exists at all.  Nobody who’s gone looking ever came back.”
“Maybe they found it.”
“Maybe they walked into a gang of bandits with a nice line in web design and some stock footage from a nineties commune, and their bodies were eaten by dingos.”
I’ve got to admit, I’m growing a fondness for Trigger Cynical.  But I’m not about to let him join me.

I looked up Dreamtime Town – there’s a vid of crops growing and kids doing lessons and people sitting in circles having civilised meetings where they all vote on what to build next and whether to go looking for more people and what colour to paint the fence.  If you want to go there, you’re supposed to send them a vid of yourself saying who you are, what skills you can bring, and answering a load of questions designed to find out if you’re about to take a hatchet to them in the night – they’re not majorly subtle.  Trigger Cynical’s probably right – they’ve been gunned down by now and there’s a gang of Unsavouries meeting each newcomer with a hail of bullets and living off the spoils.  Then again, they don’t say you have to bring anything except a willingness to learn, so if they are bandits they’re missing a trick – unless they really like to see people learn not to trust vids they find on the internet.

I think I’m going to have to let the Trigger Brothers go.  I can’t keep giving them my food and water, and I’m sick of slopping their buckets out.  And I can’t leave them to die.  I’ve been practicing my shooting in case they try and come back, but I don’t think they will, even if they can find more guns from somewhere.  They’ve talked about it, quietly, when they reckon I won’t be listening, and the consensus is there’s got to be easier places to raid.  I’ll take Trigger Happy first, call him into the diary room in the early morning and then open the door and lead him out at gunpoint.  I’ll take him a few blocks away and make him padlock himself to a lamppost with a bike chain, then I’ll come back and let the others out.  Grumpy’ll scarper – I don’t believe his shit about never wanting to join them, but I believe he’ll keep up the pretence as long as I’ve got the loaded pistol.  I’ll give the padlock key to Frank – that’s his actual name, Trigger Changeable is a Frank – and I’ll tell him where Trigger Happy is and let him decide what to do about it.  And I’ll lock the doors behind them, and go back to my Inner Sanctum, and watch my security screens and wait for them to never come back.  I’ll do it tomorrow.