The Shelter (Survivors Book 1)

BOOK: The Shelter (Survivors Book 1)
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I
t is the rock which is broken

U
nder the onslaught of seas,

I
t is the bitter hero

W
ho is letting go.

 

I
t is a tumor

I
t is the darkest vertigo

I
t is love that is dying

I
t is the heart that is freezing

 

I
t is a lonely death

F
ar from anyone’s eye,

A
body thrown in the dust

W
ithout flowers or regards.

 

I
t is the moan of the shadows

T
he prayer of the dead

I
t is a soul that sinks

O
n cursing its luck.

 

 

 

 

The Shelter

 

 

T
he lobby of the shelter forms an elegant, thin and stretched arc, of which the central radius is pointing a south-north axis, if I trust the map that was put up in the entrance. When I look through the huge bay window slightly inclined forward, I feel like I am looking at the prow of a large ship from the bridge, and that ship would calmly sail on rough seas.

In reality, it is not possible to catch sight of the sea—the real thing, not the metaphor—although it is actually just at the foot of those hills. At least, we could expect to find it there. The sky is much too dark to distinguish anything farther than one hundred yards or so. This grey twilight is brightened up with very large flakes that clearly stand out against the dark background, like strange swirling feathers. The difference with the night is pretty subtle. However, my watch says that it is already nine o’clock in the morning. It is February: so there are four months that we have seen neither the sun nor the stars. The day is forever enshrouded under this thick and ashen cerement, both literally and figuratively; the night is made of the blackest ink. Even the snow cover no longer produces this usual reverb which gave before, at dark, a salmon pink hue to the smog. It has to be said that there is no light in the area, except those of the shelter. No, this is not quite correct: sometimes there are some fugitive glimmers which pierce the darkness, but they are so unnatural that I wonder if I would not prefer the black night. The worst, for me, is the lack of color. Of course this is due to absence of light: clearly, our eyes are not designed for these low luminosities, apart perhaps Lussius’ eyes, this weird black man with bleached skin, a fellow who has visibly had a lot of training. But this is also due to the snow which has almost completely whitened the landscape, including the green of cedars and orange trees and to the cold that has frozen fruit of strawberry trees and oranges. Even peacocks are white, for most of them. There is also a blue male but you would think it hibernates because you almost never see it: either it is perched in a high fork of a cedar tree, almost invisible, or it keeps warm in its small wooden house, at the bottom of the park.

Only the white peahens occupy the park now. The weather is much too bad for us, I mean humans. All residents in the shelter have preferred to stay in a dry and warm place. It is cold indeed for Nice’s country (if this name still has a meaning) once famed for its mildness. When I say “all residents”, I am joking because we are only three so far. It is all the more astonishing that the shelter was visibly designed for a large number of people, and I find hard to believe that we are the only survivors. Unless of course it was not designed for this purpose and that it is in reality a rest home with modern architecture, rather incongruous in the local context, which would have miraculously escaped from the universal devastation. Needless to say that such an assumption seems to me highly fanciful. If we consider that the shelter was built before the disaster, then it must rather be protected by some kind of invisible dome. As it cannot be material—otherwise how would the helicopter do to fly in and out of the shelter?—I rather believe in an energy field that could be cut off if necessary. But I must say that, with all these flakes, I sometimes have the impression to be prisoner in a souvenir, you know those landscapes under a glass dome that snow when they are shaken.

As I said, there are only three residents. The building is so vast that we can spend days without ever meet each other. To tell the truth, we are not seeking it. We have no affinity, either because of our characters or our social classes (or both together). And our different visions of the world are in conflict almost on all the points that matter. In short, we are at our best when everyone is in his own corner. As for the staff of the shelter, it is lost most of the time. There is the secretary at the reception desk but a block of ice would be warmer: since I came here, she did not stop type on her antique typewriter that she seems to have recovered in some attic, writing God knows what because to my knowledge there has been no new arrival for the last two months. In fact, Dr. Leone is recently arrived but I do not classify her with the other residents, though there is little doubt that she is also a survivor. She is heading the shelter when her boss, Dr. Krug, is not present. It is not a very chatty or very cheerful woman, not inclined at all to confidences (even less hers than mine), but I enjoyed talking with her, or simply sitting at her side. I do not know the reason for this invincible attraction. By the way, I do not try very hard to overcome it, as you can guess. Finally, let’s be true, there is an obvious reason, even though it does not explain the main thing: Dr. Leone is a woman, pretty young, very cute, or at least she would be so if she smiled a little more. I am afraid of not being her type yet, because she does little to encourage me. It would not be very surprising because I have always been attracted—or should I say that I have always attracted until now—women with temperament and physique diametrically opposed to hers.

As for Dr. Krug, I met him only once, at the time of my admission; even then it was like a whirlwind.

Nevertheless, it seems that there is change in sight. His icy secretary gathered us yesterday by sounding her kind of foghorn, which serves to ring in the shelter, and warned us that Dr. Krug would receive us in his office today at a quarter past nine precisely. We have tried to worm out information about the purpose of this interview but it was as we tried to talk to the wall.

So, after taking a look at the clock face, I headed towards his office at ten past nine. It is located in the tower, a somewhat curious cylindrical construction in the middle of the building, which kind of looks like a hub of a wheel (the shelter is of course not really circular but ellipsoid, and reminds me of a football stadium that would have been both flattened and stretched). Rather than having been added later, this tower seems indeed to go through the building to the foundations. Its top, of which the access is unfortunately forbidden, except for the staff, I presume, unless there is a real danger walking up there, has a huge projector that casts a powerful beam of white light, so that it looks like a lighthouse, a lighthouse in the middle of the land. But its single eye does not point towards the land; it stares at a point in the sky and the beam seems to go through layers of clouds, losing none of its intensity. Dr. Krug’s office has nothing that can bring to mind a typical doctor’s office and by the way is probably not at all that sort of thing. I guess that the main interest to the location of this office, in addition to the satisfaction to establish the preeminence of its owner by ostentatious way, is to enjoy the largest view. The room is indeed open on four sides. But only the window overlooking southward can be described as large; it also overlooks a narrow balcony where I believed once or twice to get a glimpse of a moving figure from the foot of the tower (but this was probably only the peacock which swelled its feathers or shook its wings full of snow).

Following the writing on the threshold, I went inside without knocking. As the door was closed and as the room was rather dark and silent, I believed I was the first arrived, which did not amaze me. The shutters of three windows were wide open but the same darkness as outside reigned in the room, barely mitigated by the fire that crackled in the hearth. I had no longer seen fire in a fireplace for at least ten years and I stood a moment watching the flames with fascination. It was a pretty unusual place to light a fire. When I had seen it the first time, I told myself that it was the height of luxury to install such a fireplace in a region where temperature rarely dropped below ten degrees and which had to be used about three times a year. Unless of course all that stuff—the dark, the cold, the snow—was forecasted by its builder.

This atmosphere can explain why I did not notice her earlier. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that she did nothing for disabusing me. She was sitting in her own stiff way at the end of the office, at the head of the table, magnificently ignoring the heat of the flames. I became aware of her presence only when she struck a match to light the wicks of a chandelier lying on the table. I watched a moment the blonde woman who was facing to me, a genuine blonde I guessed, with naturally curly hair which made a soft halo around her creamy face. You could have said that she wished to offset the sweetness of her features by more severity, even austerity, in her attitude. She wore a long white lab coat with a crew neck and buttoned almost to the knees. Without breaking the silence, she got out a little hand from her right pocket to ask me for taking place around the table then put back it straight after as if she had been cold.

“Do we have to thank you for having this beautiful blaze, Dr. Leone?” I asked. “It’s a good idea anyway.”

She looked closely at me as if she was looking for the reason of so strange a question. There was nothing else than the desire to break the silence, quite embarrassing between us into the semidarkness. Eventually the doctor slowly moved her head, which apparently meant no.

“And the candles?” I asked pointing at the chandelier in the middle of the table. The shelter had its own electric generator, at least I assumed, because we had never needed this sort of lamp until now.

“This is for Mr. Lussius,” she replied. “As you know, he doesn’t stand bright light, let alone lately.”

I was going forward to get a seat when I saw three sheaves of paper put in front of Dr. Leone. I sat across the table, not because the chair was near the fire, or not only (because it was a little cold), but for the pleasure of having the lovely woman right before my eyes. I then noticed that her last words were unusual.

“What do you mean by
lately
?”

“Mr. Lussius’ disease is subject to sudden respites and not less sudden fits. He’s currently in the second phase.”

“Do you think it’s serious, really?”

Dr. Leone cracked a smile, pale and fleeting like a ghost hurrying to cross a corridor too brightly lit.

“If we consider that not being able to withstand a stronger light than this candle light is serious, then yes, it is serious, Mr. Estéban.”

It was Lussius the next to enter the office. He wore his usual gold rimmed spectacles with small bluish glasses. I do not know what the true color of his eyes is but with these glasses they looked the strangest eyes in the world.

To the arrival of the newcomer, Dr. Leone got up for shaking his hand and I felt a flash of jealousy while thinking that she did not bother so much for me (but it is true to say that we had seen each other in passing earlier). On the other hand Lussius seemed completely indifferent to the honor she did him. Then she sat back down on her olive green velvet chair, or which seemed so in this half-light (the builders’ taste for furniture did not seem to pass 19th century). As he wanted to turn his back on the light of the fireplace, unless he was simply chilly (no wonder), Lussius chose the seat with its back to the fire.

“Perhaps we could light at least the other candles,” I suggested with a hint of acrimony to the Haitian. As he did not protest, I got out a lighter and lighted the other four candles.

“It would be better to save them,” Dr. Leone gently observed, she whose voice was in all ways rarely louder than piano. We don’t have spare candles like these and we should need them for a long time enough.”

To please her, I snuffed one.

The last comer, as always, was Lenfant, that rude fellow. Scarcely had he crossed the threshold that he began to recriminate. His quite confused babbling did not reflect a very sound mental.

“When d-do you finally t-take care of me?” he shouted out without addressing anyone in particular (in fact, he seemed to me that he had started his rant long before entering the room). I’m sick as a dog but nobody cares! I’m sure it’s that damn radioactivity. It wouldn’t surprise me if the foodstuff’s irradiated. How couldn’t it be indeed? And from where have you got food? I’d really like to know that. And your drugs? That’s all snake oil! They do me no good. But when I have a pounding headache that keeps me awake for three days—I mean three nights—or when I piss blood, you don’t give a damn! And first where is Dr. Krug? I’ve a couple of words to say to him... You, with the white coat, are you doc?... Or nurse? I don’t mind! You must treat me. Come on, it’s your duty!”

“Please sit down, Mr. Lenfant,” said Dr. Leone with her quiet voice.

For some reason that I did not know these words seemed to unleash his fury.

“No, I don’t!” he yelled. “You’re not going to do like that other frigid bitch that let me bleed like a swine without even lifting her little finger! My arm bitten to the bone, my blood everywhere on the floor, and what did she tell me? Wait your turn! I’m the laughingstock of all folks here or what?!”

“Not at all, Mr. Lenfant. But I’m not sure to understand what your pain is. Who has bitten you, this time?”

Neither me nor Lussius understood what it happened, except that the man seemed very disturbed by recent events. In any case, his arms had no visible injuries and there is nowhere any drop of blood.

“Yaël,” replied the man with a dark look to the window. “He went crazy, I guess. A real wolf! But I had got him before he got me.”

This is not very surprising to me because he looked himself like a hungry raw-boned wolf with his eyes glowing with fever or hatred. He was quite the kind of guy you do not want to cross your way, let alone to be your neighbor. Dr. Leone appeared to want to put some order in the lunatic’s notions.

“But this bite is an old story, Mr. Lenfant: you are healed now.”

BOOK: The Shelter (Survivors Book 1)
9.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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