Station Eleven (Page 51)
“The clarinet got away,” Sayid said.
“What about Dieter?”
“Kirsten,” Sayid said softly.
“Oh god,” August said. “Not Dieter. No.”
“I’m sorry.” Sayid covered his face with his hands. “I couldn’t …”
“And behold,” the archer whispered, “there was a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had passed away.” The color was draining from his face.
Kirsten wrenched her knife from the archer’s chest. He gasped, the blood welling, and she heard a gurgle in his throat as his eyes dimmed. Three, she thought, and felt immensely tired.
“We heard a whimpering in the forest,” Sayid said. He walked slowly, limping. “That night on patrol. We were about a mile from the Symphony, about to turn back, and there was a sound coming from the bushes, sounded like a lost child.”
“A ruse,” August said. He had a glazed look when Kirsten glanced at him.
“So like idiots we went to investigate, and the next thing I know something’s pressed over my face, a rag soaked in something, a chemical smell, and I woke up in a clearing in the woods.”
“What about Dieter?” It was difficult to force the words from her throat.
“He didn’t wake up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly that. Was he allergic to chloroform? Was it actually chloroform at all, or something much more toxic? The prophet’s men gave me water, told me they wanted the girl, they’d decided to take two hostages and broker a trade. They’d guessed we were headed for the Museum of Civilization, given the direction of travel and the rumors that Charlie and Jeremy had gone there. And the whole time, they’re explaining this, and I’m looking at Dieter sleeping beside me, and he’s getting paler and paler, and his lips are blue. I’m trying to wake him up, and I can’t. I couldn’t. I was tied up next to him, and I kept kicking him, wake up, wake up, but …”
“But he didn’t wake up,” Sayid said. “We waited all through the following day—me tied up there and the men coming and going—and then in the late afternoon, his breathing stopped. I watched it happen.” Kirsten’s eyes filled with tears. “I was watching him breathe,” Sayid said. “He’d gone so pale. His chest rising and falling, and then one last exhale, and no more. I shouted and they tried to revive him, but it didn’t … nothing worked. Nothing. They argued for a while, and then two of them left and returned a few hours later with the clarinet.”
THE TRUTH WAS, the clarinet hated Shakespeare. She’d been a double major in college, theater and music, a sophomore the year the world changed, lit up by an obsession with twenty-first-century experimental German theater. Twenty years after the collapse, she loved the music of the Symphony, loved being a part of it, but found the Symphony’s insistence on performing Shakespeare insufferable. She tried to keep this opinion to herself and occasionally succeeded.
A year before she was seized by the prophet’s men, the clarinet was sitting alone on the beach in Mackinaw City. It was a cool morning, and a fog hung over the water. They’d passed through this place more times than she could count, but she never tired of it. She liked the way the Upper Peninsula disappeared on foggy days, a sense of infinite possibility in the way the bridge faded into cloud.
She’d been thinking lately about writing her own play, seeing if she could convince Gil to stage a performance with the Symphony actors. She wanted to write something modern, something that addressed this age in which they’d somehow landed. Survival might be insufficient, she’d told Dieter in late-night arguments, but on the other hand, so was Shakespeare. He’d trotted out his usual arguments, about how Shakespeare had lived in a plague-ridden society with no electricity and so did the Traveling Symphony. But look, she’d told him, the difference was that they’d seen electricity, they’d seen everything, they’d watched a civilization collapse, and Shakespeare hadn’t. In Shakespeare’s time the wonders of technology were still ahead, not behind them, and far less had been lost. “If you think you can do better,” he’d said, “why don’t you write a play and show it to Gil?”
“I don’t think I can do better,” she’d told him. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying the repertoire’s inadequate.” Still, writing a play was an interesting idea. She began writing the first act on the shore the next morning, but never got past the first line of the opening monologue, which she’d envisioned as a letter: “Dear friends, I find myself immeasurably weary and I have gone to rest in the forest.” She was distracted just then by a seagull, descending near her feet. It pecked at something in the rocks, and this was when she heard Dieter, approaching from the Symphony encampment with two chipped mugs of the substance that passed for coffee in the new world.
“What were you writing?” he asked.
“A play,” she said. She folded the paper.
He smiled. “Well, I look forward to reading it.”
She thought of the opening monologue often in the months that followed, weighing those first words like coins or pebbles turned over and over in a pocket, but she was unable to come up with the next sentence. The monologue remained a fragment, stuffed deep in her backpack until the day, eleven months later, when the Symphony unearthed it in the hours after the clarinet was seized by the prophet’s men and wondered if they were looking at a suicide note.
While they were reading it, she was waking in a clearing from an unnatural sleep. She had been dreaming of a room, a rehearsal space at college, an impression of laughter—someone had told a joke—and she tried to hold on to this, clinging at these shreds because it was obvious even before she was entirely awake that everything was wrong. She was lying on her side in the forest. She felt poisoned. The ground was hard under her shoulder, and she was very cold. Her hands were tied behind her back, her ankles bound, and she was aware immediately that the Symphony was nowhere near, a terrible absence. She’d been filling water containers with Jackson, and then? She remembered a sound behind her, turning as a rag was pressed to her face, someone’s hand on the back of her head. It was evening now. Six men were crouched in a circle nearby. Two armed with large guns, one with a standard bow and a quiver of arrows and another with a strange metal crossbow, the fifth with a machete. The sixth had his back to her and she couldn’t see if he had a weapon.
“But we don’t know what road they’ll take,” one of the gunmen said.
“Look at the map,” the man who had his back to her replied. “There’s exactly one logical route to the Severn City Airport from here.” She recognized the prophet’s voice.
“They could take Lewis Avenue once they reach Severn City. Looks like it’s not that much longer.”
“We’ll split up,” the prophet said. “Two groups, one for each route, and we meet up at the airport road.”
“I assume you have a plan, gentlemen.” This was Sayid’s voice, somewhere near. Sayid! She wanted to speak with him, to ask where they were and what was happening, to tell him the Symphony had searched for him and Dieter after they’d disappeared, but she was too nauseous to move.
“We told you, we’re just trading the two of you for the bride,” the gunman said, “and as long as no one attempts anything stupid, we’ll take her and then we’ll be on our way.”
“I see,” Sayid said. “You enjoy this line of work, or are you in it for the pension?”
“What’s a pension?” the one with the machete asked. He was very young. He looked about fifteen.
“All of this,” the prophet said, serene, “all of our activities, Sayid, you must understand this, all of your suffering, it’s all part of a greater plan.”
“You’d be surprised at how little comfort I take from that notion.” The clarinet was remembering something she’d always known about Sayid, which was that he had trouble keeping his mouth shut when he was angry. She strained her neck and saw Dieter, lying on his back a few yards away, unmoving. His skin looked like marble.
“Some things in this life seem inexplicable,” the archer said, “but we must trust in the existence of a greater plan.”
“We’re sorry,” the boy with the machete said, sounding as if he meant it. “We’re very sorry about your friend.”
“I’m sure you’re sorry about everyone,” Sayid said, “but while we’re discussing strategy here, there was absolutely no reason for you to abduct the clarinet.”
“Two hostages are more persuasive than one,” the archer said.
“You’re so bright, the lot of you,” Sayid said. “That’s what I admire most about you, I think.”
The gunman muttered something and started to rise, but the prophet placed a hand on his arm and he sank back to the ground, shaking his head.
“The hostage is a test,” the prophet said. “Can we not withstand the taunts of the fallen? Is that not part of our task?”