Station Eleven (Page 54)

“I have walked all my life through this tarnished world,” the prophet said, “and I have seen such darkness, such shadows and horrors.”

Kirsten didn’t want to look at the prophet anymore, or more precisely, she didn’t want the last thing she saw on earth to be his face and the point of the rifle. She raised her head to look past him at leaves flickering in sunlight, at the brilliant blue of the sky. Birdsong. Aware of every breath, every heartbeat passing through her. She wished she could convey a message to August, to reassure him somehow: I know it was me or all three of us. I understand why you couldn’t shoot. She wished she could tell Sayid that she still loved him. A sense memory of lying next to Sayid in the nights before they broke up, the curve of his ribs under her hand when she ran her hand down the length of his body, the soft curls at the nape of his neck.

“This world,” the prophet said, “is an ocean of darkness.”

She was astonished to see that the boy with the handgun was crying, his face wet. If she could only speak to August. We traveled so far and your friendship meant everything. It was very difficult, but there were moments of beauty. Everything ends. I am not afraid.

“Someone’s coming,” one of the prophet’s men said. Kirsten heard it too. A distant percussion of hooves, two or three horses approaching at a brisk walk from the direction of the highway.

The prophet frowned, but didn’t look away from Kirsten’s face.

“Do you know who’s coming?” he asked.

“No,” she whispered. How distant were the horses? She couldn’t tell.

“Whoever they are,” the prophet said, “they’ll arrive too late. You think you kneel before a man, but you kneel before the sunrise. We are the light moving over the surface of the waters, over the darkness of the undersea.”

“The Undersea?” she whispered, but the prophet was no longer listening to her. A look of perfect serenity had come over his face and he was looking at her, no, through her, a smile on his lips.

“ ‘We long only to go home,’ ” Kirsten said. This was from the first issue, Station Eleven. A face-off between Dr. Eleven and an adversary from the Undersea. “ ‘We dream of sunlight, we dream of walking on earth.’ ”

The prophet’s expression was unreadable. Did he recognize the text?

“ ‘We have been lost for so long,’ ” she said, still quoting from that scene. She looked past him at the boy. The boy was staring at the gun in his hands. He was nodding, seemingly to himself. “ ‘We long only for the world we were born into.’ ”

“But it’s too late for that,” the prophet said. He drew in his breath and adjusted his grip on the rifle.

The shot was so loud that she felt the sound in her chest, a thud by her heart. The boy was in motion and she wasn’t dead, the shot hadn’t come from the prophet’s rifle. In the fathomless silence that followed the sound, she touched her fingertips to her forehead and watched the prophet fall before her, the rifle loose in his hands. The boy had shot the prophet in the head. The other two men seemed frozen in amazement, only for an instant but in that instant one of August’s arrows sang through the air and the man holding the crossbow crumpled, choking on blood. The man with the shotgun fired wildly into the trees and then his trigger clicked uselessly, no ammunition, he cursed and fumbled in his pocket until another arrow pierced his forehead and he fell, and then Kirsten and the boy were alone on the road together.

The boy was wild-eyed, his lips moving, staring at the prophet where he lay in a rapidly spreading pool of blood. He lifted the handgun to his mouth. “Don’t,” Kirsten said, “no, please—” But the boy closed his lips around the barrel and fired.

She knelt there, looking at them, and then lay on her back to look up at the sky. Birds wheeling. The shock of being alive. She turned her head and looked into the prophet’s dead blue eyes. Her ears were ringing. She felt the vibration of hooves on the road now. August shouted her name and she looked up as the Symphony’s forward scouts rounded the curve of the road on horseback like a vision from a dream, Viola and Jackson, sunlight glinting on their weapons and on the binoculars that hung on Viola’s neck.

“Do you want this?” August asked some time later. Kirsten had been sitting by the prophet, staring at him, while Jackson helped Sayid out of the forest and August and Viola went through the bags that had belonged to the prophet and his men. “I found it in the prophet’s bag.”

A copy of the New Testament, held together with tape. Kirsten opened it to a random page. It was nearly illegible, a thicket of margin notes and exclamation points and underlining.

A folded piece of paper fell out of the book.

It was a page torn from a copy of Dr. Eleven, Vol. 1, No. 1: Station Eleven, the first page of Station Eleven she’d ever seen that hadn’t come from her copies of the books. The entire page devoted to a single image: Dr. Eleven kneels by the lifeless body of Captain Lonagan, his mentor and friend. They are in a room that Dr. Eleven sometimes uses as a meeting place, an office area with a glass wall that overlooks the City, the bridges and islands and boats. Dr. Eleven is distraught, a hand over his mouth. An associate is there too, a speech bubble floating over his head: “You were his second-in-command, Dr. Eleven. In his absence, you must lead.”

Who were you? How did you come to possess this page? Kirsten knelt by the prophet, by the pool of his blood, but he was just another dead man on another road, answerless, the bearer of another unfathomable story about walking out of one world and into another. One of his arms was outstretched toward her.

August was talking to her again, crouched by her side. “The Symphony’s only a few hours behind us,” he was saying very gently. “Viola and Jackson are going back to them, and the three of us will go on ahead to the airport. It isn’t far.”

I have walked all my life through this tarnished world. After she walked out of Toronto with her brother, after that first unremembered year, her brother had been plagued by nightmares. “The road,” he’d always said, when she shook him awake and asked what he’d been dreaming of. He’d said, “I hope you never remember it.”

The prophet was about her age. Whatever else the prophet had become, he’d once been a boy adrift on the road, and perhaps he’d had the misfortune of remembering everything. Kirsten brushed her hand over the prophet’s face to close his eyes, and placed the folded page from Station Eleven in his hand.

51

WHEN SAYID AND AUGUST AND KIRSTEN walked away from the bodies on the road, resuming their slow progress to the airport, the prophet’s dog followed at some distance. When they stopped to rest, the dog sat a few yards away, watching them.

“Luli,” Kirsten said. “Luli.” She threw a strip of dried venison, and the dog snapped it out of the air. He came close and let her stroke his head. She ran her fingers through the thick fur at the base of his neck. When they set out again, the dog stayed close by her side.

A half mile farther, the road curved out of the trees, the terminal building massive in the near distance. It was a two-story monolith of concrete and glass, shimmering over an ocean of parking lot. Kirsten knew they were almost certainly being watched by now, but she saw no movement in the landscape. The dog whined and raised his nose in the air.

“Do you smell that?” Sayid asked.

“Someone’s roasting a deer,” August said. The road divided before them, separate lanes for Arrivals, Departures, and Parking. “Which way?”

“Let’s pretend there’s a way to get off this continent.” Sayid had a distant look about him. The last time he’d seen an airport had been two months before the collapse, when he’d returned home from visiting his family in Berlin and landed for the last time at Chicago O’Hare. “Let’s go to Departures.”

The Departures lane rose to a second-story entrance, a line of glass-and-steel revolving doors, a municipal bus glinting in sunlight. They were a hundred yards from the door when the whistle sounded, three short blasts. Two sentries stepped out from behind the bus, a woman and a man, their crossbows aimed at the ground.

“Sorry about the crossbows,” the man said pleasantly, “necessary precaution, I’m afraid—” But he stopped then, confused, because the woman’s bow had clattered to the pavement and she was running to the new arrivals, she was laughing and shouting their names and trying to embrace all of them at once.

There were 320 people living in the Severn City Airport that year, one of the largest settlements Kirsten had seen. August took Sayid to the infirmary, and Kirsten lay dazed in Charlie’s tent.

By the beginning of Year Two the occupants of the airport had been sick of looking at one another but on the other hand they hadn’t wanted to sleep too far apart, so they’d constructed a double line of tents down the length of Concourse B. The tents were of varying sizes, with frames made of branches dragged in from the woods, squares of about twelve feet by twelve feet with peaked roofs. They’d raided the airport offices for staplers, stapled sheets over the frames. There’d been some debate over whether this was the best use of the mountain of sheets they’d salvaged from the nearby hotels, but there was such a longing for privacy by then. In Charlie and Jeremy’s tent there was a bed, two plastic crates for clothes and diapers, their instruments. A watery light filtered through the cloth. Luli crowded in and lay by Kirsten’s side.

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