Station Eleven (Page 45)
A rape on the night of Day Eighty-five, the airport woken after midnight by a woman’s scream. They tied the man up until sunrise and then drove him into the forest at gunpoint, told him if he returned he’d be shot. “I’ll die out here alone,” he said, sobbing, and no one disagreed but what else could they do?
“Why has no one come here?” Dolores asked. “That’s what I keep wondering. I don’t mean rescue. I just mean people wandering in.” The airport wasn’t especially remote. Severn City was no more than twenty miles away. No one walked in, but on the other hand, who was left? Early reports had put the mortality rate at 99 percent.
“And then one has to account for societal collapse,” Garrett said. “There might be no one left.” He was a businessman from the east coast of Canada. He’d been wearing the same suit since his flight had landed, except now he was pairing it with a Beautiful Northern Michigan T-shirt from the gift shop. He was bright-eyed in a way that Clark found disconcerting. “The violence, maybe cholera and typhoid, all the infections that were cured by antibiotics back when it was possible to obtain antibiotics, and then things like bee stings, asthma … Does anyone have a cigarette?”
“You’re funny,” Annette said. She’d run out of nicotine patches on Day Four. During a particularly rough stretch a few weeks back, she’d tried to smoke cinnamon from the coffee kiosk.
“Was that a no? And diabetes,” Garrett said, apparently forgetting the cigarette. “HIV. High blood pressure. Types of cancer that responded to chemotherapy, when chemotherapy was available.”
“No more chemotherapy,” Annette said. “I’ve thought of that too.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” Tyler said. Clark hadn’t noticed his approach. Tyler had been wandering the airport of late, and he had a way of moving so quietly that he seemed to materialize out of nowhere. He spoke so rarely that it was easy to forget he was there. “That’s what my mom said,” he added when everyone stared at him.
“Yeah, but that’s because Elizabeth’s a f*****g lunatic,” Garrett said. Clark had noticed that he had a filter problem.
“In front of the kid?” Annette was twisting her Lufthansa neck scarf between her fingers. “That’s his mother you’re talking about. Tyler, don’t listen to him.” Tyler only stared at Garrett.
“I’m sorry,” Garrett said to Tyler. “I was out of line.” Tyler didn’t blink.
“You know,” Clark said, “I think we should consider sending out a scouting party.”
The scouts left at dawn on Day One Hundred: Tyrone, Dolores, and Allen, a schoolteacher from Chicago. There was some debate over whether the scouting party was actually a good idea. They’d been able to kill enough deer to live on and they had what they needed here, barely, except for soap and batteries, which they’d run out of, and what could possibly be out there except the pandemic? Nonetheless, the scouting party set out armed with Tyrone’s TSA handgun and some road maps.
The silence of Day One Hundred. Waiting for the scouting party to return with supplies, or return carrying the flu, or return trailing unhinged survivors who wanted to kill everyone, or not return at all. It had snowed the night before and the world was still. White snow, dark trees, gray sky, the airline logos on the tails of grounded airplanes the only splashes of color in the landscape.
Clark wandered into the Skymiles Lounge. He’d been avoiding it lately, because he’d been avoiding Elizabeth, but it was a reliably quiet corner of the airport and he liked the armchairs with the views over the tarmac. He stood looking out at the line of planes and for the first time in a while he found himself thinking of Robert, his boyfriend. Robert was a curator—had been a curator? Yes, probably Robert existed in the past tense along with almost everyone else, try not to think about it—and when Clark turned away from the window, his gaze fell on a glass display case that had once held sandwiches.
If Robert were here—Christ, if only—if Robert were here, he’d probably fill the shelves with artifacts and start an impromptu museum. Clark placed his useless iPhone on the top shelf. What else? Max had left on the last flight to Los Angeles, but his Amex card was still gathering dust on the counter of the Concourse B Mexican restaurant. Beside it, Lily Patterson’s driver’s license. Clark took these artifacts back to the Skymiles Lounge and laid them side by side under the glass. They looked insubstantial there, so he added his laptop, and this was the beginning of the Museum of Civilization. He mentioned it to no one, but when he came back a few hours later, someone had added another iPhone, a pair of five-inch red stiletto heels, and a snow globe.
Clark had always been fond of beautiful objects, and in his present state of mind, all objects were beautiful. He stood by the case and found himself moved by every object he saw there, by the human enterprise each object had required. Consider the snow globe. Consider the mind that invented those miniature storms, the factory worker who turned sheets of plastic into white flakes of snow, the hand that drew the plan for the miniature Severn City with its church steeple and city hall, the assembly-line worker who watched the globe glide past on a conveyer belt somewhere in China. Consider the white gloves on the hands of the woman who inserted the snow globes into boxes, to be packed into larger boxes, crates, shipping containers. Consider the card games played belowdecks in the evenings on the ship carrying the containers across the ocean, a hand stubbing out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray, a haze of blue smoke in dim light, the cadences of a half dozen languages united by common profanities, the sailors’ dreams of land and women, these men for whom the ocean was a gray-line horizon to be traversed in ships the size of overturned skyscrapers. Consider the signature on the shipping manifest when the ship reached port, a signature unlike any other on earth, the coffee cup in the hand of the driver delivering boxes to the distribution center, the secret hopes of the UPS man carrying boxes of snow globes from there to the Severn City Airport. Clark shook the globe and held it up to the light. When he looked through it, the planes were warped and caught in whirling snow.
The scouting party returned the next day, exhausted and cold, with three steel carts from an industrial kitchen, piled high with supplies. They’d found a Chili’s that no one had looted yet, they said, and they’d spent the night shivering in booths. They had toilet paper, Tabasco sauce, napkins, salt and pepper, enormous tins of tomatoes, dinnerware and bags of rice, gallons of pink hand soap.
They said that just out of sight along the road there was a roadblock, a sign warning of quarantine. No one had come to the airport because the sign said the flu was here, sick passengers, keep out. Beyond the roadblock, abandoned cars as far as they could see, some with bodies inside. They’d come upon a hotel near the airport and had debated going in for sheets and towels, but the smell was such that they’d known what was waiting in the darkened lobby and had decided against it. Then the fast-food restaurants a little down the road. They’d seen no other people.
“What was it like out there?” Clark asked.
“It was silent,” Dolores said. She’d been surprised by the emotion that had overtaken her on the return, when the scouting party had struggled past the roadblock with their carts of supplies, their napkins and their clinking bottles of Tabasco sauce, up the airport road and then the airport had come into view between the trees. Home, she’d thought, and she’d felt such relief.
A day later the first stranger walked in. They’d taken to posting guards with whistles, so that they might be warned of a stranger’s approach. They’d all seen the post-apocalyptic movies with the dangerous stragglers fighting it out for the last few scraps. Although actually when she thought about it, Annette said, the post-apocalyptic movies she’d seen had all involved zombies. “I’m just saying,” she said, “it could be much worse.”
But the first man who walked in under low gray skies seemed less dangerous than stunned. He was dirty, of indeterminate age, dressed in layers of clothes, and he hadn’t shaved in a long time. He appeared on the road with a gun in his hand, but he stopped and let the gun fall to the pavement when Tyrone shouted for him to drop it. He raised his hands over his head and stared at the people gathering around him. Everyone had questions. He seemed to struggle for speech. His lips moved silently, and he had to clear this throat several times before he could speak. Clark realized that he hadn’t spoken in some time.
“I was in the hotel,” he said finally. “I followed your footprints in the snow.” There were tears on his face.
“Okay,” someone said, “but why are you crying?”
“I’d thought I was the only one,” he said.
BY THE END OF Year Fifteen there were three hundred people in the airport, and the Museum of Civilization filled the Skymiles Lounge. In former times, when the airport had had fewer people, Clark had worked all day at the details of survival; gathering firewood, hauling water to the restrooms to keep the toilets operational, participating in salvage operations in the abandoned town of Severn City, planting crops in the narrow fields along the runways, skinning deer. But there were many more people now, and Clark was older, and no one seemed to mind if he cared for the museum all day.