Station Eleven (Page 50)
“Did I wake you?” Sullivan asked. He was the head of security, a man of fifty who’d walked in a decade earlier with his daughter. “I’d like to introduce you to our latest arrivals.”
“How do you do,” Clark said. The arrivals were a man and a woman, perhaps in their early thirties, the woman carrying a baby in a sling.
“I’m Charlie,” the woman said. “This is Jeremy, my husband, and little Annabel.” Tattoos covered almost every inch of her bare arms. He saw flowers, musical notes, names in an elaborate scroll, a rabbit. Four knives tattooed in a row on her right forearm. He knew what this tattoo meant, and when he looked he saw a counterpart on her husband’s skin, two small dark arrows on the back of his left wrist. She’d killed four people, then, and he’d killed two, and now they’d just dropped in with their baby, and by the absurd standards of the new world—there was a part of him that never stopped exclaiming at the absurd standards of the new world—this was all perfectly normal. The baby smiled at Clark. Clark smiled back.
“Will you be staying here awhile?” Clark asked.
“If you’ll have us,” Jeremy said. “We’ve been separated from our people.”
“Wait till you hear who their people are,” Sullivan said. “You remember those newspapers out of New Petoskey?”
“The Traveling Symphony,” Charlie said.
“These people of yours,” Sullivan was wiggling his fingers at the baby, Annabel, who stared past his fingers at his face. “You didn’t tell me how you lost them.”
“It’s a complicated story,” Charlie said. “There was a prophet. He said he was from here.”
From here? Had the airport ever had a prophet? Clark felt certain he’d remember a prophet. “What was his name?”
“I’m not sure anyone knows,” Jeremy said. He began describing the blond-haired man who had held sway over the town of St. Deborah by the Water, ruling with a combination of charisma, violence, and cherry-picked verses from the Book of Revelation. He stopped when he saw the look on Clark’s face. “Is something wrong?”
Clark rose unsteadily from the armchair. They stared at him as he made his way to the museum’s first display case.
“Is his mother still alive?” Clark was looking at Elizabeth’s passport, at its photograph from the inconceivable past.
“Whose mother? The prophet’s?”
“I don’t think so,” Charlie said. “I never heard anything about her.”
“There’s no old woman there with him?”
What became of you, Elizabeth, out there on the road with your son? But what, after all, had become of anyone? His parents, his colleagues, all his friends from his life before the airport, Robert? If all of them had vanished, uncounted and unmarked, why not Elizabeth too? He closed his eyes. Thinking of a boy standing on the tarmac by the ghost plane, Air Gradia Flight 452, Arthur Leander’s beloved only son, reading verses about plagues aloud to the dead.
THREE DAYS AFTER Kirsten and August became separated from the Symphony, behind a garden shed in an overgrown backyard on the outskirts of Severn City, Kirsten woke abruptly with tears in her eyes. She’d dreamt that she’d been walking down the road with August, then she turned and he was gone and she knew he was dead. She’d screamed his name, she’d run down the road but he was nowhere. When she woke he was watching her, his hand on her arm.
“I’m right here,” he said. She must have said his name aloud.
“It’s nothing. Just a dream.”
“I had bad dreams too.” He was holding his silver Starship Enterprise in his other hand.
It wasn’t quite morning. The sky was brightening, but night lingered below in the shadows, gray light, dewdrops suspended in the grass.
“Let’s wash up,” August said. “We might meet people today.”
They crossed the road to the beach. The water mirrored the pearl sky, the first pink of sunrise rippling. They bathed with some shampoo Kirsten had found in that last house—it left a scent of synthetic peaches on their skin and floating islands of bubbles on the lake—and Kirsten washed and wrung out her dress, put it on wet. August had scissors in his suitcase. She cut his hair—it was falling in his eyes—and then he cut hers.
“Have faith,” he whispered. “We’ll find them.”
Resort hotels stood along the lakeshore, the windows mostly broken and their shards reflecting the sky. Trees pushed up through the parking lots between rusted cars. Kirsten and August abandoned their suitcases, the wheels too loud on rough pavement, made bundles out of bedsheets and carried the supplies over their shoulders. After a mile or two they saw a sign with a white airplane hanging askew over an intersection, an arrow pointed toward the center of town.
Severn City had been a substantial place once. There were commercial streets of redbrick buildings, flowers riotous in planters, and the roots of maple trees disrupting the sidewalks. A flowering vine had taken over most of the post office and extended across the street. They walked as silently as possible, weapons in hand. Birds moved in and out of broken windows and perched on sagging utility wires.
“Did you just hear a dog bark?”
Just ahead was the overgrown wilderness of a municipal park, a low hill rising beside the road. They climbed up into the underbrush, moving quickly, threw their bundles aside and crouched low. A flash of movement at the end of a side street: a deer, bounding away from the lakeshore.
“Something startled it,” August whispered. Kirsten adjusted and readjusted her grip on a knife. A monarch butterfly fluttered past. She watched it while she listened and waited, wings like bright paper. A faint buzz of insects all around them. She heard voices now, and footsteps.
The man who appeared on the road was so dirty that Kirsten didn’t immediately recognize him, and when she did she had to stifle a gasp. Sayid was gaunt. He moved slowly. There was blood on his face, an eye swollen shut. His clothes were filthy and torn, several days’ beard on his face. Two men and a boy followed a few paces behind him. The boy carried a machete. One of the men carried a sawed-off shotgun, the barrel pointed at the ground. The other held a bow, half-drawn, an arrow at the ready and a quiver on his back.
Kirsten, moving very slowly, drew a second knife from her belt.
“I have the gunman,” August whispered. “Get the archer.” His fingers closed around a stone the size of his fist. He rose and sent it sailing in an arc over the road. The stone crashed into the wall of a half-collapsed house and the men started, turning toward the sound just as August’s first arrow caught the gunman in the back. Kirsten was aware of footsteps receding, the boy with the machete running away. The archer drew his bow and an arrow whistled past Kirsten’s ear, but the knife had already left her hand. The archer sank to his knees, staring at the handle protruding from between his ribs. A flock of birds rose up above the rooftops and settled into the sudden quiet.
August was cursing under his breath. Sayid knelt on the road, his head in his hands. Kirsten ran to him and held his head to her chest. He didn’t resist. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, into his blood-caked hair, “I’m so sorry they hurt you.”
“There’s no dog,” August said. His jaw was clenched, a sheen of sweat on his face. “Where’s the dog? We heard a dog bark.”
“The prophet’s behind us with the dog,” Sayid whispered. “He’s got two men with him. We split up to take different roads about a half mile back.” Kirsten helped him to his feet.
“The archer’s still alive,” August said.
The archer was lying on his back. His eyes followed Kirsten, but he made no other movement. She knelt beside him. He’d been in the audience when they’d performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at St. Deborah by the Water, applauding in the front row at the end of the performance, smiling, his eyes wet in the candlelight.
“Why did you take Sayid?” she asked him. “Where are the other two?”
“You took something that belongs to us,” the man whispered. “We were going to do a trade.” Blood was spreading rapidly over his shirt and dripping down the creases of his neck, pooling beneath him.
“We took nothing. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” August was going through the men’s bags. “No ammunition for the gun,” he said, disgusted. “And it was unloaded.”
“The girl,” Sayid said. His voice was a dry rasp. “He’s talking about the stowaway.”
“The fifth bride,” the archer whispered. “It was my duty. She was chosen.”
“Eleanor?” August looked up. “That scared little kid?”
“She’s the property of the prophet.”
“She’s twelve years old,” Kirsten said. “You believe everything the prophet says?”
The archer smiled. “The virus was the angel,” he whispered. “Our names are recorded in the book of life.”
“Okay,” Kirsten said. “Where are the others?” He only stared at her, smiling. She looked at Sayid. “Are they behind us somewhere?”