The man was out for supplies when he found a dark figure rummaging in the corners of the convention center. The man wore a long overcoat and had a fishing spear laid across the shopping cart he was pushing. Usually, he avoided large open indoor areas, like convention centers. They were full of danger, but it had been months since he last seen a living person and his desperation for human contact drove him to investigate.
The man hunkered down among a pile of fallen debris by the entryway and observed the dark figure. After some more digging,it eventually sat down with its' face in its' hands, feet spread wide and straight apart on the hard floor. He wasn't armed, at least he didn't seem to be, so the man pushed through the glass door and walked towards it.
He realized the figure was indeed a man; he looked more confused and dazed than menacing. Still, the he gripped his spear while pushing the cart.
"You're not going to find anything
but ashes around here," the man said, "What's your name?"
The other man didn't respond. Not even a glance upwards.
"I mean, what do you go by? Do you remember your name?"
"I see. You must've just woke up. Late bloomer. Haven't seen one around in a while. Don't usually last too long out there. I'm Alain." Alain took this hand off the spear put it on the late bloomer's shoulder. He pulled him up: it look less effort than he though for the man was very thin and weighed much less. After seeing the spear, the man took a step back and raised his hands.
"You don't have to get that way, I'm not going to hurt you. Just having a better look at you. My eyes aren't so good in this light." In deed, it was early evening and the sunlight was falling. The thin man was wearing a mechanic's shirt, dirty with grease and soot all over. Two tattered labels were stitched to each breast: "Citroen" and "Lucien". He had high cheekbones and sunken eyes which made him look ghoulish. He must have not eaten for days. There was a long scar from the bottom of his left ear down to his shoulder and one of the lobes was missing. "Lucien's" eyes tracked Alain's eyes as they moved to observe him.
"Well, I guess we can call you Lucien since that's what it says on your name tag." After some hesitation, "Let's go for a walk. What were you doing down here anyway?" Alain said. They made their way back to the entrance of the convention center.
Lucien tried moving his jaw to speak. A low pitched howl came out followed by a squeak. He put both hands on his throat and massaged the area right above his Adam's apple and tried again. Same results. Lucien opened his mouth wide, pushing his lower jaw down until the corners of his mouth were stretched taut and he could feel pain welling from behind the backs of his teeth.
"Don't worry about it. It's probably been a while.
It'll come back. Why don't you try this?" Alain pursed his lips
together and hummed a tune. Lucien stopped walking and took a breath,
then put both hands to the sides of his head. "Sound familiar
eh? You try it, but breath out through your stomach, not your
Lucien managed a low hum.
Alain and Lucien sat across from each
other on a small circular wooden table. A a kerosene lamp at the
center of it. Alain had roasted some rats with some greens when they
arrived. Alain picked them from outside his warehouse, out along the
edges of the perimeter fence. A dog approached the table.
"Don't worry about her. She's just excited to see someone new. Name's Madeline. Found her locked inside a truck on the highway. The highway...that's somewhere you want to avoid. Have you been there yet?"
Lucien shook his head.
Madeline sat on her hind legs and watched Lucien eat, head was tilted to one side, as if pondering a thought while her tag wagged back and forth. Lucien reached out to pet her, but she bolted up on all four legs barred her teeth. "Told you. Just excited to see someone new," Alain said.
The meat was rich and though Lucien ate slowly, it made him nauseous. Many times, he felt the bile rise up inside his throat but he held it down. He couldn't' remember the last time had eaten. Seeing Lucien struggle, Alain offered him some water. "There's not a lot of it, so drink it slowly. Not so much rain these days." They ate the rest of the meal in silence.
After they ate, Alain put the lamp out and they sat in the darkness of the office upstairs. "Try not to step too heavily, the stairs can be loud," Alain said on their way up. Madeline was already laying down on the welcome mat next to the door. They sat in matching recliners with tattered green fabric. The molded foam was revealed around the arm and shoulder rests. They were molding and reeked of rainwater, rust and and rotted wood.
"You want to give it another try? You
can start slow. There's probably a lot you want to know. Questions.
First thing everyone has, questions. I can tell you're different
though, quiet fellow aren't you." Alain took his baseball cap off,
ran a hand through his hair and put his cap back on. "Well, get
Lucien opened his mouth wide again and then relaxed the joints of his jaw. "What...happened...?" The words undulated awkwardly.
Alain smiled. Then the smile flat-lined and he leaned forward in his chair, looking directly at Lucien's face. "Don't know."
"Not a clue in the world," Alain leaned back. The springs embedded in the recliner creaked and groaned. "Woke up one morning and took the RER into Paris for work just like every morning when there was a suddenly loud crash. Smoke started streaming down from above ground, the escalators, the stairs, the tunnels, the vents. Everywhere. They stopped the trains and everyone was running out along the tunnels. Absolute mess. When I got up to the surface around the Musee d'Orsay, except for the people who had been riding on the RER and Metro with me, there was no one, as if everyone had just disappeared into thin air. Empty cars, stores, streets, buses. No one. Just gone. And nothing but that smoke." Alain closed his eyes and rubbed the spot between his eyebrows with his thumb and forefinger. The formed deep wrinkles along his skin. "I went back down to the Metro with a few others. Since the trains had stopped running, I followed the tracks back to here. The smoke cleared later that day."
It's been almost three months."
"There were a few but..." Alain's voice trailed off.
Madeline hunched up and barked at the office door. Alain jumped up and grabbed a crossbow on a desk against the wall. He looked at Lucien and put his fingers to his lips. And they waited. An hour of silence. Two hours. Three hours. They listened quietly until night set in. Nothing. "Sorry. Once in a while, she gets a little jumpy."
They eased back into the chairs. Madeline trotted to Alain's open palm and nudged him with her nose. He scratched her neck with force.
you feeling now?" Alain said.
"Good." The soreness had ebbed away from Lucien's arms and back. What had made him nauseous before now made him feel warmth. He remembered the name of the tune that Alain hummed back at the convention center. "That was Francis Lai "A Man and A Woman", what you were humming before."
Alain's eyes opened wide. "Now that is surprising revelation. I couldn't think of where I got from for the longest time."
"I can't remember where I heard it from though either. I think it was cinema."
"The cinema, I forgot those places even existed."
It was almost midnight according to the clock on the wall if it was still able to keep the time correctly.
Alain got up and brought back a half empty bottle from below the sink. He poured some into a tin can.
"So I can see you were a mechanic. Citroen. Good cars. Cheap. Very French. Well made. Good cars," Alain said as if he reminding himself of something from long ago, "Any wife or kids?"
"I don't remember. I don't know. I feel like I had someone," Lucien said.
"I had one. And a son too. He was eighteen. They were both in San Francisco that day. Visiting universities."
"What about the rest of the world?" Lucien handed the tin can back to Alain.
"Same." Alain finished what was left and put the tin on ground. Madeline came over and licked the inside of it. "Let's not think about that right now."
Lucien looked at the window. it was
boarded up with wooden planks, nails and scrap meta except for a
small corner on the upper right from which the moon was visible.
Lucien squinted through it. "Ah. So you noticed it too," Alain
"The moon. I left that corner alone just so I could see it from here." Alain leaned back with his hands held behind his head and smiled at the sliver of light that burrowed into the rug in front of him.
"I was looking for her," Lucien
said, " I think that's what I was doing when you found
Alain put his arms bad down onto the hand rests and leaned forward again.
"All I remember was just the digging. It felt like some bad dream and I couldn't stop." Lucien puts his arms straight out in front of his face and stretched his fingers out wide. His fingernails were caked with grime and for the first time, in the moonlight, he noticed the lesions and calluses cratered through the back of his hands and palms. Some had scarred over. Some were in the middle of turning into scars. A few were fading. "You were right. There was nothing but ashes."