It was when he reached the landing below his that he first heard
the voices. Whispers in the dark. Foreign tongues that he could
barely discern and could not understand. But there was an urgency
in the voices that conveyed itself without barrier of language. A
tension in them. And he became aware that the men who owned
them were on the next landing down, and on their way up.
Panic rose like bile to choke him. It was them! They were
coming for him. Now. And there was nowhere he could go. He
stopped, standing stock still, mid-flight. The only course open
to him was to retreat to his studio, and attempt an escape across
the rooftops. But the very thought paralysed him with fear. He
had felt safe to always leave his windows open, because no thief
in his right mind would clamber over these roofs at night. And,
besides, he had absolutely no head for heights.
They were getting closer. He heard his name, and blood
turned to ice in his veins. No doubt about it. It was him they had
come for. And still he stood rooted to the stairs, held there by
a debilitating inertia. His only other course would be to charge
down through them, taking them by surprise. But what if they
had flashlights, and guns? There were several of them, he could
tell. He would be totally exposed.
There was no advance warning. So he was taken wholly by
surprise when the world came apart around him. Suddenly, and
completely. What had seemed like solid matter supporting him
turned to dust, and masonry, and timber, the air filled with the
screeching and rending of metal and stone. A roar that rose
up out of the very bowels of the earth, the hot, rancid breath
of the devil himself exploding into the night. Yves was falling,
flying, turning. Interminably. Fifteen seconds that felt like fifteen
hours, before something struck him on the head, and the
world turned black.
He had no idea how long he had been unconscious. But
the first thing that struck him, as awareness returned, was the
silence. An extraordinary, deafening silence, all the more striking
for the contrast with the roar of destruction still echoing in his
memory. Dust was settling all around him like the finest snow,
and he choked on it, before looking up to see stars where once
had been his apartment. He could make no sense of the confusion
of masonry and brick all around him, had no conception
at all of where he was. But to his surprise he found he was still
clutching his suitcase, battered and scored, but intact.
He was lying at a peculiar angle over a chunk of what appeared
to be the staircase, and he manoeuvred himself with difficulty
into a sitting position. Miraculously, nothing seemed broken,
but he could feel blood trickling down the side of his head.
Now he could hear distant voices calling in the night. And
someone screaming. Closer to hand, something that sounded
like moaning. But in his confusion he was unable to identify
which direction it came from. He had no idea what had just
happened. An explosion?
He tried to get to his feet and, as he turned, saw an arm
protruding from a jagged chunk of masonry, frozen fingers
clutching at nothing. He scrambled over the rubble, and with
an enormous effort managed to pull the stonework to one side,
exposing the hopelessly crushed body of a bald-headed man with
with a round face, white now with plaster dust, and streaked
crimson with blood. The Citröen driver. There were others here,
too. He saw a foot. A hand. A leg. No sound. No movement.
His pursuers were dead. All of them. Just three of the sixteen
thousand who died that night during fifteen seconds of hell, in
what he would soon discover had been the worst earthquake in
Yet Yves had survived it, and who would know? How many
bodies would never be recovered? His included.
Which was the moment he realised that, with his own death,
he was being given a second chance at life. No one would be
looking for him ever again.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...