Epiphany – Part 4
by Steven Mace
“My father built this place”, Dr Elliott told them as they followed her down an empty corridor, her heels clicking on the polished tiled floor. Julio had run on ahead. “He always saw it as a refuge for the victims of the war, a place where the poor and the sick could come. He loved this lake, and he loved the church here too. He also loved the town, before it was flattened by missiles.”
“There was a town here?” Clyde asked, with curiosity.
“Oh yes.” Dr Elliott smiled sweetly, as if remembering happier times. “I grew up here, as a little girl.”
Thea smiled. She had taken a liking to Dr.Elliott, who was not that much older than herself she thought. The woman was in her mid-twenties perhaps? Although Thea suspected though that they’d had quite different upbringings. Jane Elliott was friendly but sounded like a woman who remembered the world before the cataclysm. Thea only remembered the pain and frustration of a life in a cage, shut away in the facility with no real family. The only friends she’d had were the nurses and tutors who were employed to look after her and the nicer scientists. That was probably another reason that she liked Dr Elliott, the fact that she seemed to be a nice scientist and reminded her of happier times at the facility.
“Who was your father?” Clyde asked.
Dr Elliott hesitated. “He was one of the scientists who warned against the war…he knew about the possibilities of terrible destruction that the government’s awful weapons would unleash…”
They had reached the end of the echoing corridor, and Dr Elliott now swung open a heavy door. Immediately they were met by the sound of people talking and laughter, the sound of a large community. They could hear the sound of children’s voices.
Thea and Clyde found themselves standing in a vast hall. The space was divided up into cubicles with beds and cupboards, living space separated by makeshift screens. Clyde and Thea could see that most of the cubicles were occupied by families. There were makeshift kitchens and bedrooms that were hidden from view. Children ran in the aisles and corridors between each cubicle. There were doorways leading out of the hall marked ‘male’ and ‘female’ and which Thea realised were bathrooms beyond the walls of the main hall, where people could go to for privacy, outside the community area and far away from their living cubicle.
Those people that were closest to the main entrance saw them enter and stared with open curiosity at the man and woman accompanying Dr Elliott. Thea and Clyde could see families of different colour and creeds occupying the living space. Thea thought she glimpsed Julio further down the hall beyond several other people, running across the aisle. The place was noisy and energetic, and despite having all the appearances of a refugee camp, seemed a light-hearted and happy place.
The sense of idyllic, communal happiness lasted only for a moment. Suddenly Thea glanced at Clyde and saw blood trickling from his nose. Shocked, she was about to tell him when she tasted the familiar metallic, dull taste of blood on her own lips. She raised her fingers to her nose to touch her upper lip and took it away to see. Her fingers were covered in blood as well. She looked at Dr Elliott in horror and saw that blood was trickling from her small delicate nose too.
“Oh my god”, Thea said. “What’s happening?” Around them other people’s noses were also bleeding. It seemed to be affecting everybody. Some people were angry, shouting and pointing fingers. Their target was a frightened dark-haired woman occupying a nearby cubicle, whose nose was also streaming blood and held a small boy in her arms, rocking him backwards and forwards.
“I’m so sorry”, Jane Elliott said to Thea and Clyde, wiping her nose with a bloody handkerchief. “We have a Screecher here.”