Chapter no 36 – Trapped

All the Light We Cannot See

light emerges, a light not kindled, Werner prays, by his own imagination: an amber beam wandering the dust. It shuttles across debris, illuminates a fallen hunk of wall, lights up a twisted piece of shelving. It roves over a pair of metal cabinets that have been warped and mauled as if a giant hand has reached down and torn each in half. It shines on spilled toolboxes and broken pegboards and a dozen unbroken jars full of screws and nails.

Volkheimer. He has his field light and is swinging its beam repeatedly over a welter of compacted wreckage in the far corner—stones and cement and splintered wood. It takes Werner a moment to realize that this is the stairwell.

What is left of the stairwell.

That whole corner of the cellar is gone. The light hovers there another moment, as if allowing Werner to absorb their situation, then veers to the right and wobbles toward something nearby, and in the reflected light, through skeins of dust, Werner can see the huge silhouette of Volkheimer ducking and stumbling as he moves between hanging rebar and pipes. Finally the light settles. With the flashlight in his mouth, in those granular, high-slung shadows, Volkheimer lifts pieces of brick and mortar and plaster, chunk after chunk, shredded boards and slabs of stucco—there is something beneath all of this, Werner sees, buried under these heavy things, a form coming into shape.

The engineer. Bernd.

Bernd’s face is white with dust, but his eyes are two voids and his mouth is a maroon hole. Though Bernd is screaming, through the serrated roar lodged in his ears, Werner cannot hear him. Volkheimer lifts the engineer—the older man like a child in the staff sergeant’s arms, the field light gripped in Volkheimer’s teeth—and crosses the ruined space with him, ducking again to avoid the hanging ceiling, and sets him in the golden armchair still upright in the corner, now powdered white.

Volkheimer puts his big hand on Bernd’s jaw and gently closes the man’s mouth. Werner, only a few feet away, hears no change in the air.

The structure around them gives off another tremor, and hot dust cascades everywhere.

Soon Volkheimer’s light is making a circuit of what is left of the roof. The three huge wooden beams have cracked, but none has given way entirely. Between them the stucco is spiderwebbed, and pipes poke through in two places. The light veers behind him and illuminates the capsized workbench, the crushed case of their radio. Finally it finds Werner. He raises a palm to block it.

Volkheimer approaches; his big solicitous face presses close. Broad, familiar, deep-sunk eyes beneath the helmet. High cheekbones and long nose, flared at the tip like the knobs at the bottom of a femur. Chin like a continent. With slow care, Volkheimer touches Werner’s cheek. His fingertip comes away red.

Werner says, “We have to get out. We have to find another way out.”

Out? say Volkheimer’s lips. He shakes his head. There is no other way out.

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