Chapter no 34 – Hotel of Bees

All the Light We Cannot See

What does he remember? He saw the engineer Bernd close the cellar door and sit on the stairs. He saw gigantic Frank Volkheimer, in the golden armchair, pick at something on his trousers. Then the ceiling bulb blinked out and Volkheimer switched on his field light and a roar leaped down upon them, a sound so loud it was like a weapon itself, consuming everything, quaking the very crust of the earth, and for an instant all Werner could see was Volkheimer’s light go skittering away like a frightened beetle.

They were thrown. For an instant or an hour or a day—who could guess how long?—Werner was back in Zollverein, standing above a grave a miner had dug for two mules at the edge of a field, and it was winter and Werner was no older than five, and the skin of the mules had grown nearly translucent, so that their bones were hazily visible inside, and little clods of dirt were stuck to their open eyes, and he was hungry enough to wonder if there was anything left on them worth eating.

He heard the blade of a shovel strike pebbles. He heard his sister inhale.

Then, as though some retaining cord had reached its limit, something yanked him back into the cellar beneath the Hotel of Bees.

The floor has stopped shaking, but the sound has not diminished. He clamps his palm to his right ear. The roar remains, the buzzing of a thousand bees, very close.

“Is there noise?” he asks, but cannot hear himself ask it. The left side of his face is wet. The headphones he was wearing are gone. Where is the workbench, where is the radio, what are these weights on top of him? From his shoulders, chest, and hair, he plucks hot pieces of stone and wood. Find the field light, check on the others, check on the radio. Check on the exit. Figure out what has gone wrong with his hearing. These are the rational steps. He tries to sit up, but the ceiling has become lower,

and he strikes his head.

Heat. Getting hotter. He thinks: We are locked inside a box, and the box has been pitched into the mouth of a volcano.

Seconds pass. Maybe they are minutes. Werner stays on his knees. Light. Then the others. Then the exit. Then his hearing. Probably the Luftwaffe men upstairs are already scrabbling through wreckage to help. But he cannot find his field light. He cannot even stand up.

In the absolute blackness, his vision is webbed with a thousand traveling wisps of red and blue. Flames? Phantoms? They lick along the floor, then rise to the ceiling, glowing strangely, serenely.

“Are we dead?” he shouts into the dark. “Have we died?”

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