Seth Patrick is the author of the Reviver trilogy, the first of which was published June 2013 by Pan Macmillan in the UK and Thomas Dunne Books in the US – the movie rights have been optioned by Legendary Entertainment, producers of Dark Knight Rises and Godzilla. He is also the author of the novelisation of French TV hit The Returned, published October 2014, and is currently working on the sequel to Reviver, to be published in June 2015.
Seth Patrick was born in Northern Ireland. An Oxford mathematics graduate, he spent thirteen years working as a games programmer on the award-winning Total War series before becoming a full-time author. He lives in England with his wife and two young children.
The girl paused on her way across the top of the dam and looked out over the town far below.
The sun was setting, she noted, dipping behind the mountains; lights blazed in the distant windows of the town, car headlights weaving through its streets. How was it so late? The last thing she could recall was sitting in a coach heading out on a school trip, bright morning sun outside as she watched the pines fly past her window. She’d been listening to music, trying to drown out the lecturing voice of her teacher.
How many hours ago had that been? And how had she got here, now? She tried to remember, tried to bring it back. All that came was a sense of panic. Panic, then darkness. And then nothing.
Something had happened.
She continued walking hurriedly over the dam, the temperature falling as night came. She should have felt cold, she knew. Her cardigan was thin – she’d been dressed for the heat of a midsummer’s day, not the bitter chill of night air. But somehow she didn’t feel cold, not even slightly. Instead, she felt scared. And she felt hungry.
She picked up her pace, her breathing tight and fast. She thought of her parents. Her mother would be out of her mind with worry, her father angry. She thought of her sister. And she thought of Frédéric.
They’d be waiting for her. They’d help her find out what had happened, help her fill in those missing hours. She felt such a longing then – so fierce in her chest that it stole her breath away.
Home, she thought.
It was time to go home.
Anton Chabou stood on the dam and watched the still water. The first time he’d seen the lake, eleven months before, low cloud had flowed slowly down the valley to cover the water’s surface. It had rolled onward, over the top of the dam like the ghost of a waterfall, heading for the town below.
Now, an hour after the sun had gone down, the air was clear. The lake’s surface was like black glass. Behind him, occasional cars drove by. The dam acted as a bridge for all but the heaviest vehicles, the fastest route out of town for those heading north and prepared to make the climb up the steep valley‑side roads. He’d even seen a young woman crossing on foot earlier, shortly before he’d left the control room. It was a rare sight. Most people who wanted to savour the view came by car.
His phone was in his hand. He didn’t want to make the call, but he knew it had to be done, even if he was the new guy. Eric, his partner for the shift, had been in the job for ten years, and Eric had shaken his head, muttering, wanting nothing to do with it.
‘Wait until the shift change,’ Eric had said. ‘Act like we just noticed it, and let them make the call.’ Then Eric had sat in the control room, storm‑faced, refusing to discuss it further.
Anton had already made the preliminary checks required of him, before raising it with Eric. A remote visual examination of the abutments showed no sign of seepage, and the flow measurements seemed correct. Getting a better idea of the current water intake would be necessary, but even if every source of water into the reservoir had done the impossible and conspired to stop, they simply weren’t taking enough water out to result in the fall he’d seen since coming to work that morning.
The lake was emptying, and he had no idea how.
As the senior engineer on the shift, Eric’s advice to wait almost amounted to a command, but it was advice Anton knew he would have to ignore. He had spent the next hour satisfying himself that nothing obvious was wrong. That meant taking the central maintenance shaft down to the upper and lower inspection galleries.
‘Gallery’, he’d always thought, was an odd word for what was really just a cramped grey circular tunnel running through the structure of the dam, sickly lighting strung along one side, and barely enough room to stand. He had to keep his head down to avoid constantly scraping his hard hat on the cold concrete above.
By the time he’d walked the upper gallery, his neck was aching and his mood was sour. But he’d bitten his lip and gone down, down, to the lower gallery. In theory, the lower was indistinguishable from the upper. The same restricted space, the same weak lighting. The same cold grey. But every time he went down there, it made him claustrophobic in a way the upper gallery never did. He was vividly conscious of the weight of water above him, somehow; reaching the end of the tunnel and turning back again, he always had the same image flash in his mind of dark water rushing towards him, icy and vengeful.
His impromptu inspection revealed no problems. The next stage would be to log the measurements on each of the ninety expansion strips throughout the galleries and compare them with the last recorded values, normally a weekly chore that took up most of the shift of whoever drew the short straw. He would go down again and make a start on it, once he’d had a break from the confinement and a little fresh air.
Once he’d made the call.
And so he was back at the top of the dam, phone in hand. He hunted for the number he’d been given almost a year before, when he’d first taken the job. The breeze picked up, suddenly bitter, but he preferred the dry sharpness to the damp chill of the tunnels below, a chill that got deep into your bones and was hard to get rid of.
‘Yes?’ said a man’s voice.
‘This is Anton Chabou, sir. The water level is dropping. We can’t account for it.’
For a moment, the voice stayed silent. Then: ‘You’re sure?’
Anton was about to give a typical engineer’s response: explain the possibilities that remained, explain the procedures they would follow to fully assess the integrity of the dam. But the voice knew all of that; all he wanted from Anton was a single word. Yes or no.
‘Yes,’ Anton said.
‘I’ll be there within two hours.’
‘There’s a chance it could just be . . .’ Anton started, but the man had already hung up.
Anton put his phone in his pocket, readying himself to go back down to the galleries and begin taking measurements. Feeling cold, he stamped his feet and moved around, trying to rid himself of the chill in his bones. It made little difference.
He stared out across the lake and thought about what lay underneath. He thought about what he’d been told officially when he took the job, and about what he’d heard in the months since – rumours, inconsistent, conflicting. He thought about what he believed.
Shivering, he started to descend.
Jérôme Séguret sat in his car outside the Lake Pub and wondered what the hell he’d done to deserve it all.
Disappointed and confused, he’d just left Lucy Clarsen in the room above the pub.
‘Sorry,’ she’d said. ‘It can’t work every time.’
He’d given her the usual money, even though things hadn’t gone to plan. When he asked if he could see her again next week she shrugged and said something non‑committal, completely at ease with a situation that he found painfully awkward. He avoided eye contact and wondered how he could kid himself that there was anything good about their sessions. On his way out to the car, he saw his daughter Léna by the bar with her friends. He was too slow; she spotted him, and spotted who he’d been with. The look in her eye was a blend of irritation and disgust. He’d slunk outside to his car, angry with himself.
He flipped down the sun visor, slid back the cover of the mirror, and glared. It wasn’t that long ago, he thought, since everything had felt right, had felt normal. The family finances had been solid, he’d had a wife he adored and two daughters who made him proud, even as they were entering the hard teens. He’d had a smile, back then.
Now the haunted eyes staring at him in the mirror were those of a different man. He was forty‑four, by rights. Four years ago, he’d felt younger than his age, and had looked it. Now? Hell, he could be taken as a decade older, maybe more. His hairline was decimated, his skin mottled, and his eyes . . .
‘Christ,’ he muttered, and flipped the visor back up. He couldn’t meet anyone’s gaze any more. Especially not his own. Shame and guilt, in equal parts. That was all his eyes held now. Hope, like his smile, was long gone. Extinguished on the day they’d lost Camille.
His daughter had died in a coach accident that ended the lives of the driver, one teacher, and thirty‑eight children from the town’s largest school, all in the same year group. There had been two children booked on the biology field trip who had happened to miss it. One, David Follin, had shattered his ankle two days before while trying to take on the town’s highest set of steps with his skateboard, his best friend Martin filming it on his phone. Martin had put the footage on YouTube the night before he himself had died in the crash.
The other child to miss the trip had been Léna, Camille’s twin sister. She’d claimed illness that morning; Jérôme’s wife, Claire, had suspected Léna was feigning it but had given her the benefit of the doubt. He still didn’t know the truth of it, and it wasn’t a topic he ever wanted to raise. It had been Claire who had attended the counselling sessions with Léna; Claire who had held the girl for the long nights that followed Camille’s death. Jérôme had seen the distance growing between him and his daughter, and between him and his wife, but consumed by his own grief he’d felt powerless to do anything about it.
He and David Follin’s father, Vincent, had been friends before the accident, and found themselves becoming drinking partners in the aftermath.
‘David can’t cope with it,’ Vincent had said. ‘Whenever he sees a parent, a friend, a sibling of one of those who died, he believes they’re thinking: “Why you? Why did you live?” He wants to get away from it. The boy can’t even breathe without feeling guilty.’ Within a year David and his family had moved back to Vincent’s home town of Cholet.
Jérôme had missed the company on those nights when he couldn’t bear being sober. For over two years following the accident, that had been most nights.
Now, he drank less, and in his own living room. It was cheaper, and he preferred the solitude: he lived in a shitty apartment in town, not in the house on the outskirts where Claire and Léna still lived. He needed to be careful with money, and not just because of the rent he was paying; he’d been seeing Lucy Clarsen more often than he could really afford.
Everything had been right in his life, four years before. Then a coach had veered off a mountain road and taken his life down with it.
It was a ten‑minute drive to the Helping Hand, a shelter co‑funded by the church and the town hall. Jérôme had managed to bury his frustration a little by the time he got there for the regular parents’ support meeting.
The parents. Well, those who were left.
He’d added it up one night. He’d actually gone to the trouble of enumerating the grief.
Thirty‑eight children, thirty‑eight families: seventy‑six parents, and twenty‑nine siblings. The coach driver had a wife, and two sons in their early twenties. The teacher was married but childless.
One hundred and nine immediate relatives, and he’d stopped counting. So much for arithmetic. Like David Follin’s family, many had moved away. Too many memories. Of those parents who had stayed, most had other children still at the school and had decided against dragging a grieving child away from their friends, from all that was familiar and comforting to them.
For almost all of those parents with no other children, staying had been impossible. Jérôme had often wondered what would have happened to him and Claire if Léna had gone on the trip that morning. He found it hard to imagine feeling emptier than he already did, but he was certain that if both girls had died, Claire would have been another fatality of the accident.
Léna. Jesus Christ, Léna. So cold towards her parents now. So closed off and untouchable. She and Camille hadn’t just been twins, they’d been identical twins. When she walked around town after the crash, people looked at her with a wariness greater than Jérôme had ever felt himself. Greater, surely, than David Follin had experienced.
When people saw her, they also saw Camille. Their whole lives, the girls had played on the confusion, each pretending to be the other when it suited them, amused that people couldn’t tell them apart even when (they insisted) it was so obvious. Once Camille was dead, it was as if that confusion was still present, as if people couldn’t remember which of the two had been on the coach. Some found themselves meeting Léna and calling her Camille, silenced by the horror of their mistake and the distress on the face of the young girl. Léna had become a ghost. A walking, talking reminder of everything they’d lost.
I’m not dead. That had been Léna’s cry to her parents, whenever their frustration with her increasingly wild behaviour had boiled over into a shouting match. I’m not dead. Maybe if it had been me who’d died, you’d be happy.
And while Claire had attended the support groups for a time, she’d stopped when her relationship with Pierre, who ran the Helping Hand, had started to evolve into something closer.
Jérôme had been oblivious at first. He’d taken her at her word, that she’d simply grown tired of the group and knew Jérôme got more out of it than she did. It was only when she’d finally told Jérôme about her and Pierre that it really made sense.
The ensuing row had led to him packing his bags. There had been no question of who would go, of course. Léna needed her mother more than she needed him.
Jérôme paused outside the entrance to the Helping Hand. The shelter consisted of a main building and several outbuildings, sited high on the valley slope overlooking the town. It was a peaceful place; out of the way, but with the town laid out in front of you it never felt isolated. Perfect for mending broken souls, Jérôme supposed.
He wished he’d given himself time for a cigarette. The view was one he liked after nightfall – the town never looked more alive, and life was something he missed. He was already a little late, though, so he went inside. There were the usual number, twenty or so. Most of the parents took turns with their partner. He noted that Sandrine and her husband were both present, but they were the exception – Sandrine volunteered much of her spare time to help out at the shelter, and she never missed the support group meetings.
Jérôme grabbed a chair from the side and brought it over to the gap next to Sandrine, trying not to clench his fist when he realized Pierre was talking. He’d never punched anyone in his life, but with Pierre it would be a pleasure.
Pierre ran the Helping Hand, and he took most of the support groups himself. Alcohol, depression, drugs, divorce (God, the irony); whatever your problem, Pierre was there to grant sanctimonious advice that might leave you no better off but would, guaranteed, allow him to feel self‑satisfied. Pierre was a religious man; born again, with the zealotry which came from that. He was also surely the biggest prick Jérôme had ever met.
Claire had brought the topic of divorce up more than once in the eighteen months since Jérôme had moved out, and she’d probably done so at Pierre’s suggestion. Jérôme had no idea if they’d even slept together yet; given Pierre’s religious commitment he suspected not, and Jérôme certainly wasn’t going to agree to a divorce. He knew Claire still felt something for him; not as much as he felt for her, but it was a spark he believed could save their marriage. Time was running out, though. It wouldn’t be long before his desire to have his wife back counted for nothing in the courts, and then the way would be open for her to marry Pierre.
Jérôme kept coming to the support group, even so. It helped him. Why it helped, he wasn’t sure, but it did. Perhaps it was because he liked imagining his fist shutting that mouth; perhaps it was just that, with Pierre in the same room, Jérôme knew the man wasn’t with Claire. With his wife.
‘. . . and you can all have your say in a few minutes,’ Pierre was droning. Jérôme felt his fist ball up, and had to concentrate hard to relax it again. ‘But first,’ Pierre said, ‘I believe Sandrine has something to tell us?’
Sandrine smiled, not something Jérôme saw much of in this group, except for Pierre’s gracious leer. Everyone else, after all, had had the same kind of immunization against smiling as Jérôme. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yan and I wanted to let you all know that we’re having a baby.’
More smiles broke out across the group. Jérôme tried, but nothing happened.
Sandrine went on, hesitant, sounding almost apologetic. ‘It wasn’t easy, but still, we wanted to tell you . . . and to thank you all. Especially Pierre. These meetings really helped us after the accident. Because of you we’ve been able to carry on, move forward. And now we have this. Life prevails. It’s such a beautiful gift.’
‘That’s your gift to us, Sandrine,’ gushed Pierre. ‘You too, Yan.’
The group started to clap. Jérôme kept his hands by his side.
‘Now,’ said Pierre, ‘you all remember Charlotte, the mayor’s assistant?’ He gestured to the woman sitting to his left; she smiled and nodded, and the group did likewise.
Not Jérôme, of course. He knew she was there to talk about the commemorative monument again, and he remembered the last time too clearly. He would try and keep his cynicism reined in, but God . . . People made that hard sometimes.
Soon after Charlotte began, the overhead lights stuttered and failed, and darkness took over. A ripple of groans and uneasy laughter passed around the circle, before phones were brought out to give some light.
Jérôme stood and went to a window. ‘Looks like the whole town is out,’ he said.
‘It should be back soon enough,’ said Pierre from his seat. Jérôme found a bitter smile creep onto his face. Pierre’s tone had been almost scolding. There was simply no room for pessimism with the man.
Small talk ensued, bathed in the pale phone light. Jérôme stayed by the window to avoid the empty chatter. After a few minutes, the lights in town came back on. He returned to his seat as the strip lights above him flickered into life.
‘Good,’ smiled Pierre. He looked to Charlotte. ‘Let’s continue.’
Charlotte stood, holding up a folder with drawings of the planned monument for the group to see. ‘So, as I was saying . . . The monument is in the form of a circle. It comes out of the foundry on Monday, and it’ll be installed by the end of the month ready for the ceremony. There are thirty‑eight holes, one for each student.’ She handed out two copies of the drawing for people to take a closer look.
Wonderful, Jérôme thought. Another empty space for Camille. And he would have to look at the damn thing every day.
‘Does anyone have any questions?’ asked Pierre.
Jérôme’s hand went up.
‘Was that thing expensive?’ Beside him, Sandrine and Yan looked up from the drawing they were holding, wary.
‘Because it’s quite ugly, to be honest with you.’ Silent, the group exchanged uneasy looks. ‘You think it’s nice? You like it?’ He was doing it again, he knew; being honest when silence was the right option. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘If everyone else likes it, I’ll keep quiet.’
Pierre shook his head, dismayed. ‘You made your thoughts clear when we first discussed this. We listened to you, we voted. Can’t we move on now?’
‘No,’ said Jérôme. ‘Back then I said it was pointless. Now I’m saying it’s ugly. There’s a difference.’
‘OK,’ sighed Pierre, looking away.
‘Jérôme,’ said Sandrine, ‘I think we’ve all had enough of your sarcasm. If these meetings seem so ridiculous, then don’t come.’
‘Sarcasm? It’s not . . .’ He stopped, feeling tears at the edges of his eyes – he absolutely was not going to give Pierre that satisfaction. He took a breath. ‘I come because it does me good. Believe it or not, it does me the world of good, just like you. Without this, all I would have is despair. Maybe life will bring me beautiful gifts, one day.’
Sandrine’s eyes showed a mixture of pity and hostility. Jérôme looked to the floor, silent as the meeting progressed and the arrangements for the ceremony were discussed. He heard a phone vibrate nearby, and saw the awkward look on Pierre’s face as the man reached into his pocket to reject the call. A few seconds later his own phone rang. Claire, the screen said. He stood and went to the door, stepping outside to take the call from his wife.
‘Jérôme?’ said Claire. ‘I need you to come over.’
‘What’s wrong? Is it Léna?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s Camille.’
‘What about her?’
There was a desperation in her voice that scared him. She sounded lost.
‘I’m coming,’ he said.
(C) Seth Patrick 2014
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.