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Hand Drawing

JEAN- SAMUEL
DROUIN

Jean-Samuel considers himself a creative and writer, consistently working on perfecting his craft. He writes from Montréal, where he has attended Cégep and Concordia in English Literature, and from his hometown in the Appalachians. He reads from a wide range of books and his writing is as versatile—expect some sci-fi, dystopian, surrealism, and more! Place-des-Arts Part 1, his featured piece, will be included amongst a collection of short stories he intends to publish

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Place-des-Arts 

Part 1 


 

         [Dou, Dou, Duuu]

        « Prochaine station, Place-des-Arts. Attention, pour le débarquement à la plateforme, veuillez vous dirigez vers les voitures numéros … Merci de votre compréhension. »

        The announcement drifted down the length of the métro train like the drafts rushing through its gaps and from the tunnels, lost amidst the largely empty landscape. It resonated much like closing-door warnings, service interruptions and calls-to-attention, though these particular messages were a breathing reminder of the present context imposing itself on the métro and everyone else’s lives.  

        The wall-mounted machine—an automatic temperature scanner—was fixed upon the blue plastic panel immediately before the open gangway between the AZUR compartments. He stepped to it, his face hovering no more than a quarter of an arm’s length away from its screen and the blue plastic surface around it. So often he recalled himself staring at the blue plastic shell of the train in overcrowded cars during rush hours, those seemingly interminable minutes staring into the modern métro cars’ plastic casing, something that couldn’t ever be less interesting. It seemed so long since the last time he remembered doing exactly so, standing amidst a shoulder-to-shoulder packed compartment and shifting ever so slightly and involuntarily against someone’s shoulder along with the train’s movement, staring straight ahead and contemplating any and everything. 

        The machine beeped—37.3°C. Its screen blinked green and he turned to the glass panes before the open gangway. The panes swung forward and back into place as he proceeded beyond them and into the next compartment. The glass panes were quite like those he’d encountered a long time ago in the Toronto subway and allowed commuters to enter and exit its stations. He found this method plentifully more sophisticated and twenty-first century appropriate than tourniquet wheels. Although it appeared rather simple, walking through a tourniquet could occasion no particular occurrence or they could stop you dead in your tracks, the wheel barring when it hasn’t completed its rotation. One could walk through a tourniquet time and time again without incident but one could also find themselves barred unexpectedly, barred again and again, which was a near-infuriating nuisance that he remembered from the times that had happened to him. Nowadays, the glass panes separated every AZUR compartment, and the AZURs were the only trains operating throughout the métro’s on-island stations. 

        He started down the compartment, indifferent from any other carriage with its mostly commuter-less allure and the glossy finish of the plastic seats, wall casings and the metal support bars shining from the regular disinfection hose-down. In normal times, this is what the compartment might look like on a Sunday morning riding through a métro line’s more remote segment—though nowadays, it looked like this at every day and time. Occupants looked off into the distance, to the floor and their lonesome reflections in the windows, as though drawing a line separating them from the rest of the world and distancing themselves as much as they could from it. Only the thrum and rumble of the train gliding on the rails and the cars creaking as they slightly jostled up and down or swayed to the left and right permeated the space within. 

        Another set of glass panes and a station similar to the last awaited down the compartment. Whereas the previous scanned for one’s temperature, this one had a biometrics software analyzing an individual for fever-like symptoms: flushed forehead and cheeks, traces of perspiration and shortness of breath. It was this arrangement of machines that—in these trying times—was responsible for keeping the city and its economy afloat, or at a bare minimum, keeping it from drowning and succumbing to the present context. Without this system, everything and everyone on the island would be brought to a standstill and confined, without any manner of moving forward. The machines maintained a semblance of normality—however remote a semblance—that otherwise would have lived on as a distant memory and an aching longing for the world and life they had known. 

        He moved from the biometrics scanner and beyond the glass panes, greeted by an eerie, quasi picture-perfect scene of shiny empty seats and vast spaces between whomever sat within the compartment; and he continued forward, accompanied by the sounds of his footsteps and the rumbling train. Every time he approached someone standing by a door or the floor-to-ceiling support bars in the middle of a car he contoured them as widely as he could, mindful of his every step and how far he stood in relation to someone else, keen on keeping a solid meter-and-a-half to two meters distance whenever possible. Quite like the other commuters’ behaviours, he avoided glancing into other people’s faces, for they’d only reflect his own gloominess, a mood they had all grown much too accustomed to. The length of the compartments felt much longer to traverse than he remembered, missing the diversity and flair of Montrealers abundant along the seats and standing areas. 

        He approached another control station—a temperature scanner—and stepped before it. 37.5°C. He blinked as the screen flashed green and the panes allowed him through. Fluctuations were not uncommon, although seeing differing readings didn’t always inspire trustworthiness in the system’s accuracy and its abilities. From the onset of their installation throughout the métro’s AZURs he had been fascinated by the ingenuity behind the system, how they could detect virus properties and symptoms, and he liked to think that they functioned adequately—though discrepancies like this suggested less. Several factors played into the detection of symptoms, factors that he and the general population might or might not be entirely cued in to, such as the exact science behind the machines and whether or not the virus had mutated into a stronger, more virulent strain, or perhaps a mutation rendering its detection more difficult. 

        He reached the end of the compartment and stopped before another temperature scanner—37.6°C. Swell—that wasn’t far from the threshold. He set forth down the frontmost compartment—this had to be one of the compartments opening onto the platform—the first amongst two others, with this one placing him ahead of the group exiting at the next station. Throughout the métro, only select compartments amongst the entire train’s length provided access onto a station’s platform, rather than all the compartments opening up onto a platform. These compartments differed from one station to another and only those closest to the station’s designated exit were allowed access onto the platform, which could be the three compartments at the front, centre or back of the train, all depending on the station. This design ensured that people had to move throughout the train and its control stations so they could reach whichever group of compartments opened onto their destinated station’s platform.

        He approached the front of the car and the last set of doors. A man and a woman stood by the vertical bars in front of those doors and before the train conductor’s carriage; a respectable distance apart and minding themselves. The woman looked to him as he approached, and he motioned to the door with a look. She glanced to the door, then to him and shook her head—you can’t exit here. 

        He acknowledged her cue and headed back through the compartment, empty but for himself and the man and woman. They could have had tested positive and now they were confined to the compartment, pending arrival to the station closest to a hospital or containment center where they’d be escorted to by a quarantine police unit. He could only imagine how unsettling—and terrifying—it must be to receive a preliminary positive result, staring into a screen indicating that you might have contracted the virus and then facing the inevitable containment procedure. If this were their situation, then he admired their pacific resolve before the much-dreaded procedure everyone feared would turn their reality into a living nightmare. 

        « Prochaine station, Place-des-Arts. Le débarquement se fait par les voitures numéros … »

         Once more he stepped in front of the temperature scanner, and the infrared thermometer analyzed his forehead. He awaited its reading. 37.3°C. A breath he hadn’t noticed he was holding escaped from him and his shoulders unclenched. The glass panes admitted him into the compartment, where he could see a small group of people moving to and concentrating around the doors, slightly dispersed from one another. They were too many for his liking and he hung back from the group, several people standing between him and the doors. So much for wanting to take off ahead of the crowd. Outside the compartment’s windows the concrete walls appeared more discernable as the train began decelerating, the insignias pointing to the previous and upcoming stations flying by from the wall less and less quickly. The white blur of text turned to shapes, then took on the appearance of letters and gradually the stations’ names became legible. 

        The train then emerged from the tunnel and streamed alongside the platform, appearing to rush backward as much as the train did forward; the green-tiled platform and overwhelmingly grey-toned wall tiles’ shape, size and colour more defined, even under the platform’s diminished lighting. The platform’s walls protruded outwards and then inwards, the triangular walls jutting in and out throughout the platform’s length. From anyone’s perspective standing on the platform, the scissor-like pattern hid the benches and advertisements screens affixed to some of its walls. 

        The train advanced, slowing down more and more as it drew forward. 

        « Station Place-des-Arts. »

        The train and the platform’s illusionary motion drew to a halt and equally stood still, the doors receding outwards and admitting the commuters onto the platform. They stepped off the train and onto the platform one by one, maintaining their distances from one another with as much order as one might ever observe amongst the métro. They moved from the train like parts from a machine, their movements’ uniformity not quite resembling that of a hivemind unity but a chilling avant-goût resemblance of one. 

        He stepped off onto the platform and glanced ahead and behind him at the people descending from the two further compartments, quickly counting no more than thirty, at most. The collective started down the platform towards the staircase twenty to thirty meters away, which led to the sublevel with the fares’ booth and rows of tourniquets, beyond which there was a wide mezzanine preceding a tunnel corridor for the staircase to the designated exit.  

        Dou, Dou, Duuu. The dulcet, door-closing chime reverberated across the length of the lone platform, accompanied by the doors sliding and clasping into place and then the electric whir of the train starting along the rails. The whir and the friction from the thick rubber tires propelling the train forward sounded along with its rumbling, then the train was whisked inside the tunnel and onwards, a corridor of wind tracing its movement. 

        No talking and no exchanges took place amongst the commuters; only the sound of their footsteps falling flatly on the platform’s tiled surface and echoing amidst emptiness was heard. They moved past the mosaic of rectangular, brick-sized tiles and its soothing shades of grey, a palette of greys that were neither bland nor invigorating but somewhere in the space between. Quite luminous under normal circumstances, the platform and station were now only illuminated by every second light and bathed in the poignant aura of fear and dis-ease which plagued society, a presence looming amidst every landscape. This was a Place-des-Arts without its luminescence, without the abundance of people marching over its tiles and past the mosaic’s satisfying ranges of grey; a Place-des-Arts that was but a glimmer in the light of its former glamour. 

        A quick series of footsteps, easily discernable from the rest of the group, resounded across the platform and a small girl—no older than six or seven—ran past him and through the group. She wore a yellow rain jacket, and a pink backpack jostling about as she weaved in and around the commuters. He noticed a small hairspray bottle—the kind used by hairdressers to spray water—nestled in her backpack’s mesh side pocket. Everyone else simply marched forward quietly, oblivious to the young girl or consciously blotting her from their attention, her energy an alien concept to them. 

        “Woo-hoo!” The girl drifted through the crowd, arms extended like airplane wings. 

         No adult called out to scold her or attempted to catch up with her, warning her to keep her distance from others. What kind of parents would let a child run through the city during times like these? 

        The girl reached the stairs and hopped the first few steps like a kangaroo, then climbed normally to the landing midway up the staircase. She bounced upon the spot, arm tucked to her body in the widely known celebratory gesture. 

        A middle-aged man, with rugged yet pleasantly striking features, held a similar energy to the young girl’s, his quickened stride standing out amidst the collective’s composed flat-sounding pace. He had a greying beard—reminiscent of a lion’s mane—and grey hair, and was wearing a dark collection of clothes not much different from anyone else’s. He might not have noticed the man if it weren’t for his rush to place himself ahead of everyone around him and exit the station. The man passed him, a crazed grin upon his features, a grin so unrealistically pleasant that, by itself, it could break the stone-strong grimness cast upon all of their lives. He felt that there was hardly anything amidst all of the collective’s existence that they could be content about—how could this man be so content?

        The man attained the head of the group and went up the staircase, stopping on the landing and stooping by the girl. She listened raptly as he explained something. The man spoke so only she could hear, his words confined between them and also drowned out by the echoing footfalls of the approaching commuters, the first of which started up the staircase. They contoured the man and girl, giving them a wider berth than they would otherwise have given a non-human obstacle. 

        He started up the staircase behind the others, pacing his steps to maintain the distance between himself and the person in front of him, then reached the landing and followed everyone berthing the man and girl. He quickly glanced at them before continuing up the staircase, and noticed the complicity implied by their stance was reminiscent of a master and an apprentice, a mentor and their protégé. Without any regard for physical distancing, the girl brushed against him as she ran up and, once she reached the top of the staircase, turned back and descended as quickly as she’d climbed, passing him once more. 

        He reached the top of the staircase and now gazed across the sublevel, at the fares’ booth, the rows of tourniquets and metallic boxes on either of its sides and the open floor layout of dark-green tiles beyond them, leading up to Frédéric Back’s stained glass art work. The luminescence, or lack thereof, remained the same as the platform level though the gloominess was further accentuated here by the low-ceilinged crisscross of concrete beams. 

        Clack-ack, clack-ack, clack-ack. The raucous clanking resounded as people started passing through the tourniquets, and he walked amongst them towards the dreaded mechanism. He lined up his body between the metallic boxes and pushed his hip against the bar, lifting his hands to his stomach’s height to abstain from touching the surface. Clack-ack. He emerged into the open space, grimly lit by the overhead fluorescents while the illuminated glass artwork reflected on the floor tiles two to three meters from its source. With the open layout, the crowd further dispersed and proceeded to the tunnel leading to the designated exit, moving over tiles darkened by the wet and half-dried marks of wet boots and shoes of the people entering the métro from the snow-covered streets and sidewalks above. 

        Clack-ack. A rapid patter of footsteps echoed off the tiled surface, drawing closer and closer and—the young girl streamed past him and through the group à la catch me if you can. “I made it!” She threw her arms into the air, then abruptly turned and skipped back to where she had run from. “I’m free!”

        Clack-ack. An increasing number of heads turned to her, long looks and scowls featured on their faces—free wasn’t a word that described all of their present context, and whatever she was freed from sure should raise a few eyebrows. 

        “Hush!” The middle-aged man called out, his tone traced with ire. Clack-ack. He emerged from the tourniquet. “Keep it down.”

        Amidst the commuters, a young woman, in her mid- to late-thirties, pointed out the man and girl. “These two have the virus!” 

        He blinked. He wasn’t the only one who’d found their behaviour strange, but to say they had the virus? He hadn’t even stopped to consider they may have been infected. The commuters and he glanced at the man, whose eyes widened, and the girl, who noticed everyone’s attention directed to her and whose expression was unreadable. 

        She reached for the hairspray bottle from the side of her backpack and held it out like a firearm, finger poised upon its trigger.

        “That’s my saliva!” She whirled and wielded the hairspray upon those before her. “Don’t come closer or I’ll spray!”

She turned to the person closest to her—him—snorted sharply and spit all of her mouth’s contents over him, her saliva jetting in a spray. 

        He recognized her intention as she snorted and raised his arm to his face, cradling his mouth and nose within his elbow’s crook as his elbow shielded his eyes, parrying the spray from his face but not from his arm or jacket. 

        The crowd of commuters, quieter than any you could ever find within a métro station, imploded quite like shattered fragments of a drinking glass on impact, everyone scurrying from the two presumed carriers. They ran into one another, fell to the floor, ran from one another, ran to the tunnel or ran to the tourniquets, shrill or sloppy-sounding scrapes reverberating from the dry and wet tiles. 

        Clack-ack! Clack-ack! Clack-ack! Those closest to the tourniquets ran right to them and beyond to the platform. They ran anywhere that was away from there—away from the carriers. 

        In the commotion, the young girl ran about the square of fleeing commuters and sprayed the bottle’s contents into the air around her. People flung themselves away from her, the scene resembling a sickened version of playground tag between schoolchildren—but with life, and mostly death, implications. 

        Clack-ack! Clack-ack!

        “Don’t let them through—do not let them reach the surface!” Exclaimed the woman who had called them out, now commandeer of the crisis. Her charge would have induced anyone to act if they weren’t all so distraught and overtaken with fear, whereas the potential carriers became subject to fear as much as the virus itself—their faces now that of the virus to those around them.

        As everyone around him fled, he stood his ground firmly—not because he was frozen with fear but he, strangely enough, felt composed. Yes, standing amidst this mezzanine square, which was more like a rectangle, with potentially infected people was certainly scary but not so much to relinquish his sanity and throw himself in a scrape to save his skin. There had to be something—if anything at all—that he could do to stop them from reaching the surface and escaping onto the streets, from further breaching the secure district and infecting a large number of people. He knew he shouldn’t do this and wasn’t even qualified to intervene—but he had to try. 

        Clack-ack! Clack-ack!

        The young girl skipped across the tiled surface, whirling on her feet and liberally spraying the bottle’s contents into the air while the middle-aged man walked along the mezzanine’s outskirts. The glass artwork illuminated his mischievous grin, his perfectly white teeth shining in light of the surrounding chaos. Although he might have preferred exiting the station under the guise of discretion, the child’s decision to wave the flag of fear and to flag it high—terrifying the living daylights out of the commuters—amused him just as well. 

        “You!” The woman pointed him out amongst the thinning crowd. “You might have contracted the virus—”

         He opened his mouth to object, then thought back to the girl spitting on him and realized he needn’t. He couldn’t have contracted the virus; he had parried her saliva with his arm—but there remained a chance, however small that—

        “—you’re the only one who can get close to them and stop them from getting to the streets!”

        “I can try,” he heard himself say, the words barely out when he realized their implication, “but there’s two of them—I can’t do this by myself.”

        “You only have to slow them down,” she said. “I have a direct line to the MQP; I can make sure a team gets here quickly.”

         He turned to the girl, who was closest to him and closing the gap between them, raising her hairspray bottle at him. Placing weight on his left foot, he swung his right foot towards her hands and kicked the hairspray bottle from her hold. On the soccer field that would have been a perfectly placed pass to a teammate or past the goaltender’s outreach for the nets, but here the bottle—instead of the inflated orb—flew from her grasp and into the air, then skidded away across the tiled surface. 

        She ducked beneath his outstretched leg and ran from him—not towards the tunnel but to the tourniquets.

“You can’t catch ME!” 

        “You can’t go outside if you’re infected!” he called after her. 

         She abruptly stopped, turned to him and stomped her foot. “I’m not infected AND I want to go outside!”

        “…Code 13-02 at station Place-des-Arts, I repeat, Code 13-02 at station Place-des-Arts.” The woman stood apart from them, holding her phone to her ear. 

        The girl stood closer to the tourniquets than the tunnel to the exit, and the middle-aged man prowled along the edge of the curved, illuminated artwork. He could chase her further into the station but that would open up an opportunity for the man to escape, and the other way around if he attempted to pursue the man—chasing one meant allowing the other to escape. Unless. He stepped backward, and backward again. The middle-aged man looked from the girl to him; meanwhile he took another step back, and another. The man froze, eyes widening in realization and the girl dashed across the mezzanine for the tunnel. 

        Glancing between the man and the girl, he then set for the tunnel and the girl before she could reach its opening, stooping down and cutting her off with his body. 

        “Let me go!” She threw punches and squirmed as he attempted to hold her from darting away. “I wanna go out!” 

The middle-aged man approached them, seeing this struggle as his opportunity to escape. He scuffled with the girl and calculated the man’s approach towards them—fortunately, the girl and him stood exactly before the tunnel where the walls narrowed for the corridor—to get past them, the man would be a breath away from them. The middle-aged man made his move and, despite his centre of gravity so close to the ground, he stretched his leg out and caught the man in his midriff. Although exceptionally unlikely, he was somehow capable of holding both back at the same time, at least for now. 

        “I’m going to need help!” he shouted to the woman. “I can’t hold them much longer!”

        “The MQP is on the way—they’ll be here any minute, just hold on!” 

         He heaved his leg into the man and pushed him back. The man stumbled, then went forward and straight for his leg, grasping it firmly. 

        A wild, ravenous look gleamed upon the man’s features—an unhuman, crazed look—and he pulled the leg upwards. Then, closed the distance as he lowered his face to it, his mouth opening wide and teeth—especially the protruding canines—catching a glint of the station’s already dim lights. 

        A shiver unlike any a métro draft could rouse in him seeped beneath his skin and into his bones. “He’s trying to bite me!” Still holding on to the girl, he struggled wildly against the man’s hold and a surge of desperation took over him, more dire than anything he could have ever imagined. He had never heard anything about biting as a method for transmission and a starvation-like behaviour taking hold of carriers. That and the girl’s spatting and spraying her saliva reminded him of how rabies propagated from hosts…could the COVIRA have mutated into a novel strain, even coupled with a lyssavirus?

        He wrestled his leg from the man’s grasp, sending him backward. The man grinned as he gained his balance and lurched forward for him and his leg once more. 


 

To be continued…

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