There are people moving in the lower pipes, a careful, laborious path being made through the water and filth and grime. They’ve made slow but continuous progress over the past half hour; the sounds from the streets have quieted down, with only the occasional scream or gunshot reaching the dark depths of the sewer system.
It’s been two years since this sort of upheaval, since ’30 when the streets were full of shouts and running feet that reverberated against the piping, and blood ran in thick, sticky trails into the sewers.
Now, the blood is spare, and comes mostly from the limp body of the man being dragged through the sewers.
He’s draped bonelessly over the shoulder of the other man, who’s carrying him through the sewer with heavy breath and weighted step, and his head lolls to the side, a thin trickle of blood staining his face from forehead to chin.
There’s a cravat binding the wound, but it’s already soaked through, and covered in the filthy water of the sewers that sloshes as the older man carries the younger.
Paris has been sleeping,but now she is stirring, a response to the uprising on her skin; like a horse shivering as flies land on her flanks, she’s shifted as a result of the combat. There are corpses heaped in the streets, the wreckage of barricades scattered across the dislodged cobblestones. Debris litter the stone.
In her veins, beneath the surface of the streets of Paris, two figures are picking a painful, furtive path.
The cities have always been living, but they sleep intermittently, waking occasionally when some new upheaval occurs. Paris stirred slightly in 1830, enough to catch the last insurgents as they fell to her streets with bayonets in their breasts or bullets in their heads, blood and dirt on their clothes and in their mouths; Paris almost awoke in 1832, when it seemed the people might rise enough to push back, when it seemed for a brief, hopeful moment, that the rebels would muster enough forces to beat the guards — and Paris pulled herself back and shut her eyes tight, when the odds dwindled to sixty against six thousand, when the last fighters were shot with their backs to the wall, knocked backwards with the force of the impact, falling limp like battered rag-dolls.
It’s too much to deal with, to have to watch her people die.
Now she is drifting in limbo, held between sleep and wakefulness, unwilling to commit to a full awareness: waking fully will mean feeling the harsh and ragged breaths of the dying, feeling each individual death-wound, feeling each sharp stab of agony of the men who are still slumped where they fell, propped against walls and doors and in the streets, blood-bruised.
Paris is an old city, scarred and battered, and she cannot bear another heartbreak.
But the sewers, below the city, have woken. There are people moving within them, crawling through the filth and darkness like little blind animals seeking the light, and the sewers — the arterial sections of the city — are brimming with wild consciousness.
The veins and arteries of Paris, they call them: they’re filled with the contents dumped from chamber-pots and kitchens and blood-basins, muck and dirt and excrement and brackish water. Paris is bleeding filth.
And there are people, an old man bearing a younger one, who have used such ways as an escape.
Paris is asleep, but the sewers have opened one imaginary eye, and focused it upon the tiny creatures with the fixation of the eternal.