Short Story

Le Deluge

by Albert Camus

M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall stepped out of his cottage when he felt something soft under his foot. He looked down and saw a dead eel, its eyes peering up lifelessly. Automatically he recoiled. Then he bent down and picked it up for tea later. He looked around his garden. The river had swollen and was pulsing through his garden like a dilated vein. His lawn was dotted with soft shiny lumps, dead eels that had been flung out by the bloated river.

Later that afternoon, M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall went for a ride on his organic bike. The chain was made from organic pig vocal chords. He had made it himself. He remembered the pig as he tore the gut from its throat. It screamed at him without making a sound. He hadn’t felt anything.

As he approached Etonmessé Village he saw the local businessman M. Cameron approaching. They had been at school together. They greeted each other. ‘Have you seen the eels?’ was the first thing M. Cameron asked. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall was disturbed by the starkness of the question coming from M. Cameron’s fat well-fed face.
‘Yes. I found twelve in my garden this morning.’
‘The eel janitor says it is probably just the hot weather.’
‘Yes.’
M. Cameron walked away in the sweltering afternoon. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall felt cold even though sweat was running down his cheeks.

That afternoon it rained more, and the river boiled round M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. He stared out as it swallowed up his chicken shed. The frightened cackle of the chickens lasted about seven minutes.

By the second night, the village of Etonmessé was completely surrounded by the river. The last bridge had been washed away around four in the morning. The village met in the church hall to discuss the situation. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall brought eel stew for them. Some tried to force it down, others laughed and looked at the floor angrily. It tasted of the river’s victory. Already the children were looking hungry. Arrangements were made for the pooling of food and rations. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall noticed M. Cameron was looking uncomfortable. He seemed to be up to something. Then there was a commotion as Rev. Benne stood up.
‘It is a judgement from God.’ Everyone in the room turned to look at him.
‘God is punishing us for our decadence. Only through prayer will we appease him.’

In the weeks after the meeting, church attendance increased. People crammed into the small church, standing at the back to hear Rev. Benne’s sermons. The floods seemed to have given the Reverend a new energy. He was transformed into a biblical prophet. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall noticed an infant beard growing on Rev. Benne’s chin. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall didn’t go to church. Neither did M. Cameron. He was running a lucrative black market in food.

By the third week, things were worse in the village. The people were starving. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall was walking in the field foraging for mushrooms or sorrel. A boy was lying in the field, unconscious. His skin was stretched over his bones. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall carried him to the church hall where a makeshift medical centre had been set up. After a few sips of water the boy came round. He started screaming in pain. ‘For gods sake give me some sunny delight’ was one of the audible things M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall heard. Rev. Benne came in to see the boy. The boy was screaming as Rev. Benne fiddled with his rosary and put his hand on the boy’s head. M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall walked out.

One day M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall’s neighbour M. Welsh knocked on his door. This was unusual. M. Welsh was a fat angry man. He was holding a sheaf of papers in his hand. After a drink of water, M. Welsh stammered, ‘I’ve written a novel. But I keep rewriting the first line. I think the first line must be terribly important.’ M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall read the first line.
‘The sweat was lashing oafay Sick Boy’s head as he tried to replicate the success of his earlier novels by upping the ante with tales of necrophilia and ripping off Kafka.’
‘Is it about the Nazi occupation of France?’ M. Fearnlé-Whittingstall asked eventually.
‘Is it fuck,’ said M. Welsh.

The End