Our prison was encircled by marshland where birds and sick dogs came to die. At night we could hear their cries and death rattles. We could see nothing of the town except its smoke and its dying animals. Prisoners on the second floor watched those washed-out cats and dogs die, lying down then struggling in the mud like birds caught in lime; famished cats jumped on those with gaping wounds and tore them open.
From the cellar where we had been confined for six years, the laughs, the shouts, the curses of the prisoners made us picture those solitary deaths and massacres. Corpses rotted slowly on the mud.
By now my two cellmates resembled rats. We spoke like rats, we walked, we ate like rats. We rotted slowly on the mud of the cellar. At night, black and red insects, cockroaches that were mating in the cavities of the vault fell sleepy, damp and cold on our lips; I no longer screamed. I dreamt of my father who dreaded them, I could hear the crunch the cockroaches made under my father’s feet and his screams at night in the tiled hallway; I could see the glow of the moonlight and the glow of the streetlight on the wire mesh of the larder arouse the dull eye of a hare or a red partridge.
We cleaned our cellar three times a year. We had to take out the dirty water in buckets. After, our damp blankets weighed like heavy soil on our knees and shoulders. The children of the guards came to watch us sleep and eat and threw dead rats and birds through the grating. Sometimes they fell into our bowls. When that happened Hergavault who, in the middle of the night, liked to dip a bit of...
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