Joseph Kessel: The monstrous ululation of an air-raid siren
From The Medici Fountain (1950)
Translated by Herma Briffault
The Doctor and his wife looked at each other questioningly, but before they could reply the monstrous ululation of an air-raid siren rose to its familiar pitch. Another replied, then another. In every section of Paris a lament arose from its visceral depths.
…No one was afraid of the German planes except a quite small gray-haired woman with foolish and vacant eyes. Crouched in a corner under the enormous cobwebs, she trembled continuously with fear.
“Nothing can reach you here,” someone called out to her. “You’re not as exposed here as you’d be in your room.”
The woman lived in one of the poorer houses of the neighborhood, and six months before this the house next door had been sliced in two by a bomb which had also severed the gas mains. People converted into living torches had jumped from windows, and the next day some carbonized corpses had been found among the ruins. From then on, this woman shuddered through the air raids to the end, until the nocturnal freighters had finished dumping their fatal cargo on Paris.