Another wave hit and sent her under. It pushed her down beneath the surface of the churning water and held her firm. She clawed at it; limbs heavy, eyes blank and nose full of fetid liquid, until finally it let her go. The iron tang of blood filled her mouth and she emerged choking, incoherent and panicked.
Above her, the sky glowered. It was covered in different shades of mourning grey that in another time she’d consider beautiful. Her legs cycled leadenly beneath her and her arms flailed. The movements were mechanical; a primeval response. Her brain skittered.
In the soup of swirling dank water, she occasionally saw an arm, the glitter of an eye and a mound of sodden hair. Her hands involuntarily clutched things that repulsed her. Quickly, she grew exhausted. Water mingled with air. She could only breathe in chokes and rasps. Her lungs filled, and unbidden vomit joined the putrid dark and freezing flood. When she sank under for a few more seconds, it felt like a relief.
When the rains came, it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Piercing blue skies transitioned to thunderous cloud choked dark in seconds. The smell of damp thick air, and a pause; before the heavens opened.
From the start there were no individual droplets. No separation or pause. It came down in one long uncompromising sheet of water. A block of it, filling drains, gutters and sewers; overflowing into the streets and finding its way through cracks and gaps. It poured into people’s homes, shops and theatres. Where once there was space, air or light, there was water.
It came so rapidly; some didn’t see the deluge until it was too late. Swept up, crushed against ceilings, their coffee cups smashing fiercely against them. Other people climbed trying to beat the rising tide. The water was faster, stronger and more uncompromising. It prised fingers from brick or slate. It froze them. It filled their mouths, noses and eyes. They couldn’t out run it and there was nowhere to hide. They hadn’t time to find a dinghy, a plastic bathtub or inflate a lilo still slick with sun cream. There wasn’t room for camaraderie, flasks of tea and orange inflatable life jackets.
Others had their faces turned up to the sky. Saw the water fall. Marveled at its uncompromising scale. Felt its force as it hit them hard from above. Bore the explosion, the power, and fought to withstand it as their cheeks seared and eyes burned. Heard the thunderous rush as it surrounded them. Prayed. Felt fear and exhilaration. Had a moment of wonder as the water rushed to engulf them.
He watched as devastation floated past. He was numb to the corpses bloated and blackened. The baby prams and their sodden cargo. The animals. There were times when they filled the water around him, their foul stench rising to him, filling the air. There were other times when there was nothing except the sky, the water and his vessel. An absence of things. The flood sanitizing and making clean; washing everything else away.
Years had passed in a haze of sawing, hammering and sanding. Plans appearing fully formed in his mind and churned out on to paper. The planks of wood carefully honed and fitted into place. His wife, uncomplaining about his absence, yet watching anxiously. The constant exhaustion.
Throughout he had felt driven, compelled and possibly possessed. It was as if an unseen hand had been guiding him. Words in the night. Apocalyptic dreams filling his head. Sweating and pacing. Signs and omens. He feared he was going insane. Yet, he continued. Unable to stop. Just in case the voice that was constantly at him, constantly driving him on, was who it said it was.
The sky turned from a cacophony of greys to black. With the lack of light everything was erased, void and absent. A curtain had fallen. It was total and absolute. There were no glimmers of light, no stars and no moonlight. It felt like the first day. The beginning. It felt like the end. There was total silence.
They stood together, just the two of them, looking into the vast emptiness, inhaling the fresh clean air, grass and earth. His calloused hand was clasped in hers. They could not speak. There was nothing they could say that wouldn’t result in collapse, or tears, or an inability to carry on.
Around them, animals paired in haste milled about uncertainly. They pawed at the foreign soil, nuzzled at plants and occasionally whinnied or roared. Their sanctuary against the waves lay ship wrecked precariously on a ridge behind them. Shards of wood lay close by.
He could not understand what he’d done to be so utterly punished. He hated the voice that had driven him on. He stopped his ears against the continuing words. He screamed and screamed and screamed.
His wife, Naamah, stood silently watching him. Gently, she bent down and with great care she began to pick up the pieces.
Clare Read is a writer from the East Midlands. She is a founding member of Marvellous Writers, a community writing group. She has previously been published by Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter, Reflex Fiction and Words for the Wild. In the Non-Fictional world she works in the NHS with people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.