Monday, July 30, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part Five

Among the things the old man left behind, I found some paper. I've been writing this while the others work -- and despite my expectations, they've encouraged it. I thought someone would rebuke me for not helping out, but no one did. Part of that, I'm sure, was because I'd made the climb into the boat... but I think that another part of it is a desire to be remembered, to have some record of who we were, and what we did when the waters rose. Our final project is as simple to describe as it is difficult to complete: to rip the roof off the old man's house, whole and intact, and invert it. With any luck, and a lot of work, we can make an impromptu boat and put the children inside. When the old man and his sons lowered me out of their boat, they gave me a length of rope. Once our own boat is ready, I'll make that climb again, and tie that rope to his ship. The other end will be attached to our boat, the life raft we're crafting from his roof, tying it to his floating barn. I doubt the raft will last long. It might not even survive the arrival of the waters, but there's nothing I can do about that. Still, if it lasts until daylight... my last, great, burning hope is that the old man and his family will be forced to choose between bringing the children aboard, and watching them drown. I hope -- and, yes, even pray -- that they'll choose the latter. But if they don't, let them have my curse: let their descendents be just as we are now. Just as varied, just as selfish, just as petty and greedy and warlike. If God can curse the world to death by water, surely I can curse the old man's descendents to be human and imperfect. And if my curse has any power, then you -- eventual reader, the person who finds this record -- will know how the old man chose. None of the adults will go with the raft. There's only barely room for the children, and the old man will absolutely ignore any vessel with any of us in it. We've resigned ourselves to dying, to give them a better chance to live. If we are truly part of the sin and iniquity that brought about the end of the world, then we'll pay for it now. I have an empty bottle here beside me: dry, discarded. When I finish, I'll put these papers inside and seal the top as best I can. If there's any justice in the world, someday someone will find them and learn what we did. And if there isn't, you can at least consider this my last defiant act: spitting in the eye of a god who would wipe us all from the face of the Earth for being what he made, rather than what he hoped for.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part Four

I gripped the wet, slick wood with trembling fingers, and pulled myself up to the edge so I could see in the window. It was a ridiculous position: I was fifty feet in the air, balanced precariously on an unstable structure, in the midst of the worst downpour the world had ever seen... and I was doing this mere hours after a cross-country hike (also in the battering rain) which had taken most of the day. We'd tried to build a ladder, using anything available: bits of furniture the old man and his family had left behind, wood from a couple of outbuildings that we'd disassembled, bits of fence post, even some scrap lumber that looked to be left over from the construction of the old man's crazy boat. What we got wasn't really a ladder, let alone anything as useful as steps. It was just a very steep pile, held together by whatever we could find: bits of clothesline, belts, and as much of our clothing as we could spare. I was the third one to try to climb it. The first attempt had been made by one of the teenage boys. Two-thirds of the way up, the pile had shifted and he'd lost his grip. The second attempt was made by the father from a young couple who had arrived with their small children on their backs. He'd made it halfway up, then came back down and refused to try again. He said that with all the rain he couldn't get a grip on the wood, but he'd also helped us with the boy who fell; he'd seen the bone sticking out of his shin, seen us force it back in and splint the leg. If his nerve had simply given out, I really couldn't blame him. The whole attempt was suicidal. Even if one of us made it up there, we'd never get anyone else up unless the old man and his family were willing to open the door, or at least lower ropes. I couldn't blame him, but I couldn't afford to wait for daylight, either: the ground was giving the first faint hints of trembling, precursors to the unmistakable vibration that would herald the arrival of the devouring waters. So I climbed. The gathering darkness may have helped, forcing me to feel for my next hold as I labored my way up. There was, at least, enough angle that I could stop and lean into the slope when I grew tired. And now there I was, balanced against the driving rain, standing atop the pile and gripping the edge of the old man's ship. The exposed deck was covered by a massive roof, which was supported by a central structure (little more than a blacker area of the darkness) that probably held the stairs down to the lower decks. The edge of the roof was just above my head, forming a sort of window that went all the way around the boat. It was about a foot and a half high: enough room to squeeze through. I shifted my arm, and got an elbow on top of the wall. Then I pulled myself up, feet scrambling against the slickness of the hull. If this didn't work, I wasn't going to be able to climb back down. I got my head through, hooked my other elbow over, and pushed myself out over the deck. I tilted forward, then began to slip down; fortunately, it was in the direction I wanted. I crashed onto my forearms, barely shielding my head from the impact, and let the rest of my body slide down the low wall and flop to the side. For a long moment I could barely move; I just lay there on the deck, aching all over and trying to breathe. I'd done it. Then there were voices, and a flare of light that seemed shockingly bright. The old man's sons were spilling out of the central structure. They were just starting to spread out across the deck when one of them saw me and cried out. Then they were all approaching. I flopped over and forced myself up to my hands and knees. I got a foot under me, then looked up. Kneeling was about as far as I was going to make it: they were standing around me now. The one in front of me held a shovel, and think one of the others had something else, but I didn't have the energy to turn my head and see. "We need--" I said, and began to cough. They just stood there, uncertain or maybe waiting. "We need your help," I said. "There are people down there. You have to get them onto the boat." "I have to do no such thing," said a voice. The younger men parted to make way for the crazy old man. "I couldn't even if I wanted to." I started to say, "You can--" but he cut me off. "The Lord himself has closed up this vessel. He has determined to cleanse the evil from this world, and only we are to be spared. You and all your kind must perish." "What?" I shouldn't have said that; I saw his expression harden. I took a deep breath and tried again. "You know me. I run a restaurant. What have I done that's so evil that... I don't know... the only solution is to kill the world and start over?" "That is between you and God," he told me. "I know only what He has chosen to share with me: that the world has grown full of sin and iniquity, and that He will wipe it all away." I couldn't believe this. All this way, all this effort to save my family, and this monster was going to stand there and let us die. Anger flickered briefly through my veins, but I was too exhausted to support it. Instead, I begged: "My daughter just turned two. She's too young to be wicked. You can raise her, teach her the proper ways of worship and obedience and..." I trailed off, uncertain of what else God might find us lacking in. "Whatever else God requires. At least save the children." But the old man shook his head. "I would not dare. If the Lord Almighty intended to save them, they would already be aboard. To bring them on now would risk the safety of the ship. If I do not abide by His commands, none of us will survive." I put a hand on the railing and managed to stand. With nothing left to lose, I asked: "This is your idea of righteousness? To stand by and save yourselves, while all around you children die? What good and loving God would have you make that choice?" "No." The old man shook his head. "Your mockery did not shake my faith. Your whispers did not shake my faith. Your questions will not shake it now. Go back to your family. Enjoy what time is left to you." "Enjoy...?" I looked at his sons, and knew I couldn't take them. They were too many, and I was too weak. I had nothing left. I hadn't even brought a weapon; I didn't dare try to climb with one. "You know what? Fine. But you're going to have to lower me down." I paused, looking around me. "Or you can throw me off, and have my blood directly on your hands. I'm honestly too tired to care, at this point." The old man stiffened. He was silent for a long moment, but finally he said: "Fetch some rope." One of his sons hurried away. A short time later I was bumping my way down the side of the boat. They'd tied a sort of basket or harness around me, and helped me squeeze back out the window. It was not a comfortable trip, but after everything else I barely noticed. Then I was lying in the mud, with the rain steadily battering my body: defeated, fallen, and utterly damned. There was a slight tug on the rope, and then it went slack. A moment later it began to pour down on top of me, coil after coil. They'd released it entirely rather than risk that I might try to climb back up. Hands found me, touched me, helped up. I couldn't see the figures beside me; it was too dark for that. I could barely hear their voices over the rain. But they put their arms around me, and carried me back into the old man's house. I should have been broken by the knowledge that we were all going to die, but I wasn't. It was as if, with my death assured, my body gave up the last of its hoarded energy. Suddenly, I had enough strength to be angry. The others were looking at me as they carried me in the door: expectant, hopeful, sure that nobody would knowingly leave us to die in the rising waters. I stood there, not answering, and saw the knowledge and despair spread across their faces. "One final effort," I rasped. "One last thing to try." I knew even then that I was lying. I would keep trying one last thing until the waters claimed my corpse, or until the Almighty himself rose up to strike me down. I was only sorry that we lacked the tools to put a hole in that ridiculous, oversized nightmare of a boat. If God was really out to destroy the world, maybe that would have forced Him to renegotiate. But we couldn't do it. So instead we tried something else. One last thing, before the waters took us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part Three

We gathered in the crazy old man's home. The sound of the rain was muffled here, but we still had to raise our voices in order to be heard. The air was still damp, and we had no dry clothes - but at least we were out of the rain. I was surprised by how few people were here. Including the children, twelve of us had escaped together from the town, and we were easily a third of the overall crowd. Most of the others had come in smaller groups, and ours were far from the only children. There was one older couple, a group of four children who seemed to have come on their own, a handful of individuals, families of various sizes... and all of us wet and miserable, bedraggled and profoundly lost. We stood or sat, with barely enough will to speak, and looked at each other. We knew this shelter was only temporary. The situation hadn't changed. If we didn't keep moving, we'd die where we sat. I forced myself to stand back up, and started a circle of the room. I asked for names and gave my own; I asked questions, knowing already that I wouldn't like the answers. The old man wasn't in the house. His family wasn't in the house. All those animals and supplies that they'd spent months collecting -- after months of laboring on their crazy project -- were in the structure outside, and we had no doubt that the old man and his family were in there, too: safe in their ridiculously oversized boat. Of course we'd made fun of him. Who decides to build a boat miles away from the nearest water? Who makes a boat that's too large to navigate the river, even if you could get it there somehow, and it didn't collapse under its own weight when you put it in the water? We'd called him crazy because the entire project was crazy. When he filled the boat with animals, we called it the world's most elaborate barn, and went to gawk at his madness. When he told us the world was going to end, and loaded his boat-shaped barn with enough supplies for a year or more, we laughed -- or we nodded gently and helped him on his way, humoring him. What else could we have done? But now that boat was our only chance of survival. If the old man had known that the rains were coming, maybe he'd also known how to build a boat that could withstand the rising waters - and who knew how long they would rise? I kept thinking of the river, covering more and more of the landscape as it rose and spread, following us here a few hills and valleys at a time. How much time did we have? Some of the others had tried pounding on the hull, hoping someone would let them in. Nobody had responded; either the old man and his family were ignoring them, or they couldn't hear them over the rain. So I went back outside and looked at the old man's crazy boat. It was a giant block of a thing, a good fifty feet high. There was only one door that I could see, and that was sealed and too high up to reach. I thought again of the river, rising to devour everything; and I wondered how much time we had. We were going to have to get up there, somehow. Despite the height, despite the merciless downpour, despite our exhaustion... somehow. We had to find a way to get on that boat.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part Two

The countryside was better. There were people here, too, but they were doing the same thing we were: fleeing the city. I only hoped that we didn't all share the same destination. We staggered along for only a few minutes before we left the road. I don't know who suggested it, or if we all just realized it at once, but the road was hopeless: the hard surface lost beneath a stream of mud that sucked at our feet and slowed our steps. The grass was better, the trees better still -- though there was no escape from the merciless rain. The water was just as deep here, but roots and grasses held the soil in place. I took a guess at our direction, and we staggered on: away from the town, towards the crazy old man in the hills. We splashed across a field that was now a shallow lake, scrambled up hillsides that were trying to dissolve into mudslides. The rain pushed against us at every step. It was a horrible, monstrous thing -- I hated it as if it were alive. The deluge left us half blind and nearly deaf. It weighed down our clothes and sucked the heat from our bodies. We carried the children, now: they were exhausted and shivering. Our weapons were our only supplies, and we carried them only from fear of more bandits. If we didn't make it to shelter, we would starve -- or drown, whichever came first. By midday we were well into the hills, alternating between walking on thankfully-solid ground and carefully crossing the impromptu streams and cascades that had grown between the high places. We stopped to rest, huddling together like a herd of sheep for warmth; there was no way to start a fire in this, and no shelter to be found. It wasn't courage or determination that kept us going. It was simply the knowledge that there was nothing else to do. We could either keep going, or die where we sat. The children surprised me. They were colder and more tired than the rest of us, but they staggered to their feet when we started to move again. Those who could, walked; those who couldn't, we carried. Somewhere in the afternoon, our path took us close enough to see the river. Or, rather, to see what the river had become. Once slow and tranquil, it was now raging and wild. Once narrow enough to swim across, it was now as wide as the greatest of lakes. Once safely contained within its banks, it was now reaching out to tear away anything it could reach. We could feel its presence as a steady, rumbling vibration in the ground. The docks could not have survived this. The town could not have survived this. Fortunately, it curved away as we continued on. We hurried, and I felt that we were not so much avoiding the river as trying to escape it. I couldn't see it through the steady rain, but I knew it was back there: growing, spreading, climbing. Reaching. We hiked on, eager to stay ahead of it. And, finally, we saw it: the high hill where the crazy old man had done his work. With the rain, we were nearly on top of it before it came into view; but the massive wooden construction was unmistakable. Better still, there were only a few other figures crowded around it: only a few that had made it here from the town, or from the surrounding countryside. With our goal is sight, our steps grew lighter. We hurried forward to safety.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part One

The end was near. We all knew it, though some still screamed denials. I led my family down the center of the street, staying away from the sidewalks and alleys. We kept the children in the center, while the adults encircled them with weapons ready. We'd fought twice already, once with another family and once with a group of men. My brother lay dead three streets back; when his wife wouldn't leave his side, we left her behind. The steady rain hid their forms from sight, but I carried that last glimpse with me. Once, I would have prayed that she would be safe. Now... I could only hope, and I hoped with all my heart that her end would be quick and painless. The rain continued its relentless descent, weighing us down, trying to drive us into the earth. The street was a steady stream, as deep as my ankle. We struggled against it, up the hill and away from the docks. One of the children slipped; another helped her up. Nobody slowed their pace. The forecasters hadn't predicted this downpour. They had been as surprised as anyone when it came - maybe more so, not that it mattered. Surprised by its appearance, surprised by the way it covered everything, surprised by the way it never let up. We'd had stormy weather before, to be sure; but this was different. A week of storms was one thing, but this was one unbroken storm, and it had been going on for nine days, now. None of the forecasters could say when it would end; at least one swore that it wouldn't, not until it had consumed the world and everything in it. We passed a shattered church and kept going. Two days ago, the steady flooding had chewed through the foundations and collapsed the building, crushing the minister and a crowd of devout worshipers; but still there were people clambering over the rubble, screaming for rescue and salvation. Their wails were audible even over the steady roar of falling rain. No place was safe. Houses and places of business were targets, not shelters. The streets were even more dangerous. The docks... everyone wanted to get to the docks. Everyone wanted passage on a boat. Never mind that half the ships were gone, swept down the river and splintered by floating debris or underwater obstructions. Never mind that the docks themselves were half-shattered and sagging. Never mind that the remaining boats were overwhelmed with passengers, packed almost too tight to breathe. The docks were a steady riot of desperate violence. We wouldn't stand a chance there. So we went in the only direction we could: the crazy old man in the hills. It was madness, but what choice did we have? There was no other way to go, no other way that we might survive. Not unless the rain stopped, and it showed no sign of doing that. So the old man was crazy - so what? So we'd all laughed at him - so what? If he'd done what he said he was doing, he was our only chance.