Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6

 

SURVIVOR

DENNIS DOLBEAR

Illustrations by CHARLIE WILLIAMS

I. Overture.

The rain lashed your face like a cat-o'-nine tails. The wind was enough to break off large branches and even the smaller trees like they were matchsticks. The combined effect was fury

--and that wasn't the leading lady, only her handmaids. If I had only known at that time - when the above conditions were occurring - I'd have had time to be afraid.

 

II. Ordeal by Water.

Katrina made her entrance in suitably diva fashion. She broke the doors of my house out of their frames. The pressure of the water was so great that even though the locks and seals held, the frame couldn't - and the water poured in in a flood tide.

I grabbed the hand of my mother - 84, and by no means well - and led her outside. This wasn't just a matter of fighting the in-rushing water, although that was a problem. The difficulty was something I'd never heard discussed in all the talk of "what to do in a flood": the fact that everything in your house - furniture, appliances, tables, bookcases, beds, and even your refrigerator and freezer - floats. And that is a danger, because tall items, like the refrigerators and the china cabinets - fall over - perhaps on you, crushing everything beneath. And when the water has risen a little more, it becomes a potentially-deadly maze of floating hulks that shift and bob treacherously with any current - including the wake of your body wading by.

But there wasn't much time to think of that. We had only minutes - seconds - to act. There were only two choices left - risk the fury of the storm outside or go for the attic.

I over-rode my mother's choice and we went outside, past the crashing ruin of my house, as china cabinets and other furniture upended, spilling their contents of decades of family treasures, decorative objects, and worthless tchotckes into the water. There was reason - I'd - we'd - been though hurricane Betsy, so long ago, and I'd heard, and had nightmares about, folks drowning, being trapped like rats in the rising water, in the very attics of their homes. The water was rising so fast - there was no indication it could not go higher than the roof - and so fast that to break out of the attic would have been impossible. We went outside and took our chances.

Our first refuge was under the front porch overhang, reasonably sheltered from the storm, standing on a ladder. That didn't last very long. The water was soon rising about our shoulders, and showed no sign of slowing.

We then took the only refuge left. We went into the water - now over 9 feet high - and clung to the gutters above, in a 125 mile-per-hour wind and swift flood. (My mother is nothing if not tough. ) After a short while, I moved to a tree outside, with flexible branches that I could crouch in. From this spot, I could relieve the stress on the gutter - already starting to bend - and be in a position to save my mother if she should let go - which she almost did, several times and did, once - I dived beneath the water and pulled her, with strength I got from who knows where. But she held, and I held, and we endured about two or maybe three hours in the full wrath of Katrina. I will never forget this, not as long as I live, and mere words seem inadequate to describe the storm's power - and how small, how vulnerable it made you feel.

But after a few hours, the wind abated, and - could it be - the water actually started to drop. I checked again, mentally marking the water height against the bricks - yes, yes! it was dropping! We might not die after all! Our danger had passed.

Optimist. If only I knew....

After a time, I paddled over from the tree and got my mother-still hanging on for dear life (for once, not a figure of speech) and moved back under the overhang of the porch, where we once again stood on the ladder. The wind - still fierce - nearly froze our wet bodies, After awhile, when I was certain that the flood had really crested, we were actually able to move past the front door, back into our drowned house and ruined possessions, and gain access to the attic. Drowning was no longer our immediate problem.

It would soon be replaced by others.

[ Continued.... ]

 

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