UKArchive ID: 36555mitch
Originally published on May 27, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 13 of the Light-Father. Harold cannot sleep and neither can Sheild who tells him how three young sisters survived the storms, floods and gigantic hail that devastated their refuge and much of Crawcester...
“Still falls the rain; dark as the world of man, black as our loss, blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails upon the Cross.” - Dame Edith Sitwell.
Harold lay on the mattress in his wagon and wondered what he could do to brighten the place up. He’d dosed the mattress and his clothes with flea powder and insect-repellent but he still felt as though half the insects of the entire planet were paying him personal house-calls and he kept scratching furiously. “These kids have been like this for years,” he muttered aloud. He’d been unable to sleep worrying about Mouse or because visions of fangs lunging at his throat appeared every time he closed his eyes. “How the hell do they sleep with all these nightmares in their lives?”
He stared at the ceiling in the dim light of the battery-lamp he’d salvaged from Saul’s house. “I can’t allow them to stay in this cess-pit any longer. There’s gum disease and Peter and Mouse need medical care and clean, dry bandages for a start…”
He sat up as the rear door slid open to reveal Shield’s concerned face. “I’m sorry, Light-Father,” she said. “I heard you talking to someone... but there’s nobody in here with you.”
“I talk to myself at night when I can’t sleep,” he assured her, propping himself up on an elbow. “It’s a bad habit I’ve developed from being alone for so long. Come in, Shield. I won’t get up – I’m not a pretty sight in my boxer shorts.”
Shield was about to ask what boxer shorts were but decided against it and clambered aboard. She sat cross-legged next to his mattress and rested the staff upon her in her thighs. “I am glad that you keep this wonderful sword close to you,” she approved, patting the ornate sheath. “For someone who has never known violence, Light-Father, you are learning very quickly.”
“Oh, I’ve had some first-hand experience of violence but never mind that,” he said quickly, waving a hand in dismissal. “I take it you want to talk to me about the Mothers and that Feral watching us. What do you think that staff means?”
“As we saw in our shared dream, some of the Ferals are working for them,” she said distantly. “This staff was meant for me - they must think I could be a Mother as I bear the mark. Maybe Mother Moss told them about me even though she never left us but I suppose she could have journeyed to that hill while we slept.”
“Or that Feral was a messenger. Either way it can’t be too far from here. You said you’d found the courage to explore the craft so shall we go and find this Hill Where It Never Rains to meet them in person and see if they can help you?”
She nodded then shook her head miserably. “Yes, I am curious about this power I can feel inside me, Light-Father. When I saw you appear in that mystic light, I thought you could answer all my questions about the craft but I see now that you can’t help me. Only the Motherhood holds the answers to what I am but Mother Moss warned me about these terrible ordeals designed to test your heart and soul to see if you are worthy.”
“Ah, but she did teach you, didn’t she?”
“It was strictly against the rules of the Motherhood,” she said sadly. “In my heart I believe that’s why they did not come when Schimrian and his Fathers were torturing her.”
He shuddered as he remembered the death’s–head moth and the headless body in the office. “They didn’t seem that heartless in the dream but maybe they are. I wish I could advise you but apart from that one man, nobody in my world has the powers that you and the Mothers possess – they’re amazing. I can see why the Fathers would want to exterminate this Motherhood.”
Shield raised the staff and held it horizontally in front of her at eye-level. “I’ve been keeping Fierce awake trying to get this thing to shoot lightning bolts or something but I know it’s just a symbol of the Mothers. To be honest, I’m scared of this power; this… um, what did you call it?” she asked, lowering the staff.
“Telekinesis – the power to move things with your mind,” he said with a wry smile. “The Mothers use the Greek idea that four elements make up the world guided by a fifth spiritual force, a quintessence that permeates everything. Whether you’re moving earth, air, water or flames about, it’s all a form of telekinesis selecting one these elements. I think you could move anything about and not just air. I wonder if the physical law of this world allows you to do that more easily here than in my world.”
“It’s rare here. Mother Moss said there were only six dozen Mothers in the whole world and about the same number of Daughters - which is what they call the initiates. There have been no males capable of such power in all recorded history.”
“Hmm - maybe the Order’s hatred is gender-based. So did Mother Moss consider you to be one of these Daughters?”
“Yes, and she explained why the testing was necessary. To let someone wield such power without fear or moral guidance would be to unleash a monster so they…”
“So are you saying that they would kill any initiate who fails the ordeals or misuses her powers?”
She looked down at the staff. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Then they are the perfect opposites to the Fathers and just as ruthless but on a different scale – they will murder initiates who become evil while the Fathers kill billions they deem Unworthy. What a world you have here, Shield.”
“Was yours any better?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, it has its good points and its bad points. We have a population of well over seven billion. There are no major wars but there’s a lot of poverty and suffering plus an ongoing climate shift that could end up much worse than the one here.”
“Hundreds of years ago, the ice caps melted and the coasts flooded. Our world struggled to feed its four billion,” Shield explained. “But a year before the plague, all the nations agreed to work together and the wars finally came to an end.”
“I see,” he said. “So Schimrian destroyed a possible golden age making him even more of a monster. But why do women and not men become telekinetic and what does that hexagram represent? In my world that hexagram was used in the flag of the Jewish state of Israel – they called it the Star of David.”
“The Jewish State of Judea here did not use the hexagram. Mother Moss said they considered it to be an occult symbol. The Mothers hold the two triangles to represent the duality of the universe such as male and female, dark and light, life and death as set down by Pythagoras and his disciples.”
“Ah, so that’s what all those ‘degrees’ were about! They’re using a really weird mix of Pagan and Greek symbolism. Mind you, the Pythagoras in my world did not have a high opinion of women. He is reputed to have said a good principle created order, light and man while evil one created chaos, dark and women. In fact, he regarded male friendship as the highest form of relationship. It’s funny how he appears in both worlds.”
“Mother Moss told me that people like him control powerful turning points in history – she called them the pivots of history. Our Pythagoras didn’t like women either but the Mothers follow much of his teachings as well as the natural Pagan ways. She told me they adopted the ceremonial dress of the Royal Conclave of Architects simply because they barred women from their ranks.”
“I did wonder about the trousers and the aprons. We called them Freemasons in my world and they wear ceremonial aprons too but these men are just businessmen looking out for each other and they use satanic initiation rituals to keep it all secret.”
“As did the Conclaves here - they were all connected to the Order and became powerful in many countries,” Shield shrugged. “But even they were betrayed by the Order in the end.”
“What about you?” Harold prompted. “Would you ever consider going through these initiation ordeals?”
“No, because if I fail, they will not hesitate to kill me,” she shuddered. “I want to explore my gift but I do not want to be a Mother yet the others are already treating me like one - they see this staff and they no longer see me. Everything has changed, Light-Father.” She stared at him frankly with bitter tears in her eyes. “Everything changed when you came to us.”
Harold was silent for a minute, taken aback by her accusing tone. “Look, Shield,” he said. “I’m just a laboratory technician who should be heading home from the bar right now not looking after twelve kids in a rail-yard. I had no say in my coming here but Mother Moss may have brought me here in time to change what would have happened had I not been here - that pack of dogs would have taken you by surprise and our substitute Mother Moss would not have been here to ward off the Tally-Men.”
“I suppose so,” she relented. “I’m so confused. What am I supposed to do with this?” she said, indicating the staff. “They never give a staff to an initiate. What does it mean?”
“Leave it in your caravan for now,” he advised, suppressing a yawn. “There’s no rush to see them if they frighten you so much. You need to think it all through and we have plenty of mundane things around here to organise. For example, we need to think about finding a better place to live. We can find a castle maybe; a dry place we can defend.”
“We’ll be safe enough here for a while,” Shield smiled and patted her stomach. “I’m so full. We haven’t eaten so well since David left us. I would never have thought about eating a dog but the meat was delicious and a fitting end for something that tried to eat us – the predator becoming prey.” She fell silent again as she studied the swan ornament of her staff. “Prey,” she whispered.
“Look, we can talk about the craft another day,” he prompted. “You were going to tell me yesterday about what happened at the museum after your parents died.”
“Look at the sky,” Mouse gasped, gazing through the window. “There’s a huge black cloud coming up from the south.”
They’d spent all morning chasing each other; playing hide and ambush all over the topmost floor which had a maze of corridors and rooms full of classical sculptures beautifully lit by ornate glass skylights. Shield halted a sword and knife practice with Fierce and they both came to the window to look at the vast rank of towering cumulonimbus clouds. “It’s a storm alright but it’s stretching from horizon to horizon. It’s moving quickly… like a wave.”
“I have a bad feeling,” Fierce murmured fearfully. “It’s been so hot and humid and stinking of smoke all the time.”
Within minutes, an oppressive gloom had descended despite it being midday. Then the storm broke.
“Wow! I love lightning!” Mouse gasped in awe as the darkness was riven again and again by vast bolts striking buildings and trees. One bolt struck an office block opposite sending large chunks of masonry crashing down into the street.
The thunder was deafening, rattling all the doors and window frames. There were lighter patches in the black clouds above but these were an unearthly and ominous green that frightened the two older sisters and to the east, a vast wedge shape could be seen briefly silhouetted against the flashes as it moved north. “What’s that?” Mouse demanded.
“A vortex,” Shield explained. “They only get that big in the Americas. I hope one doesn’t come here, Ethelind.”
“Mouse,” Mouse insisted, her nose still pressed to the glass.
“I hope one doesn’t come here, Mouse,” Shield repeated patiently. “They’re dangerous – the winds in the vortex can tear buildings apart even one as well built as this museum.”
Mouse leapt backwards as a heavy object struck the window a glancing blow and another impacted the skylight above their heads. Shield immediately recognised the danger they were in and swept the startled Mouse off her feet. “Run, Fierce, run!” she yelled above the thunder. “We have to get off this floor!”
They ran pell-mell for the stairs down a corridor that seemed to be over a mile long. Even above the incessant thunder, they could hear whistling sounds that preceded great thuds and bangs as the giant hail intensified. As they ran, massive lumps of ice suddenly smashed through the thick glass panes above their heads and shards rained down around them. One hailstone, the size of a football, pulverised the head of a statue less than a metre away from Fierce but they made it to the stairwell safely and cowered in the dark as the bombardment continued.
It lasted only two minutes but to the three young sisters clinging in terror to each other, it seemed like three lifetimes. When it ceased, they timidly emerged to behold a scene of utter devastation: not a single statue had survived undamaged and the corridor was filled with ice, splintered glass and sculpted rubble. The devastating hail had gone but it was quickly replaced by an incessant rain as the lightning became more and more frequent until they were all but blinded by the immense white and purple flashes.
All afternoon and all that long black night the storm lashed the museum. Water began to tumble down the stairs and stairwells and found cracks in floors through which to cascade into the rooms and corridors below. They cowered in their parents’ makeshift bed but they could not sleep and Mouse wet herself when several bolts of lightning struck the museum and brilliant sparks flashed across the saturated tiled floor of the canteen.
Finally, the thunder abated and a faint drab light marked the arrival of morning but still it rained and rained and rained. Rivulets of rainwater ran down walls, saturating priceless paintings until Shield was finally moved to mount a rescue operation.
“What’s the point?” Fierce demanded as they moved countless paintings and artefacts into the only room on the second floor that was remaining dry. They had to smash open all the display cases to move the ancient pots and vases but Shield made sure that all the plaques and labels were kept with the artefacts.
She was relieved that Mouse was treating it as a game of cat-burglar and laughed as the little girl sneaked down corridors clutching priceless collections of coins and whispering: “We mustn’t get caught, Fierce. Quick! The police are after us!”
“Why are we doing this?” Fierce persisted.
“I want our children to know we had a past before the plague,” Shield said flatly. “We can’t leave here until it’s safe so we might as well do something useful.”
“This is fun,” Mouse grinned, her face nearly hidden by the centurion’s helmet she had on. “Please can I keep this spear?” she said. “It’s too big for me now but I like it. It’s got this beautiful writing on it and the point is really sharp.”
Shield smiled at her enthusiastic youngest sister. “Of course you can. It was made for Prince Turibas of Iberia three hundred years ago but I don’t think he’d mind if you borrowed it for a while. These two knives are his so you can keep them as well.”
“You have your cross-bow, knife and shield,” Mouse beamed, cradling the spear. “Fierce has her knives and that big stick-sword so hosanna! These are mine! These are mine!”
“Be careful, Mouse!” Shield cried out in alarm as the point of Mouse’s spear came within a centimetre of gashing her face. “It’s too big for you – you’ll have to practise with it. Come on, let’s store these paintings then go and get something to eat. I hope the cooker is still working after all that water soaked it.”
Even this arduous task could not keep them occupied forever and they felt the weight of the dark grey skies bearing down upon them more and more each day. After six days of this, Shield went down to the little courtyard at the back of the museum where they’d prised up several flagstones and buried their parents – a task that had given all three sisters terrible nightmares.
She’d wanted to talk to them but instead she burst into tears on seeing that the courtyard was under a half a metre of polluted water that was gushing up through the drains. She ran to the front door and opened it to find the main road was already inundated with floodwater lapping at the topmost step of the entrance. This was the lowest part of Crawcester, next to the river which had finally burst its banks but she had no idea how high it would rise and whether or not they would be trapped in the museum.
As she stood there paralysed with indecision, a surge of water came down the road and sloshed in across the floor. Rain still fell with monsoon force outside and showed no signs of abating so she forced the doors shut, braced them with the pikes then retreated to the stairs where her worried sisters were huddled. “Let’s go back to the canteen,” she suggested. “We can’t swim to safety even if we wanted to – the water’s too deep and it’s moving too fast out there. We’ll have to stay there and pray the rain stops.”
As they huddled together in the damp blankets on their parents’ bed, huge booms and thuds shook the building. “What’s that roaring noise downstairs, Shield?” Mouse whimpered.
“The water’s broken through the doors and windows.”
“Are we going to drown, big sister?” Mouse demanded. “I hate being wet all the time and not because I’m scared.”
“You aren’t going to drown, Mouse, that’s a promise,” Shield said firmly, holding Mouse to her.
“The water can’t rise this far, we’re on the first floor so just get some sleep.”
“It’s hard to get to sleep with all this water pouring through the ceiling,” Fierce grumbled. “My feet are getting itchy because they’re cold and soaked all the time.”
“I know – you keep putting them on my back in the night.”
“We have got to get dry,” Fierce sighed, snuggling up to her sisters as the booming and crashing subsided downstairs. “I don’t want to look at another drop of rain as long as I live and I wish Mam and Dad were with us,” she sobbed.
“Don’t cry, Fierce, they’re here in spirit watching over us.”
“Nobody’s left alive but us,” Mouse wailed.
It was one of the longest nights in Shield’s life as she lay there in the pitch dark - a frightened thirteen-year-old singing lullabies to her two little sisters as they cried themselves to sleep in her arms. Beneath the blankets, she finally felt warm and despite the sounds below and the rain outside, she drifted off to sleep…
…she was five again and on a rowing-boat upon a river bathed in beautiful sunshine that glittered and sparkled off the ripples. Her father was smiling at her and saying something about enjoying his first real holiday for years as her mother, pregnant with Fierce, trailed her hand in the water.
“This is so lovely,” Leola murmured. She placed her other hand on Shield’s face and a feeling of love and peace spread throughout her body. “That’s better, Rowenna, you’ve been so jealous about the baby lately, I thought I’d never see you smile again - and you have such a wonderful smile.”
“I love you both,” Shield sighed happily. “I miss you.”
Eorman frowned. “How can you miss us, Ro? We’re all together in a boat on our family holiday.”
“But you’re both dead,” she protested but she was surprised that she sounded so young. “We buried you.”
Her father smiled at her, pulled in an oar and placed his hand on her shoulder as they drifted in the gentle current, the water lapping at the sides of the boat. “You will have to look after your little sister when she comes into the world - and any other siblings after her. Do you promise?”
“Yes, Dad, I promise,” she said. “But I think we’re leaking.”
Her father smiled and carried on rowing unconcerned as their little boat shipped water and she could feel it creeping up her legs and soaking her bottom as her mother sighed contentedly.
“Rowenna, dear,” she said lovingly. “Find a better boat than this and make sure you have some decent rope to moor the boat so that you can get out and walk along the riverbank with us and maybe, Ro, we can have a picnic.”
Her father stopped rowing and looked at Leola sternly. “She can’t join us yet, Leola - she has to wake up now!”
Shield opened her eyes with a start to find the dreary light of dawn had filtered in and her back and legs were soaked because the water had risen steadily in the night and was now level with the base of their parents’ improvised bed. “Wake up!” she yelled and shook her sisters roughly. “We’re in danger!”
“What? Oh no!” Mouse shrieked. “We’re going to drown! We’re going to drown!”
Shield gave her a ringing slap across the face. “We don’t have time for hysterics, Mouse. You and Fierce take the weapons and get to the stairs and wait there for me.”
Fierce didn’t say a word but dragged Mouse to the stairs and waded back for the weapons and the sodden blankets. “What are you going to do?” she shouted. “The water is still rising!”
Shield was in the kitchen and had emptied out a tall fridge. With all her strength she levered it away from the wall and bent down with her face in the water and heaved until she thought her heart would burst until the fridge toppled onto its back. She grabbed a screwdriver from a toolbox on one of the benches and opened the door. “It’s perfect,” she cried. “It floats and I can plug the drain hole at the back.”
“What can I do?” Fierce asked as Shield frantically unscrewed the three door hinges. “I can’t just stand here and do nothing!”
“Then put those cans and bottles of water inside,” Shield said, jamming some cloth into the drain hole with the screwdriver. “We have to take as much food and clean water as we can then we have to find something we can use as oars or paddles.”
“We can use these frying-pans!” Fierce cried, selecting the two with the longest handles and throwing them into the fridge.
“Good thinking,” Shield approved but she was alarmed to find that the water was now up to her waist and Fierce’s chest. She lifted her sister out of the water and put her inside the fridge. “All aboard the Barnacle!” she said with a forced smile.
Fierce looked at her and returned the smile. “That’s what Mam and Dad would say - I was dreaming about them in the night.”
“Unh! Me too,” Shield grunted as she pushed the fridge to the stairs where Mouse was waiting for them, shivering with fear.
“Put our weapons inside and climb in!” Shield ordered as she held the fridge steady. “This sauce-pan is yours, Mouse. You have the most important job of all - bailing out the Barnacle.”
“Barnacle? What’s that?” Mouse demanded.
“That’s the name of our boat,” Fierce said proudly. “What’s the matter?” she asked of Shield who had waded off suddenly. “Where are you going?”
“Rope!” Shield said over her shoulder. “Mam said we needed rope to moor the boat in my dream!”
She was soon back with a coil that she’d rescued from the store rooms weeks before and tied it to a strut inside the base of the fridge. She forced open the huge windows next to the stairs and more water surged in over the low sill. “Saint Peter is watching over us,” she sighed with relief. “It’s wide enough. We’ll paddle along the main street until we find higher ground.”
“Why is the water still rising so fast?” Fierce demanded as it continued to swirl in. “The rain’s much lighter now.”
“It’s still running off the hills,” Shield said as she clambered onto the window ledge. She pulled hard on the rope and the fridge scraped over the sill and floated free. “Trees and boats must have got wedged under the Copper Bridge to dam the river like this.” She pulled the fridge back to the window and clambered gingerly aboard. The Barnacle wobbled alarmingly then rotated slowly as it drifted away from their refuge. It was low in the water but it was floating! “Fierce!” she commanded. “Let’s paddle!”
They were two thirds of the way along the flooded shopping street when there was a distant boom and a long grinding rumble. Sheild’s explanation had been correct only the arches of the Copper Bridge had suddenly collapsed under the weight of all the trees and vehicles jammed against them releasing the lake of backed-up floodwater.
Despite their frantic efforts the current dragged them inexorably backwards past the museum and towards the River Craw which was now rampaging through the shattered bridge.
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012 - 2013
Archived comments for Chapter 13: Flood
Mikeverdi on 29-05-2016
Chapter 13: Flood
Still with you Mitch....😊