Change of Season

The first morning rays were breaking the horizon, illuminating the scattered clouds as if the world was on fire. Lynn shielded her eyes and checked the clock on the dash for the third time in the last five minutes; Jordan was almost half an hour late now. Wishing she had hit the snooze button a few more times Lynn leaned back in her seat, nobody deserves to be woken at five o’clock on a chilly autumn morning only to be stood up.

There wasn’t much for scenery at the timeworn roadside truck stop. It was on a flat stretch of land just outside of the city. Most likely built in the fifties, the plain cinderblock building with flaking white paint held a family restaurant and a small convenience store tucked off to one side. Four tired fuel pumps sat out front of the shared entrance. In a world of marketing and brand recognition it was truly just a place to stop because you needed fuel or a quick bite to eat. Not having much else to do Lynn passed the time by speculating about the lives of the other highway travelers as they came and went.

Currently sitting at a window seat in the restaurant was an older gentleman hunched over his breakfast special. His leathery face hidden by an unkempt silver beard, tired eyes keeping watch over his Peterbilt sitting out by the exit. What if he was a poet, creating works that would rival the masters, but too insecure to share with the world? On his way back to an immaculate BMW was a well-dressed business type, a double-double in one hand and a smile on his face. What if he had just told his boss to shove it and left his nagging socialite wife the keys to their downtown apartment so he could run off and start over with his high school sweetheart? It made Lynn ponder briefly what someone would think of her, a young woman sitting impatiently behind the wheel of her little Mazda, a stone’s throw from the middle of nowhere.

Lynn had recently accepted a job at Hemmett Supply Co. as support for the out of town sales group. It was grunt work but for the most part she enjoyed it, and with one exception everything was going well. Lynn’s first solo project was a proposal for a newly acquired customer. Due to incorrect information submitted by one of their vendors Hemmett lost the bid. Lynn’s boss, John, was upset but understanding. Jordan on the other hand, who had championed the account, was furious. He screamed at her over the phone for almost five minutes straight. Lynn felt terrible about the situation but there was no way to fix it. After a couple of weeks things seemed to get back to normal though, to the point recently where Jordan had insisted on Lynn coming out for a ride along. John thought it was a good way to “mend some fences”. How could she disagree?

Any hope of escaping the day’s adventure vanished as Jordan’s Acura barreled into the parking lot at a reckless velocity. Lynn exited her car and locked the doors as he pulled up beside.

“Hey buddy!” Jordan called from his open window.

“Hi Jordan.”

“You ready to go? Big day ahead of us, I’m really excited to have you out here!”

“Happy to be here.” Lynn said with a forced smile. Excited was definitely not the word she would have used.

Lynn opened the passenger door of the RDX, dropped her laptop bag in the foot well and her water bottle into the door pocket. The cold leather seat creaked as she sat down and buckled up. Even with the window down the aroma of last night’s intoxication still lingered. The oversized sunglasses Jordan wore concealed them but Lynn could imagine heavy lids with blood shot eyes beneath. Immediately Jordan accelerated out of the parking lot and on to the highway.

“Big day! Thanks again for coming out, been waiting a long time for this. Here, I got you a coffee.”

Jordan grabbed a to-go cup from the center console and forced it into Lynn’s hand. Not wanting to be rude she took a swig. The coffee was bitter and had a strange aftertaste but Lynn did her best to hide any misgivings.

“Do you like it? It’s my special blend.” Jordan said.

“Nice.” Lynn said, not wanting to cause any undue tension.

Even on a good day Jordan made her feel uneasy. While she hoped it was just the hangover there was something different about him today, something that didn’t bode well.

As they drove on Jordan explained who they would be seeing and what issues might be brought up. They briefly discussed office politics but it was mostly Jordan complaining about how terrible everyone was. After a short time they ran out of things to say so instead sat quietly as the landscape rolled past.

The sun was creeping higher in the sky, flashing in and out of view between the trees that lined the road; Aspen’s with their changing leaves signaling the new season, slender Pine trees pointing tall towards the heavens. Lynn was watching the tree line, hoping to see some of the local wildlife, when Jordan broke the silence.

“So what made you come out here anyway? You’re from the coast right?”

“Most recently, but that’s not really where I’m from. I like to move around, experience different cities and their culture.”

“You’re not running from anything are you?”

“No. Just trying to find myself I guess…”

Lynn paused, suddenly feeling light headed. She shook her head gently and blinked a few times, trying to drive the sensation away.

“Just in time.” Jordan said with a satisfied grin.

Lynn’s vision began to blur. She tried to move or speak but her body refused to respond. Without warning the car quickly slowed and made a sharp right hand turn. As everything went black the only sound to be heard was of car tires on a gravel road.

Lynn forced her eyes open, trying to focus. The room was cold and dimly lit. She was laying on a tarp which covered an unforgiving wood floor. Her coat and boots had been removed, her hands tied behind her back and legs bound at the ankles. The rope was coarse and tightly wrapped, the pressure was uncomfortable. Immediately in front of her was a worn leather recliner and next to it an old lamp with a large Bear figure at the base situated on top of a simple looking end table. There was a window above the recliner but it was obscured by plastic and faded curtains which gave only an impression of the trees beyond swaying in the breeze.

Lynn began to shiver, her breath ragged. Trying to get herself under control she became aware of someone, or something, rustling around just out of sight. Suddenly Jordan ambled in front of her with a brief look back, checking for signs of life. Lynn’s first instinct was to shut her eyes, to buy some time, but instead she quietly held Jordan’s gaze.

“Oh good, you’re awake. Can I get you anything? Another coffee maybe?” Jordan laughed low and continued on his way.  “That was rhetorical by the way.”

“You’re making a mistake.” Lynn said.

“Shut your mouth. I know what I’m doing.”

Fumbling to attach a sheathed hunting knife to his belt, Jordan came back to Lynn and knelt down inches from her face.

“Let me explain something to you. Things are hard out here. My customers are struggling to stay in business which means more pressure on me. I bust my ass twelve to fourteen hours a day just to keep up. And then to top it all off, I get people like you coming in and making the whole situation that much worse!”

Lynn turned from his harsh gaze, “I’m sorry. It was a stupid mistake.”

“Shut up!” Jordan roared, standing once again. “You’re useless! A waste of space! It’ll be the last time you cause trouble for me though.”

As Jordan moved back across the room Lynn swiveled her head to follow his path, he stopped in front of a large metal cabinet and threw the doors open. Straining to see the contents of the cabinet it became clear to Lynn how serious of a situation she was in. Assortments of rope, chemical containers, and tools were stacked inside. The tools were ugly, implements of torture no doubt built with purpose by Jordan himself.

Lynn started sobbing quietly, she pleaded with Jordan. “Please untie me. I promise I won’t fight. Please…”

Jordan paused for a moment, then turned to Lynn with an unpleasant smile and said “Maybe… Yeah, maybe I will untie you. That could be even more fun.”

Jordan unsheathed the hunting knife and knelt down to cut the ropes from Lynn’s wrists and ankles. Lynn flinched and a whimper escaped her lips.

“Oh I’m sorry, did I get you a little there?”

Jordan returned the knife to it’s sheath and moved back to the cabinet. He began whistling an unusually chipper tune as he gathered items in preparation for what was to come.

Suddenly there was a dull thud followed quickly by throbbing pain and vision awash with stars. Jordan fell to his knees, right hand covering his cracked skull, blood seeping between his fingers. With his left he fumbled for purchase on one of the cabinet shelves to stop from collapsing completely but only succeeded in scattering most of the shelves contents aimlessly on the floor.

Lynn dropped the heavy cast Bear lamp, now bloodied, bits of scalp and hair sticking to it like a grotesque fungus. With Jordan crumpled on the floor, barely conscious, she bent down to grab the hunting knife from his belt.

Lynn stood back and scanned the room. It appeared to be a small log cabin; rustic might have been the word if the situation was different. To the right of the recliner and now empty end table was a small room, door slightly ajar, an old army surplus cot and some discarded clothing on the floor. Beside the room was a makeshift kitchen. On the crudely built countertop sat an old camp stove along with a few well used cast iron pans and cooking utensils. Empty whisky bottles were piled up in the corner. A large water container mounted to the wall had a hose hanging down into an enamel basin. Just off of the kitchen sat a compact table and single wooden chair with Lynn’s coat draped over the back. As she moved toward it she was abruptly pitched forward by Jordan as he fell into her, arms around her waist.

“Bitch…” Jordan said.

Lynn screamed. Struggling to remain upright she swiveled quickly and plunged the hunting knife into his upper back. Jordan cried out in agony and dropped to his knees. Lynn immediately followed up with a powerful kick to the groin, as Jordan folded to the floor he exhaled sharply and then was still. Grabbing the lengths of discarded rope Lynn quickly bound his hands and legs to ensure there would be no more surprises.

Exhausted, Lynn staggered to the kitchen chair and sat, watching Jordan while she caught her breath. After a moment she leaned forward and pulled her coat onto her lap. Digging in the front right pocket she quickly retrieved her cell phone. A single bar on the service indicator danced in and out of view so she took a chance and dialed, after a short pause it began to ring.

“John speaking.”

“Hi John, it’s Lynn. Listen, I’ve been trying for almost two hours now to get ahold of Jordan and I haven’t been able to get through, cell reception is brutal out here so I’d like to make my way back if that’s all right with you, maybe work from home for the rest of the day.”

“Jesus. Lynn I’m really sorry, I’ll touch base with him and find out what the hell is going on. I know he’s had a lot of pressure on him lately but that’s no excuse to leave you stranded. I appreciate you making the effort, head home and we can talk in the morning.”

“Thanks John, I appreciate it.”

With that the phone fell silent. Lynn walked back beside Jordan and knelt down in much the same way he had only moments before.

“Well Jordan, I’m sure this didn’t turn out quite the way you expected, did it? You made the whole process too personal and that made you reckless. I don’t know where your anger comes from, but it was your downfall.”

Lynn put the exposed tip of the hunting knife to Jordan’s side, he recoiled slightly but gave no response save for a low groan.

“On the other hand I am anything but reckless. I learned from the best and was a very keen student. They’re never going to find your body Jordan, soon enough your feeble existence will all but be forgotten.”

Lynn stood and surveyed the cabin once more, taking inventory of anything that would prove useful for the task ahead.

“Well, guess I’d better get to work.”

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The Flood – Part 20

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The first drops of rain hit my face. I wipe at them and my hand comes away the colour of red clay. It hardly registers. I’ve been running on pure adrenaline, but I can feel the tank is almost empty.

Whatever the hell those things are, I’m positive they’re toying with us. They never get closer than about thirty feet out, and they’ve been doing circles around the boat and the barn for the last twenty minutes. They’re trying to wear us down, and it’s working.

Tess is calling to me. She’s wrapped in a blanket, propped up against her sister. Her face is gaunt, her eyes are hollow. It hurts me so bad to see her this way that I nearly forget what’s going on around us.

“Tess?”

“Dad, Grandma says it’s time. It’s time to make all the bad things go away.”

She pulls back a corner of tarp. I don’t know what it is, but the chaotic tangle of wires and repurposed machinery has John’s name written all over it. It’s beautiful. That’s the only way I can put it. It doesn’t make sense, but it feels important.

I’m distracted by a commotion in the water. They’re coming for us. I can see their dark eyes for the first time, and I sense no hesitation.

My hand is drawn to the small red button set on one corner of the machine. There’s an audible click as it hits home, and then the world is bathed in light.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 19

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I’m flat on my back. There’s a trickle of warmth on my left temple, and a hint of copper on the air. The girls are screaming, but it sounds like they’re at the far end of a tunnel.

“Dad! It’s coming back!”

I feel more than hear the impact. It’s like someone hit a tree with a sledgehammer. I manage to get up on all fours in time to see the creature’s wake moving away from us.

“Oh my God, there’s another one!” I follow Zoe’s shaking hand. This one is bigger. It’s pushing hard against the current and coming right for us. I reach out for the girls, “Get in the middle. Stay down!”

The front of the boat lifts at least two feet out of the water and then slams back down. I’ve got a shoe in my face and Tess is sprawled on top of my legs. Zoe rights herself and edges toward the back of the boat. Tess picks up the journal and cradles it in one arm while brushing at the cover with her free hand. I heard the hull give that time. I scramble to get upright and cold water soaks into the knees of my pants.

I think I’ve lost track of them, until a bolt of lightning streaks across the sky and I spot them about fifty feet out. They’re moving away from each other as they come closer to the boat. Oh God, they’re flanking us. I think this is it.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 18

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The sun is setting. At least I’m pretty sure it is. You have to pay attention to the subtle change in the colour of the clouds from day to night. The sun hasn’t broken through at all the last couple of days.

It’s been hours since the girls said a single word in my direction. Tess hasn’t even looked at me. I got mad at her earlier. She was crying, but I thought she was faking it. I didn’t realize that her tears had run out. We’re all dehydrated. I need to be more careful.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. There’s not much else to do. I’ve been wondering what we could have done differently. How we could have been better prepared. I wonder about John. I come up with scenarios where he is still safe. Where most people are safe. Maybe even Janine. The problem is I’m not a very good story teller. I am pretty good at lying to myself though.

The wind picks up. It’s warm, and there’s a hint of moisture that I’m not fond of. The clouds are shifting around us, twisting and turning in on themselves. Out of nowhere there’s a flash of lighting that hits somewhere behind the barn. The sky cracks like it’s trying to split apart. We’re all frozen, waiting for what’s next. It doesn’t come from above us though. Something hits the front of the boat hard. I reach out to stop myself from falling, but my hand slips.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 17

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We’re out of food. Any trees that are still above water have all turned black. Even the bloody sky is wrong.  Oh, and we’re being stalked by some unseen creature that may or may not want us as a snack. Everything sucks. Every. Single. Thing. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

I’m trying to stay as low as possible but still keep an eye on the water. So far there’s no sign of movement. This strikes me as being both good and bad. Sure, we’re not being terrorized at the moment, but there’s nothing else out there either. No Ducks, no gulls. They’re all gone.

I huddle back down in the boat and pull a blanket up to my chin. For the first time in my life I’m truly scared about not being able to keep the girls safe. Without that, what good am I?

Tess is holding the journal close. Her eyes are half closed, she’s just staring at the floor of the boat. Zoe is running her fingers along a length of rope, back and forth. She’s shaking. I can see tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

“Dad, what are we supposed to do?”

“I… I have no idea. I really don’t.”

“We have to do something. We have to at least try…”

“I don’t know! Stop it! Please!”

Zoe turns away, her hands covering her face. Tess shifts over to sit with her sister, staring me down through wet eyes. Shit…

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 16

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We’re all hiding under bits of tarp trying to keep dry. The rain started about an hour ago, it’s a pain in the ass but thankfully it hasn’t amounted to much. Zoe’s leaned up against the side of the boat. I can’t see her eyes but judging by the rhythm of her breath she’s sleeping. Tess is somewhere under the ball of blankets to my right. I can hear her whispering, either to herself or to the journal, but can’t make out the words.

The sky is dark. There’s no wind and no noise except the steady patter of rain drops. I’m about to drift off myself when the boat shifts in the water, like something is rubbing up against the hull. It’s happened a few times before, usually a tree branch but once or twice something man-made. This feels different.

It happens again, harder this time. I realize I’m holding my breath. Zoe is jolted awake, “What the hell?” My hand is shaking as I touch my index finger against my lips. Zoe goes pale and shrinks back when she sees the look in my eyes. Tess is peeking out from under the fringe of her blankets but stays low.

There’s nothing else for what seems like an eternity. Both Tess and Zoe are watching me. I don’t want to look, but I have to know. I raise my head up. Off the bow there’s a distinct ripple on the water, and a dark shadow moving away from us.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 15

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Tess sits bolt upright and takes a deep breath. She stretches her arms wide and then hunches forward. I almost think she’s gone back to sleep but her head tilts and she clears her throat.

“Mornin’ Dad.”

“Morning baby.”

“How was your sleep?”

“Not so good. How about you?”

“Not sure. Okay I guess.”

“Yeah.”

“Can I have some water?”

Zoe leans over, “Here, I’ve got one open already.”

“Thanks.”

Tess drains the last half and then sets the empty bottle down beside her. I focus in on the clear plastic. Not many left. I’m still struggling with the fact that something we take completely for granted most days is so necessary for our survival. A glint of something catches my attention just behind Tess.

“What do you have there?”

“What?” She looks down behind her, “Oh, that.” Tess pulls a corner of tarp back, “Grandpa made it. I’m keeping it safe for him.”

“Oh. Is it something important?”

Tess watches me from the corner of her eye, “Very.”

“I see. Well, keep up the good work.”

Tess starts playing with her shoe laces, “Dad, I’m hungry.”

I turn and rummage around in the box I’ve been keeping the food in, “Do you want a fruit cup? Last one.”

“Okay.”

Zoe shuffles forward with her elbows on her knees. “Dad, have you had anything today?”

“Uh, yeah, of course.”

“You need to eat something too.”

“I’m okay, don’t worry,” I try to smile, but can tell that it falls short.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

The Flood – Part 14

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It’s three AM, or close enough to. The moon is nearly full, probably will be tomorrow. This is our second night in the boat. Zoe has been quiet, more so since the battery on her phone died. Tess is either buried in a blanket trying to get some rest or trying not to cry. I’m mostly just sitting here wondering what the hell we’re going to do. It’s surprising how fast you run out of things to talk about, how soon the words to comfort sound hollow in a situation like this.

It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t get to sleep. There are weird noises all around us, and a deep red glow to the south. It’s like perpetual sunset. I doubt I want an explanation for any of this, so I focus on what’s in front of me.

Things definitely aren’t getting better. The water isn’t going down, and it’s got this weird, stale smell to it. Every now and then a dead animal floats by. Some you might expect, I think I saw a Coyote once. Its things like water birds and fish that worry me most. There haven’t been many signs of life out there. Zoe thought she heard a helicopter earlier, but it’s hard to know what is wishful thinking and what might be delusion. Even if there was help coming, how long will it take to get all the way out here? Looks like we’ll have to figure this out on our own.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 13

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Our first night in the boat wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. After a breakfast of a granola bar each I did an inventory of our supplies. The food and water are going fast, I’m doing my best to ration but I don’t know how much longer they’ll last. Stashed in the crates there were a few tools, a couple lengths of rope, and some strange mechanical bits. Nothing much useful as far as I can see. I did find an old coffee tin which has helped the bathroom situation some.

A pair of ducks have been hanging out about fourty feet off the nose of the boat. It’s a nice distraction. Something normal in this whole mess. Tess is drumming her fingers on the side of the boat, “Come on, come here Duckies.”

The ducks continue to paddle around the same couple of square feet, scooping water with their beaks and quacking to themselves. I will admit that the idea of Duck for dinner has crossed my mind more than once, but knowing my luck I’d end up capsizing the boat in an attempt at capture and drown us all.

Zoe brushes a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, “Dad, can you pass me a water?”

“Me too please,” Tess says.

“Sure,” I turn to pull a couple bottles from behind me. There’s some sort of commotion in the water. I hand Zoe and Tess their bottles as a lone duck takes to the air.

 

******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 12

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The sun is just about to touch the horizon. The colours in the sky are amazing, deep reds and purples as far as the eye can see. It’s beautiful, but I’m worried about what it all means.

Things have been quiet. Zoe is keeping to herself, nothing new there I guess. Tess has a conversation with the journal every now and then but tries to hide it. I’m watching the clouds when I feel a hand on my arm, “Dad?”

“Yes baby.”

“I have to pee.”

Zoe’s eyes go wide.

“Oh.” I look around the boat, for what I’m not entirely sure, but surprisingly enough I don’t find it.

“Well, I think you’re just going to have to sit on the edge of the boat.”

Tess scrunches her nose, “What?”

“You know, just hang your bum over a little, then…”

She’s staring, waiting for me to finish my thought. Zoe is trying not to laugh.

“You know, then you do your thing.”

She leans over to look at the water, and then back at me. She ponders the situation a moment. “You won’t let me fall in will you?”

“Of course not.”

“Okay…”

Tess looks a little hesitant, but pulls down her underwear, lifts the back of her dress and sits up on the side of the boat. I put my hands out and she latches on to my fingers. She wiggles back a little, and then looks me dead in the eye, “Don’t look!”

I turn my head, “Sorry…”

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 11

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I’ve finally stopped shivering, so I push the blankets off of my face. Some part of me is holding on to the hope that the last few hours have been a bad dream, but I’m sorely disappointed. Other than the odd bit of debris, it’s clear to the horizon. Everything is gone. The clouds above us are dense, twisting and curving with the air currents. I don’t remember seeing them this way before.

I tethered the boat to the weather vane on the barn. That’s what, twenty five, thirty feet off the ground? I’m not even sure. I guess we got out just in time though, only the peak of the house is above water now.

Not a lot has been said since we loaded everything in to the boat. Tess is at the back, curled up on an old tarp between a couple small wood crates. She’s got her favourite blanket draped over her shoulders and her arms wrapped around the journal. Zoe is right at the front, staring out over the water. She only moves to check her phone. There’s no service, probably hasn’t been since last night. I’m bundled up in the middle, my clothes are all hanging along the side of the boat.

Tess sits up and shuffles over beside me. She leans her head against my arm, “Dad? What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know. We wait I guess.”

“Is someone going to come for us?”

“I hope so baby. I hope so.”

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue