Inundation, by John Langan

Inundation - Quico Vicens

Art by Quico Vicens – – click to enlarge

There is water coming into the basement.

It’s an old basement, fieldstones stacked and mortared together, a dirt floor. Water bubbles up from the dirt, arcs from gaps in the mortar. A trench runs along the periphery of the basement, intended to channel the annual spring seepage to the room’s northwest corner, where a sump pump in a round hole waits to push the water through a black plastic pipe out the front of the house, where it will run down the short, steep front yard to the street with its deep gutters. But the pump is designed for modest floods, an inch or two at most, not the briny two and a half feet that has accumulated already and shows no sign of diminishing. The pump continues disgorging water outside, but since there is water springing from the front yard, fountaining out of long cracks in the street, transforming the asphalt into a muddy stream, it’s fair to say it isn’t helping the issue. Water pours over the other side of the street, downhill to the house built there, striking its foundation with a dull hiss, churning up against its front door. Did the neighbors get out? Their Subaru is parked beside the house, submerged to the bottom of its doors in the swirling water. This does not augur well for Lena and Mike and their daughter, Jo. On the other hand, they had a boat, didn’t they? A canoe they secured to the roof of the car for weekend excursions? So maybe the three of them piled into that and paddled for higher ground?

Should the waters swallow the neighbor’s house, which looks ever more likely, that is the plan for Mick and his husband, Vin, and their son, Edward: use the boat they’ve improvised outside the garage to float to safety. Already, Edward is on the vessel, surrounded by a barrier of suitcases, knapsacks, and duffel bags, each filled to bursting with as much of the house as they could squeeze into them. Vin continues his last minute inspection of and adjustments to the boat, checking the cords that lash the heavy plastic barrels to the platform, the seal on the boards of the top deck, the plastic sheeting sandwiched between it and the lower deck. He wanted to add gunnels to it, if only lengths of plywood nailed upright, but there hadn’t been time. He settled for a three-foot post at each corner of the platform, clothesline wound around them to form a rope perimeter. Water foams around his shins, sliding in a long sluice down the ridge behind their house. Mick feels a twinge of anxiety that it might lift the boat and sweep Edward away from them, but Vin has employed a pair of thick chains to anchor the vessel to their Jeep on one side and the garage on the other.

From his spot at the side door to the house, Mick can look left to Vin and Edward, right to their neighbor’s house (around which the water has risen, finding an entrance to the structure in a window that has collapsed under its pressure), and straight ahead along Main Street—Main Stream, more like. The local radio station’s last broadcast included a report of something sighted in that direction, a gray, leathery hump the size of a barn, rising in the vicinity of what had been Sturgeon Pool and then sinking again. For the last three days, similar stories have come from points up and down the eastern US as the water has erupted. Before they lost Wi-Fi and cable, there were images, photographs and videos, the majority of them blurred, difficult to distinguish, full of immense shapes and shadows, a few frighteningly clear, a gray fin rising behind a sailboat, something like a hand grabbing the bridge of a trawler. Anecdotal evidence indicates creatures larger still, capsizing Coast Guard vessels, shouldering aside supertankers. Mick finds the prospect of animals of such dimensions terrifying. He remembers a whale watch he and Vin took out of Provincetown early in their relationship, and the queasy sensation that squeezed his stomach once they found a trio of humpbacks as he gazed down at them and realized each whale was the length of their ship, and more, the whales were in their native element, whereas he and Vin and the other passengers were intruding. (At the same time, a secret part of him, which continues to delight in old movies about giant monsters wreaking stop-motion mayhem upon major cities, is made giddy by the thought of these things, come alive.)

Vin gives him a thumbs-up, shouts, “Come on!” He hates leaving things to the last minute, while Mick is chronically late. Opposites attract, and all that. Given the situation, it’s probably best they do things Vin’s way. He turns for a final look into the house, at the area beside the side door that’s served as his home office, whose bookcases still have too many volumes on their shelves, and at the long room beyond it, for which they never found a suitable purpose. Edward used it as a play space, carrying his wooden Thomas trains and tracks down from his room and filling the vast carpeted floor with rail lines. How often did Mick put aside whatever article he was supposed to be writing to assist him? It’s something his son has always loved to do, gather his toys and arrange them into elaborate scenes, frequently with an accompanying narrative. He’s used the back room, the kitchen, the staircase, the upstairs bathroom, his bedroom. His toys have congregated on the stoop outside the side door, in the back seat of the Jeep, in the side yard. What Edward christened his set-ups have occupied him in all manner of weather, from humid summer to frost-bitten winter. Lately, he’s been obsessed with water, enlisting Mick and sometimes Vin’s help in digging shallow trenches and holes in the yard, at one end of which he tipped a jug full of water, creating a miniature river that swept aside those toys unfortunate enough to find themselves in its path, filled the first hole to overflowing, and raced through the channel to the next hole, carrying more hapless toys with it. All the while, Edward voiced the toys’ distress, saying, “Oh no!” and, “Aaaah!” and, “Help!” When everything started happening with the water everywhere, Vin asked Mick if he thought Edward’s play might have been connected to it, if their son wasn’t plugged into it in some way, you know, psychically. Mick told him not to be ridiculous.

‘The Fracture’: that’s the name the cable news channels settled on to describe what continued to happen. A break in the barrier separating their world from another occupying almost the same space, a watery place teeming with all manner of strange fauna. A couple of pundits referred to the other world as ‘Atlantis’, and given the steady rise of the waters here, Mick thinks that word might have a better claim to it. No one is certain how long the catastrophe is going to last, how high the waters are going to rise. The last broadcast to come across the transistor radio advised those who could to head for the Catskills, to higher ground, so that’s their plan. If the Catskills go under, then Mick guesses they’ll try for the Adirondacks, a considerably further destination. Beyond that, he doesn’t want to contemplate.

“Come on!” Vin waves him toward the boat, which shudders as the water begins to lift the barrels. Mick closes the door on this, the first house they bought, purchased with the help of the first-time home buyer’s tax credit, back when the crash of the housing market was the definition of calamity. He steps from the stoop into the roiling waves.

Something slides under his foot, a piece of debris jammed against the base of the stoop by the current. For a moment, Mick is confident he can maintain his balance, and then he’s going over, splashing into water that is deeper than he realized, that is already carrying him down the side yard toward the street. He twists onto his belly, grabbing at the ground for purchase it refuses to offer. Salt water slaps his face. The house rises high above him as he drops to the street, under the water streaming there, cracking his chin on the asphalt. Stars flare before his eyes. He pushes to his hands and knees, back into the air, grateful for the road’s roughness, giving him a way to brace himself against the flood threatening to continue his journey across the street and down to his neighbor’s front lawn. This current is frighteningly intense. He isn’t sure how long he can maintain his position. He’s on the verge of panic when he sees Vin descending the yard toward him. Due to the rope tied around his waist, and looped over one of the boat’s corner posts, he’s much steadier on his feet. In short order, he’s standing beside Mick, one hand under Mick’s right arm, shouting to him to grab hold of the rope, use it to get to the boat, he’ll be right behind him.

Relief surges through Mick’s chest, tightens his throat. He turns to say, “I love you,” to his husband, and catches sight of a figure standing in the middle of the street, maybe a hundred feet from them. It’s shaped like a man, albeit one seven and a half feet tall, heavy with muscle. The skin of its arms and legs is ghost white, the hue of things used to living far from sunlight. Rough bronze armor wraps its torso. A bronze helmet like a cage, like the jaws of some nightmare fish, conceals most of its head, but Mick can pick out great white eyes staring at him and Vin. What could be a sword, four feet of jagged scrimshaw and metal braided together, hangs from the figure’s right hand. It pays no heed to the water churning around its knees.

I, for one, welcome our Atlantean overlords. The paraphrase of a line from an old episode of The Simpsons occurs to Mick without warning, almost causes him to laugh. There’s no guarantee the figure is hostile, right? The armor, the weapon, could be for its protection, scouting an unknown location. Right?

In the middle distance beyond the…Atlantean, something large splashes through the water, moving closer. Hand-over-hand, Mick begins to pull himself up the hillside, toward the boat where his son waits for him. Because what else is there for him to do?


For Fiona

John LanganJohn Langan is the author of two collections, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (Prime 2008) and The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (Hippocampus 2013). He also has written a novel, House of Windows (Night Shade 2009). With Paul Tremblay, he co-edited Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters (Prime 2011). One of the founders of the Shirley Jackson Awards, he served as a juror during its first three years. Forthcoming in 2016 is a new collection, Sefira and Other Betrayals, and stories in a number of anthologies, including Autumn Cthulhu and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. He lives in New York’s Hudson River valley with his wife and younger son and a growing collection of swords.

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Story illustration by Quico Vicens.

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