574 hours. 574 hours since I last saw my neighbors, my teachers behind their desks, my friends on their bikes. 574 hours since I saw the grocery shop, my school, the town. It had been a perfectly, wonderfully regular day, sitting with Josie and Rebecca on a bench eating ice cream, then going home to play Jenga with my brother. But then the flood came.
It came gushing in from distant oceans, relentlessly pushing and pushing our helpless town, dragging it into its icy depths. It grabbed and tore apart everything, and it never, ever stopped, not until it destroyed my entire world. It became brown and filthy from the lives it took, and then it just took more. Daddy says that humans have done bad things lately, and now we need to be ‘cleansed’, but I don’t think that the flood left anything to be cleansed.
Now the brown water is still, uprooted trees and chunks of houses floating along the surface, along with the gruesome bits of people once alive, now gone. But not us. Daddy says that our family was smart because we built our house very, very high. “Don’t worry, baby bird,” he told me when the water came, trying to comfort me, to stop my crying, “the flood can’t find us here.”
So here I sit, on the edge of our little cliff, our little haven, watching the dirty water. It’s still, but it is rising. When the water had calmed and taken everything it could, leaving us behind, my parents tried to calm my older brother and I while we screamed and yelled and cried. They said that we still had each other and plenty of food and water and that our little apple tree would provide more food and surely the rain would come with more water. But now the flood is rising, determined to wipe out the last part of my home, and I’m frightened. Daddy says that it’ll take a few weeks, maybe a month, for it to reach us, but that’s not enough time.
My brother comes and sits beside me. I look at him hopefully, but he doesn’t speak, staring at the brown ocean stretching beyond the horizon. I suspect that this has affected him more than it has me, because he made the mistake to think. To realize that maybe we are the only ones left in the universe, and those thoughts were driving him insane. He didn’t talk to any of us anymore, didn’t come down from his room to eat the frugal rations of a meal. I should try to reach out to him, but it would break my heart to fail, to see the glassy gaze of his eyes. Instead, I just sit by him, stare at the empty endless world with him, trying to show him that I’m here, that our family’s here, that there’s still a little bit of his life left. There’s the kitchen, and his bedroom with all his posters, and the little garden our mummy loves to tend to, and the little house in the apple tree where we’d laugh and play and have adventures in. but he stays still, thinking, and we sit there for a long time.
The next day, I wake up to mummy screaming. We all race outside to meet her, and she’s in tears, jumping up and down pointing at the edge of the cliff. She turns around and sobs in relief when she sees daddy, and flings herself into his arms. “John, it can’t.. it just- just can’t,” She weeps hysterically, “You-you said, it, it can’t find us here, it just- just can’t!”. I look at the cliff’s edge. There, somehow, the water is already ebbing softly through the grass, ready to claim what should’ve been his.
Daddy tries to soothe my mother, but then she rips herself out of his arms and points at the water in defiance, the water that’s now all around us, a brown ocean around a terrifyingly flat and vulnerable island. “You can’t be here!” she screams, spit flying out of her mouth, “Go away! Go back! Leave!” she starts kicking up dirt, kicking the water back, but all she manages to do is get her shoe wet. She shrieks and throws the wet shoe into the water, making a meager splash. “p-p-please,” she begged, falling on her knees, “please. Just, just, leave us alo- alone,” and she faints. Daddy wordlessly picks her up and brings her inside. My brother still isn’t moving, quiet and unreacting as he always is, but there’s a new resolve in his eyes. I don’t like it. He left as well, leaving me alone. I stay and stare at the big brown world all around me, just water and more water, our little house and apple tree poking out from the ocean, escaping something they never should’ve escaped, and now they are alone. But I refused to think that way, I couldn’t think that way. The little tide on the brink of our front yard stares slyly at me, ‘you knew I would come,’ it whispered teasingly, ‘and here I am’.
I wake up in the middle of the night. Something’s very wrong. I withdraw my purple curtains and look out the window. My brother is standing barefoot on the cliff, silhouetted by the moon resting on the brown ocean. He’s staring at an uprooted tree, watching it drift by in the water, thinking. Somehow he realizes I’m watching him, and turns around. I look at him, and he looks at me, his glassy eyes boring into my heart. Then he smiles, a sad, pitying smile, and speaks. “We weren’t supposed to survive the flood,” he tells me, his voice cracked and hoarse from disuse. I don’t speak, I can’t speak, I just stare as he turns away and faces the big flat endless world, the accursed tide brushing his toes, beckoning him in. ‘I was there for you, I think bitterly as he steps in, I loved you. Come back; it’s not too late. We can still play Jenga, and pretend in our treehouse, and dream of silly little adventures together. Come back, please, please come back…’. Now I’m crying at the rippling surface of the flood, and the tide grins slyly at me, beginning to take back what was its own.
The next day, the water tries to take us from above. A thunderstorm brews, loud and maleficent, the first one we’ve seen in this catastrophe. It was a cruel twist of our fate, just when I hoped that it couldn’t get worse, that floods were our only concern. It arrives swiftly, covering the blue skies with swirling grey clouds. Ironically, there is no rain, no nourishment, no bright side. The thunder starts, booming and demanding, great loud claps making me jump and cuddle closer into mummy’s arms. The lightning comes, long, bright fingers reaching out into the water. I’ve never seen the lightning so uncovered, unobscured by houses and trees. I’ve never felt so revealed. The three of us stay huddled by the kitchen window watching these great gods battle on a great wide battlefield, and I feel absolutely unprotected and helpless. Then something happens, something unbelievably unfair, and I know for certain that the world is out to get us. The thunder starts clapping more frequently, and the number of lightning flashes duplicates, then triplicate, then quadruplicate, until the flashes are all around our little home, blinding me. Then, a flash appears right next to the house, and then a loud crackle, soon followed by an ominous flickering red heat. I scream and start to run outside just before our apple tree and playhouse come crashing through the roof. Mummy stays frozen, wide-eyed, as the tree comes down on her. I yell at her, but she doesn’t hear, just carries on staring at the cracks in the ceiling, failing to bear the weight of the tree. Daddy lunges at mummy and pushes her aside just as the tree breaks through the second floor, right into the kitchen, right onto daddy.
Then the storm leaves, just as quick as it came, leaving behind the odd, waterless raincloud. I watch as mummy quietly tries to tend to daddy’s leg. They didn’t let me see it, and I didn’t want to. Dark red still seeped through the firmly-wrapped cloth on his thigh, and it was clear through the linen that his femur was bent at irregular angles. Once mummy did all that she could do, she looks blankly at my father, and the both gaze tiredly at the ruins of the kitchen. My apple tree destroyed everything: the fridge with my terrible artwork stuck onto its door, my mother’s favorite tulips, the oven, the sink. My treehouse is nothing but wooden planks scattered across the tile floor. My mother looks heartbroken, something inside of her giving up, letting go. I look desperately at her, realizing that I was losing her, then look helplessly at the mess, dust swirling around the beam of lights escaping out of the huge gaps in the roof and walls. “…We-we can still fix it,” I say uncertainly, but I have to try, “Yeah, we can, we can fix it! All we have to do is- uh- clean away the planks, and- and cover up the roof, and- and, mummy, you never really liked that old oven anyway, right? Right?” I realize I’m begging, and squeeze my eyes shut to stop the tears, “And, once we get this apple tree out, everything will be normal again, right? Come- come on, we… we can do it now!” I scramble to the tree and start to push it up. I fail miserably. But I’m trying, so, so hard, “Guys, come on! Help me!” but my parents just look at me pitifully as I’m pushing. “Come on!” I scream. This is bigger than the tree now. I start punching the wood and scrape my knuckles. Again and again, I punch and shove the tree, watching myself bleed, feeling my pain, “Please! Mummy, daddy, p-please, help!” My daddy tries to pull me away from the tree, but I tear myself back, slamming my body onto the dumb trunk, “It’ll be alright. We can make it okay. We will!” I try to yell in defiance at the skies, the heavens that torment us, but I just choke on my tears. My daddy pulls me into his embrace, and I give in, snuggling into his stronghold, weakly banging on the tree beside us, “It’ll be normal again, won’t it, daddy? We can survive. You said, you promised- the water can’t find us here… it can’t find us here…” I fall asleep in my daddy’s embrace.
I wake up on the sofa and creep out of a hole in the wall to our yard. Daddy is kneeling on the edge of the land, which is much closer than I remember it. I run to him. He’s staring at the eternal ocean, watching ripples in the dirty water. He’s clutching something in his hand, I touch is fingers, silently asking to open them. But he refuses, bringing his hands closer to his chest, still looking into the water. I start to insist, already knowing what was inside, hoping I was wrong and tried to pry his hands open. We struggle, and then he snarls at me. I jump back with a start, and, when he realizes what he did, his eyes widen, and then look back into the sea, as if it never happened. His grip loosens, though, and I tentatively open his hands. My mother’s wedding lies coldly on his palm, the diamond glistening at me. A silver tear runs across daddy’s face, forever watching the ripples in the water. She’s gone.
Eventually, he leaves, leaves to his lonely bed, with an empty pillow beside him. I stare at the water, the tide that’s finally crept up on us. “You won’t get me,” I whisper, “You can’t find us here.” The brown, filthy, dirty, cursed water glints back at me, ‘But you see, my little girl,’ it says, ‘I already have’.
The next day, I’m sitting opposite to daddy on the breakfast table. Our supplies are gone, burned in the kitchen, so I had to manage with two burnt apples, and brown water that I boiled with my playhouse’s planks as timber. My father doesn’t look at me, but I can see the glassy look in his eye. ‘No’, I whisper to myself in disbelief, ‘Not you too.’. he gets up from the table, but I race to him and grab his wrist. “You can’t,” I plead, “Don’t leave me.” He doesn’t look at me, just gently removes my pale hand from his wrist, and carries on limping on his broken leg, to the edge, to the water, away from home, away from me. “No!” I scream, flinging myself into his belly, wrapping my arms around him, trying to stop him leaving. “You can’t go! We can survive! You promised! It won’t find us here!” I sob into his shirt, but he doesn’t embrace me, just continues gazing at the sea with longing, “Please!” I weep, “I.. I need you. Please don’t leave me.” He steps back, and I fall onto the ground, scrambling toward him as he keeps the steady pace towards the water. “…daddy…” I whimper, watching him descend into the sea, his focus on the horizon. I curl up into a ball on the wet grass and cry. ‘I am alone.’
I sit on what’s left of our roof and look at the still brown of the world, stretching out everywhere. There is nothing left, there is no one left. I am the only one alive on Earth, and there is nothing beyond Earth. Just a bunch of stars with no names, worlds with no life. We work and live and try so hard on this planet, but there’s no end. No greater goal. Nothing beyond anything. I start chuckling insanely, just like my brother. All alone, by myself, ruling over this mighty globe on my mighty castle with my mighty tree. Lucky, lucky me. Everyone’s gone now, but not me. I survived. I escaped. “You didn’t get me!” I shout at the water, and laugh, “I told you, didn’t I? You can’t find us here! We were smart, we built our house very, very high, and now we’re alive!” I lean down and splash around in the water beside the edge of the roof. I’m no longer disturbed about how close it is, how the roof is the only thing left in this endless brown sea, “Hello brother, hello mummy!” I say to the water, then laugh some more, “You did tell me, brother, didn’t you? Told me we weren’t meant to have survived, that it was a mistake,” The water is up to my neck now, so much warmer than I expected, and I look around, my head the only thing poking out of this big brown world now, “Well, you know brother,” I close my eyes. Daddy will be happy to see me, I’m sure, “I think you might be right.”
And the water covers her face, claiming what should never have been, and the world is finally cleansed. As quickly as it came, the flood disappears, revealing the little house, as good as new, and a young little apple tree beside it. Then comes the cliff, and then the town, with the shops and houses and school, and then the trees, and then the sun rises upon a new, clean world.
Years later, a happy family lives in the house. The mother and father sit on a bench at the edge of the cliff, overlooking their beautiful town, smiling and laughing together. Two shining, golden boys play outside in the backyard, taking turns on the swing that hangs on their apple tree. Joy and bliss and ignorance, unaware of the trials their home witnessed, unaware of anything but their own, peaceful lives.
And then the flood came.