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Unnatural disasters, p.1
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       Unnatural Disasters, p.1

           Daniel Pyle
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Unnatural Disasters

  Table of Contents

  Title Page


  39 DAYS•Robert J. Duperre

  THE MEEK•Scott Nicholson

  SOURDOUGH•Ruth Francisco

  RICKMAN’S PLASMA•William Meikle

  TWIST•Daniel Pyle

  WILD RELEASE•Keith Gouveia

  WHITEOUT•Danielle Bourdon



  Editor’s Note


  About the Authors

  Other Works by Daniel Pyle

  Copyright Page



  For Jeremiah Pyle, with whom I experienced at least one natural disaster. More if you count hellish Missouri summers.

  39 DAYS

  * * *


  AUGUST 18th

  Waves crashed against the side of the building. To Angela it sounded like the rocky coast of Maine. She leaned over the side of the roof and glanced down. The water smacked against the building again and flowed around it. She swore she could see formless black splotches beneath the surface and immediately imagined a capsized oil tanker dumping gallon after gallon of crude into the ocean.

  “How high is it now?” asked Tommy.

  She furrowed her brow and counted the windows above the water line. “Fourth floor,” she said, “almost to the fifth.”

  “Shit. That’s higher than yesterday.”

  A stout wind hit her from the rear, momentarily lifting her knees from the concrete. Her hair stood straight out, hovering over the angry sea below. With a yelp she gripped tight to the railing and spun around, wedging her butt in the crook between the partition and the floor. Tommy hurried over to her, eyes wide with panic.

  “You okay?” he asked.

  Angela nodded.

  Tommy slumped beside her. The wind died down. He crawled to the center of the roof, rummaged through his backpack, and brought back a handful of snacks.

  “You hungry?”


  They sat there together, munching on Nilla Wafers and staring at the gray and ominous sky. A few drops of rain began to fall.

  They burned.

  AUGUST 20th

  A helicopter soared overhead. It landed on the building three down from where Angela and Tommy had been trapped. The few people on the roof rushed it, and men in fatigues ushered them aboard. The helicopter rose again and disappeared over the horizon.

  “How many’s that now?” asked Angela.

  “Fifteen over the last week,” Tommy replied. “Looks like they’re working their way toward us. Might only be a few days till it’s our turn.”

  Angela grunted. “Good. I’m getting tired of sitting around doing nothing.”

  She stood up and cracked her back. For the first time in a week the sun poked its warming face through the clouds. She bathed in its heat and spread out her arms. Lesions covered her skin, the result of not getting into the complex in time when the poisoned rains fell. Even their tent hadn’t been spared—its canvas hide was peppered with black marks and tiny holes. It was better than nothing, however. A headache spiked behind her eyes. She crawled inside.

  The interior of the tent was hot, and she found it hard to breathe. She tried to get comfortable, flapping her sleeping bag in an attempt to alleviate the humidity that had gathered in the cloth cocoon. Nothing seemed to help. It was still hotter than hell.

  With a sigh she crawled back out of the tent, towing the sleeping bag behind her, and spread it out on the roof. She lay down on it and curled into a ball, squeezing her eyes shut against the intense brightness of the outside world. She felt Tommy kneel beside her.

  “You want some company?” he asked.

  Angela grunted in affirmation.

  Tommy slid in behind her and wrapped his arm around her midsection. He wedged his forearm into the underside of her breasts. She felt his breath against the back of her neck while her skin tingled under the sun’s rays.

  For the first time since the whole mess started Angela smiled and allowed the sound of the crashing waves to usher her off to sleep.

  AUGUST 25th

  It had been four days since the last chopper came around, and Angela had started to get nervous. At least the sun had stayed out. It made the days scorching, especially on the roof’s harsh concrete, but by the middle of the night, when the air cooled to almost arctic temperatures, she wished for the heat to return. Damned either way, she thought.

  She made her way to the edge of the roof and gazed across the watery landscape. Hartford had become one with the ocean. That ocean rose every day, approaching their sanctuary with ever-greedy fingers. Luckily for her and Tommy, they lived in one of the taller apartment complexes on the east end of the city. The water was still a good sixty feet from overtaking them. That gave them time, at least.

  But that time was running out.

  “Yo, Ang!” a faint voice called out to her.

  She turned around. On the roof of the apartment building to the west stood Rachid and Roberta Freeman, surrounded by their four children and Dexter McCutchens. They waved at her and held up a handwritten sign. Want to play a game? it read.

  Tommy chuckled from behind her. “Checkers again?” he asked.

  Angela bent over, grabbed the wax board they’d been using to communicate with those stranded on the other roof for the last couple of weeks, and scribbled Sure thing, your move in large letters. She held it up, and little Jermaine Freeman clapped. Even from a distance, she could see the whites of their teeth as they smiled.

  They played for a few hours, until the sun began dipping over the horizon. When it became impossible to see, Angela and Tommy simply packed up their cheap checkerboard and tossed it into the tent.

  “See you tomorrow!” screamed Tommy. They could barely hear when their far-away friends returned the sentiment.

  They crawled into their sleeping bag as the night began its assault of frigid air. Tommy’s body radiated heat, he smelled of sweet body odor, and for not the first time she wondered why it had taken an asteroid plummeting into the Pacific Ocean for them to so much as speak to each other.

  AUGUST 30th

  At first when she heard the sound, Angela assumed it was her stomach rumbling again. She lifted her head and stared at the sky. The moon shone down on her with its bluish glow, but she noticed clouds beginning to roll in once more. Damn, she thought. Not more rain. They couldn’t afford to spend time indoors, not with the possibility of rescue. If the helicopters showed up again, they had to be out and ready.

  The sound intensified, shaking her to the core, and she rose to her feet, nudging Tommy awake in the process. He stirred and sat up.

  “What’s going on?”

  “Helicopters, I think.”

  “At night?”

  “I know. Weird.”

  A spotlight appeared in the distance. It was low, just barely skimming the surface of the water as it progressed from rooftop to rooftop. The water had risen dramatically of late, and now was only ten feet from overtaking them.

  The helicopter hovered over a building. She couldn’t tell exactly how far away they were in the dark, but it had to be close. She could hear muffled shouts and a bustle of activity. Soon more voices joined in. Their tone seemed joyous.

  The Freemans yelled from their distant perch. “Is it another?” the father’s voice asked, small as a mouse’s.

  “It is!” screamed Tommy.

  Angela started jumping up and down, bellowing as loud as she could. “Over here! We’re over here! Don’t leave us!” Tommy joined in. Even together, their yells seemed to die inches in front of their faces.

sp; The helicopter swerved around, its spinning blades beating a drumbeat of salvation. The spotlight pointed in their direction. It moved forward, approaching them, so close the wind from its rotors blew Angela’s hair from her face.

  It drifted slowly across the rippling water. A strange, violet glow appeared beneath it, like millions of fireflies below the surface. Angela’s breath caught in her throat. From the ocean rose a giant hand that wrapped itself around the helicopter’s frame. The blades cut through the water, and it seemed to scream. Then, quick as a blink, the helicopter was forced into the water nose-first. The rotors snapped. Angela felt a rush of air against her cheek. She threw her arm around Tommy and forced him to the ground. Shrapnel rained around them. Frightened screams echoed over the waves. Angela squeezed her eyes shut. She felt Tommy shudder and cry out.

  This was it. She knew it.

  Tears ran down her cheeks in torrents.


  Angela held Tommy close. A light drizzle fell, biting her flesh but not enough to make her move. She shivered in the cold breeze and held her breath. But for the waves, all was silent.

  After a while she lifted her head. A gray haze dulled everything. She stood up and looked behind her. The Freemans were still huddled together on the roof of their building. None looked up at her, even when she called out to them. Dexter McCutchens was nowhere to be seen.

  Water trickled over the retaining wall. She drifted to the side of the building, cringed, and looked down. The level had risen overnight, and the sea was choppy. Waves collided with the walls and flowed into the smashed windows on the level just below. She lifted her gaze, following the horizon line, taking in the new, watery world. Distant skyscrapers jutted from the sea as it slowly swallowed everything. And there were twinkling lights in the water now, the same sort of lights that came before the helicopter had been taken under the previous evening. She thought of those trapped inside the hulk of steel as it plunged beneath the ocean’s surface. Were they devoured by whatever it was that had taken them? Did they drown? In either case it seemed a horrible way to go.

  Thoughts of her family entered her mind, and Angela crumpled. She writhed on the concrete while acid rain washed over her. Had her mother and father succumbed to the same fate as those in the chopper? When the oceans rose, had their house in the Cape been among the first to go? Were they dead? Were they suffering?

  Or had they found their own rooftop? Were they, like Angela, now hovering perilously close to the edge, surviving day-by-day, and waiting, just waiting, for the water to flood their sanctuary and bring them to the hungry mouths of whatever lay just beneath the surface?

  She cried, long and hard. Her lungs and throat burned. She bellowed until she couldn’t any longer and then lay there, shaking and whimpering, ready to give up.

  A gentle hand touched her shoulder. Angela looked up through moist eyes. It was Tommy. Of course it was. He wore a half-smile on his face and gazed down at her with affection. She brought her hand up and touched his cheek. It was soft, despite lumps of irritation where the rain had hit it. He leaned in and planted his lips on hers. She went with it, running her tongue over his mouth, opening wide, taking in all the comfort he had to offer.

  Tommy lifted her up and brought her to the tent. He placed her inside, sealed the flap, and gradually undressed her. His mouth found her again, moved from her lips to neck to breasts to belly, placing gentle pecks wherever the burning rain had left its mark.

  They made love for the first time in the depressing, soggy haze of morning. There was no crying out in pleasure for either of them. No moans of satisfaction left their throats. There were only soft sighs in the darkness of the tent, moving in tune with the crashing waves, using each other’s bodies for solace as if the gyrations could shake away the sorrow that had swallowed all hope.


  Overnight, the Freemans disappeared. Angela kept vigil on the side of the roof closest to their building, hoping they would appear from inside, hold up a sign, and tell them all was fine.

  It never happened. They were simply…gone.

  Angela’s stomach rumbled. She doubled over in pain. Over the last few days, they’d run out of food and water. The last of the supplies Tommy had retrieved from the upper floors before they became submerged were gone. They’d thought they had plenty, surely enough to get them by until help arrived. Now all they had to sustain themselves were the pigeons that sometimes landed on the roof. But getting their hands on the birds proved a tedious task, at best. They’d caught only three over the last seven days, and had to tear them apart with bare hands and eat them raw. At first Angela thought she couldn’t do it. Her savage hunger won out, however, and the second time she dove into the bloody meal like a starving lioness.

  The worst, however, was the lack of water. They dared not drink the ocean water, even if they’d had the bravery to get close enough to obtain some. So they settled on gathering rainwater and drinking that. It was murky in their canteens and stung going down. Often they vomited after consuming it. But the body required water, and it was their only choice, so they dealt with it as best they could.

  The ocean lights had begun to multiply, as well. They floated around the building like strings of Christmas lights, illuminating the evenings and casting a dull glow during the day. Angela decided that under different circumstances she might have found them pretty.

  To pass the time, she and Tommy made love. Every day, three times or more. The act allowed them at least a few fleeting moments of normalcy, of comfort. They would lay in each other’s arms afterward, shielded by their rapidly deteriorating tent, and talk about what they’d do when the world returned to normal. Not that either of them believed this would happen. Angela, for her part, was resigned to her eventual fate. Her only wish was to go on for one more day, despite the pain.

  She was stubborn like that.


  “We need something to eat,” said Tommy. “We need it now.”

  “I know,” Angela replied, defeated. “But how are we gonna get some?”

  The pigeons had ceased landing on the roof; like the Freemans, they seemed to have vanished. Even the seagulls, which she’d often noticed flocking around the tops of the taller skyscrapers as if they feared getting too close to the rising tides, were gone. It seemed the whole of the earth above the surface of the ocean had ceased to exist. For a moment Angela thought she and Tommy might be the last humans alive. She shuddered and forced that assumption from her mind.

  “We can get some canned goods from the apartments,” said Tommy. “There was still a bunch of stuff in there before they flooded. Even bottled water. It should still be fine.”

  “But we already talked about that. It…it’s under water.”

  “I know. But heck, I can swim.”


  Tommy’s brow creased. His eyes looked tired. “There’s no other choice, Ang. It’s either that or starve.”

  They made their way down the stairs. At least the flooding hadn’t reached that high yet. It wasn’t until they reached the top floor that they saw the water. It glistened in the weak light coming from the stairwell but still appeared brown and dirty. Tommy plunged in. It came up to his waist. Angela followed. The water was cold. Goosebumps rose on her flesh.

  They waded down the hallway until they reached apartment 14C. It was the old Beaulieu place, a nice older couple who’d fled, along with most of the city, when news of the impending flood spread. At the time, Angela had wanted to join them. It was Tommy, who lived in the apartment opposite hers, who came up with the idea to take refuge on the roof. It takes hours to reach the Green Mountains, he’d said. And that’s with no traffic. With everyone trying to reach higher ground, we’d be lucky to get there before the water gets us. Our best bet is to stay here and wait for help to come.

  They entered the apartment. Magazines and other detritus floated past them. Tommy led Angela to the kitchen. The countertops were just above the waterlin
e, islands of white marble resting in a brown sea.

  “I’m going under,” Tommy said.

  Angela swayed from side to side, her body growing numb in the cold water. “You need help?”

  “I’ll be fine.”

  Tommy dove beneath the surface. The water was so murky Angela couldn’t see any part of him when he submerged. Air bubbles popped up in his place. Something brushed against her leg and she jumped, hoping beyond hope it was only Tommy as he rummaged through the lower cabinets.

  A minute later he reemerged. He held a stack of canned vegetables. He placed them on the counter and winked at her.

  “See, told you,” he said. “And I think I felt a case of bottled water down there, too. I’ll be right back.”

  With another deep breath, Tommy plunged back into the murk. Angela took a garbage bag from the shelves to her rear and loaded it with cans. Once more Tommy brushed her leg, only she didn’t jump this time. She giggled a bit instead.

  “You gotta be more careful!” she yelled at the rising bubbles. “One of these times you’ll get a little too close to you-know-where, and then…”

  Something caught her eye; flashes, like sparks, coming from the doorway. Slowly she turned her head. Through the opening appeared a clump of shimmering lights. It moved gradually, gracefully, like liquid within liquid, coming toward them. Angela backed up a step.

  “Uh, Tommy?” She swallowed a lump, tried to call for him again, and couldn’t. Fear choked her.

  Tommy hadn’t come up.

  In a panic, she thrust her arms into the water. Her hands searched blindly for him, but came away with nothing. A quick glance told her the approaching tube of sludge and light was halfway across the kitchen. She searched harder. Her foot caught on something, and she fell forward. Her face splashed below the surface. Stinging salt water ran down her throat. She thrashed around, trying to regain her footing.

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