The tears that streamed from her eyes mixed with the blood seeping from her forehead until it dripped muddy flowers into the river by her feet. Alice sat sobbing in the dark on the floor of her upper landing, face on knees and hands over eyes. The metal lamp rested quietly to her left, its work now done. The deep gash on her head was testament to that. On finding that every single upstairs window was firmed closed – even the bathroom window (which she *always* left open to fight shower steam) and that every latch was locked, her panicking hands tore the lamp from the wall and hurled it angrily at the hallway window. The window fought back and won, without even a scratch of care.
The cold didn’t bother her any more. The only light was from the lamppost outside, weakly streaming through bare windows. Orange and black. Below her feet, stretching down the stairs and into the nighttime murk below, the restless water continued to build and bubble. She could feel the current through her toes as it began its invasion of the house’s upper level. It was as insistent as ever, pushing up from below, up from the basement, maybe even lower than that. Alice raised her head and forced together connected thoughts through the tears. How could that be? Where is all this coming from?
Forcing her legs to straighten underneath her, she ran once again to the window that overlooked the car. It was still there, but with no sign of the face she’d briefly seen ten minutes ago. Phone someone, damn you she mouthed into the glass, wet lips brushing the cold surface. Police, Fire, whatever. Phone someone. She caught her reflection staring back with wide, confused eyes. Wet white pyjamas streaked with muck and now blood. Shoulders hunched and shivering, weak light stretching her shadows into empty spaces. It was actually a pitiful sight, and pity wasn’t something she ever wanted to court again. Straightening her back, she stood for a minute and stared at herself.
It was time to get dressed.
Her footfalls became stomps as she marched back into her bedroom, moving by touch and memory, stripping as she went. If it was about to get wetter here, and the rushing water over her ankles seemed to insist it would, she supposed that it was time to dress accordingly. First, bikini instead of underwear. Over that, her surfing wetsuit that hadn’t seen light of day since that evening in May. It still smelled of sand. Bare feet, bare hands, brown hair tied back under pushed-up snorkel mask. In the same bag was her diving gear – knife, torch, watch, all quickly clipped into the belt round her waist. The torch looked outward, its white light fighting with the streetlight orange and drawing strange patterns on everything. Even in this blurred glow, the bed looked so enticing. Alice turned her back and walked out before she could change her mind and just cuddle in.
Calves now. Was it rising faster? There was no stopping it, it seemed, so there had to be a plan. Up, up, up. The attic didn’t have any windows but tiles are easier to smash than bricks. Alice shuffled down the hallway until she was under the trapdoor. The access pole was leaning nearby and she quickly hooked it through the waiting loop. Push up to release the latch, hear that click, then down slowly so the folded ladder can slip down…except, even after the hard sound of metal latch releasing,the trapdoor wouldn’t swing down. Alice pulled again, this time more insistent. Damp hands squeezed the silver pole to stop the slipping, body leaning ever more into the effort, but it wouldn’t budge. The pole slopped into the water as the access hook snapped clean off, sending her staggering forward into the wall.
She took a breath and screamed a singular curse against water and windows and trapdoors and lamps.
The swearing turned her round and chased her back into her bedroom to grab her chair, piled clothes thrown into the sopping darkness making its way up to her knees. Dragging it back felt harder than natural, clogging water pushing against her muscles with every attempt at rebellion. Slamming the chair underneath the trapdoor, she reached up but the tiny gap between ceiling and wood wouldn’t let her fingers take hold. After a second her knife came out, blade flickering briefly in the torch beam as it was pushed up into the gap. With gritted teeth, she pushed once, twice, splinters falling with the dust past her urgent eyes. The trap shifted begrudgingly. Another push, push, each effort adding a tiny glimpse of the trap’s side, and again, and again, a voice crawling out of her throat now in a continuous growl, growing louder with each push, each muscle strain, each quarter inch of success as she pushed, pushed, harder and harder and harder and
The release of the trap set off a total collapse of everything involved. The heavy wooden plate swung away and sent Alice flying forward, foot caught in the chair back. The ladder, designed to gently slip out with the downward angle, used the extra momentum to slam down into her back as she fell forward into the bubbling ocean in her hallway. The pain in her ankle as it twisted round the chair was quickly replaced by the knife slicing deep across her shoulder, blood spraying across the wall before the splash. Her open mouth gulped uncontrollably in the melee, throat and nose violently complaining about the intrusion. The water was heavier as she stood this time, and when she could finally breathe again, she tasted copper.
After two minutes of frantic splashing, she found her knife lodged underneath a fallen mirror. She slopped to the foot of the ladder and shone the torch upwards. The dark of the attic seemed to drink the light. Scanning around for a final alternative, but finding none, she forced herself to reach out and ascend before her fear persuaded her otherwise.
It was surprisingly quiet in the roof, almost as if the darkness was not only consuming light but also sound. Underneath her feet, below the ceiling, the constant inward flow continued now as a whisper of intent, crawling ever slower up to find her. Her plan, or at least the only thing resembling a plan, was to smash out through the tiles and take her chances on the roof. It wouldn’t matter if she had to stay up there all night – even the water wouldn’t be able to fill the open night sky. The weakest point would be around the guttering, and this is where she started. The attic was scattered with small boxes and stuffed bin liners holding things that might be useful at some point. A hose, some books, a shelving unit, some shoes, rakes, paints, brushes, suitcases. Residential litter. Choosing the path of least resistance, she grabbed the smallest stacks and unceremoniously threw them aside. The torch gave her small strobing views of everything. Finally revealing the spiderwebbed edge of the roof, Alice squeezed down and started thrusting out with her knife, but the hard joints refused to allow any glimmer of hope. Scraping up and down, she tried to feel for any structural weak points but was only met with solidity and splinters.
She turned to see the first splash of water peeking over the trapdoor square.
Flipping round, she got her bare feet in the gap and kicked. Searing pain from her bruised ankle slammed shards up her legs into her hips. Supporting shoulder, sliced deep, stung loudly. She tried again, this time with just her other foot, but was only rewarded with a dull thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Alice started to realise that her understanding of house construction may have been a little naïve and then couldn’t hold the laughter back. What started as a chuckle quickly rose from her belly, emerging from her mouth as a loud cackle, head tilting back as the house shook with her booming, hysterical laughter. Oh God, I’m going mad drifted across her mind as she finally regained her composure. Her fingers were wet. This is what is feels like. The water is rising and there’s nothing I can do to stop it and I’m going to drown as my mind breaks in two. But then she wasn’t laughing any more.
There was light on her hand. Not from her torch, which was doing a great job of illuminating her wet and wrinkled feet. On the fingers of her right hand, almost imperceptibly faint, there was a tiny cocoon of…moonlight? How? Her heart leaped in unison with her legs. Tracing the beam carefully, she raised her hands to follow the light back to its source. Moving with all the care of a new mother with a baby, she crept her hand forward, eyes open wide to trace where it was coming from.
And there, high in the top peak where the two slanting roof sides met their holding wall, tiny and inconspicuous, was a sliver of moonlight peaking through the smallest of vents.