Flash. Flash. Flash.
Alice balanced, mid splits, one foot on the boiler casing and the other on a wooden box filled with skiwear. Her right arm was reaching up, stretching to the vent, frigid thumb flicking the torchlight on and off and on and off in the feeblest of hopes that the signal would be noticed.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
When she was five, her father had taken her to a neighbourhood park in the middle of ring of massive houses. Apparently some famous sports star lived in 283, and the mayor’s family had just moved in to another. It was mid summer and the air was drenched in the most beautiful dusty twilight that meant she was out way past her bedtime. Running though the trees and long grass caused a flurry of pollen and dust to swirl around their feet as they laughed and played, rubber ball bouncing around their feet. One of the houses framing the park had had a blinking light in the darkness, twinkling like the stars that were just starting to emerge. Alice had asked her dad why the house was flashing, and he’d just said that it was a movement alarm or something similar. What she only learned much later was that the family had come home mid-robbery and had not lived to survive the encounter, even though the wife had managed to set off the newly-installed warning beacon. People just don’t check flashing lights. We have our own problems.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
Behind, the water crept towards her in the absolute darkness. With her hand blocking much of the moonlight and the torch pointed outwards, there was no light to slice through the suffocating black. Her fingers would faintly glow red with every flash, giving the illusion that her freezing numbness was in fact heat and warmth.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
The only part of her that wasn’t thickened by total chill was the cut on her head and it throbbed with its own pulse. Now and again she’d have to use the back of her left hand to wipe away the blood that was still insistently oozing down into her eye, mixing with the sweat to sting and burn. In her elevated position, she couldn’t feel the water yet, but she knew from the now familiar sound that it wasn’t far away. A wall of death rising to find its only victim.
Flash. Flash. Flash. Flash. Flash.
This wasn’t doing anything. As soon as this thought flashed across her mind, the muscles in her arm started to twitch in sympathetic surrender until Alice finally agreed to give in and drop down into the rising ocean beneath her feet. Clipping the torch back onto her belt, she turned and slowly took in the view. The tide was black and showed no sign of abating, its noise building into a persistent buzzing at the back of her skull. The tiny vent was the only way out for the water to go, and Alice had to force herself to accept that it would only start trickling out of there after she had been totally consumed.
Her entire body was shaking now, concentric circles spreading out from where each of her thighs broke the surface. She felt like giving in, lying down, allowing the water to achieve its inevitable conclusion. Laying silently as the air was washed out of her lungs. The water was everything that had been ever against her, all the unfairness and cruelty that she’d tried to sidestep. Punishment for daring to live. Here, up here in the highest point of her own home, this judgement was ceaselessly rising to smother her out of existence. Her shuddering was so violent now that her silent tears where almost spraying off her face, stone limbs starting to drag down into the calling night. So tired, so easy to fall.
Alice’s knees buckled and brought her face closer to the end. Chest slumping forward, arms dead and pointless, the water sensed its oncoming victory and geared up for the final charge. She stayed like that until the deep rose up to her nose, her final bubbles of air playing softly with the frothing liquid underneath. The torch was fully submerged now, yellow light shining up from under her chin and spreading a soft halo out around her head. A fitting light to ease her into the dark. Eyes open, shivers gone, she passively watched as the massive spool of green hose floated past her eyes and into the wall behind her, under the vent.
Under the vent. Wait. Wait. Alice’s heart found an extra beat.
Her dad had bought the hose for her when she was playing with the idea of creating something beautiful in her garden. Alice, he’d said. Tools are everything. She could hear his voice, even now. A good spade, a solid fork, and a hose that’ll stretch the entirety of the garden. Water is the key to beauty. Ha! She chocked a little as she laughed. Irony before death.
No, wait. Under the vent. Under the vent.
They’d pulled that giant spool up into the attic together, laughing as they did in the park, sweating and swearing in unison. What a waste of money! Industrial hose! Who’d ever need an industrial hose! The laughs had stretched long, long, long into the night,
Under the vent.
Alice’s eyes snapped open, waking from the dream and fighting against the soaking tentacles attempting to finally pull her down. The beat in her heart found partners now in her neck, pulses sending shockwaves of adrenaline through her as her realisation took hold. Suddenly her legs found life again and she hauled herself out of the deep, turning to grab the hose with the same momentum. Her dad had tried to drink a beer through this thing once. Pouring a Bud in one end, he’d spent five minutes manoeuvring the liquid down the hose’s length before spluttering into defeat as the air was replaced with beer. He’d then taken a series of deep breaths and blown it back out the other end, spraying a nice pattern all over her wall.
She grabbed the bundle and untied the restraint, hose spreading out slowly in the rising water. Plunging her hands into the spool, she eventually found one end and clamped it firmly between her chattering teeth. The first time she tried to get her feet back up in the raised split position to reach the vent, her right slipped on the casing and she toppled backwards. This time, though, there was no shock or horror. Just reality. Alice had been fighting this – whatever this was – from the beginning, and now she fully viewed the impossible flood as her enemy. It had almost beaten her, but this faint glimmer of hope had sparked her resilience like a crank. Hauling herself back on to her feet, spitting a gob full of water out to her side, she leapt up again and was this time successful. Forcing her left hand into the upper awning for leverage, she used her right to force the end of the hose through the tiny vent opening and it eased upwards into the night air, end curving up like a plant searching for the sunshine. The vent’s blades had a slightly inverted V design which jammed the hose firmly in place.
Alice jumped down and found the other end. A day ago she would have convinced herself that breathing through a hose would be impossible, but so was a house filling with water, so was a house with every door and window firmly sealed shut, so was everything about her life tonight. No, this wasn’t just a crazy idea. This was a burning ember of hope that meant she may not have to die just yet, and that was good enough for now.
With a prayer on her lips, she lifted the hose up to her mouth and breathed in, hard. The water that had seeped in spat violently into her throat and suddenly her world was on fire. Everything became illuminated with crazed torchlight as she span on the spot, chocking until her eyes bulged, death smugly reminding her that it had come for her tonight. Finally, finally, the liquid cleared and air scraped down into her lungs past her soaked windpipe. She lent up against the boiler coughing with great whooping growls until the water stroked her neck from below. She didn’t have much time left. Grabbing the hose end once again, she began to rhythmically suck and spit, suck and spit, clearing out the hose’s water one mouthful at a time. She tasted the rusty iron of blood in her mouth, but kept going even when she had to tip her head back just to keep her head afloat. She’d be under soon. Suck, spit. Suck, spit. Suck, and spit, and finally the hose was clear.
It was time now. There was nowhere above left to got, and she had to go under the wave. Reaching up to fix her diving goggles over her eyes, she took a final test breath through the hose. This time, there was nothing but air, and very quickly the stuffy attic dust was replaced with the unmistakable chill of night. It was working. It was working.
Alice stood very still as the water in her house crested over her head and reached up, up, finally creaking against the roof peak and beginning its steady pour out the vent onto the ground far below. She was in the murky dark now, torch shining through the deep, silence replacing the steady roar that had been with her for so long. She remembered her diving training and kept her breath slow and measured, holding the hose downward with each bubbled exhalation to ensure that her next gulp would be nothing but air. She had cheated death, or at the very least postponed it, and now in the weightless silence, she almost felt relaxed.
So. Now what. How long could she float like this? She could do it for a while, but how long before sleep, thirst or hunger took over? How to die: starve or drown? Choices, choices. She directed her torchlight onto the drifting hose length. It looked long enough to allow her to swim downstairs, would it be worth trying the windows again? Sending a signal, somehow? Surviving until morning and hoping that an early commuter spotted the girl floating inside her window? None of these options filled her with much hope.hey were desperate straw clutching at best.
Then, a cramp of panic shot though her chest as she realised what she wanted to do. All of this, what had come for her – all of this had risen up out of the basement. Up until this point, she’d been running, climbing higher and higher to escape the oncoming beast. Now, she thought, now it was time to see what the hell this was, because she sure as hell wasn’t getting out of this house without stopping it first. And if she was going to die – and she was definitely not very far away from that eventuality – then she wanted to go with the knowledge that she’d at least tried to stop it.
She spun slowly and opened up the curves of the hose so that it was spread along the length of the attic. It filled her beam like snakes. Long enough?
Inch by inch, breath by breath, she floated along to the trapdoor and stepped over, slowly sinking against the still forceful current, slipping down, back into the ocean of her hallway.