The streets were filled with the sea, its salt water choking the places where cars once puttered about. Right now it was only about three feet deep, but a swollen western tide come nightfall would add another five feet to that. Sea creatures clustered about the lampposts and the door frames, starfish, barnacles, and other denizens of the shallows that were moving into this new real estate.
Peter sat on top of the old post office, looking down at the sad state of his hometown. No walls had been built here to hold back the ocean, like they had been in Seattle. Here the sea had come creeping up, taking the town, making a new shore somewhere in the middle of it. It drove everyone away, first in great groups, then in ones and twos, all heading away towards the refugee camps to the east. Peter suspected he was the only one left, out of a good 500 people.
He knew that he should go somewhere else, find a place to enjoy himself while he could, like everyone else seemed to be doing; throwing one big Fat Tuesday before the eternal Lent that the loss of fossil fuels would bring. But he didn't want to. The ocean might have severed the strings that bound everyone else to this town, but they still tugged at Peter, even though nothing was left of what he knew but the empty shells of the buildings. He didn't know why, but he didn't think too hard on it. He wasn't one to question himself. He didn't really question much of anything at all.
So he sat there on the roof as waves of nostalgia washed over him, bathed him in an odd, almost drunken feeling. Shades of the past seemed to flit about in the streets below, moving through the motions of a time now irrevocably gone. William Covington, down at the Kwik-Mart. Patricia Munn, smoking outside the hair-dresser's. Howard Draper, looking out the window of the sheriff's station. They had all gone away, yet Peter still saw them there, ghostly images in his mind's eye; faint spectres come to a feast of the past.
That single word spoken in the silence of the evening jolted Peter from his imaginings. He turned around quickly. Andrew, his friend, stood at the edge of the roof.
This surprised Peter. "That you?"
"I reckon so," Andrew said as he walked over and sat down next to Peter.
"Thought you left with John and Jamie."
"Nope. Stuck around. Had plans."
Peter paused and thought a moment. "What plans?"
Andrew spit a stream of tobacco off the side of the roof. "Jacob Coby left one of his big fishing boats behind. Gonna take it somewhere."
"The one with the sails?"
Andrew nodded. "Yep."
Peter thought a bit more. "Where are you gonna take it?"
"North. Canada, on past to Alaska. Hide out up there probably. Wait for stuff to settle down."
It seemed an ambitious plan, sail a boat up the coast that far. That puzzled Peter. Andrew wasn't usually the one to come up with things like this. He kept quiet, provided the voice of reason most of the time.
"Why?" Peter asked.
Andrew looked down the sea-soaked streets to the greater expanse of the Pacific. "Go somewhere. Anywhere but here."
"Could have left like the others."
Andrew chuckled. "I could have." He rubbed the stubble on his face absent-mindedly, still looking out at the ocean. "But I think too much to do that."
Peter paused, unsure of why his friend was opening up and how to respond to it. "What's that mean?"
Andrew took a deep, contemplative breath. "Too much time reading adventure stories. Too much thinking about how small this town used to be. Too much thinking about cutting loose and running for it. Too much dreaming." He ran his hand through his hair with a sigh. "Is it foolish? Yep. But, I gotta do it. It'll eat at me if I don't. I mean, opportunity's here. Might as well take it. Right?"
Peter didn't really know the answer to that question. It was not in his limited range of topics he gave thought to. "I guess," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders.
A slight smile flickered across Andrew's face. In it Peter thought he saw a bit of pity, but only for the faintest of moments. "Well, I'll be leaving next high tide, I guess. Want to come, meet me down by the docks. Could use you."
Peter nodded in acknowledgement. "Yeah. Okay."
Andrew smiled a little bit again. Then he got up and climbed back down off the roof, whistling some faint tune to himself. Peter watched him wade off down towards the docks, a darkened form moving across the water, until he turned the corner and was lost from view.
Alone again, Peter thought about his friend's offer. Alaska was a long way off. But it was possible to get there from here. Jacob had taught them all how to sail the boat, him, Andrew, John, and Jamie. The currents might have changed with the sea level, but that wasn't a sure thing. And even if they had, hanging close to the coast would keep someone from the worst of a contrary bit of water.
But did he really want to go? What point was there in going? Alaska wasn't some kind of promised land. It was just the same as anywhere else in this new world, a world that seemed to be leaving people behind. The refugee camps held more promise. He glanced over his shoulder. Their eastern lights were growing brighter in the gathering dusk. If Peter should be going anywhere, it should be there, to try to find others from the town and attempt to stick with them. If he did that, maybe they could rebuild somewhere, bring back what had died here.
And yet, a tiny question popped up in his head, a question consisting of solely one word. Why? What was so special about this place that warranted its resurrection? The sea had decreed that it die, been the instrument of that death in an unmistakeable way. Did Peter think that he knew better than nature?
He shook his head. What was he doing thinking about things like this? You just did this. When the place you lived at was torn down, destroyed, whatever, you rebuilt. You didn't let yourself get beaten down by things outside your control. You persevered in spite of them. Part of being human.
Or was it?
Caught up in himself and his thoughts, Peter dwelt on this last question. It gnawed at his mind in the darkening evening, like an insect on some forgotten coat. What would be gained from starting over with the scraps of what had been before? The more he thought about it, the more Peter realized that it would never really be the same, no matter how hard anyone tried. They could make the new town just like the old one, right down to the same kinds of boards and nails. But it would still be a new town, not this old one.
And what would be left behind here? Peter looked around, sure that he would see something that he would miss. But when he looked now, all the images of the past that he had seen before were gone, and the harsh reality of empty buildings and the sea made itself evident to him. He tried to shut his eyes and see what he had seen before. But just like the real people of the town, their shades were no longer there. Only the empty darkness and the salt water remained. Whatever spell had made Peter see them before had worn away. Nothing was left here for him now.
But why should he go so far away? Why should he go on to Alaska with Andrew, instead of picking his own lonely course to the refugee camps? It was still the logical choice. He could go there and find people he had once known, at least retain the spirit of the town.
But how many camps were there, Peter asked himself. Had everyone gone to the same one, or had they split up, been scattered to a dozen or more? It would be herculean to try to find them all again, if they would be found at all. He put his head in his hands, feeling little tendrils of despair reaching out at his heart as if to squeeze it to death.
But, out of that feeling, that sinking miasmic conflict within Peter, a new realization seemed to come up. It was slow, trickling into the young man's mind a bit at a time, letting him get used to it. At first, he tried to shake it off, ignorant of it. But, the more it sat there pawing at him, the more he gave it space in his head, and the more he saw that there was wisdom to it.
This town had been good to him. True, there had been moments where he had felt cheated, but they had been few and far between. Yet, nothing good had ever really come of the people who had remained here. William Covington drowned his sorrows in the familiarity of a bottle. Patricia Munn could turn the sweetest bit of candy sour with the bitterness that the child she had born at 18 had brought her. And Howard Draper's iron fist had its roots in his father's, an unbroken pattern.
Here Peter had a chance to escape that. It was a chance that he would have overlooked had the town still existed. But, in the wake of its demise, he saw it very well. He could do whatever he wanted in the world at large. Nevermind the fact that it was a rapidly-changing world. There might still be a place in it for him to carve a stake, a way of life, something his very own. At the very least, here was a chance to find out if that was so. Like Andrew had said earlier, the opportunity was here. Now Peter knew an answer to his friend's question for certain. It was an answer he could believe.
He lowered himself off the side of the building and splashed down into the salty water. A starfish was crushed beneath his boot when he landed, but he didn't care. He had somewhere to go now. The tide hadn't begun to come in yet. And he had a boat to catch.
A short story for one of my creative writing classes. Written while listening to "Here Comes the Flood" by Peter Gabriel.
Your writing is spectacular! I love how Peter progresses through stages of thought, starting by deceiving himself with nostalgia, then having an epiphany that the town wasn't all that he thought it to be. I like the feeling that you create towards the end, with the decision he has to make about how he'll move forward with his life, and knowing there's an adventure in store for him. It's sort of a pleasant suspense. This deserves a favorite, I think.
Has anyone ever told you that you're an amazing narrator?
I don't really know how to explain it, but I just get caught up reading. It's got a pretty good flow to it. I like how you describe the setting and how you narrate the main character's thoughts.