“Is the world crying, Daddy?”
Aaron stared through fly-specked glass at the grey, foggy drizzle. Ninety days straight, they hadn’t seen the sun. The damn fog had followed them from San Francisco. Nevada was supposed to be hot. Sunny. A desert, for God’s sake.
They’d moved inland after Sam’s mother died. Aaron had always hated winter at the coast. Freezing rain. Ice-rimed streets. But, since the change, it was the same everywhere. Aaron’s head was stuffed with cotton wool. He was never dry or warm. The bed-sheets were cold and clammy when he crawled in at night.
His son’s words finally penetrated the mist clogging his brain. Aaron shook his head to clear it. “Is it what?”
“Is the world crying?”
Aaron stared. “What are you talking about, Sam?”
“Grandpa says the rain is God’s tears. But, Auntie Ruth says it’s the world crying for help.”
Sammy’d been only a year old when they were forced higher into the mountains to escape the rising water. So many drowned cities. So many homeless. Hard-scrabble settlements bloomed like cancerous lesions — miles of cardboard shelters and tent-ghettos strung out along every major roadway.
They’d been lucky to find this abandoned trapper’s cabin. Its weathered logs stunk of long-dead animal — the crumbling pelts Ruth and Aaron dragged outside and burned when they first arrived. At least, the roof didn’t leak.
“I don’t know, Sam…” His voice trailed off. How d'you explain severe climate change to a five-year-old? Aaron wasn’t sure he truly grasped the magnitude of it himself.
Governments, the military, big multi-nationals, everyone’d had a hand in trying to slow it down, to reverse the damage. They’d stopped the converter program — shut down the network of mighty, ocean-cooled condensers which harnessed the sun’s energy.
The condensers were supposed to be a boon, to save humanity. They were designed to replace polluting fossil fuels and save their power-starved world. And the program had worked, at first.
But, something went wrong. What was left of the ice caps melted. Sea-levels rose catastrophically submerging the low-lying, coastal areas. Then, the rains came.
The massive influx of fresh water diluted the oceans and further destabilized the system. Even after the converters were taken off-line, the flooding continued.
Many, like Sammy’s grandfather, believed their world was finally cleansing itself, perhaps to begin again. Some of the enders as they were called, pitched their tents in the foot-hills to prepare for the final coming with prayer and celebration. Their old-fashioned hymns about “goin’ to glory” and the “better world awaitin’,” echoed through the mountain passes.
Some banded together in tight, well-armed communities. They stockpiled supplies and collected whatever or whoever they decided should be saved. They took what they needed, by force, if necessary. And built huge arks, massive ships to bear them safely above the coming flood.
Aaron knew of an ender group, close by.
He gazed at his son — so like his mother, with her dark curls and sparkling hazel eyes. The boy was tall for his age, and smart. Sammy already knew how to read and write. He loved animals . Even the wild ones would take food from his hand. Maybe, if Aaron was lucky…
“C’mon, Sam. We have to pack.” Aaron grabbed the boy’s shoulder and pushed him towards the bedroom. He yanked open drawers, stuffing Sam’s clothes into a carry-sack.
“What about Grandpa and Auntie Ruth? Should they pack, too?” Sam stroked the ears of a black cat curled in the middle of his pillow. She yawned and stretched, purred at the boy’s touch and offered her swollen belly for a rub.
“They’ll be fine. They’ll understand.”
“We’ll understand what?”
Aaron spun around. His father and sister watched from the doorway. “We’ll understand what?” his father repeated.
“I’m sorry, Dad, Ruthie — but, I have to try. Please. It may be our only chance.”
“You’re not taking the boy to those enders. He belongs with his family.” Aaron’s father reached for the boy. “Come here, Samuel.”
Before Sammy could move, Ruth touched her father’s outstretched arm. “No, Dad, Aaron’s right. We have to save Sam.”
“Save me from what?” Sammy pressed close to his father.
Aaron knelt by the boy. “You have to be brave, Sam. Can you do that for me?”
Wide-eyed, the boy nodded.
“Good. Let’s finish packing. We have to hurry.”
With the help of Aaron’s father and sister, Sam’s clothes, some warm, heavy blankets and all their provisions were stuffed in kit-bags and stowed in the their SUV. Aaron held out a hand for Sam’s carry-all as he bundled the boy into the back seat.
The boy wrapped both arms round the unwieldy pack. “No, Dad. It’s okay.”
Driving rain turned the rough track up the mountain into a slippery, rutted quagmire. No-one spoke. It was too hard to be heard over the rising wind and the rhythmic, frantic slapping of the over-taxed wipers, as they strained to keep up with the deluge.
Thunder crashed and growled overhead. Blinding, sulfurous flares streaked across the skies as the storm clawed the plateau like a ravening beast. Muddy cataracts uprooted trees and gouged chunks from the road.
At last, the SUV crested a rise and slid onto a high plateau. Aaron braked hard and stared at the armed men who barred the gates to the compound.
“Please, I need to speak to whoever’s in charge.”
A burly, dark-bearded man raised his rifle. “You c’n speak to us.”
Aaron climbed out and pulled Sam forward. He gestured for Ruth and their father to get out. “Please, take us with you. We have extra food, blankets. Some tools.”
The man shook his head. “No room.”
“Then, take my son and my sister. Please. I beg you, take them with you.”
Another man stepped forward, rifle at the ready. “Leave the packs and go.”
A tall, grizzled man strode from the shadows by the gate into the twin cones of light from the SUV’s headlamps. He pushed back his hood and brushed long strands of wind-whipped, graying hair out of his dark eyes. “I’m sorry, but Cain’s right, we have no room.”
Aaron pushed Sam into the light. The little boy shivered in the steady downpour, clutching his carry-all. “He’s a good boy. A hard worker. My sister’s a medic. Please.” Aaron’s voice broke. Numb, frozen, he sank to his knees in the mud.
The tall man shook his head. “I’m sorry. You’d best go — get out of the storm.”
Aaron studied the tall man’s exhausted face and red-rimmed eyes, dark with strain and loss. “There’s nowhere left to go.”
He struggled to his feet and helped his father into their vehicle. Carefully buckled him in. Then he unloaded their bags and bales and piled them beside his sister. He hugged Ruth, and kissed her on both cheeks, shouting above the wind, “Take care of Sam.”
He picked up his son. Holding fast to his carry-all, the boy tucked his head into Aaron’s neck. “Mind your Auntie Ruth. And, always remember, I’m very proud of you. I love you, Sam.”
The little boy nodded.
Aaron placed the boy and his bundle in Ruth’s arms, and turned towards the armed men. “There really is nowhere to go.”
He walked to the SUV and slid inside, quickly reversing down the road. At the first bend, he cranked the vehicle around and cut the lights. They raced down the narrow, bumpy track in the dark, checking behind for any sign they’d been followed.
“They’ll be alright, Dad. He won’t leave them.”
“How can you be sure?”
“He has kind eyes, Dad. He still cares. He won’t leave them.” Aaron smiled at his father. Neither man saw the towering wall of seething, dark water bearing down on them out of the heart of the storm...
A gleaming, brass ship’s lantern over the cabin’s only bunk swayed on its gimbals in time with the rhythmic creaking of the ark. The tall man stooped in doorway of the tiny, low-ceilinged cabin, haloed in the flickering glow.
He eyed the little boy sleeping in his auntie’s arms.
It had been a long night.
His people barely made it into the arks before mountainous waves washed away every trace of their settlement. One of the ships foundered, unable to close its huge bow-doors in time — twelve people and untold species lost.
He and his son had managed to save a few of the animals, but now their own ark was dangerously overcrowded. And, no telling how long they’d be adrift, or what would be left if and when the waters abated.
And these newcomers?
He knew they’d been placed in his hands for a reason — sent to him. So, whatever else might be in store, they were his to care for, now.
The boy’s carry-sack wriggled. A muffled “mrrow” issued from its depths.
The tall man set the bag on the bunk and untied the fasteners. A black cat poked her head out. Spotting Sam, she made her way across the blankets and curled up in the boy’s lap.
The man ran a large hand across his face and scrubbed away a smile. His eyes twinkled. “A pregnant cat.”
The woman’s lips quirked. “She’ll keep the mice down. And her kittens will be a welcome diversion.”
“Your brother knew I’d take you.”
She nodded. “Aaron is — was — a good judge of character. My name is Ruth, by the way. And you are?”
The man offered his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Ruth. I’m called Noah.”