“How many days?” asked Brian softly, staring out of the window.
“What?” asked Janice.
“How many days has it been?” he said louder.
Janice looked across to the calendar on the wall. September was covered in red crosses. Only one square remained unmarked.
“Twenty-nine days,” Janice said wearily.
“Along with twenty-nine nights,” sighed Brian watching the sheeting rain add its volume to the two foot of water already cascading in a broad swift river across the mountain pasture before disappearing at the bottom of the slope. He watched as Alpine pines and beeches uprooted by the muddy waters washed down the slope. Shaking his head he turned away and sat down at the rough pine table opposite Janice.
She gave him a tired smile, the creases in her face deeper than he remembered from a month before. Despite the lines, as far as he was concerned, she was still as beautiful as the day she had married him. Her face, framed by her shoulder length light brown hair, was too long and narrow for conventional beauty. Her mouth was generous, full lipped, below a thin almost blade like nose, while high cheekbones were now sharply defined from their lack of food.
It was her eyes that drew and held your gaze. His attempts to describe her eyes and capture their essence using words or drawings had always failed, the colour changing as the light altered. In bright sunlight they were a deep ocean blue. In candle light the azure blue of a summer sky. In the cool wan sunlight of a winter’s afternoon they took on an anaemic grey/blue hue. In the heavily overcast and unchanging sky they had endured for so many days, Janice’s eyes were the pale ice blue of a deep glacier crevasse.
He could have spent hours just looking at her eyes, watching their colour alter as the light changed, lost in their mutable depths. His own features were for the most part unremarkable, in a crowded room, despite his muscular six foot frame he would and usually did simply disappear into the background soon after they entered a room. That never occurred with Janice. In some manner, some magical, mystical, way, her slim, petite, yet curvaceous figure, and especially her eyes, her entrance would draw every eye in the room to her.
Not that Brian minded the attention she garnered, from both men, and women. They would congregate around her, drawn by some mysterious quality that could not be defined but that everyone felt. He was more than happy to blend into the background with a glass of wine and observe proceedings, secure in the knowledge of Janice’s love for him.
He had never been comfortable around people even as a child. Always preferring his own company. Until he met Janice. He was still uncomfortable with others, enduring the parties and such events for the sake of Janice who shone at them. For him, happiness was found in every moment they spent together, or in just watching her move around a crowded room, going from person to person, talking, laughing, listening to those around her but always knowing where he was and looking across at him and smiling with her eyes and mouth.
He still didn’t understand how or why she had agreed to be his wife twenty years ago. He deemed it a miracle that when, after six months of dinners, lunches, the cinema or theatre, he had stammered a proposal, she had grasped his lapels, pulled him close and whispered yes, before kissing him lingeringly, her lips warm, soft, so soft on his own, her breath gentle on his cheek as she again told him yes. He found out after they were married that a large inheritance had left her a wealthy woman.
But that… that was all in the past. There were no more cinemas or theatres. No more cocktail or dinner parties, lunchtime drinks, Friday nights drinking with friends, Saturday watching or playing sports… gone. Sunday mornings in bed with tea, toast and newspapers thick with supplements, then a stroll to the pub for a drink before lunch, the afternoon dozing in an armchair in front of the fire or on a lounger in the sun… all gone, a fast fading memory of a time not so distant.
The rain and steadily rising waters had seen to that. Changing their lives. Changing the lives of everyone, everywhere. Eight million people whose lives were altered forever by an everyday phenomenon that depending where you lived on Earth and the season, was a frequent or rare occurrence.
He returned her smile putting his forearms on the table, watching her slowly rub the dirt and blemishes from the potatoes and carrots before chopping them coarsely and putting them into pot. They had been lucky to find them, tucked away at the back of a wooden storage bin in a corner of the small chalet.
It was amazing just how fast things fell apart. The rains started as the northern hemisphere begun to harvest and before the southern could finish planting. Crops and seeds were destroyed by the tenth day as hour after hour of rain pounded farms, fields, clearings and prairies. Rivers rose, breached their banks, covered their old flood plains, so many built on or concreted over leaving nowhere for the water, except into people’s homes and businesses. Reservoirs brimmed then overflowed or the dams burst. Dykes, ditches, streams became rivers. Mountain rivulets became raging torrents rushing to merge with their lower lying cousins, taking gravel, stones, boulders great and small, to wreak havoc in the valleys downstream.
Every country in the world suffered flooding, landslides, mud slides, sink holes opening swallowing houses, streets, villages, unfortunate humans and animals. Low lying countries already impacted by rising sea levels disappeared totally as the rain continued. Animals and people drowned inside homes and buildings or were swept away by flash floods. Roads, motorways, railways, became impassable, rivers full of unseen obstacles below the murky waters.
Undergrounds filled so quickly that anyone in the tunnels drowned, trapped, swept to a dark, dismal and lonely death. Dams burst or were over topped, bridges collapsed and washed away. Foundations of high rises were undermined, the buildings collapsing into rubble burying thousands under their rubble.
Trees fell on houses of every description or blocked roads and trails as soil around their roots washed away. Airport runways, then airports closed as the depth of water covering them caused crashes on landing or take-off.
Satellite communications and TV signals were patchy as they tried to penetrate the clouds and falling water. Mobile and fixed communications stuttered to a halt as the rain interrupted the signals transmitted from masts and utility tunnels filled with water and despite waterproofing, cables, wires and electronics succumbed. Sewers added their contents to the waters and disease soon followed.
Governments proved incapable of putting together a coherent response as civilisation broke apart around them. Production and widespread deliveries of food, fuels, medicines, power had halted by the sixteenth day. Stores warehouses were either flooded, looted or both. Rioting added to the death toll as people fought and died over the contents of a tin of beans. Animals and humans alike died from starvation or drowned when swept away.
The swirling waters were filled with a multitude bodies of birds, insects, animals and humans. Their sodden pitiful bodies turning and twisting in the swirling waters. Even animals who were strong swimmers -like rats or ducks and other aquatic birds- succumbed after a time. If there was no dry place to get out of the water then it was swim until you grew too tired to swim any more and the putrid waters were undrinkable.
The incessant noise of the rain, a worldwide version of the Chinese water torture, the loss of hope, drove many to suicide. Their numbers, adding to those dying from drowning, starvation, accident, disease, cold, fear, loneliness and the hands of others. By the twentieth day, all communications including TV and the Internet, had disappeared and only intermittent broadcasts on AM and Longwave frequencies reported the world’s descent into chaos and death.
Brian and Janice had been holidaying that summer. First in France, then Germany and Austria during July and August and were in Switzerland when the rain began, having planned to finish in Italy. Brian was a freelance travel journalist so the trip was in part work. Janice’s inheritance meant they travelled in style, not needing to rely on Brian selling an article in advance to finance their trips.
In a number of respects they were fortunate to be in Switzerland when it started. They were already well above sea level, part way up a mountain in the Italian Alps as sea level became subject to alteration on an hourly basis. When they woke to rain they just shrugged. After a long hot summer, a few days of rain was a small price to pay. Brian said he would use the time to work on his articles, so they snuggled down in front of a fire in the chalet they had rented above the Maggia river and enjoyed the down time after all the travelling.
After a week of continuous rain and the Valle Maggia river, notorious for the rapidity it became flooded was a deep muddy swirling torrent filled with trees, shrubs and bodies of animals and humans they began to worry. At least Brian did, Janice just seemed to accept it, see it as one of those things. Something she could do nothing about so why worry.
Brian who did most of the food preparation was not so blasé. He took stock of what they had in the kitchen and pantry and thought they might stretch it for another ten days if they had to. After that…
Fortunately there was plenty of cut wood for the fire, the propane tank behind the chalet was at least half full and there were ample candles and oil for lamps. They had lost power on the tenth day. Brian wasn’t sure what had caused it but assumed a pole had been brought down somewhere along the road up to the chalet. For the moment they were dry, warm and had food.
Day twenty-two and Brian was sat at the kitchen table his dead laptop closed in front of him, musing on what little he knew of the world. He remembered reading somewhere that something like fifty percent of the world lived below two hundred metres. Looking out of the window at the valley below, he guessed, a little cynically that half the world was probably treading water at the moment. The one thing that really puzzled him and deeply concerned him, was that Janice seemed indifferent to the plight of the world and its billions who were suffering and dying in unprecedented numbers.
They still had a little food left from the original supplies at the chalet. He had been able to stretch it further when a young doe washed up at the bottom of the steps with a broken leg. He put it out of its misery with a snow shovel, wincing as the edge cut into its throat, the blood flowing freely from the slash. He closed his eyes feeling nauseous at both the sight and the sound of the distressed animal and then raised the shovel again and brought it down hard on its head, stilling its struggles.
He managed somehow, to butcher it in the cellar. He could recognise the heart, kidneys and liver and put those aside and threw the rest of the offal out of the door wrapped in the skin. Removing the skin nearly made him give up. He was nearly weeping when finally it came free. He crudely jointed the carcass, the cuffs of his jacket and jumper ending up stiff with blood. He cooked it in a number of ways trying to preserve as much as he could, but even so after a few days it began to grow a green mould from the damp air. He removed some mould but the meat grew more gamey each passing day. In the end he was forced to throw it into the fast flowing water where it was washed from view.
The firewood was stored in the cellar. They had made serious inroads into it and that worried him too. Outside no dry wood existed and the stored and seasoned wood was damper than it had been making the fire smoke.
The relentless rain made everything damp. Continuously damp, nearly sodden as far as the fabric of the house was concerned creeping up from the ground under the cellar. Bedding, clothing, the very air they breathed was full of moisture. They had struggled to bring a mattress down and place it in front of the fire in an effort to keep their bedding drier and themselves a little warmer. Without more wood they would shortly lose the warmth and comfort of the fire. He had no idea how they would continue to keep warm or boil water unless they used the furniture.
Their food finally ran out on the thirty ninth day. Long before that, they’d been reusing teabags and coffee grounds three or four times, drinking the weak infusion black, the milk long gone. The Valle Maggia was brimming with turbulent, brown, muddy water, to the rim of the cliff on this side and was spreading across the pasture on the far side. Brian estimated that the water had to be at least a thousand metres deep. If that was the case everywhere… Ninety five percent of humanity lived below a thousand metres.
When Brian woke two days later he found Janice staring out of the window, wrapped in an old cardigan she had found upstairs, arms crossed over her breasts, at the rain dropping relentlessly from the sullen grey overcast. Brian put his arms around her and she lent back against him.
“Good morning my love,” he murmured into her ear, smelling the still fresh scent of her hair. He didn’t know how she did it. He could smell himself after forty days confined to the house and little bathing. It wasn’t the fresh clean smell from her.
“Can you believe it has rained for forty days and forty nights?” she said.
Brian thought for a moment and realised she was right.
“Biblical,” he said looking over her shoulder into the gloom beyond. “Wasn’t it forty days and forty nights they used in the Bible when they weren’t sure how long it was but were fairly sure it was quite a while?”
“No forty days and nights is what God thinks is usually the right time for things,” said Janice calmly.
Brian frowned at her words, he’d never thought of his wife as religious but perhaps all of this…
“Whenever God has something important to be done, it lasts for that length of time, well after he created the world that is. Noah, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, all had things to do that needed forty days and nights, “said Janice her tone calm, tranquil even.
“It’s the end of the world and it needed forty days and forty nights,” she said turning in my arms to face me.
“For the millennials it ended when the mobiles and internet went down ,” I said with a slight smile. Janice giggled a little at that then sobered.
“It is the end of the world though Brian. He couldn’t look at what you were doing to each other and the planet any more, so… here we are again.”
Brian put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her wonderful eyes frowning at her words.
“Janice, don’t be crazy, what do you mean ‘here we are again’?”
“Like Noah, though that wasn’t what really happened, the story of him and an ark. There were quite a few people and animals that survived on the high ground when the rains came the first time of course, not just Noah and his family. What would it have smelt like on board a small hand built wooden ship with all those animals?” she laughed and wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“It’s time darling,” she said quietly. “I’m so sorry, I have truly loved you all this time.”
“I love you,” said Brian looking at her with concern. He couldn’t understand why she was speaking in this way.
Janice took hold of his hand. “Come with me Brian, come with me outside please.”
Brian looked over her shoulder at the rain falling past the window but let her lead him to the door and out into the cold water that was now halfway up the meadow. They would soon have to go further up the mountain if they could, if any shelter could be found up there he supposed. They were soaked to the skin in moments. Janice led him beyond the house then stopped and turned her head to the skies. She let go of Brian’s hand and raised both arms up to the sky.
“Janice, we need to think about moving higher,” Brian said.
Janice turned her head towards him, those glorious eyes on his face. Smiled at him then said. “Goodbye Brian. I really am sorry, but I have no choice,” she turned back to the skies and above a circle of bright light appeared in the sky. The scintillating brightness descended through the raindrops to strike Janice and she slowly faded into the sparkles.
Brian stood staring at the space where his wife had been, the rain mixing with tears. He was unaware of the time he stood there before sinking slowly to his knees. He buried his hands in the mud and water swirling around him then raised his face to the clouds and howled his loss and despair at the uncaring sky.