DATE: October 1999
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never have been, never will be.
WARNING: This is NOT a nice story. Rated strong R for the situations depicted in it.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: At the end
DEDICATION: For those who left us and for those who stayed behind.
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x xx x x x x x x x x x x x x
At the beginning, I didn't mind the rain.
Well, I did notice it, of course. It made our investigation move at snail pace and people who I'm sure were nice under normal circumstances were impatient and snapping at each other. My mood was also slowly but surely turning into bitchy. Prime time bitchy.
No one had warned me about the weather. Nobody had told me I'd be better off packing boots and wash-n'-wear slacks instead of my suede pumps and dry-cleaning pantsuits. Ruining 500 dollars worth of clothes and footwear would even make my mother bitch about the weather.
Mulder's attitude wasn't helping at all. This case had not been the X-File it had seemed to, but a rather lowly criminal we were now stuck with trying to capture. Mulder kept whining about it and quite frankly he was getting on my nerves faster than usual.
And it kept raining.
Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been a rural area. Many of the roads we had to travel were still unpaved and I was starting to get quite annoyed by the amount of mud everywhere. Mulder didn't seem to mind it much at the beginning, but by the end of the third day he seemed more interested in the amount of water the creeks and streams surrounding the area were carrying.
I should have been paying attention too. I have heard bits and snips of conversations here and there and the locals seemed worried about the water level in the river surrounding the town. There also seemed to be some concern regarding the dam some 80 miles north of the area, and the rumours about the rain not stopping in a week or two were the most common topic for Smalltalk in every interview we conducted.
But I honestly thought we'd be heading home in the next 48 hours and I never considered the possibility of something actually happening to be... well... something other than a remote possibility. Besides, you know how town folks talk when they are in company of strangers: the stream is a river, the hill a mountain... In short, I though it was just talk.
But I was wrong.
We had decided to go back to the police station after lunch and doing some reports back at the motel. I remember arriving there and swearing under my breath as yet another pair of shoes got ruined as I stepped into a puddle. I vaguely recall noticing in the midst of my anger that the water that was coating the street was reaching sidewalk level.
Mulder ordered room service and we started reviewing our notes while munching on hamburgers. As was his custom, Mulder began stealing my fries after he had wolfed down his. I gave him a stern look when he got the last piece of bread and soaked it on ketchup.
"You never know when you'll eat next, Scully. Got to be prepared".
As it turns out, we never made it back to the police station.
First sound of trouble was the splashy sound Mulder's foot made when he got up from the bed. We both looked down and were a bit surprised when we noticed the carpet was soaking wet.
I checked my watch. "This isn't possible".
"What?" asked Mulder, looking around the room.
"If this is what it looks like, the water level has risen over 12 inches in less than 2 hours. And that's impossible. Unless... " I couldn't bring myself to finish the thought.
"Unless the river overflowed. Come on, Scully. Let's get out of here".
Mulder opened the door and we got a good look at the situation at hand. To say it was a shock to both of us would have been an understatement.
Sadly, it proved to be just the first in a long line of shocks we'd experience in the next 72 hours.
At the sound of the door opening, at least a dozen heads turned around. We recognised the motel's manager and the restaurant's waitress among them. They looked at us with a pleading expression on their faces.
Some people were taking their things our of their rooms and trying to reach their cars in the parking lot. But that was just a desperate attempt. Water was running mid-door in most sedans and there was no way they'd be able to open the car doors, let alone get inside without getting the car all wet. And the odds of the engine working were severely stacked against them.
The manager was trying to calm the people around him. He wasn't doing a very good job and he knew it. He decided to leave the job in our hands, so to speak.
"This nice man here is a Federal agent. He and his partner are trained to deal with situations like this. They'll tell us what to do".
Twenty-odd pair of eyes settled on us. You could read all kinds of hopes and fears there and I felt the urge to turn around and lock myself back in the room we've just left. And one look at Mulder told me he'd gladly join me.
But years of training kicked in and we were soon directing people back to their rooms to pick their valuables and put on some warm clothes and head upstairs to the second floor.
While Mulder directed the traffic I went back to our rooms to retrieve our cell phones, a couple more cell batteries, a flashlight and my laptop. On second thought I put the puter back in the highest shelf inside the closet and grabbed another two clips of ammo. A couple of well-timed warning shots might prove to be more valuable than 6 months worth of expenses reports.
I saw Mulder waiting for me at the stairs while helping a pregnant woman with a 5 yr. old child carry a blanket. I recognised her from a picture I had seen back at the sheriff's office. She was Deputy Anderson's wife.
I also noticed that the water level was steadily rising. If it kept up like that it would reach the 3 feet mark before nightfall. Thunder overhead announced that the rain was not going to stop any time soon. I began to feel nervous. How bad were things going to get?
Mulder saw me coming and turned to speak to the child at his side.
"Donna, this is Dana. She's going to help you go up the stairs. Give her your hand and you'll be just fine".
Donna looked up at me with expectation and I gave her the most encouraging smile I could muster. She smiled back hesitantly. She might have been young, but she was no fool: she knew something was wrong.
When we reached the second floor I noticed that the manager had opened several rooms and had brought out chairs near to the railings. People were sitting there just... waiting. A few hushed conversations here and there, but basically they were sitting there looking at the rain and how the water was slowly but steadily raising.
I felt a tug at my hand and glanced down to look at Donna. The child had a troubled expression in her face.
"Dana... does it hurt to drown?"
My stomach tied on a knot and I had to choke on my own feelings. How do you answer a question like that?
"I guess it must hurt a bit. I mean... you die, don't you?"
I couldn't lie to her. Not even if I had wanted to do so.
"I don't know for sure, darling. I guess it must hurt a bit."
She looked up at me and nodded. It was as if she understood what was happening better than I did. Part of me wanted to hug her and reassure her, but there was nothing to reassure her of. I had no idea how we were going to get out of that situation, or how bad things would get before it was truly over.
I felt Mulder touch my shoulder gently. He gestured to a group of 4 chairs where Donna's mother was already sitting on. I took the girl's hand and we walked to where her mother was. We sat down in silence and waited for something else to happen.
I noticed that people were wading through the water, now at thigh level, trying to reach the little church that laid nestled on the side of the hills. Whole families moving together towards the temple, looking for comfort and shelter. Part of me wished I could go in with them, to find the well known solace I usually felt amidst familiar images of saints and angels.
Mulder seemed to be more taken by the images of people trying to salvage what they could from their homes. Water was reaching waist level fast and an amused smile played on his lips when he noticed an old vw beetle lazily floating down the street.
"Look, mommy! Geysers! Like Yellystone!" exclaimed Donna, with glee.
The 'geysers' were none other than the manholes exploding upwards. The drainage system couldn't take it anymore and was finding a way out in the only fashion it knew: upwards.
Suddenly, a tremor shook the building. The hard scientist in me was quickly calculating the possibilities of an earthquake and a flood affecting the same area at the same time, while my Irish catholic persona was mentally reviewing the Apocalypses chapters in search of a parallel explanation.
A loud distant rumble accompanied the next tremor. Everyone stood up and seemed to be gazing in the same direction.
"What the hell was that?" asked Mulder to the manager.
"I'm afraid that was the dam", was his laconic answer.
"Dam?" I asked, still processing the information.
But Mulder beat me to the punch line, by processing the important part of the sentence first.
"Was? What do you mean was?"
"Just that," answer a man standing next to us, "the dam finally gave away under the weight of the water."
So we just stood there in petrified silence, waiting to see if it was indeed the dam breaking and what was going to happen.
I've seen impressive sights in my life, but nothing had prepared me for what I saw that afternoon. Millions of tons of water rushing forward, engulfing what had been a city only hours before. Cars, cattle, cabins, trees... all bobbing up and down the water. I wasn't naive enough as to assume people were not being pulled into a certain death by the water avalanche. But I was praying with all my heart that those who had been unfortunate enough as to be within it's reach had had a quick merciful and relatively painless death.
The voice of the manager pulled me out of my semi-trance like state. He was urging us to go into the third floor as fast as we could. One look at the swirling mass headed our way made me wonder if the third floor was going to be safe enough. But there were no more floors to run too, and the rain had not let up one bit, so the prospect of going up into the roof was none too appealing.
But up was better than down.
We hurried upstairs as fast as we could, but it wasn't easy. Most people would stop to look back once or twice. I'll admit to have done it myself. The sight of so much destruction headed our way was as powerful as a magnet and hard to resist. It took plenty of will power not to stand there and watch, mesmerised.
It couldn't have taken us more than 5 minutes to reach the roof, but by the time we were all gathered there the water was rushing past the building, making it shudder and sway. Donna held tightly unto me and I was silently praying that the building will resist long enough for the worst of it to pass.
Fifteen minutes went by. Twenty. Half an hour later the tremors seemed to die down. Still clutching Donna in my arms I ventured a look towards town.
How I wish I hadn't.
Except for a few rooftops with people on them, very much like us, the only sight around was water. Dark, murky, swirling water. And debris. Tons and tons of it, bobbing up and down in the flow. There was something bothering me, and I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was when I heard a woman behind me gasp and point.
I followed her finger's direction only to be met by nothingness. It took me a few moments to realise what was wrong. The hill where the church had been was nowhere to be found. Nothing, zero, zip, nada. Only emptiness filled the space where a beautiful hill had been only minutes ago.
Mulder's voice broke the eerie silence that seemed to have fallen upon us. 'It's gone. All gone. Hill, cemetery, church... everything was swept away by the water...'
'But surely Father Patrick is all...'
The woman, whom I recognised as the coffee shop waitress, could not finish the sentence. Reality hit her full force.
Father Patrick was not going to be all right. Neither were the other 90 or so persons that had looked for shelter in his church. They had been dragged away by the water, and chances of survival were almost unexistant.
I shuddered at the thought. Those people had gone into their church looking for comfort and had only found death. Mulder would have loved the irony of this, but it filled me with pain. I could only hope that their faith had kept them oblivious to their fate until it was too late for them to be afraid.
Little by little the people around us gathered enough courage as to ask their fears out loud.
'It's getting too dark to see how damaged is Main Street'
'I hope my kids decided to go up to the attic and not down to the basement'
'I wonder if the folks who wanted to drive to higher ground made it or not...'
'Do you think my husband made it?' Donna's mom was asking Mulder, and I tried visualising the sheriff's office. Charming and quaint, it's one floor wood structure wouldn't have resisted the water's assault. And had Deputy Anderson's been inside... I didn't want to think about it.
'Do you think they released the prisoners at the county jail?', the hotel's manager asked. Mulder shook his head gloomily. 'My brother was a good for nothing crook... but still I don't think he deserved to drown like a rat in one of those cells...'
No matter what they tell you, even after years and years of doing it, facing victim's loved ones never becomes easy. You never know what to say or what physical response would be adequate. After a while, saying 'I'm sorry' begins to sound hollow to your own ears.
24 persons around me were beginning to mourn their families and friends, their lives as they knew then, and I couldn't come up with one single thing to say or do to make any of them feel better.
Instead, my methodical mind was calculating the extent of the damage, how soon it'd be before we got help form the outside, if there were food and drinking water stacked safely somewhere, how to get in touch with the rest of the world, how to tell my mother I had managed to survive once more...
Mercifully, the rain was letting up a bit. Mulder motioned me to the corner, so I turned Donna over to her mother and walked towards him.
'Give me you cell phone, I'm going to try reaching 911 or any other emergency numbers. We're going to need help to get out of here.'
I nodded and handed him my phone. Turning my back to him I began peering down, trying to make out something in the dark which had quickly descended upon us. I saw a form sliding on the water towards us and quickly trained my lamp at it.
What I saw has pierced my heart and soul in more ways that I'll ever be able to explain. I think it affected Mulder as well. He saw them as clearly as I did. He turned around just in time to see them. I guess I must have gasped too loud.
Huddled together, with a expression of both resignation and acceptance, were two kids. Brother and sister by the looks of it, and none of them older than 8. Someone (a desperate mother, perhaps?) had tied them to the top of a Formica table with the hope it will remain afloat with the kids on it.
Unfortunately, hope had not been enough.
I turned my back on those kids as they continue their voyage into the unknown. I know I must have tried to recover their bodies in order to conduct a proper ID and put to rest their parents worries. But deep inside I knew there was not going to be anyone asking around if they had been seen or not. 'Roses drowning in the storm...' I heard Mulder mutter and looked at him questioningly. 'It's a song... I don't remember who sang it or the title... but that part of the lyrics always struck me as weird. Now I understand what it means. Those kids... those kids are like roses drowning in the storm, Scully.'
I nodded. Somehow, what Mulder had said made sense amidst all the senseless destruction around us. There were only some 100 plus people standing on roofs around the city, and I was inclined to believe we were the sole survivors of an almost 1500 inhabitants town.
The church was gone, but the discreet local whorehouse was still standing. Mulder and I will never know if our local killer is dead or alive. Hundreds of families will have to wait weeks, perhaps months, to find out if their loved ones are here or gone.
Mulder gave me a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, as if he knew what inner turnmoils I was surrendering to. One sideways look at him and I knew he not only understood them, but shared them as well. Once more I didn't feel it was just me against the world, and the knowledge both comforted me and gave me strength.
I look ahead and see the townsfolk huddling together. They need us now to find some sense of direction. It'll take time before they can stand on their own two feet. It'll be months and maybe years before this town goes back to normal, whatever normal will be for these people.
I'm confident it'll happen sooner or later.
After all, rosebushes bloom in spite of the storms.
This is not a work of fiction, except for the use of Mulder and Scully. The events portrayed in this story are real and took place during the first week of October 1999 in my homestate. It was declared the worst disaster in the area since 1912, and though the official death and disappeared count came to 1,670, most of us feel the government is missing a zero in there.
The people in the story do exist. They are my neighbours, my family, people in town. I've stolen their words during the first 24 hours of the flood to make up this story.
I had nightmares for a couple of weeks after the incidents took place. A friend of mine advised me to put my feelings in paper and turn that writing into a cathartic experience. It took me 3 months to unburden myself of the memories.
Now I'm sharing them with you. I didn't have this story betaed cause I wanted it to be my gut feeling. You'll excuse any grammatical mistakes and oddities. English is not my native tongue.