Read by Nicky Diss
An alarm pricked her to half-consciousness. It sounded like the school bell, but from a strangely muffled distance. The thought that she had fallen asleep in class skittered across Honor’s brain. But then a roaring took over: the memory-echo of a great smashing whirl, of earth upheaving, and the present cyclone of raging wind outside. Of wind inside.
With the pain of a heavy slap, Honor woke fully on the floor of her bedroom. Furniture lay on its side; clothing spilled out of her fallen wardrobe like entrails slithering from a corpse. Harlequin, her plush raccoon, splayed paws-out against the far wall. A pang pierced her at the sight. Immediately, she felt silly for caring.
He’s just a toy, she thought. It. A childhood thing. I can’t take him to university.
Shards of glass stung her hands as Honor shifted onto her knees and pushed herself upright, sitting on her heels. She felt unsteady, as if the whole house were rocking.
“Mum?” she called. “Dad?”
She pushed against the wall to stand. A dull ache throbbed through her brain like a heavy bassline. Honor looked down at her twisted cotton pyjamas and brushed them straight.
Walking towards the door turned into a stagger. It’s like the floor’s downhill, she thought, confused.
She stepped out onto the small, gloomy landing. Her bedroom perched alone at the top of the tall terraced house. It was a poky attic, really, but Honor loved its angled ceiling and exposed beams.
It was too dark to see her way to the stairs. Honor groped for the light switch and flicked it, but darkness remained. She flipped the switch once more. Nothing.
“Mum? Dad?” she called again, louder. She held her breath to listen. An icy wave rolled over her heart.
She inched toward the staircase in her bare feet, hand on the wall. Her toes reached air beyond the top step. Sliding forward, she descended slowly.
The wind upstairs receded and Honor grew aware of a lapping sound. Her foot landed in something cold and wet. She stepped back hastily. Heart racing, Honor froze, trying to see through the darkness. Something glittered.
She bent down and stretched a hand toward the stair below. Fingers met coldness, and sank in. She patted the surface, there and further: water.
Honor drew back her arm. Grasping the banister, she leaned out as far as she could to peer at the floor below. The bathroom door was open, enough for a pale shaft from the shower window catch the water’s surface.
The landing was flooded. Water rose almost to the ceiling, slapping against the walls.
Scrambling and slipping, Honor clawed back up the stairs and ran to the corner of her room. She yanked open her backpack and shook out the contents. A torch thudded onto the floor. She snatched it up and dashed back to the stairs, shining the beam into the silver flood.
She set down the torch on the last dry step and plunged into the freezing water. The coldness gripped her heart; she forced herself to breathe evenly. There was about a half-metre space between the surface of the water and the ceiling. Honor frog-paddled out into the centre of the landing. The landing that was now a nightmarish kind of swimming pool.
She manoeuvred around the corner until she was treading water above the next set of stairs. Inhaling deeply, she sank into the murk and shoved off from the wall, diving down.
She kicked to the bottom of the stairs and reached the middle of her parents’ floor. No light pierced the water. Both bedroom and bathroom doors were closed. Something high and sharp sang in her ears.
She swam to the bedroom door and grasped the cold metal of the knob. She turned it and pushed, but the water weighed against her, a vast and heavy volume.
Panic scorched Honor’s throat. She tugged the knob violently with both hands, but the door remained sealed. Watertight.
Her lungs began to burn. Perhaps they escaped already, she thought. Perhaps they went out the window.
Honor pushed away from the door and swam toward the staircase. The pressure in her lungs had grown into a ball of fire in her chest. She flailed through the water toward the surface, catching the stairs’ carpeting with her fingernails. It gave softly, like drenched moss.
Honor broke through, gasping for air. Her waterlogged pyjamas dragged as she paddled back around and lunged up the final flight of stairs.
She raced into her bedroom, crossing to the window. Grey clouds billowed across the sky, low and thick. They surged like waves in a stormy sea, only above.
Looking through the broken glass, at first she was confused: A trick of the eye, of the glowering sky, made the city look like one rolling, glimmering sheet of grey.
Gripped with horror, Honor stared. She began to shake. She clutched the window ledge, broken glass piercing her hands. She squeezed harder, willing the pain to wake her.
The city was awash. Rooftops broke through the surface of an ocean. Farther away, apartment buildings and city skyscrapers seemed to connect sea and sky, so little distance remained between them. Some buildings were ablaze, black smoke rolling from broken towers to thicken the ceiling of cloud. Limp treetops sagged above the water on her street. Branches fluttered tired hands, like swimmers waving for rescue.
Honor punched out the remaining glass from the window and hoisted herself onto the ledge, leaning across to peer over the edge of the roof. The water rose about seven feet below - too far to reach the edge of the roof again to pull herself back up.
Honor ducked back into her room. Panic was spreading like an oil spill, blotting her thoughts. Concentrate. She had to think.
Her parents might still be down there. But if they were, by now they would have to be ...
Honor’s mind snapped shut against the thought. She dragged herself through the window and out onto the roof, inching down to the edge. Vertical pipes ran up to the gutter along the terraced row. The pipes were screwed to the brick in sections not far apart, providing handholds. They were probably secure enough to climb.
An icy blast of wind sliced to Honor’s core. The soaked pyjamas clung to her like seaweed. There was no point taking them off yet.
She stood at the edge of the roof and jumped.
Wind rushed to silence as Honor hit the water. As she plunged, she opened her eyes, but the churning depths made it difficult to see. She pulled upwards, kicking, and broke the surface, wiping tendrils of hair from her eyes.
She was treading water amid a gargantuan flood, no longer looking at the sweep of the changed landscape from above, but blindly struggling within the heart of it. Debris churned around her; the street was now a swirling river. Honor strained toward the house, against the flow. She reached out, grasped the top edge of a window and clung on.
She looked back at the mass of water. Heavy branches and jagged detritus littered the surface. Small fragments of people’s homes - chairs, a lampshade, books - bobbed past. Then something larger caught her eye. Something long. It floated closer.
Honor curled against the house in fright. She squeezed shut her eyes, but not seeing what passed felt even more terrifying. She opened them in time to witness the bloated corpse of an old woman drifting by.
The woman’s teeth bared through the puffy, pale flesh of her face. Her eyes bulged. Some cloth had wound around the lower part of her body and trailed after her in the water like a white flag.
Honor began to feel paralysed. Her numb body seemed oddly separate, hers yet not hers, as if it were merging with the body of water around it, water replacing the very blood in her veins.
“Help!” she shouted. The wind yawned and swallowed her cry. Then she screamed: not words, but sound; a howl from the depths of her being.
Heat rushed up from Honor’s core, blasting her resolve. She reached out to grab a floating branch and snapped off its thin end. Pointing it into the water like a sword, she dove and allowed her weight to drive the branch down. Rapidly, she reached the window below.
She pressed up to the glass and peered inside. The view was murky, but she could see drifting shapes. The furniture was floating in a room full of water. Something obscured the lower half of the window, blocking it from within.
Honor raised the heavy end of the branch in her right hand. She brought it down against the glass pane and felt the thud reverberate up her arm. The glass cracked, shooting an opaque splinter across the pane.
She drew her arm back to strike harder, but a figure revolving from the base of the window distracted her. Her grip on the branch loosened. It spiralled away.
Her blow had jarred the object into motion. What she saw first were the colourless strands of her mother’s fine hair, floating upwards, freed from gravity.
Honor clung to the ledge as the figure revolved. It drifted upwards and around. It was two: her mother and father, arms locked around each other. Their eyes were shut tight, as if alone in a slow dance. Their strained faces seemed etched with concentration, almost annoyance, like scholars in a noisy room. Among the bed and the drawers, the bedside tables and drifting sheets, they floated in a watery constellation.
Honor remained still, watching. A strange anesthesia washed over her anguish. A half-thought whispered that she could just hold on, stay here, and soon feel the relief of nothing at all. The familiar burning started to creep up from her lungs, but this time she could let it engulf her. The flames licked her throat. The pain built and almost became a welcome pleasure.
Around the figures spun, until Honor could see her mother’s face full on, cheek nestled in the crook of her father’s neck.
A jolt like lightening seared through her. Honor opened her mouth to gasp, and choked. In rushed salt water, thick with grainy matter. She released the window ledge and shot to the surface in a storm of bubbles. She broke through, hacking: half sobbing, half coughing up the filthy water.
Her heart beat like heavyweight punches. She was being washed along the row, away from the house. She swivelled and carved into the water with overhead strokes. Grabbing the nearest pipe, she pulled herself against the wall.
Honor grasped the strip of metal securing the pipe to the wall and dug her feet into the brick. Her soaked pyjamas weighed like hands pulling her down. She strained upwards, slipping, then managed to swing one foot up to wedge it between the pipe and the wall. Stepping up on the metal fastening, she reached the next handhold and hauled herself up and over the edge of the roof.
She lay there, clinging to the rough tiles. The sky growled and cracked overhead.
Heavily, she pushed herself onto hands and knees and crawled to her window. Curling purpled fingers around the ledge, she slid her drenched body through the opening and fell inside.
After a moment, she stood and peeled off her pyjamas. Balling a t-shirt from the floor, she scoured her clammy flesh and tugged on dry clothes. She sifted through the rubble of her clothing and packed quickly, as if for a camping trip.
She slung the backpack up and onto her shoulder before casting a last look around. Harlequin remained splayed against the far wall, paws flung outward as if waving goodbye.
Honor shook her head fiercely, ran over and picked him up. She tucked him into her pack’s outer pocket, zipped it closed and returned to the window without looking back.
© Melanie White, 2012
Anglo-American writer Melanie White returned to London last year after seven years of working as an arts journalist and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and New York City. She has written two feature screenplays and is currently working on a novel.