Excerpt from The Storm (Chapter IV)

by Callum B. Downes

As soon as he reached the safety of his house, Billy launched himself into Mr Baker’s bedroom, hoping to find refuge in the forgiving arms of his Father. But the bedroom was empty. Billy ran frantically around the house, searching for anyone to cry on. He screamed the names of his family in desperation. He paused to listen for a response. Nothing but the drum of rain on the tin roof met his ears. A peculiar sensation took over him, as if his body was completely empty and he was floating through the air. He floated across the kitchen, down the hallway and into his room. Ever so gently, he drifted down into his bed, whispering the same words over and over. “Sorry Dad, I’m so sorry.” Then the weight of loneliness sunk his heart. It hammered his heart hard, down into the depths of his mattress, so it felt like he was drowning in his sheets. Somehow, within this struggle, he fell asleep. Yet his dreams were equally brutal.

Surrounding him from all directions, waves, as high as skyscrapers, swelled up and tumbled. Towering peaks and terrible troughs thrashed him about like a toy ship in a bath tub. Between dunking his head beneath the water and gasping for air above, he spotted a red light flashing in the distance, a few hundred metres away. Its light was strong on account of the enveloping darkness of the nigh time sea. Facing the light, he yelled for help, but that’s when he noticed that all was completely silent. Not even the raging sea produced a whimper, let alone his weakling voice. With great rapidity, the flashing red light grew fainter and smaller, until it was just a speck on the seas roller coaster horizon. A strong current was pulling him away from the hopeful flashing lamp. The current seemed to move faster every time he struggled against it. It was as if the more he tried to get where he wanted, the further it drifted away from his grasp. He sensed he was a great distance out to sea now. Perhaps the nearest person was a few thousand kilometres back toward the light, which had completely disappeared a few hours, or maybe seconds ago. Time didn’t exist right now, or was it back then. Nevertheless, shear dread pounded in his chest, as the ocean boosted him to the peak of the highest wave, before spitting him down into the dark depths below and crashing on top of him with the weight of a thousand mountains. Fighting to reach the surface, Billy thrashed his body about with all his strength. But up was down and down was up, or was it the other way around? Was right this side, or was that his left? Where were his hands, where was the light. Any light at all. Nothing made sense, only the certainty of drowning without anybody noticing. Would anybody even care if he was gone?

An arm shot down through the water and grabbed him by the shoulder. Which shoulder it was, Billy could not tell. With surprising speed he was pulled back up to the surface, coughing up great lung-fulls of salty water. When he eventually opened his eyes, he couldn’t make out the face of his saviour as it was still awfully dark. So instead, he reached out with his hands and touched the man’s face. He knew it must have been a man, due to the scraggly beard around his mouth. It was an old man too, because Billy could feel the wrinkles covering his cheeks and forehead. After scrutinising the old man’s face, Billy wrapped his arms around his back and felt something rather odd between his tight grip. At first he thought it was just a fur coat, but after a proper examination he was sure he could feel feathers. Yes, he was convinced that the man had feathers, as soft as sand, all over his back.

That’s when the first sound of the dream suddenly appeared. It was the unmistakable sound of his front door bursting open, followed by the gushing of a stream flowing into his house, down through the hallway and surrounding his bed in three feet of water. It was a scene that had often haunted his nightmares, ever since their little shack was flooded when he was four-and-a-half years old. The scariest part though, was that it was actually happening right now.

He was now wide awake and the flashing red light from his dream was right outside his window. It was a police rescue boat, searching for anyone trapped in their homes, most of which had flood waters lapping against their roofs.