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Rated: ASR · Short Story · History · #2199892
Written for the Writer's Cramp Challenge 9/5/19. Inspired by the Boston Molasses Flood.

I don't know where to start, really, for it took us all a while to understand what was happening. By the time we understood, it was too late for some. Honestly, I'd have never believed it to be possible if I had not seen it with my own eyes. I'll start at the beginning, before it happened.

We'd had a cold, winter. Bitter, it had been. Not so much snow, but ice everywhere. You had to wrap up warm if you were stepping outside otherwise you'd have likely got bitten by the frost. That day, though, was not quite so cold. Icicles were beginning to drip and some of the shallower patches of ice had begun to melt. Some say that might have made it happen, but I don't know about that.

What I do know is that there were more people about. Not only those going about their labors, but there were women out to go to the stores. Children were out, playing in the streets for the first time in days.

If you ask me, it's a miracle that more did not lose their lives.

The first thing that made me think something was wrong was this tremor. It felt like the ground beneath my feet was juddering and shaking. And then it just stopped. At first, I thought I'd imagined it, but the faces of the people around me soon told me different. Whatever it was, it had been real.

Those huge steel tanks were a familiar sight. Molasses, that's what they were made to hold. Imagine how much it took to fill one of those! What drew my eyes to it? I don't know but the silence that followed the shaking felt wrong. We knew something bad was about to happen.

The bang when it came was a loud, sharp. Then there followed a rapid pop, pop, pop. It was like we were under attack from someone and we all began to panic, diving this way, running that way.

I remember there was this little girl; just standing there she was, crying. I picked her up and holding her under my arm, I ran. Her mother was there and she started to thank me for rescuing her daughter, but then her expression turned to one of horror. She turned and ran, pulling the girl along behind her.

I smelled it before I saw it. We were used to the molasses smell in the air, but not like this. It was so strong, so sweet, it made me feel sick. I turned around and there it was... this huge brown wave of molasses, heading towards us. It was like the sea, only thick and brown.

The panic that had been there before was nothing, not compared to what there was then. This river, it ripped whole buildings from where they stood; pulling them apart. Chunks of roofs, walls and doors were being flung everywhere. People were being hit, were stumbling and then being engulfed by the molasses.

Have you ever seen a fly trapped in syrup? It tries to unstick itself and just makes itself more stuck. That was what it was like. Horses were being knocked from their feet and in their struggle to get up they got stuck and then the river just roared up and swallowed them.

I was lucky, I missed the worst of it. I saw people wading waist deep in it, trying to find their way out of the goo. Some gave up trying and sank down beneath the surface, others were knocked down by debris. And any child that was out there? Well, that wave would have been taller than any of the younger ones.

I still have nightmares about it. Drowning in water would be bad enough, but I would have rather that than being pulled under and choked by that molasses. I reckon you'd have been dead before it drowned you.

It seemed to last forever, but it couldn't have done. The tank could have only held so much. Once it emptied, at least the surging force was gone. We were still stuck though, lots of us. We grabbed hold of each others hands and if one of us should tire, the others would keep them up on their feet.

Once we made it out of that sticky river we just sat there, too shocked and exhausted to stay upright. It was hard to move with our arms and legs sticking, our feet gluing themselves to the ground. And the smell! Oh, it was enough to choke a man, it really was!

Can you smell it now? That was over a year ago and the sweetness still lingers. It's soaked right in to the ground, I reckon. No amount of cleaning up is going to get rid of it.

You know what the miracle was? Only twenty one people lost their lives! Lots and lots were injured and nearly all of us have been left with this curse of a cough. I reckon the sticky fumes have got in and coated the lungs. Lots of horses never made it out, and there was many a family that lost a pet that day.

What caused it? Who was to blame? Well, that I don't think I'll ever know. Maybe it was the people that were working there, or the way the tank was built. On the other hand, maybe no one was at fault; just the weather.

(910 words)

Inspired by the Boston Molasses Flood that took place on 1/15/1919. Facts sourced from Wikipedia.com.

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