by K.L. James
Cassie and her family live at the mercy of a changing climate.
|As lightning flashed outside and thunder shook her bunk bed, Cassie was immediately awake blinking in the dim light. Right away she knew something was wrong. Something other than her alarm clock had woken her up. Thinking it must still be the middle of the night, Cassie was about to lay her head back down when the scrape of a spoon pulled her attention towards the window.
Despite the pounding rain, her mother was cooking by an open window. She was not using the electric hot plate but rather a small cook stove powered by vegetable oil.
“What’s up with the electricity?” Cassie called down.
“The solar panels haven’t been able to run for days with this weather and the backup batteries died overnight,” her mother called back.
At least that explained the open window and the lack of lights in the small room. Another clap of thunder rattled the walls as Cassie climbed down from her bunk bed. Stretching, she walked three steps across the room and peered into the pot her mother was stirring. Turning her nose up at the foul-smelling gruel, she walked towards the closet to get dressed.
Flicking the spoon in Cassie’s direction, her mother called out, “You’re lucky you get a hot meal at all. Everyone else left early to reinforce the dam.”
Rolling her eyes, Cassie began looking through a pile of clothes for something that fit her and did not smell too bad. Finally, she chose a pair of patched-up pants that she rolled up to her calves and a flannel shirt.
Joining her mom at the small table, she slowly ate her mush, trying to savor every flavorless bite. After scraping her bowl twice, her stomach was not full but at least she was warm. Walking over to the window she stuck her bowl out into the rain to wash it off before placing it on a shelf.
“Better hurry and take the boat,” her mother called as Cassie slowly pulled on her plastic boots and raincoat. They were a little snug because her mother had crochet them a couple of years ago from old plastic bags but they kept out the rain better than anything else. There were not many resources left in the world but the supply of used plastic bags seemed to be endless. Once the storm was over, Cassie was going to need to go to the old trash heap to look for more. Although her ancestors had not left much behind, they had certainly left a bunch of plastic.
When Cassie reached the bottom of the stairs, she groaned as she stepped into an inch of water. She could not remember a time when the water had entered the first floor of the house. Her mother told tales of people once living in the basement but it had been flooded for as long as Cassie could remember. A few years ago, it was stripped of everything so it could be used as a cistern for the droughts that were sure to come. Cassie was so distracted by the water, she did not notice old man Santiago stick his head out his door.
“Bet you’re glad that your family lives upstairs, even if your room is tiny,” he grumbled as he tried to push water out of his room into the entryway of the building.
This house had once held only one family, now seven lived in it. Every room had been converted into small apartments as the population grew. It seemed hard to believe that people had once had time, money, and space to relax. Her family barely had the money to eat and had to scavenge through the garbage for necessary supplies. As Cassie opened up the front door, she was greeted with more water. Forgetting about how much she hated her ancestors, she concentrated on getting to the boat without getting swept away. The boat was tied to the side of the house and it was not much. It was a simple canoe that her family had patched up several times but it still floated so that counted for something today. She tipped the boat on its side to empty at least some of the water and then crawled inside. Slowly she rowed towards the dam. Sometimes getting stuck on unseen obstacles, sometimes passing over deep ditches she knew were several feet below her.
As she neared the dam, the rain began pounding so hard she could hardly see in front of her while the wind came up and pushed the boat away from the dam. Fighting the storm, she desperately looked for her father. Finally, she spotted him near a weak point in the dam already shooting out a small spray of water.
Cassie began rowing towards him as fast as she could, ignoring her burning muscles. She nearly reached him, when her ears popped and a sound louder than she had ever heard before surrounded her.
“Tornado,” someone along the dam cried but Cassie could not see anything through the unrelenting rain.
“Father,” she yelled over the noise and reached a hand towards him.
Her fingers brushed his before the world broke into chaos. One moment her father was in front of her, the next moment she was thrown into the bottom of the boat as it twisted and turned in all directions. The boat spun around as it was lifted, only to be slammed down again and sent turning in the opposite direction. Cassie yelled for her father as she braced herself at the bottom of the boat.
Finally, the boat came to rest and Cassie lifted her head. Everything was gone; the dam, her family, her friends. The only thing left was Cassie, her boat, and the very tops of trees, the rest of her world was covered in muddy water and floating debris.