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In the second winner of our Environmental Disaster flash fiction competition – inspired by our latest Book Club pick, Astra – FC Malby imagines a world under floodwater.
A lone doll floats across the darkness of the water filling the room, its hair stretched out in wet strands like pondweed. The television – still working, blasting news of submerged doorways and floating cars – shows a woman asking for help. Her daughter hasn’t been seen for a few hours. Her eyes stare into the camera, expressionless, as though she is being interrogated.
I stare back at her, wondering if the power will cut out, turning the screen black; her face disappearing into an abyss. The last image I saw on a screen was a tightrope of wires stretched out across a void; the road buried deep underground with a truck, the straight white lines of a zebra broken by a two meter hole: a scene of a crater on the moon. Cracked tarmac lay four meters below the surface, the zebra lines zigzagging and disappearing.
I wonder whether all signs of life in the house have gone. I hear a creak and look up. The plaster cracks and part of the ceiling falls into the room across from where I am standing. Waterproof boots are useless if the water levels are rising. I struggle to lift a leg, pulling my thigh with both hands, and wade across to the doll. She looks peaceful. I hear a scream outside and the power goes off.
The room is cavernous in the darkness – a shaft of light forcing its way through a window in the kitchen – the silence, eerie. The same stillness settles before a tornado: The air is free of movement. I pick up the doll and tuck her under my arm. She drips cold water from her hair.
Our daughter arrived at two in the morning almost three years ago. There was quiet, everything in the room was motionless. And then she arrived. Earth sleeps in the moments before an event. But it doesn’t: Lava lays hidden in the depths, heating and expanding, wrestling for space. It waits for enough pressure to force itself to the surface, spewing the contents from its core. It is a formidable moment.
Torchlight pierces the darkness.
“Anyone in here?” One muffled voice is followed by another.
“Hello.” The sound ricochets off the walls.
I should answer but I can’t. Something prevents any sound from forming. I can’t leave. I wait for her face to reappear on the screen. I wait for my wife to tell me our girl is safe. I look again at the doll and hope it’s a sign that my daughter will find me. She’ll swim towards me and I’ll tuck her under my arm.
The wet strands of hair are still dripping. I feel cold. I should leave, follow the torch light and walk out. Another piece of plaster falls but I cannot move, my feet fixed to the ground, my boots filling with cool rainwater. I had wanted to leave before this happened. We saw warnings but it was too fast, and my wife assured me we would be fine. Now she has disappeared into the black of the screen, escaping while I stayed to search for our girl. The press reeled her in, thrusting microphones under her stunned face. Always trust your gut, my father would say. I should have listened, and I know she’s gone.
I wade out towards the kitchen light and try the door but the pressure is too great. I smash a window and pull my body out, the water sweeping me into the daylight with pieces of loose debris. Labour pains prepare the body for life. Now I am powerless, it’s too late. I might have saved her but it’s too late.
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About fiona malby
F.C. Malby grew up in East Anglia and has taught English in the Czech Republic, the Philippines and London. Her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle won The People's Book Awards 2013. Her short fiction has been longlisted in The New Writer Annual Prose and Poetry Prizes 2012 and is published in various online journals.