Saturday, January 1, 2000

Through The Monsoon

"Are you sure we'll be safe up here?"

"I don't know, Laur." Kate's head rested on my shoulder, taking advantage of the quiet moment to doze. "I don't think there's anywhere that's terribly safe anymore. But I think we'll be alright."

"Okay, thanks."

I smiled, and we turned again to look down at the lobby below us, and out through the lobby windows.


The high, ceiling lights in our covered mall had gone out last week, and nobody bothered to fix them. The lobby below us was dark and empty--thoroughly raided of anything useful. The doors and first floor windows were blocked by a makeshift barricade. Our "camp"-- Tom and Laura, Kate and myself--was the best vantage point, but we had claimed it early; there was another with more floor space but didn't stick out nearly as far about twenty feet further along the balcony.


Dark shapes moved in the haze of endlessly falling rain, backlit by the few remaining working street lamps. Some appeared inhuman, distorted by the weather, the weak, irregular lighting, and out overactive imaginations. Some might have been human, but nobody wanted to take their chances. The rest were--

There was a sudden banging  on the front doors, and a calling for help. Those of us inhabiting the camps along the balcony's edge glanced down at the barricade as it shuddered, but held. A few brave souls approached and started opening a hole to see through. I reached out and turned off our lantern. My three companions glared at me, but I put my index finger to my lips.

"Douse your lights!" I shouted out, and soon heard it carried down the line; fading lights following close after. Many of the inner camps obeyed as well, and the rest either shielded or dimmed their lamps.

Kate's hand found mine and gripped it tightly, loosening only slightly when her eyes finished adjusting to the gloom. She shivered suddenly, and I wrapped my arm around her before I realized why. The hole in the barricade was whistling, air screaming through, and as the hole widened, it deepened in tone.

Somebody called out, but it was already too late. The banging resumed, and the improvised wall shook, weakened, and started to crumble. The three formerly brave souls bolted, screaming.

I reached for Laura with my free hand, and Tom with the one across Kate's shoulders, bringing us closer together. "Stay here, stay quiet, stay close." I pulled out of the loop, pushing Laura and Kate closer together. Laura grabbed her gratefully, and we held Kaate before should could object. "If you come with me, you won't be able to hear me scream like a little girl if something goes wrong," I whispered in her ear. She smiled briefly, forgetting herself for a moment, then remembered. Her mouth was a thin, flat line.

Sshe grabbed my chin suddenly and kissed me. "Come back."

"I will."

Kate let go.

We had constructed our own personal barricade, in addition to those at the front doors and windows and on the stairs, and to get around it without deconstructing it, I had to climb over the glass railing and inch my way around the outside, holding on with my toes and fingers, hanging over the long drop.

Back, relatively safe on the balcony and the opposite side of the obstruction, I gave the floor two knock, heard three, and returned one, before moving on across the second floor, my eye long used to the dark and shadows between and within camps. I stopped at the first few along the way that the front barricade had partly fallen and maybe compromised, and soon saw their members spreading out and sharing it with the rest, helping to quell any panic. They each bid I stay, but I kept on my route. I checked on the stairs' blockade, and made sure the camps nearest were steadfast in their watch over it, keeping it intact and secure, regardless the calls emanating from below, even from those who had decided to stay on the first floor.

All of the stores around the second floor were full, and as they heard the news, their security grate came down and locked. Those stores that still had merchandise racks and those fortunate enough to get behind them peered around them warily.

Original, no flash

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