*A quick note: This is April’s short story, just a little late. Life happens, right? Anyway, enjoy, and be sure to check back at the end of the month, when I’ll post a story for May!!*
The heat came first. It scorched the newly green grass and wilted the daffodils to brown, drooping husks, and we all sat and languished under the bright, white sun. We couldn’t remember a spring drought so long and miserable. And so when the rain came, first as only a gentle patter, all we felt was the sweet sense of damp, cool, long overdue relief.
On the day the heavy gray clouds rolled in, just after lunchtime, Mr. Holley’s rickety tan truck made its way down the gravel holler and up our driveway. We heard him coming long before we caught sight of him. Mama was sitting on the carport, stringing beans for dinner, and I was at her feet, playing jacks.
“Afternoon, Mr. Holley,” Mama said.
Holley tipped his straw hat and told her, “Y’all better get ready.”
“What for?” This was me, my head tilted up and my hands stilled for a moment. The jacks and ball lay strewn around my scabbed-over knees.
Old Mr. Holley was known to all of us to be a little different. No one would call him crazy, not exactly, but he just seemed to look at the world in a way that others around the valley couldn’t understand. I thought he might be some kind of magic. Mama thought he was touched in the head, which is a thing we used to say, back then. Whatever the case, when Mr. Holley came to your door with a warning, you were just as likely to listen as not, depending on the day of the week and whether the sun had come up that morning.
“Rain’s fixin’ to pick up,” Holley said. “I reckon it’ll flood by Thursday.”
“After all this heat,” Mama said, “a good rain won’t hurt.”
“A little would be fine,” Holley said. “But I’m telling you, expect a flood. A big one.”
Mama nodded and said, “We’ll make sure we have oil and some water in the tub.”
Mr. Holley moved on after that, up and down the hollers and all through the valley, and despite his warnings, we just weren’t all the worried. No one could remember the valley ever having flooded, not in their grandparents’ time, or their grandparents’ grandparents’ time.
The rain started in the evening, just before dinner.
“Good for the apple trees,” said Pa, home from his day shift at the garage. “Especially after the drought.”
Mama told him what Mr. Holley had said, and Pa just shook his head and sighed.
“That poor man,” he said. “I remember him from when I was a little boy. Not quite right, but he’s always been a gentle soul.”
And that was that, at least for a few days. Mama didn’t make sure we had extra lamp oil or food, didn’t fill the tub with water, and Pa didn’t much worry about the house.
“Even if it did flood,” he said, “and it won’t…”
Here, he looked at me, his face calm and steady and brave.
“…but even if it did, we’re high up enough here that we’ll be just fine. Don’t you worry.”
Still, the rain didn’t stop. That first night, it fell in fits and starts, light showers and big, slow drips. But as the days wore on, sodden and muddy, it grew. Mists became walls, drips burst wide open into waterfalls, and I sat by the window, watching and waiting, afraid that Mr. Holley might just have been right after all.
Mama spotted me as she came through with the vacuum cleaner.
“Don’t you worry,” she told me.
“But it’s never rained like this before,” I said.
“Oh, it has. Trust me. I’ve been around a while longer than you.”
She put her hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze, and left a kiss on the top of my head. And even though she smiled at me, I could see something behind her eyes. Something tense and tight and all coiled up. I know now that it looked a lot like worry.
That night, sitting around the table eating soup beans and cornbread, we got the first report. It came from Mrs. Fugate, who lived just around the corner from the old red barn by the road. She’d walked over with a basket of oatmeal cookies, now drenched beyond recognition. Her shoes showed it, and she apologized up and down for tracking mud all over Mama’s kitchen floor.
“I sure am sorry,” she said, every word coming out faster and faster. “I just felt like I had to let you know. There’s water over by the wayside, out on the highway.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Mama said.
“The Warners and the Blackwells have gone to stay with family up the mountain. Left this afternoon.”
“Oh,” Mama said, and sat down in the nearest chair.
“They’re saying it’ll head towards town next. Jonas and I are leaving in the morning. Better safe than sorry.”
Mrs. Fugate left in a bigger hurry than when she came in, still apologizing for the mess, and Mama looked at Pa.
“We’ll be fine,” he said, and walked into the living room.
We heard the TV click on, and the droning sound of the news.
“Go on to bed,” Mama told me. “And don’t be afraid. Linda Fugate’s always going on about something.”
I tried to sleep that night. I tried my hardest. But all I could hear was the never-ending whirr of the rain, and all I could picture when I closed my eyes was water, a frightening rush of dark, powerful water. I’d never thought much about it before, but it hit me pretty hard that night, as I lay in the dark, that I didn’t know how to swim.
We woke up that morning on an island.
“How…” whispered Mama.
All around us, brown, muddy water lapped at the hillside. Pa stared at it from the carport.
“We’re high enough,” he said.
“Thank goodness,” Mama replied. “But what about everybody else? Oh, those poor people!”
“Nothing we can do,” Pa said. “Nothing but wait.”
In a million years, I don’t think we could have ever imagined this. People chose the valley because it was peaceful, because it was quiet, because it snowed just right in winter, and rained just right in spring, and the lightning bugs came out every year by the first day of summer vacation. There were no surprises in the valley, and life could go on day to day to day with certainty and rhythm.
“God almighty,” Mama whispered.
And we all just stood, stock still and in shock, until the terrible silence was broken by the hum, somewhere off in the distance, of a motor.
“Who on earth…” started Pa.
But we knew. We knew who. And it was no surprise when Mr. Holley rounded the corner in a small wooden boat, big enough for himself and maybe four other people.
“Holley,” called Pa.
“Mornin’,” Mr. Holley called back.
He pulled as close as he could get to the house. We could see that he had bags and boxes with him.
“I’ve just dropped off medicine for Ms. Amos,” he said.
“She’s okay?” Mama wringed her hands.
“Oh, fine. I told her what was coming same day I told you. She was ready.”
“Do you know about any others?” Pa asked.
“I’ve checked on most everybody,” Mr. Holley said. “The Fugates left last night. Only y’all and the Taylors left to go.”
“Holley,” Pa said, “how in the world did you come by a boat?”
“I built it,” Mr. Holley said. “Knew I’d need it. Just felt like the right thing to do.”
“You built it…” Mama said. And then she laughed out loud.
“Don’t y’all worry too much now,” Mr. Holley said, as if he hadn’t heard her at all. “Rain’s set to stop tonight. I reckon it might take a few days for the water to recede, but I brought y’all some water and jerky.”
“Thank you,” Mama said. “Thank you so much, Mr. Holley.”
“I have to get going now,” he said. “Still have to check on the Taylors, like I said, and Beula Price needs some kibble for the hounds.”
“Sure,” Pa said.
“I can drop back by, if you need anything,” Holley offered.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Pa answered. “But you keep yourself safe, Holley.”
We said some quick goodbyes, and Mr. Holley pulled away in his ramshackle boat and was out of sight within a minute.
“Well, I never…” started Mama.
“I know,” said Pa.
“How do you reckon he knew?”
“Good guesser?” Pa said. “Either that, or we all need to start really listening to Mr. Holley, don’t we?”
The floodwaters were gone in days, and the rain tapered off to reveal beautiful, blue, sunny skies. The destruction, the mess and the mud, it was a sight, but everyone, and I mean everyone was safe. Even Beula Price’s hounds. The papers called it a miracle. Mama did, too, and Pa always listened a little closer when Mr. Holley came to call.
To this day, if it weren’t in the record, I’d think it was all a dream. The valley has never seen that kind of weather again, and I doubt it will, even in the future. We still call it Holley’s Flood, not because he predicted it, and who can really be sure he did? But because he looked after all of us, because he saw fit to stay and help, even though, by some feat of guessing or magic, he knew it was coming. And when I look at the world now, I hope it’s full of Mr. Holleys, and of people just strange enough to listen to them.
Thank you for reading! This is the fourth of twelve stories I’ll write for my 2023 Short Story Challenge. The theme this year is: Wild.
Here are the first three, if you’d like to read them:
Dark, Dark, Dark
Spring Mountain Child
I hope you join me and write some stories of your own this year! It’s fun, and I hope this will be a happy year full of good stories. But just reading is fine, too, and I’m glad you’re here.
The next story will be posted at the end of May.