The Ghosts Are Dancing
By Rosanne Griffeth
The night went on alone. The houses dribbled smoke from the night logs left on the fires to keep the embers alive through the dark hours. The people on the creek dreamed as the sheets of water fell. Some awoke and thought of God’s anguished weeping. Some stirred, heard it and turned over in their warm beds, never dreaming the torrent had been falling for hours, and would continue to fall for hours more.
Joel woke up early, feeling Trudy’s braid of red hair tickling his arm. He heard the hard rain on the roof and the plinking of the gutters, like pennies pouring from the sky. He thought about sleeping in, since he couldn’t do anything in such a downpour.
He thought this, but then heard the groaning and the popping. It was a sound like no other, like the earth screaming for mercy. First--a sound like a giant chewing tin, starting high and raggedly ripping low, then--a crack like a rifle shot. The noise made him afraid and he shivered in his bed. He felt like a child, hearing a new sound never heard before, never imagined. The sound made him want to cover his face. The sound made him want to hide.
Joel sat on the side of the bed and threw on his robe, thinking, Lord, Jesus, what is going on out there?
He stood and padded into the parlor on bare feet and turned up the damper to the wood stove. He put another log in the firebox, pulled on his muck boots and went onto the porch.
The light tinted the sky over the mountain. On the mountaintop, day was breaking, but in the holler, the dawn crept in on cat’s paws. The eaves overflowed in a pulsing veil. Joel looked to the creek and saw a roiling lake where his pasture used to be. The creek had risen until it lapped at the foundation of the farmhouse.
He heard the noise again and saw a red oak, standing since before his grandfather’s time, leaned into the water, screaming as it fell. The ancient tree snapped off a thundering death rattle before breaking and submitting to the deluge.
The first tendrils of dirty light trickled into the holler where jagged tree trucks, drowned and lonely, dotted the land and tilled fields were angry with filthy water. A few cows and horses survived, huddling near the house. One barn had swept away, and the foot logs and bridges had long since washed downstream. The corpses of drowned hogs danced down the flood rapids, washed pale and obscene by the water. Joel heard the screaming cattle still in the pasture, mired to their bellies in mud. Their white faces strained to breathe, until the water closed over their heads and they screamed no more.
Joel stood on the porch of his house shivering--his thin robe soaked with the spray drifting in on the wind. His boots were planted, yet his shoulders trembled. Tears flowed down his cheeks mixing with the floodwater. He did not notice as Trudy approached and wrapped him in a blanket. The young farmer stood in the break of day, weeping in silence.
Trudy wept with him, her hands on his arm.
Joel turned to her with flooded eyes and said, “Lurlene. I must go get Lurlene.”
Trudy looked at the sea covering their farm. She knew this land as well as Joel and marked the spot where she planted roses and where her hollyhocks would have risen, tall and purple. Now it was water, muddy water drowning all their dreams.
“I don’t see how, Joel. I don’t reckon I see how.”
Down the mountain, Lurlene slept through the dawn. She slept without dreaming and she slept without hearing. When morning broke, she heard Bridey’s thin voice, her lisping baby voice, crying for her.
“Mommy! Mommy, wake up! Wake up!”
Lurlene’s mind traveled in the dark quiet of awakening. She reached a hand from the warmth of her bed and grabbed Bridey’s. She brought the sweet hand to her face and rubbed her cheek against the softness that smelled of cookies and Play-Doh.
“G’morning Sweet Pea.”
Bridey’s hand trembled in her grasp and Lurlene realized the child’s fingers were chilled.
“Mommy! Wake up! The water, come look--the water!”
Lurlene sat up and saw the morning light filtering through the window like dirty mop water. The house shuddered beneath them and Lurlene startled.
“What’s going on, Baby?”
Bridey looked pale and her long black hair, fell unbound around her shoulders peeking from her pajama top.
“The water, Mommy. Come see!”
Lurlene swung her legs over the side of the bed and pulled on a pair of worn bedroom shoes. She checked on Lacie, and tucked the baby quilt around the child.
Bridey pulled her mother from the back bedroom to the porch. The Pigeon foamed and surged, rising far past its banks, making the cottage an island. Roger’s rake had been carried away and the martin house tilted drunkenly at an angle.
Lurlene stepped onto the front as a crash sounded on the far side of the house. Part of a roof skipped downstream like some big flat pebble, crashing into their back stoop, and taking with it a corner of the building. Flotsam rocketed down the river, now flowing through her yard. The water rose to the windows of her neighbor’s house and rushed into the home. On the roof of a shed paced a miserable sow, her udder swollen with milk, bellowing for her piglets. The sow lost her footing and plunged into the rapids. The pig drifted past them, trotters flailing, and her panicked human-like eyes met Lurlene’s and begged in rolling terror.
Lurlene wondered how long the house would resist the flood before it too, joined the tumbling buildings and livestock. Bridey wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and buried her face in her side. Lurlene stroked the girl’s hair to comfort her, but Lurlene felt frightened.
“Dear Lord Jesus,” she prayed, for the first time in a long time. “We got to get out of here.”