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A Flood In Coal Country
In the night I lay beneath the covers of my bed, plagued by the chills of early fall, and listened for the beating of my heart. Through the pounding rain I caught only the sound of distant sirens carried by the wind. Flashes of lights from cars leaving the city in exile passed through the trees and into my window, creating kaleidoscopic patterns on my walls. The news had speculated earlier in the day that the river would rise and take the city with it as it had years ago, in the days when my father was still young and the streets were still quiet, and the woods still full. But, the reporters talked with some assurance on the strength of the new dams, and the security of the city. Now, surrounded by cars fleeing into the black of the mountains and the ethereal silence of the night that managed to penetrate the earthly confines of the world and into the depths of my soul, nothing could be assured. It seemed like I wasn’t in the same time, and I wasn’t the same person. Simple things, the tapping of rain and whining of wind took, on a feel of mythic and ancient meaning. As I drifted into sleep I caught the sight of a waning moon breaking through the clouds. It gave a portion of the sky a rusted and aged hue, but in the center, for a moment, an untarnished speck of pure white could be seen. Staring into the moon I thought of my father, when he was as young as me, staring into hued moons on nights that carried with them an unexplainable power.
I dreamt I woke in the middle of the day. Lying on the frozen ground I could see past the trees swaying raining their cracked, dead leaves upon my body and into the clouds above, gray and bold and resolute. The earth and the sky and all that is anywhere swayed about my body in constant, maddening motion. It is all the world is. A cold chill went through my core and I stood up, slowly. I breathed in deeply, but the cold cut my throat like knives. I leaned on a tree and coughed.
I could not remember how I came to be in that dark forest of twisted wood reaching towards the sun. My mind felt empty and my history blank.
My eyes swept the trees, silent and stirring, and the forest, nearly empty, only gray bark and damaged brown leaves that had temporarily escaped an unrelenting wind and rain that has swept the all but empty land for days, taking with it the wood and vegetation and mortally wounding most of the foliage so that the trees will go barren early and the mountains will stand bleak and without color.
I stood in the silence of the wood, feeling the sharp breeze cutting across my face and wisps of rain just beginning. My feet started slowly, stiffly, and then began to move easily on the empty forest floor. One hand stood out, touching the harsh bark of trees with my fingers; I breathed in deeply, smelling the wind, full and complex in its density and odor.
With every step on the wet, black earth another fleeting view of the world.
I began to recognize the forest as the one where I spent most of my childhood; the one that sat atop the mountain that dwarfed my home. Memories filled the empty crevasses of my mind. “Over there me and my cousins explored that cave. We never did find out how far back it went.””I tripped and cut my knee on an old cracked beer bottle by that oak. My sister helped me back and I still remember how scared my mother got when it wouldn’t stop bleeding.” “This is the trail me and my father would follow in hunting season. I would hold his gloves and step in his footprints in the snow when I was too small to crack the crust of ice.”
Eventually I made it to the rock that jutted from the edge of the mountain and overlooked the city in the valley. I saw that the world was gone below me. The water was laid over the land and moved as an undulated, brown, colossal mosaic of the city’s remnants, remnants of a grotesque mixture of imposing, ivory-covered buildings of brick and cobblestone, and shanty, paneled homes that had been built atop the muck of hardened waste brought about by the river’s last purge, several decades past. As I looked out at familiar sites, I began to completely remember who I was.
The flooded place was never much of a city anyway, or so I’ve heard. I only know the old timers talk about the rough and tumble days of the town, back when men returned to their homes from the hills with black faces on. It always struck me funny that a place that once fueled great fires could be so cold. The old men always look out at the city with certain sadness; they all know it has long outlived its purpose. They know it is city of old men, and all children bore in it are born old. It would have been more merciful if the city had died with the river long ago, and more poetic too. But it limped on as a semi-relic, and tried to adapt to a changed world, in doing so forfeiting the little bit of honor it ever had. Meanwhile, the villages that stood around it miraculously grow, for no discernible purpose other than to spite a barren land that dares them too. Some of the villages eventually even found another toxin to pry from the depths of the earth; it too poisoned waters and lit flames.
The constant buzz from the highway that runs beside my house became a cruel reminder to the fate of my own village, a place where my family lived for generations. A highway town dotted with branch stores and coffee shops. Along it lie carved out sections of forests filled with developments of grand white houses in faux-Roman style, with long columns and bay windows with closed off curtains and bolted doors. The homes of the newer residents who mostly all claim to be monarchs of the land because they are the only ones able to turn a profit in it.
As I stood upon that rock, I felt pity for those souls unfortunate enough to watch the destruction of their homes. The washing away of the only world ever known to them by waters that, with their rising and receding, transform the landscape and carve out deep valleys, or scorch the earth. I wondered why I was tied to this land, and all of its ultimate sadness and beauty, like the scars of the railroad lines that once ran through it. Like the spikes that rust and waste with years and become the bones to a cold mass of earth, which, for all their original luster, are eventually reduced to relics.
Relics are the loneliest people you can come by. Stuck in a world they don’t belong, with people they don’t understand, and full of skills long obsolete. They yearn for the world of their fathers. Some learn to change and become a part of the world, and others can only find solace in the companies of other relics while they search for a wholeness they cannot find.
It was then that I realized I was dreaming, because the world wasn’t always so mythic, and fate not always so severe. I woke up with the sun streaming through my window and the sounds of beeping car horns and roaring rigs stinging my ears. I threw down my window and I collapsed back in bed. I lay in bed not knowing how to feel, but I guess I just felt empty again. When I managed to get myself up I called some friends to meet me by the river to fish.