This week’s SSS entry comes from SHB founder Kevin Strange’s first short story collection, The Last Gig on Planet Earth and other Strange Stories. Look for his next collection, Murder Stories for your Brain Piece this summer from StrangeHouse Books!
The Old Man and the Black Water
by Kevin Strange
The old man sipped his hooch; anger drawn across his wrinkled, weathered lips. Stomping across the gnarled red stained porch, the Old Man’s daughter dropped the heavy box she’d been carrying. Its contents rattled violently. “Dad, for real we have to go.”
Her husband and two young children hurried -with boxes of their own- down the rock path that lead to the driveway. They were careful not to step on the black water puddling and oozing its way toward the house.
“Careful with that china now. Was your gran’s.” The Old Man said, taking a large swallow of his home brewed liquor.
His daughter huffed, and stomped away. There had been much huffing and stomping in the seventy two hours since the Mississippi river spontaneously began spewing that slimy, unidentified black liquid up into the world.
All across the river bend, but primarily in Hopp’s Hollow, due to its immediate proximity to the river, chaos and mass panic erupted. But not at first.
Local officials -led by a red faced, fat bellied sheriff named Paul Jones- first mistaking the substance as oil, attempted to trace the eruption from its source.
The geyser formed just off Lookout Point; the marina which sat at Hopp’s Hollow’s southern most tip, at 5:15am on Friday, June 17th 2012.
The Old Man -Dale Mitchel to Town’s Folk- had risen early, as always, and was among the first to notice the dark sludge issuing from the muddy river.
Sheriff Jones showed up at the Mitchel residence at 7:45am with a HAZMAT team. He asked and received permission from Dale to use the property as a staging ground for their operation due to its location as the closest to the river bank; even having a dock in the backyard with which to launch their boast.
Kryssi Mitchel, Dale’s Daughter, walked back the porch, obviously having collected herself. “Dad, c’mon, we’ve almost got all the essentials. We can be on the road in the next ten minutes.”
“Pistachio and Parsnip.” Dale said, never taking his eyes off the black tide rising toward his home.
“what?” Kryssi asked, puzzled.
“The final two ingredients to my hooch. The stuff I never told you ’bout. The stuff that makes it so sweet.” He finished his cup, and poured himself another.
Kryssi stared at him with amazement that quickly turned to anger. “Why would you tell me that? You’ve kept that recipe secret for- Dad! You’re not staying here! Get your ass up and get in the truck, we’re leaving now.”
At Nine Fifteen AM on Friday, two divers jumped into the river just outside the growing pool of darkness that had begun to emanate from around the geyser.
At Noon on Saturday they were declared missing and presumed dead. At approximately the same time, the lab in charge of identifying the strange liquid returned their results on the black substance as “unknown and potentially hazardous.” The Dark Water had, by this time, reached the shoreline, completely overtaking the natural body of water from horizon to horizon.
“Ain’t leavin’. Ain’t no black water gonna scare me off.” Dale shifted his brown and green camo John Deer hat to keep the morning sun out of his eyes.
“Dad, you know what’s going on out there, you’ve seen those…things, with your own eyes. You can’t- Unbelievable!”
“What’s wrong?” Kryssi’s slim-figured husband yelled from inside the U-Haul. “He wont leave! The stubborn bastard wants to die here.”
At 2:00pm on Saturday, As the first local news team set up to film the peculiar river anomaly -which by now had driven its black tendrils past the docks, over the marina, and up onto the very edge of Dale’s property- one of the divers surfaced.
The news crew immediately went live, asking the bewildered man what had happened; how he’d survived underwater with one hour of oxygen for over twenty four hours.
“My God.” He said to Ten Million viewers across the country affixed to their TV sets, all wondering what was happening in the mid-west. “It was like another world. So Beautiful. They. It- I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to describe what I saw; where I was. So beautiful…” He began to cry. “They sent me back. They sent me with a message. Death isn’t the end. There’s nothing to fear. There’s something, unimaginable waiting for us on the other side. And the water’s bringing it here to us. It’s just so- I’m sorry, I- I can’t say anything more.”
by 10:00pm that night, the main interstate highways into Illinois that lead to Hopp’s Hollow were jammed bumper to bumper for miles as people from across the country piled into the little community wanting their own glimpse of what some were calling the Rapture and others called the 21st century Mecca.
“Dad. We’re leaving.” Kryssi was crying. The kids were in the truck, her husband behind the wheel. He honked the horn, motioning for her to hurry up.
“What can I do to convince you to come with us?”
Dale was staring thoughtfully at the creeping liquid lapping at the porch steps, meters away from his boots.
“Nothin’ sweetheart. You get the kids outta here. Far away, you hear me? Away from any large bodies of water. No lakes, ponds, ‘specially rivers. How much bottled water you got in that truck?”
“Enough for a few days.”
“That’ll be plenty of time to find some more. You got that hooch too. Don’t give that to them boys, but ‘tween you and Vern, you’ll be fine.”
Kryssi looked back at the truck. “You know we wont, Dad.”
“Nonsense now. Vern’s a good man. He’ll take care a you.” Dale did his best to sound convincing; did his best to lie. “There’ll be plenty of other people tryin’ a survive out there. You just get as far inland as you can.”
“And you? What are you gonna do Dad?”
“I recon I’ll make my way up to the roof if I have to. Don’t think it’ll come to that, but if it does I’ll be fine up there. Can’t see this lastin’ more ‘n a couple days. Week at most.” He was never a good liar.
Kryssi broke out in a sob. “Daddy please!” She knelt beside his ancient rocking chair. “I don’t wanna do this without you.”
Dale knocked on his prosthetic leg. “Wont do nothin’ but slow you down, kiddo. I done had my time; lived my life.” He pushed a strand of hair out of his daughter’s face and looked her in the eyes for the first time since the water began to rise. “If there’s any life left to live out there, well, you go on and live it.”
By 3:00pm on Sunday, June 19th the town of Twelve Thousand held Thirty Five Thousand within its borders with more jammed up a hundred miles across the tri-state area.
Vast revival tents had been erected in the night. Religious hymns and songs of worship both live and recorded boomed from the new shoreline Three blocks into the business district. Men, women and children waded into the dark ichor. Sermons were preached as dozens of members of this new congregation were baptized in the black water before swimming off into the deep; before disappearing into its inky depths.
At 11:00pm, while doing his fourth consecutive interview that day, The resurrected diver -recovering peacefully in a local hospital- began to vomit copious amounts of vile smelling black water.
550 Million viewers were tuned in to the live news feed broadcast from Hopp’s Hollow’s News Channel 6 when the diver, with wild, terrified eyes grabbed the camera man and pulled him close.
“It’s a goddamn lie!” He screamed between dry heaves, ropes of black gunk pouring from his nose and mouth. “Some thing;some intelligence took over my body, forcing my consciousness into submission. I’ve only been able to watch in horror as it spewed these wild stories to you people! Stay out of the water! Stop- Stop drinking it forChrissake! They need our bodies. They use the water as a sort of conduit to our brains. They don’t have physical bodies like us. They vibrate at different frequencies but- But they mean us harm! They mean to destroy us! This is an invasion!”
Just then the slime issuing from his mouth congealed into several bands or ropes of snakelike appendages, rendering speech impossible. He shook uncontrollably for several seconds before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he attacked the throng of curious onlookers, drawn to his bed by his lunatic ranting. Three police officers shot him dead after he rushed them, wildly swinging his IV stand, mumbling incoherently through his tentacle mouth.
“There comes a point in every man’s life,” Dale said. “When he gets his routine all set. When the idea of changin’ that routine is too much to bear.” He wiped the tears from his Kryssi’s face. “I been in that routine so long I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. And the thought of Movin’ outta Hopp’s, outta this house my grandpa built with his bare hands- Well, let’s just say, I’d rather take my chances with what ever’s in that water, Baby Girl. Now go on. Your family’s waitin’ for you.”
As if in answer, her husband honked again.
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, pumpkin.”
At 3:30pm on Sunday, Sheriff Jones called the governor personally to ask him to declare a state of emergency in Hopp’s. That’s when he learned that the Black Water was no longer isolated to his little community; That geysers had sprung up in every major body of water around the world an hour before. There were no available national guard troops to deploy to Hopp’s. There would be no FEMA rescue. The world had its own Black Water problem, now. They were on their own.
Mass Chaos erupted through town. After witnessing the Diver’s rampage on Television, a lynch mob formed and attacked the throng of Black Water worshipers who had declared themselves “The Anointed Ones”. Hundreds died. Thousands were maimed, trampled, and left for dead as the multitude of human bodies, drove, pushed, and stomped their way out of town like a flock of petrified geese fleeing the first sounds of buckshot from a hunter’s rife. The relentless tide pushed forward 10 blocks deep into the residential part of town; the part of town now utterly abandoned. Only floating bodies and discarded vehicles told the story of what happened in Hopp’s Hollow.
At 5:15am on Monday, June 20th as Kryssi and her family drove away through two solid feet of Black Water, the sleepy little town of twelve thousand had been reduced to one tired old man sipping his home brewed alcohol.
After they were out of sight, Dale reached into his pocket and pulled out his Colt 38 six shot revolver. By the time he got around to loading the gun, it was well past Six PM and he was good and drunk. The water had risen steadily throughout the day. Dark shapes occasionally surfaced where lookout point once stood; angry shapes. Shapes making noises he’d never heard in his Seventy Four years. Noises he was pretty sure no one had ever heard before.
He finished off the last of his hooch as the water lapped at his chest. Careful to keep the gun from getting wet, he cocked the hammer back, placed the barrel to his temple and thought of Kryssi’s beautiful smiling face one last time.