Friday, July 12, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday!

Here's another bit from the Ninja Librarian himself. 

The Librarian on the Flood

Once again I feel compelled to take up my pen and set the record straight, as there are some gaps in the narrative Alice has so ably constructed regarding the flood that came so near to washing our town from the face of the earth.  More happened that day than Alice ever knew, and I feel obliged to complete the record, though I fear it does not reflect on me the heroic light than even her somewhat ironic narrative provides.*
When the rains began—no, when the rain reached Skunk Corners, for subsequent events made it evident that it had been precipitating on the mountain above us for some time.  When, as I say, the rain reached us, I was in the library.  I was, in fact, reading a book which outlined the means, historical, fanciful, and scientific, by which Man endeavors to affect the weather.  In particular, I was reading about the calling of rain from empty skies.  I did not have any great faith in such methods, but conditions in Skunk Corners were becoming desperate, and I had nearly determined to attempt some such influence.
You will understand therefore, that I felt both interest and a mildly amused surprise on finding that it had commenced to rain, as though merely reading of the procedures had summoned the water from the sky.  Laying aside the book, I gazed out the window, smiling when I saw Alice and her bevvy of young scholars emerge from the school, laughing and shouting, to dance in the street.
After a moment, unable to resist their joyful spirit, I laid aside my frock coat (being unwilling to damage a garment I could not easily replace), and turned to the door.  The rain drumming on the roof set up a roar which, curiously, seemed little lessened on emerging from under its shelter.
Only when I splashed into the street and found myself stepping not into a puddle, but a stream of moving water, did I understand.  Miss Alice, too, was looking from the water about her feet to the forest from which it seemed to come.
A flood of this sort was outside my experience, but I had been cornered for two days on the train coming West by an old frontiersman with an endless supply of tales.  He had spoken, among many other things, of the violent floods that could follow a storm—what he called a “gully-washer”—in the dry desert areas to our south.  After months without rain, I now envisioned a wall of muddy water crashing down the mountain toward us.
Alice has narrated how I alerted the town and how we sent the children to the library and mustered the able-bodied citizens to attempt to keep the creek in its rightful channel.  Naturally, her narration creates the impression that I saw the danger instantly and with equal celerity determined a solution and put it into practice.
My view differs somewhat.
I come from a climate not subject to lengthy periods of drought, so that I was both more and less excited by the arrival, at last, of the rains.  More, because the lengthy dry period seemed to me odd and unnatural.  Yet a part of me refused to believe we could pass three months or more without rain, so I had counted each dry summer day as a gift.
When the water began to rise around me, however, I first froze in disbelief, then accompanied the crowds to the creek out of, I am sorry to report, an ignorant curiosity rather than a true grasp of the seriousness of our situation.
Now, in those early months in Skunk Corners, I was saved from many a blunder, and helped to appear far more knowledgeable than I truly am, by one person.  That person is Johnny, Miss Tess’s bartender.  Johnny was, in fact, the first person to accept me—but that’s another story.  I am speaking of our flood.
It was, as I say, Johnny who saw the danger and knew we had to restore the brook to it’s proper course before further damage was done.  Knowing he does not wield the authority of a librarian—the authority of a bartender is large, but of a different nature—he sought me out in the crowd and explained the danger in a few expressive words.
Now, I may not know the West, but when a plan is laid out for me, I grasp it quickly.  Thus I was able to mobilize the townspeople in time to dam the overflow and dig the diversion channel around the obstruction which was causing the flooding in our town.  Johnny informed me later that the rest—moving the fallen tree which blocked the stream—I had been able to do only because I failed to grasp that the effort was insane.
What no one, not even Johnny, ever knew was how badly that water frightened me.  I never saw so much water moving so fast.  And that, my friend, led almost directly to my near-death by drowning.
I must confess it: I was so determined not to show my fear that I put myself forward in every way, directing the efforts and laboring with the shovel alike.  And, I regret to say, I put myself forward to the edge of the channel Tess and Alice had so competently dug.  When that branch broke loose and swept me off my feet, I knew I was dead.  I did not hit my head at that time, but only when I had finished falling.  The time it takes for a fool to fall three feet is more than enough time to understand many things.
Being certain I was dead, therefore, I had no idea what to think when I again became aware of myself and found the faces of my friends peering at me.
Although my efforts very nearly cost me my life—and, more unforgiveable to me, nearly cost Alice’s life—I count that day as among my best.  When I awoke, wet, muddy, and with a head that ached as it has not since my student days, and saw myself surrounded by the anxious faces of people who had risked their lives to save mine, I found I had a family such as I had not known for many a year.
But I vowed never again to underestimate the force of moving water—nor my own ability to make poor decisions.  Whether I have kept that vow I leave to you to decide.
And that is the truth of the events of the day of our flood, which I will not tell to Alice.

*See The Ninja Librarian, Chapter 8, “The Ninja Librarian Meets His Match”

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Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

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