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Authors: Tim Curran

Resurrection (5 page)

BOOK: Resurrection
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“They been working that goddamned shit into our water drop by drop, spraying us down with it. That explosion was an accident, you know, but it plays right into my hands. Now the air is saturated with that shit and it’s coming down in the rain. I’m going to take these jars to a guy I know, then we’re gonna sue the goddamn government.”

Mitch believed that part because Arland was always trying to sue somebody. He’d tried to sue Mitch twice. Once because Mitch’s leaves were blowing into his yard and another time because the limb of the big oak out front was overhanging his yard and dropping acorns all over his freshly-cut lawn.

“No sense in running away,” Arland said. “We’re all contaminated now. Every one of us.” He proceeded to open his shirt and expose his sunken, white-haired chest which was set with a half-dozen blotchy looking sores. “See them? That’s contamination. At night…at night, them bumps, they
move.
And when I took a shit this morning, I saw things crawling in my turds. They were like…hey, where the hell you going, Mitch?”

But Mitch was already vaulting through his yard, the rain finding him and drenching him. Arland called out to him that it wasn’t too late to get in on the class-action suit, but Mitch decided he’d pass.

So, those were a sampling of the rumors making the rounds. Some weren’t that crazy and others were considerably more so, but in general they formed the absurd folkloric tapestry of the city as the rain continued to fall and fall.

 

3

Mitch toured the city in his Jeep Cherokee, taking in the wreckage.

The wreckage of his hometown which was considerable.

Witcham was a mill town of about 80,000 people, a good chunk of those not there for the industry but because of the campus of North-Central U downtown. It was split into some five neighborhoods

East Genessee, Crandon, Elmwood Hills, Bethany, and River Town. The latter two which occupied the lowest tracts of land abutting the river and were now flooded. Mitch lived over in Crandon, about four or five blocks from the house he’d grown up in. Crandon was up high, but given that the entire city lay in the Black River Valley, it was probably only a matter of time before even the high ground was underwater.

He went from neighborhood to neighborhood, the rain coming down so hard at times he had to pull over. Even when it wasn’t hammering down, it still fell in sheets of gray mist. A lot of streets were now blocked off by orange-striped sawhorses with attendant flashing battery lights and even old flickering smudgepots in some locations. And these streets invariably led down into the lower lying areas of the city where the standing water came right up to the tops of porches and sometimes even windows, the roofs of cars and cabs of abandoned trucks poking from the murky pools which were clotted with leaves and branches and all manner of debris.

Mitch paused at a few of these streets—Cobb and Huron and Ripley—and actually climbed out into the rain to view the flooding firsthand. It was amazing. You could hear about it and read about, but until you actually saw it you could not appreciate what had happened to Witcham. If he hadn’t known the city was flooding, he would have thought it was sinking. Standing behind the sawhorses that blocked off the entrance to Cobb Street, he followed the pavement with his eyes downhill until it was lost in a filthy lagoon of water. Down there, it looked dark and dirty and desolate. Rows upon rows of neat whitewashed houses slowly submerging, trees and flagpoles and high fences jutting forth like the masts and prows of ships sinking into some great stagnant sea. And farther down, all those closely-crowded tall and narrow brick buildings lining Cobb were going under, too. Being three- and four-story structures, it would take time, but Mitch could see it happening inch by inch. Even now, storefronts advertising videos and dry cleaning and fried chicken were washed by a dark lake of rising water.

It looked deserted down there and it was for the most part, but people were still living in the upper stories, a few lone rowboats moored to roof overhangs and canopies. He could even see a few people standing on roofs. Some smartass had nailed a couple of signs to the newel posts of his porch. HOUSE FOR SALE, CHEAP, one read and the other said, INDOOR POOL, NO XTRA CHARGE.

Even in the face of catastrophe, people still had a sense of humor.

This made Mitch smile, but the actual flooded neighborhoods wiped that smile away real fast.

Curious and knowing none of this was getting him any closer to tracking down Chrissy—who was probably at the West Town Mall on the other side of the city, no doubt, sampling some stuffed pizza at Sbarro’s or trying on skimpy tops at Pac-Sun while her mother chewed what remained of her fingernails to the very nubs—he started down the hill towards the
rising water. Its surface was
scummed with leaves and garbage and grass clippings, the bloated bodies of a few dead cats and dogs bobbing in the swill along with shingles and sections of vinyl siding stripped from houses by the wind. Now and again, he saw a few snapped-off tree limbs floating along with an odd assortment of junk: car tires, plastic garbage bags, a pink flamingo or two, a child’s plastic swimming pool…dozens of other unknown, leaf-caked items.

If and when the water did recede, it was going to be a real mess.

Cobb Street led away underwater into River Town, being the oldest part of the city and one of its most low-lying. All those quaint Victorians put up by the pulp and mining barons back in the 19
th
century had been turned into trendy restaurants, high-end apartment buildings, and museums. Now they crouched in an oily sea of black, stinking water, slowly rotting away. The seagulls—which usually clustered along the riverbanks and held court at the town dump—crowded for space on rooftops with pigeons, liking the rotten smell of that water and all the dead things coming to the surface. In the far distance where the land dipped towards the Black River, Mitch could see the gables, weather vanes, and sooty chimneys of structures completely sunken in the mire.

And seeing this, he had to wonder how many bodies were out there.

The bodies of those lost in the flooding and all the bodies disinterred from Hillside Cemetery. Christ, it was like some floating graveyard down there from what he was hearing.

And how many of those submerged rooms were peopled by swollen, waterlogged corpses which circled sightlessly in the darkness and bumped along ceilings or pressed white fish-nibbled faces up to sunken windows? And how many would there be before this ended?

He stared out at that rank tidal pool which was a secret, foul ocean filled with secret, foul things dredged up from the river bottoms and cellars and dark places. He had an ugly feeling that there were going to be things in that water that people were not going to want to see. Things left stranded by the receding waters that were not going to be pleasant to look upon.

Something shifted beneath the floating carpet of leaves about ten feet out like a log rolling over. The leaves piled up, but would not part to reveal what it was. Slowly then, the hidden shape began to move in Mitch’s direction, gliding along just beneath the surface, leaves rising in a swell with its motion.

Mitch did not wait to see what it was.

He climbed back up the hill and jumped behind the wheel of the Jeep, hitting the gas and fish-tailing in the slick streets, almost hitting a parked car. But he did not slow down until he was well away from the flooding. And only then did he realize how hard he was breathing or that his heart was hammering.

What was moving under those leaves?

He didn’t know, but he had an ugly feeling in his belly that he was going to find out. Sooner or later.

 

4

Two hours later, Mitch had not tracked down Chrissy.

He cruised the lots of the West Town Mall and the chic shops and game emporiums near the University, but saw no sign of Heather Sale’s little VW Bug. Despite the rain and wind, people were still out, still shopping and still spending money. But Mitch reminded himself that these were people from Wisconsin, the sort that rode out the blizzards and subzero chills of January and February. As children, they’d grown up as he had with ice skates in one hand and a sled in the other, shoveling paths through hip-deep snow just to make the street. They were a tough and healthy lot that did not fold-up very easily. And if you could survive winter in the far north, rain sure as hell wasn’t going to stop you.

Mitch almost felt like some kind of stranger as he toured the neighborhoods. The city he had known his entire life just, well, it simply
felt
different. Try as he might, he could not dismiss that rather absurd idea from his head. The city did not feel inviting, did not feel familiar, it felt tense somehow, as if its hackles were raised and its muscles were bunched. Like it was expecting something, bracing for the worst case scenario.

He could not shake the feeling.

The sense that something bad was about to happen, that the engine of catastrophe was even then idling, waiting to crank up to full rev when the time was right.

Even though he had not smoked in nearly three years, Mitch found himself reaching for his cigarettes. Wanting something, needing something that would put his nerves back in orderly rows.

Whiskey,
a voice told him.
A taste is what you need.

He began to feel a little better when he got back into Crandon, saw all the houses lined up on the streets, Chatterly Park and the water tower, Franklin High and the rain-swept football field behind. In the distance, he could see the stacks and chimneys of the mills and foundries that kept Crandon and much of Witcham alive.

On a whim, he hung a right on Michigan Avenue and cruised The Strip, the local designation for Crandon’s business district. Bowling alleys and hamburger joints, furniture stores and office buildings. Lots of little neighborhood bars tucked in-between with Pabst Blue Ribbon signs hanging out front.

He pulled to a stop in front of Sadler Brothers Army/Navy Surplus and mainly because he saw a familiar vehicle parked out front—a green Dodge Ram pickup with a bumper sticker that read I BRAKE FOR STRIPPERS.

Mitch covered his head, running through the rain and into the long sheet metal Quonset that housed Sadler Brothers.

 

5

Inside it was warm, smelled of wood smoke from the massive wood boiler in the back which Chum and Hubb Sadler had burned long as Mitch could recall and mainly because they were too cheap to pay for gas. There were canoes and little duck boats dangling from the walls, racks upon racks of hunting clothes, fatigues, raingear, winter boots set in-between. Portable ice shanties crowded next to ice augers and racks of fishing poles, glass cases filled with everything from Israeli flags to Russian canteens and paperweights made from .50 caliber shells.

Sadler Brothers had been sort of a landmark in Crandon since long before Mitch was born and being that was forty-four years before, that was saying something. There was something about the place he’d always liked. It made him feel calm, helped him get his feet under him. He supposed it had something to do with all the hours he’d spent there with his old man when he was a kid. Sadler’s was always the first place they went when they were planning a camping trip or getting ready for deer season or the annual guys-only fishing trip up in the cabin on the Wolf River.

Mitch caught sight of Tommy Kastle leaning up against a rack of snowshoes, an unlit cigarette in his mouth, his dirty and raggedy Milwaukee Brewers cap cocked at a rakish angle on his head. Tommy had bought the cap ten years before and claimed he wouldn’t buy another until the Brewers took the pennant. He was chatting it up with some old man who was apparently trying to read the instructions for a flashlight he was buying.

The old guy looked over at Mitch. “Believe this crap? Goddamn instructions are in Chinese or some shit…what the hell’s this country coming to?”

Tommy didn’t seem to hear a word he said. “So they want both forties I got up on Pullman Lake Road. I go, well what do you got in mind? The paper mill guy, he goes, well, we’ll log off both forties and then replant ‘em both for you. I go, with what? I got hardwood up there. You boys clear-cut oak and birch and you re-plant fucking jackpine. He goes, sure but we pay you for your hardwood and we seed pine in there. I go, I don’t want no fucking scrub pine on my land. He goes, well that’s our offer. I go, well, shit, sounds more like rape than a deal to me. If you want to fuck me, how’s about kissing me first?”

Mitch laughed under his breath. Same old Tommy.

The old man went on his way, muttering about the goddamn Chinee strangling the whole country.

Tommy turned and saw Mitch. “Well, Jesus Christ, look what the frigging cat dragged in. How you been, Mitch?”

“Hanging in there. Saw your truck out front.”

“Well, what’re you thinking about this business, Mitch? Goddamn flooding? Ain’t it just the pisser?”

“Sure is.”

Tommy said that it wasn’t about to get any better, if what they were saying was true. Way he’d heard it, people were already pulling up stakes and getting the hell out of the Valley…not that you could blame them.

“Not you?”

Tommy laughed. “I ain’t going anywhere. I got me a boat and if worse comes to worse, I’ll be living on it. Got room for you, too, Mitch.” He pulled the unlit cigarette from his mouth and then put it back in. He looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Mitch. Christ, I heard about Lily’s sister and what happened. Damn, now that’s a tough spot. How’s the old girl doing?”

BOOK: Resurrection
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