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The Roar of Many Waters
A. E. Weisgerber
They both heard it. As he signed for a mid-day package, number 17 asked the delivery driver if he wanted water or something. The driver smiled no-thank-you while thinking about weekend plans. The screech started like a scraping metal rainbow dragged across the sky, a sunken ship collapsing deeply inward, a rusted truck tipping an empty load, but skies were clear. A shadow slipped over them. There were no clouds. Number 17 said what the hell is going on. It sounds like it's coming from every direction. They stood, shielding their eyes and scanning the milk-blue dome. Neighbors started opening doors and looking upward in every direction. UPS said I better go. He felt lightheaded and spooked. A loud howling noise traveled with him, miles above his rolling box, as if a fixed alarm tracked him, tracked everybody. Like it came from a particular point in heaven, and the sky had triangulated every living thing. He called dispatch. Had a hard time breathing.
At 2:30 in the afternoon, 10-year-old Harper's mom left him home. She wanted some alone time. A run to Shopmart seemed a good idea. Harper never had the house to himself, and mom said you're old enough to man the castle, and I'll come back with hot wings from Piper's and we'll watch a movie later. He said he wouldn't mind Armageddon. She'd be back by 4:30 tops. Maybe milkshakes. Harper locked the door and joined friends in his headset. His group agreed the noise started at 3:17. Harper's posteriori interview shows him, scrawny, saying he remembers things like license plate numbers. His mom's was a Go Hokies plate, VBK-1822. Very Big Karma, chapter 18, verse 22. His mom said more like Video Brain Kill. Harper didn't have a good handle on what he had heard. He thought it was a helicopter or a plane, a low disturbing thunder. It wasn't. He twisted open the living room window lock. He leaned out. Under clear skies, neighbors walked dreamlike down driveways to the street. Two people near a delivery truck had their faces cast up and swiveling every which way. Harper, thumbs trembling, texted his mom.
Harper's mom hadn't felt right. She left the house at 2:30. She was at Shopmart by 2:50. She walked around mindlessly with her cart until maybe quarter after 3 when she felt woozy. Her knees dipped, the floor swayed, racks of clothes buckled. She had a premonition of not carrying full-term. At check-out, she concentrated on the cashier's jaw. He wasn't much older than Harper. Maybe 17. Mid-scan, the kid froze and said, listen. Joyce heard everyone in the store hold their breath. Her cashier had a genuinely troubled expression on his face. He whispered, do you hear something? Joyce listened. Then it came. Like girders of a ghost building giving way slowly, it pitched into the squeal of a train curving off its rails. Wide-eyed, Joyce put her wallet away, left stuff on the conveyor, and drifted with everyone else to go see the noise. She sat in the car and tried calling Harper, then sent him a text. The air outside was full of melting horns and basslines, Bjork's Biophilia. Joyce said it first: it was like robots in the air pulsing the ribcage. Joyce's phone said 3:17. She forgot Redbox. She skipped the wings at the drive-thru and drove directly into a bright silence. When she pulled up to her home, the sky was dark. Harper ran out saying Ma why haven't you answered my texts? Ma, it's 11:30. Joyce walked inside and all the frames had dropped. Glass was everywhere. Harper's dozen texts pinged then and there, like exhausted fists.
A.E. Weisgerber is from Orange, NJ. She is a 2018 Chesapeake Writer, 2017 Frost Place Scholar, 2014 Reynolds Fellow, and Assistant Series Editor for Wigleaf's Top 50. Recent work in Many Loops, DIAGRAM, Smokelong Quarterly, 3:AM Magazine, and The Alaska Star. On Twitter @aeweisgerber or visit neutralspaces.co/aeweisgerber