Until the Flood Came

Kevin Wilson | Fiction

Molly’s son did not want to talk about his new girlfriend. The two of them were eating dinner, and he was telling a story about a boy who slipped in the cafeteria and sprained his ankle. “And my girlfriend—” he said, and his eyes got real wide and his entire body shut down, his fork clattering on the table. “Girlfriend?” Molly said, her voice so flat, trying to be cool.

This girl, whoever she was, was also Christopher’s first ever girlfriend, and Molly, like any involved parent, just wanted to know the bare minimum about the girl, but Christopher seemed so agitated that she let it drop for the night. “So what happened to the boy?” she asked him, returning to the story. “He died,” Christopher said, still distracted. “What?” she said, shocked. “I don’t know,” he replied, staring at his plate. “He hobbled away. He disappeared.”

While she lay in bed, Molly began to think that perhaps his first ever girlfriend was actually a boy, which would have been fine, of course. She began to think that perhaps his first ever girlfriend was actually imaginary, which would have been . . . less fine. Christopher, though she loved him, was a strange boy, jittery and obsessive. He collected maps, stared at them like he was translating a secret language, a ruler in his hand, measuring the distance between cities that he would probably never visit. He was writing a novel, and she had helped him edit the pages that he had, about a man who walks from Los Angeles to New York City, blindfolded. He was at four hundred pages and the man wasn’t even out of Arizona. It might be embarrassing for Christopher, she allowed, but Molly wanted to know who loved her son. She would not allow for the possibility that this girl loved Christopher as much as Molly did. Who could? It wasn’t possible.

•     •     •

At breakfast the next morning, Molly finally touched Christopher’s hand and asked, “Sweetie, tell me about this girl.”

“I just . . .” he said, trailing off, looking for the right word, or perhaps expecting Molly to finish the sentence. They did this sometimes. But not this time. Molly had no idea what he would say.

When he said nothing, she tried again. “I’m happy for you, Christopher. You’re sixteen. It’s understandable. I just want to know a little about her. Like, what’s her name?”

Christopher sighed, seemed to collect himself. Then he looked at Molly. “Barsoom,” he finally said.

“What now?” Molly replied, thinking she’d misheard.

“Barsoom,” Christopher said. “It means Mars.”

“In what language?” she asked.

“Some made up language, I think,” Christopher said, not sure of himself.

“Sweetie . . . is Barsoom real?” she finally had to ask.

“Yes!” he shouted, his face reddening.

“Well, okay. Okay, then. Tell me about Barsoom.”

“It’s just . . .” he said, again trailing off. “I just think you’re not going to like her.”

“Why not?” Molly asked. “Sweetie, if you like her, then I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t like her.”

“She’s just . . . she’s really religious,” he finally offered.

“Oh,” Molly replied. It was true. Molly was not fond of religion. She’d grown up Catholic, had been deeply invested in the lives of martyrs and saints as a child. In grade school, she’d tried to give herself a stigmata, and she’d had to see a therapist for an entire year, which had been a big embarrassment for her parents in their little town. She’d felt brainwashed by faith, had been glad to get rid of it. So, no, she wasn’t happy to hear this. But this girl wasn’t who Christopher would marry. It was just a girl that he liked. They’d hold hands. Maybe he’d go to the girl’s church one Sunday. Depending on the ferocity of her faith, it might keep them from having sex. It would be fine.

“Well,” she continued. “I don’t think that alone is going to make me dislike her. Tell me more about her.”

“She’s religious,” he repeated.

“You’ve already said that,” Molly replied, getting a little impatient with her weird son.

“I just was reminding you,” he said. “Um, she’s really smart. She’s kind of a genius. She’s a junior, like me, but she’s only fourteen.”

“Wow,” Molly answered. “That’s impressive.”

“She’s just really nice. She likes me, and we talk all the time. She likes maps, too. Or, I mean, she’s learning about them from me, and she says that she likes them. She hadn’t understood how interesting they can be.”

“Well, that’s really great, Christopher. You see, sweetie? You see? It’s fine. I’m so happy for you.”

Christopher seemed to brighten. He kept going, feeling more confident. “And she can see into the future,” he said.

“How so?” Molly asked. She tried to keep her demeanor free of worry or panic.

“She knows how the world is going to end,” he said, his eyes so bright. “She says it’s going to be a big flood. She says it’ll be in two months.”

“Oh god,” Molly replied.

“I know. It’s soon. She says that we’ll be okay, though,” Christopher continued. “She says we’ll be saved.”

We?” Molly asked, trying to understand. “Who is we? Humanity?”

Christopher looked embarrassed, the brightness gone out of his eyes. “Me and Barsoom,” he then replied. “The two of us.”

“Oh, Christopher,” Molly said, but she had no strength left. She looked at the table for a second, trying to gather herself. “Well, I would certainly love to meet her sometime.”

“Could we have her over for dinner?” Christopher asked.

“I think that would be great,” she said, and then she took his empty bowl, his glass of juice, and walked to the sink, trying not to cry, wanting to place her son inside of a force field, to keep bad things from ever coming to him.

•     •     •

A week later, Barsoom was in Molly’s house, standing on the porch. And Christopher was there, too, holding onto Barsoom’s hand like it was the only thing he’d ever wanted.

“Hello,” Molly said, cheerful, a mother. Because Christopher had been such a weird kid, she’d rarely thought of herself as a typical mother. It was more like they lived together, and there was a bond that would never be broken, but it was like they’d always been together, that they’d made each other. Part of this was because her husband, who was a fucking idiot, had barely participated in the enterprise. And then it was just Molly and Christopher, and Molly found that it was better this way, like, why hadn’t she just done this on her own to start with? But, now, this spooky girl on her porch, Molly felt so old, felt so much like a mother.

“Hello, Ms. Ranger,” Barsoom said. It was hard to focus on the girl; there was so much to distract Molly, to disorient her as she tried to understand Barsoom, to make her real and tangible. First, Barsoom was wearing a neon Spuds MacKenzie sweatshirt, the Bud Light mascot from the ’80s, from when Molly herself had been a very young girl. And, once she considered the rest of Barsoom’s aura, it was clear to Molly that this girl was not wearing it ironically. She was wearing ripped up jeans, but again, it seemed like inattention rather than fashion, the girl’s knees so dirty. On her feet were ratty running shoes, like she’d walked across the country in them. She was a straight line, not a single curve to her body, not thin, exactly, but so singular in her posture. But it was Barsoom’s face that held the most potential for disruption.

This was all happening in a split-second, in the space between when Barsoom was outside of Molly’s house and when Barsoom was inside of it. But Molly noted how black Barsoom’s eyes were, such a deep brown that it felt like, if you looked from the right angle, there would be nothing there, a complete emptiness. She was so pale, her skin almost blue. And her teeth, the girl politely smiling, were tiny, like a little animal, sharp-looking, like she would bite you and ten of those teeth would remain embedded in your skin, new teeth already forming in the girl’s mouth.

She was, it occurred to Molly, what Christopher would create in a lab if he had to make a girlfriend based on snatches of conversation he’d heard in the lunchroom. But Molly also understood that this was unfair. It was the flood, the end of the world. If Christopher had not told her that Barsoom foresaw the apocalypse, Molly was certain that she’d be less tense.

“Come in,” Molly finally said, and Christopher led Barsoom into the house, the girl looking around the living room like, “Yes, yes, this will all be washed away.”

At the dinner table, Christopher having set the table while Barsoom filled the glasses with ice and water, Molly asked Barsoom how she and Christopher had met.

“Well,” Barsoom said, smiling, god those teeth, “we were in the library, at different computers, and I looked over, and he was looking at maps of Coalfield.”

“He loves maps,” Molly said, in case Barsoom didn’t already know this.

“Yes, and I was struck by these maps on the computer because they were showing elevation.”

“I was trying to find the highest point in Coalfield,” Christopher offered.

“And I was really drawn to this, you know,” Barsoom continued, “because I was curious if there was any part of Coalfield that wouldn’t be underwater.”

Molly stiffened, but Barsoom didn’t seem to notice. “Because of the flood,” Molly said.

Barsoom nodded, a look of rapture on her face. “Yes, because of the flood.”

“But not just any flood, correct?” Molly asked, trying to keep any tone of bitchiness out of her voice. “But the end of the world.”

“The end of the world as we know it,” Barsoom said, as if trying to impart some kind of lesson, a prophecy.

“Oh, okay,” Molly said. “Well, I guess that is different.”

Christopher, so in love, Molly could see this very clearly, offered, “And Barsoom says that even the highest point in Coalfield will be like the bottom of the ocean.”

“Wow,” Molly said. “That’s scary.”

“It could be,” Barsoom offered. “I was certainly scared when I foresaw the end of things.”

Christopher interrupted, excited, “But we’re two by two, so we’ll be okay.”

“You and Barsoom?” Molly asked, just wanting to be sure.

They both nodded, looking at each other and smiling.

“Two by twos,” Molly said, testing it out.

“If you believe,” Barsoom said, “and if you prepare yourself, and if you find another person who will help keep you afloat, then I believe that you will survive the flood. It’s not certain, I can’t see everything. I never pretended that I could see everything, you understand? But I believe that these people will survive.”

“So I need to find my two by two?” Molly asked.

Christopher nodded. “Maybe you and Dad?” he offered.

Molly shook her head. “Sweetie,” she said, “you know there’s just no way.”

“Even if it’s the end of the world?” Barsoom said, shocked.

“Especially if it’s the end of the world,” Molly replied.

“Well, there’s still time,” Christopher said.

“Not much,” Barsoom said, “but, yes, there’s still some time.”

“Well,” Molly said, “I better get started.”

•     •     •

“I love her, Mom,” Christopher told her that night, after he had driven Barsoom back to her own house. “I’m in love with her.”

“I know,” Molly told him. “I can see that. And I’m happy for you.”

“And you aren’t scared?” Christopher asked.

“About the flood?” Molly replied. “No, sweetie. No, I’m not.”

“Because you’ll find your two by two?” he offered.

She looked at him, sitting on the edge of his bed. He looked so small. He seemed like a lost child, so young. “I’m just not sure about all of it yet,” Molly said. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“I want to marry her,” Christopher said suddenly.

“Well,” Molly said. “Let’s wait until after the flood for that.”

•     •     •

She called Roberto, to whom she had not spoken in over two years. Even when she would make those increasingly rare trips to drop off Christopher with Roberto in Atlanta during the summer, she would not even say his name, wouldn’t  look at him. But she needed to tell someone, felt her sanity slipping.

“Roberto,” she said when he answered his phone.

“Molly?” he replied. “Holy shit, Molly?”

“Hello,” she said, trying to be polite.

“What’s wrong?” he then said.

“What do you think?” she asked him.

“Christopher?” he answered.

“Yes, Christopher,” she said. Then she told him about Barsoom, about the flood. Roberto was chuckling the entire time. “It’s not funny,” she said. “You haven’t seen this girl. Worse, you haven’t seen how Christopher looks at her.”
“I mean, come on,” Roberto said. “When Christopher eventually met somebody, didn’t you just know it would be somebody a little strange.”

“She says I’m going to die in a flood, Roberto!” Molly shouted.

“It’s just an act. Like goth or punk or something. She’s into the apocalypse.”

Molly was barely even listening, realized so quickly how stupid it was to have confided in her ex-husband, who had been dating two other women for the duration of their brief courtship, marriage, and Christopher’s birth. She muttered to herself, though Roberto heard her, “If I drown, I’m taking her down with me.”

“Do you remember Y2K?” he asked her.

“Oh, god, the one time I panicked,” she replied.

“You bought all that gasoline, which had to be a fire hazard. Our garage was filled with containers of gasoline. And you bought those tapes from that weird dude at the flea market on how to prep for Y2K. You bought all that jerky.”

“We’d just been married,” Molly offered. “I was pregnant with Christopher. It was prepartum depression.”

“I’m just saying. You might have more in common with—what’s her name?”

“Barsoom. Christ, Roberto, how do you forget that name? It’ll be your daughter-in-law’s name.”

“Well, maybe Christopher sees part of you in Barsoom. That’s why he likes her.”

“Goodnight, Roberto,” she said.

“I love you, Molly,” he said, but she was already hanging up the phone.

Before she went to sleep, she got online and checked the extended forecast for Coalfield. There was rain. No mention of flooding, but, fuck, Molly had hoped for a parade of suns. She tried not to think about it.

She went into Christopher’s bedroom. He was sleeping on his back, his body rigid, which was his natural posture for sleep. She leaned over him and kissed his cheek. He was a beautiful boy.

She went back into her own room. She lay in bed, and though she tried to sleep, she kept thinking of who her two by two would be. There was no one. If she had to start over, if the world was to be rebuilt from scratch, all she wanted was Christopher. And if he was safe, if someone else could keep him afloat, then what? She’d just die? She took a sleeping pill. Her dreams, holy shit, they were bad that night. She could not pull air into her lungs.

•     •     •

Two weeks later, Molly accidentally walked in on Christopher and Barsoom making out, their mouths so red and angry, so much spit glistening on their faces.

“Oh, sorry, Mom,” Christopher said. “We were just—”

“It’s time for Barsoom to head home,” Molly said, as if she’d not seen a thing. “You’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Okay, let me just—” he had an erection, was trying to hide it.

“I’ll take Barsoom home,” Molly replied, smiling at Barsoom, who was not embarrassed in the least. “I’d like to meet her parents.

In the car, rain splattering the windshield, Barsoom sat silently in the passenger seat. “Christopher really cares for you,” Molly told her.

“And I care for him,” Barsoom replied.

“And I care for him,” Molly said.

“Naturally,” Barsoom answered, still staring straight ahead, those black eyes.

“And I don’t want him to be hurt,” Molly said.

Barsoom finally turned to Molly, looking at her with genuine kindness. “We want the same things for Christopher, Ms. Ranger.”

“Call me Molly,” Molly said, slightly disoriented from Barsoom’s warmth.

“Molly,” Barsoom said, trying it out. “I love that name.”

Molly could not say anything in reply, simply accelerated in the hopes of getting there sooner.

•     •     •

“Mom and Dad, this is Ms. Ranger, Molly. She’s Christopher’s mom,” Barsoom said at the front door.

Mr. and Mrs. Rice both seemed entirely normal. She was wearing a lovely kimono of deep blue over a pair of khaki pants and a white T-shirt, like a model in a catalog. And Mr. Rice, slightly older than his wife, had a vest and these tailored brown pants that showed more sock than you’d expect. He had gray hair and thick black glasses. They were smiling in such a genuine way.

“Here, here, come out of that rain,” Mr. Rice said to the both of them. “It’s biblical out there, isn’t it?”

When they were all inside, the Rice family seemed to encircle Molly.

“We absolutely love Christopher,” Mrs. Rice said to Molly.

“Oh, that’s great,” Molly replied.

“Ever since they started dating, Barsoom has been so much happier,” Mr. Rice said.

“That’s also great,” Molly said; she felt like either she wasn’t in on the joke or there simply was no joke.

“Well,” Barsoom said, blushing, “he’s my two by two.”

“That he is,” Mr. Rice said, gently squeezing Barsoom’s shoulder. “That he is.”

“I better get ready for dinner,” Barsoom said. “Thank you for the ride, Molly.”

“Goodbye, Barsoom,” Molly replied. Mr. and Mrs. Rice turned to watch Barsoom walk away. Then they both turned back to Molly, who felt so small in this house, which was quite large, very fancy.

“I suppose you want to talk to us?” Mrs. Rice said.

“Um, yes?” Molly replied.

“About the flood?” Mrs. Rice asked, just to be sure.

“Yes,” Molly replied.

Mr. Rice took her gently by the arm. “Here, come into the living room. I just set out some coffee and cookies.”

“Well,” Molly said, “Christopher is waiting for me at home.”

“This won’t take long,” Mr. Rice said, gesturing for her to sit on the sofa, while he walked over to the entertainment center. He put a DVD into the player and the screen flickered to life.

“So,” Mrs. Rice said, having sat a little too close to Molly, “this is when it began, so you have a sense of the situation.”

“When what began?” Molly asked. On the screen, there was a shaky video of a school recital, the children all wearing red shirts and blue jeans.

“The visions,” Mrs. Rice replied. “The visions of the flood.”

It wasn’t hard to find Barsoom on the screen, the little pale girl, and then, suddenly, during a break in the singing, Barsoom began to vibrate, her eyes blinking rapidly. “And a flood will come,” she shouted, “and it will wipe away the earth as we know it. And the world will be remade by the water. And there will be much death and destruction. And only those who are able to float, who can rise above the surface of the water, will survive. They will come in rows of two, two by two, and they will create the world anew. It is coming. The flood is coming.” And then Barsoom collapsed. The other children started crying. The teacher ran to the front of the stage, asking for assistance. And then the video cut out.

“She was seven,” Mr. Rice said. “So articulate, even at that age.”

“And you believe her?” Molly asked them.

“We do,” Mr. Rice admitted. “Barsoom is a very special person, Molly. We take no credit for this of course. We’re not bragging. She simply is a person who exists on a plane of consciousness that is different from most people.”

“Okay, yes,” Molly replied.

“And if she says that a flood is coming in a matter of weeks, and that it will drown the world and wipe out nearly the entire human race, then we have to take that seriously.”

“How do you take that seriously?” Molly asked.

Mr. Rice walked over to the window, which looked out into the backyard. “Well,” he said, “for starters, we bought that boat, a very expensive boat, and we’ve kept it docked here in our backyard ever since Barsoom had that vision.”

“It was a nightmare, having to deal with the housing committee,” Mrs. Rice admitted.

“And we supported Barsoom in her search for her own partner, for her two by two.”

“Which is Christopher?” Molly asked.

“It is now,” Mrs. Rice replied. “Thank goodness. It’s been quite a search, I’ll tell you that. Most recently, she thought her two by two was Dietrich Goldwater, who was, well, not to speak ill of a child, but he was the worst. I don’t think he ever fully understood the concept of the apocalypse. He certainly didn’t seem to grasp the enormity of our task in the aftermath of the flood, of rebuilding the world. He just wanted to make out with Barsoom. He just wanted her body.”

“And so you can imagine how happy we were when she told us about Christopher,” Mr. Rice said. They were tagging in and out of the conversation like it was some sales pitch. “He’s perfect.”

“How so?” Molly asked.

“Well, he believes,” Mr. Rice said, throwing up his hands. “Simple as that. But he also has a creative mind. He’ll be a useful problem-solver when the rains subside. He’s a natural pathfinder. I believe he can help us find whatever safe earth might still be uncovered by the flood.”

“I’m just not sure that Christopher is ready for this kind of commitment,” Molly said. “I mean, he’s never had a girlfriend before.”

“As a mother, I can sympathize,” Mrs. Rice answered. “Molly, I know how strange this must be. You’ve had so little time to get used to the idea. But please don’t think that we’re trying to take Christopher away from his family. There is plenty of room on that boat. Well, not unlimited room, but we’d be more than happy for you to join us at the end of the world.”

“I have this colleague in the English department,” Mr. Rice said. “And he’s certainly captivated by the idea of the two by twos. I think you might like him.”

“I need to go,” Molly said, suddenly standing, pushing Mr. Rice out of the way as he moved toward her.

“Give our best to Christopher,” Mr. Rice shouted, waving from the porch.

•     •     •

On the drive back home, Molly stopped at the Walmart, nearly sprinting into the store. She headed to the sporting goods department and grabbed two life jackets. She paid for them and hurried back to the car. There were giant puddles in the parking lot, and Molly had to jump to avoid stepping in them. She put the life jackets in the trunk, slamming it shut. She stood in the rain, her clothes soaking wet. This was ridiculous, she understood that. She thought back to Y2K, the frenzy she had felt, how alive she’d been. She had imagined the new world order that would arise, the dollar a worthless currency, and she was going to navigate that landscape with her newborn baby son strapped to her back. And then, nothing. And that intensity had faded. It had gone away so quickly, as if it had never been there in the first place. She knew this was nothing. She knew there was no flood.

After a few seconds, she ran back into the store, and, forty-five minutes later, she came out with a shopping cart filled with items: waterproof matches, raincoats, scuba masks, flippers, a waterproof radio, duct tape, flares, trash bags, a whistle, and beef jerky.

When she got back home, after she’d shoved everything into the garage, her secret shame, she ran upstairs. She pushed open the door to Christopher’s room. He was looking at a map of the Atlantic Ocean, a bow compass in his hand.

“Christopher—” she said.

“Did you meet Mr. and Mrs. Rice?” he asked.

“I did,” she said.

“You were gone a long time,” he said.

“Well, they had some very interesting things to tell me,” Molly replied.

“I’m in love!” Christopher said, so excited. This was unlike him, showing emotion. It unnerved her.

“Christopher, I can’t let you see Barsoom anymore,” she told him, now sitting on the bed. “I just . . . it’s just not right. It’s not responsible. I am your mom and I have a responsibility to protect you.”

“Have you seen the boat?” he asked. “It’s huge.”

“No, look, Christopher, there is no flood. The world is not ending. Barsoom is a very mixed-up child. She needs psychiatric help.”

“You said that you liked her,” Christopher said, crestfallen, betrayed.

“No, I said that I was happy that you liked her. That’s different,” Molly said, unable to stop talking. “The point is, you’re not Barsoom’s two by two. You just aren’t. There is no such thing as a two by two. There is no flood coming. There will be no apocalypse.”

“But what if there is?” Christopher said. There was real fear in his eyes.

“Then we’ll protect each other,” Molly replied, feeling dizzy. “We’ll handle it as a family. But I cannot let you marry Barsoom. I can’t let you sail away to some lost paradise and repopulate the earth. I just can’t, Christopher. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

“I knew you didn’t understand,” he finally said. “I knew you didn’t believe me.”

“I don’t understand,” Molly said, now exasperated, her voice rising. “I don’t believe you.”

“How do you think that you’ll stop me?” Christopher said, his eyes gleaming with this awareness of the situation.

“I can’t stop you,” she admitted. “But I’m asking you, for your own good, to listen to me. I’m asking you to wait. When is the flood supposed to come?” she asked him.

“Any day now,” he said, growing excited again.

“Well, just until that passes. And you’ll see that there is no flood, that the world isn’t ending. And then, honestly, you can date Barsoom if you want. But just give me these few days, okay? Stay with me. And then we’ll see what happens. Please, Christopher.”

He wouldn’t look at her, but he nodded. “Okay, Mom,” he said. “Okay.”

She hugged him. “Thank you, sweetie,” she said. “Thank you so much.”

“Barsoom is my two by two,” he said.

“Maybe,” Molly allowed, happy to take what she could get. “May she is and maybe she isn’t.”

•     •     •

And then a flood came. There were constant warnings online, on the radio. Flash floods, impassable roads. But this was just in Coalfield and the surrounding counties. This wasn’t global. The world wasn’t ending. Molly checked online every five minutes. School had been canceled, and Christopher had stayed in his bedroom all day, the sounds of maps being folded and unfolded. Their house was okay, but the water was rising, and in the lower elevations of the town, houses had been evacuated. They were to go to the elementary school on Knob Hill if things got bad, where they’d all huddle in the gymnasium until the rain subsided.

She finally called Roberto, asked what the weather was like in Atlanta. “It’s fine,” he said.

“Is it raining?” she asked.

“It is raining,” he admitted.

“A lot?” she asked.

“Just a normal amount,” he said.

“Not flooding?” she asked.

“God, no,” he said. Then, quietly, he asked her, “Do you want me to come up there?”

“No,” Molly said, surprising herself with the force of the refusal. “I’m just mixed up. I can’t figure this out.”

“It’s rain,” he said. “It’s spring. It rains in the spring.”

“I have to go,” she said.

“I’m worr—” he said, but she again hung up before she had to listen to anything else.

•     •     •

That night, after she and Christopher had eaten their dinner in complete silence, after all the lights were out, Molly managed to fall asleep and then suddenly woke up in a panic. She realized that she was not going to fall asleep again, so she went into the garage, turned on the light, and noticed that water was coming into the garage, about half an inch of water. She grabbed the two life jackets, took them out of their packaging. After she arranged all the survival equipment she had bought, it looked so meager, so ridiculous. But there was nothing else to do, so she dumped all of it into a backpack, and then brought it and the two life jackets back into the house.

On the radio in the living room, there was a voice calling for an evacuation of Coalfield and all surrounding areas. It stated that if there were elderly or sick people unable to evacuate, to call 9-1-1 for assistance, but that the lines were almost always busy. In the meantime, they advised, people should stay calm.

How long had she been asleep? What had happened in that time?

“Christopher!” Molly shouted. She checked her phone. It was sunny in Nashville. There was no rain in New York City. She had no idea what was going on.

“Christopher!” she shouted again. She looked out the window. The water was nearly at the door of the house. The water was up over the tires of her car in the driveway.

When she ran upstairs, Christopher was not there, and though it broke her heart, she was not entirely surprised. What had she expected? But was he safe? Had he made it to Barsoom’s? She called his cell phone but it went straight to voicemail.

She had no choice but to go find him. She stepped into the water, and she felt how strong the current was. The water, somehow, was now up to her waist. The life jacket kept her steady, but it was hard to hold onto the backpack, to keep her phone dry. She felt afraid; it was so dark outside. She climbed back into the house, and shut the door, water spilling across the hardwood floor.

Molly paced in a circle, muttering obscenities. She tried to call Roberto, but the call went straight to voicemail, too. She looked up the Rice’s number in the phone book but there was no listing. She kept saying, over and over, “Two by two by two by two by two by two by two.”

And then her phone rang. She saw Christopher’s name glowing on the screen, and she answered before the first ring had ended.

“Mom?” he said. He was crying.

“Christopher!” she shouted. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“I’m so sorry, Mom,” he told her. “I’m so sorry that I left.”

“It’s okay. You probably did the right thing. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m with Barsoom. We’re about to get on the boat.”

“Okay, sweetie,” she said.

“Can you come with us?” he asked her.

“What, sweetie? What do you mean?” she replied.

“There’s room on the boat. Barsoom wants you to come with us.”

“It’s not the end of the world, sweetie,” Molly told him. “This isn’t what Barsoom thinks it is.”

“Will you please come with us?” Christopher said. “Please, please, please, please?”

“What about the two by twos?” she asked. She felt insane. The water was making her insane.

“It doesn’t matter. I told them that it doesn’t matter. Barsoom says it might be okay. She says she doesn’t know everything. She says she doesn’t know exactly how it all ends.”

“Okay,” Molly replied. “I’ll come with you. I’ll come.”

“When the water gets higher, we’ll come find you,” Christopher said. “The boat’s pretty big. The water has to get higher for it to work.”

“I could come to you,” Molly offered.

“I don’t think it’s safe,” he told her. “It’s pretty bad.”

“I’ll get on the roof,” she said. “How about that? I’ll sit on the roof and you can come get me.”

“Okay, Mom,” he said. “Just be careful.”

“I’ll be careful,” she admitted. “I have a little bag of supplies. I’ll be okay.”

“I love you, Mom,” he told her.

“I love you, too, sweetie,” she said. Two by two, she thought. Two by two.

After he hung up, she went to the top floor and opened one of the windows. It was tricky, but she managed to pull herself onto the roof. She was dizzy, and the rain was coming down so hard, nearly blinding her. The sound of it was deafening.

She turned on her flashlight, which seemed so faint in the darkness, so tiny. She shined it out into the blackness, and she waited for the world to be reborn. She wondered how long that would take. She wondered what it would look like. She thought about her son, who seemed so far away from her. She pictured him, his beautiful face, and she waited for whatever came next.