THE FLOOD (new short story)

I fell in love with the devil last week. She was laid out on the sidewalk in front of Ernie’s pizzeria, bleeding to death. At least, that’s what I thought. I’m not sure now if it’s really possible for her to die. I hope so. That’s the only hope I have left.

She was lying out on the sidewalk, all wet and shivering. At first she looked like a pile of garbage bags, but then I saw the long red hair splayed out over the concrete, and when I turned her over, it matched the blood caked around her face, like stained porcelain. She was beautiful, even underneath all the grime and flesh pulpy with broken bones. I think it hit me the moment I saw her eyes flutter open, a glimmer of sapphire in the light of the street lamp. I asked what happened, who she was and where she had come from, but she couldn’t say anything but ‘water’, so I got it for her from inside.

Ernie wanted to know what the hell was going on, but I could only tell him that I knew as much as he did. He called 9-1-1 while I brought her the water. I held it to her mouth but she refused to drink it, pursing her lips against the wax coca-cola cup. When two black vans pulled up, I was confused, and then I knew for certain they weren’t paramedics. They were big guys, dressed in all black, looking like more pumped-up versions of the Russian wannabe gangsters that hang out in midtown. They asked me a few questions that I couldn’t answer and then they pulled her into one of the vans and they drove off. I thought that was the last I had seen of her.

Then she kept appearing again and again, all over the city. I saw someone fall into the subway tracks, and it was her. I spread out on the platform on my belly and yanked her up just before the train came crashing through, but she ran off before I could get up and talk to her. Then she was in the park, smashing her head against the side of a rocky outcropping, behind one of those flimsy-ass fences that says “preserve the environment”. Then she was walking down Broadway, not on the sidewalk, but in the middle of the street, traffic screaming around her with angry horns blaring. I pushed her out of the way and tried to talk to her again, to just spill my guts and say that I thought she was the most maddeningly beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life, but she only screamed for me to leave her alone, and she ran again. I followed her around the corner, but once I was there, she was nowhere to be found in either direction.

The big guys in black came to visit me again. They showed up at my work, when I was sitting on a stool outside a bar in Green Point. They said that I needed to come with them, and I told them that I was working, but they said I wouldn’t be missed, and then the biggest one, who had horse teeth, said “Promise,” with a grin. I went with them because I didn’t know what else to do. They put me in a car, a big one with tinted windows, and we drove out of the city and kept driving for what seemed like hours, before we came to a building on the edge of the road, surrounded by nothing but grass and a wooden fence. Inside there was a little man in a blue suit, and he smiled and shook my hand and said that I had been very bad, that I needed to mind my own business. He said he knew how beautiful she was, but that I couldn’t keep doing this, that it wouldn’t be good for me, or for anyone else.

I asked who the hell he was and what he was talking about, but he didn’t explain, he only told me that I needed to stop, and to mind my own business, and he just knew that I would do great things. Then the big guys in black, led by Horseface came back and put me in the car again. We got back to the city late, and they dropped me at my apartment, even though I hadn’t told them where I lived. I went inside and called the bar, but before I could even explain what happened, the guy who answered said I needed to come in right away, because there was a red-haired crazy lady demanding to see the owner. I asked why he called me then, and he only said “very funny,” as he hung up the phone. I went back to the bar and walked in, and everything was cleaner and more put-together than it had ever been the entire time I’d been working there. Lynn, one of the waitresses, walked by and asked if she could take tomorrow night off, and I said it wasn’t up to me, and she looked at me with this weird look, so I kept walking to the bar. Ronnie was on the other end, and his arms were folded across his chest as a lady with red hair, beautiful alabaster skin, and twinkling blue eyes screamed at him for the owner. It was her, and she was drunk.

Ronnie saw me walking up and told the lady to turn around, and she did, almost falling over. “Who do you think you are,” she screamed, slurring her words. “D’you know what you’ve done?” I said that I had no idea, and then she started to cry, and Ronnie asked if I wanted her out. “Don’t fucking touch me again,” she screamed, but the two other bounces who appeared didn’t listen, and they each took an arm for a split second before they let her go, hollering and clutching at their palms. I looked at one of the guys’ hands, watched it smolder and smoke like plastic held up against a desk lamp. “Get out of here,” I told them, and they went.

We drank at the bar, and nobody else bothered us, while she told me through tears that they had been keeping her, and making her produce for them. I asked what she was producing, and she threw back another shot, and said “sorrow”, and then she glared at me as I laughed. She said that now they had gotten to me, because I kept interfering with the plan. I asked what the plan was and she said that she kept trying to escape, to make sure she couldn’t produce for them anymore, but that I kept saving her, and they didn’t like that, even though it kept them in business. None of it made any sense to me, but I still listened. She said that now they had given me this, and gestured to the bar we were sitting at, and told me that they were going to catch me up in it too, now. And make sure that I paid for meddling. They always made sure they got paid, she said, and then she vomited all over the bar. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, hoping that any of it would make sense by the time I got out, but when I returned she had crawled behind the bar and was guzzling form a bottle of scotch. Ronnie and I got it away from her, and we carried her out to a cab while she was screaming that we didn’t understand. I told the driver to take her wherever she wanted, and he didn’t leave until I had given him almost fifty bucks.

The next day it rained like it never does in the city. It was sheets of slashing Midwestern rain with lightning and thunder that only happens in wide open spaces. It rained and it kept raining and raining until the water began to creep up over the sidewalks and the parks and cars started to float out into the ocean. I saw the girl with the red hair again. She was kneeling at the edge of the Hudson greenway, shoving her head underneath the water as it swallowed all the earth in its path, and I pulled her out from beneath the bench she had tangled herself in. She screamed and kicked and bit at me, telling her I didn’t understand, that I had to let her go, but I had never wanted anybody so badly in all my life, and I told her so. She cried, and continued to cry as I walked her back to my apartment on the 10th floor, and she cried when I undressed her and put her in the tub and she cried while she bathed and after she got out and came into the living room naked, still dripping wet. We made love on the couch, and she still cried, and her nails felt like fire raking into my back, and I felt hot tears running down my shoulders as she said “you’re never going to understand” over and over and over.

I fell asleep to the sounds of her sniffling, and I dreamt that the man in the blue suit and Horseface were there in my apartment, and that they had tied me to the towel rack in my bathroom while the other big guys in black pressed a brand against my skin. When I woke up, my face was burning and itching, and I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror to see my flesh crawling with disease, sores opening and closing like mouths in the middle of a soundless scream. She appeared behind me, and wiped the tears from her eyes before she blubbered “I knew it would happen, I’m sorry, I knew it would happen,” and then she ran out of the room.

I followed her, and found her throwing herself at the windows. This high up they didn’t open, and she was trying to break the glass. I tried to stop her, to wrap her up in a bear hug but she kept breaking free and charging the glass, telling me she had to go, that I had to let her go, but I didn’t understand. I pressed her against the glass, trying to keep her from backing up for another charge, and I could see out the window and down to the street, see the whirling tide pool of the city coming up little by little, the cars and people and park benches and dogs and newsstands all floating by as the water came up and up and up. She threw me aside and charged the window again, and this time it broke, and the rain began to pour in as the water outside rose. I caught her by the waist as she tried to slither out through the broken window, and her hand slipped around the frame of the window on the broken glass, the blood sluicing out of her hand and running down the wall and into the water as it slowly filled the apartment. “You have to let me go,” she cried, digging into my hands around her waist with her nails like fire. “You have to let me go.” The water began to crest over the window, and bits of broken glass and grass and newspaper began to flood into the apartment.

I held on tighter, and I kissed her face, then her mouth, and I heard her whimper again as the water began to pool around us on the floor. “Please,” she said. “You don’t understand.”

I did. I finally did. But I held on tighter.

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