latest extract - from the deluge
That night she had a dream that the world was shaking itself apart. And then she opened her eyes and found that it was true.
The first thing Abby saw was the silhouette of her dad, Steve, standing in the doorway of her bedroom. He was framed by the yellow light from the hallway, and his lanky form was trembling, vibrating. He put out a hand to steady himself against the doorframe.
"Dad?" Abby said.
She sat up, and felt it then. Felt it properly for the first time. The rumbling. The shaking. Almost subliminal. Like some subterranean behemoth powering its way to the surface.
"Dad," she said, hearing the vibration in her own voice, "what's happening?"
"I don't know," he replied.
"Is it an earthquake?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"But they don't have earthquakes in England. Do they?" she said, pleading for reassurance, for him to put everything right with a few words.
"No," he said, "not usually. But..."
He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe with the greenhouse effect. Climatic change..."
Suddenly she felt angry. He was supposed to comfort her, not fuel her panic. "Don't say that!" she snapped.
The lights in the hall flickered, then came on again. For an instant her dad disappeared, sucked into the blackness. Abby gripped the bed, the sheet ruckling in her hands. "Dad, I'm scared."
"Don't worry, sweetheart," he said, "I'm sure everything will be-"
The lights went out.
She screamed. For an instant she felt transfixed, paralysed by the darkness. And then he was beside her, his hand – long-fingered and strong – reaching for hers in the darkness.
She could smell him now too – a reassuring Dad-smell of shower gel, coffee, hand-rolled tobacco.
"Why have the lights gone out?" she whispered."I don't know, love."
"Is it terrorists?"
"I doubt it. It's probably just an earth tremor. Jiggered the power somewhere. We'll sit tight until it comes on again."
"What if it doesn't?"
"But what if it doesn't?"
She sensed his face close to hers. He kissed her forehead. "I'll go and find some candles if you like. I'm sure I've got some in the kitchen."
She didn't want him to go, didn't want to be left alone in the dark, but she couldn't tell him that. She wasn't a kid any more. She was thirteen, for God's sake. She went shopping in town with her mates on a Saturday; wore make-up; drank cappuccino; baby-sat for little Oliver, her neighbour's son, who kept telling her he would marry her one day.
"Nah," she said, trying to sound casual. "Like you said, they'll probably get it sorted in a minute."
They didn't though. The minutes passed and nothing changed. They sat huddled in the dark and the rumbling went on, ominous as an oncoming storm. Abby's hand, clenched in Steve's, began to ooze with sweat. Her back and neck ached with holding herself so tense.
"Dad?" she said finally.
"If it is an earthquake, shouldn't we move? I mean, isn't it dangerous being so high up?"
He didn't answer immediately. Then he said, "I think we're safer here than we would be on the ground."
"But what if the building falls down?"
"But what if it does?"
"Then it'd be the first time it had ever happened in England," he said.
"But there's a first time for everything," she said.
"True," he conceded. "But if buildings are going to start falling down all over the place, then do you honestly think it'd be safer to be on the streets of Peckham, getting flattened by collapsing masonry, than it would be to be sitting tight up here?"
Abby sighed. "I suppose not. But if this building does fall down, I'm blaming you."
"I promise to take full responsibility," he said solemnly.
They fell silent again, listening to the rumbling for a couple more minutes. Then Steve slipped his hand from hers.
"I think I will get those candles," he said. "Things won't seem so bad with a bit of light."
"I will." He touched her hot cheek. "Don't worry."
"I'm not worried," she said. "It's just..."
"Yeah, I know."
It was too dark to see him cross the room, but she tried to comfort herself by picturing it in her mind's eye. She knew that a few feet beyond the end of her bed was a wall, inset with a window which afforded a panoramic view of south London. To the left of that was a flat-pack wardrobe, enlivened by the William Morris-style stencils she had spent a hot afternoon last summer spraying on to its doors. Much of the wall space was occupied by posters: Johnny Depp, The Killers, Pete Docherty, The White Stripes. She heard her dad clump down the hall and in to the kitchen, then the sound of drawers opening and closing.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, and seconds later there came the scrape of a match, followed by a faint haze of brownish light. The light brightened and then a flame appeared at the end of the corridor and bobbed nearer. Abby could see her dad behind the flame, his long, handsome face ghoulish with shadow. He had rammed the candle into an empty beer bottle.
"Is that it?" she joked. "One measly candle?"
"Patience, my little viper," he said.
He crossed to her bedside table and put the bottle on it, moving her lamp so the paper shade didn't catch fire.
"Very classy," she said.
"Nothing but the best for you, my dear." He held up his left hand. There was a bottle attached to each finger.
"Not like you to have beer bottles around," she said, grinning.
"I know. I can't think where they came from."
He produced a half-dozen candles of various sizes and colours from his pocket and stuffed them into the bottles. Once the candles had been arranged around the room and were giving off the oddly nostalgic smell of melting wax, Steve folded his lanky frame back on to the bed.
"Funny seeing them all lit up," he said. "It's like being haunted by my lurid past."
"What do you mean?"
"Well...the only time I get candles out is when I'm entertaining a lady-friend. Each candle is therefore a symbol of a doomed assignation. A beacon of my failure."
"Poor you," said Abby. She knew there was little chance of her parents getting back together, but it still made her uncomfortable and sad to hear either of them talk of other relationships.
"Mind you, that one," her dad continued, nodding towards a chubby red candle, "brings back a few happy memories. Bridget Moxenby that one was. Bendy Bridget they call her."
"Dad!" exclaimed Abby. "Too much information!"
He laughed. It was a warm, throaty laugh, like shingle shifting in a gentle tide. Steve's larynx had been roughened by booze and roll-ups, and by belting out r'n'b numbers with his band The Hogs in numerous backstreet pubs.
"You should be old enough to know the facts of life," he teased.
"I do," said Abby. "I just don't want to know the facts of your life."
He was about to reply, then suddenly paused, his mouth half-open.
Abby had heard it too – a second sound, which had joined the rumbling. She thought of someone putting a finger to their lips and going, "Shhh". Except it didn't sound like one person, it sounded like a thousand. Maybe a million.
"What is it?" she asked.
Her dad looked at her with a kind of wonderment. "It's water."
Instantly Abby realised he was right. It was water. The sound of an incoming tide magnified a thousandfold.
"It can't be," she said.
"No," Steve agreed, "it can't. But it is all the same. I'll bet my entire Ray Charles collection on it."
Abby's chest felt tight. She had never experienced dread before, but she thought she was experiencing it now. "What do you think's going on?" she said, her throat suddenly very dry. "Has the Thames burst its banks?"
"What then? A tsunami?"
"I don't know," Steve said, shrugging, and suddenly she wanted to shout at him: WHY don't you know? You're an adult! You SHOULD know!
Instead, surprised at how calm she sounded, she said, "What are we going to do?"
"Sit it out," he said. "What else can we do?"
Abby watched the candle-light lapping at the walls. She grabbed her duvet and pulled it up to her chin. Steve's face was composed, lips set in a thin line, eyes shining yellow. The rushing sound and the rumbling grew slowly but steadily louder. Abby looked at her watch: twenty to five. Still two hours before daylight.
"Here it comes," Steve said.
Abby didn't need to ask him what he meant. Quite suddenly the rumbling and the rushing of water rose to a crescendo. She felt it in her chest: a pressure. A rapid, feathery drumming. The beer bottles on their various surfaces began to rattle. Something in another flat fell over with a distant crash.
"Dad!" Abby screamed and flung her arms around him.
A bottle worked its way to the edge of her dressing table and fell to the floor. The candle went out before it could set the carpet alight. Two more bottles fell over, and instantly the light in the room changed from a grimy yellow to a sepia brown.
Abby squeezed her eyes tight shut. We're going to die, she thought. We're going to die.
The certainty of that, in the midst of the shaking and the roaring, went on for a long time.
Finally, however, Steve murmured, "Whatever it was, I think it's passed by."
Abby opened her eyes. She was surprised to see that three candles were still burning. She was also surprised to see a crack in the wall directly in front of her, running from floor to ceiling behind her poster of Johnny Depp.
"What was it?" she asked, knowing he had no answer.
"Freak storm? Passing meteorite? Biblical flood?"
"I can hear a cat drinking milk," she said.
She could too. Or something like it. A great rhythmic lapping sound. A smacking of giant lips.
"Hang on," Steve said. Abruptly he stood up. She sensed an urgency about him.
"What is it?"
He went to the window. Pulled back the curtain and looked out. The glass looked as if it had been painted black. He pressed his nose up against it.
"Dad, what's the matter?"
He turned to look at her. He seemed scared and reluctant, as if he had bad news he didn't want to impart.
"I might be wrong, but..."
"I think it's water," he said, "slapping against the side of the building."
She looked at him in bewilderment. "But that's impossible."
"But...but..." She took a deep breath. "So you're saying that part of the building is underwater?"
"How much of it?"
"I don't know. But even through the window it sounds pretty close. Like it's only a couple of floors down."
Dawn came slowly, wounds in the sky splitting open to reveal striations of purple, and then the glimmer of salmon-pink light.
Abby and Steve set chairs by the window and watched the sun rise. The first rays reflected on the black solidity beneath the sill of their top floor flat and became fragmented, glittering shards darting like shoals of tiny fish. As the sun rose higher, it revealed an impossible truth.
"No," Abby breathed.
"Fuck," Steve muttered, a word he barely used around his daughter.
The world was gone, and in its place was water. Thousands, millions, billions of gallons of water. It lapped gently against the upper floors of the few buildings tall enough to have remained visible. Buildings which now jutted from the surface of a new and terrible ocean, like a smattering of curious islands.