We gathered in the crazy old man's home. The sound of the rain was muffled here, but we still had to raise our voices in order to be heard. The air was still damp, and we had no dry clothes - but at least we were out of the rain.
I was surprised by how few people were here. Including the children, twelve of us had escaped together from the town, and we were easily a third of the overall crowd. Most of the others had come in smaller groups, and ours were far from the only children. There was one older couple, a group of four children who seemed to have come on their own, a handful of individuals, families of various sizes... and all of us wet and miserable, bedraggled and profoundly lost. We stood or sat, with barely enough will to speak, and looked at each other. We knew this shelter was only temporary.
The situation hadn't changed. If we didn't keep moving, we'd die where we sat. I forced myself to stand back up, and started a circle of the room. I asked for names and gave my own; I asked questions, knowing already that I wouldn't like the answers.
The old man wasn't in the house. His family wasn't in the house. All those animals and supplies that they'd spent months collecting -- after months of laboring on their crazy project -- were in the structure outside, and we had no doubt that the old man and his family were in there, too: safe in their ridiculously oversized boat.
Of course we'd made fun of him. Who decides to build a boat miles away from the nearest water? Who makes a boat that's too large to navigate the river, even if you could get it there somehow, and it didn't collapse under its own weight when you put it in the water? We'd called him crazy because the entire project was crazy. When he filled the boat with animals, we called it the world's most elaborate barn, and went to gawk at his madness. When he told us the world was going to end, and loaded his boat-shaped barn with enough supplies for a year or more, we laughed -- or we nodded gently and helped him on his way, humoring him. What else could we have done?
But now that boat was our only chance of survival. If the old man had known that the rains were coming, maybe he'd also known how to build a boat that could withstand the rising waters - and who knew how long they would rise? I kept thinking of the river, covering more and more of the landscape as it rose and spread, following us here a few hills and valleys at a time. How much time did we have?
Some of the others had tried pounding on the hull, hoping someone would let them in. Nobody had responded; either the old man and his family were ignoring them, or they couldn't hear them over the rain.
So I went back outside and looked at the old man's crazy boat. It was a giant block of a thing, a good fifty feet high. There was only one door that I could see, and that was sealed and too high up to reach. I thought again of the river, rising to devour everything; and I wondered how much time we had.
We were going to have to get up there, somehow. Despite the height, despite the merciless downpour, despite our exhaustion... somehow. We had to find a way to get on that boat.
Continue on to Part Four...