I man the pumps

I man the pumps. Been doing it since I was twenty-three, about ten years now. Tomorrow, I’ll have to head up to Charleston to check-in with Dooley, he’s been getting wicked foul-ups from leopard mussels on his intakes. I’ll have to help clear those out.

But today, I’m driving the Savannah Line, scannin’ for leaks, testing the back pressures and Central informs me that I have to replace a couple impellers. All that, plus keep an eye out. But it’s been months since I had to run off any globateurs. But that’s here. Down in Jacksonville, hoo-boy, they been gettin’ organized. Some of them environmentalists either found a backer, or some dumb-ass inland farmer forgot to lock up his ammonium-nitrate. It’s a federal offense to so-much-as paint graffiti on a levy wall. But blowin’ one up? Hell, you get caught by the folks whose homes you flooded, you’d be lynched for sure.

Get a load of these three. “Hey, you can’t be fishing in the collection pool. You’ll get your lines n’ shit all tangled in my pumps.” Whoa, that’s a big channel cat. “You guys clear out. Head on down to Bolling Pier and fish from that. I catch you here again I’ll send your photos into NLS.”

I’m about eighteen inches below sea level just standing here at pump number one nineteen. The kids pull up a big ol’ catfish on a stringer. Water from allover the land seeps up from below, or rains down from above, and runs in collection channels to here where we pump it into the river. All kinds of juicy vittles end up in the ponds. Cats get thick on ’em. I wouldn’t eat the fish that comes out of the pools. But some do.

“You guys didn’t lose any tackle did ya? Just tell me straight. I already flipped off my camera,” I tell them, but a smart kid would known better. “Nothing? Alright, so get outta here. Go on.”

I continue on down Savannah Line. It’s clear until I get to pump-station one thirty-one. It sits right at the edge of a cemetery. By the time my truck pulls up its wheels are deep in grey-green water that, thinking about, gives me the willies. I’m sure I can smell formaldehyde leaking from a hundred graves. I wear hip boots but, geeze, I’m sure I’ve got nodules of cancer growing from whiffing the stuff.

But I get to it.

I drop the intake hose from the truck’s pump into the pool, drag the output up to the spigot that leads to the river side, clamp it and crank up the truck’s sixty-horse pump. I can hear the water gushing out on the other side of the levy. On this side, the water slowly drains, like watching a bathtub empty. Stuff starts showing in the filthy water: bottles, paper, clothing, odd things like sandals, dog toys, hell, once I found a pink dildo. Next to the cemetery I keep thinking I see bones and skulls. But it’s only twigs and plastic bags drifting with the pump’s current.

The truck’s pump sucks air and I kill it. This is one of the impellers that needs replacing. I’ve got to lower myself into the cavity where the blade turns and the thought of being below sea level and below a thousand dead people adds a snap to my fingers. The air is thick with the breath of the dead and that strange sweet smell of preservative…

I’m done in five minutes.

I flip the control panel open, enter my password, check the logs, (only a failed impeller) and reset the pump. It starts right up and clears the water that’s already begun to collect.

I wipe my brow with a clean tissue from the box on the dash as I drive away from pump one thirty-one.

Storytime: an unraveling yarn

The tale you beg is old and tired. I’ll not tell it again. Give me a new beginning, one tugged by the threads of your heart.” I glance about, taking in their their small eyes peeking from the shadows. “Well?”

“Can there be dragons?” Cressan pulls the woolen cloth to her chin.

“Dragons? No, I’m weary of dragons.”

Durn whispers from the back, “Flying machines and rockets?”

“You mean like those we dig from our rubble explores? I suppose you want cave-trains and smooth-cars too? No Durn. Deeper, pull from inside you, down in the dark, down where the light glows like a gem.”

They breathe a dozen breaths, minds click, lips pinch with effort.

“Death,” speaks a steady high voice, one not yet begun to turn.

I consider the source. Tawlins holds my gaze. The boy knows death and suffering, but for the sake of the story, that’s all he knows.

“Yes, boy, we’ll have some of that. Some quick, some that will last the whole tellin’.” Cressan coughs for effect. “Yes, starting with sickness like yours, my dear.” The girl grits her teeth defiantly.

“A… A story of c… courage and t… travel.” Syssa’s comment comes out in her hesitant way. I’d been waiting for it.

“And who shall be courageous? Who shall embark on this journey?” I stare back into the girl’s wide eyes, walnut brown and calculating. My challenge, they know, is staged, but I hold the questions up as proof of the story’s potential. “Hmm?” I look from face to face. “Will you stand and fight young Durn? Seek the cures and potions, Cressan? Syssa, will you struggle the mountains and rivers to find the answers?”

The brown eyed girl with the scarf that hides her scar nods solemnly. “I will.”

The rest volunteer their assent. I┬álet my grin stretch from pleased to devious, cock an eyebrow and speak, “Then, let us begin.”