Dying by Dam

Action-Adventure / A reservoir / A beer keg / 1000w

The truth is, I always thought I might die by dam. I just thought there would be water involved, not fire. I’m telling you.

Why dams? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the memories staining everything, getting their color on all the thoughts washed in the same mental cycle up there in my head. But if I am remembering right, and I think I am, dams always gave me a heebie-jeebie kind of feeling. The way they loom—there’s a word meant for dams—and look so goddamned out of place in all that nature. They’re manmade, all angles, stuck in a river gorge. Turns your stomach.

Look, I wouldn’t have even been at the party if it weren’t for you. You know I orbit you and your lips and your skinny little ankles like I’m a moon knocked loose from every other planet. So I followed you out there. It is your fault. Yes, you should feel guilty. I’m kidding. Don’t cry. I just wanted to warm my poles by you. I know. It’s weird. I should have told you before. I’m only telling you now because I’m still scared shitless.

Harvey noticed me staring at you, I guess, because he came up to where I was standing slack-jawed by the keg and said, “Shit, Alice. That why you never said yes to me? You wanna give it to some girl next door?” He made a vulgar gesture with his hands, you know the one, that put him right in line with all the rest of the local cretins. I hold him to fuck off. He laughed—it wasn’t a nice laugh—and filled up his cup, making sure to splash some on my sandals. What an asshole. I was just wanted to have a good time getting drunk at a construction site and trying to make out with you. Sorry.

The dam loomed—see? the right word—above us, all blank and behemoth and somehow, I swear, evil. You don’t remember that, either? We were at the mouth of a maintenance entrance, on that massive platform slab of concrete that’s supposed to be a kind of artificial riverbank, once there’s a river to bank. It’s all still held back by the old dam upstream until construction is done. Thank god, or we’d be dead.

Suddenly, there was a wave, or a burst of heat that tasted like chemicals, and I saw the explosion kaboom out from the center of the dam. It felt like a hand reached inside me, grabbed my spine, and started to jerk it back and forth like it was shaking a box of pennies. Then it threw me horizontal, and that was when I blacked out. I don’t know how long I was out of it.

I came to coughing, which turned into hacking, like my body wanted to evict my lungs. Turns out I was inhaling the pulverized concrete; that’s the dusty stuff all over you. I was lying facing the dam, and saw that a massive chunk of it had been blasted into the canal, just jettisoned, you know. And this fissure had split into life from the top of the dam wall to the maintenance entrance. And of course, the power station, or what was left of it, was on fire. I think it took them eighteen hours to put it out.

I saw there were a few other knocked-out kids on the platform with me, strewn around, sprawled like limp fruit peels. I braced myself on the overturned keg and tried to stand. I couldn’t hear anything but the ringing of my ears, like a thousand crystal glasses singing at the same time. I stumbled, off-balance. I looked for you. I didn’t see you.

You know how it feels when an elevator stops too quickly? I felt like that. I scrambled over to the edge of the platform and saw you, about fifteen feet down, lying in the dry canal bed. On the sloped wall down, painting your path, was a smear of dark blood. I whimpered. You had been standing right on the edge.

Things get a little fuzzy here. Shock, I guess. Off the slab, there was an iron ladder down into the canal. I swung a leg down. Then the other. I know it was stupid. Having a purpose gave me momentum, and vice versa. Somebody above had woken and I heard his scream, faintly above the ringing.

About two-thirds down I missed a rung with my right foot, and my hands, sizzling and shaky with adrenalin, didn’t recover. My upper teeth slammed into the iron as I was falling, and when I landed I folded like a rag. There was no swallowing that howl. Believe me, you never want to hear your body make a noise like that. It won’t even sound like your voice. I needed a minute.

You had landed in this S-shape, one arm flung out behind you, as if pushing something away, like this. I crawled over and stuck two fingers under your jaw. A pulse. Steady. The blood was seeping from a gash where your glasses had sliced your cheek open, to the bone. That’s why you have that on your face, the patch.

I rolled you over. The paramedics yelled at me for that, you know, possible spinal injuries. You’re okay, though. I just tore my throat open again and again, screaming for help.

It really wasn’t heroics. No, listen. All I did was give myself more injuries. My coming down there didn’t do anything for you. You can thank the helicopter EMTs. Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t remember them, either. I’ll introduce you in a few weeks.

No, I still think it’ll be by dam. The likelihood resets, right? But with that damage, I’ve probably got at least another five years.

Yeah, probably. It seemed loose. Maybe it’ll get swept away once they open the dam, teeth marks and all.

I just didn’t want you to be alone down there.

Writer’s Note

Hmmm. So much potential for crossover in these genres (which is reasonable…) but I wonder if this is predominantly a romance. I went for more action over adventure, with the explosions that apparently calls for. The protagonist attempts to overcome obstacles outside the course of his/her daily life, and this seems to qualify, but it definitely isn’t The Iliad.

I ended up making this a “reported” oral story sort of late in the game, and I think some places may still have the formal tone of writing that it had before. I also had to sacrifice some of the metaphors I’d worked in after being inspired by Michael Chabon’s delicious gift for it. I left some in even though they break from her voice because I’m stubborn. I need to get over that.

I often dream about huge slabs of rock and dams or waterfalls. I don’t know why. I’ve also hated looking at dams my whole life.



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