by Susan Pomeroy
[This is a piece of pure fiction begun
in August, long before the fires that ravaged Southern California
last month. Although Daykeeper hasn't featured fiction before,
given our global and environmental concerns, it seems appropriate
to run this piece now. The story is written in installments,
which we'll publish regularly.]
Heat. Hot. They say that it's the hot nights that kill.
The body can withstand high daytime temperatures—a
youngish healthy body can, anyway. But it needs at least three
hours of coolness each night. If we doesn't get that three
hours of relief, people start dying. First a few old folks,
or people with heart conditions or health problems. And then
the rest of us.
That year—the tenth year of the drmatic change that we
now call The Warming—the reality finally hit home. The Aleutian
current was extra-sluggish for two years in a row. But enough cold
water flowed down the Pacific coast to make summer fog for California
and to pull in the storms that brought a scattering of rains
for Oregon and Washington. But that year—2014—the current didn't
flow at all. No ice in the Arctic; no cold water to flow.
From April through November, warm ocean lapped at our
shores. We never really had a spring. Winter turned from one day
to the next into full summer. A hot, dry summer, a series of burning
days, with no cooling breezes, no offshore fog banks, no rain,
not a sprinkle. And burning nights, too, because without that
big cold ocean, nothing cooled off at all.
By August, the sky was gray with the smoke from a hundred
forest fires. Joshua had been away fighting fires for so long
that my worry for him twisted itself into one long rope of anxiety
that pulled me through the
long days and longer nights. And if fire happened here? There were no men
left, and not enought water, either. They were drilling the high
school kids in how to run out hoses and climb up ladders. Ben and Katia
came home from school excited each day by the prospect of doing something
real, something positive. But who wants to see their own child facing flames?
I had so many things to pray for, and so many others to fend off,
I was barely sleeping.
No one was, except the kids. And then, with the heat waves
of late September, people started dying. At first, distant people, friends
of friends, distant elderly relatives.
My friend Jenny's mother-in-law, who'd been in a nursing home for
years. Pople like that, people you'd expect might have gone soon
anyway. But once the 24-hour power blackouts started, the deaths
got closer and closer to home. Katia's best friend's sister, 12 years
old. Joshua's Uncle Jake, 47. Mary's new baby, three months. And
it wasn't that they were ill, or old, or weak. It's just that their
bodies couldn't take any more. Any more heat, any more smoke, any
On October 1, the state sent the firefighters home. Governor
Simpson tried to put a pretty face and a smile on it, but Joshua
told me the truth, late at night after the kids were in bed.
"It's useless," he said. "Not enought men. And not enought
water, not in the whole state or even the whole country to put
out everything that's burning.
And guys are deserting in droves, because if the whole state goes,
which it's going to, everybody wants to be able to protect their
own. And the powers that be might decide that someplace else, some
other town, was more important, and there you'd be fighting someone
else's fire while your own family burned. It was making us all
On October 15 we got the evacuation order. Not because of fire, but
because of heat. We were all supposed to report to the PacCom Arena.
To be continued...