SEVEN PEOPLE. A LOCKED STORM SHELTER. INEVITABLE STARVATION.
WHAT COULD YOU DO TO SURVIVE?
Victoria Larson and her husband, Chad, are sitting on their rooftop, waiting for the end. For three days, they’ve watched their coastal Louisiana town turn into a lake, battered by an unprecedented series of hurricanes. With the levees obliterated, the waters rise higher and higher—the next storm is sure to swallow their house whole.
Just when all hope seems lost, a rescue boat emerges through the driving rain; a woman named Windy plucks them from their roof and motors them to a waterproof bunker—to safety. There, with a ragtag group of other evacuees, Victoria and Chad bed down and prepare to wait out the storms.
But it isn’t long before Victoria notices a few things seem…off. The cement bunker has a door that locks from the outside. Many of the boxes of food don’t contain food at all. The bottles of water smell like rubbing alcohol. And everyone in the group has a secret; even Victoria’s own estranged husband seems to have known their captor prior to making the trek to the shelter. And some of her fellow evacuees are far too intent on defending the woman who locked them in this dungeon. Are they really storm victims like Victoria? Or are they accomplices in a sick game?
One thing is certain: none of them will survive if they can’t find something to eat. And if the stories the others tell about Windy are any indication, Victoria suspects their captor’s plans are far more evil than simply watching them die of malnourishment.
The blade Windy gave her is proof enough of that.
And it won’t be long until starvation devours the last of Victoria’s sanity.
Tightly plotted and deliriously wicked, this psychological thriller will leave you breathless. Fans of Blake Pierce and Carolyn Kepnes will love The Flood.
“Harrowing. Raw. A visceral thriller. You’ll mainline this book!”
~New York Times Bestselling Author Andra Watkins
Music credit: DJ LA53R. Free Stock Footage by Videeezy.
Victoria could almost see it: the way the cotton pillow would pucker around her fists as she clamped it over his face, how the misshapen lump beneath would wriggle as he tried to force air through the goose feathers, how everything would lapse into silence, nothing to break the stillness but her hushed exhale of relief. On any normal evening, at least. Now, the night breathed wetly, almost as loudly as he did, a thick swooshing against her eardrums. Viscous. Raindrops plink, plink, plink-ed against her soaked hair. The shingles caught the skin on the backs of her legs sharply no matter how she tried not to move, like being slowly ground to dust by sandpaper, and water stung in every scrape. Victoria inhaled in the soupy night, stifling her gag reflex when the musky, acidic stench of shit hit her. Her muscles cramped harder. The sound of the rain against the lake of sewage around them was a constant reminder: they were going to die.
Three days they’d been stranded so far, sitting on top of Chad’s family home, separated from the nearest dwelling by a mile of farmland and animal pastures. Three days of not eating, of her belly twisting and angry. Three days of filling her hands with rainwater to avoid dying of thirst.
Three days on the roof with the husband she’d been planning to leave.
The forecasters had said it was a long shot, the storm hitting here, and an even longer shot that the enormous storm systems out in the Atlantic would build in strength and aim themselves at their little low-flood-plain section of Louisiana. That would be ridiculous, they’d insisted, unprecedented. And they’d all been wrong, especially that twit on the news with his gray hair, his eyes an odd purple-blue that didn’t exist in nature—“Probably won’t be more than a category two, and a little rain the week after,” he’d said. Bullshit. And now all the people who’d stayed were fucked. Totally, one hundred percent fucked. We should have left. That would have been the rational thing to do, honey, the logical thing.
Her heart seized, her stomach cramping too, a burning knot of hunger. Her lungs were far too small.But panicking made you stop thinking clearly—it could only make things worse. She forced air through her mouth as loudly as possible, drowning out the sound of the storm and Chad’s equally labored breath. But not his words.
“Are you okay, Vicky?” He said it in a high voice, almost sing-song, the kind of voice he’d use to ask one of his students about a skinned knee.
Victoria wiped her wet hair from her forehead and tried to relax the painful knot in her guts. Raindrops tapped against her flesh, incessant, like a petulant child. The gray of Chad’s irises seemed darker than usual in a world haunted by yesterday’s storms and pregnant with electricity and anticipation of the second hurricane. She wished they had a radio, a cell phone to check the status of the upcoming storm, but their electronics had been impossible to keep dry. Their phones were sitting on the roof somewhere near the chimney, useless. Why the fuck did I listen to you? She turned away from Chad. Couldn’t stand to see the guilt in his eyes, like she was supposed to make him feel better.
Chad always felt awful if he gave someone bad advice—he’d once teared up when he realized he’d given a stranger the wrong directions—but he had this way of convincing people not to bitch at him by making them feel guilty or sorry for him. That wasn’t going to last. If they stayed on this roof much longer, he was going to get an earful.
In her peripheral vision, off the edge of the roof, the shitty, brackish water rippled like the skin of an enormous serpent, oily scales shivering with the anticipation of finishing them off. Half a block down, the broken post that used to hold their street sign stabbed through the surface of the filth. And to her other side loomed the muscly bulk of the chimney, topped with the grate she’d installed to keep the animals out, now ripped open like snapped metal ribs—some creature had been at it. Maybe whatever had clawed it apart was still there, lurking in the brick tunnel, drowned and bloated, tenderizing in the sea of bacteria.
Her throat closed. She forced it open. Her black leather work boot tap-tap-tapped against the soggy shingles. She tugged on her cut-off shorts, then the hem of her favorite black T-shirt, so dark she couldn’t see the film of dirt and wet. The water was still rising, the red of the shingled roof so dark it looked like drying blood, and some of it probably was—Chad had a gash across his shin from a torn aluminum gutter. Behind Chad, the expanse of sky darkened, threatening, and the rush of rain on water seemed suddenly louder; she felt sure he wouldn’t be able to hear her unless she yelled. But she said nothing. There was nothing to say.
If only they lived somewhere else, somewhere higher, somewhere the earth wasn’t perpetually soggy from April to August, somewhere with some semblance of civilization. All they had in this section of Fossé, Louisiana was the community college, but that was over an hour away by car—and the levees had failed, leaving the paved roads leading to the college impassable by car or truck. The college itself would be underwater too before the week was out, especially if this storm didn’t move on, or the second hurricane hit as hard as they’d been saying. And if the next storm hit while the citizens of Fossé were on their roofs… The winds would rip over the flooded streets, tearing shingles and people alike from the tops of their homes, flinging them against the treetops, impaling them on the remains of fences or drowning them in the sewage from overflowing septic tanks. Even if it did pass quickly, the water table was so high that people would be stuck for weeks. No power. No food. No drinkable water once the rain stopped. These might be her last days on this earth, and she and Chad should not be living their final hours together.
They’d been inhabiting their own little worlds for months now, independent planets merely circling the same sun. Even now he was staring out over the water, waiting passively for someone else to come to their rescue, though for once, she had no other ideas herself. They weren’t going to swim twenty miles, and the waste products from the farmland—pig and chicken shit—were rife with E. coli and salmonella and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria that would spread through their injuries into their blood before they got to safety. Sepsis. That’d be a fun way to go out. Better than drowning though—she’d done that once, and once was enough.
The rain spit, water on water. The wind howled, an angry beast bellowing from the sky. The expanse of water pulled her gaze, but she refused to look at it, like it was a monster that could only exist if she let herself notice. Victoria shivered.
“Is there more peroxide?” Chad said.
She sat back on the gritty shingles and turned away from him, squeezing her eyes closed, forcing the sound of the rain and the image of the storm from her mind. But in the blind starbursts of light behind her eyelids, she saw her parents’ Chicago apartment and the square of afternoon sunlight that hit the living room floor when the sun snuck between the neighboring buildings. She and her twin brother Phillip used to sit on that little spot whenever they could, which wasn’t often—usually the room was occupied, her father out there screaming at her mother, or screaming at Phillip for stealing money, and later for taking their mother’s painkillers. Once she’d tried to help and ended up in the emergency room with a broken rib. Phillip had held her hand the whole way there, sung her songs, refused to let go even when the nurses came to ask her questions about her “fall.”
Why the fuck am I thinking about this now? But she always thought about Phillip when she was stressed. He was like…a teddy bear, the memory of his voice somehow comforting. Illogical, sure, but everyone was entitled to one foolish, illogical thing. Better than Chad’s foolishness—his was going to get them killed.
She leaned back, resting her head against the sandpapery shingles.
You’re going to be okay, Victoria, you know that.
Her brother had said that just before he left Chicago for good. That was why she’d come to Louisiana in the first place, Phillip’s last known address—she’d hoped their twin connection would help her do what a PI couldn’t. She’d been wrong, yet she’d stayed—too long. Ten years now, fourteen since she’d seen her brother. She did get occasional postcards from him, pictures of historical spots around Louisiana, little notes on the back like “I hope you’re doing well. I’m still working on ‘well’. See you when I manage to get there.” Those cards ripped her wounds open every time, kept her up hearing the words in her brain, his voice whispering to her while she tried to sleep. She could help him. If he’d just fucking call.
Her eyes snapped open. Chad scuttled to his feet, the grating sound ringing through the night as he slid on the gritty roof tiles. The sky was pitch as tar, not even a glimmer of haze on the horizon. Oh god, how long had she been out? Was the next storm here? She’d slept through the last dregs of light leaving the sky. But she didn’t feel the harsh gusts of wind, didn’t see flying debris, only Chad’s silhouette, and she’d not have seen him at all were it not for…
Far out over the water, a hazy circle swept first one way, then the other, the rippling muck glittering like yellow diamonds in its wake.
Victoria pushed herself to standing, but the roof was slick despite the grit; her foot slid from beneath her and she went down hard on her knees, scrabbling at the tile with her fingernails, cursing under her breath at the wretched shingles.
“Hey!” Chad cried, waving his arms. “Over here!”
The light glided back and forth, back and forth, and only then did she realize the whoosh of rain was muddling the noises around them. She’d become so accustomed to the patter and slap of rain that it had all but vanished from her awareness, but now, looking over the water…the night was loud, the wind screaming, the rain hissing into the muck around their little island of house. They’d disappear into the landscape if they couldn’t overcome it, and…the water was higher than it had been just hours ago, the ripples licking at the base of the gutters. A few more hours and the nasty water would creep over the shingles, and then—
“Help!” she yelled, still on her hands and knees. The roof and the water went black again as the light swept away off to her left, then to the far side of the boat—the opposite direction. They can’t hear us. She planted her feet. Stand up, stand up! Yell louder! She inhaled once through her nose, put her hands on her thighs, and heaved herself to standing. “We’re out here!”
“This way! Hey, help us!”
“Over here!” Her throat ached, her eyes stinging with rain and unshed tears, but the light swept toward them once more. The beam hovered—and stayed. The sound of a motor cut the night.
They were coming to help. Hopefully, they had a place to ride out the storm.