Damn the naysayers! Damn the unbelievers!
The man’s aging back arched as he lifted the sledgehammer high over his head. His ark was almost finished. This joint at the pinnacle of the vessel was the culmination of years of obsession – obsession that had driven away all of his friends and most of his family. They had branded him a lunatic, but he had long ago embraced their mocking and now let it drive him. Their words would be hollow when he controlled the destiny of humanity. The earth’s salvation would soon be his to command.
Not everyone had abandoned Lunatic. Even now, one of his sons held the pin as Lunatic prepared to drive it deep into the wood. The boy implicitly trusted his father’s confident, steady hands. And Lunatic’s elder son was busily stocking the ark with his wife, gathering enough food and drinking water to sustain them through the impending darkness.
Lunatic’s shoulders tensed and he swung the hammer in a calculated arc. It struck the pin squarely, planting it firmly deep into the joint. He struck the pin until it was anchored flush with the beam.
Though there was no crowd to celebrate with him, he exulted that the building of his ship, the opening chapter of his vision, was complete.
He raised his face heavenward and saw the sun receding behind the trees on the horizon. Closing his eyes, he imagined what he must look like from the earth below, his silhouette standing alone, triumphant atop the majesty of the ark. The blues and magentas of the sky mixed behind him as if painted in tribute to his glory. He drew a deep breath and held it in his lungs for a long moment as he revelled in his victory.
Lunatic started when he felt his son’s arms wrap around his chest, viciously breaking his moment of jubilee. He stifled an angry sigh and absently rubbed the boy’s head. Their preparation for the rain was not yet done. The boy only wanted to celebrate because he had no idea that hell was about to become reality.
Lunatic and his sons and his son’s wife spent the next weeks gathering, drying, and packaging food. They loaded enough meat, fruit, vegetables, and drinking water into the lower levels of the ship to last for months. The time to board the vessel was drawing near – the second chapter of his plan would soon begin.
Day of Peril
From its very beginning, something was different about the day of peril. Even the pre-dawn darkness was drenched in ominous stillness. Instead of a rising sun, daybreak began with the descent of heavy, gray clouds. The taste of cold iron lingered in the air.
Recognizing the signs, Lunatic ordered his sons into the ark. As they settled into their quarters, he gathered his final supplies. He inspected his axe – a weathered tool that had served him well through the years of construction. Its long handle was worn smooth from use and had a belt of leather at the end so he could strap it across his back. He ran a finger along the blade and noted that it didn’t break his skin.
Checking the sky, he decided he had time to sharpen it. As he worked on the blade, he felt the first drops of water fall from the sky. The tempest was near. He tested the blade again and, satisfied, sucked the drops of blood from his fingertip. Slipping the strap over his shoulder, Lunatic ascended into the belly of salvation.
The rain intensified as he stood on the deck of the ship. The earth sprawled before him, a bleeding slave begging forgiveness from its new master. For a while, the land thirstily absorbed the water, but finally puddles began to form. The puddles collected into ponds and the ponds into lakes.
Lunatic watched as a group of townsfolk emerged from the treeline and ran toward his ark seeking shelter. He counted twelve of them and they carried no supplies on their backs. They had fled their homes in haste. The fools began to climb the ramp, aspiring to join him in safety and praising him for having foresight to build such a vessel.
Lunatic reached down and found the rope securing the ramp to the deck. As the twelve neared the top, he untied the knots until his grip was all that separated them from damnation. One man saw what he was doing and froze. A silent scream caught in the man’s eyes as Lunatic opened his hands and felt the rope fly through his fingers. The ramp moaned and tilted to one side before it collapsed entirely, burying the group beneath a bed of timber.
More townsfolk converged on the ark and Lunatic pulled the dangling length of rope up to the deck before anyone could latch onto it. In desperation, some of them tried to climb the ship’s trusses, using joints and footholds where they could find them on the hull, but their fates had been decided long ago. Lunatic watched silently as their frenzied shrieks rose in pitch and intensity as the water continued to pour from the sky.
Lakes merged into seas and the ship creaked against its supports as the vessel began to float. As Lunatic’s ark breathed its first breaths, he lifted his face to the clouds and stretched his arms wide in a welcoming embrace. Laughter boiled from the pit of his stomach and rolled across the waters below him, drowning mercilessly the cries of the dying.
Lunatic awoke with a start, groggy and unsure of his whereabouts. The purity of the darkness around him was suffocating as he searched overhead for the stars. He heard the crash of a wave and the room rocked to the side, flooding his mind with the memory of the ark and the victory of the day before. He smiled and sucked cool air deep into his lungs. He had been wrong – the darkness was not suffocating. It was filling him, strengthening him for the task ahead.
He felt for the lamp he knew should be mounted beside his bed and lit the wick. A warm glow revealed the sparse furnishings of the tiny room. The bed and a small table occupied one half of the room, and a small chest filled with clothes and personal items took up the other half. The only other item in the room was Lunatic’s axe leaning against the wall by the foot of his bed.
Lunatic dressed himself, detached the lamp, and moved silently into the hallway. It was impossible to tell the time of day from inside the vessel, but his internal clock told him the boys should still be sleeping in their rooms down the hall.
He eased open the door next to his own and peered into the room. His younger son snored quietly as his chest rose and fell in discord with the sway of the ship. Closing the door softly, Lunatic stepped further down the hall and pressed open the last door. His elder son lay naked on top of the bed with his wife curled peacefully at his side.
They all slept. Though the entire world was in the throes of annihilation, the sounds of destruction were but a lullaby to his children as they slept. It was time for the final chapter to begin.
Resolve glinted in Lunatic’s eyes. He returned to his room and retrieved his axe, slipping its familiar weight once more across his back as he made his way to the ladder that led up to the ship’s deck.
Standing before the hatch that led outside, he pressed his ear to the door. He heard the relentless pounding of the rain and tightened the axe strap around his shoulders, preparing himself to face the storm’s onslaught. Placing his shoulder against the hatch, he shoved it open enough to squeeze himself through, then let it slam closed behind him.
The torrent of cold water instantly permeated his clothes, pelting his face and taking his breath away. The gray sky suggested that the sun was futilely trying to penetrate the clouds on the horizon. There would be no dawn on this day.
Lunatic crossed the deck to where the ramp had once connected to the ship. The rope hung over the edge dangling into the water below, still attached on one end to its mooring atop the ark. Lunatic hoisted the other end and secured it around his arm. He stepped up to the edge closed his eyes.
This was the moment he had spent years preparing for. He had given his life to feel this rush of power and need. One step forward and there would be no turning back.
He bent his knees and launched himself from the deck. Raindrops pierced his skin like tiny knives as he plummeted toward the ocean below, but the miniscule pain was only a glimmer of what he knew was to come.
He fell for what seemed an eternity, his body frozen in time as the weight of the world collapsed his lungs. Finally he struck water. The impact’s violence threatened to tear the rope from his hand, but he tightened his grip and hung on for life. A wave lifted him high and smashed him against the side of the ship, driving the wind from his lungs, then pulling him away again.
Another wave approached and he examined the ark to calculate his approach. He found the handholds he had built into its side and prepared himself for the wave’s power. When it thrust him toward the ship, he used the momentum to propel himself toward that handhold and, reaching it, wrapped both arms around it in a death hug.
He felt with his feet for the tiny ledge that ran around the ship’s circumference and stabilized himself against it. With the rope still wrapped around one arm and the wave retreating, Lunatic unstrapped the axe from his back and hefted it in his free hand.
Another wave would hit in just a few moments, so he quickly searched the hull for weakest seam within reach. His eyes landed on a spot at perfect arm’s length and he memorized its location.
He heard the roar of the wave approaching and hugged the axe close to his body, bracing himself for the impact. Water crushed his body into the ship. He thought he felt a rib crack before the water left again.
Grimacing in determination as he gripped the tool once again in his hand, he lifted the blade far above his head and brought it in a wet, glimmering arc to strike the side of the ship. Pieces of wood splintered as the shock of the attack reverberated through the handle and up his arm. Pain lanced through his surely-broken rib cage, but he lifted the instrument over his head again and once more struck the side of the ship in the same place as before.
Another wave approached. He braced himself once more against the ark, his savior, as the water pressed him against the hull then tried to pry him loose.
When the ocean receded this time, he felt pressure on the rope still tied to his left arm. He looked up and saw his sons shouting down to him and pulling the rope in an attempt to lift him back onto the deck. They had heard the pounding and come to stop him – the fools!
They pulled with such force that his body, still anchored to the handhold on the side of the ark, felt like it was being torn in two. He had no choice but to release the rope. It snapped upward and Lunatic watched as his lifeline disappeared into the heavens.
Reminding himself of his mission, he renewed his grip on the handhold and his footing on the ledge. Taking the ax in his hand, he lifted it and swung at the seam on the side of the ship. His destruction turned into a rhythm: brace against the wave, then attack the ark. Brace against the wave, then attack the ark.
He repeated this for what felt like hours. What started as a small gash in the vessel’s hull grew until the ocean itself could finish the job.
Lunatic wished he could scale back up the hull and stand atop his ark as the last bit of it sank into the water. As the ocean tore apart his dreams, he imagined what it would feel like to slowly sink into the depths, to feel his entire life beneath his feet as it plunged into the depths.
But no, there could be no contemplation, no awareness, just hacking until the end. Hacking until the moment his lungs filled with water and the life drained from his eyes.
So hack he did. As he breathed his final water-filled breath, he willed his arm forward, axe gripped ever tightly in his hand.
It didn’t take long for his ark to sink. The surging sea quickly exploited the hole he’d carved. Lunatic’s sons did all they could to survive, but a world covered by water offered precious little to sustain them. Lunatic’s younger son died that very day; the elder and his wife were able to drift on the wreckage for a time before they died of dehydration.
But none survived. Lunatic had defeated his unbelievers and had, in the process, damned humanity.