One Hell of a Shower
by John Leahy
Issue 1: Grotesque | 4973 words
Kisses for the Tote by Sebastian Tovar
On his boat twelve miles southwest of Malibu, Lenny Rosen put down his book. What the hell was that sound? It was like the roar of a great waterfall in the distance. He stood and went to the boat’s port side, resting his hands on the gunwale. When he saw what was happening, his heart began galloping in his chest.
He was rising into the air.
But he wasn’t rising on air itself—his boat was still in water. It was the water that was rising. He was rising into the air on a slab of water, the ragged, misshapen edge of which lay about ten feet away from his boat. Mercifully, his boat didn’t appear to be drifting toward the edge. Lenny ran to the starboard side. There was another edge running in a rough diagonal fifty feet away behind the stern of his boat, to his right, meeting the first edge twenty feet behind him. He looked to his left and saw that the slab, or island, or whatever the fuck this rising thing was, was massive and unending in that direction.
He was in the corner.
He ran to the cockpit and turned on the engine then drove straight ahead as fast as he could. Whatever the fuck this Ripley’s-Believe-It-or-Not! shit was, he certainly wasn’t going to drift off the edge of it and plummet back down into the ocean. No way, José. He powered ahead in the general direction of the rising mystery’s center, his roaring engine drowning out the sound of the ocean beneath as it flooded in to fill the recess that the departing water-island had formed.
By the time it stopped ascending, the vast water-island had five Air Force observation planes flying around it, taking pictures and sending reams of data back to processing centers at both Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force Bases. Its size was approximated at fifteen square miles and a quarter of a mile in depth from the top to its deepest point. For about five minutes, as though pondering its next move, the island remained fixed in the air over the ocean, leaving a half-mile gap between its lowest point and the ocean beneath. Then it began to move eastwards toward the Californian coast, nineteen miles away.
Rapid mapping of the entire top of the island had established that there was a total of seven boats on it. Rescue helicopters extracted their occupants one by one. Lenny Rosen was last to be taken. By the time he was lifted to safety, a slightly out-of-shape Lenny was in the early stages of altitude sickness, feeling nauseous and sporting a burgeoning headache.
As it edged closer to the coastline, the city of Los Angeles directly in its path, the strange aberration began to make its presence known on radio, TV, and the internet. There was no panic in L.A. though—Angelenos were used to strange happenings. After all, their city was home to the movie business, and many thought that maybe this was just an over-the-top blockbuster promotion gimmick—marketing taken to a fresh extreme. But when the water-block shimmered into view on the horizon, along with its Air Force escort, the mood changed a little. Maybe this wasn’t an ad.
Seated on a deckchair high in the Santa Monica Mountains, her car parked on a nearby dirt road, a young woman watched the slowly approaching miracle to the west. She felt a slight tickling descending from her right eye and put a hand to her cheek; it came away bloody. She had come prepared for such an eventuality. Not taking her gaze away from the giant water-slab, she pulled a wet tissue from a box beside her and gently wiped her red-streaked fingers, her cheek, and then the base of her eye. She dropped the tissue.
A little over three years earlier, Stacey Unwin, a fresh-faced twenty-year-old with stars in her eyes, had left her parents’ farm in Wisconsin, heading for the bright lights of Los Angeles. She moved into a rat-hole apartment in Los Feliz, changed her name to Stacey Conrad—Unwin was too farmer-ish—and got a job waiting tables in a restaurant. Being pretty and charming, she did well on the tipping front and so was able to afford acting classes, along with her weakness, cocaine. And cocaine was a lot easier to come by in Los Angeles than it was in Evansville, Wisconsin. Some of it she didn’t have to pay for. Her looks and personality got her invited to parties in hillside mansions and she never turned away from a white line that appeared before her. And it was never just the one line with her. It was usually two or three—often on the night before an audition. As she was talented and “possessed a genuine screen presence,” as one casting director had said, her agent Toby Cresswell stuck with her for quite a while.
He watched Stacey sniff and shake her way through four more auditions. Then he said goodbye.
The loss of a respectable agent like Toby Cresswell resulted in a significant drop in the quality of parts that Stacey was invited to audition for. This lowered her spirits, setting off a domino effect. Her doleful manner hit her waitressing tips hard and left her manager unimpressed. Her hours were cut. With her ability to make rent coming under threat, Stacey realized with a heavy heart that she would have to resort to something she hadn’t used in years—the convincing.
Growing up in Evansville, Stacey had sometimes noticed her mother coming away from shop counters and checkouts with more change than she’d been entitled to. On a few occasions she’d seen her mother hand in a ten-dollar bill for a few items and leave with the change of a fifty. Stacey would look sideways at her mother as they’d left those shops and markets and her mother would glance down at her with an expression that said, don’t ask me about this, Stacey, you know we need the money. So Stacey hadn’t asked about it. Because they had needed the money. Stacey’s father was a lazy drunk who was seldom sober enough to do any work around the family farm.
As she lay on her deathbed, the cancer busily finishing off the last of her lung tissue, Stacey’s mother had asked everybody to leave the room except for ten-year-old Stacey. When the room emptied, Marlene Unwin instructed her daughter to lean close to her.
“When you start to become a woman… words will come to you,” Marlene began in a labored, exhausted voice. “Strange words, like no language you’ve ever heard, Stacey. They’ll come to you in your own voice; it might be scary at first, but don’t worry about it. The words will come in your sleep, when you’re at school, when you’re working on the farm—they could come at any time. Just don’t be frightened when they do. You don’t need to write them down or anything, your mind will remember them for you, even if you think it won’t.” She paused. “And when the time comes, you’ll know how to use them.”
Marlene studied her daughter’s eyes, looking for understanding. Of course Stacey knew what her mother was talking about—the great elephant in the room since Stacey, five years earlier, had seen her mother get back eighteen dollars and eighty cents change out of a two-dollar bill; and the strange, almost ethereal look that had been in the shop clerk’s eyes as he had pushed the change across the counter.
“It’s been in my bloodline for generations,” Marlene added. “Only the women. My mother called it ‘the false.’ The ability to make people see things that don’t exist. Illusion. Promise me that you’ll only use it when you’re in trouble, Stacey. When you really need it.” She reached out and grabbed Stacey’s wrist.
“Promise me,” Marlene said again, her tone full of insistence this time.
“I promise, Mom,” Stacey answered.
Two and a half years later, a little after her first period, the words started to come. She would be going about her daily business when suddenly she’d hear her voice in her head:
Yeras… Egastrath… Poraquen… Kisial… Soroothos…
A couple of words each time. She was tempted to use them at her local gas station—get the change of a five-dollar bill from a one—but the truth was, she didn’t need to do it. Two of her brothers were out in the working world now, sending money home to support the rest of the family. Her third brother, Travis, was doing a good job on the farm, and her father had even cut back on his drinking.
Stacey kept her promise to her mother until her final year in high school. Then she got herself a boyfriend, and he introduced her to cocaine.
She was careful to spread her business around—she made sure to leave good intervals between each time she “hit” a particular shop, market, or gas station. Being lazy just might raise some sort of suspicion, after all. She would go up to the counter, the attendant would ring her up, and she’d slip cash across to him or her. Stacey would recite a few words in her head while looking at the attendant, and a few seconds later a load of hot change would appear before her.
In the year between her graduation from high school and her departure for Los Angeles, she had a full-time job waiting tables at a diner. Between what she earned from that and her convincing, as she termed it—the false sounded a bit creepy—she was pocketing reasonably good money each week. But with her expensive drug habit, all she had by the time she started packing her bags for the West Coast was a beat-up Hyundai and a little over seven hundred dollars. She approached her brothers for some extra money and, between them, they gave her nearly five hundred more. Then she was gone.
In L.A., she held out for five months before she relented. And when she started, she knew she would never stop. Grocery stores, bars, restaurants, diners, gas stations—they were everywhere! There was simply too much temptation! When she got sacked from her waitressing job it didn’t matter—she was making enough from convincing to pay the rent and live a reasonable quality of life.
Then she met Logan Baines.
She was having a hot chocolate in a coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard when a man appeared beside her table. In one hand, he held a cappuccino.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi,” she responded. “Can I help you?”
“Athyarka… Girombos… Soronarthin.”
Stacey gave no response. The words he had spoken were powerful. If he’d used them when buying his cappuccino, he could have handed in a five-dollar bill and gotten the change of a hundred.
The man gestured at the chair beside her. “Can I sit down?”
Stacey blinked a few times, momentarily at a loss for what to say. Eventually she nodded. “Ok.”
So. She wasn’t the only one.
His word for it was swaying.
Stacey felt it was more elegant than convincing—her term was a little literal, really. When she told him what her mother had called it—the false—he smiled.
“Bit biblical,” he said. Stacey chuckled.
He’d moved to L.A. from Las Vegas five years earlier with the sole purpose of making a living from “swaying”. And he had. A modest one. Like the one she was making now.
“How do you know I’m not rich from it?” she asked, smiling softly.
Holding her eyes and returning her smile, he didn’t answer immediately. “I just know.”
As well as his ability to “sway,” Logan had the ability to sense others like him within a radius of about fifty miles. When someone who he had sensed using the sway for the first time caused a small pinprick of light to appear before his vision, Logan would follow that light until it brought him to that person. Every person he had ever found with the sway had a different color light. He’d discovered over the years that the darker the color someone had, the stronger their power.
“What color am I?” Stacey asked.
“Jet black,” Logan answered solemnly.
Stacey remained silent for a while. “Really?” she eventually asked.
Logan nodded, his face still serious. “The darkest I’ve ever seen.”
The statement caused a knot to tighten in Stacey’s gut. Her eyes dropped to the Patek Philippe on Logan’s wrist. “I think I know how you got that watch.”
“You use our powers. People like us.”
He nodded. “That’s right. And I make them rich.”
Stacey had a feeling that what was involved here was serious crime. Suddenly she was back at her mother’s deathbed, remembering her mother’s words:
Promise me that you’ll only use it when you’re in trouble, Stacey.
Upon arriving in L.A., Logan had gotten a job bartending at the Bronstein hotel in Beverly Hills. Francis Binocci, the young head of a small mafia family, frequented the Bronstein bar a few times a week. Most of the time Binocci was restrained in his drinking, usually leaving after a whiskey or two, but one night he had a few too many and stayed on until it was just him, his bodyguard Carlo, and Logan that remained. Binocci asked if Logan knew what he, Binocci, did for a living. Logan said that all he had to go by was what he’d heard from others, and he didn’t know if any of it was true or not. Without questioning Logan about what he’d heard, Binocci simply said that it was true; he was a gangster, plain and simple. He’d inherited the business from his father, who had died two years previously, and he was feeling… constrained. Constrained by the situation in L.A., Binocci wanted to grow his outfit into something meaningful. Everyone around him in the city was so much bigger than him. To grow, he needed something special. He needed an edge! Something that his rivals didn’t have.
At that stage of the rant, Binocci’s bodyguard Carlo appeared at his boss’s side and calmly suggested that he’d had enough, that it was time to go home. Carlo gave Logan an even, but potent look. Forget everything you’ve heard here, it said. For your own good.
“I went home that night scared as hell,” Logan said to Stacey. “Part of me didn’t think I’d see the morning, that Carlo would cut my throat in my sleep.” He sat back a little. “I was pretty jumpy all the following day too. But when I made it through another night, I started to feel brave. And I had an idea. By then I knew eight others like me, swayers. I thought, would it be—.”
By this stage, Stacey was staring at him in shock and amazement. “You’re working for Binocci,” she interrupted. “You and those others.”
Stacey swallowed and looked away from Logan. Jesus, the mafia.
Logan leaned in close to her. “We don’t kill people. We rob. Armored transport vehicles.”
Logan gave her a take-it-easy smile. “Relax. I know it sounds like heavy stuff, but it’s actually a walk in the park. No one gets hurt. A couple of us sway the guys in the vehicle while it’s moving; we get them to turn off onto a quiet road and then pull over. We convince them that there’s been a change of their delivery instructions and that we’re the new arrangement. One of them unlocks and we help ourselves. By the time the sway wears off, we’re long gone.”
Stacey said nothing for a few seconds. “What do you steal? Money?”
“Yeah. And other things. Precious metals, jewelry, expensive pharmaceuticals, art, antiques—anything of high value.”
Stacey drew a contemplative breath and exhaled deeply. “This is a lot to take in. I gotta think about it.”
He nodded. “Sure.” He took a pen from his jacket and wrote on a napkin.
“Here’s my number,” he said, giving her the napkin. He rose to his feet. “I hope I’ll hear from you.” Then he left.
She called him that night and asked him how much she could expect from each job.
“At least fifty grand,” he said. “A couple of months ago we nabbed a very valuable painting. If you’d have been with us that day you’d have got two hundred.”
Stacey’s heart was racing. Two hundred thousand dollars!
“So?” Logan asked after a period of silence. “What do you think? You want in?”
The methodology was simple.
Clyde Holden, Binocci’s right-hand man, contacted Logan with the date, time, and route of a particular transport. Logan picked his team and they did the job. When Logan presented the load to Holden, he got paid, after which Logan divvied up the cash between the swayers. After a few jobs, Stacey moved into a nice apartment in Pacific Palisades. She treated herself to some fancy clothes. She became good friends with Petra Sands, another of Logan’s swayers. On the day Stacey bought her sports car, they roared down Sunset Boulevard in it, top down, the two of them as high as kites. After unleashing a whoop of joy, Stacey looked across at Petra.
“Swaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy, baby!!!” she exclaimed, grinning.
Petra put her fist in the air and shouted, “Swaaaaaayyyyyyy!!! The alternative American dream!”
Stacey laughed. That was a good one, alright.
The alternative American dream.
Logan showed her how to sway more than one person at a time. He was a very strong swayer himself, able to hold three people under his influence for a prolonged period, four with difficulty. Stacey overtook him in a matter of weeks. In three months, she was able to hold ten people under an illusion for up to thirty minutes before exhaustion won her over.
Petra enlightened her to a gift that she hadn’t known she had—telekinesis. As well as being able to move an idea into a person’s mind, some swayers could also move objects with the power of their minds. The size of the object in question and the distance the swayer could move it were relational to the swayer’s ability to control a person’s thoughts. So of course, here Stacey also excelled. After a few days of developing her mental muscle in this area, she lifted a large car from the ground and kept it suspended in the air for a minute without exertion. Petra watched on, agog. The heaviest item she could keep in the air for that long was a trash can. An empty one.
Logan was delighted with his powerful new protégé. As time went by, he began to do more and more jobs with just Stacey. Why pay five swayers a quarter of a million for a gig when you could give one swayer a hundred and fifty thousand? Stacey was very happy with this development too—she loved stuffing her much larger suitcases of cash into her column of safe deposit boxes in a private storage vault on Lincoln Boulevard. She would do this while high of course. Drugs and money! The combination left sex in the dust. Francis Binocci was very pleased with the new arrangement—the less people involved in a job, the less that could go wrong. Then he made a mistake. He invited Logan and Stacey to dinner, bringing his chief lieutenant, Clyde Holden, with him.
In the few months before that fateful dinner at the Bronstein hotel, Stacey hadn’t bothered much with men. She’d been too busy swaying, partying, and snorting coke. But a few minutes after meeting the softly-spoken, lantern-jawed Holden, she was smitten. As was he. They quickly became lovers.
But, like Stacey, Clyde had another love—he was quite the coke-connoisseur himself. And together, their individual use of the drug escalated even more. They began to resent being owned by Binocci. Brave with ridiculous amounts of cocaine, they made the decision to embark upon freelance work. Instead of informing his boss of some lucrative jobs that had come to him from the grapevine, Clyde bypassed Binocci and went directly to his new girlfriend. Stacey did the gigs and Clyde sold the items—two valuable paintings and some ancient statues that had been smuggled out of Syria—on the black market. Of course Binocci found out, and when he discovered how much money he’d missed out on—over ten million dollars—he flew into a rage and bludgeoned Clyde to death with a baseball bat.
When Logan called to tell her what had happened, Stacey was hysterical. She was also high. She strode around her apartment, shrieking like an animal, her phone to her ear. She’d kill the fucker! Fucking murdering, greedy bastard!
When he could finally get a word in edgeways, Logan told Stacey that she’d never get to Binocci. He had far too many guards. He’d catch and slaughter her. Chances were Binocci was going to do that anyway, or at the very least teach her a lesson. A very unpleasant lesson.
“You need to get out of the city, Stacey,” Logan warned her. “And if I were you, I wouldn’t come back.”
She headed north, not stopping until she reached Big Sur. Here she rented a luxury cabin by a lake from a wealthy old couple. She needed to clear her head and order her thoughts. Of course that didn’t mean quitting cocaine. She stoked it into her with a vengeance. She loved the views around her—the lake, the hills, the mountains in the distance—made all the more spectacular with a drug high soaring through her.
The place was so beautiful! So pure! So… untainted! The air was like—it was like drinking a mountain stream into your lungs! The stench of L.A. was so absent here. That horrible, permanent, miasma not just of physical, palpable odors like smog, dirt, chemicals, and food, but the dreadful, insidious undertone of greed, viciousness, lust, and disregard. If only she could somehow transport this cleanliness to the disgusting city that she had recently left.
Relieve its citizens of the dirty coat that they shuffled about in, it growing thicker and more disgusting with each passing day that they remained in the metropolis.
As the days of her retreat rolled by, this line of thinking grew more and more prominent in Stacey’s mind. She was in a state of psychosis as a result of cocaine abuse, and this, coupled with her isolation, led her to think that a rescue of Los Angeles was practical—that in fact, it was a reality that had to come into being.
Her hatred of Binocci began to dissipate. She stopped seeing him as an evil master of the city and began to think of him as one of its victims. That horrible undertone, which she couldn’t quite put her finger on, had infected him and brought out the worst in him. Why, she was an example of it herself! She hadn’t committed any crime before she’d arrived in L.A.—well, aside from small-time swaying and drug-abuse. Her move to the toxic, overcrowded concrete plain on the West Coast had dragged her into the serious stuff.
So. What to do? What could she do? She pondered this question as she gazed across the beautiful lake before her, its surface almost perfectly smooth in its peaceful state. Her heart was pounding in her chest in response to the fat line of cocaine that she’d snorted a moment before from the boulder at her side.
It hit her like a sledgehammer, and her eyes widened a little in response to the idea.
She brought her gaze closer to her, to the water not far from where she sat. A few seconds later, a huge section of water began to rise from the lake, water rushing in beneath it to fill the void that it left behind. Stacey studied the shimmering impossibility as it hung in the air above the lake.
She would have to get in training. She’d need to raise a much bigger body of water for what she had in mind. She chuckled to herself. Much, much bigger.
And so a little over two months later, she watched as the gargantuan slab of seawater that she’d raised from the Pacific Ocean edged over the sprawl of Los Angeles, darkening the city as it moved eastward. Various breeds of aircraft fretted about its edges, like curious locusts.
Stacey rose from the deckchair to her feet. Her hands trembled at her sides as the high rampaged through her system. She’d snorted a huge line, as she needed to be strong against her mind’s frail protestations that lamented the collateral damage of her impending action. Yes, people would die, people would be injured, but the greater good had to be served. The city had to be purified.
So today, she was going to wash it.
In a hallway of the Beverly Hills Police Department, Detective Louis Troy gazed up through the window at the vast water thing making its way eastward overhead. He narrowed his eyes. Was the goddamn thing really water? A military scientist had said on the news that the object had all the consistency of seawater alright. This Troy found hard to believe. How in God’s name would you get a billion tons of seawater up into the fucking sky, and get it to float over the city like that fucking alien ship in Independence Day? No. This was nothing more than a goddamn special effect by the movie guys—some cockamamy PR stunt for some new film—
Movement caught the corner of his eye. Looking quickly to his left, he was just in time to see a massive spear of water smash down on Santa Monica Boulevard, a police car right at its center. The water did not keep flowing; it had just been a gigantic drop of sorts. For a few seconds Troy, frozen in place, stared at the drenched, stricken police car. No longer moving, the car’s roof was crushed downward, and all the windows were smashed. One of the car’s back tires had come off; such had been the force of the impact.
Seeing two detectives running toward the car, Troy exploded into action. He bolted out of the building through an emergency exit and raced for the crushed police car, the smell of seawater growing stronger in his nose with each step.
The drop of water was the result of a tickling sensation in Stacey’s left ear. She blinked, her concentration wavering for a millisecond (at which point the hundred-thousand-gallon drop detached itself from the mother slab), and put her index finger into her ear to focus her eyes once again fully on the shimmering titan hanging over the city. She removed her finger, rubbing it against the pad of her thumb. It was wet and sticky. She didn’t need to look at it to know that it was blood—a result of the strain of keeping the gargantuan water-slab in the sky. So, blood from my eye and ear so far, she thought. What’s next? Not that she was worried. She wasn’t in the least bit afraid. She was willing to bleed a lot more for what she hoped to achieve today.
But there was a problem. The voice in her head telling her not to go through with L.A.’s cleansing was getting louder. It was begging her to push the slab back out over the Pacific and to let it down gently into the water. Against this voice of reason, her psychotic, paranoid cokehead persona raged. Go ahead! it bellowed. Drench the motherfucker! Saltwater in a pus-ridden, infected wound! Exactly what it needs! Let it fall NOW! NOW!
Then a huge aneurysm in her brain—the result of years of cocaine abuse and swaying—burst, and she fell to the ground, dead.
Troy was leaning against a tree, retching, when he felt the breeze. The strangest breeze he’d ever felt.
The squad car behind him that had been smashed by the waterfall was a charnel house. Only one of the four male occupants—two cops and two arrestees, and all quite dead—had been left with his head reasonably intact, and even at that a fair amount of his brains had left his skull and now resided on his right shoulder. The air was rank with the strange, horrible mongrel aroma of seawater and blood.
A knot tightened in Troy’s gut. He knew what was happening, of course. This weird breeze that blew downward. He looked up. There it was, coming right at him. One hell of a shower, he thought casually, as a strange calm suddenly anesthetized his fear. As the titanic blanket of water dropped toward him, he speculated that in two seconds he would look worse than the guys in the car behind him.
He was proven right.
Writing on and off since he was a child, John Leahy began to take the craft more seriously after winning the Humorous Essay competition at Listowel Writers Week in 2007. Since then he has had four novels published—Harvest, CROGIAN, Unity, and The Faith. His short story “Singers” has been included in Flame Tree Publishing’s 2017 Pirates and Ghosts anthology. When not writing, John Leahy spends his time teaching and performing music, working out, and keeping abreast of the stock market and current affairs. He lives in Abbeyfeale, Ireland.