It happened in March, 1913. The perfect confluence of weather combined over the upper Miami Valley in west-central Ohio, and dumped massive amounts of rain on the area for several days. This was on ground already saturated from melting snows, and on Tuesday, March 25, it proved too much for the levees in Dayton. The river breached the first levee around 7 AM, and within a few hours, water 12+ feet deep covered the city. Downriver, the cities of West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown, Hamilton, and Cincinnati weren’t spared, but due to the joining of five rivers on the north side of Dayton, plus the Great Miami’s S-curve there, Dayton was the worst-hit. In terms of property damage and lives lost (anywhere from just over one hundred to four-hundred something – records were sketchy), the 1913 flood remains the worst natural disaster in Ohio’s history.
Here’s an excerpt from Time’s Enemy that shows what it might have been like that day, almost 100 years ago:
An inhuman shriek jolted Tony awake. His gaze darted across sloped rafters, to the end of a long room where dim light filtered through a dusty, mud-spattered window. Church bells rang amidst the roar of hard rain, and whistles were going off everywhere, but they weren’t what woke him. He clutched the quilt. Where was he?
He sat up. Then the scream came again. Outside. It started as a loud groan, then escalated to a grating, high-pitched howl that cut to his soul.
It went on and on then faded as whatever it was passed. Tony threw off his blanket and scooted to the nearby window.
A torrent of muddy water coursed through the alley below, coming halfway up the doorway of the warehouse across the street. He’d never seen so much water where it wasn’t supposed to be. “Holy Noah’s Ark!”
He stood, then regretted it when his head smacked into a rafter. With a curse, he rubbed the sore spot as his memories of the previous day fell into place. The Saturn Society. Taylor Gressman. The wanted posters and Theodore Pippin. Goodwin’s Smoke Shop in 1913.
What had he warped into? He twisted around to search the rafters, as if answers hid in their dim recesses. The only reply was the beating rain. Then it hit him. March, 1913. He’d escaped the Saturn Society only to wind up in the middle of the worst natural disaster in Ohio’s history.
The horrible shrieks started again. He crouched and peered out the window. In the raging waters, a horse struggled to swim, its reins caught on the crossbar of a streetlamp. The yellowish-brown waters came to within a couple feet of the light globes. The horse raised its head, its lips drawn back over its teeth, and let out another ear-piercing cry. Tony cringed. A wooden crate bumped the helpless animal, knocking it free, then the current carried the crate and the horse away.
The view out the other window was much the same. A barrel floated by. Small, dark shapes clung to it. Rats.
Tony leaned against the window, the glass cold against his hand and forehead, and stared in morbid fascination at the water below. The rain churned its rushing surface between pieces of broken furniture, crates and unidentifiable flotsam. Bumps and clunks came from below, probably furnishings, floating around in the shop’s lower level. He moved to the window, his fingers unable to decide whether to form fists or clutch at the window jambs. His breath formed a foggy circle on the glass. Another loud crash, then a few seconds later, a piano floated by, followed by a mass of splintered lumber that had once been a building.
The water swirled and eddied around the debris, lodging it between a telephone pole and the Smoke Shop. In the pile of wood beneath his window, a broken sign read ry’s Market. They wouldn’t be doing business any time soon.
Something moved in the wreckage. A small arm sheathed in a clinging, ruffled sleeve emerged from the water, and little fingers clutched at one of the larger pieces of wood. Slipped.
Grasped again, lost purchase.
A little girl. “Oh my God.” His voice echoed in the empty reaches of the rafters. The child groped again, failed to latch on, started to slide.
He grabbed the window sash’s blackened han-dle and pulled. Stuck tight. With a grunt he leaned upward and pulled harder. “Come on, open, dammit!” The sash didn’t move.
He could barely hear a thin, plaintive wail over the rushing water. He grabbed the sash handle, yanked upward, and this time the window obeyed.
The girl’s cry reached him again. Helplessness pinned his feet to the floor. Fear he wouldn’t reach her in time mocked him. He’d have to climb out on-to that haphazard pile of wood. One misstep could plunge him into the icy, raging current. But if he didn’t go out there, that little girl would die.
He yanked off his suit jacket. Cold as he was, it would only get in the way. “Hang on!” He climbed over the sash. She tried to grab hold of a broken timber. Missed. Then slipped into the water.
“No!” Despair stung him. The same way it had the night Bethany hadn’t come home, and a state trooper rang their doorbell. Tony had known his daughter was dead before the man said a word. “Hang on!” This little girl had a chance.
Want to read more? Time’s Enemy (e-book) is on sale for only $.99 as part of the Booklovers’ Buffet through June 22, along with over 150 other books, novellas, and short stories. You can buy Time’s Enemy at Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords and many other online retailers.
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