Rain pounded on the roof of Harley Camden’s house, banged on the windows, and rattled down the gutters, all through the night. The cascading water provided the soundtrack for a vivid dream, one in which three women were standing around a huge iron cauldron at the western end of River Mill Park. The night was as black as India ink, and a raging wind whipped the hair and clothes of the women as they chanted the words, “Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.” The words were familiar. Shakespeare, perhaps?
Harley neared the cauldron, he could see the faces of the women in the glow of the fire beneath it, and he was shocked by who they were: Mary Ranger, the Occoquan postmistress; Doris King, co-owner of the Yarn Shop; and Leah Silverman, a neighbor and old friend. “When shall we three meet again,” Mary asked the other two. “In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” Moving closer, he saw black clouds, not in the sky but in the cauldron, swirled by a fierce and unearthly wind. As the witches chanted, the spinning mass of liquid began to exert a pull on him, drawing him closer and closer to the edge of the iron pot, and soon his face was within inches of the bubbling, swirling fluid. Then it sucked him in.
Spinning down the vortex, he saw two figures ahead of him: His dead wife and daughter, Karen and Jessica. He reached out and tried to grab them, wanting to catch them and hold them, pull them close and protect them. But he couldn’t reach them. Over the roar of the whirling liquid, Harley heard strange names being chanted by the witches behind him, “Fire Dolphin, Earth Eagle, Fire Dolphin, Earth Eagle.” His wife and daughter just kept moving ahead of him and disappearing into the whirlpool. Once again, Harley was losing them.
Then a wail cut through the sound of the spinning liquid and woke him. Startled and confused, Harley came to the surface not knowing where he was, or what was happening around him. The shrieking was accompanied by pulses of blue light on his bedroom wall, images that flowed like glowing liquid from ceiling to floor. Harley realized that the shimmering was being caused by sheets of rain on his windows, and that the pulses were coming from a lightbar. Of what? A firetruck? A police cruiser?
Yes, he remembered slowly, must be a police cruiser—red means fire, blue means police. He rubbed his eyes and went to the window on the west side of his bedroom, and saw that the light was not actually outside his window, but was bouncing off the windows of the building next door. Putting on his bathrobe, he proceeded to the bedroom overlooking Mill Street, and there he looked southward and saw a cruiser up the hill from his house, parked at the corner of Commerce and Union Streets. For a second, he assumed that it was a traffic stop, but when his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw something more surreal than anything in his dream.
Union Street, which runs from Commerce down to Mill Street, had become a river. A torrent of black water, several feet deep, was running toward the Occoquan River, swelling, rolling, and ripping merchandise from the porches of shops along the street. Harley thought he heard a train, but then realized that the sound was being made by the water as it roared through town, even causing parked cars to rise up, spin around, and crash into buildings. Logs and large branches were being carried downhill, along with lawn chairs and pieces of fencing, and while some of the debris spilled left and right onto Mill Street, most of it flowed directly into the Occoquan River.
In the glow of the streetlights, he could see that the gravel parking lot that stood between Mill Street and the river was now submerged—it had become a muddy delta linking the two rising, churning, bodies of water. Up the hill were two police officers on Commerce Street, trying to set up barricades in the pouring rain, but the sawhorses they tried to put in place were immediately swept away. Harley was breathing quickly, frightened by what he was seeing but also awestruck, witnessing a force that could destroy anything in its path. A line from Genesis came to mind, “The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.”