Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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The Battle for Greystone Castle

-or- Beanie and the Floaters

by Michael J. Flanagan


Prologue:

By 2032, rising ocean levels had left the streets of many coastal cities underwater. Dikes and levees and massive pumping systems had been installed too late to protect any land less than 10 meters above old sea level. Into these flooded streets and abandoned buildings drifted the derelicts, the homeless, and the street kids. Finding a building was easy. Keeping it was a little more difficult.

When he heard the whistle, Beanie stopped tending what's-her-name's skinned knee and broke for the window. Tylow, across the street, was feverishly pointing down toward the water with his mouth going a mile a minute, but Beanie couldn't hear a word he said.

"Hang in there, short shit," he hollered as he pounded up the stairs and sprinted the twenty yards to the only open window in the whole place.

"Two floaters have gone in your digs! They're underneath you!" yelled Tylow.

Okay, okay, thought Beanie. The chair's up and the cable is stretched out across the floor, I can see it from here. There is absolutely no other way they can get up here, he told himself, but he'd beat a path down below and check. It wasn't as if he didn't know what they wanted.

He could hear what's-her-name crying as he sprinted back across the empty room and bounded down the stairs. She hadn't spoken a single word since he found her that day in the flooded train station.

"Don't worry, ugly-stuff, they can't get in," he hollered as he shot down another flight to the floor below.

This was the second set of floaters this week. That damn TV crew, in their big power boat, started all this. The three of them, he and Satch and what's-her-name, plus Tylow and the other 'castle holders', had lived in what Satch called 'quiet obscurity' until the day the TV folks came. No one let them in, but they filmed in a couple of the busted-up buildings anyway. The ones no one wanted. The ones you couldn't defend.

Beanie knew about the filming because he and Satch and what's-her-name had watched 'em through the window. Tylow had pitched a couple of rocks at 'em, but missed. He was just too high up, didn't judge it right. Too bad. The splash got their attention though. Sped them up a little. The news people exaggerated as usual, if not outright lied. The resulting TV show must have made the abandoned buildings seem immensely attractive. That's when the floaters came in droves.

Bounding down the last flight, Beanie sprinted toward the Exit sign. Satch said you can't stop someone getting in if they want it bad enough, so Beanie had to find out how bad the two floaters wanted it, even if the finding might not smell so good.

The bottom floors were not defensible -- too many doors and broken windows -- but they were mostly underwater anyway. This floor was the first floor that could only be accessed by two emergency stairways and the elevators. The elevators, of course, had quit working when the power was shut off due to rising water. That left the two stairways as the only way up, but Beanie and Satch had stuffed them full of doors. One by one they had removed the office doors, stripped off the door handles, and slid them down the stairway.

The only exception to this interlaced barrier of doors was the eight inch plastic pipe that hugged the wall where the hand rail was. Along with electricity, the rising ocean had also cut off the tap water and sanitary facilities. Seeing as this particular pipe served as their sole sanitary facility, Beanie pretty well knew what the floaters were standing in as they surveyed the barrier.

Everyone called the intruders 'floaters' because they'd come floating down the flooded streets on all kinds of different things, searching for a place to set up house. Beanie's opinion was that they could set up house anywhere they wanted, except here.

The odor and disgruntled sounds wafting out the end of that pipe told Beanie the floaters had decided to try the other stairwell. Satch said the trick was to discourage them. Well, so far, so good. The other stairway had only the barrier to stop them, unless you counted the overhead sprinkler pipe. The tiny glass part that lets out the water was broken off and replaced with a piece of tape attached to a string. The string, partially hidden, went up the stairway over the doors to where Beanie could pull it and tear the tape off. Beanie knew they wouldn't like what was in that sprinkler pipe. He had filled it himself over the months they'd been here, and he had to drink a lot of water to do it.

Beanie had once read how they defended castles back in the olden days and was trying as hard as he could to apply it to this Greystone high-rise. He had found that many of the castle folks were extremely resourceful. He sort of wished he had boiling oil to pour on his invaders, but yellow water would have to do for now. Running as fast as he could, he noticed what's-her-name had come down the interior stairs. Those stairs only went three levels.

"It's all right, puddle-butt, I'm just checking on them," he said as he raced passed her.

Hitting the next Exit, Beanie listened intently for signs they were trying to move the doors. What's-her-name's scream sent him running back out to the elevator doors where she was standing.

"Calm down mud-bucket, they can't get in that way," he said. He seriously hoped he was right, but he could hear them as well as she could. They must have crawled out on top of one of the elevator cars and were trying to climb up the open shaft.

"Go sit with Satch, bubble-butt. Everything's under control," Beanie hollered as he hammered back up the three flights and raced for the fire stairs. Beanie hoped she would go sit with Satch; it would make her feel safer. Satch was way too old to protect anyone, but what's-her-name didn't know that yet. If the floaters actually got in, Beanie didn't know what would happen. What's-her-name panicked every time they were attacked, but then she had been pretty beat-up when he found her. She had seen hard times. He remembered how he had spent a whole day talking her out of a cubby-hole she had crawled into. That had been months ago and she still woke up screaming some nights -- and some nights she had 'accidents'. Beanie always made sure he had dry clothes and bedding on hand. But she was only five or six, only half his age.

Three more flights and Beanie grabbed the fire-hose. The hose still worked because it was fed by a giant storage tank on the top floor. Beanie pulled the U-bolt out of the doors and pried them apart. Satch had come up with a battery drill that first day in the building and the two of them U-bolted each set of elevator doors, almost all the way to the top.

"Eat this!" Beanie yelled as he cranked the hose up and let 'em have it.

The language hurled up at him was beyond description. They were using every nasty word he had ever heard and a few he hadn't. He could just make out their forms as they huddled back against the wall under some cross braces. It was a stand off. He couldn't dislodge them and they couldn't climb any higher. Knowing the water would eventually give out, Beanie needed a better plan.

"Hold the bolts in, Satch! Don't let them rattle out!" he hollered, hoping Satch heard him as he re-bolted his doors and raced for higher levels.

When whoever had been here in the past had left, they took most everything with them. The only items left were broken, bent, or twisted, but good enough for Beanie, Satch, and what's-her-name to make a home here.

Satch was set-up in one of the offices that caught the morning sun. He liked that.

What's-her-name slept in a small storeroom a little ways along the building. She couldn't handle the big open spaces. Even then, she only slept if Beanie slept just outside her door.

Beanie didn't mind. He had given her his bed that first day, what there was of it anyways, but his new one was almost as good. It was only the padding from a bench in the ladies' lounge, but it was comfortable enough. Many a night what's-her-name still crawled in with him, either scared or wet or both. But she was family now, so he never complained.

Food was their main problem. Beanie figured that was why these building had been empty for so long -- empty except for kids with spray cans looking for buildings to tag that would stay tagged, or the day-tripping curious. What changed it all, at least in his opinion, was when the water got deep enough, the fish came. The water was close to three stories deep now and on a good day, dinner was just waiting to be caught. That's what the TV crew implied in their film and that's what drew the floaters. A hundred million dollar house with a moat, and all the fish you could eat. The TV crew made it sound better than it was -- they never mentioned the lack of plumbing, heat, electricity,...

One more floor and Beanie was desperate for solutions. Where was the boiling oil when you needed it! Quickly surveying the empty level, he tore past the elevator doors and down the hallway toward the other stairs.

Halfway down the hall he skidded to a stop. He had just passed a fire extinguisher. There were two on every floor.

Grabbing the fire extinguisher, he bolted passed the elevators to grab the one from the other hallway. He came struggling back, half-dragging a twenty-pound cylinder at the end of each arm. Popping the bolt out of the doors, he pried them apart and peered into the darkness below. Both the floaters were prying at one set of doors and promptly jumped back when they saw Beanie. Beanie unclipped one of the hoses and aimed it down the shaft, but the trigger wouldn't move. Realizing it had a safety pin he jerked the pin out and pulled the handle again. He could hear what's-her-name crying as a ten foot stream of white stuff shot down the shaft and then did little more than turn into fog. One of the floaters hollered something crude and made as if to start climbing up so Beanie threw the whole extinguisher at him. Both the floaters jumped back as the extinguisher banged and crashed its way to the bottom. Having no faith in the remaining extinguisher, Bernie threw it also and got a rewarding yelp when it bounced off a beam and grazed one floater's arm.

They were about as mad as they could get and Beanie was praying he could stop them from getting in. If he couldn't, his chances of seeing tomorrow 'injury free' weren't very good. Muscling the doors closed he replaced the bolt and sagged back against the doors.

Sitting there, he remembered the can in the closet. In one of the fire hose closets there was a can of something left over from the 'before times', before the water came. But he couldn't remember what floor was it on... It wasn't near the top, he was sure of that, and he didn't think it was below him. Leaping to his feet, he charged into the hallway and checked that closet before charging up another flight of stairs.

This was the floor he searched every time he needed something. It looked like the old owners had started to tear apart the office cubicles and then just quit and walked off. It was the only floor that had much 'stuff' on it. The banging from below was getting really loud so Beanie grabbed the two fire extinguishers and made for the elevator doors again. Prying them open he pitched them, one at a time, into the void and was again rewarded with a scream. Leaving the doors open, he ran to a pile of broken floor tiles and bits of lumber. He started throwing them through the open doors, praying they hit something. Satch said you had to discourage them and Beanie didn't know about the floaters, but he was definitely getting discouraged. Heaving his last armful of broken bits down the shaft, Beanie peered into the shaft to see how things were going. The floaters were down near the bottom, but now they were using the timber he had just supplied to pry at one of the doors. Beanie swore, making good use of the new words the floaters had taught him.

Racing to the fire hose closet, Beanie discovered the elusive can. Finding it was full, he flopped down beside it to read the label. The big word was Acetone, whatever that was. The rusty cap was a fight to get off, but when he finally removed it, the stuff smelled horrible. He stuck his finger in it but it didn't do much more than make his finger cold. Still, he was about out of viable options, so he dragged the can to the open doors.

He peered into the dark elevator shaft until he spotted the intruders, then started looking for a second container. Because the five shafts were open to each other, making one long shaft, and because the floaters were off to one side, he would need some way of throwing the Acetone so it would hit them. The first thing he found was a Styrofoam cup, but it melted when he poured the acetone in. His second find was a larger paper cup. After seeing the familiar logo on the front, he wished he had a whole stack of their hamburgers, or anything on their menu that didn't taste like fish.

Tipping the can, Beanie filled cup after cup and heaved it toward the intruders, but to little or no effect. They were literally screaming swear words at him. The smell was horribly strong, making his eyes sting, but most of the acetone was hitting the cross beams and the two floaters were still prying at the doors.

Then he got an absolutely brilliant idea. Fire. Even if that Acetone stuff didn't burn, the floaters might think it did. And even if they didn't they might still be scared by the fire. Hoping he wasn't about to burn the building down, Beanie searched the floor for something that would burn. Grabbing the lighter he used to light their little stove, he lit a piece of rolled up newspaper and ran toward the shaft.

He wasn't really sure what happened after that, or even what order it happened in. The loud 'bang' was real. He knew it was real because his ears were still ringing. The wall of hot air was real too. That was what knocked him flying into the cubicles. It wasn't until he rubbed his face that he discovered his eyebrows were missing. When he rubbed his head he found most of his hair was missing too. Beanie made a mental note -- Acetone burns! -- as he crawled back toward the shaft. Peering cautiously in, and then hanging as far as he could over the edge, he discovered, much to his amazement, that the floaters weren't anywhere to be seen.

Sprinting back down the fire stairs he ran to the open window where he could see Tylow throwing rocks at something down below.

"What'd you do to them?" shouted Tylow. "And what'd you do to their hair? They look like you cooked 'em or something!"

Then Tylow burst out laughing, pointing at Beanie. "You look like you cooked yourself! Look at your face! Look at your hair! You look like shit!"

Hanging out the window, Beanie watched the two floaters hastily paddling down the street, dodging Tylow's rain of rocks. It wasn't until Tylow waved that Beanie noticed what's-her-name standing at the window next to him.

"We did it, skid mark, we sent them packing."

"No," she said, "I'm not skid mark. I'm Kathy."

THE END


© 2008 Michael J. Flanagan

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