Would I die if I drowned in my dream? As the water rises, covering each step within seconds, it’s all I can think of. Question is … am I dreaming?
We’d moved all that we could upstairs. Mum even began ripping carpets up, new after the last flood. Floods are something you get used to in York, but the Ouse has never flooded like this though.
“Back up! Back up,” Mum orders.
In pyjamas and boots, hoodies and hats, we race up to the top floor. The house groans and creaks. Windows crack, then shatter against the weight of the water. In the distance, the siren wails. Mum jumps up onto her bed, pulls the blind, filling the room with the hazy glow of moonlight. Yanking on the window’s bar, she pulls it wide into a tilt, allowing the thick rain to lash us.
“We’re going out there? You’ve gotta be kiddin’?” I shout, peeling strands of hair from my face, my old Year 6 Leavers’ hoodie turns from light to dark grey.
“Hannah, get up here. Now!”
The water’s rising way too fast. This can’t be real.
Seeping under Mum’s bedroom door, the floodwater saturates the carpet. I have no choice. Stepping up, I place my hands on the cold plastic of the window ledge. Mum takes my leg and I push off from her as she balances on the bed. Straining, I pull myself up, my fingertips hooking under the layers of tiles.
The panic in her voice sends a lightning rod through me. Once up, I straddle the ledge, then lean down to Mum. Gripping my hand, she bounces on the bed jumping as high as possible. I claw at her clothes as she heaves herself up onto the window’s ledge, safe from the rising waters. Lying flat on her stomach, she reaches to grab the metal bar, pulling herself up and out. Wind whips her rain mac up over her head. I yank it back as we straddle the velux window like jockeys. Glancing back down as we cling to each other, we watch floodwater lapping against her bed. In no time at all it’s lifted from the floor, making a raft of it.
“Mum, shouldn’t we go back down and get on the bed?”
“No. Too dangerous.”
“More dangerous than this?”
Looking out, neighbours line their own rooftops as the floodwater continues to rise, swallowing anything below the guttering. How is this happening? Old Mr Joseph at No. 11 wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“Mum, what do we do? The water’s still rising!”
“I know, sweetheart.” Mum shakes her head, her blonde hair matted to her face.
“Listen!” A whirring sound drones in the distance. “It might be the coastguard! Or the air ambulance!”
From my hoodie, I pull out my phone, swipe up and press the torch icon.
“Good thinking!” Mum says. She pads her mac down, searching for her own. “Damn!” she adds. Looking down from our skylight position, we watch her phone bob along the water’s surface until it sinks without a trace.
“It’ll be okay. Look!” I say.
Up the street dozens of people are holding their phones up, torch apps blaring, hopeful.
“I think the water’s slowing,” Mum says, watching her new divan float from one side of her room to the other.
“What about jumping to the tree? It’s a massive oak, and it’s not that far.”
Mum’s calculation face kicks in, but we don’t have time for that.
“Mum, come on!”
She takes my phone and puts it in the inside pocket, zipping it shut. It’s the only lifeline we have. Carefully, we push ourselves up and out onto the roof, shuffling our boots against the slippery slate tiles. Clothes, soaked, stick to our limbs. The smell of stagnant water and sewage rises as the rain stings our cheeks and cold hands.
Flattening ourselves closer to the roof, I shuffle behind Mum as she checks for loose roof tiles. It only takes one. Eventually, we reach the far edge of the house. I curl up into a crouched position close to the edge of the rooftop. Mum prays out loud that the guttering doesn’t snap.
“I think I should go first, Hannah. Then you can jump to me and I’ll catch you.”
“No! Don’t leave me. Please, don’t leave me, Mum!”
I grab her hand. She sighs, looking lost. “Then you’ll have to jump first. We only have two options, Hannah, and we’re running out of time.”
No! I can’t.
The whirring blades of a helicopter grow closer. As I cling to Mum, she waves her arms. Its searchlight scans the rooftops for signs of life, stopping across the street where, incredibly, Eva from No.8 clings to the rooftop; her cat’s head popping out from her knitting bag. She’s 79! If Eva can do this, I can.
Fighting against the back draft from the air ambulance, we flatten ourselves to the roof, as its searchlight swings across to us. “The coastguard are on their way,” a voice blares out from a megaphone.
I watch Eva and her cat, Mr Nibbles, being hoisted to safety. Thank God. The helicopter angles back, pulling away from dozens more people shouting and pleading for help, but the whirring blades fade.
Suddenly, the house shakes and groans and sways.
But I can’t. Fear has paralysed my legs. I look across to the oak tree. Help me, please!
The oak shakes its enormous canopy, shedding its autumn colours as if it’s heard me. Branches bend their elbows and unfold from their joints, opening wide. The oak leans forward …
A streak of emerald and gold shoots through the tree’s veins, illuminating it. Its glow is so warm. I realise the rain has stopped. Bending its trunk and lowering its crown of green, it bows.
What was that?
Am I dreaming?
“Hannah, you can do this! Please jump!” Mum cries.
Can she see what the tree’s doing?
The oak stretches its branches like fingertips, awaiting my touch.
Flinging my arms wide, branches flex to catch me. The oak pulls me in close to the trunk as I grapple to hold on. It clutches my ankle, guiding my foot to a branch. Incredible.
“Please save my mum,” I whisper, pressing fingers against the ridges of its bark.
I look back to see her teetering on the edge of the house. Without warning the oak tree lifts from its foundations - Mum leaps - branches reach for her …
“Hold on!” I scream.
Mum grabs a clutch of its thin limbs, but plunges into the water. Branches spring back up from the depths … she’s gone … Mum’s gone …