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A Crack in the Dam

a crack in the dam
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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes

Leo Banks drove furiously down the road towards town. His mind raced as he considered the implications of what he’d just seen and just how he was going to warn everyone. The sun was setting now and by the time he would get there it would be nightfall. It was Halloween. Kids would be everywhere. The fire department would be kicking off its annual Trunk or Treat festivities along Main Street. He didn’t want to create chaos. But who? Who should he go to in order to get the word out that the dam, the giant Gilboa Dam was going to break and flood the entire town?

A member of the fire department. They would be around. He could go to one of them first, maybe suggest an orderly evacuation. He’d have to pull someone aside from the festivities which would surely cause a scene. Maybe that wasn’t the best approach. If someone were to overhear him it could cause the very mayhem he was trying to avoid. Bedlam on top of an impending flood wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to find the right person or organization to appropriately deal with the impending disaster.

Time was of the essence and he would need to act fast. He felt a strange but brief surge of gratitude at having been granted the opportunity to have this moment of heroism. The universe had put Leo in a unique position, and now an entire community could be saved by him. Not many were given such a chance in life.

As he pulled closer to town, he could see the children running around in their costumes. The evening had begun. His sense of heroism began to ebb and change back into a panic. He thought of all of the poor souls, unaware of the danger they were in.

He pulled to the edge of town, just before the road was blocked off for the festivities. He parked his car crookedly and leapt out. His time was now. He felt the sense of heroism return.

“Sir, you can’t park there.” A woman called out to him.

Leo spun around confused.

“I’m sorry?” he said.

“You can’t park there. We have to keep this area clear.”

“This whole town needs to be cleared.”

“Excuse me?”

Leo approached the woman and inspected her. He studied her reflective vest and flashlight as he looked her up and down, assessing her potential to help.

“Are you of some stature? In the fire department?” Leo asked.

“I’m….here as a volunteer.” The baffled woman replied.

Leo nodded as he turned again towards town, leaving the woman and his hastily parked car behind him.

“Sir, your car!” the woman cried out to no avail. She sighed as she watched Leo walk away.

He found himself in the thick of the crowd. Throngs of children and adults in costumes surrounded him while the Halloween music blared from a nearby truck, fully decorated as a ghoulish graveyard with tombstones, skeletons and cobwebs. The music combined with the shouts and laughter of the disguised children filled the air with a dizzying cacophony. Overwhelmed by what may soon happen to all of these people, he frantically continued his search.

A police car was parked by the old clock in front of the town hall. Leo ran towards it. He considered what a shame it was that something like the old clock, a piece of history, would likely be destroyed soon. The lights on the police car came on and he paused. Three children in costumes emerged from inside the car and a smiling police officer gave them each candy as they exited. What was this? How could he approach this officer with such a grave matter while children stood by? Maybe he could ask to speak with him in the car alone. Disappointed, he decided against it and pressed on. If the officer wanted to engage in such frivolity, maybe sharing the heroism wasn’t for him.

It all began earlier that evening. With only the faintest of October sun remaining, Leo was returning from an afternoon hike. The same hike he took every Thursday after work. The trail’s final bend before emptying back out to the parking lot offered a view of the massive dam. The water behind it supplied the drinking water to New York City. A city three hours away. It stood as a hovering threat to those that lived in the Schoharie valley. Many residents knew the exact time frame they had to evacuate their homes should the dam ever break. In some cases, it was as little as seven minutes. The entire valley would fill up for miles.

All of this only fed the panic that Leo felt upon seeing a man (he was certain he saw a man) placing a blinking device on the dam. Leo stopped and tried to get a closer look. The shadowy man caught sight of Leo. He flipped him off and disappeared into the falling darkness. Leo, unsure of what to do, began to run. Were there officials working at the dam at this hour? Should he try to remove the device? What would he do with it? Was there time enough to even consider these options?

He decided he would first try to get the device off. He slid down the embankment through the brush and hurried across the base of the enormous dam to where he’d seen the man. He climbed up the opposite embankment and to the location of the blinking device. As he came face to face with it, he realized he had no idea its potential. If he were to remove it, where could he go? If he brought it into town for someone to deactivate, a specialist of some kind, he’d still be putting everyone in danger. The clock on the device read thirty-eight minutes and counting. He tried giving it a pull. It was fastened tightly. There was no time to waste.

Leo ran back to his car and within minutes had the speedometer pegged at 88 m.p.h. The dam was going to break. The burden was his alone to bear. He drove northeast, out of the fading light and into the falling darkness.

Now he stood shaking in the middle of Main St., unsure of where to turn next. A child in a grim reaper costume bumped into him. Looking up at Leo, the mask lit up in blood red. The mother laughed and excused her child. Who were these people? What excuse was there for such nonsense?

Leo tried to collect himself. How much time was left? Why hadn’t he thought to keep track? There was no other choice but to return to the frivolous peace officer and alert him to the impending disaster.

More children were emerging from the patrol car as Leo approached. The officer laughed and gave the kids candy as they continued on to the next car. Now was the time.

Leo approached.

“Officer? A word please?” Leo spoke in a hurried but hushed tone.

“How can I help?” the officer smiled at him.

“This is of grave importance. I need your full attention.” Leo waved his hand towards the candy and the car.

The officer set the candy down on the car, waved to his partner to take over and the two stepped away from the crowds and stood beneath the clock tower.

If someone were to look over, they would have seen a man gesticulating wildly as he pointed towards the direction of the dam and towards the crowds around them. The officer listened grimly but revealed no sense of urgency. As he spoke into his radio, Leo dropped his shoulders in disbelief.

“What don’t you understand?! This has to happen now! These people need to be evacuated!!” Leo’s voice grew louder. Many passersby took notice of him and some stopped to listen. The clock tower chimed seven o’clock.

“Listen, bud. I put in a call for someone to go and check it out….”

“There. Is. No. Time! Why don’t you understand?!”

More parents and children had now gathered around the two of them.

“Look, you’re scaring people for no reason, pal. We’re checking it out. If you don’t knock it off, I’ll have you detained. Got it?”

Leo stood in disbelief as the officer returned to his car.

The music that had been emanating from large speakers on a flatbed had stopped. Feedback screeched from a live microphone as the village mayor, rotund in appearance and dressed as a giant pig man with a monocle and top hat, tapped the mic as he stood amidst the gravestones decorating the truck.

“Check, check. Hello?”

More screeching from the microphone. Many in the crowd winced as they covered their ears. Leo looked around as the crowd began to congregate around the makeshift stage.

“Alright, well, hello everyone! Happy Halloween!” the mayor exclaimed. “Who’s ready for the costume contest?”

The children began to cheer as their parents applauded. Leo, his eyes frantic and wild, shoved a child out of the way and rushed towards the stage. Knocking into confused, costumed children and their protective parents along the way.

“If everyone would just line up over here….” The mayor continued.

Leo leapt up onto the flatbed. A look of shock overtook the mayor’s face.

“Excuse me!” the mayor tried to back away from the crazed Leo. “What are you doing?”

“Give me the mic.” Leo demanded as he confronted the mayor, grabbing at the microphone.

Leo and the mayor fought for the microphone, with Leo emerging as the victor as he snatched it from the mayor’s hand and turned to face the confused and concerned crowd.

“Everyone! Listen up! There is no time to waste! You need to listen to me. The dam is going to break. Do you hear me? Do you understand? The dam is about to break! We need to evacuate now!”

Several members of the crowd gasped as the mayor fought with Leo to get the microphone back. Leo kept him at arm’s length and continued on with his warning.
The police officer shook his head, set down his candy bowl and ran across the street towards Leo.

“Please listen to me!!”

The officer hurried up the steps of the flatbed and moved past the flustered mayor and towards Leo.

“Please! For the love of god get your children out of the valley now! Go….”

“Alright pal c’mon” the police officer intervened.

The officer was able to wrestle the mic away from Leo. He handed it back to the mayor and led Leo off of the flatbed and away from the crowd.

“Alright everyone, let’s just settle down.” The mayor pleaded. “Everything is under control. Please don’t worry yourselves.”

The officer had Leo against a building and had just begun to handcuff him when something made them take pause. A deep rumble echoed though the valley, causing an eerie silence amongst the crowd. Everyone stopped what they were doing. Leo’s attention was drawn towards the old clock across the street. Standing there below it a familiar, shadowy looking man, only slightly illuminated by the overhead streetlight. The man smiled, flipped Leo off and then receded into the darkness.
A woman let out a scream and pointed down the road. The first sign of water had come into view. It moved with the force of a charging army towards the crowd. The officer looked in disbelief at Leo.

“I told you.” Leo whispered.

The rumble became louder. The water began to flow faster and higher. Everyone scrambled and ran in the confusion. The officer turned his attention from Leo to the crowd.

“Head towards higher ground!” he yelled to anyone who would listen. Leo watched as the officer disappeared into the chaotic mess of frightened people and the surging floodwaters. His words dissolving into the noise that was engulfing them all.

Leo stood alone, with his hands still cuffed behind his back.

“I told you!” he screamed before he was knocked off his feet and engulfed by the unstoppable, indiscriminate force of water as it flooded out from a broken dam. The water showed no mercy as it crashed through Main Street and overtook the screams and panic within minutes.

When it was all said and done, the only survivors left were in the surrounding hills. Their homes now inaccessible from any road. They stood by powerless as bodies, fake gravestones, livestock and any manner of detritus floated around their elevated homes. For weeks, helicopters delivered supplies and even airlifted residents out as the entire valley surrounding them sat filled with water. Water that had refused to be held back any longer and now had no place left to go.

Credit : Brad Towle

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