The rain fell in dense sheets for three days. On the third night, the swollen lake breached the dam, burying everything downstream beneath feet of water. The following morning, caskets floated down Main Street—an armada of the withered dead sailing on a clay-orange sea.
The first to spot this invasion were the shop owners who came on fishing boats to survey the damage to their premises. They tied their vessels to columns rising from the water and stared down at submerged ground-floor windows. They spoke to each other of lost inventory and buckling floorboards.
Until the first lacquered hull bobbed by.
“What the hell?” Davey Grant, owner of the downtown hardware store, leaned forward in his boat and pointed. “Is that a …”
As though to assure them all that it was, three more caskets followed. One nudged sideways when it bumped against a column supporting a second-story balcony. A wave of two came after that, and then a wave of five, and so on. By the time Sheriff Everett Dorsey arrived in his flat bottom row-boat, with his newest deputy at the oars, fully two dozen coffins had passed through the commercial center and were headed west. Still more approached from the east, the next floats in a grim parade.
“It’s Judgment Day, Sheriff,” Deputy Bobby Johnson said, his eyes wide and white.
“Or just a hundred-year flood. You know, like the weather man said.” Irritation tinted the sheriff’s voice, though the deputy seemed too horrified by the scene to notice.
Sheriff Dorsey was lanky even in middle age and stood almost six-three. Seated as he was in the fore of the boat, with his boots propped on the gunnel, his knees nearly eclipsed his face. He was dressed that morning in fishing gear instead of his pressed uniform. His badge gleamed on his chest amidst camouflage greens and browns.
“What do we do, Sheriff?” asked Debbie Jameson, her skiff listing above what would be her coffee shop.
Dorsey shook his head. “Not much we can do ’til the water’s gone.”
“Momma!” a voice shouted to his other side, and all turned to see a portly man leap into the water and dog-paddle toward a rose-colored coffin drifting down the center of the street.
“Harold, are you crazy?” Mayor Kirbo called out. He nearly stood in his Jon Boat, then thought better of it and sat back down. “It’s too deep!”
Harold Miller, proprietor of Smokin’ Butts BBQ, reached the coffin but could not grasp it in time, his hands being otherwise occupied with treading water. Soon Momma Miller had evaded her son and was continuing on her course, leaving Harold flailing in the water and calling after her.
“Deputy Johnson,” Sheriff Dorsey said, his expression flat.
He nodded to the empty outboard next to them. “Kindly motor out there to get Harold before he drowns.”
The sun reappeared later that day, and the water slowly receded, leaving a slick tangerine glaze everywhere. Caskets were beached among a flotsam of drywall, lawn furniture, and trash bags. Bodies liberated from their confines lay draped over low tree branches and reposed in front lawns. One stood upright like a scarecrow, the collar of his suit jacket snagged on the wrought iron fence encircling the cemetery. The July air was soupy and rancid.
A tobacco farmer, miles from downtown, found a coffin mired in a layer of Georgia clay that now topped his lowest field. It was a simple, unadorned vessel with its lid flopped open and no body inside. Dorsey knelt beside the casket and noted faint indentations in a footstep pattern just beside it. They led either to or from a copse of pine trees behind the field—though from their indistinct shape, Dorsey could not tell which.
“You ever seen anything like this, Sheriff?” the farmer said.
Dorsey scanned the field and pointed toward the stand of trees. “You looked up there for the body?”
“I’ve looked everywhere. Nothing.”
“Neighbors haven’t seen anything?”
The farmer shook his head solemnly. “We got people stealing the bodies now?” he asked, the words catching in his throat. “What in damnation is this world coming to?”