This story is by Shelby J McDaniel and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
We don’t know when the waters began to rise, but we do know that they were prepared for it. Special buildings had been erected for years in secret in each country. Each building is two hundred stories tall. That’s thirty-seven more floors than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, now only its spire pokes out of the water. Those who could afford to live in the towers bought out the small apartments before anyone else even knew they existed. All of the apartments were the same, small and compact, but the higher you went the more expensive they became. The architects christened them, The Ark Towers.
The towers were divided into four sections. Each section had two floors dedicated to medical care, schooling, and personal care. Once you could roam freely between sections, but as the water rose and people beneath the water line began to change, new laws were put in place. You could no longer leave your section, interact with anyone outside of your section, and natural procreation became prohibited. You had to obtain a permit and go through a very rigorous approval process to have a baby.
My great-grandparents were very wealthy for their time, and they were able to purchase an apartment in section three on the one hundred and twenty-seventh floor. Although we live above the water line, the waters have reached the floor beneath us and my parents are becoming more worried every day. I find them some days standing on the patio staring down at the water beneath us. The current architects are hard at work trying to build up, but materials are scarce and they’re worried about damaging the integral structure of the building. No one expected the water to rise this quickly.
I had a friend when I younger that lived under the water line. I used to sneak away to visit her at her apartment. We would watch through the specialized glass as large humpback whales swam lazily past. One day we even caught a glimpse of a giant squid as it chased a school of fish. Some days, if the water was clear, you could see ruins of the old city.
My parents found out about my lower friend and ended it promptly. I was no longer allowed beneath the water line. They explained that the people in the lower levels were changing. Some went blind, some went mad and some of them even became disfigured. We would hear horror stories of the lower people growing hostile.
As an adult I’m a part of the work program as a structural inspector. I tell the engineers if there are signs of structural damage and they fix the issues. It’s not glamorous, but I have one of the few jobs that can go between sections.
Today one of the engineers asked me to travel down to section one to inspect a reported leak. We get quite a number of these reports from sections one and two as the lower people have become paranoid of leaks even though we have never actually seen one.
The leak was reported in a lower person’s apartment. I have inspected reported leaks in the common areas, but never in a person’s apartment.
I slung my tool belt around my waist and headed towards section one. When I reached the access door I placed my wrist to the door to be scanned for admittance. Each of us has a tattoo on the inside of our wrists that contains our identity, where we reside and our security access. I heard the watertight door open as my identity was confirmed.
I headed through the thick door and down a small hallway towards an access elevator that serviced all sections. Most residents use elevators that only access floors in their section. I scanned my wrist at the elevator and stepped inside.
“Floor seven,” I said.
“Hello Resident James Culton. Access granted. Descending to the seventh floor,” the female automated voice responded. It was a very calming, musical voice.
The elevator continued its rapid decent, and as I entered the lower levels I could feel my ears pop. It was a fast elevator but it still took a couple of minutes to reach section one. The elevator slowed to a gentle stop and the doors glided open.
“Welcome to the seventh floor. Enjoy a blessed day Resident James Culton.”
The original architects had requested the computer be programmed to say “blessed” every time to remind us of how lucky we are to be alive.
I stopped outside of the watertight access door to floor seven. Before being granted access, the computer announces to the residents that I am entering. Since the sections are not allowed to interact, any time one of us has to come down to do inspections or repairs, the residents are instructed to stay in their apartments.
I heard the computer come over the loud speakers. She said, “Seventh Floor Residents, Section Three Structural Inspector James Culton is accessing the floor. Please return to your apartments and check in. Stay in your apartments until you are told you may leave. In accordance with the Ark Section Segregation Law, your doors will be locked until the inspection is complete. If you attempt to exit your apartment or interact with Section Three Inspector James Culton in any capacity, you will be taken into custody until a hearing can be scheduled. Thank you for your cooperation.”
I waited at the door until everyone was back in their apartments and checked in. Every unit has a screen in the back where you scan your tattoo to prove you’re present, then the computer locks your front door. Everyone must have checked in because the door in front of me clicked open.
“Welcome to the Seventh Floor Resident James Culton,” said the computer.
I looked at the work order again for the apartment number and was relieved to find it wasn’t far. I traveled along the slightly curved hallway and stopped in front of a metal door printed with the number 107.
As I looked at the door I realized this was my lower friend’s apartment. I hadn’t seen her in twenty years, I didn’t even know if she was still alive. I hesitantly opened the door and was surprised to find it dark inside. The residents must be in the common areas. I relaxed a little knowing I was alone.
“Lights on,” I said.
I repeated, “Ark, turn lights on in apartment 107.” Again nothing, not even a response from the computer. I stepped back into the hallway. “Ark, are you present?” I asked.
“Yes Resident James Culton. How may I help you?” she responded.
I tried again. “Turn lights on in apartment 107.”
“The lights in apartment 107 are on Resident James Culton.”
Apartment 107 was still a dark abyss with only a small amount of light emanating from the window. I could see dark shadows moving on the walls as large fish swam by. I made a note of the issue for the engineers, clicked on my flashlight and entered the void.
As my light passed over the apartment I noticed that there was no furniture. It was as if they had moved out, which was impossible. I walked over to the window and looked down. It was clear today and I could see remains of the old city. At this level you could make out cars covered in coral while fish swam in and out of long lost windows. I remembered as a kid pretending to drive one. I was admiring a squat car that looked like it had once been red when I heard the door slam shut.
I spun around passing my light quickly across the apartment. I stopped when I saw a figure crouching in a corner.
“Move to your room Section One resident otherwise you will be taken into custody,” I said trying to sound brave.
“I was hoping it would be you,” I heard a gravelly voice say.
I repeated, “Move to your room…”
“How can they apprehend me when I don’t exist?”
I barely saw movement as the shape advanced towards me and pinned me against the window. I was shocked to hear a crack. This close I could see that the person was missing their hand. The stump stopped just above where their tattoo would have been. I barely recognized my friend. She was wild and there was something wrong with her neck, it seemed to move loosely as she breathed.
“Hello friend,” she said and pushed harder.
I could see a visible crack growing behind me. I looked back at her in horror not knowing how she was able to do this.
“Let’s see who rises to the top now,” she said and pushed one last time. I felt a rush of cold water hit my back, and the last thing I saw before the room filled with seawater was her pointed teeth grinning at me.