Best short stories for intermediate English learners : Flood
“Help!” out of a darkness perhaps ten feet away came the cry. A second later it sounded again, farther downstream, but I could do nothing.
A mad rush of icy water was flowing over me. I was clinging to the branches of a tree, my body straight out in the fast-moving current.
Then suddenly a form appeared. I recognized it as my son. He grapped one of the branches and gradually pulled himself to the tree. Inch by inch we fought against the powerful current and finally climbed to the top of the little apple tree.
Twenty minutes before, we had been in our motorboat, looking for people who were stranded by the flood. The water was almost to the roofs of the houses and still rising. The street lights were out; the houses were dark except for a kerosene lamp left burning in a window here and there.
The fire department whistle was warning everyone within hearing distance that the dam 20 miles upriver had broken. The state police were helping who had been left homeless.
“it’ll be terrible here before morning!” came a voice from the darkness. “the water’s already rising a foot an hour.”
“Who lives beyond here?” we asked.
“McGrath’s the nearest,” someone replied. “You might reach him. There more live farther on. But you won’t be able to get to their houses.”
We looked at each other. Leave people out there when a wall of water from a broken dam is due to strike in two or three houses?
“let’s try to help them,” my son said.
Across West Street our boat hit the current-a mass of swift water that tried to push us against the telephone ples.
McGrath’s house came in sight, a single lamp shining from a window. Between it and our boat there was an empty lot 200 feet wide; over this lot the big river was pouring thousands of gallons of water each second.
Could we get there? The motor of the boat, racing against the stream, sounded above the roar of the water. Slowly we gained; at last we nosed against McGrath’s porch.
McGrath climbed into the boat. Again we went into the current, heading upstream but making no progress. Slowly the water pushed us back, and our boat struck the branches of an apple tree.
For an instant we remained there, the motor running full speed; then the boat turned over as quickly and easily as one turns the page of a book. A second later it disappeared in the blackness. My son and I managed to catch hold of an apple tree farther down the stream, but McGrath was carried away by the current –never to return.
A Lone Night
It was midnight now. How much more would the water rise? Would it go higher than our tree? A light shone in farmhouse half mile away across a field, now deep under water. Twenty- five feet to the east we saw the dark form of a garage and, beyond that, a house. We were close to safety, yet unable to reach it!
I dropped one foot into the water; the current pulled so hard it almost carried away! Fifty feet upstream a row of telephone poles marked the highway. Only two days ago I had driven my car along that road and now it was the path of a mighty flood.
Ice water dripped from our clothes. We put our coats around us in an effort to warm ourselves a little. Great waves of trembling shook us from head to foot. My son spoke: “This doesn’t look very good, does it?”
“No,” I said, “but we’re still here and if the tree goes maybe we can take hold of something else.”
I prayed silently. I don’t remember now what the prayer was about, but in it were my wife at home and the younger boy who was waiting for us on the shore, still expecting us to bring back another load of refuges.
Then we shouted for help. We didn’t really expect to be rescued, for we knew that no small boat could reach us. Our boat had been the largest in use that night. But the shouting made us feel better. Gradually the heat of our bodies warmed our clothing and we stopped trembling.
Hours passed. Debris shot past with ever-increasing speed as the water rose. Once a log hit our tree and stuck in the lower branches. The steady roar of the water hurt our ears and seemed to beat against our brains. We would have given anything for one moment of silence!
At about two o’clock we heard the sound of wood breaking upstream: McGrath’s barn was going. It broke away from the house and moved part way across the road. Rain fell in sheets. The cold settled in our bones.
We noticed in front of us that a garage divided the current; the water poured around both sides of the small building, with some slack in between. If we had to jump, perhaps it would give us an advantage. We studied the situation; it was something to talk about.
At about four o’clock in the morning a floating object hit our tree. Again the sound of breaking wood fell on our ears. “Time to go,” I said, and leaned to one side in order to jump away from the tree.
At that moment the garage started to move downstream past our tree and into the night without a sound. In its place came a stream of rushing water.
The river was rising rapidly now. Our feet roached the water. Suddenly our tree fell, hurling us into the current. Each of us managed to hold on the log that had stuck in the lower branches of the tree just before it began to rush downstream.
In the current
We kicked our feet in the hope of pushing the log to the shore. What a relief to be doing something after hours of inactivity! There was no sense of motion now. We were in a mad current, but everything was drifting with us. Our legs slowly went through the motion of swimming. I knew we couldn’t last much longer.
Then out of the darkness there appeared a black object on the water. It was the side of a house. We got on it and tried to stand up, but our legs wouldn’t support us.
By the time it was daylight, and we could see land a quarter of a mile away. We yelled for help with new hope. Then we sighted a large rowboat.
There is little more to tell. When the boat landed us, I inquired about my younger son. I soon found him- a tired boy, just about to go home to tell his mother that his father and older brother had gone downstream and would never return.
Clinging, holding fast
Grabbed, seized suddenly; took hold of in a quick and strong way
Stranded, made helpless; left in a state of difficulty
Kerosene, a thin oil burned in lamps
Dam, a wall or bank to hold back the water of a stream or river
Gallon, a unit of measurement for liquids. A liquid is a substance that can be poured freely. Water is liquid.
Garage, a building where cars are kept
Highway, a main road
Dripped, fell in drops
Refugees, persons seeking shelter or protection from danger
Rescued, saved from danger
Debris, scattered, broken pieces of things
Barn, a building for cows, horses and other farm animals
Slack, water that is almost stiller barely moving
Hurling, throwing with great force
Drifting, being carried along by water
Yelled, made loud, sharp cries; shouted