On the Flood of 1947, Its Consequences & the Oddity of the Cadaver Discovered Thereafter: First Draft
by Stephen Langlois
Let me start off by thanking Ms. Spencer for inviting me here to talk to you kids. I might’ve severed ties with the Historical Society, but that don’t mean I ain’t an expert on Vermont history and I appreciate being recognized as such. As for the flood what wreaked havoc throughout Rutland County–well, I’ll do my best to stick to the relevant points. You think I don’t remember what it’s like back in seventh grade social studies? I do. It’s boring as hell.
(PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER)
What you oughta know is Central Vermont Public Services spent most of ‘47 installing flash boards atop the Chittenden Reservoir Dam in hopes of upping water levels and increasing their turbines’ output. Problem is that year saw some of the heaviest rainfall in this state’s history. Come June 3rd those flash boards opened up quicker than [insert analogy lurid enough to further heighten class’s interest / not so lurid as to prevent possibility of future speaking gig] and a surge of water washed down into East Pittsford Pond. Weren’t too long before the East Pittsford Dam split open and sent a surge down into East Creek. It was a deluge by this point, taking entire trees along with it, automobiles, and even a bridge or two. By the time it reached State Street enough debris was swirling around in it so as to clog up Rutland Railroad’s trestle. What this did was cause all that water to back up and form a lake of sorts. Round about 300 buildings were submerged.
(PAUSE FOR VARIOUS UTTERANCES OF AWE & DISBELIEF)
As for CVPS’s power plant it was demolished, cutting off gas to most of Rutland County and electricity, too, and what with the area’s highways in a state of ruination it was days before the National Guard or Red Cross could get in to help. Sure, CVPS eventually paid out 2.5 million bucks for reconstruction costs and all the lawsuits filed against ‘em [consider detailing CVPS’s history of litigation / loss of profits circa 2002 / merger with Green Mountain Power / dubious tactics of US regulators whereby corporations agree to out-of-court settlements so as to avoid costly public trials & admission of wrongdoing] but the damage was already done. Nowhere more so in my opinion than my Uncle Jack’s daddy’s farm off of Blue Ridge Road.
Now my Uncle Jack weren’t more than six years old at the time, but he was already tending to the manure pit and such and could recall the flood clearly up until his old age when his mind started going. What he told me was the water came up over the banks of East Creek as he and his brother Bill were hauling a bucket of slop over to the hog pen while their daddy rounded up the cows for the night. Said it was like a giant roll of some unknown substance got shook out–something solid; something unlike how it is water’s supposed to look or act even–and here it was unfurling across the acreage towards ‘em. Said he didn’t hardly recognize it for what it was until he was waist-deep in it. Said it had an energy to it he didn’t know water could possess.
(PAUSE FOR PURPOSES OF DRAMATIC TENSION )
How he managed to stay upright Uncle Jack weren’t sure. Bill got knocked over backwards with the slop bucket spilling out over him. Most of them cows got taken down, too. Almost an entire herd snorting and bellowing and thrashing their legs like they were trying to beat back the water or if not maybe force an understanding of what it was to stay afloat into their otherwise useless bodies. As for the hogs they didn’t fare much better, most getting swept away into the side of the shed. The fence around the pen had already come down by then and the shed itself was coming apart, too. From the shed there spilled out milk cans and tractor tires and even the old rusted seeder. It was this what really caught Uncle Jack’s attention. Uncle Jack and Bill had tried many times over to lift that seeder–just to see if they could–but the dang thing hadn’t ever budged. To see it now tumbling end over end like it didn’t weigh nothing–well, it was downright astounding. The second it slammed into the porch, though, the goddamn seeder [not sure if I can say goddamn / double-check if I can say goddamn] regained its heft entirely, toppling one of the pillars over and causing the roof to crumble like it weren’t ever a part of the house to begin with.
All told they lost 26 hogs, 108 hens and 13 of them cows. As for the insurance company, they screwed the family so bad they didn’t hardly see a dime–some kinda discrepancy apparently as to whether the property was covered under the terms of a ranch or working farm–and if you think CVPS was any better you’re wrong. They didn’t get shit from CVPS [most likely can’t say shit / what’s another word for shit?], a flat out crime when you consider what it is we’re talking about. We’re talking about a combine what was found crushed in a ditch half a mile from where it was usually kept. A red maple what got pulled up by its roots and pitched through the kitchen window so as all that rain was able to drench the entirety of the house’s interior. The manure pit what overflowed so bad it was like what the toilets here look like after they serve goulash in the cafeteria. I remember all about the goulash Rutland City Public Schools serve and I’m guessing the recipe ain’t improved much since my day.
(PAUSE FOR MORE LAUGHTER)
By day three the waters had finally begun to recede. That was when Uncle Jack and Bill–checking puddles for any walleyes or bullheads what got left behind–came upon that cadaver back behind the barn. It was tall–round about seven feet in Uncle Jack’s estimation–and pure white–at least in contrast to the mud what was partially covering it. Pretty much colorless actually from the way Uncle Jack described it–except for the dark blue eyes what appeared to be stuck open–and there weren’t no hair on it nor no clothes. Didn’t have no genitalia neither, though at that age Uncle Jack weren’t knowledgeable enough about such matters for the oddity of this to strike him. Truth is, the oddity of this cadaver didn’t really strike Uncle Jack much at all. Not at first it didn’t. Not with the force it might’ve otherwise. Couple days prior he couldn’t have conceived of such a flood as that which nearly destroyed 75 acres of his family’s land. This–the cadaver–was just like one more in a series of outlandish events or so Uncle Jack himself often put it.
As for Bill–well, he might’ve been three years older than Uncle Jack and bigger, too, but he was a bit feebleminded and it don’t surprise me none that when he got a good look at that cadaver first thing he did was holler out to his daddy and granddad. His daddy and grandad was busy installing the new fence and when they heard Bill they came marching around the barn–ready to wallop him for making such a fuss–until they themselves got a look at that cadaver. The two men didn’t even say a word. Didn’t hardly look at one another. They picked that cadaver up with the same kinda resignation they’d been going about their repairs for days now and hauled it off in such a way this thing didn’t appear to weigh nothing at all. Just like the seeder–that’s how Uncle Jack remembered it–and when his daddy come back after depositing the cadaver in what remained of the shed he told his boys not to go snooping around there. Told his boys it was just some poor fella what drowned in the flood and soon as the power was back up he was gonna call the sheriff to come sort it out.
Weren’t too long after the oddity of this cadaver finally got to Uncle Jack and one night he talked Bill into sneaking out to the shed with him. Prior to this he figured from the position it was found the cadaver had washed down from the hills past Mountain Top Road or maybe further east from the Reservoir itself. Now he weren’t so sure. Now it seemed of the utmost importance he nail down this cadaver’s origins. You gotta understand Uncle Jack always went about things with a sorta logic right up until his final years [maybe explain how he went on to start his own hog farm at the age of twenty-five and ran it above the profit margin for a good 15 years as an example] and even when he pulled open the tarp the cadaver was wrapped in Uncle Jack stayed as levelheaded as could be.
The cadaver was about a foot shorter than when he and Bill first come upon it–that’s how it looked in the beam of Uncle Jack’s flashlight–and not just that but one of its arms was missing and the leg on that side–the left side–had thinned out to such an extent it didn’t hardly seem to be there itself. Now if you’re thinking Uncle Jack didn’t consider the possibility of coyotes or if maybe the heat had something to do with it you’re wrong. The heat had returned with a kinda vengeance after the flood–was actually making the stench of that cadaver all the more sharp and acidic-like–but that don’t explain what happened next. What happened next was–well, Uncle Jack took hold of that cadaver’s remaining hand like for assessment purposes and the hand just snapped off into his own like there weren’t no bone inside it. Uncle Jack said it felt kinda spongy actually, but couldn’t determine much else before the thing had just liquefied there in his palm and was oozing out between his fingers and dissolving into the mud below.
(PAUSE FOR VARIOUS UTTERANCES OF DISGUST FROM THE FEMALE STUDENTS)
This got Bill to hollering again. Pretty soon their daddy and grandad were pulling them outta that shed and delivering a wallop like the two boys ain’t never experienced before. Next day the power was back up and the sheriff was called in and that should’ve been the end of it. Would’ve been the end of it if not for when the sheriff went to examine the cadaver there weren’t no cadaver there to examine. There weren’t nothing at all except for the empty tarp and a wet spot there on the ground where otherwise the ground had started to cake over due to the heat.
To say the sheriff weren’t pleased is an understatement. He had a dozen other stops left to make that day and told Uncle Jack’s daddy not to call again with anymore false alarms. He said how about don’t bother calling the sheriff’s department at all–according to Uncle Jack’s recollection anyways–and weren’t long before word of that cadaver–or lack thereof–got out. Uncle Jack reckoned this didn’t help none with the insurance company nor with CVPS. Truth is, the family weren’t ever looked upon too kindly again. They got a reputation like for trickery. For confabulation. For a certain peculiarity I suppose [maybe bring up Uncle Jack’s difficulty in securing a loan from Rutland Savings for the hog farm] and it’s this I’d say which was one of the flood’s most lasting consequences. Weren’t just the damage done to the land or buildings or bridges. It was the damage done to the good folks what suffered through it.
(PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE)
As for what happened the night after the sheriff’s visit–well, what I’ll tell you [unsure whether to mention the figure seen by Uncle Jack and Bill from their bedroom window / its search of the shed / the fact it resembled the cadaver right down to its white skin and general nakedness or so Uncle Jack claimed not too long after it was the dementia had set in].
Stephen Langlois’s work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Lit Hub, The Portland Review, Entropy, Maudlin House, Split Lip Press, Monkeybicycle, 3AM Magazine, and Necessary Fiction, among others. He is the recipient of a NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction as well as a writing residency from The Blue Mountain Center. He also hosts BREW: An Evening of Literary Works, a reading series held in Brooklyn, and serves as fiction editor for FLAPPERHOUSE. Visit him at www.stephenmlanglois.com.