The Banshee, Chapter 15

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When Jo woke up in the morning, two thoughts crossed her mind immediately. The first was that she had actually slept, which both thrilled and terrified her. She couldn't remember the last time she felt even remotely rested. She was sore in a variety of places, which in and of itself wasn't unusual, though her hands cramped considerably from carving the first wax block. It had been delivered to the workshop for casting, and she and Donner had gone onto the next set of holes for the next shackle. Jo couldn't even remember coming back to her little bed.

The second thought sparked almost lock-in-step with the first thought: she'd slept because it was deathly quiet. The lights were out. The wind had stopped.

Everyone had noticed the lack of wind. Constant sounds usually weighed on the human psyche like a thumb over the end of a running garden hose. It was so omnipresent that the sudden lack of the sound left an uneasy feeling, almost everyone exhibiting the kind of nervousness of trench warfare soldiers when the shelling stopped. As she picked her way out of her room and the room beyond, Jo noticed everyone looking up, as if expecting the ceiling to fall in at any moment. No-one talked, the only other sounds were random bare whisper. Ears strained for the slightest sound.

The Engineering office was unsurprisingly full. Most of the Engineers and Apprentices had shown, expecting there to be some kind of an announcement, proclamation, marching orders, something to mark the occasion of there being no wind. The room was barely illuminated, battery lights providing limited harsh illumination, casting monstrous shadows across the ceilings and walls. Several people hovering at the door, unable to get inside. Jo could see Erik fielding several streams of questions, Professor Batesworth was engaged in a debate with two rather religious Engineers who were trying to communicate their prophetic fears. The noise in the office was the polar opposite of the outside.

“Hey!” shouted Jo. Only the person next to her took notice, though it was to determine how much louder he had to yell. “¿En serios?”

“Erik!!” she yelled louder, waving her hand-cranked light. Erik was so preoccupied with his assignment board and the fifteen people badgering him that he could barely hear the people next to him, let alone see Jo in the hallway. “We are going to get nothing done like this!”

¡TRANQUILO!” Jo shrieked, immediately silencing the small room. The people nearest to her cringed and instinctively looked up for a moment. “Yes, the wind has stopped. You want orders? Then listen up! I need at least five people to come with me outside to help check for damage and make repairs before the wind comes back.” Jo looked at Erik. “Unless, of course, someone has a better idea?” Erik nodded with the slightest of smirks. “We need at least ten more people to go out scrounging down the hill to see if there's anything blown off that we can reuse. Anything else is pointless. Any questions?” It took a moment for the room to react, then a few people ducked into the hallway, a few started a quieter conversation, and the rest started to filter back out to their respective assignments. When Jo got into the hallway, she found over twenty people waiting, including Dawn and Donner. Erik stood at the doorway. “Okay, listen up, because I'm only saying this once,” said Jo, feeling for a moment like the stereotypical drill sergeant. She quickly pointed at nine people. “You people are with me. The rest of you head down to Block 9, open the drop in the burial room, use the ladder to get in and out. If it looks remotely useful, bring it back. Waste not, want not. If you even think the wind's starting to pick up, drop everything and run. ¿Esta bien?” The group nodded and headed off.

As the twelve scroungers headed off, Jo turned to the group of eight. “This is the first time in about a year that the winds have stopped. That means we have a very rare window to check for any damage outside. Some of it we know about, and I'm sure there's a lot we've never seen. The goal is to find as many of these problems as we can, fix as many as we can, and at the very least mark where they are so we can fix them later when the wind comes back. Understand that the roof is a dangerous place. We've patched probably a third of it. That means there's hundreds of places you can trip, and probably a few places where you might fall through. If you see a patch covered in sand, take a few moments to check it before you walk on it, and brush sand away to see how deep it is. Deep sand isn't a concern — it's been there a while and it'll continue to be there. Thin sand is because the wind hasn't blown it away. It might be covering up a potential problem. If it's less than a knuckle deep, check for cracks or breaks. If it's more than a knuckle, move on. If you're not sure, find me and we'll figure it out together. I will be working at the north side of the canyon, working between Blocks 3 and 6, to move a girder. I'll have Donner,” Jo waved towards her Apprentice, “with me. If you see him, I won't be far away. If you don't see either of us, we'll probably be in the lower levels moving the girder towards the reservoir wall. Are there any questions?”

One hand went up. “What happens if we do find a problem?” asked an older man, whom Jo assumed was also an Apprentice.

“You fix it,” said Jo, matter-of-factly.

“What if we don't know how?” asked the man.

Jo groaned. “How many of you have repaired the roof?” Only two hands went up. “Okay… um … Dawn! You find either me or Dawn!” Dawn raised her hand to attract attention. “Any other questions?” The group was silent. “Okay, we're heading outside now. It'll be a bit breezy, it'll likely be dusty. If you have a strip of fabric, wrap it around your mouth and nose to keep the dust out. If you don't have a strip of fabric, make one.

“Jo…,” said Batesworth from the door.

Jo turned around. “Yeah?”

“I'm not going to thank you for barging in here and ruining our planning session,” said Batesworth, clearly enough for everyone to hear.

“And how long were you all planning?” Jo asked. “All those who saw a plan, please raise their hands?” Everyone in the hallway looked blankly at anything except Jo or Batesworth. “Nice planning, Rich.”

“You've got four hours. After that, we need those people back,” said Batesworth.

“Yeah!” said Carl, coming from behind Batesworth. “Those are my people! I need them digging!” He spoke louder to the group. “Don't do anything fancy. If it's not critical, leave it alone. Get back to the tunnels as soon as you can.”

“If anyone wants to live long enough for Carl to open the tunnels so we can move, I suggest we start getting outside. This roof is the only thing keeping us alive right now, whether we want to believe it or not.”

“I need those people—!”

“They're not cattle, Carl, they're *Engineers. *Go get some general labor,” Jo sneered as she and the volunteers walked away. “I did!”

The exit to the roof was at the top of Block 1, a staircase that was built into an outcropping of rock. Not so much a door as an removable roof panel, it took nearly five minutes to unbolt it. Before them, the ARCH's roof extended away like a slowly rolling field of sand and exposed sheeting. Originally transparent polycarbonate panels, the majority of the ARCH's roof was metal sheeting of nearly every variety, broken up in sections of increasing randomness as the roof descended towards the distant Block 9. Across the expanse were two dozen large turbines, manufactured from jet engine housings, industrial fans, and alternators, which sat in the winds to generate electricity for the ARCH; they were all motionless.

“Stick to the chords whenever possible!” Jo told the group, indicating the straight lines that formed the roof's tessellation. “That's where the strength is. Try not to all walk in the same spot at the same time, spread yourself out at least a body length between you. If you have to walk on one of the panels, try to spread your weight out, and be extra careful of it's patched, some of the patches weren't put in properly. If you get in to trouble, yell.”

The group broke up into three groups of two, each heading in a different direction, leaving Jo, Donner, and Dawn. Jo led the way over to the side of Block 3. The air smelled of dust and was painfully dry. They walked slowly and carefully, their feet testing constantly for strength and traction. It took them nearly fifteen minutes to walk the few hundred feet to where the metal roof cladding met the rock wall.

“Well, on the bright side, it's a tight fit,” Dawn commented. “But we'll have to remove a panel to get that girder out. I can't see any other way.”

Jo sighed. “I figured as much. It's just more time than I thought, and I'm not sure how much time we'll have.” She looked at the sky, unable to see much to the west past the rim of the canyon. The east sky was a flat beige, without a single fleck of texture or difference in shade. Nothing could offer a hint of the weather's future. “Dawn, can you go get a rope from Frank's shop? Donner, I need you to stay here. I'm going inside to loosen the panel.”

Dawn and Jo headed back inside, moving a bit more quickly, retracting their steps on the dusty roof. Donner leaned against the rock wall for security. Once down the stairs, Dawn headed to the workshop while Jo headed to the north side of Block 3 and the final girder. When she removed the panel, she saw Donner and Dawn wave back. Dawn handed down the rope, which Jo tied through one of the girder's eyes. The three of them hauled the girder up through the hole, then Jo replaced the panel and headed back outside.

She had only made it up to the edge of Block 1 when the lights started to flicker back to life. Jo stopped and craned every sense she had. Beyond the periodic shuffle-thump of people on the roof, there was no sound of the wind that had grown strong enough to start turning the turbines. “Please, we need more time,” she prayed, and broke into a sprint for the stairs.

Once again on the roof, Jo took a brief moment to look around, to make sure no-one needed her help. She could only see two of the three roof crews. “Where are the others?” she called out. The members of the other crews looked about, but didn't offer suggestion. “¡Maldición!” She looked up. The sky was still sandy, hiding any hint of cloud, blue sky, and only the brightest part of the sky hinted at the sun's location. She squinted, though the light was barely strong enough to cast a faint shadow. There wasn't time to appreciate what little sunlight she was receiving.

Jo started back to Donner and Dawn. About halfway along the roof, she caught something on the ridge of the canyon wall. Though a half-mile from where Jo stood, it was clear that it was a woman, perched near the edge of the cliff, her white dress fluttering in the wind. “¿Cómo demonios…?” raised her hand and waved. After a moment, the woman raised her hand and waved slowly, looking as if her arm were caught in the same breeze as her clothing.

Jo cupped her hands. “Hello!” she shouted. “Do you need help?”

“No, we're good!” yelled the team over by Block 7. Jo snapped to their direction for a heartbeat, and then back to the woman. The woman was gone.

Jo blinked and rubbed her eyes, then looked again. There was no sign of anyone on the rim, in any direction. “Necesito dormir más.” She walked over to Donner and Dawn. “Dawn, can you go check the teams and make sure they're alright?” asked Jo. “It sounds like the folks over by 7 are fine, though,” she muttered. “I don't know where one of the teams went, check over to Block 6?”

“Will do!” said Dawn, and headed off.

“We'll come back up once the girder's down!” Jo shouted after Dawn. Dawn raised her hand in acknowledgement, but didn't turn around.

Lugging the girder outside posed a different challenge than inside. Though they were able to walk along the chords of the roof, Jo worried silently at the extra weight they exerted on the roof, and kept Donner from moving too quickly. The beams underneath creaked and groaned, twice they had to stop and check the sand depth for safety. They rounded Block 7 carefully, and came over to the top of Block 9, where they slowly let the girder slide over the slope until it was out of sight. When the rope went slack, they let go of the rope.

“Okay, it's down. Let's get that girder inside!” Jo said, looking up at the sky. The skies to the west seemed a shade darker. “¡Rápido!

“Er, how? Do we slide down?” asked Donner nervously.

“Not unless you want to break every bone in your body. That turns into a steep drop-off pretty quickly. We'll go down inside,” replied Jo, and headed along the back of the dome towards the stairs. She looked back up to the edge of the canyon wall. The woman hadn't returned.

From Block 1, Jo and Donner weaved their way all the way down to the dump door in Block 9. The room was filling with torn pieces of roof panels, hunks of metal that likely came out of Block 2, and several piles of sticks with small pieces of sandblasted wood. There was even three curvy sand-frosted glass bottles. Donner and Jo climbed down the ladder to the ground. They could see two groups of two walking back to the ladder, each person with their arms full of treasures to be assessed. They walked along the edge of Block 9 towards their girder. They reached a muddy slick that ran out a few feet before disappearing into the sand.

“What's this?” asked Donner.

“We try to reuse whatever goes down the toilets, sometimes there's overflow,” said Jo, hopping over it.

“Phew!” Donner waved his hand past his nose. “And I thought the toilets stank.”

“The sooner we get back in, the less we have to smell that,” said Jo, and continued to the girder.

The girder lay propped against the dome's wall, more or less vertical from the ground. For a change, gravity worked in their favor: they got in behind the girder, and with a collective shove pushed it over, hitting the canyon floor with a rattling CLANG!. Several heads appeared like prairie dogs, startled by the sound. Without another word, Jo and Donner each took an end, and Jo led them back to the door in Block 9. Pulling it into the ARCH was another challenge, but it was mostly a straight run into the greenhouse and the reservoir wall. Then it was back to the roof as swiftly as possible.

Carl waited at the base of the stairs to the roof. “I want my people back,” he said. Jo tried to ignore him as she headed to the stairs. He stepped in front of her. “Now. I'm taking them.”

“¿Eres jodidamente estúpido?” Jo tried to shove Carl out of the way, but he clung to the railing. “Carl, they're fixing the roof. Do you not understand what happens if the roof is not repaired?”

“They are not your people!” Carl yelled.

“They're not yours either, Carl! They're up there because they volunteered to go up there. Why are you the only one who doesn't see value in keeping the roof over our heads?”

“I need those tunnels finished, then we can move on with the plan,” Carl growled.

“What plan is that?” asked Jo. “Staying alive? Not much of a plan.”

“You're so small-minded. You don't see big pictures, never look at the long game. You just worry about your precious roof.”

“You never understood priorities. This is why you have Dawn to keep you in check, Carl. You couldn't do it on your own.”

Carl's face was turning a deep red and Jo could spy his hand moving into a strike. It was interrupted by a shouting from the stairs leading to the roof, Carl and Jo looking up. Something about a rope, and ‘hurry'. Jo shoved the distracted Carl aside and took the stairs two at a time to the roof, Donner in close pursuit. An Apprentice was at the door way. “Who needs a rope?” Donner asked, holding it in his hand.

The Apprentice, an older man, pointed down towards the edge of Block 5. “Phyllis slipped into a sand trap.”

As quickly as possible, the three of them moved down to Block 5. Another Apprentice, presumably the woman named Phyllis, was waist-deep in sand, trying not to move and failing at not panicking. Another Engineer, Jake, was perched at the edge. Donner handed Jake the rope, the end of which was carefully tossed to Phyllis. The four of them slowly dragged Phyllis from the sand trap and onto the roof.

“How deep was it?” asked Jo.

“I didn't touch bottom,” said Phyllis. She looked at Jake. “I… I slipped.”

Jake looked at Jo. “There's a few of these along this side,” he pointed to another visible one where Blocks 5 and 8 overlapped with Block 4. “Some of these are really deep.”

“Ugh,” Jo groaned. “That's a lot of weight.”

“That might explain some of the shift,” offered Donner.

Jo nodded. “We should have flattened that part out when we had the chance. If the winds don't pick up again tomorrow, maybe we'll get a few people out there to get the sand off. That might buy us a few more days.”

“If the winds stay quiet,” said Jake, looking at the blank beige sky. The last time, we got a few days. I can't even remember the time before that.”

A voice called from back at the stairs. Jo turned to see Erik waving both of his hands. “¿Qué?” she yelled. “I can't hear you!!” Erik yelled something again, but still went unheard. Jo looked at Donner. “You help them, okay? I'll see what Erik wants.” She worked her way the length of a football field back to the doorway.

“Your time is up,” said Erik as Jo approached. “Carl wants his people back.”

“Yeah, he blocked me at the stairs. You know he nearly hit me?”

“He's already taken the people from the canyon floor,” said Erik.

“¡¿Qué?!” Jo blurted. “They were finding materials! They had at least a hundred pounds of stuff we can smelt into—“

“I know,” said Erik calmly. “He took it all to Francis's shop. He wants Dawn back, in particular.”

“What about the repairs, Erik? How the hell are we supposed to keep the roof up if we can't actually fix it?!” Jo demanded.

Erik held out both his hands to hold back Jo's anger. “Relax, I'm on your side!” he said. “I'll stall him as long as I can. I just don't know how long that'll be.”

“Gracias, Cariño. Maybe I can figure out how to bolt the door from this side,” Jo smiled slyly. She turned and started to head back to Dawn's group as Erik headed down the stairs. She looked up at the canyon rim again. The woman was back. Jo stopped in her tracks and looked hard. At the distance, it was impossible to make out any details. Jo waved her hands above her head. The woman waved her hand as she had before, then pointed to the west. Jo followed the woman's pointing, and saw a terribly dark, boiling cloud barreling towards them.

Jo turned and shrieked: “EVERYONE INSIDE! NOW!!!

Dawn's team looked towards Jo, saw the cloud, and bolted. They sprinted across the chords and panels as if they were the sturdiest concrete. The other team, well away at the edge of Block 5, hadn't so much as flinched. The turbines were moving faster, the blades blurring into translucent discs.

“INSIDE!! GET INSIDE!! STORM APPROACHING!!” Jo felt her vocal chords starting to blow out. The dusty wind held the odd speck of sand, which flicked off bare skin, a warning of things to come. One of the team looked up, hearing the echoes of Jo's voice. Even at a distance, the dawning look of horror was clear, and the two scrambled up the edges and raced across the roof. The latecomers ducked low, fighting against the increasing force. Jo had backed towards the doorway, door's inner handle. Dawn's team reached the door first, all quickly passed inside, with Donner staying just beyond the entrance. Jo clung to the outside, beckoning the remaining two Engineers to hurry. A low hum began to vibrate through the roof, a harmonic from the wind over the surface. Not far away, a shrill overtone began to climb.

Jo looked back to Donner. “Where's the rope?” she asked.

Donner looked around. “Who has the rope?” He shouted down the stairs, then disappeared after the unheard response.

“¡VAMOS! HURRY!” Jo shouted towards the two approaching people. They had only gotten as far as the edge of Block 3, and looked to be at a near standstill. The wind wasn't strong enough to stop them, but the sand in the wind blinded them entirely. Not able to see where they were going, they slunk lower to the roof, walking in a line into the wind, their in front of their eyes, the front person feeling with his feet to ensure they were on the supports instead of the panels. “MOVE!” Jo screamed. One waved their hand desperately. “Where's that rope?!” Jo called down the stairs. Suddenly the front person fell forward. The second let go of the first's hands, springing to standing. “GET DOWN!” screamed Jo. “GET DOWN!!”

A gust of wind was all it took. The second person was blown over rolling onto their back. The wind rolled him down the curve of Block 4, across the plateau between Blocks 4, 5, and 6, and rolled around behind the edge of Block 8.

“Got it!” Donner shouted over the wind, handing Jo the end of the rope they had used earlier.

“Tie it off!!” she shouted back. Donner quickly bound the end to the metal stair railing, as Jo lashed it around her waist. She was only a few steps beyond the door when her feet were swept out from under her, carrying her across the rooftop like the other man. She bounced several times before she finally landed, face down, on a panel and stopped. Her head rang with a hundred bells from the impacts. She squinted against the sand in the wind to spy the person who'd gone prone against the roof. He was barely ten feet away. Slowly, Jo turned herself around, and pulled herself across the surface until she was next to him. She linked her arm into his, and then tugged on the rope. She felt it start to pull, and she started to pull on it, and the man. The two of them inched their way towards the door, the sand tearing at their exposed skin. They kept their eyes closed, their eyelids being scratched. Getting back to the doorway, Dawn pulled the man inside as Donner pulled in Jo.

“We've got to go for Henry!” the man moaned over the increasing wind. “He's still out there!”

Jo wiped away bloody tears from her eyes and looked out the doorway. The sand was so thick that they could barely see a dozen feet beyond. The top of Block 4 was gone, and anything beyond was no more than a memory. Jo sat heavily. “Someone get the suit!”

“Is Henry in the same place?” asked Dawn.

“No,” Jo choked. “He got blown over. He's … somewhere. Hopefully on Block 8!”

“Block 8?! Forget it, Jo! Even if the suit protected you enough for this, an unprotected person wouldn't survive! Besides, this rope isn't long enough. I don't think we have enough rope for you to go that far!” Dawn said, barely audible in the stairway. “He's lost.”

“No!” the man shouted, grabbing Jo by her bloodied shirt. “We can't leave him out there! He'll die!

“He's dead already,” said Dawn, pulling the man off of Jo. “And if it wasn't for Jo, you'd be dead, too.”

“You've killed him,” the man said, collapsing. “You sent us out there to die.” He looked at Jo. “Y'know, we only hear the banshee when someone's going to die.”

“Get to the infirmary!” Dawn pushed the man towards the stairs. Jo continued to look out the door, feeling the sand starting to fall on her hair and in her eyes. Donner and Dawn pulled the door shut and started to bolt it closed.

“Are you okay?” Dawn asked.

“No,” Jo said quietly.

“It wasn't your fault, Jo,” said Dawn. “We all know that the weather can change without warning. We thought we'd have time.”

“Who's the ‘Banshee'?” Donner asked almost quietly enough not to be heard.

Jo looked at him, wiping tears from her eyes. She moved to speak, then retreated.

“Banshees are Irish ghosts,” said Dawn. “They wail when someone is about to die.”

Jo spoke up before Donner could ask another question. “My Mother's side was Latino, mostly Mexican. My Dad's side was Irish.” She wiped another tear, cringing slightly from the sting of open cuts. “When the winds started to cause vibrations and echoes in the ARCH, we were only worried about things coming lose. One day, it shrieked like nothing we'd ever heard before, and I joked that it sounded like the banshee stories my grandmother used to tell me.” Jo sighed and sobbed.

“The next day, we found out that someone had died. The name stuck,” said Dawn. “Every time the banshee screams, someone dies.”