From above, the house was no more than a speck of light, white, three windows shuttered against the wind. The house sat on a hill above the town, but the town, in its loftiness, thought that a matter of perspective. Their faith brought them closer to God, and the house held a faithless child. She professed, to anyone who might listen, a science of projection not prediction, of climate beyond weather. She and her family farmed the sloped land with sheep, as she continued to refuse omnipotence of God’s will.
Those who did not believe had no place within the town. They would say that the storm began because of her. That the flooding and the rain came because God knew. A faithful town harbouring the faithless would be destroyed. They knew this as they prayed, faces pressed against the soaked ground.
Since the seasons had shifted, Rafa had learned to sleep through the sounds of the rain. Tonight, she woke to the sound of rosary beads striking the wooden table. She jolted up from where her face had been pressed into the open Bible on the kitchen table in front of her.
Her grandmother shook her head, muttering in Spanish. She walked, cane first, back into the living room. She had left the rosary on the table in hopes that Rafaela would—what? Suddenly become devout when given a long necklace? Rafa scoffed at the thought.
Her grandmother had always been the faithful one in the family. She had chosen this life, to immigrate and live here. The town had never really accepted her, but nothing could stop her faith. Rafa listened to the tap-shuffle-shuffle of her grandmother’s walk into the living room, where she sat on the green-striped couch beside Rafa’s dad.
Rafa could see the television light from across the room. Her father changed the channel. He worshipped the meteorologist more than God, not that he would admit to that. Two heretics in one house? The town would never recover.
She looked away from the screen with the swirl travelling up the eastern coast. Placing the rosary into the Bible, she shut it, hopefully for good. The book fell back open.
I: Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.
Rafa stood and carried the book over to where her mother stood washing the dishes.
“¿Qué te pasa, cariño?” Her mother asked when she saw her standing there with the book.
“Do you really believe this?” Rafa showed her the page.
“Ah, the Old Testament.” She lowered her voice. “I’m convinced it’s the only part the people in town read.”
“Seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it? That God would wipe away everything, all at once?”
Her mother gave her a look and put the pan down. “It is this kind of questioning that gets you into trouble, guapa.”
Rafa opened her mouth, but her mother continued.
“They can’t govern your thoughts, niña, but sometimes, you have to withhold them.”
“Please Rafaela. Some people have already stopped buying our wool.”
Rafa put the bible on the counter. Her mother pointed to the door.
“Go check on the sheep in the corral, and make sure the tarp is still secure.”
The tarp was anything but secure. The tattered edges flapped in the wind, blown entirely off the hole in the roof. The last storm had pierced their makeshift shelter with a branch, and the sheep were wet because of it. Maria, Rafa’s favourite, teetered on her hooves, wool wet and weighed down on one side.
“Oh Maria, lo siento. It’s ok.” Rafa pushed her into the other corner, but the corral was too small for four sheep and a hole.
She looked into the sky and shivered. Despite the daylight, it had darkened to a glowing grey. The rain was falling faster now until each drop was no longer distinguishable from the last. The wind howled, as it pressed through the tree line at the bottom of the hill.
In the town, the streetlights reflected against something dark and rising. Although the light was dim, it cast against the surface of the flood, like moonlight on a lake.
Rafa shook her head. The hill would protect them from the flood, but not the storm. She scratched Maria’s ear.
“Vale, I’m bringing you guys inside.”
The corral was attached to their house by a side door, and so she led them by rope into the kitchen. Her mother smelled them before she saw them.
“Rafa, what are you doing?”
“The tarp was nearly gone, and they were catching the cold.”
Maria dripped water and mud onto the tiled floor.
Her father walked into the kitchen. “Well, this is new,” he said.
Rafa breathed through her mouth to lessen the stench of the wet animals. Thunder boomed outside.
“Solamente for the night,” her mother said, and they grabbed some rags to dry the floor.
For the next couple of hours, the house was filled with the sound of the rain, the occasional bleat, and the television blaring from the living room. Her grandmother was asleep on the couch with her mouth hanging open. Rafa sat next to her.
The news continued.
“Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of hurricanes during our rainy season. Major power outages have cut across the country and the east coast of the—”
The television and the lights cut out. t. A transformer on the telephone pole outside boomed as it imploded.
Her grandmother coughed awake. “¿Qué está pasando?”
“Just a power outage, Yaya.” Rafa turned on her phone flashlight. Two other flashlights beamed from the kitchen. The sheep bleated wildly in the darkness.
“Is everyone ok?” her mother raised her voice.
“What do you think?” her grandmother snapped. “It’s dark and cold and—”
“And we will just have to wait it out.” Her father rarely stood up to Yaya. Tonight was a night of exceptions.
From the town, the house was no more than a speck of white, light against the grey glow of the clouds. The house saved was the house of the climate heretic. Cruel joke, they said, as the flood rose around them.
Like ants crawling up a hill, they scurried, fearful, seeking salvation. They would not be the ones sacrificed for the cause. The only light not yet submerged, sanctuary, could have no place within the town. Perhaps, it would have a place for the town.
There was a knock on the door. Rafa was in the kitchen drying the sheep. She looked over to her mother who was sitting at the table.
“Who could that be?” Rafa asked, moving to get it.
She opened the door, just as lightning struck nearby. It was the Haverfords from town. They had led a rousing petition last year to have her family banned from church and Rafa banned from their school. The mother clutched her baby tighter, while the father and two young children leaned away at the sight of her. Clearly, they had not yet learned how to love thy neighbour.
Rafa cleared her throat. “Um, hello.”
They looked past her into the house. “Is your mother here? We don’t want to impose but your house seems to be on higher ground above the flooding and…” Mr. Haverford trailed off.
Rafa looked at them soaking wet and muddy from the storm. She opened the door wider to let them in.
She went to get some towels.
“Who was it, cariño?” Her mother asked.
Rafa stepped aside, revealing the family. Their baby began to wail.
Her mother’s eyes widened, and she stood up.
“José, we have company,” she called to the other side of the house.
Her father burst through the doorway of their bedroom. He recognized the townspeople and straightened his sweatshirt. They had never once been invited into the Haverford’s home, but he knew it was grander than their three-windowed house.
Mr. Haverford began again, looking distinctly uncomfortable having to ask.
“Due to the storm, as God has prophesied, the heavens are pouring down, and…” The baby continued to cry. He finished his question. “Might it be possible if we stay here for the night?”
Her father paused, looking at Rafa for a moment. She nodded, and handed Mrs. Haverford a blanket for the baby.
“Sure, of course. We have some space on the couches.”
The sheep bleated loudly from the kitchen.
Mrs. Haverford sniffed loudly. “Are there sheep in here?”
“Yes, four,” Rafa said with a grin. “All are welcome here.”
Another knock broke the tension between the new house guests and their hosts. Rafa sprung up and hurried to the door.
The Wilkes. Another couple from town, but they were young and believed in saving Rafa’s soul more than alienating it. The couple was covered in mud, but Mrs. Wilkes was quick to explain.
“Ah Rafaela, hola, cómo estás?” Mrs. Wilkes’ over-enunciated pronunciation hung in the air. Luckily, she continued without taking a breath.
“Apologies for the muddiness, we slipped on our way up the hill and really had a tumble, and so we were wondering if it would not be too much for us to stay here for the night?” She inhaled sharply to gather the breath she had forced out.
Rafa opened the door wider and let them inside.
“Oh, look, the Haverfords. What a surprise.” Mrs. Wilkes did not look particularly pleased to see that the couches had already been claimed. “And what is that God awful smell?”
The night proceeded in this way, knock after knock, slowly filling the house with more visitors, but, unfortunately, no more sheep.
At midnight, when Rafa’s grandmother went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, she was shocked at the sight of the small community.
“¿Qué haces, Rafaela?” She immediately turned to where Rafa sat, accusing eyes piercing into her. As though there was only one possible explanation for this situation.
Rafa shrugged. “The storm was bad, and they needed a place to stay.”
Her grandmother squinted her eyes at her before reaching for her hearing aids in her pocket. She put them in and plastered a smile on her face. She walked, cane first, hand extended to greet every family. Gracias a Dios was bestowed to every family. She offered them tea, despite the lack of hot water, and asked them how they were doing, all in her nightgown.
The commotion was settling down. Mr. Haverford, now that he felt properly welcomed, decided this was the best time to begin to discuss the Godly nature of the storm.
“He has sent this down upon us to punish us,” he proclaimed.
The crowd on the couch murmured their agreement.
“For what we do not know,” He turned to look at Rafa. “Perhaps it is because we have failed to quiet the non-believer among us.”
The discomfort in the room was palpable. She could have shut the door on them not an hour before and now this? Mr. Haverford seemed to be attempting to stage a coup in her home, in the name of God.
Mr. Wilkes spoke for the first time since entering the house.
“Let’s not be extreme. It has been a hard night for all of us and it was kind—”
Mrs. Haverford interjected, clutching her baby close to her chest. “Kind? What would have been kind was if Rafaela hadn’t tried to spread lies across the whole community. She tried to corrupt our children.”
The couch committee nodded.
Rafa was decidedly confused. “Spread lies?”
Mrs. Haverford huffed out a laugh. “And now she tries to deny it. We all know what you said.”
Mrs. Wilkes joined in, attempting to stay relevant, but disproving Mrs. Haverford’s understanding of collective knowledge. “What did she say?”
Mrs. Haverford had built herself up into a rage at this point and was flushed even in the dim candlelight.
“She denied God’s will. She claimed that these storms were our fault.”
Rafa’s grandmother audibly gasped.
“I didn’t say it was your fault.” Rafa turned to her grandmother. “It was about climate change.”
Mr. Haverford could stand it no longer. “God is climate change, girl. Do you know nothing at all?”
Rafa’s mother put her hand on Rafa’s shoulder and stepped forward.
Her voice was quavering when she said, “Rafaela is a very bright girl. All of the reports on the news have shown the trends.”
At the mention of the news, Rafa’s father nodded. That he would not deny.
“Our news says differently.” Mrs. Haverford glowered at Rafa’s mother.
One woman on the couch spoke. “But isn’t it strange, if what you say is true, God saved this home? Above all of ours.”
There was a pause and once more, they could hear the rolling thunder in the distance and the tapping of rain on the rooftop. They could remember why they were here in the first place, sharing a three-windowed house with strangers, shuttered against the storm.
Rafa stepped towards the townspeople, though without the town she supposed they were just people.
“If the storm tonight was to punish you, did you not disobey God by coming up the hill?”
There was silence, if only for a moment, in the house that was a speck of light, barely beyond the flood.
Kiera Alventosa is currently attending the University of Oxford for a Masters of Science in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance. Last year, she received a distinction in her Masters in Writing from the University of Warwick, specialising in environmental fiction, short stories, and poetry. During her undergraduate degree, she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets University Prize in 2020 and the Peter Burnett Howe Prize for excellence in prose fiction in 2021. You can find more of her work here: https://kieraalventosa.wixsite.com/kieraalventosa