“Bad Oil Storm”

Word came in over the Bakelite® radio that an oil storm was headed our way, swirling up out of the oceanic petroleum fields to the south. There was plenty of advance warning, as the oily roar could be heard for hundreds of miles. Most of our neighbors rushed to hardware stores as soon as the news came in, stocking up on batteries, water, pantyhose, hair clippers, and detergent before supplies were depleted. Some speculated that this would be the big one, that it would be like the epic, million-barrel storm that had blasted the forests when our grandparents were children, soaking the bayous and creeks all the way to Arkansas. Certain annoying types pounced on every minor increase in viscosity and every fluctuation in the storm's bearing as evidence that the end was at hand, that our city would soon fill to the brim with sweet light crude, drowning us all in a torrent of hydrocarbons. As the tempest came closer, I grew just as irritated with those who too easily dismissed the danger. They reminded the rest of us that there had been dire warnings before, and the result had often been pointless hysteria, with the storm reduced to a trickle by the time it reached us, leaving only enough 10w-30 to dirty the lawn and downing just a few branches. Certain eccentrics broadcast images of themselves standing at the edge of the forest in Gore-Tex® raingear as the tempest slowly bore down on the city, their hair dramatically tousled by buffeting gusts of petrochemicals, voices raised over the hiss of light machine oil against their plastic parasols.

The gusher started in the middle of the night, beginning with a drizzle of kerosene and naphtha, followed by a steady rain of diesel. By morning, gasoline was coming in sideways. Lubricants came next, beginning with a light mist of WD-40™, then strengthening into a ferocious downpour of axle grease. By noon paraffin and asphalt were coming down thick and hot. And then the polymerization began. The din of thermoset billiard balls slamming into the house deafened us. Some sort of fabric, perhaps rayon, came billowing down in long streamers. Nylon rope flowed out of the sky and lay in tangled heaps in the street while Nalgene® bottles and Tupperware™ containers bounced off the roof. Chunks of Styrofoam™, some the size of sofas, came hurtling down, crunching onto the pavement or into the grass. Some guy on the radio reported that a PVC pipe as big as a telephone pole had crashed through the roof of a house near him, skewering the attic, living room, and concrete slab. We watched massive panes of Plexiglas® and Lexan™ come sailing out of the sky to cart-wheel down the street.

The storm quieted, and I waded out with a Formica™ umbrella. The trees were curtained with synthetic cloths, the yard ankle deep in emulsified crude and gooey balls of tar speckled with pellets of high- and low-density polyethylene. I tried not to breathe. With no traffic on the roads nearby, a spooky silence lay over the land, but then the wind shifted, and a few stray PET milk-jugs came blowing out of the clouds. I hurried inside as chunks of polymethyl methacrylate and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene began to fall, then watched through the kitchen window as polyetheretherketone, polyetherimide, polypropylene, and melamine formaldehyde splashed down. Night fell again before the storm began to ease, and we all went to sleep to the gentle sound of Teflon®, packing peanuts, and hot jet fuel on the roof.

When daylight came, we could see how the storm had transmogrified the landscape. Empty water bottles lay everywhere, and children wandered out, trying to reconstruct broken toys. Trees stood fully clothed in colorful polyester, orlon, and acrylics. Thick tar coated the roofs, and asphalt covered the roads. Soon the city's trucks came out, scooping and mopping. When the sun emerged that afternoon and began evaporating the fuel and melting the polymers, I took a bamboo rake from the garage and started making piles of oily plastic near the street. I saw my neighbors come out one by one to do the same, and we waved and nodded to one another, then worked steadily until dusk before finally retreating into our battered homes to drink high-octane liquor and mourn our ruined world.

Angus Woodward

About Angus Woodward

Angus Woodward is a Louisiana writer of prose whose comic novel, Americanisation: Lessons in American Culture and Language, was published by Livingston Press in 2011. Oxford American hailed Americanisation as “a hilariously crafted postmodern novel wedged into the template of a social-studies textbook for immigrants.” Of Americanisation’s innovative form, the New York Journal of Books said, “Since the novel is 500 years old, it has been hypothesized that the idiom is exhausted of original ideas. With Americanisation, Mr. Woodward disproves this hypothesis….” Americanisation also made Library Journal’s list of notable first novels for fall 2011. Margaret Media published his short story collection, Down at the End of the River in 2008. His fiction can be found in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Mochila Review, Alimentum, Nightsun, and the Forest Press anthology Stolen Stories. His nonfiction has appeared recently in Normal School, Sport Literate and the University of Nebraska Press anthology Living Blue in the Red States (2007). You can contact Angus at awoodw64(at)gmail.com.

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