I stay inside when it rains. That shouldn't be much of a surprise. Most people try to remain inside during downpours. Wet hair dripping cold fingers down your back. Your shirt sticks to your chest, a thirsty leach drinking your warmth. That spongy mucosa suction smack.
These discomforts aren't why I hate the rain.
I hate the rain because I fear it.
Because my eyes were opened.
My eyes were opened and now they cannot be shut.
And I can see it.
And now it can see me.
No one understands except me... and yes, I'm fully aware that "No one understands except me" is the mantra of the madman, but in this case, in my case, I'm not mad, or if I am, it's because of what I know, and what I know is the ultimate truth, and the ultimate truth is the thing in the puddles kills... actually worse, so much worse than death. A fate worse than death, I've heard the phrase, but what does it mean? For even for the vilest of the vile, locked in the deepest dungeon, there is still a way out. There is still a door whose creaky hinges are the death rattle. And whether it comes by one's own hand or by time, it surely comes. The puddles make me think of the Titans locked in the Tartarus. A prison with no door. I'm sure there's no door for Penny, but there's certainly a window. Is a window in an escapable cell a small blessing or an expanse of cruelty? These many nights as I stare up at the desert moon I wondered if I ran from the rain to escape the things in the puddles, or to escape having to see Penny tortured, for eternity, in every pool of water, hands pressed against the watery panes, drowning always.
When this all began and my refusal to step foot in the rain came up in conversation it always elicited laughs. My friends and colleagues would brand the behavior as eccentric, like wearing a curly moustache or veganism. It's a behavior birthed from the loss of a loved one they'd snicker behind my back, but they'd stop if they knew what really collects in those puddles.
It's been ten years since the experiment and nine years since I moved to Teakettle, California: The driest livable town on the continent of North America. In these past nine years I have been safe. I still keep the routine of checking the weather channel every hour and I also receive satellite forecasts for a hundred-mile circumference every half hour. Before moving to the barrens I'd have too many close calls. I once had to spend the night in washroom of Lee Garden's in China Town. The desert is dry and therefore safe. I thought the days that the puddles could catch me off guard were long behind me. I thought I was in the clear. I thought I could never be taken by surprise again. I shouldn't have underestimated it. The rain. All tallied it's almost got me four times. A hunter does not give up once its tasted blood. The wait has only summoned its pangs of hunger. Ten years of hunger pangs. And right now, as I watch the fire eat my house from the kitchen I can hear the storm outside, a storm in the desert, the rain wetting its lips. Should I burn? Or do I dare step outside?
The year my eyes were opened I had a girlfriend. Penny loved the rain. She really did. I've said that no one actually likes the rain. Penny was the exception that proved the rule. She'd run from the room we shared on Mercer street in that gloomy university town and she'd spin like a top, whisking the drops. She'd let the sky water her tongue and extinguish the sun in her blonde hair. Once in a while I'd join her. And we'd kiss in the rain. Kissing in the rain. This was of course before the experiment.
In my twenty-three years I hadn't been anything other than a graduate student in rainy British Columbia, but it was spring and the snow sublimated to steam, heralding the end of the academic chapter of my life. The forecast called for showers all week. Cold sheets falling on the frozen earth's chest, defibrillating, reanimating. Green bullets shot up through earth and decay wafted from white burial mounds. Penny couldn't be happier. She and I would walk home from campus along the Holly River Trail. At first as academics, sparing opinions in our shared discipline of cosmic cryptozoology and material astrophysical engineering, then as friends, each thinking about that inevitable kiss neither was yet willing to expose themselves for, and finally young lovers.
By the time spring had come our professor, Dr. Crayon, had finally finished his device. And in one rare sunny day in April he turned on his magnifying glass. He opened the window into the dark space behind the stars. Professor Crayon built a machine to look out beyond, he neglected an off switch. When we peered beyond our eyes were forced open, and once our eyes had been opened, they could not be closed. Unseen eyelids had been torn from our sockets.
At first we had thought Professor Crayon's machine and therefore his career had been a hopeless failure. The old man's wild genius began to appear like pathetic madness... He had not looked upon the machine, that was reserved for us, his students. I had began to feel like we were no longer assisting in the experiments underneath Goldberg Hall, but were part of the experiment. I had began to suspect we were the subjects. Penny would laugh that off and said I was paranoid. Poor Penny.
She and I looked into another realm and another realm looked back and then one day shortly after it rained as I walked down the Holly River Trail we saw the people in the puddles.
The sky had been giant white palaces floating on a blue canvas. We turned off the cobblestone towards the dirt path that would lead us to our warm abode on Mercer Street. The white palaces collided, bruising themselves, screaming wind, and drop drop drop. Soon the trail was the moon's surface after a flood. The muddy craters filled until it was a land of a thousand tiny lakes. Each lake a window, a window with faces pressed against them. And these faces were men and women and children, tortured by time, screaming silent agonies of ages and ages, scratching at the surface of the puddles, unable to tear through the meniscus. Oh those faces, horrid, pained, but what was worse was the faces behind – not faces, but a fusion of the collected torment, twisted into an entity. Like the face of a screaming child, but this child had no nose, eyes, mouth, or flesh.
We ran, mad, horrified. I heard Penny cry, I turned and watched her ankle buckle. She collapsed, an uncoordinated belly flop into a pool. I ran to her, but as I did the rain pulled at my foot. I heard the suction slop of my shoe being pulled off as I freed my leg. I scrambled up and I could see penny, beneath the puddle, banging – screaming soundless screams.
I've seen her in those puddles ever since.
So, smoke fills my lungs, finding its way through the kitchen towel at my mouth. I look out to the fire as it licks my arms and the heavy ash and ember sting my eyes. I open the door and see Penny and the countless other screeching, banging, writhing, slapping their hands against the water from below the surface. I push towards the fire – and although the pain is immense, it seems like nothing compared to the people in the puddles.
I can't push any further. Please God, let me burn, let me burn. For I fear the rain.
YOU ARE READING
WATTY 2016 WINNER of the HQ Love Award! Strange Yarns is a ball of tangled tales. Twisted, knotted, and intertwined. Like Tales of the Crypt, the Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits. Strange Yarns is not just a collection of ghastly tales, these are...