The Myth of Rain
Daniel C. Smith
With the rusty knife he fashioned from what must now be considered an ancient tin can, he cut into the flesh of the rat, tearing it into long thin strips. As he peeled away each strip, he held it up in the air and his nine-year-old daughter eagerly bent her head down to catch the dripping fluids while he laughed at her childlike innocence.
She had hunted this feast, stalking it following her own instincts, and then she killed it, her first time.
He felt proud.
She’ll make a good hunter, he thought. Maybe she’ll survive.
For what, he did not know.
Looking into her face, he thought that she was as beautiful as her mother. She had the green eyes, the strawberry blonde hair, and that heart-melting smile. Her teeth were obscenely neglected, broken and chipped (he thought she was obnoxiously carnivorous looking, but that’s what it took to survive in today’s world) and her hair was already thinning out from the lingering radiation, but still, when he looked at her, he saw a beautiful child, his child, and his heart was heavy with guilt because he knew that he was responsible—he gave her life.
The sickness took her mother, history took her world, and all her father could do for her was to teach her how to hunt rats and other vermin in the ruins of civilization.
Sucking up one of the bloody strips of meat, she said, "Daddy, when I was alone with Grandma before she died, she told me a story."
His heart sank.
Hadn’t he begged the old woman not to tell her that damn story?
"Sara, your grandmother was delirious. She had the sickness."
"She said you would say that."
Now his heart was bursting.
"What did she say?"
"She said that water used to fall from the sky. That it felt good on your skin and tasted sweet on your tongue. She said it was called rain, and ’cause it rained all the time, the Earth used to be covered with plants, big plants, not like the dirty lichen growing all over the ruins. She said after it rained, she would go for walks and everything smelled fresh and new."
The Myth of Rain.
The rains had stopped when he was a teenager, and then the world began to fall apart, becoming a parched, waterless place, a virtual desert planet. Tempers rose with temperatures, and the world exploded in violence.
Some, of course, heralded the course of events as some sort of divine punishment.
The goddamn scientists said it was a combination of things, just like goddamn scientists always say.
The ozone, the water cycle, pollution, solar activity, a combination of ecological factors. The sun did appear to be redder than it had when he was Sara’s age, but a number of things could account for that, even the loss of ozone, which acted apparently not only as a filter for harmful radiation, but had also provided a rose-colored lens for humanity to view the cosmos in a safer light.
Others whispered that it was some sort of government experiment gone awry, that in our quest to control nature, we somehow managed to turn off the weather.
The only thing he knew for sure was that it hadn’t rained for almost fifteen years.
Ninety-five percent of the fauna, ninety percent of the people, gone—and the oceans were nearly dried up, even though the ice caps quickly melted away under the heat of the new sun.
The water simply evaporated in the heat, but it did not return to the Earth as rain, the way it was supposed to according to the timeless cycle of all things.
He didn’t want his daughter to know that he himself once felt the cool touch of a spring rain; he didn’t want her to know that she barely missed living in a decent world.
A world of flowers and trees, lakes and rivers, and rain.
Water from the sky.
It had been a while since they had had any water; they mostly kept themselves hydrated on the fluids obtained from insects and rodents, like the one on which they were now gorging themselves.
She wouldn’t stop. "Daddy, Grandma said that this bad time would pass, that the sun would again burn yellow, and that I would know what flowers are because the rains will start again and everything will be fresh and new, just like when she was a little girl."
He couldn’t think of anything to say.
He knew that rain wasn’t a myth; he’d seen it, felt it, tasted it. But that it would rain again, that the world would be born again, he couldn’t believe it. When he lost Jennifer, Sara’s mother, he lost his will to believe. Now he only had the will to survive, to fight to keep his daughter alive.
But more than simply surviving, he had wanted to keep The Myth of Rain from her.
He wanted to protect her from the pain of it.
"Do you believe that, Daddy?"
He brushed a strand of her brittle hair from across her face.
"Yes, Sara. This time will pass. Things will return… It’ll rain."
She laughed and greedily inhaled the rest of her share of the rat.
He closed his eyes and tried to pretend that the world was sane.
The ruddy sun was setting; it was past time to head home.
They had been reckless, taking their time to eat—soon the night people would come out. The eyes of the night people were strangely affected by the new redness of the sun, preventing them from coming out during the day; and since one could only hunt rats and insects in the light, the night people had to find another source of food, a source that could be hunted after dark.
He grabbed Sara by the hand and whisked her over the ruins, ever alert for any threat that might present itself.
Home was a section of sewer tunnel in the heart of the city. Surrounded by crumbling or leveled buildings, he had discovered it one day while hunting. So far he could only find one entrance, and that was extremely difficult to get to, making it easily defendable.
At least that is what he hoped when he moved his family in there.
Sara, her grandmother, and he lived there for almost two years, then his mother-in-law passed on, but not before telling his daughter that damnable story, filling her head with nonsense, and worse, filling her heart with hope.
He loved the old woman, and he hated her at the same time.
Just as the sun set, they uncovered the debris that hid the entrance to their tunnel and entered the sanctuary of home. They passed the evening quietly, hardly saying a word to one another. Sara seemed preoccupied, far away.
He was far away, himself.
But there was no escape from where he lived, not even in the distant thoughts of his dead wife, alive and in his arms, just married and out of law school, full of dreams when the world was normal, when dreaming was normal, still believing everything would return to the way it was. Ordinarily, he never let himself drift too far; hunkered down in a sewer tunnel that he and his child called home, he knew he couldn’t afford to stray too far from reality. In today’s world, dreaming was useless, but daydreaming was distracting, and therefore deadly.
She was relentless. "Daddy, Grandma said sometimes that people used to wish real hard for things—she said it was called praying—that they wished real hard for things to be and then these things were. Did you ever pray for anything, Daddy?"
"Get some sleep, Sara."
"If I knew how to pray, I’d pray for rain."
She turned over on her bedding. Whetheror not she went right to sleep, he did not know.
But she was silent, and he was grateful.
Outside, all was quiet.
He thought it seemed hotter than usual. Humid, even.
Exhaustion overcame him, and he fell into a deep sleep.
And as he slept he dreamed.
He saw Sara in a field of wild flowers, under a yellow sun and a blue sky, suddenly hidden with dark yet beautiful clouds, releasing a kind, gentle rain. Sara danced in the rain, her arms outstretched and her face up to the sky, catching the rain on her tongue. She laughed like he had never heard her laugh before, her hair was full, her teeth were straight and clean, not so ‘obnoxiously carnivorous’ looking, and on the other side of that field stood Jennifer, sheltered under an umbrella, but laughing along with her daughter.
The smell of sulfur woke him.
Sara was looking out through the grate, jumping up and down excitedly.
"It’s going to rain, Daddy!"
Before he could stop her, she bolted out the tunnel, heading for the outside.
He went to the grate and looked out.
Clouds, strange looking clouds, were rolling across the sky like they were being chased by the devil, gathering above the city. Then came the sound of thunder, echoing through the ruins for the first time in over a quarter of a century.
Suddenly the smell of sulfur began to overwhelm him, burning his eyes.
Through the tears he could see Sara standing under the clouds, her arms outstretched and her face turned up to the sky, her eyes closed and her tongue sticking out to taste the rain.
He screamed for her to come back in, but she could not hear him.
Suddenly lightning cracked like a bullwhip against the sky, tearing it open as easy as virgin flesh, and then the sky started bleeding with a torrential downpour of molten minerals.
He heard her scream in agony as the first few drops touched her face. She fell to the ground as the liquefied metal falling out of the sky stripped the skin from her bones.
He kept screaming, but he knew there was nothing he could do. The sulfur burned his eyes to the point of blindness, choking him with a force that slapped him to his knees. He couldn’t move.
He lay there helpless.
Outside, Sara’s screams seemed to take forever to fade away, and weaving its way through the sulfur, the smell of burning flesh assaulted his nostrils.
The rain seemed to last forever, yet he did not die.
He longed for death, but to add to his torment, it was denied him.
When the rain finally did stop and the smoke finally cleared (it could have been days, he really did not know), he slowly came to his senses, but he just continued to lay exhausted on the floor of the dwelling, an empty man.
A truly miserable man.
Slowly, he became aware of another presence in the room—several presences, in fact.
Bigger than most, snarling, seemingly unaffected by the stench of sulfur.
But there were at least two dozen of them.
Their teeth were broken and chipped, obnoxiously carnivorous looking. But that’s what it took to survive in today’s world.
He knew what the rats had come for.
He would not offer any resistance.
Originally published in Black Petals, 2002.
© 2002, 2007 by Daniel C. Smith
Bio: Daniel C. Smith says: "I have published over one hundred short stories and poems in various publications, including Aoife’s Kiss, AlienSkin, Bare Bone, Beyond Centauri, Tales of the Talisman, Not One of Us, Outer Darkness, The Leading Edge, Ilumen and Revelation.
Most recently I won an honorable mention in the 18th Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for poetry and was the featured poet in the May ’06 issue of Scifaikuest, as well."
E-mail: Daniel C. Smith
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