RAIN, IN REVERSE
by Russell Bradbury-Carlin
The storm that started the “rain situation” was, at first, a typical mid-summer shower. The rain that poured down on the small town was heavy and warm. The drops fell to the ground and splashed in wide, wet arcs.
Then, without any warning, the drops began to slow their descent. For those who noticed, it seemed as if time itself was slowing down.
The rain slowed and slowed and, finally, paused in mid-air.
And then, it turned around.
The drops that had not yet landed on the ground hurled themselves back up into the clouds. Then the puddles and gutter streams began to form drops on their surfaces. The drops pulled away and flew upward. The damp ground and roads began to lose their moisture, too.
It rained, in reverse.
The clouds grew more bulbous and bruise-colored as they sucked up more and more water.
Eventually, the storm moved on. But days later, when another front of storm clouds appeared, it happened again. Drops never fell from the sky. The clouds continued to draw rain from any source of water on the ground.
This cycle went on and on. Each time the clouds seemed to race in over the distant mountains, as if they were hiding there, waiting for their next appearance. And when they returned they were heavier and darker–sodden with moisture. And each time, they drained away more and more water.
The clouds were insatiable.
Odo crouched down on his elbows and knees in the field behind his cottage. His chin rested in his large hands.
He watched tiny beads of water form on the top of the soil. They drew together, like little magnetic balls. Then they rolled up the sides of the blades of grass. The beads climbed as if tiny Sisyphuses were behind each one, struggling to push their boulders of water higher and higher. The drops paused at the pointy tips of the grass and clung for a brief second. Then, Pop!, they were launched upward by some invisible vacuum.
Odo glanced toward the back of his home to see if his uncle was watching him. Uncle Petru spent most of the day in the house except when he took his cat, Fern, out for a walk. He probably wouldn’t be walking Fern this afternoon, though.
Fern, like most cats, hated the rain.
Odo, though, was completely fascinated by this new kind of weather.
“The pond near my house is half-gone,” said Naida, the owner of the town’s general store.
There were a lot of town-people gathered around the cash register at Naida’s store.
“Our fish pond is bone-dry,” offered Kip, one of Odo’s neighbors.”Our fish are strewn around the house in every bowl and glass container we own.”
Odo stood in line at the general store. His arms were filled with beets, bacon, and bread. These were the only items on the list Uncle Petru had given him. Odo wanted to say something. He wanted to talk about how fascinating he found the odd rain. But, as usual, he remained quiet. Odo resisted speaking up unless he was asked something — which wasn’t often -– because he was afraid his thick tongue would stumble over his words and come out as gobbledy-gook. Odo’s whole being was thick -– thick fingers, thick hair, thick legs. He had to keep his activities straight forward and simple: chop carrots with slow strokes of the blade; climb the ladder to pick apples one step at a time with a pause in-between steps; walk straight forward, stop, then turn.
“I don’t know about all of you, but I’m stocking a room with bottled water, just in case,” the town’s mail-person, Yu, tossed in.
Odo wasn’t sure why everyone was afraid of the rain situation. But it appeared that most were.
“I think it’s beautiful to watch it rain in reverse. It’s so strange,” said a voice from behind him. It was Lydia, whom Odo had grown up with but barely knew.
Odo felt his heart skip inside his thick chest.
Leonel, the man who had bought his uncle’s old farm, coughed.
“I can’t keep water in my birdbath,” said Viviana, Leonel’s wife. “I filled it in the morning and it was gone by the time I got home.”
Lydia said nothing else. She continued to stare forward, but her cheeks blushed fiercely.
Lydia was thin the way that Odo was thick. She was tall and skinny. Her face was long as was her blonde hair, making her appear even more elongated. And her voice was wispy. Sometimes, it seemed to lack the volume to carry her words on.
Odo and Lydia had both graduated from the same school not too long ago. But they had never really talked to each other. Odo only talked to people when there was a purpose. And there had never been a purpose to talk to Lydia, so it never occurred to him.
Now he felt a purpose. And it glowed steadily in his gut.
“Can I show you something I find beautiful?” Odo asked Lydia outside the general store.
Lydia was walking out with a bag of groceries in her hand. Her head was angled toward the ground. She lifted it, pulled back the strands of her hair from her face, then looked around to be sure Odo was talking to her.
“Sure,” she said with a hint of hesitation.
They walked out through Odo’s backyard. He kept glancing back at his house to see if his uncle had spied them. Since Odo’s mother died three years ago, his uncle had become more paranoid and weird. Technically, Uncle Petru was his parent, now. But Odo was the responsible one.
His uncle remained unseen.
They followed a path through a thin band of woods then came to the edge of a small pond.
Odo knelt down at its edge and held out his hand beside him -– an invitation for Lydia to do the same.
A bank of the dark purplish clouds had snuck in during the afternoon, which seemed to be the current pattern.
The pond looked like it was roiling under a slow boil. The surface was pocked with water-bumps. These bumps became small round beads that popped into existence on the shimmering pond. Then, drop-by-drop, each bead rose up.
At first, as they knelt together, there was only a small reverse-rain over the pond. But as a particularly dark and dense part of the cloud hovered over the pond, the rain picked up and grew more dense, until there was a reverse downpour right over the water, and nowhere else.
Lydia smiled. It lit up her face -– broadened it, brought it to life. It made her beautiful.
“This is amazing,” Lydia said as she watched the wall of rain over the pond.
“Yes, it is,” said Odo. Only he was staring at his new companion.
Lydia invited Odo to her home the next day so she could show him something amazing about the reverse-rain, too.
“Come just after dark, though. And wait out behind the huge oak tree on the edge of our property,” she said. “I can’t have my father know you are visiting.”
“Sure,” Odo agreed. “Of course.”
Odo waited behind the oak beside Lydia’s house.
His hand rested against the tree. He tried to pry his fingers under the craggy bark, but his fingers were too thick to gain any purchase.
He looked up and watched several heavy columns of clouds float, like flying behemoths, over the screen of stars overhead. Not all the clouds moved in the same direction, though. Some floated along to the north, some toward the southeast. They seemed to roam of their own free will.
Dusk drained itself into darkness.
Odo felt something light settle on his shoulder, like a fallen leaf or a small insect.
“Follow me,” came a breathy voice that felt like a breeze slipping past his ear.
Odo followed Lydia toward the side of her house. She took his hand, probably to help guide him in the darkness. But, perhaps she liked the sensation of his fingers pressing against her hand, like he did hers.
They approached a faucet coming out of the side of the house with a small hose attached. The light from inside the room above cast a square beam right over the faucet.
“Shh. My parents are in the kitchen, but they think I am in my room,” Lydia said. She pointed up to the window, which revealed a wall of cabinets and the top of a sink faucet.
They both knelt down around the hose coiled on the ground.
Lydia reached out and turned on the faucet with one hand and held the end of the hose out with the other. After a few seconds of hollow gurgling noises, water splashed out full force.
Lydia stared up to the window to see if the noise had alerted her parents. A murmuring of conversation came from behind the window. Nothing else.
The water from the hose fell to the ground and began to form a puddle.
After a few moments, small bumps formed on the surface, then drops began to pull away and float up into the sky. Eventually a steady reverse rain came out of the growing puddle.
Lydia cranked the faucet handle back. The water coming out of the hose slowed. She brought it back to a steady stream, then to a trickle. Then she pulled the handle back one last small fraction of a turn.
“Here,” she whispered.
They both stared as the thin stream that fell into the puddle started to hesitate. For a moment the stream paused as if frozen in place. But water continued to come out of the hose, so the stream thickened until it began to fall into the puddle again.
Then, the stream broke off from the puddle and arced upward. The water from the hose floated directly up into the sky in a steady thin line, just thick enough that whatever weird vacuum the clouds created could pull on it fully.
They both sat down on the wet ground and watched, mesmerized, as the stream of water rose up like a long string into the darkness.
Odo’s attention was rapt.
Then he noticed that Lydia, again, had reached over and taken his hand into hers.
Lydia was staring up at the stream of water rising into the distant darkness. Her mouth was slightly open. Odo sat forward, then got up on his knees. He leaned over Lydia’s upturned gaze and moved his face slowly toward hers.
Then he kissed her.
He had a fleeting thought that, perhaps, his weight was going to be too much, that he’d press in too hard and bruise her lips or something.
She didn’t squinch or pull away.
In fact, she reached around and placed her hand on the back of his head, and pulled his mouth closer to hers.
The world started to drift away.
Then there was the slam of the back door.
And the roar of her father’s voice.
Several days later, a single purplish bloated cloud was now omnipresent. It filled the sky from horizon to horizon.
It never left.
There was a continuous thin rain. All the lakes, ponds, and streams were dry and empty. Everyone guessed that the underground reservoirs were drying up, too, as the rain began to subside to only a thin drizzle. The once fat drops of water that had been yanked up from the soil were now coming out as tiny beads of mist. Everyone kept talking about what was going to happen next. Was the cloud going to return the water? Was it ever going to go away?
One morning Uncle Petru was up before Odo, which was unusual.
“Something’s weird,” Uncle Petru told him. “Fern has been scratching at my bedroom door all morning. She woke me up at the crack of dawn.”
It was a Saturday. Normally, Odo would have been up already cleaning the house or making breakfast for his uncle. But since Lydia’s father had caught them kissing and declared that she never see sight nor sound of him ever again, he had difficulty rising early.
Odo pulled himself out of bed and glanced out the front window. The mist was gone. But the cloud still hung low overhead.
Uncle Petru put on his jacket and grabbed the collar and leash. He opened the door and reached down to put the collar on his cat, like he did every morning. Only this time, Fern bolted out the door and ran out onto the lawn.
“Fern, get back here,” Uncle Petru said in his high-pitched voice.
Suddenly, the cat’s paws left the ground and she began to float up into the sky.
“Fern!” Uncle Petru cried out.
The cat seemed perfectly calm as she rose up — as if she was being pulled aloft by a bunch of invisible balloons. Odo could have sworn he heard it purring.
Uncle Petru ran out after his cat.
Odo began to grasp what was happening.
“Uncle Petru!” he called out as he raced to the doorway.
But he was too late.
Uncle Petru made it halfway to the spot where Fern had begun to rise up, when his feet left the ground.
Odo stopped in the doorway.
“Help me!” Uncle Petru cried out.
Odo watched as his uncle rose up into the sky. Uncle Petru kicked and flailed as he floated higher and higher. Odo scanned the living room for something to throw out to his uncle — a rope, a sheet, anything. But it was already too late, he was now a wriggling blot high in the sky. The dark cloud appeared enormous as Uncle Petru became smaller and smaller.
Fern was a tiny dot when she was enveloped by the cloud.
Several minutes later, Odo’s uncle disappeared into the deep purplish mass, not too far from his pet.
Odo’s throat tightened. His uncle was gone.
Then Odo’s peripheral vision caught sight of movement elsewhere.
He scanned the sky over the town and saw other people flailing and kicking as they rose up into the air.
He could also hear a chorus of screams, some distant, some close-by.
Hundreds of people floated up into the cloud.
Odo knew what he needed to do.
He needed to get to Lydia. But how?
Odo considered that his thickness might keep him tethered to the ground. He placed his leg outside the front door.
His heavy wide leg rested on the front stoop and didn’t move.
Then he felt it.
A tugging sensation enveloped his whole leg and foot. It didn’t hurt. It reminded him of that sensation one feels on a swing-set, when you are at the peak of your swing, just as gravity seizes your whole body and pushes you back down.
Only this sensation pulled him up.
And his leg began to rise.
Odo pulled his leg back in.
He had another idea.
The sky was littered with flailing people.
He could make out his neighbors, Sarina and Davin, waggling and grasping at nothing as they flipped around in mid-air.
The entire town was being vacuumed up by the clouds.
But what about Lydia, he wondered.
Odo had taken two pieces of long rope and two large rusty metal hooks from the basement. He remembered his uncle using the hooks to move bales of hay around on his old farm when Odo was younger.
Odo tied one end of each rope to a hook and the other end around his waist.
Then he ran out into the backyard as fast as he could. And when he began to feel the sensation of the cloud’s pull, he stopped and threw one of the ropes at the nearest tree he thought he could reach. The first time, the hook landed just behind the tree. But when he yanked it back, it caught on the trunk and Odo pulled it taut.
He began to float into the air. But he was able to pull himself toward the tree. And once he reached it, he put his arms around it and climbed down until his feet were on the ground.
Now that he was on the edge of a small section of woods between fields, he could either grab onto a nearby sapling, or more easily throw the hook around an out-of-reach tree.
In his head he mapped out a path to Lydia’s. There were a few places where there were small gaps of fields between patches of woods. But mostly it was all wooded expanses.
This was how he would get to Lydia’s.
It took several hours for Odo to get close to Lydia’s house.
He was mostly able to reach out from one tree to the next and keep his feet on the ground. When there was distance and he used the ropes, he would rise up like a balloon tethered to a tree. Then he’d pull himself back down to the ground at its base.
Less and less people floated into the sky.
Odo wondered if this was because the entire town had been sucked up, or if there were, perhaps, some people hiding out in their homes.
He hoped that the latter was the case for Lydia.
At one point, Odo made his way near the back of a house. A young man, whom he didn’t recognize, climbed out the window of the home. The man paused, then stepped out onto the roof. He arced his arms upwards and he took off, purposefully.
Odo stopped himself, floating between two trees. He watched the man fly straight up into the sky. The man curled himself, grabbed his knees, and spun around like an acrobat, before straightening out. He dove, cleanly, into the cloud.
Odo continued to stare at the spot where the man disappeared for several minutes. Then he moved on.
“You know, the body is mostly made of water,” Lydia said.
“Is that what’s happening?” Odo said as he wrapped his arms around her.
“I don’t know. It’s a guess.”
Lydia had been out in her yard as Odo approached.
She had tied several concrete cinderblocks together with a rope. She tied the other end to herself and dragged the blocks across the lawn to the oak tree. She tied herself to the tree and waited.
Odo could see the path of up-turned soil where she had dragged the blocks.
Her parents had been sucked up early when her father insisted that the clouds were harmless and that no weather was going to harm either of them. He pulled Lydia’s mother out into the front yard, as she protested.
They both rose straight up into the sky.
Her mother flailed and screamed.
Her father remained straight-backed with one arm at his side and the other outstretched as he tried to tell his wife to calm down.
Lydia had hoped that Odo would come find her.
She felt claustrophobic in the house. She thought the tree was the best place to wait.
“I’m glad I’m here with you,” Lydia said.
“And me with you,” Odo responded. “Even if this is the end of the world.”
They both looked around at the grey sun-less world around them. It was eerily quiet.
“My mother calls me Lydia the Amazing,” Lydia suddenly said. “She had five miscarriages before having me. She always taught me to capitalize on the fact that I had nothing to lose, since I already existed when I shouldn’t.”
Odo thought for a moment. Then he offered, “My mother called me her hero, once. After my father died, I took care of things around the house. I took care of her. I took care of my Uncle Petru until this morning when he was sucked up into the cloud. I don’t really think I was hero. I was just being responsible.”
They looked back at each other with caring grins on their lips.
“Well, we can’t stay here forever,” Odo said.
“No, we can’t.” Lydia said.
“Shall we?” Odo held his hand out to the empty air in front of them.
“Go up there?” Lydia asked. The expression on her face was more curious than concerned.
They both stared up at the ceiling of clouds and were silent for a few minutes.
Then they both talked, almost simultaneously.
“It could be awful.”
“Or it could be great.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
Odo thought about the young man diving into the clouds. He felt the pleasant sensation of the pull on him.
Lydia was already untying the rope.
Odo thought of the mass of people and their flailing arms and legs — terrified as they rose up uncontrollably, rose up into the dark maw of the sky.
And what lay on the other side? Where were they going? What would happen?
Would it hurt?
Lydia lifted off first.
Odo followed — as much from Lydia pulling him along as from the pull of the clouds.
It did feel marvelous to float.
He watched the world shrink away beneath him. Trees become spots. Buildings became small boxes on the ground.
It was beautiful.
He purposefully ignored the looming unknown above him. He tried to focus on the pleasure of the weightlessness he felt now. He considered doing a roll or a twist, but didn’t want to lose his grip on Lydia’s hand.
Odo didn’t look up into the ominous cloud until the last minute.
He heard Lydia giggle and he glanced up at her.
There it was, right in front of him.
Lydia’s legs were covered in it up to her knees. The dark shifting mass seemed to be pulling her into itself. Tendrils, like long waving fingers of smoke, rose out and sank back into the cloud.
Lydia laughed as she was enveloped completely by the thick veil.
Her hand still held his as he began to follow.
His fingers disappeared.
And a giggle rose up from somewhere deep inside his thick chest.
Russell Bradbury-Carlin is a part-time writer living in Western MA. His stories have appeared in A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Goreyesque, Hogglepot, Bewildering Stories, amongst others. You can find him at russellbradburycarlin.com.