[Winner of Intermediate Section, Western Districts Short Story Competition, 2010 - open to all New Zealand Writers]
Rain plays with my mind.
It makes me see things that aren’t there, and twists around things that are there. It whispers to me, making me hear things that aren’t making any noise, and drowning out any noise already there. Where I live, which of course you know, there’s the rainy season and the less-rainy season. There’s no such thing as light drizzles, only torrential downpours. Naturally, I don’t have a raincoat or an umbrella.
I’m sure this doesn’t happen to other people. No-one ever walks home with me from school any more. They probably think I’m crazy. I don’t care. The teacher makes them be nice to me at school, but after school all pretence of kindness is gone and they avoid me. I’m completely alone walking home; I take a path that no-one else takes. But I’m better off alone. Friends and companions have a tendency to leave you behind. I’m done with friends. I’m fine without anybody. Just me... And the rain...
I was walking home. It was raining hard-out, as usual. As soon as I was out of sight of anyone, the visions started. The concrete path and buildings to either side of me faded away, to be replaced by grassland stretching as far as the eye could see in any direction. The grass was up to my knees. There was a rustling in the grass and I could see long stalks parting. Oh great, what is it this time? I continued walking as the rustling thing got closer and closer. After a while I turned around, curious, and a dark shape, sort of like a dog, leapt out at me from the grass with a rruff. I let out an involuntary scream as it pounced on me, driving me to the ground. It stood on me and growled, baring its shiny white teeth. I screamed again and grabbed the dog’s leg, hurling it off me. It was light as a feather and its fur was smooth and silky. I heard a snap as my fingers closed around its leg, and another as it hit the ground. It lay there moaning as I got up, panting. I heard more rustling in the grass and a number of barks. There were more of the dogs! I bolted, dashing through the long grass as the dogs chased me. This was a first, as none of the things I had imagined in the rain had actually touched me before, and none of them had ever chased me. I heard the dogs panting, getting closer, and I sped up, thanking my P.E. teacher for making me run all those laps around the field. It did me good after all. Finally, the grassland started to fade and the concrete alleyway came back, the howls and barks of the dogs trailing off to nothing. I was safe - for now, at least.
“Well? Can you answer that question?”
I jerked out of my daydream and yelled, “Paris!” The teacher seemed puzzled.
“Uh, correct,” she said uncertainly as the bell rang for the end of school. She brightened up and said, “Have a safe, fun weekend, class! I’ll see you on Monday!” She rubbed various diagrams and instructions off the whiteboard as the students cleared things off their desks and stacked their chairs, the buzz of conversation filling the previously silent classroom. It was the next day, Friday. As I headed out of the classroom, I realised it was no ordinary weekend. It was the weekend of the fair! I loved the fair; the hustle and bustle of the crowds, the games, the strange and wonderful acts, the attractions like the typical Hall of Mirrors, and the rides. The fair was on all weekend, and I was going to go on both days. I couldn’t help wondering if it would rain or not, and if it did, what would happen? I pushed that thought from my mind and focused on being excited. It wouldn’t rain. No way.
Just then, it started to rain.
I had to put up with being soaked for a couple of minutes until I was back in the alley, out of sight, before the visions started.
The rain fell harder and harder until I couldn’t see anything, and when it calmed down I was in a small room, open to the sky, but when I tried to walk towards the walls they seemed to get further and further away. I heard a hissing noise behind me and spun around. There was another one of the solid shadows, this one like a giant python with glistening white fangs and tiny red glowing dots for eyes. It hissed and reared up, towering high above me. I screamed, spun around, and bolted. Though I was running at full speed, the snake effortlessly caught up and slithered around me, forcing me to stop before I ran into its jet-black coils. It raised its head until its scarlet, twinkling eyes were level with mine and hissed, BEWARE!
The snake and the room faded back into deserted concrete buildings and grey rain, and I collapsed, panting. When I had caught my breath I stood up, trying not to think of those red eyes which bore into your soul and your mind and consumed you from the inside out, revealing every lie you had ever told, every petty crime you had committed, and making you feel so guilty you could cry. I shivered and kept walking, trying to think of the fair and how much fun it would be.
It wasn’t working.
I woke up early the next morning and left for the fair around eight. Instead of the usual downpour, there was just thick grey stratus stretching across the sky. Not many people I knew had seen a sunny day before. But still, rainclouds without rain is better than rainclouds with rain, and I was willing to put up with it. When I arrived at the area on the outskirts of town where the fair was, there was already a crowd and everything was there. Once in through the gates I fell into the crowd, knowing my pockets were full of money and I had the entire day to enjoy the fair. As I walked through the streets between stalls and attractions, a single, colourful sign caught my eye. It read:
Fortunes for low prices!
I really hate Fortune Tellers. The whole talking-with-the-spirits thing creeps me out. But something made me pull open the curtain of the purple-and-brown tent and step inside into the incense-laden air.
“Hello, little girl. Would you like Madam Ovarei to tell your fortune?”
I jumped at the voice in the shadows, but I realised it was coming from the little old woman sitting at the table in front of me.
“Uh... no... yes... sort of?” I said cautiously.
The woman smiled and gestured for me to sit down. I did so, but I was still unsure of why I wanted my fortune told. I found that the chair made my eyes level with hers. She examined me closely for a few minutes before asking, “What colour are your eyes, child?”
“Blue,” I answered, “Light blue.”
“No. They are grey.”
She held up a small hand mirror, and I gasped. My eyes were grey.
“How...?” I began, but she interrupted, “The rain, child. You have seen the rain. Not the rain itself, but what hides inside it. And you are afraid of the rain. You should not be. Tell Madam Ovarei what you have seen.” She leaned forward to listen.
I wanted to say no. I wanted to walk away. But something about this nice old lady, who knew what my problem was and wanted to help me, made me forget my doubts and trust her.
So I spent two whole hours telling her about everything I had seen, how I walked alone, how nothing turned out right. When I had finished she said, “Don’t be afraid of the rain creatures. They represent your feelings, so when you are angry and frustrated, they are too. Make friends with them and your life will be easier. And one more thing: never, ever-”
And then it started to rain.
Madam Ovarei yelled something and grabbed for me, but faded away into the impenetrable, grey wall of driving rain. I was forced to my knees, gulping for air. It was raining so hard I breathed water. As my vision blurred I thought I could make out tiny red dots in the wall of rain. I felt like I weighed a ton and my lungs were being crushed under my own weight.
Anger. Frustration. Loneliness.
Not my own weight - the weight of my feelings. I had gone too long with nobody. Too long with my feelings bottled up inside me.
I needed a friend. Someone to talk to. I suddenly realised the rain had calmed. I could breathe again. As soon as my chest had stopped hurting, I stood up. Somehow, I was in that old concrete alleyway again, the one I walk home through. I leaned against one of the old buildings and thought.
It was Monday again. When I had gone back to the fair on Sunday, Madam Ovarei hadn’t been there. The teacher was saying something, so I listened. “Everyone, this is Annabel. She used to live all the way on the other side of the world, and she just moved here. She’s going to be going to school here now,” She gave me a meaningful glance, “So you all need to make her feel welcome. Everyone say, ‘Hi, Annabel’.”
“Hi, Annabel,” The class droned.
“Have a good Morning Tea, class.”
Everyone packed up their stuff and took out their snacks, chatting to each other. I headed over to Annabel. She looked shy and worried, like someone who needed a friend.
“Hi, Annabel,” I said, sticking out my hand, “Nice to meet ya. You look like someone who could use a good friend,” I added as she shook it timidly.
“Yeah,” She replied in the soft voice of one who doesn’t usually talk, “I think I do need a friend.”
I grinned at her. That grin meant everything.
“Sure,” she said with a smile. We walked out of class together. I looked at her when we were outside and noticed something.
“Hey, Annabel, you got an umbrella or a raincoat?”
“What colour are your eyes?”
“Light blue. Isn’t it obvious?”
“Mine were too.”
“I’m Storm, Annabel, and welcome to the Rain Country.”
Just then, it started to rain.
“Storm, why are we in a meadow now?”
The grass rustled and long stalks parted. “Don’t worry, they’re friendly,” I said as she grabbed my arm. I still took a step back.
“What are they?” asked Annabel.
“Depends, actually. AAAH!” I screamed as a dog-thing jumped out of the grass and landed on me. This time, it licked my face with a rose-pink tongue. “Hey! Stop that!” I yelled. Annabel giggled. “Oh, so you think it’s funny?” I pushed the dog off me and it ran straight for Annabel, jumping on her and licking her. “Ew! Get off me! Yuck!” I giggled and pulled it off her. She got up and spat.
“Uck! What is that thing?” I grinned at her.
“I think it’s a dog, but I’m not too sure exactly what it is.” As I said this, it squirmed in my arms and licked my face again. Annabel stared at it. It stared back and smiled, flashing its white teeth. “You have a lot of explaining to do.” Annabel said.
“Where should I start?”
“First, what the heck happened to the school?”