The rain picked up, making it harder to drive through the dirt. The trick is to not drive over the usual path, but to drive with one tire on the grass and the other tire over the puddles. The car may fishtail, but with enough momentum it is possible to avoid sinking into the mud. The poor traction of the wet grass can be dangerous, but it is that slippery quality that enables forward propulsion. It is a delicate balance that few have mastered.
I inherited the farm after my parents passed. It was a nice change after my undergrad; here there would be no temptations to fuel my insomnia. No more 6:00 AM bedtimes, no more all-nighters. I would finally see what morning looked like instead of waking up past noon and knowing that half the day was already wasted.
For several years, I did not want to see the sun.
The property consists of a double wide trailer on a few square acres near the woods. The internet is basic High Speed Internet, and I already know it won't work in this weather. The satellite dish is likely malfunctioning as well, and power may go out if this thundering continues.
The rumbling shakes outside my car door.
At the very least, it will be nice and quiet. The closest thing to neighbors is a trailer park across the woods, a mile away or so. I've had to install a motion sensor light to keep the trailer park kids off the property. Someone broke into my car last month.
When anything moves across the perimeter, a bright light illuminates the yard. Bullets of rain clack against my windshield, the grayish blue sky pulling a curtain of dots over my eyes. It's not disorienting, but rather beautiful, like stars at night. But then the light glows a path for me to park my car.
I lighten up on the gas and hurt my toe. Earlier this week, the Doctor gave me a shot and waited a moment while my toe went numb. He gave it a hard flick, and when I couldn't feel anything, he began. I didn't watch. I leaned back in my chair after seeing his tool set; wooden sticks most likely meant to pry my toe open and keep it in place. Tweezers, clamps, scalpels. . .
Even now I could still hear the occasional cutting- sawing actually- to chip off the ingrown nail. Several minutes after I went numb, he bandaged the toe and told me to wash it in Epson salt twice a day for ten minutes with warm water. Apply grenadine and antibiotic cream to avoid puss and swelling.
Since then my toenail has grown funny. The doctor applied root killer to prevent another improper growth.
"My goodness, don't you know how to take care of your feet?" he said.
"I don't know."
He recommended I see a general doctor to go over my diet and sleeping patterns.
"Your eyes look terrible. How long have you had those bags?"
While nothing is popping up under my skin anymore, the nail looks artificial and straight. This cold weather hasn't helped much either, and the rain has a way of making clothes heavy and hair droopy. It all is rather gloomy.
The upside to all this flooding is that it will raise the local water levels. There's a pond behind the house, just across a barbed wire fence, where catfish and turtles used to swim. Once I saw a gator, but the pond dried up thanks to an invasive flower. It has a lovely bloom and is purple and white over a green lily pad, but the ponds were full of those things, blocking the sun from the wildlife and dragging down the ecosystem.
When Hurricanes Charlie and Francis came through a few years ago, the water levels came back up. I suppose all the local ponds and such were then connected, allowing the wildlife to really get around. I recall a few close calls with snakes that summer, but overall it was a more lively time around here. The catfish were good eating.
My dogs, Munchie and Duke, bark from the porch. I limp through the rain and around the puddles to get inside.
"I feel like an old man, boys."
It was true. I nearly burnt myself out when I moved away. Those crazy nights downtown could never last forever. Those magic times. Timeless times that I remember in black-and-white. Thinking back, it all feels like an illusion. I thought it was endless, like the chorus of a dance song that you don't want to stop, and it fades off instead of stopping abruptly, getting quieter and quieter so that you can't quite tell when it ends; if you keep repeating the lyrics to yourself, then in a way it really doesn't end.
I always get sad when a song ends.
I'd start my nights at cafes and pump myself full of caffeine while listening to live music with poets and potheads, then I'd run over to hookah lounges to smoke and play pool with zealous Arabs from our University. Later in the night I'd run off to diners and argue with a few intellectuals a little past midnight, and then we'd end up at someone's house and smoke and drink and talk. Everyone loved black-lights and slow music; I saw so many smiling teeth, and the girls' skin seemed so dark and inviting. It wasn't partying per se, but languid drifting. And it was so alluring with all the other young people like me, living like vampires, glorious and eternal, ethereal, but with a vainglorious tinge of sadness and denial.
It couldn't last forever. For some reason, I remember lots of laughter, but during those times I didn't feel so happy. I remember feeling quite lonely, never building any deep connections, but laughing like all the others.
I left a small puddle near the front door, mopping it up after ringing out my wet clothes. The dogs were excited and I had to shoo them away while I changed. The lights were still on and the thunder grew louder. The lights flickered but quickly stabilized, and the dogs barked with each rumble. I sat with them on the couch to quiet them, and the silence allowed me to hear the soft pitter-patter against the roof. It was rather serene, and I turned out the lights to take a nap.
I gave everyone a false image of myself. Everyone only got glimpses of the truth; everyone got a different face. Maybe none of those faces were real, or maybe they all were, and that was why I was so tired. Even if all of those old friends got together and shuffled their puzzle pieces and filtered out the lies, none of them could ever see the real me. I have a mirror, and even I can't see it sometimes.
Munchie barked again. His growling rumbled under his chin before a whine crawled out his throat.
The security light was still on outside. Usually, it shuts off automatically after two minutes of inactivity. I doubt the rain is enough to set it off, but something had to be running around outside. Could be a squirrel or something.
The windows are too foggy; all I can make out is water slipping off the porch roof, but the fog had an orange tint from the light. It looked like gas or mist. I saw the outline of my car, so I ignored the light for a few moments, but after several minutes it still would not turn off.
My first thought was that it could be a trailer park junkie. It wouldn't be the first time a meth-head ran around in circles. A lot of those folk try to trip balls around the woods, and the land out here seemed like a nice place to get drunk or high without outside interference. There isn't much to steal except for the conceptual prize of privacy. Once, I stumbled upon some Wiccan ladies practicing naked rituals out in the moonlight. They scurried away like squirrels, leaving some odd trinkets around.
The dogs wouldn't stop growling, so I got up and walked to the porch. Like a bat's sonar, I could only see the outline of things past the rain. Munchie ran ahead of me into the rain, and Duke barked after him.
I called after Munchie, but the rain swallowed him and he stopped barking. The rain grew angrier as it fell against the gutters, tinkling the thin metal like drums. Munchie whimpered, running back into the house without shaking himself dry. I had another mess to mop up, and after drying the floor again, I shut the door.
That was when I heard splashing. It wasn't a continuous sound, like the sound of tires moving through the mud. There was a beat. I heard a splash which fell silent for a moment, and then I heard water sloshing around, followed by another splash. Munchie growled again, but this time I put him in the corner before grabbing a hoodie and going outside for myself.
I walked past the porch with a flashlight. There was nothing around, but then something flopped off the ground and slapped me in the chest. It was a fish. A catfish to be specific. Catfish have always been ugly creatures, their long whiskers looking like slimy tentacles or lizard tails, but what made this one worse was that it was one of those Walking Catfish.
Originally from Southeast Asia, the species were traded in at fish farms in the Hillsborough County area before getting loose. Most fish farms have since installed fences to keep them from getting where they aren't wanted since the damned things only walk around when they need a new freshwater habitat.
About a foot and a half long, they don't actually walk as opposed to flopping and crawling, sometimes slithering forward like a snake. In dry climates, they open their little mouths and suck at the air like they're hyperventilating, but they can survive hours, even days, on dry land. Disgusting little creatures, their skin is covered in a protective mucus that lubricates them on dry land, but they do need to stay wet to survive. I could feel the slime on my shirt, but luckily its protective barbs hadn't stuck me. What puzzles me is why this little guy was moving around.
I pulled my sleeves over my hands and picked him up. He kept sucking at air, resisting my grip. The fucker wanted to jump, but all it could do was flap about. I could feel him breath, his little chest puffing up in pain. Why the hell didn't it just stay in a puddle? Can't it swim through the flooded areas?
I studied it for a moment, but then more fish jumped. They surrounded me, splashing again and again, jumping a foot off the ground before falling against the lawn. It was like being surrounded by prison bars. They hit each other, creating a cacophony that cracked through the rain and thunder. There was no rhythm now, their movements haphazard until all at once they stopped, falling together like dead puppets.
It was certainly terrifying, but nothing I couldn't kill. I could just gut the little guy in my hand right here and throw the intestines to any direction. I could chuck them into the compost heap, or let them be carried away by the water or some scavengers. I hear they're edible, and I could wrap it up in a tinfoil and stuff it in the freezer.
I decided against it and tossed the fish down, stepping around its friends until I got back to the porch. I didn't want to clean another mess, so I stripped down to my undies and decided to leave everything on the porch, but when I opened the door I noticed there was already a pool of water past the doorway.
Perhaps it was Munchie. There was a trail of droplets in an eclectic pattern, and it is possible I didn't clean properly. Upon closer inspection, the doggie door was open. I don't remember loosening the hatch, but I tend to forget these kinds of things. Maybe they've been in and out more than I realized.
I called for them both and they did not appear. It was at that moment the power went out.
I opened the door again and shouted, but the dogs did not return.
I love those dogs, but they are rather stupid. Most likely they ran underneath the trailer where it is nice and dry; the insulation traps warmth. Stupid. Still, they are better than cats. If I died right now, my dogs would mourn my passing and retrace my steps until they died. Loyal creatures; admirable and faithful. A cat would try to eat my corpse.
This is silly; there is nothing to be afraid of. Humans need water to live. Rain is free water from the sky. It is essentially God giving the Earth a necessary ingredient of life. Here it is, no charge.
Rain represents purity, baptism, cleanliness. The only thing to fear is a flood.
My laptop battery was dead and I couldn't charge it. My phone's reception was terrible, and all I could do was sit in the darkness alone. Thank God for the gas stove; I was able to light up a few candles, and if I got hungry I could still cook something. But then I remembered the fridge had lost power. If this lasted long enough, food could spoil.
I checked the inside and everything was good. I closed the door to trap the cold air in.
The glow of the candles was rather weak, so I lit a few and aligned them around the living room in a triangular fashion, allowing the room to glow rather uniformly. I sat in the middle where the light intersected, a little less worried.
That was when I heard the thumping. Something was on the porch, and I peeped through the window to see the catfish knocking against the trailer. The way they lunge without any real muscles is somewhat terrifying. Why the hell aren't they in water?
I opened the door and kicked them back away from the porch, and then I noticed the flood was getting worse. There was no way my car could make it out anymore, and though it may have been paranoia, I could swear that the dirt under the house turned to mud and made the trailer sink.
Just a case of the old Vertigo. It has to be. I opened the fridge for a bottle of spring water, and I noticed the bottle was sweating with condensation. My deli-meats looked a little faded, but far from spoiled.
"They're just old," I mumbled, "I bought them a week and a half ago."
More rumbling, only this time it wasn't thunder. Just my imagination. It was probably the power trying to turn itself back on, perhaps a circuit firing off somewhere. I don't understand electricity, but it doesn't just turn back on.
I heard the thumping again and looked out the window. The fish were back and so I went to shoo them away, but when I opened the door they were gone. I heard footsteps. Something danced across the puddles. Probably more fish, or maybe the dogs. Maybe those meth heads dumped a bunch of shit into the ponds. That would explain weird wildlife activity. That'd sure fuck up the ecosystem.
The sun hadn't set, so it wasn't pitch black outside. There was a blue glow to the land, and the fog grew thicker outside; it was a more ominous color without the security light, which went out, but the blue and black were relaxing.
Scientifically speaking, I know that rain pushes oils off plants, and then it grabs shit from out the soil and off rocks. Lots of minerals and stuff gets tossed around, mixing the shit from different little environments; rain really gets around. It smells of nature and it smells of life. Something in the water must have been making its way around, and what with the cloud seeding they talked about on the news, I knew some of those chemicals must have been doing something. There had to be a rational explanation. In areas without rain, planes drop silver iodine above the clouds, hoping to make the damn things heavy enough for the water to fall. That can't possibly be good.
Hell, the BP Oil spill a few years back might have something to do with all them crazy fish. They had all their genitals mutated, so odds are their brains and circulatory system were screwy; it was only a matter of time before the food chain worked its way to my corner of dirt.
Yeah, that might make sense if I felt like doing the research.
And then I saw it. It was a strange outline past the window, and it moved. I couldn't see where it went, but it looked a like a man darting behind trees. I made sure the doors were locked and I rested on the couch. Probably just some trailer park nut.
Worried, I went upstairs and grabbed my father's rifle. I knew how to use it, but I was nervous about doing so. My cell service had completely plundered, and the rain grew angrier. It fell harder and louder, making it difficult to hear. A tree branch crashed against the window, cracking the glass.
Tropical Storm. Nothing I haven't seen before. Little sticks dance with the wind all the time.
But then another branch slapped the house. They came again and again, just like the fish, battering the roof. The thunder rumbled between each pause, and the slapping continued as the wind whistled into a symphony of rage. It came from all sides, completely impossible.
In an instant it stopped again. Water leaked through the cracked glass and I went to place a towel over it when another fish crashed through the weak spot. It splashed about on the floor and died as the wind entered my home.
A water droplet fell on my forehead. Above was a leak and I put out a cup, but then the leak stopped, but I could still hear water dripping. The rain had stopped, but a single drip continued to fall. Drip. Drip. Drip.
I went to get a glove to handle the fish, and curiosity got the best of me. I opened the fridge again, and everything was black and moldy. I closed it and ran back to the rifle on the couch, but the fish was gone and the leak had stopped. As I headed towards the rifle, I saw it.
It was earthy with no meat. The bones were like roots with large sponge deposits of soil hanging about them. The skeleton resembled a fish that had been picked clean. It was a walking fossil that caged up water, nutrients, and other crud in sacs between the bones. The sacs breathed, and there were leaves and branches sloshing about its ribcage. There was a nervous system connecting the bones, but it had no organs or brain, and it stood upright like a man.
Rain slid off its body. Smooth and slippery, agile in the rain, its arms had fins and flippers, but it had sticky hands which latched onto my shoulders as it stuck my head into its mouth, but it did not bite or swallow. Instead it spoke.
"I am the Rainmaker."
Something snapped within my mind. I could see the mythologies of a thousand cultures.
Fallen Angels became mermaids. Chinese Dragon Kings could transform into humans, but they lived underwater in crystal palaces, guarded by crabs and shrimp. Water Spirits have always had a way of luring wanderers to their doom with seductive promises, or they used rain during droughts to lure happy people outside before killing them, or sometimes they were very feminine, luring men with their beauty; Sirens, Nymphs, Spirits, La Llorena, all singing sweetly, but never revealing what exactly was lying in the deep.
They promised wonders but gave people darkness. The murky land beneath the river was always inviting curiosity, but now we were in the deep. The Rainmaker swallowed me whole and dove into the puddle on my living room floor. The puddle was deep, and in the water it was dark.
Something slithered above us and the water shook. It was something between a whale and an eel, and it twisted about, fat and wide, capable of strangling a skyscraper.
"Behold Leviathan," said The Rainmaker, "The Dragon King cut out his crystal eyes to build his palace. Within his palace the Dragon King can see into your soul."
The Rainmaker dove lower, holding me inside its chest.
"You've been floating along, like a cloud bobbing on water. Autopilot. Your subconscious draws you to me, yet your intellect remains unaware, shrouded in confusion. Hmph. Seventy-one percent of this Earth is made of water. How much do you pass every day, unaware of the true scope?"
Below us was a city of sunken ships. They stacked on top of each other, poking high above the ocean floor and welcoming us to the deep. Hydrothermal vents allowed the glow of magma to brighten the way, and the light was reflected amongst gold coins from the ships. The ships were covered in algae and coral, trapping the light from rising to the Leviathan.
"You are powerless, as am I, a slave to the Dragon King," said The Rainmaker, "The emotions underneath your mind anchor you down. The metaphors are magic, and you have a demon inside your soul; you are possessed by a negativity, but not all demons are vile creatures. Your demon is beautiful and alluring. It is like a Siren singing a love song, anesthetizing you into oblivion and agoraphobia. You chase the dream and hope to see something shine, like gold beyond a rainbow."
We fell upon one ship and opened a trap door, going deeper. We passed another thermal vent, and then it was dark. Only after more darkness did we find the Crystal Palace, shimmering from the glow of magma. The Dragon King awaited inside, past the gates and down the halls; it was an endless maze that I could not retrace.
"It is a fool's errand," said The Rainmaker, "The demon does not want you to be strong. It wants you to avoid pain and confrontation. It wants to keep you in its realm; it had to keep you safe to feed off you, and so it gives you sweet nectar to act as morphine."
The chamber of The Dragon King was large and empty, an auditorium with a small stage. He sat in a throne above a balcony. Below him, several old men meditated in the water. They had long white beards which drifted with the current, and they were all emaciated with wrinkles across their faces. They sat in a circle, eyes shut, and in lotus position. They wore nothing but headbands and rags for loincloths.
"These are the masters of all religions," said the Rainmaker, releasing me from his prison, "If these men stop chanting, time will end. The Dragon King protects them all with his magic. Will you be Peter Pan, stuck in Never Land where everything is safe and wonderful? Consumed with costumes and obsessed with illusions? The whispers of the past are what distract you from the future."
The Dragon King saw my confusion and he floated above his balcony before twisting his spine and turning into an eel, then a serpent that glided down our way.
"You are nothing special," said The Dragon King, "Everyone has been here at some point. This cave is Mu, and was once physical land, but now it has been reduced to dreams. Does it frighten you that land can disappear? There are many ghost towns which you step over, unaware of the lost history trapped inside the sands below. The secrets of sewers and catacombs. The Aztecs and the Mayans had their cities destroyed and built over, and as history goes on you will become nothing. You will return, you will be moved by the flood, and you will die."
The Dragon King sensed my fear and laughed.
"You will not die today, but you will die. I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds. I do not destroy planets, I destroy lives, for if life through one man's eyes is not a world in and of itself, than what purpose does man have for living? Now face the Danse Macabre!"
The Dragon King coiled itself and then hardened into stone; the water bubbled and cut dust off the stone as the stone grew. The Dragon King became a statue, and the statue turned into a man. It was my doctor.
"You really should take better care of yourself, young man. I think I know what you need."
The men beneath continued to meditate, but they faded into dust that swirled about in the water; from a trap door came a school of shrimp and the shrimp were coated in the dust; the shrimp bonded together into another stone block, but this block was bigger than before.
Many people came out of this stone; the Arabs from college, the intellectuals with their hipster clothing, the live musicians, old girlfriends, the housemates from the parties, the trailer park junkies, everyone. They all started dancing.
Join us!" said the Doctor, "There will be no more pain!"
"My friend, let us play some pool," said the Arabs.
The music was sweet, familiar like the whispers of a dream, the murky waters became dim again; all was dark except for smiling teeth and skeletons. The Rainmaker was the only one who did not join.
"The Dragon King is your parasite," said The Rainmaker, "He is your illusion, he is your past. He demands sacrifice and shrines."
The entire situation was surreal, but I couldn't help but feel the warmth of joy. It was the same bitter-sweet joy of emptiness, until I saw two more statues.
They took life and began to dance as well, joining the others. I headed over to speak with them, but like the rest of the dancers they could not speak.
"The dead have no will of their own," said The Rainmaker, "Including me. I am the Rainmaker, I am made of the bones of the dead, the waters of life, and the land in between. I am the undead, the memories that refuse to fade away. I am mythology, I am the land in between. I have no home."
"What does it all mean?"
"This is a graveyard," said The Rainmaker, "And The Dragon King demands that you rest. Are you already dead? Will you join us? What hope have you for the future?"
The Dragon King returned to his serpent form.
"Will you become a living dream like the rest of us?" said The Dragon King, "We all exist in the land of dreams, we will not be forgotten. We are immortal. Our worlds cannot be destroyed. There will always be creatures that can dream. How would you like to haunt the minds of a million men?"
"This is all very beautiful," I said, "But at the end of the day, like all dreams, it is incomplete."
With that, the Crystal Palace rumbled. The dancers grew frightened, and the Rainmaker nodded towards me. The Dragon King transformed into a snake and quickly ate itself, disintegrating into water as Leviathan fell upon us blind.
The crystals fell and shattered as the dancers turned to stone.
I looked at the Rainmaker and his skeleton collapsed, drifting away with the current and floating towards the surface.
On the couch I awoke, my dogs on the floor next to me. Power had returned, and the candles were still lit. Outside, the sun rose, and I could see a rainbow stretching between a few new ponds.
The window was still broken, and there were still several puddles which the dogs tried to drink from. I was dripping wet and the couch was soaked. The fridge food was fine, and I looked outside to see that the old pond had risen, and gone were the invasive flowers. There were no more fish on the lawn, and the mud had begun to dry.
A bird flew by and the crickets chirped. Frogs croaked, and squirrels scuttled up the trees. Rain dripped from the trees and the roof.
"How beautiful," I said, throwing off my boots and diving into the pond.
Xavier Vega is the child of migrant workers and grew up on a strawberry farm in Plant City, Florida. He attended the University of South Florida and was published in the University's magazine, Thread Literary Inquiry. Since then, he's been published in The Bangalore Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and Apeiron Review, where he became a slush reader.