Thu, 31 December 2009 - 4:54 pm

Anniversary, part three: rain

There are bodies lying out behind the barn. They aren’t new – it’s Mira and Janice, and the intruders. Bree went outside to throw up after too much alcohol, and screamed when she found them.

The problem isn’t that they’re there: it’s that they’re still there. They were put out days ago – the rain should have taken them. Instead, they’re starting to smell bad and turning sickly colours in the summer heat.

It doesn’t look like they’ve been in the rain at all. They’re not scorched; their skin is as whole as we left it. When the intruders attacked and we had to drag Mira inside, I remember how the acid scarred her boots. It made little pits in the leather, tiny marks made by a petulant god. That should have been the first clue: the acid should have bored right through, scoring holes deep into her feet. At the time, I thought she was lucky. That was before I knew she was dead.

Standing outside in the dark last night, confusion swayed around the group. A couple of the others threw up – it really did smell awful. My stomach flip-flopped uncomfortably and for a moment I thought I’d join them. Instead, I shooed everyone back inside.

None of us knew what to make of it. We turned to Kostoya and Conroy, but the professor had passed out and Conroy was nowhere to be found. The others were too drunk to pursue it, so we waited until morning to seek answers. We did our best to keep up the revelries despite the bleak reminder.

 

This morning, I was one of the first up. Everyone was hung over except Jersey, the kids, and me. I made us all breakfast and took Matt a plate. He groaned and buried his head under the covers, so I left him to it.

I went outside to check over the vehicles and stopped just outside the door to look up. Apart from occasional checks for rain, I don’t usually pay much attention to the sky. Not real attention, the kind where details make themselves known. The clouds are always there, leaning on us, low and heavy. It has been so long since we saw it any other way that it’s hard to remember what it used to be like; even our time above them on the mountains was months ago.

This morning, the presence of the bodies behind the barn made me look up. It’s hard to tell, but I think the sky is paler than it used to be. The orange isn’t as thick any more, tending towards pale gold at the edges. Edges – that’s not something that the clouds have had for a long time; since the bombs went off, it has been one massive stretch of poison, roiling like an inverted ocean. It has tides and flows, but never runs dry.

Soft singing reached me as someone approached from behind; it was Lily with her soft tread and vague expression. She was gazing upwards as well and I caught a few lyrics.

“Never saw blue like that, before….”

I gave her a querying glance and she pointed to the east. There, if I squinted, was a spot where the cloud cover thinned. As I watched, the masses shifted and parted, stretching a slice of sky open between them. My breath caught and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Shafts of sunlight angled through like great, golden fingers coming down to stroke the earth below. Real, pure, unfiltered sunlight out of the brightest blue.

I banged my fists sore on doors, tearing through the house chased by curses and groans, words garbled by the lump in my throat. They had to get up. They all had to get up and see it, hangovers be damned. Come and see, it’s amazing. It’s wonderful. Lily’s laughter chased me, delighted at the storm moving through the house.

They stopped complaining once they saw. They fell quiet as soon as they stepped outside, as if the whole world was a church and that was God looking down at us from behind a torn curtain. They screwed up their eyes and were reminded what white looked like.

 

We were there for a few minutes before Estebar asked why the clouds were gathering up like that. He was right: they were gathering into clumps, revealing those slivers of precious blue in between threatening loads. There was a haze against the horizon; it was making up for yesterday’s lack of rain by coming early today. We retreated inside, lingering near the front windows so we could watch it, in case the sky might disappear again.

Kostoya was one of the last to make it down to us, holding his head up with one hand. He peered, blinked, and grunted as if something had just been confirmed. I wasn’t the only one to turn to him, waiting for some kind of explanation. He gazed at us queryingly for a moment before he realised what we wanted, then shuffled his feet and drew his shoulders straight.

“The rain has been getting weaker for some time,” Professor Kostoya told us between great gulps of water. He was pale in his hangover. “Or rather, the acid in the rain has. I’ve been monitoring it. Wasn’t sure what would happen to it – it has been erratic, sometimes more, sometimes less.” He waggled a hand in the air. Conroy watched him, looking like he wanted to butt in at any moment.

“And you didn’t tell us?” Jersey demanded.

“The tests were inconclusive – as I said, results were erratic. I needed more data to be sure.”

“Are you sure now?” Dale asked.

Kostoya looked up. “It is all connected. The clouds, the rain. We need to do more tests.” His gaze returned to us and he realised that he sounded like a scientist. He tried to give us the kind of answer we were looking for. “Now the rain seems to be clean, yes.”

“They know,” Bree said, her quiet words reaching all the way across the room. She was pressed up against the glass, eyes fixed on the oncoming rain.

I had to move closer to realise that she wasn’t looking at the water at all – she was watching the black shapes moving around within it. Crows or ravens – it was hard to tell from such a distance. We were sure of one thing, though: they were getting wet. Creatures who would have known to stay out of it were blithely flying in it and heading our way. Bree was right: they knew it was safe.

It was only a few minutes before they passed overhead. Gleaming, they were a black wave that screamed past the Farm just moments before the water hit us. Lily laughed with delight as they swooped in the air overhead and she was the only one of us who didn’t flinch when rain hammered against the window.

 

It was a lot to process. A year ago, the rain started and stripped us of half of our ragtag group of survivors. Friends, family, lovers – all were taken, on that awful day and others since then. It stripped every living thing from the Earth, taking away our sources of food. We learned to hide from it, to fear it, to dread its burning kiss. At first it was the pain and loss that drove us into shelter, and then it was the knowledge that it was full of poison. It turned our dead into hungry shells. It was as if nature itself had turned against us and wanted us to devour ourselves. It was horror, and nightmare, and bane, all in one.

Now it’s over. All of that is gone. The acid was a scouring pad; the world is the slate, wiped clean the hard way. Now it’s time to make new marks on it. Now it’s time to start over.

“Faith, no.” Matt tried to stop me, but I already had an arm stretched out of the open door. Rain fell on my skin like a memory from another life. Tears tracked down my cheeks, echoing the marks on the windows, and I turned my palm up as if to catch hold of it.

“It’s all right,” I said. It felt good. It was even a little warm, reminding me of the showers I had missed over the past year.

Someone nudged past me and ran out into the rain: Lily, as fearless as always. I smiled through my own tears, a laugh catching in my throat. Matt was holding my other hand, and I tugged on him.

“It’s all right, Matt.”

He didn’t look convinced, but he followed me outside anyway. In fits and starts, the others followed, looking up at the sky warily. I walked out into the middle of the yard and stopped, lifting my face into the falling water. The crows screeched overhead, swooping through the rain. I could hear the kids running around, small boots splashing below their giggles. Heavier steps trod in more cautious circles, but when I looked over, wonder dared to show itself in the faces around me.

Jonah was in the doorway, unwilling to come out on his crutches, but he grinned at the rest of us. Jersey stood nearby, watching droplets fall into her hand. Bobby stood next to Bree and looked up, and she cast him a sideways glance. Masterson had his hand on Sally’s shoulder while she let the rain fall on baby Felix’s face. He didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t seem to mind. Kostoya had a similar expression, bewildered by the excitement but trying to take part anyway. Conroy was beaming like a fool. Thorpe stood with the ring he keeps on a chain around his neck covered by one hand and Dale’s hand clutched in the other. Lily was in the middle of all of us, her arms outflung and head thrown back with abandon as she turned in circles.

Matt slipped his arms around me from behind and I leaned back into him. I was brimful of everything, wanting to dance, and sing, and cry, and shout out to the sky: “We’re here, we’re alive, we made it.” I hugged the arms around me; without them, I might have floated away. I didn’t mind that I was getting soaked. I felt like I could do anything, anything at all.

We were standing in the rain. The world was ours again.

There was just one thing missing. I tipped my head back onto Matt’s shoulder and looked up at him. He was grinning like a schoolboy and his eyes were bright when he gazed at me. His eyebrows lifted.

“What is it?” he asked.

I echoed his grin, too happy to contain myself. There was just that one thing missing, but that was something we could fix.

“Let’s go get Dad back.”

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