Even the elasticity of the slums could not contain the multitudes that the rain drew out. A mass of huddled figures gathering to bear witness to a miracle. The sight of so many people, brought together by awe and not violence, was almost as surprising as the precipitation itself.
They had been drawn out by the sound. It had gone unnoticed at first: a gentle plith, plith, plith. The dry ground was greedy, leaching the water from the surface the moment it touched. The liquid was absorbed into the cracked terrain as completely as the accompanying patter was absorbed into the white noise of a Tuesday afternoon.
Children sat enthralled at his feet. Remy loved telling this story as much as the new generation loved hearing it. Most of them were young enough that they had never experienced anything other than Truefall. But Remy had lived through the Searing Ones. As he continued the tale, a small red-headed boy in the back began to lightly slap his thighs, simulating the sprinkle of rain.
Perhaps a few had thought they heard an unusual metronome and ventured up to look outside. But so quickly were the droplets wicked underground that a fog made up of steam from the hot earth and the miniature clouds of dust displaced by each bead was all that remained. The only other clue that this was the beginning if some rare occurrence was the visual stutter. Even though the rain was too fast to see, the traces left in the air suggested its presence. There was something that could not quite be caught by the human eye. It made the viewer blink faster but, with no reference point, this was merely an annoyance.
It sounded like a fairy tale. Remy had taken care to craft it as such. But the story was younger than him. The first Truefall was only fifteen years ago. Long enough to be a lifetime but not long enough to completely heal this broken earth.
Soon though, the sky became impatient for attention. It burst through the cracked crust and the organic drone at the same time. Suddenly, nothing could hold back the insistent tattoo. Everyone had turned toward the doors. This new sound was unlike any other heard in the ghetto. It was not the footsteps of the police or the hammering in of another government edict on every blank space. It was not the gangs’ billy clubs breaking over the head of an unsuspecting victim. It was the heartbeat of hope and the promise of new life.
More children had joined the boy in his drumming. Their beat was random and chaotic. Some tapped their fingers on the stone floor, others made plopping noises with their lips. Remy raised his voice to accommodate the extra sound. He felt the children’s anticipation and excitement rising, their music adding a dramatic tone to the story.
Like a magnet it pulled them in. Their roughly sandaled feet waded into the watery excess which the earth could no longer contain. They stared as the newly formed river lapped at their toes. Men and women stretched their hands out to see how their skin changed color with the moisture. Children were wide-eyed from the novelty of this phenomenon; for the first time in quiet fear of beauty.
Remy didn’t mention that he was one of those children. That for him, Truefall itself had once seemed the stuff of myths. That even now re-telling this part of his history gave him goose flesh. The memory of its beauty gave him the strength to go on.
The sound changed again. An old man offered his vocal reaction. His voice rang out to the heavens in direct contradiction to the falling drum. Barely out of his door, it had taken all of his strength to leave his bed. Once the fluent cadence had broken past the deafness in his ears, he had torn away the tubes that imprisoned his body in the room. Staggering through the squalid hovel that was all his family could afford, he grabbed onto a stray piece of rebar to steady himself.
Remy’s voice dropped to a whisper. His small audience responded with immediate silence. A blonde girl had her hands halfway together in a stunted clap.
He knew that sound. He had not heard it since he was young, before his eyes and ears had failed. But he had to be sure. So he fumbled his way out into the street. His skin tingled with an almost forgotten memory, the hairs on his forearms raised in anticipation.
Plith. The children gave a singular clap.
The droplet sounded the same on his old dry skin as it had on the old dry earth, but the man could not hear it. He only felt its wetness and understood what the rest of them could not. Raising his face as high as his bent and crooked neck would allow, he shrieked. All of his love, pain, suffering, and joy – all of his life – went into that one raw sound. The sky responded by ripping open, offering its own unadulterated cry, happy for the recognition. The old man fell and light followed him to the ground, coursing through his makeshift cane.
Rhythmic applause began to roll through the crowd, the individual beats accentuating Remy’s narration and slowly building to a crescendo.
Confusion stopped the crowd. They looked from the fallen man to the sky which had finally shown its power. As thunder rent the air again, their gazes returned to the still body. Almost lovingly, the rain cleaned his face, finishing what his final tears could not. The people still did not grasp the nature of the exchange. The audience stood, drenched for the first time in their lives, completely oblivious to the irony of this watery grave for the last man who remembered rain.
The children cheered, leaping off their seats in a unique sort of rain dance. So happy with the story, none of them realized that their teacher’s smile was half-hearted and his eyes were wet. Remy stayed put as the makeshift classroom slowly emptied. His students always begged for this story but it carried more sadness than he cared to share with them.
“Tell me, what do you like more? The part where everyone listens to you talk or the part where you get to make your own happy ending.” Remy was shaken out of his reverie by a lilting voice coming from the door. He looked up to see a short, olive-skinned young woman stepping over the piles of books doubling as stools. Darwin, his best friend, was framed in the archway. Lines around her eyes were evidence of a deep tan, though she was nowhere near as dark as Remy. She was wearing purple harem pants and a matching lavender scarf that she had just finished unraveling from around her face. Remy smiled at his old friend.
“I think the part where you come in and dis me at my place of work.” Her odd attire was a testament to the brightness she brought to every situation, something Remy always found adorably out of place at the end of the world. Then again, so was Darwin. She had picked that name when they were five, vowing to find new evolution in a crumbling world and refusing to answer to anything else.
“Would you rather I do it at your quarters?” She was right next to Remy now, peering up at him with a challenging glint in her eyes. Even though she was nearly a half meter shorter than him, her presence usurped the room. Remy didn’t care, it meant fewer people were looking at him. He gave a slight chuckle.
“Which would be...in the corner I guess?,” he replied. “That’s better, I suppose.”
Feigned disappointment flooded the young woman’s face. She stuck out her sand covered lower lip in an exaggerated pout.“You’re always so contrary when I get home. You’d think four months away would afford a girl at least a proper hello. And a meal. I definitely deserve a meal.”
Darwin’s ability to command attention never ceased to amaze him. Remy wasn’t even sure how long she had been back in Synej but a small entourage was already following her around. Of course, that’s why she had become a reporter in the first place. Remy had always found enough adventure in the crumbling pages of his books. Darwin needed to live everything. She was busy wrapping a turban around the head of a starry-eyed girl who had lingered behind the rest of the group. The child’s mother was standing in the door, shifting her weight uncomfortably. When Remy caught her eye, she quickly dropped her gaze. Not before he saw the mixture of awe and reluctance she expressed when viewing her daughter’s interaction with a reporter.
“Come, Maria.” The woman gestured for the child to follow. Still mesmerized by Darwin, the girl stuck her hand out in the direction of her mother’s voice without turning around. Grabbing it quickly, they both turned and left, Darwin’s lavender scarf balancing precariously on the little one’s head as she bounced away. The reporter watched them leave with the first trace of real sadness Remy had seen since her arrival. Darwin was often received like this by the older generation: awe at her courage for braving the unknown and trepidation at her stupidity for the same. Just as he was about to comfort her, Darwin took a deep breath and turned toward him. “I have news. One of those crazy machines of yours finally proved its worth.”
A few minutes later, Remy found himself occupying the seats his young audience had just vacated. He was interested to hear about the success of his contraption. Not many of the gadgets he sent with Darwin were purely his own inventions. Usually they were amalgamations of known technology, salvaged parts, and what Remy considered ‘personal quirks’. He was never worried that the devices would work properly, only that the world itself had degraded so much there was no content left for the machines to be used on. Yet every time she returned, Darwin would regale him with stories of his technological advancements. Oftentimes these were small, insignificant findings; but Darwin knew that those small whirligigs were Remy’s way of protecting her. They were his way of going on the adventure with her like they had done as children.
A large pot full of beans was simmering in front of them. “It’s that kind of news I suppose. How long did these take you?” Darwin reached into the kettle and fished out a singular pod. She popped it into her mouth and scrunched up the left side of her face as she struggled to crunch it up.
“About four months. And that’ll all go to waste if you don’t wait a bit longer for them to finish cooking.” His exasperation was feigned. Remy was as eager to try the fare as his friend. This was the first crop he had attempted to grow on his own. His guilt over keeping the entire harvest was metered by the scale of his success. Through research of 19th century farming, Remy had planted what he felt would be enough for a few meals and seeds for next season. The bounty had far surpassed such modesty. “I still have close to half of Grandfather’s originals. I’m not sure what to do with them.”
Darwin shrugged as she sucked on another half-raw legume. “Save ‘em for the next apocalypse I suppose. Or the visitors.”
“Visitors?” Remy’s stomach turned over and he felt his face drain of blood. The vain side of him hoped that between his dark complexion and the low light, Darwin couldn’t see his fear. Most of him didn’t care at all. Visitors meant bad things for the town and himself and Darwin in particular. He picked up a wooden spoon, stirring the pot vigorously to avoid meeting Darwin’s eyes. “The Militia?”
“No. Not those crazy Endworlders either. This is someone new, Rem. Someone from the stars.”
Remy blinked. He stared at her. Was she trying to put him on? “From the stars. Where are you getting this from? Another handsome philosopher from the Virginian Islands?”
“Patrick had qualities apart from his brain-”
“Or lack of.”
“Anyway,” Darwin continued peevishly, “ this news came from you.”
“What the hell are you on about now?!”
“It worked, Rem. The radio. It worked. Only I got more than some abandoned military beacons!”
The spoon had stopped moving. “Other countries?” The question came out just barely above a whisper. A chance to re-establish the global community could mean an end to the suffering of small villages. The possibilities were…well, magnificent.
“Those too. Chinese for sure and something else. Arabic, I think, but that’s not the point…”
“How is that not the point? I mean-”
“REMY!” He stopped. Without realizing, he had stood up and begun pacing in front of the fire, brandishing his spoon for emphasis of internal thoughts. Now Remy consciously sat back down on the book stool and returned to stirring. He stared at the circles being drawn through the beans and waited impatiently for Darwin to finish.
“It was a spaceship, Remy. A human spaceship.” The young woman’s face was lit by fire and passion as she leaned closer. “One of the colonies is coming home…”