It was just that time of the year.
The rainy season they called it, but I had other words for it, for I loathed the misery and constrictive solitude the rain always brought with it – especially for me.
Emily and I had made our home here shortly after we had become husband and wife, but after her death, everyday life of the city brought nothing but painful memories that would tear the rip in my heart further with each familiar landmark.
Everywhere I went was without her.
Everything I did, I did alone.
It was raining on the day that she stepped out in order to collect the morning papers on what was to be her last day on this Earth. I remember watching her from our bedroom window as she walked down the tree-lined street and thinking how lucky I was to have found such a perfect woman as this to share the rest of my life with, ignorantly happy and oblivious that, although she would spend the rest of her life with me, I would not spend the rest of mine with her. As the first of the spring rain fell, the fine mist seemed to glow around her, which did nothing but enhance her own natural beauty.
Emily loved the rain. Every time the first spots hit the window she would run out into the garden and look excitedly up into the skies as if they would open just for her. When I could eventually coax her back inside she would return soaked to the skin with a broad grin on her face, and knowing that I liked the comforts that only the inside could offer, she would wrap her arms around me and kiss me so passionately that my revulsion for this uncomfortable feeling of damp, wet clothes would be outweighed by the love I felt for my wife.
She must have sensed that I was staring after her that day for she turned to look back and up at the window. She smiled and blew me a kiss, walking backward as she did so, but when she saw the expression on my face she turned just in time to see the oncoming vehicle.
All I could do was watch in horror as the car slammed into her when the tyres failed to grip the wet road - her body tossed like a rag doll as the driver sped on regardless of the damage he had caused. The only thing that did stop on that dreadful day was the turning of my world - not just in that moment, but forever.
Friends and family would tell me that she did not suffer, but I knew differently. Our bond was such in this life that it would surely follow her into the next and the prospect of an eternity without one another would be as painful to her as it was to me. These same friends said that her funeral was tasteful – beautiful even, as much as these occasions could be.
I could not comment, as I had no knowledge of the passing of time between the day that my world stood still and the time of the first of the rainstorms. The rain now only brings back those memories and with it a hatred for its seemingly endless search for Emily.
It is as if the sky cries for the loss of a kindred soul.
After the accident, I ran from all I had known and hid up in the mountains close to where I grew up. I knew the area well as I had spent many a summer hunting in these thick woods with my Father, and at these times we would lose ourselves safe in the knowledge that no one knew the forest as well as us. Occasionally we would come across a lost hiker who would be grateful of a hot camp side meal before being taken back to the safety of civilization. For the most part, we would base ourselves in the little log cabin he had built on the small plot of land that had been handed down through the years. It was old land and held no interest to any industrialist keen on raping the hills for minerals and the like. As for logging companies, the area would always prove to be too harsh for any machine to traverse. So for the time being it held no importance to anyone other than us. It was natural then that I would run to this part of my life in order to hide away from the world.
Three years into this self-exile saw the start of what I thought to be my decline into madness.
To an outsider I would have seemed only an unkempt woodman wandering the forest, mumbling to himself and occasionally raising his face to the blackened sky as if expecting an answer. Maybe I was mad, for recounting my experiences over the next few days would cast the shadow of doubt on my sanity – even for me.
The heavens had taken on a bruised and foreboding stance as if to warn the world of its impending wrath, but I looked upon this threat with scorn.
“Do you torment me still, demon?” I would scream at my new enemy. “You have haunted me since that day, for if not for you she would be here now!”
I knew deep down that the only person I was turning my anger against was myself, but if the sky had been as foreboding on that terrible day then maybe she would have returned home – maybe.
As the first drops would fall from this blackened Hades, I, in turn, would take shelter in the comfort and warmth that my father had built against such times. Slowly at first and then with increasing ferocity, the rain would be dragged from the sky as if some unseen force was tearing away at the clouds, pulling their contents to the ground.
On one such night, having finished my evening meal, I sat in my favourite armchair and stared out of the window and into the storm.
Every now and again the sky would be lit by the flash of lightning that would turn the view outside into a world of monochrome followed by a deep rumbling growl, reminiscent of my own rantings against these foulest of times.
I smiled wanly at this and said,
“You tell them brother.”
The thunder echoed through the surrounding mountains as if seeking some other lost soul to complain to, and as the storm raged through the night I slowly began to succumb to the effects of a tired mind, an aching heart and half a bottle of cheap whiskey.
It was through this haze that I imagined seeing a pattern forming within the trees every time the sky released another flash of lightning. It was mere shadows at first, but with every strike, the shapes seemed to form an image. I dismissed this as an optical illusion caused by the sudden intrusion of light leaving images to dance on my retinas, but it was a break in the clouds, allowing the bright harvest moon to make clear to me what I thought were mere tricks from my imagination, fuelled by my increasing lack of sobriety.
Someone was out there.
I stood suddenly causing the blood to rush to my head, but shaken into reality by this sudden appearance of a stranger on my property.
Who would be out on such a night as this?
What madman would wander into the wilderness, alone and unprotected against the elements and, more specifically, the varied and dangerous wildlife. I reached up for the hunting rifle that had its place above the fireplace and opened the front door, exposing myself to what this night had to throw at me.
I called out to the lone figure in the dark.
“You there,” I said, “Come in out of the rain.”
Another flash of lightning interrupted my sentence causing me to flinch against this sudden intrusion of light, and again when a loud clap of thunder followed shortly after. The gap in the clouds had closed causing the darkness to reign once more, cloaking my visitor, exposing them only with each strike from Thor’s hammer.
As I stood under the protection of my front porch I peered into the darkness, trying to locate my mystery guest once more.
“I mean you no harm sir” I called, and as an act of faith I held my rifle aloft and said, “The gun is for protection only – there are wild and hungry animals out here. You would be wise to come inside.”
My call offered no reply save the continued cry of the wind and the pounding of the rain of the roof. I began to think that I had been fooled by a trick of the light. The brightness of the moon, the flickering of the lightning and the dulling of my senses must have culminated into an imaginary victim of this tempestuous night – a phantom created by the darkness.
I stood for a while until the adrenaline in my bloodstream started to sour causing me to shiver against the cold. I stepped back inside and locked the door against any aggressor – real or otherwise.
I went to the window once more and continued to stare into the dark in the vain hope that this mystery person would show himself, for if they proved to be real they would surely succumb to the elements and most probably die of exposure.
I watched for an hour before fatigue took me, and so I retired to my bed and into a fitful, haunted sleep.
The morning saw me dragged into consciousness by the sounds of screeching tires and a scream cut short by the sickening sound of metal against flesh. My body shook with the cold created by sweat, soaked sheets and the fresh imagery of that horrible day. My stomach retched at what had been taken from the world and my eyes bled tears of sorrow for what could never be replaced.
Eventually, I made my way into the kitchen in order to replace the vile taste of stale whiskey and poor hygiene with that of strong coffee. As the kettle boiled I looked out of the window once more and at the half-lit twilight world that had replaced the pitch black of the night before. The rain clouds were as heavy as ever but somehow the torrent seemed less severe without the oppressive darkness adding weight to its fury. As I waited for the kettle to boil I put on my boots and oilskins and stepped out into the rain. I made my way over to where I thought I had seen my ghost, but found nothing to add any credence to my imaginary encounter, and as the wind began to pick up again I made my way back to the warmth and safety of my home, only to be stopped in my tracks at the sound of my name being called from afar.
Had the wind joined forces with the rest of the elements and conspired against my senses?
It came again – further away this time but definite in its substance.
“Hello” I called, “can you make your way towards the sound of my voice?”
I took down the hood of my oilskin so that my hearing would be less impaired by its obstruction.
“Hello” I called again, but no reply came back to me. I turned my head this way and that trying to pick up the sound again but whatever, or whoever it was seemed lost in the storm once more.
I walked a short way to where I thought the voice had come from but was stopped by the high-pitched sound of my kettle whistling, corrupting any other sounds. I rushed back inside and took the kettle off the flame and went back out onto the porch once more in the hope of locating this person, or persons lost in the woods.
There – again, but nearer this time.
A hollow call from the wind, breathing my name and sending chills down my spine. Who was this stranger? And how did they know my name?
I made no reply this time; instead, I stepped out once more in a bid to track down my tormentor, but the rain had washed away any evidence of encroachment in or around my property, and so each time I heard this whisper in the air I made my way closer to its source.
The rain seemed to grow lighter as I went deeper into the woods, with the thick canopy shielding me against the torrent from above. I would stop every few steps in order to adjust my path towards this wraith-like voice and then carry on when I had located it once more; ever fearful of the fact that I would lose it completely if it stopped, or what it would be when I eventually found it.
After an hour or so I came to the edge of Murphy’s Lake.
It was a spot I knew well for it was abundant with the fish that had become my main source of food of late, as the killing of larger animals did not seem to be in me anymore. Had the land been able to grow the basic vegetables one needs to survive then the fish too would have been spared, but the rocks and mud that surrounded my cabin were unforgiving to anything other than the hardy forest trees that consumed the land – soaking up any nutritional value the soil had to offer. As the woodland opened up to this clearing, so did the rain – churning up the surface of the water into a frenzy that leaped and spat like liquid fire. I sat on an old fallen tree that lay half in the lake and half rotting on the shore watching this spectacle with fascination, hypnotized almost – until it came again.
Clearer this time - Within a few feet from where I sat.
I stood up and spun wildly around, trying to locate this phantom that had plagued me so.
“I can hear you”, I cried, “but I can’t see you - Show yourself”
As I searched for any sign of this person, be they living or dead, for the thought had crossed my mind that in my maddened state I had resorted to chasing ghosts, I caught sight of another person sitting on the other side of the lake. Whoever it was sat with their arms wrapped around their knees in a bid to ward off the cold. I called to this lone figure that appeared to be so wretched and weather-beaten, but when I got no reply I made my way around the water's edge to meet up with whoever it was. As I approached, however, I drew a hollow feeling of dread as to the health of this person, and as I grew nearer I saw that this was nothing but the corpse of some poor soul who had been brought to task by Mother Nature for entering this cruel garden that she called home.
Was this my ghost?
The various insects of the forest had made a meal of this unfortunate person thus turning his folly into their gain. For the sake of his family, I decided to go through the pockets of his coat in a bid to ascertain his identity before burying him as best I could.
“Please forgive me brother I said quietly as I turned out his clothing, “Someone, somewhere will be missing you no doubt”
“None more than I,” said the wind once more.
I staggered back with alarm, searching for the source of this disembodied voice, and in doing so a movement from the centre of the lake caught my eye.
A column of water had begun to form.
Slowly at first - spinning and sparkling as it refracted the light from above through raindrops that still fell from the sky, it dragged the water from the surface like a liquid skin as if trying to hold solid this shape it was adopting. At times it seemed to lose this fight, with the column partially collapsing in on itself, but with an almost tangible effort that could be felt in the air, it would build back up until eventually holding its form. As if trying to remember how to walk, this apparition took its first unsure steps towards my deceased friend and I until eventually, it stood before us both.
I tried to speak, but fear constricted my throat.
“Hello, Oscar” said this ‘water demon’ in a voice that was distant and cold.
“I don’t know who you pretend to be demon,” I blurted when I found my own voice once more, “but I am not so easily fooled by your sorcery.”
The demon smiled at me and stepped back as if to give me a little more room as if allowing me some small comfort to be drawn from my own personal space.
“I do not profess, nor pretend to be anything other than who I am,” it said.
“Then who are you, and what do you want from me?”
At this, the demon seemed to grow sad.
“It’s what I do not want that is important, Oscar” and at that, it nodded towards my hand. I looked down and noticed that I still had the wallet of my dead friend in my possession. I looked back up at the demon.
“What of it?” I said.
“Open it” came its reply.
Hesitantly I did what I was asked and on doing so my hand shot to my mouth in a vain effort to stifle the cries of anguish, for the faded picture on the inside the wallet, belonging to the fallen soul that sat before us both, was of the woman I had struck down all those years ago, for so etched in my memory was her face on that terrible day I was able to recognize her in an instant. I dropped the wallet immediately and stared up at this phantom that stood before me, my fearful tears mixing with the rain.
“Are you here to make me pay for my crimes demon?” I cried, but instead of exacting its wrath upon my guilty soul, this echo from the past just continued to smile.
“Fear is no crime,” she said, “But to continue to let someone suffer a life of torment as a result of that fear is a crime indeed.”
At this, she looked down at the remains of what I assumed to be the love that secured her to this mortal coil.
“This is not what is, but what is to come,” she said, “for his search for you will bring him here – and here he will stay.”
I was confused at this last statement.
“I don’t understand,” I said, “Is this not your husband – the husband of who you profess to be?”
This water sprite, this demon sent to bring order to what once was turned to chaos, looked directly at me, and although it held no substance other than what the lake had provided, the grip of its gaze was such that I found it hard to breathe.
“In this place and in this time he is that and more, but in your world he is a mere shell waiting to die, with no purpose other than to find the person who took his love – to share his grief through revenge.”
Her voice softened at this point as she said,
“It is only the laws of man that can judge you, Oscar, but the laws of nature bind us together forever. Release yourself from this purgatory so that I may be released from mine.”
I felt weak and unable to move.
I looked down at this vision of what was to be.
“I don’t know how,” I said quietly.
As if reflecting her compassion the storm began to quieten, and a break in the clouds allowed a muted sunlight to break through.
“He holds the guilt of that day,” she said. “He believes himself to be responsible for distracting me long enough to be struck down.
You feel responsible for not seeing me because of the rain.
You are both right – you are both wrong.”
Her words echoed through the clearing, reverberating through the trees and in my head. Something she had said had hidden away in the back of my mind and nagged at me – picking at my sleeve as if seeking attention, yapping at my heels as some excitable puppy eager to play.
“What did you mean when you said ‘In this place and in this time’?”
She paused as if caught between two conflicting worlds, both with relevant answers to my question.
The best of times – The worst of times.
“As the rain is forever”, she eventually replied, “Time follows suit. When the water falls from the sky its destiny is to be dragged back to the clouds only to fall once more. It may not fall in the same place – but it will fall.”
At this, she motioned down to the water, and as I followed her gaze I saw pictures starting to form amongst the ripples.
“We are all as the raindrops Oscar – We will fall again.”
My tormentor said no more after that, for the storm had blown itself out causing the rain to cease as suddenly as it started. The demon folded back into the lake and to whence it came, leaving me alone with only my guilt and loathing for company.
I continued to stare at the images being played over and over – of that horrible day and the destruction of three lives. I knelt down next to the corpse of this man whose life I had taken from him with my selfish actions.
“I fear we have all been tormented by this cruelest of days for too long my friend – this chapter in our lives must be re-written.”
I stood once more and took two tentative steps into the lake.
I stopped and looked back at my silent companion before striding out further, my resolve masking my fear against the certainty of drowning. Somehow I knew that this was a new path for my wretched soul to take, and as my head went under the water I felt a lightness fill my body and a peaceful calm fill my mind.
It was raining on the day that Emily stepped out in order to collect the morning papers. I remember watching her from our bedroom window as she walked down the tree-lined street and thinking how lucky I was to have found such a perfect woman as this to share the rest of my life with.
She must have sensed that I was staring after her for she turned to look back and up at the window. She smiled and blew me a kiss, walking backward as she did so, but when she saw the expression on my face she turned just in time to see the oncoming car. As if from nowhere a man stepped out of the rain and pulled her back from the jaws of death.
Emily clung to him as the car sped by, the driver seemingly unaware that the Reaper himself had momentarily ridden with him.
I ran out into the storm in time to see the stranger turn to me and smile. He exchanged a few words with my wife before going on his way, as if his heroic actions had been a mere trifle - something with not enough substance or significance as to have interrupted his day.
I rushed to Emily’s side and she threw her arms around me.
She was shaking against the chill of the storm that had now opened the heavens as if to wash the sins from the world, and the sudden adrenalin rush that had started to sour in the veins.
“Are you okay?” I cried raising my voice above the storm as Emily buried her head into my chest. She looked up into my face, the tears mixing with the rain.
“He saved my life,” she said almost incredulously as if she found it hard to believe that anyone would risk his or her own life in order to prolong hers. “Where did he go?”
We both looked towards her savior, but the storm had swallowed him up, and as the sky flashed its anger at the world we ran for cover and the safe haven of our little cottage. As I ushered Emily into the dry warmth of the kitchen I fancied that I could make out his illuminated image in the distance before closing the door.
“What did he say to you?” I asked a while later as I occupied myself with getting towels from the linen cupboard. Emily had stripped out of her wet clothes and stood in front of the open fire shaking with a mixture of cold and shock. I wrapped her in a large bath towel.
“Did he tell you his name?” I asked.
She cupped her hands around the mug of coffee that I had made, with a little something else added to calm her nerves, and sat in one of the big overstuffed armchairs that faced the fire – losing herself in the flames that flickered its reflection in her eyes. I sat before her and brushed her hair away from her face causing her to focus once more as she returned from whatever far away place she had been lost in.
“No”, she replied absentmindedly. He just smiled and said, “Now we can all be raindrops once more.”