The rain would not come.
The ground was parched and cracking. Dust blew in a fine fog across the roads, stinging the eyes and skin of anyone unlucky enough to be caught out when the wind picked up. And there really wasn’t anything to stop the wind from blowing. The trees were bare of leaves, having no moisture to keep them alive. The grass had browned and burnt, and finally, simply dried up to nothing. Walking over the lawn, the dead grass would simply break off and blow away like the crumpled leaves.
Everyone went to bed at dark. No lights were turned on to illuminate the night. No clocks ticked in electric time to wake them for work. They rose with the dawn, worked till early afternoon; and the sun would blaze down, causing them to flee back to the darkness of their basements and interior rooms, windows covered in black-out curtains to keep out the heat.
Pale ghosts, wandering silent rooms, wondering how life could be any different, how it was in the Time Before.
Jake knew that there had been more. More life, more music, more everything… once. He saw all the electric-run appliances and knew that once upon a time, they had made life easy, soft. His mother had told him that once, they’d all been able to read books after dark, the night driven away by electric lights. Television had provided them with amusement and knowledge, bringing the outside world right into their homes, in the small box that sat forlorn in a corner, now. The black face, blank. No one was doing television anymore. No one would use the electricity necessary to run the equipment it took to make the television live again.
A magical word, to Jake. It sang on his tongue, tasting of metal and fire. He’d seen what it was, that night when they saw the storm, far off in the distance.
His mother had taken him outside once, into the dark, when they heard the booming noise. And pointing, she showed him the lightning.
Miles away, it crackled and banged. Making great light trails in the sky, it blazed over the clouds, and ravaged the land below it. They were lucky, Jake’s mom said, that it wasn’t over their town. Lightning burned, she said. It ripped through everything, causing fire, and leaving utter devastation in its wake.
Sometimes, his mom told him… sometimes with the lightning and the thunder, the rain would come. Water falling right from the sky, making the ground black and wet, and making the grass green again.
They watched, as the storm burned its way across the countryside, sliding farther and farther from their home. The rains hadn’t come that night.
But today, Jake had had enough. He’d been reading, while his mother was away for the day, at work. He found one of her old books, about the Time Before, and things people did back in the Ancient Times.
Jake knew that his mother wouldn’t approve, would probably be horrified, if she saw him now. But he didn’t care. He was going to try. Something, anything, had to be tried. He hated all the brown, all the heat. And maybe the ancients knew what they were doing, back then. They must have, they’d had all the soft things, the easy things, back then.
Stepping out of the house, the bright light burned his eyes, making him squint like a blind man. He wasn’t used to so much light, all at once. But this was the best time to do this, before his mother could get home and try to stop him.
Right to the center of their dead lawn, he walked, coming to a stop and turning slowly in place. Barefoot, he stood, dressed only in his shorts. It was too hot for anything else, and besides, he didn’t want anything to smear his paint. Another reason mom would be mad. He’d used some of her precious makeup, all the blues and greens he could find in her face box, smearing them over his torso and face, lines and dots crawling down his arms and legs. He knew he’d be in big trouble if she saw him now.
And then, Jake stomped. Dust puffed under his feet, sticking to the still-wet makeup on his legs and feet. And he stomped again, turning slowly in a circle. Pulling his arms out and away from his body, he raised them over his head, making the motions with his fingers, like water falling from the sky.
And he prayed.
Mumbling under his breath at first, Jake soon found his voice, his chant, for his “rain-dance”.
“Make it rain, Lord – bring it down. Make it rain, Lord – feed the ground.”
Over and over, he chanted, stomping steadily, watching his feet hit the ground like the lightning he’d seen with his mother that night.
“JAKE! What in the Sam Hill are you DOING?”
Mom was home.
Jake didn’t stop. He was in the zone now, dancing, chanting, praying for the rain.
Nearly knocked off his feet, Jake jumped when the thunder crashed right above him, but kept dancing, kept chanting. While he listened to his mother, calling his name, she rushed over, trying to grab him, to pull him into the blackness of the house, and safety. But he knew he couldn’t be safe today. Risk – was the only way to win. He danced out of her reach, raising and lowering his painted arms, stomping his dusty feet.
And when the rain finally came, and he heard his mother cry out in loud, sobbing gasps, he danced. In Thanks-giving.