Shrouded In Rain

Here's a morbid little soap opera for ya.   I wrote it sometime in the early 90's but I think it still has some creepiness.  And if it doesn't, at least this one's really short!  I did some slight touch-up, but mostly I left it alone.

For more horror stories, check the last one I put up for a handy table-of-contents.  We have kind of a nice lil' anthology going on here.

And remember, writing is like music -- feedback always helps!



                           Shrouded In Rain

The sky rumbled like a hungry gut, fulfilling the prophecies made by the red warnings crawling along the bottom of the television screen.   Andy would be back in the garden again, very soon.

“Where are you going?”

“Nowhere,” Clare told her mother as she left the light of the television and hurried away into the shadowy back rooms.  Thunder throbbed in the attic, palsy in the bones of the house.

“You’re going to miss the end of the show,” her mother called, as if Clare really gave a damn.  Those afternoon talk shows were her mother’s thing, not Clare’s; mother thrived on all their dysfunction, their shouting matches, their provocations.  The woman was a conflict-junkie, and if the secondhand variety she got from the television wasn’t potent enough, she’d invent arguments with whoever was around.   And since she’d separated from Stephen and moved back home several months ago, that was usually Clare.

But the worst part of being back here was that now Andy knew where to find her again.

She went out through the kitchen to the back porch and sat down in the rocking chair there, curling her fingers around the ends of its arms, gripping hard, as if trying to squeeze juice from the dead wood.  She’d need to be anchored, so she wouldn’t bolt when the rain got strong enough to call Andy up.  Right there, in the corner of the garden, naked and shivering in the rain, his eyes fevered and pleading, right there where the bushes had gone untrimmed and were being strangled by honeysuckle; that’s where he’d be.  And he was the last thing Clare wanted to see -- the sight would bring her fear that pushed toward seizure, teased at death –  but Andy would come with the rain as always.  Knowing that he was waiting in the back garden would be even worse if she didn’t see him.

Besides, she needed to watch him.  If she didn’t, he might come into the house searching for her, and she didn’t know what he might do.  Andy had been a gentle person when he was alive, but now he was dead, and that could change things.  He might bear her a grudge.

Clare only assumed that Andy was dead, of course, but she wasn’t the only one.  His body had never been found, but he’d been missing long enough  that the county agencies listed him as dead, or at least dead with a modifier, “legally dead” or “presumed dead” or something like that.   In any case, Andy wasn’t dead enough, because he’d be here in a few minutes.  If he was legally dead, then he should be arrested for being illegally alive.  She’d call the cops, but they’d take her away, not Andy, saying she was crazy, because Andy couldn’t come back.  His mortal remains were probably mired at the bottom of the Tombigbee River somewhere, asleep in the mud and wearing a cinderblock necklace, rot long finished polishing the bones.  Andy had mentioned throwing himself off a bridge once in a sad moment, jokingly saying he’d always wanted to die an “Ode To Billy Joe” death, so Clare had always supposed that’s what he’d done those six years ago when he’d run away through the rain.

When she’d sent him off to die.

“I didn’t,” Clare whispered, but it didn’t sound true, not now that the rain was beginning to fall around her hard enough to mask footsteps.  So she said it again, a little louder.  She couldn’t have killed Andy, and so what if she did; he’d been killing her back ever since, six years of poison on poison.  She’d died a lot when Andy left, died more because she’d never really been able to love Stephen (and that was Andy’s fault, too, because she’d never gotten over him) and hadn’t been able to make the marriage work.  And now her mother was grinding away at whatever ashes of life she had left, sucking them dry.

God, she hated it here, and more than that, she hated that she didn’t have much option to go anywhere else.  She hadn’t been able to find a job - unmarriable housewife, there’s a resume from hell - and Stephen was dragging the separation out to spitefully avoid paying alimony, painting Clare into a corner.  And life with her mother, oh, yeah, that was standing in a corner, all right, a humiliating little punishment that made her feel five years old again.  Bicker, bicker, peck, peck, nag, nag.  The little things.  The constant unspoken disappointment that hung between them like a net, strangle-tangle silent death, slow drowning in an ocean of air.

And if Clare needed any other proof that she’d screwed everything up, Andy - silent death of a different kind - would soon be here to bring it.

She closed her eyes and tried to remember that day when Andy left (left, ha, if you can say a dog leaves when you throw stones at it), but it was six years ago and she’d been over it so many times that it had become mythic, and she couldn’t mine the truth out of all the analysis anymore.  But she did know that it was her fault, not his.  That was simple enough.  She’d broken his heart.

She’d loved Andy so much that she’d had to ruin it.  She’d given him too much control over her, even though he’d never asked for it, and that had terrified her.  “Control issues,” her mom’s talk shows would call it.  Such a simple label, so convenient and sanitary.   When Andy had proposed marriage that day, she’d panicked and tried to play it off as a joke, or – worse – an insult.  How dare he even ask such a thing?  How unbelievably silly!  He’d taken it hard, and he’d run off into a thunderstorm just like the one that was building now, and no one had seen him again. 

Except for Clare, on other, much-later rainy days, when he came back, dead and miserable.

“Well, what are you out here for?” her mother crowed, just two steps behind her, and ice flowed through Clare’s veins.  She’d been so wrapped in self-loathing that she’d let Mother sneak up on her.  Not good.  One must always have their guard up for mother, if one wanted to survive.  She just stared out at the garden, refusing to look back.  “It’s going to storm.  Didn’t you see the television?  Tornado watch and everything.  You don’t need to be sitting outside in weather like this.  Don’t you have any sense?”

“No.  I don’t have any sense,” Clare hissed.

“Well.  I’d say not.  You’ll be sitting outside and a tornado’ll whisk you off to who knows where.  Why do you think the television warns us of weather like this?”

“Maybe they just like to meddle in other people’s business.  It’s a popular pastime.  Control issues.”   She laughed, a spiteful bark.

Her mother sniffed hard, swelling up, ready to do battle.  Clare prepared herself so she wouldn’t flinch at the screaming that was coming.  Instead her mother surprised her and tried silence this time, but that was one weapon she wasn’t skilled with and finally said, “Well, fine then!  Just stay out there!”  The screen door banged shut, but the porch didn’t creak, so Clare knew without looking that her mother had gone back inside. 

Hopefully she’d be good and mad, so she’d stay in there.  If she came back out when Andy was here, it’d mean trouble.  Andy was a secret, a shame, and even her mother would know what had happened if she saw him.  Clare had always claimed that Andy had just disappeared, that things had been fine between them prior to his going missing.  But if mother saw him out in the rain, with his pleading and trembling, she’d know that something had happened, something that was Clare’s fault.

Clare had seen Andy three times now, always in a storm like the one he’d run into when he left that day.  A storm had taken him, and now storms brought him back.

She closed her eyes and sighed, smelling the rain that was coming down harder now, thick like silver shrapnel.   It drummed all around her like a spastic army on the march, no rhythm, crazy-hateful.  She didn’t want to open her eyes because it was raining hard now, and Andy would be there.

But if she didn’t look, maybe he’d sneak across the garden through the rain, and when she opened her eyes he wouldn’t be way off by the honeysuckle, but right there just a foot or two in front of her, and she knew her heart would stop.

Red-light green-light I see Andy she thought, opening her eyes, and she did see Andy, just barely, a pale shape in the rain.

She froze, staring hard, forgetting to breathe.

Was he closer this time?   She didn’t think so, but it was hard to tell through the darkness and rain and the blowing leaves.  She couldn’t even tell that it was him, but she knew it was.  Who else would it be?

Then the lightning flashed and she saw him clearly.  He had always been thin but now his naked body was sunken into itself, the skin gone grey.   His hair was plastered around his face like moss on a tombstone, but his eyes and teeth gleamed through the strands.   The eyes, once blue, had dried a silvery white, like a couple of dimes, and his teeth chattered in a grimace so strained it was almost a smile.

He barely looked like Andy anymore, but dying could be hard on a man.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, not loud enough.  Andy just trembled and watched and wanted whatever it was that he was wanting.  An apology wouldn’t satisfy him, or exorcize him.  She had no right to apologize for breaking his heart over her own stupid, unjustified fears, anyway.  Andy had loved her more than anyone ever had, and that was his crime.  Because the truth is, she thought, nobody else really loved me, everDad left, and mother made me pay for that.  Stephen hadn’t fought very hard to keep me, and anyway he was just a substitute for Andy, Andy who was all I ever had, Andy who I threw away.

He would never have left me.  Here he is, six years dead, and he still hasn’t left me.  He won’t leave me.

And, damn me, I’m more afraid of him than ever.

The rain let up just a little, like a rotten curtain blowing aside, and Andy was shyly reaching a hand out, pulling it back again, shaking.  Then the rain picked up again, harder than ever, and Andy was lost in it like a silent movie image too faded and scratched to watch anymore.

He’d always been sad - she supposed that’s what had drawn them to each other - but he’d never been pitiful.  He was now, though.  Sad, wet, and wretched.  A shame that death brought no peace.

The back door banged open and Clare’s mother yelled, “Get on back in this house right now!  You must be crazy!  Look at this rain!  The TV says tornadoes!”

Clare gripped the arms of the chair so hard that she was surprised the wood didn’t explode into splinters.  Mother would see Andy.

“Did you hear what I told you?”

Was Andy still out there?  Maybe mother had scared him off.  But, no, she thought she could see him, pale among the dark weeds.

“Clare?  You get in this house!  I’m not fooling, now!  You mind what I tell you!”

Lightning thrashed the sky and lit the yard, and there was Andy, shaking in the wind, wet and naked and obvious.  Mother couldn’t have missed him.  He seemed to be doing some kind of dance of nerves, and his eyes were bright in the lightning.  Wet leaves stuck to his skin like cancer.  Didn’t water make dead bodies rot?

“Did you see...?” Clare asked.

“I saw lightning almost strike you, sitting out in the storm like a fool!  Now come on in this house!”

Clare sat, smiling.  Mother couldn’t see Andy.  And mother wanted her back inside not for Clare’s sake, but because she was lonely and scared and needed the company.

Good.  Welcome to the club, mom!  And goodbye to you, because I have all the company I need, right there in the corner of the garden.

“Sometimes I just hate you!” her mother screamed, slamming the door again, and Clare smiled wider.

She knew now what Andy wanted.  Andy had come back for her, on a rescue mission.  He was less dead than she.

Laughing, Clare ran out into the rain.  It was cold but inside she was colder, fear playing games with her even while longing over-rode it, and she trembled as she ran.   The rain blackened her clothes and glued them to her, and she peeled them off of her skin, tore them, wanting nothing between her and the rain and Andy.

In front of her, Andy was running now, and she laughed.  Now you’re scared, all along you were scared, and Clare ducked under bushes, splashed through puddles, chasing into the blindness of the rain, and around her the wind was howling now, and it was full of teeth, biting her skin.   Hail, big as eyes, raising welts that she couldn’t even feel because she was chasing that little pale spot in a world that was growing darker and darker.

                                                                        *          *         *

When Clare’s mother checked the back porch again fifteen minutes later, the wind was moving the rocking chair, but Clare was no longer in it.  Instead she was where her mother would always see her when it rained, even for years after Clare was declared legally dead.   Clare was standing, naked and shivering in the rain, there by the back corner of the garden where the honeysuckle grew.

                              THE END