I was never one of those people who hates the rain.
Some people—most, I suppose—see the gray clouds rolling in like fluffy waves and feel the first few drops tap against their skin like the annoying fingers of an ornery child and their mood visibly drops, as if they’re in one of those time-lapse videos that shows the wilting process of a flower. I guess that’s a normal reaction, but I never shared it. Hell, on particularly bleak days, I found the metallic drumming on the roof to be soothing; relaxing, even.
Of course, I know better now. The rain isn’t relaxing or soothing. The rain doesn’t gently caress your face and sluice over your body like a lover’s embrace. The rain comes in pounding sheets that crash to earth with the ferocity and indifference of an axe splitting a chunk of wood. The rain chills you to the core, drives its icy fingers into your flesh and parts the muscle and sinew beneath and knifes into your bones until it’s deep enough to suck the marrow.
The rain is alive, if such a cruel and uncaring thing can be considered to follow the same rules as other organisms.
I can see you now. You’re scratching your head, shaking it, raising a quizzical eyebrow over the rim of your glass as you take another sip and wonder just what the hell isthis lunatic on about.
I understand, I do. I guess I’m not really making any sense. Rest assured that it still doesn’t make any sense to me, either. I suppose it would make things a bit clearer if I told you a little about myself.
I wasn’t what you’d call a particularly bright or promising individual. No one expected great things from me. My family came from humble beginnings—not poor, not rich, just firmly middle-class, and that was what they were satisfied with. My teachers never considered me a nuisance, nor did they foist upon me undue standards out of a desire to see me overcome my limits and rise to new heights in the face of adversity. I was just another one of the faces in the halls, those ghostly, nebulous visages that fade to grayscale and always appear fuzzy and out of focus when you line them up in the crosshairs of your memory. I drifted through high school, did a few semesters in college, found a menial job and a little cottage, and that was that. I expected my life to pass by in a meaningless fog, a primordial sludge of mundanity that would eventually peter out into an unending black oblivion.
Melodramatic? Maybe. But when all you have is your own imagination for company, you tend to start exercising your linguistic muscles with far more rigor and aplomb than the average person. See? There I go again.
I’m telling you all this to stress just how completely, utterly uninteresting the sum total of my existence was. That, more than anything, is why none of this makes any sense. I suppose random chance really does play a part in people’s lives. Some of them win the lottery.
Some get caught in the rain.
I think it was in early October that I first saw it. The leaves were turning from green to yellow, the trees metamorphosing into orbs of fire, looking like enormous golden apples resting upon gnarled trunks. The air spoke of cider, fireplaces, sweaters, and Halloween festivities. It was a quaint scene, as the town I lived in was often described during the holidays, when seemingly every chimney was topped with a thin wisp of smoke stretching towards the autumn sky like a questing finger. For the most part, the weather was chilly, mild, and dry. But there were occasional rainstorms, some of them quite violent. It appeared during one of these particularly vicious downpours that.
If I had parked my car with the driver’s side door facing my house, as I almost always did, I would have exited the vehicle, locked it, and dashed inside with my jacket over my head, never even chancing to glance into the road— or the rain—beyond. Would that have saved me? Almost certainly not. I would have just seen it in the next storm, or the next. But I can never seem to stop myself from wondering… What if?
Pointlessly, I digress. For whatever reason—the powers that be, fate, or sheer bad fucking luck; pardon my French, if you please—I parked with the passenger door closest to the curb, with the result that, when I opened the door and forged bravely into the torrential deluge, my eyes swept over the darkness of the street beyond my house. At first, they slid off of it, merely giving my immediate surroundings an automatic, cursory glance, as is their job. But my brain had noticed what my eyes had not, and they were drawn back to it like a moth to a candleflame.
The shape of a person stood in the rain, perhaps a hundred yards away from my car. It was not a person—I cannot emphasize this fact more than I do now—it was the shape of a person. The sheets of icy liquid acted as a kind of mold, forming the outline of a head, shoulders, torso, and legs. The shape was not detailed, but that it was a shape there could be no doubt. It lurked near the sidewalk, not appearing to be purposefully concealing its presence and doing nothing to suggest that it was aware of mine. Yet I felt—my words often fail me here, but I’ll try my best—a desire emanating from this impossible shape, a corrosive lust that seemed to connect its being to mine like a lightning bolt spewing across the sodden street. It was not sexual in nature, nor can I ascribe to it any other emotion or motivation that I could imagine, and even now I wonder what exactly it was thinking—if such things really do think. It did not make any aggressive motions towards me, it[CG3] did not move at all, but I was suddenly more terrified of that shape than I had ever been of anything or anyone in my life, and I dashed into my house, locked the door, drew the shades, and spent the rest of the evening shuddering in my room with a glass of scotch and the covers drawn up to my chin like a child. The rain continued into the night and I imagined that thing creeping towards my house, melting into the front hall, flitting through the darkness like some abominable miasma that would envelop my body, fill my lungs with its toxic wrongness.
Somehow, I slept. When I awoke, the storm had passed, but the fear remained. I knew I had not imagined the shape in the rain. I knew it had not been a trick of the light, or some rare, poorly-understood meteorological phenomenon. That thing, that (rainshadow) shape, was real, and sentient, and who knew where it went during the day, where it passed its time when the skies were clear. Not knowing was almost as horrible as encountering it, and it was all I could do to force myself to go to work that morning.
I started checking the weather rather obsessively after that. Once or twice I got into arguments in the break room when a coworker wanted to watch some stupid soap opera or sports game while I staunchly refused to change the channel until the weather report had concluded. If there was to be rain, I was going to be home before dark, and well before the rain started. I explained to my supervisor that rainstorms caused me to undergo severe and debilitating panic attacks, and later even handed in a forged psychiatrist’s note detailing my “condition” and stating that it was within my rights to excuse myself early in the event of a storm so as to properly medicate and avoid becoming a danger to myself or others. A “weak constitution” was the term used, I believe. My supervisor, understandably, was unamused, but to her credit, she allowed me to keep my job, and more or less tolerated my refusal to remain at work following the barest hint of a heavy rain. I became the butt of many jokes as word of my irrational phobia drifted around the workplace—small towns generate rumors, most of which are decidedly unpleasant and, occasionally, downright mean-spirited—but that was a small price to pay for the promise of not running across that thing again. I was never a social butterfly, had nothing but a passing interest in fostering close relationships with others, and I was not at work to make friends. I bore it well, as if I was completely unaware of the snickers and whispered inferences, and indeed, such conclusions would not be unfounded. It’s difficult to concentrate on the frivolities of societal customs when you’ve suddenly been made aware that the world is not what it seems, and there do indeed exist things that are not understood and never will be—and perhaps that is for the better. I certainly wish I understood less than I do now, though I fear I’ve only scratched the surface.
The second time I saw it, there was a sense of purpose behind it. The forecast had promised clear skies and unseasonably warm weather for at least the rest of the week, and for the first time since the initial encounter I found myself able to relax a little. I took a drive that day, heading into town to gather some sundries that I had seen fit to do without in my state of nearly perpetual isolation. I had been living off of boxed dinners and takeout; as such, I decided to treat myself to a rare home-cooked meal, and left the grocery store with a cart full of fresh ingredients and pleasantly high spirits. It was the final time I felt that way, and I don’t imagine that will ever change. Not now.
The way the clouds suddenly darkened on the short drive home was as if some cyclopean giant had seen fit to drape a black tarp over the sky, instantly blotting out all light and transforming the crisp autumn day into a sepia photograph that practically oozed despair. I felt my stomach twist into a knot, as though an inexorable and merciless force had seized my intestines and squeezed. A rumble of thunder louder than a cannon blast made my ears ring, the entire car trembling in its wake, and then the rain began, slamming against the windshield and roof in a maddening cacophony of machine gun fire. Panic set in immediately, and I only just managed to keep control of the car. My house was not far—I could see the street sign up ahead, though the sheets of liquid crashing from the encroaching clouds were all but opaque. I needed to park and reach the safety of the house and its familiar, wonderfully dry interior without allowing myself to look at anything else. There was no time to retrieve the groceries from the trunk; dinner would be eaten from a can or a box, but it hardly mattered. All that mattered was not seeing it again. My mind would fragment like a smashed carriage clock. I could not lay eyes upon that impossible horror a second time.
Of course, I did. I saw it before I had even turned off the car. It was waiting for me, hovering eerily in the wet gloom outside my house. It was closer than before, much closer: now it stood next to the picket fence that dictated the division between my property and my neighbor’s. This put it at perhaps five hundred feet from my front porch, and knowing that it would be so close even after I reached my room was nearly enough to unhinge me right then and there. I bolted from my car the second it came to a stop, crashed through the front door, and sobbed in my room beneath the blankets, waiting for the thing to breach the cocoon of safety that now felt as fragile as a soap bubble.
It didn’t come in, and the rain only lasted another hour or so. After that, my mental faculties began to degrade with a rapidity that would have alarmed those close to me, had there been any such people. I covered every window in my house with black curtains, the heavy, expensive kind that can shroud a room in near-total darkness on a cloudless day at noon. I did not ever want to be able to see outside during a storm. I stopped going to work entirely, feeding a paper-thin story to my supervisor over an awkward, tense phone conversation; her cool tone and clipped responses told me she did not believe a single syllable, but the worries of yesterday had become memories. I turned to drink with an easy, unconscious willingness that led me to believe all human beings have the habit embedded firmly in their prefrontal cortex, just waiting to be called upon as a tool of escapism. On rainy days I was a desert castaway, diving into the comforting sanctity of the bottle that had become my oasis. I ate in erratic spates of semi-consciousness. The food tasted of cardboard and ash; I was simply filling my stomach as my brain instructed me, heeding the instinctual drive to continue living that seamlessly took over one’s motor functions when they decided awareness was simply too much of an inconvenience. I slept in short bursts plagued with dreams that more often than not forced me awake with the sound of my own hoarse screams. I lost weight and hair, but scarcely noticed. On some level I was aware of my decline, but that level was almost entirely smothered by the veneer of terror that had been affixed to my consciousness.
I am quite sure my neighbors became concerned for my well-being—I seem to recall at least two instances of knocking at my front door, and once a muffled question attempting to ascertain that I was still among the living—but human interaction was the furthest thing from my mind. I had been marked by something, something eldritch and terrible and otherworldly, and I had no inclination to make its job—whatever that job was—any easier.
Research into the subject proved fruitless, just another way to meander my time away as the inevitable crept ever closer. Paranormal forums, “papers” ostensibly published by experts in the field of the unknown, even one-on-one conversations with purported mediums and seers—none of them could provide even a hint of an explanation, and more than once I was assailed with veiled suggestions that I seek professional help with what they no doubt believed was a very intense delusion. That avenue was exhausted quickly; the repeated failures only added to my growing sense of helplessness. Though I had not seen the (rainshadow) shape in the rain since that sudden storm, its presence permeated every waking moment. It was near; it did not forget its target or vacate the area when the rains ceased. It was cunning, patient, the picture of a persistent hunter. What it wanted, I was still unsure. But that it did want—that could not have been communicated any more clearly.
Then came the third encounter, the encounter that sent me scrambling from the precipice of paranoia into the yawning chasm of insanity. After that, the notion that I had ever been safe in any way was laughable.
After that, I knew what it wanted.
My day had gone by innocuously enough, bolstered by[JR5] the warmth of a perpetual stream of brandy and the lack of any precipitation in almost a week. It occurred to me, as I moved listlessly through my house, that I had not bathed for the better part of ten days, and though I had no one to impress and hygiene was by now of as little consequence to me as food, I made the conscious decision to shower. Gathering my clean clothes and towel from the laundry room, I felt almost normal, like any other average person muddling through life at the languid pace of a piece of driftwood. I piled the clothes neatly on the counter, draped the towel from the rack, and turned on the shower, allowing the spray to sluice over my hand until it had reached a comfortable temperature. I removed my soiled clothes and tossed them into the corner and stood in front of the toilet to relieve myself, bracing myself with one hand against the wall. Once my bladder was empty, I turned to enter the shower.
I recall hearing—actually hearing—a sharp twang in my ears as something in my brain seemed to pop. I had, of course, heard the phrase “So-and-so just snapped,” but before that moment I had never realized just how apt it really was. It was as if the last fringes of my sanity had broken like an overstressed rubber band. I no longer feared death, because I could at least grasp the notion of death. It was final, yes, but it was a knowable finality.
Seeing the shower spray curving around the clear outline of a human figure, I knew nothing but fear so complete and relentless that my mind seemed to white out and buzz with the insistent background hum of television static. The (rainshadow) thing was less than a foot away from me, standing (if one could call it that) in my house as if it was a tenant who shared the rent. It was not moving, it did not appear any different from its last two appearances apart from the proximity, but it was reaching for me. I knew this with horrible, iron-clad surety. It wanted me—whether to kill me or torment me or at the behest of some alien motive that escaped the reaches of mortal understanding, I could not say. But it wanted me, and it meant to have me, and there was nowhere I could hide.
I think I screamed. I know I fell, staggering over the pile of dirty clothes behind me, and crashing naked into the hall with enough force to disturb the wall hangings. The last vestiges of rationality were leaving me, slipping away like water in cupped hands, and they were replaced with the primal instinct to flee. I cannot call such a thing “fight or flight” because to fight was not even a vague fantasy I could have entertained.
I ran outside, still wearing nothing but my skin, into the rain.
My next clear memory is awakening at the end of my street. I was on my back, still naked, facing a uniform pearly-gray sky that was vomiting torrents of water. The fear still coursed through me, but it had been blunted somewhat, perhaps by the simple joy that I had escaped the (rainshadow) thing that had followed me into my house. I twitched my limbs experimentally, one at a time, and upon sitting up, I realized that I was quite dry. I glanced skyward, expecting to see a tree or some other object shielding me from the gale’s cold, angry fingers, but there was nothing. The rain simply would not touch me.
A bright bolt of triumph shot through me. I had become immune to its influence! It could not harm me, could not even touch me! I began the short walk home with a newfound spring in my step, not even stopping to consider that I might be seen striding through a storm completely devoid of clothing. I had broken its spell by escaping it; it had not counted upon me summoning the presence of mind to retreat.
I arrived at my house still savoring my victory, and reached for the doorknob fully intending to unleash a tirade of taunts and curses against the horror that had stalked me for the past several weeks. When my fingers closed and passed through the knob as if it were made of smoke, I felt confusion before fear. Had I misjudged the distance? I reached out again, and in doing so became aware that my surroundings were fundamentally different from what I remembered. With a cold pit beginning to form in my stomach, I turned around and surveyed my neighborhood. It was the same sleepy little hamlet on the surface, but something felt…off. It was as if I was looking upon an artist’s portrait of a street he had never personally seen or visited, but instead had been given a detailed description with which to recreate it. Here and there subtle changes began to reveal themselves: a brick of the wrong color, a window slightly off-center, a door with only three raised panels instead of four. I was standing in a neighborhood that was mine, yet not mine. And with this realization came another, terrible in its clarity:
I had become the (rainshadow ).
It had, indeed, wanted me; it had wanted to exchange places. It was tired of its dreary, wet world and envious of my bright one, and it had decided to steal it. I slumped to the ground in front of a house that I could not enter, a house that was not mine, and began to gibber with lunatic laughter that eventually tapered off into hiccupping sobs.
Why me? That is a question I still ask myself from time to time, though with waning frequency. There will never be a satisfactory answer, because there is likely not a specific reason. The first days were difficult, very difficult, due in large part to my inability to effectively cope with my new existence. I could not drink; could not interact with others because there were no others with whom to interact; could not even kill myself, had I been taken with the idea (and I was, at first) because my body seemed to have become intangible and invisible to anything but my eyes. Then the acceptance slowly set in—human beings truly are incredible in their ability to adapt to almost anything—and I began to drift through the rain like a hollow phantom as, I expect, the being that had stolen my life had been wont to do. Time became meaningless since night and day were things of the past; the rain continued, but there were no other sounds, no other forms of sensory input.
Occasionally, my surroundings would flicker into something that was almost normal, something that looked to be a part of the world I had once inhabited. I never recognized them; I had chosen to spend the rest of my life walking, and since the need to eat, sleep, or relieve myself had apparently been eradicated with my “transformation,” I covered exorbitant numbers of miles a day. I must have walked halfway across the country before it occurred to me that I could use these temporary fluctuations to my advantage, and perhaps—if I was luckier than I imagine any human being in history had been—return to my world. Doing so would, of course, involve depriving another hapless innocent of their life, but my moral compass had long since eroded with the rest of my dwindling humanity. I had become a being of pure survivalism. And so it was that I began searching for patterns within the fluctuations between worlds.
Searching for a target.
The pattern of fluctuation, it transpired, coincided with the presence of rainstorms on “your” side—the side to which I am now trying desperately to return. The strength of the rainstorm appears to affect how “solid” the fluctuation is; during monstrous squalls, like the one in which I first encountered the thief of my life, it is possible to fully enter “your” side for the duration of the storm. On some level I found it ironic that the thing which had inspired such fear within me once was now the thing upon which I most heavily relied. I no longer had a way to monitor the weather, but I had begun developing a sort of sixth sense for these “shifts;” the air preceding them smelled different, the scent of petrichor so overpowering it was almost a physical force pressing against my nostrils. Once I was able to predict the “shifts” with something approaching regularity, I began looking for my replacement. I had no way of knowing what would happen if I succeeded—would I return to my body? Would I inhabit the body of my unfortunate victim?But anything was better than the toil I had endured for…however long it had been. The selection took a surprisingly short amount of time, all things considered.
I would offer an apology if there was any sincerity behind the words, but there would not be. If anyone happens across this account, I hope you won’t think too badly of me, though it is of course within your rights to do so, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for it. I am not crazy; this is not some fanciful tale born from a diseased mind. There are planes of existence that run parallel to ours, some of which house things that mean us harm, and even the most unassuming life can meet with extraordinary circumstances.
You look tired. Don’t mind the sudden storm. The rain can be unpredictable that way. You have that blue umbrella in your car, don’t you? That should keep you dry on your way in. Now, now. I know you’re in a hurry, but we mustn’t forget to lock the front door. Who knows what could come in?
Your boss has been giving you a hard time, hasn’t he? You’ve been drinking more and more lately. I’m sure you’ll want a nice, relaxing shower after that long day at work. Don’t worry; I’ve taken care of the house for you.
I’ll see you soon.