Against the Rain

With a crack of thunder, a series of jabberings rolled out: “Another rainstorm? This early? That field’s too wet already,” “Get Morton out there to keep that rain off the fields,” “But no mage is that powerful.”

“I can’t possibly keep all the rain off the whole field.”

“Well you better damn well try. This is about eating or not eating.”

“Oh a—alright,” Morton stuttered.

Morton shuffled to the center of the field then clasped his hands as if in prayer. The thunder rumbled louder. He and the whole village waited. Before the sound of rain reached the crowd’s ears, Morton went into action, throwing out his arms. The rain blew off to the edges of the field. He mustered more power. A flash went out over the field. The wind subsided, but the rain stayed back as if it were hitting glass. A few of the children ran out into the rain to see the sight closer. Their mothers yelled after them that they’d catch cold. They ran under the barrier and looked up into a cascade of water droplets racing above them. They didn’t stream and bead like on glass, but just changed their direction like a herd of sheep.

“Get that barrier on the sides too, the water’s gonna splash back into the fields,” one of the women cried out. “Martin get over there and tell him,” she grabbed her neighbor’s husband. He took a few steps out into the rain and then waved his hands and pointed to the edge of the field. Wincing understandably, Morton focused more of his strength into the barrier and closed it around the field and the children. Playing scared they screeched and ran through harmlessly back out into the rain, slopping their mothers with water when they had finally obeyed.

Lightning cracked and made everyone shriek. The wind blew harder and the rain got heavier and Morton pushed more of his life into the barrier. He let out a yell, the barrier glowed, and then he let his hands down. He started to run back and forth, swirling his hands, working up a huge wind. He threw huge waves of rain off away from the barrier. He kept going back and forth, trying to work up a cyclone that would keep blowing the rain off. The storm went on long enough that the people ended up sitting down. The adults took naps and picked their teeth with straw. The children half-heartedly tried to play games, but mostly laid on their parents and watched the mage take on the storm. He was throwing his hands out a lot more and yelling more. The sides of the barrier the adults had chided him about were flickering, but he always brought them back. “Seeds have… got to stay dry…” someone mumbled as they nodded off.

By the time everyone was done with their nap and ready for the sun to come back out, Morton’s eyes were crazed. He had kept his hands up, thrust at the sky, and he couldn’t remember when they had gone numb. He was as thirsty as ever, wishing he had the presence of mind to open a tiny hole in his barrier to get a drink. He just kept thinking of keeping all the people from starving this year. He was babbling phrases to remind himself. His muscles shook. His body quaked. He looked up at the rainfall spreading out above him and his gaze was locked in its pattern. He saw the clouds behind it, with all their billowing shapes. He didn’t even notice that they were getting brighter and thinner. The flowing pattern of droplets slowed and then was gone and he didn’t know what to do.

When the rain finally stopped, the mage out in the field fell face forward, like an old fence post being knocked over. Everyone ran out to the edge of the field. The first man there leaned over the fence and felt the dirt. Dry.

They looked up at Morton lying in the field, the clouds still moving all around and graying everything. Everyone moved closer but didn’t go up to the man. The priest went out and looked at him, then he bowed his head and his hands glowed, but there was nothing there. The priest shook his head. At the head of the crowd, he turned back around to look at the body. He didn’t know what to pray and had no idea what to say. A tear came down his cheek and he fought to not break down. A few of the women whimpered, a couple men dabbed their eyes, and the children sniffled. The clouds began to break and the returning sun gave a golden evening glow to everything. It wouldn’t be long before dark.

—Michael Billips

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