Short Story: Catching Rain

(So today was supposed to be about deadlines and goals. But I forgot. And it wasn’t at all because I’m spending all my free time re-watching My Little Pony. Not even a little bit.)

Catching Rain

We spent that whole summer waiting for the rain.

Some idiot kid in the village had nabbed a fairy back in April and wished for a sunny summer.  We didn’t know for sure that it was a village kid, except that all the farmers’ kids were too smart to wish for anything that stupid, and at first it wasn’t so bad.  As each sunny day dawned, new and bright and clear, it became apparent that we had a problem.

The council met at the beginning of July.  They waited exactly ten days from the solstice before they started to panic, but the actual transition from spring to summer had been spectacular enough to merit it.  It’d been raining, pouring actually, great huge drops of water falling from the sky in sheets.  Then, on the turn of the Wheel, right at the cusp of summer, it had stopped and the sky cleared.  I think it took them ten days to check the tables, make really sure that the rain had stopped at the exact moment of the solstice, and not on some fluke change.  They liked to be sure of things, the council did.

Jessup and I were not invited to the council meeting, which rankled.  Technically we weren’t old enough to attend, but everyone knew that if fairies were concerned, we were the two to involve as soon as possible.  The panic that bubbled in the council was simmering in the village too, though, and I suspected they wanted to keep a lid on any suspected fairy-related problems for as long as possible.  This was nearly as stupid as wishing on a fairy in the first place.  They only got more vindictive as time passed.

What had really happened was that the kid, the wisher, had come forward.  This was largely thanks to ten days of extremely benevolent pressure, not to mention the promise of complete amnesty.  Of course, forgiveness from the council, and even most of the adults in the town was easily given, assuming the wish wasn’t too foreboding.  The real trick would be protecting the wisher from the other kids.  Grown-ups could leave well enough alone.  Children, feeding on the fear that filtered down from their parents, could be almost as cruel as fairies when it came to creative reprisals.

“Look on the bright side,” Jessup said, as we waited in the brightly lit square for the meeting to end.  He managed not to wince at his own pun. “At least the fairy saw fit to let it get un-sunny at night.”

“Thank goodness for small mercies,” I said, shading my eyes against the glare.  A councilor appeared on the front stairs of the village hall and waved us inside.

+++

The fields did all right, at first.  We’d had a wet spring, which, talk in the pub suggested, was probably what had led to the wish in the first place.  The stream flowed sluggishly, slumping over the rocks in a depressed sort of way where it had burbled and jumped in previous years.  There was enough rain upriver that it hadn’t dried out completely.

It wasn’t even the worst wish we’d even lived through.  Whether by luck or genuine forethought, the kid had set a timer on our rainlessness.  We had only to get through the summer and things would return to normal.  So the council announced, anyway, after they talked with Jessup and me on that first day of July.  For the whole month, that’s what everyone pretended they believed.

Life went on.  Rain fell.  Not in the village or on any land nearby, but in the world at large.  The children reported that it wasn’t raining in any of their favourite hideouts or play places either.  The wisher had been pleasantly specific for a change, requesting sunshine for any place where a child might while away the summer hours.

The villagers spent their summer living as though everything was normal.  Crops were planted and no one remarked that they grew up stunted.  Bakers saved more grain from milling than usual, and turned out bread in smaller loaves.  Their customers cut thinner slices to make them last, and took open-faced sandwiches with them to the fields beneath the sun.  The kids played in the streets, on the hills and dells around the village, and never guessed which of them was responsible for our predicament.

The only unusual thing on the surface of that summer was the way the eyes of the council members would tighten whenever they saw Jessup or me in the square, or on the road out of town.  They could tell everyone else it was going to be okay, but they couldn’t help reveal in a thousand small ways that it wasn’t exactly business as usual.

+++

After the meeting we weren’t allowed to attend, there was an even more private one.  This meeting, no one knew anything about at all.  The council wanted us in the woods that summer, under the guise of hunting.

It was both the perfect cover and a story that was laughably flawed.  Jessup and I did spend most of our time in the woods anyway, and were known as good shots.  But no one really believed that was the reason we took to the woods, even if the game we brought back from our less than clandestine excursions would be greatly appreciated if the winter were as lean as it was promising to be.

We weren’t going into the woods to shoot, and everyone knew it.  We did hunt, of course, to pass the time and to maintain the fiction as the council dictated, but it wasn’t our primary objective.  Our main charge was a live-catch.  We baited traps and set snares and spent hours lying in wait, as patient hunters do.  That, after all, is how you catch a fairy.

+++

My father first took me into the forest when it became apparent that I would not be content with neatly hemmed garden pathways and lush green lawns.  I didn’t do well amongst the furrows either.  So it was the woods, and I took to them well and quickly.  By the time Jessup was old enough to join us, we had a regular family operation.

I saw a fairy once, just after Jessup came into the forest with us.  Father was with him on one of the trap lines, showing him the lay of the land.  I was glad that to be trusted enough to mind my line myself.  My head was down, like you do in the trees, eyes on the ground looking for tracks, when I heard the laughter above my ears.

I looked up before I thought the better of it, and there it was, hovering in the air just out of reach.  If you can avoid looking at them, you’ll be fine.  Once you’ve made eye contact though, you can’t look away or it will only make them angry, and I cursed my mistake as soon as I realized I’d made it.  It wanted to be caught, I know now, wanted to make me wish for something it could twist.

“What do you wish for, human child?” it asked.  Its voice wasn’t as high as I had expected a fairy voice to be.

“No, thank you,” I said.  It growled, but flew away in defeat.

You have to watch each word with a fairy, even if it means bordering on rudeness.  It would never do, for example, to tell one that you wished for nothing.

+++

“Do you think,” Jessup said one sunny day in August, “that they’ll catch on to what we’re doing?”

“No,” I replied. “And even if they suspect, there’s no way to prove it, unless father tells them, and he won’t.”

“What if it doesn’t rain in September?” he asked.

“Then we stop playing fairy catchers and move.”

+++

You have to watch the words you tell people too.  They get all caught up in stories and legends, and forget to be patient, to wait and see what will happen next.  I knew that, and so did Jessup, because our father had taught us.  The council didn’t know, because they didn’t think.  They saw a wish and clear blue sky and thought that the way to fix it was to wish it away.  They’d spent weeks now hammering out the exact words Jessup and I were to use when we caught the fairy.  They thought the rain would fall from the sky for the asking, if only they could ask correctly.

So Jessup and I spent day after day in the forest, winnowing through the squirrel and rabbit population, and pretending that we were hunting fairies.  And every day, the sun shone down and the children played and barley wilted just a little bit more in the fields.  People are hardier than you think, than the council thought for certain, and we made do.

On the twenty-second day of September, the sky closed up and it rained.

+++

Don’t forget that you can buy THE CURIOSITIES by Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff and Tessa Gratton in store on August 1!

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