From what Nick could remember of the wetter days, this had all the makings of a real downpour. Dawn exposed a charcoal sky stretching from hilltop to horizon, poised to unleash a holy baptismal on this parched city teetering at the edge of the undrinkable sea.
Untamed water was a childhood dream. Swimming pools, Raging Waters, even the oscillating fountains at The Grove. Everything was green, flecked by streaks and blobs of bright blue. But now, the landscape was a pantomime of how it once was. A mockery. Lawns were an exercise in green paint. Flowers, a forgotten song. These were the Dry Times, with plumbing kept to a rationed trickle, fed by far away river water hijacked three states upstream.
Nick knew this. It was drilled into his bones, passed down by the elders, who wept when they spoke of the rain, stepping in for God by leaving drops of wet, salty guilt on the pavement. Every generation ate away at the future of their progeny. This was the way of man.
But today, people were placing pots and buckets and anything else capable of collecting volume on their porches and stoops. Today, it was bound to rain. It had to. The land couldn’t wait any longer.
Nick left for work as early as he could once he glanced out the window. Traffic, with the added shock of a historic rain, would be murder today.
The house that he shared with his wife was situated up on the western hills overlooking the city, and the clouds seemed to bear down on this high vantage point like a moist, fuzzy blanket. Nick wanted to stay home, wake his girl, and marvel at this breathtaking anomaly, but he had to make his 9:15 client meeting with some asshole comedian from Tel-Aviv. Comedians always turn out to be assholes. Being from Tel-Aviv was just a bonus. And Nick was jockeying for a raise, so being late was out of the question.
With one eye cocked above, Nick dashed out of the house while his wife still slumbered under the stout wooden beams that ribbed their high ceiling. Like being in the bowels of a Viking longship. She slept better in the morning. During the night, when she was alone with the dark, she heard screams coming from the hills above. Could be coyotes. Could be worse. The whispering city never gave clues.
As Nick wound down from the hills and into the chattering teeth of Sunset Boulevard, he noticed that the traffic was unusually light, even for a Monday. As if everyone decided to declare a holiday and stare up at the weirdness in the sky. Groups of excited people gathered on street corners, oohing and aahing and snapping photos. Nick craned his neck out the car window, looking at the dazzling cloud cover topping the high peaks above his neighborhood. It was extraordinary. Clouds. Actual fucking clouds. Descending on Los Angeles, threatening renewal. Relief. An overdue scrubbing.
Nick just stared, and contemplated pulling over and joining the underemployed gawkers. But it was Monday, and a surly Israeli comedian was heading toward his office, probably from a better neighborhood. Couldn’t be late. Not even today.
Nick drove down the mostly deserted streets, heading toward Century City, which had the dubious distinction of being the highest concentration of lawyers in the country west of New York City. The East still got rain. Sometimes. And more lawyers. Yet they still came to L.A. to complain. Where was everyone?
Heading west up Olympic, Nick looked up toward his destination, as he did every morning, gauging the minutes he’d be late by the distance from his twenty-story office building that always waited just a few more miles ahead.
But today his building was cut off at its midsection. Obscured from view by a swath of low hanging clouds.
A creamy frosting of pure white rimmed Century City under a black sky. It was beautiful, the contrast. Cars were stopping in the middle of the street now, and people got out to see this miracle forming above them. They needed to see it without glass between them. Nick swerved around people and cars. 9:09. Six minutes to go.
About a mile out from work, Century City loomed larger now, and Nick saw things falling from the buildings. From his building. Did someone toss something out the window? But the windows didn’t open. Anywhere.
He was just blocks away when he noticed – in a detached way, as if watching it all on television – that the tops of the buildings had been sheared off at the lowest lip of the cloud.
Now it was raining. Raining sparks and dust and floating paper … body parts and shrieks. Just like the old footage of that day called “9/11” Nick saw in grade school social studies.
Nick crushed his brakes. Tires screeched, panic seized him. He looked around, and noticed the layer of pure, impenetrable white covering everything above a hundred yards as far as he could see. Buildings, phone towers, the topless mountains in the distance.
Nick choked, spun his car around with jerky, frantic movements, and gunned his engine, heading back the way he came. The stunted buildings grew small behind him.
He dialed his phone with a quivering thumb, trying to reach his wife. He had to reach home… Reach her, sleeping inside the Viking longship. Had to…
Nothing. No service. The clouds took it away.
He sped on like a madman, slaloming through stopped cars, screaming people. Howls. Reach her…
Nick turned a corner and made a straight shot for home.
Looking up into the foothills he saw his neighborhood, or the beginning of his neighborhood.
His house, further up the hillside, was obscured by clouds.
© T.E. Grau
T.E. Grau is an author of speculative and weird fiction, cosmic horror, dark and heroic fantasy, and really shitty poetry. He also plays a mean sousaphone. His previous work “Downhill” was published in Eschatology Journal in February, 2011. His short story ”Transmission” will appear this summer in ‘Dead But Dreaming 2,’ edited by Kevin Ross, published by Miskatonic River Press. Also in 2011, T.E.’s stories “Flutes” and “In the Cave, She Sang” will both appear in the anthology ‘The Aklonomicon,’ edited by Joseph S. Pulver and Ivan McCann, published by Aklo Press. T.E. Grau blogs blogs at The Cosmicomicon (http://cosmicomicon.blogspot.com/).
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