The man shuffles along, hunched over. His feet hit the pavement but his mind is elsewhere, nowhere. He doesn’t think about what’s before him. He doesn’t think at all; it’s better that way. Around him, damp slicks the air, a dreary mist cocooning him. As he walks it swallows the people around him. They ignore him, doing their best not to let him ruin their day.
The fog is his. Where he goes it follows, a predator stalking its prey, only he’s already beaten. The fog has won. Moisture beads on shuttered windows, dripping down walls; people’s breaths crystallise. They button their coats against him.
He has no coat. He wears a ragged sweatshirt and jeans that haven’t been dry for years, not even when he bought them. He no longer bothers with shoes, instead going barefoot. Mud splatters his feet, in sharp contrast with the rest of his paper-white skin. He’s a skeleton, the flesh hanging off his bones. He’s a ghost, shambling through the mist. His mother called him Nuadha after some long-forgotten god. His father called him ‘boy’.
People walk on the other side of the road, but a few forget, or are too busy. One man talks on his phone and doesn’t look where he’s going. As he bumps into Nuadha there’s a flurry of rain, soaking them both. The man looks up and curses.
Nuadha stares at his feet and the mist turns to drizzle. Only now does he realise the man’s wearing heavy leather shoes and an expensive suit, both now dripping wet.
“You son of a bitch, you did that on purpose!” the man growls.
The man cuffs him in the eye and Nuadha topples over, clutching his face. The burst of pain bleeds a clap of thunder and wet gravel scrapes his skin. It rains heavier. His eye throbs and he hisses, but he’s used to it. Different people look at him in different ways: some with anger, some fear, some hatred… Most don’t regard him at all.
Nuadha scrambles back up but the man is gone. It rains properly, now, fat drops of water staining his skin an ugly waxen colour. He should be bloated and rotten, but of course he isn’t. The rain only spoils everything else.
Nuadha continues to walk, this time with a vague idea where he’s headed. It’s not anywhere people can hit him, or laugh at him behind his back.
He looks up. A woman peers at him from beneath a scarlet umbrella, almost the same shade as the fire of her hair. Jade eyes pry into his own deathly blue, full of concern and pity. His rain runs off her umbrella, but she keeps dry.
“It’s me, Tara.” She smiles. “I sat next to you in class, remember?”
“Tara.” A small girl, cheerful, who used to talk to him before his mother died and the rain started.
“I haven’t seen you in years,” she says. “You know, after the…”
“After the rain,” he finishes.
Tara grins awkwardly. “How have you been?”
Nuadha grunts. “Okay, I guess.”
There’s a sadness in her eyes when she speaks. “You used to be the happiest person I knew. I’m sorry about what happened to your family.”
Before his mother passed away, life used to be good. On hot days they’d go to the park and eat ice-cream, or swim in the pool. Now, he couldn’t remember what the sun felt like. There’d been no warning. Her heart collapsed one day, while she was working in the garden, and Nuadha found his mother’s body when he came home from school three hours later. After the funeral father started drinking. The alcohol took over and he lost his job, then his life.
Then the rain started to fall.
Tara coughs. “Well, it was nice seeing you.”
“Yeah,” he echoes. “Nice seeing you.”
He watches as her red umbrella disappears from view.
The rain worsens and humanity retreats indoors, hiding from his mood. Nuadha walks through the park, trees dancing in the wind. Something creaks. In a playground a single swing still moves, the rain rocking it gently. Nuadha swallows, his chest tightening. For a moment he sees a mother pushing her child there, but the memory vanishes and the storm intensifies. They left him. Mother and father left him, alone, unloved. Unwanted. Wind howls and his mind screams until there’s a loud crash, and everything stops.
The swing has fallen over.
As he wanders on, Nuadha passes a man sitting on a bench. He’s clad in a thick, black raincoat but is eating a sandwich, the bread sodden. The man catches his gaze and waves him over, gesturing for Nuadha to sit down. Nuadha shakes his head but the man insists.
“You look hungry,” he says. “Here, have some.”
He breaks his sandwich and offers Nuadha half. Hesitantly, Nuadha takes it. The bread crumples beneath his fingers into a mushy gloop.
The man laughs. “I love it when that happens! It’s like I’m eating pastry.”
Nuadha glances at him sideways. He’s old, his face a map of wrinkles, but the man’s eyes sparkle. Somehow Nuadha feels… better.
“Thanks,” he mumbles. Nuadha bites into the sandwich and the sweet taste of honey hits his tongue.
“You’re a pluvimancer, aren’t you,” the man says. “Pathetic fallacy incarnate.”
“Yeah.” There’s no point trying to hide it.
“I’ve never met one of your kind before.”
“It’s a genetic mutation,” Nuadha says. “I’m still human.” Barely.
“My apologies,” the man says. “I meant no offence.”
“I know.” It isn’t the first time people assume things.
The man studies him. “What’s it like, then?”
Nuadha knows he means the rain, so Nuadha tells him. He left school, tried to find work, but no one had time for an employee like him. If something upset him it rained indoors; no one wanted that. His depression became clinical, then the fog never left him. He made a little money standing in fields during summer, but it was a pathetic existence. A lonely one.
After Nuadha finishes talking, the man is silent. Pensive. He stands up and takes off his coat, handing it to Nuadha.
Nuadha steps back, startled.
“Go on, take it,” the man says. “You need it more than I.”
“No, I can’t!” Nuadha protests. The man’s frail underneath the coat, shivering under the battering rain.
The man’s eyes smile. “I’m far too old for you to worry about me.” He shoves the coat at Nuadha.
Nuadha puts it on. It covers him completely, dragging on the floor, but it’s warmer than anything he’s worn before. He closes his eyes and sinks into it.
When he looks up, the old man is gone.
“When you die, your soul travels to a land across the sea where no one ages or gets sick and everyone is happy,” mother says. “The sun never sets there and the land’s filled with dancing and singing. When I die I’ll go to that place, and when you die you’ll see me there, too.”
Nuadha’s eye still throbs from where he was hit. Tara’s umbrella is a faint smudge in his mind, and he hugs the old man’s coat around him. Nuadha stands on a bridge. His rain whips the river into a maddened frenzy, the water violent. As he stares he imagines he can hear each raindrop hitting the surface, nature’s song. Nuadha can hear his parents calling to him, and he sees the sun shining softly, beckoning him.
It’ll all go away.
In the land beyond the sea, it never rains…
Tara is halfway home when she realises she forgot to ask Nuadha how to contact him. She’s about to turn around when the sun catches off her umbrella and she shields her eyes. Tara looks up: it’s stopped raining.