Home > The Rains (Untitled #1)(3)

The Rains (Untitled #1)(3)
Author: Gregg Hurwitz

The rains finally stopped, but the stalks kept growing. The townsfolk went to check out the crazy growths rising from the soil where the meteorites had blazed deep into the ground. Patrick and I even stopped by one day after school to join the gawkers. By the end of the workweek, the stalks were taller than Hank himself. On the seventh day they towered over ten feet.

And then they died.

Just like that, they turned brittle and brown. The pods, which had grown to the size of corncobs, seemed to wither.

Some of the neighbors stood around, spitting tobacco into the dirt and saying it was indeed the damnedest thing, but there was nothing to do until McCafferty finished his harvest and tamped down his pride enough to ask Franklin for the loan of that undercutter.

McCafferty was at the bottle that night again after dinner. I can picture the scene like I was there—him in his rickety rocker on his rickety porch, the cool night filled with the sweet-rot smell of old wood. He had put his true love in the ground three summers ago, and you could see the grief in the creases of his face. His newer, younger wife fought like hell with his two kids, turning his house into a battleground, and he hid in the fields by day and in the bars by night. On this night he was rocking and sipping, letting a sweet bourbon burn away memories of his dear departed Lucille, when over the sound of the nightly bedtime squabble upstairs he heard a faint popping noise.

At first he probably thought it was a clearing of his ears or the drink playing tricks on him. Then it came again, riding the breeze from the fields, a gentle popping like feather pillows ripping open.

A moment later he tasted a bitter dust coating his mouth. He spit a gob over the railing, reached through his screen door, grabbed his shotgun, and lumbered down the steps toward the fields. From an upstairs window, his son watched the powerful beam of a flashlight zigzag across the ground, carving up the darkness.

The bitter taste grew stronger in McCafferty’s mouth, as if a waft of pollen had thickened the air. He reached the brink of his fallow field, and what he saw brought him up short, his mouth gaping, his boots sinking in the soft mud.

A dried-out pod imploded, releasing a puff of tiny particles into the air. And then the seven-foot stalk beneath it collapsed, disintegrating into a heap of dust above the soil. He watched as the neighboring pod burst, its stalk crumbling into nothingness. And then the next. And the next. It was like a haunted-house trick—a ghost vanishing, leaving only a sheet fluttering to the ground. The weeds collapsed, row after row, sinking down into the earth they’d mysteriously appeared from.

At last the pollen grew too strong, and he coughed into a fist and headed back to his bottle, hoping the bourbon would clear his throat.

Early the next morning, McCafferty awoke and threw off the sheets. His belly was distended. Not ribs-and-coleslaw-at-a-Fourth-of-July-party swollen, but bulging like a pregnant woman five months in. His wife stirred at his side, pulling the pillow over her head. Ignoring the cramps, he trudged to the closet and dressed as he did every morning. The overalls stretched across his bulging gut, but he managed to wiggle them up and snap the straps into place. He had work to do, and the hired hands weren’t gonna pay themselves.

As the sun climbed the sky, the pain in his stomach worsened. He sat on the motionless tractor, mopping his forehead. He could still taste that bitter pollen, feel it in the lining of his gut, even sense it creeping up the back of his throat into his head.

He knocked off early, a luxury he had not indulged in since his wedding day, and dragged himself upstairs and into a cold shower. His bloated stomach pushed out so far that his arms could barely encircle it. Streaks fissured the skin on his sides just like the stretch marks that had appeared at Lucille’s hips during her pregnancies. The cramping came constantly now, throbbing knots of pain.

The water beat at him, and he felt himself grow foggy. He leaned against the wall of the shower stall, his vision smearing the tiles, and he sensed that pollen in his skull, burrowing into his brain.

He remembered nothing else.

He did not remember stepping from the shower.

Or his wife calling up to him that dinner was on the table.

Or the screams of his children as he descended naked to the first floor, the added weight of his belly creaking each stair.

He couldn’t hear his wife shouting, asking what was wrong, was he in pain, that they had to get him to a doctor.

He was unaware as he stumbled out into the night and scanned the dusk-dimmed horizon, searching out the highest point.

The water tower at the edge of Franklin’s land.

Without thought or sensation, McCafferty ambled across the fields, walking straight over crops, husks cutting at his legs and arms, sticks stabbing his bare feet. By the time he reached the tower, his ribboned skin was leaving a trail of blood in his wake.

With nicked-up limbs, he pulled himself off the ground and onto the ladder. He made his painstaking ascent. From time to time, a blood-slick hand or a tattered foot slipped from a rung, but he kept on until he reached the top.

He crawled to the middle of the giant tank’s roof, his elbows and knees knocking the metal, sending out deep echoes. And then he rolled onto his back, pointing that giant belly at the moon. His eyes remained dark, unseeing.

His chest heaved and heaved and then was still.

For a long time, he lay there, motionless.

There came a churning sound from deep within his gut. It grew louder and louder.

And then his body split open.

The massive pod of his gut simply erupted, sending up a cloud of fine, red-tinted particles. They rose into the wind, scattering through the air, riding the current toward his house and the town beyond.

What happened to Hank McCafferty was terrible.

What was coming for us was far, far worse.




It was later that same night when Patrick came to get me in the barn.

Gripping the baling hooks at my sides, I stepped through the rolled-back door into the night. My brother’s face was turned to the east. That bitter breeze kept blowing in across the fields.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Patrick raised a hand for silence.

A shift of the wind brought distant noises. Hammering sounds. And then, barely audible, the squeals of children.

“McCafferty’s place?” I asked.

“Sounds like it.”

“Do we wake Uncle Jim?”

Patrick turned his gaze at me. “And if it’s just the kids messing around, playing a game? You wanna be the one to tell Jim sorry for dragging him outta bed, knowing the workday he’s got tomorrow?”

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