By Thursday even I was tired of the rain. The storm continued its assault on the Maryland for the fifth day in a row; by Wednesday torrents of water formed rapids out of what were once community roadways. Old Ellicott City several miles away had nearly been washed clean, houses and all. The Murphey household suffered a few nights without any internet, crippling many of the kids’ online assignments. Katie swelled with anxiety at the lost of her Facebook, while Ryan scooped an extra pint of ice cream and flipped on a few Errol Flynn swashbucklers I had tucked away in the basement.
Typically, the sound of the rain pelting the roof, a cup of warm coffee and a few dozen books negated any impending disasters, but as flood water cascaded through the trees from neighboring plots flooding our small pond and plugging our sewage pump, I began to worry. Newly christened 4×4’s, stacked carefully some weeks prior near the barn, floated off into the mounting surge, never to be seen or heard from again.
If only the chicken coop would have made a similar escape, I thought to myself, pressing a handkerchief to my nose. God, I can smell them here! Actually, the stench from the sewage tank had already engulfed most of the basement and threatened to ruin lunch, when my cousin Paul woke from his mid-morning nap. While finding a new job, babysitting has become my new occupation of choice, and I agreed to watch Paul while his mother did some errands.
After an intense session of PB&J, we sat in an alcove in the family’s “Man Room” – our new addition that because of its beautiful wood flooring and dark mahogany cabinets was absconded by the house’s females, who replaced the sport’s memorabilia with baskets and ‘antique’ washboards (That’s right! You can make something too good!) – and watched the brown waters cascade down our neighbors hills. One of our boats slid from fence into the flood; skeletal tree limbs emerged from the depths of the pond scratched the boat’s hull like drowned corpses; the dog left its shelter and barked as the craft disappeared into the woods.
“Did it ever rain like this before?” Paul asked, licking his fingers free of jelly.
“Of course,” I said. “You remember Noah and the flood, right?” We had finished watching Fantasia 2000 earlier. Paul had demanded several viewings of ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ starring Donald Duck. Suck it, Mickey!
“No, no. After. Did it ever really REALLY flood that bad again? Like this?”
“Well,” I said considering. The flood from the pond had crept another yard or so to the chicken pen. So close! “There was the Rain Boy. Did I ever tell you that story? No? Well . . .”
The Boy Who Loved the Rain
“Did this happen a long time ago?” Paul asked, rubbing the jelly into his jeans.
“Absolutely, very long ago. Dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Human beings used them like horses, exactly like horses: transporting them from place to place, carting goods, grinding their claws for glue . . .”
“Nothing!” I quickly change the subject, remembering Paul is rather fond of live horses. “Um so anyway . . . long ago, there was a man who loved the rain. Unlike you or me, he would always run outside during a rain storm, letting the cold drops bounce off his head and trickle down his back. Once he soaked himself from head to toe, he jump across the lawn splashing through any puddle he might find or mount a running start and dive head-first through the wet earth and grass.”
“Just like a Slip-n-Slide?” Paul asks still rubbing his jeans with sticky fingers, now a gooey shade of blue.
“Exactly like a Slip-n-slide,” I say, “but with no bathing suit, the crazy man would dress in his Sunday finest: red tie, white shirt, navy blue jacket and long black pants. He would dive through mud, weed, and deep puddles and even tossing the water up in the air and pretend Heaven had let loose their Great Dam that God had built during the time of the great flood.”
“Didn’t he get sick? Mommy tells me that if I go outside and play in the rain, I’ll come home with a fever.” I halt Paul as his blackened fingers reach for the top of his head, to grab a wet towel from the bathroom and a cookie – from my private stash behind the green beans.
“Well,” I say, wiping my cousin’s hands. “This man – whose name is Rik, by the way – did become sick, but only when his skin touched sunlight. You see back then, people faced all kinds of diseases, illnesses that turn your hair pink like cotton candy, break out in plaid hives, or grow eyeballs in the back of your head. This young man became so sick, so feverish that he could never EVER feel the warmth of the sun on his face or hands. If he did, something terrible would happen. Or at least that’s what the neighborhood barber told him.”
“Barber? The guy that cuts your hair?” Paul asks touching the top of his head.
“Yeah, barbers back then did not just cut your hair,” I explain. “They also gave you medicine, which is our modern way of saying that peppered your skin with leeches to suck out all the disease in your body. If you had a cold, the barber might prescribe an hour of leeching. If you came down with a fever, you might got a whole day with a leech stuck to your back like the hump on Quasimodo.”
“What if you got a paper-cut?” Paul giggled.
“A whole week of leeches. Followed usually by a short funeral service,” I shout, opening the box of cookies (Nutter Butters in case you’re wondering). “Anyway, Rik did not have a cold or a fever or a paper-cut; he had Solar Influenza and that meant he must remain indoors whenever the sun appeared through the clouds.
“Well, at first this man did not mind his condition. In fact, he continued to slide and dance in the rain as he’d always done. Luckily the man lived in a part of the world that rained most of the year, and when it did not rain, the sun hid behind thick layers of smooth cloud that rolled like a velvet bed-sheet. However, even though the man enjoyed the rain and clouds, curiosity crept into his brain like a worm, nesting and breeding until he began wishing for a sunny day.
“ ‘What would happen?’ he wondered. ‘The barber told me that if even a spot of sunlight touches my skin, I would be sorry, but the old fool probably doesn’t even know. It’s nothing but superstition. The old quack should stick with cutting hair and leave treating the ills of mankind to professionals like shamans and witch doctors. At least, they don’t bury me with leeches every time I cut my finger.’
“And so as fate would have it, the sun appeared for a brief moment one afternoon . . . a Sunday if you believe it and shot spears of sunshine across his doorstep, atop his weather-vane (shaped like a thunderstorm) and through his windows. The man of course kept his blinds drawn throughout his house except in one room. That day, he crept gingerly across the room to the window and stuck in hand into sunshine. Suddenly BOOM!”
“What happened?!” Paul screamed, nearly spitting the cookie from his mouth.
“Nothing. Nada. The man’s hand remained the same. No pink hair, no scaly-alligator skin, no eye in the back of his head (he checked). The man laughed to himself and called the old doctor a fool, and without a second thought opened up the door and walked outside.
“But turning to go inside, he collided with the roof. Rik realized he had grown nearly twice his height much like a spring sapling in the bright sunlight after several weeks of rain. Another minute passed and he could see above Big Ben, the tallest redwood in the forest. Another minute, he had grown taller than the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Crag, the highest mountain in all the land. And in the sun’s light he continued to grow, taller and taller until he stood high above the clouds and collided with the moon itself.
“ ‘Ouch,’ he exclaimed. ‘Watch where you are orbiting!’
“ ‘I can fix you,’ promised the Moon, as a long tear rose and fell from its eye. ‘Moon-tears can cure any condition, even one as strange as yours. It will do you no good to continue growing and collide with a planet or worse, a meteor shower.’
“ ‘Wait!’ said Rik in a deep voice. ‘They have showers in space?’
“ ‘Yes,’ replied the Moon. ‘Storms of rock and ice will fall from the Heavens and shower your body like shot hurled from a blunderbuss. They are very dangerous, especially to creatures as tall as you!’
“ ‘I have experienced every type of rain-shower on the Earth,’ said Rik not entirely hearing the Moon’s persistent warnings, ‘but never a shower in space. Thanks for your offer, Madam Moon, but I’m going to keep on growing!’
“And grow he did! He grew higher than the moon, higher than the planets, higher than the whole galaxy itself. He . . .”
“How did he eat?”
“Wha . . ?” I stammer, my fifth cookie in hand.
“How did he eat, Murph? He was so tall and so big. Didn’t he starve?”
“No . . . ‘course not,” I considered. “He . . . ate a slice of Mars, sucked in a little of Jupiter, and an even the entire Death Star! He grew and ate, grew and ate some more until he got really really close to the stars, which we all know are actually tiny little holes in the great fabric of space/time. On the other side, Heaven shines through, giving life and hope to all the nine worlds.”
“My teacher says that stars are like the sun: balls of gas and fire.”
“Well, when your teacher tells this story, she can change it to whatever she likes: angels, ghost lights, phosphorescent worms. Here, in this story, stars are holes in the space-time continuum, okay?”
“Okay . . . like in Stargate, right?”
“Exactly like in Stargate! So . . . Rik peered through the star-holes and forgot entirely about his meteor shower. He thought that maybe it’d be better to escape his little footstool – Earth – and join the angels and saints in Heaven. All he needed to do was grow a few hundred trillion feet and he’d be able to rip a hole in the space/time fabric and join the saints for a game of nude volleyball.
“Huh? Oh, um . . . yeah, so nobody wears clothes in heaven. They don’t have silkworms for silk, only creatures with big warm eyes like puppies, cats, and hippopotami can live in heaven. Bugs and crustaceans go to Hell. That’s why it’s never okay to shoot a bear or a deer, but you can fish and swat flies all you like.”
“Well, can’t they use animal skins? Like the cavemen used to.”
“No, because hunting is evil and no animal dies in Heaven. Thus, everyone’s naked and beautiful.”
“Ewww . . .”
“Remember this story when you turn 16. You might have a change of heart . . . Anyway, Rik really longed for a game of . . . um beach volleyball with the angels, who because of their wings and nubile bodies can . . . uh, spike the ball really well. Anyway, he thought that if the sun made him grow taller, he could use it to reach Heaven. So he reached out for the sun, feeling the pulsing solar flares tickle his hand, and tossed it in his mouth like a fiery grape. He felt his body shiver and shake. He readied himself for the moment his head would go bursting through the Heaven’s floor, surrounded by the scent of roses and apricots and sunscreen.
“But instead Rik began to shrink; he felt his hand pull away from the celestial tapestry, from the stars, from the bouncing angels and their volleyball game. The sun no longer shown upon his skin; trapped inside of him, the sun’s glow faded and with it the symptoms of Solar Influenza!
“Yet even still, the giant ball of fire and gas was not finished digesting. As Rik shrunk, he felt the sun grow larger in his stomach; his body and all its organs began to heat up and catch fire. The pain was so intense, Rik thought his heart was burning – though it was only the endothelial cells popping inside his esophagus.
“Then suddenly, just as his stomach began to burst and his remaining organs melted like Jello left out in the warm summer heat, a meteor shower appeared from the deepest darkest parts of space. Some say that it was a gift from the Creator to protect his fledgling Universe, just three-billion years old – barely a second in God-years. Others suggest that the Creator just happened to sneeze (it was allergy season on the planet Bellerophon).
“Whatever the case, the meteors bombarded poor Rik, pelting his shrinking shank; he cried so fiercely that the Moon shed tears of pity which trickled onto Rik’s foot, crushing the toe-smashed remains of Atlantis. The moon’s tears of course cured Rik, immediately freeing him from the symptoms of Solar Influenza. Rik felt his body shrink even faster; the sun’s heat grew so intense that Rik spit flames from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The poor boy would have died then and there: torn and boiled from the inside out!
“Suddenly a huge meteor, the size of Texas or a presidential candidate’s ego collided with Rik’s gut. The boy gagged, hurling the lodged sun from his molten stomach like a piece of pre-digested bubblegum, and sent it drifting safely to the center of the solar system. Minutes later, Rik was standing on his smashed barn no more taller than you or I. It was raining once again. The Moon shed tears over all the Earth for three months, curing every manner of illness from Hairball Cough to No-Toe-a-Ebola.”
“Wow, three months of rain!” Paul said with a clap. “So was he happy?”
“Well, for a moment or two, until he remembered that he had eaten the sun and doomed his entire planet to eternal darkness and frozen wastelands. It took the sun several millennia to recover from its encounter with Rik’s digestive tract. By that time, all the dinosaurs had died, along with most life on the planet. Rik founded a national clothing-optional volleyball league with the few surviving humanoid-mutants, and after million years, life emerged once again on Earth. The end!”
Paul threw the doors open and walked outside into the rain. When asked later, he told his mother through phlegm-choked coughs that he was trying to get sick, spy on nude angels, and eat the sun. My aunt and uncle still assume the child still suffers from fever-inspired delirium. I refuse to say otherwise.