This recording is a testament to what I saw here, the terrible deeds this town committed. So lost in despair, they turned their backs on everything- their religion, their way of life, even their humanity. They lost it all by waiting, waiting for the rain, for a savior, and for a miracle most of all.
Driving into town, Greensville looked like a typical Midwestern suburb. Dead trees, rabid animals, houses buried under mounds of dust… Well, that’s at least what passes for typical these days. Somehow the town looked even worse than in the photographs, drained almost of all emotion. Any place people live, a house, a town, a city carries with it a certain feeling. In some it’s greed, in others camaraderie, but here it was just nothing. Even hopelessness fled the people watching me drive past.
They waved their hands like scarecrows, like straw in the wind as my car rolled by. All along Main Street, I swerved around massive dunes. Here and there a headlight or a fender protruded from the mounds, and I realized the dunes were actually cars buried in some previous dust storm. Going forward was impossible, so I stopped the car and waited uneasily.
Through the grimy haze I saw a stranger approaching. Squinting in the sun, he stopped beside my Toyota. He looked at least 50, face and body covered in filth. His shirt and pants were a uniform shade of dirty brown, with little patches of color peeking through here and there. His mouth began moving, but no sound came out. Pausing, he began to cough. It was a deep and ugly cough, like he was hacking his guts up. The sound resounded sharply through the alleyway he stood in, bouncing off the crumbling walls. Opening the door to my Toyota, I stepped onto the ground, clapping the stranger’s back.
“You alright Mister?” I asked, helping him cough up something black and grimy.
After about a minute, his hunched form straightened slightly but remained bent over the ground.
“Just dust,” he responded weakly, collapsing against an abandoned storefront.
I sat down with him, grabbing a water bottle from my car.
“Need some?” I asked, gesturing toward the bottle
He gently took it from my hands, bringing the container to his parched lips. He drained it all in one gulp.
“Ah. Much better. Thank you, stranger. What’s your name,” he questioned hoarsely.
“It’s Hank. Hank Matthews. I’m a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. I’m here to…to,” I couldn’t think of a good word for it.
“To see how bad we have it, eh? Well, I’ll tell you, we have it pretty bad. Ever since the Ogallala aquifer ran dry in ‘62 the drought’s gone from bad to worse. No irrigation, no rain, just dust storms. Dust storms by the hundreds. Some folks say it's even worse than the Dustbowl some 140 years ago. But you already know that I’m sure. Say, let me get a better look at you. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, all clogged up with dirt.”
Wiping his eyes with his shirt, the man squinted at my face, trying to get a better look at it. His jaw dropped in shock.
“What, you never seen a man with vitiligo before? My skin’s turning white up by my eyes, see. Just losing its pigment.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen vitiligo before. It’s just strange is all. Very strange…Not the splotchiness of course, but something else. Eh, it’s probably nothing. Still, you should go see the Mayor all the same.”
“You’ll see. But anyways, you should come to the rabbit hunt today. It’ll be the biggest one yet. You just gotta bring your own club of course.”
“Why are you killing rabbits?”
“For food. And because the little devils eat every bit of greenery that’s left.”
“And you kill them with clubs?”
“You got a better way?”
“Fair point I guess. Just can’t say I agree with it. What’s your name by the way?”
“It’s Paul Smith. I used to be the town preacher in case you didn’t know. That was before this town gave up on God. We’ve since turned to other forms of religion, but you’ll see about that soon enough. Be sure to see the Mayor, alright.”
“I will,” I nodded, heading towards the battered city hall.
Along the way were the ruined houses, the dried-up lawns. The pride of an entire community, built on HOA’s and sprinkler heads was dead and gone, evaporated in spite of all the warnings. But no amount of drought notices or heat advisories could stop them. They needed their lawns to be green, their swimming pools to be filled. It provided comfort in a dark time, evidence that man was still in control. Until even darker times came.
The rabbit hunt was underway. Suburban families, complete with bone-thin retrievers and labradors, assembled in mass to kill. Cutting limbs with saws from the leafless trees, they marched wordlessly, tapping their makeshift clubs softly against their legs.
They looked at me strangely as I passed, as if they knew me somehow, somewhere. I didn’t take much notice though walking to city hall.
It was certainly an odd place, city hall. The building itself was nothing out of the ordinary, built like almost every other in America down to the last pillar of the entryway. But graffitied everywhere against the neo-colonial brick was the phrase RAINMAN spelled out in every color imaginable.
I’d heard before arriving that this town was a bit strange, even bordering on the occult. It was only upon entering through the whitewashed double doors of the city hall that I realized just how out of the ordinary it was. Everywhere, in every nook and cranny of the place was the same phrase RAINMAN again. On the floors, on the cracked ceiling, across every wall, and around every corner, the word bleeding in and out of itself in an unfathomable web that spanned the building.
But there was more. A shrine of sorts was spread across a table towards the back of the entryway, complete with lit candles and incense. A man kneeled before this makeshift altar, eyes fixed towards the floor in silent prayer. The room, besides the candles, was otherwise completely dark.
I waited a minute, then five minutes, then fifty minutes for this man to finish his orations, but he still paid no attention to what was going on behind him. I had no desire to interrupt him, not wishing to offend, but after an hour passed like this, I finally made up my mind to speak.
“Hello, Sir. Pardon me for interfering with your worship. I’m Hank Matthews, a reporter for the Chronicle, and was wondering if you could show me where the Mayor is?”
Without a sound, the man turned around to face me. He was a sickly, rail-thin individual with a face that looked almost moth-eaten in the candlelight. After a particularly hideous coughing fit, the man began to speak in a cracked weather-beaten voice.
“No need to worry Mr. Matthews. I pray all day, every day, so I’m glad you interrupted me then. I am the Mayor you see and…” He paused, staring at my face.
“Who sent you here?”
“Mr. Smith, the preacher did.”
“Well, I can see why,” He mumbled under his breath.
“If this is about my vitiligo again…” I started before the Mayor let out a terrible shout from his parched throat.
“YOU ARE THE RAINMAN! BLESSED BE THE MAN WHO BRINGS THE RAIN!”
And then he began to cough again. Hacking up blood, dust, and heaven knows what. It was only then that I realized what else was on the altar table. What I had thought before were candle holders were actually skulls. Five human skulls with flames were the eyes used to be.
“Oh no! Oh God no this can’t be!” Just behind the skulls was a collage of magazine clippings. All kinds of faces stitched together on a piece of cardstock. And the face, that crazed swirl of whites, browns, and blacks looked, to a certain extent, like my own.
I ran, ran like my life depended on it right up to the massive double doors. I frantically tried opening them, but the doors were bolted tight. They must’ve locked automatically when I closed them.
“Don’t be afraid my friend. You are only doing your duty to us. To the people that need it the most. The prophet we paid, the man who came to our town foresaw someone just like you. Even stitched together your spitting image on cardstock. We’re desperate you see. More desperate than you can ever imagine.
But we won’t be anymore. You are the Rainman, the man who will save us from destruction. And with you will come the rain, the rain we’ve waited for so long.”
“And the skulls?” I murmured terrified.
“Those are the skulls of those who prepared the way for you. They didn’t quite make it you see. All of them suffocated in one dust storm or another, but they’re still holy. Very, very holy. But as I said, do not be afraid. A storm is coming. Oh yes, a mighty big storm. But the dirt in your presence will become rain. EVERY LAST MITE OF DUST WILL BE TRANSFORMED, MADE IN YOUR IMAGE INTO THE CLEANEST AND PUREST OF WATER!”
And then the coughing began again. This time more like retching, like the Mayor was vomiting up his soul.
“So…” I stammered terrified out of my mind. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to work a miracle!” The Mayor exclaimed, filled with holy fervor.
The mayor unlocked the door, racing in front of me to announce to the town the good news. “He’s here, the Rainman has arrived.”
The locals, standing over the bodies of thousands of clubbed rabbits, stood in awe around the doorway as I shoved my way through the crowd, trying desperately to escape. Rabbit blood and guts streaked my shoes, making it difficult not to slip. But even if I wasn’t in danger of falling with every step, a much greater threat loomed above.
Howling, wailing, coursing like a river of ash through the banks of the sky was a dust storm. The Mayor was right. Even at 50 miles away it was horrific, blotting out the blue sky piece by piece.
“A storm, a storm! Take shelter everyone!” I shouted out desperately, pointing wildly at the blackened clouds.
“We will, '' a family of three next to me replied, dropping their blood-streaked clubs in shock.
“But surely the Rainman won’t?” They asked incredulously.
“I have to, don't I? How else can I survive?”
“Why would you take shelter?” A girl asked in disbelief. “You’re the one here to save us. To bring the rain. You are blessed. Blessed be the Rainman.”
The crowd echoed her, “Blessed be the Rainman.”
“Look, I stammered, tears coming into my eyes. I’m not the Rainman. I’m a journalist from the Chronicle, just here to report a story. I didn’t sign up to die. Will one of you please let me take shelter with you? I’m begging you please…”
“He’s only humble,” Mr. Smith interjected. “I assure you, he will save us all.”
I pleaded, I cried, I shouted, but there was no moving these people. I banged on doors, I shouted until my throat bled. And still no one helped me.
As frantic as I was, a sudden wave of calm washed over me. Reaching into my pocket, I fished out my voice recorder and began to speak, recounting everything that happened. These are the words you hear now.
The storm looms closer, and I feel deep within me that this is the end, but I have accepted my fate. May the truth not perish with me!