Desolate. Barren? Sterile… One by one, the words trickled through Otto’s mind each morning as he ambled through the rubble streets of his hometown. Twenty-six years he’d lived here, and he heard the same three words echoing behind the curtain of his subconscious every day of his short life thus far. Still, he could never decide which word most accurately captured the truth of this place. As always, the streets were empty, save the beggars huddled around the watering hole – hoping beyond hope that the long-obsolete building would magically refresh itself so they’d have a chance at quenching their thirsts before they inevitably began to rot from the inside. Apparently, back when the Rain came by itself, the watering hole was a social and economic hub of massive proportion. Merchants would pitch their wares to the unattended housewives, out to fetch water for their husbands. Family matriarchs would gather up their grandchildren and escort them down to bathe in the ever-flowing streams after a long day of working in the fields. Occasionally, a mayor, or even a governor, would make an appearance at peak hours to reaffirm that he too depended on the life-sustaining nourishment of the town’s almighty watering hole.
But these were all just stories to Otto. As he walked the long trail to work each morning, the once glorious rendezvous looked as decrepit and broken as the rest of this time-forsaken town.
The Rain stopped coming long before Otto was born. His mother had told him other stories when he was younger about how the Earth and Sky worked together – how when it grew thirsty, the Soil would cry out to Heaven begging for sustenance. And she would always oblige, weeping tears of vitalizing blood into every crevice and pocket of the Earth. This went on for millennia, until the Earth no longer needed to cry out and the Sky knew just when to send the Rain, as if by instinct. And the Earth grew, furnishing himself with wondrous vegetation and fauna for the Sky to behold as payment for the Rain. They cared for one another.
Until the Earth created man.
Man took advantage of the Rain – kept it for himself and refused to provide it to the plants and animals the Sky loved so dearly. So, after a time, the Rain stopped coming. And now, centuries later, as Otto approached the rainmaker’s shop, all that was left of the Earth were various shades of dust and decay.
Mr. Frond, the rainmaker, peeked his head out of the shop as Otto approached and waved him over. A portly man who lead with his chest and kept his shoulders high – to Otto, Frond more resembled a perpetually grounded hot air balloon than a human being. His brightly colored tunics and gleaming bald head did little to refute the idea.
“Come in, boy!” he bellowed from the front door, “I’ve got a special one for you this year.”
Frond melted back behind the dimly lit storefront and Otto felt his heart lift with excitement. This was his favorite day every year.
When the Rain stopped coming, mankind would have petered into extinction if not for the appearance of the rainmakers – men and women with a preternatural knack for communicating with the Rain. They could perform mysterious rituals that emulated the cries of the Earth from centuries past. The practice was unreliable at best, but when a truly talented rainmaker appealed to the Sky, she might take pity on them and provide just enough Rain to help them endure the coming days. Every town in the world needed a good rainmaker nowadays, or they wouldn’t be a town for long.
Mr. Frond was a good rainmaker – Otto might say the best. While many believed the art of rainmaking to be a mystical talent, gifted at birth and impossible to recreate, Frond viewed it as a science. He’d spent his sixty years of life experimenting and hypothesizing, dedicating every hour of every day to learning its vast possibilities. It was a slow process, but he’d proudly shared one of his discoveries with Otto nearly a decade ago. He’d learned that somehow, in the first third of the year, the chance of calling the Rain was at its peak – he’d theorized that it had something to do with what used to be called “seasons.” Otto had learned about “seasons” in school, but hadn’t retained much of it – it didn’t seem important at the time, just a shadow of the past’s unwillingness to die. But Frond loved “seasons” – he called this one “Spring.”
And each “Spring” Frond would spend weeks in the lot behind his house, making Rain as many times as could be expected before exhaustion set in, for only one purpose: flowers. He’d yield three, maybe four a year, but Otto always got first pick on the opening day of – what Mr. Frond called – “Summer.” When the shop would open later that day, dozens of villagers would line up hoping to catch a glance of the magnificent foliage, and those with the most inordinate wealth might even have a chance at purchasing one. Though it would surely die within days, a thing of such beauty was well worth one’s year-long savings in this abandoned life, even to have for the shortest time. But Otto never had to suffer the hustle and bustle – never had to spend a single bit of copper.
Otto slinked into the shop after Mr. Frond, unnoticed by the still-sleeping town, only acknowledged by the tinkling of the tiny bell hanging from the top of the door. The interior lacked its usual joviality with the lights out, but Otto preferred it this way – quiet, gloomy – like mischievous secrets lied in wait for only the elite mind to uncover. As he breached the front entrance, Otto heard Mr. Frond’s rusty voice echo from the back.
“In the observatory!”
Wasting no time, Otto shuffled through the myriad wares toward his favorite room in the shop. He ogled at the massive telescope screwed a thousand times over into the center of the floor. How could Mr. Frond afford such a thing, nonetheless acquire it? A question he’d asked himself a hundred times, but lacked the courage to ask out loud. Along the far wall, Frond was waiting by a row of clay pots. Many of them were empty, but the three in the center caught Otto’s eye. He all but leapt to Mr. Frond’s side.
“This is quite the treat, m’boy,” the rainmaker beamed. “I’ve been trying to procure the seeds for one of these for decades. I wasn’t going to use them for sale, but I pictured the look on your face when you’d see it and I couldn’t help myself.”
He had strategically planted himself in front of the rightmost pot, and only now revealed what was waiting behind him with a performative flourish. Otto’s eyes lit up and he felt his pulse accelerating. The flower before him was unlike anything he’d ever seen – a deep burgundy, as rich as blood. Despite the arid atmosphere surrounding them, this flower was covered in tiny droplets of water that Frond called “dew.” Its petals cascaded outward from its center, seemingly overlapping itself a hundred times or more.
“That’s the look, right there.”
Otto was sure he was blushing. He could feel the heat in his cheeks and imagined he may look nearly as ruddy as the crimson blossom before him. Enjoying the paralytic bliss of the young man, Frond continued speaking.
“It’s called a rose. Used to pass hands between young lovers, so the stories go. Last one I heard reached a full bloom was somewhere in Asia, but that was before you were born. I had to use up most of my Downpour keeping this little one alive. That’s why I’ve only got two others this year – a dandelion and a daffodil. Not too impressive compared to this gal, but it’s worth it to see one myself. And I’ll still bring in a good profit with the rest. So, kid, what do you think?”
On any other occasion, Otto would have been thrilled to talk Mr. Frond’s ear off. Half the fun of flower day was the chance to discuss the science of rainmaking with an elder such as he – but Otto was frozen solid and could only manage three words.
“I feel alive.”
“Well take it, m’boy!” Mr. Frond clapped his hands together as he exposed two massive rows of yellowed and rotting teeth. “I don’t want to take up any more of your time with that beauty! Before you know it she’ll be gone and you’ll be back for something less impressive.”
Mr. Frond shooed him away as he prepared the shop for the day – lighting the sconces, tidying the shelves, and dowsing himself with copious amounts of cloves.
As soon as he stepped into the coarse dust storm that he called air, Otto could feel the rose in his hands start to contract from the dry heat. Fear pierced his ribcage and his feet began stomping pavement as he sprinted towards his home. He heard the sounds of a town awakening as he bolted past a dozen dwellings – doors slowly creaking, idle chatter between neighbors, the beggars moans growing louder as people signaled them to leave. The journey to his house seemed a blur, his focus intently on preserving the monument laced between his fingers.
His surroundings quickly slid back into his periphery as he approached his front door. As he did most every day, Otto whispered a quick word of thanks to himself for living so far on the outskirts of town. Even outside, he could hear the rushing and splashing coming from his living room. If there was more foot traffic nearby, someone would have noticed by now.
Pressing the door open just enough to fit through, Otto slinked into his foyer and quickly latched the door behind him. The comforting sounds of running water bombarded him and he couldn’t help but giggle. He stole one final look through the window to make sure he wasn’t followed before tossing the curtain over it and skipping to his living room. The light from a dozen candles didn’t do it justice, but the gleaming brooks and stagnant pools spotting this enormous room still filled him with awe every time he entered his home. Humming mildly to himself, Otto perused the collection of flowers he’d received over the last ten years. The chrysanthemum was as vibrantly pink as it was on the day he got it at twenty-years-old. The hibiscus had faltered a little, with one or two pedals floating in the pool from which it sprouted, but what could be expected from the oldest part of his collection.
Right in the center of the garden, he found a perfectly round puddle in which to plant the rose. It hadn’t been too late – there was still plenty of life left in this marvel of nature. As he dug his trowel into the rich soil, he felt a pang of guilt. Mr. Frond had given him the most amazing gift he’d ever received and yet he still hadn’t shared this secret life with the man. How much they could share if Mr. Frond only knew that Otto, too, was a rainmaker!
But he knew he couldn’t tell.
No one would believe that he’d acquired the skill through practice and dedication alone. To have been born common, yet claim now to be special – he’d be branded a charlatan. But everything Mr. Frond had taught him over the years had accumulated in this – his personal garden filled with streams of fresh water and beautiful flora he’d kept alive for years past their expectancy.
The guilt grew deeper. He knew Mr. Frond would love this place. Still, Otto knew that it would just lead to more questions. He’d have to admit to Frond that he’d perfected the ritual. Rainmaking was no longer a hit-and-miss art form – not for him – Otto hit every time.
The Rain always came for him.
By the time he’d finished welcoming the rose to its new, eternal home, Otto had made up his mind. They weren’t ready. Something about the need for water bonded people. He saw the anger behind their eyes each day – the hatred and jealousy for their fellow man. What would happen if that need was taken away? What would keep them from disposing of those they despised? Why work together when you want for nothing?
No, they weren’t ready.
Maybe, one day, when Mr. Frond passed from this life he’d reconsider. But for now, Otto poured himself a cup of water and relaxed by the garden.