The residents of Cottonwood Grove didn't like change. They or their ancestors had lived and died in the small community by the river for over two hundred years. Occasionally a member of the population would go to college and return with a new spouse. Usually, the community accepted the spouse.
Nedra attended college in the closest big city. After graduation, she returned, married to a handsome man from that city.
Everyone liked Wendell. He laughed at all the old jokes and told some well-worn jokes himself. He was always available to help with fieldwork and never complained about the hard work.
April of the following year was very, very dry. In most years, the sky was heavy with dark clouds, and people worried about floods. This year the sky stayed a pristine blue and didn't shed a drop of rain.
It was natural for the residents to look to the river. The banks were overflowing from the snowmelt in the high country.
"We could divert the river to irrigate our crops," Mayor Donald Dean proposed during an emergency meeting.
"Great idea! Let's vote," Adam Adamson shouted. Adam was one of the largest farmers in the area. Everyone knew that faced financial ruin if he didn't have a crop to sell. He purchased his land on credit, and he was stretched too thin.
No one voted against diverting the river. The residents started the monumental task the next day.
Fear of starvation and impoverishment drove the population to work quickly. Even five-year-old children helped by bringing sandwiches and water to the workers. In only two weeks, they were ready to divert the river. A large steel gate would reroute the precious water to trenches leading to the fields.
The community arrived for the ceremony. Mayor Dean wanted to give a short speech before diverting the river.
"We can all pat ourselves on the back. Every one of us has worked hard to save ourselves from disaster. Let's divert the river!"
Sirens filled the air. "Stop!" A man in a black business suit shouted as he jumped out of a black SUV. He was waving a gun. "Don't touch that gate!"
Men were starting to enter the river, but they halted at the sight of the gun-waving official.
A woman stepped out of the government-issued SUV. She was waving her government identification.
"Where's your permit? You will need a permit to divert the river. It's against the law to steal water from the people downstream," the woman shouted at the residents of Cottonwood Grove.
The residents stared at the woman in stunned silence. Finally, Adam Adamson asked, "How do we get a permit?"
"You need to hire engineers from the city to study the effects of taking water from the river. The engineers will also study the effects that the river water will have on your crops," the government woman answered.
"How long will that take?" Mayor Dean asked the officials.
"It shouldn't take longer than four or five years," the government man answered.
"Five years!" The residents whispered to each other. "It only took two weeks to did all the trenches!"
"How did you know we were diverting the river?" Adam asked.
"We have eyes and ears everywhere. We received an anonymous tip." The government woman was smug.
More government vehicles arrived, blowing the dry dirt into a cloud of dust.
"These are our guards," the government man explained. "They have orders to shoot anyone who comes within twenty feet of this gate."
The residents started to disperse, hoping to think of another way to save their crops.
"Do you think we have a snitch in our community?" Mayor Dean asked the residents gathered in the Cottonwood grove. It was dark, but a few people met unofficially to discuss the fate of their community.
"It's suspicious," Adam stated. "The government officials arrived, right when we were going to move the gate. Can anyone think of another reason for their untimely arrival?"
Sean Wilson spoke, "I think Wendell is the spy."
Murmurs of disbelief filled the air.
"Let me finish!" Sean was shouting. "Wendell is from the city. The river supplies water to the city. I'm sure that he has friends and family living in the city that need water. There isn't another soul that has a better motive."
Adam was thoughtful, "It makes sense, but Wendell has always been helpful. He worked by my side last fall when I needed help with the harvest. He was at the meeting when we voted to divert the river."
"This drought will hurt his wife's family as much as it will hurt us." Another disbelieving voice came from those gathered.
"I think that is another motive. We all know Edward, Nedra's father. It can't be easy having Edward and his volatile temper for a father-in-law."
"Let's pay Wendell a visit!" The suggestion was met with approval by all those gathered.
Nedra and Wendell were discussing the day's events when they were interrupted by the pounding on their front door.
"I wonder who that is," Nedra said. "It's much too late for a social call."
"Stay here; I'll see who it is." Wendell got up from the couch to answer the door. An angry mob was waiting for him.
"You won't get away with this!" Wendell thought he recognized Sean Wilson's voice.
"I won't get away with what?" Wendell was confused because he hadn't done anything.
"We know that you called the government! You don't want us to divert the river." The anger in Adam's voice was unmistakable.
"What are you saying? I want to divert the river. The livelihood of my family depends on getting water to the crops." Wendell defended himself.
"How about your family in the city. I'll bet that they need water also," Adam challenged.
"The city gets its water from a well. They don't drink river water." Wendell explained.
"Let's string him up!" It was impossible to tell who made that suggestion.
Nedra walked to Wendell's side when she heard those words.
"Wait! Wendell is a rainmaker! You can't hurt him!" Nedra panicked and said the first thing that came to her mind.
"A rainmaker! Why hasn't he done something to make it rain before now. We've been in this drought for over a month," Adam asked.
Wendell looked at Nedra, hoping she had an answer. He wasn't a rainmaker. He had never heard of a rainmaker.
"He can't bring rain unless he's asked. None of you asked him to make it rain." Wendell was impressed by his wife's quick thinking.
"All right! Wendell, will you make it rain?" Adam asked.
Wendell hoped his wife had an answer.
"We need to meet every night at dusk for three nights," Nedra spoke before Wendell could think of something to say.
Nedra was gone the next day. She told Wendell that she needed to do some research. Wendell hoped that she was researching how to make it rain. He was starting to panic when the sun started dropping in the sky.
"Are you ready to go to the Cottonwood grove," Nedra asked when she came home.
Wendell was so relieved to see her that he forgot to ask if she had a plan.
Most of the residents were already waiting when they got to the cluster of Cottonwood trees.
"Let's get started," Mayor Dean announced.
Wendell looked at Nedra, who nodded. "Tonight we need to look to the sky and repeat, 'Please let it rain.' Think about clouds heavy with water."
At first, nobody said a word. "Everyone; rainmaking needs to be a group effort." Wendell was surprisingly calm.
"We have nothing to lose," Adam said. He looked to the sky and said, Please rain."
Soon most of the residents joined in. Nedra noticed that Sean Wilson was looking at the dirt, and he wasn't saying anything.
After an hour, Wendell said, "meet here again tomorrow at the same time."
"Bring an umbrella!" Nedra instructed when everyone turned to leave.
Nedra said she had more research to do the next day. Wendell hoped she knew what she was doing.
"Open your umbrellas," Wendell instructed the crowd at dusk. "Please rain," Wendell peered around his umbrella to look at the sky.
Nedra examined the crowd. She noticed that Sean Wilson didn't bring an umbrella, and he wasn't speaking.
"I'll see all of you tomorrow night," Wendell said after an hour.
"Sean, you need to bring an umbrella," Nedra called out.
Adam turned to Sean, "I don't care if you believe, but you need to bring an umbrella. We need rain!"
Sean muttered something inarticulate and stomped off.
"Do you need to do research today?" Wendell asked Nedra.
"No, I know everything that I need to know for tonight," she reassured her husband.
They didn't speak much that day. Wendell was justifiably nervous. Nedra was preoccupied until it was time to go.
"This is it," Wendell said. "If the crowd starts getting ugly, I want you to run to your father. Most people are afraid of his temper, so he will be able to keep the angry crowd away. You should be safe."
Nedra smiled a bit mysteriously, "don't worry. Everything will work out."
The crowd was waiting.
"Open your umbrellas," Wendell instructed.
Nedra spoke up, "Sean, didn't your grandfather own most of the land that Adam is farming?"
Sean was belligerent. "What difference does that make?" He held up his umbrella. Nedra had never seen one that large. "You shamed me into bringing an umbrella, and I have. Leave me alone."
But Nedra wasn't done. "Haven't you tried to buy your family's land from Adam, but he won't sell?"
Adam answered, "Sean hasn't made a reasonable offer for the land. His offer has been less than a tenth of what I paid for it."
"Do you think you can get the land cheap if the drought continues?" Nedra wasn't letting the subject drop.
"I didn't cause the drought!" Sean shouted.
"No, but you did call the government authorities. You didn't want us to use the river to irrigate our crops. I was able to hack into the telephone records. I discovered that you made several calls to the officials that stopped the irrigation project." Nedra took a deep breath before adding, "then you tried to blame my husband. I can't forgive that."
"I don't need to listen to your accusations!" Sean turned to leave. The crowd was stunned. He turned back to face Nedra when he reached the edge of the gathering. "This stupid rain ceremony was probably your idea. You want all of us to look like fools!" He waved his giant umbrella.
The deafening thunder was simultaneous with at the blinding lightning struck. The residents lifted faces to feel the water pouring from the skies. It was a few minutes before anyone recovered enough from the bright lightning to see anything around them.
"Sean was struck!" Someone shouted.
"Is he still alive?" Another person asked.
"No, there is no pulse." Mayor Dean bent over Sean. "Someone help me get his body out of the rain."