Thursday, December 17, 2009

Weather Report by Wayne Goodchild

So there I was minding my own business, reading the latest Joe R. Lansdale book in my backyard and enjoying the August heat, when the weather turned. No big surprise there; after all, England’s not exactly renowned for its stable summer climate.

Everything was going great guns for starters: light blue sky stretched for miles overhead, clear and calm as a Mediterranean sea. I pictured myself sitting outside a tropical villa, soaking up the rays and begrudgingly appreciating the greenhouse effect as it warmed my body and slowly roasted the Earth.

The local steelworks farted out yet more toxins half a mile away from my house.

There is no greater holiday destination than the imagination, and that’s where I spent the majority of the afternoon. Until about three o’clock, when I was drawn out of the world of murdered cops and shady Texan gangsters by the realisation that it’d started to become dark. A refreshing breeze cooled the sweat on the back of my neck and stirred the pages of my book as I lay it down on the garden table. Not for the first time, the local news had got it wrong when they reported uninterrupted glorious weather for the whole week.

The breeze stopped slouching and picked up its feet remarkably fast, bringing with it a fleet of storm clouds, swollen with bad weather. A muted kick drum of thunder boomed in the middle distance.

The plum tree my granddad had planted years ago towered over the backyard, its uppermost branches whipping crazily back-and-forth in the wind. A particularly large damson snapped off and thudded onto the table in front of me. Not fancying getting brained by a falling plum, or soaked by the rapidly approaching storm, I returned my lawn chair to the shed, scooped up my book and glass of ice water, and headed indoors. As I closed the back door and stepped into the kitchen, the first spots of rain spattered half-heartedly against the double glazing.

Annoyed the first day of my long-weekend off had been soured by crap weather, I plonked myself down on the living room sofa and tried to find an afternoon movie to watch on cable. I channel surfed for several minutes, finally settling on an old Robert Mitchum western. Before I properly got into it, I flicked the coffee table lamp on; by now, the advancing clouds completely obscured the sun.

As the movie wore on (it was actually a bit boring) I kept looking out the front windows at the weather. I could hear water slopping into the clogged gutters, only to overflow and sluice down the windows in heavy streams. Looking past this, the rain itself appeared to be almost perpendicular in its descent; slashes of water sliced from the heavens, as razor-sharp and thin as a surgeon’s knife. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I went outside and got sliced to ribbons by the rain. That was a cheery thought.

Wind howled around the house and battered the surrounding world with the flats of its palms in frustrated anger; the big bad wolf finally outwitted by the third pig’s house. Thunder cracked and roared, the voice of a disappointed god. Sheet lightning strobed across the world, momentarily cutting out the digital TV signal in second-long blackouts.

I turned the TV volume up, drowning out the storm with gunfights and whooping injuns.

As I persevered with the western, I started to enjoy it a bit more, when, no more than half an hour after the storm began, something heavy thudded on to the roof and grabbed my attention. The initial thud was quickly followed by something that sounded like a bag of potatoes falling down the stairs, and my gaze traced the noise from the ceiling to the window as tiles flew from the roof and smashed against the paving that lined the small front garden. Hot on their heels came a dark shape, twisted at crazy angles as it shot past the window and crunched into the ground. Sliding off the sofa, I stood at the window and peered out at the garden. The heavy rain made it difficult to focus on whatever it was, so I cracked the window open an inch. This allowed a cold draught to chill my face as the wind eagerly, greedily, sought a way in to the house, but it also let me see what lay crumpled in my garden.

“What the Dickens?!” I cried out. I was surprised for two reasons: one, that I’d actually heard myself say ‘What the Dickens’ and two, that there was a corpse in my garden.

I clamped the window shut and took a step back. Unless a suicidal TV repairman decided to pick this moment to offer me a free upgrade to my aerial, I had no idea where he’d come from. I cracked the window open again and shouted at him (I assumed it was a man) asking if he was okay. No answer. Or the weather had snatched away his feeble, dying response. I guessed now was the time to play my Good Deed For The Day card.

I slipped my shoes and jacket on and darted out of the front door. The body was definitely male. As the rain hit the ground around him, it diluted the blood that seeped from numerous unseen injuries, creating a red river that fed my mother’s prize pergonias.

“Sir?” I called, spitting out rain as it flowed down my face and into my mouth. I moved closer, halting when I saw his face. Or what was left of it. The fall from the roof most certainly had not done that to him; he looked as if he’d had an ill-judged fight with a combine harvester.

I ran back indoors and picked up the phone, ready to call an ambulance, when something else crunched outside. I paused before dialling the third ‘9’ and opened the front door. Another body lay torn across the short brick wall that separated the front yard from the footpath. As I goggled at this new arrival, I saw a dark shape plummet from the sky across the road, and crash into the roof of the expensive Toyota parked opposite my house. Several more loud smashes and thumps could be heard echoing down the street as more shapes fell from the clouds. It really was raining men. Hallelujah, indeed.

Snapping myself out of it, I finished dialling for an ambulance. “What is the nature of the emergency?” a polite young lady asked.

Impressed by my composure, I answered, “A man has fallen off my roof and needs immediate medical attention.”

“How many men, sir?”

“What? Just one.”

“Try to remain calm, we’re trying our best to deal with the situation.”

“What?! I am calm!”

“Sir, all ambulances are currently on call. Please stay on the line and someone will take your address.”

“Are you trying to tell me this-” A blast of static cut me off. I tried redialling, only to receive an ‘all our operators are currently busy’ recorded message. Frustrated, and supremely confused, I went back to watching the grisly storm through the living room windows.

Outside, the deluge of bodies continued – if anything, they were falling in greater numbers. My front garden looked like an explosion in a soup kitchen. I tried calling other people but either their lines were engaged or disconnected. Behind me, the TV kept uttering glitchy squeaks as Robert Mitchum was replaced by garbled artifacing. This is why I’ve always been against the digital switchover – as soon as you get a lousy picture it’s practically impossible to retune it yourself. Although to be fair, the cable and satellite providers probably didn’t reckon on their services being spoiled by a storm of dead bodies.

Trying desperately to block out the thumps, cracks, and wet explosions from outside, I hiked up the TV volume even louder and changed to a news channel. The digital noise ruined this, so I switched to normal TV, where I only had to contend with blasts of snow and hisses of static. A scrolling banner at the foot of the screen announced ‘BREAKING NEWS’, and the female newsreader kept losing her studied self-possession as she tried to warn people about the storm. “…ports of…dead bod….from…sky…” she stuttered through the crackly reception.

I tried other terrestrial channels, and they all had similar ‘BREAKING NEWS’ reports on the go. A silver-haired gent on the BBC spoke over the top of the ubiquitous ‘amateur footage’ that stained most newscasts these days. The shots they were currently screening showed men (and women) falling onto house roofs, fences, high streets as afternoon shoppers sheltered from the rain. Everywhere.

Channel Four had a massive weather map on the go, with a newsreader pointing out a grey swirl of storm cloud as it gradually blotted out the United Kingdom. “This is live from our satellites,” he reminded viewers. “The point of origin is yet unknown, although the storm does seem to be growing outwards from somewhere above the UK.”

Growing, not spreading. Spreading would suggest a dispersal, and this storm was evidently engulfing all weather in its path. Consuming and extending.

“We advise viewers to stay inside. Only…shelt…your current….destroyed.” The image abruptly became a ghostly version of its former self. I tried the other channels and discovered they’d suffered a similar fate. I sat motionless for a moment, listening to the hiss of the television and the shattering noises from outside. Finally, I changed the channel and found Robert Mitchum battling valiantly not just against rival cowboys but a terrible reception. Resolute, I put my feet up and tried to watch the end of the movie.

Wayne Goodchild is based in the north-east of England, where the only real talking point is the terrible weather. How work has most recently appeared online in Issue 3 of New Bedlam zine, and he has a number of stories set to appear in various anthologies from Library of the Living Dead/Library of Horror Press.

Photo by Adam Lawrence.
Street art by

Digits is Alt Altman, an electronic indie pop artist from Toronto, Canada. He's only been making music since March, but he has already mastered living-room-electro-pop.

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