I’m still working on short stories based on your comments, so don’t think I’ve forgotten you if you’ve suggested something and it hasn’t turned up! I might schedule them as posts crossing into November, because having made the decision to NaNoWriMo this year I won’t have as much time to dedicate to the blog.
In the meantime, today I’m posting a story about the lovely weather we’re having, in Edinburgh at least. The title, ‘parapluie’ (pa-ra-ploo-ee) is the French for umbrella.
It’s raining again, for the third week in a row – or has it been longer?
Before the rain started there was just grey mist everywhere, cloying and damp, creeping into our lungs whispering promises of respiratory problems and mould.
Nobody remembers what came before the mist. It was too long ago.
I’m walking to work through silent streets, leather boots sloshing lethargically through the water. Lots of commuters used to come this way, but the numbers have gradually lessened so now there are only a few stragglers, like me.
It can’t be safe, but we have no choice. Somebody has to keep the factory going.
A snippet of a song comes into my head and for a moment I nearly forget myself, tempted to sing out into the endless dripping dreichness – but fortunately I catch myself in time. There are penalties for making that kind of fuss, and they were imposed with good reason.
I allow myself a tiny sigh of regret, and glance upwards at the path in front.
Ahead of me, at the crest of the hill, I can see figures.
I quicken my pace, more from curiosity than anything else, and soon they come into focus. It is a woman, about the same age as me, holding the hand of a small girl. This is such an unusual site these days I find myself rubbing my eyes in disbelief, but there they remain, as clear as day. Clearer, if anything.
The little girl carries a bright green umbrella with frogeyes on top of it, and she’s wearing a red mackintosh and yellow wellington boots. This colour combination reflects in the raindrops bouncing off her umbrella, cutting through the grey air and creating a warm glow around her.
The mother – or I assume that’s who she is – catches my eye and smiles. She is wearing a bright blue coat, and somehow her hair is yellow and shiny like an advertisement even though everyone knows hair like that doesn’t exist anymore. She too has an umbrella, but hers is the old kind, black with a curved wooden handle. My father used to have one just like it, I remember; hers must be pretty old. It just goes to show how well made they are, that this one is still working.
Her smile is infectious and I can’t help grinning back. Then the little girl looks up at us smiling and it sets her off into giggles.
The laughter is too loud, I realise – it’s going to get her into trouble.
The little girl can’t know that, though. She jumps in a puddle and splashes some of the water at her mother, who giggles too and pretends to run away.
In that second they let go of one another and the atmosphere changes, but it all happens to quickly for me to do anything much other than stare in horror.
There is a loud, yowling sound a bit like an angry cat, and the smiling frog umbrella snaps closed over the little girl’s head. We hear her muffled cries for help for no more than a couple of seconds before the thing crunches her head off.
“No,” the mother says softly and I’m worried she’s going to try and intervene, but she seems to be frozen in fear.
The umbrella opens out a bit and shakes itself then clamps down again, harder this time, obscuring the girl down to her waist. There is a sickening sound of bones snapping and something chewing; something that hasn’t eaten in a long time.
It repeats the opening and clamping process twice more in quick succession, and in less than sixty seconds there is nothing left but one little boot.
The umbrella puffs up like a set of old fashioned bellows, belches loudly, and lies down on the ground.
We stare, mouths open, as it exhales gently and starts to snore.
You might wonder how something with no internal organs can eat a child, but you have to remember that times are different now.
This isn’t even the first time I’ve seen it happen, although I don’t think the same can be said for the lady with the yellow hair.
A low moan escapes the mother’s lips, then she flinches and throws her own umbrella away. It clatters harmlessly to the ground and rolls a few feet before stopping at the kerb.
In only a minute or two, the drumming rain turns her hair from yellow to grey.
“The older models are safe,” I inform her, although the words seem crass. Someone should have told her that when she bought the frog one in the first place.
She doesn’t seem to hear me, in any case.
“You got anyone I can call for you?” I ask awkwardly. It seems the right thing to do, even though I already know the answer.
The woman shakes her head vacantly and starts to walk away from me. The rain is already fading her around the edges.
“Hey Miss,” I shout after her, “you can’t stay out here uncovered, you need to get shelter.”
She ignores me and keeps walking.
“Your umbrella will be OK!”
I start to go after her but she’s moving surprisingly fast, and it’s hard to make her out now – she’s almost the same colour as the rain.
“At least put your hood up!” I shout, but I’m talking to empty space, the woman is gone.
Maybe she planned for this to be their last day. I’ve head on the Daily Report a lot of people have been doing that. It explains why my commute has become so silent.
She probably didn’t factor in the frog umbrella, I think. From the look on her face that seemed like a surprise although god knows how, she must not have listened to the Daily Report in weeks.
I think she must have wanted to come out with the little girl and have them play in the rain until they faded out together, laughing and giggling.
Nothing seems to work out the way people plan anymore, not since the mist came whispering sad secrets and breaking hearts. Nobody knows what things were like before it, and I have a feeling nobody will remain to see what things are like if it ever goes away.
But there’s no point thinking about that now. I’m running late, and somebody has to keep the factory going.
Nobody else will make the umbrellas we need, to keep people sheltered from the rain.