Ted sat at the window, looking out at the black rain.
“Will you get away from there and just close the blinds or something?”
“That stuff freaks me out. I don’t want to have to see it.”
“They said it was safe if we don’t go outside, when else are we gonna see something like this? It’ll be something to tell the grandkids.”
“It happens at least once a week, you’ve seen it plenty.”
Marsha looked back at her book, the news anchors on the TV talked softly in the background and above it all was the steady drumming of rain on the conservatory roof. Ted moved from the window and sat down beside Marsha, she looked at him for a second, then he pulled her into a hug, “It’s all right, they said so on the news. We just need to stay indoors while its raining and it clears away after an hour or so. We’ll be fine.”
“How can you say we’ll be fine? When has there ever been black rain? Something isn’t right and they’re not telling us something.”
Ted chuckled, “I never thought you of all people would buy into those conspiracy theories.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t if they were more open about it. They still haven’t told everyone what’s in the stuff, it’s all just don’t go outside until we give the all clear. But what about those who do get caught outside? Surely it had to have happened to someone but there’s nothing. No hospitalisations, no news reports of injuries. How do they know it’s dangerous if they don’t know what’s in it?”
“I’m sure they do, it’s probably just volcanic dust from that eruption a few weeks ago.”
Marsha shook her head, “I’m telling you there’s something more going on here. Either way I don’t want to have to look at that stuff. It makes my skin crawl.”
Ted stood from the couch and closed the blinds, blocking out the rain. The room was cast into deep gloom, he switched on a light, “Better?”
“I’ll be in the kitchen, do you want anything while I’m in there?”
“No, I’m ok, thanks.”
Ted stood at the kitchen sink, staring out the window into the back garden. Marsha had to be wrong, all the plants were doing fine, if the rain was dangerous surely it would be affecting them. The animals didn’t seem to be suffering too badly either. Ted paused, when was the last time he saw a bird in the garden? Normally he’d see at least three or four a day, but he couldn’t remember if he’d seen any in the last week. He shook his head, no that was silly, larger animals would be affected, and insects too, there’d be dead things everywhere. Marsha was just making him paranoid. He moved from the sink to the back door, there he stood, looking out at it all.
Two hours later and there was no sign of the black rain, everything had cleared away and dried, there were no stains, no residue, nothing to note the falling of the rain. “Right, I’m going to go out and do the shopping, do you want to come with?”
“No, I’ve only a few chapters left and I want to finish them off today.”
“Ok, I have the list, I’ll be back in a bit, if you think of anything else let me know.”
Marsha looked up from her book, “Maybe you should leave it for today? Go tomorrow?”
“Well, just with the rain and all, that was the longest one yet. What if it comes back?”
“We’ve never had more than one black rain in a day, besides I’ll be in the car and only getting out to go inside the shops, I’ll be fine.”
“Well, if you’re sure then.”
“Of course I am.” Ted leaned over and gave her a quick kiss, “I’ll be back soon, love you!”
Ted drove slowly though the roads were empty, he always was a nervous driver.
He flicked through the radio stations, looking for something interesting, but everyone seemed to be playing pop songs and the talk shows were droning on about some loon who’d been arrested a few days before. As Ted pulled into a parking spot he felt a familiar pang of anxiety. He finished parking, then took his hands off the steering wheel and started breathing. After a moment the anxiety faded and he smiled, even a few months ago his stomach would be in knots at the thought of shopping by himself, let alone having to actually do it. Still grinning he got out of the car, grabbed some bags from the back and went inside.
The supermarket seemed strangely empty for the time of day, there were the workers and one or two other shoppers. Ted preferred when stores were like this, made it easier to shop without having to duck and weave out of peoples way constantly. At the till he made idle chit chat with the cashier, more for the thrill of it, having these small meaningless interactions without nausea inducing anxiety was still a novelty for him. At the exit he stopped, three people were crowded around the door looking out.
“It looks like it’ll rain again.”
“Yeah but it’s just going to be regular rain, right?”
“Yeah it should be.”
“I’m getting the bus, don’t want to be caught out in it.”
Ted looked out at the clouds, they did seem dark and ominous, “Sorry, can I just get by there? Thanks”
Ted walked quickly to his car, he didn’t want to be caught in the rain, normal or otherwise. Quickly he packed his car and returned the trolley to the bay, he got into his car and pull out of his spot. As he passed the exit he glanced inside to see that the people had dispersed, a bored looking security guard was standing where they had been.
The first rain drop hit his windshield, “ah shit!” he flicked on the windshield wipers as more drops of black rain fell. If anything the wipers made it worse, smearing the black liquid across the windshield. Ted pulled over and turned off the car. He tried clearing the windshield with the washer, but the rain was falling too quickly now for it to make a difference. He looked around, at least he seemed to be the only one on the road so there was no one to crash into him. Ted flicked on the radio and sighed, Marsha had been right. He grabbed out his phone and sent her a quick text, then he settled in for the wait.
A strange smell was filling the car, he couldn’t pinpoint what it was, something sweet with an underlying tang of chemical disinfectant. Was that the smell of the rain? He’d been indoors the first time it happened and since they didn’t know what it was neither he nor Marsha went outside or opened windows until the news gave the all clear. He froze, if the smell was getting in was the rain getting in too? Was the air he was breathing safe? He looked around at the windows, all the rain seemed to be outside but it was hard to tell, the rain was blacking out all the windows. He grabbed his phone and turned on the flashlight, carefully he shone it around the windows, looking for a glimmer inside the car. Seeing none he turned off the flashlight and let out a slow breath. He was allowing his anxiety to get the better of him, that was all. He was as safe inside here as he would be in a house. Besides, the smell was probably just coming in through the vents in the car. It was fine, he would be fine.
Ted stretched, his hand brushing against the window. He frowned, his hand felt wet. Probably condensation, he looked down and froze. There was a thick smear of black on the back of his hand. Frantically he grabbed a handful of his jacket and started wiping it off. Despite it being gone he could still feel it on his hand, greasy and almost uncomfortably cold. He looked at the window, black rain was flowing steadily down the inside of the window, oozing it’s way onto the door and floor. Ted let out a yelp and struggled out of his seatbelt, once he was free he moved over the other side of the car, he checked the window here but it still seemed fine. The black rain seemed to be flowing faster down the other window, pooling in the foot well. Ted could feel his heart beating heavily in his chest, there had to be a leak in the car. That was all. It was just volcano ash mixed with the rain or something. The puddle in the foot well seemed to shudder, then it suddenly lurched forward. Ted let out a scream and scrambled into the back seat. The blob kept growing, steadily filling the foot well until it was able to move itself onto the seat. It moved over the centre console, Ted was huddled against the door, there was no where to go, outside the rain was coming down as heavily as ever. The blob lurched forward again, landing squarely in his lap, his body felt cold, greasy, then there was a sudden sharp pain and Ted started to scream.
Marsha stood at the window, looking out. The rain had stopped almost an hour ago but there was no sign of Ted. She had tried ringing him and texting, but she got no response. Marsha turned away from the window, he was probably just having some car troubles and it wouldn’t be a shock if his phone had died, he never charged the damn thing. There was a knock at the door, smiling Marsha went open it, that had to be him. As she reached out and gripped the door handle she stopped, Ted had keys with him, why would he knock? As she pulled the door open she saw two policemen. Marsha’s heart sped up, “Can I help you?”
“Are you Marsha Hayward?”
“Yes. What’s this about?”
“I’m sorry to have to inform you of this, but there was an accident, you’re husband was in a car crash and he didn’t make it.” The police officer was still talking but Marsha couldn’t hear anything, individually the words all made sense but together there was nothing. It was wrong, it had to be. He was a careful driver, he wouldn’t do this to her, Ted wouldn’t have left her alone like this. Her hand reached out blindly towards the wall, she needed to sit down, she needed the policeman to stop talking, she needed everything to just stop. She looked back at the policeman, words were filtering through now, “it was very quick”
“No pain…car spun out…no one else involved…someone you could call?”
There was silence again, they were looking at her, she needed to respond, say something but the words just wouldn’t come.
Finally one word, small and frightened, “What?”
“Would you like me to call someone? Maybe a friend or a family member?”
“I…No. Thank you. I think I need a moment. I’m sorry.”
“Would you like one of us to stay with you, until someone arrives?”
“No. that’s ok, Thank you. I just, I just need to sit.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Marsha nodded, the words were meaningless. She closed the door and walked into the sitting room, she sat onto the couch, her breathing was slow and steady. It was the wrong Ted. That was all, they got him mixed up with someone else and he’d come through that door any second now. Marsha looked out the window, at the blank spot where his car should be, at the backs of the police officers as they walked away and a sob tore itself free from her chest.
“God I hate giving death notices.”
“Me too, Jesus I need a drink. I don’t even think it really registered with her. Maybe we should go back, make sure she’s all right?”
“No. We should give her some privacy. She deserves that much. Besides, I don’t want to get stuck there for the rest of the day.”
They walked in silence for a moment, “Was it wrong? To lie to her like that?”
“No. Better she think it was quick, just a few seconds of panic and darkness. Do you want to go back and tell her he died in agonizing pain? That it took at least half an hour before it was finally done with him?”
“Yeah. Didn’t think so. God, what time is it?”
“Just past four.”
“Close enough. C’mon, lets go get that drink.”