By Riss Ryker.
Catherine McDowal stood in the doorway of her small, clapboard house staring at the endless Oklahoma sky. Not a cloud to be seen. Her corn crops were already withered and baked, standing like crispy skeletons in rows as far as the eye could see. Out the back door, her wheat fields, bleached brown and crinkly, were picked at by a small murder of crows as they tried to salvage seeds. She remembered when she and her husband first moved out to this barren wasteland where the soil was so rich it was black. For three years they worked the fertile soil, getting bountiful crops in return. John worked his fingers to the bone providing for her, building the house she stood in with his own bare hands. Because their crops were so successful, she was one of the first Plain’s women to have real glass windows. It didn’t matter now, she thought, the sand still crept in like it went through the walls. She coughed it up, spat it out and scratched it into her scalp. It was in the food, the wash, the bed she lay in, and had become a thin, permanent layer on her skin.
Walking outside she looked up at the darkening sky, knowing it was too hot for rain. She knelt and ran her hands through the dry, barren soil. If she didn’t acquire water soon, her mule was going to die. Just like her cow and her two goats, Billy and Annie. The chickens were the only livestock besides Ole Jack this dry spell spared. Sinking her hands deep into the soil to feel for moisture, her fingertips touched something hard. It wasn’t a rock, felt too smooth. Digging with her fingers, she pulled out a strange artifact that she turned over and over in her hand. Studying it, she could see a face with a furrowed forehead, bulbous nose and thick lips. Though it was buried in the warm sand, it felt cool and smooth to touch. Standing up, she shrugged her shoulders, dropping the stone into the pocket of her apron. She wished John were here, he loved finding stuff like that. Looking west, she gasped with horror. A black curtain of roiling dust stretching for miles in every direction, including up.
“My God!” she screamed, running for the corral. The residue from the coming dust storm reached her, getting into her throat and eyes. Grabbing Ole Jack by his rope halter, she yanked and pulled at the stubborn beast until he realized what was on the horizon. Letting himself be led into the barn, he headed straight for his stall without being led. Catherine grabbed the blankets, throwing them up over the rafters in an attempt to shield her mule from the sand that would inevitably find its way inside. Finished, she ran to the hen house, shooed them all inside and dragged a giant tarp made from fifty burlap bags sewn together, over the hen house. These animals were her livelihood, and she’d be damned if she was going to lose them.
Finally, she ran for the house. Shutting the door behind her, she had just enough time to shove rags under the door and around the window sills before the storm hit with fury that shook the small house. She lit a lantern just as the house was plunged into darkness as the storm blotted out the sun. Catherine sat at the kitchen table screaming out her frustration.
“I can’t take this no more, God!” she wailed, “Please! Make it stop, and send me rain!”
Unthinkingly clutching the strange stone in her apron pocket, she chanted, “Please let it rain, please let it rain.”
The sand managed to get inside her small home, finding every little crack and crevice, filling the air with dust and particles. Placing a damp rag over her face to breathe, she waited out the storm. The high winds threatened to tear her home apart as it shook and swayed precariously. Catherine’s high tension took its toll on her body, and she fell asleep in self defense, the stone clasped tightly in her hand.
Catherine woke to a strange sound on the roof. A continuous pattering sound as if thousands of tiny pebbles fell from the sky. Smiling in disbelief, she ran to the door and flung it open. Rain. Beautiful, wet, life-giving rain soaked the ground, washing away the infernal dust. But something wasn’t right. Just beyond her property line, sunshine. She walked out into the yard, letting cool rain wash over her like a refreshing waterfall and at the same time saw the rain end just beyond her property line. Looking on both sides of her house, the same phenomena was happening. Everything beyond her property was bone dry. She shook her head and cleared her eyes thinking it was just some sort of weird illusion, but it was true. Her’s was the only farm getting rained on. What was happening here? she thought, more than a little scared. Running to the barn, she went in and let Ole Jack out into the corral, watching as he bucked and sidestepped with equestrian happiness. Even the chickens, who would always run inside of their hen houses when it rained, came out to enjoy the downpour.
She thought about the stone in her apron, remembering her last words before she fell asleep. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be, she thought, feeling the smooth, cool carving with her fingers. Could it?
Half a mile past her property, on a county road, a Roadster was traveling east. Catherine saw the car stop and a figure get out to stand by the car, looking her way and scratching his head. As she watched, more cars, more than she’d ever seen in her lifetime, followed suit until before she knew it, they were lined up bumper to bumper to see the rain falling on her property alone. The first man went back to his car, coming out with an umbrella and what looked like a camera and walked her way. Horrified at how she must appear, she ran back inside and ran a brush through her sandy hair and dabbed a cloth across her face to remove the dirt. Running back out, she smoothed down her worn out calico dress just in time to see the man holding out his hand in greeting.
“Ho there!” he called out, “I couldn’t help but notice from the road that it’s raining on your property!”
“Yes,” she confirmed, “that it is. I certainly can’t explain it, but isn’t it wonderful?”
“Can you tell us what you might have done to cause this phenomenon?” he asked, “Maybe a spell or some sort of incantation? My name is Clark, Clark Stevenson, and I work for the Oklahoma Tribune.”
“Mr Stephenson,” she said angrily, “Are you insinuating that I might be some sort of witch? That I caused this?”
Flustered, he took off his hat, wiping drops of water from his face. “Well, you have to admit, ma’am, that it IS very odd, seeing how the rest of the state hasn’t seen rain in months. How is possible that it’s raining exclusively on your property?”
“I can’t explain that, sir,” she shot back, “but I can assure you that I had nothing to do with it! Now please, I’m going to ask you to get off my property immediately!”
Her fingers nervously rolled the artifact in her pocket, noticing it was no longer cool. Instead, it emitted a warmth she couldn’t explain. What was going on here, she thought. She watched nervously as more and more cars lined up on the side of the road and to the east, neighbors in horse drawn carriages were coming over the hill, stopping just on the edge of her property. She could see them pointing at her and talking as they gathered. She hurried back inside, watching through the windows as people swarmed to the edges of her property for most of the day and well into the evening. She could see people pointing angrily at her house, and for her own safety, she loaded the shotgun her husband kept over the bed.
A loud banging on her front door startled her,
It was Avery Jones, a longtime friend to both her and her husband.
“Catherine, let me in, quick!” he yelled urgently.
Running to the door, she opened it, ushering the older man inside. Taking off his hat, he held it to his chest as he talked.
“Catherine, you have leave, now!” he urged, “everyone is talking and saying that you’re dancing with the devil! They’re getting a lynch mob together right now as we speak. These are hard times, my girl, and they’re just looking for any chance to blame the weather on something.”
“My God, Avery, whatever are they thinking?” she cried, terrified for her life, “I had nothing to do with this! Nothing!”
Avery grabbed her arm, making her drop the stone onto the floor. They both stared at the stone for a moment, and Catherine looked up at him with dread.
“Where did you get this stone, Catherine?” he demanded, shaking her shoulders.
“I found it in the dirt, why?” she asked, fearing the answer.
He picked it up gingerly, his face blanching. “My God, Catherine, tell me you didn’t hold this stone and make a wish.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose!” she tried to explain, “I slipped it in my pocket without thinking after I found it. I asked God to make it rain, not some stupid stone.”
“Catherine!” he yelled, “This isn’t some ‘stupid stone’, it’s the replica of the demon, Bechard. The Indians used it out of desperation! When all other means had been exhausted, they called upon this demon to bring the rain! But there are certain precautions that need to be met before they could proceed. It had to be appeased with an offering of blood and bone. Your ignorance has brought forth something we know little about, except that bad things happen because of it if it’s not invoked properly!”
Catherine’s eyes filled with tears. “How was I to know all this, Avery? How? I thought I just found some child’s crude stone carving. How could I have possibly known?”
“Come on, we have to go, Catherine, hurry before they get here!” he said, looking out of the window.
“I’m sorry, Avery,”
He turned around just in time to see the woman he’d known for fifteen years stab him viciously in the heart. He died with his eyes opened wide with shock.
Crying, Catherine drug his body to her bedroom and struggled with the man’s weight to lift him onto the bed. Laying the stone on his chest, she prayed for the demon to forgive her ignorance and accept her offering. Screams from outside made her run to the window to see incredible air to ground lightening, making all in the immediate area run for cover. She smiled. They wouldn’t be stepping onto her property anymore. She and her crops were safe. She would bury Avery in the corn field and keep his horse for when the crops were ready to harvest. With the stone tucked neatly and safely in her apron pocket, she went out and sat on the porch in her rocking chair. The rain was so pretty.