Ray Bradbury

The Day it Rained Forever

The hotel stood like a hollowed dry bone under the very centre of the desert sky where the sun burned the roof all day. All night, the memory of the sun stirred in every room like the ghost of an old forest fire. Long after dusk, since light meant heat, the hotel lights stayed off. The inhabitants of the hotel preferred to feel their way blind through the halls in their never-ending search for cool air.

This one particular evening Mr. Terle, the proprietor, and his only boarders, Mr. Smith and Mr. Fremley, who looked and smelled like two ancient rags of cured tobacco, stayed late on the long veranda. In their creaking glockenspiel rockers, they gasped back and forth in the dark, trying to rock up a wind.

«Mr. Terle…? Wouldn't it berealty nice… some day… if you could buy… air conditioning…?»

Mr. Terle coasted a while, eyes shut.

«Got no money for such things, Mr. Smith.»

The two old boarders Hushed; they hadn't paid a bill now in twenty-one years.

Much later, Mr. Fremley sighed a grievous sigh. «Why, why don't we all just quit, pack up, get out a here, move to a decent city? Stop this swelterin' and fryin' and sweat-in'.»

«Who'd buy a dead hotel in a ghost town?» said Mr. Terle, quietly. «No. No, we'll just set here and wait, wait for that great day, January 29th.»

Slowly, all three men stopped rocking.

January 29th.

The one day in all the year when it really let go and rained.

«Won't wait long.» Mr. Smith tilted his gold railroad watch like the warm summer moon in his palm. «Two hours and nine minutes from now it'll be January 29th. But I don't see nary a cloud in ten thousand miles.»

«It's rained every January 29th since I was born!» Mr. Terle stopped, surprised at his own loud voice. «If it's a day late this year, I won't pull God's shirt-tail.»

Mr. Fremley swallowed hard and looked from east to west across the desert towards the hills. «I wonder… will there ever be a gold rush hereabouts again?»

«No gold,» said Mr. Smith. «And what's more, I'll make you a bet no rain. No rain tomorrow or the day after the day after tomorrow. No rain all the rest of this year.»

The three old men sat staring at the big sun-yellowed moon that burned a hole in the high stillness.

After a long while, painfully, they began to rock again.

The first hot morning breezes curled the calendar pages like a dried snakeskin against the flaking hotel front.

The three men, thumbing their braces up over their hat-rack shoulders, came barefoot downstairs to blink out at that idiot sky.

«January 29th…»

«Not a drop of mercy there.»

«Day's young.»

«I'm not.» Mr. Fremley turned and went away.

It took him five minutes to find his way up through the delirious hallways to his hot, freshly baked bed.

At noon, Mr. Terle peered in.

«Mr. Fremley…?»

«Damn desert cactus, that's us!» gasped Mr. Fremley, lying there, his face looking as if at any moment it might fall away in a blazing dust on the raw plank floor. «But even the best damn cactus got to have just a sip of water before it goes back to another year of the same damn furnace. I tell you I won't move again, I'll lie here an' die if I don't hear more than birds pattin' around up on that roof!»

«Keep your prayers simple and your umbrella handy,» said Mr. Terle, and tiptoed away.

At dusk, on the hollow roof a faint pattering sounded.

Mr. Fremley's voice sang out mournfully, from his bed.

«Mr. Terle, that ain't rain! That's you with the garden hose sprinklin' well-water on the roof! Thanks for tryin', but cut it out, now.»

The pattering sound stopped. There was a sigh from the yard below.

Coming around the side of the hotel a moment later, Mr. Terle saw the calendar fly out and down in the dust.

«Damn January 29th!» cried a voice. «Twelve more months! Have to wait twelve more months, now!»

Mr. Smith was standing there in the doorway. He stepped inside and brought out two dilapidated suitcases and thumped them on the porch.

«Mr. Smith!» cried Mr. Terle. «You can't leave after thirty years!»

«They say it rains twenty days a month in Ireland,» said Mr. Smith. «I'll get a job there and run around with my hat off and my mouth open.»

«You can't go!» Mr. Terle tried frantically to think of something; he snapped his fingers. «You owe me nine thousand dollars rent!»

Mr. Smith recoiled; his eyes got a look of tender and unexpected hurt in them.

«I'm sorry.» Mr. Terle looked away. «I didn't mean that. Look now you just head for Seattle. Pours two inches a week there. Pay me when you can, or never. But do me a favour: wait till midnight. It's cooler then, anyhow. Get you a good night's walk towards the city.»

«Nothin'll happen between now and midnight.»

«You got to have faith. When everything else is gone, you got to believe a thing'll happen. Just stand here, with me, you don't have to sit, just stand here and think of rain. That's the last thing I'll ever ask of you.»

On the desert, sudden little whirlwinds of dust twisted up, sifted down. Mr. Smith's eye scanned the sunset horizon.

«What do I think? Rain, oh you rain, come along here? Stuff like that?»

«Anything. Anything at all!»

Mr. Smith stood for a long time between his two mangy suitcases and did not move. Five, six minutes ticked by. There was no sound, save the two men's breathing in the dusk.

Then at last, very firmly, Mr. Smith stooped to grasp the luggage handles.

Just then, Mr. Terle blinked. He leaned forward, cupping his hand to his ear.

Mr. Smith froze, his hands still on the luggage.

From away among the hills, a murmur, a soft and tremulous rumble.

«Storm coming!» hissed Mr. Terle.

The sound grew louder; a kind of whitish cloud rose up from the hills.

Mr. Smith stood tall on tiptoe.

Upstairs, Mr. Fremley sat up like Lazarus.

Mr. Terle's eyes grew wider and yet wider to take hold of what was coming. He held to the porch rail like the captain of a longbecalmed vessel feeling the first stir of some tropic breeze that smelted of lime and the ice-cool white meat of coconut. The smallest wind stroked over his aching nostrils as over the flues of a white-hot chimney.

«There!» cried Mr. Terle. «There!»

And over the last hill, shaking out feathers of fiery dust, came the cloud, the thunder, the racketing storm.

Over the hill, the first car to pass in twenty days flung itself down the valley with a shriek, a thud, and a

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