A sample story
by Jason J. Marchi
SPECIAL INTRODUCTION adapted from Verbicide magazine
The story that follows, “When the Rain Stops,” is Jason Marchi’s sequel to Ray Bradbury’s classic story “All Summer in a Day,” which first appeared in the March 1954 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Bradbury's powerful allegory tells the story of young Margot, whom mean-spirited classmates lock in a closet on the one day the sun shines every seven years on eternally rainy Venus.
Since it was first published, Bradbury’s story has been reprinted in numerous short story anthologies and over eighty high school and college textbooks.
Writes Marchi: “I wrote ‘When the Rain Stops’ in just two days in 1994, ten years after I first read ‘All Summer in a Day.’ I woke from a sound night’s sleep one morning and found Bradbury’s character Margot, quite unexpectedly, asking me what happened to her in the years after she was let out of that dark, suffocating closet . . . after the sun had gone back behind the perpetual Venusian cloud cover.
“I tried to ignore Margot's continued questioning. ‘What happened to me after that summer day? Did I recover from this trauma? Tell me. Please tell me. Did I grow up to be okay?’
“I thought she should be asking her father these questions. But she kept asking me, her twice removed cousin, inspired heir to her father’s literary gifts. Finally, by day's end, I relented – and I listened. And this is the story she told me . . ."
When the Rain Stops
by Jason J. Marchi
Margot swept back her golden strands of hair and peered out the rocket port.
Wet, ashen Venus lay outside.
The rain drummed on the titanium skin of the ship, tear-streaked the thick green-tinted porthole glass, and gray-washed the distant landscape. Rain that stung the skin with acid bite. Rain that never went away to come back another day. It was a persistent drizzle when it was not a downpour. It was an overcast, drenched, moody world to which millions had come to make their home.
But it was not Margot's home. She understood that from the day she had first arrived. It's what made her different from the other children and adults who did not mind living on Venus.
No, her world lay ahead—the final journey about to begin—for she was born to Earth and was forced to move to eternally rainy Venus at the age of four about to turn five. She came with her family. She came because her father had been transferred. And Venus became the family’s permanent home.
But not Margot's home.
For a brief time, Margot returned to Earth at the age of ten about to turn eleven to recover from her trauma.
Back then, the therapist had had Margot sit in the VRM, which was more formally known as the Virtual Reality Machine.
"What do you see on the screen, Margot?"
The fiery ball of light sank lower, lower toward the horizon.
"And what comes after the sun sets, Margot?"
The doctor’s voice was calm, deep and smooth – soothing like hot chocolate on a cold, wet November afternoon. She concentrated on his voice, on the soft sound of it, on the dry deep hum of comfort it made when she did not hear the words but only listened to the sound.
“Margot, what comes after the sun sets?” he repeated.
She finally listened and answered.
"And what does the night bring, Margot?"
"Dark. Damp. Oh, the dampness from the ground, in the air, in my hair.”
And with that the doctor's hand brushed a switch and the sound of drumming rain came to a metal trash can lid, and there was also the sound of droplets tapping at newspapers, which reminded Margot of waiting for the school bus each morning.
"No. Not the rain," Margot whispered. Her voice had grown small and weak, closing in on itself like a flower at dusk.
"Of course the rain," said the doctor.
"It can't rain. There's too much rain."
"It must rain,” said the doctor. “The grass does not grow without the rain."
"But the rain never stops." Her voice found new strength, played like an over-tightened violin string about to snap.
"The rain always stops, Margot." The doctor’s voice remained deep and soothing.
"No. No. No! It doesn't stop! It just comes and comes and never stops!"
"The rain does stop, Margot. Believe me. It does stop."
"I don't believe you! The rain hasn't stopped in six years. Not since we had to leave Earth and come here."
"Where is here, Margot?"
"Venus, of course! Where do you think? Can't you hear the rain? You can always hear the rain on Venus. No matter where you are . . . you hear the rain . . . hear the rain . . ."
And now her eyes were two red suns and they were crying.
"If I showed you, Margot, that the rain stops, would you then believe what I say? Would you believe you really are on Earth and that the rain does stop?"
Margot was silent for a long moment, while the sound of rain on metal—and on newspapers—chattered from the wall speakers.
Margot said slowly, as if in a trance, "If . . . you . . . can . . . show . . . me."
In the moment that followed, the rain on the tin roof, on the newspapers over the children’s heads at the bus stop, continued, grew louder, tapped and drummed and bore on.
A warm hand then took hold of her hand and the doctor led Margot across the chill, damp room. They stopped before a dark, metal door, and the doctor placed Margot's hand on the icy knob and said, "Turn it."
Her wrist turned and the door broke its tight seal, and the flood, the torrent, the yellow fire poured in just a little at first and then in a great furnace blast. Her sensitive eyes squinted down then peeled wide as the bright, yellow world adjusted itself under her lids. Green hills stretched beneath the amazing blue sky. Birds sang. Somewhere the hot wind played a tune of whispers in the pine trees.
This was Earth and she was looking at it. The very Earth she remembered as a child of four, before the move to Venus, and now, finally, Earth was no longer an ancient memory; no longer a chapter of pictures in a history book; no longer a satellite-transmitted photograph; no longer a video clip, a computer website, a postcard. Earth was in front of her and all around her. Earth was real.
"You were right!" she said to the doctor, and smiled.
He then handed her a book.
"This is your metaphor. After you return to Venus to join your family, if you are ever in doubt about seeing the sun again, pull this book from your shelf. Look at the picture of the sun on the cover. And read the title over and over again to yourself."
Margot was thinking about the doctor right now as she sat in the silver ship, all too anxious for the flight to depart. She was thinking about how kind the Earth doctor had been, and how gentle and comforting his voice had been. And now she was twenty-six million miles away from Earth, from its sun-filled sky, from the kind doctor’s office—and she knew what the doctor had done for her when he gave her that book.
The book was in her shoulder bag now. And looking out at the raining world made her want look at the book's cover as she had done a thousand times in the past six years.
But she didn't.
The book would stay in the bag for the entire journey, for she did not need to see it. She needed only to know that it was there.
In a moment the ship would be taking off, and she would be away from the acidic world of perpetual clouds and London mists and November fogs.
Margot heard the turbines whirl and felt the rocket's vibration around her. The ship was coming alive and she was a warm body inside it, like the dozen other bodies that were stowing bags, that were already seated and reading, or writing, or preparing for naps.
So few ever left Venus compared with those who arrived. Each time a rocket landed one hundred would tread onto this new world toward new jobs, and the returning flight would carry only a dozen back and sometimes no one at all. On and on it went this way as the population on Venus grew and more people were added than ever left.
Of those who returned to Earth, some were transferred, some went on temporary business, and a few were retiring after four decades of helping build this Van Gogh world where all things melted together into shades of gray. And fewer still left Venus each year to be laid to rest among the hills of their birth planet.
Margot shuddered out of her day dream when, presently, the vibration in the ship stilled and the whirling of the engines stopped. Suddenly there was only the quiet hush of sleeves and torsos brushed against upholstery, shoes shuffled nervously over the carpeting, and unsettled magazine pages being turned.
Margot looked at the water streaked window. Beyond the rainy window everything was white and gray and dark blue except for the warm yellow windows of the flight terminal.
Inside, behind the thick, plate glass, attendants looked into rain-colored computer screens, cleaning people swept the rows between chairs, and two people, a man and a woman, stood looking out toward Margot's rocket. They were an old couple, ancient Venusians who were retired but had not left. Perhaps they had chosen to stay because they did not like sunshine, but liked rain instead. Because they liked each other’s company as if that in itself was enough to brighten their days, everyone else be damned.
Still, no sound came to the rocket's motors. Margot could hear only the sound of murmuring voices and shifting bodies and turning magazine pages.
A voice then crackled through the cabin from hidden speakers.
"This is your captain. Please excuse the delay. We are experiencing a problem with one of our fuel cells. Do not be alarmed. There is no danger. We hope to have the matter resolved shortly."
"What now?" Margot whispered.
After all the years of waiting, all the rain-filled nights and days, she had hoped this would be her day to leave and return to Earth.
Margot planned to study everything about Earth that she could at the university that had accepted her application. She dreamed of becoming a geologist so she could spend a lifetime studying the planet Earth itself, or perhaps a meteorologist to learn weather prediction so she would know when it would rain and when the sun would shine brightly.
Every moment that delayed departure chilled her heart.
What was the reason for the delay now? What could possibly be wrong? The ship had traveled to Venus just fine, bringing dozens of new faces with it. But now it would not work when it was her time to leave? So many rockets she'd watched departing for Earth in the past six years. So many times she’d wished she were on one of them. And right after, she would have to run to her room and pull the book the doctor had given her. And the title and the artist’s cover on that book would make her feel better, until another ship, another family departing that was not her family would bring back the sadness and the anger and the claustrophobic fear of the dark, of small spaces, of eyes closed when the sound of rain filled the roof.
The sun lamps had done nothing for her moods. They only burned her skin.
The bottled spring meadow fragrances did not fool her nose.
Only the cover of the book worked for her.
She never read it. The doctor did not say she should ever read it. And although she thought she might want to read it one day, she didn't, for fear it would change the meaning of the title. That somehow the power of the illustration of the round, golden sun on the cover—set high above the African savanna—would be diminished. The doctor had said the book was written long ago by a famous American writer when he was still young himself.
When she held that book to her cold chest at midnight, it would warm her iced blood, dry her tears, and lull her to sleep as if it burned as her own small furnace in the middle of a winter night.
She touched the bag. Her smooth, thin fingers twitched to pull the book and bring it up for her eyes to see. Instead, her hand reached for the flight magazine in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of her.
EARTH!—the ads read.
"Come to Earth for the time of your life." And in the pictures: White sand beaches! Haze-covered mountains! Surfing
California's waves! Exploring the pyramids and Sphinx! Sipping New England's pure maple syrup fresh from the boiling vats! Or laughing over glasses of wine at a sidewalk café in Paris or London or Madrid.
For so long the children Margot knew on Venus had known Venus and nothing but Venus that their skin was blanched pale like milk and mildew grew in their ears at night while they slept.
It was no place for a child to grow up, Margot knew. Some didn't mind, but they were mostly older and walked through life with their heads looking down at mortgages and meager savings and a lot of hard work for little reward, their eyes never seeing what the weather was like outside.
Stop the thoughts! Stop the thoughts!
Margot couldn't stand it any longer. Her thoughts about going home to Earth pelted inside her head like a thousand rain drops trying to turn her warm solid brain to cold, gray water.
She felt like she was locked in that deceitful closet once again by her mean spirited classmates. After all these years she was still trapped behind the door, pounding, banging, unable to break out of the cold dark, knowing that the sun shined on Venus only once every seven years, and that the sun was breaking the clouds, burning the pale landscape, and returning to its hiding place once again, and that she could not see the sun, nor feel it, nor smell it warm the ground like on Earth in spring . . . for another seven years.
Margot's breathing grew heavy suddenly, her pulse quickened. The interior of the ship darkened. The rain on its metal skin pounded louder, a thousand fingers beating a drum. The drumming played over and over again until Margot wanted to scream!
Then, quite suddenly, the captain's voice broke through the speaker.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but we have decided not to continue with this flight."
Sighs and groans and mumbles filled the cabin then faded under the sounds of shifting luggage and compartment doors snapping open and slapping shut.
Margot felt a weight in her stomach.
The captain continued. "If everyone will kindly return to the flight terminal, we will transfer you with minimal delay onto the incoming flight."
Feeling weak and tired and not wanting to move from her seat, Margot reluctantly gathered her bags and shuffled down the enclosed gangway as one of twelve angry passengers.
And there, in the terminal, among the seats that had just been cleaned, the displaced passengers waited and watched their rocket as it was towed away.
The tarmac sat empty.
The rainwater rivers flowed over the pavement and dumped into drains.
The tarmac remained empty for almost an hour, when a small yellow light finally appeared in the rain-drenched night. And soon the light filled the huge plate glass windows then dropped away as the rocket it was attached to turned and landed on the tarmac just outside the terminal.
The anxious passengers crowded the gate, ready to board the new rocket.
Margot sat in her chair, watching. As the disembarking passengers came down the gangway, Margot watched their faces. They came alone. They came in pairs or in groups. Some looked like business people coming for meetings, some like newlyweds on honeymoons, and still others came as families looking to establish new lives on Venus.
The last group to step into the terminal from the rocket was a family of four. Their faces looked anxious, occupied, quizzical, and frightened, in that order. The mother looked concerned with finding the right direction; the father was trying to keep the luggage and everyone together; the older son looked searchingly around the crowded room; and the young girl, about age six or seven, was crying.
The old couple that had been standing alone in the terminal window rushed forward to greet the family.
The delayed passengers began boarding the rocket as the family stood in the middle of the terminal hugging one another.
And the little girl stood—as if lost and alone—holding a bag, still crying.
Margot smiled, faintly at first, for she saw in the girl a reflection of herself—of herself in a time when she had been the one coming to this dark and dreadful world and not the one leaving.
Margot walked up to the girl slowly and stood in front of her.
The girl looked up through a downpour of tears.
Margot opened her handbag, even more slowly, and pulled the book out.
Copyright © 2003 by Jason J. Marchi. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story first appeared in Verbicide magazine. Reprinted by permission. For permission to reprint "When the Rain Stops," please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org