Something woke me from my sleep.
In my dream I was lying on a tartan blanket, in a cornfield, in Somerset. My eyes were closed and hands interlaced behind my head. The sun’s rays warmed my clothing, creating a comforting solar hug. As I lay there, I listened to the distant road traffic peter out, giving way to the calming, gentle notes of nature.
The wind blew with the tenderness of breath against tissue paper, caressing the corn stalks and rattling their ears. The mellow yellow sea of corn bent slightly in unison, as if dancers caught in a moment. When the breeze dissipated, so did the corn appear motionless. Yet, its golden radiance caused it to shimmer.
In the amber sea, with the tartan as my raft, eyes closed and ears awake, I heard the whispering flutter of the leaves in the trees over by the copse. Stories developed over time about those ancient trees. There was death, birth, ghosts and ritual. It had been a custom in the area to avoid entering that place; Cutters Wood. Give it a wide berth and instil a sense of reverence, we were told. It was strange though, the allure that small wood had, as if an imprisoned soul were calling out for help. Still, I never set foot within its hold.
Squawking chatter distracted me. I shielded the sun from my eyes, propped myself on my elbow and spied a flock of seagulls low across the sky.
I returned to my raft and watched the clouds passing and became a washed with the feeling of moving, falling backward through the earth. I shut my eyes to blot out the vertigo.
The stillness of the place; the warmth and the dry, sweet smell of nature evoked memories of my childhood. Of running through the corn with Bill and Jake, picnics with the folks, and then there was Cutters Wood. Bill and Jake dared me to go in. My folks told us stories to warn us away. Don’t upset the gods. Don’t tempt them to return. They were so very superstitious, everyone was, but they never told us why. That was until we were 13. Be warned. They will come in time. Look for the omen. They always let you know when they’re coming. I remember that day so well. There was fear at first followed by scepticism as we got older. Bill and Jake moved away with time but we always said we’d keep our pact, to meet in the field every 13 years, to see if the gods were coming. We had, back then, expected them to come from the wood.
I honestly never believed they would come (the lads), but I came all the same; the first 13 years had passed.
From a long way off there was a sound. I strained my ears to make something of it but nothing was definite. Minute by minute I laid there, on the tartan, in the corn, eyes shut and ears awake, listening, defining the sound. There was a rhythm to it as it became clearer. The faint tapping became a loud beat; a drum beat, distorted as it travelled to be heard. As it neared, the beat sharpened and became deafening, like popping corn. I couldn’t look for fear the gods had come.
When I opened my eyes, I realised I’d been dreaming. What had woken me was the sound. The sound in my waking life had stopped. I was more afraid now than when it had started over a month ago. I sat up in bed and rubbed my face, trying to bring life back to my lethargic body, feeling the remnants of the dream fade away.
Watch for the omen, they had said. Oh, I watched, alright, every day for the past 13 years; I watched and recorded the odd, the obvious the signs they tried to hide. Others did too, but no one wanted to listen when we showed them the clues; the evidence. Even when it started raining we were ignored.
It started one morning at six-thirty; it could not have been predicted, though we tried. It never stopped. Day and night, the constant drone of the deluge. It was like a drum beat. A warning. After a few days it got so you didn’t hear the rain. It was soothing, hypnotic and sent me into the deepest of sleeps, every night. There were reports of the vulnerable, mainly the young and elderly and sick becoming hysterical in the confusion of the rain filled world, where day and night merged into one. We saw no sunlight or moonlight. Society became more depressed. Even I, the forever optimist had doubts about keeping my sanity. When would it stop?
The alarmed clock read six-thirty. I sighed and breathed in the cold, damp air; a mixture of mildew and sodden earth, and went to draw back the blackouts. The light was ultra-bright and shot an instant, sharp pain through my eyes and head, like a jagged bullet. My face ached as muscles fought to squint the sunlight out. Turning away, I steadied myself against the bed and rummaged in the bedside cabinet for my shades.
I noticed the calendar above with the marked off rainy days. Forty days and forty nights of rain and now it had stopped. On the floor were scattered newspaper and magazine cuttings filled with clues we’d collected. We were told through entertainment that they were on their way. It was hidden in plain sight. They sang about floods, rain, dancing and singing in the rain and yet more floods. My folks looked back at me from a silver photo frame, a memory locked in print. It was a picnic in the cornfield, with the copse in the background. They had warned us that the clouds and rain were a precursor to the gods return.
I drew back the curtain to reveal the waterway with canoes, rowing boats, dinghies, speed boats, all manner of sea craft, moored to lampposts. The waters rippled their inky darkness giving rise to buildings all sullen grey, in shadow. I followed the buildings skyward, seeing the hot white of the sunbeams striking the stone and brick. Further up, flat rooftops housed the mysterious skyline that in the sunlight were clearly tents and canopies, like beacons, all in their glorious Technicolor. I smiled for the first time since that first day. Further still, I looked and watched as the clouds parted and the blue sky was given up. A heavy feeling in my chest rose as my pent up feelings were ready to spill. Then it sank deep as a shadow passed the sun.
A huge, monstrous beast. A metallic mass of destruction crossed the blue. They had come in their ships bringing strange pulsing sounds.
Like the drummer boy in war, the rain herald that the time had come. Now the battle would begin.