the witch who brought the rain
water magic was in the air, a humidity that curled in her hair and muffled all her movements. not enough to work with, not enough to summon even a crackle of energy, but it was there, all around her.
she brought the humidity with her, along with storm clouds and rain. in the warm months after she arrived rain splattered almost constantly, letting up for only minutes at a time before beginning again and again and again. mornings were filled with gray light, like watercolors washed too thin. afternoons were warm but wet with the constant drizzling, everything suffocatingly green. and the gray-blue evenings felt like velvet on your skin from the humidity, the expanse of ocean bleeding into the endless deep blue sky.
so they called her a mermaid, or the girl who walked out of the sea, never mind that she’d come to town from the mountains, feet on solid ground all the way. yes, she’d brought the rain with her, but it had found her on its own.
it started back in those mountains. she’d woken up one day to find her morning tea singing bright, wordless songs at her, and the kettle steam whistling with far more skill than it ever had before. the water she splashed on her face ran off and left her perfectly dry when she only thought about it. rivulets of water trickled after her the wrong way up a slanted street.
people started to look at her sideways, to talk to her less and about her more. one day when she waded through the shallow river and emerged with her skirt soaked in spiraling patterns of wet and dry, the clothes-washers at the bank went silent until she finished her laundry and left. no one met her eyes as she walked home.
she decided it was time to leave. the rain found her as she descended into the foothills and guided her steps to the coast, to an abandoned cottage too close to the shore, and settled in with her. no one in this new town met her eyes either, but at least to them she wasn’t a girl they’d once known turned strange.
she practiced her magic. coaxing the rain to stop and then to pour. freezing the remains of her tea into swirls of frost in her cup. making oceans of her washbasin and bathwater.
one day she pushed a path into the ocean and walked out as far as she dared, until the walls of water built up on either side of her far over her head and she grew frightened of the dark, grinning things that stared back at her from the clear water, and ran back to the shore as fast as her feet could scramble in the sand.
“is the ocean safe today, miss?” fishermen asked her sometimes when the sky looked gray, and she could never quite shake the shudder from those glassy, grinning stares.
“it’s never safe,” she’d say, “but you’ll come back today unharmed.”
and they believed her. they always believed her. who wouldn’t trust a sea witch to know the ocean?
but no matter what myths the villagers conjured, she hadn’t come from their ocean. she was a rain girl, a river-touched witch. saltwater obeyed her, but it resented her for it. the dark grinning things hidden in the water knew they were beyond her power.
go to the ocean, the rain had told her, guiding each step away from her home. to the ocean, it repeated, running down her skin. she arrived at this village with her hair and clothes soaked, barely able to see for the rainstorm around her, shivering and resentful and cold. the ocean is dangerous, the rain told her, and they need your help.
that was the call of the rain in the warm months, as she settled into her new home and ignored each summons, each drop of water leaked under her door. help them. help them. help them.
the villagers never met her eyes, but they stared after her as she walked through town once a week. hoping. pleading. the puddles she stepped over stirred and trickled after her, winding through the cobblestones to rush after her feet. the hem of her dress was always soaked, and the villagers were always watching her back.
help them. help them.
the second time a boat failed to return after a storm, she could hear the wailing even from the isolated cottage. the drizzling rain seemed to amplify their footsteps as a group of damp, ragged villagers trekked from their houses to her door.
“the sea creatures take us one by one,” the woman who led them said when she opened the door. “children unattended on the shore. fishers and trappers near the water when the light is dull. the elders say they’re monsters, that they creep out of the waves when there’s no one looking.”
the witch stared over their heads. the waves had calmed after the storm, but the water was opaque and black in the nearly-night. “they have been satisfied for a few months. you will be safe at least until winter.”
they cried softly and pressed her hands and dipped their heads. it was easy to give them this small bit of comfort when she’d already noticed the pattern. desperate people will accept even what they already know as hope.
help them, the misting rain said as the ragged group made their way back to the village. she shut the door.
the constant rain kept up, but more heavily. it fell laboriously, always seeming as though it should have exhausted the dark clouds overhead by nightfall, yet it never did. the weather cooled. she had lived on their edge for half a year by the time the villagers lost another life to the ocean.
that night they did not go to the witch for comfort. it poured so heavily that it seemed the world was made of water.
they did not know that to her, each drop screamed as if in agony at her stillness. she sat all night wrapped in a shawl before her fireplace, the embers long ago smothered by what rain managed to get through, staring almost without blinking out the nearly sightless window. toward the ocean. toward the sea creatures with the grinning mouths.
that morning when they went without rain for hours for the first time since she’d arrived, she knew the rain had given up on her. the water in her cup boiled with a thought, steeped at her command, but it was silent as water had not been since the morning it began.
she stepped outside to unnatural stillness, in the same colorless dress and drooping shawl she’d worn all night. the villagers were holding the morning vigil for the dead in the center of their houses. smoke drifted through the scrubbed-raw air.
they watched her back as she left her doorway and went down the beach, feet bare in the cool sand. she reached the foaming edge of the ocean and kept walking. deeper, deeper, deeper, the water sucking at her skirt and then covering her shoulders, rising over her nose, eyes, head. those who didn’t turn away would claim they saw her silhouette beneath the water being embraced by something darker, and that a clawed hand reached out of the ocean and drew her trailing shawl in after her.