It was never the monsters hiding under the bed. Neither was it the dark of her bedroom when the lights went out. It was never the zombies that could clamber out of the packed earth and find and eat the little girls who played hide-and-seek in the graveyard. It wasn’t any of the things her best friend Clara had divulged to her once as they’d perched on the cobblestone wall that ran around the village. For Evangeline, it was the pitter-patter of raindrops on her head that caused her heart to seize.
Her mother, June, would be waiting by the back door, of course, wringing her hands until her daughter arrived, flushed and out of breath from running.
“Praise, God,” she would whisper, before crossing herself. Bustling Evangeline inside, the two of them would then huddle together by the kitchen window, uttering prayers for the clouds to part and sunny skies to bless them once more.
Sometimes, her mother would berate her for taking the rainless days for granted.
“You haven’t been praying hard enough,” she told Evangeline at the table, their hands still clasped from saying grace. “You’re not even trying.”
So Evangeline was always careful, after crossing all her fingers and toes, that her last thought before sleep overcame her was that she would awake to the pleasant heat of the sun on her face and the sight of a brilliant blue sky peeking through her curtains.
Yet although Evangeline deemed herself old enough now to know that zombies and ghosts could never hurt her, as long as she was home before dark, of course, for the life of her she could not explain why they should be so afraid of rain. Indeed, Evangeline had been sodden before when she had once ventured too far from the cottage and the storm had taken her by surprise. All she had felt whilst her mother had bundled her in towels were as if she’d just stepped out of a very cold bath.
“It doesn’t look so scary from in here,” she’d observed, cross-legged by the fire; not even while it had lashed against the window panes in droves and lightning had crackled across the sky.
“Well, you would be a fool not to be afraid,” said her mother.
Sometimes their garden would be ruined, reduced to a mushy, mulchy mess of sodden foliage. When Evangeline was younger, she used to believe that there were such things as giants that would use the cover of thunder to enter the garden and destroy all the pretty flowers. Her mother never used to tell her otherwise, and so Evangeline still had to scold herself whenever she could’ve sworn she’d seen a footprint the size of a dustbin lid left in the soil.
It was Monday morning, and Evangeline was peering at one of these very such indentations by the churchyard wall when someone called out to her and Clara. Glancing up, she caught sight of Mr. Reed striding past them on his way to the fields.
“I would start making my way home now, girls. You’re too close to the boundary wall when the sky’s looking this murky. That means you, too, sweetheart.”
“Yes, father,” her best friend mumbled.
Evangeline jumped to her feet, wiping her hands on her skirt.
“I don’t know why you try and run off so fast, Eve,” Clara told her as they began making their way back towards the centre of the village, deciding that they would stop by at Mr. Graham’s shop to buy toffee if they hurried. “We’ve both got caught in the rain so many times now and it’s never hurt us.”
Evangeline hushed her, peering up and down the lane. Old Mrs. Simmons was pruning her roses, but everyone knew that her ears were shot. They passed by her garden and she raised a gnarled hand at them in greeting, lips pulling to reveal a toothless crevasse.
“It’s just when you’re out in it for too long,” whispered Evangeline, “or when you go out on purpose. I don’t know what happens to you but all I know is that I don’t want to find out.”
Clara giggled, and they stopped in the middle of the path.
“See?” she said. “What’s so bad about rain, Eve? It makes everything damp and sometimes it makes the grass really slippery. And you can throw stones in the puddles! Why should we be afraid?”
Huffing, Evangeline readied her best grown-up voice. “Because that’s what we’ve been told. It’s all we’ve ever known. To run home as soon as the rain starts.”
“Eve. We both know zombies can eat you. Ghosts can scare you to death. What does rain do?”
They walked in thoughtful silence until they arrived at the shop. Clara went in first, as always, and they went up to the counter, contemplating the shelves of sweet jars behind Mr. Graham in his red-and-white stripy apron. He was already bagging up some liquorice for old Mr. Partridge, the same corduroy trousers flapping about his bow legs. The two of them were conversing quietly, and Evangeline’s ears pricked at some of the words. She felt a gentle nudge at her side, and she turned to see Clara slipping into one of the nearby aisles. She followed, and together, they listened.
“So what are they saying happened to the poor child?” murmured Mr. Partridge.
“That perhaps she tried to go swimming in the river. My Daisy asked if she could once when we were on a walk near the marshlands, and of course I told her that it was forbidden. It was beautiful weather and I know it’s tempting, especially when it’s as nice as it was on Friday.”
“Oh, it was beautiful weather Friday,” Mr. Partridge agreed in a rasp.
“Anyway, as you make your way further out, the current gets stronger. The girl was probably caught unawares some time Friday afternoon and got swept away.”
Mr. Partridge made a noise of anguish.
“Yes, I know,” said Mr. Graham. “I heard a child calling it The River Fury. Some kind of water dragon that is forever angry and tempts children to try and ride it. If they can do it, only then will the waters calm. Something like that.”
In her pocket, Evangeline clenched her palm around the pound coin her mother had given her for toffee. She remembered it had rained that Friday afternoon.
“I thought we’d seen the last of this ten years ago,” said Mr. Partridge sadly, before shuffling out of the shop. Exchanging looks, Evangeline and Clara stepped out from the aisle and approached the counter once more, though Evangeline wasn’t sure either of them were now in the mood for sweets.
“You must never try and ride the water dragon,” said Mr. Graham, and they blinked up at him in surprise. His eyes were hard. “Understand?”
Evangeline nodded. Besides, neither of them would ever be able to tame a dragon.