Following the Rain

George Maxwell was up at four in the morning again. He pulled his pale, lumpen frame out of bed and shuffled towards the walk-in shower. There was a fleeting moment of satisfaction before he turned the dial from hot to cold. This had become his routine as of late. He woke up early each morning, a single question on his mind. Where does the rain go?

He towel-dried the remnants of hair on his head, then squeezed himself into his work clothes. He smoothed down the creases of his grey suit, then attempted various angles in his bedroom mirror. He tugged at the flaps of his suit jacket, but it was no use. It dangled over the paunch of his stomach. The rain was a constant low hiss, whispered insults. George tried to remember a time when it hadn’t been raining. He thought back to his graduation, to his first day at work. Even in his memories, the sky was grey, the outlines in the street dancing with the white haze of raindrops. He sighed, resigning himself to an early work day. He pulled on a thick yellow oilskin and a pair of navy blue wellingtons, stepping out into the rain.

He avoided the concrete faces of the buildings around him; the gutters at the pavement’s edge held too much curiosity. Twigs and leaves sailed past him, caught in its current. He followed the gutters like a map, shoving through the growing crowds. As he rushed along he saw a flash of white and red out of the corner of his eye, perhaps the sign for his train station. He followed the gutter through side-streets and alleyways, until he found himself in an abandoned square. He was surrounded by empty houses, their windows broken in, giving the appearance of sharp teeth. The gutter spiralled towards the centre of the square, leading into a rusted manhole cover. He traced its path, kicking up a spray as he went. George bent down and heaved, the groan of metal reverberating throughout the square. Water cascaded over the edge of the manhole, into an endless void. No matter how hard he strained, he never heard the tell-tale splash as water hit the bottom. There was an iron stepladder just visible in the darkness. He grabbed the top rung. Where does the rain go?

The ladder seemed to descend into infinity. The darkness was thick around him, the rungs becoming faint outlines. As he continued his descent, small pinpricks of light became visible, like will-o’-the-wisps, guiding him further into the unknown. They were small fluorescent bulbs, attached to impossibly huge steel pipework. He could hear the churn of rainwater inside, almost deafening. Small shadows flickered on the surface, workers patching up the skin of an ancient subterranean beast. Eventually, the repair crews gave way to rust and disrepair. Patches of thick moss dotted the surface like gangrenous sores. Their dim phosphorescent glow gave only the slightest hint of scale. The moss grew denser, a patchwork of green and brown. It seemed to pulsate. He gasped. Stone-cold water was creeping into his wellingtons, so cold that his skin burned. The ladder continued further down into the murky waters. Perhaps it never ended. He craned his neck back towards the pipework. It continued down into the water, then looped back on itself, shooting up towards the surface. This is where the rain goes.

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