Tuesday, June 07, 2011


It's been raining for two days now. Today, the rain-walkers arrived.

In Hmakk, they're called takahreel. It means the same thing. I'd never heard of them before, but apparently, they're fairly common on the plains. They follow storms.

They arrived at what the clocks said was noon, though the sun was nowhere in sight. One moment, there was nothing but gray sheets of water, thick enough to turn distant buildings to dim gray silhouettes; the next, tall shapes strode out of the rain, and there they were.

Their heads were level with second-story windows. They looked like frogs, but huge ones - plump, green-speckled bodies walking on two long legs, their waists eight feet off the ground. Their feet were the size of sleds. I counted nine of them, striding along with slow, careful steps, as if they were walking across snow. People came out of their houses as they passed. We stood there - under umbrellas, in rain coats, or simply getting wet - and watched the rain-walkers go by, a slow, silent parade in green and gray.

Their skin was shiny in the rain, but no water dripped off of them; somehow, they were absorbing the rain as fast as it could fall. They left dry footprints in the wet mud of the street.

They had tiny arms with delicate, long-fingered hands, which they kept tucked against their chests. Each walker held something. One had a trumpet; another, a carpet brush. A third clicked the beads of an abacus as it walked. Some had things from nature - a coconut, mostly bald; a lump of rock covered in pyrite crystals; a sun-bleached rabbit's skull. One held a mariner's clock covered in what I'm certain were barnacles. I don't know how far that must have come - it's hundreds of miles from here to the sea. I could still hear it ticking.

I watched this strange procession of objects, each one unique, as if it was the name of the rain-walker holding it. A found name.

Later, after the walkers had gone, I asked the whittler from yesterday about this. She had watched the walkers too, still gnawing at that lump of wood in her mouth. It was starting to look like something. I couldn't tell what.

"Hm," she said. "Might be names. Makes as much sense as anything else I've heard. I don't know - they never say anything. I can't tell them apart, but I recognize some of the things they're carrying. The one with the abacus was just a baby when they came through last year. Barely old enough to walk. Probably the same one, unless they trade their things when no one's looking. Somehow, I doubt that."

No one spoke while the walkers were here. It didn't seem right.

One walker had babies on its back.* They looked like fat tadpoles. Their tails were small and stubby - there aren't many opportunities for swimming on the plains - but they clung to the adult with webbed feet that were already as big as my hands. Not surprisingly, none of the tadpoles were carrying anything. Maybe they only get something when they grow hands to carry it.

One of the full-grown walkers held nothing at all. It clutched at the air as it walked, wringing its empty hands as if unsure what to do with them. Perhaps it had lost what it carried - lost its name. A little girl was standing in the rain nearby, watching the walkers underneath an umbrella bigger than herself. As the empty-handed one walked by, she put down the umbrella and tapped it on the foot. It stopped and stared at her. She stretched out - on tiptoe, she could almost reach the walker's knee - and held up a little wooden horse.

The walker stared at her for a moment, its eyes round and unblinking. I almost didn't notice when it started to sink. It was like watching a tree fall. The great knees bent impossibly slowly until it was squatting on the ground, looking more frog-like than ever. One arm reached out - slowly, carefully - and the long fingers gently plucked the little horse from the girl's hand. With the same slowness, the walker lifted it up to those huge golden eyes.

It stared at the horse for what seemed like forever. Finally, it turned back to the girl and nodded its head. The great legs unfolded, as slow as a sunrise, and the walker strode away to rejoin its companions. It clasped the wooden horse tightly against its chest.

Most of us followed the rain-walkers as they made their gradual parade down the street. They don't come into towns very often. There are a lot of them on the plains, walking in groups or alone, but there's also a lot of space on the plains. For every walker that comes within sight of a town, there are probably hundreds that walk past it, hidden and silent in the rain.

They had reached the outskirts of town (not a long walk) when the rain grew gentler, then stopped altogether. The air turned dry almost immediately. The walkers paused and stood there for a moment, blinking, then changed to match it. Clear membranes - some sort of second eyelid - slid over their eyes. Their skin turned from slick green to a dusty gray. I could almost see the pores closing up. The one with the tadpoles opened its mouth, and they all climbed inside. I suppose that's one way to keep them wet between storms.

The whole group stood there for a minute or two, swaying slightly. Their heads were tilted as if they were listening for something. Mist rose from the hot ground around them. There was no signal I could see, but they all turned in unison and strode away over the wet grass. On their way to the next storm, I suppose.

The little girl watched them go. When they had almost vanished in the mist, she dropped her umbrella and waved. It was hard to tell, but I thought I saw one of the tall shapes wave back.

* I would say on her back, but there are plenty of amphibians that let the father carry the babies. All the walkers looked more or less the same to me.

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