Kaifu Nobusuki is startled awake by cats fighting outside the window. Didn't he move to Nagato to get away from the noise of the big city? Now cats wake him up every night. He rolls over, his eyes drift closed, his mind clears, and he falls asleep again in less than a minute.
It had rained all day and all night, and all of the night before, and all of the night before that. A pounding, soaking rain, wrapped up in howling wind, punctuated by flashes of lightning and an omnipresent rumble of thunder. The streets were moats, the gutters and drainpipes were overflowing, and smart folks stayed inside and stayed dry.
A small girl is sitting on a fire escape. She's drenched in rainwater, her hair and clothing wringing wet, so you couldn't tell she's weeping unless you were close enough to hear her sobs. She has thin insect wings growing out of her back, and a halo of golden light around her head.
She has no home, and she can't find work.
Sure, she's tried to find jobs, but the Dream Factory on the hill says it has no more use for her.
"No one dreams about fairies anymore, Pennywink," they tell her. "Even the kids have moved on."
No one dreams about fairies anymore. She's too small to work in the bars, she's too short to drive a cab, she's too light to run a sewing machine in Captain Pinochle's sweatshop.
She's already gotten an offer to be one of Dr. Pimpenstein's working girls. It scares her to think that she's actually considering saying yes.
So she sits on the fire escape, and she cries in the rain. No hope, she weeps to herself. There's no hope.
Teresa Scorza sits up in her bed in Lima and says, "Esperanza." Her boyfriend mumbles in his sleep and rolls over. Teresa barely wonders to herself why she said her grandmother's name before she lays back down, pulls the blanket over her head, and drowses off again.
The problem with weather like this is that it encourages my damn customers to stay inside and get soaked. Some of 'em can handle their alcohol. Some can't. The Lady in White can't.
"Youuuu never looooooved meeeee," she wails into the Mirror behind the bar. "Youuuu uuuuuused meeee and duuuuumped meeee..."
Of course, she ain't talking to anyone in the bar. She ain't even talking to the Mirror, who don't even swing that way. Now normally, I'm pretty tolerant of my boozers getting weepy in their cups, but I'm sick of the rain and sick of the dark and sick of the customers, and I wanna go home and watch the game.
"Antonio! Antonio!" The damned mick rhino ain't paying attention again. Too busy trying to pick up on the girls from the wet dreams down the block. "ANTONIO!" He finally gets up off his ass and gallops over.
"Aye, me laddie, how can a wee Irish lad help ye tonight?" he booms at me in that weird basso profundo lilt of his. An African mammal with an Italian name and an Irish accent -- who the hell dreamed him up anyway?
"I ain't paying ya to talk to floozies, Antonio, I'm paying ya to bounce. So bounce the Lady in White on out of here already!"
"But Mr. Aristotle, sir, ye know me weakness for the ghostie ones," Antonio rumbles. "I canna find it in me heart to put a lassie outside on a night such as this."
The Lady realizes something was up, so she starts the banshee wail up even louder. "Youuuu shaaaaall not throooooow meeee ouuuut! Iiii'm miiiinding myyy oooown busineeeess! Iiiii'll caaaall a cooooop! HEEEEELP! HEEEEELP!"
At that point, fuck her, fuck Antonio, fuck everyone. I get the broom leaning against the wall, vault over the bar (kicking too much damn glassware onto the floor in the process), and sweep the howling bitch right out the door. It takes work to get a hold of a spook to throw 'em out, but they just can't handle brooms. I sweep her right out the door and slam it shut.
The Lady collapses in the gutter, floats a half-block downstream, and crawls back out to crouch under the awning in front of Bonecracker's Bakery. "YOUUUUU NEEEEVER LOOOOOVED MEEEEE!" she wails at the sky. I almost feel bad for her, and that just ends up pissing me off even more.
"Last Call!" I bellow at the rest of the boozehounds. Let 'em drink in someone else's bar, dammit.
Ian Yunupingu has rolled over onto a rock. He wakes up just long enough to readjust his sleeping bag, then falls right back to sleep. There are three dingoes in his camp, and he won't even realize it until he finds their tracks tomorrow morning.
When I woke up, all I heard was a roar. Rain on the roof, I guess. Made it hard to hear much of anything. My hands were handcuffed behind me, and I was lying on a dirty warehouse floor. It didn't take me long to get free of the cuffs. I knew they weren't good police cuffs, but I was surprised when I got 'em off to see why they were so flimsy.
They were bright pink with little red hearts all over them. Bondage cuffs. Hell, civilian bondage cuffs -- designed so suburban housewives could get them off fast if hubby came home early.
I knew the Eyeless Baby Syndicate had fallen on hard times, but bondage cuffs? This was so insulting, it made my brain hurt. No, wait, that was from Tinkerbob Scarapelli hitting me in the head with a Chrysler.
So I get the cuffs off, ditch the blindfold, and have a quiet look around. It's a pretty big warehouse, but you can't miss all the boxes with "H.P. Lovelace" logos on them. Must've been where they pulled those bondage cuffs. Was the wet dream king himself involved in this, too? He had his tentacles in everything else -- why not murder, too?
I head for the office, and guess who's there? Little Eyeless Vinnie, that squealing weasel, all by his lonesome. Doesn't have Tinkerbob around to back him up now. Don't have my gat anymore, but I won't need it to deal with Vinnie. The kid's got muscles of solid spaghetti.
"Heya, Vinnie, how's tricks?" I say as I walk into the office and slam the door behind me.
Vinnie spins around and gropes for the top drawer of the desk. I let him get it open before closing it hard on his fingers.
"Owwww, Marlowe, whatcha do dat for?" he hollers. He starts crying, wailing like a siren. Won't do no good -- his pals can't hear him over the rain. I ain't listening to him squawl anyway. That shit works on depressed mothers, not me. I smack him across the chops and he shuts up.
"Vinnie, Vinnie, how'd a nice boy like you get mixed up with the Eyeless Baby Mob, huh?" I ask. "And what's a nice boy like you doing hanging out with a pervert like Lovelace?"
Vinnie knows he ought to be scared, but he's too dumb to figure out how bad things are, so he tries to bluster his way clear. "You think you so smart, Marlowe? You ain't so smart! They gonna carve you tombstone -- 'Doodles Marlowe, whatta dumb dick!' "
"Oh, you hurt my feelings, Vinnie. Be nice, or I'll poke you in your soft spot." I open the top desk drawer and pull out the .38 he was trying to grab. I cock the trigger loud to make sure he can hear it. "Hey, how 'bout this, Vinnie? I think this is the same caliber as the gun that shot Pops Ichthyosaur. You think the cops'll be interested in that?"
"Y-You gimme that back, Marlowe, you got no right." I think Vinnie was gonna start crying again, for real, this time. "That's my gun. Big Momma gave it to me."
"You ain't gettin' it back, Vinnie. But maybe the cops'll go easy on you if you tell me who's running the Eyeless Babies these days. Is it Lovelace? Louie the Scar? Professor Quackers?"
"I can't tell you, Marlowe," Vinnie whimpers. "If I tell you, I'm dead. My life won't be worth spit."
"It ain't worth spit now, Vinnie. So tell me or -- "
There's a loud pop pop poppita pop from a semi-auto somewhere in the warehouse. The office glass shatters, and I hit the floor. I spare a quick glance at Vinnie -- too late, the kid took one right to the middle of the forehead, right between where his eyes shoulda been.
It's gets quiet back in the warehouse again, but I know the gunsel's still out there. Maybe more than one, no way to tell. I got Vinnie's .38, but the warehouse is dark, the rain rattling on the roof makes it hard to hear anything, and there's no telling how many mooks with guns are out there. My fur is standing up from my nose to my tail, and I'm gonna have to fight my way out of here, or die trying...
Omar Nazif wakes to the sounds of howling dogs. He doesn't know why, but he always hears dogs howling whenever he has his recurring dreams about dogs coming out of the Great Pyramid. He tries not to think about it, and he falls asleep while in the midst of a short prayer to Allah for respite from bad dreams...
"When dost thou thinkest it shall stop raining, Fangface?"
"Ain'tcha been payin' attention, Jehosaphat? Youse knows it don't never quit rainin' here."
"Nay, truly do I remember the sun. Thus, there must hast been a time of no rain."
"Youse is outta you mind. It don't never quit rainin', and we ain't never out of it."
"ME ALSO REMEMBER SUN. FANGFACE AM BIG DUMBHEAD."
"Yo, youse shaddap, Kronkor! I don't gotta take dat from a guy who can't do his freakin' pronouns!"
"KRONKOR DO PRONOUNS GOOD. KRONKOR HAVE TROUBLE WITH VERB TENSES."
"Den say 'I' insteada 'me!' Why can'tcha get that right?"
"KRONKOR'S PEOPLE SAY 'ME', NOT 'I.' FANGFACE'S PEOPLE AM ALL SMELL LIKE WET DOGS."
"My children, truly I say unto thee, let there be no more argument. Let us instead seekest shelter from this thrice-damned rain."
"I ain't goin' back to da shelter. Dey killed Spider Jack."
"Yea, not the shelter. Never the shelter. But we dost need somewhere dry to sleep."
"JEHOSOPHAT CONJURE TENTS? MAYBE LITTLE HOUSES?"
"Wouldst that I could, friend Kronkor. They have stolen much of My power. Perhaps I can start a small fire to keepest us warm..."
"Yeah, sure, why don't youse make it quit rainin' first, so's the fire don't wink out."
"I wishest I could. I wishest..."
"Aw, cripes. Jehosophat, please, man. Don't youse start cryin' again."
"Truh-huly I say unto thee, I am suh-sorry..."
"NO BE SORRY. NOT YOU FAULT."
"C'mon, if youse start, then Kronkor's gonna start blubberin', too, then I'll start. Won't we be a pickcher? Three bums bawlin' in the rain..."
"JEHOSOPHAT NO MAKE KRONKOR CRY. ONLY FANGFACE'S WET DOG STINK MAKE KRONKOR CRY."
"I -- I beg thy forgiveness. Sometimes, the memories..."
"Yah, I know. C'mon, I think dat deli on 48th gots a decent awning out back..."
Maia Golescu awakens shivering inside her small apartment in Lipscani. She wonders briefly where Constantin is, thinking he has gone to the bathroom, maybe in the kitchen reading, and then she remembers, and she weeps because she's outlived everyone she's ever loved, and then she falls back asleep, still shivering.
The two of them stand together on the roof, their arms wrapped around each other. They gaze into each other's eyes, their whole world narrowed down to two people, two meaningless cogs whose love has turned them into the most important entities in the universe, even if only in their own eyes.
He is Spike Flannagan, a childhood bully dreamed up in the '60s and artificially upsized to ten feet tall by the Dream Factory to make sure he continues to frighten adults.
She is N'yxornath, the private horror of a teenager in the 1930s. No longer as popular as she was in her heyday, she works as a stagehand and moonlights as a closet monster to make ends meet.
They are heedless of the rain. They do not fear the thunder and lightning. They are nightmares in love, and they fear nothing but their own loneliness.
Spike's social circle hates N'yxornath because she's poor and socially awkward and works crappy jobs, and everyone's certain she's a golddigger.
N'yxornath's social circle hates Spike because he's rich and fake and bipedal and shallow, and everyone's certain he's just slumming for tail.
They don't care. They hold each other in the rain, and they gaze into eyes that sparkle with the starlight of a thousand howling dreamers, and they do not care, they cannot care. The entire city could disapprove of them, and the raindrops themselves could shun them, and they would still love each other. Now and forever, forever and now.
"We could run," Spike whispers. "We could leave the city. We don't need them. We only need each other."
N'yxornath murmurs quietly from each of her hundred fanged mouths.
Spike looks into her eyes, and he sees himself reflected thousands of times in her dewy blue eyes. "We could elope," he says. "And none of them could stop us."
N'yxornath nods, and in the brief quiet between a flash of lightning and the answering crash, she says, happily, "BDEEE! BDEEE! BDEEE! BDEEE! BDEEE! BDEEE!"
BDEEE! BDEEE! BDEEE! BDEEE!
Albert Stollings flails blindly at the nightstand, eventually finding and shutting off the shrilling alarm. It couldn't possibly be 7 already, could it? Feels like he fell asleep just seconds ago. He considers getting back under the covers for another few minutes, but no, he's gotta get going. He's got to take a shower, got to get some juice, got to open up the shop this morning. If only he could've finished that last dream, so strange, but... no, it's already fading away. Fading like the last memory of last night's rainstorm...
Inspired by Will, Ray, Neil, and Dash