Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Long Rain 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBehold Billy modeling the latest in crushed earthworms. Driven from the soaked earth to the patio in search of air, the poor invertebrates in my yard often meet a far worse fate than drowning. As they lie there on the cement, desperately trying to take in oxygen, Billy likes to roll and mash them into his coat. He’ll then strut and preen through the house, smugly confident in his ‘cloak of invisibility.’ Here he is on his favorite perch, where he can survey the neighborhood and alert us of every significant event, such as a paper bag blowing across the street, with his shrill, castrato bark. He’s like Gladys Kravitz constantly shouting out, “ABNER!” After he tires of neighborhood watch, he'll go and nap on my pillow, upon which he'll shed large amounts of white hairs and earthworm casings.

It has been raining incessantly and monotonously for the past month, and I feel like I’m on Ray Bradbury’s Venus. Remember those creepy stories? Here's the quite memorable first sentence from "The Long Rain:"

The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men's hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.

Ray Bradbury didn’t set nearly as many of his short stories on Venus as he did on Mars, but the few he did I count among his haunting best. Bradbury wrote his Venus stories when scientists believed that the planet, because of its impenetrable cloud cover, was humid, verdant and rainy. Bradbury imagined it like a steamy jungle, in permanent gloom, with a constant, driving rain that hit the skin like needles. In "The Long Rain," a small group of men, survivors of a space crash, attempt to make their way through the dense growth and pelting rain to structures earth colonists have built across Venus called sun domes. Sun domes contain a miniature sun that powers and lights the structure, and the interior is dry and cozy with all of the comforts of earthly home. Outside, it's permanent dusk, with driving rain as hard bb pellets. If an object or body falls on the ground, only a few minutes pass before a green, fuzzy mold sprouts upon it.

Native Venusians are amphibious and live primarily in the water, emerging occasionally in raiding parties. They delight in torturing their captives, and have perfected a way of drowning humans that takes an excruciating 8 hours. The planet is nicknamed China because being on it is like being subjected to a form of Chinese water torture.

The group manages to make it to one sun dome, but it's in ruins, its contents
and inhabitants destroyed or carried off by Venusians. The group knows that there is another one within a few days travel, but will they elude the Venusians and make it to sanctuary before being driven insane by the constant rain?

It's odd that Venus is opposite of what was once believed. It actually has a hellish atmosphere, with an extreme pressure that would instantaneously crush you flat. The clouds are not rain clouds, but searing, toxic, boiling formations of sulfuric acid. With a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, Venus is the most inhospitable planet of the solar system.

Billy, that is disgusting. Absolutely and utterly disgusting.
I remember reading that story in 4th grade and I think about it every fall when we get 2-3 days of steady drizzle. Ray knew how to turn something as benign as rain into an instument of horror.

i love this story and when i was in middle school, i had to do so so so many reflections on ray bradbury stories.
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