Rain cannot be considered romantic. I don’t care how many Spider-Man and The Notebook movies they throw at me– I won’t believe it. Maybe it’s because of my lack of creativity, but I can’t envision a situation where a woman and I are shivering in the rain, and we both think, “This seems like a perfect opportunity to make out.”
Despite the unromantic aspects of it, I like rain. A consequence of a love for the loneliness, I suppose. Grey skies are somehow an excellent excuse to stay away from people. Even after what happened, I still sometimes walk by myself in the rain.
I was living alone, and I had the same habit back then as I do now– walking during storms. Whenever it was drizzling, and I happened to be home, I would get up from my desk and open the dewy window and smell the wonderfully scented air, the blend of soil and asphalt and water and leaves. It always felt so wrong to sit there and waste the rain, so I would put on my jacket and rush out of the dull indoor life, or if the rain wasn’t too cold, I would take off some layers of clothes rather than put more on. I loved the sensation of wetness on my skin. The rain saw me marching through cities, parks, forests, anywhere I could experience the calming billions of drops from heaven.
There was one rainy day when I happened to see someone just as peculiar as me. He wore only a buttoned Hawaiian shirt and gym shorts. It was easy to pick him out from the clusters of people under umbrellas and raincoats. I was not a social person, I did not have many close friends and had no interest in making more, but something drew me to this person and made me want to know him. I hurried and caught up to his nonchalant pace, and walked behind him for a bit, unsure of how to start a conversation. He must have noticed someone following him and turned around so abruptly that we almost collided.
“I’m John,” he said and jabbed his hairy arm out to me. The man’s face and name were not what I was expecting, too typical.
We shook hands. “Uh, hello, I’m Patrick.”
“Glad to meet you, Patrick. Hey, I see you’re just wearing a polo shirt. You should put on a jacket, it’s cold out here.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“I like the cold,” he smiled and spread his arms wide, “So what are you doing out here?” I shrugged, “Just walking.”
“Hey, me too,” and he continued in his quick-tongued, almost Jewish accent, “Hey, I know this neighborhood with a great view of the city,” he pointed to his right up Burlington street. “Want to join me? A guy can get lonely walking too much by himself.”
Was John gay? Do I look gay to him? “Okay,” I said.
“Great!” the man slapped me on the back of my shoulder, and we took a right on Burlington. “Soooo,” the unquiet man continued, “Patrick. You like politics?”
John laughed, shook his head, and said, “Well, that statement itself is, in fact, a very political one.”
Oh no. I was having real doubts on my decision to make friends with him.
He went on in his fast-paced, bright-toned voice. It was like he was impersonating a mob boss from a cheap 50s movie. “You see it’s the intent behind the words that makes them political. Every word from a politician’s mouth has to be calculated, and there is not a sound they utter that isn’t full of hidden motives and agendas. Take your word ‘not’ for example. It seems like a pretty clear motive with that word: you would not like to discuss politics at all. But then your word ‘particularly’ added after ‘not’ might be there as a buffer to make you not seem as blunt or harsh toward either me or the topic: politics. Or the word could mean that you are not opposed to the discussion of politics, but you just don’t pay much attention to it, or you’re well-versed enough in politics, but you would usually rather talk about something else. But while we’re on the subject, what is your take on the Reagan administration?”
I assumed it was all an unfunny joke and kept my uncomfortable silence.
The man laughed again, “Good response. Words can’t describe it for me either.”
I laughed and said, “Yeah.” I don’t know why I did that.
“Here’s one that’s easy to talk about. You know Clinton?” He waited until I nodded my head, and said, “Well there’s a whole load about him that no one knows about.” And I don’t remember specifically what he said after that, he just kept rambling on about stuff that literally everyone knows about.
I put up a pretty good fake interest through the whole thing. Then, by some miracle, it grew to be enjoyable. I hadn’t walked with anyone else in the rain before that, and it was an entirely different experience being drenched alongside someone else. I still wouldn’t call it romantic in the slightest.
I chimed in every now and then when I found the topic interesting, and he was very respectful of my thoughts, and even moved the conversation more toward what I wanted to talk about. I don’t even remember what that was either. All I remember is what happened when we reached the top of the hill. John slipped mid-sentence on the wet concrete. I laughed at first, but he stopped moving. There was blood under his head. The rain was running it down his clothes.
“John? John!” I shouted. He was silent. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do at first. I ran to the nearest house, and banged on the door and shouted for help. When an elderly woman came to the door, I didn’t even bother explaining what happened. I just shoved past toward her phone.
“Hey, you get out of here!” she shouted, “What do you think you’re doing?”
I just pointed outside to John on the ground while I spouted words to the police receptionist. The young-sounding woman told me to slow down and breathe deeply and give her the details. I tried to do as she asked, and was looking at John through the house’s window the whole time. John wasn’t moving, but I knew I saw him breathing before I ran in. “What’s this address?” I screamed at the jittery woman. Her trembling voice stuttered the words to me. Poor lady, she must have been at least eighty and living alone. We spooked her pretty well.
The ambulance arrived after what felt like them taking their sweet time, and the two-person team sprung out and started checking his vitals. They got him into the ambulance and let me hop in too. They bandaged up the wound, but they said blood loss wasn’t what was most concerning. He had a concussion, and it was hard to tell how severe it was, sometimes people never woke up from them. I didn’t know why they were telling me this now, no need to scare me any more than I already was.
We got to the hospital, and people asked who I was and who he was, and I said his first name and that I was a friend, and that I didn’t have any other information for them. The ID in his wallet said John Maybury, 37, single. Someone was assigned the job of finding his next-of-kin while the doctors worked on him. I didn’t think that he was going to die until then.
I spent the next few hours listening to the rain continually tapping the roof, figuring out what I was going to tell his brother or mom when they finally showed up. I didn’t even want to stay here at all. Then a doctor approached me and said his condition was completely stable. He had woken up briefly and complained about a headache. He was currently asleep. The doctor told me that he’d probably wake up sometime tomorrow, and I should come back then, it wasn’t so serious.
The next day was my day off, so I did what he said and came back in the morning. It was still raining then, and I don’t know if it had ever stopped. I walked into his room to see him sitting up, chatting with a nurse.
He was laughing, “Patrick, Good to see you!” To his nurse, he said, “This is my friend, Patrick. Patrick, this is… my nurse.”
“That’s nice,” the nurse smiled and walked out. She had a big nametag, Betty. He didn’t even try.
“You look alright,” I said.
“I feel great!” he insisted, “Turns out this cut on my head wasn’t as big as we all thought. I don’t think I even need this headband anymore.”
“Whoa, it’s only been a day, slow down.”
“That’s what the nurses keep telling me. I do have a headache, but I’ve had worse before,” he winked, “plus they’re giving me pills for that. I could walk out of here right now if I wanted to.”
“I don’t know if that would be a good idea.”
“Why not, if I’m better? Thanks for calling me in by the way.”
I couldn’t believe it, was this the same dying man I called the ambulance for only the day before?
Indeed, within an hour, the doctor signed off for him to be released out into the world. I offered him a ride home, of course, and he accepted. He lived in one of the neighborhoods in the hills, not far from where the accident happened. I stopped my Honda in front of his driveway.
“Why don’t you come in for coffee or tea?” he asked.
“No, that’s all right.”
“Really, please. It’s the least I can do. You saved my life.”
I had nothing else to do, so I said, “Okay, sure.”
The house looked nice, ordinary, with a small garden in the front of the trimmed yard. I followed him in through his walkway. Everything: the carpet, sofas, walls, a piano, decorations all looked brand new.
“How long have you been here?”
“About seven seconds,” he laughed at his joke before he stated, “no, I bought this place almost six years ago.”
“It’s clean,” I said.
“Well, it feels like just yesterday now. Come on, I’ll give you a tour.”
I followed him to the kitchen. “This is my oven,” he said, “You can cook a whole pig in there.”
It did look large. “Why would you want to cook an entire pig?” I asked, “Got a lot of mouths to feed?” It was hard to believe I still knew hardly anything about this man.
“No, unfortunately my family lives away from here.”
“Well, let’s move on. Here’s the guest room, and my room, and the bathroom. There’s only one bathroom.”
He didn’t say anything else about the house. I was surprised, and suddenly awkward, I tried to fill the silence. “So, what do you do for work?”
“Haha, oh I don’t work, but I don’t need all that much money, I own the house, and I don’t pay for much else.”
I wasn’t surprised.
He continued, “If you’re worried about my well-being, don’t be. I make my own food, and there’s always plenty. Did you see the garden?”
“Yeah, it looks great.”
He walked us back to the kitchen. “Speaking of which, I’m starving. You look like you could use a bite, too,” and then he laughed again, and way too hard this time. I wasn’t even that skinny. “Sorry,” he said, catching his breath, “Inside joke.”
I smiled and nodded, about to say my goodbye.
“Now, just wait here and I’ll go grab the food,” and he rushed off to what I assumed was his garage. I sat down, tapping my knee. He came back a minute later, carrying a sledgehammer that looked like it had a bloodstain on it, but that couldn’t be blood.
“This is my tool to get the food,” he said, grinning.
“What is that for?”
“Now, take off your clothes.”
“Take off your clothes and get in the oven,” he ordered.
I was almost speechless. “You– your concussion must have done more damage than they thought. Let’s get you back for an MRI.”
“Unfortunately, my concussion wasn’t nearly as bad as they think. It’s hardly a scratch. It was all to lure you here. Now get in there. I’m hungry, and you’ll take longer to cook than the weak ones do.”
I tried to get past him, but he blocked my exit, pivoting with me.
In situations as absurd as this one, it is difficult to know how any human being will react. With animals, there is only a fight or flight response to potential danger, but with humans, there’s this ridiculous third option. I began to laugh. I couldn’t contain it. I had to sit down to keep from falling over I was laughing so hysterically. I really should have run. I should have left the minute I saw the psycho come into the kitchen with a sledgehammer, but I didn’t.
While I was still on the ground, John looked into my eyes, raised the hammer above his head, and brought it down with all his strength onto my stomach. It was hard to believe this was real, even when the hammer was falling, but as soon as the pain hit me, I grasped reality. John stood above me, still grinning, and said, “You want another one? Take off your clothes.”
I couldn’t breathe, all the wind was knocked out of me, and I couldn’t even make a noise. Up until that moment, there had never been anything I’d experienced as painful as that sledgehammer. I was writhing on the ground like a drowning worm. John raised the heavy tool again. In my mind, I yelled, “Stop, I’ll do what you want,” but no words came out. He brought it down right on my hip, and I heard my pelvis snap. This pain was more intense than the stomach. I became lightheaded and nauseous. When I was finally able to breathe, I choked and rolled over and vomited.
“That’s my floor!” he said, and his next hit went right to my skull. I only felt the pain of that one for a brief flash.
I woke up from the heat, probably. It was hard to breathe with it. Every single cell in my body hurt. There was more sweat all over me than I thought was possible, this place was like a sauna. There was an acute pain on my skin worse than the broken bones, on my shoulder, buttocks, and feet– all the places touching the surfaces, and I realized I was naked. I tried to stretch out, but I could barely move at all in the cramped space. I turned my head to see outside the oven window. There was John, standing there with oven mitts and an apron, waiting for his dinner to be ready.
“Wow, you’re alive. I’m sorry, Patrick,” he yelled through the glass, “Sorry about the cramped space. I normally go for the young or small ones, but you looked so delicious. When I saw you, I knew I had to eat you.”
I screamed at him, words I couldn’t even understand. My head was still foggy.
“I know this is a horrible way to go, but a man’s got to eat, you know.”
I could feel the heat intensifying. I wasn’t going to last much longer. I might have been obliged to accept my fate if it weren’t for the searing, agonizing, torturing pain. Finally, my fight or flight instincts kicked in. It was about time. I scrunched around so that I was facing the window, even though every movement only added new pains as the hot surfaces touched fresh tissue. I was in a sort of fetal position, with my feet on the window. I tried kicking, but there wasn’t enough room to get momentum past a few inches, so I decided to push. With my back forced against the end of the oven, I pushed at the window with all my strength. I cannot think of a worse exercise for someone who has just broken their pelvis, but I still pushed. The more my muscles flexed, the more agonizing the pain. I kept pressing. I had to believe that there was a way out of here.
John just smiled at me and said something incoherent that I didn’t bother figuring out. I had one goal. My mind and my body were all in unison. The heat had increased so much that I was sure my blood was about to actually boil. I screamed and pushed harder, and there was a crack in the glass. Hope. I gave a last effort with all the force I had in me, and finally there was broken glass. My legs flung through the shattered window, almost kicking John. I wasted no time in sliding out of the oven, despite the shards of glass slicing open my back.
The man standing there with his oven mitts was standing still for some moments. He could have been afraid, shocked, or angry, I don’t know. It gave me at least some time. The cold kitchen tile was the most pleasant, comfortable surface I had ever felt. I wanted to lie down, but the flight response was making me stand up and get away. The second I put some pressure on the injured leg, I crumpled over. I knew I had to get up, so I reached for the counter and pulled myself along with my arms. I fell again and crawled toward the living room. Every muscle was shaking from the pain.
John moved. “Dang it. My oven,” he said. He looked like he was about to cry. “Why’d you do that? You should have stayed in there. I can’t cook you properly now. I’ll have to put a stake through you and roast you outside. Does that sound better than this was?”
He caught up to me in three seconds and grabbed my arm, dragging me back to the oven. Fight response. I grabbed the largest shard of glass there was and stuck it in his arm. He screeched like a teenage girl and let go.
“Fine!” he said, “have it your way. I’ll be right back.” And he stormed out to his garage again.
I was panicking, but I knew I had to stay calm and think. I looked for anything around me I could use. The broken glass, kitchen knives, broom, phone. Fight or flight this time? My body chose to fight. I grabbed the edge of the counter and pulled myself up. Standing was an agony, even standing on just one leg. I grabbed the broom for some support and balance. I was able to limp to the phone and dial 911. “I’m dying,” was all I said and let the phone drop. I could hear the lady’s urgent questions for me through the dangling phone, but I didn’t have time.
I hurried over to grab a kitchen knife. The knife wouldn’t be enough, I knew. I needed two hands to beat him. I let go of the broom, leaning on the counter. Stooping over achingly, I grabbed a handful of tiny shards of glass with my free hand. I pushed myself off the counter and learned to balance again. Tormenting myself further, I shuffled as well as I could to the garage door, intending to surprise the man. This was the only way to win. The door opened before I could get there.
John walked through with a large stake in his hands. It was four feet of rusted iron ending sharply. I lost my advantage of surprise, though John was taken aback at seeing me standing and holding a knife. He stepped towards me, “Well–”
It was now or never. I screamed and threw the fistful of glass straight at his head. Some shards connected, and he backed up and held a hand to his face
“You got it in my mouth, in my eyes!”
I didn’t waste any time. I lunged for him, and he swung his stake blindly at me, missing by inches above my head, allowing me an opening. I plunged the knife in his chest, putting all of my weight onto him. He fell backward with me on top of him, struggling. I pulled the knife out of him and cut his neck with it. He didn’t last long after that.
I knew that I was dying, too. Thoughts of things I still wanted to do played in my mind. I heard the raindrops outside, and I crawled slowly to the door, barely managing to get outside, then collapsed. The rain felt like ecstasy on my burned and bloody skin. I was in and out of consciousness for a period of time. Eventually, the paramedics came and took me and the beast to the hospital. I had to share an ambulance with it. They gave me a shot for the pain and attached a blood bag to my arm. They checked John’s vitals and said he was dead, but I saw its hand move while they weren’t looking. I tried to warn them, but all I could do was mumble hazy, incoherent words.
When we got to the hospital, doctors were yelling at each other and rushing my gurney into an operating room. They stuck a long needle in me, and at last I was able to sleep deeply. I never saw the beast again.
The rain had stopped when I awoke. I finally started to cry then.
Joshua Kepfer is a 23-year-old living in northern California. He enjoys spending time in the mountains and the ocean there. Much of his inspiration to write music, prose, and poetry comes from nature and a faith in God.