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We All Fall Down

When you told your husband you loved the rain, a secret you whispered at the end of your wedding vows, rather than leaning in to kiss you, he looked as though he wanted to strike you. It was he who taught you to fear storms and it was he who brought you to the town of Fountain—a place of unending rain.

At the bus stop, rain pelts down on those unlucky enough to forget their umbrellas while leaving their homes. To make such a careless mistake is uncommon, unless the inhabitants are no longer afraid death. Why not just leave, then, one might ask. It’s more difficult than one would think.

When the bus arrives, you pull up your hood, tug higher your gloves—so taunt others might believe the black leather is the skin wrapped around your bones and that there is no flesh beneath. Then you open the umbrella, careful not to allow any droplets to touch exposed skin and use it as a shield to take your two steps onto the bus. Your steps are cautious. Even with boots on, you can’t risk the rain splashing upwards.

You only breathe when the bus doors close behind you and drown out the sound of the rain.

A chorus of muffled screeches echo down the road when the bus pulls away from the curb. Someone who is just seconds too late, and you’re glad it isn’t you. Their umbrella falls to the ground along with their hood, and you flinch when you see the youth. Late teens, at most, with skin softened by the blur of rain against glass.

Pull the hood up. Please. Please. Pull it up. Please. Please. P—

He doesn’t.

Before you married and moved to Fountain, when your age could be counted on a single hand, Father would bring you to the park near your home when it rained. You were always drawn to the puddles and overfilling ponds. Even when you lay down in the murky water, insisting on making water angels, Father never chastised you for getting yourself soaked.

“Refreshing!” you’d yell the same way Father did when he arrived home during a storm after a long day, always looking as though he had aged within the span of a day.

“Yes, yes, I suppose it is,” he said with his often-weary smile.

“Can we come again?” you asked. “Next time it rains?”

But the next time you went, you hid under a tree while Father ran across the grass with arms opened wide. He gave you a hug, laughing when you complained about getting wet. You still loved the rain, then, but you didn’t like the way it wrinkled your fingers, pulled your hair into clumps, chilled your bones, made you feel old, too old.

Yet sometimes it’s the chill that makes you feel truly alive.

The traffics stalls the bus, bringing it to a crawl slower than a soon-to-be corpse, but everyone knows that if someone runs up, begs, pounds at the door, the driver is merciless. Their pleas will not be answered.

In this town, only two busses arrive each day—one to take you away, and one to bring you back. And why would anyone want to live here, one might ask. Because, here, everyone can choose when time begins, when it ends, and when it pauses.

No one knows when the rain might stop. But it is far more terrifying to think the storms might halt rather than ponder the idea of being stuck during one, or even within one.

The young man rips off his windbreaker, then his rubber gloves, then kicks off his boots. His bright red socks dampen, turning a deep champagne, like blood, like peeled back skin, raw muscle. He opens his mouth, collecting the rain, no puddles forming around him. He drains the droplets in streams the same way dirtied water travels through the mouth of the sewage. His unmarked hands wrinkle, fold. His spine curls within seconds. The screams die on his withering lips, stuck in his constricting throat with the exterior skin melting like snow. His eyes first bloat before shrinking, pupils dilated, unblinking stare unremoved from the clouds.

You knew he has been cheating. It was so obvious. Your husband was addicted, yet he tried to hide it behind the powders that made him look vampiric and the black hair gel that left stains on his pillow. So, you pretended not to know, and you never said a word. You wished he would tell you, wanted him to confess, and you wished he would explain why. Especially after he spent so many years convincing you not to go into the rain. That he hated the rain, and you should too.

There isn’t always an explanation for why someone might crave death. But you were, are, desperate for an answer. Even a lie would suffice. Something, anything, for why he did it, continued to do it. And why, why, why, did he not want you to do it together.

Your husband looked at you. Frowned. But said nothing.

You threatened to step out of the rain, and he didn’t stop you the way he had when you first moved to Fountain. But you knew your words were empty, and so did he. Both of you knew you wouldn’t do it. You hated the rain more than you hated your husband.

He ended up being the one whose tears stopped first.

They don’t recommend standing in the rain for more than a second or two at a time if you want to feel what it’s like to age, for a moment. People always disappear at the minute mark. But there is no pain, at least that is what you have heard, that was what Father said before he stepped naked into the storm five years ago. “I have been in this world for too long,” were his last words. And you wonder just how long he has been alive.

There was no body at his funeral, only a photo of him stalled at thirty-five years old with his hair barely streaking, age lines barely showing.

Some never leave their houses, at least those who want to live in the past, those who want to remain the same for a while longer—or for eternity. No one knows why the rain ages everyone in this town faster than humanly possible—although it was a terror for some, at first, it is a relief to most.

And no one knows why staying away from the rain keeps them young forever. There is no science to it all. But everyone fears if they question it too much, Fountain might well be taken as abruptly as it appeared.

You can’t tell which you would prefer, even though you were sure when you first arrived.

The young man falls to his knees, face no longer youthful, his eyes no longer hopeful. What makes him desire age, desire death, I can’t tell. Though he looked young seconds ago, his mind might already be centuries in age. He might have already experienced the weight of the world outside of this town—the horrific nature of society and human nature at its lowest points. When you left the neighbouring city, you vowed you would not pass early like Mother, leave behind your loved ones to suffer the way she had with you and Father.

You stare, unmoving, unblinking, unable to unwatch the death of the young man, a person who could have been you, who you perhaps wish is you. You try to convince yourself that staying inside doesn’t feel like death. That your husband bringing you here, keeping you here, is the best thing that has ever happened to you. Here, you can look twenty-seven, feel twenty-seven, be twenty-seven forever—alive, forever.

The young, now elder, man’s sleek back hair becomes sparse, turns grey, shifts to white, then it falls and falls and falls until only a single tuff remains, until that too is gone, washed away by the storm, a raging sea pouring from the angry, looming sky. Then he collapses. And rather than pain, he looks at peace. Just like Father. You want to hate him, but you can’t.

No passersby stop. No spared glances.

Your fingers itch to take off your gloves, to stick your hand out of the bus window. But you leave the glove on, and there is no way to lower the glass.

The traffic clears. The frantic movement of the windshield wipers slice through the heavy droplets, the plastic unaffected, unaged; the persistent squeals remind you that you hate the rain. You must fear it to remain here, and you must fear it to remain happy.

You miss the bus, and the grocery store is already closed. You don’t know why you didn’t wear gloves that day, you don’t know why you didn’t bring an umbrella, and you don’t know why you’re waiting for the rain to shop when you know it won’t.

You think of the young man from last week, and you wonder if anyone might stop if you from stepping into the rain, if you take off your jacket; if anyone will care because everyone you know that everyone who would has already gone.

Without waiting for hesitation, you step out and open your arms, allow the hood to fall from your head.

The droplets that meet your face and fingers feel like a ticking clock, hands rotating across your flesh. Your eyes close. And for the first time, you understand why your husband became so addicted. To removed yourself from the comfort of staticity, to feel movement, age, looming death—

The rain stops, but you can still hear it fall.

When your eyes drag open, there is a clear umbrella above you, blocking age from reaching you, blocking death, blocking time. Next to you is a woman who reminds you of your Father; and she also reminds you of your husband—in the early months of your marriage.

“You can keep it,” she says, and hands me the umbrella.

There is relief, but there is also disappointment when you accept her offer. “Thank you.”

She watches you for a moment, nods, then takes out another umbrella. You wonder how often she does this and when she might stop, and how long she has remained forty.

Before she disappears entirely, you call out. “It’s beautiful, sometimes, isn’t it?”

The woman stops, then keeps walking without turning back.

You wonder who you are trying to convince.

Though you keep your curtains drawn, you rip them open today—on the anniversary of your husband’s death. It’s the middle of summer, and it should look it, but it doesn’t. The clouds keep its golden treasure hidden. Behind you, you feel your husband’s painted gaze pry into the small of your back from the wedding portrait hung above the dresser next to the bed. It slides up your spine, rests at the base of your neck, snakes up to your ear. You wait for whispers that never come, a ghost who fails to appear, the one who constantly warns you about the rain.

But now, there is only silence.

The only sound you hear is the song of the dead, the pitter patter of droplets against the balcony. A fountain of youth that pours from the sky, and you can reap the endless time it offers, only if you avoid its beckoning cries.

You rip off the curtains and watch as they fall. You reach out a hand and watch as it ages.

Then you withdraw back inside, breaths heavy with adrenaline, head dizzy with the way your hand is beginning to feel stiff, the way the joints ache, the way the fingers curl with excruciating effort. It has been one too many times you’ve done this, and though the rest of you is still twenty-seven, your right hand is close to seventy-two.

The house is warm, but it stifles, and it claws. You tug on the white sheets that pools around your ankle. Patches of your skin that met the rain splashing inward from the window wrinkles further. You rush with the curtains bunched against you, clutched between one youthful hand and one weathered, and toss it over the wedding portrait, blocking both you and your husband from sight.

Almost in flight, you drift back to the window, step out into time’s liquid embrace, draw in a living breath, and feel that the world is no longer static.

You leave Fountain the next day, silver-haired, slouching in Father’s coat, armed with his cane and the stranger’s clear umbrella. You don’t miss the bus, and it brings you to the park near your old home. It’s raining, but you aren’t afraid. Not anymore.

Nestled in the park’s stone pathway is the crater that has never been fixed over the years, filled with rainwater. You lie down, wonder if you should make a water angel, and wonder if that will be okay.

About the Author

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, among others. She is the holder of Odyssey Workshop’s 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship. Her debut novella Linghun (April 2023) is forthcoming with Dark Matter INK. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (