Chapter 9.

...

before

In Belgo the night could have been a relief from the harsh realities of car wreck rust, broken glass and burnt plastic, but it wasn't. The street lights that lit the place were powered by the generator and designed to survive a prison riot. There was no way in which the indestructible junk piles that littered the place could ever be out of sight. The night just made them clearer to see.

Beyond the edge of the settlement night in the desert was as dark as it ever was, but the latest generation, having only known the sick yellow glow of lights built to illuminate a prison, were scared of it.

The violence in the air was clear enough, the priest could sense it even before he saw the store. Somewhere out there the people of Belgo were simmering, and the low clouds just seemed to make things worse. As he expected, under the lights and in the front of the store there was a crowd.

All of them were yelling. It was an indistinct and angry noise that came into focus as he got closer.

"Come open up".

"No way".

"Mavvvis, Maaaaaaaaaaaavis". There was more than one person howling it.

"Go to hell".

Father Smith was striding over the rocks, he muttered, "come on now, be nice".

"Maaaaaaaavis" the crowd called, cruelly, it was getting louder.

You just want your cheesecake, don't you? Pathetic. Look at you. All ready to fight over a stupid box of cheesecake.

"Maaaaaaaaaaaaaavis, Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavis".

The priest heard what could have only been Mavis screaming. From inside the cage he could see the high beams from her car burning out through the dancing shadows of the mob and into the desert. The security gate was grinding its way up.

There a sudden commotion in the semi-dark. The tires of her old car spun on the rocks, and in the dusty flicking light people threw themselves out of the way. Mavis was shooting through. The engine sounded like tired growl and faded quickly, leaving the angry mob milling and choking softly on the exhaust fumes. The tail lights faded, and suddenly the cage was open, Mavis was gone, and the cheesecake, the last one in Belgo, was right there to take.

They were a strange tableaux, gathered there in the settling dust from their fleeing store keeper, bathed by yellow prison light. They knew the violence really was coming this time, and that it would be substantial.

There was no need to rush.

The rain that began to fall at that moment was minor punctuation. Everyone looked up at the sky. Miles away there was the rumbling of thunder.

Father Smith had arrived now. He watched the crowd bracing itself to run and push and shove, an ominous anticipatory shudder. He knew it was too late for him to do anything. He just hoped no one got seriously hurt.

Edna took a step forward, which might have been the start of it...

The flash that came out of the sky froze everyone in their tracks. The priest felt like he could hear it coming. It sounded like the sky being ripped open, like a curtain tearing in half. There was a long second in which everything was utterly still and clear and no longer the color of desert dust.

The thunderclap was an enormous, all consuming rumbling boom that people felt sucking the air from their lungs and making their stomachs twitch.

Every piece of tin in Belgo rattled madly, and with a violent definitive clang the security gate that Mavis had just driven through slammed itself shut.

Afterwards, for almost half a minute, Father Smith thought that he must have gone blind and deaf. Everything that had been before the lightning struck had disappeared, and in its place was something close to silence and indistinct movements in the dark.

Then it became clear. The generator had been hit. There was no power.

The rain had started up properly now, falling hard from a low black sky. It took everyone a second to realize why they were so dizzy and free. The generator had gone, and with it the noise and the burning unnatural light. There was suddenly nothing sinister about the moist stormy night, and the cheesecake was forgotten.

Without the generator it was possible to hear things that had not been heard in Belgo for twenty years. The desert insects and the frogs were coming to life, their sound was a buzzing, croaking whistling, clicking, humming song of happiness for the rain. There was the sound of cooling water pouring onto hot tin. There was a long, joyful, seemingly human cry from somewhere close, from out in the moonless rainy dark.

"Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey" the voice called.

It could only be Amos, they could hear the sound of his bare feet crunching quickly over the stones.

"Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey!" it cried again. No one said a word, though some of them looked at each other, and a few started to smile.

"It's the frog" Amos shouted, coming clear from the warm and living void. "That fella still here! It's the frog! The frog that makes the rain".

...

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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