Looks Like Rain

"Looks like rain!"

I hadn't met the older gentleman standing beside me in the café window, but the topic of conversation seemed too obvious to ignore.

"Yup." He replied, almost solemnly.

I gazed through the glass storefront window, out to the slow traffic of a sleeping city. The moonlight barely cut through the heavy gauze of cloud cover, and the wind had been picking up. Several fliers for lost pets and local bands worked their way free from pushpins and scotch tape, only to rise briefly and slice downward in disgrace.

I'd just purchased a coffee. I knew I wouldn't be sleeping that night… though looking back, the reason for that bout of insomnia would become quite different from the one I'd planned.

All-night coffee shops are great places to get a bit of writing done, and if I wanted to keep the advance on my novel… Well, suffice to say I'd have to get quite a "bit" completed within the next eight hours.

The rain started.

It was light at first, a mere drizzle, and for a moment the man beside me cracked a casual grin. Then, the deluge gradually increased until the two of us were staring into a seemingly impassable wall of fluid darkness.

"What I wouldn't give for an umbrella." He frowned.

"I hear that." I helpfully added.

Just then, as if by some stroke of incredible luck, a wind-swept, open umbrella made its way across the sidewalk and came to rest, shuddering madly, mere feet from the café door.

"Holy crap!" I proclaimed, taking a sip from my cooling cup, "this must be your night."

"Damn right it is."

The older gentleman pulled open the door, and all at once the entire place was filled with the roaring cacophony of the crashing rain. The smell of clean, pure water and the steam of hot pavement being doused with frigid moisture sent my senses reeling.

The man stepped out quickly, allowing the glass door to slowly close behind him, its pressurized hiss drowned out by the vertical rapids just outside. His white dress shirt soon clung to him, revealing the pudgy, yet withered body he'd previously hidden so well. The black pants and dress shoes, I figured, would end up ruined before he made the trip home.

I watched the man for a moment longer, feeling no need to return to work just yet. He darted toward the umbrella and, perhaps fearing it would get away, he lunged for its handle like a fencer making the fatal thrust.

The umbrella itself was not all that remarkable. Above; black with silver tips. Below; a simple black shaft ending in what looked to be a dainty raven's claw handle. That, too, was rendered in gleaming silver.

"Ha ha!" I laughed and raised a fist in victory as the man successfully retrieved the object of his desire and raised it aloft, over his head. "Good luck!" I said quietly, carefully mouthing the words at him through the glass.

The older man took a few steps away from the café and stopped at the curb. There, he looked both ways for traffic before stepping off and into the street.

The wind picked up, sending a soft, almost human howl through the ventilation ducts above me.

Suddenly, without a single quiver of hesitation, the umbrella clasped shut.

"Whoops…" I muttered unthinkingly.

The man stood in the middle of the street for a moment, his head enveloped in the clearly defective, pitch black object. I imagined he must have been quietly cursing his bad fortune. Then, he jerked backward. Then, to the left… and right.

It became clear to me that he could not work his head free from the damned thing, and would remain thus entangled until the inevitable driver blinded by rain, darkness, and alcohol, mowed him down in the street.

I set my coffee down with a heavy sigh and pulled the door open once again.

Now, mixed with the pounding of the rain, I heard the desperate, blood-curdling cries of an injured man.

Again unthinking, I rushed out into the tempest and raced toward this stranger. In seconds, my hair was flattened against my scalp. As I strode further, my clothes were saturated. By the time I reached the thrashing, falling form of the man, I felt as if I were submerged within some raging river.

"Are you alright?" I shouted through the din, lungs peppered by droplets of liquid with every breath, "Let me help you!"

The man clasped the umbrella with both hands, trying to pry off what now seemed like some horrific black hood. As my hands joined his, I found wetness around his neck that did not strike me as rain. Feeling it between my fingers, then bringing it to my face, I found bright crimson quickly washing away from my flesh.

The silver ends, the pointed nubs that ringed the umbrella, were firmly buried in the stranger's neck.

Kneeling with an abrupt and startling crack of bone on blacktop, I threw all of my strength into freeing him of this strange malfunction. As I moved closer to him, I could clearly make out the landscape of his face through the umbrella's dark material.

It was a face contorted… rippling… though mid-scream.

That face, one I'd only just met for the first time moments before, quickly went still.

It moved upward.

The man's head… or rather, the outline thereof… had become displaced. It pulled away from the neck slowly and ascended toward the point of the umbrella.

I let out a shrill, barely human shriek. It was more befitting a man being murdered than one witnessing it.

The black umbrella rolled free with a passing gust, leaving me to sit with a twitching, remarkably pale, headless body. It rolled like that for a few feet before righting itself… standing on its handle as if the wind had naturally positioned it as such.

It hopped a few times, its silver, sharp-taloned handle beating against the ground like a chicken scratching for seed.

Then, the umbrella sprang open once more. Again, as if caught on the wind, it quickly ascended into the darkness of that swirling, wet abyss that was all around me.

Briefly, as the umbrella opened, the man's head fell free of that enclosure. However, the thing quickly grasped its gruesome prize with its single foot, snagging a patch if thin, graying hair. It was a juggling maneuver befitting the quickest and most dexterous bird of prey.

Though it only took a few seconds for the thing to ascend into the night, I watched, fixated, sure to remember every detail until my dying day. I saw nothing odd about the umbrella, other than the clear indicator of its murderous nature. It was indiscernible from any other.

Most often, I recall the slack, expressionless face on the removed head. Eyes wide, jaw hanging, exposed throat and gore dangling below.

Then, in a final glimpse before both hunter and quarry disappeared, there was an unexpected flash of un-life.

A darting of the eyes.

A sudden closing "clack" of the jaw.

A look of child-like wonder.

A slow, wide, crimson smile.

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