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WHEN IT RAINS ON MOUNT CLANG
by Tanya Shliahov
3/15/2020 / Short Stories
Holly, with her eyes still closed, slowly allowed her body to catch up with her mind.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
“What’s that?” she thought.
It sounded like popcorn.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
But, it wasn’t. It was drops of rain falling softly on the roof of her tent. Finally, it was the long weekend, and that meant Easter Bible conference on Mount Clang. The annual conference was located at a picturesque hillside retreat on winding Candle Wick Road. It was unimaginably beautiful. Tall, grey pine trees with thin, spikey, moss-green leaves lined the brown, gravelly road that guided attendees, in their cars, to the conference hall. Bright green grass carpeted the undulating hillside location, interspersed by old eucalypt trees with shimmering grey-white trunks.
It wasn’t the weather Holly had been hoping for, but it was the weather she had been expecting. Holly hated being cold, but over time, she had created a ‘survival kit’ of cold-weather experiences she could cling to while longing for the burning sunshine of summer to return. Soup was one of them. She had discovered that she loved soup. Knee-high boots were another. She loved how they looked with leggings, and when all else failed, there was nothing better than sitting in front of a raging bonfire, roasting a marshmallow or two. So, fortunately, tenting was not the only accommodation option at Mount Clang Easter Retreat. There were also dormitories with a communal lounge and fireplace, and for those wanting more privacy, there were chalets. Holly knew, if the rain became too overwhelming, she could take refuge in one of the dormitories, warming herself in front of the fire.
Holly slid her umbrella up and after pulling her gumboots on, squelched her way along the muddy track from the tent area to the shared shower block to have a wash and change out of her pyjamas. Then, looking less like death warmed up, she walked to the dormitories to eat breakfast. Tenting was the cheapest option, but she had decided to pay a little extra to have her meals cooked by the dormitory chefs. It was just as well. How she would have cooked her meals on a gas camping stove in this rain, she wasn’t sure.
Breakfast was plain. Holly had been hoping for crispy bacon and eggs with a side of warm, buttered toast and fried red tomatoes. Instead, she savoured the taste of tart tinned peaches drowned in creamy vanilla yogurt. Then, with her stomach full, she marched back to the shower block to brush her teeth, and then crossed to the conference hall for the first session, dodging rain drops the size of Brazil nuts all the while. The first session started with a prayer, then two hymns, another prayer, another hymn and then the main speaker was invited to the pulpit. He gave a thoughtful exegesis of the life of Samson from the book of Judges, and then they prayed and sang another hymn. It was now time for morning tea. Holly meandered back to the communal lounge of the nearest dormitory to grab a scone and hot chocolate, alone.
There was one downside to the yearly retreat, it often drew people from her past. Well-intentioned adults who had made her childhood a misery. Excruciating would be a better word. Now, fully grown, Holly couldn’t believe that so many adults in her life had been so completely clueless as to how hurtful their words and actions would be and how they would leave an indelible mark on her mind and her heart that even today caused her to feel like people enjoyed life more when Holly wasn’t around. She had forgiven them, but she could see they hadn’t changed. That glint of disappointment in their eyes as she walked past, their shaking heads and that expression of incredulity in their faces that showed that she still did not live up to the standard they had set her.
Sitting alone in the corner of the room, staring intently at her Kindle, praying the ghosts of her past would stay on their side of the room, Holly was suddenly interrupted by a bright and bubbly, chubby, middle-aged lady with short, spikey hair. She introduced herself as Minnie Murgon, a Mount Clang local, a florist, a childless widow. Picturesque Mount Clang was spotted with wedding chapels and wineries, perfect for wedding receptions, so Minnie’s main clients were brides and grooms, and it was obvious she delighted in recounting the many betrothals her flowers had bedecked to any and every person that would lend their ears. Then, slowly, the convention attendants made their way back to the conference hall for another session of prayer, singing and sermons.
At the end of the day, guests were allocated free time, and Holly chose to spend hers bush walking, in the rain, once again, alone. There was a beautiful trek that led to a bubbling waterfall that cascaded into a round and deep looking pool of murky brown water. Every year she walked this trail but never in the rain. This year, the waterfall was a spectacular sight to see. Due to the heavy rain, it positively gushed.
She must have walked for longer than she intended to though because with a start, Holly noticed it was beginning to get dark. She about-faced and hoped she would make it back to the retreat before sun-down, but the struggling sunlight was soon quenched by the thick rain clouds lining the sky.
A solitary bird sang a quick, staccato, high-pitched song as if hyperventilating. Holly imagined the bird was small, black and pointy. Its song was incessant as if trying to warn her away from something. Then, it went silent. Then, breaking the quiet, she heard a fast flack, flack, flack, flack, flack sound not far from her face and a high-pitched eek, eek, eek, eek. Holly shivered. she shouldn’t have come here alone so late in the day. Then, more worryingly, she heard a muffled guffaw and a low chuckle.
Holly strode faster now, slipping and sliding along the muddy track, but now she could hear howling and barking. This was Mount Clang. Wolves didn’t live on this continent. The only largish animal likely to be seen in this area was the docile pademelon, which is like a small brown wallaby.
Finally, Holly made it back to camp, arriving just in time for dinner. The rain had stopped but still hung in the air, forming a glowing mist around the street lamps so that they looked like tall, glistening dandelions with long, slender, silver stems. Holly huddled in the corner of the room again, hoping no one would notice how distressed she felt. What had those strange noises been? Then, her solitude was broken abruptly, again, by Minnie Murgon.
“Wow! You look terrible”, she babbled. “And... wet! Where have you been?”
“To Fair Maiden Falls”, Holly said. “It grew dark, and then I heard noises - really weird noises!”
“Now, Now, just settle yourself down,” mothered Minnie. “What kind of noises did you hear?” she whispered, narrowing her eyes.
“Howling and barking and somebody laughing!”
“Aha!” Minnie said knowingly and leant back in her chair. “You heard witches!”
“Witches?” Holly stammered. “I don’t understand.”
“Didn’t you ever notice?” Minnie said slowly. “The quaint little shop in the main street, called The Little Shop of Mountain Magic? It sells crystals. Then, further along the same street, the café called Chicken, Chips and Chants? They offer to cast spells on people you don’t particularly like or on people you wish to develop romantic liaisons with. This is a beautiful mountain, no doubt about that, the perfect setting for worshipping God, but it has a dark and dangerous underbelly. Unfortunately, it is dotted with covens.”
“So, what was all that howling and barking?” Holly inquired weakly.
“That’s what they do.” Minnie replied. “Shape-shifting. They have a high regard for nature and believe that by joining themselves to animals, plants and man-made objects, they can become their authentic selves, opening their minds up to a new way of thinking - trances”, Minnie said pointing to her brain and crossing her eyes. “But don’t worry, it only happens when it rains.”
“How do you know all this?” Holly asked more confidently, starting to feel safe and secure again in Minnie’s warm and friendly presence.
Minnie turned pink, “Well, ah, erm… I used to be one of them.” Minnie said quickly.
Holly’s eyes widened.
“Well, it was so long ago now. I was lost and lonely and really just needed some company, but I was also searching, searching for something to believe in…Cows!”
“Cows?” Holly inquired confused.
“Yes! Cows. My coven believed that one night they had become a herd of cows. It started to get really weird. Anyhow, not long after that, I met a wonderful friend who led me through the Bible. We came across this convicting verse, ‘Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God’, It’s in Leviticus, and then that’s when I knew.”
“Knew?” Holly repeated.
“That I was unclean! In need of a Saviour and now, here I am!”
“Great!” Holly said hesitatingly.
“Now,” said Minnie cunningly. “As I said, I’m a florist. I make wonderful bouquets for beautiful brides. I’m quite the expert I’ve been told. Do you know of any future weddings that might potentially, soon that is, be coming up?”
“Oh,” Holly peeped, looking around frantically for an escape. “No, I don’t think I do.”
“Not even for, well you know, yourself?” Minnie asked slyly.
“Well, no” Holly said politely. “It’s not really something I’m thinking about right now, still trying to figure myself out” she muttered.
“Well, you don’t want to put it off for too long you know, biological clock and all that. Let me know if you need any help” she winked. Then turned and shuffled off smiling and smirking as she went.
Holly leaned back in her chair relieved. She whipped out her Kindle and started to read again. Then, she dozed off as the rain, which had started to fall again, fell softly on the dormitory’s tin roof with a soft shush, shush, shush, shushing noise. First, loudly, then quietly, then loudly, then quietly until all Holly could hear was the sound of her own dream.
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