The Laughing Rain
By R. D. Flavin

     I got my first suspicion the house was haunted the day we moved in.  It was the hottest day of the year and you can well imagine what moving into a new home was like.  Large, meaty men carrying our furniture from their truck and Mom and Grandma screaming out where each piece was supposed to go.  The movers could see Grandma's cane and dark sunglasses, but they were tired and just wanted to finish the job, so much so they were taking directions from a blind woman!  Dad made sure he stayed out of the way and that there were plenty of cold beers for the men.  With the occasional lemonade to help against the heat, I spent the afternoon in the front yard trying to teach Fritz, our dog, to play catch and fetch.  Those furniture movers sweat more than anyone I've ever known.
     When Grandma's favorite chair came off of the truck carried high and over the head of one of the movers, I remember Dad saying to Grandma, "They've got your chair, Jill...  Should I tell them to put it in the kitchen next to the refrigerator?"
     "Don't you dare!" Grandma screamed.  "It goes on the front porch, like we discussed!"
     "Where does this go?" the man carrying the chair asked impatiently.
     "Anywhere on the porch, for now," Mom called out from the living room.  "We'll move it ourselves later!"
     "Squirt!" Grandma yelled, summoning me.  Her nickname for me, despite what you think, was NOT inspired by my short stature, but rather for my collection of water–pistols and super-soakers, with which I was well known to cause much discomfort and wetness.
     With a grunt, I threw the tossing–stick past a bewildered Fritz and ran to Grandma's side.  Slipping my hand into hers, I politely asked, "What do you need, Grandma?"
     First, like always, she gave me THE GROPE.  Her thin, shaking hand patted my head, making circles in my hair, and then rubbed my ears and pinched my nose.  She did this with everyone though, and I was prepared for it.  Next, likewise as always, came THE HUG.  Grandma didn't weigh that much, so her arms around you were a little like what a Christmas tree must feel when you hang tinsel from it.  Finally, came THE SIGH.  A tiny "humph" of exhalation, so Grandma could collect herself.
     "Please position my chair in the rear of the western corner of the porch, facing east," Grandma instructed me.
     I gave my dad a look that screamed in need of direction.  He jerked his head to the left side of the porch, choosing between the two possible choices of left or right.  We were soon corrected.
     "Dummy!  Can't you feel the afternoon sun in the west?" Grandma scolded me.  "Move my chair to the right side of the porch, if you please!"
     "Mother," my mom called out to Grandma, "I asked you not to address the child as 'dummy'..."
     "Hey, it was a fifty-fifty shot!" I joked, moving the chair to its predestined place.
     A gruff cheer rang out from the three exhausted movers, announcing they had finished the job and desired more cold beers and a big tip.  My dad handed out the beers, passed one of the men a dark bottle of something, and gave each a clean, crisp fifty dollar bill.  Mom emerged from the living room with her checkbook in hand and saying something about "ten dollars off, if you mention this ad..."  A figure was shouted out and Mom busied herself making out the check.
     I heard Grandma's cane tapping across the porch and turning, saw her trying to locate her chair.  As her cane made wide, searching sweeps of the porch, I noticed the chair I had just a moment before placed, was now missing!  It had vanished!
     "Squirt!" Grandma yelled.  "Where's my chair?"
     My mouth refused to move.  Words were an impossibility in my astonished state.  I stood dumb and motionless, staring at the now empty spot where I had moments before placed the chair.
     "Here's your chair, Jill," Dad announced, carrying the chair from one side of the porch to the other.  "Weren't you asked to move your Grandmother's chair?" he asked, pushing me aside with the bottom of the chair.
     "But, ...I ...did!" I stammered.
     "Well, the chair certainly didn't MOVE itself back to the wrong side of the porch!" Grandma said sarcastically.
     "Yes!  It did!  It moved!" I screamed, my mouth working once more.
     "Enjoy the haunted house, kid," I heard one of the furniture movers say, as he slammed down his empty beer can on our front porch.  I got a good look into the mover's eyes as he said those words, but all I saw was weariness and a few broken blood–vessels.
     The house was haunted, but on that miserably hot, late-summer's day, I was the only one to suspect it, because of the chair that moved itself.  Maybe the furniture mover suspected it also, but the chances are about even he was just being conversational with a youngster.
     As the movers drove away in their truck and my family began the task of "setting up house," I resumed attempting to teach Fritz how to fetch.  I'd never had an unexplainable occurrence happen to me before and felt confused.  The thought of living in a real "haunted" house was intriguing, yet scary.  At the time, however, such thoughts couldn't last long, and I passed the afternoon and into the evening playing with Fritz.  I was, admittedly, trying not to think too much about our haunted, although spacious and lovely, new house.

     After dinner, as I walked Grandma to her chair on the front porch, I told her about the movement of the chair.  My suggestions for ley lines and disturbed magnetic polarities were met with dismissal.
     "You're the one who's disturbed, Squirt!  You get it from your father!" Grandma tossed off.  Even before her recent diabetes–induced blindness, she was often available, perhaps too often, for a quick retort, muttered insult, or surgical whining that cut straight to the hearer's heart.  It was true, I was disturbed, but not how she implied.
     "Well, the chair DID move, and seeing that it was YOUR chair, your special grandmother powers were undoubtedly magically transferred to the chair!" I joked, half–believing my own words.
     "Oh, stop it!" she pleaded.  "Everyone's had a rough day, with the move and all, and I don't have the strength to listen to your childish claims of ghosts, monsters, or men from outer space.  Just sit here quietly and keep me company.  Can you do that?"
     I thought of charging her five bucks for my silence, as Dad often said she was rich and I should try to get my hands on as much of her money as possible--"She'll find a way to take it with her!"  But, I'd made ten earlier by sneaking her some cream sherry in a coffee cup before dinner, and Mom got upset if I made too much money off my old, blind grandmother.  I sat next to her chair and stared at the thousand and three stars in the night sky.
     "That's better," she said casually.
     Grandma began rocking.  Well, it wasn't really 'rocking', as she didn't have a rocking–chair, but that's how the family referred to it when Grandma would start swaying back and forth in her chair and make this soft whistle-hiss sound by gently forcing air through her front teeth.  Sometimes we could make out a melody, some catchy pop–song from the forties or fifties, but usually it sounded like a tea kettle just beginning to boil.  It made her happy and we usually didn't speak about it.
     "Your mother had a similar fantastic imagination when she was your age," she said suddenly, halting her rocking.
     "What do you mean?" I asked.
     "She'd tie a large bath-towel around her neck, like a cape," she laughed aloud, "and would run around the house calling herself 'Superhero-Girl', or some such nonsense!"
     I laughed along with her for a moment, the image of my mother in a cape was amusing, and added, "But, now she runs around the house with a towel wrapped around her head and calls herself 'Super-Mom'!"
     "And 'Super–Mom' is going to super-ground you if you don't kiss your grandmother good night and go wash up for bed," my mother threatened from the doorway.  My mother did have super–hearing and it was stupid of me to forget it.
     "Night-night, Grandma," I said, kissing her on the cheek.  Avoiding the power-rays shooting from my mother's eyes, I squeezed past her, and made my way into the house.
     "Sleep well, Squirt," I heard Grandma call after me.
     Later, washed and with prayers said, I lay in bed in my new room waiting for sleep to come.  It seemed to take forever, so I went over the incident with Grandma's chair again, and again, and again.  As waves of warm fuzziness finally washed over me, the last thing I thought of before unconsciousness seized me, was that the house was haunted, everyone knew it, but no one wanted to admit it.  This was closer to the truth than I realized at the time.

     The next morning proved to be Dad's turn to grapple with the idea the new house was haunted.  As I sat down to a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, Mom and Dad were hotly arguing over how our dog, Fritz, went from being tied up on the front porch the night before, to being tied up in the backyard in the morning.  Grandma wasn't saying anything though, pancakes gave her flatulence, and she was busy sopping pieces of bacon in syrup and shoving them dripping into her mouth.
     "It was the first night here," my mother explained, "and you became confused because you were so tired after the move.  It's that simple!"
     "Oh Sally, get real!" my Dad answered.  "We hired movers, remember?  All I did was hand out beers..."
     "Like I said," Mom shot back, "...YOU WERE TIRED AFTER THE MOVE!  Okay?"
     Dad mumbled something about monkeys flying out of his butt and stomped from the kitchen.  Mom banged a couple of pans in the sink and Grandma made a wet chortle sound with a mouthful of bacon and syrup.  I finished my breakfast quietly, gave my dirty dish and silverware to my mother, who was still seething with anger at my father, and went outside to play with Fritz.
     A tall elm tree stood erect, like a dark, silent sentry in our backyard, its leafy boughs providing shade and protection to most of the yard and the rear of the house.  Head bowed in deep thought, hands clenched behind his back, and kicking the first of the hundreds of leaves that would fall in the coming weeks, Dad was walking in circles around the elm, talking to himself.  Fritz, off his leash and dizzily following Dad around the tree, began barking when he saw me.
     "Son, I've got a proposition for you," my father said, looking up at me.
     "Sure, Dad!" I answered.  "Anything..."
     He walked slowly toward me, his squinting eyes betraying his troubled mood.  "I'll give you ten American dollars if you say you moved the dog from the front porch to the backyard last night.  How about it?"
     Without hesitation, I replied, "Okay. Dad.  I moved Fritz from the front porch to the backyard last night."
     "You're lying," he said flatly.
     "Hey now!  You asked me to say something and I said it!  Ya' owe me ten bucks," I reasoned.
     "But, you're lying..."  Dad's voice grew low and soft.  Usually my Dad talked to me as a father to a son, or an adult to a child, but every now and then, he'd just talk...  "Did you do it?" he asked.
     "No, of course not," I answered truthfully.
     "Damn!" he swore.  "I knew it!  Then, if you didn't do it, and your blind grandmother and my too perfect wife, who would NEVER, EVER do such a thing, didn't do it, that only leaves..."
     "Republicans?" I joked.
     "I don't think so," he said, draping an arm across my shoulders.  "We can blame the Republicans for a lot," Dad continued, "but moving the dog in the middle of the night probably isn't something that'll stick."
     When Dad said the word "stick," Fritz began to jump up and down excitedly.  The dog wanted to play and my father gave a shrug and a nod of approval.  As I went off to play with Fritz, I heard my father lament, "I hate mysteries!"  I wanted to turn and say something encouraging to him, but Fritz was running through the backyard, out into a wide field that bordered our property.  I figured Dad needed some time to think and took off after the dog.

     Our new backyard ended abruptly with a wall of wild shrubs and mutant weeds, marking the extent of our property.  Guessing, I figured that years ago this was the spot where the previous owners stopped mowing the lawn and everything beyond was a charge of trespassing waiting to happen.
     Fritz ran through the bramble like it wasn't there, though it took me several minutes (and an equal number of scratches) to follow.  When I finally broke through the tangle of thorns and obstinate branches, I discovered the dog sniffing a low, cast–iron fence that surrounded a grave.  Though I was raised to have the utmost respect for people's feelings, their sense of loss when someone close to them passes away, funerals, cemeteries, and all of that, the presence of a grave a dozen feet from my backyard was too much to resist.  I climbed over the fence and had a closer look at the headstone.
     Thanks to the instruction booklets that come with video-games, my grammar was quite good and I knew words a lot of kids my age didn't.  Yet, probably because of a vocabulary that included gross and disgusting expressions and descriptions, when I saw the simple "R.I.P." on the headstone, it moved, saddened, and way–creeped me out.  Three letters that didn't even spell a word, nearly brought me to tears.  "Rest In Peace" is a devout wish and there I was standing on someone's grave, disturbing that peace.  Ouch!  I climbed back over the fence.
     Fritz welcomed me with yaps, paws, and those big, moist, brown eyes that always seemed to plead for nothing and everything at the same time.  Pushing the dog away from me, I leaned over the fence and read, "Caroline Winifred Allen--Beloved Daughter, 1957-1969 AND FOREVER."  She was twelve when she died––my age.
     But, and this was confusing, Mom was born in 1957 and that made the person in the grave the same age as my mother.  Yet, she died a child and I didn't know whether to grieve for her as a fellow-kid, or as someone who was old enough to be my mother.  I felt tugs of logic and respect, a touch of fancy and foolishness, but I couldn't decide what was correct--when someone dies, are they forever that age or do they "mature" and get wiser?  And, of course, part of me just said they were gone and that was that.  Everything else had nothing to do with them, only other people.  Like me.
     I got twice as many scratches racing back through the bramble.  Fritz again passed unscathed.  Dog's luck.  I couldn't wait to get back home and tell everyone about what I'd found.
     "Henry, there's a grave in the backyard!" my mom yelled at my father, after I told her of my discovery.

     Mom had hit that perfect pitch of "NOW!" and my dad responded promptly, though rising from the couch he did upset his bowl of cheese popcorn.  Fritz, ever-alert to household needs, quickly volunteered and cleaned up the mess, one tasty morsel at a time.
     "You better be telling the truth, young man," my dad threatened upon hearing my report.  "If this is just another one of your stunts and I don't find anything in the backyard, ...I'll have to sell your organs on the Black Market to pay my legal fees after the police charge me with beating my son within an inch of his life!"
     "How much money can we get for his organs?" Mom asked, entirely too seriously for my appreciation.
     "Don't start planning a trip to the mall just yet!" I snapped, my feelings more than a little hurt that my parents wouldn't believe me.  There was the time I'd told them that Libyan terrorists had murdered everyone on the block, their dead bodies were in the street and on the sidewalks, but upon closer examination the bodies turned out to be trashcans strewn about after a particularly sloppy team of garbage-men.  Big deal, so I got one wrong...
     I waved for my father to follow me and stomped off, as indignant as my twelve–year old feet could manage.  My temper held as I pushed through the weeds and bushes, and even improved somewhat when I heard the colorful curses of my father, who was not handling the thorns well at all.
     His swearing intensified as he cleared the bramble, only to find he'd brought several large, clingy vines with him.
     "Hey, there IS a grave back here!" my dad exclaimed, adding, "I guess I won't beat you after all..."
     "Thanks, Dad," I replied, never really believing I was in danger of a beating.
     Being considerably taller than me, my dad was able to lean over the fence and check out the headstone without having to climb over.  As he was reading the inscription, I felt the temperature drop and a cool wind begin to blow.  Looking up, I saw dark clouds approaching.  I didn't need a pocket-barometer or a six-year degree in meteorology to know the sky was going to start spitting kittens and puppies any second.
     "We better get inside, Dad," I encouraged him.  "It looks like it's going to cut loose in a..."  I never finished, as the rain began to fall and there was no point to it.
     My dad yelled, "Okay, let's move out," like we were in a John Wayne movie, turned, took a step, and fell.  I wanted to giggle REALLY BADLY, but I knew if I did, chances were pretty good I'd NEVER get an allowance and be forced to get a job to support my weekly skate-board repair bills.
     The sound of faint laughter mingled with the falling rain.  At first, I thought it was my dad who was giggling at himself, but that idea soon vanished as abruptly as the laughter.
     Picking himself up from the (now) wet grass, my dad shot me a hard look, like he was DARING me to say something.  No dummy me, I decided to let the matter pass, least until we were out of the rain.  Quickly, I ran back home.

     "Hey Mom," I said, as soon as I entered the kitchen, "you should have seen Dad wipe-out!  He fell flat on his back and his arms and feet moved just like yours, when you watch that aerobics-tape!"
     "That's nice," she commented, busy doing something scary with hot dogs and crescent–rolls.
     By the time my dad made it back to the house, the rain was coming down pretty good.  He took quite a soaking--more than likely getting stuck in the bushes again--and stood unspeaking in the kitchen doorway.  A puddle was forming at his feet, but I thought it out of line to say anything.
     "A towel would help out ...about now," he said, a bit winded from the run to the house.
     "I’ll get it, Dad!" I offered, always the polite one.
     "What?  Such manners!  Aren't you gonna laugh at your Old Man some more?" my dad asked, not too successful at hiding the anger in his voice.
     "That wasn't me!  I wouldn't laugh at you!  I swear!" I protested.
     "Right...  Like, it was the ghost of the little girl who chuckled!" my dad roared.  "Get out of my sight and leave me alone!" he ordered.
     "Henry!" my mom snapped. "That tone is way out of line!"
     I left the kitchen and went upstairs to my room, staying there until called for dinner.  It was definitely one of the worst dinners of my childhood and I still can't decide whether it was the awkward silence and shifty glances from my parents or the hot dogs and cheese in the crescent rolls.

     Grandma reamined a bright spot.  No matter what odd recipe Mom would cook from some gossip magazine, Grandma would finish her plate and often ask for more.  I was able to sneak one of the crescent dogs onto her plate and pass the other under the table to Fritz.  I did finish all my creamed corn and potato salad, even though I wasn't the happiest kid in the world at the time, I thought it best to eat something.
     I helped Grandma to her chair on the porch after dinner. The rain was still coming down pretty good, but she said she liked the smell of late summer rain.  I've never quite been able to "smell" rain.  Rather than stick around the house and face more stares and glares from my dad, I joined her on the porch.
     "Well, Squirt," she began, after a bit, "how long do you think this row will last between you and your father?"
     "The one you call SQUIRT no more!" I answered in a squeezed, robot–like voice.  "This planet and all CRESCENT DOGS are now part of THE EVIL FOOD EMPIRE!  Long live stomach upset!"
     "You should have at least ...tried one, Squirt," Grandma said.
     Looking out into the rain, I said with a touch of melancholy, "In my short life I've already learned some hard lessons..."
     "Oh, do tell!  What have you learned, Squirt, the Wise?"
     "Well, Grandma," I answered, "I hate to break this to you and it's a good thing you're sitting down, but ...ketchup can actually make many things better.  Most, mind you!  But those crescent dogs were too far gone for even ketchup to save..."
     "It's not easy coming up with something new and exciting for dinner every night," Grandma said with compassion, "and when your mother was your age, she sat down to a dinner of franks and beans quite often, not because the family especially loved them, but because I couldn't think of anything else to serve!"
     "Oh, that's right! It wasn't until AFTER Columbus brought back tomatoes from the New World that you could get pizza delivered!" I teased.  "Yes, the days before pizza...  Those dark and tasteless days..."
     Grandma started to do her rocking-thing, swaying back and forth and whistling softly to herself.  I should have offered to fetch her an after-dinner drink and earned a few bucks, but now it was too late.  I didn't like to disturb her when she was ...rocking.  I sat down on the porch next to her chair, closed my eyes, and listened to the rain.
     In my heart I knew I'd put Grandma's chair where it belonged, that first day in this house.  And, I guess, my dad 'knew' he'd tied Fritz to the porch that night.  We'd both heard the laughing rain at the little girl's grave, but like the other two events, we couldn't exactly talk about it.  I could almost hear my mother say, "Oh, what would the neighbors think?  There goes the FAMILY that believes in ghosts--let's wave or they'll haunt us too!"
     Maybe it was because I was thinking about the laughing rain.  Sometimes, we see what we want to see, or as in this case, hear what we want to hear.  Her soft giggling seemed everywhere at once.  With every drop of rain, laughter forced its way into my world.  Well, not just my world--Grandma heard it too!
     She stood and with her cane tapping in front of her, carefully walked to the edge of the porch.  "You hear it, don't you, Grandma?" I asked.
     "Heaven and handbags--I DO, Squirt!  I hear the laughter!"
     I've always thought it superbly ironic that right after Grandma would name "Heaven," all HELL would break loose.  Fritz came charging around the side of the house, barking with all the enthusiasm his canine lungs could muster.  My dad appeared at the front door, hopelessly yelling for the dog to get back into the house.  The wind picked up, the rain began to fall harder, and the laughter seemed to get louder and louder.
     A feeling of wrong took hold of me.  It was like the guilt one feels after doing something bad, only much worse.  Everything was WRONG!  The rain, the dog barking, my dad yelling, Grandma listening to the laughter, the porch and the chair that moved itself.  I felt we had to leave the porch, run, ...get away as fast as possible!
     "Let's go, Grandma!" I said, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her toward the front door.
     "No!  I want to stay!  Can't you hear the laughter?" Grandma protested.
     Above the whoosh of the furious winds, the repetitive splats and pinging of the rain, and the eerie sound of laughter, I heard something which chilled me to my very soul--the porch began to groan!  My dad heard it too...
     "It's time to go, Jill," Dad said, almost picking Grandma up from the porch and bringing her inside the house.
     I was standing just outside the front-doorway waiting for Grandma to be safely inside, when the porch began to violently shake back and forth.  My dad turned, his eyes wide and hands open.  "Now!" he screamed.  I felt something strike my back and everything went black.  Power off, shutdown, ...That's All Folks!

     Mom was holding my hand and Fritz was licking my face when I woke up.  To say that I jumped from the living-room couch would be a serious understatement.  I ROCKETED from the couch, landed on my feet, and yelled, "The porch!"
     "I'm thinking one of those screened-in jobs, aren't you, Sally?" my dad asked my mother.  "It would keep the bugs out..."
     "If we get storm–windows, we could have plants out there year round," my mom added.
     "HEY! WHAT HAPPENED?" I demanded, perhaps a little too loudly.
     "Come on, Fritz," Mom called to the dog, "let's go to the kitchen and I'll reward you with a special treat!"
     My eyes silently pleaded to my dad for a straight answer.
     "Son," he said gravely, "I've got some GOOD NEWS and I've got some BAD NEWS..."
     My heart decided that it was tired and stopped beating right then and there.
     "The GOOD NEWS is ...we lost the front porch.  It just collapsed--the overhanging roof came down, probably because of age and that nasty storm outside..."
     "That's the GOOD NEWS?" I asked incredulously.
     "Well, the BAD NEWS is ...your Grandma is okay.  She got off the porch before it collapsed.  Sorry!"
     I heard Grandma begin to swear from the kitchen and realized my family was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.  Everyone was nuts, I took a deep breath, let my heart start beating again and asked, "What happened to me?"
     "Right as the porch-roof was collapsing, Fritz the Wonder Mongrel ran and knocked you through the doorway.  I was calling you and he must have thought I was calling him for food or something, because he leaped, struck you in the back, and both of you made it inside just as NATURE remodeled the outside of our house!  Pretty cool, huh?"
     "Way cool, Dad," I replied, thinking everyone over eighteen should be required by law to talk without slang.  Fritz ran in from the kitchen at that moment, a cold, crescent dog in his mouth.  Dropping it at my feet, I looked into a pair of the saddest eyes I've ever seen in my life.  After all that the "Wonder Mongrel" had done, it was a shame he'd be rewarded like that.
     "Mom," I yelled, "stop being mean to the dog!"
     With some backup from my dad, we were able to rummage through the refrigerator and come up with a cold, leftover porkchop for Fritz.  It was the least we could do for the dog saving my life.  Of course, Mom's feelings were hurt and she threatened NEVER to make crescent dogs again.  Actually, this was the best news of the entire day.
     We never talked about the "laughing rain" and any possible connection to the porch incident, nor did we hear the giggles again.  My dad and Grandma would always smile, cough, and change the subject whenever I brought up the idea that the ghost of the little girl in the backyard had somehow warned us of disaster.  And my mother?  Well, she never believed in Daylight Savings Time, and ghosts simply didn't have a chance with her.
     Maybe it was all a coincidence and the laughter was just wind blowing through the trees or something.  Yet, it brings a smile to my face when I think of those giggles.  I often spend time in the backyard with Fritz.  The flowers that my parents planted around the little girl's grave always remind me of laughter.  Especially, when it rains.

The End.

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