I discovered this queer curiosity in an expedition to the depths of a strange and foreign land, which shall remain unnamed for fear of certain unsavory characters making it their purpose to exploit the details of which I chronicle in this journal.
Throughout literature, the saying “it rained cats and dogs” has been deliberately misconstrued by uninspired souls seeking some clever twist to redeem their work. Household pets are depicted falling from the sky, bouncing ludicrously on upraised umbrellas. But I discovered, upon entering this lush and green land, that there may have been truth seeded in their words.
The men of the HMS Venture and myself sailed smoothly up a wide river edged with water-logged bracken and uprooted trees. We were on an expedition, a scientific quest to explore reports on dark magic and witchcraft centered round this lush paradise. I was remarking to a crewmate that a fierce storm must have struck recently, when suddenly the countenance of the man I was conversing with went white, and he swallowed rapidly.
“What’s the matter, man,” I demanded.
He struggled to speak, and I had just seized him by his jerkin, when the smell hit me like a fist, invading my nostrils and penetrating my very essence. Redolent of a tannery on ha 'penny street back in London but worse, far worse, the stench was visible, lying thick in a greasy cloud upon the curve of the river like a fiendish trap; one we just had sailed straight into.
A skeleton crew was left above as any spare members staggered below to fetch handkerchiefs to clutch to their faces. I myself dashed to my cabin before returning to take the place of an unfortunate young deckhand, his face pale and eyes wide, who was left to steer while others sought refuge.
I heard a sudden muffled thud off starboard, and saw a man sprawled insensible against the railings, precariously close to toppling over and into the oily waters below. I backhanded the gawping deckhand into action and sent him to help the man before, clutching my linen pocket-chief to my face, I staggered to the wheelhouse and turned the Venture away. The current hit us broadside and she wallowed, before righting herself and sitting stagnant in the water. With the sails of no use, I drove the crew with curses and beatings to man the oars.
As we rowed, the smell grew fainter until all could breathe, but the miasma had still soaked into every fiber of our garments. We rowed on, gagging with every stroke until the air cleared. I forced the men to row on at an abated pace until we reached the river mouth, whereupon they abandoned their stations with a jubilant cry and plunged into the ocean fully clothed.
That night, as they sat over untouched plates of hearty stew, I told them I would be selecting a crew to paddle upriver in a rowboat the next day. We would investigate the source of the smell to detail on our return to the motherland.
‘It will require great fortitude,’ I said, ‘and require great courage’.
Their hardened and weathered brows creased in fear.
‘However,’ I continued, ‘those who come will be rewarded.’
The current was weaker the next day. We paddled with ease towards the location where we had encountered the smell. I could see the men’s reluctance as they made every excuse and delay possible.
We halted a distance from the riverbend to affix makeshift masks to our faces made of swathed undergarments, meal sacks and any available material. Looking like some monstrous, faceless beings, we paddled on past the point where the Venture retreated the previous day. We pushed onwards with eyes watering and breathing shallow, and soon looked upon a sky thick with birds, congregating round in a seething, squawking mass around the bend.
Suddenly, the men ceased paddling in shock. I began berating them and sunk the anchor before the current could push us further downstream. Still cursing and stooped from the action, I caught sight of a man's face. Above his swathed mask, it was bloodless. Slowly, I looked up. Before us, rotting carcasses formed a solid bank, the stained water sluggish and condensed at its base. The air above was thick with birds feeding, squawking, perched like some strange island of Gulliver's amid the stench shifting in the air like a mirage.
“…. tarnation,” I breathed.
Roberts, the cabin-boy, locked his oars and reached a shaking hand into the oily water. He pulled out a dripping, congealed form. “Sir, .... it’s a mog-!”
A leathery-faced man reached overboard and heaved a hardly recognizable form into the vessel, flinching as fetid water spilled into the bottom of the boat.
“And a dog, m’lord!”
…..to conclude my account, it can indeed rain cats and dogs. It’s merely that those who employ such literary follies neglect to address what follows. After all, ashes to ashes… life to death... and cliché sayings to corpses to stench.
Molly Laurence, Year 10
What we noticed:
In this piece the author commits fully to a narrator voice - maintaining tone, stance and sentence rhythms. Language choices enhanced both the character building and the well-imagined setting. To sustain our belief, the narrator makes reference to items of a certain time and place. We also found it very funny.
Prompt: Imagine if other cliché sayings were literal! Why not pick another cliché or hyperbole and reimagine it into a story? We'd love to see what you come up with.
(c) Write On and Molly 2021