The rain pelted Danbr and seeped into his suitcase as he walked home from work, but he didn’t want to open his umbrella. The rain had been erratic all day, and Danbr knew that as soon as he opened his umbrella it would stop. So he didn’t. And it didn’t. He silently berated the rain for being so difficult to read. He then caught himself berating the weather, froze in place and started evaluating his life.
I’m not happy, he realized for the first time. I have a job, friends, family... I could be forgiven for assuming I was happy.
He pondered this without moving. And he dripped. I go to work every day, I come home, then I don’t know what I do to fill the time, and then I go to bed. And the whole thing starts over the next day. I’m not adventurous, I never planned on travelling the world or becoming famous, but I think something is missing from my life. I want to be more than what I am now.
He stood sopping with his umbrella folded, staring up at the rain. The street was deserted. The sun tried its best to lighten up the city, but only managed to cover everything in the clouds’ dull grey. Danbr resumed walking, but not at a speed that suggested he was worried about the papers in his briefcase. He had completely forgotten about his umbrella.
He took in a deep breath. Is it the rain making me think like this? Is this what people mean when they say the rain makes them depressed? They’re right, it’s awful.
He looked at the house he’d stopped in front of. It looked like an old couple’s home. The lawn was immaculate. ‘The Hennesseys’ was painted on their mailbox. Gnomes, flowers and flamingoes spotted the muddy garden. Danbr knelt down to get a closer look at one of the gnomes.
He’d never noticed them before. They were hand-painted; he could tell because of the small imperfections. There were impressive paint skills on display, such as the texture of the hair and the soft, rosy cheeks. The person who worked on them spent a lot of time on them. They worked on something and had something to show for it at the end. Danbr wouldn’t know where to start. He stood up.
He was suddenly convinced that all he needed to guarantee a happy life free of any more sudden rainy epiphanies was a hobby. And he decided to start with painting lawn ornaments. He let himself enjoy his newfound contentedness.
He passed by the messy yard.
Unlike the Hennessey’s, Danbr had no trouble missing this yard on his daily walk. There lived either two or three high-spirited kids or fifty regular ones. There were broken, sun bleached toys spotting the grass. The lawn was yellow and crunchy even in the rain. Amongst the wreckage was a bent bicycle, a flattened football, a number of plastic guns in states of disrepair ranging from chipped to demolished, and an overturned orange wading pool which made a strange whimpering noise in the wind. A very strange noise, in fact.
It was sort of a hiss, peppered with long whiney whistles. It doesn’t sound like a pool, Danbr decided. He turned around and tried to hear it again. It was definitely coming from the pool. Odd, he thought.
He approached it, nervously stepping into the yard, half-expecting the residing family to burst through the front door with shotguns. He lifted the pool and peered underneath. He wasn’t sure what he had expected to find. A dog? A raccoon? One of the smaller kids in the pack?
He found a small cloth bundle, green and yellow striped, tightly wrapped and shivering vigorously. The bundle was shaped like an upside-down pear, about the size of a watermelon. It was somehow balanced on top of a small rock, water trickling around it. Danbr didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed to be steaming. It didn’t seem too hot or cold from where Danbr was kneeling, but it did seem frightened.
He gathered up the bravery to touch it, and brushed it with his finger. It shook like there was nothing but jelly underneath the cloth, which was dirty, ragged, and thin.
It was also very, very cold. Much colder than Danbr had anticipated. Was it a creature? Was it a toy?
It was still making the noise. Danbr didn’t want to make it angry, and considered leaving it alone. Whatever it was, though, it seemed small and defenceless. He took off his windbreaker and wrapped it up.
He hurried home. The bundle was still shaking, and had morphed from its upside-down pear shape into more of a potato shape. It was so cold Danbr’s arm was starting to freeze to his sleeve. The parcel was shaking as vigorously as ever. It was impossibly light, he had to pinch it so it wouldn’t blow away. His fingers were getting numb.
He left the quiet residential street onto a slightly busier road. Old apartment buildings sat along it, next to and above small shops. Danbr ran up to his building. It was an old brick apartment with a crooked number in its address and unnecessary bars over the windows. He fumbled with his keys, eventually managing to get him and the thing inside.
Barely able to hold the icy mystery bundle anymore, he carefully dropped it on his couch the minute he stumbled into his quaint apartment.
Because of the way the bundle was shaking, Danbr decided to quickly fill a hot water bottle for it, and maybe one for himself, too. (He could barely feel his arm.) He took his eyes off the parcel for a second to put on the kettle.
When he peeked over at it again, it was gone. His eyes popped around every corner of his apartment but it wasn’t anywhere to be found. He slid out of the kitchen and peeked around all the corners, the cupboards, the bedroom, the bathroom. Nothing. He searched and searched for about a minute and a half, which doesn’t sound like a long time but there weren’t many places to look. All traces of the thing were gone.
He scratched his head. Where was it? What was it? Did what happened just then even happen? Why else would I have put the kettle on? I suppose there are lots of reasons I could have put the kettle on, but I thought for sure I had carried a frigid, worn sack of… something home with me.
He sat. What had he been thinking about just before everything went weird? He couldn’t remember right away, but he remembered it would make him satisfied with his life.
Gnomes! He recalled. Ornament painting! That’s right. He popped his laptop open and searched the local college to find that they did not, in fact, have any classes for any sort of figurine painting, but a hobby shop in town would be starting drop-in sessions next month. He bookmarked the page. I don’t even have a yard. Shouldn’t the kettle be done by now?
Suddenly, a powerful whirlwind tore up his living room. Papers, garbage, and the leaves from his house plant spun around violently. A curtain tore loose and the other slapped against the roof. Danbr was pulled off the couch. From the floor he looked up, squinting. A pair of floating, expressionless eyes glared back at him. They stared unmoving in the cyclone, which began to fill up with some sort of black mist.
It weaved through everything in the room, and Danbr could barely hear a slow, faint whisper,
“Thank you, Danbr...”
He tried to stand up but couldn’t. He couldn’t look away from the floating eyes, which became blurrier and blurrier as Danbr swayed, getting dizzier and dizzier. When he couldn’t stand anymore, he fell over and blacked out.
Then he woke up. Or at least he thought he woke up. He wasn’t in his apartment anymore. The ground was covered in dark fog, and there was nothing but black in the distance. Five tall and vaguely human shaped figures stood in a circle around him. They seemed to be made up of the mist on the ground. They were in robes made from a similar fabric as the parcel he’d picked up. Danbr’s body was weightless and naked.
“Danbr,” the tallest one boomed, “On behalf of the Council of the Vorax, I’d like to extend our sincere gratitude.”
The others groaned in reply.
“Thank you.” Danbr managed. “I mean, you’re welcome. Sorry?”
“You rescued a vorax from the wet,”
“A wet vorax is a dead vorax,”
Groan groan groan.
“Ever since our queen died many hundreds of years ago, we’ve been unable to reproduce.”
“But we are immortal so long as we are dry. To have a mortal like you rescue one of us is humbling. We are in your debt.”
“As is tradition, a mortal saviour of the vorax will be bestowed with the Vorax Blessing.”
Groan groan groan.
“Burke will explain further.”
“The one you rescued, his name is Burke. He is foolish and curious. A combination of traits that would inevitably have lead to this.”
“But he is precious, as all vorax are. We love him, and we love you for saving his life.”
“We hope you find our blessing adequate compensation...”
Danbr forced his eyes open. He was clothed, sprawled out on his carpet, and felt a hundred pounds heavier than he remembered being. His head pounded. What on earth have I eaten today? I’m starving. He took a moment before sitting up. A voice spoke up from behind him, “Have you ever had a cut you don’t remember getting?”
Danbr turned around to find what looked like a ghost - it was maybe three feet tall and see through, wearing the ragged scarf Danbr had found under the pool. It was mostly shapeless, but had two distinct legs and a large head with a familiar pair of floating, expressionless eyes. “I’m trying to explain what a vorax is but it’s hard to know where to start.” It stepped in front of Danbr. “Have you?”
“Have I… ever got a cut I don’t remember getting? I suppose.” Danbr replied.
“That,” said Burke, “was probably a Vorax.”
“You’ll find a lot of things you don’t think exist actually do,” Burke explained. “Normal things that you’d find strange. Ghosts and fairies for example. They exist everywhere and are only as special as any other creature.”
Danbr nodded, though it was more of a ‘please go on’ nod than an ‘I understand’ nod. “But we, the vorax, don’t eat animals or plants or anything like that. We survive on memories! Memories of things you consider ‘supernatural’.”
“I see…” Danbr replied. “So let me get this straight: I may see ghosts or fairies or something like that all the time, but then later I wouldn’t remember because a vorax like yourself would eat the memory?”
“And leave a small cut you wouldn’t remember getting, yes.”
“So you’re going to eat my memories now?” Danbr asked nervously.
“No.” Burke said. “You’ve been made exempt. You’ve received the vorax blessing as thanks for saving my life, and are immune from any future feedings!” There was a moment of quiet contemplation from Danbr before Burke spoke up again. “Congratulations!”
“I don’t know if I want this,” Danbr admitted. “How different is the world going to be for me now?”
“I’m not sure,” said Burke, “it’s hard for me to see things from your perspective. There are large things you’d see rarely and there are small things you’d see fairly regularly. It’s not going to be a totally new world, but it will be different in a million little ways. Most days you wouldn’t even notice.”
“Can it be reversed?”
Burke, in his own way, looked offended. “I could ask the council. But think hard about it.”
“Can I get it back after it’s reversed?”
“Technically yes, it’s yours forever, but you’d have about five seconds after forfeiting it to decide that you want it back before you forget you ever had it.”
“How about,” Danbr said after a moment, “I keep it for a week, and in that time you could introduce me to some of the things I wouldn’t otherwise remember. And if I still don’t want it at the end of the week, you can have all my memories?”
“That sounds like fun.” In his own way, he looked excited, “It’ll be like a buffet! I can pick my own food!” He hopped onto the windowsill. “I’ll go plan us an itinerary! It’ll be wonderful!”
“Okay!” Danbr looked around at his apartment. It was still a disaster area after the whirlwind. “I think I’ll tidy up and… ooh, maybe have something to eat. I’m famished.”
“You don’t want to go for a walk? It’s a whole new world.”
Danbr blinked. “Do you think I’ll run into something just like that?”
In his own way, Burke shrugged. “You never know.” The window popped open a crack and the misty, shapeless form of Burke, along with his old scarf, blew outside. Danbr picked up his umbrella and took off.