First Man looked out upon the dry wastes of the land.
“Hasn’t rained for a long time,” he said to the rest of the tribe. “Better speak to Sky-God.”
So he went to the highest place of the world, to the great red rock, and called out to Sky-God, asking for rain.
There was no answer.
First Man didn’t like that. Sky-God had always answered before. Maybe Sky-God was angry, but First Man didn’t know any reason why that should be.
He went back to the tribe, and told them what had happened.
“Maybe he isn’t angry,” First Woman suggested. “Maybe something happened to him.” The others of the tribe looked at one another, worried. What could have happened to Sky-God?
“I’ll find out,” said First Man. “I’ll go walkabout, and see if anyone knows.”
First Man walked across the dry world. He asked the ants, but the ants didn’t know what might have happened to Sky-God. He asked Laughing Bird, but Laughing Bird didn’t know what might have happened to Sky-God. He asked the rocks and the trees and the thin, sad, streams; but none of them knew.
But when he asked Lizard, Lizard cocked his head to one side.
“I saw Sky-God,” he said. “I saw him go down to Big Water. Reckon that’s where you should look for him.”
First Man thanked Lizard, and he followed the route of one of the streams, all the way down to Big Water. He stood there, with the waves breaking on the rocks at his feet, and he called out to Sky-God. But there was still no answer. He called a second time, and then a third.
When he called the third time, he heard a voice; but it was not Sky-God’s voice, which was the voice of the thunder. It was a very small voice, from down near his feet.
“He won’t come.”
First Man looked down, to see who had spoken. It was Crab, huddled down under a rock, with only his eyes showing, out on their stalks.
“Sky-God’s gone,” Crab said. First Man sat down on a rock, letting the waves soothe his feet, for he had walked a long way.
“Gone? Gone where?”
“I saw it,” Crab said. “I saw Every-Colour Snake come out of the water, and swallow Sky-God up. Just swallowed him all up.”
“That’s bad,” First Man said. “Reckon I’d better have a word with Every-Colour Snake.”
Crab shook his head.
“You don’t want to do that. Every-Colour Snake’s always hungry. That’s why we hide. All of us, who live in Big Water. If you try and talk to him, he’ll swallow you up, too.”
“We’ll see,” First Man said. “I’ve got an idea.”
Crab retreated further under his rock.
It took First Man a long time to gather all he needed, but he reckoned it was better to take your time, and get things right, than hurry and make a mistake.
When he was good and ready, he went back down to Big Water.
“Hey! Every-Colour Snake!” he called. “I hear you’re a big fellow. But I reckon you’re just a bully. Swallowing up Sky-God; that’s no way to behave.”
For a time, nothing happened. First Man stood there on the shore, waiting. And then, he saw it; whitecaps and foam, the waves breaking, as something vast moved beneath the surface of Big Water.
Every-Colour Snake rose. He was enormous; bigger than First Man had imagined. But not so big that he couldn’t be caught. First Man flung out the great net he’d woven. All the grasses had helped, because they missed Sky-God’s rain; and the stones had agreed to weight the edge of the net, so it would spread as it was thrown, and so it would weigh down around Every-Colour Snake, and hold him fast.
Every-Colour Snake glistened and gleamed as the water cascaded off him. Then the net fell about him, and he twisted and writhed and tried to break free. But First Man had tied his knots well, and had his feet dug in firm. Twist as he might, Every-Colour Snake couldn’t escape. Struggle as he might, Every-Colour Snake couldn’t stop First Man from hauling him in, slowly and steadily.
Within the bonds of the net, Every-Colour Snake twisted his head, and looked at First Man.
“You swallowed up Sky-God,” First Man said.
“I was hungry,” Every-Colour Snake told him. “I’m always hungry.”
“But you swallowed Sky-God. Now who’ll make it rain?”
“I don’t need rain,” Every-Colour Snake said. “I live in Big Water.”
“Everything needs rain,” First Man said. “Even Big Water. All the rivers run into Big Water. If it doesn’t rain, the rivers will dry up, and then Big Water will dry up as well.”
“All right,” Every-Colour Snake said. “If you let me go, I’ll make it rain. Take some of my scales. When you need rain, throw one up into the sky.”
First Man carefully peeled off some of Every-Colour Snake’s scales. When he thought he had enough, he unfastened the weights of the net, and let Every-Colour Snake go. Then he headed back to the tribe, and told them what had happened.
“What if Every-Colour Snake was lying to you?” First Woman asked. “Maybe he just wanted you to let him go.”
First Man shook his head. “He wasn’t lying.” He took one of the scales, and held it up. The light shone through it, changing colour all the time. Then he hurled the scale, as hard as he could, up into the sky.
At once, clouds began to form, gathering around the scale. Within moments, the rain began to fall. The parched ground gasped with the joy of it. Trickles became torrents. Seeds burst into life.
And up in the sky, Every-Colour Snake’s scale gleamed, red and orange and yellow and green and blue and violet.
First Man looked up, and felt the rain on his face; and he smiled at the colours that had come to dwell in the world.
Brian Dolton‘s fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Flashing Swords, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others. He has been writing for many years, and will continue until they pry the keyboard from his cold, dead hands. PS–If any of you know who the “they” in question are, he’d love to hear from you, so he can make suitable preparations.