It was a hot, dry day in late July, during what would come to be known as the Dirty Thirties. My sister spotted it first: a cumulus cloud on fire, sinking away from the rest of its kind. The tangle of smoke and vapor crash-landed in one of our farm’s barren fields, where it continued to burn with a soft, orange light. Its pilot was still inside; unconscious, but alive. We pulled him free from the wreckage and carried him to safety.
“I’ll have my cloud up and running again in no time,” he told us over tea the next day. We had offered him a change of clothes, but he insisted on remaining in his jumpsuit despite all the charring. “This sort of thing happens all the time in the weather business, really.”
“Is that so?” I asked. "We’ve never actually seen a cloud fall right out of the sky before. Doesn’t seem like all that common of an occurrence.”
He seemed take aback. “Well, you’d be surprised. Clouds like this one can refuel on atmospheric vapor, but they do need maintenance every now and then. If you want, I can show you how the whole thing works while I get it fixed back up. Besides, I could use a hand or two.”
The most important thing that we needed to repair his cloud was a water source, so after tea, we dragged what remained of his broken-down aircraft over to our well. It didn’t look much like a cloud at that point, so much as a tangle of brass pipes with a cockpit. “Yep. That’s what they look like under all that fluff,” he explained while gesturing along its chassis. “Here you can see the rain spigots, lightning cannons, hail incubators… but most importantly, here’s the intake valve, which’ll get her pumpin’ again. Now, I know y’all are having a bit of a dry spell. Are you sure it’s alright if I fill her back up with your water?”
“Oh, pay it no mind.” My sister grinned. “Nothin’ growin’ this year, anyhow.”
“Alright,” he raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know when the next cloudbank’ll be moving through, though. This might be the last raincloud you see for some time.”
Over the course of the next two hours, we watched his machine return to life. Jets of steam emerged from its saxophone-like bones as we tightened their joints into position. He showed us how to work all of its functions and accessories as he tested them, right down to releasing the thunder bladder. Once it finally got its fill of water, it began to hover above the cracked earth ever so slightly, signaling that it was ready to fly again. He put his hands on his hips and exhaled proudly. “There she is.”
There she was, indeed. In that moment of triumph, he failed to see my sister’s approach from behind. She grabbed him by his jumpsuit’s collar and yanked him off balance, right towards the well’s mouth. Before he could find his footing, she gave him one more hard push. There was no scream or cry for help- he only managed a short gasp of air before going down head first. After a short, hard thud, it was quiet enough for us to hear the hum of the cloud’s engine.
It was over- we’d done it. My sister and I exchanged silent smiles, then admired our prize. No more dry spells for us.