There are always horror stories and urban myths circulating around schools designed to scare younger children, tales of an old janitor who was sacked but still haunts the tunnels beneath the school, or of a child who fell into a sausage machine and was eventually served up in school dinners. It goes without saying that all these tales are untrue, though they might have a basis in fact somewhere along the line; janitors can be sacked and you never know what’s in sausages. Sometimes, however, there are stories so weirdly specific that even some adults begin to wonder if they are true.
There was a thunderstorm on the 15th of May 1878, this much we know for sure. It rolled over from the plains towards the east, which was a strange enough occurrence for the papers of the time to comment on, considering it was of the rainy variety and not the dry storms which sometimes grope their way across the plains, through Buentoille to the sea. It was a sunny day, when very quickly it went dark across the City and lightning forked into the conductors atop tall buildings, and it rained intensely for about half an hour. None of the weather forecasting technology had predicted it.
The reports of the shadow that spread across the City on the same day of the following year are less certain. Whilst once again the interest of the papers was piqued, the stories that were run seem to suggest that the darkness, as if an unseen cloud had passed overhead, was some kind of mass psychogenic occurrence, as only a quarter of the population seems to have noticed it. The Buentoilliçan Observer ran a piece on it entitled ‘The Mystery of the Phantom Shadow,’ which featured a couple, Dan and Emily Hargreaves, who claimed to be out in the garden when it happened. ‘It was as if someone covered up the sun very suddenly, but there were no clouds about, and I could still see the sun right there, just dimmer’ said Dan, but Emily seems not to have noticed any change. The phenomenon apparently persisted for around half an hour, long enough for Emily to become worried for Dan’s health and take him to the doctor.
The ‘phantom shadow’ has apparently appeared on several other occasions, always on the same day, but the veracity of these claims have been refuted due to the lack of widespread reports, and the addition of details which do not match the original occurrence (such as a feeling of cold or dread), the suggestion being that those who reported it later were lying for attention, or were mystics and occultists who wanted something to back up their claims of ‘psychic sensitivity.’
Perhaps it was natural that urban myths would grow up around claims of ‘phantom shadows’ and mysterious storms, and this would explain the strangely specific timing of the tale which has spread across various Buentoilliçan schools. Usually when urban myths pass between schools the details change to match their new environment (there are at least twenty schools where a subterranean janitor allegedly lurks, for example), but any child could tell you that it was on the roof of Trioli Hill School, at exactly 1:23pm on the 15th of May 1878 that the Rain Children disappeared in a flash of lightning.
The science block was the highest building for some miles, and the sports court atop them (with accompanying safety fencing) could be easily accessed via a stairwell. There were apparently six children up there that lunch time when the lightning hit the top of the building, although the school claims that this is not the case, and no records can be found of the existence of these famed children. The myth eventually became so widespread that the Office of Disappearances was even called in to investigate, although of course they to found no record of the children, or evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the school (the rooftop sports court was even locked that lunch time, according to the OD report). The children who religiously tell the tale today claim that this is because the lightning did not only disappear them, it removed their very historical existence from the face of the earth.
This latter detail in part might also help explain the persistence and specificity of the myth – generations of children have felt the need to keep the memory of those unfortunate children alive, as there is no other sign that they ever were. Today the story will be retold across many schools, as it has been every year since it surfaced in the mid 1880s; groups of children will sit in circles at lunch time, the older children imparting everything they know (the names of some of the children, how old they were, the details of how they disappeared) to the younger children, who repeat it all back to ensure they have properly remembered all the details.
In some schools there are apparently relics, passed from storyteller to storyteller through the generations; an old scorched textbook or fragment of satchel that it is claimed was taken from the scene of the disappearance, or found there in later years. These are venerated today by groups of curious children, then hidden once again in a forgotten locker, or behind a loose brick. The route by which they came into the hands of those children is sometimes forgotten, sometimes rigorously documented, an accompanying story explaining how a child had moved school from Trioli Hill and brought one with them.
And yet these fragments and memories are not, apparently, the only way in which the disappeared children are manifested in our world; it was said that if you walked up to the roof of the science block at the exact time they disappeared, and if it was raining, you would see them, or rather the absence of them; places where the rain disappeared and did not wet the ground. Some say they danced in a circle, some say they stood still like six invisible standing stones.
The science block has now been demolished, a newer, taller building put in its place, and so the Rain Children have apparently gone with it. Yet there are those who claim they persist; the new building is not perfectly aligned with the old and if you go to the third floor today at the assigned time, and if it is raining, and if you squint very hard out the rain-speckled windows looking west, there you might just see six child-sized rain-shadows, hovering in the afternoon sky.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Unheard Promises
- The Festival of the Magnificent Sun
- Malting Day