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Strange Rains #1
by Nathan Cromwell

It’s August of 2001, and Mount Etna is drooling lava down its slopes and coughing filth-laden steam thousands of feet into the Sicilian sky. Having dropped my bags at the only open hotel, I wander Catania looking for a bar to rinse the economy class entrée from my palate.

The crowd at Ugliano's pays scant attention to the shirling match on the television; their talk dwells entirely on the erupting volcano. A river of molten rock flows two streets down and a passer-by has just announced that the firehouse, directly in the path, has been engulfed.

"That can't be good," Giepetto mutters as drains his beer. Then he begins sputtering and choking and swearing. Someone fetches a glass of water. "Went down the wrong pipe. I must stop talking and drinking at the same time. I'm not a damn ventriloquist," he laments as he downs some water. Predictably, he chokes again, spewing water and backwash hundreds of millimeters into the air. Mist rains down on his son, a talking wooden puppet with penchant for laziness. "Poor Dad, not used to drinking," he chuckles, his nose growing longer.

"We all worry," says some old woman dressed in black. "I mean, blimey! We don't want to end up like bloody Pompeii or Herculaneum! Actually, since we’re flat on our uppers, if some of the punters hereabouts ended up cast in stone, it'd be worth it for the odd shilling morbid tourists’d drop."

The hag has summed up the situation perfectly: between eruptions Catania is forgotten, and its one tourist attraction, a life-size replica of Michelangelo's David fashioned from beer cans and duct tape, repels people. Jealousy toward their more famous, volcano-prone sister cities runs high.

"Year after year thousands of people go to Pompeii and gawk at dead people, but I can't even get my son to visit me for Christmas," grumbles Mario Gamboeii. "Do you know anyone in the market for excuses? I got a surplus. You send them to Mario, I'll give them a good deal." He spits between his fingers while staring at me. "Now you're cursed," he casually informs me.

The village priest walks in. He announces that the lava stream has widened, and now only a block separates us. "God," he sighs looking into his glass, "has forsaken us."

As I gather my belongings to flee, I spy the barmaid going out to the patio. "Ask her out, I think she likes you," Pinocchio chuckles. Ignoring him, I follow her.

"How about we go to my place for an interview?" I ask, realizing as I speak how lame it sounds. I can see the buildings next door burning. “Isn’t the eruption spectacular?”

As she considers, she spits between her fingers. "Sure, but look at this mess I got to wipe. What could be worse than ash raining down on everything?" I look over my shoulder at the sad-faced locals momentarily cheered by my impending failure and think: she's right, what could be worse? I hate reporting.