“Shadow of Drought“ is a short story from the short story collection The bone chime song and other stories by Joanne Anderton. It is written from the perspective of a teenager “Lou”. She constantly compares her experience to a horror movie and throughout the story you can find a lot of clichés that you would expect in one.
Five teenagers, namely Jim, Nathan, and Rob, as well as Emily, and Lou, are the main protagonists of the story. Their characters are similar to the stereotypical cast of a horror movie. The loud one who is responsible for the doom that befalls them (Jim), a naïve but pretty blond girl that is into makeup (Emily), the smart and natural girl who knows something is up (Lou), the leader (Nathan), and the one who sacrifices himself to save someone else (Rob).
They live in a small town and one day come across a creature which follows and kills them one by one. At first, they think it’s a statue, but they are soon convinced otherwise. Jim, who actually touched the creature, is the first one to die.
The small town is in a time of drought. It hasn’t rained in a very long time; the animals are dying and the ground is dry. It’s hard to survive and there is not much of a future here.
The creature comes at night, kills them, and turns them into creatures themselves. They end up looking like the statue. Black and thin with their eyes gone. After Jim’s death, two creatures are seen standing in the distance, just watching, and they increase in count after every death so it seems like the teens join the creature in its endeavor after having been killed.
The town knows of this creature and everything points to the fact that they have made some kind of pact with it. The life of the teens in exchange for rain. After the second death, rain starts to fall and it doesn’t stop.
After Jim and Emily’s death, Nathan complains about their looming fates whereupon George, a guy they went to school with, tells them that they are selfish and asks who is more important; some useless kids without a future or the rest of the town. George thereby hints at the fact that they are sacrifices for the town. He also tells them that they are lucky because they just stumbled upon “it” without understanding it, and now have everybody’s respect for being a sacrifice. He seems jealous, and it appears like George knows more about the creature and its history.
Rob and Lou decide to escape town after Nathan dies. They decide to jump on the coal train that passes by every afternoon. However, the whole town is watching them, so they are followed to the train tracks and are even chased when the town realizes what they are planning. Rob helps Lou to escape but is then caught by the towns people before he can escape himself. Lou manages to escape the town but soon realizes that the creatures followed her and did not stay within the town. And with the creatures following her, so does the rain.
There are quite a few gothic elements in this short story. First of all, there’s an omen foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen. After Jim touches the statue in the beginning of the story, his hand turns black. First the teenagers think it is paint from the statue, but Jim isn’t able to wipe or wash it off. The black sticks and indicates that something is not right.
The dry landscape doesn’t appear to be particularly gothic, but the storm, the rain, and the black clouds that are forming throughout the story are. This creates an eerie and gothic environment even though the landscape itself isn’t. An ongoing theme is the deaths of the teenagers and their funerals. There are scenes at the morgue and at the graveyard.
I found it interesting how often something black is referenced. The story begins with a description of the creature. It is compared to a shadow and then Jim’s hand becomes black after touching it.
After he was killed, Jim turned completely black. The funeral clothes are black and stand in contrast to the white coffin. The coal train transports something black. The creatures are “all dark”, they kill at night and bring dark rainclouds. There is a black hearse and people in mourning clothes who are forming a funeral procession. The color black is often associated with and is used to symbolize death, evil, and misfortune. The recurring use of it helps to create the gothic atmosphere.
Another recurring thing is the railway. This can be seen as foreshadowing and it is always reminding you that an outside world exists. The group is sitting in the shade of broken train tracks; the coal train is passing the mourners on the road, and the next day the remaining teens are sitting beneath the old railway tracks again. Rob and Lou also decide to escape while sitting there. The road out of town runs along the train tracks and Lou actually gets out of town by train.
I found the short story to be very interesting, but it left me wanting to know more about the creature. Where did it come from? And what is it? What exactly is the pact the town made with it? How often does it happen? Does it only exist in this particular town or are there more? What does Patersie have to do with it? The creature was first seen on his land, and his farm somehow is still green while everything else is dried up. All these questions remain unanswered and in the end, I don’t know any more than Lou did.