Thunder groaned in the distance. The sickly invisible rain had grown into a thick cascade-like, vertical downpour. Marcellin blinked raindrops out of his eyes. The drops that fell on the hood of his rain cloak echoed in his ears. At least there was no wind, he thought. The country road was only partially paved; sometimes the front tire of his bicycle would fall into a muddy pit. Marcellin pedaled with care. Many of the streetlights were either turned off or broken. Clouds covered the moon and stars. The bicycle's own front lamp was dim, as the batteries inched towards their final breath. The drenched cloaked figured pedaled in near darkness.
Marcellin had not realized how loud the rain was until the man before him spoke. He followed the order and halted the bicycle. Once he realized how faint the man's voice sounded, Marcellin removed the cloak's hood. The coldness that greeted him dug into his scalp, sending inappreciable tremors through his body.
"What are you doing out here at this time comrade?"
In the dimness of the bicycle's light, Marcellin recognized the grey uniform country officers wore. The man stared at him, dumbstruck. Marcellin felt the rain sliding on the bridge of his nose and falling off to his lips.
"I'm pedaling sir."
The thunder in the distance drew nearer, and Marcellin had to raise his voice to be heard above the elements. The officer's expre[i][/i]ssion turned scornful.
"I can see that."
The man looked westwards, towards the thunder's source, then back at Marcellin.
"That thing," he raised an eyebrow at the rusty, military-esque bicycle, "is going to attract lightning. You'll get fried comrade."
Marcellin looked upwards, squinting to minimize the amount of rain that obstructed his vision.
"What lightning sir? I don't see any."
Truthfully he did not. Although every fibre of his being urged him to make an excuse and pedal onwards, Marcellin also did not want to appear disrespectful. Besides the officer seemed unnaturally relaxed. Marcellin only hoped he was not one of the chatty ones.
"Say comrade, where are you going?"
Marcellin's hope for a quick return to his journey vanished. The officer stood comfortably under his umbrella. With a small forced smile, Marcellin decided to humour him. Between angering police and getting soaked, he undoubtedly preferred the latter.
"I'm going to Verin to visit my aunt, sir. She's very sick and needs a specific medicine I can only buy in Longbridge."
As he spoke Marcellin rummaged through the mental catalogue of fake people, trying to decide which story to use. The officer's face lit up happily.
"Oh Verin! Verin is my hometown you known. What's your aunt's name? Perhaps I know her."
The rain that had already completely soaked him was not enough to wash the faux smile off of Marcellin's face. He cursed his bad luck.
The officer blinked in an obvious display of thoughtfulness. Marcellin only prayed that his bluffing smile was enough. Inventing more stories to patch up holes in pre-existing ones had never posed a problem, but the rainy and cold night drained his energy. At last the officer jumped slightly.
"Oh Mrs Blanche! Yes I know her!"
That was not the first time Marcellin's confidence instilled fake memories in people. The thunder crept closer.
"What a good nephew." The man seemingly spoke to himself. "This rain isn't going to lift comrade. Why don't you go back? There's a hostel some three hundred meters away." The officer pointed at the direction Marcellin had come from. Still smiling with a stiff politeness, Marcellin shook his head.
"Thank you for the directions sir, but I need to reach Verin before dawn. Aunt Penelope really needs her medicine."
The officer frowned slightly, once more turning towards the source of the thunder.
"Well, if it is urgent I suppose there's nothing I can do. It gets awful lonely out here at night you know. Not a soul comes by anymore!" He smiled, revealing a lack of teeth. "I'm always more than glad to meet a fellow countryman. Here."
As Marcellin stood still under the pouring rain, the officer pulled a pack of cigarettes from his trousers' pocket. He carefully shielded it with his hand while handing it to Marcellin.
"I got them on the black market, you know? Legal ones cost too much nowadays. They're a rarity."
After placing the gift in the safety of his impermeable bag, Marcellin thanked the man and started pedalling away. Once more wearing his cloak's hood, the officer's voice became distant and anamorphic. Marcellin could only make out another warning about lightning and, as if jinxed, once the man had spoken lightning started breaking through the sky.