M. L. Fortier
“Don’t look but she’s standing too close to
us,” I mutter to Gigi, my hairdresser friend.
“Oh cripes,” she sighs, “always she appears
out of nowhere.”
We sneak peeks under our hats as Suzan Torniture takes up all the oxygen in the
apartment pool area. Big indigo swimsuit covers her husky body.
After checking in, Suzan tracks us, huddled under a beach umbrella.
Her huge dark hair drips, though we hadn’t seen her hit the shower. “Where’s
Kaylee and Meghan?” she bellows. “I suppose they’re avoiding me again.”
“Kaylee’s hours changed
at the clothing store,” I explain. “Meghan’s busy – you remember
she’s an anesthesiologist?”
A twist to Suzan’s huge purplish mouth sends tingles from
my neck, down the spine to my electrified toes. “Sure,” she growls. “Yesterday
I came out here. Those bitches were talking to the new guys. The men smiled; those jealous
chicks never invited me to join them.”
I shake my head against the acid rain of
Suzan’s snark. The air seems to grow even more dense and muggy, reeking of ozone.
My face instinctively shifts into a “who knows” expression.
Gigi darts me a glance, as if to ask: “how
do we make a graceful escape?” Drops fall from Suzan’s swimsuit onto her elephant
feet in sandals.
“So, Lauren. I suppose all of your crowd considers me over the hill. The decrepit
divorcee. Too old,” Suzan spits out. “You teeny-weeny, 30-somethings. Don’t
worry, you’ll all hit 40 faster than I can say WHACK. Like a ton of bricks.”
has been fiddling with her long blonde hair; blue eyes flick toward the exit. “Clouds
increasing,” she warns. “Might as well call it a day.”
downpour”—I nod. Not stopping to wonder why Suzan never carries a towel or
even a wrap, we start gathering ours.
“Your clique really discriminates against any
weather other than bright sun.” Suzan ignores her crackling phone to glare at us.
I hitch up my smile and trot after
Gigi as lightning strikes us from Suzan’s black eyes. “Holy hell,” Gigi
mumbles after we escape through the gate. “We did everything we could to elude her.
I checked my phone several times for sightings of that Torturer.”
“Nobody can predict her appearances.”
Shivering, I can’t help feeling a voodoo vibe, though my pal doesn’t share
it. “It’s almost like Suzan knows exactly when we’re coming.”
“We did our best to calculate.
That chart Meghan did—amazing. Scientifically, the odds looked better for Torniture
to arrive in late afternoon. Kaylee came faithfully to do recons, and she was able
to peer through the slats. Suzan sits with her anger, her rafts and gadgets, so she wasn’t
hard to spot.”
“We can only try. Hard to predict
with 100% accuracy. But I know for sure: a bad storm is coming. Soon.”
During the next two weeks, my friends and I stick to our strategies on avoiding
Suzan. We’re sometimes successful—sometimes not. Often Suzan sashays into the
pool area at unpredictable times. It feels as if she sits high in the sky, watching and
waiting for victims. Without warning or clatter, her mammoth sandals appear. Other residents
depart or shift their chairs.
I can’t blame them; there seems to be no way
to dissolve the Tornado’s rage.
On a glittering day, near a handful
of swimmers, I stretch out tanning with Kaylee, Gigi, and Meghan. In the middle of
a giggle-fest, Suzan storms in. Abruptly a shadow blots out the sun.
All laughter dies. Silently,
our eyes meet and telegraph: Disappear. As I grope for
my scattered belongings, Suzan’s giant head of hair hovers over me. “Where
are you off to?”
“Gotta run,” I choke. “Work hours—“
“Your hours are always the same,” she
spits. “They don’t give tellers flexible time.”
took off for an emergency last week so—“
Suzan blows a monsoon of air at Gigi. “You’ve
all been sitting here the whole summer whispering about me. You’re a bullying clique.”
As we freeze, stunned, Suzan hammers us: “You’ve spent every moment plotting
against me.” She poses for bystanders, who stare.
has flung lotion and goggles into a bag and tries to dash off. Suzan’s big black
suit in hulking body blocks her. “I’ve taken down plenty of people, so shut
up and listen. None of you give to me. You bring all this food”—dark eyes stab
Meghan, who’s cramming popcorn into pockets—“and never share. I provide
snacks and fun.”
I bite back a heavy snort. Never in my memory has Suzan brought us anything but
sit in a row bad-mouthing me,” Suzan blasts. “I see everything. I CAN HEAR
everything you say. Don’t you run away from me!
You’re out of control”—she pants—“jealous bitches.
No one can reason with you. You spread wild rumors about me—claim I’m unfair,
random, aggressive. Never say a nice word about storms. You go to shelter without my permission.
You only stay if it’s cutesy sun and you can look cute in bikinis and ugh—you
As Meghan attempts to angle around the attacker, Suzan
plants her linebacker feet wide apart, spreads endless arms. “I’ll rain down
gossip on your gang. Tell everyone
you creep over the fence at night for skinny-dips. And you never invite anyone else. You
are all so cliquish.”
“We prefer you don’t speak to us at this time,” I blurt. My friends
stare; such boldness seldom bursts out of me.
Sky darkens. Hot air builds,
as if we’re all trapped under a dome. Can’t breathe or speak. Dizzied, I’m
overcome with worries; how can I make my way out of here?
Wait. Where’s Suzan? In front of me hangs a thundercloud.
As I stare, shocked, the purple mass rises in agonizing slowness and blends into the overcast
sky. On the ground, I notice only a double-wide pair of sandals.
wobble to a chair and grasp it. My pals and I watch the ground, the sky; each
other. Huddled, we wait, we wonder.
M. L. Fortier has 25 stories in print: mainstream
and genre. Black Petals has published
a number of her horror stories. An award-winning author, she has also taught writing at various