Yellow Mama Archives II

M. L. Fortier

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Bad Cloud

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.”

     Gigi 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.”

   “Likely 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.”

     “She 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.

     Kaylee 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 agro.

   “You 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 WIMPS!”

     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.

     I wobble to a chair and grasp it. My pals and I watch the ground, the sky; each other. Huddled, we wait, we wonder.




Revenge of the Inanimate

 

by M. L. Fortier

 

                                         

          “I’ve lost my glasses again,” Dad grumbles. “It’s almost as if they have a mind of their own.”

          Suppressing a groan, I peer around the cramped apartment, and find the glasses a few inches from their normal perch, on a desk.

          I’ve seldom minded letting my white-haired parent move in with me. Still, he’s yelled more than I would if he stumbled on rugs or leaped away from a cave-in of books. An author, I do own too many novels.

          Dad does provide needed help to loosen twisties or jars, though he swears at their stubbornness. Jam jars especially seem to clamp themselves against his efforts.

          Constantly my father crabs about creaks from the unit above us, in the dead of night. I too wake up, prop pillows on my sofa bed, and try to read myself back into dreams. Yet, I worry: sure sounds like something is restless up there . . . Can’t be my neighbor, who’s quiet and goes to bed early.

     I listen but hear nothing more. Wind has fallen ominously silent. Why, at mealtimes, has my neighbor started to drop kitchenware, in a clatter of spoons and knives? Wide awake, I huddle in blankets, barricaded against the malevolence of things that do not speak.

          In shifting moonlight, I muse: Inanimate objects of the world must be tired of being treated like objects. They’re sick of discourtesy, discomfort, being placed in aggravating stances. Nearly clean saucers get tossed with dirty dishes in the sink and can’t move till morning. No one praises or rewards them for long service.

          Next breakfast, I try to be more careful with glassware, pans. Still, a plastic cup cracks after I pour hot coffee, and Dad yelps.

          Upset over the mess, not to mention burns, he demands that we stroll around the complex. But a heavy rain has fallen, leaving patches of mud. “Watch out.” My hand flies out to secure Dad as he slips. From a rank puddle, I can almost see dark fingers gripping my parent’s legs.

          Has Gravity formed a conspiracy with other nonliving creatures, I wonder, as Dad and I struggle back home. I can’t talk to them or reason with them. Looking down, I shrug helplessly. Our welcome mat has skidded and lies curled on steps up to the landing.

          In the living room, I turn on the news for Dad, but tune out and brood. The constant malice of most unbreathing beings (man-made or natural) penetrates my brain. Even our radio crackles with hostile static, drowning out the weather report.

          Yet, days are getting shorter, dimmer. The anchors report on grim stories: stones rolling downhill, crushing workers. Gravity seems to be taking advantage of any slight imbalance or recklessness. But how could innocent-looking objects cause blood and trouble in the world? They seem (could it be?) capable of a grip or release.

 

 

          In December, icicles grab onto our eaves, hover dangerously, then let themselves melt. They fall, nearly spearing Dad.

          Still, he fights to maintain his habits of youth. He insists on walks around the parking lot. As we skirt around a slick area, I feel a pressure against my ankle. Something seems to push me toward a fall. Something human―yet not human. Deaf, dumb, peering with unseeing eyes. An underworld monster, hard as clay, begrudges anyone who can live on the ground or fly above it.

 

 

          Next day, we try exercising again, though morning sky hangs gloomy and frozen. At the far end of the lot, Dad teeters. Flailing to right him, I notice shadowy hands grabbing his feet from the icy ground. Time stops as a deaf, dumb hulk peers at me with unseeing eyes. Dad crashes―I stand numb. No words come out of me, or my father, or the unmoving earth.

          911. Ambulance. Out cold. Broken hip. Nursing home. Death.

          At home, I hide indoors. Sleep brings release in brief naps on the couch. Gravity is jealous. I know this now. It works night and day, lies in wait―for all of us.


The Horror of Hidden Pond

 

by M. L. Fortier

 

          “Don’t go there!” This is what my mother had said. In this, she was repeating what all the local moms told their progeny. The “there” was a hidden pond in the middle of the woods, behind our house. At the edge of the forest stood a cemetery, by an old convent. No longer could we spy a sign of life at the convent; one by one, the nuns had mysteriously disappeared.

          The cemetery was reputed to be the haunt of druids or devil worshippers who called down evil spirits.

          For a ten-year-old boy (my name—Robert Helms), it was an irresistible attraction. Also, being rather slight, I was subjected to ridicule, called “chicken” and “scaredy-cat,” so that I knew I would have to confront my fears.

          A young girl I liked, Alice, was brave enough to risk it. So, one evening, we plotted to go to Hidden Pond, where a prehistoric monster was said to lurk out from the muck and devour young children.

          “Don’t go there!” Why didn’t Alice and I listen to our mothers’ advice?

          This was seventy years ago, and I have lived with this horror all this time. I have dwelled in my parents’ crumbling house as an old bachelor. I set down this account of these terrible events, so as to win some sort of redemption for my sad role in them.   

          Alice and I walked slowly through the creaking oaks and yews. I could tell she was every bit as scared as I was. In the warm, humid evening, the insects and birds were strangely silent.

          Finally, we reached the edge of Hidden Pond. No lights or movements could we detect in the ancient convent. We did not hear any chanting of devil worshippers, although my imagination conjured up scenes of druids in white robes processing with lit torches, chanting in a deep drone. Twilight purples descended quickly, and we knew we had little time before worried parents would come looking for us.

          The pond itself seemed calm and no breezes rippled the layer of smelly algae on the surface.

   Alice smiled. “See, it is a lot of bunk to frighten little children.”

          “That seems right, but don’t get too close,” I said.

          She gazed at me. “You’re not afraid now, are you?”

          “No,” I stammered.

          Alice eased to the edge of the pond. “See, no monster—nothing to worry about.”

          Suddenly, the swampy water roiled. A large alligator lunged out with unnatural speed, and locked its jaws on Alice’s leg, drawing her slowly, inexorably into the water.

          She screamed, “Help!”

          I froze.

           I should have grabbed a stone, a branch—anything—and attacked the beast.

          I’d turned to ice and could not move.

          Alice was dragged into the decaying reeds, and the churning waves turned blackish-red with blood.

          She was gone.

The next day, no one spoke of Alice, or of her disappearance. No one questioned me. There seemed to be a local conspiracy to hush the thing up.

          My parents looked at me with pity, and so did the other parents.

          Yet, I knew what had happened, and the memories of her screams and the blood-red water have haunted me all my life.

          In an instant, I branded myself a coward, unfit for Alice, or any woman’s love.

          I am a stooped and white-bearded man, now. With this account, I have brought back all the old horror. When I am done, I shall burn this journal. It is not for other eyes.

          “Don’t go there!” We never learn.


  

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 Chicagoland colleges.


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