“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.”
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
“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.”
“Likely downpour”—I nod. Not stopping to wonder why Suzan never carries
a towel or even a wrap, we start gathering ours.
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
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.
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—“
are always the same,” she spits. “They
don’t give tellers flexible time.”
took off for an emergency last week so—“
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 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!”
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.”
prefer you don’t speak to us at this time,” I blurt. My friends stare; such
boldness seldom bursts out of me.
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?
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.
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
well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve
Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling
his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel
is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons,
Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com. He's done art for several magazines, newspapers,
websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling
- on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He
was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He
recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy
magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response - that mackerel's
killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.