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M. L. Fortier: Bad Cloud

95_ym_badcloud_scartwright.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2022

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.




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.


It's 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.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022