Here is a Sunday treat for you: the opening of the critically-acclaimed occult thriller short story, Dark Clouds.
The Mandrake Ruse
Matt always knew when his mother arrived in town: the wind would swirl from every direction at once, sending the neighbour’s weather-vane spinning clackety-clack and the yellow and brown leaves whirling along the road like a child’s top.
“Let’s get out of here,” Matt said to his pretty, petite wife, Teri. They packed a few things into a single suitcase and drove out of Ottawa, over the bridge to Wakefield. “We might as well stay somewhere nice,” he said.
“It’s too bad it’s so expensive,” Teri replied. She looked worried, but not about the money. She was weary of her mother-in-law’s antics.
When they arrived at the hotel, Teri loved the way its rustic pretence did not mask its luxury. She lay on the bed and squirmed on the thick duvet. “This is so nice.”
Matt flopped down beside her and tried to undo a button on her blouse. “There’s lots of time for that later,” she said, gently pushing his hand away. “I want to take a walk and see the fall colours.” She smiled and kissed him lightly, then sprang off the bed and opened the door. Matt sighed and shoved his feet into his runners again, but enjoyed watching her round little butt walking ahead of him, the way her light brown hair bounced on her shoulders.
They found a path that climbed a hill through a yellow and bronze forest. A broad, flat rock seemed to push the forest away from the top of the hill, giving them a view of the river where it bent to flow south toward the city. They looked at the skyline, holding hands. “Let’s make love under the trees,” Matt said.
Teri pushed his shoulder. “Silly,” she said, but then she frowned as she looked at the sky.
Matt followed her gaze. Overhead, the sky was blue, but black clouds drew together to the south, blotting out the sun. A gust ruffled Teri’s hair. She blinked and rubbed dust from her eye.
A small black cloud detached itself from the host over Ottawa and headed toward them, fast. Matt put his arm around his wife’s shoulder and pulled her back to the path. “We have to get off this hill, now.”
Somehow, the clearing had become wider. The opening under the trees to the path, where they would be safe from the sky, receded as they ran toward it.
Matt recognized the phenomenon. His most common nightmare involved an expanding landscape that pushed his destination farther and farther away when he was racing against time to reach it. He held Teri tighter and started running.
Too slow. The black cloud flew toward them. It became a hail of grit, rocks and sticks whirling around them. Matt choked on dust. Teri cried out as the wind threw her to the rocky ground.
Then, it was gone. Dark wisps drew together over their heads, moved south again and disappeared. The air was still and quiet again, and they realized they were right at the edge of the trees, not hundreds of metres away. Somewhere, a squirrel laughed at them.
“It’s not laughing,” said Teri as she brushed dust off her pants and brushed twigs out of her hair.
“It sounds like it’s laughing,” Matt muttered, but he was still looking south. “She wasn’t after me this time. I’m not the main target. That was just a side blow.”
Teri looked at her husband, the way his whole attention was on the city under the black cloud to the south. “You have to go, don’t you?”
Matt sighed. His shoulders slumped. “I wish I didn’t have to.”