A SMALL BLACK CLOUD

                                                         A short story by Sha’Tara

Judy awoke from a pleasant “beach” dream and pushed her big fluffy tomcat off the bed, shut off the radio alarm and mechanically tuned it to her favourite morning station, CKRY. She had thought how funny the acronym was at first, but got used to it, and the jokes that went with it. She slipped a sheer nightgown over her tall, slim frame and smelled the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that filled her apartment. She enjoyed her simple, uncomplicated, automated life. Her job paid little more than minimum wage, but she had few problems handling it, especially since she finally got rid of Mario. For a moment, a small black cloud filled her mind, and her heart constricted, but the feeling passed and she fed Tiny his morning allowance, enough to satisfy a hungry Rottweiler, she thought.

She liked her one bedroom condo apartment.  The building was on a slightly elevated part of town, her apartment facing west giving her a decent view out over the bay. A few large evergreens gave a feeling of privacy.   Her neighbours were quiet and she hardly ever had to speak to them, except at the monthly strata meetings.

She parted the blinds on the kitchen window and scanned the view.  It was still and cold in a harsh grey, smoggy morning light.  Even under the snow cover of the condo parking lot, frost coated the windshield of her robin-egg blue Mietta.

She sipped her coffee while brushing her long blond hair, her left hand alternating between the cup and a bowl of fruits and cereal she was pensively mixing. Everything was so normal, so wonderfully normal. She vaguely heard a comment on the radio about an accident in town, as she waited for her music, the old love songs of the Sixties and Seventies she enjoyed so much. It seemed the interruption lasted longer than usual, but the news held no interest for her. Her job was only a couple of blocks away, at a small distribution company, so she never drove or took the bus. Road problems seldom caught her attention and her Mietta stayed under cover except for weekend shopping or the occasional spin down Shoreline Drive.

She enjoyed her walk to work, and often, another woman, Samantha, who worked at the local paper further down the block, would walk with her as far as her office. The women sometimes invited each other over for coffee, or for dinner.   Both of them were now avowed singles, having bravely fought their version of the battle of the sexes… and won, or so they thought. For the time being, men were off their list. They had discovered that cats, especially tomcats, made much better, warmer friends, had a good deal less expectations and were definitely less expensive to maintain.

“…It wasn’t until four this morning that a work crew discovered bodies wedged down a sewer manhole at 7th and Balsam. We advise commuters to avoid that area, as police and other emergency crews are still there, cleaning up and investigating. … and now, for more of your favourite songs… this is CKRY, YOUR GOOD MORNING RADIO… “Bridge Over Troubled Water, I will lay me down..”

Judy smiled through her morning preparations for work.   She deliberated over her day’s dress, and makeup. She liked to change her appearance and paid a great deal of attention to her mood swings.   She followed these with her own body artistry so she wouldn’t feel ill at ease, or out of sorts with herself for the rest of the day. She petted Tiny as he rubbed against her leg to make him understand he’d have to spend the day outside. Of course, he loved it outside, but he had to pretend he didn’t. There would be a lot of complaining as he finally jumped through the opened window onto the patio.

There would be birds to watch at the feeder the neighbours so diligently filled every morning.   Who knows, maybe a careless one would provide some extra protein today, and the woman next door would chase him angrily off her own balcony, providing some excitement… Birds could be so incredibly stupid, and humans so entertaining when properly motivated. He stretched and meowed loudly. When Judy saw his claws dangerously near her wooden rocking chair, she said “No!” and “OK boy, time for you to go out.” Tiny could have shrugged as he smiled inwardly… a very sarcastic cat smile. Yes, humans were predictable. One only had to know how to move and guide them to do what one wanted. After all, why do they have those hands and feet, processed foods, sliding windows and warm, soft laps, if not to serve cats? Tiny had learned, early in life, the incredible power he possessed in his long, soft grey fur, his deep voice and his well-groomed claws. He believed he could move mountains with these, and he did: mountains of human emotion.

Today would be green.   A light green dress, green shoes, green scarf, and her green coat, which was a darker shade, but that didn’t matter.   She topped herself with a wide green woolen toque and felt quite ready to face the world.

“… Teenagers looking for a place to have a smoke on their way to school discovered bodies in an abandoned warehouse at the east end of town near the river. . Three men and two women were bludgeoned and left to freeze to death on the floor of the old building. Police are now investigating in force as fear is mounting that a crazed killer, or gang of killers, are loose in the town – this is CKRY.”

Again, Judy paid scant attention. This was a big city, and things happened all the time.  It had nothing to do with her, though it probably meant that Samantha would already have been called to work to deal with the news. Oh well, she would call her later and find out how it all went.   Quarter to nine, and the pale sun was just rising over the city. It would be a still day, no wind and only a few white, wispy clouds. Good. She hated walking in storms anyway.

“…Stay tuned for more news as our roving reporter brings you the latest in the killing rampage… this is CKRY, YOUR GOOD..”

She turned off the radio, picked up her bag, set the alarm, locked her door carefully, and went out into the cold morning air. She smelled the usual mixture of smog, exhaust fumes, sulfur, garbage and other unnatural substances which always assailed her nostrils until she got used to them. She heard some distant sirens of emergency vehicles but gave them no heed.   In the still, cold morning, everything was normal.

There was excitement at work over the night’s happenings, but she couldn’t get into it either. Why should she? It had nothing to do with her, absolutely nothing. She turned on her computer and began to tally, add, subtract, make sense of the orders, send letters, receive e-mail, and pass on the messages to the various department heads. It was a small local delivery trucking firm, so her work load was not so much heavy as it was varied.   She often thought of herself as a Girl Friday in that place.

“Hey Judy: did you hear about last night?   They’ve found at least nine bodies by now, all killed in the weirdest ways. The funny thing is, there’s no rhyme or reason to the killings: they’re not prostitutes, or street people, or people of any particular category; they’re just people. One of them was a young boy, about 12. Most of them were just people driving home, or walking on the street, or so it seems.   What do you think of that?”

Well, Frank was always one to ask dumb questions and enjoyed getting people riled up.   For a brief moment, she wondered why these “killings” had no effect on her, why she didn’t care, absolutely didn’t, but quickly dismissed the thought. After all, she had her own life, her own problems, and had to remain aloof in order to keep it together. She had worked hard to reach this point of semi independence, and she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything rob her of her accomplishments.

“Look Frank, I don’t care, OK? It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s just one of those freak things that happen in big cities, and this is a big city, Frank. Why don’t you take care of that order for McGraw’s Deli in your hand instead of wasting my time with speculation on accidents and the like? They have people paid to do that: police, FBI, Homeland Security, newscasters, analysts, shrinks, preachers, columnists, lawyers, the government… They won’t fill our orders, so let’s do our job and let them do theirs.”

“Hey, who pissed in your cornflakes this morning?”

“No one. I just can’t get personally involved in other people’s problems, OK?   I’ve got work to do and a life of my own. Why don’t you get one!”

Crestfallen, definitely resentful, Frank left. She felt so much better. Men!   They think they can come on to a girl by frightening her and offering protection. If she falls for it and lets the fear of being alone get to her, she may accept the not so innocent offer of an escort home, or an offer of a date… yeah, right. Well, not this girl. Been there, done that! Definitely don’t work!

From there on the day progressed normally.   The news spread, and there were more versions all the time.  It all exploded on social media.  One story was of alien abductions and experimentations. Organs were missing from the bodies, and they had all been killed in mysterious ways unknown to the experts in the field. Another was of an Oriental gang of trained martial arts experts led by a madman who wanted to take over all the cities of the west through fear and blackmail…  Some more out there talked of zombies and vampires.  Of course the main thread on mainstream media was the usual: terrorists.  When all else fails, blame terrorists.  Give them a race, a religion, a cause, make up names and invent faces if needs be and spin away.

“Ridiculous!” Judy thought as her day ended and she was putting on her shoes and coat.

She stepped outside.  The weather had not changed. Everything was still.  Even the sound of traffic seemed hushed.  The smog hung a little heavier at the end of the day. She walked home briskly, hoping to meet with Samantha, but did not. She was surprised, when she came in, that Tiny was not at the window, but he would be. She changed and prepared dinner. She set the table, looked out and called Tiny, then called Samantha.   No answer.

Strange. Oh well, life goes on. Tiny is a tomcat, he’ll return. Samantha is probably working late at the paper. I know, I’ll call the paper. If she’s not there, I can leave a message.

A man answered her call: “Citadel News Room,   Jerry speaking. Can I help you?”

“Yes, I was wondering if Samantha was still at work?”

“Who wants to know?”

“Her friend, Judy Simpson, from the condos.”

After a pause, the man spoke: “I’m sorry to have to tell you this miss Simpson, but Samantha was one of last night’s victims.”

“Oh!” and she hung up slowly. Tiny was scratching furiously at the window. She noticed her hand was shaking a little as she let him in.   She sat down to finish her meal.

She would run a nice hot bath after the dishes were put in the dishwasher, and everything would be normal again… Absolutely everything.

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