• Erik Hale

Fiction: Stomach Clouds


Photo Source: Pixnio

Nolan left his house in his best suit, ready to sell, but charcoal clouds roiled across the sky. Ink-splattered thunderheads blocked out the sun. He stopped on the driveway. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t feel ready to sell. In fact, he didn’t feel ready to leave his house.

Whipcrack thunder reverberated through the morning, ringing Nolan’s ears. A jagged spear of electricity divided the sky vertically, faded, and stabbed again. The clouds bled.

Water sheeted his world; his driveway, the roof of his car, the downpour even slicked his hair flat. Dampness invaded his carefully arranged self. No, not ready to sell. He needed to get back inside where he’d be warm and safe.

Nolan slammed his front door against the tempest. Rain galed against his windows, his walls, pellets projected by the wind’s ethereal howl. Cold beads clung to him like motor oil and dripped to the floor. Water puddled around his just-polished loafers.

Some days were too much trouble to face. He tugged off his tie. No way he would sell today, not with the rain, the clouds, and the invading darkness. Peeling off his wet clothes, he changed into a pair of pajamas and opened a tub of ice cream before climbing into bed. Exhausted, despite waking just hours earlier.

Nolan watched the grey, seething wet through his bedroom window. His boss would raise a stink about his absence, teasing, and so would his work friends. A bad hangover, hey Nolan? They didn’t understand.

Someone banged at his door. The spoon tumbled out of his hand, smearing his sheets with ice cream. Lead filled Nolan’s stomach as he rose. What kind of person knocked at doors on a day like today? Maybe his boss. Maybe that douche Chad from accounting. His co-workers never hid from the rain. He envied their strength and the way they conquered the storm. Days like today incapacitated Nolan but obligated to answer the knock, he trudged downstairs.

The front door thumped loud, hard, heavier than any fist. Nolan froze on the bottom step, clinging to the banister. The door thumped again and water poured through a newly opened crack at the base. He squeezed his elbows, tried to stop the shaking. The storm couldn’t get inside. It couldn’t.

The crack in the door widened and the wind wailed triumph. The bottom half of the door splintered, barrier disintegrating in the rush of water. The rain roared inside, a frothing river, crashing against his entryway closet and spraying across the living room in a wave. A very bad storm.

Nolan ran up the stairs, pausing just outside his bedroom. He worried for his living room. All of his things were at the storm’s mercy. The rainwater submerged his belongings -- his life -- in black cold. Whimpering, he slammed the door to his bedroom and hid under the covers. He felt six years old again, not thirty-five. Cold hair clung to his face and he shivered.

A squeaking whine joined the screaming chorus of the wind. Nolan peeked from under the covers. Cracks webbed his bedroom window, pressured to breaking by the rising flood. Water filled half the window frame; a furious ocean churned over this morning’s friendly hills.

“No, no, no.” Nolan ducked and tented his blankets above him. A fabric igloo. Breathing fast and shallow, he coughed. A wet cough. Liquid poured over his lips and into his cupped hands. Frigid waves froze his lungs and numbed his chest. He wheezed, not unlike a gust, the drip, drip, drip drowning out all else. The blanket dropped in, stealing his safety, weighed down by the storm.

Clouds billowed in his stomach. Thunder growled in his mind and neon lightning tattooed the insides of his eyelids. Droplets poured from his quivering lips. Fighting was pointless. There’d be more pain if he struggled. Quivering, he waited out the violence.

Nolan resurrected come morning. Even the worst storm ended, eventually. A hot shower restored feeling where he’d been hollow. Buttered toast and eggs warmed his numb fingers. Sunlight cut through the broken glass of a window. Hope.

He navigated the wreckage of his home, his life, as a matter of routine. Casualties included the sofa and the warped panels of the floor, but he didn’t care anymore. The storm had ended.

Nolan left for work ready to sell. If you saw him smile, you’d never know there’d been a storm at all.

Erik Hale lives in Canada where he gives geese a wide berth. When he's not in a dark room writing, or walking around listening to the conversations of strangers, he's probably dreaming of the apocalypse. Music inspires many of his stories and he considers himself a connoisseur of frisson. Follow him on Twitter @AuthorErikHale or find him on the Writer's Block Discord.