The following story is by guest contributor David Cook. If you enjoy this story, you can find more of David’s work at his blog: www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com. Or follow David on twitter: @davidcook100.
I was born with a black cloud over my head.
When most people say that, they really just mean they’re unlucky. That’s not what I mean. I mean that when I popped out of my mother, a small black cloud followed immediately afterwards, floating above my tiny, bony head and raining all over the bed sheets. I’m told the doctors and midwives were very surprised, although ‘surprise’ didn’t quite accurately describe my mother’s reaction. She turned a very interesting shade of purple, my dad reckons.
So there I was, a baby with a cloud over his head. And now, despite years of visits from world-renowned doctors, scientists and meteorologists, the cloud is still there and I am a 30-year-old man. People do tend to stare when they see me on the street. But now, I’m on my way for a new treatment that I’m promised will cure me.
The cloud, I was told when I was around five or six, was a cumulonimbus, but by that time I’d started calling him Chris. He was my best – and by best, I mean only – friend (and by friend, I mean bastard bloody thing I had to put up with). Other parents seemed a bit wary of ‘cloud boy’, as I became known, so I never really had the company of other kids.
I was home-schooled. I had to be – while Chris only rains when the clouds in the sky do, that means it still rains on me a lot (I live in Wales, after all). My short-lived stint at the local comp was a disaster – they had to get the caretaker to follow everywhere I went, mopping up the mess, and the downpour short-circuited all the computers in the IT suite.
So I was taught at home by a man named Mr McCloud, which was an irony my mum and dad seemed to enjoy but was entirely lost on me. I liked English and Art. I didn’t like PE, because PE happened whenever it started raining – my parents used any excuse to get me outside the second the sky greyed over, just to try and save their precious carpets. This meant I did PE an awful lot, running around the garden in thunderstorms in my white t-shirt and shorts while Mr McCloud huddled beneath a golf umbrella, bellowing at me to go faster.
During rainy nights, I’d sleep on an inflatable camp bed in the garden. After all, my parents said, if Chris is going to make you cold and wet anyway, you may as well sleep outside and save getting your bedding soaked through.
I spent an awful lot of time in the garden as a child, and I was always coughing and sneezing.
Now, you may ask why we didn’t move somewhere warmer. Well, money was one thing – we couldn’t afford it. My father worked in a pencil factory, while my mother worked in an eraser factory. They’d met at a local stationery convention, and then went on a date where they talked about pencils and rubbers all night. They were very passionate about pencils and rubbers, and yet on the very first night they spent together they somehow forgot about anything to do with rubber and nine months later there I was.
The other reason we couldn’t – and I still haven’t – moved somewhere warmer is because of my red hair and freckles. My face has rarely seen the sun, but I’ve seen the effects of it on my bare legs and arms on hot days, and afterwards all my skin peels off like a sunburnt orange.
Finding work when you’ve a permanent rain cloud above you is tricky. For obvious reasons, no-one wants you indoors. I tried driving a bus, but couldn’t read the dashboard through the water. So I took one of the few jobs compatible with my condition – fisherman. Each morning I get up before the crack of dawn, go out on the boat, then come home not only soaking wet but also stinking of haddock.
None of this makes me attractive to ladies. I’ve been on a few nights out here and there, but nothing ever comes of them. It’s not you, it’s me, they say, lying through their teeth. I remember on one date, Sarah her name was. I leaned in for a kiss, only for the sky to flash with lightning. Of course, this meant Chris just had to do the same, and now the poor girl hasn’t got any eyebrows.
Here I am at the clinic. I look up at Chris. He hangs above me, dark and broody. We’ve become attuned over the years and I can sense that, in some cloudy sort of way, he knows something’s up.
I’ve been for many treatments over the years, of course. I’m used to guarantees of success quickly proving to be false promises, and walking away with Chris still hanging over my head. But something feels different today. Maybe the way they talked so enthusiastically about the procedure. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I can feel that today will be the day it works. And Chris can feel it too.
I’m being summoned from the waiting room into what they called the surgery, but is actually a big, white, sterile room full of computers, machines and screens. I’m feeling optimistic as the doctor shakes my hand confidently.
It starts to rain. I get wet. One for the road, I suppose.
I’m asked to lie down, and strap on this futuristic-looking helmet (waterproof, I’m promised), with lights, readouts and lots of dials I won’t pretend to understand. I’m told that when this is removed in an hour, Chris will be gone.
I clip the strap underneath my chin. Chris rumbles, and rains harder.