Happy Monday all. Here’s a short story I wrote quite some time ago. At least eight years ago. And over the years, the eeriness of the story amused me so I would revisit it: polish it, revise it, and hopefully it will amuse you too. Enjoy!
The Face in the Clouds
Erin sat with his lover, Lily on a grassy knoll with weeds and fragrant flowers naming the shapes of the clouds. That looks like a cat, he said. Look, a horse, she replied. Some of the shapes were truly mysterious; they were really not clouds at all.
“Dear God—what is that?” Lily cried, bolting upright.
He glanced at her, then back at the sky and smiled. “It’s a cloud, darling. We have been looking at them for the past hour.”
“No!” She raised her finger, pointing. “Look there. It’s a face!”
He forced an unconvincing laugh, but didn’t look. “You’ve been out in the sun too long.”
“Fine.” He looked, but saw nothing and told her so in a sweet voice. “See, darling, there isn’t anything to get all excited about.”
She drew her knees to her chest. “But I saw it!” she cried, voice shrill and thin. She covered her eyes with her hands as if the action would wipe away what she had seen. “The face,” she said without looking at him, “was like one of your sculptures. It had two large eyes, a rather graceful nose, and a voluptuous mouth. It looked humanoid, but not necessarily human. Masculine. Angelic. Ravenous.” She brought her hands down into her lap, trembling. “I wouldn’t have had to describe it if you had looked when I told you to! I want to go home. Now.”
He draped an arm around her slumped shoulders. She tensed against him. “I’m sorry, Lily,” he said. “Please don’t let my miserable actions ruin our evening.” He rested his head on her shoulder. “What you saw could have been a trick of light and shadow. A trick of the mind even.” She let out an ugly laugh. “And I owe that all to you and your horrid stories.”
Horrid stories. He realized she was referring to the mythological tales he had told her. He had told her so many he wasn’t sure if it was the one about maidens being plucked like plums from their homes to be raped by Zeus. Other legends spoke of fallen angels (the powers of the air), who tempted maidens with forbidden fruit. Ironically, these beautiful and supple daughters of men were what tempted the Tempters in the first place.
“Which story? Any in particular?” he asked.
She nodded. “The one about the selfish noble youth, Tipereth who made a bargain with a god for immortality.”
Erin nodded. “Yes. The poor, cursed chap had to offer young beautiful girls in order to extend his own life.”
“What did his name mean again?”
“Beautiful. He was a beauty like me with violet hair and amber eyes.”
“That’s ridiculous! Violet hair and amber eyes? No one looks like that.”
“Look closer. My eyes are quite close to such a shade, Lily.”
She stared into his eyes and blinked. “I’ll agree that you could be called beautiful, but your eyes are just a very, very light brown.” She blinked again. “Well, I suppose they are kind of gold, but I dare not say amber. And don’t try to convince me that your hair is violet either!”
He smiled. “Think what you like. But as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.”
“Good night, Erin.”
“Are you afraid? Come now, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” He gave her a sidelong glance. “But if you stay, that will change,” he whispered to himself, as he glanced at the sky. A part of him hoped that she had heard the hushed threat, the promise—so that she would leave. But so much for wishful thinking. It had seen her.
Eyes closed, Lily threw herself onto her back and gazed upward. He figured she was still angry with him. He watched her cross her arms against her chest, well, a little lower than that—her ample bust wouldn’t allow such a masculine poise. She became silent, nearly still—her legs and arms shaking. Pride. It was her pride that kept her here. And her pride was stronger than her fear. Vanity, thy name is woman, he thought darkly.
With her dark eyes and darker hair, she’d make a beautiful study. He feathered her bare shoulder with his fingertips, which got a low chuckle out of her, then leaned over to kiss her and she did not object. He drew her up in his arms and kissed her again for a long while, tasting the inside of her mouth, the sweetest ambrosia.
He broke away from the kiss and ran his fingers through the warmth of her hair. “Your lips taste like pomegranate wine, but the inside of your mouth tastes different. You’re delicious.”
A faint sad smile formed on her mouth. “And you taste sour. Sour and bitter.”
A fleeting smirk tugged at his lips. Whatever Lily had seen still troubled her. Yes, there had been something— watching them—a face in the clouds. He knew without seeing that it had possessed hungry eyes. Ravenous, she had said.
He offered her his hand. “Ready?” He knew that he was. Better now than later.
She stared up at him and her eyes filled with tenderness as if she had read something revealing in his face or read his thoughts, which was out of the question. If that were the case she would have escaped from him. But where there’s sky the threat remained.
She could only get so far. . .
Lily breathed in and out deeply. “So, you believe me now? What is it about the clouds?”
He caressed the side of her face. “That’s a mystery to ponder some other night.”
She took his outstretched hand and stood. They embraced and descended the hill hand in hand. A slight drizzle began and Lily spread her arms wide, eyes sparkling. She laughed and it was a beautiful sound, like liquid music.
Her sweet laughter, an invitation?
The blue-black sky parted like a velvet curtain and sheets of amber and violet light illuminated the encroaching darkness.
Out of the clouds emerged a face peering down at her with interest. The face was beautiful enough to be called angelic and terrifying enough to be called demonic.
She froze, face upturned to the sky, and screamed. Paralyzed, Erin stood impotent, watching and waiting. Waiting was always worse than the watching.
The face spoke one word, strange, unintelligible in a mellifluous voice. She fell silent and like a marionette being pulled by a strong, invisible thread ascended into the sky. The iridescent sheets of light grew denser, colder and so bright that he knew he had to shield his eyes, like he had done so many times before.
Within moments he was left in intoxicating silence and darkness, but not alone. He lifted his eyes and glared at the dark sky and clouds that were not clouds. He fell to his weak, shaking knees, squeezing his eyes hard and tight for tears he forgot how to shed. Night seamlessly set into early morning—black to dark blue.
The face blinked into reality again looking amused and clearly masculine. The form of a male being reclined in the sky. “You liked this one, didn’t you?” it asked. “Hated having to give her up?”
Erin gave an open handed shrug. “It doesn’t matter what I think or feel. You—you own me.”
“If you want me to let her go,” it said, “we can make a trade. You may gallantly take her place. Shall we?”
Erin stood erect and held his head high, taking on the air of a prince. “I didn’t like her that much. And I intend to live for much longer . . . free from your clutches.”
It sighed. “Then I pity the next girl that falls for you, Tipereth.”
“Save your pity for a decade from now. That was the bargain, after all. Until then.”
Erin retreated from the hill thinking about the next girl whom he would pursue, court, and then love before finally gazing at the clouds with her.
Girls filled the world. Beautiful sacrificial girls like Lily, Ana, Miriam, Katherine, Lucretia, Serephina (many others whose names he had forgotten) with their hair that smelled like sweet fruit and lips that tasted like pomegranate wine.
Food for the gods.