Fiction: A Bad Case of Nephophobia
By Thomas Koperwas
The night sky was glowing faintly with the first rays of dawn when Saul Hendricks came running up the street of the silent suburb, ducking under the thick, leafy trees, darting furtively in and out of the trimmed hedgerows, plunging headlong across the dewy, manicured lawns – until he came to the entrance of his Georgian-style home. Glancing fearfully over his shoulder at the brightening sky, he pressed a key in the lock and pushed the door open.
Hendricks switched on the purple and gold rope lights that climbed over the living room furniture and ran along the baseboards like luminescent jungle vines, then hurried to the washroom, where he turned on the light, adjusting it to a low setting for his tired eyes. Leaning on the sink counter, he stared at the distorted image in the mirror: at the dilated pupils that hung in his eyes like dark moons, the long, curly hair that shook and writhed like worms, the face that looked like a hideous, glowing mask, the short hairs on his arms that stood up like bristly werewolf fur.
“Will I ever come down?” he groaned as he switched off the washroom light and wandered into the living room.
The big, blue bean-bag chair that reared up from the floor next to the computer seemed to invite him, so he dropped down onto the soft, formless blob and contemplated the curtains that hid the tall, arching windows and the spectacular view of downtown L.A.
* * * *
The sun was high in the sky when Hendricks reached over and switched on the computer and the audio program. Then he clicked the Record button.
“I think I'm sober enough now to make this message for you, the staff at The Renewal Clinic in downtown L.A.,” said Hendricks. “Yesterday, I took part in an LSD psychotherapy session with Dr. Hunt. When you open up the clinic this morning, you’ll discover that it was no ordinary psychotherapy session, that things didn’t go quite the way they were supposed to. Dr. Hunt is dead and so is Lee Owlsley, the other patient in the session. I think I should be dead too... but now I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.
“I arrived at The Clinic about 2:00 pm. Dr. Hunt met me at the front door. I had no idea what to expect -- maybe a tall, creepy-looking psychiatrist like Vincent Price in the movie Shock. But Dr. Hunt wasn’t at all like him. He was just a mild-looking, informal kind of man: average height, with an intelligent face, unkempt hair, and a quiet voice. The first thing he did was ask me about my illness. I talked. He took notes.
“I told him about an incident in my childhood when I tried sneaking off in the evening to see a pal of mine. I knew a storm was coming, but I had little fear of it. I opened the bedroom window and climbed out onto the slanted roof of our house next to the upper limb of the maple tree, where I had a rope ladder to the ground. I was standing on the edge of the roof when a small cloud suddenly flew out of the sky, enveloping me like a wraith. In a moment it was gone, pursued, as it were, by a violent squall line. The roiling, seething windstorm of vapour and lightning swept across the house like a howling banshee, blowing me clear off the roof.
“Luckily, l fell into a bush unharmed. But the experience scarred me, filling me with an inordinate fear of storm clouds. As I aged, the fear grew. I came to dread all manner of storm clouds, from the pendulous mammatus, to the fearsome roll clouds. But it was the towering cumulonimbus incus that terrified me the most; the great anvil cloud imbued with the storm energy of an atom bomb.
“Eventually, I succumbed completely to my fears, drawing the curtains and staying within the confines of my house whenever I heard a report of an approaching storm. I became, in effect, a prisoner in my own home, my life governed by the dictates of the weather. That’s why I came to Dr. Hunt. To be cured of my nephophobia.
“Dr. Hunt spoke in a friendly, confident voice. He said we would try to learn something about my illness together. Meanwhile, there was another patient there, a Lee Owlsley, who was also to be treated — but for a dissimilar condition. We were each given a powerful dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD. Then we waited. That’s how the psychotherapy session began all those hours ago in your bright, cheerful clinic next to the L.A. Freeway.
“It didn’t take long for the drug to take effect. My companions’ faces began to blur and melt, and every movement they made left a ragged trail of distorted images and echoes. I was so engrossed with the changing hallucinations that I barely heard Dr. Hunt ask me how I felt. When I looked up at him, I saw a small cloud forming over his head. At the center of it was a man’s angry, twisted face crowned by a wreath of lightning, staring malevolently down at the doctor. Suddenly, Dr. Hunt fell over onto the floor… dead. Confused and frightened, I ran out of the clinic, Lee Owlsley following in my wake. We found ourselves on the trail next to the highway, where buses rolled past on the blacktop, packed with dead passengers. Skulls laughed from the tops of swaying utility posts, luminous alien cities floating up from the trembling horizons.
“I didn’t know how far we’d gone, but I soon discovered that Lee Owlsley had left the trail and was heading up the garbage-strewn side of a highway embankment to the blacktop above. That’s when the second cloud appeared, larger than the first. As it gathered over his head, I saw the same angry face surrounded by a brilliant aura of lightning. I shouted out a warning, but to no avail. Owlsley’s body flew through the air, propelled by the fatal impact of a speeding 18-wheeler.
“I fled into the night, not knowing where or who I was, trying to escape my own doom. I must have wandered all night long… but somehow, by instinct or luck, I found my way home.”
Hendricks paused and lit a cigarette. “I know what you’ll say,” he continued. “You’ll say that the face in the clouds was only a drug-induced product of my imagination, a projection of my nephophobia and nothing more. You’ll say that Hunt died of a heart attack, Owlsley a highway accident. I wonder...”
Hendricks switched off the audio program and turned to the instant weather site on the 'Net. “Clear skies,” he sighed with relief.
Smiling, he rose from the bean bag chair, opened the curtains, and gazed out the tall, arched windows at the cloudless sky over downtown L.A. Suddenly, he shrieked. A lone cumulus cloud had appeared over the city, drifting rapidly toward his house; seething, growing, expanding upward with powerful updrafts, soaring ten, twenty, forty thousand feet into the sky, flattening into an immense anvil.
Horrified, Hendricks stepped back from the window, staring wide-eyed, as an incredible face emerged from the stormy interior of the cloud, its mouth wide open, howling with a voice of thunder, its immense, cruel eyes scouring the streets and houses of the suburb with malicious intent.
Thomas Koperwas is a retired teacher living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada who writes short stories of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in: Anotherealm; Jakob’s Horror Box; Literally Stories; The Literary Hatchet; Literary Veganism; Bombfire; Pulp Modern Flash; Savage Planets; Dark Fire Fiction; The Sirens Call; Yellow Mama Webzine; 96th of October; Underside Stories; Danse Macabre; Blood Moon Rising Magazine; Corner Bar Magazine; Free Bundle Magazine; The Chamber Magazine; and Suburban Witchcraft Magazine.