(a short story by Sarah Bracey White)
One sunny day at lunchtime, as I sat on my usual "cloud-watching" hill outside my Valhalla office building, I spotted a fat, fluffy cloud rolling slowly toward me across the horizon. I imagined it was a knight-in-shining-armor coming to visit me. As the cloud edged closer and closer, its shape grew more distinct and I could make out the strong flanks of the prancing white steed upon which the knight rode.
Instead of disappearing or continuing in an easterly direction like clouds usually do, the knight and horse suddenly descended toward me in a movement much like that which genies use to exit bottles. I thought the sun was playing tricks with my eyes and blinked several times in rapid succession. The vision did not go away. Instead, the knight dismounted and walked toward me, his armor clanking. His steed bent his head and began munching grass.
"On such a lovely day as this, why are you alone watching clouds?" the knight said, his voice deep and melodic.
I stood up, ready to run from my daytime nightmare. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I can’t harm you. I’m only a cloud. Please answer my question.”
"Because - because I - I - I like clouds," I stammered. "I mean, I like to watch clouds. When the sky’s clear like it is today, they're so beautiful as they float by."
"Thank you very much," he answered as he stretched out beside me on the knoll. I was certain I had lost my mind. "I'm happy to hear that our work pleases you. But you still haven't answered my question ? Why are you watching alone?" He emphasized the last word.
"Well, there aren't many people who like to watch clouds, so..."
"That's not true," he interrupted. "I've seen lots of people watching clouds. Sometimes, I see the same people over and over again — like I saw you."
"You've seen me before?"
"Sure, he answered. "Remember that day when you saw the fortress with the tall towers and the moat around it?"
I nodded in recognition.
"Well, I was the turret on the left," he continued, "and the fire breathing dragon in pursuit of a hunter? And the herd of sheep without a shepherd?" As he mentioned the sheep, he began to laugh. "That was the day my friend Roland decided he didn't want to be a shepherd; so, he rolled off on his own and started a thunderstorm over Ossining. The older clouds got so mad they called a strike and every cloud in the area marched away from Ossining, leaving my stormy friend alone in a sunny sky."
"I didn't know that clouds had... had..." I faltered, looking for a word to describe the apparition beside me.
"Personalities?" he suggested.
"Yes, I guess you could call it that," I replied.
"We've got lots of personalities. That's why you never see the same cloud twice ? at least not in the same outfit."
His contagious laughter again filled the air as he enjoyed his own joke. I took the opportunity to surreptitiously look around to see if any passers-by noticed us. How would I explain talking to a life-sized version of the marshmallow monster from "Ghostbusters."
"They'll think you're just another looney whose gone off the deep end and started talking to herself," he said as soon as the thought formed in my mind. "I'm your dream. You're the only person who can see me."
"You read minds too?" I asked.
"Sure! Otherwise, it would be awfully boring floating around the world day after day.
"You mean you change shapes as you read people's minds?"
"No, we change shapes as cloud?watchers impose their dreams on us."
"But why did you come down to talk to me? I wasn't dreaming about a talking cloud."
"No, but you did want someone to talk to and since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to drop in and visit the damsel-in- distress."
"I am not a damsel in distress," I said indignantly. "I just like cloud watching."
"And you also like watching TV alone at night."
"What are you, a cloud or a spy?"
"Like I said before, it gets boring floating back and forth around the earth day and night, night and day. We have to do something to keep busy. I take special interest in helping damsels in distress. Maybe I could introduce you to some nice guys. I see lots of them over at the Knollwood Country Club playing golf."
"This is crazy — a cloud playing match-maker. I don't need any introductions. And stop saying I'm a damsel in distress."
"Well you are."
"I am not!" I said.
"Me thinks the lady doth protest too much – at the truth."
"In ancient Greece, they killed the bearer of bad tidings," I said.
"Well, this is Valhalla, lady, not Greece and I'm just trying to help you."
I turned away.
"Are you angry because what I said is true?" he asked.
"If you can read minds, you should already know," I snapped.
"Of course I already know. I simply want to make sure that you know."
"You're a cloud, not a psychoanalyst," I said. "Why don't you leave me alone and go back to being what you are."
"And why don't you start acting like a human being?" he retorted. "It’s okay to need people, you know. Watching clouds is a nice way to pass time, but clouds are a long way off and they don't usually talk back."
"I don't talk to clouds anyway," I said as I scrambled to my feet.
"You don't talk to clouds," he repeated, following after me. "Isn't what we've been doing commonly referred to as 'talking'?"
"I guess you're right," I said as we both began to laugh. "Maybe I'm just a crazy human being, and you're a deranged talking cloud."
"I may be a dis-arranged cloud, but you're not crazy. Crazies cause aberrant behavior in clouds. You make me feel pretty good. The day my friend revolted and ran off to start that thunderstorm, he was responding to a very troubled man’s dreams. Your dreams are just lonely. But loneliness can send you off the deep end. You ought to start making more friends.” Suddenly, he looked up at the sky. "Hey, I don't recognize any of these clouds. I've been gabbing with you for so long my formation must be in upstate New York by now! They probably think I've quit the force. I'll have to pass up being a spaceship for that kid who caddies over at the golf course today. But he'll be back another time. Real cloud watchers never give up. A sunny day always brings them out."
He whistled for his horse who immediately came to his side. He mounted, then turned to me. "It's been nice talking to you, lovely damsel. I hope to see you again, but next time, bring a friend. I may not have time to stop for a visit, but l always appreciate an audience." Then he rode off across the sky.
I brushed grass from my skirt and walked back into my office. Maybe my cloud visitor was right. There were others like me out there. I just had to find them. I sat at my computer and Googled singles ads. I selected Datemaker.com at the Journal News and registered, then composed a personal ad: “Lonely cloud-watcher seeks like-minded dreamer to spend sunny days searching the skies, and starry nights exploring the Milky Way.” I hit the “send” button and smiled.