The Cloud Gatherers- Flash Fiction

My cloud was looking spent like she had ran a 5K without the chance for a breather. I could almost hear little sputters here and there as her energy fizzled away as fast as the carbonation on the can of coke I had left opened on the kitchen counter earlier that day. I had been looking for Jacob for most of the day, a day which had proved to be oh-so-very-hot-and-humid. My hair had long lost its curl in favor of something akin to a dust bunny and my poor cloud was not doing any better with her belly full of water drops. I could feel her shuddering below me, aching to let it all out.

“You have to wait a little longer, Talaya,” I said, gently patting her fluffy top. “We have to find Jacob before it’s too late.”  It wasn’t the first time Jacob performed a disappearance act; in fact, he was famous among our people and had earned himself the dubious honor of being known as the Cloud Gathering Houdini. The truth was that if you are a cloud gatherer, you don’t want to vanish, you want to be visible and present at all times, otherwise your clouds go –well, un-gathered.  I had to find him or his butt was fried. This was the fourth time this month he had done this and the Chief Gatherer was not amused. If I couldn’t find him soon and help him bring in his assigned clouds, he may end up being demoted to cloud milkman; milking clouds was tedious and not a well-respected profession albeit very necessary. Clouds (like Talaya right now) who were too full of moisture on days and places where the Gods of Weather (also known as the Weathermen) did not want any rain, needed to be carefully “milked” into the oceans or lakes on a daily base.

We were an ancient people even though no history book ever mentioned us. Cloud gatherers were there during WWI when soldiers on both sides died in trenches of unseasonably cold weather, rain, and snow. Even Alexander the Great had benefited (or not) from the actions of my ancestors. However, due to the nature of work we did, we were also a people resigned to be forever ignored in history.

Jacob, the Space Cadet (another nickname he had earned from his peers), where could he have gone? I often wondered what made  him do that, disappear without a trace for hours on end only to show up at the end of the day with a silly smile on his face and no clouds in tow other than his. Jacob often had a faraway look on his face, eyes clouded and cheeks flushed pink. At one point, I had thought he had fallen in love but I had long given up on that theory because he always seemed to be alone with his cloud, Maia. One of these days I would find out what it was that made him wander so frequently and gave him that dreamy look of utter happiness.

With a great sigh, I accepted the fact that I was not going to find him today (not in time to save him from a major headache) and prepared to turn Talaya around back to headquarters, also known as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A small movement caught my attention just to the right of my line of sight. I abruptly stopped a very annoyed Talaya and turned around to check it out. At a distance, I could discern a human figure straddling a small, rather unsubstantial cloud. They were not moving; in fact, it seemed from afar that they were the product of some lunatic, creative sculptor. It had to be Jacob and by the looks of it, he had allowed Maia to relieve herself before going back to NOAA. I took off at lightning speed (in cloud terms) toward the lone figures.

“Jacob!” I exclaimed when I got close enough for him to hear me while reining in Talaya (who was, by now, getting very dark and static – not a good thing in a cloud). “What are you doing? You were due back a long time ago.” I quickly scoped the area looking for (rather hopelessly) the other clouds, the ones he was supposed to have gathered. “Where is your cloud crop? And why is Maia so thin? Did you let her rain without permission?”

Jacob looked at me a little surprised but then, his face lit up in that big goofy smile of his. “Oops, I guess I must have lost track of time,” he said.

“Again!” I added a little frustrated. “You are going to be in so much trouble, Jacob. We have to come up with some kind of explanantion.”

Jacob was not listening or worried apparently. He had turned his eyes back to earth with a blissful expression on his face. What was he looking at? He looked at me and pointed down to earth laughing, “Have you ever seen anything this beautiful?”

My eyes followed his pointing finger toward land and my heart skipped a beat. Jacob was hovering over a park, a large grassy area delineated by tall elegant trees. On the lawn, thin exquisite human figures were moving- no, floating in a heartbreaking flow that belied their human nature. Music wafted up to our clouds giving the whole scene a magical, almost mystical essence. “What is this?” I asked him in a whisper.

“They are dancers,” he said. “They have been coming here every day for the past couple months to practice their routines.”

I had to admit, it was beautiful, flawless. However, Jacob had a job to accomplish and watching beautiful, elegant dancers was not in his job description. “Jacob, you have not gathered any clouds today,” I stated the obvious. “And it’s not the first time! You are going to end up milking clouds instead of gathering them. Is this worth the risk?”

Jacob turned his eyes to me quizzically. “Of course it is!” he answered with no doubt in his voice. “I am putting in a request for dismissal.”

I almost fell off Talaya! “What?” I yelled, forgetting for a minute our directive not to be seen or heard by common humans. I threw a worried glance at the dancers below but they continued their dances without pause. “What do you mean dismissal???”

“I don’t want to be a cloud gatherer anymore,” he declared like it was a simple and obvious choice. “I want to be a dancer. I want to create beauty with the movements of my body and tell stories without words. Make people happy like I feel whenever I watch them dance.”

In the whole history of cloud gatherers I couldn’t think of one instance when this had happened. You don’t choose to be a gatherer, you just are.  You were born into it, it was not a choice. I had no idea what would happen when Jacob brought this up at the next staff meeting at NOAA but I had a very bad feeling about it.

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