The sun was shining; the seagulls laughed and shrieked at each other in competition for the tidbits tossed into the air by the sun worshippers. It was a typical July day at the beach. Jennifer toweled off after her foray into the surf and then, after surreptitiously posing for the lustful eyes that she knew were watching, she lay on the beach blanket to work on her tan.
“You are such the tease,” Lauren said from her spot next to Jennifer.
Jennifer grinned and shaded her eyes with her hand to look at her friend.
“If you’ve got it, flaunt it. I wouldn’t want the townies to go home without having gotten a good look at a real city girl.”
Both girls laughed. They had come to the small seaside vacation town of Diamondback in search of sun, surf, and hot surfer boys. College life was hard and they intended to party harder for spring break. The past week had been filled with afternoons on the beach, fresh seafood in the evenings, and wild dancing and drinking through the night. As far as spring breaks went, they felt they were hitting all their goals. Even their quest for hot surfer boys was a raging success. Each had flirted with dozens of tanned and toned young men every night and they had seduced more than their fair share over the last seven days.
“Look at that funny cloud,” a young boy said.
Jennifer looked at the young tow head standing beside them. He was shading his eyes and pointing out over the water.
“Mommy look,” he said.
The portly woman on the next blanket sat up with a long suffering groan and dutifully looked where her son directed.
“That is weird, now go play and let mommy rest,” she said.
Intrigued, Jennifer levered herself onto her elbows and looked out to sea. The sky was a crisp blue fading to pink on the horizon. A few thin cirrus clouds dotted the sky. Alone in the vast expanse of blue was a lone black cloud. It stood out from the few others not only by its dark color but its altitude. The white clouds in sight loitered high in the stratosphere but the black one seemed to drift mere yards above the sea. She nudged Lauren.
“Look at that cloud. Is it a rain cloud?”
“Oh God, I hope not,” she said as she sat up.
“It’s awfully small for a rain cloud,” Lauren said. “Hey, does it look like it’s heading toward the beach?”
Jennifer squinted at the cloud; it did appear to be drifting closer to the beach. As she stared, the cloud changed direction in a very un-cloudlike manner. It made a right angle turn to Jennifer’s left and began moving down the beach. The cloud seemed to gather speed as it moved along the beach. As she watched the cloud darted toward the shore and dove groundward. Jennifer stood to see better. Others were rising to their feet to watch the strange event. A sound reached her ears over the shrieks of the gulls; people screaming.
The cloud was moving rapidly along the beach toward her position and as it moved the screaming sounds grew closer. Lauren finally rose to her feet as did most every sunbather around them.
Jennifer could see the cloud undulating as it moved along the beach. The cloud would engulf sunbathers who would disappear within its blackness. She couldn’t see what was happening through the cloud but as it came closer she realized that the screaming commenced as the cloud reached new groups of people.
People finally began to react. The entire episode had lasted mere seconds and the flight reflex was finally being engaged in the people in the cloud’s path. A panicked rush ensued. People grabbed children and ran in any direction but toward the cloud. Jennifer gasped as a portion of the cloud seemed to reach out and block, and then engulf a group attempting to flee.
She could finally see the source of their fear; as the cloud touched the fleeing people Jennifer saw their flesh bubbled and then disentegrated leaving only a skeleton behind to fall to the sand. She screamed and, grabbing Lauren’s hand, turned to run. The screaming grew in volume behind the girls as they fled.
Jennifer’s heart was pounding in her chest like a jackhammer as she ran. She had to get to her car. She wanted to get away. She wanted to go back to school. She wanted to see her annoying family more than ever. She wished she had never come to the beach.
Blackness filled her peripheral vision and then a burning pain unlike anything she had ever experienced began along her back.