By Jan Cronos

 Akira sighed. She tugged at her braid. She dreamed of a world that was sweet and kind. But it wasn’t. Akira stared at the sky.

It was beautiful, a place of refuge. But storm clouds were forming.

“Jar,” she said. Then hesitated.  Her once best friend had become a stranger.

“Huh?”  Jar frowned.

“I’m worried. The world is changing. Even the clouds.” 

She had no words, just pointed with a shaky hand.

Jar laughed in a voice that had become harsh and guttural. “Please Akira. Don’t be such a silly Nellie. Why do you believe those ideas  about the sky? Those clouds are just a breath of foul wind and a mist of water. That’s all.”

Jar’s tone was slipper soft as he sipped from a blue glass cup. His small, upturned nose was still touched with freckles and his smoky hair had darkened, the little ringlets now dry and tarry.  Jar’s large gray eyes, once yielding pools of foggy vapor, were cracked crystal.

“Have a drink, Akira,” he offered, grinning, his full lips damp and smooth. “It’s a rough world for a woman.” He winked, then guzzled down the fluid.

Akira stared. She was puzzled. A few pale, pinkish drops trickled from Jar’s delicate ears, as if they were funnels filtering out the last drops of an undesirable ingredient. The fluid evaporated, making slow Chaîné turns like a graceful ballerina, then elongating and loping effortlessly, a pink unicorn light as air. Then it was gone, merged in pastel clouds seamed with darkness. She blinked. A whinny gusted on the wind, plaintive, mournful.

Jar grunted, wiping his mouth which was coated with a turquoise froth.

Akira shook her head and blinked again. Jar was so different now, a stranger. She’d known Jar since high school when the two orphaned girls were inseparable. Even as adults, Akira and Jar were very close. They were loners, confiding in each other, sharing their concerns and secret dreams. Then, one day, Jar changed; Jar was a man. Akira wasn’t sure how or why Jar had switched gender. When she asked, Jar shrugged. Such transformations were medically possible, of course, but they had become more frequent. Akira wasn’t sure why. Yes, the world was dominated by males, but she still preferred being a woman. 

Akira sighed as Jar quaffed the bubbly liquid and burped. She missed the old Jar. This new version was insensitive, less intuitive. Akira couldn’t disclose her feelings to Jar anymore without being ridiculed. She tugged her long strawberry blond braid. Akira had no other close friends and the loss hurt.

Later, as she walked down the sidewalk, her feet imprinted on newly tarred ground. Workers in starched shirts and blue jeans were everywhere, tearing down shapely old buildings and erecting new ones that protruded like serrated teeth. She grimaced. The city was becoming ugly, brutish. 

Above, no man’s hand had defaced the sky.  Puffy equine clouds trotted across a pretty though muddy heaven. Akira took a breath and smiled. She imagined a faint scent of fresh manure as if a pony was grazing in a hidden alleyway. 

On the street, strange men bustled by Akira, severe and self-absorbed. She wondered if their wives and partners were busy homemakers; or were they all bachelors? These days men outnumbered women.

Once more, her gaze turned upward. To her it was a place of dreamlike beauty. Bundled nimbus formed a gathering of feisty females.  Murky and slightly salmon colored, Akira thought the clouds resembled shadowy palominos. The southern sky was slate, and thunder rumbled like a pack of snorting mustangs.

Akira hugged herself. Strange sensations swirled through her body. She frowned. Jar would say she was being silly.

As she passed the pharmacy, a group of men in blue lab coats were pouring strawberry syrup from black metal buckets into a large, vermiform vat. Bunsen burners under it flamed sapphire bright. Pink steam shot into the sky like floral pollution. 

“What are they doing,” she asked an adolescent boy with sly brown eyes who chuckled. 

“Cloud-seeding,” he replied with a smirk.  

She frowned and walked faster. A few blocks away, Akira noticed a group of policemen at the corner, their stiff navy uniforms waxy and dull.

They surrounded a pretty girl with sea-green eyes and wavy auburn hair. The girl fidgeted, but they offered her a slim blue bottle, and she began to drink, slowly at first and then sloshing down the liquid as they laughed. 

Akira blinked. The young woman’s hair was shorter now, as if invisible scissors were shearing it little by little. Her features gradually hardened.  A stream of pink liquid flowed out her ears, pale pearls of a maiden’s lost innocence. One of the officers collected it in a black metal bucket.

As Akira stood staring, a policeman noticed her. Taking the bottle from the girl, he snickered and called out to Akira, then headed towards her, raising it. 

“Hey honey,” the officer said with a sneer, “want a sweet bubbly drink? You’ll love it.”

The sky darkened and the thunder became pronounced.  As Akira stood there, a herd of smoky, shade-gray mares hurtled down snorting and stomping.
She quickly stepped aside. Hazy steam shot from nostrils flared and fiery as they passed her, galloping straight towards the officer with the bottle. 

“It’s a stampede,” she cried, but the officer grinned, oblivious. Moments later, he was trampled. Akira shut her eyes as steel-shod hooves pounded him into powder. Manes blowing madly in a cold wind, the horses lengthened their strides, elevated skyward and merged into pastel clouds.  The stricken cadre of
remaining police cursed, shaking bony fists. Then they scattered, dragging the bemused and oddly muscular girl with them. 

Akira stood silent and shivered in frigid air.  She was alone on the corner. Snowflakes swirled and began to fall. They grew larger, turning as slowly as paper mâché horseshoes. The damp flakes brushing by her face were tender, chilled kisses. Akira’s earlobes were frosty. She touched them gently, afraid she
would feel leaking moisture, but they were delicate and dry. 

Staring upwards, she saw clusters of cumulus coalesce, forming a hazy human face. The features resolved. They were vaguely familiar-curiously feminine, with a halo of curling mist, an upturned, freckled nose and soft gray, misty eyes. As it gazed down at her, its full lips curved into a smile.

                                                                     *   *   *

Author writes in New York City under the pen name Jan Cronos. This includes flash, poems, shorts and hybrids.


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