Nimbostratus by Alison Wassell


Doug and Angela noticed the cloud soon after they moved in. It hovered just below the ceiling in the corner of the living room and at first they thought it was a damp patch caused by a leak in the en-suite. They called in a plumber who shook his head the way plumbers do before delivering bad news.

‘That’s a cloud you’ve got there. I’m not certified for clouds, even if I had the equipment. You want the Meteorological Events department at the council.’

He left, taking his extortionate call-out fee and one of Angela’s cheese scones. Doug and Angela emailed the council, attaching a photograph. Someone replied identifying the cloud as an ‘incipient nimbostratus’, constituting an inconvenience rather than an emergency. Nobody was available to come out for at least six weeks. The purchase of some plastic sheeting and a couple of fishing umbrellas was recommended.

Doug and Angela Googled ‘nimbostratus’. It was, it turned out, the least interesting of cloud formations. In fact, Google described it as ‘grey’ and ‘featureless’, which Angela thought was a little harsh.

‘At least we don’t have to worry about thunder and lightning,’ she said. Doug wasn’t sure what ‘incipient’ meant, so she explained. They agreed there was no time to waste, and nipped to the retail park.

‘We might as well get some buckets to catch the rainwater,’ said Doug.’ It’ll come in handy for the garden.’

When they came downstairs the next morning, there had been a downpour and the buckets had overflowed.

‘Just as well we chose laminate, not carpet,’ said Angela as she fetched a mop.

Doug was less positive. ‘That laminate will warp if this carries on,’ he muttered, shuffling off to make their morning porridge.

Settling quickly into a routine, they learned to predict when a deluge was due. They bought a water butt for storage of the rain water, and their garden became the envy of the neighbours.

Doug was due to go on his annual fishing trip with his friend, Len, but he worried about leaving Angela.

‘You can’t let Len down,’ said Angela.

Secretly, she wanted to show off the cloud to Brenda next door. But when Brenda came round, there was only a bit of light drizzle that hardly merited them putting up their anorak hoods as they sipped their chardonnay. And, by the time Doug came home, the cloud had all but disappeared.

‘I’ll email the council in the morning,’ he said, ‘tell them to take us off their list.’

In the morning, though, it was back, and because they had neglected to put the buckets out, there was what Angela described as ‘a small flood’ and Doug called ‘a bloody disaster’.

Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Doug packed Angela off to her mother’s and asked Len to come over and help him. He planned to catch the cloud in a fishing net and manhandle it out of the door.

‘Can’t see anything, mate,’ said Len, peering up at the ceiling. Sure enough, the cloud had vanished.

On the drive home from the station, Doug boasted to Angela that he had taken on the cloud single-handedly and won, using the power of his mind alone. ‘You need to be firm with a nimbostratus,’ he said.

Angela raised a sceptical eyebrow, but when she got home, she had to concede that the living room did indeed seem cloud-free. As they sipped their celebratory mugs of tea, though, they felt rain trickling down the backs of their necks. Doug ran to get the buckets.

‘I know what it is,’ said Angela, as they lay in bed early the next morning. ‘It’s us. Our marriage has turned grey and featureless, just like a nimbostratus.’

Doug was about to reply when there was a hammering at the door. He put on his slippers and stumbled downstairs. Four burly officials stood, arms folded, on the doorstep.

‘Good morning, Sir,’ said the burliest of them, proffering his lanyard. ‘We believe you to be in possession of a cloud, and to have benefited from precipitation from said cloud, an offence which is punishable by a fine or, in extreme cases, imprisonment. We have a warrant for its removal.’

The official handed Doug an envelope, but his reading glasses were still on the bedside table. ‘I’ll take your word for it,’ he said, standing aside.

Angela watched from the stairs, clutching the collar of her dressing gown, as the cloud was removed swiftly and efficiently.

‘Since it’s your first offence, there’ll be no further action, but be aware that cloud theft is a serious crime,’ said the one who did all the talking.

Something snapped in Angela. ‘But we reported it! We’ve been waiting for you to come and take it away,’ she cried.

‘Not my department,’ said the official.

It was all too much. Doug and Angela chased the men from their property, using their fishing umbrellas as weapons and not caring who was peeping through net curtains.

‘You were magnificent,’ said Angela, when they were back inside the house.

‘So were you,’ said Doug, puffing out his chest. ‘It’s quite exciting, being criminals.’

Angela agreed. She had forgotten how attractive Doug was when he was angry.

‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ said Doug, but Angela had a better idea. ‘Remember Preston?’ she said, taking Doug’s hand and leading him upstairs.

Doug did indeed remember Preston, where they had once accidentally stolen two bath towels from a Premier Inn.

Angela pulled her nightgown over her head. ‘Not with your socks on,’ she said. Doug always wore socks in bed.

‘The floor moved,’ said Angela, afterwards.

‘Don’t you mean the earth?’ said Doug.

But Angela meant the floor. They rushed downstairs. In the living room, a storm was raging.

‘If I’m not mistaken, that’s a cumulonimbus,’ said Angela, pointing at the ceiling. ‘We’ll be in trouble when they find out we’ve got that.’

‘Better not mention it then,’ said Doug.

Alison Wassell is a short story, flash and micro fiction writer from North West England. She has been published by Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Litro, NFFD and FlashFlood Journal.
Twitter: @lilysslave