Molly’s Cloud

By Stacey O’Carroll

One year. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days. Not a single drop of rain.

The lavender-blue sky stretched as far as twelve-year-old Molly Willowgum could see. She leaned her frizzy copper curls against the open window of her nana’s car and watched the weatherboard cottages of Banksia Beach flicker past. Squished against the door by her rugby-playing older twin brothers, Thomas and Aaron, the three-hour trip felt like an entire day trapped in a smelly sauna.

‘Geez, Moll,’ Aaron groaned next to her. ‘Can you shift that ruddy cloud? It’s messing up my hair.’ He batted at the small dark cloud floating above her head and smoothed his wavy brown fringe with the other hand. 

‘Oh, no!’ Thomas said and grabbed his chest in mock horror. ‘Not the hair!’ 

A ripple of laughter filled the car while Aaron pretended to punch his brother’s shoulder. 

Molly pushed her rose-gold wireframed glasses up her nose, frowned at the grief cloud and batted the fluffy mound with her hand. The persistent grey cloud remained above her head. She sighed, defeated. She twisted around and hung her cloud out the window like a dog desperate to get out and run.

‘Not long, love,’ said Nana from the driver’s seat. ‘You can have a swim tonight.’

‘I’m not swimming,’ Molly mumbled.

‘You never know,’ her mum said over her shoulder, sweat sticking her auburn fringe to her face. ‘The sea might help your cloud go away, my little grumble bum.’

Molly saw her nana grimace across at her mum through her oversized purple sunglasses. 

Yup, I don’t believe it either, Nana. 

The sun filtered a golden glow through the grey-green eucalyptus trees when they drove onto the lawn and stopped next to the house. The little, white, weather-worn cottage that was their family holiday home. A house built by Molly’s grandfather decades before she was born.

Molly flung open the door, grabbed her bag and was next to the wooden deck doors before anyone else had taken off their seatbelts. Three hours confined with her family was more than enough. A balmy evening breeze lightly rustled their clothing but did nothing to cool their sticky skin. 

As soon as her mum had unlocked and swung open the doors, they all barrelled inside the stuffy house. Molly dropped her bag onto the sun-faded floral fold-out couch—her holiday bedroom—and fished out her book from her bag. She’d prefer some privacy. Though the scratchy couch was better than sharing with her stinky teenage brothers or squishing between her mum and nana. 

Molly curled up and disappeared into her book while the others unpacked and prepared dinner. Her cloud bobbing away above her. 

Molly woke early before the rest of the house stirred. With her book clutched to her chest, she slipped outside through the side door. Despite the tiny size of the house, no one noticed her leave. 

Would they notice if I ran away? 

Outside, tangy salt spray and the fishy scent of drying seaweed hung in the already scorching heat. Not a single blade of green grass could be seen across the crispy, brown lawn. Her cloud remained heavy and grey despite the clear skies.

Molly slumped forward on the slanted back steps of the cottage and stared over the dunes towards the rippling sea. A tattered copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland rested on the top step. She absently peeled a piece of white flaking paint off the side of the house and felt the familiar clench of her heart, as though a hand had reached through her chest. Her khaki overalls bunched at her middle, revealing the yellow daisy print of her one-piece swimming costume. A cossie that had yet to come into contact with any type of water. The air was still and dense with sticky humidity that turned her freckled skin pink. Her dark cloud barely covered her face with shade.

Inside the house, she heard her family laugh and thump around the wooden floors while they showered and prepared breakfast.

From the top step, Molly pouted and tried to whack her cloud away like a tennis ball. A hole briefly appeared when her hand went straight through, only to cover over and reform within seconds.

The angry grey fluff ball followed her head no matter which way she went. When she showered, the cloud remained above and briefly darkened as though absorbing the water. But the cloud never rained. Not once since the cloud appeared a year ago had she felt even the slightest sprinkle of rain.

Molly knew her mum and nana were concerned when she overheard their conversation two months ago. She’d been hiding up the Morton Bay Fig tree in their backyard.

‘It’s odd, Mum,’ Molly’s mum had said while she rubbed her brow. ‘The cloud lingers over her, but there’s no rain or storms….’

‘…they’ll come, love,’ said her nana whilst hanging out the washing on the Hills Hoist in her floaty cotton dress. ‘But it is a bit strange that she’s had the cloud for so many months now without even a grumble of thunder.’

‘I just wish he was here. He’d know how to help her. I’m at a loss, Mum.’

‘Why don’t we take the kids to the beach house in the holidays, see if that helps shift her cloud? If that doesn’t work, Patricia knows a cloud specialist.’

Molly had felt even worse, knowing she was causing her mum so much worry. Nothing she did made her happy. Not since that day. She couldn’t remember the last time she smiled. Twelve-year-olds were supposed to be carefree and happy. Her nana said she would find the magic again, and her sparkle would return in time. But the weight was so heavy on her chest that she didn’t believe her.

Someone turned the old radio on, and the crackled voices of Dave Dobbyn & the Herbs cheerily sang Slice of Heaven. Molly frowned and scowled up at the kitchen window. Every trip to Banksia Beach since the accident had started with that overly happy song.

She saw a movement in the dune grass, pushed her glasses up her nose, and squinted. Nothing. The long grass stood tall and unmoving. She blinked and looked around the lawn. Just in case.

An echidna slowly waddled its way along the sandy path and back into the grass. Molly rolled her eyes and exhaled.

She picked up her book and let the pages fall open where her bookmark, a photo of her smiling dad, was wedged. She inhaled the scent of salt and mulchy leaves and began to read. She brushed her fingers over the illustration on the page, but nothing happened. She dug her fingernails into her palm and scowled at her cloud.

‘Molly?’ her mum’s cheery voice called from inside the house.

Molly kept her eyes on the page and her mind in Wonderland.

The kitchen window banged open, and her mum’s freckled and smiling face popped out.

‘Moll…oh! There you are,’ she laughed. ‘We’re all going for a swim at the main beach so we can get a coffee. Do you want to come?’

‘No!’ She didn’t lift her head from her book.

‘Are you sure? It’s so humid. Might get rid of your cloud…’

‘I’m…not…swimming.’ She looked out towards the dunes.

‘Ok,’ she sighed. ‘Stay at the house, please. We won’t be more than half an hour.’


Her mum frowned and wiggled back inside.

A little while later, Molly heard the clutter and thwack of her family’s thongs on the decking when they left.

She glared at the dark cloud and sighed. As she returned to her book, she could have sworn something moved again in the dunes. The grass straight ahead was swaying in a non-existent breeze. She closed her book, clutched it under her arm, stood up and walked across the crunchy front lawn towards the beach.

She raced across the empty road and felt the sting of the hot asphalt begin to burn her feet. The ochre sand still scorched her toes until she pushed her feet deep into the soft cooler sand. 

‘Where was it?’ Molly pushed her glasses back up her nose and squinted in the bright sun. 

She stopped at the top of the path and looked south along the mountainous marram grass and purple flower-covered dunes. Her cloud wafted back and forth above her head even though the air was still. 

Molly heard a rustle and stopped on the foot-worn beach path. She glanced up at her cloud to check the noise wasn’t coming from above and then turned to face the southern dunes. She saw a few leaves of marram grass wriggle like seaweed in a current. 

Aha! I knew I saw something. 

Slowly, Molly walked up through the reed-like grass along the dune’s peak. The dry leaves lightly scratched at the bare skin of her legs, and she felt the searing sun sting her nose.

‘Ouch!’ A gruff voice yelled.

Molly froze in the waist-high grass while her eyes flicked side to side and tried to locate where the voice came from.

‘You stood on my hand. Stupid human.’

Molly squatted down and hugged her book into her chest. She parted the grass and saw a tiny green-haired fairy in a pin-striped suit, with golden wings. The fairy rubbed her hand and stood next to a sleeping echidna. A scattered pile of half-eaten finger limes and red-purple pigface berries surrounded the echidna.

‘You’re…a fairy? Am I dreaming? How odd.’

‘Riiiight. A personal dark cloud isn’t strange to you, but a fairy is odd. That’s offensive, missy. The name’s Rain Hollywings thank you very much!’ Rain flicked her plaits over her shoulder and pointed her tiny finger at Molly.

‘Uh, sorry. I thought fairies were myths,’ Molly stammered and raised her left eyebrow.

‘Humans only see fairies when they have lost their way. But I must say, you are a little young to need guidance. What are you, eight?’

‘Twelve actually!’

‘Must have lost your magic then. Unusual for a child to lose their spark. That doesn’t normally happen until humans get to their mid-twenties. Hmmm…what happened?’ Rain said and popped a berry in her mouth.

‘Not sure…nothing….’


‘Excuse me!’

‘You heard me. You’re lying. Did something grey happen?’

‘Grey?’ Molly furrowed her brow.

‘Something so terrible that it took all the colours away?’

The cloud let out a little grumble, and Molly glared. 

‘Stupid cloud,’ she yelled and smacked it with her hands. ‘I hate you! Leave me alone.’  

‘Feel better?’

‘No.’ Molly flopped onto the sand. 

‘Now that you’ve finished that silly performance, the only way you can get your grief cloud to go away is to cry.’

‘I know that! But I can’t cry.’

‘Hmmm, interesting.’ Rain patted the echidna’s spikes and fluttered her wings in thought.

The echidna nudged Rain’s leg twice and nodded towards the sea. 

 ‘Oh, yes,’ Rain said and patted the echidna’s flattened spikes. ‘I’m late. Best be off.’ 

Molly looked from Rain to the holiday cottage with a frown. She knew her mum would worry soon, but she wanted Rain to make her cloud disappear. 

‘But you need to help me.’

‘I don’t need to help you. You want me to help you. You can help yourself if you try.’

‘I told you! I tried already!’ Molly huffed. 

‘You can come to our place if you want to, but I must leave now.’ Rain fluttered towards the shoreline. ‘Quick, if you’re coming, you need to come now.’

‘Wait!’ Molly yelled and ran down the sloping sand, dropping her book in the softer sand on her way down the beach. She stumbled to a stop with her toes in the foamy seashore and licked the tangy sea salt that lingered on her lips. 

Molly heard the waves rumble and then watched them roll back in reverse and freeze in white-tipped arcs.

‘Come on then!’ Rain yelled and flew towards the waves. Her blue hair instantly became camouflaged with the water.

Molly couldn’t see Rain anymore, but the waves were still frozen. She dived into the suspended wave, and the unexpected chill rippled up her body. Under the shimmering indigo water, she saw a herd of tiny pink seahorses. The herd began to circle around her in such quick movements that she suddenly swirled around as though she was in a washing machine. Her legs swung around in circles like an eggbeater while she tried to tread water. Even if her magic worked, she could not save herself. Her powers only brought books to life; they couldn’t save people from water. She knew this for sure. Last year she had tried and tried and tried. 

Her muscles tightened with the panic that flooded her mind and body. 

I’m drowning. I’m drowning just like Dad. And no one knows I’m here.

A flutter of light in the shape of wings made her blink, and she finally steadied herself and faced one direction. Her legs still turning in circles, she realised why she wasn’t spinning around anymore. The seahorses had disappeared. She was looking at the large menacing eyes of a bull shark. Startled, Molly attempted to scream but only bubbles came out. Her mouth filled with the aromatic taste of wattle seed instead of the expected bitter salt of the sea. The bull shark flicked its tail and swam closer.

Molly kicked and pushed her arms through the water until she reached the pale blue surface. She splashed up through the surface and felt her muscles tighten. Her breath caught, and she flicked around to try and find Rain. The fairy wasn’t anywhere in the water. 

Frantic, she thrashed her arms in a haphazard freestyle stroke and rode a large wave back to the shore. 

She spluttered water out of her mouth and flopped onto the shore. 

Her eyes stung. Tears began to flow down her cheeks and mix with the seawater droplets on her skin. A howled sob bellowed from her mouth and echoed across the beach. She heard a low grumble of thunder before a torrent of rain pounded her skin from her cloud. 

She felt tiny fingers brush her sand-covered hand. 

‘It’s ok, I’m here,’ said Rain, fluttering next to her. 


‘I was above you the whole time.’

‘No, you weren’t…I couldn’t find you. I could have…drowned like…Dad.’ She whispered the last word to the sand. 

‘You didn’t and you won’t.’ 

Molly inhaled a shuddered breath and sat up. The rain and tears began to stop, and a golden glow radiated from her heart to her hands. 

The echidna made its way down the beach towards Molly and Rain. A snuffled squeak came out of its tiny snout-like mouth. The echidna nudged Molly with its claws and nodded towards her head.

‘Look,’ said Rain. ‘Your cloud’s gone.’

‘Molly?’ her mum’s voice wobbled while she stumble-ran down the beach towards her. ‘Oh, thank goodness you’re here! Wait, were you swimming?’ 

‘Sort of,’ Molly chuckled and wiped the tears from her eyes. She stood up and brushed some of the wet sand from her overalls. ‘Rain tricked….’ She glanced down to point out her new friends to her mum, but they were gone. 

‘Tricked?’ her mum frantically looked up and down the beach. ‘Who tricked you to do what?’ 

‘Nothing.’ Molly looked towards the dunes and saw Rain wiggle her wings before she disappeared into the grass. ‘My grief cloud rained.’

‘Oh, Molly.’ Her mum grabbed both her arms and looked up. ‘It’s finally gone.’

‘Yeah, I thought Dad’s drowning was my fault….’

‘…No, Molly. It was a horrible accident.’

‘It’s okay. My magic’s back.’

Molly picked up her book, which was half buried in the sand and brushed it clean. She opened the book and waved her right hand over the pages. The characters leapt out of the book and appeared in front of her.

Her nana and brothers startled her with a tight hug.

‘Geez, Moll,’ Aaron said. ‘Scare us much?’

Thomas waved his hand over her head where her cloud had been.

‘Good work, love!’ Her nana clutched her heart and grinned.

‘I’m still grieving, but I think I’m finally healing.’ 

Her mum kissed her cloudless head, and they all walked up the dunes back towards the cottage. Molly stopped at the top, then saw Rain wink and disappear with a flutter into the marram grass.