Riding the Storm

Back in 2020, I published The Covenant, whose story begins in 1883 with two girls walking home as a thunderstorm approaches…

“Above the heathery crags on the far side of the broad vale, clouds were piling up, ash and charcoal, heaving themselves into volcanic plumes, turning the late June sky to November gloom. Beneath them, distant veils of rain scythed down in biblical fury, dissolving rocks, forests, fields.

Another of the sudden storms that came out of nowhere to hurtle around the countryside, and it was coming their way. Their side of the valley was still in afternoon sunshine, but it was an eerie light, too vivid, trying too hard to defy the advancing onslaught. Trying in vain. Along their deserted lane, the wind was beginning to whip up. The overhanging ash trees started to shiver and shake.

Somewhere in the depths of the boiling clouds, lightning flashed. Thunder rolled, still so distant it was felt rather than heard.

Another rumble of thunder and Sarah shrieked. ‘I’ll be drenched!

‘Then run and beat it,’ said Leah, setting the pace, her thin legs carrying her lightly along the rutted road, her bonnet flying in her wake. But she paused to look back, knowing that Sarah was sure to be far behind. Sarah, twice as heavy, was puffing and panting as she floundered, whining in distress. As she caught up with her younger sister, her face began to crease again into a howl. At any moment, she was going to sit down and cry. It was Sarah’s invariable response to most difficulties.

‘Come on,’ said Leah, tugging her.

And then the outriders of the storm rolled over them, gloom engulfing them like a candle guttering, and a moment later the rain came down, not a haze or a pitter-patter but a torrent, ice-cold and stinging, its hissing so loud that Leah could only see Sarah’s wail, not hear it.

Sarah lunged for the shelter of an oak, solitary among the ash trees bordering the lane, but it offered little protection. The rain slanted like arrows through the leaves, determined to seek its prey. It pounded on the hard dry dust of the road, turning it to slurry and splashing up to soak them from beneath.

Leah saw no point in trying to hide. She was wet through, but she didn’t care. The storm was glorious, thrilling, full of energy throbbing around her. Lightning flashed and Sarah screamed, but Leah just stood, open-mouthed, counting her heartbeats, one two three, till the great crack of thunder echoed up and down the valley. The voice of God, her father said, and so it was, surely.

‘Deep calls on deep in the roar of Thy cataracts!’ She raised her arms into the rain, wanting to fly like a hawk on the wings of the storm.

‘Oh, stop it,’ cried Sarah. ‘You’ll be struck by lightning!’

‘You, more likely.’ Leah shouted to make herself heard. ‘Under that tree.’

With a squeal, Sarah slithered away from the oak and stood like a shivering lamb in the full force of the rain. Only for a moment. As suddenly as it had begun, the rain began to ease. It eased as if an invisible hand were releasing the pump handle, reducing the flow to a dribble. The storm heaved itself impatiently northwards, and the sun was already creeping back in its wake, breaking through the haze of lingering drizzle to glint on the puddles engulfing the lane and the raindrops hanging like diamonds from every leaf and blade of grass.”

The passage is intended to presage a storm of a very different sort that was about to engulf the Owen family, but I was drawing on my memories of being caught by a rapidly advancing storm many years ago. After writing it, I did wonder if my memories had gained a life of their own and exaggerated over the years. Could a storm really sweep on so swiftly? Could it end quite so abruptly? I decided that meteorological exactitude wasn’t really important. It was the imagery that counted.

Then the day before yesterday, I experienced exactly the same. Lightning was flashing somewhere over in the south-west for hours, with no rumble of thunder, so it must be far away. I walked as the wind began to whip up. I made it indoors just as the rain began, not as a polite introductory drizzle but as an unleashing of Niagara, and within minutes we were deafened by the constant roll of thunder around us, one crack so loud it sounded like cannon fire, splitting the walls of the house. Very very close.

And five minutes later it had gone. An occasional flash away to the north, but otherwise the wind had dropped, the rain had ceased and we could all go back to normal.

Except that we couldn’t because one experience young Leah Owen could not share with me was the discovery that something somewhere had blown and the broadband had ceased to function.

‘Never mind,’ I thought. ‘We’ve managed without before. We can survive until engineers fix it.’

Ha! I hadn’t appreciated quite how much I casually rely on the internet being there, at my fingertips, any time I want it, which, judging by yesterday’s frustration, is every five minutes. I admit I was not totally cut off. If I took my particularly dumb smart phone quarter of a mile up our lane, stood on a farm gate and waved it in the air, I could occasionally get just enough phone signal to pick up my emails – though often not enough to read them. Certainly not enough to publish this blog post, which is why I have waited a day to post it. Because my broadband is working again.

Phew! Have I missed anything?

3 thoughts on “Riding the Storm

  1. Sorry about the broadband, although that image of you up on the gate waving your phone is almost as vivid as that wonderful opening to The Covenant. Glad you’re connected again!


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