Although he loved a good thunderstorm, this one was started to unnerve Mike a bit. It had been going on for most of the day and according to the news and weather forecast it was part of a massive storm front that had already wreaked havoc across swathes of western Europe. The official advice was for people to stay indoors, unless absolutely necessary, as the storm presented a threat to life.
The storm had started rolling in around mid-morning, and the power went off not long after that; they’d guessed that maybe a substation had been struck by lightning. Neither of them had any clue whether that was something that could happen, but it sounded possible.
Until a couple of minutes ago the only unusual thing about it seemed to be its duration. Experts and assorted meteorologists on the telly had been getting worked up about it, but that was nothing new. They were always blowing things out of proportion in effort to turn everything with even a bit of mileage into the next big story, and of course there was no shortage of experts to come and talk about whatever the latest hot topic was.
Mike and Stacy were standing at the window of the spare room watching the storm and had been for nearly an hour now. The back of the house had an unobstructed view all the way to the river a couple of miles away. What had appeared to be a powerful, but relatively normal storm changed, almost like a switch had been flipped. The lightning strikes started coming down on the wide stretch of water with an intensity that neither of them had ever seen, with two or three bolts at a time striking the river, and the sound of thunder was constant, with one blast merging into another.
“That’s not right Stace; thunder isn’t supposed to do that is it?”
“I don’t think so,” she replied, sounding a little uncertain of her answer.
He was about to speak again when his train of thought was broken by the first lightning strike they’d seen hit land. The crack of thunder that followed it barely a second later was ear-splitting and the pair jumped back from the window as if it had hit the ground in their back garden. Stacy caught her heel on the corner of a rug and staggered back a couple of steps, managing to keep her balance, but Mike wasn’t so lucky. He backed straight into a pile of boxes full of random clutter and landed in an untidy heap.
“That really bloody hurt. I think I’ve broken my arse.” He was only joking, but he had come down hard on his backside, so he was lucky he hadn’t done himself a mischief.
Stacy offered her hand and he pulled himself up, just as there was another blinding flash of lightning and crack of thunder, but they were ready for this one. They returned to the window and their eyes were immediately drawn to a fire near the river, where the first strike on land had hit. They hadn’t heard an explosion, but they might have missed it considering the racket the storm was making.
“It must’ve struck a car or something,” Stacy speculated.
Lightning struck a few streets away, causing a car alarm to go off. Then across the road, hitting a satellite dish and sending up a shower of sparks, all this accompanied by the constant, manic drumroll of thunder.
Stacy backed away from the window and put her hand on Mike’s shoulder.
“Let’s go downstairs, it’s not safe standing here like this Mike.”
“Yeah, alright. We probably shouldn’t be this close to the window.”
By the time they got down to the living room, the lightning was coming down in front of the house too. Stacy was sitting in an armchair as far away from the window as possible, but Mike, reluctant to miss the spectacle of the storm had half opened the curtains and was standing a couple of feet from the window. He had no idea if he was in any less danger than he had been upstairs, with his face almost pressed to the glass, but he felt safer and that was enough for him.
There was a flash of light that he momentarily mistook for more lightning, until it started getting brighter. He chanced a closer look and was shocked to see a car driving down the road. It was driving much too fast for the weather and had its high beams blazing ahead of it. He took a step back but kept his eyes on the window.
“Jesus Christ Stace; there’s a car out there,” he exclaimed, barely able to believe his eyes.
Stacy sprung out of the armchair and joined him at the window, needing to see the car for herself.
“What kind of soft arse would be out in this?” She said, almost as a statement of fact, rather than a question.
They watched as the car continued down the road, skidding one way and then the other, as the tyres kept losing traction on the rain slicked tarmac. A few more seconds passed before disaster struck.
Another jagged fork of lightning came down and although it didn’t hit the car, it wasn’t more than a few feet in front of vehicle. The unseen driver swerved, causing the car to go into a spin on the wet road. One of the back wheels hit the kerb, sending sparks flying and causing the car to ricochet back into the middle of the road.
It looked for a moment as if whoever was behind the wheel would get the car under control, until the slide pulled it to the other side of the road; only this time it mounted the kerb, and at the speed it was travelling, there was no stopping. It crashed through the garden wall of the house three doors down from Mike and Stacy’s and rather than slowing, seemed to speed up as it crossed the small front garden.
The car smashed through the large bay window like a missile, then disappeared into the house and even though all this happened barely fifty feet from them, they hardly heard any of it over the constant sensory bombardment of the storm.
The pair just stared at the house across the road that the car had just fired itself at. The rain was still pelting down, so it was impossible to make out anything in any detail. It was possible to discern a glow coming from the hole in the house. Something had caught fire in there.
“I think the house is on fire Stace.”
“I don’t know what to do, my phone isn’t working. They probably wouldn’t send a fire engine out in this anyway, would they?” She asked.
“Probably not, but we’ve got to do something.”
“No we bloody haven’t. Leave it to somebody else; I’m not going out in that and neither are you,” she said with finality.
He was about to continue arguing when somebody came staggering out of the house, over the mound of rubble and into the storm.
“It’s the feller that has that dog that’s always running about, out of control,” Mike stated.
The man seemed to be dazed and was staggering about like a drunk. He’d barely made it across his garden before he was struck by an almost blindingly bright bolt of lightning.
For the briefest moment it was like daylight and they watched in horror as the voltage from the strike lifted the man off the ground and hurled him back the way he’d just come, smashing him into the wall of his house, like he’d just been fired out of a catapult. Almost certainly dead, he bounced off the wall and tumbled to the ground like a discarded ragdoll, where he landed out of sight.
They continued to stare, in shock at what they’d just seen, and it wasn’t until more lightning grounded itself in the streetlight right outside their house that they both managed to shake themselves out of the stupor they’d been in.
“We should get away from the windows, before any of that lightning strikes the house,” Stacy said, more than a hint of panic in her voice.
“Yeah. The cupboard under the stairs? If we throw the crap out of it there should be enough room.” Mike realised he didn’t sound any more calm and collected than Stacy did.
“There’s already a torch in there, and some batteries. I think there’s some cans of pop left over from Christmas too,” she told him.
They both moved together, glad to have something to do to occupy themselves for a bit. It was the work of just a few minutes to clear enough space in the cupboard for them both to fit with a modicum of comfort. At the last minute Stacy dashed back into the living room, and Mike was about to follow, to see what she was doing, when cushions started flying through the door.
“Put them in there love,” she shouted. “We might be in there a while, and I’d at least like to be a bit comfortable.”
The storm had gone on right through the night and into the next day. It had got louder and louder, and at one point there had been the sound of an explosion that they assumed was the crashed car across the road. The storm got so bad that the whole house had shook, and it had gone on like that for almost an hour. They’d been convinced with every lightning strike, that the next would be the one that struck their house, and given how powerful the storm was at that point they could only guess at what would happen then.
At one point, about four in the morning, going by the time on their phones, they’d thought they’d heard people shouting, but discounted it as their ears playing tricks on them. Finally, at some point after nine in the morning the storm had started to die down.
There were still some pretty loud rumbles, but nothing like the constant barrage that had bombarded them through the night. After so long, the sound of relative silence felt strange, and they stayed in the cupboard under the stairs for another half hour, afraid of what they would find when they came out.
“We’ve got to go out some time Stace. It almost stopped now, it’s probably safe. Besides, I need a wee so bad it’s going to come spurting out of my ears in a minute.”
It wasn’t that funny, but they both laughed anyway. After the tension of the night it was a way to relieve some of the stress.
“Seriously,” he told her, standing up and opening the door, “I’m about to piss my pants, I’ll only be a minute.”
Mike was on his way back to the cupboard when Stacy called him into the living room. The room looked like somebody had set a hand grenade off in it. The windows were smashed, pictures had been blown off the wall, furniture was overturned.
“The kitchen window’s broken as well. It’s going to cost a sodding fortune to sort all this out,” he said, as much to himself as Stacy.
“Mike, come here; look,” she told him, gesturing at the broken windows.
He looked up from the ruin of their living room and the sight outside took his breath away. Walking over to the window, he took in the devastation.
When the crashed car had exploded, the fire must’ve spread fast without the intervention of the fire brigade. It had probably been aided by the lightning that had sounded like it was almost coming down like rain at one point. Almost every home on the opposite side of the road had been gutted by fire, with the houses closest to the explosion being nothing more than smoking piles of rubble. Only the couple of houses at either end of the row of terraced houses had survived.
They’d been lucky the rain had been coming down so heavy, or the fire might’ve jumped across the road, and the consequences of that were too terrible to consider.
“I’m going out to have a look,” Stacy told him, so he followed her.
Some of the houses on their side of the road had caught fire, but it looked like most of it was just roof damage, no doubt caused by lightning strikes. There were a few other people, looking around disbelievingly, like themselves. The sound of sirens floated on the breeze, lots of them.
“Do you think this is everywhere?” He asked.
“Shit,” he exclaimed.
“Yeah,” he agreed, as the sirens came closer.