Runner-up: Stormy Weather

By Lynne Colgrave

Lynne says:
My story ideas often come from newspaper articles, overheard conversations, or memories of the years I spent living in Africa. I now live with my family in the Peak District – its dramatic landscapes were my inspiration for this particular story.

The world darkens and the leaves on the trees become still. A young woman stands in the doorway of a farmhouse, staring down upon the valley. Rows of corn-bales, golden against the glowering sky, reach as far as the purple moors in the distance. Beyond them lies the sea, and the small town where her husband will be celebrating the end of harvesting at The Brown Cow.

Lorna rests against the doorpost, arms folded. Doubtless, by the time Tom comes crashing through the door, it will be well past midnight. Most likely, he’ll stumble around downstairs for a while. There will be that uneasy quiet when she’ll wonder if he’s eating the supper she’s prepared. Hopefully, he’ll fall asleep on the sofa – for she can’t bear another night of it, the sound of him staggering up the stairs, the weight of him falling onto their bed, the sickly-sweet beer, the cigarettes… 

A flash of electricity and rumbling of distant thunder brings her back inside the house to gaze out through the window. Like her, the land seems to be waiting. A floorboard creaks above her head, and she looks at the ceiling. But there’s no other sound. When she climbs the stairs, she sees the door to the children’s room is ajar. Mattie is fast asleep, hair like a dark cloud on her pillow. Beside her lies Toby – one plump, brown hand resting on the patchwork quilt and the other cradling his flushed cheek. Now, after the fury of his tantrum, he seems at peace, oblivious to everything. When the thunder sounds again, Mattie stirs a little, but neither child wakes. They’ll sleep through most things given half a chance, Lorna thinks. But how often have they seen their father so drunk he can barely stand? How many times have they shivered on the stairs during his drunken rages?

Lorna’s palms feel clammy. She closes the bedroom door with a soft click and leans back against the landing wall. Her heart has begun to race again. These days, it happens more often. Softly, she retraces her steps. 

Through the kitchen window, the geraniums she planted blaze red against their dark foliage. Soon, they’ll be worn down, battered by rain, Lorna thinks. She walks out into the garden as streaks of lightning zig-zag the dusky sky. Why don’t you strike? she murmurs. Strike me.And she closes her eyes and waits for thunderclaps to break the sky.

But the rain brings relief. Those first few heavy drops that darken the gritstone walls feel cool and refreshing on her skin. Then comes the onslaught; pummelling down, drenching her hair, her face, running freely down the neck of her blouse until she shivers, screwing up her eyes – hot tears mingling with cold rain.

What would Tom think of her now? He’d think she was crazy, standing out in the middle of an electric storm! He’d think I was insane, she says aloud. But somehow, a tight valve has loosened. Years of pent-up emotion come flooding out and she wants to scream, to howl into the wind like some wild thing – but no she mustn’t wake her children. Her first and last priority. Always.

Calmer now, Lorna’s eyes narrow. She pushes her saturated hair away from her face and bends to pick up a fragment of rock. Summoning all her strength, she throws it as hard and as far as she can into the very heart of the storm.

* * * * *

Much later an old white truck climbs the rough moorland trail that winds up the valley side. Tom’s headlights are weak but he drives on, regardless of the driving rain and patches of fog that obscure his view. He’s kept his window slightly open to let in some air, but his face still burns. He’s seething, thinking about his argument with the pub landlord.

I don’t need anyone to tell me when I’ve had enough – it was supposed to be a celebration, not a wake! Tom presses the accelerator and wipes the windscreen with the back of his sleeve. It’s getting hard to keep awake, so when the rocks hit the windscreen, his reactions are slow. He sits staring blankly at the shattered glass, as fierce gusts of cold air pelt his face with tiny, piercing fragments. Blinded, he turns the steering wheel.

* * * * *

The postman, out on his morning round, is the first to spot the white truck lying upside-down in the valley bottom. It looks as if the driver was thrown clear when it struck the ground, he tells the police. He could have been lying there for hours, the poor devil.

 The locals blame it on a landslide. Such natural disasters have happened in this area before, especially during freak storms. One or two loose rocks can set an avalanche in motion. It’s such a tragedy, they say, especially to a man with such a lovely, young family. They send Lorna cards and bring her flowers. They’re all deeply sorry for her loss. Lorna thanks each of them in turn, smiling sadly.