Wordstorm stories

Her name was Alice and she caught a bolt of lightning in a glass jam jar. She screwed the lid on tight and watched it flip, flop and flash like a goldfish. Sometimes, she kept the jar beneath her pillow and used the light to read books under the bedcovers. Sometimes, she unscrewed the lid and wrapped the lightning around her hand in honeyed skeins. Sometimes, she folded the lightning bolt over and over into a square until it fitted into her pocket. The lightning jar made her hands hot, it made her smiles glow. The moment she put down the jar the spell was broken. Weeks passed and the lightning jar paled and stilled. Alice couldn’t bear the fading. She added drops of rainwater to the jar with a pipette. The lightning hissed and curled. Alice shrouded the jar with black tissue paper. The lightning sputtered. Alice whispered lullabies to the jar. It sounded like a prayer. ‘Lightning bolts are like people, they’re born, they live, they die,’ said her grandmother. Alice waited for the next storm. She changed into one of her seven yellow dresses and she looked like a broken-yolked daffodil. She placed the jar in the middle of the lawn and unscrewed the lid. The rain fell.

His name was Tom and he flew his plane deep into a storm cloud.  He had been reviewing his life. ‘Believe you can do it, and then do it,’ he said. The words spilled from his mouth like morning sunlight on the bedroom floor. He swooped into the deep seas of the sky, sailing through the clouds, his eyes fixed on the swirling blackness of storm. This is where he believed he would find the truth. He wrestled with cumulus and cumulo-nimbus. He flew too close to the sun. Down, down, down. He whispered the pilot’s prayer. He wanted to fly into a storm cloud like he’d never wanted anything before. He knew there were whole worlds in there. He imagined creation. He saw the beginning of the world as a succession of terrifying storms and he understood that this was the meaning of life. He flew his small plane into the blackness and it was so dark that he looked with his heart, not his eyes, until he was enclosed in a hush. And then he thought that he never wanted to go back home.

Her name was Rose and she chased storms all over the world. She had seen lightning lick the floor and seen it suck out the sky with sharp hungry teeth. She had lain at the blue-threaded feet of the Thunder Bride in Finland and spun six times for Santa Barbara in Rwanda. She had seen The Empire State Building hit 15 times in 15 minutes and darted through lightning spears with the fishermen of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. She had seen thunderclouds roll across the sky so fast, that they made the rocks hum and sing. She had watched lightning strike cook potatoes underground until they were soft and perfectly baked, then roast a flock of geese mid-flight, until they rained down on her head ready to eat.  Gifts from God.  She believed that lightning was the most beautiful word she had ever heard. Later, she learned many others, and she liked to whisper them when she was alone. ‘Cumulonimbus’, ‘Fulgurite’, ‘Ceraunoscopy’, ‘Electrical’, ‘Atmospheric Perturbations’, ‘Fulminology’. They get bigger and bigger if you say them over and over again. She whispered and whispered and let the word grow until nothing exists except the word.

His name was Arthur and he swam in puddles. He made it his life’s work. To travel, to splash, to swim. In deep, velvety puddles, he would hang still and wait for the sediment to settle. Then he would open his eyes. The light was remarkable, like swimming inside a hunk of amber. It had all begun one summer holiday on the southern plains of France when Arthur was eight years old. The puddle was no bigger in diameter than the oval table in his mother’s dining room, but it was bottomless. All day long Arthur dove down the puddle. He swum with water boatmen and tiny black frogs and silver fish the size of his fingernails that flashed in the sunlight. Towards the end of the day he’d hung as still as a cut out bird in a cut out sky and the dust had started to dance. In the sepia lowlight, each tiny grain took on his features and the way he moved until he was puddle-swimming with hundreds of miniature versions of himself. After that, he was trapped. Every puddle held the possibility of an underwater dance with himself. When people asked him why, he would say, ‘it never gets lonely.’

His name was Jonathan and he had a storm in his heart. His voice rumbled. His eyes flashed yellow and streamed raindrops, marking his cheeks. People in the village said that the storm had flown inside him in the heat of late summer, when he was five-years old. It was that time of year when storms are unpredictable, when lightning streaks across cloudless skies. The rain drenches. Ten minutes later the ground is dry. A thunderstorm crossed the valley. It hit him, it stayed inside him, it changed him. As he grew older, he stood on the veranda for hours on end, watching the sky blaze with distant storms. And when he left the farm, he wore dark glasses and tried not to talk. When people spoke to him he pretended he couldn’t understand. And then his mother would begin to explain. ‘Jonathan has a storm in his heart. It came from heaven. We can begin again and we are saved every day.’ Jonathan didn’t think like that. He preferred to look at the sky. He watched the rain come, felt it hit and move on, and waited until he was dry again. His eyes flashed, wept and dried, his voice rumbled, softened and stilled and then it started again.

Her name was Beth and she fell from the sky. She was a gift from the lightning god Shango. Where ever the little girl walked, she was followed by spears of lightning. As the girl grew older she became weary of the lightning, it got in the way of living. Shango explained that the lightning followed her because it loved her so much. She told him that she had found true love with a human boy and didn’t need celestial light. The lightning stopped. At first, the young girl felt properly alive without the constant thunderstorms, she could hear the small sounds of nature for the first time, the rabbits scurrying in fields, the insects brushing wings in the trees, she could kiss her lover in the cloying darkness for hours on end. In time she began to miss the lightning. She realised that it was her lighthouse. Her lover tired of her. He said there was no point in a beautiful wife that he couldn’t see, that he couldn’t catch fish in the pitch black. He told her to pray for rain. She left Shango offerings near her house, a lump of coal, a plump chicken and a beautiful red drum. She spent hours calling his name and spinning around six times. Shango never answered. And the girl’s village was shrouded in layers of darkness onto darkness, where the dark deepens into night and sometimes eases into twilight. And that is all it does.

His name was Zachariah and he collected storms in buckets. It wasn’t about the rain. It was the big guns, the big drums, the balls of light. First, he rolled the thunder, a giant sweet wrapper, into a crinkling ball, and threw it inside. Then, he pulled and wound the lightning around his elbow and hand. The lightning was brittle. Sometimes it snapped before it reached the bucket, so he would wait for the next bolt and start all over again. The storm buckets were taking over his house. They were spilling out of his shed into the spare bedroom, the wardrobe. There were even some perched on the side of his bed, wedged in the space between his pillow and his bedside table. There was no more room in the greenhouse, bulging at the seams. First, he told visitors they were collecting the rain falling through the roof. Then there were too many questions, so he stopped letting inviting people over. His neighbours hated the stormy sounds. His house was constantly rumbling and belching, crackling and whipping. At night, it flashed, fizzed and flickered like a dying light bulb. But as long as the storms kept coming, Zachariah would keep collecting them.

His name was Jack and every time he cried, the rain fell. And every time he laughed, the sun shone. When he yawned, there was a rainbow. When he sneezed, it snowed. Jack lived alone in the rafters of an attic. He prised tiles off the roof, just the odd one, here and there, so he could see the sky at all times. At night, he liked to commando roll around the floor, stopping precisely beneath each gap to see the stars. He named them. It made him cry. And then it would rain. The problem was that when it stopped raining, he felt frightened. It meant he could hear every little noise. The barking of a dog. A knock on the door. The caw of a crow. He tried to think positive thoughts. If I prise one more tile off the roof before midnight, it will rain. If I see three shooting stars before I sleep, the moon will smile. If I sing ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’ all the way through without forgetting the words, the sun will sink behind that cloud. He held his breath and waited to see what would happen next.

Their names were Joseph, Freddie and Lucy and they lived in a watering can.  They slept head to foot in the spout on pillows stuffed with lavender and dried wheat. The damp air stifled. They dreamed of the sun like a blazing orange lozenge and a desert like the surface of the moon where they could sift hot sand through fingers. Every day they sat inside and waited patiently for visitors. Joseph cooked a simple supper of sausages. Freddie straightened the lichen rug and plumped the velvety moss cushions. Lucy set the table for six and lit four candles. When the light licked the walls, all three knew they were mistaken. It was the way the flames bounced off the tin surfaces. ‘There’s no good reason for their delay,’ said Joseph. And this is what he always said. ‘We can keep waiting,’ said Lucy, blowing out the candles, again. ‘They’ll come,’ said Freddie.

His name was Harry and he was trapped inside a raindrop. ‘The thing is,’ he said. ‘I like it better in here.’ The world outside a raindrop is round and wavy. The sky is small and everyone looks like they’re holding hands. The problem is the constant falling. It makes you dizzy. And the damp. Always, Harry had his favourites of the people outside. There was Alice who unravelled bolts of lightning like skeins of wool. She never gave up. There was Jonathan who had a storm in his heart and the soul of an old man. He never complained. Or, there was Rose who whispered ‘lightning’ over and over until the word grew and all that was left was the word. She was brave. Harry closed his eyes. He reached out his hand. He asked Alice and Jonathan questions. He asked Zachariah and Rose questions. He asked  Martha, Tom, Freddie, Joseph and Lucy, Beth and Arthur. What’s it like out there? Can you see inside the clouds? Can you feel the lightning? Do you like the wet? Do you like me? Can you see me? Can you see through me? Am I dead? Is anyone there?

The house of storms

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

The morning is full of storms. Every morning the same. Stormy. Storms. First humming, the rain is coming. Drip. Drip. Drop. Drop. Pitter. Patter. Plop. Pitram. Pitran. Chipi. Chipi. Chirimiri. Spatter. Splatter. Squelch. Slip. Spit. Squish. Slosh. Splash. Galosh. Gurgle. Trickle. Runnel. Storm’s coming. Rain’s drumming. Swirling. Whirling. Warning. Whoosh. Whoooo. Whistle. Whimper. Cry. Gale. Howl. Tyne. Dogger. Fisher. German Bight. Sole. Lundy. Fastnet. Waiting.

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

Wind reading the signs. Rain burning the ground. Sky brooding like tin foil. Here it comes. Light. Flash. Bang. Gone. Darkness. Falling. Bang. Jagged. Zipped. Heat. Sparks. Streaks. Flint. Ebony skies. Window pain. Seersucked. Ripped open. Stitched back. Hiss-s-s-s-s-ing. Flash. Shining. Darkness. We’re rain-rocked, storm-shook, thunder-struck, lightning-lit, lightening-lit, rain-dance, soft-salt, rain-pain, wet-spears, mermaids-tears, storm-burst. The lightning is sharp, bright, sticking its fingers through the sky. The world charred black and white. Word storm, puddle storm, rain storm, thunder and lightning storm.

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

Constant drumming. Floor glinting. Roof heaving. Curtains twisting. Books swelling. Coats dripping. Teacup trembling. Light bulbs hissing. House croaking. Water walking. Gurgle talking. Air stifling. Darkness thickening. Shadows tearing. Secrets ripping. Worlds opening. Words deepening, clearing. Flashes coming, groping. Living, partly living.

It can’t keep raining forever. It’s been raining forever.

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  • © 2014 Elen Lewis