Mysteries in a sky filled with suspense

When the clouds swallow the sun, the storm is on the way. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

If the world wanted to end, this was as good a time as any.

The weather is like a great mystery.

Storms are the villains.

They shoot.

We can’t shoot back.

We’re always at their mercy.

I knew the storm was coming long before it turned north at New Harmony and headed our way.

I heard a distant rumble in the sky.

It didn’t sound like a freight train.

In the newspaper business, I had covered tornadoes before.

I had interviewed men and women standing in the rain and looking at the remnants of their life in ruin.

Homes gone.

Furniture gone.

Photos gone.

And they all said the same things.

It sounded like a freight train.

The freight train did not come to East Texas Friday afternoon.

The sky sounded more like kettledrums when an army marches off to war.

Drums.

And gunshots.

So close.

And yet so far away.

The clouds hung like angry blankets across the treetops behind our house.

Black.

Boiling.

Gray flannel.

And the wind was no longer still.

Branches swept the ground.

Wind chimes danced.

And the birds no longer sang.

The birds were nowhere in sight.

The day grew dark.

It was if the night came early.

It had a strange burnished glow.

If the world wanted to end, this was as good a time as any.

I stood in the doorway and listened to the kettledrums.

The ghost army was marching closer.

The war was deafening.

Lightning cut a slash in the sky.

It crackled.

Thunder rattled the windows.

It was deafening.

I smelled the smoke in the air.

It had the aroma of sulphur.

Or maybe brimstone.

I closed the door.

The Muse stood staring through a looking glass darkly.

“It’s a bad one,” he said.

“It’s Texas.”

“What does that mean?”

“When we have a storm, it’s a bad one.”

“You’re gonna lose some limbs,” the Muse said.

“We’re gonna lose some trees,” I said.

“They’ve stood here a long time.”

“Some a hundred years or more.”

The kettledrums were louder.

And overhead.

Their beat was steady.

The ghost soldiers were marching in place, stranded in the wind.

The trees bent in one direction, then twisted around and leaned low in another like the swirling skirt of a Flamenco dancer.

Lightning wrote script in the sky.

The Muse tried to read it.

He couldn’t.

Too many adverbs, he said.

Thunder was no longer rumbling.

It was mad now.

The sound was punishing.

“Funny thing about a storm,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a rattlesnake.”

“How do you figure?”

“It warns you before it strikes.”

The Muse laughed.

There was no humor in it.

“You’re wrong,” he said.

I waited.

“A rattler rattles,” he said.

I nodded.

“Then it strikes.”

There was no argument from me.

“Storms are different,” the Muse said.

“I don’t understand.”

“Lightning strikes.”

I nodded again.

“Then the thunder warns you.”

“By then it’s too late.”

“There’s one consolation,” the Muse said.

“What’s that?”

“If you hear the thunder, the lightning missed.”

He shrugged.

“If you hear the thunder,” he said, “you’re still alive.”

Lightning flashed.

Thunder pounded the top of the house.

I smiled.

It was a comforting sound.

Storms play a major role in my latest novel, Place of Skulls, the fourth book in my Ambrose Lincoln noir thriller series. Please click HERE to purchase a copy from Amazon.

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  • If lightning strikes, you’re pretty much done with worrying about anything.

    Otherwise, you have no excuse not to keep fighting.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Lightning has always fascinated me, Alicia. I know it’s deadly. But I can sit an watch the light how for hours without blinking. It sometimes seems that lightning is an ancient script writing its own stories in the sky.

      • Just electricity. Lots of it. With a passion for pointy objects. I love watching, too. From inside.

  • Jackie Taylor Zortman

    Here in Ouray, a bowl of enormous rocky mountains, lightning strikes sound fierce and the thunder is deafening. It’s all about acoustics. The blog was riveting, as usual.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      We were in Pagosa Springs last week, and the mountains produce a dramatic backdrop for anything that happens. The nights are so dark the stars feel as if they touch your shoulders, thunder sits around you, not above you, and the lightning takes your breath away. I envy you living in Ouray every day.

      • Jackie Taylor Zortman

        I bet it didn’t stay cool for your trip. Last night was the first night we didn’t have to have all the windows open and could actually feel the cold. Warming right back up today.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Everyone in Pagosa Springs apologized for the heat. Hottest week of the year, they said. It’s supposed to cool off next week, they said. I’m almost always at the right place at the wrong time. Beautiful and haunting country. Driving across Wolf Creek Pass, the mountains close in around you.

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