3 August 2011

This month it was my turn to suggest a prompt for our little group. I chose a photo of a tornado that swept into Brighton in 2006. I wish I'd seen it.

Here's my 1000 word story:


Oh my god we were laughing so hard! Our castle on the beach was now complete. Golden walls formed a soft-edged square and we were in the centre of the courtyard. A turret at each corner and battlements atop the walls. The four of us lay on our backs or rolled from side to side, in absolute hysterics as we used to say.

There were no sandy steps to the tops of the crenellated curtain walls. No doorways leading to spiral staircases inside the turrets. No rooms at all, just a square space inside four walls that we couldn’t see over. An arch had been formed in the southernmost wall, facing the sea which was a distant blue strip across the horizon. So much sand. What else would you do? You build a castle, of course you do, but this one is ridiculous! It’s bigger than my house and we’ve spent all day making it. We are four grown-ups and we’ve spent the hot day building a castle that would shortly be washed away. It felt wonderful. Look at us! Look how stupid we are! See what we did today?!

A deck-chair flies high over the courtyard as if hurled from miles away. Its yellow and orange stripes blurring into the colour of flame. It leaves a smoky trail in front of the blue sky.

I roll onto my face to stifle my laughter and sand sticks to my eyeballs and fills my mouth. The laughter leaves me and I just cough into the ground. The others are growing motionless too as we forget what it was we were finding so hilarious. We blink sand out of our faces and sit in silence. As the silence grows, we become aware of the sound of a kettle whistling. Grains of sand tumble from the battlements as the whistle gets louder. Is nobody going to take it off the stove?

My girlfriend crouches by a wall and I stand on her back to look over it, my hands clinging to the drying sand as I get whatever purchase I can in the crumbling structure. I fling an arm between the battlement teeth and pull my head up. The beach is deserted as far as the eye can see, except for the usual longboats that criss-cross its irrigation channels - they drift from the beach to the ash-covered fields and back again as the wind turns.

One of the nearest longboats has a man standing on it with one of those poles they use to push themselves along. The whistling sound is coming from inside his boat and he opens the cabin doors to see what’s happening there. He disappears from my view as a spinning funnel of dense grey cloud bursts out of the doors and envelopes him. I describe this to my companions.

My best friend wants a look, so he stands on my back. In a very calm voice, he says “Oh my god there’s hundreds of tornadoes out there all over the fields”. We all run over to the farthest turret from the whistling sound. There is a door here now and we all run inside. It is dark and the floors are wooden and brown. We rush up some dusty steps to a room with broken windows in every shadow-covered wall. Through these windows the sky is the colour of tarnished lead. Its weight crushes and sedates our words, which come out too slowly and quietly.

“Run away” I say in a slow motion moan. We all stand and stare at each other, eyes wide. More words are spoken and ignored. Desperate for something to deliver us from this terror, I switch to the past tense and third person.

The whistling was by now a roar. The whirlwinds were closing in. They heard glass shattering upstairs and ran over to a window. They were at street level, looking along an avenue of fire-gutted buildings which lined a cracked concrete road. Smoke and glass drifted through the air. I saw them climb in turn through a broken pane. I saw my best friend come through last and as he did so the fuzzy black edge of a tornado loomed across the gaps in the wall. Splintered timber and lumps of stone smashed into the room like bullets. Broken steel cables tore through the walls and whipped through the air - neatly slicing off my best friend’s head which fell onto the floor and looked up at me stupidly.This almost forced me back into a first-person present tense perspective, but the terror was freezing my blood into sharp little rubies tumbling through my veins - reminding me to stay safely outside. I felt angry with the look on his face for a moment. This helped me to ignore what had actually just happened.

The three of them ran away, along the wrecked street. As they ran they could see crowded tornadoes stumbling drunkenly across the landscape, smearing black all over the fields and igniting wild animals. Blades of shattered glass rained down on them. Flaming birds screamed and flew into their faces. I saw my girlfriend apologise and leave them there. I don’t know where she went. I saw myself and the other friend (whose face was not familiar) run on until they reached a green field. They caught their breath as I reverted back to first person, present tense.

We catch our breath and look back at the city. It’s smaller than it was before, about the size of a red car. The tornadoes are only as big as my fist now, and they track up and down the windscreen of the car. I pick one up and let it spin on my hand. It feels like a toy gyroscope, whirring and leaning around like they do. I hold it near my face - I’ve always wanted to see the inside of a tornado, so I peer in and it’s just like in that film where it’s all watery blue spirals and peace.