The hailstone was the size of an eyeball with tinges of green and yellow, like a bruise. After the first one fell, we all looked up to see where it had come from, this aberration. Grey storm clouds were shuffling out to the horizon and within a few minutes, more hailstones came down, smacking against windshields and bouncing off the bus stop. Before long, they were a torrent and we all ran towards a cafe, with makeshift barriers of bags and briefcases protecting our heads. I was the last one in but as my fingers let go of the door, I heard someone call out. I turned to see an elderly man a few metres away and I stood there gaping as he staggered, then fell, arms flailing to ward off the icy missiles.
‘For God’s sake help him,’ someone behind me shouted.
I couldn’t move, I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly one of the staff pushed past me, holding a tray over his head. It only took a few seconds before he had half-dragged, half-thrown the old guy into the cafe.
‘There’s a first-aid kit behind the counter, someone get it,’ the rescuer barked, clearly used to being in charge.
Blood was oozing from several cuts on the man’s face and hands, but otherwise he was unhurt, just in shock. Once he had been patched up and given a drink, a couple of us donated coats to cover him and we lifted him onto one of the flat sofas to rest. I sat with him; it was the least I could do. He dozed off after about fifteen minutes.
Outside the hailstones were still coming down. They made a clack-clacking sound as they hit each other, like marbles. When I smeared a hole in the condensation, I saw that they had already covered the road and the park opposite. They were piling up just like snow: it looked like a field of icy Christmas baubles. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
‘Pretty strange aren’t they,’ a man’s voice said.
I glanced to my left, ‘Yeah.’
‘Hi, I’m Alex. I think we catch the same bus home every day.’
‘Do we? Sorry, I don’t remember you,’ I didn’t meet his eyes. ‘I’m really worried about my dog. She’s all alone and this storm will be driving her crazy.’
‘She’ll be okay I’m sure . . . wow, look at that!’
I followed his eyes: a pure red hailstone had landed on a pile just outside the window. My insides lurched, it looked like blood.
‘What IS that?’ I whispered.
‘It’s a warning from God,’ a deep voice interrupted ‘and I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now, Exodus 9:13. You see he warned us, that without him, we will all perish.’
‘No disrespect Reverend, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world just yet. It’s probably something to do with global warming or nature just having a laugh,’ said Alex.
The man of God smiled benignly and left us to check on the injured old man.
‘Just like the church to put it down to God’s big plan eh! Oh sorry, you’re not religious are you?’ Alex said, cocking his head.
He carried on. ‘Well it’s not a biblical plague, that’s for sure. Hailstones are just clumps of ice that form up in the atmosphere and if the conditions are right, like a thunderstorm, they fall and, if there’s anything else up there like seeds or bugs they get picked up for the ride. That’s probably why they’re such weird colours.’
‘What are you, some sort of weather geek?’ I was being rude, but couldn’t help myself.
‘I’m a science teacher at Westfield Primary actually.’
‘Oh. So exactly what kind of seeds or bugs can produce those then?’ I nodded towards the road.
‘I’ve no idea. Look, have I offended you in some way? I was just trying to be friendly.’
‘No. I just want to go home.’ I didn’t wait for his response and headed over to the counter.
Cupping a mug of black coffee, I sat down at an empty table and looked around. A strange feeling of déjà vu made me shudder. It was an oddly narrow room with tables ranged around the windows, the white armless sofas in the middle looked really out-of-place. There were also strange thin posters on the walls. Something felt wrong but I couldn’t work out what.
Apart from three staff, there were fifteen other people in the cafe, including me. Some were sitting at tables chatting; others were alone just staring out of the windows. I didn’t recognise anyone but they all felt familiar, like memories I couldn’t quite recall. I glanced at my wrist, it was almost six – I’d been here for over an hour.
A sudden burst of rock music made me jump and I dropped the mug. It didn’t break and as I snatched it upright some of the coffee pooled on the table; a shiver of fear ran through me.
‘Sorry about that everyone. I thought there might be something on about the weather,’ one of the staff explained, as he changed the TV channel. The cafe went quiet.
‘This is a severe weather warning. The Met Office has confirmed that the unusual storms that have already hit most of Scotland and the North, will reach the rest of the UK by nightfall. Samples of the coloured hailstones are currently being analysed by scientists and until results are in, members of the public are advised to take every precaution to prevent skin contact. The BBC has obtained information from sources close to the government that these hailstones may be the result of a biological terrorist attack, though the Home Office has yet to comment.’ The man turned the volume down; everyone was still and silent.
I looked over at the old man to see if he’d heard but luckily, he was still asleep. Terrorism? That just isn’t possible I thought, how could terrorists make hailstones fall? There was an excited hum of conversation around me and I turned my head to catch what they were saying, but their voices were muffled and distant. I shook my head, then pinched my nose and squeezed, trying to clear my ears; it didn’t make any difference.
I suddenly felt sick as the bitter taste of coffee rose up in my throat. In the tiny cubicle along the corridor, I vomited until my stomach was empty, involuntary tears running down my cheeks. After I’d rinsed my mouth, I patted cold water on my neck and dabbed the mascara runs away. ‘Don’t be silly,’ I said to the face in the mirror ‘it’s just a freak of nature, like that guy said.’
When I sat back down at the table, it was already dark outside and the street lamps were on. The glistening balls were almost level with the windowsill, at least two feet deep – and still falling. I kept thinking about my dog and how alone she was but try as I might, I just couldn’t remember her name. My temples ached with the effort and I still couldn’t hear properly, I needed fresh air so I could think. I stood up and walked towards the door. Suddenly I didn’t care about the hailstones or the warnings on the TV and I rushed for the handle, wrenching it open. I heard someone call my name but I ignored it. Bloodied hailstones started cascading into the room and I scrambled to climb over them but they were too slippery and I fell to my knees.
‘What the hell is she doing?’ someone shouted. I heard the door being heaved shut.
‘Let me go. I need some air. I have to go home. She’s all alone. I can’t remember her name. My dog, I can’t remember her name. I want to go home, let me go.’ I heard myself sobbing and shouting as if from a distance. Then it all went black.
I opened my eyes and a man’s voice next to me said, ‘Hello, how are you feeling?’ I tried to sit up but my arms wouldn’t work.
‘Are you okay now?’ I didn’t answer.
‘You opened the door and tried to leave, remember?’
‘What time is it?’ I asked.
‘It’s a little after nine.’
‘What’s going on?’ my eyes felt sticky. ‘Are the lights off?’
‘No, they’re on. Why?’
‘I can’t see much, it’s all blurry,’ my fingers moved up to my eyes, no bandages. ‘Who are you? What’s going on?’
‘It’s Alex, Stella, my name’s Alex, we met earlier, remember? Calm down, it’s all okay, just relax.’
‘How do you know my name?’
‘I looked in your purse.’
‘Well, because you had a sort of panic attack. You kept screaming about how you couldn’t remember your dog’s name and that she was alone. You opened the door, tried to get out and fell over. You were really upset, don’t you remember? I think you fainted, so we put you on this sofa to recover. That was about three hours ago.’
‘My dog? My dog’s called Cassie; of course I remember her name.’
‘Anyway, I’m glad you’re feeling better. Do you want a drink?
‘Some water would be good.’ I reached out for his fingers, ‘I didn’t mean to be rude, I don’t really remember much.’
‘It’s okay Stella, no problem. I’ll get that water.’
My arms were tingling and I flexed my fingers, but I still couldn’t sit up. My vision was starting to clear and I raised my head to look around. I was in a narrow cafe. Something in the back of my mind turned my head towards the windows, but they were all steamed up. Then I remembered why: the hailstones.
‘Are you alright my dear?’ a deep voice said. I looked up to see a man in black with a white collar, smiling.
‘Are the hailstones still falling?’
‘Yes, they’ve already reached the top of the door. We’re stuck here, I’m afraid.’
He stayed with me for a while and he talked about Exodus something or other. I sipped the water, tried to relax.
Then I heard him whisper, ‘Dear God.’
‘What’s wrong?’ I couldn’t see what he was looking at.
‘The windows are starting to crack.’ Suddenly there was a loud bang and one gave way, then others. Everyone started screaming; they sounded like animals in pain. I craned my neck; the hailstones were streaming in, hundreds and hundreds of them, swallowing up everything in their path; the tables, the faces, an old man on a sofa, people running past. I was on my own. I couldn’t move; they were coming for me. Helpless, I watched them slide over me, creeping higher and higher, I was being buried alive: I screamed for help.
‘Stella, can you hear me? You’re safe now, you’re okay. Listen to my voice.’
A bright light was flicking from one eye to the other; I couldn’t make out who was speaking.
‘Stella, you’re in the hospital. We need to cut your clothes off, it won’t hurt. Do you understand?’ Stella, can you hear me?’
A voice close to my ear said, ‘It’s Alex, I’m still here, I won’t leave you.’ I started shouting, Where’s Cassie? Where’s Cassie? CASSIE. CASSIE.’
Then someone put their arms around me and my eyelids flickered open. My heart was pounding and I felt clammy and hot.
‘It’s all over now Stella, just a bad dream. It’s okay now my darling, it’s okay. You’re at home, shhhh..’ It was my husband’s voice.
I clung to him as it all came back: the train, bags falling on top of me, pieces of metal twisting and the smell of burning, pools of sticky blood, shrieks of pain along the carriage and hours of waiting for someone to get to us; Alex, the fireman who had held my hand while others cut me out. I sobbed as John hugged me tight; I could feel his tears on my shoulder. Cassie, our beautiful daughter Cassie, had been with me. She didn’t come home.
(This was the fifth assignment for my creative writing course).
Categories: Just Stories