©2021 Michael Raven
Instead of the uncomfortable silence that marked the beginning of our drive to the hotel, Mac and I found ourselves growing content and comfortable with the silences between us; touch seemed to be more than enough to assuage any anxiety either of us had about meeting the person opposite each of us in the front seat of the Challenger. The saccharine-sweet bubblegum pop from the radio was gone and all at remained was the sound of the tires against the road, and the purr of the car’s engine as the dashed white lines of the freeway scrolled under us while the sky grew darker, clouds pregnant with the upcoming storm that no one had apparently seen on their radar models, if you were to believe the DJ.
I was no weather geek, but my midwestern parent’s DNA infused me and I kept up enough on the weather to know that, while the events themselves may contain some surprises, storms didn’t typically evolve out of thin air. Mom had always preferred to know the weather for the next couple of days so that she had something to fill up the small talk she was prone to engaging in, and Dad work outdoors and he preferred to know how to dress for the occasion. Myself, well, I might check the weather before heading out for the day to decide if any attempt to control my natural curls was worth the effort or if I needn’t bother. In Seattle, it was the latter when it came to coiffure more often than not. I often didn’t bother.
Strong winds like the ones described on the radio were not something that would escape the notice of the National Weather Service — there would have been signs long before the winds erupted on the scene. I wrote it off as an inattentive radio personality that probably was hungover when he started his shift.
The first heavy drops of rain from the storm spattered against the windshield as we pulled into the hotel check-in lane, the sky increasingly becoming a dark, jaundiced green color save for where it was dark grey. The clouds had taken the shape of deformed faces pressing against cheap Lycra and lightning danced like electric webs across the surface as well as inside, twisted fingers of light that threatened to reach out towards the ground, but seemed loath to touch the earth, as if the soil itself was somehow tainted and untouchable. Trees leaned towards the east in the stiffness of the wind and some of the more rigid lost the occasional branch under the assault.
I was mesmerized by the formations roiling overhead. I will not lie: the storm flowing over the city looked unlike anything I had ever seen before and, frankly, it scared the shit out of me.
We got out of the car and I took Mac’s hand in mind and urged her towards the automatic sliding doors leading to the hotel interior. “We should get inside. This is going to get nasty any second.”
Mac’s eyes were drawn to the sky as much as mine had been. She bit her lower lip and nodded.
We had just gone through the doors when the skies opened up in earnest and the air shook with a thunderclap that pounded against my skin and made my ears ring while the winds joined the cacophony and screamed with banshee howls outside the hotel lobby. The rain was falling hard enough that the far side of the street was no longer visible, and it was as if a whole lake was dumped upon the area, all at once. And someone kept dumping it on the hotel.
“JESUS!” shouted the check-in clerk from across the lobby. Then he mentioned something else that was lost over the sound of the rain outside.
Mac tugged at my hand, leading me to the front desk to check in. She raised her voice to speak above the roar of the downpour raging outside. Even then it was almost impossible to hear her over the din.
“I … TWO ROOM.. RES..R..ED FOR MAC…SEE.”
The check-in clerk leaned over his desk. “WHA.. W… THAT?”
“I… TWO ROOMS… RESER…D F–“
And then, as sudden as the downpour had began there was no rain at all.
“Whew,” said the clerk. “I don’t reckon I’ve seen anything quite like that before.”
We both nodded in agreement. My ears still rang from the noise that had come with the stormfront.
“Now who did you say –“
One of those crooked fingers of lightening decided at that moment to reach down from the sky, snared several of the overhead electrical wires lining the street in from of the hotel, and dance along their length before tugging on them like someone stretching out their guitar strings before using them for the first time, stretching the wires to an impossible length until they snapped, sending metal bullwhips across down the street. The bright lights of the lobby as well as the television tuned to some game show all sparked and the distinctive smell of burnt electronics filled the space.
“Aw shit. Why me?” The clerk was unimpressed with the lightshow and the power outage that followed. “It’s gonna take me forever to check all of the guests in tonight.”
I was about to suggest to Mac that we maybe find a different hotel to spend the night, damn the lost deposit when there was a loud crash as one car, then another, then still more began to pile up in the street.
“What the hell?” Mac asked of no one in particular.
I took her hand and lead her towards the emergency exits. The sliding glass doors not having a chance in hell of working without electricity and we walked briskly to her car, although her gaze was still fixed on the cars crashing into each other on the road. It was then that I noticed that cars lined the full length of the road outside, some with people getting out and looking under their hoods already, others looking dazed after the downpour that had just flooded the city.
The storm that had passed through had already moved on, I could see it quickly receding into the West, bright electricity occasionally reaching downwards in the distance, lingering and drawing back up into the clouds. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
What was left was an eerie silence, save for the weeping of people injured in the wake of the storm, someone calling for help in the distance saying they were trapped and needed help getting free. Then I noticed the fish scattered across the parking lot, some flipping trying to catch some of the still pooled water that was quickly draining away, but most of the fish were obviously dead, as if they had been dropped from the sky.
Mac was already in her car, the door still open and I could see her turning the key in the ignition, but it wouldn’t turn over. There wasn’t even that sound you hear as the the starter clicks over and over when there is not enough juice in the battery to get the engine running. There was only silence.
Mac stopped and looked at me through the open door of her Challenger.
“What the fuck just happened, Logan?”