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Challenges

Writing Challenge #2: What the thunder said

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Writing Challenge #2

2020-06-06


Liquid here with the second episode of our traditional series of writing challenges. Last time the challenge was about the great outdoors.


I wanted to keep up the outside world as a theme while proposing the new challenge. And I also wished to reference a beautiful, unequaled piece of English literature. So this month theme should be What the thunder said, from the fifth part of T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland (which you can read here).

So, this challenge is to write something about thunders, speaking or mute, literal or metaphorical, in the great outside or entirely contained in your kitchen. And of course other references to Elliot's works are more than welcome. Whether that's a short story, a haiku, a riddle, rhyming couplets, or whatever, it's totally up to you.


Following our prompt tradition here's some lines you can start from, or include anywhere else in your work:

The sky rumbled like a septuagenarian too tired to leave his armchair, but perfectly able to complain.


There is always another one walking beside you.


[My] foot slipped on a razor sharp rock, a spear-like tip poking through my sole.


And just remember: this is a fun challenge. The point is to have some fun, perhaps stretch some creative muscles, or give a new style a try; it's not a contest or anything.

Have fun!

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Some managers, Lucy thought, need to have their meeting privileges revoked.

She fidgeted and looked at the clock in the corner of her screen: 5:34 PM. The Tuesday afternoon meeting had been scheduled to start at two and run for three hours, as always, and it had run over, as always. There were twelve items on this afternoon's agenda, and they were still only on item eight. She should step out, call home, and let her family know she would be late for dinner – again – but she'd taken a bathroom break forty minutes ago. If she left the room again Steve, her manager, would ask questions.

She fidgeted again, still trying to make herself more comfortable. The pain in her stomach – half hunger, half indigestion – only worsened. She glared at Steve.

You don't need to drag all ten developers into this room when only one of them is going to work on each thing. We're going to miss the deadline as it is, do we really have to make it worse?

It was an unusually warm day for November, and Lucy wished she could go for a walk. Her legs were stiff and sore from being stuck under the table. She'd tried to take daily walks when she first started this job, and on the second week Steve had asked her where she kept disappearing to during her lunch hour. He hadn't been pleased.

Apparently, the "lunch hour" in her contract wasn't meant to be an actual hour, and not sitting in your seat for nine hours straight was a sign that you didn't want your job.

Thunder grumbled off in the distance. Lucy slumped in her seat. No chance for a walk today, even in the dark.

Someone knocked on the glass door, and let herself in without waiting for permission: Hannah, vice president of something-or-other, known to Lucy as Little Miss Narcissism Disorder. At least sixteen hours of the work week was dedicated to meetings, and four of those hours existed for no reason other than to give Hannah an audience.

Hannah motioned for the developer closest to Steve – Alex - to get out of his seat. He obeyed, and Hannah dropped into the now-empty chair, leaving Alex squashed against the wall. Hannah leaned close to Steve and started to discuss her plans for the office Thanksgiving party.

Lucy resisted the urge to scream. She had work to do, they all did. It wasn't going to get done while the eleven of them – now twelve - sat in a hot, stuffy room that was designed to seat eight, day after day, staring out the window and watching the sun die.

Lightning flashed over the bare treetops. The sky rumbled like a septuagenarian too tired to leave his armchair, but perfectly able to complain.

Lucy slid her chair back and got to her feet, wincing. The pain in her legs seemed to get worse with each meeting. She hobbled over to the door, let herself out, and made her way to the bathroom.

The bathroom was a dingy, brown-tiled room with three toilets (one, out of order for two months, was covered by a black garbage bag). The soap dispensers had stood empty for over a month. Instead a single bottle of hand soap, its top smeared with something that was either dried poop or dried snot, sat beside the center sink.

Despite the grime, Lucy was grateful for the quiet and solitude. She shut her eyes and forced herself to take several deep breaths.

She needed to get out.

It wasn't just that the company had more red flags than a miniature-golf course. Lucy couldn't live her life anymore, not with the overtime, the stress, and the pain.

The job wasn't going to last much longer. Lucy had posted her resume online two weeks ago, after she realized that Hannah hadn't announced the company's weekly earnings for three weeks. Hannah only announced good news, and each week she had less and less to announce. Instead she filled both hours of what was supposed to be a one-hour meeting with pointless fluff.

Out of the corner of Lucy's eye, something moved. She turned. A gray rat the size of her foot was sniffing a soggy paper towel on the floor.

Lucy sighed. There was no point in reporting the rat. Steve would just shrug and do nothing. Unless the rat decided to creep into the office and bite his leg, it wasn't his problem.

The rat looked up at her. It stood up on its hind legs, like a dog begging for a treat, and sniffed in her direction.

Lucy blinked. For a moment she could have sworn there was something gold and shiny around one of the rat's forelegs, like a bracelet. But that was impossible. It was just a trick of the light, or the stress and lack of sleep.

There was a crash-BOOM! outside, and the lights went out.

Lucy heard a commotion on the other side of the bathroom door. It sounded like someone had tripped over a chair in the darkness. There should have been lights that switched on when the power went out, but her employer was either too cheap to pay for them or too arrogant to think a disaster would ever happen on his watch.

Lucy waved a hand in front of her face and saw nothing. The only way she would find the door was by feeling her way along the walls-

There was another crash of thunder, followed by another crash of furniture. There was a howl of pain and several panicky shouts.

It was probably safest to just stay here, Lucy thought. The lights would probably come back on in a few minutes. No need to head back out into the office and risk getting run over.

Something about that seemed wrong to Lucy, something that made her scalp prickle. She'd missed something, but what?

In the corner, the rat squeaked. Lucy hoped it didn't have rabies or some other disease. Rat bites were supposed to be nasty.

More thunder, low and angry. There was more shouting from the office. Everyone was stumbling around in the dark and-

She realized what was wrong: all forty-seven of them had laptops. Even with the power out the whole open office should be lit by the glow from their screens. But there was no light coming from under the door. None at all.

They can't all be fried. They weren't even all plugged in!

Now there was a light, a faint blue one. And it was coming from behind her.

The rat squeaked, louder this time.

Lucy turned. The rat was now wearing a pointed blue hat and matching cape in addition to the gold bracelet. The blue light was coming from a rat-sized hole beside the garbage can, and it was getting brighter and brighter by the second.

The thunder growled again. To Lucy it sounded almost like the voice of an angry lunatic.

The rat squeaked again and looked up at Lucy, as if to say Well? Are you just going to stand there all day?

"I don't know what you want me to do." It was a perfectly reasonable thing to say, because this wasn't real. It was either a stress-induced hallucination or an extremely vivid dream. Lucy hoped it was the latter. She needed the sleep.

The rat produced a tiny wand from the folds of its cape. It looked like a blue pebble glued to the end of a toothpick.

He jabbed the wand in Lucy's direction. The pebble glowed purple for a moment, and Lucy's head swam. When she opened her eyes again the rat was still there.

The rat squeaked again, but what Lucy heard wasn't a squeak. "The Great Exterminator is coming. You must flee."

"The Great- what?"

The building shivered. Lucy grabbed a sink for support. Is this a thunderstorm or an earthquake?

The blue glow intensified. Lucy could see things she hadn't earlier: a column of ants, most clutching larvae or food in their jaws, marching towards the glowing rat-hole. Mice and smaller rats, scurrying under the stall doors and disappearing into the hole. A swarm of cockroaches, shepherded by a frightened, squeaking rat, scuttling after the mice.

Evacuating. They're evacuating. But what does that have to do with me?

The building shuddered, as though it had just been dropped into a shallow hole. She heard the thuds of falling ceiling tiles, the crash of shattered electronics. But nothing from her co-workers. Nothing but silence.

Lucy remembered being a child of five, hiding under her bed and shivering until the scary noises stopped. And now, the old fear came rushing back. You couldn't fight a storm. You could only run and hide.

The rat-mage spoke again. "Come with us."

Lucy looked back towards the door – could she get her co-workers to safety? Or was it already too late? The rat-mage shook his head. "No time."

Thunder boomed again. Somewhere in the building a window shattered. There was definitely a voice in the thunder this time, but it wasn't speaking any language Lucy recognized. She had a feeling that language had never been heard on Earth.

"But I can't fit-"

The rat-mage waved his wand at the glowing rat-hole. The wall crumbled outward, until the rat-hole was just large enough for Lucy to duck through. She didn't know why the rat was offering to help. Maybe she just walked into the bathroom at the right time. Or maybe the vermin saw her as one of their own: something small and overlooked, struggling to get by and not get trodden on by those above her.

The building shuddered again, nearly knocking Lucy down. A crack shot across the tiled wall like a bolt of black lightning. It didn't matter what was through the rat hole- a tiny wizard's tower, a sanctuary for vermin, a mad hatter and a bottle labeled "Drink me" – she had to get out, and now.

A gust of wind tore at her hair as something with enormous claws peeled back a section of the roof. She ducked through the glowing portal-

"...wake up."

Lucy tried to lift her head but her neck felt stiff and sore. "Nng?"

The screen in front of her face (she'd passed out on the keyboard, how much damage had that done?) displayed the time: 6:02 PM. Over the top of the screen she could see Hannah's face.

Behind her, poor Alex was still squashed against the wall, a look of despair on his face.

"You fell asleep." Hannah's tone and Hannah's face both said How dare you. There will be consequences for this, that expression said, I don't pay you to sleep, I pay you to pay attention to me...

"I quit." The words were out before Lucy could think things through. A tiny voice at the back of her mind shrieked at her to stop and apologize, she didn't have a new job lined up yet and she needed to get references first-

She silenced the voice and smiled. Hannah and Steve were both staring at her like startled owls. They had had their way for too long. They had already destroyed the company, the signs were all there. It was time for her to leave, like a rat deserting a sinking... bathroom.

Still smiling, she closed her laptop (the text editor open on her screen now contained a long string of Ws), set down her ID badge, and walked out, humming to herself.

Lucy heard distant thunder as she stepped outside. She loved the way the air smelled after a thunderstorm, so fresh and clean. She was still humming as she made her way across the parking lot.

Something scurried past her. In the glare of a streetlight Lucy could make out the shape of a large gray rat, hurrying along with something clenched between its teeth.

Maybe just was just fatigue, but for a moment Lucy could have sworn that she saw a flash of blue and gold.

"Thank you," she whispered. There was no one around to hear, and it wouldn't be the craziest thing she'd done today.

The rat stopped, sniffed in her direction, and hurried on.

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"Nearly there now folks!"

"urgh", one of my new classmates, walking along next to me was muttering, "s'all right for them, they're able to create dry bubble spheres for themselves. It'll be nice to get back and dry off near the fire".

As much as I agreed with him after walking for half an hour in what could only be described as some of the worst weather I'd ever seen, I couldn't help but wonder what he'd expected when he'd agreed to be part of a class of final year magic students learning about lightning. I tried to comfort him by patting him on his sodden shoulder and asking him,

"Hey, even if no-one will ever call lightning from their fingertips again, as Maglit (the first magician) did, I can't wait to study it! What what amazing things do you think we'll be able to do with this once we've finished?"

I got rewarded with a slight grin for my efforts.

"Well, I'm doing my project with a couple of masters who've made progress on creating something that creates a nearly permanent light, but they need someone to understand lightning better, so I got asked to come along here" he replied. "Anyway, I hear you're working on, what are they called? Magnetoids?"

Before I could reply, our conversation was cut short as we approached a long thin metal rod stuck vertically into the top of the hill and one of the Professors started speaking.

"Sorry for bringing you all this way in this terrible weather!" — She looked far more excited than apologetic — "But if you want to learn about lightning, if you want to learn about where magic itself comes from, this is what it takes!"

She made us gather round the rod and put on our blackout googles before repeating what she said earlier about safety, reminding us again that we should all be OK as long as we don't do anything stupid.

"Remember, all you need to be doing here is feeling it, I'm not expecting you to call lightning on your first week, after all. It's an incredibly difficult group effort at the best of times, so progress here will be much slower than what you're used to. It takes five of us, who have been doing this for years, to call it from the sky and we're virtually in a thunderstorm".

We put on our earmuffs as, behind me, I could sense her linking with the other masters as she started working her magic. Why was my arm tingling like it only ever does when I was working with magnetoids? What would link them with lightning? Concentrate, I told myself, but this only intensified the tingling sensation. Then sudden fire in my arm. There was screaming. It sounded like my voice. Someone yelled for a medic. The ground slammed into my knees. The magic in my body was pulling me apart.

Through the tears and googles I could vaguely register sparks flowing from my hands.

From nowhere, the professor was next to me, grabbing my arm and pointing it at the rod, channelling energy through me. She was trying to push the magic out of my arm! She broke off, swearing at the sparks now angling towards her.

"You need to let it out! I don't have the energy or power to force your magical block open"

"I don't know how". I was gasping, struggling to speak. I tried copying what she'd tried on my arm, but all I succeeded in doing was creating more sparks. The burning sensation just kept growing. Then...

The world was filled with light as the sound, although it was to sound as this lightning was to a flickering candle, blasted through me. My magic responded as a wave, as my body reacted to the thunder and I understood what the thunder said to me. Sheer magical power exploded from my hand towards the sky, only, the magical power was lightning.

I knelt in the muddy grass, staring astonished at my hands, unable to believe what had just happened. For the second time that day, the ground rushed up to meet me.


I groaned at the headache in my head. Immediately, I heard someone running towards me.

"You're awake! It's good to see you regain consciousness." It was an unfamiliar voice.

"Where... Where am I?" At least I was warm and dry now.

"The hospital ward. I'm afraid that you suffered some major burns in both hands, but we'll get you going again in no time"

At the mention of burns, my eyes flicked open to see my hands wrapped in bandages.

"Do you remember what happened?" The voice, turning out to belong to a medic at the bottom of my bed, said.

At this, the memories came rushing back.

"Did I... Did I really do that?"

"Oh yes, you produced lightning from your fingers, it's all everyone can talk about! But you still need to recover, so I'll leave you to get back to sleep."


This is my first attempt (outside of school/uni) at writing anything longer than a Haiku and it turned out to be longer than expected, so feedback would be most welcome

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I did some haiku with thunder motive (I hope it is haiku, syllables are deceitful)


Split by fate like flash and roar

tragedy or bless?

For this answer my hearth sore


By being graceful dancer

I will never know

Revelations come no more


With my soul I lost the spar

Far away from you

For flash and thunder we are

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Thunderbolt's brightness:
All below monochrome-lit.

Are we so different?

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What can I do when the storm arrives?

The thunder roaring. Screaming. Shouting.
The lightning flashing. Cracking. Burning.
Battle waged across the sky.

I crouch down. Shrinking. Hiding.
Left behind. Abandoned. Crying.
Trampled down and left to die.

What can I do when the storm arrives?

The wind moaning. Howling. Shrieking.
The rain pouring. Dripping. Splashing.
Ashamed of all my cuts and scars.

The trees falling. Tumbling. Breaking.
The darkness falling. Dimming. Obscuring.
The light escaping. I can't see the stars.

What can I do when the storm arrives?

The clouds rolling. Blowing. Covering.
The water flowing. Rising. Drowning.
My eyes shut against the night.

The sirens wailing. Falling. Rising.
The tires screeching. Slipping. Skidding.
I'm tired. I don't want to fight.

What can I do when the storm arrives?

The thunder booming. Echoing. Crashing.
The lightning striking. Flashing. Warning.
I open my eyes to the midnight sun.
For now the storm and I are one.

What will you do when the storm arrives?

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We sat underneath our tarp waiting for the rain to let up, having just finished portaging our canoe from one lake to another. We were unsure of whether our climb of Mt. Moran would be possible and if the weather would clear up.

Next to us, another party was in getting ready to portage their canoe and one of them was trying to convince the others that the easiest way to carry the canoe was to balance it on their heads.

After a little while, the storm moved on and we loaded the canoe with our gear and paddled across the lake. Arriving at the takeout, we pulled the canoe on shore and flipped it upside down.

A party of climbers was heading back, they had been forced to turn around before the summit due to the rain that had held us up after the portage.

Hiking up the steep hill, we could see more canoes with climbers paddling across the lake behind us. We arrived at the basecamp and set up the tarp and had dinner.

Shortly after dark, a thunderstorm rolled in from the west and the lightning flashes lit up the camp while the thunder echoed off the mountain above. Loosened by the rain, rocks tumbled off the mountainside down into the glacier.

The rain and steep terrain made it more dangerous to attempt to descend then to stay in place, so there was little to do other than sit and enjoy the light show. It looked like the trip so far would have been in vain and that the climb would not be possible to complete in the morning.

I woke up shortly before sunrise and reached a hand out beyond the tarp, the rocks had dried during the night and the climb was a go!

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