wormwood, pt. 13

The storm hit the city while Rosalind and Nicole were still in the alley. The sky went black and the rain started with only a sudden howling wind as warning that it had arrived. They were soaked within moments.

"We should find some sort of shelter," said Rosalind. She had to shout over the sound of the wind.

Nicole just nodded and rose to her feet. She pulled Rosalind up by the hand, and kept it held tight in hers as she hurried out the alley, then stopped when lightning struck a building two blocks away. She screamed something Rosalind couldn't understand, and started running.

The hail started a few seconds later. At first the hailstones were harmless and small, but they kept getting bigger--stinging at first, then bruising, then dangerously large hailstones--breaking car windows and badly injuring anyone still caught out in the open.

Rosalind let go of Nicole's hand and ran for a chained-off storefront and took shelter there, leaving Nicole a few paces behind, bleeding from where one of the hailstones hit her on the forehead. They huddled together, shivering, bleeding, and waiting for the storm to pass.

The building that got hit was on fire, now. People inside were running out the front doors. Some of them ran out into the streets and tried the impossible task of dodging hailstones--some got lucky, and some just fell in the street and were pummeled as they crawled back for shelter. Others stayed in the shelter provided by the burning building, hoping the fire would burn out before it got so far, or perhaps that the storm would outpace the flames.

And the lightning continued to flash overhead. With every strike another building seemed to get hit. Despite the wind, the storm seemed never to move--the thunder was always right there, impossibly close and impossibly deafening. And the sky was completely black. The streetlights flickered on, then flickered off with all the lights in the city.

Nicole had her eyes held shut and her arms wrapped tight around her chest. The blood was still trickling down her face--Rosalind brushed it off and leaned against her, but they were both cold and Nicole didn't move at all, except to shiver.

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