Astraphobia


Astraphobia

(Fear of thunder & lightening)

The humid air and scarce clouds of the Minnesota plains put a weight on Ryan Donough’s shoulders. His family and he had moved to the western part of Minnesota because his mother’s health was affected by the dampness of the Irish weather, and she had family in this area. They lived in a small town that didn’t even bother to have the population written on the town limits sign. It was a town that was about 100 miles east of Fargo and surrounded by flat plains of crops in summer and snow in winter. Ryan hated it. Back in Belfast, he had friends and there were buildings all around, a sure sign in Ryan’s mind of civilization.

Ryan also resented his older sister because there was a ten years difference in their ages. She was finishing college back in Ireland and so she managed to escape this nightmare. Even after she graduated, she would not be likely to exchange her chances at success by moving to the uncivilized part of America. The only time that Ryan expected Lily to visit Minnesota was when their mother died (if the weather here didn’t cure her as the doctors expected). Gruesome as that thought was, Ryan felt that it would only be right that his sister would have to come here and see her little brother’s double dose of suffering.

Since the school year would not begin for another six weeks, and Ryan was bored, he decided to go down to the local library. Since, apparently any kids his age were probably working on their farms, and the local movie theater did not open until 7 o’clock, Ryan walked the two blocks down to the library wondering if this “burg” would even have anything interesting to read besides The Farmer’s Almanac or The 4H Guide Book. It was worth a shot. Before entering the one story brick building, Ryan did notice that the clouds were becoming bigger and darker. Great! He thought, that’s just what I need, to be stuck at home or this building if it rains.

When he opened the door to the library, the first thing that he noticed was the air conditioning. The cold air felt great after walking through the muggy air outside. The second thing that he noticed was that, besides an older woman behind a desk who he assumed was the librarian, there weren’t very many people. In fact, there was only one other person. She looked like she was about the same age as his sister, except she had blond hair instead of brown hair like Lily. Ryan walked over to the shelves, checking out the sheets of paper stapled to the shelves which had the topics written on them, and when he found the small collection of science fiction books, he stopped. Ryan was surprised when he found a copy of Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, which he had heard about from his friends in Ireland. Sean, his best friend, told him that he had found a copy in his older brother’s room and had sneaked it out to read. Sean really didn’t quit grasp what the big deal was about the book, but then, he hadn’t read the whole thing. Ryan thought about checking it out but he wasn’t sure if the librarian would let him since it didn’t have a YA on the side of it. “Starship Troopers”, however, did have a YA on it, so he took it off of the shelf and looked further down the aisle. He eventually picked up two more books besides the Heinlein; one dealt with the town’s history (which was a rather thin book) and the other was an L. Sprague Decamp book. He went and sat at the only other table in the room and skimped through the history book. The town was founded in 1889 and was, at one time, a way station for the railroad. Most of the trains that stopped in the town were there to pick up and deliver the wheat and other grain products to Fargo and beyond. Due to the Great Depression, the trains no longer stopped in the town. It became more feasible for the farmers to drive their crops themselves. Ryan quickly became bored with the book and was getting up to return it to its shelf when a loud explosion shook the library’s windows panes. Soon the lights in the building were flickering. Ryan was unsure what was happening, so he looked around to see what the librarian and the girl were doing. He saw them standing by the door looking out. He walked over to them and asked,

“What’s going on?”

The librarian looked over at him and said,

“It’s pourin’ cats and dogs out there.”

“Was that loud noise thunder?”

“Yes, it was. Haven’t you ever heard thunder before?”

“Never that loud, no. Is it safe to stay here or can I make it home?”

“Depends. Where do you live?”

“Two blocks down the street.”

“Well, it would prob’ly be better for you to wait for the rain to let up.”

“How long do you think that will be?”

“It’s hard to say, for sure.”

At that moment another flash of lightening struck and the thunder roared. The lights in the library all went out and did not come back on. The air conditioner also died. This only made things worse for him, because he didn’t want the two ladies think that he was a fraidy-cat. Fortunately, ten minutes later, the rain let up and the lights flickered back on. The librarian asked him if he wanted to check out the two books that he still had gripped in his hands, and Ryan said “yes”. Before he could do this though, he had to fill out a form to get a library card. Once everything had been taken care of, Ryan gathered up the books and headed towards the door. He had just opened the door when he heard a voice say “wait up”. He turned and saw the girl who had been sitting at the table walking up to him.

“Hello, my name is Bridget. What’s yours?”

“Uh, Ryan, Ryan Donough. Me and my family just moved here a couple weeks ago.”

“Oh, yes! Are you the family from Ireland that I heard about?”

“Yes.”

“Well, my family and I live a block past your place. May I walk with you?”

“Sure, I guess.”

Ryan was shy around girls and he was somewhat surprised that a pretty girl who was older than him would want to walk with him, let alone talk to him. Once they were outside of the library, Ryan looked at the sky and saw a retreating black mass. He had heard thunder before, but never something that had been that loud. When he was around three years old, he had seen his first lightening and thunderstorm. It was very scary and his mother came into his bedroom to comfort him when he burst out crying. As he got older, Ryan still did not like storms but he did not cry. Instead, he just ground his teeth and clutched his fists.

Bridget told Ryan that her father was the local bank manager and that her mother was a stay-at-home mom. Ryan had never heard this expression before, so Bridget explained it to him. She then asked Ryan what his parents did. He told her that his father worked in an office in Fargo and that his mother’s family used to live in the area. He told Bridget about his mother’s health problem and why they had moved here from Ireland. Bridget had just started to ask him some questions about what it had been like to live in Ireland, when she broke off her question and said to Ryan, “Oh, we’re here.” Ryan was a bit disappointed that their time together was over, but perked up when Bridget invited him in for some lemonade and cookies. He accepted the invitation and when they entered the kitchen, Bridget introduced Ryan to her mother. Bridget told her mother that Ryan was nice enough to escort her from the library after the rain had let up.

“Well, thank you young man for seeing my daughter safely home.” Bridget’s mother said with a mock serious look on her face.

“It was no problem, ma’am.” he replied.

As Ryan was telling Bridget and her mother about life in Ireland, he lost all track of time. Before he realized it, it was nearly time for lunch and Ryan rose and excused himself. Bridget’s mother invited him to stay for lunch, but he declined. He said that his mother would be worrying about him and they still had not had a phone installed at the house, so he had no way to contact her. Bridget walked Ryan to the door and said “see you around” and Ryan walked away. He had barely gotten onto the sidewalk, when a strong gust of wind came up and nearly knocked him down. Ryan looked up into the sky and saw a huge cloud blowing in from the west. Suddenly, there was a bright flash of lightening, and Ryan began running. Ryan was half a block from his house, when he saw his mother standing out on the pavement turning her head all around, apparently looking for him. At the same time that Ryan shouted out to his mother, another bolt of lightening shot out from the cloud. The rain started coming down harder and harder. The thunder shook a nearby elm’s leaves. Then it happened. Ryan’s mother must have sensed her son, because she turned in his direction and saw him. She smiled and lifted her hand to wave him into the house, when another bright bolt of lightening struck. This time, it struck his mother and her body was tossed into the air. When her body came back down, it struck the pavement so hard, that Ryan froze for a moment. He saw his mother’s body twisted in an unusual way and there were little wisps of smoke rising from her head. Ryan finally came out of shock and ran over to his mother’s limp body. He saw a trickle of blood slowly streaming down her head from her ear. When she didn’t move, Ryan ran back to Bridget’s house and loudly pounded on the door. Bridget opened the door and when she saw the look on his face and heard his stuttering, she quickly brought him into the house.

“Ryan, what’s wrong?!?”

“My…my…mo…mo…mother hit by lightening. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.”

“Mom! Call the clinic and have them send over the ambulance! Ryan’s mother has been hurt.”

Bridget then led Ryan over to the living room sofa and had him sit down while she went to get a blanket for him. When she returned, she fluff-dried his hair with a towel, then draped a heavy light green blanket around his body. He clutched the blanket tightly around himself and, despite the warmth, his teeth started to chatter. Ten minutes later, the ambulance’s siren could faintly be heard through the wind and the heavy rain. A medic came by and checked Ryan over and suggested that the boy be taken to the clinic. Bridget’s mother offered to drive him over with her and her daughter. Bridget’s mother was able to get through to Ryan that they were going to the clinic and that he would be able to find out how his mother was doing. Ryan got up off of the sofa, still wrapped in the blanket and walked out to the car. The ambulance had already left.

The doctor came into the waiting room and took Bridget’s mother over to the front desk. After a few words to her, she put a hand to her mouth and looked over at Ryan. Ryan didn’t see her expression, but when she walked over to where he was sitting, he looked up into her eyes and knew.

“Ryan, sweetie, normally people manage to live through a lightening strike, but, apparently your mother had a bad heart and the lightening and the fall to the ground, killed her.”

Ryan finally broke down and cried. Bridget and her mother wrapped their arms around him and tried to comfort him. Two hours later, his father arrived at the clinic. The doctor explained to him what had happened and that his wife had been dead when the paramedics arrived. He thanked the doctor, then walked over to Ryan.

“Come on, sport. There’s nothing to be done.”

One month after his mother’s death, Ryan was sent back to Ireland to stay with an aunt and uncle. And from that day on, whenever there was even a slight chance of rain or lightening, Ryan Donough refused to leave the house. He just sat in his room and cried.

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