The Lightning Strike

The Lightning Strike

A Story by Mathew Nicolson

A part of my Advanced Higher English folio, written in 2013. An account of the lightning strike which ravaged our home and our lives.


   My life would be torn apart in a similar way to our house: unexpectedly, violently and with irreversible effects.  The majority of peoples' lives are linked to their place of dwelling and mine was no different.  The home is a refuge, a safe place where we can retreat to from the dangers and pressures of life.  Having lived in the same house for my entire life, and as an only child, I believed in this myth more so than most.

   I had no idea of the forces conspiring against me as I entered my home on that dull afternoon half a year ago.  The sky had been crusting with darker and darker clouds for days, but this is not unusual in Shetland's climate so I took little notice.  Even if I had considered it, I'd soon have dismissed the thought - after all, what damage could clouds do?

   Then, lightning struck.  The house shuddered and the sky roared in malice, echoing across the valley and between my ears.  At that moment, I had been looking out of the window in what would become an ironic attempt to witness a lightning flash, which I never did see.  I did, however, witness disintegrating fragments of concrete as they blasted groundward.  Tentatively, irrationally fearing the lightning would return, I glanced into the room which had been directly beneath the point of impact - our chimney.  Plaster hung from a gash in the ceiling, water trickling through onto the carpet sprayed with saturated powder.  After moments, the house began to fill up with a chemical stench as smoky dust wafted through the air.  Several plug sockets had been blown out from the wall, the water tank had been punctured by shrapnel and even an area of grass ripped from the ground.  The house would be uninhabitable for one hundred and ten days.

   This experience had a profound effect to on my view of mortality.  Neither myself nor my mother was harmed during the lightning strike, but we would surely have been electrocuted if using an electrical appliance at the time.  The fact that our neighbour's house, over forty metres across the road, experienced similar damage from the same strike emphasised, in my mind, the impossibility of escaping this natural phenomenon.  Never before had I experienced how destructive nature can be, giving me a sense of complacency.  After the lightning I no longer saw life as the idealised perfection it had been in childhood, a life of happiness and security.  I became haunted by reminders of my own physical weaknesses and limitations, seeing human existence as merely a series of accidental connections which could snap at any moment upon nature's whim.  I would read news of natural disasters, crashes, diseases and murders with increasing fear and dread.  My lack of religious belief reinforced this sense of chaos I was overcome with; this belief that, one day, the Universe's random disharmony would, for no reason, destroy me.  I would soon discover that these threats to mortality were not confined to myself.

   One evening, around two months after the strike, we made the daily trip out to our home to feed the cats.  We knew something was wrong the moment only one cat appeared for food; the other, Pip, was nowhere to be seen.  We searched the house and the garden but found no sign of her.  It was only when my mother gestured for me to be silent that an indication of Pip’s whereabouts emerged when, faintly, a stressed meowing could be heard, though it barely rose above the background swishing of bushes and trees outside the open door.  We located the sounds coming from the bathroom, and, with horror, realised her cries for help were emanating from the floor.  After pulling up the carpet and drawing blood across my thumb while removing the rotten, nailed-down floorboards, we had rescued Pip from the trap the electricians had inadvertently placed upon her.  My mind became plagued with imaginings of the outcome if we hadn’t found her.  The world is scattered with reminders that living is nothing less than the temporary defiance of death.

   Such thoughts were natural consequences of the dramatic events, of course.  They became easier to put towards the back of my mind once I'd managed to stop flinching at bangs and flashes, or cringing whenever it rained.  Despite my newfound respect for life’s dangers, and my determination to never again say a variation of, "that could never happen to me!" I came to realise that another such unpredictably violent event would be unlikely to occur anytime soon.  I had more pressing issues to consider, such as that of having a house to live in.

   During the one hundred and ten day absence, as insurers negotiated and builders stalled, we stayed in no fewer than four different accommodations.  Most of them were decent enough, designed to be holiday-lets for tourists.  We were fortunate that summer was drawing to a close, so there were plenty of available places.  However, the experience did cause me to draw a clear distinction between the words, 'home' and 'house'.  I was shocked at how easily the phrase, "I'm going home" could apply to the latest temporary accommodation.  The word 'home' grew into a dirty word as a result, to be used in irony or in longing to return.  I made sure to emphasise the inverted commas to distinguish between the temporary home and my real, proper home. 

   Yet, as the months progressed, I came to realise that living in temporary accommodation was not as different or challenging compared to my ‘real’ home as I had expected.  Academically, moving between houses made no difference.  A friend remarked to me that, in my position, she would have leapt upon the excuse to delay handing in homework, but I took some pride in not letting it have an effect.  In fact, all four 'homes' were closer to school than my 'real home', which cut down my daily commuting time from two hours to five minutes and provided more time for both homework and leisure.  When my life failed to seriously change, I began to wonder whether my view of the concept of 'home' as a fixed, important part of life was unjustified.  If I could live a normal life in random accommodation we had discovered only the day before, then surely the precise whereabouts and layout of the 'home' is irrelevant?  So long as you have the essentials of shelter, food, water and, in this modern age, electrical appliances, I discovered that not much else mattered.  I missed my cats despite visiting them most days but, in normal circumstances, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be in a ‘home’, however I choose to define it.  My books and DVDs were also missed, particularly once the builders had begun to use my bedroom as a dumping ground for furniture from across the house, but, on the other hand, I was now living within walking distance of a library.  My relationship with family and friends remained the same in this new home, in some cases even being improved by living in a more urbanised area, suggesting that where you live makes little difference in terms of social relations.  Considering my aspirations to study at university, these insights into what makes a home have been very valuable lessons. 

   For over three months we had to live off what we could fit into the car, and thus managed to differentiate between essentials and unnecessary baggage.  Despite my lack of materialism I have, in the past, been prone to hording useless items in the belief there may be some use to them one day - an influence of the traditional Shetlander within me, no doubt - but being forced to rid myself of unnecessary junk has removed this trait.  No longer would I allow a tide of junk to accumulate after having this taste of living tidily. 

   I shall forever be shaped by the dramatic events of that bizarre August day.  My relationship with nature will be fundamentally changed and, once I'm over my terror of its power, that relationship shall be healthier than before the lightning strike, when I still believed myself invulnerable to its effects.  I have changed my view on what makes a home; I now know that the saying, "home is where the heart is" rings absolutely true.  In spite of the trauma, suffering and inconvenience, the lightning strike has had many beneficial long term effects.  I might even go as far to say that I'm glad it happened. 

© 2013 Mathew Nicolson

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a terrifying experience told in clear simple words. I think it's the first time I've heard of lightning striking a house.
indeed, nature can be merciless. at times. earthquakes, floods and so much more. daunting.
well written true story.

Posted 9 Years Ago

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1 Review
Added on August 6, 2013
Last Updated on August 6, 2013
Tags: lightning, damage, cats, homeless, chaos, home


Mathew Nicolson
Mathew Nicolson

Scotland, United Kingdom