Primrose arrived in the city at dawn, a mid-to-high-end extra-tropical cyclone, marking the high point in that year’s northern European windstorm season.
She was much anticipated by the forecasters who had named her and the kind of people who claimed to celebrate the power of nature, and said things like, “Angry planet … “ when their washing blew away.
She entered from the north west. Almost gentle at first, she patiently built momentum until, by mid-morning, the canopies of big trees in the parks and more affluent suburbs were flexing rhythmically, and saplings and quick-growing birch were thrashing themselves to pieces in the glass and concrete gullies of the shopping and business districts.
Schools were closed. Transport suspended. The population was told to go home, and largely did, although TV crews stayed out, continuing to deliver take after take to camera; down by the river, up on the hill, in front of the landmark civic centre.
“Being out in these conditions is extremely dangerous,” they shrieked, bodies angled into the gale, branded anorak hoods flapping hysterically behind them.
“Stay at home!”
Social media offered a predictable cycle of images.
Shop window boarded with ply.
River in full spate (although it hadn’t rained for a week).
Wheelie-bin, spiralling up into grey air, then down, then up, then away.
Children’s garden trampoline on the railway track.
Another pinned against a tanning salon window.
A third on the ring road. Loose. Panicked. Cart-wheeling along the west-bound carriageway towards the turn-off to the docks. It hesitated at the junction, then carried on.
Monitoring events from south of the river, a man made coffee and toast, and took it up to the bedroom at the back of the house, wondering if there was any badly-secured garden play-equipment left in the city to blow away.
Sometimes, he thought, events like Primrose were remarkable not for what they did, but what they revealed.
A lattice of steel beams, exposed when the leisure-centre roof was torn off and tossed into an adjoining playing field.
The sectional, honeycomb dolls-house interior of a home self-storage depot, laid bare when the building’s facade was peeled away; in one of the units now open to the world, a rolled up carpet, a lawn-mower, hundreds of things in clear plastic boxes; in the others, absolutely nothing.
The brickwork of a terrace’s flank wall, stripped and deposited on a Nissan parked below.
The breeze-blocks left behind looked like grey muscle on something skinned. The bricks had fallen like autumn leaves, but suddenly and all at once, in a cascade funnelled on to the car’s bonnet and windscreen.
No one brick remained attached to another. Someone with a wheel-barrow could have collected them all, there and then, and started building something else, somewhere else, the moment the wind died down.
He didn’t know it, but as the man took his position at the bedroom window, Primrose was performing a dog-leg over the estuary, angling back and down towards him in the suburbs. A few minutes later, she reached a crescendo over and along his street.
Cradling his coffee and munching his toast, he watched as everything in the garden was braced against, twisted by, or whipped beneath the force of the wind.
The biggest tree was the least affected; a glossy, emerald conifer half-way between the back of the house and the fence at the end of the garden.
A sudden gust blew through it, opening its dense interior. For a moment, he saw a bleached, ragged figure squatting on one of the thicker branches, one arm curled around the trunk of the tree, the other hanging loose between its legs.
A ghoul. Fully-grown, he estimated, judging by the length of the arms, and the teeth and the eyes, both yellow, he saw, as it glared at him and screamed.
The wind softened and the tree closed again.
How long had that bloody thing been there, the man wondered? He finished his toast. He placed his mug on the window cill.
He hadn’t seen a ghoul for months. Was it living in the tree or the shed? He hoped it wasn’t there for him. He couldn’t deal with that again.