Before that first storm, people said that Melissa Summers had flashing eyes, striking looks, and an otherwise remarkable smile. Ten of us had gathered that day under a willow tree in the park. We were laughing and lying beneath the arched canopy, using our phones, sheltering the screens of our flip phones from the light and misty rain. I remember Melissa Summers leaning right against the trunk of the tree, playing with her long, tangled black hair, quiet as always.

I don’t remember the moment when the lightning struck, just the disorientation of my head hitting the ground ten feet away from the willow tree, heavy raindrops splashing my face. I looked straight up at the sky. Beneath the grey clouds high in the atmosphere was this compact, black, heavy raincloud right above us. It was not quite a bolt from the blue.

Some of my friends screamed and cried while thunder rolled, catching their breath as the shock set in. The willow tree had splintered, leaving a blackened spike protruding from the ground. There, at the base, was Melissa Summers. Her eyes were wide open and staring intently at me as her legs tapped to an inaudible rhythm. I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. All across her arms and bare legs were these black lightning-shaped marks. As the thunder died away, a rumbling drone continued.

Melissa Summers was groveling. I could hear it over the rain.

I pulled out my phone to call 911. The screen had a new lightning bolt crack right down the middle. Of course it didn’t work. Shakily, I got to my feet and walked towards an onlooker. She was in her forties and she was saying on her cell phone “Yes, a lightning strike. Maybe twenty kids? Oh my God, send more than one ambulance.” My fuzzy mind took offense to being called a kid at my age.

We were placed in the same ward in the intensive care unit. We talked about how stupid it was to seek shelter under a tree during a rainstorm. We even laughed a little. But not Melissa Summers. By the time she was in the hospital, she’d gone silent. She kept her piercing gaze on whoever spoke or moved last, but had stopped making noises altogether. Most of us left the hospital the next day, but Melissa had to stay. The nine of us went to visit her that week, in small groups after the first visit not to overwhelm her. They cut her hair. After the first few days, she could use a wheelchair and was speaking, but her voice had changed. I remember the first thing she said to me when I visited with flowers and a card. She said, “I remember the sky from the ground.” Her voice was not full of her strength. It sounded like a light breeze, except when she laughed, which always came out as a single, sharp HA!

When she was released, she didn’t need the wheelchair, but she did carry a cane with her. She didn’t use it when she knew people were watching, as if it were some chic affectation, but she did use it. She stopped wearing short sleeves, and wore long dresses. Even then, the black forking scars on her hands where her blood had burned her skin were still visible. She was on painkillers, but even through them, the pain made her irritable. When someone said something which got on her nerves, she would swing at them with her cane. Hard. On more than one occasion, I was sure some smartass would have lost his fingers in a crack of metal and bone if his reflexes were a moment slower.

We were still her friends, though, even though she seemed so different. When it was just us, the people who had been hit, she would roll up her long sleeves and show us the black marks and ask us to trace the routes. A week after she left the hospital, we were sitting in an attic drinking and tracing her Lichtenberg figures when the storm rose, sudden and fierce. My hand was on Melissa Summers’ arm at the time, so I was the only one who felt it tense and contract with the flashes of lightning.

“Maybe we should get out of the attic,” Melissa whispered as the rain clawed the roof. Then the power went out.

The darkness was complete for just a single moment. Then, a burst of light and sound. As the sound rumbled away, the light continued. In the center of the room, floating like some strange specter, was an orb of glowing silent light. It was not still, but pulsed. From her tight grip on my arm, I was the only one who felt the light matching Melissa Summers’ heart.

Slowly, she let go of my forearm. I looked at her face, illuminated in the dark. Tears streaked it. The ball lightning raced straight at Melissa Summers’ chest. In the sudden darkness, I heard her collapse and begin convulsing. Someone screamed. Someone else had already called 911. I reached out to touch Melissa and flinched as a visible blue spark arced from her body into mine.

Melissa Summers became still. “I saw the ground from the sky. I remember—” she stopped, sat up and coughed. Her voice was no longer that strange whisper, but had her old cadence back along with a deep rasp, like she’d picked up smoking in the minute since she spoke.

“I called an ambulance. They should be here in a few minutes.”

“I’m feeling fine, actually. We should go outside and wait for them, though.”

We went downstairs and sat on the dark porch, power still out, waiting for the ambulance to come. The raincloud was heavy and black, even in the night sky. Rain poured down on the lawn and lightning flashed and Melissa Summers laughed. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone that she’d left her cane in the attic. When the ambulance came, Melissa Summers was adamant that nothing had happened. She said it was a “trick of the lightning.” The EMTs took her vitals and pronounced her, “fine, bit of an elevated heartbeat, though,” and drove off. That was that.

We stopped drinking. I kept giving significant looks to my friends. Had they noticed? In watching them, I saw that all eight of them were moving in concert with Melissa Summers. They looked where she looked; their fingers twitched when she ran her hands through her cropped hair. I had to consciously stop my leg from tapping a rhythm to Melissa Summers’ words. I still don’t know why I did.

I only saw Melissa Summers twice more. The next night, we all went to a show in a basement. It was so humid I was sure there would be condensation on the pipes. She stood at the very center of our little group with a huge grin on her face. She led the whole basement subtly. A tap of her foot and the whole room started dancing.

When the second band started playing decidedly undanceable songs, the amplifiers began moaning like metal was held to close to them. No matter what the musicians did, instead of voices and music, overlapping distortion flowed out like an unstoppable river. I glanced at Melissa Summers. Her eyes were closed and she swayed with the distortion. It was too much. I squeezed out of the basement and up the staircase. My whole damn life had become part of this storm. I made small talk in the living room and left before anyone knew where I’d gone.

The last time I saw Melissa Summers was a month later. I was walking on a clear and bright morning. I reached the park with the husk of a willow tree. The willow was a town treasure, and the mayor couldn’t bear to remove it. He’d been married under that tree. There was talk of a monument. I saw Melissa Summers walking toward me. She waved broadly and shouted my name before I even registered that it was her. She’d forsaken the flowing dresses and had returned to the sparse clothing which she’d worn as long as I’d known her. It was the black branching marks on her arms which I recognized.

I wanted to run to her. I’d known her forever. Instead, I raised a hand in acknowledgement. A bit of a salute. She came up to me and embraced me. “I missed you, dude,” she said hoarsely. “I want to talk to you about something. I told everyone else.” She didn’t mean everyone in town.

“I have to go.”


“I’ve got to leave. I’ve seen things now. I feel like this…place is confining me, y’know?”

“You’ve got people who care about you here. That’s not nothing.”

“Yeah, I mean I get it but…I can be more than just some girl who got struck by lightning. I can make something of myself.”

I winced. “It seems like you already have.” I didn’t say, I’m sorry I haven’t been a part of it.

She wrinkled her forehead.

“You’re going to be alright. We’re going to be alright.”

That was when I saw it. The thundercloud. Bigger than that first day, holding in all its storm for the right moment. “We have to go,” I said. I grabbed her hand, and it was like I was completing a circuit. That sensation of sharp movement that flowed through me. She didn’t move an inch.

“I have to go. I want you to watch. I told everyone else, and I told them not to come. They’re by the river, waiting for it to break. They should be safe. I think they’re—”

Melissa Summers gestured vaguely towards the woods behind the park and began walking towards that blackened stump. The storm was coming from the opposite direction at a menacing speed. She slipped from my hand and stood right in front of the stump raising her hands and looking up. The downpour started, and in a flash, the lightning cracked right through Melissa Summers’ spine. She collapsed to the ground. As suddenly as the storm arrived, it blew away. I was soaked.

Slowly, I made my way towards the river. Eight of my friends were there. They saw my face and grabbed me as I fell into their arms, weeping.

We all went to Melissa Summers’ funeral. It rained that day.