The wind picked up-a rare cold wind. From her driveway, she watched the willow tree's branches, like charm-laden arms, sway back and forth, and thought about her ice cream, about her dad. She thought about the summer's end, another boring school year about to begin, about the dried blood caked on her knee-and her world exploded. It cracked open and Becca fell inside a whiteness that erased everything: the driveway, the tree, the long summer's day, the blood, the ice cream. For a time, the world was blank. She was still.
She woke up, her fingertips tingling, her head full of static, raindrops only now wetting her legs. She knew she'd been struck by lightning. There was never a question. She stood up, feeling peculiar, seeing herself from a distance as someone else might: wild hair, freckled nose, pink lips, pony T-shirt, corduroy shorts and gray sneakers; gangly arms and legs.
She hobbled inside to the den. With blood trickling down her shin, her voice shaky, she said, "Dad, I got struck by lightning."
He sat on the sofa. "If you got struck by lightning, you'd be dead." He didn't look up.
The den's gold drapes were parted. The sky was black. Becca shivered, waiting for her dad to say something more like We need to get you to the hospital! or Oh my God! I'll call an ambulance!, but instead he picked up Yachting Today. He was in love with sailing then. He was in love with all things that required large sums of money, and Becca was in love with him.
Becca said, "It knocked me down."
"Who knocked you down? Did you knock them down first?" He looked at her then. Finally.
The rain streaked the front window. She said, "I think I got struck by lightning."
"Well, you seem fine now." He was used to seeing her bloodied and bruised. Like her mother, she lacked balance. "Get cleaned up." He returned to his magazine.
Upstairs, she undressed, leaving the bathroom door open. She looked at her watch before stepping in the tub. The hands had stopped at five-fourteen. That must've been when the lightning struck. Or, maybe Dad is right: Who gets struck by lightning and walks away? She knew the answer: Me. I do.
In the bathtub, with her big toe up the spigot, the water turned gray. Becca smelled bleach. She was trembling again. Shutting off the cold, she turned up the hot. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths to stop from shaking. She imagined hovering, twirling in the sky, shooting lightning bolts from her fingertips like a gunslinger before dropping, landing cold and wet in the driveway. She opened her eyes and felt sick. Her hands and feet ached. She used to ask her mother, "How can I turn off my imagination?" Back then, she didn't pronounce the i, saying, "'magination" instead. It was back then that she'd started painting, to give her "'magination" something to do. Maybe the prickling in her feet and the headache were imagination. Maybe she'd bumped her head falling down somewhere earlier today but didn't remember. More deep breaths. Her mother, who took smoke-filled breaths, said that deep breaths calmed the nerves. Becca, taking the deepest breaths possible, felt light-headed. She pulled the tub's stopper.
Looking at herself in the mirror, she decided to curb the breathing. She was pale. She might pass out, and she'd been through enough today.
Downstairs, she toweled her hair and waited for her dad to get off the phone. He said, "I'll be there," smiling at Becca, holding up his pointer finger to indicate Be with you in a second. He often held up his pointer finger. Sometimes when he wanted Becca to do something like fold laundry, he'd look at her and point to the full basket. He was a man of few words. Into the phone he said, "I told you: I'll be there."
Becca, having waited patiently, said, "I'm ready."
Covering the mouthpiece, he said, "Ready for what?"
"Ice cream. We're supposed to-"
He didn't let her finish. "Sorry. Another night." Returning to his phone conversation, he said, "I won't be later than eight."
Excerpted from The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone. Copyright © 2010 by Michele Young-Stone. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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