The Lightning Charmer

The Lightning Charmer

Kathryn Magendie

October 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-364-1

He brought down the sky for her.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy 

In the deep hollows and high ridges of the ancient Appalachian mountains, a legacy of stunning magic will change their lives forever.

Laura is caught between the modern and the mystical, struggling to lead a normal life in New York despite a powerful psychic connection to her childhood home in North Carolina—and to the mysterious stranger who calls her name. She’s a synesthete—someone who mentally "sees” and "tastes” splashes of color connected to people, emotions, and things. She’s struggled against the distracting ability all her life; now the effects have grown stronger. She returns home to the mountains, desperate to resolve the obsessive pull of their mysteries.

But life in her mountain community is far from peaceful. An arsonist has the town on edge, and she discovers Ayron, scarred and tormented, an irresistible recluse who rarely leaves the forest. As her childhood memories of him surface, the façade of her ordinary world begins to fade. The knots she’s tied around her heart and her beliefs start unraveling. Ayron has never forgotten her or the meaning of their astonishing bond. If his kind is to survive in modern times, he and Laura must face the consequences of falling in love.

Kathryn Magendie lives in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina with her weird, discombobulated dog (who is strangely like Kathryn), two much missed ghost dogs, her husband GMR (Good Man Roger), a mysterious shadowman, and many wild critters. Visit her at kathyrnmagendie.com.


Reviews

"The Lightning Charmer is full of whimsy, enchantment, ancient secrets, and dark earthy seduction . . . storytelling at its best! – Sharla Lovelace, bestselling and award-winning author of THE REASON IS YOU

 


Excerpt

One

Now

THE FIREFLIES called to her, all of their tiny voices together a humming song, a song of the ancient ages. "Come with us, Laura. Come. Come, Laura. Come with us. Do not be afraid.”

She was not afraid. She smiled. Her feet felt no sharp rock as she came to the mountain’s edge and started up the old log trail, and then past the ancient Bent Tree that had guided many others to their own secrets. She was not frightened of the nocturnal feeding animals, though she sensed them watching her. She loved the mountain. She loved the animals. She loved.

"Come with us, Laura. Come. Come, Laura. Come with us.” The lightning bugs flickered and wavered, a living lantern for her, only for her.

When she came to the cabin she did not knock, for she had been invited. She had accepted the invitation. Inside she went, bold. The living lantern stayed outside, illuminating the doorway with a subdued ambient light. She was plunged in darkness as she made her way to him, until the fireflies glowed outside the window near his bed. The man she looked upon was not to be compared to any others.

He had a pure and wilded heart.

Where it began

GREAT GRANDFATHER lifted his wrinkled arms to the sky, his face painted in red and blue-black hues that zigzagged across his forehead and cheeks, his mouth and eyes settled into a mask of stern concentration, a look the Old One wore to anyone who dared stare him down. Under the surface of that mask was a dismissive cruel streak that sent shivers into the boy’s spine, vertebrae rattling bone on bone.

Grandpap stood to the right of his powerful father, arms by his sides, eyes upward, looking not at his grandson or Great Grandfather, but at a branch where the pale and watchful crow perched. The boy wanted to run to Grandpap, push his face into his strong chest, and hide his shameful fear. He would not disgrace his ancestors by acting weak, especially in front of The Great One. Weakness was punished, for Great Grandfather believed punishment made the weak strong.

The boy’s mother was to his left, and he dared not look at her face, for her eyes would be full of pleading and terror. She said, "He’s a boy. He’s not ready.”

Great Grandfather answered, "I was a boy. My son was a boy. Leave, then.”

"But he’s different. He’s not like you.” She spoke to Grandpap. "Please? He has my blood, too.”

Grandpap didn’t avert his eyes from the white crow circling, landing, circling, or the other birds, shiny and sleek, who gathered upon the branches of the trees in dark clumps. He offered no sympathy or encouragement. There came no show of the usual love for the boy or usual tenderness for the boy’s mother.

Great Grandfather said, "Our kind ends with him if he fails. Do you want your son to be the last?”

"Maybe I do,” Mother said. "The world’s changed and you’ve not changed with it.”

"Why would I? When the world’s grown weak? When people can’t take care of themselves and must suck the teat of comfort?”

"I don’t want my son to be ostracized as we are.”

Grandpap said, "Enough, Grace. Enough.”

"You won’t stop this?” Mother asked.

Grandpap looked over to the Great One. "No.”

Great Grandfather pointed to the boy. "Look at him. Near twice the size of most boys his age, but shakes like a field mouse cornered by a cat. The blood’s been tainted by your people.”

Mother stood tall, proud. "You infected your own people with your cruelties.”

"Boy?”

The boy didn’t flinch under Great Grandfather’s scrutiny, but he feared they’d know his panic in the frantic rushing of his blood through his veins, his ears, behind his eyes. Could they see his bared chest pulse pulse pulse at its center? He said, "Yes, Great Grandfather?”

"Tell this womanto leave you be.”

He turned to the left and did not meet her gaze when he said, "I’m ready, Mother. I’m old enough.” Her anxious breath entered him and lay heavy against his heart—a boy loved his mother, and so he must leave her to be a man.

Grandpap nodded his head and returned his gaze to the crow.

The boy knew the lightning that would come both gave and took away. Since his first awareness of his life, he’d smelled the sizzle, heard the crack of fire, sometimes the screams. The worst time had been with his father, though he had been too little to recall anything except blurry terrifying images that seared his young memory when Father took the lightning and failed. The lightning that gave much had taken away.

His mother had once told him how his father watched over them both. Waited to be released from Great Grandfather. That he, the boy, her son, could be the one to release him, release them all. The boy loved the lightning and he hated it. Much the same as he did his great grandfather. The two were inseparable—the Great One and the Lightning-fire.

There was no turning back. The once-clear sky was already turning dark, and the wind picked up old dead leaves and tossed them about. The boy sniffed the air. He thought of other boys, boys in town. How he’d spied on them as they played—riding their bicycles, rolling through the wind on what he came to know were skateboards, eating foods he’d never tasted, pretending to hate girls—doing all the things he was not allowed to do, had never been allowed to do. It was as if he lived in a time long ago forgotten, while the world beyond moved on.

"Boy! Pay attention!”

"Yes, Great Grandfather.”

The Old One called out to the sky, garbled words that had no need of explanation, no need of syllable and coherent meaning. He raised his hands high, higher, and the cloud above swelled meaner, heavier, as if it would fall to the ground, too bloated with fury to stay hooked to the sky.

A humming, chanting song, the clickityclack of ancestors’ bone against bone.

A flash, blinding heated white. The bolt the old man took jarred his body rigid, the whites of his eyes erasing the brooding dark irises, veins threaded, looped, bulged, up and down his neck, arms, bare feet. Great Grandfather opened his mouth and a harsh exhale escaped like steam from an over-boiled kettle. The low hum grew ever louder. The white crow called—aw-aw-caw aw-aw-caw aw-aw-caw.

Under the boy’s feet the ground trembled, warmed, shifted. The world rearranged into heat, hum, crackling, and steamed breath, clickityclackclickityclackclickityclack—the chanting of the ancients rose up from the ground and into the trees.

Great Grandfather stretched out his hands, fingertips splayed, and threw the lightning-fire to his only son. Bent backward from the force, Grandpap shook and trembled and dug his toes into the dirt. The crow screeched again, lifted from the branch and circled over-head, flying in ever tightening circles. Grandpap turned his brightened eyes to the boy, threw out his hands—

—white searing pain. The boy’s body stiffened. Spine coiled to snap. Blood boiling in veins. Bone marrow as hot lava. Eyes bulging from their sockets, ready to run liquid down his face as thick, sticky tears. Heartbeat, faster, faster, faster. Fingers, toes, top of head, the burning heat spread. Two fingernails ripped from his fingers, fell to the forest floor; the boy rent forth an unholy screech of agony and terror.

From far away, Mother called out, "Stop it! Stop!”

He lifted from the ground, and the soles of his feet caught fire, burning, burning—his screams tore his throat open, and he tasted blood. Dying, the boy thought, I am dying to join my father in the sky.

As swiftly as it had come, the lightning left his body, and he crumpled to the ground.

His mother knelt to him, crying out her sorrow.

Pain and failure enveloped him in a hot-fisted grip.

Great Grandfather turned his rage upon Grandpap. "Why did you make it stop?”

"It was too strong for him. He is not ready.”

The Old One said, "Will there not be another as strong as I am?” He glared at the boy.

Mother wrapped something around the boy’s feet, speaking to him in soft non-sensible murmurs.

Grandpap shook his head. "Do you want to lose the last of us before he can provide another?”

"And you,” Great Grandfather said, "will keep him weak. Why not just send him down to the others? Why not just let him grow up and become one of them? And our people die out, forever.”

Grandpap’s shoulders drooped, and he turned away. He would not again speak back to Great Grandfather. It was to be as it always was.

As the boy lay upon the ground blinking back the stinging in his eyes (no tears no tears no tears allowed), he turned his mind to the girl whose hair blew back in the wind, her smile spread wide, her legs browned in the sun, bird-track freckles across her nose. It calmed him to think of his friend—though she didn’t know of the friendship he wished for. He imagined she came to him, brushed her small hand across his forehead, whispered to him how brave a boy he was, how they would be the best of friends; he would teach her all kinds of things on and about the mountain, and they’d grow up together, forever. He often called to her, even if he wasn’t sure she would hear. Just saying her name made her more real to him. If only she could say his name, then everything would be okay. Everything would make sense to him.

He called to her, soft, "Laura. Laura.”

"What are you whispering, Ayron?” His mother called him by her mountain family name, her father’s, and her father’s father—she’d long lost them. The name was all that was left of them, the name that meant "mountain of strength.” He knew from her stories that her father had been just that, a giant of a man, strong, stubborn. He never knew his mother’s parents, for they’d died when their horse was startled by a flash of lightning, slipped, and sent them plummeting down an embankment.

"Ayron,” she said, "you’ll find your own legacy.”

It was not the name Great Grandfather ever called him, because it meant he had to acknowledge Ayron’s blood was not as pure as his own, that Ayron’s father had married out of their tribe as would happen in their small community, for the women of their people often couldn’t bear children.

To the Old One, the boy was simply that. Boy.

"You are Ayron,” his mother repeated.

He stood, the agony shocking his body, but he would not let it show. He faced Great Grandfather and said, "Again. . . .”


 

Two

Now

LAURA’S MORNING had started off rough. Spilled coffee, burnt bagel, the edges of a dream curling around her belly like dark smoke. She spent the rest of the day distracting herself by cleaning and organizing her itty bitty apartment until it was time to dress for her date with Chad. Everything was about to change. She would at last pull herself away from her past and head into a life that meant she was just like any other woman. Hers and Chad’s brains would combine, his nice and regular one with her strange and blippy one, creating a regular ole world of normal.

That is, if the date went as she thought it would.

The old stand-by black dress draped casually over her hips, unpretentious but just on the other side of elegant. She slipped on leopard-print Cesare Paciotti heels. The shoes cost much more than the dress, but she’d loved them on the spot, how they made her feel sexy and wild, especially in contrast to the simple lines of the dress. The shoes were a nice thirtieth birthday present to herself. Not that Chad expected sexy and wild, for he preferred the side of her that didn’t threaten the calm he loved.

Laura had stuffed down her wildness into a flame-proof chest, double locked it, and shoved it in the dark attic of herself so no one would know how feral and strange she was. She figured Chad would never inspire opening up that locked chest. A twinge of regret. A moment of am I settling?

Over her pooched-out lips, she swiped on the tinted lip moisturizer she bought online from a woman back in Asheville who made the balms in her kitchen. From elementary through high school, Laura had always had such ugly, peely dry lips that the kids called her leper-lips. She pretended to ignore them. She pretended to ignore a lot of things. She was a New Yorker—tough, un-fazed by life (mostly), and not the small town girl stalking through the mountains with bows and arrows her brother made.

When she was a kid, her granny told her, "Laura Mae Bradley, stop moping. Ever-body’s got something.”

Laura had answered, "Yeah, well, the kids got to have someone to tease. It’s a rule. And tag, I’m it.”

Granny kissed her on top of her head and said, "Come on in the kitchen and let’s bake up some sweet biscuits, or are you in the mood for cobbler? I got a hankering to calm my sweet tooth, I do believe.” It was always that simple with her granny.

The day the principal had taken her out of class to tell her the terrible thing that happened to her, Laura had fallen to the floor and sobbed until she threw up. She kept waiting for Granny to come to her, tell her something important, tell her it was all going to work out in the end, tell her it hadn’t hurt at all how she died. She hadn’t come, even in a dream. Laura’s brain was full of vague shadowy images, swirled with maddening color. No wonder Granny couldn’t visit there, or wouldn’t.

When Laura’s synesthesia blipped her brain into overdrive, she often worried she had a tumor that would one day burst open and kill her on the spot. People from her past would line up at her funeral and say things like, "Why did we call her leper-lips?” and "I shouldn’t have stood her up. I bet she’d have been a fun date,” and "I should have tried harder to be her friend,” and "If only we had paid attention to our daughter a little more,” and "If only I hadn’t of rushed out of her room afterward, leaving her lying there naked and crying because I wanted to break up with her to go out with Beth from Physics one-oh-one.”

She’d always thought the bombarding colors would lessen once she reached thirty. Thirty seemed a magical number, where everything was supposed to fall into place from all the mess-ups of one’s teens and twenties. Everything desired would be one’s right. Thirty meant growing up. Thirty meant putting aside all the old stuff and making way for all the new.

Laura squirted hair shine serum into her palm and pushed her hands through her hair. The ends stuck up in wild tufts. She was not used to the short haircut the stylist had assured her she’d love, how it was, "So chic!” She missed the feel of her hair lying soft against her back.

The stylist had said, "Oh, look at your doe-eyes and those pretty cheekbones. You are adorable in this cut.”

"I am? Adorable?”

"Of course—I make everyone adorable. Everyone!

"Oh. Everyone.” Who wanted to be like everyone? Apparently Laura did.

In a bit of whimsy, Laura wore the frog-shaped earrings, their eyes little emeralds—a present from her brother when she graduated college. Last of all, she rubbed almond-cherry-scented lotion on her arms and legs, turned once in front of the mirror, and thought she looked good enough. She was ready to meet Chad at Daniel in Manhattan.

She’d Googled the restaurant, and her heart tipped a little lurch when she saw that Daniel was listed as one of the more romantic restaurants in the city and an expensive one at that, one that took a month or more to snag a reservation. It had to mean something. She was a little intimidated by the images on the website, though Chad would put her at ease; he always did (mostly).

They’d met on a Tuesday three years ago when she came out of her favorite coffee shop, missed a step, and sent hot coffee flying out of her cup and onto Chad’s white shirt. She’d stammered out apologies, sopping up the mess with her sweater.

He’d said, "It’s okay. I’m fine. Maybe some third-degree burns and a ruined shirt, other than that I’m great.” He’d smiled, and it was everything Laura thought she wanted in a smile directed her way—safe, sane, regular, normal, good enough.

"I’m a bit clumsy,” she said, stuffing the sweater in her canvas bag. "Not really known for my grace and charm.”

"Lucky me, for your artless clumsiness,” he said.

"What?”

"I said, ‘lucky me—’”

"No, I mean, I heard you, it’s just. . . .” Laura shrugged, even though she hated shrugging. Shrugging made one look unconfident; Granny had taught her that.

"How about I buy you another coffee?”

"Oh, that’s okay.”

"I’d like to.”

"Okay. Sure. But let me pay for your dry cleaning and your coffee. I really need another cup. I’m still not all the way awake. Couldn’t sleep last night. Active dream life. Whew. Yeah. You know how that is? Some nights I toss and turn.” She felt her face burn. A flick of bright yellow arced between them, as if to push them apart—she hoped that was to be it, for she was in no mood for her stupid brain blips and blurps.

He had his hand on her back and was steering her back toward the coffee shop door. She concentrated to stop her rambling on like an idiot while the colors bounced between them.

Over two cups—his black, hers with two heaping teaspoons of sugar and three perfectly-filled teaspoons of cream—they’d talked for an hour. She’d been late for work for the first time ever.

Chad. A nice guy. A wonderful man. Her first long-term relationship. Only the third guy she’d ever slept with, and why did everyone call it that when sleep was the last thing she’d done? The years of pent-up desire had strummed her veins, hot and wanting. She’d had to pull back, keep herself from howling at the moon in a frenzy of heat. It’d scared her, the want that had rushed through her. She’d always wondered if her intensity had startled off the last guy she’d dated. Yet, no one had given her what she wanted, needed. For as long as she remembered, she’d felt incomplete, as if something, or someone, was missing, and only that thing or that person could make her life complete.

Laura tossed those fantasies aside. Together, she and Chad would buy a house with shading trees and a flower garden. Two kids—a girl and a boy two years apart. Every Saturday in the summer he’d mow the grass and she’d take him iced tea. Or maybe she’d mow the grass and he’d take her iced tea. She’d realize her dream to teach science or meteorology. All those faces staring up at her in adoration as she opened their eyes to the big ole fascinating universe.

She’d say, "Class, did you know that a bolt of lightning can reach temperatures near fifty-thousand degrees? Five times hotter than the sun!” and the class would ohhh and ahhh.

The clicks of her pumps were hollow in her apartment as she made her way to the door. Something in that sound resonated deep and echoing, as though she were walking inside her own head. A bit of her dream filtered back to her. The old man had shown up again, staring at her as if he were disappointed. As always, he’d waver before disappearing in a flash of light. Sometimes large wings would flap against her face and she’d wake with a start, eyes wide and searching.

Out the door, door-key insert, lock-lock-lock, down the stairs, and out to the busy city street with its smells, sights, sounds, overwhelming big city everything. She hailed a taxi and two drove by before a third stopped.

"My lucky day!” She climbed into the cab, which smelled like dirty socks. Dirty socks weren’t as bad as vomit or pee, that’s what she always said. She called out to the driver, "Daniel restaurant, please! On east sixty-fifth street.”

"I know where it is. And it’s Dan-yell, not Dan-yul.”

"I bet you know this city backward and forward. I’ve lived here eight years and I’m still confused half the time. I was fresh out of college when I came here. For a job. And for... excitement... yes, that’s it, I guess.”

The driver grunted, kept his eyes straight ahead as he turned on an ancient outdated boombox to a song about keeping groove in the heart. He bounced his head to the music. Laura wondered what else he’d be doing if not driving a cab. Maybe he wanted to be a DJ in a club where gorgeous women danced, their breasts bobbing as he played more and more frenetic tunes, hoping to whet his appetites.

She asked, "Have you always wanted to be a taxi-driver?”

"Does it look like I like to converse? Sheesh.”

"Oh, I’m talking too much. I’m just nervous. About my date.” She checked her cell, no messages. No hints. Silence over the past two days. She hoped Chad didn’t forget. How could he forget? He made reservations at a romantic restaurant and had tantalized her with anticipation.

Chad said he had something important to ask her and she felt as though she were in one of those romantic comedies—one where the woman thinks she’s going to be asked, "Will you marry me?” when instead The One turns out not to be the romantic lead but a red herring who only wants to know how his new suit looks, or if he should take the promotion, or did she think he was gaining weight and did she want to join a gym with him?—which meant the woman was gaining weight and he was hinting.

Laura held no expectations. "Okay, I do have expectations,” she said.

The taxi-driver asked, "What now?” as he turned down the song about being sexy and knowing it—he’d been singing that one under his breath.

"Oh, nothing.” She picked at her cuticles. "Well, yes, something. I think my boyfriend is going to ask me to marry him. I mean, why would he pick such an expensive restaurant listed as romantic? He had to make reservations over a month ago. Sounds serious to me.”

"Huhmmm.”

"I’m so nervous.” She smoothed down a wrinkle in her dress. "Not that I have to be married. Our generation has choices.”

"Huhmmm.”

"But then again, two people together making a life, raising kids, feeling safe.” She touched her hair, too short.

"Huhmmm.”

In the rearview, only the taxi-driver’s eyes showed, bored. She said, "Maybe I should have worn something bright. I bought this dress when I was visiting home. Home being North Carolina. At Penney’s. That’s where I’m from. Not Penney’s!” She laughed, said, "The mountains.”

"Yeah, I’d have never guessed that. . . .

"Yes. Well. Anyway.” Laura stared out the window. Charcoal-colored clouds gathered in a dark ozone-layered meeting. She wanted to ask the driver if he thought the rain would hold off until she was in the restaurant, but he wasn’t friendly at all, not like the other cabbies who’d talk with her. A cab-driver learned a lot of interesting stuff while driving all kinds of people about the city.

There was a crack of lightning, followed by a rumble of thunder. She leaned forward, goose bumps rising. "Hey! Did you know that some scientists believe lightning could have had something to do with evolution? Like, the energy and heat converts elements into compounds and... oh.”

The cab-driver had turned up the music over her talking.

Laura said a little louder, "It’s only, I’m fascinated by lightning.”

"You would be,” the driver spat out.

Laura straightened her shoulders, wanted to shout, Yes, I would be, and you are an ass! That tiny fissure of anger zipped up her spine and she pressed her back to the seat.

Right as the taxi pulled in front of Daniel, down came a torrential sheet of water.

"Oh, crap,” Laura said.

An impatient tapping of the cabbie’s fingers on the steering wheel. The boombox shouted a car commercial that she remembered on television had anthropomorphic hamsters dancing—she never understood that commercial.

"March rain is melancholy. I prefer April showers,” Laura said. She hoped despite his meanie ways the cab-driver would let her sit a bit to see if the downpour would slow.

She and her brother had loved playing in the rain when they were kids, cold or not. Mom would make them come inside when the lightning flashed, so Laura would watch from the window. She loved a good wild storm. The lightning was alive in a way she couldn’t explain. At least in North Carolina. Lightning at home danced as she had never witnessed anywhere else. Sometimes the storms called to her and the lightning seemed to seek her out, pointed a finger to her. She’d hear her name: Laura. Laura. She’d never told anyone, lest they think she was crazy. She wondered if some people were lightning rods, pulling the heat to them, the crackling power, blue-white hot.

Here in New York, lightning was only lightning.

The taxi-driver exhaled a breath so loud, it was more like a shouted word. He turned to her. "Hellooooo? I got the meter running, case you forgot.”

"I guess I better go for it,” Laura said, "before I use up a week’s salary in taxi fare.”

"For God’s sake and all that is holy, I got to make a living, you know.”

She paid the driver, plus tip. Even though she considered herself a proper New Yorker (mostly), even though she’d lost her North Carolina accent (mostly) and felt she fit in (mostly), she still worried whether she tipped too much or not enough. Laura handed him five more dollars. "A little extra for the delay.”

The driver took the money without looking at her or saying thank you.

"You’re welcome! What a grouch!” She slammed the taxi door with a "There!” and dashed through the rain and dark, her beautiful right shoe soaking in a puddle. Her hair plastered to her head; her black dress slurped up every little raindrop. By the time she pushed the revolving door to enter the restaurant, she was a sopping mess.

Whatever Chad had in mind, she hoped he’d overlook her chaos. The closing door exhaled a hisssss that sounded like a regret.

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