The Lightning Boy by Taylor Rae

You wouldn’t love me if you knew what I was going to do to us. Your face is so wet and warm with hope, New Mother. You already have so many dreams for me. I can see them in the drawn lines of your face, even as you lay in that maternity ward, screaming me into being.

No. If you knew I was a lightning child, you would send me back to the cold arms of Mother-Wind. Back to the storm that birthed me.

There’s been a mistake, you would say. This one is made to fall apart. This can’t be my boy.

But you have no idea. I can’t warn you, once I’m there. The memory of this spirit world up in the clouds leaves me when I enter my mortal body. I can only watch as helplessly as you.

Guilt turns like a slippery fish in my belly.

You clutch my new father’s hand. He kisses your knuckles and doesn’t bother wiping his tears. His face is red and kind.

He will be the first one to find me that pale grey morning I leave for the clouds again. You will know by his wailing that I’m gone.

The binoculars are cold against my cheeks. But I can’t look away. I grip the feathery edge of my cloud and lean forward. The dark opens like a cupped palm to catch me.

We lightning children only get one chance to see the nightfall of our fate.

It will take me just ten years to die. You won’t realize until I’m three and the first seizures come: a dropped stitch of a deleted gene, shrinking my mitochondria like an ill-knitted scarf. My cells will repeat themselves crookedly, over and over again.

You like to knit. Through my binoculars, I search across time to find your hands constantly moving as I sleep swaddled beside you. You will spin up blankets, sweaters, toys. Your love breathes life into the ragdoll jungle animals that will dance above my crib every night.

You would count every stitch of my genome, if it would save me. But nothing you do can stop this. I already know that. You will take years and dozens of specialists to accept it.

Water vapor kisses my cheeks. I lower my binoculars and smear the half-frozen tears from my eyes. My little stormcloud is a single island in a vast thunderhead. Below me, the lights of other lightning children flicker in the clouds. We will all be born soon.

Mother-Wind’s voice ruffles my hair. “Are you ready, my child?”

I hinge my head back to look at her. Mother-Wind is all soft edges, air spinning in the vague outline of a woman. She looks at me like she already knows the answer.

“I don’t want to go.”

She smiles. “You would be terribly bored up here for eternity, you know.”

Her words cocoon me in cool air. I shiver. The lightning children tumble and play in the clouds below.

“At least this way I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

I still wear the face of the boy I was in my last life. Eight years old. Acute myeloid leukemia. My blood cells had brambled around my immune system and choked me out like a weed.

I left that family just as wrecked and hollow as I will leave you, New Mother.

Mother-Wind kneels on the cloud beside me. She closes her hand over mine.

“Some children are trees, growing old, planting their roots deep. Some are just wind, passing through your fingers for only a moment before they’re gone.” She cradles my cheeks in her blustery hands. “But you, my lightning child… you put the world straight again, when everything has gone off balance. You bring light and life where nature wanted darkness.”

Before I can answer, the thunderhead rumbles its first low roar. We both lean over my cloud to watch.

“Oh,” the Mother-Wind says, wispy and whispering, “the storm is beginning.”

Below us, the first lightning child prepares to be born. A little girl stands on the lip of her cloud, one foot dangling over oblivion. She pauses and stares around at the clouds, as if saying goodbye. Then she steps off into the night below, her arms spread wide. As she plunges, she bursts apart in a lightning bolt and shrieks electric across the sky.

The light of her trail burns my eyes for long after she’s gone.

“Who would want someone like me?” I murmur.

Mother-Wind pushes the binoculars back into my hands. “You should look again. You will see.”

Thunder cracks and shudders my cloud. One by one, the lightning children sputter and sparkle into the stormy night.

I lift the binoculars to my eyes one last time.

Through the binoculars, my next life spells itself out in flashbulb images. Ten years of goodnights. Ten years of watching you summon miracles with only yarn and sticks. Ten years of joy before the clouds claim me again.

Still. Ten years is so much more than nothing at all.

I wonder what you would choose, New Mother. Your face is so shiny and strained with pain. When I am gone, you will line the shelves of my room with the futures you knit for me. You will go into my room and stare at the museum of your lost boy.

But you will never blame me. Not like I blame myself.

I stand on the edge of my cloud and hesitate there. Gravity beckons me, gently. The open arms of the mortal world call me to my new home.

Forgive me, Mother. Forgive yourself. Neither of us has chosen the storm binding us together tonight.

“Go on,” the Mother-Wind whispers. “I’ll be here when you return.”

I step out into the dark. I fall with the rain, down down down, and splinter apart into a spiderweb of white fire.

Here I am, Mother. As long as the storm lasts, so will I.

Let’s make the most of each other.

Taylor Rae has been writing for over a decade. Her work will appear in the upcoming fall issue of Hexagon. She holds her degrees in psychology and English literature and, like a raven, exists to collect pretty things like fountain pens, yarn, and books. You can read more of her work for free on her subreddit, /r/shoringupfragments.