A branch scraped against her window, seductive in movement and menacing in sound. A storm raged. Kira gripped the covers tightly, shaking hands pulling the warmth up around pale face. In the hollow of her chest, embarrassment burned at the knowledge that something as natural as rain had reduced a grown woman to a trembling child; but the emotion lay trapped in her rib cage, unable to reach her face to warm it or her mind to shame it. And, if she were honest with herself, it was not that rain that made fear burn like a ball of cold lead in her belly; it was the lightning.
When the wind moaned, she heard her name laced within its breath. If she had heard the wind cry out for her a year ago, she would have tossed back the blankets that held her and raced out barefoot to meet the storm. She would have danced in the flood, arms raised high and lips parted to catch what fell from the sky. She would have raced the lightning, sang in harmony with its thunder. Laughter would have poured from her throat as she embraced a wildness only safe under the cover of gunmetal skies as they unleashed their fury and their blessings. How she had mocked others for fearing the nature she reveled in, sneering at their cautions and their warnings. Her distain drove the others away, but she didn’t care; the storm was the only friend she needed. Even when the weather clears, she always knew that clear skies would eventually cloud once more. The storm always came back to her.
But Kira had raced the lightning one time too many. One night, the storm took her joy for pride and her speed for rivalry. Whether overcome with fury at her challenge or overwhelmed by a desire spawned from her fearlessness, only the lightning knew. But on that night, she didn’t run fast enough. She had felt an electric caress, brushing a kiss across her nape that left the tiny hairs there standing on end, seeking more contact. And contact she received. The lightning struck her as she turned to seek it, coursing through her blood and bones, its kiss now demanding more than she could answer. The tears that fell from her eyes hissed and smoked into nothingness before they ever reached her cheeks. Laughter turned to ash on her tongue. When the lightning left her body, traveling down into the earth beneath her, Kira crumpled. The rain trailed down her cheeks as she lay on the sodden grass was a bitter replacement for the tears that had been burned from her.
The people who had given her up to her passion came back to her in her pain. When she woke from what she had thought was an eternal slumber, Kira laid nestled into her own bed. Concern gave way to relief in their faces as those holding vigil at her side saw the fluttering lashes part around her eyes. She had tried to ask them how long she had slept, but the lightning hadn’t left enough moisture within her for Kira to even speak, nor could she cry at the loss. As she studied the people surrounding her, she noticed the same fascination etched into each face, though some stared at her face, some her hands, some her neck. She looked down at the fingers and saw a delicate pattern weaving its way onto her hands and up her arms. The lightning had left her a gift etched in flesh, a superimposition of itself on her skin. It was beautiful, and she would never forgive it.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months as Kira slowly healed. She was able to speak once more, and able to move as anyone else would, walking and smiling right alongside the rest of the village. But she no longer ran, and the well of her tears never replenished itself after its forced drought; these were differences that only she noticed. Her skin, however, never returned to its monochromatic ivory. She forever after bore golden etchings as delicate as lace along every inch of her flesh. Before she was touch by lightning’s kiss, she had felt little for the other townsfolk but distaste at their sameness. Now, she would have traded away her unnatural beauty in a heartbeat if it meant that her neighbors would look at her as they saw each other. Whenever Kira offered to help bring in a harvest or dip tallow candles with the rest of the community, they refused her with reverential thanks. They now viewed her as something akin to a goddess, and goddesses didn’t bend their backs beneath the weight of wheat sheaves.
As the months passed, Kira finally made a new place for herself among her people. By sweat-soaked brow and blood-stained hands, she proved herself to be an incomparable midwife. And if expectant mothers believed that her presence would guarantee an easy birth and a healthy child because she was marked by the gods, Kira considered it a boon to business. With the money she saved from midwifing, she began building herself a house on a barren hill right outside the village. She laid her home’s foundation beneath the hill’s solitary resident, an old hickory tree that bore charred scars from a lightning bolt. She felt a kinship with that tree unlike anything she had felt since she had been struck. Though blackened, the tree still lived. Though changed, so did she.
When the villagers noticed her fledgling construction, they poured from their homes to help. One morning, as dawn colored the sky with pastel fingers, Kira arrived on her hill to see it already occupied. One family had brought timber from their mill. Another had brought buckets of pitch, another bundles of rushes to use as thatching for the roof. The town blacksmith had brought baskets of nails. She had delivered his second child two weeks back, a healthy girl with his green eyes and her mother’s red hair. Women with toddlers at their skirts and newborns at their breasts were stitching together quilts and curtains of cheerful reds and soothing plums. Such fabric was rare, as the rich dyes that produced them were scarce. These were pieces saved through the years to shape wedding quilts for their daughters, and yet the village women were joining all of their colorful swatches into a gift for her.
A hickory twig snapped beneath Kira’s foot as she edged closer. The sound rang across the hill, stilling hammers and turning heads. All eyes fastened on the woman with the golden scars, pride at their work on their lips but wariness of her reaction in the folds of their brows. Kira walked forward, stopping at the future site of her front door. She met the eyes of her neighbors and took a trembling breath.
“Thank you. All of you,” she whispered.
The wind carried her thanks to each ear as if her words were meant for them alone. She smiled, and they smiled with her. The wind stilled as she gave them the greatest gift she had to offer; a single tear pooled within her left eye and rolled down her cheek. She sucked in a shocked breath at the touch of moisture on her skin. The crowd sucked in shocked breaths at the hue of the tear, as vibrantly gold as the ichor of the gods. The tear slid off her chin and splashed to the ground. The villagers resumed their work, filled with a reverence that bordered on fear. Kira’s heart ached at the distance between herself and her neighbors that she feared would never be bridged.
By sunset, her little house had been completed. One carpenter, braver than most, had hewn her a front door of cedar and carved storm clouds and lightning into its face. When he presented it to her, he saw the pain etched into her face as plainly as the golden lace of her scars. Without a word, he took the door back off of its hinges and resumed carving by the light of a fire left by the townswomen. Kira squatted down next to the man.
“Thank you for the door. It’s lovely. And I appreciate how hard you’ve worked on it, but everyone else is gone. You should go home, too,” she said, laying a tentative hand on his broad shoulder.
The big man looked up at her, his amber eyes tiger-bright by the light of the fire. “I’m almost done,” he said. His voice was as deep as the ocean. He resumed his whittling, big hand steady around his small knife. Kira sat back on her heels and watched him work. She searched her mind as he carved, trying to remember his name. Slowly, a memory from many summers ago trickled into her mind. When she had first started chasing storms, the big carpenter had been a boy with tiger eyes, and he had run with her until lightning struck too close and scared his mother. His name was Timothy, and he had been a little in love with her once. As the first stars glittered in the velvet blackness of night, the carpenter blew the sawdust from his work. Kira stood to look at his carving, but Timothy held up a calloused hand to block her view.
“Not yet,” he grumbled as his other hand dug around in the tool bag at his feet. He drew out a set of paints and filled in his etchings with a delicacy that charmed Kira. A gentle smile graced her face as she retook her seat and watched him work. In minutes he was wiping his fingers clean in the dewy grass. Timothy stood and carefully hoisted his work into its new home, carefully setting the door on its hinges. On his nod, Kira stood from the fire and walked over to examine his work.
“Oh,” she breathed, her fingers tracing the air above the carvings. He had left the storm clouds and lightning as they were, but had carved and painted a beautiful rainbow about them and a golden flower below them. The flower was exquisite, but she had never seen its like in nature. “What kind of flower is that?” she asked.
The carpenter gave her a questioning look before pointing to the side of her door. What blossomed there was exceedingly lovely, its petals a delicate profusion of curls unlike anything she had ever seen. But what truly set the bloom apart was its luminescence; under the light of the moon, the golden flower glowed, as if filled with fireflies.
“I don’t understand,” Kira murmured. “Where did it come from? It wasn’t here this morning.”
Timothy caught her sky blue eyes with his own, disbelief and a touch of offense coloring his amber stare. As he searched her face, his eyes softened, and he seemed to understand her more than any other person ever had.
“It came from your tear. It bloomed there today. I thought you knew,” he added.
His deep voice soothed, but couldn’t quail the shock she felt at being the source of the flower. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and squeezed before walking out into the darkness. He turned back once, his heart in his eyes. She knew in that moment that he still loved her. With a boldness that surprised her, she put her fingers to her lips and tossed a kiss into the night. He answered with a grin, and suddenly her fear of living her life alone was unfounded.
Kira rested her hand over the place he had touched her; it was the first touch she had felt since the lightning’s kiss. She stayed outside after he left, admiring his gift and studying the flower that had bloomed from her tear. The wind began to pick up, howling across the valley and lashing Kira’s face with whips made of her own blonde hair. The gale spoke words that no human should understand, but its language was clear to her ear.
“He is coming. He will speak with you,” blew the wind.
Kira debated within herself whether to stand her ground or retreat inside. She wanted the safety of her new home, but she feared that, if she hid, the lightning would lash out at the little house in its fury. So she waited, the lightning lattice scrolled across her skin glowing softly in the moonlight. Lightning jumped from cloud to cloud, moving closer to his target until a bolt struck the hickory tree behind her. She prayed for safety and answers as she turned to face the force of nature that had marked her.
“You’re scared. Why?” The lightning’s words scorched the air.
“Why am I scared? Look what you did to me! Why did you strike me?” Kira screamed her questions and accusations into the air.
The lightning’s confusion was palpable. “I didn’t strike you; I kissed you. I marked you as mine.”
“I’m not yours. I am my own.”
“But, you ran with me and laughed with me. You loved me, I could feel it. So, I made you mine.” The wind howled its agreement in the distance.
Kira was choking on the ozone-laden air. “You can’t just made someone yours. You have to ask!” she shouted over the wind.
The crackle that split the air could have been an uneasy laugh. “Well, will you be mine, then?”
Kira stood tall, rain now coursing down her face as storm clouds cried in confusion. She thought back, remembering the nights she had raced the lightning and laughed with its thunder. But breaking through those memories was the sight of her village building her a home, quilting together the best of what they had as a gift for her. She saw the big carpenter with his gentle hands and his tiger eyes, and her desire for a life with him outweighed her former lust to launch herself through the clouds with lightning as her lover. Sorrow filled her at what she might have had with the lightning, and terror coursed through her at the thought that the storm might not let her go, might not allow her the life her heart had chosen. The raging emotions wrung two more tears from her. A golden drop fell once more from her left eye, a luminescent golden bloom growing where it landed. But this time, a tear fell from Kira’s right eye as well. A silver tear. A glowing sapling of quicksilver grew where it fell.
The lightning hissed at the metallic tears and what they had produced, for it read her heart in the droplets and what they grew. Wind moaned in mourning, whipping Kira’s skirt around her legs. “I see your decision in the plants at your feet. I promise not to harm you or those dear to you. One day you will change your mind,” shot the lightning. With crushing thunder, the lightning left Kira alone on her hill.
As she walked into her new home, she knew that sleep would be unattainable that night. She lit a fire and took a large box from one corner of the main room. Within the box rested soft yarn in brilliant hues, feathers, and leather hoops, things she had bought and gathered before she had been struck. She put her hands to work and gave her heart room to mourn the lightning and dream of the future. While the sky was still dark, Kira gathered the works of her hands and snuck down to the village. When dawn broke, every home in the town had a dreamcatcher hung above its door. Timothy’s was the largest, and feathers in the shape of a heart dangled beneath the hoop.
The lightning kept its distance as Timothy courted its lost love. Kira was happy, even happier than she had been when she basked in the storms. The villagers softened at her smiles, and did their best to treat her as one of them instead of the goddess they saw. Timothy was thankful for the lightning’s kiss, because Kira would have never stopping running after storms without that touch. He thought the golden lattice left on her skin by the strike was stunning, but he had loved her before it. He looked past the marks to the woman they hid, and Kira loved him fiercely for it.
The village had a mild winter, with rain and snow but no thundering storms. Spring came, and Timothy and Kira were married beneath sunny skies and cherry blossoms. As they pledged their love for each other, the lightning saw the truth; Kira would never come back to the heart of the storm. On their wedding night, a storm dropped on the valley that was vicious in its ferocity, laying waste to trees and fields. Any home with a dreamcatcher hanging above its door was rattled but left intact, its inhabitants huddled within its safety. Timothy had hung his dreamcatcher above the cedar door he had carved for Kira. He had no fear of the storm because of his wife’s gift, and rested easily at her side. But Kira feared the lightning’s rage, feared that the lightning might go back on its word in a fit of jealousy. The storm rose to a crescendo. Inside, Kira cowered at the thundering of her former lover, former friend. Outside, lightning lashed out in fury as it mourned lost love.