by Kiarra Ballard

          The first time I seen lightning strike a man was just before I stuck a knife in him. A sliver of jagged neon carving black night, illuminated the world around us. His death was stalking close; the man knew it—could taste it. The way his eyes went stark white and wide as the electricity ate him from the inside drove the air from me.
          His final breath a curse. But I ain’t know it then. “If I can’t have you, girl, they will.”
          A child can never forget the crackle of sinew. The hollow pop of marrow. Or the perfume of viscera splattered across her skin.
          I don’t know if it were the voodoo blood Momma say run through our line or it were God stopping me from sin, but I ain’t the one that done the killing. Not that time. He just lay there—dead. The hiss of charred skin sizzled like fatty ox tails searing over the pit. I was sick. My body rejected everything he’d touched and wouldn’t stop heaving until I’d been purged of his contamination.
          The image replayed like flashes echoing in the distance. How the sky had come down and swallowed him in blazing light, until all that remained was bone. The ash of him so black I couldn’t distinguish human from barren soil. A thought, one I could scarcely hear over the panicked rush through blood, whispered to me then. The worst parts of him would nurture this inhospitable land. Maybe I would seed stone fruit at this spot—something to cover the deed. Something that would one day feed the hungry Mother.
          Hands slick, fisting that blade as if the singed pieces would coalesce and return for me. But it would take something much deeper, much older than what happened that night, to drag him back from the in-between place he’d gone. I couldn’t uproot my feet. I’d sprouted deep through crust and mantel—too mesmerized by the beautiful horror in it.
          Right before the fire claimed him, amid the bursts of light gobbling dark, his obsidian skin glowed of ghosts. Ghosts with so many wonderful, horrifying stories to tell. Ribbons of miasma danced over the cinders, calling. Begging. Singing to me their dead songs:

The air drips with pin drops of water. Tiny tears escaped from the masses of salt waves and onto the crests of clouds. So minuscule are their residue—so tiny their lives that we cup them with bare, tender hands and sip the innocence they gather between molecules. 

          Their haunting lyrics consumed what remained of his dusty corpse. Insatiable, they still crooned songs. I pressed cold, blood-slick palms to my ears, screaming for them to stop their stories. So many of them barreling into me at once. Too many of them. They wanted to destroy me. Unmake me. Create me.
          I fled through the copse of oak. Through water-drenched clay; feet pulling away with suctioned kisses. I fled though the world opened for me, and the ghosts beckoned me.
          As I broke through the bramble, Grandma was waiting on the front porch, the tiny lantern in her ancient hands a burning beacon. Even though the gale bent the oak stand, she stood, back unbowed by the force.
          Wrapped in her embraced, the stories tumbled out me until I was sure they had etched into my skin. She hushed me with a voice of sky fire. She washed me with hands of the ancestors. She coated me in black bitter soap and scrubbed the songs until they finally faded. I didn’t need to tell her about the man. Something in her fixed to the Mother, and she knew before I regurgitated the words.
          It was years later when I seen the sky come down again. That time, the lightning came from me. 

Kiarra Ballard

Thunder Gone Fire is a story born of conjure magic and the visceral trauma Black women endure in a world that craves nothing more than to steal everything that makes them powerful. This award affirms that African American voices are valued and our stories don’t need to be justified to simply exist in fantasy realms.”

Kiarra Ballard is a stay at home mom with a lifelong dream of becoming an author. She spends most days dreaming fantasy worlds and is absorbed in her (hopefully) debut novel. At all hours of the night, she can be found writing, revising, reading, and studying her craft.

This work is copyright © 2024 by the respective author and remains their sole property. No part of this page may be copied or reproduced without consent of the author.

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