The Storm’s burial commenced after dusk, as the old traditions dictated. She was laid bare on a stained wooden plank, her body clamped in place with metallic wire so thin that Namali could only tell it existed by the slight dimpling of the flesh. Sparking, in blue and violet, surged in waves across her scarred skin. Like miniature crackling lightning that whispered a susurrant air then snapped out of existence, it lit up the darkened path through the cemetery. She could smell the smoldering of the burial plank, patterns slowly etching their way through the wood, which would be displayed later to honor the Storm’s time among them. The traditions were being stringently followed. Namali had made sure of that.
Yet, unlike in those old traditions, no successor walked in the wake of the procession.
Namali caught mourners glancing into the dark, searching for someone who would calm their worries. A singular person, strong in blood and thick of skin, who would have the power to keep the orchards producing year after year after year. A new Storm.
By her side, Namali’s two children held bark scrolls with stories they’d scrawled—drawn, in the case of her daughter—that depicted memories of their grandmother. Her son held his close to his chest, as if afraid someone might read it, while her daughter played with the roughened back of hers, fingers tracing and retracing the crooked edges. They were dressed in shades of blue and purple, the detailed stitches and embedded rock crystals along their sleeves designed to represent the sparking of the Storm. Their own skin occasionally flickered in an echo of their grandmother’s power, but these were frail sparks, there and gone again, quick glimpses in the dark.
As they reached the burial plot, where the Storm would be laid with interlocking branches folded over her, the humming of her people began. They mimicked the sounds the Storm had made when walking through the orchards, when her lightning danced along the trunks, producing the burn and cracks needed for fruit to later burst forth from the craggy bark. As the Storm was set in place over the grave, the mourning hum grew louder, rising through the night to carry a last memory of her away. Namali’s voice felt thick in her throat, her own hum catching as she watched first her son, then her daughter lay their scrolls on the burial dais beside their grandmother.
Then the procession, that had shuffled through the darkness in the wake of the Storm’s sparking and remained stoic during the ceremony, grew agitated. A murmur of soft conversations formed a hiss around Namali. She felt their eyes snap to her, like sparks taking hold. They were expectant, for she was the Storm’s daughter and it fell to her to find a suitable replacement. Someone of their people who had the strength to walk their orchards and spark the trees into fruiting.
And when she looked down at her own children, when she saw the worry in her son’s roving stare and the concern in the way her daughter counted the buttons on her dress over and over, she knew she’d search the entirety of the land for someone, anyone, strong enough.
Once, when Namali had been younger than her children were now, she’d felt the fierce burn and pop of strong sparking across her foot when she’d wandered into the orchards while Mother had been working. She’d called her Mother then. Not Storm. Not the Spark of Her People. Nothing but Mother.
She’d screamed and clutched her foot. That spark left a scar along her instep that had lingered for years. A reminder of the strength of the pain in Mother’s sparking; a reminder how frail an echo Namali’s sparking was in comparison.
Now, Namali held tight to this villager’s hands as his scarred fingers sparked frailly. Like static against her hardened palms. Only tickling.
“I’ve worked the bark before,” he claimed, chin rising proudly. “I’ve coaxed trees into fruiting in our backyard. Ask my neighbors. Any of them. They’ve had me to do the same for theirs.”
She’d seen his backyard. He had two trees, small and spindly, barely there, nothing like the grand giants that stretched up and down hillsides, their trunks too wide to hug. “I believe you.” She patted his hands, proud of what he could accomplish on his own yet disheartened that he seemed the strongest in this village.
So she moved on.
Another night, Namali had clung to her father’s shoulders as he trailed distantly behind Mother, the two of them watching in awe as Mother crackled, sparks arcing through the branches like a latticework of stars.
“Why can’t I do that,” she’d whispered, looking to her own palms, her own arms, where only the barest hint of spark had ever popped.
Father had hunched his shoulders and a dispirited strain entered his voice. “It’s my fault, really,” he’d said. But he hadn’t explained further, not that night.
Now, Namali brushed back the hair on this girl’s forehead, where spark-burn nestled against her temples. “Show me,” she coaxed her.
The girl hesitated. Then, at an encouraging nod from her parents, she squeezed her eyes shut tight. A trail of sparks shivered down her hair, directionless, purposeless, sparking the orange of a fire at the tip of one lock that had to be quickly batted out.
Namali murmured sweetly to the girl, gave the parents a sorrowful glance.
And moved on.
When Namali had her first child, she did not spark enough to light the birthing candles. They remained steadily unlit throughout labor and delivery. Wax unburnt, unpooled, no details revealed within the candle’s melted form in which to read her new son’s blessing. No wax shapes hiding meaning to save for him to ponder over as he aged.
For her second child, she ordered the candles not brought in at all, so she wouldn’t be reminded that she was only half of Mother’s blood. Half Storm-blessed.
Sometimes the picking and choosing of traditions did the choosing themselves.
Now, she stared at the woman before her, skin smooth, so smooth. Unblemished from spark-scars as if she’d just arrived, just been born to the world and had not yet felt the Storm beneath her skin.
“You haven’t looked at my children yet. I’ve three, right here.” The woman gestured behind her, where three young women, all smooth like their mother, stood in ribboned clothing meant to exhibit sparking skin. Yet their skin barely popped with violet light, more firefly blinks than the zapping shock that could carry enough power to thrill bark into erupting with fruit.
Exhausted, Namali let herself be urged forward, allowed the three young women to lay their hands in her own, their sparking not even a tickle against her palms. More a warmth, if anything at all.
When Namali turned to move on, one of them spoke.
“The three of us together sparked the tree in our village square. The huge one. The one that could fit our house inside. We did that.”
This time, when Namali moved on, she did so more slowly, ruminating over what she had seen, how her people had responded to the lack of a Storm. She passed by the huge tree in that village square as she left, noting the small green fruit just beginning to grow. Felt the flicker of possibility, of a hope she wasn’t sure she could harbor As her circuit of the country brought her closer and closer to home, she dragged out her steps, needing the time to think, to prepare herself for the sight of the vast orchards standing strong yet fruitless.
Once, in a youthful fury, Namali had screamed at her father. Blamed him for arriving among the Storm-blessed people, for marrying her mother, for being a constant reminder of those who had come and lived among the Storm-blessed and, generation by generation, made them Storm-lost. He had let her rage.
When she’d finally calmed enough to find him again, to apologize for her outburst, she’d seen him staring at his own unmarked palms, his lack of spark-scaring like the smooth bark of a sapling not yet matured enough to fruit. And she heard him wonder to her mother, whether he—and all the others—had doomed the trees to barrenness and the country to starvation.
Now, as Namali arrived home, the sparking season weighed heavy upon the country yet again, but with no Storm to walk the orchards, to craft that latticework of stars she remembered so vividly from her youth.
She visited Mother’s grave first and pressed a hand against the soil. She imagined she could still smell the char of the fresh boughs that covered her, feel the sparking through her palm. But when she lifted her hand, only specks of damp soil clung the creases of her skin. No reddened burns, no popping, no faint echoes of blue, cascading light.
Her children found her there. Their little limbs sparked in a frail echo of their grandmother while their smooth skin resisted spark-scar in the way of their grandfather. She could not call them Storm-lost, not when violet flickers danced across their skin bright enough to glow in the dusky evening. Brighter even than her own skin. It was the Storm lingering, unable to dissipate, even if her people were no longer in the center of its strength.
There’d been a time when Namali only considered herself half of a whole, missing a piece that would put her together again. Like her orchards, missing their Storm.
Now, she took her children by their hands and led them to the large tree leaning over Father’s grave, its trunk fat, its branches wide, its leafy foliage shivering in the wind. There, she bade them press their small palms to the bark, feel its craggy edges beneath their fingertips. There, she pressed her own between theirs. Together, they gave what little lightning they had to the wood.
The bark split. The trunk sizzled. The pods popped.
Violet and blue rippled across the tree’s upper branches in that latticework of stars Namali remembered so well. Then there was a sound akin to sighing, the edges of the leaves turning black as the tree settled, ready to enter its fruiting season.
They had done that, together.
Her children shouted in excitement and broke into a dance about the wide, wide trunk of the tree, chanting a cheerful rhyme taught about the Storm. Her son whispered of their accomplishment into his grandfather’s grave. Her daughter counted the burgeoning cracks with their burgeoning buds, her voice rising higher with each added number.
Namali sank to her knees, exhausted, hands afire, new spark-scars sure to form over past ones. But that was a small price. Spark-scars were always a small price to pay when channeling the power of the Storm-blessed. One she was willing to pay. One, she was sure, all her people were willing to pay.
Once, when Namali looked at Mother, she’d seen the last of a great people. The last carrier of the Storm who had blessed them all for countless generations. A woman who’d given all of herself to be sure her people lived on.
Now, when Namali looks at her great people, she sees her mother, the Storm, in them all. The first of a generation who will light the orchards together.