A scratchpad for photographic and literary ideas

Sunday, 2/3/13 – The Lightning Tree (part 1)

The question made the short hairs on the back of his neck bristle.

The small piece of glass hanging around his neck began to feel heavier and hotter beneath his shirt.

The words, like any you might hear from Sonny Jessup, came slowly, as if they had been carefully weighed then checked for effectiveness and efficiency before being presented.

“I’ve heard stories.”

Before the last syllable had eased out of Sonny’s mouth the young reporter fired his next question.

“So, are there any records you are aware of that might help? Things like newspaper articles, letters residents might have written, pictures. Yes, pictures might help. Anything, anything at all.”

Sonny could feel the speed of the city in the boy, he could see thoughts racing helter skelter like rush hour commuters behind the reporter’s eyes. He watched the young man’s pencil jittering over the pad laying open on the  table, heard the nervous foot tapping under the table, and waited for the next wave of coffee to slush over the side of the cup the reporter was absently turning in its saucer.

“Guy’s got a lot of go-nowhere motion,” he thinks and wonders at living life too fast. How much of what’s around here is this kid really going see as he’s racing through like a bullet train? How much small town flavor does he think he can distill from the few small pieces of Pisgah County he has collected?

“Would you like a piece of pie, Mr. …?”

“Russell. Russell Matson. No. No, thank you, Mr. Jessup. But you go right ahead and have a piece of pie if you like.”


“I think I will. Apple’s real good. Grown local. Miller’s farm, right down the road here.”

Laticia had been watching the two men from her seat at the end of the counter. After all, it wasn’t every day that a New York reporter came to Carson. When Sonny looks up, she grabs a fresh pot of coffee and hurries over to their table. As she walks, a pair of glass angel’s wings, clear as spring water, flutter beneath her blouse. 

Only Sonny has ordered the pie, but Laticia returns with two oversized wedges.

“On the house,” she announces placing a plate in front of each of the men.

There are two things that Laticia is sure of: word spreads fast in Carson, and having a New York reporter sitting in her diner at lunchtime would make for good business. Very good business.

There is one other thing that she knows: no one outside of Pisgah County – not even a slick New York City reporter – will ever hear anything worth knowing about the lightning tree.

As she walks away, the man from New York confirms her thought.

“I am beginning to think that I will be heading back to New York with no story.”

“There really is no story here, Mr. Matson.”

The chimes on the front door tingle as Jack Hooper, all 140 pounds of him, slides through. He looks around the almost empty diner before selecting a two-top within earshot of the booth where Sonny and Russell are commenting on the pie.

Laticia smiles to herself. Jack is not a regular. His presence means that word of the reporter is out in Carson. Yes, it was going to be a good day in Retson’s Diner.

In less than twenty minutes every seat was full and there was a line forming outside. Laticia, racing to fill orders, thought to call her sister Flo to come in and help but none of the diners appeared to be inconvenienced by the wait. Red, moving around the kitchen like a man with his hair on fire, was keeping up. She saw no reason to share the day’s profits with anyone.

For as full as the place was, it was strangely quiet. Even the radio propped up on the top shelf beside the parfait dishes was playing at a lower volume. Where there were any, conversations were short and conducted with voices barely above a whisper. Everyone seemed content to just listen to the clatter of diner sounds and the faint strains of whatever the easy listening station decided to play.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Matson, I am sure that what you heard was taller in the telling. You saw the tree, it is old and it has been hit by lightning a few times but there is nothing magic about those things. Plenty of trees get hit by lightning. That tree is the highest point on the Nicholson farm. No surprise it gets hit from time to time.”

Crackling as if he had lightning coursing through him, Russell Matson sparked questions back at Sonny while pulling an iPad from the backpack sitting open beside him. “Hit by lightning several times but still alive. Doesn’t that seem strange to you?”

“There’s more than one kind of lightning. Some runs cloud to cloud, never touches the earth. Another forms up in the clouds and stabs down at the highest point – can be pretty destructive. Some builds up on the ground until it is strong enough to jump up to the clouds. Looks just like the other kind but it doesn’t do as much damage, doesn’t have as much energy. I suppose that’s what’s happening with that tree.”

While Sonny speaks, Russell stabs his finger at the iPad, swiping and sliding several times before turning the screen toward Sonny. “Have you seen anything like this before?”

“I believe that is one of those i-things. Don’t have much need for one…”

“Not the iPad, Mr. Jessup, the picture.”

Sonny takes the device and looks at the picture being displayed on its surface. “Very pretty. Looks like crystal.”

“It’s actually a form of silica glass.” Russell turns the device so both men can view it then points. “See that?” He pinches his fingers on the iPad and spreads them apart zooming in on the image.

Sonny doesn’t have to look, he is familiar with the fine lines etched inside the glass. “It’s beautiful. Fine craftsmanship. Probably worth a lot of money.”

Megan Porter, sitting with her back to Sonny, flashes an evil eye at her husband. He catches the look and places his spoon on the table next to his soup bowl. He folds his hands and waits.

“Eat,” she hisses at him, “Just don’t slurp!” She tilts her head back towards Sonny and the New York reporter, “I can’t hear.”

“It is priceless.” The reporter slices his finger across the iPad and the picture of the teardrop shaped crystal begins to turn. As it revolves, the finely traced image inside begins to move.

“There are several interesting,” the reporter stops and corrects himself, “No, not interesting, unexplainable is a better word. There are several things about this piece that cannot be explained. We have had scientists study this and none can tell us how it was created. They all agree that it is totally devoid of impurities. This is impossible because the image inside has to be created by something. There must be some impurity or imperfection in the crystal to create the image. But, there isn’t.

“If you watch closely, you will see that as the crystal turns the image keeps changing. Like a little movie playing inside the crystal. What everyone wants to know is why the scene never repeats itself. You would think that the motions would be in a loop, that they would repeat the same way with every revolution. But, they don’t.

“I have to find whoever or whatever made this. Any help you can give me would be appreciated. I told you there’s a reward for information, didn’t I?”

Sonny, still watching the movie playing inside the crystal, nods.

“The reward can be significant. I think that good information could be worth ten or twenty thousand dollars, easy. I would like to talk to the Nicholson’s but no one seems to know where they went or when they will be back. You wouldn’t happen to know where they can be reached, would you?”

Sonny, a little disoriented from watching the events inside the crystal, looks directly into the reporter’s eyes. “No, sir, I’m sorry, I don’t have any information that could help you.”

Sonny’s reply seemed a signal. The reporter flicks off the iPad, folds his notebook and stuffs both back into his knapsack before sliding his business card across the table. “I am not going to play games with you, Mr. Jessup. This is huge. I have been keeping this as quiet as I can but when it breaks it is going to be on the front page of every paper, in every science journal, and the talk of every talk show. If I break this story it could mean a Pulitzer.”

The reporter thought about the possibilities before continuing. “The only problem is that I have nothing to go on but the letter that accompanied the crystal. It mentioned Pisgah County and a lightning tree. Can’t say that I had ever heard of either one before receiving that package, but like any good reporter I did my homework. You know how they say that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place? Well, it seems that there is one place in Pisgah County where lightning strikes often. Too often. Did you know that the tree on the Nicholson farm has been hit by lightning over 30 times in the past seven years? When I checked with the National Weather Service, they said that this was impossible, the local radar must be wrong. But, when they ran through their own records they found the same thing. They are interested. Will probably send a crew to talk to the Nicholson’s, see if they can set up monitors in the area to get some measurements. Probably set up a couple of cameras, too.”

Sonny waited while Russell drank the last of his coffee. “Sure, there’s a story in the lightning aspect but it’s not headlines, filler at best. But, this crystal. Now, that is a story! And all I have is something that science cannot explain and a letter that raises more questions than it answers. If you think of anything, anything at all, please call me.”

He starts to reach for his wallet but Sonny stops him. “Won’t be necessary.” The reporter was unsure if Sonny is commenting on his business card or paying for the coffee and pie. “It was on the house, I can leave the tip.”


The reporter slides from the booth and shakes Sonny’s hand before making his way out of the crowded diner.

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2 Replies

  1. cooperthom Feb 10th 2013

    I’ve had a house guest which is why I was delayed commenting on this story. As usual, very well-written. I will look forward to the ensuing chapter or chapters. I’m so glad you’re writing again. I think the picture needs to be at the beginning of the story.


  2. ruthgilbo Jun 4th 2013

    More, please!

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