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When Lightning Comes

by Duane Klaus


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   Not today

Turnball, Texas is cotton country. A place where a mythical cottonwood tree stands watch over rows of endless cotton, it's branches a refuge for a young boy to play and for tortured men to die. Under that tree, Willie watches a tornado fall from a Godless sky. Lightning strikes five-year-old Willie that day searing his flesh with such intensity, a boy once called white-trash is now grossly-disfigured and black. While in the Negro hospital, Willie's family is brutally slain. His father survives for a day, his last words being, "The cottonwood knows the truth. The truth lies in the cottonwood." Those words will haunt Willie forever. But the lightning did not just take away it left something as well. Something amazing.

Evil men want Willie dead. Orphaned and hunted, he finds refuge in the shanty of a black sharecropper, Elroy Johnson. Eight children and the delightful, Mama Lettie, occupy a rotten two-room shack. Boundless love transcends long, hard days of shanty life. Mama Lettie, a substantial woman, is the epidemy of love and warmth, the essence of her spirit sprinkled into every dish she makes. Lettie helps him not only look black, but become black—-loving him as her own.

Beneath the cotton, oil is found in Turnball County. KKK Grand leaders, J.B. Stillwater, and his son, Little John, own Turnball County: the cotton gin, the judge, the sheriff—-everything. When a reporter comes to town asking probing questions, Willie's secret life begins to unravel. Elroy barely survives a violent lynching, his only recourse to sue Mr. Stillwater in a courthouse devoid of justice for a man like Elroy. The jury is selected. The KKK search for Mama Lettie and the children. Nooses are tied. The jury files in. The clock ticks loudly.

Subjugation and segregation. The two s's of Turnball. Two water fountains, two diner counters, two schools. It seems appropriate that two days before a verdict is expected in the courthouse the annual Black vs. White football game is to be played. Six-man football gives each player a chance to carry the ball, pass the ball, score a touchdown; therefore, each man creates his own destiny. The shy, deformed, Willie begins to understand his suffering, his family's slaughter, his blackness. As the smoke clears his destiny becomes certain.

Two teams battle, men die, and lighting reignites what it left behind years ago. For when lighting struck Willie Adams a supernatural exchange occurred turning him into Lighting Boy. A storm rolls in. Power is lost. The stadium goes black and out of the darkness Willie's body glows as if a million fireflies are hovering around him. With seconds remaining, the black spectators, herded into the end zones like cattle, begin chanting Lightning Boy, Lightning Boy. His unearthly speed propels him forward and his team to victory. Lighting Boy ironically becomes the instrument of change a subjugated people, a bigoted town have been waiting for.

Back in the courtroom, justice, in the hands of an all-white jury, is a farce. The game, the trial, the lightning all collide on a November morning when a jury delivers Mr. Stillwater the verdict he bought. On the steps of the courthouse redemption appears out of the fog of persecution. From that fog a monster becomes a hero and a boy becomes a man.

When Lightning Comes is told through the voices of Willie Adams, Elroy Johnson, Melba Jackson, Howard Briggs, and J.B. Stillwater. The different voices provide texture and depth to a cast of vivid characters readers will come to know, love, hate, and feel. The reader will learn about six-man football—-a game with a rich and colorful past in our country. A game almost forgotten. The author did...

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