MICHELE NORRIS, host: For those of you who think the fantastic is the province of fiction writers, you might want to hear this. Brad Meltzer may be a novelist, but he has a story now that is as true as it is strange, even, dare we say, magical.
BRAD MELTZER: My father was struck by lightning. And so was his father, my grandfather. No joke. They were both actually struck by a flaming bolt of lightning from the sky. And when my father died a few months ago, I knew that this incredible detail had to be included in his eulogy, but as I started writing, a more vital question came up: Was the lightning story even true? For decades, we knew my grandfather was struck because he had the burns to prove it. But in my father's case, his lightning story was family lore.
So before the funeral, I asked family members to verify what happened. They all said the same thing: That's what they were always told. When I pushed, they'd spit out the story that I'd heard since childhood, of my dad at Camp Na-sho-pa, in his bunk, and then a lightning bolt came from the sky and hit my father, who sank to the floor. They thought he was dead. They even put a sheet over his head. He was dead. And then, Stewie Meltzer sat up and blurted: What's everyone looking at?
My god, the story was so stupidly and chaotically and perfectly my father. To send him out in style, this had to be in his eulogy. Yet it wasn't until three days after the funeral that the real lightning bolt hit: I opened an email from a stranger named Stan, who told me that he heard my father had died, and that he was there on the day my dad was struck by lightning. Yes, he was hit by lightning at Na-sho-pa, Stan wrote to me. My father was entering the cabin, with his hand on the metal doorknob.
As Stan explained: Lightning hit a nearby tree and a fraction of it could be seen splintering off into the knob, and it traveled through Stewie who went down. Right there, I felt the story's cobwebs being kicked away. From there, Stan confirmed the rest: that my father was carried to his bunk bed, and that, yes, someone had indeed yelled that my father was dead. He even added a key, long-lost detail: that as my father was hit by lightning, so was Stan, since his hand was on my father's shoulder.
The two young friends were knocked unconscious together. For the next few minutes, I reread the email, then reread it again, soaking in every new detail. With the death of my dad, I've become accustomed to seeing pieces of my father being taken away. But now, with a doorknob and a hand on my father's shoulder, I had what I never thought I'd have again: a new piece of my father being given to me. Those pieces are precious, especially when you don't see them coming.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NORRIS: Brad Meltzer's latest novel is "The Inner Circle."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.