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The Essay
Show #482
And now, Blasto
David Gunn

The Bengaze clan of the Navajo highlands has always had its share of adventurers. Within any single generation, one can find explorers, daredevils, fire-eaters, rantipoles, sorcerers, and of course coiffeuses and shamans. But perhaps the most audaciously adventurous of them all is Beano's big brother, Blasto. He is a fulgurant, a lightning striker--that is, he is the willing recipient of lightning strikes. And while most persons struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge, Blasto does. He stores it up in his body like an animatronic Leyden jar, then releases it when and where he feels it is warranted. Given that his output can exceed a million and a half kilowatts--or ten percent greater than the largest steam-power plant--Blasto is careful to temper his enthusiasm during Discharge. The first time he tried to jump-start a neighbor's dead-battery Rambler, the car dissolved into a puddle of coruscating energy in seconds. But he's usually much more in control these days.

At any given moment--except for that odd period between midnight and 12:02 known as Null Time--lightning strikes the earth 100 times each second. It was Blasto's madcap desire to be present for exactly half of those. But that wish was too far-fetched for even Beulagune, his sibling sorceress, to accommodate. To date, Blasto figured he'd been struck no fewer than 1,146 times, and he had the marks to prove it.

Lichtenberg figures are branching, fern-like patterns that form as a result of a high voltage discharge--such as from a bolt of lightning--on an insulating material--such as Blasto Bengaze. (Linear accelerators do this, too, but they are hardly portable, and Blasto tends to peregrinate.) These reddish radiating patterns form beneath the skin of humans and certain shellfish and branch outward from the entry and exit points of the lightning strike. On most survivors, they fade away over a period of hours or days. But, thanks to a diet rich in manganese, Blasto has managed to preserve nearly all of his. Beulagune insists that the chains of increasingly smaller conchoidal fractures that cover his body look like a Plutonian circuit board.

According to a Cable News Woodwork interactive infographic, there are about 45,000 daily thunderstorms around the world. Six hundred and fifty of them occur in a remote slot canyon in southcentralmost Utah near the town of Buster, thanks to a nearly perfect alignment of a negatively-charged atmosphere atop a bedrock rich in positrons. And while the meteorological conditions are too hazardous for most rational humans, they are nothing short of a welcome mat to Blasto, and he is a frequent visitor to the area. In fact, fulgurants the world over often descend upon Buster, hoping for that mother of all jolts that would put a spin in "Old Sparky" to shame.

Today is typical of a late summer afternoon in Buster. The Powder Keg Café--the only business in town--is crowded with lightning strikers whose attire anywhere else would seem very odd indeed. They all sport the traditional adobe hat and tie. Affixed to the top of the hat is a silvery electrophorus, protruding antenna-like an additional 24 inches. Each wears a robe of scintillating fur, the different colors reflecting their ancestral homelands. Accessories are even more individualized, though many fulgurants favor matching protactinium pendants and tongue depressors. And wrapping up the ensemble is a mandatory pair of metal-soled shoes, critical for closing that negative-to-positive circuit. So even though the jukebox continually blares out electronic music hits of the 1970s and '80s, the café's soundscape is dominated by the staccato clanking of agitated footfalls.

Not that the lightning strikes in the nearby canyon are comparatively subdued. Each 800-decibel blast--occurring an average 27 times an hour-has rendered much of the surrounding vegetation insensate. The same is true of many fulgurants. If they don't adjust their electrophori and place their feet just so, a single through-the-body jolt of proton juice will instantly reduce them to sizzling slabs of protein.

Blasto has left the blare of the café behind and is trudging towards the canyon. Ahead, the air is blue with ozone. As if to confirm the puissance at work here, the fulgurite-like remains of dozens of former lightning strikers litter the ground. Eschewing the traditional electrophorus and metal shoes, Blasto instead wears a slender five-foot rod constructed of pure positronium. He has just passed the cliff that defines the near boundary of the slot canyon when the air is suddenly riven by a deafening bolt of dazzling energy. The ground beneath his feet sparkles, and, indeed, shimmering sparks dance down his torso, leaving little short-lived fractal images on his arms. But this is a mere appetizer. Blasto is hungry for the main course, the "billion kilowatt bump."

The ozone is so thick in the middle of the canyon that Blasto has to slip on his ozonizers, lenses that allow him to see through the cloud. Gassy swirls of ice blue and Tang orange only hint at the kaleidoscopic colors that regularly accompany a "bump." And Blasto has never tired of the myriad incandescences.

Suddenly, the ozone evanesces, the atmosphere tingles with an amplified magnetic charge, the cowlick on Blasto's head undulates like a drunken caduceus and, three-quarters of a mile above, an immense mass of electric energy searches for a target. Hmm. That rod of positronium down below looks pretty good.

The energy field discharges, sending a bolt of lightning streaking towards the earth. Blasto sees it coming. He opens his arms, welcoming the impending experience.

And yet, for all of its exhilaration, that experience is child's play compared to today's 472nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, for we have our own thunderbolt on the show today, a San Franciscan named Brian, introduced in due course following the billion Kalvowatt bumphs of Kalvos.