For you, the odds of being struck by lightning during your life are roughly 1 in 12,000. And it’s good the odds are so low. Generally speaking, getting struck by lightning is not a pleasant experience. But consider, what if you were to gain power every time you were struck by lightning? This is exactly what happens to Zapdos, the legendary electric-type from first gen. The pokédex tells us that when hit with lightning, Zapdos isn’t injured, doesn’t take damage like most pokemon would. Instead, it gains power. Seems like a good place to start for our analysis today.
We’ve already looked at several electric-type pokémon with abilites that would apply to Zapdos. For example, Zapdos likely stores electricity from lightning using electric organs similar to those we talked about in Zekrom and Tynamo. Zapdos might create thunderclouds to fly around and hide in similar to Manectric. In any case, Zapdos has a remarkable talent of absorbing lightning without being damaged. To understand how, first let’s talk about when non-Zapdos creatures get struck by lightning.
Lightning, of course, is a discharge of electric current from the thundercloud. This electric current is made up of a stream of electrons, about 300 kiloVolts of energy traveling close to the speed of light through the air. The plasma has a temperature of roughly 50,000 degrees F (27,700 C), which is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. It takes only 3 milliseconds to travel through your body and into the ground, and you can imagine that even in that short amount of time, it can do a lot of damage.
The bolt of lightning can cause third degree burns, it can burst eardrums, pass through the skull and literally cook a brain, stop a heart from beating, cause serious nerve damage and more. The damage is caused by the small amount of the lightning that our bodies absorb while the lightning is on its way traveling to the ground. If Zapdos absorbs the entire lightning bolt and not just a small fraction of it like us, surely it would experience much more damage, right?
The reason lightning is so dangerous to us is because humans aren’t very good conductors of electricity. The lightning can’t pass through us easily, without meeting resistance. But, since lightning is so powerful, the resistance doesn’t stop it and instead, the lightning stops us, doing all this damage to tear through the resistance and continue its path towards the ground. The resistance of our skin is as high as 100,000 Ohms, and the resitance of muscle, bones, and everything inside is roughly 1,000 Ohms. But, when it is hit by lightning (or any high-voltage shock), the lightning does all this damage to lower the resistance of our bodies to about 500 Ohms: something it can more easily pass through.
So, back to Zapdos. How does it not get fried every time it absorbs a lightning strike? Zapdos must have a structure in its body that is a very good conductor: a path for the lightning to travel through and follow, leading right to the area in its body where it can all be safely absorbed and stored the electrical energy (its capacitor-like electrical organ). It’s likely a secondary nervous system, guiding the electrical impulse of the lightning to the proper organs the way the electrical pulses of our brains cause our muscles to move in our nervous systems. It wouldn’t surprise me if this function was connected to it’s feathers too, if its follicles where the feathers connect act as the entry points for this system. In any case, Zapdos’ body allows the electricity to easily pass through it in this specific pathway, avoiding all of Zapdos’ vital organs and other body parts that have a higher resistance and could be damaged by electricity. In any case, Zapdos seems like quite the legendary creature.
Since Zapdos is a bird, I think it is also worth mentioning the common “bird on a power line” problem. Birds sit on power lines all the time, and the electricity flowing through power lines can have 50 - 700 kV of electricity (as much as lightning strikes, so why don’t they get shocked?
The trick is in the voltage difference. Electrical current only flows if it is being “pushed” by a voltage difference, such as a battery. Close points on a power line have the same potential energy (voltage), so if a bird places both feet on the cable, both feet are touching the same voltage, therefore there is no voltage difference and so no current is actually flowing through the bird. Lightning, on the other hand, there’s a huge voltage difference: 300 kiloVolts in the clouds, and close to 0 in the ground. So the current flows from one to the other pretty quickly, and you don’t want to be in the way.
Zapdos has a highly-conducting secondary nervous system, which allows lightning to safely enter its body and guides the energy around vital organs and into Zapdos’ electrical organ, where it can safely absorb and store the energy to use later.
“You’re dead.” I blinked once. Twice. I sat in a dimly lit office with no windows and a flickering light above. “I’m sorry…I still don’t—” The woman named Joan in her Hillary Clinton-esque royal blue linen pantsuit sighed in the most polite way possible. “I’ve used every euphemism you can imagine, but there’s no other way to say it. Sophia Renee Gallagher, you are no longer alive.” I heard her words. Every single one of them, but I couldn’t quite fathom them. “But I—I feel alive.” She smirked. “Surprising, isn’t it? I actually dislike referring to it as dead or alive. I think of it more as two different states of being. Though, here we have no actual sense of time. Adjusting to that might take some…time.” She laughed quietly at her own pun, but then glanced back to me and thought better of it. My heart twisted into a knot so severe I couldn’t believe it was still beating. Then I remembered. It wasn’t. “But I’ll see them all again? Sara? Dad? Mom? Jillian? Zach?” She looked at me for a moment so long…so long I couldn’t measure. I sighed. Time. “It’s hard to say,” she finally said. “You might and you might not.” “Wait here a moment while I pull your file.” I nodded, and as the door shut behind her I begged myself to remember. Something. Anything. # I sat sandwiched between my girls with our feet hanging over the edge of the reservoir. Sara, my identical twin sister, nuzzled next to me on my right and Jillian, my best friend since fourth grade dragged the toe of her combat boot along the top of the water on my left. I’d always been the link between them. Like a chord with two telephone poles on either end. Sara and Jillian were firm. Unmoving, even. But for years now I’d stretched across the divide between them and brought us together. For so long I thought they’d be fine without me until the year Mom sent me to fat camp. I’d like to say it was against my will, but I’d wanted to go. Being fat is no easy thing, but being fat when your identical thin counterpart lives across the hall is a special kind of torture. But I was over that now. Diets didn’t work. That’s one thing I wish I’d come out of the womb knowing. I’d actually come home six pounds heavier and to the news that both Sara and Jillian had barely even left their respective homes in my absence. They needed me. And I didn’t hate them for it. Tonight I’d brought them out here to the reservoir to tell them something. I could’ve texted them both or just dragged them into my room. But I was setting a scene. I took both their hands. I’d dreamed of this moment. I felt silly for even having admitted that to myself, but it was true. “Zach kissed me,” I told them. Sara squealed and Jillian gasped. “Soph!” one of them shouted as they both hugged me from either side. “It was only on the cheek,” I added, a little deflated. “But he wants to hang out this weekend.” Sure, I’d always dreamed of my first kiss, but somehow telling them about it felt more important than the kiss itself. “A kiss is a kiss,” said Jillian. Sara nodded firmly. “And something tells me it’s about to turn into a whole lot more.” # Joan sat down in front of me with a manila folder labeled OFFICE OF RECONSTRUCTION. “So,” she said, letting out a held breath at once. “It seems you cheated fate. You’ve arrived here in the After sooner than expected.” My eyes grew wide. “So then I can go back?” But before the words had even left my mouth, I knew that wasn’t possible. “Um, well, no. But your absence has left a void—a hole—in the living world. Something we didn’t plan for.” I leaned forward, taking the glass of water that had only just now appeared as if the universe had sensed my need and fulfilled it. “And this happens often?” She grinned. “So often that we need an office, but not so often that the living world notices.” I nodded. “So, our policy is this: it is up to you to fill in the blanks.” Confusion rippled across my forehead, my brow furrowing together. “I don’t get it.” “It’s all intuition,” she said simply. “Follow me.” I followed her down an endless hallway, her heels clacking against the linoleum. We stopped in front of an unmarked door, which was random to me, but obviously not to Joan. She touched the doorknob, but before turning it, faced me. “Your…departure has left a tear in the fabric of the living world. Can you understand that?” I bit my lip, thinking for a moment. I didn’t know that I could understand what she was saying. I couldn’t imagine how I—one single person who had done nothing of substance in her short life, who hadn’t even had a real first kiss other than on the cheek… I couldn’t understand how the lack of my existence could leave any type of void. But regardless, I looked to Joan, and said, “Yes.” “It’s up to you to stitch that tear. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It never is.” She must have seen the doubt there in my expression, because she took my hand then. Her voice was soft. “Most people don’t get this opportunity when they enter the After. Treasure it.” Then she turned the knob, and held the door out for me to enter. On my own. The doorway was dark and gave no hint of what might lie ahead. But if trusting this strange woman and walking through this unknown door meant that I’d get one last glimpse at Sara and maybe even Jillian, it’d be worth whatever childish fears tingled in my belly. I stepped in and the door swung shut behind me, like it’d been vacuum-sealed. As my eyes began to adjust, I noticed a stream of light spinning around me, almost like I was traveling through time and yet me feet stood still. I held my hands out, trying to touch the light. Suddenly the stream slowed, still rotating around me, but slow enough that I could see the light was actually millions of stars. And then I heard their voices. Sara and Jillian. Trying their clumsy best to comfort each other. I couldn’t make out words, but I could somehow read their tones. And then their faces came into focus. The constellations floating into place behind them. It reminded me of the twinkly lights Sara had strung across her ceiling. We’d lay there for hours, mentally tracing shapes with the lights, like we were cloud watching. I clapped a hand over my mouth, holding back a sob, struck by the sight of them and the fact that I might not ever see them again. But as my hand moved, so did a handful of stars, and as they did, Jillian scooted closer to Sara. They sat on our porch swing, Sara in a short black shapeless dress and Jillian in skintight black jeans and a holey motorcycle t-shirt left behind by her deadbeat dad years ago. Experimentally, I moved my hand again, like a conductor. The stars pushed gently against Jillian until her thigh was pressed against Sara’s. It was as though each star was a magnet. Weak on its own, but strong enough to change an entire moment when clustered together. I held my other arm out. I could hear the melody of their voices, but the words were no more than a hum. Some bit of intuition told me they’d just returned from my funeral. I wondered for a morbid moment if it’d been open casket and if so, what did I wear? It was no stretch to imagine Sara and Mom arguing over that detail. And was Zach there? Did he cry? Maybe in a tragically romantic moment, he leaned into my casket and kissed me on the lips. I shook my head. No, he’d never do that. Especially not in front of people. For so long, I thought no one would ever kiss me, because I was fat. But fat people get kissed all the time. Dead people? Not so much. But I shook every thought of fatness and kisses and my own death out of my head. Joan said that it was up to me to stitch this hole in the universe, and with Sara and Jillian here on my porch, it was so obvious to me what she meant. I was never meant to die so soon, but it was up to my to right the universe’s wrong. My two true loves sat swinging in silence. The only common ground that had ever bound them together was me. They’d need each other now more than ever. Jealousy pricked against my lungs like a thorn. I knew what I had to do, but doing it would mean that I was gone. Truly gone. And the only part of me they would ever need would be the memory I left behind. I took a deep breath and held out both my arms. When we were girls, Mom would listen to classical music on Saturdays while she cleaned. She’d yell at us to gather up our laundry or dry the dishes. But Sara and I would stand in front of the studio, our hands waving in the air, pretending to conduct an orchestra. I stood there in the Office of Reconstruction, whipping my hands around with practiced precision like I’d spent my entire existence orchestrating the future. The stars danced around me, positioning themselves around my Sara and my Jillian. My Sara. My Jillian. I watched in awe as Jillian leaned slowly toward Sara, and kissed my twin sister on the cheek. A single tear rolled down my face as I smiled for the first time in…I had no way of knowing how long. It was a simple kiss on the cheek. Maybe in this moment it was even meaningless to the both of them. I couldn’t see my own future. I had no idea what the After held, but I could leave this room knowing that Jillian and Sara would never be alone. I would always live there, no longer between them, but surrounding them. This moment was undoubtedly the end of something, but that kiss—that chaste kiss—was the beginning of something. A love orchestrated by constellations and I was the conductor.
Julie Murphy is the #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of RAMONA BLUE, DUMPLIN’, and SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. She lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cats who tolerate her. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading, traveling, watching movies so bad they’re good, or hunting down the perfect slice of pizza. Before writing full time, she held numerous jobs such as wedding dress consultant, failed barista, and ultimately librarian.
Miranda July: Happy birthday to this strange and beguiling person I met when we were 18. (Though, at the time she said she was 19. And then told me later, in confidence, that she was *actually only 18*. But not to tell Corin).