Here’s another little story, inspired by this week’s Writers island prompt – FLIGHT.
Have you ever flown directly into the sun in midsummer when all you can see is orange and red and yellow and the splendour of it envelops you like a starburst? It is glorious until a pocket of wind pushes you up and up so you feel your wings will blister under the heat, just like Icarus only worse, because your wings are real and feathers burn more painfully than wax.
I’ve flown, a sense of wanton greatness propelling me forward. Being at one with the air and the sky with the land blazing below you makes you feel you are greater than a god. The exhilaration is better than any drug mankind has created, any song ever sung, any moment of joy ever experienced.
You are the wind and the wind is you. You mingle with daylight, with moonlight, with slanting rain, with trenchant clouds washing the sky with white. Your soul exceeds itself, bursting forth, scattering itself across the meadowlands below. You are awestruck and humbled at the same time that this power, this flight, should exist in this world of men who walk solidly on land.
I used to walk on land. I had two legs which did well for me, just like any other. I skipped, I ran, I danced. But I moved forward instead of back. So I fell.
My family were healers, seers. We aided many people in the village and town. Some walked for miles seeking our help. We lived, we thrived. Then she came. Seeking vengeance, doling out curses like they were sweets for children, for wrongs hundreds of years old. That is the nature of a curse, so I’ve been told – it lasts forever.
I dared to defy her, telling her the time for vengeance was over but she would not rest until she got what she came for. I woke one morning to find blood marked on the door, gathering in pools on the threshold. My sisters were distraught, clutching at each other like they were drowning. ‘She means to kill us all,’ they cried.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I will fix this.’
I saw her, by the hillside, fashioning something from wax. ‘Look familiar?’ she said, thrusting an effigy of a man into my sights, a wax man with my face. Her breath smelled of damp, mouldering earth, and the grave.
‘I like you,’ she said. ‘I like your courage. You are deserving of a touch of leniency so I will let you choose your fate. Sea or sky.’
She twirled and bobbed, sweeping the wax figure high and low in a macabre dance. ‘Sea or sky?’ she said. ‘Sea or sky?’
‘What do you mean by sea or sky?’ I asked.
‘Choose one or the other and then you will know.’
From the hilltop I could see the sea. Grey as the face of someone who has not seen the sun for months. It was a cold day but the sky was frosty blue like the breast of a winter bird. ‘I choose sky,’ I said.
The old hag took the effigy of me, sticking a feather through its heart. A long, brown feather with a white tip. The feather of an eagle. The pain hit like nails twisting in my skin. I felt my bones turn to water, I felt my heart shrink, and then I fell into darkness.
I woke in a tree, an oak, comforting me with its wisdom and grace. I tried to speak. I could not. I tried to climb down. I could not. I shuffled my feathers. They sounded like silk scraping across a wooden floor. I gazed out from the tree and I could see the entire world stretched out before me as if I had an eyeglass strapped to each eye. I knew immediately what had been done. What choosing sky over sea meant for me.
So I watch and I fly, and I hunt live woodland creatures for food. And I sit on the sill by the window of my sisters and see them poke and prod and shake the figure that used to be me, that is me, placed under glass by the hag who put me here. And I wait for them to find a way to release me. For I am a man not a bird. And while I linger I cannot help but succumb to the majesty of my power that thrusts me soaring into the sky. So I dance with the wind. And I fly.