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If You Should Fall

I was free. In freefall.

The White Coats would never be able to hurt me again, no one would. I was free.

There was a yell of surprise from above me and Angel cried. “Stop her!” I looked up to see the flock diving after me. Trying to save me. But I didn’t want to be saved. I looked down at the ground rushing to meet me. It was probably going to hurt, a lot. Best to get it over quickly. I pivoted in mid air to fall head first. One quick crack and it would all be over; all the hurt would be gone. I’d be free.

The wind roared in my ears, drowning out all other noise. My eyes should have been watering but they were still clear and showing the earth approaching at a dangerous speed.

“Open your wings,” a voice whispered in the back of my mind and my wings twitched in response. I forced them shut, knotting my hands behind my back to prevent them opening. I was never going to open my wings again.

I don’t have wings.

The roar faded into a faint buzz at the back of my mind and I smiled despite myself. It was so peaceful. If I closed my eyes I could imagine I was anywhere, floating forever on an azure sea for instance. I closed my eyes and was immediately back in the tank, molten death flowing through my veins. I wrenched my eyes open; I couldn’t go through that again, twice was enough.

“Open your wings,” the voice whispered again, more forcefully this time. My wings strained to open but I held them firm against my back. I was never going to open them again.

The treetops swayed slightly in the early morning breeze, seemingly beckoning me towards them. Well I couldn’t go any faster.

“Open your wings,” the voice commanded and I moved to obey. Opening my wings slightly and then slamming back against my back. I didn’t have wings.

“Open them!” the voice yelled as the treetops rushed towards me.

“Sophie, open your damn wings!” Max yelled, screaming towards me.

I looked up at her and shook my head solemnly. “No,” I said simply and turned to face the trees once more. Not long now. Couple of seconds at best. This was going to hurt so much.

“Open. Your. Wings.” the voice ordered. Why did I recognise it from somewhere?

“I don’t have wings,” I thought back ramming my wings against my sides and counting the seconds to impact in my head. Three. Two. One…

Max grabbed me and flared her wings pulling up and fast as she could. We skimmed the treetops with inches to spare and Max swerved suddenly to avoid hitting a tree that loomed above the others.

“Let go of me!” I cried hysterically, struggling against her iron grip. She didn’t budge.

“Not a chance Soph,” she yelled, flapping hard to remain airborne. “What the hell were you doing?”

I fell limp in her arms, I couldn’t get away. I’d only break bones from this height anyway. “I just want it to end,” I said softly, tears in my eyes. “I can’t go on anymore. I just… can’t” I started crying, teardrops falling to earth far below.

“It’s okay Sophie,” Max said soothingly. “It’ll be alright.” I wished I could believe that. “Let’s find a place to land.”

We landed in a small clearing right next to the town and I collapsed on the ground crying. I just wanted to escape. Just get away from the White Coats and the Erasers, and the wings on my back. Away from this nightmare that had become my life. Just curl up in bed and listen to the gentle sounds of my family surrounding me, Dad dozing in front of the TV, Mum pottering around the house, Kit listening to her stereo too loud, not that that was likely to happen again. None of it was likely to happen again actually.

I got halfway through wrapping myself in my wings before I realised what I was doing and then furled them angrily behind my back. The flock looked down at me concernedly. They could cope. Yeah, well they weren’t me; I’m not sure I’m me actually. I shied away from them, hunching up next to a tree. I’d been hunched up so much lately it’s actually beginning to make me feel safe.

“Sophie?” Max asked tentatively.

“Leave me alone,” I whined pathetically, still fighting to keep my wings pressed against my back. It just felt so, comforting. It shouldn’t be any more than draping a blanket round my shoulders but it was. Instinct I guess, the White Coats literally messing with my mind. But then again, would it really be so bad? I’d wrapped my wings around me before and hadn’t lost myself. I hadn’t I?

I just wanted to go home. I wanted to fly away and never stop too. Maybe I had lost myself. That wasn’t one of Sophie’s thoughts. Or maybe it was, it was getting hard to tell. Max put her hand comfortingly on my shoulder and I shrugged it off, feeling my wing slide smoothly across my back.

“Sophie,” she began but I cut her off.

“I just want to be alone,” I explained, not looking up. “Just alone.”

The world started to dissolve and I recognised the onset of yet another flashback. I screwed my eyes shut to try and fight it off and opened them walking through my front gate.

Home.

“Come on Soph, we’ll be late!” called Kit, already fifty yards down the road and still with her school bag over one shoulder. I hurried to catch up, wondering why I was so happy about walking through my own gate.

“Do you reckon we should cut through the woods?” Kit asked when I had caught up. I realised with a sinking feeling what I was remembering. “Go through the woods,” I begged silently but I wasn’t in control.

“No, I want to meet with Jenny,” I said, totally oblivious to my silent pleas. Why should I be, it had already happened.

Reality jumped. We were walking down the road, the path into the woods fading into the distance behind us. I was vaguely aware that I had been chatting to Kit but I don’t remember what we were talking about. There was the roar of an engine behind us, I didn’t even look round. Kit did. It didn’t help though.

A black van squealed to a stop next to us. I begged myself to start running but I just looked at it curiously. A blacked out window rolled down but it was too shadowy to see who was in there.

“Can I help you?” Kit asked stiffly. She was at least suspicious, not like me. The rear doors of the van burst open and five guys in black suits rushed out. Kit whirled and was cracked over the head by another man getting out of the drivers seat. She crumpled, falling to the floor with a sickening thud.

I took a half step towards her when I really should have been running and whispered, “Kit.” One of the men loomed over me, grinning viciously. I started running. Far too late. Something slammed into the back of my head and I collapsed, falling into blackness.

Wait. I remember nothing but darkness. So why could I see Angel?

I wrenched my eyes open, snapping back to reality to hear Max sigh, and sought out Angel. What had she been doing in my head? More importantly how was she in my head? Angel looked at me sheepishly, she knew I knew. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? Actually I’m not sure impossible is a good word for anything right now.

“Sorry Sophie,” a voice whispered in the back of my mind. Angel’s. I wonder why I didn’t realise that before. “You’re going to have to forget though.”

“What?” I thought back.

Angel smiled. “Forget,” she mouthed. I looked at her confused, actually why was I looking at her? Max was the one that was talking.

“We just want to help,” Max said squatting down next to me.

“I need to be alone,” I said again, barely above a whisper.

“Okay.” Max stood up with another sigh. “Let’s go get some food,” she said to the assembled kids who brightened a bit. So I was dampening the mood. I think I’m justified.

“Sure you don’t want to come? Max asked me as they started to leave the clearing.

“Yes,” I murmured, not looking at her, just staring at my knees.

“Okay.” They left, leaving me alone.

I played with the feather attached to my gown. I’m quite amazed that it’s still hanging in there, a lot has happened since I escaped. At any other time I would have considered it beautiful; I would have put it in one of those nature scrapbooks of pretty stuff you find in the forest because I’m sappy like that. But it was my feather, I’d grown it. It was long, yellow, hideous, human feather.

I went to throw it away in disgust and started, seeing Fang sitting opposite me regarding me impassively. I thought they’d all gone.

“I stayed to make sure you’re alright,” he explained. Just before I asked why he was there. I wonder if he can read minds too. “Too?”

“You mean so I don’t kill myself,” I shot back. He just shrugged, as if saying ‘have it you’re way’.

“I’m not going to kill myself,” I exclaimed angrily, really annoyed by him being so nonchalant.

“You could have fooled me,” he said calmly. Were we even talking about the same thing, how could he be so serene?

“That was different,” I muttered, suppressing the urge to wrap my wings around me. He just raised an eyebrow at me. Translation: “how so?”

“It just is.” The silence stretched out between us. I felt the need to fill it.

“Because when I’m in the air,” I began slowly. “Flying. I can feel it taking over me. Something that wants me to fly. It just takes over and I can’t even tell the difference. Do you understand?” I rushed that last part. He had to understand, he had wings, he could help.

Fang shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t.”

I looked back down, staring dejectedly at my knees. Of course he couldn’t, that would just be too easy, I was losing myself and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it.

“I can’t lose myself,” I whispered, fully aware that actually, I was talking to myself. “It’s all I have left.”

“How do you cope?” I asked suddenly. “All there is Erasers, running and sick scientists. How do you cope?”

Fang appeared to consider this, though you’d need a microscope to see his expression change. “I’m alive,” he said after a moments pause. “I’m free. I have M… my flock. That’s all I really need. Everything else may be nice but I don’t need it.” I didn’t know how to respond to that. He was in exactly the same situation and he wasn’t moping. The silence stretched between us. Again.

“Most people would give everything to fly,” Fang said conversationally, breaking the silence. I just looked at him, I had been given everything and it wasn’t worth it. Fang changed tack. “Just because you have wings doesn’t mean you aren’t human,” he pointed out.

“I’m not though,” I replied softly. “It wasn’t just the wings; they changed everything, my bones, my eyes, my brain, even my hair. They made me Fly, I’m barely me anymore.”

“If you’re enough yourself to think that you’re losing your mind then you haven’t,” Fang said after a moment. “The White Coats can do whatever they like but they can’t change who you are. The only way you’re going to lose yourself is by giving up. You’re still you.”

“No, I’m not,” I said sadly. “I have wings and Sophie doesn’t have wings. I can’t be Sophie and fly. And if I’m not Sophie then I can’t be anything but Fly.”

“Why can’t you be you and fly?” Fang asked.

“Sophie doesn’t have wings.”

“You are Sophie and you have wings. What is it scares you so much about flying?”

“I’ll lose myself.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do. It took over and wanted me to fly.”

“Maybe you just enjoyed it.”

“I can’t fly.”

“You can, and you fly very well.”

“Sophie can’t fly.”

“You are Sophie and you can fly. You won’t lose yourself.”

“I will.”

“You won’t. You may even like it.”

“It’ll destroy me.”

“It won’t. The only person that can do that is you.”

“I…” I began but stopped. I had been hadn’t I? Destroying myself. I’m not Sophie, and I haven’t been for nearly a month now. It’s probably time to face that, I can’t fight it anyway, and it hurts too much to still think of myself as a normal girl when I’m so obviously not. I’m not their lab rat though. I’m not Fly. They gave me wings, but they’re mine now. I’m still me. Still Sophie. Feathers and all.

It took me long enough to realise that didn’t it?

My head whipped round as I heard something crashing through the woods towards us. Fang leapt to his feet eyeing the surrounding trees looking faintly anxious, which I’m taking to mean really, really worried.

“Just promise me one thing Sophie,” he said as the crashing drew nearer.

“Yeah,” I said softly getting to my feet.

“Don’t give up.”

Wolf in the Woods

Max burst into the clearing, the rest of the flock close behind her.

“Fang!” she yelled. “Angel says there are Erasers…”

“Everywhere,” a voice completed.

Erasers melted out of the trees to stand in a ring around us, Max and Fang spun in unison to face the Eraser who had spoken.

“Ari,” Max said with venom in her voice. “Long time no see.”

“It’s been three days and you know it!” he barked back. I looked at him half in horror half in shock. He looked wrong. All the Erasers look weird, there’s a feral hint in their eyes, their walk, their voice that grates but he looked, wrong. Like he was already slightly morphed, but even then that would explain the slightly stretched features.

He caught me looking and glowered at me. I fidgeted under his gaze, resisting the urge to stretch my wings and fly, that would have scared me but Ari scared me more. His gaze flickered to the feather clutched in my fist.

“Taking in strays,” he growled at Max.

“Yeah,” Max shot back. “It’s a little thing called caring. You may need to look it up.”

“Like you ever cared,” Ari muttered, shooting me another hate filled glance.

“I might care if you stopped trying to kill us,” Max said acidly.

“I’d almost forgotten about that,” Ari said, trying and failing to sound offhand. “Now.” He nodded at the Erasers and then charged at Max who nimbly sidestepped and thwacked him as he went past. Fang and the rest of the flock spun to face the Erasers sneaking up behind us…

Oh dear.

An Eraser grabbed me around the chest pinning my arms to my sides and lifting me off the ground. The breath rushed out of me and I opened my wings without thinking; unfurling them fast enough to break bones, human bones that is. I only just broke the Erasers grip. I hit the ground and whirled, bowling over the Eraser with my wing. Another Eraser grabbed my wing tip and I flapped it hard to shake him off and almost fell over. The first Eraser seized my ankle, his claws digging into my leg, I hissed in pain and went to kick him off but another locked his arm around my other wing. I elbowed him hard and fell as the other Eraser pulled my leg out from under me, hitting the ground with a thud.

An Eraser loomed over me and I pushed back with my wings, catching a downed Eraser on the head and launching myself to my feet. I ducked as the Eraser aimed a punch at my head and shook my wings to dislodge another Eraser clinging to them. How many were there? I snatched a quick glance round and I thought I caught a glimpse of Max and Ari but I was blocked by a solid wall of Erasers, I couldn’t see the others, just Erasers.

I dodged out of the way of another blow and stifled a scream as an Eraser claw raked a chunk out of my wing. Another grabbed my other wing; I caught a glancing blow on my head and tried to shake off the Eraser as another two clutched at my other wing.

They were everywhere, I couldn’t get away. I drew my wings in sharply, hissing in pain and spread them wide leaping into the air and pushing down hard. An Eraser grasped at my foot, pulling me back down, but I kicked him off and pumped my wings to stay airborne. I could see the rest of the flock fighting, flailing figures in a sea of Erasers, but they were holding their own, even Angel.

I gained altitude, soaring into the sky. It was amazing, I didn’t even have to think about moving my wings, probably better that I don’t. I don’t know when I decided to fly, I just did, it felt right, bird instinct taking over my… No. This is me now. Nothing’s going to change it. Face it Sophie!

A gun roared and something lanced through my shoulder. I screamed in pain and my hand flung to my shoulder, it came away sticky and red. They’d shot me, I couldn’t believe it, they’d actually hit me. I dropped a few feet as I stopped flapping and pushed down hard with my wings. My right wing didn’t move, actually I couldn’t feel my right side at all. Blood trickled down my side soaking my nightgown and I began to fall, spiralling towards the ground, straining with my one good wing to stay airborne.

“This would be an excellent time to pass out,” I observed numbly as the ground rushed towards me. Most of it was covered in Erasers. No such luck. I hit hard, landing on my injured shoulder, something cracked, I’m not sure what, my scream of agony kind of covered it up.

Something loomed over me, I couldn’t see who, the sky was suddenly very bright for some reason.

“Well what do we have here?” Ari growled. I really wished I still couldn’t feel my shoulder, it felt like the tank all over again.

Ari stepped on my shoulder and I screamed in pain. “Now I think I have something to bargain wi…” he began. A shot whistled over his shoulder and he snarled his head whipping round.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” a voice yelled angrily. Maybe the White Coat from the tank room, I’m not sure, my brain was a little fuzzy. “Get away from her you idiot.”

Ari blessedly took his boot from my shoulder. “And who the hell are you?” he shot back, prowling out of my line of sight.

Max crouched down next to me, the fight seemed to have stopped for a moment, everyone too busy with Ari and the White Coat. “Sophie?” she asked. “How bad is it?” I didn’t bother answering, if it was half as bad as it felt she would know. I very slowly moved my head to look at my arm, and wing I guess. It wasn’t a pretty sight; limbs should not bend like that. The ground was stained red around me and my feathers were slowing being soaked in it. I closed my eyes and tried to block out the pain.

“Sophie stay with me,” Max said urgently, shaking my one good shoulder. I would have batted her off, it really hurt, but I was too tired. “I’m not going anywhere,” I thought but didn’t answer.

“What do I do?” Max growled and then pushed down on my shoulder. My eyes flicked open and I gasped in pain. What on earth did she think she was doing? The world had turned bright, almost blinding, if black around the edges. “Maybe this is heaven,” I though blearily trying to ignore the agony in my shoulder. “I’ve already got wings after all.” I started chuckling; it was all incredibly funny for some reason.

“Come on Soph,” Max said franticly. “Don’t give up on me.”

I closed my eyes fell into blackness.

“…you have no idea how important she is,” a voice said, cutting across the void.

“I don’t care how important she is,” another voice snarled back. “I just want Max.” I was vaguely annoyed; these stupid voices were interrupting my nap.

“You can have Maximum, I just want Fly.” “I’m not Fly,” I thought back out of habit.

The pressure on my shoulder ebbed slightly. “You’re not taking her,” Max said defiantly.

“Stand aside Maximum,” the White Coat said.

“You’re not taking her,” she repeated slowly. I winced as something went click in my shoulder.

“Don’t be stupid she needs a doctor,” the White Coat pointed out. “I can help.”

“Yeah, you helped really well by giving her wings,” Max shot back. Sensation wound its way down my arm, and wing. I wished it hadn’t, it hurt like hell.

“Stubborn,” Ari muttered, I reckon Max glared at him at this point.

“Most people dream of flying,” the White Coat said plainly. My shoulder stopped burning, the pain fading to a dull ache.

“Yeah, it’d be great fun if dog boy stopped chasing us,” Max said scathingly.

I wrenched my eyes open and gasped a breath then sat up and looked groggily around waiting for the spots to clear from my eyes. My hand flung to my shoulder as it… felt fine. I tentatively touched my wound, it was still sticky with blood but it didn’t hurt. I craned my neck to look at my shoulder; I could see smooth skin through the bullet hole – there wasn’t even a scar. Weird. Actually having wings is weird, that’s just impossible.

Everyone else was staring, even the Erasers. “Amazing,” the White Coat murmured. I fidgeted nervously, half opening my wings. Why did they keep staring?

Max recovered first. “Go!” she yelled and started running, snapping open her wings, the flock only a half step behind. I scrambled to my feet and sped after them opening my own wings. Some of the Erasers started to chase after us and the rest went for their guns.

I accelerated; I’m still surprised about how fast I can go, and leaned forwards lifting my wings above my head. The flock took off, each with a graceful sweep of their wings. I just hammered down with mine feeling the wind catch beneath my wings and the breath catch in my throat. It was so beautiful and so not… me. It is me now isn’t it?

A bullet whistled past my ear.

“Alive idiots!” Ari and the White Coat yelled in unison. I glanced back; the Erasers were looking at them in confusion, obviously wondering how they were going to catch us. Hopefully they wouldn’t. Ari and the White Coat looked furious, both glaring at us as we escaped. I would have laughed if I wasn’t concentrating on ignoring how even my breathing was different, and that my shoulder was only aching.

I pushed down again with my wings. My wings. And sped forwards to catch up with the flock.

Down to Earth

The flock landed on the outskirts of the town, diving straight towards the ground and flaring their wings at the last second. I didn’t even try to copy that, I spiralled down, came into to fast and completely messed up my landing, flaring my wings too late and at totally the wrong angle and ended up flat on my face. Not a very promising start to my accepting flying. It would have been okay if I didn’t have this annoying little voice in the back of my mind that knew exactly how I should have landed.

“You okay?” Max asked as I got to my feet.

“Just about,” I replied, looking down at my palms which were raw and bloody.

“First landings get us all,” Max said with a knowing look.

“Can someone cut the blind kid a break and tell me what the hell is going on,” Iggy exclaimed suddenly, taking us all by surprise. “I thought Sophie had been shot or something.”

“Yeah could explain that,” Nudge said in her usual rush. “Because you were shot and the last time I saw that much blood was when Ari clawed Fang and he had to go to the hospital and…” Max shot her a look. “Now you’re better how did that happen?” she finished quickly.

I took a moment before I answered, partly because I was trying to understand half of what Nudge had just said. “I don’t know,” I said fingering the bullet hole in my gown which was still sticky with blood. “It just healed up. It’s never happened before…” I paused.

Now that I thought about it there were a lot of times when I’d healed fast. I was sure I had broken my ankle but that was fine in ten minutes, then I had defiantly broken my wing and I’d been flying (still not used to saying that) a quarter of an hour later, even as far back as the lab when I’d torn my stomach on the window, and now that I thought about it I should’ve had dozens of scratches from running through the forest.

“It’s been happening since I came out of the tank,” I said in shock, resisting the urge to wrap my wings around me. They just wouldn’t stop changing me would they?

“Healing,” Max said. “Cool. I can think of a few times when that could have been useful.” She glanced meaningfully at Fang just who shrugged.

“Suppose,” I murmured, I wish I could have healed my wings away, but I guess it’s an all or nothing package.

“Right,” Max said going back into her leader mode. “Sophie, lets get you some proper clothes, those scientists don’t exactly the best taste.” I smiled understatement of the year. You know that may actually be the first time I’ve smiled since they took us.

“Won’t I stick out?” I suggested, pointing at the crimson stain around my shoulder.

“Okay, we’ll find you some clothes,” Max said without missing a beat. “I’m sure I saw a Wal-Mart on the way in.

“I’ll stay,” volunteered Nudge. I suddenly had the feeling that I was going to have my ears talked off.

Angel looked at me and then said “I’ll stay too.”

“Thank you,” I thought gratefully. Angel shrugged and looked bashful; though I have no idea why.

“Right then,” Max said briskly. “If we’re not back in fifteen minutes don’t come looking for us.”

“Is that likely?” I asked Nudge after they were gone.

“No,” she said, sitting down and almost squashing Total who’d also stayed. I joined her “Max is just really protective, but there are Erasers popping up all the time.” We sat in silence for about thirty seconds which I think is pretty good for Nudge. Angel started to talk to Total.

“So,” Nudge began. “What does healing like that feel like, because we heal really fast but, wow, I was sure you were going to die especially when you stopped breathing for a moment.”

“I, did?” I asked hesitantly.

“Uh hu,” Nudge said nodding. “Max wasn’t watching because she was arguing with that White Coat. Who is he anyway?” I just shrugged; no one had ever said his name. “But I was, and you just healed up like magic.”

Another shrug, I didn’t really want to think about it. I haven’t even gotten used to having wings yet let alone something that creepy. Even wings are at least partway believable. Nudge started talking again but I wasn’t paying attention. I touched the bullet hole, my shoulder ached a bit but by all rights I should be dead; my hands had healed up too.

Angel was still talking to Total, I had half hoped she would distract Nudge a bit, honestly you would think he was answering back…

He was answering back wasn’t he?

“Please tell me the dog isn’t talking,” I said with a groan, cutting of Nudge in mid flow.

“The dog!” Total exclaimed angrily.

“Oh,” I said numbly. “Good.” Any other time that would be the strangest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s been a weird month.

“You are a dog though,” Nudge chided him.

“But you don’t have to say it like that,” he protested.

“That’s okay Total,” Angel said wrapping her arms around him. “We know you’re not just an ordinary dog.” He grumbled a bit then licked Angel’s cheek.

“How long has he been able to talk?” I asked Nudge resignedly.

“He! I’m standing right here,” Total said irritably.

At this point Max and the others came back with a bundle of clothes and a couple of carrier bags of food, which effectively ended the argument. My new jeans were about a half inch too short and the T-shirt had a stencil of an angel on it and big slits in the back for my wings; but it was better than the lab gown. And I’d probably need my wings anyway.

Max dished out some food which I ate in silence. It’s all very well saying your going to accept something; doing it is harder. I wanted Kit to be there, she’d been coping, well she’d been pretending to cope, up until they killed her. Actually what I really wanted to do, deep down, was fly but I’m just going to have to deal with that.

“Sophie,” Max said jolting me out of my reverie. “You said you, err, had a home.” I nodded. It’s funny but wanting to get home had long ago been replaced by not wanting to die.

“Where is it?” Max asked. I pointed, roughly north north west, that’s another thing I’m going to have to deal with.

“Cheer up Sophie; I said we’d get you home.” I didn’t respond, it wasn’t a question anyway. Max glanced at Angel who just looked back blankly.

“We’re going to fly, is that okay?” Max asked gently.

“Sure,” I said sadly, I was accepting flying wasn’t I?

We took off one by one, first making sure that no one was watching. It was funny but flying made me feel better. All the problems felt more distant. Strange because my wings were the main cause of my problems. But I like flying, and there isn’t a thing I can do about it.

Dog Fighting

We flew in a lose formation. My wings moved powerfully either side of me, cutting easily through the air. It’s hard to describe flying; there isn’t really a parallel, maybe hang gliding. But you feel the tug on your chest with every flap and the whisper of the wind in your wings and you just want to soar. So not like hang gliding at all actually. This would be so much easier to deal with if I didn’t love flying.

“You’d go faster if you moved your wing tips more,” Max said, tilting her wings slightly and swooping closer. “The feathers close to you provide the lift, but your wing tips give you speed.”

I nodded in acknowledgment and went back to ferociously concentrating on flying. I tried to adapt my wing beats but it was complicated enough without trying anything fancy. I mean, if you don’t get your wing beats at exactly the right time then you end up flipping yourself over and falling thirty feet, but I fixed that after about the third time. What’s really annoying though is the little voice in the back of my mind that knows exactly how to fly and it would just be so easy to let it in and soar. But that wouldn’t be me, they were my wings I was going to learn to fly on my own and not let some alter ego take over. And any other time that would be the weirdest thing I’ve ever thought.

“How fast would you say we’re going?” I asked looking down at the ground far below. I’d been trying to avoid that question but I was getting a crick in my neck from looking up so much.

“Well…” Max began but was interrupted by Gazzy in a perfect rendition of an airplane announcement.

“Welcome to bird kid airlines; this is your captain speaking,” he began. “We are currently cruising at an altitude of a thousand feet and are travelling at about sixty miles an hour. Refreshments will be severed as soon as Fang lets his guard down and we can get to the backpack.”

“Not going to happen!” Fang yelled back. Gazzy laughed manically and dived at him. Fang neatly dodged him, clipping Gazzy with his wing as he rushed by. I smiled slightly, possibly for the first time since they took us.

“Are you guys going to mess around like this all day?” asked Max annoyed, or at least acting annoyed, her smile betrayed her though.

“Probably,” Gazzy said still grinning.

“Just thought I’d make sur…” Max tailed off as over twenty Erasers soared into view over the tree tops half mile away. “Hell,” she said simply then launched into action. “Right back the other way, go as fast as you can and don’t look back.”

“Max you might want to look back,” Fang said simply. Max looked over her shoulder and swore. I looked back and saw another swarm of Erasers, led by Ari, chasing after us.

“Right, new plan,” Max said confidently. “We fly as fast as we can towards the first group, hit them hard and then get away as fast as possible. Don’t stop and don’t take on more than you can handle.” She looked meaningfully at Fang then glanced at Iggy. “Ig do you have any surprises prepared for them?”

“Isn’t that a dumb question?” Iggy asked smiling.

“Probably. Soph, stick with me and you’ll be fine,” she said flying closer. I nodded grimly, ignoring the panic in my stomach.

“Okay everyone ready?” She asked, not waiting for a response. “Let’s go!”

She accelerated away closely followed by the flock. I pumped my wings harder and took off after them. This was so stupid; we couldn’t go up against twenty Erasers. Well maybe they could, but I’d just get torn apart. I suddenly realised that I was flying a lot more smoothly and then in horror that I’d let the instinct take over. I forced it out and nearly fell out of the air. Okay maybe I could use it a little bit. Just for the tricky stuff.

I caught up the with the others, Max was looking determined, Gazzy was looking worried, Fang wasn’t showing any emotion at all and Angel was somehow managing to seem serene. I swallowed hard and tried to guess how long until we hit. Ten seconds maybe, if we were lucky. A group of Erasers broke off from the others, flying up to get above us for some reason. I don’t know why; I’ve never really felt the need to learn about air combat before. I recognised the one leading them as one of the ones that had originally chased me; actually they all were.

“Good luck!” Max yelled a second before we hit and then we were amongst them; black shapes flying everywhere. There was a crack and a cry of pain as Max punched an Erasers wing at a hundred and twenty miles an hour. An Eraser loomed before me and I threw myself to one side, just missing his outstretched claws and got my wing angle all wrong and stalled; my wings acting like two big parachutes and feeling like they were being pulled off my shoulders.

An Eraser with a rapidly blackening eye charged at me and I dived out of his way, pulling my wings in tight and dropping thirty feet before opening them again. I pulled up sharply and dodged round an Eraser falling screaming to earth, I suppressed a shudder. I should be worried that I can think of more horrible ways to go.

I felt a slight breeze across my feathers and barrel rolled out of the way of an Eraser who dived past mere inches away. I gasped in surprise, how did I know he was there? There was a growl of annoyance from above me and I looked up to see four Erasers swooping down at me. All from the original group that had chassed me, funny that. I speed away, trying to remember to flap my wings in sync and trim them to accelerate at the same time.

It was so complicated. I swung left as one dived at me claws outstretched, snagging a feather as he passed. Why was it so complicated? One fell into sync above me, matching me beat for beat with relative ease. It was so simple before. He dropped down on me. I folded my wings without thinking and fell; outstripping the bulky Erasers with ease. That one thing I’m better at, at least – plummeting to my doom.

“There’s no escape, fly girl!” yelled the Eraser only a few feet behind me. “You’re coming back with us!” I tried to ignore him and focus on going faster. My wing tips flickered, keeping my centre of gravity in the right place. I didn’t even want to think about how I knew and could do that. Actually I knew why I could but I didn’t want to think about it.

The ground rushed towards me. For a moment I thought about not stopping, it would be better than going back to the lab. I flared my wings at the very last second, pulling up just inches above the ground and found myself flying along a road, momentarily alone. There was a roar and I swerved out of the way of an Eraser who went flying past, clipped the road and went spinning to earth. I speed past him, not looking back. I didn’t want to; I heard a lot of crashes though.

This was crazy, one mistake at this speed and we’d be road kill, I had to get away. A car appeared in front of me and I had about half a second to react. I pushed down hard with my wings and passed over it, catching a little speed of the slipstream without thinking. I just had to out perform them. Little wings are more manoeuvrable right? An Eraser came up either side of me. I could do this. I just had to keep dodging. I tilted my wings slightly making them think I was about to turn and then braked suddenly, letting them shoot past. Of course I was using every ounce of the bird instinct that I’d been trying to suppress but I could go through the inner torment when I wasn’t running for my life.

The Erasers tried to turn to come after me but I sped up and rocketed past them buying me few more seconds. I could outwit them. I could do this. The Erasers came at me again, one above, one on either side and one behind. I tried to outpace them but was already going flat out. So much for outwitting them.

“Game over, Fly!” yelled the Eraser with the flair for the dramatic. Hmm, Déjà vu. I didn’t respond this time, he was probably right anyway. I pulled up, braked and banked left all at once and shot through a gap between them, headed for the trees. I could do it. I could easily lose them in the trees.

I crashed into the forest, braches whipping at my face and I fought to keep my eyes open. I could do it. I swerved left as a tree trunk loomed in front of me and then I flew on my side to get through a gap between the trees. I had to have lost the Erasers. No way could they have flown through there. I swerved right to avoid another grasping branch. I’d done it, I’d esc… My wing hit a trunk, I felt something snap and I screamed in pain and lost control, smashing into heavy boughs at over a hundred miles an hour and crashing through the trees, my whole world spinning. I felt more bones break and one particularly sharp branch went clean through my arm and then it all faded into a relentless sea of pain.

I finally came to rest upside-down against a tree trunk. Looking hazily out into the forest. Feeling the blood pool in my mouth. A dark shape flew through the forest and alighted in a tree opposite me. I knew it wasn’t the flock this time though.

And then everything went black.

Home

I awoke in pain, lots of pain. Better than I expected though. I thought I was a goner after the tenth tree. I cracked open my eyes and immediately shut them again as bright light seared my retinas. Every inch of me ached and most of my bones felt like they’d been replaced with bundles of splinters. I tired to wiggle my toes to see if everything was still working but nothing happened. Okay so I guess even my incredible healing has some limits, though I was still there so it’s pretty good I suppose.

“Great, just great,” a voice growled angrily. I probably had concussion or something because it felt like it was reverberating inside my skull. Couldn’t he see I was dying here?

“We got her, didn’t we boss?” another gravely voice asked. “That’s what they wanted, wasn’t it?”

“Alive you idiot,” the first said angrily. “Emphasis on alive.”

“It wasn’t our fault though,” another piped up.

“And they’re really going to see it that way, aren’t they?” the first said sarcastically.

Something clicked in my neck and suddenly I felt the full force of the pain. I whimpered slightly but only because screaming was beyond me. It was fading though, slowly, very slowly.

“Hey, did she just move?” the second asked sounding puzzled.

“Yeah right, like she’s really going to survive hitting a tree at a hundred and twenty. Maybe you didn’t get a good look at Five ’cause I think that’s the definition of road kill.”

“Nah, she definitely moved,” he said and then poked me hard in the ribs with his boot. That hurt. That hurt a lot. I wrenched my eyes open and opened my mouth in a soundless scream. I couldn’t scream, it was too painful, but I meant it.

“Well, what do you know?” The first one said looming over me. “She really isn’t dead. Hello, Fly.”

“Not Fly!” I tried to say but nothing came out. I thought it real loud though.

“You’ve given us quite the chase,” he said grinning viciously. “But I don’t see your little friends around here to save you this time.” I tried to make a rude retort but only a slight hiss came out. Maybe I’d punctured a lung or something; I really hoped my healing could cope with that. Still I think he got it though because his grin got wider, or at least he showed more teeth.

“Now, now, that’s not very nice,” he chided, and then said to the others. “Go back to the rendezvous and get a cage. I’ll take care of her for now.”

“Couldn’t we just take her with?” a fourth asked.

“No, it would be cruel to move someone in such a bad state,” he said with a sneer looking back down at me. “Well, what are you waiting for, get going?” The other Erasers rolled their eyes and began to walk off through the woods.

“Well now, Fly,” he said squatting down next to me.

“Not. Fly,” I gasped. My arm screamed in pain briefly and then it was gone, I still couldn’t move though and I didn’t even want to think about how many more bones I had to do that with.

“Aren’t you now?” He said taking a knife out of his belt. “So you’re not the one that escaped my flight. Not the one that got away despite all our orders to bring you back. Not the one who we were punished for!” He was practically yelling at this point waving the knife under my nose. I tired to shy away but that just caused another wave of pain so I stopped. Maybe I could talk my way out of it?

“Back,” I said laboriously. “You. Tried. To. Kill me.”

He looked at me hard. “Trust me kid, if I’d tried to kill you you’d be dead. Besides why would they want to kill you?” he said rage smouldering in his eyes, more so than usual for Erasers. “You worked didn’t you? You’re one of their new golden kids. Not us though, Erasers with wings is just old news! Swept away! Blown aside! Oh that worked! What! Next!” He raised the knife high above his head and slammed it down next to my shoulder.

The bone in my wing crunched, already weakened from hitting the trees and the knife when clean through. I screamed properly this time as the knife cleaved through sinew and bone.

“Let’s see how special you are without your pretty little wings,” he said growling, dragging the knife down my wing, cutting it off where it blended into my side. I think I was crying at this point, I was already hazy from the pain and now there was an awful lot of blood spilling out of my side.

He yanked out my other wing were it was crumpled underneath me and began hacking at it but I was already floating away on a cloud of blood loss, even my incredible healing unable to cope, but at least it was being kind and letting me pass out.

Then everything went black. Again.

***

I woke up slowly this time; I ached all over but didn’t hurt. So, better than last time. My stomach growled loudly and I realised how hungry I was, hadn’t I had breakfast, like, half an hour ago? I opened my eyes and saw bars.

I jolted awake and looked at the bars in panic trying not to hyperventilate. I sat up suddenly and whacked my head on the bars but I ignored it, I couldn’t stand being caged again. I grabbed at what looked like the front of the cage and rattled at the bars desperately. I couldn’t be caged, not again, not ever! I flared my wings without thinking about just how stupid and ineffective that was.

Nothing happened.

My hands flew to my back where I felt. Nothing. No feathers, just tender skin where my wing joint should have been. It felt weird, I could swear that I could still feel them furled against my back, but I guess managed to get used to it. I went back to trying to open the cage. One crisis at a time please. The front of the cage didn’t just rattle off and the big padlock on the front probably meant it never would.

I stopped trying to shake the door off and sat back trying to calm myself. I just had to stay calm and think of a way out. I’d tried that last time and got a whopping great pair of wings for my trouble so it doesn’t work but at least it was a comforting thought… Damn it! I looked around wildly, for the first time looking beyond my cage. I was in a small dark space with one small window in one wall. A van?

There was a loud bang on one of the walls and someone yelled. “Get a move on!” An engine revved, so definitely a van. Which meant they were talking me back to the lab. I started kicking at the door; I was never going back there. Ever! The van started moving with a jolt and I whacked my head against the bars. These Erasers were determined to give me a concussion.

As if to prove my point the van screeched round a corner sending me and my cage sliding across the floor. Something hit the roof and the van swerved suddenly. What was going on out there? Another bang and then suddenly a gun roared; there was a moment’s silence where I could hear nothing but the rumble of the engine; then there was a crash and the sound of splintered glass. The van careened out of control, jerked suddenly and then tried to corner far too fast.

The whole frame shook as the wheels left the tarmac then the van began to roll. The front of the van hit something with the sound of tearing metal and the rear end was whipped round, my cage being thrown against the doors and me inside it. After a few seconds, which felt more like hours inside a blender, inside a washing machine, the van came to rest. I lay on my back stunned, staring at the sunlight through a rent in the side.

Something blocked out the light and I blinked rapidly to clear my vision.

“You okay Sophie?” Max asked, swimming into view and kicking a larger hole in the side.

“Just about,” I said weakly, shaking my head and realising that the door to my cage had come off in the crash.

Max grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the van. “Can you fly?” she asked hurriedly, obviously not noticing my now total lack of wings.

“No,”

“Then run!” She started running off deeper into the woods dragging me with her. I looked over my shoulder to see what we were running from and saw the flock holding off another group of Erasers. At this point I put my head down and ran.

“Come on guys move!” Max yelled over her shoulder and we raced away into the forest, I didn’t look back; if there is one thing I’ve learned you don’t want to look back.

Ten minutes later Max and I were in a clearing gasping for breath and waiting for the rest of the flock after finally losing the Erasers.

“Max?” I asked after a minute or so.

“Yeah,”

“Can I go home now?”

“Sure. Can’t think why not,”

We got to my house without incident. Well, we went on a train and judging from everyone else’s reaction that was quite a big incident but we didn’t meet any Erasers and that’s the important thing. Maybe we were lucky and they’d finally given up.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Max asked as I opened my front gate.

“More than anything else,” I said, sounding totally mushy and not caring.

“Okay, Fang has a blog, you can contact us there if you need any help.” I nodded; hopefully I’d never need to use it. Finally I was escaping the nightmare.

“Maybe we’ll see you around,” she suggested.

“Yeah,” I said softly, though that would mean I’d be back in the nightmare. “Thanks, thanks for everything.

“Hey, it’s what I do,” she said bashfully, then to the flock. “Come on guys lets go.”

I watched them go, soaring into the sky and half wanted to go with them. But that was over, I didn’t have wings, I could just go home, be normal; live.

I walked shaking to my front door. What was I going to tell them, Kit and I had been missing for a month, just what was I supposed to say? That we’d been kidnapped by mad scientists sounds a bit far fetched. I rang the bell. It didn’t matter anyway, I was home. It was over.

My mum opened the door looking just like I remembered her.

“Mum I…” I began, but then she collapsed into my arms.

“Sophie,” she murmured joyfully, holding me close, making my hair damp with her tears. “You’re back. You’re back.”

Fin

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