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All characters, concepts and settings not directly mentioned in the cannon and copyright 2008 to James Coughtrey. All items recognisable from the cannon are copyright James Patterson.

Author’s Note:

I’m not going to kid myself here. I loath this story. I hate the character, I hate the fact I used book characters, I hate that the whole thing’s so sappy you could put it on pancakes, and I also hate that it was one of the more popular things I wrote. Ideally I would just try and quietly forget about it, but it sets the scene for Not Human, which was one of my favourites, so I can’t ‘lose’ it in the ether. Anyway, that’s enough of me, judge for yourself.

Fly

The buzzer sounded and I started running. I didn’t want to but there were those wicked wolf-men with their wicked claws and wicked grins right behind me. I ran out into the yard and looked up at the open sky. My first sight of it since I’d been captured a month ago. There was a growl of frustration behind me and I ran faster. I looked over my shoulder and saw one of the Erasers holding the others back. Giving me a head start. Like that would help.

The door led into a corridor of razor wire and I sprinted through it, the cruel barbs only inches from my sweaty face. There was a barked command from behind me and the Erasers started running. Hell! I went faster. Faster than I thought I could ever go before. The Erasers were gaining on me though, some of them looking just like regular people and some fully morphed and running on all fours. And to think I used to like wolves.

The razor wire dropped to about waist height but there was no way I could climb over it, the Erasers were too close anyway. An Eraser snapped at my heel then dropped back, toying with me; I squeezed a drop of more speed but the Erasers kept pace easily, hardly breaking a sweat. The razor wire fence came to a dead end, a literal dead end. ‘Who’d build a corridor that’s a dead end?’ I thought angrily. I knew who. The load of sicko scientists that had been holding me for the last month. They didn’t want to trap me though. Oh no they had something far worse in mind.

I wanted to cry. Those f**king scientists. They’d trapped me far better than the Erasers and razor wire ever could. I opened my wings with tears in my eyes. Beautiful tawny yellow wings, glinting gold in the soft afternoon light.

I hated them.

They’d done this to me. Those freaking scientists. I was perfectly normal until they’d got their filthy hands on me but now I was a monstrosity.

I didn’t bother flapping; I knew I was going fast enough to leap into the air though how I had no idea. A small jump threw me into the air and sent me soaring over the end of the razor wire. I pushed down hard with my wings, trimming them to give me more lift without thinking.

‘What have they done to me?’ I thought quietly in the corner of my mind, but I knew what they had done, I’d had a month to think about it. And now they were going to kill me, just like all the others. I heard a scream of pain and risked a look back; one of the Erasers had run right into the wire. I smiled despite myself. Nothing like seeing your captors suffer. The smirk was wiped off my face as the other Erasers unfurled their own night black wings and laboured into the sky.

I gained height and went faster, feeling the new muscles across my chest labouring to move my golden wings. It was incredible, and terrible. I was a freak, a kid with bulky wings tacked to her back. Even if I did escape what life lay before me? For a moment I considered letting them catch me, give it all up, or simply folding in my wings and crashing into the treetops twenty feet below. Then I saw the Erasers closing fast and decided that, on balance, I wanted to live.

I flapped my wings faster, feeling the gentle flow of air beneath my secondary feathers and instinctively finding the path of least resistance. It was scary, I could even sense a thermal thirty feet to my left. ‘What have they done to me?’ I thought again, half heartedly, but I knew. They hadn’t just taped wings to my back; they’d messed with my whole DNA.

One of the Erasers yelled something but I couldn’t hear it over the roar of the wind. That was probably a good thing. I looked back then banked sharply as an Eraser screamed past, claws outstretched. He tore twin gouges of feather out of my wing; I yelled in pain and kicked out at him. I missed, but there was a muffled crash as he slammed into the trees below.

‘Pain pain go away come again some other day,’ I though, gritting my teeth and wincing every time I flapped my injured wing. I had no idea why that childish rhyme was running through my head.

I just wanted to fold in my wing and stop the pain, lick my wounds, curl up in a ball and convince myself that this wasn’t happening. But I couldn’t stop. The Erasers would kill me. Horribly. Then again, they probably would anyway.

I fought through the pain and flapped harder. I told myself if I could just find a town I would be safe, someone would save me. I didn’t believe it though.

An Eraser darted down and delicately plucked a feather from my wing, showing off to his buddies. I hissed in pain; just imagine having a tuft of hair ripped out. He held the feather up for the others to see and they laughed raucously.

‘Right!’ I thought angrily, setting my jaw and holding my left wing ridged. A massive thrust with my right wing sent me spiralling up towards the guffawing Eraser. I pulled in my legs and then lashed out at him, hitting him squarely on the jaw. He yelled in pain and surprise and dropped the feather. My feather. I snatched it out of the air and jammed it into the flimsy nightgown that they had put me in when I’d arrived in a pathetic gesture of defiance. Inside I was wondering how on earth I knew that stunt would work.

The four remaining Erasers looked at me in surprise; the cat never expects the mouse to bite back. Oh, and the mouse never wins. The Erasers charged, swooping down with claws outstretched, covering every possible angle of escape with the ease of long practice.

“Hell!” I cried, folding my wings and dropping towards the trees, the Erasers following close behind. I’ve played enough video games to know that I was doomed but I didn’t care, I wouldn’t just lie down and die. I’d seen what they had done to Kit for a start. I opened my wings just above the treetops and pushed down with as hard and fast as I could. I wasn’t even thinking about getting away anymore, just running.

The lead Eraser dived towards me, the centre of a rough triangle. I banked left, my wingtip scraping the top braches of a pine, feeling the G-force tugging at my insides. The Erasers tried to follow but their wings were too large and bulky. They swooped round in a long arc and then caught up the distance I’d gained in about three flaps. They formed up around me, one on each side, one above me and one behind. I was completely trapped.

“Game over, Fly!” called the Eraser above me, grinning horribly and showing his too large yellow teeth. He was right too. They charged, each closing with their claws outstretched.

“My name!” I yelled defiantly at the approaching Erasers. “Is not Fly!” I pulled up sharply and held my wings as stiff as I could. They acted like two feathery parachutes, cutting my speed with bone crushing force. I completed my miniature loop, flipped the right way up and shot forwards passing inches from an Eraser. It turns out Erasers have good reactions. He caught me across the temple with a clawed fist.

I blinked blood from my eyes and fought my way through the air. I’d bought myself about, like, three seconds but by God I was going to use them. Ahead of me I saw a lose flock of birds, hawks I think, flying lazily through the sky. ‘Free as birds. Like me,’ I though blearily wiping more blood out of my eyes.

One of the Erasers rammed into me and my wings crumpled like paper. I knew this was it. I didn’t have anything left. The treetops were coming up fast and I was half glad that this nightmare was about to end. Maybe. If I was very lucky I would wake up just before I hit the trees and I’d find out it had been just a terrible nightmare. One freaking month long nightmare with all the trimmings.

I wish.

I hit the trees hard. Catching my outstretched wings on unforgiving braches I raised my arms to ward off their lashing blows. My foot caught on a bough and I screamed in pain as I heard my ankle crack. I crashed into a tangle of branches which miraculously held. I hung in stunned silence, my arm hanging uselessly by my side and feeling as if every inch of skin was on fire, my insides felt like they were on fire too.

I strained to hear the sounds of the Erasers coming for me but couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in my ears. I knew I was going to pass out. It was only a matter of time; I’d been running on adrenalin for the last few minutes anyway. In all honesty it would be a relief to get away from the pain.

I smiled despite myself. I’d beaten them. I was still a mutant freak girl with ugly taped on wings but I was alive. I felt myself slowly slipping away, one limb at a time. There was a crash of branches as something landed in a nearby tree. Vaguely man shaped. My best guess. Eraser.

‘Oh. They found me,’ I thought, strangely detached from reality. Not really caring.

Then I closed my eyes and fell into darkness.

Caged Dreams

It was a dream. I knew it was a dream because Kit was there and Kit was dead. I could see her through the bars of my cage. She looked relaxed, but I knew she wasn’t. Her yellow eyes darted around the room and her tail flicked anxiously. Yes, tail. Someone’s idea of a sick joke, her name was Kit and they crossed her with a cat; a tiger judging from the orange and black fur covering her whole body.

The door to the lab opened and my wings rustled nervously. I hated them, and I hated the sick scientists that had done this to me, to us, me and my sister. Two White Coats came in, walking past the now empty cages. We were next, everyone else was gone. Gone to God only knows where. Probably with him actually. The White Coats stopped in front of our cages. Kit looked up at them fiercely, baring her small fangs, refusing to be culled. I quailed, pulling my wings around me instinctively.

‘Pick me,’ I begged silently in my dream. ‘Leave her, please take me.’ They never do.

“Her,” said one of the White Coats pointing at Kit who growled. A low throated rumble that would have been totally alien to her only a month ago. They hefted her cage onto a trolley, totally ignoring her warning growl and looked surprised when she lashed out at them with hidden claws.

“They’re in for a challenge,” observed one dryly, sucking his finger. Kit bared her fangs and smiled viciously, eyes glinting in the half light.

“Don’t give up, Soph,” she mouthed at me as they wheeled her away. I screamed at myself to do something. Anything. Thrash my wings, ram the lock, bend the bars. I never do though. I just sit there cowering, wrapping my horrible wings tighter around me. I never found out what happened to her. I could imagine though, whether I liked to or not.

‘Please, please, please, please! Don’t let it be the autopsy again,’ I thought desperately. I couldn’t take that again, watching her struggle vainly against thick leather straps as a grinning White Coats delicately cut a ruler straight line down the soft white fur on her chest then reach down and…

It wasn’t. It was a new dream. Kit was running blindly through a forest; Erasers hot on her heels. I ghosted above her on silent wings watching her struggle through yet another patch of brambles. I could see a clear path only a few feet away but she couldn’t. If only I could call out to her, help her, but I couldn’t make a sound, only a tiny little cheep of fear.

An Eraser leapt out of the bushes next to her and bit deeply into her thigh and she screamed in pain, whirling round and ruthlessly slashing the Eraser across the nose with her claws. He reeled back and I cheered in my head. Kit looked round triumphantly but her look of joy was replaced by a look of horror as she saw she was surrounded by a ring of vicious yellow Eraser eyes. She put up her hands unsheathing her claws and bearing her fangs.

I dived down to help her as the Erasers charged. A tangle of braches leapt at me, gripping me tightly, pinning my wings to my sides. Below me Kit went down under a flurry of slashing claws and biting teeth, bright blood flowing freely onto the ground, not all of Kit’s.

“Kit no!” I cried as an Eraser locked his jaws around her throat, finally finding my voice. I thrashed against the tangling braches, desperate to get to her, to save her this time. The Eraser bit down and Kit screamed one last time.

I woke up yelling, thrashing against the clinging branches and lashing out at the arm on my shoulder.

“Hey, watch it!” an annoyed female voice said. I looked round wildly and realised in shock that there were six kids hanging in the trees around me, looking at me in interest, specifically the wings grafted to my back. I drew in my wings with a shudder, furling them neatly and getting ready to run. I had no idea how these kids would react, would they freak out or just chase me away. I wouldn’t blame them if they did either.

“You okay?” the girl who had spoken before asked. I looked up fearfully at her where she was balancing deftly on a slim branch. I guessed she was in charge, she looked like she was. I didn’t respond. Weren’t they supposed to be chasing me with burning torches and pitchforks by now? She glanced over at a little girl who was studying me intently, too intently for a six year old.

“She’s frightened,” the girl said nonchalantly picking a twig out of the fur of her stuffed bear. The older girl nodded understandingly and slowly edged towards me, apparently unaware of the forty foot drop below her.

“I’m Max,” she said softly, as if she was talking to a wild animal. I probably looked like one. “Don’t worry you’re safe now. The Erasers are gone.” I shied away from her, flicking my eyes between each one, trying to keep them all in view and wondering how they knew about Erasers.

There was a tall blond kid on my left, the little girl with piercing eyes and that Max in front of me, a girl my age perched above them, another young kid to my right and I could feel someone’s eyes burrowing into my back. I unfurled my wings slightly, feeling trapped. There was an ominous creek from the branches below me and I had just enough time to squeeze my eyes shut before the branches gave way and I fell, plummeting like a rock through the trees.

I opened my wings through shear instinct, catching the air beneath my feathers and gliding towards the ground. I cringed back in fear from this alien part of my mind that was controlling me. ‘What have they done to me?’ I thought for the hundredth time. My wings went limp as I stopped thinking about them and I lost control, dropping the last few feet and landing hard. I yelled in pain and crumpled as I put weight on my injured ankle.

I lay on the ground staring into the sky. The kids looked down at me and then, in unison jumped into the air. I gasped as each one unfurled their own beautiful wings and drifted gently down to land next to me.

“You have wings,” I said in disbelief sitting up.

“So do you, join the club,” said the one called Max sarcastically. Yeah, like I could ever be as graceful as them. They looked like they’d been flying all their lives, like their wings were part of them. I just had bulky bundles of feathers grown on each shoulder.

“Who are you?” I asked softly, suddenly feeling very small surrounded by these awesome winged kids.

“I’m Max,” said Max. “This is Angel.” She pointed at the little girl at her side who smiled sweetly and showed the briefest flash of white feathers as an explanation. “That’s Iggy and Gazzy,” she said pointing out the tall kid who looked at me with strangely unfocused eyes and the smaller kid at his side. “Fang,” she gestured to a boy who looked kind’a like a living shadow “And Nudge,” she pointed out the final girl who had the look of someone dying to say something. “And you are?”

“Sophie,” I said quietly. I was still Sophie, not Fly, never Fly, wings or no wings.

“What happened to the Erasers?” I asked hurriedly, suddenly remembering about them.

“Don’t worry, we dealt with them,” Max explained gesturing to a small gash on her shoulder.

“Who’s Fly?” the little girl, Angel, cut in.

“I’m not Fly,” I cried hysterically, feeling the nightmare that had become my life reach out to take me. Again. “I’m Sophie, not Fly. They can call me whatever they want but I am. Not. Fly!” My wings rose around me and I looked at them in horror. ‘What have they done to me?’

“Relax your safe now,” Max said in a comforting tone, shooting daggers at Angel.

“Safe. How can I be safe?” I asked still half screaming. “Kit’s dead and I have these ugly monstrosities growing on my back.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say they were ugly,” the dark kid, Fang, said. Max shot him a look but I ignored him.

“Kit’s dead,” I murmured clasping my head in my hands and fighting the urge to wrap my wings around me. It was the first time I’d said it out loud. I’d never wanted to say it. “She’s gone and never coming back,” I continued whispering to myself, feeling my eyes burn with tears and not caring, it was all pointless anyway. “We’re never going to get home. She promised we’d get home.”

“Where’s home?” Max asked gently, kneeling down next to me. I pointed somewhere to my left and wondered how I knew. Then I realised, they’d done something to me, messed with my brain, now I was literally bird brained. I broke into fresh sobs of self pity. My wings wrapped themselves around me, a gentle caress that I cringed away from.

“You mean an actual home?” Max asked with a hint of disbelief and maybe envy. “House? Mum? Dad? One point six siblings?”

“No siblings,” I murmured back. “Just Kit. But she’s gone.” I felt fresh tears rise in my eyes. Thinking about home, thinking about my old life; it was too painful.

Max was silent for a moment, obviously torn; she glanced over at Fang who shook his head slightly. I looked up at her with watery eyes wondering what was going on. She sighed in annoyance then said kindly. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you home.” I don’t know why but I trusted her. Funny, you wouldn’t think I would ever trust anyone again. She held out her arm.

I took it.

Darkness and Pain

Max lifted me to my feet and I hissed in pain as I jarred my injured ankle.

“You okay?” Max asked as I tried to keep my foot off the ground and stay standing.

“My ankle,” I explained through clenched teeth. “I think I broke it on the way down.”

Max put her arm gently beneath mine and lowered me to the ground. “Hmm,” she mused prodding at my bare foot. “Not broken.” I winced as she jogged it slightly. “Tender though.”

“Just a little.”

“Right. Fang get a stick.” An improvised crutch later and I was back on my feet.

“Okay then,” Max said. “There’s a town a few miles away, we can get you cleaned up and get you some proper clothes.” She had a point, I looked a mess, my hair had been properly mussed by my trip through the canopy, and the dried blood covering most of my face probably didn’t help. Max opened her wings the others following suit and the breath caught in my throat. They were going to fly.

I couldn’t fly.

“Wait!” I cried hurriedly before they took off and then glanced down uncomfortably when they all looked at me. “I can’t fly,” I murmured, embarrassed.

“You were flying okay before,” Max pointed out. “Did you hurt your wing or something?”

“No,” I said softly, fingering the feather, my feather, in my gown. “I just can’t fly.”

“Oh, it was the first time you’ve flown,” Max said, her face lighting up with understanding, I don’t think she did though. “Don’t worry its kind of instinctive.” Okay she didn’t.

“No that’s not it,” I said in a choked voice. “I shouldn’t be able to fly. I’m Sophie I can’t fly. No matter what they did to me I’m still Sophie.” I’d been keeping myself alive on that sentence for the last week.

“What did they do to you?” Max asked kindly, patting me on the shoulder comfortingly.

I laughed weakly and spread my wings wide. “This is what they did to me!” I half yelled and half sobbed. “They put these ugly wings on my shoulders and made me a freak!”

“Wait. How long have you had wings?” Max asked confused, apparently not noticing that I’d pretty much called them freaks by association.

“A week,” I said bitterly sinking to the floor, ignoring the protests from my ankle, and wrapping my wings around me, then I realised what I was doing and angrily furled them behind my back.

Max’s eyes widened in shock when I told her this, but I ignored her. I hunched over and tried to ignore the poison touch of feathers on my back while fighting the urge the wrap myself in my wings. I think I was justified with crying at this point.

“What does this mean Max?” the small boy, Gazzy, asked her.

She paused a moment before answering. “I don’t know Gazzy. I don’t know.”

I carried on sobbing; usually when I got like this Kit would help me, stop my tears, comfort me. But Kit was gone, there was just me left. Me with ugly wings and a bird brain, trapped in the middle of nowhere with no chance of getting home.

Max sat down next to me and put her arm round my shoulder, a supposedly comforting gesture. “Don’t cry Sophie,” she said softly. “We can walk if you want.”

I laughed bitterly but stopped crying. Max smiled gently and I smiled back, or, at least the corners of my mouth twitched.

“Come on,” Max said getting to her feet. “Let’s get to the town, we can figure out what to do from there.”

“Okay,” I said meekly, getting up. It couldn’t get any worse anyway.

We trudged through the forest in silence, well I hobbled in silence, flying would have been easier but I was not going to fly.

Max and Fang were talking about me. They thought I couldn’t hear them but I could.

“This is stupid, you know,” Fang said.

“Helping kids is stupid now?” Max answered acidly,

“No; trusting them is though.”

“They were going to kill her.”

“You sure? She not as injured as she made out. Look she’s hardly limping anymore.”

I frowned in annoyance; they couldn’t be thinking that I was working for the White Coats. I’d never do that, especially after what they did to Kit, to me.

Angel stumbled over a tree root and almost stepped on the small dog, Total, who’d been walking beside her. I have no idea where that dog came from. I’m sure none of them were carrying it. Nudge went to check on Angel, and Max and Fang continued their whispered argument on me and just how dumb it was to walk through a possibly Eraser fill wood. Personally I agreed with them, but I was not going to fly. Never.

Nudge walked alongside me, she was slightly taller than me I noticed without really caring. I wasn’t caring much about reality, it seamed to have abandoned me about a month ago anyway.

“So,” Nudge started and I had a sudden feeling of doom rushing towards me. “How did you get your wings anyway, you said you only got them, like, a week ago, did they graft them on like the Erasers or something else, like changing your DNA…”

I shut my eyes and tried to block out Nudge’s incessant voice. The memories of that dreadful time came rushing into my mind but I forced them out. I didn’t want to remember, once was enough. Once was one time too many.

Something hit my mind like a hammer blow and I staggered defences crumbling.

“Wakey wakey,” the White Coat said slamming his hand on the roof of my cage. “We’ve got a special surprise for you today.” I cowered back from him, pulling myself into a tight ball in the corner of my cage. I’d been dreaming I’d escaped, I wished I still was. Weird that I had wings in my dream, I’d never dreamed about that before. The White Coat picked up my cage roughly and I banged my head on the roof.

“Ow!” I exclaimed. Kit woke with a start, pulled her black hair out of her eyes and glanced around hurriedly.

She caught sight of me being carried away and yelled. “Hey! Keep your filthy hands off her!”

The White Coat paused and nonchalantly pulled a cattle prod out of his lab coat and poked it through the bars to her cage. Kit’s eyes widened as the cattle prod touched her, then her back arched and her head cracked against the bars with a dull ringing sound and she whimpered in pain.

“Don’t worry dear,” he said to her still form. “You’re next.”

“Kit,” I whispered in horror, she couldn’t be dead; I couldn’t go on living if she died. “What did you do to her?” I accosted the White Coat.

“The same as what I’m going to do to you if you don’t shut up.” He tapped the bars of my cage with the cattle prod making them tingle against my spine. I shut up. He took me out of the room. I saw Kit’s eyes flicker as we left. Not dead, defiantly not happy though.

The man swung his arm as he carried me through the corridors. Sending me sliding from one end of the cage to the other, completely destroying any chance I had of seeing a way out. Not that I was looking for one, I was more worried where he was taking me.

He opened a door marked Reco- Argh! He shook the cage and I whacked my head on the bars, again. Bastard. The room was filled with dark metal boxes, no, blacked out tanks filled with water. Most of them were closed but there were two left. One for me and one for Kit I realised.

“Number nineteen?” another White Coat asked not looking up from his computer. The nasty White Coat carrying my cage dropped me roughly on the ground and I bit my tongue. The other White Coat rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Thank you Johnson,” the he said impassively. “You may go.” Johnson left hurriedly, I wanted to join him. There was something deeply intimidating about the White Coat, kind of like a snake. He got up and unlatched my cage, holding the door open and waiting for me to get out. I rushed out as fast as I could. I never wanted to be in a cage again. I never even wanted to see one again. My eyes flicked round the room, one door, no windows and an operating table in the corner.

“I suggest you don’t struggle,” he said matter-of-factly. “It will only make this harder.” I made a dash for the door and got all of half an inch before his hand shot out and grabbed my wrist, stopping me in my tracks. “They always run,” he said shaking his head and delicately removing the cover on short needle one handed. I tried to pull away from him but it was like trying to pull down a wall. He flipped my wrist over; I looked away as the needle went in and clenched my eyes shut. I felt a gentle numbness flow up my arm spiral once around my heart and then burst outwards like a supernova. He caught me as my legs gave way beneath me.

“There, that wasn’t so hard was it?” he said smiling. I tried to move but couldn’t even lift a finger. He took me over to the operating table and placed me delicately on it. It would have been better if he had knocked me out, at least then I would be unaware. It would be better than this immobility, the helplessness, the fear of what might come next.

“Right, this won’t take long,” he told me, walking back into my field of vision still smiling. I wanted to run; I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide from this grinning monster but couldn’t move. I roared at myself to do something. Nothing happened; I couldn’t even open my mouth to scream. He dabbed a cotton pad on my neck and I begged for it to be quick, I couldn’t stand it if he took a long time to kill me.

There was a slight feeling of pressure on my neck, the jugular vein if I remembered school properly. I waited to bleed out, too feel life slip from my grasp. It didn’t. I was half upset about that, at least it would’ve meant the nightmare would end.

He picked me up and took me over to one of the tanks and gently lay me in the water which supported me easily. He left me staring at the ceiling, wondering what was going to happen next. There was a furious tapping on a keyboard and then he returned.

“I don’t know why they’re still trying this combination, it never works” he muttered to himself, pulling a plastic tube from the tank wall and screwing it into the intravenous in my neck.

“See you in two weeks,” he said brightly then closed the lid.

I lay there in the darkness, unable to move, unable to think. What did he mean two weeks? And what never works? There was a slight hissing and then I screamed.

I don’t think anyone heard me.

Run

Blink

My eyes flicked open. Nudge was still talking, “I wonder what having your DNA messed with feels like,” she mused. “They did it to me before I was born, you reckon it would tickle?”

Blink

I screamed in the darkness. It felt like molten lead was flowing though my veins. The sedative relaxed its gip and I started thrashing, desperately trying to escape the fire creeping through my chest and strangling my heart.

Blink

“No,” I said softly. “It doesn’t tickle.”

Blink

The flames reached my lungs and my screams cut out. I slammed my fists into the roof of the tank. I felt the inferno ooze lazily up my neck and redoubled my efforts to escape. The lid didn’t even budge.

Blink

“It burns.”

An Eraser stepped out onto the path in front of us and then looked at us in shock. He raised a whistle to his lips and blew hard.

Blink

My arms fell limply to my sides as my shoulder muscles blazed.

Blink

Max sprang forwards, running at top speed at the Eraser and delivering a flying kick to his neck.

Blink

The back of my skull burned. I begged it to stop; I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like if it reached my brain. Actually I could, that just made me want it to stop more.

Blink

Erasers crashed though the woods. “U and A now!” Max yelled, standing on top of the downed Eraser and unfurling her wings.

‘U and A?’ I though blearily through a haze of memories, completely detached from reality. The flock leapt into the air and pushed down hard with their wings, rocketing into the sky.

Blink

The burring reached my brain, a searing kiss of agony, a blinding light in the void.

Flash

I started running. One of the Erasers yelled something but I ignored him. I sprinted through the forest. An Eraser burst out of a clump of bushes and I darted left and dodged an outstretched hand. My wings unfurled slightly, offering me a way out. I fought down the urge to fly and ran harder.

A sharp rock tore into my bare foot. I gritted my teeth, ignored it and ran on leaving a trail of blood behind me. My heart pounded in my chest, far too fast but for once I was glad of it. An Eraser ran along side me, a few scraggily bushes separating us, he grinned viciously and I tried to run faster. He made a dive for my legs and I leapt up, keeping my wings in, fighting instinct and kicked down hard at the base of his skull.

I landed and kept running not even bothering to look back, no time to look back. Two Erasers fully morphed and breathing hard through their freaky muzzles where right behind me. I sailed over a fallen log and suddenly darted right. The Erasers skidded in the fallen leaves, almost falling over themselves but kept running gaining ground by the second.

There was a flash of black wings in the corner of my vision and one of the Erasers bellowed in pain as Fang smacked him over the head with a tree branch.

“Down!” Max yelled flying straight at me. I threw myself to the ground as she passed inches above my head and caught the Eraser with her shoulder sending him spinning to the ground. “Sophie fly!” she roared at me, flying back into the canopy, going to fast to land.

I got hurriedly to my feet. There was a bang and the tree next to me thudded as something smashed into it. I looked wildly around and saw an Eraser reloading a long rifle. I swallowed hard and started running. There was another bang and something whistled past my ear. I put down my head and ran faster, not even looking back when I heard a strangled cry of pain.

“Come on Soph, fly!” Max hollered at me, swooping down.

“I can’t!” I screamed desperately. Max peeled away as I ran through a clump of trees.

I paused gasping for breath. I couldn’t hear anyone chasing me. My eyes caught the barest flicker of movement and I dived to the ground as a rifle roared. Something whizzed over my head closely followed my two more dull thuds as shots imbedded themselves into the ground.

The Erasers rushed towards me and I burst into life, accelerating like a runner out of the blocks, the Erasers hot on my heels. I ducked through a thicket, ignoring the branches lashing at my face and the rocks beneath my feet. My lungs burned as I sprinted out into a small clearing. Suddenly there was an Eraser in front of me, looking in surprise at me and my wings.

Indecision flashed across his face as I tore towards him, not stopping, not slowing down. I dummied left, then dived right and left him standing in the dust. I grinned despite myself. I should be worried that I was partly enjoying this. I turned left, then right, then left again, trying to shake off pursuit. Didn’t work, I could hear them a few paces behind me. A dry streambed loomed in front of me and I cleared it in one leap. I heard the footfalls of one of the Erasers stop and I flung myself left as something whistled past me.

I scrambled to my feet as an Eraser locked his hand around my ankle. I kicked back viciously with my free foot and he yelled in pain and let go. I spirited away from them ducking to avoid yet another tree branch. The Erasers caught up easily and ran along side me, trapping me. That seemed familiar, no time to worry about it now though. We burst out into a clearing and one of the Erasers tried to rugby tackle me. I dodged nimbly around him and then gasped as I saw that the clearing was ringed with Erasers, I’d run straight into a trap.

I didn’t stop running, my wings opened slightly at my sides, again offering me a way out. The only way out. I took it. My wings snapped open. I felt the air flow gently beneath my feathers, beckoning me to the sky. I speed up, faster than I ever thought I could go, running straight at an Eraser. His eyes widened in shock and he dropped into a combat stance. I jumped into the air, one foot outstretched. I impacted with his skull and leapt from his head catching the air beneath my wings and pushing down with them as hard as I could.

I flew away with tears in my eyes, trying to escape the alien feel of my flight muscles rippling across my chest and the beautiful song of the wind in my wings. It was awful and it was wonderful. Flying free in the sky, no one could catch me, no one could hurt me. The wind whispered in my ears urging me to fly faster, higher, to soar in thermals, to see the ground rush towards me as I dove. To live.

It would have been beautiful.

It wouldn’t have been me.

I was Sophie. I couldn’t fly. I’d be what they made me, a genetic freak. I’d be Fly. I could never be Fly. I just wanted to be me. Though I wasn’t sure who that was anymore.

The flock found me an hour later, a half mile from the town, curled into a ball high in a tree, wrapped in my wings and not caring.

Wings Girl

“What’s wrong with her anyway?” a voice said, Iggy I think, drifting down to reach me in my well of despair.

“I don’t think she wants wings,” Max answered from somewhere above me.

“Oh,” Iggy said simply. “I thought everyone wanted wings.”

“Yeah but we don’t exactly have a no strings agreement here.”

“Hey Max, can I have a cookie?” Nudge asked, cutting in.

“Hate to break it to you but we ate all the cookies.”

“What! But we bought like, four packets; we can’t have finished them yet.”

“Want to bet on that.”

“Shouldn’t we be helping her?” Iggy asked getting back to the topic on hand

“I don’t think we can,” Max said sadly. “She’ll snap out of it when she’s ready, or hungry.”

“When are we eating anyway? I’m starving,” Nudge wined.

“Soon as Fang and Gazzy get back with the matches,” Max explained with a sigh.

“I’ve got some homemade ones if you want,” Iggy offered.

“No offence Ig but we’re trying to start a camp fire not forest fire.”

They stayed silent for a while after that and I retreated back into my thoughts. I had wings; there was no escaping that short of cutting them off. I was a million miles from home and Kit was dead.

Kit was dead.

I couldn’t believe it. It hadn’t been long ago that I’d been bugging her to use her computer. But she was gone. She’d been looking out for me since the day I was born but now she was dead. It was as unbelievable as kids with wings. She’d just always been there.

A memory arced through my mind. That had been happening a lot lately.

The tank smelt like death. I had no idea how long I’d been in there. I’d passed out shortly after my brain caught fire, and that shortly had taken way too long. Time had stretched into infinity and then exploded like a burst bubble. I didn’t know who I was; I didn’t know where I was. But I. Wanted. Out!

The lid cracked open sending painful shards of light slamming into my eyes which I screwed shut.

The White Coat from before gagged as putrid smell flowed from the tank and then said. “Oh great, another failure.” I heard him reach down and gently pull the IV from my neck.

Sensation exploded through my body. I knew where I was and I knew that I didn’t want to be there. My eyes flicked open and the White Coat looked at me in shock, I could see him in perfect detail, every hair, every pore, the individual muscles moving to open his dropping jaw. My fist rose out of the turgid water, I saw his eyes twitch slightly, then I connected and sent him sprawling.

I practically leapt out of the tank, shaking myself to get the stinking water out of my hair and feathers. ‘Wait that’s not right.’ No time to wait though, Dr Viper here was already stirring. I dashed for the door, giving the now empty tanks a wide birth, and flung it open, glancing round the deserted corridor hurriedly. No one there so I started running in the opposite direction to the cage room.

I rounded a corner at top speed and crashed straight into a White Coat, sending him sprawling. His two friends looked at me in horror and reached into their lab coats for their cattle prods. I didn’t give them the chance. I opened one wing and flapped it as hard as I could; hitting them across the chests. ‘Wing?’ I thought in confusion. I heard ribs crack and started running again.

I took a left as an alarm started wailing. I could see a window at the end of yet another long corridor and ran faster. A door burst open and one of those weird security guards rushed out, I clipped him with a half open wing and he crashed to the floor. ‘Wing. That’s not right.’ my mind protested, I ignored it. I spun round once to avoid falling and then accelerated. If I could just get out I would be safe, I’d be free.

Doors banged open around me and there were hurried footsteps chasing after me, I didn’t look round. Twenty feet from the window. There was a growl from behind me and I heard a set of double footfalls behind me, like a dog’s. Ten feet. There was a slight ‘phut’ and something whizzed past my ear, the footfalls came closer. Five feet. I threw myself forwards feeling my wings open slightly, expectantly. I could see the sky through the glass, a glorious blue, I so wanted to be there, to soar free in the sky. ‘What am I thinking?’

My head hit the glass and the window shattered, crystal shards falling like rain around me. Something grabbed my ankle and I was jerked to a stop. I fell, still half through the broken window and screamed as jagged chunks of glass tore into my stomach.

“Not so fast fly girl,” a rough voice said as I whimpered in pain.

They pulled me out of the window and took me back to my cage, throwing me in roughly and baring the door after me. I moaned gently and shifted my wing out from under me. ‘Wing…’ My hands shot to my back in horror finally realising what had been wrong. They couldn’t have. They can’t have.

They had.

I could feel the joint just behind my shoulder, smooth skin blending seamlessly into feathers; I could feel my hand resting on the impossible joint. I gently touched my half open wing, the cage was too small for me to extend it fully, I could feel that too. I tugged on a feather and it hurt. I flapped them slightly, experimentally and accidentally whacked them into the bars. Ow! I ran my hand down length of my wings, numbly feeling the gentle caress of feathers beneath my palm.

“What have they done to me?” I whispered in shock. But I knew.

All Dead

I pulled my wings tighter around me and looked sadly at the setting sun. I picked out a single leaf and followed its silhouette as it drifted slowly towards the ground. It must have been at least half a mile away. Another reminder of just how much of a mutant freak I am. I settled back down into my wings and felt fresh tears form in my eyes. I was just crying over the same old problems but crying is usually better than facing reality.

My wings were warm and soft against my wet cheeks. I felt safe there; nestled in my golden feathers. They promised me warmth, safety, security; everything having wings actually denied me. I sighed deeply and went back to staring into space.

“It must have been awful for her,” Max said sadly to the others. “Being put in a cage I mean.”

“We were put in cages and you don’t see us whining about it,” Iggy pointed out.

“Yeah, but we were used to it,” Max paused as Iggy snorted in disbelief. “Seriously, we’ve been in cages more than not. But just putting someone in one, that’s just wrong.”

“What about the Erasers?” Iggy asked.

“I don’t think we can count them as people. White Coats too.”

I did wonder who these kids were. How did they get wings? It didn’t really matter, my gut told me trust them and instinct had been keeping me alive so far, though it had been nagging me to fly.

Fang and Gazzy arrived back in a flurry of wings.

“You took your time,” Max said.

“Yeah, it took a while,” Fang answered simply.

“That’s what I said,” Max said exasperated, “Did you get the matches?”

“Yep, they’re Itex matches though.”

Max climbed down the tree and touched me lightly on the shoulder. “Hey Soph, you want some food.” I sighed; Kit had been the only one that called me Soph. Everyone called her Kit, but Soph was my special name. I wished I knew what had happened to her though my dreams were probably a good guess. My stomach growled ferociously reminding me I hadn’t eaten in a good ten hours.

“Okay,” I said sadly and Max smiled. I smiled back, slightly. The flock leapt out of the tree, flaring their wings just before they landed to avoid breaking bones. I just climbed down the old fashioned way, still clinging uselessly to the idea that I was normal. Max started ‘organising’ dinner which basically meant that she told everyone what to do and then helped Iggy with starting the fire. I just sat to one side, still lost in my thoughts, but at least I was with other people.

It took me about two minutes to realise that Iggy wasn’t actually looking at the fire and a further two to realise that he wasn’t actually looking at anything. He was blind, blind and a mutant freak; what a hand.  And I’d been so wrapped up in myself that I hadn’t noticed.

I went through the meal in silence. Nudge didn’t, she chatted to everyone about everything and still managed to eat more in one sitting than most people manage in a day. We all did actually, even me. No one asked me about my time in the lab, I think Max had words with them, and even Nudge gave up asking me questions about my old life after my continuous monosyllabic answers.

We slept in the trees. I guess the correct term is roosted but I am not going to use that word in the same sentence as ‘I’. Max was on watch and I couldn’t sleep. It was a childish thing but I could never sleep if Kit wasn’t there. We used to share a bedroom wall and I could always hear her, just knowing she was there made me feel safer somehow. But now she’d never be there again. I should probably get used to sleeping on my own.

“Can’t sleep?” Max asked after about an hour.

“What gave it away?”

“Your eyes are open and you’re talking to me, it’s a bit of a hint.”

“Yeah, suppose it is.” I shifted slightly to stop a branch digging into my wing and tried to sleep for like the hundredth time. Not a chance. I wondered if I should fly a bit to burn off some energy then realised what I was doing and shut that thought down hard.

After a few more minutes of silence Max asked, “So, what did they do to you?”

I felt my throat tighten, painful memories flittered through my mind; I was getting used to that though. “They kidnapped us,” I said softly. “Put us in cages and then they put wings on my back.”

“Us?”

“Me and Kit,” I explained. “Kit was my sister, they killed her.”

“Oh,” Max said simply. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault. You’ve saved me enough times today anyway.”

“That’s me, Maximum Ride, saving the world, one bird kid at a time,” she said cheerfully, doing a little bow. I smiled weakly then realised she’d called me a bird kid. But that was what I was, wasn’t it. That’s why they were trying to kill me.

“How’d they get you?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“It was before we were born. I always thought how weird it would be not to have wings actually. Flying’s new though, they didn’t let us fly before…” she sighed. “Well, before we got out.”

There were a few more minutes of silence. In case you hadn’t noticed I’m not a big talker. Then Max asked. “How did they put wings on you?”

I shuddered, remembering the tank, and the pain. “They put me in a tank,” I explained softly. “Then they injected me with something and when I woke up I had grown wings.” Max’s looked surprised, it was pretty unbelievable actually. I don’t know what she was expecting to hear though.

“Guess it beats waiting around for your mutants to grow up,” Max said half-heartedly, trying to put a brave face on things. It was like trying to mask an Eraser though; you could still see it was a monster underneath.

“Not really,” I said sadly. “Me and Kit were the only ones to last out the week.”

“And how many were you?” Max asked softly, half dreading the answer.

“Twenty,” I said feeling tears cloud my eyes. “There were twenty of us. They killed all of them.”

Shot Down

I sobbed gently into my new wings, curled up on the cold floor of my cage. Surrounding me were the wails of pain from dying kids, their own horribly changed bodies slowly killing them. I was half glad when one finally fell silent, half envious too.

What was worse, I didn’t hurt. Surrounded by pain and suffering, I felt fine, great even; my torn stomach had stopped bleeding. I hurt inside though, a gnawing emptiness that threatened to consume me. ‘What have they done to me? What have they done to me?’ kept swirling around my head. The answer was obvious to anyone with eyes; they’d made me a freak, a genetic monstrosity and it was probably going to kill me. On balance the question was easier to deal with.

The White Coats dumped a monster into the cage next to me. I took one look and cowered away. It regarded me with its amber eyes and showed its pointed fangs.

“Nice wings Soph,” Kit said grinning through her sharp teeth.

“Kit?” I asked in disbelief.

“In the flesh,” she said still grinning, I probably did look ridiculous. She glanced down at her arm which was sheathed in orange fur and occasionally streaked with a black stripe. “Well, in the fur at least,” she amended.

“What did they do to you?” I asked still shocked.

“Made me a Kit-cat apparently,” she said in an offhand way sheathing and unsheathing her claws beneath her fingernails. I knew her too well to be fooled though. I could tell how distraught she was. But she was staying strong, for me. I don’t know if I could have done that. She looked up at me and furrowed her brow. “Do you know your hair’s blond?”

“Do you know you’re orange?” I shot back, snatching a strand of hair and examining it closely; definitely blond. Same tawny yellow as my wings actually. I probably would have noticed earlier but the world was crashing down around my head, had been for a while actually.

“Yeah I’d noticed,” Kit said sarcastically. She glanced at my nightgown which was bloody and torn around my stomach. “Did they do that?” she asked angrily, her eyes gleaming in the half light.

“Kind of,” I explained sheepishly, didn’t think Kit could look any fiercer than when angry, but her getting crossed with a tiger managed it. “I was jumping through a window when one of those guards grabbed me.”

“I’ll kill them,” she said grimly, unsheathing her claws and flicking her tail. A White Coat walked past and we fell silent. He glanced once at us and then did a double take. He looked at me and I met his gaze coldly, my eyes still puffy from crying. Then he looked at Kit who growled; a bloodcurdling rumble at the back of her throat. The White Coat dashed off, I don’t think he was frightened though.

“What was that about?” I asked Kit.

“Search me,” Kit said shrugging her shoulders. One of the other kids screamed once, horribly and then fell silent.

Reality flickered.

I glanced around to see which one it had been but the cages were empty. “What the…” I looked back at Kit who was lying on her side a bloody wound in her side. “Kit what happened?” I screamed in terror.

“They’re coming Sophie,” she said smiling slightly, showing blooded fangs. “Get ready to fly.”

“I can’t fly,” I whimpered watching the light fade from her eyes.

“Then you’ll die.”

I woke with a start, far below in the darkness around the base of the tree a twig snapped.

“Someone’s here,” Iggy said just loud enough to be heard. The flock were all immediately awake and alert. I think they were all used to waking suddenly.

“Get ready to fly,” Max told everyone quietly. The flock unfurled their wings slightly.

‘I can’t fly. Not again,’ I thought desperately.

‘Then you die,’ a voice in the corner of my mind said simply. I think it was mine. We squinted into the darkness below, straining to hear if someone was there.

Nothing.

Three floodlights flicked on, dazzling us. Did I say nothing? As soon as the spots cleared from my eyes I looked down and gasped, there were at least twenty Erasers below us, all with guns, all of them trained on us.

“Maximum Ride,” a tinny voice boomed out of a megaphone held by a lone White Coat, the threatening one from the tank room. “You have something of ours. Hand it over and you may leave unharmed.”

“She has a name you know!” Max yelled back quick as a flash.

“Very well, give us Fly and you won’t be harmed.”

“I’m not Fly!” I shouted indignantly, all the Erasers trained their rifles on me. Damn it!

“U and A on count of three,” Max said evenly, loud enough for the Erasers on the ground to hear. I gulped, I knew what U and A meant, but I wasn’t sure I could fly. I looked down again at the Erasers and the maws of their guns. Better to die on the wing than shot in a tree I guess. Actually better not to die at all.

“This is you’re last chance Maximum,” the White Coat. “Surrender the girl.”

“We’ll never let them get you Sophie,” Max whispered to me then she said calmly. “One.”

The flock exploded into life, leaping from the tree flinging their wings wide and rocketing into the sky. The Erasers caught by surprise fired wildly, shots whizzed past the flock, but they were nowhere near. I stood there for an uncomprehending moment. Did I miss two numbers somewhere? Then something whizzed past my face and I started running, taking three steps along a branch I sure would never have supported my weight, opened my wings wide and leapt into the sky.

The air slid smoothly over my golden feathers and I pushed down hard with my wings sending me soaring into the sky and rocketing through the cool night air. It was incredible, wonderful, heavenly even. I lifted my wings, kinking them instinctively at the elbow so they would cut through the air more easily. I looked down at the Erasers who were desperately reloading and then realised in horror that the White Coat was raising his own rifle.

There was nothing I could do. There was no time. It was just going to end with me falling from the sky, dead as a dodo. ‘Just as I was beginning to enjoy flying as well,’ I thought sadly as he raised the stock to his shoulder and my wings reached their apex. He squinted through the sight and I could see his eye hugely magnified. His finger tightened on the trigger and the gun roared.

Something hit my wing, a sharp pain that immediately faded into nothingness, not what I expected from a bullet at all. I tried to move my wings but it was like moving them through water, (that would be hard right?) I didn’t know why that was a problem though as my brain seamed to have gone to sleep. Actually sleep was seaming very appealing. I closed my eyes, ignoring the sinking feeling in my stomach as I lost altitude.

‘Just a little nap,’ I thought blearily, plummeting towards the tree tops. ‘What harm could it do?’

Duck, Hunting

I rolled over and threw up. I felt like death. A blinding pain shot through my wing as I jogged it slightly and I stifled a scream. Okay not dead; could fell pain; lots and lots of pain. I very slowly moved my head to look at my right wing, and then had to look away. Limbs should not bend like that.

What on earth had happened? I tried to think back, not helped by various other injuries reporting in, now my wing had had its say. My head pounded, I’d probably hit it on the way down, I’d probably hit most things on the way down. Let’s see… I’d been, flying, (never going to get used to saying that), and then there’d been… Erasers. I screwed my eyes shut to block out my headache. It didn’t work. And then I’d been. Shot!

I sat bolt upright and then gasped as I moved my injured wing. I looked over at my other wing, ignoring the feeling of bones grating. There wasn’t a gaping bullet wound, which is what I had been dreading, but there was-

“Oh no,” I said softly and pulled the empty tranquiliser dart out of my wing. ‘How long have I been out?’ I looked round. Not yet dawn; I wished I had a watch; I wished I was home. I heard the crunch of approaching foot steps and froze. A torch beam swung inches above my head and I dived to the ground, gritting my teeth as my wing screamed in protest.

I crawled into the hollow at the base of a tree and curled up as small as I could, not easy as I could barely move my wing. A troop of Erasers crashed through the forest, swinging their flashlights widely around, squinting at shadows and craning their necks to look up into the trees. I squeezed further into my little patch of darkness and folded my wing across my chest, careful not to jar the break halfway down my forearm. The Erasers stomped past, totally unable to see me hiding right under their noses.

I let out a slow breath of relief and then jumped out of my skin as an Eraser placed his heavy booted foot right next to my head. I looked up very slowly, expecting the worse. The Eraser, not looking at me, muttered something I’m not going to repeat here and fumbled with a cigarette packet. I tried desperately not to make a sound, as long as he didn’t notice me I’d be fine. Or at least not about to be shot.

The Eraser attempted to light his cigarette while still holding the packet (no one ever said Erasers were bright). The torch flicked wildly across the ground, nerve wrackingly close to where I was hiding. There was a faint glint as the light played over a golden feather, one of my feathers, and I stopped breathing. Again.

‘Please have missed it,’ I begged silently. ‘Please please please! Say he missed it.’ The light swung back slowly, purposefully and illuminated a single dropped feather, lying discarded on the forest floor.

‘This is it Soph,’ I thought. ‘Get ready to fly.’

‘I can’t fly,’ I though back. ‘Not with a broken wing.’ The Eraser looked up into the canopy, probably thinking I was stuck in a tree.

‘You’ll have to fight then,’ I thought at my self matter-of-factly. And I agreed.

The Eraser swung the flashlight from the ground and into the trees and I leapt up, catching him with a rising blow right on the chin. His head snapped back and he let out a startled cry. I kicked out wildly and hit him somewhere in the stomach, making him double over, gasping for breath. I saw a distant flicker of approaching lights and started running, my wing throbbing with every step, leaving the Eraser panting for breath and disappeared into the forest.

About ten minutes later I was crouching in my third muddy ditch and listening to the sound of heavy Eraser footfalls fading into the night. I got up and shook off the worst of the mud from my feet. I had originally been heading north but the Erasers were always there, waiting, watching. Hunting. I was sure there must have been hundreds of them but there were probably only the original twenty.

Two Erasers crashed through the undergrowth towards me and I dived into the shadows beneath a bush, a holly bush. They passed by without noticing me but it was a close run thing. I got up slowly and picked a sharp leaf out of my hair, ignoring the scratches on my arms and headed off in the opposite direction to the Erasers. Not that that had worked so far.

After a few moments I saw a flicker of movement and froze, straining to hear if Erasers were coming again.

A voice drifted through the silence. “Yes I know how important they are but I can assure you…” I frowned, that was that White Coat, but who was he talking to? I crept closer, a uniquely bad decision.

“No we haven’t caught her yet but…” he cut off again. I peaked round a tree and saw him talking on a mobile and pacing beneath the tree we had roosted in. He walked past one of the now off floodlights. There was a gun leaning against it.

“I understand,” he continued. “But we shot her with a tranquiliser; she should be out for another two hours.” I paused and then ducked back behind the tree as he turned around. That couldn’t be right. I had defiantly been hit with the whole dart. Maybe bird kids have a faster metabolism or something. He turned away from me and I made my move.

“Yes, of course,” he said irritably. “I’ll call you the moment we get her.” He closed the phone muttering something and I pressed the gun into the small of his back.

“Drop it,” I said quietly, hopefully threateningly though I probably sounded more scared than scary. He obliged, dropping the phone and raising his hands over his head.

“Fly, I presume,” he observed, talking slowly and deliberately. “Up and kicking then.”

“Not Fly,” I said softy, not entirely believing it. I would have never done something like this before they took me. He tried to turn slightly and I jabbed him with the barrel of the gun. If he turned he would see I was holding the gun completely wrong, though you should try holding a gun to your shoulder when your wing’s in the way. Actually I was holding it at my hip but that doesn’t really matter.

“Of course not,” he said smoothly, placatingly. He tried to look over his shoulder and I prodded him again, hard. “You can fly though.”

“Shut up,” I muttered darkly, digging the gun into his back.

“It’s a wonderful gift,” he continued ignoring my snort of disbelief. “Man has been dreaming of flying for millennia.”

“Yeah, it was a real good gift for the other kids,” I shot back angrily and shuddered, remembering some of the other kids who’d got wings, not all of them had got feathers, and those were the lucky ones, some didn’t even get hearts.

“A small sacrifice.” My finger tightened on the trigger. “But you are something truly amazing.”

“I’m not amazing,” I said sadly. “I’m just Sophie.”

“The wings say otherwise,” he pointed out glancing over his shoulder. I jabbed him again. “Don’t they, Fly?”

“I’m not Fly,” I growled.

“Of course you are.”

“Shut up.”

“How could you be anything else?”

“Shut up.”

“What with the wings.”

“Shut. Up.”

“How could you be anything else?”

“Shut up! Or will I shoot you,” I roared, he was far to close to the mark, Sophie would never have done this. “I swear I will shoot you.”

“I don’t think you will,” he said simply. “For a start that gun’s not loaded.” I had less than half a second to consider this before he spun, knocking the gun out of my hands and onto the floor. A swift punch to the head sent me reeling back, seeing stars.

He pulled a syringe out of his pocket. “Sweet dreams. Fly,” he said with a vicious smile, taking the plastic cover off the long needle. I opened my right wing hard and caught him right across the chest. Bones cracked and he fell to the floor, probably in agony, I hope he was. Actually I should be in agony. I flexed my wing and gave it an experimental flap. It felt fine, but I had definitely broken it. Weird.

I heard the Erasers smashing through the forest and spun right round to see which way they were coming from. Every way, as it turned out. The White Coat groaned and I kicked him in the ribs, he gasped in pain. I started running, folding in my wing and leaping into the trees. He probably deserved it anyway.

I scrambled up the tree, freezing every time an Eraser past below. It wouldn’t do to been seen, I might get shot; I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Above the canopy it was just getting light. A faint breeze ruffled my hair and found its way under my feathers. I opened my wings and looked up into the clear blue sky. Six shapes circled high above and I waved jauntily. I leapt into the air and, no matter how I may rationalise it as being the safest option, I was flying because I wanted to. It felt right. And that scared me.

It scared me a lot.

What had they done to me?

Bird to the Bone

I soared into the sky, my wings settling into a half familiar rhythm of their own accord. Lift them as high as they would go; push down hard, tilt them slightly to        get the best angle of attack, then coast for a moment before repeating. It was easy, simple, instinctive and totally amazing. I was born to do this, the knowledge etched onto my brain, instinct ingrained into my marrow. I was born to… no. I was born to f… No.  Born to fl… No!

No, that wasn’t right. I wasn’t born to fly. I was born Sophie. I would always be Sophie. No matter what they did to me, I’d always be me. My wings beat either side of me, and I flinched away from them, resisting the urge to fold them out of sight. That really wouldn’t have been smart.

The flock swooped down towards me, my new vision hugely magnifying them so they might have been a dozen yards away not half a mile. It wasn’t me. My wings beat again, the muscles tightening across my chest. Wasn’t me. I spread my wings wide to catch a thermal without thinking. Wasn’t me. The wind slid gently across my feathers. Wasn’t me. I wanted to soar. Wasn’t me. None of it was me! It was all alien, even my hair was different. I wasn’t me. I was what they made me.

I was Fly.

“What have they done to me?” I said weakly as the flock arrived, swooping into a rough circle around me.

The world shattered.

They’d given me wings. It always came back to that. I could feel them pressing against the bars of my cage. I shouldn’t have been able to feel anything with them. They weren’t mine. I don’t have wings. Or should that be I didn’t have wings. I touched my wing for the hundredth time. Maybe this time it wouldn’t be there.

I traced the joint again, searching for a join, a seam, a stitch, anything! Anything that would prove that these wings weren’t mine. Couldn’t possibly be mine. Had just been tacked on and could be easily removed. I didn’t think about where the wings would have come from, I don’t know of any birds with near on an eleven foot wingspan. There wasn’t a join though. The wings grew just as smoothly from my shoulder as my arms and were just as inclined to come off. I know, I tried. Maybe if I had a mirror I’d be able to see properly, prove that the wings weren’t mine, but that was probably a bad idea. After this long in a cage, dirty and haggard would be the kind description. Besides it could prove the wings were mine, I’m not to sure what I’d do then.

I sighed deeply and wished they’d bring Kit back, at least then I could talk to someone, even if the White Coats did zap you when you started talking. There was a small whimper from one of the few remaining experiments, a girl who couldn’t be more than seven. She started shuddering convulsively in her sleep, her butterfly wings fluttering, tearing like tissue paper when they caught on the bars of her cage. She wouldn’t last long, none of them had. ‘At least the noisy ones are gone’ I thought and then hated myself for it.

I wanted to cry again, but I think I was all cried out. What I really wanted to do was wrap my wings around me and hide from the world. But I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have wings. Could never have wings. Maybe I thought if I ignored them they would go away. That worked about as well as my plan to wake up in my own bed by pinching myself.

I glanced around the room to take my mind off myself. Not much to see, the walls were a bare white without a window in sight and reflected the glare of the florescent lights into my eyes wherever I looked. Other than that the only other thing to look at was the cages, which I really didn’t want to do. If Hell were a place, it would be here. Even the air was poisoned by the stink of antiseptic. Funny that it’s where the kids with wings are.

I cracked and looked at the other experiments. There were only three left, most having died during the night, I could still hear their death rattles echoing around my mind. The White Coats had cleared them quietly away, replacing their cages a few hours later freshly cleaned, awaiting the next victim. I don’t know how they could be that inhuman. I don’t know what happened to the bodies. I can imagine though.

There was another winged kid in the cage opposite mine. He lay curled on his side, wings tight against his back, staring into space. He’d been like that since they returned him, every so often one of the White Coats would check he was still breathing, and were always surprised when they found he was. I’d stopped trying to talk to him a while ago. I might as well have been trying to talk to the wall. I hoped that wouldn’t happen to me. Maybe having wings wipes your mind somehow. I half envied him though. He had at least escaped the nightmare. But I could still remember him before they winged him, babbling about his sixth birthday coming up. But now he was just still. As good as dead.

The butterfly girl stopped fluttering and collapsed on the floor of her cage, breathing raggedly, her tattered wings spasmed occasionally behind her back. ‘Not long now,’ I thought impassively. Staying separate was the only way I could stay sane. Not sure I managed it.

There was the steady clomp of approaching footsteps and I shivered. They were coming for me; they didn’t come for the others, just me and Kit. They’d already taken blood and done x-rays what else did they want? I didn’t want them to touch me. They were the bastards that did this to me. I was going to fight them, again. Kit would, Kit wouldn’t let them win.

Two shapes loomed in front of my cage and I cowered back pulling my wings around me. I always do that. Always. No matter what I plan I always cower. Too frightened to move.

“Sophie,” Max said.

The door to my cage opened and I pulled myself into a tighter ball.

“Sophie,” Max said more urgently.

Hands reached into my cage and grabbed my wrist.

“Sophie!” Max yelled.

I lashed out and my foot connected with a cattle prod sending several thousand volts up my leg.

“Sophie, snap out of it!”

I opened my eyes and panicked briefly when I saw the world stretching out beneath me. My wings moved powerfully beside me, keeping me aloft. My wings. I was flying. I couldn’t be flying. I shouldn’t even be able to get off the ground. But I could. They’d even changed my bones. Max swooped into step next to me and tapped me on the shoulder with a wing tip, probably as close as you can get to grabbing someone by the shoulders and shaking them when you’re flying.

“Soph, what’s wrong? What happened down there?” she demanded. I drew a deep shuddery breath that should have been calming. Actually I should’ve been breathless after a few flaps but I was fine. More things that weren’t me.

“They made me a freak,” I whispered to myself, not caring what they read into that. “They took my life. They stole me!” I looked up at Max with tears in my eyes. My wings beat instinctively, a symbol of everything I lost and I had lost everything.

“I can’t fly,” I told Max desperately, she looked at me in confusion. “I can’t fly and be me. I just, can’t.”

“Sophie calm down, you’re not making any sense. What happened?”

“I’m flying,” I said to myself, detaching from reality once more. “I’m not me.” I looked down at the earth and tried to ignore the fact I could see it far better than I should be able to. “I’m someone else. I’m Fly.”

I looked back up at Max. “I can never be Fly,” I explained.

I closed my eyes, folded my wings and plummeted towards the earth. I was never going to open my wings again. Ever.

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