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Freedom to Live

We drifted lazily on the breeze high above the towers of New York. Well, the rest of the flock drifted, I was desperately trying to find a reliable headwind. The curse of small wings I guess, I can get speeds which can put Bluebird to shame but if I go to slow I fall out the sky. I mean Gale wasn’t even flapping, for God’s sake.

“So Gale, where do we go now?” asked Tapper, calmly watching me flailing in the wind.

“Can we go up twenty feet, I’ve got a good current here?” I yelled a might testily, the flock fluttered up, apart from Gale who just tilted her wings and floated up.

“I was thinking,” Gale replied completely oblivious to my struggles, or maybe not and just trying to annoy me. “We should get away from humanity; go live in the wilderness, maybe on top of a mountain somewhere.”

“That would be fun.” Tapper agreed smiling softly.

“Great plan.” I snapped a little shortly. “Does anyone know anything about living on top of a mountain? Anyone?” Okay I was very short. Tapper’s smile faded a little and Gale shot me a vicious look which said clearly ‘It was only a dream.’ I felt a little guilty after that.

“Before we fly off can we get breakfast first?” Cam inquired starring at something on the ground. “Look McDonalds is doing a breakfast menu.” He pointed; I sighed.

“Cam we’re three thousand feet up, I can’t see what you’re pointing at.”

“Look by Central Park,” he said, still pointing.

I glanced down, focussing impossibly on buildings, making them appear as if they were a hundred yards away and spotting at least half a dozen.

“Can I have an ice-cream?” asked Weird swooping over. That clinched it, I could never refuse Weird, not to mention my own grumbling stomach.

“We’ll see what they have won’t we.” I replied grinning. Weird cheered and did a little loop the loop. Bear in mind that there is nothing more dangerous than a cute kid. Well maybe an Eraser.

“What about the, you know the weirdness.” Asked Tapper looking at me over her shoulder.

“We’ll deal with that once we’ve eaten.” I answered. See, I’m not always the devils advocate. I folded in my wings and plummeted towards the earth.

I’ve might mentioned this but diving is my absolute favourite part of flying. It’s easy to see why sky diving is so popular when you’re going a hundred and eighty with the wind roaring in your ears and an electric thrill firing up your spine. I glanced behind me to see the rest of the flock following their feather tips barely showing, and gaining on me, steadily eating into my lead. Well, I’d soon sort that. I opened my wings grimacing as the wind threatened to pull them out of their sockets.

Cam shot past me with a whoop of joy and I gave chase, accelerating as I pumped my wings, cutting through the air like a knife. I veered left gaining a few miles an hour on a down draft, and then I had to spin as it entered a warm vortex or I’d risk being plucked. I drew level with Cam who had his arms crossed against his chest and was falling like a torpedo. I gave him a cheery wave as I passed before the current pulled me away and I followed its lazy arc towards the ground.

The current took an unexpected right and threw me out, sending me spiralling into a rising column of air, the deceleration tugging at my joints. I felt a pin prick on my wing and swore as I saw a feather spiralling away. I tucked my wings in for the last stretch, falling between towering skyscrapers, using my wing tips to guide me towards a deserted grove of trees. Just above the tree tops I flared my wings briefly shedding speed like feathers, grabbed a branch on the way down, spun once around it and landed deftly on the ground barely bending my knees.

Typical, a cool move like that and no one sees it, though that was the plan. Cam arrived a few seconds later a touch annoyed at being beaten. He was slightly red that’s how I knew, but he still gave an honest. “Well done.” I beamed; sometimes you forget just how good it feels to be appreciated.

Weirdness arrived with a bang, making me think we’d need to take a trip to the emergency room, or maybe a vet. But when the leaf mulch settled she was grinning broadly her eyes fading down to their usual faint green. I sighed and filed away a ‘hitting the ground at a hundred plus’ lecture for later. There was no point talking to her when she was grinning like that, if you did you can literally see the words falling out the other ear.

Tapper landed silently behind us making me jump followed by Gale who can’t get the same speeds as the rest of us with her large wings.

“Right,” she began trying to press her wings further into her shirt and failing. “Anyone for breakfast?”

Five minutes later we were starring at the menu written in bold above the counter in a bustling McDonalds. Specifically the prices.

“It’s times like these I wish my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” I said gazing at delicious looking pictures that went along with the menu, desperately trying not to inhale. I didn’t think I could take it.

“Is there any chance that someone just happened to find a wallet full of money on the way here?” asked Gale without much hope in her voice. This was met with silence; someone’s stomach rumbled though.

“Let’s get out of here,” I muttered. “Find some cash somewhere.” I walked out followed by Gale. The others sighed, their eyes lingering on the giant pictures but came with us. Outside we tried to blend in with crowds, about as easy as getting an Eraser to bathe, Gale’s wing tips and Cam’s grass green hair attracted curious gazes. And Cam steadily going a self-conscious pink didn’t help either. At least Tapper’s hood hid her neck, I wasn’t sure I could explain that one away.

“Gale, I’m hungry,” said Weird, slipping her hand into Gale’s and looking up at her imploringly. See what I mean about cute kids? That look could have melted a White Coats’ heart, and I’m reasonably sure they don’t have one.

“Me too,” added Tapper softly.

“Me three,” said Cam, unnecessarily.

“We’re all hungry.” Gale agreed. She looked at me and asked quietly. “Dumpster diving?” I made a face, I hate dumpster diving.

“Blech. Not if we can help it. Besides this is New York they’ve probably been picked clean by now.” We walked past a bank complete with cash point. ‘Hmm, hello idea nice to meet you.’

“Got an idea,” I said. “Follow me.” And I walked over to the cash point the others in tow; it’s nice to be trusted.

“We’re going to rob a bank to pay for breakfast?” Cam asked sarcastically. Okay maybe not totally trusted.

“No, we’re going to get money from the cash point.”

“Hate to break it to you,” Gale chipped in. “But you need a card to get money from those.”

“Trust me.” Gale rolled her eyes but didn’t stop me. “Right watch this.” I said wiggling my fingers dramatically above the key pad.

“Hawk, you can’t hack a computer with twelve keys.” Gale said acidly

“Bet you a hundred dollars I can.”

“You don’t have a hundred dollars.”

“Soon will though.” I brought my hand down on the keypad and said clearly. “Can I have a hundred dollars please?”

“What’s your next trick?” Gale asked scathingly. “Pull a rabbit out of your ha…” she petered off as the machine spat out a stack of tens. I didn’t need to turn around; I could practically hear their jaws drop.

“Thank you.” I said to the machine, the words ‘please insert you card’ faded and were replaced briefly by ‘You’re welcome Hawk.’ Told you computers liked me. I turned to face four stunned faces smiling broadly. “I’ll take cash.” I told Gale

“That’s not possible,” said Gale after a moment of stunned silence. “You can’t just ask a cash point for money.”

“I’ve got a hundred bucks that says you can.” I replied a tag smugly waving the bills in front of her.

“Can we get food now?” Weirdness implored, tugging on Gale’s sleeve.

“Sure thing kiddo,” I answered, still smug. “It’s on me.”

There are three things I like about fast food; one it’s fast, two it’s food and three it has enough sugar to send you into a diabetic coma. Useful if you have a metabolism faster than Roadrunner. After a few minuets of disgusting eating noises Gale paused long enough to ask the ultimate question.

“How?”

“Don’t know,” I answered grabbing a few more fries from my forth box. “I’ve always been good with electrics; remember that time when we tried to escape.” She nodded, Tapper had memorised the Erasers’ patrol root, Weird popped the locks, Gale and Cam took out the guard and I opened the key coded door. Shame about the ten Erasers behind the door. I broke about four bones and lost a chunk from my arm. I took a sip of Coke. Coke for breakfast? Why not? It’s just sugar and water what else do you need to start the day? “It’s like, just talking to them, it’s their choice whether they do it or not.”

I reached out and grabbed my burger which was floating slowly towards a waiting Weird, at least she looked sheepish about it. I wouldn’t mind so much but she already had a burger. I took another bite and continued, “So key pads like to open doors, and burglar alarms like to go off.”

“And cash machines like to give out money.” Gale completed. “Weirdness you’re making a scene.” Weird looked a little putout but brought the toy plane she had been making fly around Cam’s head, in to land. The only person actually watching was a six year old, who was probably wondering why his wasn’t doing that, but that wasn’t the point, we couldn’t afford to draw attention to ourselves. Well, any more than a thirteen year old with feathers, a ten year old with a punk hairstyle, and a kid who looks like he fell down in a knife factory, (that’s me by the way). At least Tapper and Weird looked normal as long as they didn’t do anything creepy. Like, say right now. The toy plane taxied along the table before turning and parking in an empty box of fries.

“When did Weirdness turn into the human vacuum machine?” I asked making a lunge for one of my French fries that was making a bee line for Weird. I missed and she started chewing happily. Tapper smiled faintly and went back to daintily eating a burger; Cam went a bit yellow, his happy colour.

“She’s been doing that all month,” Gale answered also smiling. “It got to the point that if you wanted something to stay still you had to nail it down. She even lifted the pups at one point.” I let out a bark of laughter which turned into a sob as I remembered the pups last moments; I tried not to think about it and failed as Otto’s whiskery laugh filled my mind. Then I started choking.

After a few moments of Cam patting me on the back I recovered enough to say. “I’m sorry I missed that.”

“Yeah, me too,” replied Gale looking distant. “It wasn’t all fighting Toad Boy, we had some fun too.” She plucked the plane from its hanger in the chip packet and toyed with it. “We even shadowed planes for a few days before air traffic control caught on. Cam almost got sucked into a jet engine.” She went to put the toy down but it didn’t budge, she let go and it stayed rock steady. “Weirdness!” Weird grinned impishly green light playing around her pupils. I stood up and yanked at the plane which came away easily and I overbalanced falling back into my seat. Weird giggled.

“So how were you planning to hide the weirdness?” Tapper asked out of the shadows of her hood, her eyes glinting faintly.

“I was thinking in a sack.” I muttered glaring at the grinning eight year old who fluttered her eyelashes at me. That kid.

“No I mean the wings,” said Tapper with a sigh. I couldn’t blame her that had been a terrible joke.

“Clothes, jackets, sun glasses. You know, disguises.”

“Cool,” Cam said excited. “We could be like secret agents with X-ray glasses and pens that shoot poison darts.”

“I doubt we’ll find those in a clothes store.” I replied and Cam’s yellow glow faded, then I caught the look Gale was shooting me and hastily added. “We might though.”

After about an hour we found a clothes shop that didn’t look like it cost the earth, this was made harder by Gale’s executive decision to avoid busy streets after someone complemented her on the cool feathers on her shirt. We kept a closer eye out for Erasers after that. Not to mention that kids of assorted ages wearing clothes that hadn’t been cleaned for a month look a little suspicious. The smell of smoke and death lingering around us was probably a dead giveaway too. So, new clothes all around.

The shop we found was a miniature barn with high ceilings, useful for an escape by air and overflowing with what looked like enough clothes for all of New York, including a second hand section. Just what you look for if you’re a mutant with claustrophobia and seventy dollars to your name. I wonder who else they cater for. I agonised over getting rid of my Fly Free T-shirt which was dotted with blood, which is almost impossible to get out. Then there are all those questions how you got blood on your shirt, plus I’d have to sew up the hundreds of tiny cuts which would be nigh on impossible as I don’t know how to sew. Eventually I just got a shirt with an F-15 on it and a replacement pair of jeans.

Cam was comparing two identical dark green shirts and Gale had found a leather jacket that was at least two sizes too large but did an excellent job of covering her wings.

“How do I look?” she asked examining her reflection a mirror and rolling up the sleeves so she could see her hands.

“Like a biker chick.”  I replied and she stuck her tongue out at me.

“Says you, Feather Head.” I laughed before remembering Toad Boy and his lackeys. I felt a great wailing sadness scream through me as I thought about the kids with whom I had shared my whole life. Now all dead. And it was my fault. All my fault. I fought it down, I could mourn later. Right now people were relying on me and letting them down would be, unthinkable.

“Let’s go see how the others are doing.” I said softly trying to keep the sadness out of my voice and failing.

“I didn’t mean …”

“Forget it.” I snapped back. Gale didn’t need to apologise, if I had acted sooner I could have gotten some of the kids out, much as many of them annoyed me.

We paid for our clothes; or rather I bluffed the computer into thinking we had paid. Cam had chosen his shirt and added a pair of camouflage pants plus a pair of gloves, going red in the face is acceptable but if your hands blush you attract attention.

Tapper had swapped her red hoody for a brown hoody. And coupled with her eyes shining faintly from the shadows that she always seemed to find, the hoody succeeded in making her look even more like an owl. Weirdness had gone for black and lots of it which made her look like a miniature witch. A cute one though, black suited her, it went with her eyes, though she was a little put out about not being allowed the dress. We all got coats as well, flying is cold.

Then with our new anonymity we hit the streets of New York, which are, as you probably know, busy and also completely petrifying for someone who’s lived his whole life in a cage. Not to mention the fact that any one of the hundreds of people that we passed could be an Eraser about rip our heads off. Or worse, take us back to the lab. You can call me paranoid but then I’ll ask you who are you and why are you so interested.

The others didn’t seem to be worried about how exposed we were and instead just stared in rapture at all the amazing sights around us. Weirdness seemed to want look at every little thing in all of the shops.

Cam was gazing up at the skyscrapers and idly wondered, “How fast do you think I could go if I jumped from them.”

I knew but didn’t answer, that would be a dead give away, emphasis on dead. Tapper seamed to just be looking ahead, but I knew she was cataloguing every sight, every sound and filing them away for when she might need them. Plus she still hasn’t gotten the hang of not spinning her head right around. So she just doesn’t move her head when there are normal people around.

I glanced at Gale wondering if everyone would hate me for ever if I said we should get out of the city. But I didn’t bother, she would never stop the kids when they were having this much fun, heaven knows they hadn’t had much in their lives. Besides she was as enamoured by the city as everyone else. So that just left me with my head. I did a sweep for Erasers, glaring at one street vendor who seemed to be taking too much of an interest.

Naturally the moment we saw A.F.O. Schmidt we had to go in. It was that or face pleading eyes from Weirdness.

When we got in everyone scattered further ruining my plans to avoid death and capture. Then again what were the chances of the Erasers setting a trap so quickly, and what were the odds of five kids who learnt the word toy a month ago going to a toy store. I had a feeling they were about the same. I sighed and took note of where everyone was. Gale and Weird were in the cuddly toy section standing next to a rack of bears dressed as angels, stupid irony. Tapper was waiting for a chance to play on a games console and Cam was looking at a shelf full of water pistols, ‘note to self: do not let him have one!’ Then I went off to see why this place was supposed to be the greatest, but not before telling Gale. “Meet at the entrance in ten.”

Ten minuets later I accepted that yes this place was the best, but I hadn’t found anything that I wouldn’t lose half an hour after of taking to the sky. I had added plenty to my Christmas list though. Now I just needed someone who would buy me stuff from it. Gale and I met at the entrance, and then we had to go round up the others; I found Weird frowning at a Ouija board in the mystical section.

“Weird we should get going.” I said walking up to her.

“Hawk, do you feel that there anything really weird about this?” She asked not looking at me. I picked up the box and read the back, apparently spirits were supposed to guide the pointer across the board and it would spell out a message. That just sounded stupid, and even if it did work my first suspect would be Weirdness not ‘spirits’.

“Weird how?” I asked and waved my hand above the five dollars of cardboard and plastic, it didn’t feel any different from anything else I’d seen.

“Just strange,” she replied. “Like that bullet in your pocket.”

My hand leapt reflectively to my pocket where the bullet Weirdness had stopped earlier nestled. I had completely forgotten about it, I had even moved it from my old jeans without realising it. And I was sure that Weirdness had not seen it. I shook my head this was just too, well weird. And from a guy with wings, that’s something.

“Come on Weirdness, the others are waiting.” I said tugging her away, before she did anything else weird that gave us away, or at least that’s what I told myself. There’s something a little creepy about someone who can see something behind them and out of sight. Scratch that, incredibly creepy. Weirdness resisted for a moment but then came with me still a little confused. I met up with the others, Tapper was looking smug but I could worry about why later.

“What’s wrong?” Gale asked anxiously casting her eyes around the store.

“Just Weird being weird.” I sighed. “Now let’s get out of here before the teddy bears start tap dancing.” ‘Not to mention the fact that there could be a team of Erasers coming for us as we speak.’ Gale smiled at the idea of dancing bears and I glanced sternly at Weirdness to stop her getting any ideas.

“Can’t we stay for a few more minutes Gale?” Asked Cam doing his best to look sad and hard done by. He failed; I know when he’s sad he goes blue, and technically he’s always hard done by.  I shook my head at Gale, staying here wouldn’t be safe; even so she might stay anyway.

“Sorry Cam,” she said soothingly, nice to see she was being smart. “We’ll go somewhere else fun though.” Maybe not that smart then. Now that was one promise I did not want to keep, I wanted to be at least two hundred miles away by now, not somewhere ‘fun.’

“Gale. We need to get out of the city before they find us.” I hissed as we walked out.

“I know,” she muttered out of the corner of her mouth. “But we need to rest up first,” then added almost too softly to hear. “And we need to forget.” I rolled my eyes. Forgetting is easy when you’re running for your life. That felt like a premonition.

Of course we couldn’t pick somewhere quiet to go. No, we had to go to Central Park Zoo. Which I admit was cool, but couldn’t we have gone to a nice quiet movie or something. Oh well, at least we could take to the sky if things got hairy.

Tapper managed to get into a staring contest with an owl, and won. We had to get a crowbar to move Cam from the reptile house, and Weirdness dispelled the myth that penguins fall over when planes fly over. I wouldn’t ask if I were you. We all hurried past the wolves but the birds were cool, though we were the only ones taking pointers from them.

Gale and I leaned against the bars of the lions that looked incredibly bored and were flatly ignoring the kids who were trying to get their attention. It was probably only a matter of time before Weirdness tried something unusual but we were keeping a close eye on her after the penguin incident. One of the lions yawned; I knew just what they were thinking. There is not much to do in a cage after you’ve established you can’t escape, that’s why Tapper invented the taps. Sometimes you were almost glad to be out even if you were being experimented on.

Almost.

“You getting an incredible feeling of déjà vu?” I tapped on bars just loud enough for Gale to hear over the hubbub around us, and probably Tapper too.

The tap system works with two types of taps, a long and a short, so A is five short taps, B is four short then a long and so on. This does mean we only have twenty five letters but we only recently found out about Z so it doesn’t matter much. Tapping out a message is slow but better than being an Eraser snack.

“Yeah, but we were looking the other way last time.” Gale rapped back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tapper look over at us and smile. It must be nice to have people use a system you came up with. She was looking at us at a ninety degree angle though.

“Too far Taps.” I mouthed at her. She nodded and turned her head back to a normal angle.

“Had enough of New York yet?” I asked Gale who was back to staring at the lions.

“I was just thinking,” She said with that faraway look in her eyes. “Maybe we should let these guys out. Nothing belongs in cages.”

“They’ll die.” I replied bluntly. “Just look what happened to us. Hunted down and slaughtered.”

“Would you prefer to stay in a cage?” She shot back. Touché. I didn’t have an answer for that, on one hand the others would still be alive but then I would have never of seen the world.

“They shouldn’t be here.” She continued

We shouldn’t be here,” I pointed out electing to ignore the question. In thirty years or so I might know the answer, if I was still alive. “We should be five hundred miles away by now and looking for somewhere nice and safe to spend the night. Not ogling the lions in central New York.” Gale opened her mouth to start what would have been a heated argument but froze, staring at something above my head. Not a good sign. Someone grabbed my shoulder and I wheeled round. People who turn slowly usually get knocked out.

I came face to face with six Cops.

My heart leapt, preparing me for flight or fight. I’m not good with surprises. And I fought down the instinct to flare my wings. I glanced at Weirdness who is usually numero uno on my suspect list but she was looking as shocked as the rest of us and not doing her innocent expression. So what did these Cops want? And were they Cops?

“You lot will have to come with us.” The lead cop, a grizzled veteran with an eye patch, said just loudly enough for everyone within about fifty yards to hear.

“Why, what did we do?” I asked my voice sounding loud and aggressive in the silence that had descended on the crowd. I didn’t trust this guy, not that I trust many people. But there was something about him that seemed naturally threatening.  Plus I kept getting a feeling that I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

“Theft,” he answered, grabbing me and motioning for his friends to follow suit. Then he muttered in my ear. “And being alive.” He grinned wolfishly.

Now I knew where I knew him from, good Old Glass Eye. I hate being right all the time. I started to struggle and judging from the sounds behind me the others started too. Glass Eye and his Eraser buddies didn’t seem to care though. Stupid genetic engineering.

I pulled my legs off the ground letting him support me for a moment, not that that would break his hold, hollow bones and all. Then I stamped down hard on his instep and jumped up with all my strength when his grip loosened for a second. And, being the freaky mutant that I am, I managed to grab the top of the ten foot fence surrounding the lion enclosure and pulled myself up.

I crouched on the bar and glared at the Erasers, and earned myself a cheer from someone in the crowd for my acrobatics together with a low rumble from the lions at my back.

“Little birdie. Come down to play.” Glass Eye said in a sing song voice apparently ignoring the pain in his foot.

“Or what?” I shot back, well and truly between a rock and a hard place. And in those situations I become stupidly cocky. Or had you noticed that.

“Or I’ll have to send someone up there to pluck you.” He growled back, and motioned to the Eraser not holding one of the Flock who attempted to climb the fence. Not as easy as it sounds when you’re wearing boots and there are lions on the other side.

I quickly surveyed my options; I could probably hold off one Eraser but not all of them and when the one climbing up failed they would probably try and bring me down at gunpoint. Actually I had no idea why they hadn’t just shot us straight away. The Eraser gave up trying to find purchase on the tightly spaced bars and tried to step up on the padlocked door. Now there was an idea.

Tapper also converted her tap system to a visual method, what you do is hold your hand out, palm in and wriggle your fingers, down is long and up is short. The Eraser’s head appeared over the top of the fence and I delivered a kick to his forehead that threw him off and sent him crashing to the ground. I started signalling to Weird. Unfortunately W is just the middle finger but making Erasers angry is gift of mine.

“Right, bird boy!” Glass Eye roared pulling out his gun, “I’m going to count to three and if you’re not down…” He drew the barrel across his neck. Not that he needed to, though the fact that he was threatening not shooting was very interesting, and unusual for Erasers. I finished the D in Weird and she nodded almost imperceptibly.

“One,” I flashed the word ‘Open’ and she nodded again

“Two,” I did the ‘The’ and started on the ‘G’

“Thr…” I finished ‘Gate’.

Weirdness’s eyes flared briefly and there was a tiny click as the padlock fell away and clattered to the floor. Glass Eye paused looking at it in confusion.

“Three?” I suggested.

The gate slammed open clipping an Eraser who went spiralling to the floor with a yell. A lion rocketed out and pounced at Glass Eye. He spun to face it and fired three shots which buzzed to a halt as Weird’s eyes shone like little lamps; the green light spilling into her pupils. Glass Eye stared at the bullets for a moment in disbelief before morphing and taking the lion head on, both of them clawing and biting at each other. Pretty even match actually. The crowd screamed and started running except for the Erasers who stood their ground and went for their guns.

Gale was the first to break free, twisting around and slamming her fist into the Erasers face as he tried to draw his pistol. He dropped the gun and dived for it picking it us moments before a lioness jumped him, biting down hard on his neck. For some reason the lions were concentrating on the Erasers, probably a Cat v Dog thing, but it gave us a chance. Tapper threw her Eraser using one of the moves from my self defence course and then rugby tackled Weird’s, knocking his feet out from under him.

“To the sky!” Gale yelled, glancing around at the keepers running in with dart rifles, and whipped open her jacket unfurling her wings.

Cam used his Eraser as a springboard, running up him and leaping from his head. Nasty but cool. Tapper grabbed Weirdness and threw her into the air. Weird’s night black wings snapped open and she flew off to join Cam who was practically going straight up. Of course then the gunfire then started without Weird to stop the bullets. Tapper ran at Gale dodging a bullet that zipped over her head. Gale interlaced her fingers, and Tapper jumped placing her foot in Gale’s hands and was hurled into the sky. Then Gale followed with one massive down thrust of her huge wings.

There was a bellow as Glass Eye got darted by a park keeper; I saved that image for any time I might need cheering up. I surveyed the scene; the flock were safe and the Erasers were a little busy. Time to go. I leapt up, flinging my wings wide and pushing down hard. I dropped alarmingly but remained airborne and then accelerated out of the park before someone got the bright idea of darting me.

I rose, following a thermal from the lake, and joined the others who were waiting high above. I looked behind me, fighting, screaming, blood, chaos and Erasers.

The story of my life.

I need a new author, my story sucks.

We didn’t come down for an hour, and even then it was only for dinner, then we stayed up until night fall. We landed on the roof of an office block on Thirty First Street that didn’t look like it had been used since its construction, and judging from the horrible green colour of the wall that was sometime in the seventies. There was of course a security camera but I had a word with it. It didn’t want to turn off because it was a prissy little bi… thing, but eventually I just tricked it into shutting down.

Then we made ourselves comfortable, or as comfortable as you can get when sleeping on top of a building, and settled in for the night. Cam and Weird were out the moment there heads hit the ground, sometimes I forget that they are just kids, what with the mutant stamina and all that. Tapper took first watch, which she had suggested. I guess she wasn’t planning to get caught out again. I tried to sleep but failed miserably. I just couldn’t seem to relax; there was always something that kept me awake. Whether the dull roar of the traffic, a small stone digging into my back or a constant chill tingling down my spine that even putting my jacket back on couldn’t shift; then of course I didn’t have a pillow. Eventually I gave up.

I sat down next to Gale who was dangling her legs over the edge of the building and staring down at the ground two hundred yards below. A fire truck screamed past, the flashing lights turning everything the colour of flames. I had a brief image of the burning warehouse. Just like I had imagined it, and shivered involuntarily, then wrapped myself in my wings pretending that I was just cold.

Gale glanced at me, eyes hovering on where my wings had just appeared out of slits in my coat. I caught a look of; what was it, sadness? Regret? Envy? But then it was gone and she went back to staring into space. Funny thing but I had never imagined Gale as being jealous of my wings. They’re almost too short to fly on. If truth be told, I was a little green-eyed about how she could just float in midair. But maybe she just wanted to fit in; to be normal? Not that hiding her wings would solve that, but I don’t know. Gale isn’t one to announce her thoughts and feelings; then again I’m not either.

We descended into awkward silence, which at last I broke. “Can’t sleep?”

“No. You?” She replied not looking round at me.

“Not a chance. I keep getting a really weird feeling.”

“Me to. Like ice cubes down your neck?” That was not good, that was exactly it was like.

“Maybe we should go somewhere else.” I suggested and silently added ‘like the next state’.

“No. The kids just got to sleep, let them rest for a few hours. Nothings going to happen until at least dawn.” Of course saying something like that is just asking for trouble.

Tapper whipped round, her gaze locking on the door. It was behind her but she didn’t turn round, just swivelled her head. You getting used to that yet?

“Someone’s coming.” She said simply.

“You sure?” I asked, I could only see the back of her head but I knew she was rolling her eyes. I shouldn’t have to ask by now. Gale and I leapt up ignoring the huge drop below us. If you’re afraid of heights, try getting wings.

“I’ll wake the others.” Gale whispered, I nodded and headed for the door. If anyone was going to be ambushing anyone it would be me. Gale gently shook Weirdness and put her hand over Cam’s mouth to stifle his usual wake up yell. He let out a shout that might have been ‘Marmalade!’ but it was thankfully muffled. I put my ear to the door, judging from the noise there was a whole regiment of troops on the other side. I jumped on top of the little hut which it lead out of just as it burst open and a dozen Erasers ran out on to the roof. The others froze as they levelled rifles at them.

“Freeze!” yelled one of the Erasers, Gale rolled her eyes at him.

“We’re already frozen, idiot.” She snapped back and earned herself a vicious snarl. Great, Gale’s the only person I know who would insult someone pointing a gun at her. Expect me of course.

An Eraser and a White Coat swaggered through the door thankfully silencing Gale before she could antagonise anyone else. She’s good at that by the way. The Eraser I recognised (I’ll give you one guess. And the answer is? Glass Eye, if you guessed right, give yourself a cookie). And the White Coat, well I had a vague idea I had seen her before but she wasn’t one of my regular torturers.

“So, these are our illustrious escapees,” she began with an arrogant sneer, I immediately began to hate her. “I must say you have exceeded our expectations. I will be interested to find out just how you escaped our trap earlier.” She paused and frowned seaming to notice something for the first time. Then she rounded on the Eraser that had been arguing with Gale. “Where’s the fifth one?” She demanded

“Don’t know Ma’am,” answered the Eraser trying his best to sound respectful, and failing. It just didn’t want come out of his slightly too long jaw. He also turned round and I had to throw myself flat on the floor. “This is all of ’em.” He continued still mincing the English language. In case you hadn’t noticed brains do not equal promotion in Eraser land.

“All of  them!” she corrected impatiently. “And he is here, we saw him on the security camera.” I almost swore; that bloody camera. I decided to use my precious moments before they actually started to look for me. And started to flash the message ‘Run on three’ but it was painfully slow. We have got to come up with an abbreviation for some of the more common words. The flock being smarter than the average wolf man didn’t look at me. That would be a dead giveaway. Gale did grab Weirdness’s hand and Cam started slowly changing to a bright green which his how he looks when he’s preparing for fight or flight. Not that any of the Erasers knew this.

“I’ll send a few men too look for ‘im.” said the Eraser I privately named Doofus. I finished my message and held up one finger. Briefly wondering what my plan was beyond run.

“You do that.” The white coat agreed in roughly the same tone she would use if she was talking to a mollusc. I raised my second finger.

“And when you find him,” Glass Eye growled speaking for the first time. “Bring him to me. We have some business to attend to.” I shivered involuntarily and my wings twitched where I had them wrapped tight against me. A small stone went skittering away into the night. Glass Eye spun and our eyes locked for a moment. He had replaced the eye I’d popped in the library with a glass one. How ironic. And it somehow managed to mirror the feral glint of its brother. His mouth opened to bark a command but I beat him too it.

“Three!” I roared and rocketed forward like a runner out of the block, probably breaking a few laws of physics. I pushed down hard with my wings flying inches above the heads of the surprised Erasers. My foot clipped an oddly shaped skull which ruined my manoeuvre and sent me crashing to the ground. But I was up in flash reaching the others before the Erasers could gather their wits and screaming “Run!” at the top of my lungs.

The flock were already five steps ahead. Gale was practically dragging Weird whose eyes were glowing like emeralds. Cam had his wings out and was using them to power him along. Tapper of course wasn’t making a sound, even while sprinting. The rifles crackled, one flew over our heads but the rest buzzed to a stop. Call me crazy but it seemed that Weird was stronger after only twelve hours; something else to worry about. I told you you think strange things while facing imminent death.

“Alive you idiots!” the white coat yelled. Good, being captured alive means you are less likely to be shot. Gale reached the edge of the roof and hurled Weirdness off, then flicked her jacket open a leapt forwards, barely dropping as her wings caught the wind. Cam didn’t stop running, just lifted his legs and fell a couple of feet before swooping off. Tapper jumped off and fell for a moment before opening her silent wings. A bullet whistled past far too close to my ear. I put my head down and poured everything I had into reaching the edge. A second bullet nicked one of my open wings, nothing serious but it hurt like hell. I glanced behind me and saw Glass Eye aiming down the barrel of his pistol, ignoring the White Coat hollering at him.

He mouthed the words. “You’re dead freak.” and pulled the trigger. I dived forward feeling the bullet’s slipstream ruffle my hair for the second time that day. My dive brought me over the edge of the building and I pulled my wings in for more speed ignoring the needle of pain from my nicked wing. The others were hovering just below the lip of the building and joined me in my headlong rush for the ground.

“Plan?”  Gale yelled at me over the roar of the wind

“We fly as far as we can as fast as we can!” I cried back, which was essentially my plan this morning but maybe she would listen this time. She nodded as the fifteenth story flashed by. Finally some sense. Gale and I opened our wings and levelled out smoothly, flashing past darkened tenth story windows.

Weirdness simply swapped directions going from vertical to horizontal in a green flash. Then she opened her wings. Note to self: Ask Weird how she does that, I have got to learn that trick. Cam caught Gale’s wake and sling-shotted forward, flipping onto his side to slice between us. Tapper simply ghosted along in the rear, watching our backs.

I relaxed for the first time that day. We were free, nothing could catch us now. We were birds on the wing, soaring through the skies, totally untouchable. I pushed down with my wings, we were going about eighty and I was barely cruising. Gale flapped lazily beside me. She doesn’t need to flap as much as the rest of us, but then she does have to work harder.

Its times like this, with the flock drifting around me and cruising in the twilight above the brightly lit streets of New York I feel almost safe.

Almost.

“Well, that could have been worse.” I said casually.

Gale snorted in disbelief. “The only way it could be worse is if… if-” she groped for an example.

“We’re being chased by flying Erasers.” Tapper cut in.

“See she’s right,” I agreed. “That would definitely be worse.”

“No,” Tapper sighed. “We’re being chased by flying Erasers.” I looked over my shoulder and swore, then looked guiltily at Weird. A group of ten Erasers was closing fast, their huge oily black wings beating in unison, much faster than ours though. Scratch that about feeling safe. And since when can Erasers fly?

“Okay guys.” I called. “Let’s show these guys how fast real freaks can fly.” We increased the tempo, effectively jogging. The Erasers kept pace, still closing the distance by the second. We started sprinting, the scenery blurring as we went around one hundred twenty miles an hour, Gale and Tapper keeping pace despite their problems with speed. You may not know this but owls don’t actually fly that fast.

The Erasers kept coming somehow still going faster than us, ‘What do these guys run on, nuclear power?’ There was a block between us which at these speeds meant nothing.

“Left!” I screamed, and banked taking the turn at ninety degrees, and for those of you who have never felt G-force it is like having all your organs being sucked out through your left foot. The others followed taking the turn as if they had been doing this all their lives. The Erasers messed it up, one almost losing his wing on a building. They were still too close though. We took another corner at breakneck speed, then another and another. I almost brained myself on a flag pole that loomed out of the darkness and spun to avoid it.

I glanced behind me. We had gained a block somewhere but the Erasers were drawing their guns, so much for being taken alive. We took a right as shots whizzed past us. ‘No buzzing, not good!’ Gale pulled ahead of me briefly and I stole a moment to do a quick head count, five, good, and Tapper was practically looking everywhere at once trying to keep an eye on everyone. The Erasers came round the corner, doing better, actually flying in the middle of the street, I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

“Down!” I yelled and dived, the others following as bullets roared past, far too close. I think I heard a buzzing but it was drowned out by smashing glass. We flew low, much closer to the traffic, mere feat above the roofs of the cars. Painfully visible, but we were going to fast for any human to catch. We scattered to get out of the way of a truck, then turned right and I narrowly avoided losing a wing to a fender. The Erasers didn’t copy our daredevil stunts but shadowed us not shooting for some reason. Thank God they only had handguns.

The street around us exploded with shot. ‘Oh right, reloading.’ Chips of tarmac flew into the air and ricochets shattered windows and raised screams. Cars swerved and crashed as they lost tires and windscreens. A taxi ahead of us screamed out of control and flipped over spinning into the air passing bare millimetres above Cam’s head. I barrel rolled to avoid a bullet frozen in midair in front of me. I glanced at Weirdness whose eyes were glowing brilliantly and was trying to keep all the Erasers in view and fly at the same time.

“Weird look out!” I screamed as an Eraser dive-bombed her, she turned her jade eyes to the Eraser who

stopped.

Going from one fifty to zero with a bone crunching jerk. Then he fell the remaining thirty feet and crashed into the asphalt already unconscious. Gale rose up as an Eraser swooped down on her, bringing her fist against his jaw which sent him spinning head over heels. Cam rolled onto his back, bunched up his legs and let an Eraser fly within inches before delivering a punishing double kick to his stomach. Tapper simply dummied hers and let him crash into the roof of a car. Stupid Erasers.

“Scatter! Meet at breakfast!” I roared hoping I was being clear as Erasers rained from the sky and I narrowly avoided a clawed fist. I turned left, my wing slicing between confused humans, three Erasers following a few feet above me. I saw Gale and Cam going straight on with two Erasers in hot pursuit. I accelerated; no longer having to worry about the pace of the rest of the flock. My wings almost blurring as I beat them to some impossibly fast rhythm. The Erasers caught up, perspiration shining on their faces; I could practically hear the creek of their joints as they pumped their wings way too fast. I went right and almost crashed into a truck coming the other way, running along its side in a desperate attempt to avoid going splat.

The Erasers had plenty of warning and breezed past it, using its slipstream to draw level with me. I dodged left and up as one charged me. I flipped over his partner and lashed out at his wing joint but missed. The third Eraser grabbed my trainer and I shook him off but lost speed. I dropped a couple of feet almost scraping the asphalt, then shot up as one of a thousand generic taxis screamed towards me. I passed through the gap between two of the struggling Erasers and rose on my inertia. Street level is just too dangerous. The Erasers lost valuable time coming up to meet me.

I looked behind me to see the Erasers strung-out like beads, their wing beats noticeably slower. Their eyes widened staring at something ahead of me; I turned and saw that the road just ended in a glass fronted office block that towered above me. I slowed, then remembered the Erasers snapping at my heels. How do I get myself into situations like this? I pressed on, playing chicken with a glass wall that’s me. Behind me I heard the Erasers gasp and pull away, well two anyway, one kept going, the stubborn idiot.

The glass drew closer, rushing towards me at a breathtaking speed. I saw my reflection looking fierce and determined; the Eraser behind me did too. I pulled up with inches to spare, speeding up the edge of the building like an avenging angel. The Eraser behind me didn’t, he should have pulled up precious seconds ago. He smashed through the double glazing like it wasn’t even there and going that speed he probably came out the other side of the building. Won’t be seeing him again.

I stopped near the top of the building, hanging weightless for a moment as my momentum ran out. I looked around spotted the two other Erasers swooping round to converge on me and sighed. There was something tranquil about this moment; I wanted it to last forever. Oh well. I fell, flapping my wings hard, the Erasers coming up fast, looks of pure hatred on their sweaty faces. I accelerated, careering towards them, briefly realising that they were probably stubborn enough to just crash into me. I was close enough to see the whites of their eyes; one drew his gun but was far too late.

I dived to my left, my slipstream sending one spinning and crashed into the wing of the other. Something popped, and then we were falling, his weight dragging me down, a clawed hand grasping my shirt. His other hand was busy too; his first punch made me see stars and I ducked a second which looked like it would have taken my head off. I tried to fight back but it was like attacking a barrel, punches and kicks seemed to bounce off him. Who was this guy, Superman? His wing hung limply below him, I had probably dislocated it. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t feeling me.

A cuff round the head sent me reeling and I caught a glimpse of the ground which was dangerously close. I had to get this bozo off me. I tried to break his grip but he just batted me off, I aimed a kick at his shoulder but couldn’t get the leverage, we were falling far to fast. I flared my wings trying to slow us enough to maybe not break every bone in our bodies. Not a chance, too much weight. I yelled as the bones in my wings screamed. Nothing for it, I bit his hand. He howled in pain and let go of my shirt, and fell screaming.

I pulled up, skimming the traffic and spat out a mouthful of Eraser blood. I spotted the final Eraser who was looking at me with interest, then at his friend twitching on the crumpled hood of a car below. I must have looked a sight. I could feel my eye swelling shut and I probably had scratches all over my face, not to mention bruises. He back looked at me and our eyes locked. It was strange; I didn’t see the usual feral anger just. Respect? I wiped away some blood from around my mouth. He nodded once at me then saluted then flew off; I didn’t know how to respond. I just hovered there and watched him go.

“Can I have seven milkshakes please?” I asked the girl behind the counter, doing my best to sound friendly which admittedly wasn’t very good. It had been a long day, about eighteen hours to be precise.

“Just for yourself?” She inquired perplexed, looking at my scratched face and arms.

“No,” I explained. “I’m, meeting friends.” She still looked puzzled.

“Okay, do you want fries with that?”

“Maybe later.” I took my tray and sat down in the same booth as we had used last time. In case you haven’t guessed I was back in McDonalds and I was the first to arrive. I had tidied myself up best I could but I still looked like I had been through the mill. Then attacked by a dog. Pretty much how I felt as well

I gulped down a milkshake then started on a second. I was on the third by the time Tapper arrived. She slid silently into the both and picked up a cup.

“Strawberry?” she asked taking the lid off with a faint pop.

“No, chocolate, I thought we needed the treat.” She smiled and started sipping at the shake. “Any trouble?” I asked after a minute.

“No.” she responded softly. “I gave them the slip. Then I hid and came here.” She took another sip. “I made sure I wasn’t followed.” She supplied staring at me with her overlarge eyes. I felt a little guilty, was that why she thought I was asking? We stayed silent until Gale and Cam arrived both slumping into their seats, looking worse for ware.

“Those shakes ours?” Gale asked gesturing at them.

“Those two are,” I answered. Gale nodded and grabbed at hers greedily, Cam followed suit.

“How’d it go?” I asked

“Two Erasers chased us, but we fought them off.” Cam said with a hint of pride shining through the nasty gashes on his face. I smiled; it looked like it had been quite a fight.

“Had fun then,” I commented and Gale punched me playfully on the arm making me wince as she found a bruise which I had missed. We sat in silence for a few more moments. “Any sign of Weirdness?”

“No,” Gale answered sounding confused. “I thought she was with you.”

“Me too,” Tapper added, I looked out the window, trying to think of the last time I saw her, half hoping to see her green eyes shining through the night. I glanced at Cam, who was sizing up Weird’s shake.

“Hey,” I told him sternly. “That’s Weird’s. She’ll want to have it when she gets here.” I looked back out the window.

She never did drink it.

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