(This bit of “flash fiction” was inspired by a writing prompt found on Reddit. It seemed to be fishing for a story about “How I got wings.” And I, apparently a bit of a contrarian at heart, decided to make it not a story about getting wings. In any case, it was a fun little exercise.)
[Warning: today’s post is rated PG-13 for strong language]
I almost didn’t remember the feathery stubs on my back any more, in my day-to-day life.
My early childhood had apparently been a nightmare for my parents: doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit; careful inspection followed by exploratory inspection followed by borderline-malpractice inspection; experimental treatments; diet changes; the works. The minor surgeries they attempted were startlingly easy – we still have a photo of six-month old me smiling next to a whole row of bloody, bony, draggle-feathered nubs in a soiled steel tray – but ineffective, because they always grew back. (In fact, the rate they grew back at seemed to speed up as I got older.) My mother’s job actually fired her under pressure from their insurance provider (not that she could prove it, of course), and my parents flirted briefly with the idea of going public and monetizing my condition, but decided that that wasn’t a choice they had the right to make for me. Instead, they stopped trying to find a medical solution and focused on adaptation.
Which… thank goodness. I’ve only shown them to a handful of my closest friends, and that was stressful enough. I nearly lost Amanda entirely, she was so squicked out, and that was after I’d gone out of my way to show her on my birthday as a special confidence. Being a celebrity-slash-freak would have been infinitely worse.
After that, life was mostly normal, with just an added mix of planning and mild inconvenience. A doctor’s note so that I could spend gym class stretching and doing solo exercises instead of anything that would risk exposure. Fluffy sweaters in the winter and flouncy blouses in the summer. Posture training at home so I didn’t ever lean back in a seat long enough for them to hurt, or lean forward so much that the shape would show. I even discovered that with some concentration, they could be retracted a bit, pulled tight against my skin.
Did I mention that there are dozens of them? Did I mention that the color of the feathers, always a jumble, varies a little depending on the air temperature and on what I eat? My younger brothers and I experimented for a while when we were all in elementary school together, but when I got into middle school I had to actually get serious about homework, and anyway it didn’t seem so important any more that eating bag after bag of baby carrots turned the feathers just slightly more orange. I had other stuff going on in my life. I almost forgot about them.
I stopped forgetting.
This morning, on just my ninth day of high school, in the middle of algebra, I stopped forgetting the stubs. I think it was because that asshole Devin threw a wad of paper at his crush when Ms. Su’s back was turned, and hit me instead.
It’s not like it hurt or anything. Just a little bop against my ear, a reflexive rush of laughter across the room, a moment of surprise, a flush of embarrassment, a flash of annoyance.
And a sort of slipping, popping feeling from my back, under my flouncy blouse. And then – motion, a scrabbling, something scratching my back, and then everybody around me was freaking out and I was freaking out and that only made it worse because the more I freaked out, the more quickly the slipping, popping feelings came, and more scrabbling, and by this point bad things were happening to my blouse all up and down my back, I could feel it, and then the WHOLE FUCKING FLOCK managed to burst out – a couple of the smaller birds even escaped through my sleeves – and I just ran. I guess there were cardinals and wrens and jays and finches and at least one crow and I think a hawk that flew straight into Devin’s face, both of them screaming. I didn’t hang around long enough to really take a good look or watch the show.
So here I am in the bathroom stall in the dingy little one-seater in the hall behind the theater room. The stall door is locked, and the bathroom door has a chair wedged up against the knob, and the light is off, and I just realized that of course my phone is in its little pouch in my bag back in the room and I’m not sure I can ever go back to that room because… just… ugh.
When we were little kids, my brothers and I played super-heroes. Doesn’t everybody? They changed who they wanted to be with the fads: one day they were fighting over who got to be Mantis Man, the next time it’d be Vortex or Dextro. I always ended up as Angel, and in our fantasies my feathers had matured into wings of purest white, or scarlet, or gold, and I gained all the powers we could imagine for a watered-down seraph. There wasn’t a lot of variety, but it could have been worse.
Wait, it is worse. I spent my childhood imagining myself as some kind of undercover angel… but now, judging from the rate this bathroom is filling up, my only real power is to produce an indefinitely large number of birds. I’m Harvey fucking Birdman.