There is a short moment when my wings won’t draw back upwards against the air. I timed it wrong. I pushed down too hard. I’m not entirely sure where I’ll land, but last time it was in my mother’s bushes. My wing was sprained for 2 weeks and she wouldn’t speak to me for twice as long.
Suddenly, as I twist and veer mid-air, my wings find a break and slice upward, catching me off guard. I kick at the air, pressing my wings down and heaving upward with every ounce of my strength. I catch sight of the ground, and I’ve already put fifty feet beneath me.
“Bird!” I cry out without thinking. I’ve usually balanced by now. I beat at the air again, but one side drives a little further, spinning me in a small circle.
His voice is clear and strong. I gasp loudly, sucking in freezing air.
“I’m going to fall!” My own voice sounds as though I’m screaming into a tunnel.
I am panting with the strain of my muscles. I should have fallen before, let the wind take me. Now, my body wouldn’t survive the fall.
A small form floats by my nose, nearly brushing me with his soft feathers. Bird turns in a tight circle around me.
I watch him while he’s in sight. When he disappears, I float for a moment. The bass in my ears returns, a fluttery rhythm I’ve never heard before.
I think for a moment on the things he taught me. The way I can move my wings around the air. I glance at each wing and shift it just a little, fitting it into a pocket. My body stills and sinks a little. My wings rotate, and the air responds. Each feather lifts a little against the wind, as though reaching for the cold. I stretch my arms out for a bit of extra balance, letting the sky spill through my fingers.
Heart is flight. I have told you.
I turn slightly to watch him dive and spin back up. “I know. I’m sorry.”
He flies just below my toes, and I watch the world turn slowly beneath me. It takes my brain a moment to catch up to this strange feeling I hope I never grow used to. The world is down there. There is nothing between me and it save for these wings I can hardly control.
He soars off to the west, his glossy black shape turning away from the pink of the morning. I take another deep breath, counting my heartbeats instead of the lengths beneath me, and lean after him. Immediately, my wings find a draft and carry me swiftly after him. In seconds I have caught and passed him.
The thrill of the flight has my heart racing. My wings grow steadier as I float along, and my muscles relax with the ease of gliding. After a few moments, they beat at the air once, twice, and I have ascended another twenty feet. Their impressive span find another patch in the air, and I tuck my arms against my sides.
Bird has fallen a bit behind. I set my jaw and rotate my right wing a little, dipping it into the wind. With my left, I quickly flip myself over, so that my back is to the earth. My legs kick at the air as though I’m swimming.
“Sorry,” I repeat. I’m not very talented yet at flying upside down. I slow a great deal, allowing Bird to catch up with ease.
Could be much faster.
“I’ve never tried.” The fastest I’ve flown was what I could only guess as forty or forty-five miles per hour. The cold, wet air of the sky began to hurt my face then.
Try. Meet at cabin.
I lay my arms against my wings. The tight muscles beneath the feathers are taught against the air. My back shivers a bit, and the muscles are beginning to ache with keeping me up. I unsteadily flip back over and catch myself with the wind. We’re still a ways out from the foothills of the Rockies. The faster I fly, the sooner I’ll get there, and then my body can rest.
“Are you sure?” I ask downwards. He slows and quickly disappears behind me. I glance upward toward the Rockies. They’re still just a faint blur through the dark morning.
I tuck my arms down again, count three heartbeats, and then draw my wings up high. I dive a little, but keep my eyes trained on the horizon, just like Bird taught me. Quickly, I bring them down again in unison, the muscles tilted forward, and launch forward. Every muscle in my body cries out in surprise.
The wind whips against my face nearly immediately. Tears well in my eyes, and I have to duck and wipe them away before daring to beat at the wind again.
I ascend a bit higher, carving through the air like a hot knife through butter. I flap three more times, propelling myself forward, until I’ve reached the speed I did last time. I can hardly see the trees whipping by beneath me.
When I see the last dimly lit road slip away into the night, I tilt my wings again to slow myself down. The world comes swirling back into focus. In a matter of a few minutes, I’ve reached the foothills. I beat twice, slowing to a stop, and gaze around. My heart is beating too fast, and it takes me a moment to catch my breath. My body is screaming for me to land.
Off in the distance, I can see Golden, Colorado twinkling in the folds of the mountains. Highway 58 is just barely awake with a few sets of headlights, and I can just make out a white “M” against the peak overlooking the tiny town.
I lean in again and set off at an easy pace to let my muscles rejuvenate. I find the old highway 93 below, and follow its slow, sweeping path towards the sleepy college town. A diamond of geese pass thirty feet below me, growing louder as I float by. I flex my arms out to pull at my shoulder muscles. My wings shiver with the pleasing stretch.
When I see 58 merge with 93, I turn and follow the small highway deeper into the mountains, putting Golden at my back. The peak to my left soon swallows up the last of Colorado’s lights, and soon all I can make out are a few streetlights and an occasional vehicle. Thankfully, the sun has begun backlighting the clouds above, and this provides me just enough light to spot the nearly invisible road that veers off from the highway into the woods.
I turn in a circle, watching the soft brown tips of my wings vibrate with the wind, and then I dive for the road. Twenty feet above the trees, I pull up and slowly descend through the break in the branches around the road. Now that the leaves are growing back, it’s more difficult to fit in between with my wings. The tips nearly catch on a few branches on my way down.
With ten feet to go, I focus my energy on my core again. My wings tuck, and I sink to the dirt road a little too quickly. I stumble when my feet touch, and my wings throw dust into the air as I try and make up for the mistake.
I cough as the dust clears and settles. Up ahead, the trees clear just enough for me to make out my second home.