I can’t seem to move. Not even if I wanted to.
The figure hesitates in the doorway, half in and half out, wavering between my world and theirs. The fire spits and hisses, as though roused by the intruder.
I am just a shadow to the figure. I have to pray for that.
Suddenly, Bird lets out a vicious noise I’ve never heard before. I cringe away from him, instinctively expecting an attack, and watch as he hurls himself at the figure. He and the intruder are back outside within a heartbeat, and seconds later Bird manages to flee into the sky. The mad flapping of his wings soon fades into the woods.
He says not a thing to me.
I retreat quickly, backing straight into a wall, and await my fate. Bird left without me.
The figure stumbles inside again, coughing. It’s back lit only slightly, so I can tell almost immediately that it’s a man. And probably the largest man I’ve ever seen.
I freeze against the wall, fingers splayed behind me to keep my wings quiet. I could still hide them. They could still slip right back into my jacket. I am a lost hiker. I’m just passing through.
I’m a pale little woman with absolutely nobody to find my body.
The man seems a little surprised for a moment at the fire. He falls still, one hand clenched on the old door, his eyes catching the light of the flame. For a long moment, I wonder if he’ll be able to see me at all. Maybe I’ll be safe for just long enough until he has gone away.
“There’s a fire going,” he shouts over his shoulder. The blood drains from my face. Nobody responds to him for a moment, so he turns and glances back outside. “Spencer!”
“What?” The voice is far off, maybe thirty feet away.
“I thought you said this place was abandoned.” He starts to back out, and my stomach ties up with butterflies.
“It is.” The other voice is paired now with a second set of feet jogging up the front steps. “Nobody would live here.” Another man jerks to a halt in the doorway. “What the fuck?”
“Yeah.” The first man runs a nervous hand through his hair.
“Let’s just go. We’ll ask the neighbors.” The second man stumbles back slightly, caught up by the loose floorboards of the porch.
The first man hesitates a second, his eyes sweeping around. I am pressed against the wall so hard, I feel as though I’ll soon blend with the paint. His eyes glide right past me, and my heart is racing.
Suddenly he moves back, his shoulder bumping into the doorframe. The wood of the frame actually cracks just slightly.
“Shit,” he breathes, covering his mouth with one hand just a bit. My eyes are round and half a heartbeat from tears. “I am so sorry.”
I don’t realize at first that he’s speaking to me. I am still frozen, pinned against the wall.
“I didn’t mean to just barge in that way,” he says to me. “My brother said this place – I’m really sorry, I swear I didn’t know.”
I don’t respond. I don’t know what to say.
He clears his throat, and in some way it’s a very masculine sound. “Please don’t call the police. I’m really sorry.”
“The police?” It slips out before I can catch it. I lift a hand to shove the word back in, and one wing settles a little against the wall. The light of the fire grows just then, and I can make out the bewilderment on his face.
“Yeah. I promise, we had no idea.” His words halt and hitch, and he reaches for the door. “What’s that behind you?”
“Nothing.” I say it too quickly. He saw them. Why does he bother asking? The only person I’ve seen in the past three years besides my family is Dr. Tyler, and she is miniscule compared to this man.
“Oliver?” Spencer’s voice is suddenly right there, just over Oliver’s shoulder.
“No, stop.” Oliver turns and gestures at his brother. “Go. I’ll be there in a second.”
“Just go.” They bicker for a moment, and I glance down the hallway. I could be out the back in seconds. I take several breaths, half watching them and half the hallway. When Oliver starts to talk again, I turn and start off as quietly as I can.
“Wait, Miss,” Oliver shouts slightly, and then falls very quiet. Even the fire settles a little, dimming the room with the hush. My back is to him.
I hardly even hesitate. I take off down the hallway in a blind run, making for the back room with most of the rear wall missing.
“Wait!” I hear Oliver give chase, and I fumble for half a second with the knob. There are tears in my eyes when I turn and slam the flimsy door shut. I lock it loudly, one hand flat against the wood, and take half a step back. Every feather on my wings stands on end, and I can’t seem to catch my breath.
I hear Oliver find the door, and his hands move up and down along the length, searching for the knob. I remove my own hand and back away, hiccuping once. My insides are frozen.
“Miss! Wait, please!”
I start shaking my head, as though he can see me. I lift my hands up and rake at my temples, turning in a small circle with my wings half outstretched.
Suddenly, something much larger hits the door, and my entire body jerks away from it. I stumble for the sheets that are tied securely to the roof and the floor, forming a makeshift wall that had kept the majority of the cold at bay. I tear and rip at them, cursing my knot-tying skills, until they finally come loose at the top.
The door is flung open wide, and my wings unfurl fully. The sky has grown brighter, and I can see the tops of the trees from where I stand. The sheets billow to the earth, snagging in the closest bits of tree and brush and forming a bowed floor between the cabin and the hillside.
I glance once over my shoulder. Oliver has stopped dead in the doorway, eyes wide.
I don’t even hesitate to curl a bit of wind under my wings. I turn and leap toward the trees. My wings catch, and carry me where my legs never could.
I make it to the sky, kicking wildly as though it’ll put distance between us quicker. My heart rate only picks up faster, and within seconds the strain in my back has me gasping for breath.
My wings falter some, and I lose a bit of elevation. A little cry slips through my lips, and my wings spasm again. My foot clips a tree branch, and the pain that scorches up my leg blinds me entirely. I fall, spinning slightly, and narrowly miss several more branches on my way to the dark, soft forest floor.
The wind is knocked out of me.