by Christopher Zerby
We had a fire going on the roof of the Museum, same as most nights, and I noticed him sitting on the edge of it, across from me. I’d never seen him before. He hunkered down in a big, black coat, holding out his pale, skeletal hands to grab a bit of warmth, laughing a little behind the rest, like he didn’t quite get the jokes. I figured someone must have brought him, but no one was talking with him.
Bang was there of course. So was Chittle, and Peapod, and maybe a dozen others, the usual crew. We had some juice someone snatched, and I felt drunk, maybe straddling the edge of wild. He was the skinniest thing. I mean, we were all skinny. We were made that way to begin with, and we were starving most of the time, subsisting on whatever could be snatched from the Apes or picked out of the garbage. You can’t be too proud. Besides, you can’t fly with too much meat on your bones.
I prodded Bang. “Who’s that? I didn’t see him fly in.”
She shrugged. “Don’t know. But I could eat him up.”
I thought I could too. He had massive brown eyes peeking out under long, dark bangs, and in the firelight his pale skin looked almost translucent. Gorgeous. The more I stared at him the more violent my desire grew. I felt a tickle in my gut, and the warm flush that always started down there.
I picked up my can of juice and got to my feet. I wanted to get over to him before Bang or one of the others made a move. I stretched as tall as I could get, jutting out my bare chest and spreading my wings wide. They all stared. Of course they did. My wings are beautiful, blue-black and huge, the biggest on the rooftop, maybe, except for Bang’s. Peapod gave an audible gasp. I’d been with him before, but I could have him anytime. The show wasn’t for him.
I pumped my wings sending trash and debris clattering across the rooftop, suffusing the air with my scent.
“Knock it off, Senna.” Bang shielded her eyes and shook her wings, a few feathers dancing free in the air, letting me know I was pissing her off. But it was a warning, not a challenge. Everyone else was entranced.
Except the new guy.
Oh, he was staring at me, alright, but he cowered beneath his coat. I tipped back my can and drank, felt the bitter juice burn my throat as a bit of excess ran down my chin, and strutted around the fire to where he sat.
I stood above him, wings unfurled, but what I saw in his face made me lower them. He was terrified. Not my intention at all. Maybe a little awe, a bit of lust would have been appropriate. He was tensed and ready to bolt. Although I didn’t see how he was going anywhere with his wings crammed under his coat.
I wanted him to stay. I held out my can.
He didn’t move. The others had gone back to laughing and teasing each other when I dropped my wings, but it wouldn’t do to be rejected in front of a crowd. The moment seemed to stretch on way too long. Right before my annoyance tipped over into anger he took the can and drank. His bony hand trembled, from fear, cold, maybe both. It’s ok, I thought. The juice will warm you up and make you brave.
I pushed in next to him. I caught a nice whiff of his scent, felt the desire in my gut and wondered if he saw the flush spreading across my chest, but I stayed composed. I didn’t want to scare him off.
“I’m Senna.” I smiled. Not my best expression, but it worked. He smiled back.
He wasn’t as small as he’d seemed hunched down across the fire, but he was emaciated. I could see the sinews in his neck, and his skin stretched taut across his face. I had the urge to fold my wings around him and hold him close in the dark and warmth. If I’d had anything to eat I would have offered it.
We passed the juice back and forth and gradually he relaxed.
“I haven’t seen you before.” I kept one eye on him and one eye on Peapod who was grappling now with another youngling I recognized but couldn’t name. They were playing. For now.
“It’s my first time. On the roof, anyway. I’ve snuck into the Museum before. At night.”
“The Museum? Why?” I didn’t even know what was inside the building. Once, somebody had vandalized the big sign hanging in front, scrawling an “UN” in red paint above the “Natural History.”
Eamon shrugged. I thought he might be pretty drunk already, a skinny thing like him.
“Where do you usually stay?”
He bit his lip, staring into the fire. “In Old City. I had to get out of there.”
I squirmed a little, forcing myself to relax, still trying not to be too aggressive. I sensed it would turn bad if I did, but I could smell him. Sweet and grassy. Fresh and new.
“Old City. Huh.” Old City was full of low buildings and Apes. Not a lot of safe spots. Nobody I knew stayed over there. “Why’d you have to leave?”
He took a long swallow of juice, not meeting my eye.
Peapod screeched and took off running, his bare feet slapping against the cold rooftop. Wings spread wide, he leapt into the air, gathering height with a couple of pumps, circling above the fire. Several other younglings launched themselves into the air, following him.
“Don’t come back without food!” Bang shook her wings and sat back, stretching her legs out so her feet were practically in the fire. Her predatory eyes glinted in my direction, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was staring at Eamon.
He noticed too and I felt him shiver despite the fire and the juice. His big brown eyes glistened as they met mine. He seemed so helpless. He raised his head, pushing against me, finding my lips with his. He trembled as I wrapped my arms around him.
Mine, Bang, mine.
* * *
No way Eamon would have followed me to the spot at the back of the roof behind the big steel vents if he was sober, but we finished the can of juice, I grabbed another off a youngling, and we drank that too. We didn’t talk much. I’m better with actions than words, so I kept sticking my tongue down his throat, and when I pulled him away from the fire, he didn’t fight.
There was a tangle of blankets and old clothes to climb into and the vents blocked some of the wind, so it wasn’t too cold. I was burning up anyway. He stood with his back to the lights of the city as I kissed him and slid my hand along his chest, my fingers tracing his jutting bones, and though he parried my every move, I knew he was warming by the telltale flush on his chest. The air was dense with our mingled scents.
He keened as I worked my way down his neck. It sounded more like pain than pleasure, but when he pushed against me I felt how much he wanted me. I nipped at his ear and he shuddered.
“Take off your jacket,” I whispered. “Let me see them.”
He broke away, taking a step back. Caught up in my own desire I lunged for him.
He fought me off and stumbled in the pile of blankets, falling to his knees. He crouched, protecting his face with his bony arms and I stopped, suddenly aware of how I loomed over him, wings wide like I was ready to strike. I folded them back.
“Okay, Eamon. Okay.” I knelt, but didn’t touch him though my body screamed for it. It’s so hard to control. He panted, soft and desperate.
We stayed there for a long time until I grew cold. I settled into the pile, tucked in my wings and draped a blanket over them. After a time, Eamon moved closer and we nestled together. I still wanted him, still felt a little loopy from his scent, but it receded to a dull, lingering ache. There were occasional bursts of laughter from the other side of the roof, and once or twice in the distance I saw the dark silhouettes of flyers riding the air currents above the city as they searched for opportunity, perhaps an Ape out alone on a dark street.
Eamon saw them too. I kissed his neck, just below his ear. “Are you hungry?” I asked. “We could hunt.” I could tell something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t stop myself from touching him.
His huge brown eyes, so close, got hard all of a sudden, distant. He looked at me from a million miles away.
He stood and unzipped his coat. My pulse quickened. He dropped it to the rooftop and opened his wings. I cocked my head, trying to understand what I saw.
They were skeletal things. A few feathers clung here and there like the last few leaves on a dying tree. I stood and moved close. Ropes of lumpy scars crisscrossed the leathery skin, which was puckered and red. There were sores, gently weeping, and although he could move them a little, it was obvious he would never fly.
“What happened?” I felt a little sick, all the juice I’d drank roiling in my stomach. “How did you get up here?”
“I climbed.” His voice was raw and I caught the sour smell of fear and desperation. “I couldn’t stand to be down there any longer.”
I pictured him pulling himself up the side of the building, clinging to the bricks like an insect in the dark. Sneaking over the edge onto the rooftop hoping none of us would notice as he took his place at the fire. He looked so frail standing there with his ruined wings, so insubstantial, like he might blow away in the wind, but his eyes stayed hard, and he thrust out his bony chest in challenge.
“I’ll go,” he said.
Wings beat overhead in the darkness, maybe Peapod and his playmates returning. I hoped they didn’t see Eamon, his wings, his deformity. It would make them aggressive, agitated, that weakness.
I felt a little of it myself, but I shook it off and pulled him to the blankets. I started at his mouth and kissed my way down his body, taking my time, the sharp edge of my desire softened now with something new. I wanted to protect him. Now he was kissing me, hungrily. He lay back and I straddled him, wings spread, slipping him inside me as he began to keen once more.
* * *
I woke, still tangled in the pile, to Eamon pulling on his coat. I reached for him, sleepy, eager for him again, but he pulled away, his long bangs hiding his eyes.
“I have to go,” he said. “Before the others wake.”
I struggled to sit up, my head still muddled, half in dreams. “You can’t go now. It’s practically light out. It’s not safe.” Apes would be all over the city soon, going about their business. They weren’t always hostile to us, but we certainly weren’t loved, and they were strong. A full-grown Ape could shred wings, could shatter our hollow bones.
I’d seen it. A few weeks earlier, a youngling, Crescent or Crystal, something like that, got caught snatching a purse. The Ape grabbed her in midair by the wrist, squeezed and crushed it to powder. She got away, but I saw her that night curled up on the Museum roof, hand dangling useless as she clutched it to her chest. I don’t know if she survived. She stopped showing up.
“I can manage.” Eamon had the hard look in his eyes. “I manage every day.”
“But you can’t…” Fly. I stopped myself as he glared. “Don’t leave. I’ll go out in a while and steal us food. We can stay here.” I gestured at the blankets and gave what I hoped was an alluring smile. “Until dark. Then I’ll see you home.”
Eamon shook his head. “If I stay, you’ll have to fight her.” His voice was low and tremulous.
He was right. I’d seen how Bang looked at him. Things between me and her were coming to a head in any case. She was in charge, but I was on my way up and she knew it. I’d seen her fight a dozen times; she was fast, vicious. I wasn’t sure if I could beat her.
“I’ll beat her.”
He stood, hunched under his coat. “Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t want to be the cause, either way.”
I followed him over to the edge of the roof, fighting the urge to grab him and pull him back. I couldn’t help some of it. We’re made that way. But I also wanted him to want to stay with me, and I’d never felt that before.
“I’ll come back another night,” he said, slipping over the side. “I promise.”
I leaned over the edge, watching him painstakingly crawl down the side of the building. I was worried at first, but he never faltered, never seemed like he might slip. Despite his disfigurement there was something so strong underneath. When he made it to the street and strode off, coat wrapped around him, I knew I wouldn’t risk never seeing him again. I would follow him.
* * *
I soared high above the city, drafting on the currents, feeling the wind’s icy tongue lick my bare chest, my gut roiling with excitement the way it always did. Flying. It was everything.
I kept an eye on Eamon as he wound his way toward the Old City and even though I stayed distant so there’d be no chance he’d notice me, I never feared losing him. His scent filled my nose still, clung to me, mingled with my own. The flying and the thought of the way he moved inside of me during the night had me inflamed, and I darted and rolled, diving toward the rooftops and spinning away again. I saw others in the sky but they avoided me. They could tell I was aroused and might knock them to the earth in that state, and my wings were spread wide, wider than any of them. They were right to be afraid of me.
It took Eamon an hour to get to Old City, and there I had to be more careful. The buildings were low, Apes were everywhere, and none of our kind were nearby. Eamon seemed confident, however, moving with purpose. He hung to the edges of the street, avoiding the slow gridlocked cars and throngs of pedestrians, and no one bothered him. He was at home, part of the environment.
He turned on to a shabby side street and slowed his pace as I drafted above him. On one side a row of brown tenements squatted close together, separated by narrow alleys. On the other there were tiny houses, shacks really, dilapidated and ugly. Eamon stopped in front of one for a second as if catching his breath, and went inside.
I settled onto the roof of the tenement opposite and tried to get a look inside the squalid little structure that must have been his home, but the curtains were drawn. It didn’t matter. I knew where he lived and I’d approach him when it got dark and convince him to return to the Museum. Meanwhile, I would hunt and sleep.
Hunting was poor in Old City. There were no wealthy Apes with fat purses strolling about, and no tall buildings hugging the streets to be used as cover for a quick snatch and grab. I had to settle for a meal scavenged from the trash, but I didn’t care. I’d eaten worse lots of times, or gone without eating altogether. I made it back to my stakeout spot in the early afternoon, found a tarp on the tenement roof to hide from the bright sun, and curled up to sleep.
* * *
I woke as the sun was disappearing below the tall buildings in the distance. I shrugged off the tarp and sat on the edge of the roof, peering at the little house. A pale light glowed behind the thin, tattered curtains. I relaxed and waited.
At full dark I hopped into the air and landed on the sidewalk in front of Eamon’s house. The street was quiet, no Apes around. It was a moonless night and I felt comfortable I wouldn’t be spotted as I crept to the window. I peered inside through a hole in one of the curtains.
Eamon sat on a low bench, coatless, his back to me. His decrepit wings were open, but hung listlessly, and I felt a warm blush of shame to be spying on him. With his guard down he had none of the defiant hardness he’d shown in flashes on the Museum roof, nor the confidence with which he navigated the Ape filled streets. The sag of his shoulders reminded me instead of the way he’d huddled by the fire and cringed when I’d tried to force myself on him. My shame deepened. I would leave him alone, I decided, and come find him another night. As I turned, I caught a flicker of movement at the far end of the room. Eamon wasn’t alone.
A small, hunched, old man appeared. His smiling face was wrinkled and saggy, and a slack belly hung over the belt holding up his drab grey pants. What was Eamon doing with this tiny Ape?
When he passed from the dim shadows deeper in the room, I gasped. He was one of us. An elder. I thought I might be sick.
He had no wings, just two shriveled, black stumps and his back was covered with the same ropy scars Eamon had, the same puckered red skin. But no sores. His disfigurement had happened long ago.
A disease. The elder disappeared from sight again. Was this Eamon’s sire? Did it pass from generation to generation? Was that why they lived apart from the rest of us in this little hovel among the Apes, hidden away in Old City?
Cold terror gripped me. Was it contagious? I strained to touch my wings, to feel for sores. Was I infected?
The elder returned and set a tray on a small table. Eamon’s shoulders and wings shook, and through the thin glass I heard his muffled sobs. He shook harder as the elder gently rubbed his arm and whispered in his ear. When Eamon finally calmed the elder turned to the tray. He put on gloves, the brown leather stained and rotting, and busied himself mixing a paste in a bowl. He muttered as he worked, adding a few drops of liquid from a glass decanter. He mixed some more and approached Eamon with the bowl and a tiny brush. Medicine.
Eamon began crying again. I watched the elder’s profile as he bent to examine the tattered wings. Help him. Please help him. Despite the fear for myself, I wanted that, more than anything.
The elder squinted with concentration, mouth slightly open. He brought the glistening brush up, flicking his pink tongue to lick his lips. He smiled.
Eamon keened as the elder delicately brushed the base of his wing. The keening grew shrill. The elder’s look made me go cold. I knew it well, a mix of predatory zeal and consuming pleasure. The glistening patch on Eamon’s wing he’d painted blackened and puckered, and the elder’s chest and neck flushed an obscene pink.
My heart pounded as I rushed the door, yanking it open, wings spread wide, forcing my way through the narrow space with a shower of feathers. The elder dropped his bowl and it shattered, splattering his concoction as I leapt on him.
I pinned him to the floor, wrapping my hands around his flabby neck and squeezed until his pink tongue lolled from his mouth as he wheezed and struggled. He reeked of greasy, sour fear, and something else, something rotten below the surface, making me gag as I choked him. He turned purple.
“Stop! Stop it!”
Eamon flailed at my arms and my head but I hardly felt the blows. I tightened my grip. In my rage I beat my wings, knocking Eamon backwards into the table, upending the tray and tools, and he tumbled to the floor, despoiled wings in the air, tattered and vulnerable.
I released the elder who sagged, unconscious, and crawled toward Eamon, ignoring the debris crunching beneath my hands and knees. I pulled his thin body to me and wrapped my arms around him, rocking him back and forth, whispering apologies. He let me for a moment, but pushed me away.
“You shouldn’t have followed me.” He turned his back. “I don’t want you here.”
My body screamed to hold him, protect him, but I forced myself not to touch him. “I don’t understand, Eamon. Why was he doing that? Why would you let him hurt you?”
Outside, somewhere far down the street, I heard an Ape’s cackling laughter. I felt sick to my stomach.
Eamon stared at the floor. “He lets me live here. He looked after me when I was young. Now, I look after him.”
“No. Let him rot. He’s a monster. You don’t owe him anything.”
“It’s none of your business. I can’t just fly up to the rooftops where it’s safe, like you.” He bared his teeth and spread his poor, tattered wings as if he’d strike out, but he dropped them. “I look after him. He looked after me. I look after him.”
The words were mechanical, like he’d repeated them to himself night after night.
“I’ll look after you,” I whispered.
He shivered, his wings quivering. The elder groaned.
Eamon rushed to him and cradled his head. He turned to me: “Help me.”
We carried the limp elder to a dirty pallet in a gloomy corner, and laid him down with a pillow to pad the blackened stumps where his wings had been. He groaned some more. Eamon sat with him, whispering until he sunk into a deep, rasping sleep, then fetched a glass of water and set it beside the pallet. He sat beside me on the bench.
“You shouldn’t have followed me.” This time when he said it his voice cracked, his long bangs hiding his eyes.
“Come with me. Leave this.” I gestured around the small room, cluttered with dusty things, and the broken debris from the brief struggle. “I’ll protect you. I’ll feed you. Come with me.”
“I can’t,” he whispered.
“You can.” A fierce desire rose inside me at his vulnerability, even as it shamed me. I couldn’t help it. I was made that way. “I won’t leave you here with that thing.”
The close air was rich with my scent. It suffused us as we sat on the bench, legs almost touching. He cringed, nostrils flaring. I fought to keep my wings down, to not grab him.
“They won’t accept me.”
“I’ll make them.”
He didn’t meet my eye. “She’ll challenge you. For me.”
Bang. He was still right. She would. “Let her. I’m not afraid.”
Eamon crossed to the elder and stood over him, jaw clenched, the sinews of his neck taut and visible as he stared. Through the haze of my own aggressive desire I caught a whiff of a strange scent, complex, confusing. It held floral notes, a sad longing, even love, but something darker underneath made me scowl. A pungent loathing. The reek of death.
“I’ll go with you,” he said, and there was a terrible grimace on his face, the look I’d seen on so many younglings as they launched forward into a fight.
When he reached out I thought he might wrap his hands around the old man’s scrawny neck and finish the job I’d started, but he just pulled the blankets up a little higher. Now his face was unreadable, a placid mask. One perfected over time.
* * *
We had to trek through Old City because as slight as Eamon was, I didn’t think I could fly him. The Apes let us be; Eamon moved through the city almost as if he was invisible. It seemed to rub off on me as well.
We arrived at the Museum close to midnight. I knew the others were on the rooftop, and Bang would be there. I felt a twinge of fear even as a part of me embraced the thought of her challenge and my wings flexed in anticipation. But when I looked at Eamon, head craning on his thin neck at the building towering before us, I softened. He was exhausted, cowering under his coat, his eyes framed by dark circles. And he had to climb.
“I’ll climb with you.”
He shook his head. “You don’t have to. I’ll see you up there.”
I took him in my arms. “I want to.”
We climbed. It was hard, much harder than I’d imagined. Eamon was agile and practiced, clinging to the porous bricks like a lizard, pulling himself over the jutting ledges. I sweated and grunted, struggling to keep pace. Eamon noticed and slowed. We settled into a rhythm, side by side, and the rooftop grew closer.
We were almost at the top when Eamon paused on a ledge to let me rest. I panted and tried to stay calm. I was wearing myself out with the climb. A whoop and some laughter drifted from the darkness. I had to force my wings to stay down. Bang was up there. Soon I’d have to face her.
“You asked me why I sneak into the museum at night,” Eamon said. “When we met.”
I wiped sweat from my eyes. “I did.”
“I look at the exhibits.”
I shook my head. “What’s an exhibit?”
His broken wings shuddered a little, with surprise or laughter I wasn’t sure. “You know. Stuffed animals. They’ve got dogs, foxes, giant cats. One of them has fangs, maybe five, six inches long.” I could smell his excitement. “There are things with hooves, things with horns. There’s an elephant in there, Senna, in the middle of a big room. It has its trunk raised high in the air, and it glares at you. Its eyes follow you everywhere you go.”
I’d heard of elephants somewhere. Big. Massive even. Grey. I nodded.
“But they also have Apes. Stuffed Apes. Some of them are normal.” His voice was disembodied, insubstantial as the wind whistled past. “But some of them, in the back, have tails. Fur. Scales. Long, pointed skulls, giant owl eyes.”
He moved close and I breathed in his wonderful scent. But it was tinged with something sour, something pungent.
“And some have wings,” he whispered.
I felt myself flush and I was glad for the dark so he might not notice. I couldn’t help it, but I was still ashamed. He was trying to tell me something. Something important. My mind was a muddled stew of desire.
“We’re experiments. They made us to be special, to be great, but we’re not. We are grotesques. Mistakes. Fucking mistakes.”
“No.” I shook my head.
“My sire.” He shook his head. “I mean the elder I live with. He told me. He helped me understand.”
I saw the elder, his smile, the flush on his chest. I imagined him plucking Eamon off the street when he was just a youngling, taking him in, making him feel safe, filling his head with these ideas. How could the Apes have “made” us?
“I’m not a mistake.” I spread my beautiful wings, beat them, once, twice, wafting my scent into the air. Let Bang smell it. I wanted to scream. I wanted to fly back to Old City, back to the decrepit little house and rip out the elder’s throat.
Instead, I pulled Eamon to me, wrapping him in my arms. “You’re not a mistake.” I caressed his damaged wings, hidden beneath his coat. “He did this to you. He’s the one who’s grotesque.” It was difficult to push him away, but I did. We had to a little farther still to go.
* * *
I went over the edge of the roof first, a bit clumsy, Eamon slipping over like a whisper to stand beside me. They were all there around the fire, staring.
Bang stood, eyes glittering, and raised her wings. They were large and crimson, a dark, bloody red. The others moved away from her. I took a deep breath and raised my own wings as high and wide as I could. I caught a whiff of her scent, an acrid spice I’d tasted before when she’d attacked others, and fought the urge to cower. I couldn’t show fear.
“You’re back, Senna.” Her eyes flicked to Eamon and she let her gaze linger, showing me disrespect, like I wasn’t a threat. Her chest flushed. “Give him to me.”
I took a step forward, clenching my fists. “No.”
Bang laughed still leering at Eamon. “You want to fight me over him? Why? There’s something wrong with him, isn’t there?” She took a step, pumped her wings. “Why doesn’t he fly?”
I smelled Eamon’s shame like a thick coating of oil in the air. “There’s nothing wrong with him.”
“Liar.” Peapod crouched behind Bang, wings up, eyes glinting. “I saw him last night. I saw it all.”
I wanted to rip his conniving, jealous head off. They all knew.
“Give him to me.” Bang took another step forward shoving a cowering youngling out of her way and kicked at the fire, sending a scatter of sparks into the night. “Or I’m going to take him from you.”
Eamon tried to come forward but I pushed him back. She would rush me, I’d seen her do it so often, and I didn’t want him getting caught between us. My guts roiled. Every cell in my body urged me to attack before she came at me, and I struggled to wait, not to lash out in fear and panic. She was grinning, showing her teeth, like she knew I couldn’t beat her. The others knew it too. I could smell their excitement in a confusing riot of jagged scent.
Bang leapt across the fire, a billow of black smoke rolling with her as she beat her wings and pummeled my face and head. I dropped to one knee as her sharp nails raked across my cheek and a hot wash of blood splattered in my eyes. She was strong. She drove me down onto the other knee but I managed to grab her wrists and we twisted back and forth trying to throw each other over. She spat and cursed. She reeked of musk, which drove my rage into a wild fury. Younglings screeched and danced above us in the air.
She glared, her eyes black and huge, spit flying from her open mouth. I let go of one wrist, and as her nails slashed my face again, I reared back and punched her, hard, in the jaw. Her grip loosened and I threw her down. I grabbed one crimson wing with both hands as I straddled her back and screamed.
I snarled. Eamon crouched before me, huge brown eyes pleading. The air was sickly sweet now, the younglings around us anticipating what was about to happen. Bang groaned. I could feel the delicate bones of her wing.
“Don’t,” Eamon said. “Please.” I stared at him. He was reeling me in, again, asking me to go against my nature. I tightened my grip on the wing, seeing the elder’s face as I’d squeezed his neck. It felt so good.
I slammed Bang’s head onto the rooftop, feeling her go slack beneath me. I ripped some feathers out and threw them into the air with another scream. It was part triumph, part frustration. I wanted to break her, take her place, but Eamon didn’t want me to.
He took my arm, stroking my heaving, blood covered chest.
He led me to the edge of the roof. The younglings followed, gathering around us, wings up and alert. They were confused, not understanding why I hadn’t crippled Bang, ending the fight properly, and they were aroused, dangerous. They wanted resolution.
Eamon ducked past me, unzipping his coat, slipping it off.
“No!” I reached for him but it was too late.
There was silence. I smelled fear. Some of it was Eamon’s, maybe some was mine, but it also drifted across the rooftop from the others. He turned slowly back and forth, spreading his wings, scars visible in the yellow moon light, and a gust of wind ruffled the few feathers he had left, lifting one off into the darkness. I tried to meet his gaze but he looked right through me. He was wearing his mask again. He posed for the younglings, for me too, body rigid and so still, he looked unnatural, unreal.
Peapod stared, lips puckered like he’d swallowed rotten meat, and most of the other younglings looked away, tucking and folding their wings.
I took Eamon’s hand, caressed it, felt his warmth. The mask fell. He looked at me, brown eyes wet, and his shoulders slumped.
I pulled him close, wrapping him in a protective embrace, and pushed off the edge of the roof. For a moment, we dropped. He was so heavy, despite his slight frame. Then I caught an updraft. Pumping my wings, struggling, I gained equilibrium and we rose. Eamon’s lips were against my neck, and his sweet, grassy scent, suffused me. Below us, the city was filled with lights. Somewhere out there, we’d find a place to land.
* * *
About the Author
Christopher Zerby is a Los Angeles based speculative fiction writer and a leading expert on imaginary robots. His stories have appeared in The Colored Lens, Five on the Fifth, and Murder Park After Dark. In a previous life he mixed records and drove around the U.S. and Canada in a van playing music. He regrets nothing. You can find him on twitter: @chriszerby or visit his website: https://www.christopherzerby.com/