Olivia stared at the dumpster behind the fast food joint and sniffed. The patties were still in there, as they had been a minute ago when she’d first approached it. The near overpowering stench of rot and garbage was also still there. Grab the food. Just grab the food. Get it over with before someone comes. She forced herself to grab the black plastic dumpster lid and lifted it. Her eyes watered. Boxes on top. They smell a little better. She hooked a cardboard box with a couple claws and fished it out, letting the dumpster lid crash back down the box was free.
She hurried back to the apartment with her food. A couple cars drove by on the streets; she stuck to darkened alleys to avoid them. This would be so much faster if I could fly. She finally slipped through the dented, broken door where she’d first entered and returned to her home apartment. Some of the dust had dissipated thanks to her habit of leaving the front door and window open when she left to explore. She plopped the box down on the floor in front of her as she sat cross legged in the middle of the living room to give room for her tail and wings.
The cardboard flaps scrapped against each other as Olivia opened the box. She picked up a cold patty. Just… She sighed. Just eat. She choked down the damp burger patty. Food was food. She hadn’t eaten in God knew how long. Two days, and however many before she lost her memory. At least I’m not throwing up, she thought. She grabbed a water bottle and washed away the stale aftertaste. Her stomach still grumbled.
She forced down most of the box’s contents with two water bottles to make the ordeal more palatable. Can’t get much lower than this, can I? The smell of the old burgers had filled her apartment. With the window opened behind her to air out the room, she left to walk around in the building and clear her head. What am I even doing?
After a while, she found herself in front of the big mirror on the ground floor. It still sat, untouched, in front of the wall of an empty office. She looked into the mirror, taking in the strange monster bits and ratty clothes and all. The wings, folded tight, arched over her head. Maybe… maybe I can figure out how to fly. These wings are just dead weight otherwise. And what else am I doing?
She climbed the stairs to the roof of her building on the top of the sixth floor and observed the Sunday night traffic. Few people were out and about. There were even some times where there were no sirens to be heard. As she observed the already negligible traffic dwindle to nonexistent, she tried to psyche herself up to jump off the building. Just start with gliding. Just spread the wings and jump. Right? The wings, no, my wings looked really wide in the mirror. Wide enough, right?
The hard ground stretched on beneath her. Six stories worth of insubstantial air beneath her and it did not exactly fill her with confidence. Why not jump? I have wings. Wings are for flying. But why fly? Walking is perfectly fine. I don’t need to jump off a building. Why not? All I have to do is glide, nothing fancy. But what if I mess up? I’ll probably be stuck with broken bones, if not dead. She spent a full half hour second guessing herself.
The rooftop remained empty save her. No one walked on the sidewalks. Only a couple cars drove along far off roads. No one will notice if I manage to fly or splatter on the ground, either way. And so, with the coast all clear, she spread her wings out as far as they could go, closed her eyes, and leapt.
The air rushed past her face, whipping her hair around. Her wings pulled at her back. They didn’t shake, instead keeping strong and steady. She cracked an eye open. The ground passed below her, not growing any larger. She opened her eyes fully and looked around. Her wings kept her aloft and gliding. A building passed by behind her wing. I’m… I’m actually flying!
She smiled. I can fly! I can actually fly! She tore her gaze from her wing and looked to the ground again. A web of cracks lined the empty sidewalks and streets below. It looks so weird from up here. This is cool. She gave a whoop of glee in the quiet night air.
After gliding for about half a block, she looked ahead. A much taller building loomed as she hurdled straight towards it. Bad, bad, bad, bad. Turn, turn.
She tried leaning sharply to the right, accidentally folding her right wing in the process. She twisted and flailed as she plummeted, trying to catch the air with her wings again. At the sight of the rapidly approaching earth, she closed her eyes, body relaxed and head tucked. Her shoulder slammed into the ground, and she rolled to a stop a couple paces away. A pause, then she took in breath. Wait, I’m still alive?
She opened her eyes and looked around from her position on her back. The street was still the street, the tall building still loomed in front of her. She climbed to her feet, her knees weak. Her clawed hands shook from residual fear and adrenaline. I’m alive? Other than the sore shoulder and wing that had hit the concrete, she felt fine. Nothing broken, nothing hurt. I’m alive! She looked around. No one saw that? No… right, just me.
The concrete behind her had suffered worse than she had, cracking at the impact site. She hadn’t been moving slowly when she had dropped, and a five to six story drop seemed like it would break something important, like her spine. You know what? I’ll take it. It’s about time something work out for me.
Olivia took a couple of tentative steps. Nothing happened, nothing hurt. She took that as a medical green light and headed back home. I’m alive. I’m actually alive and not dreaming. That hurt, and I fell a lot, but I didn’t wake up or anything. And I can fly, probably! I just need to figure out how to turn and stuff. She got out of the center of the main street and reached the relative safety of the dark alleys and backstreets. I just need practice.
The next night found Olivia standing on the edge of the roof again. Instead of apprehension clouding her face, her eyes were wide and eager. She watched the streets below her for any sign of life. Monday nights didn’t seem any busier than Sundays; the roads and sidewalks had cleared soon after sundown.
“This won’t be that bad,” she murmured to herself. “I know what I need to work on. It worked last time. Kind of.”
She spread her wings and jumped forward off the roof. Just as last time, her wings kept her steady as she glided. From the movement of the earth below her, she moved at about jogging pace, if she were on the ground. OK. Turn. She leaned ever so slightly to the left, and her flight path shifted accordingly. A small building, she couldn’t see what it was from up above, passed by below her. She leaned to the right, a little sharper than before. Her path turned. A wide grin split her face. I’m not crashing!
A couple minutes, and many turns later, she found herself getting closer and closer to rooftops. OK. I’ve been drifting down. Up, up, how do I go up? She twisted her head around to look at her wings. Uh… Please? She returned her attention to in front of her. Nothing loomed in front of her for now, but with no way to gain height, a crash was inevitable.
I need to do, I don’t know, wing things. Almost reflexively, she twisted her wings at their base, angling them upwards, and rose into the air. Her smile faltered once she realized her speed had been completely arrested. Wait, no, falling bad. She angled her wings back down and caught the air again. Crash avoided!
Olivia glided aimlessly for some time. A car below her had caused her to freeze up for a moment, but it had moved on without pause. Then, with the ground finally approaching, a thought occurred to her. How do I stop? How do I slow down? She pulled up, as sharp as her wings would let her.
She shot up a few feet, then came to a stop in midair. Her arms flailed as she fell, feet first. The impact with the road made her knees buckle, and she collapsed on the ground. She took a deep breath. OK. I think I’ve stopped now. She got up and brushed the dirt and gravel from her arms.
“That kind of worked,” she murmured. Sort of.
A smile still persisted on her face. She flexed her knee as she took a couple steps back to her apartment. I wanna do that again! And where am I? It smells like people nearby. Maybe I can see what they’re doing. They’re there for a reason, right? Why not?
On foot, she followed the smell of people to the back of a shop. She poked her head around the corner of a nearby building to see a man passing out bags of breads to several homeless people. Oh, so that’s what bread smells like. Kind of like that donut shop, but… not as good. But it’s still food though. Why else are these guys taking it?
She kept watch, hoping that maybe she could ask the man giving out the bread for some once everyone else had left. Or is that a bad idea? I kind of scare me. She pulled back when one of the homeless approached where she hid.
In the distance, someone screamed. The homeless man whirled around towards the sound, eyes wild. He hurried away, directly for Olivia. She froze. Scream, what was that scream? Around the corner, she heard several sets of footsteps heading away from where the scream had come from. A door slammed shut. Wait, no, concentrate. Maybe this guy will be nice. A moment later, she found herself face to face with a shocked man.
I should say something. Before she got a chance to open her mouth, the man dropped his bag and ran with a desperate cry. She stared after him as he scrambled around a corner. Oh. OK. Her wings drooped, their tips brushing against the ground. I’m not going to… OK.
Her downcast eyes spotted the bag of bread he’d left behind. He forgot it? Really? It’s food. Should I give it back? Or… no. I don’t think he wants to see me again.
She grabbed the bag and walked back to her apartment, her feet scratching against the concrete sidewalks. Screaming bad, avoid screaming. But, could I… no. I guess I couldn’t really help. She didn’t hear any other people nearby as she returned to her apartment. Once inside, she set the bread bag down on the counter, sliced it open, and took out a random loaf.
Wheat bread. OK, let’s see how this is. She took a big bite out of the loaf. Her chewing slowed to a stop not long after. This… is this dirt? Is this what dirt tastes like? She considered the loaf, now with a large chunk of it missing. It’s not… bad. It’s food, I guess. She forced the rest of it down. I think I liked the old burger patties more.
The bagel she tried next didn’t taste much better. She eyed a twisted piece of bread with a brown powder sprinkled on top. That smells good. One last try. Once she cut away the thin plastic around it with a claw, she took a bite.
Ohmygosh! This is so good! She stared at the bread thing for a moment, then shoved the rest in her mouth. What is this? I need to know. A quick glance at the sticker on the wrapper told her it was a cinnamon pastry thing. Cinnamon. I like cinnamon.
A yawn caught her by surprise. Is it time already? I must have flown a long way. And walked. And the bread thing. Right. She sighed and curled up on the couch, her tail hanging off the edge. All around her, cars moved, their engines filling the air with noise. The sun peeked over the horizon, its early morning rays shooting into Olivia’s room. She grimaced and pulled her old, worn blanket over her head.
“Just let me sleep,” she murmured to herself.
A couple days later, Olivia found herself in front of a dumpster yet again. Rather than a dumpster behind a fast food joint, however, this one was near an inhabited apartment building. Smells like people nearby. She lifted the lid. Hey, there’s other stuff in here. With a claw, she hooked a backpack out of the dumpster.
Why is it all sticky? It smells like grape juice. Grape… how did I know that? Grape… what is a grape? It’s a little round green fruit thing. I know that. I know what cars and apartments are too. How do I know that stuff?
She paused, screwing her eyes shut. Think. People. Men and women. Different colors of hair. No. Think faces. A face. Different shapes of noses? No. A face. A face. I… A small, frustrated hiss escaped her, breaking her concentration. Nothing. A few strands of wavy brown hair dangled in her face. Her head was bowed, and her hands clenched the edge of the dumpster. She unclenched her teeth and stood upright, releasing the dumpster. She didn’t notice the holes her claws had punched in the metal. Absolutely nothing. I still can’t remember anyone at all.
She sighed and considered the dirty backpack, still in her hands. Maybe I can wash this off somewhere. I need to find a place with running water at some point. She slung it over her shoulder and tucked it under a wing.
Now what? Maybe… maybe I can focus on the good smells. She took a few steps away from the dumpster and sniffed the air, taking in all the smells around her. Her nose wrinkled in disgust. Beyond the trash, the people, the cars, and all the other things she had no names for, she picked up scents that didn’t nauseate her. Oh, maybe that way.
She walked further into the neighborhood, as always sticking to the shadows and back alleys. She’d tried taking off just by jumping before, but that had led to a faceplant. I’ll figure it out. Birds can do it. An hour later, she returned to her apartment with a box of Twinkies and a bag of beef jerky she’d taken from someone’s backyard next to a grill, along with the backpack. I want a grill. That smelled good. And those people probably had lots of food if they’re just leaving it out like that.
She noticed a stamp on the side of the box of Twinkies. ‘Expires 9/21/2416’. What? I’m not sure I trust these now. She put the box on the counter in the kitchen, next to the old, stale bread. I’ll try the other thing first.
She fished another piece of jerky out of the large red plastic bag. This is good. It’s not all cold and damp like the burgers. She stretched her wings out and arched her back as she ate.
Hunching over all the time like this is a pain. Maybe… a table? Yeah, I could put stuff on it, rather than the floor. There’s more to this building than just this floor. Maybe I can check the other apartments. She stood up and stretched, working out the kinks in her back from hunching over on the floor. Her wings tips brushed against the walls. That done, she headed off to check the upper floors of the building. She found what she was looking for on the fourth floor.
A large, worn wooden table stood alone in the center of the room. Oh, that could work. It looks kind of heavy. Maybe I could just drag it? She pushed it to the front door and quickly realized it would be too wide for the front door. Oh, um… She flipped it on its side and angled it out the door. Oh, this isn’t that heavy. With her claws dug into the underside of the table, she managed to carry it down two stories to her apartment, only smacking the table legs against the walls a couple times.
There, that wasn’t that bad, she thought as she set it down on its side in the center of the living room. The moment she flipped it right side up, one of the legs shattered. The table toppled.
Wow, that must have been really loose. Maybe the other legs are loose, too. She wrenched off the remaining legs, until she was left with only the table top. She sat down in front of it and found herself hunching over just as much as she had when there was no table.
“That’s not helpful,” she said.
I need to replace those legs. Um… oh, idea! She headed downstairs, and out towards an abandoned lot near her building. Bits of ruined or discarded building materials littered the area. Maybe… these?
She grabbed two cinder blocks, one in each hand, and carried them back up to her apartment. After retrieving two more, she set the cinder blocks up under the table where the legs used to be. It’s not as high as it was, but let’s see how it is. She sat cross legged at the table and put her elbows on it, spine straight. I have a table thing! She smiled and looked around before remembering there was no one else in the room.
I guess I have time to go for another fly. Maybe. She headed to the roof of her building and looked around. It’s dark. And super quiet. I have time. She took off and flew parallel to the mountains, heading towards the skyscrapers of the city. The grid patterned streets passed by below her. There’s that big road thing that curves near that big stadium thing. I think I can make it this time. I just need to be able to go higher. Maybe…
She pulled up, just a bit. But that makes me go slower. And if I turn my wings the other way, I go faster, but down. Oh! She bobbed up and down in the air, trying to build up enough speed to gain appreciable height. This isn’t working.
Maybe do what birds do. Flapping, right? But I need my wings out like this. Well, it might be worth a try. Falling doesn’t hurt that much. She pumped her wings, gradually gaining altitude. Yeah! I can do it! After some time, she came to the large, elevated road
The large green sign above the road read ‘I-25 North’. I’m following the road so… yeah, I’m going north. Cool. A glimmer of light over the horizon told her that it was time to return as everyone else began to wake up. She passed over the donut shop in the strip mall on her way back, already open and baking donuts. It still smelled amazing.